A gentle breeze caressed Clarke’s sun-warmed cheeks as she and Lexa partook in their almost daily trek towards the lakes. A few strands of her loose blond hair tickled her forehead as they were blown into her face but she was unable to tame them at present. One hand was firmly gripping the handle of the picnic basket she had been adamant to carry herself while the other was currently extended to aid the brunette accompanying her. A tree had recently fallen across the path that led to their destination and while Clarke had no mistaken notion of Lexa’s abilities to overcome such a trifling obstacle on her own she was in good spirits and decided to offer the gesture in good humour. “Miss Woods? I believe the doctor’s orders were taking a light walk rather than overcoming an obstacle course.” She took the task of representing a gentleman with such seriousness that she even bowed with an elegant movement of her neck. Her twinkling eyes and playful smirk acted to counter her efforts and betray her intention to merely entertain.
“Why thank you, Dr. Clarke.” Lexa said, her own lips twisting into a smirk just as readily. She had always been quick to respond to humour and play pretend was the absolute height of a good lark in her opinion. She gently took the offered hand, her fingertips sliding across Clarke’s naked wrist. As the blond’s fingers wrapped around the back of her hand securely she noted with some surprise how soft and warm they were while appearing rather sturdy at the same time. Her mind conjured the memory of the day before when the same soft fingertips caressed along the line of her jaw. Momentarily distracted she had miss stepped and her toe caught on the bark of the fallen tree trunk forcing her to stumble and grip the hand in hers more forcefully.
Clarke reacted without hesitation and dropped the burden from her other hand to cup the elbow of the brunette’s other arm, steadying her with both of her hands. She noted with some worry that the brunette’s gently tanned skin flushed red rather quickly. “Lexa, are you quite alright?” She asked, dropping their game immediately. Her trained eyes moved swiftly across Lexa’s features looking for any of the customary physical signs of weakness.
“Yes, Clarke. I am quite fine, thank you.” Lexa nearly choked on her words with embarrassment. Her mind was subjected to a torrent of confusing thoughts. She felt rather vexed at her present clumsiness which was altogether foreign to her nature; her mind felt sluggish to analyse what had led to her predicament for it was much too caught up in the memory of her prior interactions with Clarke, augmented by the feeling of the hand still firmly clasping her own, its thumb rubbing the back of her hand in small circles. Clarke’s intention was undoubtedly of a soothing nature yet Lexa’s embarrassment was in some part owing to the fact that she could not comprehend why it seemed to have a counter effect.
Clarke had realized that the flush of redness colouring Lexa’s skin was brought on not by a sudden surge of illness but by embarrassment when the poor creature refused to meet her eye. Desirous of alleviating the brunette’s suffering Clarke sprung to action and released her hand while retrieving the abandoned picnic basket. “Shall we carry on then?” She asked gaily, resolving to make no further mention of the affair whatsoever.
Their ease of conversation was swiftly regained as they carried on down the path cut into the small forest of the private park. Their play pretend of having a doctor and patient’s relationship was not resumed just yet out of tact. Clarke, however, felt a new protective readiness possess her body. Her muscles felt more readily alive, almost alert of their own accord and while she carried an easily amicable conversation her shoulders were tense with the prospect of pouncing upon the first sign of need. It was certainly uncharted territory to her mind, this protectiveness that surged in her heart for Lexa. While the majority of her attention was successfully employed in entertaining the brunette walking beside her now at her accustomed ease; she did note with an oddly pleasurable sense of irony that the less thought she tried to give her new bodily awareness the more purchase it found in her mind.
“Oh this spot seems particularly delightful just now.” Clarke admired the view, every other thought all but forgotten as her artist’s eye shone with excitement. “Shall we picnic here then?” She asked.
“Certainly, if it pleases you so.” Lexa offered with a smile, happiness blossoming inside her at Clarke’s evident enthusiasm.
After the contents of their basket was spread out between them they fell into conversation about their respective previous day.
“How is it that you are not yet out, Clarke?” Lexa asked after Clarke had finished recounting the dull affair of yesterday with such vivid detail that the brunette could not help but feel sympathy for the girl.
“Ah. My mother had desired me to be out for some three or four seasons now but my ability to avoid such a fate improved in direct proportion with her desperation to achieve it.” Clarke answered, her eyes rolling in disgust. “I have the most absolute aversion to marriage market in principle.” She declared.
Lexa felt a new surge of affection for her friend upon their shared distaste of the institution. She smiled indulgently upon encountering the blonde’s confused expression after informing her of it. “Does Finn know of your lacking enthusiasm for becoming a Mrs?” Clarke asked.
Lexa laughed merrily at the odd way Clarke phrased her question, the sound bubbling from deep within her throat. “My distaste for the idea of marriage does not mean that I shall be fortunate enough to avoid it altogether, Clarke.” She replied. “Fortuna has been my close associate so far. My uncle is quite the odd fellow, he both insists I marry and at the same time continues to sprout such terror in my suitors’ hearts that they flee before the situation could get serious. Mr. Collins is in fact the longest lasting one so far.” She admitted thoughtfully.
Clarke felt her body chose that moment to attempt some odd bit of acrobatics wherein her stomach felt to have plummeted at the notion that Lexa would be married despite her lack of desire to do so while at the same time an uplifting warmth spread from her midsection upon realizing that if Finn were to marry Lexa she would at least have the captivating brunette within familial bonds. The simultaneous surge of annoyance at Finn was dutifully prescribed as the product of a friendly sympathy for Lexa.
“Do you like him then?” Clarke asked. She herself was not sure should be able to recount why it interested her so but the desire to find out had overwhelmed her quite suddenly.
Lexa took a good moment to peer into her friend’s blue eyes to assess her motivation. For the briefest of moments her mind was rattled by the unsettling notion of Clarke being Mr. or even Mrs. Collins’ agent in obtaining unwillingly parted assurance of his prospects. Clarke, however, stared right back with a reassuring openness. And yet it was not her trustworthy countenance that eased Lexa’s troubled mind but the thoughtful look in the blonde’s eye and the way her fair eyebrows subtly drew together before releasing a moment later. It gave her friend a surprising appearance of vulnerability, almost as if she were the one obliged to offer information of such a private nature not Lexa.
The brunette busied her hands with moving some dirtied food containers from between them, accurately guessing that Clarke would patiently wait for a response, and moved close enough to be able to lay a hand on top of her friend’s. “I trust that you would not relay my answer to anyone, Clarke?” Lexa voiced her concern in the form of a question.
“I would never!” Clarke said earnestly. She was torn between feeling insulted for even being accused of such betrayal and happy at the prospect of being gifted the brunette’s trust. “I have a rather more selfish motivation for asking if I may be honest myself.” She added in a bid for strengthening their bond of mutual trust. “Just a moment ago there appeared a thought in my mind that if you were to marry my cousin I may at least see a great deal more of you than if you were to marry anyone else that might then drag you away to the farthest corners of the isles. I do so much desire to see more of you. If you will permit me, I have grown quite fond of our friendship. I certainly feel that I should be more content to live under the same roof with a friend such as yourself than any husband I may be forced to procure eventually.” She offered a sheepish smile to accompany her words. The hand that Lexa still had draped over hers felt soft and warm to the touch and somehow made their exchange of secrets that much more intimate. A jolt of unease constricted her chest as her words sunk in and her mind reeled at the possibility that her bid to weave the fabric of their friendship tighter might be rejected.
Lexa felt moved by Clarke’s unexpected and outlandish admission. She felt her lips stretch to give way to one of her rather rare toothy grins and as her eyes filled with mirth she squeezed the blonde’s hand. “Oh what a delightfully rebellious idea, Clarke! Only you can think of such things I’m sure.” She said with bubbling laughter. “I am fairly sure I should like that too but that sounds quite unthinkable!”
Clarke’s chest eased and constricted again at such rapid pace that she had a vague fleeting thought of whether she was developing a heart disease. She was elated at the notion that Lexa seemed to enjoy her company as much as she did hers but was at the same time saddened by the brunette’s view that living together appeared to be so unthinkable to her. She had, after all, friends at Girton who in turn had more friends who did exactly that.
Mistaking Clarke’s lack of answer as a silent request to continue, Lexa finally smiled and answered Clarke’s question. “As for my feelings for Mr. Collins… he seems to be a gentle soul which is certainly admirable. And he appears to be extremely respectful. He never once attempted any liberties with me. It was a surprise at first. I have been so accustomed to men attempting to gain special attention or liberties not permitted to others in a bid to secure their position that at first I wasn’t even sure if Mr. Collins had any intentions with me. I dare say I am quite tempted to choose him for the very reason that he seems unlikely to force… those sort of attentions on me. It is almost as if he was disinterested in it whatsoever.”
Their conversation gradually shifted to less personal topics covering a wide range of their interests. Lexa spoke of her fondness of flowers and all manner of plants, her proficiency with the piano and her love of dancing while Clarke talked of her love of art and painting and gave her an enthusiastic account of life at Girton, the gay society life there*, which, in its modernity, is so unlike the social circles Clarke’s mother wishes to force her into.
“Oh Octavia is what you may wish to think of as a bridge between the two worlds. She is thoroughly modern in her thinking, the first to join in on any lark and mischief we are likely to find ourselves in and yet is absolutely settled on marriage and children. I think there might be someone courting her actually.” Clarke answered one of Lexa’s dozens of questions about her friends. The brunette seemed to be genuinely interested in meeting them which gave hope to Clarke that when her month’s vacation came to end she might persuade Lexa to visit her in return. She was fairly sure that if she worded the letter to her mother right the older woman would be quite delighted to receive the socially fashionable woman in her home.
Lexa shifted her position somewhat to be able to better look at Clarke. While hands were withdrawn as the discussion of intimate secrets drew to a close they remained seated quite close to one another. The brunette turned to fully face Clarke rather than turning only her head in her direction and she pulled both of her legs up to sit cross-legged on the blanket. Being in her own home afforded her the great luxuries of not being forced to wear either gloves or a crinoline beneath her dress which was a source of utmost pleasure to her. Based on Clarke’s descriptions she herself thought quite in a modern way about such things and she much preferred simple dresses that allowed her a considerably freer range of movement.
“Clarke” Lexa said suddenly after a short spell of comfortable silence. “Could I… sit for you? Would you be interested in painting me?” Lexa asked. Mr. Collins’ vividly enthusiastic description of her talents had not quite left Lexa’s mind since the day before and she was keen to have her portrait painted. If Mr. Collins had not exaggerated his cousin’s talents Lexa thought it would be the perfect Christmas gift for her uncle.
Clarke’s eyes rounded in delighted surprise and she answered Lexa’s question with such an eager nodding as Lexa had seldom seen before. The very essence of a toothy grin lit up the blonde’s face as she retrieved a pencil and a small sketchpad with sheets of paper attached to it. “Can I sketch you now? I need to make many sketches of your face if I am to perfectly capture your likeness in paint.” Clarke declared and not waiting for an answer she mirrored Lexa’s cross-legged posture. “You may want to settle into a comfortable position. And I apologize in advance, I am rather dull company when I sketch, it takes up quite a lot of my attention.”
The next half an hour were spent in comfortable silence. Lexa moved to lie on her side with head propped on her elbow, her attention directed upon the smooth surface of the lake. It was not long before her mind succumbed to slumber, her nerves soothed by the still warm rays of the sun and the faint noises of wildlife that mingled with the hypnotic scratching sounds Clarke’s pencil produced against the paper.
Clarke admired the regal features of her friend as she stared at her face with appraising eyes. When she noted that Lexa had fallen asleep she quickly finished her first sketch from memory and started a new one, drawing her general outline first before moving onto the finer details. She found herself staring at the brunette’s lips to capture every crease and curve of her full bottom lip, justifying the deviation from her usual method of starting with the eyes with the fact that she needed sharp pencils to draw so fine a lines and she currently had no means to sharpen her pencils. ‘She is also asleep and her eyes are closed to this world…’
The blonde was more than content to fiddle with shading and detailing as her friend peacefully slumbered and she was not surprised that she had awoken before she had declared her sketch completed.
“Have I fallen asleep?” Lexa asked as she sat up.
“Only for a short while. But I am grateful for it has allowed me to study your features. How do you like it?” She asked shyly as she turned her sketchpad in Lexa’s direction to allow the brunette to assess her first attempt.
“My god, Clarke” Lexa gasped as she laid eyes on the drawing. “This is…absolutely stunning.” She said as she stared at the almost perfect likeness in wonder. Her jaw slackened as she continued taking in all of the fine details Clarke managed to capture. The hairs of her eyebrows, her eyelashes the barely visible lines across her lip all seemed as if Clarke had spent minutes studying them. The notion that Clarke has such intimate knowledge of the smallest details of her face overwhelmed Lexa for a moment but as her mind processed it her heart finally settled on a warm and pleased feeling.
“This drawing…Clarke, it is magnificent. But surely you have drawn me far more beautiful than I am.” She said, not quite believing her eyes.
Oh come, now, Lexa” Clarke replied in a teasing tone, not sure what to make of that remark. “It is true that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but I truly have just drawn what I saw. If it is anything beautiful that is entirely your contribution.” She said with a warm smile, happy to see her friend so pleased with her drawing.