- Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
Harrow looks the same as ever; goth-y, and just a little bit pretentious in an expensively distressed black sweater that looks like Dracula’s least-favourite curtain trying to strangle her, and also like she hasn’t slept in days. Admittedly, it’s hard to tell past what Gideon estimates is four-day-old eye-shadow smudged on thick and tarry. Her profile is thin and severe, hunched over her phone, which is lit up brighter than God’s phone, for some fucking reason, throwing a bright blue line against her jaw, and bruisy skull-shadows over the rest of her face.
She never did give a shit about saving battery.
The IV, on the other hand, is new.
Harrow looks exactly like she did two and a half years ago, except that she’s ensconced in a nest of wires and blip- ing monitors, on a saline drip, on a gurney, in the ER.
“You can go,” she mutters, stabbing at her phone. Her nail polish is chipped.
“I was going to ask them not to call you, but I was unconscious. I’m getting an Uber. You can go.”
“I’m sorry,” Gideon sputters, “What the fu--”
A nurse materializes at her elbow, tattooed and frowning. Gideon nods.
“You’re listed as Ms. Nonagesimus’s emergency contact—she collapsed, earlier today, a bystander called an ambulance—she’s extremely dehydrated, and we’re worried she may be concussed, she went down hard—”
“I do not consent,” Harrow hisses from the bed, “to the release of my personal medical information to her! Could I have the rest of my discharge paperwork? I asked for it ten minutes ago.”
“She shouldn’t be driving,” the nurse sighs, “And she really shouldn’t be alone the rest of the night.”
Harrow looks—and the nurse looks—and Gideon looks back and forth between them, jaw working silently.
“Okay,” she mutters, “Okay, one more time, what the fuck is going on?”
“I fell , Griddle. It’s fine . Now, I am going home. In an Uber. So you can go.”
Or what feels like it should be a weighted, heavy silence, but is actually filled with blips and beeps and at least four different voices paging at least seven different people over an intercom, and the tattooed nurse having a low, urgent conversation with a really hot phlebotomist, and somebody fighting with their insurance of the other side of a privacy curtain, and Harrow’s nails clicking against her phone case.
Gideon rolls her tongue over her teeth, processing. Rakes a hand over her hair. Looks down, scuffing her boot against the tile. Looks up, and Harrow is glaring, just as furiously black and bleak as the last time they fought, and just like that, it’s two years ago all over again, and Gideon Nav feels her face twist and sour.
“‘Hi Gideon, nice to see you, Gideon, thanks for answering a phone call that said I might be dying, even though we broke up, like, two years ago, and coming all the way out here to check on me, that was super cool of you, I really appreciate it’” she parrots, gesturing widely.
“This is why I didn’t want them to call you,” Harrow mutters, scrubbing at one eyebrow with the edge of her thumbnail, and then, louder, “Ex—Excuse me, yes, you, excuse me, what do I need to do to change my emergency contact information? Could I get that form? With my discharge papers ?”
Somewhere, Harrow is explaining that she—yes, thank you —understands the risks of an AMA discharge, they’ve been made very clear, thank you, scrawling her signature on form after form with an almost lunatic vehemence, and somebody’s pager is going off again, and whoever’s on the other side of the privacy curtain isn’t sobbing, but close to, three transfers into Aetna’s phone line, and only just holding ground, and it occurs to Gideon, a long way off from all of it, that Harrow would really rather black out again than talk.
It...hurts, surprisingly, an old, dull ache that might not even be pain. Might just be the weather. Sinuses, probably.
“You know, I was actually worried about you for a second, when I got that call,” Gideon hears herself say, “My bad. Sorry to fucking bother you.”
Her boots squeak on the tile, all the way to the door.
Kinda ruins the dramatic exit.
Outside is an ugly, slushy, late-March freeze, bleak and breezy; Gideon’s lighter gutters once, twice, before dying an upsettingly anti-climactic death and leaving her with an unlit cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth like an idiot.
It’s just—they charge too much for parking, which is fucked up, honestly, like it’s a hospital, fuck’s sake , but it’s also a million miles across the parking lot, and her hands are freezing, and…
A boot comes down somewhere to her left, the big, obvious tread of somebody trying not to spook you, and the saddest man she’s maybe ever seen motions apologetically and rasps:
“Need a light?”
He looks like a bouncer with a forty-year hangover, like a blues musician turned pro wrestler, with a lantern-jawed, hangdog expression and forearms like lead pipes.
Gideon swallows. Nods.
He passes over his lighter without a word.
“‘Saddest thing I ever saw was the smokers outside hospital doors,’” he intones, taking a long drag on his own cigarette.
And then nothing, no elaboration, no small talk; he just smokes, silently, slipping his lighter back into his pocket when Gideon passes it back across, and staring fixedly up at the streetlights across the street.
It’s like a hole, the silence, so brutally without expectation that Gideon blurts out “My ex is in there,” just to fill it.
“She, uh,” Gideon swallows, “She never liked me smoking. She was trying to quit, like, the entire time we dated, she said I was ruining it.”
The man nods.
“Family,” he rasps, “They don’t like it either. Your ex gonna be okay?”
“Probably?” Gideon sighs, “I dunno, it’s…”
He inhales, once, stubbing his cigarette out under his heel.
Gideon smokes her cigarette down to the filter, trudging slowly back to her car. For a long minute, which lasts about forty fucking years, she presses her forhead againt the steering wheel, letting the scream that’s been building beind her teeth for the past two hours rush out as hissed, rattling breath. Then she fishes her phone out, thumbing open her driver app, and punches accept on the first ride that comes up, not even bothering to look. They’re going away from the hospital, and away from Harrow, and that’s all that matters.
She pulls the car around.
“Pickup for Harr--”
“You have got,” Gideon says, “to be fucking kidding me.”
It’s that kind of day.
Harrows offers to cancel, and Gideon tells her to just...get in the car, just get in the car, and get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid, because it’s that kinda day, and they’ve been riding like that, Harrow in the back, braced against the window by the point of one cheekbone and her sweaty, hollow temple, in absolute silence, for the past twenty minutes.
Harrow hasn’t moved.
She hasn’t moved, folded up like a five foot nothing portent of doom, knees jackknifed up to her chin, but she also hasn’t moved ; the address is the still the same one Gideon recognizes, a vaguely dilapidated, pseudo-victorian block of shitty apartments occupied almost exclusively by the grad students without enough stipend for a place closer to campus.
Gideon squints up at somebody’s monstera as they round the corner, mottled white and green, pressed against a seventh-floor window like it’s trying to stage a jailbreak.
“They ever fix the elevator?” she ventures.
“Why would they bother,” Harrow drawls, like it should be obvious. “Here’s fine.”
Gideon purses her lips.”Are you seriously gonna walk up nine fucking floors after you fainted ? Like, a coupla hours ago?”
“I didn’t faint, ” Harrow snaps, jerking at the door handle, “It’s fine, Griddle, as I have made very clear. Several times.”
She slides out into the frost, a stark black outline against the sodium fizz of the streetlights, and then she stutters , just a little, just for a second, wobbling like her feet won’t quite take her weight. One boot heel skids on a wet patch, and she only just catches herself, bracing heavily on the handrail leading up to the main building door.
“Yeeeeeaaaaaaah,” Gideon calls, craning her neck out of the driver’s side window, “You really haven’t, though. I’m gonna go park. Don’t….” she sighs, “Don’t die, just...just gimme a sec.”
It’s just that kind of day, it’s just that she’s starting to remember that there are two Harrows, at any given time, the part you can brace for, and the other part, there’s the Harrow that talks, and the Harrow that does things; the Harrow-that-talks tells her to fuck off, and the Harrow-that-does things perches on the edge of a step and waits, gripping her knees and gnawing at her cuticles. Talking-Harrow says she doesn’t need—or want— the help, and then Doing-Harrow allows herself to be hauled to her feet, and then they switch, apparently, because Doing-Harrow flinches away, glaring thunderously at Gideon’s hand hovering near her elbow, and Talking-Harrow grits out:
“Well? Are you coming, or not?”
They walk three flights up like that, Harrow ahead, Gideon behind, close enough to tell that she still uses the same shampoo. Harrow keeps her elbows pinned to her sides, hissing and cursing softly every time she falters, and Gideon thinks of the (hot, in retrospect, not as hot as the phlebotomist, but hot) nurse with the tattoos saying she really shouldn’t be alone .
Somewhere around floor six, Harrow’s ankle turns, catching awkwardly at the edge of a step, and her arm is feverishly, shockingly warm when Gideon catches her by the bicep.
She’d almost forgotten that, how hot Harrow runs.
“This is why we broke up, y’know,” Gideon mutters, hands flexing in her pockets, “‘Cause everything’s always gotta be a fucking federal case with you.”
Every iteration of Harrowhark Nonagesiumus rolls her eyes, biting out some kind of sub-vocal aside Gideon can neither properly hear nor parse, but which sounds just as bitchy and pinched as it always did.
Seventh floor. Eighth. Ninth. Harrow hangs on Gideon’s shoulder. Pushes ahead.
“You do realize, Griddle, that needing to be woken up every hour is a myth, don’t you?” says the Harrow-that-talks, while the Harrow-that-does-things fiddles with the lock, leaving the door open behind her.
“Not if you can’t walk, it’s not,” Gideon replies, shouldering in after her. “I know how concussions work, I’ve had plenty.”
Harrow arches one lightlessly black eyebrow.
“Okay, well, now you’re just being mean.”
The inside of Harrow’s apartment still looks like a taxidermy trade show exploded on top of Robert Smith, but somehow...emptier than Gideon remembers it being. There’s a smoke detector bleeding D-volt viscera laying gutted on the coffee table, and absolutely nothing on the couch except a ruinously crumpled, mostly empty pack of cigarettes. Quitting’s not going well, apparently, if it’s going at all.
“For God’s sake, Griddle, take your fucking shoes off,”
Harrow’s own boots click pointedly into the kitchen. Gideon rolls her eyes.
“Y’know, you could just ask me to stay.”
The couch sags under her as Gideon gingerly nudges the cigarettes aside, the way that only a couch being used as a mattress can sag, and it feels, horrifyingly, ridiculously, like she is somehow sitting inside of Harrow’s ghost, the blurred hollow of her body sunk into the cushions, and Gideon only just remembers not to kick her feet up on the coffee table, narrowly dodging a graveyard of curdling coffee with her heel. And meanwhile, Harrow rattles loudly and aimlessly around the kitchen, all clicking boots and clicking stove burners that never quite catch, just stomping and rattling mugs, and finally Gideon looks up from her phone and snaps:
“Will you just sit the fuck down? Holy shit, like, just.... stop, Harrow, just chill for like, twelve seconds, the forces of darkness will survive without your umbral leadership, like, it’s good.”
She’s very small, backlit against the not-doorway of her tiny kitchen, lighter clutched in one taut, trembling hand.
“I don’t,” Harrow hisses, “have time ! I do not have time to stop, Griddle, I have—the He lab emailed me, sixteen times since three o'clock today, I have—the laundry machine has been broken here for two months, I have my own data to worry about, on top of the sixteen post-grads begging me to fix their garbage , I have—she’s privately funded, by fucking Ida Pharamaceuticals , and yet, I see her, every fucking day, complaining about the strictures unduly delaying her work, and meanwhile, there are proposals I have to write, constantly , to stop Sextus from stealing my funding, I’ve got—you, now, in my apartment—”
Her skinny chest heaves, sweat beading at the hollow of her neck, and all Gideon can think to say is:
“Wait, who the fuck is Sextus?”
She has, at some point, abandoned her sweater, and descended on the couch in a blackly tank-topped fury, grinding the edge of her lighter into the ridge of her eyebrow, elbows braced on her knees.
“I don’t,” Harrow repeats, “have time for this. Any of it.”
Her shoulders are hunched, two sparrow skulls pushing up against the skin, and Gideon...sighs. Swallows.
And digs a cigarette out of her pocket, offering it not quite to Harrow, but to the space between them.
“Just... sleep at some point?”
Harrow takes the cigarette.
2. Degrees of Separation
Day breaks like a beer-bottle to the head, amber-yellow and absolutely excruciating.
Gideon peels her face away from the couch, tonguing the grimy, cottony film off her tongue. Harrow is drooling, very slightly, on her shoulder, and somebody is pounding on the door. The sound reverberates around her skull in stereo, an agonizing thud offset from itself.
“Harrow,” she shoves at her shoulder. Harrow stirs, but doesn’t wake.
“ Nnngh ,” Harrow says.
Gideon scrubs her hands over her face, glaring at the door.
She tips Harrow into the corner of the couch, scrabbling in the cushions for her phone, which lights up a dull “10:45”, with the usual crack splitting the “4” at an ugly diagonal.
The pounding resolves into a voice, which sounds like a nature documentary, or an audio book, mild and dry and very faintly rasping, or it would sound like that, if it weren’t so overtaken by an irritation so powerful Gideon can feel it radiating through the door.
“Nonagesimus,” the voice says, “I’ve been texting you for an hour , open up!”
The voice, when Gideon cracks the door open, does not belong to a man so much as it belongs to a vertiginously, loosely man-shaped assemblage of triangles, wrapped in a phenomenally tatty cardigan, topped with glasses, and a vague buzz of dark hair. The whole of it—or him, roughly, is taller than Gideon, and gaunt in a raw-boned, insomniac sort of way that seems to be moving all the time, even though he’s standing perfectly, absolutely still, arms folded.
He also looks unsettlingly familiar, in a way she can’t quite place.
“We were meeting up at nine, Nonagesimus, are you deceased?”
“Oh, hey! You’re, uh,” Gideon snaps, groping for the memory, “Cam’s guy!”
“I’m sorry,” he drawls, with an expression of dawning realization glinting over his glasses, a slow uncurling across his angular face, suggestive of the idea that he may be talking to a serial killer, and at the very least, not talking to Harrowhark Nonagesimus, “Do I know you?”
“I’m, uh,” Gideon sputters, gesturing vaguely, “like we’re not friends -friends, but we, like, work out—not like together, but I spot her, sometimes? Y’know, we, like, we talk, and I’ve uh, seen her...drag...you...in...sometimes...um.” she sticks her hand out awkwardly. “Hi, I’m Gideon!”
His palm, when he shakes her hand, is cool and papery. He cranes his head over her shoulder, peering quizzically into the recesses of the apartment, and then the whole of him retracts , folding back on himself, pinched fingers pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“Right,” he breathes, “Okay. Clearly, I’ve... interrupted something, so.” He pauses, hand flexing restlessly in midair, groping vaguely for something, tongue flicking out over his bottom lip. “So I’ll... go ,” he concludes, “I’ll finish the proposal myself, and I will get it submitted, and you...have a nice weekend, Nonagesiumus.”
“Like hell you will, Sextus,” Harrow snaps, lurching up off the couch, still booted, yanking a sweater over yesterday’s leggings and tank top. It’s hard to tell if it’s the same sweater; Harrow’s array of pretentious goth outer-wear is vast, and they all look, to Gideon’s eyes, almost exactly the same.
“Wait,” Gideon says, looking back and forth between them, “ he’s Sextus?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Harrow huffs, sweeping together a sheaf of papers like they’ve personally offended her. “You categorically are not doing any of that, Sextus, I don’t need you privileging your half of this over mine.”
“Your unwavering dedication to the idea that I’m out to fuck you over is, as ever, inspiring, and completely unwarranted. I’m not Ianthe, ” he drawls. “Are we going, then?”
It’s banter , Gideon realizes, poleaxed. Sextus is leaning on the door jamb, looking utterly unsurprised, not even vaguely judgemental of Harrow’s living like she does, like the two of them have had this exact same argument before. They might, Gideon thinks, actually be friends , in a prickly nerd kind of way, a revelation so colossally, biblically unsettling that Gideon almost misses the moment in which they both turn, in unison, to stare at her.
“Well?” Harrow raises an eyebrow. “You’re not staying in my apartment while I’m gone, Griddle. I can’t imagine you’d want to.”
“I—okay, hang on,” Gideon shakes her fringe out of her eyes, “you two are gonna go work on your...group project—”
“Joint grant proposal,” Palamedes interjects.
“—group project, which, cool, but, um.” She turns to Harrow, frowning. “Are you...good? Cause you did. Super black out less than eight hours ago.”
Behind his glasses, Sextus’s eyes get somehow bigger , eyebrows rocketing upwards like they’re trying to break orbit.
“ Excuse me!?”
It’s a tossup, really, whether it’s more awkward to drive your ex back home from the ER, or driving your ex, and her coworker, the only person you’ve ever seen who looks more like an emaciated greyhound than your ex does, from your ex’s apartment, back to the ER.
The cafe next to the ER. Close enough.
Gideon thumbs half-heartedly through her driving playlists, hovering briefly over “Goth-Alt for club kids”, before giving up.
“Sooooo,” she swallows. “Uh. Sextus, how do you know Cam?”
He’s too tall for the backseat, instead folded up in front next to her, polishing his glasses on his shirt.
“Palamedes,” he says, “Please. She’s the only person who calls me Sextus, I just return the favor.” He jerks his thumb backwards at Harrow, and replaces his glasses. “Cam’s my roommate.”
Palamedes cocks his head at her.
“Oh,” Gideon repeats, a little lamely, “I guess I just assumed you guys were…”
His mouth twitches. “Just roommates,” he repeats.
Gideon drums her thumbs on the steering wheel, sucking her teeth.
“So,” she tries, “Do you guys all work at the hospital?”
“Strictly speaking, no. Harrow and I work at RCBR--the Rhodes Center for Biomedical Research.” he smirks, “ Riss-bur . Not to be confused with CrISPR”.
“You barely work with DNA, Sextus. It wasn’t a good joke the first time you told it, and it hasn’t been funny any time since.” Harrow says witheringly from the back, staring intently at her phone.
Palamedes rolls his eyes, with the assurance of a man who finds his extremely unfunny joke personally hilarious.
“We’re not actually part of the university’s hospital system,” he explains, “We’re just right next to it. Cam’s not—she’s in the Humanities Department, actually, under Dr. Pent.”
Probably the ride back from the ER to Harrow’s was more awkward, Gideon decides. Palamedes may be a spectacularly self-satisfied nerd, but he talks, at least, and there’s no baggage there, except the deep, deep bags under everyone’s respective eyes. She follows the two of them into the cafe, the desperate craving for caffeine outweighing any lingering awkwardness.
It smells incredible , like there might be a kitchen in the back, a real one. It smells like buttery dough, and coffee, and coffee , the roasty, kick-in-the-teeth of espresso, overlaid with sugar, and it’s so good Gideon could cry . As it is, she drifts through the line in a haze, barely conscious of anything but the idea of getting the biggest, fuck-off mocha possible, with the legal maximum of extra whip and espresso piled on top. A croissant , even.
But because she’s having the weirdest weekend ever, what happens is:
Gideon drifts to the front of the line, scanning the menu board intently for whichever fake-Italian-French bullshit indicates “fucking big”, and digging for her wallet, and when the barista manning the espresso machine calls back over her shoulder that she’ll be with Gideon in just a minute (and the voice doesn’t register at first, pitched customer-service high and agressively chipper), Gideon looks back from the menu board, and finds herself face-to-face with the labretted, dark-bobbed figure of one Camilla Hect.
She is wearing an apron. It has buttons on it.
“Death before Decaf” says one, which also has a splash of flaming, ambiguous liquid sloshing out of the top of a skull.
Another says “Knife to meet you.”
The weirdest fucking weekend.
“I thought Palamedes said—” she starts, but Camilla cuts her off, twisting several knobs on the espresso machine with more force than seems strictly necessary.
“You know Palamedes?”
“As of roughly forty minutes ago, yes.” Palamedes mutters, glancing up from his laptop, “She was at Harrow’s when I got there.”
“She knows Harrow?”
“You know Harrow?” Gideon sputters.
“I met her at the Christmas party,” Camilla shrugs, explaining absolutely nothing.
“She’s a Scrooge,” says Palamedes. “A bigger Scrooge than Camilla, which I had previously assumed was impossible. Even the Tridentarii like Christmas.”
“Don’t bring them into this, I’m already nauseous,” Harrow snarks, rolling her eyes extravagantly.
Somewhere, in the past two and a half years, Gideon realizes, with an uneasy churning in her stomach, Harrowhark Nonagesiumus grew a life .
Two days later, Gideon Nav accepts a ride, and Palamedes Sextus folds himself into her car, and he says:
“Nav, we have to stop meeting like this. People are going to start talking.”
And rambles amiably about Cold War numbers stations for the next twenty minutes, like they’ve known each other for years.
4. Leg Day
Five days later, Gideon aggressively pretends at normalcy by doing bicep curls in the squat rack, insulated from the shock of receiving an actual (clipped, terse, void of any human warmth or punctuation) ‘thank you’ text from Harrow by the swaddling warmth of people shooting her dirty looks for doing bicep curls in the squat rack. Unless that’s just the lactic acid build-up; she lost track of her reps maybe four songs ago. It was supposed to be leg day, but, Gideon thinks, fuck leg day.
A hawkish silhouette bobs into her field of vision, motioning for Gidon to take out an earbud.
“Get out of the fucking squat rack, you heathen,” says Cam, “Some of us need to actually use it.”
Camilla Hect, Giden thinks, is not one of those people, having been naturally gifted with quads like cabled bridge supports, a set of legs so precisely engineered somebody probably won an award for their design. But she sets the bar down anyway, hoping against hope that the concession will keep Cam from asking about Harrow. But God hates Gideon Nav, is the thing, so it doesn't work even a little bit, not even when Gideon, rolling her shoulders, offers up the beautiful deflection of asking where Palamedes is.
Cam just shrugs, a complicated motion involving a vague wobble of her head while maintaining otherwise perfect form, and replies that it’s not time for his scheduled monthly activity, and then, 15 reps later, she adds:
“So Harrow’s your ex?”
“Since when do we talk about my life?” Gideon grouses, mid-chest fly. She sets the weights down, ears burning. “Is it really that obvious?”
Cam cracks her neck. “Since you’ve dropped off my roommate, at my house , twice now. He has opinions about your car. You’ve seen where I work. Please understand that most people go years without knowing this much about me. And yes, it is painfully obvious.”
That’s the thing, is that there’s...a gravity to all of it, like it had to happen, like of course the space reserved for ‘casual workout buddy’ would bleed into ‘real friend’, of course Cam would consider an address a shocking degree of familiarity, of course ‘Cam’s skinny guy’ would be the kind of person who has opinions about her car, of course the black hole of Harrowhark Nonagesimus would pull these things into her life until everything is compacted down into a singularity of small-world coincidences, of course this would all be happening now, like this.
The hardest part is that it’s...kinda nice. It kinda works. It kinda makes perfect sense to just go with it. It’s kinda been a minute, Gideon thinks, since she had friends .
Cam stares at her expectantly. Gideon huffs, setting her weights down.
“Well, tell Palamedes to fuck off, my car’s fine! She’s a lady .” She pushes her sweaty hair from her face, working her jaw back and forth. “God, Palamedes is such a mouthful, we gotta get that boy a nickname.”
“Good luck.” Cam scoffs, slightly winded. “Nothing really sticks. He tried going by Des on grindr for about a month,” she adds, rolling her eyes, “It ended...badly.”
Gideon stares up at the fluorescents. She gnaws her lip.
Inspiration strikes somewhere between the fan and a ceiling tile with an alrmingly-coloured water stain, and she slowly lowers her gaze, snickering with glee.
“Is he gonna be mad if I start calling him Sex Pal?”
“Livid,” Cam says. “Do it.”
5. DJ Shrek’s Trip-Hop Swamp Party
Three weeks later, Harrow swoops into the back of her car, flanked by Palamedes, who rolls his eyes extravagantly behind his glasses and drawls, “You could just lie , Harrow, they're not going to check .”
“What if they do.”
And Palamedes says, “They absolutely will not.”
And Gideon says, “What are we talking about?” rolling down the volume on “DJ Shrek’s Trip-Hop Swamp Party”. One of her better playlists.
And Harrow snaps, “Unimportant!”, then reaches over the console, snapping her fingers imperiously. “Give me your phone, Griddle. I’m not listening to this.”
6. Palaemon serratus
It’s not a bad racket, considering. The rides around campus are regular enough during the week, and the hospital’s pretty regular in general, and Palamedes, at least, tips, and Cam comps her coffee most days.
Harrow walks almost everywhere. Gideon tries not to take it personally.
She tells herself, sometimes, that she hates when it rains, because Harrow will concede to call a car if it’s bad enough, and sit in the front, and change Gideon’s playlists without asking, and Gideon won’t really mind, and then Gideon will have to deal with... it , the nebulous, month-old it of “am I friends with my ex?”. She can’t tell if it’s true or not.
So anyway, so it’s raining, so she’s sitting at the counter, putting off leaving, watching Cam deftly flick the point of a swan’s beak into a cup.
“Blueberry French Toast Latte,” Cam says, sliding a dangerously full mug across to Palamedes.
“What the hell, Cam, why do you make him good shit, and I get...whatever this is?” Gideon whines, staring despondently into her mug. Sundays are slow, and it’s just easier to stay here, drinking...whatever the hell it is Cam makes her (today’s vaguely cherry-flavored, and... gritty , in an upsettingly glutinous fashion), instead of waiting for another ride, and anyway, her other gig isn’t worth even looking at on a Sunday.
Palamedes thumbs a swipe of foam away from this mouth.
“She loves me more than you, Gideon. Also,” he murmurs, bobbing his head, “I spent forty minutes de-veining her shrimp last night, so she owes me.”
“Gross, dude,” Gideon wrinkles her nose, “I don’t wanna hear about your sex life.”
“ Seafood , Nav. Don’t be disgusting.”
“He still has a dissection kit, from teaching Freshman bio sections,” Cam drawls, explaining nothing. “Yours is a Valentine’s Brownie Mocha.”
“It tastes….bad?” Gideon ventures.
“MmmHmmm.” Cam hums. She leans over the counter, braced on her elbows. “You asked me to, and I quote, ‘fuck you up’.”
“... Right ,” Gideon sighs, swirling her cup, before knocking the rest back in one go. She grimaces and tongues the chalky film off her palate. “This is. So bad.”
“Did Harrow talk to you yet?” Palamedes says abruptly, peering over his glasses.
He raises his eyebrow, mouth twitching in the way Gideon has come to recognize as the way Palamedes’ mouth twitches at the corner when he’s being judgemental about something. Usually it’s “the Tridentarii,”, neither of whom Gideon has met, but one of them is apparently his and Harrow’s evil coworker, and the other one calls Cam “Cammy”. He tucks his chin into one shoulder, then shakes his head.
“Not my place to say,” he sighs eventually.
She’d push it, normally, since Palamedes enjoys being cryptic only slightly less than Harrow enjoys being cryptic, and it’s not even remotely within the bounds of shit-Gideon-has-the patience for, but it’s Sunday, and Sunday’s the 31st, which means that tomorrow is April, and April means talking to Crux, and Gideon, remembering this, puts her face down into her arms, and groans.
“I don’t wanna talk to my landlord, you guys,” she whines, muffled against her elbow, “He’s like—”
“The Cryptkeeper,” Cam fills in. “You’ve said.”
“He doesn’t even have an email!”
“Unmitigated barbarism,” Palamedes offers, “Complete savagery.”
Gideon lifts her head to glare at him.
“My lease is about to be up, and I gotta go talk to this George-Romero-looking motherfucker in person about signing on again, in his creepy-ass office, and I genuinely think he’s gonna like, go for my brains or some shit—”
They bicker, companionably, until a ludicrously complicated frappe order pulls Cam away. Palamedes buries himself in a geologically layered array of Chrome tabs and printed-out abstracts. Gideon kicks her feet up onto a stool.
“I am going to murder the He Lab. All of them,” announces Harrow from one corner, sweeping in, and snapping open her laptop with a vengeance. She startles, a little, seeing Gideon, and offers a little wave, and something which is not quite, but certainly within the territory of, a smile.
Gideon lifts her hand, a little shyly, and smiles back.
7. Tyndall Blue
A woman pauses by her table, one hand delicately, almost, but not quite, brushing against Gideon’s own. “You dropped me off the other day,” she continues, “At the hospital? Opened the door for me and everything. Very chivalrous. Multiple other days, too, actually.”
Her voice is light, and faintly breathless, and a little bit thick , somewhere, at the very back, an ugly rattle under the frothiness.
On the other hand, she’s almost impossibly beautiful, in a translucently choleric kind of way, all delicate, purple-green shadows and fractal vein-shapes under the biggest, bluest eyes Gideon’s ever seen. Her mouth is lividly red. Everything she’s wearing is gauzy and falling off. Her free hand flutters around her neck as she speaks, mothy and trembling.
“I—yeah, I’m—that’s me,” Gideon babbles.
“Dulcinea,” the woman says, tucking her fingertips against the stark line of her collarbone, “I’m sorry, this must seem so strange, I just...I remember faces, and I saw you, and I wanted to say thank you. You were so sweet. Do you mind if I sit? I’m a little...”
“Oh! Yeah, yeah, of course!”
She tucks herself into the booth, smiling breathlessly, gathering her cobwebby, chestnut hair over one shoulder.
“So, Gideon,” she croons, propping her chin on her palm, “Do you come here often?”
8. Faustian Bargain
Gideon tells herself, sometimes, that she hates when it rains, because everybody forgets how to fucking drive, and it’s honestly excruciating.
“Yeah, I know it’s you,” Gideon sighs, “You don’t have to do this every time; I don’t even bother charging Cam anymore, you could just text me, it’s fine .”
Her eye makeup is smeared halfway down her cheek, melting like ice cream in the pouring rain, and her hair is slicked down into a glossy skullcap that is definitely going to ruin Gideon’s seats. Harrow’s hair is so unrelentingly, funerally black that Gideon used to think it had to be dyed, but there was never any proof. Gideon squints sidelong at Harrow’s shoulders, like she could catch the dye coming up if she looked hard enough, but, as ever, there’s nothing. Just goosebumps, and a puddle pooling between her collarbones, murky with eyeliner.
Gideon looks away.
“I don’t need favours , Griddle, I am perfectly content to—“
“Okay, well, I get that the nature of your dark pact with Satan is probably throwing off your baseline, my umbral liege, but actually not everything is transactional, and you can ask your friends for stuff sometimes.”
It’s out of her mouth before she can stop, and Gideon swallows, waiting for Harrow to say something, to raise her eyebrow in the measured, brutal way she raises her eyebrow, and say something like ‘since when are we friends ’. But she just scrubs at the makeup on her cheek with the back of her wrist, and fumbles blindly for Gideon’s phone to change the playlist.
She’s been on a Coheed and Cambria kick lately.
“Cam’s texting you,” she murmurs, passing the phone back. “Something about leaving her bike at home?”
Gideon tells herself, sometimes, that she hates when it rains, because of the noise , which isn’t actually relaxing at all, not like this, with the rain coming down in a solid, glassy guillotine of wet, unbroken and unending, with a relentless drumming that makes her teeth ache.
“You’re gonna have to cancel the ride if we go get her, it’s just gonna run your fare up like a motherfucker,” Gideon says.
Harrow presses her lips together.
“I’m not kicking you out of the car, I’m just saying.”
Gideon swipes her app closed before Harrow can see, either way.
Cam sprints out to meet them when Gideon pulls up, hunched protectively around a three-ring binder the size of a human child, and tailed by a man Gideon doesn’t recognize. They both slide into the back, panting.
“ Thank you ,” Cam breathes, fervently, “Can I ask you to do one more thing?”
“Oh, don’t, ” and the man groans, and it is at that point that Gideon realizes the man is Palamedes, sans glasses, and sporting a phenomenally ragged-looking beard, which, Gideon thinks, is actually an amazingly generous label for what amounts to a serial-killer’s patchy, unempt scruff barely long enough to eke past “five-o-clock shadow” into actual facial hair territory. It’s lighter than his hair is. Weird.
“Will you tell him to fucking shave?” Cam continues, “I can’t live like this, people think I’m being followed by a lunatic.”
“Dude,” Gideon says, softly, and with great feeling, “You look like shit.”
Palamedes presses a hand over his eyes.
“I am aware,” he groans again, “I’ve been...busy.”
“Now, Gideon,” Harrow says, very low, very seriously, “I know you can do better than that. Observe.”
She smirks, and her hand is freezing, but at the same time, feverishly hot, as she braces her palm against Gideon’s leg to twist around and peer into the backseat.
“Sextus, you look like an adjunct physics professor undergoing his third divorce.”
“I’m not trying just to grow it out, I just—”
Gideon takes up the banner.
“You look like an extra from Con Air .”
Harrow nods approvingly.
“You look like you sell weed behind a community college.”
“You look like…”
They keep going like that, all the way back.
Harrow’s hand does not leave Gideon’s thigh.
9. Check Yes, Juliet
Dulcinea Septimus has nerve injections for chronic pain on Tuesdays, and Thursdays are when Dr. Ebdoma works, so she checks in with him then, and Sundays are just for her, but she hangs around the hospital cafe anyway, because it’s familiar. Because the menu is better than anything else nearby, and she has, she says, friends in the area.
“Oh Gideon,” she purrs, sliding into the car for the third time that week, “We have to stop meeting like this. People are going to talk. They’ll think we’re having an affair.”
She sits in the front, with her seat reclined almost as far as it’ll go, to keep the strain off of her spine, cheek tucked into her shoulder. Her eyelashes fan against her cheekbones, redly translucent, the way her fingers are when she holds her hand up to the light.
Gideon chuckles weakly, neck warm.
“That’d be terrible,” she nods.
“Would it? I like to think it would be a triumph for me, having a strapping young thing like you on my arm, but I understand I might not be to your taste.” She rolls her head to her other shoulder, laughing brightly, with blood underneath. “You don’t have to say. I know I’ve painted you into a corner, really, and that’s not fair. Not when you’ve been so kind—I saw you, waiting. I thought ‘isn’t it strange that it’s Gideon on my way to, and Gideon again on the way back, I wonder how it does that’, and then when I saw you in the parking lot, I realized that you’ve been waiting for me. After the first few times.”
Gideon can feel herself go bright red.
It’s just...well, it’s only a couple hours out of her day, and it’s the middle of day, and most of the classes at Aiglamene’s studio run Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and mostly after 5pm, and the cafe’s right there, and Dulcinea looked so small, that first time, thin as a reed, but upright, gliding serenely towards unknown horrors, braced on her cane. So she just…
Dulcinea touches her elbow lightly.
“Really,” she murmurs, “You’ve done far more than I have any right to expect of a stranger.”
She sounds devastatingly, completely sincere. Her mouth looks very soft.
“Well,” Gideon hears herself say, “Maybe I should give you my number. So you won’t be a stranger anymore.”
Dulcinea laughs again, and the noise of it, like her hand, is warm and thin.
“I’d like that,” she hums. “I’d like that a lot.”
She settles the head of her cane into the crook of her arm, with the silvery beaked tip of its bird-headed handle pressing into the knobby joint. She spends a long time adjusting the angle of it, and then longer tugging at the gauzy, useless scarf draped over her throat. She smiles at Gideon. She nods decisively.
“So! Since we’re having an affair, when should we elope? I’ve always wanted a summer elopement.”
10. Croaked (1984)
They’re at Cam’s place (Sex Pal’s place?), and Cam is sprawled out on the couch, with a drink in one hand, and a remote in the other, and her feet in Palamedes’ lap. This arrangement takes up the entire couch, leaving Harrow stranded in a splotchy armchair off to one side, and Gideon nesting atop three throw pillows and a doubled-up yoga mat on the floor. Cam gestures grandly with the remote.
“Welcome, Gideon Nav,” she intones, “to your first aneurysm movie night. The rules are very simple; I have,” she gestures at the TV, “a terrible movie queued, one which I have calculated will give at least one person here a fucking aneurysm. Whoever breaks down first and gives an impassioned rant about all the ways in which the movie is wrong, will have the satisfaction of being right, but will also have to drink this, ” and she aims the remote at the coffee table, where a battered nalgene of ambiguous alcohol lurks, “jungle juice. If nobody breaks, movie-picker drinks it. Clear?”
Gideon edges forward, sniffing dubiously.
“What’s in this?”
Croaked (1984), is, as promised, absolutely excruciating. The effects are appalling, and the script is worse; it’s the kind of movie that gets written in greenlist on a budget of $5, the rest having been spent on cocaine.
Thirty minutes in, and Gideon can see a muscle twitching in Harrow’s jaw. An hour in, and her hands are white around the arms of the chair while a suspiciously square-jawed movie scientist gestures at what is definitely just an ordinary rack of test tubes filled with food colouring, and says, “We’ve analyzed the DNA”. Harrow hisses through her teeth, and squeezes her eyes shut, and maybe it’s the fact that being in Sex Pal’s (Camilla’s?) apartment seems to have sorted them into teams, home turf versus strangers, and maybe it’s the thorough movie-night pre-gaming, but everything is a little warm, and a little fuzzy, and she doesn’t, Gideon thinks, want to see Harrow lose. She reaches back behind her head, tugging urgently at Harrow’s knee.
“Don’t do it,” she whispers. “You did not forfeit your soul to Satan’s black legions to lose to him. Stay with me, Nonagesimus. He’s gonna crack.”
He looks like it, anyway; his grip around Cam’s ankle has taken on a clawing desperation, thumb digging into the joint in a way that cannot possibly be comfortable. His eyes are lost behind the TV glaring off of his glasses, but his mouth is twisted in gaunt, stifled agony.
In the dark, Gideon feels Harrow’s hand close over her own and squeeze.
“All mammals,” says the movie scientist, yanking his glasses off with a swift, one-handed tug. “We all evolved from frogs.” He shakes out his lustrous hair.
Harrow leans down, sternum pressed to the back of Gideon’s skull, and wraps her arm desperately around Gideon’s chest. It is the wracking, hopeless despair of a martyr, and Harrow’s elbow is made of knives , and Gideon shakes her head don’t you do it .
“These...creatures, they seem to be... people , people who have somehow... devolved into their ancestral amphibious state.”
“Give me the bottle,” Palamedes snaps, “I can’t fucking do this anymore.”
He swigs and pulls back, coughing.
“Christ alive , Camilla, what did you put in this?” he gasps.
“Components. The thing with the glasses got to you, didn’t it?”
He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand with a grimace.
“ First of all,” he huffs, and Gideon loses the rest, ecstatic with triumph while Harrow laughs into her hair.
It’s so late it’s practically early by the time they leave, with most of the alcohol long since worn off, and all thirty-two covers of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” queued up on Gideon’s Spotify. Harrow critiques them all savagely and individually on the way back to her apartment, with the excruciating detail of the truly devout, and her heels braced on Gideon’s dashboard.
It’s the Harrow-that-does-things that spills out of the passenger seat without preamble the second Gideon parks and stalks up to her door, hunched against the wind, and the Harrow-that-talks who calls back, “Are you coming up?” without looking back. Like she can’t imagine a world in which Gideon wouldn’t, like the gravity of her own place in the universe should be sufficient to drag Gideon along with her, no matter what.
The thing is, is that she’s not wrong .
“Come up,” she repeats, hand hovering over the door handle. Like there is something so monstrously important she has to say that it can only be said where nobody else can witness it. Like she can’t not say it.
So Gideon follows her up the nine flights of stairs, because the elevator is still broken, its antique folding screen (circa 1923) hanging like a broken tooth, and follows Harrow into her living room, and follows her to the couch, and waits for the other shoe to drop. The Harrow-that-does-things folds her spidery hands into her lap, and looks at Gideon, and looks at the window, and looks resolutely down at her knees, and digs her phone out of her back pocket, squeezing it ‘til her knuckles go white, and then finally the Harrow-that-talks sighs, “Look at this.”
She passes Gideon the phone.
...while we understand that the personal lives of grant recipients fall outside the purview of the program and its directors, it is our opinion that the extraordinary nature of the circumstances involved is sufficient to warrant our intervention...concern for your ability to maintain the level of quality work demanded by...clients, as well, who are the backbone of our efforts in the field…
Gideon passes the phone back, eyebrows knit together.
“What does this mean?”
“Someone—fucking Tridentarius, most likely, this never would have been an issue if somebody hadn’t pressed it—told them about my...about what happened. When I fell. They are concerned,” Harrow bites out, “that my living situation is...unstable, and that this somehow means I am incapable of working at the level I need to to keep my funding.”
“And you want me to, what, tell them you’re fine? Like, that sucks, don’t get me wrong, but I’m struggling to understand where I come in.”
“No,” Harrow says, staring fixedly at the ceiling, “No, I want you to move back in with me.”
What Harrow says is that it would be easier to prove stability with a roommate, somebody to be able to say you have obligations to, somebody to keep you in one piece because they want your half of the rent. That the roommate has to be real, at least on paper, in case they check, and weren’t you looking for a way out of renewing your lease? That she’s heard Gideon complain about it for weeks. That they weren’t...that it wasn’t always awful, before, it wasn’t—and anyway, her stipend isn’t so big that splitting the rent wouldn’t be a relief. Just for next few months. Just until it blows over.
Harrow laces her fingers together, the last two knuckles on her thumbs digging into her nose on either side, and grits out:
“I’m asking you to help me. I—I’m asking . That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it?”
It’s an absolutely lunatic gamble. It relies on so many absolutely insane assumptions, and Harrow clearly expects it to fail, already setting her face like a concrete block, and fiddling with a cigarette, like it’s her last before facing the firing squad, forcedly casual. Gideon watches her light it and take a shaky drag. There is eyeliner smudged along the sides of Harrow’s thumbs, and she offers a second cigarette not so much to Gideon, but to the space between them.
Gideon takes it.
“Can I...can I think about this?”
Harrow blows out a thin stream of smoke, and nods curtly.
“Of course,” she murmurs, from a long way off. “I--of course.”
There’s still twenty-odd Bauhaus covers kicking around on her phone, alternately droning mournfully and crooning with a (frankly, bizarre) chipper dissonance that does nothing for her mood.
Gideon drives, and it’s not until she’s at the hospital that she realizes where she’s going, or has gone, but it feels...weirdly inevitable, like the past few months have felt weirdly inevitable. Or maybe it’s just habit, maybe it’s just that she’s been dropping Dulcinea off a lot lately, Tuesdays and Thursdays, every week now, and it’s just where her autopilot goes these days. Maybe it’s that the hospital is where... this started, but the thought curdles in her stomach almost as soon as she’s managed to think it.
This is where it started, Gideon thinks, it started maybe two and a half years ago, when Harrow was just a ferally triangular shape at the back of the one class Gideon was teaching back then, which wasn’t quite pilates or self-defense—back before Aiglamene left to start her own studio and took Gideon with her—but Harrow showed up for the Wednesday night time slot, and her parents had maybe, probably, definitely, been in some kind of cult, or at least that’s what everybody said before Harrow showed up, because Harrow always showed up late, and she looked like she desperately wanted the class to be more violent than it ever actually was. Showed up for about six months, and smoked outside the back of the building, which is where Gideon really met her, Harrow glaring and daring her to comment on the cult thing.
Or it doesn’t matter where anything started.
It feels like her skin is fizzing , a staticky crawl from somewhere inside her bones, claustrophobic and jangling.
She stumbles out of her car, still clutching the cigarette Harrow gave her, and—
Gideon almost doesn’t see the man until it’s too late, and only just manages to pull up short before walking right into him. He’s rue-eyed and exhausted looking, a smeary sepia-gray, and, Gideon realizes, he’s the same guy from before, from the night Harrow fell. He blinks at her. Gideon swallows.
“Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you—we met, I think? Couple months ago?”
“Colum.” He rumbles, offering her a brisk nod, “Asht.”
Colum gestures vaguely with his lighter, and Gideon nods, and they smoke like that, outside the hospital doors, in a bubble of silence somewhere between companiable and painfully awkward. Harrow’s cigarette tastes vaguely of clove, because of course it does. She’s halfway down to the filter when everything breaks open, Colum sighing with a gritty rattle, and looking at her sidelong to ask:
“Your ex in there again? It was your ex, yeah?”
“Wha—no, no, she’s fine, she, uh. She asked me to move back in with her, actually.”
He nods. Up close, the craggy sharpness of his face looks somehow unnatural, hollow, like it didn’t always look that way. Gideon wonders, offhandedly, when he started smoking. From the sound of him, it must’ve been shortly after he was born.
“I don’t…” Gideon sighs. “I don’t know. Like, we have all same friends, now, and I don’t wanna, like, lose all my friends, and I—I fucking hate my place, and my lease is almost up, and it’s not—like, she is legitimately the antichrist, probably, with the cursed birthmark under her hair and everything, but then, like, the thing is that—”
He holds up a hand, cutting off her babbling confessional.
“I’m not a priest,” he rasps, “Can put you in touch with one, if you want.”
He says it so flatly it’s almost impossible to tell whether or not he’s joking.
He huffs, a noise which isn’t quite a laugh, and takes another long drag.
“Look,” he says, “Do you want to? Move back in?”
Gideon rolls the cigarette, burnt down to the filter, back and forth between her fingers.
11. Plywood, Brushed Steel
The sum total of Gideon Nav’s worldly possessions amounts to about three car trips, after selling the futon and the one bookshelf. Palamedes, sporting a genuinely alarming grin, meticulously disassembles the limited remains of the rest of her flat-pack Target furniture pieces having claimed, with a vaguely upsetting relish, to be a “savant with an allen wrench, actually,” (to which Cam had agreed, with the caveat that he couldn’t drive a nail for shit). He spends the entire time rolling his eyes at Gideon for not keeping the original packages, while sorting screws into labelled ziploc baggies.
It’s exactly enough boxes to be a massive pain to get up Harrow’s stairs.
“I truly fucking detest this building,” Palamedes murmurs, squinting up from the curb, “And I’d also like to suggest that I’m more useful in a... supervisory capacity, as far as getting all this upstairs—”
“Pick up a box.” Cam drawls, already hefting three.
They get the boxes up.
They get pizza, and Cam only remarks on Harrow “really living Like This” once, and Palamedes comments how extraordinary it is that you can hear her pronounce the capital letters.
Harrow stays mostly withdrawn from the whole thing, like she’s somehow embarrassed by it. Like it has to be something that’s happening to her, instead something she chose, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to stomach it, like the gulf between asking for something and getting it is too big to even approach, let alone bridge. So the three of them pick at the remains of the crusts, while Harrow, so carefully blank-faced Gideon can feel her about to vibrate out of her skin, busies herself with shifting a zoo’s worth of skulls (two coyotes, one deer, one otter, one cat missing both a tooth on the upper left and it’s entire lower jaw, one turtle, multiple birds) onto the couch, so she can move the end table that housed them, so they can squeeze Gideon’s weight rack in between the tv and the wall.
“When are you bringing your bed up? You never said how big it was, but I’ll have to move something to fit it, and I’d rather get that done first before I have to move anything else,” Harrow says, braced against the wobbly end-table with her weight in one elbow, and her eyes fixed firmly in the corner.
“Oh,” Gideon shrugs, “I figured I could just sleep on the pullout?”
“The couch? You slept on it all the time.”
Somewhere behind here, Palamedes coughs.
“Yes,” Harrow replies, very slowly, with the flat, drawn-out vowels of someone trying to explain something very simple to somebody very stupid, “I did. It’s just a couch.”
“Wait, you just—”
“Why did you think it was a pull-out, you never saw—”
“You slept on that thing every night for like a month, I—who sleeps on a couch for month , that is batshit, not even I do that, I just—I thought you just always put it back, you’re—you would do that, you totally would do that—”
“ Well,” Palamedes drawls, “On that note, I think we’d better be going. Cam?”
And then it’s just the two of them, Gideon on a box and Harrow still leaning over the end-table, just staring.
“Um. So. I guess...I’ll sleep on the couch?” Gideon swallows, rubbing at the back of her neck.
Harrow sighs. She drops onto her other elbow, bent over the table with her hands clasped over the back of her skull, and stays there, unmoving, for a long, taut moment, before sloughing off the edge of the table. She snatches up a cigarette from the detritus on the windowsill, and lights it, and smokes, elbows tucked in, shoulders bent in over her chest, bleak and black and vulturine and it would be a lot more effective of a tableau, Gideon thinks, if it wasn’t four-thirty in the afternoon, and sunny, the light from the windows turning all of her immaculate blacks a dull, clay-ish red-brown.
“No,” she huffs finally, cigarette-hand braced above her eye, “I keep...odd hours. It wouldn’t work, with you out here, just...just take the room. I’ll change the sheets.”
“Y’know, it’s kinda fucked up to ask somebody to move in with you, then act like I’m kicking you out of your own house.”
“I am...I don’t mean to. It really is easier this way, I don’t sleep much.”
It’s not quite an apology. But it’s closer to one than Gideon’s ever gotten.
The sheets, when she finally crawls into bed six hours later, Harrow still arranging skulls in the living room, smell slightly musty, and a little like detergent, and not at all like Harrow.
12. Blue Girl
There’s tea-roses out front of Dulcinea’s well-heeled little town house, half-wild in a way that looks like it costs a lot of money to keep up. They crowd the front door, blooming an impossibly delicate bluey-lavender, something like an insomniac’s eyelids.
Two weeks, and Harrow still sleeps on the couch.
Gideon shoves the thought down, and taps out a quick Hey, I’m here on her phone.
>> Perfect! Come around the back, the gate’s unlocked!
Dulcinea has an actual yard . It’s still kind of a trip.
She’s draped languidly across a lawn chair when Gideon finds her, eyes closed, fanning herself with a flimsy paperback. Her feet are bare, veins green under her skin, joints enormous. She flings her other palm out, fingers opening and closing on nothing until Gideon takes her hand.
“ There you are,” she smiles. It stutters into a grimace as she pushes herself up to halfway-seated, lips flinching back over her teeth before settling again, but she waves off Gideon’s concerned frown with an airy toss of her head. “I was starting to think you’d divorced me, and I was heartbroken.”
She rubs her ankles together, back and forth, and makes absolutely no move to get up any further.
“I wouldn’t,” Gideon replies, and it comes out maybe a little too sincere, because Dulcinea laughs and cups her cheek.
“Of course not,” she soothes.
Gideon wants very badly to turn her face into Dulcinea’s hand and do something stupid like kiss the inside of her wrist.
It seems like a disastrously creepy thing to do to a person you’re not quite dating, though, so she doesn’t, she just laughs back, a little forced, and offers to find Dulcinea’s shoes. That’s a friendly thing to do. That’s fine. There’s just a lot of weird limbos in her life right now.
“No, no,” Dulcinea murmurs demurely, “Bad pain day. I’m not quite up to going out, I just…” She licks her lips delicately, and looks away, and looks back at Gideon through her eyelashes and smiles again, purring, “Well, I wanted to see you. You’re good company. So I’m afraid I brought you here under false pretenses; I hope you'll forgive me. I don’t actually need a ride today. If you want to help, I’m sure I could find a jar or something for you to open, if that’d make this more familiar. I understand if you’re busy, God knows I hate a charity case as much as anyone else does, I just...I’d like it if you stayed. I wasn’t sure how else to ask, it sounds...a little pathetic, just to say ‘will you keep me company while I languish’. But would you?”
How do you say no to that, Gideon thinks, how could anyone? Just walk away and leave her wilting tragically under a crepe mulberry with her book?
(A part of her that sounds like Harrow thinks, a little meanly, that Dulcinea knows exactly how hard it would be. Thinks that if Dulcinea wanted something more than just attention on demand, she would’ve made a real move by now, instead of just cooing and purring her way into flirtily plausible deniability. Another part of her tells that part to fuck off.)
“Of course,” Gideon says fervently, “Yeah, of course I’ll stay.”
13. Memes: A Meta-Review
It’s a wobbly kind of equilibrium, but a month and change later, it’s the middle of June, and she and Harrow are settled; it’s maybe the kind of settling an old house does, creaky and shifting around things that aren’t there anymore, and who fuck knows when the foundation’s gonna go, but it’s comfortable, mostly.
Also? Full of bones.
Haunted houses all the way down at Chez Nonagesimus.
Her days, she spends with Dulcinea, between driving and studio hours with Aiglamene, and she’s managed to stifle the ugly voice in the back of her head telling her it’s never gonna happen -happen between them almost entirely. They’ve gone to dinner . They had a picnic in her yard . Everything's coming up Gideon.
So of course, that’s when the universe decides to throw a wrench in the proverbial works, with the idiot, unthinking malice of a knife-wielding toddler.
So, they’re in the cafe, her and Dulcinea, Gideon nursing Cam’s latest “just fuck me up” special, and Dulcinea with tea, when the other woman starts, peering intetnly across the space.
“Palamedes!” she cries delightedly, pushing weakly away from Gideon’s shoulder. “How are you, it’s been ages!”
He startles over his latte, and peels away from the counter, picking his way through the tables.
Dulcinea half-rises to meet him, or starts to, but Palamedes is already flapping his hand at her, no, don’t get up, sit down . He cranes over her in the chair, and her arms wind up around his neck in a friendly hug that lasts just too long to be only friendly. She tucks her face very briefly into the crook of his neck. He allows it, very briefly, before carefully extricating himself, and settling himself next to Gideon in the corner booth.
And Gideon waits, again , for somebody to start explaining how everybody knows each other, because that’s just how her life goes now, apparently, but like hell is she gonna play the gormless idiot and be the one to ask.
Instead, they chatter amiably about something that sounds excruciatingly boring and vaguely medical, and there’s something about a journal, and it just keeps going , and finally, just to be included, Gideon gulps down the last of her sandblaster matcha (matcha powder, frappe powder, sugar free mint, extra ice, and, according to Cam, ‘mystery syrup’ from a pump dispenser with no label; it both tastes and feels like eating toothpaste mixed with lawn clippings), and asks, gormlessly and idiotically:
“So how do you two know each other?”
Dulcinea giggles brightly, leaning across the table to squeeze his arm, circling the inside of his bicep with her thumb.
“Oh,” she laughs, “Well, Palamedes is the nicest man who’s ever stuck something in me.”
“I thought we had agreed that you weren't flirting with me anymore.”
“Who’s flirting?” Dulcinea pouts, giving his arm another squeeze before withdrawing.
He fiddles with his glasses, regarding Gideon with a rueful, flat expression.
“You’re in her DMs,” he says, “I did her blood work as part of a research study a few years ago. We’re not the same, Nav.”
And faced with the horrifying reality that Palamedes Sextus, of all people, knows how to meme , is fucking—is riffing on twitter memes in his dry, stuffy, audio-book voice, and is apparently legally allowed to do so, without anybody stopping him, and the murky, not-strictly-platonic history hanging thickly over the table, all Gideon can do is blink, poleaxed, and stutter vaguely that she thought that Cam said he was gay?
“Cam said you were on grindr, so I figured—”
“Why would you tell her that?” Palamedes drawls, twisting around to level a flatly accusatory stare at Cam behind the counter.
She shrugs. “It was very funny.”
“Wait, so were you? Why were you on grindr if you’re not—” Gideon flounders.
“Well,” Palamedes says, with a pinched, irritated delicacy, “Because I tried Tinder, and when I said I was bi in my profile, mostly what I got was couples unicorn hunting, and I got very tired, Gideon. So I tried grindr, for reasons I’m almost certain you’d rather not hear about.”
It’s a mess.
Dulcinea snickers into the back of her hand, and Palamedes rubs his eyes behind his glasses; she looks almost impossibly beautiful, flushed and bright-eyed in a way that does something fluttery and awful to Gideon’s stomach, and he looks like he wants to die, slowly dissolving into the tabletop. And then he has the goddamn nerve to suggest that Harrow, fucking Harrowhark the-heat-death-of-fun, the-lightless-hole-where-good-times-crawl-off-to-die Nonagesimus, is more fun to hang out with, because she wouldn’t do this to him, muttering it into his elbows, which is just an insane thing to say, Harrow’s…
Harrow’s lot of things, but one of them being fun is not a universe in which Gideon is prepared to live. Like, yeah, the jokes are...kind of astonishingly mean, sometimes, but also funny as hell if it’s not about you, and sure, they’re movie night allies, and yeah, she’s like, not always the endless dark from which all evil springs, but like…
Denial ain’t just a river.
And then there’s the conversation about Harrow being her roommate, just her roommate, which is full of significant looks from everybody, and just...
God, it’s the fucking worst. Everybody knows everybody, and everyone’s got history, gays and post-docs alike. Christ.
He’s right about one thing, though.
Gideon definitely doesn’t want to hear about Grindr. She doesn't want to hear about it so badly that she offers to go get Dulcinea’s refill, just to get away.
They’re still talking when she slinks back to the table; Gideon vaguely catches Harrow’s name, and Palamades, scraped back up off the table, murmuring:
“It’s really not my place to say, but I get the impression that she’s been waiting, her entire life, for the chance to bludgeon someone to death with a rock, and would love to be given an excuse. Anyway,” he slides out of the booth ahead of Gideon, “Movie night’s at yours next week, Nav, remind Harrow to pick a movie, will you? She never remembers. Cam is purchasing...components, which I cannot possibly speak to, but I saw Faygo on top of our fridge, so. Much to think about. I’ll see you around.”
“A roommate, ” Dulcinea purrs, toying with Gideon’s fingers in the wake of his leaving, “I was wondering why you never asked me over.”
There are legitimately multiple, very good reasons, like a broken elevator and nine flights of stairs and Dulcinea’s house being honestly so much nicer.
Which is what Gideon says, and Dulcinea nods of course, I know, I didn’t mean it , and it’s fine.
It just feels a little bit like lying.
Harrow looks she wants to say something when Gideon finally gets in—or Gideon thinks she does; she’s getting back into the habit, but it’s still a little hard to read her expression behind the forever-war her eyeliner is waging with the rest of her face—but it’s gone in a flash, subsumed in an ambiguous quirk of her lips.
She’s huddled into the corner of the couch, chin hooked over her knees, and Gideon is so caught up in trying to parse her expression behind the makeup that she doesn’t notice the rest at first, but Harrow, for the first time since Gideon moved back in, is wearing pajamas. It’s somehow more exposed than seeing her naked; without her Siouxsie Sioux couture, she looks like a snail outside of its shell, something you’d step on just to put it out of its misery, just to remind it that’s it’s not safe out there, swimming in sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt, which, on Harrow’s skinny frame, is the size of an olympic pool.
“Griddle, you have terrible taste,” she murmurs absently, staring intently at the TV.
“Well, you asked me to live here, so what the fuck does that say about you.” Gideon’s mouth shoots back on automatic before her brain catches up.
Feels good. Feels organic.
Harrow snorts. Her t-shirt gapes at the collar. It’s been cut off, leaving a raw edge that she pulls at, tugging it back and forth.
“I need to pick,” she says, gesturing with the remote, “I lost to Sextus last week, I’m not doing it again.”
“ High Moon, ” Gideon reads out, plopping down next to her, “No, not that one. The first five minutes are amazing, this cowboy guy’s in a shoot-out with these old-timey werewolves, and he buries them, and then this ninja who’s there—I think it’s a Miyagi thing, but they literally never explain it—just fucking stabs him, and then they all come back in the future, but there’s a whole B-plot with this cop and his failing marriage, which is actually hot fucking garbage, and it ruins the whole thing. Super boring. Like it’ll piss everybody off, but not in a fun way.”
She tucks in her tongue inside her cheek. Considers.
“Is it cheating,” Gideon says, “if it’s a movie I’ve already seen?”
“Not...technically,” Harrow answers, “Sextus neglected to make it a rule. Careless of him.”
Her voice gets all smug and lilting at the end, which means she absolutely has been exploiting this loophole.
Gideon grins savagely.
“Oh, have I got a film for you.”
Ravenwood (2010) exists only in the hallowed halls of Gideon’s memory, and also on Vimeo, and Harrow tucks herself against Gideons side to watch it, craning in over Gideon’s shoulder unthinkingly to see better, and her slight weight is a brand from Gideon’s hip all the way to her neck.
She’s only half-watching the movie, which has vampire cowboys, the subtlety of a brick to the head, and a lead actor who changes accents upwards of five times every three minutes. Seen it all before.
Instead, Gideon watches Harrow.
But Harrow’s nose wrinkles disgustedly at a vampire bartender plugging a tap into a hapless extra, which is not the worst visual gag in Ravenwood , but up there, and there’s a bleach stain on her sweatpants, and crumbs on her t-shirt, and Harrow looks like a person.
Like an actual human person.
And the shirt, Gideon realizes, the pajama shirt is familiar. The logo’s from back when she was still at G3 Fitness, it’s—too big, and it’s from the place Gideon used to work, and it’s her shirt. Was. Is?
Gideon swallows, and resolves not to notice it again. Ever.
Instead, she digs her phone out, and thumbs open her last text from Dulcinea.
14. Ravenwood (2010)
Palamedes loses movie night.
That Sunday, Harrow offers to buy her breakfast, to pay back the winning movie choice, but Gideon declines. It’s not a fucking blood pact, she says, there’s nothing to pay back.
Anyway, she has plans with Dulcinea.
15. I personally will stab you in eye with a foreign object
When Gideon isn’t in denial, which is around July, Harrow is actually...a pretty okay roommate. She leaves her shit everywhere, trailing coffee mugs and broken eyeliner pencils like the wreckage of the goddamn Hindenburg, but then, so does Gideon. Harrow has the sleep schedule of a serial killer, but she is never once late with the rent, and there’s never any dishes in the sink; if only because Harrow doesn’t cook, but, you know.
She even gets building managment to fix the fucking elevator.
It breaks again, two weeks later, but still. It’s the little things.
The smoke detector stays gutted on the table, but is joined by, of all the fucking things, a candy dish, a shallow, grim-looking stone basin that Harrow fills with nicotine gum and single lozenges. Harrow is “quitting”, for the n-th time, and pretending not to lean in when Gideon lights up in the living room, and wafting away the tobacco smoke with the edge of her hand when Gideon very obligingly exhales in her direction, and rolling her eyes, and calling Gideon vile, but without any real heat to it.
They do movie nights with Cam and Palamedes. Gideon hauls their combined laundry down nine flights to the basement, and Harrow fronts the quarters. Their clothes get mixed up. Harrow threatens to feed Gideon her own teeth over it every time, and Gideon threatens to throw Harrow out the window, and then they sit down together to match socks.
16. It goes to eleven
Gideon blinks away a yawn, perched gingerly on the edge of Dulcinea’s luxuriant, rose-coloured sofa. The whole room matches, all greens and silvery pinks, and it’s so seamless that it actually hurts to look at. Her eye keeps skidding off of things, with nowhere to land except Dulcinea, who sits unpicking and re-braiding the elaborately herringboned rope of her hair, and telling Gideon to relax, to sit back, except that she can’t sit back, somehow afraid that leaning in is going to ruin the upholstery, somehow. Like letting a dog up on the furniture.
Dulcinea’s place isn’t really a pets-on-the-couch kind of situation.
“ Relax, ” she repeats, tugging insistently at Gideon’s sleeve. “God, Gideon, you’re more tense than I am, and I’ve had two different spinal taps this week.”
She winces faintly as she settles back into her seat.
Gideon moves to...do...something, an abortive little jerk forward because it seems like she should do something? But Dulcinea waves her off, and that’s that.
“Trouble at home?” Dulcinea murmurs gently.
“What, with Harrow? Nah, I mean—like yeah, she’s fucking crazy, Harrow... exists at the exact intersection of...bad taxidermy, and clove cigarettes, and like...being a murderer, probably. But like….” Gideon’s mouth twists, circling her hand vaguely in the air around her face, “It’s fine. She’s just like that. Anyway, I could take her.” Gideon adds, flexing demonstratively.
Harrow, if Harrow were here, would roll her eyes until they dropped out of her skull and rolled across the floor like fucking marbles, and then she would launch into the merits of just hitting Gideon with her own car, and then Gideon could fire off that Harrow can’t fucking drive, and they’d go back and forth like that for a while.
Dulcinea only coos appreciatively, running her hand over Gideon’s bicep.
Gideon tells herself she's not disappointed.
“Oh my God, I’m so fucking hungry,” Gideon groans, dropping her forehead onto her wrists. Beside her, Harrow is a dead pixel, an empty dot of black in the bar, with colour crushing in all sides. It’s somebody’s birthday—not any of theirs —just somebody's, and Gideon came straight from the Thursday night kickboxing slot to make it, and there’s no fucking food at the bar.
“Then starve.” Harrow drawls, “I fail to see how this is any of my concern.”
“You have candy, I know you do, you have—you’re ‘quitting’, or whatever, just—come ooooon , Harrow,” Gideon wheedles. “Just gimme—gimme a mint, or something, please, dread lord, your servant begs of you a boon.”
Harrow purses her lips and glares.
She slides a single wrapped starburst across the bar to Gideon.
“The pact is sealed,” she intones, “Now shut up , before I peel you like grape, a Gri—”
But Gideon misses it, already whirling to face Cam and Palamedes on her other side.
“Do you guys wanna see my trick?”
Palamedes sighs. “I imagine it doesn't matter, and you’re about to show us anyway.”
Gideon beams. “Yup!”
She pops the starburst into her mouth, wrapper and all, the muscles of her jaw working back and forth, face screwed up and squinting at the ceiling, and, a minute later, pulls the wrapper from between her lips.
“Hah!” she crows, brandishing the paper, “Boom. I’m a chad. Women love me.”
Palamedes looks at Camilla. Camilla looks at Palamedes.
Harrow looks unimpressed.
“Oh, come on, ” Gideon protests, “That was impressive.”
Cam leans over, and plucks the pair of cherries out of Palamedes’ obscenely sweet house cocktail. She pops them into her mouth, and then follows with the stems, and somehow manages to tie them both into a knot.
“I’m a chad,” she says airily, “Women love me.”
“Cam’s better at it than I am, I can only do the one,” Palamedes says, idly sipping his drink.
“You can not. Prove it.”
Gideon flicks her crumpled up starburst wrapper at his head.
“I can’t,” he replies, “Cam ate the cherries.”
Gideon sticks her tongue out. God, the alcohol is hitting her way too fast on an empty stomach; she’s only had, like, a drink, barely to enough to get a halfway decent buzz going, and was only really going to have a drink, since she’s Harrow’s ride home, but after all day at work, and the noise, and the insistent, gnawing jab of what are probably actual hunger pangs, she can’t seem to get it together enough to whip out the devastatingly funny and good comeback that’s right on the tip of her tongue. Definitely absolutely right there. Gideon tucks her tongue inside and debates trying to beg more candy off of Harrow, trying to will the jellified lump of her gray matter into cooperation. Harrow raises an eyebrow at her, with a look suggestive of the idea that if Gideon collapses, Harrow is going to leave her there. It’s about halfway between contempt and concern; so, astonishingly warm, coming from Harrow.
Gideon rallies. She finds a joke.
“Hey, Sex Pal!” Gideon jerks her chin at Palamedes, leaning heavily across the bar.
“You like Dulcinea, right?”
Palamedes rolls his eyes to the heavens, a man condemned, desperate, calling out to a mute, indifferent God. It makes him look kind of like a crane trying to swallow a fish.
“Must we do this?” he says stiffly.
“Yeah, no, right,” Gideon continues, flapping her hand, “But you like Dulcinea, so does that make you... down with the sickness ?”
Camilla snorts into her drink.
“Wait!” Gideon cries, pounding her fist on the counter, “Wait, no, have you been down wi–have you gone down on the sickness?”
Palamedes sighs, an extravagantly long-suffering, put-upon expression plastered across his face. He pushes his glasses up his nose, and he looks upward, just briefly, a man asking God to forgive him for the shit he’s about to pull. His voice is impossibly flat, and dry, an arid Kansas of ironic detachment.
“Have you .”
Unbelievable. Un believable . Who the fuck lets him talk. Why hasn’t anybody—why hasn’t Cam shoved him into a locker, meeting somebody in your twenties is absolutely no excuse for not bullying them like they should have been bullied when they were seven, and she tells Cam so, and Cam nods agreeably, very sorry that she was unable to prevent this, if only she had had the chance to whale on him in his youth, but she also raises her eyebrows at Gideon and repeats:
“ Have you?”
(She hasn’t. Not for lack of trying.)
Honestly, right now, she’d rather go down a burger. She may have said so out loud.
Beside her, Harrow makes a disgusted noise, and swishes darkly away, leaving Gideon to wonder what the hell her problem is.
God, she’s so hungry.
Gideon kicks at her barstool, and spends a while wondering where Harrow even went; she’s not dancing, Harrow doesn’t dance, never did, but she’s just...gone. After twenty minutes, Gideon figures she’s not coming back. So, on the bright side, Gideon’s off the hook for taking anybody home, and there’s nothing stopping her from just. Getting smashed, and coming back for her car in the morning.
She orders another round, and resolves not to drunk-text Dulcinea.
She unlocks her phone to three new messages about a minute after that.
She grabs her coat almost before she’s finished reading them, mumbling vague excuses to Cam as she goes.
Gideon’s halfway out the door when she hears it, Harrow’s voice saying “Where’s Gideon, I brought…”, and, whatever it is that Harrow brought, Gideon can’t hear it over the sound of the crowd, signal lost to noise. She can smell french fries, wafting from back in the direction of the bar, and her mouth waters involuntarily. Somebody was smart, went and got food.
She should do that, Gideon thinks, go stop and grab food before she heads to Dulcinea’s. Maybe get enough for both of them, make it a thing.
It’s not like Dulcinea asked her to come over, she just texted to say she hoped everybody was having a good time, but you can tell—Gideon can tell she could use the company.
So she goes.
“Gideon! Did you leave the party? Is everything alright?”
Dulcinea leans heavily on her cane, her other hand fisted in the collar of a spectacularly sheer robe. There’s feathers on it. The little ones, the ones that rhyme with reindeer, her booze-addled mind supplies helpfully. Not reindeer. Caribou . The ones that rhyme with caribou, and make her want to sneeze.
Gideon shakes her head a little to clear it, and offers up a bag of Macca’s with a sheepish grin.
“I, uh, I figured you could use company?”
Dulcinea’s face softens.
“You are so sweet,” she murmurs. “Really.”
There’s a delicate, strained pause.
“I can’t actually eat any of that, I’m afraid,” Dulcinea says apologetically, with a thin, wistful smile, “It’s my—everything, really, there’s a diet I have to be on, it’s…” and for just a second, Dulcinea stops looking tragic and beautiful, and instead just looks tight-jawed and worn.
Gideon hovers awkwardly in the doorway, watching Dulcinea pull herself back together.
“But enough of that! Please, what I am doing keeping you out here, please come in.”
So, the food’s a wash, but Gideon spends what must be about seventeen years in Dulcinea’s living room, sunk into the pillowy warmth of her couch, which doesn’t actually open up and swallow her like she thought it might, and she’s drunk enough that everything is kind of hilarious, and Dulcinea laughs at her rambling, and plays with her hair. It’s good for hours, and she thinks, Gideon really thinks, that Dulcinea might ask her to stay the night.
“Gideon,” she coos softly, bent low enough that her lips brush Gideon’s forehead where it’s cradled in her lap, “Gideon, wake up. I’m sorry, I really have to go to bed.”
Gideon groans groggily.
“I know. I’m sorry. But I do, Gideon, I’m a wilting lily, and I need my rest. I’ll call you a car, you really shouldn’t drive like this.”
It’s so nice . It’s what any nice, normal person would do. It breaks her heart anyway.
It’s fuck o’clock when Gideon gets in.
Harrow’s still awake, but that doesn’t mean anything; Harrow’s always awake. Her feet are kicked up on the coffee table, one of them nudging a crumpled fast food bag.
Gideon stares, because she—no, but she threw her bag away at Dulcinea’s, it can’t be the same one, that’d be...either crazy, or some longer, complicated bullshit word Palamedes would know. Gideon blinks.
The bag is still there.
“What...is that?” she manages eventually. Harrow doesn’t look up.
“We went out for food. Someone ordered for you.”
“Why, though? I was…”
“Well.” Harrow says frostily, “We didn’t notice you were gone.”
18. Pirañaconda (2012)
Movie night the next week is Pirañaconda (2012), and Cam loses spectacularly. It’s a hell of an upset; the smart money was all on Harrow losing it over the mere concept of a pirañaconda, let alone the rest. But she was weirdly quiet the whole time. Distant.
Gideon hears about the whole thing after the fact.
She was at Dulcinea’s.
19. Driving Buzzed
“ Ah! Shit.”
Gideon curses as the clippers drag against her scalp, the teeth of it caught at angle somewhere between “wrong” and “a new, exciting kind of wrong, previously unknown to science”. She palms at the back of her neck with a grimace. It’s gonna sting for days.
“Well done.” Harrow drawls from the closet.
It’s rude. It’s uncalled for. It’s honestly a little mean, and it’s the final thaw in the week-long Cold War of a mystery grudge Harrow’s been nursing like a sick puppy. Gideon still has no idea what she did , but ever since the Pirañaconda, Harrow’s been. Well.
Harrow’s been Harrow, but only the worst parts, slashing through the apartment at a surgically precise clip to get out of whatever room Gideon finds herself entering, and glaring in hermetic, furious, hot-eyed silence when she can’t get away.
But an insult? An insult means they’re finally on speaking terms again. Thank God.
“You wanna do it?” Gideon grouses, bent over the sink. There’s a weird relief in it, arguing again. Gideon slips into it like a warm bath. “Because I highly fucking doubt you could do better, you Bat Cave reject.”
Harrow materializes from the gloom, and steps into the bathroom with her hand outstretched imperiously for the clippers.
It wouldn’t be—
So anyway, so Gideon sits at the edge of the tub, staring at her phone so she won’t look up and ruin things, forehead pressed to Harrow’s sternum while Harrow carefully traces the contours of her skull with the razor.
“You always were miserable at this part,” Harrow mutters, and Gideon startles so badly she nearly gives herself razor-burn again , because it wouldn’t be the first time Harrow’s helped her shave, like, it very much is not the first time, but that was back when they were together -together, and the single-most important part of this roommate agreement they have, more than laundry, or the dishes, or the use of common spaces, or where it’s okay to leave actual bones, is that they do not talk about the time that they dated. It’s there, it’s always there , that proverbial house-bound pachyderm hanging around them, but if they never bring it up, it can be safely ignored. Bringing it up would be...
It might be Harrow’s stab at a peace offering, Gideon thinks. “Look how functional we are, we process our shit and talk to our exes,” kind of thing. Maybe it’s just to say that things are fine now.
“Did I get you?”
Harrow probes the back of Gideon’s head carefully with her fingertips.
“No,” Gideon swallows, “No, you—you’re good. Saw something on my phone.”
Harrow makes a vague humming noise of assent, and tugs Gideon’s head forward again, palm firm on the back of her neck.
Because God hates Gideon Nav, it is at this moment she receives a text, from Dulcinea, which reads only:
Are you free to come over? I think we need to have a conversation.
It’s not a break-up text, it can’t be a break-up text, because they’re not dating, not really, so they can’t break up, so it must be something worse, it must be—
She lurches upright, shouldering past Harrow without a second thought, fade still only half-shaved, uneven at the back.
Harrow sputters and swears behind her.
Gideon doesn’t look back.
They meet at a cafe—but not Cam’s. Dulcinea insisted.
Dulcinea slowly tips her face up, mouth no longer hidden by an artful drape of her hand. She reaches—and then pulls back, laying her hand flat on the table, next to, but not touching, Gideon’s own.
“I’ve been taking advantage of you, and I’m sorry. Loveday—my therapist—she—it isn’t fair to you, what I’ve been doing. I apologize for that.”
“I don’t understand,” Gideon’s eyebrows knit together and she swallows, again and again, trying to unstick the words from her throat, “What’ve you been doing? I thought—I thought you were hurt, or…”
Dulcinea smiles ruefully.
“That’s one of them, expecting you to always come running. Keeping you at my beck and call. The free rides. Stringing you along, because I have a nasty habit of needing to be the center of somebody’s attention, even if it’s only for five minutes, and you...you were very kind. And very funny. And very attractive. And I liked—I do like being around you.”
She looks away. It’s not her best angle.
“But I have led you on. I was pretending this was going to go somewhere it wasn’t, and I—it’s not the first time I’ve gotten mixed up like this, and he was lovely, too, I only do this to lovely people—I don’t want you to spend months and months hating me before we can talk again. Because I do hope we can still be friends.”
Palamedes , Gideon thinks.
Her chest feels hollow, scraped-out and raw, with all the almosts and the hypotheticals crashing down around her, drawn into something tarry and dense. It’s not a break-up, but it is. It’s the sucking, ragged hole of loss, but it isn’t. And Dulcinea is still sitting there, looking beautiful, but no longer impossibly beautiful. Gideon can see the seams now.
Dulcinea smiles wanly.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Gideon rolls the hurt up to look at later.
“Dr. Loveday sounds like a terrible porn name.”
21. Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Okay, so she did walk out on Harrow—ran out, honestly—pretty fucking abruptly, and she hasn’t been able to talk about it, other than to say it was important, so a day or two of the Cold-War grudge treatment is probably justifiable, in Gideon’s estimation.
Five is pushing it.
Thirteen is absurd.
It’s just—and she’d almost forgotten about it—it’s just that nobody can freeze you out like Harrow can.
The day she comes back from her not-breakup with Dulcinea, Harrow is just Not There, capital letters and all, a conspicuous absence so obvious that she might as well have hung a neon fucking sign about it. Then she’s not at breakfast. Then she’s leaving for work earlier, and staying out later, then she’s carefully separating her laundry from Gideon’s and shopping for only her own groceries. She starts leaving the room whenever Gideon smokes. Then she starts leaving the building entirely.
It’s an ugly, wet summer, shading into an ugly, wet September all thunderheads and yellow-grey sky, like an old bruise. Every other day, the wiring, which is old as fuck, and which Drearburh Property Managment, LLC, does not maintain in any way, threatens to cut out completely, lights flickering ominously while the rain comes down like somebody slit a hole in the sky, an unbroken, unending, perfectly vertical plain. Harrow refuses a ride anywhere, even through the worst of it.
So Gideon goes back to Dulcinea's, and it’s awkward as hell, just digging her knuckles into the bruise, but it’s better than freezing to death against Harrow’s frosty contempt.
“Talk to her,” Dulcinea says, but Gideon can’t, is the thing, even if she could unstick the words from her throat, Gideon can’t talk to Harrow because Harrow is capital-G, call her Rosamund Pike, Harrow is Gone, Girl.
The whole thing really throws off the movie night seating arrangements. She had to sit next to Palamedes the last time, and the man throws elbows like he’s in a bar fight every time something startles him onscreen. It was excruciating.
It’s the only time she sees Harrow anymore, when they’re throwing out takeout boxes after terrible movies.
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) is arguably not a terrible movie, just classic creature feature schlock, which is good, actually, and Gideon will die on that hill. She’ll die on any hill right now, stake any stupid claim she can to goad somebody into fighting her on it. Anything to ride out the freeze. Any port in a storm. Another salient lesson from Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). She’ll have to remember to text Cam.
She clears her throat, rattling a lone fortune cookie, the last survivor of the night, back and forth in her palm.
“Hey. The lease is up soon, what do I need to sign to renew? I haven’t seen anything.”
“Oooookay,” Gideon says slowly, “So do I pay rent just to you, then, or…?”
“Nothing,” Harrow repeats, “You’re moving out.”
Gideon drops the trash bag.
“The fuck do you mean I’m ‘moving out’?”
“Our agreement was that you would stay until the Department stopped prying. Which they have. You signed a six month lease, which is ending. Whatever else you do, it is none of my concern.” Harrow bites out, hitting every consonant like it’s personally offended her.
“That is horseshit , and you know it. You can’t just—you asked me to move in here, and then suddenly it was impossible, and it was never gonna work, it was the worst fucking idea ever, and then we were okay, and then you were mad at me again, and then you—you can’t fucking—you have to tell people shit, Harrow, you have to tell me that I need to find somewhere else to fucking live, and you have to fucking tell people what they did wrong, or why you’re—but you don’t , you never tell anyone anything, you just hand down some fucking commands from the goddamn mountain, you just expect—I don’t know what the fuck you expect. I have no idea what you want.”
Her own blood pounds in her ears, chest heaving, pacing around the room, gesturing wildly. Harrow just stands there with her arms folded, remote as a star.
“Are you finished.”
“No,” Gideon snaps, “No I’m not. This shit is why we broke up. You are an impossible person to be around. You are a fucking psychopath!”
“You want to know what I want?” Harrow drawls. “I want you to leave. Now.”
Gideon snatches up her keys with a savage jerk. The lights flicker.
“I hope you rot, alone, inside this miserable fucking building.”
Halfway down the hall, GIdeon turns back over her shoulder to call out:
“Shoulda thought about how I’m gonna take all our friends in the divorce!”
She drives through three different flash flood alerts popping up on her phone, and the claustrophobic, stifling humidity and the pouring rain, and she barely even hears the thunder over the sound of her own teeth grinding.
Gideon drives to the hospital, on purpose , so it can be a thing she’s doing on purpose instead of just falling into it, instead of just letting the gravity drag her in.
She pulls up to the curb. There’s nobody outside.
And okay, maybe it was a stupid plan, just hoping to run into the same stranger who helped the last time, but Colum Asht is the only person she knows these days who doesn’t also know Harrow, the only one who’s not in it—and it happened twice, meeting him, it could happen again, and—and sometimes, all you have is stupid plans, sometimes you have to bring a broadcast tower down on top of a giant crab, you do the dumbest bullshit you can think of, and it works, and you save the world. Anyway it’s her stupid plan.
A receptionist sends her to Room 328.
Gideon makes it all the way up to the third floor elevator bay before she starts to lose her nerve. What if he’s not there, just his...his whoever? Family? She remembers “family”.
What if he is there, and she’s a crazy person coming off the street and ruining a heartfelt, tender family moment?
She has to go back.
Go back, and...and what? Do the walk of shame though the lobby, drive through three more flood alerts?
Gideon gnaws her lip. She keeps walking.
The good news is that Colum’s there, when she gets to 328, and she’s not interrupting a tender family moment. The bad news is that she’s definitely interrupting something .
There’s another man there, who vaguely resembles Colum, minus about twenty years, a hundred pounds, and literally any suggestion that he has a sense of humor. He’s pale like somebody bleached him head to toe, with the pinched expression of a professional lemon-sucker.
“This is a private room,” he snaps, “Can I help you?”
Colum holds up his hand, and that’s the other news, is that it’s Colum in the bed, IV line in one arm, and a lighter in his lap. No gown, just a t-shirt and sweatpants, and there’s a pile of clothes on a chair like this whole thing was planned, and Gideon is struck with horrifying thought she’s about to delay this man’s life-saving surgery.
It must show on her face, because Colum sighs, a long exhale through his nose, and says:
“Overnight observation. Happens once or twice a month. Immune system’s shit. It’s fine.”
The other man exhales the same way, a slow hiss like this is all beneath him somehow, and Colum shoots him a hard look.
“It’s fine.” he repeats.
“I really don’t think you understand--”
“Si. That’s enough .”
Sila’s face twists, and he stalks out, shouldering rudely past Gideon on the way.
Colum snorts, and rummages in the mess of sheets, coming up with a cigarette.
“This is why I do this outside, but.” He gestures vaguely at the window, and the pouring rain outside.
“I, um. I thought you said it was your family in here?”
He takes a drag.
“Said they didn’t like me smoking. Me, I figure what’s it gonna do, kill me?”
Silence. He gingerly offers Gideon the pack, and Gideon takes a cigarette, and just holds it, some part of her still recoiling at the thought of smoking inside a hospital. Colum worries at his temple with his thumb, screwing up his face.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” he says, “but why are you here?”
So, admittedly, as far relationships go, “enormous, sad-looking stranger I smoke with in moments of crisis” is...pretty fucking out there. Gideon scrubs at the back of her neck, counting the floor tiles, trying to piece together the words.
“Something...happened, and I, um—You, uh. You give good advice?”
“No, I don’t,” he rasps, “What I do is let a teeenager ramble at a brick wall, until you talk yourself into doing whatever you were always gonna do in the first place.”
It might the longest consecutive string of words she’s ever heard from, and all Gideon can think to say is:
Silence again, a deafening pit that not even the rain can get to.
And Colum says:
“Okay. So what is it.”
It all comes spilling out; Dulcinea, and Harrow, and the lease, and who gets which friends in the divorce, and she’s not actually sure who they’d pick, and she doesn’t want them to pick, and how Harrow is just—that she never talks, and she never tells anyone anything, and it’s not fair, none of it’s fair, because things were good, for while, everything was good, and everybody was friends, and why does anybody—why does everybody have a thing , why is the world so small that all of her friends are also friends with somebody who hates her for some reason, why can’t it just be easy? For once, why can’t it be easy? Can’t something end well? Just once?
And she doesn’t even know what she did , to fuck it all up. Probably God just hates Gideon Nav.
Gideon blinks at him, looking from up shredding the cigarette in her hand to pieces.
“Did you ask what you did?” He shrugs, one- shouldered, and continues, “Can understand why you think you don’t know, but. You could ask. Doesn’t sound like you wanna leave, so. Could be a place to start talking.”
He shrugs again, as if to say that’s all I got, take it or leave it.
Gideon nods shakily.
She takes it.
22. Baby, put down your flamethrower, you know I’ve always loved you
The elevator, as always, is broken, but the lights are out, too, circuits laid sometime in the late Cretaceous finally giving up the ghost under the onslaught of the storm. Gideon picks her way up nine flights of stairs by the light of her phone. There’s a lump in her throat, and it’s snaking all the way down to tangle with the knots in her stomach.
She half-expects Harrow to be gone again when she gets in. That, or sitting in the dark, scheming. Summoning demons. Whatever Harrow does when Gideon’s not around.
She finds her kneeling by the coffee table with a box of matches and looks like about forty-odd tea light candles, instead. Gideon can’t make out her expression. Her face is just a skull, shadowed and under-lit by the candlelight, no eyes, just holes in her face that could be looking anywhere. Gideon can tell that they’re looking at her.
“Hey,” she starts uncertainly, “I, um. I wanted to—”
“Nobody gets what they want, Gideon. Not ever.” Harrow murmurs, cutting her off. She sounds exhausted. There’s a thickness to her voice almost as if she’d been crying, but Gideon has never known Harrow to cry, not once, not when they dated, not in joy, or sorrow, or anger. But her voice is thick, and flat, and she sniffs a little, moving to light another candle.
“What did I do?”
“What did you do.” Harrow repeats, flatly. Gideon edges towards the couch, perching on the very edge of it to lean down and look Harrow in the eye. They’re almost as orange as her own are, like this, throwing back the candle flames in reflection.
“What did I do,” Gideon says, “Why are you so fucking mad at me? Things were going fine—great, even, and then you decided you hated me, so what did I do?”
“I asked. For your help. I asked . I put myself in your debt for that, and I...I owed you, and I have always owed you, I am always in your debt, because you are the one person who has ever looked past what I am, and I...there is no way I can ever clear that.” she hisses, intent.
“No matter what I do, it isn’t enough. It never will be, and I tried, I did try to be a friend to you, and. I couldn’t, because you were forever at her beck and call. And it didn’t matter, it doesn’t, not to you , but I—I brought you food . At the bar. You were complaining all night, and I left, I got food for you, and I came back, and they told me you’d gone. And you kept going, like a fucking puppy, any time she called, and I refuse to be a joke. I will owe you forever, but I will not be made a joke, Gideon. So you have to—go. Go, because nobody is getting what they want.”
Gidoen thinks you brought me food? and she thinks wait, Dulcinea? and she says:
“What the fuck do you mean , ‘what you are’? What ‘debt’? What do you want, Harrow, I don’t—”
It’s half a sob, half a snarl, raw and red, ripped out of her throat involuntarily.
“I don’t want anything. I cannot want anything. Wanting anything is—”
Gideon can’t see her go still, but she can feel it, Harrow wrenching herself back from some brink, jaw tight, eyes fixed.
“The debt is that I exist . I am not a good person, Gideon. My parents were—not good people, either. To say the least. And that is a debt that I owe, to the world, the debt of me being who I am, and I cannot ever pay it—or you back. But you...you came back, and everything was. Like it was. And I thought I could live with the debt if it meant you would be there, and I was wrong. So go.”
She shrinks in, knees to her chest, knuckles creaking around the matchbox, locked so tightly in her fist Gideon’s own hands hurt.
Gideon leans forward, very slowly, and takes it from her. Harrow stares warily.
“Harrow,” breathes Gideon, “Harrow, there is no debt. You don’t owe me, you don’t owe the world, it’s fine . You can be just—you have feelings? You can have feelings, and not incur some kind cosmic deficit you have to make up for. God , Harrow, Dulcinea didn’t even—it’s not a thing, okay? It’s not—we’re not.”
“I don’t know,” she says falteringly, “if I can do this.”
Gideon takes her hand. Then her wrist, then her elbow, then her shoulder, pulling Harrow in over the coffee table. She presses her lips to Harrow’s temple.
Her hand curls around the back of Harrow’s neck.
“Do you wanna try?”
Slowly, in the dark, Harrow nods.