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(my) Destruction Within Your Mouth

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~*~

 

Clarke has a second’s warning, bolts upright in bed just before she hears:

 

“You should have stayed in the infirmary.”

 

Lexa puts the small saucer with the candle she’s carrying down on the table. The embers in the fireplace are more than half-dead, and when Clarke looks out the window there’s no hint of dawn. It’s hard to make out Lexa’s face in the light of a single flame, but the lines of strain tell Clarke the Commander hasn’t been to bed yet. It makes her angry, almost as angry as Lexa telling her where she can and cannot be, Lexa is still trying to hide, even after --

 

“For the rest of the night,” Lexa continues, dropping into a chair heavily. She puts her elbows on the table and slumps, something Clarke has never seen her do. “In case we missed something. If you were clear-headed enough to wander down to the dungeons, you should have known that as well. You’re a healer.”

 

Oh.

 

Clarke didn’t have it in her to be fussed and clucked over, not after hearing -- and then Roan -- she’d just needed quiet, and peace. An empty room where she could try and put all the scattered pieces together, recapture the feeling of being whole. But as soon as she crossed the threshold the events of the day hit her like a blow to the head, and she barely managed to change into a loose sleeping shirt before curling up beneath her blankets. She reaches down to draw them up around her shoulders, now.

 

“You would have been warmer there, at least.” Lexa hauls herself out of the chair before Clarke can motion for her to stay, kneels to rustle the embers back to life and feed them kindling until she has the flames licking around a nice piece of wood. Their light grows brighter and brighter in the room, and Clarke catches sight of a dark smear of dried blood on Lexa’s hand.

 

She jerks, and Lexa follows her line of sight.

 

“The assassin with the knife.” She says to Clarke’s unasked question. “He’s dead.”

 

She flexes her hand -- the blood dripped across her thumb and the webbing just beneath. It’s dry enough to crack and flake away when she runs her fingers across it. Not furtively, or like she wants to get rid of evidence: her expression is thoughtful. “He said he didn’t know who wanted you dead. Whoever hired him kept their face hidden and didn’t offer anything but instructions, and payment.”

 

The blood is rubbed off completely, now, with just a slight shadow to ever indicate it was there. Lexa rises to her feet and says, with that same mild look on her face: “It was Nia.”

 

She’s so sure. And Roan was sure.

 

“I’m certain,” Lexa says next, one of those times when she’s so tuned in to Clarke it’s almost... and it’s not what Clarke needs right now, not what she wants. Not when she has so much to hide.

 

“Because of how it would have happened,” as if answering a question Clarke is not even sure she should ask. “In a place I think of as my own, and as safe. So that I was aware of every moment you were in pain. She knows how to hurt me the most.” She drags her chair a little closer to the growing fire, and also a little closer to Clarke’s bed. She sits on it backwards, in an unexpected bit of informality: folding her arms on top of the chair’s back. “It was the same with Costia, although the method was different.”

 

Clarke angles her gaze down to her blankets. She shouldn’t look up. She shouldn’t... she’s leaving. There’s no reason for her to pursue it, because she has no reason to dig into these dark places of Lexa’s past. No excuse to be greedy for it, to want that deeper knowledge. Or -- if she’s being honest with herself -- even if she has a reason to want it, no reason to take it.

 

She raises her head.

 

“In pieces,” Lexa says once Clarke meets her eyes. She’s laid her cheek on her arms. Clarke has never seen her look so tired. “A finger, a hand, a foot. Letting me know she was alive and suffering. They were found in boxes around the tower for days until Nia had the decency to cut off her head. I was more lax, then, about security. Nia’s spies left it in my bed.”

 

Clarke’s gorge rises. It’s not just what Lexa is telling her, it’s everything. The seething malice behind Costia’s fate, even years later and secondhand. How matter-of-fact Lexa is in telling it, when Clarke wishes she would be angry, tearful, anything except have that soft, defeated look on her face. And she feels sick at herself, listening to this, allowing Lexa to remove this last layer of armor in front of her, when Clarke hides more with each passing day.

 

“I thought I was going to die.” Lexa says it simply. If there’s any emotion in her voice, it’s an edge of wonderment that she was proved wrong. “I know how it sounds, dying because of... But I truly didn’t think I would survive living like that. With so much pain.”

 

She turns her head until she’s looking straight into the fire. “There’s something that happens in battle. Your body saves you from pain until it’s safe to feel -- the worst of it, I mean. It’s only later, when there’s time to catch your breath, that you notice someone opened up your side, or your wrist is so swollen with bruises you can barely move your hand. Your body knows what you can and cannot endure.”

 

“I think it must be same for the mind,” Lexa continues, and Clarke can guess what’s coming before she says, “because the pain never lessened over time, like they promise it will. Instead I woke up one day -- a few months after her death, I think -- and I felt... not nothing. But very little.”

 

“It was such a relief,” she breathes, and her eyes flutter shut in remembrance. “To be so... empty of feeling. It allowed me to live, to -- to be who I am. Do what needed doing. I was grateful for it. I was more than content to live like that, for as long as the Spirit found it necessary to act through me.”

 

She opens her eyes, turns her head to meet Clarke’s: “And then there was you.”

 

Clarke stares at her, open-mouthed. Whatever she expected in the aftermath of the marketplace -- denials, more avoidance, maybe -- it wasn’t this.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” Lexa says. “You deserved to know why I pushed you away, why I was so... I did consider telling you. I tried.” For the first time she appears embarrassed, looks down at her arms as she clears her throat. “Perhaps not hard enough. In the end, it felt as if I could protect you better if I never said the words out loud. Not even to myself. Almost,” and she shares a shy, hesitating smile, “like a kind of witch’s spell.” Her smile drops. “I’m sorry. I know it was hard to think you were alone in this.”

 

Clarke holds back tears. This is so unfair. She’s not sure she wants to know this. Not now.

 

“I’m not sure how it started.” Lexa doesn’t take her eyes off Clarke. “I wish I could tell you. That I could tell you everything, now -- you deserve that.” She shrugs lightly. “I didn’t realize -- or didn’t want to admit -- what was happening for a long time. And then I realized that, if I hadn’t had a chance to see your face, the day felt incomplete.”

 

Clarke has wanted this so badly, it made her whole body ache. But now? Now?

 

“I don’t...” Lexa sounds hesitant, maybe because Clarke was the one to turn away, focus on the feeling of the blanket gripped in her fist to steady herself. “I still can’t give you more than I already have. You see why.”

 

If Lexa had said something. Anything. Clarke wants to believe it would have changed things, that she would have made different choices...

 

No. If she’s being honest, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was only ever one way this could end.

 

“I don’t regret it,” Lexa says, low and intense. “I’ve put you in harm’s way, and I will find a way to make amends, I promise you, but I don’t regret this.”

 

Oh, of course. She only ignored it, and then denied it, and then tried to hide it from anyone who might look at them both and dare to suppose... How could Clarke possibly wonder if Lexa even wants this, what kind of silly child is she being.

 

“I don’t,” and Clarke startles, because while she was sulking Lexa stood up out of the chair and came closer. She kneels now on the floor, leathers creaking, one hand hovering just above Clarke’s mattress as if she wants to reach out but isn’t sure if she’ll be welcomed on the other side of that boundary. She curls her fingers into a helpless fist. “I don’t even know your name. But I swear, I don’t regret what I...”

 

She can’t even say the words out loud. She bends her head, and Clarke fights the urge to sink her hands into Lexa’s braids and draw that head into her lap, draw out the pain with gentle touches. One of them can’t speak of it because she’s too afraid, and the other just can’t speak. What a mess.

 

What a mess.  

 

“I’m not afraid of your secrets.” Lexa doesn’t raise her head, and now Clarke is glad the other girl can’t see her face. “I’ve known you had them almost from the first, and I used to be wary of what might come of them, but... Since then, I have seen you in service to your people. Our people. Working hard, and giving up so much of yourself so that their lives might be better.” She lifts her eyes to meet Clarke’s, gaze searching. “If anything of your past had the potential to harm them, you would have found a way to warn me.”

 

The last time it was this difficult to hold her head up, Clarke was watching her father say goodbye.

 

She doesn’t know where she finds the strength to keep her face blank, and to nod. To lie with everything but words.

 

Maybe she really will be sick.

 

Lexa closes her eyes and breathes in deeply, as if taking succor from the affirmation. “I know,” she says under her breath. “I trust you.”

 

Clarke has to look away. Her hands are trembling. She twists them deep into the blankets so Lexa won’t notice, and is so intent on it she doesn’t notice the trickle down the side of her nose until Lexa reaches out again.

 

“No, don’t -- please don’t cry. Not again,” she murmurs, looking a little panicked. “Please, I -- please.” Clarke can see the instant her restraint snaps and she places her hand along the side of Clarke’s face. Clarke can feel the tension ebb out of them both, right then.

 

“I don’t regret it,” Lexa whispers, still kneeling besides Clarke’s bed, a stubbornness in the set of her mouth Clarke has long familiarity with. “Maybe I should. I know this hurts you and... it frightens me, sometimes,” as her voice shakes. She pulls away, fingers lingering against Clarke’s cheek. “When I loved Costia, it felt like it transformed the world. When she died, it felt as if I had been lied to. Deceiving myself, perhaps. Believing this world is better than it is.”

 

She puts both her hands over Clarke’s. “The world is cruel. This life will test every weakness you allow. What I feel for you doesn’t change that.” She smiles, soft and sad, and brings her head down to rest on their joined hands as she looks up at Clarke. “It does make me strong enough to face it.”

 

 

~*~

 

The light is beginning to creep into the sky, soft and grey, by the time Lexa can be convinced to leave. Clarke thinks she must have been in agony, kneeling on the cold stone floor for so long after such a day, but it takes Clarke prodding at her in earnest before Lexa sighs and climbs to her feet. “I know, I know,” she says in response to Clarke’s unspoken, frantic worries about her health and her still-healing wound and her need for sleep. “But I feel better when I’m with you.”

 

Lexa has her own revenge before she walks to her own quarters, pushing Clarke down and tucking the covers in tightly. “If I’m sleeping in, so are you.” She pauses in the middle of it, hands on Clarke’s shoulders. “Poor little witch. Kept awake all night by an admirer.”

 

Clarke, trapped against her mattress by the blankets, rolls her eyes. Lexa bites back a smile.

 

“Someday you’ll be able to talk to me at length,” she said, tapping her finger against Clarke’s nose. “So let’s not forget: when that time comes, I’ll owe you an audience.”  

 

Clarke wonders if biting the Heda’s finger is considered a serious assault against her person. Something of that must show in her eyes, because Lexa chokes on a laugh, presses the backs of her fingers against her mouth to keep it from growing.

 

“You can’t imagine,” she says, roughly, smoothing back Clarke’s hair, “what I would do to keep you safe.”

 

She exits quickly, shutting the door behind her. It’s too much to take in just then for Clarke -- after everything else -- and before she falls asleep she has enough wherewithal to wonder what Lexa means by that.

 

 

~*~

 

She finds out the next morning.

 

A young woman walks into the throne room with her head held high, and Lexa immediately straightens. “Tris.”

 

There’s a note of surprise in her voice, and it makes Clarke take a second, closer look. Young woman is generous -- she’s barely more than a child. But she’s dressed like a warrior and carries herself like one, and Clarke wonders, with a twist in her stomach, what the daily life is like for those who don’t serve as apprentices in the tower. And how early their training starts.  

 

“I have a message from Anya,” the younger girl says, and Clarke can tell how nervous she feels, how intimidated, by the way she lifts her chin a little too high and keeps checking the exits out of the corner of her eyes. Not like she wants to break for them -- but as if the action itself soothes her, the routine of it grounding.

 

Like a kid with a teddy bear, Clarke thinks, and the twist tightens. It’s hypocritical of her, she knows: there was a girl about that age on the dropship. The Ark wasn’t much better in giving children a chance to be children.

 

“It’s just for you,” the girl -- Tris -- says, in the ensuing silence. Lexa watches her for a moment, fingers tapping against her lips in thought, before she raises a hand to dismiss them all.

 

With a jerk of his head, Titus signals that this includes Clarke and himself. She can’t help feeling anxious as she follows him out. Lexa can handle herself, especially with one half-grown-girl, and Clarke knows that. But after yesterday...

 

When the doors reopen it’s Tris, letting herself out. Her eyes flicker to Clarke’s face, and there’s a flash of -- something. Tris turns her head down to stare at the floor as she marches back down the hall.

 

Clarke stares after her feeling disconcerted. What was that? It happened too quickly, she couldn’t begin to read the emotion that sparked in the girl’s eyes, but...

 

By the time she returns to herself, shoving the niggling sense of discomfort to the back of her mind, Titus is dismissing the audiences-in-waiting. “Another day,” he promises. He opens his mouth to send her away as well -- Clarke can see he wants to -- but a voice behind him says: “Bring back our little witch.”

 

If she’s going to be anyone’s witch, it certainly wouldn’t be Titus. The only balm to her irritation is that she can tell he feels the same, even as he allows her to re-enter the throne room.

 

Lexa has lapsed back into thoughtfulness, leaning back in her throne as the two of them approach. She looks like something out of a painting, the curves and radiant lines of her throne framing her -- shoulders strong, head high -- the afternoon sunlight piercing the drapery behind her to pool at her feet. Clarke’s fingers itch to draw her, and it’s another loss she has to swallow down and banish as impossible. A small one, considering the last few days. But it stings.

 

“I have to join Anya at the front lines,” Lexa tells Titus.

 

“Ahead of the gathering troops? ... Very well. Once Nyko clears you for travel --”

 

“No.” Her tone is gentle, but resolute. “I will leave tomorrow morning.”

 

Titus’s lips thin in disapproval. “Heda --”

 

“When Anya was my First she taught me that clear, trustworthy messages sent over distances, or across enemy lines, were an indispensable weapon. We devised a system of codewords and warnings: phrases that couldn’t be anticipated by an enemy, each carrying a specific meaning. One of these messages is meant to summon us to the other’s side, but it’s only used when --” Lexa looks away, and Clarke can see how unnerved she is beneath her calm facade. A shallow crease appears between her eyebrows, and her hands spasms into fists. “I would leave this instant, but arrangements have to be made.”

 

“What could have happened?” Titus’s voice softens; the gentlest Clarke has ever heard him. “We’ve had no messages of an emergency, and Anya wouldn’t invite you into a situation she knew was unsafe. You’re sure it isn’t some kind of trap --”

 

“I’m certain.” Lexa rises to her feet, walking to face the window while one hand grips the throne. “Tris was under orders not to say anything else. Only Anya would presume to put a Second in that position.”

 

“True,” Titus mutters. He casts his eyes at Clarke. “I suppose you want your witch sent after. She’ll need her own guard,” he ends darkly.

 

Lexa hesitates. “No.”

 

Titus nods. “You want her to remain here? Good, I see you’ve taken my advice under consideration.”

 

“No.”

 

Clarke tries to read Lexa’s expression, but she’s angled her face away from both of them. The only hint to her state of mind is her white-knuckled grip on her throne.

 

But her voice is calm. “As soon as I am settled I will send Gustus back to Polis. By that time I want her packed and ready, and they will leave together.”

 

Titus looks back and forth between them, looking as confused as Clarke feels. “Where, Heda?”

 

“To a place of my knowledge and his. And no one else’s.” Lexa dips her head forward, casting it even deeper into shadow. “As long as her whereabouts are known, she won’t be safe.”

 

“Not until Nia is dead,” Titus says, like an afterthought, and Clarke feels the blood drain from her face.

 

Internally, she begs Lexa to turn and look at her, give her some reassurance, promise it’s not true.

 

The other girl’s back remains turned to them, ramrod straight. As the silence takes on weight, Clarke hears Titus say “I see,” very, very softly where he stands beside her.

 

This isn’t just while Lexa is outside of Polis. Clarke isn’t being sent on a mission, or some kind of winter vacation from her duties.

 

She’s being exiled.

 

Oh, she’s pretty sure Lexa doesn’t think of it that way. Lexa is probably telling herself... whatever fucking thing Lexa needs to tell herself, to excuse this, to make it feel like she’s watching out for Clarke. Keeping Clarke safe, as promised. In the only way to be really sure she is.

 

Oh, but it doesn’t hurt, does it, Clarke thinks at Lexa’s back, that this solves the pesky problem of my “secrets.”

 

All those questions Lexa has and their lack of answers -- sure, she trusts Clarke. But she’s the Commander. For the sake of her people she needs to be certain of Clarke. And what better way to do that than to send her somewhere Lexa knows she won’t be capable of getting into trouble.

 

Clarke doesn’t doubt for a minute, not for a second, that wherever she’s being sent is an unprecedented haven. It has to be: somewhere Nia’s bloody politics can’t touch Clarke, which means a peace and safety the likes of which Clarke hasn’t known since landing on the ground. Somewhere very few people must know about. Somewhere Clarke won’t ever be able to leave on her own, causing Lexa to rest easy.

 

It’s probably perfect, and idyllic. It might as well be a prison, and Clarke’s had enough of being imprisoned for two lifetimes.

 

She isn’t sure when Titus exits and they’re left alone in the throne room. She’s too focused on Lexa. Waiting for Lexa to face her, see what this has done to her.

 

“You have lessons,” Lexa says. It’s a clear dismissal.

 

Shaking, Clarke leaves the room.

 

Lexa never turns around.

 

 

~*~

 

Clarke is so angry she can barely focus on Sharla’s map beyond it.

 

How dare she. How dare Lexa --

 

She knows she should be... not grateful, not... but practical about this. This isn’t what she wanted. But it’s a way to achieve that.

 

If Lexa sends her away --

 

(How can you do this? Clarke wanted to weep, sob, scream out loud at her, anything to make Lexa turn and look. How can you do this?)

 

-- then Clarke doesn’t have to escape. Not the tower, anyway. Which makes her job that much... so much... easier in the end. Getting away from Lexa, the handmaidens, the watchful eyes, the guards in the tower, it all felt impossible. Slipping away from one person, even if it is Gustus, on a back road no one is watching seems effortless in comparison.

 

She’ll have to be careful of Azgeda’s agents. They won’t be looking for her there, anyway, Lexa will find a way to distract them while Clarke supposedly runs to safety. (And she will. A different safety.) If they do find out -- well, Clarke can handle herself.

 

... not that Lexa believes that.

 

Clarke can’t even concentrate on her own, secret maps when Sharla sends her away for the afternoon. She puts them away in the trunk and paces the floor of her room, up and down, back and forth. Maybe if Nyko were here he would look into her face and know a way to diffuse this terrible rage, this hurt and helpless fury. But he left early this morning, his skills needed on the front lines. And instead it simmers hotter with every step until she thinks it must be etched permanently into her gut.

 

She’s so angry. It reminds her of playing chess with Thelonius Jaha: he never held back, never adjusted for Clarke’s or Wells’s relative inexperience, just sat at the other end with his chin on his fist and a slight smile that said I know better than you, I am better at this.

 

Lexa’s too prepared. She thinks too far ahead, leaving Clarke to scramble after her.

 

And just once, just once, Clarke wants to do something that surprises her, that she doesn’t see coming, that she won’t forget --

 

She stops dead in the middle of her room.

 

It’s such a bad idea.

 

And she wants it. Badly. Not just to unsettle Lexa -- not for that at all, actually. Just... because she wants it. Because she’ll never have a chance after this. And because -- in her meanest, smallest heart of hearts -- she wants to leave something of herself behind that Lexa will never be able to brush aside, or dismiss. She wants Lexa to acknowledge, this once, the fullness of what they are to each other.

 

And she wants Lexa.

 

 

~*~

 

It’s raining.

 

It’s something she notices as she walks down the hallway. The coverings on her own window are secured tight against draft, and the crackle of the fire was too loud to hear the raindrops. But the windows in the hallways are open, allowing air to sweep through the mustiness and mold, and the sharp edge of coldness from the falling water makes Clarke shiver.

 

When she knocks on the door Lexa is the one to open it.

 

“Come in,” she says, and paces away immediately. Clarke closes the door behind her. The guards just beyond don’t bother to turn their heads.

 

“I sent everyone else away,” Lexa says. She hasn’t changed out of her audience clothes, and she’s still wearing the high-necked coat. She walks to one end of the room before turning on her heel, the hem of her coat flaring out in a circle, and walking to the other. Her movement isn’t rushed, or frantic, but there’s a banked energy to the deliberation with which she places each step. “If you’re going to fight with me, it’s better that they don’t see it.”

 

Lexa stops, folding her arms. She might be the picture of uncaring arrogance, the way she holds her head high, except Clarke can see the strain in her knuckles where she grips her own arms. “Well?”

 

Clarke falls back against the closed door, her palms flat to its surface. She looks at Lexa and thinks, I want you so much.

 

But she can’t have her.

 

Or, not for long.

 

A muscle in Lexa’s jaw jumps. “I suppose I should be grateful you didn’t try to fight with me earlier.”  

 

Clarke takes a step away from the door. Lexa doesn’t quite flinch. So Clarke takes another.

 

“I know you won’t believe me,” Lexa says quietly, “but I made this decision for you. Your safety.” She lowers her eyes to the floor. “If I could make decisions based on what I actually wanted...” The line of her mouth flattens. “That’s not my life.”

 

Clarke walks forward slowly, steadily, until she would be able to reach out and touch Lexa’s shoulder if she stretched a little. This close to the other girl and Clarke can barely breathe through it; how much she wants. It’s like walking through heavy rain.

 

It’s such a very bad idea. She knows that.

 

But Clarke wants this once.

 

She can go back to the Ark after that. She can face whatever happens after that -- if Lexa is able to forgive her or not. If Lexa chooses to recognize her after that. She can go back to being Clarke Griffin again. But in return, she wants this.

 

“I can’t...” Lexa’s eyes flicker to Clarke’s, and then her mouth. They almost dip lower, and it’s an obvious self-check when Lexa drags them back to Clarke’s face. Clarke feels her heart beat faster. Lexa swallows, gives a quick shake of her head. “I can’t tell what you’re thinking.”

 

Clarke takes a step forward.

 

Amazingly, impossibly, Lexa takes a step back.

 

Clarke pauses, considers. She tries to shake off the heaviness in her limbs and her head, focus on Lexa. The Commander’s mouth is in its stubborn set. Her shoulders are thrown back, spine straight as if ready to attack -- but that left foot retreating. Clarke looks closer at her face, and there --

 

She takes another step forward.

 

Lexa takes another step back.

 

“Don’t,” she says abruptly, as if interrupting Clarke mid-sentence. “Don’t do this. It’s not a solution.”

 

Of course it isn’t. But Clarke’s not looking for a solution to this awful mess they’re in.

 

No, this is all much simpler.

 

The next step gives Lexa no more space to run as the back of her knees hit the edge of her bed. When Clarke continues to come closer Lexa’s eyes flutter shut, and when Clarke reaches up to put a slow, careful hand against the side of Lexa’s face, she squeezes them tight.

 

“You won’t change my mind,” she whispers.

 

Clarke waits. She waits until Lexa opens her eyes again, and then she waits until she’s sure of what she thought she saw in them, before: yearning.

 

Lexa wants this, too.

 

Clarke holds Lexa’s gaze as she nods once: terms set and agreed-upon.

 

There’s a long, interminable moment when neither of them move.

 

Lexa breaks first as she reaches out, hands splayed wide against the blades of Clarke’s shoulders to press her forward. She leans into the kiss like Clarke has the air she needs to breathe, the lack of which already has her gasping. All that hesitance and restraint Clarke felt, back when she kissed Lexa drunk and bold in the forest, is swept away with a violence that almost makes Clarke falter. She regains herself in the next second, eager to match Lexa’s hunger, to exceed it.

 

Her hands are insistent in undoing the ties and fastenings of Lexa’s clothes when Lexa is still paced and considerate. Clarke gets the coat off easy -- she’s seen Lexa fasten it so many times, not letting herself acknowledge how her own eyes lingered on Lexa’s fingers -- and grudgingly accepts the two seconds where Lexa has to take her hands off Clarke’s body in order for the coat to be peeled off her arms and thrown to the floor. Clarke goes for her top next, but she’s never seen Lexa dress from naked, she has no idea how it’s resisting her efforts. She tugs harder.

 

Lexa breaks their kissing with what sounds like a laugh, or something like that if it wasn’t immediately muffled against Clarke’s mouth as she presses back in, helplessly. “Wait,” she says against Clarke’s lips, kisses her, kisses her again. “Wait for just a mo--”

 

It’s probably rude to cut someone off by kissing them, not that Clarke cares, when Lexa’s mouth isn’t on her Clarke’s whole body aches and she’s not sure how she survived it before. How she’ll survive after. She screws her eyes shut at the thought and pushes it away, determined not to lose the headiness of Lexa, of the flex of her spine and her muscles under Clarke’s hands as she drags her palms down to try and tug -- how does this come off, anyway? Does Lexa need help in stripping for bed every night?

 

... she better not. Clarke likes the handmaidens, she’d hate for them all to die in tragic accidents.

 

Lexa turns her head fully to the side to evade the next kiss, and Clarke might be upset, but Lexa’s groan low in her throat says she’s upset enough herself. She grabs Clarke’s wrists in the same moment, halting their lack of progress.

 

She leans their foreheads together, breathing hard. “I don’t leave until the morning. We have time.”

 

Clarke bites her lip. They both know that’s not true. And Clarke can feel each available moment go with an almost physical presence, bright and shining and beautiful as it slips away into what’s already past.

 

“I know,” Lexa whispers. She brings her hand up to Clarke’s face, tangles fingers in her hair. Her eyes shut and they’re so close her eyelashes brush Clarke’s skin. “But I want to... I want to remember. Everything.”

 

Everything they have now, savored in the instant they have it, storing up for the long hunger ahead.

 

Clarke finds part of her would rather drown in the sensation until she’s drunk. She’s not sure she wants to remember it with such clarity. She’s not sure she’ll be able to stand it.

 

But she nods, because she can’t imagine denying Lexa anything right then.

 

“Thank you,” Lexa breathes, and the depth of her gratitude is even enough to calm Clarke’s distant panic. She presses kisses to Clarke’s temple, her jaw, her shoulder, gathers Clarke into her arms and holds her, steady as the center of the universe.

 

 

~*~

 

Clarke’s had sex before. She knows what it’s like. It’s fun, mostly, sometimes frustrating, sometimes a little too sweaty and awkward or silly but always good, pleasure stretching her out from fingertips to toes until she’s loose and content, the way she never is, until the tension builds and starts over again.

 

She can tell it’s different for Lexa -- she should've anticipated it, and maybe she did unconsciously, but she never expected to get caught up in it herself. That the edges of Lexa’s intensity would trap and tangle her like a net, dragging her into something deeper, even something a little scarier than what she’s used to.

 

She might even be scared. Except Lexa catches her, pins her in place to keep from falling. “Breathe,” she says softly, and Clarke is trying, it would be easier if Lexa stopped kissing her like that, stopped pressing inside her.  

 

If she stops Clarke will kill her.

 

“Breathe,” Lexa says again, softer, and never takes her eyes away from Clarke’s face.

 

 

~*~

 

“It’s not that far,” Lexa says.

 

Neither of them seem able to sleep. Not for long, anyway. Sometimes she’ll tuck herself into the crook of Lexa’s neck and close her eyes, feeling time expire in bursts. Sometimes Lexa’s breathing will get softer, even out, and when Clarke carefully turns her head she’ll find the Commander of the twelve clans asleep on her own pillow: mouth open where she dropped off in the middle of a sentence. She’s quicker to rouse than Clarke is when this happens. But there are always a few moments for Clarke to stare, keeping her eyes open until they burn, trying to imprint every sensation of every second on her memory forever: the hot weight of Lexa’s arm just under her breasts, or Lexa’s leg pushing between hers, Lexa’s fingers curling into her hair. She feels weighed down and drunk with it.

 

There’s an unspoken agreement that one always keeps watch while the other rests, making sure the night doesn’t escape them entirely.

 

“A few days’ hard ride, maybe,” Lexa continues. She slides her arm around from where it’s tucked against Clarke’s waist. Clarke makes a half-hearted grab at her hand to make her stay -- she feels hazy and half-asleep, lulled by the sound of the storm beating against the windows. It hasn’t passed, but it’s abated, and the steady rhythm of falling water makes everything feel that much removed from the everyday, as if the world outside of this room has been swallowed up. Lexa squeezes her hand once but still pulls free. She hoists herself up onto one elbow, drops a kiss on Clarke’s bare shoulder before gently combing her fingers through the hair at Clarke’s temple, drawing it out until the ends. “It isn’t the distance that will protect you. It’s the place itself: almost no one knows it exists. Even fewer know the secret to finding it.”

 

Clarke wishes, with all her heart, that Lexa would shut up. Or find something else to talk about. She hates her a little for bringing this subject into this space, and this moment. But Clarke supposes she wouldn’t be Lexa if she had the knack of letting things go.

 

Under Lexa’s careful hands the tangled and somewhat sweaty mass of Clarke’s hair calms, fans out over the pillow. Clarke feels fingers just behind her ear, piecing away a section hidden beneath the rest. “The one who rules there has no love for me or our ways,” she says softly. “There may be more sacrifices required of you, once you arrive. But considering who you are and what you are capable of, I know she won’t deny you.” She pauses. “And she owes me a life.”

 

Clarke closes her eyes. It’s been a while since she felt this particular tension against her head, the pull-release-pull pattern, but she knows what Lexa is doing.

 

“But it’s because she’s so unlike us,” Lexa says, “that I know you will be safe. And I know...” Her fingers falter for a second, and Clarke wonders if it will mean an irregularity, if she’ll be able to look at the place where the pattern is uneven and think: that’s how she was touching me when. Lexa resumes: “I know she will allow you to leave, if I can ever promise the true danger is past. If that’s what you wish.”

 

The tension disappears as Lexa allows her hair to drop onto the pillow. Clarke rouses enough to reach for her, open her eyes as she examines it. Lexa has secured the braid, thin and delicate enough to go almost unseen with the rest of Clarke’s hair, with a few strands twisted together and somehow knotted around, the ends woven back in. It feels secure to her curious fingers, like it’s meant to last for some time. Lexa gently takes it from her grasp.

 

“What I’m trying to tell you,” she says, tucking the braid back behind Clarke’s ear. “Your going away -- being sent away,” she amends, which is good, because Clarke might’ve pinched her if she hadn’t, “it doesn’t. This doesn’t mean goodbye. Not for always.”

 

Or so Lexa thinks. But Clarke knows things she doesn’t, and she knows the truth.  

 

It is goodbye. It is the end.

 

But they have the rest of the night.

 

So Clarke rolls onto her back and pulls Lexa down onto her, relishes the feel of her under her hands: the scarred skin of her back, soft and unruly curls, the jump of muscles as Clarke tilts her hips. It doesn’t take much to distract Lexa from what she was saying.

 

When Clarke falls asleep again Lexa is curled around her back. Clarke can feel the sweep of Lexa’s breath against her neck, the rhythm of Lexa’s heart against her spine.  

 

When she wakes up, Lexa is gone.

 

 

~*~

 

So stop sulking, Clarke scolds, whenever she catches herself doing just that. Or not sulking, but spacing out. Losing track of time, of her tasks. Herself. She’ll stop in the middle of something to realize she went blank; she has no idea where she’s supposed to be going or doing, and sometimes she even forgets where she was coming from. Now that Lexa is gone Clarke feels like a ghost from the old Earth tales, haunting the tower. After all, the life she had here is dead, and done with. She’s just waiting to move on.

 

The braid Lexa left in her hair hasn’t fallen out. Clarke doesn’t have the heart to take it apart, just moves it aside when she picks out her tangles. She’s very deliberate in not thinking about it. But every time her heart quickens like it’s trying to bring her back to herself, to revive.

 

She misses Lexa.

 

Clarke isn’t sure if it’s better or worse that she’s gone while Clarke waits to leave. She goes back and forth, turning it over in her head as she stares into the darkness before falling into a fitful sleep. It would be worse if Lexa were here, she decides every night; Clarke would have to face her every day with the knowledge of what’s going to happen, smile lies to her at every turn. They probably wouldn’t have had that one night, either. Clarke doesn’t kid herself: Lexa allowed that to happen because she knew she could escape before Clarke woke up. The knowledge burns, a little, but being in love with Lexa doesn’t mean Clarke forgets how her mind works. Lexa only lets good things happen when she’s weighed the resulting sacrifice.

 

So it’s easier this way, Clarke thinks to herself as she finally closes her eyes. This way, they had a few hours of the closest they could come to honesty. And Clarke doesn’t have to deal with Lexa anymore, knowing. It’s the best of a bad situation.

 

But when she opens her eyes every morning to face another grey, formless day, she wonders.

 

She also has time to wonder about what brought them to this place, and if she could have avoided it. Maybe if Clarke had let that first assassin attack a drugged Lexa in her tent, the Commander wouldn’t have decided to take her wood witch all the way back to Polis. Maybe if Clarke had refused to continue the farce, rejected the costume and the paint, she could have faded back into the mass of apprentices to be forgotten. Maybe, just maybe, there was a point where they could have turned back from this. Spared Lexa, at least.

 

(Not Clarke. She’s traced it backwards, from love to despair and loathing to fascination and fear, and found an unbroken line of strong emotion without seam or crack. Some part of her has been moving toward this ever since Lexa rode out of the shadows on her white horse, and Clarke doesn’t think she could have stopped it.

 

She’s not sure she would have wanted to. If a year in solitary taught her anything, it was to own her heartbreak: even if it’s pain, it’s still hers.)

 

Obsessing over past events is an odd comfort. She can’t allow herself to think too far into the future. Her mind’s eye shuts after she pictures riding up to the Ark and being allowed inside. All she can think about now is what’s required, what has to be done -- by her -- to avoid messy, murderous conflict.

 

If she falters, even with one step, everything could be lost.

 

Clarke focuses on that as the days pass, and not on the fact that if she succeeds, Lexa will someday know the truth.

 

What might happen then, Clarke’s weary mind can’t begin to encompass.

 

 

~*~

 

Riding Storm is one of the few things that sweeps away the fog in her brain. She has to be present for the animal to respond to her, and focusing on the horse forces all other distractions from Clarke’s mind, gives her breathing space and an hour or so of peace.

 

Maybe it shows on her face, because when she’s finished leading Storm back into her stall and cleaning her tack, she finds the stable master watching her with folded arms.

 

“You ride her well,” he says, abrupt. “When Heda first told me, I didn’t think --” He cuts off with a nod, as if affirming something to himself. “We all miss her when she’s away,” he says. “If it helps, I’ll let the others know you’re welcome to take the horse out whenever you need.”

 

He turns and leaves before she can figure out a way to communicate her thanks, but the warmth the interaction kindles in her chest lasts her the long ride back up the tower, and even as she walks into her room.

 

Where Lexa is waiting.

 

Clarke stumbles, going blank. For a wild second she thinks she’s hallucinating Lexa, sitting there on Clarke’s bed like she never left the tower, but: her boots are caked with mud, like she hasn’t taken the time to wipe them clean. In fact everything about her screams haste, even emergency, in a way that makes Clarke stumble just as she’s about to leap forward in joy. Lexa still has her long coat on, and Clarke can just about smell the sweat on her from the desperate ride back to Polis. And her face is... oddly drawn, and tight. The skin beneath her eyes looks faintly bruised, and her eyes themselves are... are...

 

As Clarke’s brain stalls on understanding her expression, Lexa opens her mouth and says: “Clarke Griffin.”

 

Clarke stops breathing. Behind her she hears the door close, and she knows they’re not alone in her room. But she can’t look away from Lexa’s dark, unfathomable eyes.

 

“That’s your name.” Lexa doesn’t smile when she adds: “I told you I would figure it out.”

 

Clarke doesn’t know what’s going on behind her implacable expression, and that’s beginning to scare Clarke, because she always --

 

“Don’t you want to know how?”

 

Lexa reaches into her coat, pulls out something with just her fingertips. As if she can barely bring herself to touch it. When she holds it up between them all Clarke can see is a blank piece of paper.

 

“When the people from the sky -- your people -- came down to the earth, the thing that carried them cracked open. Pieces and possessions fell like rain, littering my territory.” Again, handling only the edges, Lexa turns the thing in her hand.

 

It’s a photograph. Clarke knows it like a piece of herself: it’s her, and her father. It used to rest on her mother’s desk. She can see lines where broken glass has scored the surface, a missing corner from when it was ripped loose of a frame.

 

“Anya found it. She couldn’t be certain it was you. You look,” and then the first waver in her voice, “different.” She seems to swallow it down, because when she continues she’s as steady as ever. “But I was certain.”

 

Yes. Even if Lexa had doubts, she’d recognize Jake from Clarke’s portrait.  

 

“One of Anya’s prisoners told us the rest.” She places the photograph down on Clarke’s bedspread. “When he heard you were being held in Polis, he found it very important to make us understand just who you were and why you should be set free. Clarke Griffin. Daughter of Chancellor Griffin, the leader of your people.”

 

... wait. Wait, what --

 

“I suppose we’re not so different after all,” Lexa says. “Both of us born to an uncommon understanding of power, and its purpose.” A muscle in her jaw works. “Both of us devoted to the needs of our people.”   

 

Clarke looks at her, desolate. She doesn’t think she could find the words, at this point, even if she could voice them.

 

And Lexa. The edges of her composure are wearing away, just enough so that Clarke can begin to sense what’s beyond it. She has a sudden flash of memory to the first time she and Wells snuck down to the cargo hold and put their hands against the outer doors -- the metal so cold it felt like it burned at first touch, and yet somehow nothing to the frozen vacuum of space beyond it.

 

Clarke’s hands still ache to place themselves on either side of Lexa’s expressionless face, draw her in close. As if she could share her own warmth that way, lend the heat of her blood and furiously beating heart to break Lexa free of the ice.

 

“And I’ve played similar tricks, in order to get close and learn more about my enemies.” Lexa stands. “But never anything so elaborate.”

 

Clarke’s unease ripens into the first flutters of panic. What does she mean, tricks? Surely she can see how this spiraled out of control -- she has to understand --

 

“I kept wondering why,” Lexa says quietly. “What aim could possibly be served by such commitment.” She swallows. “I did wonder if...” For a brief second Clarke can make out emotion in her eyes. It’s desolation. “I should have known better.”

 

She hooks the toe of her boot around something just out of Clarke’s view, half-kicking it between them.

 

The chest she gave to Clarke, its lock smashed open and beyond repair, lands in the intervening space. It tips onto its side, and out of it spill the maps Clarke has spent the past days copying from the cartographers.

 

Clarke doesn’t even think about it: she steps forward, her first instinct to reach out, connect, find a way to explain. Someone yanks her back by the shoulder, and with enough force to click her teeth together. The next thing she knows someone is at her back, holding her back with their hands around her wrists like manacles. She only has to turn her head a little to see who has her: Anya.

 

“I do know better.” Lexa watches as Clarke resists Anya’s hold. “I have only myself to blame.”

 

Clarke suddenly registers Anya’s other hand clamped across her mouth, the short nails digging into her cheek. She tries to shake free on reflex, but Anya’s grip tightens. She’s panicking, confused, and the implication doesn’t dawn on her until Lexa steps in closer, boots coming down on Clarke’s painstaking maps.  

 

“I want everything,” she says, radiating that burning cold. “Who she spoke with, and what she told them. What secrets she was told to ferret out, and why. Her plans for the maps. I want,” -- and here the slightest curl of her lip, the beginning of a sneer, or an animal’s warning snarl -- “everything they can get from her.”

 

Clarke realizes two things at the same time.

 

One: Lexa isn’t speaking to her, despite never taking those dark eyes away from her face.

 

Two: Finn -- she’s pretty sure it was Finn -- is the one who told them about her. And Finn knew her from the dropship. Before.

 

They think she has her voice.

 

Which means they think they can --

 

“Titus will get everything we need from her,” Anya says.

 

“No.” Lexa turns her head in something that’s almost a flinch. “Not Titus.” She’s quiet for a moment. “Let me have something to show for it before he finds out how badly I failed his teachings. Gustus will serve.”

 

“Yes, Heda,” and from the vicious pleasure in Anya’s voice Clarke knows she hasn’t been granted any kind of reprieve.

 

The scream she can’t give voice to manifests in struggle: even knowing it’s useless she kicks and twists in a kind of animal instinct, panic taking hold of her body and moving it for her. One foot connects with Anya’s legs, but she might as well be a child against the warrior. Anya shifts her grip so that she pins one of Clarke’s wrists high up against her back, the sudden pain shooting through Clarke’s shoulder enough of a warning.

 

“Titus will hear about it if she’s put in the dungeons,” Anya offers. Her grip is like iron. It doesn’t matter how much Clarke tries to thrash, she can barely shift an inch.

 

Lexa’s expression doesn’t shift, either. “Somewhere else, then. Just make sure you’re not seen.”

 

She doesn’t look at Clarke.

 

But Clarke doesn’t take her eyes off Lexa as she’s half-dragged away. She cranes her neck, keeping Lexa in her sights as long as she can.

 

She waits for it: that second where Lexa snaps, realizes what she’s done, what she’s doing. Takes it back. Takes Clarke’s face in her hands and sees the truth.

 

Instead the door shuts between them and Lexa is lost to view.