Throughout her childhood the ticking of the grandfather clock had always been a peculiar thing to Lexa. It appeared to have a menacing power of its own, its nature entirely predisposed against the wishes of humanity. Its monotonous ticking could be an overbearing presence pounding mercilessly against her ears when time was of any importance, mocking her silent pleas for the minutes to pass at a different pace than they did. Little Lexa had been convinced that the clock was an ill-natured creature who fed on human need, for the cruel and callous sound only imposed on her when she was most dependent, its ticking diminishing to a barely noticeable presence when the passage of time bore no consequence to her.
Lexa smiled weakly at her childhood memory as she glanced at the dials which crawled around the clock, leaving her in a state of abject frustration. While she had learned that the multitude of cogs and gears making up the insides of the elaborately decorated clock had neither soul nor mind of its own, the frustrations it induced never diminished. Her current predicament was perhaps the most frustrating for she felt perpetually stranded between wishing for time to cease movement altogether or to quicken its steps. Her heart yearned to see Clarke again and for that she wished time would cease its crawl and deliver her friend to her sooner but her uncle’s ominous persistence that he would like a word with Clarke in private before they departed for the picnic they had planned made Lexa wish time would freeze them all in place. His uncompromising insistence bode ill in Lexa’s mind and she rather preferred to stay suspended in time at a point when Clarke had not yet learned of her betrayal and their bond had not yet been tested by the breach of trust.
In her moments of clarity she soothed her fears with the confidence she felt regarding her uncle’s love for her. Uncle Gustus had never made a single decision that would jeopardize her happiness. While she has heard rumours of his ability to be ruthless when the occasion required she has never seen him be anything but attentive and fond, if not a little strict or teasing at times. The fear that gripped her soul when she thought of what he might make of Clarke’s desire to breach the realms of men was entirely alien to her. When she herself thought about it she found it to be quite innocent. Clarke merely wished to cultivate her mind and it was beyond her to decipher why men behaved so irrationally when confronted with ambitious women. Why her own uncle would align himself with such men was even more of a mystery. Thus she attempted to talk herself out of her fears more often than not to little avail.
The next time she glanced at the clock it informed her that it was close to two in the afternoon, the time Clarke was agreed to arrive. As much as she desired to rush from the sitting room and intercept Clarke, forewarn her that she had accidentally let her secret slip and ask her not to be too cross with her, she was bound by the honour of her promise to stay put. She threw the book that had lain unread in her lap for the better part of the last hour on the table, anxious for time to speed up again. She directed a futile glare at the clock, her childhood suspicions about the evil spirit of the clock rearing its head. ‘If it isn’t the clock then it must be Time itself that is evil…it forever slows down when I need it to quicken and races with the speed of stallions when I wish it to stop…’
Finally being unable to recline on the settee Lexa stood and started pacing the length of the room, the sensation of movement giving her the illusion that something was happening. She walked briskly from the window, glancing outside each time to see the carriage arriving, and back towards the offending clock, her eyes plastered on the dials helplessly, willing them to move. It felt like a unique mode of torture to Lexa, walking back and forth between the possibility of seeing Clarke and keeping track of time. Everything in the room felt suffocating, each item she took note of mocking her in some way. The window mocked her for she did not see Clarke arrive, time itself mocked her with its offensively sluggish speed. The settee mocked her for memories of another settee on which they had embraced assaulted her senses. Lexa stopped briefly, allowing the memory to comfort her, remembering Clarke’s warm embrace, the love and security she felt enveloped in her friend’s loving arms. She could feel her skin tingle with yearning, the desire to wrap her arms around Clarke suddenly overwhelming. But it was bittersweet comfort for worry reared its head again, torturing her with the possibility that Clarke may not be quite as fond of her if she found out that she had let her secret slip.
She was suddenly forced from the maze of her fears and dreams when the door to the sitting room opened and her head whipped around so fast she felt an uncomfortable twinge in her neck. It resulted in a painful pull but Lexa was beyond caring when her gaze fell on Clarke. Her presence seemed almost absurdly impossible for a moment before Lexa’s heart swelled with happiness, pushing all other thought out of her mind. She rushed to her friend with a joyful exclamation of her name and wrapped her arms around her in crushing hug. Her hands slid up the rigid columns of whalebone that made up the frame of Clarke’s corset up until her fingers reached Clarke’s shoulders and she moulded their bodies together. Her face pressed against Clarke’s soft skin, her golden hair tickling her other cheek as she pressed and rubbed closer to the woman, her nose seeking the scent that refused to leave her mind since the day before.
When she felt the reassuring pressure of arms wrapping around her in kind she was flooded with relief. Her breath expelled from her lungs in harsh breaths as she fought to swallow the sob that threatened to burst forth and started peppering soft kisses on whatever skin her lips could reach, haphazardly moving from the side of Clarke’s neck up towards her jaw.
“Lexa” Clarke said in awe, unsure of what could possibly have happened to propel her usually reserved friend to exhibit such a profound mixture of relief and anxiety. Her voice was breathy from the assault of sensations born from Lexa’s kisses on her skin but she struggled to maintain her focus on finding out the reason for such an unrestrained, nay, desperate show of bodily affection. Lexa certainly was affectionate with words and sentiment but never to this extent with her touches. “Lexa, darling, whatever is the matter?” Clarke asked again, gently coaxing her friend a little farther away but still enveloped in the warmth of her embrace, wishing to take a good look at Lexa’s face.
“I… having been driving myself insane with worry, Clarke.” Lexa replied honestly, her gaze roaming all over Clarke’s calm features. The fact that her friend did not seem to be upset in the slightest further reassured Lexa.
“But why?” Clarke asked, confused. She let go of Lexa’s shoulders with one hand to bring it up to gently caress her cheek. “What is the matter?”
“Uncle Gus…he seemed so cross yesterday. And he was adamant that he have a word with you. I worried myself sick. Was he very cross with you?” Lexa asked.
Clarke was at a loss for words. Sir Gustus had appeared to her cordial if perhaps a little more frankly to the point than she was accustomed to. Certainly not cross. Although he had said he would prefer that their conversation remain private, obligating Clarke to secrecy. Every implausible lie that sprung to her mind died in her throat, the words sticking to the roof of her mouth uncomfortably. Her tongue worked uselessly in her mouth for it neither formed words she could utter nor rid her of the distasteful lies crowding her mind. In a bid to stall for time she gently snaked her hand behind the nape of Lexa’s neck and pressed her fingers into the soft baby hairs to tilt her friend’s head forward to press her lips against her forehead.
“Perhaps we might have that conversation in a more pleasant setting? The weather is gorgeous today and I do so wish to immerse myself in it. Can we go to our picnic site first?” Clarke suggested, her eyes shone with genuine hope.
‘Well…she doesn’t seem to hate me. Perhaps not all is lost after all?’ Lexa wondered silently as she regarded her friend. Her behaviour was so reassuring Lexa couldn’t help but sink into the comforting warmth of relief. She was so grateful that Fortuna had taken her side that she happily agreed to curb her curiosity for a short time.
The luscious flora of the park at Woodfield never ceased to amaze Clarke. Although the fossilized remains of long ago deceased animals had a significantly greater appeal for her she very much enjoyed the refreshing scent of greenery found at Woodfield. She was secretly rather grateful that Lexa, knowing every nook of the park quite well, was content to allow Clarke to choose their picnic locations which afforded her the opportunity to explore something new each time.
Clarke had chosen the far side of the small lake. The scenery wasn’t quite as beautiful as the other side, the shore here was somewhat overgrown with reeds and a dense patch of trees surrounded the strip of grass between the two but the quiet intimacy of it had an appeal to Clarke that she was disinclined to resist.
Together they made quick work of setting up their picnic spot and Clarke’s eyes lit with delight as she peered into the basket she took from Annie before departing. “Is that a cheesecake?” She asked, her voice high with excitement.
Lexa smiled indulgently, remembering quite well how fond Clarke was of that particular dessert. Remembering the very first time they met always brought a gentle smile to her lips. Upon laying her eyes on her for the first time Clarke appeared to be a whirlwind set loose upon a wheat field. ‘A very peculiar whirlwind with her manly riding breeches and loud spirited conversation.’ And yet despite her first impressions the girl’s natural playfulness and easy humor grew close to her heart. She thought it was a wondrous thing that Clarke read her so well after but an hour together that she knew to save some of the lobster for her. As far as Lexa was concerned their friendship had been set in stone from that moment onward.
“I know it’s your favourite.” Lexa said with a smile. “I rushed down to Cook first thing in the morning and told him to drop everything and make a fresh cheesecake for my picnic today!” She said, a hint of rebellious triumph colouring her voice.
“Oh have you?” Clarke asked with interest. She knew from experience that most male cooks serving at large houses tended to be rather proud creatures particularly if they were of the French breed like at Woodfield. It was a peculiar position, that of the cook, most especially if they were men. Being the undisputed head of the kitchen they often came with lofty ideas about their art and the extent that could be encroached upon. Apparently the newly rich who had not been quite as confident in their stature as the old aristocratic breed of England had on occasion found themselves intimidated by their own cook. Or so Clarke had heard her father lament about it at dinner.
“Quite! I could see he was very cross too!” Lexa said mischievously. “Monsieur Cook has his pride, certainly, but he dared not disobey a direct order. I saw it in the hardness of his eyes though.”
‘Well… Lexa certainly feels no trepidation in handling her servants.’ Clarke took the cheesecake out of the basket and brought it close to her nose. “It smells excellent. I am glad he was not spiteful enough to make it mediocre.”
“Oh, he would never!” Lexa exclaimed with faux shock. “That would quite possibly wound his ego beyond repair. He prides himself with his excellent references. I can usually hear him shout at the top of his lungs the entire day at the kitchen staff for the smallest of mistakes before Christmas dinners. He accepts nothing but perfection. I think the reason why Uncle Gus tolerates the constant ruckus from the kitchens is because he certainly delivers nothing but perfection. His French croissants are superb.” Lexa gushed fondly.
Clarke quickly sliced the cheesecake and offered a healthy slice to Lexa before taking one for herself. Her mouth watered in anticipation as she sliced into the wobbly column of sweet dairy with her fork and quickly took a large bite, slowly savouring the taste. She closed her eyes concentrating on the joy her taste buds experienced as the cream melted in her mouth and couldn’t help her low moan of approval.
Lexa grinned happily, elated at Clarke’s obvious joy, and the soft noise she made as she savoured the taste with closed eyes sent a thrill down her spine. She had half the mind to abandon her quest to learn what her uncle wanted to interview Clarke about, weary to ruin the pleasant afternoon they could enjoy in each other’s company but her curiosity was constantly nibbling at the edges of her consciousness. She silently debated how to broach the subject again as she consumed her own slice of cake.
“So…what DID my uncle want to talk to you about?” Lexa had decided that a straightforward approach would be the most honest.
Clarke let a sigh slip past her lips as she set her plate and fork down. “I was rather hoping you had forgotten and would not broach the subject again. Your uncle asked me not to convey to you what had been said… but I feel quite disinclined to lie to you.” Clarke offered by way of introduction. “He…asked many questions about your whereabouts and what we did on our outings. He was particularly interested in how often my cousin joined us.”
It was in that moment that it dawned on Lexa that her uncle had been so adamant to converse with Clarke privately because he wanted to verify her claims regarding Mr. Collins. Indignation at being cross-questioned surged in her chest for a moment. ‘As if I had ever lied to him!’
“And what did you say?” Lexa asked, curiosity now piqued by the new development.
“I did not reveal the portrait if that is what had you so concerned.” Clarke offered with a gentle smile. She moved her hand to caress Lexa’s before she threaded their fingers together. She felt the skin of her palm come alive at their touch and the memory of yesterday’s overpowering show of affection floated to the surface of her consciousness.
A pang of guilt constricted Lexa’s chest at her friend’s thoughtful gesture. “It is not the painting I was worried about but you.” Lexa said with trepidation in her voice as she cast her eyes at Clarke in a silent plea. “It would appear that he had taken it into his mind that I had allowed Mr. Collins to make inappropriate advances because I too was questioned yesterday. Apparently I had not managed to sooth his fears despite…despite the fact that in my effort to do so I accidentally told him that you are studying medicine.” Lexa felt oddly relieved after the admission.
Clarke felt her insides freeze much the same way as small forest animals would when you accidentally stumbled upon them. Her mind raced to repeat the full conversation in her head and the newfound knowledge made some of Sir Gustus’ remarks make that much more sense. It felt like she had just been gifted the missing pieces of a puzzle that would allow her to make sense of the picture she had been staring at ripe with befuddlement.
“And…did he say anything to you about it?” Clarke asked cautiously, her tone revealing nothing of her feelings.
Lexa shook her head. “Just that he wished to speak with you. But apparently his aim had been to see if I had lied to him. Are very upset with me?” Lexa asked dejectedly.
Clarke took a moment to examine her feelings as she kept her gaze steadily trained on Lexa’s face. She thought she ought to be more upset for she had shared with Lexa how prejudiced men often became when they found out about her occupation. She felt twinge of what-if inspired dread at the notion that Sir Gustus could have prevented them from making further contact if he were of such disposition but she immediately discarded the idea. Clearly Sir Gustus was not the sort of man and she had had to have more faith in Lexa’s judgment. She was fairly sure her friend would have been more cautious if she had known her uncle to be that prejudiced. As for her own feelings… Clarke was quite sure she would have been extremely nervous had she learned this before meeting Sir Gustus but now… her most dominant feeling was akin to sorrow and loss.
“I cannot say that I am happy about this, Lexa. What if… what if he had been so enraged that he forbid us to see each other again? Surly my aunt and uncle would have been at least curious. If my uncle had come to call and inquire… if my mother had found out that her brother knew…” Clarke shuddered at the thought. Her lips tensed and pursed, her mind giving into its tendency to envision the worst regardless of how valiantly Clarke tried to fight off the ominous clouds of uninvited thoughts.
“Oh Clarke…” Lexa breathed her name barely audibly. This course of events had not occurred to her when she debated how to answer her uncle’s slyly imposed question. “I am so sorry, I didn’t think that could happen.” She scooted closer to Clarke and pressed her front against her side, wrapping her in another hug. “Please forgive me… it’s just…he cornered me. And I… I didn’t want to get Mr. Collins in trouble.” The moment the words were out of her mouth Lexa wished she could take them back. They had come out entirely wrong. But before she could protest her own folly she felt Clarke sharply pull away to look at her.
“You were thinking of Finn’s well-being but not mine?” Clarke asked, astonished, perhaps a good measure hurt even. ‘Perhaps she does love Finn… and I… she has only known me for a few weeks of course she would choose his safety over mine…’ Clarke’s mind raced with unpleasant thoughts that swiftly curdled her mood.
“No, no, Clarke. Please, that is…not…that is not how I had meant it. Please…let me explain?” Lexa’s voice trembled with unshed tears, worry gnawing at her frantic mind to set right what she had wronged.
Clarke regarded her for a moment then nodded in consent. She was bound to do so, feeling powerless to resist Lexa’s wishes even as the flames of jealousy boiled her insides alive.
“Uncle Gus…he was…uncharacteristically sly… or at least he has not behaved with me so before… he…” Lexa blushed at the very implication, her stumbling over her embarrassment. “He tricked me into thinking that my dress was buttoned up wrong. Naturally my mind rushed to the massage you had given me and how I had loosened my gown for you. I was so shocked my hand flew to my chest to cover my supposed blunder. But…that was itself the blunder for my gown was in fact perfectly done up. Please Clarke…consider what that must have looked like to him. He was so sure I had allowed Mr. Collins to spoil me. I hurried to explain, telling him that you had given me a massage…”
Clarke’s ears soaked up the information presented, the stinging flame of her jealousy slowly dying down. Despite the seriousness of their conversation Clarke had to stifle an amused smile. The very notion that her goody two-shoes* cousin could possibly do something so abominably reckless was ridiculous. Clarke could well imagine that had the accusation been delivered to him personally the chivalrous fool would have challenged Sir Gustus to a duel on the spot. It was understandable that Lexa wished to spare Finn’s reputation even if Lexa’s choice stung her.
“And…how did you come to broach the subject of my education?” Clarke prompted.
“Well… he seemed so dismissive. I…believe I felt rather personally attacked when he said if I had back pains I should see a professional and I just blurted out that you ARE a professional. I… supposed I had wanted to defend you.” Lexa admitted sheepishly. After Clarke had moved more or less out of her embrace she found little to do with her hands. Her confidence in whether her touch would be received favourably wavered again and she resolved to nervously pick at the lint on the edge of he dress, staring into her laps for fear of the further rejection she might find in Clarke’s eyes.
Clarke genuinely smiled at Lexa’s admission. Her heart soared happily as she realized that Lexa had truly not made a conscious decision to sacrifice her in favour of Finn. The last embers of her jealousy died out upon hearing that Lexa felt personally attacked when her professionalism was questioned. She leaned back closer and pressed her forehead against Lexa’s, moving closer to welcome her friend back into her embrace.
“Lex” Clarke whispered through her smile. “That was very kind of you but I would much rather you didn’t defend me like that again.” She pressed a soft kiss on Lexa’s cheek rather closer to her lips than she usually did. She tensed for a moment, her senses bombarded by the thrill that danced down her spine. An image of them wrapped in each other’s arms on the settee swam in front of her closed eyes and Clarke couldn’t help wondering if Lexa might want to repeat that. She tensed her arms around Lexa’s waist to pull her closer. “Come here. I’m not angry. I was upset but I hadn’t understood your motives. Come here. I just want to feel you close to me.”
Lexa let a small sob escape her lips as she hastily moved closer upon invitation. The tears that pooled beneath her eyelashes when Clarke told her that she did not need her to defend her thickened into round drops and she felt one escape, leaving a moist path down her cheek. She twisted in Clarke’s welcoming embrace until she mirrored her position, moving her legs out of the way and curling them beneath herself. She pulled Clarke closer still, melting into her embrace as she burrowed her face into her neck.
Clarke felt her skin dampen quickly and realized that Lexa must be crying. Heart breaking for her distressed friend, Clarke began rocking them back and forth cooing soft words of reassurances and soothing sounds into Lexa’s ear. “Shhhh, everything is ok. I’ve got you. I’m here.” Clarke whispered again as she settled as close as she could, lips pressed against Lexa’s skin, her nose resting on her shoulder. She closed her eyes to enjoy Lexa’s warmth, comforting them both at the same time.
After the air had been cleared between them their high spirits were easily restored. Clarke entertained Lexa with tales of mischief and trouble she had gotten into with her friends at Girton. She very much enjoyed Lexa’s relaxed spirited mood and she racked her brain for the most ludicrous shenanigans she could remember to make Lexa laugh. The one where they all went row boating was a particularly fond memory of hers.
“No! You ALL fell into the water?” Lexa ask, amazed.
“Oh it was inevitable. The whole boat veered to the side and toppled right over.” Clarke said between laughs. “By the time we managed to struggle ashore we all quite resembled a pack of drowned rats. Or so the warden had told us when we all trudged back to the college estate. I have never seen a single drowned rat myself…”
Lexa giggled at Clarke’s antics. Her recollection of the lively time she spent away from home made Lexa yearn for adventure herself. At the same time the idea of seeing her friend soaking wet seemed to have a surprising allure and she found herself wondering if she could somehow contrive to have a boat brought to their small lake.
“It is a wonder you did not catch your death though, walking about in wet clothes like that!” Lexa said absent-mindedly as she busied herself with transferring the last slice of their cheesecake onto a plate. She had noticed Clarke throwing glances as it but her constant stream of tales prevented her from indulging. Their hands brushed as Lexa raised the fork to Clarke’s lips. “Here, have some.”
Clarke smiled playfully at Lexa, finding humour in the notion of being hand fed like an invalid while she would have been clearly capable of feeding herself. She opened her mouth expectantly and leaned closer, her eyes never leaving Lexa’s. She saw the playful glint mirrored in her expression.
An unexpected shiver ran down Lexa’s spine when Clarke playfully arched her eyebrow which caused her hand to tremble just as the fork passed between Clarke’s lips. When she pulled her hand back she saw that she had managed to smear the cream right over Clarke’s upper lip. Momentarily distracted by the sight, Lexa found herself staring that Clarke’s lips, suddenly remembering how gentle they were against the skin of her neck. Her cheeks flushed at the memory and the feelings they stirred within her belly.
“Is everything okay?” Clarke asked, unaware of the reason why Lexa appeared to be distracted, seeing only that her friend’s eyes were glued to her lips. The discovery made her skin tingle pleasantly.
“I..um…yes..just…you have” Lexa’s speech faltered as words escaped her. She felt quite flustered and in an attempt to free herself from the influence of the vision before her she reached out and brushed the bit of cream from Clarke’s lip with her finger. Clarke’s lip felt soft and supple under her touch and the desire to reacquaint her skin with Clarke’s kisses rose within her chest. She pulled her hand away with the intention of wiping the residue from her fingers when she was surprised by the gentle hand on her wrist.
“Not so fast. That is mine…” Clarke whispered as she brought Lexa’s hand back to her parted lips. Lexa was captivated and watched as the very tip of Clarke’s tongue peeked out from between her lips to lick the cream off her finger. Another shiver ran down her spine as pink lips briefly wrapped around her finger before quickly releasing it. She suddenly felt conscious of how close they were still sitting to one another and she leaned in towards Clarke’s ear.
“Claaarke…” Lexa whispered her name long, her voice slightly whiny. “You make me feel things I have never felt before…” she admitted in a low voice, her lips tracing the shell of Clarke’s ear.
“As do you…” Clarke replied in kind, her eyes closing at the sensation of Lexa’s breath on her ear. “No one has ever inspired such affection within me as you do…”
When Lexa’s lips pressed against the delicate skin beneath her ear Clarke’s breath hitched and she pressed herself more against Lexa. “Lex… that feels…good. So good.”
Encouraged by Clarke’s words Lexa pressed her lips more firmly against her skin, gently exploring for a few moments before kissing a path across her jaw. When her lips reached Clarke’s chin she pressed her forehead against hers. Clarke’s harsh breathing beat against her lips as she attempted to reign in the feelings that Lexa unleashed inside her.
“C-Clarke…” Lexa groaned, unable to resist the urge that captured her. “I…I really wish to kiss your lips…”
“I really wish you would” Clarke whispered back.
“But… isn’t that something we’re supposed to do with men?” Lexa voiced her vague concerns. She herself had never felt the desire to kiss anyone on the lips before now but the romance novels she so avidly read in her adolescent years described it happening between men and women in plentiful detail. That she now felt this irresistible desire to kiss her friend sowed the seed of confusion in Lexa’s mind.
“I…don’t think we’re not allowed. You also kiss my cheek…and what is the difference really?” Clarke’s voice was barely audible, she more or less breathed the words against Lexa’s lips, waiting for Lexa to make her decision. When soft lips pressed against hers she immediately realized just how different those kisses were. Excitement blossomed in her chest as she tasted Lexa’s pliant bottom lip, sliding her own around it. She moaned into the kiss in approval and pressed closer.
Long moments stretched out unnoticed as they gently nudged each other’s lips back and forth exploring the sensations their kisses ignited. When Lexa finally broke the kiss she did not stray afar, their breaths mingled as she attempted to calm her racing heart.
“I…think that was much better than kissing your cheek.” Lexa said with a smile, her eyes half-lidded with a blissful expression gracing her features.
“Indeed.” Clarke agreed. “Only…now I feel like I never want to do anything else.” The moment the words slipped past her lips her body jolted violently, remembering her late night activities from last night. ‘Would…kissing long enough bring some kind of joy that would allow me to stop eventually?’ She wondered, remembering how despite her efforts it seemed impossible to stop what she had started until it became too much and her body crashed in a wave of pleasure.
“Perhaps…we might continue in the warm comfort of my room?” Lexa whispered in offering. “It is getting rather cold here.”
Clarke’s insides froze as she realized they were to share a bed tonight. She wondered if that unstoppable feeling would unleash itself upon her again or if that only happened when she was solitaryly confined. Questions of whether Lexa experienced anything similar or how she resolved her situation assaulted her mind even as she nodded in agreement that they should start back towards the mansion. She vaguely hoped that the infernal urge would not rear its head two nights in a row and force her to embarrass herself in front of Lexa.