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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.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Spring is--well. Spring is a mess. With midterms over and the third quarter in full swing, there’s this awkward sense of urgency and a severe lack of outlet. So many moving parts and Clarke feels suspended in the middle unable to move. Or unwilling. She can’t really tell which. College applications have been sent, her grades are impeccable, and yet restless doesn’t even begin to describe the unease filtering through her insides.

She calls it the jitters, Raven calls it the shits, and Octavia laughs at them both. Still, Clarke searches for calm where she can find it. That comfortable solid presence, gentle eyes and gentler hands and constant unnecessary contact.

Unfortunately for her, it has also acquired the tendency to move. And Clarke doesn’t like it, sighing as she peers around the back of the gym to find the nook near the ramp of the loading dock empty of its usual inhabitant.

As if calm wasn’t hard enough to find before.

She digs the phone out of her pocket. Where are you? she types out, hesitating only a moment before pressing send. Clarke waits, thumbs twirling uselessly, and then…

Bleachers

And finally a clarification: The soccer field  

Clarke stuffs her phone back into the front pocket of her sweatshirt, pivots, and heads back the way she came. The buses have already left, but cars still litter the parking lot. Last minute help and after-school activities and those with nowhere to go. The baseball team runs drills out on the practice field but Clarke bypasses them, sharing the walkway with the cross-country team as they jog past her towards the tracks.

The soccer field is empty. Desolate in fact, but Clarke can’t help the precautionary glance back towards the adjacent field and then the school building before sprinting across the grass towards the bleachers. She ducks between them, in that little bit of crawl space clearly unintended for human use and yet, somehow, she fits.

Her back-pack snags on an errant piece of metal and she tugs it loose, this hard yank coupled with a rather choice set of words and it's then that Clarke hears Lexa’s quiet chuckle of amusement. She hones in on it, and some ten feet away she finds the unmistakable shape of Lexa sprawled out in a patch of grass. Bits of sunlight filter between the seats, stripes that fall over Lexa’s eyes, and she raises a hand to shade them.

“You moved,” Clarke murmurs, as much an accusation as it is a statement, slipping between the framework. Though the words don’t hold much weight.

Lexa hums this small sound of acknowledgement, turning her head to watch Clarke fully, and Clarke picks a spot cross legged in the grass next to her, trying at nonchalance but probably failing miserably. Clarke leans her weight on her arm, watching Lexa watch her, and the smile happens whether she wants it to or not.

The wind scatters little bits of grass into Lexa’s hair, the sunlight highlighting this smudge of dirt spread under her chin, and when Lexa props herself up on her elbows Clarke meets her halfway.

 


 

Clarke thinks she must be dreaming. For one it’s practically dark, but the cool spring breeze brings with it this feeling of warmth all bundled up in a tattered jean jacket. That and the purpling bruise that rounds Lexa’s right cheek–the split lip that Lexa licks at unconsciously and immediately regrets given the grimace. It's not exactly the can of worms Clarke wants to open right now.

“Clarke?” her mother calls from the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready.“

Clarke finds it hard to look away. “Uh…I'm–” she stops, words lost. Stealing a kiss or two behind the gym is one thing, but what they have feels far too fragile to name. “I’ll be right there, mom!”

Clarke squeezes out onto the front porch, shutting the door behind her, and Lexa does nothing to make room for her. They stand near chest to chest, and Clarke would be annoyed if she wasn’t already helplessly endeared by Lexa’s seeming aversion to personal space with her.

She likes the proximity.

“Why didn’t you just call me?” Clarke whispers, reaching out her left hand. She gets stuck on the bruise, but averts her eyes, finding the edge of Lexa’s jacket and holding on.

“I broke my phone.”

“What? Did you use it as a shield?”

“It fell out of my pocket,” Lexa says.

“Uh huh…”

Lexa doesn’t rise to the bait. Her eyes soften and Clarke’s stomach does these tiny flips and somersaults. She lets go of Lexa’s jacket and gently touches the tips of her fingers to the smattering of colors blooming under Lexa’s eye. Her lids flutter shut at the touch and it’s a reprieve, Clarke finds, to not be watched by them.

Clarke pulls up the cuff of her sleeve, holds it secure. She wipes away the blood off Lexa’s lower lip–-still wet and bleeding slightly.

“What happened?”

Lexa keeps her eyes closed. “Does it matter?”

“Uh, kinda?” Clarke says, making one last pass with the edge of her sleeve, but when all Lexa does is open her eyes the second Clarke pulls away, she sighs. “Did you win?”

“I did,” Lexa replies, and Clarke lives in the small upwards curl to the corner of her mouth.

“Good–”

“–Clarke, what on earth is taking you so long.”

The door groans as it is pulled open, the light from the foyer spilling out onto the porch and Lexa flinches at the sudden light in her eyes. She takes a step back and Clarke misses the closeness immediately.

Abby looks between them both. “And who might you be?”

Clarke spins around. “She’s a friend from school,” Clarke answers, determined not to give Lexa the time to think, stepping in front of her as if that would somehow protect her from Abby’s all knowing stare. As if she hasn’t been able to read Clarke like a book since she was two.

“And what are you doing out so late, young lady? Won’t your parents be worried?”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Lexa says, and despite the vagueness of her response Clarke thinks her mother gets the gist. The lines on Abby’s face grow somber, and after what feels like minutes of deliberation, she opens the door wider.

“Come on in. Clarke can show you to the bathroom and help you take care off–” Abby makes a vague gesture at the state of Lexa’s face. “That.”

“Mom-”

“What?” Abby says, this slight smile, and for a split second Clarke would swear her mother and maybe girlfriend share a moment at her expense.

Clarke shakes her head, reaching out for Lexa. She takes a hold of a warm hand, pliant and gentle, and with a reassuring squeeze she leads Lexa into the house.

“You’re welcome to stay for dinner by the way,” Abby calls after them.

They’re halfway down the hall already and Clarke tugs on Lexa’s hand, pulling her away from any further embarrassment. “Thanks mom!”

The downstairs bathroom is a mess. Full of the overflow her mother manages to pilfer from work, but at least that means there’s an abundance of soaps and bandages and ointments spread out through the medicine cabinet and sink drawers. She does, however, have to let go of Lexa to dig through them.

Clarke finds a clean cloth and a cold compress which she sets aside for later. She runs the cloth under warm water and adds a small amount of soap.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Clarke says, glancing over her shoulder. It’s meant to be a tease, but the look on Lexa’s face tells her now is not the time. She shuts off the faucet, rings out the excess water, and then closes the distance.

The blood comes off with little trouble.

“It’s fine,” Clarke says softly. “Really.”

“Clarke–”

“Hey,” Clarke chides, lowering the cloth so she has the full image of Lexa’s face. To Lexa’s credit, she doesn’t look away. “It’s not your fault. No matter how many times you go looking for trouble, it doesn’t mean you deserve it.”

Clarke thinks, reconsiders. “Okay maybe it’s partially your fault, but life sucks sometimes and you have to give it time to get better. And it will, Lexa… I know it will.”

Lexa doesn’t say anything back, but Clarke knows what the look in her eyes means. She waits for it and Lexa leans in, bumps her forehead against Clarke’s, searching with the tip of her nose until the angle feels right and things just seem to fit together.

The kiss is soft and chaste and over far too quickly for Clarke’s liking, but it’s Lexa, and that’s what matters most.

 


 

Dinner is horrible.

Actually. That’s a lie. Dinner is pretty great. Baked ziti with spinach and basil and mozzarella cheese and bits of ground hamburger (her mother’s specialty), and if Lexa had to pick a night to randomly show up at her door, she could’ve done a lot worse.

The pasta is cooked to perfection, not too squishy but also not overly chewy, and the cheese is that perfect state of melted where the strings seem to stretch for days from bowl to fork. Clarke has to try real hard not to seem like a slob as she nibbles away the bits of stretched cheese that dangle from her mouth and after a point she gives up entirely.

Lexa seems to fair far better and is done long before Clarke even manages to make a dent.

“Lexa, honey,” Abby says, and Clarke looks up from her bowl, dribbles of sauce rolling over her bottom lip. She can’t tell whether her mother is astonished or impressed. Maybe both. “if you want more, just help yourself.”

Lexa glances at her from across the table, and that lost look evident in her eyes makes Clarke’s heart clench. She licks at the bit of sauce at the corner of her mouth, hoping the miniscule nod is evident enough and the necessary encouragement Lexa is looking for.

She stands, pushing the chair back as she does, bowl in hand. “Thank you.”

Clarke watches as Lexa goes to grab seconds, taking the large plastic pasta spoon and scooping some more baked ziti into her bowl. She’s quiet about it, which makes her mother’s subtle cough that much more noticeable even from a couple feet away and Clarke quickly averts her attention back to her bowl.

“So, Lexa,” Abby says as Lexa returns to the table, ignoring her daughter’s growing blush. “How is senior year treating you? Getting ready for college?”

Lexa tenses, her movements stilted as she sits back down into her seat. Her eyes don’t leave the pasta bowl, fork loose in her grasp until she manages to snap out of it, pushing the bits of food around in her bowl. “For the most part.”

“What are you looking to major in?”

“I’m undecided.”

“Well, you’ve got time,” Abby says, taking a bite of pasta.

“She volunteers down at Morrison,” Clarke butts into the silence, hoping to ease some of the awkwardness.

Abby glances right. “Do you?”

“I help with the kids,” Lexa responds.

“That’s awfully nice of you.”

Lexa shakes her head. “It’s the least I can do.”

 


 

Clarke closes the door behind her, stepping out onto the porch after Lexa. The night is quiet and Clarke is hesitant to break it. “I’m glad you stopped by,” Clarke says, crossing her arms to ward off the chill of the night that creeps up onto the porch.

Lexa turns, the warm light that seeps through the blinds gentling the hard edges of her features. The curls of her hair tumble over her shoulder, messy in that effortlessly beautiful way, and Clarke feels her heart skip a beat.

Lexa dips her head and it’s a question Clarke answers immediately, fingers threading through the unruly strands of hair near the nape of Lexa’s neck the moment their lips meet. It lasts maybe ten seconds, this easy give and take, and when Lexa pulls back she whispers, “Me too.”

 


 

 

“Where are you going again?”

“The library.” Clarke says, zipping up her backpack and settling it over her shoulder.

Raven blinks. “And you don’t want a ride?”

“No, that’s okay. It’s not far and I’ll just walk home. Plus you’ve got that whole thing with robotics, I don’t want to--”

“Are you feeling okay?” Raven asks, placing the back of her hand on Clarke’s forehead. It’s there for maybe half a second before Clarke swats it away.

“The exercise will be good for me.”

“Exercise,” Raven says with a suspicious look. “Sure.”

Clarke ignores her, settling the strap of her messenger bag over her shoulder. “You’re welcome to come.”

“I’m a nerd,” Raven says with a certain amount of pride, shutting her locker with finality. “But I’m not that much of a nerd.”

“Whatever,” Clarke says, smiling despite herself, gently shoving Raven away who snickers behind her hand. “Have fun at robotics.”

“Don’t talk to strangers!” Raven calls as Clarke makes her way down the hall, and Clarke waves without bothering to look.

The sun is an immediate but comforting presence once she steps outside, turning towards the direction of library and making her way across the school’s parking lot. It seeps into the fabric of her sweater, a warmth that stays even with the little bit of lingering chill, and the breath she inhales feels light--clean.  

The walk takes ten minutes on foot. Just down the street past the convenience store and the local theater. The receptionist waves at her, an older lady with kind eyes behind tortoise shell glasses that hang low on her nose. She has this permanent smile, kind of unnerving in that all knowing way and Clarke waves shyly back as if she has something to hide.

Which she doesn’t. Obviously. But it certainly, in some way, feels like sneaking as she slinks by the lounge and then the children’s section, past the science fiction and into the stacks near the back. It’s there, between the old, dusty non-fiction and encyclopedias that Clarke finds her.

Lexa sits next to a growing pile of books tucked at the far end of the isle, situated under the window and the afternoon sunlight. Clarke catches the glance she takes, a quick upward flick of the eyes, the small little smile.

“They’re going to get mad at you, you know.”

Lexa’s lips quirk as she finishes skimming over the book in her hands before placing it in the pile at her side. She reaches out for another. “The librarians love me.”

The softness of her voice undermines the somewhat prideful tone, and Clarke stalls, taking in the sight of Lexa in her threadbare sweater and jeans ripped at the knees and then joins her. She presses close, shoulder to shoulder to steal a bit of the sunlight that passes through the window pane and the warmth spreads across her back.

“Doesn’t mean they can’t get mad at you.” Clarke says, peering over Lexa’s shoulder at the open page of her book. She glimpses something about the 1700’s and Britain and Clarke’s brain checks out. “History with Henderson?” she asks, retreating a little bit. She presses her face to the slope of Lexa’s shoulder, nose buried in the fabric of Lexa’s shirt.

“Mm.”

The sound rumbles, and Clarke turns to rest an ear against the plane of Lexa’s back to find the source. It’s warm from the sun and all that softness Lexa keeps close to her heart. “Riveting.”

Lexa chuckles, turning just enough where Clarke can see the amused look on her face. “Clarke.”

“Have you really not given any thought to college?” Clarke asks, hushed and out of the blue.

“Not particularly,” Lexa replies after a moment, focusing her attention again. Her eyes move along the page and Clarke wonders if that’s really the gist of it. “I don’t have that kind of money. Besides, my reputation isn’t exactly what one would call ‘college material’.”

“So you’ve punched a few assholes.”

“I was arrested, Clarke.”

“Wrongly, I might add.”

“I don’t think that matters,” Lexa says. She’s quiet, and then... “Can we talk about something else?”

Clarke shakes her head, curling a hand into the fabric of Lexa’s sweater, holding on. She picks her head up. “What are you doing later?”

The amusement falls from Lexa’s face before she can hide it and Lexa turns back around, absently flipping through the first few pages of her book.

“Would you like to come over?” Clarke asks.

There’s a moment of silence before, “Clarke.”

“It’s not like you can say you haven’t been there before.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” Clarke pushes. “I mean if you really don’t want to then I understand but if it’s because you feel like you don't belong--"

Lexa closes the book, sets it aside with the others.

“Please.”

Lexa sighs. “Tomorrow,” she says, relaxing with it. “Is that okay?”

“Of course.”

 


 

A cool foggy morning gives way to a cloudless afternoon and the sun soaks deep into the remaining moisture. It makes her restless, the underlying heat finding its way into the crook of her neck, and Clarke taps her pencil impatiently against her desk, glancing at the clock as it ticks slowly towards the end of period.

At the lunch bell, Clarke stands, reaching for her bag, and then squeezes out past Kennedy and John who idle in the isle between desks. She doesn’t bother with her locker, the hallways already full, and instead takes the nearest exit, looping around the back of the building, a brisk pace to her steps.

No one seems to notice her, or at least Clarke doesn’t bother to keep track. She keeps her pace, and it’s only when she finds Lexa in her usual spot behind the gym that things slow to a familiar and comfortable crawl.

She pushes up her sleeve and jogs over. The noise causes Lexa’s head to turn and it’s the soft smile, how it starts in the corner of her lips and spreads as she hauls herself to her feet, that spurs Clarke forward quicker.

Clarke rushes into her, definitely on purpose, and revels in that little exhale of amusement that escapes Lexa’s lips as she takes a step back to catch herself. Clarke uses the opportunity to steal a quick kiss.

“Hey stranger.”

Lexa’s eyes sparkle. “Hi.”

“Do you need to do anything later? I’ve got a little something going on with biology after school but I can--”

“Clarke.”

The sound of her name makes her mind still, and she pulls back a little still holding on to Lexa’s jacket. “Yeah?”

“I don’t mind waiting.”

“Oh.” Clarke looks down, stares at absently at her hands before she remembers herself and looks back up. “I’ll be fast.”

“There’s no need to rush.”

“I know, but...” and Clarke trails off, focusing on Lexa’s lips as she leans in closer.

The first thing Clarke forgets is the point she was trying to make. Her eyes slip closed and her thoughts fill with the feeling of Lexa’s lips and softness, softness, softness.

No one seems to notice when she sneaks into class a couple minutes late.

 


 

“Be nice, please, mom.”

“Me? Not nice? I think you have the wrong mom,” Abby says, going over work at the kitchen table. The cheap reading glasses, courtesy of the Dollar Store, sit low on Abby’s nose and when she glances up to gauge Clarke’s reaction, Clarke is ready.

“Normal then," Clarke responds, and Abby pushes her glasses back up onto her nose, giving her a pointed look.

“Is this that rebellious phase all those parenting books warned me about? And here I thought we had circumvented that.”

“Please, mom,” Clarke says, taking the seat opposite her, and right then it becomes a full blown plead. It catches Abby’s attention and she puts down her pen. “Her home life sucks and if I can, I want this to be something nice... for her.”

“She mentioned her parents?” Abby prods, though Clarke suspects her mother already has an assumption. So had Clarke at one point, and school gossip floating around after the incident freshman year all but solidified it. It’s no secret now, Lexa makes no effort to hide it, but at the same time Clarke is... hesitant to bring it up in casual conversation.

“Foster,” Clarke says. “I don’t think they’re around much. Or at least not in the way that matters.” She pauses. “I want to give some of that back.”

“That’s very kind of you, Clarke.”

“Mom.”

“You get that from your father, you know.”

Clarke averts her gaze to her hands, studies her nails and the paint dried around her fingers. Abby picks up her pen again.

“How old is she?”

“Lexa?” and it seems like something so trivial, and yet Clarke realizes she's never asked. “Eighteen? We’ve been in the same grade since freshman year.”

Abby’s hand stills and she peers over the top of her glasses. Clarke stares back, but after a moment Abby returns to her paperwork.

And that's the end of that.

 


 

They escape Abby only barely, and for that Clarke will count her blessings.

She had made her bed this morning at least, and the floor is clean of dirty laundry, but there are bottles of paint spilled over her drafting table, and the paper contents of the small wastebasket underneath overflow onto the floor. Books are piled on the windowsill right next to her bed, and honestly, they’re better there than the too full bookshelf on the other side of the room.

“Mi casa, su casa,” Clarke says, opening her arms in a gesture of welcome. It’s met with silence, but when Clarke looks back, stealing a glance at Lexa’s face, there’s really no way to describe it. Hesitant? But also like it’s something special, and Clarke fidgets with the edges of her sleeve and waits.

“You live like this?” Lexa says, a quiet teasing jab, this playful upward tick to her eyebrow.

“Everyday,” she replies with this little smile of her own. She reaches out for Lexa’s hand, pulls her further into the room. “Come on.”

There’s a bit of resistance Clarke feels in the pull of her hand, Lexa’s fingers tightening for a fraction of a second, but when Clarke attempts to let go, they remain firmly attached.

“Nothing will bite.”

“I can think of one thing that might.”

“On occasion, maybe. It depends, ” Clarke says with a mischievous grin, but it’s quick to soften. “Do you want to watch a movie? I can grab my laptop and some snacks. Or maybe just relax? There’s a painting assignment I need to finish, but you can kick back, make yourself at home...”

Lexa’s eyes take in the room again, drifting from the bed to the desk and drafting table, the knick-knacks and pictures. She gets stuck on those for a while.

“Do you want anything to drink?” Clarke asks, and Lexa stops her perusing. “Juice, water, soda?”

“Maybe in a bit,” Lexa says, but her attention is elsewhere. “Do you have a favorite?”

“Favorite?”

Lexa gestures towards the bookcase.

“Oh, wow, uhh....” She thinks, tapping her chin with her free hand, trying not to be conspicuous as she sneaks glances at the growing smile tugging at Lexa’s lips. “The Neverending Story, maybe? Have you read it?”

“I don’t spend much time in the science fiction section.”

“Well. That has to change,” Clarke says, letting go of Lexa’s hand to wander over to the bookshelf. She drags her index finger along the spines until it hits the familiar gold emboss and she pulls the book from its place. It’s well worn, the edges frayed right down to the cardboard of the hardcover, and the spine creaks when she opens to fan through the pages for nostalgia’s sake.

She hands it over when she makes it back to Lexa's side and Lexa accepts it gently.

“It’s really good.”

“I can read it?”

“I’m giving it to you, aren’t I?”

“Clarke,” Lexa admonishes.

“Lexa.” Clarke nudges her towards the bed. “Just see if you like it.”

Lexa exhales through her nose, attention torn between the book in her hands and Clarke, but her grip tightens and the decision she makes is written over her face. She takes a seat on Clarke’s bed, awkward and just by the edge, flipping open to the first page. Her eyes skim the opening paragraphs before going through it again more slowly, and Clarke sits down at her drafting table, reaching out for a scrap piece of paper and a little nub of leftover charcoal. It never touches the paper.

One page turns to two, then three, and by the time Lexa glances up, Clarke is what one would call thoroughly distracted.

“Sorry, I--”

“Can I join you?”

Lexa squints. “It’s your bed, Clarke.”

“I know,” Clarke says, but she’s already moving, the invitation more than clear. She lays out beside Lexa, finding comfort in the contact of her right arm against Lexa’s thigh.

“Happy?” Lexa asks, leaning over to stare down at Clarke starfished by her side. 

Clarke smiles wide, beaming, and the answering twitch of Lexa’s lips is all Clarke really needs.

 


 

The lunch line creeps forward inch by inch, this slow meandering crawl following the perimeter of the cafeteria. Behind her Raven’s voice rises above the noise but for the life of her, Clarke can’t seem to pay attention for more than a couple seconds.

“...so we decided Thursday at six. Wells gets out of his club at five and it gives him enough time to meet up with us. Octavia is bringing Lincoln...”

“Sounds good,” Clarke says, moving up another spot, and then it happens.

She sees the shape of Lexa not far away and she doesn’t think, raising a hand to offer the smallest of waves. The gesture isn’t returned, but it is noticed, and the smile that curls the corner of Lexa’s mouth definitely means something. Lexa holds eye contact for another few blissful moments, caught and in no rush to escape, before slipping out the double doors and back into the halls.

“Who are you waving to?”

“What?” Clarke says, dropping her hand. “No one.”

Raven pushes her forward. “Liar.”

 


 

The pages whisper as Lexa turns them, this soft sigh as the old, yellowed paper runs across her fingers, and it’s the only sound besides the breeze drifting in through Clarke’s bedroom window. She watches the stillness of the backyard, the bugs as they flutter towards the light filtering through the screen. With Lexa reclined back against her, she’s lost most feeling in the bottom half of her left leg what with the way Lexa has tangled themselves, but it seems a small price to pay in the scheme of things. It’s a rather rare treat to see Lexa this relaxed, and Clarke will take her newfound job as a glorified pillow in stride.

Not that she’d move given the chance, anyway.

“What part are you at?”

Lexa shushes her, turning the page, and Clarke exhales this exasperated sigh, wiggling until she’s propped herself up against the back headrest and the pain in her lower back subsides. Lexa sinks even further, head pillowed on Clarke’s stomach, book propped open on her belly with one hand.

They had both been reading at one point, but a recent restlessness has Clarke’s book lying discarded by her side, forgotten. Her fingers itch for a pencil, a brush, anything, and her sigh must be loud enough to hear because Lexa’s answering chuckle graces her ears.

Lexa glances back, amusement and mirth written clear across her face.

Clarke sticks her tongue out at her. “Enjoying yourself?” Clarke says, taking a small lock of Lexa’s hair and twirling it around her finger.

Lexa turns back around, settling back into her comfortable recline. “Very much.”

Clarke’s heart stutters, and when she blinks she can see the after-image of that smile, picture perfect. It’s right there with winning the spelling bee in second grade, or even those afternoons with her father putting together the science fair project that netted her first place and a free summer of ice cream down at Jo’s. The resulting smile comes unbidden and she’s powerless to stop it.

Her hands move on their own, threading into the mass of curls that is Lexa’s hair. She gentles towards the scalp, careful not to pull, and despite the disarray it’s soft like silk, but it's the tiny, pleased exhale Lexa involuntarily lets out that ignites this flood of warmth through Clarke’s chest.

It bubbles, and the next tender graze of her nails elicits the quietest moan--imagined maybe, but Clarke hopes it’s not. Lexa’s muscles tense and then relax, and she rests the book open over her stomach, momentarily forgotten. Clarke tries to cut back a smile, but fails.

She combs through once, twice. Doesn’t stop until there’s little resistance, and she can section off parts of Lexa’s hair. Her fingers move on their own, content in their distraction, layering lock over lock until a semblance of a braid begins to take shape. She leaves the first one loose, kept together through pure will-power alone, and starts another.

“What are you doing?” Lexa mutters, relaxed and practically melting.

“Braiding,” Clarke says, and her hands still. “I can stop.”

“No,” Lexa says, and for a moment words leave her. Coherence comes back slowly.  “I like it.”

 


 

“Are you feeling better, Clarke?”

She looks up from her notebook. “Hm?”

“Raven said you weren’t feeling well yesterday,” Wells says, his voice that familiar shade of calm as he finishes up his lunch. “I mean, it’s not like you to miss pizza.”

“Oh yeah,” and Clarke hides her nervousness behind a laugh. “A lot better.”

“Were you sick?”

“Migraines.” Clarke gives a half shrug. “You know how they get.”

“Sucks.”

And it did. But while the painkillers took their dear sweet time, a rather welcome surprise in the form of one Lexa Woods was just the right dose of medication. By that point there was no way in hell she was going anywhere. Pizza be damned.

“It got better though.”

Wells smiles, but it falls far to quick to be normal, a mix of confusion and genuine curiosity creasing his brow as his attention shifts over Clarke’s shoulder.

“What is it?”

“Uh…” He stops, blinks, shakes his head. “Since when does Lexa Woods braid her hair?”

“What?” Clarke says, turning in her seat. She spots Lexa by the far table with her usual group and sure enough yesterday’s evidence remains. Some of it has unraveled, but three braids partially hidden by the mane of her hair stand out under the afternoon sunlight. “Oh.”

“I don’t know, it makes her look… softer?”

Clarke doesn’t look away. “Yeah. It does.”

(Clarke corners her later that day after school, secluded in the upstairs bathroom near the art room and it's worth it for the split second of surprise that crosses Lexa’s face. That half lidded look Lexa gets when Clarke backs her against the sink counter--the content hum she lets out when their stomachs touch and Clarke’s fingers find purchase in her hair)

 


 

Thursday night is quiet. An evening of snacks and a cold glass of lemonade and the muffled noises of the radio in the kitchen as she pours through the year’s  notes and the sample questions in the back of her textbook. It’s fruitful if a bit irritating. After a fourth read-though things were finally starting to make sense. That is until Clarke checks the last few pages for the answers and finds nearly all of them to be wrong.

Her mother wizzes past the kitchen and Clarke looks up from her spot on the floor in the living room. “Mom?”

Abby doesn’t respond, but the sound of coats and bags shuffling in the closet fill the hallway. Something crunches, and it sounds like a coat hanger clatters and falls to the floor followed by the door as it closes shut with a rattle.

“Mom?”

Abby appears around the hall, stuffing her arms into the sleeves of her coat. Her mouth is set in a thin line, and the brief glimpse Clarke gets of her eyes makes her shrink back. “Work called. I’ll be late, so please lock the doors before you go to bed.”

Clarke doesn’t get to say anything before she rushes out the door.

The muffled voices from the radio fill the air with a mindless drone, and Clarke swaps her pencil for the large eraser and vigorously erases her work. Her page fills with little pink shavings that form a pile to the right of her work when she brushes them aside.

It’s her phone that distracts her. To her left and in reaching distance, the screen blank. She taps it once, finds the time and a lack of notifications and then flips it over. Resolute. Pushing it away to the other side of the table, she allows herself one longful stare, and then gets back to work.

 


 

“Clarke.”

“Clarke.”

“Clarke--”

“Raven, I swear--”

Another needling finger pokes her side and Clarke growls, stuffing the last of her books into her locker. “What?” Clarke’s spins, head swiveling. She glares pointedly at Raven by her side and the offending finger slowly retreats.  

“You’ve got, uh...” Raven gestures with a subtle jut of her chin.

Clarke blinks and the annoyed crease to her brow slowly relaxes. “What... are you doing?”

Raven’s eyes dart over Clarke’s shoulder and then back.

“I can’t do this, Raven.” Clarke looks away, closing her locker with a tad more force than necessary. She shuffles her bag until things fall, more or less, into place. “I’m tired, I was up all night studying for calculus and the science olympiad and my mom’s in a bad mood from work and I can’t handle you and Octavia’s pranks right now, I just can’t.”

“You’re in luck then,” Raven says, pushing at Clarke’s shoulder, nudging until Clarke forcibly turns. Clarke manages only one vague noise of protest before she comes face to face with Lexa.

"Hi," Lexa says, and just the sound of her voice makes Clarke relax. “Can I talk to you?”

Raven’s eyebrows practically disappear into her hairline, suspicious and no doubt curious, but Clarke huffs and decides she’s better off dealing with that later. She takes Lexa’s hand, aware and yet unable to find the energy to care about the looks they gather from their fellow students loitering in the halls, tugging her towards the A wing exit. It's secluded enough over here, consisting of the extra computer lab rooms adjacent to the library, and Clarke stops just short of the doors.

“Are you alright?”

“It’s nothing.” Clarke waves her hand dismissively. “Math.”

Lexa looks unconvinced and Clarke sighs.

“My mom’s work is driving her mad and it always kind of trickles down to me when she’s home. It’s not her fault, but it always--” Clarke stops, shrugs off the feeling and redirects. “It’s mostly the math, though.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

Clarke smiles and shakes her head. “Not unless you know how to find tangent planes and linear approximations.”

“I do.”

Clarke turns, taking in the neutral expression that occupies Lexa’s face. “You’re joking.”

“I’m not.”

“Whose math class are you in?”

“Ms. Sylvester.”

“Ms. Sylvester?” Clarke parrots, her voice squeaking in the middle. “You mean AP level calculus, Ms. Sylvester?”

“Math makes sense to me,” Lexa says, explaining herself. As if she needs to. “Everything else--”

“You don’t mind helping me?”

Lexa pauses as she tries to wrap her head around the sudden shift in conversation. To be honest, a part of her looks relieved. “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t, Clarke.”

“Yeah, but…”

“I want to.”

“Okay.”

 


 

Sneaking isn’t Clarke Griffin’s forte. Never has been, and ever since that bungled attempt in sophomore year, she quit trying. Nothing was worth that level of embarrassment and at this point in her life, it’s not worth breaking her streak, so when her mother calls in between a double she decides there’s no harm in trying.

Right?

“Lexa’s coming over,” she states, and she cringes at the delivery, more than a tad forceful, and the silence stretches like the distance between them. There’s a split second between breaths that Clarke wonders if her mother hung up on her. She’s quick to backtrack. “Is that okay?”

To be honest she hadn’t even checked in with Lexa yet, and now she’s kind of glad she hadn’t.

It’s a second or two before Abby speaks. “I don’t see why not.”

“I--” but Clarke stops. “Really?”

“Didn’t really seem like I had much say in the matter,” Abby says softly, teasing. Somewhere over the line there’s the familiar din of the hospital and it fills the silence until Abby speaks up again. “I’m sorry, honey. About work and… all that. Things will be back to normal soon.”

“Sure it will.”

Abby’s sigh is long, but is cut short by a voice and Abby must pull the phone away from her face, her acknowledgement coming muffled through the receiver. She’s back a second later. “No parties, please, Clarke. And don’t drink any of the alcohol.”

“It’s just Lexa and I, mom. And you--”

“I’m kidding,” Abby says. “Isn’t that what the kids do these days?”

Clarke’s mouth twists, trying not to smile. “Aren’t you being paged?”

“I love you, Clarke.”

“Love you too, mom.”

Abby hangs up and Clarke waits approximately two seconds before pulling up the messages app on her phone. She types out a quick message and she finds there’s no hesitation in her now. She puts the phone aside to avoid the temptation every passing moment brings, but it’s short lived. It vibrates not a minute later.

(7:28): Does your offer still stand?

Lexa (7:29): Offer?

And it’s as if Clarke can hear the upward lilt of Lexa’s voice through text. It makes her cheeks ache.

Come over? Clarke types out. She doesn’t have to wait long.

Lexa (7:31): I’ll see you soon

And it really is soon. Five minutes maybe, a knock, and Clarke is up off the floor and at the front door in a matter of moments, pulling Lexa across the threshold with an urgency that has Lexa  stumbling forward into her. There’s a bit of a chill to the clothes under Clarke’s hands and Clarke keeps her close.

Lucky for her, Lexa doesn’t seem all that perturbed being held hostage. Her cheeks are tinged red, and her breath comes in these short huffs that Clarke feels over her face.

Clarke’s brows furrow. “Did you run the entire way?”

Lexa narrows her eyes, and Clarke can feel the conscious attempt Lexa makes at evening her breathing, subtle as it is. “No.”

“Liar.”

“Didn’t you need my help with something?”

Clarke pulls her in by the collar of her jacket, and by the pleased noise Lexa makes, Clarke feels like she’s won. Lexa presses close, tilting her head just so and the kiss turns gentler than Clarke anticipated. Their noses squish, and Lexa lets out this tiny little laugh Clarke revels in before switching sides. The second kiss is just as slow and yet somehow leagues softer.

“I highly doubt that was it,” Lexa mutters against her lips, but the smile is evident.

Clarke gives a small tug on the jacket in her hands. “C’mon. I didn’t come this far to get a B in calculus.”

 


 

“May I come?”

“To what?” Clarke asks, glancing up from her calculus textbook spread open over the floor of her room. She double checks her answer against Lexa’s work and continues on. “My Science Olympiad meet?”

Lexa nods, leaning in closer. The tiniest of smiles pulls at the corner of her mouth and if Clarke were standing she’s sure her knees would have buckled.

“It’s the decathlon for nerds. I don’t think even us contestants think it’s fun.”

“Then why do you do it?”

Clarke gives a little shrug. “I like winning.”

The smile spreads and Lexa leans in across the small expanse that separates them, taking Clarke’s lips in a gentle kiss. Clarke can feel it, that smile pressed against her own, and it makes her insides flutter and melt.

“Do you remember freshman year?” Clarke starts when the opportunity presents itself, pulling away before Lexa has a chance to steal more than just her lips. “Mrs. Francine’s class. She put us together for that book project. You had just gotten back from being suspended and I know she did it because I was the definition of a teacher’s pet and if there was one kid who wasn’t going to get reeled into doing drugs or join a gang it was me.”

Lexa’s lips crack into the smallest smile, and she remains at the insufferable distance where Clarke has to make the decision between closing those meager inches and continuing her story. Somehow the latter wins out.

“And like,” she exhales, gathering her thoughts. Lexa waits patiently. “Even though I knew how much of an asshole Peter was there was still that thought. You know, that–” and she stops. Her voice goes quiet. “People said so many bad things about you.”

“They’ll never matter,” Lexa says, an offhand comment meant to assure, but somehow those words wedge into her heart and twist.

She pulls away a little bit, looking down at her hands, and Lexa follows suit, resting her left arm on the bed behind them, but the contact remains, however slightly. Clarke idles, picking at the bit of paint dried under her nails and it’s this right here, she’s sure. “You said maybe twenty words to me the entire time but you were sweet and genuine and helpful…” she shrugs, “We got an A on it.”

The setting sun through the window highlights the green of Lexa’s eyes when she shifts, sets fire to her hair, but there’s an indescribable softness to way Lexa gathers Clarke’s hand in her own. Clarke tightens her grip.

“I had a crush on you,” Lexa admits softly to the open air and Clarke feels it settle onto her palms like a gift.

“Had?”

Lexa’s eyes shine despite the tease and it’s the most magical thing. “I still have a crush on you,” she corrects.

 


 

The Polis University auditorium is filled to the brim, bustling with parents, teachers, and friends, and backstage isn’t any better. There’s students in little clusters organized by school and the noise is perhaps worse than out in the seats, but surrounded by her friends, maybe things will go according to plan.

She adjusts her t-shirt, sky blue and emblazoned with the Arcadia High logo, and after the fourth pass of her hand over one particularly stubborn wrinkle, Raven snags her wrists and holds them. “Alright, that’s going to need to stop, thank you.”

“Nervous, Clarke?” Wells asks, bumping his shoulder against her. His head dips, keeping the conversation to themselves. “Never thought I’d see that.”

“I’m not,” Clarke says, letting her arms hang. Raven swings them to and fro and Clarke breathes out an exasperated sigh.

“Seems that way to me,” Raven says. She stares off towards the other competitors, snooping, but there isn’t much to see. A bunch of nerds in differing school colors nervously pacing or conversing last minute tactics. Clarke thinks they should take note.

“We have three minutes and we’re one of the first teams up. I’m just... ansty.”

Raven stops her swinging. “Antsy? You got something to prove?”

“Arcadia?” one of the stagehands calls. He waves them forward. “C’mon, lets get you guys ready.”

The three of them file into an awkward line by stage right and at their queue, loud over the speakers, they walk out onto the stage. The applause is loud, and the light of the overhead stage fluorescents bleed white. Blinking helps, and Clarke follows behind Raven as they settle into their assigned seats.

“Welcome to round one of the annual 2019 Science Olympiad Meet. At this time we will take a moment to test the buzzers and introduce the contestants. Contestants please buzz in and wait to be recognized and then tell us your name, your year in school, and what you’re aiming to study in college. Team A will start.”

Wells inches his seat closer towards the podium, and buzzes in.

“A2,” the commentator supplies.

“Hi, my name is Wells Jaha,” Wells says with a smile. “I’m a senior at Arcadia High and I’m planning to pursue a degree in Biochemistry.”

The audience claps, and Clarke waits for the noise to subside before taking her turn. She presses down on the switch held in her hand and the buzzer sounds appropriately over the intercom.

“A Captain.”

Clarke clears her throat. “Hi, I’m Clarke Griffin, I’m also a senior at Arcadia High, and I’m actually looking to enroll in the nursing program here at Polis University.”

There’s a generous amount of applause and hollers and Clarke pulls away from the microphone trying to temper the embarrassment burning her cheeks. Only partially successful, she tucks a stray lock of hair back behind her ear, looking away from the mass beyond the lights. But she returns, scouring the seats spread out in waves.

“A1.”

It’s hard not to be hopeful.

 


 

“You guys wanna hear the weirdest thing?” Wells says during a lull between the first and second semi-final round. They’ve sequestered a spot backstage with snacks and a couple of sandwiches Clarke’s mother packed them for lunch (an apology for not being able to be there in person, though the sentiment is nice). “For a second I thought I saw Lexa Woods.”

Clarke’s attention suddenly shifts. “What?” she says, far more shocked than she should be, coughing as a piece of bread goes down the wrong pipe. Raven looks at her curiously.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Well says, reaching for another chip from the bag. He crunches down, chewing. “Maybe she’s here for someone?”

Clarke looks away. “Maybe.” The lettuce from her sandwich hangs limp over the side of the bread, threatening to fall, and for a moment her eyes lose focus. She doesn’t know when her mind decides to wander back but when it does, she takes a quick bite before placing her sandwich down on the ziploc baggie it came in.

“Bathroom, I’ll be right back,” she manages around a mouth full of ham and lettuce and mustard, standing.

She’s out into the main area before Raven or Wells  has a chance to say anything, but to be honest she’s not sure what she’s searching for. Well. No, that’s not true. She knows, she just doesn’t know where to look.

There’s a line to the bathroom, long during the intermissions between rounds. Parents give pep talks, and friends and supporters loiter in the foyer outside of the auditorium. It’s a sea that’s hard not to get swept up in and Clarke wipes self consciously at the corner of her mouth with her sleeve as her eyes scan the collection gathered, colorful shirts and all. Too bad she’s yearning for a little bit of gray.

“Sorry,” one of the other contestants says as he bumps shoulders with her, passing onward towards the side-hallway and the doors backstage. Others wander in the same direction, chugging last minute water and stuffing vending machine snacks into their mouths. Clarke turns the other way.

Clarke weaves through the remaining people as they make their way back to their seats, the hall emptying when the five minute buzzer sounds over the intercom. She checks the other adjacent hallway and heaves a sigh when that too proves fruitless.

And then something barrels into her from behind, the force causing her to stumble forward, tripping over her feet, but there’s a familiar warmth to the arms that circle her waist, pulling her back and holding tight. She twists, desperate to see, and Lexa relaxes her grip until they’re face to face and Lexa’s hands are cupping her cheeks.

The kiss is tender but urgent, needy in the way Lexa keeps her close, entreating with each press of lips. Slow and meant to be savored with their chests close and Clarke’s hands find Lexa’s hips, bunching into the loose fabric of her shirt. It makes her want to laugh.

“Thank you,” Clarke says breathily and if she’s being honest she’s not quite sure what the thanks is for. With the way her lips tingle and every part of her body begs her to start another, maybe she doesn’t have to wonder.

Lexa kisses her again. A little more force, a tiny bit of teeth and tongue, and Clarke has to pull away before she forgets how to breathe and passes out.

“Wow, um--” she places a hand against Lexa’s chest, holds her at bay. Lexa’s hands find her shirt. “Wow. Where were you like a minute ago?

“The bathroom,” Lexa replies. “I thought I had time.”

Clarke licks her lips, and her heart stumbles as the look in the green of Lexa’s eyes shifts to something soft and warm. “You’re doing great,” Lexa says, and the sincerity in those words finds all the little nooks and crannies of her heart and blooms.

“I have really good team-mates,” Clarke dismisses, but Lexa watches her with playful eyes.

“They’re lucky to have you.”

And that, Clarke decides, definitely deserves a kiss. Maybe three.

They win. Partially in thanks to an answer Wells seems to pull out of his ass, but a win is a win, and the adrenalin takes care of the rest. They get this trophy, gold and nearly two feet tall and Raven won’t let go of it.

Clarke doesn’t care. She rides the natural high like a wave, searching for the pride she knows she’ll find in Lexa’s eyes.

She doesn’t think she’s ever seen Lexa smile so wide.

 


 

“So, when are you going to spill the beans?”

Clarke raises an eyebrow, sending a precursory glance at Raven across the diner table, reaching for her chocolate milkshake and pulling it closer.  “You’re going to have to be more specific than that.”

“You’re seeing someone again.”

Clarke chokes on her drink. She puts it aside, taking the napkin near her elbow and wiping away the uneven splash of chocolate milkshake over her top lip. “And what makes you think that?”

“One, that reaction. Two, you’ve had hearts in your eyes ever since we got back from Christmas break. But also I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve gotten together just the two of us -- which is horrible by the way. You’re my best friend and I miss you. And I don’t know, I feel like if something were to take you away... that would be it.”

“Raven--”

“Nope.” Raven holds up her hand. “I don’t want to get emotional on a Friday night, it’ll ruin my weekend.”

“I’m sorry.”

Raven shakes her head, taking her own glass and sipping. Clarke’s shoulders droop, and she sighs, peering down into the swirl of her milkshake as she stirs the spoon in slow circles.

“Okay so. Maybe there is... one person.”

There’s nothing stopping the giddy grin as Raven scoots impossibly closer. “Is it Monty? He’s real sweet.”

Clarke smiles. “He’s nice to everyone. I think that’s just how he operates.”

“What about that guy from your senior art class? What’s his name again?”

“Daryn?”

“Yeah, him.”

“He’s nice, I guess.”

“But not boyfriend nice?” Raven says, leaning forward.

Clarke shakes her head. “I wouldn’t know.”

“Can I maybe get a hint?” Raven prods, careful in her approach. “Point me in the right direction, girl, I’m dying.”

“English with Mr. Roberts--”

“He’s in our english class?” Raven cuts in. “Oh my god, is it Ben? He’s been giving you puppy eyes since junior year, I never thought I’d see the day--”

“It’s not Ben.”

Raven’s eyebrows shoot up. “No? Really? Alright.”  Raven purses her lips, drumming her fingers as she thinks. “Is it Noah?”

Clarke gives another small shake of her head, busying her hands with her drink and the condensation that clouds the glass. She thinks of Lexa’s slender fingers and the unexpected softness of her hands when touching her own.

“Kevin?”

“No,” Clarke says.

“Randy?”

Clarke raises an eyebrow.

“Lawrence? Tyler? Roger?”

“Raven.”

“Clarke. That’s literally all the decent boys in our english class,” and then she stops, scrunches her nose. “Please don’t tell me it's Sam.”

Clarke recoils, grimacing. “God no.”

“Well then who is it?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke mutters, moving on from her previous distraction and mopping up the pools of condensation with her napkin. “It's all kind of…”

“Is it a girl?”

And it hits her despite the timidness with which Raven says it. Like a baseball bat to the stomach and Clarke’s cheeks prickle and then burn at the accusation, her stomach churning with the small shred of fear that buries itself into her gut and takes root. She pulls her hands away, hides them and their nervous fidgeting under the table in her lap, and her heart finds this off beat and it’s foolish, she knows, but Lexa is right. This town is shit, but Raven...

“I don’t--”

“Is that why you didn’t tell me?”

“Raven, I--”

“You know I don’t care right?” and maybe it’s the bluntness of it that makes Clarke stop. Her tongue stills, feels heavy, but the calm she finds in Raven’s eyes brings everything back into focus. “You’re my best friend, Clarke. Hands down, I would bust your ass out of jail and I know you’d do the same for me. And in the end, isn’t that really all that matters?”

The involuntary reaction to smile at Raven’s words takes hold of the worry and cuts it down to size. A familiar warmth floods back into her chest, calming, and it does wonders at thawing the rest of her nerves. Raven is brash and loud and sometimes abrasively blunt, but--

“You mean it?”

Raven softens. Her shoulders slump as she rests her weight on the table. “I love you, Clarke. This doesn’t change anything.”

Clarke lets out this trickling breath. Her hands unfurl, and she takes her glass, holds it with the tips of her fingers.

“So,” Raven whispers, leaning in close. “Do you wanna talk about it? I mean, only if you wanna tell me. I’d understand if you didn’t.”

Clarke pauses. She had never been good at sharing, and the ugly part of her hoards the little moments like the gold they are. As if that makes them more precious--the things Lexa does only for her. The small intimate smiles, the gentle touches and the constant need for contact. How she’s grown to love the old smell of Lexa’s clothes and the messy softness of her hair. The reliable warmth of her hands.

She wants to yell it all out into the world, and yet the words come out whispered.

“It’s Lexa.”

Lexa Woods? ” Raven squeals, a tad louder than Clarke would like and she reaches out over the table as if that would somehow taper Raven’s astonishment and subsequently her volume. “Are you serious? You’ve been in cahoots for the past four months with bad-girl Lexa Woods? I should’ve known--”

“ Shh, Raven --”

“Anything else I can help you girls with?”

“No, thank you,” Clarke answers the waitress, shooting Raven a glare. She visibly flinches, mouthing a silent and remorseful ‘sorry’ and Clarke turns back to her once the waitress wanders off again.  

This time Raven waits, quiet and attentive. She sits still, the picture of patience, and Clarke sighs. “Remember when you convinced me to download that app?”

Raven nods excitedly.

“I was bored and couldn’t sleep and there was just something so addicting about it?” It sounds so stupid talking about it now, and Clarke shrinks further into the booth. “I may have stumbled across Lexa’s profile. Or matched with her or whatever it’s called and my thumb accidentally swiped right...”

“‘Accidentally,’” Raven comments, but Clarke decides to let it slide.

“I never deleted an app so fast.”

“Did she like you back?”

“I didn’t wait around long enough to find out.”

“And that somehow turned into you two dating?”

“Yeah, I guess?” and she shrugs one shoulder. “Well, it hasn’t been explicitly stated, but...”

“You kiss her and stuff,” Raven finishes for her, nonchalant and with this tiny, happy grin.

The blush retakes her cheeks, spreads to her ears, the heat rushing down her neck. Clarke places her palm, cold from the milkshake glass, against the heat of her face, but it doesn’t hide anything and she knows it. “I like her so much.”

 


 

The third period warning bell comes almost out of nowhere, ringing shrilly over the intercom and Clarke hastily stuffs her biology textbook into the bit of space near the bottom of her locker, switching it for her bulky math folder and workbook and shoving them into her bag. She grabs her history book while she’s at it, tucking it under her arm and hip-checking her locker closed.

She makes it two steps before hearing her name and Clarke turns, startling at the sight of Raven bounding down the hall.

“Jesus, Raven, don’t do that to me. You know I get startled eas--”

“No time to explain,” Raven says, breathless, reaching out for her hand and pulling Clarke roughly in the opposite direction.

“Raven.”

“Your girl is about to get herself in trouble.”

“Lexa?”

Raven doesn’t answer, but she doesn’t need to. Something unsettling finds its way into Clarke’s throat and she swallows, following closely behind, textbook clutched to her chest. Her breathing becomes shallow, throat dry. It’s a sprint down the B wing hallway, down past the english rooms and Mr. Roberts class. They round the corner towards the labs and Clarke sees her instantly.

There’s already a huddle of curious students forming around Lexa and this stocky boy Clarke recognizes from the football team. With the amount of noise filling the hallway, it’s impossible to make out the words, but nothing good will come out of this. She drops her bag, her book, and bolts.

People turn to watch her, skittering away to make room as she barrels forward, pushing people aside. They grumble at her, but it doesn’t reach her ears. She sees the back of Lexa’s head, her wild hair (the braids she lets unravel on their own until Clarke redoes them) and breathes a sigh of relief.

But then there's the sound of something muttered under breath, malicious, and that's all it takes.

Lexa turns, and her movements are too fast to discern but Clarke hears the crack as her knuckles connect, solid with the side of his face. He reels, clutching his jaw, and Lexa is quick enough to land another before Clarke closes the remaining distance.

“Lexa--” Clarke breathes, grabbing hold of Lexa's arm. She's tugged forward by the momentum, but she plants her feet and it’s just enough. “Lexa, stop.”

The boy sputters, a bruise already blooming, and he spits out a rather impressive amount of blood, bringing a hand up to test the feeling with the tips of his fingers. They come back red, and Clarke looks away, pulling Lexa back, trying to create space. A buffer. But not much helps among the growing collection of students drawn in by the commotion, pouring in from all sides. They jostle for space on the edges of her peripheral, searching for a glimpse, and Clarke knows they’ll get one.

“Bitch--”

Lexa lunges and Clarke isn’t ready. Lexa hits him square in the nose with this sickening crunch before Clarke can regain control, curling her fingers into Lexa’s shirt, around her wrist, and tugging her sharply back. Clarke feels the race of Lexa’s pulse under her hands, erratic under warm skin, and the urge to run is innate. To run away with her out the back entrance and ditch for once in her life, but any hope she has is dashed at the sight of Mr. Roberts and Principal Whittaker sprinting down the hall.

“Hey--hey! Stop it right now!” Mr Roberts shouts, squeezing his way past the gathering of students towards John, whose hand grows bloodier by the second as he tries to stop the flow still spilling from his nose. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Lexa--” some girl shouts. Mr. Roberts’ head swivels, zeroing in, and Clarke positions herself in front, keeping Lexa behind her.

“Ms. Woods,” Mr. Roberts says, pointing over Clarke’s shoulder, voice dangerously low. “You are on thin ice.”

“It was John--”

“I don’t care who started it, Ms. Griffin, we don’t tolerate violence here at Arcadia High.”

Around them, the crowd disperses, herded off by Principal Whittaker. He stands back once the hallway clears and takes stock of the mess left behind. Scattered books and loose-leaf papers--the drops of blood on the linoleum. It only delays the inevitable, and when he turns, his eyes finding John with Mr. Roberts and finally Lexa and Clarke, he doesn’t need to say anything.

But he does anyway. “The three of you, my office. Now.”

 


 

“Clarke. A word please.”

Clarke stops in front of the desk and waits while Principal Whittaker makes the last few notes to the stack of papers in front of him. Her eyes follow Lexa though, catching the one backward glance Lexa takes before exiting.

“You’re not in trouble,” Principal Whittaker says, sifting the last paper into the appropriate pile. He shifts his glasses, pushes them further up his nose. “The other teachers are merely concerned is all. We’ve all known you for years, Clarke. You’re a good kid, better than most academic wise, and you show so much promise. We’d hate to see that thrown away because of unsavory company. You’re better than this.”

“Better?” Clarke repeats and the anger ignites like a flame. “John started it and quite honestly he got what he deserved.”

“Ms Woods is a menace to the authority here and a distraction to the other students. She’s lucky she wasn’t expelled.”

“She did the entire school a favor!” Clarke’s voices rises, rough and clawing at her throat. “And if you would take the time to get to know her better rather than treating her like some petty criminal then maybe you wouldn’t have this problem.”

“Clarke--”

But she’s already stormed out the door, letting the weight of it shut loudly behind her as she stomps down the hall. Clarke doesn’t bother with third period, already halfway done as it is. She stops by her locker, grabs a little packet of disinfecting wipes she keeps there for posterity, and then heads outside.

There’s a specific direction she follows subconsciously. Innate in that by the time her mind catches up with her legs, Lexa is but ten feet away, huddled in that tucked away spot behind the gym. She holds a cigarette to her mouth, hand shaking, the other insistent with the lighter until the flame ignites. The first inhale lasts long.

Clarke frowns, steps heavy as she makes her way closer. Lexa’s acknowledgement never comes, even when Clarke plops herself beside her with a grunt.

“Stop it,” Clarke growls, but it’s as weak as her attempt to swipe the cigarette away. Lexa is far too fast for her. “I don’t do this--” and Clarke stops, hands balling into fists. “I’m not doing this for fun, Lexa. I don’t know how, and I know it’s cliche but, this thing with you. I want it to last. I want you to last.”

Lexa watches her, this somewhat sort of sadness in her eyes and after a moment it becomes too much and Clarke exhales through her nose, pulling away to slump back against the wall, Lexa at her side.

“What’s the matter?” Clarke begins again. “I can tell you’re stressed and I know it’s not just because of what happened.  Did he say something to you? You can talk to me about it.”

Lexa flicks the cigarette, fidgety, the ash crumbling from the tip. She lets out a breath and the smoke billows and climbs and she presses her hand to her face.

It’s a moment before she speaks. “There’s nothing I...” but she trails off, restarts. “I’m not--”

“What?” and Clarke can’t comprehend it. “Good enough? Smart enough?” It makes her ache. “Lexa. You’re smart. You’re so smart. Anyone with half a brain can see that. And if they can’t then they’re obviously too stupid to matter. What you do, what you want--that’s what matters. You just do it differently than everyone else.”

“Why fight a war I can’t win?”

“Lexa.”

“Clarke.”

“Let me help you. I promise I can.”

Lexa clenches her jaw, and Clarke watches the tension spring to life in the muscles along Lexa’s neck.  Clarke reaches out for Lexa’s hand, fingers gentle along her wrist, and pulls Lexa’s arm into her lap. She takes the cigarette first and is met with little resistance, plucking it from between Lexa’s thumb and index finger and then rubbing the the burnt end over the pavement until it extinguishes.

The smell lingers, the last bits of smoke rising up and blowing away, but Lexa’s hand relaxes in her grip. Clarke holds it for a moment, content with the warmth and the weight in her own before digging through her pocket for the wipe. She brings it to her mouth, tears it open with her teeth so she doesn’t have to let go of Lexa’s hand, and shakes it out.

There’s hardly any blood. The first two knuckles of Lexa’s right hand, however, are already swollen, purple bruises swelling up beneath beneath the skin, but Clarke passes the hand wipe over Lexa’s skin anyway. An excuse to touch, to keep Lexa close. Utterly pointless and Clarke thinks Lexa knows this, but Lexa doesn’t ask her to stop.

 


 

Clarke goes to the art room. It’s empty during lunch, just the large wooden tables and the ever present smell of wet paint, and with the free period that follows lunch, that’s nearly an hour and a half of mind calming art therapy and after this morning she’ll savor every minute.  

But of course that’s easier said than done.  

“Are you alright, Clarke?” Mrs. Laudre asks, resting her hand on the back of the opposite chair.

Clarke looks up from her paper, the last bits of her anger bubbling up to the surface and she has to consciously relax her grip on her pencil before it snaps in half.  “She doesn’t think she’s worth it,” a part of her voice cracks, “and I hate it. That our world and our society can reduce someone to that level of hopelessness.”

“Is this about Lexa Woods?” Mrs. Laudre asks, tentative. When there’s no response, Mrs. Laudre sighs, pulling out the chair. She takes a seat and folds her fingers together.

Clarke watches the way Mrs. Laudre fiddles with the ring on her finger, pensive, and then returns to her drawing. Her actions come out more forceful than anything, harsh dark lines where the pressure was too much, but at this point she doesn’t really care.

“The world isn’t fair,” Mrs. Laudre says softly, and Clarke’s hand stills. “And I don’t mean that in a condescending way, Clarke, I really don’t. But when life gets like this, the best we can do for one another is help make it a little less unfair.”

Clarke looks up, finding the gentle face of her art teacher. “I don’t know how,” she whispers.

Mrs Laudre smiles. “Well, first off, Lexa needs to want to help herself.”

Clarke snorts, going back to her sketch. She erases some of the darker lines, redoes them so that later on the paint will cover them up easier.

“But barring that…” Mrs. Laudre says, pausing. “Why not give her a helping hand, a little nudge if you will.”

“But she’s just so…” and Clarke flounders. Lexa is a lot of things and most of them make her heart beat really fast and her palms all clammy. But this? Sometimes she just wants to take Lexa by the shoulders and shake her. “Stubborn.”

“Good. Because so are you.”

Clarke glares and Mrs. Laudre laughs.

“Don’t give me that look, young lady. I’ve known you your entire high school career, I think I'm allowed at least that. Listen, Clarke, I know Lexa’s home life could be far better than it is, but it’s not on you to fix it. Lexa’s a big girl, and if she knows you’re there for her, then all you can do is offer that support and she’ll come to you if and when she needs it.”

“Will she, though?”

“Clarke,” Mrs Laudre says, this mischievous glint in her eye. “I may only be a high school art teacher, but I am far from blind.”

Mrs. Laudre stands, pushing the seat back under the table and she glances at the sketch. Clarke moves her hand to cover it, self-conscious, and Mrs. Laudre looks away, allowing her the reprieve.

“There’s still some time for scholarships,” Mrs. Laudre offers. “If it’s a money thing, that is. But I’m sure she’ll find a way.”

“Yeah,” Clarke says, voice light. “I think so too.”

 


 

Come over later?

Is the last text she sent. Nearly four hours ago, and Clarke resigns herself to the fact that it’s gone purposefully ignored. Or maybe politely declined. It ruins dinner regardless, which is a shame because it took a good hour of needling for Abby to agree to making her special ziti.

Clarke packs the leftovers in the biggest tupperware container they have and puts it on the second shelf in the fridge next to the orange juice.

“I think that’s it for me,” Abby says, standing up from the table. Dark circles shadow her eyes, and Clarke doesn’t need to ask. “Early day tomorrow. Don’t stay up too late, okay?”

Clarke nods and her reply is soft. “Okay. Goodnight, mom.”

“Goodnight, honey.”

It’s quiet when Abby leaves, just the hum of the refrigerator and the sharp yet muffled sound of Abby’s bedroom door as it closes.

She gathers the extra plates and old glasses, piles them into the sink, washing them as gently as she can. Afterward she pushes in the chairs, wipes down the table and then tosses the place mats and dirty cloth into the washing machine. She brushes her teeth, gets dressed, and then lies in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the peepers and crickets chirp.

It’s the leftover restlessness, she’s sure. The buzzing feeling tingling just under her skin at the image of Lexa’s face when she closes her eyes.

At 12:54 she gets a text. Clarke hears it vibrate, and she waits, consciously has to decide it’s worth the energy to move before digging around the sheets. The tip of her middle finger hits something solid and she pulls it free, tapping the screen awake.

Is it too late?

Clarke’s brow furrows, eyes squinting against the light of her phone and all it takes is one press of her thumb, and then Lexa’s voice comes in soft over the line.

“Hello?”

“Lexa,” Clarke whispers, sitting up. She presses the phone closer to her ear.

“I didn’t think you’d still be awake.”

“Where are you?”

“Outside.”

And then she hangs up. Clarke tosses the sheets aside, hauls herself from bed, lips pursed and determined. Crossing the room, she opens her bedroom door and then slips out into the hall.

She tiptoes down the stairs, skipping the second to last step and the traitorously loud hardwood panel. The hallway is dark and she fumbles with the lock of the door, wrapping her hand gingerly around the handle and pulling. The door squeaks this long low groan that sounds like a plane crash and feels like ages before it opens, but when it does, Lexa stands just beyond the screen.

“I can leave--” Lexa starts, but Clarke undoes that lock too, and then reaches out for Lexa’s arm and tugs her in.

“No way,” Clarke whispers harshly back. Lexa stumbles forward into her and Clarke smiles before going about redoing the locks. The tumblers click audibly back into the place and when she’s finished Clarke turns back around. “Are you hungry?”

Lexa looks at her, face soft in the shadow of the hallway and the little bit of light that seeps in from the living room. She shakes her head once. “Clarke--”

“I’m gonna grab something for you,” Clarke says, and she doesn’t wait for Lexa to answer. She makes her way into the kitchen, familiarity a blessing as she traverses the dark, finding a bowl and a fork with practiced ease. She grabs the tupperware from the fridge, light spilling out over the floor, and it opens with a subtle pop.

Clarke scoops out a generous amount, heaping whatever macaroni will fit, and then recaps the tupperware and shoves it back into the fridge. The pasta tumbles about precariously when she lifts the bowl up, fork in her mouth for safe-keeping, and on her way by she pinches Lexa’s sleeve and leads her onward.

They take the stairs one by one, and the second step doesn’t seem as loud as Clarke remembers. It creaks and Lexa glances back once before seemingly forgetting it's entire existence. Their feet shuffle just outside the door as Clarke balances the food to wrangle it open. She gestures Lexa in the first and then after one quick sweep of the hallway and the stillness at the other end of the hall and her mother’s closed door, she follows behind.

Clarke shuts it behind her, hyper aware of the click of the latch, and then quickly flicks on the desk lamp. The room goes awash in soft orange light.

She hands over the bowl. “It’s probably a little cold by now but.”

Lexa takes it, and Clarke can’t help but watch her hands. The shadows seem larger there, between her fingers, but Clarke knows that’s not the case. It’s merely the bruises spreading.

Lexa sits at her desk and Clarke joins her, pulling the stool of her drafting table close so that when she takes a seat their knees touch. Ripped jeans and the scabbed but slowly healing skin underneath pressed to star dotted pajamas, and Clarke finds it oddly appropriate.

Oddly comforting.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” she says, murmured and careful to be quiet. Lexa’s eyes find her. “I didn’t mean to push you, I just…”

Lexa examines the food in her bowl, already almost done. She spears the last couple pieces of ziti and takes a bite, letting the fork rest against the edge of the bowl while she finishes chewing. “You don’t have to apologize,” Lexa replies after she’s finished, just as quiet. “I was… I was being unreasonable.”

“For a very good reason,” Clarke says, dipping her head to catch another glimpse of Lexa’s eyes. She smiles when they do.

Lexa’s lips turn up at the corners, subtle, and Clarke’s smiles stretches. It's giddy, and Clarke feels the happiness spread pleasantly through her insides. She sits, basking in the half-smile that Lexa aims her way.

“Are you staying?” Clarke asks, taking the bowl from Lexa’s hands and placing it on the only clear spot of her drafting table to the right. In between some dirty cups of water and palettes with dried paint. When she shifts around in her seat, Lexa’s eyes find hers.

“Can I?”

And it sounds so much like the question, soft-spoken and unsure, and Clarke can’t think of a more proper response than the gentle kiss she places on Lexa’s lips. Lexa’s eyes remain closed long after she pulls away.

Clarke gets up, wanders over to her bureau, and Clarke hears Lexa follow shortly after. She stands by while Clarke rummages through her drawers, and after a second or two Clarke holds out last year’s science olympiad t-shirt against Lexa’s torso. It looks short when compared to Lexa’s taller lithe frame, wider in the shoulders, but there’s nothing else to offer, so Lexa gets that and a pair of comfy shorts Clarke digs out from her bottom drawer.

“Here,” she says, placing the articles of clothing into Lexa’s open hands. “I’ll just…”

The dull sound of a zipper follows the rustle of clothing as it slips to the floor, puddled on the hardwood of her bedroom. Clarke watches the shadow on the wall, the way it flickers in frames when she blinks. She looks away, picking up a few scraps on her table and tossing them away. It’s when Lexa clears her throat that she turns back around.

Lexa pulls at the hem of the shirt, tugging it so it falls the way she wants it to. It doesn’t cover much of her legs, and the shorts definitely don’t help, stopping above mid thigh.

“Are you tired?” Clarke asks.

“Exhausted,” Lexa breathes, the air leaving her body. Her shoulders relax.

“Do you want the window seat?”

Lexa looks at her confused.

She tries something else, gesturing toward her bed. “Inside or outside.”

Realization dawns and Lexa takes a step closer. “Inside.”

Clarke smiles, pushes her the remaining distance toward the bed. Lexa glances over her shoulder and Clarke ushers her forward. “C’mon.”

Lexa shifts aside the sheets and Clarke turns around, retracing her steps back to her desk to turn off the lamp. It clicks and the room goes dark. All that remains is the whispered rustle as Lexa settles into bed and Clark finds herself following shortly afterward, trailing after that promise. She gets into bed, all sorts of careful. It feels different enough to make her nervous, but once she stills, comfortable, she hears Lexa sigh.

 


 

When Clarke wakes up she feels warm. Blanket up to her chin and the cool, not-quite-yet morning breeze flows through the open window, but it pales in comparison to Lexa. Tucked close, every exhale spreads over her neck, the gentle scent of Lexa’s hair under her nose. Clarke buries it deeper, inhales, and snuggles closer.

She promptly falls back to sleep.

When she wakes up again the sun has finally risen, scattered in shapes over her bed and the strands of Lexa’s hair spread out over the pillow they share, and nothing stops her from staring. The small slope of her nose, the curve of her lips, those long lashes. How in sleep Lexa looks like the softest thing Clarke has ever seen and she wants to drown herself in it.

She scoots closer, presses her face to Lexa’s shoulder, and breathes in. Lexa smells like her, in her bed and wearing her clothes, but underneath it all Lexa’s still the same, and Clarke likes that the best.

There’s a subtle shift in the body next to her a minute or two later, and then quietly, “Clarke.”

Clarke doesn’t answer right away. The sound settles into her ears, Lexa’s voice soft but close, and Clarke wonders if she stays silent maybe Lexa will fall back asleep. But there’s another shift, bigger than the first as Lexa frees an arm from under the covers and wraps it loosely around Clarke’s waist. Clarke’s pretty sure that’s a sign of victory. Until--

“What about class?”

Clarke shoots up with a gasp and Lexa’s arm slips from her waist. She twists, focusing on the digital clock on the corner of her desk and as a final fuck you it ticks over to eight o’clock.

She turns back around. “We have to go.” Clarke says, urging the lump next to her. Lexa burrows deeper. “Now. You have class too.”

“I do,” comes Lexa’s muffled reply, face pressed against Clarke’s side. “but as far as I’m concerned, I've been expelled.”

“You weren’t though,” Clarke whispers. Lexa doesn’t respond.

Clarke sighs and as the seconds tick and the minute passes, the urgency cools. The dread and sudden nausea at the prospect of showing up tardy to school seems trivial in the scheme of things--with Lexa curled into her side.

Gingerly, Clarke finds her place again and it's hard. Picking at the covers, pulling them up again, but Lexa remains unperturbed, maybe already asleep again. Her eyes are closed when Clarke regains the comfort lost and this close it's hard to focus. So she scoots forward a fraction, the tip of her nose coming into contact with Lexa’s and she decides then that maybe Lexa has the right idea after all.

After all, who’s there to tell them no?

“I can be fun,” Clarke mutters.

Lexa’s lips curl, and the butterflies that smile ignites...

“I know you can.”

 


 

It’s another couple hours before Clarke dredges up the means to wiggle out of Lexa’s embrace. Sometime around 10:45, and despite how much she’d rather spend the morning counting and recounting the freckles speckled over Lexa’s cheeks, the call of nature wins out.

Lexa doesn’t budge, dead to the world after finally being allowed the peace, and Clarke makes a quiet escape to the bathroom. She’s in and out, washing her hands and then giving a quick brush of her teeth, but she double checks the driveway on her way back, confirming the absence of her mother’s white sedan. The street itself is empty, their neighbors’ cars all gone save for Mrs. Conouyer who home-schools her two young boys.

Clarke turns, bounding up the stairs and then down the hall to her room. She leaves the door a tad ajar, crossing the space towards the bed and the shape of Lexa curled up under the sheets and crawls back in.

Lexa hums, the sound lingering in her throat, still half asleep, but she shifts to accommodate the sudden intruder into her personal space, lifting an arm so Clarke can fit into the curve of her body. Clarke makes a home there.

“What time is it?” comes Lexa’s voice, rough. She clears it halfheartedly.

“Eleven. Or just about,” Clarke says, lost in the slope of Lexa’s shoulder where the shirt slips low. The smooth skin and the contrast of dark, curly hair. She closes her eyes, inhales slowly.

“Should I leave?”

“Only if you want.” Clarke finds the edges of the borrowed shirt and a little bit of the skin underneath. “Or I could make some pancakes.”

“Breakfast?”

“Mm.” Clarke wiggles closer. “It’s one of the few things I’m good at.”

Lexa makes a noise in her throat that sounds a lot like disbelief and Clarke can feel it under her hands. “Is that so?”

“Food wise anyway,” Clarkes adds.

Lexa laughs.

Neither of them move as the minutes pass and Clarke decides to do nothing about it.

 


 

Clarke makes her way into the library, the print-outs in her hand ruffling against the open air as she maneuvers around the line by the check out desk. By now it’s almost a point of skill finding Lexa among the various boostacks in two minutes or less, but she has no one to brag to besides maybe Raven and Clarke’s sure she’s heard enough already.

Lexa’s in the children’s section, organizing the mess left from the Saturday reading. The kids are long gone, but the evidence remains spread out over the table. Crayons and loose leaf papers along with a few different books and Lexa takes her time. The crayons and colored pencils get put in a shoe box, the papers Lexa stacks and files away in an old well-worn folder, and the books are organized into piles. Routine, but when Lexa looks up, catching sight of Clarke there in the isle, she stops.

Her eyes flick between Clarke’s and the papers she holds in her hands and before Clarke can lose the nerve she pushes herself forward.

Lexa watches her take the seat closest to her, small like the rest, and Lexa's face goes soft as Clarke wiggles to get comfortable.

Clarke spreads out the papers. “Here,” is all she says, unsure of how to proceed, more than a little nervous. Stepping on toes and all that, but she remembers Mrs. Laudre, and figures the worst that can happen isn’t really that bad at all. “I got these.”

“These?” Lexa humors, looking down at the applications.

“Yeah, I, uh, did some research online and found a couple of organizations still offering scholarships and grants for the fall 2019 semester.”

“Clarke.”

“Lexa,” Clarke counters. “It’s never too late.”

“I’ll do what I can with what I have. That’s what I’ve always done.”

“But you deserve better ,” Clarke says, leaning closer, and she tries to put every ounce of feeling into that word. Because it’s true. She reaches for Lexa’s hand, threads their fingers together and gives a reassuring squeeze. “You can come with me to Polis U. The tuition is reasonable, and just take a look around you, Lexa. You love these kids right?”

Lexa’s eyes rise up to meet hers.

“Why not try teaching? Why not be what Arcadia and this town failed to do for you? You’re already doing it now, aren’t you?”

“This is different,” Lexa says, pulling her hand away. She goes back to organizing. “It’s not just tuition, it’s the left-over student loans and the interest, it’s working two jobs just to pay rent on an apartment I obviously can’t afford, while at the same trying to survive our current education system. I can’t manage it now. Here I am practically living at the local library and that’s without college looming over my head. It’s just not probable.”

Clarke can pinpoint the moment Lexa’s realizes her mistake and to be honest it takes Clarke a second as well. Lexa's eyes widen a fraction, and Clarke sees the way her mind reaches for an excuse, mouth falling open.

“Clarke--”

“Are you--” She doesn’t finish. The look on Lexa’s face tells her everything, and the hurt Clarke feels is selfish. Angry at Lexa and her bull-headed stubbornness but also at herself, for not being allowed the chance to help. It prickles against her ribcage, burns hot, but she doesn’t feel like rationalizing it. Not right now. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to worry,” Lexa explains, backtracking. “Plus I’ve gotten used to it. I was on my own long before we--”

“Oh my god, Lexa--since when?” Clarke whispers through her teeth. She scoots closer, trying to keep this conversation as private as it can be in the children’s section of the library even if there’s no one to pay them any attention.

“I aged out of the system in October,” Lexa says, so matter-of-fact it hurts.

“The entire winter. You spent the entire winter homeless? Where have you been staying?"

“Anya’s. And a few others,” is Lexa’s curt reply, the tension gathering in the slope of her shoulders. Lexa's eyes avert, this pinch forming between her brows, and it’s not angry but the motion is defensive in it’s very nature.

Clarke gives her distance. “Are you okay?”

Lexa shrugs. The stress loosens with the motion though, and Lexa relaxes with it. It gives her time to think. Her eyes find their hands separated on the table, and Clarke follows it. Lexa’s knuckles are finally starting to heal, the bruising more yellow than purple, but it still gives her that guilty feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“I’m fine.”

Clarke sighs and it slips down to the tips of her fingers.

Lexa finishes putting things away, the last few pencils tucked into place and then she closes the lid of the shoe box. She sits still in her seat afterward and thinks, seemingly lost in her own thoughts.

“What is there to lose?” Clarke asks finally, timid despite how blunt the words come out. “Just tell me why.”

Lexa shakes her head. “I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Lexa admits quietly. Perhaps to hide how her voice trembles and Clarke can kind of imagine what it feels like to be stabbed. “I’ve learned the possibility is far worse than the disappointment.”

Clarke’s heart drops. “You can’t live like that.”

“I have so far.”

“Then do it for me. Because I’m asking you to.” She moves her hand, lines up hers and Lexa’s pinkie to pinkie. “Please.”

Lexa sighs, reaching around with her right hand to take the topmost paper and placing it in front of her. Clarke watches her eyes, the way they skim briefly through the synopsis and the terms of agreement.

“Do you have a pen?” Lexa asks at last, catching Clarke’s stare.

The smile takes over and Clarke leans in to kiss Lexa’s cheek. “Don’t move, I’ll be right back.”

 


 

The rumors start on Monday. Maybe it was the fight Thursday and the subsequent fact that neither of them showed up to school Friday. Or maybe it was a culmination of things spread out over the almost five months since this started. Either way, Clarke doesn’t hear much of it, perhaps in partial thanks to her small circle of friends and her uncanny ability to block out most gossip. Well, that and the fact that it’s only been days. Apparently teenagers will take anything and stretch it well beyond its worth.

It’s not much. Things Clarke hears to and from class--mentions of hers and Lexa’s name together. In what capacity, Clarke can’t decipher, and honestly it isn’t worth the energy. It doesn’t matter anyway.

But to Raven it does, and she loves to share.

“Heard Caroline and Peter talking about you earlier,” Raven says, bumping their shoulders together. It creates this buffer between their classmates wandering the halls and the space they share as Clarke puts things away in her locker for lunch.

“About what?”

“Oh, that you and Lexa must be doing drugs together or something stupid like that,” Raven says with a scoff. “Which is hilarious to me ‘cause I still remember those days when you were afraid to take more than one pill of ibuprofen for your migraines. I don’t know what she’s going off of besides the fact that she saw the fight break out. I think she’s just miffed you nearly knocked her over trying to break it up.”

Raven pauses, glancing over Clarke’s things. “Are you eating lunch with her?”

“I was thinking about it,” Clarke says, closing her locker after fishing out her rather large lunch box. Raven narrows her eyes suspiciously and Clarke feigns innocence, tucking it against her chest. In her peripheral she catches a few conspicuous stares, but when Raven levels a glare in their direction they scurry away down the hall.

Once the coast is clear Raven shoos her playfully away. “Go on, get going.”

This timid smile steals Clarke lips, and Clarke mutters a goodbye before setting a brisk pace towards the art room with her lunchbox. She makes a mental note of thanking Mrs. Laudre later.

The second floor is barren, empty hallways and empty classrooms, and she slips into Mrs. Laudre’s room with no one the wiser. She unpacks the lunchbox, setting the extra sandwich and an individual bag of chips on a napkin to her right along with an apple and a drink.

She’s twisting off the cap to her juice when the door creaks and Lexa slips inside. There’s this lopsided lopsided smile to her lips and at the sight of her Clarke’s heart forgets to work.

“You didn’t have to wait,” Lexa says as she pulls up a seat beside Clarke.

“If you took any longer I wouldn’t have,” Clarke replies with this small grin. Lexa locks eyes with her then, and it's surprising how disarming it is.

“Thank you. For this.” Lexa says, glancing at the food splayed out before her. “I can pay you back.”

Clarke snorts, reaching for her sandwich. “Yeah, no, that’s not happening. But nice try.”

“I got a job.”

Clarke’s attention shifts immediately. She stares at the side of Lexa’s face, trying to decipher the meager tell of the inner workings of Lexa’s thoughts and feelings but her features portray close to nothing.

“At the library,” Lexa elaborates finally. “Just organizational work. Restocking books. But it's an income, it’s minimum wage, and it's mine .” Her voice wavers a little bit, and she quickly moves on. “I also applied for a summer position at Jo’s and the general store down near Market Street.”

“That’s a lot.”

“I’m going to need it.”

“Any news on the scholarships?” Clarke can’t help but ask.

Lexa shakes her head, smiles a bit. “I think it’s still too soon for that, Clarke.”

 


 

“Mom, what are your thoughts on me getting an apartment?”

“An apartment, Clarke? Why in the world would you need an apartment?”

“Just a small one near school. For privacy,” she says, and Clarke has to stop herself from visibly flinching at how ill-prepared she is for this conversation.

“I thought you wanted to commute?”

“Yeah, but it’s almost an hour drive and all that commute money could be just as easily put into somewhere else so why not this? There wouldn’t be as many distractions as a dorm and I could walk to school and have somewhere to come home to and focus.”

“I doubt that would be anywhere near as cost effective as you think it is Clarke. There’s monthly payments, yes, but you have utilities and laundry and food. All of that adds up. You would need a job, a good one considering the potential cost of housing close to campus, and while I know you are a capable young lady that is a lot put on your shoulders your first year in college, especially considering your chosen field.”

“I can do it,” Clarke says.

Abby purses her lips.

“Lexa’s going too, I wouldn’t be alone.”

“Lexa,” Abby says, giving a small, amused shake of her head. “Did she help you come up with this idea?”

“No,” Clarke responds. “But I asked her if she wanted to join.”

Abby exhales. “I had a feeling.” She stores the last few things into her laptop bag, grabs a light jacket which she pushes her arms through and then reaches for her lab coat draped over the dining chair. “What has she decided to major in?”

“Education maybe. She’s thinking just gen eds for now though.”

“Polis University is an expensive school for just general education,” Abby says, making her way towards the door. Clarke tails behind.

“She’s applied for scholarships, but there’s a community college not too far away. Transferring will be an option if she ever wants to.”

“Clarke, honey,” Abby says, stopping by the front door. She turns and Clarke stops in her tracks. “Is this really Lexa’s plan or is it yours? Tell me the truth, please.”

“Hers,” Clarke answers without hesitation, but the way the word settles doesn’t feel right. She tries again. “Both.”

“Clarke.”

“It’s not her original plan, but it would help her a lot.”

“So this isn’t about you then?” Abby says, rhetoric in the way Clarke knows she isn’t expecting an answer. Clarke doesn’t want to give her one. She knows she’s been caught and Abby tilts her head expectantly. “Please don’t make me ask you again, Clarke.”

“Lexa’s dealt with more than what she should have to and if I can make one thing easier for her then--”

“That’s very nice of you, Clarke, but it’s not on you to fix someone else’s problems. You have enough on your plate as it is.”

“It’s not a problem,” Clarke urges, sneaking in front before Abby has a chance to reach for the door. “I like her.”

Abby stops, readjusts her bag over her arm. “Being friends with someone is vastly different than living with them, you know that right?”

“Not like a friend.” Clarke corrects. Because it feels like a lie not to, and she’s never been good at lying.

Abby’s face gentles. “I had a feeling,” she says softly, offering a small understanding smile and it calms the sudden swirl in Clarke’s stomach. Abby taps a finger on the strap of her bag. “That makes it harder you know.”

Clarke looks away, down at her nails as she fidgets, and then back up.  “You like her, right?”

“She seems like a very nice young woman,” Abby responds. After a moment, her mother’s posture drops, shoulders relaxing. She sighs once, opens her mouth and closes it. Opens it again, “I’ll think about it.”

Clarke’s eyes widen and it's just the start but she’s ready to take it. She rushes forward, enveloping her mother in a hug.

“Thank you.”

 


 

“Can I help you with something?”

“Yeah,” Clarke smiles, and Lexa glances at her briefly before returning to the cart full of books. “I need help finding this book, would you mind giving me a hand?”

Clarke follows as Lexa makes her way further down the aisle, meticulously organizing the books onto the shelves into their proper order. “I’m working, Clarke.”

“That’s why I’m asking you and not someone else.”

Lexa rolls her eyes, but Clarke can see the fondness in the subtle curl of her lips as she braces her hands on the cart, and then much to Clarke’s surprise, leans over and steals a kiss.

It's a second or two before Clarke reluctantly opens her eyes, staring after Lexa with what must be the most lovesick look known to man. She watches as Lexa picks up a novel and reads the printed label along the spine before reshelving it. “Stop by after? Sleep over.”

“Clarke,” Lexa says, but it's soft, tenderly exasperated, and there’s this little bit of green when Lexa’s eyes dart her way. “Your mother is going to start getting suspicious.”

“As if she doesn’t already know.”

Lexa's head rises, turning to face her fully. Her eyes search Clarke's face, and there's a hint of worry, but it lasts a second, if that. “Did you tell her?” she asks calmly.

“I haven’t been able to hide anything from her since I was four. And even then she still found out  I was hiding all the peas in my mouth and then spitting them out in the bathroom trash.” A smile tugs at Lexa’s lips and Clarke answers with her own. “Nothing gets by her.”

“Are you okay with it?”

“Are you?” Clarke asks instead and Lexa takes her time to think.

“How did she...” but Lexa can’t seem to finish and trails off.

“Handle it?”

Lexa nods.

“Good,” Clarke says softly. Moving closer, she reaches out, weaving their fingers together. “Better than good actually.”

And she hears Lexa breathe a sigh of relief.

 


 

“So I have this plan,” Clarke says, her fingers woven into Lexa’s hair. There’s this answering hum, Lexa’s body more of a blanket draped over her own, and maybe it was a part of her plan, Lexa soft and half asleep. Content and plaint from a quiet evening reading in Clarke’s bed and Clarke’s hands in her hair.

The sun lasts longer now with late spring and the warming of the weather, but her room is nearly dark besides the light coming from the desk lamp just a few feet away.

“A plan,” Lexa murmurs into Clarke’s belly. Clarke feels the residual warmth of her breath through her shirt.

“Yeah, a plan. A good one.”

“You think all of your plans are good ones.”

“Because they are.”

Clarke can see the tip of a smile, can hear the soft chuckle of laughter, and Lexa’s hands tighten their hold on her shirt in a brief squeeze before relaxing again.

“Would you want to rent an apartment with me?”

The question elicits the first physical response in what feels like hours and Lexa shifts, slowly pushing herself up. Lexa locks eyes with her, and Clarke unconsciously reaches out for the hem of Lexa’s shirt as she sits back.

Clarke rolls the fabric between her fingers. “It would be cost effective and we wouldn’t have to shoulder it alone.”

“Is this your plan?” Lexa looks down at her, this subtle flush to her cheeks, hair a braided disarray courtesy of Clarke’s hands and this warmth pools low in her stomach.

“Only if you say yes.”

“Are you serious?”

“I asked and my mother didn’t tell me no, so...” Clarke says. “I think our chances are good.”

For a moment Lexa’s eyes seem far away, unfocused as she stares at the pattern across Clarke’s shirt. “I can help you pay.”

“So it’s a deal then?” Clarke says, a slight grin on her lips and purposefully cheeky. She hopes it calms the tension she feels in the hands on her waist. And after a moment it does. Lexa’s grip gentles, thumbs tracing slow idle circles and when Lexa dips low, hair tumbling in messy curls over her shoulder, the grin is quick to fade. Clarke's breath hitches in a barely audible gasp and she’s sure Lexa hears by the way she stops a hair’s breadth short and pauses. 

Their lips touch, just barely, and Clarke decides to take matters into her own hands.

Her hands move from Lexa’s shirt to her shoulders and around her neck, pulling her down on top of her.  Chest to chest, there’s an audible huff of breath against her lips, a mixture of exhale and laughter, and Clarke swallows it all down.

The kiss is messy. Made up of slips and off center kisses. Clarke’s hands find their way under Lexa’s shirt, emboldened, grasping at the skin of Lexa’s hips and it causes Lexa to falter, even if only for a second. She lets out this groan, pulling away to rest her forehead against Clarke’s.

“Your mother is going to kick me out.”

“Not if I have something to say about it,” Clarke whispers against her mouth.

 


 

Clarke makes a beeline for the library after class, haphazardly stuffing some textbooks, her sketch pad, and a couple study guides for finals into her bag before taking off down the hall. The sound of the buses can be heard over the chatter, engines idling as the students pour out in droves.

Shouts echo across cars over the parking lot, horns blare obnoxiously. Clarke rounds the building towards the main entrance and the visitor parking and it’s then that she sees Lexa bolt out past the doors. A couple of students lingering by the bike racks jump at the intrusion, but Lexa’s pays them no attention, head on a swivel until finally settling on her.

The first and completely irrelevant thought Clarke has as Lexa takes off towards her is that she would be excellent at track. She has the stamina and definitely the perseverance. Plus Clarke’s seen her wipe the floor with a guy three times her size, which has got to count for something. The second thought is Clarke can’t tell if she is going to stop.

She doesn’t flinch, but when Lexa crashes into her, it’s Lexa who keeps them both from falling.

“Lexa?” Clarke manages in spite of her surprise, arms splayed awkwardly outward for balance until the situation catches up to her and she immediately returns the embrace. “Lexa are you okay? What’s wrong?”

Lexa’s arms tighten around her waist, and Clarke feels lexa’s breath on her neck as she exhales.

“If you don’t start explaining right now I’m going to tickle you in front of the entire school and your four year reputation of being a rebellious tough girl is going to go down the drain. I swear to god Lexa, I’ll do it.”

Lexa’s voice is muffled into her neck and Clarke feels the words as they escape. Their meaning though is lost and Clarke turns her head towards the noise. The smell of her is familiar, hair soft and ticklish where it touches Clarke’s cheek and the presence is calming despite the circumstances. Around them, she tries to ignore the stares and muttered whispers as their classmates pass them by, glaring at the unfortunate few who dare to make eye contact but it does little to deter them. But she doesn’t care. They’ll never matter anyway.

“I got it,” Lexa repeats, and the awe isn’t lost in the repetition. Her fingers curl at Clarke’s back, bunching up the fabric in her hands, and the realization crashes over Clarke in a wave. She pulls away, urging Lexa’s face away from her neck, palms cupping her cheeks.

Lexa’s eyes are red, lashes wet and glittering in the bit of afternoon sun, and Clarke's heart clenches at the sight. “I got it.”

“The scholarships?” The first bud of excitement unfurls as the words make it out, and she wipes away an errant tear that rolls down Lexa’s cheek. “Really?”

Lexa nods, this small trembling smile finds the corner of her mouth, and Clarke thinks: to hell with it. Her hands scramble for Lexa's shirt, grasping and pulling her forward into a hug, and Lexa lets her.

“Lexa,” Clarke says, murmured into Lexa’s shirt, and she hopes it somehow conveys even a sliver of elation she feels.

Because this is how it starts and there is still so much more to go.

 


 

Fall is surprisingly nice. Well, that’s not completely true. Fall is a mess too, but it’s nice. Summer burns quick and hot, and yet it’s over before it has a chance to start. Lexa works more than she doesn’t and Clarke savors those cool summer nights in her childhood home with the windows open and Lexa tucked next to her in bed.

Now the weather is cooler and the sweaters come out early. According to her mother, the farmer’s almanac is already predicting a harsh winter, but in the chaos that is those first few weeks of September, all it takes is a few extra layers, a cup of something warm and comforting, and Lexa.

More often than not it’s Lexa that seems to help the best.

Their apartment is quaint. Small two bedroom, one bath abode out near the east side and a ten minute walk to the Polis University campus. It has a small kitchen, a table with only two chairs, and a couch Lexa falls asleep on more than she does her own bed. Not that she uses it at all. They may as well turn the extra room into an office or maybe a pilates studio for all the action it sees.

Clarke’s on the other hand… Lexa is always in some form of reaching distance, and Clarke can’t figure out how she managed so long without. The bed here is larger than the twin back home, new and memory foam soft, and all she has to do is roll over, reaching out with searching fingers until they find the main source of warmth besides her own.

“Clarke. Clarke, your phone,” Lexa mutters sleepily into the pillow and Clarke presses her forehead against Lexa’s back. Somewhere among the sheets, the trill of Clarke’s alarm drones on. “Clarke.”

“Hm?”

“Your alarm.”

Clarke waits five seconds before retreating, blinking wearily while patting about her side of the bed. She finds her phone bundled up in the comforter and sits up, silencing the noise with a swipe of her finger. Exposed from the protection of the covers, the chill rushes in fast, sneaking into the space left and Clarke shivers, exhaling this slow and slightly annoyed huff of breath. She turns her head, finds Lexa next to her.

“Will I see you?” Clarke asks, leaning over to press her lips to the bare shoulder on display above the covers.

Lexa stirs. “Not until late,” Lexa murmurs. It's a moment, but her chest expands with with a deep breath and Lexa shifts, stretching, rolling over onto her back and the sheets follow.

And then Lexa blinks awake, rubbing at her eyes before letting her arms flop back down onto the mattress, and Clarke takes in all that sun-kissed skin. When their gazes meet next, this small lopsided smile pulls at the corner of Lexa's mouth.

“Good Morning,” Lexa says.

And yes, it is.