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underneath it all (you're really lovely)

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The word going around Arcadia High Monday morning is that Lexa Woods was arrested for vandalism and illegal possession of marijuana. Which Clarke isn’t stupid enough to believe. Sure, in freshman year Lexa got in a fight that ended up with her suspended for a week and the boy a first class ticket straight to the hospital. From Clarke’s personal experience, though, the guy was an asshole and he had it coming. And yeah, Clarke sometimes catches the scent of cigarettes clinging to Lexa’s clothing when they pass by in the hall or in line at lunch, but one day she had overheard one of the stoners ask her for drugs by the lockers and Lexa had politely said she didn’t do that kind of thing.

Clarke knows that doesn’t really mean anything. At least not in the long run, but Lexa seems like a honest person if nothing else and listening to the rumors and the downright horrible things some of her classmates whisper in the corners of the hall, well, it seems unfair is all.

Maybe she was holding it for a friend.

“Did you hear?”

Clarke drops her bag onto her desk and shoots Raven a glare before plopping down into her seat, pressing her face against the fabric of her messenger bag. She exhales slowly and it helps. When she adjusts she finds Raven watching her.

“Lexa Woods got caught with drugs.”

“I heard,” Clarke mutters. Around them their classmates converse about the weekend and unfinished homework and midterms. Among it all, though, she hears the rumor mill putter along.

“I mean it’s not the worst thing she’s done.”

Clarke picks her head up, and she does her best to be subtle as she glances at the empty seat behind her before turning away to riffle through her bag for her notebook and pencil. “It’s really none of our business.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Raven sighs as she props her head in her hand, feet swinging lazily under her and Clarke ignores it. It’s a moment or two before Raven starts again.

“We still up for later?”

Clarke arranges her things neatly over her desk, moving her bag onto the floor by her feet. “Of course we are.”

The bell rings a couple minutes later, loud and shrill, and Mr. Roberts gruff voice rises above the noise. “Settle down, settle down.” He waves his hand. “I hope for all your sakes that you finished the reading because I’ve got a surprise quiz.”

There’s a loud and uniformly unhappy groan that rises from the students, Clarke included, but the classroom door squeaks as it opens and Clarke finds herself temporarily distracted.

Lexa Woods has an air about her. A no-nonsense, take no shit attitude that seems to seep from every pore, and it’s only amplified by the frayed jacket and ripped jeans. It’s a confidence that is learned and perfected and Clarke has always been a little envious. She follows as Lexa makes her way through the desks and tries not to stare for too long.

“Ms. Woods, glad you could make it. Please take a seat, we have a pop quiz.”

Lexa slips into her seat, this barely audible exhale escaping as she sinks into it. Clarke shifts, peering over her shoulder at the girl behind her and when their eyes meet, for some reason Clarke doesn’t look away. She offers this small smile she doesn’t expect to be reciprocated. But it is. And it’s like she can feel the gentle curl of Lexa’s lips in the warmth that settles into the tips of her fingers and the apple of her cheeks and Clarke quickly faces forward to hide the sudden blush that steals its way onto her cheeks

A minute later when Clarke turns around to hand Lexa the quiz (and perhaps sneak another glance) the smile is still there.

 


 

“C’mon Clarke, it’ll be fun.”

“No,” Clarke says. She makes the mistake of making eye contact however, and Raven is absolutely pouting. “No,” she repeats, more firm, pulling her papers and pencil away from her friend’s mischievous hands. “I’m not doing it. We’re seniors, we have midterms, and we’re not going to slack off and screw around on some app when we have more important things we need to do.”

“Fine, then let me make one up for you and we can laugh at all of the desperate guys attempting to hit on you.” Raven says, reaching for her phone and Clarke isn’t fast enough to stop her. She ends up half stretched over the coffee table, arms spread out, chin pressed into the wood as she watches Raven swipe past the lock screen.

“Raven, that’s not--”

Raven glances up from the phone in her hands, and for a second she studies the look on Clarke’s face with something akin to remorse. Her hands drop. “You don’t have to. If you really don’t want to. You just seemed down, what with Finn and all…”

Clarke pulls her arms back, folds them together so she can pillow her head and stare blankly at the wood beneath and it condenses with the moisture from her breath. She gives herself five seconds and then picks herself up, hand held out and expectant.

“I’ll do it,” Clarke says, and Raven’s face is overcome with glee. “But I’m deleting it tomorrow.”

Raven scoots closer, holding up Clarke’s phone for a picture and grinning from ear to ear. “Alriiiight,” Raven says, “gimme somethin’ sexy--”

Clarke rolls her eyes, but she can’t stop herself from smiling.

 


 

There’s something oddly addictive to it, Clarke finds later that night. Hypnotizing. She’s gone through what must be the entire senior class of boys and then some, swiping left mostly now that the fun has been had, but when it starts to show her men over the age of twenty-two she feels like the fun has been had. She exits out once, turning over onto her side to stare blankly at the home screen of her phone and then two seconds later she has it open again, navigating to the settings with almost practiced ease.

She has nothing to be anxious about despite the way her thumb hovers over ‘age-range’ and ‘gender’ and then back again. She’s not fooling anyone though, least of all herself, so Clarke takes a breath and taps until ‘gender’ reads: men and women.

It’s freeing in a stupid insignificant way, but Clarke likes the way it makes her feel. How her heart skips and her cheeks go warm at the pictures of pretty girls smiling back at her. The thing that steals her breath, however, is a familiar shade of messy brown hair, wavy and falling over a familiar tattered jacket. What is unfamiliar is the smile, hidden partially behind a hand, the lines of laughter near green eyes...

It’s almost unrecognizable, and Clarke loses track of time somewhere between the smoothness of Lexa’s hands and the soft curve of her lips.

And then her thumb twitches right.

Clarke bolts upright, sheets tangling and comforter thrown aside, and temporarily forgets to breathe as she navigates to her matches and stares at the picture that now occupies first place. She closes the app immediately, locks her phone, tosses it aside, and flops backward into bed, pulling the blankets up as far as they go.

Ten minutes later, Clarke finds her phone folded in the sheets and promptly deletes the app.

 


 

The next day is surprisingly (and perhaps thankfully) uneventful. Clarke makes a point first period to avoid any and all eye contact with the girl in the seat behind her and for once life is easy. Lexa keeps to herself, and the one glance Clarke does take is of tired eyes and long fingers with floral print bandaids wrapped around them. Lexa’s up and out of her seat before the end of period bell sounds over the intercom and Clarke watches her go.

“You looking to buy some drugs?”

Clarke purses her lips, jabbing Raven in the side after she extracts herself from her seat and Raven yelps simply to make noise. She retaliates, needling Clarke with her pointer finger, and Clarke swipes at her hands.

“You know she doesn’t do that,” Clarke responds.

Raven pokes her one more time for good measure.

 


 

Clarke sees her at lunch, up on the stage reserved for seniors in the far corner with her usual group, and they catch eyes while Clarke hands over money for a chicken patty and a carton of milk. Clarke forgets to look away, a deer in the headlights as the accident from two nights prior rushes to the forefront of her mind. In that split moment she wonders what it must be like to read someone’s mind, and whether or not people are aware that Lexa Woods likes girls and that Clarke really really wants to know what it's like to kiss her.

 


 

“What’s with the rush?”

Clarke shoves her history book into her locker, reaching for the button up shirt covered in paint thrown haphazardly near the bottom. It hasn’t been washed in months and her locker is starting to smell like turpentine. “I told Mrs. L I’d stay to help paint the mural on second floor near the art room.”

“I think she’ll forgive you for being late.”

“I know, but--” She stuffs her arms hastily through the sleeves and then pulls her hair out from under the collar as she reaches back down for her bag. The last bell rang over five minutes ago and the hallways are already empty.

“You hate being late,” Raven finishes for her.

“Do you have robotics?”

“Yup.”

Clarke slings her bag over her shoulder, already making for the closest stairwell. “Can you give me a ride home later?”

“Sure thing.”

Clarke waves once and she waits until Raven waves back before turning and bolting down the hallway. The contents of her back pack jostle as she takes the steps two at a time. She’s a little out of breath by the second floor, but it doesn’t stop her. She takes a couple quick breaths as she pushes the doors open and readies herself for the last hundred feet stretch.

It’s covered in record time without all the extra bodies, and she grasps the handle to Mrs. Laudre’s room and tugs it open.

“Sorry I’m--” but she doesn’t get further than that before running face first into something unexpectedly solid. It smells a little bit like cigarettes, and at the realization her heart finds a permanent home in her mouth.

Lexa shifts, and they catch eyes over her shoulder before she maneuvers to the side and out of the way of the door, stuffing a hand into the pocket of her jacket.

“Sorry,” Clarke repeats, and it’s hardly even a whisper as it escapes from her throat. The rest lodges itself halfway up her windpipe, fluttering uselessly, and Clarke attempts to swallow it back down.

“It’s fine,” Lexa dismisses, and Clarke tries not to get hung up on how the sound of her voice settles in her ears.

“Clarke, you’re here!” comes Mrs. Laudre’s voice and Clarke’s attention averts towards the front of the classroom. “I’ve got all the stuff ready for you, but feel free to dig through the storage closet for extra brushes and paint if you need them. Lexa, take a seat anywhere, we’ll try our best not to bother you.”

Clarke watches her wander over to a cubby on the side of the room, pulling out a large sheet of paper that wobbles in the open air and a container full of pencils that rattle against one another. Lexa picks a seat at one of the tables near the far back and quietly gets to work. Clarke guesses she should do the same.

Clarke sets up just outside with a couple buckets of paint and an array of brushes and it's a cathartic in all the right ways. She forgets about her phone, she forgets about midterms, she forgets about Lexa. She turns the music up on her phone and the world shrinks to the wall in front of her.

It must be close to an hour when the sound of the art room door opens, and Clarke stares after Lexa’s form. She tugs an ear-bud out, lets it dangle as Lexa passes and neither acknowledges or pretends to notice her.

“Lexa.” The name tumbles out before she can stop it, but it's soft and far too quiet, and Lexa continues on down the hall towards the stairs. Clarke scrambles up. “--Lexa, wait.”

Halfway down the hall, Lexa stops, turning at the sound of her name and when she sees Clarke sprinting down the hall towards her, her brow furrows, and she pushes back the hair from her face and over shoulder.

Clarke stops a couple feet away, suddenly all to aware she has no idea what she’s doing. She rubs her left hand over the front her button up, nervous, and the wet paint clinging to her fingers joins the other splotches smudged over the fabric.

When the silence stretches, Lexa makes a turn to leave and Clarke panics.

“Do you like art?” she blurts and inwardly grimaces at how stupid that sounds. Childish and desperate, like those first few weeks in elementary school when she’d find excuses to make connections and subsequently friends.

The tension in Lexa’s shoulders lessens, however. “Not really no,” Lexa replies, and if it weren't for the gentleness to her voice Clarke would liken it to being sucker-punched in the gut. It’s a second or two before Lexa admits, “I’m… not very good at it.”

“I can help you,” Clarke says, earnest. “Is it for class?”

“It’s not important,” Lexa is quick to add, and Clarke thinks that’s the end of it, but Lexa shifts her weight to her other foot, removing her right hand from the pocket of her jacket and bumping it against her leg. “But thank you.”

“‘S nothing." She finally breathes. “I’m here all the time, so…”

Lexa’s lips twitch, this nearly non-existent smile that sits stubbornly at the corner of her mouth. Clarke kind of really really wants to kiss it.

 


 

Clarke goes back the next day because her heart tells her to.

Well. That, and Mrs. Laudre had asked. The only bad thing is her heart is a lying piece of crap and she spends the better part of the hour covered in paint and hoping somehow to catch a glimpse of Lexa. Which seems like a lost cause after their conversation yesterday, but she hopes and that’s probably the worst part.

What’s worse is that with her designated paint shirt at home in the wash, she fumbles her brush and smudges a splotch of green acrylic over the front of her favorite sweater. It’s the cherry on top of a rather poor day to start and she waddles down the hallway and around the corner towards the second floor bathroom.

She’s so preoccupied by her clumsiness however that she fails to notice upon entering that she isn’t alone. The sound of a faucet rushes, loud as it spills into the bowl below and Clarke looks up from her ruined sweater to find a girl hunched over the sink. She does a double take.

“Lexa?”

Lexa’s eyes find her through disheveled strands of hair and the green of them stands out among the brown, but Clarke doesn’t get to look for long before Lexa returns her attention to her hands and the running water. She shuts it off a second later, reaching out for the paper towel dispenser. She waves her hand in front of it, and Clarke instantly notices the blood that blooms on her knuckles.

The paper tears as Lexa takes it, pressing it flat over the back of her right hand with her opposite palm.

Clarke strides forward, purposeful, and had it not been for her unwavering focus she might have noticed that small step Lexa retreats. “Let me see,” Clarke says, not waiting for an affirmative, reaching out to take Lexa’s right hand in hers. She peels off the paper towel slowly, gently, and finds raw skin and blood and the beginning of swelling. Clarke does her best to ignore the bits of green paint that rubs off onto Lexa’s hand.

“You don’t need to--”

“Shut up and let me help you,” Clarke whispers, turning the hand around and inspecting the palm. For the most part it's unscathed. “You used soap right?”

A quiet scoff. “Of course I did.”

Clarke tests the skin, careful with the pressure of her fingers as she rotates the hand in her grasp palm down. Blood has already started to well again where the skin is torn, beads of red surfacing over the various tiny nicks scattered over her hand, and Lexa doesn't react when Clarke touches the already bruised knuckle of her index finger. Lexa merely waits, observes silently.

"Can you feel that?"

Lexa shrugs. "Hurts."

Clarke's grip gentles, her sight settling on the clenched muscles of Lexa's jaw. It's brief, the tension releasing almost instantly, but Clarke remembers it as if it doesn't. She wants to take Lexa by the shoulders and shake some sense into her--a bit of self-preservation in her. Clarke sighs instead. “You won’t run away if I go get bandaids?”

Lexa catches her eyes, holds them, and then looks away. “I won’t.”

"Good." Clarke lets go and Lexa's arm falls back to her side. "I'll be right back."

(Clarke still checks to make sure Lexa hasn’t moved before she leaves)

Mrs. Laudre is at her desk when Clarke re-enters, pouring over sketchbook assignments from today’s classes and Clarke makes a show of clearing her throat. “Mrs. Laudre, is it okay if I steal some bandaids from the first aid kit?”

Mrs. Laudre looks up from her papers. “Are you alright?”

“It’s nothing,” Clarke deflects, already moving towards the storage closet. “Just a little scratch.”

She makes quick work of scouring the supply closet for the first aid box, digging through it for some extra gauze and a couple packets of antibacterial ointment that she stuffs into her pockets. She’s out in less than a minute, calling a quick thank you to Mrs. Laudre, but otherwise ignores the knowing stare her art teacher casts in her direction.

True to her word, Lexa hasn't moved from her spot when Clarke slips back into the girls’ bathroom, gesturing for Lexa to hop up onto the counter. Lexa must realize the futility of arguing because she hefts herself up onto the shelf without complaint while Clarke washes her hands.

Clarke lays out her findings next to Lexa’s thigh, pulling out the various medical supplies from her pockets, and then steps between her legs. She reaches for a paper towel, wets it under the warm running water, and then takes Lexa’s hand, dabbing until the blood disappears and all that remains is worn, tender skin.

“I only punch people if they deserve it,” Lexa tells her, voice uncharacteristically soft.

“Okay,” Clarke answers, just as soft, and something about it makes the stiffness in Lexa’s shoulders go lax.

The quiet settles again, and Clarke tears open a packet of neosporin, placing a bit on the tip of her finger and then gently spreads it evenly over the ridges of Lexa's knuckles. Lexa only flinches once.

“We live in a shit town, Clarke.”

Clarke offers a quiet hum of acknowledgement, but says nothing else. She's not really sure what to say in response to the pain she hears creep into Lexa's voice and Clarke wipes what's left of the ointment off on her shirt and goes about rolling the gauze. She wraps and wraps until it runs out and secures it with the hook. She stays there though, after everything is said and done. Nestled by Lexa's knees and it’s comforting at the very core of it all--the presence, the closeness--how the warmth rests high in her chest but feels light.

“Do you like me?” Lexa whispers and the hesitancy sounds so foreign on her tongue. Clarke looks up at the sincerity in Lexa's eyes and it's almost too much--the deepness of them. She glances away and stares at the hand she holds in both of hers.

Clarke doesn’t trust herself to do anything but nod, fiddling the pads of Lexa’s fingers. They’re so much softer than she imagined.

“Can I kiss you?”

Clarke hesitates, but nods again, her heart fluttering when a finger hooks itself under her chin, lifting gently.

It’s everything she’s dreamed of and more.

 


 

“Do you mind stopping by the library?” Clarke asks as she slips into the passenger seat of Raven’s beaten up volvo. The cushion seams are splitting and the glove compartment has been stuck shut since junior year, but it’s gotten them through more than their fair share of disasters and that’s got to count for something. “My book came in.”

“Which one?” Raven teases, blindly inserting the keys and twisting. The car gurgles and coughs and spits and then finally--

“The one that I’ve been on the waiting list for over a month.”

“Ah. The astrology one,” Raven says, moving her hands to the wheel, and Clarke rolls her eyes. “Seat-belt please.”

Clarke shakes her head but does just that, reaching across her shoulder for the seat-belt as Raven shifts into drive, starting this slow crawl through the school’s parking lot. It takes them all of four minutes to arrive at the Morrison Memorial Library and for Clarke’s sake Raven pulls up to the front doors and idles.

“You’re not going to get sidetracked right?” Raven says, watching as Clarke fiddles with the release clip for her seat-belt. “Wells said he was meeting us at your house.”

The latch releases and the belt whirs back into place. Clarke moves her bag to the floor, leaning into the door and shouldering it open. “I’ll be in and out, I promise.”

“I’m timing you!” Raven yells as she climbs out, and Clarke laughs, kicking the door closed behind her.

The Morrison Memorial Library, having been recently renovated, is the place to be on a Thursday after school with its large comfy chairs and fancy lounge and stacks upon stacks of books, but the familiar atmosphere envelopes her like a soothing balm. The old smells she'd grown used to overlaid by something fresh and new. Clarke allows herself a moment to take it in. 

Things kind of... fall apart after that.

Her first and decidedly worst mistake is thinking she has time as she slinks past the front check out desk, ducking through the editorial clippings and newspaper archives towards the sci-fi section in the back. It's on her way by the children’s section when Clarke notices something rather peculiar. A familiar head of brown hair and a too small chair. Seven small little bodies...

Clarke stops. Stares.

Lexa looks up. And then so do the other seven pairs of eyes.

Even from this distance Clarke can see the pretty flush that colors Lexa’s cheeks as she glances away toward the little group of kindergartners huddled around her, their mouths moving a mile a minute and Clarke can almost tell that their questions are probably the most embarrassing part.

Lexa places the book face down, makes a gesture that Clarke suspects is suppose to mean ‘stay put’ and quickly excuses herself, maneuvering around the obstacles of the children’s section and into the main path. Clarke feels her heartbeat pick up with every inch that’s covered.

It’s one of the most exhilarating things.

“Are you lost, Clarke?” Lexa says, voice soft as she steps into Clarke’s space. It’s the closest she’s heard to a tease come out of Lexa’s mouth.

Clarke smiles. “In all the right ways.”

 


 

“She’s harmless,” Clarke says, offhand and somehow unable to stop herself when the topic inevitably veers towards a particular classmate and her escapades. She stares down at her biology textbook with this half smile, and no matter what it refuses to go away.

“Uhh, are we talking about the same Lexa?” Raven says, eyeing Clarke from across the lunch table like she grew an extra pair of ears and googly eyes, fork hovering over her macaroni and cheese. Beside her Octavia chows through her chicken nuggets. “Do you not remember the absolute horror fest that was Peter’s face freshman year? They had to cone off the hallway to the c wing because of all the blood.”

“You’re exaggerating," Octavia mumbles around her chicken nuggets.

Raven spears a piece of macaroni, pops it into her mouth. “Yeah, a little bit, but not by much.”

 


 

Clarke finds Lexa behind the gym, sitting up against the brick wall near the stairs with her knees pulled up. The cold spring air tugs at her hair until it's tousled and windswept and Clarke would call it unfair how stunning it makes her look.

She holds the collar of her jacket closed with one hand while the other brings a stub of a cigarette to her lips. The butt of it glows on the inhale, bright and small, and it’s on the exhale that Lexa notices Clarke just around the corner. Smoke escapes in a stream, and Lexa rests her arm, nonchalant, over the top of her knees after fitting the cigarette back between her lips.

Lexa watches her as she closes the remaining distance, finding a comfortable spot on the pavement shoulder to shoulder. Clarke feels the gentling of Lexa’s posture at the contact, this insignificant slouch that starts in the line of her shoulders, and Clarke reaches for the cigarette and plucks it from Lexa’s lips. There’s this little thrill that slips down her spine at the ease that Lexa lets her.

Clarke holds it delicately between her thumb and index finger, out to the side, and leans in, pressing close. Lexa hums when their lips meet, low in her throat, and she lifts a hand to gently cup Clarke’s cheek, thumb brushing softly over the skin there.

(Lexa tastes like smoke and what Clarke assumes must be love)

Clarke pulls away first, and Lexa waits just a moment before opening her eyes. They lack a certain focus, wandering over the planes of Clarke’s face, lingering here and there, happy to be lost.

Clarke rubs the butt of the cigarette over the pavement, snuffing it. “Didn’t I tell you to stop?” she says, looking up again, and Lexa’s eyes finally settle on her own. Her mouth curls in this little smile and Clarke wonders what Lexa sees when she looks at her.

“You did.”

And it’s Clarke’s turn to smile. “So you’re waiting for... what exactly?”

Lexa shrugs, angling her face closer. She steals a kiss and it’s a soft press of lips, then another and another until Clarke forgets what it's like to breathe, reaching out for the edges of Lexa’s jacket and pulling her in closer.

And it’s all so very lovely.