It always starts with a quake, something violent and nauseating that would probably kill me if I weren't already dead, and I find myself wrangled away from the place where you stashed me deep within you (which, what the fuck by the way). I rise and I rise and I rise, wading through a thick darkness until I break through the surface and I'm somewhere else entirely.
I tried to resist it at first, I thought it meant you were dying and I didn't give my life for yours just for you to give it up so easily. I tried to anchor myself to the bottom of you, I nestled myself amongst your viscera and I held on tight, but each time I was pulled away and thrown out despite myself. I want you to know I tried is the thing.
It was confusing at first, having a body again, and I never quite knew what to do with it. Until I realised I didn't have to do anything with it, because even there in my own mockery of a flesh, I had no control over myself. It took me a while, but I figured it out, and I think you might be dreaming. And let me tell you Harrow, your dreams are seriously fucked up, you are incredibly wretched and devious and if you make me kiss your abominable lips again I will- Well I will do nothing because I'm technically dead but you get the gist. Maybe I will haunt you. Yes, I think I will haunt you.
I like it though. A little. Not kissing you, like at all, that's disgusting and I have never thought about it once ever in my own life, but being outside of you for a little while, seeing you instead of seeing through you. I'm still mad at you for not eating me properly (did I taste that bad that you couldn't finish the job ?), but thanks for letting me stretch my legs, I appreciate it. Yours are like two gnarly old sticks and they suck.
It starts with pressure on Gideon's chest. A light pressure, a weight so inconsequential she has to really think of it to feel it. But when she does, oh, that weight is the greatest thing that has happened in her life. It's always like that when she wakes up to Harrow having crawled on top of her during the night, it always feels like the single most important event in the history of the universe, and this even if it has happened every single night since they started sleeping in the same bed. How long has it been ?
Harrow groans and fists her tiny hands in Gideon's t-shirt. She's about to wake up. Gideon always knows when she's about to wake up ; she's had a lifetime to learn all about her.
Harrow raises her pointy head and blinks her eyes open, staring at her with a confused expression. Harrow often looks confused when she looks at her, as if, even after all this time, there are still things she hasn't quite figured out. "Griddle ?"
"Yes, my Penumbral Queen ?"
A hint of a blush arises on Harrow’s drab bony cheeks, it makes her look so much more alive, so much more real. "What time is it ?"
Gideon glances at the wall to where the clock always has been. It has no hands, it never has. "No idea."
"You should have woken me up."
"And miss out on you trying to smother me in your sleep ? Never."
"We’re going to miss the plane," Harrow says, shuffling to a sit and yawning, the t-shirt she stole from Gideon long ago slipping from her shoulder.
"Does it matter ?" Gideon asks, her hands settling on Harrow’s hips out of habit, the gesture so natural she doesn’t have to think about it at all.
"Yes, it is," Harrow snaps. "You’ve made it quite clear that our honeymoon was of importance to you and I will not go back on my promise."
"Aww," Gideon coos, "didn’t think you cared."
"Of course I care about you. I married you, you idiot."
Harrow smiles, and, tugged by this unseen force that always seem to tether her to her wife, Gideon leans in, and lays a soft kiss on her lips. They are chapped, like they always are, and taste of makeup that hasn't been properly removed, but they are hers to kiss, and this matters most.
"We’re going to be late," Harrow murmurs even has she leans in. Above her shoulder, Gideon briefly catches sight of a crack appearing on the ceiling.
This is fucked up. Sorry, but you do realise that this is fucked up, right ? I can't possibly be the only one who realises how truly insane it is that you get to shove me away in the deepest crannies of your soul and then pull me out for your creepy unconscious role play. This is disgusting.
Then again, you always were a little bonker, and maybe I liked that about you. Not to the point that I would have wanted to kiss your abject scornful mouth, but I didn't entirely dislike you in the end.
It's snowing. Or at least something icy and whitish is falling from the light grey sky, covering everything in a thin blanket of sludge. It slips under the collar of Gideon's jacket and she shivers, tugging it closer around her neck before she buries her hands deep in her pocket. They’re full of crumbs, remnants of the bland crackers she keeps in there for when Harrow forgets to feed herself. If she's cold, Harrow must be frozen, but when she turns towards her to offer her her jacket, she finds that she's already lent her her scarf, and that the piece of fabric is so thick and so long that even wrapped several times around her neck it seems to be spilling from all around her like gushes of blood. Her nose and cheeks are red from the cold and her short black hair glistens as if it's been encrusted with hundreds of tiny crystals. She looks ethereal, and she looks alive.
"What ?" she asks when she catches Gideon looking at her, her voice distinctly lacking the bite it would usually have.
"Aren't you cold ?"
Harrow frowns. "I’m not. Why would I be cold ?"
"Because you're 100% bones and 0% fat," is what Gideon wants to say, maybe in a slightly sarcastic tone, but what she finds herself saying instead is much gentler. "I don’t want you to get sick. I’m your friend, friends care about each other."
The words feel strangely natural in Gideon's mouth, as if she's said them all her life. What also feels natural, even if she doesn't realise at first that she's doing it, is leaning in until she can lay a soft kiss on Harrow's cold rosy nose. Wrapping her arms around and hugging her when she shivers despite pretending she's not cold, also comes as a habit, and so does grabbing her hand and threading their fingers when they start walking again, their feet near silent on the snow.
They get hot drinks from a small corner shop. A monstrously sugary hot chocolate for Gideon, and a tea for Harrow, that she makes sure is not to infused so she actually drinks it instead of making a disconcerted face at it until Gideon agrees to take it off her hands. Harrow vigorously protests as they walk out of the shop that she's never done that, and Gideon just rolls her eyes and takes her hand again.
They walk towards a nondescript building, a plain grey ugly slab of concrete that Gideon knows is home. The steps leading to the door are icy, and when Harrow slips, she catches her by the waist, letting their half-full drinks clatter to the ground and spill in the snow in a splatter of blood.
Harrow is looking at her with a strange expression, Gideon wonders if she should let go but finds that she can't. She looks into Harrow's eyes, and though they are as black as ever, iris and pupil undistinguishable from one another, she would swear they look different. Harrow is breathing fast, and before Gideon can do anything, like help her to her feet or ask her if she's okay, Harrow grabs onto the collar of her jacket to hoist herself up and kisses her, her dry lipsticked mouth somehow soft and warm. Before she closes her eyes, Gideon sees the little yellowed glass panel on the front door crack.
I tried to stop it at first. Whenever I felt like we were going to kiss, whenever I was starting to lean in, as if your coarse little lips could hold any attraction in them, I’d try to freeze myself in place so that I wouldn’t. But it was no use so I stopped ; the sooner I give in, the sooner it’s over. In your dreams, I’m as much your puppet as I was in my life, and I know I relinquished ownership of my soul to you but I didn’t mean for it to be used like that.
I know they don’t teach consent in Drearburh because everyone there is old and crusty and has no sex drive but you should know that’s not an okay thing to do. Everybody knows you’re not supposed to touch people without asking. Or like, make them touch you. Whatever, either way it’s not okay and I wish you’d stop. I don’t want to kiss you, I don’t want to touch you, I want you to eat me so that I can fuel your eternal power. Seriously Harrow, how is that hard to understand ?
"I'm home !" Gideon calls out, struggling to push the door to her tiny dorm room open with the limited range of action her leadened arms have. She's carrying her fencing gear and enough groceries to withstand a siege and a three feet tall skeleton plushy and two tupperwares of Abigail's cure-all broth and the entire content of Cam and Sex Pal's medicine cabinet. She'll replace that one later ; she just doesn't know what Harrow needs and took everything to be sure.
"No need to yell Nav," the pile of dark blankets on Harrow's bed grunts. "I'm right here."
"How are you feeling, Gloom Mistress ?" Gideon asks, careful not to let the door slam behind her.
"So like usual then ?" Gideon jokes.
A sharp painful cough rips through Harrow's throat and it's no longer funny. In the blink of an eye, Gideon has crossed the small room to throw herself to her knees on the side of Harrow's bed. She finds her pasty pointy face under the nest of blankets and cradles her chin in her hand ; she looks like shit, but at least she’s still alive.
"Don't come too close. I don't want you to catch it."
"I'm immune to Nonagesimitis," Gideon says, her voice worried and gentle in a way it so rarely is. She brushes the back of her hand to Harrow's forehead, and frowns. "Your fever hasn't gone down one bit."
Harrow squints at her. "Nonagesimitis is not a real disease," she says, her usually shrill voice so raspy it's almost inaudible ; though Gideon hears her just fine.
"Sure is. It’s the irrepressible need to strangle you. I’m only immune because I got my vaccine H."
"You are insufferable."
"And yet, my Lamentable Queen, you keep me around," Gideon says, smoothing her thumb down Harrow’s brow. "Come on, scoot up. I’ve got painkillers, cough syrup, headache effervescent thingies, another brand of cough syrup, cough drops, bandaids, disinfectant, a different brand of painkillers, eye drops-"
"Where did you find all of this ?"
Harrow sighs. "I wish you wouldn’t call him that. Does he know you stole all of this ?"
"Yes," Gideon lies, "he absolutely does. Now, what do you need ?"
Harrow sighs again in what she means to be a show of exasperation but falls short of it by a good mile when she chokes on her own snot. She sniffles. "Painkillers, cough syrup, and decongestant."
"Something for my nose Nav."
Gideon upturns her bag on the bed. "Yep. I think I’ve got all of that," she says, rather pleased with herself.
"What's this ?"
"What’s what ?"
"This," Harrow snaps, extending a sharp hand out of her blankets to point at something at Gideon’s feet.
"Oh ! That ! It’s a gift for you." Gideon grabs the giant plushy from the floor, and shoves it at Harrow’s extended hand, her long brittle fingers latching onto it reflexively.
"A skeleton ?" Harrow asks softly, drawing the plushy closer to her. "For me ?"
Gideon nods, fairly happy with herself. "So you’re not all alone and pathetic in bed when I’m not around. It goes well with your aesthetic," she says, motioning to the side of Harrow’s room which is just black on black on black and somehow looks to be in an unsettling state of suspended decomposition.
"I won’t be bedridden my whole life," Harrow snaps, "it’s just the flu. But, thank you."
Despite her projected harshness, Harrow is mush on the inside, and Gideon knows it. She smiles when her roommate/best-friend/girlfriend/quite possibly the love of her entire miserable life, snatches her thin pale arms around the plushy to hug it to her chest.
Cough abated by the syrup, and prickly heart pacified by the gift, Harrow nestles back into her bed, and Gideon slides behind her with little protests and gathers her in her arms, kissing the crown of her head. At the foot of the bed, the syrup hastily stacked back into the grocery bag slips out and rolls on the floor, thin spider web cracks appearing on the brown glass.
The thing about growing up with someone the way you and I did, so wrapped up in each other that all the horror become indistinguishable from me or you and some of the shit that happen I can't tell if you did to me or I to you, is that you're convinced you know the other person ; and Harrow, I was so convinced that I knew you. Clearly I didn't, because what the fuck ?
Roommates, Harrow ? Soft lovers who cuddle in a twin sized bed ? Are these really the fantasies that inhabit that sick brain of yours ? You've always made fun of my tit mags, but shit Harrow your fantasies are so much worse. Is that what you would have wanted ? For me to hold you when you were sick, to reassure you when you needed it, to care for you like Magnus cared for Abigail ? Would you have wanted me to hold you in my big strong arms, to cradle you to my chest, to lie and say I loved you ? You and I both know I would have never played into that. You and I both know I found you repulsive, disgusting, that I wouldn't have touched you with a ten feet pole. I hated you so much Harrow, but who am I to say it wasn't love ?
Gideon has never seen such an explosion of colour. The pink cherry blossoms, the bright green grass, and the sky so violently blue it hurts to look at, are all nauseatingly beautiful ; it’s the first time that her and her shockingly orange hair aren’t looking completely out of place. Even Harrow’s got some colour to her, her usually drab skin coming alive under the sun, a hint of warmth tainting her cheeks and nose. Like that, Gideon would dare to say she looks pretty ; if in a slightly unconventional way.
"What are you thinking about ?" she finds herself asking, entirely despite herself, threading her fingers in the short hair of the head that rests on her lap. Something unseen buzzes angrily in the tree above them ; she ignores it.
Harrow doesn’t say anything, but she blushes, her skin darkening further, and she averts her eyes. This way, Gideon knows.
"Are you thinking about me ?" she asks in a teasing tone.
Harrow huffs. "How presumptuous of you."
"You’re blushing, my Tenebrous Overlord," Gideon says, gently brushing a couple of dark strands away from her forehead. It feels so good to be gentle with Harrow.
"Fine," Harrow snaps, petulantly crossing her arms over her chest, "I am thinking about you. And how I’m going to raise a dozen skeletons to beat your sorry ass."
"Fine be me," Gideon shrugs with a smile. "I do need the work out. Will you be watching ?"
"I despise you."
"Do you ?" Gideon asks, smile dropping into a mocking smirk.
Harrow makes a gargled frustrated sound and Gideon, still slowly combing her hand through her hair, struggles not to laugh. "Fine. I’ve never hated you less."
Gideon whistles. "Wow. I think that’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me."
Harrow huffs again, managing to stomp her foot even as she’s lying down. "Very funny."
"You’re the funniest."
And all at once, Harrow softens, all harsh pretences swept aside in favour of lifting a thin hand to cup Gideon's chin from below. Her fingers are warm from having laid in the sun. "I love you Gideon," she says gently, "you do know that, right ?"
"You’ve made it quite clear," Gideon whispers.
She shifts her head a little to kiss the inside of Harrow’s palm, letting her lips linger there on the thin fragile skin. Behind her, the trunk of the tree cracks in two.
Harrow, what’s your secret ? Where the fuck do you get these abominable ideas ? Did you steal my tit mags ? Were you secretly reading romance novels this whole time ? Did you become mean and despicable because your shrivelled heart couldn’t find love ? Help me out here because I am fucking lost !
You never saw any of this when I was with you, and you’re certainly not seeing any of this now or I would know since I am inside you and you are currently on a dreadful little space station with zero flowers or blue skies or people willing to gently touch you. I mean Ianthe, that devious little cunt, wants to touch you for sure, but there’s nothing gentle about her, nothing soft. Am I really the only one who could touch you like that ? Do you think I would touch you like that ? Maybe I should have. I think if I’d had more time, maybe I would have. It's all you and I ever needed in the end, more time.
The air is thick and sharp, Gideon can almost taste it on her tongue, is pretty sure she'd be able to chew through it if she tried. It also seems to pulsate, to vibrate with a music that is exclusively bass and no lyrics, and the light thrums in time with it, neon bright and blinding. Bodies bump and press into hers as the crowd dances as one to a maddening rhythm, it's as if they've all been bewitched, enthralled by a sound that seems to be as old as the universe itself and that has lodged itself between their collective ribs and pierced their heart, crawled up their one massive spine and sprawled into their shrivelled brain. Gideon has never felt so alive.
Harrow however looks even closer to death than usual, her brow drab and sweaty, her eyes vacant, her mouth downturned as she presses her body to Gideon's in what might be an attempt at dancing. She looks like she'd rather be anywhere else, and also exactly like she isn't going to ask if they can leave.
"You okay Night Boss ?" Gideon asks, leaning forward until her lips are pressed to the shell of Harrow’s ear.
For a split second, Harrow looks like she's going to snap at her, an "of course I'm okay," right there on the tip of her tongue ready to be launched with the kindness of an ice pick. But their eyes meet and she shakes her head from side to side, slowly, and without needing anything more, Gideon turns her around and leads her out, her hand pressed to the small of her back.
They emerge in the cold night, the pulsating sound dampening when the heavy metal door of the club slams shut behind them. Harrow takes a couple of hurried steps, her breath rushing out of her, before she whirls around and leans against a lamppost, the yellowish light the most unflattering shade that has ever been shone upon her. Still, she looks beautiful, alive. She shivers once, rather violently, and after a split second of hesitation, Gideon steps forward and wraps her into her arms. Harrow stiffens, and then all at once melts against her, body relaxing as she buries her face in her shoulder.
"We didn’t have to go if you didn’t want to," Gideon says softly, kissing the top her head where her hair, damp with sweat, is stuck to her skin.
"You wanted to go," Harrow retorts, "and I wanted to do something nice for you, to make you happy."
"You know what is also nice ?" Gideon asks, rocking them side to side. "You know what would also make me happy ? For you to be comfortable and at ease. And if that means staying home and drinking piss flavoured tea and reading books then that’s what I want to do."
"My tea is not piss flavoured," Harrow says, stomping her foot.
"Whatever. Do you wanna go home ?"
Harrow bites her lip, and with a soft thumb, Gideon pulls it out of her teeth, gently tugging until it comes free. She leans in, tugged by an unseen and irresistible force, love perhaps, and kisses her, soft and brief, tasting lipstick and sweat and that thing that is so uniquely Harrow.
"Do you wanna go home ?" she repeats.
Harrow’s face is warm with a blush, she smiles. "Okay," she whispers hoarsely, "okay, let’s go home."
Hooking an arm over her shoulders, Gideon starts leading her away, her foot bumping into an abandoned beer bottle as she starts walking. The bottle shatters on impact.
Is this what we were meant to be Harrow ? Is this who we would have been under different circumstances ? If we'd grown up in any other world, a world that didn't hurt ? Would have I loved you, and would you have loved me ? Or would we, in a world free of all the wretched things that filled ours, in a place with beauty and time to enjoy it, still have yearned for pain ? If we'd been brought up with care, if we'd been told right from the start that love was possible, would have I still wanted your death, and would you still have wanted mine ? Would you have dismantled me if you'd been told, even just once, that it was okay to love me ?
Look what you made of me Harrow. Look at the sap you turned me into when I can't have you. You didn't even want me Harrow, so why are you doing this to me ? I think, sometimes, that I'm lying to myself, that this is me who want this, and not you, that I am the one dreaming of you, and not you of me. And it is so much fucking worse.
The sun is unforgiving, the heat punishing, but the brown ocean is cool on Gideon's skin, and she so seldom gets to enjoy it that she'll stay there for as long as she can, lying on her back and floating in the water until her fingers prune and then a little while longer after that.
Harrow is still on the beach, sitting a handful of steps from the shore on her black towel in her long black bathing suit under her heavy black umbrella. She probably thinks she’ll die if she goes in the sun. She looks like a sad bat and it's a little bit funny and when Gideon calls out to her again, inviting her to join, she shakes her head from side to side and hides behind her book which, consequently, is also black. That girl really is all about the aesthetic.
When Gideon gets bored of the water, she runs out of it, limbs splashing wildly in the foam, and she only comes to a stop right above Harrow so she can drip water all over her, an unshakable grin stretching her lips. When the drops of water hit the white sand they turn it a beautiful red.
"Griddle. You’re wetting me."
Gideon wiggles her eyebrows. "That’s what she said."
Harrow huffs and rolls her eyes and she looks so adorably angry that Gideon can’t help but smile some more.
"Come on Bone Empress, come in the water with me. You must be cooking up there."
Surprisingly, Harrow slams her book shut and shoves it into her bag. "If I go in the water with you for five minutes, will you let me read in peace after ?"
Gideon fist pumps excitedly, throwing a couple of additional punches in the air for good measure. "Yes ! I promise. Come on I’ll carry you so you don’t have to touch the sand."
At that, a gentle smile graces Harrow thin lips, and she opens her arms for Gideon to lift her without complain. As soon as she's secured her gloomy package, Gideon starts running again and with little warning she throws herself and Harrow in the water, laughing when Harrow yelps. She keeps both of their heads above the water though, she's not that much of an asshole.
"See ? It’s fun !"
"It’s cold Griddle."
Gideon sighs. "I’ll get you back to your towel." A shadow though, falls over them before she’s even done talking, and when she turns her head towards it, there's little time left to avoid the wave. "Hold your breath," she says quickly, and without waiting for an answer, she tugs Harrow closer to her chest and plunges below the water.
She resurfaces a handful of seconds later, Harrow coughing and spluttering and clinging to her like a scared cat.
"What the fuck Griddle ?"
"I don’t control the ocean. Hold your breath again, there’s another. I promise I’ll carry you back to the beach after."
Harrow’s eyes widen but she does breathe in sharply, blocking the air in her lungs. Gideon kisses the corner of her mouth and breathes in as well. When she ducks underneath it, the wave shatters over them like glass.
Fine. I’ll admit it. I’m the one who’s dreaming of you, not the other way around. I’m the one with weird happy little scenarios full of good feelings and the things we never got to have. I'm the one conjuring the shape of you in my messed up mind to play in my shitty little fantasies in which you've chosen me. Whenever you go to sleep and your soul leaves to God knows where (John is such a shit name for a god by the way, like, what the fuck ? Just for that I can’t trust the guy) and there is space for me to be, the only thing I can think of doing is to call you back to me.
It's pathetic, I fucking know it, but aren't I allowed to be a little pathetic after what you did to me ? If you'd eaten me properly like I asked, I wouldn't be here making a fool of myself. There's relief at least in the knowledge that you don't know anything about that, that the nights are mine to have and you will never know the ways in which I want you. I would be so pissed off if you knew, if this was just one more thing you could take from me when the things I gave to you freely you discarded so easily. I love you Harrow, and I'm so glad you don't know it ; that’d be so fucking embarrassing.
Harrow grunts softly in her sleep, her brow knits into a tight scrunch, and it would be cute if it wasn't such a clear sign of distress. Awoken by the noise and slightly confused, Gideon gently shakes her shoulder, trying to get her to wake up too. Harrow flings herself onto her side, sheet twisting around her bony legs, and she gasps awake, her eyes widening in horror.
"Gideon !" she calls out sharply. "Gideon ! Gideon ! Gideon !"
"Hey. Hey ! It’s okay I’m here. Harrowhark look at me. I’m here." With more strength than she probably should use right now, Gideon traps Harrow’s face between her hands to force her to look at her. "I’m right here."
"You were dead," Harrow whispers. "There was- You died."
"It was just a dream," Gideon whispers, smoothing a thumb down Harrow’s high cheekbone. Something twists painfully in her chest, and she fights the strange and sudden urge to check herself for wounds. "Just a dream."
"You were dead," Harrow repeats, still so frightened Gideon doesn’t know what to do with her.
Gently, she gathers one of her hand between her own and presses it to her chest so she can feel her heart. "I’m fine," she says. "Feel that ? I’m fine. And so are you. We’re both okay, everything is okay."
Harrow gasps, and a sob breaks out of her throat as fat tears start spilling from her dark midnight eyes.
"You’re okay," Gideon soothes, pressing her to her chest. "You’re fine, I’ve got you. I’m alive and I love you."
Harrow sniffles, and above them, the ceiling collapses.
I went through my fair share of shitty situations when I was alive, I saw truly abysmal horrors and I hated you for it. This though, is the absolute worst. Being trapped here, inside of you, not alive and not dead and with absolutely nowhere to go and fuck all to do, is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It's like dying a second time, except the first time it at least mattered because I was doing it for you. You ruined everything, and you don't even know it. If you knew, would you even care ?
The worst probably, and I know I keep on saying everything is the worst but fuck, Harrow, everything is the fucking worst, there’s no upside to this whole situation except maybe that you’re alive and even that isn’t super great because you went and fucked your brain so hard just to forget me that you’d probably be better off dead. So the worst of the worst things is that despite it all I love you Harrow, every inch of my mangled soul loves every wretched and insane version of you, and it would have meant the whole damn universe if you had chosen me.