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It’s been raining all morning, but the weather report promised sunshine by noon and Lexa’s been sitting at the bar in the coffee shop window for an hour, sipping an iced latte and waiting. Her camera bag sits protectively in her lap, her best digital camera inside, even though her fingers had itched to pick up her Leica film camera earlier that morning. The project called for digital art, only, and Anya had looked directly at her when she’d said it to the group of photographers last week.

Even with the iced coffee and the chill seeping in from the window, Lexa feels drowsy, like even her energy is on standby until she can take some pictures.

She’s about to get up for a refill when her phone jingles politely from her pocket. She answers it without looking having to look at the ID—she knows from the ringtone that it’s Octavia.

“I have a model for you,” Octavia says, without letting Lexa speak first.

“And hello to you, too, Octavia.” Lexa rolls her eyes, taking a sip of her latte.

“Yeah, yeah.” Lexa imagines Octavia waving her hand around, like she does, and smiles at the thought. “So I have a model for you.”

“What?”

“My friend, Clarke. She’s that painter I’ve told you about?”

“Mm.” Lexa’s been wary about Octavia and girls since she set her up with Raven, who was excellent in bed, but had a host of her own issues that led to her fleeing before Lexa had even come down from her orgasm.

“She was talking about needing some extra cash and...I know you’ve got Anya’s show coming up. And Lexa, she’s exactly the muse you need.”

“I don’t need a muse,” Lexa clenches her jaw and closes her eyes, “Octavia, we’ve been over this.”

“It’s been two years,” Octavia sounds serious, “Lexa, your creativity is stifled.”

“It’s not,” Lexa says, defensive. “I’m getting ready to go to the park—”

“Oh please. You don’t need any more pictures of flowers or trees. You need to suck it up and take some pictures of a pretty girl.” Lexa sighs, deeply, but Octavia just tuts.

“How much of a fight am I going to have to put up to get out of this?”

“I have some time in between kickboxing lessons if you want to go a round.” Her voice sounds light, playful, but Lexa’s been Octavia’s sparring partner often enough to know she’d jump at the chance to try and beat Lexa up.

“Fine,” she sighs and leans over her camera bag. She hears Octavia hoot and call I win over her shoulder as she rifles through her bag for a pen and her Moleskin. Octavia’s right about one thing, she doesn’t need any more nature pictures. “What’s her name, again?”

“Clarke. With an ‘e’ at the end.” Octavia says, her gloating coming through in the bright, cheery way she chirps the ‘e’.

“Give her my number,” Lexa scribbles down Clarke’s name and ‘painter’ in her notebook, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

“Already done.” Octavia says and Lexa grimaces. “She’ll be calling in a few hours, probably, so keep your phone handy.”

“Octavia,” Lexa shakes her head and says, “thanks,” instead of lecturing her.

“Thank me later,” she sing-songs, blowing a kiss down the line before hanging up. Lexa frowns at her phone and then glances outside. The rain has mostly let up and taken the dregs of inspiration with it. Even with the forecasted sunshine, she’d rather just go home and work on her non-photography work until the model calls. She gathers her things from the bar, notebook and phone charger and a half-eaten granola bar, stuffs them into her camera bag, and heads outside.

It’s cold but humid from the rain, her breath hangs in the air like fog as she huffs up the hill toward her place, thinking the whole time of Clarke, the painter, and what exactly Octavia didn’t tell her about this woman.

***

She’s been sitting in front of her computer with her business emails open for an hour when her phone rings. The number is unknown, so she assumes it’s Octavia’s friend. Her hands twitch nervously and she reminds herself it’s just a photo shoot.

Her tea’s not getting any warmer, so she takes the cup and her phone and goes to the bay window at the front of the apartment that overlooks the street. It’s a blustery day, wind buffeting the shop awnings and battering the poor hanging sign for the hardware store across the street. The sky’s been shifting between dark and light grey all day, not a lick of sunshine as promised by the weather report. It seems that fate, in the form of Octavia’s obvious needling, saved her a long day of trudging about in the rain.

“This is Lexa,” she says as she settles onto the seat in front of the window.

“Hi, this is Clarke—Clarke Griffin? Octavia gave me your number.” Her voice is raspy but bright, like a smoker’s on a good day, and Lexa smiles slightly, already piecing together the image of a person she doesn’t usually photograph.

“The painter,” Lexa says simply, tapping the rim of her tea cup before taking a sip. “Octavia said you’d be willing to model?”

“I…” Clarke takes a breath, like she’s gathering her strength. “Yes. She said it’s paid?”

“Yes,” Lexa clicks her tongue, considering the size of the project for Anya’s opening and the time they’ll have to put into the shot she’s been considering. “I usually do one for clothed and two for nude. I usually prefer nudity but if you—”

“I’m sorry,” Clarke interjects. “Two hundred for nudes?” She sounds offended. Lexa frowns.

“No, thousand. Unless you have an agent, then I’d need to coordinate with—”

“No, no!” Clarke blurts out and Lexa raises her brows, even though no one can see her. “Sorry. It’s just, we’re talking thousands?”

“Yes,” Lexa says slowly, fiddling with the string to her tea bag before taking another sip. “You get a small percentage if the images sell, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Clarke echoes. There’s silence down the line and Lexa wonders if Clarke is going to turn her down, if Octavia didn’t mention nudity, or if Clarke’s insulted by the figure offered. Lexa finds herself compelled enough by the idea of Clarke that she hopes that isn’t the case. “Do I get to come to the opening?” Clarke asks suddenly, clearing out any concerns Lexa might be developing.

“Naturally.” Lexa’s lips twitch up into a small smile.

“When do you want me?”

Lexa blushes at that and manages a mostly composed, “Wednesday?”

“Sure,” Clarke says, fast and easy. “Text me your address and I’ll be there at…”

“One. And be prepared to be here after dark, I work late.”

“Alright,” Clarke says, her voice still marvellously weightless. “Should be fun.”

Lexa hangs up, inhaling deeply and holding it for a moment before letting it go. It wasn’t so bad. It won’t be that bad.

***

She texts Clarke her address before finishing her tea and then heads back to her desk to resume work. Even while thinking about Clarke, this mysterious person she hired without headshots, she manages to plod through a dozen emails before her eyes ache. When she finally gives up, she sits back in her desk chair, mind still churning over her new model.

She finally caves and calls Octavia.

“What does she look like?” she asks without prelude.

“Hello to you too, Lexa,” Octavia mimics Lexa’s tone. Lexa scoffs and rolls her shoulders impatiently.

“Hello, Octavia,” Lexa sighs and rubs her eyes.

“I take it your conversation went well.”

“How do you mean?”

“You didn’t even ask for headshots,” Octavia laughs. “You’re just trusting… what? How she sounds?”

“She...” Lexa presses her lips together, humming thoughtfully. She thinks about Anya’s theme: colour. It’s different from the gritty, urban stuff she’s always pushing, and Lexa (along with some of the other artists) had been surprised by the theme’s simplicity. Lexa’s medium is mostly black and white, gloomy or ethereal and pretty, but Clarke sounds like colour, a raspy voice that somehow manages to be bright, so she fits, without Lexa needing to see her face. “It doesn’t matter what she looks like, she’s going to be perfect.”

“Ugh, Lexa, you’re such a fucking romantic,” she hears the eye roll in Octavia’s voice, “I’m sending you a link to her Insta so you don’t swallow your tongue when you meet her.”

They hang up ten minutes later, after Octavia fills Lexa in on everything Anya’s been doing for the exhibit (read: a lot, and Octavia is dutifully enthusiastic) and after Lexa’s promised to join them for drinks sometime in the near future. True to her word, she texts Lexa a few minutes later with a link to an Instagram account: cgriff.

Lexa lasts all of one minute before her will crumples and she clicks the link.

Clarke is really, really beautiful.

Lexa tries not to feel like she’s in trouble, but the sensation settles in her stomach the further back she scrolls through Clarke’s Instagram.

Nearly a year back, there’s a picture of Clarke in a bikini on a balcony somewhere sunny and warm, smiling so big it’s brighter than the sun. Lexa bites her lip and clicks the back button until she’s back at the search page.

She’s in so much trouble. (And she really has to thank Octavia for looking out for her.)

The day before the shoot, Lexa heads to the art supply store with a few ideas sketched out in her Moleskin and tons of research on body paints. She wants to paint on Clarke’s body, that’s for sure. After a few glasses of wine, she spent the rest of the night scrolling through Clarke’s Instagram and all Lexa could do was think about capturing her in black and white, the pretty angles of her face, the soft curves of her shoulders. But Lexa finds a few pictures of her on the beach, stretched out on the sand, and imagines her skin like a canvas that is just screaming to be painted on.

Five years back into Clarke’s account, there are pictures of her, younger, smiling bright, covered in paint and laughing. Lexa wants to crawl into that day, just to figure out the sound of that laugh. She wonders if she’ll hear it during the shoot.

She’s mentally kicking herself up and down the aisles of the store, gathering items from her list without thinking. Blacks and blues and greens and every hue of a sunset, brushes and sponges and setting powder that’s probably not necessary. She considers calling Clarke, but the prospect of talking to her makes Lexa’s mouth go dry, so she powers on, refusing help despite the fact that she spends twenty minutes looking for gold lustre dust.

She buys more than she’ll ever need, and when she gets home she kicks herself some more until her phone vibrates across the kitchen counter and she has to put down her pity whiskey.

It’s a text from Anya, the cold chill of her usual demeanour coming across clearly in the curt text.

Anya [9:51]
You’re getting a new model?

Lexa sighs, pressing the corner of her phone between her eyes. She figured Anya would find out about it sooner, but figures Anya’s been so busy at the gallery that Octavia just hasn’t had the chance to blurt it out.

Lexa [9:52]
Yes. I needed a change.

Anya [9:53]
Finally moving on from Costia and using a woman again?

Lexa clenches her jaw, thumb hovering over the keyboard on her screen for a moment. She could just ignore Anya, it’s easy, she does it all the time, but she also knows that this is something Anya won’t let drop.

Lexa [9:53]
Yes.

It’s absolutely not a lie. Clarke is definitely a woman.

Anya [9:55]
Don’t let it fuck with your head this time.

Lexa [9:56]
And here I thought you cared.

Anya [9:58]
Whatever. The pictures better be good.

Lexa [9:59]
They will be.

She thinks about Clarke, that smile that radiates warmth and life, and is pretty sure they’re going to be some of her best.


 

Clarke arrives on Wednesday, two minutes before one. Lexa admires her punctuality. And her, well, everything. Clarke’s hair is loose and just a little damp from the rain; she’s wearing a black shirt, jeans that sit low on her hips, and a leather jacket that she looks criminally good in. Lexa isn’t sure what to say when she pulls open the door, so she just steps aside to allow Clarke in.

“Here,” Clarke says when Lexa doesn’t say anything. She hands Lexa a bottle still tucked inside a liquor store’s paper bag. Lexa just raises her brows in question. “We used to… in college I did some modeling for a few friends in photography and we used to bring booze and it was kind of… less photo session, more… party.” Lexa pulls the bottle from the bag and chuckles.

“Surely you didn’t drink Redbreast,” Lexa can’t keep the light teasing tone from her voice, nor can she keep the open appreciation from her face. Clarke’s hot, and has excellent taste in liquor. Lexa starts to wonder what other surprises the woman has in store for the afternoon.

“No,” Clarke smiles, her shoulders lowering a little like she’s relaxing. “Usually something in a plastic litre bottle from the bottom shelf.” Clarke wrinkles her nose and Lexa mirrors the expression.

“I appreciate it. We’ll dip in after we’ve been at it for a while, sound good?”

“Excellent,” Clarke bobs her head, sliding her jacket off. “Where should I—”

“Shoes by the door,” Lexa says, waiting for Clarke to walk further into the flat before she yanks the door closed. “You can keep your clothes by the photography studio, just in case.”

“In case… I need to duck and run?” Clarke raises her brows, slipping her shoes off and watching Lexa pad across the open space of the flat towards the kitchen.

“In case you get cold,” Lexa says simply. She chucks the paper bag into a recycling bin underneath the sink and then sets the whiskey out on the counter, displaying it like she would a bouquet of flowers.

“Your place is,” Clarke whistles and nods, still standing a little in from the doorway, “I dig it.”

“Thank you,” Lexa smiles, pleased. “You’d probably like it even more if you came in.” Clarke ducks her head and Lexa catches a smile that’s almost bashful.

She meanders slowly towards Lexa, trying to look like she’s not snooping when she’s clearly doing her best to snoop. Each area of the flat is blocked off with tall wooden screens, giving the illusion of separation in such a wide open space. The photography studio is the only area with a higher degree of privacy, long thick white curtains hang from the ceiling and can be pulled across to separate the area from the rest of her place, but usually they’re open, like now.

“This is definitely nicer than the college studios,” Clarke marvels, tapping the Canon sitting on the tripod as she walks past. Lexa follows her, watching with reserved amusement as Clarke makes a loop through the space before landing in front of the stool Lexa has set up in the middle of the room.

“I’m still working out some kinks,” Lexa says thoughtfully.

“So, I should get naked?” Clarke says and Lexa blushes so hard she has to bite her lip to keep a flustered little gasp from escaping.

“I have a dressing area...” Lexa starts to point to a privacy screen near the corner, but Clarke’s already tugging off her t-shirt. “Or… you can undress here…”

“Sorry, is that okay?” Clarke asks, undoing her belt but leaving it on as she starts to wriggle out of her jeans. Lexa just nods, looking away as Clarke slides her jeans down her thighs. She picks up her camera, checking the battery and fiddling with the lens.

“Um,” Clarke clears her throat and Lexa realises she’s been staring blankly at her camera for too long. She looks up and whatever thought that was trying to form flees from her brain. Clarke is, well, naked, and Lexa’s palms start to sweat. “Ta-da…?” Clarke says, unsure as Lexa just stands and stares. It’s not Lexa’s proudest moment, but she can’t actually help it. “Well?” Clarke clears her throat when Lexa still doesn’t speak.

“You’re…” Lexa’s gaze roves openly over Clarke’s naked body, taking in every soft curve. Clarke shifts crossing her arms over her chest like she’s embarrassed. “Worth more than two-thousand dollars.”

“Oh,” Clarke laughs. Lexa’s cheeks flare with heat when she realises she said that out loud and Clarke just laughs even harder at the helpless look on Lexa’s face.

“I’m sorry,” Lexa manages, clenching her jaw, “that was … inappropriate.”

“It’s fine,” Clarke huffs, brushing a tear from her cheek, “I don’t feel nearly as awkward anymore.”

***

“I was thinking you could paint in blues and oranges and yellows,” Lexa says, after she’s fetched two bottles of water from the fridge. She has the paints set out on a table, neat and tidy, along with the hodgepodge of painting supplies she’d picked up.

“Wait, what?”

“To compliment your skin tone and eyes,” Lexa clarifies.

“No, I mean,” Clarke purses her lips, “paint?”

“Ah,” Lexa bobs her head, “sorry. The theme for this show is colour, and your skin is the perfect canvas for… well…” she motions to the paint pots on the table.

“Oh,” Clarke’s nostrils flare and Lexa frowns.

“Is that… I’m sorry, Octavia said you were a painter. I just assumed—”

“No it’s…” Clarke exhales slowly. “I haven’t painted in years,” Clarke says simply, hands fidgeting at her sides.

“Oh,” Lexa clenches her jaw, adding another to the list of things to shout at Octavia about.

“I’m sorry, your theme—”

“It’s fine,” Lexa says, a little sharply, her mind working fast to try and recalibrate. She doesn’t do costumes, she definitely doesn’t do props, but maybe she can capture Clarke’s laughter and enhance the colour of her eyes…

“Lexa?” Clarke says, touching Lexa’s forearm and making her jump in surprise. “Sorry,” Clarke chuckles, “I was just saying… it’s fine. I can… you can help?” She looks so shy and young. Lexa nods, reaching for a brush. “Can you even paint?” Clarke asks, her tone lighter, whatever cloud from a moment ago seems to have passed.

“I can do a tree,” Lexa says with a shrug. It’s something.

“Well,” Clarke laughs, switching the thin tipped brush in Lexa’s hand for a broader one. “You’ll need this, then.”

***

Clarke lies down on one of the drop cloths Lexa bought, so the paint doesn’t drip down her skin and onto the floor. After a few awkward attempts at finding a good position, Clarke just insists Lexa sit on her thighs to paint. Lexa’s certain her whole face has gone scarlet, but Clarke just pillows her head on her arms, waiting. She arranges a few of the paint pots on the drop cloth near Clarke’s body and, with no other way to stall, steps gingerly over Clarke’s thighs and settles down, straddling her.

It’s a whole lot of sensory overload and Lexa struggles for a moment to separate the rush of arousal from the task at hand. She’s a fucking professional photographer, most of her sessions with models are nude shoots, but here she is, heart tripping over itself from her proximity to Clarke. It’s terrible, it’s like Costia all over again, and Lexa tries to choke back the guilt and the attraction so she can do her damn job.

She takes a breath and runs her hands down Clarke’s back, getting a feel for the softness of her skin. Clarke’s breath hitches and Lexa bites her lip.

“I want to paint it in black,” Lexa says, her voice strained but her tone even. With her hands framing Clarke’s back and all she can imagine is a black tree spreading its limbs up her skin. Brown won’t look right at all.

“Then paint it black,” Clarke shrugs. “Black and white are colours, last time I checked.”

“Right,” Lexa nods, leaning over to brush Clarke’s hair up and over her shoulder. She reaches for the black paint and unscrews the lid. She tries to keep her hand steady as she dips the brush into the paint and then brings it to Clarke’s back.

Clarke gasps, a noise that reaches every part of Lexa’s body, and shivers.

“Be still,” Lexa says softly, placing her left hand on Clarke’s hip.

“It’s cold,” Clarke says, breathless.

“Sorry,” Lexa chuckles, flexing her fingers against Clarke’s hip gently. “I’ll be quick.”

“Just make it look good.”

It’s some kind of exquisite torture, painting Clarke’s back. She goes as fast as she can without fucking up, drawing on the year and a half of watercolour classes to get the tree’s trunk and branches looking right. All sense of awkwardness eeks out of the moment, the longer Lexa works. Clarke squirms and makes noises and Lexa’s grip on Clarke’s hip increases the whole time, anchoring them both through each brush stroke. That flame of arousal between her legs doesn’t go away, it just grows, slowly, and she finds herself holding her breath just to keep her hand steady. Lexa tries not to think about it, but it’s impossible with all of the wiggling Clarke’s doing.

“My legs are going numb,” Clarke mumbles, bending one of her knees for emphasis. The movement makes Lexa rut up against Clarke’s ass and Lexa nearly drops the brush in shock.

“Sorry,” Lexa chokes out, giving herself a moment to let her thudding heart slow down. She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly as she leans close to Clarke’s back to inspect the finer branches of the tree. “You’re the one who suggested I sit on you.”

“It’s easier that way,” Clarke turns her head to the other side, craning to peek over her shoulder. “You almost done?”

“I think so,” Lexa nods, using her thumb to rub at a smudged edge. It doesn’t budge and she frowns. “Let me just…” She runs her hands down Clarke’s back, testing if the paint has dried. She holds her breath because sure, she can keep her business-like composure… if she doesn’t breathe. Clarke’s skin is warm and velvety soft, the paint almost blending in like part of her. Lexa strokes the shape of the tree with her fingertips, dancing down her spine and ribs, mesmerised by the contrast against Clarke’s skin. She rests her palms at the base of Clarke’s back, just below the slash of paint that’s meant to be the ground, and Clarke shivers, goosebumps prickling up her forearms. Lexa bites her lip, her stomach fluttering. “You still cold?”

“No,” Clarke says, her voice rough. Lexa swallows, hard, and pulls her hands away from Clarke’s skin.

“I’ll just…” Lexa clears her throat, “get up, then.” Lexa’s whole body is so hot she feels like she’s made of cinders, but the tree looks really good, a strong trunk with spindly branches that fan out across Clarke’s upper back. She stands up, a little regretfully because being so close to Clarke was nice, but then Clarke gets up too and stretches and Lexa’s back to blushing and turns her focus onto her camera.

“Take a picture so I can see,” Clarke says, twisting and turning to catch a glimpse of her back. Lexa laughs and picks up her camera.

“Turn around, then.” Clarke complies and Lexa lifts her camera, “Keep your head straight so your hair falls naturally.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she laughs and Lexa bites her lip, twisting the lens a tad before snapping a few pictures.

“Come and look,” Lexa says, settling the camera against her stomach and clicking to the view mode. The screen isn’t that big, so Clarke edges up to Lexa’s side, bumping against Lexa’s elbow as she scrunches in to see.

“It’s great,” Clarke says softly, touching the smudges on the back of Lexa’s hand. “You did great.”

“I need more colour,” Lexa frowns. The shape is beautiful, following the curves of Clarke’s back, branching out over her ribs just a bit. Clarke’s hair hangs down like sun rays, just barely brushing the top branches. But the tree is black, and Clarke’s skin is the kind of soft peach of a faded summer tan.

“Then let’s paint my chest. I have an idea.”

***

Clarke’s idea amounts to ‘the night sky’ and ‘lots of stars’. She mixes two of the blues for a velvety midnight colour that she paints over her chest and part of her upper arms, and then blends a pale yellow with a pearly white to create the stars.

“Help me with the stars,” Clarke says, after she’s finished painting the blue down just before the tops of her breasts.

“Where?” Lexa says, her voice tight. Clarke holds out a brush for Lexa and she takes it, only dimly aware of her actions.

“Start on my right arm,” she says smoothly, dipping her brush into the white and yellow mixture, and tracing a little dot in her chest just over her heart.

“I…” Lexa clenching her jaw so tight she thinks she hears her teeth creak.

“It’s okay, Lexa. Just think Van Gogh,” Clarke says softly, looking at Lexa briefly. She demonstrates, filling in around the circle until it looks more like it’s radiating the whiteness across the blue, rather than just sitting there.

“What if I mess it up?” Lexa’s voice is more fragile than she’d like it to be, but Clarke’s movements had been so precise, so confident. Lexa’s hands are sweating.

“Then we’ll work with it,” Clarke smiles, lowering her brush to the pallet for more paint. “Come on,” she tilts her head and holds out the brush with paint on it. “Do this one with me.”

Lexa takes a deep breath and steps into Clarke’s space, taking the offered brush, holding it lightly. She lets Clarke guide her hand forward and watches, intently, as Clarke directs the tip of the brush against her skin, just above where the blue ends. Lexa tries to memorise the way her hand moves, how it feels, but she’s too distracted by the proximity, the tension of Clarke’s fingers around her own, the flush that’s creeping across the tops of Clarke’s cheeks and ears. Lexa feels a little dizzy from it all.

Clarke lets go of her hand and Lexa’s skin is singing where they were touching. The star looks like the other, smaller and maybe a bit shakier, but the same. She takes the brush from Lexa’s hand, her cheeks still stained with pink.

“That was good,” Clarke breathes, her voice sounding as shaky as Lexa feels. “You got this?”

“I think so,” Lexa says roughly, dabbing her brush through the paint.

Clarke has to stand in front of the mirror for the rest of her chest, so Lexa focuses hard on the task of putting stars on her skin. When they’re done, Clarke’s skin is transformed into a dark blue sky, littered with stars.

“Put one on my neck,” Clarke says, admiring their work. Time has let the blush cool down and both their cheeks are just pink, almost like they’re glowing with pride. Lexa cocks her head to the side, looking at Clarke in the mirror. “Here,” Clarke adds, motioning to a spot where she’d painted up onto her neck. “It looks empty.”

“Oh,” Lexa clears her throat and nods, picking her brush back up and swiping it through the paint. She brushes Clarke’s hair out of the way and leans in as Clarke tilts her head even further. Lexa presses in as close as she can get, trying to focus all of her attention on the little patch of blue on Clarke’s neck. She fills in a circle, follows the movements that are at this point well practiced, but her attention drifts to the speeding pulse just beneath the skin, the deepening colour high on Clarke’s cheek, and when she glances in the mirror, Clarke’s face… God, her eyes are dark and half-lidded but she’s watching Lexa in the mirror and when their eyes make contact… The shock of it sends a thrill through Lexa’s whole body, rushing like wildfire, right between her legs.

Her internal monologue is a litany of curses. She finishes the star with a trembling hand and pulls away quickly once she’s done, checking Clarke’s face in the mirror. Objectively, Clarke was right, the star right there brings everything together and will make for compelling angles on camera, but Lexa wonders if her sanity was worth the aesthetics.

***

Lexa suggests a sunrise, motioning to the array of colours they haven’t touched, and Clarke goes for her leg, painting a sunset that stretches from her hip down to her thigh. Lexa watches, half-mesmerised, taking pictures when Clarke bends at an angle that looks compelling. The process is messier, or so it seems, because Clarke gets smudges of paint all over; a slash of red on her cheek, smudges of yellow and orange blending in on her fingers, and a smear of cotton candy blue and pink blending into an almost-lilac on her belly.

“You’re a mess,” Lexa says, smiling against her camera. Clarke smiles, setting the brush down on the pallet. Lexa’s shutter clicks.

“Painting is messy,” Clarke says, stretching to her side so the sunrise is on full display. Lexa’s fingers react before her brain has the chance to be dumb and she snaps a few shots of the movement. Clarke’s eyelids flutter, like the stretch is pleasurable, and Lexa bites her lip. “Where do you want me?” Clarke asks when she’s done stretching, turning to face Lexa full on.

“Uh,” Lexa clears her throat, ignoring the obvious line of thinking. “Let’s get you on the stool, first.”

Photography is nothing like reviewing a spreadsheet or sitting in on a vendor consultation, it’s utterly freeing. She’s dealt with so many male models over the past two years that she forgot how nice it was to have a woman in front of her camera. Clarke has a fierceness in her eyes that makes Lexa shiver behind the lens, but she’s so guarded sometimes that Lexa finds she wants to probe deeper, further than the camera will take her.

She tries not to think about that, though, and purses her lips, giving Clarke simple instructions and snapping pictures when something looks just right.

They take a break after an hour of working through different poses. Lexa’s arms are sore from holding her camera up for so long, but every time Clarke moves it’s a new thing she wants to photograph. Clarke is utterly captivating, and she’s not sure if she should send Octavia an expensive gift, or sock her in the jaw.

Clarke pulls on the robe Lexa offers her and they adjourn to the kitchen for whiskey and a cheese plate Lexa scrounges together from her meagre supply of brie, gouda, and some sliced pear. Clarke pours the whiskey while Lexa fishes out some crackers from her pantry.

“So, are you going to tell me why you brought me such a nice whiskey?” Lexa asks as she arranges the crackers on the plate and takes her glass from Clarke.

“It’s not just for you,” Clarke points and Lexa just raises her brows, swirling the whiskey in her glass thoughtfully. “I told you, back in college—”

“Redbreast, though?” she takes a cracker from the plate and puts a piece of cheese on it.

“Well,” Clarke smirks, dancing her fingertips over the rim of her glass before picking it up and taking a sip. Lexa takes a bite of her cracker. “I work at a bar. I know what high rollers like to drink.”

“I’m not a…” Lexa blushes, hides it with a sip of whiskey, and clears her throat. “What makes you think that?”

“Lexa,” Clarke laughs, gently, not teasing, “you’re paying a ridiculous amount for a nude model. You live in one of the nicest neighbourhoods in town above Woods and Company, which is one of the fanciest specialty grocers in town. And your last name is Woods.” Lexa’s jaw drops a little and Clarke smirks. “It’s not a huge leap.”

“Oh. I suppose I hadn’t thought…” Lexa purses her lips, “is it really too much? No one’s ever said anything about it.”

“No,” Clarke laughs, “I can’t imagine they would.” She tilts her glass a little, the liquid catching the light from the pendants hanging over the island. Lexa frowns. Clarke pushes herself off of the counter and taps Lexa’s wrist gently, shaking her from self introspection. “You shouldn’t frown so much,” she says, angling her body towards Lexa’s. Lexa swallows, stepping back reflexively only to find her hips bumping into the counter behind her.

“Clarke…” They stare at each other, not enough space between them but still too much for what Lexa wants. Which is… she realises quickly that she wants to kiss Clarke, and she tries to smother that want by licking her lip. She’s thirsty and she aches and she’s gripping the edge of the counter with one hand because she feels like she might slide to the ground without the anchor.

Clarke must feel the ground shifting beneath them and that Lexa’s barely holding on, because she breaks the contact and steps back, reaching for a piece of brie from the tray. “We should hurry up, yeah? Before the paint gets all crusty.”

“Right,” Lexa says, half-regretful, half-grateful, and takes a deep drink of her whiskey, listening to the ice clink in her glass.

***

“Here,” Lexa says softly, setting down a deep bowl filled with warm, soapy water. There are a few pieces of flannel sitting on the table already and Clarke furrows her brows. “It’s easier than showering and…” Lexa blushes, biting her lip and looking at her camera like it’s going to help her out.

“You want to photograph me wiping the paint off?”

“Well,” Lexa clears her throat and Clarke laughs, picking up one of the pieces of flannel.

“Where should I start?”

Lexa wasn’t sure how it would work out, but watching Clarke slowly wipe the sky from her thigh makes a whole messy torrent of emotions roil through her body. She takes less pictures, savours the moments where she’s just watching Clarke move, rather than documenting it.

“Could I get some more?” Clarke asks, snapping Lexa out of her reverie. She’s motioning to the water and Lexa nods, placing her camera down before picking up the bowl and hurrying to her kitchen.

Lexa brings over a fresh bowl of warm water and a few more pieces of flannel. Once she’s set them down she grabs her camera, ready to start documenting again. She looks up, watches Clarke wipe at the paint on her chest, and then swallows, hard, when Clarke levels her with this completely unreadable look.

“Come help me clean this off,” Clarke says softly. She’s only smeared a bit of the paint away, but it’s thicker and drier than what was on her thigh. Lexa’s finger hovers over the shutter release, clicking quickly to get the look on Clarke’s face, soft and open, holding the blue-streaked washcloth to her shoulder.

“But, the pictures…”

“Please,” Clarke says in a way that is almost needy. Lexa hesitates, but Clarke just stares at her with those eyes and her brows raised in a plea and Lexa sets her camera down, again. She picks up one of the other flannels, dips it into the bowl of water, and brings it to Clarke’s chest.

Clarke doesn’t move, she just stands still as Lexa wipes at the blue, smearing it at first until she applies just enough pressure to wipe the skin clean. Clarke’s breath hitches.

“Should I... is it too cold? Do I need to—”

“It’s fine,” Clarke rasps, and Lexa just nods, unable to look up from the task at hand.

She gets as much of the paint off of her upper chest as she can and then, without thinking, reaches up and cups Clarke’s jaw, tilting her head back so she can wipe the paint from her neck. Clarke inhales sharply and Lexa looks up, their eyes connecting for a flash. Clarke’s eyes are dark and her lips are parted and Lexa would have to be an idiot not to recognise… oh . Clarke bites her bottom lip and a flood of want rushes through Lexa’s body, so strong that it makes her gasp. She lets go of Clarke’s neck fast, like she’s been slapped, and she looks away as her cheeks and ears start to burn.

“I’m sorry,” she swallows, the muscles in her jaw jumping as she clenches her teeth. “I didn’t—”

“Don’t,” Clarke breathes out, and then she’s in Lexa’s space, too close and too warm and too real. Her hands reach up and capture Lexa’s jaw and then they’re kissing.

It feels exactly like falling.

“Is this okay?” Clarke asks, her mouth just a breath away. Lexa wants to laugh, because of course it is, but instead she just bumps Clarke’s nose gently with hers and kisses her again.

Clarke reaches for her, runs her hands up Lexa’s shoulders and neck, and then reaches up to undo the elastic holding Lexa’s hair in a bun. Lexa’s desire unspools under Clarke’s touch along with her hair, her fingers gentling through Lexa’s curls until she grabs a handful and tugs. Lexa lets out a soft moan and walks Clarke back until she’s pressed against the nearest brick wall, Clarke lets out a huff at the contact and bites Lexa’s bottom lip; both of them moan. Clarke’s skin is warm and damp in places, swirls of colour still visible along her shoulders. Lexa revels in it, the feeling of Clarke, warm beneath her hands, brushing hair from her neck and then slipping her fingers down over her shoulders and down her sides, resting them lightly on Clarke’s hips.

Clarke sighs and slips her tongue into Lexa’s mouth. Lexa moans softly at the contact, tightens her hands on Clarke’s hips, terrified to move them anywhere else, but then Clarke slides her hands down over Lexa’s and brings them up to her chest.

Lexa gasps, pulls back a little to look Clarke in the face. Clarke bites her lip, tightens her hands against Lexa’s and leans in to kiss her again. Lexa can feel Clarke smiling into the kiss and it’s enough encouragement to let her feel comfortable with the soft weight of Clarke’s breasts in her hand. She rolls her thumbs over her nipples and Clarke’s breath hitches in her chest. Lexa does it again, and Clarke makes a nasally noise of pleasure that scorches straight to Lexa’s core. Lexa nips at Clarke’s bottom lip, soothes the bite with her tongue, and then moans softly when Clarke rolls her hips forward.

“Let me take you to bed,” Lexa breathes, pulling back just enough to see Clarke’s face, to gauge her reaction. Clarke’s mouth hangs open just a bit, her lips pink from being kissed, and when she nods Lexa’s knees feel a little weak.

They make it to the bed in a hurried mess of Lexa’s clothes being thrown this way and that. Clarke laughs when Lexa flails her legs to get her jeans off, but then Lexa cuts her off with a kiss as she pushes Clarke down onto her bed.

Lexa is a fast learner, moving her mouth to Clarke’s neck as she slides between her legs. Clarke makes some noise like she half-disapproves of the situation, but the sound disappears as soon as Lexa sucks soundly over her pulse point.

Oh ,” Clarke gasps and Lexa smiles.

“What do you like?” Lexa asks, lips hovering over Clarke’s throat.

“Everything,” Clarke huffs, lifting her hips into the air between them.

“Really?” Lexa leans back, tilting her head so her hair falls over her shoulder.

“Well,” Clarke laughs, reaching up to twist her fingers through Lexa’s curls. “Maybe not everything.” Lexa shakes her head and dips down, kissing Clarke’s mouth softly before pulling back and sitting on her heels.

“Show me,” she says, eyes flicking down Clarke’s body.

“Really?” Clarke laughs and Lexa blushes deeply, biting her lip.

“I thought…” her train of thought derails as Clarke lifts her hands to cup her own breasts. Lexa swallows hard and watches intently as Clarke strokes her thumbs over her own nipples, slow, gently, until she slides one hand down her stomach. Lexa tightens her hands into fists and watches, rapt, as Clarke spreads her legs wider and drags her fingers through the wetness there. Lexa can see how wet she is, and the knowledge of that makes every part of her body flush with heat and her stomach rise up and do a flip. She bites her bottom lip, eyes darting rapidly between Clarke’s face and what her fingers are doing between her legs.

Beautiful, Lexa thinks, and rises up on her knees a little, pressing her thighs together to ease the tension building between them. Clarke is working her clit in tight, intent circles when she gasps, rolls her hips against her own hand. Lexa looks up in time for Clarke’s eyes to flash open, a look of pure need on her face.

“Lexa, please,” Clarke whines, her jaw dropping as she lets out a breathy whimper. It’s enough to break the last thread of control in Lexa’s body and Lexa slides down onto her stomach between Clarke’s legs and curls her arms under Clarke’s thighs.

Clarke makes a noise that might be finally but it sounds mostly like a whine and Lexa smiles, pressing her mouth gently to the soft skin of Clarke’s thigh. There’s the smell of paint, of lotion, and of Clarke’s arousal, and Clarke curses when Lexa finally moves her mouth to where she needs it.

Lexa goes slow, despite the urgency with which Clarke’s hips twitch and shudder against Lexa’s mouth. She draws slow, soft circles around Clarke’s clit, teases her entrance before laving her tongue back up. When Lexa doesn't let up the tortuously slow pace, Clarke’s noises shift from soft, delighted sounds to ones of frustration. Lexa can’t help but chuckle each time she feels Clarke draw close to something she wants, because she immediately takes it away, decreases the pressure or speed of her tongue.

Lexa,” Clarke gasps, arching at the nothingness when Lexa pulls away again.

“Yes?”

“I need…” Clarke swallows and Lexa’s a second away from teasing her when Clarke raises her hips and says, “I need you to fuck me, Lexa.”

“Oh,” Lexa groans and fuck, yes. She didn't even know that's what she was waiting for. She puts her mouth back against Clarke’s cunt and strokes her clit with the flat of her tongue. She tests Clarke’s entrance with a finger, but Clarke huffs a soft more and Lexa groans as she pushes two fingers in. Clarke moans, low and satisfied, and Lexa smiles.

“Better,” Clarke whispers, her voice shuddering on her breath.

Lexa tries to be gentle but Clarke's mouth is filthy with her need; the panting, moaning, whining curses pushes Lexa from gentle strokes to faster ones, curling her fingers up each time, scissoring them before pulling back. Clarke’s thighs tighten against the sides of Lexa’s face. Lexa can barely make out those noises, but she knows Clarke doesn't relent, the soft oh god every time Lexa hits a good spot is particularly sweet. She can tell Clarke is close, everything’s fluttering and shuddering with each thrust, with each stroke of her tongue. Lexa sucks hard on Clarke’s clit, twists her fingers just so, and Clarke sounds like she’s trying to babble a warning.

“I’m—”

Lexa just nods, drags her teeth very gently against Clarke’s clit, and Clarke shouts, arches her back, and comes hard, her thighs going tense and trembling against Lexa’s head. Lexa gentles her through it, moving her fingers only slightly as Clarke’s muscles convulse around them, until Clarke relaxes back to the bed, her legs falling away from the sides of Lexa’s head.

But Lexa doesn’t stop or pull away.

"You can give me more," Lexa murmurs, placing a slick kiss against the inside of Clarke's trembling thigh. Clarke whimpers but then Lexa returns to her old pace, gives Clarke no time to recover, and Clarke shouts fuck like she’s been hurt. Lexa almost stops, but the way Clarke's muscles clench around Lexa’s fingers again lets Lexa know she’s okay. More than okay. 

This one takes longer, but Lexa reaches up to play with Clarke's nipples, coaxing her to another orgasm with patience and an almost ravenous need to hear her let loose again. When Clarke finally does come, she releases a sob while her hips shudder against Lexa's mouth. 

Clarke whimpers, tugging on Lexa’s hair until Lexa relents, pulls her mouth and fingers away with a disappointed sigh. She crawls back up Clarke’s body, pressing wet-mouthed kisses to Clarke’s sweaty skin until they’re kissing. Clarke reaches up, cupping Lexa’s breasts in her palms, and Lexa sighs, tilting her head until their foreheads are pressed together.

“You don’t have—”

“Shhh,” Clarke murmurs, trailing her hand down Lexa’s stomach, mirroring her movements from earlier, “just hold yourself up.”

Lexa has never been so thankful for all that time and excess energy spent at the gym.

Her arms tremble a little when Clarke’s hand passes between her legs, and she hunches forward in shock when Clarke slides two fingers over her clit.

“Clarke—” Lexa chokes, dropping her head down. She was so close just from having her mouth on Clarke, from feeling Clarke come around her fingers, and this, now, is almost too much. Clarke murmurs something soft, rubs her cheek against Lexa’s, and moves her fingers down, dipping them inside. Lexa shudders, tenses up, and Clarke just murmurs against her again, gently, her thumb rubbing almost soothing circles around Lexa’s clit.

“It’s okay,” Clarke whispers, and Lexa feels like her lungs are going to explode. She rolls her hips against Clarke’s hand experimentally and the sensation wrenches a moan from somewhere deep in her chest. “Good,” Clarke sighs, trailing her lips down Lexa’s neck until her mouth is pressed to Lexa’s shoulder and she sucks softly at the skin there. Lexa focuses on Clarke’s mouth on her shoulder until her mind catches up to everything and then she can focus on finding a pattern, rolling her hips as Clarke matches her pace.

It doesn’t take long before Lexa is trembling, using all her strength to stave off an orgasm that she wants to never happen so Clarke will never stop touching her, but then Clarke says, “come, Lexa,” and Lexa does, Clarke’s name slipping out of her throat so quietly it’s almost like a prayer.

Clarke’s hands are on Lexa’s waist after she’s come down, and Lexa nuzzles Clarke’s ear gently.

“I can keep going,” Clarke says against Lexa’s neck, and Lexa almost laughs, but then Clarke shifts quickly, moves them until Lexa’s on her back and Clarke’s straddling her waist, a wicked look on her face.

Fuck,” Lexa curses, and this time it’s Clarke who laughs.

***

Lexa could probably lay there forever, sweaty and warm, with Clarke’s arm draped casually across her hips. She’s about five seconds from doing just that, feels sleep call her loudly, but then Clarke shifts and sighs and Lexa frowns as Clarke’s arm slips away from her.

“I gotta pee,” Clarke says with a groan, pushing herself upright. Lexa watches her slide out of bed and walk across the apartment to the restroom, naked, and feels a flush of happiness spread through her chest. It was so wonderful , Lexa thinks, and she wants to lie down and beat herself up for it, but she can’t so she just leans over and retrieves a pack of emergency cigarettes from her bedside table.  

Just after she’s lit her cigarette Clarke wanders back over from the bathroom, her fingertips dancing over the rumpled sheets before she climbs back into the bed and settles against the wall next to Lexa, their shoulders touching just so. Lexa turns to look at her, contemplating the way her skin looks in the soft white glow from the fairy lights strung along the wall. The smoke from the cigarette between her fingers curls, bluish, in the air between them.

Lexa tries to be calm, thinks about anything other than the excuse Clarke is cooking up to duck out.

“So,” Clarke says suddenly.

“You have to go,” Lexa says solemnly. She takes a drag of the cigarette, exhaling the smoke in a twisting cloud.

“No,” Clarke says simply, sneaking the cigarette from between Lexa’s fingers and bringing it to her mouth to take a drag. “I was wondering if I could stay the night.”

“Oh,” Lexa blinks, watching Clarke blow a cloud of smoke into the air. They sit like that, Clarke taking drags of the cigarette, rubbing her thumb against the filter as she blows smoke out. She’s waiting, but she doesn’t look impatient. Their bare thighs are touching and all Lexa can do is think about how nice it will be to wake up next to someone, to wake up next to Clarke. “Yeah,” she says, finally, pulling another cigarette from the pack. “I’d like you to stay.”

***

Lexa wakes early, stretching her aching muscles as she sits naked on the edge of her bed. It’s a good ache, new yet familiar. She looks back over the mess of blond hair spread out on the other pillow with some sort of reverence, glancing away quickly like she’s afraid the woman will evaporate. She slips out of bed and walks quietly across the area she calls her bedroom and plucks up her black robe from a hook on the wall.

She’s not used to having people in her bed in the morning. They’re always gone after a cigarette and a drink, the only memory of their presence are the wrinkles in Lexa’s sheets. But when Clarke had snuck the cigarette from between Lexa’s fingers and had asked if she could stay…

She’s a cautious person by nature, all guarded and secure from any kind of hurt. She should have all these fortifications raised against Clarke but instead she had said yes, she let Clarke press against her back and pull the covers over their naked bodies, she sank into the warmth and softness of Clarke’s skin until her eyes were too heavy with exhaustion, and was carried on to sleep by the gentle sound of Clarke’s deep, even breathing.

Lexa feels small and vulnerable as she watches Clarke for a moment, trying to ease the different way her heart is racing in her chest. The breathing doesn’t help, but Clarke is beautiful in the morning light, and Lexa’s smile is small as she turns and heads to the bathroom.

Clarke shifts and moves so much that by the time Lexa has gone to the bathroom and brushed her teeth, she’s taken up the whole bed in Lexa’s absence. Lexa’s tired, and the bed looks inviting, particularly with so much girl spread across it, but some twang of nerve keeps her from heading back to sleep. She goes to the kitchen, instead, plucking shot glasses from the counter and placing them noiselessly into the sink. She should make breakfast, but the way her flat is set up, the sound of cooking will echo and wake Clarke up, and something inside Lexa pulls at that, so she texts Gustus, instead.

Lexa [7:45]
Are you at the store yet?

Gustus [7:45]
Yes.

Lexa [7:47]
Unexpected overnight guest, could you bring up bagels?

Lexa paces between texts, her feet light on the cold concrete. She wishes she’d remembered her slippers by her bed, but she didn’t, and now she can’t go back because Clarke is sleeping and she worries if she wakes, she’ll leave. Her phone vibrates quietly in her hand and she breathes a sigh of relief at Gustus’s text.

Gustus [7:55]
Delivery.

Lexa meets Gustus on the stairs that lead up to her place, his face gruff and impassive, but his eyes twinkling with just a bit of that kindness that always lurks under the surface.

“Is she pretty?” He says nothing about her robe - he’s seen her worse off.

“Gustus,” Lexa purses her lips, but that doesn’t stop a flush from creeping up her neck. “She is,” she says, when he just keeps staring at her.

“And she stayed,” he says, unable to keep the awe from his voice.

“I know,” Lexa says softly, smiling despite herself. She takes the bag from him and thanks him with a gentle shoulder squeeze.

“I’ll add it to your tab,” he says instead of ‘you’re welcome’, before turning back and heading down the two flights of stairs to the store. She listens to his steps descend and then the sound of the door opening and closing. The stairwell falls quiet and she thinks about how pancakes are so much nicer to wake up to than bagels, even if they’re the best in DC.

When she goes back into the studio, the light has changed, casting buttery yellow rays all over the floor. Just after 8AM is when the lighting is best, but she can’t convince models to come in that early, so she’s alway stuck with self portraits. She has enough pictures of her body to to rival a stalker. She heads to the kitchen without checking her bedroom, positive that Clarke is still in bed.

She’s wrong, of course. Clarke is standing in the photography studio, her hair still sleep wild over her shoulders. She’s just wearing the loose black shirt she wore yesterday, the hemline falling just enough so the bottoms of her purple boyshorts are visible. The light falls across her body like it loves her, making her winter-pale skin glow ethereal.

She feels her fingers itch. Not for the first time, she wishes she could take a picture with her mind and translate it onto film because the way she’s standing there, her body still languid with sleep, is something Lexa could never capture quite right with an actual camera in her hands.

“Morning,” Clarke says in a yawn. “What’s that?” She asks, stretching her arms over her head so her shirt hitches up, exposing the soft skin of her stomach.

“Um,” Lexa swallows, “bagels.”

“You went out and got bagels in your robe?” Clarke’s brows shoot up and Lexa allows herself an indulgent smirk.

“Delivery, from downstairs.”

“Right. Woods and Co...which you own,” Clarke tilts her head and squints and Lexa braces herself for questions, probing of some sort. But then: “No pastries?”

“Uh,” Lexa flusters, “I could call—”

“I’m kidding,” Clarke rolls her eyes. It’s light, it’s affectionate. It makes Lexa’s stomach flip flop. “Bagels are perfectly acceptable morning after food, Lexa.”

“Oh,” Lexa bites her lip. She wants to tell Clarke that she’s rusty, but she can get better. But then she thinks better of it and twists the fold in the bag awkwardly.

“So are we just going to stand here or…”

“Can I just,” she places the bag down on the counter in her kitchen and steps closer to Clarke, the distance between the kitchen and the studio so short that they’re already standing close. “I’ve never gotten to take someone’s picture in this lighting and it’s perfect.”

“This… light?” Clarke glances around, the room perfectly illuminated by the gold light pouring in from a large window over Lexa’s bed.

“Mm,” Lexa manages, reaching out to brush hair from the side of Clarke’s face. The light makes Clarke’s skin glow. It’s too good to pass up. Her fingers twitch against the skin of Clarke’s cheek as she pulls her hand away.

“Sure,” Clarke says after a moment, biting her bottom lip. “Should I…”

“Hold on,” Lexa says, already striding across the flat with purpose. She keeps a few things on hand, shirts and shoes and hats, just in case. She flips through the rack and finds a white button down that used to belong to Lincoln, her favourite male model. It’s big enough to swallow Clarke, but it’s exactly the look Lexa needs.

When she gets back to the studio, Clarke is already undressed, her back to Lexa as she twists her hair up into a bun. The tree on her back is all but gone except for the ghost of pigment left behind and a few flakes near the base of her spine. It’s a shame, Lexa thinks, she liked the contrast against Clarke’s skin.

“Here,” she says softly, holding the shirt out to Clarke once she turns around. She tries not to blush, but it fails, because Clarke’s body is still amazing, and there are little crimson marks sprinkled across her skin that Lexa put there last night.

Her face feels like it’s on fire.

“It’s a little big,” Clarke chuckles, flapping the arms of the sleeves. Lexa steps forward and starts rolling the sleeves up wordlessly, getting them up above Clarke’s elbows. Lexa’s sure she seems too serious, but all she can think is the light, the light, the light and how it plays across Clarke’s cheeks.

She steps back, tilting her head as Clarke sits down on the stool. Her legs dangle for a moment as she tucks the sleeves back over her elbows and then she props her feet up on the lowest rungs. Lexa considers the exhibit and watches Clarke, looking down at her feet and then back up at Lexa. She smiles, just a little, and Lexa pulls her Leica down from the shelf; this isn’t about Anya’s exhibit, this is just for Lexa. There’s no need to fiddle with lighting, but the slant of the sunlight tells Lexa they have precious time to get the shots she wants.

“Take your hair down,” Lexa commands, twisting the lens for a wider aperture. Clarke complies, tugging the bun loose so her hair tumbles messily over her shoulders and down her back. Lexa’s breath catches, observing the movement through the lens. The light falls on her hair and turns it gold, the shadows playing across her face as she moves her head this way and that. “Look towards me and then down.”

“Bossy,” Clarke says, her voice soft without any note of teasing. Lexa bites her lip as Clarke does so, her hands falling naturally where Lexa would have them placed - one between her thighs, the other gripping the edge of the stool closest to the camera.

Lexa lets out a breath, tension slithering from her body like the air from her lungs. Photographing Clarke in this light is more of a dream come true than Lexa could have imagined. She’s beautiful, and soft, and every one of her features is highlighted in gold. There are dark smudges on her thighs and red streaks swirling up her belly and breasts, paint they couldn’t quite get off.

Lexa doesn’t ask much, just tells her to turn this way or that, open her mouth a little, stretch her back just so. The room is mostly quiet except for the sounds of the camera’s shutter and the soft scuff of her bare feet on the floor. She only steps in to move Clarke twice, once to push the shirt open more and again to tip Clarke’s head at a specific angle, her thumb brushing Clarke’s lip of its own accord. She holds the camera to her face to hide the blush, and Clarke looks at her with those same hungry eyes from last night.

Once the light has shifted to the pale, thin light of mid-morning, Lexa works fast to finish off the roll. Clarke hops off of the stool, telling Lexa to put down the camera.

“I’m hungry,” she whines, her stomach grumbling on cue. Lexa makes a face and Clarke laughs. Lexa snaps the last few pictures, capturing the laugh as it bubbles and fades. She sets the camera down and tilts her head in the direction of the kitchen.

“Come on, then.”

“Thank god,” Clarke groans, smiling, and slides past Lexa, intentionally brushing against Lexa’s side as she goes. Lexa flushes, but composes herself as she heads back into the kitchen and focuses on the bagels. Clarke heads over to the table that serves as both Lexa’s desk and dining table and carefully goes about piling up the papers strewn about. Inside the bag Gustus brought is a plain bagel, an everything, and two asiago cheddar bagels, and she silently thanks Gustus for knowing her well.

“What flavour do you want?”

“Everything,” Clarke says, easily. Lexa blushes a little, remembering Clarke's words from last night, but Clarke seems oblivious. She doesn’t look up from her task of clearing off the table, and she doesn’t ask where Lexa’s stuff goes, either. She just heads toward the screened off area Lexa uses as a den and comes back for the assortment of brushes, pencils, and books.

“Toasted?”

“Sure,” Clarke calls over her shoulder, carting the next load to the den. Lexa shakes her head, dragging her thumbs through the cuts in the bagels to separate the halves. She toasts the everything and one of the asiago cheddar bagels, watching through the toaster oven window as their surfaces go from pale to brown.

She feels Clarke’s presence in the kitchen and then a moment later Clarke’s hands are on Lexa’s back, rubbing down her spine and then slipping around her front to tug open the tie to her robe.

“Clarke…” Lexa bites her lip, shifting as Clarke’s hands part the opening of her robe.

“What?”

“I thought you were hungry,” Lexa says, more like gasps, as Clarke’s hands slip up and cup her breasts.

“I am,” Clarke mumbles, pressing her mouth to Lexa’s neck.

“That is the worst—oh!” Lexa gasps as Clarke sneaks one hand down, down, scratching the skin of Lexa’s stomach until she reaches between Lexa’s legs and touches her. She’s slick, already, and Clarke hums her approval against the nape of Lexa’s neck. “O-okay,” Lexa swallows, reaching out to switch off the toaster oven. She turns around and pulls Clarke into a kiss as Clarke’s hands make quick work of removing her robe the rest of the way.

“Here?” Clarke asks as Lexa’s robe falls to the floor. Her hands are back on Lexa’s body, questing over every inch of exposed skin. Lexa moans against Clarke’s mouth and nods, tangling her fingers in Clarke’s hair.

Clarke sinks to her knees, a dark, determined look on her face that makes Lexa whimper softly. She tries to scramble back onto the counter but Clarke holds onto her thighs, pushing them apart while Lexa stands. Lexa leans back, then, bracing the heels of her palms on the counter and helping Clarke lift one of her legs onto her shoulder.

It’s so awkward and it can’t be comfortable for Clarke—the floor is concrete— but then Clarke licks into her without warning and the noise in Lexa’s brain completely goes away. Lexa’s world view narrows to the feeling of Clarke’s tongue against her, and her open palm pressed open against Lexa’s abdomen.

Lexa rolls her hips into the sensation and Clarke lets out a hum of approval, her tongue sliding over Lexa’s clit in lazy, easy circles. It’s just like the morning, surprising and soft and right. Lexa arches down into her frustrating gentleness and Clarke laughs.

“Tease,” Lexa huffs in a laugh.

“Not sorry,” Clarke says, pulling her mouth away from Lexa to suck a mark on her thigh. Lexa moans, shivers at the thought of the bruise it’ll leave, and chances a glance down just as Clarke looks up, returning her mouth to Lexa’s pussy.

“Fuck,” Lexa gasps. Clarke’s eyelashes flutter before she shuts them and Lexa has to tilt her head back, look at the ceiling, because the image of Clarke like that between her legs is almost too much. Clarke sneaks the hand on Lexa’s abdomen up, up until she slides her fingertips over Lexa’s breast and plucks lightly at her nipple. It’s all too gentle, too light, and Lexa can feel that churning pleasure building between her legs but she just needs more.

“I need...” Lexa stutters, bucking her hips. She can’t even choke out what she needs, but Clarke must understand anyway because the fingers of her other hand sneak up the inside of Lexa’s thigh until there’s two pressing inside. Lexa’s normally so quiet, but she lets out a string of curse words as Clarke starts to fuck her against the kitchen cabinet.

Lexa’s whole body is trembling, whether with the effort of holding herself up or the sheer force of the orgasm building in her body, but Lexa chokes off a please and Clarke hums against her clit, scissors her fingers once, and adds a third.

“Clarke—” Lexa gasps, soft and low, longing to reach down and touch her, but she needs both her arms to keep her balance. Clarke just curls her fingers in answer and drags her teeth just so against Lexa’s clit. It’s just right, just perfect, and Lexa’s body goes rigid, coiling tight with energy and she’s so close . “I’m—”

“Okay,” Clarke says, breath hot against Lexa’s skin. “Then come,” she says before she rolls her tongue over Lexa’s clit, fucks her harder, and then uses her teeth again. It’s just the right combination of sensations and it sends Lexa over the edge, everything inside her uncoiling like a tight spring. Lexa’s vision swims with starlight as she comes and she lets out a cry that Clarke responds to with a deep groan.

Clarke works her through it, stroking the skin of Lexa’s stomach gently as she withdraws from Lexa’s body. Lexa feels weak, but Clarke helps her lower her leg gingerly before she stands up.

“So,” Clarke says, smiling sheepishly.

“I…” Lexa is blushing, her jaw clenching and unclenching as she looks Clarke over. She thinks about last night, how Clarke couldn’t keep still, couldn’t keep quiet, how she gasped Lexa’s name as she came the second time. A more pressing need than food creeps up and Lexa’s mind goes hazy with desire.

“Oh,” Clarke laughs, reaching past Lexa to start the toaster oven again. “Fuel first, then you can take me back to bed.”


Anya’s set up the gallery like a rainbow, with curved walls segmenting the large space into seven alleyways and two large mingling spaces at the front and the back. Like a rainbow, Anya explained over the phone earlier. Lexa just laughed, but like everything Anya does, it works. Anya has enough artists at her beck and call that the white walls are covered in photos, large and small, colour spilling from every frame.

“I think this is your best show,” Lexa says, standing back from the first, shortest wall of pictures. Anya just grunts next to her, more interested in her whiskey than the large picture of a naked man leaping through a waterfall of pigment powder. Lexa wonders how long it took them to clean that up. “Come on, everything is so…”

“Bright,” Anya finishes, sounding grim, “I’m going back to black and white tomorrow.”

“Oh please,” Lexa rolls her eyes, taking a sip of her bourbon. “You should let Octavia pick the theme more often.”

“I—” Anya’s scoff cuts her off and she glances away. Lexa follows her gaze to where Octavia’s pointing animatedly at a picture of a cat tangled in yarn. Anya’s face softens just a fraction and Lexa has to bite her tongue to keep from saying something. “How did you know?”

“There’s no way you’d ever pick something so…happy.”

“True,” Anya bobs her head. “But there are a lot of photographs with blood in them,” she says, sounding a little satisfied. “At least not everyone here’s a romantic sap.”

“Sure. Not like you.” Lexa bumps her gently and Anya rolls her eyes.

“Whatever.” Her eyes flicker mischievously as she looks Lexa up and down. “Have you seen Raven yet?”

“Yes,” Lexa clenches her jaw and takes a full swig of bourbon, eye twitching at the burn.

“Still not talking?” Anya chuckles, moving further along the wall to a large print of autumn foliage, somewhere in Vermont or New Hampshire. Lexa follows dutifully, wishing she could go get a refill but unwilling to let Anya win this round of ‘embarrass Lexa’.

“We talk just fine,” Lexa says flatly. There’s not much place to hide in the gallery, even in the alleyways, and Lexa’s already bumped into Raven at the bar. They exchanged pleasantries, but that was it, and Lexa’s feelings aren’t hurt so much as her ego’s bruised. She’s pretty sure the sex was good, so she’s not sure why Raven treats her like they’ve never seen each other, let alone seen each other naked.

She must’ve zoned out because she jumps a little when Anya lets out a low wolf whistle. Lexa glares at her and Anya raises her brows, gaze flicking over Lexa’s shoulder as she takes a sip of her whiskey. “Nice muse,” she says, her voice taunting.

Lexa turns in the direction of Anya’s gaze in time to see Clarke scooping up a glass of wine from the bar before heading directly towards them. She’s dressed in jeans and a white shirt and the same leather jacket she wore the first time they met, the same one she’s left at Lexa’s place numerous times since then, and Lexa revels in the little flame of pleasure that flickers in her chest. They haven’t really discussed what they are or how they should be in public, but it doesn’t stop Clarke from tangling her free hand with Lexa’s and pressing a kiss to Lexa’s mouth, gentle and unassuming.

“Hi,” she says, their noses brushing.

“Hi,” Lexa breathes, heart shuddering in her chest. She’s mostly forgotten about Anya, too lost in the lotion-soft smell of Clarke’s skin, until Anya clears her throat loudly behind them.

“Your friend?” Clarke raises her brows, smirking just a little.

“Oh,” Lexa purses her lips and turns, drawing Clarke over to stand at her side. “Anya,” Lexa nudges Clarke lightly with her elbow. “This is Clarke,” she says, her tone soft yet formal, “and Clarke, this is Anya. She’s the curator.”

“Please, Lexa,” Anya rolls her eyes, “gallery owner.”

“Nice to finally meet you,” Clarke tips her wine glass towards Anya with a small smile. “Octavia talks about you a lot.”

“She does? ” Anya clenches her jaw and Lexa has to bite her lip to keep from smirking. “Only nice things, I hope.”

“She wouldn’t have much to talk about, then,” Lexa says lightly.

“Fair point,” Anya snorts, waving her glass in the air. “I’ll leave you two to enjoy the gallery. And Lexa?”

“Mm?”

“Be nice to the patrons.”

“Shouldn’t I be telling you that?” Lexa raises her brows and Anya laughs, winking at Clarke before she walks away, heading straight for Octavia.

Lexa shakes her head, watching Anya go, and then turns slowly to Clarke, feeling shy all of a sudden.

Lexa’s photos are towards the back, on the longer walls.

“This half of the wall is mine,” Lexa says, stepping away from Clarke just a little as they come up to the first picture.

“The whole half?” Clarke sounds impressed and Lexa nods, blushing, as Clarke whistles appreciatively. She steps close to the first picture and Lexa hangs back, watching her as she moves. Clarke only gets as far as the third picture before she stops and tilts her head, looking further down the line of photographs. “Are they all of me?”

“Well,” Lexa clears her throat, wishing she had more bourbon in her system. “Every other picture I had just…didn’t compare.” Her voice sounds so fragile and she hates it, but it’s true.

“To me?” Clarke asks softly. Lexa doesn’t trust her own voice so she just mmhms quietly and walks up to Clarke, ghosting her fingers up under the hem of Clarke’s jacket. Clarke glances over at her, smiling, and moves onto the next photo.

Clarke makes the obligatory noises of approval, gasping at a shot of the starry night spread across her chest and neck, laughing at the picture her with two brushes clenched between her teeth. Lexa is blushing furiously at this point, trying to duck her head every time Clarke looks over with that brilliant smile on her face.

The last picture stretches from the top of the wall to the floor and it’s the one Lexa received a tongue lashing from Anya about the day before. It’s Clarke with her back to the camera, her head turned at just the right angle so the star on her neck is visible. It’s the only lick of colour in the whole photo, everything else in a moody kind of black and white that Lexa is most comfortable working with. When Clarke and Lexa stop in front of it, Clarke inhales sharply and steps closer to the wall. Lexa’s heart gives a little hiccup in her chest.

“That’s—”

“Big,” Lexa says quickly, shyly, lingering behind her. She wasn’t sure about this piece when she was having it printed on canvas, but something in her gut told her to go for it, and even Anya couldn’t argue with the concept, after shouting about the theme and the aesthetics for fifteen minutes. (And then, of course, she begrudgingly admitted how great it was an hour after the workers had finished installing it.)

“You named it Black and White are Colours?” Clarke chuckles, glancing back with a smile that is equal parts amused and affectionate. Lexa bites her lip and shrugs.

“I thought it was appropriate.”

“It’s…” Clarke tilts her head. “Is it egotistical to say it’s amazing?” Clarke gestures at the whole picture with her hand.

“No,” Lexa says quickly, meaning it. “I’m glad you like it.”

“How could I not?” Clarke breathes, turning fully to look at Lexa. She shrugs at that, because eye of the beholder and all that. Clarke just rolls her eyes and Lexa stumbles a little when Clarke leans in and kisses her, curling her fingers in the fabric of Lexa’s shirt.

Lexa’s used to a heart that keeps breaking. She’s lost her parents and her first love, and countless friends along the way. But she’s always been strong, always been brave, and she’s bonded the shards of this shattered thing, hardened it and shielded it against further pain.

It always seemed like a good way to live life. She had her photography. Her business. The few friends that have remained. Love, or any semblance of it, seemed...unnecessary.

Until Clarke.

Somehow, in so short a period of time, Clarke has worked her way inside the shell around Lexa’s heart, taken the fragile thing into her hands, and Lexa has been utterly powerless to stop it.

Clarke sighs against Lexa’s mouth and Lexa smiles, digging her hands into Clarke’s hair. In this moment, in every moment leading up to and away from this night, Lexa can’t imagine there’s anyone in the world who would hold her heart as tenderly as Clarke holds it now. And that is, perhaps, the greatest sort of art Lexa could ever hope for.