honestly, i just wanted an excuse to write a prison comedy. i can't write anything serious to save my life, but u know how it is. this is written out of chronological order, as indicated by the day of lexa's sentence. it's based loosely on my experiences.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Clarke, you are taking up more than half of my bunk.”
“Listen, bitch. If you didn’t want to share then you shouldn’t have lost my fucking blankets in a rigged goddamn poker match.”
“I believe I already apologized for that.”
“I don’t want your apologies, Woods. I want my blankets back.”
“I will win them back, Clarke.”
Clarke propped herself up on her elbows and glared over at her through the darkness of their shared cell. “Oh no. You aren’t playing any more poker, you hear? It’s time to accept that you’re just not good at prison poker.”
Lexa frowned. “I can win without cheating.”
“No, see that’s your problem,” Clarke sighed, waving her hand in front of her face. “You might have cleaned up in Vegas on house rules, but prison poker’s foundation is built on blatant disrespect for those rules. Cheating is prison poker’s lifeblood, Lex. And they’re bleeding us dry. I can’t believe you used to be in the mob, honestly.”
It was hard not to let her cellmate’s words pull at her pride. First of all, she was excellent at poker. Second of all, she technically never left the mob. “Are you suggesting I start cheating at poker, Clarke?” The thought was distasteful, but she had to admit that Friday nights were not going well for the pair of them. What had started as a hustle had turned into a massacre. The thing about hustling is that after losing spectacularly, you have to be able to win. They were pros at the former, but coming up embarrassingly short on the latter.
Clarke shook her head. “I’m saying that poker was a mistake. You’ve gambled away most of our possessions and I’m really tired of leaving poker night practically naked. It’s not doing good things for our image. We need to call it quits.”
It was a fair point. And while Lexa was not exactly a prideful person, she couldn’t help pursuing the matter. “I will win your things back tomorrow, Clarke. One more night and then we won’t play anymore.”
In the darkness Lexa could almost hear the gears turning in Clarke’s head. She was certainly close enough - what with the two of them crammed into Lexa’s bottom bunk until the C.O.’s inevitably noticed Clarke’s lack of blankets. She would surely be written up for it. Needless to say, their sleeping arrangements until Tuesday’s inspection were less than comfortable.
“Fine,” Clarke sighed, flopping back onto their shared pillow. “One more night. But if you can’t win back at least my bedding then we’re done and I’m never talking to you again. And I’ll hate you. Forever.”
“I will win your things back, Clarke.”
Lexa shifted slightly, but was unable to move much with Clarke stuffed into the back corner of her bunk again. Clarke hadn’t spoken in an hour, though they were both hyper aware that neither was sleeping. The only bedding they had left between the two of them was a single pillow.
“I hate you so much,” Clarke finally hissed.
“I am sorry, Clarke.”
“You bluffed on a pair of fucking sevens.”
Lexa remained silent.
“I hope I spontaneously die before it gets light out and I never have to see your stupid face again.”
“I am sorry, Clarke.”
“I know, Lex.” Despite her anger, Clarke scooted closer for warmth. The cells were somehow both stuffy and drafty at the same time. “Have you seen my headphones?” She sighed.
“We lost those in the first hand.”
Clarke groaned and pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes.
“I am sorry, Clarke.”
“If you try to apologize to me one more goddamn time, Lex, I’m going to drown myself in our toilet.”
Lexa fell silent and allowed herself to be lulled to sleep by the soothing sounds of Clarke’s seething rage.
Lexa bit back another apology in the darkness of the cell and shifted so Clarke’s elbow wasn’t digging into her ribs. Clarke hadn’t spoken much to her all day and they were both coming down with a cold. “I do not think we should play any more poker.”
“What was your first clue?”
“Yesterday. When you told me that if we were on the Titanic when it was sinking and you could save only one other person, you would save yourself twice,” Lexa whispered. When she finally dared a glance over at Clarke, she looked less angry and more tired – maybe even a little smug. “I would save you twice as well.”
“I changed my mind,” Clarke muttered. “I’d let us both drown.”
Lexa walked through orientation like a zombie, stricken and pale and just the slightest bit catatonic. To the untrained – or perhaps, well trained – eye, the shock seemed to be the result of the first of many, many long days behind bars. Reality is a son of a bitch. However, the shock of arrest, trial, and imprisonment were long past. That particular shock had disappeared along with the county orange and the hustle and bustle of the enormous county jail system the past few months. The trial was long enough to dull the experience.
No, this was a shock of pride.
Inmate Alexandria Woods. Identification number 90210.
You know, 90210. Like that god-awful show that crawled out of the 2000s and managed to stagger around moaning for death for the next five years until 2013 saw it mercifully put out of everyone’s misery. Not out of Lexa’s misery, though.
“Beverly Hills Inmate!” The fourth C.O. that day wheezed, slapping the counter in genuine amusement. Her laugh was quickly derailing into a wet smoker’s cough. “90210!” She gasped.
“Please kill me,” Lexa whispered at the countertop, cold and desolate beneath her fingers, much like whatever remained of her pride.
The woman looked up and wiped a tear from her eye. “Sorry?”
When the smoker wrestled her cough under control, she wiped another tear away and redirected her attention to the bag in front of her. She dumped the contents in a plastic bin and poked through them with a pen. “Anyways. Personal effects from county: two shirts, one pair of business slacks, one pair of shoes, one jacket,” she rambled, trailing off to fold the clothes and set them aside. “Let’s see: black wallet, two rings, two pens, a pack of gum, and $1.76 in loose change. And…a can-opener. Interesting.”
“Um, that is not mine,” Lexa said quickly – a knee-jerk reaction, really.
The woman lifted it up to examine it. “It isn’t?”
Lexa could feel the heat creeping up the back of her neck. “Well, technically it is. That is to say – um, yes. That is my can-opener, but – it’s a long story,” she finished quietly. It wasn’t that long of a story. It started and ended with a can-opener, incidentally. Tuna was involved somewhere in the middle of that. And handcuffs. And an arrest warrant. You know, the usual stuff.
“So it is your can-opener.”
Lexa nodded, only mildly mortified. “Yes, ma’am. That is my can-opener.”
The woman nodded back appreciatively. “It’s nice. Gotta love stainless steel am I right?”
If Lexa had engaged in stranger conversations, none of them came to mind. “Um, thank you. It opens cans quite efficiently.”
The floppy-haired guard who had escorted her to the desk tapped his finger on the corner of the counter to gain her attention. “We all good here?” He inquired offering her a friendly smile.
“We’re good,” the woman confirmed. “Enjoy your day, 90210,” she snickered.
Lexa counted slowly back from ten while a look of pure joy lit up her escort’s face. “90210?” He laughed. “Oh my god, like, Beverly Hills, right? You’re kidding!”
He seemed to finally pick upon her discomfort and allowed his grin to fall into a polite smile. “Sorry. It’s just kind of funny. People will get over it in a few days, don’t worry too much about it.”
With that assurance, her escort led her to a dusty storage room stacked to the ceiling with rickety shelving and thousands of shapeless navy slacks, jackets, and discolored white shirts. “I’m C.O. Blake, by the way,” he called over his shoulder as he tossed elephant-sized jackets aside in search of one that might actually stay up on Lexa’s shoulders. “But it gets confusing in C Block, so you can call me Bellamy when the Lieutenants aren’t around. There’s already a Blake living in C Block and I don’t want to steal her thunder.”
“Any relation?” Lexa hummed.
It was intended more as a joke, but Bellamy snorted and shook his head. “Unfortunately. I couldn’t keep my eye on her before, but now I don’t really have a choice. Some brother I am.”
What kind of institution were they running here.
Bellamy held out a rather large jacket and squinted between Lexa and the faded garment for a few minutes, sizing them both up. “You’re going to be swimming in this, I’m afraid. But most people are, so you’ll be in good company.”
After a few minutes of digging, Bellamy shoved a stack of clothes into Lexa’s hands with an apologetic ‘it’s the best we can do’. The rest of the day consisted of a lot of soapboxing about responsibility, personal hygiene, and integrity. Considering the circumstances, it all seemed too little too late. A prison sentence isn’t exactly the place for character redemption, but Lexa kept quiet and let them grandstand her in between Beverly Hills jokes and comments on the looseness of her clothes.
She counted back slowly from one million.
By the time she had signed the last of her freedom away, Lexa had ceased reading the fine print and was shoving form after form of badly signed jargon back into the hands of tired looking C.O.’s until they ran out. She was almost relieved when Bellamy said he could take her back to her C Block for the night. Apparently, C Block was his block more often than not, so they would be seeing much more of each other.
They passed A Block and B Block and a few other wings that Lexa was unfamiliar with and too tired to ask about. When they reached C Block, there was a girl slopping dirty water across the floor with an old mop, blonde hair held down by a ratty baseball hat and old headphones on her ears that looked to be more duct tape than headphone. As they approached, the girl seized the shabby cassette player from her waistband and slapped it irritably against her palm before shoving it back in her waistband and resuming her quiet humming. Lexa was fairly certain her mopping was creating worse hygiene problems than it was solving. None of this seemed to concern the girl, though.
“Griffin!” Bellamy called.
The girl looked up and tapped the bill of her hat upwards to appraise them. “Blake Senior,” she acknowledged. “If you’re here on behalf of your sister, tell her I meant what I said. I’m not trying to land myself with a misappropriated toothbrush in my kidney, so she’s on her own with that one. I want to live to see twenty-four. Hell, maybe even twenty-five, we’ll see how I’m feeling.”
Bellamy laughed. “Twenty-five was overrated.”
“Yeah, and twenty-three is such a goddamn treat.”
This earned another laugh, but Bellamy shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I stay out of that shit. Carry on, Griffin.”
The girl huffed out an unamused laugh and wrung out her mop. “Am I not the best custodial recruit yet?”
“That’s absolutely not how you mop a floor,” Bellamy returned flatly.
Lexa silently agreed.
The girl just shrugged and turned her back to continue smearing dirt across the chipped tiles. “Shouldn’t have taken me off medical, then,” she called over her shoulder before conspicuously cranking the volume up on her cassette.
Bellamy took the hint and turned to let them into C Block. Before he could get the thick bolted door open, though, an officer in a pressed white uniform intercepted them from the opposite D Block. Lexa had yet to see an officer wearing white instead of the standard blue, but she had been warned to keep an eye out and a respectful tongue for them. Everything about him screamed authority, from his cropped hair to the patches on his sleeves and the scowl on his face.
“Pike,” Bellamy managed through his surprise.
“Lieutenant. If you don’t mind, Blake.”
Bellamy’s expression cooled and he raised an eyebrow. “Officer Blake, if you don’t mind, Lieutenant.”
The two stared each other down in tense silence while Lexa stood nervously off to the side. She was no stranger to intimidation tactics. Her business had been all intimidation and under-the-table dealing. She just hoped this wasn’t going to keep her from her bed for much longer.
The girl with the mop had slowed her movements and turned her cassette back down even though her back was still turned. Pike’s eyes shot over to her. “Are you here for any particular reason, inmate?” He demanded.
The girl still didn’t turn around. “Judge said I have to put in a few years here, sir,” she said smoothly. “But mostly, I just like Taco Tuesdays.”
Pike’s eyes narrowed. “More than a few years the way I heard it. Don’t get smart with me, inmate. Why are you here?”
“Mopping floors, sir,” she grumbled, slopping water across the tile in front of C Block. “Just mopping floors.”
Pike’s eyes flicked back to Blake. “You’re dismissed, Officer Blake,” he sneered. “The warden is in a meeting and I will settle the new inmate.”
Bellamy seemed reluctant to go, but when the girl – Griffin, had he called her? – gave him a small nod of assurance, he left without protest, disappearing into the C Block guard shack. Pike stepped into Lexa’s space, all puffed chest and intimidation tactics. It was almost a fond throwback to every business meeting of her life.
“Sir,” Lexa returned.
“C Block will be your quarters for the foreseeable future. Your block’s C.O. will lead you through your first few days and the schedule we keep here. They should be able to answer any questions you have.” He paused there, as though considering whether or not she was worthy of his advice. “If you have any sense, though, you will avoid attachments here. There are no friends here, Woods. None worth having, anyways.”
Griffin snorted and Pike whipped around to glare at her back. “Something amusing, inmate?”
“Man, you ever mopped a floor, sir? Really tickles your funny bone,” she said without turning around. “Just pretend I’m not here. Complaints of future laughter can be filed with the folks down at janitorial.”
Lexa couldn’t help the huff of laughter that escaped her. It was taken about as badly as she expected.
“Does mopping also tickle your funny bone?” He hissed, stepping into Lexa’s personal space.
“On occasion.” Honestly? It was like she was trying to make enemies on her first day. This was not going well. Lexa tried to steer her reputation from the edge of the cliff she was apparently so hell bent on driving it off of. “Sir.”
“Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, Woods.” If at all possible, his face got closer to hers, eyes cold and furious while he advanced on her. “This is not county. You will be here for a long, long time. It does not bode well to have a lieutenant send you to segregation on your first day. And although I derive no pleasure-“
For one horrifying moment, Lexa was sure Pike had abandoned his threats in favor of bodily attacking her. His eyes bulged as he lurched forward, but before they collided his weight shifted and he slipped backwards, hitting the ground with a small splash and an indignant grunt. Pike gasped from his spot on the tiles, mouth opening and closing in shock while water soaked into his perfectly pressed pants.
Lexa looked up to see Griffin’s mopping bucket tipped fully over onto the floor. The only thing more damning than the overturned bucket was the girl’s guiltless expression.
“Sir, I know this is a bad time for ‘I told you so’, but I’d like to formally advise we revisit your rejection of my Wet Floor sign requests.”
And yes. There was absolutely something enormously satisfying about seeing the man on his ass in a puddle of filthy water, Griffin’s expression carefully schooled into one of professional advisement while she offered him her hand. It was satisfying enough that when she began mentally composing her last will and testament, she did it with a lighter heart than the situation probably required.
They were both dead.
Pike scrambled to his feet and seized Griffin by the wrist she had offered him. Before Lexa could so much as blink, the girl was pressed up against the opposite wall with her hands twisted behind her back. “Hey, what gives!” Griffin protested. “I didn’t do anything!”
“I’m writing you up for assaulting a C.O.,” he hissed. Lexa tried desperately not to stare at the mark on his ass. It looked an awful lot like he had pissed himself.
Lexa was fairly certain the same fate awaited her, but she stood silently hoping they would forget she was there. And by same fate she meant twisted up in handcuffs. Not the, uh, pissing yourself bit.
“I was just mopping,” Griffin grumbled. “I’m a goddamn cleaning patriot. Thankless, I tell you-”
“I’m pressing charges,” Pike roared over her.
Griffin squawked and struggled slightly against the forearm pressed into the back of her neck. “Pressing charges for what? Criminal mopping? Aggravated cleaning? Reckless dirt endangerment?” Pike twisted her arm higher and Griffin relented. “Ouch, alright, fine. Sorry I mopped too enthusiastically. Won’t happen again, sir. Only shit mopping from here on out, scouts honor.”
Pike ignored her. “Blake!” He called.
Bellamy reappeared from the guard shack and took in the scene with a wild look. When his eyes flicked over to Lexa’s it was with a look that almost read like, ‘how did you two manage to fuck up this bad in two minutes’.
Hopefully, the look she gave him in return read something like, ‘honestly, I’m asking myself the same question’.
“Sir?” He asked cautiously. “Did Griffin…attack you?”
Lexa was almost positive there was steam coming out of Pike’s ears when he whipped around. “Inmate Griffin deliberately spilled water under my feet in an attempt on my life.”
Blake seemed to summon every ounce of willpower to school his face into something professional. His eyes betrayed him, though, when they wandered over Pike’s noticeably soiled pants with an amused twinkle. “Sir, are you certain this isn’t just an accident?”
“Not with her it’s not. Take her back to Seg.”
Griffin seemed to stiffen at that, but she made no further protest besides a glare thrown over her shoulder.
Bellamy raised his hands defensively. “Sir, she just finished a twelve day stay in Seg. The paperwork hasn’t even been completed yet. Maybe we should put this aside until the warden gets back. You can fill out your incident report and submit it before we do anything too hasty. The warden hasn’t even signed her last incident report.”
Pike fumed silently for a few more minutes while Lexa stood stock-still. Bellamy folded his hands diplomatically behind his back. Despite Bellamy’s best efforts, though, Lexa was fairly certain her and Griffin would find themselves in front of a firing squad before sunset. You know, for criminal mopping and reckless bystandering or whatever.
“Fine,” Pike finally relented. “We can bring this to the warden when he returns. She’s your problem until then,” he snapped, releasing Griffin and straightening his own shirt. His shirt might have been straight, but his pants still looked soiled.
Griffin rubbed at her wrists. “Very merciful, sir,” she grumbled, retrieving her mop. “My mopping days are behind me.”
Lexa resisted the urge to clear the distance between them and clamp a hand over Griffin’s mouth. Bellamy seemed to have the same idea, because he whisked her behind his back and began corralling them into C Block. “Thank you sir,” he said. “I’ll see the paperwork is put in order within the week.”
Pike shot them all one last glare before stalking away. When the three were safely tucked inside C Block, Bellamy rounded on Griffin. “What the hell happened?”
“I’m not too aces at mopping, Bell.”
“You’re never gonna believe this, Woods.”
Clarke launched herself into the bunk above Lexa’s while Bellamy locked the cell behind her. “Jaha took Pike’s side and I’ve gotta serve another ten days in Seg.”
“Why would I not believe that?”
Clarke leaned over the edge of her bunk and narrowed her eyes down at Lexa. “Alright, smartass. I’m just saying it’s unfair. All I did was mop too hard.”
“I am sorry, Clarke.”
Clarke rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Enjoy the peace and quiet while I’m gone. I’ve got big plans when I get out and you’re contractually obligated to help.”
Clarke waved a hand vaguely where Lexa could see it. “Just a phrase, Woods. Cool your business jets for two seconds. I’m just sayin’ the Pike mess is kind of your fault too.”
Lexa frowned at the bunk above her. “I did not request your help. And I did not engage in your…illicit mopping activities.”
Clarke sat up in her bunk and leaned over the edge closest to the cell door. “Hey, O!” She shouted.
Lexa flinched. The last few nights had involved similar outbursts when Clarke thought of something to tell her friends that couldn’t wait until morning.
“What?” Came Octavia’s muffled reply. Several of their neighbors groaned in response. Lexa turned towards the wall as though she might be able to feign not knowing her own cellmate.
“New band name: Illicit Mopping Activities.”
Octavia’s laughter filtered through their bars. “Aces, Clarke. Go the fuck to sleep.”
“Woods came up with it,” Clarke returned before flopping back onto her bunk. “Can’t take all the credit.
“I’m not affiliated with her,” Lexa called back into the darkness.
They fell silent to various death threats from distant neighbors and drifted off to sleep in the wake of their own boredom.
Lexa looked across the yard, gaze shifting lazily over the various groups of inmates. She still had yet to meet more than a handful of them, but she figured it was best to keep it that way. Tapping her fingernail against the battered wood of the old picnic bench, she watched Clarke and Octavia hustle a group of inmates in a pushup competition. Octavia had been making a show of giving up after 50 reps the last week and Clarke was finally collecting when she breezed through 75 to the loud protest of their marks.
It wasn’t a particularly honest way of staying afloat in the prison economy, but Lexa really had no place to take a stand on the morality of business practices. Not from prison, anyways. And not on the tail end of racketeering charges. Clarke turned towards her and flashed her a quick thumbs up to which Lexa rolled her eyes. Octavia was too busy cheering for herself to notice.
“They’re gonna get themselves killed,” Raven observed from her side.
Lexa shrugged. “Yes, that would be an unsurprising outcome.”
“Dibs on Clarke’s cassette player.”
They fell quiet as the two returned from their victory, clapping each other on the back and brandishing a handful of cassettes and several packs of cigarettes.
“You don’t even smoke,” Lexa pointed out.
Clarke gave her an all-too familiar look. “Please,” she said dismissively. Lexa had come to associate that with her own inability to understand something obvious to any experienced inmate.
“When do you go back to Seg?” Raven asked, swiping one of Clarke’s cassettes to read over it with a look of distaste. Clarke had truly awful taste in music. Lexa hadn’t been able to gather much about her from their light conversation and sparse cell furnishings. All she could really gather was that Clarke liked drawing on napkins from the cafeteria and listening to dusty cassette tapes filled with VH1’s I Love the 1930s. 1920s? Whatever. VH1’s I Love Music That’s Old as Shit. Beyond that, there was only so much a person could do to personalize a prison cell.
Clarke deflated at that. “I don’t know. They don’t tell me shit. It’s been weeks since I got my ass handed to me by Pike and it’s just kind of looming over my head. Kinda wish I could get it over with.”
“We’re gonna steal all your shit while you’re gone,” Raven warned. Lexa honestly couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.
Clarke narrowed her eyes. “No you’re not. If you touch any of my shit, Woods is under strict orders to kill you.”
“I do not remember those orders.”
“Set phasers to kill, Woods.”
“Don’t eat the Chicken.”
Lexa hadn’t exactly been planning on eating any of the grey-tinged food, but she mentally filed the advice anyways under “vital”.
Clarke pushed her own chicken to the side and stirred her sickly peas around glumly. “Octavia makes the chicken. Just trust me on this one.”
Clarke gestured to a fierce looking girl with small braids and a large presence, dumping questionable chicken on inmates’ trays as they passed through the line. When Clarke looked up at her, though, Octavia grinned and waved. Clarke waved back cheerfully. “She’s going to kill us all if they don’t pull her from kitchen crew,” she laughed, eyes betraying a deep, genuine fear.
Lexa silently wondered how chicken could go so wrong.
Octavia flashed Clarke a final thumbs up before returning to cooking. Or as Clarke liked to refer to it: negligent homicide.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love her. She’s a good person to have on your side as long as she’s not feeding you. I’ll introduce you after she’s done trying to kill us.”
Before Lexa could express her hesitation, another girl slammed her tray down next to Lexa’s, causing her to jump. Despite her efforts to the contrary, she was not the most ardent enjoyer of surprises. The owner of the tray leaned against the table, crossed her arms, and glared down at her.
Lexa fought the childish urge to cover her ears.
“Morning to you too,” Clarke muttered into her peas.
Before Lexa could get a word in edgewise, the intruder snatched her milk carton and launched into a tirade of which Lexa caught very little. She was too busy mourning the loss of the only thing on her tray that Octavia hadn’t touched to pay attention. Clarke didn’t seem all too concerned, though, so she tried her best not to develop a defensive stance.
“-so I can’t help but wonder if you or Clarke had something to do with that. I mean, Clarke god love ya, but Harper was neat and quiet and suddenly my life just got a whole lot less comfortable. I love the bitch, but they’re gonna unlock our cell and one or both of us is gonna be ground fucking beef all over the walls one of these days. Not even the good kind. We’re talking bloody, poorly cut, and chewy when cooked.”
Lexa nodded slowly. “Um.”
“Oh, can it, Raven. You’re making my peas taste even worse.” Clarke dropped her fork and examined the expiration date on her milk, shaking her head in disgust. “Expired again.”
Raven paused mid-swig of Lexa’s milk and searched frantically for the expiration date before spit-taking her mouthful over Lexa’s shoulder. Lexa tried to scoot inconspicuously away from the girl while she gagged into her sleeve.
“This day just keeps getting better,” Raven wheezed.
Clarke offered her a sympathetic look while Lexa patted Raven’s back awkwardly. She wasn’t the most handsy person in the world, but it had been her milk that poisoned the poor girl.
Raven waved her off eventually. “Thanks, bitch.”
“Let’s try some names, shall we? Raven, Lexa Woods. Woods, Raven Reyes. There, now we can stop spoiling my dinner. And no, neither of us ruined your roommate situation so sit down and enjoy family dinner like a normal goddamn asshole.” Clarke gestured vaguely between the two before devoting her attention back to the rice.
First impressions aside, Raven offered Lexa a winning grin. “Alright, alright. Innocent until proven guilty. So what are you in for? Wait, let me guess. I’m gonna go with assault – no! Wait, no, drugs. I’m going with drugs. No offense, you don’t look like a tweaker or nothin’. You just look like you’re all about that cash money, you feel me? You got that business look. And the best dealers don’t sample the product. But anyways, I’m a businesswoman myself. Cars, specifically. Stole a lot of cars, Woods. Like, a lot of cars. Probably shouldn’t have sampled the product.”
Lexa nodded dumbly, waiting for an opportunity to interject. When Raven took a breath, Lexa managed a quick, “Rackateering, actually. Officially. Mob stuff.”
“What?” Raven stopped like her flow had been thrown off. “Oh, oh, right, gotcha. Fuckin’ called the business part, though. We got a modern day Godfather in our midst. What a racket!”
Lexa frowned while Raven elbowed her in the side waiting for her joke to land. When it didn’t, she plowed on anyways. “Alright, not my best. That joke’ll hit you on the way home, don’t worry about it. It’s a slow-burner.” Lexa watched in horror while Raven devoured the chicken from her tray. “You don’t talk much, you know that?”
“You just never shut up,” Clarke countered, pushing her own tray away.
“She loves me,” Raven said quietly, leaning in close as though confiding that information to Lexa. “Totally into me.”
“Unfortunately.” Clarke gestured helplessly like she’d been fighting that very truth for longer than she cared to admit.
Lexa cocked her head to the side and eyed Clarke curiously. “What are you in for, Clarke?”
Clarke laughed. “Please,” she dismissed, like it was obvious or something. When she didn’t offer any further information, Lexa decided to drop it. “In other exciting news, I got my job back in medical. Bad news is that I got fired from janitorial because the hallways look like shit.”
“Bad news, Woods.”
“Is Operation Shit Storm not going according to plan?”
Clarke laughed and shook her head fondly.
Lexa frowned down at her game of Solitaire, which was going increasingly poorly. “What?”
“Nothing. I just like hearing you say Shit Storm.”
“Alright, alright. They finished pulling up and retiling the flooring in Seg, so they’re coming by any minute to lock me up. It’s the patient man who gets his revenge, I suppose. Fuckin’ Pike.”
Lexa finally looked up from her solitaire game. It was a lost cause, anyways. Clarke was better than most at hiding her discomfort, but there was something resembling fear there. Though Lexa had never been, the stories floating around between inmates about the madness of segregated confinement sympathized her to Clarke’s predicament. And when all was said and done, Clarke was the only one Lexa particularly cared to associate with on a daily basis.
“Are you going to be okay?”
Clarke shrugged and swiped an ace from Lexa’s game before flipping it nervously between her knuckles. She was abysmal at card games, but rather remarkable at card tricks. “I don’t think they’re sending me to Seg so I can be okay, Woods. But yeah, I’ve been before so at least I know what to expect. Few times, actually.”
“How long will you be there?”
Lexa raised an eyebrow but kept her expression neutral. “That is a long time.” Clarke winced at that assessment, so Lexa scrambled for something more positive to say. “I will make sure nothing fun happens while you’re gone.”
“Nothing fun ever happens here,” Clarke laughed. She was smiling, though, so the comment had the desired effect. “It almost sounds like you’re going to miss me, Woods,” she crooned, sliding the ace back across the table to her.
Clarke’s mouth was already open to say something that died on her tongue. Instead she closed her mouth, opened it once more, and then closed it again. “Oh, um. Yeah. Guess I’ll miss you too.” She fell into thoughtful silence and Lexa had the distinct, uncomfortable feeling she was being sized up. “Huh. Well, alright. Enough of this mushy goodbye. Keep Raven’s klepto hands off of my cassette player,” she warned, pulling the headphones from around her own head.
Lexa leaned forward to allow Clarke to slip them around her own neck and tuck the battered player into the pocket of her jacket. “Do I have to wear these for ten days?”
“Yes. Don’t let them out of your sight. And keep Octavia and Raven out of trouble.”
Lexa wasn’t a particularly affectionate person, but she allowed Clarke to pull her into a quick sideways hug. “Alright, Pike’s coming and he looks like he just got the best blowjob of his life, so I can only assume he’s here to ruin my life. Stay safe, Woods. And when you think of our brief time here together – don’t cry for me…Argentina.”
Lexa shifted on her mattress and tried not to stare too pathetically at the empty bunk above her. The usual groans that accompanied post-lockup conversations grew around them. Lexa answered anyways. “Yes, Octavia?”
“You cryin’ over there?”
Somebody a few cells down requested that they engage in graphic sexual maneuvers with themselves. The two ignored it.
“What, you don’t miss Clarke?”
“I do,” she whispered. What would be the point in lying?
Lexa rolled her eyes. “Thank you.”
After a few minutes, Lexa assumed the conversation was over and rolled onto her side so she didn’t have to stare up at the empty bunk. Before she could drift off, Octavia’s voice called out again. “Me too. I miss her too.”
Raven’s barking laugh pulled her from the edge of sleep. “Gaaaaay.”
Even in the darkness and two cells away, Lexa was fairly certain she could hear Raven getting pummeled by Octavia’s pillow. When the scuffling and cursing subsided, Lexa tried for the second time to drift to sleep.
“Can I have Clarke’s cassette player?”
It was tempting. The headphones dug uncomfortably into her neck when she slept or used the weight bench, but a promise was a promise.
Clarke’s stupid old person music was driving her up the wall, but it was all she really had. What else are you supposed to do with headphones you’re not allowed to take off and no cellmate to kill time with?
Okay, the stupid music was growing on her a little.
It was probably Raven and Octavia’s moods rubbing off on her and the quiet nights. Some days you just can’t hold your tongue or watch your feet.
The weights were a welcome reprieve from card games and questionable music. But accidentally tripping the burly woman from cell 6C was a less welcomed distraction.
“Hey, bitch! You lookin’ to start something? I know you don’t look like a bitch whose gonna finish nothin’.”
Lexa glared. She liked to think she was exactly the kind of bitch who could finish something. “Here I was thinking I looked like someone who wanted to finish their workout. Uninterrupted,” she replied coolly. Sure, the tripping had been her fault. But whatever. It was kind of already a garbage day anyways. It had been overcast for days like some bullshit literary device for the general mood of the prison. It was hot too – sticky and humid and all around glum. Most of the inmates were draped over benches, tables, or just prone on the dead grass like they’d given up.
“You really want to go this route?” The woman was a head taller and twice as thick, but Lexa was unperturbed.
Several inmates were wandering closer to watch the confrontation, but Lexa just made an obvious show of turning the volume up on Clarke’s cassette player. “Will I have to continue hearing your voice on this route?”
Bellamy was across the yard, back turned to yell at a few of the men rattling the chain links on the other end of the yard. The rest of the C.O.’s in the yard were attempting to right an overturned table. This certainly had the potential to escalate.
So be it. Punching someone in the face wasn’t the worst way to handle a bad mood. It definitely wasn’t the best way, but sometimes it’s what you need.
Lexa let her jacket drop to the ground and stood to face 6C right as another inmate stepped between them. She looked vaguely familiar, but Lexa couldn’t put a name to her face.
“Hey, let it go, guys.”
6C scoffed and gestured at Lexa. “Why? Bitch was asking for it, Harper.”
“Griffin wouldn’t have it, alright? She’s with Griffin. Just leave it, Pancetti.”
And by some grace of god, that actually worked. 6C gave her a careful look, let out her anger in one long breath, and stuffed her hands back into her jacket pockets. “Yeah, alright. You got good friends. Mind your feet next time, kid.”
Lexa was left alone with the weight bench and a thousand questions she was sure she’d never get answered. Whatever was owed between 6C and Griffin must have happened long before she ever got there. But it wasn’t the first time someone expressed their debt to Clarke and it definitely wasn’t the last.
Lexa tried not to stare too pathetically at the door to C Block. Ten days of solitaire and freecell were not only getting stale, but had reduced her around day 8 to forcibly stopping herself from arguing with the cards. Octavia and Raven were good enough company, but without Clarke playing mediator all the two of them did was argue and talk over each other. They were all bored and irritable and more than ready for Clarke to come back. The chicken at the cafeteria had somehow gotten worse with Octavia’s sour mood and Raven kept busting her fingers during maintenance duty in her distraction.
It wasn’t just them, though.
Clarke had a lot of acquaintances around C Block and beyond and she had served upwards of three years of her sentence (whatever that was), but Lexa had never really understood just how involved Clarke was in the invisible social net that held the inmates to the ground.
In fact, she still wasn’t sure.
But arguments became frequent in C Block in the wake of Clarke’s absence and dozens of people had approached Lexa to inquire about matters that she couldn’t begin to understand or untangle. They all seemed to believe she had some intimate knowledge of whatever Clarke was involved in. Hell, even the guys on the other side of the fence were beckoning her over for covert conversations and vague inquiries.
Lexa was in jail on mob business for hell’s sake. She could recognize a kingpin when she saw one. Or she used to be able to. But it had taken her way too long to see past blonde hair, blue eyes, and a kind turn of phrase. For someone trying to stick out five years laying as low as possible, Lexa was concerned. Who was her cellmate?
The girl didn’t actually lift her head off their usual table, but she peaked out from between her arms and gave Lexa a baleful look. “What?”
“What is Clarke in for?”
Octavia snorted. “Please.”
“Why won’t anyone tell me why Clarke is in prison?” She demanded. “Nobody else seems to guard that information. And for that matter, why does it seem like everybody knows her?”
Octavia just waved her hand vaguely in the air. “It’s Clarke’s business, that’s all. Her trust is important around here. It’s basically currency.”
Finally, Octavia lifted her head from her arm with an uncharacteristic look of severity. “Listen. Clarke may seem uninvolved, but that’s only because she’s earned that uninvolvement. Ever wonder why nobody fucks with you or her? Ever wonder why none of your stuff goes missing? Kindness isn’t the currency here, Woods.”
Lexa raised an eyebrow. “What is the currency?”
“Favors, trust, and social discipline. Clarke’s had a long fucking time to gain the first two. The last is something you’re born with. If everyone’s on your side, you don’t gotta get involved in nothin’.”
“Everyone’s on Clarke’s side?” She was skeptical, but Clarke did seem incredibly comfortable with wherever they went and whomever they spoke to. Perhaps there had been a certain respect there that was subtle enough to keep them under the radar.
“I’d say enough are on her side that it’ll never be a problem. You won’t catch many C.O.’s hassling her. White shirts, maybe. They’re just pissed she’s got the place fuckin’ wired.” Octavia studied Lexa’s face for a moment as though realizing something she hadn’t before. “Come to think of it, I guess you’re under that umbrella too now.”
“Seriously. All you gotta do is keep that trust. It’s easy currency, Woods.” Octavia grinned and leaned closer. “Still wanna know what Griffin’s in for?”
Lexa let out an amused huff and returned to her cards. “Please,” she dismissed.
“There ya go.”
Ten days down.
Clarke did not come back.
“Woods,” Raven called quietly after lockup.
“Think Griffin’s dead?”
Lexa didn’t answer. She just wasn’t in the mood.
“Nah, you’re right. Bitch would totally be haunting me by now. She’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Sleep tight, bitch.”
She was not back tomorrow.
Nearly a dozen people came down with food poisoning and none of Raven’s repairs held the night. Harper decked two people in the face when she lost Connect Four and Lexa almost joined in.
It would have been decidedly uncool to greet Clarke at the door to C Block when she was dumped back inside by some white shirt Lexa didn’t recognize. Bellamy greeted her with a discreet high-five and some inaudible debriefing. Octavia wasn’t beyond being uncool, though, and she hoisted Clarke up in a bear hug while Bellamy half-heartedly told her to keep her hands to herself. Even Raven conveniently found a reason to ditch fixing the vent at the back of the block and tug playfully on Clarke’s baseball hat, hand brushing frequently against her arm like she had to make sure she was still there.
It felt like all of C Block was breathing a collective sigh of relief. Silently, Lexa wondered just how stable the social web was if ten days minus one resident could sour the mood so thoroughly. When Clarke dropped into the seat across from her, Lexa couldn’t quash the smile that pulled at the corner of her lips.
“Heard you were picking fights out in the yard.”
Lexa’s hands stilled over her game of solitaire. “Is there anything you don’t hear?”
A week ago, Lexa might have taken that as an exaggeration or a joke, but now it struck her as just plain honesty. Curiosity ate away at her, but Octavia’s words stuck in the front of her brain. Trust. It’s all about trust. “Your music made me irritable,” she said instead.
“Yeah nothing makes me want to throw down like Johnny Mathis.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Finally, she was able to pull the headphones from her neck and slide the cassette player across the table to its rightful owner. “Better take that back before I kill somebody. What held you up?”
It was a little hurtful that Clarke seemed almost happier to see her headphones than she did Lexa, but she could roll with it. “Huh?” Clarke looked up from stroking the fraying duct tape. “Oh, right. Pike said he lost my paperwork and held me there until Bell snitched to the warden. I really ought to be nicer to Bell,” she said distractedly. “Why, did you miss me?”
“Octavia did,” Lexa answered truthfully. “And I’m fairly certain Raven did.”
“Not you, though,” Clarke clarified.
“Stop fishing for compliments, Clarke.”
“Why, am I not going to catch anything?”
Lexa sighed. “Fine. There were moments. Sometimes. Once or twice maybe.”
“Ha! Tone it down, Woods, you’re embarrassing me.”
The chicken was actually edible at dinner that night and Clarke’s idle conversation drifting above their bunk beds put her to sleep. Her dreams were rather pleasant.
Bellamy frowned at the sparse contents of their cell. “Um. Where did all your bedding go? And uh, everything else.”
Clarke pulled a hand slowly down her face while Lexa pretended to be interested in a scratch on their door. “Not today, Bell. Just write me up for the missing stuff and put in for more bedding. Tell the white shirts I set it on fire or something, I really don’t care.”
“Just write you up? You don’t want to defend it?”
“Just write me up, Bell.”
left a bunch of loose ends because it was a blast to write and i could shit out dialogue for days. if ya'll are feelin it, i'll plow on ahead with a few more chapters.
The sun’s glare was simultaneously refreshing and vaguely reminiscent of what Lexa imagined she would experience when she inevitably burned in hell. But it had been cloudy for far too long and even the weeds beneath her knees and palms had started to look depressed. Weeds had a lot to be depressed about, though, so Lexa tried not to give it too much merit when she ripped them from the soil and tossed them into the bucket at her hip. But under the glaring sun she could at least appreciate the thick, white cotton shirts on their backs rather than the county orange jumpsuits. It was hard to believe she’d been out of the violent bustle of Division XI for months already. Maximum security prison was a walk in the park compared to just general population at county.
“Woods, does this look like a tomato plant to you?”
Lexa shifted back on her knees and squinted at the plant Fox was prodding at. She had only been working in the gardens for a month or two, so she couldn’t really tell. “Statistically, whatever plant you point to in this garden has nearly a ninety percent chance of being a tomato,” she said flatly, pulling a dirty arm across her forehead. The rest of the plants had died under their watchful amateurism.
“How the hell are we supposed to tell a tomato from the marijuana I planted here last week? Only kidding, sir.” Fox offered their supervisor an innocent smile and fluttered her eyelashes until he rolled his eyes and hobbled off to find shade. When he was out of sight, she leaned across the mystery plant toward Lexa. “But now that I think about it, it’s not such a bad idea.”
“Really? You applied rational thought to that idea and became more endeared to it? Perhaps you should find shade as well,” Lexa quipped, grunting as she tugged at a stubborn weed clinging to what was probably also a tomato plant. They had begun to haunt her nightmares. She couldn’t even eat spaghetti anymore without becoming depressed.
Fox laughed and slid her legs out from under herself to stretch them out in front of her. She reclined on her elbow and shielded her eyes. “And here I was, missing the sun. Forgot what a son of a bitch it was. Tell me,” she mused, flicking absently at her plant, “what exactly are we growing hundreds of pounds of tomatoes for?”
“Something to do?” Lexa suggested. When Fox gave her a skeptical look, Lexa gestured around the inmate garden where people were hunched over tending to wild plants or ducked down to hide their lack of productivity from the supervisors. “We’re supposed to be growing our own food. It is not our fault that the tomatoes are the only plants that survive our abysmal gardening skills.”
“That sounds like it’s entirely our fault,” Fox corrected. “Oh well. At least we get more yard time. Nothing cures a lifelong dislike for the outdoors like bars on your windows. I’m a firm believer in falling in love with what you can’t have.”
“Poetic,” Lexa hummed. She opened her mouth to say something else, but swallowed her words with a cough when a ballistic pebble collided with the back of her head. Fully prepared to berate the culprit, Lexa whipped around with narrowed eyes only to lose her anger at the sight of Clarke and Raven and their poorly concealed grins. Raven was bent over one of the old hose spigots with a rusty wrench while Clarke was swinging a battered first aid kit, the picture of poorly constructed innocence.
“I am working here, Clarke,” Lexa called, throwing her trowel down in mock anger. “And you would do well not to hinder me.”
Raven snorted and bashed her wrench against the rusted coupling a few times. “What, are we gonna cause the next big famine without your green tomatoes and large, admittedly phallic zucchinis? Clarke’s saving lives here.”
“Yeah, Lexa, I’m saving lives,” Clarke laughed, jiggling the first aid kit demonstratively. “What’s wrong with Fox?”
Lexa turned to where she had left the girl only to find her sprawled out in the dirt with an arm over her eyes. Fox just waved a hand in the air. “Nothin’. I’m good.”
“Sure you don’t need CPR?” Clarke called back. Raven whistled at the suggestion. “I’m certified. And trust me, I am an experience.”
Fox laughed from her place in the dirt. “Well, now that you mention it my heart is feeling a little faint…”
Lexa frowned and tossed a trowel of dirt over Fox's face, causing her to sit bolt upright and splutter indignantly into her lap. The dirt mixed with her sweat and began running dark grey down her cheeks and forehead while Clarke and Raven howled with laughter.
“False alarm,” Lexa announced, coolly. “No CPR required.”
Raven whacked her wrench once more against the coupling and it exploded, spewing water in violent hisses into her face and the side of Clarke’s head. The two squealed in surprise and scrambled away from the downpour while Fox’s vengeful laughter joined the spout’s hissing. Raven recovered quickly, cackling at Clarke’s expression until she received a hard shove and fell into the sopping grass flat on her ass. They were both soaked, but Clarke just sighed and tugged her loose shirt over her head. It was too hot for the C.O.’s to get on her case too much. The sun looked nice in her hair. And, well – you know, her everything.
Lexa just stared.
“You’re in trouble,” Fox snickered beside her.
“Remember what I said about falling in love with something you can’t have?”
Lexa tossed another trowel of dirt in her face.
Lexa struggled to keep her eyes open against the cool breeze and thick blanket of clouds that shaded the yard, rumbling quietly like they were arguing about when to rain. She had been up all night stocking shelves with the overnight crew – a biweekly occurrence for her temporary assignment. Octavia was twisting small braids into the back of her hair while Lexa rested her chin in her hands and watched Clarke converse with a skinny guy on the other side of the fence. If he turned sideways, he might disappear entirely.
She had seen the two speak before. In fact, Clarke speaking with the men on the other side of the fence was nothing out of the ordinary. Whatever business she had there, Lexa had learned to accept. If Clarke wanted her involved, she had no doubt she would be the first to know.
“You’re staring,” Octavia pointed out, tugging playfully on one of the braids she was working on. The two of them were fully aware that Octavia could only get away with touching Lexa’s hair when she was too exhausted to put up a fight.
Lexa rolled her eyes even though Octavia couldn’t see it. “They are in my staring path. It is not my fault.”
Clarke drew a shape with her finger in the air before landing whatever joke or story she had been building and the boy on the other side of the fence laughed openly, full of genuine amusement. To Lexa’s surprise and discomfort, the boy turned and gestured at the table Lexa and Octavia were sitting on. Clarke turned as well and leveled an exasperated look at the boy. After a brief, inaudible argument, she waved them over.
“Clarke is waving at us,” Lexa pointed out.
Octavia looked over Lexa’s shoulder before waving back. “That’s just Monty. You should go meet him. I’m not sure there’s anyone nicer with a felony conviction than Monty Green.”
Lexa wasn’t in the mood, no matter how friendly he was, but she heaved a sigh and dropped off of the tabletop to meet Clarke and her friend.
“You look tired.” Clarke observed upon her arrival.
“Hey, all I’m sayin’ is that you can stock my shelves any night. All night? Something like that.”
Clarke shrugged defensively. “Okay, whatever. I had to come up with that one on the fly. Next one will be better. Anyways, Monty wanted to meet my new cellmate. Woods, Monty Green. Monty, Lexa Woods.”
Monty grinned at her and placed his fist against the fence. “Nice to meet you. Clarke tells me nothing whatsoever about you.”
“Flattering,” Lexa said with a smirk. Monty had dark eyes and a light smile with a pleasingly smooth voice. Without thinking too much, Lexa pressed her own fist to his against the fence. “I am similarly in the dark about you.”
Monty’s smile grew. “Allow me to shed some light on the subject,” he said, giving Clarke a look that dared her to stop him. She just huffed and gestured helplessly for him to continue. “Clarke and I were in the same transport from county back in the day. She saved my ass from a disciplinary transfer a few years back and got a charge knocked off my sentence with some clever research. So any friend of Clarke’s is a friend of mine.”
Without much to say to that, Lexa only nodded politely. Clarke rubbed at the back of her neck. “Weren’t nothin’, Monty. If you want to be indebted to someone, indebt yourself to the shitty law library in central. It holds more answers than you’d think.”
Lexa feigned surprise. “Clarke, you can read?” Monty laughed and Clarke slapped at her arm, but Lexa managed to slip in, “I’m learning so much about you,” before Clarke slapped her into quiet submission.
“Anyways, Monty obviously sucks, but I keep him around because he’s the prison’s resident booze guru. Dude’s practically his own micro-brewery with how much he cranks out in a month.”
Lexa started when someone popped up behind them and slung an arm around each of their shoulders. “Did somebody say booze?” Raven whispered excitedly. Lexa had never known someone who could whisper so loudly.
Clarke’s expression flattened. “Get lost, Raven.”
Raven looked between the three of them for a few moments before nodding. “Yeah, that’s fair.” She left as quickly as she had appeared.
“Anyways,” Clarke continued, smothering the fond look that often trailed after the other girl. “I’ve introduced you to the mysterious new roommate, so time to uphold your end. Did you manage to hide stock in Ark? I need a welcome back party.”
“Clarke,” Monty laughed, leveling her with a disbelieving look. “I could hide Pike in his own shoes and he’d never find himself again.”
“Nothin’, just checkin’ if you’re still there.”
Lexa turned from the small grate on the door of her temporary living arrangements to fix a bewildered look at the blank wall in front of her. “Where exactly am I meant to go?”
Clarke just groaned in response and began banging rhythmically against her door across the hall. Lexa suspected it was with her head. But if Clarke had only been reduced to bashing her head against walls after twenty days of solitary, then she was already fairing better than most who had endured similar sentences. Lexa considered joining Clarke in her endeavors.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea. Come to the grate.”
It was useless to pretend she had something better to do after twenty days locked in a single cell without yard time or social interaction. So Lexa sighed and approached the small slotted grate that provided her only window to the outside world. Clarke was already at her own grate in the cell across from Lexa’s.
“Alright. I’m gonna throw this napkin I made into a paper airplane and you’re going to catch it when I get it to stick in your grate. And before you give me your negativity, just remember that I’m aces at folding and throwing paper airplanes. So yes, this will work. Save your rationality and uncanny ability to be right about everything. I don't want to hear it.”
Lexa nodded slowly. As long as her logic wasn’t going to be tolerated in the equation, she really had nothing else to contribute. “When you’re ready, Clarke.”
While Clarke’s aim really was quite good, the paper bounced sadly off of one of the leftmost bars on the grate and fell silently to the floor outside of Lexa’s cell.
Clarke made a frustrated noise and slapped her palm against her own cell door. “Aw, nuts. My aim was grate, I don’t understand!”
“You tried your best,” Lexa supplied uselessly.
Clarke laughed. “No, no. My aim was grate. That’s a bit of cell humor for ya there, Woods. Gotta make the best of it.”
“You get it, though, right? Grate as in-“
“I got it, Clarke.”
“You’re not laughing.”
“I am aware.”
That only made Clarke laugh harder – whether at her own joke or Lexa’s lack of enthusiasm, she couldn’t figure. “Okay, okay. I made a bunch of these, so I’m bound to get one of them over to you.”
Some thirty failed attempts later, Clarke was cursing loudly to herself while Lexa leaned against her door waiting for her seemingly endless supply of napkins to run out. She wondered how long they had been at it. Too long. Definitely too long.
“Clarke, I’m beginning to question just how worthwhile your endeavors are.”
“Beginning?” Clarke’s voice was strained with disappointment and frayed nerves. “I’ve been questioning my, uh, endeavors for twenty-five years. Spoiler: they are totally not worthwhile. Ah, fuck.”
Lexa let her head fall back against her door and shifted anxiously on her aching feet. Part of her wanted Clarke to succeed if only to give her a reprieve from their strained moods. “Well, we can celebrate, regardless, when you have victory.”
“Fuckin’ right we will.”
“No, no. Clarke, we will cell-ebrate. That is a bit of your, um, cell humor. Make the best of it, correct?”
Clarke fell quiet for a few moments and Lexa began to worry that her first attempt at humor might have managed a fatality. Finally, Clarke clicked her tongue. “Ugh. You alright over there, Woods? If you feel faint, tuck your head between your knees and try to steady your breathing. And whatever you do: don’t go towards the light.”
“My apologies. I do not know what came over me.”
Clarke snorted, probably more so at her own joke than Lexa’s abominable attempt at one. “Apology accepted. God, we need to get you out of here.”
Lexa sighed. “You are probably right.”
Silence settled around them again for a few moments until the sporadic tapping of misguided paper airplanes against her cell grate resumed. Clarke was nothing if not persistent. “You know,” Clarke managed through her own grinding teeth, “I’m really starting to appreciate the work Air Traffic Controllers do for us.”
“You did not appreciate that before?”
“Honestly, you can fuck right off.”
It would probably have been in bad form to point out that there were several locks and three walls of twelve inch concrete that begged to differ. Fucking off was the last thing she was capable of. “Have you never been in an airplane, Clarke?”
“Dude, no. First of all, I haven’t had a day off of work since – well, since I came here I guess. Not such a great vacation spot, but that’s beside the point.”
Lexa waited for the rest of her reasoning, but Clarke must have been distracted by a particularly frustrating failure when she descended into a bout of creative cursing. “Second of all?” Lexa prompted.
“Second of all, plane tickets are fucking expensive. Like, seriously, $100? That’s like, 100 tacos I’m never going to be able to consume. And third of all, there’s no way in hell I’m climbing into a steel drum death trap of my own volition to be parachuted around at 4 billion miles altitude by some old white dude whose racist, baby-boomer father used to bond over making fun of their next door neighbor’s fruity son. Fuck!”
Clarke tended to get more creative the angrier she got. Lexa tried to puzzle out her rambling while Clarke fell into a fresh bout of agitated rambling. “I suspect your experience with pilots is not universal,” she murmured.
“We’re in fucking prison, Lex. I’d like to think that our experiences are pretty fucking far from universal at any given moment. Fuck me to the moon and back, son of a fucking nutcracker under Satan’s Christmas tree!”
Solitary confinement did strange things to people. “Well, statistically speaking, prison is not the most unusual experience a person can have.”
When Clarke didn’t respond, Lexa turned from where she was leaning against the door to make sure the other girl hadn’t hurt herself. Instead, she was surprised to find one of Clarke’s napkin planes wedged precariously between the slots in her grate. Clarke’s wide eyes were peering back at her from across the hall. “Holy shit, I did it. Changed my mind, Woods, fuck Air Traffic Controllers. I’m the fucking god of the skies now, bitch.”
Lexa allowed a rare grin to pull at her mouth and shook her head in disbelief. “I admit myself impressed.”
“I admit myself the fucking god of airplanes. Get fucked, Amelia Earhart.”
Getting the plane was going to be another challenge, however. Lexa reached up tentatively, fingers shaking slightly as she moved to pinch the nose of the plane between her fingers and draw it inside her cell.
Something went wrong.
What else was there to say?
In a moment of tortuous slapstick, Lexa’s twitching fingers tapped the plane and it plopped lamely to the floor with the rest of the failed attempts. Clarke’s eyes got even wider and Lexa inhaled sharply while they watched it hit the ground without so much as a whisper. They stood there with their faces pressed against the grates, faces paled and breath trapped in their lungs.
Lexa wasn’t sure if it would be better or worse for her to speak. The words tumbled out anyways, though. “I am so sorry, Clarke.”
Clarke closed her eyes and held a hand up for silence. “Not a word, Woods.”
“Ssshh. I’m grieving.”
Lexa was sure Clarke would recover – sure her grieving would be swift and mature and they could move beyond the sting of failure.
She was sure-
-right up until Clarke started humming Amazing Grace to herself and banging her forehead softly against the grate. Once her humming ceased, Lexa waited for the heartfelt eulogy she was sure would follow.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Couldn’t this man see he was interrupting a funeral?
Clarke opened her eyes and offered the approaching C.O. a baleful look. “Dealing with the crushing fatality of self-realization and the inevitability of consistent failure,” she sighed. “The usual, Murphy.”
Murphy wasn’t a C.O. that Lexa saw often or even recalled by name, but he looked somewhat familiar. He shrugged and slouched closer, swinging a thick key ring on his index finger. “Yeah, I can relate. Least I’m not in prison, though.”
“Yeah, like you feel any less trapped here than we do. Let's not pretend your life's a fucking picnic.”
Murphy blew some hair out of his eyes and offered a vaguely defeated grimace. “Spot on as always, Griffin. Guess I don’t have to ask what you’ve been up to. Bellamy warned me you wouldn’t make this easy on me. Paper airplanes? What are you, twelve?”
“Twelve and a half actually. Let’s cut to the chase. Instead of throwing those napkins away, do me a solid and kick them through the flood gate under Woods’ door and I’ll make it worth your while.”
Murphy narrowed his eyes at her and looked between the two. “You ain’t exactly my type,” he drawled, kicking absently at the pile of napkins.
“Okay, ignoring the fact that I’m everyone’s type, you know that’s not what I meant. And you know I’m good for it. Favor redeemable whenever, no questions asked.”
The slouchy C.O. didn’t exactly seem like the type to comply with any friendly requests. He looked more like he belonged in prison with them than guarding the dreary depths of Seg. To Lexa’s surprise, though, he just shrugged, kicked the bolt open on the floodgate under her door, and swept the pile of napkins under it before snapping it shut again.
“Better not get fired over this, Clarke.”
“No worries, Murphy. Just some graphic pornography and security-compromising info on those napkins. It’s all kosher.”
Lexa was fairly certain that Murphy didn’t care regardless of whether Clarke was joking or not. He tossed a farewell wave over his shoulder as he slumped off to spread his cheery apathy to the rest of the prison. As much as his voice grated on her nerves, she was thankful for his distaste for rules. Whatever would she have done without hundreds of dirty, folded napkins littering her cell? Truly, he was the hero they deserved.
“I’m probably gonna regret that,” Clarke muttered, tapping her nails against her door in thought. “Well don’t let me die in vain, Woods. Enjoy the spoils. I’m gonna take a nap and try to forget how much I hate myself.”
Lexa had firsthand knowledge that no amount of napping could cure such inclinations, but she figured everyone had a right to find that out for themselves. Instead, she began plucking napkins from the floor and unfolding them. Each contained random quotes and doodles – nothing pornographic or compromising. Not that it was disappointing. Or whatever.
But in the wake of the incident that landed them in Seg and the backlash over their behavior, the drawings lightened her mood more than she could’ve hoped. Her favorites included one depicting Bellamy in a dorky safari uniform being hunted by dinosaurs, one of Raven operating a giant fighting robot, and a simple picture of her and Clarke playing Rummy (even if there was an arrow pointing to Lexa’s head at the end of the phrase ‘huge bitch’).
It was the first and only time she smiled during that stay in Seg.
“What are you doing here?”
Anya raised her brows and fixed Lexa with a look of poorly concealed irritation. “What, you aren’t happy to see me?”
Well, yes. But also, no.
When Bellamy had told her she had a visitor for the first time since arriving in prison, Lexa had been seized by a strange mixture of curiousity and dread. The only people who would ever have reason to visit her were under strict orders not to.
That included Anya.
“Oh well, guess I’ll just sit here and fuck myself then.”
Lexa frowned. “I would rather not be here for that.”
Across the visitation room, Raven was arguing in rapid Spanish with some guy and Harper was pulled up next to an elderly woman who looked at her like she had stars in her eyes. Other than that, they were alone. Anya leaned forward anyways, voice dropped to a low whisper.
“Listen, you little shit. I know I’m not supposed to be here. You get cuffed, you get cut. Keeps us safe, blah blah blah. Spare me the details. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was vital.”
That, Lexa did not doubt. The Woods family business was successful because of such rules. Each person operated like their own cell – like an arm on the business. Whenever one person was compromised, the business cut them off like a septic limb, keeping the center clean. No contact, no aid, and certainly no prison visits. Lexa had fully expected to serve out her five years without so much as a whisper of her family’s dealings. This did not bode well.
Stamping down her anxiety, Lexa gestured for her cousin to continue.
Anya shifted uncomfortably in her chair, suddenly nervous. That was a similarly bad sign. There was very little that made Anya nervous.
“Out with it, Anya.”
She let out a long breath and braced her hands on the table before fixing Lexa with a tired look. “You’re dad’s dead,” she said flatly. “Viktor’s dead.”
Well, leave it to Anya.
Lexa nodded slowly and sat back in her chair. In retrospect, there were a thousand questions she should have had, but nothing came to mind. Nothing seemed to matter. And she felt nothing. Not like, a good kind of nothing, but rather a consuming, heavy blanket of nothing. The bullshit kind of nothing that would make you sick if you weren’t so busy feeling fucking nothing.
Lexa couldn’t so much as look sad. Or angry. Or anything.
Anya leaned closer. “Would you say something already?”
Even in grief and sympathy, Anya wasn’t a patient woman. Lexa shrugged. “What am I supposed to say? Is there something I’m supposed to be saying?”
“Fuck, I don’t know. I wasn’t even sure I should come. They told me not to, but shit, I dunno, kid. I can’t let you rot in here without knowing.”
Lexa forced a faint half-smile on her face. “So this was a personal visit. Am I not allowed to inquire about the business ramifications of my - of Viktor's passing?”
“Yeah. I know they’re tracking your visitor logs, but one visit isn’t enough for their case. It’s barely even circumstantial." She toyed with her visitor's badge. "Viktor asked for you in the end. Ah shit, you probably don’t want to know that.”
When Lexa didn’t respond to that, the two fell into glum silence. Lexa stared at the side of Raven’s head while Anya stared down at her own hands. They passed the rest of the visit that way before clasping hands and parting ways. The second Anya was gone, though, Lexa regretted her silence. After all, she would likely not hear from anyone she knew for the next four years.
She tried to feel something for the rest of the day, but had little luck. Clarke must have picked up on her odd behavior (though Lexa was normally quiet and clipped in her responses, so she couldn’t imagine what tipped her off), because she started being weirdly nice. Not in a bad way. She let Lexa beat her at Rummy five times in a row, sat closer than usual, and sent Octavia and Raven off on some junk errand when they got too rowdy.
Some two hours after lights out, Lexa found words falling unbidden into the darkness of their cell. “My father died yesterday.”
It startled her when Clarke responded, because she had been fairly sure that the entire cellblock was asleep and she hadn’t been certain the words actually left her mouth.
Lexa stared at the bottom of Clarke’s bunk and tried to snatch at the emotion that evaded her. “I am too.”
“What was he like?”
And that did it for some reason.
Something about that question, whispered in the dark against the backdrop of a shitty day in a shitty place, was like pulling a pebble out of a dam only for it to explode. It didn’t feel any better than feeling nothing had. Feeling everything was infinitely worse. Suddenly she was nine years old again, behind the wheel of her dad’s Cadillac while he laughed and pretended to hold on for dear life. Suddenly she was four again and he was asleep in his armchair while she sat on his lap and drew all over his meticulous, scrawling business ledger. Suddenly she was twenty, pretending to be exasperated when he insisted on pulling her along to the same Frank Sinatra song he pulled her along to every Sunday night. Suddenly she was fifteen, breathing heavily through her nose while the family crest was tattooed on her upper arm and her father watched on with barely concealed pride of the fiercest kind.
Suddenly she was alone in prison while they buried her father.
Suddenly she couldn’t say anything at all.
Lexa pressed her palms hard into her eye sockets and breathed as quietly as she could manage under the weight on her lungs.
Wordlessly, Clarke leaned over the side of her bunk and tucked a bottle of water into Lexa’s side before retreating.
“Yeah,” she murmured into the darkness. “Mine too.”
As someone currently serving time in prison, Lexa found it telling that joining Clarke and her friends in the old gardening shed to drink questionable liquor after bribing a C.O. was one of the poorer choices she had made in her life. By some strange series of corruption, planning, and sneaking, they were all out of their cells way past lockup and without supervision. Honestly, Lexa didn’t even want to know what had gotten them there. From what little she could understand, it involved several favors, a gardening emergency, and a dishonest night watch.
Clarke offered her a mason jar of a rather unappetizing substance. She considered turning down Monty’s prison booze, but upon further reflection decided that she wasn’t going to make it through that night without something alcoholic.
“Fox, I regret all the times I made fun of you for gardening and called you ‘the tomato bitch’. Or ‘vegetable preacher’. And that one time I called you-“
“I get it,” Fox interrupted, rolling her eyes and tipping back an unhealthy amount of booze.
Raven waited a few moments before finishing, “’dirt fucker’.”
“Oh, shove off. Garden crew was great,” Clarke said, gesturing around at the rusty tools and duck-taped farm equipment like that somehow proved her point. “I had fun here way back when. Ark’s like home.”
“What’s Ark?” Lexa wondered aloud, grimacing while she sipped at Monty’s vile concoction.
Clarke looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “Good question. It’s on the building designation number above the door. I’m pretty sure it’s an acronym or something.”
Octavia nodded sagely. “Oh, you mean like two words that sound the same but are spelled differently.”
“Um, no. I’m not even sure what that’s called. I mean, I think Ark stands for something. Agricultural Reclamation, something or other. I don’t fuckin’ know, I’ve got a GED not some fancy highschool diploma,” Clarke muttered, gesturing irritably with her sloshing jar. ”GEDs are like the beer nuts of bar snacks.”
Raven shook her head. “No, no. It’s meant to be ‘Ark’ like that giant boat that Noah went around kidnapping animals in so he could absorb their powers, punch God in the face, and fuck Mother Nature.”
“Thus, the Powerpuff Girls were born!”
Octavia and Raven high-fived.
Clarke drained the rest of her jar. “Your bible study leaves a lot to be desired, Reyes. Pretty sure Noah didn’t fuck Mother Nature. Pretty sure Mother Nature isn’t a fuckable entity.”
“Pretty sure you’re not a fuckable entity,” Octavia countered.
Raven and Octavia high-fived again.
“Listen, Clarke,” Raven drawled, setting a condescending hand on her shoulder, “she’s called Mother Nature because she got knocked up with the Earth. She ain't called Lady Nature or Virgin Nature. If Noah didn’t fuck her, then who did?”
Fox was nursing her second drink, but held a hand up for a moment of silence. “The problem is your timeline, Reyes. How could Noah even exist to fuck Mother Nature if she hadn’t given birth to the Earth yet? You’re basically calling him his own father.”
Lexa downed her second drink and reached for a third. She felt like she was sitting in on some bizarre post-modern art show where the artists were all stumbling around with piñata sticks in the dark, trying to blind each other with the sharp ends before the lights came back on. A cultural phenomenon to say the least.
Clarke had been staring blankly into her drink. “I am so a fuckable entity.”
“Stay focused, Clarke.”
Raven passed everyone an additional drink whether or not the person already had one. “Okay, okay. It wasn’t Noah then. I don’t know. All I know is he drove a boat around and became history’s worst fucking lifeguard. Somebody fucked Mother Earth, though.”
“I’ll tell you who it was,” Octavia hiccupped. “It’s that Aristotle fuck.”
“Aristotle,” Fox repeated. “Aristotle…is the father of Earth.”
“I’m just sayin’ he knew way too much about the secrets of the universe. Dude was at least friends with benefits. He totally was on the inside track. Like, the sex track.”
“Please, bitch,” Raven sloshed booze all over her shoes when she gestured violently at nothing in particular. “Aristotle probably wiped his stone age dick with leaves and thought every planet in the universe was kissing Earth’s ass. Case closed. Next candidate.”
Clarke swirled the contents of her drink. “Do you really think I’m not a fuckable entity?”
“Or maybe Clarke fucked Mother Earth for all we’ll ever know. Who cares, I’m boring myself already. Let’s pass another round out before I have to hear myself think anymore,” Raven concluded, shoving yet another drink into Lexa’s rapidly numbing fingers.
“I’d fuck you,” Fox offered, clinking her glass against Clarke’s.
Raven pulled Clarke into a headlock, causing her to spill her drink across the dusty floorboards. “Back off bitch, she’s mine.”
“What the fuck am I,” Octavia muttered, “chopped liver?”
Lexa’s brain was swimming in deeper waters than her stomach when her dumb mouth fell open and words came out against her express permission. “I’d fuck you,” she admitted.
Everyone turned to stare at her, but she focused resolutely on the glass in her hand, which was starting to haze into multiple glasses in the blur of her fourth drink.
Octavia laughed heartily and punched her in the shoulder. “Tell us something we don’t know. Sometimes I’m trying to count stock when you’re stocking and I feel your gayness literally affecting my ability to do basic math. From across the prison, Woods. It’s like Peter Parker trying to use his spidey senses, but there’s a five-hundred foot spider on the other end of New York thinking dirty thoughts about him so he keeps falling off of buildings. It’s distracting.”
“Please,” Clarke managed through her laughter, “no amount of gay can stop you from what you couldn’t do to begin with. What’s 56 multiplied by 4?”
Octavia threw her hands in the air. “How the fuck should I know? Woods is sitting like three feet away from me!”
Lexa grabbed the drink out of Octavia’s drunken grip and downed it. Perhaps she should take Fox’s as well…
“Oh leave her alone.” Clarke offered her a sympathetic grin before scooting across the misshapen circle to sit next to her. “Don’t worry, Woods. For what it’s worth,” she said leaning closer, “I’d totally fuck me too.”
Lexa swallowed some ghastly comment about not being able to see straight while the rest of them howled with laughter.
The rest of the night was one embarrassing blur. Clarke practically carried her back to their cell, humming Go Tell it on the Mountain while Raven drawled on in Spanish behind them like she honestly couldn’t remember what language her friends spoke. Octavia would occasionally answer as though she really did understand.
Lexa couldn’t actually tell if she said “Clarke” or not in response, but whatever she did, Clarke continued speaking.
“Haha, you’re so gay. I'm gayer though. Don't make me fight you for it.”
“I love you, loser.”
“Go tell it on the mountain, over the ark and Pike sucks dick,” Clarke hummed to herself. “Go tell it on the mountain that something something something.”
Dinner wasn’t exactly an enjoyable affair on the best day, but Lexa did not appreciate having some inmate she barely recognized storm over to their regular table and begin verbally assaulting them.
“So I can’t help but think this got somethin’ to do with you, Griffin. I told you once and I’m not tellin’ you again, but this shit with Jasper and that fucker from A Block ruins what I’ve got going on. If I’ve gotta kill you to get around you, don’t think I fuckin’ won’t.”
Clarke didn’t seem all that ruffled by the onslaught. Rather, she continued to poke disinterestedly at her food without acknowledgement until their intruder slapped Clarke’s entire tray to the ground. Clarke sighed, set her fork down, and finally looked up at the other girl with a bored expression.
“This isn’t worth it,” she said shortly.
Lexa felt the wind up before she could even see the intruder’s back swing, arm pulled back for a vicious assault. She was on her feet in less than a second, but found her aid unnecessary when Octavia clothes-lined the girl to the ground with a satisfying crack. Lexa hadn’t even seen Octavia loitering in the background.
Clarke had remained seated, utterly unperturbed by the violent turn of events.
Without waiting for the other girl to get up, Octavia seized her by her shirt and slammed her on the table where Clarke’s tray had been moments ago.
Clarke leaned forward on her elbows to address the prone inmate, face-up on the unforgiving metal of the cafeteria tables. “I was eating that,” she whispered sweetly. “We won’t be speaking again.”
When Clarke rose to leave, Lexa felt she didn’t have much choice but to follow. In the hallway she chanced a glance at Clarke to find her as unconcerned as she had been during the altercation.
Clarke noticed her questioning look and offered her a sheepish smile. “You know how business is, am I right?”
Lexa nodded. “Do I want to know?”
“I don’t like drugs being brought in,” Clarke said simply. “Anyways. Thanks for having my back.”
“I did not do anything, Clarke.”
Clarke shrugged. “Only because you didn’t have to.”
“Do you think animals know we talk shit about how much smarter we are than them? Would they agree if they did know? Or would it send them spiraling into self-doubt?”
Clarke rolled her eyes and tossed back the pills Lexa had offered her in a paper cup without bothering to wash it down with water. “Happy?”
“I would be happier if you had not been stabbed,” Lexa returned, pushing Clarke back into the cot she seemed so desperate to climb out of.
Clarke muttered something under her breath.
“Please, if you disagree, I invite you to speak.”
“Can’t you just be disgustingly sympathetic and vengeful like the rest of my friends,” Clarke said louder. “I don’t need the third degree on this. I know what I did.”
“You could have died, Clarke.”
“Please,” she dismissed.
“What will it take to teach you a lesson, exactly?”
“Well when they manage to kill me, scrounge up a ouiji board and I’ll let you know,” Clarke pouted, attempting for the hundredth time to swing her legs out of bed. Lexa blocked her for the hundredth time. She could do this all day. Had already done so, in fact. C Block had waited nearly two weeks with baited breath for any word from the hospital she had been transported to. When Bellamy was finally able to come up with some information and a release date, C Block went into a near riot mode. The only thing more exciting was when Clarke actually returned to the prison on strict orders of bed rest in the medical pavilion.
While the rest of the prison was celebrating the relief that came with avoiding a power struggle over the fate of prison politics, Lexa couldn't have cared less. She should have. An unstable prison is a dangerous one. But somehow or another, she cared more about Clarke's handle on recovery than the hierarchy.
“You are impossible,” Lexa sighed, leaning back in her plastic chair until Clarke inevitably tried to climb out of bed again.
“Yeah, impossible to kill. I’m like a cat, baby. Nine lives!”
“I believe the creature you are referring to is a cockroach.”
Clarke made to reach for Lexa’s arm – most likely to punch it – but winced at the movement and sunk back against her pillows. “Alright, whatever. I’m a cockroach and you’re right. As usual.”
In the wake of Clarke’s close call and her defeated, pale expression, Lexa couldn’t even find it in herself to manage an ‘I told you so’. She would, perhaps, save that for a time when Clarke was feeling better. You can only postpone pettiness so long, after all. “She’s dead by the way,” Lexa said quietly.
Clarke turned her gaze to the barred window, feigning disinterest. If Lexa hadn’t known her for so long it might have worked. “Who’s that?”
“Your assailant,” Lexa said patiently. “She was transferred to Super Max to await trial but was killed shortly thereafter. They don’t know who did it.”
Clarke shrugged, but didn’t look away from the window. Outside, the gardening crew was taking inventory without Lexa’s assistance. Bellamy had snuck her off to the medical pavilion on a silent favor. “What a shame,” Clarke finally managed, voice devoid of any indication that she actually considered it to be unfortunate.
Lexa was feeling irritable and tense and decided that they had come far enough where she no longer deserved the silent pawn treatment. “Is that it, then?” She asked sharply. “That’s really all you’re going to say on the matter?”
Clarke looked at her then, face serious and appraising. “What would you like me to say?”
Clarke nodded slowly and her eyes rose toward the ceiling in thought. “Well,” she concluded, “I gotta say: getting stabbed really blows, Lex. Like, seriously. Official recommendation: don’t get fucking stabbed.”
Point blank it was, then. “Did you take that hit for me? Who were they trying to kill? Tell me you didn't take that hit for me.”
It had happened so fast. They were too close. Red everywhere. Shouting. Knuckles cracking against noses and ribs. The lockdown siren. Crumpled bodies and roaring C.O.’s in riot gear.
Burkov was third heir to the Burkov business until her untimely murder charge and it was no secret that the Woods and the Burkovs did not get along both in business affairs and personal ones. But Clarke was a more high-valued target when all was said and done, at least within the prison. This was not to be puzzled out so easily.
The direct question didn’t stun Clarke like Lexa thought it might. “Honestly, I have no idea.” And sure enough, her tone betrayed no deception. “Could’ve easily been on either of us, eh? I just reacted, alright? Thought I could disarm her and got capped. Consider yourself lucky. If you can go the rest of your life without a hex wrench in your kidney, you’ve really made out. Trust me on this one, Lex.”
Maybe it was better not knowing.
Lexa offered Clarke her bottle of water. “I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“I think Burkov would agree.”
"Thank you, Clarke."
"For what? I didn't do nothin'."
Lexa sighed. "Thank you anyways, Clarke."
Idly, though, Lexa wondered whether hers or Clarke’s hit got to Burkov first over in Super Max. There really was no way of knowing.
She hoped it was hers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this hungover in my entire life,” Lexa admitted, fingers dangling over the edge of her bunk and trialing on the dusty floor of their cell. The cheerful sunlight reflected off of the dust and spun around in lazy, happy circles. Stupid fucking sunlight.
“Lucky for me, I’m still drunk.”
“Yes, lucky for you.”
Clarke laughed and swung dangerously down from her bunk directly onto Lexa’s churning stomach. It was a miracle that she didn’t puke all over her cellmate. “Get off me,” Lexa groaned, shoving unsuccessfully at her attacker.
“Breakfast time, loser. Octavia always gets creative when she’s morning-drunk. Maybe she’ll try and make chicken oatmeal again. Get a move on, Woods,” Clarke said excitedly, ripping the blankets off of her bed.
They made their way to the cafeteria in a haze. Clarke rambled on about something or other while Lexa willed the contents of her stomach to fucking chill for three seconds. Sure enough, Octavia had outdone herself with some bizarre casserole that Lexa had neither the fortitude nor the courage to consume on the tail end of seven jars of moonshine. She was a little too focused on what her life would be like when she inevitably went blind.
“This is so gross,” Clarke laughed. She managed to catch Octavia’s eye and pointed excitedly at her own tray with a thumbs up. Octavia tried to return the grin, but had to close her eyes and stop herself from heaving all over the morning meal. “Oh my god, she’s gonna barf in her casserole. Holy shit.”
Lexa had never felt closer to Octavia than in that moment. Nothing brings people together like the uncontrollable urge to barf. Explosively. Projectile vomit. Everywhere.
It haunted her.
“You know what this needs?” Clarke gestured at her breakfast emetic. “Pepper. I’ll be right back.”
Lexa disagreed. She thought her breakfast needed a blowtorch and the good word of the lord.
Raven plopped her tray down next to Lexa and sat down gingerly, like if she moved too fast the room would tilt to the side and dump then into zero gravity. “Ugh,” she supplied.
“Why on Noah’s green Earth child is Clarke so goddamn cheerful this morning? Did you fuck her or something? How was she? I'm okay finding out vicariously.”
“She’s wasted. Completely drunk.”
Raven managed a laugh at that and held her cold milk carton to her forehead. “God love ya, Clarke. Nobody else will.”
“It is quite impressive.”
Raven nodded. “Clarke’s a stone cold motherfucker.”
“Stone cold drunk, maybe,” Lexa scoffed.
“Looks are deceiving, I guess.”
A fresh wave of nausea threatened to bubble up in her stomach and Lexa barely stifled it with an entire glass of water. It was a temporary fix at best. “How so?”
“Nothin’. Just – well, she’s so cheerful and dorky most of the time. Then you remember she’s like the fucking boss around here and what she’s in for and everything. Weird world out there, Woods. Clarke's an enigma.”
“You know what she’s in for?” Lexa wasn’t surprised necessarily. Maybe a little vexed that everyone seemed to know except for her.
Raven nodded into her milk carton. “’Course I do. Everybody knows.”
“Huh. You tellin’ me you had no idea that bitch is in for murder?”
Raven dropped her milk carton. “Oh, uh. Shit. You didn’t hear it from me, Woods. Whoops.”
Clarke returned with salt and pepper and ran a running drunk commentary on how awful Octavia’s casserole was like she was on some cooking show, happily consuming it along the way.
Lexa just stared at her and wondered what exactly a murderer was supposed to look like.
“Hey Woods, look. I’m a walrus.”
Lexa looked up from her game of FreeCell to where Clarke had two golf pencils stuck up her nose.
i feel the need to clarify that when i said this was based loosely on my experiences, i have not in fact been an inmate in prison. i have, however, worked for a brief time in one. had to clear my name.
love to hear from ya folks, keep your saturday classier than mine's gonna be.
this chapter is brought to you by the second worst hangover of my life. which, incidentally, was on easter so i'll see you all in hell. i came here to kick ass and neglect proofreading.
and im all out of ass.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If at all possible, the day after learning her father had passed was somehow worse for Lexa. Objectively, he had been four days in the ground when she found out. By the following day, it was five days (math courtesy of Octavia). There was no rational reason to be more upset as time edged farther and farther from the last day Viktor Woods had been on Earth.
Predictably, these facts did little to make her feel better.
Lexa ate her punitive consumption requirements (as Raven liked to refer to Octavia’s cooking) that night with a certain listlessness that did not go unnoticed by Clarke. Or Raven, really. But Raven excused herself the moment she realized that some form of emotional disturbance was going on at their table. Raven might’ve been abrasive at the best of times and convinced that ‘bitch’ was an affectionate nickname, but Lexa was fond of her. The fact that emotional support was not her forte was of little consequence. As Raven would say: ‘I’m not havin’ none of that’.
And she didn’t.
Clarke didn’t seem as averse.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” She asked, faking casualness.
No. Absolutely not. If there was one thing that Lexa Woods did not do, it was talking. Especially about anything requiring the evasive pronoun “it”.
Clarke sighed. “Yeah, figures. If there’s anything you won’t do, it’s talk about something bothering you. That and sing along to the Nat King Cole, but it won’t stop me from trying.”
“No,” she repeated, trying and failing not to sound childish at Clarke’s uncanny ability to read her mind.
“Fine. I’ll talk about my dad.” Clarke put her fork down, abandoning all pretenses that she was actually going to consume the helpless pile of unseasoned ground beef that Octavia had just completely given up on that night. She called them her "Freeform Nights". Sometimes it was better when Octavia just silently admitted that she didn’t give a flying fuck what she served them. Most times it wasn’t.
Lexa tried to stamp down her own skeptical look. It wasn’t a very kind response to Clarke’s olive branch of…feelings or whatever. Suddenly Raven’s decision to flee the scene of the…feelings seemed attractive. But Clarke didn’t often volunteer personal information, so Lexa stayed at their table and gave Clarke her begrudging attention.
“He was great. Loved underdogs, you know? We lived in this crappy house in just, like, a godawful neighborhood. Which was hilarious, because my mom’s a doctor so she’s got money and stuff. But my mom and dad grew up there and he thought the neighborhood had ‘character’ or something, so we stayed. Just think: I could’ve been a regular WASP. I mean, except for the part where none of us were protestant and I’m inevitably going to burn in hell.”
Lexa could feel Clarke’s eyes on her, but she quickly found she wasn’t feeling up to the conversation. Hearing about fathers in general was bad.
“Anyways. Turns out the shitty neighborhood was a bad idea. He got killed in a botched robbery when I was fourteen and I thought a swell way to repay him would be with piss pour grades and a shitload of trouble. I just kind of lost myself in a bunch of dumb garbage that didn't mean anything. Stupid.”
Clarke pushed her tray further away and leaned toward Lexa on her elbows. “I know he’s dead and objectively doesn’t have the ability to be disappointed in me anymore, but I can’t shake it. The guy was everything to me. He loved singing, could recognize every kind of tree by name, and made the best goddamn soup this side of everything.” Clarke seemed almost breathless by the end of it. Lexa wondered when the last time Clarke had talked about her father was. She seemed rusty.
“So that’s that I guess,” Clarke mumbled, tapping her fingers on the table. “And now I feel awkward because this was probably the worst possible way to try and cheer you up or get you talking. So I think maybe I’ll just leave you to it because you’re too polite to tell me to fuck off. No hard feelings, though. Let me know if you want to talk and I'll, uh, un-fuck off.”
For whatever reason, when Clarke stood up to leave, Lexa reached out and grabbed her forearm. “No,” she choked out for the millionth time that day. Did she know any other words? Honestly. “You’re not bothering me,” she managed (alright, so she knew a few more words).
Clarke tilted her head to the side in thought for a beat before shrugging and sitting back down. “Yeah, alright.”
Neither of them ate anything else or even really said anything else. They just sat there until they got shooed away by the kitchen and janitorial staff. In fact, Lexa didn’t say anything else at all until she could feel the silence like a physical third party in their shared cell after the lights were out and their neighbors were snoring.
“It matters,” she finally said.
Clarke shifted above her and hummed, like she was trying to wake herself up from the beginnings of sleep. “Huh? Who? What matters?”
“Even if he’s dead, it matters what he would think. Your dad,” Lexa clarified.
Clarke huffed and shuffled around. “Gee thanks.”
“No, I just mean that you do care. Clearly, what mattered to him matters to you if it bothers you. That’s all.”
When she was met only with prolonged silence, Lexa worried that she had overstepped or Clarke had just rolled over and gone to sleep. Instead, Clarke swung down from her bunk and sat on the edge of Lexa’s bunk with a soft thump. “That makes sense,” she said, staring straight ahead at the wall. “What about you? Would your dad be proud of you?”
“Yes,” Lexa answered quickly, automatically. She was almost surprised to hear it leave her own mouth. But really, her father had never made her feel otherwise. And that, she supposed, was as good of a gift as he could give her. “He was.”
“I’m in for murder, you know?”
Lexa blinked into the darkness and turned to look at the side of Clarke’s head. While it was no longer a revelation, she never expected Clarke to say it so plainly. “Oh,” she said lamely.
Clarke laughed, a quiet huff in the shared space. “Scared, Woods?”
“Surprised,” Lexa settled on. Well, it had been true the first time she heard it anyways. It wasn’t necessarily a lie.
“Aren’t you gonna ask me?”
“Ask you what?”
Clarke scooted to the back of Lexa’s bunk so her legs were thrown perpendicularly across Lexa’s own, but she was still stuck staring at the side of Clarke’s head. “If I did it, of course. Everyone always wants to know if I actually did it. And why. Just because they know better than to ask doesn’t mean they don’t want to know.”
“It doesn’t matter much to me. Do you want me to ask you?”
Clarke finally turned her head and caught her gaze, wide and careful. “I don’t know,” she said slowly. “It just kind of scares me that it doesn’t matter to you. Kinda makes me happy too, I guess.”
Lexa didn’t respond to that. Rather, she just matched Clarke’s steady look until Clarke chose to break the air of expectancy with a nervous laugh. “You’re alright, Woods. Your dad has a lot to be proud of,” she added, before climbing back over Lexa’s legs and pulling herself up into her own bunk.
“Yours does as well,” Lexa called back. She didn’t know Clarke’s father, but she did know Clarke. That was enough.
The only other thing spoken into the darkness that night was Clarke’s soft confession that would’ve gone unheard if it hadn’t been so heavy with honesty and rare timidity. “I won’t make you ask me. I did it, Woods. And I did it because I had to.”
Movie nights were few and far between on the state’s abysmal budget. And in truth, whatever movie C Block ended up with was usually some sad combination of outdated and awful. Clarke said that their movies were mostly donations from charities that forgot you were supposed to be encouraging inmates to read and atone, not imitate choreographed violence (though Raven pointed out that the movies allowed through staff censors were mostly harmless). Lexa agreed at first, but movie nights really grew on her.
Well, movie nights with Clarke grew on her anyways.
Clarke grew on her.
If Octavia was going to spend the better part of the past two years making increasingly convoluted metaphors for how gay Lexa was, then she might as well enjoy some of the perks – embrace it, if you will.
See, the prison didn’t want the thirtieth showing of Adam Sandler’s acclaimed film ‘Adam Sandler Does Something Again’ to dissolve into a loud, fart-joke accompanied prison riot (the subject of several of Lexa’s nightmares), so all movies were screened with the audio playing only through headphones. That way, Adam Sandler could only Do Something Again ™ quietly on the screen while his flat jokes and serial killer laugh filtered in through each individual’s headphones. And if one so chose, they could forgo his voice entirely and watch him mime the entire movie like some bizarre clown performing to an empty circus.
Lexa might have been inclined to watched the movies without audio if it weren’t for the fact that the inmate-to-headphone ratio was such that most had to buddy up and share. Sharing headphones with Clarke was very nearly worth Adam Sandler trying to Do Things™ in a manner that Lexa was forced to witness. Clarke’s commentary in her free ear and her arm around the back of her chair to keep their heads close was a spectacular consolation prize. And besides, she could always tune out and watch Octavia and Raven try not to kill each other over their shared headphones. That was always entertaining.
“Okay, every time you roll your eyes, your entire head doesn’t have to move,” Octavia hissed, pulling Raven even closer by her arm.
Raven rolled her eyes again, jerking the other half of the earbud from Octavia’s ear. “Like you even need to hear this movie. We’ve already seen it a billion times and it keeps getting worse somehow. It’s like groundhog day, except you’re married to Adam Sandler and your divorce lawyer isn’t visiting until the day after. This comedy makes me want to cry, Octavia.”
“Then let me use the headphones.”
Raven shook her head slightly, pulling the headphones from Octavia’s ear again. “Nah. We’re in this together. Ain’t no friend of mine gonna be time-loop married to Adam Sandler alone.”
“Gee thanks. Now I get to be married to him and you,” Octavia muttered, stuffing the headphone back in her ear. “Can’t we watch something else?” She whined. “What was that one from last year?”
Raven noticed that Lexa was watching them instead of the movie and scooted closer to include her in the conversation. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific, O. We watched a lot of garbage movies last year.” Raven was the only one who made no effort to whisper and they were earning several pointed glares from the inmates who actually wanted to watch Adam Sandler Do Things ™. Lexa wondered if she would ever hit that point – if her brain would ever degenerate in prison to the point that Adam Sandler could open his mouth and hers would pull up in genuine, crazed amusement. She also wondered if Clarke would agree to smother her in her sleep if that point was ever reached.
“No, no. This one was good,” Octavia insisted. “It’s that one where those two guys in a cult hate each other, but they get kidnapped by a serial killer and have to become friends to escape his torture dungeon. That shit was intense.”
Raven frowned, caught in a rare moment of having nothing to say. She looked at Lexa for assistance, but Lexa was similarly perplexed. Nothing they had watched in the past was anything close to what Octavia had just described. She would have remembered serial killers and torture dungeons. Lexa turned to find Clarke had joined the conversation and was shaking her head in bewilderment.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Clarke shrugged.
Octavia let out a frustrated huff. “Oh, c’mon. You guys saw it. It was, uh, the one with the cowboy and the spaceman?”
Clarke snapped her fingers. “Toy Story.”
“That’s the one!” Octavia pointed at Clarke. “So intense.”
Lexa had never heard a worse description of the film, but she settled for sharing a look with Raven. It was the kind of look that the two shared when they occasionally surfaced from the madness that prison drives you to and remembered that they used to live relatively sane lives. It’s like waking up after thirty years of harmonious marriage and suddenly realizing that your beautiful wife is actually a bald eagle you wedded in Vegas over a handle of Everclear and a doubled-down bet. And you somehow didn’t notice that until you’d already passed thirty years in blissful domesticity.
…that kind of look. The look.
“Fuckin’ weirdo,” Raven muttered, leaning back in her chair and pulling out Octavia’s earbud as she went. “This is why Clarke and Gay Wonder always beat us at Pictionary. You described the movie “Babe” as anti-butcher propaganda.”
“Anti-Butcher Propaganda.” Clarke grinned at Octavia. “Killer band name.”
Octavia let Raven’s insult roll off her and fist-bumped Clarke. “Aces, Clarke.”
On screen, Adam Sandler decided to Do Something ™ in the loudest, most distracting way possible and they all looked up warily, forced to witness whatever the hell he was on about. Clarke let out an exasperated sigh and leaned more heavily into Lexa’s side like the weight of Adam Sandler’s existence was physically crushing her will to live. Lexa found this exponentially more distracting than the man himself, which was quite a statement against a man who has made his career trying to distract people from the light of god.
Clarke put her mouth close to Lexa’s free ear. “Adam Sandler makes me want to amputate my own left arm, mail it to his agent, then climb into the back of the first hearse I come across and tell the driver…’just drive’.”
Lexa had to practically shove a fist in her mouth to stop from laughing. It had gotten too quiet to let her laughter escape. If she let it escape people might think she was gaining legitimate entertainment from the disaster playing out on the screen in front of them. “Is that a feeling specific to Adam Sandler?” Lexa murmured back.
It was difficult not to turn her head to speak to Clarke, but the other girl liked to play a game that Lexa referred to as ‘Personal Space Chicken’, in which one person was expected to back down first before they got too close to each other. And let’s face it: Lexa was absolutely never going to win that game. She had long since learned to just avoid playing or let Clarke win. Nothing seemed to fluster Clarke.
“Harper says Adam Sandler plays a very important role in our lives.”
Clarke’s disbelieving laugh tickled her ear and Lexa made the mistake of turning to meet her grin. Shit.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
Lexa matched Clarke’s grin in a rare display of solidarity. “He reminds us that it can always be worse.”
Lexa wasn’t exactly the grinning type, but her openness temporarily blindsided Clarke and she flushed slightly. That’s right. Score one for the boys back home. Clarke had to bring a hand up to stifle her own laughter before settling back to watch the rest of the train wreck film, still pressed comfortably to Lexa’s side. Lexa could only just register the finger Clarke had looped over her jacket collar at the back of her neck.
Okay, not such a bad idea.
And here Lexa had sworn she would never win a game.
On the best of days, Group was hijacked and driven into irreparable distraction. In fact, Lexa silently prayed for that outcome. Group was intended as a type of low-budget therapy session so the state could pretend they were ‘rehabilitating’ rather than just punishing and babysitting. Their budget allowed for one poor psychology intern in a shark tank of twenty inmates determined to derail talks about feelings and harass the hapless volunteer. Nobody was interested in ‘gaining perspective’ or ‘coping in healthy ways’ or ‘confronting the trauma of their pasts’. The only trauma they wished to confront was the trauma they would inevitably cause whatever poor do-gooder tried to steer the sinking ship that was prison therapy. It was like twenty sailors all convinced they were the captain, while poor Alice The Intern tried to swab the poopdeck, hoist the mainsails, and avoid lawsuits on her own.
And in the end, it wasn’t like there was a lot of varying emotions in prison to discuss.
So Group sessions became a harassment platform and a game of staying off topic. Once in a while someone would share something kind of deep or interesting, but the failed Group sessions were much more fun than the serious ones. Stories were swapped (true and untrue), disagreements settled, and debates raged. Even for someone who didn’t participate, it was a spectacle.
Unfortunately, their usual intern was sick (several accused Alice of mutiny) and the overworked, overly invested supervisor of said interns was standing in. Kane was fine. He actually cared, which was mildly annoying. For all the caring in the world, though, he didn’t have the resources to do much for them. But the inmates treated Kane with fond disregard – appreciative of his efforts but no less skeptical of them.
“Alice tells me that you haven’t gotten much discussion in about coping strategies,” Kane said, flipping through a small folder. The folder was small because very little of what was talked about in Group was appropriate enough to write down. Their minutes probably read like the Watergate documents after Nixon tried to censor and black them out - just walls of blacked out words with an occasional “the” or “with” left readable. The rest was vulgar.
But it would have been more accurate to say that they hadn’t gotten in much discussion at all. About anything therapy-related. But last week they had managed a riveting discussion on whether one-ply toilet paper counted as cruel and unusual punishment or not. And the week before they fought about whether dark or clear liquor was worse for you.
Raven scoffed. She spent the better part of Group scoffing. Well, the better part of her life actually. She was quite vocal about her dislike for people trying to make her less miserable. “Why do we gotta talk about it at all? Obviously we’re coping just fine. I’m alive, ain’t I, bitch?”
Kane offered her a parental smile, which Lexa knew would only piss her off. “Language, Reyes. Sometimes we think we are coping, when we’re actually just letting emotion build up in unhealthy ways until we have an episode. Two weeks ago you threw a microwave from your lab bench into B Block’s showers and punched a fellow inmate in the nose when they tried to stop you from being electrocuted.”
“Why can’t that be considered coping? It made me feel better. Besides, I lived.”
Kane frowned. “I can help you find ways to cope that don’t involve physical violence, Reyes.”
Clarke covered a smile with her hand and caught Lexa’s eye. In return, Lexa offered her a small shrug. In what world could someone keep Raven from physical expressions of her frustration?
“You know we affectionately tolerate you Kane, but don’t go getting a big head. You’re no miracle worker,” Raven said, leaning confidently back in her foldout chair. “You can’t replace the satisfaction of cleaning someone’s clock.”
Octavia whooped and offered Raven a high-five that went unreciprocated. “Hot!”
“No, Octavia,” Raven sighed. “Not – no. Not like that. Cleaning clocks is not a sexual – just no.”
Octavia lowered her hand.
“She means punching someone in the face, O,” Clarke offered.
After considering for a moment, Octavia shrugged. “Still hot.”
“Everything I do is hot.” Raven turned back to Kane. “If I’m still hot when I lose it and go twelve rounds with a broken microwave, then I can cope with the rest of the bullshit, Kane. Go pick on someone who isn’t as gorgeous as I am.”
Kane wrote something down in the folder with narrowed eyes. Lexa wondered if he was writing down that Raven was gorgeous, that she was dangerous, or that she was unstable. All three were true.
“Griffin,” Kane continued.
Raven interrupted him again while he looked on in resigned patience. “Woah there, doc. I said move on to someone who isn’t as gorgeous as I am.”
Smooth son of a bitch. Sometimes Lexa wondered what kind of history existed between her cellmate and the vengeful engineer. Raven had game, no doubt. Lexa was only mildly horrified at the jealous twinge in her stomach. Oh god, she was having…feelings again, which she distinctly remembered forbidding herself from. Group was finally getting to her. Kane was working his dark magic. The universe was punishing her for her crimes. Fuck.
Clarke flipped her hair over her shoulder and winked at Raven. “I didn’t even have to fight a microwave to be this stable. Put that on my college apps. Write that down Kane.”
“Yeah and, uh, write down that she killed a man too. She didn’t fight a microwave but she killed someone, so take that as you will,” Octavia cautioned.
Raven nodded. “So write down that we’ve concluded your level of stability depends on how hot you are and historical incidents of violence.”
Kane did not write that down.
Group had never sounded less stable than during this conversation about stability.
“Back on topic, ladies,” Kane said, raising his voice a little. “Griffin, you’ve been here as long as anyone. Can you share some legitimate coping techniques that have helped keep you happy and productive?”
Clarke’s head ticked to the side while she considered. ‘Happy and productive’ were carefully crafted, positive references to Clarke’s ability to compartmentalize and control contraband markets. She wasn’t the ideal inmate, but she hadn’t resorted to throwing excrement at passing guards, so she was more functional than some inmates. At the very least, she was sociable.
Lexa reached for her water bottle and held it to her lips just for something to do with her hands. She was still drinking when Clarke responded. “Mostly I listened to a lot of Gloria Gaynor and systematically fucked all of D Block on a bet.”
All of the water Lexa was drinking shot straight down her windpipe and she began violently coughing while Clarke and Octavia burst into laughter. Raven would have been laughing too if she weren’t clutching her sides in breathless mirth.
Lexa absolutely hated Group.
“It took her like a month. She worked hard,” Octavia offered. “Some days she was too sore to sit down. She kept a goddamn ledger. Cross my heart.”
Kane looked as mortified as Lexa felt and she had never felt closer to their counselor than in that moment. His mouth was open slightly and Lexa was still spluttering into her sleeve. Somehow, she found her voice. “Wait,” she coughed. “Why am I ‘Gay Wonder’ when she – when she kept a fucking ledger?”
Clarke’s eyes were shining with her amusement, but she was too busy stifling her laughter to answer. Octavia took care of that for her. “You’re just so gay, Woods. I can’t explain it. It’s like someone let Elton John and Boy George design Chicago city and the only building they worked together on was the Sears Tower, but instead it just became a monument to gay feelings. You’re the Gay Sears Tower, Woods, and it’s the first goddamn building you see when that skyline comes into view. Sometimes it’s the only building I see. I can’t visit Chicago because you’re so gay.”
And she was in prison. But whatever.
“Am I the only one who doesn’t feel a connection with her metaphors?” Lexa appealed to the group. “Every time you try to quantify my homosexuality it comes closer and closer to sounding like a Lovecraftian monster from the void.”
Kane’s eyes were wide and he was staring blankly at some point above Clarke’s head. “Who is Gloria Gaynor?” He asked dumbly. It was the only part of that conversation he could salvage. The rest was in flames while the remainder of Group dissolved into individual arguments about Chicago skylines and Clarke’s supposed fuck list.
Clarke smiled at him. “Gloria Gaynor? Only the single most inspirational singer of all time. She taught me a lot of things, Kane. See, at first I was afraid – I was petrified. Thinkin’ I could never live without you by my side.”
“If Clarke’s about to sing, can I leave?” Monroe was already halfway out of her seat and gazing longingly at the door.
Actually, there were a lot of people gazing longingly at the door. Kane included.
“Maybe we should call it a day,” he murmured, eyes roving over the folder in his hand. It was unlikely the folder held any answers, but even more unlikely that there were answers outside of the folder. “I feel like we’re all a little unfocused without Alice.”
Oh yeah, Alice was the problem. Sure.
Suddenly, their lethargic group was energized by the dismissal and they all clambered to get out of the door first. Lexa stayed behind to put her chair away (as they were supposed to do) and was surprised to find Octavia and Clarke putting chairs away as well. Kane had practically bolted from the room, mouth stuck hanging open and eyes far away like he was mentally checking Clarke’s receipts from D Block in his perpetually screaming brain.
“Kane’s face,” Clarke snickered. “Honestly.”
“Priceless,” Octavia agreed. She hauled a handful of chairs over her shoulder before turning and catching Lexa’s stare. “Aw, cheer up, Woods. We were just messin’ with Kane. Clarke didn’t fuck anybody in D Block. Don’t look so sad.”
“I’m not –“ Lexa frowned. “I didn’t – ugh. Whatever.”
“Give me more credit than that.” Clarke pulled one of the chairs from Lexa’s nervous grip and set it on the rack. “Or are you giving me too much credit? I can’t really tell.”
“Too much credit. Clarke’s game isn’t that good and she definitely doesn’t have the patience for a ledger.” Octavia grabbed the rack of chairs and pushed it through the door, leaving the two of them behind.
Clarke surprised her by looping an arm through hers and pulling her towards the exit after Octavia. “Don’t sweat it, Woods.” Lexa waited in muted horror while Clarke pulled her down slightly to talk into her ear. It was Clarke’s favorite way to fluster her. She should have been numb to it by that point, but she still reacted like a goddamn high schooler. “I only fuck people in C Block. Keep it in house.”
Personal Space Chicken.
Tornado sirens went off in Lexa’s head as she scrambled for a clever retort. Just say something dismissive or crack a joke. “I’m in C Block.”
That’s what her brain decided to come up with.
Suddenly Octavia’s metaphors felt a little more relatable in some existential way and Lexa resigned herself to being the Gay Sears Tower from now until her inevitable death at the hands of her own embarrassment. It couldn’t come soon enough.
As usual, though, Clarke just laughed. “I can’t tell if you’re really forward or you’re just making fun of me.”
Forward. Definitely forward.
“I am always making fun of you, Clarke.”
Lexa’s mouth was a fucking traitor, that’s what.
Clarke gripped her arm a little tighter. “Aw, what? Here I thought we were going to have a good time tonight. This is what I get for poking fun at you all the time. You’re a real heartbreaker, Woods.”
“So I’ve been told.”
One of these days, by the grace of whatever god may take pity on her, Lexa Woods would say the right thing. Or at least something resembling what she actually wanted to say – assuming that’s not too much to ask at that point.
“Whatever. I’ll just go mess around with Raven. She thinks I’m hot.”
“Clarke, you should not be out.”
“You shouldn’t be out.”
“Clarke, you are not well yet.”
“You aren’t well yet.”
Lexa was fully aware that she was fighting a pointless battle. Clarke was already up and walking around. And when all was said and done, she was lucky to have kept Clarke in bed as long as she did. Clarke was restless and impossible even after getting stabbed in the kidney. A few concerned words from Lexa weren’t going to change that if a near-death experience didn’t.
“Try to at least take it easy,” Lexa sighed. She wouldn’t push the matter, but she didn’t have to like it. “Watch your stitches.”
“Watch your stitches.”
Clarke turned to make an undoubtedly mature comment, but dropped the deck of cards she was holding and stifled a small gasp of pain. Lexa was torn between concern and ‘I told you so’. She decided on both.
“I warned you to be careful. Please.”
Clarke snatched the cards back off the table. “Fine. But not because I need to be careful. Only because you asked nicely.” The admission was quiet and Lexa could tell that she was feeling the strain of her first day back in C Block. Her face was still far too pale with dark purple circles pressed under her eyes. Fingers that usually twirled cards expertly were shaky and unsure. Laughter that was usually light and easy was nervous and breathy. Clarke was not well. But she was alive.
“Really glad I didn’t die in this miserable place,” Clarke joked weakly. Well, it was probably intended to be a joke, but it came out all too earnest. She fumbled and dropped her cards again and stared down at her hands. “Suddenly you dragging me to the law library to work on my case is sounding more appealing than it used to. Once you’re out of here nobody’s gonna stop me from dying in this hellhole,” Clarke mused, offering Lexa a strange look. "Nobody's gonna give a damn."
“We can go over trial notes again when you’re feeling better,” Lexa offered. It was the first time Clarke had expressed interest in her own case. Clarke didn’t seem to think there was much hope for her case, so whenever Lexa dragged her to the library she spent the time distracting them both with stories and doodles and throwing paper airplanes at the other inmates trying desperately to dig their way out of their legal troubles. But the truth of the matter was that as Lexa’s sentence crawled towards its end, she felt increasingly guilty and sick at the thought of Clarke being left behind. Getting her to talk about it, though, was like pulling teeth.
For once, Clarke just accepted the gesture. “Yeah. It can’t hurt, I guess. My life’s gonna suck a whole lot more in a year, so we might as well give it a go.” She paused in collecting her scattered cards, but kept her eyes fixed on the table. “You gonna forget all about me when you leave?” She looked smaller and more vulnerable than usual.
Lexa reached out to still her nervous hands and collect the cards for her. “How can I? Every time I try to sleep all I hear is your godawful music.” And her stupid laughter. And her stupid mumbling in her sleep. And her stupid 3 a.m. jokes. Goddamn.
Clarke nodded and smiled down at their hands. “Please. You love my music. I hear you humming it in the shower.”
Come to think of it, she did end up humming her terrible music a lot. It wasn’t exactly rocket science, though. It just reminded her of Clarke.
“No. I just love you.”
Simple as that.
And not as horribly embarrassing to say out loud as Lexa thought it might be. In fact, it was easy to say. Easy to accept. Not everything had to be such a goddamn production around there. Not everything had to be a metaphor or a joke or a roundabout. Not everything had to be a fucking undertaking.
Clarke looked up, mildly surprised for a moment. Just a moment. “Oh. Yeah. I guess I knew that.”
“What? No you didn’t.”
Clarke laughed. “No, I totally knew that already.”
Lexa huffed, fully aware of the childish look on her face. “Only because I just told you.”
Lexa tapped Clarke’s deck of cards against the table and narrowed her eyes. “Oh yeah? How’d you know?”
“I dunno. Probably the same reasons you know I feel the same. It’s just the way it is, Woods. It’s like how we know the sun’s gonna rise tomorrow and dinner’s going to be awful. Some things are easy.”
Lexa liked that. Some things are easy. In her experience, very few things were easy, but the idea that this could be one of them was comforting.
“Alright,” she conceded. “Want to go get some awful dinner?”
Clarke nodded and pocketed her cards. “Yeah, okay.” And strangely enough, when Lexa offered her an arm to lean on, Clarke only sighed a little before accepting the gesture and leaning into it. She only complained a handful of times while they made their way to pick at whatever Octavia had managed to come up with that night.
“Watch your stitches.”
“Watch your stitches.”
A day without Clarke was an odd one to be sure. Besides being literally locked in a room with her for half the Earth’s daily rotation, Clarke wasn’t exactly a loner. She was just always there, whether it be chattering away at Lexa’s side, getting up to no good with Octavia and Raven, or going about her business dealings at Lexa’s periphery. Just there.
It was reasonable to be worried when she wasn’t.
It was a cool day – pleasant under the passing clouds with the accompaniment of a refreshing breeze. Certainly it was not the kind of day that someone would hide inside on. Raven was busy swearing at the outdoor laundry vent and Octavia was nowhere to be found. Eventually, Lexa gave up on pretending to enjoy her solitude and headed for the gardens to check on their increasingly aggressive tomato plants. She predicted that by the following year, the tomatoes will have consumed the entire yard and climbed through the windows into A Block. They weren’t so much growing tomatoes as they were being invaded by them.
She headed for the shed – the Ark – to grab a new hose head, but was surprised to find Octavia and Clarke seated on the dusty floorboards in a corner.
“Thinking of joining the gardening crew?” Lexa teased, offering them a small smile as she dug through a box of rusted hose couplings and tools.
Clarke jolted from her conversation with Octavia, but softened when she realized who had joined them. “Shit. Don’t scare me like that. I thought you were someone important.”
“Thanks,” Lexa muttered. “Happy to help.”
Clarke ignored her wounded tone and gestured for Lexa to join them. She considered turning the offer down, but the gesturing got more insistent and it became clear that it wasn’t so much a request as it was an order. Lexa complied, but not without an exaggerated sigh.
“Hiding, are we?” Lexa appraised the two of them. Their secretive behavior painted enough of a story. As for the details, she was probably better off in the dark.
Clarke gave Octavia a look before nodding. “Yeah, kind of. One could say we’re feeling the repercussions of Operation Shit Storm a little sooner than predicted.”
Lexa winced. “Oh dear.”
Unfortunately, Lexa was already privy to the details of that particular scheme. Clarke was resourceful and careful and generally levelheaded, but she had an awful streak of pride that certain C.O.s liked to take shots at. Clarke’s fatal flaw was her thirst for revenge and none felt that keener than Lieutenant Pike. In a questionable, if not hilarious, power play, Clarke had been smuggling laxatives from the medical pavilion while she was on duty and passing them to Octavia. Octavia worked on and off at the employee sandwich cart the kitchen crew put together on weekends. Pike was rather fond of said sandwiches. The rest was, as they say, history (if history is to be believed when it comes to incidents of assassination by laxative).
“Yeah, we’re kind of fucked,” Clarke concluded. “I’m fairly certain Pike knows it was me.”
“And me,” Octavia accused. “I’m working mad miracles behind the scenes trying to throw off the investigation, but I think we’re pretty much done for.”
Lexa nodded sympathetically. “Was it worth it?”
A fond look overtook Octavia’s face. “It was like the end of The Departed, except instead of everyone getting shot in the face, everyone was shitting themselves. It was like divine intervention. The hallway looked like a fucking warzone.”
“So it was nothing whatsoever like The Departed,” Clarke clarified.
Octavia winked. “Hey, I don’t care what it was like. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more powerful in my entire life. Clarke, people looked at us and you could see every negative interaction they’ve ever had with us flash before their mind’s eye while their bowels trembled with fear. We were gods.”
“Were. Emphasis on were, O.” Clarke propped an elbow on her knee and dropped her chin into her hand. “We’ve gotta throw the investigation and call it quits. When Pike comes to get me, pull favor with Parker and Lee and hit a few others while I’m in. They’ll have to let me go and the case will go cold.”
Octavia nodded along with the instructions before letting her head fall back against the wall. “Assuming Pike doesn’t murder you.”
“Yeah, assuming that.”
Lexa scooted a little closer towards the two. “Is there anything I can do to help?” The offer was out of her before she could even think about the consequences.
But Clarke just shook her head. “Nah, it’ll blow over. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, anyways.”
“Bigger fish to fry?” Lexa moved slightly closer and dropped her voice to a low murmur. “Exactly how big are we talking about?”
Clarke pulled the deck of cards from her jacket pocket and fanned the deck out briefly before shuffling them. Lexa had come to associate the motion with Clarke’s scheming or nerves. “Shit Storm was like, a carp at best. Pond carp. Retention pond carp, even. We’re talkin’ small here. Bitch fish.”
“We get it,” Lexa interrupted. “Small fish. Your metaphor is flatlining, Clarke, get a move on.”
“Point taken.” Clarke’s movements stilled and she leaned in, beckoning the other two to get closer as well. “What I’m talkin’ about here is a goddamn swordfish. Majestic, twenty-thousand leagues under the sea, and deadly. You know, those motherfuckers killed the Crocodile Hunter, so back out now if you can’t handle this.”
Clarke looked pointedly at Lexa, which was mildly insulting. “Actually, Steve Erwin was killed by a stingray.”
The tension dissolved and Clarke laughed, leaning back against the wall. “Listen bitch,” she said with a grin, “that Australian fuck practically raised me, but what skewered him is neither here nor there. I’d wager five years on the tail-end of my sentence that someone’s lost their life to the business end of a swordfish.”
Octavia snickered. “Business end of a swordfish. Killer band name.”
“True, but shut it, Blake.” Clarke’s look was sharper than – well, the business end of a swordfish. “Last chance, Woods. Once you’re in the circle of trust, there’s no backing out. This shit’s airtight. Raven’s already in, but we won’t think less of you if you leave now.”
Maybe it was the expectant look or maybe it was the lack of oxygen from their airtight circle of stupidity, but Lexa just shrugged and stayed planted on the dirty floorboards. Her father had always warned her to stay out of trouble unless the trouble paid well, but she was already in prison. Whatever unfortunate outcome the girls’ swordfish-sized plans produced couldn’t possibly get her in any deeper shit. Probably.
“I have little else to do,” Lexa admitted.
Clarke grinned at her while Octavia thumped her on the back with reckless excitement. “Have it your way, Woods,” she smirked. “Okay, so here’s the deal. I’ve got it on good authority that someone’s bringing drugs into my cell block. Big operation. Seems sound, but they’ll get caught eventually. I mean, everyone always does.”
“Psh, not me,” Octavia boasted. “I’m slicker than the devil.”
Lexa blinked at her. “Octavia, you’re literally in prison. Because you got caught.”
Clarke silenced Octavia’s protests and Lexa’s smirk with a glare. “Save it. I don’t have a ton of details yet, but we’ve gotta dismantle this shit before the feds get called and my ass is back in Seg with another case on the docket. I cannot have drugs in my cell block again. We’ll all be up shit creek when it all goes down.”
Lexa raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean your cellblock?” Though, realistically, she pretty much already knew.
Again, Clarke just laughed. “Please,” she said dismissively. “For now, keep it on the DL. See what you can find out, but don’t step on any toes.”
Apparently, that was some kind of signal of finality, because Octavia hauled herself to her feet and slipped out the door without another word. Clarke made no effort to get up, though, so Lexa moved to sit against the wall with her in silence. A few minutes passed while Clarke shuffled her cards and Lexa watched her practiced habit.
“Business end of a swordfish,” Clarke mused. “I really like that one actually.”
Lexa just smiled.
“Did Steve Erwin really get killed by a stingray?”
Clarke shook her head. “That’s gonna fuck me up for a while.”
They were jolted out of the moment by a firm, authoritative knock against the wall behind them. “Who is it?” Clarke called out.
Pike’s voice filtered through the wood menacingly. There was no reason for him to knock, considering his personality was much more announce-with-force than announce-with-pleasantries. Lexa suspected the knock was intended for drama rather than manners.
“Your reckoning, Griffin.”
Clarke winced. “Thought you sounded familiar.”
confession: this chapter is also brought to you partially by the second-drunkest i've ever been. i take no responsibility for any of this, just let me sleep.
may we meet again at the business end of a swordfish.
enjoy the week pals.
shows up to the update 3 months late with starbucks.
do you want a complete alphabetical list of my excuses or do you just want to read this long-ass chapter i clawed from the fabric of my fried brain this week. i'll be honest: this is pretty raw, but im tired of leading you guys on about updates so whatever.
(warnings updated for descriptions of past violence. no lesbians were harmed in the making of this chapter. message me if you're concerned.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A few weeks after Clarke’s return to general population, she was mending well but avoiding the library like the plague. Actually, she was avoiding it more than she ever would have avoided the plague. Lexa would know. Clarke had told her, in no uncertain detail, that she would take the plague over custodial duty in a heartbeat. When Lexa tried to work library visits in between her temporary reassignment to custodial, Clarke would deflect and spend extra hours mopping floors or collecting mousetraps. That officially put ‘research Clarke’s case’ below both cleaning a prison and the literal plague. Just to put things in perspective.
Lexa was not to be dissuaded, though. The season for appeals was rapidly approaching and she would not be going alone to review her case. For the first time since Clarke had gone to sleep in a cell instead of the freedom of the outside world, she was going to put on an actual, honest to god appeal instead of showing up with downcast eyes, a bored ‘no comment’ and a quick dismissal.
Not if Lexa had anything to do with it.
Lexa had been compiling and perfecting her appeal for the review board for months with the patchy assistance of her lawyer, the prison library, and a lot of good old fashioned perseverance. It looked good. She had served the minimum of her sentence and her behavioral file wasn’t awful. With overcrowding being what it was in the prison system, she had a real shot at release within the year.
But Lexa Woods had one thing to her name in prison and she wasn’t leaving without it. Even if that thing would rather have the plague than go read a damn book with her.
“Clarke, you cannot keep avoiding me.” Lexa blocked Clarke’s path by propping an arm against the wall in the direction she was attempting to escape in. “Have you asked your lawyer to bring your case files yet?”
Clarke scuffed her worn shoes against the tile and cast her eyes about until they found something interesting off in the corner of the ceiling. “Uh, kind of.”
“Kind of,” Lexa echoed doubtfully. “What does that mean?”
“It’s a colloquial phrase for something between yes and no,” Clarke evaded with a shrug. She made a move to duck under Lexa’s arm, but was blocked again when Lexa slid her hand further down on the wall.
Lexa gave her a hard look. “This is serious, Clarke.”
“Yeah, I know.” She crossed her arms and stared down at her shoes. “I thought you’d have a handle of these kinds of expressions by now.”
“Alright, alright. What do you want from me?” Clarke snapped, leaning tiredly against the wall and accepting her trapped position. “I don’t have the documents or – or the case files or whatever. I’ve got nothing. Can’t do anything with nothing, Lex. Can I get back to work now?”
“You don’t even work right now!”
If it weren’t for the slight flinch, Lexa would never have been able to tell Clarke felt cornered by the accusation – she had gotten remarkably efficient at hiding her emotions behind casual boredom. Except for the fact that she was literally in a corner. “How would you know?”
“I asked Bellamy why you’re working so much. Turns out, you’re not. You’re just avoiding me,” Lexa hissed. A few inmates were milling around the hallway nearby putting together a schedule for the multipurpose room, so she kept her anger at a quiet whisper.
Clarke shrank in on herself and tightened her grip on her arms. “Well clearly Bell’s mistaken. He must have no idea how much work it is dealing with you every day.”
While Lexa knew that the subtle cruelty was only one of Clarke’s defense mechanisms, it still stung. If it were anything else, she might have let her work out her mood alone and awaited the eventual apology that always followed. But Clarke had been nothing but anxious and snappy and restless for days and it was upsetting the entire prison’s ecosystem.
More importantly, it was upsetting Lexa.
Clarke shrank more with every passing moment of silence, chewing her lip and looking around for an escape between stolen glances at the sad expression Lexa knew she was wearing.
“What is bothering you, Clarke?” Lexa finally murmured, reaching a hand up to straighten the lapel of Clarke’s jacket. “Please tell me. I did not mean to upset you.”
After a moment, Clarke made a quiet noise of distress and released the tension in her shoulders. “Ah, fuck. Don’t do that. Don’t let me blame it on you,” she sighed. Her arms uncrossed and one of her hands took hold of Lexa’s hand where it had been smoothing down her jacket and held it loosely at her side. A thumb stroked absently across Lexa’s knuckles while Clarke considered her shoes a while longer. “I don’t want to go to the library,” she finally said.
“Really? I would not have guessed.”
Clarke huffed out a tired laugh. “I deserve that.”
“Why don’t you want to work on your appeal?” Lexa prodded gently. The thumb smoothing across her knuckles paused briefly before resuming its pattern.
“Y’know. Bunch of reasons,” Clarke mumbled. “Stuff.”
“I do not know. I would like to, though.”
Squeezing her hand more tightly, Clarke forced her eyes back up with a guilty expression. “Well,” she said carefully, “there’s not much to be done about my case. I did something and…I told you I had to do it.” Her eyes searched Lexa’s for something desperately, like she could find forgiveness without ever admitting guilt. “I think – no, I don’t think – I know - I lied to you. And myself. What I did wasn’t – it’s…”
The hold on Lexa’s hand turned almost painful. “It would help if I knew what happened,” Lexa suggested quietly. “Not everything is so easily categorized on a moral scale, Clarke. You do not have to pass judgment.”
“Yes I do,” Clarke laughed humorlessly. “I thought what I did was justified. I thought it was righteous and necessary and really it was just selfish and evil.” The next words seemed to cost Clarke a great deal of courage and effort to expel. “And I don’t want you to know any of it. I don’t want you to know who I am.”
“But I already know who you are, Clarke. Knowing the parts of you will not change the whole. That’s not how it works.”
With a groan loud enough to catch the attention of the other loitering inmates in the hallway, Clarke dropped her head forward to rest against Lexa’s shoulder. Her groans continued even when they became muffled by Lexa’s jacket. The groaning turned into actual words at some point, but Lexa couldn’t quite understand them.
“Clarke, I cannot understand you.”
The hand that wasn’t crushing Lexa’s own, reached up and grabbed a handful of Lexa’s jacket right below her heart. “Stop being in love with me. Just…ugh. Stop.”
Lexa smiled. “This is at least partially your fault.”
“Fuck.” Clarke breathed in deeply against her jacket and rubbed her forehead against it. “I’ll get my case files.”
Raven came back to C Block after visiting hours tugging at the ends of her hair and muttering very angry, half-English curses and insults under her breath. Raven was a live wire and a short fuse most days, but visiting days were a special kind of irritation for her. As with most of the things Lexa didn’t understand, nobody bothered to offer her an explanation. She had learned to just accept a lot of aspects of life in C Block.
Lexa was sitting alone doing an old crossword puzzle, but had little hope that she would be alone for long. Raven had caught sight of her and changed direction promptly towards her table. She tried to look wholeheartedly invested in her crossword puzzle, but Raven had never particularly cared what she was interrupting, so it was a pointless effort.
“Don’t you just hate people?” Raven spat, dropping loudly into the chair across from Lexa. “I hate people.”
Lexa mulled over the question while she erased one of the conflicting words she’d been stuck on for the last twenty minutes. “No. I don’t hate people,” she replied, tapping her pencil against the table. “I just seem to feel better when they’re not around.”
Raven grunted her agreement and dropped her chin onto her hand. “I fuckin’ hate this place, Woods. I fuckin’ hate my life. I fuckin’ hate everything I’m missing. And I fuckin’ hate myself.” She scanned Lexa’s crossword puzzle lazily and pointed to the 7-across spaces. “Try ‘extinct’.”
It worked. “Thank you.”
Raven groaned and set her forehead against the table with a dull thunk. “And I fuckin’ hate crossword puzzles. I’m so full of hate, Woods.”
“It’s amazing there’s room for anything else,” Lexa agreed.
Raven gestured above her head blindly. “And yet here I am: full of hate and the lyrics to all the best 90s raps. How does she do it?”
“You’re a rare creature indeed.”
Raven continued gesturing like her head wasn’t buried in the metal table. “I’m definitely not rare. Did you hear me just roast myself? I’m medium-rare at best.”
Lexa pushed her puzzle aside and tapped Raven on the back of the head. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or am I going to have to sit here and let you be clever at me for the rest of the night? I’m okay with either. I just want to know what my schedule looks like.”
Finally, Raven lifted her head from the table and gave Lexa a sad look. “You ever been in love with someone, Woods?”
Instinctually, Lexa glanced over to where Clarke always was on Friday afternoons: swapping whatever cigarettes she had scrounged up during the week for things she would actually use. Sure enough, Clarke was exactly where she was supposed to be, entertaining the other bartering inmates with some animated story. She stopped abruptly like she could sense Lexa’s eyes on her and turned to meet her gaze from across the block. Her hands were still held up in some illustrative gesture, but her roguish grin turned sloppy and warm when they made eye contact.
She was…very pretty.
Clarke ignored the inmate tugging her sleeve and urging her to finish her story in favor of holding up a candy bar for Lexa to see and pointing excitedly at it. Even across the distance between them, Lexa could recognize it as the only candy she held any love for. It was a rare item in commissary, but Clarke took every opportunity to surprise Lexa with them as gifts. Clarke waved it for emphasis, a look of restrained hope weighing down her dopey grin until Lexa smiled back at her.
When she turned back to Raven, the other girl was shaking her head slowly and giving Lexa an exasperated look. “God, never mind. That was a dumb question.”
Lexa frowned, wiping away the stupid smile she knew was lingering on her face. “What?”
“Don’t you ‘what’ me, Woods.”
Lexa refrained from what-ing her again. “Isn’t this supposed to be about your problems?”
“Um, first of all: everything’s about me. Second of all: how am I supposed to have a libido when I’m forced to watch you dramatically make eye-contact with your primary love interest in exaggerated prose from across the block? Cut me a fucking break, Woods.”
Lexa made a mental note not to go into so much narrative detail when she next made meaningful eye contact with Clarke. This was, after all, a scene about Raven. “I apologize. You’re right, please go on.”
“Ugh, no. I’m sorry. I’m just shitting on you because my boyfriend makes me want to scoop my fucking eyeballs out with a rusty spoon sometimes,” she said, deflating slightly. She dropped her head back onto her hand and stared off at some point above Lexa’s head. “All we do is argue.”
“I imagine it’s not easy maintaining a relationship under these circumstances,” Lexa sympathized. “There is no simple solution.”
“Yeah, I know,” Raven muttered. “But you know, if I’m bein’ real, I think all we did was argue even before I got arrested. We just can’t seem to get it right.”
“Is it worth it?”
Raven opened her mouth quickly as though prepared to defend it, but no words came out. It was a rare day indeed when Raven didn’t have words. She found them a few moments later, but they were slow and unsure. “That’s the question isn’t it? You can love someone in a thousand different shades and a million different ways, and it still might not be enough. I love Finn. But…God, if love isn’t enough then what the fuck is?”
“I don’t know,” Lexa admitted. “It’s scary, though – the idea that you can be consumed by a thing that’ll never be enough to make you happy.”
Raven shrugged and considered the table top with a glum expression. “Yeah, well, maybe we should worry about being happy first. Make a person a part of your happiness before you move mountains with your passion or some bullshit like that. Finn and I were great at grand gestures, but he never did figure out why I liked playing horseshoes in the junkyard on cloudless days or how I took my coffee or anything routine. We were too busy being big and important for that.”
Lexa nodded thoughtfully and watched Raven study her own hands.
“I used to think I deserved some kind of force of nature, wonder of the world, conquering love. But you know what? Shit’s overrated.” Raven tapped her hand with a sense of finality against the table before reaching out for Lexa’s puzzle to evaluate her progress. “Now I just want someone who would trade a week’s worth of earnings in this hell hole to get me my favorite candy bar for a four second smile. It ain’t gonna move any mountains, but it’s more happiness than I’ve had the last few years.”
A warm weight settled in the pit of Lexa’s stomach and she offered Raven a rare smile. “You deserve whatever happiness you want.”
“I know. Of course I do,” Raven scoffed. “I’m awesome.”
The library was one of the few places in the prison that remained relatively quiet on a consistent basis. Once in a while, an inmate would flip a table or throw a book against the wall in frustration, but it was generally a silent area. It was by no means peaceful, of course – there was too much tension and gloom as inmates reviewed their hopeless causes to be peaceful. But it was as close as Lexa was ever going to get.
She had been sitting patiently at one of the corner tables, tapping her fingers against a stack of legal books and staring out between the bars on the window. Clarke was supposed to have met her an hour ago with her freshly delivered case files. Punctuality was normally something she held as relatively important. Clarke was scared of very little, but the very mention of opening her case files sent her trembling and scrambling for somewhere else to be.
Was Lexa disappointed by her abandonment? A little.
Was she surprised? Not so much.
She would have worked on her own case for a while, but there wasn’t much more she could do. Instead, she cracked open a few books on the state laws for murder, considering the only thing she knew about Clarke’s case was that it had to do with murder. At the very least, she could brush up on some of the general case laws.
It was all dry reading – full of technical and legal jargon and so many sub-clauses she nearly forgot what she was even reading about in the first place. Taking notes helped a bit so she could outline and condense the thicker portions. She was so absorbed in her reading that she didn’t even notice someone standing anxiously beside her at the corner of her table.
When she reached the end of a large subsection, Lexa leaned back to stretch her spine and jumped at the sight of Clarke watching her with unrestrained anxiety. Clarke was clutching with white knuckles at a large cardboard box overflowing with folders and stacks of printed papers. Her eyes were cycling rapidly between the box in her hands, the books spread across the table, Lexa’s own eyes, and the barred window as a potential escape route.
“I didn’t think you would come,” Lexa said kindly.
Clarke made some strangled noise in the back of her throat and clutched the box even tighter against her chest. “T-That’s what she said,” she choked out in a weirdly high voice.
Lexa frowned. “Are you alright, Clarke?”
“God, no.” Clarke took a small step away from her and shifted the box to block it a little from Lexa’s view. “I’m not sure about this. I don’t think there’s anything we can do about my appeal or – or anything, so I should probably just give this back to my lawyer and we can forget about the whole thing. S-sorry to bother you, just forget it,” she babbled, taking a few more steps back. “It’s stupid anyways.”
Lexa stood from her chair and held her hands up in a defensive gesture. “Clarke, please don’t go.”
Clarke stopped her retreat so quickly she swayed on her feet a bit. She looked down at the box for a long moment before giving Lexa an apologetic look. “This…” she trailed off softly before finding her voice again, “this is so much harder than I thought it would be.”
“It already happened, Clarke. What’s done is done.” Lexa took a few steps towards her carefully, afraid she might scare her off. When she didn’t bolt, Lexa closed the distance. “Nothing bad will happen just because we read about it.”
Clarke nodded reluctantly, like she didn’t fully believe that. “Right. Sure.”
Slowly, Lexa reached out and placed her hands underneath the box to ease some of the weight off of Clarke’s muscles. Eventually Clarke relented and allowed Lexa to take the box from her fully.
Clarke sighed and rubbed at the back of her neck. “Speak for yourself. Let’s just get this over with.”
They made their way back to the table and Lexa set the box amidst the clutter of books like the time bomb Clarke regarded it as. Her fingers danced uncertainly over the lip of the box, unsure of where to begin. Clarke watched her, brow furrowed, for a few moments before reaching into the box and digging around for one of the thinner folders. She peaked inside briefly before snapping it shut and holding it out for Lexa to take.
“That’s a case summary my lawyer put together. It’s a highlights reel,” she joked half-heartedly. “A highlights reel of the shittiest moments of my life. Only the best for you, Lex.”
Lexa took the folder and sat back at the desk. “Do you want to tell me what happened first or should I just read it?”
“I’m not sure how to talk about it. Just read it and I’ll try to answer any questions you have.” Clarke sat down gingerly, folded her hands on the desk, and then dropped her chin onto them to study Lexa from under troubled brows. “I’ll wait.”
The contents of the folder were sparse and printed in a blocky, typewriter font.
CLIENT: C. Griffin
CHARGES: Murder in the Second Degree
DISPOSITION: Plead Guilty
SENTENCE: 15 to Life, possibility of parole after 15
At approximately 1700 hours on the night of May 05, 2007 the defendant, GRIFFIN, CLARKE, was walking on the sidewalk of Walnut St. and 8th Ave in the County of Hammond with JAHA, WELLS. The victim, DAVIS, CHARLES, confronted the defendant and JAHA in a verbal argument. After a brief exchange, the victim retrieved a .45 Caliber Semi-Automatic Handgun from his person and discharged two shots at JAHA, striking him twice in the chest. DAVIS dropped the handgun after discharging it and fled the scene heading north on Walnut St.
A nearby shop owner called 911 to which officers MENDOZA, JAMES and CAFFREY, ALEXANDER responded with fireboard. JAHA was declared dead at the scene. The defendant escaped custody during interview and investigative procedure, heading north on Walnut St.
When officers MENDOZA and CAFFREY located the defendant at GRANT street and HOLLOW way, the defendant was armed with a .45 Caliber Semi-Automatic Handgun, matching the gun used to kill JAHA. The defendant admitted without questioning that she had shot DAVIS, who, upon arrival, was lying nearby with three gunshot wounds in his chest and stomach. DAVIS was declared dead upon fireboard’s arrival. The defendant was taken into custody and placed under arrest.
Lexa scanned the document a second and third time, piecing the brief narrative together and forming a mental picture of that evening.
It was…a lot to take in. It was a lot of motion and action in such a small document.
When she looked up to meet Clarke’s gaze, she was exactly where Lexa had left her, if not slightly more pale. Her fingers were pressed hard against the wood of the desk, but it didn’t completely hide their slight tremble.
“Did you finish?” Clarke asked quietly.
Lexa nodded and smoothed the document down on the table. “I did.”
“Do you have questions?”
“Yes.” Lexa looked down at the summary on the table again to gather her thoughts before looking back into Clarke’s worried gaze. “Who was Wells?”
“He-” Clarke started slowly, swallowing hard and blinking rapidly, “-he was my best friend.” She toyed with the frayed corner of a book and smiled as she recalled him. “Our parents were friends and we grew up together. We were some of the only kids in the neighborhood that didn’t run with one of the gangs or wear anyone’s colors. He loved chess, crappy mystery novels from the thrift store, running in the rain, and – and-“ Clarke brushed the back of her hand across her eyes irritably, “and watching baseball, and Nat King Cole. And me. He loved me.”
Lexa smiled. “He had good taste.”
“Ugh, no,” Clarke laughed, scrubbing across her eyes again. “He had horrible taste. He was so stupid. I bought him this shirt he wanted with money we saved collecting glass bottles and it was so fucking ugly, but he was so happy he wore it everywhere.”
“I’m not sure your current fashion statement is much better,” Lexa teased.
Clarke glanced down at her oversized white shirt and faded navy jacket before nodding in agreement. “That’s fair.” Pulling the box closer, Clarke began sifting carefully through its contents. Eventually she came up with what she was looking for and slid a photograph across the table. A younger, happier Clarke smiled up at her from the photograph, her arm thrown around the shoulders of an exasperated boy with kind eyes and a truly ugly shirt.
“If you’re wondering why he looks so unhappy, it’s because Thelonius took us on a fishing trip and I was the only one who caught anything. It was the only vacation I’ve ever been on,” she mused, taking the photo back and regarding it fondly. “Well, that and because I’m annoying.”
While Clarke reminisced, Lexa did her best to refrain from firing questions at her. The box was close enough to pull over and examine, but Clarke needed to do things at her own pace. The library, however, had a very strict pace and would close in another hour.
“Who was Charles Davis?”
Clarke tensed again, but pushed through it. “Charlie? He was just some punk kid like us from the neighborhood – couple years older. He got in with a bad group that was getting real territorial that summer. When he got in our faces that night, I assumed it was because Wells’ dad is – er, he works in the prison. Charlie’s dad was here serving a quarter for sticking up a liquor store.” At last, Clarke seemed at least partially detached from the information. “Turns out, it wasn’t about that at all. He just needed to pop someone for initiation and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The Woods family didn’t deal with the grassroots squabbling and violence that the gangs tracked around the neighborhoods of the city, but they also weren’t blind to it. They were messy, destructive groups with itchy trigger fingers and little pull or organization. She knew of Clarke’s neighborhood and the inherent dangers of it. Gun violence and dead kids were as tragic as they were commonplace.
“It was so quick. We were arguing, and I reached out for Wells’ arm. The shot was so loud I thought that I had been hit. Wells just…it was messy and he was too heavy and he kept trying to talk, but all he could do was spit blood and choke. I'd never seen him cry before, but he begged, Lex. He didn’t even get to finish asking me not to tell his dad,” Clarke finished quietly. “It was just…over. His blood was soaked into my pants, clinging to my hair – in my mouth.”
Clamping a hand over her mouth, Clarke heaved a heavy breath through her nose and swallowed a few times.
“And the rest?”
Clarke shook her head. “I barely remember most of it after that. I remember red and blue lights and thousands of questions and too many people. But mostly, I remember the gun against my back where I had tucked it in the back of my waistband after Charlie dropped it and ran. No matter what people were saying to me or doing to me, all I could feel or think about was the way that gun dug into my back – the texture of the grip against my skin. I wondered how many kids it had killed. How many more it would.”
She shook her head again, more insistently, and pushed on. “I’m not even sure I knew why I was so focused on that gun or why I had taken it at all until I took off. They barely noticed me leave. Charlie was sitting at the end of the same alley he always sat in, in the same lawn chair, like nothing had even happened. And I wanted revenge. I wanted him to hurt and bleed and fucking say something. I told you I had to do it, but the truth was that Charlie had three little sisters and a mother who worked sixty hours a week at the corner store and a huge collection of baseball cards and the best trick shot in pool in the entire neighborhood and I shot him dead because I wanted to feel better. I wanted to take everything from him, just like he'd done to me. Blood for blood.”
As quietly as she could manage without saying nothing at all, Lexa inquired, “Did you feel better?”
A look of pain flashed across Clarke’s face and she pressed hard against the bridge of her nose. “God, no. Have you ever shot somebody?”
Fortuantely, Lexa had never been at a level in the Woods’ hierarchy where she had to dirty her hands like that. They weren’t a particularly violent group anyways, but her father had kept her out of the persuasive ends of the business.
“No, I have not.”
Clarke traced a finger across the spine of a legal book. “Good. It’s weird, like you relive it constantly in such vivid fucking detail, but you remember nothing. I remember the noise it made and the way blood traveled with such accuracy, but when they asked me how many shots I fired and what we said to each other, I can’t fucking remember.”
In order to prevent her from cutting her palms with her fingernails, Lexa reached out and turned Clarke’s clenched fist over. She tapped lightly against her fingers until Clarke released them and allowed her to smooth them out flat on the table. “I can’t even imagine.”
“Good. You don’t want to, Lex. It’s like remembering a nightmare, but only by the fiber of what scared you. No detail. Just the consistency of blood and anxiety,” she murmured. “You ever heard that shitty saying about digging two graves when you’re looking for revenge or whatever? Totally not true. You’ve only got to dig one, because you’re both sharing that shit forever.”
It was only by some divine intervention that Lexa ever figured out Clarke’s birthday. She realized a year into her sentence that she must have missed it somehow. Her own birthday came and went with little fanfare except for a truly horrifying almost-cake Octavia had scrounged together for her from lunch leftovers and old flour as well as some time out in the yard after dark on a favor from Clarke. It struck her then that she had no idea when Clarke’s birthday was.
When she tried to ask, Clarke had come up with some dismissive, clever quip about being timeless and ducked all future inquiries about it. Octavia seemed earnest when she insisted she had no idea, but Raven was a surprisingly awful liar. She pitied the lawyer that had to argue her innocence before a jury of her peers. Clearly, it hadn’t gone in their favor anyways.
So another year passed and nobody knew when Clarke had gotten older.
Salvation arrived in the form of Bellamy Blake when he came around to confirm inmate profiles while they switched computer systems. Clarke was away working an evening shift at the medical pavilion, but Lexa was present to sign off on her last residence and other inconsequential details. In his distraction, Bellamy accidentally handed her Clarke’s profile. Lexa hadn’t intended to pry or betray Clarke’s privacy, but it took her a few minutes to figure out why all of her information was wrong.
By the time she thought to check the damn name at the top of the profile, she had already seen too much. Her traitorous eyes glued stubbornly to the date of birth halfway down the page and etched it into the front of her brain without her express permission. Everybody claims to ‘mind their own business’ until someone else’s business is easily accessible. The laws of human nature dictate that one’s own business is never half as interesting as someone else’s. Why fight it?
Besides, in a sense, Clarke was her business.
And so was her birthday.
But no matter how hard she brainstormed ideas for celebrating Clarke’s birthday, she came up dry. Lexa had begun to panic when she realized that she didn’t have a fun or spontaneous bone in her body. She couldn’t ask for help, because that would involve betraying Clarke’s birth date. She was, as they say, up the creek without a paddle. Inspiration didn’t strike until the late the morning of Clarke’s birthday.
But inspiration was a funny thing and it strolled by with a slight under bite and a cart full of dirty laundry. It wasn’t exactly what Lexa pictured when she thought ‘inspiration’, but it did the trick. After a year of mourning the loss of her crappy cassette player and headphones to an unlucky (and completely not Lexa’s fault) week of poker, Clarke had finally quit lamenting her loss out loud. The girl from 13C who possessed Clarke’s old cassette player was a sullen, hulking woman who conversed little and glared often. She reminded Lexa of a dragon the way she lorded over her collection of gambled items, guarding them fiercely and caring for little else. Clarke might as well have lost her prized possession to a literal dragon for how likely she was to get it back.
Lexa had to get it back. Lexa had to face the dragon from 13C.
For fear of continuing such a whimsical metaphor, Lexa skipped the narrative turmoil and patched together enough courage to approach 13C.
“Hey, uh, excuse me,” she called, abandoning her spot at the table to jog after the laundry cart. “Do you have a moment?”
13C didn’t stop, but shot a bored glare over her shoulder. “No.”
“Please, just one minute.” She caught up to the cart and attempted to keep pace with 13C’s enormous strides without seeming winded.
13C glared harder. “Listen, Jehova’s Witness. I’m not interested in licking doorknobs to sponsor Tom Cruise’s trip to Valhalla or whatever the hell your pants-suit-ass is tryin’ to sell me. So move along, Legs,” she snapped, walking even faster.
Lexa abandoned her pride and jogged to keep up. “Licking – what? No, I was wondering if you still had that old cassette player you won off of Clarke last year.”
13C slowed down just a little and eyed her with a suspicious, appraising look. “I know of it,” she said clinically, like she didn’t have her entire dragon horde catalogued to the fucking molecule on the front of her frontal lobe.
“Well…I need it.”
With an alarmingly satisfied grin, 13C slowed to a stop and leaned against the laundry cart. “You need it?” She asked smugly. “Sounds urgent.”
Lexa tried to look less like a desperate fool. But Lexa “Desperate Fool” Woods had a difficult time accomplishing that. “In a sense,” she ground out. “Can we skip the playground games and go right to the part where you demand I go on some comical side quest?”
Tapping her chin, 13C mulled over the proposition like she hadn’t already decided to humiliate the latest desperate fool to try making a deal with her. “I guess we could work something out. It wont’ come cheap, though. It’s pretty valuable.”
“We both know it’s a piece of garbage,” Lexa grumbled.
13C leaned in close with a wicked grin. “Then why do you need it so bad?”
“Because…” Lexa trailed off and broke eye contact to stare at her own shoes. “It’s important to me, alright? What do you want for it?”
“Alright, I’ll cut the shit. I need you to get something back from an inmate who took something of mine. I don’t care how you get it, just bring it back and the cassette player is yours,” she offered.
Well, it didn’t sound too bad.
A pleased smile split across 13C’s face and she leaned more heavily against the cart. “Alright, Legs. You’re lookin’ for Fidalgo in 12D. Get back my Ocean Encyclopedia, then we’ll talk.”
Lexa nodded warily. “Does she work during the day?”
“She?” 13C snickered and shook her head with something close to pity. “Nah, Legs. That’s James Fidalgo over in men’s D Block. Hell if I know their work schedule.”
No, no. She needed to say that out loud.
“Fuck,” Lexa cursed, running her hands slowly over her hair before locking them behind her head. She needed one more for good measure. “Fuck.”
13C shrugged. “Good luck, kid,” she said, wheeling the cart off without further instruction.
Good luck, indeed.
How in the name of ill-advised birthday presents was Lexa supposed to sneak past central processing, go undetected down the length of the men’s division, slip into D Block, and make off with a fucking encyclopedia without getting her ass beaten by inmates or confined to solitary for the rest of her natural life? Assuming that the heavens opened up and granted her the miracle of a successful quest, she would still probably end up dead in a closet somewhere when Fidalgo caught wind of the theft. Was Clarke’s cassette player really worth dying for?
Clarke would say…well, she’d say yes. That wasn’t very helpful, though.
What cinched it for her was her brief run-in with Clarke after lunch. She was on her way to pick up an inmate at the laundry room who had burned her hand on a fried dryer. Lexa was pacing around, considering the potential ways she might receive the encyclopedia if she were to entertain such madness when she quite literally ran into Clarke.
It seemed neither of them were particularly focused. Clarke bumped into Lexa’s back with a small noise of surprise, sending Lexa into a brief panic. She was sure Fidalgo had heard her thinking too hard about stealing his shit from halfway across the prison and was there to tie her arms in knots. Those thoughts were quickly abandoned, though, when she saw the melancholy smile Clarke directed her way once they’d separated.
“Oh, hi,” Clarke murmured, straightening Lexa’s wrinkled jacket.
It was at that moment that Lexa realized she had no idea how to breach the issue of Clarke’s secret birthday. She couldn’t very well wish her a happy birthday without admitting she had gone federal on her personal information. The words were on the tip of her tongue, but she choked them back down.
“Are you doing well?” She decided on instead. It was no ‘happy birthday’, but she wanted Clarke to have a good day nonetheless.
Clarke smiled sadly and shrugged. “I’ve been better.”
Lexa searched her face for something, trying to act normal. When she found only a timid sort of helplessness, she abandoned that plan. Grabbing Clarke’s wrist gently, Lexa pulled her into a rare hug. Neither of them was prone to hugging, but it felt like her only option at that point.
Clarke stiffened for a moment, likely out of surprise, but quickly adjusted and pressed her face into Lexa’s shoulder while her arms wrapped around Lexa’s back. She breathed in a few times, slow and deliberate, before tightening her hold on the back of Lexa’s jacket.
Her voice was muffled when she spoke again. “Sorry.”
“I believe,” Lexa said kindly, “I am the one who started it.”
Clarke made a noise halfway between a laugh and a sob, sending Lexa into the very real panic that she had made Clarke cry. Nobody made Clarke cry. In fact, she was fairly certain that making Clarke cry was an offense punishable by violence if anybody found out. Surreptitiously, she glanced around to make sure nobody had witnessed her crime.
“Ugh,” Clarke groaned. “Fine, you started it. Now I’m gonna get snot all over you.” Her arms tightened and she rubbed her forehead against Lexa’s shoulder. “Get fucked, Woods.”
Oh, she definitely already was.
Clarke made a noise of agreement before pulling away and straightening Lexa’s jacket again, rubbing at a damp spot on her shoulder. “I warned you,” she hummed. Her eyes were a little red, but she looked fine otherwise. “I’m sorry, I just…bad day.” She shrugged sheepishly. “Thanks, though.”
Lexa nodded and let Clarke step around her to continue toward the laundry room.
“I’ll see you later, Lexa,” she called over her shoulder with a tired wave.
Lexa waved back even though Clarke couldn’t see her and watched until the other girl had disappeared around a corner.
Clarke just had to be having a bad birthday.
Lexa had to get that goddamn encyclopedia.
And because none of the plans she had come up with while pacing the length of the hallways had any real value, she decided to just kind of go for it. Maybe if she looked like she was supposed to be there then nobody would question it. Frankly, it was a horrible plan. But she wasn’t in prison because she was a flawless planner when it came to criminal conduct. The good criminals don’t end up in prison.
Once upon a time, she had been halfway decent at blending in and working her environment. Not all of the best maneuvers were planned, after all. So she headed towards central processing where the men’s and women’s divisions split with her hands shoved deep in her pockets and casual boredom painted across her face. They didn’t do intake on Sundays, so her luck was already better than it usually was.
In fact, her luck was really damn good as it turned out. The white shirt that usually hung around central processing bustled past her, snapping into his radio about some brawl in the kitchen, leaving Lexa to deal only with the civilian desk clerk who handled paperwork and a handful of inmates cleaning windows. Lexa would have bet her life on Octavia being the cause of whatever commotion was happening in the kitchens. Someone had probably insulted her cooking. Although, as everyone liked to point out, Lexa was apparently very bad at placing bets.
Everyone’s a critic.
Her brain tried to convince her to do something weird and awkward to get past the desk clerk and the cleaning crew lazing around central processing, but her brain was not a source Lexa relied upon in stressful situations. It had a bad track record.
Instead, she kept her hands shoved into her pockets and just kind of strolled past them all towards the men’s division.
Just like that.
It was the first time in Lexa’s natural life that she had managed to pull off the ‘act natural’ method of getting away with things. And probably the last, if she was being honest with herself.
She had no time for honesty, though. Each step she took into the men’s division was more dangerous and forbidden than the last. She was in the lion’s den, as they say. If lions enjoyed cooking outdoors, expectorating needlessly, and making promises to women they didn’t intend to keep, that is. Perhaps she needed to reevaluate exactly how much she knew about lions.
That completely useful train of thought was banished from further consideration when she found her feet had nearly carried her to A Block. The men’s division almost mirrored the women’s – it was just bigger. Navigating the terrain wasn’t the issue, but rather navigating the terrain without being fucking murdered or put on lockdown.
Her salvation came in the form of an unlocked uniform storage closet and an abandoned mop cart. Poking her head inside, Lexa found the closet empty and helped herself to an old baseball hat the likes of which Clarke owned. Nobody else in the women’s division had a hat. Clarke must have gotten hers from one of the men lucky enough to be issued one. Well damn if that didn’t just solve a mystery that literally nobody was asking about.
Lexa tucked her hair up into the cap and pulled the collar of her jacket up to try and look more like an effeminate man and less like a woman. That wasn’t something she had ever wanted, but there’s a time for everything she supposed. In the end, she just kind of looked like a really gay Unabomber who couldn’t afford sunglasses. But that’s just how these things go sometimes.
Walking fast and keeping her head down towards the mop she was wheeling around, Lexa breezed by the first few blocks with little incident. When she hit C Block, there were a few C.O.’s arguing with a gentleman who insisted he had not been the one to fill the showers with extra-foaming dish detergent. Lexa couldn’t help thinking that the man was innocent; surely, credit for a stunt like that was not something easily relinquished.
Lexa nearly jumped out of her own skin when one of the C.O.s called out to her.
“Hey, inmate! Where are you headed?”
Lexa froze, but forced her voice to take on a tone she hope approximated a man’s voice. “D Block,” she returned stiffly.
The C.O. took a few steps closer, suspicion written across his face. Lexa was fairly certain she was about to die, but the C.O. relented when he caught sight of her cleaning cart. “Oh, right. Go on, then. You might want to go help the team in the showers when you’re done.”
Live to lie another day.
Nodding and tugging her hat further over her eyes, Lexa nearly ran the rest of the way to D Block. The stars had aligned once again, and D Block was empty for yard time. The Block’s C.O. was a portly man with thick glasses, half-dozing against the security monitor and half-perusing a well-loved copy of Cosmo. She tapped on the glass and gestured down at the cleaning cart when he gave her a bored look.
Without any questioning, he buzzed her in and went back to his thrilling activities. It might have been smart to pretend to clean something, but the Cosmo C.O. didn’t look like he could generate two fucks to save his own life. Instead, Lexa just made a beeline for 12D and peered inside.
The cell itself was filled with stacks and stacks of books, lined up wherever they could find a flat surface or a spare corner. Lexa let out a small, frustrated noise and began quickly scanning the titles for an encyclopedia about ocean life. It took her a few minutes to locate it, crammed between a book on Renaissance artwork and some musician’s biography. Before she could pry it out, though, a huge hand wrapped around her wrist and twisted it behind her back, shoving her face into the cell wall.
Lexa yelped and tried to twist away, but some massive body was pressed close to hers, growling lowly near her ear. “Come to finish the job, have we McNulty? Wait ‘till I’m asleep then do the old bastard in, is it?” He laughed menacingly. “Well we know which one spat that bullet out after Chicago, so let’s finish this like it was always meant to be.”
Lexa had no idea how it was always meant to be and she really didn’t care to find out. All she knew was that she was probably going to die. It’s in our final moments that we always find the courage to do what needs to be done: beg for your fucking life.
“Please don’t kill me,” Lexa whispered.
The man stiffened and let his grip on her wrist relax just slightly. “What the – who sent you? You’re not McNulty.”
How the fuck was she supposed to answer that? When she couldn’t come up with anything, the man gave her a little shake. “Speak! I’ve gutted bigger fish for much less you - you…small man with oddly moisturized hands.”
“I’m so fucking sorry,” Lexa began her fourty-two part apology and plea for her life. “Some girl from my cell block won my friend’s cassette player from her because I wouldn’t cheat at cards and she’s kind of like a dragon and won’t barter for it back but I really needed it for my friend’s birthday because Clarke’s sad and I don’t know how to deal with it and the dragon needs one of your books for the cassette player and I honestly don’t even moisturize that much and I really don’t want to die because that would be an even worse birthday present and I’m not a man and I swear to god I love her too much to not see this through,” Lexa babbled. When she’d run out of horrible words, she fell silent, chest heaving.
The man considered her plight for a thoughtful moment. “Like I haven’t heard that one before,” he hissed.
“Y- you don’t say?”
“Nah,” he laughed, releasing her arm and stepping out of her personal space. “I’m just fuckin’ with you.” When Lexa turned around to face him, he stuck out an enormous hand for her to shake. “James.”
James was…large. Everything about him was large and tattooed and incredibly stereotypical felon. Everything except his bright smile and outstretched hand.
Lexa wasn’t really sure what to do except shake his hand. “Lexa. Uh, sorry. About…everything. I didn’t want to steal from you. I just really need that book.”
“For your girl, right?” He grinned excitedly and folded his hands together.
Lexa shrugged. “In a sense.”
His grin only grew wider. “That’s real nice. We do dumb things for pretty girls, am I right? I’m not even sure how you got over to the men’s division, but mark me impressed.” Gesturing at the contents of his cell, James laughed good-naturedly. “Take what you need, little thief. I pay happiness forward when I can.”
Eyes darting between the strangely friendly inmate and the book she’d nearly died for, Lexa approached James’ collection slowly. Any sudden movements might set him off. The book itself was thick, with glossy colorful pages and a heavy binding. She eased it out from under the other books and clutched it to her chest.
Lexa stood there awkwardly, rocking a bit on the balls of her feet and waiting for James to dismiss her or say anything, really. He didn’t seem to take the hint and just stood there grinning at her like he knew a secret.
“What is her name?” He finally asked.
Lexa narrowed her eyes and clutched the book closer. “Clarke.”
“Good for you, little thief,” he said genuinely, running a hand across his close-cropped hair. “Don’t let this place make you forget the everyday magic of kindness. It is a cold world for those who would forget it.”
Getting back to the women’s division was exactly as terrifying as it was leaving, even though nobody glanced in her direction. Somehow, she didn’t think the magic of kindness was going to save her if she got caught wandering around the wrong side of the prison.
Like the well-conditioned rat she had become, Lexa couldn’t help but release a sigh of relief at being back in her own cell. The relief was short-lived, however, when she realized that Clarke was nowhere to be found. She had exchanged the book for Clarke’s battered cassette player, not even bothering to hide her own smug satisfaction at 13C’s disbelief. Get fucked.
With the cassette resting safely in the pocket of her jacket, Lexa began combing C Block for any sign of Clarke or hint of her whereabouts. After several hours of fruitless searching, C Block filled up and locked down for the evening.
Still no Clarke.
Bellamy was nearby in the guard station, flipping through some enormous history anthology like it was an old issue of Rolling Stone he had read a million times before. If anyone should have known where Clarke was, it should have been him. It was, quite literally, his job to know where she was.
“Bellamy, do you know why Clarke isn’t here?”
He gave her a quick look, dog-eared his page, and then turned to face her with a thoughtful look. “She didn’t tell you?”
Lexa clutched tighter at the cassette player in her pocket. “Tell me what?” She asked suspiciously.
“I’m – huh. I just thought she’d tell you,” he said, scratching at the back of his shaggy hair. “She probably forgot. I don’t think I have to ask for your discretion, but I always sort of look the other way during lockup on this date every year. I think she just needs to see the stars sometimes, I dunno.” Chancing a quick look around, Bellamy picked his book back up and propped it up so he couldn’t see her above it’s thick pages. He reached out blindly and punched in the command to unlock C Block. “Whatever you do,” he said pointedly, “don’t walk out those unlocked doors while I’m irresponsibly distracted.”
Lexa figured it was a bad time to point out that Bellamy was kind of always irresponsibly distracted. Sometimes, you just have to shut up and take favors where they’re given.
Eventually, Lexa was able to locate Clarke sitting around the side of the garden shed with her back pressed against the old wood siding. Her knees were pulled up close to her chest, arms slung casually across them while she watched the stars filtering in around sparse wisps of clouds. Clarke noticed Lexa before she had the chance to announce herself, but didn’t seem all that surprised. Which was great, really. Apparently Lexa had a reputation for being places she wasn’t supposed to be now.
Clarke didn’t say anything, though, so Lexa just took a seat on the cold grass beside her and watched her watch stars out of the corner of her eyes.
“Why are you out here?”
Clarke shrugged and gestured vaguely above her head. “My dad really liked star gazing. Every year on the anniversary of his death, I find a way out here after lockup to watch them. If I’m being honest, though, I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to be watching them for. It’s not like they’re going to start doing tricks.”
Lexa deflated with a hard sigh. No wonder Clarke didn’t like her birthday. How the fuck was she supposed to give her back her cassette player when she was busy having some soul-journey with the memory of her dead father and a bunch of burning space rocks millions of light-years away.
It was just desserts is what it was. Prying never ends well.
“You like stars?” Clarke finally asked.
Lexa frowned and gathered her knees to chest. “They’re alright, I guess.”
Clarke turned to Lexa with a grin, eyes reflecting the clear, full light of the moon. “Alright? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. They’ve never done anything for me,” Lexa defended, crossing her arms. “It’s like asking me how I feel about black holes. I don’t know anything about either, except that they exist and they’re too far away to matter.”
“Far away?” Clarke scoffed. “They’re right there. And they’re pretty.”
“I guess.” Lexa knew she didn’t sound very convinced by the playful look of impatience Clarke sent her.
“Oh, c’mon. You’re telling me you’ve never fallen in love with something you knew next to nothing about?”
Lexa turned away from her and let her legs fall flat on the ground, stretched out before her. She tucked her hands back in her pockets and ran her fingers over the headphone cord where it attached to the cassette player.
Oh, fuck it.
Without offering an explanation or building up to it, she eased the tangled mass of cord, headphone, and cassette player out of her pocket and held it out for Clarke to take. “Happy birthday,” she added as a quiet afterthought.
Clarke blinked down at the gift for a moment before accepting it and turning it over in her hands a few times. Her eyes danced with questions and concerns and just a bit of disbelief, but she refrained from giving them a voice. At one point she opened her mouth, but closed it quickly thereafter as her face went through an odd series of expressions. With something close to horror, Lexa realized Clarke was trying not to cry. And failing.
Shit, shit, shit.
Twice in one fucking day. Twice on her birthday.
When the first tear escaped and Clarke brushed it away almost angrily, Lexa began to panic. “I – I’m sorry, Clarke. I did not mean to upset you.”
Clarke laughed a watery laugh and shook her head. “God, I’m a mess,” she choked, scrubbing at her eyes for a moment. Another apology was on the tip of Lexa’s tongue, but it died when Clarke pushed off the side of the shed to come sit closer so they were facing each other.
Instead of answering, Clarke took her time untangling the cord with careful fingers. When the knots came undone, she placed the headphones back around her neck where they used to reside and tucked the cassette player into her jacket pocket. After adjusting the headphones a little, Clarke leaned forward and settled her hands on Lexa’s knees. While all Lexa really wanted to do was run or hide or light herself on fire, she forced her eyes to remain steady and focused on Clarke. It wasn’t a rational response, nor would any of those things solve her problems. But by the way Clarke was searching her face, they all seemed like better options than blurting out something embarrassing.
Whatever Clarke was looking for, she must have found, because she laughed quietly at some private joke before leaning over their knees and kissing her softly. It felt like an invitation – a question. It felt like ‘maybe’ and ‘probably’ and ‘surely’ all at once; three timelines parallel on a fourth dimension held together by cold hands and intermittent, quiet laughter.
Or you know, something poetic like that.
It was a little difficult to think of anything else, but Lexa wondered vaguely if Clarke was laughing at her. She didn’t care. Honestly, there were few things better in her mind than kissing Clarke and that definitely included her pride. She’d been a fool for a whole lot less.
The laughter became too much for Clarke to work through and she pulled back, adjusting so she was sitting on Lexa’s legs, hands tracing over her shoulder blades where they rested to keep her closer. Lexa didn’t even remember how they had gotten in that position, It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
“What?” Lexa asked quietly, smiling at Clarke’s inability to stop laughing.
Clarke laughed some more and rested her forehead against Lexa’s. “I don’t know. Life’s just…strange. You scare the hell out of me, you know that?”
“I’m – I’m sorry?”
“No, no. I think it’s a good thing,” she said cryptically, before leaning in again to kiss Lexa more firmly. Pressing closer, Clarke retracted one of her hands to slide down Lexa’s chest so it could rest right above her wildly drumming heart. “You’re good, you know that?”
Written the way it was across Clarke’s face and in her eyes and in the way she stroked over her heart, Lexa had no choice but to nod dumbly and accept the sentiment. It was enough to satisfy her and she went back to brushing light kisses across her jaw and temple.
When she next pulled back, Clarke had a devious kind of look in her eyes. “Happy birthday to me,” she murmured against Lexa’s lips.
Happy birthday to the both of them, really.
By the time they made it back indoors, they had nearly run out of stars to ignore.
In the interest of being as transparent as possible, it is important to consider the wide world of awful things that happen within prison walls before stating that the ‘Scared Straight’ program was without a doubt the worst thing that was ever allowed to happen in the history of forever.
Lexa had only been in that particular prison for 1.3% of its vast, horrible history, but she felt approximately 97.5% confident that she could assign the Scared Straight program the title of ‘The Absolute Worst Thing in the History of Ever’. And there weren’t many things that Lexa Woods was 97.5% confident about. To date, the only other things that had achieved that level of confidence were the facts that the newer Mustang models would never compare to the older ones and that Octavia Blake ranked somewhere in the top 50 worst cooks currently living in the entire world.
That was a lot of confidence to assign to something seemingly arbitrary.
But it was true.
The C.O.’s and a handful of available counselors had escorted a mumbling, irritable crowd of high schoolers through the hallways and security checkpoints to meet with C Block and gain some ‘insight’ into the many joys of being an incarcerated felon. They had all been ordered into the program by lenient judges who preferred a more compassionate approach to misdemeanors and juvenile crime.
So there they sat, awkwardly gathered around the metal tables, leveling bored or insolent looks between the C.O.s and the inmates who hadn’t been smart enough to get out of participating in the program.
Lexa was one such inmate. As was Clarke and Octavia and Harper. Raven, on the other hand, was excited about the prospect of…well, Lexa wasn’t sure what was exciting about their prospects. Maybe she just liked scaring children.
Kane took charge of the group, introducing himself and asking the teenagers to do the same. They obliged, but not enthusiastically or even, Lexa suspected, truthfully.
“Alright,” Kane said cheerfully. “These ladies have graciously agreed to speak with you about their experiences, the hardships of their involvement in the criminal justice system, and ways they’ve reconciled their actions with the lives they want to live.” He folded his hands diplomatically at his stomach and gave them all a weirdly enthusiastic look.
Kane had clearly missed the ‘Scared’ part of ‘Scared Straight’. And a great deal of the inmates had definitely missed the ‘Straight’ part. So really, Lexa wasn’t entirely sure how they were going to provide any of the promised services to the troubled youth. Their program should have been renamed something like ‘Lukewarm Gay Feelings Jam.’
Lexa hated 75% of that description.
“Ladies, would you mind introducing yourselves to our guests?” Kane turned to the group of equally bored inmates, lounging in foldout chairs at the front of the cellblock. “And why don’t you go ahead and tell them what you’re here for and how long your sentences are.” He gestured happily at Octavia on the far left of the room like they were all doing icebreakers at summer camp instead of admiring the weight of each other’s shackles.
“Uh, I’m Octavia.” She picked at a loose thread on her jacket sleeve. “Assault. 4-6 years.” As an afterthought, she looked up at the teens and added, “the guy totally deserved it, though.”
Kane made a disapproving noise while a few of the kids laughed under their breaths. “Just as you deserved the punishment for your criminal activities, Miss Blake.”
“I’m Harper,” Octavia’s neighbor chimed in. “I sold drugs, so I’m here for about 8 years, maybe more if the firearm possession charges go through. Here’s to hoping they don’t,” she muttered, raising an imaginary glass for a toast.
Raven leaned forward in her chair, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “I’m Raven. I stole so many cars, the local car dealerships erected a fucking statue of me. I’ll probably be out after servin’ a cool 10.”
“Raven,” Kane admonished, “what is our policy on swearing?”
“Uh, save it for when you’re really trying to make a point?”
Kane frowned. “No. Don’t do it at all.”
Yeah, good luck with that one.
“I’m Clarke and I’ve been sober for six days. Goin’ for seven.”
Raven snorted. “It’s definitely only been two days.”
Clarke considered the correction for a moment, tapping at her chin in thought, before nodding. “Yeah, you’re right. Two days. Gotta start somewhere, am I right?”
“Please focus, Clarke,” Kane sighed. “And let’s refrain from referencing any illicit activities in the prison.”
With a shrug, Clarke leaned back in her chair and glanced off to the side somewhere. “Fine. Clarke. Murder. 15 to life,” she muttered, crossing her arms tight across her chest.
Some of the disinterested youth perked up that that, glancing around to see if anybody else found her charges morbidly interesting. Violence was always a fascinating topic even if nobody wanted to admit it.
One of the bolder boys leaned forward and gave voice to their curiosity. “Yo, who’d you kill?”
Clarke stiffened and shot a glare at the speaker. “Not you, unfortunately.”
Kane’s eyes widened while Raven looked between them all with undisguised glee. Apparently, that had been the kind of thrilling content Raven was waiting for. At least they’d gotten to the ‘Scared’ part.
Kids are all fucking sociopaths, though, so most of them just laughed a bit and relaxed into the situation. Nothing says icebreaker like murder.
“And that’s Lexa,” Clarke continued, the hard edge still clipping her words. “She’s serving nine consecutive life sentences for murdering teenagers.”
Lexa turned to give Clarke a disapproving look, but Clarke wasn’t done glaring holes through the kids’ eager faces. “I did not.”
“She’s being modest.”
At that point, nearly all of the kids were paying attention, which just contributed to Lexa’s theory that most children are awful and everything is terrible. Kane was radiating disappointment when he instructed them to remain in their seats momentarily. He kept them in his line of sight while he stepped out into the hallway to converse with Bellamy, likely asking for backup.
They never really got the chance to present a correct account of Lexa’s charges or her sentence, because shortly after their squabbling began, the prison went into a sudden, crippling power outage. With only a few windows in the far corners of C Block, they were plunged into a darkness close to complete blindness.
Chairs scraped around and clattered to the floor while various people yelped or babbled their discomfort. Lexa was prepared to deal with the situation rationally by remaining in her chair until the backup generators kicked in, but found herself crushed under the sudden weight of someone climbing into her lap. Her assailant clung to her jacket while some unknown limbs dug into the fleshy part of her thigh.
“Clarke?” Lexa tried.
Her assailant stopped squirming. “For you, babe, I could be.”
“Get off me,” Lexa hissed, jabbing a finger into Raven’s ribs.
Finally, the backup generator kicked in, filling the cellblock with an eerie, red glow from the sparse emergency lights lining the walls. Raven was still clinging to her neck, and gave her a roguish grin when they were able to see each other at last.
“You have beautiful eyes.”
Lexa dumped Raven on the ground and scooted her chair back a few inches. Clarke was giving her a half-amused look from her own chair while Octavia and Harper were looking around furtively, most likely evaluating their chances of escaping.
A pounding on the door to C Block drew their attention to Kane, trapped on the other side with Bellamy. Lexa could practically see the lawsuits dancing behind Bellamy’s eyes while he attempted fruitlessly to pry open the door that was set to shut down in case of a power failure. Their guests were going to run home to tell their parents all about how they’d been locked in a cellblock alone with a handful of unsupervised, violent felons. What a time.
For the moment, though, the teens were all huddled a little closer, looking around nervously and mumbling questions that went unanswered.
“All according to plan,” Clarke announced with a wicked grin. “Now you’ll get treated to some real prison hospitality.”
“Snacks and board games!” Octavia filled in cheerfully.
Clarke’s evil grin fell away and she shot Octavia a scowl. “N-no. Not – not the snacks and – god, you’re a terrible felon.”
It was true, though. None of them were all that terrifying even on their worst days. But maybe they could just bore the teens out of ever considering a life of crime. If Lexa had known how tediously routine her life would be in prison, she might have disowned herself from the Woods family at the tender age of zero.
“You really in for murder?” One of the kids asked slowly, eyeing Clarke with disbelief. He was a rather large boy with a few of his front teeth punched out. It gave him a slight lisp, but he looked like the kind of guy who could go his whole life without anyone daring to make fun of him for it.
Clarke sighed and slumped back in her chair. “Yeah.”
A wiry girl chewing a wad of gum leaned over her table to get a better look at her. “You don’t look like no murderer.”
“Yeah, what are they supposed to look like?” She snapped back.
The girl shrugged, seemingly unimpressed. “Scary.”
Whatever softness remaining in Clarke’s posture and expression faded away in an instant – a look that Lexa rarely saw and never enjoyed. It reminded her of the cruelty life could inflict on the kind of people you would think immune to such scarring. It was a painful reminder.
Clarke pushed herself up slowly from her chair and made her way over to the tables the teens were gathered around. They all leaned back a bit in their chairs, too prideful to retreat completely, but too nervous to want a felon approaching the invisible boundary between the groups. Clarke had a sort of deadly quality in her silences – perhaps because they were so rare. She slowly picked out a chair directly across from the girl chewing gum (her chewing had ceased) and regarded her over folded hands.
“If I’m not scary,” she said slowly as she leaned in, “then why are you scared?”
Lexa took it back. The program was getting their money’s worth.
The girl flinched back from Clarke’s gaze. “I’m not scared of you,” she hissed, though her white knuckles told a different story.
“No? What is it then? Is it the number of years you could spend in this shithole, stuck in a loop of the same fucking day while everyone you know becomes strangers? Is it the possibility that you’ll find yourself alone one day without a friend in the world while twelve strangers weigh the price of you living and dying chained to a hospital bed, buried under a five-digit prison ID number just outside the prison walls so even pulseless, rotting, and friendless, you’re still a fucking prisoner? Does it bother you that twelve people can make that decision because you don’t like yourself enough to go home and hug your mom and get a job and smile like they do every day? Or is it just how easy it is for them to condemn you to that?” Clarke blinked at them a few times, almost casual when she leaned in for the killing blow. “Or is it just how easy it is for you to condemn yourself to that?”
Yeah, they definitely got their money’s worth.
The girl swallowed her gum and stared resolutely down at her own hands. In fact, none of the kids were looking at her anymore.
Clarke shrugged. “You don’t have to like the rules. You just have to hate yourself less.”
Lexa chanced a glance over at Raven who apparently hadn’t let the gravity of the general atmosphere dampen her excitement. When Raven caught her eye, she offered a sly wink. Lexa narrowed her eyes. “This has happened before, hasn’t it?”
“Once. I’m not gonna lie to you, Woods,” she whispered, “Clarke’s boss mode really does it for me.”
Lexa seriously doubted there were many people who Clarke’s ‘boss mode’ didn’t do it for. She was feeling the strangest combination of pity and arousal. And irritation. But that was always a feeling Lexa kept on the backburner.
“Keep it in your pants, Raven,” Lexa muttered.
“Don’t ask me to change my soul,” Raven returned with a sort of cryptic wistfulness.
“Then stop keeping your soul in your pants.”
Raven scoffed and turned back to watch the fidgeting teens with a final muttered, “I’ll be in charge of what I keep in my pants, thank you very much.”
Clarke was still glancing around, making pointed eye contact with every teen until they turned their eyes back to their hands, shoes, or somewhere on the ceiling to avoid her ire. She seemed satisfied after a few minutes and leaned back with a tired sigh. “Just cut the shit, alright? Be smarter; be better; and don’t end up back here on some dumb fieldtrip because you don’t want to take care of your own shit.”
Octavia rose from her chair and joined Clarke at the table, tugging a bit on the elbow of Clarke’s jacket. “Now?”
“Hm?” Clarke turned to her, all traces of her previous hardness gone.
“Snacks and board games?”
Laughing under her breath, Clarke nodded with a helpless shrug. “Yeah, alright.”
And so, Kane and a handful of panicking white shirts were forced to watch on in abject horror for more than an hour while a group of rebellious teenagers remained locked in a cellblock with a population of felons, playing Go Fish and swapping updates on all of the television shows the inmates had missed during incarceration. On the other side of the massive, locked doors, though, it probably looked more like they were all playing poker and planning how best to induct the poor, impressionable youth of the world into the darkest depths of the criminal underworld.
So, yeah. It was a little funny.
Even the massive lawsuit they had to settle later on was just a little funny. The business side of Lexa’s soul, however, recognized just how catastrophic the entire event had been. Needless to say, the Scared Straight program was abandoned in favor of less potentially disastrous community programs. Retrospectively, Clarke found the whole thing pretty funny. But everything’s better in hindsight. Or maybe it’s just stranger.
Lexa hadn’t even realized she had slowed her movements and fallen silent until Clarke removed her face from the crook of her neck. “What?” She asked breathlessly, searching Lexa’s face with dark eyes.
“Remember that time a bunch of delinquent children got locked in the cellblock with us and Kane got a stomach ulcer from watching us play cards for an hour?” She whispered.
Clarke’s eyes widened and she pulled Lexa closer, forcing them to press tighter against the bookshelves they were hiding behind. “You’re serious right now?” She hissed. “You’re knuckle deep with my shirt thrown over your shoulder and you want to get nostalgic about stomach ulcers?”
“Uh, right. Sorry.” Lexa planted a distracted kiss on Clarke’s temple before resuming her fingers' practiced rhythm. Clarke breathed in sharply and dug her nails even harder into Lexa’s back.
“It’s just,” Lexa continued absently, “how did Kane think any part of that program was a good idea?”
Clarke groaned, more out of frustration than physical enjoyment, and grumbled into Lexa’s neck. “You’re really going to have to stop talking about Kane while you fuck me. Do me this one kindness, Lex.”
“I – Yeah, you’re right. But do you think it keeps him up at night?”
bet you thought you'd seen the last of tHIS garbage fic.
the alphabetical list of excuses:
1. lack of motivation
2. plot complications
3. recovering from the second worst hangover of my life and never wanting to touch alcohol again
4. training for physical exams
5. who i am as a person
6. writer's block
7. writing nearly my entire other fic (go check it out)
that about covers it. i'll try and finish this fic in the next few weeks god willing. hope you've at least partially enjoyed my drunken ramblings.
you're never gonna fucking guess. i surprised u didn't i? a lil bit?
the ghost of ficmas past. bet you thought you'd seen the last of me.
merry christmas folks. i've had a hell of a hard year but i decided at the last minute that i could at least give y'all some closure on this one. on the upside, this is a fuckin longass chapter. on the downside, that closure's gonna have to wait a week or two because i still couldn't wrap this up properly.
i do go on, though.
gotta warn you: this is SUPER rough. i wanted it out on christmas, though. this is literally like a first draft but do remember this is free entertainment and im at least 80% dead inside. just swallow the typos like a man. no proofreading we die like men.
(warnings for semi-graphic depictions of violence and brief Finn Collins)
shady's back. tell a friend.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Things were going fine as far as Lexa could figure. Research was slow and grueling, but if nothing else she had the talent of meticulous concentration and thorough consideration of the facts. These were…not skills that Clarke possessed. For her many good qualities, academic and scholarly pursuit of truth were not things Clarke enjoyed or did very well.
And Lexa meant that with all the love in the world.
Elbow deep in a beautifully crafted timeline of the night of the crime, Lexa felt her brain throb and snap back to attention in jerking patterns, accentuated and in time with the rhythmic smacking of Clarke’s forehead against the rickety library tables. Clarke was supposed to be making an easily digestible chart of physical and testimonial evidence, but it looked more like she was auditioning for the Chicago Symphony’s percussion line. With her face.
Clarke’s forehead hit the table one last time before she turned and gave Lexa a pained look, temple pressed against the scratched wood. “Hm?”
“Um. How are things going…over there?”
Clarke turned back so her nose was smashed against the table top. “Oh, it’s good. Good stuff over here. Goin’ great.”
Lexa frowned and set her pen on the table. “Are you, uh, making progress?”
Clarke hummed something that sounded like an affirmative.
“Isn’t it difficult to work – to work like that?” She tried.
Staring at the back of Clarke’s head, Lexa nodded slowly to herself. “Okay. Are you sure you’re alright?”
Clarke’s shoulders shrugged before she turned her face to the side to peer up at Lexa from under her furrowed brows. “Sure.” In lieu of smacking her head against the table, Clarke’s foot began to tap distractingly against the tile.
“You’re bored aren’t you?” It came out more like an accusation than an observation. Lexa didn’t mind helping Clarke with her case, but sometimes it felt like trying to drag Clarke’s lifeless corpse through an ocean of quicksand by her ankles.
Finally, Clarke pulled her head off the desk and gave a sheepish shrug. “Sorry.”
Lexa steeled herself behind a wall of infinite patience and spread her hands on the table in a diplomatic gesture. “Is there something else you would rather work on?”
Her patience seemed to have the wrong effect, causing Clarke to shrink back into her chair with a guilty expression. “No, no. I’m fine, I can – I can do this. I’m just not trying hard enough.” She dropped her head into her hands, tapping roughly against her temples. “C’mon, Clarke,” she muttered to herself.
“If you need to take a break, we can,” Lexa offered.
Clarke sighed, but nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, sorry. I’m not good at…” Clarke gestured vaguely at the entire library. “This.”
“You’re doing well,” Lexa offered. “I’m used to this. Compared to law school, this is practically a picnic. Well, except for anything remotely entertaining or pleasant.” Lexa frowned. “So it’s like a picnic that I would have tried to plan.”
Clarke laughed and shoved a case law textbook aside with her elbow. “Nonsense! You’re adequately romantic. Sometimes.”
Skepticism wormed its way into Lexa’s returning look causing Clarke to laugh even harder. “Once, my last girlfriend told me she was looking forward to my day off. I interpreted that completely wrong. She had to entertain herself while I filed her taxes all day. I think I got our signals crossed when she had complained earlier about tax season.”
Clarke’s mirth reached ‘dirty look’ levels, earning sharp hushes and muttered curses from the library’s other patrons. “That’s cute.”
“Yeah, nothing says intimacy like a healthy relationship with the IRS.” Lexa shook her head, lost in her own stupid memories. “It took me like three months to realize what was wrong with that scenario.”
Clarke’s laughter faded into a fond smile and she sighed happily, cheek propped up on the heel of her hand. “You make me want to be free so bad, Alexandria Woods.”
The words dropped like a stone down Lexa’s throat, settling too fast and too hard in the pit of her stomach. “That’s the prison food talking,” she deflected with an anxious laugh. “Everyone wants to be free.”
“Not me. I never wanted it,” Clarke said quietly. “I deserve this. But, god, you make me want to deserve more. You make me want to deserve you.”
Lexa opened her mouth – probably to say something along the lines of ‘you could kill me with your bare hands and I’d probably still think you deserve the world’ or ‘I’ll never be free without you’ or ‘I think I’m having a massive homosexual heart attack’, but nothing came out.
What was she supposed to say to the murderer she was in love with?
Stop feeling guilty? Stop being torn between happiness and the inconsolable drive to damn yourself forever? Stop telling me things in the dead of night like how most of the time you wished you hadn’t put down the gun when the cops caught up to you? Stop looking at me like I’m an anomaly in the reality you’ve trapped yourself in?
There’s nothing. If you can’t find the magical words to make things better, it’s usually not hiding just outside of your intuitive reach. It usually doesn’t exist at all.
“Maybe,” Lexa said slowly, “you don’t have to deserve all of the things you have. Maybe we just have them. And that’s okay. It has to be.”
Clarke nodded sadly. “Yeah. Nothing wrong with a bit of wishful thinking, though.”
“No. There isn’t,” Lexa agreed. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I’d like that too.”
Lexa picked her pen back up and twirled it between her fingers. “It’s selfish, though. I just want it because it makes me happy,” she confided with a secretive smile.
“So selfish!” Clarke scoffed. “Unbelievable!”
The exclamation drew a few mutinous glares, but Lexa laughed along. “I can admit my flaws.”
Leaning forward as though sharing some grave secret, Clarke cupped her hands against her mouth and whispered, “well, in the spirit of exposing our flaws, I might as well tell you: I’m complete garbage at stuff like this.”
“Stuff like what?”
“This,” Clarke sighed, gesturing at their mountains of texts and notebooks. “I was always in trouble at school because my mind wanders. My attention span is about as short as Octavia’s temper.”
“So we’ll do it in small increments,” Lexa offered. “We’ll talk through it and make visuals so it’s not just walls of text. We can make it work.”
“Clarke, this is not what I meant when I said ‘visuals’,” Lexa chided, holding Clarke’s drawing up like a new angle might make it less offensive.
“What, you don’t like it?”
Lexa frowned. If by ‘don’t like it’, Clarke meant Lexa would enjoy her inevitable eternity in Hell accompanied by nothing except an empty middle school classroom, her seventh grade teacher, and that drawing, then yes. She didn’t ‘like it’.
It was…in a word: morbid.
“When did you have time to draw this?” She asked carefully, sidestepping Clarke’s previous question.
Clarke leaned over the library table to get a better look at the drawing and grinned proudly. “During work. I was supposed to be going through expiration dates on the ointments, but inspiration strikes when it pleases. And it pleased, Lexa. It totally pleased.”
Well it didn’t please Lexa.
“Er, it’s definitely-“ Lexa’s mouth twisted into an unsure shape as she studied the image. She pointedly avoided Clarke’s proud grin. “It’s provocative.”
“Took me like three hours.”
Turning the drawing at an angle, Lexa attempted to reevaluate the image and find something that wasn’t awful. “Uh, well. All of the…blood must have taken a long time to – er, get all over the place.”
The grin slipped off Clarke’s expression and she pushed her face closer to the drawing, studying it through narrowed eyes. “Huh.”
Clarke’s eyes darted back and forth over the drawing for another moment before looking up into Lexa’s own concerned expression. “This is kind of more fucked up than I remember it being.”
Lexa couldn’t really imagine what level of ‘fucked up’ Clarke remembered it being. On a scale of one to first world prison culture, it was a solid ‘watching your best friend get shot and using that gun to murder his teenage killer in a fit of adolescent rage’.
That was, after all, exactly what it depicted. In a disjointed series of images Clarke had literally drawn her crime. It was the kind of thing Lexa imagined seeing on an episode of some contrived show about serial killers.
“It’s a little fucked up,” Lexa admitted. “Kind of a Charles Manson vibe going on here.”
Clarke nodded sadly and reached out to take it back. Before she could snatch it away, Lexa smoothed her hands over the drawing to hold it flat on the table.
“It’s good, though,” she assured her. “It’s just hard to look at.”
“Not when you’ve been seeing it every night for six years,” Clarke murmured, tracing one finger over the bloody sheet covering her friend. “I guess I forgot.” Her finger moved to run over the uncovered body of her victim with a strange tenderness. “I spend so much time with these images burned into the back of my eyes that when I finally put it on paper it’s like seeing my own reflection. I don’t hardly recognize it anymore.” Suddenly Clarke snatched her hand away from the drawing. “Sorry. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It doesn’t have to.” The paper under Lexa’s fingers felt fragile under Clarke’s intense gaze. Gently, she removed her own hands from on top of it as though it might have broken if she left them there any longer. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so clinical about it.”
“No,” Clarke said quickly, shaking her head and sitting up straighter in her chair. “No, it’s fine. We have to be clinical if I’m going to make it through my hearing without being crucified.”
Lexa cocked her head to the side thoughtfully and leaned back in her own chair. “I don’t think that’s true. Part of it is legal posturing, but that’s not the most important thing. You’re already legally responsible for what happened. We need to convince them that the humane thing is a reduced sentence. They’re interested in whether you can be trusted on probation. Whether justice is served that way.”
“Sounds subjective,” Clarke muttered, crossing her arms.
“Oh, it is.”
Sighing heavily, Clarke pulled her drawing away and turned it over on the table to outline a few notes about her case. Besides her disturbing, bloody mural, Clarke had actually done a relatively good job of taking Lexa’s suggestions to heart. Instead of suffering through walls of texts, Clarke had translated her case into a nice series of graphs and visuals that were easier for her to understand and focus on.
“So,” Lexa pressed on, “I was wondering if you were still on speaking terms with anyone who could vouch for your character?”
“Besides all of my criminal friends?” Clarke asked wryly.
Lexa smiled. “Yes, besides those. Your mother-“
“No.” Clarke paled at the suggestion, hands seizing into tight fists. “My mom’s been through enough. I don’t want her anywhere near here. I swore I’d never let her see me here and I meant it. Unless the board will consider a letter as testimony, forget it.”
Clarke’s tone brooked no argument, so Lexa decided to surrender that idea. “Alright. What about Wells’ father? It seems like you two were close.”
If possible, Clarke’s expression closed off even more. “We were,” she confirmed stiffly. “Not anymore.”
“Well is there any way you could contact him as a character witness? Surely he’s at least a little sympathetic to your situation,” Lexa prodded.
Clarke just scoffed. “Yeah, that’d be a trick.”
As much as Lexa wanted to push it, Clarke was not someone that information could be dug out of. What she offered was just that: an offering. “Alright. Just think about it, though. Without someone to speak on your behalf, we’re going to have a lot of trouble convincing them on a character angle.”
Nodding sadly, Clarke pulled one of her charts closer to finish the last bit of detailing. “Yeah, I know. I’ll try not to get my hopes up.”
Lexa nodded seriously. “Good. God forbid you allow the cruel deception of the concept of happiness invade your fortress of masochistic repentance and condemnation for two seconds. What would the gods think if you ceased for even a moment in your eternal self-flagellation.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
He doesn’t do anything in particular.
It’s not one thing he says or one gesture he makes or even a single look or glance that does it. Lexa isn’t even entirely sure why she hates him. Well, except that she is. She’s totally sure why she hates him, but when you spend enough time practicing law, there’s no way to rid yourself of the one cardinal rule that all lawyers have carved into the fronts of their brains within the first week of school, even if you subsequently ended up in jail.
So Lexa Woods, despite her felony conviction and subsequent lifestyle change, will never in a thousand years admit anything more than her own legal name. And that definitely includes admitting that she hates Finn Collins because Clarke likes him.
So, no. Finn Collins did nothing of any real offense. He’s a very nice man…boy. He’s a very nice man-boy. His hair is only kind of stupid and his jokes are only a little corny and his pickup lines are only the slightest bit terrible. He ogles Clarke probably the same amount as any other male inmate whose closest encounter with a woman in the last few years has been the mental image of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine model in a fetching wool sweater and the soft caress of their own hand. Or their cellmates’ if they’re really desperate. Which brings to mind a disturbing fantasy in which a hapless inmate can’t get off because every time they attempt a sexual thought, they just picture their own brutish cellmate, scowling in a nicely knit sweater, begrudgingly trying to give them a horrible handjob in one of the most fantastic open-concept kitchens ever designed for suburban consumption.
We’ve gotten off track.
All of the male inmates have at least gazed with something close to longing at Clarke at some point, so Finn Collins isn’t exactly the devil for being attracted to her. If that were the only requirement, then Lexa would certainly be seeing him in hell. In fact, Finn Collins is comparatively more respectful about it than most of the male inmates. Lexa can’t help but feel this all amounts to some very low standards of male decency. But what else is new.
She also can’t seem to stop calling him ‘Finn Collins’. Clarke thinks it’s hilarious. Lexa doesn’t tell her that if a lawyer is calling you by your full name, you’re probably about to enter a world of hurt. So Lexa continues to call him by his full name because for reasons she cannot legally admit to herself, she is horribly, horribly jealous that Clarke makes almost daily time to talk with him through the chain link fence while she scowls at them from a nearby picnic table.
“Clarke talkin’ to Finn again?”
Lexa breaks her determined glare – impressively maintained for nearly the entire duration of nearly every conversation between Clarke and Finn Collins – and spares Raven a glance. She’d nearly forgotten Raven was there, attempting to fix a microwave that had been officially declared deceased by the state penitentiary. And when the state government admits something’s shot, boy is it shot. Raven was attempting to fix it during yard time regardless of state mandates for a reason that she had probably given Lexa, but that Lexa had been too busy not admitting that she was jealous of Finn Collins to process.
“I guess,” Lexa dismisses. It’s a poor attempt at being aloof. Lexa has never had any capacity to be cool and aloof when it came to Clarke. She’s nothing short of hot and bothered, in fact. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Raven nodded. “That’s impressive considering you’ve done nothing but stare at them for twenty minutes.”
“I – I’m not…” Lexa glared at her. “Shut up.”
“She’ll be over him soon,” Raven assured her. “He’s nothing special.”
Lexa tried not to look too stupidly hopeful. “Yeah?”
“Totally.” Climbing over the table, Raven dropped down a little too close to Lexa, leaning back and draping an arm behind her back. “Been there, done that.”
“Wait, really?” Lexa couldn’t help the intrigue from coloring her tone. She’d hardly seen Raven interact with anyone on the other side of the fence. The closest she’d ever gotten was that week she spent throwing the extra washers from the laundry machine repair kits at the backs of the male inmates’ heads to start fights.
Raven scratched at the back of her head, nodding absently. “Oh, yeah. Pretty boy’s pretty charming when he wants to be. He’s harmless. But she’ll get bored real quick.”
Lexa wanted to be reassured, but Clarke had chosen that moment to laugh loudly at something Finn had just said, their faces a little too close together despite the fence between them.
“She’ll get bored,” Raven insisted.
Not soon enough in Lexa’s opinion. “Were you two a thing?” She asked, more to distract herself than anything else.
“Yeah, I guess. As much as I can validate such a vague categorization, anyways.”
Lexa turned away from the fence, unable to watch Clarke twirl her hair around her finger like Finn had just written her a sonnet instead of talking about what kind of hair gel he’d buy when he was out of prison. Or whatever. Lexa knew she was being uncharitable when she imagined what kinds of conversations they had from afar. Raven was a much needed distraction.
“How did that even work?” Lexa asked skeptically. No matter the attraction, there would always be a big fucking fence between the yards.
Raven leaned closer, pointing at the fence that separated them. “Well, I mean, it’s not rocket surgery, Woods. There are holes in the fence,” she said with a grin. “They’re just big enough.”
Raven laughed loud enough to draw Clarke’s attention, earning a bemused smile and a small wave from Finn. Lexa’s brain was running away with horrible logistical imaginings involving a fence and determinedly aroused inmates. Horrible. Just horrible.
When Raven had settled down and Clarke had gone back to the utter betrayal of conversing with Finn Collins, Raven wiped a tear out of the corner of her eye. “No but seriously,” she continued, “I knew him in high school actually.”
“That’s a relief,” Lexa muttered. It was much too late, though. The images were already there. “What does she even see in him?”
“Yeah,” Raven groused. “He has a dick and his name isn’t Lexa Woods. What could she possibly see in him?”
“Talking to you always makes me feel worse.”
Raven shrugged. “I get that a lot, honestly. But for what it’s worth: I would sleep better at night knowing Clarke was fucking you instead of Finn. My dreams would be sweeter. It’s what Jesus died for.”
“I don’t – “ Lexa frowned, “I don’t want to know why the ease in which you sleep is contingent on who Clarke is having sexual relations with. And I don’t want to know why the quality of your dreams depends on…god, forget it. I’m pretty sure you just cured my jealousy.”
Skeptical didn’t even begin to cover Raven’s expression. “Sure, Woods. And I’m not a criminal. And Clarke’s not hot. And Octavia’s a good cook. And-“
It went on that way.
Strangely enough, it was Finn Collins who solved the Finn Collins problem. Lexa would have said something poetic about falling on your own sword or something, but there were only so many ways in which she was willing to be cliché in a single fictional narrative. And that number was pretty fucking high. But not that high.
Anyways, Finn Collins fucked it up.
Even better than Finn Collins fucking it up was the fact that there was, according to Clarke, nothing to fuck up.
It was another bland meeting filled with what Lexa assumed was bad conversation and (hopefully) one-sided flirtation. The sun was kind of hazy in the sky, rippling across the dusty yard with the eerie reflection of the ghosts of all the dead vegetation passed. In the defense of mother nature, there wasn’t a whole lot of vegetation to kill. But she sure did make sure what little there was suffered terribly. The summer had been a slow death. For probably more than just the vegetation if Octavia’s groaning was any measure of the progress of her own demise. But Octavia could be a little dramatic.
Halfway through their bland conversation, accompanied as always by Lexa’s halfhearted glaring, Clarke swore loudly and slapped the fence hard enough to snap back and hit Finn in the face. Octavia sat bolt upright from where she had been doing a rather good imitation of road kill across the picnic table.
Clarke pointed a threatening finger at Finn, pressing her face close to the fence and spitting sharp, quiet words like daggers through the chain and between his ribs. He had his hands up in submission, shaking his head and making inaudible denials. Lexa found herself standing without remembering putting her feet under her, tense and unsure of what to do. Octavia looked like a Rottweiler that had caught a sent.
Eventually, Finn had backed up so far from the fence that Clarke’s words likely couldn’t reach him. He didn’t exactly run away. But he did kind of shout some last ditch apology before melting into a crowd of men swapping commissary items. Some of the C.O.’s were flocking toward the fence, wary of the breach in peace, but Clarke just slapped the fence once more before turning and heading off toward the medical pavilion.
That’s where Lexa found her around the end of the workday. Clarke was sitting on a table, scratching away at a notebook with a crease between her brows. After violently crossing something out, Clarke stuck the end into the hair at her temple, like she might be able to stick a hex wrench in her brain and wind it back up.
Wanting to find the right words, Lexa entered silently and began folding the white sheets that she knew Clarke usually attended to at the end of her shift. Clarke didn’t glance up, but there was no question Clarke knew she was there. Clarke was hyper-aware of everything at all times and rather than tensing at Lexa’s arrival, her shoulders drooped just the slightest bit. When Lexa had four of the bedsheets neatly folded and hanging over one arm, she joined Clarke at the table and stood with the toes of Clarke’s shoes just touching her knees.
Clarke made an unsure kind of gesture, more tired than anything and shut the notebook she was pouring over. “I’ve had longer.”
“Am I going to be asked to testify at Finn Collin’s murder trial anytime soon?”
“Maybe,” Clarke said nonchalantly. “Hopefully.”
And it must have been a cold day in hell indeed, because Lexa came to Finn Collin’s defense. For Clarke’s sake of course. “Please don’t kill him. Clarke, it’s – no. You can’t kill him, it’s the holiday season.”
“Santa’s always watching?”
Clarke laughed, tossing the notebook aside and leaning back on her hands. “I think I owe him like 800 years of coal anyways. I can’t see how it matters.”
Lexa sighed and hoisted herself up on the table next to her. She smoothed the sheets over her lap in a neat stack. “Clarke, really.”
“You’re worried I’m going to be naughty?” Clarke teased, leaning closer to look up at Lexa through her eyelashes. If they weren’t talking about having some poor dope murdered, it might have affected her in some way. But really.
“I’m worried you’re going to murder someone.”
Clarke let her temple rest lightly on Lexa’s shoulder with a sigh. “You’re no fun.”
They sat that way for a while, Clarke sagging further and further into Lexa’s side. Every few seconds, Lexa would smooth out the nonexistent creases in the stack of sheets, desperate to keep her hands busy enough not to do something…regrettable. Or fantastic. Or regrettable.
“What did Finn do? I thought you two were…I don’t know, friendly,” Lexa muttered when the silence became a little too loaded for her.
Clarke scoffed and rubbed her head against Lexa’s shoulder. “It doesn’t matter anymore. He was helping me with a trade deal on the men’s side because he’s sweet on me or whatever. It was my fault.” Clarke groaned and knocked her head against Lexa’s bicep. “I don’t know why I thought I could trust him to get that done. He’s naïve and got scared I guess. Whatever, I’ll figure something else out.”
“Sweet on you?” Lexa pressed. Within an entire speech about illicit prison activity and murdering your felon smuggler, Lexa found the most prudent statement and ran with it.
She couldn’t see Clarke’s face, but she could feel the eyeroll. “Yeah. You lock a guy in a cell for two years and suddenly he would die for a pair of breasts. I’ll find some other lonely son of a bitch to help me.”
Honestly, Lexa felt like maybe dying for a pair of breasts was about the only thing she had in common with Finn Collins. But it felt like something she shouldn’t admit to. “Uh, yeah. Imagine that. That’s…wild.”
“Whatever. He was annoying me anyways.”
Lexa grinned to herself, turning her head to the side to press her nose against the top of Clarke’s head. Clarke huffed out an exasperated laugh. “Don’t you make that smug face.”
Lexa’s grin grew wider. “You can’t even see my face.”
“I don’t have to.”
It’s almost jarring how easy Lexa’s hearing is. She had been so focused on Clarke’s hearing that she very nearly forgot to even show up to hers. She had finished preparing ages ago, confident and ready despite the slip in focus. Even without the support of the Woods family and their army of lawyers and specialists, Lexa pieced her argument together with an ease born of years of careful political and legal posturing and maneuvering. The case on her was thin to begin with.
A board of seven serious men nodded along to her crafted presentation, poking and prodding at certain topics and trying to needle admissions from her. The warden loomed at the center of the panel with a grave twist to his frown and the air of a man comfortable with handling the fragile spun glass of a person’s freedom in their strong hands. He asked very few questions, but his deep brown eyes followed hers like a magnet – unwavering and persuasive in their pull.
“Thank you, Woods,” he finally concluded, drawing up his meticulously labeled folders and charts and documents into a practiced order. “The board will move to make their decision.”
The other six members leaned toward the warden like they were being pulled in by his magnetism as well and began murmuring their votes. It was a strangely casual affair. By verbal motion only, each board member cast their opinions toward the warden, who nodded along with a few scratched out notes. In less than a minute, the warden was drawing up a document on state letterhead with a metallic seal pressed into the corner. He didn’t even bother to look up when he began signing it and announcing her fate.
“The board finds in favor of the appellant,” the warden drawled from memory, bored and monotone as he delivered her fate. “Alexandria Woods will be released on parole with time served and time earned. Your release date will be set for the first of the year in eleven months time, after serving your minimum. You’re dismissed.”
Just like that.
More than a thousand days in prison and she’s released in only twenty-six minutes. After serving the bare minimum of her sentence, Lexa Woods would be free in less than a year.
She nodded dumbly, managed to thank them in a quiet tone, and then departed with an envelope heavy with the promise of a future. She almost ran into another inmate on her way out the door, numb with a strange sense of anxiety that always clouded her brain when her life took a major turn. She jerked to a halt only a few inches from the startled inmate and stuttered out a quick apology.
The inmate smiled ruefully and returned the apology. “Hope you put them in a good mood for me.”
Smiling politely, Lexa nodded and began the long walk back to C Block. The numbness trailed behind, close on her heals and unrelenting as she attempted to dig out an ounce of joy or relief. She wasn’t surprised, she supposed. After all, there was little reason they wouldn’t have agreed to her release. It was a straightforward case and she had little discipline to speak of. No, she wasn’t surprised.
Surely she was happy, then.
When she arrived back at C Block, she paused near the guard shack. Her hands were cold and clammy and she was sure she was warping the important papers in her nervous grip. She spotted Clarke instantly; it seemed she was always honed in to Clarke’s location. Clarke was at their usual table, staring at the tabletop while Octavia, Raven, and Fox entertained themselves with a card game. Clarke had a hand of her own, but they had been abandoned by her elbow like she lost steam halfway through and had been left behind.
Lexa…was not happy.
No. Despite all intentions otherwise, Lexa was not happy. She was afraid this would happen, but was unable to confirm her suspicions until having freedom literally put in her hands.
It’s strange what can change for a person. Just – in a general sense. Lexa stares between the envelope in her hands and the girl slumped over on a tabletop in an old white shirt and baggy blue jacket and fights the urge to destroy the freedom in her hands. She didn’t want it.
God be damned, but she didn’t want it.
And it broke her heart.
Sometime during her crisis, Clarke must have spotted her because suddenly there were gentle hands wrapped around her own and her head was jerking up to see anxious concern written all over Clarke’s face.
“That was so fast,” Clarke fretted. “Did it go badly?”
Lexa stared back, opening and closing her mouth a few times. It was a like a light snapped on in her otherwise darkened and vacant mind and her hands released their clammy grip on the envelope between them. The key to her freedom hit the ground with a soft thunk and rustle of pages.
“I’m in love with you,” Lexa blurted, turning her hands over in Clarke’s faltering grip so she wouldn’t drop them. It was the one thing she didn’t want to drop.
Clarke startled backward a pace, but couldn’t go much further with the vice-like grip Lexa had on her hands. “I – uh, I-“ she stuttered, “that’s –“ Her face was turning a delightful shade of pink all the way to the tips of her ears.
Lexa really wanted something more carefully constructed and gentle to leave her mouth, but instead she ended up nearly shouting the same thing. “I’m in love with you.”
Somehow, Clarke recovered the slightest bit. “Are you alright?”
“I’m in love with you!”
It came as a relief when Clarke smiled, even if it was the slightest bit confused. “Yeah, I got that, champ. You’re being weird.”
Lexa shook her head adamantly. “I’m always weird. But I’m in love with you. This is important.”
“Are you dying?” Clarke asked suspiciously. “Wait, shit, am I dying?” Fully alarmed, Clarke pulled Lexa closer. “Who’s dying, Lex? Please tell me it’s Raven.”
“Nobody’s dying, Clarke. I’m-“
“God, I know. You’re in love with me. I’ve got that,” Clarke laughed, shaking her head fondly. “What’s wrong with you? Tell me about your hearing.”
Instead of doing anything like that, Lexa yanked Clarke forward and crushed her into a, likely uncomfortable, hug. “Who cares,” she mumbled into Clarke’s hair.
Clarke certainly made a noble effort to pry herself out of the stranglehold, her curses muffled against Lexa’s shirt. “Would you – god, I care you big idiot. I care so fucking much. I have a screwdriver hidden in my sock and if you don’t tell me what the hell happened at your hearing in the next thirty seconds, it’s going in your kidney.”
Lexa never assumed any of Clarke’s threats were empty. Finally, she released her with a dreamy smile. Yeah, dreamy. The kind of adjective you never really live down. “It went in my favor,” she admitted quietly. “I’m being released at the end of the year. But it doesn’t matter because I’m in-”
“-love with me. I know, gaylord.”
They had gone a whole four days without talking and frankly Lexa was starting to consider admitting that she was friends with Raven. And she’s made it pretty clear how she feels about admitting things.
It was definitely a begrudging friendship. Clarke was dangerously upset with Lexa. And while she wanted nothing more than to sulk, she couldn’t just stew in it until it drove her to madness. In retrospect, using Raven to ward off madness was about as clever as using the smallpox virus to ward off infection. But it’s not like people were knocking down Lexa’s door to be friends with her. Octavia would always be firmly on Clarke’s side and everyone else was too afraid to even talk to Lexa once they all sensed the tension between them.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
“So you think Clarke’s gonna have you killed?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lexa muttered, drawing another card from the deck. She was pretty sure whatever game they were playing was something Raven made up to fuck with her. All of the rules seemed made up and they always played out in Raven’s favor.
“Is it ridiculous?” Raven countered. “God, you suck at this game.”
“This game is bullshit.” Lexa stared at her cards trying to remember exactly what she was supposed to be accomplishing to win the game. “Clarke’s not gonna kill me. You’re so dramatic.”
“I didn’t say she was going to kill you.” In a likely illegal move, Raven swapped two of her cards in the deck and demanded one of Lexa’s. Although, it probably wasn’t illegal if it wasn’t even a real game. “I said she was going to get someone to do it for her.”
“You’re cheating,” Lexa growled.
“Does it matter? You’ll probably be dead by the end of the week anyways.”
(Unfortunately – er, fortunately, that wasn’t true.)
“She’ll get over it,” Lexa said uncertainly. “I was only trying to help.”
Raven shook her head in disbelief. “You ratted her out. I wouldn’t count on it.”
That…was true. But in Lexa’s defense, Clarke was on a sure path to get herself killed with her latest scheme. She was smuggling legal funds into unmarked accounts for inmates without lawyers with the aid of a few well-bribed C.O.’s and a shady accountant. It was…messy. Lexa only understood about half of it, but she understood the part where there were enough inmates waiting in the wings to kill her for the accounts to make it not worth it. And technically, Clarke hadn’t been named in the tip. Nobody got in trouble.
But her operation was completely dismantled.
“Technically, nobody got in trouble.”
“I’m not sure she’s going to care when she’s dancing on your grave.”
“Shut up. Let’s play Go Fish until I hate myself less.”
Raven blew out a heavy sigh. “I definitely don’t have enough time for that. Or a long enough lifespan.” She paused and cocked her head to the side. “Longer than yours, though.”
And they managed to get about halfway through a round before Clarke descended on their table in a cloud of rage and bristling anger. Lexa felt an odd mix of relief at the break in silence and terror. And arousal if she was being totally honest.
But mostly terror.
“I need to know what the fuck you were thinking and I need to know it in the next four minutes. Go,” Clarke hissed, shoving the card deck to the side and spilling half of the cards on the floor. Raven took one look between the two before ducking out with a rushed goodbye.
Lexa folded her hands on the table and managed an even look. “I was thinking that you were going to get not only yourself killed, but probably a dozen desperate inmates killed as well. I was thinking that the accountant you hired is a hack and the C.O.’s are dangerous. I was thinking that if you somehow managed to pull of this reckless, rushed charge into idiocy, you would eventually end up spending an additional decade in jail just for being stubborn.” Lexa stood up abruptly, earning a step back from Clarke. “I was thinking I could prevent that.”
Clarke seemed a little stumped, closing her mouth with a snap of teeth and eyeing Lexa with eyes that flashed with too many thoughts to catch as they spun by. Whatever calculations were occurring behind those eyes were too quick and too complicated to translate.
“Why?” Clarke asked quietly after casting a cautious look at their surroundings.
Lexa gestured helplessly and shrugged. “Who else would stop you?”
“Nobody. That’s kind of the point, Woods. Everyone else seems to get it except you.”
Lexa took a step forward, feeling some long-forgotten pressure swelling in her heart – an aching coldness. “Your power will get you killed long before your weakness will, Clarke. Don’t lecture me about power. My choice not to exercise what I’ve earned is not a weakness and you would do well to remember that.”
Satisfied that she had earned the last word in the matter, Lexa turned on her heels and headed out toward the yard. Before she could get out of earshot, Clarke called after her. “Lexa!”
Lexa paused but kept her back to the girl.
“Lexa, they know it was you. I don’t know how, but they know it was you,” she said, just loud enough to be heard. If Lexa didn’t know any better, she would have said Clarke sounded scared. But Clarke didn’t know the meaning of fear. And Lexa’s greatest fear was that somebody would teach it to her one day.
Lexa cast a brief look over her shoulder, meeting Clarke’s distressed gaze. “So be it,” she said firmly.
“Lexa, they’ll- they’re so upset. You don’t know what you’ve done!”
“Do not accuse me of carelessness, Clarke. Don’t put this on me.”
Clarke swore loudly, kicking over one of the folding chairs with a clatter that had C.O.’s making their way towards her. “I’m – fuck!”
“Yeah, me too,” Lexa muttered, leaving a raging Clarke behind to deal with the C.O.s on her own.
Lexa didn’t see her for nearly the rest of the day. There had been one strange incident in the cafeteria. Clarke had burst through the doors with anxiety written across her flushed face, taken one look at Lexa picking through some horrible green bean casserole, and then fled again. Other than that, though, the girl was off the grid. It left Lexa with a bad taste in her mouth and a weighty stone that sunk further and further into the pit of her stomach as the day wore on.
The yard had been quiet during rec time. And on most days, Lexa preferred the rare days of calm in an otherwise obnoxiously tumultuous existence. But on occasion the prison fell into a dangerous kind of stagnation – one in which the air was thick with anxiety and the promise of grief. The foreboding weight of ‘what if’ sent her heart skipping and the inmates scuttling indoors as soon as they were allowed. Those were the days to stay indoors, keep your head down, and find something to pray to.
The feeling was thicker – more cloying than it had ever been. It was with a nervous dread in her heart that Lexa found her feet unconsciously tracing the path towards the medical pavilion. Even if Clarke spat and raged at her, she just needed to see her. There was an evil uncertainty in the air and her stomach wouldn’t settle without some childish reassurance.
Clarke could deal with it.
She was just reaching the end of the hallway when the whine of the generators pitched out a hiccupping groan, throwing the prison into a blanket of darkness. Lexa stopped suddenly, swallowing her heart and frozen while her eyes ping-ponged wildly between equally undistinguishable points. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably only a minute and a half before the backup generators flickered on, bathing the hallway in an ominous red glow. Lexa turned to look back down the hallway from where she’d arrived and caught a glimpse of a stocky inmate from B Block – Burkov, she thought – lurking just a hundred paces away. Before she could truly process it, though, the hallways were flooded.
It’s amazing to witness so many panicked bodies pushing and swelling around each other, graceless and thrumming with an anxiety that ebbs and flows like the movement of water – the movement of molecules perhaps. A crowd is an organism when left in its most organic state.
The murmurs swelled into a roar of panic, the sounds of scuffling and pained shouts of anger drawing closer to where Lexa was pressed against so many strangers she could barely remember her own name. Above a sea of twisting faces, she thought perhaps she saw Clarke, her own words lost to the crowd, but it was too brief to be sure.
And then, as suddenly as it had descended into madness, the crowd parted slightly and Burkov was being shoved forward, her beady eyes wide and searching. The panic in her eyes was of a different breed than the shoving crowd – she was there for another reason.
They caught eyes for a brief moment, Burkov’s flashing in recognition, a hand reaching into the inner folds of her jacket. Then Lexa was being elbowed to the side and Fox appeared out of the blue, was shoving someone away. The C.O.’s were shouting for people to hit the ground, but nobody was listening. When Lexa regained her footing, she looked up just in time to watch Clarke take a wild swing at Burkov’s cousin.
The rest happened in flashes of red-tinted panic.
Burkov crowded up behind Clarke, blocking her from view, but they scuffled awkwardly for a moment before Burkov was seized by the back of her jacket and pulled far back into the crowd – engulfed by the tides of bodies.
Clarke fell forward, her hands failing to catch her knee before she was crumpling under her own weight. Lexa didn’t catch her, but she did get there quickly.
It was much too loud.
Everything was too much.
Lexa didn’t bother trying to speak over the roar, but she hoisted Clarke up against her shoulder and palmed at the spreading gush of blood – tar black in the dim glow of red light and shadowed bodies. She couldn't quite figure out where it was coming from, but Clarke’s eyes were as wide as they’ve ever been – pupils blown too big while her hands scrambled to figure out what she should be holding on to.
“You’re okay,” Lexa whispered. It’s idiotic, because Clarke couldn’t hear her even if she were shouting. But it felt like a fragile promise. “You’re okay, Clarke.”
There was no way Clarke could hear her, but she was nodding like anything out of Lexa’s mouth must’ve been agreeable. She was nodding and tears were leaking out of the corner of her eyes and god but there was blood everywhere.
Clarke was saying something. She kept saying it over and over again until Lexa could read it out of her mouth.
Clarke was apologizing while her blood slipped between Lexa’s grasping fingers and underneath her fingernails, seeping into the fabric of her pants where her knees were pressed into cold tile.
The C.O.s reached them and Lexa had to watch with her face pressed hard into the cold floor and a knee sitting heavy between her shoulder blades while C.O.s lifted Clarke with rough hands and took her away. It was a loveless care they showed her and Lexa didn’t have to wonder what the difference between her and Clarke was. Clarke would always be torn apart by her power, but Lexa would be ruined by her weakness.
Clarke would ruin her.
It comes upon them quickly, overtaking them in larger and larger leaps until it feels like the date has trampled them before they could so much as mark their calendars. One day they seemed to have all the time in the world. Two blinks later and the seventh hour was knocking on their cells.
Truthfully, they had finished preparing weeks ago. Clarke, however, was so determined to get things perfect – so determined to insure victory, that she drove herself to exhaustion checking and rechecking and rechecking her rechecks. She tossed and turned all night nearly the entire week leading up to her hearing and all Lexa could do was exist. Clarke was wound tighter than a bridge cable by the hour of her hearing.
“You’ll be fine, Clarke.”
“That’s what they want you to think.”
Lexa rolled her eyes, tapping her fingers against one of the folding chairs outside of the multipurpose room. She wasn’t technically supposed to be there, but nobody would notice her absence for a few minutes. Clarke had chosen to pace instead, burning holes in the ground by sheer determination alone.
“There’s nothing you could have done to better prepare yourself. If it doesn’t go your way, it’s not your fault,” Lexa cautioned. She didn’t actually believe any of her words were breaching Clarke’s impenetrable fortress of stress, but Clarke’s stress was starting to make her stressed.
“Doesn’t that kind of make it worse? If it doesn’t go well, that means it will never go well. We’ve done everything!” Clarke said, throwing her hands up in frustration. “We’ve done everything and it doesn’t feel like enough!”
Lexa reached out on Clarke’s next pacing pass to snag her hand, halting her frantic movement. “You need to breathe, Clarke. If you go in there and start screaming at them about inadequacy and murdering children, as a lawyer, I can almost guarantee it’ll hurt your chances.”
Clarke’s shoulders sagged and she dropped heavily into the chair beside her. “I know. I think the problem is that I’ve already murdered a child. Like, that part’s already happened and no amount of graphs or debate team prep is going to change that.”
“No,” Lexa agreed. “It won’t. You’re looking for compassion, Clarke. Compassion and understanding. Just be good alright? You can be charming when you want to be.”
“And when I don’t want to be?” Clarke snorted.
“Hellspawn. Absolute hellspawn.”
Clarke laughed, smoothing her notes out over her lap and taking a few deep breaths. “Okay. I won’t be hellspawn. I can do this.”
“You can do this,” Lexa confirmed.
The inmate who had gone in front of the board just before Clarke finally let himself out of the room, eyes downcast and shuffling feet telling a common enough story. The reality of board hearings was that nonviolent crimes would be pushed out on parole as quickly as possible to lighten the strain on state resources while violent crimes would have little less than a shot in the dark at early release. Lexa was determinedly ignoring Clarke’s chances of compassionate release.
Clarke was about to push through the door and leave Lexa standing in the hallway, but jerked to a halt at the last minute, clutching her notes to her chest. Lexa was opening her mouth to ask if she was okay when Clarke spun around and threw her arms around Lexa’s neck, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek.
“Thank you. For everything,” Clarke said, her words muffled against Lexa’s neck. “You’re perfect.”
Before Lexa could respond, Clarke released her and disappeared through the door without a backward glance.
Only a heartbeat later, the Warden himself was exiting the room, eyeing Lexa with superior suspicion. Lexa couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t there to yell at her for something.
“Sir? Can I help you?”
The Warden sniffed imperiously, looking down the bridge of his nose at her. “I should think not.”
Lexa glanced around for some assistance with the haughty man, but the handful of inmates still waiting on their hearings were determinedly ignoring them. “Has Clarke’s hearing been delayed?”
“No. I’ve recused myself from inmate Griffin’s hearing. They will proceed with our stand-in,” he explained with an air of condescension. “Not that any of this concerns you. Is there a reason you’re here?”
“Recuse yourself?” Lexa asked dumbly. “Why?”
The Warden seemed taken back by her question. “I can’t imagine why that would be any of your business.”
Warden T. Jaha.
Before Lexa could consider the consequences of her actions, the question burst out of her mouth. “You’re…not going to speak on her behalf? After everything she’s been through? After everything that happened with your-“
“Enough!” The Warden bellowed. “You’re dismissed inmate. Get out of my sight or you’ll spend your last year in solitary!”
Lexa didn’t need to be told twice.
When Clarke finds her some two hours later, Lexa doesn’t even really need to ask how it went. In fact, she doesn’t.
Clarke joins them at dinner with a quiet kind of sadness, more numb than heartbroken. She spoons stew into her mouth mechanically and exchanges some small talk with Octavia about one of the new C.O.’s but its an uninterested exchange at best. When Octavia and Raven leave to find less depressing company, Clarke sighs and gives up pretending to enjoy her dinner.
“Well,” she muses quietly, “there never was much hope was there?”
“I…no. I suppose not.”
Clarke smiled a sad smile. “Was it wrong of me to have it anyways?”
Shaking her head adamantly, Lexa reached out to tap a finger against the back of Clarke’s hand and get her attention. “No. I think it was brave.”
Clarke shook her head slowly and shrugged. “I think it was foolish. I’ve always been a fool, Woods. It’s the only thing you can count on.”
“We’ll try again,” Lexa consoled. “It won’t be your last hearing.”
Dropping her spoon back into her bowl and collecting her things, Clarke stood from their table with an air of finality. “I won’t survive it,” she whispered as she left.
“What are you gonna do when you get out?” Clarke mumbled against Lexa’s shoulder blades – smashed as they were, together in Clarke’s bunk. “Like, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do?”
“Drink. Eat a basket of fries. Drink some more. Throw up if I have to. And do it all over again. What about you?”
Clarke made some noise of disbelief into the fabric of Lexa’s shirt, rubbing her nose into the fabric. “What about me?”
“When you get out. What are you going to do when you get out?” Lexa tried to catch a glimpse of Clarke over her shoulder, but she was held in place by the arms wrapped around her waist. Whatever Clarke mumbled back was lost in the folds of Lexa’s shirt. “Huh?”
Clarke pulled back an inch. “I dunno, whatever you’re doing.”
“Fries and throwing up?”
“It could be watching paint dry and pulling my own fingernails out and I’d probably go along with it,” Clarke insisted, shoulders curling inwards defensively. “Whatever, don’t make it weird.”
“Clarke, if you’re in love with me too all you have to do is say so.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Clarke groaned, laughter threatening to break through her exasperation. It was the first time she’d laughed in days.
They fell quiet again, Clarke stroking lightly along the creases in Lexa’s shirt, just over her stomach. In the space between waking and sleeping Clarke got in the last word. As usual.
“I do love you, you know? Fuck, I really do. I don’t even really know what to do about it,” she mused, drowsy and a little senseless with sleep lingering so close.
Lexa sighed into her pillow. “This is pretty good. You can keep doing this.”
“As long as I can,” Clarke murmured. “As long as I can.”
yeah, it's not even done yet lmao. ONE more chapter i swear. within the month. or may i be struck dead and made into soup.
also: it's been like 12 years since most of you have read this, so before you freak out, clarke's attack was the one she already recovered from in previous chapters. writing out of order is a bitch and im never doing it again as long as i live. creativity is overrated and so am i.
that's it unless u want to stick around for the rolling credits of excuses. if you're here for that then BOY DO I HAVE A TREAT FOR YOU:
1. i haven't written in like half a year
2. i've had a super rough fuckin year. i said that already. but god, when something's important u gotta say it more than once. this year was a goddamn trial. some weeks yall were the only ones to talk to me (even inadvertently or under clever usernames like bigcocksucker69) or spare a kind word. so this is to u bigcocksucker69, a sonet to all the phalluses you claim to have serviced and...whatever. this chaps dedicated to all u poor bastards who had equally terrible years. 2017s gonna be ours, i know it.
3. i wasn't THRILLED with the way i set myself up to write this story in general, but y'all like it for some reason so im like fuck it, i hate when a story i like never gets an ending. you guys have awful taste but it's my fault.
4. i moved, started a new job, and had the proverbial carpet pulled out from under me.
5. im a lil bitch.
6. being funny is just a little challenging when you're dying
7. writings hard.
8. im always doing surveillance at my new job and im considering putting the face of my lost sleeping schedule on the side of a fucking milk carton
9. did i mention im a lil bitch?
so whatever. i suck. ran over by a car and thrown in the trash, this pigeon isn't giving up. if there's anything u want to see before i put this story out of its misery, drop a comment and i'll consider it.
i don't have any excuses but i DO have kidney stones and depression.
i got so drunk this week and wrote every night and now here is a chapter that i don't really remember writing and take very little responsibility for if its terrible. it's long as fuck too.
the good news: this is the last chapter and it's finished.
the bad news: i still have kidney stones and depression.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lexa’s not entirely sure what she expected from someone in Clarke’s situation. And maybe that was where the problem started. It’s tempting to martyr those we hold in high esteem. And certainly nobody has been held in as high esteem as Clarke was held by Lexa. For better or for worse. But in the face of Clarke’s failed hearing, Lexa couldn’t help but assume that Clarke would be…well, fine.
Clarke was always fine.
As a natural mathematical outcome of her adaptability, strength of spirit, and sheer stubbornness, Clarke plus overwhelming, catastrophic failure equals….?
Well, she had been stabbed in the kidney and had been fine.
Lexa wasn’t sure how kidney stabbing compared to finding out you were never getting out of prison. (I mean, they were both so delightful. How can you be expected to choose just one.)
But it was Clarke.
The day of Clarke’s hearing was somber and understandably morose. Lexa did what she thought Clarke would have wanted and let her be. It was more difficult than she thought it would be. Lexa herself preferred to be left alone in times of emotional distress. It felt too delicate, though - Clarke felt fragile in a way that Lexa had never experienced.
Clarke slept in her own bunk after the hearing and woke up early enough to sneak out while Lexa pretended to be asleep. If Clarke didn’t want to talk, Lexa wasn’t going to make her. Even dreams have a mourning period, after all. Or so Lexa’s heard, she didn’t have dreams or feelings or any of that.
So she kept away.
It killed her, but Lexa hovered in Clarke’s periphery in the event Clarke should need her. They were just ships passing in the night. Except Lexa’s a terrible captain and she kept awkwardly hailing Clarke’s ship like her ship just happened to be in the same square mile of endless sea nearly a dozen times by the time lunch rolled around. Clarke was probably going to call the coast guard.
But Clarke did a better job of getting away from her than Lexa’s own metaphors. She ducked Lexa at the gardens twice, at the medical pavilion four times, and half a dozen times in the cellblock. Of course, Lexa was so being so respectful, that she hardly batted a lovestruck eye at her when she maneuvered away from Lexa’s helpful presence.
“She’s probably getting scared off by the massive cloud of suffocating affection that radiates off of you in a two mile radius,” Raven grumbled, trying hard to get Lexa to care about their card game.
Lexa’s shoulders sagged. “Really? I’m just trying to give her space.”
“Honey, she’d have to be in space to get space from it.”
Lexa tries to stand a bit further away.
But, like, in a supportive way.
By the time they were shepherded into their cell for the night, Lexa was ready to crawl out of her own skin with worry. They returned their jackets to their respective shelves in silence, taking much too long to fold them where they would usually throw them haphazardly into the corner. A lack of wrinkles certainly wasn’t about to make the jackets any more attractive.
Afterwards, Clarke just stared into the dented aluminum mirror above their toilet until Lexa got too uncomfortable to wait any longer for a sign or acknowledgement. Back when Clarke actually slept in her own bunk, Lexa used to let her climb up first. But Lexa figured if Clarke stepped on her face on the way up it would at least be the first real interaction they had all day. There were probably, somehow, worse ways to solicit attention from a friend than letting them use your face as a stepladder.
Lexa scooted quietly into her bunk, pulling her scratchy wool blanket up to her nose and pretending not to spy on Clarke from the corner of her eye. Clarke stood by the mirror so long that the lights dimmed around them before going into full dark. The deep red glow of the emergency lowlights warmed to life under the cell door while Lexa wondered if Clarke was going to sleep standing up.
Eventually, Clarke ran a hand over the top of her head, smoothing her hair back, before turning to face the bunks. Lexa jammed her eyelids shut so fast she swore they made an audible noise and held her breath. The best way to convince someone you’re awake is to pretend you’re asleep. Lexa’s breathing got all weird in her attempts to slow it down and she could feel her eyes flickering noticeably behind her eyelids. Damnit.
Lexa almost jumped up and smacked her forehead against the top bunk when she felt Clarke slide in next to her. She made some unfortunate gasping noise betraying any attempt at feigning sleep.
Clarke squirmed around for a moment, sighing and attempting to get comfortable on their chronically uncomfortable bed. When Clarke turned over and wedged herself into Lexa’s side, Lexa actually bolted up and finished what she started with an alarming thwap.
“Jesus, fuck!” Lexa cursed, using both hands to hold her forehead on and make sure it didn’t try and leave her for a more responsinle forehead-owner. “Ow.”
A hand reached out and stroked down Lexa’s stomach while Clarke made a vague noise of concern beside her. When Lexa gathered the strength to glance over at her, Clarke was pushed up on her elbow, giving Lexa a look of pity. “Sorry, were you asleep?”
Lexa wanted to say no. She wanted to say that she was just an irredeemable moron, but her mouth had her back. Instead she managed a “yes”.
“Sorry,” Clarke murmured back, settling in when Lexa flopped back against the mattress board with a groan. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Lexa mumbled, “n’problem,” while Clarke pushed into her side, rubbing her nose against the fabric of Lexa’s shirt. The millions of thoughts and threads of connection Lexa had been grasping at all day frayed and snapped and whithered as her brain loosened and sagged under the weight of the day’s tension. None of it seemed important in the dark with Clarke worrying the worn material of her shirt with the fingers resting against her stomach.
“Sorry,” Clarke whispered into the red glow of their cell. “I’m sorry.”
Lexa blinked sleepily and managed a groggy headshake and a noise of disagreement. She might have even said something close to, “no need” or “don’t be”, but more than likely it just sounded like, “nuh’bnee”. Or “n’bnd”. Or “shush your pretty mouth.”
Clarke squeezed her tighter, slowly constricting until Lexa blinked awake and tried to peer over at her. “You okay?” She asked softly, slurring slightly around the exhaustion of the day.
“I don’t know,” Clarke said quietly, spilling her secret into the dim glow of their cell. “I really don’t know.”
“You will be.”
“Sometimes,” Lexa murmured into the closeness of Clarke’s body, nosing under her jaw with a confidence born from the dark and desperation of prison and shared tragedy, “I wonder how I can ever manage to convince myself I’m okay.”
Clarke’s breath stutters and she lets out some noise between a gasp and a nervous chuckle when Lexa begins gently worrying the skin of Clarke’s neck between her teeth, hungry and desperate for something that reminded her of freedom. Something that felt like a tomorrow she could look forward to.
“Just –“ Clarke choked on the feeling of Lexa’s hands running up her sides. “Just practice in a mirror.”
“I wouldn’t know what to practice,” Lexa laughed in her chest, pressing the sound to Clarke’s pulse. “I don’t know what it looks like.”
“You have no imagination whatsoever, Lexa Woods.”
“So I’ve been told.” Despite being the one to initiate the conversation, Lexa found herself wishing it to be over. She had much better things to do than talk. Only a fool would want to talk with a beautiful girl pulling them down into the soft cradle of her thighs. Lexa Woods was no fool.
“You don’t have to be okay,” Clarke said breathlessly. “You just have to be you.”
“Are you-“ Lexa pulled back from Clarke’s bruising neck with a laugh. “Are you implying that I wouldn’t be myself if I was convincingly ‘okay’?”
“Would any of us be?” Clarke returned wryly.
Lexa dipped down to kiss at Clarke’s collarbone and shrugged her shoulders against Clarke’s desperate grip. “You usually seem okay.”
“I have a lot of practice. Being okay in here takes work every day.”
“Yeah?” Lexa mumbled against Clarke’s flushed skin. “And what happens when that’s not enough?”
Clarke’s nails dug harder into Lexa’s shoulders and she turned her head to breath against Lexa’s temple. “It kills you.”
Clarke was not okay.
It was difficult to see. Clarke was so very good at playing okay. She laughed and swapped commissary candy and beat Raven at card games and let Octavia badtalk the parole board and pulled Lexa close at night, kissing her sweetly when Lexa tried to ask after her feelings. There was no reason Lexa should have thought Clarke wasn’t okay.
Well. She just wasn’t.
Clarke was not okay.
She complained about Octavia’s cooking and held Raven’s tools while she repaired an old sewing machine and helped Harper pull weeds in the garden and held Lexa’s hand during movie night and let Lexa make love to her quietly in their cell and Clarke was not okay.
Clarke was not okay and nothing Lexa was doing was working.
Everything was so aggressively okay and it was wrong, wrong, wrong because when your world crashes around you and everything goes wrong you need to let things be wrong. The more you wrestle yourself into being okay the worse it is. Clarke laughed and pulled the corners of her mouth into a smile that slowly painted bruises under her eyes and darkness in her heart because she wouldn’t not be okay.
Lexa was a coward.
Lexa let Clarke pretend to be okay because how was she supposed to make Clarke better when everything was screaming at her to get Clarke to be not okay. It was backwards and terrifying and the more Clarke tried to be okay the sweeter she was towards Lexa. It felt like they were hurtling around a blind turn towards something scary and steep that neither would feel until the sickening swoop in their stomachs and the unstoppable plummet.
Clarke was not okay.
Clarke was not okay and she started spending time speaking with men Lexa had never seen on the other side of the fence. Many of them were lifers with storybook tattoos marking pride and violence across knuckles, brows, and pulse points while C.O.’s pretended they didn’t see the things they got up to. Clarke’s mattress filled with strange lumps and hidden objects that Lexa was too afraid to uncover when Clarke disappeared during the days. Clarke paled and shivered as the days passed in a blur of okay.
Lexa held Clarke tighter at night like she could physical hold her together. Lexa must have been obvious because Clarke held her down and said things sweeter than she’d ever said into the red glow of their cell. Lexa felt suffocated when Clarke hovered over her and tried to press her okayness into Lexa’s lips and ribs and heart and-
Clarke was not okay.
Eight days after Clarke’s failed hearing, Lexa is yanked from a gloomy game of rummy and doesn’t even try to fight Octavia’s unforgiving grip or the undignified way she is dragged into a closet. Octavia glared and snorted and studied Lexa like she was mad at herself for whatever she was about to do or say to her. Octavia lost the fight with herself and sagged into a shelf full of cleaning products.
“She’s not going to make it,” Octavia said warily. “I’m not even really sure she thinks she will. I don’t know.”
Lexa shoved her hands in her pockets and eyed Octavia carefully. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
Octavia groaned and pulled both of her hands roughly down her face. “Fuck. This is- You know I would never – But if I don’t…” she trailed off, looking uncharacteristically timid and lost. “You have to – She has to understand,” Octavia almost plead.
Lexa blinked in surprise when she noticed the watery sheen to Octavia’s eyes, reflecting the harsh glow of the florescent bulb flickering above them. “I don’t follow.”
Gathering herself, Octavia nodded and shoved her hands in her pockets to mirror Lexa’s stance. “I’m going to tell you something.”
“I wish you would,” Lexa grumbled.
Octavia ignored her. “I’m going to tell you something because I think I’m doing the right thing. When I tell you this, a lot of things are going to be ruined.” Octavia looked small under the bulb swinging slowly above them at a tempo barely above flatlined. “Is it possible to do the right thing even when you know nothing good will come of it? Is it possible to do the right thing and still ruin everything?”
“I don’t know,” Lexa said carefully. “But I do know that the right thing is rarely the easy thing.”
Silence descended between them as Octavia studied the tops of her shoes with a frustrated furrow in her brows. When she broke it, it was with a quiet resignation. “Clarke is going to try to escape on Friday.”
“Clarke’s – what? Escape what?” Lexa took a half step back and bumped into the shelves. “Escape prison?” She asked incredulously.
Octavia looked up from her shoes and nodded. “An old blood gang from her neighborhood owes her for covering a bust last year. They’ve got some C.O.’s on payroll and a plan.”
“I’m – I’m sorry, what are you talking about? Clarke can’t – Clarke can’t just walk out of prison. She’ll – she’s gonna – Octavia, fuck.” Lexa gripped her temples with both palms and stared at some point on Octavia’s jacket.
Octavia took a step forward, pulling Lexa’s attention back to Octavia’s resolute glare. “Clarke won’t forgive this – me. This is betrayal, Lexa. I know I can’t come back from this, but if anyone can stop her – well, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s right anymore.”
Lexa let out a long breath, eyes wide and heart hammering in her chest. “Yeah – wow. Okay. I mean, we’re in prison Octavia. I’m pretty sure none of us know what’s right.”
Well, Clarke would have laughed. Octavia only nodded solemly and made to leave before Lexa caught her arm. “Wiat, what the hell am I supposed to do about this?” Lexa panicked. “I don’t – how? When? What’s-“
“I don’t know,” Octavia interrupted angrily. “I don’t know anything, Lexa. I’m a poor kid from the west side who never went to highschool and didn’t make a friend until I went to prison. I don’t have the answers, Lexa. I don’t know what to do or what’s right or how to protect Clarke. I don’t even have a friend anymore.”
Lexa released her arm when Octavia jerked her shoulder away, letting her own hand swing uselessly at her side. Before Octavia could stalk away, Lexa called after her, “Octavia. I think you did the right thing.”
“There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.”
Clarke was not okay, but after Octavia’s confession Lexa could feel Clarke bleeding through her arms no matter how tightly Lexa held her. It was like capturing clouds in her hands. Clarke stuffed a long length of rope into her mattress before burrowing into Lexa’s arms whispering sweet things in Lexa’s ear from an unconquerable distance. Lexa stayed up all night staring at the bottom of Clarke’s unoccupied bunk, debating about right and wrong, okay and not okay, trust and betrayal, freedom and folly. The sun rose through the flood windows three cells down and Lexa didn’t have any answers.
“I love you so much. You know that right?” Clarke whispered into the shell of Lexa’s ear. “Loving you is the most right thing I’ve ever done.”
“I’m not sure we’re good judges of what’s right,” Lexa confessed breathlessly, pinning Clarke underneath her with a kind of desperation she was sure she would never come back from. “I don’t think we’re good at that.”
“Some things are easy, Lex,” Clarke insisted. “The right thing is only complicated when you’re afraid.”
“I’m afraid,” Lexa admitted.
Clarke let out a disbelieving laugh. “Well, it’s a good thing you’re so brave.”
Clarke may have had friends and associates and favors owed around every corner, but Lexa was old money. Lexa had something better than any of those things. Lexa had a payroll. A lengthy payroll.
The Woods empire wasn’t built on flashy, spoiled children and media circuises. The Woods empire wasn’t gaudy and the Woods empire didn’t flaunt or parade. In fact, unless you had business with the Woods’, it was easy to forget that they existed at all. Viktor was a quiet man full of a deadly intensity that sat like a shroud of darkness over his household, calm like a slumbering beast and coiled like the cables of a suspension bridge.
Viktor was no fool.
Lexa’s father was attentive and soft with her, but spoke little. Lexa might have taken it personally as a child if it weren’t for the fact that Viktor spoke little to anyone. On one blistering, blindingly white Christmas blizzard, Viktor had pulled Lexa into his lap and hummed thoughtfully as he did when he was preparing to speak. Lexa put down the book she had gotten and regarded him patiently. After some blustering and humming, Viktor ran one of his large hands over the top of her head, smoothing her hair back and hiding his small smile under the thick bush of his beard.
“Alexandria,” he rumbled in his way and Lexa nodded too hard, like she thought her father might change his mind about speaking that day if she didn’t demonstrate the proper interest. His smile must have grown because his beard shifted slightly and his eyes crinkled a little in the corners. “We want for little, child. The Woods profit from the dark.”
Lexa nodded again, twisting her fingers in her lap.
“And so,” he continued slowly, “we must profit in the dark. Do you understand, child?”
Lexa wanted badly to tell him yes, but she shook her head nervously.
Viktor nodded as though he expected that and ran his hand along the top of her head again while he thought. “Remember this, child. If people know you have wealth, you have done something wrong.”
Lexa didn’t really understand until Anya was arrested in a bar brawl two years later and Viktor let her serve her sentence without posting bail. A Woods’ money could not save them like anyone else’s money. A Woods’ money would betray them and the things they did in the dark.
But Viktor was dead and Lexa was in prison and the Woods clan was scattered and bickering and God even knew who held power anymore. Lexa had spoken to Anya only once in the last few years and god damnit but what was the point of having money if you couldn’t use it when you really needed it.
So Clarke schemed and wormed her way into the belly of some beast that Lexa had let run wild in her cowardice for the mere fact that Clarke loved her and Clarke was hurting. Lexa let that beast rot and fester with fear and desperation until it turned its sights on everything Lexa held dear and now-
Now it was charging her way.
Lexa held firm, fists stuffed into her jacket to protect against the chill dead of night. The C.O.’s were long gone – conveniently absent from posts that the Woods family basically paid rent on. The prison was locked down but there she stood in the middle of the crabgrass and gravel on the outskirts of a garden abandoned for the winter while Clarke jerked to an audible halt some thirty feet in front of her. Lexa could hear the rumble of an old engine and busted muffler chugging in the bordering forest on the other side of the fence, waiting tensely for Clarke to give some signal – make some appearance. But Clarke would not come.
There were a lot of hills to die on. Lexa never expected hers to be the wrong side of a prison fence between a pretty girl and the second worst decision of her life. There were worse places to die, Lexa supposed.
It was too dark to clearly see Clarke’s face, but the way her posture shifted and tensed rapidly spoke to some internal struggle that stretched for too long between them. Lexa stood resolute.
Clarke pulled something from the waistband of her pants and held it with a dangerous ease at her side, ready and willing. Lexa blinked sadly into the darkness and leaned back against the fence, too tired to do much else. The silence stretched so thin, Lexa wondered if it might snap.
Clarke took a single step forward, then another, before making some exasperated noise and turning her back to glare up at the sky and run an agitated hand through the hair against the back of her head. Lexa wondered vaguely if Clarke might not just walk away like nothing had happened. Like Lexa hadn’t caught Clarke about to become a fleeing felon. Clarke had certainly played off worse.
With a hiss of annoyance, Clarke turned back and stomped toward Lexa until she could see the fire in her eyes, the clench of her jaw and the set of her bared teeth.
“Who snitched?” Clarke seethed, fingering the object in her hand in a way that let Lexa know it was sharp and dangerous. “Who snitched?” She repeated, far too loudly.
Lexa said nothing, just breathed and waited and felt a little closer to her father. A little closer to who she was.
“You can’t stop this, Lexa,” Clarke said urgently. “I’ve paid and repaid and overpaid a thousand favors and a million debts for these next few minutes. Whether I leave now or not, I have no life left here anymore.”
“I think we both know that’s not true,” Lexa said quietly.
Clarke’s glare sharpened and she took a step closer into Lexa’s personal space. “I’m not you, Lexa!” She hissed. “I’m not an ocean of patience. I’m not impervious to the things that happen to me. If I don’t leave now, I’m going to die here!”
“If you leave now, you’re going to die out there. This is it Clarke. If you go, you’ll never be free. If you stay, you’ve got to fight for it.” Lexa drew herself up, pushing up against the mantel that she watched her father hunch against since she was old enough to see past his knees. “Where do you want to die, Clarke? Do you want to die squatting in an old volkswagon, running for the rest of your life?”
Clarke reared back like she’d been slapped across the face, angry tears beading and leaking from the corner of her eyes. “I tried, Lexa. You saw it! It didn’t fucking matter.”
“And we’ll try again tomorrow. And every day after.”
Clarke hiccupped and rubbed angrily at her eyes. “Until you leave.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Lexa said thoughtfully. “Then we’ll have to reschedule the whole ‘trying’ thing to visiting days on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”
Clarke’s weapon hit the gravel with a metallic twang that was too loud for the deathly quiet of the deserted yard. “And then you forget a day, then two, then a few weeks go by and I’m old and ugly and you’ve got thirty girlfriends and Raven’s killed me in my sleep.”
“I’m a Woods, Clarke. We don’t forget. And we’re pretty undesirable to potential girlfriends. I’ll have a clean dozen at most. And the first thing I’m doing when I get out of prison is having Raven assassinated. You worry needlessly, darling.”
Clarke’s laugh was snotty and followed immediately by a sob, but Lexa had certainly done worse in the humor department. “I’m so fucking scared, Lexa. I love you too much and I’m really not okay.”
“I know, Clarke. I didn’t fall in love with you because you’re okay.”
“You fell in love with me because I’m a disaster?”
Lexa nodded and reached forward to tug Clarke into the warmth of her jacket. Clarke tucked her head into Lexa’s collarbone and held fast while the changing seasonal winds pricked and prodded at their exposed skin. “Absolutely. I’m really self-destructive.”
“Back the fuck off, that’s my job.”
Clarke wasn’t okay and for the first time, it was okay.
Clarke cried sometimes and Lexa held her close while Clarke painted her fears in shades of dark purple, reds, and blues against a backdrop of violence and growing up too fast. It was cathartic and right.
Clarke was going to be okay.
They approached her when she was in the shower, of all things. Was there02 no better time to propose premeditated murder than when Lexa was buckass naked in the showers with her toothbrush in her mouth? Honestly, she was already self-concious about the fact that she brushed her teeth in the shower. Raven thought it was the funniest fucking thing this side of Saturn and Clarke thought it was the funniest fucking thing the other side of Saturn, so between the two of them, Lexa couldn’t find a single place in the galaxy where her dental hygiene wasn’t being laughed at.
C’mon it was just economical.
Anyways, there she was with a bar of soap in one hand, a toothbrush against her back molars, and her entire ass in plain view when some bitch she’d never met asked her to strangle Clarke in her sleep for a pretty sum.
Lexa blinked, removed her toothbrush from her mouth, and thought about how very visible her ass was.
“Um,” she managed.
(Her entire ass.)
“It’s easy money, Woods. A garrot when she’s sleeping. She doesn’t seem to find you a threat. Think it over. We’ll be in touch,” that bitch said to Lexa’s naked ass in the shared showers while Lexa was too busy thinking about brushing her teeth in the shower and having her entire ass out.
Some asshole from B Block wanted Clarke dead for some bullshit or another that Lexa wasn’t paying attention to (see: multiple references to Lexa being really fucking naked during this one-sided conversation). Lexa put her underpants back on first, then processed the request when she was safely clothed again. She wandered in a daze to breakfast and sat next to Clarke who had no idea that someone had asked Lexa to kill her in the buff.
“I was so naked,” Lexa said dumbly.
Clarke let her fork rest in what Octavia had tried to convince them was scrambled eggs and gave Lexa a queer look. “I’m – Uh, what?”
“In the shower,” Lexa clarified vaguely.
Clarke turned fully from her tray while Raven made an excellent impersonation of a vacuum cleaner over the top of something Octavia described as “an old family recipe”. The joke was that Octavia had no old family, had no recipes, and was 100% terrible at everything.
“Me too. I’ve been told it’s a good way to take a shower.”
“It’s not,” Lexa whispered, mortified.
Clarke pushed her tray away in order to rest her elbow on the table and prop her head up in her hand. “Alright, I’ll bite. What happened? Did Raven catch you brushing your teeth again?”
“Savitri hired me to kill you.”
Raven, staying in character, made a noise like a vacuum cleaner that had sucked up a fully-grown adult hamster before doubling over and hacking something gross across Lexa’s shoes. Clarke, for her part, just widened her eyes and glanced between her knees and the table. “Oh, uh…huh. I see.”
Lexa gulped. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
Clarke nodded solemly and they made eye contact. “I do.”
“I have to kill you now.”
The sounds of clacking breakfast trays and silverware filled in the silence between them, perfectly harmonized with Ravens choking. Clarke shrugged. “How long do I have?”
“You know how punctual I am,” Lexa said sadly. “Sorry, Clarke.”
Clarke made a noise of dismissal and returned to her “eggs”. “Ah, well. It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?”
Lexa winced. “Eh.”
“I mean, the sex was okay.”
Lexa’s first official run-in with the Warden goes about as well as Lexa expected it to. Better, maybe. During her second week in the cellblock, Lexa had experienced a rather vivid nightmare in which she was transferred to Federal prison only to find that federal prison was her 8th grade classroom and for some reason she was sleeping in her English classroom and the warden was her bunkmate. So like, it definitely could’ve been worse.
Lexa was minding her own damn business, drawing illegal gang signs in red sharpie on the inside of the last bathroom stall near the cafeteria (as you do) at the bequest (and payment) of Harper because she was low on favors and friends. Clarke didn’t necessarily have the wrong idea. But Lexa thought, perhaps, as she stood there sitting fully clothed on the toilet literally red-handed while a C.O. without a neck gaped like an angry trout at her, that she should not take social advice from a girl in jail for murder. Honestly, Lexa wasn’t even sure why Harper needed rival gang signs on the toilet stall near the cafeteria and the more she thought about it the more she was forced to consider that this had all been a wildly inappropriate form of hazing.
Anya would absolutely piss herself with glee.
After being corralled none too gently to the warden’s office, Lexa couldn’t help but feel like she was being taken to see the principal. Lexa Woods had never been taken to see the principal. Except that one time with the sulfuric acid and the lab books but honestly that had been blown out of proportion. And besides, Raven had heard the story and found it charming-
So yeah, it was probably bad.
The farce continued as Lexa was shoved into a plastic chair out of the principal’s – er, warden’s office and told to wait with her hands on her lap and her ID in her hands. Well, at the very least, if they tried to call her parents they were too dead to answer. It’s the little things.
When Warden Jaha finally had a crony pull her into the office – this one had even less neck than the last – Lexa was elbow deep in traumatic middleschool memories. Although, is there any other kind of middleschool memories?
“Inmate…” the warden paused to peer self-righteously over his glasses between his stupid clipboard and Lexa’s impassive face, apparently forgetting that the point of glasses was to look through them. “Woods.”
“Do you think defacing state property is humerous inmate?”
One time Clarke had bleached an impressive, anatomically correct penis into the grime in the shower tiles, but –
“Neither do I,” Jaha said smoothly, voice low and dangerous like some great, sleek prowling thing. Lexa absolutely had to put forth maximum effort not to make a comment about how little she suspected Jaha actually thought was funny.
They sat there staring at each other for a tense two minutes – a full, 120 seconds, mind you – before the warden leaned back in his creaky office chair and folded his hands in front of his face like he was the Godfather, the Godchild, the Godgrandfather, and maybe the GodFamilyDog too.
“We won’t have this problem again will we?” He asked quietly, the beast in his undertone coiled to pounce should Lexa twitch the wrong way.
Good thing Lexa didn’t twitch.
“Honestly sir, I’m not sure I even remember how to draw the symbol. The 13th Street Angels do have a flair for the stupidly complicated.”
The silence in the room dropped a pitch, the air filling with white noise created by the tensing of the warden’s deadliness and Lexa’s….stupidness. This was all Raven’s fault somehow, Lexa was sure.
“Point taken,” Lexa rectified. “I won’t stray again.”
“If I believed that,” Jaha said smugly, “I would be in a different business.”
Frankly, Lexa thought that Jaha would have been in a different business if he had aspired to anything more than a gym teacher or a police officer who could pass a physical test as a young adult. But the Lexa Woods who had not been tainted by her new, idiotic prison friends nodded solemly and tried to create what she imagined a groveling look might be. Prison Lexa Woods was an idiot and Lexa needed to not listen to her anymore.
Either it worked or the warden was late for lunch, because he flicked his hand dismissively at her and indicated his office door with an incline of his stern face. Lexa got up quickly and reached for the handle to escape before the warden called to her one last time.
Lexa stopped with the door half open and shot him an apprehensive look. “Sir?”
“People don’t change, inmate. You can love them, you can hate them, you can forgive them, or you can condemn them. But at the end of the day, the only fool is the man expecting someone to change.”
Lexa frowned. “Are you calling yourself a fool, sir?”
The warden grinned wide, something dark and swollen and teeming with hurt and tragedy shone from his wide white teeth. “No, inmate. If you remember nothing else, remember that.”
Sore and tender from the news of her father’s death, Lexa tiptoed around the cell block and everyone tiptoed around her and by midday the block was so hushed that Lexa wondered if a feather would make a deafening noise should it hit the concrete floors of her cell. She wouldn’t know. Clarke wouldn’t let even that disturb the silence.
It was thoughtful, but Lexa felt antsy and uncomfortable in her own skin because of it. She needed – no, she craved normalcy. She wanted to forget.
But in ebbing and flowing tides of awareness, the news of her father’s death traded places on and off with Clarke’s revelation.
Clarke was a murderer.
Well. Lexa was not.
Lexa didn’ know what Clarke lived with and it sat like a stone in the middle of her brain – neutral and unassuming if it weren’t for the fact that it was just there. No way around it. So Lexa sat there, staring up at the bottom of Clarke’s bunk and chasing the marbles in her brain around in circles without managing to catch any in her hands or figure out why the hell she’s chasing metaphorical marbles in her head. Honestly.
When her boredom became too much to deal with sanely, Lexa hauled herself up and decided to try and find Clarke.
It was comically easy to find her, seeing as Lexa just about slammed into her from behind when she tried to leave the cell. Clarke stood firm, though, ignoring Lexa entirely and remaining at stiff attention. Lexa opened her mouth to argue, but shut it promptly when she caught sight of the warden himself glaring down his nose at Clarke, towering over her with a puffed out chest and an air of “knowing best”.
The worst air.
“Clarke.” Clarke eyed him defiantly, puffing out her own chest and staring so deeply into his eyes, that Lexa worried Clarke might be swallowed up by them. “I have a name and you know what it is.”
The warden bristled and seemed to grow larger. “I must have forgotten,” he intoned lowly. “They don’t seem to matter much in here.”
Clarke’s nostrils flared angrily. “You would like that, I’m sure. Forgetting.”
The warden eyed her tensely for a moment before offering her a barely-there shrug. “I would.”
“Not so easy is it,” Clarke accused.
A brief inhalation, then – “No.” Before Clarke could plow ahead, before she could even inhale the breath to exhale her anger, Jaha shot her a look so dark, so comsuming that Lexa was shocked to see Clarke back down for the first time since their acquaintance. Lexa could barely make out when the warden leaned in over Clarke and practically whispered, “But I won’t stop trying until I do.”
“I bet Warden Jaha sucks dick after work.”
Lexa hummed disapprovingly from her own segregated punishment cell across the hall from Clarke’s. “Clarke,” she warned.
“He takes it up the butt,” Clarke concluded.
Clarke fell quiet for a moment before relenting. “Okay, I didn’t mean it. I’m just angry and Seg smells like piss.”
“I bet Warden Jaha has the tiniest wang.”
“I’m sorry, Lexa! But honestly, every day I spend in here I mentally subtract an inch from my estimate of Jaha’s dick.”
Lexa sighed and knocked her forehead lightly against the cell door. “So he’s what – got a negative 30 inch penis?”
“So inverted it’s coming out his butthole.”
“Okay, I’m sorry, I get really graphic when I’m battling severe depression.”
Lexa rubbed her forehead against the cold metal. “Well, can’t you battle depression less horribly like the rest of us?”
“I bet Jaha voted for Trump.”
“Clarke, that doesn’t even apply to the fictional approximation to some western country in the vague timeline this story is set it.”
“I get meta when I’m depressed.”
It was strangely dull being released after 1,489 days in prison. It was late in the afternoon, but not late enough that inmates were released from their chores. The sun was a hazy thing, trying lazily to peek out from the thick rolling clouds that strolled across the skyline like they had nowhere important to be. Lexa could relate. She honestly didn’t even know how she was getting home.
She signed more forms than she signed on the way in and surrendered stacks of ill-fitting white shirts and navy slacks with some odd Stockholm reluctance. When she pulled her own expensive pants up her legs and fastened her belt over the perfect tuck of a buttoned shirt she was surprised to find that the clothes fit, though they smelled like a plastic bag. How could a person be so different and be the same? How could Lexa Woods still be Lexa Woods at the end of 1489 days and 1489 tragedies and 1489 nothings and somethings and everythings and nothings.
How could Lexa Woods be Lexa Woods?
With 16 signatures, 8 initials, and one pat-down, apparently.
Lexa wondered briefly what her friends would dress in when they left – what they had been arrested in and shed from the soft interior of their souls before the doors closed and the locks clicked. What had Clarke worn? What were the clothes of a murderer?
Probably blue jeans. Keep it casual, even during capital offenses.
So she signed a million forms and dressed and turned in clothes too soft and beaten from industrial laundry machines and an ID faded from the fidgedting of her own nervous hands and suddenly she was standing at double doors that lead to other double doors that led to outside.
A woman with hard wrinkles and the strong smell of a lifelong smoking habit handed her a plastic bag with her wallet, keys, cellphone, $8 in cash, $0.67 in change, and a ticket stub for a movie Lexa barely remembered and that was it.
She was nearly shoved through those magical double doors into Narnia or whatever and forced to take in that lazy, hazy afternoon sun through the eyes of someone dealing with the harshness of everything – and that’s what freedom was, right? Everything. Nothing. More. Should be, could be, would be, might be.
A large pickup bus was grumbling and humbling on the gravel road that led out of the barbed wire curled atop reinforced chain-link. Lexa glanced around before being called over towards the van and climbing into the double-decker back seats with four faces she barely recognized. Bus fare clenched in one hand, a satisfying amount of nothing clenched in the other, Lexa stared past the headrests of the driver’s seat to that hazy, lazy afternoon sun and wondered who Lexa Woods was going to be.
That’s the thing about freedom, though.
Who the hell knew.
Who the hell cared.
God fucking bless.
Lexa took the night bus to Chicago and swiped her old credit card hesitantly before a gravely woman in a too-bright shirt popped her gum and handed Lexa a receipt for the two nights she had purchased at the Holiday Inn. Exhaling her relief, Lexa made a mental note to thank Anya for renewing her credit card.
Oh, yeah. Anya.
That was a thing she had to take care of.
Lexa headed up the 4 flights of stares on foot because goddamn but she hadn’t ascended stairs in a handsome 1489 days. They still sucked, but whatever.
Lexa ordered takeout from 4 different restaurants (it would have been 5 if they hadn’t declined her credit card for suspicious activity) and ate so much she had to crawl out of bed and throw up at 2 in the morning. Lexa has only thrown up 5 times in her life, and that time was the best by a mile. She stayed up an extra hour just to sample more of the Palak Paneer she had ordered from Indian Kitchen. She had never had better….whatever the fuck that was. Who cared.
Lexa thought briefly that she should order a stripper, but remembered quickly that she had a prison girlfriend and was, in fact, experiencing a weird crisis of freedom fed largely by Hollywood and the need to feel.
She didn’t order a stripper.
But she did watch some horrible romantic comedy on cable and eat whatever the fuck Palak Paneer was and left Anya a voicemail that was surely going to embarrass the both of them in the morning.
Lexa felt good.
“I’m going to love you for so long, Clarke Griffin,” Lexa huffed into the crook of Clarke’s neck while they fumbled drunkenly in the dark of Lexa’s bunk. “You’re not even gonna know what to do with how much time we’ll have together.”
“I think I have some idea,” Clarke giggled, bashing their noses together a little too hard in her charming fumbling. Whatever Harper had gotten her hands on was strong. Which was great. Clarke needed strong in the upcoming days and Lexa was nothing but weak, weak, weak when Clarke was near. “Why are you in such a good mood.”
“I’m drunk,” Lexa said happily. “And you’re gonna have sex with me.”
“Hey, you don’t know that.”
Lexa frowned. “Clarke, you’re taking off your pants right now.”
“Okay, asshole, spoil the ending for all of us why don’t you.” Clarke knocked their foreheads together again and broke into a breathless, nearly histerical laugh. “But really, what’s got you in such a good mood?”
“I’m gonna get you out of here, Clarke Griffin,” she confided with an uncharacteristically girlish giggle. “We’re gona have forever together.”
Clarke pulled back and gave Lexa some drunken approximation of a searching look. “You don’t know that.”
Lexa shook her head in violent disagreement and sat up so that Clarke was forced to sit back on Lexa’s lap and meet her eyes. “Some things are so good that they just are. Some things, you just know.”
“Okay, weirdo,” Clarke grinned, pushing up into her for a sloppy kiss that devolved into laughing and mutual hushing. “You’re getting out in a few months. And I’m going to have like, 30 strippers to compete with. Let me have an untainted audition please.”
“You got the part!” Lexa crowed, pulling Clarke’s heart against her ear while Clarke clung unsteadily to the top of Lexa’s head. “You’re hired.”
Clarke laughed with her and – well, Lexa knew they were off their asses on moonshine and the promise of great sex, but she hadn’t been so happy in maybe forever. “We’re gonna have forever, Clarke Griffin. Don’t you doubt me.”
“Oh, Lexa,” Clarke sighed into the crown of Lexa’s hair. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Lexa doesn’t remember the walk there or the logic that carried her feet or even the passion that fuled her appeal but suddenly she was standing outside of Thelonius Jaha’s office, knocking like she had any real right to request his presence. The shock of being summoned must have driven the warden to open his door and blink down at her, too shocked to be angry.
Lexa slapped a hand on the open door, to stop him from potentially slamming it in her face, and gave him her best intimidating glare. “Mr. Jaha,” she appealed, “we need to talk about Clarke. We need to talk about your son.”
The warden recoiled violently, hand slipping from the door as he bumped into his desk in an effort to escape. Lexa followed him into the cramped office and shut the door behind her, satisfied that she had managed to fluster the man.
“You’re being a coward and, frankly, an asshose…Sir,” she finished as an afterthought.
The warden straightened slightly, but pressed subtly back into his desk. “You – you have a lot of nerve, inmate-“
“That’s the other thing,” Lexa said confidently, advancing on the man, “it’s Lexa Woods, actually. Alexandria Woods, last daughter and surviving heir to Viktor Woods. You know my name and you know Clarke’s name.”
Before the warden could ingite his sparked rage, Lexa barreled over him and took another step forward. “Sir, let’s skip the part where we pretend we’re not both irreversibly entwined in Clarke Griffin’s life and speak like men.”
(And ignore the fact that Lexa was definitely, totally drunk, but hey. Courage comes from wherever you can find it.)
“Mr. Jaha, the fact that I only know your son through Clarke and still feel like the sun shines from his ass should indicate to you how much he meant to the people in his life. He died, Mr. Jaha. It was horrible and too soon and it damn near killed Clarke and I’m sure it damn near killed you,” Lexa said firmly.
The warden’s hand slipped nervously from where it had gripped the edge of his desk and upended a cup of pens onto the dirty linoleum tile. His eyes were the size of saucers, wet and red and practically fizzling and spitting in their anger. Lexa plowed on.
“Sir, Wells was a child. Sir, Clarke was a child.”
Lexa stared determinedly at the warden’s forehead while a tear tracked down his cheek and he brushed it away angrily. “A child,” she appealed more softly. “Clarke won’t recover from this, Mr. Jaha. She won’t be rehabilitated, she won’t be a number on your recidivism log, she won’t be a tough love, born from the ashes asshole out on the streets with her prison tats and her life lessons and fuck!”
Jaha actually jumped at the curse and stopped trying to swipe away the tears that betrayed him.
“Sir, Clarke Griffin isn’t a mistake and she isn’t a statistic and she doesn’t deserve this. If you have any shred of the man Wells grew from left in you, you will put on a suit that’s been pressed in the last week, recuse yourself from Clarke’s next parole hearing, step forward as her character witness, and let her know that there’s a person on this planet that doesn’t hate her for what the world forced her to be.”
Jaha took a shaky breath, perhaps ready to rebut, but Lexa beat him to it.
“With all due respect, Mr. Jaha, be a goddamn man.”
And that was it.
Lexa turned on her heel and left.
Lexa didn’t even leave her hotel room the day after. She ate some weird, disgusting, wonderful combination of leftovers, watched some amazing cartoon about a Robot that helps humans return to the earth to repopulate after environmental destruction, then takes two naps in quick succession.
Anya called in the evening and they didn’t even bring up prison or the last 1489 days and Lexa decided that she needed feather pillows in her own home. Anya tried to talk her out of it when she made that sudden revelation over the phone. But Lexa not so kindly reminded her that she didn’t spend 1489 days in prison to be talked out of a luxury she had been denied for the poor rationalization that it wasn’t chiropractically practical. Please.
Lexa wanted to believe that she was surprised when she found the warden sitting stiffly in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs outside of the hearing rooms when she and Clarke trudged their way up there for Clarke’s second hearing. But really, Lexa barely remembered her impassioned appeal to Warden Jaha and had less than no faith that the man was going to take the drunken advice of some broke gangster disciple waxing poetic about a pretty girl she’d let ruin her life.
In a good way.
“I didn’t ruin your life,” Clarke defended.
Lexa blinked and tried to remember how exactly she had managed to speak her thoughts out loud.
“You narrate so loud I literally can’t escape it,” Clarke grumbled in answer.
Lexa frowned pointedly.
“Stop that,” Clarke chided. “Stop frowning pointedly.”
Lexa stopped frowning pointedly.
Before they could step close enough to hail the warden, Clarke tugged on Lexa’s elbow and forced her to meet Clarke’s anxious eyes. “Why is he sitting there?” She whispered. “Why isn’t he in there with the rest of the hearing board?”
“I don’t know,” Lexa said slowly, stealing another look over Clarke’s tense shoulders at the man making a valiant effort to stare a hole in the reinforced concrete wall of the prison. Lesser men had tried. But if a stern, authoritative glare were enough to break out of prison, the state penitentiary would have much bigger problems on their hand than illegal magazines and loud gay sex.
Not to diminish those problems.
“Maybe he’s not on your hearing board.”
Clarke scoffed and gripped tighter to Lexa’s elbow, almost hurting her in her apprehension. “Why wouldn’t Jaha be on the board?”
“Well,” Lexa said slowly, “maybe he had to recuse himself.”
Even quieter, Clarke whispered, “yeah, but why is he here.”
Like a fox, the warden turned toward them slowly, his gaze sinking so deeply into Clarke’s that Lexa worried she would never be able to pull them apart. “Because this is where I am supposed to be,” he said just as quietly.
In shaking intervals, Clarke gradually released Lexa’s sleeve until her arm dropped lax by her side, never taking her eyes off of the man in the plastic chairs. Once she had released Lexa, Clarke took tentative, shuffling steps toward the warden until they were nearly toe to toe, Clarke staring down at his stony face while he stared straight ahead into whatever captivating thing he had found between her ribs and her waist. With a tenderness Lexa had only seen Clarke reserve for herself, Clarke tapped the toes of her prison issued shoes against Jaha’s own slick and polished Oxfords. At that, Jaha looked up, resigned and older than Lexa rememberd him being only moments ago.
“I didn’t think we’d meet again, “Clarke admitted like they hadn’t spent the last few years in the same damn prison. Maybe they hadn’t. Maybe they’d both been elsewhwere, Lexa wasn’t sure.
Jaha nodded. “I didn’t either.”
“Why are you here?” Clarke asked evenly.
Just as sure, “for you.”
Clarke came out of the meeting on the heels of a briskly departing warden with an envelope seeled and stamped just like Lexa’s, heavy and bursting with a million forms to sign before Clarke was released into the outside world. She held it like a newborn until she caught Lexa’s eyes, then she held the two of them together like they were both newborns.
Well, in a way-
“Clarke, we can’t celebrate all night,” Lexa laughed, making a noble effort to turn towards the wall against her bunk and block Clarke out for a few hours of sleep.
Clarke was hearing none of it and wrapped her arms around Lexa’s middle with a mischevious cackle. “C’mon, sweatheart. Most people only get conditional parole from prison once in their life. Live a little.”
“When have I ever lived a little, Clarke,” Lexa grumbled into her scratchy wool blanket.
Clarke giggled into her shoulder blade – giggled – and squeezed her even tighter. “Literally never – wait, no. There was that time behind the C.O. stand while Bellamy was on his rounds and you did that thing where-“
“That thing that we can’t repeat because this is not an explicitly rated story,” Lexa finished. “Yes, trust me when I say that if I remember nothing else of my time in this place, I will remember that.”
“Well, if you only remember that, I think we’ve done pretty well,” Clarke conceded. She heaved a mighty, satisfied sigh and burrowed closer in Lexa’s bunk, radiating waves of content and relief. Lexa felt it too, of course. She wasn’t immune to the joy of Clarke’s reduced sentence or the saturation of her happiness in their tiny cell. The emotions of the day had just exhausted her.
“How many days, Clarke? How many days left?” She asked happily.
Clarke chuckled into her ribs. “You remember. You literally moaned it several minutes ago.”
“Remind me again.”
Lexa nodded into her flat pillow with a stupid grin on her face. “403 days.”
Suddenly, Clarke yawned hard into Lexa’s back and hummed her own exhaustion into the dark of their cell. Her next words were slightly slurred by the threat of sleep. “Yeah, well, how many other girlfriends could you possibly get in that time?”
“No more than 50,” Lexa assured her sleepily.
“No more than 50.”
Clarke hummed. “I can complete with 50 girlfriends, I think.”
“You can compete with a million girlfriends.”
“That’s very sweet, Lexa, but I know my limits.”
“Okay, you can compete with like 87 girlfriends.”
“Aw, I love when you compliment me with realistic statitstical gay figures.”
She gets feather pillows from Amazon.com (which Lexa definitely did not remember being so extensive and magical before prison) and they’re so fucking uncomfortable but god fucking damn is she living.
Motherfucking feather pillows.
Anya teases her incessantly.
Clarke is 50 shades of jealous when they talk on the phone that Thursday.
“You’re not even prepared for how hard I’m going to love you when we’re both free,” Clarke breathes in the the skin stretched across Lexa’s collar bone. Lexa shushes her and drives deeper.
Lexa made some vague noise of uncertainty. “I think I’m a little prepared.”
“Do you want to buy curtains together?” Clarke blurts out, shattering the mood Lexa had been trying to build.
The sexual moment.
They were trying to have sex and Clarke was talking about curtains but-
“Swear it, Woods.”
“I swear I will buy…curtains with you, Clarke Griffin. We will argue and complain about our bad knees and probably not have sex that night because of how much we find we care about the beige pattern of our ugly curtains and by god we’ll settle on something neither of us really likes.”
“I’ve literally never been more attracted to you.”
“Raise your standards, Clarke.”
Clarke shows up some inconvenient time around 9:45 p.m. when Lexa is prepared for the glorious experience of an early, responsible bedtime. She knocks and knocks and knocks until Lexa opens the door with a jerking motion that’s less than polite.
Clarke greets her after a year of stupid phone conversations and mundane nothings that mean everything to Lexa with nothing more than an easy grin and the jeans and jacket Clarke was wearing some 10 years ago when she was arrested for murdering her best friend’s murderer.
She was fucking beautiful but-
“Nice jacket, asshole. Is the decade you stole it from jealous?”
Clarke let out a full-bellied laugh on Lexa’s doorstep, free and fucking gorgeous and only two paces from a goddamn hallucination. Surely Clarke Griffin, convicted murderer, was not standing on Lexa Woods’ doorstep at a rude hour.
“Real jealous. Are you busy are do you want to have wild reunion sex with me?”
“Fuck off!” Clarke laughs, elbowing past her into the modest condo Lexa had purchased some nine nights after checking into a hotel when she realized that she could not, in fact, live in a hotel until the end of time. It was just plain tacky.
Clarke took in her kitchen while Lexa trailed after her. “Nice digs.”
“Thanks, I paid a lot of money for it.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you shouldn’t undermine that by how many frozen meals you have in your freezer,” came Clarke’s muffled voice while she rooted through Lexa’s icebox. “Some guy barfed on the Greyhound bus over here,” Clarke said, offhand. “Then we had to spend the next 3 hours pretending like we all weren’t a hair away from sympathetic vomiting. It was something else, Lex.”
“Sounds like fun.”
Clarke shrugged. “Compared to prison? It was fine.”
It was easy – falling into what they were in prison, which – well, Lexa didn’t want to admit it, but in the thick dark of artificial night, locked in a foot deep concrete cell, she had been concerned that they wouldn’t be the same in the natural light of freedom. She worried that they wouldn’t work without the weight of their sins and the yolk of imprisonment and the deep deep pit of depression but-
“I missed you so bad, Clarke Griffin.”
“Hey, save the gay stuff for after dinner.”
“Clarke, it’s 9:30.”
“So, I’m starving obviously.”
Lexa shook her head fondly. “You want me to sit here, pretend the love of my life didn’t just suddenly show up and try to commandeer my Hot Pockets and proposition me for sex for the first time in more tan a year, and act like everything’s fine?”
“Would you, dear?” Clarke asked sweetly.
A moment passed with the only soud echoing between them being the crinkling of plastic and the humming that Clarke generated with the ease of her relase.
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I would.”
Lexa watched with something like wonder and fondness while Clarke fumbled with one of her microwavlabe dinners, reading the instructions carefully before ignoring them and sticking the entire container in the microwave without removing the protective plastic. Lexa let Clarke destroy her microwave completely before stepping in and saving Clarke’s dinner from the folly of bad public education and stubborn pride.
“Oh, Clarke,” Lexa laughed, scraping the ruined parts of Clarke’s meal into her garbage can, “maybe there was a reason we weren’t allowed to use microwaves in prison.”
“Hey,” Lexa laughed, “It’s called ‘contraband’ for a reason.”
“What’s the reason?”
“Because under federal prison regulation Statue 6.15(a), devices emiting radiation waves are contra-banned.”
“Ugh,” Clarke gagged, digging through Lexa’s freezer again for something else to blow up. “We can’t end this on a bad pun. We did not suffer through some fifty thousand words to culminate in a joke so bad it can’t even be bothered to research actual prison regulation statutes.”
Lexa rolled her eyes. “Have it your way.”
Clarke gave her a withering look. “Oh, I will. So what’s the real reason? Why are microwaves actually contraband?”
“You’re too dumb to be trusted with them.”
Clarke made some indignant squack while Lexa laughed and ducked Clarke’s irritable, weak puches. “Lexa! The culmination of this entire narrative clusterfuck can’t be that I was dumb. Take it back!”
“I think it’s a fine fable. Everyone’s dumb. Relatable and humorous.”
“Okay smartass, you can microwave the next one,” Clurke muttered, shoving past Lexa into her quaint living room. “And bring me something to drink!” She called over her shoulder with an extra hollered, “please!”
Lexa shook her head and smiled to herself as she plunked around her kitchen, listening to the muffled sounds of the television Clarke had turned on.
“Lexa!” Clarke shouted over whatever horrible show Lexa was sure she had picked out for them. “Lexa!”
“Dibs on your feather pillows!”
Lexa laughed quietly to herself. “I got rid of them. They’re impractical, Clarke.”
“Fuck you, I’m buying more! Show me how to use the Amazon.com. Come show your dear Clarke how to use the interwebs.”
If someone had told Lexa some two thousand days ago that the height of her adult life was going to be eating bad microwaved meals past her bedtime while watching reality television and explaining how to use the internet to a convicted murderer only to fall asleep before they even got around to having sex she would have said:
Sounds about right.
better late than never, maybe.
thanks to everyone, new and old, who actually got to the end of this story without having me assassinated or giving up entirely. you guys are, quite literally, my longest lasting relationship. feel free to come witness my steady decline on tumblr.com and we can cry about birds. also, in all seriousness, im real sorry this story was strung along for like 2 years. i think its a lesson in perseverance or maybe just not being a total douchebag. lesson....NOT learned.
but i love you guys.
cheers, stay fearless.