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no dull promise

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“Bit by bit, he assembled me.” 

Madeline Miller, Song of Achilles (325)

 


 

When the world finally called them to fight, Gideon felt some half-blossomed part of her drop dead into silence.

The first thing she thought was—but me and Harrow have plans tonight. Albeit those plans were mostly sitting in the grass outside the air hangar drinking the contraband liquor that Camilla Hect had introduced to them—but plans still. Precious in Gideon’s mind. Now, a slow horror widened its jaws around her as she realized that she was going to war. 

Through the wailing blare of the level-five sirens, there was a knock. 

Somewhere, she was still clasped like a pearl in Harrow’s hands, dancing her necromancer up and down the enlivened ruins of a chapel to the music from a violin. Elsewhere, they were curled up in Harrow’s cot, fighting sleep to scheme a little longer into the night. They were sitting in the grass outside the rebel base, enjoying the sun, Harrow smiling at her shyly. 

Her bedroom door cracked open. 

The sirens invaded Gideon’s room. Noise spilled un-muted. The anticipatory murmurs and shouts of rebels grew louder, excitement clear among the bodies marching for their stations. The entire Blood of Eden outpost was lit like a beehive on fire.  

Once, Gideon had wanted that. A very long time ago, she had desired a Cohort drop-ship, a front line to trample and spill blood on. A place to swing her sword, and appear sexily with a blaster. Mostly, she had wanted to get the fuck away from the Ninth. 

Funny how that had worked out. 

The Ninth herself slipped in through the gap. Gideon considered now, I would kill anyone who tried to take me from her

“Nav,” Harrow greeted, pressing the door shut with her back and remaining there. 

“Hey,” Gideon said weakly. 

They regarded each other. 

Harrow was dressed in black polymer and the brittle white of her bone armour—the exoskeleton that she hadn’t worn since Gideon had piloted her body, when she had promptly made a gagging noise and stripped the freaky shit off her adept.  

Admittedly, Gideon’s necromancer looked better in it now that she wasn’t just a tiny zombie with depression. Kind of hot, even, with her hair longer and the extra adipose around her ribs and in her face—but still weird. Which was Gideon’s preference. 

She cringed as Harrow roughly scraped her black hair into a ponytail, wishing she would’ve just let her do it. Gideon had discovered recently that she was not too bad at hair-things. 

“It’s go time?” Gideon said. 

She nodded grimly. Her eyes—Gideon’s eyes—shone out of Harrowhark’s face with diamond-like composure. 

“I was enjoying retirement,” Gideon added. 

“It was never retirement,” Harrow corrected. “It was never going to last—” 

Harrow cut herself off. The air was brittle and alien between them. She cleared her throat and stepped further into the room, studying the plain clothes on Gideon’s shoulders with a trembling veil of calm. 

She asked, “Do you need me to make you armour?” 

Oh, Harrow was upset.

Her hands were clenched into fists, teeth worrying at her rosebud mouth. Earlier that evening, not even two hours ago, Harrow had carefully spooned her portion of chocolate pudding into Gideon’s emptied cup. She’d rolled her eyes while Gideon challenged Cam to a thumb-wrestling match, touched her shoulder to Gideon’s as she shuffled closer to get better vantage on their small duel. 

Now they were suiting up for war. 

The realization of Harrow’s outrage lifted some nameless hope into Gideon’s throat. 

If Harrow was angry—that meant Harrow wanted—  

“I’ve got armour, night boss,” Gideon said, gesturing her head towards the sleek black plates laid out across her cot. Harrow nodded stiffly again, and Gideon frowned. “Harrow.” 

“What?” 

“It’s gonna be fine, you know,” Gideon said.

She touched Harrow’s hand, so small in her own, and began the slow work of unravelling her fist. She parted the curled phalanges, stroking the index, the middle, the ring finger, tender, before tracing her thumb along the smooth crescent of the nail. 

Gideon felt her adept's gaze on her face. She kept her eyes on the work. There were rapidly healing slices that Harrow’s nails had left in her own skin.

Unthinking, Gideon brought Harrow’s wounded palm up to her mouth and kissed its centre.   

“Nav.” 

Closing her hand around Harrow’s, Gideon rushed to continue, “We’ve fought Lyctors. We are Lyctors. What’s a couple of Cohort soldiers?” 

“They have bombs, Griddle,” Harrow said.  

“Yeah, well, Eden has us,” Gideon insisted. Harrow was biting her bottom lip bloody. Sighing, Gideon said, “Help me put on my armour.” 

“Don’t tell me what to do,” said Harrow as she conceded, marching over to sit on Gideon’s bed, and grabbing the black chest plate. Then, because she was a bitch, ordered, “Come here, Nav.” 

Gideon rolled her eyes, tugging her shirt over her head, leaving only the bandeau.  

“The chest piece goes on last, dumb ass.” 

Harrow was staring up at her, eyes steady on her face. Her composition was unmarred by anything that Gideon was sorely hoping to catch there. She shifted, hovering over Harrow as she reached past her for the kevlar undershirt. 

Closeness was easy for them now, the sparkling newness of proximity having settled over the weeks into something simple and factual. She felt Harrow’s breath on her bare belly, Harrow’s fingers landing on Gideon’s hip bone like a bird on a branch. 

“What is that supposed to do?” Harrow demanded, unwilling to release her grip even as Gideon moved back to pull the shirt on. Her index finger clung stubbornly to one of Gideon’s belt loops. 

Bottom lip jutting out, Gideon surveyed herself in the mirror against the wall.

The black sleeves covered up to the wrists and did wonders for her arms. She flexed experimentally, and caught Harrow's eye in the glass. Her necromancer glared at her with even less restraint.

“Griddle, stop that. What is that shirt going to do against a bomb?” 

“Why the hell do you keep thinking they’re going to hurl bombs at me?” Gideon demanded, and nodded at the armguards on her bed. “Pass me those.” Harrow did, her jaw clenching slightly as she watched Gideon slip them on, tightening the straps along her forearms with her teeth. “They’re much more likely to try and shoot me in the tits, which is why this shirt is bulletproof.” 

“You don’t know that for certain.” 

“Did you want to put me to the test?” 

“Nav!” Harrow yelled. Her voice cracked, startling both of them. She finally let go of Gideon’s trousers, retracting her hands into her lap. “That’s not funny.” 

Immediately, Gideon felt like a dick. She sobered, coming down to rest on her knees before her necromancer. 

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Gideon murmured, touching her fingertips to Harrow’s patella. “Assbutt? I was just kidding. I was trying to make you laugh.” 

“Those things aren’t humorous to me anymore.” 

“Anymore,” Gideon emphasized. 

Harrow’s eyes flickered. Amusement punctured through, golden. She shook her head, lips spreading into a tiny, incandescent smile. 

“Ha,” Gideon smirked triumphantly. She tapped her finger against Harrow’s cheek, pocketing that grin for later. “There it is.” 

Harrow stared at Gideon.

Her eyes were falling like meteors, the smile sinking fast into something more urgent, something desperate, and Gideon barely realized what was happening before Harrow surged forward and hugged her. 

“Oh,” said Gideon, still kneeling. And then, helplessly: “Harrow.” 

Harrow tilted her face towards Gideon’s pulse like an oath, arms wrapping around her shoulders as she murmured, “Listen, Griddle. This is how we play it.” 

“I'm all ears,” Gideon encouraged. 

“You will stay by my side,” Harrow began, vicious. “You will stay within my line of sight at all times—” 

“Jeesh.” 

“Gideon,” Harrow snarled. Gideon could hear her teeth clack in frustration. She just wanted Harrow to bite her already. “No funny business, do you understand? Nod if you understand me.” Gideon nodded. “Good. No martyrdom. No sacrificing yourself for me—for anyone. And we stay together, no matter what.” 

“That’s how we always play it, dipshit,” Gideon scoffed. Harrow tugged at her hair, which was likely meant to be an edifying gesture, but was instead kind of turning her on. “Harrow. We’re Lyctors. I’ve seen your body regrow its own thumb. Your skull, even. You’re a badass bone bitch, and I’m super hot and talented. And we’ve got Camilla Hect on our side. What could go wrong?” 

“Everything could go wrong,” Harrow pulled out of Gideon’s arms, shaking her head. “If the Cohort has necromancers that can disable theorems—if they overwhelm me and I can’t—”   

“Harrowhark,” Gideon bristled, because what the fuck was she—a fucking, useless baby goat? “Literally nothing will come close enough to touch you. You realize I’ll protect you with my life, right?” 

“That,” Harrow hissed, nearly incoherent in her outrage. She jabbed her index finger at Gideon’s chest. “That.” 

“What?” Gideon demanded. 

“You!” Harrow yelled. “You jumping in to save me—you throwing yourself on rails—I just told you not to be so—” 

“Nice?” Gideon offered. “Kind? Devoted? Friendly?” 

“Gideon,” Harrow snarled, absolutely fucking delightful. “If you attempt to die for me again, I’ll kill you.” 

“Naturally.” Gideon didn’t miss a beat. “But it’s only fair then if you promise not to sacrifice yourself for me either.” 

Harrow went violently still. Seething.

A stalemate. 

Gideon, still knelt before her necromancer, placed her hands on Harrow’s knees. 

“Well?” 

“It’s not the same thing at all,” Harrow said. “You offered your soul to me on a fucking platter, Griddle—you hurt for me—you died! All I did was—” 

“Resign yourself to a frozen tomb so I could live out the rest of my life in your meat?”

“I couldn’t risk your soul!” Harrow shouted. “I would’ve been content to sleep forever if it meant that you could live.” 

Gideon yelled, “And you think that’s any different from the way I feel about you?”  

Harrow stared. 

Her lips parted, the motion so small despite the force it exhaled to blow Gideon to fragments. 

Gideon began, “I—” 

Slow, Harrow reached out and gripped her by the chin. 

Her eyes were torches.

Gideon heard the phantom rush of waves beating against Canaan’s ruins. Harrow moved as if she were breaching water, navigating the thick air like a ship’s prow. She was—

Gideon inhaled sharply at the impossible. The emergency sirens continued their elegy on the other side of the door.

Harrow claimed Gideon's mouth with her own. 

Space dissipated.

It was on the brink of war that Gideon discovered Harrow tasted like salt.

Harrow was everywhere, filling everything. Their first kiss. Gideon opened against the warm petals of her necromancer’s mouth, and Harrow pressed even closer, a whimper notching taunt in her throat. She ran her thumb down Harrow’s neck and the noise went flying, striking the roof of Gideon’s mouth. 

“Harrow,” Gideon murmured. "What—" 

Against her teeth, Harrow said, "If you're mine—"

"There is no if, Harrow," Gideon said. 

Harrow wrapped her arms around Gideon’s shoulders, hands fisting in the back of her shirt and tugging.

Her necromancer’s small hands, reaching under, pressing hot to Gideon’s back. And okay, okay, holy shit, holy fucking shit —Gideon’s knees were starting to ache in time to the wet pulse between her legs. She rose up to her feet, palms finding Harrow’s hips and urging her ass back further on the bed so that Gideon could join her. 

“If you're mine, then you'll do as I say."  

"No shit, babe." Teeth pulled at Gideon’s mouth. Softer then, Gideon added: "Whatever you want."

Harrow’s hands were stroking up her shoulders, thighs parting to the devout press of Gideon’s hips. Their sounds gathered and fell. Harrow kissed her until her lips throbbed, like the night-haired girl was trying to cleave salt from water. Gideon was very close to begging. 

She wanted her armour flung to oblivion, and Harrow’s exoskeleton crumbled to dust. She wanted the tender flesh of Harrow’s belly, hands forever in Gideon’s hair.

The sirens could keep blaring for all Gideon gave a fuck. They could ignore them. Ships and bodies could’ve exploded in space while they pressed each other close, far from the bloodshed. They deserved that much. 

Harrow tore away suddenly, gasping. 

Gideon made an affronted noise, chasing her mouth, and Harrow—

Harrow shoved her until she fell right off the bed. 

Gideon landed on her ass, stunned. 

What.

“The hell, Nonagesimus?” 

Harrow looked at her, breathless. She was half-risen on her elbows, hair a fucking mess, watching Gideon through the gap between her parted legs.  

“Come back alive and you’ll get the rest.” 

Gideon stared at her. 

What the fuck. 

Hesitantly, she asked, “Are you...are you trying to bribe me into surviving?” 

Harrow sat up, adjusting her clothes. “Yes.” 

“That’s playing dirty,” Gideon argued.

Harrow raised an eyebrow. “I thought you loved dirty.” 

“Oh shit,” Gideon said. Surely, that was the hottest thing Harrowhark had ever said in her whole ass life. “Okay, yeah, I do. Wow. Okay.” 

Harrow rose off the bed, offering a hand to help Gideon to her feet. She liked the way Harrow’s eyes widened when she towered over her. The necromancer huffed, her lips curved upwards when Gideon grasped indulgently at her hips. 

“To clarify, when you say the rest—” 

“You’re insufferable,” Harrow said.

Gideon shot in for another kiss, and Harrow relented, chin tilting for half a second before she pulled back in exasperation. She was shit at bribery. Gideon just wanted to know if the rest meant that she could go ahead and mouth at Harrow’s thighs. Maybe even touch her butt a little. 

“I adore you,” Gideon responded. “I’m literally fucking obsessed.” 

Harrow looked reluctantly pleased by this. Taking her chances, Gideon caught Harrow’s mouth once more, and this time Harrow actually yelled, “NAV!” before Gideon laughed and grabbed for the rest of her armour, forgotten on the bed. 

She turned to Harrow, eyes soft. 

“Help me with this, assmunch.” 

Harrow went. 

She had to stand on top of the cot to help Gideon pull the chest pieces over her head. Gideon adjusted the metal on her shoulders as Harrow went about tugging the straps and buckles, eyes calm and knowing, as if she were working her prayer beads. Gideon watched her, Harrow’s breath on her cheek, fingers sliding the armoured plates into position with satisfying clicks. 

“All good?” Gideon looked down at herself. The armour was surprisingly light. 

“Wait.” Harrow pressed her palm to Gideon’s abdomen, holding her still. Her teeth sunk into the soft bottom lip. “Give me a moment.” 

Harrow fiddled with a bone stud in her ear before pulling it out.

She fingered at the chest plates, head tilted like she was considering a canvas. 

“Harrow.” 

“Shh,” Harrow murmured. Her eyes flickered up to Gideon’s momentarily, and the love in them was so vast that Gideon felt like weeping. Gently, Harrow informed her, “I’m working.” 

And then she started. 

The small white bead of bone spread itself outwards like pale web. It hinged onto the armour. Gideon felt the slight press as Harrow’s construct snaked around her ribs, rising like ivy along her spine, braiding around her shoulders. Harrow was serene.

She touched Gideon’s neck wordlessly, perhaps just for the sake of being able to touch her.   

The bone travelled, winding over her clavicle and spilling out, finally, into a thin and shatterproof layer spread protectively over Gideon’s heart.   

“There,” Harrow nodded. She tapped the hard shell over Gideon’s left breast, satisfied. “That’s perpetual ash. Now you’re ready.” 

“Looks good, gloam queen.” 

“I know,” Harrow agreed. “Remember what I said—”

Gideon took Harrow’s hips in her hands and lifted the adept clean off the bed, placing her down on her feet.

Harrow looked flustered. Nice. 

Gideon nodded fervently, “If I come back alive, we get to make out—” 

“—I said: no martyrdom, no heroics, no leaving my sight—” Harrow sighed as Nav continued to waggle her eyebrows. “Gideon!” 

“Just joking, Nonagesimus,” Gideon said. She brushed a strand of hair back from Harrow’s eyes, stroked a thumb along her cheek. “Harrowhark. I know. No dying, no sacrifices, no recklessness. No railing for Gideon Nav. I heard you the first time, my Lady. I shall obey.” 

“You’d bloody better.” 

“Of course I will, honey,” Gideon leaned down, offering her mouth. “Can’t touch you if I’m dead.”

Harrow rolled her eyes, lifting onto her toes. She tucked a kiss there softly, like slipping coins into a wish machine.

Gideon kissed her back, full of promise.