When Peggy showed Lexa to Clarke’s studio the brunette was not surprised that her friend was already deeply absorbed in her work. Upon Clarke’s request she had come earlier than usual to take advantage of the early afternoon sunlight. As Lexa approached after thanking and dismissing the housemaid she noted that Clarke’s face was quite fresh. The skin beneath her eyes showed none of the customary puffiness of the morning hours, leading the brunette to conclude that her friend must have awoken at an obscenely early hour and had been busy with her art for hours. Lexa smirked at the sight in front of her. She had not had much opportunity to actually see Clarke at work owing to the fact that the blonde was generally hidden by the canvas. The unrestricted access her eyes now had to her friend’s unguarded features made the moment precious to Lexa. Clarke’s clear blue eyes were squinted in concentration as she carefully raised the brush in her hand, it’s tip yet to touch the canvas. Lexa felt the muscles in her cheeks move of their own accord and her lips stretched into a grin as she watched Clarke poke the tip of her tongue out in concentration. She was not at all sure why the sight intrigued her but a by now familiar warmness spread through her as she silently acknowledged that her friend was adorable in her state of perfect focus.
Lexa waited until the brush was again a safe distance away from the canvas before she made her presence known lest she scare her friend at an inopportune moment. “Good morning, Clarke.” She said gently. Clarke’s startled gasp was soothed with a warm smile, Lexa feeling gratified that her precautions had not been in vain.
“Oh, Lexa, you startled me.” Clarke said with a huff as she set her palette aside. “Good morning.”
“Can I see your progress?” Lexa asked politely. The blonde’s so far consistent refusal had left her curiosity unsated and yearning.
“Oh it is nowhere near worth seeing yet. I have only been fiddling with the background while you were not available.” Clarke replied, a shyness uncharacteristic of her person colouring her cheeks rosy. Although the denial had not been unexpected it left a hollow sadness in Lexa’s chest. With each session she yearned to see herself through her friend’s eyes more.
“If your sketches are any indication, my dear, I am fairly certain that that is not true.” Lexa offered in reply even as she retreated from the easel, accepting her friend’s refusal with a grace that belied her internal eagerness. She took her place on the settee without instruction, taking up more or less the correction position with only minimal requests coming from Clarke.
They had spent the better part of an hour in silence, Lexa absorbed in her thoughts almost as much as her friend was in her art. “You did not seem particularly keen at the idea of a ball the other day.” She eventually said. It was not a question, Lexa needed no confirmation regarding that particular observation.
“Hmm...” Clarke replied, not yet willing to break her concentration, particularly when the topic of the conversation to be had had so little appeal. While Clarke loved dancing as a form of movement she was not at all keen to partake in it socially because of the constraints most balls presented. Or so she had been told. She had meant to broach the topic with Lexa at one point but had not yet found the most opportune moment.
“Any particular reason why?” Lexa pressed on. Neither woman were in want of stubbornness and the brunette secretly relished the moments when Clarke made her chase after her. An excited tension swelled in her chest each time and she eagerly set to the task to find out what her friend wished not to give up.
Clarke was silent for long enough that Lexa began to wonder if she had lost her friend’s attention. She had grown accustomed to it during their first couple of sessions. The first time it happened Lexa worried that she may have upset Clarke, although the matter itself was so trivial she could not recall it any more. When she asked the blonde about it she laid her palette on the little table by the easel and sat next to her to explain how frequent this was likely to be and that the brunette should never take it personally. At the time Clarke’s consideration of her feelings warmed her heart. In the present the memory made her smirk and roll her eyes at how profoundly true Clarke had been to her words.
“I…have not been to a proper ball before…” Clarke eventually answered, jolting Lexa from her daydream. “…out side of Girton, I mean. The idea of…dancing with men seems rather unappealing.” She confided in Lexa.
Lexa’s eyebrows shot upwards in surprise. She had not expected her friend to have any experience in the ballroom considering her valiant efforts to avoid being out. It was a revelation in itself but what truly intrigued Lexa was what her friend’s words conveyed through omission.
“Well how else would you dance then?” She asked, genuinely curious. She herself was not particularly keen on dancing with men but what was a woman to do when a dance required one to lead and another to follow?
“Um…” Clarke hummed, distracted by the way a ray of sunlight lit Lexa’s cheek and gave prominence to her jawline. Her eyes rapidly moving back and forth between the vision in front of her and the replica she was attempting to perfect, Clarke nearly forgot to answer. “We dance with each other. I mean there are the occasional men but not very often.” She replied absent-mindedly.
“Ah, so you mostly dance group dances?” Lexa’s eyes filled with understanding.
“We do, occasionally. But also the waltz, the polka…” Clarke replied, oblivious to the growing confusion her words stirred. She was so engrossed in the details of Lexa’s skin tone on the canvas that she failed to take note of the moment’s lull in their conversation.
“The waltz without a man to lead?” Lexa finally asked.
The question brought Clarke out of her musings and she angled her head to look at her friend from behind the canvas. Her eyes connected with Lexa’s who was still lounging on the settee but her face turned towards Clarke entirely.
“Yes.” Clarke replied simply. “I can follow decently if the occasion calls for it but I much prefer to lead.” She awarded Lexa her full attention this time, wondering if her friend would take this particular peculiarity of hers in stride much the same way she had with her other oddities.
“Show me.” Lexa said without a moment’s hesitation. The very idea came to her as a shock. Should it have been suggested by anyone else, the brunette was sure she would have been scandalized but the idea of Clarke…leading her…Clarke leading her in suit? Or a dress? The words were out of her mouth before she could second guess their wisdom.
Clarke could hear herself swallow as her brain processed the request. An excitement overcame her, one she could not have likened any of her past experiences to. She regularly danced not only with most of her classmates, but with a significant portion of their acquaintances as well, having earned a bit of notoriety at Girton for having an exceptionally good ear for music. Naturally her smile was more genuine when women of talent asked her and there were favourites whose mere eye contact was enough to spur her to action. And yet not even the most talented of her regulars sparked quite so much eagerness in her. For eagerness it was, Clarke realized as she approached Lexa who was still casually sitting on the settee.
“Now? Without music?” Clarke asked to clarify even as she dutifully held a hand out to Lexa. Her voice was barely above a whisper, almost as if she were afraid to break whatever magic had allowed these events to unfold.
Lexa stared up at Clarke in wonder for a brief moment. Her friend appeared cool and collected as she approached, her hips moving with a sway they had hitherto not possessed or Lexa had overlooked. When their eyes reconnected Lexa noted that Clarke’s had darkened significantly. They were not the clear sky blue she was accustomed to but rather a darker blue and as she approached she noted that the woman’s pupils had mostly swallowed her irises.
Clarke felt herself caught in Lexa’s stare, doe eyes larger and rounder than usual. The brunette’s lips parted as if she was going to speak but no sound left her throat as their fingers slipped past each other as they grasped the other’s hand.
Clarke regained her composure as she felt the familiar weight of a hand on top of hers, poised to lead her dance partner to the floor. The floor which would have to be the open space of her makeshift studio for this occasion.
As she stopped them at a suitable place she straightened her back and took up the appropriate position. The majority of her weight was transferred to her right leg and she raised her left hand to request Lexa’s approach. When the brunette took hold of her outstretched hand she bent her right arm at the elbow and gently circled it around Lexa’s back until the palm of her hand rested just under the brunette’s left shoulder blade.
“Do you prefer to dance the slow waltz or the original from Vienna?” Clarke remembered to clarify at the last moment.
“I can dance both. Whichever you are more comfortable with.” Lexa replied far more confidently than she truly felt. Her senses were overwhelmed as Clarke expertly moved her into position. Upon her answer she felt the blonde adjust her weight and with the smallest tension applied to her right arm she pulled Lexa closer to her. ‘Viennese it is then.’
Clarke started humming the tune of a classic waltz from the start of the century to set the mood in the silent studio and before long started moving. She started with basic steps to determine how accomplished her friend may be and was elated when the brunette followed with ease and confidence.
When Lexa followed the more complicated steps with something akin to perfection Clarke’s eyes sparkled with anticipation and excitement, her lips twisting into a happy grin. They swayed perfectly to the music inside Clarke’s mind and the blonde started peppering the traditional steps with artistic decoration. She dipped their bodies more, angling for faster momentum, trusting that Lexa’s back muscles were flexible enough when she guided her into various poses that required Lexa to lean backwards.
Clarke noted when the brunette’s posture got heavier so when they had reached their starting position a third time Clarke slowly halted them, not wishing to overtax her friend. Lexa’s slightly heavier than usual breathing indicated that Clarke’s judgment had been sound.
They stared at each other in wonder, still locked in place in their embrace that neither was ready to dissolve. Clarke’s palm moved lower on Lexa’s back to a more comfortable position while Lexa’s left arm was draped along her right, her hand holding onto the ball of her shoulder.
“That was…” Lexa attempted to voice the thoughts whirling in her head but words failed her. “I have never been lead quite like that before.” She finally said as she regained control over her breath. She broke eye contact with Clarke for a moment to compose her erratic thoughts and her gaze landed on the birthmark just above her friend’s lip. ‘Have I noticed her having a mark above her lip before? And why does it seem so interesting?’ Her nostrils flared as she took another deep breath before closing her eyes to steady herself.
“Have I been too demanding? You appear a little flushed.” Clarke asked, concerned at the way Lexa closed her eyes as she leaned more into her embrace. Clarke internally berated herself for not taking care. If her friend could be taxed with regular walks she should have expected that such vigorous dancing would fatigue her even more. She flexed her arms around the brunette, pulling her into a secure half-embrace to support her if need be.
When Lexa opened her eyes crystal blue orbs filled with worry were staring back at her, gaze moving haphazardly as if in search of something. It was then that the blonde’s words caught up to Lexa.
“Oh, not at all Clarke” the brunette replied happily. “Not at all. I quite enjoyed this dance. But you certainly have ruined me for anyone else.”
“Ruined you?” Clarke asked, confusion evident on her features.
“Quite. The very notion of dancing with anyone less accomplished sounds atrocious.” Lexa replied earnestly. “The way you directed my movements…” She said, her voice hushed in wonder. “I felt as if I had sprung from your side… as if my body was the very extension of yours. You never gave me occasion to wonder, your movements just flowed into mine, it all felt so…natural.”
Clarke felt humbled by her friend’s high opinion of her skills all the more because she felt much the same way about her.
“If that is to be ruined then I am afraid I share your fate, dearest.” Clarke said in return, her eyes never leaving the brunette’s. “I have been blessed with a number of accomplished dance partners in the past but none have followed as gracefully as yourself. I just wish I could offer my hand to accompany you to a dance when music is available.” She said almost sadly.
Lexa furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “And why can you not? Ask me to dance during the ball.”
“The ball? But won’t the people be scandalized?” Clarke asked in shock, momentarily alarmed at her friend’s boldness. She had been advised by some of her friends that regular country balls quite expressly forbid members of the same sex to dance with one another.
“By two women dancing when men are far more keen on standing about with their cigars and watching rather than joining in?” Lexa answered with a question of her own, her tone betraying her amusement at the blonde’s hesitance. Her friend’s transition between alluring confidence and pure naivety endeared her to Lexa. Clarke could be passionate and reckless with little regard to social conventions in one moment only to crumble into hesitance in the next.
Although her thoughts had been similar just a few short minutes ago the experience of dancing with Clarke had quite turned her opinion on the subject. Why should she submit herself to the vile necessity of dancing with untalented and far too commanding men when here was Clarke whose gentle touch lead her across the dance floor with more determination and ease than any before her.
“As I said, I have never been to a ball before…” Clarke said quietly. It had not escaped her notice that neither of them had let go of the other yet. Clarke felt comfortable in their embrace although it left a trail of confusion behind. Her memory was assaulted with imagines from some of the balls they had organized at Girton. She had one friend, Raven, whose friends often embraced one another long after their dance had ended. It made her wonder if they had felt same surge of affection or if they embraced for such a long time because of the intensity of their dances.
“And it gives me great pleasure that mine shall be your first. I would offer to make you the guest of honor…” Lexa trailed off, her nose twitching in displeasure at the thought. “However, I do not think you would enjoy the attention.”
“Would it require me to dance with everyone who had such intentions?” Clarke asked.
“I’m afraid so.”
“In that case, I should feel greatly in your debt if you would spare me from such a fate.” Clarke said solemnly before she allowed a playful grin to dissolve her facade of seriousness. “I will attend your ball, Lexa, and I shall not shame you by being terrible company to the men present but know that you shall be the only one with whom I’d be truly happy to dance.”
“And I with you.” Lexa replied with a gentle smile as she stepped out of their embrace.