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A Very Victorian Story of Two Girls in Love

Chapter Text

“Lexa!” Clarke started. Her attempt to restrain her enthusiasm to a socially acceptable level forced her to lower her tone to barely above a whisper, a mode of communication so inapt to convey her meaning that it left her fair choking on her own words.

She was seated in the drawing room with her family, politely partaking in the daily routine of receiving visitors as was earnestly requested by aunt Helen. Clarke had been easy to oblige for she had secured Lexa’s promise to visit the day before, thus her familial obligations were of no great chagrin to her.

As was customary among the well-bred class of England, visitors filed in and out of drawing rooms in an orchestrated choreography. No social visit was more than half an hour long, thus providing other callers a reasonable estimation of when it was acceptable to arrive. As the socially acceptable period for callers was drawing to a close it was no surprise that the otherwise constant stream of callers dwindled, providing the members of the Collins family to pursue their personal pastimes as they waited for latecomers. Aunt Helen was sat comfortably in an armchair with a novel she had been reading while the men of the house were currently poised in front of the window discussing some matter or another. Clarke herself had not been listening, her attention entirely captivated by the sketch she had been working on when Lexa’s arrival brought them all together again.

“Miss Woods” Finn greeted his intended with a warm smile. “Please, have a seat.” He politely ushered the brunette towards the settee he had occupied for the better part of the day, knowing that it was far more comfortable than any of the other available furniture. It was covered in a dark green plush material, the stuffing made soft with an ample supply of goose feathers and its backrest masterfully crafted to follow  the natural inclination of the human body.

“I trust your journey was comfortable?” He asked as he sat himself on one of the straight backed chairs nearest.

“Oh, quite. William could be spared to drive me and you know how apt he is with horses. I could have sworn I was gliding across the sky rather than travelling the dirt roads of the countryside.” Lexa answered amicably. “Mr. and Mrs. Collins, I do apologize for my lateness. My uncle had such an influx of callers today he couldn’t afford to spare me at all.” The brunette said apologetically as she turned her attention to her hosts. Mr. Collins sat regally in his favourite armchair, tactfully positioned near the table where Mrs Collins was sat with her book so as their visitors would not be obliged to keep turning their heads to address them.

“Think nothing of it, Miss Woods” He politely rejected the apology. “Is Sir Gustus faring well?” 

‘Quite. You know my uncle, Mr. Collins. Always has been a bit of a recluse. But he has made such valiant effort this year, for the ball…” 

“Ball..?” Clarke suddenly chimed in, her eyes snapping away from her sketchpad. She had taken the opportunity of having her model so readily available and started a new drawing of her perched on the settee. 

“Have I not mentioned it yet?” Lexa asked with a bewildered frown. “I was fairly sure I have already secured your attendance. Well. There is a ball in a fortnight at my Uncle’s estate. And I do hope that despite my beastly negligence you will come?” Lexa entreated her friend. She could scarce imagine the affair without the golden haired woman there to grant an additional shine to the room.

Clarke hesitated for only a moment. Her lack of being out has so far afforded her the luxury of escaping the ordeal of dancing with a throng of men who would inevitably feel compelled to perform their manly duties to ensure that every woman had been taken on the dance floor at least once. Despite her disinclination to part with said luxury she felt compelled by the earnestness she found in her friend’s forest green eyes. “Certainly.” She relented with a smile. Her silence had not forced Lexa to endure the uncertainty for more than a mere few seconds yet the relief that seemed to radiate from her countenance caught Clarke off guard. Their eyes were locked on one another and Clarke felt an inexplicable tension build within her chest, as words she had yet to think of jostled to spill from her lips. She felt  compelled to say more and diffuse the tension which felt far too intimate to be exposed to the curious eyes of their present company.
“I have made quite a few more sketches of you” She said after only a few seconds of the tense silence that she felt to have stretched far longer. “Would you care to see?” 

“A few!” Finn’s merry voice penetrated the very air that had thickened to surround them in their own safe haven. Clarke felt it such an unexpected intrusion that her spine went rigid with shock for a moment before she willed her body to relax. “Clarke has done nothing else in the last two days.” Finn said. “And she is mighty protective of them too. She has been quite beastly and would not allow me to own a single one.” He complained in mock-annoyance. 

“Do not be obtuse, Finn. You have already wrangled a promise out of me. I shall gift to you any one that you like after I have finished her portrait.” Clarke chided her cousin good-naturedly. His enthusiasm for her art flattered her immensely, a truth anyone would have been hard pressed to press her to admit.

Lexa listened to the amicable quarrel between the cousins with interest. It had been over a week since she had been acquainted with Clarke and she had grown accustomed to the blonde woman’s queer antics but Mr. Collins was an entirely different matter altogether. He was always so warm and polite in her company, never obtrusive, never assuming. On occasion it drove Lexa to fury for the man seemed to have no salt about his personality… and yet that very statement appeared to be contested whenever he was in Clarke’s presence. While even now he maintained the composure of the ever impeccably perfect gentleman there was a glow in his eyes, a newfound sort of edge to his person that he kept well hidden when his cousin was not there to tease it out of him with her very presence. 

“I do not blame you, Mr. Collins, for your ardent desire to own my likeness on paper. Clarke is quite talented. And I would of course be happy to see your sketches. When do you think you shall be ready to start painting me?” She inquired.

“Oh quite soon I imagine. Perhaps as early as tomorrow if the weather permits.” Clarke offered, her eyes shining with excitement at the prospect of capturing her friend’s beauty on canvas.

 


 

The morrow was generous to Clarke’s endeavour. She gasped at the sheer beauty of the morning light as it enveloped everything in a glorious light in the room her uncle had provided as a studio. The high windows allowed ample light to penetrate the room and Clarke set about arranging the room trying her easel in various locations. 
Excitement propelled her out of bed the moment her eyes opened and she had not even bothered to dress herself. Dressed in naught but her nightgown she moved about the room with determination. Finding the perfect angle without her model being present proved to be more guesswork than anything else and Clarke was quickly growing restless.

“OH!” A sudden squeak drew her attention to entrance of the room where Lexa stood seemingly transfixed. Her left hand had not let go of the handle even as her right sprang to cover her mouth in surprise. Her generously round doe eyes grew comically wide and Clarke had to suppress her laughter at the sight.

“I…uh…Clarke. You. You’re not dressed. I apologize.” Lexa stammered, flustered at the idea of having intruded on the blonde’s privacy. She was ready to back out of the room and return at a more suitable hour when she was stopped by her friend’s voice.

“Nonsense, Lexa. I am in my nightgown. It is not as if I were in my underthings. Besides, I have seen you in yours, remember? It is only fair that you should see me in mine.” Clarke said with a playful smirk. She moved closer to the brunette who stood stock-still in the doorway. When she reached her Clarke took hold of Lexa’s hand that was still gripping the door handle as if she were afraid she would drown without its reassuring sturdiness anchoring her. She pulled the brunette into the room and shut the door behind her. 

“But that was…different. I was in bed, indisposed. And you… you are in your studio! What if you soil it with your paints? What if someone comes in?” Lexa rambled. It made no sense to her at present but she was keenly aware of Clarke’s close proximity to her. Her eyes chanced a glance in Clarke’s direction. The nightgown was a conservative one and covered the blonde’s body from the very base of her neck right down to her ankles and yet Lexa flushed at the sight. It was a form fitting piece that allowed her to see that mother nature had been more generous to Clarke with respect to her bosom than she had with herself.

“Lex, I apologize if I have made you feel uncomfortable.” Clarke apologized, a pang of guilt suddenly gripping her heart at the sight of her friends flushed countenance. Her friends at Girton made no particular fuss about seeing each other in various states of undress, particularly those in pursuit of medical education like herself. She chastised herself for having failed to consider that her friend might be too modest for such easy openness at such an early stage in their friendship.

“I do admit to enjoying tinkering with my paints just after having woken up. I was so excited to start painting you today that I could not be bothered to dress myself properly. But I shall go and change. Please, feel free to inspect my sketches while I do so, I shan’t be long.” Clarke offered with a smile then slipped out of the room to quickly make her way back to her bedroom.

 


 

After some negotiation and much testing of light and angles Clarke and Lexa had come to an agreement about the position Lexa was to remain in. She had more or less reclined on a leather settee in a half-sitting position, her head angled in a way that still allowed Clarke to see both of her eyes but also gave the brunette a very flattering prominence to her jawline. It was one of the compromises they had eventually settled on. 

Clarke, having seen Lexa in various attires, suggested that she wear one of her more elegant dresses with a more generous neckline. She entreated Lexa with flattery, her artist’s eye keen to expose and capture all of Lexa’s charms, and she was quite adamant that the brunette’s collarbones were a worthy subject of art. Yet however flattered Lexa felt at Clarke’s earnest appeal, modesty forced her to decline. The painting was, after all, intended to be a Christmas gift to her uncle and Lexa flushed pink at the notion of gifting him such a revealing painting. It would not only be immodest but also extremely inappropriate. 

“Fine.” Clarke sighed with exasperation. “Be that way then. But if I cannot have your collarbones I must insist on your jawline. It will absolutely make the painting a masterpiece if I can capture your sharp angles.” Clarke said in a tone that implied that she would absolutely not back down this time.

Lexa stared at the blonde for what felt like an eternity before she nodded in consent. She moved her head as requested, moving in slow motion until Clarke instructed her to stop. This was an altogether new side to Clarke that she found…intriguing? Clarke appeared to see her in a way that was entirely invisible to her when she looked at herself in the mirror. The force of her… animation for lack of better word quite frankly captivated Lexa. It was as if Clarke became a whole new person when she donned her artist attire. Gone was the politely teasing young woman who joked lightly and conveyed her meaning with subtle gestures and looks. This Clarke was a whirlwind of determination and demand. Her presence pulsed of an energy that allowed for no doubt that she owned the studio even as her eyes shifted from her to the canvas perched on the easel. Lexa’s thoughts were thus occupied for want of anything to do as Clarke painted when she was suddenly pulled from her musings.

“Lexa.” Clarke repeated the brunette’s name to grab her attention.

“I’m sorry, I was… lost in thought. Yes?” Lexa blinked slowly in order to bring her wandering mind back to the present.

“I was wondering if you would permit me to touch your hair. I would like to get a sense of its texture and the way it falls.” Clarke said, her face hidden behind the canvas. She could hear that her voice was casually nonchalant but she did not trust her countenance. She had not a single notion as to why her own question had such an effect on her. The closest emotion she could identify was an unfamiliar sense of embarrassment as if she were asking for something she ought not to. Yet when she examined her words objectively the very notion was ridiculous. She had helped her friends master their unruly curls in braids nearly every night. 

“Oh, of course.” Lexa consented with ease. She was not even sure why her friend bothered to ask so formally particularly after her previous display of self-confidence. ‘It’s not as if she were a man…’ Lexa thought as she sought to decipher the enigma that was her friend. ‘My friend inside this studio to be exact. I think have her fairly pegged outside of it.’

When Clarke felt confident that her countenance had resumed its accustomed hue she stepped away from her canvas and made her way behind Lexa from where she supposed she could gain the least restricted access to the brunette’s cascade of hair. She lowered herself on one knee as she inspected the partially braided mane of wavy locks flowing down Lexa’s back and shoulders. She raised first one hand to gently stroke the locks, rubbing them between her fingers to get a feel for the texture, knowing that it would help her visualize it in her mind’s eye and then transfer it through her hands to the canvas. 

Her friend’s apparent ease with the situation helped Clarke relax some of the inexplicable tension she felt building inside of her and her exploration grew bolder. “I’m sorry if this tickles.” She warned her friend as she allowed her hand to explore the way her hair fell and shifted, her fingers moving closer to her scalp where she knew most people were likely to be sensitive. 

Lexa was surprised as the sigh that escaped her lips when she felt fingers explore the soft baby hairs along the nape of her neck. Their housemaids, and Annie in particularly, often braided her hair so she thought she had a fair idea of what to expect but Clarke’s hands were infinitely more gentle than she was prepared for. The gentle touch sent a shiver down her spine which in turn made her body tense up. She felt the hand immediately withdraw from her hair which she acknowledged with a pang of disappointment.

“I’m sorry, Lexa, have I made you uncomfortable?” She heard the voice from rather close behind her.

“No.” Was all Lexa could muster at the moment.

“Your shoulders tensed when I touched your neck.” Clarke clarified the reason of her inquiry. “I… assumed that you may be accustomed to other women touching your hair seeing how it is always braided so intricately.” 

“Oh I am quite accustomed, yes. But Annie has rather rough hands, I was merely surprised by the gentleness of your touch.” Lexa found her voice. “I am not in the least uncomfortable. You may resume if you wish.” She said rather eagerly. It was an unfamiliar sensation but not at all unpleasant. A warm sense of pleasure bloomed in the wake of Clarke’s resuming touch but it was discontinued rather abruptly. 

“Your shoulders are quite tense, Lexa. Are you sure you are not in any discomfort? Your muscles should not be put under so much strain. Are you in pain?” Clarke asked, the artist in her giving way to the medical student.

“I am…” Lexa faltered, looking for the right words. “…in some pain. But it is nothing I am not accustomed to. This position I am sitting in often leaves my shoulders tense after I have been reading all day.” She explained why she thought not a whole lot about the familiar ache in her shoulders. It had been there even before Clarke’s gentle touches surprised her. It never really went away if she were honest but it felt like such a trivial matter she never bothered to mention it to anyone.

“Well.” Clarke said in all seriousness. “I dare say that is rather unhealthy, Lexa. I am quite practised in providing relief to such muscle strain. Can I help ease that pain for you?” She inquired without a hint of playfulness.

“Yes, please.” Lexa said immediately. By now she knew the blonde’s ‘Dr. Clarke-voice’ and her suggestions seemed generally sound. Expecting some form of a massage she was not surprised when she felt both of Clarke’s hands rest on her shoulders. She had thought to seek out assistance once or twice but Mrs. Beetons’* quite specifically mentioned that such remedies were better left to professionals so when Clarke offered she happy to accepted. 

When Clarke started gently squeezing the skin and muscles of her shoulders a surprised gasp of pleasure escaped her lips, closely followed by another one which she attempted to stifle. “I’m sorry.”

“No need, Lexa. That is quite the normal reaction.” Clarke reassured the woman. They had been taught not to be surprised when people made the most surprising or even on occasion vulgar sounds. It was the body’s natural reaction to pain relief and they were advised never to make patients feel embarrassment because of it. It was, in fact, a sign that they were employing the learned techniques well.

As the brunette’s muscles yielded to her touch it became easier to mould it and Clarke used her thumbs to apply pressure to the lumpy areas on either side of Lexa’s spine. The involuntary groan that escaped Lexa’s lips left Clarke’s cheeks heated. Her friends and the patients they practised on certainly never made that much noise. She was happy to be concealed outside of the brunette’s line of vision for she felt a twinge of professional embarrassment at having had such an unprofessional reaction to something Lexa could not help. “We are taught that when a patient makes such a noise that is praise of a job well done.” She attempted to encourage both herself and Lexa with her words.

“I concur with your professors, Dr. Clarke.” Lexa replied in a breathy tone. “My shoulders certainly have never felt quite so relieved.” She praised her friend as her voice broke into yet another groan of pleasure when Clarke found a particularly tense spot. Clarke continued her ministrations for another few minutes until she felt that the muscles beneath her fingers were pliable. 

“Are you feeling better?” She asked as she withdrew her hands. Before she could stand she found herself staring into the forest green eyes of her friend who had twisted around on the couch, abandoning her position.

“Yes, Dr. Clarke. Infinitely better. I am quite in your debt.” She said. Her tone was genuinely grateful for the service Clarke had provided but she couldn’t help the playful smirk pulling at her lips either.