It’s a well known fact in Polis that whatever wanheda wants, wanheda gets.
The handmaidens mutter it to themselves, when Clarke refuses their bathing services for a third time; the guards sigh it when Clarke blatantly strides past them into Lexa’s war room, Lexa’s weapon room, Lexa’s bedroom . They watch her enter out of the corner of their eyes, struggling not to twitch, and grip their staves just a little tighter.
Titus himself is forced into submission and repeats it back to Lexa (what wanheda wants, wanheda gets), after he had the bright idea to pace outside Clarke’s room for four hours just to tell her she really shouldn’t be here in the first place.
Clarke doesn’t have a clue, of course, the lengths Lexa’s gone for her. It wouldn’t matter anyway. The nightbloods, and Aden in particular, come the closest to understanding just how precarious Clarke’s position would be in anyone else’s fluffy boots. Even the children have to admit, though, Lexa’s increasingly pained expression at Clarke’s continued interruptions of their morning meditation sessions is the most entertaining part of the day.
Well, that and the time Clarke walked in on their strength evaluations. Specifically, the one afternoon of the week that Lexa well and truly gets to show the fuck off.
Clarke’s always questioned Lexa’s lithe build, if she’s completely honest with herself. The fight with Roan hardly reassured her concerns, what with Lexa being flung around like some ragdoll. The force behind the commander’s blows hardly matter if she can’t properly take them; a glass pistol, shaped like a human.
So it’s a very big (and very pleasant) surprise when Clarke barges into Lexa’s bedroom, already babbling about her people and their genocidal shenanigans, and is welcomed by the site of an upside down Lexa doing reverse hand push up things. (Like Clarke would know what they’re called).
Clarke blinks. Rapidly. She stands there, sort of numbly, head slightly quirked to the side, and blinks.
Lexa’s back is turned to her, hands resting solidly on a trimmed fur mat, as she grunts ever so quietly and cocks her elbows into another pushup. Clarke opens her mouth, and Lexa’s coal black, loose fitting shirt (rolled up to the sleeves) falls from her stomach, giving way to a nice view of the waistband of her pants. And, ah. She does have abs.
Clarke closes her mouth and swallows, as a sheen of sweat glistens across Lexa’s flat stomach. The waistband of her pants fits snugly across her-
“Clarke,” Lexa says suddenly, making Clarke jump. “Did you, oof,” And Lexa lowers for another rep, wild chestnut hair cascading across the mat, “Need something?”
Clarke shakes herself, clearing her throat. “Um. Yeah, actually, I just had a question about some...supply routes Kane had proposed earlier. I was going to ask Juno, but she just sent you to me. As usual.”
“The southward pass is already being manned as we speak.” Lexa affirms, and without warning, Lexa folds in on herself; her legs collapse towards her chest, until she’s bent in half, and swiftly transfers the weight from her hands to her feet, standing straight. She swivels on her heel to face Clarke, cheeks flushed and pupils blown wide.
“As for the northern,” Lexa continues, running her fingers through her hair in an attempt to tame it, “I’ve spoken with floadenkru ; they should allow us safe passage, provided we acknowledge their ownership.”
Clarke chews her lip. She leans back onto her foot, folds her arms. “But how can we guarantee my people won’t be hurt? It’s a long trip from Arkadia to that outpost.”
“We can’t.” Lexa answers simply. She inhales deeply, face still flushed, and exhales through her nose. Clarke watches, as she turns and strides towards the disheveled bed. Lexa leans over to rummage through a chest brimming with clothes. Black clothes, predictably enough.
“But what if we redirected some armed escorts from Polis?” Clarke tries. Lexa pauses mid-shuffle.
“Where do you suggest I draw these warriors from, Clarke?”
“Outlying villages, like when you sent the peacekeeping force.”
Lexa stiffens. “And what happened to that army?”
Clarke bites her tongue, guilt sinking in her chest. “I...right. I understand.”
“I will ask the boat clan for auxilliary reinforcement, but beyond that,” And Lexa plucks a shirt from the pile; identical to the one she’s currently wearing. “Your people will just have to manage on their own.”
Clarke still feels wary at the thought of anyone besides Kane navigating grounder territory, let alone actual grounders, but any concerns she might have had are replaced by a general panic as Lexa grips the lower hem of her shirt and pulls it over her head.
She balls the fabric in her hand and tosses it towards the wastebasket; it lands neatly inside.
“Nice shot.” Clarke says. But watching the shirt was periphary; tearing her gaze from Lexa’s well defined, muscled, overall pretty lovely back is more difficult than breaking away from that kiss all those months ago.
Maybe not more difficult.
“Am I bothering you?” Lexa asks, mildly concerned. She’s paused mid dress, elbows buried in the sleeves of her fabric. Clarke forces herself to meet Lexa’s eyes.
“Nope. Not me.” She says, almost too appreciatively. Lexa raises an eyebrow.
“I am...glad?” And she tugs the shirt over her head, hair cascading in waves across her shoulders. Clarke swallows dryly, cursing the goddamn grounders and their goddamn fitness regimes. Goddamn hygiene habits. Post apocalyptic hair shouldn’t look shinier than the hull of Raven’s new toy.
“Me too.” Clarke answers without thinking. Lexa stops again, clearly bemused. She looks between Clarke, and the closed door, once, twice.
“Was that all?” She asks softly, and it’s Clarke’s turn to be confused.
“Did you need anything else? Or did you come just to ask about trade routes?”
Before she can stop herself, Clarke snorts. “The changing was much more pleasant.”
Lexa blinks, and briefly, smiles. “I didn’t think you would mind, Clarke.”
“You know me pretty well.”
“I do.” Lexa agrees, almost tenderly, and Clarke feels as if someone struck a match against her stomach and set it on fire. The room starts to constrict, slightly, and that suffocating sort of nausea Lexa’s invoked lately begins to set in.
I know you Clarke. Did she? But I know you; you’re driven to fix everything for everyone .
Yeah. Lexa knows her too well. Clarke can look past those forest eyes and see herself reflected back.
Doesn’t mean she likes what she sees.
Clarke breathes in, shakily, and musters a tiny smile in response. Lexa’s eyes immediately widen with concern, and then soften with understanding; Clarke kicks herself, that she can recognize and pinpoint Lexa’s microexpressions She hates herself, that she feels guilty, and not just about the dead army.
At this point, it’s easier to hate herself, than to hate Lexa. And that’s just not something she’s ready to accept.
Good thing Lexa doesn’t force her to.
“I have a financial update to attend to, but you are welcome to join the natblidas for lunch.” Lexa says, walking past Clarke. Clarke bites her lip, and turns, watching Lexa bend over and scoop up some scrolls from her desk; wait...Clarke squints at Lexa’s figure, ignoring the flush creeping up her neck because goddamn those pants are fitting too tightly around her-
“Lexa!” Clarke says suddenly, almost too loudly. Lexa’s knuckles whiten around the knob of the desk, and slowly, she rotates back to look at Clarke.
“Your shirt.” Clarke walks closer, fighting a smile threatening to break out across her face.
“What about it?” Lexa frowns, looking very comical with a pile of scrolls about to spill out of her arms. She glances down at her own chest, frown deepening.
“I don’t see anything wrong, Clarke.”
“Look at the hem.” Clarke reaches out a hand, and, after only a moment’s hesitation, fingers the bottom hem of Lexa’s shirt. She rubs her thumb across the fabric, and raises her gaze.
They look each other, and Clarke can practically hear Lexa’s heartbeat skyrocket.
“I don’t…” And Lexa breaks eye contact to search again, and suddenly, realization sparks in her eyes. Her jaw clenches.
Clarke’s smiling now, and sticks her arms out in an offering. Lexa grimaces with appreciation, and proceeds to pour the scrolls into Clarke’s waiting grasp.
“I’m glad you caught that.” Lexa mutters, voice muffled by her shirt as she lifts it over her head once more. “My advisers would not have been so-”
“Intimate?” Clarke offers. Lexa pokes her head through the neck, and flushes.
Clarke makes a noise of amusement. “Right. Because wearing your shirt inside out is probably punishable by death over here.”
Lexa freezes. Her fingers go taut around the hem of her neck, and when she resumes dressing, her motions are slower, reserved. Her voice, when she responds, is deceptively quiet. It gives Clarke whiplash.
“Is that what you think of us?” Lexa says; it’s a question, but her tone is flat.
Clarke’s smile fades. “What?”
“Did you not once mention children being imprisoned for growing plants, when you lived in the sky?”
“Those weren’t just ‘plants’. And I was mostly joking.”
“Lexa.” Clarke says, with exasperation. “I don’t really think they’d kill you for wearing your shirt inside out to a war meeting.”
Lexa doesn’t respond. She smoothes down the offending shirt, giving herself a once over, and reaches out to take the scrolls from Clarke. Clarke, however, tucks them tighter into her chest.
Lexa looks at her, a flash of muted irritation sparking in her eyes. “Clarke. I’m late.”
“Fine, I’m sorry. For what I said. It…” Clarke hesitates, glancing back at the door and biting her lip. “It was hasty. And a joke, but obviously not one in good taste.”
“Clarke.” Lexa repeats. “You don’t need to apologize, but please, give me back my scrolls.”
“Not until you stop looking at me like that.” Clarke insists.
“Like what?” Lexa asks, growing increasingly agitated. “Clarke, please, I am late.”
“You’re right, okay?” Clarke begins, shifting her weight. “You’re right. The ark’s system of justice wasn’t justice. It was always for our own self preservation, some fucked up method of culling the population by hiding behind the law.”
Lexa stares at her.
“I know you’re not savages.” Clarke says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “We’re the barbaric ones.”
But as Lexa steps towards her, Clarke feels a desperation in her chest, constricting and heavy, as if any moment, the world could collapse underneath their feet and she and Lexa would fall, but Lexa would drift further and further away, and Clarke would want to apologize and say thank you, thank you, for everything, but Lexa’s hands and eyes and warm half smile would disappear, and eventually, fade like fire consuming parchment, leaving Clarke alone in the black and the cold.
All of this hits Clarke at once, and she drops the scrolls.
Shock sparks in Lexa’s eyes; she’s moving before Clarke can crumple, hands hovering over Clarke’s waist and back but not quite touching. “Clarke!”
Clarke manages to stagger back, onto the couch, and she immediately presses her head into her hands. She can feel the panic radiating off of Lexa, practically touch the concern in her voice, and she wishes Lexa wouldn’t. Wouldn’t care.
“Clarke, what is it?” Lexa presses, gently, kneeling in front of her. Clarke peeks ever so slightly through the gaps between her fingers, like through sunlight bound blinds, at Lexa’s quivering hands that don’t seem to know what to do with themselves.
Helplessness. Clarke did that.
“I’m fine” Clarke musters. “I just...have a headache.” She chokes out a laugh, drawing a shaky breath. “Sorry for dropping your scrolls.”
Lexa’s staring so intensly at her. “What happened? Do you...do you want-”
What do you want?
Clarke snaps her head up so quickly she sees stars, and looks straight at Lexa, panic seizing her chest. “No.”
Lexa’s mouth opens, and shuts. She swallows clearly, and lowers her chin. There’s a resigned sadness, that familiar melancholy in her eyes. She meets Clarke’s gaze, and asks, softly,
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No!” Clarke repeats, loudly. She buries her face in her hands. “No. Stay, please.”
And she knows that’s a terribly selfish thing to say. It’s a very un-Clarke like thing to plead. But she knows Lexa will, she knows Lexa will face her advisors’ frustrations with calm stoicism, making no apologies for herself. No regrets, because of Clarke.
“Okay.” Lexa says. “I’m not going anywhere.”
And that does it. Tears burn Clarke’s eyes, because she wants to believe everything about Lexa. She wants to put everything she has, everything she knows, into Lexa, but that crippling fear of betrayal whispers always in the back of her mind. Like wind hissing through the windowpane at night.
Even as Lexa looks straight at her, all Clarke can see is her retreating back.
The memory hardens something in her, and Clarke lifts her head. Her tears turn to stone still wet on her eyelids.
“You really should go to your meeting.” Clarke says, hollowly.“They’ll be pissed.”
“My advisors are always ‘pissed’.” Lexa answers gently. “I am heda. It is not my role to pacify them, but to ensure their safety.”
“And how is staying with me ensuring anyone’s safety?” Clarke asks bitterly. Lexa doesn’t answer at first. Clarke knows she must be awfully confused, but she doesn’t care.
“Do you want leave, Clarke?”
“No. But you didn’t answer my question.” Clarke lowers her hands, and takes Lexa’s. Lexa’s palm burns beneath her touch, and Clarke runs her thumb across it. The contrast between her cold tone of voice and warmth of the gesture must be bewildering, to Lexa. Clarke doesn’t care.
“Which question is that?” Lexa asks, audibly swallowing. She allows Clarke to play with her hand, because of course she does. But slowly, she tries to draw away, and Clarke tightens her grip.
“What about me is worth protecting?”
“Lexa, please.” That desperation returns, that fear of falling and leaving everything unsaid, of disappearing without knowing . “What is it? You left me at the mountain; the few for the many. And now, suddenly, I take priority over your people? You bowed to me. You vowed to me.”
Lexa’s jaw clenches, and her gaze lowers to their clasped hands. “Clarke, what is that you ask of me?”
Lexa looks at her, such sadness in her eyes. “Clarke.”
“What changed, Lexa? After you betrayed me?”
Lexa doesn’t flinch, really, at that. She takes it in stride, and, voice reverting to that lecturing tone Clarke has learned to both hate and rely on, speaks.
“Do you remember,” Lexa begins, “When we fought the pauna together? You told me something beneath the creature’s home that reassured me beyond understanding. That you considered me ruthless.” Lexa’s lips quirk up in an brief half smile, a ghost of the same one Clarke saw that day.
Clarke remembers. “What about it?”
Lexa hesitates; she draws a deep breath, and meets Clarke’s eyes; Clarke realizes she’s been kneeling in front of her for a good minute now, and she’s struck with the similarity to that night when Lexa bowed. But now, there is an expectancy, in her posture; she is open, vulnerable, and Clarke could push her down in a heartbeat.
“Ruthless.” Lexa repeats. “Much like honing a weapon, ensuring you kindle the proper heat, and scrape an edge for the perfect sword; I was told as a child to adhere to ruthlessness. Intelligence.” Lexa squeezes Clarke’s hand. “Detachment. Somehow, I managed to win my conclave fulfilling only one of those prerequisites.”
“Let me guess; intelligence.” Clarke mutters.
Lexa hums in agreement. “I’d like to think so. When you told me-”
“Wait,” Clarke interrupts, “I thought you said the pillars of being commander were wisdom, compassion, and strength?”
Lexa’s eyes shine with something close to pride. “You were listening. Yes, every commander is allowed to adjust the pillars to their own vision. But I was the first to alter them since their conception. Ruthlessness, for strength. Intelligence, for wisdom. Detachment, for compassion.”
Clarke feels slightly overwhelmed. “And what does this have to do with the pauna?”
“Everything.” Lexa says, almost earnestly. “Clarke, when you told me that you thought me ruthless, I was pleased.”
“Because it is something I have struggled with, since I first became commander. Titus has tried to break me, Gustus attempted to make the difficult decisions for me. But you and I know that this burden we share is ours, and ours alone.”
There she goes with the sweeping gestures. ‘Ours alone’ makes Clarke’s heart skip a beat nonetheless, and she scowls at their still entwined hands.
“Ruthlessness after loss, is not an action. It is a reaction. It twists itself, losing its agency, and becomes vengeance. I realized this after Costia was taken from me.”
Costia. Clarke falls silent. Dust swirls in the sunbeams bathing Lexa’s profile, and she watches those particles dance in the same way you gaze idly at anything but what demands your attention the most.
“Vengeance is personal.” Clarke supplies, softly. Lexa imperceptibly nods.
She continues, “I moved past rage, into detachment. I considered Costia my heart, and to lose her was to lose my attachment to this world. Anya, Gustus, Titus, Aden. I love them, but it was a love born of circumstance. Costia was a love born of choice.”
Lexa looks back down at their hands, and using her right, peels Clarke’s off. Clarke lets her.
“You asked me what makes you worth protecting.”
Clarke watches, as the sunlight shifts to coaxing itself through Lexa’s hair, swept neatly to the side and almost endearing ruffled. Like the down of a feather.
“You asked me what changed.”
Clarke’s gaze shifts, finally, back to Lexa’s. Lexa swallows, deeply, and stands. Clarke instinctively reaches a hand out to stop her; but it’s unnecessary. Lexa maneuvers to the couch, to sit beside Clarke. Clarke shifts her weight on the cushion, drawing up her knees as a sort of figurative barrier.
“And?” Clarke asks, tucking her chin between knees.
“The reality of the matter is, I didn’t trust myself. To choose my people again.” Lexa admits, to Clarke’s legs. “When I learned you left Arkadia, my first thought was relief that you were alive.”
“Barely.” Clarke murmurs. Lexa tilts her head forward in acknowledgement.
“I could hide then, behind your reputation.”
“‘Wanheda couldn’t fall into the hands of the ice queen’.” Clarke recites.
“Yes. But I didn’t seek wanheda, truly; I sought Clarke. And this haunted me.” Lexa’s nostrils flare. “You were very much alive, but I saw your ghost everywhere.”
Clarke grimaces. “I could say the same. Though I would’ve liked the ghost part to be a bit more true. At the time.” She adds. “I like you very much alive right now.”
Lexa’s eyes crinkle slightly with amusement. “I like me very much alive, too.”
“Now there’s a nice change of pace.”
“I enjoy living, Clarke.”
“News to me.”
Lexa’s eyes harden, and her mouth opens; but whatever she was going to say dies in her throat as someone knocks on the door. Clarke jumps, and Lexa’s head whips to the side.
“Speak.” She calls.
“Heda, the fleimkepa has been searching for you.” Comes the muffled reply. “He asks why you have not yet met with Helena."
“Tell Titus I am occupied; I will consult with Helena before sundown, but she is free to find Juno in the meanwhile.”
Clarke stifles a smile at the clear weariness in the messenger’s voice as he sighs “Of course, heda.”
“I told you they’d be pissed.”