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Somewhere under your vigil there is a vessel. 

The vessel is full of bodies—meiotic missiles that would never know anything but sleep until sent out as a salvo. Some of those bodies were dead already. A few more have followed, as you’d learned just moments ago. The mannequins had been pristine, you’d done everything right: synched them, inseminated them, and now, just like the premade batch, they had flatlined.

If you were a different woman you might reflect on your own complicity, find some fault of yours in these failures to launch. But the idea nearly makes you laugh. These batches of bodies are not people, have never had real names or home planets, never known anything but the fingertips of a witch who laced them together piece by seditious piece before she washed her hands of them and appointed you the wet nurse of the revolution.

And perhaps this would make you angry, if you were not cosmically topped off on that particular emotion.

What you feel is irritation. Even that much seems undue, really: you have more dolls, more eggs, and a failsafe of raw material that you are going to have to pry back open and set up shop for round three. It hadn’t been unexpected, to lose the first batch. Despite how she had insisted on their adequacy, you knew better than to trust a necromancer’s hubris. You had been more confident of your own obstetric abilities, and despite this setback, you still are.

But you are irritated, because there is a half-asleep, fully-naked, blindfolded and wrist-bound man in your shuttle, and when you had gone to fetch him a cigarette, you had glanced at encoded comms to find that your fucking pièce de résistance is trying to off itself before you ever get the chance to see it through.

You are lucky he is a long-suffering man, and that over time he has become an unsuspecting one, too. Gideon the First does not shift or speak as you, wearing only a loose white camisole, ease your way back through the narrow passageway to the bunk you’d appropriated as a coital chamber. His wrists are restrained behind him with thick black rope you’ve devised for—mostly—aesthetic reasons. He’s a still, blunt-looking man, and yet angular: everywhere you think should have stubble or adipose tissue is a total void of either, and the soft black cloth over his eyes sinks so close you could cut into the processes of his brow and the orbits of his skull. His bare, tight chest seems to hardly rise or fall as he waits, smileless, somber.

It’s your understanding that sorcery is of little threat to you here in the dead of space. Apart from that, Gideon has never been violent, never been brash with you once since this whole affair began. There was a time not long ago when he would show no hesitation to stop you in your tracks, to dismantle you and chase you to the death, but certain ardent developments had put a quick end to that. Once you had him, once he dropped that devoted pursuit, he accepted your charge as readily as he had melted into the heat between your legs. This disappoints you, if only a bit. You just aren't used to it.

He seems fully asleep when you return with the lighter and cigarette that he apparently won’t even be needing. In a rare moment of pure aggravation at the sorry state of your life, you lean back against the shuttle wall, eyes closed and occipital bone thumping in slow rhythm against silica tiles. Your hair sits in a heavy topknot, ragged red wisps drifting over your face and in front of your ears.

Something rustles in front of you, and you cease your indulgent sulking to grunt out a greeting. Gideon must have stirred, so you open your eyes to grab the lighter and put the cig in his mouth–

There’s a smile hinting on that face, and where the sorcerer’s legs were once supine, the knees are now drawn up and comfortably parted.

Very few things in this universe make your stomach lurch and your blood surge. You’ve disemboweled zombies, laid them to rot in pits of mud and spelled out taunts with their entrails, you’ve seen the yellow of your bones jut out from your broken white skin and a few days ago you kicked corpses into open space and spat on them for inconveniencing you.

What sinks to the very pit of you, what then crawls back up and clouds your vision with rage and shoots strands of blood to your temples to join your hair in tangles of fury—is the presence of a ghost who walks this world only because she was too libidinous for Hell to contain.

“Wakes.” She says it like cupcakes, and you hear it like bitch.

“Don’t you fucking move.” It’s a demand you’d make of any stowaway, and so your voice doesn’t quiver to say it. Without looking away from the devil in your bed, you reach for a utility tool that recalls a small machete more than a pocket-knife, serrations gleaming with the sick black venom of your enemy’s enemy. Gideon would have bolted upright. Pyrrha wriggles a bit, as if intrigued.

“If you wanted us immobile, you should’ve tied better knots. More, too. My bureau would see you sacked for this.”

Trentham would see agents burned from among their brightest, and for less. You take broad steps and plunge down onto the bed, swinging your legs to straddle that chest. When knees begin to creep up toward you, you flatten your palm behind you to hold them back, a soft request. Your ‘captive’ sits up a bit—you feel every individual muscle in that torso crunch to meet your own chest—and brings lips to your ear.

“Well, love, they won’t hear it from me. I’m dead, you know.”

You grunt and reach behind to grab at wrists, looping your thumb between ties that bind hand to hand and beast to bed. You press that jagged blade slowly against rope until it frays and the knife kisses skin. Pyrrha hisses a breath in your ear and unfortunately, it’s one of elation and relief rather than pain. You let Gideon’s blood stain the adductor muscles of your hand in a warm and thin trail as those wounds begin to close over like papercuts, and you toss the knife to the floor, clattering.

“How long has it been?”

You think of the exact months, days, and hours.

“Not long enough for me to forget your conceit,” you bellow out instead, which is true.

“Did you take good care of him?”

You think about how Gideon had come into your fist with your middle finger hitched inside him, legs bowed out like a fallen angel, navel beaded with his own mess that you had licked up and then spat back into his mouth where it belonged. Surely she could taste him still. You are never sure how close she lingers to his surface, how much of her consciousness catches the tailwater of your sin and laps at it like backwash in the River. But now you hear tongue drag across lips and a curt hum of approval, and you know she’s answered her own question.

“Ah. And what did he do for you?”

You let yourself slide down a bit, bare inner thighs against rippling abdomen, leaning back so your spine rests against those blockish knees. Pyrrha braces a hand against sheets, flicking away each broken band of rope like it had always just been flimsy thread, and brings the other between your thighs to search out proof of her wizard’s work. A thumb traces you, and you bear down acutely so as not to shudder.

You think about how before you’d spun on that blindfold, Gideon hadn’t really needed it. With your thighs engulfing him completely, maybe he’d been able to wade in some tributary and think of the woman he’d left behind a myriad before you smeared his lips with your cunt. Probably not, though, because you’d roared obscenities down at him the whole time. Your face burns remembering this, and moreso still with the way Pyrrha now tilts that head at you, evidently impatient with your silence. Despite your grasp on the physics of light you suspect for a moment that your soul reflects in the black of that blindfold. You deflect, self-doubt poorly masked:

“He tried to show me what Heaven awaits.” Pyrrha laughs at that, and you hate it, but there’s a kind thumb on your clit and a cruel sting in your heart.

“And did he, my Gideon?”

“He didn’t show me shit,” you lie very snappishly. Pyrrha rumbles, mocking, and sits up fully to place both hands on your waist, where she trails below the white of your shirt to stain your ribs and sternum with drying blood. Nostrils press into your shirt and Pyrrha breathes you in, slow and heady, practically animalistic.

And so you remember quite abruptly that Pyrrha is like this; you remember how it disgusts and thrills you newly each time. It’s every scrap of the flesh that tempts her. The blood, the sweat, the viscera, the sex and death she’s been so consistently denied. You breathe heavy, allow her to linger there in your bosom, heart pounding against brow as you begin to unfurl the blindfold from that unclad skull. Pyrrha thanks you by nuzzling into your chest sharply, fingers teasing at breasts.

As soon as the blindfold is loose, you are rewarded in kind as muscled arms lift your shirt over your shoulders and faces come level with one another.

Dark, rust-tattered, agonizingly gentle eyes meet your own. The sonorous face of Gideon the First is before you, but his dead lover has once again rented it out to completely devastate your otherwise-sound resolve. She begins to smile, and rather than enduring that shit again, you kiss her.

As lips meet, you realize there may be room for more anger inside you after all. It’s a hard, dry, objective kiss, and as Pyrrha leans willingly into it, you break away and grab onto those antique jowls with a hand that can barely cover their width.

“Why are you here?”

“Felt you tugging at heartstrings through his dick. It was abhorrent. You’d spent him already, I’m afraid he might’ve withered if you asked any more. So why don’t you tell me? Why am I here?”

Oh, fuck her. Answering a question with another, that classic interrogation bullshit. You buck with genuine vitriol and your hand squeezes even tighter on the corners of that jaw. Pyrrha may not know the specifics of your present frustrations, but she’s teetering a little too close for comfort, in the way a myriad-old infiltrator is inclined to do. In hopes of sidetracking her, you reach between bodies.

You had not completely spent Gideon, as Pyrrha put it, not physically. Your hand wraps tightly around the familiar warmth of a penis, now pulsing with blood that reflects her arousal rather than his. Pyrrha hardly reacts–you always wonder just how accustomed she is to this, how attuned she’s made herself to his body on her own time–and you begin to tug near its tip, without much regard for sensitivity.

“You’re here because you hate,” you spit out, and consider leaving it at that as you push Pyrrha down into the bed—“you hate to see me with him. Without you.”

Pyrrha does recline, but it’s not from the pressure of your body or your stroking hand. She’s allowing it. Letting you have your moment. You hate this.

“I thought I’d made this clear, love. I quite like what you’ve done with Giddy,” Pyrrha responds. “Jealousy, rage: that’s all a little more your shtick. It’s not what I’m gleaning from you at the moment, though—are you anxious, Commander Wake?”

You snarl down at Pyrrha, now hovering entirely over her, knees planted firmly on either side.

“My conscience never wavers. There is nothing either of you could do to change that—” A hand has risen between your legs, two fingers easing their way to your cunt.

“Oh, I don’t presume you’re worried about us. You know my loyalty is to Gideon, not to what he is. The details of your work are honestly none of my business. I just care for you very deeply.”

This vein of conversation is irksome at best, and a total turnoff at worst. You’re used to her egotistical babble, but that doesn’t make it less maddening. Pyrrha tends to spring out of inertia in what must be the triply-frustrating position of having been silent for too long, having endured Gideon’s reticence, and having suffered your intensity from a place she cannot quiet it. You can hardly fault her, it’s been months since your last encounter. It seems she’s taken the hint, though: a hand now grips your hair with the same imposing energy as the fingers leveraging you from within.

Pyrrha isn’t gentle in the traditional sense, but there’s a control to her touch that puts you under each time. It’s the same pattern between you two, with varying severity: you want to hurt her, you hurt her, she likes it, you want her to hurt you, and then she has the audacity to make you feel good instead, which makes you want to kill her.

So when Pyrrha uses the knots of scarlet on your scalp to tug you down—hurtling you nicely along that ‘wanting to kill her’ path—and rolls you onto your stomach, you don’t actually struggle, because she’s stopped talking and started panting instead. You’re briefly disappointed that fingers leave you, but Pyrrha takes both of your hands in one—somehow more firmly than your rope could have ever held Gideon, even if he’d had the will to fight you—and pins them at your sacrum. You jump under her touch and kick at her. She’s shushing you for it, but you are very much not listening.

“Your brand of loyalty is perverted,” you rasp, as though your voice is not hushed by thin sheets and thinner resolve, as though you are not clasping your thighs together for want of friction.

“You crave perversion,” Pyrrha reminds you in a hushed tone that makes you groan and twist beneath her.

“You hunt it like an addict, Wake. But you leave your own rabbit trails strewn across dimensions. And I follow them to you every last time.” She states this like she’s sanctioning you, hand coursing through the hair at the back of your neck, entangling it beyond repair, then flouncing fingers into the grooves of your shoulders like little bunny ears. Hips press down onto yours, and you buck up, finally broken enough to be compensated for your shame.

Her grip tightens on your wrists as she lifts away from you suddenly, only to slide to the edge of the bed and kneel behind you. The sudden relief is infuriating: you jolt upright and, very deliberately, spring one leg backwards to slam a foot in the face of Gideon the First.

Pyrrha startles backward, and so you look over your shoulder to assess the destruction. You flare your nostrils, still furious that she had dared to move away from you, dared to test the limits of your surrender. Your gaze is met with raised eyebrows and a perfectly bloodied nose, and though those dripping red rivulets instill a sense of calm in you, you know it won’t last. You savor the view anyway until Pyrrha obscures it by pressing that entire, bloodied face between your spread— when had you spread them? —thighs, and grabs hold of your ankles.

Pyrrha entreats you with tongue and jaw, and you can’t help but nudge back into her, your restrained fingers flailing for some purchase, nails tearing into knuckles. It’s not the same as with Gideon. You smother him, you clamber onto his shoulders and you press his forehead down into your core, you preach to him with words that shouldn’t exist, that wouldn’t exist if his kind hadn’t ushered such atrocities into being. But now you make guttural, uncouth noises, the kind that could never be expressed in so many words, and Pyrrha repays you with hands that wind you tighter and a tongue that nearly unravels you.

You can’t help but mull over how most would forget themselves in such a pose, would find some ultimate relief in a lover between their legs, lapping with practiced abandon. You reject this kind of submission, you refuse to let your thighs slump to the bed even as your belly flutters and your wrists tremble in her hold. As your toes flinch and curl and you whimper and sweat you are still convinced of your control, and why shouldn’t you be? If demons scramble from oblivion just to praise your cunt, why shouldn’t you let them feast? In harkening to their vice, do they not assure you of your own virtue?

Pyrrha is, for her part, determined to prove her own kind of sanctity. She pushes you to the limits of vision and utterance in devouring you, with tenacity befitting a woman who spends the majority of her undeath gasping for air. You barely notice, as you come down, that her hands release you and palms come to press on your hamstrings instead, steadying them, helping you stay postured for her as she stands and climbs back into your cot.

You roll, then—it’s not docility, it’s generosity— onto your back, knees flayed out on either side of your breasts, and you pray to Heaven that the look in your eyes conveys your need so that your words don’t have to. Unsurprisingly, Pyrrha isn’t so charitable.

“You’re going to let me take you? Just like that? Spread for me like bloody teatime—”

And your hands are at her neck, as she no doubt anticipated.

There’s no urgency, no unease in the way she raises fingertips to caress yours, in the way she smirks against your assault on her airway. Over the years, Pyrrha has persisted in highlighting her own malady like this, exhibiting eternity in front of you as if it’s something you’d want, parading her zombieism like it’s the fucking gift you would never be cherished enough to receive. You’ve started to think she realizes—that she comprehends exactly how hard it makes you cling to your own impermanence.

There’s a part of you that can’t wait to die. And an even bigger part that can’t wait to take her with you.

You let one hand slide from that larynx, trail down strained pectorals and obliques, ragged nails clawing all the way, and find its way back to support the shaft of Gideon’s dick. You observe very smugly that Pyrrha gulps against your chokehold, that cartilaginous triangle bobbing in Gideon’s throat betraying even the most classified of her desires. You tug her towards you, wanting, seething.

Pyrrha complies–she’s physically invested enough that she has no objection to sinking down toward you, giving in to your grip and letting you pull her inside as you adjust into a curled, needy position. Your deathgrip loosens and you instead find both your hands digging at broad shoulder blades, the balls of your feet jabbing at hard, trenchant hip bones, imploring Pyrrha to use you to her own ends since little else can grant her such release.

A hand scoops beneath your neck, cradles you wholly as though it’s going to lift and then plummet you into some horrid chasm of death and depravity—and in this moment, perhaps you’d let it. You arch your neck into that touch, fold yourself into a reckless embrace that extracts sounds which might be described as whines; you lay yourself prey to a huntress who hasn’t earned your kill, from whom you’ll run and resurge over and over until this entire bastardic empire knows what you’ve done to unhinge it.

And midway through this apparent fall from grace you arrive to your senses with a pleasurable pang—while Pyrrha is buried inside you the way she should be buried in a grave, while she fucks you the way Gideon once did before he damned her instead, while down the corridor of your shuttle some pesky arrays blip and bloop and threaten to derail your life’s work— you make a very conscious choice not to crash.

You consider a lot of factors very quickly. Implantation timelines, reserves of hormonal injections, self-administration logistics, and the two incredibly stupid lich monsters looming behind it all. You layer schemes on top of one another like solutions that were there all along, like you just needed the drive, the upheaval, the near-disaster that’s now conveniently come to pass.

As Pyrrha begins to grunt and rasp, muttering meaningless things down to you that you can’t exactly process in your current state of calculation, you devise the foundation of the most righteous lie you will ever tell.

“Pyrrha,” you breathe with a panicked desperation. “Inside.”

It’s not an unusual request. Pyrrha doesn’t hesitate, she doesn’t slow or pull away from you—in fact, she presses a palm into the back of your knee, leans into you and glares with brown eyes that you’d rather turn away from if they weren’t so handsomely suited to her killer’s face. You let those eyes bore into you, let them scratch at the seams of your soul for some moral flaw that you’ve just decided you don’t have, as she finishes her labor so that you can begin an entirely different one.

She grinds hard, erratic, breath lashing out in pants that are all Pyrrha and zero Gideon. They are gasps that reveal more about who she once was than you should rightfully be allowed to know. You feel fingers tense and relax at the back of your neck, intertwined with your disheveled, sweat-slicked hair, trembling in the aftermath of your own origin story.

You've been doing this for years. 

And you want it to all be over.