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(looking for) shapes in the silence

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When Harrowhark woke up the next morning, the first thing she noticed was the arm curled around her waist.

She came back to her body slowly, blinking away the sleep as best she could. The arm around her was heavy, warm, and protective, and there was a hand curled in a gentle fist at her chest. It only clicked in her head that it was Gideon’s when she felt the bed behind her shift.

That was the next thing she noticed: the weight of the arm over her was matched by a pressure — warm, solid, and gentle — at her back.

Her senses were slow to return. Touch and sight were the first to come back, followed by an awareness of the taste of alcohol still sitting stale in her mouth.

Then she heard the sound of gentle snoring from behind her, and, before she could stop herself, felt her mouth quirk up in a smile.

The sheets rustled as Gideon shifted again. A quiet noise left her, and she pressed her face into Harrow’s hair before letting out a low, satisfied hum. Harrow thought halfheartedly about reaching for her phone, but that thought was abandoned as Gideon let out a groan of wakefulness.

She turned her head as far as she could without straining it. “Nav, are you awake?” Harrow creaked, her voice still rough from sleep.

“Not for long. What time is it?” Gideon yawned.

Harrow leaned forward to check her phone. It was just past seven in the morning, which meant no one in the house would be awake for another hour at minimum. “Far too early,” She said, fighting back a yawn herself. “Why?”

Gideon, rendered glum by the lack of contact, stretched out her arms plaintively. “Come back.”

She pulled insistently towards herself, making little grabbing motions with her hands. A current of wanting and peace and awful, awful hope swirled through her at the sight— and just for a moment, Harrow thought there were far worse places to drown.

“You are a big baby,” She said with unmistakable fondness. Gideon smiled against her head, and her chuckle shook them both. “Do you know that?”

She pressed a soft kiss to the back of Harrow’s shoulder, exposed by the tank top she had donned the night before. “If I say yes, will you go back to sleep?” Gideon mumbled against her.

Her current of emotions eased resolutely into peace, and warmth meandered through her body like a river. It pulled her eyes closed again, and as she felt sleep begin to creep towards her again, Harrow smiled. “I suppose it’s only fair.”

When she woke up the second time, it was because of a knock at the door.

Harrow stirred first, feeling Gideon’s head between her shoulder blades. She wasn’t quite sure how she’d managed it, given she’d fallen asleep with her head about eight inches higher, but figured in her sleep-addled brain that it wasn’t the strangest thing that had happened to them.

Their legs were tangled together, which made extracting herself from the sheets doubly hard.

“Coming,” Harrow said, trying to keep her voice low. She shot a glance towards her sleeping fiancée, praying idly that she wouldn’t wake Gideon up. She pulled on something warm from the ground — which, today, was a large, red sweater bearing an H on the front — and opened the door to see Magnus standing in front of her.

His hair was unbrushed and sleep pulled at the corners of his eyes. “Morning,” He yawned. “Apologies for my lateness. The wine last night got to me, I’m afraid.”

Harrow remembered vaguely that he and Abigail had finished a bottle and a half between them, and grimaced in sympathy. “No need to apologize,” She said, stifling a yawn. She pulled the door half-closed behind her, gesturing vaguely towards the bed. “Gideon is still asleep, but I can wake her.”

Magnus nodded as if he had expected this. “No need,” He said. “Dulcinea is in the guest room getting ready, Abigail is in the bathroom— and will be for the next hour, if her past gives any indication.” (Harrow’s nose wrinkled at this.) “And the children came back, but they’re asleep as well.”

“A bit of a rogue’s gallery this morning, aren’t we?” Harrow muttered. “Give my sympathy to Abigail. I do not envy her.”

Magnus nodded again, the hint of a smile curling at his lips. “Nor do I,” He said. “I’ll be in the kitchen whenever you’re ready.” He paused for a moment, glancing towards the other end of the hallway. “You know,” He began, clearing his throat, “if you wanted to help me start the coffee, I could use the extra set of hands.”

This brought Harrow to a halt. She glanced back towards Gideon; the rise and fall of her chest was visible through the layers of sheets and blankets. It was steady and even, which afforded her a brief measure of peace.

“I would be happy to,” Harrow said, still watching Gideon’s chest move gently under the sheets. Magnus gestured for her to lead, and she closed the door as quietly as possible before starting toward the kitchen.

It wasn’t particularly early in the day, but Harrow thought the house had an quality of the dawn as she walked through its halls. Light filtered timidly through the windows; the chill of the night hadn’t quite faded. She was grateful for the woolen socks she had borrowed, as the floorboards were cold even with the carpets laid on top of them.

“I admit, I had hoped to talk privately with you and Abigail more than I have,” Harrow said, breaking the silence between her and Magnus. “I apologize for that.”

Magnus looked sidelong at her, taking notes on something she couldn’t place. “Perhaps when we see you during the holidays, we’ll be able to find more time,” He said lightly, giving her a knowing smile.

Harrow supposed, briefly, that Gideon had a veritable lifetime of holidays she had missed out on. It was only fair that they begin catching up now.

“Of course,” Harrowhark said, more stiffly than she had intended. She cleared her throat. “Yes, that— sounds wonderful.” She reached reflexively towards her pocket for her rosary before remembering it was on her bedside table. Lacking the familiar comfort of the wood, she rubbed her fingertips lightly on the counter. “Would you prefer that we come up here?”

“We’re happy to make the trip down to you,” Magnus said, flicking the kitchen lights on. “Abigail and I have been talking it over, and we’ve been meaning to travel more anyway. What better place to start than New York City?”

Harrow nodded to herself. “I’ll put together an itinerary,” She said, more to herself than to him. “Is there anything in particular you’d like to see? I’m happy to cover any expenses.”

Magnus gave her another look. “Harrowhark, you are strictly forbidden from paying for us,” He warned. “I mean it. If we’re going to be your parents, it’ll be our job to take care of you, not the other way around.”

“It’ll be my treat,” Harrow insisted. “Please. After all your kindness these past weeks, it is the least I can do.”

He fiddled with the dials on the coffee machine. “Absolutely not. I won’t hear of it.”

“I can get you box seats on Broadway with one phone call,” said Harrowhark cunningly.

Magnus paused with his hand in the air. It twitched. “I’ve always wanted to see Wicked,” He admitted after a moment. “Well— alright, fine. But nothing else! I mean it.”

“We have a deal, then,” Harrow said. She offered a hand. “I look forward to seeing you again.”

The look Magnus gave her then was one she had seen him reserve for Gideon. There was a tangible fondness to it, and exasperation was woven in with gentle care.

“You don’t need to treat this like a business deal,” He said lightly. “I think of us as family, Harrowhark, and if it isn’t true now, it will be in a few days’ time. I’m afraid you’re going to see us whether you want to or not.”

There was something too-big about the emotion that stirred in her at the words. Harrow felt her heart turn over in her chest, felt her blood turn cold and then hot and then cold again, felt her eyes water.

And thank God for Gideon’s timing, because she was spared a response by her fiancee stumbling into the kitchen.

“Morning,” Gideon yawned, reaching her arms over her head to stretch. The movement brought her shirt with it, exposing a few inches of skin above the line of her flannel pants.

Harrow’s eyes dropped to it, and took in the faint dusting of hair and the strong, defined V-line at her hips before she could stop herself. She pushed her gaze solidly up and away, trying to focus on the cabinets. “Good morning, Griddle.”

Gideon seemed not to notice her reaction. “Morning, sugar.” She leaned over, pressing a kiss to Harrow’s temple. “You want me to make you a cup of coffee?”

Harrow’s skin burned where Gideon’s lips had touched it. She wished again for her rosary, and warred briefly with the idea of going back to her room for it. “Please,” She managed. “Yes. Thank you.”

“Comin’ up.” Gideon sent her a wink, walking over to grab a mug for her. To Magnus, she said, “Hey, did you and Abigail sing karaoke on the table last night, or did I make that up?”

Magnus paused with a mug of coffee on the way to his lips. His eyes widened a fraction in amazement, and he set his cup back on the counter. “My God. We did,” He said, looking at Gideon in surprise. “I had forgotten. We sang— what’s the name of that song?”

Gideon pulled out two mugs from the cabinet. “You did an ABBA one together. Abigail said she’d do another one, but she fell asleep, like, ten minutes later.”

“I think it was Lay All Your Love On Me,” Harrow mused, watching Gideon’s hands work at the coffee machine. “Dulcinea wanted to hear Does Your Mother Know, but as I recall, you vetoed it.”

Magnus hummed, swallowing his sip of coffee. “That is because it doesn’t apply to our situation,” He said in the tones of someone who had said this exact thing many times. He paused, then said: “She has a lovely voice, you know.”

His eyes crinkled at the edges, and Harrow felt it would be rude to remind him that they had all been present to hear her. “If we play it at the reception, she’ll be the first to know,” Harrow said lightly, gratefully accepting a steaming mug from her fiancée.

At this, Gideon froze. “Oh, shit,” She said, letting out a surprised laugh. “We’re getting married. In, like, a week.”

Magnus nodded seriously. “We have a lot to do.” He grasped them both by the shoulder, looking between them with all the solemnity of a soldier. “It will be difficult work. But we’ll be with you every step of the way, and if you do it I think you will come out the stronger.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Wonderful,” said Harrowhark, not quite sure what else to say.

“Um. Ditto,” Gideon said, giving her a sideways glance. “Where do we start?”

* * *

Dulcinea and Magnus had been right: wedding planning was a veritable mountain of work.

By the afternoon, they had managed to scrounge together catering — though only barely, by the aggreived edge in Magnus’ voice describing his phone call — and the florists were able to accommodate the required extras.

Dealing with the specifics wasn’t particularly difficult, Gideon thought— but dealing with everyone else was.

“Abigail,” She was saying, trying to keep herself measured, “I don’t care what color the napkins are. As long as we have napkins, I’m fine.”

Abigail’s lips pressed in a thin line. “Nonsense. We raised you better than this,” She said testily, holding up the same two swaths of identical fabric. “Cream or ivory?”

“They’re the same color,” said Gideon with increasing desperation.

“They most certainly are not.” Abigail shook the fabrics lightly, emphasizing her point. “Cream has warm undertones, and ivory is a cool shade. I ask again: cream or ivory?”

Harrowhark appeared in the doorway like an evening star. “Ivory,” She decided, eyes flicking between them for half a second. “It’ll match the tablecloths.”

Gideon wondered briefly when they had decided on the hue of the tablecloths, and then decided she would rather die than relive the discussion. “Great. Glad that’s sorted. Good job, team.”

Abigail sent her a look, but set the napkins down regardless. She reached for her clipboard; it was organized into labeled sections with a minimum of seven bullet points apiece. “That takes care of that,” She said, crossing something off. “Right. Next up on the list is the flowers for the aisle.”

“Harrow is allergic to daffodils,” Gideon said, leaning her head back in her seat until she could see her fiancée in the doorway behind her. “I think. Is it daisies or daffodils, honey?”

“Daffodils,” Harrow confirmed, looking at her for a second too long. “And carnations, as it happens.”

“No daffodils, no carnations,” Abigail said, making two quick, sharp notes on her clipboard. “Wonderful. To match your dress, we’ll get a bouquet of— I don’t know, something white.” A pause. “Are either of you planning on wearing a dress?”

Harrow nodded. Gideon shook her head. Abigail nodded, looking as though this was what she had expected. “Wonderful. Then once we have Harrow’s bouquet sorted, we’ll find Gideon a boutonniere to match—”

“Never thought I’d hear that word again after senior prom,” Gideon said under her breath.

“—Which brings us,” continued Abigail, “to the matter of your respective bridal parties. Or perhaps your— well, to be quite honest, I’m not sure of the terminology here.” She paused for a second, then shrugged. “I suppose it doesn’t matter— at any rate, we need to find the people you want up by your side. We’ll start with you, Harrowhark. Do you have someone in mind for a maid of honor?”

“You,” Harrow said, without quite realizing her haste. A self-conscious blush darkened on her cheeks. “If— that’s something you would be alright with.”

Abigail looked at her then like no one ever had. And then — terribly — her eyes welled with tears. “Oh, Harrowhark,” She said quietly, reaching across the table to grasp her hand. “I would be honored.”

Her voice was thick with emotion, and it was all Harrow could do not to let her embarrassment show visibly on her face. “Wonderful,” Harrow said awkwardly. “Well. That’s sorted.” She turned to Gideon, who was watching them with a mix of surprise and concern on her face. “Your turn. Pick a best man.”

“Oh,” Gideon said, blinking. She thought for a moment. Then: “Jeannemary. Isaac too, if he’s cool to split the duties with her.”

Abigail dabbed at her face lightly with a tissue. “Oh, they’ll be thrilled,” She said, smiling. “And Magnus will walk Harrow down the aisle, of course.”

“Actually,” Harrow said, drawing the attention of the table, “I was hoping he would officiate.”

Abigail paused with her pen in midair. “Come again?”

Shifting in her seat, Harrow continued, “I did some research. Alaska doesn’t require an officiant to be ordained, and though I’m fighting the urge to have a more traditional wedding, I can’t imagine that the whole town wants to sit through Mass. And we’re already— less than traditional.” She looked at Gideon. “It only seems fitting.”

Magnus was in the kitchen, and poked his head into the dining room. “Did I hear my name?”

Abigail had been nodding lightly along with Harrow’s words, and turned to her husband. “You did. I believe you’re going to officiate, dear.”

Magnus blinked. He looked between the three of them, from Abigail’s expectant face to Gideon’s half-confused smile to Harrow’s mild surprise. “Officiate?” He repeated. “You want me—”

“To marry us,” Harrow confirmed. “To each other, that is. It only seemed right.”

A strange expression overtook Magnus then. His face trembled for a moment as though it was a pond disturbed by a ripple; his lips began to tremble. Harrow realized a second before his eyes began to water that he was going to cry.

He turned to Gideon with a terrible tightness in his voice. “And you agree to this?”

Gideon’s eyes widened a fraction. “Of course I do. I would have preferred, like, a little bit of advance notice—” (“Fair,” muttered Harrow beside her,) “—but I think it’s a good idea. A great idea, actually,” She said. Then her brow furrowed in concern. “Magnus, are you okay?”

“Peachy,” Magnus said thickly. “I’ve never been better.” And then he took a few steps forward and drew them both into the tightest, kindest hug of Harrow’s life. “You honor me with this,” He murmured, sniffling every so often. “Truly. Thank you for trusting me.”

Harrow thought, at this point, that she would feel some of the residual anxiety that had festered since her arrival at Canaan House, but all she felt was a sense of calm stillness. She realized an instant later that she did trust him, and somehow this was the greatest surprise of all.

“There’s no need to thank us,” Harrow found herself saying. “It was the easiest decision in the world.”

She could feel Gideon watching her. She looked over, expecting to see the characteristic gleam in her golden eyes, but all she saw was a peaceful curiosity. It mingled with another, more indescribable emotion, and softened the gaze Gideon fixed her with until it was almost too tender for her to bear.

Harrow’s traitorous heart leapt in her chest, and she looked away. “Speaking of decisions,” She said, clearing her throat, “should I book an appointment at a local wedding parlor? I’m afraid my taste in dresses is— somewhat unusual.”

A look passed between Abigail and Magnus that was too simple and too endlessly complex to place. “No need,” Abigail said. Her lips barely twitched, but the crinkle at her eyes gave away her smile. “I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise,” repeated Harrow, looking between her, Magnus, and Gideon. Gideon shrugged. Magnus wiped away the remainder of his tears and pressed a kiss to his wife’s knuckles.

Abigail’s smile reached her lips and widened. “A good surprise,” She promised. “Come with me, and we’ll leave the matter of coming up with a seating chart to these two.”

Harrow stood, unsure of what else to do. Something touched her hand; she looked down to see Gideon’s fingers brush against her palm. “I’m gonna seat Camilla next to Coronabeth,” Gideon piped up. “I think they’d be fun together.” She winked, but the concern in her eyes told Harrow she was aiming for reassurance. Harrow squeezed lightly at her hand, hoping it was a good enough thank-you.

“This way, dear,” Abigail said, nodding towards the door. “Oh, don’t look so nervous. I’m not going to push you down the stairs.”

Harrow gave her a sidelong glance. “You know, that wasn’t a possibility I had entertained until you said it.”

“Ah, then it’s my own fault. Well! It remains true.” Abigail let out an airy sigh. “Dulcinea told me a few days ago about her plan,” She confessed after a moment. “I didn’t tell Magnus until just beforehand because— well, you’ve met him. Secrets are not kind to him.”

Harrow found it difficult to be surprised by that. “I can imagine,” She said lightly. A silence settled between them again, ringing gently in the once-labyrinthine hallways of the house, until they reached a door she had never seen before.

Abigail turned the knob easily, pushing the door open, and with a start Harrowhark realized that it was her bedroom. “Alright, I believe it’s just in here,” She said, more to herself than to Harrow. “Please, come in. Have a seat.”

Black eyes flicked around the room. Harrow fidgeted in the doorway for a moment before taking a step inside, and took a seat on the cushion of an armchair by the window. “Ms. Pent—”

This earned her a stern, fond look before Abigail disappeared into a door along one wall. Through it, Harrow could vaguely make out the shape of hangers, jackets, and a few neatly-organized pairs of shoes. “We’re well past that, darling. It’s Abigail.”

“Very well. Abigail,” Harrowhark corrected herself. She shifted in her seat. “I wanted to thank you for your kindness. I— recognize that, perhaps, I am not the person you were expecting Gideon to marry.”

“I have found expectation to be a very unreliable tool,” called Abigail from deep within her closet. She poked her head out a moment later. “If Gideon did everything I expected her to, I imagine that she would be very boring, and that I would have a spot on network television as a paid psychic. And besides— ah!”

Harrow frowned. “What is it?”

Abigail emerged a moment later holding a long bag on a hangar. It was black, thin, and had the shape one would expect of something meant to preserve an expensive dress. She looked at it with a kind of nostalgic fondness Harrow hadn’t known to anticipate. “Open this,” Abigail said, impossibly gently.

Harrow did. Helpfully, there was a zipper on one side. She pulled it down carefully, refusing to let her curiosity bring her to haste, until she could see white lace poking out.

Realization hit her with the force of a truck. “Abigail,” Harrow said, taking a step back. “This is—”

“My wedding dress,” finished Abigail Pent. “Yes. I’m taller than you, so it’ll be a tad too long, but I think we have enough time for a tailor to bring up the hem.”

Harrow’s eyes were locked on the bag. “I can’t accept this. I—” She shook her head. Her voice came out ragged. “Abigail, this is too much.”

Abigail’s face softened. She set the bag on her bed and smoothed out a few of the creases in it before she approached the editor.

“Harrow, you’re a week away from being married in my house. This is not an imposition,” She said, not unkindly. She let out a quiet sigh. “Can I tell you something?”

Black eyes narrowed a fraction. Harrow nodded.

“Magnus and I— we adopted because we couldn’t have children of our own.” An old, deep hurt flickered over her face, but Abigail shrugged it away a moment later. “And I have made peace with that. I love our family,” She said, smiling. She reached for Harrow’s hands. “But my mother gave me this dress when I was married, and she asked me to promise that I would pass it down when the time came for my daughter to be married.”

“Abigail,” Harrowhark breathed.

“So I’m afraid I have to insist,” Abigail finished. Her smile widened, and she leaned in conspiratorially. “Besides, something tells me that I wouldn’t have had much luck offering it to Gideon or Jeannemary.”

A wet laugh erupted from Harrow, and she found her eyes welling with tears. “No, I can’t imagine you would have,” She said, reaching up to wipe at her cheeks. “I apologize for— all this.” She gestured to her face. “My mother died when I was very young, and I admit that I am thoroughly unused to having one in my life.”

At this, Abigail pulled her in for a hug. “Then let this be a new beginning,” She murmured, closing her eyes. Harrow let herself relax, winding her arms around Abigail in truth for the first time. She smelled like vanilla and mulled wine, and the simple comfort of it nearly reduced Harrowhark to tears for the second time in as many minutes.

They pulled apart a moment later, and this time it was Abigail who wiped the tears from her eyes. “Well,” She said. “Now that we’ve gotten through that, let’s see you try it on.”

* * *

“What do you think they’re doing?” Gideon asked out of the blue. “They’ve been gone for, like, thirty minutes.”

Magnus didn’t look up from the sketch he had drawn. “I’m sure they’re alright,” He said idly, leaning in to pencil in another name. “I think I’ll put Abigail’s brother next to Protesilaus and his wife. That should make for an interesting dynamic.”

Gideon slumped back in her chair. The process of wedding planning was, unfortunately, hopelessly fucking boring. She watched the ceiling fan spin around a few times before her eyes landed on Jeannemary’s jacket on the back of a chair.

“Hey, are Jeanne and Isaac going to be up at the big table with us?”

Magnus made a note on his pad. “Of course.”

“And are you going to pretend not to notice when they take advantage of the open bar?”

He looked up at her over the rims of his glasses. “Of course,” He said again, raising an eyebrow. “Weddings are meant to be enjoyed. Better that they do it somewhere we can keep an eye on them.”

Gideon crossed her arms over her chest. “When we went to Pro’s wedding, you guys watched me like a hawk the whole time.”

“You were our first,” said Magnus simply. “We didn’t know everything then that we do now. We didn’t know at all what to expect when you came to us. With them, at least, we have the gift of hindsight.” Something in his eyes softened. “I won’t pretend it’s fair to you. But we’ve done the best we can with all three of you. When you have children of your own, I think you’ll understand.”

Gideon forced a smile onto her face. “Right,” She said, hearing the hollow note in her voice. She blinked and, in the instant that her eyes were closed, saw herself at PTA meetings, plays, and graduations. She saw herself cradling a baby boy— and saw Harrowhark holding the hand of a little girl with her smile and Gideon’s eyes as they crossed the street.

If Magnus notice the ache that punctured her, he didn’t comment. He took his glasses off, folded them neatly, and set them on the table. “And,” He continued lightly, raising an eyebrow, “let us not forget that your, er— experience with underage drinking contained a great deal more accidents.”

“None of which were my fault, lest we forget,” Gideon said, raising a defensive finger.

Magnus hid a smile. “I never said they were.”

Gideon shook her head in mock disappointment. “Unbelievable. I had a curfew and rules, and these two knuckleheads get free reign over town and open bars at weddings. Kids these days.”

“You’re starting to sound like me,” Magnus said lightly, sliding his glasses back on. “Now. You said you wanted your friends from work— remind me of their names?”

“Palamedes and Camilla,” Gideon said.

“Right. You wanted them with the Tridentarii?”

Gideon opened her mouth to respond, but found herself interrupted by her fiancée’s re-entry. Harrow’s eyes were rimmed with red, but there was a lingering smile on her face.

“If we sit Sextus next to Coronabeth, either one of them is going to leave embarrassed or they’ll leave as best friends. I’m not sure which option unnerves me more,” Harrow said, sitting down next to Gideon again. “Put him next to Dulcinea, and put Camilla on his other side. The three of them should balance each other out.”

Gideon caught her eye and mouthed, You okay?

Harrow nodded, giving her the barest hint of a smile. She reached for Gideon’s hand and squeezed it once.

Magnus nodded, made a few notes, and tilted his face up as his wife came back into the room. She planted a brief kiss on his cheek, the motion as smooth and practiced as if they were a pair of ballet dancers, before sitting down at his side. “How was it?” Magnus murmured to her.

“It went wonderfully,” Abigail said, at the same volume. She squeezed his hand. Then, to Gideon, she asked: “Was there any follow-up from the tuxedo rental place?”

Gideon nodded. “I’m going later today for a fitting.”

“Wonderful. Oh, I meant to tell you, I think Coronabeth is going to stop by tonight.”

“Okay,” She said. A moment later, she frowned. “Why?”

“I believe she mentioned she was going to plan your bachelorette party. She asked for a list of things she wasn’t allowed to do,” Abigail said. “I think she’s just going to do one this weekend for the both of you, since— well, neither of you are quite bachelors, are you?”

Gideon thought for a second. “I don’t think so,” She said. “So, one big party for both of us, huh?” She met Harrow’s eyes and winked. “Sounds like fun. Think she’ll take us to a strip club?”

“I hope not,” said Harrow, ignoring the dark flush creeping up the sides of her neck. “The nearest one is miles away—” (“You checked?” Gideon said,) “—and I get carsick when I’m inebriated.” She shifted in her seat. “Not to mention that I get a terrible blush at the first sip.”

“Right, because that’s the only reason you’d be blushing.” Harrow delivered a swift kick to her shins under the table, which earned a pained wheeze from her fiancee. “That,” Gideon said, trying to breathe through it, “was uncalled for.”

Harrow shrugged. “If you knock at the devil’s door for long enough, eventually, he will answer.”

“Save the devil for your party this weekend,” Magnus said. “If Coronabeth is in charge, I expect the devil will be out in full force.”

Conversation faded as Magnus and Abigail leaned in to talk about something, keeping their voices low. Something pressed insistently at her thigh, and Gideon looked down in confusion to see Harrow’s knuckle jabbing into her.

She gave a sidelong glance to Magnus and Abigail, still enmeshed in conversation. “What’s up?”

“I need to talk to you,” Harrow muttered, matching her volume. “Alone.”

“Hot,” Gideon said. “I’m in.” To Magnus and Abigail, she said, “Hey, guys, we’re gonna take a breather for a bit. Couple shit. You know.” She stood, and Harrow bolted upright next to her in an instant. “Back in a few.”

Magnus gave them a quick nod. “We’ll finish the seating chart and send it to Dulcinea for final approval,” He said. “Get some rest.”

Harrow waited until the door to their shared bedroom was closed to say, “Abigail is giving me her wedding dress for the ceremony.”

Gideon’s eyes flicked down; her hands were trembling by her sides. “Okay,” She said, carefully. “And that’s a bad thing?”

“I don’t know.” Harrow blinked once, then twice. “She— called me her daughter.”

Gideon took a slow step forward, taking Harrow’s hands in her own. “You’re about to be,” She said. “Legally, I mean. It doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to.”

“I do want it to,” Harrowhark admitted, with all the gravity of a collapsing star. “I— I was surprised by how badly, in fact.” A pause. “Gideon, I—” She swallowed. Then she searched Gideon’s face, though this time neither of them were sure for what. Any remaining traces of anger, maybe, or worse— forgiveness. “I didn’t think. When I first proposed this, I— I had no idea it would lead us here.”

“Neither did I,” Gideon said honestly, “but it did. And, honestly, I think we’re kinda making the best of it.”

Harrow nodded, but worry lingered in her eyes. “And you still— consent? To all of this?”

Gideon squeezed her hands with a smile and resisted powerfully the urge to make a joke. “I do. I’m all in, Harrow.” A beat. “Plus, now we get to see Cam drink Palamedes under the table. How much do you want to bet he ends up pulling trig?”

“If he does, it won’t be in this house,” Harrow muttered. She let out a sigh, pressing their joined hands to her forehead. “God. I— I had no idea it would be this stressful.”

Gideon brought them gently backwards until she could sit on the edge of the bed. “Planning a wedding, or thinking about a drunk Palamedes ruining it?”

Harrow gave her a fond, exasperated look. “The former,” She said, stepping closer. Gideon spread her legs wider, creating a space for Harrow to fill in, and she did. “I keep finding myself wishing there was something to be done to make it easier, and then I remember that the only way to make it easier—”

“—is to do it,” Gideon finished. “Yeah. Well, come lie down for a second. I’ll put a tie on the door if you want. I bet if we pretend like we’re fucking, neither of them will knock.”

This, against Harrow’s better judgment, earned a laugh. “You are incorrigible,” She said, resting her hands lightly on Gideon’s arms. She let out a breath. “But— fine. A nap might do me well.”

Gideon scooted backwards, making a space for Harrow on the bed. Once they settled in — Gideon’s arm rubbing gently at Harrow’s back, Harrow’s hands fisted lightly in her shirt — Gideon found herself saying, “Hey, Silas mentioned something weird on the phone.”

Harrow made a quiet, half-asleep noise, and Gideon took this as a sign to continue. “He said you made Ortus sit in on interviews for his replacement out of, like, cruelty. Like you forced him to watch.”

The hands in her shirt went still. “What?” Harrow said, more confused than anything else. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Feel free to explain why,” said Gideon, who had no idea what was happening.

“Ortus was in those interviews because he was pursuing a contract with us,” Harrow explained. “He wanted to make sure his position would be filled once he was published. His father and my father were— close. I’ve known him all my life, and I think he felt an obligation to make sure I was taken care of.”

That, admittedly, made much more sense than what Silas had said. “I didn’t know Ortus was published,” said Gideon.

“He wrote under a pen name.” Harrow let out a yawn. “Abigail has a copy of his work in the library. He had been working on his translation of the Iliad for years before he told me about it. I didn’t read the finished piece, but I helped edit it from time to time.”

“But—” She blinked, trying to process it. “It never got any press.”

“Of course it did,” Harrow said, shifting closer. “It was just covered by a different department. At the time, it seemed improper for Ortus’ former boss to handle the details of his release. Nepotism, et cetera.” She cracked open an eyelid, meeting Gideon’s stare.

“Silas has been gifted with a sense of conviction in himself, but his stories are rarely complete,” Harrow said, eyeing her face. “He deals in half-truths and extrapolation. I have found that facts rarely make the impact on him that stories do.”

Something in Gideon’s heart was soothed by this. She pulled Harrow a fraction closer, holding her tighter. “Thank you,” She said, muffled by Harrow’s hair. “It didn’t sound right when he said it, but— I don’t know, it freaked me out a little.”

Harrow rested her forehead against Gideon’s sternum. “Thank you for trusting me, then.”

Gideon smiled into the top of Harrow’s head, and found herself murmuring back, “You make it easy, sweetheart.”

“Did you say something?” Harrow mumbled, sleep taking over her voice.

Gideon’s smile widened. “Nah,” She said, closing her eyes. “Go to sleep, honey. Don’t worry about me.”

* * *

The next few days passed in glimpses of phone calls, invoices, and last-minute fittings.

By the time they made it to the weekend, Gideon was nearing the end of her rope. Actually, she had reached the end of her rope about two days before, and had been tiptoeing forward ever since on what had become a frayed bit of twine.

She was handling it better than Harrowhark, at least. Music and a venue were long since taken care of — Gideon blessed Dulcinea’s foresight — which meant that the two of them had been given the task of— well, everything else.

At least they’d sorted out the logistics. Now all that was left was the bachelor party, the finishing touches, and the ceremony, and wrangling together a pack of bridesmaids — bridesmen? groomsmaids? a wedding party — on such short notice had been a disaster all on its own.

And yet here they were, sleep-deprived as all hell, waiting in the brisk October air for an anemic professor and his second cousin.

“I still can’t believe you managed to get Palamedes here so fast,” Gideon remarked. “Seriously. Props to you for that. It’s— what, like, a twelve-hour flight from Dublin?”

Harrow looked at her as though she had asked if the sky was purple. “He’s been traveling for almost two days,” She said. “The last I heard, he was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest for an overnight layover. Camilla met him in Boston nearly twenty hours ago.”

“Okay, so I made a tiny underestimation,” Gideon said. She tilted her head, frowning lightly at her fiancée. “You alright?”

“Fine,” Harrow said curtly. “Peachy.”

“You sound like Magnus.”

This earned her another withering look. But, to her credit, Harrow didn’t hold herself back like the Harrowhark of the past would have. Instead, she steeled herself, released a loaded breath, and admitted, “It’s begun to sink in that this is— real. That it’s happening. I’ve never liked big events like this.”

Gideon had seen Harrow work a room full of investors like she was a preacher giving a sermon. Her frown deepened. “You could’ve fooled me.”

“Work is one thing,” Harrow said, briefly making Gideon panic about having her mind read. “But— I mean, Christ, Nav, we’re getting married.

“Are you still going to call me Nav when I’m your wife?” Gideon asked. “I’m not being facetious, I just want to know. I’ll still call you Nonagesimus— unless you want to be a Nav, too.”

“Gideon,” Harrow said, her voice strained.

“Sorry. Tangent.” Gideon checked the window behind Harrow; Palamedes and Camilla’s flight was landing as they spoke. Not much time, then. She took Harrow’s hands in her own, wondered briefly if she should drop to one knee, and said, “Harrow. Harrowhark.”

“That is my name, yes,” said Harrow, about as tightly as a coiled spring. “Thank you for the reminder.”

Gideon ignored this. “Marriage is big and scary, but the only things it changes for us are a few tax laws and a citizenship issue. It doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to.” A thread of guilt and self-consciousness wove through her. “And— look, I know it’s not exactly the wedding you were hoping for. I’m sorry to take that from you.”

Confusion flickered briefly across Harrow’s face, but Gideon was too busy looking at their hands to see it pass. “Nav, what on Earth are you talking about?”

“You know,” Gideon said, casting her eyes around shiftily. “The fact that we’re going to all this effort when it’s—” She leaned in a few inches, “—not real.”

Not real, repeated Gideon hollowly to herself. What a joke. A sick sort of wanting had settled heavy in her stomach, and even as she tried to deny it it roiled against her.

“Ah,” Harrowhark said, with a tone that almost suggested disappointment. A beat. “That isn’t an issue.”

“You sure?” Gideon searched her face. “All you have to do is say the word, and we can call the whole thing off.”

“If I do that, I’ll be deported,” Harrow reminded her.

“Oh,” Gideon said. “Right.”

“And besides,” Harrow said, clearing her throat. “There are worse people to be married to — even for a brief time, and even for an unconventional reason — than you.” The last words were hesitant, and Harrow refused to look her in the eyes when she spoke.

It was unfair, Gideon thought helplessly, that even the most stilted, awkward admission from Harrow could make her heart pound the way it was now. Gideon found that she was smiling, and leaned in to kiss Harrow’s forehead. “If this is a preview of what your vows are gonna be, I can’t wait.”

Movement from the tarmac drew her attention— passengers from the flight they were waiting for were beginning to deplane. Harrow followed her gaze to the plane and, for the first time, she seemed to relax marginally. “I see Sextus,” She said.

Gideon squinted until her eyes landed on two figures clad in gray. “Oh, yeah. There they are.” She turned to Harrow. “You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Harrow muttered. She squeezed Gideon’s hand. “Are you?”

Gideon looked at their friends, arriving in Alaska shouldering a suit bag apiece, and smiled. “Seems a bit late to back out now.” They entered the building, and suddenly things became real.

Gideon hadn’t seen Palamedes Sextus in the flesh in nearly a year, and she assumed from the weary, battered expression on his face that this was something of a low point for him. He had the general look of a kitten that had just been bathed in the sink, given the circles under his eyes.

His eyes were the same curious, lambent gray Gideon remembered. His face was the same shade of warm brown rendered pale from too long spent in the archives of a library rather than the sun. His hands seemed too delicate around the handle of the ratty, patchwork briefcase he held, and his hair seemed to fall limply in his face without design or forethought.

And half a step behind him walked Camilla Hect.

She, at least, was more familiar— the sharp lines of her face were matched by the knife-point of her hair, cut to her jaw without any semblance of deviation. Her eyes were darker, slate-gray and flecked with brown, but no less striking. She moved like a fire waiting to be put out. She bore — and always had — the look of someone that memorized the exit routes of every room she walked into.

But she smiled when she saw Gideon, and that was all that really mattered. “Nav,” She said, by way of greeting. She reached out a hand. “I got your shirt dry cleaned.”

“I didn’t get your Knicks tickets,” Gideon said, walking forward to clap their hands together. “It’s a work in progress.”

Harrowhark, meanwhile, accepted a warm hug from Palamedes, and tried her best not to look uncomfortable. “Wonderful to see you again, dear,” He murmured, pulling away and taking a look at her. “You look tired. I imagine it’s been an awful lot of work planning everything.”

“More than I expected,” Harrow admitted. “I suppose there’s a reason most people don’t get married after a week of planning.”

Most people also don’t hide a years-long relationship from their best friend.” Palamedes raised an eyebrow. “I expect an explanation for that, by the way.”

“Are we friends?” Harrow asked, cocking her head to one side. “Colleagues and acquaintances, surely.”

“Surely.” Palamedes remained unperturbed. “And I assume that’s why you flew me out to your wedding in First Class?”

Harrow ground her teeth lightly, but her eyes betrayed her relief. “Touche.”

“Well, I, for one, am ready to let loose after a hard week,” said Gideon, winding an arm around Harrow’s waist without thinking. Camilla’s eyebrows raised, and she shot a glance over to Palamedes. “Who’s ready to party?”

“So this is— real?” Camilla said, ignoring her. “It wasn’t some elaborate prank?”

Gideon looked at Harrow; Harrow looked at Gideon. “It’s real,” Harrowhark said, surprising them both. “Unexpected, to be sure, but real.”

“I see,” said Palamedes. After a moment, he smiled, and it seemed to unite the disparate features of his face into beauty. “In that case, let me be the latest to offer my congratulations.”

Harrow relaxed visibly. “Thank you.” She turned towards Gideon, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed her cheek. Her lips lingered there for a moment — probably for the best, considering Gideon had frozen solid — before she lowered herself back down to her heels. “Stunned speechless, Nav? I thought we were past that.”

“Speechless? Me? Never,” Gideon said, hoping her blush wasn’t visible. She was pretty sure she had a brand in the shape of Harrow’s lips, if the burning sensation on her cheek was any indication, but now wasn’t the time to check. “Just surprised, honey bear.”

“Gross,” Camilla muttered.

“Well, Gideon is right,” Harrow said, further surprising everyone present. “We should begin our return to the house soon. The party is set to start once the sun goes down, which means our time is increasingly precious.”

Gideon nodded. “I’ll bring the car around.”

“I’ll come with you,” said Camilla unexpectedly.

“Oh.” Gideon blinked. She looked at Harrow; Harrow looked at her. “I mean, it’s not a huge deal. You don’t—”

“Nope.” She turned to Palamedes with an open hand, and he placed his briefcase into it as though they had done it a thousand times. “I’m coming.”

“It’s not even that big of a truck,” Gideon said halfheartedly. This was met with an unimpressed stare. It was easier to cheat death, she thought briefly, than to say no to Camilla Hect. She let out a defeated sigh. “Alright, fine. Let’s go.”

As soon as they were out the door, Camilla said— in the light, casual tones of someone asking about the weather— “So, is she blackmailing you, or are you the one extorting her? I haven’t been able to figure that part out.”

Gideon sent her a look. “Cam.”

“You can’t tell me it isn’t a fair question,” said Camilla, dropping all pretense. She lowered her voice. “Gideon, three years and change of working for her, and now you’re getting married?” She gave Gideon a sideways look. “I couldn’t help but notice it was right as her visa expired, too. I don’t suppose that had anything to do with it.”

Gideon went rigid. Her hands tightened on the keys. She let out a sharp breath, and saw it condense like a fog in the air. “I don’t know what you’re implying.”

“Yes, you do. You’re not an idiot, Nav. You do know it’s illegal to do this, right?” At this, Gideon tried walking faster. Camilla let out a sigh, grabbed her arm, and brought them both to a halt. “Listen, if you don’t want this arrangement, that’s one thing. If you do, that’s another. I just want to know— which is it?”

A shock of cold ran down Gideon’s spine. She turned towards Camilla fully, recognized concern in her sharp eyes, and realized two things in the span of half a second.

The first should have been obvious, really: Gideon could not, with any semblance of success, lie to her.

The second was infinitely more terrifying— not only did she want this, she wanted it enormously. It was a horrible, desperate kind of desire, and it was one she had absolutely no idea how to handle.

“I hate how good you are at that,” Gideon grumbled after a moment. “I can’t keep anything to myself, can I?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” said Camilla, who was a pill.

She cast a glance back towards the terminal and lowered her voice out of habit. “Look— you’re right. That’s how it started. Whatever. Hect, you cannot tell anyone.

“Gideon,” said Camilla firmly. She fixed her with a disarming stare, the kind that made Gideon feel like she was being fileted. “Do you want this?”

This question, Gideon thought, was not entirely accurate. What Camilla was really asking was do you want her, and that was a question that she could only answer with—

“Yes,” Gideon said, barely above a whisper. She opened her mouth, then closed it, and somehow the confused, half-concerned look on Camilla’s face was all it took for the dam to crumble.

All of the guilt and shame from the last few weeks bubbled to the surface; all of the fear she had managed to suppress stabbed into her like the sting of a wasp.

“Cam, I— I don’t know what happened.” Her voice cracked on the last word. “It was fake, and that was fine, but then we came here, and then—” She made a helpless gesture towards the terminal. “And now we’re getting married, and I should hate that, and I should want to get out of it, but—”

The words died in her throat, but it didn’t matter. Camilla had always had a particular skill for deductive reasoning. Gideon watched in real time as her friend’s mind filled in the blanks she hadn’t been able to verbalize, and watched her eyes widen a quarter of a second later.

“Oh.” It was loaded with terrible understanding.

There was a lump forming in Gideon’s throat. She tried to swallow it, but she only managed to choke down about half. She didn’t say anything— it would have come out wrong and wavery, and she didn’t want to subject either of them to that.

Camilla cleared her throat and adopted a stance that could — charitably — be called awkward. And then, God bless her, she didn’t press. “So— it’s not fake.”

Gideon took a deep breath and released it in a thin whoosh of air, regaining the ability to speak.“Sort of.” She groaned, dragging her hands down her face. “It is, and it isn’t. It’s all very confusing.”

“I’m following along,” Camilla said. “Do your parents know? Does anyone know?”

Guilt sparked in Gideon’s chest. “No,” She admitted. “Not yet, anyway. I don’t know if telling them would do any good now.”

Camilla frowned. “Why not?”

Here it was. This was her chance. It had been looming in her mind for a few days now, but she hadn’t been able to say it out loud yet.

“Because I’m in love with her. I think, anyway,” Gideon said, trying to sound as natural as possible. “And since that’s true, I don’t know if they’re going to care as much about how it started.”

“Ah,” said Camilla, letting out a low whistle. “Well, that— changes things.” There was a brief silence, and then she punched Gideon in the shoulder. “Congrats, though.”

“Thanks.” Gideon let out a sigh. “I don’t know what to do about it.”

Camilla shrugged and began walking again, prompting Gideon to release her grip on the keys by a fraction. “Who says you have to do anything? You’re already marrying her. Isn’t that the end goal anyway?”

“Yeah, but I have no idea what the protocol here is. Like, do we kiss when we get to the altar?”

Camilla looked at her as though she’d asked what color the sky was. “Obviously. That’s standard wedding procedure.”

Alright, maybe that had been an easy question. “Okay, well, what about after?” Gideon persisted, unlocking the doors as they drew closer. She hefted Camilla’s suitcase into the bed of the truck. “Do we—” She let out a huff. “Do we have sex? Is that off-limits?”

Camilla’s nose wrinkled in mild disgust. “That’s your business, not mine,” She said, sliding Palamedes’ briefcase into the backseat. “But you know what might help?”

Gideon slid into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition key, feeling the truck roar to life under her hands. “What?”

“Talking to her instead of me,” said Camilla, not unkindly. “No offense.”

“None taken.” After a moment, Gideon said: “It’s good to have you here.”

A ghost of a smile flitted across Camilla’s face. “Good to be here,” She said. “Come on. If we’re gone any longer, Palamedes is going to send out a search party.”

When the truck pulled around in front of the terminal, Camilla slid out of shotgun and into the backseat.

“You were gone longer than I anticipated,” Harrowhark said, sliding into the front seat. Her voice was gruff and unyielding, but the relief on her face belied the truth of what she felt. “I was— worried about you.”

Her hands were fisted in her lap, and she wouldn’t quite make eye contact. Even now, even with the protective expression she kept fixing Gideon with, she was afraid of vulnerability.

Gideon reached out to rest her hand over Harrow’s. “Your hands are cold,” She murmured. She met Harrow’s eyes as she brought her knuckles to her lips, pressing a kiss there. Harrow’s eyelashes fluttered, and her mouth dropped open a fraction. “There’s no need to worry. We just—” Gideon met Camilla’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Got to talking,” She said. “That’s all.”

Then she cleared her throat. To the rest of the car, Gideon asked, “Now who’s ready to fucking party?”

* * *

It should’ve been obvious from the moment the party started that it was going to be a long night for everyone.

This was to say: a knock came twenty minutes before sunset, and Gideon opened the door to see Coronabeth in what could only be described as splendor — jewels, jewel tones, and more jewels — with two bottles of liquor in her hands.

Gideon frowned. “I thought we weren’t starting until after the sun was down?”

“Hold onto your asscheeks,” Coronabeth Tridentarius said roguishly, striding into Canaan House like she owned it. “And welcome to the pregame. If any of us remember this night, it will be a failure,”

Ianthe slinked in behind her holding a case of cider. “She got started early,” She said succinctly, handing a bottle to Gideon.

Gideon peered out the door around her before closing it. “Where’s Babs?”

“Naberius is with our dear Lady Septimus helping her set up speakers for later,” Corona called from the kitchen. “He’s been very dedicated to tonight, you know. I think he likes you more than he lets on— oh, Christ, you scared me!”

Gideon looked up to see Camilla standing perfectly still and completely silent in the hallway. She let out a long-suffering sigh. “Corona, meet Camilla Hect,” She said, gesturing vaguely. “Cam, this is Coronabeth Tridentarius and her sister Ianthe.”

Corona offered a hand. Ianthe raised an eyebrow.

Camilla took the hand and stoutly ignored the eyebrow. “Camilla Hect, in partnership with Trinity College to oversee publication at the Ninth House,” She said in a smooth, practiced manner. To Gideon, she said, much less smooth and much less practiced: “Your fiancée wants your opinion on something. I told her I’d find you.”

“On it,” Gideon said. She gestured between the three of them. “Don’t kill each other while I’m gone.”

“No promises,” Corona said with an exaggerated wink. She was eyeing Camilla with interest, which Camilla didn’t seem to notice. She was eyeing carefully the wood of the countertop, though for what end Gideon couldn’t begin to guess.

Leaving the kitchen to its own devices, she made her way back to her room to find Harrow glaring at her reflection in the mirror.

“I have a dilemma,” She said, barely waiting for Gideon to close the door behind her. The back of her dress was open and— slightly wrong. One side seemed abruptly higher than the other.

“Hello to you, too,” replied Gideon, plopping herself down on the corner of the bed. “What’s going on?”

Harrow let out a sharp exhale. “I have one— no. I have two issues. The first is that I seem to have misplaced the jacket I was going to wear.”

Gideon glanced over to the pile of laundry that had accumulated in the corner. “If it’s in there, we can probably throw it in the dryer.”

“I looked already,” Harrow said glumly. “And my dress is refusing to cooperate, which makes it infinitely more difficult to focus on.” She rubbed at her forehead. “This evening is conspiring against me.”

“Take a breath,” said Gideon, not unkindly. “Turn around and I’ll zip you up.”

Harrow did as she was told. Her hair had grown out a fraction since being there, and she moved it away from her neck as Gideon stepped in behind her. She tilted her head down.

This meant, at least, she didn’t see Gideon stumble at the sight of her exposed back.

She had seen Harrow in less and handled it normally, and yet seeing her now sent her spinning in a way she was thoroughly unaccustomed to. The bones of Harrowhark’s spine stood out under the skin in a straight line — she never sacrificed posture for anything — and an unblemished expanse of brown surrounded them.

She had a faint dusting of black hair near the nape of her neck and another near her lower back, and below them (though it was hidden beneath the fabric of her dress) sat the curve of her ass. This last thing was, perhaps, what Gideon was struggling with most, given that it was dangerously close to where her hips sat behind Harrow.

Her eyes dipped down for a second too long before she shot her gaze towards the sky. Her hands hovered in midair for a moment, unsure, before they found purchase on the snag.

“Found the issue,” said Gideon, with some difficulty. She cleared her throat, meeting Harrow’s eyes in the mirror. “Your zipper’s caught.”

Harrow met her eyes in the mirror. “Thank you for the diagnosis,” She said, unimpressed. “Are you going to fix it?”

Gideon rolled her eyes. She pressed a hand firm against Harrow’s lower back to brace with, and heard a sharp, surprised intake of breath from the other woman. The other hand pulled — gently, she reminded herself, gently — at the zipper until, finally, it came loose.

Gideon let out a breath of triumph and moved her bracing hand towards the bottom of Harrow’s zipper— which, coincidentally, meant her thumb was pressing right above her ass.

Gideon tried, she really did, but it was difficult not to steal a glance. For someone whose diet in recent years had consisted of coffee, meal replacement smoothies, and lemon water, she had always had — in Gideon’s respectful opinion — a damn good ass.

In the mirror, she saw Harrow’s eyebrows raise as Gideon’s hand pressed at her lower back, and she tried to keep her eyes pointed straight at the zipper as she drew it up neatly.

“All done,” Gideon said, half a second too late. Her hand lingered at Harrow’s back for a moment before she drew it back; she had to fight the urge to touch her again.

Harrow was watching her in the mirror with a strange expression. “Thank you,” She said, swallowing down whatever emotion it was that had run through her. She nodded to Gideon’s ensemble, which was, perhaps, a bit more casual than her own. “I can’t tell if I’m overdressed or you’re underdressed.”

Gideon looked at herself. She was in a dress shirt with its sleeves rolled up, which was already a step above what she had planned for. “If I add a tie, it’ll dress it up a little,” She offered.

Harrow gave a nod as though this would satisfy her, which sent Gideon digging through her suitcase for a moment.

She popped her collar and looped the tie around her neck, stepping in view of the mirror for a moment to get a better view, but Harrow stopped her before she could begin the knot.

“Let me,” Harrow said, putting a hesitant hand on her chest. A second too late, she added: “Your knots always come out lopsided.”

Gideon swallowed a lump of butterflies back into her stomach. “Oh,” She managed. “Good point.” Her tie felt limp and useless in her hands, and it was a relief when Harrowhark took the ends from her. “Do you need me to sit, or—”

“No. I want you here,” She said, and something in her voice made Gideon’s knees go weak.

“Cool,” Gideon managed. “Cool.” Harrow’s fingers worked in expert silence for a moment. Her eyes were fixed on her work; Gideon’s eyes were fixed on her.

Eventually, she drew the ends into a knot and began to pull it, drawing it snugly towards Gideon’s throat. “All done,” Harrow murmured, stepping back. “What do you think?”

“Better than most of mine,” said Gideon approvingly, “and I do it every morning.” She glanced towards Harrow. “Where did you learn to do this?”

“Watching my mother,” Harrow answered. A beat. “And YouTube.”

“And therein contains the breadth of human knowledge,” said Gideon. She looked at them in the mirror for a moment. “My outfit is so— boring compared to yours.”

Harrow made eye contact with her in the mirror. “You fill yours out well enough to compensate,” She said lightly. “And knowing the company we keep, neither of us will end the night as dressed up as we’re beginning it.”

As if on cue, a noise came from the kitchen. It sounded like a crash, but the chatter that followed it sounded resoundingly positive.

Gideon looked towards the door and realized that, to her surprise, the only place she wanted to be was in that room with Harrow. “We should go out there,” She said, with a note of disappointment in her voice.

Harrow followed her eyes and let out a sigh. “We should,” She agreed. Neither of them moved. She swallowed.

“Nav— Gideon,” Harrow began hesitantly, “it is important to me that you know you can still get out of this.”

“Of course I know that,” Gideon said.

This did not reassure her. “I do not wish to force you to stay with me.”

“You aren’t.” Gideon frowned and took a step toward her. Her hand betrayed her mind and came to rest gently on Harrow’s cheek. “Where’s this coming from?”

“Physically speaking, I believe it started in the pit of my stomach.” Harrow let out a brief sigh and leaned, just for a moment, into Gideon’s touch. “Something Palamedes said earlier,” She admitted. “He told me that when they first found out, he and Camilla were— worried for you. I don’t blame them.”

“Camilla mentioned that to me, too,” Gideon said.

Harrow’s head snapped up. “What?”

“Oh, yeah. She cornered me outside and asked if I was being blackmailed.” Harrow’s eyes widened, and Gideon rushed to say, “I told her I wasn’t, obviously.” She paused. “But she— knows. She knows,” She said, for emphasis. Preemptively, she continued, “I didn’t tell her. She figured it out, same as Silas.”

Panic filled Harrow’s expression for a moment, and her jaw went tight. “And yet she and Sextus are still here,” Harrow said slowly. “What happened after?”

“I mean, she told me it was illegal,” Gideon shrugged. “Same old, same old. Um. And then she asked if—” Her words died in her throat.

Harrow didn’t blink, but her stare intensified. “What?”

Here, Gideon thought it would be pertinent to make a few omissions. She cleared her throat. “Well, she asked if I wanted to go through with it, which I confirmed that I did.” At this, Harrow relaxed visibly. “And then she said congratulations, and that was kinda the end of it.”

Harrow’s breath left her in a sigh of relief. “She did?”

Gideon stroked her thumb against Harrow’s cheek. “Yes, Nonagesimus, she did. We’re sorted there, I promise.”

Harrow worked her bottom lip between her teeth. “Alright,” She said, after a moment. And then: “I trust you.”

Gideon smiled. “I know you do.” She moved her hand down to squeeze at Harrow’s shoulder. “Come on, sweetheart. We have a party to get to.”

Harrow let out a brief sigh. “If someone makes me do shots, I’m going to throw up,” She said warily.

Gideon made her way towards the door, holding it open for her fiancée. “Unfortunately, I believe our gracious hosts are pouring them as we speak. Want me to block for you?”

“No. I’m going to do them,” Harrow sighed. “I just wanted you to know beforehand.”

Sure enough, Coronabeth Tridentarius had a bottle of liquor in her hand when they re-entered the kitchen. “Ah!” She exclaimed. “Wonderful! I was just about to call you.” She pushed two glasses towards them. “We’re pregaming, and I’m afraid I have to insist that you join us.”

Camilla was sipping lightly on a bottle of cider. “Seconded,” She said, making eye contact with Gideon, who looked at her as though she had driven a knife into her back. “I did one, and I’m not even the one getting married.”

Gideon made a weak attempt at protesting, which was roundly shut down by Coronabeth. “It’s your bachelor party,” She said firmly. “Assuming all goes to plan, this is the last time you’ll get to live deliciously before your attention inevitably turns to children and the housing market and— I don’t know, retirement funds. Live a little, my friends.”

Harrow let out a quiet groan next to her, but Gideon was once again stuck on children.

It was embarrassing how often she had returned to the thought since her conversation with Magnus. It seemed that her mind moved faster than she could tame it— she kept coming back to the mental image of a little girl with golden eyes and Harrow’s smile, and every time it made her heart so full it ached.

Christ. She was deep in it, wasn’t she?

Gideon was beginning to realize that she had erred in the last few years in one major way: during her time with the Ninth, she had viewed devotion as a sacrifice. Every late night, every overtime shift, every business trip was something she had to do rather than something she wanted to do.

And she had, thus, seen her commitment to Harrowhark as a burden— but it wasn’t. Not anymore. Maybe not ever. Now her devotion was a choice, made with full knowledge and full awareness. And where it forged ahead, love followed like a reaper.

“On second thought, I’m in,” said Gideon, trying not to look at Harrowhark. “Pass me a shot.”

Coronabeth let a satisfied smile curl over her lips as she slid a glass over. “That’s more like it.” She passed Harrow one, too, which she accepted wearily. Corona raised her own in the air. “Cheers to the happy couple. May your days be peaceful and your nights anything but.”

She finished with a wink and threw her glass back, which prompted Gideon and Harrow to do the same.

She had been expecting something familiar — vodka, or tequila maybe — and was instead greeted with the feeling of drinking gasoline. She heard a sound of disgust rip through her as, next to her, Harrow made a noise like a punctured tire.

Gideon’s eyes were watering as she grimaced, swallowing her mouthful down with a cough. “Jesus, that was terrible. What was that?”

“Everclear,” Coronabeth said sweetly. She would have sold her own indifference to it better if it weren’t for the twitching of her eyes. “Care for another?”

Next to her, Harrow was bent over at the waist with her hands on her knees. She took a deep breath through her nose, shaking her head weakly. “No, thank you,” She wheezed. “That will be— more than sufficient.”

“Wonderful! In that case,” began Coronabeth, with a daring twinkle in her eyes, “this is where the best night of your life begins.”

* * *

Two things became apparent within the next few hours.

The first was that the Everclear had been a mistake. That, at least, Harrowhark had known from the beginning. She was starting to see a pattern of poor decisions emanating from tonight, but at least that had prompted her to balance them out with a good one: not drinking any more.

Well— not much more, anyway. She was sipping on something Palamedes had made for her, but he had told her at the time that it wouldn’t be strong and his own tolerance was, charitably speaking, pretty terrible. She figured it wouldn’t be too bad.

The second thing was that she was, more or less against her will, having a very good time.

She had to admit, Coronabeth knew how to throw a goddamn party. She and Dulcinea must have paid a fortune for the music setup — or maybe Naberius had a secret background in being a techie — which was to say nothing of the food, the alcohol, and the decor.

And there was Gideon.

Gideon, as she always did, surprised her. The shot had taken its toll slowly but surely. Gideon seemed to have followed her lead in taking a pause, but even now she was swaying gently to the music as she and Camilla shared a conversation across the room.

This showed a marked improvement in sobriety from earlier, when Gideon — who Harrow knew didn’t speak even a lick of Spanish — had danced on a table to Selena for nearly twenty minutes straight.

Harrow had taken up residence on a couch near the corner of the room when Coronabeth found her.

“There you are! Scoot over,” She said, sliding in next to her. “What do you think?”

“Of the party?” Harrow asked.

Corona nodded. “We can start there, yes.”

Harrow looked around with a nod of approval. “You have outdone yourself,” She admitted, only half-grudgingly. “Truly. It outranks most of the professional functions I’ve attended, and I have attended enough of those to last a lifetime.”

“That is an incredible compliment. You flatter me,” said Coronabeth with no small measure of pride. “Thank you, Harrowhark.” She tilted her head to one side. “I find myself dissatisfied, though. You tell me it’s a wonderful party, yet I’ve found you tucked away on a couch. May I ask why?”

“I’ve always preferred being on the outskirts of parties,” said Harrowhark, raising her voice to be heard above the music. “I have found that more can be learned by simply observing than in most conversations.”

“Fascinating,” Coronabeth said, narrowing her eyes interest. She tilted her head to one side, regarding Harrow as though she were a character in a play. “I think of myself as terribly self-important, so I’m afraid I have to ask— is there anything you’ve observed about me?”

Perhaps her drink was stronger than she thought, or perhaps she was just in a talkative mood. It was difficult to say. Whichever it was, the familiar trepidation Harrow felt in conversation vanished as turned she towards the golden twin, looking her up and down for a moment.

“I don’t know if this counts as observation,” She began, “but I was threatened by you when we first met. And I feel as though it would be difficult not to be— you had an advantage over me in both knowledge of my fiancée and shared history, and especially in the beginning— in a new place, with unfamiliar people— I found it very difficult to get over that.”

It was easier than she had ever expected to say it. And she had to admit— it was a little satisfying to see Coronabeth Tridentarius at a complete loss for words. Harrow got the feeling it didn’t happen often.

“Oh,” Corona said after a moment. She blinked. “Wow.”

“That is no longer how I feel,” Harrow said, injecting the barest hint of reassurance into her voice. The corner of her mouth quirked up in a half-smile. “It came from my own perception of my inferiority, and was not your fault in the slightest. In truth, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have met you.”

“Can I ask why?” Coronabeth’s voice was uncharacteristically vulnerable.

Harrow paused for a moment, searching for the words. “You make Gideon happy,” She said simply. “You were a large part of her life once, and you have continued to be. You loved her, and—” Harrow faltered, but only for a moment. She said: “And I love her.”

A beat. “I love her,” said Harrow again, smiling in the dim, warm light of the party. “And to have someone else in my life that understands the complexities of that feeling is— comforting.”

Something in Corona’s golden face softened. She reached a hand over to Harrow, resting it on her wrist. “It makes me happy to hear you say that.” There was a soft, shy smile on her face. “And— I’m sure you know this, but I will repeat it just in case. What Gideon and I had was wonderful, but it was years ago,” Coronabeth said, making a firm gesture with her hand for emphasis. “She has moved on, and so have I. All I want to give to you both is friendship.”

“I know,” said Harrow, and meant it. “I appreciate it.” And then, after a beat of companionable silence passed between them: “Do you have an email I can send my thoughts on housing in New York to?”

Coronabeth’s smile widened, and she gave Harrow a roguish wink. “Oh, stop it, you flirt.” She pulled out her phone. “If you have it handy, AirDrop will be fine.”

“Wonderful. In that case—” Movement from ahead of them drew Harrow’s attention for a moment, interrupting her. She looked up from her phone to see a slowly-growing crowd of people cheering on Gideon as she unbuttoned her shirt and let it fall to the ground.

The movement exposed her undershirt, which, in this case, was a thin white tank top tucked into her slacks. Harrow’s breath left her in a whoosh. Fuck me,” She breathed, barely noticing that she had spoken.

Coronabeth’s eyebrows raised. “Well, that took a turn.” She followed Harrow’s eyes over to the other side of the room, where surprise smoothed into understanding. She fanned herself gently with a hand. “Ah, that would do it. I don’t know what you’ve been feeding her in New York, but for all of our sake, please keep doing it.”

“The first time I saw her outside of work clothes, I spilled an entire coffee on myself,” said Harrow, ignoring the mortified protests of sober privacy in her head. “She didn’t see it happen, thank God. She was in shorts and a shirt that read sex, weights, and protein shakes or something equally inane.”

Corona’s expression was battling between a grimace and a fond smile. “That sounds about right. I don’t know where she even finds the time to keep it up, but— well, thank God she does,” She said, leaning back against the couch to get a better view.

Ahead of them, Gideon stretched her arms above her head as if preparing herself for something, then fiddled with something in her pocket for a moment. It sent her muscles rippling in the low light, and Harrow’s breath left her again.

It shouldn’t have surprised her to feel her heart racing. Harrow wasn’t immune to more traditional forms of beauty, but she had always had something of a preference for strength and musculature in her partners.

This was something that had annoyed her for most of her life simply on the basis of her own intelligence— she loved the vivacity of athletes, and dreaded nothing more than holding a conversation with one.

And then there was Gideon.

Gideon, who could talk for hours about hockey statistics and quote Dickinson in the same breath. Gideon, who spent half her time in the hotel gym when they went on business trips and the other half annotating manuscripts. Gideon, who had a mind as fast as lightning and a body that Zeus himself would have envied.

Harrow had always had a type, and no one had ever fit it so perfectly.

Presently, she had a ping pong ball in her hand, which snapped Harrow back into the present. She threw it forward in a practiced, graceful arc, and watched as it fell neatly into a plastic cup at the other end of the table. The crowd was half cheers and half groans, and Gideon did an exaggerated bow before accepting her shirt from Camilla again.

The light was too dim for her to see perfectly, but there was something different about the shadows on her face. Harrow couldn’t for the life of her figure out what— and then Gideon turned towards her and Coronabeth, winking across the room, and realization struck her with full force.

She was, for some godforsaken reason, wearing her glasses.

And a button-down. And slacks. And a rumpled undershirt, and a tie, and— Harrow needed to be somewhere else right now.

Memory crashed over her the same way her orgasm had, and in its wake came a fiery heat that started in her chest and dripped down into her lower stomach.

Harrow couldn’t begin to guess at the expression she was making, but whatever it was prompted Coronabeth to ask, “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Harrow breathed. She scanned the room for its exits and saw the refuge of a bathroom on one side. “I’ll— be right back. Excuse me.” She didn’t stick around to hear Coronabeth’s confused reply, and kept her eyes too focused on her path to see Gideon’s face crumple in concern.

Harrow pushed her way into the bathroom, closing the door as fast as she could, and braced on the counter with her hands. She made eye contact with her reflection and found a horrible need staring back at her.

Her lips were parted slightly, and they glistened in the bathroom light. Her hands were trembling a little. Her eyes were the size of dinner plates, blown even darker than their usual shade with the widening of her pupils, and she could nearly see the desperation in them.

This was— bad.

Bad enough, of course, that it had been nearly two years since she started noticing things about her assistant that were deeply inappropriate for someone in her position to notice. Bad enough that she had tried and failed to rid herself of any attraction and repeated the process in a terrible cycle for the entire time.

Bad enough that she had already touched herself about it once on this trip, and the traitorous heat in her lower stomach was pushing her rapidly towards a second time— and bad enough that, on top of all of that, she had managed to fall in love.

Harrow closed her eyes and leaned forward, touching her forehead to her reflection, and took a deep, shaky breath in. “Pull yourself together,” She muttered, squeezing her eyes — and legs — shut. “Focus on—”

She was interrupted by a knock at the door. And then, muffled, a voice came through it. “Hey, Harrow, are you in there?”

Fuck.

“Nav?” She called, hoping against hope to be wrong. She wasn’t, of course. She would know Gideon dumb, deaf, and blind, and thought she would hear her voice in dreams for the rest of her life.

“Yeah,” came the reply, muffled through the door. “I saw you run in here, and— I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” There was a pause. “Do you want me to come in?”

Harrow opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out. She could feel her mouth forming the word no, and she could feel her mind responding in a litany of yes, yes, yes, please, yes.

And then the handle turned, and Gideon came inside.

She had only made a halfhearted attempt at putting her shirt back on; the end was tucked in, but most of it hung open in a low V, exposing the tank top below. Her tie was loose around her neck, and her sleeves were rolled up to the elbow. Her glasses were still on her face.

Harrow let out a shaky breath. The mirror in her periphery told her she was staring at Gideon like she was planning on devouring her whole. Too late to change it now, she supposed.

“Hi,” Gideon said, seemingly at a loss for words now that she had come in. “Sorry. I got worried, so…” She trailed off, gesturing vaguely towards the door. “I can leave if you—”

“No,” interrupted Harrow, surprising them both. “No. It’s alright.”

“I didn’t want to just barge in,” said Gideon with a tone that came suspiciously close to nervousness. “I mean, I did, but— you know what I mean.” She paused to search Harrow’s expression. “Are you okay?”

“When will people stop asking me that?” Harrow breathed, trying not to let her eyes linger on Gideon’s lips. She wrestled her gaze away from her face, staring somewhere over her shoulder. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” A beat. “Well— you do, like, physically. This dress is incredible, and you look great. I just mean—”

Harrow meant to stop her with a hand, but she misjudged the distance. It ended up thudding lightly against Gideon’s chest. “I know what you meant,” She said, staring at one of the buttons on her shirt. Gideon’s face was the issue. That was what sent her neurons into a spin. If she avoided that, everything would be fine.

Gideon opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again. “Okay,” She said, confusion audible in her voice. “What’s going on?”

Harrow chewed at the inside of her mouth for a moment. “Close the door.” Gideon did. “I’m afraid I need to ask your forgiveness in advance for what I’m about to say.”

“Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ve heard me say way worse,” Gideon said, taking half a step closer to her.

In time with it, Harrow took half a step backwards, lifting one of her hands up as if to ward her away.

“I masturbated to the thought of you wearing this exact outfit,” She said, briefly grateful for the ease her drink provided her, “and seeing you in it now is doing— dangerous things to me.”

There was a moment of silence. And then Gideon said, with some difficulty: “Gotta admit, I haven’t said that one before.”

“No, you haven’t,” said Harrow quietly. Embarrassment crushed her harder and harder the longer Gideon was quiet, spreading painfully through her entire being. “I’m sorry. Truly, I— never wanted to complicate things between us, and I can’t begin to apologize enough.”

Gideon’s expression was, for once, completely unreadable. But what she said was, “Why would this complicate things?”

Harrow blinked. “Nav,” She said, slowly, “are you asking me to repeat myself, or do you truly not understand?”

“Say it one more time,” said Gideon. “Just to make sure.”

Harrow shifted uncomfortably. Modesty wouldn’t help her now, she supposed. “I touched myself to the thought of you,” She said, still not quite able to look her in the eyes. “If I remember right, I even said your name when I—” She faltered, her throat closing up in embarrassment. “Is that clear enough for you?”

Gideon nodded a few times, more to herself than anything else. She turned towards the door wordlessly, and Harrow’s heart listed sharply at the thought of being left alone—

And then Gideon reached forward and locked the door.

“Get on the counter,” Gideon said, turning back around. Her face was a curious mix of anticipation and vulnerability.

Harrow blinked. Her heart skipped a beat. “What?” And then, slightly louder, “What?”

“I saw a line forming outside, so if we’re going to do this we should do it kinda fast,” said Gideon, as if it were obvious. “Unless you’d rather just go home. I’m fine with that. More than fine, actually.”

Harrow leaned back in a mix of surprise and disbelief. “But— Gideon—”

“Harrowhark,” said Gideon. “Do you seriously think you’re the only one that’s been pining like that?”

“I do not pine,” Harrow said, bewildered.

“Says the one that flicked it thinking about me.”

Harrow resisted the urge to put her head in her hands. “I already regret telling you that.”

Gideon took another step closer. “Sucks,” She said. She put her hands on Harrow’s shoulders, sliding them down until their hands linked. “Listen. I’ve been thinking about going down on you for way longer than I’d like to admit, and I haven’t said anything because I didn’t want to make things weird.”

She was fully in Harrow’s space now. Harrow’s breath caught.

“Oh,” She breathed.

“Yeah, oh,” murmured Gideon. She brought a hand slowly — tentatively, as though she were touching something priceless — to Harrow’s cheek. “So. We’re on the same page.”

“That’s reassuring,” said Harrow faintly. Her mind was stuck on the idea of Gideon’s head between her thighs, and wrestling her attention back to the present was proving more difficult than she had anticipated.

Gideon nodded, waggling her eyebrows. “When did it happen? Masturbating, I mean?”

“After we kissed,” Harrow admitted quietly. “Just after Magnus interrupted us.”

Gideon nodded in understanding. “If you don’t mind me being a little forward,” She began slowly, “I would love to see if reality lives up to expectation.”

Harrow made a sound that might have embarrassed her weeks before, but now all she could focus on was the ache forming between her legs. She wanted— needed— to be touched. “Please,” She breathed, suddenly unable to say anything else.

And Gideon kissed her.

They had had so many first kisses now that Harrow was beginning to lose count. This one was gentle, but unyielding. Gideon’s mouth fit against hers like a puzzle piece, and Harrow was finally starting to see the finished picture.

Her hands fisted in Gideon’s shirt as she changed their angle, deepening the kiss. Gideon made a low, pleased noise against her mouth, and Harrow felt it go straight to the growing heat spreading through her.

“Gideon,” She breathed, breaking the kiss for a moment, “please.”

Gideon’s mouth quirked up in a half-smile. “Please what?”

And Harrow reached up to Gideon’s chin, put her fingers on either side of it, and tilted her face down gently. Gideon’s eyes widened in interest and in surprise, and her lips parted gently.

“Touch me,” Harrow said, and it was like the final barrier between them was shattered.

“How do you want me?” Gideon asked, her voice coming out raw. “My hands, or my mouth, or the strap, or—”

Harrow looked around, mindful of the people on the other side of the door. Speed would help them. “You said you wanted to go down on me, didn’t you?” She said. “And— when we get home, you can show me the others.”

“Do you want this?” Gideon asked, more serious than she had been a moment prior. “Like, if we were doing this tomorrow morning, would you want it then, too?”

Harrow put her hands on Gideon’s forearms and squeezed in reassurance. “Yes,” She said simply. “I’ve always wanted you.”

Gideon blinked, eyes widening. A smile spread across her face. “I’ve always wanted you too.” A beat. Then: “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t too drunk to consent.”

“Nav,” Harrow said. “I had one shot and half a drink. I am perfectly in control. A little loose-lipped, maybe, but very much in the driver’s seat.” She raised her eyebrows. “Are you too drunk to consent?”

“Not even close,” Gideon said. She smiled, half-giddy. “Get on the counter.”

Harrow hopped up awkwardly. She opened her legs slightly, feeling herself breathing heavy as Gideon drew closer, and pulled her in by the tie. Black eyes met golden. “Now, are you going to fuck me,” Harrow asked, in a low breath, “or am I going to have to do it myself?”

“I thought you already had,” said Gideon. “Wasn’t that the whole point?”

Before Harrow could respond, Gideon leaned forward and kissed her, and this time everything was different.

It was— fierce. It was fiery. There was a needy desperation behind it, and Harrow found herself letting out a moan into Gideon’s mouth.

And then she felt a hand against her. Gideon’s fingers trailed feather-light at the outside of one of her thighs, just below the hem of her dress, and she broke the kiss to trail her lips down to Harrow’s neck.

Gideon bit down lightly where her neck met her shoulder, earning a jolt from Harrow. She let out a satisfied noise against her. “Couldn’t resist,” Gideon murmured, pressing a light kiss to where she had bitten. “Are you gonna be angry if I leave marks?”

“I think,” Harrow breathed, “that I would be angrier if you didn’t.”

She leaned her head back, exposing more of her neck to Gideon’s lips, and felt a dull pain that melted into pleasure as she started sucking a mark into the side of it. Her eyes slid closed, and her breathing turned shallow.

Harrow felt like she was on fire, and Gideon hadn’t even touched her yet. The feather-light brush of her fingers against her thigh moved forward, growing more insistent by the second. A brush of fingers turned to the touch of a hand, and the touch of a hand turned to a firm, yet gentle pressure against the inside of her thigh.

And then Gideon’s fingers curled forward, brushing gently against the fabric of her underwear, and Harrow’s hips bucked forward against her will.

“Fuck,” Gideon breathed, pausing with her forehead against her neck. “Fuck, Harrow, you’re soaked.”

“Shut up,” replied Harrow, leaning her head back against the mirror. “Do something about it.”

Trust Gideon never to back down from a challenge. She bit down sharply at the brown skin in front of her as her fingers pressed firm against Harrow’s cunt, earning a sharp, keening groan from her. She soothed the skin with her tongue, licking gently over it as her thumb found the already-stiff bud of Harrow’s clit through her— wait a second.

“Harrow,” Gideon said, with some difficulty. “Are you— wearing a thong?”

“Boxers and dresses don’t go together,” Harrow gritted out, eyes shut tightly. Her thighs were tensed under Gideon’s hands. “I adapted.”

Gideon thought for a moment that she had died, and that everything happening was the result of some heavenly apparition tailored just for her. “Cool,” She managed. “Nice.”

Harrow opened one eye warily. “What?”

“I’m a fan,” Gideon said. “A big fan.” A plan materialized in her head. “Hey, Harrow,” She began, slowly rubbing her thumb against Harrow’s clit.

“What,” Harrow breathed. Her eyes rolled back in her head as her breathing went uneven, chest barely beginning to heave with her breaths.

Gideon pressed one final kiss to the skin of Harrow’s neck before stepping back a few inches, which had Harrow’s eyes flying open at the loss of contact. “I want to take your thong off,” Gideon said matter-of-factly.

“Okay,” Harrow said, bewildered. She didn’t have to look in the mirror to know she looked a mess already.

Gideon was still rubbing tight, slow circles around Harrow’s clit, and she shook her head as if she hadn’t been understood. “I want to do it with my teeth.”

Harrow’s hips jumped up against her fingers hard enough that she nearly fell off the counter; Gideon steadied them with her spare hand. “Fuck,” Harrow managed with a whine. “Yes. Do it.” Gideon went to kneel, and Harrow said: “And— I can’t believe I’m saying this, but— keep the glasses on.”

She dropped to her knees, suddenly grateful for the bath mat in front of the counter, and used the hand not between Harrow’s legs to push her dress up further.

The thong was black, with a small hem of lace that extended around the edges. It looked expensive— not that Gideon knew how much it cost, but she had encountered many a thong in her day, and had developed something of an eye for quality.

A hand wound through her hair, brushing it lightly away from her face. She looked up to see Harrow staring intently at her. Gideon drew her hand away from Harrow’s cunt, earning a shiver and a whine at the loss, and gently pushed her thighs further apart.

“If it’s too much,” Gideon said, pressing a kiss to the skin of her inner thighs, “or if you want me to stop, just tell me. Alright?”

Harrow nodded impatiently. “I know,” She said, more gently than her desperation would suggest. “I will.”

Gideon nodded, satisfied. Then, resting her hands on Harrow’s waist, she leaned forward.

The smell of Harrow’s arousal struck her instantly. It was heady and thick, filling her senses with the sheer magnitude of her need. Gideon closed her eyes, navigating by touch, until she felt the fabric of Harrow’s thong against her.

Her glasses were only mildly bulky, and she was grateful that she didn’t need them for much in terms of seeing.

She opened her eyes, letting gold meet black for what felt like the first time, and bit gently at the lace hem. Harrow lifted her hips to help as she drew her head back, dragging the fabric down her legs, before removing it completely with her hands and letting it fall to the ground.

Gideon looked back up between her legs, and was greeted with what she considered the most beautiful pussy she had seen in her life. Harrow was wet, which meant Gideon could see her glisten in the bathroom light. There was wiry black hair surrounding it. Her thighs were trembling.

It was a sight that Gideon had seen, in some way or another, countless times— but this was different. This was new; this was glorious.

She let out a shaky exhale as she leaned forward, hands ghosting against Harrow’s thighs. The hand in her hair tightened as she drew closer, gripping hard in anticipation as Gideon’s breath hit her cunt.

Gideon leaned forward, pressed a kiss to Harrow’s clit, and waited for just a moment.

“Please,” Harrow managed, voice trembling.

And that was all Gideon needed.

She drew her tongue, broad and flat, over Harrow’s entrance, gathering her wetness on her tongue for a moment to get acclimated. The taste was mild and salty in her mouth, and Gideon thought at that moment that Harrow was the best thing she had ever tasted.

She licked long and slow up to her clit, feeling Harrow’s hand tighten in her hair, and let the tip of her tongue flick at it gently before she sucked it into her mouth.

Harrow let out a muffled noise of pleasure — she must have been covering her mouth, Gideon thought — and bucked her hips into her mouth. Gideon managed to keep them stable, alternating between sucking hard and flicking at Harrow’s clit with her tongue.

Gideon wasn’t sure how long she went like that, getting lost in the feeling and the taste and the need against her, but when the hand in her hair tugged her backwards, she felt her mouth fall open in a groan.

Harrow’s eyes were darker than she had ever seen them before. Her lips were parted, and the marks on her neck were already settling into bruises. With her chest heaving, she looked absolutely fucked.

“Fingers,” Harrow managed, breathing hard. “I— I want you inside.”

Gideon nodded as best as she could given the angle and the hand in her hair, and Harrow pushed her back into place between her legs.

She found Harrow’s clit again in an instant, sucked it into her mouth gently, and reached up with one hand to press a finger— and then another— against her entrance.

The sound Harrow made when she slid her fingers in was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever heard. Gideon fucked her slowly, curling her fingers in and out of her in time with the motions of her tongue, and heard a litany of swear words and Gideons falling from Harrow’s lips overhead.

And then Harrow went very quiet and very still for a second longer than normal, and Gideon realized she was about to cum.

Her hips jolted up against Gideon’s mouth a moment later, grinding down against her without form or rhythm, as her walls pulsed around the fingers still buried deep inside her.

Gideon kept her fingers in, curling them gently to work Harrow through her orgasm, and opted to press her tongue flat against her clit rather than sucking on it.

The hand in her hair tugged her backwards a moment later. “Fuck,” breathed Harrow, letting out a shaky laugh. “God. You’re good at that.”

“All part of my charm,” Gideon said, sliding her fingers out slowly to a quiet hiss from Harrow. Then, making eye contact, she took them in her mouth and began working her tongue over them, cleaning them off with a low groan.

Harrow’s eyes widened, and she let out a breathy laugh as her head leaned back against the mirror. “If you keep that up, we’re going to be in here all night.”

Gideon released her fingers with a pop. “Maybe that’s my goal.” She leaned her cheek against the skin of Harrow’s thigh, feeling a hand card gently through her hair. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself. Come up here,” murmured Harrow above her. Gideon realized, for the first time, that her glasses were askew. She got to her feet — her legs were shaky, which made it difficult — and adjusted them. She leaned forward against the counter, one arm on either side of Harrow, and leaned down to kiss her.

“I liked that,” Gideon said, resting her forehead against Harrow’s. The warmth she encountered no longer surprised her— it was a comfort now. “I really liked that.”

“So did I,” said Harrow. Her eyes slid comfortably closed. “We should—”

“Do you want to—” Gideon let out an awkward chuckle. “Sorry. You first.”

“We should go,” Harrow said. “Unless you’d like to stay for more of the party.”

Gideon shook her head gently. “I’m partied out. I was going to ask if you wanted to go home, so we’re on the same page.”

“Do you—” Harrow opened her eyes, and Gideon could see concern in them. “Can I do anything for you?” She made an awkward gesture with her hand. “To— pleasure you?”

“To pleasure me? What are you, eighty?”

“Nav,” Harrow chided, swatting gently at her chest.

Gideon relented and thought for a moment. “Nah. I’m good,” She said. “I prefer giving to receiving by a mile.”

“Are you sure?” Harrow asked, fingers toying gently with Gideon’s collar.

“Positive.”

Harrow seemed unconvinced. “You made me feel— very, very good. If I can give you the same feeling, I would like to.”

“And it’s very sweet of you to offer, but I’m clinically tight. Plus, I have a general aversion to being touched intimately. Nothing to worry about.” Gideon kissed her nose. “I’m alright, honey.” She nodded towards the door, stepping back. “Put your thong back on and let’s go home.”

“Always such a romantic,” Harrow quipped. She pushed herself back onto the ground with wobbly legs, letting out a narrow breath of air as she regained her footing. Gideon offered hands to support her, but she waved them away. She picked up her underwear from where it had been strewn on the ground, regarded it with a thin measure of distaste, and slid it into her purse. “After you.”

Gideon looked at her, looked down, and looked back up. “Commando is brave in winter,” She said.

“Then I will draw on my infinite reserves of courage for the ten-minute walk home,” said Harrow lightly.

Gideon paused with her hand on the doorknob. She looked back at Harrow with a curious smile on her face. “I love you,” She said simply. And then: “Sorry. I know this isn’t the best time to bring it up. I just—” She shrugged. “I was having trouble keeping it back.”

“It’s as good a time as any,” breathed Harrow, eyes widening. She smiled, long and sweet and beautiful. “I love you, too. In case it wasn’t clear.”

Gideon found herself smiling back so hard her face hurt. “I had a feeling, but hearing it is nice.” She unlocked the door.

Harrow put a hand on her arm, stopping her for a moment. “I love you,” She repeated, suddenly feeling as though she needed to get the words out. “You’re my best friend. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“Crash and burn, probably.” Gideon leaned down to brush her lips against Harrow’s forehead, then pushed the door open with a smile. “Lucky for you, you don’t have to find out.”

Harrow closed her eyes briefly, leaning into the touch. “And thank God for that.”

* * *

It took nearly half an hour to make their goodbyes, but finally they managed to extricate themselves from Dulcinea’s house.

The walk back home, flanked by trees and stars glistening overhead, was one of the most peaceful moments Harrowhark had had in weeks. A thin undercurrent of electricity filled the space between her and Gideon, arcing up and winding gently through the air like a string of fate.

They walked with their hands linked and Gideon’s jacket around Harrow’s shoulders. The click of Gideon’s boots on the road harmonized with the gentle clang of the bracelets lining Harrow’s wrists.

When they arrived at Canaan House again, Gideon hesitated outside the door.

“We don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to,” She said with a hint of nervousness. It was the first time she had spoken since they’d left. “Like, seriously. Confession aside, I just— want you to know that I don’t expect anything of you.”

Harrow reached up to straighten her collar. “You have never done anything to suggest otherwise,” She said, smoothing it down. “With that said— we have an empty house and weeks’ worth of stress to relieve, and my thong is already in my purse.”

Gideon stared blankly at her.

Harrow rolled her eyes. “I want you to fuck me.”

She had to admit, it was satisfying to hear Gideon’s breath hitch. “I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to hearing you say that.” She reached forward to open the door, fighting — and losing — a battle with a dark blush.

Courage overtook Harrow then. She stepped into Gideon’s space, running a well-manicured hand lightly over her chest before taking her tie in her hands.

“Well,” Harrow murmured, tugging Gideon gently towards her. “Then I suppose I’ll have to keep telling you.” She leaned up, letting her breath ghost, hot, against Gideon’s face. In her ear, she said: “I want you to fuck me.”

Gideon let out a ragged breath, and her hands came to rest on Harrow’s waist. They were only half inside the foyer. “Harrow,” She said, unsteadily. “Fuck.”

Harrow tightened her grip on Gideon’s tie, letting her lips trail gently down her neck for a moment. She bit down at Gideon’s neck, hearing a soft, surprised grunt from the other person.

Her hands squeezed at Harrow’s waist, and one came back to knead at her ass. Not for the first time, Harrow remembered how damn big she was compared to her.

Harrow watched Gideon’s throat bob. Time and desperation conspired against her; she spoke with the hint of a whine in her voice. “God,” She breathed.

Gideon closed the door behind them and stepped forward, pressing Harrow lightly against it. The hand on Harrow’s ass moved to her thigh, sliding lightly up and down against it. “What is it?”

A dull fire spread under Harrow’s skin, following Gideon’s touch against her. “I want you to fuck me,” She said, for what felt like the thousandth time. And then: “Please.”

Gideon nodded. “With pleasure. With gusto, even.” She made a face a second later. “Did that ruin it?”

“A little,” said Harrow, very kindly.

Gideon sighed. “Well, as fun as it sounds to go to Pound Town right here—” (“Gross,” muttered Harrow,) “—I’d rather get you out of this dress somewhere we won’t run the risk of getting walked in on.” She offered a hand. “Come with me.”

The walk to their bedroom felt unbearably long for how short it was. Gideon’s hand was warm in hers, and Harrow could feel her heart rate ticking up with every step they took.

And still, between the nerves and the anticipation, she couldn’t find it in herself to be afraid.

In the past, there had been a healthy dose of trepidation entering into relationships. There were times she had been able to separate herself from it — during sex, for instance — but it was always there, always lingering in the back of her mind. She was guarded. She was locked.

And now she was completely open. She felt no vestiges of fear, she felt no trace of concern. All she felt was safety, and when Gideon turned to wink at her as they approached their door, it made her heart flip-flop in her chest.

“Do you want to grab a seat on the bed while I put on the strap?” Gideon asked.

Harrow nodded, then paused. “You brought one?”

Gideon had knelt over her suitcase, and looked up to Harrow with a vaguely self-conscious expression. “Well,” She said, “I wanted to be convincing. Like, if someone came in here, I didn’t want them to be like, why didn’t you bring a strap?

“Was that a legitimate concern?”

“You never know. Better safe than sorry,” Gideon said defensively. She produced a small, nondescript bag in one hand and a pair of black boxers in the other. “Are you complaining?”

Harrow’s eyes drifted towards the bag, which was bulging obviously in a way that suggested its contents. “No,” She admitted. Her hands were in her lap. She resisted the urge to fidget with them. “How— I can’t believe I’m asking this. How big is it?”

Gideon raised an eyebrow, undoing her belt. Harrow’s eyes snapped down to it, watching hungrily as Gideon pulled the leather through her belt loops with a snap. “Not huge,” She said. “A very respectable six inches, if I remember right.”

Harrow’s eyelashes fluttered as Gideon’s hands went to the buttons of her shirt, and she said, “Wait.”

Gideon paused immediately. “What is it?”

Harrow stood, closing the distance between them easily. She replaced Gideon’s hands with her own, watching them fall down to her sides. “Let me.”

Slowly, methodically, she took Gideon’s shirt off. She began with the buttons, undoing them with practiced precision, and when those were undone and the undershirt below peeked out, she pushed the fabric off of Gideon’s shoulders.

Her tie caught on the collar; Gideon moved to take it off, but Harrow stopped her. “This stays on,” She said, straightening it gently before looping it around her neck. The shirt fell to the floor, leaving Gideon in an undershirt that barely warranted the name.

It was the same tight, white tank top from earlier, but when she saw it in the light Harrow realized just how little it left to the imagination.

Gideon’s arms, as they always did, drew her eyes in an instant. Thick, blocky brown shoulders carved smoothly into the lines of her back, while her biceps were interrupted by a thick vein leading down past her elbow.

Looking at her, Harrow found it very difficult to think. Her hands paused near Gideon’s waist, settling hesitantly against her stomach. She could feel hard muscle beneath a soft layer of fat. Her hands drifted to the waistband of Gideon’s pants and stayed there, waiting for permission.

“This pair of boxers is the harness I use,” Gideon said, gesturing towards the pair in her hands. “Want me to put it on?”

“Yes,” said Harrow, only a little embarrassed at the spike of heat it sent through her. “Please.”

Gideon nodded and gave her a mock salute before reaching for the button of her pants. “Yes, ma’am. On my way.” She took her pants off — which was, admittedly, difficult to do in a sexy way — and stood before Harrow in just her boxers. Then, with only a moment’s hesitation, she pushed those down, too.

She was only exposed for a moment, and Harrow didn’t spend too long looking, but she saw strong thighs, dusty red-brown hair, and a hint of wetness.

Gideon slid the other pair of boxers — black, with an O-ring at the front — over her legs with only a hint of awkwardness. She had a somewhat more emasculating time trying to get the dildo through the ring, and Harrow had to fight the urge to make fun of her with everything she had.

Finally, Gideon won her battle with it. “There we go,” She said, more to herself than to Harrow. “Alright. Um. Should we—” She gestured to the bed. “Get going?”

Harrow considered it for a second. “Yes,” She said, with a slowness that made Gideon frown in concern. “Apologies. I’m trying to figure out if I want you to put your pants on over it.”

Gideon blinked, glancing down to the heap of fabric on the floor. With a gentle, confused expression, she said, “This seems unnecessarily complicated.”

“I like the way your bulge looks in them,” said Harrow with a deceptively casual tone in her voice. Gideon’s eyebrows shot up, and her mouth opened as if to ask when. By way of explanation she said, “I’ve seen you pack at work.”

Gideon’s eyes widened until they were the size of dinner plates, and her mouth dropped open. For some reason, all she could think to say was, “And you looked?”

“I’m not a saint,” She replied impishly. “And I’ve been thinking. You don’t want to be touched, which I assume has less to do with me than it has to do with you. Is that right?”

“Yeah,” Gideon said, still wide-eyed.

Harrow nodded briskly. “Does that aversion extend to any—” She nodded towards the bulge now present in Gideon’s pants, “—appendages you may have on?”

Gideon blinked, looked down at her pants again, and looked back at Harrow with poorly-contained arousal in her eyes. “It does not.”

“Wonderful,” Harrowhark said. “Then would it be alright with you if I—”

“Oh my God. You want to suck my dick,” Gideon said, covering her mouth. Her eyes gleamed half in shock and half in excitement. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine.” Harrow sighed. “Well— yes. I want to suck your dick.”

“Yes, by the way. That’s more than okay.” Gideon nodded profusely. “Where should I sit? Or do you want me to stand, or—”

“On the edge of the bed will be fine,” said Harrowhark. “Do you want me on my knees?”

At this, Gideon let out a sharp exhale. “Yeah. Yes. Assuming that’s, y’know, something you’re comfortable with.”

“I wouldn’t have suggested it if it weren’t.” Harrow pushed lightly against Gideon’s chest, following each step she took backwards with a step forward of her own. “Sit.”

Gideon did, swallowing hard. Harrow slotted herself between Gideon’s legs, trailing one hand down the column of her neck.

“I always forget how strong you are,” She mused lightly, letting her nails run gently over Gideon’s throat. “How— visible it is.” Here, her hand moved to her chest. “Before now, I had to try not to look.”

Gideon’s hands were fisted tightly in the sheets. The gold in her eyes was a thin circle, edged out by the black of her pupils. “And now?” She managed, with some difficulty.

“Well, now,” continued Harrow, dropping slowly to her knees, “I want to see everything. I want to memorize you.” Gideon’s hips jolted slightly as she dragged her nails down her chest. The fabric of the undershirt was thin enough that Gideon felt every movement, every sharp burst of pain-turned-pleasure through it.

And then, as Harrow’s hand reached the waistband of her boxers, she leaned down to take the head of her cock in her mouth.

Gideon’s knuckles were white at her sides from how hard she was gripping the bed, and Harrow heard her let out a harsh breath as the silicone entered her mouth. “Fuck,” Gideon said, her voice shaky.

Harrow looked up and made eye contact. She raised an eyebrow, brought her hand around the base of Gideon’s cock, and took it slowly deeper.

Inch by inch she let the cock fill her mouth. She pushed her head down on it, pumping gently with the hand around the base, until it brushed against the back of her throat. Months without practice meant she gagged lightly on it, but if the sharp gasp Gideon let out was any indication, she could use that to her advantage.

Harrow pressed the base of Gideon’s cock firm against her, earning a surprised groan from above her, before moving her head slowly back. And then, in a smooth, practiced movement, she pushed her head down again as far as she could go.

She only managed to get three or four inches in her mouth, but it was more than enough. Gideon let out a shaky breath above her, and her hands twisted in the sheets— which meant they weren’t fisted in her hair. That wouldn’t do.

Harrow drew her mouth off of Gideon for a moment, careful not to break the thick string of spit connecting the head to her lips, and said, “Is there a reason you aren’t touching me?”

Gideon’s hand, granted permission, flew to the back of Harrow’s head. It fisted in her hair with the same oxymoronic, desperate caution that seemed to have overtaken her. “Better?” Gideon said, swallowing. Her voice came out raw, roughened by arousal.

“Do it harder,” said Harrow, surprising them both. “You won’t break me.”

The hand in her hair tightened. A sharp burst of pain ran through her before it faded into molten pleasure. Harrow closed her eyes in satisfaction.

She leaned forward, pressed a light kiss to the head of Gideon’s cock, and took it in her mouth again.

Gideon’s hand tightened even further in her hair as her hips jerked up, pushing her cock against the back of Harrow’s throat.

In Harrow’s long, decorated career of sucking off her partners, she had developed something of a taste for being manhandled. It was nothing serious — a particularly hard thrust here, perhaps someone holding her down on a cock for half a second longer than she might otherwise, et cetera — but it had, admittedly, been a while since she’d been able to indulge in it.

Correction: it had been a while since she had had someone to indulge her.

Now, with the desperate stutter of Gideon’s hips under her, she felt her pussy clench around nothing. She let out a strained groan around the cock in her mouth.

Unfortunately, Gideon read this as a noise of pain, and not a noise of being so turned on it was almost painful. She released her grip on Harrow’s head in an instant.

“Sorry,” Gideon stuttered, drawing her hips back. She searched Harrow’s face rapidly, checking for any signs of pain or damage. “Fuck. Are you—”

“I’m fine,” said Harrow hoarsely, waving off her concerns. “Do that again.”

Gideon blinked. “What?”

“Do that again,” Harrowhark repeated. One of her hands slid down Gideon’s stomach, scratching gently against her abs, while the one around her cock began to pump lazily. “I’m not made of glass. You don’t have to be so gentle.”

“Oh,” Gideon breathed. Her hands twitched at her sides. “Are you sure?”

Harrow nodded. She pushed down firm with the base of Gideon’s cock, feeling a low buzz of satisfaction as her hips jerked up. “Despite what my day-to-day behavior would suggest, I’ve found that I greatly enjoy not being in charge when in the bedroom.”

“I can work with that,” said Gideon, mildly unsteady. She let her hand rest on Harrow’s face, stroking gently at her lips. She pushed her thumb into Harrow’s mouth, watching her eyes close in satisfaction. Her tongue swirled around the pad, flicking lightly at it, as she bobbed her head back and forth on it.

Gideon slid her thumb out a few seconds later, wiping Harrow’s spit on her cheek before saying, “When you want to stop, tap my thigh.” Harrow nodded, and Gideon moved her hand once more to the back of her head. “Good. Open your mouth.”

Harrow did. Her eyes were half-lidded and dark, pupils blown huge in the heat of the moment, and something about seeing just how turned on she was sent a spike of heat through Gideon’s body. Her lips were wet, glistening in the faint lamplight.

Gideon nodded towards her cock, and Harrow resumed her work with a desperation that surprised both of them. She leaned forward, taking Gideon inch by inch in her mouth— and this time, felt a firm hand at the back of her head keeping her in place.

Harrow breathed through her nose, looking up for a moment to see Gideon’s eyes wide and dark, before deciding to take it a step further. She leaned forward, pushing past discomfort and a gag reflex to take all of Gideon’s cock in her mouth.

Her nose brushed lightly against the fabric of Gideon’s boxer harness, and the satisfaction she felt at hearing Gideon let out a low, surprised groan was enough to counter the discomfort growing in her jaw.

Harrow tapped lightly against Gideon’s thigh, feeling the hand at the back of her head release instantly as she leaned back to catch her breath.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Gideon, with some difficulty.

Harrow moved her jaw experimentally, electing to ignore the soreness in it. “I’m a woman of many talents.” There was an ache between her legs that had grown hard to ignore, and when she looked down at her thighs she could see the insides shining with wetness.

“Oh my God,” Gideon said, eyes widening. “Harrow, is that— from this?”

“Maybe,” said Harrow, taking a moment to wrestle with self-consciousness. Gideon’s eyes were locked on her thighs. “Listen. I told you already: I wouldn’t have offered to do this if I didn’t think I would get something out of it too.”

“Yeah, but—” Gideon cleared her throat, tearing her eyes away. “I didn’t think you’d get that much out of it.”

“Another reminder,” Harrow began, standing shakily to her feet, “that there’s still plenty you have yet to learn about me.” She scratched gently at the shirt on Gideon’s chest. “Take this off. I want to see you.”

Gideon didn’t need to be told twice. She practically tore it off, throwing it somewhere behind the bed. With just the tie around her neck and the boxers on, she looked a strange mix of endearing and unfairly hot.

“You know,” started Gideon, tilting her head to the side, “I can’t help but notice that I am minimally clothed and you are very clothed.” She put her hands up in mock surrender. “No judgement. I’m just saying— it seems a little unbalanced.”

Harrow raised an eyebrow. “Imbalanced indeed.” She ran the smooth silk of Gideon’s tie through her fingers, rubbing gently at it. “And how do you propose we fix that?”

Gideon stood, straightening her tie with a hint of self-aware humor in her eyes. “Turn around and I’ll show you.”

Harrow did. This time, when Gideon came up behind her, there was no pretense. She reached for Harrow’s waist and, guiding herself forward, pressed her cock against the curve of her ass.

Gideon leaned forward, and the near-unbearable warmth of her bare skin seared itself into Harrow’s mind forever.

Strong hands slid to rest on Harrow’s back. One dragged the zipper down slowly— Gideon was taking her time. The other sat firmly on Harrow’s waist. When she reached the bottom of the zipper, Gideon pushed the two halves of fabric gently off Harrow’s shoulders and pressed a kiss to the exposed skin.

“You looked beautiful tonight,” She murmured against Harrow’s back. “You’ve always been beautiful. I wish I’d told you sooner.”

Harrow let out a short breath, guiding the fabric of the dress down and off her body until it pooled at her feet. “You have plenty of time to make up for it,” She breathed, turning in Gideon’s arms. She leaned up and pressed a lingering kiss to the underside of Gideon’s jaw. “Now. Is this better?”

Gideon took a step back, keeping her hands on Harrow’s waist, and beheld her. Her thong was still in her purse, which meant all she was wearing was a black lace bra that matched it. “Can I take this off, too?” asked Gideon, hands brushing just under it.

Harrow nodded, reaching around to unclip it, and hesitated for only a moment before she let it fall down next to her.

Gideon sent a prayer of thanks to whatever was listening, because holy fuck, Harrow’s tits were gorgeous.

Nothing about her was particularly large, and they were no exception, but that couldn’t have mattered less. The skin was smooth and soft, and her brown nipples were already stiffening in the chill of the air— which — holy fuck — might have also been because of the stainless steel rods that pierced them.

“You—” Gideon’s mouth was suddenly very, very dry. It took her a few tries to speak. “Have you had those the whole time?”

“Breasts?” asked Harrow, because she was the worst.

Gideon gave her her best attempt at an admonishing look, and something about Harrow’s smug expression told her she hadn’t quite landed it. “The piercings, Harrowhark.”

“Ah,” said Harrow lightly, pretending to be surprised. “Yes. I got them when I was— nineteen, if I remember right.”

“Holy fuck.” Gideon took a deep breath. “I’m not strong enough for this, you know. This is—” She blinked. “Fuck.”

“You can touch,” said Harrow, barely above a whisper now. “I want you to touch.”

“I think if I start now, I won’t be able to stop,” said Gideon, eyes still fixed firmly on her chest.

Somewhere in her periphery, Harrow raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you mean.” And then: “I’m a tactile learner, by the way.”

“I’ve been told I’m a very good teacher,” Gideon said, leaning down until her face centimeters away from Harrow’s. Her hands moved up from her waist until she could feel the soft underside of Harrow’s breasts.

Harrow let out a shaky breath as Gideon swept a thumb across one nipple, running the pad lightly over the barbell. “Fuck,” She breathed, letting her eyes fall closed. Gideon repeated the motion on the other side, squeezing gently at her tits.

Just as Gideon lowered herself, ready to put her mouth on Harrow, a hand on her chest stopped her. “Plenty of time for that later,” Harrow said, not without a note of resolve. “Take me to bed.”

Gideon did. Her hands slid down to the backs of Harrow’s thighs, and then — as though she was as light as air — she lifted Harrow into the air. She made the brief walk to the bed with Harrow’s forehead pressed to hers, depositing her gently on her side.

“I want to be on top,” Gideon said, pausing with her knees on either side of Harrow’s hips. “For now, anyway.”

Harrow’s eyelashes fluttered at the idea. She nodded once, twice, ten times before saying, “Yes. That— yes.”

Gideon grinned, shifting herself a little. “Ha, ha,” She said, leaning down to kiss Harrow’s jaw. “Somebody wants to get fucked.”

Somebody is going to get her vibrator if you don’t get a move on,” replied Harrow breathily, closing her eyes.

Gideon raised an eyebrow, propping herself up on one arm. “Impatient.”

“We’ve been waiting for three years, and for another three weeks on top of it. Forgive me for not wanting to delay us any longer,” Harrowhark said. Her heart rate ticked up, pumping in short, shallow bursts now. She reached up, squeezing at Gideon’s shoulder. “Please.”

Gideon leaned down to kiss her. It was somehow deeper than the others they had shared— Harrow felt herself fall into it, and her perception of the world narrowed to Gideon’s lips on hers. Teeth scraped, blunt, against her bottom lip, and she couldn’t keep back the noise it drew from her.

And then the pressure, the presence at her lips was gone. Harrow’s eyes stumbled open in confusion to see Gideon leaning over to her bedside table, fumbling through the topmost drawer. They made eye contact; Harrow was pleased to see that Gideon’s expression held the same poorly-hidden desperation she felt.

“Looking for lube,” Gideon said, by way of explanation. She held up a little bottle, wiggling it. “Ta-da. Do you need prep?”

Harrow’s patience — which, already, was nearly an oxymoron — had worn down to the bone. She reached for Gideon’s hand and brought it to her cunt, watching her mouth fall open.

“You tell me,” Harrow breathed, hips canting up as Gideon’s fingers brushed against her. Gideon curled her fingers out of reflex, and as they rubbed against Harrow’s clit she let out a loud, strangled whine.

She pressed her pointer and middle finger against Harrow’s entrance and felt them slide in without resistance. Harrow’s back arched up off the bed with a low groan, and she covered her mouth with her arm in an attempt to muffle herself.

“Don’t do that,” Gideon said, stilling her fingers inside her. “I want to hear you.” She crooked her fingers lightly, brushing against the spongy pad just inside Harrow’s pussy, and was rewarded with a low groan as Harrow’s hands flew to her back.

The feeling of being filled after so long was indescribable.

Gideon pumped her fingers with purpose in and out of her, trying to get her accustomed to it again. With every thrust, her hands tightened at Gideon’s back, nails digging into the broad planes of muscle and skin there.

When Harrow felt a third finger pressing against the first two, she nearly came on the spot. Gideon’s fingers were long and skilled and thick, and the stretch of the third was glorious. It was a delicious, aching burn, and all Harrow wanted was—

“More,” She gasped. “Please.”

In response, Gideon moved to her thumb to her clit, rubbing tight circles around it expertly, which sent another electric spark of pleasure through her.

Harrowhark didn’t realize she had closed her eyes until she opened them to see Gideon hovering over her with an expression torn between awe and arousal. “What?” She managed, hips jerking at another movement of the fingers inside her.

“You look—” Gideon swallowed. “You look really fucking good like this.”

“If you keep— fuck,” Harrow interrupted, squeezing her eyes shut at another curl of Gideon’s fingers. “If you keep doing this, I’m going to cum.”

Gideon’s fingers paused inside her. “Do you want me to stop?”

Harrow squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to hold out a while longer. “I want you to get the strap.”

Gideon’s eyes widened half in excitement, half in arousal. “You sure? We don’t—”

“Gideon, for fuck’s sake,” Harrow interrupted with a desperate edge in her voice. She reached up and fisted a hand in the tie that hung around Gideon’s neck, pulling her in close by it. “Do you want me to beg?”

“I wouldn’t be against it,” said Gideon faintly, swallowing hard. Harrow gave her an unimpressed look, and she cleared her throat unconvincingly. “Um. Yeah. Beg for it.”

Harrow put her head in her hands. “Nav.”

“I’m working on it,” Gideon said, mildly chagrined. She leaned back, kneeling between Harrow’s legs, and drew her fingers slowly out of Harrow’s cunt. She opened the bottle of lube, squirting some onto her strap.

And then, because Gideon was a shit, she made eye contact with Harrow before she started spreading it around her cock. She jerked herself off lazily, dragging her eyes up and down Harrow’s body.

“Feel free to start begging anytime,” Gideon said. “It’s all the same to me.” Her voice was deceptively light, but her eyes gave away her anticipation.

Every fiber of Harrow’s being screamed for Gideon to put her damn cock in, and she couldn’t help the groan that escaped her lips. “Please,” She croaked, hands clenching and unclenching by her sides. “Fuck, please.”

Gideon kept her hand on her cock, pumping up and down with a deceptive leisure. She leaned over Harrow, drawing her face down to Harrow’s ear, and murmured: “Say my name.”

“Gideon,” Harrow breathed. “Gideon, please, I—” The words died in her throat as Gideon tilted her hips down, rubbing the head of her cock lightly against Harrow’s clit.

Gideon’s smirk was evident in her voice. “You what?”

“I need you,” Harrow begged, losing whatever final shred of dignity was holding her back. “Please, just—”

“I dunno,” said Gideon, rubbing her cock lightly against Harrow’s cunt. She was letting out a litany of quiet, desperate noises into the pillow next to her. “I kind of like seeing you this desperate.”

“Fuck you,” Harrow gasped, hips canting up against Gideon’s cock. She heard voice rise in urgency until it was nearly a sob. “Please.

This, it seemed, was what made Gideon finally take pity on her. She pressed a quick kiss to Harrow’s lips before leaning back. She lined up the head of her cock with Harrow’s entrance and slowly, at a pace that nearly sent Harrow insane, pushed herself inside.

Harrow’s back arched off the bed as Gideon slid inside her inch by inch. Her fingers were thicker than her cock, which had prepared her well, but it was big enough to give her the same burning, delicious stretch.

And coupled with the fullness— “Fuck,” Harrow breathed, nails digging into Gideon’s back. “Fuck.

Gideon let out a muffled noise at the sharp, bright feeling of pain. Their hips met, with Gideon flush against Harrowhark, and she pressed their foreheads together.

And then she shifted, and the movement made Harrow’s eyes roll back in her head. Gideon drew her hips back, sliding a few inches out of her, before gently pushing herself back in. Harrow let out a sharp gasp.

Gideon kept a careful eye on her as she repeated the motion. This time, she drew her hips back a fraction further before fucking back into her. She finished with a brief roll of her hips, which had the intended effect of drawing a noise from Harrow that sent chills down her spine.

Harrow’s mouth fell open in an O, and she nodded unsteadily once, twice, five times. “Yes,” She breathed. “Fuck. Yes. Just like that.”

She leaned down, mouthing gently at Harrow’s neck as her hips ground down into her, picking up a rhythm. “How— how does this feel?” Gideon mumbled in between kisses.

“Harder,” Harrow gasped, bucking her hips up into Gideon. She took one of her hands away from her back to rub at her clit. Gideon pulled back for a moment and saw black eyes clouded over with arousal.

“Ask nicely,” Gideon heard herself ask. She wasn’t sure where the newfound confidence had come from, but she found it difficult to be anything but grateful for it.

Harrow’s mouth was slightly open, and as Gideon watched her tongue flicked out to lick her lips. “Please, Gideon.”

Gideon had never before heard the low, frantic desperation that took over Harrow’s voice, and hearing it made her hips twitch. She brought herself back all the way, nearly sliding her cock out of Harrow completely, before snapping her hips back against her hard.

Harrow had said earlier that she wasn’t a saint, and Gideon realized distantly that she wasn’t either— because after years of pining and devotion rebranded as work-related duty, she was ready to fuck her absolutely stupid.

Harrow’s reaction was instant. Her back arched up, the hand on Gideon’s back clawed desperately down her shoulder, and a stream of fuck and God left her mouth like prayers.

They settled into a new rhythm, alternating between deep, hard thrusts and faster, shallower ones. Gideon’s hips worked smoothly into her, and with every thrust she heard Harrow let out a sharp gasp.

“God,” Harrow groaned, arching up from the sheets. “You— fuck.”

“Can confirm,” Gideon said, with some effort. She shifted slightly overhead, leaning down to press their foreheads together, and felt Harrow’s hands tighten at her back.

Gideon’s pace was— fucking perfect. Every thrust was as hard or harder than the last, and with Harrow’s own hand at her clit, she could feel the heat in her stomach coiling tight.

“Fuck,” Harrow said abruptly, eyes rolling back in her head. “Fuck, I— I’m close.”

Gideon nodded. “Do it,” She grunted, leaning down to kiss Harrow’s neck. “Cum for me.” She sucked hard at the spot where Harrow’s neck met her shoulders, hearing her let out a quiet swear at the feeling. She soothed it with her tongue, leaning back to admire the patchwork of bruises forming at Harrow’s neck and chest.

“I need— more,” Harrow groaned, eyes sliding closed. “Fuck.”

Gideon’s eyes dipped down to her tits— and the steel barbells in them. Without a word, she bent her head down and took one of Harrow’s nipples in her mouth. She closed her eyes, swirling her tongue around the cold steel inside them, and was only half-aware of the sharp gasp Harrow let out.

A hand slipped into her hair and tightened. Harrow had gone very still under her tongue, and was — for what Gideon thought might be the first time in her life — rendered completely speechless.

Her hips stilled with their length pushed inside Harrow completely. Gideon’s gaze flicked up: Harrow’s fist was clenched tightly in her hair, and her back was arched up off the bed. Her mouth was trembling slightly, and as Gideon watched she could see her lips forming soundless words.

And then, with a gasp like a resurrection, she came.

Harrow’s orgasm hit her with the force of a train. Her hips jerked up without pattern, and she found herself grinding shamelessly against Gideon’s cock as her cunt pulsed around it.

Speaking of Gideon: with the hand fisted in her hair, Harrow pulled her head back, and somehow looking at those warm, honey-golden eyes made her groan even louder.

She was aware, on some level, that Gideon had stopped moving. Her hips were solid and warm against Harrow’s, which reminded her—

“G— Gideon,” Harrow gasped, suddenly overwhelmed by her own sensitivity. She tapped insistently at Gideon’s shoulder. “Pull out.”

Her fiancée nodded, bracing against the bed as she guided her hips back slowly. Harrow let out a shudder as the head slid out. “Better?” asked Gideon, scooting over Harrow’s body to lay next to her.

She nodded. “Much,” Harrow said, hearing her voice come out hoarse. She let out a deep sigh, feeling as though she could melt into the bed. “God, Nav. That was—” She blinked a few times, trying to push through the post-orgasm haze. She found it exceedingly difficult to speak, and settled for a weak thumbs-up.

“So you liked it,” Gideon said, watching her fondly.

Harrow thought this was an understatement, seeing as she felt like her settings had been restored to default. “Yes, I liked it.” Her arms felt leaden, but she picked one up to swat weakly at Gideon’s shoulder. “Can you—” She gestured to herself vaguely, hoping Gideon would get the message of come cuddle me without her having to say it.

And God bless her, Gideon did. She maneuevered her way out of her boxers, throwing them somewhere off the bed with her dick in tow, and settled in behind Harrow. “I liked it, too,” Gideon murmured, pressing a lingering kiss to the spot behind her ear.

Harrow shivered at the touch. “You are— exceptionally skilled at that,” She admitted, wiggling backwards into Gideon’s arms.

“I do my best,” Gideon said proudly. “You were incredible. Seriously.” She pressed another kiss to Harrow’s head, and Harrow could feel her lips widen in a smile against her. “I love you,” Gideon said. “I really like that I can say that now.”

Harrow smiled, turning for a moment to look her in the eyes. “I love you too,” She said, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

Gideon leaned in to press a gentle kiss to her forehead. She scooted into Harrow, tangling them together until it was hard to determine where one body ended and the other began.

They were quiet for a long time. Exhaustion and an orgasm conspired against her, and Harrow could feel sleep pushing hard against her eyelids when Gideon said, unprompted: “I think it’s sweet that you have a thing for the glasses.”

Harrow cracked an eye open. “What?”

“It’s sweet,” Gideon said. “I normally don’t wear them because I get— I dunno. They’re an old pair, and I can usually see fine without them, but it’s not something a lot of people know about me.” She shrugged, and Harrow wondered if she imagined the hint of self-conscious vulnerability in the action. “So it’s cool that you like it so much.”

Harrow tried to respond, but all that came out was a yawn. “I like the way they frame your face” She said, closing her eyes. “They make you look— intelligent. Not that you aren’t intelligent, of course, but— they make you look like you’re about to teach a college class on iambs or some such.”

Gideon made a mental note to wear more tweed. “Well, iamb very happy to hear it,” She said, unable to keep the grin off her face.

Harrow let out a quiet groan, but her smile gave her away. She checked her phone briefly, scrolling with half an eye on the time. “We should go to bed,” She said, sighing. “And Coronabeth texted me to ask where we went.”

“I thought we said goodbye to her.”

Harrow looked up at her. “I didn’t. Did you?”

“Nope. Oopsie,” Gideon yawned. “Tell her we went home to fuck.”

Harrow turned to face her fully. “Why— in God’s name— would I do that?”

“Because it’s true?”

“Nav,” Harrow reprimanded.

Gideon pouted. “It’s Coronabeth. If anyone would get it, it’s her.” She yawned again, and at the end of this one, she rested her forehead against the back of Harrow’s head. “Deal with it in the morning.”

That was a good point. Harrow considered the circumstances, and decided it was something to deal with in the morning. Right now, she had a bone-deep, satisfied feeling in her body and a gentle, familiar soreness between her legs.

And she had Gideon, which meant everything was worth it.

Harrowhark smiled and turned off the light. “You’re right,” She decided, settling back into Gideon’s arms. We can face it in the morning. Let’s go to bed.”

“Top five things you’ve ever said,” GIdeon said sleepily, shifting comfortably against her. Harrow closed her eyes as her fiancée made a noise of contentment behind her. And as the moonlight fell on both of them, Harrow fell into a dreamless, peaceful sleep for the first time in years.