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A Very Victorian Story of Two Girls in Love

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It was not more than a quarter of an hour later that Clarke and Lexa found themselves seated beside one another in the dining hall. While the physical symptoms of her ailment were significantly reduced, Clarke experienced the unpleasant gnawing of a considerable emotional discomfort. As they had been otherwise engaged throughout the majority of their day, Lexa had not found sufficient time to relay to her the full circumstances and details of her unfortunate behaviour some hours before. Likely in an effort to not leave her entirely without information, she had some hurried words with her before departing with dinner. The disconcerting suggestion that she perhaps might like to take her cousins’ sensibilities into consideration after the harsh words they had exchanged had left Clarke in a miserable snare of confusion. She had no recollection of the incident that she had been informed of having occurred but she trusted Lexa to have interpreted the situation correctly. It provided a small measure of relief when Lexa kindly leaned in and pressed a soft kiss against her cheek, whispering that she had already salvaged as much as possible. Yet sitting opposite him and not remembering a single moment of the incident cultivated an uneasy feeling deep in the pit of Clarke’s stomach, now wishing that she had the reassuring comfort of Lexa’s touch grounding her.

The dinner laid out between them was a truly splendid spread that left Clarke mildly disappointed that her stomach was not quite at its best. The potato soup appeared a safe prospect but her mouth moistened as the scent of freshly fried potato puffs invaded her senses. The various meats, while garnished in an eye-pleasing manner, turned her stomach queasy prompting Clarke to forgo the heavier dishes.

“Miss Griffin, I take it your afternoon illness has…passed?” Sir Gustus inquired discreetly, well aware that the servants waiting at table, with the possible exception of the butler, have remained ignorant.

“Quite, thank you, Sir Gustus.” Clarke answered politely between spoonfuls of soup. “I dare say that a restful night of sleep shall do me wonders and I shall be as good as new tomorrow.”

“Ah, I expect you shall want to leave soon after dinner then, Clarke?” Despite Finn’s innocent tone and general demeanour Clarke froze in her seat in an awkward manner, not entirely sure how to respond in lieu of she and Lexa having neglected to discuss further sleeping arrangements. The ball was in two days time which meant her departure loomed a meagre three days from that evening. Lexa and she had not discussed the finer details of her visit. When Clarke was not indisposed they were wrapped up in an embrace far too much for thoughts of departure to have penetrated their minds.

Before Clarke could attempt to formulate an answer Lexa redirected the attention to herself. “I have yet to discuss with the Clarke the finer details of what my summer ball typically entails, Mr. Collins.” Lexa’s tone was as uninformatively pleasant as Clarke had ever heard, in harmony with her aristocratically perfect, sculpted profile that steadfastly refused to reveal the slightest hint of the inner workings of her mind. The undeniable fact that her cousin, the very same man whose person was so intricately woven into the fabric of their history should be in possession of more knowledge of what is to come in the final days of her visit rekindled the heavy nauseating feeling of jealousy. 

A distasteful composition of irreconcilable feelings swirled in her gut as her mind assaulted her with the recent memory of Lexa’s lips so pleasurably ghosting her skin while those very same lips spilled the soul shattering recollection of the experiment she had been engaged in with her cousin while Clarke recovered. 
 
When Lexa turned to face her she felt herself willingly falling into the green of her eyes much the same way as one would fall into the mesmerizing power of the Will-o’-the-wisp* before following it through untrodden paths to their doom. ‘Lord above, am I following Lexa to my doom so happily and willingly?’ The thought flashed through her mind unbidden, her prior confidence losing its footing over her disconcerting lack of knowledge. Long ago neglected worries of her mother's ire and displeasure surfaced to compound her feeling of uncertainty.

“As Mr. Collins is well aware, I do not take visitors on the last day before the ball” Lexa elaborated, seemingly unaware of the effect her casually delivered words had. The words struck Clarke’s ears as uncharacteristically haughty coming from Lexa. She blinked in confusion, wondering how she should have been aware of this circumstance without anyone having informed her. Clarke’s stomach plummeted and where her confidence had lounged comfortably, it’s warm expansion overflowing her soul mere minutes ago in the confines of Lexa’s room, now an aching hollow took up residence, its cold void all but forcing her spirit to collapse on itself. 

“However, that is only because I am generally quite busily engaged in last minute preparations which would not permit me to be an entertaining host.” Lexa carried on in much the same tone as she had. Her eyes softened but a fraction, confusing Clarke further with the cryptic message she was sure the subtle change was designed to deliver. “If…you were of the disposition to help with supervision I’m sure I could…” Lexa said timidly, her voice trailing to a gradual halt without finishing her offer.

Clarke took the timidity of Lexa’s offer as reluctance which started filling the hollow void in her chest with shame and doubt. The heavy clogged feeling of being weighed down, her chest uncomfortably shrinking over the vilely expanding feeling left her with a sense of tremendous discomfort, as though her very skin had shrivelled too tight over her frame. Her vision seemed to have adjusted to her narrowing sense of self and her shrivelling presence, the edges of her perception dimming and darkening.

“That is quite fine, Lexa, I would not wish to be a burden. Perhaps a day’s rest at home will be beneficial to my health, ensure I am in my prime for the ball.” Clarke said with a tight smile she knew did not reach her eyes. Eyes she felt the need to avert in confusion, not able to keep them trained on a single person in the room lest her inner fear and shame be exposed to them. She felt them burn with the desire to blink which she dared not do for fear of forcing the fine sheen of tears that blurred her vision to collect and roll down her cheeks. 

She raised a spoonful of soup to her mouth, hiding behind the act of eating as a means to avoid facing her dinner companions. But just as she emptied the contents of her spoon into her mouth a ragged breath slipped her iron control, the involuntary convulsion of her throat forcing the liquid down the wrong pipe. Clarke choked and coughed, her body violently attempting to dislodge the foreign substance from her lungs. Flashes of shame and frustration at having drawn such unwanted attention to herself swelled inside her chest once again, twisting control over her breathing further out of her grasp. She vaguely heard the commotion of voices, notably Lexa’s shrill exclamation of alarm but the panicked rush of blood in her ears robbed her of the ability to understand a single word of what had been uttered around her.

Several moments passed before she regained control of her breathing and her coughs subsided. As her fear of expiring in such an undignified manner subsided a small measure of relief washed over her. ‘At least they will not be able to tell that I had been on the verge of crying because I was told I have to go home…’

It was when her lungs had been able to accept air regularly once again that she realized there was a hand on her thigh, fingers gripping tight onto the fabric of her Turkish pants. Delicately elegant long fingers far too feminine to be anyone’s but Lexa’s. Glancing up she was confronted with a pair of shockingly wide green eyes staring at her with concern. “Are you alright, dearest?” Lexa asked, her tone implying that she had been attempting to ascertain that fact for a while.

“Yes, thank you. I’m sorry for having caused a fright. I swallowed too hastily and it went to my lungs.” Clarke answered clumsily, not moving, her body frozen into a state of immobility by her inability to decide what would be appropriate in company. ‘What would be appropriate at all at this point…’

“Clearly you are not fit for travel, another night’s rest…” Lexa started to say but was cut-off.

“No, no I am fairly certain that you do not need the responsibility of an invalid to compound your day’s duties ahead of you. I shall rest tonight in my own room. Certain it will relieve the burden of your William as well, seeing how either myself or my attire for the ball would have had to be transported. Going home appears to be the more logical conclusion.” Clarke rattled off the argument that left her more or less unconvinced herself.

Sending a self-conscious smile and a shy glance in the direction of her clearly bewildered dinner companions Clarke attempted to asses the damage she had inflicted upon the mood. Finn averted his gaze after he returned her gesture with an embarrassed smile of his own while Sir Gustus knitted his eyebrows over his solid gaze he kept trained on Clarke. Clarke dreaded glancing at Lexa the most out of the three, fearful of just about any conceivable reaction she might have. The superficial glance she spared her saw Lexa blinking at her rapidly from beneath knitted eyebrows not unlike her uncle.

As she raised her spoon once again and managed to consume her food without difficulty eating recommenced at the table. Conversation flowed with more difficulty than Clarke remembered from previous nights, solidifying her belief that she had indeed embarrassed everyone at table. Once sufficient time had passed since her self-embarrassment and everyone had had time to consume their meal she suggested that perhaps they might set off if Finn was agreeable. To Clarke’s relief Finn nodded his consent and agreement without much fuss.