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(my) Destruction Within Your Mouth

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~*~

 

Growing up, Clarke was surprised how long it took Abby to let her work in medical. Really in medical, face-to-face with patients. At home it sometimes felt like everything but: Abby brought back patient charts and quizzed Clarke on their symptoms, she had Jackson over for dinner while they discussed that day’s surgery, and of course Abby encouraged Clarke toward medicine since the day she tested into Advanced Bio. But Abby didn’t bring her to the medical deck. Not even to observe. Not for a while.

 

“You’re too young,” she’d say. “Talk to me after you turn sixteen.”

 

“Mom, I’m at the point where I can clean my plate after an hour of ruptured spleens. You don’t have to protect me.”

 

“What happens to the patients is one thing. What happens to you, watching what happens to the patients, is something else.”

 

Clarke didn’t understand her until much later, when a little boy she’d helped distract while her mom gave him shots was rushed back later in the night. His body was swollen with a bad reaction, his fever off the charts. Abby had fixed it. But Clarke could barely stand to see him sent home and out of her sight, had wandered by his quarters for days to check up after until his parents finally got annoyed.

 

You form attachments. You aren’t supposed to, Clarke knows (everyone knows), but it happens. It’s not easy to pull someone back from suffering and walk away, as if you don’t know exactly how close they came to tipping over the edge. As if you didn’t suddenly appreciate that you were in the right place and the right time -- this time. Maybe not the next.

 

It might have been easier back then if the Ark hadn’t been so small, if she’d had the chance of seeing dozens of new people with each day, like doctors did Before. Certainly it's easier now, with all the patients coming into the tower -- or it had been.

 

It might still be easier, she thinks sourly, if Lexa weren’t somehow everywhere.

 

At first she keeps expecting someone to say something, make note of it -- the way Lexa is so present in the tower now, how barely a day goes by without Clarke catching the sound of her boots striding down the corridor or sees the edge of her coat sweeping around a corner. Clarke’s routine hasn’t changed, but (she realizes) Lexa’s has. She isn’t taking off for days at a time. She isn’t even wearing the same clothes as when she first snatched Clarke out of the forest, the rugged pauldron or buckled waist guard. She often wears the same floor-length coat, but the rest of her ensemble is softer, more lived-in. This is routine, and what Clarke knew before was the deviation.

 

She looks like she’s at home, Clarke realizes one day, pausing in the hallway when she sees Lexa in one of the larger rooms. She’s standing before a group of, hmm, maybe they’re merchants? They’re older, without the face paint of the apprentices, and their clothes look a bit richer, heavier, than the refurbished articles Clarke herself is free to collect from the dispensary. Lexa’s own top is dark and almost lace-like, and she doesn’t have her coat, so the sweep of her collarbones is exposed as she curls her fingers beneath her chin and listens to the overlapping arguments. Something about the tableau, or the intensity of Lexa’s concentration, snares Clarke until Hern has to tug at her elbow to remind her to keep moving.

 

Maybe it should have occurred to Clarke before now that the tower is Lexa’s home, but it didn’t. Everyone else treats this as a place to be, not to live: the warriors that patrol its halls, townspeople who come for care or counsel. Even the apprentices speak often and longingly of whatever homes they came from, as much as they value having so important a role to play in the heart of Polis. She assumed Lexa was the same, but seeing her now -- remembering when I was brought to Polis, and I was a child -- Clarke begins to wonder if she’s wrong. If Lexa is the one person who sees the tower as a place to belong to.

 

Not the only one, a voice whispers to her late at night. It’s that for you, too.

 

She doesn’t like to linger on the thought, tries to quiet her churning brain so she can fall asleep. But it’s true. Maybe one day the Ark will descend -- it has to, she trusts in that -- but until then? This tower is the single point of familiarity in a completely unexpected world. She wakes up each day a little less angry about that. Then she spends a few days being angry at being less angry, until the whole thing is a headache. She has nowhere else to go. It’s no use fighting that.

 

She’d do much better to fight off this inexplicable concern about Lexa. She has to stop -- well, all of it, really. Looking at Lexa when their paths cross. Checking how she moves to see how she’s healing (everything connects to the back muscles, but that’s no excuse). And, well, caring. At all. Clarke searches for the resentment that kept her buoyed above her depression for so long, but somewhere in between Lexa crumpled across the examination table like a child’s doll, and the silly things that came out of her mouth afterward, it seems to have melted away. Or transformed into this new and inconvenient awareness of the Commander.

 

It’s ridiculous, Clarke knows that. Lexa isn’t in any immediate danger, and even if she were, Nyko would be all over it. He is all over it. Lexa comes into the infirmary every several days to have the wound site inspected. This does nothing for Clarke’s resolution to avoid her. Clarke’s had a few close calls as it is, managing to turn away just as Lexa would have caught her looking, and sometimes she thinks she can feel the other girl frowning at her. She hasn’t approached Clarke since promising not to, necessary medical interventions aside, and -- that’s good. It’s good.

 

Lexa gets enough attention from other people as it is.

 

Clarke saw that in the admirers when they rode together on the roads to Polis, and in the greeting Lexa was given at the city. She’s even seen it in the eagerness of the apprentices. It feels different with Lexa like this, though -- relaxed, in her element. That’s why Clarke finds it so irritating, see, when young women visiting the infirmary with friends or family start flirting with Lexa, throwing her covert looks as she waits for Nyko to finish up with his current task and turn his attention to her. Some of them go beyond looks. Some of them actually approach her, and Clarke is amazed that Nyko allows this kind of chaos in his workplace.

 

Lexa doesn’t seem to mind. She doesn’t brighten, or even encourage them, but she allows the smiles and the low-voiced conversations, and Clarke is just irritated by her refusal to shoo them away so the apprentices can work in peace.

 

It’s a sentiment she shares with Versi, of all people. Every now and again, especially if it’s a whole group of girls around Lexa, Versi catches Clarke’s gaze and rolls her eyes. Versi isn’t shy in sharing her feelings. Clarke watches with appalled fascination one day when one of the girls actually reaches out -- they seem to grow bolder in groups -- to trace the curve of muscle along Lexa’s shoulder with a light fingertip. Clarke’s mouth drops open as she hears Versi scoff.

 

Clarke starts. Lexa does too, head jerking over to see the white-blonde apprentice pursing her lips at the Commander. Clarke nearly starts again when Lexa flushes, redness rising along the tops of her cheeks. She turns to her admirer -- the girl’s hand is suspended between them like all she needs is an excuse -- and says something which makes the whole group rapidly dissipate.

 

Versi lifts an eyebrow, and Clarke watches as Lexa lifts the corner of her mouth and one shoulder in return.

 

It’s not only women. It’s a very different, very specific kind of interest with the young women, which... well, that answers that question. (Though Clarke wonders how they all know when she’s never seen Lexa with anyone like that, or even touch someone with intent.) But young men flock to her as well, and though Clarke sometimes catches them looking at Lexa with a certain softness around the eyes, their attitude is never anything more than friendly deference. Lexa’s a bit more animated with them, as she tends to hang back and fold her arms around herself with the girls. (Not that it prevents her from accepting their more marked attentions, Clarke notes.) Whenever Clarke wanders close enough to hear these conversations they’re discussing training or fighting techniques. One time -- again, when it’s a whole group of them, with a few girls mixed in who are equally as interested, and Clarke is beginning to suspect Lexa has a weakness for larger audiences -- Lexa decides to demonstrate a particular move or hold. The boy she chooses has at least six inches on her, and Clarke can see from straining muscles that he’s giving it his best, but he ends up sprawled across the floor of the infirmary. He blinks up at the others from this new position on his back, limbs ungainly, before breaking out into laughter. Lexa’s wearing her own smirk as she bends down to help him up.

 

Nyko breaks up the impromptu gathering at this -- oh, okay, so girls can be practically manhandling the Commander, but a little friendly roughhousing is what he objects to -- and the group sketches salutes and bows, calling back Heda as they make their way out. Lexa lets Nyko start his examination but Clarke sees her gaze linger, chin turned away from the healer as she keeps her eyes on the door.

 

With the birth restrictions as strict as they are on board the Ark, Clarke not only knew everyone her own age -- she knew almost everyone in the school on sight. Imprisonment in the Skybox was a real, tangible threat when you felt the sudden absence of a classmate so keenly; the eerie sensation of turning to look for a face you’d seen each day of your life since nursery school to find they weren’t there. The delinquents on the dropship weren’t her friends, but she’d known most of them and they’d known her. It was hard to avoid the ephemera of everyone’s lives. Twelve stations was not nearly enough space to get away from each other.

 

Clarke gives herself this moment to watch Lexa, who is still watching the door. There’s nothing -- absolutely nothing -- in her expression that might hint at loneliness, or even resentment. But Clarke wonders for the first time if it might feel as claustrophobic and restrictive, in its own way, to live so much apart from your peers. To never feel truly seen.   

 

Then she has to pretend she is very busy and absorbed with folding clean bedsheets, because Lexa turns her head in Clarke’s direction and almost catches her looking. If Clarke is being honest with herself Lexa has caught her a few times, and this might be one of them. She doesn’t feel like admitting it, though. So she ducks her head down even lower and fusses with invisible wrinkles.

 

“You shouldn’t stress your back while the muscles are healing,” she hears Nyko scold Lexa. He lets the back of her shirt drop back over the wound site, where a reddish-pink scar is now forming.

 

“It’s nothing.” The assurance in her tone has Clarke sneaking a peek. Lexa doesn’t look like someone who’s bragging.

 

“Hmmph.” Nyko folds his arms, leaning back. As he moves out of her space, Lexa takes the opportunity to leverage herself up to sit on the railing of the balcony. The two of them are ensconced by one of the open windows, where curtains drift softly in the breeze. Nyko often sees his patients and visitors by this small balcony, as it gives him a measure of privacy while affording easy supervision of the rest of the infirmary.

 

That’s not why Clarke is over here folding sheets when she could be doing the much more interesting, involved work of patient intake with Hern. She just. There are no small jobs, and this one needed doing.

 

“Well?” Nyko says.

 

“Well, what?” Lexa leans her weight into her hands in a move that makes Clarke twitch. Those railings are newer than the building itself, and she assumes they’re quality replacements, but it’s a long way down.

 

“I hear the ambassadors have asked for a special hearing.”

 

Lexa sighs. “You’ve been speaking with Gustus.”

 

“Sometimes I do that, yes.” If Clarke had to guess, she would think that Nyko is trying to draw a further response from Lexa by simply waiting for it. As the seconds tick by, though, he breaks first: “Do you think they’ll call for (word)?”

 

“They think I’ve angered the Mountain.”

 

Clarke can see Nyko raise his eyebrows even from her half-hidden vantage point. “And for that they want a new Commander?”

 

Clarke’s hands pause in her duties for the space of a breath. A new Commander? What would happen to Lexa, then?

 

“They’re frightened, and they’re fools.” Another beleaguered sigh. “And they know the nightbloods are young. Some of them may think the next Commander will be more... malleable.”

 

“So they’re ignorant of your involvement with the children.”

 

“They’re ignorant of too much,” Lexa mutters, her expression stony. “But not enough. If I had made it to the tower, to my own rooms...”

 

“Before collapsing?” Nyko is skeptical. “You’re lucky you made it as far as you did.”

 

“It made me look weak.” Lexa shifts, adjusting her grip until her fingertips and the edges of her palms hold the railing. Clarke scowls and decides if she falls, she is Nyko’s problem.

 

“Weak? You survived being shot, a large dose of poison we can’t identify -- that makes you weak?”

 

“Not everyone thinks like a healer. They see an injury, they think about what caused it and why. Not how I recovered.”

 

“Find a way to make them think about it.”

 

Lexa stills, brows drawn together in thought. “You mean,” she says slowly, “I should find a way to put the healing on display, rather than the hurt?”

 

Nyko shrugs impatiently. “I mean you should do whatever it takes to keep the ambassadors in line and to keep yourself alive. I’ve put too much work into you to see you deposed or dead.”

 

That makes two of us, Clarke thinks as he stalks off, shoulders rigid with concern.

 

She watches Lexa out of the corner of her eye. The Commander is lost in thought where she remains, perched on the balcony railing. Clarke will go back to her own work once both of Lexa’s feet are on the ground.

 

Except the other girl is in no hurry to move along, her frown growing deeper as she tilts her head back and contemplates the sky above her head. She doesn’t seem to notice the incremental movement of her hands as she does it, the way her palms are slowly slipping off the surface of the railing.

 

She has to notice, Clarke tells herself, her own hands coming to a halt in their busywork. Lexa’s reflexes are too good to be caught unawares like that. She’ll catch herself.

 

... any second, now.

 

Clarke actually finds herself holding her breath, forgetting her task, forgetting subterfuge as she silently panics. Lexa won’t catch her, she’s too absorbed in whatever thoughts have her unknowingly balanced on the edge of an abyss. But what is Clarke supposed to do? Run and get someone? Walk over and grab her?

 

She’s dithering between her choices when she sees Lexa’s hands slide completely off, her body dipping to gravity’s inexorable pull.

 

The breath freezes in Clarke’s lungs. She pushes forward without thinking and the tops of her thighs meet the edge of the table with such force she bruises there for days after. Her hands scramble at the tabletop as if she could actually lean across the intervening space and catch Lexa before she falls, neatly-folded linens pushed off onto the floor. Lexa is --

 

Lexa is fine. Initial sway of her weight aside, Lexa is still sitting on the railing because her booted legs are discretely entwined with the railing supports. She was never in any danger. Clarke was too fixated to notice.

 

Clarke feels the drop in her stomach even before she raises her eyes to Lexa’s face.

 

Any doubt that Lexa noticed -- that she didn’t do this deliberately -- vanishes at the Commander’s slow-growing smirk.

 

Clarke shoves everything back onto the table where it belongs, working with a speed and efficiency that would make Nyko proud. She grabs a few linens for herself, because that’s why she was over here in the first place, there are beds to be made, and that’s the only reason. She doesn’t look at Lexa as she goes straight back to her work.

 

But she does have to cross in front of her to get back to the main area.

 

“I see,” she hears Lexa say, quiet and thoughtful, pitched just loud enough for Clarke to hear as she passes by.

 

Clarke straightens her spine and walks faster.

 

 

~*~

 

 

The seasons are changing.

 

She’d been vaguely aware of the nights growing colder when she was huddled in her shallow cave in the forest. But so much had happened since then -- she’d gotten distracted, and she wasn’t living so completely exposed to the elements any longer.

 

When autumn truly settles into Polis, though, she feels it. The cold seeps into the seams of the ancient tower, drafts blasting through the open windows and chasing away any warmth accrued by the press of bodies inside. Waking up in the morning is so much harder, even after the apprentices spent a day lugging metal braziers out from storage and anchoring them at crucial points in the dormitory, surrounding each with treated bags of heavy sand to prevent the spread of fire. Washing in the steam rooms is more appreciated than ever, but it’s fifteen minutes of blissful warmth followed by a whole morning of cold, wet hair lying along her neck.

 

Going with Chanti to the clothing dispensary is what really brings it home for Clarke. She’s only changed her clothes when she grew out of them. The Ark’s climate controls weren’t always consistent. Depending on the point in their rotation around Earth certain stations could be noticeably chillier, even uncomfortably warm, but it stayed within an expected range. And with the population boom of the last generation, no one had extra clothing to spare. You made do with what you had. The extra layers are heavy and constricting for the first few days, and she feels like a picture from one of the old Earth books of a kitten tangled up in string.

 

Then, one day, it rains.

 

It comes up unexpectedly in the middle of an afternoon in the orchards, when the sunshine is falling in precise shafts that remind her of the Observation Deck. The healer apprentices spend most of their days out in the orchards in the spring and fall, Hern tells her. The harvest is bigger, and the dangers of the more extreme seasons -- spoilage and infection in summer, exposure in winter -- don’t keep the infirmary as busy. Plus it’s warmer out in the sun. Clarke prefers it, especially now that Nyko isn’t as concerned about monitoring her. If Hern stays by her elbow most of the time, it’s because he wants her to watch Sanga’s impression of a recent patient, or admire Versi’s suture technique, or listen to the latest fascination of his own bright and buzzing brain.

 

The rain comes when the wind picks up. The breeze grows colder and sharper, carrying a sweet scent behind the chill. The others start gathering their things immediately. Clarke follows their example, then follows their escape back down the sloping hills. They’re near the tower when the water starts falling from the sky.

 

It’s...

 

... indescribable.

 

She’s seen films and pictures, even holos. Nothing prepared her. Not even Finn pushing her into the water. That was a blissful (if unwanted) relief after days of thirst and dirt and sweat. And it was weird, being half-submerged in a resource so precious on the Ark. This is a few drops slipping into her scalp, a cold tickle of warning, and then it’s everywhere. The sky opens up and the rain falls in a rush, a sound almost like the waves she’s heard in recorded oceans. She lifts her head to watch it come down and blinks away the vertigo, chokes on the water going up her nose. It’s in her eyes, her mouth, her hair, she even feels it dripping down the back of her neck and leaving slimy trails beneath her clothes.

 

... she hates it, actually.

 

Clarke escapes into the shelter of the tower’s overhang. She’s cold and wet, but at least she’s not getting soaked. Not like the rest of the apprentices, who have abandoned all pretense and started chasing each other around the courtyard like children. Nyko’s already there. He takes one look at her and bites back a smile. Clarke wonders exactly what expression she’s wearing to cause that, but maybe it’s better she doesn’t know.

 

“Not too much of this in the Dead Zone, I take it?” he asks.

 

But he rides with her back up the ancient elevator while the others play, so Clarke can’t hate him.

 

She changes into something dry and, okay, she’s not warm, but warmer. She rubs at her wet hair until it fluffs up like crazy, doesn’t even care. Or she thinks she doesn’t, until she walks out of the dorms and finds Lexa right outside in the corridor and watching the rest of the apprentices from the open window.

 

Lexa turns as Clarke comes to a halt, open-mouthed with surprise. The Commander blinks, which probably means she’s just as stunned.

 

“You’re not with them?” she asks, pointing down to the ground.

 

Even if Clarke had her voice, what is she supposed to say to that?

 

“Ah,” Lexa says at Clarke’s look. She clears her throat, shifts as she refolds her arms. “Of course.”

 

Clarke debates turning back and hiding in the dorms for all of two seconds. But she won't let Lexa make her run away.

 

She catches sight of the world outside the window, and forgets why she wanted to go anywhere.

 

Rain is really beautiful, she decides, when you’re not caught in it. It’s like a soft grey veil falling over the world, except it makes all the green of the trees deeper and the blue horizon beyond richer. The rain itself shifts and ripples with the wind. Every now and then light glints off the falling water, and the grey veil turns silver. It’s nothing like she saw on old films, which makes sense, that rain was probably fake. This looks alive. It even sounds it -- the shhh, shhh, shhh as it falls like the breathing of a sleeping beast.

 

It creates a pocket of space high up in the tower, the sense of being enclosed in on all sides. The barrier of clouds overhead, the curtain of rain surrounding -- it eases something in her she hadn’t realized was uneasy. For the first time since she stepped out of the dropship, Clarke can look up into the sky without the irrational fear the ground might upend and tilt her back into the void of space.

 

“I see you’re not used to it.” The sound of Lexa’s voice brings her back to earth. Clarke hadn’t realized how close she’d moved to the Commander -- right up to and then past her, to sit on the wide stone ledge of the open window. The Commander is still standing with her arms folded, eyes on the apprentices below as they jump into puddles and splash each other with mud. “But the first rain of the season is seen as something to celebrate. It’s a sign the world is recovering, from... a long sickness.”

 

Clarke wonders what kinds of stories these people tell about the bombs, about the recovery after the devastation. What kinds of monsters lurk in the subconscious of a people who survived a nuclear holocaust?

 

She shivers and rubs her arms. Lexa watches her do it.

 

“It will grow colder than this,” the other girl says. “Much colder. I suppose you’re not used to that, either.” She shuts her mouth abruptly, line of her jaw going rigid as if from the effort of keeping words back. She swallows before saying: “You will weather it better here than out in the woods.”  

 

Turns out Clarke hasn’t lost all her anger, because that stirs at the embers among the ashes of her old despair. Clarke turns more fully away. She hears Lexa sigh.

 

“It’s not just the cold,” she says softly. “The Mountain Men increase their efforts in winter. They use the threat of exposure and the lack of resources in their favor. They unleash the fog when villages are at the end of their winter stores and need to forage. Or the ripas when the snows prevent my people from escaping to safety.”

 

Clarke continues to be unsure what that word means when applied to the Mountain -- and is Lexa saying that the same fog that chased her away from Wells and Finn comes from there, too? -- but she doesn’t have to see the other girl’s face to know the seriousness of the threat. She sneaks a look anyway.

 

Lexa’s eyes are unfocused now, distant. Her gaze is directed down to the ground, but it’s clear she sees something else. “I hate winter,” she says. The unexpected passion in her voice makes Clarke flinch.

 

It draws Lexa’s attention. She seems almost -- embarrassed? She shifts her weight and looks down at the floor for a moment before raising her eyes to Clarke’s. “There is something about your silence which causes others to speak more than they should, I think.”

 

Clarke can’t keep her shoulders from hunching defensively.   

 

“No, I know it’s not on purpose,” Lexa says. “It’s a useful tactic. I will have to remember it for my own use.” Her lips part and she hesitates before adding: “I won’t apologize for bringing you here. You wouldn’t have lasted much longer on your own, and I -- I have a duty to protect my people. Even those who don’t know who I am,” she adds with an edge of humor. “I can’t apologize for that.”

 

You didn’t have to bring me so far, Clarke can’t say in return. You could have left me closer to my people, close enough to have a chance at being with them when you... And you had reasons beyond my safety. We both know that.

 

... what would change if she could communicate all of that, though? Lexa made her decisions and saw them through. It’s something she probably does every other hour of the day: evaluate a situation, pick a course of action, move on to whatever crisis needs her attention next. Clarke had seen the Council hand down decrees in much the same way, prioritizing efficiency over understanding as they tried to address the concerns of the thousands aboard the Ark. “We can’t anticipate every single consequence,” Abby had explained to Clarke when a Council edict had resulting in schoolmates ignoring her, trying to hurt Clarke the way Abby had hurt their parents. “The best we can hope for is to learn from our mistakes.”

 

Lexa rules over thousands upon thousands more, and she does it alone.

 

It doesn’t make it okay. But it does make it easier for Clarke to meet Lexa’s eyes and give her a small nod of understanding.

 

Lexa’s shoulders relax infinitesimally -- Clarke’s not sure she’s even aware she did it. She doesn’t smile back at Clarke but her expression lightens as she draws a deep breath.

 

Then something flickers across her face and before Clarke can process it Lexa is jumping up to stand on the window ledge and turning to lean back into the open air.

 

Clarke’s heart pounds so hard she can feel it in her fingers, and she reaches to grab onto the other girl with a quickness that leaves her startled.

 

But Lexa is fine -- again. There are wide metal loops protruding from the top edges of the window opening, sunk deep into the cement. They were probably once used to secure panes of heavy glass that were long since blown out in the explosions. Lexa’s holding onto them as she arches back, face turned up into the rain.

 

Clarke is standing with both hands gripping each of Lexa’s legs above her knees. She’s not in immediate danger of falling, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Clarke tugs at her.

 

Lexa ducks her head back inside the window. Her face is wet, and the torchlight picks up drops scattered throughout her braids. Her lips twist with amusement. “Still worrying about me?”

 

Clarke feels her face heat, but she tightens her grip.

 

“Hmm.” Lexa is definitely smug. “See, I knew you belonged with Nyko. You think like a healer.”

 

Clarke will figure out how to pay her back for this. Later. Once she gets down.

 

“You shouldn’t, though,” Lexa says. “I’ve lived in this tower since I was young, I know all its secrets. This is the last place I’d be in danger.” She tilts her head. “Did you taste it?”

 

Clarke stares at her.

 

“I heard you don’t drink the water at meals.” She leans back again, mouth open like a little kid. When she straightens she has to use one hand to brush water out of her eyes. “This is different, you’d like it.”

 

She’s right, Clarke doesn’t drink the water they provide in the mess areas. It’s groundwater tasting of minerals and metal. It’s not awful, but after years of the recycled, stale water of the Ark the heavy flavors make her gag. She drinks a light brown beverage made from boiling the water together with barley seeds to yield something richer and slightly sweet instead. She’s hardly the only one, though, so why would Lexa -- who would have told -- does she think Clarke’s going to hop up and lean out for a taste herself? Because that’s not happening.

 

Lexa takes one hand out of the metal loops. Clarke’s hands are going to cramp from holding onto her if she keeps this up. Lexa stretches it out into the open air, cupping her palm to catch the rain. She turns back, looks down at Clarke’s hands. Clarke forces her fingers to unknit from the fabric of the Commander’s clothes so that she can step back down to the floor.

 

“Here,” she says, holding out the handful of rainwater.

 

Clarke is too dumbfounded to react as Lexa raises her hand to Clarke’s mouth. She grabs the Commander’s wrist at the last second in an attempt to regain some control over the situation, warm skin and corded muscle beneath her fingertips. But the water slips past her lips and she swallows without thinking.  

 

It tastes like... like cold and brightness together, and when she closes her eyes she can picture the sun shining on mountain ice. There’s something beneath the sweetness, an electric buzz that sends goosebumps racing up her arms. Ozone, she realizes, opening her eyes to smile at Lexa in genuine wonder.

 

Lexa doesn’t smile back. Her eyes are a little wide and surprised. As if she didn’t until this minute realize how close they are, the intimacy of her chilled fingers against Clarke’s mouth. Clarke releases her wrist with a jerk and steps back, the two of them staring at each other.

 

There’s a noise down the corridor and Clarke jumps, turning to look. The rest of the apprentices have finally found their way up the tower, are now laughing and covered in mud as they call out to her.

 

When she turns back Lexa is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

(next chapter)

 

"Everyone thinks she has wood witch magic," Aden says, sounding already defeated as he dodges Lexa's attacks. "They say she's the reason you survived."

 

Lexa traps him neatly between the tree trunk and her staff, waiting for him to drop his weapon in surrender. "Do they," she said dryly. Her eyes drift over to where Clarke is still watching, become thoughtful. "Do they?"