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so quite new a thing

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i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric fur,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

— e.e. cummings

 

 

 

After the dust settled, after God had died and Dominicus diminished, after the residents of the Nine Houses had been relocated to new solar systems, Harrowhark Nonagesimus and Gideon Nav decided to settle down and live a nice private life.

Sextus and Hect had talked them into it. "Go be boring," Palamedes had said. "You deserve boring. Go find some boring village on a boring planet and have the time of your lives doing absolutely nothing for at least a year."

Harrow made Camilla promise to come get them as soon as they were needed for anything, and Cam assured them she would, but also that they would probably be fine.

"But there is still so much to do," Harrow said.

"And you have already done so much. The most exciting thing to happen to us before Canaan House was an old study being unlocked when we were thirteen. You two have spent most of your lives as walking traumas. Take a break."

And so they found a boring planet and a lovely cottage, all overgrown with plants and surrounded by wildflowers, with huge windows in every room. They had a small terrace in the back that led out to a yard drenched in sunlight. Whoever lived there before had planted a lavish garden that had been neglected for years as the house stood empty. What wasn't dead was overgrown and Harrow decided it would be her personal project to restore it. She found books on the planet's botany, acquired a number of hats and gloves and tools and seedlings, and started a vegetable garden. Gideon felt she reaped the benefits of this far more than Harrow did, as Harrow's relationship with food was still tenuous, but she said it was the work that she enjoyed, even if she only took mild interest in what her work produced. After a life-time of working with death, she wanted to help things live.

"It is a bit like thanergy, you know," Harrow said one day, looking up from the book on various soil types she had been studying all afternoon. Gideon had gone with her to the gardening center several times, had hauled the large burlap bags of soil and manure and fertilizer all labeled with what plants they were formulated for. But Harrow never half-assed anything, was never content with simply taking anyone's word as gold. If something wasn't worth poring over, researching every facet of, cross-referencing texts with her own notes, and learning to absolute perfection, it simply wasn't worth her time or interest at all.

"Oh, yeah?" she answered. Gideon didn't share Harrow's commitment to fully immersing herself in every minute facet of her current interests, but she loved hearing Harrow talk about her fascinations, her eyes lighting up like the night sky and her voice quickening with joy in her excitement.

"It's taking death — the decayed remains of plants and insects, the waste produced by the animal consumption of plant matter — and using it to build something new. Decay is an extant form of life, producing the energy needed for all forms of life to continue."

And, yeah, okay, Gideon had to admit that was cool as hell.

(There were, she knew, plenty of ghastly things in the garden as well — carnivorous plants and gory fungi and a whole corner blocked off with a small fence and a sign that read, "GIDEON under NO circumstances should you EVER eat ANY of these no matter HOW delicious they look!" You could take the girl out of the creepy death-worship cult, but you couldn't fully take the creepy death-worship out of the girl, Gideon supposed.)

The planet was abundant with food. Fruit trees and berry shrubs lined almost every street and neighbors hosted weekly swaps to trade bags of vegetables around as someone's garden managed to vastly overproduce something that other people's gardens had failed at. The first time she had seen someone walking down the street simply reach up and grab a fat stone fruit right off a branch and take a huge bite, Gideon had been amazed. After years of living on Ninth House sustenance rations, who knew the good stuff could be so easy to attain? She'd gone home to grab some bags, returned to fill them as quickly as she could, and then gorged herself on the sweet, juicy peaches for the rest of the evening, her hands, arms, and face left covered in syrupy sweetness. She'd had to get in the shower and scrub herself down when she finally tired of eating them. Harrow even ate one, taking the tiniest bites possible every few minutes, and Gideon had felt wildly victorious when she realized that, over the course of an hour, Harrow had eaten the whole thing.

While Harrow learned to garden, Gideon learned to cook. She could easily spend a whole day in the kitchen taking whatever Harrow had brought in from her garden the day before, researching the various fruits and vegetables and herbs in the small library of cookbooks she had collected, and turning them into delicious meals. She loved the simple perfection that was fresh tomatoes with salt and pepper just as much as she loved devoting a whole day to preparing a four-course meal.

She found that working with food helped her feel more connected to her body. Prior to Canaan house, if someone had asked her how she felt about her body, she would have said, "I mean, I think I'm hot as fuck if that's what you're asking," but mostly been baffled that she was supposed to feel any certain way about it. Her body was just her body. She used it to work out and swing swords and give herself orgasms while flipping through magazines, and she enjoyed all of those things, so she would have guessed she enjoyed her body as well.

But then she'd died.

Sort of. As it turned out, being the actual daughter of actual God had its perks. Blood of Eden had recovered her corpse when they came for the remaining living at Canaan House. To their amazement, it had slowly healed itself back up. Her brain had regained base-line function and the giant hole in her chest mended itself shut. They had kept her body on feeding tubes and a breathing apparatus until Harrow found out and came for her.

Whatever it was that kept her alive obviously cared more about survival than aesthetics. Her muscles had atrophied from disuse and she had winding knots of gnarly scars on her back and chest from where the giant iron spike had entered and exited and ripped her to shreds.

She hadn't expected to feel so completely disoriented having her own physical body again after being resurrected. Honestly, she hadn't expected to be resurrected. She'd never known when she was going to surface in Harrow's body. She wasn't sure if Harrow ever knew when it was going to happen either. Sometimes they'd left each other little notes — dumb jokes and stupid drawings, mostly — but the unpredictability made it impossible for them to maintain consistent communication. She rarely had any idea of what Harrow was working on. Sometimes she would try flipping through the pages and pages of notes Harrow left around her room, but it was all just necromantic gibberish to her.

Harrow had managed it. Harrow was always managing to pull off shit that others deemed impossible. What they didn't know was that she had always been an impossible girl who did impossible things. God had told her she couldn't reverse the Lyctoral process, but then it turned out that God was a huge fucking liar, and Harrow decided to find out for herself if that had been among his lies. And she'd done it, she'd perfectly unspooled Gideon's soul from where it had been coiled around her own, and guided it back to her body.

But.

Gideon had not asked to be resurrected. She hadn't known it was going to happen, and she'd felt insulted and rejected (again and again and again) when she woke up. She had given herself wholly to Harrow, only to be spat back out like a bite of food she hadn't realized was spoiled until too late. Her body felt strange and foreign to her. There was a disconnect between the Gideon she had been when she left her body and the Gideon she was when she returned to it.

She felt guilty about it, sometimes, that after all Harrow had gone through to return her soul to her body, she didn't appreciate it nearly as much as she should. The idea of resurrection would have been thrilling to almost anyone else. But she felt like she'd been evicted from her home, crashed for a while on someone's couch, and then been kicked off the couch and made to live in a rundown old shack that she now had to rebuild from the ground up. And she absolutely fucking hated it.

After they'd settled into their new home, she'd gone to work figuring out how she could use her body in ways that felt fulfilling. She found that working with food was a physical activity in every possible sense. Honing her fine motor skills while using knives, her arms and shoulders engaged and active as she kneaded dough, the quiet meditation of watching a simmering pot, delighting in her work as she savored the taste of the food in her mouth, the feel of her body's hunger being assuaged as it was nourished — food grounded her in herself every step of the way.

Sex was weird, though. The first few months after her resurrection had been a whirlwind of meetings and training and planning how to kill God and then fighting God and then more meetings for figuring out how the last vestiges of the Empire would continue now that God was dead. They'd avoided each other like the plague at first, both so uneasy around the other that they'd decided to just not. When they'd finally come to their senses after a particularly nasty fight that ended with Gideon holding Harrow against a wall and kissing her breathless, they'd both been exhausted and desperate and intense makeouts were enough to satisfy them knowing that soon they'd have all the time in the world to learn everything else they could about each other.

Turned out making out was about all Gideon could handle. The combination of her body not feeling like her own and the great swathes of raw-nerved scar tissue covering her back, chest, and torso meant that too much focused attention resulted in a switch in her brain flipping. Things would be going great and then suddenly the idea of someone else touching her body made her feel sick and awful.

It sucked. She wanted more than makeouts. They'd had a few successes, but they were few and far between. It was impossible to know when it would work and when it wouldn't, and just trying became frustrating for the both of them and it was infuriating that after all they'd been through, they couldn't have this. She wanted to be able to lay Harrow out and slowly learn her, piece by piece. She wanted to feel Harrow learning her, Harrow's hands and mouth working over her body, taking her apart and putting her back together again. Not being able to have that really fucking sucked.

But she had a plan.

"So, Harrow," she said one night as they were getting into bed. "You know that thing of how I freak out if we try to fuck for more than like five mintues?"

"Yes, I am intimately aware," Harrow replied. There was no malice in it, but Harrow had been on the receiving end of a rather nasty backhand that first time Gideon's body had suddenly decided hm, touch bad? actually??? and lashed out in a panic without her asking it to. She had felt like absolute shit — guilt from hurting Harrow and further frustration at her body betraying her was a hell of a combination to work through — and tiptoed around Harrow for a full week until Harrow begged her to move on and act like a normal person again.

"What if we just spend all day tomorrow trying to, like, push through it?"

"Push through it? Gideon, I'm not going to force you to do something you don't want to do."

"That's just it, though! I do want to. God, Harrow, I want to and there's just this pit of sexual frustration burning in my stomach and I can't do anything about it and it's going to fully eat me alive if we don't figure something out."

"But if it doesn't feel good for you… I don't want to hurt you."

"I'll stop you before you do. Listen, I don't want to force me to do anything I don't want to do either. And it's not that it hurts, it's like… like I was skinned alive and then had all of my skin replaced with new skin that's stupid and doesn't know what's supposed to feel good. So I think now we have to, like, teach it what feels good."

"Skinned alive," Harrow said with mock salacity, "Gideon Nav, that's the sexiest thing you've ever said to me. Consider me seduced."

"Oh, please, Ianthe told me all the gross necromancer sex secrets."

"She did not. And even if she had, that's not one of them. Also, necromancy no longer exists—"

"So there are gross necromancer sex secrets!"

"—so even if there were, they'd be of no use to anyone anymore."

They were lying in bed now, rolled onto their sides and facing each other. "Seriously though," Gideon said. She placed a hand on Harrow's face and swept her thumb back and forth along her cheek.

Harrow closed her eyes and smiled, the sharp angles of her face relaxing into Gideon's touch. Seeing Harrow soften like this had become one of the greatest pleasures of her life. "Okay. What's your big plan?"

"Tomorrow. We wake up and try, and we keep trying throughout the day. Just crash course this body in Things That Feel Good 101."

"And you'll let me know if something goes wrong? You're not just doing this because you feel guilty for not being sexually available?"

Gideon could have rolled her eyes at sexually available, but did not, and felt she deserved a medal for it.

"Harrow," she said, "this is something I want. For me. I want this for all my own selfish reasons. Because I want you so, so desperately. And I promise, I promise, the second I am not okay with something I will let you know."

"Okay," Harrow said, and Gideon realized she'd been tensing her shoulders and could now let them go. "Tomorrow. Let's do this."

 

 

Morning.

 

When Gideon woke up, the sun was pouring through the window casting lines of golden light over the bed. Harrow was still asleep, curled up like a cat and cocooned in something like five layers of bedding. No matter how they fell asleep, Harrow always ended up like this before the night was over. Gideon watched her for a few minutes, taking in the stray hairs that brushed over her cheek, the lines of shadow and sunshine falling over her face and throwing patterns over the pointed nose and sharp chin and soft mouth that were now her to touch and kiss to her heart's content, and then got out of bed and headed to the bathroom.

As she stood over the bathroom sink washing her hands, she stared at herself in the mirror. It was still strange, seeing the reflection that both was and was not her own. Her jawline had softened, just a touch. She had almost bulked up to where she'd been pre-death, but was still smaller than she wanted to be — gaining muscle was much harder than losing it. Scarring peaked out from the neckline of the tank she'd gone to sleep in. It turned out that when she had steady access to enjoyable food, her lower abdomen developed a bit of pudge that no amount of crunches seemed to be able to get rid of.

These changes would have all been small enough on their own, but combined together it made for a Gideon she did not wholly recognize. She'd sometimes catch a glimpse of her reflection in a window or small mirror and find herself having to stare at it for a few seconds to make sure it was hers and not some duplication of her that someone hadn't got quite right. It was disorienting, alienating, heightening the disconnect she already felt between herself and her body.

When she returned to the room she ran through her morning workout routine and then slid back into bed, grabbing a book from the nightstand to read until Harrow woke up.

She slept so much now, getting full nights of sleep and often sleeping in later than Gideon did. It was good, Gideon thought, since she had a lifetime of self-imposed sleep deprivation to recover from.

When the cocoon began to stir, Gideon scooted closer in to drape herself around Harrow and kissed the blankets where she thought the nape of her neck probably was. "G'morning, sunshine."

Harrow slowly uncurled and pushed herself back to nestle against Gideon. "'Morning."

Gideon pulled back the bedding to slide an arm over her waist and pressed a quick series of kisses against her cheek. Harrow grinned and let out a small laugh, rolling herself over onto her back. She reached up to touch her hand to the side of Gideon's face and Gideon leaned down to kiss her, but Harrow pressed her hand to Gideon's mouth and raised an eyebrow. "Hold on, not yet. I'm not ready."

"Ready? LIke, do you have… plans? Sexy plans?"

"I have to pee, Griddle," she said through gritted teeth, annoyed that she'd been made to voice the words. "And my mouth feels like cotton."

"Right."

When Harrow returned from the bathroom she stopped at the foot of the bed and considered Gideon for a few seconds.

"Sit up," she said.

"Aha!" Gideon exclaimed as she moved to sit up, crossing her legs under her and leaning back against the headboard. "So you did have a sexy plan!"

"I have some ideas. I wouldn't call any of them fully-formed plans."

Gideon knew, though, that Harrow's ideas were anyone else's fully-formed plans. Harrow only considered a plan fully formed if she had calculated every bit of it down to its most miniscule detail.

Harrow climbed into the bed, and then into Gideon's lap, straddling her legs and looping her arms around her neck. Gideon smiled and rested her hands at Harrow's hips, tapping her fingers softly over her lower back.

"Is this okay?" Harrow asked, her eyes focused on Gideon through her eyelashes with such intensity that Gideon felt excitement beginning to curl inside herself.

"More than okay," Gideon answered leaning in closer to Harrow's face. "This is always okay, this is great."

And it was. The problem was never proximity, it was never the feeling of Harrow close to her, their bodies touching each other. The problem usually happened when Harrow's hands and mouth started making their way anywhere below Gideon's collarbone, the focused and intentional touches quickly becoming over-stimulating and her body suddenly launching itself into an unnecessary and totally fucking annoying fight-or-flight.

Harrow smiled, small and sweet, and Gideon pressed her mouth to Harrow's with her own stupid grin covering the lower half of her face. Harrow moved her hands to cup her chin, thumbs brushing over Gideon's cheeks. She could, if she wanted to, do this forever. Harrow in her lap, draped around her, kissing her like she was the only thing in the world that mattered. She still had moments when she became livid thinking about how they could have been doing this for years had they only pulled their heads out of their asses.

She ran her fingers through Harrow's hair, over her shoulders and down her sides before pulling Harrow's night dress up over her head and resting her hands on the tops of Harrow's legs, her thumbs pressing in the crease where thigh met hip. She moved her head to take one of Harrow's nipples in her mouth, nipping gently and feeling it pebble under her tongue. Harrow gave a little hum of delight before pulling away to look at her. "What do you need from me right now?" she asked.

"This," Gideon said, and wrapped an arm around Harrow's waist to flip her back onto the bed.

Harrow let out a high-pitched aaah sound and Gideon leaned over her, sliding her legs in between Harrow's to push them apart and grinning down at her. "Hands in my hair, Nonagesimus," she said, and then moved down to place herself between Harrow's legs, arms under her thighs and hands coming to hold her hips.

Harrow followed directions, tangling her fingers in Gideon's hair and digging her nails lightly into her scalp. It was good, it was really good, but Gideon gave herself a few seconds to acclimate to the feeling, making sure her body didn't take it as a threat. Then she was sliding Harrow's underwear off and burying her face in her cunt.

Harrow gasped, a sharp, shaky inhale, and Gideon didn't hold back. Her tongue worked over Harrow's clit, pressed into her cunt, and then back to her clit in long, drawn-out succession. God, she loved this. She had absolutely no problem just hunkering down and spending the rest of the day right here. She loved Harrow's taste and smell, loved the way she moved in response to Gideon's touch and the sounds she made whenever Gideon's tongue spent more than just half-a-fucking-second on her clit.

Fuck, she'd missed this. She'd tried to assure Harrow that she was one hundred percent okay with fucking her and then just getting herself off as needed. Harrow resisted, saying she didn't feel comfortable taking what she couldn't give back in return. Gideon had reluctantly admitted that even though she thought it was completely fucking stupid, it was fair, and she'd probably feel the same way if the roles were reversed.

Harrow was whining now, pulling at Gideon's hair in desperation, and Gideon sped up, bringing her attention solely to Harrow's clit. Harrow's legs were thrown over her shoulders and as Gideon started to suck lightly, she felt Harrow's foot run up her back, her toes curled under, and—

Ah. Hm. Okay? Shit, nope. Shit.

The muscles in her back tensed up and she froze, a small bubble of panic forming in her belly. Harrow froze in response. Gideon moved her head to hide her face in the sheets, forcing herself to take long, deep breaths.

"Are you okay?" Harrow asked.

"Yeah," Gideon said between breaths, "yeah, just give me, like, a minute. Don't fucking move."

A few more deep breaths and the panic faded and she was able to take a quick scan of her body and pin point where the sudden awful feeling had come from.

"Harrow," she said, "I need your feet off my back. Can you, like, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the bed? And keep them there?"

"Yes, absolutely," Harrow said, moving herself into the position Gideon had requested. Then, tentatively, "Are you sure you want to continue?"

"Fuck yeah," Gideon said, and then picked back up right where she'd left off.

It didn't take long. She'd had Harrow so close to the edge already from several minutes of long, drawn-out teasing and finishing the job was the easiest thing in the world at this point. Harrow's hips pressed up and she let out a long, keening noise as Gideon felt her thighs tensing up on either side of her face. Gideon kept licking her through her orgasm, returning to the long, thorough strokes she'd started out with. Harrow's hands released from her hair and came to rest on her cheeks, touch soft as she brushed her thumbs over her temples.

Harrow guided Gideon's face up to look at her and let out a small, satisfied hum when their eyes met. She was so gorgeous like this, stretched out and relaxed, looking honest-to-god happy and content. Gideon loved that she could do this to Harrow, that she could pull away the sorrow that still seemed to live behind Harrow's eyes and make room for the comfort and joy she knew belonged there. She returned Harrow's smile and moved herself up to cover her face in something around five million little kisses. Harrow laughed, the small, delighted sound filling what little space there was between them and sending a small shiver through Gideon's body.

"Thank you," she said, as she moved to lay down next to Harrow, letting her head rest on Harrow's chest and throwing an arm over her hips.

Harrow combed her fingers through Gideon's hair. "For what?"

"I dunno. For not freaking out when I freaked out?" She was tracing lazily over Harrow's stomach and Harrow reached down to twine their fingers together, bringing Gideon's hand to her mouth to kiss the back of it.

Gideon's stomach rumbled. "Breakfast?"

"What about you?"

"We're devoting all day to this, aren't we? I'm not sure I'm totally recovered from that minor freakout, yet, but I'll let you know as soon as I'm ready."

Harrow kissed her hand again and said, "Breakfast, then. But wash your face first."

She rolled out of bed and washed her face.

As she'd learned more about all the possibilities of meals available to her, breakfast had quickly become Gideon's favorite meal of the day. She usually woke up starving, and planning and prepping the night before what she would have in the morning proved incredibly rewarding.

This morning she pulled the quiche she'd made the night before — crust lovingly made by hand, eggs from their neighbor's over-productive chickens, tomatoes and asparagus from Harrow's garden — out of the fridge With the quiche reheating in the oven, she started chopping up fruit to serve on the side, plump summer berries and sweet, ripe watermelon. She put on a pot of oatmeal and pulled out dishes to set the table for her and Harrow.

Having breakfast together every morning had become a ritual for them, a way of spending time together enjoying something that was the result of both of their labor, Harrow's in the garden and Gideon's in the kitchen. It was an interlacing of their individual interests and talents, a daily celebration of the life they were building together, a tangible manifestation of their mutual adoration. It also meant Harrow started each day being good to herself, nourishing her body and letting herself savor even just a few bites of something delicious. It was very important to Gideon that she help Harrow be good to herself as often as she could.

Harrow walked out of the bedroom dressed for the day, which these days usually meant a half-sleeved linen shift dress that hit just below her knees in either dark gray, dark blue, or, if she was in an exceptionally good mood, dark purple.

"Why're you dressed? Literally our only plans for today are, like, fucking and more fucking."

"Dignity."

Gideon was still wearing the briefs and tank she'd slept in, a loose t-shirt with the sleeves cut off so low her tits were fully visible from the side. She turned to give Harrow the full view from her right side. "Who needs dignity when you have tits like these?"

"We can't all be flagrant nudists, Nav." Harrow answered absently, taking a seat.

She wouldn't call her current status nude, but Harrow's standards of modesty had always skewed towards prudish. Gideon set to work bringing the food over to the table, setting up a small buffet of what she'd prepared, making a show of giving Harrow a good side-view every time she turned around.

Harrow laughed as she spooned oatmeal into her bowl. "They are phenomenal breasts, love, wonderful, fantastic, and I thank the heavens every day that I get to bask in their presence."

"Thank you," Gideon gave a small nod, her own dignity now fully intact again, her heart growing about three sizes from Harrow calling her love.

She filled her plate with huge servings of everything and Harrow filled her plate with a few bite-sized pieces of everything and added a tiny drizzle of honey to her bowl of oatmeal. This was how most meals went. Gideon had never felt offended that Harrow didn't eat much of what she made. It wasn't because she didn't like it — if that had been the case, she wouldn't have bothered to take any — just that anything with more flavor than some form of porridge was quickly too overwhelming for her. She had come a long way, though, once she had realized that she didn't need to constantly punish herself by denying her body of anything it might enjoy. Slowly but surely, the list of foods she would eat and the size of the portions she helped herself to were growing.

As her necromantic abilities faded, Harrow had gone through a period of mourning. She had been manipulating bones and honing her skills since toddlerhood, laying bones out in neat little rows to count them, using bones to shape out her ABCs. Every piece of Harrow's education had been related to skeletons or God or both in one way or another. She had been programmed to have her every thought somehow brought back to necromancy.

But now that her thoughts were fully her own, now that she was free to think and feel and what however she wished without factoring in her need to be the greatest necromancer of her generation, it was as though an enormous burden had been lifted from her, one she hadn't even known she was carrying. It made Gideon so goddamned happy to watch her come to life as the weight was removed. Without thanergetic energy feeding off of her, she looked so much less like a wraith. She almost glowed, a new life having been brought to her skin, the dark circles under her eyes having slowly faded away. Small fat reserves were filling in the hollows that had been her cheeks, collarbones, and ribs. The physical work she put herself to in the garden meant she was finally developing muscle.

Gideon watched her now as they cleaned up from breakfast, Gideon washing dishes as Harrow dried and put them away. She loved her to a degree that was truly stupid. She loved how the bones in her wrists moved as she picked up a plate, how her arms moved in careful circles as she wiped it dry, how the line of her calves stretched as she stood on tip-toe to place a serving bowl on the top cabinet shelf. It was so truly stupid how love seemed to make even the most mundane tasks borderline erotic.

When they were done, Gideon pulled Harrow in for a kiss, delighting in the small surprised sound she made against her mouth, and lifted her onto the kitchen counter. She rucked Harrow's dress up around her hips and pulled down her underwear and fucked her. Harrow's hands flew in the space around Gideon's body, desperate to land somewhere, touch something, finally settling on Gideon's arms. Gideon held Harrow's bottom lip between her teeth as she gasped and cried out and she came with Giden's fingers inside her, rocking herself against Gideon's hand.

 

***

 

The sun, once a migraine-inducing mass of fuck-off, had become her best friend upon further acquaintance. When she first saw the backyard bathed in sunlight, Gideon had claimed a corner to set up a table and some lounging chairs. She now spent a good chunk of each day soaking up the sun with a cold drink in reach, letting herself absorb as much vitamin D as she could. She was stretched out on one of these chairs now, fully reclined, feet up, tank changed out for a sports bra, half-asleep, basking in the kind of warmth she'd only ever dreamed of in Drearburh. Harrow was sitting upright on the chair next to her, sketching out the next season's garden plans in the notebook she used to track what was where and when these needed to be planted and those needed to be harvested.

She'd seemed completely engrossed in her work when Gideon had decided to drift off, so she was surprised back awake when Harrow asked, "Can I go down on you? Are you ready to try, yet?"

She took a second to reply, first making sure she hadn't totally fallen asleep and this wasn't a dream, then took stock of her body to see if it was something she wanted to try in that moment. She stretched herself awake, feeling loose and limber from sunbathing, and looked over at Harrow. "Yeah, we can try. Uh, out here or should we move inside?"

Harrow shrugged, "Wherever you're most comfortable."

Outside felt glorious. She felt lazy. They had a tall privacy fence. "Here's good," she replied, and then had an idea. "Might up our chances of success if I—" she reached out an arm to wiggle her fingers in Harrow's face, eliciting an expression of mild annoyance, "—warm myself up first?"

Harrow's expression quickly turned interested. "What do I need to do?"

"Wait for my signal. And when you get started, try to make sure you tell me where you're going to touch me before you do."

"Easy enough," Harrow said.

But Gideon suddenly found herself self-conscious. The times she'd gotten herself off in front of Harrow had always been after she'd gotten Harrow off, so she'd been riled up and horny as fuck already. She'd never just started from zero before.

And now Harrow was looking at her expectantly. Gideon's face suddenly felt warmer than it usually got just from being outdoors and she realized, horrified, that she was blushing. She was honest-to-god blushing like some timid virgin in a romance novel set in the Seventh House.

Harrow must have noticed her sudden discomfort because she said, "Should I leave and wait for you to call me back out?"

"No," Gideon replied, because somehow that would make this all the more embarrassing, "It's just sudden. And now my brain is like, 'Masturbation? Never heard of her.' So."

"Hm," was all Harrow said in reply, though Gideon could tell from the way her mouth quirked that there was something happening inside her mind.

Harrow took a cushion from the chair she was sitting on and brought it over to kneel in front of Gideon's chair. She spent a minute running her eyes over Gideon's body and just from that Gideon could feel herself getting turned on and she realized that whatever Harrow was about to do, it was absolutely going to awaken something new within her. Fuck.

"Take off your bra and touch your breast," Harrow said, and Gideon did, almost automatically. She was helpless, as always, before Harrow, whose commands barely even registered in her brain before she followed them, so she brought her right hand to cup her right breast, the one with the least scarring around it, and waited for Harrow's next directions.

Harrow's voice was low and steady as she said, "Lovely, wonderful, you always have loved being told what to do. Now, take your index finger and just trace around it for me — yes — thumb your nipple? Oh, magnificent."

Gideon's face heated further, her whole body thrilled, and she could feel herself getting wet.

"Does that feel good?" — Gideon nodded — "Wonderful. Now, beloved, if you would, run your hand down your sternum for me… back up now… down again, over your abdomen and let it rest there."

Gideon laid her hand on her belly and forced herself to breathe deeply, feeling her body rise and fall under her hand.

"Are you comfortable touching your other breast?"

Gideon nodded.

"Then do it."

She felt the puckered skin under her fingers, the uneven ridges of torn flesh imperfectly sewn back together. A sudden reflexive jolt went through the surrounding skin. It didn't feel painful, just foreign, and she spent a few minutes there, familiarizing her hand with her scars and her scars with her hand. As they warmed to each other she increased the pressure, massaging the skin and taking deep breaths to keep herself calm. The skin under her hand began to feel warm and real, longing for more contact. She cupped the full breast in her hand and played with her nipple, a small sigh escaping her mouth.

Harrow watched intently through this process, not becoming impatient with the time she was taking, and when Gideon sighed she asked, "Are you ready to go further?"

"Yes."

"Good. Underwear off, now. Do you mind if I do that part?"

"Go for it," Gideon said.

"Thank you." Harrow reached up and over Gideon's body to slide her thumbs under the waistband of her briefs and then pulled them down over her legs, taking her time neatly folding them and setting them down next to herself. Gideon would have just thrown them over her shoulder, probably.

"God, you're beautiful. Do you know that, Gideon? Do you know how incredibly fucking gorgeous you are?"

Gideon's breath caught. Thinking about her physical existence in any manner was weird now, but hearing Harrow's praise was such a fucking turn-on.

"Legs open now— " Gideon pulled her knees up and let them fall to the side, knees against the chair's armrests, and Harrow said, "Oh, fuck, you're wet. Gideon, you're soaking wet and I haven't even touched you. Are you sure you need me?"

"Yes," Gideon said. In the mess of gods and gore and death and lies that had always been their life, it was the one thing she was always sure of, "God, Harrow, I need you more than I've ever needed anything."

Harrow was staring at her, her eyes lingering over each part of Gideon's body in turn like she wanted to eat her (again, which, haha?) and couldn't decide where to start. Under Harrow's gaze, Gideon felt like she was on fire. The heat building between her legs started to border on painful, desperately needing release for the pressurizing anticipation. She moved her hand downward from her abdomen to the thatch of curls without realizing it.

"Oh, no, no not yet," Harrow said. "I didn't tell you to."

"Please," she breathed out, trying her damnedest not to whine.

"One finger, then, just the one, and don't touch your clit."

And then Gideon was laid out, her legs spread wide, and fucking herself in front of Harrow.

"Fuck," Harrow breathed out, losing her calm and collected facade for half a second, and then, "two fingers, Nav. Three even, if you want."

She did.

And god, she realized — not for the first time but it would never get old, never stop being a revelation — how they had both so fully devoted themselves to each other. Here she was, hanging onto Harrow's every word like she would fall and fall and never stop if she let go, and here Harrow was, kneeling before her the way she'd used to kneel before altars, looking at her like she was the best goddamn thing that could have ever happened to her. She thought of how long they had yearned for each other, both so lonely and feeling so unloved even as they rarely went a day without seeing each other and found she suddenly couldn't bear the fact that they weren't touching each other, god, why weren't they touching each other?

Her fingers inside herself were good, so good, she knew exactly what she was doing with herself, but she needed more.

"Thought you were gonna eat me out?"

"I am!" Harrow replied, as if shocked Gideon would suggest otherwise. "But, Gideon, I have already had two orgasms today, and you haven't had one. I thought I should give you the chance to catch up. Besides," and she dropped her voice, just a touch, "I would like a fully unobstructed view when you come."

"Oh, fuck," Gideon said, and Harrow said, "Your clit now, love," and Gideon only had to press her thumb to it for a minute, just the right about of pressure at just the right angle, and she was gone, rocking into her hand, and Harrow was watching her with the most absolutely sinful grin Gideon could have possibly imagined on her face.

And then half a second later, before she'd even really started coming back down, Harrow was between her legs, tongue pressed to her cunt and making strong, even strokes.

Gideon cried out, hips lifting the chair, and reached for Harrow. Harrow took her hand and laced their fingers together as a second orgasm ripped through her almost as soon as the first one ended. Harrow licked her through this second one and Gideon could barely fucking breathe as it just kept rolling through her, as Harrow's tongue just kept drawing out more and more of her.

Right before it hit too much, right before she was about to tell her to stop, Harrow leaned back. Gideon pulled on the hand she was holding, and Harrow followed, lying herself down on top of her, resting her chin on her hands folded over Gideon's sternum.

Gideon ran her hands under Harrow's dress, touching her thighs, her ass, her lower back. "Fuck, you're good," was all she could say.

Harrow raised an eyebrow and gave her a smug smile and said, "Yes, I am."

She brought her head up to kiss Harrow, tasting herself on Harrow's mouth, and, god, she could almost come a third time just from that. After a few minutes Harrow pulled back and said, "I do need to finish what I was working on," gave her a quick final kiss, and got up and went back to her chair.

Gideon rolled over to sprawl herself back out on her belly and took her nap.

 

 

Afternoon.

 

The first time she'd gone down on Harrow, her first thought was fuck swords, this is what I was born to do. Since then, it seemed every other thought that went through her head was, God, I wish I was eating pussy right now.

"God, I wish I was eating pussy right now," she said.

And Harrow replied, "Well, why aren't you?"

Which was how Gideon found herself with her head bracketed by Harrow's thighs for the second time that day.

She was taking her dear sweet time, making slow, lazy work of bringing Harrow off. Several minutes in and she hadn't gone close to Harrow's clit, choosing to essentially just make out with her cunt, indulging herself in every sensation manifested by the act — the velvety feel of the skin against her lips, the taste coating her tongue, the thick, heady scent. The view of Harrow's chest rising and falling with her uneven breaths was phenomenal, the sounds of her sighs and gasps so fucking hot as Gideon fitted her lips around the folds and probed further with her tongue, licking into the warmest, wettest part of her. She was completely immersed in Harrow, and it occurred to her that if she was given the chance to choose how she would die (again), drowning in pussy wouldn't be a bad way to go.

Harrow's thighs started to tremble, the feel of quivering muscle pressing against Gideon's cheeks, and — oh god, Harrow was about to come. She was going to come and Gideon hadn't even touched her clit yet.

She felt Harrow's orgasm against her tongue and pulled her hips down, pressing her harder against her face, and found a strong, steady rhythm with her tongue. She wanted to draw everything she could out of Harrow's orgasm, feel her shaking around her for as long as she could. Harrow reached down and fisted one hand in Gideon's hair and the other in the bedsheets. Gideon hummed when Harrow pulled and Harrow cried out so beautifully that Gideon decided it was her whole life's mission to get Harrow to make that sound as many times as she could.

"Oh my god," she said against Harrow's cunt, overwhelmed by how incredibly turned on she was by all of this, and got a jerk from Harrow's hips in response as the aftershocks hit her.

She still couldn't believe she was allowed to do this. The closest she had ever felt to worship was when she thought about Harrow. She'd been born from a terrible miracle and had worked numerous miracles of her own. She had ascended to sainthood, been the greatest necromancer of her house powered by the soul of the very daughter of the God she lived for. She'd become one of the most powerful beings in the universe. She had held this great and terrible power, had beheld the centuries and millennia and myriads stretching before her, and she had said, "No." She had walked away from deification and instead dismantled the very system that would have her deified.

In a nutshell, Harrowhark Nonagesimus was the strongest motherfucker to ever exist and Gideon was the luckiest motherfucker alive because she was going to live out her days in service to this girl who had not become God.

The girl who had not become God was currently on her third orgasm, and Gideon was having to hold her hips steady to keep her from bucking too hard against her face. The last thing she needed was a broken nose.

But her jaw was starting to get sore. She slipped in two fingers and brought her tongue to focus on Harrow's clit. Harrow was writhing on the bed, both of her hands now in Gideon's hair as she gasped and cried out and said Gideon, oh god, oh fuck, Gideon, Gideon like they were the only words she knew anymore.

It was as her cries turned voiceless, as her hands pulled at Gideon's hair until it hurt, as her thighs tensed and spasmed relentlessly on Gideon's shoulders, that Gideon felt a long rush of liquid flow over her fingers.

Oh, fuck.

Harrow must have felt it, too, because she immediately froze, and said, "What was that, I'm so sorry, did I just, did I—"

Gideon sat up, gently removing her fingers, and looked at Harrow, grinning so hard her cheeks hurt.

"I know what you think, and no, you didn't pee on me. It's squirting and it's amazing, and, god almighty, that was the best fucking thing to ever happen to me."

Harrow closed her eyes and Gideon took this moment to look at her hand and decided to slip a finger into her mouth while Harrow wasn't looking, saving her from that extra bit of mortification. It was...surprisingly sweet? Not like dessert, but definitely sweeter than the other vagina tastes she'd sampled to date. Nice.

"That wasn't in any of the books!" Harrow said, sounding only slightly less mortified.

"It was in tons of the books!" Squirting Seductresses of the Second was a classic! The Lyctress's Liquid Love, on the other hand, wasn't great, but it had its moments.

"I think I would have remembered."

"What books were you reading?"

"I learned about puberty from a Sixth House manuscript on adolescent anatomy and psychology. I learned about sex a few years later by reading another Sixth House manuscript that I found referenced in the first one as a resource offering more advanced information."

"That sounds miserable."

"How did you learn?"

"Puberty? Aiglamene threw a handful of pamphlets at me after training one day and never spoke a word about it. Sex I mostly found out about as I progressed from romance comics to erotic comics to porn mags."

"That sounds equally miserable."

She laid down next to Harrow and they were both silent for a few minutes, staying still and staring up at the ceiling.

Eventually Harrow said, "It's normal, though, are you sure? Everyone does it?"

"Not everyone, I don't think. It's never happened for me. But it's normal enough to not be considered, like, weird or bad."

Harrow made a short hm sound, was silent a minute more and then said, "Surely there has to be a better name for it. Squirting sounds completely vile."

"Uh, I've seen it called female ejaculation a couple of times?"

"That is better, I suppose, though it still sounds vile."

"Whatever you want to call it, I hope you get comfortable with it someday," Gideon said, then rolled onto her side to lean over Harrow, placing a hand beside her head and grinning down at her devilishly, "Just let me know when you're ready and I am going to do everything I can to make you come like a goddamn fountain."

Harrow groaned and flushed about seventeen different shades of red, but when Gideon leaned in to kiss her, her hands found their favorite resting place on either side of her face and her thumbs swept their familiar path over her cheekbones.

After a few minutes Harrow's hand traced down to Gideon's chest and she lightly pushed her back.

"Nav," she said.

"I know, I know, go wash my face. I do have a fairly good sense of hygiene, you know."

"Debatable."

Her face was going to be scrubbed raw by the end of the day at this rate.

Once her face was clean, Gideon stripped the sheets and threw them in the washer as Harrow put a clean set on the bed. She returned with a basket full of clean clothes to fold and set to work, making neat stacks of laundry on the bed.

Halfway through the load, she felt Harrow press against her back, wrapping her arms around her waist and clasping her hands together over Gideon's stomach. Harrow pressed her face between Gideon's shoulder blades and took a few long, deep breaths. Gideon smiled and relaxed back into the warmth of Harrow's body behind hers.

"Yeah?" she said.

Harrow let out a small hum, turning her face so that her cheek now rested where her face had been buried. "I just wanted to be sure of you," she responded.

She covered Harrow's hands with one of her own. "I'm here," Gideon replied, "you're here. This is real."

Harrow didn't reply, just held on a bit tighter, and moved along with Gideon as she kept folding clothes.

Gideon had come back to life gulping down great swallows of air that burned her throat and painfully filled her lungs to an almost-bursting point.

Harrow had been standing over her when she woke up, a terrified look on her face. Gideon had said, stupidly, "Ha. Thought you'd forgotten about me," which, in retrospect was pretty high on the list of shittiest things she could have said. Probably number one on said list, actually. She hated remembering it now, and wished she could go back in time and kick her own ass.

To her immense credit, Harrow had not acknowledged this, though her eyes had narrowed a bit and the tight line of her mouth had tightened a bit more. She'd leaned over to check Gideon's pulse in a few different places and asked a rapid series of questions about how she felt in various parts of her body.

It left her feeling like she was nothing more than an experiment. Just more proof of Harrow's unprecedented power, one more construct for her to point at when she wanted to prove her status as the greatest necromancer her house had ever produced.

She constantly caught Harrow staring at her — in tactical meetings, over meals, when they were walking back to their rooms. Gideon would realize Harrow had gone still and quiet and she'd glance over in her direction and find that she was just watching her, like she expected Gideon to fuck something up at any moment and needed to be ready to cover their asses for any wrong move Gideon might make.

She was already in a perpetually horrible mood. Her body was weaker than she had left it. She'd known how to move in her old body, and she'd learned how to move in Harrow's body, but getting used to her new-old-body was an absolute mindfuck. It was the same body and it was a completely different body it was hers and it wasn't. She wanted so badly to be able to return to the level of strength and ability she'd had before, and it was infuriating that even in her own body she no longer felt like herself.

She constantly felt like she was missing the bottom step of a flight of stairs, tripping over her own feet. Her balance was off. Her stamina sucked. Her reflection in the mirror wasn't at all what she expected it to be and she found herself spending long stretches of time staring at it, unsure if what she was seeing was real.

She'd busted her ass in the training room for weeks. She started every day by doing as much of her old daily routine of sit-ups and push-ups as she could and spent every free moment in the gym lifting weights and doing cardio exercises, forcing her body to move until it absolutely refused to anymore. Working out had always been so easy for her, so natural, and now it was just draining and exhausting and only made her more frustrated as the days went on and she hadn't improved nearly as much as she wanted to.

She'd never had proper instruction in how to work out, had simply started doing crunches and pull-ups as a way to kill time, realized how much she liked the physical results, and kept going. She'd had to be strong for her sword training and while Aiglamene had told her what to do and how to do it, she hadn't learned how to recognize her own limits, tell the difference between good and bad pain, how to make sure she cared for and nourished herself in addition to training.

Harrow had stepped in, told her her body needed rest in order to rebuild, and dragged in a BOE medic when Gideon hadn't listened and over-extended herself further.

She'd been furious, outrage filing every inch of her body. It was enough that her body didn't feel like it was her own anymore, but adding insult to injury, fucking Harrowhark Nonagesimus was now trying to tell her what she should and shouldn't do with it.

"What the fuck was that," she'd asked, rounding on Harrow the second they were alone.

Harrow had gone into the bathroom while the medic looked Gideon over and gave her a stern talking-to, saying she'd let Gideon have her privacy and not bother them during this time. She'd returned when the medic left, her face washed of her paints and robes removed.

"What are you doing to yourself?" Harrow countered. "I didn't spend over a year working out the most complicated theorems in the universe figuring out how to return you to your body just for you to try to kill yourself again."

"I know you don't pay, like, any attention to me, but I'm scrawny as shit now and not too happy about it, so fuck off and let me lift some goddamn weights."

"Griddle, if I'd found you thirty minutes later, you would have been passed out."

"That would have cheered you up, then, knowing you wouldn't have to babysit me."

Harrow's hands clenched into fists. Her eyebrows knit together and her face was screwed up with rage.

"Nav, they have trainers here," she said, her voice high and frantic. "They have nutritionists and physical therapists. There are people who can help you get back to yourself safely."

Gideon hated the insinuation that she wasn't currently herself. She didn't need Harrow, of all people, lecturing her about not working herself to exhaustion. She didn't need Harrow pretending like she gave two shits about her after quite literally locking her out for so goddamn long.

"What the fuck do you care?" she shouted, flinging her arms out. "What the fuck have you ever goddamn cared about me outside of how you can use me?"

Harrow's hands flew up to her face and her eyes snapped open wider than Gideon had ever seen them before, great black chasms with the whites visible all around.

"You still don't get it," she said, a wild, hysterical laugh ripping out of her throat. "You still don't fucking get it."

"Get what?" Gideon shouted, gesturing wildly around her. "What the fuck am I supposed to be getting?"

And Harrow stamped her foot, punched her fists down beside her and shouted, "I love you, you complete moron. I always have. It's always been there."

Gideon laughed a quick, barking laugh because, yeah, right. But Harrow flinched as though she'd been slapped, and Gideon suddenly felt so deeply ashamed that it actually fucking hurt deep in her gut.

And all she could say was, "Oh, shit."

"I loved you and I knew you didn't deserve me. You deserved better — you deserved so much better than a walking genocide — and I had to make myself as unlovable as possible to keep you as far away as possible. I hurt you so that you would hurt me back. Not because you deserved to be hurt, but because I did. Gideon, you have always devoured my every waking moment."

All Gideon's brain could come up with was oh, shit???

And then she was walking forward with long, urgent strides, and then she was cradling Harrow's face in her hands, and then (oh, SHIT?????) she was kissing Harrow.

Harrow went stiff against her. Gideon had half a second to wonder if she'd miscalculated something, and then Harrow's arms were coming up to wrap around her neck.

It wasn't comfortable. Harrow's exoskeleton kept her from holding her as close as she wanted to, and it was poking her in the stomach and pressing hard against her own internal ribs, which, ouch. How did Harrow wear this thing all goddamn day? But Harrow's nails were lightly scratching the back of her head, and her mouth had just parted under hers and, oh god, that felt amazing. Every point of contact was an electric pulse, a signal to her brain that this was the most right thing she had ever done in her life. Fuck.

Harrow shifted and a rib bone caught Gideon hard in the side. She yelped and sprang back. Harrow stared at her, her face a twisted mix of startled and…oh, damn, was she scared?

"Ow, fuck, you stabbed me!" Gideon said, waving a finger in the general direction of Harrow's chest.

"What?" Harrow spluttered.

"Bone corset!"

Harrow hissed, "Oh, shit!" and immediately started pulling at her corset, her bangles, her necklaces and other assorted pieces of reserve osseo she kept on herself.

When she finished de-boning, she walked towards Gideon, looking timid and shy, which was a new look for her.

"I thought you'd realized who you were kissing and we revolted with yourself."

"Fuck, no, of course not." She reached for Harrow's hand to pull her closer. "I'm definitely gonna have a bruise tomorrow, though."

Harrow winced. "I'm sorry."

"It's kind of funny, really."

"Is it?"

"Yeah."

She leaned down to kiss Harrow again, and Harrow's response was immediate, her hands coming to rest on Gideon's shoulders, thumbs pressing against her neck.

Gideon lifted her up — a testament more to Harrow's build than hers right now, she thought — and Harrow wrapped her legs around her hips.

She walked the few steps over to the bed and set Harrow down. They removed their boots as quickly as possible, and then they were lying down and reaching for each other again, hands and mouths searching for contact, hungry after so many years of starvation.

They kissed for what Gideon felt must have been hours. She couldn't pull herself away from Harrow for long enough to do anything else. She'd wanted too much for too long and didn't know how she could ever give this up now that it was hers.

But.

Gideon had approximately two million questions she wanted to ask and none of them were sexy. Questions like, why did you cut me out of your memory and can you chill out on staring me down for like two seconds please, it's creeping me out. They were hard, shitty questions, and she would have given anything for them not to have needed these conversations, but their lives and had been hard and shitty and, so, here they were.

She pulled back and took in Harrow's face — large, dizzingly black eyes, so easy to lose yourself in; the long curved lashes; the red curve of her mouth. She wanted to touch and taste forever, but knew some things needed to be addressed before this went any further or else they would just be setting themselves up for even more disaster.

She ran a thumb over Harrow's temple, tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear.

"This is really gonna suck," she said, "but I need some answers."

Harrow closed her eyes like she was bracing herself for a sucker-punch and then nodded.

"Why did you shut me out?"

Harrow opened her eyes and met Gideon's, holding her in a long, steady gaze.

"I couldn't lose you," she said. "You left me so suddenly, so soon after we had seemed to be starting over, building something new with so much potential to be good. Then you took all that potential and quite literally threw it off a cliff — Gideon, I had no time to plan or prepare. You were there and it was wonderful and then you weren't and it was awful, it was so awful knowing I had taken so much from you only to have to take even more, take everything, and I just… broke. I thought it would be easier to have never had you than to have had you and lost you."

"And was it?"

"No."

That no hung in the air between them for a few minutes until Gideon filled the space herself, leaning in to kiss the bridge of her nose.

"I'm sorry," she said, "it was such a shitty thing for me to do, I know, but it was the least shitty solution I could come up with for the world's shittist situation."

"I know," Harrow said quietly, "and I don't know if forgiveness is the right word, but I don't blame you. It happened and we've undone it, and we can move forward now. Please. I would so love to move forward with you."

Watching Harrow's mouth move made Gideon want to be kissing her again, so she pressed a few soft kisses to the corner of her mouth as she said, "I promise I won't do it again, if that helps."

Harrow smiled, slow and sweet against her and said, "It will have to do." Then she tilted Gideon's face up with a finger under her chin and solemnly asked, "Do you love me?"

"Harrow," she answered, honestly taken aback at the idea that anyone could think she didn't love Harrowhark Nonagesimus with everything she had. "I died for you. I have given you everything I have. Everything I am is for you. You're a beautiful, brilliant, astounding disaster and I love you so much it feels like I would be completely empty if I were to somehow stop."

Harrow stared at her for a long moment, silent, eyes fixed on hers so fiercely Gideon thought she was trying to work herself back into her mind the way she had in the Response Chamber what must have been a million years ago.

"Why do you do that?" she asked.

Harrow startled, seeming to come out of a trance. "Do what?"

"Stare at me like that. I catch you doing it all the time."

"You're too good to be real, Gideon," Harrow answered, a new urgency in her voice. "I went quite literally insane while you were gone. I spent so long not being able to trust what I saw or heard or felt. You're too good to be real and sometimes I need to convince myself that you are.

Gideon wrapped her arms around Harrow, burying her against her chest, wanting to make sure the whole of Harrow felt and knew the whole of Gideon in all of her present reality.

Finally, dressed down to what was comfortable for sleeping in, they'd fallen asleep curled up together, Gideon's arm over Harrow's waist and her fingers threading through Harrow's hair.

Gideon had gone to find a trainer the next day.

The weeks after Harrow's declaration were some of the happiest of Gideon's life, which wasn't saying much as her life had been pretty shit up to that point, but that didn't mean it wasn't true. It was a slow and steady process as they learned this new way of being around each other. They'd grown up so touch-starved, most of their contact coming from the times they'd physically fought each other, and affectionate touch felt like a foreign and bewildering concept. It came much more naturally to her than it did to Harrow, so she followed Harrow's lead, pressing in when Harrow pressed and letting go when Harrow let go.

They made a point of touching each other frequently, holding hands, kissing hello and goodbye, curling close to each other in bed. Gideon would be getting dressed and Harrow would walk by on her way to the bathroom, running her hand along Gideon's bare lower back as she passed. Harrow would be reading on the couch and Gideon would lay herself out, head pillowed in Harrow's lap as Harrow played with her hair. She hadn't known how amazing it would be to simply have someone to touch and to be touched back. She hadn't realized how starved for affection she had been until suddenly she wasn't, and it seemed to her that perhaps the greatest abuse the Ninth had dealt them was the slow, passive torment of neglect.

They were making up for so much lost time. There was nothing to keep them apart anymore and Gideon was going to delight in every touch and smile and laugh they shared.

She was Harrow's and Harrow was hers and they'd spent their whole lives stoking a fire meant to rage and destroy, and instead they were choosing to take comfort in its slow, warm burn.

She still caught Harrow staring at her from time to time, but knew now that Harrow wasn't watching her like someone keeping a hard eye on an ill-behaved dog they expected would shit the floor in public, but like someone guarding the most precious thing they'd ever had, expecting it to be stolen out from under their nose the second they looked away. She started meeting those stares with a grin and a gesture — a wink, a thumbs up, an affectionate middle finger — and Harrow would smile or roll her eyes or mirror whatever Gideon had given her. It was a small language they were starting to build together and Gideon loved thinking of all the ways they could add to it, coming up with new small signals and seeing what Harrow responded with, and dreaming of how it would develop as the years went on.

When she was done folding she turned herself around in Harrow's arms and tilted her chin up for a kiss, nothing fancy, almost chaste. Harrow buried herself back against Gideon's chest and Gideon pressed her face into Harrow's hair and they stayed there for several minutes, swaying gently in each other's arms.

 

 

***

 

When God died, necromancy began to fade from its adepts. They retained the thanergy that already existed within them, but no longer had access to any source of replenishment. It was one month after God's death when, as they were walking to a meeting, Harrow's exoskeleton suddenly dropped to the floor. She'd lost the ability to maintain the construct.

She'd tensed up, Gideon had seen it happen, every muscle in her body visibly tensing like someone who has just realized they were unexpectedly naked in front of an audience. Her shoulders hunched, her head bowed, and she crossed her arms around her chest as tightly as she could. She stood in silence surrounded by the bones she'd used as armor between herself and everyone else for as long as Gideon could remember.

Gideon heard a sniffle, and looked at Harrow's face to see tears streaming down her cheeks, her paints already starting to smear. Gideon moved to — to what? Hug her? Pat her on the shoulder and say, there, there,? — and Harrow had held out her hand, palm forward, to stop her. So she'd stood there and watched and felt helpless and awful.

It was less than a minute, and then Harrow took a long, shuddering inhale, reached up to wipe the tears off her face, resumed her normal posture, and said, "Well. Shit," before continuing in the direction they'd been going. She entered the meeting in what she would have once considered equivalent to full nudity. Her paints were a tear-stained mess but she wore an expression that dared anyone to say a single word about it. It was the first of her vestments she'd leave behind.

Without her body wrapped in indurate bones, she moved through the world with an air of soft vulnerability. On good days she would accompany Gideon on errands, welcome others into her space and laugh freely as they chatted with neighbors and acquaintances they saw. But there were also days when she refused to leave their home, keeping herself cloaked in blankets and tucked into nooks around the house, closed off even to Gideon with her body tightly wound, limbs pulled in, hands balled into fists.

The stretches of good days were becoming longer and longer, the bad days coming fewer and further between. Gideon knew they may never disappear fully.

But even on good days there was a part of her subconscious that would not unfold itself, and she'd often adopt closed-off positions without realizing it. She was curled up in a chair now, her knees pulled up to her chest, chewing at the skin on the edge of her thumbnail as she read a history book.

Gideon wasn't exaggerating when she called it the most boring planet ever. It had been founded by an alliance of several non-violent groups and had maintained itself as a neutral party during the wars between the Nine Houses and Blood of Eden, serving as a refuge for soldiers on either side who grew disenchanted with war and decided to flee from service. Both sides had more or less chosen to ignore it, deeming it harmless enough as it wasn't actively fighting them and not wanting to pull resources from more important targets. Which meant absolutely nothing interesting had ever happened. At least Gideon thought so.

As it turned out, with neither the power of God nor necromancy on her side, Harrowhark Nonagesimus was huge fucking nerd.

Which Gideon had always known, but it was so much worse than she ever could have guessed. At least being a Bone Witch for the Lord had made her somewhat of an intimidating badass. Now she was just a scrawny girl who threw herself into weird interests with an unfathomable tenacity.

With ancient tomes of necromantic theorems now useless to her, she picked up ancient tomes of historical records for their new home. These were mostly full of transcripts from town meetings with names like "Meeting For Reconciliation Between Sue Ann and Jeffrey to Heal the Community Imbalance Resulting from Jeffrey's Accusation of Sue Ann Stealing One of His Chickens." They almost all lasted for weeks or months with every attendee weighing in on the matter and almost always ended with nothing much changing and everyone going back to their lives as they had been before.

Gideon fell asleep after trying to read a single paragraph. Harrow found them fascinating. When a passage struck her as particularly remarkable, her eyes would light up and she would say, "Gideon, listen," and read some mundane fact about how long the town had argued over whether or not Sue Ann had indeed stolen Jeffrey's chicken.

"It's the psychology behind it all," Harrow had told her one day. "There's a myriad of lessons to be learned about human nature in how they converse through conflict."

Of course Harrow had decided reading books was the best way to go about learning How To Be A Normal Person.

Today's mundane fact was: "Gideon, I'm not going to read the whole passage, don't worry, but you should know they finally wrapped up the chicken theft scandal and then someone pointed out an ambiguous comma placement in the resolution document and the meetings had to be extended two more weeks as everyone came to clearness about the intended meaning of the sentence."

And Gideon replied, "How has everyone on this planet not murdered each other yet?" And then, before Harrow could say They're pacifists, Griddle, as she always did when Gideon made such comments: "Come sit next to me, I miss you."

"How can you miss me when we haven't been out of each other's sight all day?"

Gideon threw a pillow at her. She'd aimed terribly, though, so Harrow just watched as it soared past her head. She didn't even pretend to duck out of the way, which was incredibly rude, Gideon thought. "Do I need a reason? I miss you! Come sit next to me!"

Harrow rolled her eyes, but got up from her chair. Gideon was laid out on the couch reading some terrible romance novel Palamedes had included in a giant stack of romance novels he'd gifted her before they moved. It was truly dreadful, but he insisted it had a plot twist that made it stand out from other dreadful romances, so she was curious. She lifted her legs for Harrow to flop herself down with an exaggerated harrumph and then draped them over her lap once she had.

After a few minutes of reading together, Harrow's fingers started running up and down over the inside of Gideon's thigh, whisper-soft touches sending small thrills up through her body. She looked up at Harrow, but she was pointedly keeping her eyes on her book.

Harrow's fingers came to rest at the crease of her thigh, tentatively slipping them under the elastic of her underwear. Gideon rocked her hips forward just enough for Harrow's fingers to slide further in. She pulled them out, moving them to casually trace between Gideon's legs over the fabric. She turned a page in her book.

Well. If Harrow wanted to play a game, the least Gideon could do was fucking win.

She went back to reading her own book, if by "reading" she meant "staring at one word for five minutes and completely failing to process what it said." Her body was starting to react to the barely-there touch of Harrow's fingers, the lazy ease with which she was teasing Gideon. Her focus was blurring as a knot of yearning started to build in Gideon's stomach, but she had realized the word she'd been trying to decipher was "cat," so that was one point for her.

Harrow's teasing seemed to go on for ages and Gideon was sure her underwear was completely soaked through by this point and Harrow still had not even so much as glanced at her from the corner of her eye. She just sat there, feeling Gideon up and reading her book, holding it in one hand and turning the pages with her thumb.

And now her other thumb was deliberately tracing around Gideon's clit. Shit fuck shit goddamn. Gideon turned a page in her book hoping she hadn't taken so long since her last page turn for Harrow to know she absolutely was not reading anything at all. Then Harrow was pressing against her clit with just the very tip of her thumb, probably the tiniest point of contact possible, taunting Gideon, daring her to ask for more.

It took everything in her power to keep her hips grounded on the couch, to keep from pressing upwards into Harrow's touch for more contact, more pressure, more of Harrow's deft and beautiful fingers working her into a frenzy.

Anyway, fuck winning.

She threw her book onto the coffee table and reached down to pull her underwear off, not paying any attention to where they landed, and then she grabbed Harrow's book out of her hands and said, "Goddamn it, Nonagesimus, you goddamned fucking tease," as she straddled Harrows lap.

Harrow looked up at her with feigned shock all over her face and said, "Gideon Nav, what has come over you?"

And Gideon said, "Fuck me."

"This is very sudden. No foreplay?"

"Fuck you."

She didn't give Harrow the chance to reply, just leaned down and pressed her mouth over hers. The angle was bad. Harrow was already so much shorter than she was, and there was a reason it was usually Harrow in her lap and not the other way around. It was not the most comfortable kiss they'd ever had, but it was something, and something was more than nothing at this point and Gideon was going to take whatever she could get. She tried to lick into Harrow's mouth, but Harrow pushed her away and said, "Lay back down, Griddle. This isn't comfortable for either of us."

Gideon settled herself back down on to the couch, one leg thrown off the side, the other bent and resting against the back cushions. Harrow moved to face her, positioning herself between Gideon's legs. She leaned down to kiss Gideon once, softly, and then sat back up.

Her hand found its way back between Gideon's legs, though she wasn't any less teasing than she had been before. Her fingers didn't seek out where Gideon needed them most, but simply drifted around with an almost benign curiosity. She whined and Harrow laughed in response. She rocked her hips, trying to press against Harrow's hand, only for Harrow to pull it away.

Fuck, Harrow was such a little shit. Which, she always had been. She had always lived to lead Gideon on, needling her for every bit of ire she could get, taking her time and seeing how long she could goad her on before Gideon finally reached her boiling point. And Gideon had always met her blow for blow. They had always lived to torment each other. Gideon didn't know why she'd thought that would change just because they were all, like, gross and in love and shit now.

Harrow took her dear sweet time giving Gideon any sort of relief. Her thumb would find Gideon's clit, whisper over it, and then retreat as soon as Gideon made any sound or movement. She'd slide one finger inside of her, curling it just enough to hit where she knew it felt best and then draw it back out, lazily circling it around Gideon's cunt.

And Gideon had to keep still, had to stay quiet, had to let Harrow give her what she needed only to take it away again, over and over and over, until she finally looked Gideon dead in the eye, her own eyes gone full-blown supernova, somehow made even darker with her own desire, and asked "Are you ready?"

Gideon couldn't answer, just pressed her hips as hard against Harrow's hand as she could, her back already starting to arch off the couch.

Harrow's fingers immediately pressed to her clit and Gideon actually fucking wailed at the touch. She dipped two fingers into Gideon's cunt and Gideon ground her hips down. This time, Harrow matched her, pressing her fingers further in, curling them just perfectly. Gideon reached down to rub at her own clit, wanting Harrow to focus on the fingers inside of her. She was doing her damndest to meet Harrow's rhythm, but she was as merciless in fucking her as she had been in teasing her.

Harrow looked so gorgeous staring at Gideon through those heavy eyelashes, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. Gideon wanted more and so she reached for Harrow's other hand, and brought it to rest just over her hip, keeping her own hand over it in hopes that the familiar touch would be enough to keep her body from losing its shit. Harrow was watching her, eyes searching her face for any sign of something going wrong.

But it was good, she was good. Harrow's fingers were inside of her, and her fingers were pressing into her back, nails just barely digging into her skin, and it was all just so fucking good.

She couldn't stop rocking her hips and her breathing was coming in ragged gasps. Harrow gave a quick twist of her fingers just as Gideon upped the pressure on her clit, and she was gone, her toes curling under and trembling as one long, slow wave ripped its way down from her chest to her hips.

 

 

Evening.

 

For dinner that evening Gideon made chicken thighs roasted with shallots and tarragon and white wine. The warm, clear scent of aromatics filled the kitchen as she browned the shallots with garlic and then was made strong, sharp by the fresh tarragon she threw in with them. To this she added white wine and broth, then arranged the pieces of chicken neatly in the pan. As the chicken baked, the kitchen smelling better with every passing second, she quartered potatoes to throw into a huge pot of salted water and set to work preparing the green beans she'd just brought in from the garden, snapping off the ends before snapping them in half.

She could have done this quicker, slicing off the ends and halving several at once with a knife, but she appreciated the time spent slowing down, focusing on the task at hand, her body stilled except for the quick work of her hands. She'd never been a still person, had always wanted to move and do, constantly fidgeting when she was made to sit still and quiet in the pews during worship services.

She had realized there was something lovely to be found in stillness, though, a restful quiet she had never allowed herself to enjoy before. She tried to always find a task like this when she was making dinner in the evenings. It gave her time to reflect on her days, time to relax her body of whatever tensions had built up, to focus on each part of her body in turn to see what felt good and what felt bad that day. For most of her life her days had been monotonous, boring and lonely, and her body had mostly felt tired and sore at the end of each day. If she'd tried to think about any of it she would have only become overwhelmed with loneliness, so she never gave herself the chance to.

But now her life was so much better. She had personal projects around the house, community projects she'd gotten involved in, Harrow to talk to and hold and love. There was a new sense of purpose for her, a life she'd never dreamed possible, and giving herself time to reflect on it, to think about what she'd enjoyed and what might enjoy tomorrow, helped her make sense of this new world she'd found herself in, so vastly different from the world she'd always known.

When she finished snapping the green beans, the potatoes were ready to drain. She whipped them by hand with a whisk, adding so much butter and milk and sour cream that they were probably half dairy by the time she was done. She dipped a finger in to taste, and then had to stop herself from just eating the whole bowl right then and there. They were rich and smooth, the potato peels adding an earthy depth to the taste and texture, the milk fat sitting heavy on her tongue even after she'd swallowed. Perfection.

When the thighs were done, the skin on them crisped and brown, she placed them on a platter and then drained the sauce left behind, adding heavy cream to it in a small pot to make gravy. The green beans she sautéed, only lightly seasoned to balance out the heaviness of the other two dishes, until they'd just turned bright green. She bit into one and it was crisp and bright and delicious.

She transferred everything to serving dishes and set them all on the table before setting places for herself and Harrow.

"So what do you want?" Gideon asked about half-way through the meal. Harrow was eating mostly potatoes, but she had mixed in a bit of the gravy, which she wouldn't have done before, and had a few bites of meat and veggies.

"Today is about you."

"Yeah, and it's been good. Like, top five best days of my life, easy. But really, now I wanna know what you want. For all my own selfish reasons."

Harrow leaned back, her mouth screwing up just a bit as she thought of what to say.

Gideon waited patiently.

"I want," she said slowly, "I want to put my hands and my mouth on every single inch of your body. I want to light up every nerve under your skin and watch you catch fire under my touch. I want to memorize how your muscles ripple when you move and how your breathing changes as you get closer and closer to the edge. I want to catch the gasp that leaves your mouth when you come and swallow it down to keep forever. I want to learn the language of your cries and moans and how to answer back."

"That's… a lot," Gideon answered, though she was absolutely very, VERY turned on now. She was pretty sure her mouth was hanging open a little.

Harrow shrugged and said, nonchalantly, "You asked," like she hadn't just almost made Gideon cream herself right there at the dining room table.

"I did, and I was expecting, like, a new position or maybe a roleplay thing. Light bondage maybe? Not an erotic sonnet."

"It was absolutely not a sonnet, Griddle."

"You should have gone with Ortus if you'd wanted someone who knew what a sonnet was."

"Mood-killer."

"Yeah, I see that now." Gideon was somehow astoundingly good at mood-killers. Something about, like, no impulse control and never being able to shut her mouth, apparently? "But what you said before all sounds phenomenal. The kissing me everywhere thing? I think I could be up for that now. If we dedicate, like, two hours to going super slow and letting me time out if I need to."

"Oh, damn it," Harrow said, her face a caricature of disappointment, "looks like we're incredibly busy tonight, actually."

If Gideon had been nine years old, she probably would have flung a spoonful of potatoes at her. But she wasn't, so she didn't.

Thirty minutes later, Gideon was spread out on the bed and Harrow was hovering over her, pressing warm, open-mouthed kisses along Gideon's jawline and neck. Gideon's skin was already tingling where Harrow had touched her. She ran her hands up and down Harrow's back and sides, smiling every time she felt herself make Harrow shiver.

Harrow reached her collarbone, pressing her tongue into the hollow and then licking slowly up, causing Gideon to tilt her head back, a tiny sigh leaving her mouth.

"Ready?" Harrow asked.

"Yeah," she breathed out.

Harrow pressed a kiss to the top of her sternum, then just above her tits, and then right between them. Gideon felt her chest tighten as Harrow's lips met scar tissue, and she brought her hand up to stop Harrow, who immediately pulled herself back.

"What if we do something similar to what we did this morning, but this time I'll touch myself where I want you to kiss me, like, to give my skin a little heads up that it's about to be touched?"

Harrow nodded and said, "Show me where to go."

Gideon ran her hand up and down her sternum a few times, and the tightness in her chest began to fade. She nodded at Harrow, who leaned back down, trailing her mouth over the path Gideon had created for her. There was no tightness this time, just the safe comfort of Harrow over her. She felt herself flushing, her cheeks getting warmer, and she grinned. Harrow glanced up just in time to catch the smile and, when their eyes met, gave her a quick wink.

She kept making paths for Harrow, down one side and then over her hip bone, over her belly and around a breast. Her fingers ran over the ridges of scar tissue and Harrow's mouth followed, lighting up skin that was far too sensitive and whispering over skin that had been left with almost no sensitivity at all.

Gideon was taking long, slow, steady breaths, focusing on staying calm as her nerves adjusted. It wasn't bad, but she wouldn't say it was good either. It was mostly just a lot, a whole lot of new sensations and new emotions as relief and joy about this working mingled with anger and sorrow about all the reasons this slow carefulness was necessary and the nagging worry that it would suddenly stop being okay and they'd be back at square one. She realized she should give herself a small break before doing what she wanted to try next.

"Pause?" she asked.

Harrow paused, removing her mouth from where she had been kissing her way up Gideon's ribs, pulling herself up to sit back on her heels. When she was ready, Gideon reached out to take Harrow's hand in hers, then lifted her other hand to cup her own breast, the left one, right over her heart where the spike had driven in and left a hard, twisted knot of scarring. She kneaded at the scar tissue, feeling it warm and soften under her hand as her blood rose under her skin. Her heart sped up, beating a quick but steady pattern, and she focused her breathing again on slowing it down.

When her heart slowed and her skin no longer prickled at her own touch, she brought Harrow's hand to meet her own. Harrow danced her fingers carefully over the knotted tissue, and a cluster of nerves lit under her touch. Gideon gasped and was thrilled to realize that it felt good this time, that Harrow's touch on her skin — skin that had previously been so adverse to contact — registered as a wonderful thing, Harrow kissing her cheek, like running her thumbs over her temples, threading her fingers through her hair. She smiled, huge and relieved, and Harrow smiled with her.

Harrow kept running her fingers over Gideon's breast, tracing around the swell of it, thumb brushing her nipple, and it was already perfect and then it was better when Harrow said, "I want to use my mouth."

"Go for it."

Harrow brought her lips down to kiss her nipple, just lightly, then ran her tongue over it. Gideon ran her hand through Harrow's hair, an encouraging nudge asking for more, and Harrow obliged, taking the nipple into her mouth and lightly running the edge of her teeth over it. Gideon reached down for her hand and brought it to her other breast and then Harrow was kneading into her right tit while sucking on her left and Gideon's breath was turning into sharp, stuttering gasps as Harrow was finally touching her tits for the very first time.

Harrow's hands had been on her face and in her hair, her mouth had touched her own countless times. Harrow had run her hands down Gideon's arms, tracing the line of her biceps with her fingers, and her mouth had pressed kisses up the backs of her calves and inside of her thighs. Her hands and mouth had worked between her legs, pressing inside of her and licking at her until she came completely undone. But she'd never had Harrow's hands and mouth on her tits before and she let herself relish in finally getting to feel this, warmth spreading through her chest, not just from arousal, but from the press of hot breath and smooth touch against her skin.

Harrow held Gideon's nipple between her teeth as she pulled back, letting it go just when it wouldn't follow her further. Keeping her hand where it was, teasing her other nipple between her thumb and forefinger, she sat up and said, "Roll over," and Gideon did.

"I paid careful attention to how you touched yourself, this morning and just now, and I want to try that on your back. Okay?"

"Okay."

Harrow placed her hands on Gideon's shoulders, thumbs set on either side of her spine at the base of her neck. She pressed them in, making small circles, and Gideon began to melt under her touch. Harrow worked her way down the less scarred side of her back, her fingers kneading strong circles when she found knots in the muscle. Gideon closed her eyes and let herself relax, enjoying the feel of the warmth of Harrow's touch, the pressure of her hands.

"I'm going to start on the other side, now," Harrow said, and Gideon hummed her approval.

Harrow's hands came down softly on her left shoulder and immediately Gideon felt her back tensing up again, unease rising in her gut. Harrow felt the sudden change, and responded by moving her right hand back to her unscarred shoulder, massaging it loose again while keeping her left hand pressed steady on her scarred left shoulder. It worked. Tension was releasing again, her body calming back down.

Harrow took her time like this for what felt like an hour, gently touching new skin and if it reacted badly, mirroring the touch on the other side where the skin had already been familiarized. Gideon had to ask her to pause a few more times, but Harrow stayed patient and gentle, diligently focused on the task at hand.

It was a weird rush, the oscillation between adrenaline spikes from perceived threat as a new area was touched and then waves of oxytocin melting her under Harrow's fingers once her skin realized there was no danger. It was worth it, though, so, so worth it, when after Harrow had covered her back in light touches and firm massages, she leaned down and pressed a long series of slow kisses down her spine, touching her mouth, warm and soft, to each vertebrae she encountered as she moved down.

She sat up when she reached the base of Gideon's spine, and then her hands were on Gideon's ass, kneading into the muscle. Gideon hadn't realized until this moment how much tension she apparently carried in her glutes, but goddamn, it was amazing to feel it all melt out. Harrow's hands traveled further down, massaging her thighs and calves and finally her feet, long strokes of her thumbs pressing into the arches.

"How are we doing?" she asked.

All Gideon could do was let out a long, contented hum.

"I'll take that as a good thing," Harrow said. "Roll back over when you're ready."

Gideon took a few minutes to enjoy how she currently felt, the lazy feeling of all her muscles unwound. Then she flopped herself over so she was on her back again and said, "Whatever you have planned, keep going slow. I feel fantastic and really don't want to mess that up."

"Of course," Harrow said, and then her mouth was on Gideon again, making her way back upwards, kisses covering her calves, her thighs, her hips. She felt heat begin to pool under Harrow's hands, felt herself getting wetter with each kiss. "Open your legs," she said when she'd finished trailing kissing over the lines of Gideon's hip bones. She opened her legs.

Harrow pressed kisses to the triangle where her thighs met, into the mess of curls and then further down, lightly touching her lips to her clit and the opening of her cunt. She made a long, firm lick then, covering the whole of her, and Gideon's breath stuttered and her hands gripped the sheets just a bit.

Harrow sat back up and Gideon whined. Harrow said, "Don't worry, love, I'm not stopping," and then her hand was where her mouth had just been. She wasn't teasing this time. She got right work, two fingers slipping inside of her and her thumb pressing firmly against her clit, making small circles. Her fingers began to move, curling and uncurling to press against the soft, spongy spot that melted her completely.

She wasn't teasing, but she sure was taking her dear, sweet time. She fucked Gideon slowly, her fingers finding an easy rhythm in time with the circles her thumb was making. She bent a knee up to adjust the angle, and Harrow leaned her head on it. Their eyes met and Harrow's face was so openly delighted with what she saw laid out before her that Gideon had to close her own eyes to keep herself from falling apart.

Gideon felt another finger slip in and let herself get lost in the delicious feeling of Harrow filling her up. After giving her some time to adjust to the stretch, Harrow's pace picked up, her movements becoming more deliberate, and Gideon started moving her hips in time with her, aching for more and deeper and when Harrow's knuckles pressed into her just right she heard the words more and deeper leave her mouth with unabashed need.

"Uh," Harrow said, her head coming up off of Gideon's thigh, "I can't."

"Please, Harrow, it might be a tight fit but, please, can you try? God, I want as much of you inside me as possible right now."

"It's not that I don't think it wouldn't work, it's that I don't have any fingers left."

Gideon's head snapped up and she looked into Harrow's face and said, "What."

"My whole hand is inside of you right now."

"I thought there were only three fingers?"

"I started with three fingers. I slipped two more in a few minutes ago."

"But your thumb is on my clit."

"The thumb of my other hand, Nav."

Harrow hadn't moved what was apparently her entire hand from Gideon's cunt during this exchange. It sat there, still and heavy, and Gideon took a few minutes to think about the fact that Harrow's whole, albeit small, hand was buried inside of her. When she'd finally comprehended the reality of the situation, the only thing she could say was, "Well then. Fisting."

And Harrow said, "Surprise?"

And then Gideon was laughing and Harrow's hand was moving again and her laughs turned into long moans as she picked her rhythm back up, twisting her wrist with her fingers bent just enough that her knuckles were pressing into Gideon where she knew she wanted them most.

God it was so much. It was so much and so perfect and so, so hard to keep herself still. She wanted nothing more than to rock her hips into Harrow's rhythm, but figured that as this was uncharted territory for them, she should probably just leave Harrow in charge. But, fuck, she wanted to meet every one of Harrow's movements with her own, wanted to push into the feeling of fullness that was taking up all her brain space. Everything fell away in those moments and the world was just her and Harrow and it was so much and so good.

And then she couldn't keep herself still anymore. Her hips were pushing forward and her back was arching off the bed. Harrow sped up just ever-so-slightly and removed the thumb on her clit, bringing her mouth down to suck at it instead, and that was it. The universe seemed to collapse in on this moment in time, this exact point in space, and everything good that had ever existed was making its home inside of her. She was gone, her orgasm ripping through her body and she couldn't even scream, couldn't make any sound at all, could only let the hard, broken gasps wrench themselves out of her throat.

"Oh, fuck," she finally managed to say, voice heavy and hoarse.

Harrow carefully removed her hand, but kept her mouth where it was, tongue moving slow and thorough like she was trying to lick her clean. A series of aftershocks ran through Gideon until it was too much and she reached down with her hand to still Harrow's head.

Harrow rested her head on Gideon's hip and a small laugh escaped her mouth.

"Yeah?" Gideon asked.

"Sex is just so incredibly ridiculous," Harrow said, and laughed again.

Gideon laughed, too, as she ran her fingers through Harrow's hair, still feeling heady, slowly coming down from the high she'd been riding.

Harrow turned her face to nuzzle against Gideon's hip, then sat up and said, "I'm going to wash up and get some mouthwash, but I'll be right back."

Gideon hummed contentedly, happy to just lay back and hold onto this feeling until Harrow got back. When she crawled back in bed and stretched herself out beside her, Gideon rolled onto her side and slid a hand up her dress, lazily running it over her hips and stomach before reaching her breasts. There was a slight hitch in Harrow's breath as she started to sweep her thumb over one of her nipples.

"There's hardly anything there," Harrow said, "I don't know why you're so fascinated with them."

Gideon pressed her face against Harrow's side and said, "No, they're perfect," before rolling over and propping herself up on her elbows over her.

"God, Harrow," she said, "you're just fucking perfect. Perfect forehead, perfect eyes, perfect cheeks, perfect nose," she was kissing each part of her face after naming it. When she got to Harrow's perfect mouth, she let herself sink down and kiss Harrow with everything she had, long and slow and deep.

Harrow sighed into her mouth and she swallowed the sound down before moving to her perfect jaw, her perfect neck. She ran her teeth against Harrow's perfect collarbone and pressed her tongue into the perfect hollow of her perfect throat. Each of her perfect tits she named before mouthing at them through the fabric of her dress, biting gently at her perfect nipples as they rose. She moved up to kiss Harrow's mouth again and slid an arm between them, hand finding its way between Harrow's legs. She kissed her slowly and moved her fingers slowly, not with the intent to tease, but wanting to savor every moment of this, their bodies pressed together as Harrow sighed and shook underneath her.

Harrow came whimpering into her mouth and she swallowed down every sound and every breath, wishing this moment could last forever.

 

 

***

 

One of their cottage's best features was the huge soaking tub in the bathroom. Enjoying long baths together had become a regular occurrence, a way to be close when other options failed them.

It seemed like the perfect ending to the perfect day, so they filled the tub with the hottest water they could handle until it reached the brim. Gideon threw in a bowl full of salts infused with lavender from Harrow's garden. Gideon slid in first, laughing at the mess made on the floor as water sloshed out. Harrow followed, seating herself between Gideon's legs and leaning back against her chest. Gideon wrapped her arms around Harrow and held her, burying her face in Harrow's hair and breathing her in.

"Will you wash my hair for me?" Harrow asked.

Harrow's hair was longer now than Gideon had ever seen it before, falling about half-way between her chin and shoulders. As she ran her fingers through it, combing out small tangles and gently massaging her scalp, she asked, "How long are you going to let it get?"

Harrow shrugged. "Until I don't like it anymore, I suppose."

Which seemed to be the course of action she had decided to take in all her post-Lyctoral decisions. In tearing away the vestiges of the empire, figuring out where the Reverend Daughter ended and Harrowhark began, she had carefully peeled away the layered vestments of her house one by one until she found what she was comfortable with, her paints getting sparser and her hemlines shorter. It had been a slow process over the course of weeks and the day she had left behind the final pieces, sliding the bone studs out of her ears as she got ready for bed, Gideon had felt like she was watching a widow finally remove her wedding ring.

Despite having spent her whole life surrounded by religion, Gideon wouldn't say she'd ever given it much thought. She'd believed in God, because he was, like, an actual person that existed, so duh, but she'd never really cared about him, never found comfort in prayers or services, never believed he had any sway over her life. Coming face-to-face with him had only solidified her understanding of God as nothing more than complete fucking bullshit. And then they'd killed him, so he didn't exist anymore, so she guessed now she was an atheist. Easy.

Harrow, though, had grown up being the Reverend Daughter far more often than she was ever Harrowhark. Every aspect of her existence had been wound up in God and the Tomb and she had never deigned to consider herself apart from them. Her days were structured around prayers and sermons and confessions, trying and failing and trying and failing to empty herself of the sin that had borne her and replace it with something holy. It hadn't worked. When she couldn't find absolution for merely existing, she had poured every ounce of herself into her studies. If she could not be holy, she could at least be perfect.

When she'd lost God, she'd lost her necromancy, and was left with the stark reality that she could never be holy or perfect. There was nothing she could do to atone for the curse of her original sin.

The day Harrow took out her earrings she had spent the morning working in the garden, planting seedlings she had picked up from a nursery the day before. Gideon had happened to look out the window just as she absent-mindedly flicked her wrist in a motion Gideon recognized as trying to form a construct to perform some menial task for her. It was a gesture Gideon had seen her make several times over the past few months and each time Harrow had grown more frustrated with herself for forgetting, for not being able to instantly overwrite the rote muscle memory she had spent a lifetime perfecting.

When she realized what she had done, Harrow had screamed, agony ripping through her body. She'd balled up her hands and pounded them against the brick path she was kneeling on, bloodying her knuckles, and then started ripping up her seedlings, still screaming out in long, shrill wails. Gideon had run out and pulled her up, leading her inside and forcing her to lie down. She had curled herself around her, holding her as close as she could, as she'd wept huge, body-heaving sobs against her chest for half an hour.

After one final small hiccuping sob, Harrow had simply whispered, "Fuck him."

Gideon didn't have to ask who she meant and added her own, "Fuck him," with long-festered malice behind it.

"The whole of me is an atrocity because he set up his empire and fucked off and never cared to help his people. I was created for him and he never would have cared if I hadn't been there for him at just the right time. Those children could have been saved, the Ninth could have never produced another necromancer and he probably never would have known. We all loved him so much, so fucking much, and it was all just to stroke his ego. I devoted my whole life to him and he wasn't worth it. The prayers, the magic, the deaths. I thought I was doing the right thing. And all of it, every single piece of it, my whole goddamn entire life, was a lie. He let such awful things happen just to stroke his own ego. I have always been an atrocity. How could I have been so blind?"

"It's all you knew. What else were you supposed to do? And you're not a fucking atrocity, Harrow. You did the best you could with what you were given."

She hadn't answered that, just laid curled up in Gideon's arms for the rest of the morning. She replanted the surviving seedlings that afternoon. That night, after she'd brushed her teeth and washed her face, she had stared at herself in the mirror as she removed her bone studs in her ears slowly, one by one. She held them in her hands for a few minutes, staring at them with her eyebrows furrowed in concentration like she was trying to memorize every minute detail of them, looking like she might start crying again at any second.

And then the moment had ended. Harrow closed her eyes and turned around, threw them in the toilet, and flushed.

Gideon was so incredibly proud of how far Harrow had come in their time on this new planet.

When Gideon was done working the shampoo through her hair, Harrow slid down into the tub, going fully under for a few seconds before letting her face break the surface. Gideon leaned forward to cup the back of her head in her hands, supporting her neck as she kept her head submerged, her black hair radiating around her like the rays of a sun eclipsed.

"I want to like the look of myself," Harrow said quietly, "I want to look in the mirror and see myself as you see me."

"What do you see right now?" Gideon asked.

"A girl who shouldn't be there. I catch a glimpse of myself and am surprised and then disgusted that I see anything, because by all rights I shouldn't. I shouldn't be there. There shouldn't be anything to see because I should never have existed."

Gideon didn't know how to answer that. She didn't have any words of wisdom or advice or any fucking clue at all how you told someone that their parents murdering two hundred children to create them had been good, actually, just imagine if they hadn't!

She ran her thumbs over Harrow's temples and cheeks, her heart breaking at how much she loved this girl who could not love herself.

"You do, though, and changing that wouldn't undo the reason, but you're here and I love you and I will love you even when you can't find a reason to love yourself."

Harrow sat up and turned herself around to face Gideon, bracketing Gideon's legs with her own and looping her arms around her shoulders. She stared at her for a few long moments, as though searching her face for any hint of dishonesty, asked, "How is that possible?" and then kissed Gideon softly on the mouth before she could answer. Harrow kissed her again and again until soft small kisses turned into long, slow ones, like she was trying to carefully pour herself into Gideon.

In the moments like this, when they were being slow and gentle with each other, Gideon found herself remembering those god-damned words, one flesh, one end, and wishing she could meld herself to Harrow, not to be locked away and forgotten or devoured and used as a power source, but to be with her always, filling her with so much love and warmth and joy that there was no room left for the sorrow and self-loathing she knew were there, might always be there even if they waned over time.

She tried, though, holding Harrow close and kissing her warm and lovely until the water got cold and they were both covered in goosebumps.

After they dried off, they crawled into bed together, neither one of them bothering to get dressed. They lay on their sides facing each other, pressed as closely as possible, Gideon with her arm over Harrow's waist and Harrow hooking a leg over Gideon's hip.

"Was it a good day?" Harrow asked.

Gideon grinned and said, "Perfect. I mean, there's probably still going to be plenty of hang-ups still, but thanks for working out some solutions with me."

Harrow smiled and kissed the tip of her nose. "You're miraculously patient with me, Gideon Nav. Of course I'm going to return in kind."

Gideon still had moments where she couldn't believe they had accomplished this, building a life together and working through all the baggage and bullshit that had built up between them. Against all odds, against everything that had been thrown at them, they were managing to find some semblance of normalcy together, and she didn't think she could ask for anything more.