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Lexa looked at Clarke like her life might end when she blinked. She stared with military precision, constantly memorizing and re-learning the shapes of her lips, her eyes, her chin, the arch of her eyebrows, and the motion of her tongue against her teeth.

Clarke couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sensation of being watched like that. It wasn’t the way the people from the Ark looked at her. They behaved as if she were a leader born to save them. As though leadership and difficult decisions were her natural responsibility. She had no choice but to live and to die for them.

Lexa’s expression was a different sort of awe. She weaved tales of care, of trust, of agonizing need with the flicker of her eyes. She spoke softly when they were alone, imparting wisdom and asking for nothing in exchange. When she admitted her weakness, Clarke was allowed to see the ache beneath her armour. She understood in the words left unsaid what Costia had meant to Lexa. And she understood the pain that came from forging alliances with those who took Costia away. Lexa was that person for killing Finn. His name still made her choke back tears.

It was different in the political sphere, where the Commander had to demand respect, had to insist on traditions, “blood will have blood.” The Commander made Clarke shiver with fear, but she also let her breathe more freely. A burden was lifted off of her shoulders when the Commander barked an order to her people. As long as the Commander was in charge, Clarke did not have to declare war.

When Lexa told Clarke that she cared about her, it should not have been a surprise. The way she looked at her really only had one meaning. But Clarke had not been paying attention to what the looks meant. She had too many people to save, too many people depending on her to be strong. Lexa didn’t need her that way, so Clarke didn’t think she needed her at all.

When Lexa kissed her, it was just as surprising. Weren’t they just arguing? They hardly knew each other, had only met under the threat of war. How did Lexa know that Clarke would still be worth it when the battle was over?

But Lexa did know Clarke, knew every tick of her face, every drop and lift her voice knew how to make. She could have painted a picture of Clarke in the blood of their enemies. Would have if she thought it would make Clarke smile in that way she does with her eyes wide and her teeth hard and shining.

But Clarke wasn’t ready, and the Commander had to act. She had people to save too. People who looked at her as something more than human. So she buried Lexa beneath the Commander’s hardened shell, and she saved her people.

Clarke didn’t understand. She couldn’t see that Lexa would have declared hundreds of wars, watched thousands more die, if victory meant she could memorize every inch of Clarke, with eyes, hands, and mouth. She was sure she would win. If not today, then the next. She would find her way to a victory that included Clarke. The Commander would save them all, and Clarke would learn to breath without choking on Finn’s name.And Lexa would learn to find strength, not weakness, in Clarke’s warm smiles.