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Insomnia

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Harrowhark stared at the ceiling. 

The tattered canopy above her framed the flaking, indecipherable remnants of what was surely once an elaborately painted scene.

She lay there, tiny in her oversized bed, with a single pillow and a thin sheet, all her superfluous bedclothes tossed to the side (and largely scavenged by Nav). 

She was reviewing the events that had transpired thus far at Canaan House, mechanically, looking for anything she had missed, some clue as to the murderer among them. She was going through her mental profiles of each of the other candidates - observations, rumors, debts, promises. She was re-deriving theorems, the lessons of TRANSFERENCE and WINNOWING, of DIVERSION and AVULSION. 

What she wasn’t doing - what she needed to be doing - was sleeping.

The undignified skronk that emitted at that moment from the foot of the bed was a sharp reminder that her cavalier was having no such difficulty. 

It was not long past the evening when Harrow had told Gideon the truth - the truth, finally, and all of it - when Gideon had taken her in her arms and dragged them both under, when they said the words in their fullness for the first time, one flesh, one end. That same night, Gideon had wordlessly moved to the cavalier’s bed at the foot of Harrow’s.

She gave Harrow a headache every time she spoke, but she had a certain guileless eloquence in her actions.

There was a sick thought forming in Harrow’s head like a swelling of lymph. She needed to get some sleep. She would be a wreck if she couldn’t scrape together a few hours, and then how could she ensure she could keep Canaan House from falling apart? She turned to one side, then, after a furious minute, the other, then, finally, desperately, sat up and looked down at her cavalier.

She would never have considered this in the sober light of day. It was foolish, a bizarre transgression, and it probably wouldn’t even work.

And yet… the theoretical underpinnings were solid, and if it was possible, it could prove very useful in her studies of Lyctorhood. A valuable experiment.

And if it was possible, Harrowhark Nonagesimus could do it.

She laid down again, carefully, and closed her eyes. She slowed her breathing, and listened to the snrk and mrnh of the sleeping girl at her feet. And then, she reached out.

When Harrow had first wormed her way inside her cavalier’s brain, it had hurt - a cacophony of unfamiliar thalergy assaulting her projected consciousness, the bright vivid scream of Gideon’s living soul, the great discordant chorus of her neurons. By now, though, it had become so easy. Practice had helped, yes, and learning how to move within Gideon’s thalergy currents rather than fighting them, and the gentle rhythms of sleep, all of this made the process smoother.

But, most crucially of all, Gideon had welcomed her in.

Her cavalier was so unguarded before her, so utterly open to her questing theorems. It was nonsensical. Harrowhark had cut her teeth on tormenting this girl, had found little solace in her spare and splintered childhood beyond Gideon’s pain, Gideon’s frustration, Gideon’s despair. She had made the suffering of Gideon Nav a key facet of her life’s work. And yet, here she lay, curled at Harrow’s feet like a loyal dog, her every defense and dignity lowered. The ease of it was a cracked rib piercing Harrow’s heart.

As she entered Gideon - she hated that she could exactly picture the face Griddle would have made at that - her senses shifted, muted, like being wrapped in a thick blanket. 

This was the first time she’d done this outside of a fight. With a sword in her hand, Harrow had to admit, Gideon was nothing short of a virtuoso. She had felt every twitch of muscle, every tendon pulling taut, every flick of her eyes, the churn of her heart - and, oh, her bones, the serpentine twist of vertebrae, the flex of ulna and radius entwined, the vicious dance of carpal and metacarpal and phalange, all in concert, the most complex elegant theorem, driving her blade into her foe.

Here, though, now, she slept, and Harrow’s focus could drift through her more gently. Her breath and blood were slow, steady, a soothing rhythm. Harrow wasn’t possessing her, not quite - she couldn’t control her like this, and her thoughts were her own - but as best she knew it was the closest a living soul had ever come.

She wasn’t used to being quite so… large. Griddle may have shirked her duties, ignored her studies, barely ever learned to read , but she had certainly never skipped leg day, or arm day, or ab day, or - the point was, she felt twice Harrow’s size. 

There was something comforting about it. Something reassuring about being inside that body, that Harrow had never felt inside her own. 

And something also, perhaps, in the posture of submission at Harrow’s feet. Surrender to the will of Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the Reverend Daughter, the heir to and whole of the Ninth House, the locked tomb itself. And why not, she thought drowsily. Harrow had spent her whole life in service to Harrowhark Nonagesimus. It was only suitable to lie in supplication at her own feet.

💀

She woke slowly, trying to make sense of what she was looking at. 

What came into focus, gradually, was her own body, lying in bed.

She fled abruptly, in shame and horror at what she’d done, back into her body, and her eyes shot open to see Gideon, propped up on one arm, watching her with, not disgust, not shock, but an indulgent smugness that turned Harrow immediately purple. 

“I, have overstepped,” she managed, with as much dignity as she could scrape together, drawing herself up and away. 

Gideon just shook her head and murmured “you dork,” and there was something gentle in her voice that made Harrow want to leap out the window.

“Pardon?”

“My umbral liege, I am your sword,” she said, with the worst smile. “Am I to be your bed as well?”

Harrow couldn’t speak.

“Look, Harrow, if you really have so little chill that you need to borrow some from my copious stash, then, hey, I’m good for it.”

Gideon looked, terrifyingly, as though she was thinking about saying more.

Instead, she slapped the bed, hopped up, and went to reapply her paint. “Come on, I want breakfast.”  

Harrow just stared after her, clutching the sheets in clenched fists at her sides.

More well-rested than ever in her life.