It had been months.
Clarke had tried, with Bellamy. The ring hadn't materialised - a relief - and a week of evasion on her part was followed by a week of long talks, of excruciating thoughtfulness. She'd tried to fuck her way past it, but his hands felt all wrong - big, rough at the wrong moments. Three weeks - she'd called it a day. He was aggrieved - fair, maybe, but she didn't owe him her whole life. The woman at the bar had let her know that, told her with her tongue. The walk home from her hotel, afterwards - the clearest dawn she'd ever had. Like she'd woken up, at last.
It hadn't been easy. It was easy, it turned out, to give up fucking Bell - not talking to him, that was harder to get used to. And Octavia, of course. Livid.
It was a lot to lose, but in their absence, she found herself reconsidering everything. Because if she wasn't choosing Bellamy, she didn't need to choose any of the other things in her life - this work, this city. Her mother had moved to Colorado, and Raven was in Boston, still. She could move on. The days passed, and it became less and less likely that she would stay. She fucked a guy called Finn, a pharmacist at the hospital - he was too soft, too eager, increased her urge to run away. She fucked Niylah, who ran the bakery down the street, and she was lovely, with clever hands, but when Clarke woke up beside her, it still felt like a mistake.
And she thought of the woman at the bar more often than she thought she should.
She was glad she didn't know her name. It might have been hard to stop herself from looking, and she wanted to view that night as a gift she had been given by a stranger, not the beginning of a missing person's search. In spite of this, she let herself, sometimes, think of the flex of the woman's muscles under her grip, the high sound in her throat as she came. Streetlight flooding through the window. How she'd felt it in her muscles, on her skin, afterwards, as though she'd been stretched into another shape, turned entirely inside out. She let herself think of it, as she drafted her resignation letter, packed up her apartment, climbed into her dad's old Mustang, and left town.
But she didn't think of it so much, as the miles passed. She drove away from sunsets, listened to the changing accents of people she passed by in diners and gas stations. She thought about her destination, about having one, and those days, she drove a little faster. One week passed, two, a month. She didn't seek anybody out, just quietly followed a slow, curving line across the country. And then sometimes, when she was tired of being alone, but not tired enough to run the gamut of small town strangers, she let herself think of it again, sleeping by herself in barely clean motel rooms in the country's middle States. Then, she'd think of the woman's tongue, and the memory inevitably drove her left hand over the jut of her hip, slipped it between her thighs. Those were the only times she regretted the lack of a name - something to shape those small, consolatory orgasms, something to breathe out.
She'd driven from one coast to another, and it had been months. By the time she reached Boston, the memory of the woman was a talisman, less real than everything she'd left behind except in this one respect, the clear moment she held onto, when she felt what was surely the last fundamental piece of herself fall into place.
In Boston, Raven was one wild night after another, and that couldn't last forever. The summer break ended; she went back to school.
She was only there to drop off some papers, one last registration glitch. Classes hadn't started, and her first meeting with her adviser wasn't until the next day. She was wearing old jeans, indelibly oil stained from the old Mustang, the long drive east. Her hair was scraped under a hat. She had been unpacking all morning; the keys to her tiny new apartment jingled in her pocket. She had a lot to do, she realised, that she had left herself no time for. She was mentally cataloguing the chores that awaited, barely attentive enough to her surroundings to avoid bumping into people, and when she paused, glancing around to orient herself, she found herself in the middle of some sort of event preparation. Illustrated screens trundled past her, chairs stacked on trolleys. A conference, she supposed, and continued to scan for the sign for admissions. It was hard though, personnel swarming everywhere. And then her eye caught on someone and she almost staggered, before rapidly shrinking behind a passing table.
It barely seemed possible. The country so huge - she'd driven across it, roads and cities streaming past, feeling like she'd disappeared. It was hardly possible, given all of the space, the millions of people, even though Clarke knew that the woman had come from the east coast. Millions of people living on the East coast. But now, here she was, the one thing, the one person, she was sure she'd never see again.
She stayed in the shadows, watching. She felt like a creep, but even feeling it, she couldn't bring herself to leave. She stood while the woman moved around; prowled really, her shirtsleeves rolled up, grey trousers cut to her form. Spike of heels, stabbing the floor. There'd be a jacket somewhere, Clarke thought. Corporate, lethal, as though she'd never lounged at a bar in California in jeans and a band shirt. She prowled and demanded, her eyes scanning, constantly. Clarke stayed in the shadows, stepped back, even, never intending to invite herself back into the woman's ambit - it was a one time thing, she reminded herself. A gift. She eased herself backwards, but it was too late. She watched the woman's eyes scan over her, snap back, she watched them widen, then narrow. She remembered it, the cool green, though she couldn't see the colour from this distance.
She looked down, away, cursing herself for not leaving sooner. The woman had done her a favour, and in response, Clarke looked to have followed her, unasked, across the country like a creep. She was still berating herself, striding away, when a hand snaked out and caught her arm. A fast mover. The hands she remembered, very clearly. She looked up, reluctant, into a hard stare.
'It's a long way from California.'
'You remember,' said Clarke. Surprised, in a way.
'I do.' The woman looked troubled for a second, before her face settled into a mask. The phrase fell, like a stone into water. Clarke waited, as though for the surface to settle again.
'I'm working,' the woman said.
'Don't let me stop you,' Clarke said.
She nodded, began to turn, her eyes half-lidded. Clarke remembered the look.
'Ok.' It came out a whisper. The woman took two steps, then swung back around.
'Why are you here?' She looked at Clarke, dragged her eyes all over her.
'You look like a - like a drifter.'
'A drifter?' She started to laugh, but the look on the woman's face silenced it. She cleared her throat.
'I'd been drifting.' And that came out like a confession. She felt like she was coated in the dust of the west, deserts she'd driven through. The woman's shirt was pristine and her gaze stern, and here was Clarke, shaggy, blonde, boots scuffed.
'You had been.' An eyebrow quirked. 'And now?'
'I'm.' A gift, she reminded herself. A one time thing. 'I'm not - I didn't know you'd be here, if that's what you're asking.' She forced a smile. 'A graduate program. I'm starting. Tomorrow.'
'Here,' said the woman.
'Yes. Do you - I mean, you work here?'
'Not usually.' Her eyes were narrowed. 'Graduate studies? In what faculty?'
'Please,' said Clarke. Don't ruin it, she thought. 'I remembered you well. Don't ruin it' she said.
'This -' the woman indicated between them - 'this now is a coincidence?'
'I'm not calling it anything. I'm here to study.'
'To study.' Her eyes, stupid green. Clarke suppressed an urge to run.
'You were in San Diego.'
'I was, but somebody indicated to me that I wasn't under any obligation.'
'And the boyfriend?'
'You remember that?'
'Well.' Clarke shrugged.
'And now you're studying?'
'Virology? That's what you're studying?'
'Tomorrow. I'm starting tomorrow.'
'You were a doctor.'
'More or less.' She smiled.
The woman looked up, ran her eyes over the set up going on around them, a frown creasing her brow. 'You're busy,' Clarke said. She took a step back.
'Yes,' the woman said, catching her again with her gaze.
'You really didn't know I was here?'
'Yes. No, I didn't. Look,' said Clarke. She sighed softly. 'It's not that I didn't think of it. That night, it was. I mean, it was great'- she couldn't stop it, the grin, and watched the twitch of a smile this woman would never allow ghost and disappear - 'but it was, I mean, you said one time, right? So this isn't some kind of stalker thing. I wasn't looking for you, I didn't even know you were here. So' - she dragged her eyes away from the woman's face, looking for an exit. She even took a step. Took a breath, looked around. 'But I'm here because of you, and that's. Well.' She shook her head.
'Thank you,' she said, and smiled again.
The woman was staring at her.
'Thank you?' she asked.
Clarke nodded, and leaned forward, impulsive, brushed her lips against that cheek bone before jerking away. The scent she remembered. It was time, she thought, to go, wrenching her gaze from the woman's eyes, from her mouth.
'Who are you?' the woman asked.
She shook her head again, smiled. 'A one time thing, you said.' Touched the woman's forearm, turned away.
She felt eyes on her back, all the way out.
Clarke was almost late. She had slept badly, distracted as she was; now she was almost running, and her shoes weren't designed for it. She was going as fast as she dared when someone grabbed her. Someone closed their fingers around her wrist and jerked, so that she nearly fell off the stupid, impractical heels she'd been tottering on, and pulled her through a door way. She was swinging a fist upwards, ready, as that someone pushed her against the door she'd been pulled through, and swarmed up into her face.
The mouth she remembered. A knot across her brow.
'I almost hit you,' she accused.
'I wouldn't have let you,' the woman said, not letting go.
'I'm already late,' said Clarke, almost annoyed enough to forget to be distracted by the curl of hands on her shoulders, and that scent. Maybe the scent of her skin. Almost. The halo of moss green around bluish grey, almost obliterated by the black gape of her pupils. Her breath, hot.
'I've been thinking,' the woman said.
'You have?' Almost forgetting her annoyance, surprise instead.
'I have.' Her mouth, the soft pink lips at her ear. Her breath hot.
'I thought' - Clarke let it hang.
'Yes. I don't normally'
She paused, looked at Clarke, her face too close, perplexed. Clarke had to restrain herself, despite her annoyance, from leaning forward. Her heart began to bang, hard enough that the woman could surely feel it. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, staring back, felt air moving harshly in her chest.
'Revisit, I mean' the woman said. Blurted, almost.
'You're not.' It came out hoarse, low. 'That was in another state, and besides - '
Clarke stopped, unsure where the sentence ended. She hadn't come here for this, but she wasn't the person dragging people into empty classrooms. She wasn't pressing someone against a door with her hands, her hips.
Fuck it, Clarke thought, and pressed back, pushing her lips against that pout, once, twice. Then, easing in, as the woman's mouth opened with a quiet gasp, and she began to respond. Clarke felt hands slide upwards, into her hair, while her own grasped the woman's hips and pulled her closer. Tight against her, she was lit not just by memory but by the heat she could feel through the impeccable fabric of the woman's shirt. Her nails caught against it, as she, more or less reflexively, began to tug the material up. The woman licked into her mouth, and a sound caught in her throat; a jolt of desire knocked her pelvis forward, her knee joints suddenly feeling soft, unreliable.
'Fuck,' she exhaled against the woman's lips. And felt her smile.
'Sure,' the woman whispered.
'Now'- but that mouth, moving lower, now against Clarke's throat - 'now is not that great for me.'
Groggy with want, Clarke had difficulty forcing the words out, and her hands refused to co-operate by letting go. A brief scrape of teeth; breath hissed out of her as her hips jerked forward against the woman again. Raising her hand was a gargantuan effort, but she managed it, sliding the edge of her palm over the acute angle of the woman's jaw, pushing her back, softly.
'It's my first day,' she croaked. 'I can't be late.'
The woman's eyes were almost wholly black, now, and she had a dazed look, but she nodded, a small movement, and stepped away.
A bang against the door behind her; Clarke jumped forward, and the woman's hand was back on her shoulder. Clarke dragged her eyes from the flutter of her pulse, her pale throat - she stepped to the side, to prevent herself from dipping forward and mouthing at it.
'I have to '- She gestured towards the door.
'Wait.' Long fingers curved around her palm, holding it steady. 'I'm just'
She had a pen in her other hand - a heavy, expensive looking pen, Clarke noted, the kind that complements a weighty signature. She watched, too surprised to protest, as the woman inked in perfect cursive the 10 digits of a phone number across the back of her hand.
'If you don't want to,' the woman said, letting go, 'it should wash away.'
She held Clarke's gaze, stepping backwards, reaching for the door handle.
'Clarke,' said Clarke, fast so she couldn't stop herself, as she opened the door. 'I'm Clarke.'
It sounded better, the way she said it. The tiny hint of a smile, then, and the woman slid through the half-opened door, and disappeared.