They say the longer you live, the more you see the same eyes in different faces.
The first time Harrowhark Nonagesimus saw Gideon Nav's eyes staring back at her from the mirror, she screamed. The second, she cried. The third, she sighed.
No one aboard the emperor's ship could fully explain how or why Harrow's eyes had begun reflecting Gideon's golden stare; the only consensus being that seemed to happen most often when Harrow was deep in thought about Gideon.
It wasn't an active channeling of her spirit, like Ianthe had done with Naberius during her (their?) fight with Silas. Harrow simply missed Gideon with a grief she could not put into words.
The emperor's classes on Lyctordom were all very interesting, but where she excelled on the necromantic side of things, she utterly fell apart in personal defence.
"All of the magic in the world is useless if you fall from something so slight it wouldn't have given your Cavalier pause. You don't have to be the best fighter and the changes you've undergone will make you much more resilient and formidable, but you must be able to keep them off you, at the very least!" was a comment she heard from her weapons instructors on almost daily basis.
It wasn't as though Harrow was trying to fail; her body was simply unaccustomed to the demands being made of it. After the morning classes in necromatic theory and practice, Harrow spent the rest of her days making laps around the habitat ring of the emperor's ship, lifting weights, doing yoga, and having her ass thoroughly thrashed with a wooden sword. She fell into bed every night sore, exhausted, and bruised.
The only upside to the exhaustion was that it usually left her mind too wrung out to experience grief in its fullest for Gideon.
Nav would have loved every single stupid moment of the training course. Harrow knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gideon would have taken each sore muscle, each bruise, and worn them with pride, stating to anyone who would listen that she earned those aches and came by them honestly.
It went on like this for several weeks, until one morning, Harrow woke up with a terrible stitch in her side that simply would not go away, no matter how she stretched or pulled.
Annoyed beyond reason, Harrow threw her clothes on, slapped the barest amount of paint to her face, scrubbed her teeth viciously and decided that while she would attend her morning classes, the rest of the day could promptly fuck off.
It was halfway through the morning class that Harrow finally snapped. They had been going over a lecture on how to construct skeletons with a consistent and sustainable build rate, more for Ianthe's benefit than anything, and the bitch felt compelled to whine incessantly.
Ianthe's voice normally grated on Harrow's nerves, but between the annoying pinching feeling in her ribs, compounded mental and physical exhaustion, and the soul sucking despair of being forcibly drug through a subject she had mastered before she could properly speak, Harrow couldn't take anymore.
She interrupted Ianthe's lulling whine with, "Ianthe, you do realize if you just shut the fuck up and followed the basic directions being given to you, you'd already have this done and we could all, collectively, move the fuck on."
Both Ianthe and their professor paused and turned to look at her. The professor's mouth quirked into the tiniest smile, but they said nothing.
Ianthe rolled her eyes and glared at Harrow for a moment before saying, "Oh, I'm sorry, was I interrupting your daydreaming? My bad. I'll try to be more considerate next time."
"I wasn't daydreaming," Harrow snapped, "I just think you're intentionally being a pain in the ass and I'm not in the mood for it today. I want to move on. You always talk so much shit about how you're the greatest necromancer anyone of our generation has ever seen, and yet you're stumbling over magic the Ninth teaches to babies. Get it together or shut the fuck up for a minute."
Ianthe snorted, "Not daydreaming, hmm? You're so deep in her head, you even sound like her. Your precious little Griddle."
Harrow could not fully explain what happened next; one moment she was sitting; the next, she was squatting over Ianthe, one foot firmly planted on the blonde's chest, mainly to stop her from trying to rise and completely tear her shoulder to hell from the large bone shard protruding from it.
Harrow pressed so close to Ianthe that they could have kissed had the angle been different. She didn't recognize the voice that came out of her when she said, "Never, ever, call her that again. If I can't kill you, I'll make you wish you were dead."
When Harrow stood, Ianthe did not follow. The blonde propped herself up on one elbow and simply watched as the professor ushered Harrow into the hall. Both necromancers wore a mask of pure and unblemished hatred of the other.
Not unkindly, the professor grabbed Harrow's arm and began to lead her…somewhere. Harrow wasn't sure where they were going or whether she really cared about finding out. Was there going to be some sort of punishment for harming Ianthe? Could she convince the professor, or, hell, possibly the Emperor, that she really, really, deserved it? How much whiny bitchy blonde was a person really meant to take?
The professor leashed to Harrow apparently had an agenda and the first stop they made was in the kitchen. Harrow allowed herself to be mutely led around while the professor gathered up a number of junk food items and beverages and put them all in a big grocery bag slung over one shoulder.
As they passed the training room, the professor popped their head in the door, alerted the other teacher, and calmly told him, "Your classes have been cancelled today. Lady Nonagesimus is indisposed and Lady Tridentarius is recovering an injury." Satisfied with whatever answer they received, the professor smiled warmly at Harrow and continued their trek.
The last stop was indeed to see the King Undying. When she saw him, Harrow sucked in a breath, suddenly realizing she had let her mind go completely blank during her time wandering with the professor and she had nothing in way of defense of her actions.
The professor noticed her distress and patted her hand.
Turning to the emperor, they called, "Lady Nonagesimus is in need of reprieve and will not be joining us for a while. I have gathered necessary materials for her."
Setting his book down and rising from his chair, the Emperor came to them and glanced between them. "Is the lady well?"
"No, m'lord," answered the professor, squeezing Harrow's hand to silence her. "And neither is Lady Ianthe," the professor continued camly, "Ianthe pushed too far today and has since paid for it. Because of this course of events, however, I declare both ladies in need of a separation from one another and a moment of respite."
The professor lowered their voice to a soothing murmur, "We have been working these girls awfully hard, Lord."
Glancing between the professor's congenial smile and Harrow's listless golden stare, the Emperor nodded slowly, more to himself than acquiescence. "Yes, yes, of course, you're right. Do we know when we might have the ladies back- Hm, no, actually, it doesn't matter right now. All in good time; all in good time." He smiled gently, nodded again, and returned to his book.
Too tired and dazed to even be remotely alarmed by all of this, Harrow allowed herself to be led away to one final place: her living quarters.
The professor let themselves in and took a moment to arrange their bag of goodies throughout Harrow's kitchen. They didn't appear to need or want help, so Harrow sat on the small couch in her living room and waited.
Harrow felt both angry and empty; like she should be furious about something, but also like she could never get her fingers around the edges of it. Everything felt soft and ethereal, like stumbling in a dream.
After the professor finished tidying their last item, they came to Harrow and knelt before her.
"You need rest, child. I didn't understand how bad it was getting for you; you wear your pain so well. I'll come back to check on you in the morning and we'll reevaluate then. If you decide you need more time, take it. I've tried to gather things I think you'd like, but if you need anything, you only need find one of us, ok?"
Too tired to even grit her teeth at this person's pushiness and nosiness, Harrow nodded and sighed quietly to herself. Squeezing her hand one last time, the professor stood and showed themselves out with a soft "whoosh" as the doors closed.
For a moment, Harrow simply sat there, staring at nothing. She wasn't hungry or sleepy. She just wanted... nothing. If the whole of the universe swallowed her up and spit her back out the like the pit of a cherry, she legitimately could not have given one single fuck less.
Well, that wasn't entirely true, was it?
There was one thing.
Given that she was more likely to punch all of Ianthe's teeth in and send her head in a gift wrapped box back to Corona than get her heart's one, true, desire, Harrow sighed deeply and stood. She called for all the lights to be turned low and begrudgingly made her way to her bedroom.
She was thankful for her sham of a makeup job that morning; a few harsh swipes against her face and most of it was gone. She couldn't really be fucked about the small pieces in the corner of her nose or swished against the curl of her ear.
Throwing herself down on the bed, Harrow belly crawled up her pillows, seized one, and clutched it like a beloved doll.
This all had to be because she was tired, she decided. No, not tired, exhausted. People weren't meant to live like this.
For all of the stars in heaven, she missed Gideon.
It was hard to quantify what she missed the most; the bad jokes, the muscle flexing when she thought no one was looking (or secretly hoped they were), that damned red tuft of hair peeking out of her hood despite her best efforts to hide it.
Most of all, Harrow thought she missed the way Gideon's eyes would sparkle in the light when they were alone together. They could be talking about absolutely nothing at all, but the light would touch Gideon's eyes just so and they would blaze like amber fire.
That was probably what depressed Harrow most of all. When her eyes reflected Gideon's back to her, all she saw was the color. There was none of the caring, loving, twinkling mischief that made itself known as Gideon Nav.
Sighing and disgusted with herself, Harrow rolled onto her back and stared up at the mirror she had installed above her bed solely for the purpose of searching her body, her face, her eyes for Gideon.
For a moment, she thought she heard a voice calling softly from somewhere deep in her subconscious, but she shook the thought away, determined to analyze every spec of color in her eyes while she had the time. If there was a spot of Gideon left in her, she was going to find it.
The voice called again and, again, she ignored it. No. This was a moment between her and Gideon, damn it.
"That's what I've been trying to give you, ya jackass. Now I'm finally here and you won't give me the time o' day? Typical."
Harrow sat up so abruptly that she unintentionally flung her would be doll pillow off the bed. A heart beat passed as she desperately searched for the source of that too real voice and then she couldn't see for the tears.
Sitting next to her on the bed, formed in a ghostly haze of light, was Gideon Nav.
Gideon tried to reach for Harrow, but stopped after she realized her hands were going through Harrow in her attempts to comfort her.
Harrow didn't seem to notice or care; she wrapped her arms around her legs, buried her face into her knees, and screamed wordlessly sobs.
This went on for a moment until Harrow ran out of air and fell limply back to the bed. "So," she said dully, "This is where we are now, eh? Full on grief induced hallucinations?"
Gideon tried to awkwardly pat above Harrow's skin, to give the gesture of comfort, if not the feeling. "Come on," she said, trying to be coaxing, "It's not all that bad. Sure, I'm a ghost and all, but you're not hallucinating."
Harrow sniffled, "Not hallucinating? Then what do you call this, Griddle? If it were a matter of trying to retrieve your ghost, I'll have you know that I tried for weeks after arriving on this shuttle and I exhausted every strip of source material I had. There's physically nothing left on this damned ship for me to use and I wasn't exerting any power before this happened. If I'm not hallucinating, then how do you explain this? Not that I'm not delighted to see you though."
Gideon snorted, "You're just as bad as Sextus, I swear. You necromancers think you know everything there is to know about Death. Suffice it to say, death is more like a bridge; it has two sides and I'm still working out how to walk on mine."
Gideon waved an inpatient hand in the air, "That's not why I'm here though; I'm here because I couldn't keep ignoring your call. You're so...loud. And insistent. There I was, trying to enjoy my afterlife on some sunny beach, facedown in a pile of tits, and all I can hear is you hollering after me."
Harrow sniffed again and curled up on herself indignantly, "Well, I'm sorry-" she began, crossly.
Gideon put up a hand for a moment of silence, "Don't get pissy Harrow; that's what I'm meant to be doin'. My point is though, I can't just shrug you off when you need me. When you call, I feel compelled to answer, even though I know I shouldn't. And you've been callin' me for so long now; what is it, darling? What can I give you that will...ease... whatever this is?"
Harrow stiffened, sniffled, and then grabbed another pillow to scream into. One long breath gone, she raised her face to Gideon and yelled, "ARE YOU SERIOUS, GRIDDLE?! What can you give me? How can you make this better?! You already gave me everything you had to give AND IT'S STILL NOT WHAT I WANT!"
Harrow drew in a long and shaking breath, "I.." she gasped, "want you here...with me.. alive and whole...and warm and...and…"
She stared at Gideon miserably and buried her face back into her pillow.
Against the pillow, she muffle-yelled, "I just want someone to hold me and tell me everything's going to be all right, but how can it be all right?!"
There was a long pause.
Gideon shuffled awkwardly on the bed as Harrow sobbed. Wracking her brain for every shitty ghost story she had ever read, Gideon finally looked at Harrow and said slowly, "Well, maybe it would be a shitty hug, but I could...maybe hug you... through you?"
The sheer absurdity of the comment made Harrow pause. She blinked watery eyes at Gideon, "What?"
"Well," Gideon said, awkwardly scratching the back of her neck and feeling entirely idiotic, "Like when we fought Cytherea? And I...sword fought with you? Er, through...you?"
"Oh," Harrow breathed, "Like...like, possession, almost."
Gideon nodded awkwardly, "Yeah...I guess. I mean, I don't want to take you over, just...exist inside you…," here she stammered wildly, "Um, er, I mean, just...with you...next to you."
Harrow paused again, sniffling and considering. "How..how would we even do that?"
Gideon flashed a radiant smile at her, "I have no idea!" When Harrow's face fell, Gideon quickly added, consoling and coaxing, "Come on, don't make faces. You're the best necromancer of your era. You're better than all your folks and their folks. You'll figure this out. We've still got a little time."
"A...little time...so," Harrow was so exhausted she almost felt as though she had no more tears to shed.
Gideon tried to smile at her again, "Well, yeah, I mean, this can't be permanent, but we'll figure out how to make sure this isn't the last time. You hold the biggest piece of me within you, Harrowhark Nonagesimus and not even Death himself can take that away. But that's for later," Gideon said briskly and brightly, "For now, let's just work on this part and see what we find, eh?"
In the face of such optimism, Harrow couldn't help but smile.
All in all, it took Harrow about 10 minutes of puttering around with some notes and doing a lot of loud mental math (much to Gideon's dismay) and then they were standing in the bathroom, watching Harrow's large tub fill with hot, steamy, wood-sy scented water.
Harrow turned to Gideon and said calmly, "I'm going to drown a little, Griddle. Wait until I really start to thrash and struggle and then...hmm...try putting yourself on me like...like a coat. Like you're trying to cover me with something to wear, but not smother me."
Gideon gaped at her, "Drown? What? Why?"
Harrow rolled her eyes and delicately blew her nose on a thing of rolled up paper. "Oh, relax Griddle. It's only a little. If it doesn't work, I'll surface before it gets dangerous. This is just the easiest way to get my guards down so you can...slip in."
With a coy wink at Gideon's ever widening gape, Harrow tested the water, found it to her liking, and slide in up to her shoulders. She sighed and luxuriated in the warmth for a moment, before finally nodding her head, taking in a deep breath, and submerging beneath the mountain of soap bubbles.
Gideon felt more than saw this exchange as a ringing/tingle in her eyes. She knew from that feeling when Harrow ran out of the air she had gathered before the dive. She knew when Harrow's brain caught onto the fact she desperately needed oxygen. Even though every part of her screamed to save Harrow for this ridiculously dumb idea, she waited, legs tensed, until the moment she felt one of Harrow's legs thrash uncontrollably in her body's desperate attempt at self preservation.
Throwing her full body over Harrow, grasping with hands she logically knew would go through Harrow and not around, Gideon tried to pick Harrow up out of the water and let her gasp cool, clean air.
What happened instead was that Harrow's own hands sank into her arms as she and Gideon forcibly dragged her upwards. The moment felt awkward to both, both intimately aware of the sense of self and yet other.
Those were definitely Harrow's hands, but that was not Harrow's touch.
Looking around, Harrow couldn't see Gideon's ghost form anymore, but she heard and felt Gideon's triumph singing throughout her body. Gideon's wonder and amazement came to her as a low, pleased laugh next to her ear.
With quiet pleasure, Harrow noted that as long as she didn't press the idea too hard, her body could believe she was here, naked, warm, and pressed entirely against Gideon, where the taller woman held her fast.
They stayed like that for a long moment, simply enjoying the feel of this pseudo touch and then Gideon asked, "Do you trust me?"
Eyes closed, Harrow tilted her head where to face where she expected Gideon's to be and gestured to the bubbles hiding her nakedness. "Obviously, Griddle. Why?"
Gideon smiled into her hair, "I just want to try something."
Nodding her acquiescence, Harrow gave Gideon control of her limbs and was both confused and pleasantly surprised when she felt Gideon's hands in her hair, softly applying soap and pulling through the strands.
They only had one moment of consternation when Gideon tried to clean Harrow's roots, to which Harrow said, "Hrm. Here, let me show you."
The exchange of limbs from one party to the other almost felt like simply exchanging a tool; putting the hand over another's to guide them to proper movement, but also more. Gideon responded to Harrow's correction as though it had been her own scalp and mused in quiet wonder at the utter delight Harrow took in being touched exactly how she wanted.
After Harrow was sufficiently clean (and slightly red faced from all the paint being scratch scrubbed away from her face), she stood and insisted that Gideon let her dry herself off. Bathing was one thing, but another person could never truly understand how rough you could be with yourself to be dry.
Leaving the bathroom, Gideon did feel like a warm coat that Harrow simply could not let go of. Mentally imagining grabbing Gideon's hand, Harrow led them to the bed and snuggled with a pillow on one side and Gideon on the other. She sighed and stretched all the way to her toes, reveling in the feel of Gideon's body against hers.
They barely needed words now and as such, Gideon heard the unasked plea of, "God, touch me."
At first Gideon's touches were careful, polite; nothing that would seen as untoward in public, but as Harrow, drunk on magic and sensation, rolled into those touches and tried to get them to go places more interesting, Gideon grew braver.
It started with Harrow's perky little breasts, playing with and massaging the tissue, but oh so careful to avoid the nipples. Harrow arched her back prettily and halfway whined/groaned for Gideon to stop being such a godawful tease.
The best Gideon could do with the limitations of Harrow's physical body was given the tiniest approximation of her mouth, but Harrow purred against that touch anyway. Harrow was convinced she could have spent the rest of eternity simply having Gideon run her hands up and down her body, through her hair, and making her crave for kisses in a whole way that made her body clench around nothing.
And then, to Harrow's infinite pleasure and surprise, it got better. One of her/Gideon's hands had been gently rubbing along the line of Harrow's waist, where the top of her panties usually sat, and Gideon whispered hoarsely, "Can I?"
In response, Harrow brought her knees together and let them fall apart like a perfect triangle.
With a shuddering breath, Gideon dipped their hand lower and touched.
Harrow had touched herself before and found the experience lackluster.
Eyes squeezed shut, Harrow felt every callus on Gideon's fingers and palm as she gently rubbed that one, sweet spot over and over and over until Harrow lost all sense of meaning and words. When she started to get too close, Gideon's fingers would dip down and press into her, rubbing a spot on both the in and outsides. Rather than lessen the feeling, every time it happened, Harrow felt herself becoming more and more detached from herself. If she could turn into bliss and simply float away, she imagined this was how it was done.
Finally, a more urgent rubbing and soothing feeling beat itself against that one oh so sweet spot and Harrow heard Gideon's voice, low, rough, and sweet in her voice saying, "Harrow...Harrow, open your eyes."
Bucking her hips to that incessant, evil, God help me, sweet sweet hand, Harrow shook her head violently. "N-o. No. If...if I open my eyes, I, God! God, I...I lose... this…."
Gideon's voice came more insistent, "You won't, I promise! Please, just open your eyes!"
Thrashing, having to have one last moment of resistance, Harrow yelled, "FINE!" and opened her eyes.
Staring back at her from the mirror above her bed were Gideon's eyes. Gold, bright, and utterly full of devilish mischief.
Gideon's breath was hot against her neck, "That's what I see when I look at you. This is what I imagine when I think of you. God, do you even know how beautiful you are? Let go, Harrow. Let it all go; I've got you."
And she did.
Harrow screamed and let everything go; her pleasure, her pain, her grief, and her utter joy.
The last thought she had before landing on her pillows with a loud and satisfying 'thud' was the taste of Gideon's kiss and smile on her lips.
When Harrow awoke the next morning, Gideon was gone and her limbs were, distressingly, all her own.
She did, however, wake to a note crumpled in her palm, letters shaky, as if she had written with her off hand. It read:
I exceeded the time I was supposed to be there and there are some people who aren't real happy about that, but I don't care. I'm not sure when we'll see each other again like that, but I promise you, I'll figure it out. I got there once; I can do it again. Just gotta figure out the logistics. I'm not as smart as you are, so this may take me more time than you'd like. Just...wait for me, ok?
The one thing I can tell you is that nobody, not even Death's crusty old ass can keep me from you if you ever truly need me. There will always be a piece of me that lives inside you, and if nothing else, cling to that. I'm always with you. Always.
I'll be back
With a sigh that was part bemusement and exasperation, Harrow forced herself to crawl out of bed and walk to the vanity in her bathroom.
She was a mess; face splotchy from all the crying she had done the day before, hair stuck up in a million different directions.
What caught her attention most though was the fact that her eyes were entirely their natural color; solid black irises.
This more than anything, is what hurt her the most.
True, she had Gideon's note as evidence it had all really happened, but she wanted to see that golden glow one more time.
Almost as if on cue, a force seemed to grip Harrow and bend her slightly toward the mirror. In horrified fascination, Harrow watched as her eyes seemed to flicker in the mirror, focusing on one and then the other. Then her left eye promptly lost focus and glanced downward.
When it refocused and Harrow could see both eyes clearly again, the left eye simmered into gold and winked at her.
"Just because you can't see me doesn't mean I'm not there."
With a grin that was all teeth, Harrow leaned back from the mirror. She had work to do.