Lexa woke up to a disturbance in the Force and a tiny bottle filled with a glittering purple liquid tick-tocking in front of her face. "Noooo..." she groaned, pulling her pillow over her head and pressing it as hard as she could.
"Good morning to you, too!" Anya said, her voice at least an octave too high so it sliced right through the down-alternative Lexa would have shoved all the way into her ears if she could have. Or better yet, in her cousin's mouth, or...
The rest of the thought was driven from her head, and the air from her lungs, when Anya's bony ass landed square on her kidneys. Anya squirmed a little for good measure, until Lexa was forced to unearth herself from her blanket cave to shove her off.
Anya beamed. "Excellent! Now that you're awake... I've got it."
"Got what?" Lexa asked, as if she didn't know. As if Anya's incursions on her personal space weren't also incursions into her personal life... or lack thereof. At least according to her increasingly concerned circle of aunties, who seemed to take her ongoing status as a SWF (Single Witch Female) as a personal affront. One that they, with Anya as their minion, were determined to fix.
"I'm glad you asked," Anya said, brandishing the bottle again. "Love Potion #9."
"No," Lexa said. "Nope. Uh-uh. No way. Absolutely not. Nein, nyet, non." She reached for any other languages she might have tucked away in the back of her mind but came up blank.
"Why not?" Anya asked. "It's a sure thing. A slam dunk. Foolproof. Absolutely guaranteed to work or your money back!"
Lexa snorted, shoving the tangled waves of her hair back out of her face. "My money back? You think I'm going to pay you? You would have to pay me to drink that stuff, or dab it behind my ears, or whatever it is I'm supposed to do with it, and even then I wouldn't take it!"
"Why not?" Anya wheedled. "I've been working on it for months! A tweak here, an adjustment there, a pinch less of this and a sprinkle more of that... I know I've got it right this time!"
"That's what you said the last eight times," Lexa pointed out.
"Seven," Anya corrected. "Technically. You didn't fight me on the first one. But anyway... you know what they say! Ninth time's a charm!"
"No one says that," Lexa said flatly. "And if 'they'," she had to yank her hand free of the snarl of hair it had tangled in to shape air quotes around the word, "do, then I'd like to meet 'them' and tell 'them' exactly where they can shove it, and their potions!"
"And their little dog, too," Anya snickered.
Lexa kicked her through the blankets. "You're not funny."
"I'm hilarious," Anya countered, then focused – fixated – back on the task at hand. "So I've made a few mistakes. You've got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, right?"
"I'm pretty sure an omelet has never made anyone belch rainbow-colored bubbles," Lexa countered. That had been Love Potion #7.
"Hey, that was pretty cool!" Anya objected. "And harmless as far as side effects go."
"For days!" Lexa said. "And it wasn't a side effect! It was the only effect!"
Anya sighed. "I said I was sorry!" She fidgeted with the stopper of the bottle she still gripped in her hand. "But hey, if you had run into your true love, she would have known right away what team you were batting for." She winked at Lexa.
"Days," Lexa reiterated, but her hold on her annoyance was slipping. It was impossible to stay mad at Anya for long. Not when she knew her cousin's intentions were good and her heart was in the right place. She was just really, really bad at potions.
Which didn't stop her from trying. Obviously. And somehow she always managed to convince Lexa this time it would be different. This time, the potion would do exactly what it was supposed to: help Lexa find her True Love.
"Have you ever considered the possibility that we don't live in a fairy tale?" Lexa asked. "That maybe not everyone has, or finds, their true love. That not every story ends in Happily Ever After?"
"Sure," Anya said with an easy shrug. "But yours does. She's out there, Lex. You just need to find her, and woo her, and—"
"Invite her to a ball and cut off toes and heels until I find her after she loses a shoe running away from me at midnight?"
"Gross," Anya said. "No. That's not even how it goes. You just—"
"Hope a house doesn't fall on her sister so she turns wicked, ending any chance of us ever getting to—"
"There is no way you are Glinda in this scenario," Anya said. "Or any scenario. And you don't have a sister, so I think we're good." She frowned at Lexa, rolling the bottle between her palms. "Don't you want to find her?"
"I don't believe she exists," Lexa said.
"Then you have nothing to lose by taking the potion!" Anya said.
"Except three days of my life!" Lexa screeched, the sound painful even to her own ears. "The last time I took one of your potions I fell asleep for three days and when I woke up, not only hadn't I experienced true love's kiss, but I didn't remember my own damn name!"
"You did!" Anya said, at least having the good grace to look abashed. "Not the kiss part. But your name came back... eventually. And that wouldn't happen again!"
"What about the hives?" Lexa asked, dragging them both back to Love Potion #1. "Am I going to spend forty-eight hours doped on Benadryl and wanting to scratch my skin off while a topographical map of Pangaea writes itself across my body? Or maybe I'll grow fur and whiskers again," (Love Potion #6) "because someone learned nothing from Hermione's Polyjuice debacle!"
"Mister Mistoffelees isn't allowed anywhere near the lab anymore," Anya said. She drew an X over her heart, then held up her hand with the middle three fingers extended even though neither of them had ever been Girl Scouts. "I swear."
Lexa shook her head. "No," she said. "I'm sorry, but no." She was sorry, a little, because she knew how disappointed Anya would be. Her cousin genuinely believed she'd cracked it every time, only to be let down when instead of falling headfirst into the romance of a lifetime, Lexa just developed some bizarre constellation of symptoms and side effects that either wore off on their own (Love Potion #4, which threw her into a musical theater nightmare where she could only sing her words), or required someone other than Anya (anyone other than Anya) to brew a potion or magic up a charm to put her to rights (Love Potion #3, which was supposed to amplify her pheromones to draw her soulmate to her, but had instead attracted swarms of bees and, bizarrely, groundhogs).
Lexa was disappointed too... and that was the real problem. The side effects sucked, but... "I can't do it," she sighed, falling back against her pillows. "I can't get my hopes again. There's only so much heartbreak a girl can take."
Anya's shoulders slumped, her spine curving like she'd suddenly aged 80 years. "I get it," she said. "You're probably right."
About what? Lexa wanted to ask, but kept her lips tight-pressed because she wasn't sure she was ready to hear the answer. Not when it might not be about Anya's skill (or lack thereof) at potion-making. Not when it might be Anya finally admitting what Lexa feared they'd both always known: there wasn't anyone out there for her. At least not anywhere Lexa was ever going to find her.
"Do you want coffee?" Anya asked, up at at 'em like she hadn't just been collapsing under the weight of their mutual dejection. "Wait, no, I'll get you something better." And then she was gone as abruptly as she'd arrived, because that was how she rolled: here one minute, gone the next. Not quite Apparation because that wasn't really a thing (how much easier would life be if it was?) but close.
Lexa hunkered back down in the tangle of her sheets and quilts and waited for her cousin's return. And waited, and waited, until the smell of something cooking – something warm and sweet and heavenly – dragged her out again. She stuffed her feet in her ragged old slippers and her arms into an even more threadbare robe and scuffed her way to the kitchen to see what Anya was up to.
"I made you hot chocolate," Anya said, gesturing to the steaming mug topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. "And the waffles are almost ready."
Lexa grunted, sliding onto one of the stools at the kitchen island. She wrapped her fingers around the mug and brought it to her lips, taking a cautious sip. But it was the perfect temperature for drinking, because hot chocolate was the one and only potion Anya was incapable of messing up. "I hate you," she said, taking another swallow and getting whipped cream on her nose in the process. It was just the right mix of sweet and bitter and a tiny bit spicy (cinnamon, Lexa knew, but she suspected there was something else in there that Anya refused to reveal).
"I know," Anya said cheerfully, sliding her a plate nearly eclipsed by a gigantic chocolate-chip waffle. She squirted a whipped cream smiley face onto it, her own face an uncanny reflection of its expression.
Her cousin knew the way to Lexa's heart was through her stomach, and that her best weapon in that regard was, had always been and would always be, chocolate. It didn't matter, though. Anya could ply her with chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Lexa wasn't going to budge. Not this time.
Anya watched her a little too intently as she sipped and chewed and swallowed, and Lexa finally fixed her with a glare. "What?" she demanded, slurping the last dregs of her cocoa.
Anya's smile widened. "Nothing," she said. "Did you want another waffle?" She busied herself with the bowl of batter and the waffle iron. "I've got different kinds of chips, and some fresh fruit, and—"
"You're not eating," Lexa said, her eyes narrowing. "Why aren't you eating?"
"I'm not hungry," Anya said. "I'll eat later."
Lexa rose half out of her seat, leaning across the island, her fork still gripped in her fist. "Why aren't you eating?" she demanded. Her eyes darted to the bowl of batter, and the pan the hot chocolate had been mixed in, and the various ingredients scattered across the counter, and landed on a tiny bottle not quite hidden amidst the mess. A tiny empty bottle. "What. Did. You. Do?"
Color rose in Anya's cheeks, but she lifted her chin and crossed her arms, forgetting she was still holding a ladle of batter and dumping it all over herself, the cabinets, and the floor. Her face twisted with disgust before she forced it back into a look of haughty I-know-better-than-you. "It's going to work, Lexa," she said. "You just have to give it a chance."
Lexa collapsed back on her stool. The impact seemed to jar something loose in her, because suddenly her vision was filled with dancing motes of light which disappeared when she tried to focus on them. Was she getting a migraine? She'd never had one before, but she'd heard it could cause changes to vision, and Anya was certainly enough to trigger a headache.
She clutched the edge of the island as she put her feet on the floor, steadying herself as she fixed Anya with one last hard look. "I would kick your ass," she said, "but karma will do it for me."
A long nap later and it became clear the sparkly aura wasn't going anywhere. It was like existing in a cloud of fireflies that only appeared at the edges of her peripheral vision, and no matter how hard she tried, she could neither catch nor escape them. It was annoying, but as far as side effects went, it could have been worse. Love Potion #5 had made her see everything as a black-and-white photo negative, which had freaked her out so bad she'd hidden in her room until it wore off. She had sporadic nightmares about it to this day.
"Fucking Anya," she muttered. She was going to get a crick in her neck from twisting it around too fast, because the light show was impossible to ignore. She thought maybe some fresh air would help, or at least provide enough stimuli to distract her. She dressed with her eyes closed (after picking out her outfit with them open, she had some sense) and grabbed her keys, stuffing them into her pocket along with her wallet and phone.
A quick glance at the screen told her Anya had been blowing it up with messages. Lexa dismissed the notifications without reading them. She was tempted to delete them altogether, but maybe if she was feeling magnanimous later she might scrawl through to see if her meddling cousin had managed anything remotely resembling an apology. She had cleaned the kitchen, leaving it in better shape than she'd found it, so that was something... but not enough to make up for the fact that she'd broken one of the cardinal rules of magic (and there weren't that many, so it wasn't as if she could claim ignorance): Never take away someone else's free will.
By dosing Lexa's cocoa, or waffle, or both, with her potion, she'd done exactly that. But as Lexa had reminded her, karma was even more of a bitch than Lexa, and she would get what was coming to her threefold.
Lexa let her feet go where they wanted, drifting through her neighborhood on autopilot, leaving the quiet residential maze of cul-de-sacs for the more bustling grid of downtown... or as close to a downtown as their little corner of the world had. She thought maybe she was looking for somewhere to get some coffee or tea to rinse the lingering taste of Anya's hot chocolate from her tongue, but she walked right by her favorite café, and then the diner with the best pancakes in the state (the sign in the window said so), and felt no urge to stop. She kept going, up one block and down another, until her pace slowed and she finally shuffled to a halt in a doorway bracketed by buckets and buckets of flowers.
Which reminded her of Love Potion #2, which had made everything she touched turn to flowers, including her favorite hoodie, which Anya had promised to replace only to discover that particular pattern had been discontinued. Not that Lexa was still holding a grudge... except she was totally still holding a grudge. The only thing that kept her from throwing it in Anya's face every time they argued was the knowledge that Anya had a saved eBay search in case it popped up there secondhand.
She hesitated, then stepped through the door, which was propped open to allow the cool-but-not-cold autumn breeze to circulate, offering a bit of relief from the cloying mélange of scents. It couldn't do anything for the visual assault of every color in the rainbow (and a few that looked like they couldn't possibly be natural, but obviously were because, well, flowers) vying for attention all at once.
Lexa squeezed her eyes shut. She sucked in a deep breath through her nose and instantly regretted it, but she managed not to cough. The second breath was in through her mouth, and she thought she could taste roses and lavender and a few other things, but it was probably her imagination. At least it stopped her head from spinning. She cracked open her eyes again and found herself looking into the concerned gaze of a young woman in an apron. A young woman who was glowing.
Or... not exactly glowing. The light wasn't coming from within her, and Lexa suspected she couldn't see it. It was all the fireflies – not actually fireflies – coalescing around her to form an aura, a halo, a giant neon sign screaming:
"Oh," Lexa breathed. "It's you."
The woman cocked her head, her forehead furrowing slightly. "Have we—do we know each other?"
Lexa shook her head, and the light scattered, only a few motes remaining trapped in the sunlight strands of the woman's hair. Her eyes flicked down and she saw her nametag, and then back up again because she didn't want the woman – Clarke – to think she was looking at her chest. "No," she said, clearing her throat. "Not yet."
Clarke looked at her for a long moment, a smile slowly tilting the corners of her mouth. "Oh," she said, echoing Lexa, and Lexa didn't know if it was unconscious or intentional. "Turns out even a stopped clock is right twice a day."
It was Lexa's turn to frown, except her face was at war with itself because she had the inexplicable urge to smile. (Which was actually perfectly explicable, because Clarke... well, because Clarke.) "Sorry?"
Clarke shook her head. She glanced around, checking to make sure there wasn't anyone who needed help, Lexa assumed, before turning her attention back to Lexa. Her gaze was like a weight, but also like a blanket. A weighted blanket that warmed and calmed, that grounded Lexa in the moment so she didn't want to be anywhere else with anyone else. "Just... a friend of mine. She texted me this morning and said..." She let go of a breath, almost a laugh. "She said I was going to meet someone today who was going to change my life."
Lexa blinked, and Clarke rolled her eyes. "I know, right?" she said. "It's ridiculous, and I dismissed it because she's said stuff like that probably a dozen times before and nothing has ever happened. But she's always so sure."
"A dozen?" Lexa asked, her stomach doing a little flip.
"Probably an exaggeration," Clarke admitted. "But over the last couple of years probably seven or eight times that I remember? I didn't—"
"Nine," Lexa blurted. "Ninth time's a charm." At Clarke's look of startled confusion, she flashed a wry smile. "I have one of those, too," she said. "Only she does love potions. Badly."
"But not this time?" Clarke asked, one eyebrow arching toward her hairline.
"I hope not," Lexa said, then pressed her hand over her mouth, because that was too much honesty, even for someone who was not-always-affectionately called Lextra for a reason.
Clarke only smiled. No, grinned. "I love a girl who speaks her mind," she said, then she was the one whose cheeks flared crimson, rivaling the nearby bucket of roses. She cleared her throat, her eyes darting to the... Lexa didn't even know the name of a quarter of the plants in here, and she was going to need to brush up on her botanicals. "You know what I mean," Clarke muttered.
Lexa chewed the inside of her cheek, searching for something to say to make this less awkward. "So, uh... is this what you do?"
Clarke looked at her, studying her seriously for a moment, then shook her head. "Not..." She bit her lip, letting it slide through her teeth, and something flared in Lexa that she wasn't sure she was ready for. Not that her heart (or parts lower down) cared what her head thought about the matter. "Not exactly," Clarke said softly. She looked at Lexa for a long, steady moment, then went to the door. She kicked the stopper that held it open away and flipped the sign from Open to Closed, spinning the dial on the clock to a time about fifteen minutes hence. She twisted the lock and turned back to Lexa, her fingers clenching and flexing before she motioned her to follow.
They stepped into the back room and Lexa shivered. It was chilly, but she supposed that was to keep the flowers – there were so many flowers – fresh. Clarke led her to a table where an arrangement of mostly white blooms sat, finished but not boxed up. "Have you ever lost someone?" Clarke asked. "Someone close?"
Lexa nodded, her shoulders curling in as if they could shelter her heart from the hurt, which had faded over time but never disappeared. She suspected it would always be there, panging at unexpected and unpredictable times.
Clarke offered her a sad, crooked smile and an understanding nod. "Lean into it," she said softly. "Let yourself feel it."
Lexa didn't want to. She'd spent more than half her life avoiding feeling it, because nothing could change it. Nothing could bring her mother back, and wallowing in her pain didn't help anyone, herself included. But Clarke was watching her, and Clarke was... She didn't know what Clarke was, exactly, to her or in general, but some part of Lexa instinctively trusted her. So she closed her eyes and unlocked the box where she kept her grief, letting it flood out, and instead of trying to stuff it back down, she embraced it and let it fill her.
Her eyes filled with tears and when she opened them, Clarke's face was blurry. She sniffed and blinked hard, and felt Clarke's hand curl around hers, warm and strong and rough with calluses but soft, too, and—
"Here," Clarke murmured, guiding Lexa's fingers to brush the petals of one of the flowers, a perfectly formed lily.
Lexa gasped and jerked away, then reached out again, her fingers shaking. As soon as she made contact, she felt it again: some of her sorrow was siphoned away. It wasn't gone, but the burden of it became just a little bit lighter. "How...?"
But then she saw it. She saw the way the corners of Clarke's mouth pinched, saw the lines at the corners of her eyes etching deeper as she narrowed them in pain. She yanked her hand back, her fingers curling inward as she pressed it to her heart, then reached for Clarke, not quite making contact because she didn't know what it might do to either of them.
Clarke took her outstretched hand and pressed her cheek into Lexa's palm, brushing a kiss over the base of her thumb before letting go with a shrug and a slight smile.
"That's..." Lexa shook her head, swallowing hard. "So you're a healer?"
"Of a sort," Clarke said. "I bear it so they don't have to." Her eyes held Lexa's, and Lexa had no idea what she was seeing there. "It's not all doom and gloom, though," she said, a smile lighting her eyes even as the shape of her mouth didn't change. "What was her favorite flower? Or what's yours?"
"Carnations," Lexa said immediately. "She always said they didn't get the recognition and respect they deserved, and she loved their scent."
"She was right," Clarke said. "Just a sec." She rummaged through several buckets in the back, returning with at least half a dozen carnations of various sizes and colors, along with some other flowers and greenery. She pressed her palms together, rubbing them quickly back and forth, then massaged her wrists, one then the other, before brushing her fingertips over the blooms and whispering words Lexa couldn't hear. She began to arrange the flowers, then rearrange them until they were just so. It took only a few minutes, but Lexa could have watched her for hours. Clarke presented the mini bouquet to Lexa with a flourish.
Lexa took them in still-trembling hands, bringing them to her nose and breathing in deeply. A wash of memory rolled through her, of kneeling side-by-side in the dirt as they plucked weeds from around the roots of the plants in their garden, even as her mother explained that just because they didn't want those particular plants there didn't make them bad or useless, it was only that they needed their own place to thrive.
Tears rose up again, but they were tears of joy, and relief because it felt so damn good to remember her mother's life as well as her loss. She swallowed hard as she looked at Clarke, and saw Clarke's eyes had gone misty, too.
"You can—can you feel that, too?" Lexa asked, her voice raspy with emotion.
Clarke nodded. "For every funeral, there's a birth. For every condolence, there's a congratulations. I take a little of the overflow. It balances out."
Lexa nodded. She tried to hand the flowers back, but Clarke shook her head. "They're for you," she said. "They wouldn't do anyone else any good." She lifted one shoulder and let it fall. "And I like giving pretty girls flowers."
Lexa blushed and ducked her head, burying her face back in the bouquet until a little of the heat in her cheeks subsided. She found Clarke still watching her, grinning, and she had to resist the urge to stick out her tongue at her. Clarke knew exactly what she was doing, what she'd done, and she wasn't the least bit sorry.
Lexa couldn't help but lo—like her more for it.
"What do you do?" Clarke asked, heading back into the shop to open the door again. There was no one waiting to be let in, so they had a few more minutes, at least, before Clarke would have to turn her attention to a paying customer.
Lexa opened her mouth, then closed it. "I'm a weaver," she admitted. "Literally and figuratively." She ought to be proud of that fact, but mostly it made her feel awkward.
Clarke's eyes widened, and yeah, that was why. Being a weaver meant being a leader, whether one wanted to be or not. Weavers had the unique ability to take the magic of others and – as the name implied – weave them together to create something more, something greater, allowing for works that no single witch could accomplish on their own. Along with it came the responsibility of weaving together disparate personalities and trying to create a community. It meant carrying the weight of witchkind on one's shoulders.
It only took Clarke a moment to recover. "I'd love to see your work," she said. One corner of her mouth ticked up. "Literally and figuratively."
"When do you get off?" Lexa asked, and immediately felt sweat prickle under her arms and along her hairline as heat crept up her neck. Which was ridiculous because it was a perfectly normal and reasonable question to ask, and most people wouldn't twist it into anything dirty, but that didn't stop her from blurting, "Of work!" In case Clarke wasn't most people and needed the clarification.
Clarke's lips twisted with amusement. "Five," she said. "Unless a rush order comes in that can't wait."
"Should I... come back? Or...?"
Clarke glanced at the clock. It was a little after three. "I guess I skipped lunch," she said. "You can—"
"I'll get you something," Lexa said. "As a thank you." She held up the flowers she still clutched.
"You don't—" Clarke started, then stopped, smiled. "I'd like that. There's a diner—"
"I know," Lexa said. "What do you want?"
Clarke's eyes were bright as she winked at Lexa and said, "Surprise me."
Lexa's heart skipped a beat when the chiming of her phone's alarm dragged her up out of the creative fugue state she'd been in. She unfolded herself from her hunched seat and leaned back, her spine giving a few sharp pops as everything settled back in place. She went to the door of the collective art space where she rented a tiny studio and peered out into the gathering dark.
Clarke waved, coming up the walkway exactly on time. Lexa opened the door to let her in, shivering in the chill that followed her. She watched Clarke as Clarke took it all in, the paintings and carvings and sculptures and prints and just about any and everything else one could imagine an artist creating, and a few things that defied imagination (or explanation – Lexa knew because she'd asked and not understood a word of the answer she'd received). "This way," she said, taking Clarke's elbow for the briefest moment to guide her toward her little corner.
"Oh," Clarke said. "Oh wow." Her gaze had skimmed over the blankets and scarves and various other items Lexa made to be sold at prices that barely turned a profit, because very few people understood the amount of time and effort that went into something woven by hand, and landed on the project that Lexa had started years ago without any idea of where it was going or what it would be when it was finished.
The top was deep blue, pricked through with silvery specks that formed constellations known and unknown, and it faded down, lighter and lighter as it approached the horizon, an expanse of trees so intricately detailed it had taken Lexa months to even work out the technique to get them just right. Nestled amongst the trees, barely visible, was a cozy little cottage with a twist of smoke rising from its chimney and a single window lit up by a candle's glow.
Woven through, barely visible, was a single strand of scarlet. It started in the upper left corner, dripping down from half a heart, migrating down to the lower right, where it trailed off into nothing yet. Lexa watched Clarke's face as she took it in, as she followed that red thread of fate, and suddenly she knew. She knew, and her fingers ached for the shuttle.
"Who is that for?" Clarke asked, barely a whisper but echoing in the small space.
"You," Lexa whispered back, sitting down and beginning to weave again, quickly and carefully shaping the last rows, and the other half of the heart, knowing now who it belonged to, knowing the two halves that could, if they wished it and willed it and wanted it enough, make a whole. She bound it off and snipped it from the loom, presenting the most beautiful thing she'd ever made to the most beautiful soul she'd ever met. "I made it for you."
"We're never going to hear the end of this," Lexa laughed, her lips pulling away from Clarke's but her arms keeping the rest of her close. Clarke's left hand was tangled in Lexa's hair, but the other rubbed idly over the silken scarf draped around her neck. "They're never going to let us forget they were right."
"Probably not," Clarke admitted, kissing her again. "I'm not complaining."
"You've never met Anya," Lexa said, her grimace not entirely feigned.
"You've never met Raven," Clarke countered, and her eyes went wide.
"And they've never met each other," they said almost in unison.
"They should," Clarke said.
"They should," Lexa agreed. "How much do you know about love potions?"