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Black Knight

Chapter Text

***

Clarke hates this.

Absolutely despises it.

She’s been strolling in aimless circles in the National Gallery’s portraiture wing. The evening’s programme is a combined state banquet and charity benefit in her honour for the unveiling of her portrait put up for auction at an embarrassing price for what Clarke thinks is a glorified selfie. Who would want an artistic reproduction of Clarke’s head immortalised on their wall, she can’t understand but won’t begrudge the money it raises. The event is mostly an excuse for the rich to rub elbows while pretending with their cheque books to be self-conscious about their wealth, willing to part with some of it in the name of paediatric cancer research, but not enough to leave their fancy jets at home.

The Griffins own a fleet of them so Clarke has no leg to stand on to cast stones. But she’s irritable and hungry and the tiny plates of food are unconscionably tiny to withstand hours of what is essentially a singles mingle for unattached royalty, posing as philanthropy. Art and food, currency of the haves while the have-nots rightly look on with disgust. Clarke can share in the sentiment of the abolitionists, if her murder wasn’t high on their list.

The Prince of Azgeda accompanies her around the room in the lead up to dinner and, under the guise of social conversation, makes known his interest is in more than her picture. On the third lap, she sucks in her teeth, and reminds herself, it’s for the children.

Really, Clarke is being unkind. While Prince Roan’s reputation with the courtesans does precede him, he’s actually not so bad and has managed to draw a few genuine laughs from her, in the cool detached, self-deprecating way only the Ice Nation aristocracy is capable of.

“Azgeda in the winter is exquisite, you must visit,” Prince Roan says, a fondness crinkling in his clear blue eyes likely recalling the coastal grandeur of his homeland. “Given your painter’s eye, you may appreciate the light of the sails reflecting onto the water at sun down in the South Province, it’s simply surreal. I tried to paint it once. I deserve the guillotine for that effort.”

Clarke laughs, forgetting her foul mood for a second.

“I doubt I can do it justice either. The Old Port is stunning, I admit,” she transitions smoothly into an Azgedan accent then slows her speech to affect sharing a secret, “but, a piece of my heart will always belong to the Crystal Basilica, once I set foot inside, I found it difficult to leave.

Clarke hates it, but she’s also very, very good at it—playing up the far-travelled, high-cultured socialite princess.

“You’ve been?”

“Of course.” Clarke smiles, returning his look of surprise with an observation of her own. “What serious student of art doesn’t dream of visiting the North Country.”

“Oh? Not Paris?”

She does have an apartment in Paris, a birthday gift from her father, where she likes to spend the summer and takes the train to the seaside when the capital’s humidity gets too much; when Arkadia gets too much.

Clarke doesn’t mention it.

Arkadia and Azgeda share a border, their territories separated by the Boreal Forests. Incumbent to keep the relation friendly, she plays into his ego instead.

“Your auroras against the crisp white of snow have no equivalent.”

Pleased to hear it, Roan steps closer and leans forward to whisper in her ear, more than friendly in tone, “I hope you call upon me the next time you are in-country. Perhaps you can give me advice on how to better appreciate beautiful things.”

The hand cupping her elbow makes his meaning clear, it’s not the scenery he’s keen to capture.

Clarke can’t fault him for trying, as unsubtle and cliché as his flirting has been all night. His misplaced hope at least has proven useful distraction to the bigger problem. The part that Clarke hates most; Lexa can’t be by her side and has kept a distance to the periphery of the room. Lexa, who hasn’t spoken to her in weeks, not since that week. Lexa, who has erected high walls in place of speech. Lexa, who watches over her but won’t look at her.

Lexa, who has bumped into a server, uncharacteristically clumsy, nearly knocking the silver platter of aperitifs off his hand that’s only saved by the Black Knight’s quick reflexes. When Clarke looks to the commotion she finds Lexa’s gaze is set lower to where Roan’s hand is still on her elbow. Clarke resists the instinct to immediately jerk her arm away. She withdraws it as polite as possible from his light grasp, feeling it burn from the heat of Lexa’s stare.

Roan doesn’t seem to notice Clarke’s shifted focus, but does have the grace, minutes of silence and unanswered reply later, to recognise he may not have had her attention at all in the first place.

A bell rings signalling the near close of bidding.

“That’s my cue, I better throw my name in for the chalice or else bear my mother’s wrath for losing it to the Duke of Wales,” he makes his excuse to leave and Clarke appreciates the out. “A pleasure, as always, Your Royal Highness.”

“Please send Queen Nia my regards.”

“And mine to their Majesties as well.”

He retreats with a respectful dip of his head and an acceding smile, large enough to hide his disappointment but not so small that it isn’t sincere.

Clarke lets out a sigh of relief to be left alone again. A too-brief reprieve. The tension returns the instant she peers over her shoulder to see Lexa’s gaze is distant once more, composure recovered. Back to her post of seeing but unseen, looking past Clarke but not at her.

The Black Knight won’t meet her eyes.

She had thought with the line redrawn since her parents’ return, they could at least tread near it, if not over. Not for Lexa to withdraw so completely from it.

Another hour passes. More social mixing and practised humility as scores of suitors give her the same compliment, that her portrait, while stunningly rendered, does her a disservice. Unoriginal yet earnest in their attempts to gain her favour. If only they knew, the anonymous painter is the same as the one who sat for the painting. It seemed inappropriate to exaggerate her own beauty.

Studying the oil on canvas, she wonders if others can read the strain visible on her likeness from the heaviness of the diadem on her head, and the jewels on her ears and around her neck. The blue riband in the painting is an exact replica of what she’s currently wearing over her blush-white gown. A red ribboned medallion hangs from the sash, adding to the weight.

Clarke sighs. Brows pinched tight not dissimilar to her doppelgänger.

The second hour slows by. Judging by the flow of alcohol and the flow of cheques, she is convinced that the organisers have intentionally restricted guests to nibbling and imbibing for as long as possible in the strategic hope that blind hunger would result in more generous bids, if only to hurry dinner along. Her stomach grumbles and more than once she has to fake a cough to cover the noise during conversation. Finally giving up on making small talk with a group of high officials, Clarke heads outside for a break.

Lexa follows a silent step behind as Clarke makes her way to the gardens in search of night air. They walk quietly through rows of rose bushes, feet guided by the illuminated gravel path, which crunch softly underfoot. She happily sits at the first bench that comes into view. Lexa stands to the side and remains vertical in contrast to Clarke’s desire to spread horizontal across the bench, feet sore from wearing heels all day. She kicks off her shoes and rubs at the back of her right foot.

Clarke doesn’t lie down like she wants to but she does slouch, feeling safe out of the watchful eyes of the gala-goers to let her spine bend. The din of their chatter can still be heard from here but they are sufficiently far away for purloined privacy. Not that she needs it because thoughts of kissing Lexa have no chance of materialising into reality. Not with how stiff Lexa stands on guard, a perfect statue of protection. A perfect lack of emotion.

Gone is the softness that Clarke can still feel on her lips like a burnt-in memory of the sun long after summer’s end. Lexa looks unyielding for how much she is capable of making Clarke’s heart and the pulse between her legs yield to her tenderness. Gone is the warmth and intensity of their bodies joining in humid desperation, in cloying, tangible need. She is turned a slight way away from Clarke, gaze ahead in vigilant watch, her back ram-rod straight. Out of reach and entirely unattainable.

The tuxedo, an attempt to blend in, is perfectly tailored to emphasise her shoulders and hips. Hair pulled halfway back in a braid elongates her neck. She wears makeup on this occasion, though minimal, so as not to be out of place of the black tie event. A jaw cut and a pout like that, however, thwart any attempt to be inconspicuous. She would stand out wearing burlap.

Needing to look away, Clarke rests her eyes close for a moment. Soft skin and softer kisses fill her vision, interplaying with heaving chests and heavy breaths, Lexa’s weight on top a fragile anchor.

Memories of their time together are almost torture at this point.

“How long do you plan on not speaking to me?”

Silence.

Somewhere a night bird chirps to fill the void.

“How long are we not going to talk about it?” She tries it a different way.

More silence.

“This isn’t fair. You kissed me first.”

Crickets.

“Is it because I’m a fully grown adult who technically still lives with my parents that you’ve suddenly developed a romantic aversion to me?”

There are over seven hundred rooms at the palace and several wings separating her from them, Clarke effectively having her own detached cottage, so the label of co-habitants is a fair stretch.

Her downplay of their intractable situation and the attempt at humour doesn’t work regardless. Lexa doesn’t budge. Expression inscrutable.

“Should I be worried you’ve forgotten the mechanics of speech? Or is it your ears that should be the cause for concern? Blink twice if you can hear me.”

Lexa doesn’t blink once.

Clarke huffs in frustration. Her stomach joins in complaint.

“Lexa, please—” her plea is cut off by the sound of approaching footfall.

The waiter curtsies on arrival after addressing her by title, to present a normal size plate. Clarke’s eyes widen at the mouthwatering steak.

“I could kiss you!” Clarke’s excitement at seeing real food causes the young girl to blush, then oddly, her eyes flit to Lexa. Clarke catches the discreet nod of approval returned and should’ve guessed the source of the thoughtfulness.

The portion is smaller than the main to be served but she’s grateful nonetheless for a preview of the menu.

She’s handed a set of cutlery and sends the waiter off with an indebted smile, making mental note of her name tag for a generous tip later. This is one of those times where she wishes royals would entertain something as practical as owning a wallet or carrying cash.

Clarke digs into the cut with less dignity than her hunger can afford. She retains a modicum of manners to cover the skirt of her gown with the supplied cloth napkin.

“Thank you for this,” Clarke says on a deep exhale after the first satisfying bite. Although Lexa stays quiet, she does acknowledge her gratitude with a minor head tilt.

A brokered silence envelops the next several minutes, interrupted occasionally by the movements of the knife and fork against the plate.

“You must be hungry too,” Clarke surmises after her stomach pangs subside to a tolerable degree. She realises she’s been rude not to offer Lexa any and presents an untouched cut, the fork waved in the air between them like an olive branch.

Lexa shakes her head to decline. Clarke doesn’t anticipate an answer to her mumbled, “Your loss,” but unexpectedly receives one.

“With how quickly you inhaled that, it doesn’t seem wise to come between you and the beef, ma’am.”

Clarke laughs, the formality catching her off guard more than the deadpan, and hangs onto the light moment for the relief of hearing Lexa’s soft timbre again.

“You would be hangry too if you had to listen to everyone and their mother express an opinion about a chin dimple.”

Lexa is well aware of Clarke’s rage-induced food comas so Clarke awaits additional commentary on her struggles with restraint, but, Lexa’s eyes fall to her face and slips to the crease in contention, looking thoughtful. “Would you like mine?”

Clarke smiles in surprise and juts her chin out, “By all means, what more could be said about my chin that I haven’t heard tonight?” She humours with a motion of her hand while she polishes off the last of the steak.

“It’s very kissable.”

The fork tine slips against the ceramic plate. The moment of pleasantness screeches to a halt.

Though she should be pleased with the answer Clarke is anything but confused. Unhappy about the mixed messages. Rage returning, she stalks away, further into the bushes knowing Lexa is bound to trail in pursuit. In her haste to leave, she clumsily abandons her meal. The napkin falls from her lap and lands more gently to the ground than the plate’s misfortune.

Some yards farther away from the crowd, Clarke rounds on her.

“What is your problem?!”

Lexa nearly slams into Clarke not having prepared for her abrupt stop. She looks taken aback by the outburst.

“How can you say that after not talking to me for weeks!” Clarke whisper yells.

There are other guests strolling about, milling in idle chatter and too far to witness her eruption. Lexa nevertheless takes her by the arm and leads them well off the path, deeper into the rose garden. Clarke angrily shrugs off her touch when they stop in front of a tree large enough to give their confrontation cover.

Clarke’s pacing only stops when Lexa takes over the practice. In contrast to her stoicism of a minute ago, a perceptible conflict of emotions flickers across her face, the first visible crack in her mask.

“I’m sorry. You’re right, that was unfair. I shouldn’t have said it.”

Lexa’s acceptance of responsibility takes some of the air out of Clarke’s tempest. She takes a moment to slow her breathing, then uncrosses her arms and implores, “Just talk to me.”

Lexa bites her bottom lip. Toes at the gravel in seeming search for words, then settles on,

“I’m trying to protect you, Clarke.”

“I don’t need protection.” Clarke puts a hand up before Lexa can refute with the basic tenet of her duty. “It may be part of the job description but I’m not some damsel in distress. I’m a big girl who can make decisions for herself and handle the consequences.”

“I know that.”

“Do you? Because from where I’m standing, despite everything you’ve told me about all of my choices, you haven’t given me one.”

“I’m trying to save you—”

I don’t need saving, is swiftly on the tip of her tongue but then Lexa finishes her sentence.

“—from having to make the hardest one.”

The crown or Lexa, inevitable as it may be, that’s not a choice Clarke wants to have to contemplate. Not now. It also needn’t be so existential of a crisis.

“Isn’t that a bridge we should cross together?” Her counter-argument has no immediate rebuttal. Taking the inch for a mile, she perseveres. “Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves anyway? It’s far off, the future isn’t set in stone.”

Except, it definitely and literally is. Abigail Clarke Griffin. Clarke’s name is engraved into the granite base of the throne upon which her father sits, joining a long list of Griffin heirs. Her seat one day.

But someday is not the same as today when the moon hangs low from an empty, dark sky to illuminate Lexa’s face in such a way that Clarke doesn’t miss the lack of stars.

“Lexa, the only decision worth consideration at this moment is whether you want me. Am I someone, when you close your eyes, you want to kiss? It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”

“No, it doesn’t. But you’re also not a girl I can pick up at a bar and take to the movies.”

“Is that what we’re back to?” Clarke wants to scream. If it’s normalcy Lexa craves, she will never be able to give it. Upon the King and Queen’s homecoming, there hasn’t been one minute where she is not reminded of who she is and who she needs to be. “No, I am not that girl. But, I thought I could at least be the kind of girl that gets a text or a call back the next morning.” It’s more hurt than anger in her tone. “I thought it meant something to you too.”

Lexa’s eyes widen as if shocked Clarke would question the significance of their week entangled in each other. Her hand flexes by her side, she seems to reach out, taking a step forward. An invisible string, however, pulls her in the other direction. Lexa rocks back on her feet and clenches her hand hard at the last second into a fist. Her stature deflates, and whatever bravado she may have given fleeting thought, dissipates.

“Even if it did, does it really matter?”

Clarke wants to reply, yes, of course, but another bell rings in the distant indicating dinner will be served, which seems to be answer enough.

Appetite lost, she goes through the motion of being congenial and charming, entertaining Roan’s company again as her seat neighbour at the feted table. Ignores the stare she can’t see but can feel heavy from across the room every time the prince touches her arm when she banters with a coquettishness and witticism that has the other dignitaries laughing.

Fake smiles and pretences of care for the welfare of other kingdoms and their petty squabbles, all by rote, get her through the night.

Her heart is as empty as her stomach when her head hits the pillow later. An evening of little substance but for those twenty minutes in the garden when she felt most alive, even if she and Lexa were fighting.

The next several evenings out go much the same way. Dressed to impress, hungry throughout, smile as tight-lipped as the silence tethering her to Lexa, only broken after she sneaks Clarke a pre-meal plate. They have twenty minutes of detente, some words are exchanged, always soft from Lexa, less angry from Clarke. The dinner bell rings. They go back to opposite sides of the room.

During the weekdays, Lexa’s shadow is never far from Clarke, her footsteps a silent echo. The tension is thick and isn’t helped by Lexa’s perfume that fills her nose when she comes imperceptibly closer in the presence of a crowd at public events. The hand on the small of her back to gently but firmly guide Clarke often leaves her more flustered than the gaggles with a relentless popular press. The flashes of cameras and the shouts of her name aren’t the cause of her heart’s acceleration as Lexa’s arm winds around her waist to steer her a safe passage to their town car.

Worse still are the times when they encounter a wieldy public keen to get a glimpse of their princess visiting the outer provinces and Lexa has to use her body to shield Clarke from the more aggressive onlookers, pushing her against the wall, hands gripping her by the hips, chest pressing into hers, and holding their positions until Gustus and additional agents can arrive for backup. They are mere seconds, but for the eternity of having Lexa’s breath on her skin, Clarke doesn’t breathe.

In one incident of misguided use of judgment, motivated by the warring of her emotions that Lexa can still have such effect on her despite having been soundly rejected, Clarke takes advantage of the crowd to lose Lexa in it, her hand slips out of the guard’s grasp to duck into an abandoned alleyway. She needed the stowaway moment to find her breath, but as soon as it’s found, immediately loses it when someone comes charging at her.

It’s a split second before the person is apprehended, having no chance to reach Clarke, who freezes in fear, eyes locked over the perpetrator’s shoulder onto the sheer terror on Lexa’s face. Finding Clarke being accosted by who turns out to be an overzealous fan of the monarchy, translates into a rough handling that Clarke has to bodily intervene to prevent breaking of the teenager’s arm twisted behind his back. Lexa’s misdirected anger with Clarke giving her the slip, only lets up when Clarke throws herself in between her and the terrified boy, palm pushing against her chest. Clarke apologises to him and his guardian who’s caught up to the harried misunderstanding and invites them both for a personal guided tour of the palace sometime, all expenses paid.

A flash of guilt passes Lexa’s face but it’s overshadowed by the same quiet fury that follows them on the silent flight home. Without addressing their respective actions, Lexa sticks impossibly closer to her afterward, at the same time that an emotional gulf the size of a canyon newly separates them. So close yet too far, Clarke can’t decide if she hates it or loves it. Lexa is everywhere but at once nowhere Clarke wants her to be.

The absolute worst of it, certainly, is when Clarke’s alone in her bed and there aren’t any crowds to account for her shortened breath and racing heartbeat. On a number of occasions she’s given in to the persistent desire that lingers after their fraught interactions. Clarke fucks herself trying to do what Lexa has done to her before. A poor imitation, nonetheless the efforts cause trickles of sweat to run down her chest as her fingers drive in pursuit of an always just out of reach release. While she does manage to come sometimes, the few orgasms are so minor—a facsimile at most—they only add to her mounting frustrations.

The rare instances they approach anything remotely in the vicinity to satisfactory is when she can hear movement on the other side of the wall that are seconds delayed in sound to the noises she makes, too close in gap to be a coincidence. The first time it happens, Clarke is mid pump at one point and unable to prevent Lexa’s name from falling out of her dry mouth when she hears an answering moan. It’s low and would not have been picked up otherwise if Clarke hadn’t been so thoroughly conditioned to its particular pitch, attuned to Lexa’s distinct sounds.

Hearing a version of them, stifled though no less aroused, kicks her self-pleasuring into the next gear. Knowing Lexa is getting off on her masturbating, Clarke doesn’t hold back on her own noises. She couldn’t if she wanted to.

There’s ample alcohol lingering in her system from earlier in the evening to let her inhibitions fall to the wayside.

Thoughts migrate to the dance they shared. Every so often, when Clarke needs a rescue, Lexa would substitute in as her partner. Because the Black Knight is always dressed impeccably, no one is the wiser that Clarke has stepped into the arms of her bodyguard and not another duchess or princess.

By circumstance, the upbeat tempo of the jazz band smoothed into a slow song when their hands touched, Lexa pressing Clarke close to her chest as she moved them to the ballad. The intimate hold stirred low in her belly, the heat only growing when Lexa shifted on her feet but Clarke hadn’t responded accordingly in time, Lexa’s thigh ended up landing solidly between her legs.

It may be her slight inebriation clouding her memory but Clarke vaguely remembers a hand briefly cupping her behind and pushing her down on the thigh right before the song ended.

In the present her fingers thrust, hastening to fill in the gaps of her recollection.

“Fuck, Lexa,” Clarke moans, loud and long. Her sharp inhales lag behind. “Fuck, fuck, oh god.”

She hears a thump against the wall and pauses to wonder if Lexa came closer to sit against it. Her suspicions are confirmed when Lexa’s panting reverberates as though they are in the same room.

It’s not her imagination then when, “Don’t stop, keep going,” flits in the air through the thin separation. “Imagine my weight on you, it’s me inside of you.”

Such suggestions aren’t necessary since Clarke has already taken the initiative but Lexa’s voice adds a layer of graphic authenticity to her performance.

“I— I am,” she croaks. “Please, please make me come.”

“Touch your clit. Can you do that for me?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Large circles, okay?”

There seems to be a short break like Lexa is following her own instructions. It gives Clarke enough time to relocate to the floor from her bed, sitting naked with her back against the wall. The terrazzo is cold on her bum but the heat she feels everywhere else compensates. Knees pulled up and spread apart, she continues pumping and circling.

“I’m close,” Clarke informs minutes later, more whine than warning. “I need—”

“Rub tighter. Smaller circles,” Lexa heads off, knowing exactly what she needs. With the new proximity, the directive comes as if Lexa had breathed it hot in her ear. “Faster strokes.”

There’s a pause while Clarke complies, and by the slick sound of it, Lexa does too.

“Now, slow down.”

Another pause.

“Speed up.”

Pause.

“Are you hard and swollen?”

Clarke looks down and verifies the redness below. As if aware of an audience, it seems to burn hotter. “Yes. It’s— it’s throbbing.”

“Ok, press on it.” At Clarke’s followup hiss and sharp intake of breath, Lexa clarifies with a soft pant, “Gentle, not too much pressure.”

Clarke exhales. Slides the pad of a finger in a shaky pass.

“Fuck.”

“Again, harder this time.” Lexa walks her through the rise in intensity, expletive by expletive, until the set of instructions combine. “Circle and press.”

“Lexa,” Clarke keens. So, so close.

“Tighter, faster.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, I’m going to—”

“Harder.”

“Lexa, please.”

“Hardest you can.”

“Lexa!”

“Hard, ma’am.”

It’s ridiculous Lexa’s clinging to the stubborn pretence of a boundary—nevermind the inappropriate timing—but it does the trick for Clarke. She comes onto her hand within seconds. The line between duty and devastation is so blurry Clarke can’t see through the haze but she can hear Lexa a beat later falling headlong after her.

It’s not exactly progress but it is something after so many weeks and days of nothing.

She turns her head and leans its side against the wall, tears staining the decorative wallpaper with relief.

“Thank you.”

On these gossamer nights Clarke sleeps more soundly, eyes closing to a tender, “Goodnight, Clarke.”

Heart less bruised.

Of course, they don’t talk about it the next morning. There’s no acknowledgment anything happened until the next time it happens again on the lonely evenings when the day’s distance overwhelms.

It’s a quarter measure not remotely close to what Clarke wants, or needs, that makes her feel lonelier than ever in between their unspoken trysts, but she’s reluctant to let go of the only intimacy still connecting her to Lexa.

Twenty minutes of verbal exchange in public; twenty minutes of a carnal one in private; is how they dance around the elephant in the closet week to week.

The pattern doesn’t change until two months later, when a different event has them back at the National Gallery, and it’s Lexa who disrupts their new rhythm.

“It was supposed to be one night,” Lexa says in a shy voice as Clarke looks up from the bench to the stars that have come out tonight.

Distracted by their twinkle, she doesn’t clue in yet to the subject Lexa’s raised. “Hmm?”

“It was supposed to be one night then it turned into the seven best of my life. I have dreamt of them—of you—every night since.”

Clarke whips her head to Lexa whose gaze is now skyward.

“How can you say that when you won’t talk to me unless you’re making me come with a literal wall between us?” Clarke decries, utterly confused. “How can you say that when you won’t even look at me?”

Because if I do, I’d ask for a thousand more nights, and still, it wouldn’t be enough.

The Trigedasleng imbues her confession with a reverence ascribed to the Ancient Texts for their held-in truths. The words too fragile to be anything but sacred.

On a soft exhale, Lexa looks down at Clarke. Eyes watery and helpless, like a galaxy of stars couldn’t hold the same light that they shine for her.

It only confuses Clarke more.

“You can’t have both, Lexa. You can’t be my dance partner at these balls and hold me the way you do and not bother to spend the length of a song afterward to let me know what it means to you, then drop something like that out of nowhere. If you don’t want to be with me, for all the valid reasons we already discussed, then you can’t say such things. You can’t look at me the way you are now when you do look.”

“I can’t help it.”

Clarke is ready to pull her hair out. No previewed plate of food yet to stave off her irritability, she feels more frayed at the edge than usual.

“Well, do better.”

“I’m trying my best, Clarke.”

“Try harder!”

For some reason, Lexa interprets that command to be an invitation to walk away. Offended that her guard would turn her back on her, Clarke stalks after her deeper into the rose bushes until they end up at the same tree.

“Don’t you dare walk away from—”

Lexa spins around without notice and pushes Clarke up against the tree and kisses her hard, swallowing up the ‘me’ that dies on her tongue. Still angry, Clarke kisses back harder. She pulls Lexa in by the lapels of her jacket and seals their mouths around the sounds of deep, guttural moans.

It becomes a contest of wills to gain the upper hand. Lexa nips and Clarke strokes. One pushes, the other pulls.

“It’s rude to turn your back on royalty,” Clarke admonishes minutes later with kissed-bruised lips while Lexa has descended to the column of her neck, pushing the high collar down to litter the skin with her ardour.

What can only be described as a based sound tumbles out of her mouth when Lexa palms her breast with purpose while slavering on her neck. It’s hypocritical but Clarke raises no objection to this particular form of disrespect.

“I am exceedingly mad at you.”

Her grumble amounts to little effect with Lexa’s head burrowed into her, receiving an answer is therefore a surprise.

“I know.”

In the face of Lexa’s contrition, Clarke has little recourse but to let her make amends in the way she communicates best. With her entire body.

Lexa’s leg had slipped in between Clarke’s pair in their jostle and she has started to subconsciously grind against her centre. Lexa sucks on her pulse point, seemingly unaware her hips is driving its erratic beat. Then she mouths over her breast and continues the torment on her nipple, dampening the expensive fabric. The deliberate way the tip of her tongue moves, maybe her actions are not subconscious after all.

“Fuck,” Clarke pants, hands buried in Lexa’s hair, then beseeches, “fuck me,” and fumbles for Lexa’s hand, which once pried off her other breast she quickly pushes it under her gown. “Please, I’m so wet.”

Clarke almost regrets having chosen an elaborate sequinned ballroom outfit over the simple floral dresses she prefers but Lexa has no trouble finding, then pushing, her panties to the side to cup her hard, skin to skin.

They return to kissing as Lexa re-explores below with concentrated swipes through the liquid heat. Her knees weaken instantly, body held up by the tree at her back.

Clarke scrambles for the buckle to her trousers but Lexa beats her to it. The boxer shorts are wet to the touch when Clarke slips inside of them. She quickly works to play catch up meeting Lexa’s strokes.

Lexa knocks her feet wider to open her stance and positions fingers at her entrance, scans her face for consent and Clarke nods in fervent agreement. They share a gasp at the first shallow dip. Lexa kisses the rest of her moan when she pushes in deeper.

Luck not being on her side lately, the dinner bell rings just as Lexa moves to repeat the motion.

“Fuck,” Clarke exhales, dropping her head onto Lexa’s shoulder and withdrawing her hand. Considers skipping the first course. “How fast can you make me come?”

She was merely joking but the answer apparently is, really fast. Lexa is inside her again with two fingers pumping after a brief but jaw-dropping massage of her lower lips. Clarke hitches one leg around her waist to give her more room to manoeuvre.

The sound of fabric ripping doesn’t deter Lexa from bucking her hips in a feral pattern, pushing against the back of her hand to guide it. Clarke’s panties must be hanging on by a thread, if not soaked thin to uselessness.

Lexa’s unoccupied hand cradles the back of her neck to prevent contact with the tree bark, a thoughtful gesture in the midst of a mindless race to completion.

With the aid of a thumb making taut circles on her clit, Clarke comes with a scream sunken into Lexa’s neck. It happens so fast that they manage to steal extra minutes to sneak in a second smaller orgasm when Lexa falls to her knees and Clarke rides her face while her tongue drinks up remnants of the first orgasm.

Looking down to see Lexa’s head buried between her legs under the ruffles of her dress, Clarke feels an unsolicited kick to her heart, a stuttering that continues on the walk back as Lexa’s knuckles brush lightly against the back of her hand.

Clarke is back in time for the rice pilaf with white truffle shavings and tries not to think about the shine of Lexa’s lips as she licks the decadent oil off her own.

She rushes through dinner and then the cordial farewells before practically running back to the town car in her high heels. A confused but discreet Gustus says nothing when Lexa climbs into the driver seat after escorting Clarke into the back and gives him the rest of the night off. When they are two miles out, Clarke tells her to pull over. Thick with arousal, she can’t wait another minute until they reach the palace. Needs Lexa’s hand and tongue on her again.

Clarke straddles Lexa on the leather seat and kisses her the way she’s wanted all evening—all these months—and before they were interrupted. Lexa is just as wild in her desire to undo Clarke again.

“Why is there so much fabric?” Lexa growls trying to find Clarke’s centre, somehow a more difficult task the second time though the outfit’s complexity hasn’t changed. When she succeeds, fingers drag through the plentiful slick, and they both melt into the heat. With the spacious interior, Clarke is able to be turned and placed on her back, Lexa between her legs while her feet plant high against the window. Her arms stretch back and palms push overhead against the opposite window for leverage as Lexa starts to pummel her.

“Yes, oh god, yes!”

Lexa pushes three fingers into Clarke’s mouth to keep her volume down and to match the three currently making her see stars through the moon roof.

“Shhh, baby, you have to be quiet,” Lexa says hotly into her ear as she rocks with such force that it makes staying silent impossible. The pet name is also counterproductive to her entreaty.

Clarke’s ability to respond is muffled by the fullness of her mouth. Lexa puts pressure on her tongue at the same time she does on her clit. The sharp sensation has Clarke crying out and simultaneously asking for more, unable to stifle her whimpers.

What their town car must look like from the outside, parked to the side near the off-ramp to a suburban enclave, teetering to and fro. Glass fogged up. What would Arkadians think if they knew who was making the noises emanating from the bullet-proof vehicle, and who was causing them.

“You feel amazing. Incredible,” Lexa says and professes, “I’ve missed you. This.”

Embedded somewhere in that soft utterance and the elision of syllables is an apology. Although capable of holding legendary grudges, forgiveness comes easily to Clarke by the manner Lexa seeks it. Fingers remove from her mouth to stroke her hair and thread through the strands.

“I’m sorry,” Lexa whispers, a longing in her vocal expression of regret.

“Kiss me.”

Sticky and warm, the kiss feels as urgent as the roll of Clarke’s hips. If reparations have a taste, it would be the lip balm Lexa uses.

Clarke adjusts the angle so she can suck on the fullness of her bottom lip, a change that Lexa seems to appreciate, her moan making Clarke wetter. Her walls tighten around Lexa’s fingers.

The orgasm surprises them both a short minute later. Clarke’s unexpected climax louden the car interior. To keep her quiet, Lexa pushes drenched fingers back into her mouth to let Clarke taste herself.

“I’ve really missed you,” Clarke jokes after, laughter aflutter in her chest.

“If I could, I would bend you over the hood of this car,” Lexa says while she absently rubs her back to soothe the aftershocks.

Clarke’s eyes bulge to hear one of her most vivid dreams voiced in actuality by the very person they feature. She lifts her head up to say, “Do it.”

The rubbing falters. After a wordless negotiation in a lust-induced haze to ascertain if Clarke is serious, Lexa does just that.

Clarke’s upper half is splayed on the cooled engine hood, Lexa’s hand alternating to cup each breast providing an alternative warmth. Her lower half isn’t faring better heat-wise. Legs kicked wide apart and the bottom of her dress hiked high over her ass, Lexa’s pelvis makes repeated contact, sinking her fingers in on every meeting of her hips with her backside.

The blocks of housing are far away enough not to subject any unsuspecting passersby to their impromptu show. Yet what they are doing is still sufficiently public that discovery would be scandal of the front page news variety. The risk of being watched and getting caught fulfils one of many fantasies Clarke has about the boundaries she can push with Lexa.

Clarke can’t see how Lexa’s pants are pooled around her ankles but can tell by the wetness on the back of her thighs that Lexa is as exposed to the road as she is. Only the cover of night and the angle of the parked car shield their partially nude bodies from view.

A lone high beam of light from a passing truck takes no notice of Lexa’s pistoning. The thrill of their covert activity thickens Clarke’s arousal. It runs down the inside of her legs.

“Is this how you like it?” Lexa picks up on the damp clue.

With her days tightly controlled down to the minute and her behaviour tightly scrutinised down to an out of place hair, Clarke lunges at any opportunity to eschew the prim and proper mantle.

“Yes.” Clarke drools onto the car metal, unashamed. Lexa curls her fingers to push at the delicate sponge spot inside, then scissors them, spreading the delectable sensation like wildfire. “Yes! I’m going to come, I’m going to come, oh god, more, Lex. I’m going to—”

The end of her chant has no chance of completing because Lexa withdraws the hand that was palming her chest to smack a bare cheek. The slap is louder than the actual contact, still it punches air from her lungs. Clarke bites into the arm on which her head is pillowed, dampening her scream.

Lexa massages the cheek. “Can you come like this?”

On Clarke’s tired yet enthusiastic nod, Lexa slaps her again and again in tempo with the fingers below. “That’s a good princess.”

The praise, although meant to be teasing, sets off a flurry of butterflies in her stomach. In slow increments, pinning Clarke under her like this, Lexa pushes past her pain threshold. She fucks as if compelled by an immeasurable need to draw out Clarke’s surrender.

Despite the raw taking, it’s Lexa’s lips, the soft open-mouthed kisses on her neck, that eventually does Clarke in. A violent orgasm races through her and Clarke shouts her pleasure to the empty road and the ceiling of stars that coincidentally blinks brighter.

Indecent would be the polite description for the sound that comes out of her mouth.

Clarke’s recovery is short because Lexa deposits her back to the passenger side, door propped open to lay Clarke face down on the seat, bum pulled to the edge, and her legs held open where Lexa kneels behind on the gravel.

Lexa licks and strokes and slides her tongue in no discernible pattern except an end goal of dismantling Clarke’s well-bred composure, while practically swallowing Clarke’s clit into the depth of her warm mouth. Clarke pushes her hands against the opposite door, hanging onto the inside handle for dear life. With the frantic pace, another orgasm rips from her throat not long after.

Turning herself around to be on her hands and knees facing the other direction, she repeats the same process on Lexa who rises to stand in the space of the opened door and the backseat, one hand gripping the top of the car white-knuckled and the other gripping Clarke’s head watching it bop back and forth.

They finally finish with Clarke riding Lexa seated on her lap in the same manner they had started. She fucks herself on four fingers this time, pulling up to the tips before dropping back down in rapid succession. The stretch is almost too much but the pleasure it wrings out of her makes it bearable.

The top of her dress yanked down from her shoulders, one breast is out of its lace cup and being feasted upon like it’s Lexa’s last meal. From the stimulation, Clarke is leaking there almost as much as she is gushing below and feels a delirium from knowing Lexa is responsible for both.

In this position, in between the devouring, Clarke is able to kiss Lexa with unfettered attention, condense weeks of pining into resolve with her tongue that Lexa doesn’t put her through it again. Her hands claw into the leather of the seat headrest as her hips punctuate the point her mouth makes.

Teeth grazes her nipple the next time Lexa’s mouth is back on her breast and Clarke nearly bangs her head against the roof in reaction. Regaining her momentum after Lexa does it again, she starts bouncing on Lexa with sloven determination.

“I want to see you come,” Lexa says.

By some acrobatics, without removing her fingers, Lexa manages to get Clarke to pull her knees toward her chest and hold her legs high by the ankles, exposing her cunt. Lexa sits back to watch her muscles spasm as she continues to penetrate her, a brutal pounding. Her other hand rubs her own clit enjoying the voyeurism.

Clarke climaxes, twitching and jerking with an inelegance well above her station but with an elation well within her capacity for happiness with Lexa. She tremors against her chest and Lexa kisses her sweetly through them.

“I’ve really, really missed you,” Clarke re-emphasises, chuckling. Lexa kisses her forehead in soft agreement. The gesture is as intimate as anything they’ve just done, perhaps even more so with how Lexa’s lips flutter unspoken words against heated skin.

They stay unmoving for the longest while, heartbeats realigning, then Lexa returns to sit up front and they speed off again. It’s a good thing Gustus isn’t the one behind the wheel, the perceptive driver would surely take note of their activities, though it doesn’t take heightened sensitivity to sniff out the situation. Anyone’s nose would immediately crinkle at the obvious scent inside the car. If he held suspicions before of the special relationship between the princess and her bodyguard, they would now be blatantly confirmed.

Clarke catches Lexa’s gaze in the rearview mirror, too smug for her liking, and pushes hard on the button that controls the privacy screen, cursing why it doesn’t roll up faster as she avoids making further eye contact, because, if she looks at Lexa a second longer they might have to pull over, again.

Back at the palace they finally talk and come to an understanding. They won’t put a label on their time together outside of public events. In the privacy of their solo company, they can be Clarke and Lexa, as Clarke had originally proposed. Free to kiss, to touch, to make love. Free for Lexa to share her bed after making as if to retreat to her own bed. She uses the secret passage door connecting her adjoining room to enter Clarke’s out of view of the guards stationed in front of Clarke’s chambers, and slip into her sheets. In and out of bed they pick up where they last left off as if there had been no interruption.

In return Clarke agrees to follow Lexa’s every security measure, to prioritise her own safety and not assert her usual independence. No more city breaks, no more slipping away, no more protesting to be examined after a near-encounter with another threat. Even if it’s only a paper cut, Clarke will sit through everyone’s fussing until they’re assured she isn’t going to combust into thin air.

The trade offs are paltry, Clarke thinks, if she gets to have Lexa like this. Serene and at peace curled around Clarke on a blanket, hidden away in a far corner of the Griffin lands, where the tall grasses of the meadow run highest and the stream from the brook is pleasant on her skin after coming hard on Lexa’s strap they had packed along with their picnic.

Her dozing snores are a balm to Clarke’s long days in tense High Council meetings. The rebels have gone underground and the lack of chatter on eavesdropped lines is making all her advisors nervous. She can see it wear on her father’s handsome face at the head of the table, he scratches at his beard more than usual, tickling the blonde hair in the specific nervous way familiar to Clarke.

The most lethal enemies are the silent ones, he had told her once when she was young and he was trying to teach her the strategy behind hide and seek. Clarke’s puttering toddler footsteps had been too loud to be the surprise element she’d hoped to spring on King Jakob. With that in mind, waiting for a silent shoe to drop, perimeters are now routinely triple reinforced and extra due diligence exercised.

But while their domestic agenda is on tenterhooks, the Royal Family is tasked to present a united front to outsiders and foreign trade partners that all is well in Arkadia.

Which for Clarke means more galas and balls and benefits to everyone else’s benefit but hers. She’s been tapped to be the Charmer in Chief while the King and Queen play political chess behind gilded doors. It’s exhausting to be ‘pretty.’

Lexa, and their stolen time together, is her refuge. In the idyllic and the pastoral, she can set aside latent, dual worries of a brewing war and what to wear to the next dance.

Lexa stirs from her lap when Clarke’s threading of her hair snags on a tangle.

“Sorry, go back to sleep,” Clarke coos and bends her head to kiss her temple.

They arrived at this spot on horseback, miles from the next built structure. There is no one to witness the way Clarke looks down at Lexa with affection nor see the happy lift of Lexa’s lips into an unconscious smile when she scratches soothingly into her scalp and across her exposed stomach where Clarke’s other hand lays. The horses are minding their own business to care that Lexa is only half dressed, still harnessed in.

Clarke licks her lips at the sight, but quickly takes the lust goggles off, and reaches to undo the straps intending to make Lexa more comfortable and to clean the toy.

Her movements awaken Lexa anew, more fully alert she stares at the hand holding the silicone cock. Clarke’s tongue darts out of its own accord again.

Lexa waves off her imminent apology. She sits up and motions for Clarke to sit on her lap. The dildo is pushed up against Lexa’s stomach out of the way but not quite inconsequential. By quiet agreement Clarke starts up a lazy grind.

“Hey,” Lexa says, the softness of sleep in her drawl.

Clarke bites her bottom lip, focused on finding the right friction, ineffective to rein in either the whimper and the moan that compete to get out as she rolls into Lexa.

Her hands brace on Lexa’s shoulders and she grins at the easiness of their afternoon.

Hey? Are we people who do ‘hey’ now?”

“Yes. Unless, you would like me to bow each time I greet you, Clarke, Crown Princess of Arkadia? We can be that kind of people too, Your Royal Highness,” Lexa teases.

“No, this is good.”

They’ve had so much sex by now, it’s a wonder Clarke is always wet and ready for more. Careless of however Lexa wishes to call upon her, it doesn’t take much to feel the familiar stirring.

Lexa holds her gently by the hips, a soft encouragement with her thumbs kneading into Clarke’s flesh.

“What’s causing this crinkle?” Lexa asks and taps a finger to the furrowed line between Clarke’s brows she hadn’t realised had returned from earlier while thinking of styles of address.

“There’s a dance on Saturday,” Clarke explains continuing to roll against the toy, “and I’ve run out of dresses to not land on HuffPost’s Who Wore It Twice list.”

Lexa laughs. Breathy and pretty. She pushes Clarke firmer into her, hands migrating to her rear to help out. “Personally, I think your suits don’t get enough home page attention.”

“You like me in suits?” Clarke raises an eyebrow, smiling.

“I like you in anything,” Lexa breathes out, and then removes Clarke’s shift up and over her head, “and out of anything.”

She pulls Clarke in by the small of her back then sucks on her nipple.

“Lexa,” Clarke whines, gripping her head and pushing her closer.

One of them, she can’t tell who, reaches down to line the dildo with Clarke’s entrance. Both of them expel a moan when Clarke sinks down.

“How have I not had enough of you?” Clarke wonders.

It’s a fruitless endeavour to question it. The pangs of want and the accompanying sticky warmth are a near constant, unlikely to abate anytime soon.

Over Lexa’s shoulder some yards beyond, she can see one of the horses stare at her, chewing indifferent on the grass. Clarke closes her eyes and focuses on the stretch between her legs. When she opens them again, he’s still looking.

“Your horse is a perv,” she tells Lexa, attention divided.

“Who, Tiny?”

Lexa turns toward the direction of her gaze, laughing. The inappropriately-named stallion gives her the same reaction.

“I think it’s because we’re sitting on a really nice patch of grass. He’s likely jealous.”

Clarke huffs. Her horse, a mare with better manners, is faced away downstream, more interested in the running brook than in the riders lazily fucking on a serene Sunday.

Feeling self-conscious, she turns around on Lexa’s lap, back to her chest, facing outward to avert Tiny’s judgment. The new position lets Lexa grope her breasts from behind unhindered while Clarke chases her nth orgasm.

“Hmm, that’s nice,” she hums approval, arcing into Lexa’s hands.

Lexa nips at her ear and kisses along her jaw. “I don’t know, how is there never enough of you for me to have?”

It takes a second for Clarke to realise she’s belatedly responding to her rhetorical question about the frequency of their copulation.

Frequent is an understatement. While still early to rise, Clarke is often late to breakfast or skips it altogether. Lexa’s version of a wake-up call has her writhing and arching from sun-up until the first entry on her daily schedule. In between appointments and meetings and ribbon cuttings, she’s on her back on the first available surface, coming at a record-setting pace each time.

The present is slow going from their usual blister but toe curling nonetheless. Clarke’s toes dig into the blanket. Her hands run up and down the outside of Lexa’s thighs in even passes. Lexa’s hips buck at the attention, the toy hits deeper, in turn Clarke makes a base noise that could only come from low in her belly.

Lexa leisurely fondles her breasts and pinches her nipples, squeezes them idly between her fingers.

“I like the royal blue two piece hanging in your closet,” Lexa continues their conversation with the same gentle breeze that’s blowing Clarke’s hair. She sweeps it to one side and kisses along the curve of her neck where it meets her shoulder. “You should wear that one.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Or you could fake sick and have a night in with me. We can queue up The Princess Bride. You can still wear the suit.”

Clarke grins, picturing it, a version of the quiets nights they’ve had when her diary is miraculously empty—Lexa’s attempt to introduce normalcy to Clarke’s life and catch her up on all the supposed classics she’s been missing out.

“I’ll consider it. What will you wear?”

Lexa gives a jerk of her hips, making Clarke moan loudly. “Besides this?”

Clarke wants to reprimand her antic but can’t find it in her to complain as Lexa picks up the rhythm, pulling Clarke up and down in shorter spans. “Hmm,” is what she’s capable of answering minutes of purposeful thrusting later.

“Do you want me to put on my full regalia?”

Lexa looks amazing in uniform. “I do like you in uniform,” she parrots her thought.

“Not as much as you like me in you,” Lexa quips as she switches attention to the other side of Clarke’s neck. One hand leaves her chest to travel southward with intent. She whispers, “Ready to come?”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay,” precedes two fingers pressing on her clit.

“Baby,” Clarke croaks as the firm pressure takes root. “Please.”

They’ve done this enough times already for Lexa to anticipate when Clarke will tense. She hooks her ankles around Clarke’s spread legs, grips her by the breast tighter against her chest, and rubs furious her clit, fingers at the ready to catch Clarke’s spill.

“S’okay, let go,” Lexa kisses into her neck as Clarke slow blinks into bliss then hurtles all at once over the edge.

Clarke may have startled both horses when she shatters on a deep thrust.

True to her words of never enough, Lexa pushes her onto hands and knees and from behind re-aligns the slipped-out dildo to keep going. Clarke moves to widen her knees but Lexa keeps them closed for a tighter fit. She practically tastes grass when Lexa plunges forward past the heated ring of her entrance. Dandelions and other small flowers fall victim to the hard pumping, getting crushed in Clarke’s grip.

She gives out a damp cry.

The fullness is breathtaking.

Her inside walls swell in demand for more.

Answering, Lexa ruts wild. Each time her pelvis meets the back of Clarke’s thighs, each time a smack lands on her upturned ass, each time her writhing earns a low growl for her to stay put; Clarke’s chest cracks further open.

Minutes later of Lexa holding her down by the neck with one hand, the other alternating to relieve the weight of heavy breasts and to stroke roughly at her clit, Clarke crests from orgasm to orgasm. Small waves of pleasure keep her pinned to the ground when her heart wants to take off skyward.

Birds sing in the distance unaware of the keening sounds Clarke makes, head buried in a crown made of crushed flower petals. The fragrance is overtaken by the their intensely-aroused shared scent.

While the dildo remains inside, Lexa segues into a slow penetration, which, from the change in her breathing and concentration, Clarke realises she’s using the shallow end of the double-ender inserted inside herself to ground down against. Her hand continues to have its way with Clarke’s breasts that she palms and squeezes with greater purpose the shorter her breaths come.

“Clarke,” Lexa whimpers next to her ear.

“I’m here,” she answers and turns her head to kiss away the need in her voice.

Lexa reciprocates. Tongue warm in her mouth, the returned kiss is languid and sweet and every indication that what Clarke feels while in her arms has moved well past safe and protected. Clarke is falling.

She’s falling for her bodyguard whose touches and kisses and general ability to render her tender and undone have been such constant distractions they obscure the depth of affection that’s taken permanent residence in her chest, slotted into her ribcage. She’s falling for the way Lexa holds back until Clarke is wholly satisfied and only then tends to her needs, like now, pressed firmly against Clarke. She’s falling for the soft pants emanating from below after Lexa lies back on the blanket, taking Clarke with her to rest on top with a new view of blue sky and puffy white clouds above.

Clarke is falling for the naked desire evident in hands that can’t seem to get their fill of her breasts, evident in lips that graze her neck warm with thick want, evident in the falter of hips as Lexa’s release arrives in a quiet tidal wave that pulls them both under.

The feeling has been there for awhile, but recently, by fractions and fragments, it’s become acute. Their nights burn and the mornings simmer, yet it’s in stolen daylight among the tall grasses at the beginning of autumn that Clarke feels it at its warmest intensity; the kindling of love. The rhapsody of joy in something so simple as being able to hold Lexa’s hand in the afterglow of their coming together.

Clarke briefly wonders if this is the moment she loses her crown.

When Lexa later re-applies lotion to prevent Clarke’s pale skin from sunburn, and rubs gentle circles into the small of her back, kissing her effulgent smile is all Clarke can do to not let her realisation slip out, or panic slip in. Her heart skips several beats in succession, but what use is it anyway if it’s already been given away.

“I want to show you something.” Clarke takes Lexa’s hand once dressed again and leads her down to the brook and follows its sinuous trail until they reach a large tree by the dale.

Hanging from an oversize branch by heavy ropes is a set of tires made into swings.

“This was my hideaway spot,” she shares while climbing into the seat of one tire, bum settled on the rubber and feet dangled through the open hole.

Clarke nudges the ground with her toe to gain momentum and fails to suppress a smile when she achieves lift off.

Lexa mirrors her setup and sits so they face each other, swinging in opposite directions. She catches Clarke by the hand when they meet midpoint and syncs up their rhythm, her forward swing is Clarke’s backward one.

“It’s where I had my first kiss.” Clarke picks up on the conversation after they establish a pleasant to and fro.

“Who was the lucky boy or girl?”

“My governess, actually,” Clarke corrects with a chuckle.

Lexa’s eyebrows shoot up to convey her minor shock.

“How scandalous.”

“She was twenty-four and beautiful and I didn’t stand a chance.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” Lexa smiles.

“No, I really didn’t. Maya was the poor soul tasked to retrieve me when I ran away.”

“Princess life got too hard?” Lexa gently ribs, interrupting her story, squeezing their held hands.

“Lonely.” Clarke’s reply is quiet. She receives another squeeze and an empathetic smile. “Anyway, the first time she came for me, I misinterpreted her duty as a rescue effort and planted a messy, clumsy kiss on her for being my heroine,” Clarke retells, a tinge of embarrassment pinking her cheeks. “She was gracious to let me down gently by saying that our age difference prevents her from returning my affection. I later found out overhearing the cooks about the love she had back home, a fellow governess for whom they were preparing some sweet cakes to celebrate their engagement.”

“Ouch.”

Clarke nods at Lexa’s look of pity.

“Maya was my first lesson in life not always giving you what you want, no matter how much you may want it or how much land your family owns.”

“What did you want, besides a beautiful, unattainable governess?”

“Back then, badly in that moment when I didn’t care to be heir to anything? Simply, to have a first kiss on a swing under the stars.”

They chat amiably for the next while, holding hands and swinging aimless. Lexa gives her a hard time for having a type—the help—and Clarke can’t fault herself that she finds rough hands and weathered smiles and understated wit, attractive. Lexa remains more tight-lipped about her romantic history so Clarke can’t return the jab and must find satisfaction elsewhere in poking fun at Lexa’s willingness to serveClarke.

Their repartee ebbs and flows even as the tires’ back and forth motion.

As soon as the sun dips under the horizon, Lexa slows their swings until they hover grazing the tall grass in a light sway. With dusk slipping in, Clarke reluctantly prepares to leave to return to their horses before darkness falls or before Tiny has a bigger reason to be upset with her, but instead, Lexa leans over and kisses her, long and slow and nothing like the attempt with Maya.

“There, your real first kiss on the swings. Sorry about the lack of stars, I couldn’t wait for them to come out.”

“That’s okay,” Clarke whispers, eyes still closed dreamily as she licks her bottom lip chasing the after-print tingling. She tilts her chin up in a blind bid for another kiss and ends up hitting Lexa’s nose. Laughing, Lexa minutely adjusts the angle and happily obliges.

“Better?”

“Less lonely now.”

The indirect confession speaks volumes for the feelings Clarke can’t yet say aloud. Lexa’s presence in her life makes it less solitary. Fuller at the edges, not so absent in the gaps.

Better than a first kiss, Lexa somehow manages to join Clarke on her tire following a third kiss and proceeds to make love to her until the stars blink above, finally emerged from their hiding. A new memory gets etched into the tree trunk after Clarke comes twice on her fingers. Lexa carves their initials into the bark with her pocket knife then carves a deeper spot for herself in Clarke’s heart when she piggy-backs her back to their abandoned picnic area, stumbling and laughing the entire way.

The following Saturday, they do watch The Princess Bride, Clarke standing up the real Princes and Princesses of Somewhere Important to instead watch two star-crossed lovers journey to find their way back to each other, her head laid upon Lexa’s shoulder from their perch in the theatre room. Legs stretched out to hang off the seats in front, they share a bucket of popcorn.

Because Clarke hasn’t had the luxury to do something as normal as go on a movie date, unless world premieres count, the novelty of a private afternoon screening doesn’t wear off, especially not when they heavily make out during some of the less exciting action sequences. For all the intimate acts they’ve engaged in, this counts among one of her favourites, a tender intimacy, as she feels rather than hears Lexa mouth “inconceivable” along with the film’s ridiculous antagonist.

Clarke realises she’s fallen asleep when next she’s carried by Lexa to the bed, and is kissed goodnight before a warm body wraps around hers. Her dreams that night are about mythical kingdoms and one true love, the film scenes indistinguishable from their idyllic time in the meadows.

The knocking startles her awake.

“Clarke, darling.”

Oh no, she panics. Then hisses at a still sleeping Black Knight who shouldn’t be in her bed, “Lexa.”

Lexa grumbles at being disturbed and doesn’t register the stress in Clarke’s voice.

“Lexa, wake up, my mother’s coming!”

Lexa bolts out of bed on instinct and in a blink exits through the secret door. A little less grace and quiet than usual but she leaves in time as Clarke’s bedroom door props open.

“Clarke? Everything alright? I thought I heard a noise.”

“Hi, Mom. I’m fine, only stubbed my toe.” She rubs at her feet, hoping her acting is as good as the actors they just watched, though how she could injure herself lying on a bed of feathers would be a hard sell for anyone. “What time is it?”

Despite her reputation for sharp discernment, Queen Abigail seems to buy it. She sits at the edge of Clarke’s bed and gives her foot a soft squeeze.

“Almost midnight. The Heritage Society meeting ran late as usual,” she sighs.

Clarke nods, acknowledging the tea parties her mother hosts to maintain ties with nobility, and their lack of adequate timekeeping. She need not say more for Clarke to know how those ladies and the one particular lord like to go on, especially during Ball Season when they tend to be lively discussions.

Clarke lifts the corner of her duvet cover and it’s a clear invitation. Her mother smiles and joins her at the top of the bed to sit against the headboard like they used to when Clarke was growing up. No matter the long years since then, it’s always an easy pattern to fall back into. She lets her head drop onto her shoulder. Nuzzles into the softness that is rare and rationed in public view and almost exclusively reserved for Clarke.

“Did I come up in conversation?” She asks with well-placed weariness. “I hope you got a good price. I’m worth at least three cows.”

Steel grey eyes narrow at her wisecrack about an imaginary engagement before they soften to an affectionate crinkle. “I was only willing to pay for two.”

“I’ll remember that when I’m queen and must approve your monthly stipend, Abby.”

Clarke’s emphatic use of the familial gets a pass, likely given leeway for when she inevitably supersedes the Queen Consort in social rank and status.

“Then let’s hope that day is far off,” is the sage response, coupled with a faraway look.

Clarke nods again, sharing in her mother’s ruefulness. They try not to joke too much about Clarke’s coronation which would imply her father’s passing.

Abby studies her for a moment, tucks in a flyaway strand behind her ear, and softly cups her face. Whatever conclusion she arrives at after extended deliberation, possibly about the bags under Clarke’s eyes or the wildness of her hair or the blush of pink in her cheeks that is leftover warmth from Lexa holding her, she doesn’t say. Nor does she comment on the minor cut to her lip from hours ago when Lexa’s teeth had sunk in a little too deep while she was fingering her in the theatre.

“It’s been an age since we’ve talked,” is what her mother ends up communicating. “I worry your father and I have asked too much of you lately.”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Still, dear. You would tell me if something changes, if there’s anything we should be aware of?”

There’s clear concern but also a trace of perceptiveness underpinning the question that makes Clarke swallow thickly. She tries not to look to the wall where this conversation is being overheard.

“All good.”

It isn’t an outright lie. Everything is good. Clarke has never felt better. Or happier. The omission of who is making her feel good need not be public knowledge, especially not with her mother’s history of screening and profiling every romantic interest who so much as looks Clarke’s way. Maya had coincidentally disappeared by summer’s end, at the time Clarke had accepted the explanation of a promotion and had not questioned what could be a better post for a governess than tutoring the queen’s daughter. It’s unlikely that a dalliance at 30 now would receive the same leniency as a school girl crush at 13.

“Did I hear the projector earlier?”

Clarke pushes aside ill-timed thoughts of Lexa’s tongue and grabs onto the subject change like a life line. “Lexa— I mean, Agent Woods and I watched The Princess Bride. I had not seen it before and she wanted to introduce it to me.”

Her mother’s face is both too open and too impassive for Clarke to tell if she’d caught her slip. “I’m not familiar with the title either, was it enjoyable?”

“It’s humorous and sweet. The princess doesn’t marry the prince as expected of her and she never gives up on true love, which was the real hero of the movie and not the prince.”

“A welcomed departure, I can see the appeal.”

Clarke matches Abby’s smile but doesn’t mention her favourite part of the film involving Lexa’s hands down her pants to recreate the quintessential teenage experience that Clarke sorely missed out on. She chances a quick glance at the outline of the wood door in the east wall.

“It turns out, to find something as true as what the princess and the farm boy have, they only had to realise what was right in front of them all along. It saved the day and solved all their problems.”

“That is rather convenient,” her mother chuckles. “Sounds like a fairytale.”

“Who wouldn’t wish for a storybook ending like that?”

Clarke receives a warm smile, presumably reassurance that she will find her own.

There’s a thud on the other side in that instant that causes her heart to knock against her chest. While her mother is well aware of the door’s existence, having commanded its installation in the first place for Clarke’s protection so that her Personal Guard may reach her swiftly when needed, Clarke is paranoid that she will discover exactly how needy Clarke has been for Lexa. Or how precisely Lexa figures into her love story.

“I’m glad you could find some distraction amongst all this,” Abby says, more prescient than she may realise, and sighs on a woeful smile, waving a regal hand to mean their situation at large.

The Queen is the more rational, level headed of her parents. Whereas the King rules with his heart, she rules with her head. Practical where he is emotional. Measured and not one to overact. To see worry lines deepen on her face as well, Clarke knows all this isn’t something trifle that can be wished away. No one will come out of it unscathed.

“Will we be okay?”

“I hope so, darling.”

There’s a comfortable silence, and after a contemplative pause, her mother suggests, “Maybe we should switch up your security detail to be safe.”

“No!” Clarke nearly shouts. “I mean, I’m happy as is. Very satisfied with Agent Woods,” on a raised eyebrow she remembers to tack on, “... and her team.”

Again, she can’t parse the meaning behind the odd look given, but is grateful the explanation is accepted on the merits with a nod.

“It’s a relief to know you haven’t frightened away this one. I was beginning to worry we’d run out of Black Knights.”

Clarke receives a kiss on the cheek before her mother rises again to stand by her bedside. She reaches into her robe pocket and pulls out an envelope.

“It’s well past my bedtime. I actually came to give you this. In the recent chaos, it had nearly slipped my mind. Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

In the envelope is a receipt for a Royal Portrait auctioned at the National Gallery months ago. The number of zeros in the Total column would make anyone working for charity faint but it’s the gesture that has Clarke tearing up.

“Thanks, Mom.”

“It’s a very good painting, I had hoped to keep it in the family. Gustus will bring it by once the exhibition closes its run.”

Clarke hugs her, like she did as a child, full and unconditional. The erstwhile joy is short lived however when she feels her mother stiffen a moment later.

Clarke realises why.

Her eyes track the gaze that’s flickered to the pair of trousers hanging over the back of her armchair. It’s brief but weighty. The pant leg looks to be surely too long to belong to Clarke, the thick cotton material not something normally found in her designer wardrobe either. Her mother moves to leave without comment but on her way out, she pauses at the chair to rub at the tattered fabric seam, a tear earned while Clarke was riding Lexa out in the field against a fence, unable to wait until they returned to the stables. Clarke holds her breath while a manicured hand traces it up to where the royal insignia of Black Knights is sewn on the side, heart pounding out of her chest.

“Agent Woods should have this taken care of.”

Her stomach plummets.

Clarke can’t tell if it’s Queen Abigail or her mother Abby who levels a protracted gaze to the hidden door, takes a pregnant pause and says the next words, with none of the warmth from a minute ago,

“Tell Lexa to come see me in the morning.”

Clarke can only mutely nod. Frozen in place by the chilling effect of the use of Lexa’s first name.

She’s doesn’t move until after the click of one door shutting is followed by another opening.

“Lexa,” Clarke starts but doesn’t know how to end it.

“I know, I heard.” She takes Clarke into her arms. “I’ll speak with the Queen tomorrow and it’ll be fine.”

“What can you possibly say? And how can you be so calm?”

“Because Arkadia banished torture in the 16th Century. And while I’ve heard rumours your mother graduated top of her fencing class, she’s still shorter than I am. I’ll ... outsize her.”

Clarke laughs despite herself, hitting Lexa on the chest for being so flippant. She burrows deeper into her embrace. “I’m serious,” she mumbles against her shirt.

“There’s nothing we can do about it tonight. Want to watch another movie, on your laptop this time? And then maybe later, you can help me write my last rites.”

“Don’t joke like that,” Clarke admonishes, finding no humour in any notion of Lexa’s demise.

“It’s going to be fine, Clarke,” Lexa repeats, though she sounds less sure this time. The way she kisses Clarke a second later does well to hide the uncertainty, if only marginally.

“Take me to bed, Lexa,” Clarke mumbles against her lips.

“As you wish,” Lexa whispers back, quoting the film.

What gets said between her mother and her knight, Clarke doesn’t find out. She isn’t privy to the content of their discussion but what she does discover is the context when she rises late for breakfast the next morning to an empty bed and there’s a familiar knock on her antechamber door.

“Lexa, what did she say—” she quickens to ask as she nearly pulls the door off its hinges.

Lincoln looks sheepish and apologetic for being who she wasn’t expecting.

“Your Royal Highness,” Lincoln greets with a bow, not taking offence that Clarke is looking over his shoulder for a second person that might be trailing behind.

“Where’s Lexa?”

“Unfortunately, Agent Woods had to take leave. She is not here.”

Clarke can see that. She waits for more but when Lincoln says nothing further her face falls, the meaning hits her like a truck. She’s out of her room and down the hall of the Main Residence in the next breath, with Lincoln who is twice her size and double her stride length struggling to keep up.

Three sets of doors are flung open and shut in her mad search when her father peeks his head out from his study. At King Jakob’s appearance, Lincoln halts to take a deep bow.

“Clarke, honey?” A mirror of her blue eyes, though far less stormy, questions her curiously.

She seethes in return, “What did Mom do?! Where’s Lexa?”

Clarke should be self-conscious in front of His Majesty and the sentry that she sounds more like a petulant teenager than a queen in waiting. She doesn’t care, fuelled by betrayal that the heart to heart with her mother last night may have been a ruse to lower her defences.

“Ah,” her dad nods in understanding. He calmly closes the book in his hand, using an index finger as bookmark.

“It wasn’t your mother. I sent Lexa away.”

Clarke’s footsteps falter. Her anger suddenly without clear direction to aim.

He walks back into his study as breezily as he had out of it. Gives a nod of acknowledgement on his way in for Lincoln to wait outside with the other guards who haven’t twitched a muscle at Clarke’s blustery show.

Stalking through the door intentionally left open for her predictable follow, Clarke feels unsettled that it’s the gentler disposition of her parents responsible for her current mood, and unprepared to confront him over his involvement in Lexa’s apparent dismissal.

“Why?”

“She is needed elsewhere.”

A man of affable nature but firm conviction nonetheless when he wants to be, normally Clarke knows better than to push for more. She does it anyway, unsatisfied with the opaqueness of his reasoning.

“Where else is more needed for a Royal Guard to be than protecting a Royal?”

“Lincoln graduated at the top of his class. I trust he’s more than capable,” he obfuscates.

Clarke huffs and can’t help the whine, “Dad, c’mon.”

The King lifts an amused eyebrow. He moves to a wall of bookshelves and thumbs the spines reading their titles. The way he’s moving with no sense of urgency has Clarke throwing daggers into the back of his head.

He turns back to her after locating a specific title. Clarke is handed a well-loved copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Not feeling very zen-like at the moment, she humours his non-sequitur with ingrained politeness and turns over the paperback in her hand.

Part philosophy self-help, part road-trip memoir, it’s the two wheel answer to Kerouac’s manic, drunken dribble across America, On the Road, her father preferring it over what he’s dismissed the latter as male ego, midlife crisis nonsense passing as literature. The marginalisation and objectification of women a glaring fault line of the novel, she’d have to agreed On the Road is overrated.

Clarke has heard him quote from the motorcycle bible enough to know it’s about caring for something deeply and moving through the world in a particular way. Equally male-centric, it’s at least more palatable and less pretentious in exploring the duality of discontent and self-reliance. For someone who has been chauffeured around since birth, her father longed for the open road that many men are freer to experience and seek out life’s meaning. There are rows of expensive machines lining their twenty garages, each bike his chance to taste a little of that freedom.

She loved the joy rides he would take her on in her teenage years, when she was mad at the world and her fortune, when she couldn’t understand why she too would never get to be behind the wheel of a car. “It’s not safe, Clarke,” didn’t seem fair of a reason when kids her age got keys to the family car and she got Gustus. But getting to be on the back of a bike with her dad, not King Jakob, was a more than acceptable compromise. Especially when he taught her how to handle one with care. Ignoring the stealth chopper overhead that tracked their movements, she thrilled to have the wind on her face and little else but asphalt ahead as they weaved the serpentine lands along Arkadia’s backroads and coastlines.

A loud rumble of an engine cuts through her thoughts. Her father’s study looks onto one of the smaller courts with its own driveway. As if by design, a motorcycle skids to a stop on the cobble stones just as he opens the back door to lead them outside.

Clarke gapes, not at the 1966 Honda Super Hawk that’s the classic ride featured in the book, but at the all-leather clad figure straddled on it. When pouty lips and green eyes and messy brown hair emerge out from under the helmet, her jaw has yet to pick itself off the ground.

“Your Majesty.” Lexa curtsies on dismount.

The King gives an acknowledging nod which prompts the Black Knight to turn to Clarke and, in a surprised move, drop the set of keys into her hand.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” he wishes Clarke with the same lilt of affection as his wife’s. “I had Agent Woods pick it up for me. She’s all yours.”

Clarke squeals and hugs him and, in her excitement, hugs Lexa too in front of him. If he’s surprised by her familiarity with her guard, he keeps it quiet under his stately beard.

“I hope I’m forgiven now for the secrecy and minor deception, they were a necessary evil,” he quips as she goes to closely examine the gift, hand tracing the lines of its craftsmanship in appreciation. “Gustus has the day off. Do what you will with that information you did not learn from me.”

What Clarke does, after her father leaves them with a wink to return to his disrupted reading, is take her new ride for a spin. With Lexa curling against her back and a machine humming underneath her and Terra Nova’s tree-line coast snaking in and out of view, Clarke feels for the first time in a long time, she can breathe easily.

Away from the clamour of war rooms and ballrooms, the air is thinner, cleaner. It helps to clear her head of the anxieties and day to day minutiae of trying to stave off a rebellion and a marital alliance that increasingly may be the most peaceful resolution to spare her country of looming strife. Nothing unites a fractured people like a royal wedding. Whatever gains opportunistic usurpers have made with portions of the populace to rise up against the monarchy, will surely evaporate if an engagement ring gets involved.

Here, amongst the Carolinians and with the sea salt making tangles of her hair and Lexa’s homey scent tickling her nose, Clarke does not have to think about marriage proposals. She does not have to entertain the Council’s repeat hand-wringing over the next-in-line’s ostentatious unattachment, her perpetual singlehood unreasonably somehow the nation’s highest security threat. She does not have to paste on a polite smile for the tea ladies of the Heritage Society and their endless scheming about her bachelorette eligibility.

Here, she can enjoy the anonymity afforded by the dark tint of her helmet and focus on the arms secured tight around her stomach, with little regard for anything else but the warmth enveloping her back.

Here, where they pull off on a side road leading to a breathtaking mountaintop view of the sea, she can kiss Lexa like they are the only two people in the world. No titles nor expectations. No lines that can’t be crossed and uncrossed.

Here, Lexa can drag her lips across the underside of Clarke’s jaw, down her neck and across her sternum, she can drag her hand along the curve of Clarke’s rib cage and down Clarke’s stomach under her top, she can dip her hand inside the pyjama pants Clarke hadn’t bothered to change out of, and she can gather Clarke’s wetness, spread it with her fingers to soak her folds and then penetrate past tight heat to have Clarke panting open mouthed, biting on her shoulder into leather.

Here, Clarke can be fingered and thoroughly fucked, turned in her seat, leaned back against the gas tank, legs wrapped around Lexa’s waist, and pinned under her weight, edging towards a cliff that’s steeper than their current perch.

“You’re going to break my birthday gift,” she gasps to say, the motorcycle rocking precarious under them. The hurried movements sends pebbles and billows of dust over the precipice where Clarke’s heart has already taken flight.

“Not what I intend to break.” Lexa thrusts. Her purpose unambiguous. She looks deep into Clarke’s eyes, sweeps away dirt and loose strands of hair from her forehead. “Beautiful things are not made for dust.”

“So, what did my mother say to you?” Clarke asks in an effort to slow her and the unfurling orgasm down, wanting to savour this carved out time. “Was she in on this too?”

“Is your mother really what you want to be talking about right now?” Lexa laughs. She doesn’t let up her punishing pace.

Clarke grips her shoulders with both hands, teeth sinking deeper into the leather.

“Fuck, Lex,” she whimpers and has the skinniest of wherewithal to slip her hand inside her pants. “Come with me.”

Here, in the mountains on a dusty road, they come together and it’s just the forested creatures and the horizon beyond that witness a future queen breaking apart at the hand of her knight.

“Happy birthday, Clarke.”

Clarke pushes her by the shoulder, laughing, but doesn’t let her get far. Buries her head into Lexa’s neck to hide her flush and inhale her musk. “Shut up,” she mumbles against heated skin.

“That’s not very regal of you.”

Neither is the debauched manner with which Lexa takes her to every carnal peak imaginable over the following weeks at every peak in the land, night rides on the Honda becoming a new way for Clarke to escape the dreary of her days. The sex is so good—so deliciously draining—Lexa is the one who has to drive them back each time with Clarke draped boneless behind her.

Between the meadows and the mountains, out in the open their coupling is no less frantic and intense than when Lexa has her submissive and squirming bent over the chaise in the privacy of her bed chambers, Lexa’s favourite position. She’s filled with Lexa more often than she’s not. Still, even while Lexa’s hips or fingers never stop, Clarke softly begs and barters for more. Even with hands pulled behind her back pushing her chest deeper into Lexa’s rough palms, her nipples twisted within an inch of her life, her cunt overstuffed with silicone or tongue, and her clit swollen and pinched merciless, she can’t get enough of Lexa. It’s a maddening want. By degrees and inches, and yawning screams, Clarke has ceded all she can give to Lexa.

“If I could, I would yield all my power to you,” Clarke tells her in the throes of an orgasm one time, “but you already hold it all.”

The near constant ache between her legs and the one blooming hourly in her chest until their bodies can be joined again, make plain for Clarke with whom Arkadia’s true authority lies. Dangerous knowledge in an enemy’s hand, but so long as she’s with Lexa, Clarke feels safe. Wanted. Happy.

That should have been Clarke’s first clue that the gulf between her heart’s desire and her head’s will, will always be the width of a kiss.

It starts one morning, as most life-changing things do, without a whisper and not much of a notice. Lexa is gone again. At first, Clarke doesn’t worry this time as last, her early morning runs have increased in length to keep up with Clarke’s stamina, but then tea hour arrives and Lexa still has yet to show up, and by lunch remains a ghostly absence as Lincoln once more takes over her duties. Her father is away on a solo state visit so Clarke doesn’t expect a surprise gift involving Lexa behind this disappearance.

Clarke is wearing the hardwood thin when Lincoln decides to take pity on her. She’s battling the irrational fear that her mother the steely monarch has been playing the long game following her discovery of Clarke’s nightly activities with Lexa and biding her time for the perfect opportunity to strike, when he speaks up.

“Aden is ill.” Lincoln relays with far more calm. Clarke lets out a huge sigh, causing his placid mask to slip at her inappropriate reaction. She chides herself for the momentary relief she feels the reason for Lexa’s vanishing is a sick boy and not because her mother had taken measures to behead Lexa without her permission. Despite her power and reputation, even the queen wouldn’t orchestrate the timely decline of a young child’s health just to mess with Clarke. She feels almost guilty for misjudging her mother’s motives in wanting to talk to Lexa those weeks ago.

“Will he be alright?”

“He is expected to be, I’m assured, ma’am.” At Clarke’s quirked eyebrow to probe for more info, he shares, “Aden caught a nasty virus that broke out in one of the territories where the Novices were training. His immune system overreacted and there was a complication with his heart that required surgery but he’s a fighter and should be fine. Because of his special blood type, however, he needed a transfusion from a blood relative.”

Clarke absorbs the information and must resist the urge to diagnose Lexa’s brother from afar. Her anger dissipates hearing the details of Aden’s ordeal, the rush to helicopter him into Polis to the Royal Hospital. In the next second, her temper returns thinking of an eight year old being subjected to such military rigour that leaves him physically vulnerable. The Black Knights training has always been conducted in secret, even to the Royal Family that they have sworn to protect, but she would hope her Honour Guards would spare a child’s innocence. It makes her wonder what Lexa has endured.

“Please, could you let Gaia know to send Isayama’s manuscripts to Polis.” Clarke trusts her personal secretary will see to it that the latest edition of the coveted manga—yet to be published—reaches Aden. Lexa has spoken to her at length about his voracious reading appetite, seemingly a sibling trait. “I am happy to call Hajime myself if his publisher gives her any trouble.”

Lincoln nods. Clarke pauses to further instruct. “Also have her include the copy of Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle from my father’s study.”

Lincoln nods again, if he’s familiar with the work, says nothing of the explicit nature and overt eroticism of the queer gothic graphic novel that is decidedly not for Aden’s consumption. It is, though, one of Lexa’s favourites, which she hides reading behind the hardback of Moby Dick when they retire to bed. Clarke had stumbled once on an open page and blushed at the vividly detailed panels, two women in intense forbidden ecstasy.

She has never valued a Black Knight’s utmost discretion more than in this moment. If Lincoln reads between the lines of her request, he blessedly keeps it to himself.

Lincoln looks on with the same blank face when Clarke later writes a note to be slipped in behind the front cover of one of Lexa’s books in the care package.

To pass the time. Thinking of you. Yours,

While the two lines of Trigedasleng are profound in its simplicity, it’s her sign off—the first of such declarations—where the entirety of Clarke’s meaning has been pressed in the same way as the family crest that seals the folded paper. Permanent and can’t be unmarked. Clarke fights the impulse of a lovelorn teenager to spritz the message with her perfume and leave an imprint of her lipstick. Even Lincoln’s professionalism might not save her from his eye rolling.

Polis is merely an hour and a half’s drive from Terra Nova—Clarke could well make the delivery on her own—but Aden will soon be relocated to the Black Knights forested grounds once cleared for outpatient care as is protocol and Clarke will be unable to let Lexa leave again if she saw her. There would be no explaining to the hospital staff or her parents why Clarke looks like she’s the heartsick one.

While Lexa is gone, Clarke keeps busy. Not necessarily by choice but she is thankful regardless for the packed schedule to fully register Lexa’s absence and drown in her pining. More meetings, more galas, the vicious circle seems to have no terminus point without her usual mode of expending nervous energy.

That is until she receives a text from an anonymous number.

What is the Royal stance on phone sex?

Clarke would be suspicious and dismiss it as spam, but only three people in the world have her private number, and two of them are her parents.

Lexa?

She didn’t know Lexa even owned a phone, only ever seeing her communicate to a cuff or an earpiece.

The reply is an emoticon of a peach, which Clarke supposes is a stand-in for an apricot, their favoured fruit to share, amongst other things. Clarke laughs.

Is this line secure?

No, I’m actually texting from a villain’s number, cut out the middle man.

Not one for many words in person, Lexa is cheekier in text form it seems. Before Clarke can reply, she sees the three dots indicating that Lexa is typing.

I miss you.

Butterflies kick at her stomach. Clarke’s face breaks into a smile.

I miss you too. How are you? How’s Aden?

We’re both good. Tired of the hospital food but generally in good spirits. He’s beaten me in Mario Kart and has since pouted there are no more games to flex his superior Woods genes.

Clarke makes a mental note to have Gaia send another care package, and also ask her what is Mario Kart.

They are some great genes.

He’s so good with a sword that I forget sometimes he’s just a kid.

A beat of silence follows that Lexa breaks with,

Thank you for the books.

You’re welcome.

I’m sorry I left so suddenly. I would have told you had it not been an emergency.

I’m glad you’re both okay.

Is Lincoln keeping your six?

I don’t know what that means, Lexa.

Never mind, I’ll grill him myself later.

He’s great but doesn’t have your bedside manners.

I should hope not!

Clarke laughs that Lexa is someone who uses exclamation points.

I have to get back, they’re moving Aden soon and prepping him for the transfer, but you can reach me on “this secure line”. The dots appear again. It’s an age before there’s a followup. If you want.

The words read as shy as if her thumbs are unsure of what they had typed. Lexa’s bashfulness is a mystery given what her hands are capable of doing to her, but, it endears her all the more to Clarke.

I want.

God, Clarke wants her so badly.

Ok. I’ll text you when we’re set up in Trikru.

Clarke chews the corner of her mouth and contemplates pressing down on where her thumb hovers on the specific emoticon. Before she can double guess herself, she commits, sending one red heart. She gets an immediate black heart in return from the Black Knight.

This exchange is the closest they veer to feelings.

As it happens, the answer is yes, Royals do have phone sex. A lot of it. Which Clarke is grateful for Lexa’s adept thumbs to guide her to completion, not losing out on her main source of stress relief. Her fingers don’t compare to Lexa’s but the sensory overload of having Lexa describe in explicit detail what she’d do to Clarke, more than makes up for the shortcoming. They stick to text messages because cell reception isn’t the best and apparently audio presents a greater security complication, easier to intercept by some tech logic Clarke doesn’t quite understand but trusts Lexa. In writing, Lexa is ironically much more vocal, so it’s of no great loss to temporarily not have her in Clarke’s ear.

She becomes one of those rude people in meetings who’s always texting under the table, glued to her phone. Clarke can’t help it, the new lifeline is what keeps her sane. Without the electronic tether, the council meetings would fall casualty to her ill tempers and growing impatience at endless bickering.

Only a chime lighting up her screen would break her face from its constant state of scowl.

Their involuntary time out is not all bad. The Lexa-sized absence gives Clarke the space to confront her feelings head on without the fog of arousal influencing decisions. For the first time in a long while, domestic politics aside, she feels at peace and thinks maybe they can actually do this. Be something to each other behind close doors, flirting under the table during meetings, missing one another with every lover’s right to do so. It’s not the openness she would have with someone like Roan with whom she’s kept cordial, but it is a fullness in all the ways that count. Clarke lives most of her life in the open, Lexa would be to her what the motorcycle was for her father. Something for herself and not the world.

There are histories of monarchs who have remained bachelors. No reason Clarke can’t do the same. No reason she can’t have both. Rule with one hand, love with the other. If she cannot bend the law to her will to change the draconian concept of regal unions, then, Clarke decides, she will bend to Lexa.

This is what she’s thrumming to tell Lexa when she returns, after receiving word that Aden is well to restart his apprenticeship.

Alas, the plan to confess her feelings goes awry before it barely forms.

The week Lexa is due to arrive back, Clarke receives an unexpected visitor. She’s in her office reviewing plans for a new hospital expansion—a dedicated research centre on black blood she’s proposed for no apparent reason—when Anya strides in. Face unreadable but the determination of her steps has Clarke sitting up all a sudden with a firmer spine.

“Clarke, if I may,” Anya broaches and Clarke gives her a nod permitting forego of her title, “can we have a word?”

It must be important for her head of security, a strict observer of aristocratic protocols and employer-employee boundaries, to use the familial with Clarke.

Lincoln silently bows out of the room at Anya’s signal for privacy and Clarke’s acceptance to grant it.

Without pretext, Anya slides her phone to her. A photo of Lexa and Aden beams from the device, matching smiles brightening the screen. They look sweaty as if the picture was snapped after sparring, wooden swords caught slightly out of frame.

Having not expected it, Clarke fails to curtail her own smile, narrowly manages to cut off the impulse to trace the outline of Lexa’s face and the bead of sweat with her finger.

“I’m pleased to see Aden has made a full recovery.”

“Do you know the first thing she said to me when I checked in on them?”

It’s a jarring transition looking up from the pixelated softness to the hardness on Anya’s face.

Clarke can’t possibly know the answer to the rhetorical question but she shakes her head anyway in reply.

“She asked after you. Our little brother is sick and my sister’s immediate concern was you.”

Clarke catches her breath. For how different their personalities and temperaments are, she forgets sometimes that Anya and Lexa are related. Anya is direct and brash, and not even someone’s rank could stop her from speaking her mind. Sharper jaw and generally sharper around the edges than her younger sister, she is not shy to voice her opinions, inured to entitlement.

There’s a fire in her eyes that has Clarke pushing away from her desk to pour herself another drink from the scotch bottle she’s been nursing this month while Lexa is gone. She raises the decanter in feigned-politeness of offer before she proceeds to down two fingers of amber liquid in one go without waiting for an answer. Steels herself, borrowing some of Anya’s hardness when she turns back around.

“Say what you have to say, Anya.”

“Lexa has not mentioned one word about this so I am only going to ask once. Please don’t lie to me,” Anya rejoins with an unnerving seriousness. The quiet that follows has Clarke further on edge. She grips her tumbler tighter. “Are you fucking my sister?”

It’s only because of a lifetime of etiquette lessons that Clarke doesn’t drop her drink for it to crash to the floor to join where her stomach has plunged.

Clarke reels from the question. No one would be able to speak to Arkadia’s heir in such a way and still keep their head let alone their job. But then she reads an imploring in Anya’s eyes to not bullshit her.

“I love her, Anya,” is the most honest Clarke can be, the natural response as easy as the flutter in her stomach thinking of Lexa it induces. She thought it would be more of a shock to finally say it out loud but finds it a relief instead to unburden the load and no longer hold it in.

Anya sighs deep. A tiny drop of her shoulders and slight quirk of the head that is so eerie of Lexa, Clarke would think she is speaking with the latter.

“You cannot,” Anya says sternly but her tone is much softer than before, almost sisterly. “You cannot fuck with her, Clarke.”

“I’m not.”

“You are,” Anya insists, brokering no argument by the thinness of her lips. “There is no future there. You are only going to break each other’s hearts.”

“What am I supposed to do? I can’t not feel this way. I can no less love her than I can change the blood in my veins.”

“Then walk away from her.”

Clarke bristles at the suggestion. Her heart thuds in protest of the unthinkable.

“I know Lexa and, once committed, she will not let go. Have you told her yet?”

“I will.”

“Don’t.”

“Even without words, it’s not something I can possibly keep to myself.”

“If you truly care about her, you would. You must.”

Clarke blanches at her catch-22, ready to rebuff Anya’s attempt to call her feelings into question.

Anya unshoulders one half of her blazer and rolls up her sleeve to where on her forearm is inked the same tattoo Lexa wears.

Blood must have blood.” Anya reads the script imprint of the archaic Arkadian secession law, the same that guides the Black Knights way of life. “Lexa cannot change hers either. She does not share your blood. It is not blue and to pretend otherwise will only put both your lives in danger.”

Clarke doesn’t know what to say. Anya reads her hesitation as an opening to go in for the kill shot.

“This is our oath and to break it would be dishonourable. It would be a black mark that would break Lexa.” Anya tries to be gentle in her way, but her words ring like a death knell for what Clarke had hoped love could defy, the impossible.

“Anya, I—”

“Think about it, Your Royal Highness,” Anya enjoins, Clarke’s title an intentional reminder. “Think of what Lexa will give up in order to be with you. You will have a throne to fall back on when, not if, things inevitably don’t work out. Lexa has only her honour. Don’t take that away from her. Walk away now and spare her, when you still can.

“The reason Aden got hurt is because Lexa is his hero and he went head first into danger wanting to prove to her he is strong and brave too. Serving is her life’s calling, as is mine. Do not let her sacrifices be in vain.”

“They aren’t, they won’t be,” Clarke rushes to assure, desperation bleeds into her tone. “I can make it, us, work. Until the laws are mine to change, and they willchange, we can be discreet.”

Clarke is naive to think her steadfastness chips away at Anya’s argument. Its fortress is at length impenetrable.

“Even if that is a remote possibility, as a Black Knight, Lexa has lived all of her years in secrecy. She shouldn’t have to love in secret too.”

The visit is short—Anya leaves just as brusquely as she arrived after saying her peace—but it is no less devastating for how it has tilted the entirety of Clarke’s world, the intimate one she was ready to give over to Lexa, completely on its head.

An inner war rages quiet destruction to lay waste to any intended declarations.

Anya’s request stays long after she’s left and gnaws at Clarke right up until Lexa walks through the door of her antechamber the next day and relieves Lincoln from his post.

“Hi,” Clarke lights up, out of her chair and on her feet in seconds, forgetting her troubles as soon as those green eyes fall upon her again. “You’re home early.”

Instead of a ‘hello’ back, she is immediately swept up in a kiss. Exigent lips are on her mouth before the last vowel can leave it, before either of them can note Clarke’s reference to this room as home.

She meets Lexa’s mouth with the same eagerness, opening on demand as a warm tongue slips inside and Lexa’s breath heats her own. Hands wander their way to her hips to close the last inch of space between them and then paw underneath her sleep shirt to her bare stomach. Clarke moans at the contact with skin, goosebumps alighting at Lexa’s touch.

“That’s not how Lincoln greets me,” she teases after a breathless search for air. The happy smile on her face betrays her pretend protest.

Lexa’s reply is to kiss her some more until Clarke forgets who Lincoln even is. At the taste of her tongue again, its weight laden with promises, nothing and no one exists outside of their mouths moving against each other.

Clarke struggles to remember why she shouldn’t be doing this but tries anyway. “Can we talk? There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Can we talk later? I have something to tell you too,” Lexa counteroffers, attempting to tug her in closer by the waist despite their bodies already being flushed. “For now, let me show you how much I’ve missed you.”

Lexa is already pawing at her clothes, walking Clarke backwards into her bedroom and doing away with her top and bottom. Clarke is pushed back onto the mattress laid on her back, legs falling open slick with anticipation. The pressure in her belly coils watching Lexa watch her. The hunger in her gaze is redolent of all other times before Clarke is ravished. But something else in the flicker of an emotion signals a slight departure from recent history.

The time apart for Lexa must have been poignant to clarify a few things for her too because the speed Clarke expects with which she’ll come is slowed down and stretched out and surrendered to the infinite. Gone is the keen sense that Lexa will lose Clarke with every touch, that it will be the last one. Instead, tonight, she makes love to her in a blanket of permanence.

For once she takes pleasure first rather that gives it, grinding into Clarke’s centre, slow and wet and messy, and uses Clarke to rub herself against and build up. Lexa keeps her knees apart with her thighs pressed wide of either side of Lexa’s body and interlaces their fingers to hold her hands high above her head, like two bows stretch taut. She finds an angle that works for their clits to make sustained contact with each roll of her hips, and when close to coming, she flips Clarke on her stomach to find a different angle on her ass. The drag of her wetness paints Clarke’s rear a shine as seen in the reflection of the mirror. Just as Clarke reaches her peak again, Lexa reverses the entire sequence and grinds against her front once more.

Clarke realises by the third iteration of being on her back then stomach that Lexa is purposely edging herself.

By the start of the fourth, Lexa is flushed prettily from the strain of holding back. She looks wrecked by her own dismantling. Her thumbs dig into the divot of Clarke’s hips after manoeuvring her in place into a scissoring position, ass off the mattress, hips canted in the air. Clarke has not before witnessed an orgasm in its full trajectory. Watching it crest through Lexa is mesmerising for the minute changes to her breathing, the ragged rise and fall of her chest, and then to the gradual clouding of her gaze until her eyes squeeze tight. It ends on the perfect O shape her mouth forms.

She’s so beautiful.

Foregoing her usual muted cries, Lexa is the loudest Clarke has ever heard her. Clarke swallows her screams with one kiss after another, a murmur of “I’ve got you” slipped in-between. Lexa’s tongue is thick with want as Clarke suckles to soothe her.

In the hours that follow, Lexa takes her time to relearn every inch of Clarke’s body. Unhurried by a previous self-imposed clock, she renews her acquaintance with each part and slow-ravages Clarke in suspended ecstasy.

An alternative rhythm over speed and efficiency, her movements cause Clarke’s world to wobble differently.

Instead of air punched from her lungs, it is air pushed to cool heated skin. A breath for a breath.

Instead of slapping, sinful sounds, it is an audible quiet. One heartbeat for another.

Instead of a rough taking, it is a delicate softness. A different ending.

One life for another, Clarke realises with startling clarity while Lexa strokes whimpers and moans out of her, fingers deepen then curl. There’s a palpable affection in Lexa’s eyes that could fell mountains.

“I love you, Clarke.” Then, in Trigedasleng, she vows, “My sword for your kingdom, always.

Lexa is so good and so honourable. What Lexa is willing to give, Clarke can no longer continue to take.

Clarke has to let her tears be all that she can reciprocate if not the words themselves.

Lexa kisses the wetness from her cheeks and seems to interpret Clarke’s silence as being overwhelmed by the confession and her release.

“It’s okay, I know,” Lexa coos into her hair.

But Lexa doesn’t know. She can’t know the decision that was made as Lexa’s name reverberated in the roof of her mouth and how much this is breaking Clarke’s heart, or that Clarke is about to break hers.

“Love me some more,” Clarke asks, selfish to delay the inevitable, seeking a binding that’s neither of their birthrights to have. “Please, Lexa, more, please.”

So, Lexa does. She sits up with her back against the headboard with Clarke in between her legs, thighs hanging over them to spread hers wide.

The intimacy is familiar. Fingers skate her inner thigh. When three push inside, the ache is familiar too. She’s made to tremble, her legs quaking as much as her heart. Her voice made too hoarse for the truth to fall out. She asks for more still.

Like this, Clarke doesn’t have to meet Lexa’s eyes and explain why she can’t stop crying. Let’s the pleasure mask her pain.

Then Clarke is turned in her lap to lay across it, head pillowed on arms while Lexa explores her other centre of pleasure. One hand massages her bum cheeks while the other pulls gently in her hair. The seesaw rhythm pushes Clarke’s breasts into the fold of Lexa’s thighs, her nipples dragging back and forth along the valley.

She hears the squeeze of the lube bottle and then feels a pressure circling her rim. By the shortening of breaths and on Clarke’s consent, Lexa inches a finger past her smaller entrance. The hiss from the initial sting is soon replaced by a surfeit of rich noises and low moans.

Lexa releases the hand in Clarke’s hair to use it to manipulate Clarke’s body until she’s bent over on her knees bracketing Lexa’s lap, head pushed down into the mattress while her ass is raised high in front of Lexa’s face. Lexa continues the pace of her finger as her tongue joins to lick the overflow arousal each time they retreat. Before they reenter, Lexa sucks on her clit and tongue-fucks her cunt.

From this upside down angle, Lexa’s musk is the strongest, filling Clarke’s nose with the thickness of her desire. With a minor adjustment she is able to turn her head to see how wet Lexa gets the wetter Clarke cries, the action-reaction an intoxicating display.

Eventually her perched position and the vantage point become unsustainable when Lexa manages to slide in a second finger inside her ass. It’s only by Lexa’s grip of her hip that Clarke does not collapse on the bed when the orgasm rips through her. She screams into the sheets. A second, long cry follows the strumming of her clit until Clarke taps a hand on Lexa’s thigh asking for mercy.

But it’s not mercy that Clarke deserves so she begs for Lexa’s strap, the biggest one. “Break me, please,” she asks.

Trapped in the same hedonistic fog, Lexa complies. Changing scenery, she presses Clarke up against the window, breasts pushed to the glass, jams the cock inside her, pulls out, sinks back in. Despite the forceful thrusts, it’s a soft brutality with how Lexa whispers tender encouragement humid and breathy in her ear. “Good girl, such a good princess, you take me so well.”

Lexa surges forward, Clarke slams back wetly against her thighs.

“Out there, Arkadia can have me, in here, I am yours,” she confesses, reckless. “Shore to shore, I would follow you.

“I love you,” Lexa repeats and in the next countless breaths, she shows it.

Light rain drizzles a patter down the window, fading out of view the apricot trees whose blossoms are no longer in bloom. Nude and pressed up against the hazy still life, with Lexa inside her and surrounding her, the last shrouds of Clarke’s vulnerability give way. She comes crying silently, a resonant stillness for how her body wrenches in sorrow and heaves in grief of the loss to come.

When Lexa expresses concern that her lovemaking may have been too much on seeing the tear streaks, Clarke kisses her deep and long and yearning, inscribing Lexa’s taste and the softness of her tongue to memory.

“I’m going to be okay,” Clarke whispers in between gasps and sobs. Kisses Lexa harder. “We’re going to be okay,” she chants until her voice is worn thin, needing to convince herself as much as Lexa.

“Hey, what did you want to talk about earlier?” Lexa asks innocently around a lazy yawn when she is later curled around Clarke, warm against her back after they both freshly shower.

Clarke doesn’t know how to answer. There’s a whistle of happiness in Lexa’s voice that she’s not prepared to betray, not yet. So, Clarke turns to kiss her sweetly and pushes off the talk until the morning. She falls asleep with her heart a ricochet in a room made of glass.

“I’ve spoken with Anya,” Clarke whispers to the ceiling fitful hours of sleep later, struggling to keep her voice from cracking. Laid on her front, Lexa turns her head to indicate she’s listening, the arm draped across Clarke’s stomach squeezes softly. “She came for a visit yesterday.”

“Yeah? What did my sister want?”

“I asked to see her,” is the first lie.

While Anya played a role in leading her here, Clarke will own this decision with full accountability. She won’t put a wedge between Lexa and her sister for an impossible situation that’s entirely Clarke’s doing.

She allows herself one last look at Lexa in all her serenity.

“Lexa, I—” Clarke starts but can’t seem to finish, pausing to bat away the tears welling heavy on her lashes.

“What is it?”

Clarke stiffens when Lexa leans forward to kiss her, and has to close her eyes for a moment to rid her vision of the flash of hurt and confusion when she doesn’t kiss back. On a deep, shaky sigh, she pulls off the bandaid.

“I have asked for Lincoln to be my Personal Guard full time. You will be reassigned to command with General Indra to train the 100th Battalion. The threats to Arkadia are getting more serious and we need our best to fight. Our best to lead them.”

She had made the calls earlier while Lexa slept naked in her bed, bottom lip chewed raw as she told herself it’s the right thing to do.

Despite the tremor in her hands that she hides under the pillow, Clarke tries to sound confident that the abrupt reassignment is in the nation’s best interest and nothing to do with the personal devastation she’s trying to prevent that is now wrought in anguished lines across Lexa’s face. Realisation seems to dawn on Lexa what is really being asked of her, what Clarke is asking.

Lexa stares at her unblinking for an interminable stretch. The hand that was caressing her side, stops and withdraws. Clarke feels its immediate absence.

“I don’t need you as much as our people do.” Clarke has never tasted a bigger lie. She doesn’t make eye contact when these traitorous words leave her mouth.

Lexa pulls back on the bed and puts distance between them. The bedsheet comes up to cover her naked torso, providing a seeming needed layer of protection in her new vulnerability.

“Say something, Lex.” Clarke rasps a whispered plea but is afraid to look up for fear of what she will find in Lexa’s eyes.

She doesn’t receive a reply until Lexa is fully dressed again and Clarke is sitting knees curled to her chest in sheets that smell like love and were dampened with unkeepable promises. While Clarke is the one that remains unclothed, it is Lexa who looks exposed when she at at last chances a glance. Gutted.

The brokenness of her gaze, the utter defeat behind it, would haunt Clarke for years to come.

Green eyes dim a fraction before they are schooled into a patent blank.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the walls that had crumbled between them these last months, rise again with the speed of Clarke’s thundering heartbeat.

“You have made your choice. I understand, Your Royal Highness.”

Yet, to have her title used in such an indifferent, curt way, it hurts.

Her chest tightens. Her stomach knots.

Lexa leaves without another word. Without a glance back.

The bottom falls out.

Clarke has to fight every bone and muscle and sinew in her body not to go after her.

The kiss in the rose gardens at the gala feels like a lifetime ago. There’s a reason Clarke prefers apricot blossoms to the thorns of roses whose prickly beauty is only attainable sometimes by a loss of blood. Apricots bruise but roses, the unreachable ones, break skin.

Self-inflicted as it may be, Clarke feels the cut deep. The days that follow are gut-wrenching. The nights hollow.

Sleep evades her. Heartache shadows where Lexa’s footsteps fall behind at a greater distance. They don’t speak. They don’t touch. They don’t make eye contact.

If the midnight wracking sobs into a pillow on one side of the wall is heard by the other side, there is no acknowledgment of them. No grace in the silence of daybreak.

The next week, it’s a surprise to everyone, including Roan, when the palace announces that the Crown Princess of Arkadia and the Crown Prince of Ice Nation are courting. Everyone, but the foot soldier stood in uniform in front of Clarke a sennight later.

Lexa is handsome in the crisp threads of a midnight blue shade that borders on black, red sash slung across her body and ceremonial sword by her side. The gold detailing in the jacket collar and cuffs and along the pants side seams give her an overt elegance that is typically more understated in her ascetic look when performing her sentry duties.

Clarke too is wearing her uniform as she examines the guards lined up in the forecourt in their full regalia. She is dressed faultless, not one wrinkle in her gown, blue riband in its proper place.

Arkadians bump elbows and push eager faces against the brass of the palace gates, hoping for a glimpse of their newly attached princess as she sends off their country’s bravest to prepare for a war possibly now quelled by a decision that breaks her heart but would unite two nations.

As the designated patron of the Great Order, Clarke is the royal to bestow them the highest honour before going into battle, a medallion that commemorates their dedication to fight in the name of the kingdom. In her name.

She has done this countless times before. Pin, smile, wish each soldier well. The process has never been so excruciating as it is now.

Clarke pins the ribbon on Lexa, the last in the row, with far shakier hands than the pair that did the same for the others before her.

“Be safe,” she whispers the rote farewell wish. Quiet desperation that Lexa hears what isn’t said. Please forgive me, and, most achingly, I love you, too. Instead, the only sentiment she’s permitted to voice without it trembling is the grounder army’s motto, “May we meet again.”

There may have been a sharp inhale when she unconsciously pats Lexa’s chest from habit on completing the task, but, the blank stare behind vacant green eyes when Clarke pulls back, gives nothing away.

Clarke’s hand on Lexa’s chest is the last time they touch. Her palm burns long after she withdraws it.

A pin drop can be heard as the crowd and the symphony-orchestra conductor await her signal.

On her solemn nod, the one hundred gun salute erupts a deafening sound into the air. Twenty five firing of canons and artillery in each direction of the Arkadian realms. The crowd delights in the military showing and revels in the full auditory effect while Clarke hears nothing of the cacophony but the roaring between her ears as she lays her eyes one final time upon Lexa.

Lexa looks like she’s been rend in half by the same sword she raises in Clarke’s honour.

Clarke turns her back to retreat into the palace before all of Arkadia discovers why there are the same tears in her eyes as the ones in the glassy gaze of the only Black Knight looking at their princess and not to the plumes of smoke in the sky. Her parents look on from the archway with quiet consternation at their daughter’s muted movements ongoing since sundown a fortnight ago.

As Clarke crosses the threshold to join them, the fabric of her dress scratches at her skin. The sash feels too tight across her body.

During one visit to India, a sericulturalist once taught her, with raw silk, which is measured by weight in momme, the higher the momme, the heavier and denser the weave.

Clarke hates it.

The weight.

But, for Lexa, for love, she will bear it.

 

 

***