Night has fallen on Canaan House, and the weather is cataclysmic.
Rain is lashing heavily at the suite’s windows, pounding so strongly that, at any moment, Harrowhark expects the glass to buckle inward and shatter. Intensely bright flashes of lightning keep shattering the darkness, banishing every shadow and illuminating every corner of the room. The thunder is more than a mere sound – each rumble shakes the very foundations of the building, like a giant fist is smashing away at the concrete and brick bit by bit, trying to plunge the whole property into the sea. The sky has been raging for what feels like hours, and it shows no signs of lessening, let alone stopping.
Harrow didn’t know storms could be this powerful, could feel this malicious. Growing up in the Ninth House didn’t give her any real frame of reference – the planet certainly got rain and gray skies, and occasionally there would be some faint thunder and some weak flashes of lightning, but nothing approaching this level. Nothing even comparable to the sheer power of what is ravaging Canaan House.
And while she would never admit this to anyone (especially not to Nav, who is stretched out on the cot parallel to the end of her bed and appears to be sleeping peacefully, damn her), of all the things she’s seen since they set down on this planet, the constructs and the death and the decay, this storm has shaken her most of all.
If Gideon’s unconscious form was the only company she had, she would be rigid with fear. She would be pinned to the bed by the sheer weight of the storm, by the threat of it ripping Canaan House to shreds and undoing all of the blood and sweat and bone she has thrown into the past few days.
But there is someone else in her room. There is someone else in her bed.
A foot away from her, the Body is resting on her back on top of the covers, giving off a faint ethereal glow, clad in shapeless robes of white. Her head is turned so that her cheek is resting against the too soft linen of the pillow, and her eyes are fixed on Harrow, burning down into the very core of her as effectively as a brand. Her expression is impossible to read; her mouth is set into a straight line, and there are no wrinkles on her forehead or at the corners of her lips hinting at any kind of emotion.
She just keeps staring, and Harrow stares back, flicks her eyes over the Body’s all too familiar features, the ones that she memorized so long ago, the ones that live rent free in her head during every waking moment. She stares at the Body in the dark, and she continues to stare as the lightning illuminates every inch of her face, the smoothness of her skin and the sharp angles of her nose and jaw.
The storm continues to rage, and Harrow continues to stare.
The Body stares back, unblinking and silent.
One of her alabaster hands is on her stomach, long fingers splayed wide. The other is resting in the space between them, palm facing up. Intermittently, during the periods where lightning takes over the room, Harrow can see the faint lines crisscrossing that palm, the shallow grooves in the bone white skin. She wonders what it would feel like to trace her own fingertips over the maze of those lines, wonder if they would feel any rougher than the surrounding skin or if they would blend in perfectly.
She wonders, but mainly, she wants.
She wants to feel the Body’s hands on her. She wants to feel the Body’s fingertips pressing into her lower lip, dimpling the skin. She wants to open her mouth to the Body’s cold flesh, wants to consume the taste of her skin, wants to savor and cherish it like Holy Communion.
If she was permitted to do so, she wouldn’t notice, nor would she care, if the storm tore Canaan House from its moorings and flung them all into the sea.
But there is no point in actually making a move. There’s no point in stretching out her own hand, moving it from where it’s firmly tucked against her side, and reaching out for the Body’s. She would be able to get close, tantalizingly close, to the point where she could feel (or convince herself that she could feel) the chill emanating from the Body’s skin. But she wouldn’t be able to make contact with that chill. Before she could, the Body would disappear. She wouldn’t fade or flicker out of view – she would simply vanish, leaving nothing behind, not even a dent in the pillow or a chill in the air. She would be wholly and completely gone.
Some nights, Harrow is willing to take that chance. She’s willing to push, on the off chance that the Body will defy convention and stay exactly where she appears to be. Maybe, at the brush of Harrow’s skin against hers, she would even smile.
But tonight, she’s not going to take that risk. The Body’s presence is too comforting, too stabilizing. Staring at her, taking in every detail of her form, is the only thing keeping Harrow from being unmoored, from being swept away by the storm. If she were to push and find herself in an empty bed, there’s no guarantee that she would make it through the night in one piece, not without waking up Gideon, and they’ve already shared enough vulnerability today. The thought of having to open herself up again so soon makes Harrow want to claw her own skin off.
So instead, she remains still, blinking only when necessary, eyes remaining fixed on the Body. Even though everything in her itches, aches to cross the space between their two motionless forms, aches to find the solace that she’s sure is located in the Body’s long arms, as smooth and cold as marble, she stays exactly where she is, barely daring to breathe.
The storm outside continues to rage, and Harrow continues to stare.
Eventually, despite the ongoing fury of the thunder and the lightning and the rain, the Body’s sheer presence wins out over the storm, and Harrow falls asleep.
In her dreams, she reaches out.
In her dreams, she is permitted to touch.