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billowing out the windows

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She sits up in bed, leans her head back across the wall, and listens. Eleanor can hear the house sighing around her. None of the windows are open. They are kept shut tight and snug, the air inside the house left to go still and warm. Every movement anyone makes within it catches against it and sends ripples across the house like flies on spider web string.

She still hears the wind, from outside. Tonight is more blustery than usual, and so the wind scratches against the thick glass of the bedroom window. Through the crack in the window she can see the slow gleam of the full moon, its light turned dull as it steals into Hill House.

Theo lies in the other bed, pushed against hers. Already the borders between have been crossed, a quilt thrown between them that Theo clutches by the corner. Outside their blue room and across the hall, Luke and Dr. Montague sleep.

Dr. Montague no longer keeps his door open through the night. He has not read a single page of Pamela in the past couple nights. He sleeps and wakes to write something in his journal, and then he sleeps again, fitfully.

“I’m awake, you know,” Theo says, softly, and Eleanor looks down at her.

I know, she doesn’t say. “You can’t sleep?” she asks.

“I can feel it listening.” Theo shudders, pulling the quilt closer to her. “It’s an awful feeling. Even if I whisper, I feel as if it has drawn its ear right up to my lips.” She pauses, and Eleanor listens to her inhale deeply, as if she is bracing herself.

“Every night,” Theo continues, “I tell myself I’ll leave in the morning, barely say good-bye, and then the day comes, and Mrs. Dudley has laid out the breakfast, and I just want to walk across the brook and nap in the grass, and watch Luke and the doctor play chess.”

“We’ll be all right,” Eleanor says. The house is calm tonight, just listening. The wind pours across it, works itself whistling through the stonework and tile. The house settles and shifts, but not restlessly. “The door is locked, and if we need them, Luke and the doctor will come.”

Theo nods, willing to be comforted. “I know they will. It’s just very cold, you see. Hill House is so large and empty compared to the few of us.”

If only, Eleanor thinks, Theo could hear the industrious spiders in the attic, the mildew creeping glacially, but deliberately beneath the floorboards, the ants gorging themselves on the food left from dinner. The only place truly empty in Hill House is the nursery. Even Mrs. Montague has been driven out by its unnatural stillness, has found another room to sleep in tonight.

One day when the Dudleys are dead, and Hill House is left alone to gather disrepair and be ravaged with rot, the nursery will remain. There it will stand, the grinning faces watching anything that dares pass. Eleanor wonders if she will be there too, in that future, sitting like a mushroom beneath the dark ruins.

“Here,” Eleanor says, settling down next to Theo. She moves the quilt so that she can wrap it tightly around the both of them, giving them a canopy to look at each other across. “It’s warmer together like this, isn’t it?”

In the darkness, Eleanor sees Theo relax, able to tell herself that the house cannot see her beneath the covers. “Yes, much,” she says, gratefully. She reaches out to touch the side of Eleanor’s face, her fingers still cool. Eleanor lets her, does not pull away this time, even when they curl into her hair.

Hill House sighs with her, and it makes her bones feel nestled and warm, small delights taking root in their marrow.

“You’re not afraid at all, are you, Nell?” Theo asks, reproachfully. “You could at least keep me company.”

“Shouldn’t my courage be a comfort?” Eleanor asks her. It’s easy to tease Theodora now, Eleanor realizes. Now that she belongs here, and Theo does not. Yet.

“Not at all,” Theo answers. “It feels like I’m going crazy all by myself.”

“Perhaps it just hasn’t caught up with me yet,” Eleanor says, even though she knows she’s been caught, captured. The house has her. It will always have her.

“It’s lonely, that’s all,” Theo says. Her fingers curled around Eleanor’s jaw are warm now, and they tighten in their grip ever so lightly when Theo scoots forward and kisses Eleanor.

For a moment, they just breathe. Eleanor allows it like the touch before, Theo pressing soft and insistent against her. Theodora has been wanting to kiss Eleanor for a long time, Eleanor realizes, as Theo’s tongue makes careful explorations, like she’s testing her to see if she’ll hold.

Perhaps Theo has been wanting this since their first day at Hill House, when both of them were scared and unsettled, running from a rabbit. It seems like months ago.

The wind outside picks up, and they hear it like cracking stone as the house shudders, creaking. Startled, Theo stops kissing her and shifts so that her arms are around Eleanor entirely, her face hidden against her neck. She breathes heavy and loud; Eleanor thinks she can hear Theo’s heart beating now.

“Please, Nell. This awful house,” Theo says. “We should try harder, you know. To leave in the morning. If we don’t think about it, perhaps we’ll be all right. We’ll pretend it’s a day trip, and pack without caring, and then it’ll let us go.” Theo’s lips whisper kisses against Eleanor’s neck.

Like this, Theo buried into her, Eleanor feels weighted and trapped. She murmurs agreement to her, soothing, and moves them so that Theo is beneath her, hair spread out across the pillow, the strip of weak moonlight from the window falling delicately across her brow.

Strangely, Theodora looks surprised, like she hadn’t expected Eleanor to be so bold. Eleanor feels emerged and discovered, and to prove to herself that she is indeed a new, daring person, she bends her head down and kisses Theo.

She wants all of her, suddenly, or maybe the house does. It doesn’t matter, because Eleanor might as well be the house now. Eleanor sucks Theo’s tongue into her mouth, she bites at her lip. The house shudders beneath the wind again, feeling like an anchored ship straining against a storm. Theo twists her fingers in the sheets, giving over wonderfully to her, letting Eleanor settle between her knees.

Perhaps the house will decide to keep Theo as it has decided to keep Eleanor. Perhaps they will be able to stay like this, safe and nested side by side, like the dishes on Mrs. Dudley’s shelves, both in their right places. Home.

Theo cries out — Eleanor has lifted her shirt and pressed an openmouthed kiss to one of her peaked nipples, rolling it beneath her tongue. After a while of this, Theo makes a sound like a half-sob, pulling away, and Eleanor rests her chin lightly between her breasts to regard her as she catches her breath. Her lips are red-bitten and lovely.

“You don’t suppose it’ll find us here like this, will it?” Theo asks, still gasping. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it prefers us afraid. And right now, I’m — oh, hell, Eleanor.” She breaks off, breathless again, as Eleanor presses the heel of her hand between her legs, wanting to see, grown impatient.

Whatever Theo is afraid will find them, whatever it is she feels hunted by, Eleanor suspects is already here in the room with her, is what is stealing her breath and making the bed creak along with the walls of the house. Eleanor pulls down Theo’s underwear, slides her fingers into the slickness of her.

Theo’s eyes have gone crystalline in the dark. She nudges her thigh between Eleanor’s, and Eleanor, gasping now, ruts against it as her fingers work into Theo, making soft wet sounds between them.

She remembers how Theodora had looked that first evening curled by the fire, and decides that’s probably where she belongs in Hill House. Sat drowsing by the hearth, firelight caught blazing in her hair, warm and sated. That’s where Hill House will put them, Eleanor thinks, once they’re both caught here.

Eleanor rubs her thumb across Theo’s clit, and Theo arches up from the bed as she comes, eyes open wide, moaning. Eleanor, already on the knife’s edge, reaches a hand under her clothes and gets herself off as she kisses across Theo’s open lips. When she comes, pleasure swooping through her, she bites down on Theo’s shoulder.

The entire house goes heavy and still for a long minute before tensing in the wind once again.

“You don’t think they heard, did you?” Theodora asks afterwards, her voice still not fully pieced together. “Luke and the doctor, I mean?”

Eleanor listens, but no new doors have been opened. Everyone is still asleep, except for them. She shakes her head. Feeling pleasant and warm, she lets herself burrow up against Theo, who is still colder than her. Theo freezes, as if surprised again, but then her hand comes up to stroke down Eleanor’s hair.

“Nell, this house, it’s done something to y—” Theo starts, and then goes silent, as if she dreads finishing that sentence.

Eleanor smiles.

“Promise me we’ll try to leave here tomorrow,” Theo says, her voice gone slightly higher in pitch.

Eleanor pauses before answering. Tomorrow, and the days after that, and the entire summer laid out still in front of them, here at Hill House. Eleanor wants to be boarded in, to have the front doorway bricked up, to be left here in these twisting hallways to run recklessly from room to room.

“We’ll just have to see how we feel in the morning, won’t we?” Eleanor says, and she sleeps, at peace.