Harrowhark drags herself into the Ninth’s chambers. The sun is beginning to dawn over Canaan House, and she curses it; her competition will be up soon, skittering around the halls and obliterating the small lead she’s managed to eke out during the night. Her footfalls are heavy with exhaustion on the polished floor. She’s too tired to try and creep around for Gideon’s sake, if anything were able to move her to care in the first place.
“The prodigal daughter returns.” Gideon jumps down from her pile of decaying mattresses and strides down the hallway towards her. Her face is unpainted and her eyes are bloodshot; she either woke up very early or stayed up all night waiting. Harrow huffs at her and makes her way towards the bedroom.
Gideon follows her, spoiling for a fight. “I didn’t know you came back to sleep. Curling up in a corner somewhere seems more your speed.”
“Shut up,” she spits, and instantly she knows that she’s shown too much of herself. Exhaustion and stress have worn her last nerve raw, leaving her with no defense against Gideon’s petty needling. Gideon raises an eyebrow and takes a breath as though she’s about to reply. Harrow’s blood spikes with adrenaline and unthinking savagery; she flings a pair of finger bones at Gideon, twisting the shape of them in the air so that two skeletal hands latch onto her cavalier’s mouth.
Gideon’s eyes go wide with shock. She backs up as Harrow stalks closer, seething. There are too many feelings swirling in Harrow’s chest, some of them rising up from deep in her ribs, opaque and half-remembered. She ignores them and focuses on the clearest, most useful one: anger. She grabs the front of Gideon’s shirt, shoving her against the wall and sneering up at her. Gideon could snap her in half, she knows, which is why it’s so intoxicating that she isn’t; she could stop this in an instant, and she isn’t.
She grabs the collar of Gideon’s shirt with her free hand, dragging it aside and pulling her down until she can sink her teeth into the thick muscle of her shoulder. Gideon grunts, echoing the jolt of satisfaction that runs through her; insults and barbs can never replace the sheer feral pleasure of hurting Gideon. Her hands move to the hem of Gideon’s shirt, pushing it upward, demanding more access. She releases Gideon’s shoulder from between her teeth and presses her forehead against her collar, panting. Gideon lifts her arms, allowing Harrow to pull her shirt off over her head.
She wants to step back and ogle Gideon, take in every inch of her body, but she pushes the urge aside; it would be a show of weakness. Instead she leans down and bites into the side of Gideon’s breast, harder than before. Gidon’s breath catches and her head thumps back against the wall. Harrow trails bites down her front until she feels the scrape of ribs under her teeth; a pained groan claws its way out of Gideon’s throat, making her ache for more. She tugs at Gideon’s pants, a wordless order, and Gideon undoes them.
“Take them off and lie down,” she growls, “face down.”
For a breathless moment neither of them moves. She wonders if this is the limit of her power, if Gideon has come to her senses, but Gideon’s hands fall to her waistband and she exhales. She steps back, giving her room to move. Gideon’s eyes meet hers and she hardens her expression, grateful for the mask of paint; she jerks her chin towards the bed and Gideon nods, pushing her trousers down. Again, Harrow resists the urge to visibly stare, to drink her in. The last thing she needs is to admire Gideon.
Despite herself, she gives Gideon a once-over as she crosses over to the bed. She’d been aware of Gideon’s muscles in a dim, back-of-the mind way, but seeing them in their full glory is something else entirely. Gideon’s shoulders are broad. Her ribcage tapers to a waist that isn’t exactly narrow, but is made small by the plates of muscle above it. Despite her strength, she isn’t all hard muscle; softness rounds out her lower back and hips. Harrow’s gaze trails down to her ass and thighs, and she idly wonders how it would feel to sink her teeth into them.
Gideon sprawls out onto the bed on her front, pulling a pillow under her head. Harrow climbs up onto her back, straddling her. She takes a second to breathe, to compose herself, and once again marvels at Gideon’s compliance; she squirms, but makes no serious attempts to escape despite the fact that she could throw Harrow off her without a second thought, even from as compromised a position as this. Still, she’s loathe to take any chances. She pulls another bone shard from her robes and pours thanergy into it, unspooling and stretching it until she’s holding a comfortable length of chain. Gideon hears the links rattle and starts to struggle; Harrow shifts her weight forwards over her shoulders and grabs one of her wrists, quickly looping the chain around it and binding the links with thanergy. She loops it around the bedpost, dragging Gideon’s arm with it, and ties it off once it looks suitably uncomfortable. Gideon snarls and yanks on it, the muscles of her arm and back standing out with the effort, but it holds fast.
Tiredness washes over her; she isn’t built for this much struggle. Thinking quickly, she grabs Gideon’s hair and tugs her head back, leaning down to hiss, “Comply and I’ll take the gag off.”
Gideon goes limp under her. Harrow binds the rest of her limbs quickly, arranging it so that Gideon is leaning forward on her knees, her arms taking some of her weight but not quite touching the bed. It must hurt. She smirks at the thought.
She almost feels lost now that she has Gideon completely under control. Of all the aspects of the lyctor trials she hadn’t been prepared for, this was the most unexpected. Of all the times she’d — privately, shamefully, in the dead of night — wondered about sleeping with Gideon, she’d never considered something like this. She’d always thought it would be Gideon charging at her defenses with her usual disregard for propriety, pushing at her until she relented, sneaking into her bed under the cover of darkness. Yet here they are; her guard is intact; the sun is rising.
She waves a hand and the bones covering Gideon’s mouth crumble; her cavalier’s panting becomes louder, but she stays silent. For a long moment they stay there, Harrow kneeling behind her, suspended in anticipation. Finally, Harrow slips a hand between Gideon’s legs and traces gently over her clit, grateful that Gideon can’t see the blush rising under her face paint. Gideon twitches, like she can’t decide whether to pull away from the touch or press closer to it.
Giving neither of them time to think, Harrow pushes two fingers into her. Gideon cries out, though she’s too wet for it to have really hurt; she strains against her bonds and Harrow admires the ripple of her back muscles as she sets up a slow rhythm, her thumb dragging over Gideon’s clit with each thrust of her fingers. Her free hand itches with restlessness, and Gideon’s magnificent ass is right there. She brings her hand down onto it experimentally; Gideon jerks at the impact, but doesn’t pull away. Harrow spanks her again, harder, and she’s rewarded with a small oof. In a flash of inspiration — or perhaps cruelty — she times each strike to match her fingers sinking into the cavalier, giving her no room to enjoy being fucked.
It works better than she could have imagined. Gideon’s breathing begins to turn ragged, her composure starting to break. She wishes she had an implement, a weapon, that might hurt her more. Her thoughts turn to Gideon’s abandoned sword belt, but she dismisses the idea; even if her control didn’t rest on keeping Gideon off-balance, she doesn’t trust her not to somehow injure herself in the time she’s gone.
Gideon’s grunts start to become more drawn out, more needy, and Harrow speeds up her thrusts. She grips her hip, pulling her closer.
“Come for me, Nav.”
“Not on your life, Nonagaaaaaaargh.” Gideon buries her face in her shoulder as Harrow’s nails rake down the raw, red skin of her ass.
Harrow scoffs. “You can’t even take that? You’re pathetic.”
Gideon yanks at the chains again. Harrow spanks her once more for good measure and then brings her hand down to Gideon’s clit, pressing onto it with more precision than her thumb had been capable of. Gideon whimpers and she knows she’s close to triumph. They’ve done this dance before, so many times in so many ways, and each time victory comes from a different strategy; this time, she wins by making Gideon break around her fingers.
“Fucking come for me, you coward,” she hisses, pressing harder against Gideon’s clit. The pressure is just what she needed; Gideon’s whimpers turn into full-throated moans and she bucks against Harrow’s fingers. Her success barely has time to register before Gideon cries out, shaking and cursing as she comes. Her jaw drops at the spasm of Gideon’s cunt around her fingers; she only strokes Gideon through it out of inertia, too overwhelmed by holy shit that’s what that feels like to think.
Gideon squirms away from her hands, panting and whimpering at her oversensitivity. Harrow wipes her fingers on her robes. The chains fall away and Gideon rolls over, skin shining with sweat; combined with the rise and fall of her chest as she catches her breath, she could have fallen right out of one of Harrow’s dreams into her bed. Gideon watches her expectantly as she climbs off the bed and she pauses. Surely it’s over. She’s won, hasn’t she?
Desires war in her stomach. She wants to flee. She wants to fling herself at Gideon, sink her teeth into her, grind down onto her and demand her touch. She wants to go home, and she wants to turn around and stalk back out into Canaan House and vanish into its mysterious depths.
Gideon’s eyes — those fucking amber eyes — bore into her as she dithers. “Stop staring,” she snaps, reaching a decision as she speaks. To her surprise Gideon complies, rolling her head to look the other way. She sheds her robes unceremoniously and tugs off her boots, but her hands halt at the hem of her shirt; even in victory she can’t bear to expose all of herself.
She slides her pants off and climbs back up onto the bed, throwing a leg over Gideon and settling down onto her ribs. Gideon glances at her out of the corner of her eye and, when Harrow fails to reprimand her, wriggles around so that she’s looking up at her properly. Slowly, she lays her hands on Harrow’s thighs, squeezing them gently; Harrow’s breath catches at the touch and she curses herself for being so weak. Her hands ball into fists as Gideon trails up towards her centre.
Gideon stops, her expression full of disgusting concern and reverence. Harrow nods once, curtly, and Gideon’s hand slips between her legs. She doesn’t deserve this gentleness, not after what she’s just done, not after everything that’s been done in her name— she almost lets out a small whimper as Gideon’s fingers brush along her, but grits her teeth against it. Gideon’s strokes are slow, clumsy, like she’s used to the movement but not the angle. Her free hand slides around to the back of Harrow's hip. She nudges slightly, pushing her forward; Harrow blinks down at her and she does it again, more insistently this time.
She takes the hint and scoots further up Gideon's body. As she moves, Gideon pulls her hand back and sucks her fingers clean. It's objectively gross, but Gideon's eyes flutter shut and Harrow realises that she's never seen her so peaceful.
The moment passes and Gideon opens her eyes again, grinning. She grabs Harrow's hips and guides her down, pressing her mouth against her. This time Harrow can’t contain the noise she makes at the contact; a thin, needy cry claws its way out of her and she wishes she could drop dead on the spot. Desperate for some semblance of control or dignity, she winds her fingers into Gideon’s hair and pulls her closer. Gideon grunts, but is undeterred; she continues making long, slow licks along Harrow’s cunt, flicking her tongue over her clit at the end of each one. Her mouth is warm and wet and the best thing Harrow’s ever felt.
Her legs buckle a little at one particularly deft stroke, and she leans forward and grabs the headboard for balance. It creaks at the movement; Gideon chuckles and Harrow tugs on her hair, hard. Gideon squeaks — honest to God squeaks — and shivers under her. She pauses for a moment, and just as Harrow is about to give her hair another yank she wraps her lips around her clit. Harrow cries out again, louder this time; maybe if Gideon had been more inclined to use her mouth like this, she would have been more tolerable.
Her last brain cell — the only one not currently overwhelmed by how good Gideon’s mouth feels on her — registers how deeply offensive it is that Gideon is the one who’s making her feel like this, but the thought is chased away by Gideon dragging her tongue over her clit as she sucks on it. Harrow rocks down against her mouth, seeking more; she would already have come if she was by herself, she’s never been this turned on in her life, and she groans with frustration. Gideon releases her clit and she almost snarls, but then Gideon’s mouth is back on her and she lets out a shaky breath. This time, Gideon licks at her entrance for a moment before bringing her tongue up to her clit; she flattens it, making it easier to grind down on, and Harrow groans at how hot and slick it is against her.
It’s all too much, the world narrowing to a single point of overwhelm as she finally tips over the edge; this must be what death feels like. She curls inward, squeezing her thighs around Gideon’s head, a hoarse scream ripping out of her chest as she comes. Gideon’s grip on her tightens, not enough to hurt but enough to keep her steady. It feels like an age before she can breathe again, before she can think; she blinks, and finds that her legs are shaking. Gideon is still licking at her, gamely ministering to her oversensitive cunt, and Harrow tugs her hair to make her stop.
Gideon nudges her backward, heaving in a huge breath when Harrow shifts off her face. Harrow glances down at her and then away again, sickened by the dazzling, open smile Gideon gives her. She slides off Gideon, still shaking, twisting as she moves so that she ends up sitting facing away from her. The room falls silent save for the sound of their breathing.
After several long minutes, when it’s clear that Gideon isn’t moving, she retrieves her pants from the floor and pads towards the bathroom, fighting the urge to look back. The smallness of the room is a comfort, now, the stone walls and floor reminiscent of Drearbruh — of when everything was at least simple in its complexity. She piles the most cumbersome of her jewellery by the sink and pulls her shirt off, avoiding the sight of herself in the mirror. The sonic cleanser hums as she switches it on and she steps into it, letting it strip away the sweat and paint.
It doesn’t make her feel cleaner.
Her clothes get a shake through the sonic before she drags them back on; it’s too cold to sleep naked in Canaan House, even if she had any inclination to. Dread freezes her hand as she reaches for the door handle. She doesn’t want to have to face what’s out there.
She doesn’t want to have to face Gideon.
Her bed is empty when she finally steps back into the bedroom, Gideon presumably having retreated to her horrible nest. She breathes a sigh of relief. There’s no way she’s equipped for whatever doe-eyed bullshit her cavalier was going through; it’s yet another addition to the long list of Reasons To Avoid Gideon Nav At All Costs.
She pulls the covers aside and flops down onto the bed, dislodging a small cloud of mould spores. New smells overlay the usual must-rot tenor of the sheets; sweat, sex, and Gideon. Her traitor body relaxes despite her and she rolls over, throws an arm across her face to shield her from the morning sun, and closes her eyes.