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12 HOURS BEFORE OPERATION FISH

 

It was the morning of New Year’s Eve, and Gideon Nav’s plans to hotbox in the shower were interrupted by a noise like a body being dragged down the dormitory hallway.

Gideon shut off the water and slipped out of the shower stall with her towel on. She pulled a freshly rolled joint from the sweatpants that she’d left dangling from the hook, and she lit the end with slightly damp fingers. 

The ominous, heavy noises ceased. She stuck her head out into the hallway and found it as empty and dark as she’d left it before stepping into the shower. The whole floor, including the RA, had gone home for the holidays—all except Gideon, since Aiglamene had just reached snowbird age, and now spent the winter months south of the border. No point in leaving for an empty apartment. 

All things considered, Gideon was supposed to be alone in the dormitory. But there was another sound now, coming halfway down the hall from the floor’s common living room. Gideon realized that the sound was the printer, specifically the discontented bleats that indicated an empty paper tray. There was more feral hissing and some weird clawing noise, and Gideon took a very long smoke, wondering if she should call campus security or face down the anthropomorphic raccoon all on her own. 

Just in case, she swiped the handheld vacuum from the bathroom cabinets before treading slowly towards the noise. Aiglamene’s cats hated vacuums. 

The living room light was flickering. Gideon moved closer on silent feet, Dyson in her right hand, spliff in her left. A low series of grunts arrested in an inhuman squeak. It was like a fucking horror movie out here. Gideon was about to get murdered beneath the eyes of God her only witness, in a liberal arts college dormitory, wearing just a towel. 

Her heart was pounding. Gideon rounded the corner, summoning the valor of a thousand charging stallions, vacuum poised like a gun. 

“Freeze!” she yelled. 

In the fluorescent light, Harrow Nonagesimus shot Gideon a very dirty look. 

She was standing on top of the ugly green couch, hands on her hips, dressed in skull pajamas and an oversized hoodie. Papers were littered all along the floor—Harrow must’ve moved the coffee table—bearing scribbles of ink and blueprints. Her classmate, floor-mate, and arch-nemesis wrinkled her nose at Gideon. Gideon wrinkled her entire face in response and put down the vacuum.  

“What the shit, Harrow?” 

“Shouldn’t I be saying that to you, Nav? You’re the one showing up here in a towel,” Harrow said. “With a vacuum. Are you smoking?” 

“No,” said Nav, bringing the blunt up to her mouth. “Why? You gonna rat me out?” 

“No,” Harrow sniffed in offence. She hopped down from the couch and stomped up to Gideon. But instead of stabbing Gideon between the boobs like she’d expected, Harrow snatched the joint from her lips. 

“Excuse me!” 

Gideon was appalled. She watched the end of the blunt glow as Harrowhark smoked it, glaring up at her the entire time with intensely dark eyes and long lashes. Gideon felt about a million contradictory feelings about the whole situation. Most pressingly, she wished that she wasn’t just wrapped in a towel.  

“This is my nightmare blunt rotation,” Gideon told her. 

“And you’re just my fucking nightmare,” Harrow said, before walking back to the couch with Gideon’s weed. Bitch.

She went back to posing on top of the cushions like a military general in pajama pants, looking severely down at the mess of papers. There was a duffle bag full of something on the floor by Nav’s feet, and she kicked it to make sure it wasn’t a body. The contents of the bag made a reassuring, un-fleshy noise. 

“Have you just been here since classes ended?” Gideon waved her arms around incredulously. When Harrow nodded, she continued, “The whole time? It’s been, like, eight days!” 

“You’re not exactly the most observant person, Griddle.” 

“I’m perfectly observational,” Gideon said. She was concerned now that she’d masturbated just a bit too loudly over the past week, under the false sense of security that Harrow Nonagesimus had exited the fucking building. “You just move around like a ghost! Or like a mouse. Like an evil little rat.” 

“Pick a comparison and stick with it,” Harrow said. “I can’t be a ghost mouse rat.” 

Evil ghost mouse rat,” Gideon said. “And yes you can. You contain unholy multitudes.” 

“How generous. Happy holidays, Nav. Now go shrivel.” 

Harrow said all of this while exhaling clouds of Gideon’s precious weed. Gideon marched up, and plucked the joint from her mouth, ignoring Harrow’s gasp of offence. She tossed herself onto the couch, her weight apparently so vast compared to Harrow’s that the cushion popped up and sent the smaller girl stumbling, knocking her thigh into the side of Gideon’s skull. 

“Griddle!” Harrow snarled. 

“Christ,” Gideon mumbled. She hadn’t meant for that to happen. She caught Harrow around the back of the knees before she could topple over and take Gideon down with her. Hands grabbed at Gideon’s hair, to which she tried and failed to hold back an inappropriate sound. Barely a second after, Harrow was announcing eugh! and shoving her away, their ensuing scuffle brief and clumsy as Gideon tried to extricate her arm, keep her towel up, and smoke at the same time, which ended with Harrow landing on her ass on the opposite side of the couch, expression quite murderous. 

For the briefest moment, they went quiet as they gazed at each other. The curtained-off and forbidden section of Gideon’s brain wondered if this was the part of the story when Harrow climbed onto her lap and kissed her. 

(A/N: It was not.) 

“I thought you were going to celebrate Christmas with your folks,” Gideon said.

“It’s an expensive plane ticket to California,” Harrow replied balefully.  

“Oh.” Gideon felt slightly bad now. “Right.” 

She offered Harrow the rest of the joint, and Harrow accepted it daintily. Their fingers brushed. Gideon was quick to pull back her hand. 

“So what the hell are you doing?” She nodded at all the shit on the floor.

“None of your business,” Harrow snapped. “Go away. Put some clothes on.” 

“You don’t like the free gun show?” Gideon flexed both biceps, knowing Harrow would hate it. Then she peered down at the papers. “Is that a blueprint of the film and media building?” When Harrow didn’t say anything, Gideon flicked her on the knee. “Nonagesimus, are you planning a break-and-enter?” 

The accused looked furious at that. She was flushed in a way that made Gideon realize that Harrow Nonagesimus was one hundred percent about to get herself into a stupid, entirely preventable, and possibly illegal pickle. Again. 

“No!” Harrow said vehemently. 

“During the holidays too,” Gideon continued. “Like the Grinch.” 

“Shut up,” Harrow said. “You’re the worst.” 

“Mmm.” Gideon was unfazed. She reached down and plucked a note with Harrow’s aggressive scribble all over it. “Why do you have a grocery list among your evil schemes?” 

Harrow pounced at her. “Give me that!” 

“I think the fuck not,” Gideon protested, holding Harrow back by the face as she read the note. Her classmate's forehead was fighting against Gideon’s palm like one of those dome-headed dinosaurs, her inadequately long arms reaching out for the paper with feral, grabby fingers. Gideon lifted the note just out of reach, ignoring Harrow’s flailing.  

“Why do you need to buy a whole tilapia?” Gideon demanded. “And why the hell is my name here?” 

“That is a to-do list!” Harrow yelled. Before Gideon could make a joke about her name being the second item from the top, the dark-haired girl continued: “And I borrowed your balaclava from your room while you were in the shower.” 

“By borrow you mean steal,” said Gideon. She craned her neck back as Harrow tried swiping for the list. “Wait…like, just now when I was in the shower?” 

“No,” Harrow scoffed. “Two days ago while you were in the shower.” 

Gideon couldn’t fucking believe what she was hearing. 

“So, you just knew I was here for Christmas—you knew that we were the only two people left on the entire floor—and you didn’t say anything! And you robbed my shit!” 

“I’m borrowing it.” 

“You are a kleptomaniac,” Gideon said. “And you just lurked around like a weirdo for a week. During Christmas—why the hell would you do that?” 

Harrow surprised her by saying, “Why do you care? You should be grateful that I didn’t ruin your holidays.” 

The blood fell from Gideon's cheeks. “You wouldn’t—Nonagesimus. You don’t seriously believe that—that you—” 

Gideon was so flustered by the look on Harrow’s face that she couldn’t go on. She studied the dark furrowed brows, the mouth that tightened into a lemon pucker pout. Crappily patched-over hurt turned Harrow’s features into a landmine, and Gideon was so discomforted that she wanted to pass out. 

Harrow, too, seemed opposed to unsolicited displays of vulnerability. She snatched the to-do from Gideon’s unsuspecting fingers, and shoved it into her pocket. 

“I’ll return your balaclava soon,” she said. “I need it for my mission.” 

“Your mission,” Gideon echoed. “Harrow! You seriously want to do some reckless shit now? You’re already on thin ice with John and the department—”

“I’m getting back at John and the department.” 

Gideon froze. 

Harrow met her eyes with steely and formidable wrath. At some point in the chaos, Nav’s hand had slipped from Harrow’s forehead to the side of her jaw. A thumb stroked along her cheek. When Gideon realized that it was in fact her thumb, she released Harrow’s face with an embarrassing squawk. 

“Are you serious?” Gideon said, trying desperately to recover. 

“Dead serious,” Harrow said. “I don’t care if John’s tenured. I don’t care if he’s the department chair, and I don’t care if he has power in the film industry. He can’t just steal my ideas, refine them, sell them to a production company, and then act like he didn’t do anything wrong!” 

“Harrow—” 

“I thought if anyone could understand, it would be you.”

“Hey,” Gideon snapped, temper flaring, matching Harrow’s snarl with her own. “I do understand. What he did was deplorable. But what can you possibly do to hurt him without getting in trouble? We’re halfway through the program. Don’t fuck it up for yourself.” 

“I’m sick of this institution,” Harrow hissed. “You know he avoids me at all costs? And whenever I bring it up, he says some bullshit about how he had the idea before he shot down my thesis project proposal. And my supervisors keep defending him.” 

Wearily, Gideon asked: “And what are you going to do?” 

In sepulchral tones, Harrowhark said; “I want him to remember that karma is inevitable.”  

“Let me guess,” Gideon deadpanned. “You’re the purveyor of karmic justice.”

“John Gaius sleeps with the fishes,” said Harrow. “Metaphorically.” 

“Hence the tilapia.” 

“Yes.” 

“You’re going to threaten the department chair with a tilapia.” 

“And graffiti,” Harrow added. “I went to the craft store and got some paint.” 

"On New Year's Eve," Gideon continued. 

"I like the idea of starting the new year with retribution," said Harrow. 

Gideon slumped back into the couch. Her body felt heavy, and she wanted a snack.

“You’re gonna get caught,” Gideon mumbled, eyes closed. “And then you’re gonna get expelled.”

“I won’t get caught,” Harrow said, much too confidently for a girl who was still minus one fish, and any of the necessary muscle to pull off the hijink. “John won’t speak of it once he sees his office. I'm leaving him a strongly-worded letter too.” 

"Okay?" Gideon snorted. “How the fuck are you gonna break into his office, Harrow? You’re one person.” 

At Harrow’s long, epiphanic silence, Gideon opened her eyes. 

“No,” said Gideon. 

Harrow raised an eyebrow, and Gideon was up on her feet. 

“Nope. Not happening. Have fun getting arrested.” 

“Griddle.” 

Gideon hated the sound of Harrow’s I have a great idea voice. The last time she’d heard it, that voice had precluded Gideon staying up for two days straight with her to furiously edit a short film for a cash-prize competition. They’d won it. But still—forty-eight hours with an equally sleep-deprived Harrow was not Gideon’s definition of a good time. 

Harrow stood up and proceeded to back Gideon up into the wall. 

“Naur,” said Gideon, with less certainty. 

“This is your chance—”

“To get expelled from college with my bestie Harrow Nonagesimus?” 

“We are not besties,” Harrow said.

“Sarcasm,” Gideon said. “And why the fuck would I help you?” 

“Because you know I’m right.” 

Gideon came up short for witty responses. Harrow was right. John Gaius was the biggest douchebag on this side of the country, and he’d plagiarized Harrow’s work so blatantly, with so much assurance in his power as a tenured, old-money, fake progressive piece of fuck. On the other hand, the potential academic penalty, expulsion, and arrest on the other side of Harrow’s revenge plot made the whole thing look wildly undesirable. 

“Count me out,” Gideon shook her head. “You’re on your own with this one, Nonagesimus.” 

“Hm,” Harrow said tonelessly. She stared directly ahead at Gideon’s collarbones, and shrugged in a passable act of nonchalance. “Okay, then.” 

Harrow stepped away, and the heat of her disappeared from the air around Nav’s bare skin. Gideon felt like she had bombed a test, watching Harrow return to her evil plans like nothing had happened, a wrinkle forming between her brows, dark eyes narrowed, full lips pinched into a customary moue. She was loath to admit that Harrow was pretty—pretty in the way a poison dart frog might be pretty. All those warning colours; Harrow’s pink mouth and the honey brown of her skin. In another life where snobbish judgement didn’t take up near constant residence on the girl’s face, Gideon might’ve found her dizzily gorgeous. 

Harrow turned to her. Gideon exhaled sharply, shaking away the fog.  

“Why are you still here, Griddle?” 

 

8 HOURS BEFORE OPERATION FISH

 

So Gideon took a weed nap.

After she ate a whole bag of pizza-flavoured Goldfish, she laid in bed with the covers up to her chin and dreamed about tilapia. In the dream where she was a tilapia, Gideon was not any old pescatarian’s entree—she was the tilapia of Harrowhark’s most heinous crime. Her tilapia vision was limited, but Gideon could make out the horrors as they played across her glazed eyes. Harrow’s break-and-enter gone wrong; Harrow in handcuffs and escorted out by a squadron of cops, Harrow getting bonked too roughly in the head by an unsuspecting janitor’s broom and lying motionless on the linoleum, Harrow falling out John’s office window—

When Gideon woke up, her phone clock said it was 3pm, and the entire dormitory floor was quiet. Freakishly quiet. 

Her head was static fuzz. Her stomach growled with only Goldfish crackers for sustenance, but inexplicably, Gideon had never run so fast in her life. She threw open her bedroom door, stumbling into the hall and calling Harrow’s name. 

“I’ll help you with your revenge plot,” Gideon said loudly into the dark. A touch desperate, she started banging her fist on Harrow’s room, right across from her own. “Yo, Clytemnestra? Are you in there?” 

When Harrow didn’t respond, Gideon pushed at the door and found it unlocked. She pushed it open hesitantly, conscious of any booby-trapped strings that Harrowhark would absolutely install—but nobody was there. Harrow’s bed was unmade. There was a forbidden Tassimo on her desk, and next to it rested Gideon’s balaclava. So Harrowhark hadn’t left for John’s office yet. Or maybe she’d forgone the disguise. 

“Harrow?” Gideon tried again.

She darted back into the hall, speed-walking into the showers and giving her classmate’s name another holler. The image of Harrow falling out a window flashed across Gideon’s mind. Her stomach rolled. Some strange and uncomfortable emotion drew a nervous sweat from the pores of her neck. 

When Gideon reached the common living room, she saw that Harrow’s papers and plans had been cleared up and stacked neatly on top of the coffee table. Her breath caught. She squinted. There was definitely a foot sticking out from behind the table. Gideon was moving before her brain caught up to her body. 

“Hey, hey,” she mumbled, rushing over. “Harrow?” 

Gideon poked Harrow’s shoulder with her foot, and the smaller girl let out a grunt. Gideon dropped to her knees, hand brushing the dark hair from Harrow’s forehead to get a good look at her, and found her eyes blinking open, the whites of them laced with foggy red. Gideon let out a relieved snort. The bitch was taking a drug nap on the floor. Like a moron. 

“Griddle?” Harrow croaked. She rolled around in confusion, and Gideon lowered onto her ass to sit next to Harrow on the carpet. 

“The weed knocked you out good,” Gideon observed, clinging to the way that Harrowhark yawned, mouth stretching wide like a cat’s. 

“I was resting my eyes,” Harrow said defensively. 

“On the floor,” Gideon said. “Spectacular choice. It’s not like there’s a couch right there or anything.” 

Harrow rose up onto her elbows. “Did you wake me up just to criticize me?” 

“No.” Gideon became very preoccupied with her own hands. “I’vedecidedthatmaybeI’mgonnahelpyouwithyourthing.”

“What?” 

“Operation Fish,” Gideon said, louder now. “I want in.” 

Harrow stared at her. “We are not calling it Operation Fish.”

“Why not?” she said breathlessly. Her heart’s ears had picked up on the we in Harrow’s statement, and was making a big, embarrassing deal about it. “There’s a fish involved. And Operation Revenge is too on the nose.” 

“I wasn’t going to call it Operation anything. ” 

“Good,” Nav said. “Operation Anything is a shit name. We’re going with Fish. The council has decided.” 

Harrow gazed at her for a long time before finally saying, “Why are you helping me?” 

Because I don’t actually want you to get expelled and thrown in jail, Gideon’s brain provided. Because you asked

“Cuz I’m nice like that,” Nav shrugged. “There’s no way you can pull this off solo.” 

“Okay.” 

“Okay?” Gideon’s eyes bugged. “Okay. Cool. Duh. Yeah.” 

Harrow flapped her arms until her hands appeared from the great volumes of her hoodie sleeves. She pulled her phone out from her pocket, checking an ominous countdown in her alarm settings.  

“Wheels up in 8 hours,” Harrow said, with no small amount of drama. 

“You are so fucking weird,” Gideon murmured, reluctantly admiring. In response, a stomach gurgled loudly. “Was that yours or mine?” 

Harrow blinked her reddened eyes. Her gaze kept darting between Gideon’s face and the floor, before she finally scrubbed a hand down her forehead. Then she pulled up the UberEats app.  

“I’m ordering Denny’s,” Harrow said. “Allow me to buy your loyalty for the evening.” 

Gideon muttered, “You don’t need to buy it.” 

“What?” 

“Nothing. I want steak and eggs. And you’re still a dick for stealing my balaclava.” 

Harrow nodded distractedly, which meant that she was ignoring that last bit. 

“Sunny side up eggs, right?” 

“Yeah, Nonagesimus.” Gideon slumped down next to her, resting the back of her head against the couch. "Can you get pancakes, too?"

Harrow tapped her phone to add the pancakes to the order. She commented, with difficulty: “This is a lot of food.” 

“Then don’t buy it,” Gideon said, exasperated. “I’m not the one who—”

“No, I just—” Harrow cut off, words struggling like net-wrangled doves. She looked up at Gideon with a frustrated expression, and after a moment, her voice came softer. “I didn’t mean it like that.” 

“What did you mean?” 

Harrow murmured, “I hope you’re hungry.” 

There it was again—that strange and fumbling Harrowhark. The girl who thought she could ruin Gideon’s holidays by existing in the same space. Girl who tripped over her own gentleness like the legs of a newborn antelope. Harrow looked away, teeth sinking into her bottom lip. Gideon felt an unfathomable heat rise up her chest. 

“Starving,” Gideon said. 

 

4 HOURS BEFORE OPERATION FISH

 

“Griddle.” 

Gideon raced down the chips aisle, running a perfect layup as she shot a bag of prawn crackers into her and Harrow’s grocery cart. Harrow glared, a whole paper and plastic swaddled fish tucked between her arms. 

“Kobe,” Gideon announced. 

“I left you alone for five minutes,” Harrow hissed. 

“That was your first mistake,” Gideon said, and started pushing the cart until she reached the imported nuts section. 

“We are on a mission!” Harrow trailed furiously after her. “This is supposed to be tilapia and go.” 

Harrow set her beloved fish in the baby seat of the grocery cart and started rummaging through Gideon’s accumulated mass of junk food and individually packaged fruit-flavoured milk boxes. 

“The operation requires focus and efficiency.” Harrow reached into the cat and raised the two-foot tall plastic bear filled with lychee jelly cups. “Does this look like focus and efficiency, Griddle?” 

“No, bitch, it looks tasty and adorable,” Gideon said. “Live a little, Nonagesimus! We’ve got your fish and it’s only 7pm.” 

“I told you to get into the checkout line.” 

“I was seduced by banana milk,” Gideon said. 

Harrow’s eye twitched. “We are at an Asian grocery store on New Year’s Eve,” she enunciated. “The checkout line is so long it’s in the fish section. Nav, put that down!” 

“You don’t want?” Gideon shook the bag of Ding Dongs. Harrow stared at it. 

“Okay, fine, yes. Get two of those.” 

Gideon smiled. 

“Was that so bad?” she prodded, pushing the cart around the grocery store until she found the back of the checkout line, which was indeed by the fish section. “Just admit it. You’re having fun.” 

“I am not.” 

“Well, I’m having a great time,” Gideon announced. “I’ve never grocery-shopped with one of my friends before.” 

Harrow froze. She opened her mouth and then closed it. Then opened it again. 

Her voice was stiff as she said, “When we get home, we need to go over the plan one more time.” 

“I forgot ice cream,” Gideon realized in horror. 

Harrowhark sighed. 

“Hang on,” Gideon said. “Stay here, I’m going to get it.” 

“No.” Harrow grabbed Gideon’s hand. Gideon looked down in surprise, and Harrow released her fingers like they were on fire. “Keep our place in line. I don’t trust you to only come back with ice cream.” 

“I resent that observation but can acknowledge that I have a problem,” Nav said. “Get the strawberry condensed milk popsicles.” 

“Obviously,” Harrow snarled before stomping off. 

What a weird bitch, Gideon thought, and leaned her elbows against the cart’s railing, watching her go. The line inched forward at a snail’s pace and Gideon felt just a little bad for neglecting Harrow’s one request in the name of flavoured milk. 

 

TO: [LADY DISDAIN 7:08pm] can you get mango ice cream too

TO: [LADY DISDAIN 7:09pm] bro did you get lost in the dairy aisle 

TO: [LADY DISDAIN 7:11pm] if u lied about the ice cream and have been sitting in the fresh food cafeteria while i stand here i’m going to kiss you 

 

“Gideon Nav!” announced a musical voice. 

Gideon turned and found Coronabeth Tridentarius standing next to her, right next to her. She smelled like rich person and burnt sugar. Gideon slid her cell phone into the pocket of her joggers, and tried to look relaxed and effortlessly hot.

“Gideon,” Corona said warmly. “I thought that was you!” 

“Hey Corona,” Nav said, and casually reached down to hide the two foot lychee jelly bear beneath the chips. “Happy New Year’s Eve! What—uh, whatcha doing here?” 

Corona was the TA for her second year poetry class and was—more critically—an absolute smoke show. Even dressed in pink sweats and a Goose jacket, she looked like a model. Corona’s eyes glittered lilac as she smiled, and Gideon thought that maybe she was going to pass out. 

“I’m on snack duty for me and my sister’s New Year’s bash,” Corona shrugged, before reaching down and delicately fingering over the ears of the two foot lychee jelly bear. Gideon wished she were that bear. Her TA laughed, “It seems like you’re in the same situation. Are you here on your own?”

“Nope,” Gideon stammered. “My friend’s off getting mango ice cream.” 

“Oh good luck to them,” Corona said, gesturing to her own basket. “I was just there. Not a mango flavour in sight. I had to settle with vanilla.” 

“That’s balls,” said Gideon wearily. 

“I know, right?” Corona said, and peered into Nav’s cart. “Oh, are you making a whole fish tonight?” 

 “Yeah. Love fish. It’s just the best.” 

“My grandmother used to make a wonderful seafood chowder,” said Coronabeth with a wisp of nostalgia, reaching out to squeeze Nav’s arm. “How are you cooking it?”

“With its head off in a convection oven at a scalding temperature,” said Harrowhark Nonagesimus. 

The tension in Gideon’s muscles dropped out like low tide. She exhaled. The world spun and realigned to the axis of Harrow’s resting bitch face, as she stood there with damp and cold-reddened hands curled around several tubs of ice cream. Gideon stared at her uncomprehendingly. Harrow was looking at Coronabeth. 

“Hey!” Corona beamed. “I’m Gideon’s poetry TA. Are you a student too?” 

“Harrowhark Nonagesimus.” Harrow did not smile. Her eyes fell to Corona’s hand, clutched around Gideon’s bicep, and she dropped the dessert into the cart. “Second year film major.”

A long silence. Harrow’s fingers clenched and unclenched. Gideon watched the condensation trace down her thin wrist and into her sleeve. 

“Anyhow,” Corona caught the stink in the air, and smiled awkwardly at Gideon. “I should get going. I still have some shopping to do.” 

Gideon cleared the strange emotion from her throat and tried to smile back. “Have a good New Year’s Eve. I’ll see you around campus, hopefully?” 

“If I’m lucky,” Corona winked, before floating away.

Once Corona was gone, Harrow shuffled into the gap by Nav’s side, studiously inspecting her fish. 

She said, “And here I thought you were going to impress yourself upon me . Good to know that your TA would gladly take my place.” 

“Impress myself,” Gideon echoed. “On you.” She felt like Harrow had roused her out of sleep with a bucket of ice water. “What the fresh hell are you talking about?”  

“Check your phone,” Harrow said.

Gideon checked her phone and promptly choked on her spit. 

 

[LADY DISDAIN 7:20pm] i cannot stress this enough, griddle—do NOT kiss me

 

“Harrowhark,” Gideon said feverishly. “I meant kill you. It autocorrected.” 

“I figured.” Harrow made a flippant motion with her hand. “You’re still an idiot, though. I can’t believe you’re encouraging your TA to flirt with you.” 

“Do you really think she was flirting with me?” Gideon’s voice came out train-wrecked.

“Concentrate on the mission,” Harrow said. “Focus and efficiency. Look, we can almost see the cashiers now.” 

Focus and efficiency. Harrow didn’t speak to her again until they were loading their things onto the conveyor belt, and Gideon pulled the popsicles, and then a tub of mango ice cream from their cart. 

“Oh,” she said. “Corona said there wasn’t any mango flavour left.”  

Harrow shrugged. “She probably wasn’t looking hard enough.” 

 

10 MINUTES BEFORE OPERATION FISH

 

“Hold your tilapia vertically,” said Gideon. “Don’t look so awkward. This is your weapon sanctified by the gods. You’re about to embark on a quest for revenge. Give me crime lord.” 

“This is inane, Griddle.” 

“Your grip is inane,” Gideon shot back. “You’re posing like a white boy who has loves fishing in his Tinder profile.”   

“How would you know anything about what boys have on their Tinder profiles?” 

Gideon curled her lip, wagging her finger threateningly, although no words came out. 

Harrow sighed, “Get over here. This was your idea. Take the picture already.” 

“Okay, okay, shut up,” she said, leaning her phone up against the counter and starting the timer. Then she ran up to Harrow, spreading her arms in a gesture that emulated some grand reveal, smiling voraciously while Harrow posed next to her like some guy with a fish. The flash went off, and her partner in crime let out a disgruntled ugh.

“One more,” said Gideon. 

“No.” 

“Real quick!” Gideon darted over to reset the camera. “One day you’ll be grateful for this.” 

“I highly doubt that.”

“Come on, Nonagesimus.” Gideon chucked Harrow beneath the chin. “Look into the camera and pretend that you like me.” 

“Gideon—” 

Harrow was looking at her as the timer went off. 

 

***

OPERATION FISH

1 HOUR TO MIDNIGHT  

 

“See this, viewers,” Gideon narrated. “A wild, elusive Harrowhark scales the side of a building. On the rare occasion that this creature ventures from her den, it’s either to forage for food, or to search for a mate.” 

“I am begging you to shut the fuck up.”  

Gideon was laughing her head off. Harrowhark was not in the position to kick her in the mouth, which the junior crime lord seemed mildly disgruntled over. Instead she squeezed her thighs tighter as if she were trying to pop Gideon’s skull like a champagne cork. 

“Oh Jesus Christ,” Gideon wheezed, while trying to keep steady. She was waist deep in a snow bank with Harrow sitting on her shoulders, carefully removing the screen of John’s office window. Gideon's face was turning red, either from asphyxiation, or laughing, or the whole conundrum that she’d gotten herself into. She tapped desperately at the other girl’s knee. “Easy, Harrow. I’m not ready to see heaven yet.” 

“You’re never going to see heaven,” Harrow grumbled, but relaxed her legs. Gideon couldn’t quite see what she was doing now, but heard the victorious cry and the quiet groan of the window being pushed open. 

“Okay,” Harrow huffed. “Help me up.” 

Gideon slipped her palms beneath Harrow’s thighs and lifted upwards. 

“Too fast!” Harrow squawked. One hand caught in Gideon’s hair, and her eyes nearly shot out of their sockets as Harrow yanked and flailed. A great relief cast through Gideon when Harrow finally found her grip along the window frame with her other hand, and started heaving herself through. 

“Oh, fantastic,” Nav mumbled as Harrow’s foot landed on top of her head.  

“Sorry, Nav.” At least she had the decency to feel bad about it. 

She went in shoulders first, Gideon supporting her by the calves, lifting further up until only her ass hung out of the window, and then her legs, and then she disappeared entirely. 

“Fuck!” Harrow yelped. Gideon waited on ground level as she heard a Harrow-sized object crash into a desk. Or maybe a chair or lampshade. 

“Are you dead?” Gideon called up to her after several long seconds. 

Several muffled groans later, Harrow poked her bare face out the window, breathing industriously. Her hair was a mess. She’d removed the balaclava. 

“I can’t believe that worked,” Harrow gasped.

Incredibly—impossibly, Harrowhark was smiling. All the strict lines of her face fell away to reveal an expression so sweetly collusive and mischievous that it put the moon to shame. Gideon’s heart swelled. She felt intoxicated, airborne. Harrow must’ve really fucked her brain up when she stepped on it because Gideon couldn’t hold back her own grin. 

“—bag?”

“Hmm?”  

“Griddle.” 

“Yah?”

“Gideon.” At this, Gideon came back to earth and realized that she had been staring. “Did you hear me?” 

“....no?” 

Harrow rolled her eyes. “Toss me my bag. It’s time.” 

This statement was metal as hell, and undercut only slighted by the fact that Harrow barely possessed the hand-eye coordination to catch an objectively large object. But after the third attempt, she tugged the backpack through the window and disappeared. 

Gideon shuffled her feet listlessly. 

What was she supposed to do now? Play lookout? There was nobody to look out for—the campus was quiet and deserted, the sky shining with softly falling snow. After what felt like hours, Gideon called up towards the window. 

“Hey, Nonagesimus? Are you almost done?” 

No response. 

It was at that moment that Gideon heard a door crack open. She darted around the side of the building in search of the noise, and caught the tail end of someone’s—not Harrow’s—coat as they walked into the building. 

“Fuck,” said Gideon. She briefly glanced at the trail of boot prints leading back to the parking lot. She hadn’t even heard footsteps—the snow had swallowed up the sound. With growing panic, she repeated: “Fuck.” 

Gideon was getting way too much of a work out for New Year's Eve. She ran back to the window outside John’s office and tried whisper-shouting Harrow’s name again, only to be met with more insufferable silence. Gideon eyed the space Harrow had crawled through, and quickly decided that it was futile to try to follow in Harrow’s teeny weeny footsteps. Even if Gideon could reach the window, she didn’t think she’d be able to fit her shoulders past the gap. This left the following options: leave Harrowhark for dead, or walk in through the front doors.

Although Gideon would never admit to it, the decision was humiliatingly easy. 

“Nonagesimus,” Gideon hissed, tiptoeing carefully through the second floor of the communications building.

The hallways were dark and empty, tiles glinting red from the digital clock on the wall, reading: 11:40pm. No sign of the person that Gideon had seen enter, and no sign of Harrowhark. Nav's composure was slowly receding as visions of her tilapia dream returned. She moved faster to John’s office.

When Gideon finally found his door, propped open just a sliver, she carefully stepped inside. 

After a moment of astonished silence, she murmured, "Damn, Harrow." 

The place was a murder scene. Harrow had obviously been in here. The room smelled strongly of fish; the tilapia was smack at the center of John’s desk alongside a very elegant-looking envelope. JOHN GAIUS SLEEPS WITH THE FISHES was painted in fucking gold along the wall, and wet lines dripped from the writing like ichor. Smaller depictions of fish in all colours were dotted throughout the office wherever Gideon looked. 

Harrow was committed, Nav would give her that much. So, where the fuck was she? 

Gideon spotted Harrow's backpack on the floor and hauled it carefully over her shoulder before slipping out of the office. A noise echoed from the end of the perpendicular hall—a person’s off-tune singing. Gideon recognized it immediately, and incredulously, she wondered why the fuck her film professor was in his office on New Year's Eve. 

Gideon didn’t see the fucking trashcan until she was fucking on top of it, hands shooting forward too late as it toppled over with a metallic thud. She stared in shock as it rolled morosely down the hall.

The song paused. 

“Is somebody there?” 

Fuck. 

The exit. The exit sounded like a brilliant idea. Nav booked it down the opposite hall to leave the way she came, as footsteps followed hot around the corner. She kept her eyes peeled for more trash cans in the dark, barely noticing the cracked-open door to the janitor’s closet until a hand fisted in her sweater and yanked her inside. 

The door shut with a quiet snick , and Gideon stumbled and reached forward, hands finding Harrow in the sightless, bleach-smelling dark.

They were pressed tight to each other. Harrow was so close that Gideon could feel her hair tickling her chin. Fingers brushed her own, trailing slowly up Gideon’s arm to her shoulder, her neck, the side of her face, what the fuck was happening—

“Harrow—” 

Harrow’s fingertips covered her mouth. Nav grunted.

She couldn’t see her, but Harrow’s glare felt like a jab to the eyes. Gideon would know it in her sleep. As the footsteps in the hall approached, louder came the rapid beating of the pulse in Harrowhark’s wrist, pressed against Gideon’s neck. Hummingbird fast, the sound and proximity were briefly unmooring. She felt sick again, woozy like in the grocery store, breath coming so loud she was worried it would get them both in trouble. 

Harrow was trembling, and Gideon’s hand shifted to grasp the fingers over her mouth. She squeezed gently and Harrow squeezed back. They stood there until the footsteps passed, and several minutes after that. 

Finally, Harrow whispered, “You were clinking.” 

“What?” Gideon murmured. “No I wasn’t.” 

“The spray paint cans in the bag,” Harrow said. “I could hear them knocking against each other from the other end of the hall, even before you went and tossed a garbage can.” 

“I didn’t toss it,” Nav protested. “Where the hell were you?” 

“I went to get paint from the visual arts storage room.” 

“Paint? You have cans of paint.” Gideon jiggled the bag just to prove it, and the cans rattled accusingly at the girl who’d bought them. 

“I needed a different colour for the writing,” Harrow said. 

“Oh my god,” Nav hissed. “I thought you got caught! Or like—axe-murdered!” 

“You should’ve stayed outside,” Harrow snapped. “You had one job, Nav. And we almost did get caught thanks to—”

The door flew open.

Terror aside, the look on Harrow’s face as a flashlight flooded in was comical. Her dark eyes were wide, and her skin—all over her shirtsleeves, in her hair and on her nose—was stained with gold paint. Harrow let out a choked noise when she looked back at her, but Gideon didn’t have much time to think about it before a voice broke through the stammering tension. 

“By god!” yelled Teacher. “What on earth are you two doing?” 

“Uh,” said Gideon. “Kissing?” 

Harrow covered her face with her hands and made a sound like she was dying. Gideon shot her a glare. It wasn’t like she’d come up with anything better. 

“Yes, I can see that,” Teacher said in exasperation. Their film studies professor—nobody knew Teacher’s real name—motioned for them to shuffle awkwardly out of the janitor’s closet. “But on New Year’s Eve, children? On campus?” 

“I wanted to get some painting in,” Harrow lied smoothly. “I know Professor Dve allows students to use the studio downstairs at their leisure. Gideon agreed to come along.” 

Suspiciously, Teacher said, “I didn’t know you painted, Harrowhark.” 

“Oh yeah, she’s a real Picasso,” Gideon babbled. “Just a bit shy.” 

“Right,” Harrow snapped. “So shy.” 

Teacher looked between the two of them. “And you ended up in the janitor’s closet because…?” 

Harrow said nothing. 

Gideon said, “Because she looks good in gold.” 

Harrow’s gaze snapped to hers. Gideon hardly noticed. The line did the trick; Teacher cringed, wiggling his hands around like he was trying to shake off their fake horny energy. 

“Okay,” he said. “You two need to go—back to wherever you live. Shoo.” 

“Thank you,” Harrow said, and tugged on Gideon’s hand. “Let’s go, Nav. Happy New Year’s Eve, Teacher.”

“It’s just New Year Day now,” Teacher said. “We’re five minutes past the hour.” 

“Oh,” Gideon frowned. “I’ve never missed the countdown before.” 

Harrow squeezed her hand urgently. 

Teacher giggled. “You hardly missed it. A kiss at midnight is part of the tradition.” 

 

Teacher let them go.

Gideon hauled ass out of the building, running into the snowfall, and the new year, gasping, Harrow clinging to her hand as they lifted their faces to the soft scattered light. They made it halfway across campus before Gideon realized that she was laughing, and was not going to stop anytime soon. Harrow pulled her along, shoulders shaking, a mirror image to Nav's feral, untethered joy. 

Harrow was flushed red beneath all that gold, looking by all accounts like the tangle of a girl who’d been kissed breathless in a closet. The mess of her hair could have been made by Gideon’s hands, the paint on her cheeks might have been spread by Gideon’s mouth and fingers, stunning gasps to be redrawn by the press of hips as Harrow pulled Gideon into other tenses.   

She collapsed into a snow drift, and Harrow fell into it next to her.

They were outside their dorm building now, and the sky was purplish-white. 

“That was ridiculous,” Harrow wheezed. “Did you see it, Nav? Did you see the fish?” 

“Harrow, you weirdo, I saw all the fishes. It was madness. You outdid yourself.” 

Harrow’s laughter quieted as she tilted her head towards Gideon. 

“You’ve got paint—” 

“What?” Gideon hadn’t even thought about it. “Where?” 

Harrow shook her head, almost desperately. “Everywhere. Your mouth—” 

Gideon almost kissed her.

Instead, she pulled out her phone and made herself look in the front camera. 

“Oh shit,” Gideon said. Her mouth and chin were metallic, the paint splattered down one arm and along her neck. “Harrow.” 

“Not my fault,” Harrow was quick to say. “If I didn’t shut your mouth for you, you would’ve given us away in an instant.” 

“Yeah, I bet Teacher thinks you had a great time shutting my mouth for me.” 

“You are a hog, Nav!” Harrow exclaimed. “Have some decorum. We are colleagues.” 

Gideon scoffed. She closed her eyes, tucking her hands beneath her head. 

“Thought we’d at least be friends after that.” 

Gideon heard Harrow’s teeth clack, and then she said, “I only meant—” 

“Don’t worry about it, Nonagesimus,” Gideon said lightly. “I know how this goes. Tomorrow our criminal contract breaks, we become nemeses again, and I turn back into a pumpkin.” 

Gideon’s eyes flew open when she felt a hand brush a stray curl from her face.

Harrow hovered over her, refusing to meet Nav’s gaze as she worked the snowflakes from her hair. 

“You’re already a pumpkin,” Harrow muttered. “And of course we’re friends.” 

Gideon was frozen with shock, silenced by the exceeding gentleness of Harrow’s fingertips. Harrow seemed equally embarrassed by the absurd and affectionate gesture, cheeks flushed pink with humiliation, full mouth trembling. Her eyes were darker than midnight, and Gideon had never seen them this close, or this honest. A singular crystal fell from the sky and tingled on the bow of Gideon’s lips. Harrow touched her finger to it.

Oh god, shit, fuck. 

Love roared through Gideon’s chest like springtime returning. 

Belatedly, she remembered to breathe. Her sharp inhale brushed Harrow’s palm, and the girl jerked her hand away, scrambling to her feet. 

“You had snow on you,” said Harrow quietly. 

Gideon was whirling, burning, freaking the fuck out. She stared up at Harrow, and had no clue which lesbian god possessed her when she said, “Thanks, sweet thing.” 

Harrowhark gawked. “What did you just call me?” 

Swiftly, God abandoned her. “Sweeghshging,” she mumbled. 

“What?” 

“Sweet thing!” Gideon practically yelled. At Harrow’s widening eyes, she lifted up onto her elbows and continued, “You called me pumpkin. I thought we were exchanging nicknames.” 

“That was an insult,” Harrow said. “I called you a pumpkin, derogatory, for your ridiculous hair.” 

“Ouch.” 

“And you already have a nickname.” Harrow rolled her eyes, and offered a hand to help Gideon up. “What do you think Griddle is?” 

She wasn’t complaining about sweet thing, though. Gideon filed this piece of information away with no small amount of panic. 

“Huh,” Gideon said. “And here I thought you just had trouble pronouncing my real name.” 

Harrow flexed her fingers pointedly. Her face was red. “It’s cold. Are you ready to go inside, Gideon?” 

Gideon blinked owlishly at the hand outstretched before her, eyes catching on the flecks of gold. So easily, Gideon could reach up and press her thumb to Harrow’s pulse. Trace north to grasp at Harrow’s shoulder, pull her down and kiss her. She wanted to. She couldn’t. 

“I think I’ll hang out here for a bit, actually,” Gideon said. 

Harrow’s arm fell down to her side. She tilted her head suspiciously. “In a snow drift?” 

“Yeah,” Gideon insisted. “It’s…calming. You go ahead.” 

The look that Harrow gave her was indecipherable. She turned towards the dormitory entrance, and Gideon watched as more snowflakes fell from her shoulders as she walked away. 

Harrow didn't look back at her as she said, “Happy New Year, Griddle." 

The door shut with a decisive click. Gideon collapsed flat onto her back.

This was terrible. Horrific. Her hands shook. Adoration haunted all the places that Harrowhark left behind. Every ice crystal in Gideon’s face was a reminder, and she smiled helplessly at the Harrow-sized outline made next to her in the snow. Gideon closed her eyes and opened them.   

She murmured, “Happy New Year, Harrow.” 

The sky continued to fall.