At fourteen years old, Gideon had held the world record for longest continuous isometric core strength exercise.
Well, maybe not the world record. Far away across the ocean of space, in the crowded dormitories of Trentham or the gleaming training rooms of Cohort ships, there were certainly muscle-bound cavaliers older and stronger than her, who could spend an even longer time supporting their weight on their palms or elbows, abdominals tight as they held their perfect form. But Gideon didn’t know them. She knew the Ninth, and its decrepit congregation, and its shuffling corpses, and its single scrawny necromancer, and Aiglamene. And she could out-plank them all.
This was no longer the case. At twenty years old, Gideon had come back to her body to find it a ruin. The loss of her objectively very sexy golden eyes for Harrow’s pitch ones, the ugly mass of scar tissue between her breasts--these things were fine. They meant that she and Harrow had saved each other, and that they belonged to each other now--a miracle that made her catch her breath in awed disbelief whenever she remembered it, which was constantly. But while she’d been away from it, Gideon’s body had lost all its muscle tone. Her once rock-solid biceps had gone elastic, and she could lift a quarter of what she had previously. Her legs started wobbling in defeat after a measly three-mile run. And Camilla, sympathetic but inexorable, wiped the floor with her in training like she was grease being rubbed into the bone inlay of the oss.
That was why, on what was allegedly an afternoon off, Gideon was alone in the room she shared with Harrow, toes and forearms pressed into the cold metal floor of the shuttle, thinking determinedly about her form. Keep the spine rapier-straight, extending from sacrum to skull. Hips square, resisting the tug of gravity that would turn the pose concave. Next to her a timer ticked up, up. Her old record was months of training away, but her recent personal bests had been getting consistently better. So far so good--maybe a new one was in reach today.
The timer ticked on. Halfway there and she was feeling steady, not even a ghost of a quiver in her arms. Nothing was going to keep her from setting a new best time today.
The pneumatic door to their quarters had hissed open so quietly she hadn’t heard it. Mindful of her form, she didn’t turn her head as Harrow’s boots clicked toward her across the floor. “Oh good, you’re not busy.”
“Actually, Harrow,” said Gideon, adjusting the angle of her shoulders so that her weight would be more evenly distributed on her arms, “I am busy. This is a very serious training time, as you can clearly see.”
“You trained with Camilla all morning. I need you to come help me with something.” A pause. Harrow was still getting used to not phrasing things as orders. “I would appreciate it if you could come help me with something. Please?”
“In a bit,” said Gideon, softened by the please but unwilling to skip the rest of her workout. Next to the timer was a notebook containing an exercise regimen in Camilla’s neat hand, and she wanted to get through all of it.
One black boot tapped the metal floor. “Can’t you go faster? I have been trying to figure this out all day, and I would really like to solve it before everyone has to go to dinner.”
“Patience, your umbrage,” Gideon gritted out. She really wished this conversation was not happening right now. Talking made it harder to keep her abs steady. She took a deep breath and fixed her form. “Go chill in the study room, I’ll be there in a minute. You can read one of your tomes while you wait.” The timer kept on ticking. Two-thirds of the way there.
A pause. The black boot had stilled on the floor. Then Gideon swore as a weight settled itself on her ass. Not a very substantial weight for a person--her necromancer was a hundred pounds soaking wet on a good day--but enough that she had to rapidly adjust her center of gravity to keep her hips from colliding with the floor.
“I think I’ll wait here, actually,” said her adept.
“You are evil ,” said Gideon. This pose was so much harder when she was balancing a hundred pounds of necromancer on her glutes. She curled her fingers hard into her palms and bore down against the unmistakable tremble in her upper arms. “How am I gonna get buff enough to swing my longsword if you sabotage my training, huh?”
“This isn’t sabotage,” said Harrow’s voice from above her. “If anything, I’m being helpful. Surely additional mass contributes to the formation of muscle, no?”
Gideon didn’t say anything. Three-quarters of the way there, and she had to admit it would be extra boss if she set a new best time even with the additional burden of Harrow sitting on her tailbone, Harrow’s fingers--fuck, why were Harrow’s fingers carding through her hair? “Besides, you can handle it, can’t you? My strong girl. Look at what a gorgeous job you’re doing holding that pose for me.”
Well, now she had to make it. Gideon sucked air through her teeth and tried to stop the shaking in her arms through sheer force of will. Her core was on fire--or maybe that was just the curious heat that always spread through her whenever Harrow called her strong, good, gorgeous, mine. Less than a minute now. She could do it.
But then Harrow shifted, stretching across Gideon’s back--Gideon groaned at the new weight on her shoulders--to kiss the top of her tricep, the cartilage shell of her ear. “So strong,” she whispered, and Gideon shuddered when the words ghosted over her skin. “Working so hard to be the best cavalier you possibly can for me. Go on, beloved, show me what you can do.”
Gideon’s arms were now about as stable as a condemned building, and there was a nuclear reactor meltdown happening in her lower abs. When Harrow’s teeth found her trapezius, she made a strangled noise of defeat and collapsed onto her belly, pressed her cheek into the cold floor. The world swam for a few seconds. When it re-formed the timer was shrilling.
“Well?” said Harrow, comfortable from her perch on Gideon’s butt. “Are you available to come help me now?”
“No,” said Gideon, once she had regained upright status and made Harrow retrieve her water bottle. “Look, Cam gave me all this stuff to do. Let me get through it and I’m all yours.” She indicated the little notebook Cam used to record their training routines. “I’m almost done, see?” She hadn’t read all the way to the bottom of the list yet, but she knew that isometric front hold--the most Sixth way possible to describe a basic plank--was second-to-last. “You can even wait here. Five minutes and I’ll be all yours.”
“Fine,” said Harrow resignedly. She settled herself on her BOE-issue cot with her knees to her chest and pulled out her own notebook, presumably to jot down notes about whatever God-killing bone weapons she’d spent her day working on. Gideon consulted the notebook to see what fresh torture Cam had planned for her.
“Um,” she said, when she’d read it. “Harrow, uh--actually, I don’t know how long this will take, so maybe you should wait in the study room after all, okay?
Harrow’s eyes narrowed over her knees. “You’re up to something.”
“What, no, I’m up to nothing.” She cast around for any excuse and came up empty. “I just don’t want to keep you from your tomes.”
“You don’t care about my tomes. What are you hiding?” When Gideon only looked panicked in response, Harrow snatched the training notebook from her hand to read the last item on the list. “Sit-ups. What’s wrong with that?”
“Every time I--” She faltered. Shame pulsed hot in her temples. She could feel herself blushing hard and looked down at the floor, unable to meet her necromancer’s goldenrod eyes.
A pause, then Harrow leaned forward, her voice softening. “Griddle, you don’t have to be embarrassed. I know.”
How could she possibly know? “You do?”
“Of course I know. You’ve always taken such pride in your body--of course you’re upset by what you see as its failures. But I don’t care how many sit-ups you can do. You’re here with me, and alive, and that’s all that matters.” The cot springs creaked as she slid off it and to the floor next to Gideon. “Look, I’ll help. I know how sit-ups work, Camilla tried to get me to do one. I’ll hold your feet. Lie back.”
Helpless as ever before a command, Gideon lay back. Harrow’s hands pushed into her cuneiforms, pressing her soles down. “How many of these did Camilla want you to do?”
“Do you want me to count?”
“No, I’ll count in my head.” Gideon was so screwed. She arranged her hands at the base of her skull, sucked a breath in, and pushed it out as she curled upwards, tensing her abs hard until her lower back was all the way off the floor. One. The sight of Harrow staring intently from between her knees was weird, so she shut her eyes to block it out. Her back relaxed back down, and she surged up again immediately. Two.
For the first twenty sit-ups, Gideon tried hard to focus on nothing but her count and her breath. Down on the inhale, exhale on the crunch up. She very determinedly tried not to think about Harrow’s slight weight pinning her feet to the floor, or Harrow’s breath whispering over her bare knees, or the burn in her belly starting to spread down, down--
Shit. Her breath caught. Harrow saw it, because Harrow saw everything about her, and said, “You can do it, Griddle, keep going.”
Twenty-one. Twenty-two. Her core was blazing, and the heat suffused her abdomen, pooling honey-like between her thighs. Harrow was still talking. “Keep at it, love, you’re doing fine.”
Gideon grunted in response. Twenty-four--twenty-five, halfway there, thank fuck. Her abs were aching, but that was okay. She had no doubt she could get to fifty. What worried her was the low-down smoulder at the base of her stomach, the flicker in her clit that she knew from long experience would turn into a full-blown climax if she kept engaging her core like this. But maybe if she focused, just thought really hard about her breathing and how cold the floor was underneath her, maybe it wouldn’t happen this time. As long as she could make it--as long as Harrow didn’t see--
But Harrow’s hands had suddenly relaxed on her ankles, and when Gideon opened her eyes to see what the problem was, Harrow was staring at her like she was the most exciting bone in the world. “Griddle,” she said slowly, her devious grin barely contained, “are you aroused ?”
Before Gideon could open her mouth to say why do you have to say it like some kind of repressed bone maiden, oh wait, Harrow reached out and pressed the back of her fingers to the seam of Gideon’s workout shorts--thin, flimsy cotton, and unmistakably damp. “You’re soaked through here,” she said, and Gideon’s hips jerked up, unbidden, at the touch and at Harrow’s low, throaty tone. “What were you really up to before I walked in?”
“Training--just training, Harrow, I swear!” Dominicus could not burn any hotter than Gideon’s cheeks right now. “It’s just that this always happens--every time I do sit-ups, I can’t help it. That’s why I wanted you to leave.”
“It happens every time?” Gideon nodded. “What happens if you continue?” Harrow slid her hands up, over the rough hair of Gideon’s shins, wrapped her fingers around Gideon’s calves and squeezed. “Can you climax like this?”
Gideon nodded again, encouraged by her adept’s curiosity. “Yeah. If I keep doing it, I’ll come.”
Harrow moved her hands back down to Gideon’s feet and pressed. “Very well. Continue.”
“If you’d like. We can’t leave Camilla’s list unfinished, can we?” If Gideon didn’t know better, she would swear that her necromancer had just attempted to wink. Obediently she re-positioned her hands behind her head and pushed into another sit-up. The simmer in her cunt turned into a low boil as she found her rhythm, rocking forward and up, abs tight, breathing hard. Twenty-nine. Thirty. She kept her eyes open now, held eye contact with Harrow, whose own eyes were very wide. When she spoke, her voice was soft and urgent. “Your body is a marvel, Griddle, did you know that? Look how strong you are. The vigor in your flesh, it’s incredible. I could watch you all day.”
Gideon actually groaned. She clenched into another sit-up and her cunt clenched too, forewarning a peak. Having Harrow watching her and talking to her in that low sweet tone was making this go a lot faster than it usually did. She tried to squeeze her thighs together, desperate for a little friction, but Harrow moved her feet further apart. “Hold on for me, beloved. What number are you on?”
“Thirty-five.” She thought. Counting was getting difficult.
“You’re so close, you’re doing such a good job for me. Go on.”
Gideon went on. She could feel herself slowing down, as much from the strain in her muscles as from the distracting need between her thighs. By forty, her abs were shaking each time she pressed forward, and her thighs were shaking too as the heat between them threatened to consume her. “Harrow, I need--please--” Harrow raised an eyebrow at her. “I want your fingers in me, please, I want to feel you.” She knew what she must look like, sound like, prostrate and begging when she hadn’t even been touched, but there was no room in her body for shame anymore.
Harrow grinned and pressed a kiss to the inside of her knee. “In good time. You’re not done. Keep going.”
She had no idea what number she was on anymore. Harrow’s weight pinned her in place, unrelenting, as she rocked up again and again, grinding her hips against nothing, barely relaxing down between each squeeze as she chased her release, panting. Two more--three more--and then at the crest of a sit-up the climax took her, flared through her every cell and knocked her shuddering to the floor.
Harrow was on her immediately. She released Gideon’s feet, clambered over her and shoved one small hand into Gideon’s soaked workout shorts and into her still-fluttering cunt. Gideon yelped, oversensitive, but surged up as Harrow filled her with three fingers and buried her face in Gideon’s neck, nipping at her and whispering intermixed filth and praise. The second orgasm made her crush Harrow’s wrist between her thighs as she spasmed, a rush of fluid spilling out of her.
When her breathing slowed, Harrow pulled her fingers free and wiped them on Gideon’s ruined shorts. The floor was awful for cuddling, so Gideon mustered the last remaining strength in her legs to drag herself onto Harrow’s cot. Harrow snuggled in next to her, head cradled on Gideon’s shoulder.
“Does that happen to everyone?” she asked after a minute.
“Getting hot and bothered from sit-ups? Definitely not. I never heard of it happening to anyone, not even in magazines.” Harrow made a thoughtful noise. “I always figured I was just a freak.”
“You are not a freak,” said Harrow, her hand finding Gideon’s face and turning it to her own. “You are a rarity. My rare, precious girl. There is no one else like you anywhere.”
Gideon could live with that.