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Harrow can hear the sound of the shower running in the adjacent bathroom. This, she knows, is Ianthe’s routine—fuck her, fuck her up, and then wash Harrow away almost the moment they break apart. 

Harrow sleeps rarely. She certainly doesn’t sleep in Ianthe’s rooms. That would be like the prey sneaking a nap in the predator’s mouth and trusting it not to bite down. Still, she realizes that she’s been floating for a while in the drowsy space between awake and completely fucked out , and when she comes back to herself, she is curled in a mean little ball on top of the ice white sheets of Ianthe’s grandiose bed. 

If she’s being indulgent, she can pretend that there’s power in this strange cycle: Harrow wants to hurt, and Ianthe is a wonderful instrument, cruel and exact and almost impartial. If Harrow is being honest, she knows there is neither power nor beauty in complete debasement. 

She lets one hand wander thoughtlessly over the carnage—to her neck and over her shoulders, across her chest and small breasts. She doesn’t look, but she can feel them at even the slightest touch. The bites. The bruises. They haven’t fully formed yet, but when they do they will be purple, an ugly, mean purple far darker than Ianthe’s eyes. Harrow scowls as the thought blooms into something uglier: Ianthe’s purple eyes, scattered across all the tender parts of Harrow’s body.  

And maybe because she’s lonely, and maybe because she’s a little pathetic, and maybe because she’s stupid enough to let her guard down while still holed up in Ianthe’s bed or maybe because everything just plain aches, Harrow lets herself think of Griddle. 

She doesn’t usually indulge herself like this ever, let alone while anywhere near Ianthe. It lurks in the back of her mind, of course. Springs unbidden to the forefront when she has her mouth on Ianthe’s, or Ianthe’s hand yanking in her hair. What would this be like with Griddle? She doesn’t usually allow herself to seek out these thoughts, let alone bask in them. 

Sometimes she pretends it’s Gideon—throws her head back and screws her eyes up and lets Ianthe’s cruel, colorless little mouth with her sharp little teeth worry at her neck while Harrow pretends it’s Gideon who has her up against a wall or pinned on a bed. Sometimes, that almost feels good: imagining Gideon’s hot, angry breaths, hands punishing against her skin. Gideon’s hands, not Ianthe’s, drawing her blood up just below the skin and leaving her with blooms of purple. Gideon’s hands, punishing. Gideon’s hands, cathartic.  

It’s a good story, but it’s poorly characterized. 

What would this be like with Griddle? 

She wants to think of Gideon like this: joyously brutal in her retribution. Rendering unto Harrow that which is Harrow’s; funneling years of cruelty and anger back into Harrow’s body.  It’s when she lets herself remember that Gideon isn’t cruel that it begins to hurt. 

Griddle isn’t inherently gentle—she’s reckless, thoughtless, and throws herself at life in a way that is decidedly unguarded. But Harrow has seen the way she handles Dulcinea. Carefully, cautiously, reverently. Like something precious, priceless; a doll that may shatter with too much pressure. 

Harrow doesn’t want to be handled like a porcelain doll, but if she admits it to herself, she also doesn’t want to be handled like a punching bag. What she wants is to be touched like a person, and that want makes her sick to her very core. 

Her hand drifts lower, past a particularly nasty bite on her abdomen. Past the thatch of curls between her legs. She takes a moment to experimentally prod at her inner thigh and lets out a shaky sigh as she does so. Ianthe has a particular taste for soft, secret, vulnerable places like this: the crease of the thigh, the divot behind an ear, the tender skin of the cubital fossa. 

Harrow digs her fingers in further and sighs again. She lets her eyes drift shut and shuts out the distant sound of water hitting the glass walls of the shower. She imagines, for a moment, that Griddle is hanging above her. 

Ianthe’s room is stark and shining, icy white and palest gold. Wither her eyes closed, however, it is warm and dark. Shadow hangs between her face and Gideon’s, and she has to narrow her eyes to make out the slope of Gideon’s nose and the quirk of her lips. 

What would Griddle do next? Probably stick her hand right up Harrow’s shirt, fumbling and inelegant. Gideon, Harrow knows (can’t help but know, and hates herself for remembering), is a titty man. Gideon would be running one calloused thumb over Harrow’s nipple and grinning lasciviously about it, half in satisfaction with herself for putting Harrow in such a state and half in simple, sheer delight at the feel of another person’s skin. 

Harrow lets her fingers skate against herself. It’s almost painful; she’s oversensitive and sore from Ianthe’s deliberate touches. (Ianthe is not usually rough with this part, exactly, but her touches are cold, calculated, almost scientific— what if I touch Nonagesimus like this? Or this? Or this ?—  and it always leaves some part of Harrowhark feeling raw, exposed, as if she’s given Ianthe some pivotal, unknowable data to use against her.) She pretends it’s not her hand, but Gideon’s larger one. Less deliberate than Ianthe’s searching fingertips, but more eager. And then she imagines Gideon’s head sinking between her legs as she presses Gideon down, down, down.

Gideon would turn her head to the side before she gave Harrow what she wanted. Not to bite, but to press sloppy, open mouthed kisses into Harrow’s hip bone or thigh, sucking only enough to elicit a response but never enough to bruise. When she pulled away, there would just be a patch of skin— clear, unbroken, shiny with a faint layer of saliva.  And then her mouth. Slick and hot and earnest against Harrowhark, luxuriating in her taste. 

Only it isn’t just her mouth Harrow is thinking of. It’s the big, warm arm slipping underneath her thigh to better support her hips, and the thumb making lazy circles against her skin, and Gideon’s broad shoulders shifting with each movement of her head, and the whisper of a smile pressing against Harrow’s cunt. And then its Gideon’s smirk, wet and slick and proud and tender, eyes blazing and joyful in a way Harrow hasn’t seen in a long time, and then Harrow’s coming with a tiny sound like glass crunching inwards. 

Harrow’s heart thuds loudly in her chest, but the room is quiet. 

The shower is off. 

Harrow cracks an eye open. She’s on her back in the mess of Ianthe’s sheets, one hand still pressed against herself, and she's aching more than ever. 

Ianthe is leaning against the vanity with her arms crossed. She’s wearing a ridiculous little silk bathrobe, water bleeding from her hair into one side of it as she watches Harrow with narrowed eyes and a small, acerbic smile. She looks like some sort of predatory animal; sated and full from a recent hunt, only to find some quivering, vulnerable piece of prey that has delivered itself right into her lair. 

“Oh, baby girl …” Ianthe says in a tone of pity and delight, and Harrowhark burns at the sound.