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that you might be saved from the tarnish of me

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Gideon came awake in the pitch-dark, abruptly but not in shock. One minute she was asleep, the next she wasn't, though the blackness in the room was so absolute it took her a second to be sure her eyes were actually open.

Five feet away, the silence told her Harrow was awake. Her necromancer may have been an imperious, unassailable bitch, but when she was asleep her deep breaths came in on a soft whistle and out with a sigh that was almost cute. Now Harrow's breathing was inaudible, proof that she was lying awake just as Gideon was. 

She wished for a light, something to tell her that the skeletons standing sentry inside their door were still there, that no one had broken in--

The image of Jeannemary's pierced corpse flashed red before her eyes and she was gutted by a thought, what if Harrow's silence wasn't wakefulness but death--

"Harrow," she said, flat and rasping.

"What," came the terse reply, and Gideon let out a silent breath of thanks. 

"Big day tomorrow."

"You have a gift for the inanely obvious, Griddle."

Gideon bared her teeth at the darkness, then said, "Go the fuck to sleep."

"You first," Harrow countered. 

"I'll sleep when I'm dead." Rolling onto her side, she reached out to trace the intricate scrolls carved into the foot of Harrow's bed, invisible for all that they were bare inches from her face. 

"Which will happen much more quickly if you're not well rested," the Reverend Daughter fired back. "If you're too tired to avoid the Eighth you're going to end up a stain on the end of Colum Asht's rapier."

Gideon made a hideous face. "Fuck that guy," she said, despite the fact that he'd done a very decent thing in refusing to fight her. 

"Fuck him or don't fuck him, but for my sake, please don't fight him. I'd rather not lose my cavalier to such a morose skin-sack."

"Your estimation of my talents is extremely encouraging," said Gideon, dry as dust. 

"Shut up and come here," said Harrow impatiently, as though she'd given the command twice already and Gideon was just keeping her waiting out of spite. 

Gideon considered what was being asked of her. She considered what she might regret if she did as she was bidden, and what she might regret if she did not. 

"Gideon," said Harrow, warning, and Gideon rolled off her cavalier's cot and climbed into the moldering bed where Harrow was holding the covers open for her. 

It was warm under the blankets, and shockingly comfortable. There was more than enough room for the two of them, but Harrow didn't move back more than an inch as Gideon eeled her body down so their faces were level. Her eyes had adjusted as much as they were going to, and Harrow's pale unpainted face was a blurred collection of angles in the depthless black of the room. 

"If I'm going to die here, it's not going to be at the hands of that vampire bitch baby and his sad human battery," said Gideon. What she meant was, I'm not going to let the Eighth get us. 

"You'd better not." The words were not breathy enough to be a whisper, but no one outside their cocoon could have heard her. "You're too stubborn to die when other people want you to."

Gideon snorted. "Don't sound so impressed."

Harrow huffed out the ghost of a sigh. There was silence again until Gideon's skin itched with the desire to say something stupid, but then she felt fingers on her wrist, and the knowledge of words deserted her. 

Harrow's hand curved around hers, tense and light and purposeful, like a bird landing on her skin. This whole touching-without-hurting thing was still new, but Harrow seemed to have decided to do away with tentativity or awkwardness for the both of them. 

"I am impressed. Much as I hate to admit it, I have-- I think I have always underestimated you."

Gideon's tongue lay curdled and useless in her mouth. What on all the fucking worlds was she supposed to say to that? It had been easy, caught up in the moment of salt and revelation, to wrap Harrow in her arms and say shit like One flesh, one end. This was not that. 

"Did you just admit to being wrong about something?" was what she said eventually. Because even the impossibility of Harrow's thumb pressing gently against the pulse in her wrist was, apparently, not enough to keep her from being an asshole when the opportunity presented itself. 

"Turns out I've been wrong about a few things lately," said Harrow, and she sounded tired all of a sudden, so inescapably tired, and Gideon remembered that they were both ridiculously young, and that more was being asked of them than anyone, honestly, should have any right to ask.

So she shifted forward, claiming the space between them with an arm slid beneath Harrow's neck, another insinuating around her waist, and she pulled Harrow against her chest like she had in the pool, except this was dry and warm and she could actually feel the angles and juts of Harrow's body against her own, because she wasn't numb from absorbing a series of shocking, transforming, life-changing truths. 

And even more strangely, Harrow allowed it, allowed herself to be gathered like something precious into Gideon's arms, and relaxed there with a sigh that Gideon could feel but not hear. She felt the tension leave Harrow's body like water from a cracked bowl, in a trickle, and then all at once. She felt fingers clutch the back of her shirt, felt a hot breath skate across her collarbone. She drew in a shuddering breath of her own. 

Gideon was on good terms with her body, was familiar with its likes and dislikes. She knew the bone-deep ache of having worked herself too hard at practice with Aiglamene, the luxurious pleasure of waking up slow after a long night's sleep. This was different, blinding and consuming, a sudden awareness not of pain or pleasure but simply of touch. She was blisteringly conscious of everything, stupid things, the knob of Harrow's knee pressed against hers, the baby-fine texture of her hair where it stuck to Gideon's cheek. Her hand was on Harrow's jaw, thumb on the dry silk of her cheek, pinky on the stuttering pulse in her throat. 

And it wasn't close enough-- they both seemed to realize it at the same time, and melted together with a mutual sound of agonized relief. Gideon crushed Harrow's thin shoulders in her embrace, and Harrow's arm tightened around her waist, and their feet tangled together under the blankets. 

Finally, their restless and lonely bodies seemed to reach an accord: that they were ready for sleep. They stilled in increments, huddled in a protective tent of dusty blankets and shared breath. For once, Gideon didn't feel the need to fill the silence. She found, incredibly, that she was content to stay just as she was. Who the fuck would've thought.

"Also," mumbled Harrow at Gideon's clavicle endless minutes later, startling Gideon, who had thought she was asleep, "I do not have the hots for some chilly weirdo in a coffin."

Gideon considered and discarded several responses, thinking this was a chance to prove she maybe didn't have to be an asshole every time the opportunity presented itself. 

"I've underestimated you, too," she said into Harrow's hair. "I told Aiglamene you'd eat a baby if it meant imprisoning me in the Ninth forever. But it turns out you're a fucking marshmallow underneath all that paint and bitterness."

"I changed my mind; I'm going to let the Eighth break you down for parts," said Harrow. "But first, shut up and go to sleep."

Against her better judgment, Gideon did as she was told.