They met in the rain.
It had been pouring all day, lashing the trees, the buildings, hammering against glass like a beast desperate to claw its way in. People hurried from one doorway to another, jackets pulled over heads and no umbrellas in hand—the onslaught had come out of nowhere. Puddles formed within an hour, water dripped cold and biting down necks and between shoulder blades. Gloom swept over the city, dark clouds rolling black and murderous and barely contained in their ferocity. At only three in the afternoon, it was dark enough to be late evening, the odd car headlight cutting through the fog.
Everything was already dramatic enough, and then the lightening started; harsh, jagged bolts splitting the sky into pieces, followed by rumbling thunder that shook window panes.
Clarke held her messenger bag over her head, stubbornly refusing to give up and lower it even though every part of her was wet, saturated, her cheeks damp and cold, hair plastered to her head. Feet patterning on the pavement, shoes squelching, she darted into a doorway and stood, marvelling she'd found one empty of others, and watched the heavens come down around her.
It was a fall storm to beat all others.
She loved it.
It broke apart the monotony of her week.
Wake up. Eat. Go to work. Throw herself into hours and hours of overtime, sewing people back together that the world had tried to tear apart. Go home. Fight with Finn. Some nights, make up with Finn. Throw herself into sex with Finn, because that was easier than pretending he was someone she still knew, but clung to like children clung to bedtime routines: a safety net to ward away the darkness that night brings, a story told that holds no real truth.
But now she'd be late home. But she was late already, and the thought didn't faze her. The temperature had been falling for weeks and now it had finally broken, and broken her day with it. Taking a deep breath in, Clarke smelt the rain and the tang of it hitting concrete, the wet trees lining the streets and with it all, just slightly, an undercurrent of the wet earth they were embedded in. A shiver crawled up her spine, cold or excitement or both. The rain was relentless, traffic on the normally busy roads had almost disappeared, the entire city seemed halted. She could only see a few meters in front of her yet her fingers itched to draw, with charcoal or thick black pastels, taking a world so normally full of colour and greying it, showing the way it had blurred. Images struggled at her fingertips; an urge lost to her for years rearing up so strong her breath came out in a rush at the surprising thought of it.
Perhaps that was why Clarke forever associated that urge, that craving, to draw again with that woman in the rain.
At first, that woman was only a smudge, not even running, emerging slowly through the sheeting damp to finally step into the doorway with Clarke. She was as soaked as Clarke, braided hair drenched and black eyeliner smudged beneath eyes Clarke couldn't seem to catch. She arrived silently, no word of greeting, standing shoulder to shoulder with Clarke and staring out at the rain with her.
¨Hi.¨ Clarke said.
The woman didn't even turn to look at her, so Clarke watched her openly, her profile one that simply fuelled Clarke's desire to put image to paper. Her lips were red with the cold, plump and pressed together.
All husk and mystery, her voice was like smoke, and the sound wrapped itself around Clarke's mind like vines around brick, digging deep and causing damage that could take years to decay and show itself.
They met in the rain.
They stood there for minutes, perhaps longer, but Clarke was lost to the pounding rain. She could feel the woman breathing, their breath misting in the air in front of them, mingling together before being swept away. Something built in Clarke's chest, fought at the tightness that had been entrenched for so long, since before Finn and she had started their downward spiral, since before the patients that came in one after the other one fateful night Clarke had failed them all and lost a part of herself.
¨Is there a reason you are standing here in the cold, and not inside what appears to be a diner?¨ The woman finally took her eyes away from the scene in front of them and turned to look at Clarke, her face a mere foot away, eyebrow raised in what could have been part question, part amusement.
For a moment, Clarke was trapped in green. A green like wet moss, like grass in the depth of spring, like a well that once you fell down you couldn't crawl out of, fingers scraping at the rough sides uselessly until you settled in and simply accepted your fate.
Blinking, she turned to look behind her, just managing to make out the diner through the fogged glass doors. A laugh, quiet and self-depreciating, fell from her lips as she looked back to the well this woman had for eyes.
¨I hadn't even noticed.¨
A smile, half there and half not, tugged at those lips that begged to be drawn. ¨Would you like to go in? It looks like we will be stuck here for quite some time. Perhaps a coffee?¨
There was an accent to her voice Clarke couldn't place. Barely there, yet tugging at her vowels, her words falling just slightly too formally to be native. Clarke wanted to ask this woman she didn't know where she was from, why she was in America. A strange impulse welled up, clashing with the one to draw, to ask this woman everything she could. She wanted to know how her English was so good if it wasn't her first language, how long she'd been here. Why she was here.
Instead, Clarke simply said, ¨A coffee sounds great.¨
They pushed in, shoulders bumping, the room inside steamy and cheap, with tacky seats that Clarke would normally avoid. The place was washed in dim lighting, a relief from the blinding fluorescent lights of the hospital, even after standing outside in the gloom.
Except for a lone waitress, it was empty and Clarke wasn't sure if it was for the rain or for the reputation of the establishment, but she found herself glad about it. The idea of being surrounded by people after the double shift she'd just suffered though exhausted her.
Clarke had enough ghosts following her at work, that empty rooms left her able to breathe.
Dripping water, they slipped into seats in a faraway corner booth, eyes sliding to meet then sliding away.
Amongst ordering two cappuccinos that arrived lukewarm with a thud on the sticky table, they didn't speak. Clarke tried to keep her eyes on the rain outside, the windows so steamed up there wasn't much to stare at.
¨What were you thinking, when you were standing out there alone?¨
Clarke, eyes tired from trying too hard not to stare at the woman at her table, finally looked at her now she had an excuse. She was met with an impassive face, the woman's head slightly cocked, long fingers wrapped around the mug as if to try to steep off what warmth she could.
¨That I wanted to draw it.¨
The words surprised Clarke. She'd meant to say nothing, I was thinking nothing and instead the truth fell from her lips like water dribbling over a rock bed.
¨You like to draw?¨
Clarke shrugged. ¨I used to.¨
¨But not anymore?¨
The woman was full of questions, ones that should be easy to answer but were the exact ones Clarke wanted to stay away from.
¨That is obvious, Clarke.¨
Clarke blinked in surprised to hear her name said so confidently from someone she had known five minutes and never exchanged the information with.
That smile tugged at the woman's lips again. ¨Relax, Clarke.¨ Her name clacked over this woman's tongue, the vowels swelling. It was pleasant, to hear her name said like that. ¨It's on your identification badge.¨
Heat flooded Clarke's cheeks, her hand coming up instinctually to cover the badge that hung from the front pocket of her jacket. She didn't take her eyes off the ones in front of her. A chuckle fell uncomfortably from her lips.
Clarke always clipped it onto her jacket after changing, a habit so she always knew where it was.
The woman smiled again and Clarke didn't know if she was amused in general, or laughing at her. The thought made her shift in her chair.
¨My name's Lexa.¨
¨Clarke. Though you know that.¨
¨You work at the hospital, no?¨
Clarke clutched her mug to her chest, wishing the warmth would bleed through her clothes and warm the chill that had settled in her bones that had nothing to do with the rain or the air conditioning that filled the diner with a hum. ¨I do.¨
¨I think I saw you there, once.¨
That made Clarke blink. ¨You did?¨
¨Maybe. The time there is always a blur. Do you work in the emergency room?¨
Clarke nodded. ¨I do, I'm finishing my residency.¨
She wanted to ask why Lexa was at the hospital. How long ago she was there. They didn't seem like questions that were hers to ask, and she had no idea why, since Lexa was asking her whatever questions she wanted to.
¨Do you enjoy it?¨
Clarke swallowed, made herself nod. ¨I do.¨
The rain beat a steady rhythm against the glass, thrumming into Clarke's chest. ¨What do you do?¨
¨I work in translation.¨
Clarke's eyebrows rose. ¨Wow. Where?¨
¨With the government, in the UN, at times. I travel a bit.¨
Tucking her leg underneath her, Clarke felt goose bumps crawl along her arms. She was cold. That was all.
¨My father worked in politics.¨
Lexa only cocked her head again, watching her.
¨He liked it.¨ Clarke licked her lips, not meaning to say any of the things she was saying that afternoon. ¨What languages do you work with?¨
¨German. French. Luxembourgish. Flemish. And Italian. Thanks to the Italian, I pass at Spanish.¨
Clarke almost dropped her mug, blinking rapidly. ¨You're fluent in seven languages?¨
¨Where are you from?¨
If this Lexa was going to know so much about her, Clarke wanted some information in return.
¨Where do you think, Clarke?¨
With a small smile and a half shrug, Clarke asked, ¨Europe?¨
When Lexa laughed, it was musical, contrast to her voice filled with smoke and her face that was clearly a shield.
¨You're clearly a very good guesser. You are correct. I was born in Luxemburg.¨
In that moment, Clarke wanted to sit with her phone and search for everything she could about that place. She knew nothing of Luxemburg, but suddenly, she wanted to know everything. Clarke had never even left her state.
As if she knew Clarke knew nothing of her country, Lexa said, ¨It's a small country, surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany. Everyone there speaks many languages. We must, as our native tongue is not known by many.¨
There were many questions in Clarke's mind then, yet the one that slipped out was, ¨Do you miss it?¨
There was a beat, something in Lexa's eyes that Clarke thought she recognised. ¨No. I do not.¨
It was an hour later, after a message from Finn that said he was working overnight, that Clarke kissed Lexa in her kitchen, the kettle boiling and then forgotten. It was bubbling in the corner, almost madly, and Lexa was dripping on Clarke's hideous linoleum floor. The third temptation boiled up for the afternoon, and Clarke couldn't, or didn't want to stop herself. She leant forward, lips almost numb with the cold, and pressed them to Lexa's in a haze.
For one second, everything stilled, her heart pounding against her ribs. When Lexa jerked her head back, the rest of her not moving, Clarke could only stare at her, eyes pleading. For a beat, they gazed at each other, and then Lexa was pushing her back, back against the counter, the solid wood of it biting into Clarke's back. It bit into her skin, a penance, something to pay, and Clarke welcomed it.
Their fingers tugged at clothes, teeth biting at flesh. Nails scraped, nerves firing, and Clarke felt like something was being torn down, or torn apart, or simply torn within her. Lexa tasted like retribution, like guilt, like regret, like something she could never have enough of. A tattoo traced her spine, one Clarke ran desperate fingers down as muscles strained and tendons pulled with a gasping sigh that could have been from either of them.
They met in the rain.
* * *
They met in a storm.
Lexa had lived her life as truthfully as she could. And, suddenly, she was caught in a lie so big she was drowning in it, as she'd drowned in blue eyes when she met Clarke in the rain. That day, she'd been choking, falling, gagging, emotion pressing up against her ribs. Her eyes had been burning, but nothing came, even as a sob had ripped at her throat. For minutes, she'd stood in the rain and let it beat down on her, watching the sky open and let out a torrent even as her own body betrayed her and denied the same.
Then Lexa had walked forward, and into Clarke, into a diner, into an apartment, and into untruth.
Yet she couldn't stop. Costia or not, she could not stop. There was something about Clarke, something Lexa could not say no to. Lexa who was the epitome of self-control, who had seen Clarke months before she met her in a doorway while drowning in her life and a torrential downpour, Lexa could not say no.
The met in a storm, and Lexa did not mean the rain that day.
* * *
When Clarke was small, her father had lectured her on honesty, on keeping her word, on doing what was right. He was a politician, and as young as Clarke was, that made her think he was someone who made things better. It was when she was older that Clarke had learnt that her father had always been fighting a losing battle, it was only the lung cancer that ended him when she was fifteen that got him first.
Truth was freedom, truth was liberating, truth kept you safe.
He had promised things, and then he left, and Clarke had tried to live by his code, but the feeling of his betrayal dug deep, nestled in her chest.
He had left her, he had died and left her and her mother to keep each other together even while that pushed each other apart.
But truth was key.
And here was Clarke, four weeks into an affair and unable to stop.
Instead of ending it with Finn, she tried harder. And the more she tried, the more she reached out, the more she realised that they didn't know each other anymore. At times, the worming thought occurred that perhaps they never had.
Yet still, in the depth of night, when Clarke slipped into bed purposefully late, he wrapped an arm around her middle and pressed his lips to the nape of her neck.
And Clarke would have to physically stop herself from pushing him away.
Lexa was like a drug.
She crawled inside, with her odd way of seriousness, with her eyes so green Clarke tried desperately to find the colour to paint them with, mixing and remixing again and again. The way she looked at Clarke and tripped her up mid-thought made Clarke rethink what she was saying, rethink her choices, rethink everything.
Yet Lexa was like stone, something unmoving, and Clarke, once an unstoppable force, rammed herself against her again and again in the hopes of getting something.
It took four weeks of clandestine meetings, of rushing, of pooling heat, of feeling an itch under her skin that begged for again, again, again. Four weeks of desperate mouths that were never sated, of hurried hands and scraping nails. Of sobs caught in the back of Clarke's throat that melted with release, until she didn't know what she felt anymore.
And she never knew what Lexa felt.
Until four weeks.
They fell on their backs, chests heaving and Clarke was gasping for air. Finn was away, gone somewhere for a weekend and the burning guilt still gurgled in the back of Clarke's chest that her first thought had been thank God.
She needed to end it, but somehow couldn't, stuck in a cycle. She owed Finn, owed him for picking up the pieces of herself her father had left shattered that had reshattered that night months ago in the hospital she'd realised she hadn't wanted to be a doctor anymore, but was too far in to stop it. Finn had pulled her together each time, the soft curve of his smile and the warmth of his arms gluing her back into some semblance of who she used to be.
She couldn't just leave.
She should. They weren't who they were years ago. That curve of smile had faltered, that warmth of his arms faded.
It was this time, that usually, Lexa and Clarke chatted for a while, before Lexa slid out of her bed and Clarke took some time to get herself together to wash her sheets, to scrub away the evidence of what had happened, even as it felt imprinted over her skin. It was these times Lexa occasionally gave her half smile, but nothing more, and Clarke felt it all build up so she wanted more, more, more, but of what she couldn't say.
Clarke blinked at the ceiling and felt every part of herself grow cold. Cold like the day they met, deep into bones that hadn't felt such a chill since then.
Turning her head on the pillow, Clarke stared at her while Lexa stared upwards. The only sign of what she said was the subtle bob of her throat as she swallowed, the skin red from where Clarke had scraped but not bruised, because in spite of the shock creeping along her skin, she'd known something.
Lexa gave a singular nod. ¨I have been for three years.¨
Clarke, hypocritically, felt betrayal settle even deeper into her skin, past layers of her epidermal to slide against muscle, to nestle amongst fibres.
She looked back at the ceiling, the one Finn had painted, and her cheeks burned.
* * *
Lexa loved Costia more than she had known she was capable of. It was like flame, licking at her insides. It was a constant, something never ending, something all consuming. Something, that if it ever burnt out, would leave her as nothing, her body ash after being the fuel to maintain such a blaze.
* * *
¨You have a boyfriend, Clarke.¨
And the words died on Clarke's tongue, shrivelled to nothing as she swallowed them down and was left with an empty stomach.
It was these times Clarke wanted to curl into Lexa, mold herself against her and feel the shape of her and how she fit.
Now, Clarke wanted Lexa out of her bed, out of her life, but instead she lay and wondered at the walls she'd seen in Lexa, the shield, the protection.
¨Then why are you here?¨
Silence. A moment that stretched so long Clarke started to wonder if she'd even asked the question.
And then: ¨She was in an accident six months ago. She was declared brain dead, but her family have refused to take her off life support.¨
Lexa's voice was monotone, was chrome, was washed out, was hollow.
Lexa's voice was like a knife, slicing into Clarke's chest which she had thought was empty and was fast discovering wasn't.
This was a time that Clarke didn't know what to say, had no words to help her through this, her brain post endorphin rush, her medical persona left at work.
¨But, if you're married, why can her family…¨
Clarke's eyes were back on Lexa, watching her stare up and away and nowhere near Clarke. It was so different to normal, to every time they were together, in which Lexa's eyes seemed fixated on her, concentrated, that Clarke had to close her own for a moment at the oddness of it. When she opened them again, Lexa still stared upwards. She still had a profile Clarke itched to draw, and had, more times than she should have. Papers and papers filled a box she kept in her locker at work, of eyes, of the curve of her shoulder where it met her neck, of her back, of her tattoo, of her hands. Most of all, of her hands, her fingers, long and lean and made to play piano.
¨We were married in Luxemburg. We met when she was backpacking, she was…she is American. We had not finalised all we needed here, yet. Costia was…is, never one for documents and paperwork. Her parents are still listed as next of kin, she has old paperwork in place with directives her parents had made her fill out before she went travelling.¨
Something itched in the back of Clarke's mind, something scraped at a memory, of a night Clarke had done everything to forget, yet never could.
A car accident.
Finally, Lexa turned her head, a hand draped on her chest where she held the sheet over it. ¨I know, Clarke. You were her doctor, her surgeon.¨
* * *
Clarke was an accident, completely, utterly an accident. It wasn't until they were in the diner that Lexa had realised who she was. That night was a fog, a hideous fog, and Lexa had only seen her briefly, as Lexa had stood and stared at the carnage in the emergency room before someone had whisked her away. She'd seen Clarke lose a patient, her face stone as she'd moved on to Costia's bed. But Lexa had barely taken her in, her eyes trained on Costia, skin too pale and eyes closed. There was blood, red was everywhere, and Lexa felt her chest squeezing so hard she forgot how to breathe.
Never before had Lexa wanted Costia to open her eyes so badly.
Weeks later, Lexa had read the newspapers, had seen the news. Eleven dead in one night, a pile-up. One still on life support, in a coma the doctors were not hopeful about.
* * *
Without knowing what else to do, Clarke told Finn. With her stomach twisting, she watched him unravel, his eyes red and tears streaked across his cheeks. They separated angrily, painfully, and Clarke packed what she could as quickly as she could and moved out, into an apartment she'd secured knowing it would happen.
It had been weeks since she'd seen Lexa, and Clarke was ashamed to say it wasn't because she had told her to stay away, but because Lexa had disappeared after sharing their link, their connection, that went far beyond rain and coffee shops and kisses that should never have happened.
And Clarke tried not to let that worm into her mind and destroy her.
Clarke walked the hospital with the ghosts of those eleven patients she'd played a hand in losing all in one night following her as they always did. However, now, one followed even more closely, her arms brushing Clarke's and her eyes following her every move. There was nowhere Clarke could go in which she wasn't, and it didn't take long for it all to be too much. It had been building since that night, since before that night, since forever, possibly. But Clarke walked to HR and handed them her notice, and left.
She left with the idea that she would leave her haunting behind, too.
The first morning after, she woke up with sunlight burning her eyes and a hangover clawing at her skull. She had meant to wake alone, to leave her ghosts to haunt the hospital, to haunt sterile walls and sterile people who had enough strength to do what she couldn't. Instead, Clarke woke up with Costia sitting on the edge of her vision, obviously there but never in full sight, a constant companion to follow her day to day. Clarke brushed her teeth and drank her coffee and wandered the streets aimlessly with Costia always there yet never there, and tried to remember how to get through each day, even as she wondered if she could anymore.
* * *
One morning, seven months after Lexa lost what was most important, but not completely, she woke up and didn't reach to the other side of the bed.
Somehow, that made everything feel worse, and she curled into the middle of the bed in a ball and clutched her limbs against herself.
That same morning, while still curled into the mattress, she received a call that told her Costia was officially dead.
Lexa didn't get out of the bed for days, wrapped in missing someone she'd been grieving for months on end, and another she'd left behind in sheets that smelt like sex with regret heavy on her tongue.
* * *
One month after Lexa disappeared, two months after Clarke had met her, seven months after Costia should have died, Clarke went back to college to study art. The morning she woke up to go to her first class, Clarke was brushing her teeth when she felt hair on the back of her neck stand up, something skirting along her nerves that grated.
It only took a beat.
She was alone.
Costia wasn't dancing on the edge of her vision anymore, and Clarke spent her day in classes and on campus with a feeling in the pit of her stomach she couldn't name.
It wasn't until she was in bed that she realised it was loneliness.
After weeks of drifting through classes with images spilling from her hands, her fingers shaping and fingertips blending colours, Clarke found the feeling sunk heavier, deeper, settling through her insides as if was in her blood, coating her vessels. Unable to shake it, to wash it out, she tried to draw it, to paint it, frustrated when her hands kept smearing green. Angry slashes of her arms created seascapes that hid lips at the bottomless depths. Soft blurrings of her hands left behind tapered, smooth fingers on a woman modelling in her class who was covered in creases and furrows, her skin a map of her entire life.
When it started to rain, Clarke walked in the middle of the street, her bag slapping against her thigh as her hair grew sodden and her shoes started to squelch. The diner's door was the same, fat splats of rain smattering its windows as Clarke hesitated at the door, hand hovering over the handle.
She had nowhere else to be. No one to see. Nothing to do.
And the rain was starting to fall even harder, reminiscent of a day two months ago.
Inside, the waitress half leant over the counter, cracking gum, and Clarke went to the same corner booth and slid into the side Lexa had sat, when she'd just been the soaked woman from the rain. She ordered a coffee, and had to stop herself from telling the disinterested waitress about what they'd done after the last time they'd been here. About the way Lexa clung to her, the way her lips demanded yet coaxed, the way her fingers tugged at Clarke, plucked her apart until here she was, months later, unsure of how it had all unfolded.
The door opened, and when someone walked in, Clarke could hear the drips from the coat, the way their shoes squeaked on the floor.
Clarke's eyes were on the rain against the window next to her, but something at her periphery moved, and her head snapped to look for it, snapped to look for Costia, her heart leaping that she was back despite the guilt she brought.
Instead, Clarke found the eyes she'd been painting again and again staring at her, soft lips rounded in surprise.
There was no reason to be surprised, but Clarke was, and all the words she had to say, had thought to say, vanished from her mouth as she could only stare, waiting to see if Lexa would leave.
She didn't leave. Lexa closed the distance, and she didn't sit opposite Clarke.
She slid next to her on the seat, dropping her damp head on Clarke's shoulder.
For a moment, Clarke forgot to breathe, to swallow, to function. Bit by bit, her senses returned, the rushing in her ears dimming to the sound of the diner, the coffee machine, Lexa's breathing. Lexa smelt the same, spiked with the tang of citrus, something she could almost taste.
Between them, their fingers laced together in a grip that almost hurt but mostly felt like relief.
The pounding in Clarke's chest, the loneliness bouncing against her arteries, gave way to something softer, something cleaner.
They stayed long after the rain ceased.