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GHAZAL WHERE I'M BEGGING YOU TO TOUCH ME

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can you see me, can you hear me, enough

I am human, enough I am alone and I am desperate,

enough of the animal saving me, enough of the high

water, enough sorrow, enough of the air and its ease,

I am asking you to touch me. 

Ada Limon, “The End of Poetry” 

 


 

When I finally came home, the sky was nearing a terminal shade of violet. The safehouse was dappled in the last shreds of light, barely coloring the weed-ravaged garden, the wood walls, the blue door that led into our kitchen. 

The naked bulb above the sink was left on, a bowl of your flavourless soup on the counter. You’d been experimenting with it, I think, although I never caught you in the act. It tasted less like water now, and more like a whisper of what soup was supposed to be. 

The cottage took on a shabby sort of warmth in the evenings. You must’ve started the fire yourself—you never fed it enough wood. I cracked open the brazier door, tossing a couple more logs in, and watched the blaze eat and swell, crackling flame that set aglow the tiny living room. 

It was the only part of the space that we dared to use. Books and personal objects were tucked everywhere. The rocking chair in the room’s corner went untouched. The sunken loveseat and embroidered cushions were cool with neglect.  

I felt you. You were a phantom layer of flesh atop my own, the bond of Perfect Lyctorhood persisting between us despite the ton of wreckage you tried to bury it in. 

You were a quiet oath at the end of the hall. I followed. I padded past the bathroom with the clawfoot tub, past the dusty nursery with the planet-themed mobile dangling above the crib.

I hesitated. 

Then I opened the door to our bedroom. 

You were there tonight, curled up beneath the blankets in that big white bed, the melancholic lines of your face made visible by the light of a single candle on your side table.  

Your gaze flickered to mine, and Harrow, I could’ve sworn I saw a fragment of something caught in your eye.

Your look fell and travelled down to my feet, past the borrowed trousers and borrowed shirt, and back up to my chest. Your irises were gold. 

You hadn’t been asleep. It looked almost as if you’d been waiting up for me. 

Of course, I knew better. 

“I’m home,” I said, redundant, more out of habit then anything else. I tossed my jacket onto the foot of the bed.  

It shocked me nearly to death when you actually responded. 

“We have a whole wardrobe, Griddle.”

You were shifting against the pillows, frowning, your borrowed sweater too large and slipping to reveal the brown skin of your shoulder. I stared at you for half a minute, fumbling beneath your attention, before replying, like a complete fucking moron, “So true, queen.” 

Your lips lemon-puckered into a scowl. “Don’t start.” 

“As you wish, my mortuary micromanager.”   

“Mortuary—” You cut yourself off. “That’s horrible.” 

“Hardly the worst,” I laughed hesitantly. I took the jacket from the bed and opened the wardrobe, suggesting: “Goblin princess of the Ninth.” 

“I’m not a goblin.” 

“Baby Nun Superior.” 

“Nav.” 

“Tiny keeper of mine soul.” 

Your eyes flickered. 

The half-glimpse into the old us collapsed at our feet, and you glanced away as if I were nothing. As if I hadn’t spoken at all. 

“That’s quite enough,” you said, and blew out the candle, plunging the room into darkness. 

I swallowed hurt like a pill. Dissolved it. 

This was how we functioned now—brief heaving gasps of air before the silence dragged us back under. 

I changed quickly, swapping borrowed clothes for softer borrowed clothes. To both our mercies, you didn’t flinch when I pulled back the covers and slipped in next to you. 

The mattress shifted beneath my weight. 

We laid there quietly, careful not to touch each other in our fragile perihelion. Not that it would matter much when we woke up, but pretenses were important to you. I could hear the sound of your breathing from this close. The warm thud of your heartbeat knocked wetly against my soul, down the Lyctoral bond, across the canopy of sheets. 

“Goodnight Griddle,” you whispered.  

I almost didn’t manage a response. I could barely breathe. 

Finally, I just said, “Harrow.” 

Your shoulders curled inwards. The blanket that we shared was hand-sewn, fragments of different coloured fabric threaded meticulously together, large enough to keep all of us hidden.  

I stared at your back in the near-dark, and didn’t reach for you. 

 

-

 

The worst part was that we almost always woke up tangled. Drawn to each other by whatever lateral gravity that survived us. 

There was always a moment for me, in that unsteady gap between sleep and waking where my entire body felt like it was up for grabs. I lurched into myself, heart racing, pinned myself in place like someone else would take it, before I felt the weight of you resting against me.

My fingers beneath your sweater, brushing the curve of your hip. Your head tucked beneath my chin, or pillowed against my shoulder, leg flung over my waist. Arms curled around each other like moss over stone. It was a relief to be held by you, even if you didn't really mean it.  

My panic always roused me earlier than you.

The pale dawn spilled through the room and touched you where I couldn’t. It lit up the black wisps of hair gathered around your cheek, the glint of your sleep-parted mouth. You were using my left bicep as a pillow today, good choice, a leg between both of mine, your hand beneath my shirt and curled against my belly. 

As I gradually calmed down, I stared at you.

Maybe I was a fucking weirdo loser for this, Harrow, but it was really the only time I got to look. 

My eyes were always closed again anyway when you woke. You never said anything. I felt only the briefest moments of panic from your end of the bond, before you went about the daily work of untangling us, carefully adjusting my limbs which you thought were thick with sleep. The mattress would shift, and when I blinked again you were gone.  

I only ever failed once. 

It happened in the first week. I woke up disoriented, launched fresh out of a dream about pools and salt water and your paint coming undone. I felt your body waking against mine, and I wasn’t thinking. I had shifted on top of you in the night, torso between your thighs and my head on your chest. Your arms were looped around my neck. 

You were trying to move my body without waking me. One hand shifted to the side of my face as you attempted to wriggle free.

What I did next was the biggest dumb fuck move I’d ever made in my life. I opened my eyes. 

It took you several seconds to realize that I was looking. 

You froze, your fingers still touching my cheek. Your face spasmed with emotion. 

It was a violation of our nonverbal house rules. We didn’t acknowledge waking up like this. We didn’t acknowledge you slipping away every single time. 

I planted my hands on either side of your waist—a flare of heat shot briefly up between us—and lifted myself off you. You just laid there on your elbows, staring up at me. 

You said, “I was just trying—” 

“You’re trying to go, right?” I said tiredly.  

And my eyes traced your body’s leaving. Replayed it over and over until I knew it by heart. 

 

-

 

The moon we lived on was called Amoenus, lodged in a Goldilocks zone revolving distantly around a watery planet not too far from the system’s star. Uninhabited, as far as we knew, except for us. 

“You’ll be safe,” said Camilla the Sixth before she’d abandoned us here. “Only the Edenite commander knows about the safehouse, and since she needs you alive—”

“Oh nice,” I interrupted blithely. “Conditional safety. My favourite.” 

“The point, Ninth, is that whatever moles are among the Edenite rebels won’t be able to find you here. Lay low until BOE is un-compromised. I’ll be back for you.”

Cam managed a grim smile, looking between me and you, Harrow, like we were a wheezing machine that she wasn’t sure could still operate. Which we were.

“Anyway, you two deserve a vacation.” 

Vacation was a very generous way of putting it. 

Amoenus was a fairytale land from a storybook that nobody had ever read to us as kids. There were flowers everywhere, pops of soft yellow and purple against the green. A large pond shivered pristinely behind the safehouse. Birds gathered in their nests and sang loudly in the mornings.

Obviously, Harrow, we didn’t fucking belong here.  

The cottage was your territory, so I kept to the outdoors. I went on hikes. 

You never said anything as I left. You probably didn’t even notice I was gone. 

My hikes took me past the yellowed patch of grass where Cam’s shuttle landed, now three weeks ago.

Past the displaced dirt where you had convulsed upon waking up in your meat. I could almost see you there; the short braids I had left in your hair coming undone, your mindless thrashing, crying so loudly you shook the birds from the trees. 

There was a moment before the fall, Harrow; a moment where we were perfectly, incandescently good. We were risen from the fucking dead. No matter that you spat my sacrifice back in my face. No matter that you had erased me. The bond that connected us rose from absence like a beast newly birthed from its mother—head rearing, whole. Ready to run.  

I heard you screaming, and my original meat, in spite of disuse, was still ruled by old tenets.

My limbs became movement before my eyes were open. I reached for you. 

You touched me in truth.

You had your body and I had mine, and it was a miracle. Your hands against my face were a miracle. The rest of your meat attached to your hands was a prayer answered and a promise broken, but we were flush and gasping and alive, and Harrow—I really thought you might’ve kissed me then. 

But I felt it happen. The way your breath suddenly stilled, and your body locked up beneath mine, remembering. How with splintering gentleness, you pushed me away. 

“I’m so sorry,” was the second thing you said upon waking. 

The first thing had been my name. 

 

-

 

“We cannot just sit here doing nothing.”  

You must’ve been really at your limit if you were talking to me, Harrow. 

I brought the axe down. 

The wood split clean, and I tossed both halves into the growing pile. You were standing several feet away from me in a borrowed dress, fuming. 

The dress was a billowing yellow compromise. None of the trousers in the cottage fit you, and at least you could tie the dress’s hem slightly so you weren’t tripping on it. You looked like a dweeb. 

“Are you even listening to me?” 

I swung the axe again. The wood halves fell at your feet. I took a break to glare at you. 

“Cam said—”

“I know what Camilla said!” You snapped. I resumed my work, and watched the outrage steam out of your ears. “But she’s wrong. As far as I know, the only other pair to properly attain Perfect Lyctorhood besides God and Annabel is us! Stop chopping, Griddle! We shouldn’t be here—” I continued chopping. “—Nav! We shouldn’t be here playing house while a war rages on!”       

You were talking with so many italics, Harrow. It was making my brain hurt. I was very close to tossing you into the pond but you’d probably boil the water with your outrage. The fish didn’t deserve it. 

You continued, “I’ve searched the entire bunker for anything that can give us an edge in this—on my own, might I add—and there’s nothing there besides useless Edenite meeting minutes, vulgar magazines and a communication system that doesn’t bloody work.” 

I paused. “You found skin mags?”

“You infuriate me!” You stomped into my personal space. My eyes widened. Your hand reached for—oh. The axe. You were confiscating my axe. I was so shocked by your nearness that I let you have it. “The world is ending, I’m trying to figure out how we can save it, and you’re hacking at trees!”

“I’m chopping wood, you necro shit!” I exclaimed. “For the fireplace!”

I lunged for the axe, and you stumbled away, noodle arms trembling. You were literally going to chop your foot off, Harrow, and I was going to go nuts. 

“Yesterday, Griddle,” you ignored that last bit, your voice irreverent and bitchy. “While I was reading through five stacks of Edenite documents, you took a three hour nap beneath a tree, went for a swim, and then played with your sword until dinner!” 

My neck prickled. I gave up on stealing back the axe because I’d probably have to touch you to get it, and then you’d bury me beneath ten tons of oss. I knelt to gather the firewood instead, ignoring your accusatory stare. 

“Caught me playing with my sword, did you?” 

“Nav,” you warned. 

“Sorry, babe, you just surprised me,” I spat, “I didn’t realize you still paid attention.” 

You sputtered, limbs tangled up in all of our pasts. 

I started walking back to the house, arms full of wood. You stepped into my way, taking up what I assumed was your sorry excuse for a brawler’s stance. 

“Be serious.”

“I am serious, Harrow,” I replied. “Cam said that the best thing we can do is lay low until she comes back for us. I know that all you want is to get your ass off this moon and as far as you fucking can from me, but that’s not gonna work right now! Sorry! We are literally stuck here together, me and you! Just like old times!”   

You said nothing.

I started walking away from you again. And again, you moved to block me. But you tripped over your own dress, idiot, and would’ve fallen flat to the ground had I not caught you. 

We both narrowly avoided getting the chop. The axe sunk into the grass by our feet, and the firewood clattered abandoned on all sides of us. 

Our foreheads clanged. 

Your thoughts punched through me by accident, hissing this stupid dress! Shit! She’s—fuck—before you shut me out of your head.  

Your fingers tangled in my shirt sleeves. Our chests pressed as you tried to right yourself, but one of your bare feet was still trapped up in your hem. I stood you upright with two hands clutching the dips of your waist. You didn’t let go of me. I reached down to pull your ankle free from the fabric, and a small sound ripped out of your throat, summoning my gaze. 

It was agony to see my eyes in your face, a piece of myself still trapped in you. Nearly four weeks now we were back in our original bodies, and I could still see the impressions I’d left in yours. 

Your topography, softened from the interior. I had eaten voraciously while I was in there, until your knife sharp edges dulled beneath a new layer of adipose. I never could get rid of the lavender beneath your eyes, though, no matter how much sleep I pushed us through.  

I barely got a good look at you in the months that I’d kept your porch lights on. It’s just that it always hurt to look. 

Once, I saw a woman in a window’s reflection who had your face and your smart mouth, and I called out for you. Harrow, I really thought I saw you there. But it was only me.   

I was looking at you now. It still hurt. 

“That is not what I want,” was what you finally said. 

I carefully removed my hands from your waist. 

“Alright,” I snapped. “Next time, I’ll just let you fall over.” 

“I didn’t mean—” You stopped. Started again. “Nav—” 

“I literally do not care.” 

Mouth twisting, you looked away. “Fine.” 

You didn’t talk to me for a week after that. When I noticed the silence from your end of the bond, I realized, through the rubble, that your mind appeared to me as a shut door at the other end of our minefield. I could barely feel you. 

 

-

 

One day, at the beginning of our second month on Amoenus, I found a cave in the woods after hours of hiking. It was hidden behind layers of green, and when I stepped inside, all the breath rushed out of my lungs. 

It was gorgeous, in the same brutal way that blades were. Enormous spikes of stone were frozen in a downward arc from the ceiling. Twin shards rose from the ground like murderous fence posts, about which I was kind of an expert. The cave’s darkness was humid, sweat gathering in my hair as I ventured further down the damp incline. 

The blackness swelled and—flickered. 

There was a still pond ahead of me. And above that pond, hundreds and hundreds of tiny blue lights, constellating the dark. Glow worms. 

Harrow, if you’d been there, you would’ve been so nostalgic for home that it would’ve brought you to your knees.

Shit, I hated Drearburh, but the sight still took me out. I made the mental note to map the place, so I could show it to you one day, if you wanted. 

As I walked around the lip of the pond, my foot collided with something solid. Two bedrolls sat before me, still tied in perfect cylinders. As I pushed the roll with my foot, something else clattered loudly against the cave floor. 

It was a box. Hollow. I shook it, and something rattled loudly inside. 

A little metal chest, with a green plastic strap around the top so you could carry it like a bag. It was a relic—Edenites hoarded relics. There was an image along the front—some big green guy with funny ears and faded writing: Shrek 2 and I’m the King of the Swamp . Whatever the fuck that meant. 

I undid the clasp and opened it. I gasped. 

Spare me your disgust, Harrow. I didn’t have many things growing up on the Ninth. The only toy I ever really had was my sword, and occasionally, you, to irritate when I got restless. 

There were two things inside the chest. The first was an electric lantern. Boring. I clicked it on, leaving it on the floor so that I could go excitedly for the second thing—a thing that I had never seen before in my life. 

It was a sort of cube. Don’t laugh. It was literally just a cube, comprised of a bunch of smaller cubes that were different colours, but if you pushed the tiny ones, you could shift its aspects. I don’t know why such a small thing brought me joy, Nonagesimus. I might have been unspeakably lonely. 

I sat down and fiddled with the toy for a good long while until I got all the green-coloured cubes to match on one face. The sun was almost gone, which was a humiliating testament to how long I’d been at it. I considered leaving the cube on the dinner table when I got home, where you would most definitely get frustrated by its imperfection and solve the puzzle yourself. 

It would take hours to walk back now, the hike only made longer in the dark.

I figured it was highly unlikely that you would die if I camped out for one night. You had lots of soup in the kitchen, which despite being flavourless was still sustenance, and with all the wood I’d left in the living room, the home fire would stay burning. Also, you were a bone witch from hell, and not to mention a Lyctor. I pitied whatever thing tried to kill you.     

Settled, I sprawled one of the bedrolls out across the cave floor, and folded up my jacket to use as a pillow. The jacket still smelled like someone else—its prior owner clinging distantly to the fabric; stale woodsmoke and iron and sweat. 

I didn’t like to think about who lived here before we did, Harrow. Lovers, probably. A family. The kind of people who took care of one another, and did puzzles in the evening, and camped out in a glow worm cave just because the idea was bloody romantic. 

Every second that we ignored each other felt like another crap we were taking in the shoes of this place. 

At least in the cave I didn’t have to pretend I wasn’t lonely.

I turned on my side to face the wall, wrapping my arms around myself. I could faintly see the dim blue shine of glow worms, like Drearburh waiting in the corner of my eye, and it filled me with a strange, alien sadness. I fell asleep.    

 

It was the first time we’d slept apart since arriving on Amoenus.

Of course, you appeared in my dreams.

Your mouth was moving but no sound came out. Your face was turning red with rage, your fists bouncing off me. 

Then you were gone, the dream winking out. Then I felt something cold and wet lick into my mind, like a worm trying to burrow in. This frightened me—my meat had spent too much time under someone else’s control, and I was personally acquainted with Pyrrha Dve, who squatted in her necromancer’s brain for years, waiting. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone else in my body with me. I don’t know how you tolerated it, Harrow.    

I woke up screaming. 

 

-

 

I knew something was wrong the minute I broke the tree line. 

The rain hadn’t let up all morning, the sky still falling in wet, wind-slanted sheets. I stumbled. The clearing around our cottage was transformed into a field of mist and mud, but I could see them clear as day, Harrow—four of your enormous constructs, standing outside the cottage like soldiers at the ready. This was not normal.   

My mind narrowed into the sharp point of a blade. I broke into a run. 

“Harrow!” I yelled, mouth filling with rain. “Harrow!”  

Almost instantaneously, our blue door swung open and you stepped out to greet me. 

I froze, several feet away. 

You walked into the clearing like you’d never walked a day in your life, stumbling like a newborn animal before you collapsed hard to your knees.

You were dressed in the black trousers and shirt we’d worn when we first arrived on Amoenus, exoskeleton wound tight around your chest. But it was your face that gave me pause. Some restriction in you had shattered, grief unbound and seizing violently across your features. 

“Gideon,” you said. 

Your mouth around my name unbound me from my stupor. I slid to my knees in front of you, reaching instinctively for your face.   

“What happened, Harrow?” I wheezed, tilting your chin in search of blood tracks. There were none. There hadn’t been a fight, or if there was, you’d won it without breaking a sweat. You were a beast in a fight, and I wouldn’t have put it past you—but you looked destroyed, shivering beneath my hands. You tilted your rain wet cheek into my palm, and I freaked out even more. “Harrow!”   

“You’re alive,” you said.

“The hell?” I said, incredulous. “Of course I’m alive.” 

“You didn’t come home.” You sounded devastated. Like this had really torn you up inside. “You’ve never not come home. I thought something happened to you. I thought you left.” 

I watched your expression, waiting for you to continue. I thought you left—turns out I’m still stuck with you! Ha ha! Fuck my life!

The punchline never came. You just nuzzled into my hand some more, which—what the fuck? You were confusing the fuck out of me. 

“I was exploring a cavern,” I said. 

You paused in your nuzzling. Your face contorted. “Is that some kind of perverted joke?” 

“No, dumbass,” I snarled. “I was literally exploring a cave. Made of rock. I didn’t want to hike back in the dark so I camped there overnight.”

Something rippled in your gaze as it settled upon mine. 

“You were camping,” you uttered. 

“Yeah!” 

Your eyes fluttered shut. You took a deep breath, and asked, “And you’re okay?” 

“Yes,” I said shrewdly. “I am literally fine!” 

“Good.” 

Then, Harrow, you wordlessly summoned a construct that grabbed me, and hurled me face first into the pond. 

 

-

 

You know, bitch, when I returned from death, the first thing my body wanted was yours. 

I was inside you, and then I wasn’t. I had your face, and then I didn’t. 

I was hurtled into some directionless dark, the end, finally, plummeting and rising all at once. I was at peace with my eviction, my only regret being that I never got to draw a ginormous dick on your stupid, lovely forehead.  

I remember it, the wind stalling so abruptly that I swear I got whiplash. I—what the fuck—reached my arms into my arms. It was freezing cold. The body which was mine—what the fuck—felt like a house abandoned in the rain with all the windows left open.  

And I had no idea what I was going to say to you. 

I kept your lights on for a nearly two fucking years, Harrowhark, and it never occurred to me that I would actually get to greet you on the doorstep when you got home. 

I imagined that you would’ve been angry at me for dying, which I acknowledge was a dick move on my part, but you have to understand—you were you, and I wasn’t just going to let you die, loser. And whatever piss you wanted to throw at me for getting railed (heh) would have to come up against buckets of my own; you spat me up, wrote me out, then threw a peace sign and left me with your mess. 

I fantasized that, upon waking, I would yell at you. I would say things such as: surprise bitch! Bet you thought you’d seen the last of me. Also: you have literally rejected me beyond rejection. Put me out of my misery, please. Also also: you noodle hag bone adept you fucked up my fucking sword! 

I thought about hovering over you with a mocking expression, and reminding you of the promise that you’d wholeheartedly broken: One flesh, one end, right bestie? 

How would you like that, Nonagesimus? Bet it would feel like absolute shit.

Of course, what actually happened was that I crawled my body to yours and embraced you. I’d been so relieved I started crying. There was no helping me now. And Harrow, I think I would’ve said something even more stupid, like I how I really felt, had you not pushed me away. 

 

-

  

I surfaced from the pond hurling insults. You met me blow for blow.  

“You bitch! You shithead!” I shrieked, flailing my arms around. “What the fuck, Harrow!” You stood at the edge of the pond like a tiny waterlogged executioner, pounded by the torrential rain as you glared down at me. I brought my arm back and sent a wave of pond water right in your face. You made an outraged noise. “Have you lost your fucking mind?”

“Fuck you!” you screamed, which was simply unfair, Harrow; I had no idea why the hell you were angry. “After everything! After all of it—you thick-skulled idiot—you thought it was appropriate to subject me to that?” 

“I was gone for one night!” I yelled incredulously. I hauled myself up soaking wet from the pond, and stormed into your face. You didn’t concede a single inch. 

“I tried reaching out through the bond, and you shut me out! I tried slipping under the door—” 

“That was you?” I continued. “I thought someone was trying hijack my fucking body!” 

“I won’t do it again—” 

“You’d better not!” 

“—I thought you were hurt! You just left without telling me how long you’d be gone!” 

“Do you think I need your permission to leave?”  

You screamed, Harrow. Like, actually screamed. A wordless battle cry. Spit flew from your mouth, nearly into mine, and you went absolutely fucking mental.

“You should’ve told me!” you bellowed. “I stayed up all night waiting for you! I thought you were dead somewhere! I thought that the Cohort landed without me knowing, and stole you! I thought I lost you again! Fuck!” you shouted. Then, more aggressively, “Fuck! And you were camping? Like a simpleton! You need to tell me these things, Gideon!”  

I stared at you. My hurt tore open, and fell burning out of me.   

“Oh hell no,” I said. “No. You do not get to act like you suddenly care about me.” 

Your voice dropped to the quiet hiss of a knife unsheathing. 

“What are you talking about?” 

I was bad at whispering. My temper wobbled and blew. 

I shouted, “What am I—are you kidding? Harrow, ever since we woke up on Amoenus, you’ve been turning your back on me—you keep leaving me alone—” 

“You don’t understand.”

“No shit I don’t understand!” I yelled. “It doesn’t make sense! I gave you everything, and asked for nothing in return! I threw myself onto a rail, and you were supposed to slurp my soul and become a Lyctor! And what did you do? You gave yourself a lobotomy, put your whole saintly existence at risk, and left me inside a fucking box! You turned your back on me, and forced me to watch you forget who I was.” You were shaking your head rapidly, pink mouth curled in outrage. “Do you know it killed me a second time to become unknown to you? To be forgotten by you on purpose?”  

The pain of my twofold death remembered itself all at once. 

The ending on the rail. My unbecoming in your brain. My eyes—your eyes—went blurry in my head as the grief and rage yawned open. The consuming and the dissolving. I was fully crying now, chest heaving. Properly sobbing like a fucking infant.

The things you do to me, Harrow. Seriously. 

“Looking back would have meant the end of you,” you said, bleak, like you’d spent many months repeating it to yourself. “You would have dissolved. You would have died.” 

“I did die!” I yelled, blinking at you incredulously through the storm. “You don’t honour your friend’s sacrifice by deleting them from your brain, Harrow! You don’t show someone you care about them by ignoring their whole fucking existence! I thought I mattered to you more than that. You told me that I was the first flower of your house! Your only friend! Do I have to sell my left tit for you to act like you meant any of it?” 

Your words rose into a furious howl. “I always meant it!” 

“Then why do you keep leaving me?” 

“Because I don’t deserve you!” 

In the relentless downpour, we came upon silence. 

For the first time in so long, Harrow, I looked at you, and understood. 

How had I forgotten? It was never anyone else's body that revolted you above all things. It was always your own. 

I murmured in quiet disbelief, “I wish you could see yourself the way I do.”

A pause.    

Then, with a final frustrated shout, you launched yourself at me. 

You crushed your mouth against mine, kissing me so furiously that I nearly blacked out. 

It was the swift and culminating death to our careful orbit.

Bodies striking into each other like planetary collision. Stars exploded. The Lyctoral bond tore our wreckage into light, and I could see you through it. Your tide swept over my mind, and I could taste your thoughts; a sharp sweetness beneath the tongue, an aching metronome of I miss you I miss you I’m so sorry Gideon I’m so sorry. I stumbled. My arms wrapped around your waist as I fell backwards into the pond, pulling your body down with mine. 

For one glorious moment, we were in the basement pool at Canaan House, barely eighteen, hands slipping against each other, mouths making promises that we weren’t going to keep. It was only three years ago, but it felt like ages now. We who had been so thoroughly pinned by grief, our braveries wearied around our ankles—

Holding each other, we rose through the water. 

You gasped, “Gideon.” 

We were entangled, your arms locked around my neck, face resting against my shoulder as you coughed water. Your exoskeleton was digging into my tits, your hair in my mouth. I held you tighter, buoying you to me as I floated us back until I could reach the pond bottom. I felt your feet cease to tread water, your legs coming to hook around my hips. 

“You kissed me,” I mumbled, stricken. You looked up at me, the anger in your red-rimmed eyes dissipated, leaving only a fierce tenderness. 

“I did,” you said. You leaned forward and sought my lips again. We fumbled, mouth against mouth against teeth, as I went about grappling with multiple complex human emotions. 

“You like me?” I said, tearing away from you urgently. I had to be certain. “Like more than friends?” 

Affection—yours—flooded down the bond. You bumped your nose against my cheek. 

Yes, like more than friends, you gorgeous idiot, your soul said to mine.  

“Well, shit,” I said aloud. I pressed my palm to the side of your jaw. “Not even the pious Lady of Drearburh can resist my feminine wiles. Oh my god. Crux is gonna have an aneurysm.”  

Your mouth twitched despite yourself. I felt it. 

“Stop trying to make me laugh, Nav. I am attempting to grovel.” 

“Oh, my bad. Go ahead, babe. You got this.”  

You dropped your head back onto my shoulder, huffing. The rain continued to pour, and you went quiet. 

I was aware of you; honeyed light at the back of my throat, the bright pulse of you beating dimly in my head. As I carded my fingers through your hair, I reached tentatively down the Lyctoral bond until I found you.

We met there, minds touching shyly. I felt your soul begin to hush, until you stopped shivering, and the tension unspooled from your meat. 

You finally said: “I’ve spent all my life failing you, Nav. But I betrayed you beyond measure when I let you die for me.” 

I opened my mouth to object, but your hand was already covering it. Your face was still smushed against my clavicle. You didn’t even need to look, you ridiculous nunlet. You knew me. 

You added, quieter now: “Once you turn your back on something, you have no more right to act as though you own it.” 

“Own it?” I whispered. I pulled you up again. “Are you talking about my soul? Harrow, I gave it to you willingly. It’s yours.”

“Stop.” Your voice was ragged. 

“No.” 

I kissed you again, because apparently I could do that now. We were not good kissers. You kept trying to stick your tongue in my mouth, but it felt weird, and I batted it away with mine. You tried a different technique, tugging my bottom lip between both of yours, which was hot. Nice. Your legs tightened around my waist. Anyway, we were getting distracted. 

I pulled away from you, and managed, “You’ve got it all wrong, sugarlips. I saw Drearburh, you know, before I hit that railing. But Drearburh is you, the Ninth is you—it was you, Harrow, throwing open all the doors and letting me in. You embraced me. You didn’t turn your back on me until you cut your brain open to get rid of my soul, or your guilt or debt, or whatever.”  

Your brows furrowed. “My—what?” 

“You couldn’t stand the debt you thought you owed me,” I said. Your eyes widened. “You couldn’t bear to be beholden, so you emptied me out.”   

“Gideon,” you whispered. “Is that what you thought I did this whole time?” 

I blinked at you. “Was it not?” 

You made a small, wretched noise. Fresh tears burst from the corners of your eyes as you leaned into the last scant inches between us, and pressed your lips to my cheek.   

“There was guilt, Nav, but none of it could ever make me erase you,” you spoke quietly into my skin. “The Lyctoral process wasn’t over yet. This was three days after you died. I had this...theory that if I could rewire the part of my brain that knew you, if I overwrote it so you no longer existed to me, then I wouldn’t consume your soul to become a Lyctor, and I could save you. It was a rescue attempt. It worked, kind of.” 

I gaped, shaking you until you unstuck your miserable face from mine. You looked slightly upset about this displacement—you were pouting about it, Harrow, which felt illegal to even mentally consider—and my heart kicked into overdrive. But wait, I was pissed. 

“You could’ve become a vegetable.”  

“That’s what Ianthe said,” you muttered.

I distinctly remembered what the piss-haired Tridentarius twin said on the Mithraeum.

I watched Harry rearrange her brain so that she could empty herself of you.

Obviously, I had tried very hard not to internalize that one. You could see how well that went for me. 

“Very nice of her to point out the obvious,” I sneered. “She didn’t think to, I dunno, stop you from cutting your head open?” 

You shrugged, “I would have killed her if she tried. No, Ianthe helped me.” 

Oh, I was definitely going to bury that bitch. Wherever she was—sheeping after a lying God and making all the wrong choices, being manipulative and stinky and taking advantage of traumatized bone adepts—I was going to fucking find her, Harrow. 

You tapped your index finger against my cheek. 

“Come back, Griddle,” you whispered, pulling me out of my murder fantasies. “You need to listen.” 

When you had my full attention, you continued, painful and slow, peeling the words inch by inch from your throat. 

“I don’t know if I can ever properly explain—the loathing. I am the two hundred souls of our generation, Gideon. I thought I knew how deep my hatred could go. But after you died for me, the well became bottomless. It didn’t stop. Even when we came back to our bodies, I couldn’t comprehend how large it was. I could barely look at you without hating myself.” 

“So instead you looked away.”  

“I’m sorry.” You pulled my face down to kiss my brow. You met my gaze before leaning in to kiss the tip of my nose. Each cheek, reverently, my chin, my eyelids. “I’m so sorry.”  

“I forgive you, but—”

My voice shook. All of this kiss-everywhere-but-Griddle’s-mouth business had me thoroughly wrecked. But there were other, more pressing matters. Hand at the nape of your neck, I made you lean back and look.

“Harrow, you can’t keep doing that to me. You can’t keep leaving me behind. Whatever guilt or shame you’ve got, I’ll help you carry it. But I need you. Do you understand? You’re all I’ve got. And when the world goes to hot ass shit, I need you to be standing in it with me.” 

“I will, I swear it,” you said. “But Griddle, you don’t know what you’re offering... you can’t carry my shame. You can’t know it’s magnitude inside me.” 

“You say this as if I wasn’t inside you for, like, two years.” 

A pause. Cautiously, you objected, “Must you phrase it like that?” 

“Afraid so, my sweet. Anyway, don’t worry. Me and your shame are very well-acquainted. We were roommates in your intestines for a while. Rent free. All this talk of your intestines reminds me, actually—”

“I fear where this is going.” 

“I thought of a joke.” 

“Gideon.” You sounded brightly exasperated. 

I tried to look smouldering. I said, “Hey Harrow, are you a space bee? Because I’d love for you to rearrange my guts.” 

Your mouth twitched into a frown. Your eyes went strange.  

I back-pedalled instantly, “Because...like...the Heralds looked like bees, and they spilled your intestines that one time...and it’s a sex joke. At the end. Rearranging guts. It’s about, you know, banging. Did I ever tell you that I got your intestines spilled?” 

Your skinny shoulders began to tremble. I freaked out a little. Tears started streaming out of your eyes again.  

But then a sound rose out of you, Harrow, like bright, chiming bells. The loveliness of that sound tore through my chest and undid me. Rightly took me the fuck out. 

If Drearburh’s bells had sounded like that, I never would’ve missed a second of church. 

You were laughing. We’d just confessed our utmost vulnerabilities to each other while floating in a pond on an alien moon, and you were laughing. And it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. Lives.

Whatever. 

“Gideon,” you laughed, kissing me again. “Gideon. You’ve always been so fucking weird.” 

 

-

 

The time we had left on Amoenus dawned bright before our eyes. 

We spent our long days revolving around each other. For a full week, we poured through a botany book you’d found in the cottage, collecting flowers and leaves, and pressing them into a heavy bound novel as we laid out across the grass. At the start of another, you put on your very intimidating polka dot dress and told me you wanted to spar, so we spent every day in the clearing, duelling until your construct crumbled to dust beneath my sword, or until you put me spectacularly on my ass. 

The weeks swelled together, you and me overlapping like so many leaves until we were indistinguishable, swaying together in the wind.

It was you—grinning at me with all your teeth from the high branches of an oak. It was your hand in mine. It was you, diving into the water to bring me a gold stone that held your palm’s scent for days. Your face, sun-warmed to an even deeper shade of brown. The freckles blinking to life across your nose. Your laugh, coming unravelled across the fields until the whole moon seemed to echo with the sound of it. You, and you, and you, and you.

Joy looked good on you, Harrow. 

When you kissed me, I tasted your smile.

You sent an image of my own sun-darkened face down the bond, and I realized how well this life suited me too.

Before we realized it, we were waking up to the end of our second month on Amoenus. 

 

-

 

You were in the pond today.

There was a pleasure in watching you put your immortality to the test, diving in just to see how long you could remain underwater. We were Lyctors. We had somehow managed in all our grief to forget that it came with several perks. We didn’t need air. 

While you went on these deep dives, I tested the limits of the Lyctoral bond. Laying out on the grass, I prodded your mind like a dowsing rod while you disappeared into the water. 

Psst. Harrow. 

A tickle of amused irritation, but you said nothing. 

Hey, nerd! I imagined myself throwing stones at your mind’s window. Is this thing on? 

I felt you bonk against my soul. What is it, Griddle? 

I just wanted to see how this bond thing works. Kind of wild that we can read each other’s mind—hey, if I think of an image, can you see it? 

It’s more than just mind-reading, you thought at me. I can feel you living on the other end of it. But we can close the door on each other’s thoughts. You’ve done it before, actually, though I don’t think on purpose. I’ll teach you. And YES, I can see it. Stop thinking about breasts, Nav! 

I laughed. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. 

You absolutely could have resisted, you snarked. Now pay attention. 

I was always paying attention when it came to you, Harrow. A flicker of surprise came from your end, and I realized, slightly abashed, that you could still hear me. 

Watch, Nav, you urged, softer now. Try saying something to me when I close the door. I won’t be able to hear you…it should feel different on your end... like someone stole a room’s echo. You shut your door.  

I went for it.

YOU’RE SO FUCKING HOT! I WANT TO STAY HERE WITH YOU FOREVER!  

My thoughts bounced off you and were instantly gobbled up by void. Interesting.

I reached across the way and knocked. 

You try, you said, after opening yourself up a smidgen. 

We should have a secret knock for when we want to talk to each other, I said. 

Nav...we don’t need a secret knock. You’re the only one with access to my mind.

Okay, but how about this? I did an intricate series of knocks against you. And then the password is BOOBS. 

I am not doing any of that.   

Experimentally, I closed the door of my brain. I could still feel you on the other side of it, but you were a hum without distinct language. After several moments, I felt you perform the knock. 

Delighted, I opened just a crack, and cooed, Who is it? 

Griddle! You sighed. Who else would it be?    

What’s the secret password?

I refuse to say it. 

Then you can’t get into the club. 

...Boobs.

I opened up, glittering. Was that so horrible?  

Sweetness exploded beneath my tongue. You brushed against me with tender approval. 

Come up here. I miss you. 

I’m busy, Nav. This is for science. 

Grumbling to myself, I determinedly recalled the one time I imagined Crux’s butt when I was twelve.

I made the figment of his ass as bold and detailed an image as possible: wrinkled, desiccated, disgusting, an embarrassment to the Ninth House and its denizens. 

I flung it down our holy link.   

You erupted from the surface of the pond, yelling, “Gideon!”    

 

-

 

Our nights on Amoenus were different. 

It was easier to move through the guilt, and shame, and hurt during the day.

Casual affection and its wanting was something that startled us both at first. I wanted to touch you always, and you seemed to be thinking the same thing. We tripped into it, not painlessly, but it wasn’t pulling teeth. We might have fumbled and blushed madly the first time we tried holding hands, but we were still holding hands at the end of it. And now you reached for me with ease.

Sex, though.

We couldn’t get to the end of it—we could barely even get to the start of it.

We’d been through so much, Harrow. And now our newest hurdle: we were two horny virgins on a desolate moon with no clue how to fuck each other. You were just as lost as I was. 

The first time we tried, the evening after we reconciled in the rain, it began normally enough. Or as normal as it could be for people like us. 

We were sitting on the loveseat in the living room, having changed into dry sets of clothes, and were quietly discussing the fact that I’d gotten your intestines spilled out in my fight against the Heralds. 

I threw in the redemption tale about your thumb, for good measure, and your face was a mix of amusement and disgust.

I told you to lift weights, I said, and you said, I was busy being tormented, and I replied, I still want to wreck everyone on that ship for hurting you but half of them are dead now, so I guess that’s good. 

This must’ve turned you on for some reason, Harrow, because you dropped your face to mine and started kissing me like your life depended on it.

It’s go time, Nav, it’s GO TIME, I remember thinking, as I hefted you up in arms, carrying you to our bedroom like a bride, all strong and gallant and shit, and you pulled me down on top of you as I laid you on our bed. 

Now, I’ll be honest: I was fucking terrified. 

No matter how much of a sexy badass I was—I’d never touched a girl like that before.

While my skin mag collection did offer HOT TIPS TO SPICE UP MISSIONARY and HOW TO EAT PUSSY LIKE A CHAMP , it did not account for its reader being a repressed twenty-one year old with performance anxiety whose body got stolen from her, and whose sexual partner was an ex-nun with suitcases full of trauma. 

“You’re trembling,” you murmured. 

I’d almost forgotten you were there. Wasn’t that terrible, Harrow? So caught in my own head that I didn’t even realize you’d stopped kissing me.

You brushed your nose against mine. I mouthed against your cheek in apology. 

I said, “Can we—” 

“Do you want to stop?” 

“Please,” I said, voice shaking. “Sorry. Fuck. I’m freaking out here.” 

“It’s okay.” You kissed me softly. “Gideon, you’re fine.” 

I think I was short-circuiting. I needed a time-out.

I flopped to my side so that we were laying next to each other, face to face. You were studying my expression, brows furrowed. 

“Do you want me to go?” you asked. 

“No!” I took your hands. Planted a kiss on each palm, and held them tight to my chest. You pulled me close.

I pressed my face into your neck, humiliated. 

“It’s just a lot,” I murmured. 

You were running your fingers through my hair. There wasn’t any judgement down the bond. I only felt you; warmth, a lingering thrum of arousal, concern, and—relief, maybe? Harrow, perhaps you were just as scared as I was. 

“I know,” you said. “We’ll figure it out.”  

 

-

 

It was not for lack of wanting. This was obvious, and I reminded you of it daily so you had no room to doubt. I wanted you so badly I thought—I didn’t even know what I thought. You were looking at me now, as I considered you, and it struck me brainless. 

I guess I figured that it would be easy, after everything.  

I’d learned your body from the inside, having lived in it for two years. And even before that—I learned you through fist and nail, through the blade and your shattering constructs. A brutal resistance to loneliness, blooming like a bruise across our child selves. 

I knew you interiorly, Harrow. But I hardly knew how to touch you from the outside, with my own hands, the way that I wanted. 

“You’re nervous that you won’t be good at it,” you clarified to me one evening.

It had been several weeks since that first time, and we were nothing if not consistent in our studies. You were, at least. I was just horny.  

You were gathered in my lap, my back pressed against our wooden headboard, your mouth red with attention. We had been making out for the better part of an hour. 

“Yeah,” I said breathlessly. 

You nodded. “What if you don’t have to be good at it?” 

“What?” 

“What if you just...laid there while I do things?”  

“You want to get me off,” I said. 

“Duh,” you replied. Your cheeks were flushing, but your eyes were bright with determination. I could feel you fighting through your nerves, Harrow. It made me want to protect you. “Would you let me?” 

I considered it. “I feel bad just laying here doing nothing.” 

You leaned forward in my lap and kissed me. After several long minutes, you tore yourself away, hands pinning my shoulders firmly against the headboard. I stared at you in shock, attraction dripping low.  

Your voice shook, nervousness cutting through the classic Nonagesimus tone. “What if I ordered you to stay still?” I made a noise in my throat. “Obeying orders is not nothing, Griddle.” 

“Okay,” I said. 

You looked a bit awed by your victory. “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah,” I giggled a little, delightfully surprised by the situation. “Command me, Lady.” 

You huffed a laugh, pecking my mouth softly. You started fixing my hair, though the reason was beyond me, if you were just intending to wreck it again. 

“Lay down,” you ordered, sitting on your knees by my side.

I did. You kissed me, perfunctory.  

“Take your clothes off,” you added. 

I did so militantly, first my pants, and then my shirt.

I’d never gotten completely naked for you before—we simply never got far enough for that. I remember thinking, now my tiny necromancer will ravish my very large cav body and I will lay here and do as she bids and it was a damn relief to be able to fall back into our old patterns.

But the air shifted suddenly, nearly imperceptible between us, and I looked up. 

You were staring at my chest, face twisted.    

“Harrow,” I called.

Our eyes met.

An image surged down the bond, and I nearly choked with the brunt force of shame that propelled it. 

Lyctorhood had failed to disappear the scar.

The circular patch of flesh where the fence cut through was still puckered, light pink amid the brown skin of my chest. I felt my own self-consciousness, and you felt it too. You doused me unwittingly in a wave of your panic—shame that you had managed to make me feel shame. 

“Harrow,” I repeated, rising to my elbows as you started to cry. 

“I’m sorry,” you gasped. “Fuck. Shit.”

The Lyctoral bond shuddered with your animal grief. I stumbled for your soul, and you recoiled into yourself. You slammed your door shut and the feelings winked out. I gasped. Breath ragged, you touched your palm to my scar, and a guttural noise punched out of your lungs.

“Fuck. I did that.

I touched your cheek. “Honey, you didn’t.” 

“But I did!” you cried. "Fuck!"  

Harrow, I gathered you up. You pressed your head against my chest as I shifted us to hide beneath the quilts of our bed. 

You wept, your words spilling out until it was just my name. Over and over until you wore yourself out, and went quiet.

We didn’t try again for a while after that.   

 

-

 

We were sitting in the shade of a willow about a week later, the afternoon light flickering against your face as the long boughs of foliage shifted in the breeze. My back was against the trunk. You were nestled between my legs with a book in hand.

I pressed my mouth to the crown of your hair, and felt your contentment flutter up like windswept pollen. 

“When do you think Cam will be back for us?” I asked. 

You answered, “Hopefully never.” 

We laughed, wistful. 

We had spent all morning at the glow worm cave. You cried upon seeing it, and we’d sat beneath the twinkling bugs for a long time. 

“Pretty, right?” I said. 

You took my hand. “It feels like home.” 

“I know, dummy,” I smiled. “That’s why I brought you.”

You were tender as a bruise the whole hike back. Quiet as we’d taken a quick dip in the pond to clean up our sweat, as we’d changed our clothes in the bedroom, and settled back outside beneath the willow. 

“Where do you think you’ll go after it’s all over?” you asked me now, laying your book in the grass. 

“Wherever you go,” I answered easily. You twisted around in my arms until you were sitting in my lap, legs bracketing my hips. Your brow was furrowed, eyes full of stubborn sadness. I touched your eyebrow, trying to smooth it out. “What is it?” 

“Do you mean that?” you asked quietly.

“Of course I mean it.” Without doubt. 

“You could go anywhere,” you continued, spouting absolute hot garbage. “You know that, right? You’re...free. I won’t tie you to my side.”  

I took your face between my palms, and wanted badly to shake your puny necromantic body until you understood—until you could just fucking believe me. 

I stroked your cheek with my thumb, and started, “Harrow. I know it’s hard for you...to trust—” 

“I trust you with my life.” 

“—yourself,” I said firmly. “To trust yourself to be—enough. Enough to keep me.” 

Your bottom lip started wobbling. 

“You are not something to be kept,” you whispered fervidly. “You are a person.”  

“What if I want to be kept?” I insisted. “Harrow, I want to be wherever you are.” 

“And if I want to return to the Ninth?” 

I shrugged, my hands trailing from your jaw down to your waist. I tugged you so that you leaned fully against me. 

“Then I’ll get my robes and let you paint my face. We’ll need to assassinate Crux, though.” 

“Griddle.” 

“I think if we made out in front of him, it would do the trick. Instant hemorrhaging.” 

Gideon.” 

“Maybe I could kick him down the stairs, or—” 

“Darling,” you said, which was fucking awesome. 

“Sorry, got excited.” I kissed your nose. I was going to ride the love-name train straight to hell. “What is it, sweetheart?” 

“You are certain that that is what you want?” 

Wordless, I reached for you across the Lyctoral bond.

You met me halfway, open and generous with your thoughts as they floated up into the disappearing space between us. 

What if she isn’t happy—what if it’s a sense of duty—people are not meant to be kept—what if, what if, what if—

I tapped against you, our secret knock.     

Your thoughts were extinguished—not by a door shutting, but by love; a tide of it that came coasting down from your own soul.    

Password, you said softly, automatically. 

Boobs.

We giggled. I brushed the hair from your eyes.  

I want to be with you, Harrow, I said. Please let me. 

Your soul curled like a flower petal, soft against mine.   

Like this? You offered. You sent an image down the bond. My heart stuttered. 

It was a future us in our Ninth robes.

We were sitting on the couch in the Nonagesimus personal library, your head in my lap as you read. Lyctors didn’t age, but we were unmistakably older in our gestures. In the future dream, my hand tangled in your hair. Pulled you up for a kiss. 

How long did we have together? All of time and space stretched out ahead of us. 

“Yeah,” I shivered aloud. “Exactly like that.” 

 

-

 

That night, Harrow, you looked at me and I knew. 

You pulled me to our bedroom, your face at complete ease as you tugged off my shirt.

You paused us in the middle of the floor, our foreheads pressed together. I could’ve said it then, but the words caught in my throat, and maybe you already knew.

With a reverence that made my knees buckle, you kissed the scar between my breasts. It was a prayer and not an apology.

Everything we did after that was fucking perfect. 

I was flat on the bed, with you hovering by my side. You were in a sleeveless dress covered in flowers that you did not deign to remove as you undressed the rest of me.  

Your hand moved to caress the apex of my thighs. You didn’t know what you were doing—you were still perfect, mind you—and I moved to help, placing my fingers over yours as I stroked through my own folds. You studied between my legs, marking the pleasure rising from the bond, and after several minutes, you were brushing over my clit, firm and consistent as the friction built low in my belly. 

When I moved to slide a finger into myself, you barked at me, “I thought you were going to stay still.” 

“Oops,” I shrugged. 

You rolled your eyes, but caught my hand. “Wait, show me.” 

I fucked myself the way I liked, the way I did when I was alone with only my imaginings, your face clear in my mind, how I thought you’d looked in the middle of climax. You groaned and surged down to kiss me. You could hear my thoughts—I’d kept the door cracked open on purpose. 

I grinned. “You like watching.” 

“This is for science.” 

“Right. Science.” 

You batted my hand after a while, and went furiously to work with your own fingers.  

“More clit,” I requested. It sounded ridiculous. We both snorted after I said it, and amusement rolled heavy and thick between us. Your hands picked up a rhythm, and you followed it without mercy, fumbly but unfaltering, and tender always.

Pleasure rose, my hips flinching, hands clenching our sheets. You kissed me again. I lifted one hand from the bed, and tangled it in your hair.   

“Griddle,” you whispered. “How is it?” 

“Perfect,” I gasped. “You’re literally perfect.” 

“My hand is getting sore,” you said. 

“Sucks for you, gorgeous,” I replied. “Don’t fucking stop.” 

You barked a laugh.

My thighs were trembling now. The sight caught your eye and your grin turned wicked. I thought oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit, and you fucking got on top of me, Harrow. Threw your leg over my leg so that your knee was pressed to my cunt. I could feel your own wetness through your underwear and against my skin, your one hand stroking diligently over my clit while the other ventured to my hair. 

You tugged roughly, and the moan that came out of my throat was so fucking loud that if it weren’t you—if it had been anyone else in the whole world who wasn’t you—I would’ve been embarrassed.

But something was gathered between us now—fearlessness, there beneath you, around you, everywhere I looked was home. 

I came around your hands. 

 

When I blinked back into existence, you were still sitting on me. Awesome. You were kissing all over my sweaty face. 

“You’re a genius,” I said. “Can I try now?”  

“You don’t have to,” you whispered gently. “If you’re nervous—”  

“You fucked the nerves right out of me, sweet thing.”

You laughed beneath your breath, nodding, and I kissed you slowly as you leaned over me, hair falling in a short black curtain around my face. 

You tugged at my arms, sending an image down to me, “Can we—with me on my—” 

“Yeah,” I agreed. I could feel my face heating.  

I sat up, wrapping an arm around your waist, my fingers stroking the fabric of your dress. “Can I take this off?” 

“Yes.” 

It was a revelation, being able to stroke my hands up your thighs, feeling the fine hairs on your legs, tugging the dress over your head—another layer peeled back. 

You shook your hair out, left only in your underwear.

Half a second of your self-consciousness rose before I quelled it.

I traced my palms down your bare skin. Your freckled shoulders. Your shoulder blades, your waist, the sides of your breasts. I kissed the base of your throat as I touched you, and coaxed out the sounds that gathered there. 

I was trembling. Of course I was still fucking nervous, but at the same time, none of it mattered. You were sitting there for me with your head tilted back letting me touch you, your mind parted to let me know what felt good. We were so perfect. We were impossibly real. I didn’t have a body until two months ago, and now I did. My hands against your skin were myth taken flesh. 

“Gideon,” you murmured.

Your look was burning. When you leaned in, I met you readily. You coaxed my mouth apart, arms coming around my neck. I could feel you pressed wet against my abdomen, hips rocking near imperceptibly.

My hand dipped to the band of your underwear, and you tensed. 

“Sorry.” I said. I stroked your hip bone. “You don’t have to—” 

“Take them off,” you said quickly. You smiled, sweetly sheepish. It wasn’t an expression I was used to seeing on you—skin reddened, clinging to me like sexy moss. “I just don’t want to let go of you.”

I laughed. “Okay, hang on then.” 

I flipped us, hovering over you with one elbow while I dipped my hand down to peel off the rest of your clothes. 

There wasn’t anything between us then, and you pulled me down completely on top of you. Not for a kiss—but to hug me. I dragged my nose through your hair, my knee between your legs unmoving.

You said nothing, exhaling slowly. Even the bond was quiet. I could feel your smile where your mouth was pressed to my shoulder. I should’ve told you then. 

But then your hips started moving. I pulled your face towards me, caught your grin between my teeth as I reached down to feel you, my palm pressing against your dripping heat. You gasped quietly, rolling your hips up with more force. Your thighs parted wider. I nearly died.  

“Nav,” you snapped, surprisingly bossy for someone who was rubbing herself against my sword callouses. “I thought you were going to touch me.” 

“Touch yourself first,” I said. Pleaded, really. I was destroyed. Happily ruined by one small bone adept with a shockingly tactile burgeoning sexuality. "Show me." 

You closed your eyes, one of your hands slipping between your legs, and my mouth started watering.

Your spine arched, your small perfect breasts lifting into the air, nipples brown and raised. I leaned down and kissed one chastely, before sucking it into my mouth. Your free hand got unfree in my hair, yanking hard, and I grunted around your skin in perfect bliss. Couldn’t be helped. Gideon Nav, tit-lover, at your service. 

“Tit-lover,” you repeated. You’d been listening. Your whole body shook with laughter. “Is that what I should call you now?” 

I lifted my head from your chest. 

“The gloom mistress of the Ninth and her tit-lover,” I suggested emphatically. You were crying laughing, your head turned to the side in exasperation. My hand joined yours between your thighs, and your giggles choked into gasps. 

“Who’s laughing now?” I muttered as you writhed. 

“Still—” I nipped your collarbone. It had been distracting me. You whimpered. “—still me.” 

I stroked a digit down the length of you, back up to brush against your clit, again and again just the way you’d done to yourself, and you grabbed tighter at my hair. You were soaked, a damp spot forming in our sheets. I sank my index finger inside you, wet and burning hot, and you moaned. Or maybe I did. It was a little bit ridiculous of me—I wasn’t even the one getting fucked. 

“Gideon, please,” you said. 

I added another finger, removing them fully before I plunged back in. A noise punched out of you. I started fucking you in earnest, and the sounds kept coming. That’s what you liked—the stretch and friction of it, speed. I preferred a curling finger in there, personally, but this seemed to be doing it for you. One of your hands fell from my hair and raked down my back, nails against flesh and—god. For fuck’s sake, Harrow. My whole body was tingling. 

Gideon, you said. I was literally out of my mind, sweetheart, I couldn’t tell if you were talking to me in my brain, or with your mouth, but I heard it. My name falling from some part of you: Gideon. Gideon. Gideon. 

Your muscles started fluttering around my fingers. I ground my palm against you, and you gasped like resuscitation. A gasp to cut an ocean in half. You said my name again, soft as night, your legs trembling around my hips, and you went quiet. 

I stared at you. 

You stared back, lips parted and lifted a little around the edges.

“Good job, Nav,” you said. Your voice was hoarse. You looked thoroughly wrecked. “Very...yeah. Yeah.”     

I grinned. “What, are you speechless?” 

“Shut up,” you said. Your thoughts flooded. Beautiful, a wonder. You have perfect hands. You have a wonderful mouth. You pulled me back to you, smile forming. Your lips met mine.

We didn’t need words. 

 

-  

 

A couple days later, I told you. 

The cottage hummed golden with the sun pooling in, dust fluttering visible through the air in broad sheets of light. There was a pot bubbling away in the kitchen, one of your experimental bread loaves on the counter. 

“I’m home, babe,” I called out. 

I found you in the living room, sprawled out on the loveseat, sleeping.

You were curled up in a patch of sun, and I could feel you dreaming down the bond, your mind soft like grass against bare feet. I put the firewood I’d carried in down by the brazier, and sunk into the cushion beside you, moving an errant strand of hair from your forehead. 

“Gideon?” Your eyes fluttered. You didn’t need to ask. I think you just liked saying it.   

The words fell from my throat.

“Harrow,” I said urgently. 

You tilted your face towards mine, eyes half-shut, brows raised in question. 

“Harrow, I’m in love with you.” 

You made a contented noise, stretching your arms languidly above your head, your toes pointing as you expanded slowly out of sleep. You’d never been a creature of indulgence. The traditions of the Ninth had not allowed it, and even if they had, there wasn’t much on that planet to indulge in anyway.

But there was a luxuriousness about you now—a regal confidence in the way you blinked up at me, your hair sprawled out on the cushions. I touched your neck. 

“Hmm?” you mumbled.  

“I said that I am in love with you, dumbass.” 

“I know,” you said simply. Your smile was radiant. You pulled me down for a kiss. 

“Oh,” I replied intelligently. 

“I love you too,” you added, and kissed me again. I clasped your face between my palms. I couldn’t get enough of you. 

“You taste like sourdough,” I commented. 

“You like sourdough,” you said, pecking my bottom lip. 

“That I do.” 

I went for your mouth again, but you stopped me, “Wait, Nav. I have a present for you.” 

I waggled my eyebrows. “Oh yeah?” 

“Not that, Griddle—” Your brown face was blooming prettily with red. You let go of my cheek so that you stick your hand between the couch cushions. “You’re insufferable.”  

“I’ve been told." I stroked your thigh as you fumbled around determinedly. I was physically incapable of not touching you. “Are you giving me some dust balls?” 

“Fuck off,” you said, and tugged something solid out. You grabbed my arm, and placed the thing in my palm, and ordered, “Behold.”

I beheld it.  

It was the toy cube that I’d brought home from the cave—and all the sides matched. 

It was—actually ridiculous how my eyes began smarting. You smiled up at me smugly as I tilted the cube around in awe. 

“How long did it take you?” I wondered. 

Glowing, you answered, “Three minutes.” 

 

-

 

When the world called us back, we were ready. 

(Sort of.) 

It was morning. We were making out in bed. You were naked, I was shirtless, and when someone knocked on the front door of our cottage, you cursed up a storm.

“Now?” you growled. My head was resting on your stomach. I frowned. Guess no breakfast then. “This early? You’re fucking kidding me.”  

I reluctantly got out of bed and started looking for my shirt. 

“If I asked you to wait here in the room until I came back, would you?” I said without much hope.  

You snatched my shirt from the floor, and pulled it on. Ah. There it was. There it went. You summoned four constructs before I could blink, and you kissed me briefly before saying, “In your dreams, my love.” 

I fumbled around for my sword.

“And put on a shirt!” 

“You stole mine!” 

“We have a whole wardrobe, Griddle!” 

I found a shirt eventually. I figured Camilla Hect wouldn’t care if I was wearing pajamas, as long as I had my two-hander.

I followed half a step behind as you marched down the hallway, back straightening, chin lifting until you were Lady Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the Reverend Daughter of Drearburh. 

You were still dressed only in my clothes, which was very sexy of you. You turned back to look at me. A wolf on the hunt. A queen taking her throne. Your secret grin was conspiratorial, and only mine. I loved you for it.  

I know, Gideon. Your voice came from the other half of me. I love you, you said. 

I know. 

 

You threw open the door. 

 


 

I kneel into a dream where I

am good & loved. I am

good. I am loved. My hands have made

some good mistakes. They can always

make better ones. 

Natalie Wee, “Least Of All”