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Duct Tape Holds it All Together

Chapter Text

"It's hilarious, really," Roan chirped as we made our way down the sidewalk. His stupidly long hair fell in his eyes as he shook his head at me.

I rolled my eyes in exasperation. He hadn't shut up since it happened. In the grand scheme of things, this was such an insignificant moment, but for some unknown reason, Roan couldn't stop ridiculing me for it (It's because he's an asshole, that was the reason).

"You asked her how she was, she said 'good, you?' and you responded with, 'good. You?' God, Lex it's like watching a fucking train wreck with you!"

Roan's deep laugh boomed throughout the air and my cheeks grew hot as we talked about the situation -- THE situation, for the hundredth time.

My name is Lexa Woods, and the guy heckling me? That is my buddy Roan. I'm fourteen years old, I live with my big sister Anya, and I don't know how to talk to pretty girls, which is kind of important since I'm a lesbian. Oh, and I maybe, sort of, have a crush on a cheerleader. Which is impossible since I haven't even spoken to her, but my palms wouldn't stop being all sweaty and my heart rate wouldn't go down since THE situation, so yeah, it was definitely a crush. I think. I’d never had one before, but according to like… every book I had ever read… this was definitely a crush.

"Your heart eyes are pathetic," Roan mused, cutting into my thoughts. "You know she's never going to like you back, right?"

And wasn't this all just typical Roan? He was rarely nice to me, but had always been around ever since I could remember. We played together when we were younger, and as we grew older his pulling of my hair turned into insults; and even though we bickered like enemies, he always waited for me between classes and fought anyone who messed with me. I guess that's what happened when you grow up like he had. You throw punches verbally and physically because emotions make no sense. So technically, he wasn't always mean. Okay... yeah he was, but once you peeled back his layers (like fifty of them) he was alright.

After THE incident, I made it home in record time, the burn of embarrassment from making a fool of myself earlier hastening my steps. When I opened the door, the deafening reminder that the hinges are barely holding on greeted me, along with the rust that coloured my palm.

"Jesus, who needs a burglar alarm when you have a door like that? Not that anyone would want to steal from this shithole," Roan chuckled as I crossed the threshold into my house.

I just rolled my eyes again and made my way over to the fridge to pull out the remnants of the orange juice from the top shelf. Aside from ketchup and a jug of milk, there was nothing else in here but the leftover brussel sprouts from last week. Anya tried to make healthy dinners, but we both knew that brussel sprouts were disgusting and neither of us were going to eat them again after that meal. Anya had an early shift tomorrow, meaning she would stock up on the essentials, but for now, it was a cereal kind of night.

I took a swing from the bottle, already making up my mind that I was finishing it and caught Roan’s eyes darting back down from looking in the fridge.

"At least now you don't have to worry about making me dinner. Brussel sprouts are made by the devil," he quipped. He rapped his fingers on the counter before pulling out a half eaten sandwich. "Here. You annoy me but I don't want to see you starve," he said, and I stared at the sandwich. My pride told me not to take it, but the growling of my stomach screamed in opposition.

"You know, you don't have to be friends with me if I annoy you so much," I said around a mouth full of food. I was trying my best to not shove the entirety of his half-sandwich in my mouth, but I hadn't eaten since lunch, and I was STARVING.

"But then I'd never get to harass you about your love-sick puppy face. I can't see how anyone is going to ever look at your beyond anything but broken, kiddo. You're the definition of broke," Roan joked. I glared at Roan while I swallowed my food and he just chuckled before taking a seat at the kitchen table and kicking his legs up to relax.

Okay, and yeah, I'm poor, if you didn't put that together already… to the point that I've been wearing the same pair of shoes since my twelfth birthday that it's more duct tape than sneaker at this point, and there's a hole starting where my big toe is. My clothes are all too short or have stains that I can't even remember getting anymore. Two years isn't much time to ruin clothes in the scheme of things, but two years from twelve to fourteen is practically a lifetime considering the growth spurts and the hazards that are the playground.

It's not that my parents are deadbeats and won't buy me new clothes, they're just the first part of that word -- dead.

They were both contract workers -- my dad worked as a labourer for a construction company, and my mom was the receptionist. Neither of them had 'permanent' jobs, but the company renewed their contracts for years, so we never thought anything of it. That is, until they died in a plane crash and Anya and I were informed that neither of them were covered or had any sort of life insurance. Yeah. That sucked.

Anya was eighteen and had saved up money working at the diner so she could go to university in the fall.

With my parents death, her savings became tied up into paying some ridiculous fees just to make sure I didn't end up in the system at twelve; putting me in therapy so I could deal with all of this; and making sure we could just SURVIVE.

Suddenly, we became 'those kids'. Instead of any community help, we became the kids that parents told their kids they couldn't play with. Like being poor was a choice or that it was contagious. Like being poor meant I was automatically dumb and worthless. Like I would be nothing but bad news. I was written off before I even started because my parents were in the news for DYING instead of winning the lottery. Yeah, I was 'that kid'.

'That kid’ that's angry at the world. Except, I'm not. I mean, I WAS, initially. Obviously. Who wouldn't be angry with the world when their parents were ripped away from them? But, with all the therapy Anya put me in, I'm not that person anymore. Now, I just bite my tongue and ignore everyone as best I can. I'm still angry, sometimes, but I find it easier to just not attach myself to anyone other than the people that have stuck around through all the crap.

It just became easier to be 'that kid’ than to waste my time with people. No one wants to know that I'm grateful for my sister, grateful for Roan, grateful for my duct tape shoes. They want to know that their stereotyping was correct, and will do HORRIBLE things just to prove that.

So, as much as Roan pissed me off, he was the only kid to stick around, even if it WAS to torment me. It's not like he had the best home life either -- his father left a long time ago, and his mom just drank herself into a stupor every night to cope, so Roan was grateful for me too, in a sense. Everyone knows he's kind of 'that kid’ too, but because he's a boy, people offered him the chance to do random odd jobs like grass cutting and snow removal for them because it kept him away from home and kept him out of trouble. It's stupid, the double standard, but it is how it is.

Anya obviously ended up not going to University with having to provide for a tweener, taking a more permanent position at the local diner instead. She was easily taken on by the owner when she offered to work the night shift, and with the diner being a twenty-four hour joint, you can just imagine the classy individuals that strolled in well after midnight. Kudos to my sister, though, because she flipped her long blonde hair (from a bottle), and batted her pretty brown eyes all the way to the bank with better tip money than she probably would have made working the dinner rush.

People say we don't even look related, but people like to say HORRIBLE things for no reason (see above rant about being 'that kid’). I know we don't look like twins -- Anya's face was a lot harsher than mine. Maybe it was the baby fat, or maybe that was what happened when your parents die and you're left to be the mother you never wanted to be. Her eyes are a bit narrower, and her cheekbones could honestly cut glass almost as well as the glare she'll hit you with if you piss her off. We may not have enough for me to get a new pair of sneakers, but she managed to keep me fed and she loves me fiercely. What else could I possibly ask for? She put her entire life on hold just so I could HAVE one. And before you ask, I've tried to help out. I offered to take shifts at the diner now that I'm old enough, but she was adamant that I just keep playing basketball.

'But how can you play basketball if you're broke?' you ask?

Well, to answer your question, you can't. Not on any of the travel teams, at least.

Do you remember growing up, there was always that ONE kid who had a ball, but the leather was worn down so much that there was no tread left on the ball, and it might not have had the best bounce, but it was always available for a game of pick up? Yeah, that was me. I was ALWAYS ready to play. I love basketball. I never really enjoyed playing anything else, which was great since that deformed ball was the only one I owned. The cool thing about being THAT kid with the messed up ball, was the fact that you were even willing to donate said ball to a pick up game automatically gave you a spot. It was like an unwritten law that anyone brave enough to potentially lose their ball was allowed in.

This year, though, I was determined to play for the high school team.

I heard Coach Indra is a complete hard ass. The stories said that she was destined for the WNBA but got injured when she slipped on a wet court and couldn't recover. She's kind of terrifying when she smiles, and when she does, it's so rare that you're sure she's growling at you. At least, that's what I've heard about her. I haven't actually met her yet.

Trying to meet her was how THE situation happened.

I went to the gym after school today to sign up for basketball tryouts when I met the most beautiful girl in the entire world.

And by 'met', I meant bumped into. And by 'bumped into', I meant CRASHED into.

"Roan! Hold up. let me just sign up for tryouts tomorrow!" I called as we walked past the double doors leading to the gym. Roan just inclined his head in acknowledgement as he leaned back against the brick wall.

I ran quickly inside, already digging around in my backpack to find a pen. As I fumbled with pulling it out, my head dropped for JUST A SECOND, but it was long enough to not notice the group of girls walking toward me.

Of course, because God hated me, I ran smack into one of them.

"Oh, shit!"

"Sorry!"

We spoke at the same time. I reached out and grabbed at the girl before she could fall backwards, completely dropping my bag in the process, pen forgotten.

I'm glad I did it.

When she looked up in surprise, her blue eyes caught my green ones and it was like electricity had passed through my veins. She was breathtaking. Literally -- I didn't realize I had held my breath until I expelled it in a rushed apology and my cheeks flamed.

I was still holding her and she was still staring at me while the contents of my bag rolled around on the ground. It was one of her friends that actually broke the staring contest between us with a laugh.

Roan obviously appeared at this point since I had taken longer than he expected and was scowling at the group of girls (and me for disturbing him).

"You bimbo's mind?" he spat.

The girls stared at him but I was too caught up checking over the girl in front of me. Her long blonde hair was tossed over her shoulder and she was trying to contain a smile at my still shocked expression. She had a dimple in her chin and a freckle above her lip. I stared at it for longer than probably necessary. When I caught myself and looked at her eyes that were perfectly outlined with eyeliner, the blue of her eyes was more devastating than a punch to the gut.

I still hadn't spoken.

She cleared her throat and finally I released her arm from my death grip and asked, "Are you okay?"

She responded with, "I'm good. You okay?"

I, the Cassanova that I am, responded with, "good, you?"

The smile she was trying to contain was set free, and my cheeks flushed with embarrassment as I realized what I had said.

Idiot.

I shook my head and stepped back as one of her friends grabbed her arm and gave me a disapproving stare. The taller brunette decided that I had disrupted them enough and pulled on the striking beauty to follow her.

She muttered something about me that I was glad I didn't hear, and Roan's scowl remained steadfast as the girls walked past.

I stared after them a moment longer, thankfully so, as the blonde I had collided with turned to look at me over her shoulder before being pulled out of the gymnasium completely.

Roan snapped his fingers in my face with a chuckle. "Useless lesbian," he called me, and I shoved his shoulder before accepting my now picked up backpack and turning to sign up for basketball tryouts.

So yeah, that was THE situation. My first encounter with a pretty girl. Completely humiliating. Hopefully I won't see her again to even have to think about this. There are over two thousand people at my high school. Besides, it's just a stupid crush. She's not worth the drama. No one is, remember? Anyway, what are the chances of me running into her again?

Chapter Text

Apparently, I miscalculated my chances of never seeing her again. I was only off by about… one hundred percent or so.

There was a mandatory meeting this morning for all students for some useless bullshit that was required in the first month of school.

Of course, I was late.

I slept through my alarm; didn't have enough money for the bus; Roan just LEFT without knocking on my damn door in the morning (asshole); and Anya hadn't come back from her shift yet.

I ended up running to school, and thus, lateness, with a side of frayed nerves.

Trying to sneak into an auditorium full of staff and students was about as useful as walking into a giant gorillas den with raw meat tied around my neck and no weapons. All eyes turned to me the second the doors opened.

I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life, but tried to hide my unease with a scowl.

Principal Jaha stopped speaking and waited for me to find a seat, which made it even WORSE, so I quickly took the free one somewhere at the back.

The day just got better from there, because the first open seat I found was next to the brunette bimbo that pulled the hot blonde away from me yesterday.

"Good morning,” I whispered as I sat next to her.

She scoffed in response.

Who shit in her cornflakes this morning?

She sighed audibly and leaned further away from me.  I shot her a look and rolled my eyes, but they almost fell out of my head when I noticed who was next to her.

My heart rate sped up as I caught the curious eyes of the blonde I was melting into a gay puddle over. OF COURSE she'd be sitting beside her. I think I might have gasped before straightening my spine and facing forward again.

Smooth.

Bimbo brunette leaned over to the object of my desire and stage whispered, "Who does this girl think she is? Why is she sitting here? God, I didn't realize poor people smelled so bad. Someone should hose her down before she comes onto school property."

And, okay, I probably smelled A LITTLE today. I DID run two miles to get to school, and it was hot as hell in September. I could feel the sweat soaking through my shirt. And, okay, my hoodie was a little short on the sleeves, and my shorts had a hole in the left leg, but WHATEVER.

I clenched my fists into the arm rests, my knuckles turning white, and stared down the brunette beside me.

The blonde furrowed her brows at her friend and shook her head, then glanced over at me instead with a look I didn't quite understand. It wasn't disgust, but I couldn't place it, it had been so long since I had seen anything else.

Her cheeks tinted red as she cleared her throat and then pointed her index finger toward the stage.

The brunette shot me another glare and I turned my head to the front to ignore her.

"Her hair looks like she hasn't showered in days. And would it kill her to wear a little makeup?" The brunette continued, rolling her eyes at the blonde.

"Lorelei, can you just pay attention to the Principal, please?" the blonde snapped.  I couldn't help my eyes darting over to watch their interaction.

The brunette bimbo, Lorelei, just scoffed and took out her phone and started tapping away, and the blonde bit her bottom lip as she stole a look at me before turning back to the front.

I spent the rest of the assembly thinking about the rasp of the blonde’s voice.

When the teachers and students started shuffling to leave after the assembly concluded, Lorelei didn't even wait for me to stand before shoving her way past me.

"Fucking disgusting," she sneered.

I bit my cheek until I could taste blood. I stepped into the aisle to make room for the blonde instead of responding.

Be the bigger person, Lexa.

She just shimmied past without making eye contact.

She didn't even acknowledge my presence. 

My heart sank and my throat burned.

I found Roan outside of the auditorium and reminded him not to wait for me after school because of basketball tryouts, and he just rolled his eyes at me as he walked away.

"As if I'd wait for YOU," he called over his shoulder.

"No shit! I'm late because you didn't wait!" I yelled after him.

He shot his middle finger up in the air as he walked away.

What a dickhead.

*

Coach Indra was, without a doubt, the toughest thing since diamonds. She probably chewed rocks as bubble gum.

She took one look at my shoes and immediately dismissed me before I even stepped onto the court. She said I wasn't allowed to come back until I had proper footwear, and with the way I was feeling today, I threw a few choice words in her direction before storming off.

I get it, I'm poor. But how am I supposed to NOT be poor and do normal things if I literally COULD NOT afford them? How was I supposed to get PROPER footwear?

I left the gymnasium and headed to the basketball courts at the back of the school. I needed to blow off some steam, and there were some boys I knew already playing.

"Shirts and skins, Lex," Ryder called as he took the ball at the top of the key. Ryder, a year older and on the boys basketball team, pushed his luck when he asked, “Wait, why aren't you at the tryouts for the girl's team?”

"Alright, gimme a sec," I called back, pulling my leg behind to stretch out my quads and ignoring his question.

"You're skins. I gotta go before my dad beats my ass," Cage called as he slung his backpack up off the ground. I rolled my eyes at him as he walked away. He was a daddy's boy with entitlement issues. Dante was the mayor, and although a very nice man, he somehow managed to create the spawn of Satan when he had Cage. 

I stripped my shirt off, leaving me in my black sports bra and shorts, and jogged up to Ryder at the top of the key, snatching the ball from his grasp while he looked me over.

"Put your eyes back in your head, Ryder,” I drawled with a smirk, continuing to ignore the fact that I was out here with them and not inside at tryouts.

He chuckled as I sent the ball at him to check-in. "If I didn't already know what team you play for, I might have been interested," he teased back.

"You'd have no chance, regardless," I retorted.

As the other boys jeered at him, I made quick work of the play by faking him to the left, then stepping around him to the right and laying in an easy basket.

As we headed back to the top of the key, I asked, "How does everyone know 'what team I play for' anyway? I've literally never been with anyone of any gender,"

Ryder laughed heartily as he received the ball to be checked again.

"You're just too good to be straight, Lex. At ball, at life, everything. And the way you command the court? You walk around with more swag than all us boys put together. Take it as a compliment. I just guessed, and you just never denied it."

I rolled my eyes at him and made quick work of the next point by feeding my teammate, Lincoln, posting up down low. Lincoln was Coach Indra’s son, though you'd never know from their lack of interaction at school, and although a freshman too, it was a given that he would be on boys team this year. He didn't say much, but he was a blast to watch play, and an all-around good guy. He was so much bigger than everyone, yet somehow managed to hardly commit any fouls when he played. The definition of a gentle giant.

“You're a Grounder, like us,” Ryder said, referencing the school's team name on his dark green shorts, after we reset at the top of the key again. “You should be at tryouts,” he finished, and I MIGHT have passed the ball back to him a little harder than he was expecting.

I KNOW I should be at tryouts. I TRIED to be there.

“Let's just play,” Lincoln said, and sent a sympathetic look at my shoes. He knew why I wasn't there, which just made me more furious.

I ground my teeth in frustration and dribbled past Ryder while Lincoln battled for position with Artigas, who had the unfortunate task of defending him, and laid in another bucket. At least my frustration was fueling me to embarrass them.

It went on like this for another hour. Ryder became so frustrated by my speed that he purposefully elbowed me in the ribs, but I played through and still ended up with the bucket and the harm.

A slow clap sounded from the other side of the fence, and when I turned, I saw coach Indra staring at us with her arms folded across her chest.

No one wanted to deal with her, so we started packing our things up. I threw my shirt back on and grabbed my backpack as she had made her way inside the court.

"You got some nice moves, kid, and quite a sharp tongue from what I heard before you left the gym," she said as I slung my backpack over my shoulder.

I shrugged in response, still too angry to give her anything more. She smiled at me (I think. It could as well have been a scowl), her white teeth contrasting against her dark skin in a brilliant fashion. She ran her hand through her cropped hair and sighed audibly as I clenched my jaw and just stared at her.

"Do you know how I got hurt?" She asked, gesturing toward her knee.

I didn't. I knew she was GREAT at basketball, but I never understood what actually happened for her to stop playing.

"I was always a superstitious player. I had been wearing the same shoes for the past four years because they took me from being a lowly freshman to starting point guard at university. I had convinced myself that they were the reason I had such good luck.

I knew was on my way to being the first overall pick in the WNBA draft and I didn't want to risk anything getting in the way, especially not a brand new pair of shoes that hadn't proven to be my good luck charm. Those shoes that I adored were garbage, but it didn't matter because they were my ticket to the big show.

In an unimportant game during the season, someone's sweat got all over the gym floor after a hard foul. That's not a big deal. Fouls happen in basketball. After the free throw attempt, I stepped under the basket for the rebound and my foot slipped. The crew responsible for keeping the courts dry had missed the smallest of spots, and it was enough for me to slip. It was a freak accident. I tore my ACL, MCL, and PCL.

If I had been wearing newer, better shoes, maybe it wouldn't have happened. But, maybe it would have. Now, when I look back, I only have those MAYBES to hold onto. I don't want any other kid's career ruined because of a MAYBE; because of a pair of SHOES.

You're good, Woods. Really good. But I can't sit here and watch you jeopardize any future you have, even if it be just WALKING, because you weren't properly equipped."

I dropped my head and looked down at my shoes. I hated to admint that I understood her point: It was dangerous and she felt liable for my future.

I let out a deep sigh.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but these are my only pair. Thank you for explaining your decision to me when you didn't have to. Maybe next year," I said as politely as I could muster with the embarrassment of my socioeconomic status burning the back of my throat. There was nothing I could do about not having the right shoes. I was just going to have to forget about playing for the school and stay in my lane, so to speak.

I gripped my bag tighter and nodded at Coach Indra as a goodbye.

"Wait," she said as I turned away. "I didn't say anything about next year."

My shoulders dropped further, and I sucked in my bottom lip, biting down HARD to stop my eyes from stinging with unshed tears. She was basically telling me that I'd NEVER be playing basketball for this school, all over a pair of shoes.

Great.

"I'll cut you a deal," she said. When I didn't respond, she continued, "you wear the shoes I give you, and you're on the team. If you do that. I'll waive the uniform and off-site fee for away games."

I turned and furrowed my brow. "What?"

"Like I said, you're good. I hardly ever take freshmen on the team, but I see something special in you, shoes or not. So... do we have a deal?" she asked with a smirk. She stuck her hand out for me to shake and I just stared at it.

"I can't -- I can't take any handouts. I know what I look like," I said gesturing to my clothes, "but I'm not a charity case.”

"Oh, honey no," Coach Indra clarified, her hand dropping down to her side and her eyes softening to that look only a mother could give. "I'm not GIVING you the shoes. You're going to BORROW them. Someone with your talent is going to be getting PAID to wear shoes one day, so I plan on keeping these bad boys as my claim to fame once you make it big. So, deal?" She shot me a smile again and stuck her hand out for me to shake again. I didn't hesitate this time when I took her hand in mine and shook it.

"Thank you," I said with one last squeeze of her hand.

"Don't thank me yet, kid. You got a lot of work to put in still," Coach Indra said as she ruffled my messy brown hair before turning and walking back to the school.

Chapter Text

Tryouts lasted another two weeks, and I spent the time soaking up any and all advice from coach Indra like I was a sponge and she was the ocean. She was the female version of Michael Jordan to me.

I was uncomfortable when she presented me with the shoes I'd be wearing for any and all basketball practices and games. She told me they were an old pair of hers, but as I thought about it, her feet looked incredibly small, and the shoes looked incredibly new in comparison. When I protested, she hit me with a glare so hot that I started sweating in my haste to put the shoes on.

I learned that Lorelei and the blonde I was crushing on were both cheerleaders, much to my dismay. I would be seeing more of them than I had originally hoped, although I tried my best to keep my distance from her whenever possible.

Lorelei seemed to have curried favour with Cage, which was not all that odd. They must have bonded over their antipathy of me. The combination of Cage and Lorelei made my skin crawl and my blood boil simultaneously. It gave Lorelei a newfound sense of cruelty when she spoke.

There was a moment when I thought everything was finally going to come to a head. Lorelei had some rather choice words for me that day, and when I tried to walk away, she yanked me back by my backpack and I almost lost my footing. I spun around with my fist already poised to strike, but Roan had managed to get between Lorelei and I at the last moment.

“I would have punched a hole in your chest if you weren't careful,” I snapped at him.

Roan chuckled and wrapped his arms around me in a bearhug as he led me away from Lorelei.

“I'd like to have seen you try,” he responded. I fought against him half-heartedly as he carried me down the hallway and away from the guarantee of being kicked off the team and leaving the Shooting Guard spot wide open for the only other freshman to make it on the squad, Ontari Winters.

I tried to befriend her during the tryouts. I smiled at her and asked her to be my partner for warm ups, but she pursed her lips to look like a literal asshole and ignored me.

Her loss.

After the incident with Lorelei, the blonde that I spent FAR too much time thinking about grabbed my arm, pulling me out of the line to get my lunch and into the corner of the cafeteria. She didn't flinch when I scowled at her, and her blue eyes looked a mixture of hopeful, worried and scared all at once. I tried not to melt under the heat of her hand on my arm.

“Listen, I--,”

“What do you--,”

But before either of us could finish, Lorelei appeared and dragged the blonde away.

I sighed.

What the hell was wrong with me?

Thinking about the girl who was part of the twat-waffles that antagonized me was completely inappropriate. I needed to focus on school and basketball and forget about the blonde.

We lost or first exhibition game two days ago, and I saw zero minutes. I don't think Coach Indra even looked in my direction, which was probably a good thing, since I spent most of it staring at the blonde while she and the cheerleaders did a few dry runs of the routines they would be using this year.

For the entirety of the game, all I could focus on was how skilled the blonde was at the flips and kicks.

But… it's not that I noticed.

When she smiled during a cheer, it was really hard not to smile along with her.

Not that I noticed that either.

She was distracting.

It was infuriating.

I didn't even realize the game was over until the final buzzer sounded.

Right, the game. Focus.

We lost because we couldn't sink our free throws, so I made a mental note to work on those if only so I wouldn't be in Coach Indra's firing line in her post-game rant.

We had a day off yesterday, and the follow up practice today. It was brutal. Coach Indra was trying to turn us into some sort of warrior, I'm sure. After practice, I ran suicides and practiced taking free throws after each lap to work on controlling my breathing and still make the shot while exhausted. It was only the whistling if the janitor that finally got me to stop.

"Now I know Coach Indra pushes you girls, but it's almost dinner time, kid. What are you still doing here?"

I turned and saw Mr. Gus with a bucket and a mop by the double doors, a happy grin on his face. His biker beard and all of the tattoos made his friendly smile even more endearing because it was SO contradicting.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get in the way," I said as I put the ball back on the cart. "Can I help you clean up, sir?"

Mr. Gus waved my apology off and ran his hands through his beard as he looked me over. I was unsubtly trying to wipe my sweaty face with my shirt and regulate my breathing again, still coming down from my workout, while simultaneously trying to slip off Coach Indra's shoes.

"You know what? Help me mop this floor and I'll show you my trick to get TWO Gatorade bottles out of the vending machine. Deal?"

I grabbed the mop and together we made quick work of the gym floors. Surely enough, he DID have a trick to get an extra Gatorade out of the machine and ended up giving me both. I stored one in my backpack for later and drank a bit of the Blue Ice one while bidding Mr. Gus goodnight.

As I walked out of the gymnasium, I squeezed the half full bottle rhythmically to a song only I could hear. I looked down and just took a moment to appreciate the kindness of Mr. Gus.

It seemed like there are kind people out there, after all.

I succumbed to my wandering mind, and didn't see the approaching figure from the other side of the door. When I swung it open, I squeaked, jumped, and squeezed the Gatorade bottle HARD.

Well, shit.

My eyes widened in absolute fear and recognition as the blonde I had been dreaming about (I'll deny THAT information until my grave) pinned me with her ocean blue eyes.

She was PISSED.

I was in love.

Then, I was drenched.

After the initial shock of our collision and the explosion of Gatorade, she snatched the bottle from me and squeezed it in my face, then dumped the rest of it over my head.

It was epic.

It was horrible.

It was the only white shirt I had that fit and it was RUINED.

"Are you blind?! I JUST got this uniform!!" she cursed as she rubbed uselessly at her top.

I wiped my face and yelled, "What the hell!" and the death glare I received should have been enough for me to stop speaking, but she had just ruined my only white shirt and now my duct-taped shoes were starting to get soggy.

"I wish I WAS blind so I didn't have to see your stupid face!” I shouted, then added, “That uniform is so small I'm surprised I even got anything on it. You'd need to be pretty deprived of attention at home to want to parade around in that. Daddy issues much?"

I might have been out of line.

Possibly. Maybe. Completely.

The open handed slap that sounded through the hallway might have been deserved.  

Possibly. Maybe. Completely.

Did I apologize? God, no.

I cupped my stinging cheek and picked my ego up off the floor and walked away from the girl I couldn't stop thinking about, trying to keep my pride in tact as my shoes squished and squeaked with each step.

I JUST managed to get off school property when the duct tape on my shoes came apart.

I stood on the sidewalk, my face stinging and tears welling in my eyes from of the absolute RAGE I was feeling. My shoes squished underneath me, so I ripped them off my feet and threw them against the nearest tree in absolute frustration before collapsing onto the curb.

I couldn't ask Anya to buy me new shoes. We didn't even have enough for groceries this week and she had worked a double nearly every day.

I sat in the grass forcing my tears back and trying to control my breathing, when a bike pulled up beside me. I shot a scowl at the rider only to realize it was the cheerleader from before.

I just couldn't win today.

I rolled my eyes and slipped on a mask of indifference to prepare for another fight.

"Hey," she said.

When she wasn't sending me death glares, she had really pretty eyes. And nice lips, and that little freckle above her lip was perfectly placed. Her hair was shining in the afternoon sun, had she had on just enough perfume to make me dizzy.

I'm starting to agree with Roan on the 'useless lesbian' theory since that was all I could think about after I had been SLAPPED by the damn girl.

I raised a brow at her in question, not trusting my voice to not crack.

I wasn't in the mood to 'play nice’.

"I'm sorry, alright?" she huffed out, which completely threw me for a loop. It was apparent that she did not mean it, but I was too tired to fight her on it. I also liked my face, and had no intention of commenting, if only to save myself the pain of being slapped again.

I just swallowed and nodded at her. She rolled her eyes before dropping her bike to sit beside me.

"I'm sorry,” she said genuinely. “Honestly. This is just a -- I'm just -- I should never have slapped you, although, you deserved it with what you said."

"Your apology needs work," I mumbled, refusing to meet her eye.

She dropped her head to her chest and let out a huge sigh.

"Where are your shoes?" She then asked.

I didn't respond, and she looked around and saw the patchwork that I called footwear lying next to the tree.

After a moment of her staring at the side of my head, she said, "Can I give you a ride home?"

I didn't respond (do you see a trend here?) so she nudged me with her shoulder.

“Please?” she asked.

I bit my lip and continued to ignore her, instead, like the mature teenager that I am.

"Well, I'm Clarke. So, now at least it's not a random stranger offering you a ride, so it's not like you can use that as an excuse. And... I'm sorry. Like, actually sorry. For everything. Lorelei is a BITCH, and I should have said something sooner, but I took my frustrations out on you because I got detention, and, it doesn't matter WHAT my reasons were, so the least I can do to make up for it is to give you a lift home. Please?"

Clarke.

It was not a name I was expecting. She was special. She deserved a special name.

I internally groaned as I heard Roan’s voice calling me a ‘Useless lesbian’.

And maybe I'm weak, but the way she was rambling, the slight pink to her cheeks, and how she batted her eyes at me when she offered to give me a ride made my brain freeze, so I gave her a single nod.

She got up first and inspected my shoes by the tree before stuffing them inside her backpack, turned to me and tilted her head toward the bike.

I furrowed my brow until she explained, "You know where you live, I don't. And I have shoes on, so let's go, you're steering, and I'll stand on the spokes."

Once we were settled on the bike, her arms wrapping around my shoulders and my heart beating at the speed of sound, I took off, feeling like we were Jack and Rose in the Titanic. Her perfume wafted gently through the air and I pedaled a little more casually than normal, drawing out the sudden peace between us.

"Why did you have detention?" I asked as we made our way through the neighbourhoods.

"Lorelei passed me a note that said some horrible shit as usual and I got caught with it. She pinned it all on me," she responded. I just nodded in response. I had a few choice words, but I figured Clarke had heard enough of my angry grumbling since our first meeting.

"Listen, all that shit she's said to you, it's not cool. I don't agree with any of it."

But, it wasn't like she told her to stop either. It was hard to believe that she didn't feel the same way. She could just be trying to placate me for the ride home.

The ride home that she so willingly offered when she didn't have to.

The ride home AFTER I insulted her in the worst way possible.

Maybe she DIDN'T feel the same way as Lorelei.

Maybe she WAS different.

I cleared my throat and looked down at my shoes.

Technically, Lorelei wasn't WRONG about me, even if she was rude. Anger aside, I WAS poor.

“We are what we are, Clarke,” I said softly. She tightened her grip on my shoulders, her thumbs moving across the ridges of my shoulder blades.

"You're more than your parent’s -- family’s income,” she said in exasperation. “Technically you're just born into a situation. You didn't choose any of it when you came out of the womb. You didn't say, 'hey doc, throw me in with the rich or poor parents over there’; and even if you DID, no one has the right to judge you for it. Don't we deserve better than that? I fucked up when I befriended her, but it was because she was in my classes and trying out for cheerleading too. And now we're on the same squad and..." she trailed off and sighed disdainfully, "and now I'm associated with her and she is SUCH a DICK.”

I couldn't help the laugh that escaped my lips at her utter exasperation.

When I didn't say anything else, Clarke continued,

"She sits there and treats everyone like a… like an experiment. She pushes and prods and irritates them until they snap. She thinks anyone who isn't exactly like her is some sort of… like a… like a savage or something. I've been wanting to talk to you since that day in the auditorium but I just didn't know what to say to you because you're not exactly the most approachable person with the scowling and the never smiling thing you have going on there, and honestly, being in high school is really confusing and shitty and it's only been A MONTH, but there's all this pressure to be a certain way and talk a certain way and act a certain way and I'm just SO DONE."

Thankfully, we had stopped at an intersection, because the way Clarke threw her hands up in the air worried me that she was going to topple backwards. She must have been stronger than she appeared; however, because even with the jerking of her body, her feet were firmly planted on the spokes.

"You should just be whoever you want," I replied as I turned in the seat to make sure that she was, in fact, safe.

"That's easy for you to say," she retorted with a snort.

"Why? Because I'm the poor kid that everyone looks down on?" I snapped, turning back forward and pedalling again, not even bothering to check if she was ready.

I could feel how Clarke tensed at my words, but I was, very apparently, still on edge.

I knew exactly how she felt, everyone always expecting SOMETHING from you, whether it's good or bad.  

My teachers had unfairly pegged me as a troublemaker.

Coach Indra was expecting great things from me because I showed potential.

Roan expected me to be tough and unmoving like him.

Anya was expecting me to be happy ALL the time, and, of everyone, I owed her that much since she spent her entire savings on making sure I was getting the help I needed.

It was all so overwhelming.

"No, that's not what I meant," Clarke whispered. I could hear how she deflated behind me, but I didn't have it in me to comfort her, nor did I have the time as we pulled up to the street that led down to my house.

I pulled over on the main road instead and ignored the quizzical look Clarke gave me as she climbed off.

"I live around here. Thank you so much for the lift, and I'm sorry too... For what I said to you," I said, awkwardly running my hand through my hair before it snagged on some knotted braids I had interspersed. I handed the bike back to Clarke.

“Your face isn't stupid. And you're not like them -- like her -- you're nothing like what I said. You're nothing like I expected, actually. You're special. You should just be you, Clarke, because I've never met someone like you and it's -- it's nice. You didn't have to apologize to me after I insulted you so horribly, but you did. You're a good person, Clarke. And you're actually pretty talented from what I've seen, you don't need to worry about being her friend just because she's in the squad,” I blurted out.

Oh God, what had I said?

"Thank you," Clarke responded with a little smirk.

“I didn't realize you were paying attention,” she said. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Um, yeah, sure I guess," I said with reddened cheeks. What the hell was I thinking?

I turned to walk away before I felt a warm weight on my forearm.

"Your shoes.”

Oh yeah, my shoes. Whatever was left of them. I watched as the duct tape around the laces slowly peeled back as Clarke held them, and felt my stomach bottom out.

Now, I was embarrassed for a completely different reason.

I coughed awkwardly when she handed them back to me, the residue of the tape making her fingers sticky.

I didn't understand the look she was giving me  but it made my chest tighten in an uncomfortable way. I felt a flash of anger I couldn't control.

I averted my eyes and angrily stared at my shoes. I wasn't angry with her. I wasn't angry with my shoes. I wasn't even angry with me. I was angry at this situation.

"Yeah, thanks," I said before I sprinted away.

*

Anya left me half of her dinner of vegetables and some sort of chicken fried chicken (steak? Pork? I don't even know) the diner gave her whenever she worked a double, and I quickly devoured it once I sat down. Each bite made me angrier and angrier.

These are scraps. It was a pitiful joke, just like me.

I knew Anya was sleeping upstairs and as much as I felt like I needed her, I just couldn't bring myself to bother her right now, so I quietly washed the plastic container before setting it in the dish rack.

My body felt like I was being engulfed by flames, my anger so bright. Tears pricked at my eyes, and I clenched my jaw tightly to fight them back. As I looked around my dilapidated house, I squeezed my hands tightly, the nails of my fingers biting into the palms of my hands.

She sacrificed EVERYTHING for me. Why couldn't I just be happy? Why couldn't people just leave me alone? Why couldn't it be enough for us? Why couldn't I be enough?

I shut my eyes and took a few slow breaths and let the silence of the house wash over me. After a few minutes of controlled breathing, my anger faded as I took in my surroundings for a second time.  

Yes, it wasn't an overabundance of material things, but I had A LOT to be thankful for. My sister loved me unconditionally, to the point that she'd always share her food. She loved me so much that she worked hard to make sure I had enough. I loved her enough to let her sleep even when I really missed her and needed her advice. I loved her enough to acknowledge that she was doing the best she could. There was so much LOVE in this dilapidated house. The walls were bare, but the house was FILLED with so many things money couldn't buy.

Thank God for those therapy sessions she paid for, right?

And... I had Roan, who, as much as he was a pain in the ass, he was always there for me when I needed him, and vice versa.

I scolded myself for feeling sorry for myself and retrieved my textbooks from my backpack and started to work on my homework with a new perspective.

Chapter Text

Two weeks passed  and I hadn’t seen Clarke since the impromptu ride home.

It's not that I had been avoiding her, I just couldn't think straight when I was in her presence. I spent far too many moments dissecting every part of our interaction, so I purposefully went to class and then home straight after school.

But I WASN'T avoiding her.

It just so happened that there was a two week break after tryouts so that the boy’s team could have their own.  The cheerleaders were still using the gym in preparation for the upcoming season, so while the reprieve from Lorelei was welcomed, the lack of Clarke was an unfortunate byproduct.

Randomly, Coach Indra decided that us on the girls team needed to find a way to bond with the break between tryouts and the start of preseason.

Unfortunately, her idea for bonding was to force us to watch the football team’s Homecoming game. Something about being present for the other sports in the school.

Great. Nothing gave me school spirit like watching a bunch of sweaty highschool boys groping each other on a Friday night.

Thankfully, I roped Roan into coming to the game, and we managed to show up late enough (because Roan was having a 'hair emergency’) that I couldn’t find the rest of my team. I knew that no one would complain or tell Indra, though, as even our Sophomore co-captains, Luna and Echo, admitted to not ACTUALLY wanting to be there.

Roan secured a seat in the top corner of the bleachers, far enough from the cheerleaders to not be noticed by Lorelei, and far enough from all the rabid fans to not be constantly annoyed by the hopeless cheering and spilled popcorn when our pitiful our team let them down.

When the Grounders finally stumbled through the banner as the marching band played their tone-deaf rendition of the school cheer, the cheerleaders took the field to warm the crowd up for the upcoming shit show.

Well, at least it wasn't a TOTAL waste of a Friday evening.

Clarke was front and centre, kicking and flipping her way across their makeshift dance floor of the field in her forest green uniform, her hair in a tight ponytail with loose ringlets dancing behind her. Her short skirt and crop top with GROUNDERS printed across it seemed like it was custom made just for her to pull off the stunts she was performing.

She was SO good.

She finished the routine they were performing with the splits.

She also was SO flexible.

She then seamlessly joined back into the cheer and smiled brightly at the crowd, waving the pom-poms back and forth in cheer.

She was just SO... beautiful.

She was LITERALLY a walking dream, and I was so, SO gay.

Roan’s hand suddenly waving in front of my face snapped me out of my stupor.

“Dude, are you kidding me right now?” he laughed.

“What?” I asked. My cheeks were burning red, I knew I had been caught.

Roan took another minute to calm his laughter. Right as he finally stopped, he burst into another fit of giggles at my once again glazed over expression.

God, she was beautiful.

I punched him in the arm and pretended to direct my attention to the game. It was a grave mistake. The Ice Nation had scored a touchdown within seconds of the kick-off.

The combination of Roan's laughter and the pathetic performance of our team was exhausting. It was totally NOT worth coming to this.

By half time, I had no idea what the score was, who we were even playing, or if Roan had come back from the bathroom break he said he was going on.

Clarke had my FULL attention. She was the one bright spot in the evening, and I refused to let her out of my periphery for a second.

At one point, she did an entire sequence of gymnastic flips across the field, and landed with such grace that I almost fell off my seat on the bleachers.

She was SO good.

At the end of their routine, the cheerleaders ran off the field as the teams came back on to finish the last quarter of game.

They cheered and smiled and waved at the crowd as they approached the bleachers, and that's when it happened.

Clarke caught my eye, and I felt the thudding of my heartbeat as my stomach bottomed out.

She winked at me and waved, and my  breath caught in my throat. Neither of us broke eye contact, and I could swear the entire world fell to silence to allow us this moment.

It was TOTALLY worth coming to the game.

Roan bumped my shoulder with his at the same time that Raven wrapped her arm around Clarke, sporting a relieved smile, both of them successfully breaking the intense eye contact Clarke and I were sharing.

I suppose the cheerleaders were successful tonight, regardless of the score of the football game.

“You really should find a way to talk to her again,” Roan said as he followed the direction I was looking in.

“What?” I asked as I forced myself to look away.

Roan rolled his eyes and nodded toward the field.

“Blondie. Don’t act like you haven’t been drooling over her this whole time,” he said.

I spluttered. “What? No. I have not been DROOLING,” I argued.

Roan gestured to the corner of my mouth. “You have a little..”

My eyes widened as I wiped furiously at my mouth. Roan exploded into laughter so loud that people in the first row of the bleachers turned around and stared at us. Roan growled at them, finally forcing their diverted attention back to the game.

“Just talk to her,” he said. “It won’t hurt, and if it does, I'll punch you to make it better.”

I rolled my eyes. “You drive a hard bargain, Roan,” I said sarcastically. I glanced at the scoreboard and cringed when I saw the score, 63 - 0 for the visitors.

Did the score usually go that high in a football game?

Finally, mercifully, the game-ending whistle blew and the crowd dispersed after a collective groan.

Roan and I waited until the bleachers were practically empty before leaving, long after the cheerleaders skipped down the tunnel, and the football team lumbered disappointedly to the locker room.

Roan stupidly challenged me to a race from the top, reminiscent of when we were kids, and I easily beat him to the garbage cans at the bottom of the bleachers, also reminiscent of when we were kids.

“I win!” I called with a huge smile as he bounded his way down the steps.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand and flip of his hair.

Before I could tease him further, a cup of soda was hurled at me.

I didn’t react in time, and the cup crashed into my chest, splashing on my hoodie and all over my shoes.

God, not again.

“Oops. You looked so similar to trash, I thought I could just add to the pile,” a sickeningly sweet voice sounded.

Lorelei, her minions, and a few football players I had never seen emerged from the shadows.

Seriously? What was this, a music video? Where did they even come from?

Roan hissed at her, and Lorelei snarked, “Shut it, dumpster boy.”

The football players laughed, and I could feel Roan tense under my grip on his arm. There was nine of them and two of us, this wasn't a fight we could win.

Right as he was about to lunge, Clarke came around the corner carrying a duffel bag, wearing a pair of leggings and a large dark green school hoodie, her eyes darting between Lorelei and I in surprise. I held onto Roan even tighter, he could NOT get Clarke mixed into this.

“Lorelei?” she called, registering the tense standoff, and the brunette turned and smiled sweetly at the blonde.

“Clarke! I was just throwing out some trash,” she said gesturing back to me and Roan. “You should probably do the same. It seems there’s two racoons looking to get dinner.”

My palms started to sweat, the simmering rage in my chest begging to be unleashed.

I was so tired of this.

I thought Clarke was different.

Clarke sighed loudly and dropped her duffel bag with a loud thud, taking in my ruined shirt. She cringed.

She was ACTUALLY going to throw garbage at us.

Clarke ran her hand through her hair and I swallowed down the disappointment of letting myself be fooled by her apologies.

“Lorelei, don’t you get tired of picking on everyone all the time? It must be exhausting to constantly need to bring people who are SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU down to your level. Just leave them alone and grow up,” Clarke said,  each word leaving her lips with ferocity that gave me goosebumps.

Lorelei wheeled around on her, that sickly sweet smile still on her face as she sized up the blonde.

"Excuse me?" she said as she stepped closer to Clarke. Aside from the nervous beating of my heart, I could hear the shifting of gravel underneath our feet as people formed a circle around us and the two warring girls. Clarke stood with her fists clenched, her eyes darting back and forth between Lorelei's, inclining her head in defiance.

Blue eyes suddenly caught fire. "Did I stutter? Or are you just that DUMB that you don't understand me? You pick on people for the most ridiculoua reasons. Why don't you just fuck off and leave them alone?"

"Are you REALLY defending this… SCUM right now?" Lorelei snapped back. "What is this? Charity work?"

The minions laughed behind her, and in the few minutes that Clarke had spoken up, it felt like the entire school population had gathered. Roan was suddenly gripping my arm just as tightly as I was holding his.

Clarke pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.

I realized in that moment that Clarke’s confident, challenging look was terrifying (read: a huge turn on).

“Do you need to feel needed, Clarke? Or is this just to make sure that you can feel SUPERIOR. You want to give something to these charity cases? Just throw them a hundred and let's go. They've probably never even seen a bill that high. They're WORTHLESS Clarke. Stop giving them so much attention.”

"The only one who is worthless here is you. Just leave them alone Tsing, or do you need me to show you just much attention I can GIVE?" Clarke said, her voice low, threatening.

Lorelei’s eyes darted down to Clarke's closed fist and then backed up in surprise. She must have realized that it wasn’t an empty threat Clarke was giving her. She scoffed, turned, and quickly walked into the parking lot, the football team parting so she could pass while they cat-called and laughed at the abrupt ending.

Clarke stood in front of Roan and I as the crowd that had gathered dispersed, still clenching and unclenching her fists.

Roan laughed.

He laughed hard and loud, and it startled both Clarke and I enough for the anger burning in my chest to subside.

Did this actually happen?

Clarke’s cheeks turned red when Roan continued to laugh, but she smiled and moved closer to us, shaking her curls out as the adrenaline from the situation dissipated.

"God, that felt so good," she said, and Roan laughed for a third time.

He reached toward her while I stared dumbly, and they high-fived like they were old friends.

"Nice,” he said.

I glared at him, he winked at me and dusted off his pants.

"I'm sorry for intervening, I just -- I can't stand there and let her insult yo -- people," Clarke said, looking between myself and Roan.

I stood there, staring at her, impersonating an owl. I wasn't ready to believe that this actually happened.

"Thanks," Roan said. He nudged my shoulder lightly with his own.

Clarke's cheeks turned a deeper shade of red as she looked at my STILL dumbfounded expression.

Car lights flashed in front of us, forcing us to cover our eyes from the blinding light.

“That’s my dad,” Clarke said reluctantly as she turned toward the light and back to us. “Do you guys want a ride home?”

“No,” I said quickly. It was the first words I spoke, and I could see that it stung. Her smile faltered momentarily before she bit her bottom lip and nodded.

“Thank you,” I said to her. “We’re just going to walk home,” I continued, and as I stepped further away from her, my shoes made a loud squishing noise as the duct tape split apart. I clenched my eyes shut in embarrassment.

Great. She was getting picked up by a Lamborghini and my shoes were falling apart at the seams.

Roan coughed, and when I opened my eyes again, Clarke was looking at my feet.

“Okay,” she said as her eyes came back up to meet mine. “I’ll see you guys on Monday?” she asked, backing towards her car.

“Yes!” Roan shouted before she closed the passenger door.

When she finally drove off, Roan shoved me.

“What the fuck? We could have gotten a ride home in a Lambo instead of having to walk, you numbskull!”

“Roan,” I warned, and he held his hands up in defense.

“Alright, alright. Get on my back, your shoes aren’t making it,” he said, squatting low enough for me to jump up while clutching my shoes in my palms.

It took all of me to not resist his kindness out of pure stubbornness. There was no way I was making it home in my socks, I really had no choice.

“At least you finally talked to her. Sort of. Maybe aim for more than ten words on Monday,” Roan chirped at me. I kneed him in the kidney.

*

Roan nearly knocked my head off as he slammed his hand down on my locker door on Monday morning. I hadn't slept well all weekend, my mind running away with thoughts of the blonde. I was NERVOUS to speak to her again. I was NEVER nervous.

"What the hell, Roan?!" I gasped in surprise.

He smirked at me and rolled his eyes.

I nodded in the direction of his left eye, the bruise dark and painful looking, and he just shrugged one shoulder and flipped his long hair.

"Looks worse than it is. Nia was too drunk all weekend to do anything more,” he said. It was probably more painful than he was letting on, but if Roan didn't want to talk about something, he didn't talk about it, and there was nothing I could do but let it go if I wanted keep my teeth in my mouth. I leaned against our lockers as we waited for the first bell to ring, Roan imitating my position silently.

The silence was short lived when the blonde-badass, Roan had so eloquently dubbed her on Friday night, appeared in my periphery.

Clarke stopped in front of us, fiddling with her backpack as she smiled nervously. Roan perked up at her while my mind completely melted like an ice cube in the middle of a heatwave.

She actually wanted to speak to us? To me?

"Hey..." she started, "So, um, I didn't actually get your names on Friday,” she said, taking a step closer.

Her eyes searched mine, but my brain was still trying to recover from the flood of hormones rushing through me.

I'm sure I looked how I felt -- a puddle of FEELINGS.

She fiddled with the strap of her backpack again and worried her lip when I didn't respond.

What the hell was wrong with me?

"This," Roan said, clearing his throat and shoving me hard enough for me to stumble slightly, "is Lexa. Don't mind her right now, she is just slower than most in the morning. I'm Roan."

Clarke giggled at his insult, and the sound finally broke me of the haze of hormones.

What a beautiful sound.

I rolled my eyes and gave him my best glare, Roan only mocked my look in response.

"Listen, it was nice to see you again and all, but I have to go. My class is on the other side of campus," Roan lied. His class was right in front of us. We had the SAME class.

He took off before I could argue, leaving me with the incredibly attractive blonde who was also now my knight in shining Converse. She wore a tight black skinny jeans with rips in the knees, a dark blue Henley, her hair curling around her shoulders.

I immediately felt inadequate with the messy bun, dark green basketball shorts, black tank top and black hoodie. The sleeves of the hoodie had holes in them and were too short, like everything else I owned, so I had them pushed up over my elbows. I had literally rolled out of bed before running to the bus stop to make it to school on time, and looked exactly that, while Clarke looked ready to lead a post-apocalyptic army of high schoolers to war.

"So, um, Lexa," she said, testing out my name on her lips. I played with the zipper of my hoodie to physically stop my heart from beating out of my chest.

"Clarke," I murmured. I couldn't trust that my voice wouldn't crack.

“I like the way you say my name,” she said before slamming her hand over her mouth and clenching her eyes shut.

She groaned loudly, then said,

“I mean, umm, some of the girls on the squad call me Griffin, and my teachers call me Miss Griffin, but I like my name. So yeah, call me Clarke. Anyway, I'm rambling. Why am I always rambling? Anyway, umm, I wanted to uhh, to give you something. And I know it's not much and it's not even new, nor do I even know if you're going to like it but it was kind of a last minute decision this morning and yeah, just -- just, here," she rushed out as she fumbled with the contents of her backpack.

She pulled out a bright orange box from her bag, and I knew the brand by just looking at it.

Oh, no.

Clarke all but shoved the box into my chest, my only reaction was to catch it lest the box end up on the floor. She looked at me expectantly, so I opened the box to reveal a pair of all black Jordan's. They were... expensive, I knew. I had drooled over them for months since they were released.  

"Why?" I breathed out, piercing her eyes with my own in hopes of understanding why she would do this.

My heart was pounding in my chest. This was too much. This was… this was a handout.

She thought I was a charity case.

Clarke rambled, "I know we're the same size because when I picked your shoes up by the tree that one time it said eight, and you're a basketball player and I don't NEED these shoes and maybe you do, I don't know, but I thought that maybe you could take them since I wasn't wearing them and you might actually get use out of them," she let out a huge breath as though she had been holding it the entire time through her speech.

My brain only registered the word 'need',  and suddenly I was seeing red.

This WAS too much. I didn't NEED anything. I WASN'T some charity case, contrary to what everyone thought. I was perfectly capable of surviving on my own. This was just another way to shove me being poor in my face, another reminder that I was NOT good enough as I was.

I shook my head as the inadequacy I was insistent on ignoring flared up in my mind, and a tear slipped down my cheek before I could reign myself back in. Clarke stepped back, her nervous smile suddenly replaced with a worried frown.

I shoved the box back in her hands and snapped, "I'm not some fucking charity case, Clarke. I don't NEED anything from YOU or ANYONE ELSE. I didn't NEED you to step in with Lorelei, and I don't NEED your fucking shoes."

She stepped backwards as I closed in on her until she hit the lockers on the other side of the hall. Pain and confusion flashed in her eyes, her cheeks flushing, and she swallowed to clear her throat.

"I really did not mean to offend you by assuming anything," her voice cracked, and the hopelessness in her words stopped me in my tracks. Her eyes dropped from mine as her breathing became watery with emotion.

Shit.

I stepped back, the sudden cloud of anger disappearing with each pained breath she let out.

“Clarke, I --” I hesitated.

What had I done? What was I supposed to say?

I took a step forward, but Clarke cleared her throat and slowly pushed the box back against my chest, keeping me at a distance.

“Clarke,” I tried again. I closed my hands around the box, but still the words wouldn't come.

When she finally looked up, her eyes were wet with the tears.

Shit.

"Maybe you'll find someone that these can come in handy for. Like I said, I don't need them and I'd prefer if they were to be used than just sitting in my closet,” she said with a forced smile.

With that, she turned and walked away before I could respond.

I stood there, mouth agape, holding the olive branch I had so rudely rejected.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

*

Roan, in typical Roan fashion, punched me when I told him what happened. He then called me a jackass for the entirety of our first period, even going as far as to write it on a sticky note and stick it to my forehead before he left the classroom for second period.

I think I overreacted. Possibly. Maybe. Completely.

It took Roan, emotionally inept Roan, to explain to me why -- I had a major crush on this girl, and when I saw the box, I thought of all the looks and comments and jokes about me being 'that girl’, and my wounded ego lashed out. I had two years of practice internalizing the feeling of inadequacy, and then when a crush was thrown on top of that, that feeling just intensified.

I would NEVER be enough for Clarke.

By lunch, I thought I was going to throw up, the uncomfortable feeling of guilt tearing up my stomach. I made my way to my regular table with Roan, trying to find an appetite that was escaping me.

"How were the rest of your classes?" I asked, as Roan pointedly ignored me.

I pushed his shoulder, and still, nothing. Confused, I pulled at his tray, and Roan shot me a glare before snatching it back.

"Fix it," was all he said to me.

I knew what he was talking about, I just didn't understand why he cared.

"Why do you care?"

Roan huffed as he rolled his eyes. "Because, dipshit, you're going to mope about this until it's fixed, and I can't possibly make fun of you and expect it to make any lasting impact if you're too stuck in your guilt of being a complete MORON. So, go. Fix it." He shooed me with his hand and returned to eating his lunch.

I breathed out a sigh of resignation and looked around the cafeteria for the familiar head of blonde hair. She was sitting at the table with the rest of the cheerleaders, of course.

I sucked in a deep breath and headed over to her, not quite sure what to say. I was a few feet away as a few of the football team's players sat down on the bench in front of me. Clarke's head, as long as the rest of the table, shot up at the disturbance and we locked eyes before hers hardened and she looked away, stabbing her salad with her fork.

I turned and walked away, the sting of embarrassment too much for me to handle.

Roan rolled his eyes when I came back to the table.

"Just, shut up," I said.

*

I stayed after school and played as much pick up with Ryder and Lincoln as I could in hopes of clearing my mind of the blonde, blue-eyed girl I was such an asshole to.

It wasn't working.

The Jordans I had received this morning were mocking me from my backpack with every misstep I took in my duct-taped sneakers.

I still didn't know what to do about apologizing to Clarke or what to do with the shoes, but it was starting to drizzle, and I needed to get home before MY shoes fell apart.

I walked through the school to the parking lot when the solution to my problems was forced upon me.

It was pouring outside, and there was no way that my shoes were going to make it home. Even with my umbrella, I wasn't going to be able to stop the splashing puddles from ruining my shoes. There wasn't enough duct tape in the world to make that happen.

Before I stepped out from under the awning by the front door, movement caught my eye by the bike rack. I looked over and saw Clarke soaked to the bone next to her bike, pulling fruitlessly at the chain.

The bike had clearly been vandalized, both tires were flat and deformed, and there appeared to be a SECOND chain locking the bike to the rack.

Well, if there was ever a sign to make it right, this was it.

I walked over to Clarke and cleared my throat loud enough for her to hear me over the splashing of the water on the concrete. She looked up at me and let out a bitter laugh. Her hair was stuck to her forehead, making her look like a drowned cat -- a drowned, grumpy cat.

"You know, you really didn't have to do this," she said, gesturing to the bike. "I get that I fucked up this morning, but I really didn't mean to upset you to this extent."

The heartbreak that coated each word felt like a punch to the stomach.

"Um, I didn't do it," I said honestly.

I hated that I was mean enough to her to make her think that lowly of me, but I deserved it after this morning.

She scoffed disbelievingly.

“I swear Clarke,” I said. I could hear myself pleading for her to believe me. Clarke must have heard it too, slamming her hand down on her bike.

"That fucking ASSHOLE,” she yelled.

I took a step back in surprise.

"This was Lorelei. Fucking FUCK!”

Clarke rested her head against her bike and let out a loud groan as her skin goosebumped and she shook slightly from the cold rain.

"Listen, I think I can help you," I said with a sudden burst of confidence.

I can fix this.

"And... I owe you an apology, Clarke," I added. "I was a jerk this morning, and what you did… it was actually really nice. I think my pride got in the way. I really DO appreciate it. You don't know me, so you didn't have to give me something. It was really... kind of you."

Thankfully, she wasn't looking at me. I don't think I would have been able to apologize if she was with how hard my heart was beating. I heaved out a sigh when she didn't respond.

“I never meant to upset you, Lexa,” she said with her head still resting against the bike. “I just hoped that after being associated with Lorelei,  I could change the way you looked at me.”

“You already have,” I said quickly. “I overreacted. I think it's because of my feelings...”

Clarke's head snapped up to look at me and I realized what I was about to say. “...toward Lorelei making fun of me,” I cleared my throat. “I was on edge and letting my feelings toward her interfere with my judgement,” I covered smoothly.

Clarke bit her lip, and I nervously averted my eyes to the bike, nodding my head in its direction, silently asking her to let me take a look.

I could TOTALLY fix this. I felt my heart skip a beat in excitement.

She moved away from it, and I realized that the chain that was wrapped around the bike was cheap enough to break with bolt cutters.

"Okay,” I breathed, “firstly, come with me." I said, grabbing her hand and hauling her up to a standing position. Now that we were closer, I could see the redness of her eyes and the puffy skin underneath. She had been crying. She thought it was ME that did this. She was crying because of ME.

I cleared my throat and walked away from her while tamping down on the sudden burst of anger I felt toward Lorelei and at myself, really, for hurting her. I turned around when I realized Clarke wasn't following, and saw as she just stood there, gnawing on her bottom lip nervously.

"You can either trust me and follow me, or you can stand out here in the rain getting soaked, but I have an umbrella and some connections, so it's your choice,” I said with a smile.

It didn't take long for Clarke to catch up to me.

I headed toward the janitors office to find Mr. Gus readying his mop and bucket to head to the gym.

"Lexa, dear, you're... leaving puddles on my floor!" Mr. Gus exclaimed, more amused than angry.

"I'm really sorry about that Sir, I promise to mop the ENTIRE gym floor tomorrow, but my friend here," I gestured to Clarke, "had someone mess with her bike. Can I borrow a pair of bolt cutters?"

Mr. Gus looked behind my shoulder and his brow quirked up at the girl before a small smirk played across his face.

"Fine, on one condition," he yielded. I waited, and he ran his fingers through his beard before r saying, "You make sure you give her one of your Gatorades."

I nodded at him with a small upturn of my lips. I went outside and freed her bike as Mr. Gus gave her a towel to dry off with. My shoes were already ruined, so I tossed them in the trash can and sighed heavily as I removed the Jordans from the box.

A truce needed an act of good faith, right?

I slipped the Jordans onto my feet and made my way back to Me. Gus’s office.

After returning the bolt cutters, I asked Clarke if she was ready to go. She gave me a puzzled look, but I just smiled at her and tugged her back outside.

As we were standing under the awning again, I saw her shudder, the coldness of the rain still chilling her skin.

I don't know WHY I did it (I totally know why), but I took off my zip up and put it around her shoulders. I was still hot from playing basketball and the endorphin rush of being in her presence, so I barely felt the chill in the air from the rain.

I opened the umbrella and handed it to her before I started walking toward the bike. I lifted the bike onto my shoulder and turned to look at her with a smile. I was getting absolutely drenched, but I couldn't care less when I saw her eyes dart from the bike down to my shoes and then back up to meet my eyes with a warm smile. I shrugged my free shoulder at her.

"Well, Clarke, you know where you live, and I don't, and I have a bike on my shoulder, so lead the way," I said with a cheeky grin.

As it turns out, she lives two miles in the opposite direction of my house. We stood waiting for the bus under the umbrella, a comfortable silence between us.

"Thank you," I finally said to her. "For the shoes. I know I said that it was nice of you and whatever, but I never actually said 'thank you' so yeah, thank you.”

"You're welcome," she replied softly.

"I'm not going to steal your bike, if that's what you're thinking,” I blurted out.

What the hell was wrong with me?

"I'm not thinking that, Lexa. All I'm thinking about is the fact that I should have apologized to you sooner. I should have ditched Lorelei. You seem so... kind... It's weird how people judge you. I mean, you're kind of scary looking when you want to be, but I guess I would be too if I was having to deal with people like Lorelei all the time. I just wish I had befriended you first, and maybe none of this would have happened."

I chewed my cheeks as I mulled over what she said.

"It takes as long as it takes, Clarke. We're friends now, right?" I asked. "I mean, you kinda have to say yes since I literally am holding your bike right now. What if I DID want to steal your bike?"

"You wouldn't get very far," she sassed. "I'm a really fast runner, and I may be smaller than you, but I'm pretty strong," she said, flexing the muscles I couldn't see under my hoodie.

The deep laugh I let out surprised even me. "Okay, fair enough.”

"Friends?" she asked with her hand sticking out toward me.

"Friends," I responded, grasping her hand in mine and giving it a firm shake.

We made small talk as the bus came. Clarke didn't have any money on her, what with not expecting to take the bus, so I paid for us both, and the trip to her house was quicker than I had expected (or wanted, to be honest).

"Thank you for bringing my bike back," she said as she stood awkwardly by her garage. I closed the garage door and shrugged in nonchalance.

"No big deal, your bike is pretty light.” Her house was a lot bigger and newer than mine. It oddly looked like it came out of a cookie cutter, her neighbours' houses looking the exact same save for the colour of bricks.

Clarke focused on playing with the sleeves of my hoodie as she shifted from foot to foot. "You know which buses to take to get home?" she asked softly.

I nodded at her, and she worried her lip for just a moment before suddenly reaching forward and wrapping her arms around me in a tight hug. My body felt hot from the contact. I didn't have a chance to react before she pulled away.

"Thank you again. Get home safe," she said. I took a few steps backwards, now smiling stupidly at her.

I finally turned and walked away when I knew that she was safe inside, only to realize that I didn't have enough bus money to get myself back to my house, it was still pouring rain, and she was still wearing my hoodie.

Oh well, it was a beautiful day for a walk anyway.

Chapter Text

I hated Wednesdays.

Nothing fun happened on Wednesdays. It was the epitome of sadness and depression all rolled into a single day. It was the middle child of the week.

Ugh.

Mr. Pike was, as usual, bitter and unrelenting in his admonishment of me.

It was the FIRST period of the day, and his permanently disgruntled appearance was doing NOTHING to make math class any more enjoyable.

“Miss Woods if you're going to not pay attention then I suggest you find a way home.”

I snapped my head up from the notebook I was writing in and glared at the front of the class.

“I'm taking notes,” I responded, but it sounded more like a question than a statement.

“I'm sure,” he snarked before turning back to the whiteboard.

In reality, I was doodling a pair of blue eyes that I couldn't get out of my head, but he didn't need to know that.

Roan was annoying as hell, snarky beyond comprehension.

“You're pathetic,” he whispered when he glanced over at my book.

“Shut up,” I snapped back.

Mr. Pike glanced back at us momentarily before continuing to drone on about fractions or something.

“Shut up,” Roan mocked back, his voice taking on a higher pitch than before as an imitation to my voice.

“I don't sound like that.”

“I don't sound like that,” Roan parrotted.

“I will DESTROY you,” I said.

“I will de--,”

I kicked him in the shin.

The commotion caused the entire class to look back at us, and I scowled at each and every one of them before they turned around.

“What the hell is wrong with you today?” I asked Roan.

He shrugged. “I'm bored, and you're entertaining. Where's Blondie? She always makes things MORE entertaining.”

I shrugged and pursed my lips, pretending not to care that I hadn't seen Clarke since Monday.

I cared.

I cared TOO much.

I barely slept since then, seeing only blue eyes and raindrops.

Not to mention I had a slight cold on Tuesday, what with drenching my entire body with rain for close to two hours.

Anya was not impressed by my act of chivalry. And by not impressed, I mean she was furious when I jumped my soaked frame on top of her while she lounged on the couch.

I ended up eating brussel sprouts for dinner and doing both of our laundry, while she used her hairdryer to dry the couch and glared menacingly at me the entire time.

Brussel. Sprouts. Of all the punishments, brussel sprouts.

It wasn't until I snuggled into her side as she read a book in her room that she forgave me.

“What was all this about, Squirt?” She asked.

“What?” I feigned ignorance.

“The sudden burst of energy from you. The wet clothes on the couch. The smile that's STILL on your face,” she said.

“Nothing,” I lied.

“You sure?”

I snuggled closer, my head on her chest as she ran her fingers through my hair. “I think I… made a friend,” I said, my eyes getting heavier.

“A friend, huh?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I breathed. Anya's soft voice and fingers moving through my hair turned me into putty.

She first started doing it when our parents passed away, it being the only way I would come down from a panic attack. It ended up turning into a necessity for both of us, needing to physically feel that the other is close, is okay, is ALIVE.

Anya hummed in acknowledgement as she lulled me closer to sleep.

“I walked her home. It was raining. I got wet. She hugged me,” I sighed. Her fingers stopped momentarily before picking up again.

“Her name is Clarke,” I all but slurred out.

“Okay,” Anya said with what sounded like a smile, as I was pulled down by sleep.

“Her name is Clarke,” I scolded Roan.

“Clarke, Blondie, whatever. You're a constant mess when she's around. It's fun to watch.”

“No, I'm not!” I exclaimed a bit too loudly.

“Woods! Queen! This is your LAST chance,” Mr. Pike snapped.

I clenched my fist tight enough to leave marks in my palms while Mr. Pike and I stared each other down. I hated him and he hated me, it was clear. It was frustrating that he held my fate in his hands. I hated this feeling.

Roan, completely oblivious to my internal battle, chuckled and wrote LOSER on the open page of my notebook.

I rolled my eyes.

I hated Wednesdays.

*

"Hey," Clarke said as she sat on the bench next to me. She was wearing a dark shirt covered up by MY hoodie, a pair of black washed skinny jeans, her hair tied up in a tight ponytail and bright red lipstick on her lips. LIPSTICK, for Christ's sake. I don't know any fourteen year olds that wore lipstick. I don't even think Anya would let me BUY lipstick.

Clarke and lipstick. I had to physically shake my head from running away with those thoughts.

Oh man, Clarke in MY clothes. Those thoughts weren't ANY better.

Roan was right, I AM a mess around her.

This wasn't normal. Is this what being a teenager was? Making a bigger deal of every single thing about your crush? I didn't like it.

I started to sweat, and Roan sent me a devilish look.

I started to sweat even more.

There we so many red flags and stop signs and alarms sounding through my brain. Roan was going to do SOMETHING. He said he was bored. He was going to ruin EVERYTHING.

"Hey yourself, Blondje. Are you lost?" he asked. I kicked his shin under the table.

Clarke blushed and fidgeted.

"No, uh, I mean, I can leave if you want, I just wanted to, maybe --,”

"Please stay," I said, glaring at Roan while he wore a shit-eating grin. He was calculating his next move. I needed to stop him before he did something I would have to kill him over.

"Okay," Clarke said unsurely.

"So, how's your bike?" I attempted to shift the conversation away from the suddenly awkward tension. I shifted slightly to make more room for her at the table as she dug into her food. She was left handed, her arm bumping into mine, so I took note to always sit on her right side from now on.

Clarke nodded around a mouthful of food, her hand coming up to cover as she swallowed and said, "It's okay. My dad is going to fix it for me this weekend."

“That's great, fantastic,” I said awkwardly. My cheeks reddened and I internally rolled my eyes.

"Seriously, though," Roan cut in, "why are you sitting here? Not that we don't want you here. I mean, I don't care, but I'm sure Lexi-poo does. So... why?"

Lexi-poo? LEXI-POO?! I was going to kill him.

I swung my foot so hard that IF I had made contact with his shin, I am sure it would have shattered. Of course Roan expected this, so my foot made contact with the end of the bench instead.

I huffed out a breath, trying my best to disguise the fact that I could have possibly broken at least four of my toes, and he shot me a look of practiced innocence.

"What? It's a legitimate question!" he exclaimed.

Clarke just shrugged her shoulders. "I mean, for someone who ‘doesn’t care’, you’re surely asking a lot of questions.”

My eyes widened.

Did she just…?

Roan’s eyes narrowed and a small smirk appeared.

Oh, no.

“To answer your question, I WANTED to sit with Lexi-Poo here, and you just so happened to be an unfortunate addition,” Clarke said with a smile on her lips.

My jaw dropped.

She had just SASSED Roan.

Roan nodded, his cheeks dusting with the slightest of pinks.

“Touche,” Roan said with a glint in his eye, and I held my breath.

This was going to be bad.

Roan was going to say something to stupid and Clarke wasn't going to understand him and this was going to escalate and I was going to be Clarke-less.

This was going to be bad.

“So math class!” I blurted out suddenly.

Roan and Clarke both furrowed their brows at me in confusion.

I laughed nervously.

“Yeah, math class,” Roan said with a small uptick of his lips.

“Mr. Pike hates me,” I said, trying to divert the conversation again.

“Yeah, he's kind of an ass,” Clarke agreed. “He really does know his math though, just a little… intense,” she continued.

“I’m surprised you cheerleaders can count beyond ONE to know,” Roan said sweetly.

“Ah, yes, typically we only count 5, 6, 7, 8, so I can see where that would be confusing for some.  I, on the other hand, come from a gymnastics background,” Clarke said, shrugging her shoulders in nonchalance. “I suppose I got lucky that way. We even had to learn…” her voice trailed off and she leaned forward into the middle of the table, Roan and I both leaning forward to hear, “decimals,” she whispered, cupping her hands around her mouth to feign shock.

Roan and I both leaned back, and I laughed at the absurdity of her ‘secret’ while Roan glared at her. I tried to stifle my laughter when he shot that glare to me by slurping up my spaghetti in a haste to keep my mouth busy.

“What?” she asked. “Oh, right, you probably know too well how to measure in decimals,” she said, her eyes glancing down to his lap. She quirked her brow and gestured with her fingers at how small she was referring to, and I actually WHEEZED from laughter.

Roan’s face turned bright red.

“Let’s not go there,” Roan said dismissively.

Smart guy, he knew how far THOSE comments would take him.

“Sorry,” Clarke conceded.

Clarke then smiled, and I tried to divert the conversation away from the sass-fest they were having.

“So, how did you end up a cheerleader then?” I asked.

“Yeah, what made you want to parade around in a bikini instead of a one-piece?” Roan snarked.

Oh, for the love of...

Clarke laughed. “My parents put me into gymnastics when I was a kid. I loved it,” she shrugged, “but as I got older and taller, I actually became TOO tall for it. It’s weird. And way too much pressure, honestly. They’re basically judging you on how perfect you can be, and, well, we saw on Friday how I feel about that.”

Roan and I nodded, and he actually smiled at Clarke.

Progress?

“Besides, it wasn’t really that fun to have to hairspray that ‘one-piece’ to my ass for competition,” Clarke added and I actually CHOKED on my food.

Oh, God. Hormones. Hormones everywhere.

"Are you okay?" Clarke asked as she hit my back to help clear my throat, and although good intentioned, the body contact was NOT helping as I spluttered and coughed up my lunch.

"Yes," I choked out eventually.

Roan laughed as I was on the verge of passing out from asphyxiation.

Asshole.

"So, how'd you get into basketball?" Clarke asked when I was finally able to breathe again. Roan piped up before I could.

"Easy. We’re broke. No judges or one-pieces or special, overpriced shit needed, Princess."

And finally, he said something that embarrassed Clarke, her cheeks turning bright red.

I snarled at him and he just smirked and shrugged his shoulders.

Great, let's continue the freaking sass-off why don't we?

Clarke worried her lip, but when she caught wind of my glare and Roan’s smug look, she piped up with, “Sorry, I actually was asking Lexa. I figured you wouldn’t be too good since you spend every second I’ve seen you worrying about your hair. What kind of shampoo do you use? How LONG is your hair routine? Do you need to do weekly conditioning treatments? Tell me your secrets to getting that kind of SHINE.”

Roan blushed, both because Clarke was complimenting him as well as calling him out.

I was loving it.

“Point for Clarke,” I called through my cackling.

When his blushing refused to subside, Roan stood abruptly from the table, picking up his tray.

“I’m leaving. I don’t need this,” he said, flipping his hair over his shoulder.

Clarke and I both burst into laughter. When he got at least twenty feet away, Clarke shouted, “Can you braid my hair later?” to which Roan stopped, turned, and glared at her.

I fell off the bench, I was laughing so hard.

"So, Roan..." she trailed off when I was finally able to get a hold of myself. I looked at her expectantly. She stared at me like I was supposed to know what she was alluding to, but when I didn't say anything, she finally asked, "What's his deal? Are you two dating?"

I choked on my spaghetti AGAIN, and decide that any more inquisitions needed to NOT happen during lunch period.

"God, no!" I exclaimed. "I've known him most of my life, and there are NO romantic feelings there, whatsoever," I clarified.

"He kind of hates me," Clarke said as she stabbed her salad. “I probably shouldn’t have gone so hard on the sass,” she said flippantly.

"He actually hates everyone, because they won't do what you did. I mean, there's a fine line between that and Lorelei. He provoked you and you shut him down without being too nasty about it. It was epic. The fact that he left proves that he actually likes you," I said with a smirk.

“If you say so,” she said with a small laugh.

“I'm serious. When we were kids, I knew I earned his respect when I was the only one to figure out the ‘hand and face joke’. He’s big on earning his trust.”

“The 'hand and face joke’?” Clarke asked.

I nodded, a smile appearing on my face. “I'm not going to do it to you but it goes… 'what did the five fingers say to the face?’”

I leaned closer to her and wiggled my right hand by her cheek, a devilish glint in my eye.

Clarke raised an eyebrow at me as she glanced at my hand, then turned and locked her eyes onto mine.

“Slap?” She said, and lightly tapped my cheek.

I flushed for two completely separate reasons.

One: we were close enough that I could smell the salad dressing mixed with the mint of her toothpaste as she pulled back and erupted in laughter.

Two: she slapped me for the SECOND time since I had met her.

I stared at her, mouth agape, as she fought to control her laughter.

“I'm so sorry, I couldn't help it!” Clarke said.

I rolled my eyes at her and gave her a playful scowl. “That's how I KNOW Roan doesn't hate you,” I responded.

She bumped my shoulder with her own and we settled into a comfortable flow of conversation.

“How did you two meet?” she asked.

“Actually, it was because of his hair,” I responded and Clarke laughed.

God, I could put her laugh on a soundtrack and listen to it repeatedly until I died.

“Yeah, we were six, I think, and his mom gave him this big pack of bubble gum, and as any six year old would, he shoved it all in his mouth so he could blow this huge bubble, and he did. It was HUGE,” I said, gesturing to the size of my own head. “Anyway, some idiot came by and popped it and it got ALL OVER Roan’s head, and in his hair. He cried, but don't tell him I told you that, and I thought that other kid was such a jerk so I chased him all around the playground and then kicked him in the chest off of the top of the slide. He was fine, landed on the sand. I had detention for weeks. Roan’s mom freaked out and made him cut his hair cut off, which is why he's so sensitive about it now, but he only ever followed me around and harassed me since then.”

“That is probably the cutest story I've ever heard,” Clarke squealed. “Like honestly, so adorable.”

I laughed. “He's like the brother I NEVER wanted. Speaking of, do you have any siblings?”

Clarke shook her head. “No, my parents were very career driven. I don't even think they meant to have me.”

“Well, thank God they did,” I said, nudging her shoulder with my own.

Clarke blushed.

“Tell me about your sister,” Clarke said, and I couldn't stop the smile from illuminating my face.

“She's amazing. She takes such good care of me  and she's my best friend, really, outside of Roan. She's been my rock since everything happened.”

“I can see how that would happen. You guys are lucky to have each other.”

“Yeah, honestly. Anya's the only reason I can function anymore,” I half joked. “She really is my best friend.”

Clarke scoffed. “And here I thought I had a CHANCE at claiming that title. There's no WAY I'm going to be able to dethrone Anya.”

I smiled brightly at her. “I mean, you won't know til you try, right?” I said teasingly. “Tell me about your parents.” I countered.

“Ah yes, well, I am a daddy's girl through and through. He's an engineer and he's always been the one to really understand me. My mom's a doctor, and she's super smart. She's ALWAYS working, though, so I don't spend as much time with her. Usually when we're together without my dad we end up in an argument, so we typically don't see each other much when she's off work.”

I nodded my head. What was I supposed to say to that?

“Tell me about your parents,” Clarke said. “What were they like?”

I felt the knot in my throat begin to build and coughed to clear it.

This was weird for me, not having to defend my parents to someone, but having a genuine chance to talk about them. I didn't know if I could. I didn't think I was ready.

“That's a story for another time,” I said, and it was. The second half of a lunch break was not enough time for me to talk about how amazing my parents were.

“I'm sorry if I--,”

I shook my head dismissively.

“It's alright Clarke. If you want to be my best friend you're going to have to listen to me go on and on about my mom's cooking at some point. I'm just sad you're never going to get to experience her lasagna. Like, I'm actually sad for you right now,” I joked and leaned into her shoulder.

I definitely wasn't ready to talk about them.

Clarke nodded, and I pulled my feet up onto the bench, gesturing to my Jordans.

“These, though. These are SO comfy,” I said, switching topics to safer territory.

Clarke giggled and smiled at me.

“They look hot on you too,” she said with a wink.

Clarke stood from the bench, taking my tray along with her salad container to the garbage.

She slung her backpack over her shoulder and held out her hand.

“Come on, champ, we've got five minutes left and my class is at the other end of campus. Walk with me?”

I nodded dumbly.

Clarke wiggled her fingers, and I slid my hands on my shorts to make sure they weren't clammy before taking her hand in mine.

She tugged me up from my seat and dropped my hand, and I tried to not act like I was disappointed.

I think I failed, because Clarke nudged my shoulder with hers, which I quickly realized was her form of showing affection, and I couldn't help but give her a shy smile and a sidelong glance as my head dropped in an attempt to cover my blush.

“Lead the way, hot stuff,” she said, making my blush infinitely worse.

I loved Wednesdays.

*

The first practice since tryouts was brutal. Coach Indra kept running five-on-five drills, and I was starting to get frustrated with my teammates. The pinnied group, which mainly consisted of starters from last year except for one, Ontari, were just so out of sync that I was easily deflecting passes and cutting through the open lanes to score.

Eventually, Coach Indra blew the whistle and slammed her clipboard down.

"Winters! You and Woods switch. I don't know what convinced me to take TWO freshmen this year, Lord help me. Woods, you're a 3 with the starters,"

I hesitated for a second, and Coach Indra stared at me. "Question, Woods?"

I shook my head profusely.

"No, Coach," I said and quickly ran over to swap my pinny out with Ontari, who grumbled under her breath.

"Let's run it again," Coach Indra said. "From the top of the key. Move your damn feet, ladies! Defense, you're running man-to-man. Let's go!"

I took my position just outside of the 3-point line as she blew the whistle. Ontari was furious at being called out, and was shadowing me extremely tightly.

The play was simple, swing the ball around and find a way to lose your man as you cut across the court to open some lanes. Considering that the defense already knew what the play was, the goal was to really battle through and fake your way into giving yourself an opportunity to shoot or to set a pick to give someone else that opportunity.

Literally, it was the most basic of basketball plays. I couldn't understand why it was so difficult for everyone to grasp that concept.

The guard, co-captain Luna, took the ball at the top of the key and the play started. I stepped into Ontari’s space and she immediately bodied me back beyond the line. Instead of pushing her back, I saw as Luna passed it to the other side of the court to Harper, and took the opportunity to spin past Ontari and get free at the top corner of the key. Ontari made her way back to me before Harper saw me, hands up and guarding me from getting any closer to the ball, so I skipped backwards outside of the 3-point line again as the ball came back to the elbow of the 3-point line. I took a couple quick steps down to get back to the elbow of the key, and the Power Forward, the other co-captain, Echo, caught my eye and stepped behind Ontari as she trailed. As I took off to the open spot at the top of the 3-point line, Ontari ran into the perfectly placed pick and I was left wide open.  I received the pass, set my feet, and took the shot. It was nothing but net.

Coach Indra blew the whistle.

"Again," she called. I felt any sort of joy evaporate immediately. She didn't even look in my direction. I blew out a breath and reset at the elbow of the 3-point line.

"Lucky," Ontari growled at me, but I didn't rise to the bait. On the next play, I shook her again, and found myself wide open at the bottom of the net. After a quick pass from Luna, I laid in an easy bucket.

"Again," Coach Indra called.

This time, I set a pick for Luna at the top of the key, and peeled back, leaving myself completely open. She passed it to me and I hit the shot, having to force myself to not smirk at Ontari whose face was starting to resemble a tomato.

"Again," Coach Indra called. I was starting to get frustrated, I didn't understand what she wanted to see from this drill. I didn't understand what she wanted from ME.

This time, when I set the pick for Luna, Ontari kept her feet planted and didn't get caught up in the mess. I instead sprinted back down to the corner and cut across to the other bottom corner of the 3-point line, pulling both Ontari and Emori, the other defender, toward me, leaving the lane clear for Luna to take the ball in.

I glanced up at the bleachers for a split second and caught the sight of Clarke watching us practice -- wearing my hoodie and a pair of bright green leggings.

Cheer practice must have ended early, but I didn't understand why she was still here.

I looked at her for a split second, really. I wasn't paying attention to the play for a SPLIT SECOND. It shouldn't have made a difference. Luna should have taken the damn ball to the hoop. Instead, she drove to the net and then kicked the ball out to me in the corner; except, I wasn't ready for it -- I was still staring at Clarke.

The ball ricocheted off my face with a loud thud before going out of bounds.

The whistle blew and I heard laughs all around the gym. I rubbed my nose in embarrassment and heard a sigh from Coach Indra.

"Hit the showers, ladies. We're done," she said as she gathered her clipboard and papers from the bench and walking to her office.

I hid my face from my teammates as they walked past, busying myself by pulling off Coach Indra's shoes.

"Lexa," Coach Indra said as she made her way back out from her office.

"Yeah, Coach?" I said sheepishly.

"You were good out there," she said. I had to bite my lip to refrain from getting my hopes up.

"But, you were distracted," she continued.

I bit down on my lip even harder.

I didn't understand. I was literally doing all the work MYSELF. I was the ONLY one scoring.

"Sorry Coach."

Coach Indra huffed out a breath as she looked at me.

"It's okay, just... try to keep your eyes IN the game, alright?" she said with a knowing smirk.

My cheeks flushed.

Oh, God.

"I'm not convinced yet that you should be starting, but I'm considering it. You've shown a lot of dedication so far, kid."

I nodded quickly, oddly encouraged by her words.

"Stay focused," she reminded me as I handed her back her shoes.

When I exited the locker room after changing, I didn't expect to see the blonde cheerleader. She waved at me and I smiled like an idiot at her from the locker room doors.

"Hey," she greeted, fiddling with the strap of her backpack when I approached.

"Hey," I called back. "I was just going to ask Mr. Gus if he needed any help," I said, pointing over my shoulder down the hallway.

Clarke nodded but didn't move to leave. I furrowed my brow and cocked my head to the side. "Did you... want to help mop the floors?" I asked, the confusion apparent on my face.

She shrugged. "Sure," she said, quickly catching up to me as I turned to head toward Mr. Gus's office.

"You're really good," she said, and my face burned with embarrassment.

"Um, thanks," I responded.

"I mean, you even made taking the ball off the face look natural," she said, unable to stop the laugh that she was trying to suppress.

I glared at her playfully which just made her laugh harder.

"Shut up," I begged.

She teased me for the next twenty minutes while we cleaned the gym floors. Mr. Gus made good on his regular Gatorade trick and gave both Clarke and I a drink when we returned the mops.

"So, I guess I'll see you tomorrow," I said, running my hands through my hair. My fingers caught on a few knots, my face scrunching up in discomfort. I internally rolled my eyes at myself as I clutched onto my backpack strap.

Clarke chuckled and bit her lip, and I swooned a little at the sight.

"Yeah, tomorrow. See you," she said, taking a few steps away from me. She turned and waved at me before taking off toward her bus stop, the sleeves of my hoodie flopping over her hand.

I REALLY loved Wednesdays.

Chapter Text

It was the same pattern for the rest of the week -- Clarke watched the end of practice and we mopped the floors of the gym together before bidding each other a good night. Mr. Gus kept smiling at me like a Cheshire cat, and Coach Indra was no better, rolling her eyes at me whenever she saw me glancing at the bleachers during practice.

It wasn't my fault -- I couldn't help that I was observant. I mean, at least, that's what I told myself.

"Woods if you can't FOCUS on the game, I'm not going to be able to put you in the lineup," she scolded me.

Tomorrow we would had our first and final exhibition game before the season officially started, and Ontari was on a roll after I showed her up. She did NOT like being replaced.

"I'm focused, Coach," I said as my eyes following the blonde making her way to the mats to practice. Clarke sent me a wink when she caught my eye and it was only the exasperated sigh of Coach Indra that stopped me from floating towards her.

"Look, kid, I get it. Pretty girls can do a number on you, but you have GOT to focus… at least while you're on the court."

I choked at her words.

Did she just call me out?

I stared at her, mouth agape, and she just rolled her eyes at me. "Love is love, kid," she said with a shrug.

"I'm not -- we're not -- we're just friends," I said and Coach Indra barked out a laugh. It was terrifying.

"Okay," she said, "My point is that I need you to concentrate. I'm GOING to be putting you in the game tomorrow and I want you to take full advantage of that. I don't want any distractions to be throwing you off your game. When you're FOCUSED you're unstoppable, Lexa."

She patted my shoulder as she brushed past me to retrieve her clipboard from the bench.

"Wait!" I called after her, her words finally registering with me. She turned and looked at me expectantly. "I'm going to play tomorrow?"

She nodded. "It's an exhibition game. I'm going to make sure you and everyone else sees some minutes, but if you can't focus in practice today I can't guarantee anything."

I waited until she turned around to fist pump as hard as my body would allow me.

"I saw that," coach Indra called without looking at me. "Ten laps for showboating," she added.

Damnit.

*

The pep talk was just what I needed. Coach Indra sent me her least threatening smile at the end of practice and I skipped my way to the locker room, hastily changed, and threw out goodbyes to my teammates while hopping out of the room with one shoe on. I was in a rush to get to Clarke.

I met Clarke on the bleachers, tapping away on her phone.

"Hey, Commander," she greeted.

“Commander?” I asked.

“Yeah. The way you were barking orders out there made it seem like you were leading an army into war,” she joked.

I rolled my eyes and plopped down beside her.

"So listen," she said, locking her phone screen and turning to face me. "We've been friends for a while now --”

“It's barely been a month,” I corrected.

“-- and I still don't have your number. And I'm counting our friendship since day one, thank you very much, assface, when you so heroically saved me from falling," she said with an overdramatic fluttering of her lashes.

“Umm,” I said, running my tongue along my lips, "Clarke, about that,"

"I mean you don't have to --,”

"Clarke,"

"We could just text or snap or--,”

“Clarke,”

“I just thought we were friends --,”

"Clarke!" I yelled and she quieted down immediately. "It's fine. I have one, but it's just a.. a basic phone, really. I can't do whatever the hell a snap is. I don’t think I even WANT to know what a snap is."

She looked sheepishly at me, and I smiled at her. “It's one of those pay as you go phones, so it's not the easiest to text on anyway, and the minutes are, like, super limited. I just use it for emergencies. I mean, I’ll still give it to you, in case of an emergency or something, but we have a phone at the house, though, I can give you that to use?”

She tapped her phone against her chin and hummed in agreeance.

I attempted to put my number in her phone, but eventually relinquished the device back to her when I couldn't figure out how to do it. The touchscreen was confusing.

Clarke giggled as I recited the numbers to her. I could swear her cheeks had a slight pink tint to them when she finally locked her phone.

We both headed to Mr. Gus's office, who gladly handed over the mops and buckets and returned to whatever television show he was watching on the tiny television in his office.

"So how are things with the cheerleaders?" I asked as we began mopping.

"They're fine. Lorelei is on probation because she's got caught doing God knows what with Cage, thus got suspended, so I don't have to worry about her drama at least until Coach let's her back on the team, and her minions are quiet without her, really. And Raven, the cheer captain, has a soft spot for me since I'm the only freshman who actually has tumbling experience, and secretly, she doesn't like Lorelei either."

“And why is that?” I asked.

“Lorelei tried to insult her before realizing she was the cheer captain.”

“The brace on her leg?” I asked, knowing instantly that Lorelei would use that as an invitation to be cruel.

Clarke hummed. “Yeah, apparently Lorelei and her got into it during the first week of school over it, and the only reason Coach Alie even put Lorelei on the team was to teach Raven that she had to work with people even if she hates them. At least, that's what Raven told me.”

“I'm not surprised,” I grumbled.

“We practiced round-offs today, and few aerials. Raven might use me as a base this season since she doesn't trust a lot of people to catch her properly. She's a flyer, in case you were wondering,” Clarke continued.

I hummed at her, not really sure what she was talking about but assuming it was all good things. I just really liked the sound of her voice when she was excited, and the way her nose crinkled when she found something weird or was making a joke. Not to mention how expressive her eyebrows were, always moving with the inflection of her words. It was mesmerizing.

"You literally have no idea what I just said, do you?"

"What? Pfft. Please. I know what an aerial tumbler is. And what a -- a -- a skygirl is," I tried to cover. Clarke laughed and scowled playfully at me.

"You've got no fucking idea!" She snapped. "What's tumbling, Lexa?" She stopped mopping and was leaning against the staff of the mop, looking at me expectantly.

"I --,"

I had no clue.

"It's the..." I scratched my neck as Clarke raised her brows.

"I don't know, Clarke," I admitted.

She laughed and rolled her eyes at me. "TUMBLING is all the cart wheels and shit. Basically all the gymnastics stuff to simplify it for you," she explained.

"Ah, gotcha," I said.

That actually made sense. I bet I would have figured it out after another minute.

Maybe. Possibly. Probably not.

After we finished cleaning the floors, Clarke gave me a cheeky smile as she put my hoodie on in preparation for her ride home, then punched me in the arm after hugging me goodbye.

*

"Hey Anya," I said when I walked into the house. She was still dressed in her yellow uniform, unloading the groceries from the fabric cart.

"Hey squirt," she replied.

"I got it," I said as I moved to her side. She relented without protest and sat at the kitchen table, releasing a loud sigh of contentment.

I smiled to myself as I put away the groceries.

"What's with the face?" She asked me, her hazel eyes alight with mirth.

“What face?” I said while PURPOSEFULLY making a silly face.

She rolled her eyes and twirled the end of her hair. "You've got a weird look on your face? You alright?" she asked again.

I felt... Fine. I felt good actually, it had been such a great day. I was understandably confused at her line of questioning.

"I don't have a weird look on my face," I retorted.

"Mhmm," Anya hummed.

"ANYWAY," I said as I joined her at the kitchen table,two bowls of cereal in my hands. I immediately started chomping down on my food while Anya just kept STARING at me.

"Wuff?" I asked, flakes of cereal falling from my mouth.

"Okay, ew," she said, and I stuck my cereal covered tongue out at her. "Seriously? Have some manners, you brat!" She scolded.

"Quit looking at me like that then," I said.

"Quit looking like that then!" she snapped back.

"Like WHAT?!" I was completely over this conversation.

"Like... Like... You look like you just had your first kiss or something. Oh my God," her eyes widened at her own words, "you did, didn't you? It was Roan, wasn't it? Oh God, oh God, no. I'm not ready to be a grandmother! I'm too pretty!" She exclaimed dramatically.

"Okay. Whoa, what the heck? First of all, you'd be an AUNT, you dimwit. And secondly, you're as ugly as a horse's ass. And thirdly, NEVER Roan. You can take that back RIGHT now or I will revoke all sister privileges!" I said adamantly.

“Not the sister privileges!” Anya exclaimed, clutching her chest and feigning a broken heart. “What would I do without you braiding my hair?” she joked.

I scowled at her.

Anya laughed hysterically.

"Alright, alright. So then what's with the face? How's school? You also evaded my question about first kisses. Who was he?"

Nothing got by her, not even things that DIDN’T happen.

I chewed my cereal slowly, mulling over what to tell her. I could totally mess with her head, make her believe I was in some fantastical relationship, but that would lead to FURTHER questioning and I was not in the mood. I decided to just tell her the truth.

"Nothing, really. Classes are whatever. I'm going to get to play at some point in tomorrow's game. Coach Indra said I need to stay focused, but I'm really good, apparently. Roan’s good. Clarke's good too. Did I tell you she's a cheerleader? She's really nice, too. She and Roan really get along, she put him in his place and they've been friends since then. She watches the end of my practice and waits for me after and cleans the gym with me and Mr. Gus and then we hang out a bit before she goes home. Oh, and she's a freshman too. She did gymnastics and she's really good so she does the tumbling or whatever for the squad. And she's got this cool bike and she gave me a ride home one day and let me ride it. She's just so nice, and she just LOOKS like a cheerleader, you know? Blonde hair, really pretty, total cheerleader," I said without breathing.

Anya squinted and pursed her lips as she digested what I had said.

"What?" I asked.

She took a bite of her cereal and shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing, squirt," she said. She let out a breath of a laugh after swallowing her cereal down.

"So, Claire,"

"Clarke,"

"Right. Carla. She live around here?"

"Clarke. And no, she lives two miles in the opposite direction of the school."

"And you carried her..."

"Yeah. Wait, no. I didn’t carry HER. I carried her BIKE. Someone had messed with it and it was raining and she looked really sad so I offered to carry it home for her. Remember? I told you about this. The day with the brussel sprouts?" I shivered at the memory.

Anya twisted her mouth to the side and I could see her physically fighting back a laugh.

"Right, right. I remember.” She patted me on the forearm and finished her cereal, then took my bowl and headed over to the sink.

"That's it?" I asked, clearly confused. One second she was trying to pry into my life, the next, she was done talking.

"Hmm?" She asked.

"Nothing," I said.

"I've got one more question," she said, turning to me and wiping her hands with the sink towel.

"Okay..." I said, holding my breath in anticipation.

"Does Callie know about me. Us. Our situation?"

“It's Clarke. I've said it like ten times,” I said, irritation dripping from my words. “And yes, she does and she's really cool. She said she wants to be my best friend but you're way too awesome for her to compete with,” I continued.

Anya narrowed her eyes, then smiled at me. "Good," she said.

She walked over and gave me a hug and a kiss on the head. "Now, go get your homework started. You need to stay focused if you're going to make the starting lineup, apparently."

I beamed at my sister and she winked at me as she left the kitchen.

"Lex?" She called from the hallway.

"What?" I groaned.

"Whose shoes are these?" She asked, walking back into the kitchen with my Jordans.

I had the decency to look a little bashful.

"They're mine," I responded.

She quirked a brow a perfectly manicured brow at me and I blushed a deeper shade of red.

"Clarke gave them to me."

"Clarke?" She asked.

"Oh, so NOW you get her name right,” I said.

"Lexa. If you needed shoes you could have told me. I don't feel comfortable with you taking things from people you barely know,"

"It wasn't like that," I said. I shook my head vehemently. "My shoes broke and she saw and she said she didn't need them. I told her I didn't NEED them either and she just told me she didn't want them back, and I really did actually need them, but I didn't want to bother you and I just..." I trailed off, not knowing how to read the blank expression on my sister's face.

"Can you just... Can you just ask me if you need something? We can always make it work, Lexa."

"I know. That's not what that was. I promise. Clarke's my friend," I explained.

Anya chewed on her lip and looked at the shoes.

"They ARE really nice shoes," she said, inspecting them. She huffed out a breath and ran her fingers through her hair. "Maybe she WILL dethrone me as your best  friend. Homework. Now,” she grumbled.

I nodded and went back to retrieving my stuff from my backpack.

"And tell me if you need something," she added as she left the kitchen.

"Okay, love you!" I yelled at her retreating form.

"Love you too!" she yelled back.

*

"Where the heck have you been?" I scolded Roan as he slid into the spot beside me.

"What?" He said with a shrug.

"What? What?!" I whisper-shouted. "You're like twenty minutes late to class, and it's SECOND PERIOD! I can't believe Miss Santos even LET you into class. Where have you been?"

Roan shrugged at me. "I'm surprised you’ve  noticed, giving Clarke heart-eyes this morning."

I scoffed. I was SO not giving her 'heart eyes’ (I totally was).

Roan rolled his eyes. "Listen, superstar, not everyone needs to be HERE to be successful," he snarled.

"What the fuck does that even mean?" I bit back defensively.

Roan is an asshole, but it's not like him to be purposefully late, and this was the second time this week.

"Nothing, Lex. So... You excited for tonight's game?" Roan deflected, and I was in too good of a mood to continue the argument so I let it go. I nodded and tried to hide my smile.

"I mean, it's whatever," I tried to play it off.

"You'll be alright. You're a great player, just play your game," Roan said, and I almost choked.

"I'm sorry, are you... being nice? To me? Jesus Roan do I need to call the hospital?" I asked incredulously.

Miss. Santos sent me a warning look and I pretended to continue writing notes.

I lowered my voice and asked again, "Is everything alright?" only half joking this time.

Roan just sent me a scowl. "Everything is FINE. I'm coming to the game tonight so you better kick some serious ass," he said dismissively. Miss Santos cleared her throat at the front of the class and I knew that was my signal to get back to conjugating verbs.

*

At lunch, I found Roan at our usual table, but it was absent of my favourite cheerleader. I furrowed my brows in confusion and Roan just shrugged at my disappointment.

"Your heart eyes are intense," Roan jokes as I sat down.

"Shut it," I warned. I looked over my shoulder and turn back to Roan and scolded, "you can't say that stuff so nonchalantly. Someone might hear you."

Roan quirked a brow. "So what?"

"So what? So what?!" I cried incredulously. "If that got out --,"

"Hey guys, sorry I'm late," Clarke said as she slid in beside me. "The cheer meeting went long and whatever. Who knew we'd have to talk SO MUCH over a pyramid? If every lunch is like this I might just die,” She waved her hand dramatically. My eyes were wide as I pointedly looked at Roan who was also shocked at her sudden appearance.

"What?" she asked after pulling out her salad container.

"Nothing!" Roan and I both yelled at the same time.

"Oh, okay," Clarke said with a smirk. "You two are weird."

I laughed nervously, rubbing my sweaty palms on the leg of my basketball shorts.

“So you gonna come stare at me again at the football game tomorrow?”

My heart leapt into my throat.

Did she hear our conversation? Does she know I like her? Shed have to have been staring at me to know that I was staring at her, right? Did that mean SHE liked ME? okay, obviously THAT wasn't the case, but maybe I needed to reign in my 'heart eyes’ as Roan would say.

“Brussel sprouts!” I blurted out with a little too much forced enthusiasm. “You like brussel sprouts?” I said, gesturing to her salad.

Clarke smiled as she chomped down happily on the devil's favourite food.

“Yes! They're like little pockets of flavour. Nuggets of awesome. Globes of gold,” she said  and Roan and I both scrunched our noses up in disgust.

“No,” Roan said. “No. Clarke… no, I was JUST starting to tolerate your existence,” he said, shaking his head back and forth vehemently.

“Oh come on,” Clarke said, wiggling her fork in his face. “Who doesn't like brussel sprouts?”

I shot my hand up into the air. Roan followed suit.

Clarke sent me a playfully shocked look.

“You wound me,” she teased. “And here I thought you were perfect, Lexa Woods.”

I felt heat creep up my neck at the compliment.

“No, it's you that is perfect,” I said, adoration leaking from my words.

My eyes became the size of saucers the second I realized what I had said.  Roan coughed and Clarke dipped her head as her cheeks darkened.

God damnit, Lexa, reign it in! What WAS that?

Clarke flipped her hair to her opposite shoulder, fanning herself for some reason, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by her perfume. I forgot what we were even talking about beforehand.

Clarke, Roan and I sat quietly and ate our food before Roan winked and got up to leave the table, claiming he was full.

"I really don't think he likes me," Clarke murmured after he left.

I chuckled at her dejected state and shook my head. "Trust me, he does."

"He always leaves when I sit down."

My cheeks burned with embarrassment. "He's just busy. And not very social if you haven't noticed."

"This is true. I don't know how you two are friends, really. He's so..."

"Mean? Rude? Obnoxious?" I assisted.

"Quiet," Clarke said and I just stared at her.

"What? Quiet? No. He's like, the opposite of quiet. He NEEDS to be quiet sometimes," I mumbled.

Clarke shrugged.

"So, are you ready for the big game?"

"Not really that big of a game," I said, again hiding the excitement and nervousness I was feeling.

Clarke barked out a laugh and pushed me gently. "Okay, superstar. Well I'M excited for your game. "

"You know, I might only get like two minutes," I said dismissively.

"Well, then be sure to make it the best two minutes of my life," she retorted playfully.

I nearly choked.

*

I was NOT ready for the game, and it was just an exhibition. I had thrown up TWICE before the warm ups.

Coach Indra tried to hide her laugh when she saw me exit the girl's bathroom, but it was useless, we both knew she was making fun of me inside of her head.

Right before warm ups started, the cheerleaders made their way down the hallway to start warming up the crowd. Clarke caught my eye and sent me a wink and a smirk and I all but died.

How was it that a fourteen year old girl was going to be my undoing? (It was the short skirt).

I smiled back at her and she waved quickly at me before Raven nudged her shoulder and she turned her attention forward again.

After a quick pep talk, coach Indra let us out to warm up. Since I wasn't starting, I spent more time than usual scanning the crowd for Roan. He was in the back corner, looking surly as ever, but when our eyes met he sent me a surprisingly kind smile and a thumbs up.

Right before tip-off, I might have let my eyes linger a little longer on the short skirts that usual. It was difficult to focus.

This was going to be a long game.

*

We were losing. Not badly, but we were down by ten and there was less than four minutes left in the game. I was getting anxious, I didn't want my first and possibly only opportunity to play be in a blowout. That wouldn't look good, and it's not like I would get a second look after that.

Coach Indra called a full timeout after the opposing team scored one of two foul attempts, officially putting us down by eleven, and called everyone over to diagram the next inbound.

The cheerleaders quickly gathered in centre court to do a quick cheer as Coach Indra talked to us, and I had to physically stop myself from staring by leaning forward and using Echo's frame to block my view.

"Winters, Woods, switch. Woods, play a 3. Don't do anything stupid, kid. We may be down by eleven, but we can easily come back with good defense," she said roughly.

Blood rushed to my ears as I processed what she said.

I was in.

This was my shot.

I didn't hear much else of what coach Indra said, the blood rushing in my ears drowning her out.

I stripped off my practice t-shirt and walked over to the score table to check in when the buzzer sounded. Winters was sending me death glares from the bench.

I could feel the bile riding in my throat.

I kicked my shoes against the court a few time to check that they were dry, and cast a look to the bleachers. Roan was wide-eyed and sent me a nervous thumbs up, a ghost of a smile on his face.

My eyes travelled down the bleachers where they fell on the cheerleaders. I barely registered Clarke looking at me with a huge smile, I barely heard her cheering for me. I saw her mouth move, but I heard nothing beyond the scuffs of shoes and my own breathing.

I took my position at the far side of the three point line and waited for the inbound.

This was it.

The whistle blew and I felt my nerves completely disappear.

Echo inbounded the ball to Luna, who set up at the top of the key. She called out a bunch of random numbers that we all knew they held no meaning, it was just a decoy. My defender wasn't paying much attention to me, so when I ran along the bottom of the court to the open wing on the opposite side, Luna fed me the ball and I had enough time to square up the shot and sink the three without worry.

After a quick turnaround, the other team missed the shot, Echo rebounded, outletting it to me, and I fed it to a sprinting Luna who was already halfway up the court. She set her feet outside of the three-point line and drained the three with no one around. The game quickly went from us being down by eleven to down by only five. I looked up at the clock and realized it had not even been a minute yet.

The other team inbounded the ball, and slowly made their way up the court. It got passed around quite a bit, but after another unsuccessful shot and a quick rebound and outlet, we were setting back up on the other end with just over two minutes left. Luna split the defence and went in for a layup, only to be swarmed by the collapsing defence. She quickly kicked it out to me, completely wide open on the wing again and I drained another three-pointer. The other team was paying more attention to Luna and Echo, and rightly so, as they were both the main point contributors for the game.

The crowd cheered as we pulled within a bucket with enough time left to make the game interesting.

The guard on the other team kept the ball for almost the entire thirty second shot clock, driving in hard for a layup and losing the ball at Echo’s quick flick of the wrist. The ball came loose, but the guard was able to wrangle it again and after wasting another thirty seconds, missed the shot.

Echo grabbed the rebound and quickly called a timeout.

After looking up at the clock, I noticed that we only had twenty-seven seconds left.

Coach Indra clapped her clipboard as we approached her.

“Amazing work ladies. I told you we could come back with strong defense. Luna, I need you to waste as much time off that clock as you can.”

Coach Indra looked at Luna and then looked at me while she drew out a play on her clipboard.

“Luna, as soon as Lexa gets open, feed it to her for the shot. Lexa, I don't care what you have to do, but you need to get yourself free to take a three-pointer. You have the hot hand right now.”

I gaped at coach Indra. “But Coach,” I started. I was sure that she would prefer Luna to take the shot. She had already racked up eighteen points this game.

“You’ve got this,” she said with no room for argument.

I nodded once and made my way back to the court. I could hear the crowd, and although they weren't large in number, the cheering was deafening in my ears. As soon as the whistle blew, the pounding of my heart blocked it all out.

Luna took the inbound and the rest of us spread out, luring our checks to follow us and create a lane for Luna. My check kept moving her eyes back between me and Luna, thinking that this was surely a ploy to give the point guard some room to take it in. When she shifted her weight a little more toward Luna I took off, cutting in toward the basket and then quickly backtracking at the same time as Luna faking a hard drive toward the net. When she lost the guard and my check left me with enough room, Luna kicked it over without even needing to look at me.

I set my feet, jumped, followed through and finally let out a breath once the ball was in the air. The buzzer sounded while it was on it's way to the basket, and I felt the weight of the room on my shoulders as my feet hit the ground.

The ball went through the netting with that delicious 'swish’ sound, and before I could register what happened, Luna and Echo had both grabbed onto me in congratulations.

When my heartbeat left my ears, I could hear the crowd screaming  and saw the cheerleaders jumping up and down. I noticed that even Roan was smiling and clapping his hands in congratulations.

My green eyes met my favourite pair of blue for a split second, and all I could do was send her a smile before my teammates were pulling me along to line up for handshakes.

After, Coach Indra addressed us in the locker room, and my team congratulated me on my performance with shoves and playful punches.

I swapped my shoes out for coach Indra’s and knocked on her door before heading back out to the gym to look for my friends.

“Lexa,” she greeted, her face as stoic as ever. If I didn't know her, I would have thought we lost the game.

“Coach,” I said. I gestured to the shoes in my hand. “Thank you,” I said to her with a small nod.

“You played well,” she said in response.

I nodded again. Coach Indra scrutinized me, and I cleared my throat.

“Thanks,” I said. “But, it's a team game. I couldn't have had my opportunities if everyone else didn't play their part.”

She nodded at me in dismissal.

I was immediately whistled at by Roan when I entered the gymnasium, who was standing next to a very happy looking Clarke in my sweater.

“Well if it isn't the hero of the game,” Roan chirped. He started clapping and I rolled my eyes as I met them halfway.

“You played awesome,” Clarke said, while she balled my sweater into her fists.

I chuckled and dropped my head to the floor when my cheeks reddened.

“You can hug her, you know,” Roan teased. I wasn't sure if it was Clarke or I that he was teasing, but it didn't matter when Clarke slammed into me with a tight hug. Roan just laughed at us. I hugged her back just as tightly.

I can deal with two minutes a game if I get these kinds of reactions.

“You're really really good,” she said, her head still buried in my shoulder. “Coach Indra totally HAS to put you in the lineup.”

“Alright lovebirds,” Roan interrupted and Clarke immediately let go of me, her cheeks dusted pink.

Why was I friends with him again?

We all walked out to the parking lot, and as we parted ways with Clarke, Roan punched me in the arm lightly and said, “Amazing job, Lex. You're honestly amazing, but if you tell anyone I said that I will kill you.”

“Thanks,” I said, rubbing the spot.

“Fucking awesome,” he said and for a minute I was sure he was going to hug me. That minute passed (thank God) and we fist bumped instead.

“You better make it big time so I can stop having to worry about money,” he joked.

“Um, not sure how YOU'RE going to be set for life if I make it pro,” I quipped back.

“Um, because clearly I am riding your coattails all the way to the top. Let's be real, here. You're the one with the talent and leadership skills. I have the good looks and muscle. It's a fair trade.”

I just laughed at him. We both knew I was the one who had the good looks.

Chapter Text

The first game of the season came and went, and then the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, with Ontari shooting me smug looks at every chance. It made no sense as she wasn't playing either, but it didn't need to make sense to Ontari, apparently. It was abundantly clear that Coach Indra was NOT comfortable playing either freshman.

Roan grumbled at me every day, and Clarke sent me sympathetic looks during every game as the cheerleaders ran to the floor, but I shrugged off the disappointment, constantly reminding myself that Coach Indra never made me any promises

*

“This is bullshit!” Roan said, slamming his hands on the locker. “You haven't played AT ALL, Lexa.”

“I know,” I responded with a small shrug.

“Lex, they've lost literally every single game so far,” he complained again.

“I KNOW, Roan.”

“I’ve come to EVERY game and had to physically stop myself from jumping out of the stands and shaking some sense into your Coach.”

“I get it, Roan.”

“Ugh!” He threw his hands up in the air in exasperation.

I slammed my locker closed, trying my best to not let my irritation overwhelm me the way it was overwhelming Roan.

Seven games. Seven games in the span of a month and I hadn't played. I just had to be patient. I had to earn my keep. I had to believe there was a reason.

*

“Well if it isn't the superstar. Expecting big minutes from you tonight. Oh wait, you would need to be playing for that to happen,” Ontari chirped as I made my way into the locker room.

I rolled my eyes and ignored her comment.

“Hey, Ontari,” I greeted flatly.

She scoffed and we changed into our uniforms in silence.

I wanted to be irritated at the fact that I wasn't playing, and I knew deep down somewhere that I was. I was good at compartmentalizing and analyzing situations to ensure that I wasn’t overreacting, but whenever Ontari spoke to me, it took EXTRA effort to not rip her head off.

As the rest of the team filed in, I took a moment to collect myself yet again while tying up coach Indra's shoes.

“Seems like a waste to give you such a nice pair of shoes when you're not even playing. Then again, maybe it's so she could get her charity work in for the year,” Ontari sneered.

I could feel heat rising from my neck at the comment, and I clenched my jaw to keep my emotion in check. I dipped my head down to tie my shoes and let the sudden blood rushing to my ears drown out everything else.

“Enough,” Echo barked. Ontari rolled her eyes and slammed her locker before leaving the room.

Great.

*

“Okay, ladies, let's not worry about the scoreboard. Woods! Winters! Get up, and get ready. You're both going in,” Coach Indra called during our fifteen second time out.

We were down by fifteen and there was just over five minutes left in the game. Monroe had fouled out, and Harper had taken an elbow to the eye, causing her to need to leave the game as well.

Echo clasped her hand on my shoulder, and Luna smiled and winked at me, while Ontari rolled her eyes, raising her head slightly higher, as though she were above us all.

I scanned the bleachers for my two favourite blonde's as I approached the score table, and found the prettier of the two with her mouth hanging open, her pom poms clutched tightly against her chest in anticipation; and the annoying one was falling asleep in the top corner of the bleachers.

“Woods! Focus! Don't make me regret this,” Coach Indra snapped at me.

“Yes, Coach.”

Adding Ontari and I to the lineup seemed to spark something in the rest of the team, and within four of the five remaining minutes, we had caught up to only be trailing by five.

I shot a glance over to the bleachers to see a sleepy-eyed Roan blinking himself to consciousness, startling to see me somewhere OTHER than the bench, and a still petrified Clarke, now biting her fingernails.

“Full court press on the inbound, ladies. I want the ball back and a quick bucket. As soon as we score it I'm calling a timeout to draw up the last play. Ontari, great work bringing us back with the defensive plays. Lexa, amazing shooting out there. We can DO this. Grounders on three!”

I winked at Clarke when we moved back onto the court, a sudden surge of confidence taking over. If it was any other situation or any other time, I'm sure I would have given myself a heart attack for doing that, but for some reason, on the basketball court, I felt like the commander she jokingly said that I was, the confidence oozing out of me. I was going to win this game for us, I just knew it. Clarke blushed a deep shade of red, and my ego roared in approval.

Luna managed to strip the ball from the opposing guard while they were inbounding, scoring quickly as well as taking a foul in the process. She easily scored the free throw.

We were down by two.

Two points.

We could do this.

During the time out, Coach Indra drew up a plan that had Luna passing to Echo at the top of the key while Ontari set a pick for me to get open and lay in the pass from the key. Coach Indra wanted assurance that we would at least get one point from the tie.

Luna took the inbound, having to dodge a few swipes from the opposing guard, and set up the play at the top of the key with seventeen seconds left.

Everything happened exactly like it was drawn up. Luna passed to Echo, then ran away from where we actually wanted the ball to go.

Echo held the ball, and I waited for the pick, except it wasn't coming.

Ontari stood outside the three point line and wasn't moving. The other team started to swarm Echo, eliminating any chance of her taking the shot.

Ontari still didn't move.

I growled at the stupidity of her, glancing at the clock to see ten seconds left.

I ran across the court and set a pick against Ontari’s defender.

Ontari had the audacity to smirk at me as she cut to make herself open. Except, she didn't cut into the key, she cut and skipped backwards to stay outside of the three point line, calling frantically for the ball.

Echo passed it to her, and I turned just in time to watch the ball leave Ontari's fingers. Her follow through wasn't crisp, her wrist wasn't flexed properly.

The ball ricocheted off the hoop as the buzzer sounded, and it took everything inside of me to not rip Ontari apart.

We could have won.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” I roared when we all entered the locker room. “Coach Indra drew up the fucking play, Ontari! What the fuck was that?!” I yelled and closed in on her.

Ontari shrugged, stripping off her jersey and tossing it into her locker.

I clenched my jaw. “If you can't follow orders, you have no business being out there,” I admonished.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever Woods. If you can't afford the equipment, you shouldn't be out there either.”

It was a split second between her finishing her sentence and the “Oof!” that escaped her lips as I shoved her against the lockers as hard as I could.

“You wanna repeat that?” I snarled.

“I said,” Ontari shoved me back. “You think you're some fucking hot shot, but all you are is a fucking joke. You can't even see how PATHETIC you are, you broke BITCH.” She shoved me again, and I sprung forward with my fist poised to strike her.

I was just so DONE with this shit.

Echo grabbed me before my fist made contact with her face, wrestling me away from her while Luna stood between us, arms extended to stop either of us from advancing. Ontari was smirking at me, while I fruitlessly tried to pull away from Echo.

“Whoa there, Lexa,” Echo said only loud enough for me to hear. “She's not worth it. Relax, Commander.”

“Enough,” Luna barked. “Ontari, what you did out there was selfish and stupid and you cost us the game. And that comment just now is definitely going to cost you. Lexa, your outburst isn't called for, either. You're not the coach. I'm going to have to talk to Coach Indra about the TWO of you.”

I deflated. Eight points and two assists meant nothing now. I had blown my shot because of my temper.

I quickly changed into my street clothes and left the locker room, still seething. I could feel my collar getting tighter and tighter with each second. I needed to get out of there.

My blonde's both cheered loudly from the bleachers, the pretty one running toward me at full speed. I was still dazed from the altercation, I was barely conscious of what was going on around me.

Clarke crashed into me and I stumbled back, my reflexes still working enough that I caught myself and Clarke before we went tumbling to the floor.

“Commander!” she joked, and I gave her a quick smile. She furrowed her brow in confusion at me.

“Lexa?” she questioned. Her eyes bore into mine, and I let my mind, just this one time, wander off into the depths of blue in front of me. I let my emotions get carried away into the pools of blue.

I smiled, albeit forced, “I’m just bummed we lost,” I said. “We came so close.”

Clarke stared at me for a second longer, analyzing me. When I raised my brow in question, she consoled, “I'm sorry you guys lost, but you played so well!”

Roan just shook his head and chewed his cheek. I knew he was frustrated on my behalf for the loss, but one look at me and he knew I wasn't in the mood to hear anything more.

We walked to the entrance of the gymnasium while Clarke and Roan discussed amongst themselves. I stewed in my irritation at the way the game panned out until Clarke grabbed my hand, lacing her fingers through mine. She gave my hand a soft squeeze, and when she didn't let go, I forgot all about the basketball game that just happened and basked in the warmth of her palm in mine.

*

“Hey loser, what are you doing for Clarke’s birthday?” Roan asked as he leaned heavily against my locker. He was sporting a fresh cut on his lip, an apparent accident while he was shaving.

“What are you talking about, ‘Clarke’s birthday’?” I questioned, ignoring the stinging red flesh. The cut could have been from anything, really, and although I had an inkling where it came from, I ignored the squeeze in my chest.

Roan rolled his eyes. “Wow, you REALLY don’t pay attention to anyone else, do you?”

“What?”

“The cheer captain was talking about it so LOUDLY in class. I was sure you could hear it.”

“We have class with Raven? She’s a sophomore.”

“Jesus, Lexa. Clarke isn't even IN that class and you can't focus. Yes, we have class with Raven. It’s that mental clarity class Jaha is making everyone take this year. There’s like, all kinds of grades in the class.”

“Anyway, when is her birthday?” I asked, the slightest of pink colouring my cheeks at his (very correct) insinuation. I didn’t even realize we were IN a mental clarity class. I guess it worked.

“Next Thursday.”

I groaned and banged my head lightly against the lockers. How did I miss this conversation? What was I supposed to do for her birthday, give her a box of air? I had NO money to buy her anything and no TALENT other than basketball.

I banged my head against the locker again, the sudden nausea accompanying the realization that my social status was going to find a way to become the focal point of our friendship in just a few days.

Shit.

*

“Hey,” Clarke said, and I was so lost in thought that I didn’t even feel her when she slid into the seat next to me at lunch.

“Oh, hey,” I said distractedly.

Clarke made a face at me, unimpressed with my half-hearted greeting. She nudged my shoulder with her own, drawing my attention to her face.

I felt heat creep up my neck as I stared into the pools of blue filled with apprehension.

“What’s going on up in that head of yours,” she quietly asked, her eyes searching my face for a clue.

What was ‘going on’ was that I was having an internal crisis about what to do for her birthday, completely unable to find a solution. I spent the entire morning jumping back and forth between not making a big deal of it because we only JUST became friends, and making a big deal of it because she was Clarke -- she DESERVED something special.

“Nothing,” I responded. I didn't need to talk about the fact that I was, and always will be, ‘that kid’. Clarke had managed to fill the hole in my chest with the kindness that I had never expected to receive again, and when the opportunity came for me to reciprocate I had empty hands and an empty pocket. It made total sense why no one wanted to be friends with me -- what did I truly have to offer anyone?

I didn’t realize I had sighed out loud when I got lost in those thoughts.

“Hey.” Clarke wrapped her arm around my shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Let’s get out of here, yeah? I’m not really all that hungry.” She stood, pulling me up with her before I could protest. She looked at Roan, who just smiled softly at us both before dismissing us with a wave.

She tugged me along behind her while I sunk deeper and deeper into my vortex of inadequacy. It shouldn’t be such a big deal, we were friends, just like Roan and I were. She knew my situation, she knew that I wouldn’t be able to GIVE her anything… right? It shouldn't be such a big deal, but it was, because, what if she EXPECTED something? What if it was an unspoken rule among NORMAL people that you gave them something for their birthdays. What if she realized I REALLY WAS ‘that kid’ and what everyone said about me was true?

Clarke pulled me down to lay back with her in the grass, and suddenly I realized we managed to cross campus while I berated myself and stopped underneath the bleachers of the soccer field.

“Lexa…” she said, the unasked question lingering in the air between us.

I huffed out a breath, a sudden headache burning behind my eyes. I couldn't do this. I couldn't talk about this with her. I couldn't lose the friendship we had just built because I had nothing to give.

“I’m alright, Clarke. See? Nothing to worry about,” I faked a smile and made a silly face at her. She didn’t laugh, and I cleared my throat, looking at the sky in hopes of reigning in my emotions.

“Lexa, the only time you’ve looked SO upset was right before you ripped me a new asshole for giving you those shoes. Talk to me.” Her voice broke on the last syllable and my guilt burrowed deeper into my stomach, leaving a twisted mess of uneasiness.

I stared into her eyes, the worry turning the blue dark and stormy. I couldn't handle it, breaking eye contact. Everything about Clarke screamed  perfect; her hair curling over her shoulder, her designer t-shirt, the rips in her jeans that WEREN'T caused by falling on cement, her Converse, everything. She was what a teenager was supposed to look like -- I wasn't. My unruly hair; my worn clothes; the fact that the shoes I wore weren’t even my own. Nothing about me had any real VALUE to it, and I didn’t know how to give anything to the girl that didn’t need it but DESERVED it.

She refused to let me look away from her, and my brain stuttered while I tried to come up with an explanation that was somewhat believable.

“I’m..” Nothing.

“It’s…” Everything. It’s me.  It's you.

“It's…” nothing.

“I’m…” nothing.

“I’m just thinking about your birthday,” I said, deciding that a half truth that could save face was better than a lie or a whole truth that would rip us apart.

“What?” she asked, her brow furrowing as she tilted her head to look at me. “then why do you look like you're about to cry?” She rolled onto her side and supported her head with her hand.

I didn't respond, and Clarke picked at the grass in front of her, her brow furrowed in confusion.

A noise escaped my throat before I was ready. “I’m not going to cry,” I said, clearly sounding like Clarke was right.

“Lexa, there's nothing to be stressed about for my birthday. Honestly.” Her voice became so soft I almost missed what she said. She reached for my hand and squeezed it softly, but I let my hand remain limp against the grass.

I sighed. She didn't get it, and I wasn't about to explain it to her. I moved my hand from underneath hers, refusing to acknowledge the hurt look that quickly crossed her face before it disappeared, and picked at the grass, allowing the silence between us to extend for a moment.

“Lexa, will you have lunch with me on my birthday?”

“Clarke, we have lunch together everyday,” I responded in confusion, earning an eye roll.

“I am fully aware of that, Lexa. I'm asking if you'll have lunch with me ON MY BIRTHDAY.”

“Clarke, I really am not following here.” I had stopped picking at the grass, frowning at the girl by my side.

Clarke collapsed onto my shoulder with a groan.

“Why are you so frustrating?” she asked, rolling her head further into the crook of my shoulder to get comfortable as I laid in the grass. “Yes, I KNOW we have lunch together everyday, Lexa. I’m asking if you’ll have lunch with me on my BIRTHDAY.”

“I don't understand why you’re asking, knowing that I do it ALL THE TIME.” Frustration leaked into my words. I rubbed my forehead in exasperation and embarrassment, feeling her shift beside me. I was suddenly hyper aware of the fact that her body was completely pressed against mine, the heat of her legs against me. All thoughts of birthday presents were currently on hold as I struggled to keep my breathing calm and my heartbeat in a normal rhythm.

“Because I want a guarantee that it’ll be YOU I’m sitting with on my birthday,” Clarke said. I had a sudden burst of heat in my gut at the thought of her sitting with anyone else.

“What?” I said, laughing at the absurdity of this conversation, and trying to hide the jealousy that flared up inside me.

Clarke shrugged one shoulder, her hand tracing along the zipper of my hoodie. “Raven and the cheer squad are making this huge deal of my birthday, and I just want it to be low-key. I just want to treat it like any other day and be with the people I care about,” she said, fingers tracing along the teeth of the zipper.

“Clarke, your birthday IS a big deal,” I responded. “You know, after my parents… after everything happened, I realized how important it is to celebrate life while we have it. The fact that you were born on a specific day is a CELEBRATION to everyone who loves you. Your life is precious.”

Clarke's cheeks turned a deep shade of red as she looked up at me. I held her eye for a moment to emphasize the importance of the day.

“Yes, and I want to spend my only free time during the day with YOU. And Roan, of course. I don't want to spend it with a bunch of girls who don’t care one way or another whose birthday it is. Honestly, Lex, you're my best friend, and I just want to hang out with you, and then go to a movie dressed in a onesie with my dad.”

I laughed at the thought of Clarke in a onesie, and pushed up onto my elbows, unfortunately dislodging her from my shoulder.

“Yes, Clarke, I will have lunch with you,” I said. “On one condition.”

Clarke sat up with me, leaning back on her hands and looking at me while worrying her lip.

“No brussel sprouts,” I said resolutely, folding my arms across my chest and raising a brow in challenge.

A deep laugh bubbled from her lips, and my only reaction to the sound was to smile stupidly. Clarke stuck her hand out toward me. “Deal. It's a date.”

Wait, what?

*

The rest of the week was spent fending off questions from Roan in regards to where I thought I was going to get money for a gift.

“I don't KNOW, Roan,” I said, frustration boiling over as I slammed my hands down on the kitchen counter of my house.

Frustration was becoming the only emotion I had left. Frustration and anger.  It felt like the years of therapy were going down the drain as I became angrier and angrier, to the point that Coach Indra had to separate Ontari and I on more than one occasion as she took jab after jab at me over my bank account, and ban me from staying after school to run suicides until I could barely walk.

“Do you want some money?” he asked me. My hackles were raised as I was still thinking about Ontari’s latest insult, and I turned and hissed so venomously at him, I could actually see him swallow nervously. His voice cracked as he explained, “I was just offering.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t need your fucking HELP. You’re no better than me, Roan, you’re just as broke. Quit trying to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Roan glared at me for a second before his eyes softened, knowing my anger was misplaced.

“Can you just -- fucking -- fuck -- just -- just GO, Roan!” I yelled.

Roan flipped his hair back and nodded, grabbing his book bag and headed toward the door.

Anya was on her way in as he left, and when he didn’t acknowledge her, she shot me a concerned look.

“Trouble in paradise?” she joked, setting her purse down on the counter. I turned away from her, placing my hands on the counter again, trying to control my suddenly ragged breathing. My eyes were starting to spot and my hands were shaking, the impending panic attack only seconds away. I had avoided Anya this week, claiming to be tired whenever she came home, further sinking into my guilt as she  sent me concerned looks. She knew me too well, she would be able to read me in less than a second, and I couldn't ask her for money I knew we didn't have.

Anya made her way over to me, and when she heard the shallowness of my breathing, her hands were instantly carting through my hair from behind.

“Count with me, Squirt. I got you. 10,”

I clenched my eyes shut, trying to focus on Anya's fingers, but all I could hear was my breathing picking up to the point of barely inhaling at all.

“9,”

I bit down on my lip angrily. This was so STUPID. I couldn’t believe I was having a panic attack over this.

“8,”

I was SO STUPID. How could Clarke ever look at me as anything else? I couldn’t even control my emotions.

“7,”

I couldn’t do this. I was worthless. I was nothing but 'that kid’.

“6,”

The pain of my shortcomings tore a hole through my chest. I collapsed backwards into Anya as a sob ripped through me.

“5,”

My lungs burned from the force of the sobs still wracking my body, and not being able to catch my breath

“4,”

Anya spun me around, keeping me at arms length while still moving her fingers soothingly, but I crashed forward, burying my head into her shoulder.

“3,”

Finally, FINALLY, my lungs heaved in a deep breath.

“2, 1, there we go,” she said softly as I clung to her, sweat on my brow and down my back, and fingers white from squeezing the material of her uniform roughly.

After another minute of sniffling in the silence of the kitchen, Anya slowly pried my fingers from her uniform, pushing me back against the counter to look at me.

“What’s up, Squirt?” she asked, rubbing her hands along my shoulders and arms gently.

I shook my head, not trusting my voice. Anya raised a brow at me in question, and I huffed out a breath. I knew there was no way I was getting out of this conversation.

“Clarke,” I mumbled.

Her shoulders stiffened. “What happened?”

I shook my head again. “It’s her birthday tomorrow.”

“I see,” she said, her shoulders relaxing again.

“I don't have a gift for her,” I said, a tear falling from my eyes onto the floor below. I felt absolutely ridiculous for reacting this way, knowing that this would just lead to questions about my feelings for Clarke that I wasn't ready to answer.

Anya let out a long sigh through pursed lips.

“Lexa…”

I balled my fists tightly together, my fingernails digging into my hands. I couldn't do this. I didn’t need another lecture.

“Let's make her a cake,” Anya said with a snap of her fingers.

My eyes shot to my sister's smirking face, completely taken aback by her sudden excitement.

“Oh, come on! I bet you of all the gifts she’s going to get, a cake is definitely not going to be one of them, and what teenager doesn’t like chocolate?” Anya said with a shrug. She instantly started pulling out the ingredients, her eyes alight with mirth.

I gawked at Anya, not understanding when my sister, the woman who only cared for Roan and I, got so excited over making a cake. Anya  brought her finger to her chin as she searched for a cake pan. “Maybe we should make cupcakes. Cupcakes are all the rage right now.”

Maybe cupcakes would be okay.

*

There was flour EVERYWHERE. It took three hours of cleaning the kitchen to rid the house of it, followed by four showers, as the flour created a fine coating on any and all body parts that were exposed during the attempted baking. It also took a very apologetic phone call to Roan to get him to come over and help accomplish this feat, but FINALLY, I had six perfect cupcakes to give to the perfect blonde.

When Anya offered to help me make cupcakes, I assumed she knew how to make them. I was so wrong. She and I ended up covered in more flour than I think actually made it into the cupcake tins, but nonetheless, we had successfully made cupcakes with a small mountain of chocolate frosting on top.

*

I didn’t even get the chance to wish Clarke happy birthday on the morning of her actual birthday.  From the moment she walked into school, Raven whisked her away and bombarded her with balloons and presents, the squealing of the cheerleaders making mine and everyone else in the hall’s head hurt.

Clarke shot a wistful look over her shoulder at me as she was dragged down the hallway.

I opened my mouth to yell out a ‘happy birthday’ greeting, but my throat closed up when I took in the amount of people standing in the hallway.

I made a split second decision, pulling my phone from my pocket.

This was an emergency, after all.

It took WAY too long to find all the letters, but I finally did it.

‘Happy 15th Birthday, Clarke’

The reply was instant. ‘Lexa? I thought this was for emergencies only?’

‘SOS. Happy Birthday’

‘:-)’

Before I even had a chance to put the cupcakes in my locker, Lorelei dragged herself from the pits of hell and trudged down the hallway.

She looked like shit today. Her hair was sticking to her head, her eyes sunken in. Her clothes were stretched in odd places, appearing as though she had slept in them.

She smiled and giggled as she clung to Cage’s arm; who also looked a little pale, but not nearly as bad as Lorelei.

She spotted me and stumbled over, eyeing the tupperware in my hands.

“Oooh, are those for Clarkey’s birthday? Look at you being almost useful. How did you afford those?”

She reached for the tupperware, and I pulled it further into my chest. Cage snickered at me, seemingly untethered from the  world, and when he reached forward, I moved it to the side to avoid him, too. Lorelei took the opportunity to grab it, but whatever was wrong with her today made her clumsy, and she dropped the tupperware on the ground with a loud THUD.

“You IDIOT!” Roan yelled as he marched down the hallway. Cage and Lorelei turned white and quickly disappeared into the mass of students before Roan could catch up to them.

I stood there, my breathing shallowing out and my fingers trembling.

No. No no no.

Roan raced over, picked up the tupperware and inspected the cupcakes inside while I stood frozen on the spot.

“They’re pretty bad, but one of them is still perfect,” he said, opening the lid for me to see. “It’s okay, Lexa, she only needs ONE cupcake to make a wish. It’s all good.”

I nodded, clenching and unclenching my fists to keep calm. I had no other options.

I had never felt more useless.

*

“Finally!” Clarke exclaimed as she slid into her spot beside me at lunch. My heart leapt into my throat at her sudden appearance. I didn't know how it was possible that she always found a way to sneak up on me.

“They wouldn’t STOP. God, they’re exhausting. I’m SO HAPPY I got to tell them I had a date with you,” she said, leaning into my shoulder and winking at me in a way that probably would have killed me if I wasn’t so consumed with thoughts of cupcakes.

Normally, I’m sure I would have melted into a puddle and over-analyze the fact that she called it a ‘date’ twice now, but my heart was still hammering in my chest from the lone cupcake I was tightly gripping to.

“Clarke!” Roan said with an overabundance of cheer as she shifted in her seat. “Happy birthday!”

Clarke blushed a deep shade of red at his loud exclamation.  Students walking past the table stopped to stare, not sure what to make of the typically surly boy smiling so unabashedly and wishing someone well as opposed to wishing them to go away.

“Thank you, Roan,” Clarke said with a small dip of her head. She leaned heavily into my side, whispering “Hey, you. Whatcha got there?” when she noticed the Tupperware between my fingers and my lack of greeting.

I couldn’t do this.  She was going to be SO disappointed in me and then not want to be friends anymore. I had heard Raven talk about the amount of balloons they stuffed into her locker, and the cards and gifts the cheer squad had all showered upon her when they saw her during first period.  I knew the standard I had to compare myself to, but from where I was looking, I knew I would never meet it even if I had the tallest ladder in existence.

I was so stupid. Cupcakes were such a stupid idea.

Roan shot me a look from the corner of his eye, his long hair falling in his face. To everyone else, it was just a hair flip, but the miniscule tick of his eyebrow was all it took for him to communicate that I needed to say something. The problem was, I couldn’t breathe long enough to wish Clarke a happy birthday, let alone give her the pathetic gift in my hands.

This wasn’t enough.

“Happy birthday, Clarke,” Roan said as he stood from the table, giving her a playful wink. He rapped his fingers on the table, his secret way of bringing me back from spiraling into another panic attack.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Clarke asked incredulously.

Roan shrugged. “Yeah. Detention. I hope you get exactly what you wish for today,” he said, glancing at me and taking off before Clarke could argue.

Clarke pouted for half a second before she turned to me with an expectant look on her face. I was still focusing on my breathing that I didn’t notice the small frown slipping out of the corners of her mouth.

“Lexa?” she questioned, her voice soft and soothing. I could barely hear it over the unsteady thumping of my heart in my chest. She put her hand on top of mine, and slowly pried my white-knuckled grip from the container.

I could feel the hot tears pressing against the back of my eyes, and I cleared my throat, dropping my eyes to the table as she took the Tupperware from my grasp.

“Happy Birthday, Clarke,” I whispered, my eyes only briefly looking at her. Her cheeks instantly reddened, and she dropped her head on my shoulder for a second and mumbled, “It’s so much better NOW.”

When she sat back, her eyes darted toward the tupperware now sitting in her lap and she quirked a brow. “Is this for me?”

I nodded, the instant light in her eyes made my heart flutter and my stomach roll all at once.

This was not enough.

“You really didn't need to get me anything, Lexa,” Clarke said, pausing. I give her a single nod, letting my head stay inclined as though my mind WASN’T protesting this stupid act of foolishness.

This was NOT ENOUGH.

Clarke’s eyebrows furrowed momentarily, her lips pursing as she gazed at me.

There was nothing I could do now.

Clarke’s eyes followed mine as they looked at the Tupperware, and she slowly opened the container in her hands.

“Oh my God,” she said, and I swallowed, steeling myself against the disappointment I knew was coming.

“This is the best birthday EVER!” she cried.

Wait, what?

I didn't even have time to question her before she wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug, squeezing me with a ferocity I was not expecting.

“I LOVE chocolate cupcakes. No one EVER gets me chocolate cupcakes for my birthday! How did you know? God, Lexa, you’re amazing. Thank you so much!”

“I--,”

My head spun at her reaction. I sucked in a deep breath, not even aware that I had been holding it.

Clarke pulled the cupcake out of the tupperware and closed her eyes while she held it in front of her face, her nose and eyebrows scrunched up.

“What are you doing?” I asked just barely above a whisper, mind still reeling to catch up.

“Making a wish, duh.”

“There aren’t any candles on it,” bewilderment laced through my words.

“Whatever. It’s my birthday, and I get to make the rules.” She opened one eye and glared at me until I gave her a single nod, her eyes shutting tightly again, shoulders rising to meet her ears as she thought of her wish.

She opened her eyes, the mirth behind them clear, then took the largest bite physically possible, icing coating the top of her nose.

I laughed, and the sound strange in my ears. I had been so STRESSED about her birthday that I hadn’t laughed all week.

After wiping her face clean (with some help from me), Clarke let out the most delicious and dizzying moan of approval.

“That is DELICIOUS. You’re a godsend, Lexa. Honestly, between this, lunch, and the text message this morning, you’ve completely won my birthday.”

I, what?

Clarke gave me another hug, and I rolled my eyes at myself for the entire week’s worth of frustration I put myself though.

“Best birthday ever!” she said into my sweater.

“Clarke,” I playfully groaned. My cheeks were getting redder as she squealed in delight, the other students in the cafeteria all looking at us now.

“Lexa,” she said, pulling back to look at me. Her eyes were a deep shade of blue, yet somehow bright with the joy she was feeling. “Thank you, so much. This means so much to me,” she said. She placed the half cupcake back into the tupperware as she licked her fingers, then rubbed them on her pants. “I don’t think I can really make you understand how much more THIS,” she gestured to the cupcake, “means to me than any of the shit they gave me today.”

“It’s just a cupcake,” I croaked out.

Clarke shook her head, taking my hand in hers. Her fingers were sticky from the cupcake, but I didn’t care.

“Lexa, you took the time to make this for me. You spent actual TIME on this, which means so much more to me than any of the shiny stuff you can get in a stupid store. This is…. This is amazing,” she said, the hitch in her voice obvious to us both.

She cleared her throat as both our cheeks reddened, and squeezed my hand.

“Thank you,” she whispered again.

“What did you wish for?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you that, you know the rules,” she said, a sound similar to a scoff erupting from her throat in indignation.

I quirked a brow at her. “I thought you made the rules for your birthday.”

She rolled her eyes at me, shoving me lightly with her shoulder. “Watch it, Woods, or there will be brussel sprouts at every meal from now on.”

“I yield, I yield,” I cried, throwing my hands up in defeat.

Clarke laughed, picking up the rest of the cupcake. She smiled at me again, her cheeks tinting red as she finished it, and for the first time in over a week, I took in a full breath.

Chapter Text

Coach Indra ripped Ontari and I apart after the game, claiming that she should have known better than to take a pair of immature freshmen on the team, informing us that we were OFFICIALLY benched until further notice.

“You're both amazing players but you're too concerned about the points YOU score and needing to be the hero.”

Ontari rolled her eyes, her nostrils flaring angrily as Coach Indra berated us for the third time that week.

I felt just as irritated as Ontari, although it wasn’t because we were being yelled at, but because  I DIDN’T care about being the hero, I just wanted to win.

Right?

I mean, it's not like I thought I'd be the difference maker on the team. It’s not like I had been watching them lose all season and thought that I could do better. It's not like I thought that we'd have a better chance of winning that game if I was PERSONALLY playing, and let my frustrations take over when I lashed out at Ontari…

Shit.

“You two are squabbling like children! Everyone that comes through those doors can HEAR the way you speak to each other! I won't have this on my team!” Coach Indra barked.

“Not a single person on this roster started when they were a freshman. It's about paying your dues, ladies. It's about earning the trust and respect of your teammates. You can't do that when you come in here expecting to be on the court just because you've made the team. No one is any better than anyone else. We're ONE team. The fact that you two can't put your differences aside tells me that you're just NOT ready for this. You might have been hotshots on the playground, but it's  completely different here. If you can't respect it, you don't deserve it.”

“It's not like your methodology is helping us win,” Ontari grumbled.

Indra glared at Ontari. I could see the vein in Indra's head throb angrily, and I cleared my throat in hopes of breaking the tense atmosphere. I shouldn’t have.

“Lexa, I am ESPECIALLY disappointed in you,” she said suddenly, turning abruptly and walking off, clearly finished with the two of us.

Ontari snickered behind Coach Indra's back.

“I guess her pity party for you is done.”

“Fuck off, Ontari,” I snapped, pushing myself off the bench to get away from her.

This was great -- my coach, the person responsible for me playing or not playing, was furious with me, all because of this IDIOTIC brunette.

The tension between Ontari and I spilled over into the team from that point on, and within a week there were clear lines drawn in the sand between the players, and the divide was making Indra more furious as they days went on.

This wasn’t going to work.

*

Christmas break came shortly after, with Clarke going to New York to visit her grandmother, and Roan, Anya and I spending a (typical) quiet holiday season at home.

Clarke called on both Christmas and New Years, both times Anya sending me knowing looks while Roan grinned mischievously at me.

Hearing her voice was the first time I had let myself relax all break. I hadn’t realized how addictive her presence was, and how uneasy I felt without it until she was gone.

*

It appeared that the winter break didn’t help Coach Indra cool off in the slightest.  She partnered Ontari and I for every single drill, and when we inevitably ended up arguing (which was ALWAYS Ontari’s fault), she just stuck us with extra laps until we could barely breathe, let alone fight.

“Your mom hates me,” I said to Lincoln as I lined up the shot at the outdoor court on a rare day off from practice.

He chuckled as the ball clanged off the rim, retrieving it and squeezing it firmly between his hands.

“Wanna play one on one?” I offered.

“With you? God, no. You'd destroy me. What about around the world?”

I shrugged. At least SOMEONE in the Birch family could admit I was good.

“Key and then three-point line. Loser buys Gatorades,” Lincoln clarified.

I made five shots in a row before missing, bringing me to the bottom corner of the key.

Lincoln smiled at me and then went on to make the first six around the key, walking over to the corner of the three point arc.

“You not acknowledging the fact that your mom hates me makes me think that she hates me more than I thought!” I yelled.

“She doesn't hate you,” Lincoln said as he drained the shot. I yelled out random words in hopes of making him mess up the shot, but it did nothing but make him chuckle. I grimaced. I think he had just fooled me into getting him Gatorade.

“She doesn't play me, or look at me, or even BREATHE in my direction, whether we're winning or losing by fifty, or if I run ten thousand laps,” I complained.

Lincoln shrugged, setting up his next shot, then making it with ease.

“That's not being dramatic at all. She's got her reasons to be the way she is.”

I scoffed. “Which are?”

Lincoln shrugged again. “If I knew, I'd probably be able to stay out of trouble.”

He shot the third three pointer and it made that swishing noise that I was always after.

“Jesus Linc, you've got crazy soft hands. Why don't you shoot more threes in the game?”

“Pike wants me to play post, so I play post. He only sees how big I am, nothing else,” he said with nonchalance, making the fourth shot, and then the fifth.

I gaped at him. “Pike is an idiot.”

“Pike only sees what he wants to see. You know more than anyone else that that's not always the case,” Lincoln said.

“Why does this feel like you're secretly defending your mother right now?”

Lincoln chuckled, then finished the game out with his twelfth straight shot.

“You tricked me.”

Lincoln laughed loudly. It was odd to see him do so.

“No, I just chose a battle I knew I could win,” he said, twirling the ball on his finger.

“You think your mom sees me like Pike? You think this was all just a donation on her part?” I questioned.

Lincoln paused his attempt at taking the shot, putting the ball under his arm.

“Never. My mom is not like that in the slightest. I think… my mom's reasons are just as misunderstood as you are, Lexa. She sees something in you, I think she's just waiting for you to see it, too.” There was a glint in his eye that made me think he knew EXACTLY what Indra was looking for, but there was no way he was going to tell me.

I nodded and chewed on my bottom lip.

“Double or nothing?” He asked, passing me the ball.

I smirked at him and started the game all over again.

*

It was the beginning of February, our season more than half over, and outside of a random minute or two that Emori or Harper needed a break, I hardly saw any playing time.

There were two games that Harper and Echo had BOTH fouled out, so I had gotten a dozen or so minutes, but outside of that, I hadn’t earned the right to start the game with the way Ontari and I were still at each other’s throats.

I had to fight with myself to push the feeling of entitlement down. If Lincoln’s words meant anything, then I just had to keep my head down and keep working hard, and ignore Ontari. The last of the three being the most difficult.

She was, undoubtedly, the most ANNOYING person I had ever known. I honestly thought I was going to cut off her head if I had to listen to her for ONE MORE SECOND.

“Hey C-C,” Ontari sing-songed when I walked into the locker room.

“Are you talking to me?” I asked.

“Yep,” she said, popping the 'p’ with snark.

I narrowed my eyes at her and sucked in a long breath through pursed lips.

Just ignore her, Lexa.

“What? You not going to ask me what it means?”

“I think you'd enjoy that too much, and I'm really not interested in your games.”

“Ha. Seems like you are from the bench.”

“Oh my God, you make no sense. We're both on the bench. Together,” I waved my hand violently between the two of us. “We’re at each other’s throats and we’re not even PLAYING, Ontari!” I was exhausted with this feud that we had created. Ontari didn’t understand that it wasn’t helping us, and I was too proud to apologize to her for my part in it.

“Whatever, C-C,” she said dismissively.

Luna and Echo walked into the change room, backpacks slung over their shoulders and GROUNDERS hoodies making them look more intimidating than it probably should have. Coach Indra was close behind in her white Polo shirt and pressed khakis. Emori gave me the finger as she walked by, high-fiving with Ontari. I knew they had grown close as the tension between us grew, but I had no issue with Emori. Her giving me the finger was probably the WORST she had done this entire time, and part of me wanted to laugh at the fact that it had come to this.

“Ladies,” Coach Indra said impatiently, tapping her heeled foot against the tile.

I dipped my head and bit down on my lip hard enough to draw blood to try and reign in my emotions, screaming internally. Coach Indra didn't need ANOTHER reason not to play me.

When Ontari slammed her door a little more forcefully than required, Coach Indra shook her head and sighed.

I just didn’t understand how HER attitude was MY problem.

*

I spent the first two periods of the game staring at the cheerleaders, not even bothering to pretend that I was paying attention to the game.

Lorelei had quit the squad, her sickly pale skin and sunken-in eyes becoming somewhat scary.  I would have been worried for her health if she wasn’t so CRUEL to everyone around her. She and Cage had become THAT couple that were constantly making out in the hallways, being broken up by teachers, only to skip class and do it all again. She started avoiding me after the cupcake incident, Clarke catching wind of what happened.  I could defend myself, but honestly, I was just too tired to deal with her AND Ontari.

The cheerleaders all seemed significantly happier since she had abandoned ship; they were much more excited and it was clear that they were bonding beyond the level of just teammates, especially Raven and Clarke. They had a mutual respect after Clarke officially became the base for Raven; Clarke being the only person she trusted to ACTUALLY catch her. With Raven came other friends as well, and I watched as Clarke became the most fascinating person in the room on more than one occasion. I didn’t blame anyone for being drawn to her -- that was just Clarke. I didn’t like the way that some of the football players gawked at her, though. Especially Bellamy Blake. He seemed to be EXTRA interested in her as of late. It made my blood boil with a feeling I didn’t understand (It was totally NOT jealousy).

Halfway through the third period, Emori took a charge from the opposing player trying to make a layup, falling backwards onto her outstretched hand.

The scream she let out was deafening. It completely jarred me out of my thoughts, and I was off the bench before anyone could react. “Emori! Don't move!”

She cradled her hand to her chest, and I could tell right away that it was broken by the awkward angle. Roan had broken his arm similarly to this when we were younger and I had pushed him off the back of the couch. In my defense, he was chasing me around with a booger on his finger, so I HAD to.

Clarke pushed her way through the gathering crowd, falling to her knees beside Coach Indra and I.

“Hey, hey,” I said as Emori cried out in pain, her eyes shut tightly together. “Hey, it's okay. Hey, look at me Emori.” I moved my head to make sure that she was looking directly into my eyes if and when she chose to open them.

Clarke turned to coach Indra and said, “We need to call the ambulance, and get the first aid kit from Mr. Gus’s room.” Coach Indra looked at Echo, who immediately took off in the direction of the kit.

Emori rocked back and forth on the floor as she whimpered in pain.

“I can't feel my fingers,” she cried. “I can't feel my fingers!” The panic was beginning to overwhelm her, and I knew that if she didn’t calm down she was going to pass out.

“They're there, I promise,” I said soothingly.

“You're going to be fine,” Clarke chimed in.

Emori looked to us, then her eyes darted uncomfortably to our teammates around her, so I glared at Luna until she started pushing everyone back and away.

“Is that a bad thing? There's no pain. Just go to your happy place. Use that weird trick Coach Alie all taught us during the Mental Clarity class.”

“Shut up,” she bit out.

“Okay, okay,” I conceded. At least I knew that I wasn’t the only person who thought that class was really weird and useless.  “So how many point did you get this game? Four?” I asked sarcastically, knowing full-well that she had scored more than that.

“Twelve. Could you not see from the bench?” Emori snapped back.

Perfect, she was talking and not thinking about her wrist.

“Haha, funny. How many threes did you hit?”

Emori took a minute to think about it, Echo returning with the first aid kit in that time, and Clarke immediately ripped it open.

“Keep her looking at you,” Clarke whispered softly as she opened the kit and searched for the supplies she needed. “She’ll go into shock if she sees her hand.”

Emori almost glanced down as Clarke spoke, so I said the first thing I could think of.

“Dude, you got the charge.”

Emori furrowed her brow, and I did too, not completely aware how getting her to relive the moment was going to help. I internally groaned as her eyes became glazed and darted down to her wrist. Luckily, Coach Indra was angled in a way over Emori’s body that she couldn’t see it.

“Clarke, do you know first aid?” Coach Indra asked. “Would you like me to take over?”

Clarke shook her head. “I know WAY too much first aid with my mother being a doctor. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” she said.

“You took the hit. It was perfect. You did the most selfless play in basketball. You stood your ground and you pretty much DARED the girl to try and beat you. It was amazing. Get knocked down, get back up, right? Did you know one time I tried to do that in street ball, and Lincoln didn't want to hurt me, so he threw the ball at me instead. He hit me right in the chest and didn't understand why I went down so hard. I threw the ball at his crotch in retaliation. I think he understands now.”

Coach Indra rolled her eyes, mumbling, “my son is a fool.” Emori laughed, a few tears escaping from the agony that she was feeling, and Clarke slowly, carefully, set a splint around her hand.

“So how many threes was it?” I asked again.

“Two,” she said, a sharp gasp leaving her lips when Clarke got too close to the break, and I blurted out the next thing I could think of.

“Have you ever wanted to be a cheerleader?”

Why did I even ask that? There was NO connection to what we were talking about.

Emori scoffed.

“Me neither. They're too.. peppy,” I said with a  shrug. “They're all… go team! You're amazing! I love to say nice things really loudly!” I mimicked. My cheeks flushed as the cheerleaders grumbled unhappily, Raven glaring at me from the bleachers. “You wouldn’t last a day, Woods!” she called out, and my only response was to stick my tongue out at her.

Clarke rolled her eyes, but Emori laughed, and the distraction was just long enough for Clarke to finish.

“Thank you,” Emori said to both Clarke and I in a breath once Clarke said she was finished. She clutched her wrist tightly against her chest, and I helped her up to her feet, then walked with her toward the exit while both teams clapped in a show of respect.

“Lexa?” Coach Indra called from the team bench, still trying to corral all the players so they could continue the game. She raised her eyebrows at me and gestured to the scoreboard.

“Put Ontari in. We;re actually winning and she’s much better than me at defense. I want to make sure Emori is alright when the ambulance comes,” I said with a shrug.

Coach Indra stood shocked, while Ontari shot me a smug look, entirely too pleased with herself for doing absolutely nothing.

“You're throwing away your chance to play because of me? Lexa, no,” Emori complained, still wincing as we walked down the hallway.

I smiled at her. “It's whatever. You're my teammate. You're slightly more important than the outcome of the game.”

“Slightly?”

“Slightly,” I confirmed.

Emori and I sat in silence on the curb of the building. Now that the adrenaline had somewhat passed, I felt the awkwardness creeping it’s way up my neck. Emori didn’t like me, and I had never really spoken to her outside of this and a few birds she had flipped me.

“Thanks Lexa,” Emori said after a long moment of silence. “My parents don't approve of me playing basketball, and this is just going to make then feel justified in that disapproval.”

“Parents are interesting,” I said as I fought to remain indifferent.

“Sorry,” she said, wincing slightly at what she said.

I waved her off. “Don't be. Everyone’s got their shit. You're not going to win everyone's approval. You might not EVER get your parents’ approval, but if you're doing something you love, they'll learn to love it too. Have they been to any games yet?”

Emori shook her head.

“Well then it's their loss. They don't see how much you love the game. If they could see that then they wouldn't disapprove of it. It keeps you out of trouble and it keeps you active. What else could they want?”

Emori shrugged. “You know, you should take your own advice,” she said. “You and Ontari? You two probably won’t ever get along. You’re both TOO good. TOO competitive. But it shouldn’t matter how much you guys hate each other when we’re on the floor. Honestly, your guys’ feud is exhausting. I'm sorry I was being such a dick before. I, uhh, I guess I got caught up in the drama. You’re not SO bad, though.”

“Mind telling coach Indra that?” I said with an eye roll.

Emori laughed. “Yeah right. She's terrifying.”

“God, don't I know it. Talk to your parents. You're going to have to call them when you get to the hospital anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah. Make sure you tell me the score of the game. It looks like my ride's here,” she said as the ambulance pulled up to the curb.

She moved to give me a fist bump, but remembered the state of her arm, so I reached forward and grasped her forearm instead in an awkward half hug, half handshake.

“Good luck,” I said, gripping her forearm a little tighter.

Emori shot me a smug look. “Do you even know me? I don’t need luck.”

*

“Lexa,” Coach Indra called from her office as I slipped off her shoes.

“Yes, Coach?”

“Sit,” she commanded while she gestured to the chair across from her desk.

I took the seat, and Coach Indra stared at me blankly for a minute.

What could I have possibly done wrong now? I know I shouldn't have walked out on the game, but Emori was HURT, and it wasn't like I was playing anyways.

“Emori’s parents called. They said she will be fine. She broke her wrist in two places.”

I grimaced. That definitely meant her season was over.

“She said to tell you thank you.”

I nodded once in acknowledgement.

“Lexa…” Coach Indra started, then paused. She ran her hands through her cropped hair and huffed out an irritated breath. “What you did tonight…”

“I know, it was stupid. I shouldn't have walked away from the game.”

“What I was going to say,” coach Indra said pointedly, her eyes narrowed at me for cutting her off.

Oops.

“Was that it was very compassionate of you. She's your teammate, she's not your enemy -- she's your people. There are only a certain amount of basketball players on this team and she's one of them -- YOU'RE one of them. I'm very proud of you.”

I gulped. I wasn't being reprimanded?

“I need you to be this way with Ontari, too. Lexa. I know what you've been through, I know how hard every day is for you. I need to know that you can keep a level head even when someone is going out of their way to bother you.”

A noise escaped from the back of my throat before I could stop it. I would NEVER get along with Ontari.

“Listen. You've never played on a team before correct?”

I nodded once. Outside of pick up, I hadn't had any real experience playing the game on a team.

“Exactly. You know, Michael Jordan didn't make the team in his freshman year of high school, and look at who he became. You don't see the power you hold. The girls look to you whether you realize it or not. You COMMAND respect on that court. You give them direction. The other girls will mimic your actions, Lexa, including if it's bickering with your teammate. The way you react to Ontari is the main reason I can't have you on the court. Girls from other school will treat you much WORSE. They will actually try to hurt you, Lexa, and if you can't keep a cool head, you could lose all of the things that you've worked so hard for.”

I clasped my hands in my lap, digging my fingernails into my wrists. She had a point.

“I want you to help me run a basketball camp this summer. It will be for young children just learning the game. I want to believe that this wisdom and compassion that you have isn’t just a one-off. And I need to know that you can keep a cool head when you’re annoyed.”

I nodded. “Um, I have to ask Anya if it's okay, but I'd love to. Thank you for the opportunity.”

Coach Indra hummed in response. “You know, I've been wanting to make you a starter for months now, but after your explosion on Ontari I knew you weren't ready. We haven't been able to build a good chemistry with you two at odds, Lexa. If you can figure out a way to move past all this, I can guarantee that as a team -- we'll be unstoppable.”

I felt the pressure in my eyes start to build, so I blinked quickly to stem the tears.

“We have less than half the season left, and we obviously haven't made the playoffs, but I'd like to see what you can do.”

“You're offering me a spot? I didn't even play. Ontari scored twelve points and we WON.”

“Winning isn't what's important here, it's the ability to be a team player. I'm offering YOU the spot. It's yours to lose at this point, do you REALLY want to question me on my decision?”

My vision spotted. I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath this entire time.

Coach Indra quirked a brow at me. “Is that a yes?”

I nodded quickly. “Yes. Thank you, Coach Indra.”

“Don't make me regret it.”

I nodded quickly again.

Finally.

Chapter Text

I wasn’t nervous for my first start.

I wasn’t (I totally was).

I didn’t throw up before the game, similar to the first time I put on the GROUNDERS uniform.

I didn’t (I did).

“Nervous?” Clarke asked as I exited the bathroom, a cheeky smile on her lips.

“No way,” I lied, trying to subtly wipe away the toothpaste I had cleaned my mouth with. She laughed and pulled me into a hug. I breathed her in, letting the warmth of her body lull me into relaxation. It was short lived.

“Don't be nervous, Lex. You EARNED this. And afterwards, you’re going to sleep over, so even if you don't score, you’re still going to score tonight.”

I choked on nothing. I don't think she actually understood what that meant.

“You okay?” she asked, clapping her hand on my back as I spluttered. “You’re kind of pale. You going to throw up again?”

I waved my hand as I pushed her away, desperate to regain some semblance of control over my breathing. “I’m good,” I wheezed. Clarke looked at me skeptically. “I’m looking forward to the game and the sleepover, Clarke, even if it IS just because we have a massive project due Monday,” I teased with a playful scowl. It seemed my confidence had come back quicker than expected.

Clarke flipped me off. “It was the easiest way to ask you, idiot. Don’t make it weird now.”

I rolled my eyes in response.

After a beat of silence and us just staring into each other’s eyes, Clarke leaned forward suddenly, her lips ghosting against my cheek with a soft kiss. My heart HAMMERED in my chest.

“Go get em, Commander,” she said, smacking my butt aggressively before skipping of to join the rest of the cheerleaders.

Oh God. How much more nervous could I be?

*

“You ready to show them what you got, Commander?” Echo said as we gathered around the centre circle for the tip-off. I nodded at her and rubbed the soles of my shoes on my hands one last time to make sure they were dry.

I glanced over to the bleachers, my two favourite blonde’s with eyes wide, staring back at me. Roan, as usual, was dressed in all black, his hair half in his face. Clarke, in her GROUNDERS outfit, my hoodie thrown on top, winked at me and blew a kiss.

I let out a breath. Seeing my two favourite people here to support me, I wasn’t nervous anymore.

*

The game started off swimmingly. I was making a scene with how many points I was scoring. Ontari rolled her eyes at every timeout that I was sure she was going to roll her way back to the locker room. Coach Indra just kept telling us to do what we were doing, which was all the approval I needed.

It was; however, frustrating come the second half of the game. After I had scored (quite easily) twenty five points, the other team started double-teaming me. That didn’t mean much in the scheme of things, as that usually left the incredibly deadly Luna wide open, but it was frustrating to have to be battling against two players from the other team, who seemed to be throwing more elbows than ACTUALLY trying to defend against me.

By the fourth quarter, I had more bruised than unbruised skin. Coach Indra called a timeout with five minutes left to give us a break and I was happy for the reprieve from the assault.

“Great job, ladies. Lexa, I know they’re playing you hard, but we need to keep the attention focused on you so we can keep racking up the points. Don’t get complacent, ladies.”

When we walked back out to the floor, I saw the coach on the other team whisper to the two players that were guarding me. The girls nodded determinedly, jogging back out to take their position glued by my side.

Luna took the ball up the court, bringing it to the other side without incident as we all assembled into  our temporary spots. Both defenders were watching me closely. I faked left, then right, then skipped backwards with a chuckle once they crashed into each other, both reacting too slow to recover.

Luna fed me the ball and I drained the two-pointer with ease.

The girls rolled their eyes and huffed, and I winked at them as I jogged backwards back up the court.

After another quick turnaround, Luna and Echo ran a play that called for Harper and Gaia to set simultaneous picks for the other to cause a ton of confusion in the key, leaving myself and Luna open for a three-pointer. Luna passed me the ball, but when I noticed that my defenders were quickly recovering and charging at me, a look of determination on their faces, I passed it right back to her. She took the shot and it was nothing but net. One defender elbowed me in the ribs as she made her way by, and I was SURE there was going to be a bruise. I shook it off and went back to play defense.

Coach Indra had warned me about how physical other teams would be, and I had luckily faced worse playing against Ryder and crew.

At the end of the game, the two defenders slapped my hand a little harder than necessary, and I tried not to laugh. We ended up winning by a landslide, and I had scored thirty points, with eleven rebounds and thirteen assists, Luna being the only player to score more.

She and Echo gave me a huge hug in the locker room, the entirety of the team cheering after our win. Ontari rolled her eyes and scowled at me before storming off, but we all ignored her outburst.

I wasn’t about to let her sour attitude ruin this for the team.

I let out the breath I was holding since the beginning of the game.

Finally.

*

I had barely exited the gym before Clarke was crashing into me, saying her congratulations.

“Oh my god, you’re so hot!” she cheered, and Roan and I both shared a surprised look, Roan barking out a laugh at my quickly flushing face.

“The way you command the game, Oh my GOD Lexa,” she gushed.

I rubbed my hand across the back of my neck, the butterflies that Clarke always managed to cause leaving me speechless.

“Awesome job, Lex,” Roan said, giving me a fist bump after Clarke had given me another HUGE hug and a kiss on the cheek.

I was quickly melting on the spot.

Clarke squealed again and dragged me towards the exit. “Let's get this sleepover started!” she yelled.

Roan laughed. “I’m not even going to pretend that I’m upset that I wasn’t invited. Enjoy your girl time.” He winked as we parted ways.

“I’ll call you in the morning!” I yelled at his retreating form. He gave me the finger over his shoulder.

What an ass.

*

We pulled up to Clarke's cookie cutter house on her bike, and I could feel the sweat that had cooled since the game had ended start to drip down my back.

I was nervous.

Clarke was easily in a different tax bracket as I was, and the three story mansion made me thankful that I was in the Grounders uniform instead of my own clothes. At least I could PRETEND to be on par with Clarke when I met her parents.

“Dad?” Clarke called as she pushed open the heavy mahogany door.

The chandelier in the foyer sparkled, and I squinted as the light reflected in my eyes. It was TOO shiny. It seemed excessive to have such a luxurious piece right when you open the door.

Rich people.

“Princess?” An older man who looked exactly as I thought Clarke's father would look appeared in front of me. The comment had me internally rolling my eyes as I was trying very hard to not feel like a pauper in a palace.

Clarke’s father was wearing a welding mask atop his head of blonde hair, rosy cheeks dusted in what looked like flour, and light blue eyes sparkling the moment he caught sight of his daughter.

“Dad, what are you doing?” Clarke asked, a touch of embarrassment on her voice.

“Oh hi, honey! I'm making pancakes and bacon for dinner! Your mom is working overnight, so I figured I could…. Oh, hello,” he said as his eyes landed on me. His expression didn’t change, his eyes never losing the sparkle of excitement at seeing me.

I swallowed and clasped my wrists in front of myself tightly to calm my nerves. I wasn’t expecting that.

“Dad,” Clarke said with a throat clear, “dad, this is Lexa. Lexa, this is my dad, Jake.”

Jake narrowed his eyes while he gazed at me, clearly thinking, and Clarke coughed again. Suddenly, his sparkling blue eyes widened as he doubled his pace toward us, hand extended in greeting.

“Lexa!” He exclaimed, looking to Clarke. “Lexa, Lexa? Like THE Lexa? Lexa Woods, basketball extraordinaire? The one you can't stop talking about?”

Clarke's eyes widened as she covered her face, the hints of a bright red peeking through her fingers. Jake ignored her embarrassment and shook my hand so enthusiastically I could feel the muscles in my shoulder protesting the movement.

“It's so good to finally meet you! Clarke LITERALLY won't shut up about you. I'm starting to feel like a fan myself.”

“Dad,” she admonished. “You're embarrassing me.” The pleading in her tone was all too apparent, but I was too focused on keeping my ears from turning the same shade of red as her ears to speak.

Clarke talked about me?

“Please, please, come in.” Jake ushered us inside, a childlike skip to his step.

This was not at ALL what I was expecting.

“I was just making dinn…” Jake trailed off, his eyes widening as the smell of smoke, and the alarm sounded. “Dinner!” He cried, running to the kitchen, a cloud of smoke puffing through the opening of the door.

Clarke ran her hands down her face. “So embarrassing,” she muttered under her breath.

“Clarke?” I finally said. My voice croaked with the nerves that were still present, even though it was just the blonde and I in the hallway.

“Yeah?”

“Why was your dad wearing a welding mask if he's cooking?”

Clarke burst into laughter. “Oh, right. He's a little afraid of bacon ever since he had it pop and some grease landed on his arm. He made a HUGE scene about it.”

I nodded my head. I agreed with Mr. Griffin. I had, on more than one occasion, caught my soup on fire when I forgot that I had it on the burner, but I will NEVER tell Anya that. Cooking was a dangerous sport.

“Come on,” Clarke said, grabbing my hand and pulling me up the stairs. “Let’s go shower.”

Oh. My. God.

“You can use my shower and I'll use the guest bath,” she said.

Oh. OH. Hormones.

As we climbed the stairs, I took in just how… RICH everything was. Pristine white walls; another chandelier above the staircase, which, again, seemed totally unnecessary; dark wood finish throughout the house; it all hurt my head.

The upstairs hallway, dark oak floors to match those of the first floor, had two doors on both sides. Clarke opened the one on the right, with a giant ‘C’ attached to it and turned on the lights.

This was Clarke’s bedroom. It was CLARKE’S BEDROOM. It was... a MESS. There wasn't an inch of wall that wasn't covered, whether it be posters or artwork or pictures of Clarke doing gymnastics. Her clothes were strewn about the floor, and her queen sized bed had a giant ball of grey comforters perched in the middle, four large pillows thrown haphazardly on top.

“This is my room,” Clarke said unnecessarily. She clearly was nervous, her hands wringing together as I silently took in the AMOUNT of things in her room.

“It's nice,” I commented. It was overwhelming, as everything about Clarke was to me, but it was exactly what I had imagined for my best friend. After taking note of all the tiny details that made up Clarke, I walked over to a picture of her doing a backbend on a beam, dressed in a red sparkly bodysuit.

“You're really flexible,” I said, internally groaning at how lame I was.

Clarke chuckled. “Yep. Kind of the point.”

“Whose artwork is this?” I asked, my eyes shifting to the canvas beside the picture. I desperately needed to pry my eyes away from her in a one-piece, so ran my fingers over the unsigned canvas. It was of a lake, with trees towering so high in the sky they blended in with the sky. When Clarke didn't answer me, I turned and was met with a nervously shifting Clarke.

“It's beautiful,” I said, and I wasn't sure if I was talking about the current sight of her with flushed cheeks, or the canvas on the wall. Everything was so overwhelming.  I could barely hold it together when we were at school, but being in her room added another layer to the near-constant gay panic I was in in her presence.

Clarke slowly exhaled and answered, “it's mine.”

“I know it's yours, Clarke, but who made it?” I clarified.

“I did,” Clarke responded.

I tripped without even needing to take a step to do so.

“All of them?”

Clarke cheeks dusted pink as she nodded.

“It's -- you're -- I'm -- wow,” I stuttered out. Instead of responding to my floundering attempt at a compliment, Clarke turned and made her way to her mahogany dresser, fishing around in it until she supplied a pair of track pants and MY hoodie. She turned and threw them at me, then quickly walked to the door beside the dresser.

“Bathroom is in here. There are towels in there already. If you need anything, let me know. Umm, oh yeah  toothbrush is under the sink for later, and extra hair ties too.”

She made her way to the bedroom door, pausing with her hand on the doorknob. She sucked in a deep breath and said, “Thank you,” just barely above a whisper. I don’t know if I was supposed to hear it or not, but that didn’t stop a small smile from appearing on my lips. Clarke exited the room before I had a chance to respond.

The bathroom held more pristine white walls, a marble countertop, heated marble floors (really?) and two sinks. I felt so insignificant in this house. I hated that a BATHROOM could make me feel insignificant. I opened the stall to the shower, noticing the rain-shower nozzle, and internally groaned. This wasn’t making me feel any better.

I spent a half hour in that bathroom. Maybe it was a little pretentious, but MAN I had never been under a rain shower before. It was phenomenal.

I finally emerged from the shower and put on the sweatpants and hoodie Clarke gave me. I felt myself grin at the fact that this was the first time I was putting my favourite hoodie back on, the realization that Clarke had kept it this entire time, wearing it more often than not, making my cheeks warm.

When I walked back into Clarke’s room, she was already seated on the bed in her own red hoodie and black shorts, flicking through the channels on her flat screen.

“Took you long enough,” she chirped with a smile.

I bashfully averted my eyes. “You have a really nice shower,” I said.

Clarke chuckled and shrugged, turning off the television and making her way toward the door. “It’s a shower. Seems like a bit much, but whatever. Not my house. Anyway, are you hungry? We should probably go save my dad from himself.”

And save him we did. It looked like the kitchen had exploded, the smell of burnt bacon saturated the air. The countertops that seemed to stretch on for miles had pancake batter all over them and the stove was covered in black burns. I wondered how he hadn’t caught the entire house on fire. There was a box of pizza on the rustic wooden kitchen table, next to a bashful looking Mr. Griffin.

“Dinners served,” he joked, gesturing grandly to the pizza boxes. Clarke barked out a laugh at the sight.

“It's okay dad, you're good at other things,” she consoled. Mr. Griffin stuck his tongue out at her petulantly. It was very clear who Clarke took after in this moment.

“I hope you can cook better than your father,” I said quietly to Clarke as she pulled me toward the table.

“I don’t think ANYONE could be worse,” she quibbed back.

After we got situated with a few slices each, Mr. Griffin addressed me, “so, Lexa, tell me about yourself.”

“Um--,” I started.

“Not that there's much left to tell. Clarke had pretty much given me your biography. How was your first game as a starter?”

“Dad,” Clarke groaned.

“What? I'm just trying to get to know your friend, Clarke,” Mr. Griffin teased.

I cut in after Clarke glared at her father. “It was great. Thank you for asking Mr. Griffin,”

“No. No way. Call me Jake. Or dad. Mr Griffin's my father,” Jake said and I felt my throat close up.

Dad. I didn't have one of those anymore. My dad wasn’t like Jake. My dad was quiet and reserved. He was similar to Anya, even in the way they looked. Jake was more of a puppy while my father was a full grown attack dog, until it came to me and Anya. He would roll over and let us rub his tummy if we asked him to.

I swallowed down the memory of my father and smiled at Jake. His intentions were genuine.

“Thank you, Mr. Gr-- Jake.”

“Wow, you're really polite. Clarke,“ Jake pointedly looked at his daughter. “You could learn a thing or two from her. You need to keep her around.”

Clarke and I shared a blush as Clarke groaned again.

Jake proceeded to tell us about a project he was working on while we ate dinner, and Clarke filled him in on all things cheer related. I observed their banter, the friendly jabs, the playful eye rolls, the adoring looks. It made me miss my father in a way that I knew would never heal, but it also made me feel a sense of warmth in my chest at being involved in this conversation. I hadn’t had a parent look at me without pity or disgust in their eyes in a long time.

After thoroughly stuffing ourselves, I took the liberty of clearing the dishes with an awkward, “thank you for dinner, Mr. Griffin,” before being scolded for using the wrong name.

“So Lexa, what's your favourite pizza toppings? Did I pass?”

I cleared my throat and kept my back to them both as my shoulders tensed.

“Um, I -- I haven't had a lot of pizza, so probably pepperoni,” I said awkwardly.

The truth was, Anya and I NEVER had pizza. It wasn't enough food for the cost, really. And when you factor in the lack of nutrients and Anya’s obsession with eating healthy -- “You need to treat your body like a temple, Lexa” -- it was worthless to buy.

“No way! There's so many toppings, Lexa! You must have a favourite OTHER than pepperoni,” Jake exclaimed, pretending to be PERSONALLY offended by my indifference to the pie.

I clenched the plates tightly in my hand.

“Dad,” Clarke warned.

“It's alright, Clarke,” I said as I turned around. My eyes were stinging with embarrassment, but I swallowed it down as best I could.

“Honestly, Mr. Gr-- Jake, I haven't ever had much pizza. My parents-- my parents weren't big on it, and Anya and I don't eat a lot of it because of--because of reasons that are beyond our control, so to answer your question, I don't have any favourite toppings.”

Jake just stared at me after my confession, studying me. I felt my cheeks get hot, until Jake patted his stomach and groaned.

“Honestly, Lexa, it’s not worth it. I’m sure Abby will adore you for making me realize that I should probably be eating healthier.” He gave me a sincere smile, one that I couldn’t help but return.

“Come on, Lex,” Clarke said, standing from the table. “We're going to go to my room and work on our project. Thank you for dinner,” she called as we were halfway out the door of the kitchen.

“Hey, what about the clean up!” he cried.

“You made it!” Clarke said, pulling me harder to get me out of the kitchen before we could get roped into cleaning alongside her father.

“Fine,” Jake groaned. “Try to go to bed at a decent hour!” He called at our retreating forms.

*

After three hours of mapping out the project on bristol board, Clarke and I settled in to watch the movie. My back protested when I laid back and I groaned loudly.

“Wow, grandma,” Clarke chirped.

“Pretty sure you’re older than me,” I retorted.

“By like, a few months. Whatever. Let’s start the movie, I need to get longitude and latitude out of my head.”

I laughed as we both settled back against the headrest of her bed.

Three movies later, it was well into the early morning, and I was drifting off to Clarke’s soft humming along to the movie.

“Hey Lex.”  I sighed, shifting on the bed to look at her while fighting off sleep.

“What do you think of Bellamy?” she whispered.

I was exhausted after the long day, but my heart rate suddenly picked up at the question. Clarke shifted so that she could see me in the soft glow of the TV.

What did I think about Bellamy? I thought he was trying to steal my best friend away. I thought he was the typical ‘bro’ that was too busy flexing his muscles to really understand how to talk to anyone about anything other than himself.

I shrugged. “He’s alright, I guess. He’s kind of annoying. What do YOU think of Bellamy?” I deflected. I didn’t like the way this conversation was going.

Clarke shrugged the shoulder not touching the mattress. “He’s sweet. He’s kind of awkward, but he’s nice.”

I felt my stomach roll. Sure, he was nice, if he was interested in you. He barely spoke to me, mostly just glaring at me whenever Clarke was talking or looking or touching me. He wasn’t NICE, he was WEIRD.

“Why do you ask, Clarke?” I asked instead of letting her know what I actually thought about Bellamy Blake.

“I dunno,” she replied. “Have you ever kissed a boy?”

Well, NOW I was awake. I took a deep breath and held it in as I shook my head. Had she kissed Bellamy? Is that what this was about? My heart beat wildly in my chest.

“Have you thought about it?” she asked next, genuine curiosity lacing her words.

I shook my head no again. I couldn’t trust my voice not to betray my thoughts.

“I haven’t either,” she said. “A lot of the girls on the team talk about it, so I thought I was weird because I DIDN’T think about kissing any of the BOYS at school, but I guess I’m not if you haven’t either, so that's good.”

Oh, Clarke, if only you know WHY I hadn’t thought about it.

“You’re not weird, Clarke. There's no timeline to kiss any person. You’ll do it when you’re ready because you’ll KNOW you’re ready,” I reassured.

“What if they’re not ready when I am?” she asked quietly.

I shrugged. “If you really want to kiss that person, you’ll wait until they’re ready.” It was the only thing I could hold onto in this messed up emotional connection I shared with the blonde.

Clarke looked at me for a long minute, her eyes scanning all over my face and landing on my lips.

“Good night, Lexa.”

“Good night, Clarke.”

*

The next morning, I awoke to the sound a soft knock to the door.

Clarke laid sleeping beside me, her hair a tangled mess above her head, mouth partially open. I never thought she looked more beautiful.

God, I was gay.

The knock sounded again, so I quietly shifted out of the bed and opening the door.

When I swung it open, a woman with her lips pursed into a thin line of aggravation stood before me.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

Well, shit.

“Why are you in Clarke’s room?” she questioned again. “Clarke?” She called loudly. Clarke still did not stir.  The woman rolled her eyes and pushed past me in to get into the room. “Clarke wake up, right now,” She demanded again, and Clarke sleepily grumbled, “Lexa, just come back to bed,”

I blushed and the woman spun around and glared at me.

“Clarke,” she snapped again.

Clarke fluttered her eyes open, and suddenly shot up when she realized the voice she was hearing was not mine. She looked at the woman and rolled her eyes, then searched the room for me. When our eyes met, she smiled brightly and stuck her tongue out.

“Clarke, we have to leave in an hour and you’re not even dressed. You need to get up and show your guest out,” the woman demanded.

Clarke rolled her eyes. “Yeah, okay, Mom. And my ‘guest’ is named Lexa. Dad knew she was here.”

Clarke’s mom rolled her eyes and turned to me, a fake smile plastered on her face that seemed to be etched in a permanent scowl. “Lexa,” she said in acknowledgement.

“Dr. Griffin,” I responded with an awkward nod.

“Clarke, get up and get ready.” With that, she turned and walked out of the room, and Clarke threw the middle finger at her retreating form. She huffed out a breath once the door closed and looked at me.

“Sorry, Lex. But, um, yeah, that's my mom.”

“It’s alright Clarke, I should probably go,” I said as I looked around the room for my belongings.

“Okay, just let me wake up. I have something for you,” she said.

I balled up my uniform and threw it into my backpack, and when I finished, Clarke was handing me a different hoodie. I gave her a confused look.

“Oh, yeah, no, I want your hoodie back. You’re not taking that with you,” she said.

I raised a brow.

“It smells like you again,” she said with a shrug.

I blushed a deep shade of red, so did Clarke. She turned, and made her way over to her desk, covered by papers.

“So, I know it's not much,”

“Clarke,”

“Right, right, sorry. I mean, I made this a while you were in the shower and I want you to have it, but please don't make fun of it,” she said as she finally found what she was looking for with an excited smile.

She turned and walked back over to me, a piece of paper pressed against her chest with her hands.

“It’s something I -- it’s just -- it’s -- ugh, here,” she said, thrusting the paper into my chest.

I furrowed my brow and turned the page over. It was ME staring back. It was a pencil drawing of me, with my hair in it's random braids, in my basketball uniform, a ball in my hands as if I was about to shoot. It was so VIVID.

“I told you you look like a Commander when you play, you look so badass, I couldn’t get this image out of my head last night. The focus and raw passion on your face was… it was beautiful.”

I gaped at the picture, but shot my eyes up to meet Clarke’s nervous ones when she said the word beautiful. She blushed and bit down on her bottom lip.

I took a step forward, the paper still clutched between my fingers, my eyes still stuck on her lip. I could see Clarke’s pulse quicken as she shifted forward as well. My mind was just completely blank, the only thought being Clarke. Clarke. Clarke.

“Clarke,” I whispered, my eyes darting back up to her own for a second as I moved even closer.

“Clarke Abigail Griffin, get your butt up!” Clarke’s father boomed from the other side of the doorway along with a hard knock. “Please,” he added, then, “Sorry, Lexa.”

My face burned a bright red as Clarke and I both jumped backwards, only making it now apparent how close we were actually standing. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, pulling me into a tight hug.

“Thank you,” I said, hugging her back. I sucked in a deep breath, still trying to make sense of this morning. "Do you, um, do you want to sleep over at my house next time?" I asked nervously. I didn't realize the words were out of my mouth until Clarke leaned back, her eyes scanning my face.

It was too late to take them back now. I hoped she knew how big of a deal this was to me. To invite her into my home, it was more than just a sleep over. It was my feeble attempt at showing her how much I trusted her. It was the only safe space I had away from being 'that kid'. It wasn't anything like her home, it didn't have mahogany and oak. It had dirty carpets and laminate flooring. But, I wanted Clarke to see it. I wanted her to know that part of me. I just hoped she knew how much it meant.

"I'd be honoured to, Lex," she whispered, leaning her forehead against mine. I closed my eyes and breathed her in again, the deep-rooted fear in my chest finally dissipating after she answered, coming out in a harsh pant.

Another knock sounded, startling us apart. Clarke walked over to the door, swinging it open violently.

“I’m UP!” she yelled as she stood glaring up at her father. He beamed at her.

“Good morning Princess! Good morning Lexa!” he said with WAY too much cheer for the early hour. “Clarke, baby, we need to get going. Your mother’s appointment is in a half hour,” he reminded gently.

Clarke looked over at me, and I nodded at her and Jake, following them to the front door, while carefully rolling the paper in my hands so that there would be no creases.

“Would you like a ride home?” Jake asked gently. I shook my head.

“No thank you, I know which busses to take. Enjoy your weekend, Mr. -- Jake. Clarke.”

Jake gave me a HUGE hug, nearly squishing all the air out of my lungs, and Clarke squeezed my hand while she placed a kiss on my cheek.

I missed my stop on the way home, mind still spinning from the weekend.

Chapter Text

It was official, I was panicking.

Clarke was coming over tomorrow, and I was vacuuming the ceiling.

Literally.

Anya strolled in at four in the morning, bleary eyed and exhausted, only to startle when she saw me standing on the couch with the vacuum pressed against the ceiling. She shrieked at the unexpected sight, scowling at me for causing her to make such an undignified noise.

“What the HELL are you doing, Lexa? You nearly gave me a heart attack! Are you on something? We talked about treating your body with respect!” she snapped even as a yawn forced its way from her throat.

“Clarke is coming over tomorrow and our house is a mess!” I explained through gritted teeth, furiously running the vacuum over the same spot on the ceiling that just WOULDN'T go away.

Why were there even spots on the ceiling to begin with? Seriously, who put shit on the ceiling? Why have we never cleaned the ceiling before?

A line formed between Anya’s brow as she looked around the house.

“Everything is spotless, Squirt, what the hell are you talking about? -- Lexa -- Lexa! Get down from there before you -- Jesus Lexa!” She pulled me by the pocket of my sweatpants as I leaned precariously off the edge of the couch to get to ANOTHER spot.

I handed her the vacuum, defeated and exhausted by the stains that seemed to have been created out of permanent marker and collapsed onto the couch.

“You need to be in bed. Our house is FINE. You are FINE. It will all be FINE.” Anya wrapped the cord around the vacuum and tucked it away in the corner, then moved into the kitchen to clean up the remains of my supplies. “It literally smells like disinfectant in here. What the hell did you do? Is this -- did you disinfect the disinfectant bottle?!” She was incredulous, shaking the bottle in her hand violently.

Leaning against the arm of the couch, I huffed out a frustrated sigh.

Our house WASN'T fine. It wasn't good enough. It was… it was EMBARRASSING. I don't know why I asked Clarke to come over, honestly. I don't know in what world I thought that my home would EVER be okay for Clarke. My room had nothing on the walls aside from the picture she made me, my bed was a twin with rickety springs, and I didn’t have a flat screen like her. I had a box television that you needed to actually get up to change the channels for. The carpet throughout the house was dated and had more stains than clear spots, and our kitchen was small enough to fit inside Clarke's bathroom. This place was an embarrassment. I was an embarrassment. Clarke would see that and bolt out the door.

Anya studied me silently as she brewed a cup of coffee.

“Isn't it kind of late to be making coffee?” I asked.

Anya sighed. “It seems like you and I aren't going to be getting any sleep tonight so no, it's not too late.”

She poured herself a mug when it was finished, wrapping her free arm around my shoulder when she joined me on the couch.

“Tell me what's really going on, Lex,” Anya said with a soft squeeze.

My lip jutted out in a pout as I shrugged, feeling all of the fourteen that I was while my sister pulled me closer to her in comfort.

“I don't know,” I lied. I didn’t want to hurt Anya’s feelings by telling her that I was embarrassed of us.

Anya took a sip of coffee and sighed again. She ran her finger along the handle of the coffee, seemingly lost in thought before she spoke. “Sometimes, when people feel empty inside, they fill their houses with things to compensate; the silence gets to be too much. Mom and dad…” Anya sighed. “Mom and dad always tried their best to make sure that you and I knew how much they loved us, regardless of what was on the walls. They tried to make sure that we knew that this house was just a house, and the people INSIDE were what mattered. I'm sorry if I haven't helped you feel like it's been enough.” Anya cleared the throat as her voice wavered, the emotion clogging her throat.

I shook my head and leaned against her embrace. “That's not it, Anya. I know how much you love me. I know how much… they did too.” My breath caught in my throat at the memory of my parents. It always felt like a sharp pain whenever we talked about them.

Anya put her cup on the ledge of the couch (much to my unease, considering I had just steam cleaned the upholstery) and started running her fingers through my hair.

“I think… I think Clarke knows that too, Lexa. From what you've told me about her, she's got a heart that doesn't show any signs of weakness or emptiness. She's strong. She has a lot of love inside and so do you. Our home isn't the same as hers, just as her home isn't the same as anyone else's. Our homes are here,” Anya pointed to my chest. “The walls won't matter to her, just like they don't matter to us. I don’t think you would choose to be so close to her if you thought it did.”

I sighed again. She was right. Clarke had proven time and time again that material things didn’t matter to her. But what if it did? Then what?

In the silence of the night, Anya easily tore down my walls. She knew what was really bothering me -- she always did.

“You care about her,” Anya stated.

I stiffened, my heart beating wildly in my chest.

Anya shifted slightly so she could get a better look at me, her hazel eyes boring into mine. “Kind of like how you care about Roan?” she raised a single brow, a curious look on her face.

I pushed my hair behind my ear as my cheeks flushed, but the exhaustion and the silence that surrounded us left my brain a jumbled ball of mush, and I couldn’t put my walls back up fast enough. I sucked in a breath, and Anya gave me a small smile, a tiny tick of her lips as encouragement.

“Not like Roan,” I whispered, although it came out as more of a croak with how dry my throat was.

Anya was silent for a minute, pulling away slightly and readjusting our position so she could run her fingers through my hair, unbraiding it just to start up again. “Does she know?” she finally asked. I thought I was going to explode in the lingering silence.

After she finished braiding my hair, Anya turned me to look at her. It was a long few minutes.

I shook my head, my teeth biting into my lip.

“Do you want to tell her?” Anya asked softly, casually.

I shrugged. Of course I wanted to tell her, I just didn’t want her to reject me. The breath I held in my chest started to burn while I panicked over what my sister's reaction to this would be. “One day,” I whispered.

Anya ran her fingers through my hair again, loosening the braids one final time and scratched my scalp slightly. The silence was deafening, the sound of my rapidly beating heart overwhelming to the point that I felt sweat appear on my brow.

“She would be lucky if you did,” she said. After another few minutes of silence, Anya added, ”Does she like pancakes?”

My eyebrows almost touched with how hard I was frowning. Anya removed her hands from my hair and taking a long sip from her coffee cup. She quirked a brow as I just stared, placing the cup back on the arm (seriously?) and fingering the rim. “I need to figure out what to make you guys for breakfast. If she means a lot to you, she means a lot to me, too.” She shrugged.

And that was it. That was the entire conversation. I felt a weight lift off me and the burning in my chest subside, and I smiled against her shoulder.

“I love you, Lexa, nothing will EVER change that,” Anya said.

“I love you too.” My voice was firm. It would always be the one thing I knew was true.

“Will you still love me after I show her baby pictures?”

I groaned. “Please don’t embarrass me,” I begged softly.

The devious smirk she gave me made my stomach lurch.

Damnit.

*

“Lexa, you’re REALLY pale,” Clarke gaped when we pulled up to my house on her bike. Anya’s car was in the driveway, the rusted metal making my stomach turn and flip unpleasantly. I fixated on the bumps along the underside of the driver side door. Clarke wouldn’t ever want to be seen with me again after today. Her parents would whisk her away and tell her that she wasn’t allowed to return to the ghetto for fear of contracting a disease, I knew it.

Clarke followed my gaze.

“Oh my God,” she said, and I think I stopped breathing.

“Your sister drives a classic?! That’s SO cool!”

I furrowed my brow and looked over at Clarke, who had made her way to the car and was running her hands along the top.

She shrugged. “My dad is a total car nerd. There’s some rust spots but he can totally revamp it if you guys want. He literally would cry with joy if he saw this.”

I laughed, long and hard, all the air and tension I had been holding inside me today melting away with each push of air from my lungs.

Clarke cocked her head to the side while I continued to laugh.

“I love it when you laugh,” she said. “You do it so rarely.” I ducked my head as my cheeks burned and motioned to the door.

We entered the front door, the hinges weak and protesting the movement. I tried not to cringe.

Clarke breathed in deeply while she took in the space and I busied myself with taking off my shoes. My face was sure to be a panicked and stressed display of emotions, I needed to reign it in before Clarke would see.

“It smells like Pine-sol.”

I whipped around and looked at Clarke. Of course it smelled like Pinesol, I literally hadn’t slept because I washed the house from top to bottom. I was surprised I was even still awake, with Anya tapping out around six in the morning to go to bed. Clarke was smiling at me with that loopy smile she only ever gave me, blue eyes shimmering, and my stomach flipped with the fluttering of butterflies that always made me nauseous when she looked at me like that.

Clarke and I walked into the kitchen and I immediately went to the fridge to pour myself a drink, trying to dampen the dryness of my throat. It was too hot in here. It was too dry. My throat had a lump in it that was the size of a baseball and I couldn’t breathe.

I showed Clarke the bottle of orange juice, silently asking her if she wanted some. She smiled and shook her head. I gestured to the seat at the kitchen table, which was less than half the size of Clarke's.

After draining the entire glass I poured myself, I wiped my mouth and said, “So, this is my house.” I gestured to the empty walls. Clarke looked around with raised brows. My stomach flipped again, this time with nerves.

“I like how refreshing it is in here.”

“What?” I nearly choked.

“Yeah. Like, it's pretty minimalistic. It's a great way to keep people engaged with one another. It's super tasteful.”

I gaped at her. “You're…”

“Sorry.” Clarke blushed. “It's an artist thing. Your home is so aesthetically pleasing, and matches your personality perfectly.”

“You think my -- you think my house is aesthetically pleasing?” I choked out.

How in the world did I stumble upon Clarke Griffin?

Clarke nodded. “Yep,” she said, enunciating the 'p’. “You're pretty low maintenance, Lexa. A little hard to read, reserved. Actually, REALLY hard to read, but that’s whatever. It shows in the walls. You don't just bare it all to anyone, and I lo-- really appreciate that about you.”

I could not BELIEVE this was happening.

Of course, that was the moment Anya entered.

“Hello, children!” she said. “Welcome to the kitchen, where Lexa burns soup and pretends I don't know about it!” She gestured to the stove while sending me a wink.

Oh, no. It was clear that tonight I was going to die of embarrassment.

“Hi, I'm Clarke.” Clarke stood from the table, dusting off her pants before reaching out to shake Anya's hand.

Anya furrowed her brow and looked down at her hand.

I rolled my eyes. Anya was Roan, but much, much worse.

Clarke dropped her hand, rubbing them on her pants again with an awkward cough.

“Don't mind my sister,” I interjected. “she's pretty ugly when she wakes up from a nap, mentally and physically.”

Anya scowled at me and I stuck out my tongue at her. She made a noise of disgust, then looked back to Clarke with narrowed eyes. “So, do you like brussel sprouts, Blondie?”

For fucks sakes. Did everyone in my life have to have so much sass?

Clarke perked up, giving me a look over her shoulder as if to say, “really?”

Clarke stood a little taller and turned back to address Anya. “Actually, yeah, they are amazing. Also, not to be rude or anything, but you're, umm, also blonde.”

Anya tensed momentarily. Her back was to us as she grabbed things from the refrigerator, but it was clear as day that she didn’t like what she had heard. She turned and pinned Clarke with her infamous glare. Anya had felled many a man with this look. It was the one she hit the judge with when he told her that it was unreasonable to think that an eighteen year old could look after her twelve year old sister -- it was meant to break people, and it was almost always successful.

Clarke’s throat bobbed as she swallowed, but her expression remained challenging. “It's weird that you and Roan both call me Blondie, being that you're both blonde. I mean, I know Roan’s like a dirty blonde to the point where I kind of think it's more brown than blonde, but he's practically blonde. I don't know if you're trying to insult me or what, but it doesn't make sense. I just thought that you should know.”

I felt all the air sucked out of my lungs. Anya was Roan, but if Roan had been stung by a thousand bees and been punched in the face and then spat on. Roan was a puppy in comparison. I started preparing Clarke’s eulogy in my head.

Anya grinned at Clarke, then looked pointedly over at me.

“Keep her, Squirt.”

I nearly fell out of my chair.

Actually, I DID fall out of my chair. At both of their puzzled expressions, I squeaked out, “That’s it?”

Anya nodded and turned back to the ingredients on the counter, dismissing my odd behaviour as normal. “She’ll keep you on your toes. When's Roan coming over?” she asked.

“He should be here shortly,” I said as Clarke made her way to me and tugged on my arm to help me right myself. My legs were still jello and my mind was still fuzzy from the fact that Clarke Griffin didn't cower to my sister.

Clarke sent me a confused look.

“Oh, yeah, he's staying over too. Is that okay?” I asked, suddenly nervous that I had upset her. In my complete and utter mortification of having Clarke inside my home, I forgot to mention that I had invited Roan as well.

Clarke smiled the smile that always made my brain stutter.

“Perfect. They say blondes have more fun, and you, my dear Lexa, need more fun in your life. How much do you wanna bet that I'll get him to braid my hair by the end of the night?”

I extended my hand to agree to the bet while snorting a laugh. “I’ll eat brussel sprouts for a WEEK if he does.”

Clarke held my hand for a second longer, a twinkle in her eyes. My heart fluttered wildly.

*

Clarke did, indeed, end up getting Roan to braid her hair. She even had Anya baking cookies and SMILING at her all night.

Clarke Griffin was a magician.

*

After I consumed the first of WAY too many meals with brussel sprouts, Roan jeering at me the entire time, we settled down to watch movies in the living room. Roan fell asleep on the couch after the first one, his stupidly long hair falling haphazardly in his face. Anya had excused herself before the movies had even started, stating that she needed some “me time” with her book and her blanket. I knew that was code for her needing to sleep, but let it slide with only a few barbs about her age.

Clarke and I were sitting in the floor in front of the couch, our shoulders touching while we shared a blanket. I yawned for what must have been the tenth time in the past three minutes, the lack of sleep the night before finally catching up to me. Clarke chuckled softly and nudged me with her shoulder.

“Let's go to bed.” She looked back at Roan, snoring lightly on the couch. “I think this is the first time that I’ve seen him look so… peaceful,” she commented sincerely.

“Yeah, he’s kind of cute when he’s not a complete asshole,” I responded. “He’s safe here. It's not something he has the chance to feel often.” Clarke nodded solemnly, letting out a small sigh as she watched the rise and fall of his chest. “Don't be fooled. He’s just as much an ass here as he is anywhere else. He’s consistent.”

Clarke let out a breath of a laugh and I laid my head back on the couch, basking in the sound. I felt the dopey, sleepy smile on my face.

Clarke nudged me again. “You can barely open your eyes, come on.”

She hauled me up to my feet and gently placed the blanket that was once covering us over Roan, pushing the hair out of his face. It was such a tender moment it made my heart swell to know how much Clarke cared about us.

I groaned softly, my body protesting any movement as I straightened my spine.

“You really are a grandma,” she whispered as we crept up the stairs to my room.

I turned on the light and Clarke and I silently stared at the twin bed.

It was not nearly big enough for us to both sleep on.

I considered just dropping on the floor where I was -- I was so tired -- but knew that I would wake up with even more groans if I attempted that. I walked over to the bed, pulling one of the pillows and blankets onto the floor.

“What are you doing?” Clarke asked around a yawn, sitting on the mattress of my bed.

“Making a bed,” I responded.

Clarke shook her head. “No way, you're not sleeping on the floor of your own room.”

“Clarke, I can't have you sleeping on the floor.”

“We can share.”

“It's not as big as your bed,” I sighed. My heart thrummed in my chest, my eyes connecting with Clarke’s. She gave me a sleepy, pouting look. When I stayed fixed in my spot, Clarke rolled her eyes and scooted to the far side of the bed, lying on her side to face me, patting the mattress.

I shifted from foot to foot. A large yawn almost knocked me over from my exhaustion. With burning cheeks, I laid down beside Clarke, trying my best to give her as much space on the bed as possible while not falling off the end.

“Goodnight Clarke,” I said with a sleepy smile.

“Goodnight, Lex.”

I felt the same dopey smile from earlier on my face as I fell asleep.

*

My mouth tasted like hairspray in the morning. I scrunched my nose up as the taste seemed to grow worse with every passing second, feeling  straw in my mouth. I was hit with a soft golden glow when I finally opened my eyes, and I realized that the straw in my mouth was actually hair. Blonde hair. It was across my face, covering it completely, the ends between my lips. My body was also warm -- too warm. I startled when I felt my blanket rise and fall in sync with my own breaths, but didn't move. I couldn't if I wanted to. Clarke was asleep with her body thrown haphazardly across me, leg between mine, arm across my stomach, head on my shoulder. Goosebumps raised across my skin at the proximity and her breath tickling my neck.

Oh my God.

There was no way I could extricate myself from this position without waking Clarke.

Clarke shifted, grumbling my name in her sleep. It was adorable even though I was still panicking at our position. She snaked her leg across my waist and it landed in… a precarious spot.

I had to move.

“Clarke,” I said softly, but she did not stir.

“Clarke,” I said again, running my fingers over her arm that held my waist tightly.

“Clarke,” I tried a third time a little more forcefully. She shifted her leg, pressing further into the spot that was causing me so much discomfort.

“Clarke,” I croaked. It was more of a plea than anything.

She groaned and cracked one eye open to look at me. After a moment, she stiffened, realizing the position we were in and putting MORE pressure on me with her knee.

“Good morning,” I whispered, pushing her hair out of her face and taking in her sleepy blue eyes. She blushed and buried her head into my shoulder, mumbling a “good morning” back to me.

“I have to pee,” I whispered with a chuckle. “You’re driving your knee into my bladder.”

Clarke groaned and squeezed me even tighter. After a very unbecoming whine from me, she finally released me to relieve myself.

“What time is it?” she asked when I came back, covering a yawn with the back of her hand. I looked at the bedside table.

“Six-thirty,” I responded.

Clarke groaned again.

“Sorry for squishing you,” she said, yawning again and stretching her arms over her head. She let out the cutest noise as her joints cracked like a glowstick.

“It's okay,” I said.

Clarke breathed a laugh then rolled back into me when I settled back under the covers.

“Thank God, because you're like the perfect blanket and I was cold.”

My cheeks flushed as I laughed nervously.

“Shhh,” she whispered, running her hand down my face. “Sleep time.”

*

“So,” Anya started as I walked in after seeing Clarke out.

“So?” I asked with a raised brow. Anya’s legs were tucked under her in the corner of the couch while Roan hung upside down from his side of the couch.

“A little birdie told me that you had QUITE the morning.”

I furrowed my brow. “What?”

“You know… with Clarke?”

“What?” I asked again.

Anya scoffed. “Ugh, fine, I came to wake you two idiots up for breakfast but saw you guys all wrapped up with one another. That's a development,” she prompted.

Roan’s head snapped up, his stupidly long hair covered in Clarke's braids smacking him in the face as he turned to right himself on the couch. “She knows?”

I scowled at him, but nodded.

Anya scoffed. “Of course I know, Roan. Have you not heard her talk about Clarke these past few months? I think you'd have to literally be blind and deaf to not know.”

“Thank God, I was worried I was going to have to pretend to date her just so you didn't find out. Anya, you should see the heart-eyes she gives her at school,” Roan complained with an eye roll.

“Oh God, yeah, last night was enough for me. I don't know how you do it on a daily basis.”

“I bleach my eyes every night.”

“Hey! First of all, you're both ASSHOLES, and secondly, NOTHING happened,” I interjected with flushed cheeks.

“Obviously. You're fourteen and have zero game. I just thought maybe you told her how you felt,” Anya clarified.

“I do too have game!” I crossed my arms over my chest.

Roan and Anya shared a look and then laughed loudly.

Assholes.

“To answer your question, no, nothing happened, she just said she was cold.” I shrugged. “I don't think she sees me like that.”

Roan and Anya stared at one another for a long minute before bursting into laughter again, Roan wheezing from the force of his laughs.

“Wow,” Anya said, wiping tears from her eyes. “You really DON'T have a clue.”

“What?” I asked, utterly confused. “A clue about what?”

“You should tell her,” Roan supplied, chuckling deep in his chest and wiping tears from his eyes.

“No way. I'd rather keep her in my life than scare her off.” I waved my hand dismissively at them and they both just started laughing again.

Those two were serious assholes. I didn't find it funny in the slightest that they wanted me to bare my soul to Clarke knowing how much it could ruin. She didn't see me that way, I'm sure I would know by now, and I couldn't lose her because of my FEELINGS.

Assholes. The both of them.

Chapter Text

Second semester seemed to move in a blur after that. The only thing that managed to CONSTANTLY slow it down was every and all interactions with Bellamy Blake. Those moments seemed to stand still while he awkwardly fumbled to just BREATHE around Clarke.

“Hey Princess,” Bellamy said, sitting on MY desk to greet her. I glared at his back, wishing it was possible to burn a hole into his spine. The sophomore quarterback somehow managed to fail freshman chemistry and have to repeat it this year, and the unfortunate byproduct of that was that I had to endure his stupid face every day while he tried to impress Clarke with his non-stop verbal diarrhea.

“Hey, Bell,” Clarke responded absentmindedly, distracted by her sketchbook. After being introduced to the world of Clarke Griffin’s art, she had openly begun drawing at any and all opportunities. On my arms, on my legs, on EVERY page of both hers and my notebooks. It was as if Clarke’s secret artistic persona had been awoken by her gift to me.  I had woken up from one of our sleepovers to see her hunched over her sketchbook, eyes darting back and forth between me and her book. She squeaked and slammed the book shut when I sat up, claiming the piece wasn’t finished and I wasn’t allowed to see it. I ended up prying the book out of her hands after a fight to the death with pillows, but was only able to catch a glimpse of my own face before I was knocked over, the pillow fight devolving into Clarke tickling me until I squealed and relented. It was not my proudest moment, but it was definitely one of my favourite.

Bellamy furrowed his brow at her. I hid my laugh behind a cough. He clearly didn't know Clarke even with how much time they spent together. Clarke was not to be disturbed when she was drawing. Sure, she would give you her attention when she was interested in what you were saying, but if she didn't find it pertinent, she might as well have been deaf.

“What are you doing?” Bellamy asked, not catching the very obvious hint that she was ignoring him.

Clarke didn’t respond. Bellamy, frustrated as he was, ran his hand through his curls, the letterman jacket crinkling as he moved. I cocked my head and smirked at him while he sighed in resignation.

I wasn’t jealous. I CLEARLY had nothing to be jealous of.

“Okay, well, I'll catch you later, Clarke,” he said with a forced nonchalance, the sting of rejection making his cheeks a pretty pink (if he wasn't so annoying, that is). Clarke just raised a hand in dismissal without bothering to look up.

When the laughter I had been trying to stifle escaped my lips, Bellamy shot me a glare as his cheeks darkened in colour.

“Clarke,” I whispered, tapping my fingers by the page of her notebook. She immediately dropped her pencil to look at me, blue eyes focused on my face. I couldn't help the warmth that exploded in my chest. My lips ticked up into a small smile as I furiously fought back the blush that always seemed to highlight my cheeks in her presence.

“I think you hurt his feelings,” I said, pointing to the slumped posture of the quarterback a few rows ahead.

“What?” Clarke asked, her brows knit together in confusion. She always looked so pretty when she was confused.

I chuckled. “I think he was trying to talk to you.”

Clarke waved her hand dismissively. “Yeah, probably. I was busy, he'll understand.”

I nodded, the tug in my stomach at the fact that she wasn't too busy to stop when I talked to her made the blush I was fighting break free, spreading heat all across my face. I glanced down at the drawing in an attempt to hide it, and barely caught the green colouring of eyes, to which Clarke quickly pulled away.

“It’s not finished,” she said nervously.

“They never are,” I retorted with a tick of my brow.

“Yeah, well, you’re -- it’s -- too bad,” she responded, clearly flustered, and I couldn’t stop the laugh from bursting from my chest.

*

“Morning sunshine,” Clarke said as she dropped into the seat beside me during first period.

“Morning,” I grumbled, still half asleep. Without basketball I had much too much energy. Coach Indra gave me some drills to work on and some exercises to do so that I would stay in shape, but they weren’t enough. I started staying up way too late just to burn off the excess energy I had.

Clarke waved half of a fresh bagel in front of me, and I perked up immediately at the smell. I followed the scent with my eyes closed until I felt a soft pressure against my head.

Oh my God.

Clarke barked out a laugh at my head pressed into her chest.

Pike glared at us, his permanent scowl deepening a little.

“We've still got like, three minutes, chill,” Clarke said. Pike resumed reading his lecture material. These moments made me feel untouchable. Charles Pike, the surly Scrooge of a professor, was afraid of Clarke Griffin. Why? Because Clarke's parents were lifelong friends with the Jaha's -- Thelonious being the one who called the shots around the school.

“Sesame bagel?” I asked, already salivating over the toasted bagel in her hands.

“The one and only,” Clarke said, ripping it in pieces and popping it in her mouth.

I tried not to drool. I wasn't even sure what I was more hungry for -- the bagel or… the bagel.

Clarke rolled her eyes playfully before pulling another bagel from her bag and handing it over to me. “From my dad. He said you're going to need to learn to eat breakfast if you're going to go pro.”

“Oh my God, I love him.”

“Hey! I brought it for you!” Clarke exclaimed.

“Yeah, yeah, but he's the ORIGINAL Griffin.”

“Whatever. Three months of you two hanging out and I'm suddenly the third wheel.”

“Thank you, Clarke. You could never be the third wheel….You're not even in the same LEAGUE as your father,” I joked, erupting into a fit of giggles as Clarke swatted my arm.

The bell rang and Pike took over the class with another boring lecture.

A slip of paper slid onto my desk, and on it was a cartoon drawing of me with my eyes closed and Z’s above my head.

'Couldn't sleep last night?’

'No. I worked out for longer than I expected.’

I drew a picture of a stick figure flexing.

'gross. Sweaty Lexa. Are you still coming over this weekend? My dad is making your favourite.’

'Making? Or ordering?’

Every weekend since I had slept over the first time, we alternated between Clarke's and my house. Jake would almost always order way too much food, then insist that I take it home to share with Anya so she knew that we were eating well, but I had a feeling that he was trying to prove that he wasn't stuffing me with junk food for fear of the wrath of my sister (He had heard stories).

After dinner, Jake would challenge me to a game of HORSE if we were at the Griffin home, which he always lost; and then Clarke would challenge me to the same game. I would purposefully lose (much to Jake's approval) just to watch her do her victory dance and subsequent pout when she realized I had lost on purpose. If we were at my home, we'd play the same game with Roan at the closest basketball court, with much the same outcome. Regardless of where we slept, Clarke would pick a movie and spending the majority of it talking until we fell asleep.

“So you've NEVER been interested in Roan?”

“No. Why do you keep asking? Are YOU interested in Roan?”

Clarke waved her hand at me. “Gross. He's not my type.”

My stomach lurched, but I had to power on and ask the next question. That's what girls did at sleepovers, right? “Oh, yeah? What IS your type then, Clarke?”

She blushed and focused on the flickering lights of the television.

I poked her shoulder. “Why bring it up if you don't want to talk about it?” I asked.

What was I doing?

Clarke pulled on the strings of the hoodie she was wearing (mine) and shrugged. “I dunno. Dark hair, nice eyes, good bone structure, easy to draw.”

“So you want a model?”

Clarke shrugged. “What's your type?” She deflected.

My cheeks darkened. How do I tell her that it's her without telling her that it's her, exactly.

“I dunno. Someone who makes me laugh, and can make me feel comfortable. Who sees me as more than just 'that kid’. There's not a lot of those people out there.”

“Your bank account doesn't define you, Lex. The fact that you’re some hotshot basketball player that literally SUCKS at HORSE does,” Clarke said, and I broke out into a chuckle before poking her in the sides, causing her the cackle and scream in protestation of the tickling.

“Can we watch the end of the movie, please? I'm tired of talking about 'feelings’,” I said. I was. I didn't WANT to delve further into this conversation. Call me a coward, but I didn't want to know if Clarke was interested in anyone. I didn't think I could handle it.

Clarke rolled her eyes and smoothed down her hair. “Yeah, because the Commander has no feelings.”

“Exactly,” I said with a smirk.

She rolled her eyes again and nudged me with her foot when she moved to put her feet across my lap. I ran my hands along her shins without thinking.

“You have feelings, I know it.”

I puffed up my chest in protest. “Prove it.”

“You're scared of my mom.”

“That's not a feeling, Clarke, that's self-preservation. And besides, you're scared of Anya.”

Clarke laughed, and just like every other time she did it, I wished I could bottle it and listen to it forever. “Have you SEEN your sister? She's painfully gorgeous, even with her permanent scowl and glare. I swear to God she's trying to burn a hole in my head whenever she sees me.”

“Clarke, you order the most complicated shit at the diner, she hates EVERYONE who does that.”

“I'm allergic to cheese!”

“THEN DON'T ORDER GRILLED CHEESE!” I said with an exasperated laugh.

“But Anya always cuts it so nicely when she brings it to me,” she said with a pout.

“I’m sorry, do you have a CRUSH on my sister?”

“What? No. I’m just appreciating her beauty. And besides, you're WAY hotter.”

“Oh yeah, are you just 'appreciating my beauty’ too?” I said with a flutter of my eyelashes.

What was I doing?

“Whatever, nerd. Shut up, I'm trying to watch the movie.”

Clarke’s soft huff of laughter next to me pulled me from my thoughts as she slid the paper underneath my slowly dropping chin.

'quit distracting me.’

‘How am I even distracting you? I haven’t DONE anything.’

‘It's that damn jawline of yours. Distracting. I can’t focus on the hypotenuse when the angle of your jaw is all I can think of. Your model face is distracting.’

If only it was the distraction I was feeling.

*

“Let’s get dinner after school,” Clarke said.

“It’s third period, you can’t possibly be thinking about lunch right now.”

Clarke shrugged. “A girl’s gotta eat,” she quipped. “Besides, exams are next week and then I'm off to New York to spend time with good old Grandma, so we need to celebrate.”

“But we haven't actually written the exams yet,” I reasoned.

“Think of it as an early celebration. You'll be fine.”

“Clarke, I don't have any money! And what about your parents?”

“They’re fine. My dad already knows this was my plan. And, it's my treat, nerd! Where do you want to go?”

“Your treat? Where are you two going?” Bellamy asked. I tried my best to not roll my eyes at him. He just had this knack for being a part of conversations no one invited him to.

“The diner. My sister is working.”

THAT made Clarke stutter. “Sh-she is?”

“Is she hot?” Bellamy asked with an all-too confident smirk.

“Yes, and yes. She’s also way out of your league, so you might as well give up,” I said.

“Not really that far out of my league if she's working at a diner,” Bellamy spoke ignorantly.

“What is THAT supposed to mean?” I stood and squared my shoulders as I snarled, my chair falling to the floor behind me. The clatter caused the students that were skirting in before the bell to curiously glance at the scene.

Bellamy quirked a brow with indignation. “It means that some PEOPLE need to remember what they're worth.”

“And some PEOPLE need to remember to watch their tongues,” I snapped back, stepping closer to him. My fists clenched painfully at my sides as I prepared to bury them in his face.

Clarke slammed her hand down on the desk so hard I thought she broke her fingers.

The entire class went silent, all eyes on us.

“Goodbye, Bellamy,” she said with a tone so sharp she could cut glass. Her voice was tight in her throat, and I watched as he swallowed painfully before cutting his eyes over to Clarke. The icy glare from her blue eyes made him fumble, mouth parted in shock at it being directed toward him. Clarke’s brow raised slightly, challengingly, and Bellamy let out a huff of air before leaving.

When he sulked off, Clarke turned back to me and grabbed my hand between hers. I was so tense I was shaking. “Lexa,” she started, but I pulled my hand free, the sudden heat of everyone's eyes burning my skin and creeping up my neck, cutting off the air to my lungs.

“It’s fine,” I said dismissively. I coughed to remind myself that they still worked and shrugged, picked up my chair and sat back down, scowling at anyone I made eye contact with.

“It’s not.”

“It is. Let’s go to the diner,” I said with a forced smile. I wanted to move on from Bellamy Blake. I wanted to move on from the stares and the inadequacy that was suddenly pumping ice into my veins. He didn’t deserve my anger. He wasn’t worth my time. Neither were any of the classmates that were gawking at me.

At the mention of the diner, Clarke instantly fell back to her fumbling self. “Oh, we don't want to bother her--,”

“Clarke.”

“I mean, she must be really busy--,”

“Clarke.”

“We should go to McDon--,”

“Clarke. We're going to the diner.” I said it with such finality that I grimaced at myself. I had no right to take this out on Clarke.

Clarke let out a defeated sigh.

“Fine,” she groaned and mumbled something incomprehensible under her breath.

“What was that?”

She blushed and said, “I can't handle being in public with you two.”

I felt hot. Was she embarrassed because of our situation? Was Bellamy right? This entire time, Clarke was actually ashamed of me. How could I not see that?

“What?” I said with more bite than necessary. Okay, maybe I wasn’t completely over the Bellamy situation.

Clarke rubbed her thumb along the groove of the desk, her cheeks getting redder by the second while all the air escaped my lungs. I had to focus on my breathing so I didn't snap at her. Fucking Bellamy. She couldn't be embarrassed of me NOW, could she? Maybe she didn't think we'd actually be friends. Maybe this WAS charity all along. Maybe that COCKSUCKER made her realize that this was a bad idea to begin with.

“You guys are like the two hottest sisters in town. The cheekbones and the jawlines and the eyes and… it's weird how much people stare at you two, and  I'm just… I'm just ME,” she said.

“Oh Clarke,” I said, somehow at a loss for words. How could she ever think she wasn't beautiful?

Clarke waved me off, rubbing her eyes with her fists to collect herself.

“It's whatever, it's stupid. Honestly Lexa, just ignore me.”

“Clarke,” I said again, my head shaking from side to side. I let out a small laugh. “You're so beautiful,” I said.

She scoffed.

“You don't see the way people look at you Lexa. I've literally watched boys walk into lockers because they were looking at you. Bellamy is an asshole to you BECAUSE you’re SO out of his league.  You're my friend, you HAVE to say I'm beautiful.”

I would have blushed if it wasn't for the fact that Clarke was in the process of putting herself down at the same time as trying to elevate me. It was unacceptable. She needed to know that she was special.

“No, I don't. And Bellamy Blake is an insecure asshole, that's why he’s a dick. A boy being mean to you because he apparently likes you is a horrible lie that just makes boys feel justified and tells girls that they need to bend to the boy's will. It’s not a compliment because a boy is a jerk to you, Clarke, it's just him acknowledging that he's unworthy of you. You know that.”

“Yes, I do. It doesn’t make the fact that you're unbelievably gorgeous any less true. You HAVE to say I’m pretty. It’s like… it's like girl code or something.”

I shifted my chair closer and cupped her cheeks. This needed to stop. “No, Clarke, it's not. You're so wrong,” I said with every ounce of sincerity I could find.

Clarke swallowed, her blue eyes shimmering with unshed tears and darting all along my face.

“You, Clarke Abigail Griffin, are SO beautiful. I mean it. I would be -- anyone would be LUCKY to have you. You're more than just your appearance, too. You're smart, and genuine, and so, so kind. And honestly… your legs and ass are out of this world,” I continued.

Clarke laughed a wet laugh and rolled her eyes, sniffing back the tears that were threatening to spill.

“Also,” I said, releasing her cheeks and taking her hand and pulling it into my lap, “you're not my friend, so there's no 'girl code’.” I squeezed her fingers before she could pull away. “You're my BEST friend, and I would never lie to you,” I said, smiling softly and making sure her eyes were focused on me. I'd remind her a thousand times how beautiful she was so that she didn't end up dating some creep who was mean to her.

She let out the cutest little gasp and barrelled into me so quickly that we both tumbled out of our chairs, the desks shifting loudly across the floor.

Someone let out a whistle to which both Clarke and I flushed in embarrassment at, but she refused to let go.

“Finally! You're my best friend too, Lex,” she said into my shirt.

When she pulled back and fist pumped in the air. “Suck it, Anya!”

“I'm totally telling her you said that.”

She squeaked and pulled my hoodie up over her head, burrowing into my chest in faux fear.

*

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Anya chimed when we sat in front of the counter of the diner.

“Hi Anya,” I said with an eye roll. Anya winked at me, then nodded a little to Clarke. “Blondie,” she greeted.

“No Roan?” Anya was wiping the counter with her dishcloth, pretending to clean something that no one could see.

“No, I asked him, but he said he had to work.”

Anya frowned. “He’s been working a lot lately,” she said, and I could hear the concern in her voice. Roan only worked so much to be away from home and we both knew it. I felt a sharp stab of guilt in my stomach. The last time he was over, Anya made a big scene about his incoming facial hair and grabbed his arms to pull him into a hug. Roan winced and his shirt sleeves shifted slightly to show off dark purpling bruises. He adjusted his shirt and shrugged off Anya's touch. Anya being Anya, dragged him into a tight hug and wouldn't let go until he sank into it, relishing in the love from an adult that he was so unfairly denied at home. I spent the rest of the evening watching my best friend and my sister spend quality time together that he was so desperate for without realizing it, my heart squeezing painfully in my chest and making a promise to anyone listening that I would always find a way to help him and love him, no matter how annoying he was.

Clarke, as usual, fumbled through the ordering process when Anya leaned on the counter. It was so weird to see the confidence of my best friend drain from her face the second Anya leaned towards her. Clarke's eyes were darting all over her appearance, which was strange. Anya wasn’t even TRYING to be scary anymore. She ended up ordering an overly complicated grilled cheese (I didn't even know it was possible to complicate it), much to Anya's annoyance, while I ordered pancakes.

We both took out our homework while the food was being prepared, trying to get it over with before we could stuff our faces and pretend to not have to go to school again tomorrow.

Clarke’s phone vibrated incessantly while we worked. I let out a frustrated huff as it went off for the tenth time in the span of five minutes.

“Can you PLEASE just answer it?” I asked, a stronger bite to my words than probably necessary.

Clarke looked up at me quizzically, and when I nodded my head toward her phone, she scrunched her nose in apology. “Sorry. I zone out when I get into thing.”

“I know, Clarke. I'm sorry. I’m struggling with the science stuff.”

“Give me a few minutes and I’ll help you out.”

She texted back and forth with whoever was on the other end for a few minutes, her face scrunching and relaxing in concentration. It was adorable. Clarke was adorable in everything she did. I raised a single brow at her when she finished.

“It was Bellamy. He was apologizing for earlier.”

I hummed.

“He said he was out of line, and that he’s really sorry, and that he’d like to make it up to you,” Clarke continued, reading off the conversation to me.

I scratched my pencil against the paper harder than expected, cutting through the page.

“I’ll pass,” I dismissed. I didn't need Bellamy making anything up to me. I needed him to leave me (and Clarke) the hell alone.

“Come on, Lexa. He’s not so bad,” Clarke defended.

“The only reason he talks to me is because he is friends with you.”

Clarke pursed her lips together. “Do you want me to stop talking to him? He seems to really bother you.”

I wasn’t sure if it was jealousy or the fact that something about Bellamy ACTUALLY bothered me. I sighed, running my hands down my face. It was clearly jealousy, and it was unfair of me to feel this way over a girl I would never romantically have, but I couldn't help it.

“No, Clarke. He’s your friend. I’m sorry for being so,” I waved my hand in the air. “I guess it stung a little more than I was expecting. I accept his apology BECAUSE you’re his friend and trust him. I don’t need him to make it up to me though.”

Clarke smiled brightly, tapping away on her screen to let Bellamy know all was forgiven.

I couldn’t help the sinking feeling in my stomach.

Maybe I was more jealous than I thought. Could I really be okay with Clarke dating anyone else? Was it worth all the pain of it potentially not being me? I don't know if I could handle hearing about anything to do with anyone, and I knew that wasn't fair. I wanted to tell Clarke how I felt, I did, but the thought of losing her because of my stupid FEELINGS seemed ludicrous. Feelings changed. They always did. Was it worth it to let myself hurt over a girl I would never have?

Thoughts of Bellamy disappeared when my sister brought out our food, to which Clarke happily squealed like the teenage girl she was. Anya rolled her eyes before leaving us to tend to her other customers.

“You’re going to be sick again,” I chided, cutting out a chunk of pancakes.

“So worth it,” Clarke said, all but shoving the grilled cheese into her mouth and giving me a dopey smile.

With her cheeks stuffed to the brim like a chipmunk harvesting nuts, her eyes alight with joy, and a smile that could melt an ice cap directed at me, I couldn’t help but agree.

Chapter Text

Clarke left for the summer to spend it with her grandmother in New York like she did every year since she was born.

In other words, summer sucked.

Not entirely, but mostly. Almost completely. It was close. Yeah, it sucked.

Roan was ALWAYS working, which shouldn't bother me since I was technically working too, but I was just so BORED without him. Anya was worried about him, but when he came over one night with take-out and a big smile on his face, she let it go (after an hour of grilling him as to where he had been working only for him to puff out his chest and give her the old smoke and light show, confusing her enough to stop asking).

The camp job that Coach Indra gave me consisted of teaching two kids how to play basketball. It was kind of weird that the camp only had two children, making me suspicious of whether or not this was a real job or if Coach Indra was just trying to find a way to pay me for something. I asked her about it during the first week, but she glared at me in that motherly way I secretly missed and I relented.

My two charges were Octavia Blake and Aden Knight. Octavia being Bellamy’s sister, the poor thing, and Aden being Luna’s half brother. They were both… excitable, to say the least. It was probably why she only accepted two students, to be honest. I would leave the gym feeling like I had just taught a class of fifty whenever I was with those two.

When I finally dragged my feet out of the gymnasium after the first day of camp, Clarke’s bike was outside with a forty year old Jake Griffin atop it, trying to balance on one slippered foot with his eyes closed.

“Mr. Griffin?” I asked, confused.

Jake shrieked in a pitch that I was actually impressed he could reach and nearly fell off the seat.

“Lexa!” he said excitedly, jumping down to the concrete with surprising grace. I remembered that Clarke had told me he used to be a gymnast as well, so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. “Just the person I’ve been waiting for.”

“What? Why? Clarke’s in New York,” I said dumbly. Obviously, he would know that his daughter was in New York.

Jake nodded, a bright smile still on his face.

“Yes, and you’re here! Don’t tell Clarke, but you’re my favourite.” He winked and sent me his normal goofy smile.

“So, what can I help you with Mr. -- Jake?”

Jake batted his blue eyes at me, mimicking the playfulness that Clarke showed me whenever she wanted me to agree to something.

God, I missed her. Regardless of my feelings, I missed her. I was hoping that by the end of this summer I could just look at her like a best friend. I didn't want to one day make it weird that I had a crush on her when she was so obviously straight, but I couldn't deny that I missed her.

“I am actually building Clarke a new bike this summer, an I thought you could help?” His voice cracked slightly, and nervous shifting of his feet making it apparent that he was only partially telling me the truth.

I chewed my lip and narrowed my eyes in response. This didn’t seem right.

Jake wrung his hands in front of me, his nervous smile dropping into a frown. “Ah, fine, you twisted my arm. I wasn’t supposed to tell you, but Clarke wants me to build YOU a new bike.”

My heart squeezed against my rib cage. “Mr. --,”

Jake raised a hand before I could protest. “Listen, I know. She already gave me the rundown of how hard this was going to be to convince you, so I’ll put it plainly. I already bought all the pieces. Luckily, I am a genius, and can therefore build you a bike. If you want to pay me, that's fine. I can give you the receipts for all the materials and my time and whatever the hell you want, but basically, Lexa, I’m making you a bike and you can either join me or surrender to the paint job I am going to give it. It’ll be pink with pom poms if you say no.” Jake folded his arms across his chest and I just blinked at him.

What?

“Jake, I --”

My heart felt like it had tripled in size and was beating so hard that I was sure it was going to crack a rib. He stepped over to me and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Listen, Lexa. I don’t care about how much money you and Anya have in your pockets. What I’m saying is that I have extra, and Clarke REALLY cares about you. I think it’d be wasteful to spend it on anything else when I have the opportunity to spend it on someone as deserving as you.”

I let out a long sigh. I was going to kill Clarke, even though I knew that deep down I was ecstatic and feeling more loved than I could ever imagine. She really was the best friend I could ever ask for. “I have to ask Anya.”

Jake beamed and gave me another squeeze. “Already done! Looks like you and me are going to be building a brand new bike!” He skipped away from me, doing a series of moves that could only be classified as ‘dad-moves’.

I ran my hand down my face and tried to hide from any passerbys. He was SO embarrassing and I loved it.

*

“Lexa, Octavia hit me AGAIN!” Aden whined from the opposite side of the gym, rubbing his arm with his hand with a firm pout on his lips.

“I did NOT!” Octavia whined back. The shrillness of their voices was grating on my nerves and I ran my hand down my face in irritation before turning around and glaring at them both.

“Octavia? Did you?”

“I mean, not REALLY,” she said, gesturing broadly and dropping the basketball she was hugging to her chest. “He wouldn't give me the ball.”

“That's 'cause I'm trying to score!”

“Yeah, and I'm not letting you!”

“You're SUPPOSED to let me.”

“No I'm not!”

“Yes you are!”

“No I'm NOT!” Octavia said, stamping her foot on the ground for emphasis. Her black locks fell around her shoulders as she gesticulated wildly.

“ENOUGH!” I growled, and ended up receiving TWO pouts in response -- suddenly, the bad guy.

Lord help me.

“Octavia, you're right, you're not supposed to let him score.” She turned to Aden and stuck her tongue out at him in response, Aden huffing dramatically and rolling his eyes, arms crossed over his chest.

“However, you're NOT, under ANY circumstances, allowed to hit him.”

“But what if he hits me first?” She asked with a pout.

I hesitated. “Well, umm, I mean,” I ran my hands through my hair, not sure of the answer to give. “I mean if he hits you first you need to defend yourself -- Aden, no!” Aden promptly hit Octavia, who looked at me with tears in her blue eyes before she turned and hit him right back. They devolved into a slapping war while I pinched the bridge of my nose. I should have known.

“ENOUGH!” I snapped. They both pulled apart, two sets of blue eyes springing with tears and chins quivering from being yelled at.

I rolled my eyes at them both.

“You guys are supposed to be learning to play basketball, not fighting,” I reminded them gently.

“But fighting is so much more fun! Watch me be a ninja, Lexa!” Aden said, alligator tears completely dried.  Suddenly he and Octavia started running around the gymnasium punching and kicking the air while making 'ninja noises’, according to them.

I collapsed onto the bench and my phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out instead of trying to reign them in and smiled when I saw that it was from Clarke. She had, incredibly awkwardly, given me five different prepaid cards to fill my phone up over the summer. She claimed it was for my birthday, seeing as she was missing it, but when I hit her with the glare she dubbed “the money look”, she changed her reasoning to never being home when I was with the time difference and wanting to be able to contact me if necessary.

Anya rolled her eyes when I told her that Clarke was just fulfilling her best friend duties, and laughed at me every time she saw me looking at my phone.

'how's it going?’

'plz kill me’

'just a few more weeks’

'call u l8r. Parents here’

She responded with ‘<3’ like always, and I tucked my phone in my pocket as Octavia’s mother, Aurora walked into the gymnasium.

“Mommy!” Octavia yelled, running full speed and jumping up into her mother's arms. She got a considerable amount of height with her take off, defying the laws of gravity. Octavia was a special kind of chaos.

“Oof! Hi, baby, did you have fun with Lexa today?” Aurora asked as she shifted Octavia onto her hip.

Octavia smiled brightly at her mom, looked at me and gave me her own toothless grin. “Yes! She's so cool! Mommy, can Lexa come over for dinner?”

I quirked a brow and started forming the most apologetic declination I could muster before Aurora cut me off.

“Oh, that would be a great idea!” Aurora agreed, looking between Octavia and myself. “What kind of food should we eat?” She said, looking more so at me than her daughter, but again, before I could interject, Octavia yelled, “Pizza!”

I huffed out a sigh. I already knew there was no getting out of this.

“Okay,” I said quietly, and gave Aurora a small smile when Octavia shrieked her joy in her mom’s ear.

“I’ll see you in an hour?” she asked, her dark hair being pulled on by her daughter in a rough attempt to get her attention.

I simply nodded as they turned to leave. I had to wait until Luna showed up to pick up Aden and close up the gymnasium before I could leave anyway.

“Hey Lex,” Luna said with an easy smile roughly fifteen minutes later. She was in cut off shorts and a tank top, her massive set of curls falling haphazardly around her face. Her hair was always so fascinating to me. There was just SO MUCH of it.

“Hey Lu,” I greeted. I nodded to her companion, a dark skinned girl with a slim face, a warm smile and dimples. She had a very pretty set of blue eyes, which was so rare with her skin tone, and turtle shell frame glasses. Clarke’s eyes were so much more captivating, the blue darker and yet more enchanting, but this girl’s eyes were very, very beautiful. Her hair, similarly to Luna's, was a mass of dark curls that fell around her face. She was gorgeous. My stomach flipped lightly when she turned to smile at me. I forced myself to give a small, polite smile as my cheeks turned a dark shade of red.

Fuck, she was beautiful.

“This is Costia. She's my cousin and in your grade. I'm actually surprised you two don't know each other.”

Costia breathed out a laugh and my stomach swooped slightly. Of course she was beautiful, she was related to Luna, who was ALSO very beautiful. Come to think of it, the entirety of my social circle was filled with beautiful women. What the hell?

“There's like five hundred freshman, Lu,” she said. Her voice was melodic and soft, different than the rasp of Clarke’s, but still nice.

Luna rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Whatever. It's hard for me to pay attention to everyone who is beneath me,” she joked.

I scoffed and stuck my tongue out at her. Costia reached forward to shake my hand and I followed suit after a heavy blush covered my cheeks. I had just stuck my tongue out. STUCK MY TONGUE OUT. These six year olds were rubbing off on me the wrong way.

Her hands were cold, but her smile was warm. “It's really nice to meet you, Lexa. I'm actually upset we haven't met before,” she said in a way that seemed shy. She had the lightest touch of a blush on her skin, too.

Who knew what that was about. It wasn't her fault we hadn't met before.

I bit my lip and ducked my head quickly. “You too,” I responded quietly.

Luna was smirking at me the whole time, which I REALLY didn't understand.

“Lulu!” Aden yelled as he ran over to us.

“Lulu?” I asked, giving Aden a high five before he whizzed past me.

“Shut it, Woods. I can make your life hell next year.”

I held my hands up in acquiescence. “Sorry, cap.”

“Hi Costia!” Aden greeted next, his eyes only now seeing her, his face erupting into the biggest of smiles.

“Hey Superdude!” Costia said, reaching down and poking Aden in the tummy and eliciting a fit of giggles. “Ready to fly out of here?”

“Yeah!” he shouted excitedly, taking hold of Luna's and Costia’s hands in his small ones. He immediately ran forward, using them as a form of swing as his feet left the ground.

“See ya later Lex!” Luna called over her shoulder.

“I hope to see you soon,” costia said quietly, sending me a small wave and a wink.

My cheeks flushed.

My phone vibrated again with a message from Clarke telling me to call her when I got home from the Blake residence. I had almost forgotten.

Great.

I sighed, then locked up the gymnasium and started walking to the Blake household.

Two hours. Two hours of stifling silence and Bellamy Blake. Maybe he wouldn't be home.

I knocked on the door and the boy with shaggy brown hair opened it. I groaned and rolled my eyes so hard I was sure that THIS would be the time they finally stuck and I'd be walking around like a zombie staring at my own brain. Of COURSE he was home.

“Can I help you?”

“Umm,” I said, schooling my expression into the one I reserved just for him -- eternally annoyed.  “Is Aurora here?”

“Sure is,” he said, leaning against the doorframe and blocking my entrance. Fucking asshat.

“Your mom invited me for dinner, so you should probably move and go back to touching yourself and telling yourself how pretty you are,” I snapped. I was so over his shenanigans. I don't know what Clarke saw in him.

“Oh yeah?” He asked, and he ACTUALLY ran his hands through his hair and flipped it to the side slightly like he was in some imaginary photoshoot. He probably DID touch himself to his own compliments.

“Bellamy, let the poor girl inside,” Aurora said from behind him.

Bellamy rolled his eyes and leaned away from the door, gesturing for me to come inside obnoxiously.

“Lexa!” Octavia shrieked from the stairs, then catapulting over the railing. My ONLY option was to catch her lest she crack her head on the floor and I lose my summer job for child endangerment.

“Oof!”

She was death from above, this child.

“Octavia!” Bellamy scolded.

“Hi Lexa!” Octavia said with as much excitement imaginable in a six year old, squeezing me around the neck in a tight hug that practically choked me. She was surprisingly (and terrifyingly) strong for a six year old.

“Hey O,” I said after gasping for air. I felt slightly dizzy after that so I put her on the ground, and she wrapped her arms around my legs the second she hit the floor. Aurora just laughed.

“Are you happy your favourite person is here, Octavia?” Aurora asked.

I balked. Bellamy scoffed. “I thought I was your favourite person, O?”

Octavia shook her head. “No way! You're a gross boy. Lexa is so cool and SO pretty!” She took my hand in hers and I felt my heart soften for the little twerp.

Why did she have to be somewhat cute?

We eventually made it to the dinner table, Octavia INSISTING that I sit next to her, and she babbled on for the entirety of dinner, leaving us to not really need to speak. Aurora seemed happy to have someone there for Octavia to babble on to, and I was glad to give her a chance to relax. I had no idea how a six year old could have SO much to tell me when I had just seen her less than two hours before, but with the tense atmosphere between Bellamy and I, I was glad for it.

After dinner, I insisted that Aurora let me wash the dishes, and my little shadow insisted on helping and dragged her brother along with her by shaming him, because “Lexa is SO much nicer”.

Bellamy stood stiffly beside me, flaring his nostrils and flipping his hair and Octavia wedged her way between us, asking for me to pick her up and demanding the Bellamy wash the dishes because ‘my hands were full’.

Bellamy huffed and rolled his eyes, telling Octavia to go play with her dolls.

“Are you going to let me dress you up as a princess again if I bring them out here?” she asked. “Can I put makeup on you again?”

Bellamy's cheeks turned a bright shade of red as I breathed out a laugh.

Aurora insisted that we chat in the living room, which mainly consisted of Octavia babbling and the three of us feigning interest in her stories. Octavia eventually started to drift off around nine while I held her in my lap, talking herself to sleep, and I took the opportunity to bid them a good night.

“Bellamy, please walk her home. Lexa, it's late,” Aurora said. Before Bellamy or I could protest, she hit us with that motherly glare and we both relented, albeit reluctantly.

It was dark and cold when we left. I zipped my hoodie up and held my arms against my chest.

We walked in silence for most of the trip.

“So, how's your summer?” Bellamy asked awkwardly after the long stretch of silence became too much for him.

“Good,” I responded curtly.

“Cool,” he said, his hands in his pockets. “Have you heard from Clarke?”

I clenched my jaw tightly. Why was he asking? Why were we even trying to have a normal conversation right now?

“Have you?” I asked instead of answering.

“Nah, I know she went away for the summer. I guess she didn’t bring her phone or whatever.” He sounded so defeated that I almost felt bad for him. Almost. I was feeling way too smug over the fact that Clarke had literally text me every moment she could during the summer. My phone vibrated in my pocket on that moment and I had to physically stop myself from giggling.

“Listen, Bellamy,” I started, willing myself to not gag at what I was about to say. I had thought about it during the entire evening, and as much as it pained me, I knew it would help Clarke. “You're Clarke's friend. You and I need to come to some sort of understanding.” I gestured to the space between us as we walked.

Bellamy let out a harsh breath. “No thanks.”

Oh this mother fu--

“Listen to me, you dickhead,” I snapped. I was so done with this shit. I stopped walking, turned and poked Bellamy square in the chest with enough force to make him wince. “You get ONE opportunity to piss me off and live to tell the tale. You’ve already used that when you so eloquently talked crap about my sister. You’re actually lucky Clarke was there because I was about ready to remind you of my worth with my fists. The ONLY reason you're still even in Clarke's life is because when she asked me if I wanted her to cut you out… willingly offered that chance to me... I said no. So listen clearly when I tell you, you have no leg to stand on here. Do you REALLY want to start a war with me? Because I promise you, Blake, you will LOSE.” I poked him in the chest again, my breathing ragged from the pure rage I was feeling. I was so tired of his dramatics.

Bellamy clenched his jaw and flipped his hair again, the agitation clear on his face as it turned a shade of pink.

It was silent for a long minute, my fingers digging into my palms and my jaw hurting from how tightly it was clenched. Bellamy just stared at me with hard eyes until something inside him broke. Something shifted right before he spoke.

“I know,” he whispered, and I stumbled back in shock at his words.  “She ripped me a new asshole that day and hasn't really spoken to me since.”

My heart grew at the protectiveness of Clarke. She hadn’t told me that she cut him out regardless of what I told her.

“I just…” Bellamy huffed and dragged his hand down his face. “She's my friend, and I was jealous because you're so close to her.”

“You like her,” I corrected.

“Obviously. Who DOESN'T like Clarke?” He asked with a look in his eye I didn't understand, his eyes knowing and dark. “She's so special.”

THAT, we could agree on. Not that I would say that. “Don’t you think that you should be NICE to me if you want to be in her good graces?” I internally rolled my eyes at myself for being so petty, but he needed to know where he stood in comparison.

Bellamy just nodded. “I’ve always had to be the protector. My mom, my sister. I just -- I never get anything just for me. Everything is always for someone else, and I’m just trying to keep everyone safe.” He crossed his arms over his chest as he folded in on himself at the confession. He wasn't being defensive. It looked like it physically pained him to say these words, to confess this.

“And you think that Clarke is something you can HAVE? She’s not a fucking prize, Bellamy.” I glared at him as I threw my hands out to the side to emphasize how ridiculous his reasoning was.

“I KNOW that. That’s not what I meant. I meant -- I -- it's--”

I actually felt bad for him when he ran his hand down his face. I knew all too well how it felt to not be able to say what you mean when even THINKING about the blonde.

“It’s hard, not having the picture perfect family,” he complained. I cocked a brow. “I know you of all people know that,” he added. “Clarke, she -- she’s the only person I know that doesn’t look at me weird because of it. She just accepts me as is. I don’t have to be this big obnoxious and tough jock. I don't have to have all this bravado, or be constantly trying to prove how much of a man I am with her. I can talk history with her and astronomy and she listens. I’m not used to it.”

“That’s Clarke for you,” I said with a chuckle. Bellamy laughed too. “She’s still not yours to own, Bellamy.”

“I know, that came out wrong. I just -- I don't even know. God, I can't even imagine how I’m going to be when Octavia is older. I’m already so protective of Clarke. I just want her to be happy.”

“And you think that by trying to piss off her best friend that that’s going to make her happy? Don't you fucking dare use your insecurity as a reason to be an asshole. You're not being protective, you're being possessive.” I shouted incredulously.

“I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. You’re kind of intimidating, Lexa, Jesus. I thought that maybe if I could show her that I wasn’t afraid of you then she’d think I could protect her and look at me the way she looks at you.”

I hesitated for a split second. What was that supposed to mean? I shook my head, clearly sidetracked by his confusing words. Bellamy looked so lost and small in that moment. He kicked the ground softly, arms tightening around this chest.

“I'm her BEST FRIEND, Bellamy. Your logic is stupid. Your entire everything this past year was stupid. You keep saying things and I start to think that you really ARE stupid. You can’t smother them. Either of them. Octavia is six years old, and Clarke is her own person. If you don’t cut this shit you’re going to lose both of them. Octavia is going to grow up to learn that boys are fucking losers if you're her role model and you continue to act this way -- like girls can be fought over and they'll like it. Newsflash -- no fucking girl finds it impressive. I already don’t like you, and I don’t care what you think of me. WE don't have to be friends, we just need to be civil for Clarke's sake,” I said softly. I don't know how I could transition from wanting to kick him in the balls to wanting to help him like that. Damnit, Bellamy.

Bellamy bit his bottom lip. “Yeah,” he said with a shrug. “You're right. I, uhh, fuck. My dad was a shithead, and he just…” Bellamy sighed. “My mom left because he was always convinced that men had to be a certain way and women had to be a certain way, and I just.. I've had to protect everyone from everyone else for a long time that I get confused. You're right. I'm so sorry.” He ran his hands through his hair, desperately trying to calm himself from the bubbling emotion. “I don't want to be him,” he whispered while his eyes were trained on the sky.

“Then don't be him,” I said just as softly, placing my hand on his forearm. Bellamy dropped his head and sucked in a deep breath. I could hear the watery crack as he breathed out slowly.

I thought of Roan, whose father abandoned him and mother was… not a good mother. I thought of how Roan struggled to see the good in the world, struggled to let anyone see his walls down. He was abrasive and rude and refused to get along with anyone that wasn't Anya or I -- until Clarke. Roan lashed out constantly, and was fiercely protective. I didn't know Bellamy's story, but if he felt overly protective, I could just imagine why.

After a long moment of silence, Bellamy nodded and turned to keep walking, clearly having finished the internal conversation he was having at the realization of how he was behaving.

“Just so you know, Octavia really likes you, and it's probably easier to hear 'Lexa this’ and 'Lexa that’ if I wasn't so busy hating you because you’re hot and the hot girl I like likes you.”

I rolled my eyes at him and let out a strangled noise in my throat. Damnit Octavia. She managed to worm her way into my heart and I wasn’t even aware of it. “So... truce?” I extended my hand to shake. Bellamy shifted from foot to foot, huffing as though this was truly something he was warring over.

“Truce.” We shook, and I squeezed his hand hard enough for him to wince. Just as a reminder.

“So,” he said after another minute of silent walking. “As a friend, what do you think my chances are with Clarke?”

I couldn't stop the eye roll and the bitter bark of laughter from escaping me.

“No,” is all I said to Bellamy. He nodded sagely.

“Yeah, you're probably right,” he said, rubbing his hand behind his neck.

When we got to the intersection of the main road and my street, I turned to Bellamy and said, “Thank you. I live close to here and I'll be fine the rest of the way.”

“Cool. See you around. And honestly, I’m sorry for… for being a twat.”

I nodded at him with pursed lips. “Calling you a twat is like a compliment for how you were acting. One chance Bellamy,” I reminded with a snarl and raising my index finger.

He swallowed and nodded and walked off. I couldn’t help the smile and deep sigh I let out as I walked the rest of the way home. It felt so good to put him in his place.

*

“When are you home?” I asked, lying on my mattress with the house phone on speaker.

Clarke chuckled on the other end. “Miss me?”

I threw my basketball up in the air and caught it before it landed on my face.

“Haha,” I mocked. It was apparent I missed her, regardless if I admitted it out loud. She was my best friend. Best friends could miss each other, right?

“I'll be home in two weeks. Just enough time to get my shit together before school starts. I'm really jealous of my dad, honestly.”

“Why?”

“He's seen you all summer, Lex.”

“Yeah, well, it's whatever,” I said nonchalantly.

In reality, it was a big deal. Jake was adamant that I come over as often as possible to work on the bike. I was giving Anya all of the money I earned over the summer, much to her chagrin, but I refused to let this be another handout and once I heard that she had okayed this project, I needed to contribute somehow.

I introduced Jake to Roan during the summer, and after a tense standoff where Roan attempted to glare a hole in Jake’s head, the two disappeared to “bring the tools out of the garage”. Roan later told me that Jake had pretty much called him out on not liking him because of his history with father figures, and then said that “Jake was alright”. For Roan, that meant a lot. He ended up joining us as frequently as he could when he wasn’t working, which was great. I missed my friend.

“It's not whatever. You love him and he loves you. In pretty sure I've been replaced. He never talks all 'nerdy’ with me.”

“That's because you complain.”

“It's BECAUSE he goes off on tangents and I don't know what he's saying!”

I rolled my eyes and tossed my basketball in the air again.

“He's cool. I should be done building the bike by the time you're back. We can go for a ride, if you want?”

“Duh. You need to set aside at least a full twenty four hours for me, Lex.”

“But what if I have to pee?”

“Oh, float yourself.”

“What?” I said around a laugh. I tried not to think about how cute that was coming from her lips.

She's a friend.

“I'm trying not to swear as much.”

“Gotcha. Grandma G tell you that?”

“Yes. God, she's got ears like a bat. I stubbed my toe this morning and cussed under my breath and she scolded me the second I came downstairs.”

I laughed loudly. “You're sure a dork.”

“I'm YOUR dork.”

Just. A. Friend.

*

Two weeks later, my door was being pounded on at an hour much too early for summer vacation.

Anya woke up with a start, her wild hair and angry glare directed at me as we both stood in the hallway.

“I'm going, I'm going. I'm sorry!” I said as I backed toward the stairs. “It's probably Clarke.” I wish I hadn't said that because the glare on my sister's face to suddenly turned to a mischievous smirk.

“Clarke?” She said, her eyes lighting up at the thought.

“Anya, no,” I begged.

“Anya, yes,” she replied.

Anya shoved me out of the way before she took off down the stairs.

Anya swung the door open so violently that Clarke nearly stumbled forward into her with her excessive knocking. The hinges groaned in protest as they hit the wall and I flinched at the prospect of the door ACTUALLY falling off.

“Anya!” Clarke squeaked out.

Anya glared at her so intensely that Clarke actually stumbled back.

“It's eight o'clock in the morning, Blondie,” she snarled. “What the HELL do you think you're doing?”

Clarke stepped back again. “I, umm, I -- I just -- I, uhh -- I missed Lexa,” she breathed out defeatedly.

My heart fluttered wildly.

Anya's body stiffened for a half second before she spun around and looked to me with a raised eyebrow. I held my hands up in defense, my eyes darting over to Clarke in the doorway and secretly pleading with my sister to not embarrass me anymore.  Anya's eyes softened. She looked between Clarke and I and I knew I was giving Clark heart-eyes, but I couldn't care at this point, I missed her so much.

Anya waved her hand in the air toward Clarke, mumbling, “enter,” before she walked back to the stairs. “Keep it down.”

Clarke nodded, then looked to me and suddenly took two giant strides, jumping in the air with the expectation of me catching her. I caught her, but lost my footing, falling backwards onto the hardwood. My arms were wrapped around her waist so that she wouldn't get hurt, so I took the brunt of the fall with the back of my head, letting out a grunt at the sudden burst of stars.

I'm sure they would have been there regardless of the head injury.

“Quiet!” Anya yelled from her bedroom.

“Oh my God, Lex, are you okay?” Clarke whispered.

I nodded, barely breathing in fear that I would start crying from the pain. Clarke's face was inches from mine.

She smiled brightly at me and buried her head in my neck.

“I missed you so much!” she whisper-shouted.

“I know, I heard you tell Anya,” I replied.

“Whatever,” Clarke said as she rolled off me, landing heavily on the floor.

I'm sad to say I instantly missed the warmth of her body.

She's your best friend, I reminded myself.

“You gotta work today?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Oh, come on, they're SIX. They can't be as bad as you're making them out to be.”

“Yeah, sure. Wait and see,” I said with an already exhausted laugh.

*

“You're pretty,” Octavia said to Clarke for the FIVE-HUNDREDTH time.

“Octavia,” I groaned. “You're supposed to be practicing your dribbling with Aden.

“I don't wanna,” Octavia complained. “He's icky and he picks his nose and eats it. Clarke is pretty. I wanna sit with Clarke. Will you braid my hair?”

I grumbled in irritation. I glanced over at Aden while Clarke wrangled the devil child in her lap to braid her hair.

“Aden?” I said, staring at the back of the blonde head that was tucked between his knees.

“Lexa!” He said, muffled by his own clothes. He rolled forward, flopping his legs out for then to slam into the gymnasium floor. “Hi Lexa,” he said excitedly.

“Aden, what are you doing?”

“I was practicing being a basketball.”

“You were practicing… what?”

“Being a basketball!” Aden cheered.

“Why were you… you know what? I don't even want to know.” I said, clutching my nose between my forefinger and thumb. “How is your dribbling coming along, bud?”

“I’m pretty much a professional,” Aden said with a toothless grin.

“Oh yeah?” I asked, picking up the abandoned ball from the floor.

“Can you do this?” I asked, bouncing the ball back and forth between my two hands.

Aden’s eyes widened while he leaned forward towards me.

“Yeah,” he said, puffing out his chest. I passed him the ball, and surely enough, he COULD do it (as best as a six-year old could).

“Okay, nice! What about this?” I dribbled the ball between my legs.

“Whoa,” Aden said with awe. I passed him the ball, and his tiny body TRIED to copy, but the ball was just too big. Aden pouted at me.

“I bet you can do this one,” I said, bouncing the ball high, spinning around and then catching the ball.

I passed the ball back to Aden and he successfully mimicked my actions.

“Okay, so you’re pretty good, BUT, can you do this?” I did a variation of dribbling behind my back, between my legs, with both hands, spinning, and any and all trick I could think of, while Aden’s eyes became the size of saucers. He leaned so far forward with awe that he actually tumbled onto his belly.

I laughed and helped him right himself.

“How long ‘til I can do that?” he asked.

“Well, if you practice EVERY DAY, you’ll be able to do it in NO time,” I said, ruffling his hair. Aden beamed at me in response.

“Is the Commander showing off again?” Clarke called from behind me, holding Octavia on her hip, her hair braided similarly to mine.

“Nuh-uh, she was showing me how I can be just like her!” Aden said proudly.

“I want to be like Lexa!” Octavia pouted and crossed her arms dramatically.

“What’s a Commander?” Aden asked.

Clarke laughed, and I rolled my eyes at my heart for fluttering. “That’s what I call Lexa when she plays basketball, because she’s really good and people listen to her on the court.”

“How come?” Octavia asked.

“Well,” Clarke said, setting her down so she could run to the free basketball. “She practices really hard, and helps her teammates get better by helping them practice, too.”

“I want to be a Commander!” Aden yelled.

“I want to be a Commander too!” Octavia yelled even louder.

They looked at each other and then both took off toward me, barrelling into my legs.

“Lexa, I want to be Commander!” they both said at once, tugging on my shorts.

Clarke laughed and I sent her a pleading look to help me.

“You guys can BOTH be Commanders of your basketball teams.”

“Really?” Aden asked, looking at me for confirmation.

“Really,” I said. “What did Clarke say that a Commander did?”

“Help their teammates! And and and practice hard!” Octavia yelled.

“Exactly!” I said with WAY too much enthusiasm (damnit, Clarke).

Aden let go of me first, walking over to his ball and beginning the dribbling drills I had shown him earlier.

Octavia looked between Clarke and I before detaching herself as well.

“You’re both so PRETTY,” she said, completely confounded by the concept. I chuckled. She walked over to her basketball and began copying Aden’s movements, and after an entire summer of begging and pleading with six-year olds, I finally felt like I had accomplished something, thanks to Clarke.

We played a game of three on one, Clarke, Aden and Octavia on one team, myself on the other, until Luna arrived for Aden. She was without her cousin, who I had had quite a few conversations with over the summer, albeit short and sweet with Aden vying for her attention. She was really sweet and always gave me a warm smile when she was leaving, and I felt a little swoop in my stomach and my cheeks would warm whenever she would wink at me. It was weird.

Bellamy came to pick up Octavia and instantly puffed out his chest when he saw Clarke.

“Clarke?” He said, his voice hoarse as though he hadn’t been expecting to see her so soon.

“Bellamy!” Octavia yelled, running to her brother.

“Hey, O,” he said with a groan as he picked her up. “Did you get even BIGGER since I saw you last?” he asked, eliciting a giggle from his little sister.

“Bellamy, I’m gonna be a Commander like Lexa,” Octavia said with adoration. It was actually, really cute (not that I would EVER admit that).

“Oh yeah?” he asked, looking at me with silent question. I could see how much it physically pained him to not take a jab at me then and there. We were working on the civility.

“Yeah! I’m gonna be the Commander of my basketball team!”

“Octavia, only boys are Commanders,” Bellamy corrected.

“Actually, ‘Commander’ is a gender-neutral term, and you should probably NOT be telling your little sister that she can’t be something because she’s a girl,” I snapped.

Okay, so ‘civil’ was a loose term.

Bellamy rolled his eyes and I did the same.

Clarke chose that moment to sidle up to us.

“Hey,” she said, bumping my hip slightly. I saw the moment Bellamy registered her presence, his chest puffing up.

“Hey,” he said with a soft smile.

“Hi Bell. How was your summer?”

“It was great! How was yours? You, like, disappeared!”

Clarke shrugged her shoulders. “Not really. I went to New York.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t talk to anyone while you were gone!” he complained. I could hear the ‘you didn’t talk to ME’ in his words.

Clarke shrugged again.

“Anyway, it was great to see you before school starts. Maybe we can hang out before then?” he asked with a touch of pleading.

Clarke smiled sweetly at him. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to do to get ready for the year. I’ll text you if I’m free, okay?”

Bellamy’s smile faltered for a second before he nodded and dopily smiled at Clarke.

Clarke smiled at him, and then at Octavia, wishing her a good evening.

I spun and marched over to the ball basket in an attempt to control my flaring jealousy.

She was my best friend, damnit.

“I didn’t realize he had a little sister. She’s so cute!” Clarke exclaimed.

“Yeah,” I said curtly.

“Hey, Commander,” Clarke said, grabbing a ball out of the bin. I raised my eyes to look at her and honestly wish I hadn’t. She had the most seductive smirk on her face and I don’t even think she realized she was doing it. This was not helping.

“Wanna play a little one on one?” she asked.

No, she DEFINITELY didn’t know she was doing it.

I nodded dumbly and followed her to the court. Clarke’s shorts seemed to get shorter with every step.

Clarke was actually getting pretty good with the near-constant HORSE games we played last year. Apparently she continued to practice while she was away for summer vacation.

Every time she scored, she wiggled in the cutest way, fist pumping wildly, and then crashed into me for a celebratory hug. At first, I had let her score, but when she went up by six baskets I started to panic.

She was getting REALLY good.

I lost. By a lot. I should have been embarrassed, but I wasn’t. Why? Because Clarke kissed me on the cheek when she said, “nice game,” and I am pretty sure my shoes melted into the floor.

It was official. I was a gay puddle for my best friend.

This was bad.

Chapter Text

Sophomore year started with a series of fist bumps from my teammates as they made their way to class, and Echo being… well, Echo.

It was weird to admit that I was actually happy to be back.

“Yo, Commander, how was your summer?” Echo asked, sliding up next to me in the hallway.

“It was good!” I said, glancing over at Clarke talking to Raven. She caught my eye almost immediately and winked, causing a smile to find its way to my face. I couldn’t NOT smile whenever Clarke looked at me.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I heard Roan calling me useless, but I didn’t care.

Echo, of course, noticed and let out a low whistle. She laughed and clapped my shoulder. “Welcome to the family.”

What?

I laughed, pretending to know what in the world Echo was talking about. “How was your summer?”

Echo shrugged. “Same old same. Hung out with Lady Lu and Cos the the whole time. Costia wouldn't shut up about you, by the way. Hey babe!” Echo called as Luna made her way over.

‘Babe’? Did I miss something?

“Hey baby,” Luna said, leaning over to give Echo a chaste kiss.

I know for a fact that my eyes bulged at that.

“Hey Lex,” Luna greeted, a slight pink blush to her cheeks. This was clearly a new development. “What's up?”

“Umm, uhh, I--”

“I was just telling Lex how Costia wouldn’t shut up about her all summer,” Echo supplied for my stuttering mess. I was still trying to catch up to the fact that they were holding hands and being all girlfriend-y.

What?

Luna let out a bark of a laugh. “Yeah, seriously, it was Lexa this, Lexa that, Lexa, Lexa, Lexa.” Her subsequent eye roll had me blushing redder than I thought possible. “I'm starting to think she -- Oh, hey Clarke.” My eyes widened further (which I didn't think was possible) and I spun around to meet my favourite pair of blues and her Latina friend behind us. My blush intensified. This was all too much to process.

“Hi?” Clarke said unsurely. “I didn't realize you actually knew my name.” Clarke furrowed her brow at the thought and glanced over at Luna and Echo's interlocked hands. Not even fazed by it, she gave them both the Clarke Griffin smirk that I was so head over heels for.

“Everyone knows your name, Clarke. You’re a cheerleader,” I answered.

“Yeah, yeah, but everyone knows you're the commander.” She put her arm around my shoulder while the group chuckled.

“Yeah, Lexa is terrifying on the court,” Raven added. She looked me over, pursing her red lips. “Kind of looks like a puppy outside of it though.” She shrugged while everyone else agreed and I felt offended.

“I am NOT a puppy!” I cried.

“You kind of are,” Roan chirped, sliding in next to Raven. I didn't miss the slight flush to his cheeks at the proximity, or the way he darted his eyes over at her and gave her a small smile.

I would SO be questioning him about that later.

Raven gave him a smirk and a wink, and I'm sure that my best friend was having a mini heart attack if the way his cheeks flushed was anything to go by.

“Alright alright, let's leave the poor girl alone. So who couldn't get your name out of their mouth all summer? What did I miss?” Clarke sent me a devious smirk.

Luna and Echo looked at each other, then to me for consent, to which I just shrugged. “Oh, umm, my cousin Costia.”

“Costia Greene is your cousin?” Clarke asked. Luna quirked a brow. “We had art together last semester. How do you know her, Lex?” Clarke furrowed her brows, her smirk falling momentarily before she swallowed, then stood taller and smiled at me. It felt forced and I didn't understand why.

I shrugged. “I met her during the summer. She's really sweet.”

“Sweet, right, right,” Clarke said, nodding, her eyes darting to the ground quickly before that forced smile was back on her face.

What was wrong?

I looked to Roan for help, but he was sharing a look with Raven and the rest of the group.

I clearly missed something. “Yeah… she's a nice girl. Where is she, Luna?”

Roan rolled his eyes at me, Raven scoffed, Echo cringed and Clarke's cheeks flushed.

What the hell was going on?

“Who do you have first period?” Luna asked rather loudly, eyes wide, ignoring my question and diverting the conversation to a different direction. I was grateful for it, not knowing why everyone had suddenly gotten so awkward.

I looked down at my schedule and groaned.

“Pike. I am NEVER going to get away from him.”

Clarke patted my shoulder with faux sympathy while I groaned again. “I don't envy you in the slightest. I have AP biology with Wick.” Her nose scrunched in distaste. “Too much thinking in the morning.”

“I completely agree,” Roan said. He sounded like he was still half asleep, his voice thick and gravelly.

“He's no so bad,” Raven commented off handedly. “Just mention my name, big boy, he'll love you. I was his prize pupil.” She winked at Roan and I had to stifle a laugh at his reddening cheeks.

“You nearly blew up the lab,” Echo commented.

“NEARLY is the key word there,” Raven quipped back.

While it devolved into a childish argument, I leaned into Clarke's shoulder and squeezed her hand. She was standing somewhat stiffly when I leaned in, and my heart hammered in my chest. What the heck was going on?

“I missed you,” I whispered.

It had the intended effect as she melted into me. She turned and hit me with that grin I adored, and I gave her a small smile back while my heart exploded in my chest.

“I missed you too,” she said. Her eyes were shining and I had to physically stop myself from swooning on the spot. I had almost forgotten what her smile did to me. I was sure I was staring at her like a dope, like the entire world had vanished (which it felt like it had).

Clarke sucked in a breath  shoulders tightening against me and said, “You never mentioned --”

Roan snapped his fingers in my face I almost shrieked.

“It looks like you’re with me, Blondie. Try not to be too jealous, Lex,” he interrupted, flipping his hair out of his eyes and giving me a suggestive eyebrow raise.

“Fuck off,” I snapped, pulling Clarke slightly closer to me. She didn’t resist, leaning her weight against my side and giggling. “Please, please, KEEP fighting over me you two,” she joked.

Before I could respond, the bell rang. Clarke kissed me on the cheek (AGAIN!) and Roan punched me in the arm before we all separated to go to our respective classes.

*

I got an ' SOS’ text from Clarke and nearly threw up at the sight of it. Of course, Pike gave me a hard time when I asked to be excused, and I ended up announcing, quite loudly, that I had gotten my period and needed to go to the bathroom before I leaked all over the floor. The colour green that his face turned was enough to make the mortification worth it.

Real intimidating, afraid of a little period blood.

When I found her at my locker, her stormy blue eyes were shining with unshed tears. Her arms were crossed over her chest as she leaned back against my locker.

“Clarke? What's --”

“Can I have your hoodie please?”

“Clarke, what's wrong?” I questioned.

“Please, Lexa,” she asked again, dropping her arms to her side. Her voice cracked as she fought back her emotions. My stomach bottomed out in an unpleasant way.

I took off my hoodie and handed it over as quickly as possible. Clarke gave me a small smile when she slipped her arms through it, ducking her face into the collar and wrapping her arms around herself again.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

I took a step forward. “Tell me what's wrong.”

“Later, okay?”

I nodded. She stepped into me and buried her head in my neck, her arms wrapped around my waist. I was utterly confused, but I knew Clarke would tell me on her own time.

After a longer than probably friendly hug, Clarke pulled back and gave me a cheeky grin.

“You're welcome for getting you away from Pike for a bit.” I laughed at her sudden change in disposition. If it made her feel better to ignore it, then I'd ignore it… for now.

“Yeah, I just had to announce to the class that my period was leaking through my pants to get to you.”

“Oh my God, Lexa, I'm so sorry.”

“Don't be,” I shushed. “SOS means SOS. I'm always here for you, Clarke.”

A soft smile and eyes that said something I didn't really understand was my response. Oh, and a kiss on the cheek of course. I tried to pretend that I wasn't thrilled about that.

*

Second period was great. My two favourite people were in it. It was great, fantastic even. And then Costia walked in and I felt my stomach swoop when she caught me staring at her legs and smiled at me and everything didn't feel so great. Suddenly, my heart was beating much too quickly. She was wearing skinny jeans, ripped in all the right places, and an oversized simple white shirt. Her hair was a mass of curls as always, and her blue eyes were piercing with the way she wore her makeup.

Damn. Between her in THAT, and Clarke wearing  that red lipstick that always made my heart skip; painted on black jeans and combat boots; eyes  done with that winged eyeliner that just… made me… forget… she was just so pretty. They were BOTH so pretty. How was I ever going to survive this class?

God. I could feel the heat creeping up my neck and the low pull in my stomach at the thought of BOTH of them.

Jesus, hormones.

Costia gestured to the seat next to Roan, who eyed her skeptically. “Do you mind if I sit here?” She gave him a sweet smile, and Roan opened his mouth, surely to say something rude, and I said a bit more forcefully than necessary. “No, Costia, please sit.” I was aiming for nonchalance, but my voice cracked over her name and I could feel the pools of sweat gathering in my palms.

Roan turned in his chair and glared at me. I could feel the beads of sweat on my neck at the sudden feeling of unease. I smiled back at him instead.

Clarke coughed, drawing me from my sudden staring contest. “Clarke, hey,” Costia, who was intently watching me, greeted Clarke with that bright smile she seemed to light the whole room up with. “I'm so glad you're in this class too!”

“Costia, hey,” Clarke responded. She didn't smile quite as brightly. Maybe she and Costia weren't friends. Clarke DID manage to know everyone in this school. That seemed ridiculous, because Clarke and Costia were the two sweetest girls I had met so far.

“I should have known you and Lexa would be friends,” she said sweetly.

“What's THAT supposed to mean?” Roan snapped. I've always loved Roan for being so defensive over me when I was getting beat up all the time, or being made fun of for being 'that kid’, but Costia was Costia. She was nice.

Costia just breathed a laugh and looked at him plainly. “I've been in class with Clarke. She's amazing, and I figured she'd only hang with amazing people. I met Lexa during the summer, and she's pretty fantastic, don't you think?” She gave Roan the sweetest smile, to which he furrowed his brow. His jaw fell open and I think he actually was speechless.

Okay, no, there was no way Clarke and Costia weren't at least civil.

“Thank you,” I said politely. Costia smiled at me. I flushed and diverted my gaze to Clarke as she sketched in her notebook.

“Clarke's my best friend,” I piped up, finally. Clarke paused, swallowed, and glanced up at me quickly with a small smile that I returned with a wink.

When I glanced over at Costia again, she was smiling warmly at us both, but her eyes were searching for something I couldn't tell as they darted between Clarke and I. She pushed her glasses up further on her face and turned to Roan, instantly engaging him in conversation until the bell rang.

“She's beautiful,” Clarke said. She wouldnt look away from her drawing, so I turned to look at the person she was talking about.

“Yeah,” I breathed.

Clarke put her pencil down and looked at me for a long moment before sending me a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. When I furrowed my brow in question, she just shook me off and went back to drawing in her notebook.

*

At lunch, Clarke seemed to cave in on herself, pulling the hoodie she wore tighter around her shoulders. She hardly talked, and when Roan tried to sass her in order to bring her out of her mood, she just smiled softly at him and continued to eat. Roan and I shared a worried look and I shifted a little closer to Clarke as we ate.

Two players from the football team decided to stop by our table halfway during the lunch period. Roan openly rolled his eyes and I internally groaned.

“Hey Clarke,” Dax said. Dax was tall with sandy blonde hair and very prominent cheekbones. He looked so much older than he actually was, and his gruff voice made him look like all the bullies in my nightmares.

Clarke looked up from her salad, tilting her head to the side.

“Dax, Atom,” she greeted.

They smiled at her in a way that could ONLY be described as creepy.

“So, uh, why aren’t you sitting with the rest of the cheerleaders? With us?” Atom asked. He was tall and lanky, his brown hair sticking straight up to make him appear even lankier, and the five o'clock shadow he somehow managed to develop was off-putting (could be because of the way he stared at Clarke, but I won’t admit that).

Clarke shrugged. “You mean like I didn't do last year either?”

Dax gave her a sly smirk. “Yeah, but last year was,” he creepily licked his lips, eyeing Clarke, “different.” Clarke's grip on my arm tightened as I prepared to lunge for his throat. She sent me a warning look, and I pretty much pouted in my seat. “So Atom and I were wondering if you were busy after school?”

“I have cheerleading practice,” Clarke answered. She raised her brow at the boys, and Roan narrowed his eyes, his grip on the plastic knife in his hand tightening. Clarke wasn't physically holding him back, but the tension in her shoulders was enough for him to stay put.

“Yeah, we mean after,” Atom clarified. “Maybe we could give you a ride home?” The look in his eyes made my stomach turn. He and Dax both looked… hungry. Dax even licked his lips again while he was looking down at Clarke.

Clarke adjusted her hoodie, zipping it up even more and it became clear to me what they were interested in. Suddenly, her 'SOS’ text made so much sense. I started to see red.

Bellamy Blake suddenly appeared, clapping his hands on both Dax and Atom’s shoulders before I ripped my arm away from Clarke and drove my fist into their faces. The anger in Bellamy’s eyes was clear as day, causing Atom and Dax to both turn a shade of white I hadn't seen before.

The grip of Bellamy’s fingers on their shoulders turned white-knuckled, and Dax coughed awkwardly, looking at Bellamy with a sheepish smile.

“I think it's time you both left,” he said lowly. The authority in his voice left no room for question. “I don’t think she's interested. Are you, Clarke?” Bellamy said, looking over at the blonde.

Clarke shifted closer to me, shaking her head.

Bellamy gave the boys a tight smile, then shoved them in the direction of the football table.

“Sorry about them, Clarke,” Bellamy said, his eyes and voice instantly softening. “They like to think a little too much with the wrong head.”

The grip on Roan’s plastic knife continued to tighten until the utensil snapped. He was still glaring at Bellamy, who tried hard to ignore him.

“Thanks, Bell,” Clarke said quietly.

Bellamy nodded to her, then looked to the rest of us. He and Roan stared each other down for a moment before Bellamy turned to leave, putting his hand on Clarke’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about them. I’ll be sure to take care of it, okay?”

Clarke just nodded, swallowing thickly, and scooted further into me. I felt like I couldn't breathe from the anger that was suffocating me  but the warmth of Clarke's hand on my forearm was enough to stop me from moving.

We spent the rest of the lunch period with her head on my shoulder and Roan eating brussel sprouts to make Clarke laugh.

*

I found myself alone in fifth period. I was supposed to be with Roan, but he had somehow managed to not show up to class. I knew he hated English, but I wasn’t about to let his dumb ass fail the class because of a lack of attendance.

I asked Miss Santos to go to the bathroom and excused myself when she nodded in my direction.

I wandered the halls, finally catching sight of the stupidly long hair of my best friend as he rounded the corner to exit the building.

Naturally, as all best friends do, I followed him, foregoing calling out his name in case there were any teachers not teaching and we're so inclined to do their jobs thoroughly from the start.

I furrowed my brow when I realized that Roan was walking toward the smokers pit just off school property.

What the hell? The only people that hung out there were the stoners, like Jasper Jordan and Monty Green; and the assholes like John Murphy, Cage Wallace, Emerson and Lorelei. She had completely given up on cheerleading last year, opting to ‘live her life and be the badass she was meant to be’, according to Clarke.

What in the world was Roan doing over there?

Roan fist bumped them all, taking a seat on the low brick wall separating the sidewalk from the ‘pit’. He took out a pack of something, tapping it against his palm. He opened it and removed a cigarette, and I nearly ran at him to knock the stupid thing out of his hands.

Instead, shaking my head, I marched over to the group with my back straight and my head held high. I needed to collect my thoughts before I pummelled my best friend.

When they spotted me, Jasper sent me a dopey smile and both Cage and Murphy rolled their eyes. Lorelei was hanging off of Cage like a spider-monkey, apparently in her own world.

“Po-Po,” Cage greeted, and Roan’s eyes darted up to see what he was talking about. He rolled his eyes when they met mine.

“Lexa.”

“Roan. Can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked, my fists tightly clenched behind my back.

Jasper made the typical, “oooh-ing” noise, to which I sent him a sharp glare and Monty smacked his arm. He inhaled the smoke he was holding in his mouth and coughed out a fit, and Cage and Emerson laughed. Roan huffed out a breath but stood nonetheless, mumbling something to them before he followed me.

When we were far enough away from the group of delinquents I turned on Roan.

“What the fuck?” I asked, smacking the cigarette out of his mouth.

Roan pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow at me as he removed another cigarette from his mouth and lit it. He blew out a puff of smoke while I impatiently waited for his explanation with crossed arms and my nostrils flaring in irritation.

“What do you want me to say?” Roan asked. I nearly slapped him. “I enjoy it.”

“No one ENJOYS smoking, Roan. You do it to become cool and then you get addicted and then ten years from now you’re going to be the loser that's always outside while the rest of us are inside!” I reasoned.

“Ten years from no who knows where I’ll be.” Roan shrugged.

“What does that mean? Is this why your voice is all messed up lately?” I asked.

“It means that I don’t CARE that I’ll be a loner in ten years. Not sure if you’ve noticed Lex, but we’re loners NOW.”

“We’re NOT loners. You have me and Anya and Clarke!” I said. “And don't think I haven't seen the way you look at Raven!”

“No, YOU have Clarke. I work, that's where I make friends. My friends smoke. What’s the big deal? And Raven isn't my friend, so don't even try that.” Roan’s eyes were a cool shade of blue while he spoke so flippantly about our friends.

“Clarke is OUR friend. Don’t be a dickhead just because you can. I’m YOUR friend and I don’t smoke. Is this why you’ve been working so much? So you can afford this shit? Roan it's a WASTE OF MONEY! You know, that thing WE DON'T HAVE!” I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated as Roan acted like an ass. My breathing was starting to pick up, my fingernails biting into my palms as I tried to reason with my best friend.

He shrugged. “I don't work to afford these, but they come in handy while I’m working. Listen, superstar, I don’t have any fancy scholarship or NBA offer or anything coming my way anytime soon. Can you just fuck off and let me do my thing? It’s MY lungs, not yours.”

I shook my head. “This is stupid, Roan, and you know it. You’re hurting yourself for no reason.”

“Seems like I’m just doing what my family does best.” Roan shrugged.

My heart squeezed painfully in my chest and I faltered in my rant. Is this what it was about? “Roan…”

“Leave it, Lexa. Things are getting better for me. I’m working, I’m making money, just leave me alone, alright? Let me do this.” I could hear him cracking with every word.

“Do you REALLY want to be friends with Cage Wallace? Monty I understand. Fuck, even Jasper I get, but Cage and Lorelei?” I couldn’t hide the venom in my tone as I glared at the two over Roan’s shoulders.

Roan chuckled, turning to follow my gaze. Lorelei and Cage didn’t even seem to notice.

“Cage and I have come to an…. understanding, if you will,” Roan said. I furrowed my brow and Roan just shrugged. “I’m definitely NOT his friend, though, don’t worry.”

I breathed in deeply, holding it in my chest while I tried to sort my thoughts.

“Just, promise me you’ll stop skipping class to do this,” I asked, my voice wavering slightly.

Roan dropped the butt of the cigarette on the ground, stepping on it to put it out. “I promise… starting tomorrow,” he said with a cheeky smile. “Now get back to class and take notes. The WNBA won’t take you if you’re a dumbass.”

*

All day, Clarke had managed to draw attention to herself. There was pubescent boy after pubescent boy vying for her attention, and it was becoming rather… annoying. By the time the final bell rang, Clarke had pretty much pulled my arm off in her haste to get me to follow her to cheerleading practice. The football team was lingering about and Dax and Atom were shoved around by Bellamy and another floppy haired boy more than once when they lewdly gestured to the cheerleaders. Raven gestured lewdly right back, but Clarke? Clarke seemed to shut down with the attention.

Practice finally let out (I wasn't sure if I could see Clarke do any more flips in her short skirt, honestly), and I followed a stomping Clarke to the bike rack.

When she bent forward to unlock her bike from mine, a few cat-calls had her cheeks flushing and tears springing to her eyes. I glared in the direction of the noise. Before I could make a move, Clarke was roughly grabbing my wrist. “Don't,” she barked. I froze.

“Roan is going to meet us at your place,” I said gently after clearing my throat. I started wedging myself in front of her when she dropped my arm to forcefully pull at the locks. This had gone on long enough, I missed my Clarke.

My Clarke? Shit. I missed Clarke. She wasn't mine (but I wished for it).

“Sure.” She yanked on the lock, not even attempting to put in the code to unlock it. I cringed.

“Clarke.”

“Lexa.” she didn't look up. She yanked at the lock again. I heard the cheap plastic start to crack. It was going to need some duct tape when I got home.

“Clarke,” I said softly again, still shimmying my way between her and our bikes.

“What?!” she snapped, throwing her hands in the air as she couldn't get the bike lock off.

I gave her a soft smile when I finally got between her and the bikes while she glared at me. Her blue eyes felt like ice as she tried to bore a hole in my head. Regardless, I didn't move. I knew Clarke too well.

“I want to LEAVE, Lexa. MOVE!”

She half heartedly pushed at my shoulder, and I wrapped my hands around the collar of the hoodie and pulled her body against mine. I leaned my forehead against hers and ran my hands down her overly tense shoulders. Clarke closed her eyes and didn't even attempt to pull away. After a solid minute of feeling like I was going to be permanently cross-eyed while trying to see if she was okay, Clarke opened her eyes and released a shaky breath, the tension melting from her shoulders.

I wasn't thinking about how close we were or how my lungs felt like they couldn't expand, or just how AWKWARD I felt. All I could think about was that my best friend was upset about something and I needed her to relax. I needed to get her out of here and to the safety of her home so she could tell me what was wrong.

“You're going to break my bike,” I said softly.

Seriously? That's the best I could come up with? Thank God I wasn't a counselor.

Clarke huffed out a laugh, and we stood there silently, foreheads pressed together while she took a few more deep breaths. (I was smart enough to close my eyes for this round so I wouldn't get smacked around by the ocean blues or give myself a headache from the angle).

“Sorry,” she whispered, and I shook my head against hers.

“Nothing to apologize for. You okay?” I opened my eyes and (not literally, but it totally felt that way) went completely cross-eyed to see the stormy blue ones I adored. Gone was the icy glare, replaced by a depth of blue that spoke of too many emotions and not enough strength to deal with it alone. She shook her head 'no’. I smiled at her, pulled her closer and ran my hands along her spine, trying to give her whatever strength I had. After another few minutes of Clarke letting out shaky breath after shaky breath (and me trying DESPERATELY to keep it all together) her breathing evened out.  

“You ready to go?” I whispered.

She nodded against my shoulder.

My heart beat wildly in my chest. Being that close to Clarke was intoxicating and dizzying and all things it needed not be. She was my best friend, and upset, and I felt guilty that I was having a gay panic over our proximity while she was struggling with something. What the hell was wrong with me?

*

“God, I hate these things,” she said as she squished down her cheerleading top.

I was sitting on her bed while she was changing out of her uniform, trying my best to not pay attention to the fact that my best friend was presently shirtless in her room, while I sat in her bed. This could spell disaster if her mother walked in. She hated me without the added pressure of her teenage daughter not wearing a top around me.

“I can’t even cheer properly anymore!” she complained.

“How so?” I asked, flicking through a magazine with practiced calm. I was literally ANYTHING but calm. I glanced over at her when she didn't answer.

Clarke turned around in just a sports bra and I actually felt the heat hit the bottom of my spine. I immediately dropped my gaze to the magazine again.

“Because these sisters are HUGE! I practically hit myself in the chin every single time I jump!”

Oh, God. Visuals.

I blinked hard and shook my head, disguising my hormonal freak out behind a laugh. “I highly doubt that’s true, Clarke,” I said.

“It is!” She waved her hands in the air. “They literally move every time I breathe!”

I couldn’t stop the laughter from escaping my chest. The way she was carrying on about this would have been hilarious if I hadn’t known how much it upset her. Still, though, there was an air of playfulness to her tone when she complained about them to me.

“They hurt my back. They’re heavy. I feel like I need to walk around with two supports under them now.”

“You mean, like a bra?” I asked, looking up.

Clarke rolled her eyes at me and cupped her chest through her sports bra.

My heart stopped beating. Why did I look up? I dropped my eyes to the comforter.

Roan chose that EXACT moment to walk in. “I saw the pizza guy on the way in so i just grabbed it and yeah, so pizza’s here-- Oh my God, Clarke!” His voice hit a pitch higher than before he had hit puberty.

His cheeks burned red, and although afterwards I would find this funny, I was presently mortified by the entire situation.

Clarke squeaked, turning around, and I glared at Roan.

“I SERIOUSLY need to get more guy friends!” he complained, putting the pizza on the bed.

“Nice to see you, Clarke -- I MEAN, Oh my God, oh my God. I’m leaving. It was nice to -- no, you know what? I’m just gonna -- holy shi --,”

“Goodbye, Roan!” I yelled a little louder than necessary, my eyebrows in my hairline.

This was quickly spiraling from bad to worse.

After Roan left, I heard Clarke sniffle from beside the bed. I looked up, and she was staring down at her chest, a lone tear straying down her face.

“Lexa?” she asked in a voice just above a whisper.

“Clarke,” I said, scooting over to the edge of the bed. Clarke looked at me and I dropped my eyes to the floor.

I didn’t know what to do.

“Why won’t you look at me?”

“Umm, because you don’t have a shirt on?” I responded awkwardly. I could feel my cheeks burning.

“So?”

“Clarke.”

“Fine, fine. I just… I think they’re TOO big. I feel fat when I wear a normal shirt. It makes everything else look weird,” she said, her tone returning back to normal. She let go of my hand to put my hoodie on and zip it up, wiping the sudden tears from her cheeks with the sleeves.

She sat beside me on the mattress and I pulled on the hoodie until she leaned her head on my shoulder. I let out a silent breath, having to have held it prior to this so that I could keep my hormonal self in check.

“You know, normal teenage girls would love to have this problem, Clarke,” I said.

“Yeah, well, I’m not a NORMAL teenage girl,” she retorted.

“No, you’re definitely not,” I said quietly. It was a compliment, but I wasn't sure if she knew that. I leaned my head on top of hers, letting the silence linger between us. “You’re beautiful. You were beautiful before, and you’re beautiful NOW. We’re teenagers, our bodies are bound to change, but it doesn’t make you any less beautiful.”

“I know,” she huffed. She ran her fingers along the back of my hand.

I wanted to believe that I had become desensitized to her touch, that I didn’t feel my heart in my throat every time she touched me or leaned into me, but I can’t. Everything about Clarke was electric, and everything about me was a puddle of emotions. It was as though I could feel everything violently as she barely moves her fingers along my skin.

“It just freaks me out how much attention I'm getting only because of them,” she admitted. “The boys are… they're saying things I don't want to know.. or hear.. it's just.. it's not the kind of attention I'd EVER be looking for.” She groaned at her inability to explain herself.

I nodded against her head. “I think… I think what they're doing is wrong if it's making you uncomfortable. I know you would have gotten attention before the two sisters made their appearance, Clarke, and I'm sorry that the way they're approaching you is in such a--” I waved my hand flippantly. “--way. You deserve better than that. I will literally kick the next person's ass to treat you in any way that upsets you, okay?”

“Why do you think that? That I'd have gotten attention regardless?” she asked, tone heavy with insecurities. “I mean -- I'm not Costia Greene,” she huffed.

“Costia?”

“Yeah. She's so beautiful. She had Roan speechless. ROAN. And she's so -- with you she's  like -- It just… it sucks that all I've gotten to compete with her are Carmen and Lolita.”

“Carmen and Lolita?”

She gestured to her chest, eliciting a hard bark of laughter from me.

“Seriously though, you don't see ME competing with Costia, do you?”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “That's because that wouldn't make any sense.” Her words were tinged with a bitterness I hadn't heard before.

I felt a stab of hurt at the comment. My face must have shown that because Clarke was quick to explain, “Remember the whole 'hottest girl in town’ thing? I knew Costia last year, Lexa, your title is firmly in place.”

I ignored the heat creeping up my neck. Clarke thought I was hot. Legitimately. It stung knowing it was not the way I wanted it, but a compliment was a compliment. “So what's changed now? Why are you so… I dunno, intimidated by her?” I asked, trying hard not to dwell on it too much.

“What's changed is that YOU think the second hottest girl in town is pretty.”

I swallowed thickly. I wasn't going to lie to Clarke about the fact that I thought Costia was pretty. I'd have to be blind not to think that. I wasn't going to admit to thinking of Costia in some sort of ranking system either. Everyone was beautiful in their own way, and no one was moreso than Clarke. I couldn't rank anyone -- they'd all lose.

Clarke flipped my hand over and laced our fingers together. She was my best friend, and I had a wildly ridiculous crush on her. Maybe I could use it to help me find the words I wouldn't ACTUALLY be able to say to her under those circumstances, but maybe I could make her feel better about herself now. “You're special, Clarke. More special than you even know. You don't need to compete with anyone. You're beautiful and brave; sincere and sweet; charming and charismatic; funny and fit. Remember, your ass is out of this world, and apparently now your sisters are too.” I brought her fingers up to my mouth and kissed it quickly with a smile, subconsciously sending my moment of bravery to Clarke. “Anyone allowed to be in your life is a really lucky person. It's not a competition. It never was.”

Clarke stared at me for a LONG minute. I could feel my heart beating harder as she didn't respond.

Maybe I had said too much.

Finally, after way too long, a small smirk appeared on her lips. “Did you just practice your alliteration while complimenting me?”

“So what if I did?”

Clarke laughed loudly. “Still, though, Costia is SO pretty.”

“I just don't get who you're in competition with over? Do they know? I feel like you're blowing this way out of proportion, Clarke. You're both beautiful.” I was exhausted with this conversation by this point.

“So you admit you think she's pretty.”

I spluttered, waving my free hand fruitlessly in the air. My cheeks turned a dark shade of red while my brain melted at the thought of where this conversation was headed. “I mean, yeah, obviously -- like, she's -- I mean, why are you asking?”

Clarke barked out a laugh, warm and full. “God, you're so cute when you're flustered! You should have seen your face!”

I scowled at her.

Was she trying to call me out? What would that mean if she knew I liked girls? I just saw her without a shirt. Would she freak out and kick me out? What if she couldn't be my friend anymore because of it? No, that couldn't be it. Clarke was fine with Luna and Echo. She didn't even bat an eye at them holding hands earlier. Clarke was amazing, she would never be upset with me for that. And what about Costia? Was she hinting that Costia was gay? Did Costia like me? That couldn't be possible either… could it? My head was spinning with questions.

Clarke sighed heavily, leaning her head back on my shoulder and playing with my fingertips, which were now numb from the pure panic of thinking that Clarke was calling me out. I was still trying to regain some semblance of composure when she spoke. “You always make me feel better, you know that? I'm so lucky you're you.”

I turned and smiled into her hair, gripping her hand. “Yeah. You are.”

Clarke reared back and hit me with a pillow, but before I could retaliate she grabbed the pizza box that was still sitting at the end of the bed.

“You wouldn't bite the hand that feeds you, would you?” the twinkle in her eye left me speechless. It was these moments, THESE moments where Clarke's beauty shone through. Insignificant moments where her nose crinkled and her eyes lit up with laughter. Moments where her laugh was loud and full. Clarke had no idea how beautiful she was.

I sighed, both in defeat in the pillow fight and at my own heart for filling with warmth at her smile. How could this girl think she was anything but beautiful?

Chapter Text

“Okay, I need you to explain this to me,” Roan said as we rode home. I let him ride my bike while I stood on the spokes Jake had so graciously added (more like Roan shoved me off the seat and into the grass before demanding that he rode it).

“What?”

“You and Clarke…” he trailed off.

“What about us?”

Roan looked at me skeptically.

“There is no ‘me and Clarke’, Roan,” I sighed. “Pretty sure you’d be the first person I’d tell if that was the case.”

Roan laughed. “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously, why?”

Roan skid to a stop at the crosswalk and I nearly fell over the front of the bike. I scowled at him and maybe, possibly, completely on purpose, pulled his stupidly long hair to stop myself from falling forward.

“You know she likes you, right?”

I didn’t regret pulling his hair for a second. “No, she definitely does not.”

Roan just blinked at me.

“She’s my best friend Roan. Not sure if you noticed that.”

“Oh, I’ve noticed. So has literally everyone else in the school. The only person who hasn’t noticed is you, you idiot.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Seriously, though,” he turned in the seat to look at me. I jumped off the bike to give myself some distance from him. “You don’t see her being all touchy-feely with anyone else. She’s never kissed me on the cheek ever. She freaked out when I walked in on you two yesterday --”

“That's because you’re a boy!”

“What does gender have to do with this?” he snarled.

I threw my hands up in the air as I paced back and forth in front of him. “Nothing, but Clarke likes boys, so that’s why she freaked out. Every single time we’ve talked about kissing someone she’s always referred to that ‘someone’ as a boy. She’s not.. She’s not into me!” I exclaimed. If the sound of being completely and utterly defeated snuck into my voice, Roan was nice enough to pretend not to notice.

Roan just blinked again. What an ass.

“Okay, umm, has she ever explicitly said she’s straight?”

“Well no, but --”

“Has she ever commented on a girl or woman before?”

“Well yes, but --”

“Has she ever commented YOU in that way?”

I thought back to the day before, and the ‘hottest girl in town’ comment. “Well, yes, BUT --”

“Are you for REAL, Lexa?” Roan shouted. He flipped his hair over his shoulder and ran his hands through it. “You can’t be that stupid.”

My blood boiled. I knew, KNEW Clarke didn’t feel that way about me. Clarke was as direct as they come. She ALWAYS told me the truth. The only times Clarke didn’t say anything was when she was upset and wanted to process things. I HIGHLY doubted this was one of those times. And if it was? If she was upset and needed to process her feelings for me? Then that in it of itself was enough of a reason to not say anything.

“Okay, let's say she DID like girls, that doesn’t mean she likes ME.” I pointed to my chest, the sudden burst of emotion making my voice crack. “Roan, how could I EVER be enough for her?”

“Lexa --”

“No, let’s live out this pipedream of yours,” I said angrily, pacing back and forth while rubbing my own arms for comfort. “Let’s say she DID like girls. Let’s say she was even stupid enough to like me. Where would that lead? Not very far. I can’t DO anything for Clarke. I’m not good enough for her and we both know it. Clarke is so amazing and kind and she’s used to a certain lifestyle, and as much as she’s okay with you and I being who we are, neither of us are DATING her. That’s an entirely different level. I’m not, and I never, EVER will be enough for her, Roan. You know it, and I know it. Now shut UP about this because I don’t want to hear it again. She’s my best FRIEND. I can’t lose her because I can’t keep my emotions in check.”

Roan bit the inside of his cheek and glared at me. “You can’t sit there and tell me that we need to think better of ourselves and that we’re worth something and then turn around and revoke that shit because the girl you like makes more money with her allowance than both our families combined.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“That’s exactly what I meant. You’re being a coward, Lexa.”

“If that's what it takes to keep Clarke in my life  then so be it. I can’t lose her, Roan. I can’t.” Tears forced their way from my eyes, and I didn’t try to stop them. “I just can’t.”

“What if she literally walked up to you and said, 'I love you, you big useless lesbian’?”

“Okay, first of all, fuck you. Clarke would never say that. Not like that. And SECONDLY, she wouldn't profess her love for me. She wouldn't. That's not how Clarke is.”

Roan huffed in irritation and acquiescence. “You’re an idiot.”

“I know,” I croaked, sniffing back the tears that seemed to keep falling. “I just want her to be happy.”

“But what if YOU make her happy?”

I scoffed.

He stood then, walking over to me and wrapping me in one of the rare hugs we shared. I was still clinging to my own arms as we stood there, still trying to comfort myself.

“You’re more than good enough for her. She knows that. So do I. But it won’t ever work with ANY girl if YOU don’t know that.”

“I still doubt she likes me,” I said when we detached. Roan groaned. “Like I said, it’s some kind of pipedream. She hasn’t once mentioned ever actually having feelings for me or any other woman, but has more than once talked about kissing boys. I’m just being logical. You haven’t spent as much time with her as I have.”

Roan rolled his eyes so hard I assumed he was going to ride them the rest of the way home. “Whatever you say. So what about Costia?” He walked back over to the bike and sat on the seat, turning to look at me with that Cheshire grin.

My stomach swooped. I wasn't sure if it was nerves or desire or what it was when I thought of Costia. Guilt? I couldn’t feel guilty -- Clarke and I were just friends.

“She’s really pretty,” I commented.

“Yeah, she is,” Roan agreed.

*

“I just don't see how you think that could be okay?” Clarke snapped.

“I think you're just being ridiculous.” I threw my hands up in the air. “You're not even WILLING to hear me out.”

“I don't need to hear you out when you're being illogical.”

“I'm not being 'illogical’,” I mocked. “Your own FATHER agrees with me.”

Clarke scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. I was momentarily distracted by the movement.

“You are.”

“You're driving me INSANE!” I yelled.

“Because I refuse to try pineapple on my pizza? Lexa, no. I think you're pretty close to being perfect, but I refuse… REFUSE to eat that.”

“I'm with Blondie,” Roan chirped from his seat in front of us. “You've always had some weird ass taste, Lex.”

“I agree with Lexa,” Costia chimed in. We shared a smile before Clarke scoffed loudly and rolled her eyes, mumbling “of course you do,” under her breath. I very lightly kicked her foot with my own and shot her a sideways glare.

“I appreciate your passion, Clarke,” Costia continued, completely unaware of me scolding my best friend. “I felt very similar to you not even two months ago. Luna forced me to try it over the summer and since then I've been hooked,” she shrugged, “and it's made me think that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge things. Who knows? I might actually enjoy things I've never tried before if I open up to them.”

Roan groaned loudly. “Can you stop with all the,” he gestured to her, “fucking perfectness. Where are your flaws?! What are you, an AI or something? Fuck!”

Costia managed to turn a red. “I'm not perfect,” she commented. “I do, in fact, hate brussel sprouts. And I am not athletic like Lexa, nor do I have the strength of a cheerleader, like Clarke.”

I barked out a laugh and Roan fell back dramatically in his chair.

“Costia, no!” Clarke cried. “You probably haven't had them prepared properly! You have got to try my dad's.”

Costia laughed, a light, airy sound that tickled my stomach.

“Yes, probably. It's just hard to justify spending money on them when I don't like them.”

“Here here!” Roan exclaimed.

Clarke sent me a look. I cleared my throat, knowing what she wanted me to say. “Actually, they're not bad if they're done right. I hated them too until Clarke had me try some that her dad prepared.”

Clarke winked at me and my stomach swooped. Being in class with these two was making my stomach hurt.

“How is your dad, anyway?” I asked quietly. Clarke shrugged, her entire body language shifting to that of discomfort. In the last half of the summer, Jake had gotten progressively more tired, to the point of falling asleep in the workshop while we worked on his bike. Abby caught him dozing out there (after I went inside and asked her if he was alright), and chastised him for not telling her how he felt.

“You're literally married to a doctor and you've been avoiding yours. You have the flu. Did you even bother to get the flu shot this year?”

Jake shook his head. “What can I say, I like to live rebelliously.”

By the time Clarke got home from school, Jake was full blown sick. The first time I had been over since school started, he gave me a weak smile as he shuffled around the house with fuzzy slippers, wrapped in a blanket.

“He's fine, just really tired lately,” Clarke responded. “He's significantly better now, joking a lot more, more like himself.”

“That's good,” I said, entwining my fingers with Clarke on the desk. “He's going to be fine, you worry wort.”

Costia looked between Clarke and I and gave a crooked grin. “I bet she had a really hard time convincing you to try those brussel sprouts.” Costia's comment cut into the moment Clarke and I were having, pulling us both back to the debate we were having previously.

Was that sarcasm in Costia's voice?

Clarke shot her a look and Roan laughed loudly. It was a such a rare event that I balked. He coughed quite a bit afterwards, sounding like half a lung had come up.

Maybe if he wasn't busy trying to kill himself with those cancer sticks then he'd be fine, but whatever. He and I had had at least three arguments about him smoking, all ending with foul language, a hole in the wall of Roan’s bedroom and him having a broken wrist after Nia had overhead and told him he was as useless as his father. I had 'SOS’d Clarke, much to Roan’s chagrin, and after some serious bartering (involving chores I didn't even know Clarke did) and pleading, Dr. Griffin pulled the necessary strings and lost the necessary paperwork to have Roan's arm set in a cast without charge.

“I don't need your charity, Griffin,” Roan snapped.

“Shut the fuck up, you ungrateful little shit,” I snapped back.

“Both of you shut the fuck up,” Clarke demanded. My mouth snapped shut and Roan diverted his glare to the ground of the hospital floor. “I have had it up to HERE with the two of you. You're BEST FRIENDS, you can't be acting like this! Roan  what you're doing is stupid on SO MANY levels. Lexa, you can't force him to quit. If he wants to be a COMPLETE MORON,” she glared at Roan, who looked like a thoroughly chastised child, “then he, sadly, has the right to do so. You can't be punching walls and fighting each other. Jesus!” She ran her hands through her hair, looking more like an exhausted mother than our friend.

Fuck.

“Sorry Clarke,” Roan and I both mumbled out at the same time.

Clarke rolled her eyes at Roan’s laughter, then sighed. She chewed on her lip nervously, then said, “you're right, Costia.”

Costia smiled brightly and pushed her glasses further up her nose. “Call me Cos, Clarke. My friends call me Cos. All of you actually, call me Cos.”

Fuck, that smile. It was so… genuine.

I glanced at Clarke (like looking at her was going to help the constant rollercoaster in my belly in ANY way), but her smile was much more dim in comparison. It looked strained. I suppose the comments from the boys hadn't stopped over the past few weeks and she was just dealing with that. “Sure,” she said.

“I'm not calling you Cos,” Roan said gruffly.

Costia and Clarke both laughed as he pouted while he dug a pencil inside of his cast to scratch.

*

Coach Indra pulled me aside at lunch and asked how the Ontari project had been going.

“Um, what?”

Coach Indra raised her brows at me.

I was forgetting something. What was I forgetting? Oh, no.

“You need to be working on creating better chemistry with Ontari.”

“Better chemistry? We're practically vinegar and baking soda, Coach.”

Coach Indra looked at me with a completely blank face. I don't know if she knew I was joking.

Oh God.

“I'll take this conversation as a first step in planning, then.” She nodded and briskly walked off.

Fuck.

*

Coach Indra didn't find anyone worth adding to the roster for the year, and every day I thought about how I could create a better relationship with Ontari (oh, how I loathed the entire concept).

Every day I thought about it. Every day except for fourteen days before homecoming. Fourteen days before homecoming I had one thought.

Kill Atom and Dax.

Clarke had basically forced me to come to another football game, and I wasn't the only one ogling her all night.

After the first half, Dax walked by the cheerleaders as they cheered for the boys making their way back to the lockers, and not so subtly ran his hand along the backside of Clarke's skirt. Clarke shoved him off and Raven punched him, but he just kissed his fingers and waved at them as he walked backwards with a disgusting smirk on his face.

I was already halfway down the bleachers before the cheerleaders disappeared.

Fuck.

On the way out of the dressing room, Dax slapped her behind again, and Atom forcibly kissed her cheek, and I actually launched myself off the side of the bleachers. I was going to kill them.

Roan saw me take off and literally tackled me at the bottom of the bleachers, panting with the exertion of sprinting down the steps.

“Lexa!” he yelled.

“Roan, no! I'm going to kill them!” I spat back. I tried my best to push him off me, but he was significantly heavier than me, and using his cast to press down on my chest in hopes of keeping me still.

“Lexa,” he pleaded, and I instantly stopped moving. Roan never begged. “You’re going to get expelled and how are you going to get a scholarship then?”

“I don't care!” I snarled, shoving at his chest.

“Yes you do. So does Clarke. How can you protect her if you aren’t here?”

I deflated. “You can't let them treat her like that,” I said.

“I know. I'll take care of it, I swear. You can't do that right NOW.”

“I'm going to kill them.”

“I know,” he said softly, “And I won't stop you. Just cool down and maybe not do it in such a public place like the football field.”

I nodded, and Roan finally let me up, dusting off the back of my shirt from our impromptu wrestling match.

I didn't have a chance to deal with them. Neither did Roan.

Floppy hair Finn Collins was watching the entire ordeal transpire before and after the locker room.

Dax and Atom were rushed to the hospital when, on two separate plays, Dax’s linebacker missed the guard and came barrelling through, absolutely crushing him in the process. He fumbled the ball, and the other team scored, but Finn stood over his prone form and just stared down at him, completely ignoring the play around them. The second play, Finn had thrown it a little too far out of Atom’s reach, leading him to collide head first with the defender's chest. He was immediately unconscious. Again, Finn just watched them lay there.

After the game, I saw Clarke and Finn talking and made my way over.

“Hey,” Clarke said. “Lex, this is Finn.”

He smiled at me, his floppy brown hair and nice jaw and big eyes made him so stupidly attractive in that puppy dog way I wanted to punch him.

I wanted to -- needed to hit someone.

I wasn't the one to keep Clarke safe. I wasn't the one to protect her. I wasn't the one to rip apart those two boys. I didn't do anything. I never. Do. Anything. I didn't deserve someone like Clarke in my life in ANY sense, let alone a romantic one if I couldn't keep her safe.

“Thank you… for protecting my friend,” I croaked out. Tears stung at the backs of my eyes and I clenched my fists tightly behind my back.

“They deserved it. I saw what they did. They're disgusting.” Finn’s eyes shifted from the cold hard glare he was sporting while thinking about Dax and Atom into a soft, charming smile when he looked at Clarke.

“You're our Princess, Clarke. We gotta keep our skygirls safe.”

Safe. The thing I didn't do. The thing I never would be able to do. What good was I to anyone if I couldn't keep them safe?

I could feel the walls closing in around me as we stood there. I never stood up for Clarke, and I should have. I should have ignored her asking me not to and dealt with it. I should have dealt with them. They were making my best friend uncomfortable and I didn't do ANYTHING to rectify it other than be a shoulder for her to cry on. That wasn't keeping her safe. If anything, I made it WORSE by letting it happen.

I bit the inside of my cheek.

“Lex?” Clarke asked. She placed her hand on my forearm to get my attention.

“Sorry, what?” I asked, completely dazed.

“You okay? You kind of zoned out there,” Finn asked. His brow was furrowed worriedly, and all I could think of was, yeah, he’ll keep her safe. He pays attention. I was a self absorbed ass that didn't know my friend was still dealing with bullies.

“Yeah, I'm good. I'm gonna head home, Clarke. It was nice to meet you, Finn.”

“It's Friday. I thought you were coming over?” Clarke asked, pouting slightly.

I shook my head. “I'm sorry. I'm not feeling well. I probably wouldn't be much fun right now.”

Clarke's expression fell. “Do you want me to walk you home?”

I shook my head. “I'm alright, Clarke. Enjoy your night.”

“Lexa…”

I turned to walk off before she could say anything else.

I made it to the parking lot before I heard the sound of quickly paced footsteps catching up to me.

“Lexa, wait!”

I groaned. I wasn't in a good headspace right now.

“Lexa!” she called again when she finally caught up to me, pulling me to a stop.

“Clarke,” I started, but she shook her head to make me stop.

“You're my best friend. If you're not feeling well, I'm going to walk you home.”

“And how are you going to get home? It's dark and I'm not okay with you walking back four miles by yourself after what just happened.”

Clarke shrugged. “Your couch is comfy. I want to make sure you're okay, but I get not wanting to  be around anyone if you feel sick. I don't wanna smother you.”

My stomach rolled. Clarke always worried about me, even when I didn't think I deserved it.

“My bed is big enough for both of us, dork. I'm sure the perfect cure is a good cuddle.” I felt so guilty for saying it. I just wanted Clarke close to me. I could keep her safe that way and ignore the ache in my chest that I wasn't enough for her.

“Oh, thank God.”

*

The next time I didn't think about Coach Indra's words was seven days before homecoming.

Clarke and I were at her locker between second and third period so she could get her art supplies. I had been pretty sullen all week, but tried my best to get my self-loathing in check. It wasn't Clarke's fault I had been a horrible friend. I just needed to be a better one. I needed to be more present. I was so focused on that, I didn't realize I was spacing out half the time, NOT being present. Maybe if I had, I would have seen this coming.

Clarke opened her locker and a folded up note with her name scrawled across it fell out.

Clarke furrowed her brow as she looked down at it. I did the same.

“Did you put something in my locker?”

I shook my head and shrugged. “Might as well find out what it is,” I said, bending over to pick it up.

Clarke snatched it out of my hands before I could open it. I quirked a brow.

“It might be private.” At my further raising eyebrow, she continued, “like I might be in shit or something and I'd wanna compose myself before having to explain it to you.”

“Have you done something to be in trouble for?”

Clarke sighed. “No. And I'd just tell you anyway.” She handed the note back to me. “Open it.”

I pushed the note back to her. “It's yours Clarke. Your name is on it. Whoever wrote it had the intention of YOU reading it.”

Clarke rolled her eyes and looked down to the note. She sucked in a breath deep into her chest. “What if… what if it's someone being a dick again?” The unspoken concern and fear was loud and clear.

She needs to feel safe. I could make this better.

“Then I'll be here for you while you sort out your feelings, and then I will destroy the school to find them and kill them.” I smiled crookedly at her, and she laughed.

Chewing on her bottom lip, Clarke unfolded the note. I felt my hackles raising as she read over it, felt my eyes tracing every line of her furrowed brow as it slowly disappeared.

“Well?”

“It's from Finn,” she said.

“Finn?”

“Yeah. He, umm,” Clarke folded the note back up and handed it to me. “He asked me to go to homecoming with him.”

“He…” I looked down at the offending note, opening it a little quicker than necessary.

Dear Clarke,

I know that a guy like me doesn't deserve a girl like you, but I was wondering if you'd go to homecoming with me? I know Dax and Atom pretty much ruined our football team’s reputation, but I hope you can find it in your heart to give me a chance to prove that I'm not like them? I get it if you don't. I really do. You're just so smart and amazing and I would be so honoured to take you to the dance. Now I'm rambling so I'm going to end it here. You can let me know your answer at lunch. Or whenever you want.

xx

Finn

I felt the entire world spin on its axis.

“Yeah. We've been texting a lot since the game. I didn't realize he wanted to ask me. I, uhh --” she ran her hands through her hair. “Wow. Wasn't expecting that.”

“Wow, yeah,” I said. I cleared my throat a few times, the jealousy and emotion flaring up. “So, are you going to go?” my breath caught in my throat as I exhaled, the emotion threatening to surface. I cleared my throat again.

Clarke frowned down at the note and looked to me.

“Did you want to go to the dance?”

I shook my head. I couldn't trust myself to speak with how unnecessarily jealous and angry I was.

Clarke ran her teeth along her lip. “Give me a reason to not go, Lexa.” She sounded.. Hopeful? I didn’t know what she expected me to say though.

I like you.

I want you to be my girlfriend.

I don't want you going with someone who isn’t me.

“I can’t,” I whispered. Averting my eyes to the ground, my head started to pound in protest to my words. When I looked back at Clarke, she looked more upset than before.

“If you’re worried about Dax and Atom, I’m sure Finn and Bellamy will make sure they don’t say anything. I heard Atom had to actually get his jaw wired shut, so he’s already not a problem.”

Clarke just gave me a sad smile. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll think about the invite. You think about a reason for me to not go.”

“Clarke, if you don’t want to go then just don’t go.”

Clarke groaned. “You know you’re an idiot, right?”

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing. Maybe I’m the idiot. Come on.” Smiling, she wrapped her arm through mine and pulling me along while she held her painting supplies under her other arm.

*

I had too much energy and too much teenage angst to sit through Clarke’s practice. My mind was spinning at the thought of her going to the dance with someone else. Someone who was very handsome and nice, and apparently her knight in shining football pads. I just couldn’t sit still.

Grabbing a ball from the bin, I waved to Clarke as I headed out the back to the outdoor courts. She sent me a quizzical look before I disappeared.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to practice, apparently.

“Ontari.”

“Woods,” she said mockingly. I rolled my eyes.

This day was just getting better and better.

I moved over to where she was shooting and asked, “how was your summer?”

She shrugged. “Probably a lot better than yours.”

I bit the inside of my cheek and remembered Coach Indra’s words. I had to figure this out.

“Do you want to play one on one?”

“You mean, do I want to embarrass you before the season even starts?”

I was running out of cheek to bite. I passed the ball to Ontari with more force than she expected, a little “oof” escaping her before she glared at me, to which I shrugged and smirked.

We played for twenty or so minutes, neither of us giving up a lot of ground. Defensively, Ontari was great, but offensively, she tried to push and shove her way past me, which ended up in her turning the ball over. She also had a kink in her wrist when she shot, forcing her shots to be wild, and therefore inconsistent.

After I scored the final basket to win, she cursed, slamming the ball down on the ground.

I sat on the asphalt and leaned back against the chain link fence.

I could work with this.

“You know, you had me,” I said.

Stroke her ego, make her calm the heck down.

“Obviously.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Defensively, there was no way I was getting past you.”

“You’re saying stuff I already know, Woods.”

I screamed internally.

“It’s your wrist, though,” I barrelled on, ignoring her aggressiveness.

Ontari stopped dribbling the ball (I think she was about to pop it with how hard she was dribbling) and looked at me. “What?”

“Yeah. You have to admit that I have an edge offensively. I just noticed that your wrist has this little kink when you shoot and it’s the reason some shots don’t land.”

Ontari glared, and I mean GLARED at me, but I didn’t back down, I just shrugged. “I’m just saying, man. You can listen to me or not, but as it stands, I’m starting and you are on the bench. Maybe taking a little advice and cooling your defensiveness will get you somewhere.”

“I am NOT defensive.”

I stared blankly at her.

“Fuck you, Woods.” She threw the ball at the fence beside my head, but I didn't so much as flinch. “I don't need any fucking advice from you.”

“You do, though. Whatever. I'm trying to help you out. I don't give a shit if you play or not.” I got up and dusted my pants off, picking up the slow rolling ball that was aimed to hurt me. “Keep being an uncooperative bitch and see how far you get this year.”

I didn't wait for Ontari to respond. I didn't want to hear it.

This was going to be harder than I thought.

*

Three days before homecoming, I could actually SEE the wheels turning in Finn's head. Clarke had yet to give him an answer, and his eyes became more and more similar to that of a puppy dog as the days passed. I wanted to vomit at the sight.

“I guess I should let him know,” Clarke sighed as she slid into the seat next to me.

“Yes or no?” I asked nervously, gripping my fork tighter than necessary.

“You still can't find a reason I shouldn't go?” She asked, her eyes searching mine.

Because I don't want you to go with someone else.

I could feel Roan’s glare from across the table. Maybe he was right. Maybe I should just tell her how I felt. Maybe that was the reason she was looking for?

“Clarke--” Just as I was about to speak we were interrupted.

“Hey guys!” Costia's voice chirped sweetly.

I felt my stomach do that uneasy yet pleasant flip, and I pulled my eyes away from Clarke's.

“Hey Cos,” I said, returning her smile. Roan nodded and Clarke just stared down at her salad. I suppose she was thinking of her answer while I was trying my best not to.

Costia wrapped her hair around the end of her fingers and asked nervously, “Do you think I could sit with you guys? Luna and Echo have detention for making out in class.”

“Yeah, of course,” I said, looking at Roan until he moved, who just looked back at me with a blank expression.

“Thanks.”

Clarke stood abruptly. “You know what? I'm going to go talk to Finn. Costia, you can sit here.”

“I thought you weren't sure,” I said. I could hear the pleading in my voice, I didn't want her to leave. I didn't want her to leave because that meant she could say yes, and if she said yes, I knew my heart would explode.

Clarke looked between Costia and I, her eyes turning into that stormy blue that let me know I missed something, before she gave me a quick smile and a kiss on the cheek. “I've had my mind made up for me, I guess. I'll see you later, Lex. Bye Cos, Roan.” She gathered up her things and I fought the reddening of my cheeks.

“You'll let me know?” I asked, hand reaching out to grasp her hand before she left.

Clarke just nodded, not looking up. “I'll text you.” she squeezed my hand in hers before dropping it and leaving.

Roan rolled his eyes, and I heard him mumble, “jackass”. I guess he wasn't a fan of Finn Collins either.

*

I got the text during fifth period. Roan was skipping, as usual, and I was not prepared for what I saw. In hindsight, I should have been, but hindsight is twenty-twenty and all that. I just honestly thought that Clarke actually didn't want to go.

'I said yes’

I don't remember asking Ms. Santos if I could be excused, but suddenly I was in the middle of the hallway. I had no idea what hall I was, and I could hear how ragged my breathing was. I knew I was on the edge of having a panic attack.

She said yes. She said yes. She wanted to go with Finn. She WANTED to go. I was so happy I didn't tell her how I felt. Roan was wrong. It was just a pipedream all along. I was right. She didn't like me like that. She wouldn't have said yes if she did.

Suddenly, the spots in my eyes were overwhelming, and the pounding of my heart in my ears was too much. I clutched at my chest.

I vaguely remember sliding down a locker and tucking my head into my knees.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Why couldn't I breathe?

I'm going to die if I don't breathe.

Breathe!

I heard my name being called, but it sounded so far away that I was unsure whether or not it was real. It was barely audible over the pounding of my heart, warped as though it was underwater.

I heard it again, the voice worried and closer than before. I forced myself to look up into blue, worried eyes. I really WAS drowning.

“Lexa, hey, you're having a panic attack,” she said as she slid down to her knees in front of me.

“I'm not going to touch you, but I need you to sit up. Can you do that?”

Tears leaked from my eyes and I gripped at my chest.

I couldn't breathe.

“I know, I know. Can we try sitting up?”

I sat up, although every part of me said not to. I focused on her speaking, the way her lips formed the words.

“Good. Okay, can you name five things you can hear? Don't say them out loud if you don't want. Just let me know when you're done, okay?”

I focused so hard on the sounds around me. There was a shuffling of papers, a door closing, the sound of a teacher's voice, the hum of the air conditioning, and a rhythmic tapping on the floor in front of me. When I looked at it, I saw that she was tapping a pen on the ground.

I looked back up at her, and she sent me a soft smile.

“Good. Now five things you can see.”

She kept tapping while I looked around. There were the dark green lockers, the grey tiles, the water fountain to the left of me, her turtle shell glasses and her blue, blue eyes.

They weren't the right shade of blue. I gasped and let out a loud, sad sigh.

Costia smiled at me, still tapping the pen in rhythm. I looked down to it again and sucked in a deep breath. “Thank you,” I said without looking up.

“It's no problem,” she said quietly. “I've had a lot of them. Some stuff works, some stuff doesn't. I figured I'd try my arsenal of tactics on you.”

“You--you get them a lot?” I was suddenly SO tired, I debated on skipping the rest of the day. There was too much to think about, and I needed to be away from here. I knew that if I did that, though, Clarke would have too many questions and I would have not enough answers.

“Yeah, lucky me. When I moved in with Luna's family, I was having some pretty bad night terrors still. I'd wake up into panic attacks. Still do sometimes.”

“You live with her?”

“Oh, I guess she didn't tell you.” Costia sent me a forced smile and situated herself against the locker next to me, close enough so I could feel the warmth of her skin, but not so close that we were actually touching. “Makes sense actually. People are kind of shit heads when they know about it. I moved in with her when I was nine. My parents were both gone so,” she shrugged, “she was my family.”

“What happened to your parents?”

“Domestic abuse leading to homicide.”

I balked. Costia sighed. “Sorry. I guess it's weird to hear me say it so casually. My parents were a mess. They just… couldn't keep it together. One thing led to another and then, boom, they're both gone and I'm sitting in the police station waiting for someone to come get me.”

“I'm--”

“Don't say you're sorry,” Costia said with a head shake. “My parents were a mess. I loved them, but they were toxic to one another and to me.  I'm lucky to have a cousin like Luna. Her, Aden and their parents taught me so much about forgiveness and letting go, and letting things just be. Obviously you know that Luna's mom and I aren't even blood-related. She had no reason to take in her ex’s brother's kid, but she did with open arms. She didn't even question it. It's hard as a kid to just accept that your parents aren't here anymore, that you'll never be able to see them again, but she taught me that death isn't something to be feared. It's not the end. I dunno,” she shrugged, “I'm grateful for Luna for getting me out of there. I'll always miss my parents… the ones who weren't trying to tear each other apart, but I know I'm better off away from their toxicity... I'm also a little blunt if the owl-look you're giving me says anything.” she chuckled at the end and I forced myself to close my gaping mouth.

I turned to face her. Costia turned too so our eyes could meet. “I'm happy you have them,” I said sincerely, thinking of my big sister that I was forever grateful for. “I don't know how you feel exactly, but I've experienced loss too.”

Her cheeks reddened and she smiled softly, just enough for her dimples to show. “I know. I thought it'd be nice to know you're not the only one who feels like 'that kid’. People looked at me like I was the one who killed my parents. It was bad, so I got lucky that Luna lived in the other side of the city where not EVERYONE knew. I don't care anymore, but at the time… at the time it was bad.”

The swooping of my stomach at her warm smile was startling. She got it. Of course she got it.

It seems like everyone had shit to deal with.

“You're stronger than you give yourself credit for, Lexa, and so much more resilient. I'm glad you're feeling better,” she said. She showed me her hand, and I nodded. She placed it gently on my arm. “What happened?”

I stared at her hand for a long second while I sucked in a breath. “Clarke,” was all I said.

Costia nodded. I'm sure by now everyone knew that she said yes. The cheerleader and the quarterback -- a highschool story for the ages.

“Do you want to talk about it?” It was so sincere I felt my stomach erupt with guilt.

I shook my head. “Not really.”

Costia hummed. “Well, if you guys are as close as I know you two are, you'll work it out. I highly doubt you two can stay at odds for long.”

I leaned my head back against the locker and closed my eyes. I needed to get my emotions in check. It wasn't Clarke's fault she was straight. I couldn't freak out like this over that fact. I would just love Clarke in the capacity she could be loved -- as a friend. That HAD to be enough.

“I don't know,” I said nervously. I was so tired and confused. “I guess so,” I resigned to say. Shaking my head to force the exhausting thoughts of losing Clarke over something so stupid as my feelings for her, I changed the subject. “Why aren't you in class?”

“Actually, I was on my way back from the washroom and saw a cute brunette that needed some saving.” Costia bumped my shoulder with hers. “But then I realized it was the hot Commander who just needed a little coaching to pick herself up. You alright?”

“Yeah, just tired.”

Costia stood and stuck her hand out for me to take. “Can I walk you back to class?”

“You won't get in trouble?”

Costia winked. “What's a little trouble to keep things interesting?”

I imagine that if I wasn't so exhausted, my stomach would have dropped again. I was almost sure she was saying something flirtatious.

I think.

Chapter Text

“What in the world are you doing?”

I stared at Anya instead of responding. I laid on my bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, my legs hanging off the end. I was so exhausted after the panic attack at school that I just sent a quick message to Clarke telling her I needed to leave.

“Thinking.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah,” I responded, not even registering the barb. The bed shifted when Anya sat next to me. “What's up, Squirt?” Anya, knowing me, immediately began running her fingers through my hair in a soothing motion. Damnit.

I let out a loud, obnoxious sigh and rubbed my face with both my hands.

“Roan thinks Clarke likes me --” Anya made a sound in the back of her throat, but barrelled on before she could agree or disagree. I knew that if I didn’t get this out now, then I would never say it. “I don't think so, but SOMEHOW he had me convinced that I should tell her that I liked her, and then some guys were harassing her and Finn Collins stood up for her and then Finn asked Clarke to the homecoming dance, and she wasn't sure what she was going to say, she kept asking me for a reason not to go, so I figured she just really didn't want to go, you know? And then in my head I was like, 'maybe Roan was right and I should tell her?’, so I was literally about to, but then I didn't because we were interrupted, and then she said yes to Finn and I had a panic attack because like, I almost told her I liked her knowing deep down inside that she was straight and I'm so glad I didn't because I could have literally lost her friendship, which would suck because… well… you know, and I don't know how Roan convinced me, but I thought she really DID like me back, but I was clearly wrong, which is humiliating. And after all of that, Costia helped me through it and I think she was flirting with me but I have no idea why she would even do that, and I’m really confused because Luna said that she wouldn’t stop talking about me all summer, but I barely talked to her a lot so I don’t know why she would unless she did like me, but she’s never given me a reason to think that, she's probably straight too, and I'm just so tired of not understanding girls. I AM a girl, how do I not understand them?”

I sighed dramatically and covered my face with my arm. Anya just hummed and kept pulling her fingers through my hair.

“Ah, welcome to feelings,” she joked.

“Not helping. I don't want them,” I groaned.

“Well,” Anya said, “I can tell you for a fact, that you and Clarke are WAY too close to let any little spat come between you two. If you,” Anya poked my side, “can figure out how to communicate better. I cannot tell you if Costia was flirting with you or not. I didn't  even know you had feelings for her.”

“I don't. I mean, she's pretty… like REALLY pretty, and she's super sweet, and totally gets me, but…”

“But she's not Clarke,” Anya supplied. My heart plummeted. Even Anya knew how deep in this I was. How was I ever going to be JUST Clarke’s friend?

“I'm not telling her how I feel. That seems like emotional suicide. Were you even listening to me?”

“Considering you spoke at lightspeed and impressively managed to do it all in one breath, I’m just going off of what I understood. I'm not telling you to tell Clarke how you feel.  That’s for you to decide and no one else. I'm just… I'm just saying that you shouldn't ever be afraid to tell her ANYTHING. You two are best friends, are you not? I bet you didn't even tell her you had a panic attack today.”

I shook my head, sudden guilt washing over me.

“I bet you just ran home after school and ignored her completely from that moment on.”

I nodded, the guilt making my stomach roll.

The phone rang. Anya smacked her thighs with her hands as she stood from the bed. “Well, seems like it's as good a time as ever to tell her. If that's not a sign I don't know what is.”

“How do you even know it's her?” I grumbled.

“Who else would it be?”

I groaned. “I'm asleep?”

Anya laughed as she answered the phone. “Yeah, she's right here.” Tossing me the phone, I glared at Anya while I sucked in a deep breath and prepared myself for the storm ahead.

“Hello?”

“Lexa, what the hell?”

Good thing I was preparing myself. She was definitely not happy.

“Clarke.” I feigned disinterest. My defenses were already at an all time high, and try as I might, I couldn’t bring them down right now.

“Don't 'Clarke’ me. Where were you? Are you okay? You haven't even responded to my messages, and I've been worried sick!” Okay, so disinterest wasn't a good idea. Clarke seemed frazzled and her tone was laced with insecurity, making my stomach roll again with guilt.

“Lex, what's been going on?” she asked softly, the nerves more present with each word. “Are you mad at me?” The crack at the end of ‘me’ was almost my undoing. I was an emotional mess.

“I'm sorry, Clarke. I had a panic attack today, I was exhausted.” I figured the less I told her, the better.

“Oh, Lex. Why didn't you 'SOS’ me? What happened?”

Another wave of guilt. It took my a long while to collect my thoughts, I was struggling trying to figure out how she could sound so defeated when she didn't even do anything wrong. At this point, I was completely drowning in the guilt I felt. “I don't know, honestly. I was confused. I kind of still am confused, I'm sorry.”

“No, don't apologize. You had an attack, that's okay. No need to apologize I’m just grateful you're okay. That's all I'll ever care about. What happened?”

Another turn of the stomach. I wanted to hang up, I couldn’t take much more of this.

“Me too. Costia found me and helped. I don't -- I don't know what triggered it,” I lied. Maybe communicating didn't mean telling her everything? I knew there was no way that me admitting how I felt was going to make things better, but I was SURE that they could make things worse.

The receiver let off a ruffled sound when Clarke shifted the phone from one shoulder to the other. “Oh.”

Even If I didn't tell her everything I was still hurting her. I swallowed the lump in my throat down as best I could as  cracked over a, “Yeah.”

“You went to Costia instead of me?” The hurt was plain as day in her voice. Fuck. That wasn't fair. As much as I knew I should have messaged her, I just really had no idea what was going on, and Costia really HAD just been there.

“No, she was just there,” I reiterated with a little bite to my tone.

“Just there? Seems kind of convenient,” Clarke snarked.

Was she being serious?

“That's not fair Clarke,” I snapped.

“I'm just saying, we're supposedly best friends, you could have text me.” Her voice raised slightly with indignation.

“Supposedly?” I said coldly. This conversation was going from bad to worse, and I could feel myself becoming defensive. Supposedly? I hated being her best friend, the word made my head hurt, but her implying that we weren't made my heart hurt.

“I’m sorry,” she huffed. “that was really insensitive of me. I'm glad she was there for you. I can't imagine how you were feeling in that moment. Why didn't you text me after? I could have taken you home.” Clarke deflated.

BECAUSE IT WAS ABOUT YOU , I wanted to scream, but I couldn't. “I was just really confused and in a PANIC, Clarke. This isn't about you, so I'd APPRECIATE if you'd quit peppering me with questions.” I didn’t try to stop the bite in my words.

There was a long, uncomfortable pause between us. Maybe I bit a little too hard. Possibly.

“I'm sorry, I don't want to fight with you,” she whispered eventually.

My stomach rolled again. What was I doing arguing with my best friend? “Me too,” I whispered back.

I could hear her let out a soft, exasperated breath on the other end of the line.

“Maybe I should let you go.” Defeat was hardly a word I could describe Clarke with, but in this moment, it was overwhelmingly present in her tone.

I broke. “No, no. Please, don’t. Let’s talk about something else. I’m just a little on edge still. So, do you have a dress picked out for the dance? Are you excited?” It hurt to ask, but we both so obviously needed a change of topic.

“Ehhh,” Clarke whined. I could hear the sound of her shrugging against the phone.

A laugh bubbled from my chest at how quickly she and I could mend things. She was my best friend, after all, staying mad seemed stupid. Maybe Costia and Anya were right. Clarke laughed too, the tension effectively broken between us.

“I mean, yeah, sure, I'm excited to go, I guess. I suppose I have to be.”

“Have to be?”

“You said it yourself. I'm a cheerleader, I'm supposed to go.” Clarke seemed resigned to a fate she had no interest in, and I just couldn't understand why she said yes when she so obviously didn't want to go.

I sighed. “Well, do you need help picking out a dress?”

“Yeah. I've got a few to choose from, but I think going through them with my best friend would really help.” The lilt to her voice transitioned back to the one I had grown so accustomed to over the past year, playful and warm. It made my cheeks hurt with how hard I smiled.

“Of course, Clarke. Thursday after cheer practice?” I offered.

Clarke let out a harsh breath. “Yeah. Great.”

*

Offering to help Clarke was SUCH a bad idea. She was literally parading around her room in her bra, Carmen and Lolita on full display, and I wasn't allowed to feign blindness or avert my eyes without making her uncomfortable. I had no idea how NOT looking at her made her uncomfortable, but alas, here we were.

I mean, secretly, this was amazing, but realistically, this was a torture I was so not okay with.

Clarke tried on five dresses before she flopped down onto the mattress beside me, covering her face with her arm and groaning loudly. I sat with my head leaning against my knees to help me hide the moments my heart went into overdrive and my hormones weren't able to stay in check. It barely helped, but at least I was able to subtly wipe the drool from my mouth while Clarke changed. I was doing horribly at being her best friend.

“I look frumpy in all of them.”

“Clarke,” I chastised, “you're trying them on with your track pants still on, of course they're not going to look good.”

“That's because I don't want to go,” Clarke mumbled to my rolling eyes.

“I don't get why you said yes then.”

Clarke turned her head to look at me, lifting her arm slightly so our eyes could meet. “Because you couldn't find a reason for me not to.”

She sounded sad as her voice went up in pitch slightly, and I didn't understand why.

“Clarke,” I said exasperatedly, “I will NEVER tell you not to do something unless it will actually harm you. It’s your choice.”

Clarke dropped her arm on her face and let out a groan. “You're right,” she said. “I felt like my hand was forced and I reacted,” she said, still covering her eyes.

“How?”

Clarke removed her arm for half a second and sent me a withering look. “Because I'm a cheerleader and he’s the football captain and…” she trailed off, shaking her head underneath her arm.

“And,” I prompted.

Clarke sighed and dropped her arm again. I lifted it to look at her while she squinted. “And nothing. It's really just that and expectations, I guess. Finn's really nice, so I shouldn’t even be mad.”

Pouting, I laid Clarke's arm down on the mattress. “Maybe once you try on the dresses properly, you'll get more excited. You’ve said like, ten times since you’ve met Finn that he’s nice.”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “Nice doesn’t mean I want to spend the evening with him.”

“You think I’m nice,” I joked.

“I think so much more of you than that, Lex,” Clarke said with an eye roll.

My brows raised as my head tilted to the side, prompting Clarke to continue. Maybe I was fishing for compliments. My heart was already a mess of guilt, so why not just add to it?

“You’re… You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met… but you’re still a giant nerd.” Clarke shoved my leg with her arm and burst out into laughter when I just scoffed and tilted my chin up and away from her in protestation.

Clarke, still giggling, sat up on the bed. “Help me out of this?” She stood, turned, and shimmied out of her track pants. I unzipped the back of her dress and she shuffled, feet still stuck in her pants, to her closet to get another dress.

In hindsight, telling her to try them on properly was my first mistake. It was hard enough seeing Clarke in a real bra, Carmen and Lolita were practically falling out of them -- Jesus. Now, Clarke was walking around with just her panties on in-between dresses and I was having to bite my kneecaps to make sure I didn't say anything stupid. She really did have amazing legs. And a great ass. And what I had learned from her parading around without a shirt a few weeks ago and now, she had the hint of abs from all the core work required for cheerleading and gymnastics. Oh God, this was bad, her body was perfect. To make it all worse Clarke, with encouragement from me (why did I do that?), decided to do her hair and makeup to get the full look that she’d have for the dance. Now she was half naked, toned, and fully made up, looking at me for an unbiased opinion. What had I done?

Literally every second was getting harder and harder to breathe.

“Can you help me zip this up?” Clarke came out in a red, strapless, knee length dress, fitting her curves so perfectly it looked as though it was painted on.  My throat dried up instantly. She lifted her eyes to look at me nervously when I didn’t respond right away and I felt my brain deflate in my head. The blue was just so intense with the eyeliner. On shaking legs, I stood from the bed and gently zipped the dress up, my fingers ghosting over the skin of her back, eliciting goosebumps everywhere I touched.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Clarke dropped her hair down her back and turned to face me. Her breathing had quickened, her pupils had almost completely swallowing the blue of her eyes when she looked at me.

Eye contact was the third mistake. Everything inside of me was on fire. How many strikes are there in baseball? Shit, I think I just used all of mine.

“What do you think?” Her cheeks darkened with a blush as I gaped at her.

At first, I let out a really unbecoming sound from the back of my throat. After Clarke smirked at me, I finally found my voice. “Um, I -- wow, Clarke. You look great.” I forced myself to swallow the lump in my throat. Her hair curled around her shoulders, and I couldn't help but smooth one of the strands of curls against her collarbone. I didn't even think it was possible for her to look any more beautiful than she normally did, but clearly, I was wrong.

Clarke dipped her head, breaking me of my stupor, and I released the end of her hair that my fingers were still laced through and took a large step back, blushing painfully. I needed the distance badly. She then turned to the mirror, flattening down her dress with her hands.

“You're sure it's not too much?”

“No, you look perfect. You're so beautiful,” I breathed out. I shook my head, a smile painting my face while my heart beat wildly in my chest.

Clarke's eyes locked on to mine, and she bit her bottom lip. “Thank you.”

I wanted to kiss her, to tell her so badly, to confess my feelings, but then I remembered Finn and the fact that this dress she was wearing and the fact that she was fussing over everything wasn't because of me -- it was because a BOY asked her to the dance. I broke eye contact and sat back on the mattress, clenching my jaw and clearing my throat. Clarke then disappeared back to the closet.

“So what are you going to do tomorrow? We always spend the weekend together,” Clarke asked after changing out of the dress into her sweats, wiping her face clean of makeup and joining me on the bed. Thankfully, the time it took for her to do that was enough for me to get a hold of myself.

“Probably just lounge around the house. Watch some movies until Anya gets home. Maybe if Roan isn't working then I'll ask him to come over.”

Clarke nodded and chuckled. “Don't party too hard there, Lex.”

I stuck my tongue out at her in response. “Maybe I'll hang out with your dad. He's the nicer Griffin, anyway.”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “I'm sure he'd love that. You're like his child best friend.”

“Jealous much?” I joked.

Clarke let out a full bellied laugh, to which I refuse to admit that my stomach swooped at.

*

The day of the homecoming dance had the entire school in a tizzy. There was excitement in the air that I DID NOT share. Finn practically GLUED himself to Clarke's side all day. The only times he wasn't right beside her was when we were in class and at lunch, but even then, he walked her to class and she had to actually tell him that she wanted to sit with JUST Roan and I. Finn was about to complain before Roan hit him with a very unwelcoming look and Finn left, mouth twisted up in irritation.

I tried very, very hard to hold back my laughter (I didn’t), and it erupted from my chest so loudly that he turned to glare back at me. I gave him a wink before wrapping my arm around Clarke when she sat down.

Okay, so it was a little bit of a pissing match, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes a win, no matter how small, needed to be celebrated.

“Thanks,” Clarke said, tucking her hair behind her ear, eyes not meeting Roan’s. “He's just a little excited.”

“A little?” Roan grumbled. “Boy’s ready to propose.”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “He’s… something.” She was obviously annoyed with his constant hovering, so I took it upon myself to shake her out of it.

“So…” I dragged the 'o’ to get Clarke's attention. “You have to be at least A LITTLE excited to go to the dance. Loud music, snacks, something different on a Friday night. At least there is no cheer practice.”

Clarke shrugged. “Yeah. Honestly, it would have been so much better if you two were coming, but Raven’s really excited to go, and we all know Raven is a good time, so…” she shrugged again.

“Well, if it's a total dud, you know where to find me,” I said around a laugh.

Clarke kissed me on the cheek. “My hero, always waiting in the wings to save me.”

I looked at her with every ounce of sincerity I could muster. “Always.”

*

I couldn't keep my brain occupied enough to sit still. I kept imagining all of the things Clarke would be doing with Finn, and it made my stomach hurt. As soon ad school ended and Clarke and I shared an awkward goodbye with me lying to her about why I couldn’t help her get ready for the dance, I headed straight to the basketball court. After three hours of playing pick up with Ryder and Lincoln, they both left to get ready for the dance, and the setting sun forced me to head home. I called Roan twice, but of course, he was busy. I called Anya at the diner, but she told me that she had picked up another shift, so wouldn't be home until very late. I was losing my mind. I went for an hour jog, which turned into a sprint when some of the local drug dealers saw me. I KNEW I was losing my mind when I thought I saw stupidly long blonde hair with them, but Roan was at work and I was running on little sanity. After that, I decided to do a workout at home, hoping that by completely exhausting my body, my mind would calm down. It didn't work. I made enough pancakes for the month, cleaned my room from head to toe, then took a scaldingly hot bath. By the time I finally collapsed against the couch, it was eleven at night.

I had secretly hoped that the dance was a dud and that Clarke would message me within minutes of it starting, but as time slowly ticked by, it seemed like that was far from the case. I wanted to cry. Clarke, my best friend, the girl I was crazy over, was out there dancing and having a great time with someone else, and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing. Eventually, my frustration overwhelmed me into a state of comatose. I couldn't keep doing this to myself or to Clarke. I needed to be her best friend. Clarke had been nothing but patient as always. She always knew what to say or do to make me feel better, and I needed to start being that for her too.

At 11:17, hanging upside down off the seat of the couch, to the point that my face was red with all the blood draining to my head, I resigned myself to being her best friend, and actually meaning it, to support her the same way she supported me. I needed to be happy for her, it was only fair after all Clarke had given me.

At 11:28, my doorbell rang. I flipped out of the couch, dizzy and stumbling to the door.

I opened it to see the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Clarke stood there, dress painted on, hair up off her neck, makeup still so amazingly perfect, smile bright and eyes sparkling… holding a pizza box in front of her.

“Wow,” I breathed.

Clarke blushed a pretty shade of pink when I remembered myself.

“Clarke? What are you doing here?” the utter surprise in my voice was unmistakable.

“I am…” she skipped up the steps, “crashing your party!” she giggled and my heart thumped, and I scolded myself.

I literally just told myself to stop being like this.

Pushing the pizza box into my chest, Clarke moved past me and into the house. “I mean, unless you can’t find room for me,” she teased, gesturing to the empty home. She groaned out in satisfaction when she took the red pumps she wore with her dress off, throwing them in the corner with the rest of the shoes.

“Of course, you're always allowed over, you dork. How did you get here?”

Clarke opened the box I placed on the kitchen table, taking a slice out and slumping unceremoniously into one of the chairs. She took a huge bite of her pizza, letting out a low moan before answering me. “The dance ended at eleven, and Finn and them wanted to go to an after party, but I told him I had plans already, so Bellamy dropped me off.”

“How did Finn take it?”

Clarke shrugged, chewing her pizza slowly. She ran her finger along her lips to remove any excess sauce. “He seemed annoyed, but they were all drinking, so whatever.”

“Drinking?”

“Yeah, I guess they spiked the punch. Cage and Lorelei were there, which was super weird, and them and Jasper were handing out shit to people, I assume weed, so that was awkward. God, Raven was HILARIOUS. She was all over Bellamy and they were just amazing. I seriously wish you were there. Bellamy lifted her up in the air and spun her around in the middle of the dance floor like they were in their own dance number. Amazing.”

I chuckled, picturing the interaction and not feeling as though it was as true as Clarke had said.

“Luna and Echo pretty much just made out the whole time.” Clarke said it and looked at me intently, probably trying to read my reaction.

I sniffed, pretending that it was totally normal. It really was, from what I’ve heard, but I didn’t want to let Clarke know just HOW normal it was to me, you know?

“That’s cool.”

Clarke scrunched her nose and looked at me. “Yeah. So what do you… God, you're hard to read,” she sucked in a breath, “What do you think about them?”

My heart rate picked up. What was she asking me, exactly?

“What do you mean?” I feigned ignorance.

Clarke rolled her eyes, making it loud and clear that she knew what I was doing. “Them? They’re together. What do you think about it?”

I shrugged. “They’re cool.”

“Does it make it weird on the bench?”

“Well, considering basketball hasn’t started yet, no.”

Clarke groaned. “Jesus, Lexa, you’re impossible.”

“What?”

“Have they both always been into girls?” Clarke asked, chewing on her nails.

I shrugged. “I dunno, I didn’t really ask. I know Echo had a thing with Bellamy in their freshman year or something.”

“She did?”

“Yup,” I said, popping the ‘p’.

Clarke chewed her nails again. I raised a knowing brow at her. She wanted to ask something, but wasn’t.

“Clarke, you’re thinking much too hard,” I joked.

Clarke looked down at her nails before dropping it from her mouth.

“Sorry, I was just thinking about the fact that Echo used to like boys. Like, is that how she figured it out? Sorry, they’re just the only two… dating for me to ask.”

“I don’t know, Clarke. I haven’t really asked her. She might still like boys, which is cool too.”

“You aren’t curious?”

“Of course, but I mean, regardless of if she used to like or still DOES like boys, her feelings for Luna are valid.”

“Right, no, totally, that -- of course her feelings are valid, that isn't in question.” Clarke nodded a few times, her fingers ending up back in her mouth.

“Clarke,” I chastised. She was going to make them bleed if she kept at it.

“Do you think they kept it from their parents? Do you think their parents care?”

I shrugged again. “I feel like Luna’s family is probably pretty chill. Echo’s is probably just as chill. I don’t know, really. Never met them.”

Clarke sighed. “Let's say you liked girls…”

My eyes widened.

“...do you think Anya would be mad?”

“Hypothetically?” I asked, my voice cracking at the end.

Clarke shrugged.

“Yeah, Anya would be cool. She wouldn't require me to have this big coming out thing.” The fact that this was the truth made me feel bad.

Clarke nodded, dropping her head into her hand. “My mom would freak out. My dad would be fine. He'd probably throw me a party, but my mom would lose her mind.”

“I think you'd be surprised,” I reassured. I was terrified of telling Anya until it slipped out. Sometimes, you really didn't know what people were thinking.

Clarke huffed. “Have you met my mom?”

I pursed my lips together and nodded. She had a point.

“Did you know Luna and Echo were… together last year?”

I shook my head, picking at the pizza again. Clarke was jumping back and forth between hypothetical and real so fast I was having trouble keeping up. “No, but I’ve been told I’m pretty blind.”

“Yes,” Clarke agreed.

“Hey!” I complained. “What do YOU think about it?”

“I’m not going to give an opinion on people who aren’t here, when you’re being evasive as all hell.”

“I’m not being evasive,” I replied.

“You literally have not answered my question.”

“I mean, whatever, I’m cool with it. If they’re happy, then that’s all that matters.” Indifference is always the answer, right?

“Okay then. And you’ve never liked anyone?”

I shrugged. “You’re awfully concerned with everyone’s love life tonight.” I sent her a sly smirk, and Clarke just rolled her eyes and stared at me blankly. I guess I WAS really good at being evasive.

I decided we needed a subject change. I could practically see the smoke coming out of Clarke’s ears while she was thinking. A part of me wanted to tell her that I, too, liked girls, but I felt like with how stressed out Clarke was in this moment, she would overthink it, and I couldn’t ever risk her feeling uncomfortable around me. A bigger part of me knew that she would never, ever judge me, but that nagging doubt at the back of my mind was yelling at the top of it's lungs to be heard and be listened to -- for safety’s sake.

“Did you have a good time with Finn?” I had to fight myself from allowing the scowl to appear on my face. I opted to look indifferent as I picked at the toppings of the pizza in front of me.

Clarke chewed on her cheek. “He was really nice. Thoughtful. He opened my door for me, pulled out my chair, did all the right things.”

I quirked a brow. “Now who is the one who doesn't want to answer the question?”

“He tried to kiss me,” Clarke blurted out. Her brow was furrowed and she stabbed at a piece of pepperoni on her pizza.

Well, what I thought about Luna and Echo suddenly made sense. Sort of. Not really, but I could see how Clarke would use my two friends to gain some insight on dating. I think. I did know, for a fact, that my mask of indifference was cracking.

“Oh?” I was sure I couldn't manage to say anything else without my voice cracking. My jaw tensed and my head throbbed with how hard I was grinding my teeth.

“Yeah.” Clarke shrugged, putting her pizza down and staring at it for a second. “I didn't, though. Kiss him.” She looked up at me, gauging my response, and I was so happy with myself for being able to not express anything other than a painfully clenched jaw. “I hardly know him. He said he wanted to take me out on a date, and I asked why, and he said because he wanted to give us a try, wanted me to be his girlfriend.” Clarke shook her head at the memory. “I told him I wasn't ready to date anyone.” Her eyes met mine and I felt the breath I was holding release. I know that it was clear on my face how relieved I was.

“Oh,” was all I said, nodding and looking at my pizza again.

Fuck.

Clarke shifted in her seat, eyes detaching from mine and picking up her pizza again. “Yeah, I barely know him. I want my first kiss to be with someone I really trust and care about, not just with some random guy that has a thing for me. And with all the changes and stuff I'm going through, I feel like I can't trust anyone... I just... I don't know, I just… I'm not sure of how I feel right now. I’m pretty confused with my own damn feelings.” she sighed out in frustration.

“Well, do you like someone?” I asked.

Clarke covered her face with her hands and rested her elbows on the table. She shook her head yes, then no, then shrugged her shoulders. “I don't know if I do or if I’m just confused.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve never really.. I’ve never been interested in anyone before. Not really. I could ruin everything. I don't know, I just wish I understood what I was feeling. Do you know how annoying it is to not even be able to trust your own head? I mean -- I DO care about them so much it literally makes me sick thinking about losing them, but I don't even know what that means? Fuck, I'm fifteen for fucks sakes, I feel sick thinking about losing my parents! I don’t know, forget it. This feels impossible.”

“Have you talked to them about it?”

“Are you insane?! Did you miss the part where I said I could ruin EVERYTHING? They’re impossible to read sometimes, and I’d rather not make a fool of myself and RUIN EVERYTHING.”

“I completely understand.” I let out an exhausted laugh. “Clarke, your heart and your head rarely agree. Maybe you should just not overthink it.” I rapped my knuckles against the table, “you trust me, right? I think that maybe changing into something more comfortable would be a start to figuring it out? We can talk about it after.” I couldn't think about this anymore. I didn't want to hear her talk anymore about Finn, or possibly even Bellamy or any of the other boys at school.

Clarke sighed, her eyes lingering on my face. “That sounds amazing. Do you want to watch a movie and cuddle and maybe skip the talk? I’m so over thinking about everything right now, and a movie and a cuddle with you, I am SURE I want.”

“Of course, Clarke.”

Chapter Text

Finn, albeit awkward, was a really nice guy. He continued to walk Clarke to class, but toned it down to the ones that they shared or were in close proximity to one another. He even offered to carry my books once or twice.

I hated him.

I hated him because if my best friend was to like anyone, Finn would be a good choice. He was sweet, and didn't make comments about her body or let any of the idiots on the football team say anything about her either. He could protect her.

I hated him even more.

“Sooooo,” Raven said, sliding into the seat next to Roan, who perked up immediately at her presence.

“So?” Clarke asked, knowingly becoming annoyed with the disruption.

“So you didn't even mention how things went with Finn last week. Was he THAT bad of a kisser?” Raven made a smooching noise in mockery.

“Ew, gross,” Clarke said, shoving Raven's shoulder. Roan and I shared a look, and I subtly shook my head. I had briefly mentioned Clarke showing up at my house after the dance, purposefully leaving out all of the kissing information. I watched as his shoulders relaxed and had to suppress a chuckle at how protective even he became over Clarke.

“We didn't kiss,” Clarke said, rolling her eyes.

“Really? Like, perfect opportunity to burst that bubble, Clarke!” I scowled at Raven. Jealousy was painted across my face and I couldn't hide it if I tried. Raven spoke about kissing like it was a game and the more lips you could lock with, the better your chances at leveling up. I had no problems with it, to each their own, but I was almost positive that she knew how Clarke felt about her first kiss and her mockery was NOT appreciated.

“I want it to be special,” Clarke said while picking at her salad. She let out a wistful sigh. “I want it to be with someone I really like, someone who gets me in like.. small, weird, intimate ways.”

“What’s on that wish list of yours then?” Raven asked, propping her head on her hand while her elbow leaned on the table. She had a dreamy look on her face as she asked.

Clarke shrugged. “I don't know.” She picked at her salad while she thought. “It's weird, but, i want someone who knows what my favourite flavour is. And what my favourite smell is, and like those odd kind of quirks.”

“Mint. And anything that smells a little woodsy,” I added.

Clarke smiled. “And someone who knows all the small things, like my dominant hand and why that would be important when like… kissing and stuff.” her face turned a slight pink and I nudged her shoulder with my own.

“Left, because you shift your weight that way more often than not and end up leading with that side with everything,” I chimed in again. “Makes sense, so you don't lean to the same side and end up knocking each other out.”

Raven looked between Clarke and I, an incredulous look on her face.

“Right. And like, what my favourite food is.”

“Cupcakes. Or chocolate of any kind, but DEFINITELY cupcakes. And brussel sprouts if we're talking vegetables.”

Roan sent me a, “seriously?” look. I sent him back a confused one. What was his problem?

“Yeah. I don't know, I just want my first kiss to be with someone who knows all those weird little things about me.”

“Like the fact that your hands tremble when you're nervous?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Clarke said, her blue eyes boring into me. “Exactly like that.” She blinked, laughed through her nose and shook her head at me.

What?

Raven nodded and sent me an odd look, shaking her head as well. “Well, Clarkey, maybe you'll get that for your birthday!” She winked at everyone at the table and then erupted into a fit of giggles that sounded more like a cackle. Roan, Clarke and I all shared a concerned look. Maybe Clarke had dropped her during practice and she was suffering from a head injury?

“You're implying that she likes someone,” I defended. Raven just laughed harder. I knew Clarke had mixed feelings toward SOMEONE, but if she wouldn't tell ME, her best friend, then I assumed that she didn't tell Raven either.

Roan groaned, leaning back out if his chair and shaking his head at the ceiling while banging his balled up fists lightly against his eyes.

What the heck was with everyone today?

I looked around for a teacher to get assistance. Raven was losing it, and Roan wasn’t far behind.

Too much cologne alerted me to Bellamy’s appearance seconds before he slid in next to Clarke, wrapping his arm around around her shoulder. “Speaking of your birthday, what are we doing for your big day?”

Clarke groaned. “I already told you guys, I want it to be low-key. Stop making such a big deal of it.”

Raven scoffed.

“Clarke,” I chastised. “We talked about this last year, your birthday IS a big deal. You are special and you deserve to be acknowledged for how special you are.”

Clarke stuck her tongue out at me. “And I told YOU last year, I don’t need something spectacular. Cupcakes are perfect.”

“Cupcakes?” Raven asked, looking at me with a knowing smirk. Roan elbowed her side.

“Besides, you both already know that my parents are throwing me a birthday party that weekend, as per my mother’s kind request.” Clarke let out a bitter laugh. It wasn’t really a request on her mother’s behalf -- more of a demand. She was adamant that Clarke invite the entire cheerleading squad and the football players that Clarke spent time with, namely Bellamy and Finn. Dr. Griffin being the snobby bi-- important figure in our city, even invited Cage, who extended the invitation to Lorelei. Her reasoning, when Clarke lost her temper over it, was that she needed to keep in good favour with Mayor Wallace. Roan and I were lucky to make the cut. Clarke and Jake both had to threaten a mutiny, implying that they would boycott her own birthday if we weren't invited.

It would TOTALLY be a welcoming atmosphere.

“Maybe we can skip out early?” she whispered to me, knowing that I was already planning my escape route. I smirked and rolled my eyes, my cheeks heating up at the insinuation. She didn’t mean it like that, but I couldn’t stop my head from going in that direction.

Why oh why could Clarke not see how every time she said something like that I had an internal war between my libido and my head? It was painful.

“Your party is going to be amazing, Clarke,” Bellamy said excitedly, banging on the table with his fists while grinning at everyone.

Another roll of the eyes was all the response he received.

Maybe Raven wasn't the only one who was dropped on their head.

*

I spent the entire night prior to Clarke’s birthday baking the most decadent chocolate brownie (with Anya’s help) and making Clarke’s gift. Roan was gracious enough to eat all of the batches that weren’t perfect, until he was lying on the kitchen floor groaning with a stomach ache. It took us six hours, and more cupcake batter than I thought could possibly ever be consumed by three people, but it was completely worth it.

At 11:59pm, I text Clarke an ‘SOS’ .

She immediately called me. I had barely put my phone down from texting her before the house phone rang, the loud, shrill noise making Anya grumble sleepily from the couch and clutch her aching stomach (she might have dipped into the imperfect batches along with Roan).

“Lexa, are you okay?” Clarke’s sleepy, gravelly voice was tinged with worry, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at how cute she was.

“Were you sleeping?”

“Mhmm,” she hummed, just on the verge of falling back asleep again while she was on the phone.

“Why did you answer?”

“Special ring tone,” she mumbled.

My heart ignited with warmth. She was making it really hard to only think of her as a friend.

“You okay?” she asked around a yawn. The phone ruffled, letting me know that Clarke had turned over. I stared at the clock, hoping that I hadn't missed my chance by her falling asleep.

The clock turned to midnight and I answered her softly. “Happy birthday, Clarke.”

I could hear the smile as she sighed sleepily. “Thank you, Lex,” she whispered, before falling back asleep, a light snore telling me that she was out for the count.

*

I left the cupcake in Clarke’s locker, using the combination I had practically memorized to open it and leave it with the handwritten note I had for her. It was the cheesiest thing I had ever written, but I felt no shame when I heard Clarke gasp while fighting off the affections of the cheerleading squad and Finn to store her books for her later classes. Clarke was desperately trying to seem bored that it was her birthday. Opening her locker and seeing the Tupperware had effectively ruined that; however. The squawking cheerleaders stopped with their shrill version of happy birthday, thinking something was wrong, and Clarke pulled the tupperware out of her locker and held it to her chest. She pulled off the note, opening it to read and completely ignoring the questions from her small crowd. Finn looked like a kicked puppy as he held a bouquet of flowers uselessly while Clarke ignored his curiosity.

She barked out a laugh after reading it and pushed past everyone to get to me across the hallway. I was leaning against the locker with my leg kicked up, hoodie thrown over my head in a pathetic attempt to seem unaffected and hide the fact that I was secretly watching the entire exchange.

She wrapped her fingers around the collar of my hoodie and pulled me into her, our faces inches apart. I fought hard to keep my face impassive, but my arms slid around her waist instantly, squeezing her with everything I had.

“You’re the one leaving cute little notes for me in my locker. I didn't think you had it in you, Lex.”

“You're the one whose birthday is today, Clarke,” I explained as though it was obvious.

“A little sweet for the sweetest of sixteen year olds? Really? How long did it take you to write that?” She said around a laugh as she leaned back, arms wrapped around my neck.

My cheeks burned as I looked into her eyes swimming with mirth. I nodded once, still desperately trying to appear unaffected. “I'm not dignifying that with an answer.”

“So like, at least three hours and you needed Anya's help?” She teased.

I scoffed, feigning offense and dropping my arms from around her waist.

“You are such a dork,” she swatted my arm affectionately before we were interrupted.

Finn cleared his throat from behind us, awkwardly standing there while I forced myself to not glare. He looked SO nervous. Was he about to ask her to be his girlfriend? Why was he so nervous? I was getting nervous looking at him be so nervous.

“Clarke, umm, sorry to interrupt, but I got you something.”

Clarke disentangled herself from my arms, but shifted to my right so she could lace her fingers through mine. “Right, sure. Thank you, Finn,” she said as she reached out with her free hand for the flowers. Finn handed them to her and looked down at our entwined hands, his jaw twitching slightly before he gave Clarke a dopey smile.

Was he expecting a hug?

He left shortly after, Clarke not saying much beyond a ‘thank you’, and she let out a sigh. “What am I supposed to do with these?” She flopped the flowers back and forth in her hands, looking expectantly at me.

“Admit that he's trying too hard?”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “He's trying to be nice,” she chastised. “You know, that thing you seem to have an aversion to?”

“Excuse me, but I wrote you the world's greatest poem.”

Clarke laughed. “Wow. Poetry. Don't quit your day job, Lex.”

“Besides, maybe he should have gotten to know you at the dance instead of get wasted,” I grumbled. “You hate flowers.”

“Yes, but I know a certain someone who loves them,” Clarke said cheekily.

“Do NOT give me second hand flowers,” I pouted, crossing my arms over my chest indignantly.

“They're not second hand. They're just… passed down? Antique? Good for a new home?”

“There's no such thing as ANTIQUE flowers.” I chuckled and took the flowers from Clarke, putting them inside my locker for safe keeping. I secretly loved flowers, and these ones were very nice. I would have to get some water and a cup or something to keep them for the day.

“I can already see your mind reeling trying to figure out how to keep them fresh.”

“Shut up,” I snapped, playfully swatting at Clarke's arm.

Clarke just laughed. “Thank you for the cupcake, I'm so incredibly excited for it.”

“I know, but you have to wait until lunch.”

Clarke growled, then pouted. “Fine. Birthday ruiner.”

“You'll have a stomach ache if you eat it now. I know you love chocolate, but your body is not properly equipped to deal with it at eight in the morning.”

With a growing pout, Clarke conceded. She gave me a lingering hug and kiss on the cheek when the bell rang, and I floated to my first class, feeling like I was on cloud nine.

*

Clarke's birthday party was… expensive. There was a chocolate fondue fountain, a cheese fondue fountain, a giant ass slide that led into the pool, and a foam cannon. A FOAM CANNON.

It was literally the OPPOSITE of low-key.

Oh yeah, and there was a live band and BUTLERS to serve some really odd looking appetizers.

Rich people were so weird.

“Please kill me,” Clarke groaned, dropping her head to my shoulder as we watched the butlers scurry around the house trying to get prepared for the festivities.

“Clarke, please tell me you and… your friend… are going to change,” Dr. Griffin scolded as she saw us sitting on the top of the stairs.

My face flushed. I hadn't brought anything else. I was currently in my best pair of jeans (my only pair that I hadn't outgrown), and a loose black tank top. Clarke was wearing her most flattering pair of ripped jeans and a white low cut, V-neck t shirt. Carmen and Lolita were restrained in her favourite bra (I only know that because she told me, I swear). Her hair was up in a messy bun while mine was down, the loose waves still drying after the shower I had just finished taking.

“What?” Clarke bit out. “Lexa looks hot and so do I. What do you want us in? Ball gowns? We're in the twenty-first century mom, chill.” Clarke lifted her head to scowl at her mother before it went back to resting comfortably on my shoulder.

“Yeah, honey take a chill pill,” Jake said as he rounded the corner, sneaking an appetizer off the plate of one oh the butlers. He was wearing khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, to which Dr. Griffin rolled her eyes and scoffed while Clarke and I burst into a fit of giggles. Dr. Griffin stormed off, muttering something about silverware, and Jake sent us a cheeky grin. “Ladies, you look lovely, Lexa more so than Clarke.”

“Hey!”

“Clarke, her pants don't have holes in them. Honey, you look like a bum. I can lend you some fabric if you want to stitch it together,” Jake teased.

Around a laugh, I squeezed Clarke's thigh and said, “she looks great, Jake, leave her be. She knows where you sleep.”

Jake feigned sudden fright and saluted me. “Aye aye, Commander.”

“I thought the saying was ‘aye aye, Captain?’”

“Yes, well, extenuating circumstances and all,” he said with a wave of his hand. “If you need me, holler!”

Clarke groaned with a chuckle, rolling her head to speak into my chest. “He's so lame.”

“He's amazing,” I defended.

“That's because he is almost as big of a nerd as you.”

“Whatever, dork. Do you want your birthday present or not?”

Clarke’s head shot up off my shoulder as she furrowed her brow. “You already gave me my present,” she said unsurely.

“I gave you ONE of them. Roan and Anya helped me with this one. It's nothing special, nothing like this party, but we figured you'd deserve something extra for it being your sixteenth and all.” I wrung my hands nervously in my lap, my stomach filling with butterflies.

“Lexa, whatever it is, I'm sure in going to love it. I love everything you give me.”

Clarke took my hands between hers, running her thumb along my knuckles soothingly. When I stopped fidgeting, she stood and dragged me up the stairs to her room so I could go to my bag.

“Turn around.”

Clarke grumbled, but did as told as I set it all up in her bed.

“Okay, you can turn back around.”

Clarke gasped at what she saw. I was seeing stars with how long I was holding my breath. It felt like it was such a stupid idea, but I wanted to commemorate how we had met with the gift.

On her bed was a single duct tape rose and a sketchbook I had to beg Anya to buy, covered by dark brown duct tape, and a big ‘C G’ done with gold marker. Considering I was as creative as a hammer, it took Anya, Roan and I a combined effort to make it look as good as it did. I also made Clarke a duct tape pouch and fastened a zipper from one of my pants that no longer fit onto it so it could hold her art supplies. I had practically been the sole investor in duct tape with the sheer amount that was used with this gift.

“So I know it’s nothing flashy like what you’re going to get today --”

“I love it,” Clarke cut in. “It’s…” she shook her head, “it’s perfect, thank you.”

Heat creeped up my neck while Clarke ran her fingers along the sketchbook and twirled the duct tape flower in her fingers.

“I know you don’t like flowers but it was the first thing I could think of.”

“Stop explaining, I love it. THIS flower I’d keep forever. I love it. You just.. God Lexa…” Clarke, at a loss for words, dropped the flower and walked toward me purposefully, arms wide for a hug, smile bright and eyes shimmering.

How did I ever deserve a friend like Clarke Griffin?

We shared one of our normal, lingering embraces, and while my heart still beat wildly in my chest, I decided to take the initiative and kiss her cheek. It WAS her birthday after all (So what if I was doing it for me too?). Clarke had the same idea, which, in hindsight, makes sense, seeing as she was always the one to initiate it. The crossing of wires, the miscommunication, led to us turning our faces at the same time and our lips meeting instead.

My stomach erupted in butterflies as Clarke's lips pressed against my own.

Oh, wow.

Clarke let out a small whimper at the contact, a content sigh, and I realized what we were doing and pulled away faster than duct tape that had no sticky side. Clarke’s eyes snapped to my own, her pupils blown. Both of us sported painfully reddened cheeks.

“Clarke --”

“Lexa --”

“I’m so sorry --”

“It’s okay --”

We spoke over each other as we both averted our eyes.

Oh my God. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears and felt the shallowness of my breath as my mind spun.

What had I done? No, no, no.

Clarke burst out into a giggle, pulling my eyes back from the floor to look at her. I shouldn't have been surprised when she shrugged. “Happy birthday to me. I guess Raven was right. We do as the French do.”

“Raven? What? Clarke, I don’t think that’s accurate about French people.”

Clarke waved her hand at me. “Semantics. Are you going to worry yourself into a panic attack over this or are you cool with the fact that that just happened?” She worried her lip in what could only be described as nervously, and upon closer inspection (because I was staring at her so intently), I noticed she had a slight tremor coursing through her body to match her nerves. She must have been worried that I’d read too much into it.

I shrugged, feigning nonchalance when I felt EVERYTHING but that. “It’s cool. Happy birthday.”

I guess, to her, it wasn't serious. It wasn't a REAL kiss, so there was nothing to worry about. It was an accident, after all. That was probably better for the two of us, if it was an accident. Right?

Clarke shook her head, smile still plastered on her face. “Lexa, I really--”

“It was an accident,” I blurted out suddenly. I knew what she was about to say.

I really wanted my first kiss to be special. Don’t read into it.

Clarke dropped her eyes to the floor, and after a long moment of silence, the giggles completely gone now, she shook her head, letting out a loud huff of air. “No.”

“No?”

“No, it.. No, you can’t say it was an accident. You can’t say you didn’t mean it. You CAN’T.” She looked back up at me, eyes wet and stepped into my space, placing her hand gently on my chest, fingers brushing my collarbone while they trembled against my trembling heart.

“I -- uhh -- it was --” I fumbled over my words as all the air rushed out of my lungs.

“Lexa, you’re the most complicated person I’ve ever met. I can barely understand what you’re thinking half the time with all the mixed signals you give me, but I know.. I KNOW that you don’t think that was an accident. Look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t feel sparks. Tell me I’m the only one who felt it,” she said softly, voice wavering while she spoke and her walls crumbled in front of me.

“I can’t,” I whispered. “I can’t tell you you were the only one who felt that.” The piercing of the blue in her eyes made my heart beat so fast it felt like it was getting ready to explode. Clarke's hand on my chest was the only thing keeping me from falling apart.

Clarke’s eyes lit up and she let out a watery smile.

“Clarke, honey, your guests are here,” Jake called through the closed door, interrupting the tense moment.

I cleared my throat, trying to clear my head from the haze it was in. This was terrifying. “Let’s not keep them waiting,” I said.

“No, let’s,” Clarke demanded instead. She stepped impossibly closer, sliding her hand up to my neck, tracing the nape of it.

“We need to talk about this later,” Clarke said, her eyes dropping to my lips, “but I’ve literally been waiting to do this since I crashed into you last year and I can't wait any longer.”

I didn’t even have time to react when she pulled my neck forward and crashed her lips against my own again. The explosion of colours and electricity that ran through me again forced a small, content sigh out of my chest.

Finally.

Her lips were warm, sweet, and I felt it EVERYWHERE. Her hands, still trembling, tightened against the nape of my neck and I suddenly realized that my hands were hanging limply by my side. I put them on her hips and pulled her closer, needing to feel her to know that this was real.

This was REAL.

Clarke let out a soft huff of air as our bodies collided, her body still trembling against mine. I pressed my lips harder against her own, trying to tell her everything I felt with it and assure her it was okay, this was real, she was safe.

“Clarke?” Jake called again, this time knocking on the door.

The knocking startled me away from her, but not far enough to disentangle myself from her. I ran my fingers along her spine, soothing not only her, but myself as well as my heart rate slowed.

“Coming,” she called out breathlessly. She looked back at me, pupils blown. “Are we okay?”

I don’t know if I actually said it or if I was just imagining saying, “Always”. I must have actually said it since Clarke gave me her signature smirk and pressed her lips against mine one more time before smiling into the kiss and turning it messy. My mind was spinning at just the slight contact.

This was real, right?

She grumbled out a complaint when I finally separated from her, before looping her arm through mine and we exited her room to make our way down to the main floor.

The squeals of the cheerleaders that met us forced me to cringe, they were SO loud.

Clarke squeezed my arm tightly before letting go, whispering, “and so it begins.”

“I’ll be around, go entertain.”

Clarke let out a quiet whine from the back of her throat before making her way into the throng of overly excited teenage girls.

I might have been walking around with a dopey smile on my face, tracing my lips with the tip of my finger while I was lost in thought.

God. I really was SO gay.

“What’s gotten into you?” Roan asked as he sidled up to me next to the chips.

“When did you even get here?” I asked, startled. My heart pounded against my ribs at the insane possibility that Roan would know what happened just by looking at my face.

How did I not even see him standing there? I heard Roan call me a useless lesbian and shot him a glare. He gave me a perplexed look.

Oh, he hadn't actually said that.

So, so gay.

“Like a half hour ago? You’ve been in LaLa Land since I walked in. Are you on something?” He snapped his fingers in front of my face and I shoved him.

“No, I’m not ‘on something’,” I barked with a scowl.

“Okay,” he responded, dragging out the ‘o’ disbelievingly. “This party is…”

“Obnoxious?” I supplied, already exhausted as another shriek sounded to my left from a recently arrived cheerleader.

“I was going to say over the top, but that works too.” Roan chuckled. “Did she like her gift?”

“Yeah,” I said, “she loved it.” If my mind drifted back to the events that transpired in Clarke's bedroom and I zoned out, Roan was SURE to mention it. What an asshole.

“You're SURE you're not on something?”

“What is your fucking fascination with drugs today?”

Roan just rolled his eyes and flipped his stupidly long hair.

I wanted to tell Roan what had happened, how everything had changed and how AMAZING everything was in this moment, but Cage and Lorelei nodded at him and he returned their nod. I furrowed my brow and rolled my eyes at Lorelei as she scowled at me.

“I’m gonna...” Roan pointed after them.

“Whatever,” I said, dismissing him with a wave of the hand. If he wanted to do stupid shit with the two biggest idiots at school, then that was on him. I wasn’t about to get into another spat with him when Clarke had so clearly told us where to go the last time we argued about his choices.

I wandered around, declining butler after butler serving pretentious appetizers I couldn’t pronounce. Clarke and I exchanged a heated glance from across the room as she was talking to Bimbi or Bimbo or Bambi -- whatever the hell her name was. I gave her a soft smile in return. Clarke rolled her eyes and stared pointedly at me.

What? Was she mad at me?

When Bimbi/Bimbo/Bambi tilted her head back to let out a loud, obnoxious laugh, Clarke gestured with her head to the bathroom. I sent her a confused pout. She narrowed her gaze and then gestured again, more obviously this time.

God, I really WAS oblivious.

When I finally caught on, I nodded a little TOO excitedly and Clarke rolled her eyes again, this time with a smile.

I made my way to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. I realized how weird sitting on the toilet with my pants on was, and then leaned against the sink and looked down at my nail beds, trying to seem like I wasn’t nervously waiting for my best friend to walk in.

God, I was a mess.

Clarke pushed open the door less than a minute later, closing it behind her quickly, but not turning around. She kept her hand on the frame of the door, her head pressed against the wood. My heart leapt to my throat at the fact that she couldn’t look at me (Okay, I was a nervous wreck).

“This party is exhausting,” she said quietly.

“Yeah,” I agreed. My voice cracked and I internally rolled my eyes at myself.

Clarke turned around and leaned back against the door, her hands behind her back as she gazed at me leaning against the sink. I shifted nervously, clenching my jaw. I could feel the sweat starting to form in my palms as we stood, silently staring at one another.

“We need to talk,” Clarke said, her eyes dropping to the floor.

I let out a harsh sigh, preparing for the worst. “Okay.”

“Do you -- how do you feel about earlier?” Clarke asked.

“Umm,” I started, clearing my throat. My fingers tugged on the edge of my tank top and I cast my eyes to the ground, beyond nervous and quickly heading into terrified territory.

I swallowed thickly, the emotion threatening to choke me. Anya’s voice reminding me to communicate pierced my quickly spiraling mind.

“Nervous,” I finally said, to which Clarke nodded. “I’ve liked you since I met you, too,” I forced myself to add. I knew my cheeks were matching a tomato by this point.

“You have?” she asked incredulously.

I nodded.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

Clarke let out a frustrated laugh. “You’re joking me.”

“I wouldn’t joke about this,” I said, my eyes finding hers to express how serious I was.

“Fuck,” Clarke laughed, her hand coming up to cover her face.

“What?”

“You… have no idea how hard you are to read!” she exclaimed with another exasperated laugh.

I nodded, bottom lip jutting out in a pout. “I'm sorry.”

“I literally had no idea you liked ANYONE, let alone ME,” Clarke continued, pointing to her chest.

“I… oh. I tried… really hard for you to not know because I didn’t know you YOU liked ME.”

“I literally COULD NOT have made it any more obvious, Lexa.”

My cheeks kept up the tomato red colour from earlier. “Well, I mean, kissing me was pretty obvious and it worked,” I quipped.

“And I'm sure you're going to convince yourself I don't actually like you at some point.”

“No I'm not.” I probably, totally, completely was.

Clarke laughed. Her expression took on a serious look, a blush covering her cheeks when she asked “Have you always liked… girls?”

I nodded. So did Clarke. We stood there awkwardly for a minute while she chewed on her nails.

“Clarke,” I admonished, my eyes looking pointedly at her fingers.

“How did you know if you've never been with one?”

I shrugged. “I just did. I was never interested in boys. I never wanted them to kiss me or touch me, but girls… girls I would daydream about holding their hands and kissing them. I just knew.”

“I don’t know what this means,” Clarke blurted out, gesturing to the space between us. “I can’t get you out of my head -- I can’t get KISSING YOU out of my head, Lexa. It’s all I’ve wanted to do for like… ever. I’ve never felt like this before, for anyone, really, and I don't really understand it. I've thought boys were cute. I've even thought girls were cute, I just thought… I just thought my feelings for boys were real and girls were just whatever. And then you come strolling in with your model face and bright eyes and perfect jawline and I can hardly remember how to breathe let alone what it is that made me think that liking girls wasn’t the same.”

It dawned on me that I was the one she was talking about the night of the dance. I was the one she wasn’t sure she liked. I was the one she always alluded to wanting to kiss since we had our first sleepover. I was the one. I felt like SUCH AN ASSHOLE. I’d always known I was a lesbian, I never had a doubt, so I had no idea how Clarke was feeling, the turmoil of not feeling the way you've been taught to feel your entire life, the feeling of being unsure of who you are, and then to have to try and figure it out without being able to talk to your best friend about it… because your best friend is as thick as a brick wall and you had potentially unrequited feelings for them.  Roan was right, I WAS a useless lesbian. I groaned, long and low. I owed him fifty bucks.

Clarke gave me a nervous look and I just shook my head before she started chewing her nails again.

“You can like whoever you want, Clarke. Boy, girl, whoever. If you're worried about it being too much or you're not ready or whatever… like if the thought of this freaks you out, it doesn't have to mean anything. I don’t ever want to pressure you into anything because of my feelings… obviously… since I thought NOT telling you was a good idea because I didn’t want you to go screaming for the hills. We can forget this, like, we can go back to before? I swear I won’t make it weird,” I rambled, trying my best to disguise the compounding hurt I felt. I couldn’t ever be okay with it meaning nothing, but I'd do it for Clarke.

“Are you insane? Can you shut up for a second before you say something ELSE stupid? No, forgetting this is NOT possible and I am so far from interested in going back to before.”

I laughed. “Thank God, ‘cause I could never forget it either.”

Clarke shook her head. “I just… I don’t KNOW, you know? My feelings for you are so, SO intense, but I don’t know.. Ugh. They scare me. YOU scare me,” she ran her hand down her face in exasperation. “I don’t know. I want to kiss you again, that I know for sure. I just don’t know if I’m ready to deal with… all that,” Clarke trembled on the spot, gesturing to the world outside the bathroom. I stepped toward her slowly, linking our fingers together as she leaned against the door.

“Clarke, look at me,” I said while she tried to avoid my eyes. I ducked my head down, still trying to get her to make eye contact with me so she knew how serious I was when I said what I had to say.

I cupped her cheek with my palm, turning her face to look at me when she still wouldn't, letting out a shaky breath instead.

“Clarke.” Her eyes were stormy, the confusion on her face plain as day, so I gave her a soft, kind smile. Pressing my lips softly against hers, she let out a tiny huff of breath that made my head spin and then pulled back slightly, leaning my forehead against her own and breathing her in.

“We'll figure it out,” I whispered with my eyes closed.

“And if I do something stupid and ruin it?” Another tremor ran through her.

“Did you forget that I'm the blind one? I can almost guarantee that it'll be me.”

Clarke chuckled, leaning her head back against the wall. Gone was the stormy blue from before, replaced with the bright, teasing colour I always found myself lost in. “True.”

“I’m always going to be your best friend, Clarke. We’ll figure it out,” I reiterated. “And,” I added, taking a deep, calming breath, “and you scare me too,” I breathed out. “You scare me because I really, REALLY like you and I don’t know if I deserve you.”

Clarke put her hands on top of mine on her cheeks, squeezing slightly. “Listen to me. You deserve so much more than you know. There's a reason I like you. You're special. You walk into a room and you make everything so much better by just being there. You're amazing, Lexa, don't you see that? Money or no money, YOU'RE the one I can't stop thinking about. You need to get that through your thick skull. Even if we were just friends, I would be so happy that you chose to have me in your life. You're worth more than you could even imagine and I won't stop until that stupid little voice in your head that keeps telling you otherwise shuts up.”

I don’t know how long we stood there breathing the same air and trying to give our strength while feeling so exposed to one another, but a knock on the door had us startling apart.

“Shit,” Clarke breathed, suddenly turning a ghostly shade of white. “Give me a second,” she called out, patting down her clothes and fixing her hair.

I chuckled, stepping toward her and running my hands down her arms vigorously. “Clarke, we’re best friends, no one would think anything if we went to the bathroom together.”

“Right, right,” she said, calming down. “Duh.” She leaned in and gave me another swift kiss before winking, turning and exiting the bathroom.

I gave Bellamy, the one waiting for the bathroom, a HUGE grin and decided to find a couch I could sit on and count the minutes until this party was over. I stumbled into Finn on my way to the living room, wearing slacks and a button up. Either he was overdressed or I was underdressed, but either way, he looked like a prick, and I was feeling smug.

“Lexa, hey.” He gave me that charming smile that made me want to puke and do a happy dance at the same time.

“Finn,” I nodded.

“This party is awesome, huh?” he asked.

Of course he thought it was awesome, it was right up his alley.

“It’s something, alright. Have you seen Clarke yet?”

“Yeah, I gave her some flowers with her gift.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. He really didn’t know her at all.

“Nice,” I encouraged. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be sabotaging him, but whatever. At this point, I couldn’t care less about anyone but Clarke.

After a drive-by kiss on the cheek from her that landed closer to the corner of my mouth than usual (I think it was intentional), she was whisked away by another group of her friends. I tried to make conversation with some of the cheerleaders, but they started discussing something about social media, which I didn't have, and they had no qualms about ignoring my existence completely. The feeling was mutual, as their high-pitched, overly entitled voices made my head hurt. I couldn’t care less about some dreamy YouTube star who was doing horrible things for attention. The fact that he was doing horrible things immediately revoked his dreamy status. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why that was even a debatable topic.

After that, I tried to join in on a conversation with some other football players, but their conversation drifted off into one about high end cars and the high end models that came with the cars in a rather perturbing way.

Even the side conversation I started with Finn and Bellamy was strained. Bellamy and Finn both had feelings for Clarke, which she didn't return (obviously), and I was her best friend. Of course this conversation only had one direction.

“So you and Clarke are really close,” Finn said, trying his best to sound casual.

I had to hide my laughter behind my hand. Yes, close.

I shrugged.

“Can you tell me what she likes?” he asked.

Was that desperation that I was hearing?

“I mean, you could just ask her,” I replied stiffly.

“Yeah, but you’re a girl. Girls tell each other things they won’t tell us,” Bellamy explained. “They make it a guessing game.”

“I really think you should rethink your words,” I bit out. Bellamy had the decency to blush, even if he DID roll his eyes.

“Clarke is amazing. She’s really smart and funny, and actually has a lot of genuine interests that are apparent if you just ask her.”

“You mean like cheerleading?” Finn asked.

I stared at him. Was he serious?

He ran his hand through his hair, letting out a harsh breath. “I’ve never really been turned down by anyone before. It’s weird.”

“Having to work for her affections?” Bellamy deadpanned.

“No, I just, I don’t know. Nevermind. You’re right, I just have to try harder.”

“Umm, I mean, if she turned you down, you kind of just have to respect that,” I said to Finn.

“Right, yeah, I guess I can just wait a few days.” He shrugged. “It’s not like she’s seeing anyone else.”

“Careful, your entitlement is showing,” Bellamy chirped at him.

Finn just gave me a confused look.

“That’s not -- that's absolutely ridiculous, Finn. If a girl says no, in any regard, you STOP.” I rolled my eyes and walked away. I was done with this conversation. I knew where he was coming from was a place of innocence, but the idea that boys felt entitled to continue to pursue a woman after she told them she wasn’t interested made my blood boil.

“Alright, alright, now that everyone’s here, let’s get to opening the presents so we can leave you all to destroy our house!” Jake called from the living room.

After finally corralling the twenty-odd teenagers into their living room, I plopped down next to Roan in the farthest corner of the room.

“You okay?” he asked, voice laced with concern. “Your cheeks are all red and your hair is a MESS. Fuck, Lex, are you sure you’re not on something?”

I shook my head. “Shut up with all that. What is your obsession with me being on something?”

“I could get you something that wouldn’t make your cheeks red,” Roan quipped. My eyes bulged and he let out a deep chuckle. “I’m kidding, chill.”

“What are we whispering about?” Raven said as she plopped down by Roan. She grunted and shifted her braced leg to get more comfortable, eventually opting to swing her leg up onto the couch and across Roan and I.

Roan’s face burned with a blush, and I had to cover my mouth to hide my laughter.

“Drugs,” I said bluntly. Raven’s eyes widened.

“Good ones, I hope,” she joked.

Roan chuckled. “Nothing, Lexa’s being weird.”

“When is Lexa NOT being weird?” Raven quipped.

“First of all, fuck you, secondly, I am NOT being weird!” I hissed.

Dr. Griffin sent me a scathing look while Clarke gave me a dopey grin. I gave her a small thumbs up and a smile, while simultaneously avoiding Dr. Griffin’s glare.

Roan and Raven both rolled their eyes.

The first gift was opened, something shiny and expensive given to Clarke by one of the cheerleaders. Everyone oooh-ed and ahhh-ed over it, while I felt that all-too-familiar rock of inadequacy settle in my stomach. Gift after gift was more expensive than the last, and Clarke smiled through them all, hugging and thanking whomever gave them to her with such gratitude that you would think she had never received a nice thing in her entire life. The rock of inadequacy turned to a stone, which turned to a boulder, settling deep in my stomach and making me nauseous.

“This is all so pretentious,” Roan grumbled.

Raven had gifted Clarke a palette of makeup she was asking for. When Clarke thanked her, Raven quipped, “anything for you sweet cheeks,” eliciting a round of laughter from everyone in the room.

Even the palette of makeup was more than I had ever given Clarke. The scrapbook itself forced me to have Meatless Mondays for the next two months.

“Clarke,” Dr. Griffin said after she opened the final gift from Finn, which had him blushing emphatically when Clarke hugged him.

“Time to get this party started?” Clarke asked.

Dr. Griffin shook her head and said “no,”, while Jake said a resounding, “yes!” Followed by, “Wait, what?” His face fell along with the fist he had pumped in the air. Dr. Griffin sent him an annoyed look before continuing, “your father and I have one more gift for you.”

“We do?” Jake asked, clearly confused. Dr. Griffin nodded and glared at him. She produced a small box from behind her back and put it in Clarke's outstretched hands.

“Mom, dad, you know I didn't want anything for my birthday.”

“Yes, but we think you deserve this. It's time to move on from that childish bike phase.”

My stomach bottomed out. I knew Dr. Griffin well enough to know that that was directed at me. I was the childish phase.

Clarke rolled her eyes. “I like my bike.” I also knew that Clarke knew what her mom was implying. She stared at her mother challengingly.

“Just open the gift,” Dr. Griffin huffed.

“Hang on. Abby, we --”

Dr. Griffin raised her hand and Jake’s jaw snapped shut. “It's our daughter's sixteenth birthday, Jake. Let her open her gift.”

Clarke furrowed her brow and opened the small box, immediately letting out a huge gasp.

“No!” she exclaimed.

Dr. Griffin smiled that smile so similar to Clarke's when it reached her eyes. “Yes, honey.”

With shaking fingers, Clarke pulled out a set of keys with a Mercedes symbol.

My ears rung. Who needs a bike when you have a Mercedes?

Clarke jumped out of her seat and rushed to the garage, everyone following behind. I trailed behind everyone else, Jake behind me with his hand on my shoulder. He must have understood how I felt, if the soft squeeze he gave was anything to go by.

Clarke was gifted the most expensive looking car I had ever seen. It was red, flashy, and obnoxious. “Oh my God!” She squealed when she saw it. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!” She ran over to her mother, and then to her father and gave them tight hugs while the rest of the party took pictures of her new car. “I love it!” She yelled. She then grabbed my arm and pulled me along with her while she unlocked the car.

“Clarke, wait --” Dr. Griffin started, but Clarke ignored her as she opened the passenger door for me and practically shoved me into the leather interior. She squealed again, running around to the other side of the car and jumping in the driver's seat.

“Oh my God, this is so sexy!” She rubbed her hands up and down the steering wheel. “So hot!” Clarke ran her hands along the leather interior, the light brown with mahogany paneling. This car was probably more than my entire house.

“This car is so excessive and I don't care because it gets me to your house faster,” Clarke whispered, beaming at me.

“You CANNOT drive this to my neighborhood, Clarke.” I smiled and Clarke squealed again.

“I can't wait to get my driver's license and we can go wherever we want, Lex!” The look in her eyes was not one I had seen before, but what it spoke of was LOUD AND CLEAR. I blushed, a jolt of electricity hitting the base of my spine.

Seriously though, how was I SO blind?

“You might not want to pick up bums! I heard they make the leather smell!” Lorelei called from the garage. Raven stuck her leg in front of her and Roan shoved her shoulder, causing Lorelei to fall forwards into Cage.

After the excitement over the car passed, everyone made their way inside to enjoy the copious amounts of wealth on a plate, and Clarke pulled me to the side.

“Are you okay?” She asked, putting the back of her hand against my forehead. “You look flushed.”

“I'm fine,” I said, forcing a smile and a silly face to make Clarke believe me. I was trying to get over the embarrassment of Lorelei's words and the flaring inadequacy I always felt around her, no matter how stupid it was.

She nodded and pulled me back into the chaos, only to be pulled away by someone else. Clarke sent me a wistful glance over her shoulder before she disappeared.

I wandered around aimlessly, my heart warring with my head. That pesky little voice Clarke was trying to silence said:

I pretended that Clarke and I were in the same league, that we could exist on the same plane if existence, money aside, but who was I kidding? Anything I could give Clarke was garbage in comparison.

I was garbage.

And then that husky, demanding voice of my best friend, the one that made my head spin and my heartrate triple spoke up:

But….

But all those shiny gifts and inheritances and Clarke liked ME. She wanted ME. She CHOSE ME. Even that stupid car still made her think about how she could get to ME. I was more than just 'that kid’ in her eyes. I was Lexa. I was her best friend. I wasn't… I wasn't, to her, what so many people dismissed me as. I have always been enough for her. That's all that mattered.

It was going to be a constant battle, my head and my heart, but I had to accept myself as I was if I wanted anyone else to.

Thank God for all that counselling Anya paid for.

Standing by one of the snacks tables and straightening my spine to match the growing confidence I was feeling, I noticed that the chips had been completely demolished, only a few crushed pieces left at the bottom.

All these rich people, all their expensive appetizers, and the chips were still the first to go.

I took the bowl, opting to at least clean up as I aimlessly wandered and avoided her obnoxious friends.

As I was about to push the kitchen door open, I heard the hushed voices of Dr. Griffin and Jake arguing.

“Abby, I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t give Clarke the car.”

“No, that was what YOU wanted. I never agreed to that,” Dr. Griffin snapped.

I decided to hang outside of the door, hoping their argument wasn't going to last too long and I could pretend I was just walking in.

“A Mercedes? Really? Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

“How could it ever be too much for our daughter?”

“That’s not what I meant. What kind of message does that send her?” Jake pleaded.

“That we care about her, Jake.”

“There’s more to life than material things, Abby! Why don't you try being home more often? Or actually LISTENING to her when she speaks instead of cutting her down all the time. You wonder why your relationship is strained. Giving her a car doesn’t send her any kind of message other than that we’re trying to BUY her love, and that THAT’s how you show love to others. And that comment about the bikes? Really? Was that necessary?” It sounded as though Jake was trying really hard to not raise his voice. I had never heard him sound angry before, but this seemed close enough that I shivered.

This was going to take a while. I should leave. I should walk away. And yet...

“Of course it was, Clarke is getting older, she needs a car,” Abby deadpanned.

“It’s just… did you even THINK of how that would make LEXA feel?”

“That girl is exactly who Clarke needs to be reminded to stay away from.”

I should have walked away.

“Stay away from? Is that what this is about? You want to let everyone know of our SOCIAL STATUS? You know her parents died, right? She’s a CHILD, Abby. She’s Clarke’s best friend!” Jake’s voice DEFINITELY raised at this point, and my heart was in my throat.

“You don’t think I see how much money you and Clarke are spending on her? Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you get to take some moral high ground now,” Dr. Griffin hissed.

“Moral high ground? Do you hear yourself? Me having cancer is not the only reason I want Clarke to have good relationships!” Jake was clearly incredulous with his wife’s reasoning.

Oh, no. I felt the bile rise to my throat. I sincerely hoped I had misheard him. I should have walked away.

Jake laughed bitterly. “I don’t even know you anymore. Throwing my cancer in my face so you can justify your absolutely abhorrent reasoning. Talking about a child -- our daughter's BEST FRIEND like that? Good luck trying to separate them, by the way. You aren’t… this isn't the woman I married,” Jake bit out, exhaustion in his tone.

“Lexa? What are you doing standing outside of the kitchen like a weirdo?” Clarke’s raspy and teasing voice sounded from a few steps away, loud enough to be heard clearly from where I stood.

“I, umm.”

I should have walked away.

Also loud enough for her parents to hear. I heard a “shit,” from the other side of the door, then Jake pushed the kitchen door open, eyes wide with guilt. “Lexa.”

“I came to get more chips,” I croaked. My throat burned with each word, never having felt so small. I pushed the bowl with a clenched jaw  towards Jake and avoided his searching gaze.

“Lexa?” Clarke asked again, stepping closer, hand immediately making its way to my forehead. “You’re SO pale.” Her touch made my skin burn.

“I don’t feel well,” I lied. “I think I’m going to just go home.”

I felt like I had whiplash from the roller coaster I was experiencing today. I just needed a minute. I needed to process how I was feeling. I needed to silence that voice in my head again that was telling me I wasn't good enough. I needed to digest what I had overheard. I needed to… I needed...

“No, please, stay,” Clarke begged. Her worry was justified when my eyes were stinging with tears I couldn’t hide.

“I kind of just want to go home. I don’t want to ruin your birthday by being here.”

I needed...

I watched Jake flinch out of the corner of my eye.

Clarke pulled me closer to her. “Maybe take a nap in my room and see if you feel better? I can take you home after, but Anya's not home and I don't want you to be alone if you don't feel well.” She pressed the back of her hand to my forehead again. “Is this about earlier?” she leaned in and whispered quietly, her voice shaking.

I let out a gasp of a laugh and shook my head, leaning my forehead down on her shoulder while she laced her arms around my back and traced up and down my spine. I breathed in her scent -- a floral perfume mixed with clean laundry and sunkissed skin. It was a scent only Clarke could pull off and right now, it was the only thing keeping me from falling apart.

I needed Clarke.

I let out a relieved sigh when I realized that that was all I needed. I didn't need the approval of Dr. Griffin or Lorelei or anyone else. I just needed Clarke.

“Dad?” she asked worriedly when I tightened my grip on her shirt before letting go a few moments later.

“I’ll see her upstairs, Clarke, go back to your party,” Jake cooed.

Clarke looked between us, worrying her lip nervously.

“It’s okay, Clarke,” I soothed, hiding my face in her neck and breathing her in, exactly what I needed to calm down.

Clarke liked me, that was what mattered. Not Dr. Griffin. Not Lorelei. Not Cage. Just Clarke.

“I’ll come check on you in a little bit with some actual food. None of this… I don't even know, shit.”

I gave her a single nod, regretfully pulling away and started walking toward the stairs, Jake hot on my heels.

“Lexa,” Jake said in a sigh when we got to Clarke's room.

“Don’t worry, I won’t say anything,” I said, refusing to face him. “If that’s what you’re wondering about. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that.”

Jake flinched. “There shouldn't have ever BEEN a time where you heard that, Lexa.”

I shrugged. “Dr. Griffin's attitude is more common than you think. Thank you for standing up for me, by the way.”

“You don’t need to thank me for doing the right thing, Lexa. Abby will come around or she will lose Clarke. Those are the only two options here, because we BOTH know that you aren’t going anywhere. Right now she’s just blinded by her title. Her and I are going to have a serious talk about what she said today. I can't,” he shook his head, “I don't know who that woman was in there. I’m sorry.”

“Don't apologize for other people,” I said, still bitter. “I don’t care if she comes around. I’m not going anywhere unless Clarke tells me.”

“Have you met Clarke? I don't know what you could possibly do for her to tell you to go. Abby is just… she’s just stressed.”

“She's more stressed than you?” I snapped back knowingly. I finally turned to meet Jake’s eyes, sitting back on the mattress and pulling my knees up to my chest while I glowered at him and his pathetic attempt to defend his wife.

“Ah, yeah, I guess you heard that.” Jake came and sat on the edge of the bed, picking up the flower from where it laid at the end of the mattress. “This is amazing, by the way.” He looked at the rest of the items on the bed. “Wow, how long did this take?”

When I didn’t answer, Jake sucked in a deep breath. “You can’t tell Clarke.”

I scoffed. “Seriously?”

Jake nodded. “It’s fine. I’m going to be fine. You KNOW Clarke, though. She will worry herself sick over me, and I don’t want her to. The doctor already said that I caught it early enough that I'll be in remission within a month or two. You can't tell her.”

“I’m not going to lie to my best friend,” I spat.

“I’m not asking you to lie, I’m asking you to forget you ever heard it. Please. Think of what it’ll do to her, and for what, Lexa? I promise, if it was worse than it is, I’d tell her.”

“I'm NOT lying to her.”

“So you'd purposefully hurt her just because you can?”

I balked for a split second, shaking my head and doubling down in my determination to tell her. “She deserves to know the truth.”

“She deserves to be happy. You're going to hurt her if you tell her. For nothing. I am FINE. I will be fine, I promise. Think with your head Lexa.” His pleading tone was making its way through my armour.

“You've been lying to her all this time, what's to say you aren't lying to me right now?” I snapped, running my hands through my hair in frustration. My resolve was cracking. I couldn’t IGNORE his request, but I couldn’t lie to Clarke either. I sighed. “Is that why you want her to be a good person suddenly? Is that why you’re okay with us being friends?”

“Lexa,” Jake said with a sad frown, “From the day she was born I’ve been wanting her to be a good person. Abby didn’t come from money. She had to scrape her way through med school, and she’s become a pretty prideful person. She’s lost her way. I don’t want Clarke to grow up thinking that money is more important than people. I never have. And I don't know if you've noticed, but Clarke doesn't think like that anyway.”

I worked my jaw, still angry but knowing he was right.

“How long have you known?” I asked, anger fading into worry.

“It’s been a few months. There was a mass in my stomach. I just thought it was too much pizza, but I guess I was wrong.”

“So the flu?”

Jake let out another tired breath and shook his head.

I collapsed against the headboard, clutching at Clarke’s pillow and breathing in the lingering scent of her. “I don’t like this,” I grumbled.

“I know. I’m sorry you’re even in this position.” Jake squeezed my foot with his hand.  I felt the emotion bubble inside of my chest. I loved Jake Griffin. He was the father I didn't have anymore. How could I not listen to him? How could I lie to Clarke? How could I...

I swallowed down the flood of emotion, working my jaw to loosen the tension.

“I can't lie to her!” I said loudly. Tears pushed out of my eyes and I sniffed.

Jake’s eyes shimmered, rivering with tears.  “You're not. You're letting me be the one to tell her. I promise I will, just let ME do it, okay?”

A sob wrenched it's way from my chest before I could stop it.

Jake came over in an instant and wrapped his arms around me. “No, no, no. It's okay, Lexa. I promise it's okay. You and Clarke will be the FIRST people I tell if it gets worse, okay?”

I sobbed again, but nodded.

“Thank you,” he said, tone painted in relief.

My stomach still rolled at the thought of lying to Clarke, but Jake had a point. He was the one that was sick, he was the one that should decide when people knew. When I finally calmed down, I was teetering on the edge of consciousness, the shifting of elation to anxiety and back again making my head spin.

Jake got up from the mattress, squeezing my foot in the process. “Take a nap, we’ll figure out what all Clarke is donating after the party.”

*

After the party, that was inevitably cut short when Clarke SUDDENLY fell ill about an hour after me, Clarke, Jake and I did in fact sort all of her presents into piles for donation upon Clarke’s insistence and Abby’s dissent.

The duct tape flower made its way into a vase on her desk next to another vase with the flowers Finn had given her. She, of course, said they were for me and I feigned disinterest until I noticed that they were wild roses and lilies. Okay, so I was a flower nerd, kill me. Next to that was the scrapbook and art supplies pouch. The only other gift she kept was the palette of makeup Raven had given her, and obviously the car.

We both sat on the bed awkwardly after her father and mother left the room with the piles of donation.

“So…” I said, running my hand across the back of my neck.

“So…” Clarke responded, picking at the pill of the duvet.

“Is it weird now? Like, should I sleep on the floor?” I asked.

Clarke blinked at me. “Lexa, do you even THINK before you speak?”

“It’s an honest question!” I defended.

Clarke pushed my chest so I tumbled back onto the bed, then laid next to me and gripped my hand tightly in her own as we both stared at the ceiling.

“So…”

“So…”

“God, could we be any more awkward?” Clarke said, laughing.

“Probably. We could be in our underwear.”

And maybe that wasn't the best thing to say, considering Clarke had very recently been in just her underwear. Her cheeks turned tomato red and mine were no better as I looked away.

Yep, that DEFINITELY made it more awkward, but how are you SUPPOSED to act after you're suddenly granted permission to kiss your best friend?

She scooted up to the pillows and laid back, grabbing the remote and turning the television on while simultaneously grabbing the pizza she left beside the bed when she came in. She then patted the mattress beside her.

“Come here, nerd.”

I scoffed, feigning indignance.

“Lexa, it’s my birthday and I’d really like it if you’d get your sweet little butt up here and kiss me,” Clake demanded.

Oh, THAT'S how you act.

“Well, when you put it THAT way…”

*

“Is this because of earlier?” Clarke asked quietly while she laid with her limbs sprawled across me, movie playing in the background.

“Hmm?” I asked, half asleep. It was well past midnight now, and Clarke had held me close while the colour of my cheeks returned gradually.  The initial shock of Dr. Griffin's words, and the newfound determination to keep that negative voice out of my head was hard, but as the smell of Clarke overwhelmed my senses, the safety blanket of her affections weighing comfortably on me, I felt better. Her mother's contempt was nothing new and nothing worth discussing. Jake promised to handle his secret. All I had left to worry about was how to make Clarke let out that little huff of air when I kissed her just right.

I moved my fingers along her spine soothingly when her breathing picked up nervously.

“You not feeling well. Is it because of earlier? Do you regret it?”

The shakiness of her breathing reminded me of exactly why I needed to communicate more.

“No, I told you, I just didn’t feel well,” I lied. I didn’t want to break Jake’s promise or talk about how much her mother despised me.

“Was I that bad of a kisser?” Clarke teased.

“Clarke,” I groaned, grateful for the over of darkness to hide my blush.  “You were... you ARE amazing. I could never regret it. I could never regret YOU.”

I gave myself a little pat on the back at that communication.

“I still kind of can't believe this is real,” I added.

I was crushing this communication thing. Maybe I’ll become a public speaker.

Clarke pushed herself up onto one elbow, looking down at me while on her side.

She pushed a loose hair behind my ear and leaned down, a graze of her lips against my own. “Me neither,” she whispered.

I hummed, chasing her lips as she pulled back. “I was so embarrassed when I crashed into you,” I admitted. Now that I started communicating, I couldn’t stop. “Roan teased me all the way home that day. I never thought we'd end up here.”

“You asked me if I was okay twice,” Clarke reminisced with a soft giggle.

“I was nervous. You were… you ARE so beautiful and I ran smack into you. What an impression.” I pushed her hair that was falling into my face to the side and cupped her cheek. “This can't be real. I'm dead, right? This is a dream?”

Clarke chuckled and kissed me again. My heart nearly exploded in my chest. “You saved me from falling,” she said. “Except I fell anyway.”

I giggled, and Clarke ended up laughing into my mouth at her own words. “Wow,” I breathed around a laugh when she pulled back.

“Yeah, wow. That was sappy even for me.”

I barked out another laugh, pushing Clarke down and wrapping my arms around her waist, pulling her into my side and peppering kisses onto her cheek. “You make my heart beat like a gymnasium full of basketballs.”

Clarke laughed, loud and free.

“Oh my God!” She squealed. “That was SO LAME. You're such a NERD!”

I rolled away from her while still fighting down a laugh. I didn’t get too far as she snaked her arms around my waist and turned me to my side so she could look at me. “Speaking of basketball…. Maybe this is similar to that. Maybe we should keep practicing? Get the technique down?”

Clarke quirked a brow at me and a slow smirk spread across her face.

“Of course,” she answered. “It seems like the only logical choice. You sure you're okay though?”

I sighed exasperatedly. “Yes, Clarke.”

“Okay. Maybe it was the caviar, then.”

“I didn't have caviar,” I replied, nose scrunched up in distaste.

“Ummm, what did you think was on those crackers?”

“That was…” I groaned as my face paled again.

GROSS.

Chapter Text

It was easy to not panic when I was wrapped up in Clarke.

Kissing her was a dream. It was soft and slow, and always so delicate… when we finally got the hang of it, that is. I was REALLY happy that I knew Clarke's dominant side ahead of time, narrowly avoiding a black eye after one particularly excited lunge at me when I was singing absentmindedly while we did homework. We knocked noses and foreheads and clashed teeth. I leaned on her hair, she leaned on mine. She rolled me right off the bed, I tickled her side accidentally and she kneed me in the stomach.

But when we found that rhythm, when our mouths figured out that dance, our heartbeats synchronized, it was perfect.

It was nerve-wracking, it was exciting and it was healing all at the same time.

It was everything.

It was NOT so easy to not panic when we sat across from each other at the kitchen table and her father asked her why her lips were swollen, worrying she had an allergic reaction to the caviar and threatening to take her to the hospital while he panicked and packed an overnight bag. Clarke had to passionately argue that she was FINE, and then immediately make up some reason that her lips were swollen that seemed plausible, while I paled and sweat in my seat, offering no assistance whatsoever.

It was NOT so easy to not panic when Raven burst into her room Sunday morning looking for her red leather jacket she left behind at the party. I was half on top of Clarke, my mouth attached to her neck. When the door burst open, she had shoved me so hard I actually fell off the side of the bed, my ass hitting the hardwood and Raven slowly… skeptically moved into the room with narrowed eyes to retrieve the jacket left on the desk chair. Clarke had somehow managed to explain her way out of it and Raven left with a shrug and a, “Lexa is just being weird again" thrown at me.

It was NOT easy to not panic on Monday morning when I stood across the hall from Clarke, pretending that we were just best friends while Finn doted on her and upped his flirting game with a few hair flips (courtesy of Bellamy) and was dressed to impress. I sent Clarke a worried look, so she blew a kiss over her shoulder, winking and giving me a warm grin before being whisked away to her class.

It was so not easy to not panic.

In my panic, I cornered Luna and Echo after practice on Monday, nervously shifting from foot to foot while I floundered over asking them if we could talk. It was too hard to not panic.

Echo's hazel eyes bore into mine while I chewed on my lip and tapped my foot against the tile floor.

“Stop fidgeting and talk.”

“If it's about Ontari, we can't help you. Coach Indra said so,” Luna added.

I sighed. That wasn't what I was going to ask, but it was good to know I was practically screwed in that department.

“No, it's not about Ontari.”

“So what's this about? Are you alright? Is someone bothering you?” Echo immediately stiffened, raising from her seat on the bench and ready to fight whatever imaginary bully I was facing. It warmed my heart.

Luna placed her hand on her shoulder. “Maybe let the poor girl speak, love,” she said, pressing her back onto her seat.

I opened my mouth to start, but had no idea what to say without outing Clarke. I had no problem outing myself, but not Clarke. How could I even ask them about this without having to explain who I was asking for?

A strangled noise escaped my throat.

Luna raised both eyebrows expectantly. Echo’s eyes widened in concern. “Just give me a name, Commander.” Luna smacked the back of Echo's head lightly and I laughed. She was worse than Roan.

The momentary distraction calmed me enough to speak, the desire to keep Clarke safe while still desperately needing some guidance fading as Luna and Echo looked at me with a mixture of curiosity, concern and warmth.

“Umm -- what if -- let's say -- hypothetically speaking,” I sighed, pulling my hands through my hair until I snagged my fingers on some of the braids I had tangled in them. “Let's say I had feelings for a girl.”

Echo laughed in relief. “That's not a surprise.” Again, Luna smacked the back of her head.

I cleared my throat, narrowing my eyes at Echo. “But like, I've never had feelings for one before.” I thought back to Clarke's half explanation. “What if, like, I've liked boys before. What if I still do? How do I… how do I know if my feelings are real? The ones for the girl.” I directed my question towards Luna, already knowing Echo wasn't going to be of any help.

Luna sighed with a small smile. Echo laughed.

“Dude, you're SO gay.” Luna smacked her again.

“Ow, what the fuck, Lu?”

“Lexa, don't listen to Echo. I date her for her looks and NOT her brain.” Luna shot her girlfriend a glare. Echo rolled her eyes and rubbed the back of her head with an exaggerated pout. “Do we know this girl?”

I blushed a deep shade of red and she didn’t answer, my eyes dropping to the floor, so Luna continued, “Your feelings are your feelings. Boy or girl, they are still real. If they don't return those feelings, though, sometimes it makes them feel more intense than they actually are. Unrequited feelings are strange like that.”

“Hypothetically, if they returned them?” I asked as I looked up, wringing my hands behind my back.

“Hypothetically, then if you feel excited, happy, nervous, all those fluttery feelings you get when you're with them, then they're real. Their gender doesn't matter.”

“If you want to kiss them I'm pretty sure they're real,” Echo chimed in, immediately covering the back of her head. Luna laughed and pulled her in to kiss her cheek instead, a secret smile taking over her face. I almost felt like I was intruding on a moment.

“That too,” Luna answered, eyes still on Echo. I would have left them to continue…. Whatever moment they were sharing, but I really needed some answers.

“Do I have to come out if I DO have feelings for them? Like do I have to declare that I’m lesbian or bisexual or queer?”

“Labels are a funny thing. You get to decide what you want. You can just be Lexa, there’s no RULE saying you have to declare or your LGBT card will be revoked. Coming out as being with someone? You don't have to do anything you don't want to, but whoever you're with needs to be on the same page, not just because they like you, but because they're genuinely in agreeance. You both get to decide who does and doesn't know.”

I chewed on my cheek. “What if one of you wants to be out?”

“Then you need to talk about it. I guess if you're questioning your sexuality, it wouldn't be fair to force you to come out. It depends on the relationship. Echo and I dated for an entire year before deciding to go public. It felt nice to not have to explain for a while.”

“Why did you guys come out then?”

“I wanted to kiss her wherever I wanted, and once our families knew and were cool with it, we knew that it didn't matter what anyone else thought,” Echo answered.

“Yeah, some people are pretty shitty about it, so it scares a lot of people into the closet. If you have a good support system then you're lucky.”

I sighed, twisting my mouth to the side in thought. “Okay.”

“Are your… are your feelings reciprocated?” Luna asked knowingly.

I shrugged, fighting to remain impassive when I answered, “I dunno. This was just hypothetical.”

“Gotcha,” Luna responded around a laugh. “Just so you know, HYPOTHETICALLY, Echo and I will always support you and whoever you love. Boy or girl.”

I smiled at them both. “Thanks guys.”

“That's what family is for, Commander,” Echo said.

*

After word-vomiting my findings to Clarke, I found myself staring at a slightly pale, perplexed version of my favourite person.

“Clarke?” I asked, scooting closer to her on my couch.

“I…” she started, pausing, mouth open, only to shut it abruptly. “Okay,” she said with a determined nod.

“Okay?”

“My feelings for you were never in question. I mean, yeah, they kind of are, but not REALLY, you know? Like I want to kiss you and touch you and all that stuff,” she explained. “I think.” Her nose scrunched up as she thought about it. After a second, she said, “No, that's exactly what I want. God, this is really hard. It's not like a have a baseline of reference!” She threw her hands up in the air and I let out a breath of a laugh, earning a pout and a mock glare.

“Clarke, there's not really a book to follow. We can just do whatever we want. It'll progress or regress at it's own pace.”

“I don't want to regress anything.” Honestly, the pout she was sporting was making me want to kiss her. Just LOOKING at her made me want to kiss her. Thinking about kissing her made me want to kiss her.

“It’s the coming out part that I’m not sure of.”

And suddenly, I was snapped back out of my dopey, love-sick thoughts. I needed to focus on what Clarke was saying and less on the shapes her mouth made when she spoke.

Some things never changed.

“Why? If you chose to come out as anything, which you totally don't have to label yourself if you don't want to, your dad would support you. Anya supports me and would thereby support you. Roan loves us. Luna and Echo, and I'm sure Raven too.” I shrugged.

“You told Roan?” The pure panic in Clarke's eyes made it clear she was asking about more than just my coming out.

Maybe, just maybe, Clarke felt like me. Maybe she was panicking inside just as much as I was.

“No, I didn't say anything to anyone about,” I gestured to the space between us, “us. Roan knew I liked you though.”

“And Anya?”

I shrugged one shoulder. “She kind of guessed.”

“When?”

I turned a deep shade of red. “Ummm…”

Clarke quirked a brow at me.

“The night before you first came over?”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Seriously?”

“Clarke.”

“I just… you're so cute. What did Anya say?”

“She just asked me if I cared about you like I cared about Roan, and I said not quite, and she told me she loved me.”

“Wow,” Clarke said, shaking her head.

“What is it?” I asked.

Clarke shook her head. “My mom,” she breathed.

Nodding, I scooted closer and wrapped my arm around her shoulder, pulling her into me and kissing the top of her head. I swallowed down the bitter taste in my mouth that appeared whenever Dr. Griffin was brought up. My feelings toward Dr. Griffin were unnecessary in this moment. I knew as much. “She loves you, Clarke.”

She scoffed.

“She does. And if she doesn't agree, we've still got the rest of our family. Roan, Anya, your dad, our friends, they're our people. They're our family.”

Clarke sighed. “It's not that easy, Lex. She's my MOM.”

I couldn't imagine what I'd do if Anya didn't approve of my sexuality. All I could do was nod at Clarke.

“What if she never speaks to me again? What if she kicks me out? What if she hates me?” Her bottom lip started to tremble and I turned her to look at me, eyes boring into her stormy blue ones to try and anchor her to me. I had to focus REALLY hard to not get lost in them, and not let my eyes drop to her lips.

So, so gay.

“Clarke, Clarke, whoa, hey,” I said, running my hands along her arms vigorously. “First of all, we can't get worked up over what ifs. Secondly, she MADE you, she would never ever ever hate you. You know your mom well enough to know how she'd react. Tell me honestly if you think she would actually kick you out.”

Clarke relaxed her tense shoulders with the friction of my hands on her arms. “No, she wouldn't. She might not speak to me for like… a really long time, but my dad would never let her kick me out.” Every word pulled Clarke out of the spiral that was her mother's potential reaction.

“Exactly. She'd get over it. She’s a doctor, she knows, scientifically, this isn't just some choice or whatever the bigots say to justify their hatred.” Smiling at the end, Clarke huffed a small sigh, lips quirked up into a matching smile.

Of course, the peace couldn’t last with Clarke’s mind still processing everything that I had thrown at her when we we sat down.

Maybe I SHOULDN’T be a professional speaker.

“But Lexa… What if… what if you get tired of waiting for me to say I want to be with you? What if it takes me so long to not be a coward that you get fed up?”

Yes. She was DEFINITELY panicking. I breathed out a relieved sigh to know that I wasn’t alone.

I pulled her towards me and kissed the side of her head. “First of all, you, Clarke Griffin, are not a coward. You're so brave. Jeez, Clarke, you're the one who called me out after our accidental kiss. You also do FLIPS for fun. Secondly, I'm not rushing you. We danced around our feelings for a year, I think we can be a little patient in letting you figure out how you feel. I just wanted you to know what Luna and Echo said, and I apologize if I overwhelmed you. If you end up never wanting to be out… well... then we’ll figure it out.” I shrugged and looked at her with as much gentleness I could manage.

Clarke sighed, buried her head in my neck and grazed her lips against the dip of my collarbone.

“Thank you,” she whispered, the air tickling my neck and causing goosebumps.

I hummed and pulled my fingers through her hair, lulling her back from the edge of panic.

We would figure it out.

*

Coach Indra put Ontari into our one and only preseason game the following week. She fouled out by the end of the second quarter, and Coach Indra just glared at me the entire time.

“I thought you were working on your chemistry?” she asked with a single eyebrow raised. She pulled me aside before the start of the second half, and I began playing out the lecture that was coming before she started.

“I did!” I cried. “She was being a complete bi--”

“Language!” Coach Indra tisked.

I sucked in an irritated breath and clenched my jaw. “I tried. As I recall, she threw a ball at my head!” I pointed to my head, expecting coach Indra to get the picture, but she just got more annoyed.

“I am quite aware of the dynamic you two share, Lexa. I asked you to build chemistry with her. Not everything in life is going to be handed to you.”

I scowled at Coach Indra, the sudden heat rising to my face. Was she for real? I was pretty sure that if there was a poster child for life slapping you upside the head and not handing SHIT to you, it would be me.

Looking at my balled up fists, Coach Indra nodded. “Good. That anger you're feeling? Direct that energy to fixing your relationship with Ontari.”

How in the HELL did that make any sense?

I was still seething when Coach Indra turned to walk back or the court.

This was bullshit. How did this become MY bullshit?

The preseason game proved, once again, that we sucked. On a positive, it was great to see Emori back on the court after her wrist healed, meaning that the talk she had with her parents went much better than expected.

The only other positive of that particular preseason game was that Clarke and Roan showed up. Costia was already there with Aden, and she flagged down Clarke the moment she saw her, even smiling at Clarke's idiot groupies Finn and Bellamy. Roan pushed past Finn and Bellamy with no regard for their knees as he clambered his way over to sit beside Aden, oddly enough talking avidly with the young boy.

After the game, I met up with my two favourite blondes and Clarke’s floppy haired-idiot friends.

“Hey, you're actually kind of good,” Finn said, surprised by my thirty point effort.

“Yeah.” If it came out somewhat aggressively, so be it. He had a knack for undermining any girl's hard work. Maybe he didn't, but I didn't like him, so it FELT like he did. Whatever. Clarke nudged me lightly with her elbow, reaching down and twining our hands together. I let the defensiveness slide away when her thumb traced the back of my hand. To everyone else, it was a normal reaction to being within Clarke’s proximity, but now… NOW? It made my cheeks hurt from the smile that I couldn’t dampen, and my heart flutter and stomach erupt with butterflies.

“Lexa!” Aden yelled, bounding his way down the bleachers while Costia looked on worriedly. “You're so good! You're the Commander, right?” His hero worship made my heart skip as he tumbled over his laces, his legs uncoordinated still.

Okay, so the hellion child had grown on me. Must have been the blonde hair.

“That's right!” Clarke said, leaning down to catch him before he actually fell, and to speak to Aden conspiratorially. “And I bet you've been working really hard on your skills to be a commander just like Lexa, right?” Clarke sent me a wink when she looked back up, and I had to snap my mouth shut when I felt the fact that my jaw was practically hanging open.

Literally EVERYTHING she did made me want to kiss her. How had I gotten even MORE love-sick than before?

Aden giggled as Clarke poked his stomach, ignoring the rest of us for the far cuter and more endearing six year old future Commander.

“Yes, he's been practicing non-stop. Like, five in the morning when he wakes up until he goes to bed non-stop. What have you done to my cousin?” Costia chirped when she eventually caught up to us all. I stuck my tongue out at her teasingly while she groaned in faux annoyance.

“You gotta work hard to be this good,” I said with a shrug.

“Or you just gotta be a natural like Clarke,” Finn chimed in.

Was that supposed to be flirting?

Bellamy rolled his eyes. “Okay, Romeo, let's not denounce all of the hard work Clarke puts in on a regular basis just so you can try to be charming.” This might have been the first time Bellamy Blake didn't say something stupid. I was proud.

Costia, Roan and I laughed unabashedly while Finn paled.

And everyone said I had no game.

“Anyway,” Clarke said over the cacophony of laughs, standing up with Aden on her hip. “I'm gonna head out. I have an art project due tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes, I almost forgot!” Costia said, smacking her forehead with her hand. “Thank you for reminding me, Clarke. Let's go get your sister and her girlfriend, Superdude so we can go home, okay?”

Clarke swallowed at the word girlfriend, squeezing my hand tightly.

Aden cheered at the thought of seeing Luna and Echo, and Clarke passed him over to his favourite cousin when his greedy hands reached for her.

“I'm going home too,” Finn blurted out.

“We’re all going home,” Roan chirped with an eye roll.

Finn nodded. “Right, yeah, sorry, I meant, Clarke I could walk with you? We live close by and all…” he trailed off, hoping Clarke would answer him without needing much more explanation.

I cringed inside, and then scolded myself for reacting so jealously. He clearly didn't get the message about backing off when we spoke at the party.

Another squeeze of the hand, one that was meant as reassurance as well as telling me to calm down. “Thanks Finn, but my dad is actually picking me up so I can use Sadie. Lex, Roan, do you guys want a ride home? He can fit your bike in the trunk.”

“Sadie?” Finn asked.

“The Mercedes,” Clarke explained.

“Oh.” His expression fell.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel the tiniest bit smug at the puppy dog eyes Finn was sporting at being rejected.

Roan shook off her invitation, of course stating that he was going to be working with Cage. Clarke looped her arm through mine. “Alright, see you boys later.”

Finn’s jaw twitched when he looked at us, so I gave him a cheeky smirk. Bellamy tried to hide his laugh behind a cough but failed, and Roan just rolled his eyes before walking away from them.

“Mister Griff!” I said as I jumped in the back seat and throwing my bag against the opposite door.

“Where?” Jake asked, looking around suspiciously. He unbuckled his seatbelt slowly, exiting the car to switch to the passenger side.

“She means you, dad,” Clarke explained as she buckled herself into the driver's seat.

Jake scowled playfully at me through the rearview. “I thought I told you to call me Jake. Mister Griffin is my father, and that was a terrifying moment because he's been dead for like… a long time.” Jake pretended to look around again. “You’re sure you haven’t seen him, right? I still owed him a hundred bucks for the time I didn’t fill up the gas in his car.”

Clarke laughed and swatted her dad's arm. “So how come you're home today anyways?”

Jake shrugged. “I had some appointments out this way, so I just didn't head back to the office after them.

“Oh, okay,” Clarke said. “Works for me!” She shrugged as well, and adjusted her windows and the steering wheel.

Before I could get lost in the emotional turmoil of Jake’s secret, he sent me an encouraging smile through the rearview mirror. The calming effect was almost immediate. “Works for me, too! Now I don't have to ride my bike in all this heat!”

“Lex, it's like fifteen degrees. It's hot because you're constantly in a sweater.”

“It's always sweater weather in my world.”

“Your world is called the Ice Nation then,” Clarke quipped, sending me a teasing look through the rearview.

“Nah. I'd probably be a tree person living in the woods.”

“Tree person?”

“Yeah, my last name is Woods? Totally makes sense. I'd be part of the Tree crew.” I made up some hand sign on the spot to signify my legitimacy of the Tree Crew name I just came up with.

“What the hell is that?” Clarke asked, stifling a laugh.

“It’s our crew’s symbol, duh. Come on, Clarke, get with it.” I couldn’t hide the smile at my own idiocy.

“Wow. And would I be a member of your crew?”

“Nope,” I said, popping the 'p’. “You'd be… what do they call you cheerleaders? A Skygirl?”

“Alright Clarke, put your blinker on and pull out of this popsicle stand,” Jake said. Clarke did as instructed, the car jerking heavily as she got used to the pedals. Clarke was good at so many things, but not at driving. Not yet.

“So I’d be in the Sky Crew?”

I shrugged.

Clarke giggled. “So we'd be neighbours?” she glanced at me through the rearview and I just raised my eyebrows to signal her needing to keep her eyes on the road.

“Well, considering the fact that the sky is everywhere, then yeah. But majority of the cheerleaders make me want to dig my eyes out we’d probably be enemies.”

“Enemies?”

“Slow down,” Jake warned.

“Yeah. You'd be this hot shot that lives in the sky and you'd think you're better than us lowly Tree Crew because we literally would live in trees,” I said.

“Like animals,” Clarke responded, slowing down slightly to meet the speed limit. She was still jerking the car about as she switched from brake to gas, but it wasn't as bad as before. “Savages,” she added playfully.

Rolling my eyes, I responded, “Yeah, sure, whatever. You’d think you’re all a bunch of hot shots, but you’d literally DIE without us.”

“For what? How? Lexa, we live in the SKY.”

“BECAUSE, you’d probably be run by a bunch of idiots who were too concerned with power than doing the right thing,” I shot a glance to Jake who chuckled. “And you'd end up getting shot out of the sky, or like, they’d have to get rid of half of you because there’s too many people and not enough space or something, and have to live on the ground with us, where you Sky Crew losers would have no idea how to survive.”

“What? Would we not have books or television? Was I BORN in the sky or something? How would I not know how to survive on the ground?”

“Probably. And nah, you'd have nothing useful. You wouldn't know how to adapt.”

“Put your blinker on, check your blind spots, then merge,” Jake said. Clarke did as instructed. We almost collided with a car, who blew their horn dramatically as they passed, but Clarke didn't let it faze her too much.

“So you'd just kill us all?” she asked after successfully merging into the next lane.

“Not everyone,” I said, pausing and making eye contact with Clarke through the rearview. “Not you.”

Clarke blushed and cleared her throat.

I adored the fact that she so easily blushed at what I would say. God, an entire year wasted by my obliviousness.

“Honestly? Probably everyone else though, but then they'd send you to me and you'd use that Clarke Griffin charm and SOMEHOW convince me that we need you just as much as you need us,” I continued.

“Somehow,” Clarke agreed, turning the blush fest back to me.

“Hmmm,” Jake interrupted. “Seems a little too accurate.”

My heart rate tripled. Did he know? How did he know? How did I go from oblivious to OBVIOUS?

“What? You think I'd be a useless space child? You'd be up there too, so it'd be YOUR fault.” Clarke glared playfully at her father.

“Eyes on the road.”

Clarke rolled her eyes but looked back at the road.

Jake laughed. “No, the accuracy would be that you'd be the one saving all the useless space people. I could totally see Lexa being some ruthless leader --”

“Commander,” I interjected, to which both Clarke and Jake laughed.

“Commander,” Jake confirmed.

“Lexa? Ruthless? Have you met her? She’s practically a marshmallow.”

“Hey! You were the one that said I was really hard to read!”

“More like impossible to read. Have you ever read a book in a language you didn't have any knowledge of? That's you. Okay, fine, sure, you can be ruthless, WHATEVER, but I'd see RIGHT through you.” Clarke pointed at the rear view mirror and scrunched her face up in a mock glower. “Maybe.”

“Clarke,” Jake warned again as she slightly veered to the left.

I nodded. “We’d probably have our own language, too, me and my people,” I mused. “ And you'd be the FIRST one to learn it. You’d be the first one to try to build some kind of peace between us. Probably convince me to change all of my ruthless ways. Convince me that people weren’t all that horrible and that feelings were okay.”

“How would we ever get along?” Clarke asked, unconvinced by my lackluster response.

“Common enemy.” I shrugged.

“Common enemy being…” Clarke led.

“Lorelei Tsing. And Cage. Did you ever notice he looks kind of like a rat-mole-type person? I bet they'd live underground.”

“And why would they be our enemies?”

“Other than the fact that they're horrible people? They'd probably be plotting to turn us all into slaves so they could use us to build their empire above ground and bleed us dry.”

“Yeah, have you noticed how weird Lorelei's been lately? I swear she's smoking more than just weed.”

“I'm digging this fantasy world of yours, Lexa,” Jake announced from the passenger seat. “You should consider going into politics.”

“Dad, she literally just said she'd kill everyone she doesn't trust. She can't do that.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Not in real life!” Clarke exclaimed.

I shrugged. “Semantics.”

“I think you're using that term wrong.”

I shrugged again. “In MY world, I can do whatever the hell I want, and so can you. You just keep choosing to save all those airheads and Meatheads.”

“What, so we'd be leaders of opposing people? I never asked for that. I wouldn’t be able to lead my people against you, Lexa.”

“Clarke, let's be real. You'd be the most important person to me. This world, imaginary world, any world, really. I wouldn’t be able to lead my people against you either.”

“Same,” Clarke shrugged. She chewed on her lip. “Actually, that totally helps me with my art project! Thank you!”

I laughed as we pulled up to my house, Clarke slamming her foot on the brake hard enough for the tires to squeal. “Anytime, Clarke. Thanks for the lift! Don't kill your dad on the way home!”

*

I spent the majority of my time outside of basketball stealing as many kisses as possible from my favourite cheerleader to keep my mind off of Ontari and her bitter attitude.

A was practically a professional thief by now.

My back slammed into the stall door as Clarke pushed her hips against mine and pinned me to it.

“Okay, we’re getting pretty good at practicing,” I breathed out against her lips. She hungrily took mine against her own, biting lightly on my bottom one with a tiny growl.

“Yes, and we only have two minutes between classes so do you want to keep talking or keep practicing, Commander?”

I hummed at the nickname, my body flooding with heat, and spun Clarke around to change positions. She let out a cute squeak and I desperately needed to taste it. I moved my lips against hers, feeling the warmth of her tongue and the soft tug of her teeth around my bottom lip again.

I had come to discover that Clarke loved my bottom lip, claiming it was, “just so pouty and soft”. It was fine with me, as it meant her tongue and teeth and lips were constantly pressed against mine in an attempt to satiate a desire that seemed to be unquenchable.

I had also come to discover that I had a severe addiction to her hips. My hands almost always found their way to them, pulling them more flush against my own and tracing her hip bones with my thumbs. She had those V-cuts from the extreme core strength involved in gymnastics and cheerleading, and I was always keen to trace the tops of them. If Clarke’s body shuddered and pushed closer into me when I did it, it was a definite win on my part.

She tangled her hands in my hair, grip tightening and whimper escaping as I traced her top lip with my tongue, parting her lips to grant myself access. She tasted like cherry lip balm and mint toothpaste and everything I wanted in that moment. If I was to have my last meal, I'd die a happy person with the taste of her lips on mine.

The level of gay puddle that I was reaching was bordering on lake-like.

Two minutes was a lot shorter than I remembered. Just as I was getting lost in all things Clarke, the bell rang loudly and Clarke groaned, dropping her head to my shoulder to catch her breath.

“Come on, Commander, walk me to class.” She pushed out of the stall, and my eyes followed her as she walked towards the bathroom sink. I could SWEAR she had more of a sway to her hips than normal.

Clarke Griffin was going to be the death of me, and to die would be an awfully big adventure.

*

We lost the home opener by free throws, to which Clarke gave me a kiss for every bucket I scored to make me feel better (I had twenty-nine points that night). At the following practice, my mind was still stewing on the fact that if Ontari was on the court we should have stopped the other team from going up in the first place.

I honestly, truly, probably not NEARLY as hard as I could have, tried to make peace with Ontari that day.

Coach Indra partnered us up to do a shooting drill, where the first team to finish hitting fifty free throws didn't have to run suicides, but the trick was, once one teammate hit twenty-five, they couldn't shoot anymore, only rebound for their partner.

“Okay, listen, about that kink in your wrist--”

Ontari shoved the extra ball she held into my chest. “I don't care. I don't need your help.”

“I don't particularly want to run suicides, so I'm trying to help us win here.”

“Then just stay out of my fucking way,” Ontari snarled.

And of course, we lost. Five times. I could barely feel my legs after the fifth round of suicides.

“Please,” I gasped out after the last set of suicides. “Let me… just… help you.”

“Fuck… you,” Ontari gasped.

I wanted to cry. This was impossible. Frustrated tears pushed out if my eyes and I was grateful that I was sweating so much that it was impossible to tell.

Every round I had maxed out my shots, becoming the rebound girl for Ontari. Every round she got more and more angry as her shots became sloppier, the complete exhaustion making her form so much worse. She really didn't understand that it was all in her mechanics.

We lost the last two rounds and I collapsed on the gym floor. Practice ended, everyone dragged themselves to the locker room, but I remained dead weight on the floor, not moving until Clarke had to get Mr. Gus to peel me off the floor and hand me a Gatorade and a mop. I guess I wasn't finished in the gym yet.

*

“Clarke, no,” I pleaded.

“Clarke, yes,” she responded as she pushed me down into her desk chair.

“Clarke, NO,” I begged.

“Clarke, YES.”

She hovered over me with her palette of makeup and a brush.

“Just a little? I won't make it dramatic, I swear.” I pouted in response and crossed my arms.

“I'll make it worth your while,” Clarke singsonged.

After an annoyed huff, I dropped my arms and let her work her magic. How could I actually say no to Clarke?

It tickled. Everywhere. I was desperately trying to not rub my eyes as she put the cool liquid brush on them, and trying to keep a straight face as Clarke dusted featherlight applicators on me and mimicked the faces she wanted me to make.

“Clarke, no.”

“Oh my God, we are not doing this again.”

“I will literally cry,” I said with a pout.

“No you won't. Stop being a baby.”

“I am NOT being a baby!”

“Okay, you're right. You're being a BRAT. It's an EYELASH CURLER, Lex.”

“It's going to rip off my eyelids.”

Clarke giggled and kissed me so hard I was left dizzy, dipping her tongue into my mouth and leaving me completely breathless and my eyes only partially open.

It was a mistake.

She used that moment of weakness to clamp down on my eyelashes with that death trap. I froze.

“Okay, open your eyes,” She said and I let out a loud breath if relief when the cold death metal pressing into my eyeballs stopped.

I opened my eyes to see a hand mirror with my own reflection in it. Except, it wasn't really my reflection. I mean, it was, but it was… intense.

Clarke put mascara and eyeliner on my eyes and a light pink lip balm that tasted like cherries, and bronzer on my cheek.

I looked…

“You look so hot,” Clarke said, moving the mirror to look down at me. Her eyes were fully dilated, the pupils with barely a line of blue around them as her gaze darted back and forth between my eyes and my lips.

I kind of, sort of, never would admit it out loud, agreed.

Clarke clung to my sweater and pulled me up to stand in front of her, eyes ignited with desire.

Okay, she had me convinced.

“You look,” she kissed my lips.

“So good.” Another kiss on my jaw.

“I want to kiss you.” Another kiss along the column of my throat.

“Now,” she said with a growl and another kiss to my lips, except this time I didn't let her pull back to speak anymore.

Speaking was overrated anyways.

*

For a week, Ontari refused to speak to me. Literally. It was incredibly confusing and infuriating when we did ANY drill because I was almost positive that communication was one of the most necessary tools in basketball, and that's coming from ME. Her and I collided so many times, and were both lectured SO MANY TIMES that I was dizzy by the end of the week.

She kept setting picks and then getting called for fouling, because I didn't know she was doing it and therefore not following the play. She would glare at me and roll her eyes like it was MY fault every time.

I was seriously starting to regret agreeing to wanting to be the leader Coach Indra thought I could be.

Ontari would also pass to me when I wasn't expecting it, having the ball bounce off my body (she kept aiming for my head and missing. I bet if she listened to my advice about her wrist, she wouldn't miss) and go out of bounds.

After one particularly bad miscommunication where Ontari was passing me the ball and I wasn't looking, the ball collided with Luna's head. Echo took offense to this and berated ME like I had done it on purpose.

I had had enough.

“I can't do this!” I yelled at Coach Indra after practice.

She turned slowly in her chair, eyebrow cocked in question, lips pursed in irritation.

My stomach bottomed out completely.

Fuck. I had thought I would at LEAST make it to twenty-five before dying. I thought I'd go in a heroic fashion, saving a bunch of children from a burning bus or something, but if looks could kill, Coach Indra was the Grim Reaper. Well, at least I got to kiss Clarke Griffin before I died.

“With Ontari,” I explained with a cracking voice and dropping to a much more respectable level.

“Lexa, last year we spoke about how important it was for you to take charge of this team.”

“I know, but --”

“And you agreed that you would do so if you were given the opportunity to start.”

“Yes, but --”

“And how do you think you're going to get control of everyone if you can't control your weakest link? The one who wants to undermine you?”

“Kick her off the roof?” I suggested.

Coach Indra didn't find it funny.

Again. At least twenty-five. Maybe married with a kid at this point (if the kid looked remarkably like it's mother with blonde hair and blue eyes then so be it).

“Figure it out.”

I huffed and left her office.

*

“But Claaaaaarke, she won't even TRY to make it work.”

Clarke chuckled softly, pulling her fingers through my hair while I laid sprawled out on my couch with my head in her lap. “I can only imagine,” she said softly.

“Like, any time I try to offer her any advice, she snaps at me or says something really mean. How am I supposed to help her?” I punched both my arms in the air as a way to underscore how serious this was.

“Well,” Clarke paused, thinking, and I felt myself being lulled further into a state of bliss by her fingers. “Have you talked to Luna and Echo? They're the co-captains.”

“Luna told me to kiss her ass, and Echo threw a shoe at me.”

Clarke laughed, jostling me slightly. I pouted until she ran her fingers through my hair again.

The team was still losing, and although I was still racking up points while being double and triple-teamed, point was we were LOSING. It was almost the end of second semester and I was exhausted with Ontari's constant attitude and refusal to accept any help.

“Maybe give her a dose of her own medicine? It worked when I told off Lorelei.”

I pursed my lips, thinking hard on what Clarke had told me. Maybe it would work, but how would I do that without royally pissing off Coach Indra and being kicked off the team?

“Maybe,” I breathed out.

I sighed, relaxing into the feeling of her fingers in my hair. I hummed in contentment, but it came out more like a purr.

Clarke breathed out a laugh. “You're like putty in my hands right now.”

“I know, I always am.”

The sweet sentiment had her leaning down to kiss my forehead softly.

“Lex?” Clarke asked quietly, her lips brushing my forehead when she spoke.

I hummed again in response, only partially lucid.

“Kiss me,” she said, removing her lips from my head to return to her previous position. Her voice was low, raspy and full of want.

I cracked an eye open. Clarke was looking at me with so much desire I had to swallow.

Suddenly, I wasn't tired anymore.

She let out a beautiful laugh, her eyes filled with mirth as my throat bobbed and I opened my mouth but no sound came out. Something about Clarke always had my mind tumbling into a haze that only she could bring me out of. I sat up immediately and launched myself at her when I realized she was teasing me, causing more beautiful laughter to force its way out of her chest.

“You sneak! You just did that so I'd wake up!”

“I had to pee!” She cried as she laughed. “I didn't want to disturb you!” she flailed around as I poked her sides and under her arms to tickle her.

“So you thought trying to seduce me would work?” I asked, finally getting one of my hands around both of her wrists to keep her still.

“It did, didn't it? Jesus, you have big hands!”

I stilled with wide eyes and Clarke blushed, the realization of what she said dawning on her.

“Lex,” she said quietly.

“Clarke.”

“I REALLY gotta pee.”

I groaned and rolled off her. “Go before you leave my couch wet.” I cringed. Neither of us brought up… that… with all the other emotions swirling around around in Clarke’s head. And that was aside from the fact that we had only been dating… or well… not DATING, but making out for the past two months.

She stood up triumphantly, clearing her throat and skipping down the hall in haste to get to the bathroom.

I laid back against the couch and closed my eyes, still thinking about how to fix my Ontari issue.

A warm weight settled on my lap, and I opened my eyes to see Clarke staring down at me, pupils blown once again and her bottom lip between her teeth. When she shifted nervously and I looked down, her legs were straddling my hips. My brain instantly deflated. Her cheerleading shorts were so… short, leaving her muscular thighs on full display. Seeing them on either side of my lap, and feeling the heat of her body on mine was incredibly attractive. And now that Carmen and Lolita were right at eye level…

What.. how.. so hot.

Clarke laughed. I had said that outloud. She put her hand against my chest and shifted on top of me again. I could feel the trembling of her hands against my collarbone as she searched for safety within me.

“Is this okay?” She asked, looking down at my lap.

I nodded and hummed.

“I'm not squishing you?” The insecurity was loud and clear in her voice and my heart melted completely. Gone was the horny teenager, replaced by the person who cared more about Clarke than she could ever possibly know.

“Clarke,” I said, sitting up straighter so I could look at her more comfortably and holding her palm against my chest so she could feel the beating of my heart. “You're perfect. This,” I gestured to our seating arrangement, “is perfect. You can feel how fast my heart is beating, right? That's what looking at you, being close to you makes me feel.”

Clarke nodded, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth and looking down at our seating arrangement again.

“Are YOU uncomfortable?” I asked, genuinely curious if she was only doing this because she thought I wanted her to. I would hope that she knew that I would never expect her to move at a pace she was uncomfortable with.

She shook her head. “No, I just wanted to make sure I'm not too heavy.”

This was the OTHER reason I hadn’t brought… that… up. I honestly, truly wanted Clarke to be comfortable in her own skin before she even THOUGHT about that. Not that I thought about it. Not really. Not in like a… ‘I'm totally ready to do it’ kind of way. I wanted the person I'm with (maybe they looked similar to Clarke) to be completely comfortable with not only me but with themselves too.

“You're not. Your weight is perfect. You’re perfect. You literally fit here perfectly.” I snaked my arms around her waist and pulled her closer. “I don’t know if you can understand how perfect you are. Maybe I need to tell you everyday that you’re beautiful.”

Clarke let out a huff of breath and rolled her eyes, not believing me.

“Every day until you finally believe me.” I reiterated. “You're a Skygirl. Your ass is out of this world. I drool over your legs, and pretty much every single part of you to be honest. You walk into a room and my only thought is how can I get closer to you. It’s kind of pitiful, actually…. Hmm… now that I think about it, I probably shouldn’t have admitted all that, but I'll remind you everyday so you know just how beautiful you are, Clarke,” I said, turning a light shade of pink with the confession.

Finally, she laughed and relaxed down onto me. We sat silently for a moment, just looking at one another. I was waiting for her to allow my words to sink in. I'd wait however long it took for her to believe me. After another minute, Clarke wrapped her hand around my shirt, Clarke obviously finding what she was looking for in my eyes, she bunched it up on the chest. “You're SUCH a nerd.”

With a pull toward her, she pressed her lips against mine softly, her lips grazing over mine, our noses brushing as we lingered in each other's space. The softness was quickly replaced with more urgency, her lips moving with more fervor, her teeth tugging at my bottom lip as Clarke relaxed further into our seating arrangement and her cheeky confidence came back. I gripped her hips and pulled her closer as I moved my mouth to right underneath her jaw and nipped.

And then Clarke did the unthinkable.

She let out a tiny little moan, and I felt it reverberate throughout my ENTIRE body. Tingles shot down through my spine and radiating outwards. I gripped her hips harder, and Clarke willingly moved closer into me, our chests bumping now and breathing ragged while we battled for dominance.

The rattling of the doorknob and the sound of the creaky hinges had us breaking apart faster than a snap of the fingers. Clarke flung herself to the other side of the couch with the skill of only a gymnast could do, dismounting so far away it was suspicious. I looked at her as though she had three heads until she shimmied her way closer and threw her legs across my lap.

“Hello, children of mine,” Anya announced as she opened the door. “Up to no good?” I was forever thankful that I hadn't fixed the door yet.

Clarke paled, gaping at my sister. I squeezed her shin reassuringly.

“Of course,” I said, my voice dripping with forced sarcasm. Were we up to no good? No, it definitely felt good. Great, even.

“What's wrong with Blondie?” Anya asked as she walked past us to set her bag down on the counter. She gave Clarke a curious look when we didn't respond.

“She's…”

“Just tired,” Clarke explained. She faked a yawn, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Go take a nap then. We're having brussel sprouts for dinner. In a salad.”

Clarke cheered and I groaned.

Fucking brussel sprouts.

What was it with everyone's obsession with these things?

Clarke pulled me up with her, still avoiding Anya's gaze. “Nap?”

Anya stopped pulling the groceries out of the bags and I shrugged at Clarke, faking a yawn too.

“Nap,” I confirmed.

I heard my sister's laugh as I followed Clarke upstairs but forgot all about it when Clarke's lips met mine again in my room.

*

Before the last game of the semester, my shoes had mysteriously gone missing between putting them in my locker after taking them from Coach Indra's office, to putting them on after I changed my clothes.

I was fuming.

“Where the fuck are they?” I growled, slamming my locker door shut and turning around to pin Ontari with a glare. I just KNEW she took them.

She glared right back at me, smirk ever present, and I started to see stars with how angry I was.

“What?” she asked nonchalantly.

“My shoes,” I grit out.

“You mean Coach Indra's shoes?” Ontari sneered.

I didn't even have it in me to feel ashamed. Everyone here knew what was up with that.

“Where. Are. They?” I asked again, my fists clenched so tightly I was cutting into my palms with my nails.

“Lexa,” Luna warned from her spot on the bench next to Echo. Echo reached forward and grabbed the leg of my shorts, tugging me back slightly.

“I know you took them,” I spat at Ontari.

She scoffed. “As if. Whatever, Woods, it's not my fault you can't take care of your shit. Oh wait, they aren't even yours. What will Coach Indra think?”

I almost lunged at her when Harper stood up, standing between us. She made sure to meet my eyes kindly as she said, “Hey, I'll help you look for them alright? It's almost time for warmup, right Luna?”

Luna nodded, and the rest of the team shuffled out of the locker room.

“I know she fucking has them,” I snapped.

“Maybe,” Harper said. “Let's just look for them and if we don't find them we tell Coach.”

“I'm not going to play if I don't have shoes.”

“Then let's hope we find them. We need you.”

We did not, in fact, find them. I sat shoeless on the bench for the entirety of the game while Ontari played as my replacement.

Coach Indra sent me a worried look, but I was so angry with her, blaming her for the reason that Ontari and I were even at this point. If she had just let it be, just been the coach and corrected Ontari to start with then we'd never be in this position now. Maybe if she kicked her off the team like she so deserved then we'd all have better chemistry. Bad apple and all that.

“Lexa,” Coach Indra called out to me after the game. I had to bite my tongue until I tasted blood to keep myself calm. I was furious with Ontari AND her.

“Yeah?” I asked. I wasn't even trying to hide my snark when I stood stiffly, impatience etched into my features.

“My shoes?”

“Someone took them,” I snapped.

Coach Indra sighed heavily.

“Lexa, I want you to do this because the second I step in, it's going to undermine all the work you did to show everyone that you're the leader of this team. Luna and Echo are the captains, but YOU are the leader on the court. But if it's becoming too much, and Ontari isn't cooperating, I can solve this.”

“No, I've got it,” I snapped. I has been having to deal with it on my own this whole time, why not seen it through?

Coach Indra's shoes miraculously appeared in my locker after the game, and of course, no one was left in the locker room for me to question.

I screamed.

*

“That's so fucked up,” Clarke said through the receiver.

“I know! And I KNOW it was Ontari.”

“Well maybe we should get you a new pair so you don't have to rely on Coach Indra?”

I immediately went back to the birthday party and Dr. Griffin's comments about me using Clarke for her money. I could prove that that wasn't what I wanted or needed. I just needed Clarke.

“No, Clarke. I appreciate it, but no.”

“Oh, come on,” Clarke said. I could hear the eye roll. “It's a gift.”

“I don't need a fucking gift,” I snapped. I flinched at my own tone when I heard how harshly I was speaking.

“Wow,” Clarke breathed. “Okay, I guess we're back there then? You're angry and I try to help and we're back at square one?” Her voice wavered slightly with the hurt I had so obviously inflicted.

“Fuck. Clarke…”

“No, it's cool. Listen, I've gotta go. I need to finish a painting for my final project.”

“No, Clarke, wait.”

I was met with silence. I would have thought she hung up if not for the sound of her hiccupped breathing. I hurt her feelings. Damnit.

“I would just hate for her to steal those. They'd be from you. They'd mean more than anything else and I'd probably lose my mind.”

More silence.

“I'm sorry.”

Clarke sighed. “It's okay, Lex. It was just a suggestion and I'm sorry if I offended you. I really should get to my project.”

“Right, okay.”

“See you tomorrow, Lex.”

“Goodnight Clarke.”

I groaned into my pillow when she finally hung up, hitting it with balled up fists.

Stupid.

*

The next day at school, I walked up to Clarke with a piece of duct tape across my mouth.

“What are you doing?” Clarke questioned with a furrowed brow.

“Mmdmcm dmndjsmm mfmmv”

Clarke rolled her eyes and peeled off the tape. Underneath was another piece of tape that had I'M SORRY written across it. Clarke rolled her eyes again and peeled it off, her eyes lighter and much less reserved than they were when I first walked up to her.

“What are you sorry for?” she asked, genuinely curious. Her head cocked to the side, eyes darting all over my face, searching for something.

“I shouldn't have snapped at you.” I felt my cheeks burn at the apology. “It doesn't matter if I was cranky or not. I should never have snapped at you.”

“How much did that hurt?” Clarke asked.

“The tape or the apology?”

“Both?” a cheeky half smile met me, and it made my heart squeeze in my chest.

“I can't feel my lips, and the apology doesn't hurt nearly as much as how I felt after hurting your feelings, Clarke.”

She sucked in a breath and pursed her lips while her blue eyes bore into mine, letting it out in a loud huff after coming to whatever decision she was making. Clarke looked around, noting that the hall was empty and leaned forward quickly to press a kiss to my lips.

“I get it. I'm sorry too, Lex.” her fingers tangled through the string of my hoodie and she let her fingertips dance on my collarbone as we stood there, basking in one another's presence and closeness.

I beamed a smile at her for two reasons. One, she understood. And two, she actually, sort of, almost kissed me in public.

“Go wash your face,” Clarke said, pushing my shoulder towards the bathroom. “You have tape all over your lips.”

“The better to kiss you with, my dear,” I joked, pursing my lips into an over exaggerated kiss.

Clarke just giggled and pushed me again.

*

Aside from the constant frustration of a semester trying to figure out Ontari Winters and the constant warmth in my stomach from being Clarke's… whatever, I had FINALLY discovered Costia's flaw.

Although not athletic, she knew WAY TOO MUCH about basketball. It wasn't REALLY a flaw, especially not for ME, but more so a flaw in the fact that whenever we were together, it dominated our conversations, leaving Clarke and Roan to stare at us until we clued in that we were being ignorant. Clarke usually ended up making me late to my next class by pinning me to the bathroom stalls after Costia and I got carried away in a conversation too often.

“Is this becoming a routine?”

“Are you and Costia going to do this every class?” Clarke asked, skating her fingertips along my collarbone and pressing kisses everywhere her fingers touched. My skin erupted in goosebumps.

“Does me talking about basketball make you want to kiss me?” I asked.

Clarke scoffed. “You talking about ANYTHING makes me want to kiss you.” She promptly kissed me, nipping at my bottom lip. “You and Costia seem to be getting closer and closer, though.”

I pulled back. The tone of her voice made my brow furrow.

Clarke moved in to kiss me again, but I dodged it and it landed on my cheek.

“You don't like Costia?” I asked.

Clarke leaned back and looked at me. “Do you?” She asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, she's my friend.”

Clarke breathed out a bitter chuckle. “Just a friend?”

I gave Clarke a perplexed look. “Seriously?”

Clarke shifted away from me, releasing herself from my hold and leaning against the other wall of the stall, her eyes glued to the floor and cheeks turning a bright shade of pink.

“Clarke…”

“You're hot. She's hot. It would make sense.” She shrugged one shoulder, eyes still avoiding mine.

“But it wouldn't,” I said with a head shake. “It wouldn't make sense because it's not YOU.”

Clarke scoffed.

“I’m serious!” I exclaimed.

And yes, Costia made my stomach swoop before when she looked at me. She was beautiful and kind and smart. But Clarke? Clarke made my stomach drop and feel like it would never come back up again.

Worrying her bottom lip, Clarke ran her hands down her face.

“You don't like Costia?”

“No, Clarke, I don't like Costia like that.”

“You're sure? I mean, she's so confident in herself and she's really pretty and --”

“Clarke.”

“Lexa.”

“I don't want Costia. I want YOU.”

I moved towards Clarke, hands up so she could tell me to stop if she wanted. She glanced at my hands, then me. When my hands touched her face, she let out a watery breath, just on the verge of tears and and closed her eyes. “I want YOU, Clarke,” I reminded again softly, and finally, FINALLY, she leaned in to accept the kiss I gave her.

“Shit, sorry guys, I went off again,” I said, running my hand sheepishly along the back of my neck.

“No, it's cool,” Clarke said with an easy smile. “You love basketball, you're allowed to talk about it, nerd.” Clarke gave me a warm look and squeezed my hand reassuringly before dropping her hand down to my thigh and leaving it there.

“Yeah, I love hearing about LeBron John,” Roan chimed in encouragingly.

“James,” Costia corrected. “LeBron James. He's literally the best basketball player on the earth right now.”

“Debatable,” I added. Costia quirked a brow. “Come on, Michael Jordan? The actual legend. You can't compare them.”

“Exactly, MJ didn't have the same competition --”

“Oh my God,” Roan groaned. “I can't handle you two. Stop talking, please.”

Costia and I shared a blush. It was just so easy to get carried away.

“Speaking of basketball,” Clarke started. Roan groaned again, pouting and pretending to cry at the fact that we were still talking about it. “What are you going to do about Ontari? Have you made any progress?”

“Kick her in the face,” Roan said.

“That's not really helping,” I spat.

Roan just shrugged.

“What problem?” Costia asked. She pushed her glasses up and twirled her pen in her fingers like a teacher ready to tackle a project. It was cute.

“I'm just having a hard time trying to build some sort of chemistry with her,” I said.

“She hates her,” Roan clarified.

“And she isn't very nice, or interested in building chemistry,” Clarke added, a slight pout protruding from her bottom lip at the thought. It was ADORABLE and I just wanted to kiss it off her. “Coach Indra wants Lexa to be a bit more assertive, so she's made it her job to fix their relationship.”

“Oh,” Costia said. She tapped her pen rhythmically against her notebook. “Like LeBron and Kyrie.”

“Kind of,” I answered. “The only difference is we can't figure out how to win. Coach Indra won't play her until we can build chemistry because she likes to hog the ball.”

“So she doesn't want to be in your shadow. Totally LeBron and Kyrie.”

“But how do I fix it?” I asked. “It's not like we're being paid.”

“Not yet,” Costia said confidently. I smirked at her, enjoying her confidence in my ability. “Hear me out, though. What if you position it in regards to getting recruited. You both want scholarships…” Costia trailed off.

Clarke, Roan and I all sat there and looked at each other.

That might work. I'd have to work on it over the Christmas break, figure out how to actually approach her properly.

“If that doesn't work, then what?” I asked.

“Freeze her out,” Costia said with a shrug.

“It's impossible to do that. She already has no friends on the team because of her attitude. To be honest, I don't think she has any friends at all. I’ve never actually seen her sit with anyone at lunch or talk to anyone in class. She just glares at everyone in her wake.”

Costia pouted slightly at the thought. “Strange.”

“Yeah,” I breathed.

“I'm sure you'll figure it out, Lex,” Clarke said.

Forgetting the fact that I had never been the one to initiate physical contact in front of anyone, I leaned over and kissed her cheek in thanks. Clarke never doubted me. Ever. I needed her to know that I knew that.

Roan squeaked and Costia sent Clarke and I a warm smile while Clarke blushed furiously.

*

I nipped at Clarke's neck as she pulled me down on top of her on her mattress.

“We're supposed to be studying,” I said, not even trying to stop her grip from pulling me closer.

“It's an anatomy exam, you're fine.” Clarke tilted her head to the side to grant me more access as I grazed my teeth along her pulse point and loved the way it quickened with my ministrations. Pressing my tongue against the rhythm, Clarke bucked into me while her heartbeat kept up the erratic rhythm.

Oh God.

“It's a social studies Exam, Clarke. And it's worth like thirty percent,” I said while still working my way up her neck, and taking her earlobe between my teeth.

She wound her hands into my hair and pulled my face back to hers. “I'm pretty sure this counts as studying socially.” Her teeth snagged my bottom lip in a small admonition, then soothed it with her tongue right after. I parted my lips to let our tongues dance as my hands roamed over her stomach, tracing the tops of her hip ones again. Clarke let out a shuddering breath against my lips and all rational thought left me.

The timer on her phone went off.

“Okay, breaks over, let's get back to it.”

Of course.

I collapsed onto the bed with a loud groan. “Do we REALLY need a timer for our study breaks?”

“Have you SEEN you? It's much harder to concentrate now that you're wearing eyeliner.”

“Have you seen YOU?” I rebuked.

Clarke threw my book at my head in response.

*

“Well, that kicked my ass,” Roan grumbled when we met back up after the exam.

“Same,” I said.

“I’m sure you both did fine,” Costia disagreed.

“Says the perfect AI girl.” Roan grumbled again.

“Hey, at least it is officially the start of winter break!” Clarke cheered.

I pouted. “Why the long face?” Clarke asked, bumping my hip with her own and interlocking our arms as we walked to our lockers.

“You're leaving,” I said, pout still fully formed.

“Only for three weeks.”

“That's like forever in Lexa years,” Roan joked.

“How will you ever survive?” Clarke asked playfully. It was hard enough to be separated for Christmas break last year and we hardly knew each other. Now that we were best friends I couldn't imagine her being gone.

“We do what we must,” I sighed out, pout still firmly in place.

Clarke sent me a mischievous look. “I'll call you every night,” she said around a laugh. “I'll sing you lullabies too.”

I stuck my tongue out at her, which she raised a knowing, suggestive eyebrow at, and I sucked it right back into my mouth with pink dusted cheeks.

I think Clarke's ability to make me blush had gotten even stronger.

“Promise you'll call me every night?” I couldn't reign in my sudden burst of panic, my stomach swooping in an unpleasant way.

“Seriously?” Clarke asked, still laughing.

I shifted away from her slightly, the sting of her reaction leaving me embarrassed. This is why I didn't like talking about feelings. This is why I panicked.

Clarke pulled me closer, stopping us and letting Roan and Costia continue on their way. Roan looked over his shoulder with a confused expression but Clarke just shook her head at him before he continued on. She pushed me against the closest locker, lest the other students coming out of their exams run into us, and pulled on the hem of my shirt when I avoided her eyes. “Lexa, how could you ask that? I'm going to miss you just as much,” she said quietly. “I'm going to lose my mind without you. You know that don't you?”

I chewed on my cheek, still avoiding her gaze.

“What if you realize you don't like me as much as you think you do when we're apart?”

It came out without thinking and I instantly regretted showing so much vulnerability. My cheeks burned with heat and my eyes widened at my own insecurity.

“Lexa…” Clarke tugged on the hem of my shirt again.

“Just forget it,” I said, “I'm just being silly,” I continued. I forced a smile, willing her to believe me.

“Lexa, no.”

Clarke put her hand on my chest, my erratic heart beat thundering against her palm. Her hand wasn't trembling, steady and sure, and the warmth on my chest helped my heart rate slow down again long enough for me to be able to hear her.

“Lexa, I'm not going to go away and forget how much I like you,” she whispered. She looked around the hall, checking to see if there were any other students present.

“I know, I was just being dumb.” I tried to shrug it off again until Clarke gave me a pointed look.

“Lexa, stop. Stop playing it off. I was the one feeling this way not too long ago and you were damn sure to reassure me until I believed you. Let me do the same. Your feelings are important.”

I breathed out an annoyed breath. Feelings.

Clarke cupped my face with her palms and placed a kiss on my cheek, a hair's breadth away from the corner of my lips.

“I am going to miss you every day. I'm going to call you probably three times a day and text you at least fifty text messages a day. I've already calculated the cost of the phone cards to reload your phone and purchased them so that I know how many texts I have to send and how much is left. I am going to email you all the time with pictures. I even downloaded an app on my phone that counts down to the second that I'm back here with you. I am going to miss YOU all the time. I rarely spend a minute NOT thinking about you, so you need to know that there is literally nothing that can happen while I'm away that will make me realize I don't like you.”

I leaned my head down on her shoulder and breathed her in, the panic subsiding again. She wrapped her arms around my waist and kissed the spot underneath my ear.

“I won't want anyone else. I want YOU, Lexa Woods.”

I let out a relieved breath. I could handle three weeks.

Chapter Text

Christmas had always been a quiet affair in our house, even before my parents… before they were gone.

I always made pancakes in lieu of a gift with the assistance of my mother; Anya and my dad set up the tree while Roan set up the nativity scene. I would then FIX the nativity scene, scolding Roan for making the figurines do inappropriate things, and we would all eat the pancakes, then marvel over the small but thoughtful gifts while we choked down our mother’s awful gingerbread cookies.

Except now, there were no parents to assist anymore. No mother laughing when I had pancake batter all over my nose; no father scrambling to save the tree from my sister’s attempt to lift it herself; no parents laughing at the creativity of Roan. It was just me, Anya and Roan.

While the pancakes bubbled beneath my spatula, so did the emotion I desperately tried to keep down, the acrid smell of long lost memories fighting their way to the surface.

I have hated Christmas for three years.

I shook my head in a desperate attempt to rid myself of the negative thoughts that seemed to be hellbent on consuming me this year. I had Anya, Roan and Clarke. I still had pancakes, I still had all the Christmas decorations, the gingerbread cookies my mom would make, and the train set that I would watch go around and around the nativity scene until the battery died.

The door sounded, and I furrowed my brow. I expected it to be Roan, but he had never once knocked when he came over.

I opened the door to face a mountain of presents and two legs.

“Roan?”

“You gonna stand there or help me out?” he asked.

I grabbed some of the boxes from him, taking them to set under the tree.

“How was Christmas morning with your mom?” I asked, returning to the stove to tend to the pancakes.

Roan didn't respond.

“Roan!” Anya exclaimed, interrupting the tense moment as she rounded the corner from the stairs. “Look at you!” she said with an exaggerated tone, opening her arms for a hug.

Roan rolled his eyes and laughed, although his posture was still rigid. “You saw me two days ago,” he half-complained.

“Yes, but you didn’t have,” she leaned closer to his face, to which Roan responded by turning into a tomato. “Two extra strands of facial hair!” she said as she cupped his chin and gave it a playful shake.

I barked out a laugh from the stove.

Roan leaned into the hug Anya was determined to give, but I saw the way he grimaced when she gripped his arms to look at him again. I know Anya noticed too. She kissed his cheek and said, “Merry Christmas, adoptive child of mine,” then poured herself a cup of coffee and grabbed her book from the countertop, taking a seat at the kitchen table.

I raised a brow at Roan as he rubbed his arm gingerly after she let go.

“How bad?”

“Enough,” he responded. I let out a harsh sigh. Roan and his mother…

Nia was an awful, awful person. She was a drunk who repeatedly took it too far. She would come home belligerent and take it out on Roan on more than one occasion, depending on how much she had binged. Part of the reason Roan grew out his hair, although he won't admit it, is because when it was short Nia would always compare him to his father. They were the spit image of each other, and all it did was cause Roan more issues when Nia would yell and scream in his face over it

“You should call the cops next time.”

He clenched his jaw and glared at me.

That was the other part. This wasn’t the first time Roan and I had had this conversation. For years, my parents tried to get Children’s Aid involved. It was difficult, because Nia was disgustingly smart. She never went beyond doling out a few bruises, mostly just attacked Roan verbally or mentally. I would get so excited every time my parents had called, the thought of my best friend finally being safe, finally having a home where someone loves him making me blab excitedly to him as soon as I saw him in the morning at school. It only occurred to me recently how Nia always managed to sober up right before they made a visit, or how the house would become spotless -- I would always warn Roan. We got into a HUGE spat when I finally figured out what was happening, involving some choice words and a wrestling match.

“Can you help me take out the trash?” My back stiffened at the memory, and I sent a pointed glare to Roan.

“What are you DOING?!” I yelled as we rounded the corner to the garage.

Roan shrugged, throwing another container into the already full trash bag.

“Roan, you need to get out of there.”

“You NEED to mind your own business, Lex,” he responded with a sigh.

“Just.. explain it to me. Why? Why would you WANT to stay there when she hurts you? I’ve left it alone for a bit hoping it would get better, but COME ON man.”

Roan sighed, throwing the bag over his shoulder after opening the garage door, moving to the trash can.

“Roan!” I snapped when he didn't answer.

Still ignoring me, he threw the bag in the trash and rested his hand on the lid of the container while he kept his back turned.

I let out a frustrated huff. “You’re honestly so stupid and I’m sick of it.”

With a glare and a snarl, Roan turned around and marched right up to me, finger poking me in the chest.

“You want to know WHY? You want to understand WHY? Let me make this crystal clear for you Lexa. I don’t have two parents that love me. I don't even have ONE parent that loves me. ” He poked me hard in the chest and I felt the bruise blossom instantly. “I don't even have a SIBLING that loves me. I don’t get late night talks and hugs and fucking CHRISTMAS MORNING PANCAKES.” I took a step back as his voice raised. “You can’t come in here and try to tell me how to live my fucking life when you have NO idea. You don’t get to BE sick of it. You see some bruises and you think you can solve this by calling the cops? So, what? They can take away the ONLY family I have?” Roan shoved me back and I fell against the wall of the garage, the rough concrete scratching at my elbows.

“How is that FAMILY?!” I cried incredulously, righting my footing and shoving him right back, until we were inches apart. My face was hot, and Roan’s cheeks were a dark shade of red with the anger that was coursing through him. I clenched my fists, already planning my next move -- this was surely going to end with Roan and I tangled in another wrestling match.

“YOU'RE my fucking family!” Roan barked. My hands unclenched. His voice broke over the word family, just barely, but enough that it pierced it's way through my ribs.

Still furious, Roan shouted, “I don't give a shit about Nia. But you know what she gives me? She gives me a roof over my head and expectations of what to KNOW will happen if and when I get home. It’s not a guessing game. I know how to avoid it, and I’m lucky because I have a mother who is too consumed by herself to even notice that I’m hardly there!”

Each word hit me like a blow to the gut. Roan had resigned himself to this life, thought he deserved it. I knew that. When my eyes softened, Roan shook his head and slammed his hand on the wall beside my head, eyes were almost black with anger.

This was the same conversation we had been having for years, and I had been pitching the same concept for years, and Roan had been rejecting it for YEARS.

“This is the last time I’m having this conversation with you, Lexa. I’m not interested in being thrown into a system that’s more broken than my own home,” he snarled lowly, breathing ragged.

I sucked in a quiet, shaky breath. His hand was dangerously close to my head and I couldn’t stop myself from flinching to the side slightly to create some distance. Eyes suddenly darting to his hand, Roan stepped back quickly and ran his fingers through his hair and I watched as his chin quivered for a second with emotion. He shoved his hands into his pockets while his expression crumbled and he looked at me pleadingly to understand he wouldn't ever hurt me. His eyes shone and I knew he was thinking that he was no better than her , that he deserved this life.

This morning must have been too much for him, too.

With a much lower voice, wavering and  unsure, he said, “They could put me into a foster home where they’re just as bad or worse. Move me into a house with five other kids who are getting hurt just like me. Move me around the city or the country when the foster family just doesn’t want me, getting rejected over and over and over again because I’m ME. Lexa, I appreciate your concern but you need to get off my back.”

“You could live with me and Anya,” I pleaded with a step towards him. Roan just diverted his eyes to the floor and stepped back. “You’re MY family. You’re OUR family.” I felt the emotion punch it’s way through my chest. This morning was already tearing at me before I even got out of bed.

Roan let out a bitter laugh and he swallowed. “We’ve talked about this. The courts would never allow it, Lex. She barely got you, and look how much she’s working to feed just you.”

I tried to swallow down the emotion, my throat bobbing repeatedly as I fought and lost. I hiccupped with the tears that came rushing out.

I knew he was right. The only reason Anya got to be my guardian was because we were blood related, and even then she had to fight tooth and nail, spend every penny she had saved for College on lawyer fees, had to stem the tears as the council tore her apart, dug up her history, burned our family’s name just to prove that Anya wasn’t good enough. That she wasn’t strong enough. That she wasn’t enough.

She just barely got me.

Roan just shook his head. “You’ve always been my family, you idiot, but I need to do this and you need to let me. I’m saving up money and I’m going to move out when I’m eighteen and I get to choose where I live, not some courts. You need to let me do that.”

“I can’t…”

“You have to. You tell them and you don’t only take away Nia, you take away you and Anya too. I can’t take that risk.”

“But you’ll be safe.” I was grasping at straws. I just wanted him to be safe. I just wanted everyone to be safe.

“But I’ll lose my family.” His voice was ragged and tired, his posture slumping further while he kicked at the ground, but his eyes bore into mine, heartbroken and vulnerable.

Huffing, I wiped my face of my tears and turned to exit the garage. This was the last time we were to talk about this, but this was the first time I had really listened. I don't know what I'd do without Roan, either.

“Fuck you for making me cry on Christmas. The pancakes are probably ready, let's go eat.”

“I need a cigarette and I’ll be right in,” he replied with a chuckle.

Shifting from foot to foot at his words, I quickly turned back and marched my way over to him and wrapped my hands around his neck and hugged him tightly. “You'll never lose me. Asshole.”

Roan just grunted in response, his arms returning the hug.

“Roan! Come and tell me ALL about what you’ve been up to since I’ve seen you last,” Anya said as Roan entered the house almost ten minutes after me, patting the seat next to her. She had obviously noticing my puffy eyes and Roan’s flushed face when we came back in, but when I moved back to the stove to finish the pancakes and avoided her eye, Anya just whispered a small, “love you Squirt,” and let me be.

She spent the next hour doting over him, and the tension in his shoulders slowly subsided until he was the same snarky asshole as always.

We ate cookies and milk, talked about our upcoming classes (and I tried to not be too excited over the fact that I shared majority of them with Clarke), and Anya fawned over Roan in any and every way, much to his delight. After breakfast, Anya and I spent some time reminiscing about our parents and how much she missed sharing Christmas is with them, and then finally, the three of us opened the mountain of presents that Roan had supplied.

“Roan, where the hell did you get money for all these gifts?” Anya asked.

Roan shrugged. “Working.”

“You've been with Lexa almost every day this week when the hell have you been working?”

Roan shrugged again. “Been saving.”

I open my gift after a pointed glare from Roan. I knew it was because I was pretty much a MESS without Clarke here this break and Roan was only spending so much time with me because he knew that. But if he was planning on using that same savings to move out, I REALLY didn’t want him to be spending it on me, but I couldn't control him any more than I could control the weather.

Inside the box was one of those really expensive Never-Flat balls. They were indoor-outdoor balls that a car could literally run over and still not deflate, perfect for me. It was SO cool, and I could finally get rid (put away for later) the old ball I had been using for the past three years.

“Before you complain --”

“Thank you,” was all I said to him, trying to place as much emphasis in my words to explain how grateful I was. He nodded in response.

At least I knew he wasn't mad at me for earlier.

The next box was a pair of socks and shoe deodorizer.

“I don't want you ruining those Jordans with how bad your feet stink,” he joked. Anya cheered and I scowled at them both.

He gifted Anya a new purse and shoes that she could wear to the diner, to which she angrily huffed at him wasting money on her, but we both saw the mistiness in her eyes and Roan turned bright red when she hugged him tightly.

“Okay Squirt, I got something for you and Roan to this year,” Anya said she handed me a small envelope. We hadn’t exchanged gifts since our parents passed. The past three years we had huddled together by the fireplace and paged through the Christmas albums our parents had kept since Anya was born, while she would regale me with stories of how silly our dad was or how horrible of a baker our mom was. Obviously  I knew these things, my dad having worn the Santa suit every year until the year he died, and my mom ALWAYS making the gingerbread cookies even though we all hated them, but I let Anya tell me the stories anyway. I missed them so much, and I knew that it was cathartic for Anya to speak of them, even if it burned a little more each year in their absence.

I furrowed my brow and her. “I thought we weren't exchanging gifts anymore.”

“Just shut up. I've been putting aside the money you gave me to make sure I could get you this,” she said with a shrug.

I opened the envelope and instantly my eyes watered. It was tickets to the local WNBA game.

“Anya, these must have set you back at least a hundred bucks!” I exclaimed.

I was out of my seat before she could even shrug.

“Oh my god, I’m so excited! I can't wait to go! Can we get hot dogs? Do you think they’ll put us on TV?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Squirt!” Anya laughed. “I won't be able to go with you, I only got two tickets. They're for you and Roan.”

I leaned back, pushing her back by the shoulders to look her dead in the eye with a questioning glare.

“What do you MEAN you won't be going with me? Why would you get tickets that I don't get to go with YOU for? No offense, Roan.”

“None taken.”

“That's what a gift is,” Anya replied with an eye roll. “And I could only get two. I’m sorry.”

“But Anya, these were EXPENSIVE.”

Anya shrugged one shoulder.

“Anya…” I said quietly. My throat burned with emotion. I felt guilty, not getting her anything. I felt sad because she always sacrificed EVERYTHING for me. I felt angry because no one understood how much effort it was to do something that so many people took for granted, and it wasn’t FAIR that I STILL couldn't share this moment with her. I couldn't have ANY moment with her. She was ALWAYS working because of me. Roan’s words hit me harder than ever.

She barely got me.

“I love you,” I whispered, not letting her eyes disconnect from mine. It physically hurt to accept this.

Anya’s eyes rivered with tears and she swallowed thickly as one slipped out.

“Merry Christmas, Squirt,” she murmured, and I buried my head into her shoulder and hugged her tightly, my own tears spilling out of my eyes and onto her shirt, the emotion of the morning being too much for me.

It was long minutes before the tears stopped.

*

After the gifts (and the tears) we put on ‘A Christmas Carol’ and gorged ourselves on the gingerbread cookies that Anya made earlier that day.  They would never be the same as our moms (thankfully. The woman could cook, but baking was just lost on her).

The phone rang halfway through the movie, and I practically threw myself over the chair. Anya gave me a worried look and Roan rolled his eyes, laughing out a, “Clarke” to Anya.

“Hello?”

“Merry Christmas!” Clarke said loudly.

“Merry Christmas Lexa!” Jake yelled from behind.

“Merry Christmas,” I said back.

“How are you? Missing me?” Clarke teased.

“Always,” I responded. I felt the heat creep up my neck with Anya and Roan so unabashedly staring. I knew they couldn't ACTUALLY hear the conversation, but they could hear ME, so I took the phone upstairs while Roan made kissing noises to my back. I flipped him off without looking back.

“How was your Christmas?” I asked once I got to my room.

“It was fine. Would have been better if I was there with you. Preferably with a mistletoe.”

I hummed. “I agree. Being without you is…” I trailed off, unable to express myself and Clarke laughed.

“Careful, Lex, your feelings are almost showing.”

I scoffed. “Well now you'll never know WHAT I'm feeling.”

“I can see your heart eyes from New York. I'm good.”

“I miss you,” I blurted out, and didn't even for a second feel an ounce of shame. “Today has been… today has been hard,” I said, exhausted.

“I miss you too. I miss holding you. I miss kissing you.” Clarke's voice softened into a gentle tone. “I'm sorry I couldn't be there.”

My cheeks burned a bright red. “Me too.”

“Only a few more weeks, Lex.”

Only a few more weeks.

I bounded down the stairs after finishing my conversation with Clarke, telling her all about Roan and Anya and everything that made my heart leap into my throat and my stomach bottom out. She spoke softly on the other line, listened when I rambled, and brought me back down from the edge I kept placing myself back on. I knew I was falling hard for her, and it didn't even scare me. It had been a long time coming. When I skipped my way downstairs, I caught the raised brow of my sister and the smirk of Roan.

“What?”

“You took the call in your room,” Anya said knowingly.

“Yeah, so?” I shrugged and snagged another gingerbread cookie from the counter, popping it in my mouth as I sat on the floor in front of the couch. Anya started to run her fingers through my hair.

“So…” she prompted.

I chewed the cookie slowly. “So? It was Clarke. She said to tell you both merry Christmas.” The scratching of my scalp was more soothing than I could have imagined. I have no idea how every time it amazes me how I become a puddle of goo when anyone touches my hair.

“You usually don't run off to your room when you talk to her.”

I hummed.

“And you've been smiling like a dope for months. AND you haven't been whining about your crush and how annoying Finn is,” Roan added. “Which he really fucking is.”

“Methinks Lexa doth has a secret.”

“Is that even English?” I asked, laughing.

Anya stopped playing with my hair, and I pouted instantly. “There's nothing to tell, Ahn,” I breathed out.

Anya let out a loud, disappointed sigh. “And here I thought you trusted me. All these years growing you into this wonderful thing. All the care and the patience.”

“You make me sound like a houseplant.”

“You kind of are, but with more anxiety and significantly less game.”

I rolled my eyes. I had told Clarke we could keep it between us while she worked out her feelings. So far all I knew was that she really… REALLY liked me, but honestly, I didn’t need to know anything else. I could wait.

I shrugged. “Nothing to tell. She's my best friend.”

“And you love her,” Roan said teasingly, dragging out the 'o’ in love.

“Yeah, and you talk in your sleep. What was it you said last time? 'please brush my hair Raven, I like it.’?”

Roan turned tomato red and Anya barked our a laugh, patting his shoulder gently. “You DO have nice hair, Roan.”

*

Roan slept over, as he did every Christmas night since we were eight, and woke me up with a pillow to the face the next morning, like he always did.

“Get up,” he demanded. “Your sister is sleeping and I'm bored.”

I groaned, but didn't argue. “Perfect. Let's go to the mall,” I responded.

By the time we got to the mall, it was already packed with people returning gifts they didn't want or need or appreciate. It always made me feel a certain amount of resentment toward the holidays, what with people being so focused on the material aspect of the day, and forgetting that it was a day to celebrate being with your family, in whatever form they came in. Being here made me feel sick with irritation as people haggled and wormed their way into getting the most out of the fact that someone took the time to actually THINK about them. I wanted to believe that not EVERYONE was like that, but when someone almost ran me over with their car, honked and gave me the finger, it made me think that THAT particular person was missing the point of the season.

“So,” he led.

I sighed. “What?”

“You and Clarke…” he prompted.

“Oh for fucks sakes Roan, not this again.”

“I know something is going on,” he said, looking at me knowingly.

“Nothing is going on. What is wrong with you?”

Roan stopped walking suddenly, forcing me to turn back to look at him.

“What?” I snapped.

“You're exhausting,” he said with a head shake.

“And you're annoying.”

“If you two don't tell each other how you feel I am going to lose my shit.”

“Shits already lost, Roan,” I quipped.

“No, but seriously. I'm tired of watching you two idiots pine over each other. You either tell her how you feel or I will.”

“No, you won't,” I snapped, marching back toward him and poking him in the chest. I took a step closer. “You will do no such thing, because you are my friend and a decent human being and you would never just OUT someone without their consent.” I poked him again, hard enough for him to flinch and rub his chest.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I thought of Jake telling me I couldn't tell Clarke. I assumed she didn't know up until this point. She hadn't mentioned it, and it was one of those THINGS that you're sure she'd mention.

He sighed miserably. “Fine, but you should tell her.”

I ignored him and headed straight to the ticket booth that the mall had for all major events in the area (yes, I know, this is not normal, but neither was my city).

“What are you doing?” Roan asked as I waited in line to reach the teller.

I shrugged.

After another ten minutes, I had a hundred and forty-eight dollars in my hand, and a plan.

Roan gave me a confused look, but didn't question me as I dragged him to the bath shop, the candy shop, the library, and the jersey shop.

“You know, you're a pretty good sister,” he said to me as we left the mall.

I nodded, my throat thick with emotion.

“I hope you’re not mad that I did this,” I said.

“Honestly, Lex, I already knew we weren’t actually going to the game the second that Anya said she couldn’t come,” he said with a dismissive wave of the hand and a smile.

*

I received a phone call from Clarke at eleven-thirty on New Year's Eve and she refused to let us part ways until after the ball dropped.

“I want to bring in the New Year with you,” she reasoned.

“Clarke, you're at a party are you not?”

She chuckled. “No, it's like three am, and it was boring.”

“I thought you said there were kids your age there.”

“There are. Jaha’s son, Wells is here. He's cool. I've known him since I was in diapers, but he and the rest of the boys were weirdly obsessed with trying to get the girls to kiss them.”

I felt my stomach drop out.

“Oh,” was all I could squeak out.

“Yeah, hence why I was messaging.”

“And not talking to Wells.”

“The principal's kid? No thanks. I'm just glad he lives in New York with his mom, because I'm sure my mother would be planning our wedding if he lived in the city with us.”

My stomach rolled at the thought.

“Besides, you're WAY more entertaining to talk to than anyone here,” Clarke said with slight playfulness in her tone.

“Glad to be of service.”

“I wish you were here. Or I wish I was there. I wish I was with YOU, you idiot.”

“For New Years?”

“For the part that comes with the ball drop,” Clarke confirmed.

My cheeks flushed, and I was glad I was alone in my room at the time.

“When do you get back?” There was a slight (read: large) amount of desperation in my tone as I thought about what it meant to bring in the New Year with Clarke.

“This Sunday. Probably late, so I won't see you ‘til class Monday morning.” I could hear the pout in her voice. “Maybe I'll sneak out and come see you when I get back.”

“Clarke,” I chastised.

“You know you want me to. I don't know if I can go that long without kissing you.”

I hummed. “Clarke, my area is dangerous, and you're gorgeous with a fancy ass car. I'd literally be worried sick. How about I come to you?”

“At eleven at night? Don't you think you should take me on a date first before you climb in my window so late, Romeo?” she teased.

“You want to go on a date with me?” I asked, dumbfounded. My voice squeaked and I cured my body for not once, ever, in the history if my life, letting me just be cool.

“Yes, of course. Do you not want to? I mean, we don't have to. Just forget it, it was a stupid idea.” Clarke started rambling and I chuckled softly.

“Clarke, will you go on a date with me when you get back? I'd… it would make me really happy if you would give me that honour.”

”Yes. I thought you'd never ask and were going to let me ramble on forever.”

I shook my head with a laugh. I could freak out about the date later when I wasn't on the phone. I wish I had told Roan about Clarke, I needed some advice. Not that he’d be any REAL help.

“Where's Anya?” Clarke asked after a moment.

“She fell asleep a while ago. She's old,” I joked, eliciting a chuckle from Clarke.

“She's like, twenty-one,”

“Exactly. Old,” I responded.

“I guess my dad must be ancient then, because he’s been asleep since eight. He’s been going to bed early all trip and waking up super late. I guess the jet lag is really kicking his butt this year.”

“Yeah,” I said, a wave of guilt crashing into me.

“Are you not going to wake her up?” Clarke asked around a yawn.”

Clarke’s voice snapped me out of the sudden trip I took down guilt lane. “Nah. She's tired, I should let her sleep. I don't really get why everyone's so into New Year's anyways.”

“Must be the New year's kiss,” Clarke said.

“You seem to be thinking a lot about getting kissed tonight.” I felt apprehension creep into my tone. Did she kiss someone while she was at the party?

“Not by anyone here, that's for sure. The person I want is at home and preparing for our first date.”

I sucked in a breath of air and held it. Maybe I could start freaking out about the date sooner rather than later.

“You should get some sleep, Clarke,” I said as she yawned again.

Clarke hummed. “Hey, Lex?”

“Clarke.” I clicked the 'k’ in her name harder than usual while my mind was lost in thoughts of her lips and I could hear her breath hitch slightly.

“Happy New Year,” she said as fireworks sounded all around me.

“Happy New Year, Clarke.”

*

On New Years day, I jumped on top of Anya in excitement.

“Oof! I guess someone's excited for the game today!” she said just as excited.

I nodded and bounced on top of her a few times.

“Oh God, get off! You’re getting so big!” she laughed.

I slid off her, situating myself onto the couch and  leaned my head on her shoulder.

“We probably should leave soon to get you and Roan to the stadium on time,” she said and I just shrugged grumpily.

“I’m excited for the game, but I’m not going,” I replied.

Anya leaned away from me, pushing my head from her shoulder.

“What does that mean, Lexa?” she questioned, her posture taking on one similar to the one our mother would get when the school called about one of us (usually me).

I cleared my throat and sat up properly on my side of the couch.

“I traded in the tickets,” I said defiantly.

Anya's mouth fell open. “You WHAT?!”

I pulled out the plastic bags from behind the couch and put them between us.

“Hear me out, Ahn,” I pleaded as her cheeks tinted pink in frustration.

“Lexa, I spent a lot of money on those tickets --,”

“I know. And I am SO grateful for that, Anya.”

Anya furrowed her brow and I opened the bags for her to see.

Inside there were her favourite candies, a face mask that Clarke recommended, saying it would be perfect to help her relax, the trilogy I had seen Anya looking at any time we passed the bookshop, two giant foam fingers, and two t-shirts.

I reached in and pulled out the shirts, which said BIG SISTER 01 on one, and LITTLE SISTER 02 on the other, printed on dark green cotton shirts, the logo of the WNBA team printed on the front.

“Lexa…” she said, trailing off as she took in the rest of the contents of the bag.

“Anya, if you’re not going with me to the game, then I don't want to go. I want to watch the game with YOU,” I said. “I want -- I want to spend Christmas WITH you. I don't want --,”

stupid presents. I want my parents back. I want you to smile again.

“I don't want to be at a stupid game without you. You're my sister.”

I cleared my throat. God, this communicating shit was exhausting.

“And this way we don't have to pay five times the price for all the snacks!” I said light-hearted, desperate to not fall into a panic attack from all of these… feelings.

Anya shook her head as she battled the emotion that was threatening to take over.

I went on to explain all the facts and statistics that I had learned about the two teams that were playing, and Anya laughed at my excitement.

“I love you, Squirt.”

“I love you too, Ahn. Maybe after the game you can try out that facemask. I heard great things about it from a reliable source.”

*

I eventually told Anya that I was going to see Clarke the Sunday she got back. I wasn't stupid enough to leave the house close to midnight and not tell her where I was going. We REALLY didn't live in the greatest of neighborhoods, but I was more terrified of Anya's response than any of the dangerous people that lived nearby. Anya, although not pleased, knew she couldn't stop me while she was at work, so relented upon my agreeing to text her when I got to Clarke's and not go ANYWHERE else.

I pedalled faster than ever before to clear the two miles to school, then slowed it to a casual pace to get to Clarke's. I didn't want to jostle the contents of my backpack TOO severely, lest I end up with half the contents running down my back.

I was KIND OF anxious about getting there to see Clarke. Sort of. Maybe. Definitely.

I pulled up to Clarke's house at eleven-thirty, noticing the lights all off but her own. I pulled out my phone and messaged Anya that I was here and Clarke that I was outside, then sat on my bike and waited. Clarke mentioned that they wouldn’t be back and settled until eleven, so I assume that her parents promptly passed out after all of the flying.

My heart lurched at the thought of Jake and why he was so tired. Maybe he told Clarke over the holidays. I hoped. I knew it wasn't true, but I hoped anyway. Maybe things were going well, so he didn't need to tell her. I hoped even harder for that.

After five or so minutes of staring at the front door intently and worrying myself into thinking she wasn't coming, the living room lamp flicked on, a shadow passed, and the window opened. My eyes widened in curiosity. Clarke wasn't…

She was. OF COURSE she was.

Blonde hair haloed her face as she peered outside, and then she flipped her hair to the side as she quickly darted her eyes back behind her. Clarke shimmied her way out of the living room window, propping her foot on the ledge to give herself a boost. As she leaned halfway out, she finally noticed me sitting atop my bike and smiled brightly.

Of course, as she was unfocused now, she slipped and fell headfirst out of the window and into the bush beneath with a thud, followed by a groan and a curse.

“Clarke!” I hissed, immediately dropping my bike in the grass to hurry over to her. Screw not wanting to shake the content of the backpack.

“Clarke, what the hell?” I whispered as she groaned lightly again, her hands rubbing her rear and her forehead at the same time.

“This bush has thorns, fuck!” She whispered back.

“Why the HELL did you come through the window?”

“The front door would make too much noise!” She whisper-shouted.

“I thought you were a gymnast?” I said, pulling her up and trying desperately to hide my laugh. I was failing miserably if Clarke's scowl was anything to go by.

“I'm sorry, do you want me to go back to bed?”

“No, no,” I relented, pulling her free of the bush and removing some thorns from her hair. “I mean, when you said you were falling for me…” I joked, eliciting an eye-roll.

“Shut up.”

I couldn’t stop the giggles that wracked my body. That is, until Clarke grabbed me by the straps of my backpack and pulling me towards her, crashing out lips together.

That DEFINITELY got me to stop laughing.

She pulled back, and I pulled the last thorn free from her hair and sucked in a nervous breath. Clarke was beautiful in all light, but something about tonight, the way the moon caressed her face, her in track pants and her hair a mess of waves made her look even more so. I didn't know it was possible.

Maybe I missed her more than I thought I did.

“Hi,” I said, cupping her cheeks with my palms. I couldn't stop the smile from my lips as I looked down at her.

Clarke's eyes shone with happiness back at me. “Hi.”

I pulled her toward me slowly, placing a lingering kiss to her lips that eventually turned to us just pressing our foreheads together as our smiles overwhelmed us.

“I missed you,” Clarke whispered.

“I missed you too,” I said, breathing in that scent that was just so Clarke. I inhaled again, happy. I truly didn't realize just how much I missed her until that moment.

“You really didn't need to climb through the window,” I said, giggling slightly.

Clarke scoffed. “You said you were taking me on a date.”

“Yes, but we really just were going to be in your backyard. It's late, Clarke, where else would I take you?”

Clarke let out a frustrated whine from the back of her throat. “I fell through a WINDOW, Lexa!” She whined. “I could have just opened the back door! Why didn't you tell me?”

I stifled my laugh and pulled her in for another kiss when she pouted. I needed to feel that pout against my lips.

“It was supposed to be a surprise. It'll be a story you'll always remember, and I really enjoyed the fact that you fell for me. Literally.”

“It wasn’t funny the first time, and it’s not getting any funnier now,” Clarke huffed, and I extended my hand for her to take, which she did willingly, still pouting adorably. I turned to kiss her against the fence that sectioned off her backyard, pouring my emotions of missing her into it. Clarke let out the tiniest of sighs as her thumbs traced my hip bones absently, sending a shudder through me.

Okay, yeah, maybe I missed her touch.

Once in the backyard, I dropped to my knees and opened the backpack, my fingers shaking with nerves of the date officially starting. I pulled out the blankets, setting up one on the ground and the other two on the side so we could wrap ourselves in them if we got cold. And then pulled out the Tupperware and the plastic jug of drink, along with two plastic cups.

I looked up nervously at Clarke who chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip with a funny look in her eye.

I swallowed. Maybe I was right when I was freaking out earlier. This was a stupid idea.

“I can't afford --”

“Stop,” Clarke said, her tone leaving no room for question and hand raised toward me. I gaped at her. “Lexa, don't you dare demean this because you're nervous. Don't make this about money. Haven't I done enough for you to know I don't care about that? This is perfect. I love it.”

I chewed on my bottom lip and rubbed my sweaty palms on my pant legs, dropping my head to look at the set up.

It was lame.

“You're just so… special can barely explain you, and I just wish I could make it special for you,” I reasoned. My voice wavered slightly with the nerves that rushed from my brain to my mouth.

Communicating was so hard.

Clarke dropped to her knees, putting her hand in my chest, fingers tracing my collarbone while my heart beat erratically against her palm. She smiled at me then, her eyes crinkling with the quirk of her lips. “It's special because I'm with YOU. While we were apart, did you get dropped on your head and forget that you're the one I want? You could literally turn a movie on in my room and call it a date and I'll think it's the greatest date I've ever been on.”

“You need to raise your expectations just SLIGHTLY,” I teased. “I'm not THAT pathetic.”

My cheeks burned as Clarke giggled, pulling me in for another slow, sweet kiss. I was leaning over her seated form and holding myself up by my arms, but I could feel the way they shook as they supported my weight, and I knew Clarke felt it too. “You're not pathetic at all. You're actually kind of amazing. Now date me like you mean it, Woods,” she said, pushing me back until I fell onto the blanket.

I chuckled and opened the Tupperware. I passed it to her, Clarke pulling the sandwich out and inspecting it before she took a big bite and moaned in satisfaction. “Mmm, I love peanut butter and jelly.” She nodded a few times, wiping the jelly that stuck to her cheek, then said, “I wish I had some--”

I handed her a cup filled with milk. She smiled brightly as she accepted, drinking deeply and leaving a milk moustache. “You read my mind,” she joked.

“I missed you,” I said again without thinking.

Communicating wasn't so hard.

Clarke smiled softly, picking at the crust of her sandwich and popping it into her mouth. “I missed you too, nerd.”

We made small talk while we ate our sandwiches, me mostly talking out of pure nervousness, explaining the new trivia and terminology I learned while watching the WNBA game with Anya. Clarke nodded along, completely pretending to be interested and I had to stop at least three times to kiss her in gratitude. When my heart finally settled, Clarke still looking at me softly, warmly, Clarke opened her phone to show me all of the sights and sounds of New York that she wasn’t able to show me before, and I realized that I was so lucky to have Clarke be… Clarke. I was so lucky that she understood how anxietal of a house plant I was, and coax me into being more gently.

When she ran out of pictures, she quickly flipped the phone around to have the camera face us.

“Take a picture with me,” she said.

“It’s dark, you won’t be able to see anything.”

“Just do it, Lex. I want to remember this.”

She took the picture, the screen turned all white and then our faces appeared on the other side, crystal clear. Clarke looked so beautiful, the brightness of the flash reflecting off her pupils. She gave me an overjoyed smile, kissing my cheek and taking another. And another kissing my lips. And another with me kissing her.

I really loved taking pictures in this moment.

“You literally get hotter in each picture.  I don’t understand how that’s possible,” she stated with a confused look and a laugh.

We laid back on the blankets, fingers entwined and Clarke's head on my shoulders, pretending to see the stars through the thick layer of clouds above us and enjoying the quiet comfort of being beside one another, the silence of the night, the serenity of the moment. She shivered, and I immediately sat up and pulled her with me to reach for one of the blankets on the side and wrap around her shoulders. When I patted the ends, now closed around her neck, Clarke held onto my wrists before I could lean back to get the other blanket for myself.

“Clarke,” I whined, “I'm cold too.”

Clarke sent me a sly smirk, her eyebrow raising and pupils dilating.

I swallowed.

Oh. I know that look.

Clarke leaned forward, my wrist firmly in her grasp. My breath hitched at the taste of peanut butter and that flavour that was just so… Clarke. She took that opportunity to run her tongue along my bottom lip until my lips parted and leaned forward, pressing me backwards onto the blanket, crawling over me to tangle our limbs together and pulling the blanket tightly around both of our bodies.

I reached for the other blanket without disturbing the little cocoon we had created too much and threw it atop us, the heat jumping up another few degrees to something pleasant and sleepy.

I tangled my hands in Clarke’s hair and breathed in happily with a huge smile. I felt so much better now that she was back.

“What?” she asked softly at my dopey grin while her body laid completely atop mine, her head on my chest and fingers tracing the skin of my wrist.

“You make me happy,” I answered simply. I wrapped my free arm around her waist, pulling her impossibly closer.

She shimmied and leaned up to kiss me again.

Lord, help me, hormones. The shimmying let a flood of warmth spread across my body.

The kiss quickly deepened, Clarke’s hands grabbing at my shirt, my arm, my sides as she rocked into my to get closer to my lips.

Mother of --

“Clarke,” I gasped out, my fists tightening their hold on her waist to keep her still, even though my body was desperately wanting to rock right back into her. Clarke laughed softly before moving back up and bracketing her elbows on either side of my head to look down at me. She was smiling, eyes sparkling with mirth.

“Was that too much, Commander?” She asked, genuine but playful at the same time.

I squeaked but shook my head. Clarke chuckled.

Okay, so maybe it was.

“Was it too much for you?” I asked, concerned, and voice still squeaking.

“No,” Clarke said with a head shake, her cheeks dusting pink.

I quirked a brow, and she rolled her eyes. “I mean like yes, but not in a bad way. It was great. We kinda just… fit.”

“Yeah, I agree.” My cheeks burned a deep shade of red as my mind wandered to our bodies fitting together.

We both awkwardly stared off to the sides until I burst out into a fit of giggles.

Clarke gave me a confused look and I just pressed my hands firmly into her back and leaned up to capture her lips again in a chaste kiss.

We laughed into each other’s mouths, the suddenly tense and awkward atmosphere disappearing as quickly as it came.

“I missed you so much,” Clarke said as she rolled to the side and we tangled our limbs together again. We traded soft, slow kisses from then on, soft spoken words and quiet giggles for another hour, our bodies tangled in each others, before drifting off, the warmth of the blanket and each other's body heat enough to lull us into quiet.

“This was perfect,” Clarke mumbled as she tucked her head further into my chest and her breathing evened out, sleep overtaking her. I smiled softly as I chased her into slumber.

*

The sound of crunching leaves pulled me from my too-short sleep. I was warm, Clarke's arms wrapped tightly around me, her leg thrown over my waist, but the damn CRUNCHING of leaves was forcing my face to contort with unhappiness. It was so annoying.

“Lexa,” a deep voice whispered. I grumbled, pulling Clarke closer. It wasn’t time to get up yet, was it?

“Lexa,” they said again. I cracked an eye open and was immediately blinded by the brightness of the daylight.

Apparently it was.

“Fuck,” I grumbled. Clarke whined, scrunching her brow and pouting. I pushed some loose hair from her forehead, kissing the now clear spot and whispering softly until the furrow in her brow evened out.

A clearing of the throat had me looking around again.

Fuck.

Jake Griffin stood by our heads, smirk on his face and coffee cup in hand.

“Good morning,” he said quietly.

Oh, FUCK.

“Mr. Griffin!” I said, loud enough to wake Clarke, and pitch of my voice elevated. Clarke froze, eyes wide and staring at me. She was so completely entwined with my body it would take a miracle for us to separate and Jake not notice.

“Good morning ladies,” he said, fighting back a laugh. “You might want to come inside for breakfast before Abby wakes up and wonders what you both are doing sleeping outside.”

“I'm sorry, I just -- I wasn't --”

Jake just waved me off. “Do you honestly think I expected anything less than for you to be here the moment we got back? You two are best friends, I'm surprised you didn't meet us at the airport.”

Clarke and I shared a glance before we deflated with relief.

“Come on, I made pancakes.”

Clarke looked at him questioningly.

“Okay, fine,” Jake huffed. “I pulled out the cereal.”

“Okay,” Clarke said, yawning big enough that her jaw cracked. “We'll be in in a minute.”

Jake left, chuckling slightly and I let out the breath I was holding.

“Hey,” Clarke said pushing the hair that had fallen in my face behind my ear.

“Hi.”

“Thank you for the date,” she whispered. She squeezed my hand under the blanket, eyes darting back to the sliding door.

“It was perfect.” Another squeeze of the hand.

”It was perfect because you were there.”

“Oh my God,” Clarke groaned. “Feelings make you combust, but pick up lines and cheesiness come spewing out of you like a cannon.”

“What can I say?” I shrugged one shoulder. “My muse just brings out my corny side.”

Clarke huffed out a laugh and finally disentangled herself to start packing up the blankets.

“Nerd.”

“Dork.”

A blanket hit me in the back of the head as I stuffed the Tupperware back inside.

Yeah, that date was perfect.

Chapter Text

“Alright bitchachos, it's time for the annual Raven Reyes welcome back to school party!”

“What?” Clarke asked, leaning slightly further away from Raven as she yelled in a much too close proximity to our ears. I wasn’t complaining, Clarke using my shoulder as a cushion, further burrowed herself into me.

“My annual party. I have it… annually, duh.”

“We weren't invited last year,” Clarke said with a joking pout.

“That's because I didn't throw it last year.”

“Then it's not really 'annually’ now is it," I quipped.

Raven scowled at me. “You know, Woods, I'm not sure if your name is going to stay in the guest list if you keep up that attitude.”

I pretended to be offended, clutching my chest dramatically, only making Raven's scowl deepen.

“When is it?” Clarke cut in, squeezing my thigh underneath the table in warning.

“This Saturday. I'd tell you to bring a date but…” she looked me up and down, “they're already coming.”

Clarke started blushing and shifted away from me unconsciously and I snarled at Raven.

“Shut it Reyes,” I snarked. Raven stuck her tongue out at me in response.

“That goes for you too, tall, dark, and broody,” she said looking at Roan. “You better come… but don’t worry about the date.” She winked at him and he smirked at her.

“You gonna give me a tour?” Roan asked.

Raven gave him a seductive look. “You think you can handle a tour?” She leaned further over the table.

“Oh my God, stop,” I barked. “Please.”

Raven rolled her eyes and stuck her hip out to the side.

“Also, most people sleep over because of the drinks. I'm not a fan of people driving while intoxicated,” she patted her brace, “so you have that option. That includes bikes, Woods. Lord knows we can't have you falling off the bike and ruining that beautiful mug of yours. Not to mention your coach would skin me alive if you and the other ballers are injured.” I swatted at her hand when she tried to take my chin in between her fingers and thumb.

“Someone's in a feisty mood,” she growled playfully at me.

“Leave her alone, Rae,” Clarke said with exasperation.

“Oh! I also invited curly with the glasses. She's cute. So suck in that lower lip and bring that fine ass of yours, Woods.”

Raven blew me a kiss before turning to saunter away.

“So, are you going?” Clarke asked both Roan and I.

“I'm not sure that we have much of a choice,” Roan answered. “She knows what our classes are.”

“I mean, she's also our friend,” Clarke added with a boisterous laugh.

“That's debatable,” I retorted. “And no, I'm not going to some stupid high school party where everyone gets smashed and does stupid shit, and I'm stuck being around people I don't even like again.”

“People you don’t like? Including me? And Roan? And Luna, Echo, Costia…” Clarke said with a knowing smirk. It made me more agitated.

I shrugged, slumping further into my seat and crossing my arms heavily over my chest. “Whatever.”

“What's eating you?” Roan asked, kicking my foot with his own.

“Nothing,” I grumbled out, kicking his foot right back with more force.

I had woken up in a bad mood. I had made zero progress with Ontari and still hadn't come up with a plan over Christmas break. LeBron and Kyrie weren't inspiring me, and my mind was more preoccupied with the cheerleader I had been pining over for a year.

To top it off, Coach Indra was hardly speaking to me since the break ended. I knew she had expectations of me, and I knew I had to meet them, I just couldn't figure out how to put the pieces together.

Clarke gave me an incredulous look when she heard my foot collide with Roan’s shin and I chewed on my cheek. I knew I was being a brat, but I couldn’t help it. Not right now.

“We're going to go for a walk, Roan,” Clarke said, squeezing my thigh underneath the table again.

“Cool. Make sure you dispose of the body before you come back,” he joked, ignoring my little outburst with his leg.

“Fuck off,” I barked.

Roan ignored me and laughed. “Good luck, Clarke.”

Clarke stood, taking her empty tray along with mine and disposing of them while I stewed in my foul mood. By the time she came back and extended her hand for me to take, I was glowering at her.

“You didn't ask me if I wanted to go for a walk,” I said angrily. I wasn’t even sure WHAT I was angry at anymore, but I was feeling petulant.

Clarke squinted at me while her glare deepened. “Do you need me to push you in a stroller? You're acting like a baby. Get up. Now.”

I chewed on my bottom lip, eventually sticking it out in a pout and taking Clarke's still outstretched hand.

I saw Roan’s eyes widen before he coughed trying to stifle a laugh.

I thought I heard the sound of someone imitating a whip, but when I turned to snap at Roan, he was looking the other way.

Whatever.

Clarke intertwined our fingers and pulled me along behind her while I continued to pout and drag my feet.

Once we left the cafeteria, Clarke pushed me into the closest bathroom and turned on me.

“Okay, spill.” Her voice was firm, unyielding.

She dropped my hand and crossed her arms over her chest defensively and leaned against the sink. The sound of her voice, the way she was positioned, ready for me to let loose and attack her, the apprehension in her eyes, it all made my walls crumble completely.

I physically deflated in front of her, my pout only pushing itself out further and my shoulders slumping forward with my mood weighing down on me. I didn’t WANT to make her feel that way, I just couldn’t explain why I, myself, felt that way.

Clarke finally stepped towards me when it was clear that I wasn't going to speak, reaching for the strings if my hoodie and twirling them between her fingers. “Lex?” Her voice was soft, her eyes a bright, worried shade of blue.

I let out a long sigh. “I honestly don't know, Clarke. I'm just in a bad mood and I can't get rid of it. I’ve just… I’ve got so many things I need to do,” I pushed my hands through my hair and flinched at a knot, “And -- and I’m failing everything.”

“What do you mean?” she asked quietly, eyes still focused on my hoodie.

“Coach Indra, Ontari, you, Roan, everyone just… I don’t know. I don’t KNOW. It doesn’t make sense in my own head!” My voice raised at the end with exhaustion.

“Whoa, hey, relax,” Clarke said, flattening her palm against my chest. It was beating rapidly, typical of her presence, but this time it was uncomfortable. This time it was uncontrollable. It was bordering on panic attack, but I was so frustrated that it was just lingering in the outskirts of my mind.

“You’re not letting anyone down, Lex,” she said.

I scoffed.

“You’re not. You’re working on your issues with Ontari and basketball, Roan loves you, I’m right here,” she pushed her hand more firmly against my chest, forcing back the panic further into the shadows. “You’re not letting anyone down. You’re just having a bad day. That’s allowed. It’s okay to not be okay.”

I pushed my hands into my eyes, trying to stem the tears before they could even form. Letting out a frustrated breath, I leaned my hip against the sink and let myself fall into the feeling of her warm hand against my chest and letting go of the frustration I had bottled up.

“Are you mad at me?” Clarke questioned quietly.

I looked at her incredulously. How could she -- I guess it was a reasonable thing to think. I didn't really speak to her all day, just smiling back at her pitifully when she slid notes across the desk to me and never responding more than a one or two word answer. I spent more time zoned out thinking about how much I was letting my team down by not being able to handle Ontari, and it just spiraled into thinking about all of the reasons I always let EVERYONE down.

“No, Clarke, I never was,” I said, shaking my head fervently. She chewed on her lip and dropped her eyes to the floor, unbelieving. It stung, and made me very aware that I had ALSO failed at communicating.

“Baby, I'm sorry,” I whispered when she avoided my gaze.

Her eyes shot up to mine and I swallowed any explanation I could think of, a mischievous smirk replacing the worried look on Clarke's face almost instantly.

“Baby?” She asked.

“I umm,” my cheeks burned a bright red. “It just, kind of slipped out.”

Clarke scrunched my hoodie up in her palm and guided me back to a stall with little resistance, eyes dancing with mischief.

How could I resist that look? How could I resist ANY look Clarke gave me? How could I resist Clarke?

She pushed me inside and turned the latch, pressing me against the door. Her mouth was hot and insistent against my own. I let out a whine from my throat as her hands tightened in my hair and her hips pressed against mine. She started pressing sloppy kisses to my jaw and throat. Her teeth nipped at my pulse point before her tongue soothed the spot while I panted and squeezed down on her hips, pulling them more firmly against mine as heat spread through me.

Oh, Jesus.

Clarke nibbled at the base of my ear, taking it between her teeth and letting go to whisper, “say it again.”

Clarke's lips met mine again quickly before she moved back to my jaw. “Say. It. Again, Commander,” she said between teasing bites and pushing her hips harder against my own, one leg slipping between. My heart rate skyrocketed at the contact.

“Baby,” I blurted out, completely unbecoming and more of a desperate whine than anything, but her leg was hitting a spot that made my breath catch in my throat. It was so uncool, and sounded more like a squeak than sexy, but I couldn't care less at this point. The latch of the door was digging into my back and I was quickly reminded that we were IN SCHOOL. My kisses slowed, much to Clarke’s frustration if her slight whine said anything, and moved my hands to her hair and guiding her eyes back to mine. “Baby, whoa, hey, breathe,” I said between pants.

For someone who wasn’t sure what she wanted, Clarke seemed to grow more and more confident in her touches and kisses. Not that I was complaining. No, not in the slightest.

We stared at each other for a second before Clarke gave me a silly smile, breathing out a sigh through her nose and pressing her forehead against mine, our noses bumping. “I really like the sound of that,” she said.

My smile matched her own as we stood there, my back leaned against the stall door with Clarke's body flush against mine, my fingers traced up and down her spine as our heartbeats came down from the excited, irregular, erratic rhythm that we caused in each other.

The sound of a toilet flushing broke the moment. Clarke froze against me. I froze against her. We gripped each other tightly and both held our breath and waited for whoever it was to wash their hands and leave the bathroom. They were humming a tune I couldn't quite place, and I wished I could force them to hurry the fuck up. When the door slammed shut again, I let out a harsh breath, my forehead resting against Clarke's.

She started to giggle lightly, which then turned into full bodied laughs and I looked at her skeptically.

“You should have seen your face!” She said around another laugh.

I rolled my eyes and swatted at her arm playfully.

“Clarke,” I whined. Clarke fought to control her laughing and pressed another soft kiss to my lips.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“So much better,” I said, pushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear and smiling softly.

“You know, it's okay to not know why you’re not okay, Lexa. It happens.”

I shrugged awkwardly. “I guess.”

“It is. Maybe just don’t shut me out next time.”

I nodded once, swallowing thickly at the fact that I knew that I worried her and couldn’t explain why.

Another kiss and Clarke unlocked the stall door, making her way to the sink, primping her hair that I had proudly messed up.

“Clarke,” I said suddenly with a strangled cry from the sink beside her.

I pointed to my neck when she looked over at me with concern painting her features.

“You gave me a hickey!” I squeaked.

Her eyes widened as she let out a loud, happy laugh.

She dug around in her bag, pulling out the pallet of makeup Raven gave her. She eyed my neck and dabbed the cotton pad in a colour close to my own skin tone and covered it easily.

“Relax,” she said. “You've literally given me dozens.”

I scoffed.

No I hadn't. Not really. Maybe. Damnit.

“Oh, come on, Commander. Don't act all innocent. You weren't complaining in the stall just now.”

I scowled, still pretending to be annoyed.

When she finished applying the makeup, she pressed a lingering kiss to my cheek. “Now I know you like it a little rough.”

She smacked my butt as I gaped at her, another hearty laugh escaping her lips.

Oh, God. She really WAS going to be the death of me.

*

I was cranky as ever when basketball practice started. Obviously, because just the mere presence of Ontari made my skin itch with irritation.

Emori had fouled out of our last game from being afraid to take a charge. It was a justified fear, being that she broke her arm doing it last time. The problem was, she was costing us points and could potentially get hurt when she bailed last minute.

Coach Indra had a foolproof plan to fix it.  As of right now, though, we all just felt like fools.

The cheerleading team had donated their crash mat, and the football team had so kindly given us one of their tackle pads (Coach Indra basically told Pike where to go when he resisted).

Now, we were currently standing under the basket as each of us made a pass at crashing into the person holding the tackle pad. The goal was to not flinch, to not stumble, just accept the hit and fall.

Emori continued to flinch until she frustratedly threw the tackle pad to the floor.

Ontari stood behind me, annoying smirk on her lips. My bad mood from earlier today came back at full force at just the sight of her.

“Can you shut the fuck up?” I asked, annoyed at her off-key rendition of who fucking knows, but it was familiar and annoying.

Ontari chuckled and kept humming while I fumed inside.

“What the fuck is that song even supposed it be? You sound like dying cats mixed with nails on a chalkboard.”

“Baby by Justin Bieber.”

Odd choice.

After Emori flinched AGAIN, I decided to show her how to properly plant her feet and get myself away from Ontari. That's what a leader does, right? Maybe Coach Indra will get off my back after this.

Right before I walked off, she said quietly, “you know, BABY seems like a more fitting nickname for you than Commander. Blondie seems like the more aggressive of the two of you.”

My heart dropped.

“Hmm, yeah, I wonder what everyone would think,” Ontari said, nodding her head in the direction of the cheerleaders practicing their dance routine. They were currently on a break, waiting for us to finish with the mat so they could continue with the more complicated stunts.

Clarke sent me a smile from where she stood with Raven, sipping on their water bottles, which I didn't return. Her smile dropped, eyes worried again as I am sure my face completely paled.

“Mommy and Daddy don't approve?”

The tackling pad hit me in the chest, and I barely caught it in time. I swallowed thickly.

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Ontari knew. Ontari, of all FUCKING PEOPLE, knew about Clarke and I.

No.

I set up underneath the basket with the crash pad at my feet. Luna gave me a thumbs up, a silent thank you for stepping up, which I returned weakly, and then Ontari, the next person in line, barrelled into me. I took the charge without moving, barely feeling anything at all when she collided into me. My mind was already elsewhere. Luna and Coach Indra both clapped their approval and Ontari sneered, “Wait until the whole school finds out about this. What would that do to poor Clarke's reputation? That's why she's hiding away in bathroom stalls, right?”

I set back up, mind still reeling and eyes starting to see red. I had to keep her quiet. I didn't care if she bothered me, but to bring Clarke into it --

Ontari came in at a speed similar to a linebacker and dropped her shoulder before she barrelled into me. I ducked my head behind the tackle pad for protection, but was too late with my mind wandering. My head snapped back with the force of the hit, and we both landed on the crash pad in a heap, my mouth stinging from the contact and my head fuzzy and slow to catch up.

I heard a bunch of gasps and immediately tasted iron on my tongue. I wiped my mouth and my fingers came away bloody.

Through the haze of my head ringing, I saw the cheerleaders making their way over to us too, wanting to see how bad the injuries were. Namely, Clarke and Raven. Ontari smirked at them, winking at Clarke as she gave her a pointed glare from across the gymnasium. Coach Indra walked over to her office to get the first aid kit while the rest of the team looked on.

When the world sped back up again, I was seeing red and up on my feet in an instant. Before Ontari took two steps, I was on her. I grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, throwing my bodyweight into a punch. The sound of knuckles meeting flesh was as satisfying as I could imagine as Ontari crumpled to the ground. My hand immediately throbbed with pain, but it was completely worth it to see Ontari in a heap on the floor.

“You fucking bitch!” She yelled, clutching her eye with her hand.

I could hear the commotion of my teammates running towards us.

“You want to attack her reputation? You attack me by doing so,” I said, standing over her. “I really don't think you want to do that with how much practice I've had with destroying dickheads like you.” I added, leaning down to Ontari's face and shrugged off the feel of whoever was grabbing my arm to pull me away from her as I spoke, not minding my blood splattering over her face as I spat the words out.

Ontari threw her free arm up to my throat, squeezing hard and trying to cut off my air supply, but I was ready, knowing that she would try to catch me off guard. Truth be told, she gave it away with her eyes. It was probably why she was so easy to read while playing basketball, telegraphing every move before it even happened. I slammed my elbow into her own throat, leaving her gasping on the floor.

“Lexa!” Echo screamed, pulling at my arm again to get me off her. Luna was in front of me in an instant and I raised my hands in surrender while I glared over her shoulder at Ontari gasping for breath and cursing at me from the floor.

Echo pulled on my arm again and I spun around to find frantic blue eyes rivering with tears next to her.

Fuck, Clarke.

“Clarke, I --” I pushed past Echo to get to Clarke as she clenched her hands tightly by her sides.

“Woods, Winters, principal's office NOW!” Coach Indra snapped.

“Lexa,” Clarke said, her mouth agape and her eyes shocked by what she saw.

“Unless you want to join them I suggest you walk away Griffin.”

I gave her a sad smile and turned, nodded to Coach Indra who just shook her head and walked back to the office.

Fuck.

*

Ontari and I sat on opposite ends of the six plastic seats outside of Jaha's office, the ticking of the clock on the wall being the only sound in the room. I was given a butterfly bandage and an ice pack for my lip, as well as Ontari for her eye which was turning into a satisfying purple. We sat there for God knows how long, but when Anya showed up, still in her work attire, all hope of getting away with a slap on the wrist vanished.

Today just kept getting worse.

“Lexa,” she said sternly. Her jaw was twitching with irritation and she patted down the yellow dress type thing she wore to the diner in an attempt to distract herself and not snap at me like we both knew I deserved.

I was in SO much shit.

My eyes watered slightly and I chewed on my bottom lip before remembering that it was split, a tiny little yelp escaping me as I dropped my eyes to my lap. I couldn’t look at Anya and see the disappointment in her eyes. I had let her down.

Today was such a bad day.

Anya sat next to me and placed her hand on my thigh, squeezing gently and letting out a sigh.

“I don't understand…” she said softly. “I don't -- I don't know what to do,” she continued. “You haven't gotten into a fight since you were twelve.”

I shook my head, my eyes pooling with the tears I was trying to hold back.

“Are you okay?” Anya asked.

I nodded, avoiding her eyes.

She sighed heavily, placing her arm around my shoulders and squeezing me closer to her. “From the looks of it, you won,” she mumbled into my hair before releasing her hold and placing her hand back on my leg in reassurance.

A man walked in with long scraggly blonde hair tied back in a bun, wearing track pants and a t-shirt, huffing and angrily glaring at both Ontari and I.

Ontari paled. “Where's Miss Snow?” she asked.

“Your case worker has better things to do than see to why you're being a little bitch.”

Anya flinched beside me, her grip on my leg only tightening and pulling me closer to her.

“It wasn't my fault,” Ontari defended. She looked over at me pleadingly, but I looked away, still angry with her, but curious all the same.

“Shut it,” the man snapped. “You’re lucky I’m even here. I should just call Miss Snow up right now and tell her to come take your ass back to that group home she found you in.”

I watched as he squeezed Ontari’s knee tight enough for her to grimace and his knuckles to turn completely white.

What the heck? Miss Snow? Group home?

“Excuse me,” Anya said calmly.

The man snapped his glare over to Anya.

“I think you're hurting her,” she said with a raise of a brow and gesturing her head to Ontari's knee.

He resentfully released his hold and Ontari immediately rubbed her knee, shrinking back into her chair, eyes misty and scared.

Anya and I shared a look and I knew exactly what she was thinking about -- Roan. Roan and Nia, and the system he was so adamant to stay out of because he didn’t know what to expect. WHO to expect.

God damnit, Roan.

Suddenly, I saw what could have been if I hadn't been so lucky, and it SHATTERED me.

Fuck.

Thelonious walked out if his office, large smile on his face like we were here for some fucking award instead of a probable suspension. “Mr. Jefferson, Miss Woods, thank you for joining us. Once Coach Indra gets here we can begin. Practice should be letting out any minute now.”

“I'm sorry, but I am not waiting around for some… woman to get to the bottom of this. Let’s just sign these detention or expulsion or whatever the hell papers and be done with it.”

Anya coughed, Ontari dropped her head into her hands and sucked in an annoyed breath.

Was this guy for real?

“You'll have to, Mr. Jefferson. We cannot proceed without the teacher that was present at the time, otherwise it becomes a battle of she said-she said, and there are necessary steps and paperwork involved.”

“I don't have time for some petty teenage squabble.”

Thelonious looked him up and down, his greasy hair and stained t-shirt. He narrowed his eyes at the man.

“Make time,” Coach Indra snapped as she walked into the office.

Jaha’s anger was quickly replaced by a smile for Coach Indra. “Coach Indra, thank you for coming.”

Mr. Jefferson grumbled something incoherent before Coach Indra glared at him again.

We all filed into the small office of the principal, Anya's hand on my shoulder supportively while I pressed the bag of ice to my face. My head was starting to hurt, but the ice was cold enough to dull the throb in my lip. Mr. Jefferson sat stiffly beside Ontari, refusing to even ask if she was okay while the bruise on her neck started to show. I winced at it's appearance.

“I won't take too much of your time --” Jaha began.

“See that you don't,” Mr. Jefferson cut in.

Ontari rolled her eyes and slumped further in her chair while fighting back her quivering chin. “I’ve got four other kids that need to be fed, and I was in the middle of a project that Olivia here pulled me away from.”

“I see,” Thelonious responded, his eyes narrowing slightly as his jaw clenched. “I know that you've recently come into the roll of Ontari's caretaker, Mr. Jefferson, and I assure you that this matter will be dealt with swiftly. Lexa, why don't you tell us what happened?” Jaha started, ignoring Mr. Jefferson’s grumbles of protest. I chewed on my cheek and stared at Ontari for a minute as she wiped at a few stray tears from her unbruised cheek.

Sucking in a breath, I made a decision that shocked both Ontari and myself. “It was an accident,” I said with a shrug if my shoulders. “We were practicing taking the charge. ONTARI and I….” I glared at Mr. Jefferson, “Our heads collided, and then we crashed and I accidentally gave her a black eye and she gave me the split lip.”

Mr. Jefferson scoffed. “Really? You called me all the way down here because of an ACCIDENT Olivia got in?”

“Mr. Jefferson, we haven’t heard all of the sides of the story yet. We haven’t even DISCUSSED what Coach Indra witnessed. I understand that you are not interested in being here, but we are REQUIRED to,” Principal Jaha interrupted.

“The little twerp said it was an accident,” Mr. Jefferson said impatiently, rising from his chair.

“Sit DOWN,” Principal Jaha snapped. “Mr. Jefferson please consider the fact that the Woods’ are capable of pressing charges if Ontari attacked Lexa.”

Mr. Jefferson paused in his ascent, glaring at Thelonious.

“So? Let Olivia go to juvie then. I didn’t sign up for this shit.” Mr. Jefferson gruffed out when he sat back down, shrugging one shoulder and rolling his eyes. Anya growled at him and clenched the arm of her chair to the point that her knuckles turned white.

“Her name is ONTARI,” I snapped.

Charges? Juvie? I was still trying to catch up to the fact that this wasn’t Ontari’s actual dad.

And from here, the entire storm of shit rained down.

“Shut your mouth. The adults are speaking,” the greasy haired asshole snapped back. Ontari shrunk further into her seat and more tears pushed through her eyes and trailed down her cheeks. My cheeks grew hot and my grip on the leather chair tightened as this - this PERSON berated us.

“Excuse me?” Anya snapped. “You know, you're being a real asshole.”

“Oh yes, please pass judgement on me. What are you? Late twenties? Did you push this brat out of you while you were still in diapers? I bet you’re single now too. Not a lot of people like teen moms.” He sent Anya a look that could only be described as leering. I wanted to vomit and punch him at the same time.

“Not a lot of people like pretentious assholes either. Can you even see from your high horse?” Anya snapped back, glare piercing.

Ontari’s eyes swam with tears as we looked at each other.

This was… this wasn't good.

Mr. Jefferson laughed, a sickly, terrifying noise escaping his throat. “I get paid by the government to take care of Olivia. Because I’m actually a good person. I don’t need no low-life WAITRESS who is too busy opening her legs to talk to me about raising a child.”

Anya scoffed. “From the looks of it, I’m the only one between the two of us that DOES work. More children means more money right? Isn't that how you fund your 'project’?”

“Mommy and daddy really fucked up with you, didn't they?”

Anya was almost out of her chair before Coach Indra was able to wrap her hand around her arm and pull her back down.

Mr. Jefferson laughed, and everything, everything, EVERYTHING that went down between Ontari and I wasn't important anymore. I looked up at her, the purpling of her eye and the split she caused in her own lip as she bit down hard on it to control herself and...

“Watch your tongue!” Coach Indra and Principal Jaha barked at the same time, Thelonious slamming his hands down on the desk.

Holy shit. This was so, so bad.

“It was an accident,” Ontari said, her voice wavering. She looked at me again, so I nodded. “Lexa was telling the truth.”

Mr. Jefferson grabbed Ontari’s arm tightly and she flinched hard, an unbecoming squeak sounding loud and clear. He shook her, disregarding everyone else in the room and snarled, “You got me called all the way out here for THIS? I’m going to have to petition for more money for your punk-ass.”

Coach Indra’s sudden grip on his shoulder tightened as she threatened, “say that a little louder for the camera in the corner. I’m not sure Child Services heard you.” She motioned to the corner of the room where the black covered camera was hanging from the ceiling.

Mr. Jefferson paled slightly before releasing his grip on Ontari, who shied away and shrunk further into her seat, tears now pouring out of her with abandon.

Holy shit.

“I suggest you contact that Case Worker,” Principal Jaha said calmly, hands still pressed to his desk. If it wasn’t for his knuckles turning completely white, I would think he felt completely calm in this situation. “And possibly a lawyer.”

Mr. Jefferson chewed his cheek while he sat there, his face flushing.

“I don’t know how YOU were approved to take care of ANY child, let alone yourself, but so help me, I will make SURE that you never get access to fostering a child again. I will make SURE you never see the LIGHT OF DAY AGAIN,” Coach Indra said, stepping closer and closer to Mr. Jefferson until she was standing over him with a harsh glare.

“Get out,” she whispered, grabbing him by the collar of his worn and disgusting shirt and shoving him from the office.

Jaha let out a long sigh and Anya pulled me closer to her subconsciously.

“I am.. So sorry,” Jaha said to us all. He looked at Ontari with only the sympathy a father could give, then pulled out some tissue from the box on his desk and reached over to give it to her. My head was still spinning at everything that had come to pass.

How could she -- Ontari was -- this --

“Lexa, can you and Ontari sit outside while I discuss this with your sister and Coach Indra? I'm going to need to take down some statements,” Principal Jaha asked, breaking me of my thoughts that just couldn’t seem to formulate properly.

“It was an accident. It was no one’s fault,” I blurted out. I swallowed, trying to gain some confidence in what I was saying. “It was just a miscommunication between Ontari and I. It won’t happen again, Coach.” I looked at Coach Indra who nodded sagely, then to Anya, whose eyes were shining.

Anya squeezed my shoulder and kissed the side of my head. “Wait outside,” she whispered.

Ontari and I exited the office and I let out a harsh breath as I collapsed against the plastic chairs.

“Fuck,” I sighed, closing my eyes and dropping my head back.

The sniffling of Ontari beside me pulled me back to look at her.

“You okay?” I asked, genuinely worried.

I know I should still hate her, but… damn. Suddenly my heart was breaking for someone I was SUPPOSED to hate, and breaking for someone who I tried to push into this possible situation.

Ontari let out a bitter laugh. “Even after all the shit I put you through, you still ask if I’M okay?”

I shrugged.

Ontari sighed. “Yeah. I guess. I dunno. I’m sure I’m going to get it when I get home.”

Another sniff. “I guess I’ll be finding a new home after this, actually.”

I nodded, biting my lip before flinching. I forgot, again, that I had split it open.

I guess she wouldn't be.

“Ontari…” I started, but she shook her head.

“I deserve it for being such a bitch to you.” She glared down at the linoleum floors, her feet scuffing them with the anger that was visibly coursing through her.

“No one deserves it,” I retorted, looking over at her. She avoided my eyes and we sat there, both decompressing the horrible turn of events of the day.

After another prolonged silence in which we both mourned the loss of our future basketball careers, Coach Indra, Anya, and Principal Jaha came out of his office.

“Ladies,” Coach Indra said. We both stood, looked at each other momentarily and then dropped our eyes to the floor out of both fear and respect.

“Since both of you have confirmed that this was an accident, we aren’t going to penalize either of you.”

My eyes snapped up to Coach Indra and then flashed over to a smirking Anya over standing behind her. I let out a sigh of relief, my head feeling fuzzy with my frazzled nerves.

“You both need to get checked out by the nursing staff and probably a doctor, so I expect that done tonight. Ontari, I will be taking you with me to the doctor, and you’re going to be staying with me for a while… until you’re better and the investigation into the home you were staying in is finished... and possibly longer, depending on… certain procedures. We’ll go pick up your belongings tonight,” Coach Indra stated.

Ontari’s eyes bored into Coach Indra’s, who gave her a small nod and the hint of a smile. Her eyes flooded with tears again as she smiled and nodded back with so much vigor I thought she was going to fall over.

I let out a small sigh of relief for Ontari as well. At least SOMETHING good came out of this.

Coach Indra glared at me, but her eyes sparkled with an understanding and softness and… was that pride? “Woods, report back when your cleared to play.”

“Yes Coach,” I answered.

Anya wrapped her arm around my shoulder as we exited the office and placed a kiss on the top of my head. “You okay, Squirt?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah,” I breathed.

“This wasn’t an accident was it,” she stated instead of asking.

I shook my head.

“Do I want to know?”

I shook my head again. “Just protecting my people. It’s all sorted now, though.”

Anya sighed and nodded. “Good, then I won’t punish you TOO much.”

We barely made it down the steps to the car before I heard Clarke call my name.

“Lexa!” she yelled, leaning against her Mercedes. She sprinted over to where Anya and I were standing.

“Blondie, now is not the time to --” Anya’s words were cut off when Clarke barreled into me, squeezing me tightly before letting go and ghosting her fingers over my still swollen lip. The way she touched me screamed of intimacy, and I felt my cheeks burn as my sister peered at us both.

“Are you okay?” she asked quietly, completely ignoring my huffing sister who now stood there with her arms crossed.

“I’m alright Clarke,” I said quietly.

Clarke pushed a strand of hair that had fallen into my face behind my hear, and I saw Anya tilt her head to the side curiously.

“What happened?”

“It’s a long story,” I said, smirking just enough to not cause my lip to tear. “I’m okay though.”

Anya cleared her throat and Clarke looked down before stepping away from me.

“And suddenly, the fight seems to make more sense,” Anya said sarcastically. ”You coming over for dinner, Blondie?”

I had the decency to blush while Clarke remained clueless, Anya shooting me a smug look all the while.

“Yeah,” Clarke said, lacing her fingers with mine.

“Good. Drive her to the ER so she can get looked at. Don’t kill her on the way there. I'll meet you guys there and we can stop by the diner on the way home.” Anya shoved my shoulder towards Clarke, a knowing, raised eyebrow directed at me.

I blushed deeper.

Fuck.

On the way to the hospital, Clarke was a silent tense. I leaned my head against the window, thinking back to everything and feeling my head pound in protest. It was all just too much to detangle right now, not with the way my head was screaming. Was Clarke mad at me? Was she disgusted by me? How was I going to face everyone tomorrow? Would Luna and Echo be disappointed?

“Your driving is really smooth, I'm impressed,” I said, trying to break the tension that suffocated us.

Clarke nodded in acknowledgement, but didn't speak.

“Clarke.”

“What happened? Why did you go all Xena Warrior Princess back there? You could have been expelled,” she blurted out. She was worried, obviously so, but I didn't know how to have this conversation. What if I told Clarke and she freaked out and decided she couldn't be with me anymore? What if she wasn't ready?

I sucked in a breath and held it, letting out slowly through pursed lips while I fought to come up with an explanation.

“Ontari made a comment.”

“Ontari is ALWAYS making comments, try again Lexa,” Clarke snapped back.

“She made a comment about YOU.”

“Lexa,” Clarke's tone shifted back to the soft one she reserved just for me. “You still can't hit her because of that. That's not,” Clarke shook her head, glancing at me with a confused expression. “That’s not like you.”

I nodded. I guess I had no choice but to tell her the truth.

“She called me ‘baby’.”

“She called you a baby?”

“No, she called me BABY,” I reiterated.

“So? I don't… oh.”

Clarke pressed on her brakes a little harder than necessary while we pulled to a stop light as she realization dawned on her, the seatbelts snapping into our chests at the sudden halt.

“Yeah,” I breathed, adjusting myself in the seat and avoiding Clarke's eye. She huffed out a breath and the rest of the car ride was covered in a thick blanket of tense silence again.

“Thank you… for standing up for me. Let's get you checked out,” she said, breaking the silence only after we parked in the hospital parking lot.

My heart lodged in my throat, but I nodded nonetheless.

To top this fantastic, wonderful day off, there were way too many crying babies in Emergency. I tried to drown them out, but they were just SO LOUD that my head was pounding harder than before. Anya tried her best to help soothe the little whines that I couldn’t stop from escaping me by running her fingers through my hair, detangling the mess that it was and unbraiding the braids dispersed throughout, while Clarke chewed on her nails beside me, her leg bouncing at a remarkable speed and her eyes avoiding mine.

“Clarke,” I said softly, but she was lost in her own world and didn’t acknowledge me.

“Clarke,” I said again, this time placing my hand on her knee. Her eyes shot up to mine with a doubt I hadn’t seen before, before her eyes darted over my shoulder to my sister. I sighed and removed my hand from her leg.

“The bouncing was making my head hurt,” I said softly.

“That’s not physically possible.”

“It is. See? Head hurts,” I said with a small smile. I was trying my best to hide the fact that her discomfort stung. I promised I’d be patient.

Clarke chuckled softly, her eyes dancing across my face with a mixture of that same doubt from earlier and longing and something else I couldn’t place my finger on. I tried not to take it personally.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Thinking,” Clarke said, her bottom lip firmly between her teeth now.

“Oh.”

Thinking usually didn’t lead to good things.

I turned back to Anya, my eyes tinged with a sadness and worry I was hoping not to have to feel so soon.

“Everything will be alright, Squirt,” Anya said when I readjusted myself onto her shoulder now that she had finished detangling my hair, trying to bury my head deeper to drown out the cries of the babies.

“I'm going to go get a drink. Do you guys want anything?” Clarke asked, shooting up from her seat. Anya and I both shook our heads. Clarke left with a nervous glance back over her shoulder to me.

“You know, she's a really good friend, Lex. You're very lucky to have met her and have such a great relationship.”

“I am,” I agreed.

“She really cares about you.”

“She does.”

Anya huffed, and I could hear the eye roll.

“Make sure you communicate,” Anya reminded. “Don't make her guess how you feel.”

I nodded. There was so much happening today that communication was the furthest thing from my mind. Besides, with what I had COMMUNICATED in the car to Clarke seemed to have ruined everything.

Clarke came back after what felt like longer than necessary with a Gatorade for me and a water for both her and Anya. Anya rolled her eyes and stuck the water in her purse.

Minutes later, we were called back to an open bed. I sat on the paper cover, my hands under my legs to stop them from nervously fidgeting, while Anya sat on the seat and Clarke stood close by, tapping her foot incessantly. I hated going to the doctor, and Clarke’s nervous energy was making me nauseous.

“There were like fourteen people in front of us,” I commented absently.

Clarke shrugged. “They get seen based on their injuries. I guess yours are more severe.”

“A split lip?”

“A possible concussion.”

“Oh.”

Clarke, still distant from our talk in the car, shifted from foot to foot nervously.

“Either stop moving or sit down Blondie, you're making me nervous,” Anya grumbled.

Clarke huffed and shifted closer to me, running her hands through my now braidless hair. I closed my eyes at the feeling of her fingers, breathing deeply and letting my head fall against her ribs. She had barely looked at me since the car and my mind was slowly spiraling with unpleasant thoughts.

Thinking never led to good things.

“Okay, what seems to be the problem Miss...”

Dr. Griffin pushed open the curtain to the bed and addressed us all, stopping when she saw who was actually seated in there, and the intimate position Clarke and I were in. Usually, it wasn’t a problem. Usually, Clarke and I would be tangled up together in her bedroom or living room and Clarke wouldn’t break away.

That was before… all this feeling stuff happened. Clarke shifted away from me slowly, a look on her face that begged me to understand.

Even with all the awkwardness that loomed over us, the line skip suddenly made sense. Clarke.

I groaned.

“Clarke?” I said with question.

“Mom,” Clarke answered, chin tilted up in greeting and ignoring me.

Dr. Griffin balked. “H-Hello.”

God, could this day get any worse?

“What can I do for you Miss Woods,” Dr. Griffin said stiffly, taking a seat on her rolling doctor chair and facing away from us while she pulled a pair of latex gloves out of a box on the counter.

“Lexa possibly has a concussion and a split lip. I told Jackson this when I spoke to him less than five minutes ago and he wrote it all down in her file already.”

Abby nodded. She turned, only to look to Anya, “Do you have your insurance papers?”

“Mom,” Clarke warned, an edge to her voice that only came out when she was in the presence of her mother.

Anya cleared her throat. “No, we don't have insurance, but the school is requiring Lexa to get checked out.”

“Well a CT scan and all the follow up, the bedding and the necessities alone will run you close to ten thousand dollars, how did you expect to pay for this?”

“Is all that really necessary?” Anya bit out.

“Depends. Do you want my medical professional advice? The visit alone will be a few hundred.”

Anya paled.

“Maybe we should just go,” I said, the memories of Clarke's birthday flooding back. Clarke's mom had no intention of helping us by the sounds of it, and I didn't want to cause any trouble. Getting a head scan wasn’t that important, was it?

Clarke, on the other hand, had her own idea.

“Mom. Seriously?”

Dr. Griffin deflated. “Clarke, honey, when Jackson told me you were here with a friend I didn't realize he meant Lexa.”

“And that would be a problem because…?” Anya snapped.

I am happy to announce that Anya’s glare had Dr. Griffin swallowing thickly. She wasn’t a fan of being called out, it seemed.

Clarke glared at her mother too, the intensity almost rivalling Anya's, and Dr. Griffin rolled her eyes before huffing out a breath and removing a small flashlight from her pocket.

“Okay, Lexa, let's take a look. Tell me what happened.”

“She got into a f--”

“An accident,” I finished, looking pointedly at Clarke while she gave me the most perplexed look. “I collided with someone on my team and hit my head.”

Dr. Griffin nodded, her eyes narrowing slightly. “You hit your head on their head or the floor?”

“Both. Kind of. I hit my head on the mat. It kind of snapped back.”

“Do you have a headache or feel nauseous?”

I glanced over at Clarke quickly, who finally took a seat next to me. Of course I felt nauseous. Today was a day from hell. Clarke was looking at me weirdly. It wasn’t a look I was used to, and I wasn’t sure if it was with adoration or annoyance, so I averted my eyes back to Dr. Griffin.

I nodded once.

Dr. Griffin hummed, then did her routine checks, flashing a light in my eye and making me follow her finger.  She redid the bandage in my lip and gave me the all clear. It was clear that Clarke had been debating something while I was being poked and prodded by her mother. She kept fidgeting beside me, and I could feel her hand squeeze my thigh in support only to quickly be pulled away. She probably realized that she couldn’t do this anymore. My heart hurt so much, I thought it was going to bleed. Clarke eventually grabbed my hand when Dr. Griffin finished, a slight tremble to her fingers as she squeezed tightly, her posture relaxing and slumping into my side. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Minor concussion, you won't need a CT scan, so you’re lucky there. You'll probably have a headache so you should rest for two to three days and you'll be fine. No basketball for at least two days. Come back if you start to feel sick or if your headaches get worse.”

“Thank you, Dr. Griffin,” I answered.

She didn't respond.

“Mom,” Clarke snapped, squeezing my hand tighter in her own.

Dr. Griffin sighed again. “Your visit is covered. Considering you didn't need anything other than a bandage, you're free to go.” She forced out a smile at the group of us.

“Thank you,” Clarke breathed out. The shaking of her fingers lessened slightly, but when I moved to stand, she gripped onto my hand tighter, pressing our entwined fingers down on my lap.

Then she leaned forward and kissed my lips softly, my eyes immediately falling closed at the pressure, only to open again and see the brightest of blue I had ever seen. It was confident and sure, and the trembling was completely gone from her hands.

“Thank you for fixing my girlfriend,” she said to her mother, still facing me with eyes intently watching me, a deep blue that I always got lost in. A deep blue that only sparkled this way on her birthday when she called me out about my feelings and when she kissed me in the bathroom. That confident, happy, something more blue.

My eyes widened more as I processed what she said.

Girlfriend? Did she just --

When I looked over at Anya, she was smiling like a Cheshire cat, a proud look on her face. Dr. Griffin, on the other hand, looked like she was about to pass out. “G-girlfriend?” She stuttered.

Clarke kissed me again before she smiled at her mom warmly. Happily. An emotion I couldn't explain, but made my heart erupt with butterflies. She nodded and squeezed my hand, pulling me from the table while I sat there dumbly.

Girlfriend? Wait… did Clarke just come out?!

“Clarke, we need to talk about this,” Dr. Griffin snapped, rising from her stool in anger.

“We will. Later. I’m having dinner with my girlfriend and her sister tonight, though. I'll see you at home,” Clarke called over her shoulder, pulling me from the room a bit more forcefully. My legs were numb, the feeling of Clarke kissing me in front of her mother leaving me a complete mess.

Clarke just called me her girlfriend.

“Clarke!” Dr. Griffin snapped again.

“Thank you again Dr. Griffin,” Anya said, a laugh hidden in her words as she followed us out of the hospital.

I tripped and stumbled my way down the hallway trying to keep up with Clarke’s pace. Anya was laughing behind us, her strides keeping her within sight, but not too close behind.

“Clarke,” I said, my voice a high pitch.

She finally slowed, her shoulders dropping and the death-grip she had on my hand loosening while she sucked in tired breaths. We had practically sprinted down the hallway and now my headache was back with force.

“Clarke, wait!” I said again, this time my feet moving properly to allow myself to move in front of her.

When I finally saw her face, Clarke was smiling, bright and happy and excitedly. Her eyes were that same blue as earlier, and she wasn’t shaking or anything that would tell me she was nervous. It was weird.

I looked the complete opposite, a frazzled, confused mess. I could feel my hair whipping around as we moved down the hallway, and I am sure I looked like a lion that lost in a bar fight, eyes wide, head pounding, and face bruised.

“Clarke you just --”

She moved into my space then, immediately taking my face between her hands and kissing me deeply, knocking the air right out of my lungs.

It hurt like hell but I didn’t care.

Anya coughed from behind us, I know she did, but I just wrapped my arms around Clarke’s waist and pulled her closer while she tangled her hands in the mess of my hair.

When the pain in my lip became too much (damnit Ontari) I pulled back, sucking in a heaving breath and rested my forehead against Clarke’s.

“Please say yes,” she whispered, a smile so bright it was touching her eyes.

“Yes.”

Anya coughed again, loudly, and much closer than before. “As much as I love all this… lovey dovey stuff,” she said, waving her hand around in our general direction, “we have dinner plans and I officially get to interrogate your girlfriend, Squirt, so I’d like to get to that. Also, I’m starving.”

Clarke and I blushed a matching shade of red, before I finally let her go, giving her waist one last squeeze and kissing the corner of her mouth. The smile that erupted on her face at the simple act made me lightheaded. Or maybe it was the concussion.

Probably the concussion.

Probably not.

Probably the fact that Clarke Griffin was my girlfriend.

GIRLFRIEND.

What a day.

Chapter Text

“So how long has this been going on?” Anya questioned, her eyes piercing into the side of my head as we sat at the counter at the diner. She was trying to send me a subliminal message of I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR NOT TELLING ME, so I figured avoiding her eyes was the best tactic.

I shrugged, not feeling even the slightest bit confident in confessing how long I had ACTUALLY been keeping this secret from her.

Clarke didn’t seem to notice or care that I was slowly being killed just by a look.

“Since my birthday,” she explained with a confidence I was surprised with. I cringed  waiting for the inevitable tide of Anya's wrath.

Anya’s mouth dropped open for a second before she snapped it closed and clenched her jaw.

“I see.”

“Ahn…” I begged. She held her hand up and turned her cheek to me and I groaned, shovelling a spoonful of mashed potato into my mouth to stop the flooding disappointment.

“Almost four months…” The shock was palpable.

“Anya don't be mad,” I mumbled with my mouth full.

She shook her head, her eyes clenched tightly.“It’s not that,” she said, her body tight with tension. “It’s that I owe Roan fifty bucks!”

“You what?” my mouth fell open, my dinner now on display.

She bet on me?

“Close your mouth you animal,” she scolded. “He called it. Damnit! Why couldn't you have told me sooner so I didn't take that stupid bet!”

I stared at my sister.

She BET on me?!

“I asked Lexa to give me some time to figure out how I felt,” Clarke cut in. “I haven’t -- I didn’t -- it was just -- it was my fault.” Her face turned a frustrated shade of red and her fingers nervously wrung together.

Anya’s expression then crumbled at Clarke’s nervous ramble, eyes softening to that look that she always gave me -- it was a cross between a big sister and a mother and a best friend -- uniquely Anya.

“Clarke, honey, it's okay,” she said, ceasing Clarke's fidgeting by placing her hand on top. “I can only imagine how confusing it must have been for you.” Anya turned to look at me and added, “How confusing it must have been for BOTH of you. I’m sorry if I ever made either of you feel like I would judge you in any way or that you couldn’t talk to me about it.”

Clarke let out a long sigh. “It’s not that. I mean, it is that. I just… I honestly don’t know.”

Anya smiled at her again. “Don’t worry about trying to figure it out. How do you feel about it now? Why did you decide to come out now?”

“I wanted to tell my parents. And after everything today, I just --” Clarke shrugged, “I guess it was the push I needed. I've been wanting to ask Lexa to be my girlfriend before I left for New York, but I wanted to tell my parents first so they knew I meant it. So SHE knew I meant it. I had this huge, romantic idea all planned out. And then with Ontari knowing, I didn't want anyone to have that power over me -- over us, so I was consumed with thoughts of how I could ask you before she told the entire school. Make it official before it was made official for us. I'm sorry I was being so confusing in the car. When we got to the hospital I couldn't figure out what to do because I felt like it was insensitive of me to ask you when you had been having such a day. I'm sorry, Lex, for not doing the romantic thing for you like I planned, but then with the way my mom was acting, I realized that when it came down to it, I care about you way too much to let her or anyone else bully you. I care about you way too much to let her tell me what I can or can't do with you and I wanted her to know that I picked you over her stupid ego. I care way too much about you for you to not know how I feel, and I care too much about you to keep it a secret.”

Clarke looked over to me with an adoring smile, her eyes sparkling with something more, and I blushed, shoving more mashed potato in my mouth.

That was an appropriate reaction, right?

Anya smiled at the two of us. “And your friends?”

Clarke shifted nervously. “I don’t know yet. I’m sure I’m going to tell Raven, and Lexa’s going to tell Roan, but I don’t know. Ontari knows, so that’s freaking me out a little. High school is so…”

“High school,” I finished, mashed potato still being shoved into my face while this incredibly awkward conversation that were just riddled with FEELINGS took place. “I can deal with Ontari, don’t worry.”

Clarke twisted her mouth to the side as her phone buzzed in her pocket.

“It’s my dad,” she said after checking it. “He’s called like… twenty-six times.”

“That’s an oddly specific number,” I said.

“Are you not going to answer it?” Anya asked.

“I don’t know.” Clarke shoved the phone back in her pocket. “I just want to enjoy this peace before the storm comes at home. I am sure my mom called him and I am SURE I'm going to lose an ear with her ranting.”

“You’re welcomed to stay over,” I said, only to choke (literally, coughing and ungodly noises and all) on my words when Anya gave me that motherly look she had perfected recently. “Or not?” I squeaked. “I mean, it’s up to Anya, but she’s never had a problem before, but like I know things are different now and I still feel horrible that I didn’t tell you to begin with but I just --”

Anya chuckled, her blonde hair flipping over her shoulder before she rolled her eyes. “Of course you’re allowed to stay over Clarke, we just… we have to set some boundaries.”

I groaned even louder. “Anya,” I begged, drawing out the vowels of her name in hopes that she would take mercy on me.

“I’m serious,” she said, folding her arms over her chest while I pleaded with my eyes. “I’m not going to go all, ‘let's have the birds and… birds talk’, but like.. You guys are young and hormonal --,”

I practically threw myself at her, desperately trying to cover her mouth with my hand, clutching her wrists and placing my free hand over her mouth only for her to lick my palm.

She LICKED my palm.

Disgusting.

I whined, rubbing my hand all over her face while she cursed at me and Clarke just laughed.

Some girlfriend! She didn't even TRY to help me stop the impending embarrassment.

When Anya broke free of me, she swatted the back of my head, then apologized profusely and offered to buy me pie so that I’d stop complaining about the concussion she forgot I had.

“Just.. be safe. And ask me if you have questions --” Anya and I both cringed, “no specifics. Just.. be safe… if you’re… already THERE,”

“NO,” I said, eyes wide and shaking my head furiously. “Not there yet. Please, God, stop.”

Clarke blushed painfully and I was no better.

Anya let out a relieved breath, muttering an, “oh thank God.”

“I promise we’ll talk to you. Can we move on now?”

“Yeah, yeah, just… try to be respectful when I’m sleeping. I already know I can’t tell you to keep the door open or no sleepovers or whatever. Just do what you’ve been doing and ask questions if you need something. Anything. At all. I’m offering you two a safe space, don’t ruin it. Let me know if you're planning an at home date or whatever so I won't randomly barge in on you two being all cute and whatever. And no sex on the couch. Or the kitchen. Or the table. You know what? No sex anywhere in the house but your room. No sex at all. Wait, no, that's not fair. But ugh, you're my sister. Oh my God, I can’t do this.” she buried her face in her hands as her razor sharp cheekbones dusted with a soft pink.

The blush that covered both Clarke and mine’s faces was only getting worse. I started feeling nauseous all over again at just the thought of what it took for Anya to realize that we shouldn’t be having sex all over the house -- I think I needed to sanitize every surface of my home.

This was the most embarrassing conversation I think I had ever had with my sister. This was the most embarrassing conversation I think I had EVER had.

Clarke’s father thankfully rang again, interrupting this worst thirty seconds of my life, and a sigh that I could feel in my own rib cage left Clarke's lips.

“I’ll answer it,” she said, “just… when we’re at your house. I don’t want to do this here.”

Anya reached across me to give Clarke a sympathetic squeeze of the shoulder.

*

Clarke didn’t have the chance to call her father when we got to our house.

Mr. Griffin was already there, his Lamborghini parked along the street. The stark contrast between his car and our house was unsettling, as people peeked out of their windows to see.

“Clarke!” he called, scrambling out of the car with hair dishevelled and eyes a piercing blue. “I’ve been calling you for almost two hours! Where have you been?!” His tone wasn’t angry -- which was REALLY confusing -- more of a desperate plea. Clarke stormed past him and I barely kept up with the numbness in my legs at the sight of Jake.

Maybe something had happened. Maybe he was going to tell her. Maybe he was going to yell at her and then tell her what was wrong and then take her away from me. Maybe… Maybe…

Clarke muttered a curse under her breath at her dad, only turning to look back at him once we were on the porch, her hand firmly grasping my own.

Jake took a step up the driveway and called out, “I can't believe you didn’t tell me!” He stumbled slightly as he ran his hands through his hair in frustration and exhaustion. He had bags under his eyes and he looked skinnier than the last time I saw him, but his eyes were dancing with mischief and his step had a slight skip to it.

Clarke squeezed my hand until I had no feeling left in my fingertips.

Jake took another step forward, then sensed the tension in the air and turned abruptly, ducking into the back seat of his car, only to appear again holding a slim white box carefully in his hands.

I quirked a brow at Anya’s sudden laugh.

He hurried up the driveway, Clarke gripping my hand impossibly tighter when we took in his furrowed brow and slight pout.

“I’ve been calling,” he said softly, eyes darting back and forth between the three of us.

I raised my chin slightly and swallowed down the emotion and nerves that was rushing to the surface.

Jake gave me a warm smile before he placed his hand gently on Clarke’s shoulder. “Your mother called me,” he said. He must have noticed Clarke’s rigid posture because his face broke out into a giant grin, squeezing her shoulder softly. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me first!”

Wait, what?

“It’s not some phase, or a joke, or a cry for help,” Clarke said sternly. Jake nodded, a glint to his eyes and a soft smile on his lips at his daughter’s serious demeanour, encouraging her to continue with her rant.

“I’m not just going to snap out of it and I don’t care what people will think,” she continued, releasing my hand and removing Jake's hand from her shoulder to pace across the porch.

Clarke worried her lip when she turned back to look at me and her father. “I really, REALLY like Lexa. Not as just a friend, although she is my best friend, but I like being with her. Like that.”

Jake’s face paled momentarily, his mouth falling open only for it to snap shut and he swallowed thickly, wearing a grimace. I nearly passed out from embarrassment. Clarke must have realized what she said, quickly backtracking, “No, no, not like that! Dad, Oh my God, stop with the face. I meant, like, being her girlfriend, and you’re not going to talk me out of it, and I don’t need your approval to be with her.” She did the most adorable thing, stomping her foot down slightly as though to seal her statement with finality and crossing her arms over her chest. “I mean, if and when it comes to THAT, then we’ll be safe and it’ll all be fine so please don’t sit me down and have that talk with me.”

Jake coughed, still visibly uncomfortable before letting a grimace of a smile across his face.

“We have Anya to talk to,” Clarke added, and in that moment I wanted to staple her lips closed. She just kept making it worse and worse every time she said something. “But we’re like… not doing that yet. You know -- just so you know.”

Jake nodded dumbly and I could hear the tiny sigh of relief he let out at Clarke’s explanation. I’m pretty sure I fainted. Or died. Or imagined my death by Jake’s hand. I didn't even know it was possible to die of embarrassment.

Blue eyes bore into the matching pair for a long moment. Anya shuffled over to me, wrapping her arm around my shoulder and giving me a squeeze. She looked at me with so much love and care I thought my heart was going to explode and paint the walls of our home with my emotions.

Holy crap, so many feelings.

“I brought cake,” Jake said with a smile.

What?

Anya laughed, opening the door to the house and walking in while Clarke and I stood frozen on the spot.

“Come on in Jake,” she said, gesturing for him to follow.

Once inside the house, Jake set the cake on the counter, removed the lid and I laughed, loudly.

Clarke was the last to see and immediately launched herself at her father, his arms coming up to wrap tightly around her in a strong embrace.

Inside the box was a large rainbow cake that said HAPPY COMING OUT DAY across the middle.

“I love you, Clarke,” he mumbled into her hair. “Nothing will ever change that. I am so happy for you. For you both, actually.”

“You’re not mad?” she questioned.

“Oh, baby no, how could I ever be mad that you found someone you really care about? And Lexa of all people? You two were inevitable.”

“Is mom mad?”

Jake laughed. “You get your stubbornness from your mother, Clarke. Yes, but she’ll get over it.”

Clarke sniffled against his chest and Jake looked over to me quickly before stage-whispering to his daughter, “You really like her, huh?” Clarke giggled and nodded.

“You think she’ll let me win at basketball now?”

Clarke laughed and shook her head, ‘no’, to which Jake laughed too, a dramatic pout and snap of his fingers accompanying it. And when he released her, he looked over at me, eyes shining with emotion. He opened his arms and moved towards me, wrapping me in a hug that I was wholly unprepared for, but not complaining about in the slightest.

“I love you too, Lex. It’s about time,” he said, placing a kiss on top of my head before releasing me. “I was starting to wonder how weird it would be if I forced you two to go on a date.”

“Me too!” Anya chimed in from the kitchen with exasperation.

Jake then took out his wallet and handed Anya a twenty dollar bill.

“You bet on us?!” Clarke cried incredulously.

“Wouldn’t you?” Jake chirped back. “Now to the important stuff… who wants cake?” Jake clapped his hands together and rubbing them excitedly.

After cake was served and bellies were full of sugar (some still in Jake's hair after the impromptu cake fight), Clarke came over to me and wrapped her arms around my waist, burying her head in my neck.

“I want to tell everyone at school.”

“You do?” I asked skeptically, leaning back to get a better look into her eyes. They were that something more blue from earlier. “You don't have to, Clarke, we don't have to rush this.” Pushing a strand of hair behind her ears, I smiled down at Clarke as reassuringly as I could. It didn't matter who knew to me.

“I want to. We've got the most important people in our lives backing us.”

“We do.”

“So I don't care who else knows. Actually, it'll make me feel better with everyone knowing you're off the market.” I let out a loud laugh. I think Clarke was missing the fact that half the football team was pining over her, but whatever.

“Happy coming out day,” I whispered, stroking her cheek with my thumb. I was so, so happy in this moment it was about to take my legs out from underneath me.

“Happy coming out day,” she replied before leaning up to kiss me to a chorus of whistles and hollers from my sister and her father.

They were SO embarrassing.

*

The next morning, absolutely nothing could bring me down. Clarke and I woke up wrapped up in one another and my stomach was full of butterflies as we held hands and traded kisses over our cereal while Anya pretended to gag. When we entered the school, Clarke and I went back to linked fingers, deciding it best to wait until we had the opportunity to speak to our friends before coming out.

“Have you heard from your mom?” I asked Clarke as we walked to our first class, fingers linked together and silly smiles on our faces.

“No,” she said, a shadow of doubt crossing her features. Again reminding me that I should never be a public speaker, my timing was horrible. She held her books a little closer to her chest with her free arm and let out a tired sigh. “Radio silence on her end. I don’t know if it's a good or bad thing.”

“Are you going to talk to her when you get home?”

“No. I don’t really know if I can handle too much drama anymore. Maybe in a few weeks or so.”

“You’re just going to avoid her?”

Clarke shrugged. “I just need to gather myself before I go storming into a war with my mother. Maybe next week or so I’ll have a sit down with her and my dad.”

“I think I should be there when you talk to your mom,” I said after a minute.

“Why? She's probably going to blame it all on you.”

“Yeah, and that's fine. I've dealt with and heard that kind of stuff before. It’s my fault my parents died, remember?” I said sarcastically.

“I want to support you, Clarke. That's what girlfriends do.”

“Hmm.. girlfriend. I like the sound of that,” she said with a cheeky smile.

I leaned over and kissed Clarke’s cheek quickly, forcing a warm smile to appear on her face. I didn't want to ruin the eleven seconds of bliss we were sharing. “There’s my girl,” I said softly, pulling an even brighter smile from Clarke before she rolled her eyes and batted at my shoulder.

“Nerd.”

*

Whispers followed me as I made my way down the hallway, word of Ontari and I spreading like wildfire.

The plus side of the rumour was that Lorelei seemed totally subdued today. I wasn’t sure why, but she just looked over at me with a glossy stare, her arms draped across her quads as she kneeled on the ground with her head back. She looked like she was in some sort of prayer position (probably repenting for being such an ass). She smiled when our eyes locked, and I wasn’t sure if I was more or less terrified now.

More. Totally more.

“What in the hell happened yesterday?” Roan asked, slamming his hand against my locker, making me shriek out in an unbecoming and completely infuriating way. “I heard you tried to body slam her.”

“Jesus fuck Roan. One of these days I’m going to kill you.”

“Alright, ladykiller. Maybe you need some of that stuff Lorelei’s on.”

I looked over to her, eyes now closed and possibly sleeping? “No thanks. I don’t really want to be around anyone involved in… that.”

“Praying?”

“Drugs. I know you’ve heard the rumours, you hang out with those assholes.”

“Doesn’t seem like it’s harming her. She actually seems like less of a cun--,”

“Why are you defending it?” I asked, tilting my head to the side and narrowing my eyes.

Roan cleared his throat. “I’m not. I’m just enjoying the peace while it lasts, no matter HOW we get it. So what was with the fists of fury?”

I sighed with a silly grin and leaned back against my locker.

“Oh boy, here comes a story. Make it quick, woman,” Roan snapped his fingers.

“Clarke and I are dating,” I spat out quickly and quietly.

Roan looked at me, then snapped his fingers again. “I need to know why you went crazy, not you confirming something I already knew.”

“What?” I asked incredulously.

“Lexa,” Roan sighed, “I’ve known you my entire life. You can’t hide things from me.”

“But I --,”

“Also, Clarke is supposedly single but she has hickeys all the time now, and you’re not going crazy over the fact that she has them so I’m not an idiot.”

“But she… she uses makeup?”

“Hard to hide them when you’re constantly giving them to her.”

“Oh.” I had the decency to blush… and smirk all at the same time.

Smacking his arm, I suddenly blurted out, “you BET on us?”

Roan laughed and scratched his chin, the stubble from the almost -- barely there --  five-o'clock shadow.

“Wouldn't you? I said Clarke would make the first move. I’m right, aren't I?”

I smacked him again only for him to laugh even harder.

“So tell me what happened. I saw Ontari. Her eye looks like you made good contact.”

Grimacing, I gave Roan the fastest spoken rundown of my entire high school career. I wasn’t even sure if I breathed. He stood calmly while I explained everything, smirking all the while.

Maybe I wasn’t as good at keeping my emotions in check as I thought.

The bell rang and Lorelei STILL didn’t move. I threw Roan a concerned look. “Don’t worry, Rhonda Rousey, I got her.”

“Still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that you’re friends with them.”

“I’m not. Just business.”

I laughed and left Roan to get to my next class.

*

Luna and Echo just… didn't speak to me.

“They'll come around,” Costia said when her cousin walked away from me while I stood awkwardly at her locker. “She just hates violence. Clearly. You know… the whole.. my parents thing.”

Right. Fuck. How I managed to be friends with people who all had a heart wrenching backstory of their own in a school of two-thousand people will forever amaze me.

I grimaced at Costia and she laughed. “I don't think it's quite the same, considering you and Ontari have been like mortal enemies this entire time. Like I said, she’ll come around.”

“So you gonna tell me what set you off? I know it had to be more than just the collision,” Costia asked after I nodded, genuinely concerned about me.

I shrugged. “It was a long time coming, I guess. It won't happen again, though.” I was sure of that. Ontari and I had to move forward from there, right?

“Alright, Rocky.”

*

I had had a sinking feeling in my gut knowing the inevitable face-off with Ontari was coming. I spent WAY too much time thinking about it after my chat with Costia. Ontari and I hadn’t buried the hatchet, not really, only bailed each other out from being kicked off the team.

I knew I had to take the first step at fixing this -- that was what Coach Indra was saying all along.

“Quit fidgeting and go talk to her already,” Roan snapped, taking a bite of his sandwich.

“Are you high?” I deflected. His eyes were bloodshot and he was shoving the sandwich in his mouth at an unnatural speed.

He shrugged and I rolled my eyes.

With a nervous breath, I stood from my chair and walked across the cafeteria. I slid into the empty seat across from Ontari, tapping my fingers nervously on the table while she peered up at the disturbance.

“Hey,” I said awkwardly. I think my face did something that was supposed to be a cross between a small smile and a sad frown, which just meant that my lips pursed into an irritated line.

Perfect.

Ontari glared for a split second before her eyes took on a look that I had never seen on her face before -- fear, trepidation, confusion and hurt.

“How’s your face?” I asked, instantly cringing at my inability to speak during uncomfortable encounters. The purple bruise around her eye and the matching one on her throat made my head throb.

Oh my God, was that really all I could come up with? Hows your face? No wonder she didn't like me.

Ontari shrugged. “What do you want, Woods?” she asked, but it wasn’t snippy or mean. It was sad, resigned, which actually hurt more than I thought it would. It was like her fight was over, completely drained of any desire to argue back.

After another awkward moment, Ontari huffed out a breath and said quietly, “you know I wouldn’t ever tell anyone, right? About you and Clarke? I know you don't need to trust me. Fuck, I wouldn't trust me either, but I’m not in the business of outing people. How do you think I ended up homeless?”

I felt my already splintering heart crack further and all the words and subtle threats and everything I had prepared was sucked out of me. “Seriously?” I gaped.

“Yeah…” Ontari let out a wistful sigh. Her eyes hardened once more as she got lost in a memory, but then shrugged, trying her best to act nonchalant.

What would I do if Anya kicked me out? She was all I had left.

“Took you long enough, by the way. Blondie has been into you since last year,” Ontari said with a smirk, clearly trying to deflect away from herself.

I nodded again. “Yeah, so I’ve been told. I’m kind of blind to these things.” She laughed and relaxed into her seat again, looking around the cafeteria and sending dirty looks to anyone who looked our way.

“I’m sorry,” I said suddenly. “I’m sorry for hitting you. I’ve been trying to not react so physically to people but --,”

“I get it. Blood must have blood and all that.”

“It doesn’t make it okay,” I responded with a head shake.

“I just -- why would you threaten to out us after all you’ve been through?” I asked before I could stop myself. I had been up all night thinking about it after Clarke had drifted off in my arms. Now knowing that she was kicked out for being gay, I just couldn't grasp why.

Ontari sighed, moving her spaghetti around on her plate. “I had no intention to, I just wanted to bother you.”

“But why?” I breathed out. “Why do you hate me so much?”

Ontari looked at me for a long second, her eyes brimming with tears before she looked away.

“Because I know all about you and your family.” It was so quiet I could barely hear it over the raucous in the cafeteria. I furrowed my brow in anger.

Really? She was picking on me because my parents were dead?

“I know what your sister did to keep custody of you. I know how hard she works. I know how much you two love each other. I know how much your parents loved you and her both, and I know that you literally have two best friends, and it just… it drove me nuts. All I did to lose my family was get caught kissing my best friend. I was twelve, Lexa. I was twelve and being yelled at and my best friend’s parents moved away when they found out. They TOOK HER AWAY. My parents kicked me out after that. I had nobody. The cops found me sleeping on the steps of the school and I was in jail for three days before they could contact Child Services. I’ve been to five different homes and each time I thought I could maybe stay, that maybe they would love me, they shipped me back. They didn’t WANT me. I was too angry. I was too loud. I was too gay. I was too… ANYTHING. All I did to lose my family was love someone I wasn’t supposed to, and look at where I am now. So yeah, I hated you because you have someone love you enough to fight for you. I was desperate to have someone fight for me in some way or another, but instead, I got shit on everywhere I went and I had NO ONE to go home to. And with basketball, I thought that maybe if I worked really hard I'd get to highschool and have a shot at getting out of here, then you come waltzing in as the girl I wish I was and you take it right out from underneath me. So yeah, I hated you because you have people who love you and support you and -- and -- and people who saved you from turning into ME.”

“I--” I couldn’t even formulate a response. This was so not what I thought.

“You know,” Ontari said with a sad chuckle. “You're the hero of your own story, but you didn't even think it was possible that you were the villain in mine.”

And shit, that send my heart careening to the floor. I had never even thought that that could be a possibility.

I clenched my jaw to abate the tears that were determined to come out, my head spinning with every word she said.

It made so much sense why Coach Indra was determined to have ME fix my issue with Ontari.

It all made so much sense now.

“I’m sorry,” I croaked out when I was finally able to swallow down the emotion that was threatening to take over.

Ontari let out a wet laugh, the tears that had brimmed her eyes now leaking their way down her cheeks. She sniffed and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her shirt, muttering curses when the tears wouldn’t stop.

“Don’t be sorry. I’m the one that’s sorry that my jealousy was out of control. I guess I was the villain in yours too, huh?”

“Not to sound like a complete dick, but what’s changed? We literally tried to hurt each other yesterday.”

“Have you met Coach Indra’s son?”

I nodded.

“Yeah, he must be some kind of superhero. He asked me if I was okay when I got to the house, and other than you, I haven’t had a single person ask me that since I was twelve. Not one. I kind of just broke the hell down after that. He just kept LOOKING at me all soft and warm and annoying and everything came pouring out of me. I don't know what kind of voodoo shit Lincoln did to me, but fuck, it's nice to get all that out there.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, Lincoln can do that to you.”

“I’m happy for you. Now. I wasn’t before, but I am now. I don’t want you or anyone else to have to go through what I went through. It's fucked up.” Ontari shook her head and rolled her shoulders with a laugh.

I laughed and let the silence wash over us.

“You tackle really well,” I said.

Seriously? You tackle well? I honestly don't even know how I had friends, let along a girlfriend, because CLEARLY I couldn’t pay a compliment to save my life.

Ontari let out a small chuckle. “Your right hook isn’t so bad either.”

“Yeah, it's all in the wrist,” I joked.

“You and that damn wrist,” she breathed. “Listen, Lexa. I’m… I’m sorry --”

“Oof. How much did that hurt?” I teased.

Ontari laughed again. “More than the shiner you gave me. Seriously, though, I’m sorry.”

I sighed, the playful banter coming to an end. “Me too.”

“You don't have to ever forgive me, but I’d like to… I’d -- if -- ugh -- I’m willing to stop being such an asshole and listen to you if you still want to fix my shot.”

“Yes,” I nodded. “This is awesome. We’re going to be unstoppable once you and I start actually working together. Like we could both get scholarships, Ontari!” Gripping my tray between my fingers, I could hear the excitement in my own voice at the prospect that Ontari and I were going to FINALLY work together. We could FINALLY move forward.

“Let's just… let’s just focus on the rest of the season,” she said, a shadow of sadness crossing over her features again.

“Did Coach Indra talk to you more about what the plan is with your Caseworker?” I probed gently.

Ontari shook her head. “No, just -- I guess, I don’t know. She mentioned me staying with her but she didn’t make a mention about finding me a new home.” She shrugged. “I’m just trying to not get my hopes up in case I get shipped across the city again because I really like it there. Coach Indra and her husband actually really nice, and obviously so is Lincoln.”

I nodded. What else could I say?

I didn’t want to just get up and walk away from her now that we were making progress, but I caught sight of my favourite blonde entering the cafeteria and start making her way towards my other (annoying) favourite blonde. I figured I could cover all my bases. “Do you… mind if Roan sits with us?” I asked, moving my chin to signal where our table was. Ontari looked over her shoulder at the surly boy picking at his food and the frazzled cheerleader hustling to get to her table and sighed. “We aren’t going to turn this into a Disney special where you and I become best friends and your whole group just welcomes me with open arms, are we?”

“God, no,” I said around a laugh. “But we’re teammates, Ontari. We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other for the next three years, don’t you think we should try to get along?”

Ontari nodded, swallowing a bite of spaghetti. I whistled to get Roan’s attention, beckoning him over. He picked up his tray and headed towards us, catching Clarke by the arm as she moved past him to get to the table in a rush. She gave him a quizzical look before he gestured with his chin back to where Ontari and I were sitting. Clarke’s eyes widened comically before her smile turned into a scowl. She marched her way over, Roan looking on smugly (asshole) and slammed her tray down beside mine.

“Ontari,” she growled.

“Blondie,” Ontari snarked back.

Literally two seconds of peace. Just two. That’s all I want in my life.

Clarke opened her mouth to berate her, and I tugged on her hand hard enough to get her to stop and look at me.

“Hi Clarke,” I said, eyebrows raised in warning. “Ontari and I were just working out our differences. All’s good now, right Ontari?” I asked, gazing over at my table mate.

Ontari laughed and said, “Yes, I’ve apologized and we’ve worked it out. You can retract the claws.”

Clarke slumped into the spot beside me as I shuffled over and Roan gave Ontari an awkward hello when he sat down on her side of the table.

My girlfriend (GIRLFRIEND!) took out her salad while keeping her glare firmly pointed at Ontari. Ontari just laughed.

“You don’t have to like me. Or forgive me. Ever. I’m actually sorry I’ve messed with you and Lexa so much.”

Clarke dropped her fork, completely taken aback by Ontari’s apology. She narrowed her eyes unbelievingly again, then looked over at me. I shrugged. “We’re good,” I said, swallowing down the food in my mouth.

We sat in a slightly awkward silence while we ate our lunches, Clarke chewing her food slowly while drilling holes into Ontari’s head with her eyes. Ontari just laughed every time they made eye contact.

“I still don’t like you,” Clarke stated. I almost rolled out of my chair with how hard I rolled my eyes to the back of my head.

“Noted,” Ontari said around a laugh.

Clarke trusted easily, but was stubborn as a mule, and not having heard Ontari’s confession, it would be a long while until she got over her resentment and trusted her.

Roan couldn’t care less, happily munching away on his sandwich and stinking of weed.

Luna and Echo stopped by the table on their way out of the cafeteria, Echo glaring at the two of us while Luna tried her best to hone in her anger.

“Hey guys,” I said with a smile when they walked by.

“Ladies,” Echo greeted. Her eyes darted back and forth between me and Ontari and I shrugged a shoulder with a smirk. Luna clenched her jaw angrily and nodded once to us both before pulling Echo down the aisle.

I groaned. Two seconds of peace.

*

Ontari and I were banned from actually participating in practice, but while we sat on the bleachers we went over the kink in her wrist and I made her do some practice throwing the ball up over her head with her shooting hand to get the mechanics down. If Coach Indra’s smile was anything to go by, I was doing a good job.

When I wasn’t teaching her, I was staring at Clarke. It felt like it had been forever since I had the opportunity to openly ogle her in her cheerleading uniform, but I knew I spent almost every waking moment thinking about it except for at practice and at games. That was a complete lie, I had mastered the ability to multitask. I almost always had Clarke in my peripherals during practice. It was... For safety. At least, that's what I told myself and I wasn’t about to question my logic now.

A splash of water broke me of my reverie as it hit my neck and I almost knocked Ontari’s head off because of it, my arms flailing to the side in response. “You looked thirsty,” she commented, and I actually laughed. The entire basketball team stopped what they were doing to watch our playful exchange with wide eyes and confused stares. Ontari and I just rolled our eyes at them and ignored everyone until they went back to doing work on the court.

Clarke did a flip kick or something where her body went upside down a whole bunch of times (I really needed to pay more attention when she spoke about cheerleading instead of spending all my time fantasizing about it), landing and sending me a devilish smirk to let me know I had been caught. She blew me a kiss and I nearly fell out of the bleachers, the only thing stopping me from doing so was Ontari’s grip on my sleeve.

“Jesus, Commander, you’re practically drooling.”

“Yes,” I responded. Ontari laughed even harder.

“Do you -- have you got your eye on anyone?” I asked as awkwardly as a newborn giraffe trying to walk.

Ontari shrugged. “Not really. Then again, I haven't actually been looking -- too busy throwing daggers at you and avoiding my foster parents.”

Pressing my lips together, I nodded at my teammate. I guess she had her hands full with everything going on.

At the end of practice, Coach Indra sat us all down and began pacing in front of us, her eyes burning into each and every one of her players as though she was about to give us a speech and send us off to war. Not that that would be any different than playing basketball when your team was as bad as ours.

“Alight, listen up. You all know I have a son, Lincoln.” Everyone nodded their heads. “Well, he’s not my only kid. You girls, all of you, you’re my daughters. I KNOW you all know what’s happened in the past few days. Teenagers talk.” She looked over at Ontari and I and we both dropped our heads in shame. “I’m not stupid, I don’t think that we’re always going to be one big happy group. You’re teenagers. You have personalities and lives of you own, but when you’re here? When you’re on this court and when you’re in this school, you’re family. We spend two hours every single day together. I run you to the GROUND together. Everything we do, we do together, as a family. Some of you may have moms and dads, some of you don’t. Some of you have one, or the other, or the same of both, but when it all comes down to it, you’re sisters in arms.  Even when you leave this school and move on with your life, your family, me, we’ll always be here, no questions asked.” Coach Indra managed to look straight into the hearts of all the girls on the bench, stopping on Ontari’s while she struggled to swallow the emotion down. “We’ve lost --,” she chuckled here, “--almost every game for the last two years, but you know what you girls have done? You’ve stuck together in those trenches. You haven’t quit. Because family doesn’t quit on family, and I couldn’t be more proud of you all if I tried.”

Everyone just stared at Coach Indra, the sudden emotional speech from our usually stoic coach leaving everyone at a loss of words.

I stood up abruptly, putting my fist in the air like we usually did to get the team ready to cheer before a game, and pulling Ontari with me with my other hand. She mimicked me and pulled up Luna, who pulled up Echo, and the chain continued on down until we were all standing in a tight circle, hands atop one another’s in a sign of solidarity. I locked eyes with Ontari, whose own brown ones were shining with tears.

“GROUNDERS ON THREE!” I yelled, louder and more proud of my teammates in this moment than after ANY win we managed in the past two years.

The resounding echo of their response made my skin erupt in goosebumps, the sound of the pride in their own voices lifting me higher than the game-winning buckets I scored.

This was Ontari’s family, whether she liked it or not, and everyone banded together to let her know that.

*

Sitting with Ontari became a regular thing after that. On Wednesday, Clarke was slightly less hostile, only gently slamming down her tray and giving Ontari death stares HALF the time. Luna and Echo joined us, followed by Costia minutes later. Ontari scowled at the dark-skinned girl for a second, but Costia being Costia smiled brightly and ignored her attitude, flustering the brunette completely.

On Thursday, Raven joined the table too. When Ontari awkwardly tried to talk to her, Raven just said, “chill dude, we've all got our battle scars. Once you're good with Clexa over here, then we're good.”

“Clexa?”

“Clarke and Lexa, duh.”

“Right.” Ontari blushed and I almost laughed at how easy it was for Raven to have people tripping at her feet.

Ontari's blush when the Latina CONTINUED to overtly flirt with her didn't go unnoticed by me or Clarke. I stored that piece of information away for later. Raven, although obnoxious, was great at flirting and it was fun to watch Roan get riled up at their exchange.

Ontari barked at Lorelei when she made fun of my lunch, causing her to stumble before she scowled and walked away and the table erupted into laughter.

I looked around our table and how full it was, how complete it felt and smiled widely at Clarke.

“What?” She whispered, leaning her chin on my shoulder to get closer.

“Look around.”

Clarke turned, placing the side of her head on my shoulder and hummed sweetly.

“It's our support system,” she said quietly.

“Yeah,” I sighed back happily. “Our family.”

It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I belonged.

On Friday, Clarke placed her tray down gently, even smiling at Ontari when she greeted her.

“Griffin,” Ontari snarked with a small smile.

“Thank you for standing up for Lexa yesterday,” she said.

Ontari shrugged.

As the lunch hour progressed, Clarke leaned further into me, wrapping her arm around my waist and placing kiss after kiss on my cheek.

“What's gotten into you?” I whispered with a smile tugging at my mouth.

Luna quirked a brow at us, Echo suppressing a smile. Roan stuck his tongue out at us, and Raven and Ontari mimed a gag.

“I just really want to kiss you,” Clarke whispered.

I hummed and nodded, squeezing Clarke's hand under the table.

Chuckling, Clarke reiterated, “Lexa. I want to kiss you.” She placed a kiss underneath my ear and I tried to hide the shudder that ran through me.

Why did she want to kiss me now? There were so many people --

Oh.

“Now?” I squeaked.

I felt Clarke shrug against me and I leaned back, turning slightly so I could look at her properly. Her eyes were shining with that something more blue that I couldn't place and I was drowning in them.

I wasn't sure if everyone stopped talking or if it was just the wooshing of the air from my lungs that drowned them out.

My eyes flit between her eyes to her lips, the red lipstick I always adored drawing me in.

“Can I kiss you?” Clarke asked again nervously.

I think she actually thought I would say no.

My shoulders relaxed as I slumped slightly toward her, keeping my eyes locked on those bright blue eyes while I smiled. “Always,” I whispered. I pushed a strand of hair behind her ears and felt her melt into the touch, before I pulled her in slowly and pressed my lips softly against her own.

I shouldn't still be surprised by the fact that every kiss left me breathless and needy for more.

Clarke's eyes somehow managed to sparkle even brighter and her nose crinkled as she smiled excitedly when I pulled back. She put her hand on my chest as always to feel my erratic heartbeat, then cupped my cheeks and pulled me closer, deepening the kiss just slightly.

I don’t know how long we kissed for, but a shrill whistle, claps and a, “get it Griffin!” pulled us apart. Clarke threw her head back with the same bright smile to catch the eye of our tablemates.

The sound of our surroundings finally picked up, the cacophony of cheers, whoops and banging on the table speeding time back up to the present and drawing ALL of the attention of the students in the cafeteria to us.

Clarke laughed against my mouth, pressing her lips against mine again before she leaned her forehead against my shoulder.

“I think the entire cafeteria knows now,” I said cheekily.

“Perfect. Now they ALL know you're off the market,” she said while she kissed my pulse point. It was beating wildly against her lips, I’m sure.

I laughed, snaking my arm around her waist and pulling her against my side. I looked over my shoulder, catching the pale faces of both Bellamy and Finn and sent them a cheeky wink.

“Welcome to the family,” Echo said to Clarke, sending me a knowing look when I turned back around. She then winked at me and gave me a thumbs up. Luna groaned and fished around in her backpack before pulling out a twenty dollar bill and slapping it down on Costia's open palm while she smiled like a Cheshire cat. Echo's smile faltered, then she rolled her eyes when Costia coughed. She reached into her backpack and slammed down another twenty dollar bill on the table.

Was EVERYONE betting on us?

*

There was nothing that could get me down after that. Clarke and I kept our fingers entwined during class, her right hand holding my left and still leaving us able to take notes.

“I don't think I've ever seen you smile this much,” Clarke commented at the end if last period.

I leaned forward and kissed her as the bell rang. “I never got to kiss you whenever I wanted before.”

Clarke hummed with a soft smile, her eyes fluttering open after a second.

It was a short-lived peace as we walked hand in hand to our lockers. DYKE was written on a piece of paper and attached to Clarke's locker. Her cheeks flushed, and I felt like fire was burning through me. I snatched the paper off her locker and crumpled it in my hand. “Clarke, I'm so --,”

She cut me off with a firm press of her lips against mine. “I don't care,” she said. “I don't care who says what. People suck. I'm not going to let their shitty words change how I feel about you.”

*

Clarke dragged me out of the house shortly after we dropped off our bags and to her car, stating that it was her turn to treat her girlfriend to a date. It was rare that we had an off day for practice, but with Coach Indra wanting Ontari and I to rest as much as possible, she cancelled practice for Friday night.

“Fine, but you can't spend any money.” I leaned my hip against the car and pouted. I would have much rather stayed in and watched movies and ignored the fact that I had no food in my cupboards by keeping my mouth occupied with my girlfriend’s.

“Lexa!” She complained. “I get that you're proud, but holy shit! How are we going to get food if I can't spend money? Why won't you let me spend money on you?”

I shook my head and folded my arms against my chest. Dr. Griffin's words were permanently etched in my mind whether I liked it or not. I never wanted to feel like I was using Clarke for anything.

“Money is just what we need for survival, Clarke. I don't want anything else.”

“Don't we deserve better than just surviving, Lex? I have the money to make it a little more bearable. Let me use it.”

I sighed and took her hands in mine. “Yes, we do. That's why we love fiercely and often. That's what makes life more than just survival. It's the moments without money that mean the most, l those moments that carry you to your next life, not the money. It's love that does that.”

I felt the air shift the moment I said it and looked into her eyes. That something more in the blue was shining back at me again. That something more that always too my breath away even though I couldn't place my finger on what it meant.

Clarke kissed me long and slow, the grumbling of our stomachs quieting for the moment. I pushed her back against her car, my hands taking purchase on her hips, still needing more but on a level that was different than the typical hunger I felt in her presence. I let my fingers skirt underneath her shirt, her warm skin sending a wave of heat from my fingertips to my toes. My hands trailed up her body, goosebumps following the soft caress of my fingertips on her warm skin. Clarke pulled me every closer, pushing her hips against mine and placing her hand on my chest underneath my shirt, just over my sports bra. When we finally parted, that something more lingered in her eyes and it nearly knocked the wind out of me.

I think I communicated pretty well that time.

Clarke gave me a wide smile and opened the passenger door for me. “My lady,” she said with a bow.

“Oh my God, Clarke no,” I said with a laugh.

“Shut up and get in the car, Woods,” she snapped playfully.

*

After we ate, Clarke drove us to the basketball court I spent most of my time at.

“What are we doing here?” I asked with a furrow to my brow. Clarke pressed her finger between them and smoothed it out, making me giggle.

“We're on a date, nerd.”

“We are?” I asked incredulously.

Clarke laughed, then pulled my basketball out if her trunk.

How did she get her hands on that?

“Let's play one-on-one, Commander.” Her voice was husky and low and my skin immediately burned with desire.

“Clarke, you can’t be serious,” I said, stifling a laugh.

“As a heart attack,” she responded. She dribbled the ball (horribly) before trying to spin it on her finger. She lost it almost immediately, the ball bouncing back to me.

Laughing, I picked up the ball and sucked in a deep breath, looking at my girlfriend. “Alright, you asked for it.”

We played for twenty minutes, Clarke doing everything in her power to stop me from scoring. She didn't even try to play defense, just wrapping her arms around my waist whenever I got close and planting kisses on my face. It was surprisingly effective, considering I kept bursting out into laughter and would drop the ball, leaving Clarke to steal it away and score.

After she thoroughly beat me, she coerced me to play a game or HORSE, making up a set of rules.

“We’ll call it Questions. If I score and you don’t, you have to answer a question. And vice versa.”

“And if we both score?” I asked.

“You don’t have to answer,” she replied with a nod to herself.

“Alright, you can start,” I said, a smirk on my lips.

Clarke took her first shot from right underneath the basket.

“What was your favourite story that your mom used to read you as a kid?”

I narrowed my eyes in thought and shot the ball, purposefully missing the rim. I didn’t mind answering her question. “Hook.”

“Really? What, did you think you were a lost boy?”

“No, more like Peter. Growing up sucks if you haven’t noticed.”

Clarke let out a beautiful laugh and I almost missed my next shot. “What’s your biggest pet peeve?”

Clarke missed the shot, cursing under her breath as she retrieved the ball. “Easy. Liars.”

I swallowed thickly. Of course it is.

“Why?” I asked.

Clarke shrugged. “Someone in fourth grade did something really mean to another kid, and when the teacher came by, they blamed it on someone else. The kid that got blamed was like on his last leg or something, so they kicked him out. It just… it still bothers me that that kid lied and got away with it while some other kid probably got in a ton of trouble at home. I just hated liars since then.”

My stomach dropped with guilt. I wasn’t LYING to Clarke though. I was actually not in the wrong here at all. Jake asked me to keep a secret. That’s not LYING, is it?

Clarke somehow managed to land a backwards shot, letting out a loud whoop in excitement when it went through the hoop.

“Are you more like your mother or father?”

“My mother. Anya is a lot like my father.”

“Tell me about her,” Clarke added. Her eyes were glistening, but she smiled softly at me when I furrowed my brow.

“My mother was a saint, really. Anya and I had too much energy as kids, and my father just egged us on whenever he was home. She was warm, and loving, and somehow put up with my father’s horrible sense of humour. I look like her, which you know from the photobooks. I’d ask her all the time if she loved me and she’d whisper ‘always’ as her response and --” I coughed, the emotion choking me. It was still really painful to talk about my parents.

Always. The word stung the back of my mind, the reminder of my mother's declaration of love hitting my in the back of the head. I wonder if she still loved me from wherever she was.

Clarke walked over to me and placed a soft kiss to my cheek, her eyes dancing across my face. “She’d be really proud of you, you know,” she said softly.

I nodded, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill. I cleared my throat while I moved away from Clarke and took my next shot from the corner, a lot more difficult than before, but still manageable for Clarke. She missed on her attempt.

“When did you realize you liked me?”

“Cocky much, commander?”

“Just answer the question.”

“Umm… when you took the ball off your face at practice.”

I groaned. “Seriously?”

Clarke laughed. “Seriously. When it hit you, I realized I had been staring at you the whole time. And then for sure on my birthday when you gave me the cupcake.”

“You never told me what you wished for,” I said.

Clarke shrugged. “Make another basket if you want to know.”

Clarke’s next shot missed, and I purposefully took a half court shot, knowing she wouldn’t make it.

“What did you wish for on your birthday last year?”

Clarke rolled her eyes and walked up to me with purposeful strides. She grabbed the collar of my shirt and crashed her lips against mine. I dropped the ball under my arm and heard it bounce away as I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her closer. When she pulled away, her eyes were that something more blue again and she whispered, “That. That’s what I wished for.”

No sound left my throat.

That was -- wow.

Clarke made her shot and asked, “When did you realize you like ME?”

I purposefully bounced the ball off the rim, signalling that I missed the shot. I was going to communicate the hell out of this.

“Clarke, there hasn’t been a day since I ran into you that I didn’t like you.”

Yes. Communication.

Clarke rolled her eyes and picked up the ball. “You're an idiot.”

“What?” I said, smiling broadly at her.

“Be serious,” she whined, jutting her bottom lip out into a pout.

Laughing, I threw my hands up in the air and relented. “When you stood up for me and Roan after the football game, I knew I was screwed. I really DID have a crush on you since I met you, but when you did that I knew I was hopeless.”

Clarke’s cheeks burned brightly as she smiled from ear to ear.

“You know, Woods, you’re pretty charming when you want to be.”

I laughed and she snatched the ball from my hands with a wicked glint in her eyes. “And I’m going to take another shot because I made the game and I have a really good question.”

“Fine,” I grumbled.

After making the shot, Clarke asked, “Have you thought about me naked?” She passed me the ball with a smirk, and I was still so stunned that it almost hit me in the face. I took a breath, lined up my shot and missed completely, I was still thinking about her naked.

Damnit.

“Clarke,” I groaned, running my hand down my face.

“You missed,” she teased.

I mumbled my answer so quietly and quickly Clarke laughed.

“Lexa!” She cried. “You need to answer the question.

“Clarke, no!” I begged.

“No, you haven't thought of me naked or no, you don't want to answer?”

“No, I don't want to answer.”

“So you HAVE thought about me naked?”

Well, she got me there.

“It's okay,” she said with a seductive smirk and a wink, eyes raking up my body. “I've thought about you too.”

“I --” I flushed EVERYWHERE.

Clarke really WAS going to be the death of me and I wasn't even scared.

Chapter Text

“So, did you want to go to Raven's party with me?” She asked nervously one night, legs thrown across my body and fingers playing with the hem of my shirt. I was so into the movie we were watching in my room that I almost missed what she said.

“With you, with you?” I asked.

“Obviously,” Clarke said with an eye roll I could FEEL against my chest. “It's probably the last thing I can do before the hurricane Abby comes and fucks everything up.” She leaned up and placed a soft kiss against my lips. “I’ll have to meet you there though, Raven said she needs help setting up.”

“Okay,” I whispered, running my hands through her hair and pulling her down to lay back on the pillow. Hurricane Abby was brewing, and the longer we waited, the worse it was going to be. It was a slightly terrifying thought that my life would be decimated by the hands of a doctor.

“Really?” Clarke asked with wide eyes.

“Yeah,” I said with a small smirk. “Just so I can keep an eye on you, though.” My stern glare lasted a millisecond before I laughed.

She rolled her eyes and attacked my mouth with gratitude.

I guess I picked the right answer.

*

Raven's party was… loud.

There were people EVERYWHERE and I lost Roan the second we walked in. He immediately went to find Jasper, so I was left standing by the front door wondering just how mad Clarke would be if I turned around and left.

“Sexy Lexi!” Raven called, wrapping her arms much too tightly around my stiff body.

“Don't call me that,” I snapped.

Raven gave me an overdramatic pout that I usually would have been more annoyed by her antics, but there was just SOMETHING about Raven that made her endearing.

God, I was getting soft.

“I'm glad you're here!” She said excitedly. Too excitedly. “Clarke won't shut up about you.” She gestured towards her kitchen, “She's in there making me another drink.”

“I don't think you need another one Reyes,” I joked with a smirk.

Raven just chuckled and pushed me towards the kitchen with a, ”go get your girl,” and a smack on the ass. I seriously hated Clarke’s friend sometimes (not really).

Clarke was indeed making Raven a drink, her back to me while she swayed her hips mindlessly to the music. Her hair was cascading over the shoulder of her white t-shirt and the tight black jeans she wore doing WONDERS for her backside. I cleared my throat of the sudden dryness, remembering where we were, and Clarke spun around, pinning me with those blues I adored.

“Hey you,” she greeted, her voice dropping an octave as she looked at my lips. It took all I had not to kiss her, the red lipstick sucking me in like a moth to a flame. She leaned up and kissed my cheek, smiling at the fact that she left a red smudge in her wake.

“Much better.”

“Clarke,” I said in greeting, clicking the ‘k’ the way I know made her breath catch. It did the trick and I tried not to smile too broadly at that.

I could totally be cool when I wanted to be. Often. Sometimes. Like, once a year.

Clarke was tipsy too from what I could tell, her eyes constantly dropping back to my lips while we stood there.

Feeling like a tease, I licked them and watched her pupils dilate. It was nearly impossible to stop myself from laughing.

“I've only had two, and yes I'm tipsy but I'm not drinking anymore because I know you aren't and I meant what I said before and stop looking at me like that,” she explained as I fought down my laugh.

“You can drink if you want,” I said, tangling my fingers into hers and giving a light squeeze. “You’re kind of cute,” I whispered, moving closer so she alone could hear me. She swallowed thickly while her eyes were still focused on my mouth.

Twice a year.

“I'm good. It's not worth it. No, I mean, you’re worth it. Being cute -- I just -- it -- ugh.”

Clarke kissed me then, the strong taste of alcohol on her lips not enough to be off-putting. I got drunk off of just being around her, I didn’t need any help with that. “Did you want one?” Her head was tilted to the side in question, already knowing the answer but wanting to confirm.

I shook my head with a soft smile and Clarke nodded a few times to herself. “Thought so.”

I guess Anya’s drilling of ‘treat your body like a temple’ stuck.

She turned, her cheeks a bright pink and picked up the drink from the counter to bring to Raven, ignoring the grin I was struggling to hold back as she fumbled over her words and had a giddy little skip to her step. I followed her out of the kitchen like the lost puppy I was in a sea of sweaty, gross teenagers, and she kept glancing back over her shoulder to give me a cheeky grin.

So, so drunk off her.

Raven perked up at the sight of her drink as soon as she spotted us.  “Yes!” She cried. She stood up abruptly, wagging her finger at us, then moved over to the stereo and cut the music.

“Alright ladies and gents, it's time for what you all came here for!”

There was a mixture if cheers and whoops from the partygoers, but I groaned loudly in protest. She ripped a bottle out of John Murphy's hand, ignoring his complaints and shouted, “it's time for spin the bottle!” she dropped a weight to keep the bottle from spinning to the side and shoved and kicked people to make a circle.

“No way, Reyes,” I said, pulling Clarke with me back to the kitchen and away from the madness.

“Nuh uh, Princess,” Bellamy said, snaking his arm around Clarke's waist and bringing her back with him to the now forming circle. “Cheerleaders HAVE to play. It's initiation.”

Fuck my life.

“Um, no,” I said with a threatening glare. Bellamy paled slightly, but Raven wrapped her arm around my shoulder. “Don’t worry Woods, lady luck is on your side tonight.” She was so drunk she winked with both eyes.

Raven blinked.

She blinked at me.

She was doing amazing at instilling confidence.

I almost choked with the laughter that was determined to come out, but when Bellamy pulled on Clarke’s waist again, I groaned and followed my cheerleader into the fray of overly drunk and horny teenagers.

“I promise nothing bad will happen,” Clarke said with a look over her shoulder.

Not really sure how she could promise that, but who was I to question her?

“Lexi-loo, since you’re last, you’re going first!” Raven yelled excitedly. “Rules are rules. You gotta kiss whoever you land on. If you don’t, you BOTH take a dip in the pool.”

“Raven, it’s almost freezing outside and your pool heating has been off since October,” Clarke protested.

“Then don’t chicken out,” she responded with a smirk.

I took a deep breath and caught the beer bottle that was thrown in my direction. Praying to every single God I could remember from World Religions class, I spun the bottle and held my breath.

Just once, I would love for something to go my way, and surprisingly…

It did.

The bottle stopped -- quite abruptly --on Clarke, and a smirk made it’s way onto my face at the responding smile and eyebrow raise from her.

Thank GOD.

I cleared my throat and moved forward, crawling to a happily waiting Clarke, only for Finn’s STUPID hand to come between our faces.

I have never in my life wanted to chop off a hand as much as I did in that moment. It’s not like he NEEDED it to throw that damn football as poorly as he did (the football team was even WORSE than we were, let's be real).

“WAIT!” he said, a little louder than necessary, a little drunker than necessary. “Lexa has to spin again!”

“What? Why?” I snapped.

“Duh, because you landed on a girl and you’re a girl?”

“And that’s a problem because…” Echo asked from her seat in the circle, Luna leaving kisses along her cheek.

I didn’t even NOTICE her and Luna were here, I really was completely oblivious to all things NOT Clarke.

“Clarke’s not GAY,” Finn said annoyingly, “You gotta spin again,” cutting Clarke off when she opened her mouth to protest and nodding his head as though he was getting a second opinion (from himself, since he was the only idiot to say anything).

Raven glared at him. “I’ll let it slide this time, considering they’re DATING.” She threw her hand in the air like a queen to her subordinates. “Let the girls kiss!”

“No way!” Finn interjected and honestly, I was about to lose it. How bad would it be if I ripped his tongue out of his mouth?

Raven groaned. “What is your problem, Collins?”

“What if I land on Jasper? I’m not kissing Jasper.” Finn explained. “Opposite sexes only.”

“Hey!” Jasper complained. “Who says I want to kiss YOU!” All the boys grumbled their agreement.

“Alright, alright, you homophobic assholes. We’ll do opposite gender,” Raven said, more annoyed than I thought possible in her drunken state. “Spin it again Woods.”

“I’m not playing,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

“You had no problem playing when you thought you were getting to kiss Clarke,” Finn said in challenge.

“Obviously, because I’m DATING Clarke, you fucktwat.”

I was already done with this party.

“I don’t care, she just has to spin again,” he said a little more determinedly.

“Finn, you’re not going to get to kiss Clarke REGARDLESS,” Raven snapped.

Finn pouted, his floppy hair falling into his eyes. Clarke leaned over to Raven and whispered something in her ear, Raven giggling in response and nodding dramatically.

“Lexa, your lady lover here says to spin it again.”

What the hell, Clarke?

I sighed, rubbed my temples with my hands and snatched the stupid bottle from the floor and spun it. My eyes bore into Clarke’s with so much irritation I didn’t even think it was possible to feel towards her.

What was she thinking?

As the bottle slowed, I honest to God thought I was going to die. I couldn’t, I WOULDN’T kiss one of the boys here. It wasn’t happening. I don’t understand why Clarke told me to spin it again. Was this her way of breaking it off with me? Was this a phase?  

I didn’t even realize how quickly I could let my mind spiral. Apparently it needed only seconds to come up with the worst possible scenario.

Finally, the bottle stopped spinning so quickly it was disconcerting, but I was so focused on it that I almost missed who it landed on.

Roan.

A loud laugh from me and an, “ew,” from Roan made me laugh even harder. Even the thought of kissing him on the cheek was too much. We looked at each other for a split second before we both declared, “Pool!” and sprinted our way through the kitchen to the back door.

“WAIT!” Raven called right before we jumped in fully clothed. I was hopping on one foot to get my socks off. “Did I forget to mention you have to be in your underwear?”

God damnit, Raven.

I caught the smirk on Clarke’s face and nearly toppled over. This was HER plan all along.

Whatever. Two could play at that game.

Roan rolled his eyes and started pulling off his shirt to a chorus of cat-calls from the girls at the party, Raven especially. The hard work Roan did… I think -- I still wasn’t sure what he ACTUALLY did for money -- gave him a set of abs that most high school boys would cry over.

I kept my eyes on Clarke while she chewed on her bottom lip. Pretending I wasn’t devastatingly nervous, I licked my lips and sent her a smile while I pulled my shirt over my head to reveal my black sports bra, then quickly pulled off my jeans to reveal the black boxer shorts. All the constant basketball practice and DEATH that Coach Indra tried to put us through gave me my own set of abs too. I’m pretty sure I saw Luna smack Echo and Costia turn away bashfully while I stood there in my underwear, but I mean, I was Clarke’s so it didn’t even register. I could FEEL her eyes burning into my skin and my sudden burst of cocky confidence was gone in a flash.

It was one thing to fantasize about that look, and a completely nerve-wracking feeling to actually SEE the desire another person has for you.

Whoa.

Roan and I took a quick glance at one another before we dove into the pool, the biting cold sucking the air out of my lungs immediately. My teeth were chattering when I resurfaced and my fingertips to my toes were completely numb. Roan was no better, swimming to the edge of the pool as quickly as possible to get out with little yelps as he tried to move. Once my feet hit dry land, Clarke wrapped a towel around my shoulders and Raven did the same for Roan. Every single part of my body was tingling while the blood rushed back to my extremities.

“Well I’m definitely sober now,” Roan joked.

“Game’s over! Let’s get you changed big boy,” Raven said as she glanced down at his underwear, winking and pulling him along by the hand.

Oh my God, gross.

Clarke pulled me into a bone crushing hug while my teeth chattered away and whispered, “Raven had one of her gizmos in the bottle. It was rigged to stop when she wanted it, so you weren't going to kiss anyone but me and vice versa.”

“That's…. Odd--oddly s-s-sweet of her, and odd--oddly m-m-mean of you.” My heart felt like it was going to stop beating in a minute, lungs unable to expand with the biting cold in my skin.

Holy crap that water was COLD.

Clarke laughed and rubbed up and down my arms vigorously in a vain attempt to warm me up. “Yeah, but now I get to warm you up.”

My teeth chattered and Clarke pulled me inside the house to Raven's spare room she had claimed for the night. “Put these on,” she said, throwing my sweater and a pair of her cheerleading track pants at me.

“And you're g-g-going to wear…?” I asked while I dripped freezing cold water on Raven’s floor.

Clarke shrugged. “You'll just have to keep me warm.”

“I -- oh.” My body flooded with heat to push out the freezing cold shakes. “I can do that.” I nodded determinedly. Clarke let out another one of her beautiful laughs and I thought that I would be okay if that was the soundtrack to our lives.

So, so gay.

After Roan and I both changed -- he and Raven taking significantly longer than necessary -- I found Costia in the kitchen grabbing a snack off the counter.

“Having fun?” I asked, balling my hands inside my hoodie. My skin was still cool to the touch even with the hoodie and track pants on.

Costia smiled that genuine smile at me before popping the carrot in her mouth. “Heck yeah.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm as she rolled her eyes. “I’m not a big drinker.”

“Same,” I said, reaching for the orange juice and filling up my cup.

“At least no ones touched all the healthy stuff,” she said, crunching down on a carrot again and shrugging one shoulder. Obviously a house full of drunken teenagers wouldn’t be interested in carrots and celery.

“Nice abs by the way,” Costia mentioned and I choked on the orange juice I was currently drinking. It literally came through my nose seconds after I swallowed.

On a scale of one to cool, I think I was in the negatives right now.

Costia laughed that adorable laugh and patted me on the back a few times while I cleared my throat.

“Thanks,” I croaked out. Her cheeks turned a slight shade of pink at her own comment.

“Where’s Clarke?” she asked next, and I am sure the look on my face gave away exactly how unprepared I was for that question to follow up the ‘nice abs’ comment. “It’s a rare occurrence that you two aren’t near one another.”

“She’s playing some game with Raven and Jasper.” I shrugged and ran my hand through my hair.

“Cool. So how has it been going?”

“What?”

“You and Clarke?”

“What about us?”

Costia looked at me for a long moment, her eyes narrowing slightly.

“You’re such a nerd. An oblivious, oblivious nerd. It’s all cool, though, I can see how loved up you are from here. I take it that everything is good then?”

My cheeks turned an even brighter red than before. And then Clarke walked into the kitchen, kissed my cheek and intertwined our hands and my body flooded with the heat of embarrassment.

Costia giggled, “Hey Clarke. Lex and I were just talking about you.”

“Oh? All good things I hope,” she said cheekily.

“Yeah, I was just mentioning how cute you two are together.” Costia grabbed another carrot, chewed it for a second and giggled when I leaned even FURTHER into Clarke (I was cold!) and made her way back to the onslaught of drunken debauchery.

“I thought she liked you,” Clarke whispered after she left.

I shrugged. “I still don’t think so, but does it matter anyway? She knows I’m yours.”

“You’re so oblivious, but I like the sound of that,” Clarke said with a suggestive raise of her eyebrow, eyes firmly trained on my lips. I smirked and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, leaning my forehead against her own.

We spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen pressed against one another and away from the rest of the party. I kept shivering, but not because my skin was still partially frozen -- Clarke kept skirting her fingers along the edges of the trackpants against my skin at every opportunity and my body was humming at the contact.

Roan came stumbling forward and almost hit his head on the wall to try and sit on the kitchen chair next to us, effectively dislodging Clarke and I from one another.

“Hey,” he slurred. “You guys are so super awesome.”

“I thought you weren’t drinking?” I said, eyebrow quirked and voice filled with concern.

“I’m not,” he said with a wicked glint. “I can hook you up if you want,” he added.

“Hook me up with WHAT?” I asked in probably my most furious voice. If he was doing what I thought he was doing then we were going to have some serious issues.

Roan started laughing. “Relax, I’m kidding. I know you’re a prude.”

“Roan,” I warned.

Clarke lifted her head from my shoulder to look at him better. “He’s high,” she commented.

“Ding ding ding!” Roan exclaimed while pointing at Clarke. “You want?”

I nearly broke his finger off before he pulled back quickly, his reflexes oddly quick with how high he clearly was. “Kidding.”

Clarke furrowed her brow and leaned closer to him. “His pupils are completely dilated and they aren’t bloodshot. What did you take, Roan?”

Roan just giggled. “Don’t worry about it.” He tried to wave her off, but he just sunk further into the chair and smiled dopily at us.

“Roan,” Clarke snapped. “What did you take?”

He let out a loud huff and pulled a clear plastic bag out of his pocket to show us some weird looking pills with infinity signs etched into them. “They’re called City of Light after that weird class we took in Freshman year. It’s cool though. They just make you happy, nothing else. Unless you mix it with alcohol. Then it messes you up completely and makes you pass out, so I highly suggest you don’t do that.”

“Where did you get those?” I hissed, snatching it out of his hand and anger lacing my words. “Is this where you’ve been spending your fucking money?”

“No, mom. If you don’t want one, fine, but leave me alone. You’re killing my vibe and we’re at a party.”

“Where did you get them?” I snapped again, leaning forward to pummel my idiot best friend.

Roan just rolled his eyes.

“You're safe, right?” Clarke asked, placing her hand on his arm and her other against my chest and keeping me back.

“Yeah,” Roan nodded, staring at her hand and getting stuck on the contact. He was THAT high.

“Okay,” she said, giving his arm a squeeze. “That's all that matters, right Lex?” Casting a pointed glance at me, I swallowed and nodded.

Pushing himself off the chair with a significant amount of effort, Roan stumbled away to find Jasper.

“I’m going to kill Jasper,” I snapped.

Clarke rested her head on my shoulder again and stared off in the direction that Roan went. “I don’t think Jasper does it. He’s high too, but he looks more stoned than anything. Plus, he's drinking.” She pointed in Jasper’s direction, who was currently eating chocolate cake with his hands.

Where the hell did he even get cake?

“Just leave him be, Lex,” Clarke said. “It’s the same as drinking, I think. Pretty much everything we’re doing here is illegal. As long as he’s not sick or whatever, then leave him.”

“Clarke! Get out here!” Bellamy called from the living room, interrupting our conversation. I groaned and Clarke chuckled before dragging me back out to where everyone else was.

Once we settled into the couch, Clarke sitting practically in my lap, some bimbo cheerleader (I think her name really WAS Bimbo) shouted that she wanted to play truth or dare.

This party couldn’t get any more cliche if it tried.

Someone dared me to give Costia a lapdance, stating that it was necessary since we were both the only two not drinking (Except Clarke wasn’t either, her vodka cranberry only just cranberry). Clarke snatched my cup and lifted it to my lips, practically forcing me to drink to deny the dare, spilling some of it down my neck in her haste. Costia laughed a beautiful laugh while I choked on my juice and assured Clarke that she was going to drink anyways.

Bimbo then dared Clarke to kiss Finn and all the air in my lungs was sucked out. Did she manage to miss the fact that Clarke and I were together? Clarke motioned to drink again, but sweet, dear Finn, reminded Clarke that she had used her free pass on one of the really inappropriate truth questions in the round before. I could feel the bitter resentment of everyone at the party in this moment. Not a single person would dare these ludicrous things or ask these questions if Clarke were dating a boy.

“I don’t want to do this,” she said.

Finn pouted, the rejection plain as day on his face. “It’s not a big deal.”

It’s not a big deal? What the hell was he on?

“You might like it,” some dufus that was much too drunk added. Finn glared at him so hard he choked on his beer.

“Kind of like how I liked it with Atom and Dax?” Clarke just shook her head and the entire house went silent. I squeezed her waist in reassurance when I felt her temperature rise.

“I don't want to kiss you, Finn.”

“Is it because you’re a lesbian?” Finn asked, his face tinting pink.

“No, I’m --,”

“So it's a phase?”

“No it’s --,”

“Oh, thank God,” Finn said, clutching his chest. “I thought for a second I had no chance with you.”

What the hell?

He got up from his seat and made his way over to where we were sitting, wearing a stupid smile and too hopeful look on his face. He grabbed her hand and tried to pull her up off the couch, but I grabbed his collar when he pulled her up and snarled, the fire in my eyes enough to burn him.

I was going to kill this floppy haired idiot.

“Lexa,” Clarke whispered, putting her hand on my cheek to calm me down.

I shoved him HARD away from us and he stumbled and crashed onto the floor.

“Are you DUMB? You have no chance with her regardless of if she was dating Lexa or not. Which SHE IS if you remember correctly.” Raven snapped. “Did you miss the part where she straight up made out with her in the cafeteria? I’m sure they’d be willing to do it again.”

“Yeah, but she said she’s not gay --”

“That doesn’t mean she’s going to magically like you by default,” Raven retorted.

“Ah, dude, maybe you should just stop talking,” Bellamy said, rubbing his hand along his neck, noting the way Raven was getting even MORE irritated with Finn the longer he talked.

“It’s just a PHASE,” Finn said, looking at Clarke pleadingly.

“It’s not,” Clarke said. She turned fully, straddled my lap and wrapped her hands around my neck and kissed me in front of EVERYONE. It was amazing. The sounds of everyone cheering and laughing, and Finn spluttering washed away when she pulled me tighter to her. The taste of cranberry mixed with the slightly bitter taste of the vodka still lingering on her tongue and the cherry chapstick she always wore was mind blowing. We separated after another chaste kiss to my lips and I stared adoringly at Clarke.

Maybe parties weren’t so bad after all.

I wrapped my arms around Clarke's waist tightly and pressed a kiss to her shoulder.

“You okay?”

She nodded, curling further into my body. “Better now.”

Finn stormed off to the jeers of the rest of the students in the living room. We sat in the warmth of each other’s embrace while the party went on and the games got stupider, but nothing could penetrate the bubble Clarke and I were in. For a long while, Clarke and I traded heated, desperate, possessive kisses, only stopping when the cheers from the football players got too loud. My body was on FIRE at her touch and I just wanted -- needed to get her alone.

I sighed, tucking my nose into her neck and leaving kisses there, much to her hummed content. “Okay. I’m ready to go home, now, though.”

“You’re not sleeping over?” Clarke asked.

“No. I’d rather be in my own bed and away from all that.” I waved my hand to the space Roan was currently occupying with a few other students.

Clarke hummed again, leaving another sequence of opened mouth kisses on my neck. “Take me home, Woods.”

I stood abruptly, Clarke’s legs wrapped around my waist. I was ready to get her out of here so I could kiss her the way I wanted to and away from prying eyes. She giggled while everyone hollered and cat-called at us, but I couldn’t care less, marching straight out of the door as Clarke threw out a goodbye to Raven over my shoulder (who was currently staring at Roan staring at a wall).

*

The drive back to my house took way too long. By the time Clarke crossed the threshold, I had her pinned against the wall, my hips pressing her into it with a small thud. She gasped into my mouth as I pressed impossibly closer to her with my body and licked inside her more than willing mouth.

“Your sister?” She breathed when I moved my lips to her throat.

“Two a.m.” I responded, the vibration against her neck causing goosebumps to appear underneath my ministrations. Clarke let out a grunt, shifting our legs so that they offset and one of mine slipped between.

After a few minutes of kissing and shameless grinding against one another, I picked her up by her thighs, wrapped her legs around my waist and carried her up the stairs. Her teeth and tongue tugged and sucked the spot underneath my ear and I nearly dropped us twice when she found THAT spot, but I eventually opened my door and crashed with her onto my mattress.

The tiny moans she was letting out and the way her fingers were gripping at my shirt made my head spin.

I was surely drunk off of her.

Clarke grabbed the end of the sweater I was wearing, tugging it up my body with haste. My brows furrowed as I continued to kiss her. “What are you doing?” I panted against her lips, not even able to imagine breaking the kiss we were sharing.

“Take it off,” she said, tugging it again more forcefully when it got stuck by my armpits.

Reality set it, and I slowed the kiss and leaned back to look at her, my sweater falling back to my hips and my head cocked to the side.

“Lexa, you literally gave a show of your abs tonight, and I want my own private one.”

Well, shit.

My entire body flooded with a blush. I was a giant tomato, head to toe.

Clarke laughed, cupped my cheek with her hand and smiled softly. “You’re so cute when you’re flustered.”

I scoffed.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I just have been wanting to feel your skin,” she explained. “Is it too much? You can say no if you --,”

I crashed my lips against hers, the sudden moment of clarity washed away by the pure desire I felt all over my body funnelling at the base of my spine. It only heightened when she pushed her tongue into my mouth and dominated the kiss completely.

I pulled the hoodie over my head, only breaking the kiss when it passed over my face and Clarke let out the dirtiest moan I had ever heard when her fingers touched my stomach.

Or maybe it was me.

Whatever.

The heat in my room skyrocketed. The kisses were messy and desperate, Clarke trying to pull me closer with every second and leaving hot scratches against my back with her blunt nails while my hips moved against hers, finding the spot that was too much and not enough all at once.

I reached down for her shirt, tugging gently with my request and Clarke froze. She gripped my wrist so tightly that I completely froze and flattened my palm against her stomach to show I wasn't moving.

“I’m sorry, I --,” I floundered over, lips swollen and cheeks red.

“Don’t be,” she interrupted. “I’m just -- I’m not -- I don’t have abs.” Her fingers shook around my wrist and her eyes shone with a worried, deep blue that cooled me down in an instant.

I sighed and rested my forehead against hers while my heartrate calmed down. “Clarke,” I breathed, ‘how many times do I have to say it?”

“I know, I know, I’m beautiful, whatever,” she said sarcastically.

“Mockery is not the product of a strong mind.”

“Nor a strong stomach,” she quipped with a forced laugh.

A small whimper left her lips when I slid off to the side and reached for my hoodie that was on the floor.

“I’m sorry, Lexa. Don’t be mad,” she said, voice cracking with worry.

When I finally grabbed a hold of the material, I spun back around on the bed and placed a soft kiss against her lips. “We’re not there yet, Clarke.” I threw the hoodie back over my head and shifted to lay on my side, keeping my hand on her stomach with my fingers underneath the material.

She opened her mouth to protest, but I kissed her lips instead and smiled down at her softly before nuzzling into the crook of her neck to pull a giggle out of her.

“I don't care how many times I have to say it, you’re beautiful. I love your stomach and your hips, I love the curve of your ass, I love the strength of your legs, I love all of it, Clarke. I’d prefer to wait ‘til you’re comfortable instead of rushing into anything. ANYTHING.”

Her eyes danced across my face and I smiled at her while she looked at me with… something. I just… I couldn’t place it.

“You’d wait for me to be comfortable?”

“Obviously. We're only sixteen. I'M only fifteen!”

She was silent for so long I almost thought she had fallen asleep.

“Clarke,” I whispered when she chewed her lip, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re not ready and neither am I. That’s the end of it. It’s not a race. I can be patient as long as you can. We deserve that, yeah?”

She rubbed her hand down her face and sighed heavily, shifting to sit up on the edge of bed with her back to me. I followed her up in concern, running my fingers along her shoulders to move her hair from her neck and pressing a soft kiss to the exposed skin. Seeking comfort, she leaned her bodyweight into me, so I pressed another kiss to her cheek and hugged her close.

“You sure you’d wait?” she whispered, eyes on the floor and refusing to look at me.

“Always,” I whispered back.

The air was so thick with a tension I didn’t understand and I could hear her swallow while her eyes danced in front of me. Suddenly Clarke turned towards me, one leg hanging off the bed and the other curled underneath her while she studied my face. I wasn’t sure what she was looking for in that moment, but she must have found it when she finally sent me a small, nervous smile. She took my hands in her shaky ones and placed them on the hem of her shirt helping to guide it up over her head until she was left in just her bra, the creamy white skin glinting in the moonlight.

“Clarke,” I whispered as my throat dried out completely, her name slipping from my lips in a desperate plea. Her breaths came quickly, quietly, nervously, and all I could do was skirt my fingers along the skin of her shoulder, pulling goosebumps from beneath her skin. I traced wild patterns on her skin, trying to remember how to breathe.

I had seen her shirtless so many times, and yet, it felt like I was seeing her for the first time. It was terrifying and exhilarating. It made my heart felt so full that it was ready to burst. It was nothing at all like the other times. It was so much more.

“Shh,” she said, her lips pressing against mine while the tiny puff of air nearly knocked me senseless. “I'm not ready, but I want to lay with you like this.” Her eyes looked everywhere but my own, her cheeks a bright red, so I nodded and reached for the hem of my hoodie with one hand while the other entwined our fingers and pulled it away from her stomach, keeping our eyes locked.

“It's okay, you’re safe,” I whispered when she tried to pull her hand back to cover herself. “It’s just me.”

My heart was beating so hard, spilling with all the affection I felt for her, I'm sure she could hear it from where she sat. Her lips were red from her teeth dragging across them in worry. I ran my thumb across it, gently prying her lip away from the abuse. The moon hung high in the sky, the silence and gentle glow of the late hour serving as the perfect backdrop. This was a moment that was too fragile to be broken by sound, too delicate for the harshness of daylight. Swallowing thickly, I raised my arms in the air and Clarke lifted my sweater slowly, shakily, nervously.

Trembling hands danced along the lines of my shoulder, down my arms and across my chest. Dancing fingertips grazed my stomach and the edges of my sports bra, finally settling in the middle where my heart was.

“You’re so much more than a ‘just’, Lexa.” Clarke pushed me back onto the bed, that something more in her eyes leaving me breathless. I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her as close as possible. My body ignited at the feeling of her own against it, and I pulled her even closer until she settled into the crook of my arm with her hand wrapped around my waist.

“Lexa, I lo--,” she trailed off, leaving patterns of fire across my abdomen with her fingertips. I pulled her in closer.

“What is it, baby?” I asked sleepily.

Shook her head and let out a sigh. “I love sleeping next to you. Goodnight, Lex,” she whispered, kissing my shoulder and settling in.

“Goodnight, Clarke,” I whispered back with a kiss on the crown of her head and arms wrapped tightly around her too.

*

Of course, the good vibes could only last so long. Clarke had been avoiding her mother for almost two weeks since she came out. Dr. Griffin was no better, holing up in her room whenever Clarke and I were there or working extra shifts to not be home. Jake was stressed and visibly tired if the bags under his eyes said anything, and with the start of February, Clarke had finally made the decision to call for a family dinner.

Clarke was the definition of a nervous wreck as she drove us to her house after practice. Her fingers kept tapping on her steering wheel, she was changing the radio station constantly, chewing on her nails and tugging on the ends of her hair until I was sure they were going to fall out.

“Clarke,” I said, reaching out to take her hand in my own and settle it on her thigh. “We don’t have to do this, not today if you’re not ready.”

“I’m ready. God, Lex, it’s been almost two weeks and I haven’t even spoken to her. I just -- who LIKES confrontation? Especially with their mother of all people?”

I gave her a sad but warm smile. “Maybe it won’t be a confrontation. Not if you don’t let it.”

Clarke rolled her eyes in response and huffed out an irritated breath. “You don't know my mother.”

“At least your dad will be there,” I offered instead

“Yeah. It’s the only way I could make sure he was a buffer. By the way, you didn’t have to dress up, you know,” she added. I was incredibly nervous for this stand-off. Clarke had messaged both her parents asking to have a family dinner and Jake happily agreed while Abby remained silent. I forced her to drive me home first so I could change, and was now wearing my only pair of jeans with the nicest button down shirt I could find. I threw on some makeup, which took WAY longer than expected since Clarke had an affinity to me with eyeliner and managed to wrangle my hair into something presentable (again, taking way longer than expected due to Clarke being so… Clarke). I knew that Dr. Griffin wouldn’t care, but I was doing this for Clarke, not her. And the button up made me feel more confident, somehow.

We pulled into the driveway and I gave Clarke one last kiss on the cheek, which quickly spiralled as she cupped my face with her hands and pulled me in to give me a real kiss, messy and deep and desperate. She pushed her tongue into my mouth and I couldn't help the sigh that escaped. Clarke was needy with her touches, seeking comfort as her hands shook slightly to signal just how scared she was. I caressed her cheeks with my palms and slowed the kiss, pulling back and resting my forehead against her own.

“It's going to be okay,” I said with a soft smile. “I'll be right here,” I assured.

She let out a huff against my face, eyes closed as I brushed my fingers through her hair. “Okay.”

“Mom, dad?” Clarke called when we entered the house, pulling off her shoes and dropping her backpack by the front door.

“In here, honey!” her dad called from the kitchen.

Opening the kitchen door, we saw Jake standing at the stove, sauteing vegetables with his typical apron on.

There was no fire or smoke and I immediately panicked. That couldn't be a good sign. All the good times at the Griffin household started with Jake burning something.

This was an Omen, I’m sure.

“Hi girls!” His smile was so bright that I almost forgot we were about to have a showdown with his wife. He leaned over and kissed the top of Clarke’s head and then my own (still weird) and turned back to the stove.

“You look nice, Lex.” He knew I would blush at the comment and winked at me while my cheeks turned as red as Clarke’s Mercedes.

Okay, so maybe the confidence I was feeling with the shirt was fleeting.

“Where’s mom?” Clarke asked with a slight waver to her voice.

“She should be down once dinner is ready. How about you and Lexa go set the table,” he responded, a shadow casting his expression into one of darkness momentarily.

Another bad sign. Jake always smiled. Always. This was bad.

Clarke nodded, then pulled me with her to set the table.

“You’re okay, baby,” I whispered when I noticed the visible shaking of Clarke’s hands while she tried to place a plate down. Quickly setting down the ones in my hands, I raced over towards her and kissed both of her knuckles before placing her hand on my heart and tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She melted into the touch and rested her forehead against my shoulder, letting out a shaky, nervous breath.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” she said.

“It’s okay. The hard part is over. No matter what she says, your dad is here and he won’t let anything happen. Same with me.”

“The hard part is living with her,” Clarke quipped back.

“We’ll figure it out, love,” I said with a smirk.

Clarke shuffled forward, leaning her weight against my chest. I traced my fingers along her spine, willing her to calm down with my touch.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

We were interrupted by a clearing of the throat and a piercing glare of Dr. Griffin.

“That doesn’t look much like a set table,” she snapped.

Clarke rolled her eyes when she turned to face her mother. “We’re getting to it.”

I don’t really know why she was nervous. Clarke’s stubbornness would never let her back down from her mother’s venom.

Dr. Griffin hummed and made her way into the kitchen, not even acknowledging my presence outside of a glare.

That wasn’t a sign, it was a damn warning.

*

The creaking of the forks and knives against the plates was the only sound to reverberate through the dark floors of the house. Jake tried to lighten the atmosphere, his tales of work (that no one understood) and his boisterous laughter at his own jokes not enough to cut through the tension. He tried, but Abby just glared down at her food, slicing the chicken breast so maliciously I could SWEAR she was picturing me on that plate.

“Mom,” Clarke tried.

Her mother rolled her eyes in response. “Yes, Clarke?”

“You haven’t said a word to me this entire time,” she said.

“Well, it doesn’t seem like anything I tell you makes a difference anymore.”

“What does that mean?” Clarke snapped, her brow furrowing.

I knew that look. That was the ‘some shit is about to go down’ look.

Dr. Griffin huffed out a tired sigh, wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin and said, “If you would excuse me,” before trying to stand.

“Abby, come on,” Jake said, and he sounded utterly exhausted. “Don’t be like that. She’s your daughter.”

“She’s NOT my daughter. My daughter wouldn't be acting out like this when we give her EVERYTHING.” Abby slammed her hand down on the table, the glasses clinking with the force.

Well, here we go.

“Really?” Clarke scoffed. “You’re throwing a hissy fit because I have a GIRLFRIEND?”

“This has nothing to do with the fact that you CHOSE to be this way.”

Jake rubbed his hand over his face, looking as though he had aged at least ten years since the beginning of this conversation. I was right there with him.

“First of all, I didn’t CHOOSE to be this way. For a doctor, you sound pretty stupid right now. Secondly, if you want to say I’m not your daughter than you’re more of a bigot than I thought. What is your problem if it isn’t that I’m dating a girl?” Clarke snapped back, folding her arms over her chest and eyes piercing.

Jake and I both let out a sigh and prepared for the car crash that was about to take place.

“It's because --” Dr. Griffin sent me a scathing look, “Do I not give you enough attention Clarke? Do I not give you EVERYTHING you need? Do I not work my ass off every single day so you have nothing you would ever need or want? Do you feel like it’s NECESSARY to throw this in my face? Must you put on a spectacle?”

“Don’t worry, mom, I’m not going to go out and rent a billboard,” Clarke said, sarcasm dripping from her tone.

“You ARE! You’re parading around with this -- this -- this delinquent for no reason. That’s practically begging the entire town to lose faith in the hospital -- in my work. I’m trying to save people, and you’re just trying to ruin everything because of some teenage temper tantrum.”

Clarke let out a bitter laugh. “Wow, mom.” She shook her head. “I can't -- wow.”

Dr. Griffin's tone turned soft. “There are so many nice young men, Clarke. I know you like boys. You used to talk about them all the time. What about that Finn boy? He’s so much more suitable than her. His parent’s donate to the hospital quite regularly.”

“I don’t want Finn, I WANT Lexa.” Clarke snapped.

“You’ve never -- you’ve never been with a boy to know WHAT you want,” Abby stated. “You’ve never been touched by one, so how could you know?”

“Maybe you just haven’t been touched by a girl.” The retort had me choking on the sip of water I was trying to take while the conversation heated up.

Jesus, Clarke.

Dr. Griffin glared at her daughter. “You obviously want a boy. Look at how she’s dressed!” Dr. Griffin motioned to me and I felt the burn of my cheeks. My clothes were baggier than most girls would wear, but it was because Anya had to ensure that they would last more than a year. I was growing like a weed and still had potential to keep growing until I was eighteen. And what did it matter what I wore? “And you might want him after this phase, but by then you’ll have ruined your reputation because of her,” Dr. Griffin continued.

Clarke sighed. “You’re ridiculous, you know. All you care about is our ‘reputation’,” she said, making quotation marks with her fingers. “No one gives a FUCK about reputation.”

“You should care.”

“Abby,” Jake cut in. “That's not fair. If I cared about reputation where would WE be?”

Dr. Griffin just ignored him, glaring at her daughter. “You’re making a mistake. I can help you. We can get you therapy --”

I dropped the fork I was fidgeting with on my plate.

“Are you INSANE?” Clarke snapped.

“Abby, no, let's be rational here,” Jake added.

“You’re just a child,” Dr. Griffin dismissed.

“And yet, you’re acting like I’m a criminal.”

“Where do you think you’re going to end up when you’re with someone like her?”

“ABBY!” Jake yelled, slamming his hands down on the table hard enough that the plates jumped.

“Shut up, Jake,” Abby yelled, pointing a finger at him and unleashing her wrath in his direction. “You’re the reason this has gotten as far as it has. You’ve been encouraging this since you first met HER.”

“HER name is Lexa!” Clarke yelled. “Her name is Lexa, and she’s amazing, and she most definitely is a girl. Trust me, I know --”

I nearly fell out of my chair.

“-- and I very much am attracted to everything about her. She’s the sweetest, most wonderful person I have ever known and I am SO LUCKY to know her, let alone be able to call her my girlfriend. Her reputation doesn’t matter because I know who she is as a PERSON and so does dad. You haven’t once tried to get to know her. You’ve been a judgmental bitch on your high horse and looked down at her the moment you met her all over a pair of SHOES!”

This was quickly spiralling, the yelling so loud that my ears were ringing, so I grabbed Clarke’s hand and squeezed, begging her to calm down.

“Don’t TOUCH my daughter!” Dr. Griffin shrieked at me. “Get your filthy hands away from her, you MONSTER! It’s bad enough that you’ve brainwashed her into giving you all her money, but you went and MANIPULATED her into being with you. I won’t have that in my house!”

“Actually, this is my house,” Jake cut in, eerily calm. His face was pale, his breathing laboured, and my heart was in my throat. I didn’t even think of what this stress was going to do to him in his condition. “This is my house, my name is on the lease, and I want you out of it, Abby. Right now.”

Dr. Griffin scoffed, rolling her eyes at her husband.

“I’m serious. I want you out.”

All of the air was sucked out of the room in an instant. Dr. Griffin’s jaw dropped open, her face contorting with shock.

“You just -- you can NOT talk to them like that.” Jake’s eyes rivered with tears. “You can’t say those things to your daughter or to anyone. You can’t talk like that to Lexa. You can’t -- you can’t --,” He sucked in a breath and held it, fighting back the emotion while his cheeks turned pink. “I don’t know who you are anymore. The woman I married was kind and smart, and had seven dollars in her pocket even after she worked double shifts at the diner to put her through medical school. I don’t know what happened and I feel like I’m to blame, but I can’t have the person you just showed me in my house and around my daughter and her girlfriend.”

“Jake, I --,”

“No, Abby. You need to go. You don't get to sit there and berate our daughter, no matter WHAT your opinion is. It's deplorable. Clarke and Lexa are happy, isn't that what you want for our daughter?”

“But --,”

“No ‘but’s’ Abby. This house is to be a safe place. A welcoming space. You’re making it neither of those with the way you’re acting. And the stress you’re putting on me right now is too much.”

I caught the undertone to what he was saying and it broke my heart.

“You need to go,” he said again softly.

Dr. Griffin gaped at her husband, her eyes shining with tears for another few minutes before her face turned into a mask of anger and she pushed away from the table. “Fine,” she snapped. The scraping of Dr. Griffin’s chair as she stood, and the distant footsteps of her ascending the stairs were the only sound I could hear over the panting of Clarke’s unsteady breaths.

“Clarke,” Jake said softly, his hand reaching out across the table to take hers.

Clarke darted up out of her seat, her eyes brimming with unshed tears and ran out of the room, out of the house, slamming the front door shut.

“She’ll come around,” I said as I watched Jake’s head drop to his hands in grief.

This was just a huge mess.

I quickly got up and chased the blonde out of her home when I heard the pealing of tires on the asphalt.

“Clarke!” I yelled, frantic when I exited the house and saw that her car was already turning down the street.

“Clarke!” I spun around, looking to see if I could see anything that would help me catch up to her.

I immediately grabbed her bike leaning against the garage and started pedalling down the driveway. I had no idea where she would have gone, but I needed to try. I sent her an

text with one hand while I coasted down the sidewalk wracking my brain to think of where she might have gone.

My first stop was the school, pedalling around the outside in hopes of maybe catching a glimpse of blonde hair.

Nothing.

My second stop was Raven’s house, checking to see if I could see her car anywhere.

Nothing.

I stopped by my house next, and really, I should have started here. Sometimes I felt stupid for forgetting that Clarke felt something for me.

Her red Mercedes glinted in the waning light of the evening. I dropped her bike on the grass and sprinted into the house (afterwards I would wonder how she got in, but right now I just wanted to make sure she was okay). Clarke was nowhere to be found on the first level, so I ran to my room and barrelled through the door. The small mattress looked huge as it engulfed the small, broken frame of my girlfriend. I could hear the sobs ripping their way out of her chest, each sounding more painful than the last.

“Clarke,” I whispered when I walked into the room, and she just buried her face further into my pillow that she clung to.

“Baby,” I whispered again, situating myself behind her on the mattress and wrapping my arms tightly around her waist. She turned then, burying her nose in my neck and her sobs came out more painfully. I just held on as tightly as I could, pulling a blanket up over our bodies.

After a long while, Clarke’s cries died down and she looked at me, eyes bloodshot, but so, so blue.

“It’s my fault,” she croaked, her voice hoarse from the crying. “It’s all my fault.”

“No, Clarke, baby, no. You know that’s not true. The way your mom acted wasn’t your fault.”

Clarke wiped the tears with the back of her hand.

“I know, I’m just so angry. I didn’t -- I don’t -- I don’t know what to do, Lex. I can't help how I feel.”

I shushed her as the tears started again, pulling her into my chest. “It’ll be okay, Clarke, I promise.”

Clarke looked so lost while she laid on the bed, fruitlessly rubbing her tears to dry her eyes and stem the river that had formed on her cheeks. I rubbed her back soothingly, lessening the sobs as best I could. Quiet now, Clarke leaned up and pressed her lips against mine softly, still sniffling back her tears. Then she pressed her lips more fully against my own, more pressure and more determined than before. I let it go on for a second before I leaned back to look at her. Her brow was furrowed and she looked as though she was concentrating on something so hard that her head was going to burst.

“Clarke?” I questioned.

Instead of answering me, she leaned forward and hungrily took my lips, pushing her tongue into my mouth and dominating the kiss. Clarke pushed me down onto the bed and moved atop me, her legs on either side of my hips while her teeth raked across my bottom lip. I could feel the shaky breaths as Clarke panted against my face.

“Clarke,” I whispered, pushing her falling locks behind her ear when she sucked in a watery breath.

And then she broke.

“I don't -- my mom -- I don’t want to think about it anymore.”

She collapsed into the crook of my shoulder. I rubbed any part of her I could reach, trying my best to calm her down before she had a panic attack.

“Your mom’s decisions do not define you. Your mom’s words are not your own. Your mom’s thoughts are a product of her own mind, not yours. You’re okay, you’re okay,” I said softly in her ear.

“Please don't leave me. Please don't leave me, Lex,” she mumbled between sobs, her face still buried in my shoulder. The tears leaked out so fast I could feel my shirt getting soaked by the river.

I moved from underneath her, only to wrap my arms around her waist and pull her against me so she could curl into my side.

“I'll always be with you Clarke. I'm not going anywhere,” I whispered in her ear. 

Always.

My heart almost beat out of my chest, the realization making me breathless.

Always.

I had said it so many times to her, forgetting who and where it came from and how scary it was to promise something so impossible.

Always.

*

Clarke’s phone woke us the next morning, the incessant buzzing enough to pull the dead weight of Clarke off of me to blindly reach for the phone on the nightstand.

“What?” she snapped. “Oh, hey dad,” she said, her chin instantly quivering again. I peeked out from my mane of hair to watch her as he spoke. Clarke nodded a few times, then looked back at me, smiling softly when our eyes met before getting up to leave the room.

I let out an exhausted breath while I laid in bed and waited. It felt like no matter how much sleep I got it wasn't going to be enough to cure the ache in my rib cage.

After over an hour, Clarke finally came back, her expression much more calm than when she left. I lifted the covers to my bed and she crawled in, instantly burrowing into my side.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

She let out a sigh. “Yeah. She’ll just have to get over it.” The hardness of her tone was fake, but I knew better than to call Clarke weak. She was stronger than anyone I had ever met.

“How’s your dad?”

“He’s okay. Said he’s been really tired and mom hasn’t been helping so he just wants a break from her I guess.”

“How do you feel about everything that happened with your mom?”

Clarke scoffed. “I love my mom, Lex, I really do, but right now I don't like her. It'll probably take a long while for me to trust her again, too.”

Clarke fidgeted, pushing herself away from me and leaning up on her elbow to look in my eyes. “I’m sorry… for last night,” she said quietly.

I quirked a brow at her, and she huffed out a loud sigh. “I panicked. My mom walked out. My dad kicked her out. I thought I broke my family. I thought you would --,” she shook her head, “Why would you ever want to be with someone who is such a mess?”

“You're so brave,” I whispered in her hair. “And strong.” I placed a lazy kiss on her shoulder. “And you amaze me more every day. And your family is more than just your mom and dad. You get to pick your family, Clarke, and you’ve done a great job doing so.” I placed more lazy kisses on any and all exposed skin I could reach. “You’re literally the opposite of a mess and I am SO lucky to call you my girlfriend. I'm so lucky to be part of your family. You didn't break anything I swear.”

“You mean it?” she asked sheepishly.

“Always,” I responded.

There it was again.

Clarke sighed, “I don't want to go to school today.”

“Me neither.”

Clarke rolled over and placed her hand on my chest while she yawned. “Let’s not go. I’m too tired.”

“Okay,” I responded with a smirk. “I’m sure there’s some extra-curriculars we could do instead.”

“Oh my God, you are SUCH a nerd,” Clarke chuckled, dropping her head to my chest and promptly passing out.

Chapter Text

Ontari and I were on fire from the moment we finally agreed to stop sabotaging one another. So much so that the next time that Coach Indra ran that horrible drill of fifty free throws, we won with ease.

“Alright ladies, we're going to switch things up tonight. Woods, Winters, you're both starting. McIntyre, you're going to sub.”

“Oh thank God,” Harper mumbled. She loved basketball, but wasn’t as competitive as the rest of us. She was happy being a benchwarmer and loving up on her boyfriend, Monty. They were probably the cutest couple I had ever seen, destined to be together forever and happy and worry free and proably have some adorable ass kid that I just wanted to squeeze the cheeks on.

Whoa, Lexa.

Ontari and I high-fived while we laced up our sneakers.

By the end of the third period, I was on cloud nine. We were winning, FINALLY, and by a lot. We were up by almost thirty points going into the fourth quarter. Ontari and I had both attributed twenty points each and I knew that lest a HUGE mistake, we would be sailing into the win with ease.

Coach Indra pulled us both for the fourth quarter, earning an eye roll and grumble from my fiery counterpart.

“She’s just trying to help us rest, or did you forget that you still can’t see properly out of your left eye?”

Ontari huffed out an irritated breath, “And whose fault is that?”

“Yours, actually,” I quipped back.

“True.” She let out a bark of a laugh and then relaxed into her seat.

It was an odd, tentative friendship we developed. We still had no problem telling the other where to go, but we respected each other enough to stop taking constant jabs at one another. She had been working really hard at not lashing out at anyone and aside from a few instances of us getting in each other’s face in the past week, she was cool as a cucumber.

I let my eyes wander over to the cheerleaders, noticing the extra pep in their step as they cheered. I didn’t blame them. This was our first win of this season, and they actually had something other than an obligation to hold their attention. Aside from the sparse attendance, Roan and Costia included, there wasn’t much to cheer about with the basketball team.

Until now.

I felt it in my bones that things were finally starting to turn around.

We ended up winning by a huge margin, Harper and Gaia scoring a ton of points off the bench and Emori even managing to take a charge without flinching.

*

“Did you see the article in the paper?” Clarke asked, slamming her hand down on the desk beside me. She pulled out her phone and did a series of flicks with her thumb and showed me her screen:

WOODS AND WINTERS COMBINE FOR THE ‘W’

The article went on to explain the details of the game, noting Ontari and I and our contribution. It called us a force to be reckoned with, but mentioned not getting hopes up as our record was now a dismal one and fifteen.

I blinked, lowering the phone to the desk. Clarke was practically vibrating with excitement in her chair. She launched herself at me, knocking us both out of my seat and onto the floor. She planted kisses all over my face, giggling and smiling infectiously.

“Did you see that picture? You look so hot!”

I laughed aloud, not even caring who was staring at us. After two days, someone would accidentally called their teacher ‘mom’ and Clarke and I would be old news.

“My hot and sweaty commander, dominating the court.” Clarke raised her eyebrow suggestively and I blushed so hard I think I started sweating.

“Clarke,” I groaned, and she laughed that beautiful laugh I adored and pulled me back up to my feet, adjusting my seat in the dorkiest of ways, gesturing broadly for me to sit.

“A throne for the Commander.”

“Oh my God, stop.”

She leaned over and pressed a kiss to my already red cheek. “I’m really proud of you.”

*

“You going to take Clarke to Murphy’s Valentine’s day party?” Roan asked while we walked to school in the morning.

“You going to be high as a kite with that stupid shit again?” I asked bitterly.

He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “You’re still mad about that, huh?”

I laughed.

“Can you get over it? It’s just some harmless fun.”

“Whatever you wanna do to your body is on you, Roan. I don’t care, just leave me out of it.”

He rolled his eyes in response. “So are you coming?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, I’ll have to ask Clarke.”

“Wow, the Commander, leader of the basketball team that’s won three games in a row and getting actual media attention, needing her girlfriend for permission to do something.”

I glared at him so hard, Roan actually stumbled on the sidewalk. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

Clarke, although stating she was fine, was much more subdued than usual. She turned down a majority of the invites she got for parties, lying and saying she had too much homework. Her smiles weren’t as bright, and her cheers weren’t as crisp. No matter how much she said it wasn’t because of her mom, I knew it was. I also knew that there was nothing I could do that would make it better, so I just held her tighter, kissed her more, told her more cheesy pick-up lines all in desperation to make her smile just a little bit longer.

“We’ll see,” I responded, ending the conversation.

I didn’t feel up to going to Murphy’s party anyways. With the basketball team finally gaining some momentum, Anya’s words to treat my body like a temple was even MORE resounding in my head. Ontari and I were working so well together that the newspapers had dubbed us the Commander and Chief… a supposed pun based off the saying, Commander in Chief. It was totally lame, but we didn’t have any control over that. We were six wins away from breaking the school record for wins (the women's basketball team ALWAYS sucked), and we had seven games left. We actually had a chance to make it to the playoffs this year… if every other team in the conference completely tanked the rest of the season, and that minimal hope renewed my focus to being just about basketball (and Clarke).

*

I walked into first period and was met with the small smile of my favourite blonde.

“Hey baby,” I said, leaning down and kissing her cheek. She breathed out a happy, fleeting sigh and turned back to her notebook, scribbling away in the seams.

“What are you drawing?” I asked, tilting my head to the side to see the jagged lines that really didn't make much sense.

“I don’t actually know,” she responded. Her brow furrowed as she scrutinized her work, huffed out a breath and slammed her notebook shut.

“Hey,” I nudged her shoulder with my own. Clarke chewed her lip and stared at her desk.

“Clarke,” I tried to get her attention again. Still avoiding my gaze, I dropped my head down on her desk and shuffled so that I was directly under her face, my head turned at an awkward angle so I could look at her. She chuckled quietly.

“Remember that time I was having a bad day and you said it’s okay to not be okay?”

She wanted to roll her eyes. I knew she did. But SHE knew I was right. “Yeah,” she breathed out tiredly.

“Exactly. It’s totally okay.”

She leaned down and kissed me softly in thanks, gripping my hand as I sat back up in my chair and leaning into my side.

The door to the classroom opened and in filed a procession of students into the classroom. They were all silent, backs straight with eyes straight ahead. It was weird to see. None of them were speaking while they marched to their seats and sat quietly, eyes glossed over.

“They’ve been using that City of Light shit Roan tried,” Clarke whispered.

I felt a shudder run through me when one of them looked over at me and smiled lazily.

“In school?” I whispered incredulously. Clarke shrugged her shoulders. “I know, it’s really weird. Bethany said that it got super popular after Raven’t party. It’s cheaper and more accessible than beer, I guess.”

I just shook my head.

Clarke opened her notebook again, scratching at the column of the page and chewing on her nails of her opposite hand.

“Do you want to be my Valentine?” I asked suddenly, trying to divert the conversation away from the creepy ass kids in my class and keep Clarke's head away from all the things that were bothering her.

Clarke furrowed her brow and pouted. “I thought I already was?”

My cheeks immediately turned a shade of red.

Right, that would make sense.

“I -- oh, right -- I mean,”

She laughed and squeezed my fingers. “I’m teasing. Of course, what did you want to do? You have a game that night, right?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t thought that far. “Murphy’s party?”

Clarke scrunched up her face in the cutest way. “I should slap you for even suggesting a party as a date.”

“It wasn’t -- I mean -- it was just -- I --,” I panicked.

Clarke let out a bark of a laugh, her eyes watering from the emotion. “You should have seen your face! I might be the only cheerleader that doesn't really like parties. Want to go to the movies? My treat? I promise we’ll only get one bag of popcorn and one drink and share it.” She raised her hand in the air as if she were taking an official oath and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing and agreeing.

*

The Valentine’s day game definitely had no love in it. The Azgeda team was absolutely vicious, and the referees seemed to be completely moronic and blind.  There were so many fouls that weren’t called that it was bordering on dangerous. I thought I was going to lose an eye when an Azgeda student threw a careless elbow in my face, narrowly missing my nose only due to my quick reflexes.

The game was tied going into the half, Ontari and I working so well that we were throwing blind passes just knowing that the other would be there.

It helped, having the two of us on the court. Ontari's superior defensive skills were making all the difference when she would strip the ball from the opposing team and send a wicked pass up the court when I took off. I was easily the fastest on the floor other than Luna, so a majority of my points came from breakaways.

Coach Indra had vaguely mentioned that we needed to be on our best behaviour today, her eyes casting a glance into the stands that had suddenly filled with students over the past month.

I really had no idea how it would be any different than any other time, considering we ALWAYS had to be on our best behaviour, but I also realized that adults were all about giving vague hints that really never made any sense until it was too late.

“Mother FUCK!” Ontari yelled, slamming her hand down on her locker during half time. She wasn’t handling the rough play nearly as well as I was, and was on the verge of possibly fouling out. Someone had elbowed her in the throat during a scramble for the rebound, and while she was doubled over in pain, the ref magically didn’t see anything and let the play continue, allowing the Azgeda Warriors to score.

“Yeah, ouch man,” Harper said, rubbing her thigh. “We're going to need a ton of ice packs after this game.”

“Hey, at least we're winning. They're scared. Last time we played them they destroyed us, and they need this win to get into the playoffs,” I said.

We were up by four, which really wasn't much at all, but it was a motivational point to focus on. We COULD win.

“Let's just play our game, not theirs. We get sucked into their tactics and we won't have a chance.” I looked pointedly at Ontari and Echo who had both received technical fouls for punching a girl in the back of the head, and tripping another when she ran by, respectively. Both of them rolled their eyes and nodded.

The second half of the game started off with a bang. Literally. An Azgeda warrior grabbed Luna's shirt as she went up for a layup and pulled her backwards, her back hitting the floor with a loud thud.

Oh, fuck.

I didn’t have enough hands or body parts to hold back BOTH Ontari and Echo.

I grabbed Ontari by the shirt and pushed her back to the bench while I prayed that Emori or Gaia were able to get Echo before she did something stupid.

“That fucking Azgeda scum! Lexa, you can't let them do that! Let me go!” Ontari barked in my face.

“Ontari!” I snapped. “Fighting them isn't going to do anything but get you kicked out of the game! We need you!” I poked her in the chest and then shoved her onto the bench while Indra took off to retrieve her players from the potential melee.

After a lot of cursing at the blind referees, Coach Indra came back to the bench with the rest of the team in tow.

“Alright, ladies. I know. I get it. This is a seriously messed up game, but we have one quarter left. Stick to OUR game plan. I know you want to hurt them. I know you want to react. Beat them. Make them regret coming into OUR house and acting this way. Embarrass them up on that scoreboard. Show them what happens when you mess with our family.”

“Grounders on three! One, two, three…”

“GROUNDERS!”

Stepping back onto the court, I caught Clarke's smirk and wink. I nodded in her direction and she blew me a kiss that made me almost miss the damn inbounding pass.

How she could calm me down while I was ready to fight someone was nothing short of incredible.

Luna took the ball up the court and immediately the defender was encroaching in her space, her hand almost touching Luna's nose. I was currently being defended by their quickest, smallest player. I eyed Ontari, who was already making a move to set a pick to get me open. Within seconds, I was cutting around her and leaving my defender in the dust. I laid in the bucket and could actually hear Clarke's cheer apart from everyone else's. I sent a cocky grin to my defender in my retreat to play defense.

It went on like that for the rest of the third, the Azgeda team only double teaming me at the end. It didn't matter though, our ball movement was so crisp throughout the second half of the game that the point distribution was practically on par for every player.

In the fourth quarter, we were up by three and time was almost completely out. Ontari only had no foul to give, the refs suddenly waking up to call fouls only against OUR team, so she was much more subdued in her positioning. It was hard to contain their top scorers when our best defenseman wasn't able to play to her capabilities.

She had somehow managed to strip the ball from her check, outletting it to Luna with just enough speed to avoid it being picked off. As we made our way up the court, I sized up my two defenders. I was being double-teamed again, having scored twenty-four points this game. I tried to cut through both of them only for them to shove me back and away from the play illegally. I didn't even bother to look at the referee, assuming his thumb was still firmly up his ass. It took a variation of spins and jukes and jives to get myself free of my two defenders, and get enough space for Luna to feed me the ball and for me to throw up the layup. I felt the arm of one of my trailing defenders shove into my back, and knew that I was going to land HARD on the ground when I fell. I kept my eyes on the bucket to make sure the ball went in and just prayed that I wouldn't hit my face on the ground. My knee collided with the wooden floor first, the pain flashing down my leg and into my ankle. I grimaced and rolled to the side, sucking in a calming breath before I tried to stand. Luna and Ontari's hands both appeared in my periphery, and I let them help me up to my feet. The first step was painful, forcing a skip to my step to alleviate some discomfort, but as I took another and then another, the pain lessened until it was gone. I knew there would be swelling by the end of the game, but I wasn't about to pull myself due to a little bruise.

Coach Indra threw her clipboard down and practically bit off the ear of the referee closest to her at the refusal to call a foul on such a blatant act. I nodded to her with a smirk when she saw me jog my way back down the court, the only way I could placate her into not being tossed.

I hated Azgeda.

We won by five, the Azgeda team having to result in fouling us to keep the clock stopped. I was forever thankful that Ontari let me work with her on her wrist as I watched the ball fly through the net and make the SWISH sound of perfection.

“Lexa, Luna, Ontari, can I have a moment with you?” Coach Indra asked as we were about to enter the changeroom.

The three of us looked at one another before nodding and following Coach Indra back to the bench. There was a tall, bald man with a serious expression standing by. He wore a dark brown suit to match his dark expression.

He looked like he never smiled a day in his life.

“Ladies, this is Mr. Titus. He is the recruiter and women's basketball coach over at Polis University.”

My ears felt like they fell off, they rung so hard.

Polis university.

Basketball.

Coach.

“Ladies,” he nodded.

We all reached forward and shook his outstretched hand.

“I've been watching you three over the past six games. It's rare that a team who has had dismal records suddenly wins six in a row, so I made a few phone calls. The three of you appear to be a special breed. I just wanted to introduce myself to you all. I look forward to seeing how the rest of your season plays out.”

My chest burned with the breath I was holding. Luna and Ontari both stared at him just a dumbfounded as I felt.

“I like your style of play. The three of you. Although I am not a fan of showing such emotion on the court, you all seem to balance one another out. I am concerned that you make it too apparent that that’s the weakness of all three of you, but you’re still young.

“Thank you, Titus. We will be seeing you around I hope,” Coach Indra said.

“Definitely,” he responded. “Keep it up.”

He turned and walked off and the only thing I could think of was a series of expletives that would explain my excitedness.

Holy…. Moly.

“Dude,” Ontari said finally, her eyes wide and bright. “He just -- we -- he --”

“It -- I -- we,” Luna spluttered.

“Congratulations ladies, you've officially been scouted,” Coach Indra finished with a chuckle.

*

Clarke was smothering me with attention after the game. She had taped a bag of ice to my knee and refused to let me mop the floors, commanding my teammates into doing it for me while I sat on the bleachers and iced my knee. It was hilarious to watch the group of girls cower to the glare of the cheerleader.

“How's the knee?” She asked with a pout.

“Kiss it better?” I joked. Clarke rolled her eyes and leaned down to press a kiss to my lips, running her thumb over it after she separated from me.

“Who was that guy that was talking to you after the game?”

I shrugged.

“Lex.”

“Clarke.”

She folded her arms and pinned me with a look that had me oddly turned on.

“He was the coach from Polis U,” I said with a shoulder shrug. I was trying so hard to not get my hopes up in that moment.

Clarke blinked at me and stood frozen on the spot. I ran my hands through my hair and chewed my lip.

“Lexa that's amazing!” She yelled, launching herself toward me and wrapping her arms around my neck.

I caught her with a laugh while she peppered my face with kisses.

“You're so amazing! That's amazing!”

Laughing, I pushed Clarke off me and giggled, “it was just an introduction. He can't talk to me until next year anyway.”

“Still!” Clarke exclaimed. “So amazing!”

She attacked me face with kisses again, knocking me back over onto the bleachers.

*

“Have you ever thought about breaking up with me?”

I spluttered and coughed on my Gatorade. “Jesus, Clarke.” I coughed and heaved in a ragged breath, wiping my mouth from my spittle. “We just had a date last night! Where did that even come from? No, of course not.”

Clarke shrugged.

I rolled over onto my side to look at her, the book I was studying from abandoned completely. “What is this about?” I asked.

Huffing, Clarke shrugged again and it took everything inside me to not roll my eyes. I hated when she clammed up and stopped talking, thinking that whatever it was she was feeling was stupid.

Nothing she felt was ever stupid.

“My parents live together -- lived together and they can barely get along. When you go to Polis U, you're going to be three hours away.”

“Who said I’m going to Polis?” I asked with a furrowed brow. I hadn’t even really thought of it beyond how creepy that Titus guy was.

“You might. Or I might. Or maybe we end up at two totally different colleges. My point is that I don’t know what to do to keep you when you eventually get bored of me.”

“Jesus Christ, Clarke, NO! Stop all of that. There’s no guarantee WHERE we’ll go for university, we might end up together, we might not. It’s not something to worry over RIGHT NOW though. I mean… unless you want to break up?” My palms sweat at the thought. Was that what this actually was? Was she trying to find an excuse to make it easier?

“No, of course I don’t want to, you idiot. Why would you think that?”

I blinked at her. “Ummm, did you miss the beginning of the conversation where you were freaking out over the fact that we COULD be far apart one day?”

“I was just curious.” Her cheeks turned pink and she avoided my eyes.

I tilted my head to the side and narrowed my gaze, studying her reaction. She only got like this when she wasn’t feeling confident. “Clarke, there's no guarantee I'm going to go to Polis U or ANY other university. All I know is wherever I go, you're going to be my girl as long as you want to be. I don’t want anyone else.”

“For now,” she scoffed.

“For always,” I retorted. I signaled the end of the conversation by lifting my book and lying back on the mattress.

Clarke rolled her eyes. “Lexa, we’re sixteen and we haven't had sex yet.”

I dropped the book on my face.

“Oh my God, Clarke, stop. Are you TRYING to kill me?” I asked as my eyes watered. When the throbbing in my nose finally ceased, I said, “what does that have to do with anything?”

Clarke shrugged and her cheeks turned pink. “I just was thinking about it.”

“No you weren't. Talk to me.” I discarded that damn book and sat up, taking Clarke’s hands between my own.

She still wasn’t looking at me, and sighed. “Raven was talking about it in the locker room, and I'm like the only one who had nothing to contribute.”

“So?”

“So… that's it,” Clarke said, wringing her hands together underneath my grip.

“Are you ready to have sex? It’s been like... A month since our last talk,” I asked, fighting back a blush.

Clarke shook her head. “That's why I think you're going to break up with me. It’s been yet another month and we’re still just cuddling shirtless.”

I pursed my lips in irritation and Clarke rolled her eyes before groaning and continuing, “You have abs. And you’re athletic, and God, Lexa, that smirk. You literally make people drool with it. That whole, broody thing you have going on? We talked about this before -- you’re pretty much a model and you can have anyone you want. What if you go away to university and realize that?”

“You’re literally my personal cheerleader. I’m pretty sure people fantasize over that. Clarke, I've told you this so many times: I love your body, and I love the speed we’re progressing at. Cuddling shirtless is literally my favourite thing because I get to touch your skin that I am obsessed over… except that one time Anya came home and saw us and nearly passed out, but that’s not important. It’s not a fucking race, Clarke.”

I knocked her over onto the mattress and climbed on top of her. Propping myself up on my forearms so I could look down at my girlfriend, I skirted my nose against her own while she huffed out a pretend-annoyed breath.

“Just promise me you’ll always be honest with me. You’ll tell me if you want to break up or move away or if you like someone else,” she said.

I rolled my eyes. “It’s not going to happen, okay? I am yours and you are mine, but if you need me to promise you that, I will. I promise I will always be honest with you, Clarke. Now stop with all the overthinking and just BE with me, Griffin.”

I huffed through my nose like a dog pretending to sniff her skin until she giggled and laughed and got her head out of the dark cloud it was in.

“God I love…. How stupid you are,” Clarke said, and I rolled my eyes and continued to pretend I was sniffing her until her giggles turned into full bodied laughs.

*

Luna was a COMPLETE mess when I saw her on Monday. She was pacing back and forth in front of Ontari and I while we stood at our lockers.

“Captain, what the fuck?” Ontari asked.

She was ever so tactful.

“You're the only two I can talk to about this because you know how it feels.”

“Um, being gay?” I asked, and Ontari smacked my arm.

“It's highly doubtful she needs OUR advice on that you idiot.”

“What? You never know.”

“God I don't even know how I can stand you,” Ontari grumbled. “You're so fucking clueless.”

“Oh my God, shut up,” Luna groaned. “It's not ABOUT that. Well it is, sort of, but not really.”

“Whatever it is, we'll help,” I said.

“It's just, that recruiter, Titus or whatever?”

I furrowed my brow. What would that have to do with anything?

“Polis U is so so far,” she continued. “And he didn't talk to Echo…” she dropped her hand that was wiping the sweat from her brow and looked at Ontari and I.

I, of course, didn't understand, but pretended to when I nodded along.

Ontari smacked me again.

“Ow, what the fuck?”

“I know you have no idea what she’s talking about. Quit nodding your head.”

“How am I supposed to go without her?” Luna said, her voice wavering at the end.

And, oh!

I didn't have to start thinking about this until next year, I could stay blissfully ignorant for a little bit longer. Luna, on the other hand, was a year older than both Ontari and I, so this was a quickly developing reality for her.

“Have you talked to Echo about it?” I asked.

Luna sent me an annoyed look. “Obviously talked to her about it. She's so fucking supportive though she's telling me to go. What am I going to do? That's so fucking far. How do I pick one over the other?”

“I mean, if she's supportive, isn't that what you want?”

“I don't want to leave her!”

“Can she not go to Polis too?”

“What if that's not where she wants to go? She hasn't even mentioned university after this. Neither have I. It's just… it's not something either of us actually want to face, you know? We could end up in different countries and I'm not ready to lose her yet.”

“I --,” I had no idea what to say. Luna shook her curls, frazzled by her own thoughts.

Clarke walked past and sent me a concerned look followed by a soft smile.

“I mean…” I said looking over at her while she talked to Raven. “If you're meant to be, you'd always work it out, right?” My eyes bored into her head, mapping out the lines of her from head to toe and searing them in my memory. “If you love each other, you'll always work it out, no matter how bad it gets. You stick it out. If you're meant to be, you'll always be with each other.”

When I turned to look back at Luna, her and Ontari were both looking at me with a raised, knowing brow.

“What?”

*

Clarke came back to herself slowly over the next few months. The further she got from the memory of the drama with her mother, the better she felt and the more confident she was in OUR relationship. Our friends and Anya really rallied around her, reminding her how much they cared about her and how much they supported our relationship. By the end of the season, Clarke was the same bubbly cheerleader that I fell for, fierce and loyal and full of life. It made me smile that we were able to get through this, and although things were still a mess at home, Jake was being purposeful in his actions and ensuring that Clarke knew just how much she was loved.

“I honestly don’t know how I would have handled that conversation with the wicked Witch if you hadn’t been there.”

“You would have been fine, Clarke. Look at the support system you have now. Look at the family you have.”

“Yeah, probably. It’s different though. You’re different. You’re special. You just… you always ground me. You make it easier to breathe.”

“Yeah, you’re pretty special too. It’s crazy being able to date my best friend.”

I finally stopped playing with the edges of my notebook and looked at Clarke. She chewed her lip and looked right back, that something more unbidden in her eyes.

“We’re having a moment, aren’t we?” I asked, and instantly cringed. I think I just ruined the moment by acknowledging the moment.

“Seriously?” She asked around a laugh. “You’re such a nerd.”

The basketball team ended the season by continuing our win streak we started with our first win, but it wasn't enough to make it to the playoffs. Coach Indra gave a riveting speech to get us pumped up for next year, and congratulated Luna for beginning the process of being an eligible recruit for Polis U. Luna was still a mess over leaving Echo, but Echo just looked at her girlfriend adoringly with every glance.

Parties were lame, drunken teenagers were annoying, but Clarke enjoyed spending time with her friends outside of school, even if we WERE the only two sober people in the house. I tagged along like the good girlfriend I was, holding up the houses we were in while Clarke pushed me up against walls and counters and porches and fences and sinks with her insistent lips and strong hips. We only ever stayed for an hour, just long enough for Clarke to give an emotional deposit before she was dragging me back to one of our houses.

I had a serious love/hate relationship with parties.

“So I'm thinking I'm going to stay here this summer,” Clarke said while she sketched in her notebook. I was half asleep on the couch, the book I was supposed to be using to study for exams lying on my chest.

“Hmm?” I mumbled, eyes heavy with sleep and losing the battle to stay open for her.

“This summer. I know I usually go to my grandma's, but… you're here.” Her cheeks dusted pink as she kept her eyes firmly placed on the sketchbook in front of her.

“Clarke,” I croaked, rubbing my eyes to help myself wake up. “If you usually go, you should go,” I said.

“I'd rather be here. You should nap.” She shrugged to signal the end of the conversation.

“Mmm,” I replied. I forced myself to get off the couch and collapsed on top of her on the bed.

“Lexa!” she shrieked playfully while I sprawled my entire body across her.

“So comfy,” I joked, pressing the side of my head against her chest and squeezing her waist.

“You’re such a perv!”

“If by perv you mean perfect, then yes.”

“Oh my god, let go. You’re ruining my work!”

I looked up to her and pouted dramatically. She let out a huff of annoyance, blowing the hair that had fallen into her eyes back.

Quick hands let me snatch the sketchbook from her loose grip, and I thought I was successful and in the clear for three milliseconds. I didn’t even have a chance to open the book before I was shoved right off the bed, the book flying into the air and being caught by my cheerleader.

“Don’t you dare!” She said, eyes narrowed into a challenging glare.

“Oh, come on! You haven’t let me see any of your stuff for weeks!” I said with a pout. “Ow, by the way!” I rubbed my lower back and sat up from the floor.

She reached down and pulled me to my feet, dusting my shoulders off of the imaginary particles. I put my hands on her hips and pouted again.

“I won’t pester you about it anymore, Clarke. I just love your work.”

She pressed her lips against mine in thanks, a chaste kiss that always left me wanting more before pulling me down on the bed to snuggle.

*

“What's the name of the powerhouse of the cell?”

“Mitochondria,” Clarke responded. She puckered her lips in wait.

Studying was SO much better now that Clarke and I were together.

“What is the strongest muscle in the body?” I asked.

“The heart,” Clarke responded with a cheeky smile while she crawled over me and threw my book to the side. “It’s also the most resilient.”

I rolled my eyes and kissed her deeply for getting the correct answer, it lingering a lot longer than required.

“The tongue is a close second,” she said with a cheeky smirk.

Chapter Text

“You're going to do great, babe,” Clarke said with a kiss on my forehead.

“Pike hates me though,” I whined, dropping my forehead down onto her shoulder.

“He does not. You literally could write your name and walk out and still get an A. You've got nothing to worry about.” She ran her hands soothingly along my spine, and I shuffled even closer, tucking my nose into her neck and breathing deeply. I loved the scent of soap and perfume and the hint of acrylic paint that seemed forever etched into her skin.

“What time is your art exam done?” Clarke giggled at the pout that was still clear in my voice.

“I just have to hand in my portfolio and I'll be finished. It's not really an exam.”

“Oh.”

The warning bell sounded and I paled slightly, knowing my imminent doom was coming in the form of quadratic equations. Her fingers never stopped moving along my spine.

“You'll be fine. You're amazingly smart and hard working. You've been spending so much time studying for this that you can probably teach the class. I lo-- I'll see you after, okay? And then we can go on that date that I’ve been planning for a month now.”

“I don’t know why you’ve been planning it for a month,” I said, pulling away and gripping my backpack straps with both hands.

“It's a special occasion,” she retorted, slapping my arm lightly.

“Yeah, I guess the official end of sophomore year is pretty special.”

Clarke stared at me for a long second before she barked out a laugh.

She kissed me quickly, just a messy clash of teeth against my lips while she still chuckled and said, “You’re so oblivious it’s fantastic.” she turned and left and I stared at her while she left (like that was a bad thing to watch those hips sway).

What was that about?

My phone vibrated against the desk the second I sat down in the exam room. Pike sent me a curious look, one that somehow managed to still be full of disdain even though I was his top student because I was me and he was him.

I shrugged and ignored the phone. It was probably Clarke telling me where to meet her after the exam so we could go do this special date of hers.

She had been an absolute mess when she asked me.

“Hey, so, I mean, you know how your exam finishes at eleven?” Clarke asked. We were watching TV, Clarke seated in front of my parted legs while I braided her hair.

“Yeah?”

“Can I take you somewhere after? Like a date?”

I paused. “Of course, Clarke.”

“Okay, cool. Yeah.” She nodded a few times and tried to run her hand through her hair. I swatted it away playfully before she could mess up all the work I had put in so far.

“You alright, babe?” I asked, a crease forming between my brows as I felt her body shudder under my fingers.

“Yes. Of course, yes. Can you just agree, just this once, to let me do something special?”

“Clarke…”

“Come on, Lexa. Just this one time don’t put a chokehold on my wallet. I've been thinking about it for a while, and it's special.”

“Clarke, it doesn’t matter WHAT we do as long as we’re together.” I tied the end of the braid and pulled her into my chest, feeling her melt into my body.

“I KNOW that, I just have a plan and I don’t want you to complain.”

“How much are we talking here?”

“Literally less than a hundred bucks. Food included.”

“A hundred… Jesus.” I let out a heavy breath.

“Does it make you feel better if I tell you that I’ve been saving my allowance for this?” She wrung her hands nervously in her lap.

“Your allowance is more than Anya’s paycheque, so not really.”

“Lexa.”

“Okay, okay, I’m not complaining.” I kissed the side of her head and listened to her breathe out a happy sigh. “I’m looking forward to being wooed by you, Griffin.”

It vibrated again. Pike cleared his throat from the front of the class, irritated and not trying to hide it. I picked it up and silenced it without looking at the screen.

Jesus, Clarke, relax!

It vibrated a third time in my hand, MEMORIAL HOSPITAL appearing on the screen.

My stomach bottomed out.

A text came in from Clarke at the same time.

'SOS’

The exam paper hit my desk then everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

“Lexa Woods you better put that phone down RIGHT NOW,” Pike barked.

Ignoring him, I answered after the third ring, my hands numb and sweating.

“Lexa, are you with Clarke? It's Abby.” Her voice sounded far away and immediately the blood in my body went cold.

“No, why?”

Why would she ever call me? How did she even get my phone number?

Dr. Griffin sighed. “We were talking and she hung up on me,” her voice cracked.

“I don’t know how to…” Dr. Griffin sighed into the phone. “Lexa, Jake… he...” I heard her voice catch on his name.

Everything started to spin and I gripped onto the edge of my desk tightly, praying it was enough to keep me from collapsing out of my chair. My lungs instantly seized. Then I heard her clear her throat and the cold distance of a practiced doctor took over.

“He’s in the hospital. He has been battling cancer and I know we’ve been keeping it from you guys but he collapsed at work and...”

In the blink of an eye I let out such a relieved sigh that it nearly knocked me over. Jake was alive.

And then I realized that Dr. Griffin called Clarke.

And then I realized...

Jake was in the hospital.

That meant got worse.

That meant he lied.

I shot up out of my seat, the chair falling back to the floor. Pike threatened to give me a zero on the exam, but I didn't care.

There was only one thing screaming in my mind while the world faded into silence.

Clarke.

*

I ran faster than I ever thought I could, my lungs burning and my heart squeezing violently with every passing second. My eyes spotted, the first signs of a panic attack setting in.

I didn’t have time for this.

I needed to get to Clarke.

I jumped from floor to floor. I crashed after jumping ten stairs at once, cursing wildly at the fact that my class was on the top floor, but my locker (and Clarke's too) were on the bottom.

Clarke.

I crashed into a locker, my speed being too much for my feet to control on the wet tiles. Mr. Gus didn't even reprimand me for running in the halls, the look on my face saying it all.

Clarke.

Blonde hair cascaded over bare knees with arms wrapped tightly around them. Raven was next to her, an arm wrapped tightly around her friend’s shoulders, whispering something I couldn't hear.

Clarke.

“Clarke!” I yelled. Raven looked up, her brow furrowed with worry.

“I don't know what happened! She was on the phone with her mom and she just started yelling, threw her phone and fell and --,”

I didn't let her finish. I pushed her aside and dropped to my knees in front of Clarke as she looked up at the squeaking of my sneakers.

Her eyes were so broken, but it was clear not a single tear had fallen yet. She wouldn’t allow herself to fall apart here. Not alone.

“Clarke,” I said quietly, brushing hair behind her ears.

She flinched at my touch, eyes vacant and lost. After a few seconds, she furrowed her brow as the shock wore off. “Lexa.” Her voice shook, and she blinked rapidly, eyes darting all over my face with fear.

“Hey,” I whispered. Raven shifted, freeing Clarke from her hold, glancing around to give us some semblance of privacy.

Clarke thrashed her head back against the locker for a second, feeling and emotion and the inevitable PAIN rushing back to her and desperate to find a way to stop it.

“It’ll be okay, baby. You're okay. I’m right here,” I whispered, putting my fingers behind her head to soften the blow.

Her chin wobbled, her lips pursed together in an attempt to appear strong -- an attempt to appear unfazed. Clarke didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not here, not like this.

“I'm so sorry, love. He said he would tell you, I'm so, so sorry,” I whispered. I pushed a strand of hair behind her ears, just trying to calm her down with my touch and let her know I was here without having to say it, and finally -- FINALLY -- she broke, the saddest, most painful sob wrenching it's way from her lips.

“Lexa,” she hiccupped. She fell forwards into my arms and I all I could do was hold on to her as tightly as I possibly could, grasping at her shirt as her body heaved and her shoulders shook uncontrollably. I clung onto her, trying desperately to shield her from everything that I knew, in reality, I couldn’t. But I tried anyway.

I'm not sure if it was minutes or hours that we sat there wrapped in one another, seeking comfort that neither of us could provide but were desperate to feel.

“Clarke,” I said when she finally released me enough to pull back. My voice was thick from my own tears, my own fears of ‘what if’. “We need to go.” I pushed hair that had fallen into her face, stuck to her forehead from the sweat on her brow. “We gotta go see your dad.”

Clarke shook her head, her grip tightening against me.

“I c-can’t.”

She fell into another fit of sobs and I looked to Raven who was tinkering with Clarke’s smashed phone and fighting back the mistiness in her own eyes and the wobbling of her own chin.

“Can you call Dr. Griffin? I'm gonna take Clarke home with me. I don’t -- I don’t think she’s ready for whatever is next,” I asked.

I turned my attention back to the girl I could feel on the brink of hyperventilating and remembered the feeling of helplessness from a few years ago. I remembered what it was like trying to find the strength to move when the entire world felt like it was burying you alive. I remembered everything I had gone to too many counselling sessions trying to forget.

I ran my hands through her hair, similar to the way Anya used to do to me and choked down all the emotions I felt.

“We're gonna go to my house, okay love? We're gonna go and we're going to get out of here.”

Clarke nodded, but wouldn't release me, so I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her up, holding her loosely against my side.

“Ready to walk?” I asked.

Clarke swayed lightly and I pulled her closer.

“We’ll move when you’re ready, Clarke,” I whispered.

She didn't respond, just gripped me tighter, more desperately. She silently cried while we walked to her car, pulling away to empty her stomach of it's contents at the nearest trash can. I ran my hand up and down her back until she finished and she instantly broke into sobs again while I cleaned her face with my sleeve.

“Oh, baby, it’ll be okay,” I cooed softly. I didn’t know if it would be okay. I didn’t know anything, and the feeling of being in the dark was terrifying.

Clarke was in the darkness this entire time.

She was swimming in it from day one.

I tried my best to swallow down THAT guilt as well.

After another moment, we made it to her car and Clarke handed me her keys. My heart stuttered at the fact that I had no idea what I was doing and didn't have a license, but there was no way I was making her stay here for one second longer than she needed to. I helped her down in the passenger seat and she tucked her knees into her chest.

The drive was tense as she silently cried. The car lurched so many times I thought I was going to set off the airbags and I drove at a snail's pace, but I had no idea what I was doing and I really didn’t want to get into an accident. Thankfully, I knew enough to throw on the hazard blinkers, so only a handful of people cursed me out and blew their horns in protest at my horrible driving.

I lifted her out of her car when she refused to move, carrying her up the stairs and kicking my door open easily. I was grateful for the weak hinges in this moment. I crawled in beside her after laying her on my bed and pulling the comforters around her. Her eyes had glazed over from the fear she couldn’t describe, blue eyes almost grey with the void. She rolled into me and buried her head in my chest as she cried. And cried. And cried. She cried until she had no tears left and was too exhausted to stay awake.

It wasn't until her breathing evened out that I let my heart fall to the floor in pieces over everything.

Jake never told her.

He lied.

He wasn’t okay.

*

I had hardly slept.

I let myself breathe when Dr. Griffin called and confirmed that Jake was ALIVE, just sleeping. She didn’t give me any details, a page for Dr. Griffin going off in the background. I tried not to be too bothered at that -- at least I knew that Jake wasn’t dead.

I let her know Clarke was okay, just confused and scared and that we would be there as soon as she woke up. After that, I just couldn’t bring myself to fall asleep, so I watched Clarke sleep instead. She reached out in her dreams, calling for both her father and I at various points. My heart ached with every toss and turn with guilt.

Jake lied. He said he would tell her if it got worse and he didn't.

I wanted to reach out and touch her. I wanted to wrap my arms around her. I wanted to do SOMETHING, but I froze. What if she didn't want my help? What if she didn’t want me? What if she was furious with me for knowing and not telling her? There were too many emotions she could be feeling and I didn’t know enough about how to do this to help her.

In the late evening when Clarke woke, she groaned, the dehydration and turmoil her body went through exhausting her.

She seemed to have forgotten what had happened for a moment, letting out a content groan as she snuggled into the pillow.

I saw the moment that reality sunk it's claws into her. She inhaled sharply, the sound deafening in the silence. Her shoulders stiffened and suddenly she was sitting up with a start, eyes roaming around the room looking lost and confused as to how she ended up here and how the sun was already setting.

“Clarke,” I said, reaching for her hand atop the comforters.

She looked in my direction, but I knew in that moment that she wasn’t seeing me. She wasn’t seeing anything but the worst possible scenarios flashing before her eyes over and over again. Her face was pale, her eyes that grey colour as she was lost in her own mind.

Clarke shook her head and stood from the bed in a rush. She ran for the door, twisting the knob and violently ripping it open. Anya stood on the other side, her fist raised to knock.

Clarke tried to push past my sister who stood resolutely in the door frame, not letting her go by.

“Blondie,” Anya said.

“Move, I need to go.” Clarke tried fruitlessly to get by her. Anya didn’t budge.

“Clarke,” I called softly, moving to the edge of the bed, but she shook her head violently from side to side.

“Move!” she yelled. She put her hands on Anya’s chest to try to push her, but Anya just wrapped her arms around her in a hug instead. Clarke fell apart all over again, sinking to the floor in my sister’s embrace and the guilt ravaged my fragile heart.

“We’ll take you to your mom, okay?” Anya offered.

Clarke sniffed back the tears that just seemed to never end. She shook her head and looked over to where I was sitting, pleading with me to save her. I crawled over to her and she instantly wrapped herself around me like a koala desperate to hold onto it’s tree.

It took us another twenty minutes to get her into the car.

When we got to the hospital, Dr. Griffin was dressed in her scrubs, running around like she was working.

That couldn’t be right, though. Not now. I TOLD her Clarke was coming.

Clarke furrowed her brow. “Mom?” she asked when Dr. Griffin walked up to us.

“Clarke, baby, hey,” she said, giving her a sad smile and taking a step closer to her.

“Are you -- are you working?” Clarke asked incredulously.

Dr. Griffin cleared her throat and nodded. I squeezed Anya’s hand tightly, knowing she was about to snap at Dr. Griffin for being so callus.

This wasn’t the time.

A few tears spilled from Dr. Griffin’s eyes and Anya tugged on my hand, gesturing for us to leave the family be.

“We’re going to go,” Anya said softly to the two women. Dr. Griffin nodded, lip trembling and emotion mounting in her eyes before she swallowed it down and put on her mask of indifference that she seemed to always wear.

“Thank you, for looking out for Clarke,” she said, and although it sounded pained -- having to apologize to the person she hated -- it was genuine. Whatever differences Dr. Griffin and I had, whatever deluded ideas she had of who her daughter should be and what was important, it all came down to one simple thing that we shared -- the safety and care of Clarke.

Clarke pulled away from her mother and took a seat in one of the hard plastic waiting chairs, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the wall. Her jaw clenched and unclenched repeatedly with the undoubtable anger and confusion that was coursing through her.

“Always,” I said, knowing that she was listening even if she wasn’t looking at me.

*

Jake Griffin was in a medically induced coma for three days. I nearly fainted when Dr. Griffin informed me of it. She explained that it was necessary, that he wasn’t actually IN a coma, just kept sedated so that he could heal because he hit his head when he collapsed and his body was so weak that they had to induce him. Clarke Griffin sat by his side for all three of those days, never once breaking her silent vigil in the uncomfortable plastic hospital chair.

I watched her from the small couch in the room, brushed her hair and braided it so it wouldn't fall in her face while she hovered over her father. She didn’t acknowledge me once. Dr. Griffin checked in every hour, only to be snapped at by her daughter in an angry tirade. The fact that her mother KEPT working was heartbreaking. The fact that the only words exchanged between mother and daughter were angry, confused questions from her daughter, and angry, snappy retorts from her mother was even worse.

When she wasn't lost in thoughts of the worst and chewing at her nails, she was studying me, a far away look on her face. I would try to smile at her, but every time she would just look back at her father, a new crease in her brow. The guilt that was rotting my stomach grew and my insides burned at the sight of my devastated girlfriend.

When Jake finally woke up, he coughed quietly and groaned in pain.

“Hey,” I whispered from my couch, rushing over to him with my hands hovering unsurely above his body.

Jake scrunched his brow and blinked lazily a few times before he saw me. “Lexa,” he said, instantly giving me one of his famous Griffin smirks. “What -- where?”

I shushed him and nodded my head to the corner where Clarke was curled up asleep in the chair next to his bed.

“You're in the hospital. You fell,” I said, each word coming out more choked as the emotions constricted my vocal cords.

Jake swallowed and looked at the jug of water by the table. I poured him a glass and put the straw to his lips to help him drink it down.

“You fell because you lied!” I hissed as the tears poured down my cheeks. “You promised you'd tell her if you got worse and you didn't. You could have -- you could have DIED.”

Jake had the decency to look bashful at my reprimand. He nodded. “I know. I just couldn't tell her. I didn't want her to worry. I didn't want her to be sad for something she couldn't control.”

“Well look at where we are now!” I snapped, casting my eyes over to Clarke to make sure she was still sleeping even through my outburst. I was almost grateful for her exhaustion.

“Jake, why… What if.. what if I lost you too?” The reminder that death was no stranger to me hung heavily between us and there was no hope to stem the tears that were rushing out of me now.

“Oh, Lexa,” he cooed. He adjusted himself to sit up a little more, the tubes and vials and equipment squeaking and groaning as he did. “I'm so sorry.”

I shook my head and fruitlessly tried to wipe the tears from my eyes. “You said you would tell her.”

Jake smiled sadly at me, willing me to understand, but I was too angry.

“You need to tell her now. I’m not doing this anymore. You’re in here and we’re all STILL lying to her.” I shook my head and made my way over to Clarke before he could respond, wiping the tears from my face again as I leaned down and pushed my fingers gently through her hair.

“Clarke, baby, wake up,” I whispered.

Her eyes fluttered open, the blue that I loved shining back at me only dulled by the dark circles that were ever present since she took up her mount at his bedside. Her nose scrunched when she took in my bloodshot eyes and her eyes jumped around the room in a panic.

“Hey princess,” her dad said, soft smile on his lips.

Clarke gaped at her father. “Dad?” She croaked out, and Jake smiled back at her. She was out of her chair and wrapped around him in an instant, the only syllable falling from her lip being “dad” over and over again.

“Dad, what happened? What is going on? Why are you here?” Clarke’s questioned came out fast and pained. She sniffed and hiccupped over her words, scratched and clawed at her dad’s shirt in terror. Her face was pale with the overwhelming relief of Jake just being AWAKE.

Before I could leave to get Dr. Griffin, another doctor -- greying and oblivious -- walked in, clipboard in hand and eyes too distracted by the words in front of him to notice the tumultuous moment.

“Ah, Mr. Griffin!” he said with a forced enthusiasm. “I’m so glad to see that you’re awake! I was actually coming in to prep you for surgery now that your body seems to be responding well.”

“Surgery?” Clarke asked, looking between her father and the doctor. “Surgery for what?”

I blinked.

Seriously? Did EVERY doctor forget what human emotions were?

The doctor moved to the lightboard and placed two X-Rays, illuminating the inside of Jake’s body in a way I couldn’t grasp.

I was begging him with my eyes to stop.

“Should we wait for Abby to go over the subsequent radiation and chemotherapy options?”

“Chemo… did what the fuck is going on?” Clarke pleaded. Her hands shook and the dark circles under Clarke’s eyes accentuated her pallor.

Seriously, this guy should not call himself a doctor.

I flinched and hid my face in my hands.

“Clarke, honey,” Jake tried, but Clarke pulled away from him, wiping her nose with her sleeve.

“Chemo as in cancer?”

“I -- uhh -- I’ll give you a minute,” the doctor said sheepishly, hurrying out of the room while Jake, Clarke and I all glared at him.

“Chemo?!” Clarke yelled. Her eyes watered. “Dad, what’s going on?”

“Clarke, please calm down,” I said quietly making my way over to her, my hands up in surrender.

Clarke shook her head and growled at me when I got close to her. “Don't TELL me to calm down.”

Her ice blue eyes turned back to her father. “What is going on?” she snapped.

Clarke was looking frantically between me and her father, her entire body shaking as she collapsed into the hospital chair.

“I’m going to get Dr. Griffin,” I choked out, the guilt threatening to throw me out of the window with the wildness in her eyes.

Fuck.

*

She ranted at her mother and her father when Dr. Griffin finally joined them. She swore at them, broke down over and over again while she tried to piece together the reasons they wouldn't tell her. No answer was good enough. No answer could quell the storm that was erupting from her chest. No answer could ever justify why they would keep her in the dark with something so important.

Because it was SO important. I just didn’t realize that until now.

I sat on the floor outside of the room, my head leaned against the wall and I counted the specks on the ceiling, counted the beeps of the artificial heartbeats in the hallway, counted the minutes before I was on the receiving end of that rage. I knew it was coming, and I knew that there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I just hoped that Clarke and I could move past it.

And yet, when it came my time to burn at the stake, she sat in the waiting room next to me, her eyes glassy and her voice mute. She hadn’t moved for the entire time that he father spent in surgery. She hadn’t spoken, not once. Her hand was limp in my own as she gazed off into the distance.

I think what scared me the most was just how unprepared I was to see her so calm.

“When you found me in the hall at school, you said something that didn’t make sense at the time,” Clarke said.

Her voice startled me, the roughness behind it from lack of use. I raised a brow in question, desperately searching the recesses of my mind to know what she was talking about and prepare myself. Maybe this would be the start of the rage.

Rage was good. It meant it was a fire I could put out.

Clarke turned to face me, her eyes puffy and red and swollen. The blue in them was so bright it made me sick. Her eyes were the brightest after the worst -- how poetically unjust.

“You said, ‘he said he would have told me’.”

The crushing weight of those whispered words nearly killed me then and there. I almost wished it had by the look in her eye.

“You knew, didn't you?” she asked softly, her eyes unblinking. I watched her shatter to pieces in front of me and my heart shattered right along with it.

The acrid taste of guilt made its way up my throat and nearly suffocated me while I watched unsure blue eyes skip across my face, looking for a lie. “You knew,” she said again, more sure. The confusion disappeared in an instant and with it went the air from my lungs.

“Clarke, I --,”

She looked at me and let out a tiny, quiet sob. “Please just go,” she said, blue eyes rivering with tears and chin wobbling. “I can’t -- Please just go, Lexa. I don’t want to say something I don’t mean,” she whispered, quiet and full of heart wrenching pain.

I tried for hours to prepare myself for the showdown I was sure we were going to have. I tried so hard to harden my heart for the anger and venom, but nothing, NOTHING prepared me for the broken, unrestrained aching in her voice.

This wasn't good.

“Clarke, please let me explain,” I pleaded, falling to my knees in front of her, praying to her like a goddess and begging for mercy.

She shook her head, wiping the tears that streamed out of her eyes with the sleeves of her hoodie. “Please,” she begged again, her voice cracking over the syllable.

I dropped my head into her lap and let the pressure that had been building behind my eyes this entire time out, watching as my tears fell to the floor. I prayed for anything, anything from her. A gentle hand on the head, a tear from her cheek, a raging slap across the face. Anything but the nothingness that seemed to consume us both in that room. All I could feel her entire body shaking beneath me while her hands shook and her breath held in her chest.

When I looked back at her, barely able to see her face through the cloud of tears, her eyes were that distant grey and any remnants of that something more I always saw had vanished.

*

Cold. That’s all I remember feeling. Cold so biting it left me numb.

I don’t know when I stopped breathing, but I was sure it was when I left my heart behind in the hospital waiting room. It felt like it was a chore just to pull in every unwanted breath. It took so much more concentration than I thought it should, so much more work to not fall into a hyperventilating mess. I didn’t have the luxury of being a mess -- not anymore.

When I finally dragged myself away from her, I knew it was a long road back from the edge of this cliff -- this mountain. I didn’t know if I would ever make it back. I didn’t know if I even wanted to. Not without her.

My chest ripped open as the memory of icy cold blue of her eyes wrapped around me, squeezing the warmth from my blood and flushing me with shards of ice until I remembered to exhale again.

I laughed, pushing the air that I had purposefully, painfully held in my chest.

I couldn’t even give myself pity. I didn’t deserve it.

It had been three days. I called and texted and showed up at her doorstep, only to be too chicken to raise my hand and knock, too chicken to face my own mistakes.

I stood on her porch staring at the heavy oak door. My fist hung uselessly in the air, poised to knock but no bravery left in me. My head landed against the door, a small thud to accompany the violently spinning thoughts. The heavy oak was the only thing holding me up while my entire body ached with sadness (it didn’t help that I hadn’t slept since).

Blonde hair and curious blue eyes appeared when the door swung open, and I nearly toppled into her at the sudden movement.

“Lexa?” Her voice was hoarse, rough from the tears I knew she still shed daily, red rimmed and puffy depths of blue looking back at me. “What do you want?” she asked. There was no malice, no anger, just a painful acceptance and pure and utter defeat.

I think that was so much worse. Rage meant she cared. This… this acceptance… this wasn't good.

“To talk,” I croaked, still startled. I wasn't actually expecting her to open the door. I didn't even realize how hard my head had hit the door for her to hear it, the dull pain radiating from my forehead finally registering.

Clarke sucked in a sad sigh and crossed her arms over her chest. She chewed her lip, clenched her jaw, then stepped out onto the porch, shutting the door behind her.

That was a sign if I ever saw one.

“Talk,” she said, arms still folded and eyes fighting to remain hard, though the softness of the blue I remembered sparkled slightly.

I had so much in my head, so much in my chest, but the second I saw the pale blue eyes that used to be so vibrant, everything I had planned just disappeared.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she asked with broken look on her face, bottom lip pushing out while she chewed on her cheek. “Are you sorry that my dad's dying? That I'm heartbroken? Or that you lied to me?”

I balked and looked down at my feet. I didn’t even know HOW to answer that.

“How long have you known?” she asked softly, a her lips still downturned and her arms dropping to the side.

She was so vulnerable in this moment and I felt a painful shudder run down my spine. I knew WHY she felt that way, and knew that there was no way I could take it back. My throat dried up and I swallowed harshly, the burn of the words ravaging me in a fire from the inside-out.

“Since your birthday.”

“Since my…” she trailed off, eyes wide with shock.

My lungs constricted as I watched the words register. My heart squeezed painfully in my chest as I watched her shoulders cave in on herself and shake just enough to alert me to her fighting back tears.

“Lexa,” she said, her brows tucked together, eyes jumping everywhere on my face except my eyes, and I could FEEL the devastation that was emanating from her. Her face was begging me to tell her differently. She was praying for me to tell her that I hadn’t been keeping this from her from day one. “This whole time?” She ran her hand through her hair with a sad frustration I couldn’t even be mad at.

I nodded and couldn’t stop my tears from falling either, the guilt finally surfacing and crashing down on me like a tidal wave. I couldn’t stop myself from reaching for her, and I couldn’t stop my heart from shattering when she stepped back, arms folded across her chest and unsuccessfully willing her breaths to be calm. “You’ve been lying to me this whole time,” she choked and hiccupped on her words, the immense amount of pain making her own body falter.

“I was trying to protect you!” I sobbed. My legs were shaking and my head was spinning, but I stood tall, willing my body to stay upright and defend myself while I watched the blonde shrink further into herself.

“How am I ever supposed to trust you again?” she whispered, her tears leaving track marks down her face until they fell off the tip of her chin to the porch beneath our feet.

I bit my cheek until I felt the warm blood pool in my mouth. I was unable to tear my eyes away from the streams that connected to drip drip drip and splatter onto the ground. “Clarke, please, I didn’t. I -- I -- I wanted to tell you! Your dad made me promise! He said he would tell you!”

Clarke stepped back again, her arms tightening over her chest to make her heart to stay in it's cage. “I know, I know. My dad told me. That’s not the point, Lexa,” she whispered. “That's not the point. I lov-- I -- I…” she trailed off and looked at me with such a heartbroken look that I couldn’t breathe.

“I will do ANYTHING, Clarke. ANYTHING to get you to forgive me. I know you’re mad. I know it’s going to take forever, but please, give me a chance to fix this.”

“Lexa, I'm not mad. I’m just… I’m trying to hold it all together. I'm trying to just breathe properly right now while my world is falling apart around me. Everything I knew is destroyed. My father is dying,” She took such a long pause to collect herself here, I thought she wouldn't continue. “My mother doesn’t even care, let alone care about ME, and the person I thought I could turn to, the one person who could hold me together -- the one person who means everything to me -- is the one person who hid EVERYTHING from me. That one person didn’t trust me with the truth when it mattered the most. They didn’t… they didn't trust me. I’m -- I don't -- I’m DEVASTATED, Lexa. What am I... what am I supposed to do now?” Her voice dropped to a whisper and wavered so badly on the last sentence that I thought I had gone deaf.

She was devastated.

She shook her head, sobbing and hiccupping and not capable of holding it in.

“I have to go,” she said sadly. She wouldn't look at me, her chin quivering constantly.

“No, Clarke, please,” I begged, reaching for her. I was grasping at the seconds as they ticked by and realization dawned on me what was happening. I was desperate to hold onto another minute with the blonde before she walked away.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she whispered out shakily, fat drops of tears streaming down her face.

And that's when the coldness sunk in. It started so deep in my bones and spread out through my fingertips.

“I’m sorry,” she let out in a breath, eyes on the floor and taking a step back.

The coldness wrapped it's way around my muscles, biting and painful with every step she took.

She clenched her eyes and covered her mouth as a sob tore it's way from her chest once again and turned on her heel to go to the front door.

The coldness took the feeling out of my fingers, out of my toes. I couldn't even comprehend the fact that I was still somehow standing.

She was devastated. I could feel the moment her heart shattered. It splintered and cracked and crashed in my chest, lodging it's way so deep into my stomach that I thought I would never recover.

I never wanted her to feel this way.

This was it. My moment was up, and the icy shards of my broken heart beat one last time in protest.

“Clarke,” I called out brokenly. It was just a breath -- a dying plea of a lover, but she hesitated briefly, her hand on the knob. My chest ached and my mind spun as the coldness seeped it's way out and enveloped me. My legs were giving out and all I could see were spots. “I know I messed up, but I'll be here... If you need me. I'll always be here, Clarke. Always.”

There wasn’t really much else I could offer her.

She was devastated.

I watched her clench her eyes again in a futile attempt to stem the tears, a futile attempt to keep the shattered pieces of herself together, and opened the door to her home and step inside.

The air burned in my frozen lungs when I heard the lock click shut. I don't know how, but my feet took me to it automatically. I rested my head against the wooden door, eyes closed and fingers pressed against it searching for warmth I couldn't find, pulling in shallow breaths that froze in my chest. I heard the heavy sob from the other side and heard her slide down to the floor. The hiccupping and weeping provided the only heat, uncomfortable and harsh as it burned into my memory. It ripped and clawed it's way into my chest, filling up the hole I had created, slowly over time, by continuously lying.

She was devastated, and now she was gone.

Chapter Text

“Lexa?” Jake asked when I stumbled into his room. The smell of the disinfectant made me sick. It smelled too clean. Too sterile. Too much like a pitiful mask of death.

“Hey,” I croaked out. My head was an absolute mess. It had been twenty-four hours since Clarke left me standing on her porch, and I couldn't make sense of it. I couldn't make sense of anything.

I don't know what brought me here, but I couldn't stay in my room. I couldn't take the smell of my pillows because they smelled of her, I couldn't handle the unorganized heap of DVDs because she was the reason they were in a heap; I couldn’t handle thinking at the moment, because all I could hear was the sound of her sobs.

I didn't even remember waking up this morning.

I'm scared to admit that I didn't want to.

I was just so tired.

“I was so scared,” I croaked out. “I'm STILL scared.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I should have told you guys.”

I stiffened for a fraction of a second. It was so quick, but Jake saw it anyway, the emptiness that shook me to the core was so unrelenting in the past week.

“I should have told her. I should have told you both, but you guys were so… happy. Am I a horrible father for wanting you two to be happy? I didn't want to ruin what you two had and I did anyway.”

“Good intentions are the pathway to hell,” I said, reciting my father's words. I never truly understood them until right now. Because this was, undoubtedly, hell.

“Are you mad at me?” Jake asked. His eyes were intense when they looked at mine. It was so much like Clarke when she wanted to understand. So much like when she was trying to decipher a truth from a lie.

A part of me wanted to say yes, to blame Jake for the reason my relationship fell apart and I was all alone, but I choked on the word.

Jake did what he thought would keep Clarke happy. He did what he thought would keep ME happy.

It was selfishly selfless. It was a complicated mess.

I shook my head and Jake let out a breath, tugging in the tubes that were attached to him.

“Lexa, sweetheart, come here.”

I shifted from foot to foot, balling my fists into my hands while I watched the thin frame of the only father figure I had lie helplessly in bed while his body fought itself. There were just so many wires that weren't supposed to be there. So many tubes to support him. So much noise and so much silence all at the same time.

It didn't take much. Maybe it was because Anya wasn't home and I was scared of being alone with my thoughts. Maybe it was the thought of losing another of my favourite blondes. Maybe it was the fact that I wanted to be angry but I didn't know how, who or what to be angry with. Maybe it was the fact that I was just so tired… but I burst into tears and ran over to Jake Griffin, dropping my head onto his chest and cried so hard it was practically a wail.

He pulled me up onto the bed with a strength I didn't know he still possessed. I heard him let out a slight groan when my arms tightened around his waist, his sore body still recovering from the stomach surgery to remove the mass that pressed down on his organs.

“God, you're getting strong,” he groaned.

“I'm so sorry.” I sniffled and pulled back, wiping my nose and eyes with my hoodie. My eyes were so sore from what was non-stop crying since he was first admitted and I was surprised that I had any tears left.

“No, no, come back. I love hugs.” He pulled me gently against him again. I was much more cautious of him this time, but still buried my nose into the earthy… dad smell of Jake to drown out the bitter smell of disinfectant and death.

He was alive, he was alive, he was ALIVE.

“How are you feeling?” I asked quietly.

“Well, I've been poked and prodded in all the weirdest ways, and I haven't even gotten a real meal since I've been here, but I've had both my daughters come visit me today, so I'd say I'm pretty good -- even if one of them just yelled at me the whole time, and the other one is probably going to do the same.” Jake gave me that Griffin signature smirk and kissed the crown of my head.

“How are you doing, really?” He asked.

I knew what he was asking. I knew he knew what happened.

He had to, he was Jake.

I cried a little more, the feeling of paternal love so sorely missed. Maybe it would be okay now that he wasn’t knocking on Death’s door.

Maybe it would be okay.

And then I thought about the girl I lost and the always that seemed to be meaningless, and I thought that maybe… maybe it wouldn't.

“She hates me,” I whispered.

“She doesn't.”

“She broke up with me.” My shoulders shook and I tucked my nose into the blanket on his chest as Jake rubbed up and down my arm.

He hummed. “My daughter is the most stubborn person on the planet.” He shrugged with the shoulder I wasn't currently lying on. “But, she isn't an idiot. Just don't give up on her.”

“I just don't know what to do…” I said tiredly.

“If you can forgive me, Clarke can forgive YOU. Just hold on when it gets bumpy… because if I know my daughter -- which I do -- it's going to get pretty bumpy.”

*

I visited Jake again with a duct tape flower I painstakingly made, battling through my tears to make it perfect.

I had nothing to occupy my mind with when I left his side last time and my fingers automatically started to twirl and dance with the material if only to keep me sane for a few extended minutes.

It reminded me of Clarke's birthday. The day we kissed. The day this whole mess started. It stuck to me and burned my skin at the memory, but I ploughed on with completely numb tips of fingers.

I stood outside of his door for a long second, gathering myself to see Jake.

He was alive, he was alive, he was ALIVE.

Dr. Griffin was stepping out as I finally felt strong enough to step in.

“Lexa?” She asked curiously.

“Dr. Griffin,” I acknowledged.

“Have a nice visit.” She cleared her throat and made her way down the hall, her overcoat flapping behind her while her steps quickened.

I guess she never stopped working.

“Hey Lexa,” Jake said when I approached.

I didn't see the sleeping form on the couch, thinking the blonde haired girl that plagued my dreams and nightmares alike just a figment of my imagination. I think I had slept a total of six hours over the past two weeks, so it was quite possible that she wasn't actually there.

“Hey Jake.” I ruffled his hair with my hands and handed him the duct tape flower. “I remember you saying you thought it was cool, so…”

He twirled it between his thumbs and smiled brightly. “It is! Thank you!”

The shuffling of clothes caught my attention and I finally noticed Clarke sitting up, rubbing her exhausted eyes that seemed hollower than imaginable.

It was a tense moment when our eyes met.

Her eyes were so pale they were bordering on grey. The only thing that made them shine was the instant sheen of tears that instantly sprung up at my appearance.

Yup, definitely real. I didn't think it was possible to feel a heartbreak twice until I saw the once blue eyes so dull.

Mine were no better. I knew my eyes were sunken in. I could feel the heat of the puffiness that accompanied the lack of sleep and the constant crying. I could see it reflected in Clarke's.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and punched in the eyes all at the same time.

“Clarke --,” my throat closed up on the name. It hurt to say her name. It was the catalyst to the memories that I couldn't get out of my head. It was a overwhelming sadness that choked me when I tried to breathe.

She chewed on her lip and pushed her fists into her eyes roughly, blinking rapidly at me when she pulled them away.

Maybe she felt the same way.

Without acknowledgement, she quickly got up and moved over to her dad, gently pushing her hands through his hair and kissing his forehead.

“I'll see you when you get home,” she said softly.

“Stay,” Jake responded.

Her eyes darted quickly to me. “I can't.” She sounded so small, so broken, and I felt like I had been kicked in the gut AGAIN.

I let out a quiet sigh and watched her go, my heart beating weakly with every step further she took.

“You're being discharged today?” I asked after she left, refusing to acknowledge the elephant that was Clarke and I -- or what we used to be, what I missed, what I broke.

“Yeah.”

I tried not to frown. It felt selfish to want to hold onto these moments with Jake.

“That's good,” I said, eyes on the floor and fists balled behind my back.

“Listen, Lexa. I know you won't visit me at the house, and it'll probably be a while till I'm up and moving again. What about I call you? And you call me?”

“You don't have to offer that.”

“I do. You're my kid. I want to talk to you. It's not like you're going to be busy with school work. Entertain your old man.”

I laughed as tears fell down my face. I was hurting so much that I forgot I WAS just a kid. And Jake claimed me as his own.

“Yeah, okay.”

*

“Squirt?” Anya called, knocking gently on the doorframe. She moved into my room quietly, making her way to the blinds and opening them to let the light in. I groaned and pulled the covers over my head.

“Lexa,” she cooed, sitting on the edge and running her hand along my hip. “Lex, Roan’s here to see you.”

“Tell him to go away,” I mumbled.

“Squirt, you can’t stay holed up in here forever.”

I ignored my sister and pulled the comforter more firmly over my head. “Come on, Lex, you’ve been in bed for over a month, talk to us.”

“Go away, Ahn,” I said, my voice cracking over the syllables.

Speaking was hard.

Breathing was hard.

Existing was so, so hard.

“She’ll forgive you, Lexa. Just give her some time.”

Anya let out a sad huff and I felt the mattress shift when she stood up and the soft pad of her footsteps as she left the room, only for the heavy thud of Roan’s to replace hers.

“Lexa,” he said gently. Roan never did anything gently, so I knew that he was worried.

I ignored him anyway.

He sighed loudly when I didn’t respond and I could hear him scratch at the beard he was trying to grow.

My eyes watered. I pictured his stupidly long hair and stupid scruff and I didn't understand why, but my eyes watered.

“I just… I wish I knew what to tell you.” I felt the mattress dip slightly as Roan sat in the edge of the bed. “You fucked up.”

I sighed a heavy breath. I knew I fucked up. I knew it, and I breathed it, and I lived it in every moment.

Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so much if I could at least TALK to her, but Jake called me to let me know she left for New York for the summer soon after our brief encounter in the hospital. He encouraged it, telling me that she was constantly stressing over him to the point that it was overwhelming. He wanted her to let herself take a break. He wanted her to heal, and secretly I knew he did it for me too.

“You fucked up, but most people do at some point. You're going to hurt someone… someone close to you… more than once. But, you can't wallow away. You have to keep moving. Keep grinding. Throw everything into basketball and make a masterpiece out of this tragedy.”

“Go away,” I groaned. I was just too sad to hear what he was saying. It was the same shit all month.

I fucked up.

I had good intentions, but the road to hell was paved with good intentions. I didn't mean for it to turn out this way, but it did, and now Clarke was hurting and alone and I was too.

I fucked up.

Roan sighed and stood up from the bed.

“At least come to the courts. Lincoln and Ryder and Ontari have been asking about you. It's been a month.”

“Go away,” I said again. I didn't give a shit about Ontari or Lincoln or Ryder. I didn't give a shit about anyone.

“Lexa.”

“Go the fuck away Roan!” I snapped, throwing the covers off the bed and sitting up abruptly.  

Roan stared at me, a hard glint in his eye.

“Jesus, Lexa,” he sighed, turning on his heel to pace the room. “You can’t be that fucking stupid. Talk to me. You look like you've lost like ten pounds!”

“Honestly, Roan, just get the fuck out. I don’t want to hear your voice anymore.”

The problem with the overwhelming emotion I was experiencing was that it flirted between blinding sadness, burning anger, and crushing guilt on a loop, one replacing the other in fractions of a second. I could barely grasp WHAT I was feeling before the next emotion barrelled it's way into my head and exhausted me further.

I knew, deep down, how much worse it was for Clarke, and that made it all even worse.

“You know what? I get it, you’re angry. What you did haunts you, and it's a hell of a lot easier to be mad at me right now than to be mad at yourself.”

“Trust me, I can fucking do both. Now, get. Out.”

He nodded, then dropped the small box he was holding on my bed and stormed out of my room, slamming the door shut.

I looked down at the box on my bed, tears filling my eyes within an instant of his departure.

I was so tired of being sad and angry and guilty ALL the time. I just wanted to be numb.

“Happy Birthday” was scrawled across the box in Roan’s pitiful attempt at handwriting.

I screamed and threw the box into the trash without even opening it. My chest was heaving with the angry, heavy breaths, the fire I didn’t even know how to control anymore. My eyes went black and I let the panic wash over me like it did almost every day of the summer.

I forgot it was my birthday. I forgot because my phone had no minutes left, no messages on the screen. I forgot, because I didn't want to be reminded that I was alive.

And then I forgot to forget why.

“Squirt?” Anya asked, poking her head into the door with a worried look on her face. I felt shame creep into the recesses of my mind, pushing me deeper into my panic attack.

I don’t even remember when the tear in my chest opened, but it ripped open with such ferocity that I couldn’t contain it.

I cried so hard that Anya was barely able to hold me together.

*

Jake called me weekly, updating me on his status, on the random gadget he was tinkering with this week, updating me on everything except Clarke. I wasn't sure if it was better or worse this way, but I fell apart every single time, regardless.

I was just so…. Upset.

Obviously.

Jake mentioned that was responding well to treatment. The surgery removed the entire mass, the radiation was only making him slightly nauseous. He said a few other things that I didn't fully comprehend, but it all meant that he was doing better. He joked that he was disappointed he didn't lose his hair.

Obviously, that joke fell flat.

And while my heart soared in delight at his strides, it selfishly plummeted knowing that Clarke would move on and Jake's fatherly affection would move on with it and I'd be alone all over again.

Maybe my life was to always be alone. Maybe I was born with Damocles’ sword dangling above my head, twisting and turning and waiting for the opportunity to cause another round of agony, another round of torture in my already crumbling life.

He encouraged me over and over and over to get out of the house, to not wallow in my despair.

“Clarke is stubborn, but she wouldn't wish this on you, Lexa,” he said.

Her name made my ear tingle with a burning sensation and I had to remove the phone from my ear before they caught fire.

Every week he called, and I relished in whatever few moments I had to hear his deep laugh and stupid jokes, willing the hurt of constantly getting it wrong away.

But it did hurt.

All. The. Time.

I finally dragged myself out of bed with three weeks left of summer. Anya and Jake had spoken and she had forced me to go see Dr. Marcus, and he taught me some new breathing exercises to help me get through the panic attacks. Ayna she forced me to do them everyday with her that I refused to get out of bed.

I just wanted to be numb, but numbness never came. I felt the loss of Clarke more fully than I ever felt her presence. I burned and I ached and I felt too much.

I didn’t think it was possible, but as I laid in my bed, trying to run from the memory only to hit another wall, another roadblock that was Clarke, I realized that numbness wasn’t something that was attainable or something I even deserved.

And it made me angry.

So angry.

Anya was downstairs making breakfast and nearly dropped the frying pan when she saw me.

“Jesus, Squirt you look like death.”

“Call me the Commander of Death then.”

It was probably one of my worst attempts at satire. It wasn't even remotely funny and I had no idea why I even said it. But it felt like death followed me around anyway, Jake Griffin only being able to slip it's grasp because he was too pure of a soul to take.

Anya poured some juice into a cup and passed it to me. “Lexa, you look like you've lost at least twenty pounds. You gotta talk to me Squirt, you need to let me help you. You need to let me in.”

“There's nothing to talk about,” I responded, taking a gulp of my juice.

“Lexa…” she said, grabbing my hand and squeezing. I looked down at it with a fire I didn't even know I could feel anymore.

“I’m fine.” I shrugged out of her grasp. “I'm gonna go play basketball,” I said, pouring the juice down the sink. It was suddenly bitter at the thought of why I had lost so much weight.

Anya let out a weighted sigh and turned back to the stove. “Okay,” she said quietly. “Call me if you need anything. Anything at all, Lex.”

“Love you!” She called as I put on my shoes.

I just walked out, slamming the door behind me.

Now that I had finally gotten out, I realized how hard it was on my body doing what I did. I could barely shoot a free throw without needing to use my entire body weight, and couldn't even dare think about a three-pointer.

It was bullshit and I was furious.

Who the fuck was she to ruin my basketball career?

I growled at the ball, throwing it as hard as I could against the chain-link fence, nearly falling over in the process.

“Whoa, Commander,” Ontari chirped from the other side of the fence.

I ignored her too.

I should have known better, though. Ontari made her way inside the fence and picked up the ball, tucking it under her arm while she walked toward me.

“Hey,” she said quietly. “Where you been?”

I shrugged in response, the hairs in my arms still raised like an animal ready to pounce. My only problem was that I had no idea who I was pouncing on.

She studied me, the way my shirt hung loosely off my shoulders, the way my brow seemed to sweat more than usual. She sighed and pouted at me. “You're a little out of shape, Commander.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I snatched the ball from her and worked for another five minutes. Ontari just watched silently, her brow furrowed the whole time. I eventually stopped out of pure frustration, the ball ricocheting off the backboard weakly. I was doubled over with sweat dripping from my forehead. I really was out of shape, and it just pissed me off.

“That cheerleader made you weak,” Ontari joked, and I realized in an instant that no one knew.

Clarke left, I fell apart alone in my room, and the world moved on. It was so insignificant to everyone else, to the movement of the world, but it was everything to me. My world had stopped spinning since she left. Everything just stopped being important.

And that thought made me burst into tears.

Sad, angry, utterly hopeless tears.

“Jesus, fuck, no, fuck, what do I do?” Ontari asked helplessly. “Where the fuck is Clarke?” She said, eyes shifting frantically to find anyone that could help.

I just cried harder.

“Hey man, come on. Here, I have a Gatorade.” She threw the bottle at me and it hit my face before it hit the floor. I couldn't help but laugh at her lame attempt at consoling. It was pained, and barely more than just a burst of air from my lungs, but it was a laugh nonetheless, and it quelled the flood of emotion. For now.

Ontari's panic slowly subsided when I sniffed back the remaining tears and wiped my face.

“Clarke and I… broke up,” I said, chin wavering and chest heaving at the words.

I lasted all of three seconds being mad.

“Oh, fuck, I’m so sorry man. I shouldn’t have brought her up.”

“It's okay. She's… it's… it's okay.” I leaned back against the chain-link fence, eyes watering and mind whirring.

I didn't actually KNOW if Clarke was okay, and that terrified me.

Ontari came and sat beside me, her shoulder just close enough for me to feel the heat of her skin.

I finally looked at her and we stared at one another, me forcefully swallowing back tears and Ontari nervously chewing her cheek.

“Wanna play one on one? I might actually beat you with how rough you're looking,” she joked with a small smirk.

I rolled my eyes and chugged half of the Gatorade before giving it back to Ontari and forcing down the memory of the blonde.

Jake told me to keep going. Jake told me to get up. Jake said she wouldn't want to see me like this. I had to bury that last thought deep down, refusing to let myself use THAT particular one as a motivation (but it was the only one that worked).

Maybe if I poured all my anger and… pain... into basketball I could forget about her again, if only for a moment.

But I just needed a moment, anyway.

“Let's do this,” I quipped.

*

By the time school started again, I had gained back the weight I lost, adding more muscle with the borderline excessive amount of training I was doing. It was the only way I could keep my mind off the girl I lost. It was the only way I could stay angrily numb, if that made any sense. It was ironic -- the sweat, pain and tender muscles after a grueling workout the only way to keep my mind from spiralling. I was in too much pain to feel anything else.

“You really do look like a fucking commander now,” Roan quipped as we walked to school.

“Yeah. It's about time I took basketball more seriously anyways. I wasted almost two years with my head in the clouds.”

Roan let out a heavy sigh. “She’ll come around, Lex.”

I glared at him so hotly my skin burned.

“Sorry. You don’t mean that though, and I know that. You know that. You also know you're going to see her. You can't act like you won't. You can't act like what you two had wasn't important.”

“I'm not saying that. I would never say that. Clarke was special, and what we had...” I didn’t finish my statement, but I knew. And I knew Roan did too.

It was everything to me.

I cleared my throat to swallow down the sting of the ‘was’.

“But I need to focus on basketball now. I'm gonna get a full ride somewhere and I'm gonna leave this fucking place behind and all of it's shitty people and shitty memories.”

Roan coughed. “Alright, whatever.” He clenched his jaw tightly, irritated by something, but I was too concerned with how I was going to get through the day to notice.

*

I wasn't ready.

I wasn't ready to see her. To hear her. To smell her perfume.

I wasn't ready, but it was already happening.

She stood across from me, her locker directly across from mine this year (because OF COURSE IT WAS), and I wasn't ready. I tried so fucking hard to be numb all summer, and just seeing her in front of me completely undid that.

I was a fumbling, stupid mess of feelings.

Her hair was red. It was different, and it was weird to see, but I still thought she was beautiful. Her eyes were hollow, the blue so muted that it was almost grey. She looked like she lost a ton of weight, too, her clothes hanging loosely off her frame and her ribs poking out. Her smile wasn't nearly as bright as it used to be, but the flocking cheerleaders didn't even seem to notice that her smile didn't reach her eyes. They didn't seem to care. All they cared about was how “good her hair looked”, how “skinny and fit” she was looking. They didn’t notice the bags under her eyes or the strain of everyday life weighing her down.

Maybe she didn't tell them, but you'd have to be blind not to notice that Clarke wasn't the same person as before. She was clearly hurting.

I noticed. I always noticed. I always cared.

Always. What did that even mean?

Our eyes met for a moment and the colour drained out of her face.

She wasn’t ready either.

I dropped my eyes to the floor, turned into my locker and tried to stuff my head in as deeply into the blackness in front of me as I could.

I wasn’t ready.

And I definitely couldn’t be numb or angry if I tried. Not around her.

I wanted to be angry, but it was just sadness parading around as anger, parading around as numbness. It was a hole that I was desperate to fill with fire, but the fire was out in a flash of blue.

*

I was even less ready to share my classes with her.

I wasn’t ready to see her walk in, vacant eyes scanning the room and finding mine autonomously.

I wasn’t ready for her shoulders to drop immediately after and for her search for an empty seat that WASN’T close to me, hands trembling and steps faltering.

It felt like torture.

I wasn't ready to stare at the back of her red, red hair while she ignored the teacher. While she flipped it and twirled it and flirted with anyone who sat nearby.

Was she flirting? I honestly couldn’t tell anymore. I wasn’t ready for her to look so carefree, like what we had barely affected her, even though I KNOW deep down it was.

It had to. It HAD to affect her too. It had to, because it was killing me.

She forced laughter, she smiled as best she could, she refused to let anyone know that she was anything but perfect, that her life was anything but grand.

But I always thought that when Clarke was that quiet vulnerable, late at night when my fingers traced a patch of skin that made her shiver and her words were unencumbered by insecurities, she was even MORE than perfect. She was special and she was real and she was CLARKE and I missed her.

I grit my teeth, sure my jaw was going to crack, and buried my head into the hood of my sweater. I willed myself to drown out that thought, and willed myself to drown out the sounds of her laughter to a joke that wasn’t funny. Drown out her agreeance with a shitty, judgemental comment.

I knew her well enough to know that she was hurting, but I felt like I didn't know her at all in these moments.

Maybe I didn’t know her.

Maybe I never did.

*

“There’s a party tonight and you’re coming,” Roan said as he sat with me at the lunch table.

I scowled at him. “No thank you.”

“It’s literally being thrown by one of your teammates, Marper or something.”

“It's Harper. She's dating Monty. You know him.”

“Whatever, anyway, you have to come in the name of basketball.”

“Fuck off, Roan.”

Roan sighed and rolled his eyes. I took a bite of my spaghetti, only to have the entire tray knocked to the floor.

“What the fu--,”

Roan grabbed my collar and pulled me right up to his nose. “Call me something else.” He growled the words out so maliciously I couldn’t fight back if I wanted. “Call me something else. I'm just another shitty person, right?”

I just didn’t have the energy for this.

“Fine, whatever,” I relented “I'll go to your stupid party. We good now?” Maybe if I pretended to move on I accidentally would. Maybe I wouldn't be so… not okay. Or maybe it would at least get Roan off my back.

When he released my shirt, I looked around and saw the rest of the student body watching us. Curious blue eyes I missed so much only looked at me for a second before she looked away and a forced smile found her lips, re-engaging with the person next to her.

Whatever.

“Am I interrupting something?” Costia asked with a sad smile.

“No, I was just leaving,” Roan said roughly. He picked up his tray and threw it in the trash and stormed out of the cafeteria.

“What was that about?” Costia asked when she sat in front of me.

“I LITERALLY have no idea.”

“Where’s Clarke?” Costia asked, her gaze searching the cafeteria.

I tried not to crumble at the name.

“We broke up. She’s sitting with her friends.” I said it so bitterly that my mouth salivated.

“You broke… what? What happened?”

“Cos, can we talk about something else? Please? I can’t think about it right now,” I whispered, my eyes pleading with hers.

She let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, sure Lex. We don’t have to talk at all if you’d prefer.”

Costia put her hand on my back and her head on my shoulder for support when my breathing hitched. Just the thought of Clarke left me a mess.

It felt right and wrong all at the same time and hot tears leaked out of my eyes. Costia rubbed up and down my spine in an attempt to soothe me and whispered quiet words of encouragement while I fought to regain control of my emotions.

I was such a fucking mess.

I could feel the burning gaze of the redhead scorch my skin from her table, but I just couldn’t care to think why.

Clarke’s eyes always seemed to find mine when I looked up, even now that we weren't together. Now, it felt like another brick came loose in the carefully constructed wall I was trying to build to protect myself.

Costia, Luna and Echo sat with me for the rest of the lunch period. Costia tried her best to get me to smile, while Luna made me do those stupid breathing exercises with her for no reason (I hadn’t had a panic attack like I thought I would, but it was still stupid). Echo just glared at everyone who looked our way, including Clarke.

Costia could only say so many nice things before she got tired of me, so I relished in her soothing voice, pressed into her side seeking comfort from the bully in my head that was telling me how much it hated me on a twenty-four hour loop.

*

“Tell me what your fucking problem is,” I snapped at Roan when I found him in the smokers pit. “Tell me why you’re so fucking angry with ME for having MY heart broken.”

He took a drag of his cigarette and held it in his chest, letting the smoke out slowly in front of him.

“No,” he responded.

A simple ‘no’, that was all I was going to get?

“Roan, what the fuck, man?”

He shrugged. “Just keep focusing on getting out of this shitty, place and leaving behind all the shitty people, Commander.”

“Jesus, Roan, I was just mad. I didn't mean that. You're not -- you're not who I meant.”

He took another drag of his cigarette, eyes looking away from me.

“You're my best friend, you idiot. Where I go, you go.”

He rolled his eyes and flicked the butt to the ground.

“Do you even understand WHY you feel so sad?” he asked, changing the subject so abruptly my head spun.

“I don't want to talk about that anymore.”

“You NEVER want to talk about it. You never want to talk at all!”

“So what?” I shrugged.

“Just, tell me what about this is so much more painful. Why? What did you feel that isn't there anymore?” He was pleading and I had no idea why. It was weird.

“I don't understand what you fucking mean, Roan. My girlfriend dumped me, of course I’m heartbroken.”

He growled and lit another cigarette, mumbling, “dense motherfucker” under his breath.

*

The party was loud. The kids were annoying. I sat in the corner and watched Luna and Echo make out like they weren’t already dating and it was the first time they had ever touched another person -- hungry and desperate and wild.

I hated every second of it. Even Costia’s laughs and lame jokes couldn’t make it better. I resented her for even trying.

I hated it more because Clarke was here. Clarke and her entire posse of airhead cheerleaders, overly large football players, and her personal bodyguards in Finn and Bellamy.

I shrunk further into the corner while I fought tirelessly to keep my eyes away from her.

It was a losing battle.

I watched as Clarke took shot after shot after shot. I watched as she swayed. I watched as she stared at me while I talked to Costia, only to scowl at me when I caught her eye and drink more.  

It made me so angry. And yet, I watched her.

I watched as she drunkenly danced with any and everyone, and I watched when Bellamy Blake's hands roamed her body while she moved to the beat. I watched her hips, as entrancing as ever, push back into him and I watched as he fought back just how happy it made him.

And then I watched when she found someone else to do it with. And someone else. And then a fourth.

My heart managed to find a way to shatter even more in that moment, but still I watched.

I watched and I watched and I watched, until I just couldn’t watch anymore.

Roan sat with me for a while, shooting me concerned looks when he thought I wasn't looking, but I just ignored him and watched.

“It hurts more… because I meant nothing to her,” I said, eyes darting over to where she stood and swayed to the beat.

Roan shook his head. “Sometimes we can't even recognize the lies we tell ourselves, Lexa.”

“Whatever,” I said with a tired sigh. I didn't understand what he wanted.

Sometime after midnight, my bladder protested my insistence on being a part of the couch and I finally moved from my seat.

I found Clarke in the bathroom, emptying the contents of her stomach into the toilet.

In the span of a breath I felt rage and guilt and fear and blinding sadness.

I really hated fucking feeling.

“Clarke?” I asked, but she didn’t acknowledge me. My throat faltered over the name it hadn't said in two months. It was the first words we had spoken since I saw her in the hospital, and the single syllable left me breathless.

She ALWAYS left me breathless.

I looked around for Raven, but she was currently engaged in a heated debate with Roan’s tongue.

Growling at my asshole of a best friend for even dragging me here, and growling even more at the shitty friends Clarke had surrounded herself with, I turned back to Clarke, who was still retching into the toilet with quiet whimpers.

God, that was gross.

I couldn’t do this.

I was too angry.

She didn't deserve my help.

But, as she emptied her stomach again, I thought of Jake and the kindness he showed me when he didn't have to. I thought of Clarke and her stupid patience while I got over my insecurities. I thought of all the quiet nights and all the gentle words and all the feelings she left me with that weren't just rage.

I thought of the 'always’ and I thought of my mother.

I thought of what it meant to mean what you say.

I had to do this.

My shoulders slumped while I gripped the doorframe.

I promised her always.

I stepped inside the bathroom, closing the door with a quiet click and crouched behind her, my hand hovering over her back while it shook nervously.

She turned to look at me just briefly, her bleary eyes watering from her own stomach pains.

Clarke heaved again, and on instinct, I placed my hand along her damp spine, running my fingertips along the ridges that were so prominent now. Her ribs were almost visible, the weight she lost from just the stress of the past few months leaving her a shell of a girl. Her shirt clung to her, overly tight and low cut. Her bra was practically falling out of her shirt.

I thought of the day she cried over them. The day she asked for my hoodie and the contrast to now. I thought of the girl who flinched, ever so slightly, when the cheerleaders gave her too much attention. The girl that hated the privilege the boys felt to her body, and how passionately she had argued with Bellamy when he made yet another stupidly sexist comment.

The tips of my fingers burned at the contact, the burning rage I used to mask my sadness evaporating against her sweat-slicked back.

She calmed almost instantly at my touch and whimpered into the bowl, resting her head on the seat. The bags under her eyes were heavy with the weight of watching a loved one suffer and feel helpless and alone.

Guilt shook the cage around my heart at why she felt so alone. I recognized it. I felt it. I lived it before. I lived it now.

With her eyes closed, I reached down to her wrist, took the hair elastic she always wore since we started dating (a necessity when we were constantly inches from one another's faces) and braided her red hair back into something simple and out of her face. She hummed her appreciation and a wave of longing washed over me.

In the quiet of the bathroom, my shaking breaths proved that my anger was a hoax. I wanted to hold onto it so bad, to protect my fragile heart, but the string snapped when I remembered.

I promised to take care of her. I promised to be there. I promised her always.

This would have to do.

I stood up to retrieve a damp rag and gently wiped the sweat from her brow and the remnants of the vomit that was clinging to her.

“Home,” she mumbled, eyes still closed and brow furrowed. She leaned forward, dropping heavily into my chest and sighed. Then she mumbled again, “Home.”

“Okay, yeah, let's get you home,” I whispered, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.

*

Fingertips to toes were numb while I helped guide Clarke up the steps to her home. It wasn't the numbness I had craved over the past few months, it wasn't the numbness that could protect my undulating heart. It was the numbness that accompanied me when I woke up in the morning, the one that followed right after I groaned and stretche