Chapter 1: you looked up & that was enough (baby, don’t let go)
1. you looked up & that was enough (baby, don’t let go)
some dreams never do come true / some love doesn’t hit the target / but darling i’ve been wishing my hardest / i know i need you
— BØRNS, ‘seeing stars’
This is all sort of scary and mostly just annoying—especially because all of the waiting rooms you’ve been in so far are full of tragic, loud small children—so you’re infinitely grateful to see an open seat by a girl who looks to be about your age. It’s crowded today, and the only other option is a tiny kid sniffling into his dad’s shoulder, so you shoulder your bag and make your way to the stiff leather seat. The girl you sit next to is pretty—really, really pretty; you’re with Lincoln and you’re in love and happy, but you still have eyes—and wearing a neatly pressed blouse and a blazer, face buried in an AP Latin review book.
She doesn’t even spare you a glance when you sit down, only scoots a little further away from you in her chair. You could do your class reading for AP Lit, but your teachers have all been having pity parties for you and Clarke will give you her notes anyway.
You clear your throat and smile a little when she doesn’t even look up; she has the Spencer Hastings vibe going on, which you’re sure Clarke would love, so that’s fun. Plus, overachieving girls are always entertaining.
“Is it always this tragic?” you ask, and when she lifts her head to look at you with a raised eyebrow, you notice that she has green eyes and a few freckles across her nose, framed by thick rimmed, brown slightly rounded glasses.
“Waiting,” you clarify. “All the sick kids.”
“Well,” she says, and her voice is softer and higher than you’d imagined, “we are in the pediatric waiting room in a hospital.”
You laugh a little and offer your hand. “I’m Octavia,” you say.
She takes it with a serious nod.
“And I have leukemia,” you say, “but don’t worry, I’m not tragic or terminal or anything.” She doesn’t really look sick, but, then again, neither do you—yet, at least—so you add, “No offense if you are.”
She fights a smile. “Hopefully not,” she says. “I just have a bad heart.”
She says it so seriously that it sounds dramatic and grand, and you nod. “Physically, not emotionally, I assume.”
She shrugs. “I care more about the AP Latin Exam than I do most people,” she says pointedly.
You think she’d have a field day with Clarke—who really needs to get over Finn—so you don’t let that deter you. “Do you come here often?”
“It’s not a bar,” she says with a scoff. You grin. “But I suppose so, fairly frequently for tests and things.”
“Nice,” you say, and sort of want to take it back, because you don’t really know how to interact in these kind of situations yet, but instead you just sit back and cross one leg. You’re in your heavy black boots and ripped black jeans, although you’ve forgone your leather jacket because it’s almost summer and it’s really humid outside—not quite as bad as DC, but Baltimore is still terrible.
She bites her lip and shrugs.
“How old are you?”
“I turn seventeen in a month. You?”
“I’m seventeen too.”
“So I guess we’re both stuck here,” she says, glancing around.
You laugh. “Yeah.” You gesture to the book in her hand. “How many other APs are you taking?” Exams are next week, and you’ve been sort of haphazardly studying for your Lit and American History exams with Clarke and Lincoln when you felt like. You know you’re smart, but school really isn’t your favorite thing.
“Eight,” she says, and you let out a whistle. She shrugs. “I like languages.”
“Apparently,” you say, and you’re about to ask her what she’s fluent in—because Clarke is going to eat this shit up—but then you hear your name being called by a nurse with dark skin and tough eyes—Indra, you remember from your last appointment. “That’s me,” you say.
She nods. “I’m Lexa, by the way.”
“Lexa,” you say. “I’ll see you around then, I guess?”
“Most likely,” she says.
Indra calls your name again—she sounds annoyed—and so you stand.
“Octavia,” Lexa calls softly, and she smiles sadly. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” you say, because, for once, it’s not panicked or patronizing. “You too.”
She nods and you follow Indra with a little wave, which Lexa returns.
“You did not,” Clarke says, popping up from where she had been lazily floating in her pool. It almost sends her toppling off and you laugh.
“She’s hot,” you say, “and is taking, like, nine APs.”
“I cannot believe you found a girl for me to date in the hospital.”
“Really?” you ask.
She squints at you from behind her sunglasses and then grins. “No, actually, that’s something you would absolutely do.”
You nod. “Damn right.”
You swim over to her and rest your cross your arms against the float, rest your chin in them. Clarke’s been your best friend since you were in first grade; you’ve been through tons of shit together—being taken away from your mom when you were eight; her dad dying in a car accident last year—so you’re not surprised that she’s been as good and normal as she has through this whole ‘diagnosed with cancer’ thing. Which, really, is going to suck, but they tell you that you have, like, a 95% chance of surviving, so you figure if your summer before senior year is going to be ruined, you may as well have as much fun as possible with it.
Clarke lies back again and stretches on her legs. “She’s not tragic or terminal, either,” you say, and Clarke smiles a little. “Like, she doesn’t even have cancer, which is nice for you, because she won’t puke on you and she has great hair.”
Clarke laughs and you splash her, which makes her jolt in the float and flop off the side, kind of crashing into you.
Once you both come up spluttering for air, you say, “I’m not sure if she’s queer or anything, but she did look at my ass for a significant amount of time, and I’m hot, so if blondes are her type too, I figure you’ll be good to go.”
She rolls her eyes and shoves you a little playfully, you a little bit, and it’s not nearly the first time you’re more than thankful that she’s your best friend.
You end up going inside and slipping into a pair of her sweatpants and a tshirt that she still has from middle school—Jogathon, which you give her shit for—before curling up with her on one of the huge beanbags in her movie theater room. Clarke has a huge house—she’s really, really wealthy, although she’s as far from an asshole as anyone gets—and you spend a lot of time there. Plus, you really like Abby, even if she is a little overbearing sometimes.
“Promise me you won’t get weird about all of this,” you say.
Clarke scoffs softly. “Promise, O,” she says.
“Fantastic,” you say, and she smiles and wraps an arm around you.
“In that case,” she says, “I’m picking what we watch today.”
You shove her a little but she only laughs and turns on—quite predictably—Bridesmaids. “You’re such a dork,” you say—and she kind of is, but whatever, other than Lincoln and your brother, she’s pretty much your favorite person in the world.
“So are you,” she says, and then starts reciting Annie’s monologue at Lilian’s engagement party, and you end up laughing for hours.
And, yeah, she really is the best kind of person.
You’re waiting for the car your mom called you at the coffee shop in the hospital when you see Octavia again. She’s talking animatedly with a girl who has blonde hair and a really nice smile, although you don’t really want to admit that to yourself. But it’s Saturday and you’d just finished all of your AP exams and you’re exhausted, so it’s really not the worst thing you could think.
But then Octavia snakes her arm around the blonde girl and slips her hand into the back pocket of her jeans, and you really don’t want to feel a little sad about that, so you sigh and turn back to your phone. Anya had been texting you during her break in court, and you really miss her. But you figure she had to go back in, because she hasn’t sent you a message in ten minutes. You’re about to put in your headphones when you hear Octavia say your name and then bump into your table, and her—friend, girlfriend, whatever—follows, and you think she might be blushing, but you’re also really hungry, so you don’t know if you’re just imagining that out of some place of weird hope.
“Hi,” Octavia says, glancing at the seat across from you. “Can we join you?”
“Hello,” you say, and then nod.
Octavia sits down across from you, and so the blonde girl ends up sitting next to you, knocking her knee into yours before she scoots back with a quick, small apology, which you wave off.
“I’m Clarke,” she says with a smile—which, yeah, she’s pretty.
“Lexa,” you say. You’d been trying your best to remember this, too—so you add, “My pronouns are she/her.”
Octavia looks very confused and Clarke’s brows knit together for a moment and you feel your skin flush—it’s awkward, whatever, but you’re adamant about it; if you live long enough to be politician who ever changes anything you’re going to start now in your everyday life—but then Clarke flashes you an appreciative and almost admiring grin.
“Same here,” she says, “and for Octavia too.”
Octavia shrugs and nods. “So,” she says, “how many times has someone asked how you’re feeling today, because Clarke alone has asked me seven times.”
Clarke rolls her eyes. “I swear I’m trying to stop, it’s just a nervous reflex.”
“Clarke,” Octavia says, and Clarke smiles a little, “your mom is a surgeon. How are you possibly thrown off by hospitals?”
Clarke’s about to say something, but then Octavia gives her a playful shove and Clarke laughs.
“She’s sweet,” Octavia says, “really. Annoying and WASPy as hell, but sweet.”
“Wow,” Clarke drawls, “whatever will I do after such a stunning compliment?”
You feel awkward and serious around them—you feel that way around most kids your age—but you figure it won’t hurt to try. “In answer to your question, Octavia, I counted twelve times this morning.”
Octavia bursts into laughter and Clarke grins. Octavia’s phone starts to ring and she swipes her thumb to answer, says a few quick things, and then hangs up and turns to Clarke. “Lincoln’s here,” she says, “but he’s lost, predictably, so I’m going to go find him.”
“Boys,” she says, and Octavia winks and stands. She’s in a very short black dress and thigh high socks, the same boots on as last time. Clarke is in a grey tanktop and a pale blue pair of ripped jeans, and you think she looks like summer in its entirety. It’s your first Saturday in ages without model UN, so you’re in a pair of denim cutoff shorts and your favorite loafers and a big white t-shirt which at some point was probably Anya’s, and you feel a little self-conscious when Clarke meets your gaze and glances over you once.
“Lincoln is Octavia’s boyfriend,” Clarke says, leaning back in her seat.
You feel a little excited immediately at the thought that Octavia and Clarke probably aren’t dating, then, but you just nod.
“She has a spinal tap and her first chemo thing today, so that’s a fun Saturday afternoon date, I guess.”
You laugh a little. “Thrilling, I’m sure.”
Clarke looks over you thoroughly before tilting her head. “How do you know Octavia?”
“We met in a waiting room.”
Clarke laughs a little and says, “Octavia can make friends just about anywhere.”
“So it seems.”
She sits forward. “Is it okay if I ask why you’re here?”
“Yeah,” you say.
She smiles gently. “Lexa, why are you here?”
To her credit, her eyes stay trained entirely on your face, despite the fact that you’re sure that the scar that runs from the top of your sternum down to above your bellybutton is partially visible where your shirt dips a little. “My heart hasn’t ever worked quite right.”
“Okay,” she says, and she doesn’t press for more information, doesn’t stare at your scar or start asking a million questions. Instead, she looks at your empty coffee cup and asks, “Do you want another one?”
You shake your head. “I have a very limited caffeine intake, unfortunately. Despite the fact that I’d love more.”
She laughs. “Did you just finish APs too?”
“Yeah,” you say, and it’s the first time in a while that conversation has felt this normal. “And model UN just ended for summer too. This is the first day I’ve had off in forever.”
Clarke nods. “I know the feeling. I had six exams, then this stuff with O—totally kicked my ass.”
“Well,” you say, “I can recommend coffee here, if you want. Since one of us should be able to take advantage of the boost.”
She grins and you feel a little jump in your chest—which, under any other circumstances, would terrify you, but right now, it’s kind of wonderful.
You would keep talking—for a long time, you’re pretty sure, but then your phone dings, your driver texting that he’s here. You can’t help but frown a little and Clarke asks, “Are you all right?”
You glance up and she laughs heartily.
“Sorry, sorry,” she says, “reflex?”
You reach out and put your hand on hers for a second before realizing what you’re doing and pulling back quickly, but her breath catches too. “Everything’s fine,” you say. “My driver’s here, though.”
“Oh,” she says, “yeah, of course.”
You stand a little stiffly and stretch your arms above your head, and you’re pretty sure Clarke stares at your legs the whole time. You shoulder your tote and say, “Hey, I hope everything goes well with Octavia today.”
She nods. “Thank you,” she says, and it’s one of the sincerest things you’ve ever heard.
“Of course,” you say, and you’re about to turn to go when she grabs your wrist gently.
“Can I—I’m going to give you my number,” she says. “In case you want a rain check on that coffee or something.”
You fight back a grin because you do have a reputation to maintain, after all—your mom is Secretary of State and your dad works for the UN, and you haven’t survived this long to ruin your vibe over a ten minute conversation with one girl. But, still—“I’d like that,” you say, and Clarke smiles.
She takes your hand and fishes out a sharpie from her bag, quickly scribbles it on your palm. When she does, she caps the marker and looks at you. “See you soon, Lexa.”
“Clarke.” You nod. “May we meet again.”
She laughs delightedly—you hadn’t really meant for it to be funny, but her laugh is really nice, so you allow yourself a half-smile. She waves as you walk off toward the exit, and when you look at the palm of your hand, her number is written over your lifelines, and you allow yourself, for a moment, to think it’s awfully fitting.
You’re starting to realize that the part of all of this that might blow the hardest is that you wait a lot for shit. This was supposed to be a quick appointment, apparently, but then you needed a blood transfusion or something, so currently you’re hooked up to yet another IV. You don’t really feel that bad yet—you’ve had two treatments, but school ended and you got out of three of your finals, as well as having gotten six free Starbucks and two free pizzas, so there are some upsides; people are acting weird around you anyway so the least you can get is free stuff, you figure.
But right now Clarke has seemingly forgotten that she’s here to keep you company and is instead furiously drawing in her sketchbook, her feet propped across your lap.
“Clarke,” you say, and she hums. You’re pretty sure she’s not listening at all. “When’s the last time you thought about fucking girls?”
She just hums again, and a mom sitting in a chair next to you glares. You smile sweetly back.
“Clarke,” you say, and this time she actually looks up.
“Are you—” you’re about to roll your eyes but she shakes her head and stops herself, and you’re grateful beyond belief—“what?”
“Text Lexa, see if she’s here and can come hang out, because you’re honestly the worst company right now.”
She sighs. “Sorry,” she says, “I just have class tonight and I thought I’d have more time at home to finish these but—”
“Clarke,” you say, “it’s fine. Thanks for staying with me.”
“Nowhere else I’d rather be.”
“That’s a blatant lie,” you say, and she laughs.
“Well, I like spending time with you, so it’s only a half lie.”
You squeeze her hand for a moment in thanks. “You are terrible company, though. Text Lexa, I want to see her try to flirt with you, it’ll be fun.”
“She doesn’t—you know what—”
“First of all,” you say, “Lexa stared at your boobs for a solid seven minutes the other day, so she’s probably into girls. Second of all, I know you’re into girls, and you really should get over fuckboy Finn.”
“Can we not call him that?” she grumbles. “He was just—broody?”
You laugh. “Lexa’s better looking anyway.”
Clarke doesn’t try to disagree, and she gets out her phone and bites her bottom lip before unlocking it and typing out a quick message.
“Atta girl,” you say, and she rolls her eyes. Clarke had come out to you as bisexual when you were, like, twelve, even though she didn’t need to come out, because you basically knew since she had a crush on Emma Watson since the first time you watched the fourth Harry Potter movie, but you’re always glad when she trusts you with information like that. She’s not technically out to her mom, mainly because Clarke hasn’t really dated girls, but she’s not exactly closeted, and, anyway, you know Abby won’t care—so there’s really nothing stopping Clarke from flirting with Lexa, who is very pretty and seemingly very kind, and who you like very much, actually.
Clarke’s phone lights up and she reads the text and then frowns. “She’s here,” she says, “but she says she can’t sneak out to come meet us.”
You roll your eyes. “She’s probably a stickler for rules. Go find her and sneak her out or something. I would but I think Indra might actually kill me if I tried.”
Clarke laughs, and you’re surprised when she doesn’t argue even a little bit, just slips her sketchbook into her purse and stands. “You sure you’ll be okay?”
You look around at the most boring room you’ve ever seen, and you raise your eyebrows. “I think I can manage. Bring me a cookie when you come back.”
“Deal,” she says.
You watch her go, and Lexa’s lucky, because not only is Clarke kind of a fabulous human, she really does have a fine ass.
It only takes you a few minutes to find out which room Lexa is in, and you don’t know really what you were expecting—Lexa sitting up in bed furiously working on university applications or something—but it wasn’t this: Lexa is curled into a little ball, actually wearing a hospital gown, and she’s hooked up to, like, a million monitors, a few different IVs running into her chest, like where Octavia’s port is. For some reason, she just hadn’t seemed sick when you’d met her before—but it hits you hard, the reality of the situation, and your stomach bottoms out a little bit.
You think she’s probably asleep, so you turn to walk out of the room, but then she fidgets a little in bed and blinks wearily up at you.
“Hey,” you say, “yeah, sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she says quietly, and her voice is rough.
“Do you want me to go?” you ask. “I can go.”
She shakes her head once. “You can stay if you want.”
You nod with a small smile and pull up a chair next to her bed. You want to take her hand, but you don’t actually know her, so that might be weird. She uncurls a little bit, but she doesn’t try to really sit up or anything, which makes you inexplicably really sad.
“How’s Octavia?” she asks. Her voice lilts with a little bit of an accent, and you wonder if she’s American.
“Bored,” you say, and Lexa laughs just slightly before clamping her mouth shut and clenching her jaw.
“Sorry,” she grits out.
“Why are you apologizing?”
She sighs. “I know this isn’t the best company,” she grits out through clenched teeth.
You shrug. “At least you’re pretty.”
It comes out of your mouth before you even process it, and you almost cringe, but Lexa smiles a little into her pillow. Her jaw and cheekbones are sharp and lovely, and her eyes, even now, are a green-grey you desperately want to paint—she is pretty, and you don’t want to take it back.
“You should have slightly higher standards than this,” she says, seemingly in slightly less pain. “Maybe when I can stand upright and am in something resembling actually clothes I might believe you.”
You roll her eyes; her hair is long and a little tangled and the best kind of wild, and you tuck a strand of it behind her ear. She leans into the touch and you run your hand through it for a moment before pulling back.
“Before you can ask,” she says, “this isn’t anything new, I just have bad days sometimes.”
Octavia hates when people say something along the lines of I’m sorry, so you say, “That sucks ass,” and she smiles, so that must’ve been a better response.
“At least I’m not missing school.”
“I’m laughing on behalf of Octavia right now, because she’s a little frustrated this is all happening during summer.”
She hums. “I’m trying to get into Harvard,” you say, “so it’s easier with teachers instead of, you know, trying to learn everything by myself.”
“Well,” you say, “that makes sense. I’m sure you’ll get in, miss nine APs.”
She smiles a little, and she’s kind of a huge nerd, you’re pretty sure, and for some reason it just makes you like her more than you already do.
“I want to go to Brown,” you tell her. “My dad went there, but also, you know, you can take classes at RISD.”
“You are an artist?” she asks.
“Yeah. But it’s not—I don’t think I want to do it as a career, really, because it’s just something that—it’s not a hobby,” you say, and she closes her eyes. “It’s something I love to do because, like, life can be beautiful and terrible and overwhelming and I like to make art to kind of get that out there.”
“But I don’t want to feel pressured to make a certain amount of anything. I like taking classes to learn but, yeah, I don’t know—I wouldn’t want to make a profession out of it, I guess.” You shrug. “My mom’s a surgeon and I really like medicine, though, so—yeah, Brown would be nice.”
“That does sound nice,” she says, and her voice is slurring a little, and you smile.
“Did you just get another shot of pain meds or something?”
She nods. “I don’t like them, but they insist that I have some, otherwise my heart rate gets too high because pain is a bitch.”
You laugh a little and she grins, then blearily opens her eyes and looks at you.
“I’m fine but I’m going to fall asleep so you can go back to Octavia and text me tomorrow or something?”
“I’ll draw in here for a little while, if that’s okay?”
Her smile is so bright it makes your hands ache, and you think she’s one of the first people you’ve told about what art is to you, one of the first people who hasn’t brushed it off, and you know it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s on pain medication.
She falls asleep fast, and you take out your sketchbook. The lines of her body—slim and young—are easy enough, and the contours of her face are harsh and gentle at once. She has absolutely lovely hands—long, thin fingers that you think are probably suited to music, that you would really like to hold—and you sketch them until Octavia calls you to inform you that she’s finished.
You finish one of your sketches and you think, not for the first time, that Lexa is really, really beautiful.
You see Lexa again a few days later—she and Clarke have been texting a lot, so that’s gross, but Clarke seems happy, so that’s worth a lot in your book.
Clarke had invited Lexa to her house for one of her almost weekly pool parties, which you think is actually really cute, because a lot of your friends from school are always there, and that kinda means that Clarke wants everyone to meet Lexa.
You’re currently clinging to Lincoln’s back while he runs across Clarke’s huge front lawn—you’re racing Jasper, who is carrying Monty, and you’re winning by a long shot, when you see Lexa get out of a ridiculously expensive looking convertible. She’s beautiful and summery in a t-shirt and shorts and a canvas short slung over her shoulder, and you slide off Lincoln’s back when he skids to a victorious stop. You give him a high five and he kisses your cheek and you say, “That’s Lexa.”
“Oh,” he says with a grin, glances her up and down. “Get it Clarke.”
“Right?” you say with a laugh, and Jasper comes puffing behind you, Monty sighing disappointedly. You jog up the lawn to where Lexa’s walking and say, “Hi,” excitedly before wrapping her in a hug.
She stiffens a little and you try to remind yourself that you really shouldn’t hug people you don’t actually know, but then she brings an arm around your back and you grin.
Lexa puts her sunglasses on the top of her head and says, “Hello, Octavia.”
You pull back and stand up straight; you’re in a bikini top, and you have one of Clarke’s many ridiculous snapbacks on backward, but it’s obvious that you buzzed your hair—or, really, Clarke had haphazardly done it for you a little tipsy two nights ago. Your other friends have mostly been cool—it was bound to happen anyway, and it sucks, because, really, you had fantastic hair, but Lincoln doesn’t really care at all—you were a little worried until he cracked a joke about the two of you being able to match entirely now. Bellamy has by far been the weirdest, but he’s just your protective older brother and he wants you to feel beautiful and loved, and you adore him for it, even if he is painfully awkward.
Lexa stands expectantly and doesn’t break your gaze for a second, and, yeah, Clarke really should date her, you think.
Lincoln comes up and puts a hand on the small of your back, then says, “I’m Lincoln, Octavia’s boyfriend,” and offers his other hand for Lexa to shake.
She does, and she introduces herself—with the pronoun thing again, which Clarke had gushed about the other day, because “obviously Lexa is educated in the fact that gender is a—sometimes very deadly—construct and there isn’t any binary gender or correlation between appearance and identification” and “isn’t it just so great that Lexa is so good at acknowledging that?”
Lincoln grins, though—he’s actually the most well-versed person in feminism that you know, other than Lexa, now, you guess, so you figure he’s probably a big fan too—and you say, “There’s food and drinks and stuff inside. Clarke’s probably out back.”
Lexa nods and follows you inside. You yell for Clarke once you get into her gigantic kitchen that opens onto her porch, and she ends up jogging to you from somewhere near one of the lounge chairs, holding what you’re almost entirely sure is very spiked punch.
“Hi,” Clarke says excitedly, but softly, and Lincoln looks at you with a smirk when Lexa returns the sentiment with a little blush. Clarke offers her a whole list of drinks, and Lexa ends up going with lemonade, which was the second option. “Octavia,” Clarke says, and you raise a brow, “can you get Lexa some lemonade?”
“Oh my god,” you grumble, and Lincoln laughs heartily and walks with you in the kitchen.
“They’re so into each other,” he says, finding the bottle of vodka in Clarke’s freezer and putting some in his cup with an eye roll when you glare. It’s not that you care, it’s just that you can’t drink, which kind of sucks. You like beers during summer.
When you go back outside, Lexa and Clarke are sitting close together on one lounge chair, knees touching. You hand Lexa her very non-alcoholic drink—she’s on a shit ton of medications, you’re sure—with a smile despite yourself, because she and Clarke look really happy together.
“Lincoln and I are going swimming,” you say.
Lexa nods earnestly and Clarke says, “Stay safe, kids.”
You roll your eyes and lead Lincoln to the edge of the pool, challenge him to cannonball competition. He laughs—you’re sure he can win, because you’re small and he’s decidedly not—but he says, “Absolutely.”
You try to splash Lexa and Clarke after you jump in, but they’re too far away, and you swim over to the edge and prop yourself on your elbows with a pout. Lincoln follows and stands in front of you, and then he kind of just stares at you. It makes your chest ache—he’s been the best with all of this, and you were already in love with him, but you are even more now. “You know,” you say, “this isn’t some sad quirky cancer movies, right?”
He smiles—genuinely smiles, not with any tinges of sadness—and says, “Thank god, because then you’d probably not have to be an actual asshole, and I really like that you’re an actual asshole.”
You slap his arm and get a little distracted by his bicep for a second, which he notices. He laughs and kisses the top of your head and then your lips, then tickles your side and swims off. Monroe and Harper challenge you to a game of chicken and you’re absolutely sure you can kick ass at that, so you agree.
The sun is starting to set, and it’s hot and your skin is tanning like it always does in the summer. You have more bruises than normal, but you feel good, and your friends are blaring Taylor Swift and laughing along with the lyrics, and for tonight, that’s all more than enough.
Clarke asks if you want to swim, and maybe if there were far fewer people, you might—but people would stare at your scars. You don’t really care, but you have a lot of them, and sometimes you just really don’t want to explain why.
Clarke nods and goes and gets a plate of food, puts it between you. You eat some and talk about mundane things—what movies you want to see this summer, whether or not you like to bake. Clarke doesn’t ask how you’re feeling, which you appreciate; she seems to figure that since you’re here and seemingly okay, there’s no current crisis. You text a lot and she’s honest and funny and smart and has great intuition when it comes to what to say or not to say about illness, and you feel really, really lucky.
And also really, really scared, because you like her. You like-like her.
Apparently, you’re twelve years old, too, because you think that very sincerely and then jump a little when she puts her hand on your thigh.
She smiles and pulls back, and you frown because you wish she hadn’t.
“Do you want me to show you the house?”
“Sure,” you say, and your heart starts to beat a little faster. You take a few deep breaths but you just feel excited—nothing scary at all—and you smile when she takes your hand and leads you inside.
“My dad was this big time engineer,” she says, “and he built this house when I was little, which is why it’s obscenely large.”
You laugh and keep your fingers laced together. “Do you know who my parents are?” you ask.
She shakes her head and starts to lead you up a staircase. “My mom is Secretary of State,” you say, which is something you usually never would voluntarily tell someone.
Clarke stops and squints at you. “No wonder you looked vaguely familiar.”
You aren’t sure she’s joking until she elbows you gently in the side and laughs, which makes you smile.
“Sorry, Lexa,” she says, “I’m not really into politics, but—you probably live in a mansion or something then, huh?”
“We have a few houses,” you say. “My dad isn’t American, and he works for the UN, so.”
“Wow,” Clarke says, “and you still want to go into politics?”
She laughs at her own joke again and you are rapidly becoming sure that Clarke is one of the best kinds of people in the world.
She leads you to stand in front of a closed door and then turns toward you. “That’s cool, though. You’re less of an ass than I’d expect.”
“Thank you,” you say, and she grins.
“Anyway,” she says, “this is my studio.”
You get the feeling that she doesn’t show this to anyone except for maybe Octavia, because she fidgets with her hands nervously before she opens the door gently and ushers you inside. There’s a big bay window overlooking the river, and there are a few easels with oil paintings in various states on them, one huge canvas half-painted and leaning against the wall. She’s talented—immensely so—and you hold her hand as steadily as you can.
“These are beautiful,” you say, and your voice is quiet and hushed and it even surprises you. Clarke looks at you with a shy smile—you’ve never seen her look shy before, and it’s wonderful.
“Absolutely,” you say and walk closer to look at some of them. The way she paints texture and color make you want to reach out and touch them, because the oils are thick and striking. Right now it seems like she’s working on a series of abstract, fluid figures of various genders and skin tones and body types, you think, and they’re all stunning. “You’re very talented,” you say.
When you turn to look at her she’s blushing but she meets your gaze. “Thank you.”
You nod, and she leads you to sit down on a little couch in the corner, tucks one leg underneath her so she can face you. “I wanted to show you these,” she says, “which has, like, never been a thing before?”
You smile softly and let her play with your fingers.
“Do you play an instrument?” she asks softly.
“Yes,” you say, “piano. Why?”
She shrugs and looks at you. Her eyes are the prettiest blue. “You have lovely hands,” she says quietly.
You bite your lip because your heart is starting to go really fast in the nicest way, and she scoots closer.
“Clarke,” you say, and then you remember what your doctors had told you earlier this morning, and you fight back the rush of tears that prick behind your eyes. You shake your head when she moves closer. “I—I just—” She stays still and she doesn’t break your gaze.
“I have to have a heart transplant,” you say, and you look down at your intertwined hands, because you’ll cry if you look at Clarke any longer. “I knew—I mean,” you let out a breath, “I’ve had three open heart surgeries—one the day I was born, one when I was four, and one when I was eleven, so—I knew I’d probably have to one day, but…” you trail off.
“Hey,” Clarke says, and it’s so gentle you look up and meet her soft eyes. “Are you scared?”
You shrug. “Death is not the end.”
The corners of her mouth pull up a little in a smile. “Lexa,” she says, “it’s fine if you’re scared, you know.”
It’s not, not really, because you’ve spent your whole life being brave, for your parents and Anya and Costia before she died, because you were a sick child and you’re still sick and sick children are the bravest things in the world, and you know that.
But now—now there’s Clarke, who isn’t shying away from you because of scars or surgeries or medications or anything.
You nod a little and she scoots even closer, and you start to worry a little about your health because your heart really is going fast.
“You know I don’t plan on going anywhere,” she says quietly, “right? Because Octavia’s stuck in that hospital for a while and she’s made me promise on multiple occasions and in a variety of creative ways that this whole experience isn’t some tragic John Green novel or bad boy meets good girl movie.”
You can’t help but laugh.
Clarke air quotes, “First of all,” she says, doing a fairly convincing impression of Octavia, “I’m not going to die. Secondly, not everyone is white, so that’s a huge bonus. Beyond that, Lincoln isn’t a huge tool.”
You keep laughing, and Clarke grins.
“In addition, none of us needs religious epiphanies, because we’re heathens and too far gone already, I’m pretty sure.”
“That sounds like Octavia,” you say.
Clarke nods, and she scoots even closer to you, runs her hand up and down your wrist once. Her face is close. “Also,” she says quietly, “queer girls make everything better.”
Your laughter quiets and you swallow. “Clarke,” you say in what would be some kind of warning if there was any sort of conviction in your voice.
“I want you,” she says, very, very softly, but with an assurance that makes your hands ache.
You can’t look away from her mouth. “Can I kiss you?” you whisper.
She mumbles out a yes as she leans forward. Her lips are soft and she tastes like vodka and peaches and chlorine and she smells like coconut sunscreen and she is entirely intoxicating, and your heart speeds up but then slows and when she weaves her hands in your hair it is the most peaceful you’ve felt in a long, long time.
You spend an unknown amount of time kissing Lexa—which is indescribable and beautiful and you know you both deserve much more than just surviving, for however long you have, so you aren’t scared: you like her, you might be falling in love with her, and she is present and smart and the gentlest kisser, and you lean her back against the couch and straddle her hips, deepen the kiss when she opens her mouth on a moan.
But then you hear Octavia yelling and stomping up the steps—in warning, you’re sure, so that she doesn’t walk in on anything—and you laugh into Lexa’s mouth.
She smiles a little and lies back against the couch for a second before sitting up and tracing your lips once with her thumb. “You are quite beautiful,” she says quietly, “and I would like to do this again sometime.”
You really want to kiss her again, but then Octavia is standing in the doorway with her back purposefully turned. “Is everyone decent?” she asks, and Lexa blushes while you roll your eyes.
“Yes, O,” you say, and she’s grinning hugely when she faces you both.
“Well, Monty and Jasper want to set off some fireworks but I said we should wait and see if that’s okay with you.”
You sigh and stand up, then offer your hand to Lexa. “Shit,” you say, and Octavia laughs.
“Figured you’d want to stop that.”
Lexa stands quietly and sends Octavia a small smile when you walk out of your studio and Octavia closes the door.
You end up successfully stopping Monty and Jasper from blowing anything up, and it’s dark now, the night just barely cooling off. Octavia and Lincoln have a blanket spread in your backyard, and Lincoln passes you a beer when you bring Lexa and sit down next to them.
Lexa had already called her parents to say she was staying over for the night, but everyone is starting to leave. You wave bye and make sure that everyone driving is sober—they are—and then lie back next to Octavia, who is telling ridiculous stories about the stars, which she’s done since you were little. Lincoln laughs and Lexa looks a bit confused because all of Octavia’s constellations are made up by her, but then she smiles softly and lies back next to you, presses a gentle kiss to your shoulder.
You listen to Octavia and Lexa sits up and catches a few fireflies, and then it’s late, and you head inside. Your mom won’t be home until the morning, but you clean up at least any bottles of beer and put away the food before you make sure all the doors are locked. Octavia and Lincoln stay over sometimes, and you hug them goodnight before turning to Lexa.
“There are, like, twelve guest bedrooms if you’d be more comfortable in your own bed,” you say, and she shakes her head. “Okay, then,” you say, “my bedroom is this way.”
You lead her to your room and she takes off her shorts and reaches under her shirt to untie her bikini top, but her t-shirt is big enough that you can’t really see her underwear, and she’s just adorable and beautiful in the moonlight, standing seriously and expectantly in front of you.
You turn your back and quickly put on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt and then pull back your duvet, and she climbs in on the other side.
It takes her a few seconds of very stiffly lying on her back before you laugh and say, “Come here, dork,” and she sighs and turns toward you. You kiss her gently—because you get the feeling that she doesn’t want to have sex tonight, and, honestly, you’ve never had sex with a girl before and you’re a little drunk, so you don’t want to either, but you’d never pressure her anyway.
You lie back and she rests her head on your chest, drums her fingers along your stomach once. You run your hands through her hair and she kisses just above your breast.
“You have a wonderful heartbeat, Clarke,” she says.
It hurts you in all the ways that make you want to paint, and you nod. “See you in the morning, Lexa.”
“Yes,” she says, and her breath is warm. “Goodnight.”
Chapter 2: there’s a light in all this darkness (i can tell you this)
chapter 2, or: abby is a stellar mom, raven reyes is the DREAM, & clarke is too good for this world.
raven reyes is the best fight me
there is a way to be yourself, i assure you this / there’s a way to catch your dreams without falling asleep / you might as well get it while you can, babe / fight against them telling us what we should be
—seinabo sey, ‘younger’
Lexa’s laugh is one of the nicest things you’ve ever heard when you lead her down the stairs the next morning: she is young and bright and she’d woken you up with the sweetest, chastest kiss. You’re padding into the kitchen and you’re debating the merits of hoisting her onto the counter so you can kiss her, but then you skid to a stop because your mom is sitting at the island, reading something on her iPad and drinking a cup of coffee.
She peers up when she sees you, and she smiles, so that’s a great sign. It’s not like you’ve ever been closeted, really, because you mention female celebrities and characters and their attractiveness as or more frequently than you’ve ever talked about guys, but you’ve never actually dated girls. Your parents were always pretty progressive politically, and you’re pretty sure your mom has a gay cousin, and you’re not religious at all, so it never felt like you had to come out.
But, well. Lexa is in a t-shirt and underwear and has wild bed head and bruised lips, and she had just come out of your bedroom, so. At least you’re doing it dramatically.
You think your mom might start laughing, and you feel yourself blush. “Good morning, Clarke,” she says.
“Hi,” you say. “I didn’t think you’d be back until later.”
“My surgery went quicker than expected.”
You nod, and you feel Lexa awkwardly standing behind you.
“Lincoln and Octavia left early,” your mom continues. “He had football.”
“Cool,” you say, and then reach and tug on Lexa’s hand gently. “Anyway, um—this is Lexa.”
Lexa’s cheeks are flushed pink, and she’s grimacing a little bit, but she reaches forward and shakes your mom’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Griffin. Clarke speaks of you very highly.”
Your mom’s smile is sincere—and, really, your mom is sometimes overbearing, but, especially since your dad died, you’re really close, and you love her a lot. “Abby,” she says, and Lexa nods. “And it’s really nice to meet you. Clarke talks about you all the time.”
“Mom,” you groan, but Lexa’s little smile in your direction makes it worth it, you think.
“Well,” Lexa says, “I’m going to go to the bathroom and also to put some pants on.”
You realize she’s cracked a joke, and they always make you laugh harder because she just deadpans everything; your mom laughs too and Lexa grins, squeezes your hand, and turns to go back up the stairs to use your bathroom.
You sigh because your mom is still laughing quietly, and you pour yourself a cup of coffee and then sit down across from her.
“I was going to tell you,” you say. “Like, I’d planned it out and everything, I promise. I mean, I think you already know so it never seemed necessary, and—”
“Clarke, honey,” your mom says, then puts her hand on top of yours, “I love you, okay? This isn’t a revelation to me, but, even if it was, it wouldn’t matter.”
You let out a deep breath and nod.
“I just want you to be happy and safe,” she continues, “with boys or girls or anyone else. And Lexa seems wonderful, from what you’ve said.”
“Yeah,” you say, glancing down and running your finger around the rim of your mug. “She really is.”
Your mom rubs your shoulder. “I just have a question, if that’s okay?”
“Yeah,” you say, “of course.”
“Is there something you want to identify as? Just—so I know?”
You’re pretty sure this is probably one of the sweetest and nicest responses to coming out anyone has ever gotten in the world, and you almost start crying. “Bisexual,” you say, and it’s nice to say it aloud. “For now, at least.”
Your mom nods. “Bisexual, got it.”
You feel a few tears on your cheeks and your mom pulls you into a hug. “Clarke,” she says, “I love you so much.”
You nod into her shoulder, and she smells like the hospital and her perfume and a little bit like the pancakes you’re pretty sure she made you this morning. You pull back and smile softly and say, “We kissed last night and it was really, really nice.”
“Good,” she says, and you feel an overwhelming rush of gratitude at the life you have, because you know, in most of the ways that really matter, you are profoundly lucky.
You hear Lexa coming down the stairs slowly and loudly, and you know she’s being purposefully cautious, and you dry your tears with a little laugh and straighten up.
Lexa walks in—with her shorts on, and she’s picked one of your tshirts out and changed into that, and, for some reason, it makes your chest swell that she seems comfortable enough to do that.
“Lexa,” your mom says, and Lexa nods and sits down next to you, “will you stay for breakfast?”
Lexa smiles at you for a moment and then says, “I would like that very much. Thank you.”
You learn more about her all the time: as it turns out, Lexa likes her pancakes absolutely drenched in syrup, and she has dual citizenship; she was born in the United States, so she legitimately can see becoming president one day.
You don’t think about what she told you yesterday, about how you know, very logically, there’s a chance she won’t live to see her eighteenth birthday, or go to Harvard, or kiss you for more than a few fleeting, young months.
But, for now, your mom is laughing over pancakes with the girl you’re falling in love with, and it’s summer, and you can believe, for these moments, that everything is going to be just fine.
You’ve spent the last two days basically wanting to hit anything, and before that you were knocked out for a day and a half, so, really, it’s been probably the worst week of your life by a long shot.
Also, you’re seventeen, which means you’re stuck in fucking pediatrics, so you’re surrounded by sniveling kids. Who are loud. This is the first time they’ve let you out of your room, and you’re supposed to stay in the “rec room” because it has special air filters and there are nurses around and, honestly, you’re really not going to keel over and die or anything, but whatever, it’s better than being stuck in your bed.
You debate begging for a pad of paper and a pen and designing a rocket or something that you might not ever get to build now, because you’re that bored, but then you see two kids your age sitting at a tiny playdoh table. It makes you laugh a little, because the girl is small, and even her knees knock into the table, but the boy she’s with is huge and absolutely towering over the table. They’re laughing, though, and they look happy.
And, whatever, you’re not really here to make friends, but the doctors tell you that you have at least two more surgeries and a month of physical therapy, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to have some entertainment. Plus, they’re in all black and it’s the beginning of June in Baltimore, so you have some automatic respect for them there.
You resent the fact that you’re in a hospital gown and a wheelchair but your resting bitch face hasn’t been damaged, you’re sure, so you take a deep breath and wheel your way toward them. The girl looks up when you get close enough and then smiles—and it’s kind, and it sends a rush of relief through your chest.
“Hey,” she says, and then waggles her eyebrows, “wanna play with us?”
The boy next to her elbows her with a laughing, “Octavia.”
Your smile feels foreign and even unexpected, but you nod and roll as close as you can to the table.
“I’m Octavia,” the girl tells you as soon as you lock your wheels. She points to the—frankly, ridiculous—floral printed snapback on her head and says, “I have cancer. But not a sad kind.”
You smile bigger, because, yeah, this is definitely better than sulking in your room.
“And, don’t worry,” she continues, “I’m absolutely still getting laid.”
The boy next to her rolls his eyes and sticks out his hand. “I’m Lincoln,” he says, “Octavia’s boyfriend. Unfortunately.”
You shake it as she scoffs and smacks him playfully. “I’m Raven,” you say.
“It’s nice to meet you, Raven,” Octavia says. “Now that I know my boyfriend doesn’t appreciate this hot piece of ass,” she points at herself, “maybe you and I will have to ride off into the sunset together, huh?”
Her eyes widen as she looks at your chair, and Lincoln says, “Oh my god, O,” and you can tell she’s about to backtrack, but you laugh and she sighs a little bit in relief.
You wink at her. “I have a deluxe ride anyway.”
She grins and turns toward Lincoln. “She is also far prettier than you too, babe.”
He glances over you. “As if,” he says with a grin, and you roll your eyes. They’re funny and open and you think they’d probably be pretty easy to make friends with—you already are, you remind yourself, and that’s definitely something.
“Like I tell everyone,” Octavia continues, smashing some playdoh with her first, “this isn’t a cancer movie kind of thing—because, like, we’re not white, I’m not quirky, Lincoln is an actual nice guy, and no one here is dying—just in case you were wondering.”
Lincoln smiles softly and it’s kind of nice, because you can tell Octavia really is telling the truth with as much assurance as anyone in her position could have.
“Good to know,” you say, and you’re not really sure if it’s protocol to say what happened to you—like, is it part of your greeting now?, because neither Octavia nor Lincoln seems like they’re going to ask—but before you can say anything, two girls holding hands come rushing up to the table.
“Sorry,” the blonde one says, “we lost track of time.”
Octavia raises her brows and Lincoln laughs. “Oh, did you?” she asks.
The blonde one rolls her eyes and the brunette blushes, and—yeah, you can guess they probably did—so today is getting infinitely more fun.
Octavia turns toward you. “Raven,” she says, “this is Clarke and Alexandria.”
Clarke—the blonde—waves, and Alexandria glares at Octavia and then steps forward to shake your hand. “Lexa,” she says, “and my pronouns are she/her.”
“Oh yeah,” Octavia says, “I forgot, sorry Raven.” She waves her hands around and says, “Clarke and I are she/her, Lincoln is he/him. Lexa likes when we clear that up right away.”
You shake Lexa’s hand and you appreciate that her eyes stay trained on your face and she gives you a small smile. It isn’t full of pity but it is full of understanding. “Uh, she/her works for me too,” you say, “and it’s nice to meet all of you.”
Clarke smiles and wraps an arm around Lexa’s waist, who leans into her the slightest, and you decide that this is a decently cool group of people.
“Raven,” Clarke says, “we were just going to get lunch, so—”
“We’re going to sneak you out,” Octavia announces, claps her hands once, and then stands.
Lincoln shrugs and Lexa rolls her eyes when Octavia turns to her and says, “Commander, you know this place better than anyone. Give me some battle plans.”
“Octavia,” Lexa says, and she sounds a little weary, which is cute, but then Clarke smooths her hand over the small of her back and Lexa sighs and looks at you. “Octavia and Lincoln and Clarke can go pick up lunch, and I’ll get you out to the garden across the street. Deal?”
You really, really want to go outside, because you’ve been stuck in here for days, and it sounds like the best thing you can possibly imagine at this point. “I guess,” you say, and Octavia grins and then salutes Lexa, who cracks a smile.
“We’re getting sandwiches,” Clarke says, “so you can have Lexa text me your order after we send you the menu, if that’s okay?”
“Sure,” you say, and Clarke turns to Lexa as Lincoln and Octavia make their way out of the room. Lexa’s smile is small and gentle and you feel like you’re invading something when you hear Clarke husk, “See you soon, baby,” and then kiss Lexa very softly.
“Bye,” Lexa says, and Clarke slaps her ass with a wink in your direction as she jogs off to catch up with Lincoln and Octavia.
Lexa stands in front of you and says, “So—you probably need to put some real clothes on for this to work. Do you have any with you?”
You think that maybe your social worker had brought you a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, but you’re not sure they fit or that those even count as real clothes. Lexa’s in a tanktop and a scarf and a skirt and a pair of leather sandals, and Clarke was in jeans, so. “Not really,” you say.
“That’s fine,” Lexa says. “I have some I’m sure you can borrow.”
“Thanks,” you say, and your voice is a little faulty, because Lexa must be sick.
“Of course,” she says. “Is it okay if I wheel you, or would you prefer to do it on your own?”
You’re infinitely thankful that she asked you, and you think that maybe she’s done this for a long time. “You can,” you say, and she goes back behind you without another word.
She wheels you down a hallway and then another, and she’s quiet, so you don’t bother saying anything either, because it’s comfortable and you really do like being with another person who isn’t asking you a million questions about what happened or how you’re feeling.
She opens doors to a unit that says Pediatric Cardiology above its doors, and then waves at a nurse before opening to door to a—really big ass and nice as hell—hospital room.
There’s a stack of books on a table in the corner, and a couch, and a few bouquets of flowers, a haphazardly gathered set of what you think is probably drawing charcoals on top of a sketchbook. “I’m stuck here for a while,” she says, and that’s when you notice her watch mostly slipping over a hospital bracelet.
“I’m sorry,” you say.
She shrugs. “They always give me a nice room, so it’s not the worst, I guess.” She glances over you and then goes to a wardrobe against one wall. “My heart has sucked for my whole life, so now I’m waiting on a transplant,” she says, then emerges with a pair of dark skinny jeans and a red t-shirt.
“I don’t really know how to respond to that,” you say, and she laughs.
“That was perfect.”
You grin. “Fantastic,” you say, and nod when she holds up the clothes.
“Um—I can help you, if you need?”
You clench your jaw, because you’re angry as hell, but not at Lexa. “Yeah, thanks,” you say.
“No problem,” she says. She waits until you ask—after you’d pulled on your pants as high as they’ll go without standing and then shakily pushed yourself up on your leg that’s sort of working for a moment, and then quietly tell her that yeah, it’d be cool if she didn’t let you fall over.
She holds onto you gently and gets the pants ready. “Octavia would make a million jokes about this right now, me helping a girl into pants.”
You laugh. “Are you and Clarke dating?”
“Yeah,” she says, and her tone is completely different, and you can see why Octavia likes to tease the two of them. “Clarke is Octavia’s best friend, and I met Octavia in a waiting room, and so then I met Clarke, and—yeah.”
“Young love,” you say, and Lexa laughs and helps you sit back down once your pants are buttoned. She hands you the t-shirt and then turns around, and she’s kind of endearing and serious and cute, and, yeah, definitely will be fun to tease.
Your back hurts like a bitch at this point, and you’re probably tugging at your stitches too hard, but you don’t really care. “I got shot in the back by a cop,” you say once you’ve pulled the shirt over your head.
You watch Lexa take a deep breath and then turn around, and her jaw is clenched, and you don’t know if you’ve seen anyone—other than you—look this angry yet. “Fuck,” she says
“Yeah,” you say. “My friends and I hopped the fence a few nights ago to swim in a community pool, and—we are all decidedly not white, and, yeah, they ended up shooting at us.”
Lexa honestly looks infuriated, which is the only reason you’re telling her this so openly. She grinds her teeth again and then she takes another breath and seemingly calms down, puts a hand to her chest and rubs once.
“So, anyway,” you say, because you feel like you might start angry crying, and you’re so tired of that, “I’ve already had two surgeries—to stop bleeding and fix internal damage and stuff, and now apparently they’re starting to try to reconstruct nerves and tissue damage and stuff. I still can’t really feel my legs, but.”
Lexa looks at you very seriously and says, “I want to be President.”
Under most circumstances, you might laugh, but the way her voice is strong and the way her kind eyes harden in determination is kind of great.
“My mom is Secretary of State,” she says, “and she’s infuriated at racial violence, I promise.” You smile a little to yourself because she sounds incredibly sincere. “But—” Lexa shakes her head—“I want to do more.”
You swallow and meet her eyes, and—yeah, Alexandria Woods, you remember from a few brief news clips you’d seen about the elections, Lexa standing tall and proud with her parents, but you don’t bring it up. “I guess you really should get a new heart, huh?”
She nods with a little smile and this has already been a weird but very welcome afternoon. “I really hope so,” she says.
Her phone dings, and she hands it to you once she opens a text from Clarke (as :) Clarke <3 <3 in her phone, and, yeah, they really are gross) with an attachment of a menu from the restaurant. You look it over quickly and tell Lexa your order, and she texts Clarke, then turns to you.
“Ready to sneak out of a hospital?”
“There’s a first time for everything, I guess.”
Lexa knows, apparently, which hallways to go down to avoid most people, and she walks quickly. When she does come across someone she knows, she smiles and waves and greets them by name, and they don’t even pause for a minute to question why you’re with her.
Eventually you make it onto the elevator and then finally out to the lobby. You twist around a little and look at her a little bit in admiration, and she shrugs. “Like Octavia said, I do know this place better than anyone.”
You go outside and the sun is beautiful, and it almost feels like you’re experiencing an entirely new world. It’s not really better—things are still so fucked up—but Octavia and Lincoln and Clarke meet you with sandwiches and a bunch of melting popsicles, and Clarke kisses the red juice on the corner of Lexa’s mouth once while Octavia makes gagging noises and Lincoln chastises her, and Lexa offers to proofread Octavia’s college application essay and Clarke smiles at her like she just saved a million people, and then they talk about school and their parents and Octavia’s older brother, the Lorde concert they want to go to in the fall.
Octavia and Lexa talk about things like that—Thanksgiving plans, election season, Clarke’s senior art show, college acceptance letters—like they are sure things.
And you get the feeling that at least Lexa knows it’s foolish, to hope so blindly. But she holds Clarke’s hand and nods seriously when Lincoln starts talking about a housing project he wants to volunteer for—and maybe that young recklessness is the bravest thing.
It’s not the worst afternoon, because they tell you funny stories and it’s bright and hot and you hate admitting this, because you have never grown up with the advantage of being allowed to need anyone—but sometimes you do like good people on your side.
For a few weeks, everything had been surprisingly normal. You spent a lot of time at the hospital, but, really, for your girlfriend needing a heart transplant and your best friend being in the middle of chemo, things hadn’t really been that weird. You still went to art classes in the evenings. You kissed Lexa for hours, you went shopping for Octavia, you threw another—smaller—pool party, Monty tried to blow things up again. And you really like Raven, who is snarky and a little crass, who makes Octavia grin and Lexa get really into political discussions.
Everything had been normal.
Until two nights ago, when Octavia had spiked a fever and Lexa’s pain level had gone up off the charts because apparently there was fluid collecting around her heart. You do your best—as you’ve always done—to look for the positives, to remember all of the good things you have, but that night, while you were waiting in Octavia’s room while she was being pumped full of all kinds of medications, waiting for news on Lexa’s procedure to relieve some of the pressure from her chest, you’d cried. A lot.
Luckily, your mom was with you, and you really, really love your mom. She’d held you and told you very real medical facts about how the odds for both Octavia and Lexa were, medically, very much in their favor—she’s never given you platitudes, and you’re always grateful for that.
In the morning, Octavia’s fever had broken and Lexa was groggy and in some pain but out of surgery and breathing better, definitely more comfortable. You’re scared, though, still, because you don’t know what you’d do without Octavia’s laugh and her soft hugs when you’re sad and she’s the only person you’ll allow yourself to tell; you don’t know what you’d do without Octavia groggily waking up from a serious fever and looking at you and saying, “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, princess.” She’s the closest thing you have to a sister, and you love her.
And you’re scared because you’re falling in love with Lexa, who is maybe the smartest person you’ve met—smarter than your dad, you think, especially if she gets to grow and learn as much as you wish she will—Lexa who is achingly gentle when she kisses you, Lexa who worries about her scars and who holds your hand like she can conquer the world. You’re falling in love with her.
Sometimes it is all very, very heavy, but for right now, you try to concentrate on Lexa’s soft hair between your fingers, her head in your lap, feet propped up on the edge of your couch. Octavia is talking loudly over the episode of Parks & Rec that you’re watching, and you’re in your house, and it’s late, and there’s a little spilled popcorn on the floor. When you bend down to kiss Lexa she tastes like chocolate chip cookies and she smiles into it, and Octavia throws a pillow at both of you.
Before Octavia goes home you hug her hard, and she doesn’t make any jokes, just nods into your shoulder. When you go to sleep, you brush aside Lexa’s hair and kiss the back of her neck, wrap your arms around her snugly while she laces your fingers over her chest.
You try to put away these moments, to store them somewhere you keep all of the things you want to paint one day, because they’re precious and you don’t want to lose them. It’s ironic, you think, because you feel them in your bone marrow and in your heart, and yours are both perfect. You wish you could lend them to the people you love, but you can’t. You only hope theirs are strong enough on their own; if anyone deserves strong bones, it’s Octavia, and if anyone deserves a good heart, it’s Lexa.
And you really, really hope that’s enough.
Chapter 3: we’re never done with killing time (can i kill it with you)
four years later. everyone is really super.
sorry this took like nine years but here are the very happy healthy children being idiots <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
we might be hollow but we’re brave / we come around here all the time / got a lot to not do / & i like you / i love these roads where the houses don’t change / where we can talk like there’s something to say / i’d like it if you stayed
—lorde, ‘400 lux’
You’re just headed back from a psych seminar—boring, but not very difficult, so you’ll take it—and you’re planning on hopefully editing a paper for a little bit before you start your pre-game ritual (a lot of heavy rap and jumping around, but whatever, you have a single dorm room this year, it’s cool).
But when you open your door, Lexa’s there. Mostly naked—just in a bra and boyshorts. In your bed. Tangled loosely in your duvet. Fabulous.
She looks decently asleep—lying back, curled up a little on her side, lips slightly parted and eyes gently shut—and you start to laugh.
She stirs a little and you drop your bag and kick off your shoes before plopping down next to her and running your hand through her hair. It’s grown back a lot since last year—thank god, because that had been a complete travesty—and Lexa cracks open her eyes and then jolts up.
“Shit,” she says, which is fun, because Lexa almost never curses. She rubs her eyes and then looks down at her lack of clothes.
You lift and eyebrow and smirk. “Lex,” you drawl, “this looks awfully like an attempt—sad as it may be—at seduction.”
Lexa rolls her eyes and sits up further, crosses her legs and reaches for her hoodie. Or, really, it used to be yours (Wellesley Rugby on the front, with Blake on the back) and it’s big and blue and she often curls up into it, so you didn’t mind when she “borrowed” it one cool spring night and never ended up giving it back.
“Not that I mind,” you say, raking your eyes over her body with a wink. She’s hot, definitely one of the hottest girls you know, thin and muscular and covered with really beautiful watercolor tattoos. “But what are you doing here?”
She sighs. “I was getting sleepy and I’ve already used up my caffeine limit for the day—I was up late last night prepping for IvyQ speeches and then—I took the bus out here a little early and I just meant to lie down for a few minutes and it’s really hot in your dorm because there’s no air conditioning, so I took off the hoodie, and then—”
You grin, because Lexa’s a little flustered, which is rare. “You know,” you say, “if you weren't madly in love with Clarke, and if I was queerer and wasn’t also madly in love with Lincoln, this sexy display might’ve worked.”
She laughs and tugs her hoodie on over her head, and you hold out her running shorts. She stands and puts them on—you don’t know how someone can do that gracefully, but she manages—and then stretches her arms over her head with a yawn.
You look down at her legs—she has a tattoo of a few ravens on one thigh, which she’d gotten at the end of third year spring semester, and the other has a few elaborate diagrams of the structures of molecules. Healthy cells. It’s a few days old and sprawling and goes over the crease of her hip—Clarke had whined about that bit, because Lexa was sore and didn’t want to have sex for at least an entire week, O!—and you reach out and touch it gently. It’s for you, you know—you’ve been four years cancer free, officially, a week ago—and ask, “How’s it feeling?”
Lexa shrugs. “Just fine.”
“Tight,” you say, and she laughs. “Want some Wellesley dining hall food, better than whatever snob shit they feed you at Harvard?”
She rolls her eyes but, “Sure,” she says.
You head down to your dorm’s dining hall and Lexa eats some ice cream, then snags a few cookies for Clarke. She’s kind of gross and sappy, all things considered, even though she tries to act very proper and scary, and she asks you very genuine questions about your rugby game that night—it’s been three years and she still can’t quite seem to understand, but it’s cute—and, Clarke texts her a billion emoticons that Lexa seems to understand mean that she’s on her way to campus and, remarkably, running on time, and Lincoln calls you from outside of your dorm—he’s here with Raven—and they’re all just here to watch you play rugby, to have beer in your room afterward, to fall asleep sprawled out, tangled, heat flushed and laughing with the last magic vestiges of summer, and you’re healthy, and, right now, it seems like much more than enough.
You know for a fact that Lexa is entirely sober because she doesn't ever drink because of all of the medications she's on, so it kind of just makes this whole thing funnier.
You also know for a fact that everyone else—Lincoln, Octavia, Clarke, and yourself—are very, very drunk. But it's okay, because it’s a Friday night and Octavia won her rugby game and everyone has tomorrow off, and you’re celebrating four years of remission for Octavia and four years of a healthy new heart after her transplant for Lexa, and you don’t really like to think about why you were in the hospital, you never like to think about those moments or those days or those times, still, and it’s getting worse, that your legs don’t work—but you met your best friends there.
And you love them.
Plus, streaking across some fancy grass—Octavia had told you the name, Something Green, like four times, but you’d had a significant amount of tequila and you don’t actually care—is really, really great.
Lexa helps steady you as you take your brace and shorts off, and, sure, your back hurts like a fucking bitch, but you’re really not feeling that much pain right now, and when you lean into her a little she laughs and kisses the top of her head.
Clarke looks affronted by this show of affection, and she’s already entirely naked, so she presses herself into a hug on Lexa’s other side, whining a little, which makes Lexa laugh harder and give Clarke a little kiss.
“Gross,” Octavia says, wrinkling her nose. “You two are the actual worst.”
“We are not,” Clarke says.
“No worse than you and Lincoln,” Lexa adds.
Octavia scoffs. “You are because you’re both girls.”
“I don’t see how that—” Lexa starts, but Clarke just grins and says, “Speaking of,” and looks at Lexa, “you’re the only one with clothes on still, babe.”
“Yeah,” you say, “come on, Lex.”
“I was just making sure all of you got naked without injuring yourselves,” she grumbles, but she takes off her sweatshirt smoothly and winks at Octavia when she whistles.
Lexa shimmies out of her shorts and kicks off her Birkenstocks—which, yes, you had teased her for relentlessly—and everyone has a little, tiny moment where they glance at her, because she's sober and also because it’s always fun to check for new tattoos, especially because most of them, especially in the past year or so, have been for her friends.
You want to give her shit when you see one stretching up her thigh and over her hip, but then you realize it’s for Octavia, so you don’t say anything, and soon enough Clarke claps and says, “I don’t even go here and I love being naked in front of all of you, as you know by now—“ Octavia nods— “but I’d rather not get Octavia expelled.”
Lincoln laughs and says, “Seconded,” and Octavia says, “Thirded,” which is absolutely not a word, but whatever. You get excited for a moment—a drunken, lovely, light moment where you just forget, and you dream of being up among the planets and the stars and you could’ve, had things been different, you're smart enough and you're brave enough—but then you remember that you have a scar down your back and you need your brace but the grass is slippery and you’re going to skinny dip in the lake across the lawn and you know you can’t do that, and your cheeks heat up and your eyes burn with those angry, angry tears that you still sometimes know, but then Lexa puts a gentle hand on your arm and says, “Let me give you a piggy back ride.”
“Bareback!” Octavia shouts, and Clarke tries to shush her, and Lincoln just laughs. Lexa smiles gently with a little, sad nod—and she’s your best friend, she has been for years, and she has scars just as big as yours, so you say, “Sure, yeah, I’ve always wanted to ride you naked anyway. Can’t let Clarke have all the fun.”
Lexa laughs and Octavia cheers and Clarke rolls her eyes but then you’re pressed up against all of Lexa’s lean back, and her strong arms are holding you up, and you wrap your arms around her neck and it’s fast and fleeting and wonderful and young, and Octavia runs ahead of you and jumps up and down a few times, and Clarke shouts a complaint about her boobs, and Lincoln swoops Octavia up as soon as they get to the edge of the lake, and Lexa’s hair gets in your mouth.
The water, when Lexa gently sets you down, is warm, and you feel drunk and light and full of a lot of love. There’s a full moon, and you use your now very strong arms to tug out further into the lake, and it’s dark but your friends are so, so bright, and you dunk your head for a moment, then come up for air, and it feels something almost like a rebirth.
Lexa smells like lake water and flowers and stars, you think, when you tuck your nose into the crook of her neck. She kisses the top of your head and hums, and you sit up a little, prop yourself up on an elbow so you can brush back a wild curl of hair from her forehead—messy from the lake—and take in everything about her. You want to paint her—you always want to paint her—but especially now, with the moon outside making her green eyes light up, the few freckles left from summer sit on her nose starkly, gently, her lips bowed in perfect pink.
“I’m sorry,” you find yourself saying, because it sometimes still gets stuck in your chest.
Lexa smiles sadly and runs her fingers through your tangled hair. “Clarke.”
You shrug. You want to apologize for lots of things, for so many times in third year when you hurt her, when you kissed other people and escaped through anything but talking about what you were feeling, how hard life hurt you. You want to apologize for all of the times you couldn’t hug her or kiss her without feeling like you wanted to be somewhere else, all of the times you blew off Octavia and Wells and your mom in addition to Lexa, all of the times you didn’t respond to texts or calls, all of the times you didn’t come home, showing up drunk and high after sunrise.
But you have—over and over again, when you drink (rarely now, and only with friends) and when it’s dark and quiet and still and when Lexa is especially tender and especially beautiful in front of you. You broke her heart, and you never want to do that again.
“No,” you say, “not like that. I’m just—I wish my dad had gotten to meet you.”
“Oh,” she whispers, very softly, and you lean down and kiss her.
“He’d probably have loved you more than he loved me,” you say.
“Clarke,” she says, quietly but with the kind of conviction around your name you’ve only ever heard her muster, “I don’t think your dad would ever love anyone more than he loved you.”
You want to cry, but your friends are scattered all over the room—Octavia and Lincoln in her bed, Raven on the couch, and you and Lexa on a pile of blankets on the floor—and, besides, you’re young and your stomach hurts from having laughed so much earlier.
And everyone is here, lake worn and sun tired and healthy, in swapped t-shirts and shorts, young and fragile and strong.
And Lexa is curled up in the dark next to you, serious and ready, like always. You think, in the way that makes you feel simultaneously like the most important person in the world but also scares you a little, that she would marry you tomorrow morning if you asked.
Because you’re it for Lexa, you know. She wants to learn and grow and see the world with you.
“I want you too,” you say, and it hits you, maybe for the first time ever, that it’s entirely true.
She smiles—lopsided and beautiful and tired.
“Not like that,” you say, rolling your eyes. She lifts her brows and you amend, “Well, also like that. But I just mean that—I want you forever. Like you want me.”
Her expression softens and it almost looks like she's about to cry, but then she takes a deep breath and says, “That’s convenient, then.” It comes out rough and laden with unshed tears, but it makes you laugh anyway.
“I am wildly in love with you, Lexa Woods. Thanks for keeping me around.”
Her little smile blooms into a full grin, and she surges up a little to kiss you. It’s not gentle and it’s not rough and it’s very full and you feel her lips taught in her happiness before she relaxes a little and sweeps her tongue along the inside of your teeth.
“I always want you around,” she manages between kisses, and you want her entire self—her body and her brain and all of the little bits there she’s given to you.
And then—“if you’re going to have sex, please don’t do it on my floor while we’re all in the room,” Octavia grumbles from the bed.
Lexa laughs into your mouth and then says, “Sorry, O.”
You press your forehead against Lexa’s and try to catch your breath, and she runs her thumb gently over your cheek.
“You are my favorite thing,” she whispers.
“You’re not so bad yourself, I guess,” you say.
She kisses your nose on a giggle and you turn so that you’re resting your head on her chest. She sighs happily and then wraps and arm around your back, and you slip a hand under her t shirt, glide your fingers softly along her smooth skin, pick out the tiny rises and dips of where her tattoos have left small evidences.
“I love you,” you say, and you want to say it every day, and you know you could find her, scars and bruises and stronger skin and all, even in the dark.
It’s early, and the sun is just beginning to come up, and Octavia’s dorm room is drenched in these sleepy blues and purples. Clarke is asleep in front of you; at some point during the night she’d tugged your arm across her stomach, your lips brushing gently at the back of her neck. It isn’t often that you’re the one holding Clarke—it’s usually the other way around—but last night she’d been drunk and tender and careful and sad, and you love her.
Raven is sprawled out on Octavia’s small couch, snoring quietly—like always, and it’s pretty much the only way she’s a terrible friend. She’s your best friend, fierce and snarky and smart and so, so brave, and so you guess you can let it go, although you make a mental note to pick up more breathing strips for her on your next trip to pick up your medications at CVS. And maybe some earplugs, just in case.
Octavia and Lincoln are tangled in her bed, solid and lovely and giving, just like always.
It hits you that, really, you only have a few more months of how gently this floats everywhere, these young days of college, of dorms and undergrad theses, of getting stressed about the GRE and the MCAT and your LSATs, of everyone having midterms, of Octavia being covered in bruises from rugby and Raven grumbling about the lack of handicap accessibility in her astrophysics lab. Some of you are going to grad school, sure—you’re going to Georgetown for law and Clarke is going to Johns Hopkins for medicine, so you’ll be together in DC, and Raven is getting her PhD at Princeton; Octavia is going to Virginia to be in the FBI—which, okay, is both weirdly expected and wildly cool—and Lincoln got drafted to play football in New York City, which is where you know Octavia will try to move after she’s done with training.
So for right now, with all of your friends still asleep—some form of drunk or hungover—around you, snoring and mumbling and shifting and so young and lovely and still, bathed in the bruised light from another still achingly warm day, you lie back and just pay attention.
You pay attention to how the still-healing tattoo on your hip stings, how you’d wanted it for Octavia because she, really, is the reason you have all of these people in your life. You pay attention to how Clarke’s breaths are easy and even and deep, how smooth her hands are wrapped around yours, how she’s been clean for months and months and how she kissed you with the abandon of easy forevers last night. You pay attention to how steadily Raven had walked the day before, how today would be worse because she’d slept on the couch, but how she didn’t seem, at least for the moment, to be in any pain.
You pay attention to the ruffle of sheets and their easy sighs and you feel so inexplicably, tremendously small and young and full.
And, like you let yourself drift into doing sometimes, you pay attention to the barely noticeable—but you know it by now, you’ve learned it so sacredly—beat of your heart, the little waltz in your chest that you almost never got to have. It’s beautiful and lovely and present and you count the beats and you feel tears press at your eyes because you are so alive and so happy.
You lie still and drift off again, wake up to Octavia’s loud, “Fuck, I’m still drunk,” and Raven’s groan and Lincoln’s laugh and Clarke tugging the blanket over her head with a, “Please, for the love of all that is holy, be quiet, O.”
You grin and shift so you're sitting up, even though Clarke weakly grasps at you—without moving—with a whine. It’s 9:45, and your schedule is already off by a long shot, but you’re hungry, and you need to take your meds, which means you need breakfast. You know the same is true for Octavia and Raven, so you say, “Let’s get breakfast,” and try to do it gently.
Clarke still tries to shush you but she rolls around and the sits up, her hair tangled and a mess, a cute little sleepy smile on her face. Octavia says, “Fuck yes,” and then walks to her dresser and stands in front of it for a minute before opening a drawer and taking out a pair of running shorts and announcing, “It’s O today, everyone, easier because we’re all lowkey dying and I like they/them anyway.”
Raven grunts her assent and then offers a bleary thumbs up before making eye contact with you and then gesturing weakly to her wheelchair. You stand and stretch fully once—you’ll count that as a sun salutation, whatever—and Clarke almost leers—which is flattering—before you shuffle over and get Raven’s chair ready.
It takes a few minutes for everyone to put on some semblance of clothing before you can all head out, and you don’t bother with contacts, and no one really showers, so you’re all still sort of sticky and sweaty and tangled, and you all smell like the lake.
But you sit together at a big table in the nearby diner, and you share pancakes and Clarke kisses you with syrup on her lips, and Raven orders enough bacon for, like, nine people, and you laugh more than maybe you ever have.
Your heart drums away, steady and sure, beneath your ribs, and you have never quite felt this lucky before.
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