Actions

Work Header

Fake fake (in love with you)

Work Text:

***

CHRISTMAS EVE

***

“Lexa, no.”

“Clarke, yes.”

“We’re going to fall.”

“We’re not. It’s um, uh, just one sec ... aha, there!”

Clarke does not share in Lexa’s joy. There is no triumph in their current predicament.

“Lexa ...” Clarke grits her teeth, breathes through her nose, cursing the last twenty four hours and every decision ever made in her life that led to this point. Her left foot is somewhere unaccounted for, her right twisted in the opposite direction. Her torso is bent over—or is it under—Lexa’s outstretched back, which despite body parts rubbing together at weird angles isn’t the most compromising position given the particular spread of Clarke’s legs or how Lexa’s hands really aren’t where they should be. The worst of it is Clarke’s face smushed into the crook of Lexa’s neck and shoulder. Where the scent of woodsy lavender is most concentrated.

The accidental ass grab, even the knee precariously placed inches away from her centre, Clarke can handle (somewhat). But with her longtime crush slash best friend’s unique floral musk invading her nose, breathing is a problem. With the lack of air, she is at risk of crumpling into held-off desire more than their dangerous arrangement of limbs in a juvenile game of Tequila Twister.

(Taking a shot of tequila at each turn is a must, just to up the ante and even the playing field between strategy and skill and mental stability.)

“I refuse to lose, Clarke.”

Their whisper shouting has long been lost to Raven and Anya’s snickering laughter. Clarke manages to throw another glare in the direction of their friends, who are differently contorted in their own pretzel shape. Except, the difference is that they are a real couple to everyone’s knowledge and for the last three hours and the next three days, she and Lexa are pretending to be one.

“Hold still,” Lexa tells her. Doing god knows what with her wiggling free hand.

“Not really much of a choice here, babe.” The emphasis on the term of endearment is said loud enough for the right audience—Lexa’s grandmother and the target of their deception—to hear.

“Isn’t that very sweet, Gustus?” Clarke catches her say to her son, Lexa’s father. “I remember when you were Alexandria’s age and twisted yourself in a similar knot to be with Adeline.”

“Hmm, I don’t know, Mom. I don’t think I was ever this head over heels for Ada as A is for Clarke.”

Lincoln laughs, joining his uncle Gus who bellows a chuckle so loud it startles a napping Octavia awake.

“God, are they still at it?” Octavia asks to no one, her voice sounding groggy to Clarke’s ears. She can’t see her but knows her comment was likely followed by an eye roll.

“You know my cousins, there’s no mercy until one of them loses an eye or a limb,” Lincoln answers his girlfriend, amusement laced in his tone. “Nan, your turn to spin.”

Clarke hates them all. Every one of the Woods. Anya, the aggressor, who never fails to egg her little sister on and by extension, with her wife as accomplice, ensnare Clarke in their web of antics. Lincoln, the pacifist, who does nothing to discourage her nor his girlfriend when Octavia inevitably joins in. Gustus, the widower and giant teddy bear, who makes it impossible to be mad at him for anything. Even Nanna, who Clarke loves dearly as her own but whose old age was a liability to Clarke’s willpower and ambition in life not to disappoint the elderly.

But especially egregious for Clarke’s emotional health, is the youngest Woods. Lexa, who has to compete with her sister at everything but particularly at the annual Christmas Eve games with the stupidest, lowest stakes up for grabs: dishes and the spare bedroom. Lexa, who does not want to be the loser that has to take the bunk bed up in the dusty attic because of a lingering childhood fear of monsters. Lexa, who convinced Clarke to be her fake girlfriend to make her grandmother happy because her heartbreak over Lexa being the last holdout of her grandchildren to find love—I’m not getting any younger, dear—had apparently been too heavy of a burden for Lexa to shoulder alone. Lexa, who without consultation spun a tale about how she and Clarke had recently seen each other in a new light after so many years of looking away, and coincidently just in time to spend the holiday long weekend together at the Woods estate. Lexa, who Clarke has been (not so) secretly in love with since the jungle gym and with whom she’s found herself roped into miscellaneous misadventures throughout the years because of a conditioned inability to say no to the pout (tm).

They’re all in on the ruse in a collective effort to give the senior Woods some holiday cheer. But it doesn’t stop the others from taking every opportunity to poke fun at the fledgling ‘couple’.

“Left foot red,” Nanna announces with more solemnity than called for. “Oh my.”

By the look of it, there’s only one red circle within reach of either pair. Clarke’s certain without visual confirmation that Anya is shooting lasers into the plastic mat, target locked and loaded, seeing nothing but red.

“Clarke, we can do this,” Lexa asserts.

We really don’t have to,” Clarke replies into Lexa’s neck, where a bead of sweat has formed. Its trickle a plight on her self restraint. She has to stop herself from darting out a tongue to lick it. “I don’t mind dishes and I’m perfectly happy taking the couch as I have every year.”

“Yes, but that’s before before, when we were both single, remember?” Lexa reminds out of the side of her mouth. A sharp elbow nudges Clarke to stay in line with the charade. “Couples share rooms and I’m not going to sleep next to the chimney chute.”

“What did she say?” Nanna practically shouts.

“That Clarke can’t wait for Lexa’s Kris Kringle to come down her chimney,” Raven unhelpfully fills in, her volume raised to match.

“Ah, that’s nice.”

“It’ll be fine,” Lexa reassures her, both ignoring the latest rounds of laughter. Strategising, she advises, “Just, I’m going to wrap my arm this way, which should give you room to move your foot that way.”

At the feel of an unexpected pressure from Lexa in an intimate area, Clarke’s ready protest dies in her throat. She goes deadly still. Barely manages to croak out.

“That’s ... that’s not what you think it is.”

Lexa is cupping her breast, and squeezing.

“Isn’t this your shoulder?”

Another testing squeeze. Fingers exploring.

“It’s really not.”

“Oh. Oh. Sorry!”

In Lexa’s haste to rectify her error, her knee jerkily finishes the job of dismantling Clarke, whose answering yelp has their carefully constructed human pyramid toppling over. Lexa collapses on top of her. In the fray, there’s a walloping cheer from their arch-nemeses, Rayna, but all Clarke hears is her heavy panting. All she can see is the green of Lexa’s eyes, doe-like and alarmed.

Not wanting to give the game away, Lexa tilts her head down and gently brings Clarke in for a soft kiss. It’s light and chaste and no more than a few seconds long but Clarke’s heart misconstrues anyway and beats wildly in response. She might have lost the bedding prize but Lexa should be given an award for her acting skills because she looks as enamoured by the casual intimacy as Clarke feels about it.

They’re broken out of their haze by a celebratory scream of, “Yes! Enjoy the cobwebs, suckas,” followed by the stomping sounds of footsteps racing up the stairs to presumably claim their victory.

“No running, girls!” Nanna yells after. “To think they’re almost 30.”

“Great, we can finally eat now,” Octavia exclaims, her excitement (and priority) clear for the final outcome. For someone so tiny, she can consume her weight in stuffed birds and candy canes and sugar plums. Short of the Christmas tree itself, she’s eaten everything remotely edible in sight.

There’s additional shuffling. Feet scampering about. Lincoln helping Nanna up, from what Clarke can tell at her reduced eye level.

“Everyone go wash up,” the matriarch instructs sternly. “Dinner will be in an hour. Gustus, you’re with me.” The room empties on her directive, which is faintly trailed by a soft reprimand, “You need to be gentler with massaging the turkey, we’ll see if she survived your assault,” and Octavia’s grumbling, “Your family is so fucking weird.”

“C’mon,” Lexa says, recovering with a gentle smile, getting to her feet and extending a hand out for Clarke to take. “Let’s check out our consolation.”

It’s not half bad. And by half bad, that’s exactly the state of Lexa and Anya’s childhood bunk beds. There’s only half of it left.

The top bunk has been removed, leaving just the bottom. A single, solitary bed. The same bed where Clarke has endured countless (sleepless) nights squeezed in next to a too warm and soft Lexa while staring daggers up to the underside of a snoring Anya. A tagalong during summers spent with their grandmother, the bed sharing had never been a problem when they were younger but by highschool and puberty’s full onslaught, Clarke had become acutely aware of every bodily surface making contact with her best friend. It didn’t help that Clarke always runs hot and sleeps pantless to compensate—and Lexa being her considerate self mimicked the habit, stripping down to her underwear out of solidarity. But it also meant that Lexa, who perennially runs cold, would koala bear Clarke for warmth during the night.

It also didn’t help that Lexa had a girlfriend and Clarke had realised her attraction too late to do anything but smile tightly about Costia this and Costia that. Junior and senior year was agony of an unbearable kind that was only temporarily, mildly abated by dating Finn in college and then briefly Niylah after, during med school. Lexa and Costia, incidentally, didn’t make it past being high school sweethearts. Clarke just assumed it was a painful breakup because Lexa never talked about it and opted for casual dating ever since. To this day, she is undecided which is worse, Lexa’s high school monogamy or the college carousel of girls. Lexa strangely wore her own tight smiles whenever they double dated. Between hang ups and hook ups, the bunk saw its fair share of pining and sulking.

Clarke gulps. Lexa nervously strokes a hand through her hair. Likely ruminating in the same memories.

“Shit,” Lexa mutters, then by way of apology and explanation, “I guess Dad’s been getting handy again.”

A recently retired tire salesman, Gustus had moved back in with Nanna and taken on small projects around the house. The top bunk looks to have been sawed off, a sheet tied by the corners to each of the four wooden posts cover its length. Pulled from the centre towards the ceiling, it effectively creates a canopy. A string of Christmas lights hanging from underneath completes the makeshift decor. Blinking a warm amber into the dark recesses of their new hideaway.

Festive. Clarke chooses to interpret the gesture, rather than the more mortifying romantic ambiance created by Lexa’s father—and his surreptitious wingmaning.

Lexa drops their overnight bags onto the twin mattress. It lands with an inauspicious, unpromising thud, displacing a thin layer of dust. The plume of motes swirling in the dim light inconveniently adds to the magical atmosphere. Counterproductive to quietening the uptick of Clarke’s breathing since they descended the stairs.

“This okay?” Lexa asks, a bite to her bottom lip, worrying it into risk of blistering. Clarke tries not to think of how that bite—and her desire to press a slick thumb to smooth out the chapped skin—is more dangerous to her overall chances of surviving the holidays with her heart intact than their confined sleeping arrangement.

“It’s fine.” Totally fine. Clarke convinces herself, imminent demise notwithstanding. They’ve shared before. “We’ve shared before.”

“I promise not to cuddle too hard,” Lexa jokes. Clarke laughs, a little too loud, if only to have something to do with her mouth other than stare at Lexa’s mouth and wanting to melt into the fold of its pillows. She looks so soft standing there wearing the most absurd Christmas sweater. Under sparkly font, She Wants A Piece of Me, is a cleaved, crumbly gingerbread man, to which Clarke’s own knit-top features the rest of his severed half with the words, My Better Half (Baked). It’s a struggle not to close the gap and reunite the biscuit.

“Paws to yourself, Woods,” Clarke throws back, alluding to their earlier debacle. “I know how handsy you can get.”

The diversion doesn’t exactly work. Lexa adorably covers her face with her hand, looking more kissable. “I thought it was your shoulder!”

“Uh-huh.” Clarke smiles. It widens instantly when Lexa crouches down on all fours to look under the bed. Bum in the air, head lowered to the ground. Despite knowing full why, she prods, “Whatcha you doing there, babe?”

“Making sure it’s safe for you,” Lexa enlightens, craning her neck this way and that.

“Oh, right. Because I’m the one afraid of monsters under the bed,” Clarke teases, fighting another smile.

“Don’t worry, Clarke, I’ll protect you,” Lexa promises once she deems the underside in the clear, drawing up to her full height and puffing out her chest, hands on her hips, in a warrior pose. It deflates a second later. “But if it’s bigger than me, you’re totally on your own.”

“And they say chivalry is dead.”

“It’s sensible to put my oxygen mask on first before helping others.”

Clarke’s amusement soon turns into mild panic when Lexa nears closer before crushing her into a hug. As soon as the surprise wears off, Clarke pours into the familiar tight embrace.

“Thanks,” Lexa says into the curve of Clarke’s neck, vague about her gratitude.

Maybe she’s glad Clarke is here to participate in her latest mischief. Maybe it’s gratefulness for making the six hour drive together and twisting herself with disgruntled but still willing acceptance to bend to the Woods competitive streak. Maybe it’s advance payment for letting Lexa sleep with a night light on as they have since childhood sleepovers and Clarke not once making Lexa feel bad for being afraid of the dark.

The reasons don’t quite matter when hugs with Lexa are a love language on their own. Where one hand steadies Clarke at the small of her back and the other strokes tenderness into her hair; where lips skim indecisive between jawline and cheek after journeying up from breathing Clarke in; where their bodies are pressed so firmly together, thighs to hips to chest, heart beats sink as one.

“Always.”

If these hugs are all she gets for the rest of her life, Clarke will have known the unspoken syntax of love. Its micro arrangements.

They would be enough. Have to be enough. Except lately, her rogue heart hasn’t consulted the long ago written memo. And her body, the traitorous accomplice, is asking for more too. Much more.

The warmth of this particular hug is fuelling their insurgency.

“If you want, I’ll let you grope me later just to make it fair.” Clarke nearly chokes on nothing at Lexa’s suggestion.

Rather than admit to the liquid heat coursing through her the thought of it incites, Clarke deflects, “Not really a fair trade there, Lex. I have bra cups larger than your head.”

“You’re right,” Lexa murmurs, gaze distractedly falling to the area in contention. Then in a move that neither of them sees coming, Lexa takes Clarke’s hand and places it underneath her sweater. Pressing against her abs.

Lexa’s eyes widen in alarm at her impulsivity but she doesn’t make a move to correct. Stands stock still. The only movement is the flex of her abdominal muscles.

Clarke’s fingers involuntarily spread, digging for purchase, kneading, while her brain short circuits and her actions disconnect from all reason. “Um ... uh, opposite of soft,” she inarticulates, in the most unacademic assessment answering Lexa’s implied question, “Are we even now?”

Lexa’s fingers thread with hers. The new entanglement causes all sorts of wires to cross. It’s the only explanation for why Clarke starts to apply pressure, under the palm of Lexa’s soft, quiet guidance, to map the exact degree of hardness.

A pin drop could be heard in the snow that’s piling on the streets from the heavy fall starting outside the dormer windows neither notices. The creak of aged floorboards and the filtering sounds of pots and pans and dishes in motion in Nanna’s kitchen are a muted distance to the flutter light scratch of Lexa’s stomach and the shared swallow it draws.

When Clarke chances a glance back up, the wind is almost knocked from her at the breathless way Lexa is looking at her. Eyes lidded. Mouth parted. Cheeks crimson.

Lexa’s gaze flutters heavy and with intent, torn, between Clarke’s eyes and lips. Clarke’s own tracks the same short but for the longest time infinite distance. Back and forth. It feels like they’ve been practising this dance for ages. Yet, there is something new and promising in Lexa’s intense fixation on the bow of Clarke’s lips and the beauty mark adjacent, which has travelled well past pretense.

Crossing that last millimetre of inevitability, Lexa squeezes Clarke’s hand meaningfully.

“Clarke, about this whole pretending, I —”

Whatever Lexa is about to say gets cut off by a loud knock, springing them apart.

“You guys are really selling this thing,” Anya comments with a suspicious guile, a squinted smile. At Lexa’s deeper reddening and Clarke’s fidgeting with her sweater to keep undisciplined hands busy, she softens to inform, “Dinner’s almost ready.”

Like her sister, Anya is arrestingly attractive. Same high cheekbones and cutting jaw, sharp features only outmatched by a sharper wit. But where Lexa is 99% fluff, Anya is the inverse composition. The 1% saved for rare displays of affection.

Her tenderness lasts all but a blink of an eye, brusquely ending on the smack of two yellow safety vests against their chests, as Anya pulls out a nerf gun from behind her back.

“Suit up.” Anya advises with extraordinary glint in her eye. “Prepare to meet your doom.”

The Hangry Games.

(Which turns out to be a variation of Catching Fists and Mocking Clexa in the ultimate inane battle for bragging rights and the last drumstick.)

The Games goes about as well as Clarke doesn’t care for. She and Lincoln deliberately shoot each other within the first five minutes out of mutual mercy in order to spend the next twenty chatting safely away from the line of fire while the other four run around like idiots.

A safety that is called into question when patient brown eyes inquire into what’s really going on with her and Lexa.

“You should tell her, Clarke,” Lincoln presses. “I’m certain she feels the same. From where I’m sitting, Lexa’s not faking it.”

The same what? Clarke wants to play dumb but she’d be blatantly lying to someone who is a paragon of virtue. Kindness incarnate.

Luckily, she’s saved from answering by the very subject of their conversation. Lexa falls with an indignant thump in front of her, an odd blush colouring her neck and cheeks, where a foam dart is suctioned to her skin. There’s a scuffle and colourful language between the Woods siblings before Nanna has to intervene to arbitrate. She declares Lexa the winner by default because Anya cheated, admonishing that commentary on Clarke’s assets to fluster her sister is not in the spirit of the holidays or fair play or the women’s rights movements. Anya’s eventual concession comes not without vocal griping about Lexa’s obvious preference for breast over drumstick so she shouldn’t even be competing in the first place. (“You would so volunteer your girlfriend as tribute if we played topless.”)

Anya is forced to set the table.

Clarke helps right Lexa up, matching her in pinkness.

“All good?” She asks, quirking an entertained brow.

“Great.”

“Worth the blood shed?”

Clarke plucks the dart off her face. It makes a noisy pop sound. Caressing her cheek, she gently brushes the pads of her fingers over the angry crescent mark, tracing over a small scratch. The intimate gesture effectively serves to spread redness to other areas.

When Lexa ducks her head to shyly offer Clarke her hard won, prized drumstick, Clarke’s favourite piece of Nanna’s mouthwatering roast, Lincoln all but chortles. Clarke avoids his knowing gaze and perceptive smirk during dinner.

Dinner goes about as well as Clarke could hope. At first anyway, until she shoots herself in the foot.

The ribbing continues but fortunately Nanna’s famous potato mash does an excellent job to silence the lambs for a short time. Predictably, they resume as soon as enough grub and spirits are in their system to loosen lips again.

Clarke doesn’t heed any of it because more immediately concerning than their friends tag-teaming to crack their facade, is Lexa’s arm around the back of her chair where it rests for most of the meal. Protective but also purposeful in show. Whenever she catches Nanna appraising them, Lexa would lean in and whisper supposed lovers secrets into the shell of Clarke’s ear. It’d be all fine if Lexa let up after Nanna smiles fond and satisfied with their body language, but instead, she commits to her role with the same doggedness as she does in the courtroom. Lips more tender than the turkey on her plate, constantly brushing against Clarke’s hot skin. Warm breath curling around words like, baby and honey. Gazes shining so bright with open affection they make the lustre of the tree ornaments appear dull by comparison.

In the end, she’s had to relinquish the drumstick just to give Lexa something else to do with her mouth besides igniting restless butterflies in Clarke’s stomach. A temporary reprieve.

As thick as the gravy, Lexa is really laying it on. Clarke has barely recovered from the attic incident, spending the majority of the main course wondering what would happen if their door had been locked and Anya hadn’t interrupted. Lexa, on the other hand, is non-plussed about their near miss. Moving the needle of intimacy from almost to authentic with her proximity. If it weren’t for the limitations of dining furniture and the decency of decorum, Clarke would be straddling her lap at this rate.

It’s getting impossible to distinguish who Lexa is actually trying to convince, Nanna or Clarke.

“Could you two separate for one second so I can swallow my food?” Anya asks, eyeing them with unmasked disgust, fork held threateningly mid air by a limp wrist, ready to launch. “Wilting away here.”

Raven wordlessly reaches over without looking and lowers the potential weapon, continuing on unencumbered with her debate with Octavia about the best way to pluck a chicken. Meanwhile, Gustus and Lincoln are deep in conversation about a gym, which when Clarke listens more intently is about catching some pokey man and nothing to do with fitness or weights.

“I think it’s sweet,” Nanna defends them to Anya. “I remember a Christmas when you went on and on about black birds. It had nothing to do with a new aviary obsession or the sort as I had discovered after a certain friend’s arrival.” When she emphasises the word in Raven’s direction, Anya whinges under her breath (something about her hearteyes being within reason) but otherwise doesn’t contest the fair point, shoving the fork into her mouth. “Let Alexandria enjoy her honeymoon. They took long enough.”

Overstepping the minor criticism, Lexa looks joyous for the open permission to love it up. Unfortunately, she celebrates the small win at the expense of Clarke’s thigh, who has to resort to eating one-handed to keep Lexa from rubbing her excitement about gaining Nanna’s approval, up too high.

The consequence of all the unmetered attention is Clarke’s over-consumption of peach schnapps made by Raven who has an unapologetic heavy-handed pour. Since peaches are not exactly in season, she replaces its parts with more vodka.

The alcohol—and decidedly not Lexa’s fawning—at least gives her something to blame when the speeches portion of the night comes round and Clarke surprises everyone, including her fake girlfriend, with her unrehearsed—and also unconsulted—actions.

Nanna and Gustus take equal turn communicating their maternal and paternal gratitude for a full house and a happy and healthy family; Lincoln and Octavia chime in about the additional blessings of great friends and food; Raven and Anya are predictably less sentimental but nonetheless express in their own way a fondness for everything and everyone around the table; and Lexa gives subdued recognition to the empty chair, eyes wet remembering her Mom and the best stuffing stateside. Her glassy look turns hopeful when it fixes on Clarke as she toasts meaningfully, a glass raised in her direction, “to what was and what’s to come.” A soft promise.

After everyone clinks their drinks, Clarke clears her throat to regain the platform. She starts, “Speaking of coming,” but is quickly interrupted by, “TMI, Clarke.” She pauses to scowl at Gustus (the traitor) before continuing. “I want to thank you for having me, year after year.”

“Of course, honey,” Nanna says, reaching across to squeeze Clarke’s hand. “You’re an unofficial Woods,” pausing to look pointedly at Lexa, she adds, “soon to be official I hope.”

Lexa coughs, spluttering suddenly. Without looking, Clarke pats her on the back. Undeterred by Lexa’s abrupt need for air, she continues.

“Actually, that’s what I wanted to bring up.” Clarke plays with the food on her plate for a moment, searching for courage in potatoes. Feels Lexa’s curious gaze on her. After taking another fortifying gulp of her schnapps, Clarke looks back up and hopes sincerity is evident in her slightly intoxicated disclosure. “I’m really happy to have met your granddaughter. She’s my best friend and makes me very happy.” Turning to Lexa, Clarke repeats those same words to her. Although there are six pairs of eyes on Clarke, it feels like an intimate confession just between the two of them. “You make me very happy.”

Lexa’s face softens to something indescribable. A softness—a secret sweetness—she recognises as only reserved for her.

“You too, Clarke.”

Because she’s easily reduced to sentimentality by anything stronger than a beer let alone jet fuel fruit punch, Clarke elaborates, “One day, I hope to make you the happiest.” And because her judgment is also easily weakened by full lips and crinkling eyes, she grabs at the first thing she sees and offers it to Lexa like it’s gold on a plate. “I want to give you everything I have and someday I hope I can.”

“Did she just propose with an onion ring?”

Clarke doesn’t know who says it because Lexa is leaning in and kissing her in answer. Breath hitching, Clarke quickly gets with the programme after a stunned moment. Their mouths slot together and she bends where Lexa folds. Low whistles and utensils banging against the table encourage her to indulge in the PDA far longer than needs convincing.

When they separate at last, her lips wet and wanting, Clarke is rewarded with the biggest smile she’s ever seen on Lexa. Of course, it’s layered with amusement for Clarke’s weak sauce reaction to Raven’s special sauce but she’s helpless to the electrifying charge it generates, lighting up the whole of her insides.

“I will take whatever you’re willing to give,” Lexa says, quiet enough for Clarke’s ears alone. So quietly, like a shared truth, that Clarke believes it.

After dinner, and copious amounts of water, Clarke is put on health and safety duty to keep a watchful eye on Lexa and Gustus as they string the roof with fairy lights and, weirdly, mount basil to the chimney top. It’s their special father-daughter tradition for Christmas Eve. Clarke had learned long ago there was no point in arguing against their logic of putting herbs to lure Santa in during his heavy delivery schedule. Apparently, their creative (fragrant) offering was for Mrs Claus’s sake so Mr Claus didn’t come home smelling like ash and cinder. Clarke suspects the excuse was pretext for them to spend time alone together, above the din of the holiday noise. Open air for their special bond to strengthen.

While the others wash up inside, Clarke stands at the foot of the ladder trying to keep this pair of Woods from killing themselves. Her nerves are frayed with the nonchalant way Lexa walks across the roof in her snow boots, like it’s any regular sidewalk surface. They’re harnessed in but nonetheless it doesn’t ease her mind with how high off the ground they are, pitched at a forty degree angle.

Nanna comes out to join her shortly thereafter, handing Clarke a mason jar of hot cider.

“Those two will be the death of me,” Clarke remarks as Nanna looks up. They share a smile at the sound of Gustus and Lexa laughing. Adoration plain in the curl of their lips.

“I hope not. I wouldn’t want to lose my beer pong partner,” Nanna muses, gently knocking her shoulder against Clarke’s. Clarke raises her arm to draw her into a side hug. Like her granddaughters, she’s got several inches on Clarke so it’s a bit of an awkward reach.

Clarke clinks her drink to Nanna’s in agreement and appreciation. “Thank you.”

A comfortable silence ensues as they watch the zigzag movements across the roof. It’s peaceful. The sky clear. The night a hushed anticipation as the lakeside town holds its breath waiting for the guest of honour in red and white to arrive with his gaggle of elves. Other houses are already lit, aglow in reindeers and snow creatures and giant candy canes, and in some odd cases, palm trees.

“You know, I never understood why they do it so late,” Clarke comments. She’s often wondered about the Woods’ last minuteness to deck the halls.

“Alexandria’s doing,” Nanna answers. There’s a solemnity to her tone, like something important is about to be shared, that has Clarke turning to give her full attention and listening more closely. “We used to be the first on the block. Right after Thanksgiving, to Titus’s annoyance, the lights would go up.” She points to the curmudgeon neighbour’s house, an unadorned bungalow across the street, where a single wreath leave hangs pitifully on the front door. They both chuckle. Nanna’s voice softens. “But after Adeline ...”

Clarke smiles sadly. The familiar sorrow reappearing in the corner of Nanna’s eyes.

“After Adeline passed, which was around this time of year,” Nanna continues, a noticeable lump in her throat putting a scratch in her voice, “Alexandria got it into her head that if she waited long enough she would get her Christmas miracle, that her mother would come back.”

Clarke’s eyes well, a wetness reflected in Nanna’s pools of crystal blue.

Clarke remembers that awful Winter when Lexa returned home from her grandmother more sad and subdued than she had ever known her to be in the three years since meeting. All the light of the neighbourhood girl, who had become her constant companion in the cul de sac, had been snuffed out. The green of her once vibrant eyes were duller. Her smile less full. Words quieter. At nine, Clarke learned of the weight of heartbreak on small shoulders. Too heavy for Gustus, let alone his young daughters.

Clarke was small too, smaller than Lexa, but she felt an immense sense of duty then to help carry the load so that Lexa would never have to do it alone. Becoming the tiniest bodyguard on the playground and up the coast of the Eastern seaboard, Clarke has been protecting her from Atlas’s fate ever since.

“Christmas was special for them. They’d wait up together for Santa. Anya needed her beauty rest but her stubborn little sister wouldn’t go to sleep until her candle melted down to its wick. Poor Gustus would fall asleep snoring on the sofa in his suit trying to out-wait her. It was up to Adeline to keep the two from crossing paths,” Nanna reminisces. She wipes a fallen tear. “They were such peas in a pod. Alexandria takes so much after her.”

From what Clarke recalls and is confirmed in family pictures, Lexa may have her father’s jawline but her regal nose and expressive eyes and wild brown hair are all Ada.

“She’s beautiful,” Clarke says with awe.

“A strong girl too,” Nanna states and Clarke hums affirmative.

“Don’t tell Anya that. As entertaining as the pout-off of 2010 was, I can’t handle another arm wrestle rematch.”

Nanna laughs but then a wrinkle deepens in thought. “They’re equally strong, in different ways. But Alexandria has a gentler heart. It’s too large, like her dad, that I sometimes worry,” she confides.

“Me too,” Clarke commiserates.

Nanna gives Clarke a weighted look then, accompanied by a warm smile, “Though I have been worrying a lot less lately.” When Clarke returns a confused look, she expands, “I haven’t seen her like this since the summer of her fourteenth birthday.”

Clarke blushes at the memories that flood at the reminder, the fortnight that changed her relationship with Lexa and set Clarke on course for years of pining. It tempers quickly when Nanna follows up with, “I don’t know what happened after but she became more careful. Guarded. I assumed then, as is clear now, you had something to do with it.”

Clarke has an inkling of the answer, but asks anyway. “What do you mean?”

“Her happiness is tied to yours. She brightens around you.”

On cue, Lexa beams down at them, having just noticed the pair. The width of her joy pulls Clarke’s lips up in mirror.

“She’s my best friend,” Clarke repeats her dinner table observance. “If I can be even the smallest cause of that smile, then I will always try,” she vows, more to herself than aloud.

“You love her,” Nanna observes, a pregnant beat between them. It’s not a question. It’s not about friendship.

Clarke has to break eye contact from the probing look. A familiar kindness and disarming intensity. Staring into her cider, swirling the content for a stalling second, Clarke takes a moment to consider whether or not to lie to Lexa’s grandmother.

“I do,” she admits quietly. It’s not a lie. And then, more soft yet sure, “Very much.”

Before Nanna can comment further, cutely, Lexa waves to Clarke again, hammer in hand. Extraordinarily less cute and more heart-stopping is the tangle of wires and unstrung lights that’s an accident waiting to happen. And it does happen. In a blink of an eye, Clarke’s world narrows to the sound of a sickening crunch. The LED bulb bursting under pressure of a misstep. In slow motion, Lexa’s right foot slips out from under her, the hammer in her hand drops with a clang, a second of confusion before she’s upended on her ass and then sliding precipitously down the roof shingles, barrelling towards its edge. Clarke watches in clawing fear as she goes flying past the eavestrough and over their heads. She’s terrified to turn around to find what’s become of her girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Gustus stares in shock at the harness cables in his hand with dawning horror that Lexa wasn’t properly clipped in.

The door to the front of the house swings open and everyone spills out, rushing to check on the commotion.

At the clamouring of their alarmed cries, Clarke’s feet finally kicks into gear, racing over. Heart in her throat.

“Lexa!”

To her maddening relief but utter rage, Lexa is chuckling, face planted onto the large pile of snow by the side of the house. She’s starfished and unmoving when Clarke approaches but otherwise sounds to be okay. There’s an audible groan to accompany the giggling coming from the inadvertent snow angel.

“I think I’m dead,” is muffled, far too blasé for the potential severity of injury she narrowly escaped.

“If you’re not already, you will be,” Clarke swears while brushing hair and snow out of her face. The gesture soft compared to the bite in her strident tone. Checking for injury and happy to find no outward signs, she’s never been more glad that Lexa excessively and obsessively overlayers because of how cold she gets. The extra padding undoubtedly helped to cushion the landing. Clarke pushes her face back into the snow. “You absolute asshole.”

“Don’t kill me, Clarke. I’m dying.” Lexa opens her eyes, and with snow-covered eyelashes and dramatic flare for her grown audience, loud-whispers, “I love you. Remember me, always.”

“Not funny,” Clarke huffs. “Don’t scare me like that again.“ But then rubbing her back gently, she asks in all seriousness, “Does anything hurt?”

“My ego.”

“You okay there, Squirt?” Anya asks, a hidden worry in her voice masked by dependable sarcasm. “Forfeit by mortal wounds is still a loss.”

Lexa raises a gloved hand, presumably a thumbs up or a middle finger. Hard to tell.

There’s cross chatter among Raven and Octavia, regret for having missed what was surely an Olympic dive epicness. Lincoln at least helpfully starts to dig some of the snow away and clear a path on the driveway, lest they all take a tumble on concealed black ice. He also sweeps up the broken glass of Clarke’s mason jar she hadn’t realised she dropped in her panic.

By now, Gustus has descended to join the group. Once assured of his daughter’s safety and one-pieceness, he heartily laughs and calls her his flying raccoon. Clarke does see the resemblance. Lexa’s oversized stripe snowsuit, black and brown, is uncanny. But with her anger/worry haze not yet fully dissipated, she glares at him for his incorrigibility while helping Lexa down.

“No more rodent aeronautics,” she scolds, unclasping the harness buckles with forceful insistence. “As a heart doctor, I’d like to keep mine in my chest.”

Lexa hangs her head in reluctant agreement as Clarke shoulders her onto her feet and back to the warmth of the house. All the others file in line too on Nanna’s urging and promise of fireplace egg nog and coco treats.

The rest of the evening goes off without a hitch. They take up their usual after-dinner posts playing cards and charades before ending on the Home Alone (Lincoln’s pick) and Die Hard (Ocatvia and Anya’s choice) trilogies. Gustus and Nanna had retired to bed long before John McClane started yippee-ki-yaying his way across the screen in a blaze of destruction.

Clarke had fallen asleep on Lexa’s lap part way through the last film, lulled under by the gentle motions in her hair. She startles awake at the sound of squeaking furniture, catching sight of the other two couples’s retreating figures.

“C’mon, love. Let’s go to bed,” Lexa whispers, gently sweeping the curtain of blonde from her eyes.

“What time is it?”

“Late.” It must be if neither of them notice Lexa’s use of endearment.

“M’kay,” Clarke agrees but doesn’t bother moving away from Lexa’s warmth.

Lexa laughs. It’s fond and the sound only makes Clarke burrow deeper. An exaggerated, exasperated sigh is her only warning before Clarke is dislodged from her human cocoon and then lifted up into Lexa’s arms in a bridal carry despite the disapproving yelp. On instinct she wraps her arms around Lexa’s neck and nuzzles in for security.

It’s a slow struggle up two flights of stairs but between laughs and Clarke’s refusal to let go and her repeated command, “Do not drop me, I’m fragile,” and Lexa’s grunts and comeback, “Not that fragile,” they manage to stumble their way to the attic.

“Nice touch back there,” Lexa says as she fluffs their pillows once Clarke returns from the bathroom, changed into pyjamas. A loose tank and short shorts.

“Hmm?” Clarke asks, finger brushing the tangles out of her hair. She has to prompt again on realising Lexa’s distracted state because of her state of dress, “What was that?”

“The improvisation at dinner,” Lexa clarifies, eyes averting at the last second. Blush crimson at being caught.

“Ah. Think Nanna bought it?”

An unreadable look crosses Lexa’s face before it gentles into a smile. “For sure, if the doctor thing doesn’t work out for you, Hollywood’s doors are open,” she says earnest, but then deprecates, “There’s a shortage of white and blonde actresses. You could even have a staring role in one of those Hallmark Christmas movies.”

“Highly doubtful.”

Not discouraged by Clarke’s narrowed eyes, Lexa persists with the fantasy. “Definitely. A haughty heiress who has to return to her hometown to deliver a letter to her ex. Much pining. Much hetero.”

“Was it too much?” Clarke asks, rounding back, suddenly self conscious of revealing her own pining.

“No, not at all,” Lexa reassures, reading her anxiousness. Her brows knit in thought as she pulls the blanket back and gets in. She quietly adds, with complete seriousness, “Anyone would be lucky to get such a proposal.”

Clarke hums, unable to imagine what that ‘anyone’ person looks like when her mind is already made up on a specific ‘someone’. Unable to get past the image of brown hair and green eyes, the identical set staring softly at her right now. Waiting with the top of the blanket opened in invitation. Clarke shakes out of her reverie and goes to turn off the main lights before hoping in. (The fairy lights stay on for Lexa’s sake.)

There’s some necessary adjustment to fit them both on the small surface but they find a common ground shortly. Clarke hasn’t taken a breath since Lexa’s arm came to rest on her stomach and her leg bent in L-shape to wrap around Clarke’s upper thigh. (If Twister was a physical challenge earlier then this was like the Mensa of intellectual and emotional minefield.) But Lexa seems content enough with their compromised position, yawning adorably.

“Good night, Clarke.”

“Good night, Lexa.”

It is not a good night. The lack of oxygen from not breathing (along with the schnapps’s lingering after effects) is getting to Clarke’s head. She feels woozy from trying not to move and disturb a sleeping Lexa. But the task, as it’s been for the last excruciating hour, is supremely difficult with Lexa’s aggressive spooning. There is no inch of her that is not touching Clarke. Lips against Clarke’s neck, chest against her back, pelvis cradling her bum, knees tucked under hers.

It is painfully erotic, in every un-platonic sense of the word. Arousal on overdrive, her body catalogues every point of contact, every fidget. The worst of it is Lexa’s hand under her rumpled tank, beneath her ribcage, and that has been steadily inching upwards. Her nipples are hardening in anticipation, without permission. And her core feels like it’s on fire. Clarke has read about Chinese torture practices but they have nothing on the torment of your lifelong crush love using you as a body pillow.

She has tried to wiggle out of the air-tight embrace but all her past efforts has done was bring them impossibly closer. Like sealed Tupperware, Clarke is trapped.

She crunches her eyes closed and wills morning to come. She can hear Gustus badly tiptoeing downstairs in probably his Santa suit to place gifts under the tree. Silently curses the human teddy bear for procreating another human teddy bear.

There’s a near deafening sound of rustling sheet, then a shift in movement. Clarke’s eyes bulge wide open. All thoughts about fathers and stuffed animals go out the window. The hand, which Clarke had been dreading its slow ascent, however, isn’t the culprit. It’s the press of lips against her neck. Then, a perilous, soft and wet tongue. Sucking.

Clarke’s body locks up. Lexa’s mouth seals around goose-bumped skin followed by the slightest graze of teeth before Lexa starts to suckle with determined strokes of her tongue, laving. Determined to kill Clarke with a neck orgasm.

“Clarke...” is breathily said. Heady and hallowed. Lexa is dreaming. The need in her voice does something to Clarke, intensifying the throbbing pressure below. She rubs her thighs together, hand fisting into the bedsheet to prevent it from travelling down to seek relief. “Baby, please.”

Clarke holds her breath. The pulse heavy between her legs. Thunderous in her ears.

“Lexa,” she dares call out. Trying to wake her inadvertent executioner before the sentence can be carried out. There’s no answer. Everything stills to a roaring quiet as Clarke listens for a change in her breathing or any signs of consciousness.

She sighs in relief when nothing more comes. But before her body can relax, Lexa’s hips start to move of their own accord, grinding into Clarke, slow and sinful, and it takes monumental effort for her own not to submit to the call. If that wasn’t enough stimulation, Lexa’s hand does move. It palms Clarke’s breast. Her fingers brush against Clarke’s nipple. Rolling, twisting. Two things happen at once. Clarke whimpers and Lexa wakes.

“Oh my god.” Lexa stiffens behind her. The gears must be in motion as she processes what’s happening. “Oh god ... oh god ... Clarke, I’m so sorry.”

There’s clear panic in her voice but Clarke is already worked up. She is wet from the proximity alone. Lexa repeatedly chanting “oh god” is definitely not helping. Without thinking, she reflexively cups her hand over Lexa’s, preventing it from withdrawing, instead tightening its hold. Squeezes. They both gasp at the same time. Whispering into the dark, Clarke pleads, the last of her restraint snapping on a shuddering breath, “Don’t stop.”

It’s a tense, terrifying second of inaction before everything resets in motion again. Lexa’s hand gives a testing massage, fingers curling more fully around Clarke’s breast. Heavy breaths thicken the air as Clarke reaches back with her hand into Lexa’s hair, holding her head in place. Encouraging.

Lexa takes that as cue to restart her light sucking up the column of Clarke’s neck. Hand squeezing more firmly in reaction to Clarke’s answering moan.

“Clarke,” Lexa whines on a sharp intake of air. A question underneath.

“Lex, please,” Clarke affirms. Reassures. “I want this.”

“What about our agreement?” Lexa tries more directly, sounding momentarily too sensible for Clarke’s declining decision-making skills. “Won’t this ruin–”

“It won’t,” she interrupts, breathless and desperate. Nothing could possibly be as ruined beyond repair as her shorts, Lexa may as well finish the job she started. By rough or gentle ruin, she needs them to see this through. Going by the growing puddle on her bum, the desperation and desire are mutual. “I want you.”

With explicit consent, things sharpen and blur in simultaneity. Lexa presses her body in closer, her hand moving down to Clarke’s stomach to bring their bottom halves into deeper contact. Her other arm comes around under Clarke’s neck for her free hand to take over kneading Clarke’s deserted breast. Tank top rolled and rucked up for better access.

“We have to be quiet, okay?”

Clarke nods, fervent. Little more than grinding and fondling happens for a stretch of time but it’s intense in its intent, as Lexa colours the one spot on Clarke’s neck purple and blue while her hips take up a steady rocking rhythm against Clarke’s ass. Clarke pushes back just as eagerly into the seat of her lap.

Her sleep shorts are then removed and with wordless coordination they also chuck off Lexa’s underwear, as well as the remainder of their clothing. Clarke more or less dies feeling short, coarse hair against her skin when their bodies rejoin. Comes back to life with a jolt subsequent to Lexa’s hand making its way lower.

A thread of a breath later, rearching fingers slide through her folds, swiping through damp heat, and it ends all coherent thoughts.

“Oh god, you’re so wet,” Lexa whimpers against her neck as she strokes and strokes through the thick, sticky evidence, spreading Clarke open and causing more liquid heat to coat her hand, “and hot.”

Her wet warmth is explored with the keenness and wonderment of a first coupling. It’s with studious commitment that Lexa feels her way around Clarke’s non-verbal signals of approval. Attentive to hitches of breath, scratches of nails, and heightened calls of her name.

“Lexa,” Clarke cries, squirming fruitlessly for friction. The hand that was in Lexa’s hair moves to reach down and behind, matching the groping pattern on her breast but also angling for more.

Message received.

“How many fingers?”

“One, two, three.” Clarke’s not picky. “All of them. It’s not the time to be doing math.”

Lexa laughs and Clarke chuckles but both their laughter dies when two exploratory fingers slip past Clarke’s entrance. An experimental dip at first, the slight burn is quickly replaced by searing pleasure as Lexa pushes in deeper and begins a shallow thrusting motion. Clarke has enough wherewithal to turn her head, which Lexa meets knowingly, ardently with a kiss—the least innocent kiss of the day and of the show they’ve put on so far. A kiss, exigent and of unholy expectation, belonging exclusively to the night.

Shallow soon becomes seismic. A surrendering of the sublime kind to hot blinding desire no longer held back by reservations of what and who the other wants.

“Feels so good, Lex,” Clarke whispers between draws of air. “So good.” Presses back in more urgent. “Please don’t stop.” Begs. “Please, please.” Barters. “I’ll do anything. Just don’t stop.”

“Shhh, I won’t,” Lexa coos, trying to keep her quiet. “I won’t.”

It becomes unclear what’s worse for Clarke’s losing composure, how far Lexa’s fingers reach, pumping and curling, or how softly she slides her tongue back and forth in Clarke’s mouth.

The sensation triples with how Lexa works her nipples into hardened peaks. Quadruples with the dirty talk, the utter filth that preflight her movements.

Arching and moaning, she can feel Lexa’s desire against her as they move together. Hooks a hand behind her knee to draw Lexa up, open and wide, then enters her from behind, made easy by the generous flow of want that greets her. Lexa is soaked.

Soon, they’re each three fingers deep in each other. The bed creaking under the weight of their ardour. The sound of slapping skin ricocheting off the walls. The accelerated pace of their approach towards the edge pull hard-to-stifle moan after moan after toe-curling moan from one another.

It’s bliss.

Breaking and breathtaking.

Achingly gorgeous.

A chill in her bones as her body starts shaking.

The pressure builds in her lower abdomen.

How could they ever have thought they’d be better off without this.

“Lexa, I’m gonna ...”

“Baby, I know,” Lexa soothes.

In a move that Clarke doesn’t expect, Lexa rolls onto her back and takes Clarke with her to lie completely flushed on top of Lexa, back still against her chest. Clarke’s hands fly out, bracing against the wall and mattress, a desperate grab for purchase as Lexa’s knees come up in an A-frame to bracket under Clarke’s and hold her legs open. Spreading her wide. So wide, it hinges on obscene. One hand still moving inside her, the other continuing to fondle her breast, Lexa quickens her movements. Clarke’s silent cries take on a fevered pitch. Her voice is hoarse from strained disuse trying to keep silent.

When Lexa rubs tight circles on her clit with her thumb, it should have been the match to the kerosene. When Lexa palms Clarke’s breast in a maddening race to contain its spill and keep up with her relentless fingers, it should have been the beginning of the end. But what finally tips her over is Lexa’s soft confession against her ear. “I wanted you too. For so long.”

Clarke comes with the loudest wordless scream of her life. Her orgasm immediately cresting into a second, unprovoked. The released pressure has her spilling endlessly onto Lexa’s hand.

Clarke rewards her effort by going down on her with surprising dexterity and speed to reposition herself between Lexa’s legs. Sealing her mouth around Lexa’s clit, it takes no more than a quick sink of fingers back inside and two strategic licks and sucks before Lexa is tightly gripping Clarke’s hair. Emits a strangled noise as her body bows in prolonged relief.

Once air renters their lungs, things ratchet up to a level of mercilessness.

Lexa’s hands are on her as soon as her strength returns, gently pulling Clarke up. Less gently, Clarke is flipped on her stomach. She is mewling and drooling again before she can discern which side is up. It’s like years of pent up sexual tension is released in one blissful, extended moment of unravelling ecstasy. On her hands and knees like this, Lexa takes her from behind with renewed verve and Clarke has to bite down on the pillow in front of her to muffle her scream. Her arms give out, sending her to her elbows, raising her ass higher. It feels incredible how Lexa fills her from this new angle.

“God, Lexa,” Clarke praises. It’s followed by the words, harder and faster and please, in a voice that almost doesn’t sound like her own.

Lexa complies and sets a brutal pace. Thrusting into her with abandon. Clarke arches her back into the taking as best she can, trying to stay solid where her body feels liquid.

Broad strokes take on devastating precision. A pistoning accuracy while holy lips scorch a path up and down her spine. Everything burns in the most exquisite way.

“You feel so good,” Lexa rasps. “Soft and warm and really, really wet.”

It’s not love making, not yet. Clarke thinks there’ll be time for that later. But it can wait. Right now, it’s pure and raw fucking. Demanding and destructive in the best way. Driven by carnal need. Lexa’s fingers make a beggar of Clarke’s body.

“Will you come for me again?” Lexa asks, tone sacred, like it’s her privilege and honour to experience Clarke’s unravel. Like it’s something within Clarke’s control to deny.

“I ... I will,” Clarke promises. There’s no other recourse.

“Quietly, okay?” Lexa reminds, asking the impossible.

It seems like Lexa is setting her up to fail with her increase in speed and then, when something soft and wet laps against her swollen clit before it pumps incessant, she guarantees Clarke’s spectacular failure.

With Clarke falling apart on her tongue, Lexa softly commands.

“Come for me, love.”

On her breathy exhale, Clarke shouts her third orgasm hoarsely skyward to the canopy. Lexa fucks her through it again and again into the fourth and fifth but she must be overwhelmed and overcome too because her voice joins Clarke’s on the final sixth.

“Shhh,” Clarke hushes. Not succeeding in keeping Lexa quiet on their come down. “Shhh, love.” They fall into uncontrolled fits of laughter afterwards. Unable to contain the giggling. Clarke turns to lie in Lexa’s arms, sinking into the familiar hold. She reprimands, “You’re gonna give us away.”

“Me?” Lexa asks indignant. “I’m not the one who’s probably scared off the reindeers. Never mind the neighbours. If there are no presents under the tree tomorrow, it’s squarely on your shoulders that Christmas is ruined.”

Clarke slaps her, fighting a smile. “Please, like you weren’t a willing accomplice.”

“True. I’m always up for trouble with you,” Lexa concedes, eyebrows stupidly wagging. Once they settle back in place over bright eyes, she professes, “I’ve missed you.”

“It hasn’t been sooo long,” Clarke imitates Lexa, calling out her earlier over-dramatisation. “Barely a day.”

“A day too long. I’m tired of pretending, Clarke. You don’t know what you in polyester tri-blend and xmas puns does to my heart.” Lexa throws her head back theatrically, jostling Clarke in the shuffle. Her arms tighten around Clarke’s waist to keep her from tipping over the bed. “It was getting dire.”

Clarke laughs and rolls her eyes. “This was your idea, Lexa. You’re the one who instituted an abstinence rule for maximum believability,” she reminds, miming air quotes. “I don’t know why we can’t just tell them that we actually are dating,” she tips upward for a kiss and squeezes Lexa’s ass for emphasis, “and have been fucking for awhile.”

“Because, it’s finally my year to get one up on Anya.”

“How so? By being fake fake in love?”

Their relationship has been kept a secret in service of Lexa’s long con secret mission. It’s taken a lot of calculated moderation to play double agent, but also to keep track of what she’s supposed to feel around Lexa.

“By lulling my sister into a false sense of security that she knows better than I do about my love life.”

“She kinda does, babe. An’s been telling you for years to woman up and ask me out.” Clarke pats her cheek patronisingly. Lexa pouts. Clarke kisses it. She relishes in their newfound afterglow. “Which I’m happy you finally did months ago.”

“She doesn’t have to know that.”

Actually, Clarke would love nothing more than to tell Anya herself. To drop the act. Longing for Lexa—having her close but not close enough—is an ache Clarke has had to lived with for too long, so familiar that the sweater had become threadbare. Wearing it again, however briefly, feels too uncomfortably comfortable for her liking.

The mental gymnastics, reverse psychology that’s been required to go ‘method’ as per Lexa’s insistence so their role playing is convincingly persuasive, is frankly, exhausting. There’s a reason she went to med school and not drama school. Plus, returning to the conflicted head space of where her heart had been for years stewing in assumed unrequited love, is not her idea of fun. It’s like triple-cross espionage but with none of the excitement.

On the other hand, as a supportive girlfriend and generally whipped, she would do just about anything to accommodate Lexa’s happiness.

“Okay, so what’s our end game here? How should I play this after thisperformance?” Clarke looks down at their post-coital situation, alluding to the unlikelihood of their recent activity going un-missed, certainly not unheard, by the other house guests.

Under the dim fair lights, Clarke can see her face turn comically serious. Lexa decides to use Clarke’s bare chest as a strategy board to illustrate her plan. Like a coach, her finger skates back and forth along imaginary lines of tactics.

“She thinks that I’m faking it with you to make Nanna happy. What she doesn’t know is it’s not fake. Anya’s convinced that she’s helping me and that it’ll lead you to confess your feelings for me for real for real, supposedly proving me wrong and her right. Probably thinks tonight was a rousing success. You and I are going to have a fake fight tomorrow over your supposedly conflicted after-sex emotions, fake break up on Christmas Day, as she expects, BUT instead of your follow-up moment of realisation, it never comes like she doesn’t expect, and you’re going to fake not actually being in love with me. She’ll feel bad. And then I win.”

Clarke just stares at her blankly. Owlish. Lexa looks at her gleeful, scheming. Expectant.

“I did not get any of that. Not a word you said makes sense.”

“It does. Just think harder.”

Clarke laughs and swats the finger away that’s tapping her forehead. “Why are you over-complicating things? I pined for you for years. Apparently you did too. A product of bad timing and missed chances. We finally got our shit together late last May after you made a grand speech. We kissed, and have been doing lots of that and more ever since,” Clarke summarises. “Easy.”

“No.” Lexa holds firm. Clarke smooths out the adorable crease of stubbornness between her brows. “Like any good gay, I thrive on needless complexity. Besides, everything you just said Anya will hear as one big, I told you so. We are not giving her that power,” Lexa says, eyes steeling. Clarke bites back another laugh. “Follow my lead. Pretend to pretend to be in love with me.”

“Alright,” Clarke sighs, giving in. Too egg-nogged and orgasmed out to process Lexa’s inception level of manipulation. She turns on her side, assuming their prior position. Lexa’s arm comes round her stomach, finding its home. Clarke kisses her cheek, placating. “Let’s plot in the morning.”

Lexa smiles broadly into her neck and, “Operation End-Ya is a go” is the last thing Clarke hears whispered before closing her eyes.

 

***

CHRISTMAS DAY

***

 

“Clarke. Clarke, open your eyes.”

A gentle shake of her body. A knuckle softly tracing across her cheek when she doesn’t budge. Lips to her forehead follow next.

“Mhm ...” Clarke turns her head, melts into the touches, mouth searching blindly for those lips.

Lexa laughs. Kisses her. It’s chaste and far too short. Clarke lets out a noise of discontent.

“We have to go.”

“Go where?” Clarke grumbles.

“To the mountain.”

“Lexa, no.”

“Clarke, yes.”

“Fight your own battles.”

“You leave me no choice. Know that I am doing this with my head and not my heart.”

Oh no. Those lines have never preceded anything good for Clarke’s well-being. She cracks an eye open to find Lexa decked out in flannel long johns wearing a stupid beanie with an oversize pom pom. She only gets a one second glimpse before her worldview is turned sideways.

“Lexa, put me down!” Clarke laughs-yells.

“Okay,” Lexa says as she dumps her into the shower.

“Don’t you dare,” Clarke lowly warns as Lexa reaches for the faucet knob. Ups the ante. “Not if you ever want to see me naked again.”

Lexa’s fingers still. They size each other up. Gauging who’s bluffing.

Lexa looks genuinely torn but ultimately retracts her hand. Before Clarke can sigh in relief she does something much more dangerous. She removes her clothes. If Clarke wasn’t awake before, she sure is now.

“That’s just not fair,” Clarke meekly protests as her arms lift voluntarily when Lexa steps forward after disrobing and goes to take off her tank. “You can’t just sex me into doing what you want.”

“Sure about that?”

“No,” Clarke sulks even as she lets Lexa kiss the wind out of her into welcomed submission.

They go two full rounds before Clarke has to tap out, still pleasurably sore from last night. She’s grateful for the attic’s en-suite facility but there’s no kitchenette up here and caffeine is a must to survive the next couple hours on Mount Sweater. (The nickname that Clarke had labelled the small mountain because every time Lexa drags her up its treacherous slope, Clarke would sweat. Profusely.)

“Can I at least have coffee and maybe some fuel?”

Darkness still shrouds them, coming out of the shower, she realises the sun is not even up yet. Why should she be?

After a steaming cup and a quick bite to eat, in addition to some creative eye contact avoidance from the none-too-pleased Woods and their significant others who look like they didn’t get a wink of sleep, the motley crew head out to engage in the dawn hour, Christmas morning traditional tubbing race that happens before gift unwrapping.

Blessedly, because one is a heavy sleeper and the other needs the use of a hearing aid, it appears that Gustus and Nanna are none the wiser, seemingly unscarred by Clarke and Lexa’s nighttime activity, finding curious amusement in the scathing looks of two thirds of the group.

Lexa chirply misrepresents their disgruntled temperament as a fear of losing to Lexa and the mountain.

Lugging old tires from the garage, they roll a half dozen towards the snow-covered hill by the far side of Nanna’s house. Unlike normal families who go tobaganning, using proper plastic or metal or wooden sleighs, it has to be a tube run and rubber from Gus’s former factory. And just to make it extra difficult, the race always starts at the foot of the hill where the contestants—with their partners seated on the death trap—have to pull the tires up to the top before plunging back down towards the bottom again.

The stakes this time is the childhood photo album to be picked for Nanna’s animated storytelling and the last place finisher’s duly embarrassment. Clarke would be lying if she said she wanted to win. The prospect of seeing a gap toothed Lexa is a compelling incentive to lose.

With Lincoln’s size and Octavia’s petite stature giving them a natural advantage, Lexa and Anya get a 10 yard handicap for fairness, as per ground rules circa 1998 after his growth spurt.

Gustus stands to the side, flare gun at the ready. Nanna sits in a lawn chair, wrapped in wool blankets, next to him. She cheers on all her grandchildren, distributing her encouragement in equal measure.

They’re all lined up like sitting ducks. She, Raven, and Octavia each precariously perched on a tire flat on its side. Lexa, Anya, and Lincoln upright in various states of preparedness—standing, crouching, lunging—with the rope tied to the tires wrapped around their waists. Clarke eyes the frayed connection from this life to the next world with suspicion.

Love really does make people do stupid things, she thinks as she stares at the back of a giant raccoon doing jumping jacks.

Gustus reminds them of the other, more important, ground rule, Do not knock grandma over. He looks deadly serious like he’d fight a bear with bare hands if any of them comes within a snow foot of her.

On everyone’s grumbling verbal agreement to observe health and safety and Nanna’s radius of no-go zone, Gustus points the gun to the sky, finger on the trigger.

“Ready.” He starts to count off. “Set.” He winks at Clarke. She takes a deep, life prayer breath. Then there’s a loud bang and Lexa takes off at the same time he yells, “GO!”

An ungodly, wholly undignified scream rushes out of her. Clarke hangs on for dear life. Gloved hands white knuckling the side of the tire as Lexa makes for the top of the hill. Her quick start means they’re ahead of the pack. Clarke lets herself feel excited that they might have a chance to win this. That excitement is shortly cut off. Inexplicably, they only reach a quarter of the way up when Clarke’s ride suddenly halts, skidding to a stop in the snow. Lexa stands hunched over with her hands on her knees. Panting heavily. She looks back at Clarke with something like betrayal.

“What did you eat for breakfast?”

Clarke glares at her. Arms crossed in her white snowsuit. Looking like an angry Michelin Tire mascot.

“One slice of toast,” she defends, but thinks on it and adds, feeling guilty, “generously buttered.”

Raven and Anya fly by them at that moment. The former laughing manically. The latter looking like an elite combat soldier in the zone, speeding towards her mark, not bothering to even glance their way.

Lincoln and Octavia aren’t far behind, closing the gap in large strides. Octavia threatening to take over and pull herself up the hill if Lincoln doesn’t move faster.

“Are you going to let my love of carbs be your undoing?” Clarke goads her.

“Ugh.” Lexa answers but there’s a renewed gleam in her eye as she draws herself up, digging deep for a second wind. “Anya in braces!” She shouts (to no one) in apparent self-encouragement and before Clarke can form another word, she takes off again at a blistering speed.

They reach the top seconds after Lincoln. In various states of exhaustion, each of the three Woods scramble to join their partner on the tire, taking a seat behind. Clarke scoots forward to make room for Lexa. The warmth of her body is a welcomed addition.

“Ready?” Lexa asks softly into Clarke’s ear, sending a shiver through the entirety of her well-insulated body. Activating an inconvenient flash of their prior activities. On her wordless nod, Lexa instructs, “Hang tight,” then propels them forward with her hands pushing off against the ground.

Next thing Clarke knows, they’re descending at a clip down the hill, Lexa’s arms are around her, holding her close against her chest, and they’re both screaming with joy as momentum and the wind whips them towards the finished line. An exuberant Gustus stands at the bottom, waving a flag in broad gestures. Nanna beaming with pride.

Clarke and Lexa do come in last but it doesn’t feel like a loss. They fall over the side of the tires, holding their sides laughing. Lexa’s cheeks the prettiest of blooms and her eyes as evergreen as the trees surrounding them. With the way her arms are still encircling Clarke’s waist, it feels very much like a win.

Octavia does a celebratory dance around a crestfallen Rayna who lie prone in the snow.

The more gracious of the winning pair, Lincoln helps his cousins up. They go best of three but the results are fairly the same with Anya only managing to edge Lincoln out on one run. Lincoln fireman carries a disappointed Lexa back into the house to cheer her three times, third-place finish. Clarke trails behind, hooking arms with a grinning Octavia while Raven accompanies Nanna and Anya helps Gustus haul the abandoned extra tires.

“Mom, Dad?”

It’s a sight Clarke doesn’t expect as the house comes back into view on their return.

“Clarke!” At the same time that her name is called, a head of blonde comes colliding into her side, separating her from Lexa with whom she was holding hands. Lexa easily absorbs his impact when her little brother launches himself at her in turn, picking him up and spinning him around.

“Oof, Aden—” Lexa fakes being encumbered by his weight on her back. “Have you been training?”

The seven year-old laughs no as Lincoln ruffles his hair. “Hey, little big man.”

“Hi, Honey.” Clarke’s dad is next to hug her, much more gingerly but no less heartfelt, while her mom greets Nanna. “Hi, Lexa.”

“Mr Griffin,” Lexa greets but is chastised immediately for her formality.

“Jake,” he corrects with an affecting smile and directs his next question to Gustus. “What’s this I hear about tires?”

After a round of greetings and hugs are exchanged by all, another car pulls into the driveway.

“Aunt Indra!” Raven and Anya exclaim simultaneously.

“Hi, everyone.” Indra waves and Lincoln dutifully goes over to help his mom with her bags just as his girlfriend pulls her into a crushing hug. Laughing, she says, “Nice to see you too, Octavia.”

“I need you to save me from them.”

“What are you guys doing here?” Clarke asks, turning to her mom who’s finally made her way to her at the end of the line. Happy but stunned.

“Since you’re too cool for Vermont with your family, we decided to bring the fun to you.” Her mom’s teasing, reproachful gaze turns fond on noticing Clarke and Lexa holding hands, which Clarke hadn’t registered when they’d reconnected. “Hello, Lexa. This one causing you any trouble?”

The same routine happens with her mother. Lexa calls her Dr Griffin and is softly scolded into using, Abby. Settling into the familiar, they share a laugh of supposed long-suffering sympathies when Lexa answers her question to confirm that Clarke is all heartache, always. Clarke doesn’t find the pun the least bit funny when her mom retorts, “Good thing we’re both cardio surgeons.”

At Nanna’s corralling, everyone piles into the house, a chorus of happy chatter. Clarke remains a step behind, suspiciously eyeing her girlfriend who’s sporting an incriminating blush.

“Did you know?” She asks, tone accusatory, holding Lexa back for a second from following the others inside.

Lexa doesn’t answer. Doesn’t cop to her part in the surprise. Just wraps arms around Clarke’s waist and bends down to kiss her on the cheek. Her lips skate along Clarke’s jawline, ending on a soft tug of her bottom lip to loosen her scowl but not going any further.

“C’mon, lets get inside,” Lexa says. “I gotta go fight Aden for a piece of Aunt Indra’s fruitcake, if there’s even any left.”

Clarke tips on her toes and kisses her properly, full on the mouth. Grateful. “We’ll talk about this later.”

They turn back to the house just in time to miss ten heads scampering away from the front window where they were pressed.

It’s a full house as they all gather around the Christmas tree after her family and Indra settle in and get caught up on the latest Woods shenanigans. Aden is slightly upset that he missed the tubbing fun, Abby thankful that he did. He brightens at the promise that they’ll all go ice skating later. Jake and Gustus are still lost to their world of tires and mechanics while Indra calmly fields every one of Octavia and Raven’s questions about her secret government job. They assume she’s an assassin, Clarke thinks accountant. Lincoln not once denying or confirming. All the while, Nanna and Lexa busy themselves topping drinks and biscuits.

There’s brimming joy in every corner. The gift unwrapping is the typical mix of mayhem and banter madness. Clarke sits next to Lexa who’s got Aden snuggled between her legs and against her chest. The sight of her love with a mini version of Clarke—same yellow hair and blue eyes—does something to her heart. Her stomach flips seeing the occasional kiss to his forehead and gentle sweeping of his bangs, which repeatedly fall into his eyes. Not much different to how they spend their Sunday mornings in bed, lounging and reading after satiating wake-up calls, with Clarke nestled in arms full of Lexa.

Like a preview of future Christmas mornings.

Everyone but Clarke seems to have anticipated the arrival of the extra guests because no Griffin or Woods go without a present. Aden amassing the biggest haul.

He exclaims excitedly, “This is the best surprise,” presumably that he’s partaken in while preoccupied with perusing his new sketchbook and colouring pencils.

Raven can’t help herself to quip, “I think your parents will agree with me it’s safe to say you were the best surprise.” She earns a whack from Clarke on adding, “Mrs Griffin can still get it.”

A smattering of groans, chuckles and “Rey!” descend around an unaffected Aden, whose ears get covered by Lexa’s hands.

Clarke hides into Lexa’s shoulder after witnessing her dad tip a tumbler in her mom’s blushing direction, looking too over-pleased with himself.

“Mrs Griffin can still give it,” Abby fake threatens but it only encourages Raven who turns to an amused Anya to tell her wife she’s leaving her for an older woman.

It’s Lexa who reaches across Clarke this time to land a punch on Raven’s thigh with a satisfying smack.

“Ow!” Raven rubs her leg. “Control your woman, Clarke.”

“Now, now, children,” Nanna chides on her way out the room, squeezing Abby’s arm while walking past. “Anya, come give me a hand, dear.” They exit together but Nanna pokes her head back in a second later to deliver a parting missive, “Abigail, you are radiant and if I were several years younger and as gay as my granddaughters, I would not object to you giving it to me.”

“Ewwww, Nanna!” rings throughout. She chuckles, leaving on the spread of groans.

Abby laughs and flushes in equal measure. “I knew you were my favourite Woods, Nia,” she says to her departing back, and adds, “I may have to consider it once my husband leaves me for your son.”

Jake and Gustus stay huddled, oblivious to the jesting.

When Aden goes over to show Lincoln his drawing, it gives Clarke and Lexa a rare moment of respite. She sinks into Lexa’s side as an arm wraps around her shoulder. Given their audience, it’s a workable compromise when all she wants is to take the vacant place in Lexa’s lap Aden left behind.

Lexa turns to her and squeezes her thigh. “Thank you, baby,” she whispers, soft enough to stay between them, her gaze alluding meaningfully to the engraved leather briefcase Clarke had gifted her.

“You’re welcome, love.” It didn’t seem right for the newest junior associate to continue using a plastic bag to carry her briefs.

“I’m sorry I don’t have anything for you,” Lexa apologises again. In her rush to get all their gifts in order for the mini-trip, including thoughtfully Clarke’s for her family, she apparently had left the most important one at home. “I’ll make it up to you later,” she promises with another squeeze of Clarke’s thigh and a suggestive arch of eyebrow.

Clarke shouldn’t fall for it, but she does. The accompanying wink seals it for her. Clarke shifts forward to kiss the smugness and sweetness.

“To quote the great poet, Mariah Carey: all I want for Christmas is you.”

Lexa looks down at her like Clarke is Christmas wrapped in a bow.

“You have me,” Lexa says.

“Alright everyone, gather round, I found the albums of little Alexandria,” Nanna proclaims, reentering the room with renewed purpose and a gleeful Anya following suit with an overflow of photo books in her arms.

Lexa’s eyes bulge open. Widen in fear. She playfully shoves Clarke off of her, making haste to correct her statement.

“You do not have me.”

Clarke’s laughter is preempted when her mother claps with matching glee and scurries to her feet towards the coat closet, saying over her shoulder. “Oh good, I brought Clarke’s. The cutest bowl haircut in Griffin family history.”

Like a boomerang, Lexa pulls Clarke back into her arms. “You have me again.”

Clarke does laugh. Burying a smile into Lexa’s shoulder, punctuating it with a kiss. “How lucky am I to have such a fickle love.”

“It’s time, Clarke.”

“Lexa, no.”

She’s pleasantly buzzed. After gifts, the afternoon was spent in laughter and storytelling around the large kitchen prepping, followed by a raucous dinner. Everyone is reclined in some way or form in the living room, some around the fireplace, a few curled up in a blanket fort with Aden, the rest prone on couches or the floor.

Minutes ago, Lexa had pulled her aside into the hallway, where they have been arguing over executing the last of Lexa’s incomprehensible plan. Clarke’s hopes of it being abandoned were dashed when Lexa kept giving her the eye in cryptic signals. Ignoring them for as long as she could, Clarke was finally compelled to humour her when Indra quipped, “If my niece was still single, I’d introduce her to my friend, Subtlety. Clarke, please go before she loses an eye.”

“Clarke, yes.”

Lexa hands her a stack of paper. Clarke laughs. “You wrote us a script?”

Lexa nods, dead serious. ”Yes, I’ve highlighted your lines in blue,” she points out. “It’s okay if you can’t memorise them in the next five minutes, as long as you hit the main points there.”

Clarke scans the page. Between scrawls of vague stage direction, the dialogue prompts have Clarke threatening to leave because she can’t put up the facade any longer, apologising about deceiving Nanna. Deceiving Lexa, who professes her real love only for it to not be returned. Clarke really was pretending. (Can we stay friends?) Lexa looking heartbroken, pleads for her to reconsider. (What about last night? I thought it meant something to you.) When Clarke doesn’t budge (I was horny and you’re really hot and an incredible lover but it was a mistake), Lexa with tear filled eyes will turn to Anya and cry while pointing an accusing finger. (You said she loves me. That this would work!) Anya, shocked and regretful, will also start to cry. (I was sure that she does. I’m so sorry, Lexa. You’re right.) It’ll teach her not to meddle. Lesson learned. Screen fades to black. Lexa gets the last laugh.

“This is ridiculous.”

“Ridiculously good, right?” Lexa looks so over-pleased with herself. “I should become a screenwriter.”

“An incredible lover?” Clarke raises a disbelieving eyebrow, Lexa shrugs as if the shoe fits. Clarke doesn’t bother with a rebuttal, can’t deny it. She is, however, very doubtful of Lexa’s other claim. The most dubious of the entire setup. “Anya crying?”

“What are you two doing whispering back there?” They hear Jake asking.

“Clarke, please don’t go,” Lexa says intentionally loud for him and the others to overhear.

Before Clarke can protest, Lexa retrieves Clarke’s coat and scarf from the closet. Stepping in closer, she tucks the coat under Clarke’s arm and gently wraps the blue knitwear around her neck.

“For special effect,” Lexa says.

“Do we really have to?” Clarke raises her final objection, despite knowing the train has already left the station. “I don’t want to break Nanna’s heart just so you can mess with Anya.”

“Don’t worry about Nanna. She’s in on it.”

There’s an unspoken ‘please’ in Lexa’s gaze as she holds Clarke’s face in the palms of her hands. Lexa brings their lips together to double down on her ask.

Resolve crumbling, Clarke realises the most ridiculous part of all this is herself and what she would do for these lips and, when they part, those eyes and that smile.

“Fine.” Clarke accepts her fate with resigned reluctance.

“You’ll do great.” Lexa beams. “Are you ready for the big show?” With Clarke’s tip of chin acquiescence, she directs, “Now, remember, just like we haven’t rehearsed at all. With feeling.”

Lexa stomps back into the living room with exaggerated show of hunched shoulders.

“Clarke, stay. Let’s talk this through,” Lexa fake pleads. The chatter of the room peters out on her blustery entrance.

Clarke follows behind with far less fanfare.

“I said, can’t we talk this through?” Lexa repeats when Clarke doesn’t respond.

All eyes are on her. The fire crackles, the light flicker of ember paint the scene in an orange glow as their captive audience play silent witnesses to the impending family drama.

“Oh Lexa,” she non-emotes. Looking down at the script in hand, robotically reads, “I can’t do this anymore. It was never real for me.”

Lexa looks too happy for what is supposed to be a devastating rejection. She takes in a deep breath before launching into her penned speech.

While she lays out the exposition of their tragedy, Clarke steals glances around the room. Her parents and Gustus look a mixture of confused and amused. Her brother plain confused. Nanna delighted as if she was witnessing Lexa’s third grade Christmas performance as a sheep. Lincoln holding back a smile, Octavia and Raven biting against a groan and snappy remark each. Only Anya is enraptured, surprisingly. Oddly buying into every over-enunciated word coming out of Lexa’s mouth.

Then there’s Lexa, wearing the matching onesie her counsel girlfriend made them both put on after dinner. A giant flame offensively covers Clarke’s chest along with a pair of oversized handcuffs and the bold type, Call a lawyer. Illegally, arrestingly HOT, while Lexa’s top features the simple proclamation, I’m a lawyer!. They had snuck in a make out session after the dishes were cleared and before the board games came out. Clarke blames Lexa’s wayward hands and insistent lips for her capitulating to the godawful knitwear punnery. Her tongue in her mouth turned an innocent kiss into a quickie which Clarke had realised belatedly afterward, naked against the wall, that Lexa’s end goal was to get her out of sensible sweats and into nonsensical newborn wear.

Despite how committed Lexa is to her role, Clarke can’t see past the onesie and the butt flap. It conjures up inconvenient images that Clarke should not be having in front of Lexa’s aunt, father and grandmother nor her own parents, and both of their siblings.

“I thought you love me.” Too caught up in her Lexa-haze, Clarke doesn’t register the end of Lexa’s speech and the imploring puppy dog eyes. When no anticipated reaction comes, Lexa leans forward to stage-whisper, “Babe, that’s your cue to come in.”

Clarke blinks back to the moment. Everyone is staring at her again.

Fuck it, she decides to go off-script.

“I don’t love you, Lexa. I never have. Not once have I been charmed by your smile or your really pretty eyes. Not once did I consider you as more than a friend as soon as I learned what ‘more’ meant. Not once did I kick myself for figuring it out too late that our practised, pretend kiss in that very same bunk bed upstairs, was a real kiss, the kind that I would remember for weeks after but was too scared to tell you even when you were sad, the kind that I have not forgotten to this day. Not once did I cry when you were with Costia nor when you brought girls home to our dorm. Not once did I hope that maybe someone like Finn or Niylah could make my heart beat the way you always do, nor did I thought that giving someone else a real chance would make it feel less broken because I couldn’t be with the one person I want most. Not once have I loved you with everything that I am. Nope. Nothing. No feelings here.”

Everyone gawks at her. Lexa laughs nervously. Looking harried at her sheets of paper, frantically overturning the leaves to check that her copy is correct and identical to Clarke’s.

“What’s happening?” Anya asks.

“Haha,” Lexa dithers.

“I’m destined to be alone,” Clarke laments. For minimal effort flare, she limply places the back of her hand against her forehead. Deadpans. “Woe. is. me.”

“Don’t look so heartbroken there, Clarke,” Raven says.

“Mom?” Her brother sounds hesitant.

“Yes, sweetheart?” Abby prompts, kissing the top of Aden’s head where he has crawled into her lap from his fort.

“Is this what adults call, sarcasm?” Aden struggles on the word.

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Or repression.” Someone unidentifiable chips in under their breath. Likely Anya.

“But what does it mean?” Aden asks confused. Sounding thoughtful, he contends, “Clarke loves Lexa.”

Clarke turns to her brother and smiles warmly, confirming. “I do, Ade.”

Aden lights up at his sister’s attention, smiles at the validation. “And Lexa loves you.”

“I think so too,” Clarke returns softly.

Where she expects another smile from him, Aden’s face twists in worry. She doesn’t understand why or the gasps that suddenly arise until he asks, gesturing behind her. “Then why is she crying?”

Clarke whips her head around, alarmed at the observation. Lets out her own gasp. Lexa is on one knee, eyes brimming with emotion, and in the palm of her outstretched hand is a ... snow globe?

Seeing the cracked glass mended by duct tape, it’s one she instantly recognises from years ago.

“Lexa, what’s going on?” Clarke asks tentative, bewildered. The pieces aren’t fitting together yet. Anya looks nowhere concerned or surprised by Lexa’s antics. No one else does either. All false facades dropping. Even Aden looks proud to have played a part, Lexa giving him an indiscreet thumbs up. Clarke appears to be the only one out of the loop.

The room goes quiet. Everyone on the edge of their seat eager for what Lexa will do next.

Lexa gives the snow globe a gentle shake. They all watch the dispersion of white, transfixed by its movements. Once the snow in the tiny universe settles, two figures are revealed. One in a blue scarf, the other green.

“There’s nothing fake about this weekend or us,” Lexa speaks up after the last snowflake settles. “All of this pretending and pretending to pretend has been an elaborate excuse to throw you off because you’re too smart and would’ve figured me out in a split second. You’ve had me figured out since the day we met and figured us out long before I finally, quoting the wise words of my sister, pulled my head from my rectum. This is me playing catch up.”

“What are you talking about?” Clarke asks, looking to Anya momentarily for a clue. Anya smiles, knowing but not willing to divulge.

Lexa pauses to shake the snow globe a second time, regaining her attention. There’s a clinking sound that Clarke hadn’t noticed before. When the scene clears again and Clarke looks once more, a closer inspection reveals—on the ground of the miniature town—a ring. Her hand flies to her mouth in shock.

“Clarke,”

“Lexa ...”

“I know we’ve only been officially dating for six months but you’ve unofficially had my heart since we were six when you pushed twice your size John Murphy into the snow because he ate the carrot nose of my snowman. We spent the next hours building a snow family together and I was too young to understand it then, and it took us several detours for me to come back round to what I’ve long known, but I want to create more snow people with you, little ones and big ones, wet or fluffy and I realise I’m quickly losing the wheel of this analogy here but the important thing to take away is that,” Lexa takes a big gulp of air, “whatever it is we do, I want to do it with you. Forever.”

“TLDR, Lexa.”

Lexa shoots lasers at her sister. Ignoring the prompt to be succinct, she gathers herself and brushes off nerves to continue. She sneaks a glance to Nanna who smiles in encouragement.

“When Mom died, my world was shattered and along with it this snow globe. You helped me to piece it back together. Didn’t ask how or why I broke it. Just knew it was broken and that I was broken. You patched up my hand and fixed the townspeople, healed them and me in the process.” Lexa stops to blink away her tears. Clarke fights an instinct to rush over and wipe them for her. “Every year I wait until the last minute to put up Christmas lights on the rooftop. And every year you’ve been there, waiting with me no questions asked, without knowing I was holding out for a Christmas miracle. Hoping something, someone would fall from the sky. But what I had failed to see was that while I was looking up I should have been look down all this time. Because on the ground,” Lexa picks out the ring from the globe and holds it out to her, “was you. You’re my Christmas miracle, Clarke.”

A collective awww rings through the house. (And very loud sniffling from Jake and Gustus.)

“Okay, maybe brevity isn’t always the best route,” Anya concedes. Gaze as glassy as everyone else’s.

“Clarke, will you marry me, for real for real as I’ve been in love with you?”

The question is barely out before Clarke is hurling herself into her, knocking Lexa onto her back and kissing her with everything that she has.

“Oof, what’s with Griffins being flying projectiles,” Lexa cracks on separating, a smile to match. Clarke kisses her again and again.

“Clarke, yes.” She answers elated when she withdraws a third time. “Someone has to always be there to prevent you from an untimely nosedive off of the rooftop.”

Hoots and hollers follow her acceptance. Griffins and Woods and plus ones all start talking at once. Lexa drowns out the noise by bringing Clarke back down asking for another kiss.

Later, Lexa will clarify that everyone has been in the know about them as a couple for awhile. That Lexa’s mission within a mission has been in the works for three months, ever since Raven found out about Lexa’s new secret girlfriend who she had been keeping to herself because it was new and possibly life-changing. When Clarke had closed down her Tinder profile and wouldn’t stop smiling during their weekly meet-ups, she put two and two together. Once Raven knew, a family newsletter had been sent out, excluding Clarke from the subscription list. Subject line: Operation Clexamas.

For now, Clarke happily obliges and kisses her fiancée.

The lake is frozen over this time of year. A perfect hard surface to take the impact of loose limbs and full bellies and the weight of shared joy. The stars are out and this far north in the hinterland they sparkle brightly, unhindered.

Other families and couples mill about, enjoying the same bucolic landscape and seasonal activity. The sounds of winter’s pleasures and sharp metal carving along frozen water flitter through treetops and then head starbound into the indigo night.

Abby, Indra and Nanna look on from the lake’s edge, sitting atop of coolers, engaged in a lively chat, hot coco in hand, as their kin spin in fruitless circles in front of them. In the distance, Aden is squealing his delight perched atop of Lincoln’s broad shoulders as they go flying around the perimeter to the horror and unheard or unheeded warnings of the three women watching. Jake and Gustus circle slower behind them, continuing their bromance. At one point, Clarke swears they hold hands. She glances at her mom to see a well-worn fond but resigned look at the temporary loss of her husband on loan to Lexa’s father, a reality whenever their two families get together. Anya and Lexa appear deep in conversation several feet away, leaving she, Raven and Octavia to stare out in affection at their partners.

Out of nowhere, “Speaking of buns,” they weren’t, “so, uh, there’s one in my oven,” Octavia shares casually like she’s noting the night sky is black.

“What?”

“What?”

“Linc and I are expecting.”

“Expecting what?” Raven asks, a bit dense.

“A cinnamon roll to fall out from between my legs in half a year,” Octavia says. “What do you think, Rey?”

“I don’t know, O. With you, it’s a knife’s edge whether you’d open an animal rescue shelter or commit mass murder.” Raven’s quip earns her a deathly glare that doesn’t dispel fears of the latter.

“That’s amazing,” Clarke interrupts to get them back on topic. “The baby, not your genocidal tendency.”

The news sinking in, a trio of OMGs and excitable hugs are exchanged.

“How far along?” “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” “Is that why ate an entire jar of dill for breakfast?” “Does Nanna know?” She and Raven ask over each other.

“Three months. We didn’t want to steal Lexa’s thunder. Dill is underrated. And yes, she does.” Octavia ticks off her answers in short order. “We and Indra told her after dinner.”

Lincoln whizzes by at that opportune moment and Raven shouts after him, “Way to go, Linc!”

She gets a swat from a displeased Octavia. “Why are you congratulating him? I did all the work. He just laid there.”

“Gross, O,” Clarke disapproves, scrunching her nose, nonetheless keeping a warm arm around her friend.

“Don’t you start,” Octavia challenges and turns the tables. “All that howling, I thought you’d be the one announcing your pregnancy.”

“I do not howl,” Clarke retorts, trying to sound affronted but readily losing the fight to unmoved faces. “Wait, do I really?”

“For a sec there, it made me think I picked the wrong Woods,” Raven teases, though not entirely unserious.

“Me too,” Octavia concurs. They laugh and it’s Clarke’s turn to glare, suddenly overcome with an unreasonable flare of jealousy.

“Whoa, stand down, lion Clarke,” Raven raises her hands, yielding. With the fur trim of Clarke’s hood, her blonde hair sticking out, she must look like an angry wildcat ready to pounce. “The raccoon’s all yours,” Raven muses, causing Clarke to petulantly cross her arms against her chest at being called out.

The action draws all their attention to the diamond on her unmittened hand. Lexa had forgotten her pair back at the house so Clarke had shared hers, leaving her ring finger bare to shine.

Twin smiles await when Clarke looks back up. “Really happy for you and Lexa,” her friends remark. “Not so happy for our hearing.”

“Thanks guys,” Clarke says, disregarding the last part. Her own smile pulling at the corner of her lips. “She’s my ... everything.”

Her everything glides towards them at that exact moment as Raven fake gags.

“Dance with me?” Lexa requests, holding a hand out in offer.

“There’s no music,” Clarke counters, mirth in her challenge.

Lexa smiles, looking skyward before reconnecting softly shining eyes with her. “The stars are singing.”

“That’s disgusting, Lexa,” Octavia comments. Lexa shrugs, wiggling her paw again in invitation. “Clarke, accept before Rey chokes on her own vomit and I get down on one knee and ask Lexa to be the other baby mamma.”

Like a fawnling, Clarke stumbles the two feet towards Lexa who easily draws her into the warmth of her steady hold. She spins them around so that Clarke’s back is against her chest, legs widen in stance for stability bracketing Clarke’s shakier pair, before skating them away.

“What did O mean back that?” Lexa asks once they’re out of earshot.

“I’ll tell you later.”

Raven and Octavia head off in the opposite direction towards Anya where she has caught up with Lincoln and Aden.

On sight of a worrisome rough patch of ice approaching, “I’ve got you,” Lexa says preemptively, softly, arms securing around Clarke’s stomach, effortlessly steering them to avoid it.

Despite having started off learning at the same ice rink together, Clarke never took to skating the same way Lexa has, like she was born with skates on her feet. They amble for awhile creating small and large aimless patterns of white streaks, far from the others.

Clarke is content to let Lexa guide them. Let the crisp air fill her lungs. Let the moon keep quiet watch. Let love find her cold hands and tuck them into her coat pockets for shared warmth.

She leans her head back against Lexa’s shoulder. Nuzzling into her scarf for that muted scent. Lexa kisses the red tip of her nose. Clarke lifts the best she can onto the picks of her skate to lessen the height difference, immediately needing and asking for more. Their mouths meet, slotting into place, moving languidly.

Their tongues engage in a slow dance to match the unhurried slide of their feet. Clarke whimpers into the softness. Savours the gentleness. Each lick and swipe adding another log to the fire.

The kiss turns into an uncontainable smile when Lexa starts humming George Michael’s Last Christmas against her lips.

“Oh, is this what the stars are singing?” Clarke laughs. On second thought, she complains, “It’s such a depressing song, Lex.”

“How so?”

“He’s giving his heart away to someone else.”

“Hmm, you’re right. Never thought about it. That is depressing,” Lexa acknowledges. “It’s got my favourite lines though,” she says and sings,

Once bitten and twice shy I keep my distance But you still catch my eye Tell me, babyDo you recognize me?

The lyrics strike an aching chord. They stop spinning. Clarke turns in her arms.

“I’m sorry, Lexa. For being scared back then. I didn’t know what it—you—meant to me. I was terrified of losing my best friend.”

“It’s okay, I’m sorry too it took me so long to give you a second look.” Lexa expresses, retreading ground they’ve covered recently. The hurt is not what it once was for either of them. Much duller, less palpable. “We were fourteen.”

“We’re twenty eight now and I’d like to think I know better.”

“Oh yeah? What is it that you know?” Lexa fishes as Clarke’s arms come up to rest on her shoulders, hands winding around her neck.

“I know it was our first kiss and I never wanted it to be our last.” Clarke lays a soft peck on kiss-swollen lips. “I know my heart recognised yours the instant you held my hand the first time we skated. I know I’m glad you were still willing to give me your pieces even after I broke your heart, even if they were only friendship pieces. I know mine hasn’t stopped skipping since six months ago and has been beating out of my chest in the last two hours. I know that I’ve been in real real love with you all this time and will be for the unforeesable future.”

“I love you, too.”

“Annnd, most importantly, I know a way to get back at Anya.” Clarke leans in to whisper her idea.

They both laugh, merry and bright.

“Merry Christmas, Clarke.”

“Merry Christmas, Lexa.”

This time when her lips touch Lexa’s, there isn’t any fear or anxiety over the meaning. Perfect and profound.

“Merry Christmas, Mom,” Lexa says softly to the inky sky after the kiss ends just as a shooting star jets across its ceiling. “Thank you.”

Once Clarke wipes away her happy tears, Lexa tugs them impatiently off the ice to get started on Clarke’s plan.

 

***

BOXING DAY

***

 

“Aden cover your ears.”

“Could you two please fucking stop fucking?! It’s Boxing Day for godsakes. A day of rest and capitalism. Have some respect!”

Straddled on top, Clarke laughs into Lexa’s neck at the shouts and broom banging from downstairs. Deeply inhales woodsy lavender. Her unique musk mixed in with the sweat of their love-making, a non-stop affair since they came crashing back into the attic yesterday after the lake. Except breaking for sustenance, they’ve been relentlessly breaking the attic furniture much to Anya’s chagrin.

“You should’ve listened to me instead of undertaking your ridiculous plan,” Clarke pants, grinding her hips down. “Revenge sex is a much more productive,” she continues between throaty moans as Lexa pushes her fingers in deeper, “and hmph, pleasurable way to annoy your sister.”

Lexa reverses their positions and makes emphatic effort to be extra attentive to Clarke’s insatiable need so that she’s extra loud.

“But look what my plan got you,” Lexa grunts, thrusting with intent. The bunk bed groans under the pressure, as Clarke sinks into the mattress and the frame slams against the wall.

The engagement ring shines plaintively on her finger as a plaintive cry, Clarke’s loudest orgasm, is ripped from her.

“Lexa, yes!”

 

(Best Christmas ever.)