Chapter 1: Pie In The Oven
Clarke stares at the pie case, its rotating tiers spinning in endless circles. She feels like that pie case; twirling in place, arms laden with pies, never getting anywhere. The pies are the only reason she’s here; she’s been baking and waiting tables at JoJo’s diner for eight years, but she’s been stuck in this town her whole life. Getting out now is about as likely as the pie case sprouting legs and walking down the highway, hitching a ride, and disappearing into the sunset.
“It’s time, sweetie,” Margie says, sidling up beside her and bumping her hip with her own as she tucks her billfold into her apron pocket. “You’ve put it off long enough.”
Clarke would make a face if she weren’t so exhausted.
“Could be a false alarm,” Margie offers with a little shrug.
This time Clarke casts her a dubious look. She hasn’t taken the test yet, but she knows. The symptoms are all there: fatigue, bodyaches, nausea. That and the fact that her period is four weeks late.
“Want me to come in?” Margie offers.
Clarke swallows and nods, walking toward the bathroom Stef is cleaning.
Stef looks up with a bright smile as Clarke and Margie enter. She’s young and perky and reminds Clarke of herself when she was younger.
“What’chu two up to?” she asks.
Margie gives her a pointed look and Stef quiets her expression. “Oh,” she says, subdued.
Margie hands Clarke the box and Clarke opens it, unwrapping the test stick.
She feels blank. She knows she ought to feel panicked or at least a little anxious, but she can’t find it inside her to feel anything. After being on her feet for nine hours - including the lunch break she spent making a pistachio cream pie – she doesn’t have any energy to put into anything. She’ll be lucky if she can even undress before she climbs into bed tonight.
She pees on the white stick, tapping it on the bowl as Stef and Margie prattle on about something they overheard a customer say earlier. She knows they’re talking for her benefit, to pretend this isn’t as bad a situation as it is.
Of everything in her life, Stef and Margie are the least awful. They’re not really her friends; Clarke hasn’t had friends in years. They’re friendly though, and if anyone has to be with her when she gets confirmation of what she already knows, she’s glad it’s them.
Once she sets the test on a paper towel on the sink, it’s unavoidable. They can’t pretend the next two minutes aren’t tense.
“C’mon now,” Stef drawls, looking down at the stick. “Just the one little line. We don’t want no baby.”
Clarke fixes her hair in the mirror, pulling her ponytail tighter, smoothing her powder-blue uniform over her stomach. She wonders how much longer her uniform will fit.
“We don’t need no baby,” Margie echoes, tapping her acrylic nails on the counter as though challenging the test to defy her.
Clarke sighs, looking around the bathroom with its faded floral wallpaper, smelling the overwhelming cinnamon of the air freshener.
She closes her eyes.
Bittersweet chocolate pudding with cinnamon and just a hint of chili pepper, served with banana slices on top and a dollop of whipped cream.
She pictures the ingredients folding together in the bowl, melted to perfection as she pours it into the pie crust, then sliding into the oven, filling JoJo’s diner with the scent of chocolate and real cinnamon. Nothing like the synthetic crap itching her nose right now.
Margie’s nail stops tapping on the counter and Clarke is pulled from her baking reverie.
She looks first to the girls’ faces. They’re trying to hold back a wince. She doesn’t need to look at the test to know.
“God dammit,” she says under her breath. She’s not surprised, just resentful of the confirmation. She lowers the lid of the toilet and sits, putting her face in her hands. “I should never drink. I do stupid things when I drink, like have sex with my husband.”
“I’m sorry, Sugar,” Margie drawls, stepping closer and putting a hand on Clarke’s knee.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, Clarke,” Stef echoes.
Clarke lets out a heavy sigh, then sits up, keeping her eyes closed. She’s acclimated to the synthetic cinnamon now, and she can make out hints of sour egg on her uniform. The scent clings to things in the kitchen, no matter what kind of pie she makes. Chocolate, strawberry rhubarb, banana cream, apple. None of them quite wash that sour diner smell out.
Must be another pregnancy thing. She smells eggs everywhere now.
Quiche with ham and basil and sliced up cherry tomatoes, served hot with a sprinkling of melted parmesan.
“Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout?” Margie asks after a moment of silence.
“Tomorrow’s lunch special.”
“I’m sure it’ll be delicious,” Stef assures her. She looks down at the test, picking it up in the towel. “You want this?”
Clarke shakes her head. “I don’t want to tell Chad yet.”
Margie gives a pouting nod. “We’ll sit outside with you ‘til he comes.”
Clarke doesn’t argue, just stands and splashes a water on her face before going to her locker.
Before she picks up her purse, she takes the piece of paper folded in quarters out from its spot against the side of her locker. She opens it, reading it for the tenth time that day.
Washoba County Annual Pie Bake-Off
July 4th, Alabama Fairgrounds
$15,000 cash reward
Must register by June 15
She stares at it, wondering for the tenth time if it’s real. It seems too good to be true: a contest of the one thing she’s good at with a cash prize big enough to buy her freedom.
She doesn’t want to get her hopes up. She thinks she has a good shot at winning, but Chad probably won’t let her go, especially if he suspects she’s up to something. If she’s going to ask, she has to be strategic, and she doesn’t have the energy or nerve for that tonight.
She takes off her apron and picks up her purse before walking out to the parking lot.
JoJo’s Diner sits right on the highway, a long, squat little building with a gravel parking lot. There are no fancy signs or lights directing travelers here on their way through town, but they find their way, sitting amongst the locals, eating slice after slice of the pies Clarke bakes.
Stef and Margie take a seat on the little brick wall that holds a lackluster bed of flowers outside the door. There’s a spot between them for Clarke, and Clarke sinks down in it.
“Whatcha gonna do?” Stef asks.
“Go home and heat this up for Chad,” Clarke says, lifting the takeout box of macaroni pie in her hand.
“I mean about the baby.”
Clarke shrugs. “Not much to do.”
“You could get rid of it.”
Clarke slumps. “State law says Chad has to consent.”
Stef and Margie cluck their tongues. They understand Chad's about as likely to agree to that as the pie case running away.
“I don’t envy you,” Margie says, sighing out at the dark parking lot. “But... there are worse things.”
Clarke nods, but she wonders what those worse things might be. She hates her husband, hates her life, hates the baby growing inside her.
The only thing she likes is baking pies.
“You gonna go to the doctor?”
Clarke nods. She has an appointment in two days anyway, her annual pap smear with Dr. Bollinger.
She stares at the gravel in front of her, wondering if she can name tomorrow’s special I Don’t Want Chad's Baby Pie, vaguely aware Stef and Margie are talking about Margie’s boobs and how Margie thinks they’re lopsided.
She sees the headlights and hears the blaring horn and scraping of gravel as Chad pulls into the parking lot, almost skidding as he breaks in front of them. He doesn’t even roll down the window and barely waits until Clarke has closed the door before flooring the gas, leaving Stef and Margie in a cloud of dust as Clarke scrambles to put on her seatbelt.
Clarke smells the bitterness of his chewing tobacco that permeates the car and feels something lurch in her stomach. Maybe it’s the baby, but the sourness of it makes her extra sick tonight. He’s got something in his mouth now, but Clarke can tell from the snapping it’s gum. She’s not sure which she hates more, the chew that leaves yellow stains on their porch and sidewalk, or the gum and its awful, incessant snapping.
“How much you make today?” Chad asks without greeting.
“About fifty,” Clarke says, reaching into her pocket to pull out the wad of bills.
“Just fifty?” Chad makes a flatulent sound with his mouth. “It almost ain’t worth you working there if you ain’t even gonna make minimum wage. I’d rather keep you home making pies for me .” He holds out his hand, waiting for Clarke to hand her earnings over.
Tucked into the side of her bra under her arm, Clarke feels the soft fold of bills she put there on her lunch break, the thirty dollars she’ll tuck into a tin or in the couch springs or under the mattress once Chad is asleep.
Clarke grips the door handle, trying not to imagine the awfulness of being home with Chad every day.
“Jo depends on me,” she offers.
“I depend on you,” Chad snorts. “You don’t owe that dumb bitch nothing.”
Clarke should be used to Chad's casual hatred by now, but she isn’t.
“Are you gonna ask me how I am?” Chad asks, glaring at her.
“How are you, Chad?” Clarke asks. She tries as hard as she can to keep any trace of mocking out of her voice. She has to play this just right if she has any hope of keeping her evening peaceful.
“Like you mean it,” Chad demands.
“How are you?” Clarke tries again.
“I’m okay,” Chad says, eyes back on the road, suddenly casual. The transformation is startling.
Clarke is encouraged. “How was work?”
“Aw, you know…” Chad begins. He’s quiet for a moment, then starts to drawl on about something his boss did that ticked him off.
The car swerves around a corner and Clarke feels her insides rearrange themselves. She thinks of the baby, pictures it sucking her energy from her through a straw, and hopes she can pacify Chad enough that he’ll leave her alone so she can go to bed early. She pictures her bed, imagines the softness of the pillow, and the sweet slipping away of consciousness.
It’s the best thing besides baking Clarke knows.
“Did you hear what I said?” Chad demands.
Clarke startles back into the car. “Yes.”
“What did I say?”
“You were going on about how unfair your boss was being.”
“About what though?”
Clarke knows she made a mistake.
“Dammit, Clarke, how come you never listen to me?” Chad asks, slamming the steering wheel. It makes Clarke jump a little.
At least this time he only hits the steering wheel.
“I’m sorry, Chad,” she says, hoping she sounds contrite enough. “I’m tired. I’ll try to listen better.”
“Damn right you will. And we’ll talk about you working at JoJo’s. I don’t like you being so tired all the time.”
Clarke swallows, knowing Chad doesn’t mean the conversation is open for her to start.
Clarke has been Dr. Bollinger’s patient for twenty-six years now. More, if she counts the time her mother spent in Dr. Bollinger’s care while pregnant with Clarke. Dr. Bollinger is always cheerful and glad to see her, and Clarke wonders what it must be like to have a job she loves as much as Dr. Bollinger seems to love her work. Clarke loves making pies, but she could leave waitressing in a heartbeat.
She sits in the waiting room, a converted foyer in the old Victorian house of Dr. Bollinger’s practice. She eyes the parenting magazines, the pregnancy booklets, the breastfeeding pamphlets. They seem to mock her. Soon she’ll balloon up like the women in the magazines and she’ll be too big to get out of town. She clings to the pie she’s brought Dr. Bollinger, hoping enough good deeds will win her an ounce of reprieve from her own sadness.
A nurse in navy scrubs greets her, inviting her back into the exam room. She weighs Clarke, takes her blood pressure and temperature, and informs her the doctor will be in shortly. Clarke nods, not making eye contact, dreading Dr. Bollinger’s reaction when she tells her. Dr. Bollinger will be happy for her, and Clarke will have to pretend she is too. She grips the pie harder.
After a knock, Clarke braces herself to smile, but instead of Dr. Bollinger, someone Clarke has never seen before walks in. She’s young, barely old enough to have finished medical school, stethoscope draped gracefully behind her neck under the thick french braid that collects her wavy brown hair behind her head.
The doctor looks up, lashy, sad doe-eyes meeting Clarke’s, and drops her clipboard.
She mutters apologies as she bends over, pen spilling out of her pocket as she tries to pick up the clipboard. Finally she collects herself, standing and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Sorry,” she says. Her voice is low and serious and she doesn’t smile or indicate she’s even trying to be friendly. “Is this for me?” she asks, gesturing to the pie.
Clarke holds the pie closer to her chest. “You’re not my doctor.”
“I am now.” She extends her hand. “Dr. Lexa Woodward.”
Clarke tentatively sets the pie in her lap so she can take Dr. Woodward’s hand. It’s soft and warm, not yet wrinkled and cracked from decades of washing between patients.
“Dr. Bollinger is taking an unexpected sabbatical,” Dr. Woodward explains. “I’m not actually sure if she’s coming back. I joined her practice a few months ago, and I wasn’t expect-”
Dr. Woodward stops mid-sentence, noting the dubious look on Clarke’s face.
“Anyway,” Dr. Woodward says, brushing the topic away. “I’m seeing Dr. Bollinger’s patients now.”
“But I’ve been seeing Dr. Bollinger my whole life. She delivered me.”
“She was special to her patients,” Dr. Woodward says as she walks to the sink, setting her clipboard on the counter to wash her hands. The clipboard falls again. Her voice is oddly cool and detached. Clarke supposes most doctors are like that. She’s just so used to Dr. Bollinger.
The doctor turns back to her, rubbing a paper towel over her hands. “So what seems to be the problem?”
Clarke sighs. At least she doesn’t have to pretend to be happy about this with this new doctor. “I seem to be pregnant.”
“Congratulations.” Dr. Woodward’s voice is still detached and cool.
“Thanks, but I don’t want this baby or anything that comes with it.”
“Oh. I don’t perform that particular-”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Okay. We can run the standard tests. But first let me see what’s going on,” Dr. Woodward says.
Clarke lifts a hand apathetically, flopping it back down on the exam table
The doctor listens to Clarke's heart and lungs, looks in her mouth and eyes and ears. Then she settles onto her stool, rolling to the end of the exam table, and pulls the stirrups up for Clarke to place her feet in.
Clarke should feel strange about someone other than Dr. Bollinger or Chad having anything to do with her more private parts, but she feels a comforting sense of impersonalness as the air hits her.
As the doctor inserts the speculum and examines Clarke, she runs through the standard questions - how long it’s been since Clarke had a period, if she’s taking any medications, if she’s experiencing any morning sickness. It’s is quick and it’s painless, and soon Clarke feels the speculum being removed.
“You can put your feet down now,” the doctor says, turning away to put the swabs and tools back on the tray and into their test kits.
Clarke puts her feet down and smooths her exam gown over her lap.
Then the doctor asks a question that makes Clarke stumble.
“Do you feel safe at home?”
Clarke opens her mouth, speechless for a moment before she finds a response. “Define safe.”
“Do you worry about your physical or emotional safety?”
Clarke pauses again, wondering if she should feel bad for lying to her new doctor.
Instead of lying, she finds a loophole.
“No, I don’t worry about that.”
And it’s true. She doesn’t worry about it anymore. Chad will yell at her, insult her, maybe even hit her once in awhile, but she’s learned not to worry about when it will happen next and if she’ll be able to take it. She’s taken it for years. She’ll survive.
The doctor gives a satisfied bob of her head. “Very well. Get dressed and meet me in Dr. Bollinger's office.”
Clarke nods, relieved the exam is over. She dresses and picks up her purse, walking down the hall to the office where she can hear the doctor shuffling around.
It looks as though a hurricane ripped through Dr. Bollinger's office. Files are strewn everywhere, cold coffee cups sit with their cream curdling, and medical textbooks lie open on several surfaces. Even the chair Clarke is supposed to sit in has a stack of files.
Clarke looks around alarmed, still holding the pie.
“Pardon the mess,” the doctor says, not looking at Clarke. “Dr. Bollinger left unexpectedly."
Clarke feels a little bit sorry for this new doctor. Clearly she’s been left with more than she bargained for with Dr. Bollinger’s sudden retirement and the transfer of so many lifelong patients to her care. Clarke extends the pie over the desk. “Here.”
Dr. Woodward’s eyes flick up, surprised. “For me?”
“No, for the other person in the room.”
Dr. Woodward takes the pie, looking for a flat surface to set it on. She settles for moving a few files off a cabinet, setting the pie on top.
Clarke sits in her chair facing the doctor, who sits with her hands braced on the arms of her chair as it rocks a little bit.
The doctor doesn’t say anything.
She just stares.
She stares to the point where Clarke feels her skin start to crawl. It’s intense and uncomfortable and she doesn’t know what to do.
This can’t be the person Dr. Bollinger picked to replace her. She’s humorless, cold, and young enough to have gone to high school with Clarke.
Desperate to fill the bizarre silence, Clarke asks, “Where did you go to medical school?”
“Johns Hopkins. I did my residency in Auburn. Now I do family practice with a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology,” Dr. Woodward says calmly.
Clarke gives a vague nod, as though she knew anything about medical school or residency. Then there’s another moment of awkward silence as the doctor continues to stare at Clarke.
“So do I need to do anything, or…”
The doctor reaches for a pen. “Yes. It would appear that you are indeed pregnant, so I’m writing you a prescription for some prenatal vitamins. My assistant will give you a list of good and bad foods, and we’ll need to draw some blood. Take it easy with exercise, and as long as you’re comfortable, sex is fine. Other than that, call if you have any questions or concerns.”
Clarke sighs, thinking of the weight that will soon be upon her. Not just in her body, but in other ways.
She takes the prescription and stands, heading toward the door. When she reaches it, she turns back. “I do have one question.”
The doctor looks up, a sudden look of hope on her face.
“How pregnant am I, exactly?”
“All the way pregnant.” It’s deadpan.
Clarke rolls her eyes. “I mean how far along am I?”
Clarke thinks she sees the doctor blush a little.
“Oh. About eight weeks.”
Clarke sighs. “Yep. That’s what I thought.”
The doctor just stares, unsure how to respond.
“Thanks for your time, Dr. Woodward,” Clarke says.
“Be sure to call-”
“-if I have any questions or concerns,” Clarke says in annoyance. She leaves the room, closing the door behind her, wondering what kind of bizarre disaster she’s fallen into now.
Chapter 2: Preheat
***TRIGGER WARNING***: The first part of this chapter contains a dubcon hetero sex scene that is possibly the grossest thing I’ve ever written. Clarke’s bisexuality is fetishized and it’s icky. I debated not including it at all because it’s that gross. From an artistic standpoint, I feel it’s important to the development of the characters, but I want readers to consider it OPTIONAL. It’s short and not too detailed, but if you’d rather not read, skip from the * to the ***. I want everyone to feel safe reading this story.
In that vein, Chad is obviously an abuser. It’s hard to write, it’s hard to read, and it’s hard to see Clarke in a shitty situation with so little agency. I don’t plan to treat the subject matter lightly; I plan to address it in more depth than the original screenplay. If anyone has issues with this subject matter, please send me a message here or on Tumblr and I’ll be happy to tell you exactly what will and won’t happen with that plot line. Again, I want everyone to feel safe.
Thank you for bearing with me through these first few Chad-heavy chapters. He gets less and less story time as the plot thickens and Lexa starts hanging around more. At the end of the day it’s a Clexa story, and Lexa is in every chapter, including this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You look handsome tonight, Chad.”
It takes effort, and she feels something in her chest slither and try to slip away from her out of disgust as she smiles. It’s supposed to be an adoring smile, but Clarke’s not sure she can do that convincingly.
The only thing that works to keep the charade up is to remember the early days, before the accident, before Chad got so angry and mean. Back when he used to write her songs and play guitar for her while she baked. Back when Clarke was happy, when they would lie in the hammock and look at the stars together, finding made-up constellations, laughing as they got drunk on wine coolers.
“I’m gonna give you the stars someday, Clarke,” Chad had promised her.
“What about the moon?”
“That too,” Chad had grinned back. “All that and a slice of pie.”
Clarke had folded herself into him like caramel in a peanut butter chocolate pie, kissing him silly, never worrying about what would come.
Trouble had come, first for Clarke. But Chad had guided her through it. When her mother died, Chad had rocked her to sleep in his arms, promising he’d take care of her. When he’d proposed a few weeks later, she’d said yes, happy to have something to tether herself to now that she was an orphan.
She looks back on that time, feeling foolish, missing the girl she used to be. She misses that smiling girl in the hammock almost as much as she misses her mama.
Now the mean version of Chad smirks across the table at her. “Been a long time since you called me handsome.”
“Well, you are handsome,” Clarke forces out. And it’s true, she knows. Chad is handsome in the face. But these days Clarke sees his face less and less, and more the anger and bitterness simmering under the surface. “Sorry I don’t tell you enough.”
“You buttering me up for something? Gonna put me in one of your pies?” he says with a smirk.
Clarke tries to laugh it off. “I was thinking about you today at work.”
Chad grins like a goon. “You think of me all day?”
Clarke keeps her smile on, tense as it may be. “Of course.” In truth, work is the only place she doesn’t have to think of Chad.
She sees an open window and decides to risk it.
“I wanted to ask you about something.”
“I give you plenty of money,” Chad says, darkening.
“No, not that,” Clarke says, desperate to keep the window open. “You know I want for nothing.” She swallows the lie down, hoping it will buy her an ounce of freedom. “There’s this pie baking contest up at the state fairgrounds on Fourth of July weekend. I was thinking I could enter.”
Chad's expression turns suspicious. “Why do you need to enter some pie contest?”
“The prize money’s pretty good,” Clarke explains, unable to stop herself from salivating at the thought of having fifteen thousand dollars in her name. If she’s smart about it, Chad wouldn’t be able to touch it unless she let him.
It would be enough to buy her a new life.
“But you want for nothing,” Chad echoes, and Clarke wishes she hadn’t said it a moment ago.
“I want for nothing,” Clarke agrees. “Maybe we could use it to take a nice vacation or add an extra room onto the house.”
Chad squints at her, and Clarke wonders if he can tell that taking a vacation with him or adding onto their little house are the last things she’d ever want to do with the prize money. Most of the time she thinks she’s pretty good at hiding her thoughts from him, but others he seems to see through her like cellophane wrapped over one of her pies.
“Why would we need another room?”
“I don’t know. It’d be nice to have in case we have kids someday.”
Chad's face spreads in a lecherous grin. “You in the mood to make a baby?”
Clarke’s stomach rolls as though the baby were trying to somersault away from Chad.
“I’m awfully tired…” she hedges.
“I don’t mind,” Chad says, leaning forward, looking more eager. “All you gotta do is lie there.”
Clarke swallows down bile, knowing all too well that’s all Chad expects of her.
“It’s been a while. Heck, I don’t think we’ve done it since that night I got you drunk.”
Damn that night. Damn Chad and his wine coolers. Damn the baby now growing inside her as a result.
“So about that contest?”
“I’ll think about it. I don’t like the idea. But maybe if you give me a little love I’ll warm to it.”
Clarke feels sick. She changes the subject. “Is there a game tonight?”
Chad grunts and takes one more bite of his food, then strolls into the living room, planting himself on the couch to watch the game.*
After she does the dishes, Clarke slips into bed, hoping Chad is tired from his day of working construction and won’t try to talk her into having sex when the game is over. But he crawls into bed and rolls toward her, his hairy arms and chest reminding Clarke of a lumbering bear. Without his shirt, she can smell the sour stench of his body odor, clinging inside her nostrils, stinging her lungs, making her feel even sicker. He grabs at her breasts, thinking he’s being sweet by warming her up, but he’s just rough and clumsy. He doesn’t even bother taking off her nightgown, just gathers it up and rubs her clit too rough for a minute before pushing himself inside her. It stings and pulls and stretches, but Clarke is too weary to do anything but hope he finishes quickly.
She lays there, dead weight, wondering if anyone but Chad will notice when she’s gone.
At least she doesn’t have to worry about getting pregnant now. Unless there’s some way to get double pregnant. If he knew, Chad would probably find a way, just to keep her that much more chained to him.
He lasts longer than usual tonight, gasping and muttering sour things in her face. Clarke wishes it were possible to sleep through this.
“Need a little help tonight,” Chad pants.
Clarke is silent, waiting to hear what he wants. She dreads when he asks her to participate.
“Tell me about Jenny,” Chad says.
Clarke feels the bile rise higher in her throat, hating when he does this.
She thinks about Jenny a lot, especially lately. She wonders what might have happened if Jenny hadn’t been so intent on leaving town the day after graduation.
She especially wonders what might have happened if she had been brave enough to go with her.
“We used to make out in high school,” she says.
In truth, it was more than making out, but she doesn’t want Chad to know that.
Chad jerks on top of her. “So… hot,” he wheezes, jabbing into her a few more times before slumping on top of her, almost crushing her with his weight.
Clarke wishes he actually would.
Chad is cheerful the next day, grinning as though they shared some romantic afterglow. Clarke hates it, spending longer in the shower than usual, hoping to wash off all the awful she feels. She looks down at her stomach, wondering how much longer until it starts to betray her the way Chad did, robbing her of the life she had planned for herself.
“You’re late,” Sal barks from behind the grill when she rushes into the diner nine minutes late.
“I’m sorry, the bus was behind schedule.”
“Why won’t your husband buy you a damn car?” Sal scowls.
“Because he knows he might never see me again,” Clarke mutters under her breath as she stuffs her purse in her locker. She hears the crunch of the pie bake-off paper as it’s pushed into the back of the locker. She whips out her apron and ties it around her waist.
“Jo’s in your section. Good luck,” Sal says, waving his spatula in the air as Clarke sighs.
She picks up her billfold and rounds the corner of the kitchen, plastering on her best attempt at a smile as she approaches Jo’s regular booth. Her feet are already sore and she hasn’t even been at work five minutes.
“Good morning, Jo,” she says, hoping she doesn’t sound too tense as she folds her order pad open. “What can I get for you today?”
Jo is a wiry old woman with shocking dyed black hair cut like Liza Minelli. She wears a fitted plaid blouse with pockets at the breasts and dangling gold earrings.
“It’s too damn hot in here,” Jo says, frowning down at her crossword puzzle book. “I don’t ask for much Clarke, but you’d think that in my own diner I’d be afforded the luxury of not sweating like a pig.”
“I’ll tell Sal he needs to turn the air up,” Clarke says, fishing a pen out of her apron pocket. As she does, she feels her stomach churn and a slithering feeling in her throat.
“It’s hot as balls out there.”
“It is pretty warm,” Clarke says, knowing that agreeing with Jo is the path of least resistance. “Maybe you’d like your pie chilled this morning?”
Jo looks up at her with an expression of mild disgust. “Why would I ever eat chilled pie?”
“Some people like it,” Clarke shrugs.
She feels something lurch in her stomach and her throat tighten. She had felt a little sick on the bus, but the constant movement of the vehicle had been soothing, like a pair of arms rocking her gently. But now she’s standing still and she feels her stomach start to roil.
Jo scowls. “If I’m gonna eat pie, it’s gonna be fresh from the oven like God intended.”
“So what’ll it be?”
Jo squints down at her menu as though she doesn’t know it by heart. She clucks her tongue decisively as Clarke feels her sickness cross the threshold from discomfort to urgency.
“Excuse me,” Clarke says, trying not to gag. “I’ll be right back.”
Clarke stuffs her order pad into her apron and rushes toward the bathroom, barely making it inside the pink cinnamon bubble before she starts retching. She throws open the toilet and lands the contents of her stomach - the dry waffle and egg white she’d managed to get down that morning - into the water. The splattering sound and the assault of cinnamon makes her heave again, until she’s certain there’s nothing left in her stomach. She feels an odd sense of relief as she slumps down, wiping her suddenly sweaty brow. She’s shaking and exhausted and her stomach muscles are sore.
The only pleasant thing around her is the cool tiles under her knees. She debates curling up, pressing her damp forehead to them, and waiting until someone finds her. Maybe Sal will let her go home.
But Chad has the day off and Clarke would rather be at JoJo’s than home with him.
She takes a few deep breaths of stinging cinnamon air before pulling herself up and flushing the toilet. She rinses her mouth out and wipes her forehead. She glances at herself in the mirror, noticing how pale she looks, especially in the powder-blue diner uniform.
She puts on a wavering smile as she exits the bathroom, pulling out her billfold, hoping no one can see her hands shaking. She rounds the corner and approaches Jo’s booth again.
“Sorry about that,” she says, trying to sound cheerful. It’s forced.
Jo squints up at her, then frowns. “Are you pregnant?”
Clarke stumbles at the bluntness of the question. She glances around, looking to see who might have heard. When she’s certain no one is watching or listening, she gives a little nod.
“Sit,” Jo says, pointing toward the seat across from her in the booth.
Clarke slides into the booth, glad to have permission to sit for a minute, but dreading the lecture she’s about to get.
“How far along?” Jo asks.
“Is it Chad's?”
Clarke gives her an alarmed expression. “Of course it’s Chad's.”
Jo shrugs. “You never know.”
Clarke scoffs at the insult. “Between the hours I work here and not having a means of transportation beside the bus, I don’t exactly have time to have an affair.”
“Would you prefer not to be employed here?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Clarke says, realizing she sounded ungrateful. “I like waiting tables.”
“No you don’t,” Jo says, turning her head to eye Clarke almost playfully.
Clarke hunches over, pressing her arms into her aching stomach. “I love baking pies.”
“And pies love being baked by you,” Jo says. Her voice is a little softer.
Clarke stares down at the plastic wood grain of the diner table. There’s a sticky spot she must have missed the night before.
“Tell Sal I told you to work on that big order we got in last night. Go in the back room, pull up a stool, and let Stef and Margie work the floor for a few hours.”
“What big order?”
Jo winks at her, a fleeting, barely perceptible gesture of affection.
Clarke feels her shoulders and stomach start to unwind in relief, her feet already grateful for the reprieve.
“Just for today, though,” Jo says, warning her not to get too comfortable on that stool. “And make sure you’ve got something to show for it at the end of the day.”
Clarke nods, standing up and feeling the stretch of her sore stomach as she straightens.
“Bring me a slice of Pecan Princess,” Jo says, looking back down at her menu. “And coffee.”
Clarke slides back into the kitchen, cutting a slice of the pie Jo wanted and pouring her a cup of coffee. After delivering it, she seals herself in the back room, pulling up a stool.
This is her favorite place in the world, this room. Light filters in through the yellow curtain making the room as golden as a perfectly baked crust. The sourness of the rest of the diner doesn’t reach back into her little baking nook. It was once an office, but is now outfitted with a counter and a fridge and a few mixers.
Clarke takes off her ring and puts it on the windowsill. She turns the radio on, humming along as she measures the flour and sugar, waiting for the butter to soften on the sill before mixing everything together with a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of ice water. Even though Jo bought mixers, Clarke makes the dough for each pie by hand. She presses the flour and butter together, feeling the cold slip of the butter between her fingers, lodging under her nails, clinging to her knuckles. She flattens and folds the dough seven times before putting it in the fridge to chill for a few hours. When she’s done, she scrubs the clingy dough off.
It’s her mother’s recipe she uses every day. She thinks of the afternoons they spent together when Clarke was small, folding dough and mixing berries and tapioca and slices of peach together for fillings. After the dough is rolled out and draped into the pie tin, edges crimped, her mother would press her thumb into the center twice, making a little indent of a heart.
“Love’s what makes it taste so good,” her mother would say.
Even as a child, Clarke had eyed her skeptically, knowing that pressing her thumb into the crust couldn’t affect the taste. But she did it every time, just in case. Still does.
She misses her mother more than usual today. Her mom won’t be there to hold her hand through her pregnancy. She won’t get to see the look of wonder on her mom’s face when she introduces them. And she won’t get to see her mother teaching her child how to bake.
She hasn’t cried about her mother in a long time, but she’s tender from her earlier sickness and the bleakness of her situation. She wishes her mom would come hold her and tell her she’s going to be okay. She lets a few tears fall, then takes out the crusts she made yesterday and starts building pies.
Strawberry creme. Caramel cappuccino. Cocoa banana hazelnut. Peanut butter apple.
She sticks with basics today, grounding herself in the fundamentals. She likes experimenting with unusual combinations, but her queasy stomach and tired body and mind hold her back. She fills a dozen crusts with pie, draping dough lattice over the ones the call for it, sealing in others, and leaving a few open-top. She’s just put them in the refrigerator with baking instructions on top when Stef pokes her head in.
“How you feeling?” she asks, scrunching up her nose in sympathy.
“Okay,” Clarke says. She thinks perhaps she ought to feel guilty for making Stef and Margie work the floor alone. She’ll have to wait tables for the dinner rush to have something to give Chad, but she’ll be okay by then. “How is it out there?”
“Not too busy yet,” Stef says, coming in and swinging her arms as she surveys the flour-dusted surface Clarke uses to roll out crusts.
“I’ll be out there in a bit,” Clarke says. “Just gonna clean up.”
“Okay. Hey, I know you’re not feeling great, but I was wondering… Any chance you’d be willing to make a True Love Pie?”
“First date tonight?” Clarke asks, not looking up from the counter she’s wiping.
“Yeah…” Stef says, sounding a little discouraged.
“I’ll do it on my lunch break.”
Stef looks relieved. “Thank you.”
“It’s not magic, you know.”
“You’re the only one who thinks that.”
Clarke lifts her eyebrows skeptically. “Didn’t work out so well for me with Chad.”
“But it did for your friend Jenny, right?”
Clarke stiffens but tries not to act alarmed. She’s not sure how Stef heard about Jenny and the pie, and she hopes Stef heard the fabled version of the story, not what really happened.
Clarke invented True Love Pie for Jenny their senior year in high school. Jenny was Clarke’s best friend since they were small, the person she told everything to, the person she spent every Friday and Saturday night with. She was the first person Clarke loved.
They’d kept their relationship secret, of course. Their kisses and touches only ever happened in the dark of their cars or after Clarke’s mom or Jenny’s parents had gone to sleep. But it had been real and true and sent that magic flutter through Clarke every time she caught Jenny’s eye.
They hadn’t talked about what it meant. It was just an unspoken thing between them. Clarke didn’t need more than Jenny’s hand in hers and lips against lips over pillows. They’d been friends forever, and Jenny was the last person who would misunderstand Clarke.
Perhaps they should have talked about it though.
Clarke had given Jenny the True Love Pie before Jenny left for college, and when Jenny came back at Christmas, she brought with her a handsome, old money boyfriend whose bleached-white smile made Clarke feel like she’d been punched in the gut. All she’d been able to do was throw herself into baking pies.
Clarke tries not to show visible discomfort as she mumbles some kind of agreement to Stef.
“Just holding out hope for Prince Charming,” Stef says wistfully.
Clarke scoffs. “No such thing.”
Margie appears in the door behind Stef. “Phone for you, Clarke.”
Clarke keeps her gaze down as she tips off her stool and wipes her hands on her apron. There’s only one person who calls her at work, and it’s the last person Clarke ever wants to talk to.
Chad tells her he’s going out with his buddies that night and she needs to take the bus home. Clarke looks forward to a peaceful evening alone. She’ll be asleep by the time he gets home, or at least pretending to be.
After the diner closes, Clarke walks to the bus stop, legs weary even though she only spent half her shift on her feet. She’s grateful for the bench, which she slumps on, tucking her feet under the slats.
She’s a little nauseous, but it might be because she hasn’t eaten. She takes out a packet of crackers from her purse and eats them, hoping it will quell the brewing sickness long enough to get home without too much discomfort.
She thinks about what it will be like to have a child. A screaming, helpless, energy-sucking child that depends on her for everything. She thinks of the laundry and spit up and and dirty diapers and crying and how grumpy Chad will get when she can’t make any of it stop.
She’s on a one-way track to an even deeper level of misery and she can’t get off.
She hears the crunch of approaching feet.
“Hello, Mrs. Griffin.”
Clarke’s eyes open and fly up to see Dr. Woodward, without her white coat and stethoscope now, taking a seat on the opposite end of the bench. Her hair is still pulled back in a french braid, but her fitted t-shirt and khaki pants make her look young. She has a nice figure, but she’s holding herself tensely.
“Hello,” Clarke says.
It’s quiet and Clarke feels obligated to fill the silence. “Nice night.”
Dr. Woodward hums in agreement.
“I don’t know many doctors who take the bus,” Clarke comments.
Dr. Woodward’s eyes lift to Clarke. “Car trouble.”
“Ah,” Clarke says, smoothing her hand down the skirt of her uniform. “I wouldn’t know. My husband doesn’t think I need one.”
The doctor gives a slow nod, unsure how to respond. She looks at Clarke in that strange way she did in her office. Maybe she’s just bad at making conversation. Clarke decides to try to be nice. It wouldn’t hurt to have her obstetrician like her.
“What part of town do you live in?”
The doctor gives a distracted nod but keeps looking at Clarke. “You?”
“Sycamore Park,” Clarke says, hoping the doctor won’t think too poorly of her. It’s not a trailer park, but it’s no Clifford Heights.
“Not too far.”
“If I hadn’t just spent all day on my feet I might walk it.”
The doctor looks down at Clarke’s uniform. “You’re a waitress at JoJo’s.” It’s an observation, not a question, and an obvious one at that.
“I make their pies too.”
The doctor pauses as though startled. “Did you make that pie you gave me?”
“I did. Cardamom bread pudding pie.”
The doctor stares. “That pie was the best thing that happened to me all week.”
Clarke lets out a little snort. “Guess your week was about as good as mine, then.”
“You underestimate the potential for food to elevate someone’s mood.”
The doctor turns to look somewhere in the middle of the road. “When I was in college I had the biggest crush on a server at the local pie shop. I went there all the time.”
“Doesn’t seem to have stuck to you,” Clarke says, nodding toward her slim figure.
The doctor looks down at her lap as she fiddles with a diamond ring on her left hand.
“I wouldn’t say that.”
Clarke looks at the sparkle of the ring in the streetlight, a little jealous. It’s stately and respectable, a far cry from the Cracker Jack ring Chad gave her the day of her mother’s funeral.
“Must have been a coincidence, then,” Clarke says. “No one’s ever asked me to marry them over a pie.”
“I’m sure Mr. Griffin doesn’t mind,” Dr. Woodward says, nodding toward Clarke’s ring.
Clarke wishes she weren’t wearing it, wishes she’d left it on the windowsill while she was making dough.
She brushes the comment off with her hand. She doesn’t bother explaining that she kept her name, the only thing she insisted on when they got married.
“My husband wouldn’t know one of my pies from Little Debbie.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Let me know what flavors you like and I’ll make them for you before my appointments.”
“You don’t have to do that,” the doctor says, face solemn. “Just make sure you’re resting and taking your prenatal vitamins.”
Clarke thinks of the prescription in her purse she still hasn’t filled. “I always brought one to Dr. Bollinger.”
“You really don’t have to.”
“What if I insist?”
A hint of a smile passes over the doctor’s face. It lifts and softens all her features, making her look strikingly beautiful. “Surprise me.”
The headlights of the bus round the corner and it roars up in front of them, crunching in the gravel.
“Nice to see you, Dr. Woodward,” Clarke says, standing and giving the doctor a nod. “I hope your bus gets here soon.”
Dr. Woodward smiles up her. “Nice to see you too. And please, outside the office, call me Lexa.”
Clarke steps up into the bus, an odd new energy flowing up through her legs and torso as she sits down, glancing down at Lexa as Lexa gives her a tentative little wave.
Next chapter will be posted Wednesday! There's only 300 words of Chad and 2000 words of Lexa.
Chapter 3: Tempering
Trigger warnings: a little unwanted groping right at the beginning, unethical behavior by a medical professional in the second half.
Chad comes home drunk that night, stumbling over his own feet, crashing into the door jamb of the bedroom. Clarke wills herself to be a still as possible so he’ll leave her alone, but she has no such luck.
He takes off his clothes and flops into the bed, jostling her, and then she feels his hand running over her stomach.
She freezes, hoping he can’t tell. She’s not showing yet and won’t be for a few more weeks, but she hates him being anywhere near one of the secrets she’s keeping from him.
She feels his clammy body press up against her and swallows down her disgust. His hands grope her and she tries to pretend she’s still asleep. When he persists, she finally grumbles, “Not tonight, Chad.”
“Why not, baby?” Chad says, trying to tweak one of her nipples through her nightgown. “We did it the other night and it was super hot,” he says, bringing his beer breath right up to her ear. His hands tries to reach down and pull up her nightgown and she shoves it away.
“I’m tired,” Clarke says firmly.
“You’re always tired.”
Clarke doesn’t respond and Chad's hand keeps rubbing her hip. Then it stops, almost as though he’s concerned about her.
Sometimes Clarke thinks she can see little pieces of the man she married. Every time she does, she wants to believe he’ll come back. She talks to him like she might have if he were still that person.
“I haven’t been feeling well. I went to the doctor last week.”
“She told me to take some vitamins. I need some money for those.”
“Think they’ll make you want to give me a little love more often?”
Clarke feels her disgust return. “Worth a try.”
“Okay, then,” Chad says, giving her hip a little pat. It’s almost sweet. “I’ll leave money on the table before I go to work in the morning.”
He rolls over, leaving Clarke alone in a cloud of relief. He starts snoring quickly, and Clarke falls asleep, grateful for the escape.
She’s not surprised when he forgets to leave the money on the table in the morning.
“Dr. Bollinger and Dr. Woodward’s office, how may I help you?”
“My name is Clarke Griffin. I'm in my first trimester. Dr. Woodward said to call if I had any questions or concerns?”
“Please hold, I’ll put you through.”
Clarke leans against the wall in the kitchen of JoJo’s, hoping Sal isn’t eavesdropping on her.
After only a second, Clarke hears the sound of a receiver being picked up. “Cla- Mrs. Griffin. How may I help you?”
“You said to call if I had any questions or concerns.”
“Well this morning - I’m having a little bit of spotting. Nothing major, just… you know, a little reddish brown.”
The line is silent for a moment.
“Is that normal?”
Dr. Woodward pauses for a moment and Clarke almost dares to hope she’s having a miscarriage.
“You should come in.”
“Oh,” Clarke says, a bit startled. “Okay. Now?”
“Tomorrow would be okay.”
“I work all day… Do you have, like, a 7am appointment?”
There’s some shuffling before Clarke hears a response. “We do. I’ll put you down.”
Clarke is surprised. “Oh, great. Well… See you then.”
“See you then.”
Clarke hangs up, feeling lighter, wondering if her misfortune might undo itself for once.
Clarke arrives at the office with a bag of almond apricot tarts, tired but eager to hear what the doctor has to say. The front door is locked, so she rings the bell and is surprised when the doctor answers the door herself.
She looks a bit flustered, as though she’s been running between patients for hours, though obviously she hasn’t, since Clarke is the first to arrive. But her hair is neat in its french braid and her makeup is fresh.
“Good morning, Mrs. Griffin.”
They stand there for a moment. Clarke feels rooted to the spot by the way the doctor is looking at her, as though running a diagnostic on her with her eyes. She seems stiffer than she was at the bus stop, as though the starch of her white coat has soaked into her skin.
Clarke lifts the bag. “I brought tarts.”
It’s met with a fleeting, forced smile. “Come in.”
Clarke is ushered through the vacant waiting room into Dr. Bollinger’s office, now occupied by Dr. Woodward. It looks dramatically different than it did the week before. There are no stacks of files, no cold cups of coffee, no open cabinets. The medical textbooks have all been put away. Everything is orderly and clean.
Before she walks around to the chair meant for her, Clarke notices a framed picture on the desk. It’s two women embracing, perhaps slow-dancing, one with hair the same color as Dr. Woodward. Dr. Woodward has her back to the camera, the other with eyes closed and a blissful smile perched on her shoulder. They’re both wearing white, and it’s obvious from the intentional framing of the other woman’s hand on Dr. Woodward’s back the picture was intended to highlight her wedding ring.
Dr. Woodward is married to a woman.
Clarke is surprised, but oddly comforted. It’s nice to know there are people who don’t fit the mould Clarke forced herself into in South Hatch. It gives her hope.
“Is that your wife?” she asks, keeping her voice light and pleasant to indicate she has no problem with the possibility.
The doctor nods, turning the picture slightly away and avoiding eye contact as she sits down in her chair, scooting it toward the desk. Clarke sits down too, taking off her sweater.
The doctor opens the file in front of her and takes her pen out of her breast pocket.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay. A little tired.”
“That’s to be expected,” the doctor says.
It’s silent again and the doctor’s eyes scan something in the file before looking up. Clarke wonders if the doctor is like this with all her patients.
She stares at Clarke, transfixed, and Clarke feels– She doesn’t know what she feels, really. It’s in her chest. Something moving. Trembling, maybe. Or perhaps blooming. She puts her hand on her belly, wondering if this is pregnancy hormones or her organs adjusting to make room for the fetus.
Whatever it is, it’s distracting.
“I brought tarts,” Clarke says again, leaning forward and placing the paper bag on the desk. She unfolds it and takes one out, offering it.
The doctor reaches forward tentatively, as though accepting a delicate piece of china or a small bird. Their fingers brush and Clarke feels her skin prickle. To shake off the feeling, she reaches in the bag and pulls out a tart for herself. She brings it to her mouth, biting off an edge of buttery, golden crust, feeling the sweetened mealiness of almond and the tang of the apricot shortly after. It’s good, she knows.
The doctor takes a bite of hers, much more tentative, and her eyes immediately slide closed. She chews for a second and then exhales. Some of the starchiness leaves her shoulders.
Clarke watches her, the feeling in her chest growing warm and perfectly soft like butter on the windowsill. She’s heard people compliment her pies for years, using words like divine, amazing, scrumptious, delicious. But to see, on a person’s face, the unhindered appreciation they get from her food – well it’s entirely different. She wishes she got to see that kind of praise more often. Especially on someone with such a lovely face.
The doctor opens her eyes, seeming to remember Clarke is there. She pulls out a pad of paper and sets the tart on it, brushing her hands as she works the final crumbs from her mouth. Shaken from her pie reverie, she gets back to business.
“You said you had some spotting?”
“Yeah. Just a few drops. Nothing major.”
“And this was when?”
“Yesterday morning when I got up.”
“Anything since then?”
“Have you been experiencing any new symptoms? Cramping, pain, headaches?”
“Just the usual nausea and fatigue. A few aches here and there.”
“And are you taking your prenatal vitamins?”
“I haven’t been able to fill the prescription yet.”
The doctor nods distractedly, looking down at her file blankly, then up at Clarke.
There’s another tense silence and Clarke raises her eyebrows. “Am I having a miscarriage?”
The doctor looks at her questioningly, then seems to snap back into their conversation. “No. Miscarriages are more pronounced. You would know.”
Clarke deflates. “Oh. Okay.”
Another awkward pause stretches between them.
“Do you need to examine me or anything?”
“We’ll do an exam at our next scheduled appointment. Everything seems fine.”
Clarke frowns. “Really?”
“A little spotting is common at this stage of pregnancy.”
Now Clarke is confused. “So why did you have me come in?”
The doctor glances down at the file to avoid looking at Clarke. “To be safe,” she offers.
Even she doesn’t believe it.
Clarke looks around the office, noticing how strange this hour is in the old house. “Are you even open at this hour?”
“You said you had scheduling complications.”
Clarke feels something uncomfortable and hungry rattling through her.
“What time do you usually open?”
Dr. Woodward doesn’t meet her eyes.
The tension in Clarke’s stomach and chest crescendoes. Her heart joins, beating faster.
“So… you had me come all way over here on the bus at 7am to tell me a little spotting is nothing to be concerned about?”
Dr. Woodward keeps eyes fixed on the file. “It would appear so.”
Clarke snaps. She’s too uncomfortable to sit still. She scoffs and stands, picking up her purse. “Well thank you. I really needed to haul my pregnant ass down here at the crack of dawn when you could have told me I was fine on the phone.”
Dr. Woodward looks up at her with wide eyes, not even trying to defend or explain her actions.
Clarke holds there there, steely, waiting. Nothing happens. She feels tension build and build in her gut and chest.
She can’t place why she’s so uncomfortable. It isn’t just because Dr. Woodward is odd, or because she was inconvenienced, or because she’s pregnant. It’s not the same shifting feeling she gets when Chad is grumpy. It’s not the way she feels when she’s late to work or Jo gives her the stink eye. Those things don’t have anything to do with her. This feels personal, and the elusiveness of it makes her angry and even more anxious to escape.
“I’m not sure I want you to be my doctor,” Clarke says, then storms to the door and through the lobby.
She makes it all the way out to the front lawn before she thinks of looking back.
“Mrs. Griffin,” she hears, followed by footsteps. “You left your sweater.”
Clarke turns her head to see Lexa trotting toward her, her dainty legs and ballet flats patting the patio and walkway as her white coat flutters open.
Clarke sees her coming toward her, arm outstretched, so apologetic and eager to please, and she’s shaken with that same warm, trembling feeling, only this time it’s ten times stronger.
She whirls around, taking a few long steps, and before she knows what’s happening, her arms are around Lexa’s shoulders, her chest is pressing against the perfectly starched lab coat, and her lips are slipping between Lexa’s, hungry and desperate for a feeling she almost remembers from years and years ago.
Lexa startles and makes a little noise in her throat, frozen for a second before she drops Clarke’s sweater.
Clarke’s hands shoot up to hold Lexa’s head, kissing her brutally.
So that was what she was feeling. Attraction. Sexual tension. She feels like an idiot for not recognizing it. She hadn’t consciously thought about kissing Lexa the whole time in her office, but now she feels like she’s never wanted anything more. Maybe Chad broke the part of her that understands attraction too.
She gets a few seconds of bliss against Lexa’s lips before she remembers herself. She’s married, she’s pregnant, and this is her doctor. She pulls away.
“I’m sorry,” she gasps.
“Don’t be,” Lexa breathes. Her hands alight on Clarke’s waist.
They stand there, panting in disbelief until Lexa’s hand flies up to bring Clarke’s head back to hers, fingers tangling in her hair, kissing her as though time were running out.
It’s Clarke’s turn to whimper into their kiss, relieved and elated to not be met with disgust or alarm. She didn’t imagine anything, and she’s not sorry. Not sorry at all. Not sorry that this is the liveliest, most awake she’s felt in years, that some part of her she forgot existed has come back to life. All she wants to do is keep kissing, this desperate, messy, reckless kissing that she’s suddenly consumed by.
“Dr. Woodward,” Clarke breathes between kisses, as though checking to make sure this is really happening.
“Lexa,” Lexa insists, lifting her mouth only long enough to say it.
Clarke hears a car start down the street and is slapped back into the reality of where they are. “We can’t.”
Lexa yanks herself away, pulling the sleeve of her coat across her mouth. She looks upset, as though she were silently cursing herself.
“I’m sorry. That was extremely unprofessional.”
“Not out here,” Clarke clarifies. “It’s a small town and I have a very jealous husband.”
Clarke pulls her by the arm back into the house, slamming the door behind them. She pulls Lexa to her, reaching up with trembling hands to frame Lexa’s beautiful, frightened face before kissing her with even more vigor and desire.
It’s desperate and chaotic and messy, all teeth and tongue. Clarke feels like a woman starved being seated at a feast. She wants to know every corner of Lexa’s mouth, every halting, skittish breath, every noise of delight Lexa makes.
Something pulls in Clarke’s hair and Lexa struggles to extract it. Clarke knows it must be her ring. The sharp tug at her scalp serves as a replacement for her conscience’s intervention, pulling her back into reality again.
She steps back.
“We shouldn’t,” Clarke gasps. “You’re married.”
“So are you.”
Somehow the fact that they’re both married seemed to cancel each other out in Clarke’s mind.
She moves to draw Lexa in again, but Lexa’s neck is stiff and her eyes are serious. “Clarke, I’m your doctor. This is- this is seriously unethical.”
“I don’t care,” Clarke says, giving another tug at Lexa’s neck.
“I care,” Lexa says softly. Her eyes search Clarke, pleading, yet so torn.
She wants to kiss Clarke. That much is painfully clear. Clarke thinks that’s what she’s been trying to say with all her intense staring and awkward silences. Clarke doesn’t know why, but Lexa wants to kiss her.
Lexa’s resolve seems to crumble as she glances down to Clarke’s lips.
“I can transfer you to someone else.”
The offer is so sincere and so immediate, Clarke stumbles. She looks at the disbelief and eagerness of Lexa’s face, like she would do anything if Clarke asked. Clarke can’t think of being in better care.
“I don’t want someone else.”
“Clarke...” Lexa pleads.
“Kiss me again.”
Lexa darts forward, and Clarke feels smothered with affection for the first time in years.
They’re doing this. They’ve run through all their reasons and excuses not to, and none are convincing enough.
Clarke feels something awaken in her lower belly that has nothing to do with the baby she knows is there. This is a familiar feeling, one that’s been estranged for a few years. As it hardens and settles between her legs, she recognizes it as desire.
She thought Chad had all but crushed her desire since he became mean and controlling. But it hasn’t been crushed at all, only tucked into some secret part of Clarke. It’s all spilling out now, and she is desperate for touch.
She’s too far gone to slow down now.
She reaches for the button of Lexa’s skirt and slips it out of its loop. She draws down the zipper and then flattens her palm against Lexa’s belly, sliding her fingers down under the elastic of her panties.
Lexa draws in a short, gasping breath at Clarke’s boldness, then grabs her wrist. “Wait.”
Clarke freezes, fingertips just brushing against soft hair. “I don’t want to stop.”
“Me neither,” Lexa winces. “But the receptionist will be here soon, and you have to get to work.” She pulls back, squeezing her eyes closed with regret as she slips Clarke’s hand out of her skirt.
Clarke is relieved Lexa seems to be struggling with her restraint.
“God, yes,” Lexa shudders. She takes a few shaky breaths before stepping back, exhaling. “Can I drive you to work, Mrs. Griffin?”
“You’re going to have to stop calling me Mrs. Griffin. But that would be great.”
Lexa lets out a little sigh of contentment. She takes a step back and composes herself. “I’ll get my purse.”
Chapter 4: Recipe for Trouble
TW: Domestic violence. Neither Clarke nor the baby sustain major injuries. The incident is NOT related to Clarke’s sexuality or to Lexa. This will be the only incident of physical violence shown in the story. If you need more information to feel safe reading, please send me a message on Tumblr.
Clarke stands against the door in the dark, empty waiting room, feeling Lexa’s drying kisses all over her face. She would be alarmed by the strangeness of the situation if she weren’t so happily dazed, if she didn’t have the sound of Lexa’s breathy voice echoing in her ear.
Lexa emerges with her purse and a fresh coat of lipstick on her lips. It’s an understated rosy blush color Clarke feels like she should have noticed before. It makes her lips look perfect. Clarke can hardly take her eyes off them.
Lexa locks the door behind them and points to the shiny SUV parked up the block. She unlocks the doors with the clicker and holds Clarke’s door for her as she gets in.
It’s so chivalrous, Clarke almost feels embarrassed. She can’t remember the last time Chad did that for her. Hell, she can’t remember the last time Chad stopped the car long enough for her to fasten her seatbelt before gunning the accelerator, throwing her back into her seat. When Lexa climbs into the driver’s seat and turns the ignition, pulling away from the curb slowly while signaling, Clarke feels like she’s in a different form of transportation.
“You can change the radio if you want,” Lexa says, nodding toward the console. Clarke hears mellow voices and thinks it might be NPR.
“That’s okay.” Clarke’s not really paying attention to anything besides the smooth faux-leather seats and Lexa.
Lexa keeps her eyes on the road. “How long have you been working at JoJo’s?”
“Since I was eighteen. The plan was to do it for a year or two until I figured out what I wanted to do, but then my mom died and things got off course.”
Lexa glances over at her. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Clarke brushes it off, shrugging. “I don’t know what else I’d do.”
“I’m sure you could do a lot of things,” Lexa says.
It’s meant to be a compliment, but Clarke doesn’t feel it that way. It’s awkwardly quiet as Lexa turns the corner.
“I am glad you chose to grace the town with your baking skills,” Lexa adds.
Clarke is glad she didn’t grab the bag of tarts off the desk in her hurry to leave Lexa’s office.
It’s oddly quiet for a minute as Lexa pulls onto the short stretch of highway between her office and JoJo’s. Clarke fiddles with the radio for a moment, not knowing what else to do.
When Lexa pulls into the parking lot of JoJo’s, it’s empty and the restaurant is still dark. She turns off the ignition and stares straight ahead, almost shy. Clarke doesn’t move to get out yet.
“I want to ask you something, but I don’t want you to feel strange about it,” Lexa says.
“That isn’t a great start.”
Lexa winces and rests her hands on the steering wheel nervously. “Have you been with a woman before?”
Clarke feels something like pride swell in her chest. She hasn’t done much in her life. She didn’t go to college or travel anywhere exotic or marry an interesting man. But she’s been with a woman. Even if no one else knows. “Yes.”
Lexa looks relieved. “Okay.”
“It’s been a few years, but I remember how everything works.”
Lexa purses her lips, looking around the parking lot before leaning across the center console. She hovers, waiting for Clarke to close the gap.
Clarke grabs her head and presses their faces together. They kiss like water: soft and sympathetic, yet forceful enough to erode hillsides and carry men out to sea.
Clarke feels her whole body let go as Lexa trails her lips over her jaw, then buries her face in the crook of Clarke’s neck.
Clarke shivers at the surge of tingling that shoots down her body between her legs. She tips her head back and exhales, then catches herself.
They can’t do this outside JoJo’s. Sal is probably inside already, and Jo has been known to show up before opening.
“Not here,” Clarke says, pained to have to say it.
Lexa draws back immediately, wiping her mouth.
“Crap,” Lexa says. She reaches up and starts rubbing her thumb over Clarke’s cheek and jaw. “I shouldn’t have reapplied my lipstick.”
Clarke smirks and flips down the visor, helping Lexa smudge away their indiscretions. She gives a flirtatious smile - an expression she didn’t think herself capable of making anymore - and puts her hand on the door handle.
She’s not sure how to leave things. She wants to see Lexa again, and soon. She wants to be able to follow through on the hand she slid into Lexa’s skirt. But given that they’re both married and don’t have anywhere to go, their opportunities are limited.
She opts for a vague but suggestive, “I’ll call you if I have any questions or concerns.”
“Please do.” Lexa gives a little dip of her head with a soft smile and waits until Clarke gets out of the car before starting the ignition again.
Clarke makes her way inside, back and neck prickling with the urge to turn back and look at Lexa, but she doesn’t until she’s safely inside and knows the blinds will shield Lexa’s view. She watches her drive away, wondering what kind of strange out-of-body experience she just had.
Except she doesn’t feel out of her body. She feels very much in it, like someone finally fixed the fuse on a half-dead string of Christmas lights. She’s not sore or tired or even grumpy for the first time in weeks. With lightness in her step, she clocks in and starts taking out the pies that need to bake before opening.
Banana creme custard, pecan princess, Hawaiian ham, broccoli cheddar, pomegranate chicken.
The final pie in the pre-bake case puts a damper on her good mood.
Bruised berry pie.
Boysenberries and cherries soaked in rum and mashed together with no top crust.
It was the pie she invented after the first time Chad hit her.
She’d almost forgotten about him.
She hadn’t cried the first time. She’d been too stunned, too confused as to why he would do such a thing. They were in love and had just celebrated their third wedding anniversary and he’d never done anything like that before. Sure, he’d just lost his father and his best friend within a week of each other, but he wouldn’t do something like that just because he was grieving. Would he? She’d tried to justify that he’d been a little drunk and she had been out of line to spend so much money on getting highlights put in. She’d embarrassed him when his credit card was declined at the bar, and Clarke could understand. She’d tried to understand, at least.
She had been a different person then. A good, trusting, happy person who thought Jenny breaking her heart would be the worst thing that would ever happen to her.
He hadn’t hit her hard. She’d had a little purple-green splotch on her arm that no one would look at twice. She’d done worse to herself without remembering how.
She imagines what Chad would do if he found out she’d kissed Lexa - tried to have sex with Lexa - and feels a chill unrelated to the refrigerated pie case.
She feels like she’s waking up from a dream.
She’d been so reckless. Kissing Lexa on the walkway in front of her practice, kissing her in the car in front of JoJo’s might be the stupidest things she’s ever done. She must have been consumed by a jolt of madness. Hormones, maybe. As good as kissing Lexa felt, she knows she can’t do it again.
Even if Chad weren’t a giant asshole, he’s not the only one involved. Clarke knows it shouldn’t matter, but somehow betraying another woman feels worse than the thought of facilitating Lexa’s unfaithfulness to a man. Clarke doesn’t want to hurt anybody, but especially a woman. She feels a duty to protect other women.
Whatever madness came over her that morning evaporates and she stands in the chilly reality of her life.
So that’s it. She’s not going to let anything happen with Lexa again. She pushes away the echo of Lexa saying God, yes when Clarke asked if she wanted to have sex some other time. She’s going to stick to the things that keep her out of trouble: appeasing Chad, waiting tables, and baking pies.
Life has dealt her an awful hand, but at the very least, she can be a good person and hold out for her pie in the sky.
Clarke sees Jo is in her section again and braces herself with a wired-in smile as she approaches.
Jo doesn’t look up from her newspaper. “You ever read your horoscope, Clarke?”
“Virgo,” Clarke says. She hears the impatience in her voice as she says it. “I don’t know that I buy any of that, though.”
“Me neither, but you need to hear this.” Jo shakes her paper a little and clears her throat dramatically. “With Mercury in retrograde, you may find yourself feeling bored and wanting to take new risks. Rest assured that regardless of the alignment of the planets, acting like a two-bit hussy and coming into your workplace with evidence of your sexual indiscretions on the collar of your uniform is a recipe for trouble.”
Clarke jolts with alarm and slaps her hand to her collar, wondering what Jo can see. She realizes it must be a lipstick smudge; she got everything off her face, but Lexa’s mouth had veered dangerously close to her collar.
Jo continues reading. “Consider removing said stain with non-gel toothpaste and not acting like a depraved lesbian trollop for your next eighty rotations around the sun.”
Clarke feels pale and sickly, her stomach churning as she fidgets with the pen in her hand. Jo looks up at Clarke for the first time and raises an eyebrow.
Clarke shuts her eyes to avoid the look of judgment. “It’s not what you think,” she hushes.
“That lipstick smudge and pretty young doctor dropping you off this morning say otherwise. You know she’s married, right?”
Clarke stumbles, horrified Jo knows both her secrets.
“She was just giving me a ride.” She hopes she doesn’t sound too defensive.
“And denial is a river in Egypt.”
Jo nudges her chin toward the seat across from her. “Sit.”
Clarke deflates into the seat. She doesn’t need a lecture on the supposed sanctity of marriage or the importance of not disgracing her unborn child with a public affair. She gets it. She’s going to behave.
But Jo surprises her by reaching into her purse and pulling out a book. She slides it across to Clarke.
It’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
“I never had a daughter to give this to,” Jo says. “And seeing as you don’t have a mama to give you a copy…” She trails off, making a shrugging gesture with her hand.
Clarke feels the twist of sadness in her chest, the hollow she doesn’t want to be there whenever someone mentions her mother.
“I may not be the maternal type, but I care about you,” Jo says. She says it as though she resents herself for having the sentiment.
Clarke feels clogged up with surprise and sadness. “Thanks, Jo.”
It’s quiet as Clarke looks down at the book. Somehow this makes her pregnancy more real than the tests and exams and nausea.
“How are you feeling about it?”
Clarke gives a heavy shrug. “I don’t feel much.”
“Chad know yet?”
Clarke shakes her head, feeling a few wisps of hair that have fallen out of her ponytail brush her cheeks. She sits, staring down at the picture of the pregnant woman on the cover of the book, then finds herself on the brink of tears. She doesn’t have much longer until she starts to show, until her movement is restricted. She feels her world getting smaller and smaller.
On top of that, she’s crying in front of Jo. Jo doesn’t suffer fools, and she feels like the most foolish girl in the world.
“Don’t worry,” Jo says, placing a hand on the table as though reaching toward Clarke. “You’re gonna be a great mother.”
Clarke shakes her head, sniffling. “I don’t even feel anything for it. I have no attachment… Not even affection. Maybe Chad smothered that out of me. The baby’s just… there,” she says, putting her hand on her belly, feeling nothing against her palm. It’s her stomach, the same as it’s been for years.
“Give it time,” Jo says. “And if it doesn’t happen, you’d hardly be the first woman to feel that way.”
Clarke knows Jo meant to comfort her, but she feels like a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad woman for everything she doesn’t feel.
“I hate to see you unhappy,” Jo says, softer.
“I wouldn’t know happiness if it hit me in the face.”
Jo studies her.
“If you weren’t pregnant, would you leave him?”
Clarke wants to nod, but even that feels impossible. “I am pregnant.”
Jo eyes her.
Clark sighs. “I can’t afford it. Especially with the baby coming.”
“What about that pie contest?” Jo asks.
“Chad won’t let me go.”
“Since when is Chad the boss of you?”
“Since I’m carrying his baby.”
“He doesn’t know that.”
Clarke doesn’t respond and Jo sits back, eying Clarke critically. Something clicks in her mind and she leans forward, suddenly hushed. She reaches forward, enclosing one of Clarke’s hands with her own.
“Griffin. You are too young to put off your happiness for some pie in the sky. It’ll rot before you get there. Eat it now . Go to that contest, win, and buy yourself your freedom.”
Clarke slumps further. “The registration deadline’s passed.”
“Good thing I entered for you.”
Clarke is stunned, not sure if she should be annoyed or grateful. She’s never sure about that with Jo, really.
Most of all, she doesn’t know how to respond to such thoughtfulness from anyone, let alone her boss.
“Did you want to order?” Clarke asks, sucking in air to collect herself.
“Give me a slice of banana creme coconut.” Jo taps the table and gives Clarke a nod of reassurance, giving her permission to get up and pretend their conversation never happened. “Actually, make it two. Life is short.”
Clarke slinks out of the booth and steals away to her locker, pushing the book as far back as it will go before bringing Jo her pie.
Clarke hears the muffled sound of Chad’s baseball game in the background as she washes her hands in the bathroom. Lately she’s been having to pee more often. She’s not sure if that’s supposed to be happening so soon in her pregnancy, but she can’t very well bring the pregnancy book home to consult whenever she wonders about something like that. Not until Chad knows.
She’s kind of starting to show now. Nothing dramatic or definitive, but there’s a little bulge in her belly that’s never been there before. She’s always had a soft, squishy stomach -- back when they actually liked each other Chad used to blow raspberries on it, give it little love bites, and run his hand over it affectionately -- but now the lump below her bellybutton isn’t soft. She lifts her shirt to look at it, wondering if she’ll get one of those dark lines she’s seen on some women. There’s a name for it, but she can’t remember what it is. She wonders if her mother got that line and wishes she could pick up the phone and call her.
The longer Clarke stares at her belly, the less it feels like part of her. She can’t fathom that there’s actually a baby in there. It may look a little distorted, but the concept of pregnancy and motherhood are completely detached from her body. She hopes Jo is right that affection will happen eventually.
The door opens suddenly and Chad lumbers in, setting his beer on the sink.
Clarke drops her shirt, stepping back to let him pass on his way to the toilet. As he does, he trails his fingers over her belly. When he feels little swell he looks back at her and sniffs.
“Put on a little weight?” he says before unbuckling his pants and starting to pee loudly.
Clarke feels her heart race, relieved he doesn’t know what’s really happening, but worried he’ll find out before she can get away. She only has to hide it for another week and then maybe - maybe - she’ll be free.
Her heart is pounding the whole time she walks to the bus station. The morning started off on the wrong foot with Chad staying home from work, making it hard for her to pack without him seeing. She’d set her suitcase out the bedroom window, then said she was going to the grocery store, accepting the forty dollars Chad gave her for the week’s shopping. She made sure he was glued to the couch before she slunk around the house to get the suitcase. When she made it to the end of their street, her heart stopped hammering loud enough for him to hear, but she knows she won’t calm completely until she’s on the bus.
She makes it to the stop, sitting on the bench with her suitcase tucked under in case someone sees her. She doesn’t want anything unusual to happen today. All she wants is to get to the fairgrounds and bake her pie.
She sits and waits.
The bus must be running late.
She closes her eyes, breathing deeply, trying to distract herself. She puts her hand on her belly, feeling the strain of her waistband against it, and thinks of her baby.
Maybe once she can see and feel that it’s real, she’ll start to feel something like affection. She hopes she will. She wants to be a good mother. She wants to know she’s still capable of loving.
She hears the squealing of tires and her eyes fly open as the horn starts blaring. She stiffens and flushes icy cold, wondering if she can say she was planning to go to the fancy grocery store in North Hatch.
But Chad isn’t that dumb. He saw the missing suitcase and her mama’s jewelry gone. He’s come to fetch her home and chain her to their house for good.
He flings open the door, shooting into the dust cloud he created when he stopped in front of her.
“Get in the car!”
Her shoulders hitch and she opens her mouth to explain.
“Shut up! Get in the car!”
He grips her by the elbow and yanks her up, flinging her toward the vehicle. Clarke brings her hands up toward her face, expecting a blow. He pulls her to the passenger seat and rips the door open, shoving her inside. Then he stalks over the bench, yanks the suitcase up, and shoves it in the trunk before slamming himself back into the driver’s seat. Clarke pulls her seatbelt across herself quickly, clicking it in.
“You think I’m stupid?” he demands as he peels away from the bus stop, doing a sharp, too-fast u-turn.
“I told you not to go to that damn contest and you went behind my back!”
“I’m sorry, I sh-”
“Shut up!” Chad yells, reaching over to shove her face against the window.
“Chad!” Clarke yelps, terrified of the chaotic way he’s driving and the force of his arm.
“You think I didn’t know you were up to something?”
“Why do you need money so bad! Huh?”
Clarke is frozen, trembling with fear.
Chad shoves her again and she feels her head slam against the window hard .
Fearful of what Chad will do to her when they get home, Clarke says the only thing she can say to protect herself.
“I’m pregnant! ”
Chad slams on the breaks and Clarke is jolted forward, seat belt punching into her chest and stomach as she almost collides with the dashboard.
They fall back into their seats and stay there for ten seconds without moving as Chad looks at her, dumbstruck. Then he slowly, cautiously lifts his foot off the brake and drives them at half-speed back to their house. When they get there, he walks around to Clarke’s side of the car and opens her door for her.
“Go inside and wait for me,” he says. His voice is monotone and flat. In some ways it’s more terrifying than his anger.
Clarke sits at the table, anxious. She bites her nails, wondering what Chad is doing. She’s grateful she didn’t put the $1200 she’d saved in the suitcase. Instead it’s tucked in wads into her bra and panties, a few big bills sewn into the hem of her skirt. They feel like tiny grenades strapped to her, poised to go off if Chad knew they were there.
Chad comes in, looking glum. He sits across from her, not meeting her eyes.
“Everything’s gonna be okay,” he says, as though he needs convincing himself.
Clarke’s not hopeful.
“It’s gonna take me a while to get used to the idea. But as long as you promise not to love the baby more than me, everything will be fine.”
Clarke looks up at him, squinting, wondering how she ended up with someone who reacts so selfishly to the news that he’s going to be a parent. She thought she was the selfish one, but Chad has proven her wrong.
“I know how women get,” Chad says. “All mushy and soft toward the baby but mean and cold to their husband ‘cuz he ain’t as cute or something.”
“I’m not the jealous type,” Chad says, holding up his hands defensively. “But you gotta promise not to love the baby more than me.”
Too dejected and fed up with her life to care, Clarke simply says, “I promise not to love the baby more than you, Chad.”
For the moment, it feels true. She feels nothing toward the baby, while the hatred she feels for Chad all but consumes her. Hatred is at least on the same continuum as love.
Chad seems to settle into his seat, satisfied. He chews on Clarke’s big news for another minute before he grins and says, “I bet it was that night I got you drunk.”
Clarke swallows down bile. “That’s what the doctor said.”
Chad's grin softens as his eyes grow distant. “It might not be so bad, once in awhile. Having a little boy to play catch with.”
Clarke knows Chad hasn’t considered the expense or work or time it will take to raise a child. Chad's not going to be any help. She’ll be a single mother even if she doesn’t run away.
“Could be a girl,” Clarke offers.
Chad snorts. “I’m too much of a man to make a girl baby.”
Clarke feels foolish for how often her husband’s stupidity surprises her. She should be used to it, but she’s not.
All she wants to do is escape.
“I’m not feeling well. I’m going to lie down.”
“Okay,” Chad says, as though it’s the first good idea Clarke’s had in months. “Yeah, I guess growing a baby must be kinda… tiring.”
She stands, picking up the suitcase he placed outside the bedroom.
“Wait a second,” Chad says as she opens the door. “Show me.”
Clarke looks anxiously down at the suitcase in her hand.
“Your belly,” Chad says, as though she should have known what he meant.
Reluctant, Clarke lifts her shirt, showing Chad the little bulge there. She takes the opportunity of his attention being on her stomach to shoot ice daggers out of her eyes at him.
He smirks and mutters, lecherous, “Well, I’ll be damned. Look what I did to you.”
Clarke feels nausea slither through her and she grips the suitcase tightly, slinking into the bedroom and closing the door behind her.
Clarke waits in her exam gown, wondering how it will be to see Lexa again.
However strange it might be, Clarke would rather be here than at home with Chad, who has grown suddenly clingy and clumsily affectionate since she told him. He talks endlessly about how well he knocked her up, how she couldn’t resist him, how she wanted to have his baby. Clarke waits until he leaves for work and screams into a pillow, punching it and imagining his face. Her pregnancy nausea has passed, but she finds herself nauseated half the time anyway.
But she’s away from him now. He didn’t seem intrigued when she said she was going to the doctor, and she was all too happy to leave him at home in front of the TV. Every hour she spends away from him is a slice of heaven.
There’s a soft knock on the door and Lexa peers in. Clarke looks at her and doesn’t say anything.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Griffin,” Lexa says, walking in and placing her clipboard on the counter, avoiding eye contact. She goes to the sink to wash her hands and a woman wearing scrubs steps in behind her.
“This is Jane. She’ll be doing your ultrasound today.”
Lexa dries her hands and moves to sit on her stool.
“Dr. Woodward wanted to sit in on this one,” Jane says with a bright smile.
Clarke looks at Lexa, who keeps her eyes laser-focused on her clipboard. Clarke thinks she sees a tiny hint of pink at the edges of Lexa’s ears, but she’s not sure.
“You had no questions or concerns in the last month.”
It’s a statement, not a question.
“Nope,” Clarke says curtly.
She didn’t mean to sound so rude, but she needs Lexa to hear, loud and clear, that she doesn’t want to be an accomplice to an act of infidelity. Her own marriage aside, Lexa’s wife deserves respect, at the very least.
Lexa accepts her decision and moves on.
“Lift your shirt, please,” Jane says, gesturing toward Clarke’s stomach.
Her bump is still lumpy-looking. She doesn’t like to look at it.
“Have you had an ultrasound before?”
Clarke shakes her head as Jane steps toward her with a bottle of clear gel. Clarke feels like she’s being indoctrinated into a society she has no interest in associating with. Jane squirts the gel on Clarke’s belly, and Clarke jerks a little at the chilliness. Then Jane runs it over with a special wand and images start to show up on the screen beside them.
“Congratulations, Mrs. Griffin,” Jane says with a bright smile.
“Mrs. Griffin doesn’t like to be congratulated,” Lexa says sternly.
“Oh…” Jane says. She fixes her gaze on the screen.
Lexa studies the images, seeing far more than the blobs Clarke can make out.
“Everything looks good,” Lexa says, keeping her voice steady and professional. She lifts her pen toward the screen, tapping where Clarke sees the most movement. “That’s the heart.”
Clarke studies the moving, pulsing lines, confused as to how her body could contain this nebulous being she isn’t invested in carrying.
Lexa turns her head toward Clarke, looking at her for the first time since entering. “Would you like to know the sex?”
Clarke is distracted for a moment by the perfect placement of her eyebrows, the smoothness of her cheek, the press of her lips together as she waits for Clarke’s response.
Lexa raises her eyebrows when Clarke doesn’t respond.
Clarke does want to know the sex, but she knows finding out will be one more thing for Chad to brag or complain about, so she shakes her head.
“Okay,” Lexa says, eyes going back to the blobs.
She makes a few notes on her clipboard and waits until the technician shuts down the machine and leaves. She asks Clarke a few questions, as she looks into her eyes and ears and mouth. Clarke feels like she’s looking for a crack in Clarke’s resolve, searching for the piece of Clarke that wanted her last time they saw each other. Then she puts on a pair of gloves, sliding her stool to the end of the table, flipping down the stirrups.
Clarke lifts her legs, breathing steadily, glad there’s a sheet blocking her view of Lexa’s face.
As Lexa goes through the pelvic exam, Clarke has to remind herself - loudly, over and over in her head - that this isn’t pleasurable. Not even a little bit. This is about her health and the health of her baby.
But it doesn’t help that Lexa’s hands are so gentle and steady.
She’s not exactly turned on, but she feels hypersensitive and intensely aware of every millimeter of skin between her legs.
Lexa does the exam in silence. She’s professional and quick, and she doesn’t place so much as a finger out of line. When she finishes, she takes off her gloves and stands. Clarke takes her feet out of the stirrups and sits up.
“Are we officially forgetting about last time?” Lexa asks.
“And you’re sure you don’t want me to find you another doctor?”
“I’m sure.” She doesn’t like the idea of someone she doesn’t know guiding her through her pregnancy. Even if she did want to see another doctor, she doesn’t have a way to get to appointments out of town on her own.
“Very well.” Lexa makes a show of opening the door, as though to prove nothing inappropriate will happen from now on. “I’m happy to oversee the health of your pregnancy and delivery.”
She’s overcompensating, stiff and awkwardly formal, and all Clarke wants to see is the look on her face when she took a bite of the apricot almond tart.
She pushes, testing.
“Do doctors usually sit in on their patients’ ultrasounds?”
Lexa turns toward the sink, washing her hands. “Most doctors don’t.”
“Do you usually sit in on your patients’ ultrasounds?”
Lexa doesn’t respond, focusing intently on rubbing her hands together under the water.
Clarke knows Lexa is concealing something. She wants Clarke, wants to feel Clarke again, wants to kiss her with the desperate need to escape like they did before. She wants what Clarke offered last time.
Lexa wants her.
Clarke hasn’t felt wanted in years.
And just like that, Clarke’s resolve crumbles like pie crust made with too much flour.
She hops off the table and pulls Lexa toward her, kissing her fiercely, challenging her lips and tongue to object.
Lexa is startled, eyebrows dancing as Clarke kisses her.
“Clarke, shut the door,” she hisses as she pulls away.
Clarke reaches back with her foot and slams it closed, wrapping her arms tighter around Lexa.
It’s giddy and clinging, hands roaming more freely over shoulders and waists and breasts. Lexa makes a little whine in the back of her throat and it’s all the permission Clarke needs to unbutton her skirt.
They can’t make too much of a production of it. They can’t fully undress or make too much noise or even lay down. But god, the feel of Lexa’s skin as Clarke slides her hand down into her panties is enough to set her whole body off.
She knows this is wrong. On so many levels, this is wrong. Lexa’s married, she’s married, she’s pregnant with Chad's baby, and she’s pretty sure this violates every ethical principle of medicine.
But she wants this. So badly. Almost as badly as she wants to run away. In a way, doing something this reckless is running away. As Clarke slides down further, she feels dampness, and she wonders how much Lexa had to compose herself earlier. Knowing just the anticipation of seeing her is enough to arouse Lexa is thrilling.
Clarke hasn’t felt this wanted in years. And since she’s feeling especially odd in her body now - the subtle bulge of her belly, her swollen breasts, her aching feet and sensitive stomach -- the power is addictive. She hasn’t had this kind of power since - well, ever.
She wants to wield it well.
Lexa nods desperately, and Clarke nudges her against the door. Lexa tips her head back and her breath cracks as Clarke’s fingers slide through her.
Clarke hasn’t enjoyed touching someone in years.
Clarke presses up and in, and Lexa all but whimpers as Clarke kisses her to swallow the sound.
Lexa is so unbearably soft. The give of her hot, wet center is delicious as Clarke works through it. She buries her face in Lexa’s neck and breathes her, drinks her, feels her. She draws her up and up and up until she’s high enough to forget everything. She’s lost in a haze of want and joy and she doesn’t care if she ever finds her way back.
She may not have left town, but for these few minutes pressed against Lexa, she has escaped.
Lexa comes on her hand with a whimper she bites down, knees sagging, held up by the pressure of Clarke’s body against the door. She takes a minute to recover, breathing raggedly before she opens her eyes and stares into the pit of Clarke.
Her voice is oddly soft when she murmurs, “What do you want me to do?”
Clarke is crackling with electric desire. Her body has ignited and she feels that aching between her legs she thought she’d never feel again.
She stares back at Lexa, watches as Lexa’s eyes dart back and forth between hers, and though she wants to press Lexa’s fingers between her legs or guide her face down where she’s neediest, she sees a flicker of fear in Lexa’s eyes that stills her.
Lexa is frightened.
Lexa has so much more to lose than she does. A good marriage, her job, her medical license. If anyone found out, Clarke wouldn’t lose anything she cares about but the dregs of respect she has for herself. She’d get a few dirty looks at the diner, and Chad would bang her up a bit. Nothing lasting.
But Lexa – Lexa’s life would be ruined.
She hates to be in the center of something that feels so good but has the potential to destroy so much goodness.
She steps back. “I’m okay for today.”
“Are you sure?”
Clarke knows Lexa can tell she’s reeling herself in, so she gives a nod she hopes will be convincing. “Pregnancy hormones,” she says, giving a dismissive shrug. “Horny one minute, crying the next.”
Lexa eyes her. “You’re not crying.”
“Probably will be soon.” Clarke fiddles with the sleeve of her exam gown, looking around to avoid Lexa’s scrutiny.
Lexa steps forward, placing her finger under Clarke’s chin, and lifts it up enough to press her lips - ever-so-softly - to Clarke’s.
She holds Clarke there for a minute, lips warm and gentle, and Clarke feels a crumbling of her resolve.
“Maybe that will stave off the tears for a bit,” Lexa murmurs.
Clarke feels herself unraveling, the urge to press Lexa back up against the door returning. But Lexa bends to pick up Clarke’s uniform where it’s draped over the back of a chair and hands it to her with a soft smile.
“I’ll be in my office when you’re dressed.”
It’s not chastising or disappointed or tense. It’s warm and sweet as pie and Clarke doesn’t know how to respond.
Lexa shuts the door behind her, and Clarke stands there in confusion for a solid minute before squeezing herself back into her diner uniform.
In Lexa’s office, she takes a seat in her usual chair. She notices the picture of Lexa and her wife has been moved. Clarke wishes she had taken a better look. She’s not sure if she wants to know what the person she’s cuckolding looks like or if she wants to know who’s prettier. It’s shallow, but it’s the only explanation Clarke can think of for why Lexa would be interested in her.
Lexa is focused on her laptop screen, typing out something with intention. When Clarke adjusts in her chair, Lexa finally looks up.
She has a calm, sad smile, and her eyes graze over Clarke’s face with such deliberate care, Clarke feels undone. She stares back, vaguely aware she’s kind of smiling. The silence stretches on and she wants to fill it, but she doesn’t know what to say. Thanks for letting me fuck you? Thanks for making me feel good about my pregnant body? Thanks for such a professional pelvic exam?
Lexa’s the one to break the silence.
“Don’t do that again.”
Clarke feels chastised. She tips her forehead into her hand, resting her elbow on the armrest. “Sorry. I’ll keep my hands to myself from now on.”
“I meant don’t go a month without questions or concerns.”
Clarke is both relieved and startled.
“Sorry, Dr. Woodward.”
“I’m not sorry. Are you taking your prenatal vitamins?”
Lexa looks down at her laptop and starts typing. Clarke is confused by the suddenness of Lexa’s hopping from topic to topic.
“How’s your morning sickness?
“Tapering off. Every now and then I get a flare.”
“I need you to do some bloodwork. It’s a decent number of vials. Is there someone who can take you to the lab in North Hatch?”
“I can call Margie, I guess…”
Lexa gives a short nod, typing for a minute before closing her laptop. “I want to see you again. Are you free Friday morning at seven?”
Clarke is pleasantly surprised. “Uh- Yeah?”
“Good.” Lexa stands, awkwardly formal as she buttons her coat. “I have to go deliver a baby now.”
“Oh. Uh- Okay.” Clarke says, further startled.
“Are we on the same page?”
Lexa turns to leave, her movements graceful and quick as she picks up her purse. When she gets to the door, she turns back and says, “I wish it were Friday.”
Clarke sits there, confused by everything that just happened, until she hears the front door shut behind Lexa. She stands, pausing for a moment before she collects her purse, then walks out, barely registering the farewell the receptionist gives her.
She walks to the bus stop, hardly seeing the sidewalk in front of her.
By the time she reaches the bench, her face is spread in a smile that feels foreign and makes her cheeks hurt. When the bus arrives and she takes a seat by the window, she perches her arm on the windowsill and leans her face into her palm. She smells Lexa on her fingers - soft and earthy and ripe - and replays what happened in her mind over and over and over, drunk off the happiness of having such a delicious secret.
She almost misses her stop.
Chapter 5: Secret Ingredient
In which Clarke is an oblivious asshole, Lexa is a soft gay mess, and there is way too much sex.
Two good things about this chapter: 1) Lots of sex. 2) No Chad.
Clarke floats through the rest of her day, untouchable. All she can think about is what she did to Lexa against the door of the exam room. She makes dinner, does the laundry, takes out the garbage, and sits beside Chad as he watches baseball, feeling aloof and cheerful and almost deranged with the fantasies that might actually come to life when she sees Lexa on Friday morning.
At work the next day she is bright and friendly with the diners. Ideas for pies come rapid-fire, and even grumpy Sal notices Clarke is happy. Clarke shrugs off any comments, attributing the shift to hormones for those who know she’s pregnant.
Friday comes tortuously slowly. Clarke hardly sleeps Thursday night. She arrives at Lexa’s office fifteen minutes early, at six forty-five in the morning. The sun is bright golden as it falls across the emerald grass and pretty white of the building. The town around them is just waking up, and even though she hasn’t had any, Clarke feels like she’s drunk a pot of coffee. She sits on the steps of the porch, anxiously tapping her hands as she waits for Lexa.
She hears Lexa pull up at ten to seven, the muted hum of her hybrid stopping by the curb behind the neighbor’s fence.
Her whole body accelerates, and she wonders if she should stand up or look like she’s doing something other than sitting there impatiently.
She has never felt so unbound before, so deliciously out of control. She couldn’t stop herself from seeing Lexa if she tried.
Lexa appears at the end of the walkway, tidy in her pencil skirt and button-down, pausing when she sees Clarke on the porch steps. She smiles tentatively, and Clarke feels something bloom in her chest. The grin that’s plastered itself to her all week springs up again.
“Good morning, Clarke.”
It’s the first time Lexa has used her first name without being reminded, and it makes Clarke smile wider.
They stand there smiling at each other: Lexa timid, Clarke eager, until finally Clarke says. “Can we go inside?”
Lexa nods, almost disbelieving, not tearing her eyes off Clarke as she reaches into her purse for her keys.
Clarke follows her up the steps, antsy as Lexa unlocks the door. As soon as it swings open, she pushes them both inside, colliding with the foyer wall, elbows and purses and heads knocking against the wall as Clarke kisses her with unrestrained hunger.
She’s been thinking about this for days. The shakiness of Lexa’s breath against her neck, the panting, whiny sounds, the abandoned grace of Lexa’s body. And most of all -- god, she can’t wait -- the feeling of Lexa around her fingers, on her hand, the heat and slick and pulse of her she can bring out so easily.
Clarke drops her purse and pushes Lexa’s head back against the wall with the fervor of her kisses, hands already skimming up Lexa’s sides, over the swell of her breasts, up into her hair. Clarke pins her there for a moment, feeling the tremble and shake of Lexa’s body as she tries to breathe and keep up with Clarke.
“I could hardly sleep last night thinking about you,” Clarke gasps.
Lexa’s hips jerk back into the wall as Clarke’s hands delve into her skirt to pull her shirt free.
“Me too,” Lexa breathes.
Clarke starts undoing the buttons of her shirt as quickly as she can with her fumbling fingers.
“Do you want- to go- into my office?” Lexa asks haltingly as Clarke sucks kisses into her neck.
Clarke doesn’t respond, only removes Lexa’s shirt and drops it on top of her purse. She fixes her mouth to Lexa’s neck and runs her hands up Lexa’s stomach to her covered breasts, grasping firmly.
“Oh- okay,” Lexa stammers, seeming to understand that Clarke doesn’t have patience for relocating.
“What do you want me to do?” Clarke asks, so low and husky it almost sounds like a growl.
“Just - that,” Lexa says, shoulder ticking up as Clarke finds a special spot.
Clarke takes the cue: Lexa’s not into talking. She’d rather just do, which is fine by Clarke.
Clarke is in control, but she realizes she’s moving too fast. Lexa is whimpering against her and they’re still almost completely clothed. She should draw it out, see how tightly she can wind her.
She slows down everything but her heartbeat; her hands, her mouth, her breathing all slacken and drop to a languid speed. The sudden change in pace only makes Lexa more eager. She wraps her arms around Clarke’s shoulders and tips her head back, blissful.
Clarke feels drunk with the deliciousness of it all.
Clarke reaches down, hikes up Lexa’s skirt, and hitches Lexa’s leg around her waist. She slowly bears down, grinding into Lexa, and Lexa’s jaw falls open and a moan flies out. Clarke can’t stop herself from grinning as she starts a gentle pattern.
Lexa falls into the pattern for a while, chest rising and falling in rhythm with Clarke’s hips, a few groans eking out. She seems to find a moment of lucidity, during which she unbuttons a few center buttons of Clarke’s uniform and slips her hand in, circling against Clarke’s lower belly, then sliding slowly down into Clarke’s panties, fingers threading right through-
Clarke freezes, stunned and overwhelmed with the surge that hits her.
It’s like she’s been plugged into something. Her body is coursing with something hot and electric.
She didn’t expect so much from one touch. Lexa is gentle, her hands delicate, her fingers dainty and soft.
Lexa doesn’t move, waiting for a reaction from Clarke.
“Holy shit,” Clarke finally manages to breathe.
Encouraged, Lexa makes a small movement with her fingers.
It’s enough to send Clarke’s body crashing against Lexa’s, barely bracing herself on the wall to prevent herself from crushing Lexa.
Lexa moves her fingers a little more, and Clarke grins, breathing heavily on Lexa’s neck. “Fuck… ” she giggles.
Fumbling, she slides her hand between them, moving Lexa’s panties aside, pushing two fingers inside her. It’s not graceful or strategic, but damn does it feel good.
Lexa tenses and makes a noise that sounds like pain.
“Sorry,” Clarke mumbles, pulling out.
“Just one,” Lexa says.
Clarke slows herself down enough to be more graceful like Lexa, barely able to process everything good being worked up inside her and everything she can feel inside Lexa.
For the first time in years, Clarke is full of life, and it has nothing to do with the one growing inside her.
After a moment Lexa whispers, “Okay, two” and Clarke is all too eager to feel that stretch and heat around her fingers.
It’s slow and deliberate and the pumping of their hands and arms seems to vibrate through them, making even their breath shake.
Clarke comes first, the pent-up frustration of years of terrible sex shattering on Lexa’s hand as she moans into Lexa’s neck. She tries to keep the pace of her fingers steady, and as she comes down she feels Lexa start to squirm and twist against the wall.
She keeps pumping in, determined, and after a minute Lexa starts to scrabble against her, whimpering, until she clings to Clarke’s head and back in desperation, head thrown back as she comes in complete silence, breaking only to gasp for air.
The rooms seems awkwardly silent as they listen to their heavy breathing die down. When they’re completely still against each other, kissing seems awkward. They’ve done what they planned to do, and there’s no romance or tenderness about it.
Clarke pulls back, wondering what their next step is.
“So were you going to, like, examine me or anything?” she asks.
Lexa shakes her head, rolling it against the wall, and keeps drawing in breath. “No. And you should really find another doctor.”
Clarke has no intention of finding a new doctor.
She looks around. The room is dark and still.
She knows they have time before the receptionist arrives and Clarke has to leave to go to work, but she’s not sure what they’d do. Lexa hasn’t proven herself a great conversationalist, and as stunning as their first mutual encounter was, she doesn’t think she’ll be up for another round for a while.
“I should get to work,” she says.
It’s a lie, and from the muted smile Lexa gives her, she’s certain Lexa knows it.
“Okay,” Lexa says, pulling down her skirt.
Clarke bends to pick up her purse, handing Lexa her shirt. Lexa is quick to put it on and button it, covering herself as Clarke buttons her uniform back up . Once they’re dressed, Clarke looks around, wondering how to make her exit.
“Well... thanks,” Clarke says.
She reaches for the door handle, then pauses, considering she doesn’t want this opportunity fly by.
“I could come back same time next week,” she offers.
“Okay,” Lexa says, nodding dumbly.
Clarke bites her lips and nods. “Okay. See you then.”
She opens the door, exiting into the bright, fresh morning air with renewed energy.
They meet every Friday morning for a month. It’s hot and dirty and they hardly say five words to each other in between the pockets of blissful madness they share. Clarke’s belly slowly swells until it feels like it’s pushing them apart. They move to a bench in the waiting room, and one time a chair in the kitchen, but they never go into Lexa’s office or the exam room. Clarke doesn’t care, so long as their arrangement stays intact.
Sex. No strings, no feelings, no talking about anything of consequence.
Especially their spouses.
The effects of their arrangement are magical. Clarke feels the solidness of her bones, the strength of her muscles, the malleability of her body. The dust she thought she was filled with is gone.
She knows what they’re doing is wrong. Every time she walks up the steps to meet Lexa in the early morning, she wonders if she should be doing this. And yet she’s made so many choices she thought were good and responsible and would lead to happiness, and she ended up miserable. It’s oddly comforting to know right from the start that her affair with Lexa is a bad idea. Somehow she justifies that doing this one terrible, exhilarating thing is her allowance for the rest of her suffering.
As she gets deeper into her second trimester, once a week isn’t enough. She finds herself thinking constantly about Lexa pressed against her, Lexa breathing in her ear, Lexa’s fingers inside her. She’s horny and cranky and can’t wait until Friday.
She calls from work on a Tuesday.
“Dr. Bollinger and Dr. Woodward’s office, how may I help you?”
The pleasant, professional voice of the receptionist almost surprises her. She’s been to the office so many times when no one else was there, she sometimes forgets Lexa doesn’t run the whole office herself.
“Hi, uh - I’m a patient of Dr. Woodward’s in my second trimester. I have some questions I wanted to ask her. I was hoping I could come in today?”
“Dr. Woodward’s not in today, but I can fit you in tomorrow afternoon. Is it urgent?”
“I can page her and have her give you a call if you like.”
Clarke debates, wondering if she can really justify paging Lexa at home.
They’re so careful to not talk about their spouses and home lives, to pretend what they’re doing exists in a vacuum. Paging her at home breaks their silent agreement about that.
But in the end, Clarke does what she always does: makes the selfish, foolhardy decision that staves off her misery for just a bit longer.
“That’d be great. Have her call me at JoJo’s diner.”
It takes Lexa forty minutes to call back and four seconds for Clarke to cross the diner when Margie tells her she has a call.
“Can you come pick me up?”
“You called me at work,” Clarke says, annoyed.
“I’m off in an hour.”
There’s a pause. “Alright. I’ll be there.”
“Great. See you then.”
Clarke feels herself surge with excitement.
And hour later, Clarke punches her timecard, racing out to the parking lot to see Lexa’s car waiting at the end of the lot. She hurries over to it, pulling open the door. She can hardly hold herself back from attacking Lexa with her mouth when she gets in the car.
She manages, and Lexa pulls out of the parking spot, turning onto the road.
“Where should we go?” Lexa asks.
Clarke huffs, frustrated that there are no obvious places. There are people working at Lexa’s office, they can’t very well go to one of their houses, and checking into a motel for an hour or two is trashy and would sprout rumors.
“I don’t know.”
Lexa bites her lip, then says, “We could park somewhere quiet and fold the backseat down.”
Clarke glances behind her at the back of Lexa’s SUV. It’s not the most enticing setup, but it’s clean and sounds like their only option, barring a hotel out of town.
“Sure,” Clarke says.
Lexa nods and stares straight ahead, steering them toward whatever quiet place she had in mind.
Clarke looks at what Lexa’s wearing; she’s wearing a fitted t-shirt and yoga pants and her hair is down. She doesn’t wear her lab coat or stethoscope when they meet early Friday mornings at the office, but she’s always in professional attire. It’s nice to see her look more casual.
Clarke wonders what Lexa was doing today when she got the page. Was she working out? Cleaning? Laying on her couch? Going over finances with her wife?
Clarke is suddenly morbidly curious about the marriage she’s threatening.
“What did you tell your wife?”
Lexa goes stony. “Nothing.” There a lead-filled moment before Lexa adds, “I don’t want to talk about her.”
“Well in case you were wondering, my husband will be at the bar with his friends all night, so the odds of him noticing I’m not home are quite low.”
Lexa casts her a humorless look.
Clarke knows she’s being an asshole, but she’s too grumpy to stop herself from saying, “Okay, I guess we should keep pretending we don’t have spouses.”
Lexa grips the steering wheel tightly. “How was work?”
“Awful as usual,” Clarke grumbles.
Lexa glances over at her again. “I bet it’s getting hard to be on your feet as much as you are.”
Clarke knows Lexa is trying to be nice, but that’s not why she called her. They have an arrangement, and Lexa trying to help her process her day isn’t what she had in mind. “It’s always hard.”
Lexa takes the hint and stays quiet for a few minutes until she pulls into a shaded parking spot behind a little fence near the South Hatch tennis courts. Clarke never would have thought to come here, but it’s a good spot. Plenty of privacy. Lexa opens the sunroof and turns off the ignition.
Lexa unclips her seatbelt and opens the door, gesturing with her hand for Clarke to stay where she is. Lexa opens the back door and flips a few levers and buttons, folding the seats down into the floor. It creates a space almost as big as a bed. Lexa takes a blanket out of a compartment in the trunk and spreads it out. Then she looks up, inviting Clarke to join her as she closes the door.
If Clarke weren’t exhausted and feeling the little swell of her belly, she might have hopped over the center console. As it is, she climbs out and opens the back door, crawling onto the blanket, wasting no time drawing Lexa in for a kiss.
Like magic, Clarke feels herself start to calm. Lexa’s touch promises release and escape, and her body has been conditioned to know that.
Clarke takes advantage of the horizontal space they have to roll over and on top of Lexa. She’s still slow and deliberate, drawing out the tension and pleasure she gives Lexa. But she’s firmer now, holding Lexa’s wrists down, anchoring her with her hips, making sure Lexa surrenders underneath her before she touches her.
She takes off Lexa’s shirt and bra and realizes she’s never seen Lexa topless before. She’s seen a flash of breast here and there, peeking through Lexa’s blouse or with her shirt bunched up to her collarbones. But never fully unclothed. Lexa’s body is beautiful. She takes it in for a moment, then slips her hand between their bodies to see Lexa really surrender to her, head and back arching as Clarke slides inside her.
Once Lexa is done, Clarke stays put, only lifting her uniform as much as necessary to slide Lexa’s hand inside. Once she positions Lexa’s fingers where she wants them, she rocks her herself steadily, grinding down, not letting Lexa help much. The blissed-out, reverent look Lexa gives her as she watches is enough.
Clarke’s release eludes her for a while. She grows frustrated, scowling and grunting as she tries to find it with different angles of her hips, different pressures and speeds. Finally she catches it by the tail and bears down, gasping and cursing through, slumping forward on top of Lexa.
It’s impersonal and rough, but their arrangement has never been romantic or sweet.
Clarke lays there, tired and relieved, breathing heavily, cheek sticking to Lexa. It’s quiet, save for the rustle of the tree above the sunroof, and everything seems still and heavy for a moment.
Then Lexa lifts her hand, trailing her fingers through Clarke’s ponytail. It’s soft and almost affectionate.
Clarke realizes she hasn’t been very nice to Lexa today.
“Thanks for picking me up,” she sighs.
“No problem,” Lexa says gently.
It’s quiet for another long minute, and Clarke wonders what they’ll do next. She can’t make an efficient exit like she usually does at Lexa’s office.
She sits up, but before she can ask Lexa to put her shirt back on and drive her home, Lexa speaks.
“Sometimes you seem angry.”
Clarke is surprised. “I’m sorry. It’s not with you.”
There’s another pause. It’s a comforting, understanding silence.
“What are you angry about?”
“My life,” Clarke mutters.
Clarke feels the need to fill the silence Lexa leaves.
“My job. My stupid husband. This dumb baby.” She gestures down to her stomach.
Lexa purses her lips and gives a nod.
“I’d be angry too,” Lexa says. “But don’t let it consume you.”
Clarke looks down at Lexa, topless and calm with her hair billowing on the blanket. She thinks - for the first time in years - she might actually want to go a second time. “You’re the only thing I want to consume me.”
Lexa’s smile starts hesitantly, then turns impish. She takes the hint, reaching up to draw Clarke down to her mouth. Clarke follows, letting Lexa roll her onto her side.
She’s surprised when Lexa starts kissing down Clarke’s chest, undoing buttons as she goes. She slides her hand around Clarke’s waist to reach the middle of her back.
“Lie back,” Lexa whispers.
Clarke feels a shiver of excitement as she does. Lexa’s never taken initiative like this. It’s nice.
Lexa doesn’t remove her uniform completely, though she undoes the buttons all the way down, opening it completely. She fingers the waistband of Clarke’s panties, looking up with a naughty question in her eyes.
Clarke feels a rush of excitement as she nods and tips her head back, putting her arm over her eyes to block everything out but the feeling of Lexa sliding her underwear down, the cool breeze hitting her, and then-
Bliss. Clarke’s breathing grows heaving and hungry as Lexa slides her tongue through her. She almost forgot what this feels like, to have something so soft and warm against her, free of stubble and clumsiness and hatred. Her hand flies down to Lexa’s head to encourage her, scrunching up her hair as she draws her knees up, widening her stance, giving Lexa as much space as she can.
It hardly takes any time at all. Lexa is deliberate and skilled, and Clarke feels she can’t fill her lungs as she’s pulled up and up and up, flinging through her release, louder and longer and tighter than ever before.
“Holy… shit,” Clarke pants as Lexa wipes her chin and sits up. “I don’t think I’ve come that hard in… ever.”
Lexa slinks up the blanket and lays beside Clarke. “Increased blood volume during the second trimester enhances arousal and makes sex more intense.”
“Shh, sh-sh-sh,” Clarke says pressing her hand toward Lexa’s face. “Don’t give science credit for what you just did.”
Lexa grins and leans in to press her lips to the spot on Clarke’s neck that makes her shiver. She presses a few soft kisses there before she stills, draping her arm over Clarke, right in the channel between her breasts and where her belly starts to swell.
Clarke giggles, feeling it shake through her whole body, belly and breasts bouncing as she stretches out on her back.
Lexa smiles at her. “What?”
“I was just thinking… I haven’t had sex in the back of a car since I was… seventeen? Eightteen?”
Lexa smiles in amusement.
Clarke adores Lexa’s smile. “Makes me feel like a teenager again. Except for this,” she says, putting a hand on her belly. “I was with a girl back then too,” Clarke adds. “So this wouldn’t have happened. Should’ve stuck with girls...” She pats her belly and Lexa’s face softens.
Rather than say anything, Lexa leans over and kisses Clarke again, deep and hot and possessive. Clarke wonders if Lexa is jealous or simply doesn’t like to hear about her being with other people. She welcomes the kiss, wishing they had more space so she could roll over, pressing Lexa down again, smothering her with the happiness and excitement and lust that Lexa has awoken in her over the last few weeks.
Instead they just kiss.
It’s new for them. The don’t ever linger after sex. But they have a little time, and Clarke feels mellowed by Lexa’s mouth.
Lexa has so many different flavors of kisses. Sticky, succulent caramel kisses. Too-hot, frantic cinnamon kisses. Trembling, buzzing coffee bean kisses. Crumbling, light baked meringue kisses. Decadent, layered trifle kisses so rich Clarke can only take small tastes.
But right now Clarke delights most in the soft, barely-there kisses Lexa presses to her lips and chin and jaw and neck. They’re as weightless and sweet as the little tufts of whipped cream served on top of some of Clarke’s pies.
Lexa starts running her hand over Clarke’s stomach. It doesn’t feel weird or kill the mood. It feels gentle and affectionate and has a calming effect on Clarke. She takes a tendril of Lexa’s hair and twists it around her finger, feeling it wrap into a curl.
Lexa holds there, pressing whipped cream kisses to Clarke’s lips and chin. At first Clarke is uncertain; she doesn’t know how to respond to such soft touch, to such intentional soothing. But she eases into it.
She thinks about her stomach and how it’s changing. The comfort Lexa is trying to provide Clarke includes her baby. Not in a possessive or inappropriate way, but as the baby relates to the whole of Clarke. The baby is a part of her. It’s a nice change from thinking about the baby as an alien or parasite.
Clarke has felt the baby kick a few times, a little flutter like a goldfish. But she hasn’t felt anything in her chest.
For the first time, she thinks of her baby and feels something warm and glowing and good inside her.
Maybe there is grace in this after all. Maybe she’ll learn to love the child inside her somehow.
Clarke looks up through the sunroof at the tree above them. She wonders at how this thing with Lexa, this thing that’s supposed to be so bad, is the only good thing she has. Somehow, in the midst of her awful life, she’s been afforded this brief moment of peace.
They lay there like that until the sun dips lower and they know they have to go back to their houses and spouses.
“Thank you,” Clarke says.
“You’re welcome,” Lexa responds. “Would you like me to drive you home?”
Clarke nods hazily, not really wanting to go home, but grateful for the offer.
Lexa reaches for her shirt, but Clarke lifts her hand to her cheek, stopping her. Lexa pauses, then follows Clarke’s hand down, giving her a few more kisses before Clarke sighs, a mixture of contentment and resignation.
They dress quietly, then get into their seats in the front of the car. It’s comfortably quiet as Lexa pulls out of the parking spot, heading toward Sycamore Park. Clarke gives her directions, telling her to stop at the corner. She doesn’t have to explain why.
“Thanks again,” Clarke says. “Sorry I was grumpy.”
“My pleasure,” Lexa says. “Have a good evening, Clarke.”
Already too close to Chad for a genuine smile, Clarke gives a discontented one and walks heavily toward her driveway.
Chapter 6: Crumble
I should have credited my little team of beta readers in the last few chapters: decalexas, commanderlekstra, agentmuffin, and my ride-or-die beta terriblemuriel. Thank you to all of them!
Also shoutout to thecatsbian on Tumblr for making some gorgeous fanart.
Lexa’s lips are addictive.
Whether she’s talking, smiling, or kissing Clarke, Clarke can’t get enough. She thought Lexa only had a few kiss ingredients, but in the last few weeks she’s discovered a whole pantry on her lips.
Chocolate cherry kisses. Lemon chiffon kisses. Tart apricot kisses. Melted ice cream kisses. Red velvet kisses.
Clarke finds inspiration for a whole month’s worth of new pies in a single morning or afternoon with Lexa. She bakes more effortlessly than ever, combining unusual ingredients to create surprisingly delicious pies the customers rave about.
And every night she dreams about Lexa and all the sweetness her lips provide.
One night Clarke is woken from such a dream by Chad’s incoherent mumbling. He does this from time to time. Recently it’s been waking Clarke up. She hopes he’ll just ramble for a moment and then go back to sleep, but tonight she can actually understand him.
She hears the words dad and pipe and watch out and the name of Chad’s best friend, Dale. Chad starts jerking his arms and legs, distressed, tossing, and Clarke wonders if he’ll wake himself up this time.
For his sake she hopes he will. For hers she hopes he doesn’t.
He’s been less of a pain in the ass lately. He’s softer with her, even asks how she’s feeling once in awhile. Clarke has to remind herself he’ll go back to being a jerk in a few months. His interest in her is only superficial and to serve his own ego.
He jerks himself awake and Clarke hears the panic seize him as he finds himself in his bed in the dark, disoriented as though he was truly plucked from his nightmare and dropped beside her. He shudders for a moment, running his hand down his face, and then he does something truly horrifying: he starts to cry.
Clarke squeezes her eyes shut, resenting him for his humanity. It would easier to hate him if he never showed any tenderness or emotion besides anger. But when he wakes from a nightmare and starts crying, she can’t stop herself from rolling over and trying to soothe him.
“It’s okay,” she whispers. “It’s just a dream, Chad.”
Chad blubbers for a moment, hands running down his face to stifle the noise of his crying. “Wasn’t a dream back then…” he coughs out.
Clarke sighs, reaching out to run her hand down his arm. It’s all the comfort she allows herself to give him, though a part of her wants to draw him into her arms until he stops crying.
She hates that a part of her still cares, that part of her wants to ease his suffering when he is responsible for so much of hers. The two things can’t be paired, like ingredients never meant to be baked together; no matter how she tries, some things will never taste good.
She remembers who he was when she married him. Handsome, strapping, playful. She remembers how determined he was to care for her, to protect her from harm and hurt after her mother died, how hard he worked to provide for her. His heart was so good and unadulterated then.
When his father died from a heart attack, Clarke thought it would push them even deeper in love, that their shared grief would knit them closer together. But he’d barely gotten over the shock when the unthinkable had happened; his best friend since kindergarten, the only person Clarke ever thought Chad might be more loyal to than her, was crushed by a two-ton cement pipe in a construction accident. Chad had seen every second of it, heard his friend’s yells and the gutting silence that followed.
The unraveling started then, and Chad became hardened and mean. She hates that she understands, hates that the world turned a good man so bad, hates that she has to pay the price.
Chad cries for a minute longer, then turns toward her, nuzzling against her arm. It’s abrupt and Clarke tries not to stiffen.
He puts his hand gently on her stomach, feeling its swell.
He’s got a strange fixation with her belly since she told him, looking at it out of the corner of his eye constantly while at the same time being frightened of it. Usually she uses it to her advantage; when Chad asks her to get up and get him a beer, she rubs her hand over her stomach and looks at him innocently, sometimes adding a hint of a pout.
Chad ruffles his hair and gets up without complaint.
Tonight he seems almost reverent of it. He runs his hand over it, and Clarke feels the urge to roll away from him. She only likes it when Lexa does that.
Then his hand drifts up to her breast and she feels even more repelled.
“Please?” he says.
“I don’t know, Chad…” she says, sounding tired.
“Please, baby. Please… I don’t care if you’re fat.”
Clarke glares at him in the dark. “What?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Chad says. “C’mon baby. You’re my sweet thing. Please?”
Clarke ignores him and he keeps asking.
If this is any preview of motherhood, Clarke is going to be terrible at it. She has no patience for this kind of juvenile behavior.
But she has ways of getting what she needs.
She shifts up the bed and lets out a dramatic sigh, hoping to make it sound sad. “Chad, I haven’t been totally honest with you.”
Chad’s hand stops kneading her breast.
“I’ve been saying I’m tired and sore, but the truth is…” She looks down at her belly and thinks of Lexa sprawled beneath her, topless and panting, infinitely sexier than Chad will ever be. “The doctor said sex isn’t safe for the baby.”
Chad pulls back, almost as though he was scolded. “For real?”
“Mm-hm,” Clarke says, trying to sound disappointed.
“Well, shoot…” Chad says, brow crinkling in consternation. “I guess that makes sense. Wouldn’t want it to get poked in the eye and come out looking funny.”
Clarke is glad it’s dark enough that she doesn’t have to forcibly prevent herself from rolling her eyes. She can’t believe she married a man who thinks his penis could damage a fetus.
Chad chews on this information for a minute before a hopeful thought crosses his mind. “Maybe you could give me a blowie? You used to be so good at those.”
Clarke swallows, trying not to let her disgust be too obvious. She cobbles together a lie only Chad would believe. “But then I’d get all excited and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. That wouldn’t be fair. Not good for the baby either, if I’m stressed.” She gives her best pout and tries not to grin when she sees Chad bought the lie.
“That’s true,” Chad says, disappointed. “Well, shoot. Guess it’s just me and my hand until that thing comes out, huh?” He pokes a finger toward Clarke’s belly and Clarke feels the urge to grip herself protectively.
“And a few months after.”
“Why?” Chad asks, sounding confused again.
“It doesn’t exactly slide out smooth as butter. It’s gonna tear me up pretty good.” For her own sake she tries to convince herself this is mostly a lie too.
“For real?” Chad asks, lip crinkling in disgust.
Clarke nods and rubs her hand over her belly, the magic motion that seems to ward him off.
“Does it go back to normal after a while?”
Clarke shrugs innocently. “Hopefully.”
Chad gives her a look that makes her think it’s possible he may never want to have sex with her again. Whatever desire he had when he was pestering her a minute ago is long gone. He gives a confused grunt, then rolls back onto his side of the bed and curls into a ball.
“Night, baby,” he mumbles.
She’s never been so unafraid to see him disappointed.
Still, she’s kept awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering how grief can affect people so differently.
Clarke’s six month appointment with Lexa is oddly soothing. Lexa remains cool and professional as ever, going through routine questions and a physical exam. She doesn’t comment on Clarke’s lingerie - a bit worn and too tight, since Clarke’s can’t exactly buy new underwear to impress her - or respond to Clarke’s breathy sighs when she feels her belly.
Clarke supposes she ought to take comfort in Lexa’s ability to separate her role as Clarke’s doctor from the affair they’re having, but she finds it strange and impersonal, as though Lexa has divided everything in her life into boxes. Maybe that’s what facilitated their affair in the first place; Lexa’s home life and marriage are separate and unrelated to the things she does with Clarke.
But in a way it irritates Clarke. She can never have both Lexa and Dr. Woodward in the same room, and sometimes she wants that. When Clarke is anxious about the months to come - especially the dreaded end, the nightmare of childbirth - she wishes Lexa would reassure her in a more personal way, topping it with a caramel kiss or coffee bean peck. But Lexa is not stupid like Chad, and Clarke’s efforts to draw her in don’t work.
Lexa answers all Clarke’s questions, recommending books and websites for further reading. Clarke would rather forego the reading material and ask Lexa everything directly.
Once Lexa is done and has picked up her clipboard, she finally addresses Clarke more personally.
“You’re my last patient of the day,” she says. Her eyes don’t sparkle; there’s no glint or flash or flirtation. But there’s a hint there that she might be interested in spending more time together.
“Am I?” Clarke says coquettishly.
She sits forward and reaches for Lexa’s white coat, pulling her forcibly toward her. She draws Lexa’s head down into a sizzling hot cinnamon kiss, leaning back as she pulls Lexa forward on top of her.
They kiss for a moment and she can feel Lexa squirm as she directs her head down, lifting her exam gown purposefully.
“Clarke,” Lexa says, pushing away, startled.
It’s not breathy or desperate or even aroused. There’s a hardness to it that takes Clarke a moment to hear.
“Not here,” Lexa says, squeezing her eyes shut and raising a hand in a Stop signal.
Clarke looks around, wondering what’s so objectionable about the exam room. For oral sex, it’s a perfect setup. She’s comfortable, Lexa can sit on her stool, and no one would come in without knocking.
Lexa takes a deep, shaky breath. “Have you found a new doctor yet?”
Clarke shifts, wondering what she can say to justify her lack of action. She simply doesn’t want a new doctor. She likes Lexa, but clearly Lexa doesn’t like being both her doctor and her mistress at the same time.
“I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Lexa says darkly.
Clarke resents her for bringing up Chad. She’s escaped him for long enough today that she started to almost feel happy.
Lexa lets out a heavy sigh. Clarke can almost hear the weight of everything Lexa has placed in the balance of their arrangement. “We can’t do anything while I’m working.”
Clarke realizes that, aside from the first time when Clarke caught her off guard, they’ve never had sex during one of Clarke’s appointments. Lexa needs to keep it that way. It’s the only thing that makes her feel safe with their arrangement.
It’s unfortunate though, because Clarke’s feeling especially needy today, and lying back on the exam table while Lexa takes care of her sounds pretty good.
“I’m sorry,” Clarke says. “I just really…” She hitches her hips a few times, showing Lexa how frustrated she is.
“I know,” Lexa says, softer. “Give me twenty minutes. I’ll drive you home.”
It’s code, Clarke understands.
She dresses and waits patiently out on the curb while Lexa finishes up a few things in the office.
She’s restless and she can’t put her finger on why. Some of it is the usual anticipation of sex she always gets when she knows she’ll see Lexa, but there’s something darker there too. Maybe it’s her conscience telling her this is wrong. Maybe she’s sensing something bad will happen if they continue. Maybe she should listen to this feeling and to what Lexa meant when she said It’s not you I’m worried about.
But before she sorts it out, Lexa appears and unlocks her car. They drive in silence to their usual spot. Clarke pushes her discomfort away. She can’t let anything taint the precious few hours they get together.
She feels needy in a different way today. She’s shakier, more desperate for Lexa’s soft lips and gentle hands than actual sex.
When Lexa does touch her, Clarke starts to pant in satisfaction, feeling her tension start to fray.
But then the fraying starts to extend deeper into herself. She’s unraveling past the point of comfort. The tenderness is so real and gutting, Clarke feels every ounce of pleasure drain from her body. Lexa’s touch is too soft, too delicate, and Clarke feels like she’ll break.
She feels like a terrible, wicked person who doesn’t deserve this softness.
She shuts her eyes and clamps her mouth shut and tries to send her mind away from Lexa. But it doesn’t work. Lexa is too warm and gentle.
Clarke starts to sniffle, then cry, then sob.
“Clarke… Clarke, what’s wrong?”
Clarke shudders and shakes her head, reaching to cover herself with the edge of the blanket beneath her. Lexa folds as much as she can over her, helping Clarke. She finds a beach towel further down in the trunk and spreads that over her too.
“Did I do something you didn’t like?”
Clarke squeezes her eyes shut and thinks back to what Lexa was doing, wondering what made her start crying. It hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary. So she shakes her head.
Clarke wonders who she should be angry with for her weakness. She usually blames Chad, but he’s been all but absent lately, just lurking in the living room and the other side of their bed while Clarke pretends he’s not there. Work hasn’t been any worse than usual. Lexa is nothing if not consistent.
All she can do is blame the baby. She doesn’t want to. It makes her feel like a bad mother. But it’s the only thing that makes sense.
“Pregnancy hormones,” she mumbles, sticky and soggy.
Lexa studies her, concerned. “Maybe.”
Clarke can hear she doesn’t buy it.
“We can stop,” Lexa says. It’s soft and firm at the same time, as though it was a decision rather than an offer.
“I’m sorry,” Clarke says, lifting her hands to press her fingers under her eyes so her makeup doesn’t run. She was so pushy earlier and now she feels stupid.
Lexa lays down beside Clarke, not looking directly at her. She stares up through the sunroof at the leaves overhead. Clarke is immediately comforted by it. Lexa is just close enough and just far enough.
“Is something different today?” Lexa asks. It’s gentle and curious.
Clarke gives a heavy shrug. She thinks back on her day full of customers and orders and too much walking and the increasing ache in her back.
There’s no denying that Clarke’s belly is prominent now. Customers ask when she’s due, if she knows the sex, if she’s thinking of names. She tries to plaster on a smile and pretend she’s excited, but it only creates more of a disjoint between what she feels and what she thinks she ought to feel.
The last few days she’s felt like her belly is taking over her body, becoming the only thing people look at or care about. Today someone had asked her when she was due and sounded surprised when she said she still had three months to go. It made her feel enormous.
But she can’t say that to Lexa. Lexa will assure her she’s a normal size and weight for this stage of pregnancy. Even though it’s supposed to be comforting, it would feel dismissive.
Lexa’s hand brushes over Clarke’s stomach, soft and intending to comfort. Though Lexa has done it countless times before, this time Clarke tenses. Lexa feels it right away.
Clarke winces, not sure how to explain what she’s feeling. “I just - isn’t it weird?”
“Having sex with- a pregnant woman?” She says it almost as though it’s a shameful secret.
“Why would it be weird?”
“I don’t know, I just-“ Clarke gestures down to her belly, not sure how to explain.
A thought occurs to her: perhaps Lexa’s comfort is born out of experience. Maybe Lexa’s wife is pregnant, or was pregnant, or maybe Lexa has had sex with pregnant patients before.
“Have you done it before?”
Lexa shakes her head. There’s an earnestness about her that convinces Clarke she’s telling the truth.
“Pregnancy is a natural state, Clarke,” Lexa says plainly. “It shouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable when it comes to intimacy.”
“Not everyone feels that way.”
Lexa gives a slow shrug. “Maybe it’s the doctor in me.”
Lexa is so calm and matter-of-fact, treating her stomach as just another part of her body, Clarke feels like maybe she’s overreacting. She still feels vulnerable, but she doesn’t want to waste her afternoon with Lexa.
Hopefully sex will help her feel less like a belly with legs and more like a whole person. So far, Lexa’s touch has only done good things for her. So she bites her lip and pushes herself into the discomfort.
“I’d really like to have some doctor in me,” she says.
“Are you sure?”
Clarke hesitates for only a second to convince herself she has the fortitude, then reaches for Lexa’s hand. Lexa lets Clarke guide her hand down over the round of her stomach into her panties.
This time there are no eyes squeezed shut, no escape into other realities, no desperate willing of thoughts away from the people they’re betraying. They stare at each other intently, Lexa’s fingers moving tortuously slowly. Clarke feels as naked as she’s ever been. Belly and all.
When she comes it’s gentle and quiet, little gasps and grips and sighs. Lexa’s especially tender as she comes down, and Clarke wonders if she’ll ever stop discovering ingredients in Lexa’s pantry. Lexa holds her, making sure she’s warm, offering her water and a little packet of crackers she has in her purse. Clarke declines, turning to try to touch Lexa, but Lexa shakes her head.
“This is all I want right now.”
Clarke swallows, wondering how any of this could be satisfying for Lexa, wondering what price she’ll pay for this sweetness.
For the first time, when the light starts to fade, she says, “I don’t want to go home.”
Lexa takes a slow, steady breath. “Me neither.”
Clarke wonders what home is for Lexa, and if there is anything unsavory waiting there for her.
“Everything’s packed up anyway,” Lexa adds.
Clarke feels a rush of fear and she feels even more vulnerable than before. She draws away.
“Are you moving?”
“Just to North Hatch,” Lexa says.
“Oh…” Clarke says. She’s relieved, but feels a strange sort of betrayal that Lexa didn’t tell her. North Hatch is just twenty minutes away, but Clarke worries the move means something else. Maybe Lexa’s wife suspects something, or maybe they’re getting a bigger place to start a family, or...
“Don’t worry,” Lexa says, sensing Clarke’s apprehension. “Nothing will change.”
She rubs Clarke’s arm and Clarke understands Lexa has every intention of maintaining their arrangement. Clarke relaxes, but feels the weight of everything they don’t know about each other.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Clarke asks.
“I didn’t want to jinx anything before the offer was accepted.”
“Oh,” Clarke says, happy to hear Lexa plans to lay down real roots nearby. “You bought a place.”
Lexa nods, looking sleepy and sad, and Clarke burrows into her.
“I’m glad you’ll still be nearby.”
They lay quietly for a few minutes until Lexa’s beeper goes off.
She has to go deliver a baby.
Reluctantly, they untangle themselves and get dressed. Lexa helps Clarke with the buttons of her uniform, combing her fingers through Clarke’s hair to smooth any telling tangles. Then they climb into the front seat and Lexa drives her to the end of her street.
Clarke had hoped saying goodbye would get easier with each passing exchange, but it doesn’t. Even though they always have a plan for when they’ll meet next, even though they meet more and more often, Clarke worries something will go wrong and tear them apart and she’ll be plummeted back into her horrible marriage and life, lonelier for knowing what it’s like to not be lonely.
And then one day it does happen.
She arrives with a pie at a regularly scheduled appointment - not a secret meeting with Lexa she tells Chad is a doctor’s appointment - and is greeted instead by Dr. Bollinger.
“Clarke!” Dr. Bollinger cries when she sees her. “Would ya look at you.” She takes in Clarke’s pregnant body with a grin. “Pregnancy becomes you,” she says, dabbing the air with her pen as she sets her clipboard on the counter.
“Where’s Dr. Woodward?”
“She took the day off to be with her wife.”
Clarke feels punched in the gut.
She tries to pretend Lexa is like a computer or iron; dormant when she’s not actively engaging with her. But hearing that Lexa is spending the day with her wife scrambles all her rationalizations and justifications for their affair.
“Lucky me, I get to fill in for her for the day. Oh! You brought me a pie,” Dr. Bollinger says, giving Clarke an affectionate pout.
“I brought it for Dr. Woodward...”
“You like her, huh? Not surprising. She’s got a steady, grounded bedside manner beyond her years.”
“When will she be back?”
“She just took the day,” Dr. Bollinger assures. “Said it was their anniversary or something. She’ll be back for your next appointment.”
Clarke gives a shaky nod, reality piecing itself back together forcibly in her mind.
For months they’ve been able to pretend what they’re doing won’t have consequences, that their liaisons occur in a place where time doesn’t move forward and other people don’t exist. There are no spouses or anniversaries or deadlines on the horizon, save for the inevitable end of Clarke’s pregnancy. She hopes Lexa will still want to see her outside her appointments, that they’ll work something out once the baby is born. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if she doesn’t.
She tries not to picture Lexa taking another woman out to dinner like they’ll never be able to, curling up on the couch watching a movie afterward, going to bed with her at the end of the night, giving her the soft touches and whipped cream kisses that have sustained Clarke for the last four months. She feels a punching in her belly and her heart twists painfully.
And that’s when it hits her.
It’s so obvious Clarke feels foolish for not realizing until now.
This thing between them is so much more than sex. It’s deeper than she ever anticipated, more complicated and personal and messy.
She should have known better. But looking at her life, she feels like she should have known better than a lot of things. She should have ended it months ago, or better yet, prevented it from happening in the first place.
She thinks back on all the opportunities she had to end it - every Friday morning she could have not shown up, every time she could have not called, every time she should have told Lexa not to meet her again. But she can’t think of a single time she had the strength and willpower to cut herself off from the one good thing in her life.
Like so many things in her life - her marriage, her job, her pregnancy - Clarke feels like her affair with Lexa is one more thing she has no control over. There was no tearing herself away, no extraction from the entanglement they’ve begun.
And just like that, some of the sweetness and light in her life extinguishes.
Chapter 7: Deep Dish
Clarke clocks in and walks tentatively into the kitchen, trying to gauge Sal’s mood. He’s scowling down at the grill as usual, but Clarke knows she has to talk to him. She’s put off this conversation for months.
Sal just grunts.
“I wanted you to know that I’m - well, I’m pregnant. Due in about eight weeks.”
“You’re what now?” Sal asks, turning around to look at her.
“I’m pregnant.” Clarke puts her hand on her uniformed belly, glaringly obvious now.
“Huh,” Sal grunts, glancing down at where Clarke’s hand rests.
“I’ll need to take some time off.”
Clarke stumbles. “Because - it’s gonna be harder for me to be on my feet all day towards the end. And after it’s born, I have to heal for a while-”
“I don’t need to hear all that,” Sal interrupts, as though any kind of women’s issues makes him anxious and threatens his manliness. “S’long as you clear it with Jo and someone comes to get the plates when I say order up, I don’t care what you do.”
Clarke feels slapped away and replaceable. She and Sal may not be friends, but they see each other every day and it seems like he doesn’t care about her at all. Clarke is tired of feeling insignificant. She storms out of the kitchen, wishing her belly didn’t make it so difficult. She whirls around the corner, not bothering to calm herself before walking to one of her tables to take Jo’s order.
“What’s eating you, Griffin?” Jo asks, tipping her menu down and squinting at Clarke.
“Nothing,” Clarke lies.
So many things are gnawing at her: Sal, Chad, waiting tables, the baby, her guilt about Lexa. Sometimes she feels like people are literally sucking out any nourishment she can scrounge up for herself. She’s so hungry lately. She ate almost an entire leftover pomegranate chicken pie the other night and didn’t feel stuffed in the least.
“I’d take you at your word, but I don’t believe it,” Jo says, looking back at her menu with annoyance.
“I just told Sal I’m pregnant and I’ll need to take some time off and he got annoyed.”
“You had to tell him?” Jo says, looking half appalled, half amused. “He think you’re smuggling a mixing bowl under there?”
Clarke closes her eyes, praying for patience.
“How’s the lipstick smudge?” Jo asks, smirking.
Clarke feels her anger drain into shame and worry. She hasn’t sorted out what’s really happening with Lexa. She doesn’t respond, hoping Jo will move on to ordering.
“You better figure it out soon,” Jo says. “Especially since you never made it to that pie contest.”
“Can I take your order, Jo?”
“It’s only gonna get messier,” Jo says. She looks up at Clarke, then behind her. “Oh, Christ.”
Clarke turns to look at what Jo is reacting to.
She’s met with Lexa’s sad, serious eyes staring at her from one of Stef’s booths.
Before her is a slice of True Love Pie.
Clarke freezes, order pad in mid-air, mouth open.
Lexa is here. At her job.
She forgets Jo, forgets the conversation they’re having and rushes over to Lexa, desperate to prevent what she’s sure is a disaster waiting to happen.
They can’t compartmentalize anything. Jo already knows. They’re going to get caught and all hell will break loose.
“What are you doing here?” she hisses.
Lexa looks uncertain at Clarke’s tone. “I wanted to see you.”
Clarke takes an impatient breath. “You can’t be here.”
“Because I work here.”
“You come to my work all the time.”
“That’s different,” Clarke hisses. “We have privacy there.”
“I just wanted to talk,” Lexa says, brow settling into a subtle frown. “I had a bad da-”
“I don’t have time to talk,” Clarke insists. “And you can’t come in here like this.”
“I’m just eating a slice of pie,” Lexa says, looking around, trying to gauge what about the diner is so personal and threatening to Clarke.
She looks toward where Jo is sitting and Clarke can feel Jo’s disapproval radiating through her. In her belly, she feels the baby start to thrash, uncomfortable with Clarke’s stress hormones.
“I have customers to take care of,” Clarke mutters. “Just eat your pie and go.” It’s biting and mean.
She whirls around, heading back to Jo, who is looking at her menu down the bridge of her nose, pretending that she hasn’t been keenly attuned to her interaction with Lexa.
“I’ll take two slices of key lime. Bring it fast. Life is short.”
Clarke rolls her eyes at Jo and turns toward the kitchen, eyes fixed with steel intent away from Lexa. She cuts two pieces of key lime pie, listening to Sal whistling behind the grill.
Away from customers, she realizes what just happened. She let her guilt and Jo’s judgment scare her and in turn make her mean to Lexa. She knows she owes Lexa an explanation and maybe an apology. She closes her eyes for a few moment, breathing slowly and deeply, feeling a little nudge of encouragement in her belly.
Lately the baby seems to be communicating with her in a way no one else ever has. She’s never had someone who knew so immediately when she was upset and when she needed to calm down. It’s almost like caring, but she knows it’s just a hormonal and physical bond. The baby doesn’t really care about her.
She has to explain to Lexa why they need to end things. It’s best for everyone, most of all Lexa, who has a wife and a house and a job and a license to protect.
She takes the plate to Jo, sliding it onto the table. Then she turns to where Lexa is sitting.
The booth is empty, the slice of True Love Pie half-eaten, fork perched on the edge of the plate. There’s a $20 bill beside it.
Clarke feels her heart plummet, guilt and sadness filling every spare space inside her, swirling through her stomach. The baby stills and Clarke feels heavier.
She didn’t mean to upset Lexa. But maybe it’s better this way. She’ll see her at her next appointment in three weeks.
Between now and then, she’ll work on being a better person and mother and friend.
The next morning, Clarke listens to the velcro sound of Chad peeling out of the gravel driveway and slumps back on the couch, exhausted. She’s glad she has the day off, but she’s dreading the murky silence of their shitty little house and its chewing tobacco smell and threadbare carpet.
She dreamed of so much more for herself, but now she can’t even remember what she dreamed.
She’s startled by a knock at the door. She heaves herself up and answers it.
Lexa is on the doorstep, stunning in a simple button-down and jeans with her hair loose and wavy.
Clarke’s heart does a little pitter-patter and she feels the baby shift.
“You look terrible,” Lexa says.
Clarke looks down at her old robe tied awkwardly over her belly, then brushes her disheveled hair behind her ear. She can’t do anything about the circles under her eyes or the crushing fatigue.
“I meant you look sad.”
Clarke feels herself sag toward the floor. “I’m not a happy woman.”
Lexa looks pained.
Clarke is too tired to feel anything. She should feel guilty that she still hasn’t ended things, embarrassed by her dumpy house, or curious why Lexa is here in the first place.
But all she feels is a vague sense of relief and confusion. She feels too heavy and huge to be much else.
“Is this a house call?”
Lexa pauses. “Do you want it to be?”
Clarke has no resolve to end things like she knows she should. She barely has the resolve to keep standing.
“How long will your husband be gone?” Lexa asks.
Clarke leans against the edge of the door, swaying on her feet. She can hardly hold herself up.
Lexa tilts her head forward. “Are you okay?”
Clarke opens her mouth to respond as she usually does, a robotic I’m fine. But it doesn’t come.
“I’m sorry,” Clarke chokes. “I’m sorry I was so awful to you yesterday. I just-” She starts crying so hard she can’t talk, curling into herself.
Lexa steps tentatively over the threshold, threading her arms under Clarke’s, pressing her close. Clarke’s head drops against Lexa’s shoulder as Lexa eases the door closed.
“It’s okay,” Lexa says.
They stand there, breathing, warming, holding together the hurt Clarke thinks will drag her into the ground. It’s big and heavy between them, both in feeling and form. Clarke’s stomach is so rounded she can’t press fully against Lexa anymore. She misses the feel of Lexa’s hips against hers.
The baby is just one more thing pushing them apart.
Lexa’s hand drifts over Clarke’s hair a few times, then stills at the tips in the center of Clarke’s back.
Clarke feels like her heart nestles against it.
Clarke has never had someone hold her like this, not saying anything, not asking for anything, not chaining her to anything. She imagines what it would be like if she got to have this every day, what a different woman she would be.
The best she can do is try to do that for her baby when it comes. Even if she has to force herself to do it.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, nuzzling into Lexa’s shoulder.
“I took the day off to be with you,” Lexa says quietly, almost embarrassed. “I thought maybe you needed company. But I can leave if you want.”
Clarke wonders how Lexa knew she didn’t want to be alone.
“I don’t want you to go.”
“Okay. I won’t.”
They stand like that for a long, long time, until Clarke’s knees start throbbing and she has to pull away and move back to the couch. She kisses Lexa first, thanking her, assuring her she does still want her, even if she’s too tired to show it.
Clarke sits, placing her hand on the cushion beside her, gesturing for Lexa to sit next to her.
Lexa sits sideways, arm resting on the back of the couch as she folds her legs beside herself. She’s so graceful, she seems out of place in Clarke’s house.
Heavy, Clarke tilts her head back against the back of the sofa and turns it so she can look at Lexa. She pushes her legs out, stretching the cramping and sore muscles. Her belly weighs her down. She feels huge.
Lexa’s tongue peeks out along her lower lip for a second before she draws it back in. “You’re so beautiful.”
“I’m fat,” Clarke mutters back.
“You’re pregnant,” Lexa corrects. “Beautifully so.”
Clarke scoffs. “I’m enormous and swollen and sore and tired as hell because I have a huge parasite growing inside me. I don’t know how any of that is beautiful.”
Lexa bites her lips. “A lot of women feel that way.”
“I feel like the anti-mother.” Clarke sighs. “I wish I could take a break. Just a day or two off from being pregnant.”
“What would you do if you could?”
“Take you right here on this couch.”
It’s abrupt and defensive and Lexa pretends she doesn’t hear. She waits for the real answer.
“Bake pies,” Clarke says, soft and wistful. “I could do that anyway, but my feet hurt and my legs are cramping.”
Lexa untucks her feet, facing forward as she taps Clarke’s thighs. Clarke doesn’t even argue, just slides sideways, heaving her legs onto Lexa’s lap, head coming to rest on the arm of the couch. She closes her eyes and lets Lexa gently knead her aching muscles and joints. She’s vaguely aware that she hasn’t shaved in a few days, but she’s too tired and sad to care. She lets Lexa massage her, basking in it, lifting a few inches out of her well of loneliness.
Being able to sit on a couch together feels like a stolen luxury.
She wonders if Lexa is some sort of reward for all Clarke’s good intentions.
“Will you teach me to bake a pie?” Lexa asks. “You can sit on a stool and tell me what to do.”
Clarke feels herself glow a little bit. “What kind?”
“What was that pie I had the other day?”
“At the diner? Just- something I made up when I was younger.”
“I loved it.”
Clarke remembers the half-eaten slice of True Love Pie and feels guilt seep into her chest where her glow had just been.
“You didn’t finish it.”
“You asked me to leave.”
“I’m sorry,” Clarke murmurs again. “The owner was giving me a hard time, and you caught me off guard, and I’m just a terrible person sometimes.”
Lexa catches her chin. “Hey.” She shakes her head solemnly. “You already apologized.”
Clarke feels her guilt lift a few inches.
“Did you come to talk about something specific?” Clarke wonders.
Maybe Lexa had arrived at the same conclusion Clarke had. Maybe they’d both been trying to end this.
Clarke hopes that’s not why. The earth might actually swallow her up if Lexa ended things.
“I was having a difficult day. A patient-” Lexa stops talking and Clarke sees her wrestle with whether or not to tell Clarke something.
“I’d never had a patient leave my practice when they found out I’m gay.”
Clarke feels herself bow with sadness. She pushes herself up to sitting.
“I knew it would probably happen eventually, but it caught me off guard. I thought having some of your pie would ease my mind.”
Clarke hears what Lexa doesn’t say: that Clarke was the person she wanted to talk to about her bad day. The guilt rests heavy again. She takes the only escape hatch she has.
“Your wife wouldn’t understand?”
Lexa purses her lips. “I wanted to talk to you.”
Lexa’s solemn face has only a flicker of anxiety as Clarke searches her. “You know why.”
Clarke bites her lips, eyes pleading, wondering if Lexa will actually say it. But Lexa just stares into her, daring her to deny that she already knows.
She tips forward, resting her forehead against Lexa’s. Lexa’s hands lift to hold Clarke’s sides, wrists resting on her belly. It’s the only peace Clarke has felt in days.
And yet there’s something brewing underneath, swirling in the depths Clarke was foolish enough to think wasn’t there.
They care for each other. More than they ever anticipated. Perhaps even-
She feels tears sneak up on her again and she squeezes her eyes tight to resist them. When she speaks it’s squeaky and heartbroken. “We’re screwed, Lex.”
Lexa hums an agreement, hands slipping around to Clarke’s back. She can’t quite clasp them anymore, but she holds Clarke as best she can. Lexa tips her chin forward to press a whipped cream kiss to Clarke’s lips.
One days like this, Lexa’s whipped cream kisses can fix almost anything.
Clarke draws back, needing to look into Lexa’s eyes and see the sincerity she always finds there. This time she sees a sadness that had been veiled before. Perhaps she just didn’t notice it. She’s not the most observant person, after all.
Maybe that sadness is what drew her to Lexa in the first place.
And Clarke knows; if this were the last day she ever got to spend with Lexa, she would want to spend it making pie.
“Do you really want to learn how to make pie?”
Lexa nods solemnly.
Clarke draws Lexa into the kitchen, fastening an apron over her, explaining how to make the perfect crust. Lexa listens, staring at Clarke so intently Clarke has to pause to make sure Lexa hears what she’s supposed to do with the ingredients.
When it comes time to fold and roll the dough, Clarke slips her wedding ring off, placing it in its dish on the windowsill. Lexa removes hers too, dropping it beside Clarke’s.
With their bare hands, they fold and roll and press the dough in warm silence.
Clarke looks in the fridge and cupboard to see what ingredients they have for filling. She doesn’t have ingredients for True Love Pie, but it’s just as well. It seems to be cursed for her.
She takes out some strawberries and a little rhubarb, along with a box of sugar and tapioca and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.
“Vinegar?” Lexa asks, quirking an eyebrow.
“It enhances the flavor of the strawberries,” Clarke explains.
Most people would be skeptical, but Lexa just says, “I trust you.”
Together they finish rolling out the dough and drape it in the pie tin. Clarke shows Lexa how to cut and crimp the edges, saving the rest for the lattice. Without thinking, Clarke presses her thumb into the center twice, making the heart.
Lexa leans in and presses a kiss to her cheek.
“Is there a story behind that?”
Clarke feels sheepish. “My mom always did it.”
Though her mother’s been dead for seven years, talking about it with Lexa feels like it’s fresh. She picks up the strawberries and takes them to the sink.
“We used to invent pies together.” Clarke looks down at the strawberries as she washes them. “She died.”
Lexa draws up behind Clarke, putting her hand on Clarke’s back. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs, so soft and gently it tickles Clarke’s ear.
“It was a while ago. Before Chad and I got married.”
“Is that why you married him?”
Clarke pauses, looking down into the sink before lifting her chin to look at Lexa, eyes near and deep. “I think so.”
It’s the first time she’s admitted it out loud.
“He was different back then. More… charming,” she says with a limp shrug. “I guess I just wanted to belong to somebody.”
“We all want that.”
Clarke closes her eyes and leans into Lexa for a moment, wishing they could belong to each other.
But they can’t. All they get are little moments like these, stolen and tainted by the vows they’re breaking.
Lexa draws back, making room for Clarke to bring the berries to the counter.
Clarke takes out a knife to cut the berries as she wonders how many people mistake wanting to belong for love.
Lexa is quiet as she watches Clarke quarter the berries, then takes a knife out of the block and sidles up beside Clarke, pressing their shoulders together as they slice.
After a moment of comfortable silence, Lexa says, “I’m sorry you’re so unhappy with him.”
Clarke doesn’t respond, her silence all the confirmation Lexa needs.
Lexa hasn’t talked about Clarke’s marriage in a long time, and Clarke is surprised she doesn’t tense or feel a flood of guilt. There’s a twinge, but she doesn’t think Lexa can feel it.
It’s not like their marriages are a secret. There is evidence of Clarke’s all around them; Chad’s beer bottles, his giant boots, the framed pictures of their wedding and honeymoon hanging on the wall in the living room. Lexa’s wife is in the room too, though she’s less visible.
They can’t pretend their spouses don’t exist. It’s oddly comforting to talk about. Now that Lexa has opened that door, Clarke wants to know.
“Are you happy with your wife?”
Lexa looks down, then up at Clarke. “I’m happy right now.”
A timid smile passes over her face, and Clarke lets it warm her, the topic set down for now. Lexa came to spend the day with her. She wants that to be all that matters.
“Now what?” Lexa asks.
Clarke looks down to see Lexa has finished cutting the strawberries. Clarke reaches for the rhubarb, taking it to the sink to wash.
They prepare and pour all the ingredients into a bowl and take turns stirring it. When Clarke is stirring, Lexa looks at her with such intense, unwavering adoration, Clarke can almost feel it plastered on her face like one of those spa masks her mother used to use.
“What are you staring at?” she teases, glancing up at Lexa.
“You,” Lexa says. “You’re a very beautiful woman, Clarke.”
“Keep talking,” Clarke says with a grin.
Lexa smiles, then her face quiets. “You’re too special to be with someone who doesn’t appreciate you.”
Clarke should feel heavy at the mention of her husband, but she doesn’t. Instead she stops stirring for a minute, leaning over to press a kiss to Lexa’s cheek.
“Right now I’m not.”
Lexa pinks and wraps her arm around Clarke’s back again, and they look into the bowl. Clarke declares it’s ready to pour into the crust. They cut and drape and braid the lattice together. Lexa’s hands are delicate and nimble, just as they are with her patients, just as Clarke imagines they’ll be during childbirth.
While the pie bakes, they go into the back yard and sit at a rickety old table. There’s a yellow spot on the pavement where Chad spits his chew, but Lexa pretends not to notice. Clarke brings them sweet tea and they sit in the shade of the giant sycamore, smiling. Lexa slips off her shoes, setting her feet on the chair opposite Clarke.
“Excuse my feet,” Lexa says, toes wiggling for a minute. “Since Dr. Bollinger left the practice I haven’t had time to think, let alone paint my toes.”
In the whirlwind of sex and stolen moments they’ve had together, Lexa hasn’t talked much about her work. It feels like another spouse between them, another reason to keep what they have a secret.
Clarke thinks about how Lexa always makes her feel so cared for when they’re together and feels guilty for not being able to return the favor. She doesn’t have much to offer; sex can only go so far, and there’s no equivalent of a fetus in Lexa’s life. She nods toward Lexa’s feet and says, “Want me to paint them?”
Lexa pauses, smile tentative, then nods.
Clarke hoists herself up and goes inside to get her nail polish. In the bathroom she looks over her options; cherry red, green glitter, navy, and a soft pearly pink. She picks up the pink and walks back outside, shaking the bottle until it clicks a few times.
Lexa maneuvers her chair so her feet can rest in Clarke’s lap. Clarke adjusts them, noticing how pretty and soft they are. She doesn’t have a thing for feet. She kind of hates them, actually. But she doesn’t mind Lexa’s.
She uncaps the bottle and scrapes the brush against the lip, then starts dabbing and stroking over the nail of Lexa’s big toe.
“I’ll try not to breathe it in,” she says, preempting anything Lexa might say about the dangers of the fumes for her fetus. Even if she doesn’t feel affection for the baby very often, she doesn’t wish it any harm. She wants Lexa to think she’s a good mother, even if she isn’t.
“It should be fine out here,” Lexa says with a reassuring smile.
Clarke paints quietly for a moment. “My mom used to do this for me when I was little.”
“Tell me about her.”
Clarke looks up at Lexa’s earnest eyes, puzzled until she realizes Lexa simply wants to know her. The good, the bad, the painful.
She takes a breath and starts talking, looking up every so often. When she finishes the first coat, she blows on Lexa’s toes. Lexa wiggles them, and Clarke keeps talking.
Clarke does a second coat as she talks. Every time she looks up at Lexa, she only wants to tell her more of her life story. She talks about high school and Jenny. She talks about her mom and how she had been the best person Clarke ever knew. She talks about the funeral and how Chad asked her to marry him. She talks about how her summer job turned into the job she’s had for eight years, and how she feels so stuck she doesn’t think she’ll ever get out. She talks about Jo and the pie contest she didn’t get to enter.
She talks and talks and talks.
And Lexa listens.
Earnestly, openly, tenderly. Her eyes reflect whatever Clarke feels; her joy, her sadness, her disappointment, her anger.
Clarke almost forgets about the pie, jumping up when she hears the faint beep of the oven timer. She takes the pie out, then rushes back to Lexa.
She realizes she’s been talking about herself for an hour and sheepishly apologizes. “You can talk too, you know.”
“What do you want me to talk about?”
Clarke tilts her head, wondering what little door of Lexa she wants to open first. She picks the least invasive one. “Why did you want to be a doctor?”
Lexa gives her a half smile.
“My grandfather died of Parkinson’s my first year of college. I obsessed over what could have been done to save him or give him more time. I took all the biology and chemistry classes I could and declared myself pre-med.”
Clarke realizes she is hungry for more about Lexa, eager to know every part of what makes her who she is.
“Were you close to him?”
Lexa nods, sad but calm. “He was a doctor too.”
Clarke rests her hands on Lexa’s feet. “I bet he’d be really proud of you.”
Lexa shifts, a hint of discomfort passing through her. Clarke keeps her hands on Lexa’s feet.
“What about your parents?”
“They’re usually too busy hating each other to notice what I’m doing. They divorced when I was ten, which was ten years later than they should have.”
Lexa shrugs. “Just glad they stopped trying to stay together for my sake. All they ever did was fight.”
“Do you have siblings?”
Lexa shakes her head.
Clarke feels uncomfortable, unsure how to respond. She thinks about how much she hates Chad and how that might affect the baby once it’s old enough to understand what’s happening.
“Was it better after they split?”
“For a little while,” Lexa hedges.
“Then what happened?”
Lexa inhales, a fatigued bracing of herself. “High school.”
Clarke runs her fingers over the top of Lexa’s feet, soothing her, letting her know she wants to hear.
And the most miraculous thing happens: Lexa starts opening herself, talking about her upbringing and adolescence and being the first girl to come out at her high school. Clarke imagines a smaller, meeker version of Lexa, shoulders hunched as she made her way through the halls, dodging taunts and cold looks. Clarke wants to get up and hold Lexa the way Lexa held her earlier, but she doesn’t want to move in case Lexa stops talking.
“Everything worked out,” Lexa says, but her face is solemn, as though she doesn’t care to think about high school too often. “I took so many community college courses I was able to graduate a year early.”
Clarke can picture her, scrawny and anxious, burying herself in books. She gives Lexa’s feet an affectionate rub.
The stories get gentler and more confident: Lexa talks about college and medical school and all the beautiful places she’s traveled to. Clarke relishes every word, the intimacy more delicious than anything she could bake.
The only topic that remains sealed is Lexa’s wife. She’s there in Lexa’s stories about college and residency and travel, but only as an object Lexa dances around. Clarke appreciates it; she doesn’t want to hear anything that makes Lexa’s wife more real.
Before long the sun is sinking and Clarke knows Chad will be home soon. She hates to ask Lexa to leave, but she has to. She insists Lexa take the pie home with her, and Lexa doesn’t argue.
They stand in front of the door kissing for long minutes. Clarke gets lost in the kisses, feeling their lips fold and mix together like the most divine pie filling in the world.
Lexa pulls away reluctantly and opens the door, and Clarke stands in the doorway watching her walk away until she can no longer see her. Even then, she stands leaning against the jamb, knowing today was a rare taste of her pie in the sky.
The phone rings later that night. Chad's in the living room watching the game as Clarke does the dishes. She lifts the receiver off the wall. “Hello?”
“This is the best pie I’ve ever had,” Lexa says without preamble.
Clarke holds back a blushing giggle. “You say that every time.”
“This time I mean it,” Lexa says. “If I didn’t want to have some tomorrow, I’d eat the whole thing.”
Clarke grins, happy to hear Lexa so happy.
Honey, who is it? Chad calls from the living room.
Clarke puts her hand over the receiver. It’s my doctor, she calls back.
Chad doesn’t respond other than to turn the volume of the game up.
“Can you talk now?” Lexa asks.
“Yeah, I’m just doing the dishes.”
“I should have offered to do them before I left,” Lexa says.
“It’s mostly cleanup from dinner.”
A moment stretches between them and Clarke wonders if Lexa called for a specific reason. “Is everything okay?”
“I miss you.”
The admission surprises Clarke and blooms in her chest. She feels the baby do a little tumble in her belly. “I miss you too,” she says, voice hushed. “Today was the best day I’ve had in years.”
Clarke finds herself saying something so personal and true she’s surprised it even comes out of her mouth. “I felt like no one’s heard me in years, let alone listened to me. And you just soaked it all up like a sponge and made me feel okay about all my bad choices.”
“You didn’t make any bad choices, Clarke. You’ve had unfortunate things happen to you.”
Clarke swallows the compliment. “Did you get home okay?”
“I did.” It’s warm and affectionate and Clarke doesn’t mind the silence that follows.
“When can I see you again?”
“When do you want to see me?”
“Right now,” Clarke says. She feels like a stupid teenager, but being a fool for Lexa feels better than all her other foolish decisions combined.
“How about tomorrow morning?”
Clarke grins, wondering if Lexa can hear it over the line. “Okay.”
She should probably hang up so Chad doesn’t get suspicious, but she can’t. She holds the receiver to her ear with her shoulder, hands soapy and soft in the sink in front of her. She stares in front of her, unseeing, until her eyes alight on the dish on the windowsill.
Lexa’s ring is sitting there, overlapping with Clarke’s. A chill shimmers through her.
“You left your ring here.”
“I know. I realized that when I got home.”
Clarke pictures Lexa at home, hiding in an office or bathroom, sneaking a phone call to her while her wife is in another room.
“Do you need to come get it? I can probably take out the trash and meet you at the end of the driveway.”
“It’s fine,” Lexa says. “Just bring it tomorrow.”
Clarke is quiet, wondering what Lexa would tell her wife if she asked why she wasn’t wearing it. Clarke slips the ring in the pocket of her apron with her own, not wanting any evidence of Lexa laying around for Chad to see.
“I never wanted today to end,” Lexa says. “It was the best birthday I could have hoped for.”
Clarke shuts off the tap, stunned. “Today was your birthday?”
“Lexa, I- I didn’t know. You should have told me.”
“We made pie and you gave me a pedicure. It was perfect.”
“Still,” Clarke argues. “I could have at least given you a card or wished you happy birthday.”
“You can wish me happy birthday now,” Lexa says. “It still counts.”
Clarke stands back from the sink, drying her hands. She has to make this the most earnest, sincere, best Happy Birthday Lexa has ever heard.
Not loud. Not raucous or silly.
Simple and sweet and good as pie.
“Happy birthday, Lexa.”
Clarke can almost hear a smile through the line. “Thank you.”
Clarke wonders if she should try to sing to Lexa, but thinks she might feel even more foolish than she already does.
Instead, she hears Chad call from the other room. Honey, can you bring me another beer?
Clarke purses her lips and squeezes her eyes shut to try to find patience. “I have to go,” she hushes into the phone. “I’ll see you first thing tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Lexa hushes back. “Sleep well, Clarke.”
Clarke waits until she hears the call end before hanging up, pausing a moment to savor the sound of Lexa’s voice before turning back to the refrigerator, pulling open the door, and snapping the cap off one of Chad's beers.
Chapter 8: Flambé
TW: Domestic violence. As always, message me if you need more information to feel safe reading.
This chapter was originally going to be twice as long but it was way too busy so I made it two. I may have teased some things that were going to happen in this chapter that will be happening in chapter 9. But that just means you get to savor the story longer!
Since Clarke hit her third trimester, she’s been tired and feeling too heavy for sex. It doesn’t bother Lexa though. Lexa would just as soon lay in the back of her car holding Clarke, staring out the sunroof talking, sharing whipped cream kisses. Sometimes just talking in the back of Lexa’s car, still clothed, is all the grace Clarke needs.
“Tell me a happy memory from when you were little,” Clarke says drowsily against Lexa’s shoulder.
Clarke’s been trying to think of ways to give her baby the childhood it deserves, even if she doesn’t feel anything for it. She knows Lexa’s parents were at each other's’ throats, but there must have been some goodness somewhere. Lexa wouldn’t be the person she is if there hadn’t been. Maybe she can learn something.
“My father and I used to go to Yellowstone in the summers,” Lexa says. “We would hike and swim and ride horses from dawn 'til dusk.”
Clarke traces her fingers over Lexa’s collarbone, encouraging her to keep talking.
“It was the only time my parents weren’t fighting. The first year after they split, I didn’t get to go.”
Clarke feels Lexa’s chest deflate a little. “Custody arguments.”
“Did you get to go back?”
“A few more summers, and I’ve been back without him several times since. There’s this open-air restaurant a few miles into the park that serves the best pancakes I’ve ever had. You sit at picnic tables and stare out at the Grand Teton mountain range and...”
Lexa stops for a moment.
“Do you believe in God, Clarke?”
It’s a heavier question than Clarke was expecting. She wants to believe in God, but there is so little grace in her life, so little evidence that life is as abundant and good as any god she wants to believe in would ensure.
“I don’t know,” she admits.
“Me neither,” Lexa says. “But back then, sitting there looking at those mountains on a bright summer morning, I was sure.”
Clarke closes her eyes, imagining the brilliant blue of the sky over the mountains, the sun glinting off Lexa’s hair, little pats of butter sliding off stacks of pancakes.
“I wish you could take me.”
Lexa tilts her chin down into Clarke’s head. “Me too.”
Sadness settles between them that they’ll probably never get to see those mountains together. It’s quiet and Clarke just breaths. The only movement is a little nudge in her belly.
She prays that if there is a god, grace will find her before she breaks.
Clarke is exhausted on her feet. Everything hurts, her back is screaming, and she swears she can feel her baby’s head dropping through her pelvis, threatening to slip out. She has to pee every ten minutes and she can barely keep her eyes open.
She can’t believe she has another three weeks of this.
She’s working well past the time Lexa advised her to. She needs the money, she’d rather save her sick days for after the baby comes, and most of all, she doesn’t want to be home with Chad, who has grown so whiny Clarke feels like her ears are bleeding every time he talks.
She shuffles around the diner, trying to sound upbeat and act as though nothing is wrong when people look at her nervously. She has a few quips for customers who eye her belly without subtlety.
“Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure it plans to stay in until you’ve placed your order.”
“If I go into labor while you’re dining your meal is free.”
“Pregnant? Oh no, I just ate too many slices of Pecan Princess.”
Customers chuckle and look down at their menus, but mostly Clarke just wants it to be over.
She’s only got half an hour to go when the door swings open and Chad storms in.
“Clarke!” he barks.
Clarke turns around from where she’s just set down two slices of butterscotch graham cracker pie. She goes icy with fear. He’s never come to get her from work like this. Not angry and glowering. It’s scary.
Within seconds, the baby is kicking hard enough to hurt.
Chad sees her and stalks over, bristling. He grabs her elbow like a vice and yanks her toward the door. The customers are staring, but Stef and Margie are in the kitchen. There’s no one there to help her.
As they approach the door, Chad seems to remember they’re in public. People are watching.
He clears his throat and says loudly, “No woman of mine is going to work in your condition. You should be home resting.”
In one breath, Chad has managed to paint himself a hero and a gentleman while making Clarke look like a terrible mother. She is so covered in shame and fear, she can’t look at anyone as Chad opens the door and pulls her firmly through it.
Outside, Chad drops his hero facade.
“Get your fat ass in the car,” he growls.
Clarke is so petrified she can barely move to open the door and stuff herself inside. She stretches the seatbelt across herself and clings to the seat and door for dear life.
He’s found out about Lexa somehow, Clarke is sure. She’s never seen him like this, never so calculated and cold. She regrets so much all at once.
She hopes wherever Lexa is, she’s safe.
Chad drives the erratically, Clarke swallowing over and over to try to wet her throat with saliva that isn’t there. She’s shaking and icy cold, terrified of what Chad will do when they get home. The baby is thrashing inside her as though it wants to get out before Chad attacks them.
He pulls into the driveway and Clarke sits hunched in her seat, unable to move. Chad opens her door and pulls her out, marching her inside. Clarke's pulse rises with every step. By the time they're on the threshold she thinks her heart might explode.
On the kitchen table she sees the tin where she’d been hiding all the money she’d been saving to run away.
He found the money.
Her last ounce of courage shrivels under the weight of her relief and her legs almost collapse under her.
“What the FUCK is this?” Chad shouts, pointing toward the can and the dozens of bills he’s dumped out.
“Uh-” Clarke’s voice wavers.
She can’t speak. She swallows over and over again.
“You were WHAT?”
“I was planning…”
Chad gets frustrated, picking up the empty can and hurling it against the wall behind Clarke’s head, sending a framed photo of their honeymoon crashing to the ground.
Clarke cowers in fear. She whimpers, shaking as she covers as much of herself with her arms as she can.
Chad lumbers toward her, raising his arm.
She manages to scramble to the other side of the sofa before he gets close enough to strike. “I was gonna surprise you!” she says.
“Surprise me how?” he asks, rounding the couch.
Clarke can’t think of something quick enough. She cobbles together the quickest lie she can.
“I was thinking of getting you a hot tub for your birthday!” she says. She can hear the desperation in her voice.
“I’m not! I know how stressed and sore you are from your job- Chad!”
He’s still menacing her and she’s surprised that lie didn’t work.
“My birthday was last month!”
She scrambles back around the couch, then thinks of one final thing that might work.
“I almost had enough, but then I realized we don’t have anything for the baby yet. No crib or diapers or-”
Chad raises his hand to strike.
“Chad, look at yourself!” Clarke cries. She finds her last shred of strength and courage. “Are you really a man who hits his pregnant wife?”
Chad freezes, dumbstruck, looking up at his hand as though he doesn’t recognize it. He lowers it, contemplating his arm, hand, and wedding ring as though they were foreign to him.
“It was for the baby!” Clarke whimpers. “I was saving it for the baby…”
Chad looks down at her, sees her cowering in fear, and his face falls. His anger drains out of him.
He slumps down onto the couch, catching his head in his hands.
“Oh my god,” he groans. “Oh my god, baby…”
Clarke stays where she is but lowers her hands.
“Baby, what’s wrong with me?” Chad asks, starting to rock back and forth. He sniffles and Clarke can tell he’s crying.
She hates when he cries. It’s almost worse than when he’s angry because she doesn’t have to hate herself for wanting to comfort him when he’s angry.
But when Chad is sad, Clarke remembers too well that he’s suffering. It doesn’t make anything right or okay, but he is.
“It’s okay, Chad,” she hears herself saying.
“It ain’t okay… It ain’t,” Chad chokes out.
“You didn’t hit me this time.”
“I should never hit you.” Chad presses his fingers hard into his eyes. “Baby, I’m sorry.”
Clarke stands still, feeling the pull toward him but resisting it.
Chad starts blubbering. “I found the money and thought you were trying to leave me or something… My head got all crazy.” He sucks in a snort and lowers his hands. “You wouldn’t leave me. I know you wouldn’t. Sometimes I just think you’re too good for me…”
He starts crying again and lifts a hand to his brow to conceal his eyes from Clarke.
Clarke almost pities him for his simplicity. She bends to pick up the can, stepping around the shards of glass from the picture of their honeymoon. She takes the can to the table, putting the money back in it.
“You’re right, sweetie,” Chad says. “We should get things for the baby. I’ll take you this weekend. We’ll get him a nice crib and high chair ‘n everything. Okay?”
Clarke doesn’t respond. She can’t find the strength to look appeased. She keeps her shoulders level and her chin high so he can’t see he’s gutted her for good, taken away the only power she had left.
“Baby, come here,” Chad pleads.
Reluctantly, Clarke walks toward the couch.
Chad wraps his arms around her legs, pressing his head into her belly.
“I want us to be happy again,” he says, sniffling pathetically. “You’re the only thing I’ve ever loved.”
Clarke just stands there, stiff and heavy, resting her hand on his head for lack of anything else to do.
She can’t believe he found the money. It was the only thing she had left.
She’s helpless, hopeless, and trapped for good.
Chapter 9: Order Up
Thanks especially to my little team of betas for helping me with multiple incarnations of this chapter. Terriblemuriel, decalexas, and commanderlekstra are the real MVPs.
Sorry about all the Chad last chapter. We're almost done with him. Just a few hundred words in this chapter, then thousands of words of Lexa.
Chad follows through on his promise to take Clarke shopping for baby things that weekend. Clarke is surprised and hopeful that he might start making an effort now and then. But rather than drive to Mobile or even North Hatch to a specialty baby store, he takes her to yard sales, haggling with sellers over every item. When they’ve got everything they need - crib, high chair, changing table, diaper pail, stroller - they’ve still got hundreds of dollars left. Clarke suggests they go to a store to buy a carseat, since they have to buy that new, and save the rest for diapers and formula and in case she needs a breast pump. Chad just chuckles and pockets the money, returning home later that afternoon with a new video camera and some porn.
“You bought porn with the baby money?” Clarke asks. She feels blank, but heavier with each disappointment.
“Just til you’re all healed up. Then maybe we can make a few nasty tapes with this,” he says with a wink, gesturing to the video camera.
“Did you get a carseat?”
“I didn’t know which kind to get. There was one that looked kinda like a racecar, but it didn’t look right for like, a little tiny baby. We can get that later.”
Clarke stares at him blankly. “We won’t be able to bring it home from the hospital without a carseat.”
Chad flicks his hand in the air dismissively. “They won’t know.”
Clarke stares at him a moment longer, wondering if there is any end to his stupidity. She’s so heavy now, she doesn’t think her legs can hold her up. She goes into the bedroom and lies down. She’s too tired to even cry. The heaviness of her body, the invisible chains that bind her to Chad have crushed her spirit.
It’s four in the afternoon but she doesn’t get up until late the next morning. She skips her shift at the diner. It feels pointless. She doesn’t shower or dress until late afternoon, and then only because she has an appointment with Lexa.
Clarke lays on her side on the exam table, listless. She is so much heavier than she’s ever felt. Not just in her belly. Her arms and legs and head.
But most of all her heart. She thinks it might be made of lead.
This is the heaviness that comes with completely losing hope.
She hears Lexa’s soft rapping on the door before it swings open. She doesn’t even look behind her, but she feels one last thread of fight snap within her.
Lexa’s voice is soft and careful when she speaks.
“How are you feeling, Clarke?”
Clarke stares blankly at the pregnancy diagram on the wall.
“I’m sorry,” Lexa murmurs in the absence of Clarke’s response.
Lexa’s hand wraps delicately around Clarke’s elbow, lifting the limb up, sliding the blood pressure cuff around her bicep. She pulls her stethoscope into her ears and begins pumping the cuff up, holding the cool round of the stethoscope in the crook of Clarke’s elbow.
Clarke feels the squeeze around her arm and also in her torso. The little pinpricks of discomfort start and she feels tension building in her stomach. When Lexa releases the cuff, Clarke exhales what feels like her last breath. When she speaks, her words are soggy. “I hate my husband so much.”
Lexa’s hands still for a moment, then pull the cuff off, the loud scrape of the velcro echoing through Clarke as a tear falls down her cheek onto the paper-covered pillow under her head.
Lexa walks around the exam table, kneeling by Clarke’s face. She wipes the tear away, looking as though she might cry herself. Her thumbs stroke over Clarke’s temples over and over, wiping away wetness, until Clarke feels like she might die from the tenderness of it.
Lexa’s touch is excruciatingly gentle. She’s never wanted someone the way she wants Lexa.
And yet some hateful part of her flies up, up above where she’s laying, looking down at the scene, frowning. She thinks of the terror she felt the day before when she thought Chad had found out about their affair. She hears Jo’s voice asking her why she’s acting like a two-bit hussy, why she’s ruining some poor, gentle doctor’s marriage by vomiting all her sadness into it.
“What are we doing, Lexa?” she asks. The words are so pitiful and sad, as though they don’t want to be said. Clarke forces them out. “I’m married. You’re married. Everyone’s just gonna end up hurt.”
“Everyone’s already hurting.”
“But your wife… She’s a good person. She has to be, for you to love her.”
Lexa’s thumbs stop their movement and she trembles before withdrawing her hands. Her gaze falls to the floor and she takes a few shaky breaths, closing her eyes for a second. Then she opens her eyes and slips her right hand over her ring finger, drawing the gold and diamond ring up and off. She sets it on the cart beside the speculum and swabs.
“I’m not married,” she says. Her voice shakes.
Clarke’s brow pinches in a frown. Lexa wears a ring. She keeps a photo of her wife in her office. Dr. Bollinger said she took the day off to be with her wife.
“I was,” Lexa explains. “She died.”
Clarke lifts her head, stunned.
Lexa keeps her eyes and voice low.
“A year ago last month.”
Clarke feels a wave of anger and betrayal wash over her. Lexa could have saved her so much agony and guilt if she’d told her.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m sorry,” Lexa says, looking pained. “I couldn’t.”
Clarke’s anger starts bubbling and she feels her body tighten.
“I haven’t told anyone here.”
Clarke feels her anger boil over when Lexa doesn’t respond.
“Do you know how many nights I tossed and turned, worried I was ruining your marriage? Do you know how terrible I felt about doing that to another woman?”
“I’m sorry,” Lexa says, looking fearful.
“All you had to do was say you weren’t married anymore. That’s all.”
Clarke glares at Lexa, wondering if any more lies or secrets will come tumbling out if she looks long enough.
Lexa stares at Clarke with a begging expression.
But Clarke is tired of having to put her own feelings aside just to get through the day. Lexa is the one person she’s never had to do that for.
“So you spent months lying to me for no reason.”
Lexa swallows and doesn’t move as tears line her eyes.
Clarke feels a million words on her tongue that she won’t be able to come back from. She’s worried that if she doesn’t leave, she’ll tell Lexa to go fuck herself before she has time to sort out her thoughts. She’s shaking with the effort not to talk. She feels her whole body tightening with the strain.
Clarke is fed up. She knew she should have ended things weeks ago. Or months ago. Or better yet, never started the affair in the first place.
Maybe if she walks out now, she can make a clean break.
She tries to push herself up to sitting so she can storm out of the room. But her belly is so big, she struggles just to sit up.
Panic crosses Lexa’s face and she reaches forward, not quite touching.
“Let me explain,” she says desperately.
Clarke glares at her as she tries right herself, but she’s at an awkward angle and she falters, falling back on the crunching paper of the exam table, letting out a frustrated, angry shout.
She feels trapped by her own stupid body. She presses her hands over her eyes and takes a noisy breath through her nose, holding it for a moment before letting it out in a gust. She huffs again, deflating as she lays on her back.
“Why wouldn’t you tell me your wife was dead?” she demands.
Lexa’s lip trembles.
When she speaks it’s barely above a whisper.
“Because I didn’t want it to be true.”
The bottom drops out of the room and Clarke stares up at the ceiling, letting the swirl of feelings settle into her. She breathes, feeling the heave of her belly for a few moments.
Lexa’s anxiety prompts her to fill the silence.
“Our house felt empty. I tried to go out with friends but it felt pointless without her to go home to. All they did was pity me, which made me feel worse. I came here to have a fresh start. Not telling anyone afforded me that.”
Clarke keeps staring at the ceiling. She doesn’t want to admit she knows what it feels like to desperately need a fresh start.
“But why lie to me?”
Lexa swallows. “At first I thought I was just doing something reckless because I couldn’t cope with losing her. It had only been a few months, and we were just having sex. It wasn’t supposed to mean anything.”
Clarke starts to curl into herself, unable to bear the thought of being used by one more person to ease pain she didn’t cause. The thought of Lexa’s compassion and care for her being a form of self-destruction, or worse, of blatant use, is too much to bear.
“But– Clarke.” Lexa reaches for Clarke’s hand to reassure her. Clarke tugs it away. “I realized I wasn’t filling a void. And I certainly wasn’t using you.” She pauses, waiting for Clarke to look at her, but Clarke refuses. “You are so much more than a bandage.”
Clarke keeps her gaze fixed on the ceiling.
As soft as Lexa’s ever said anything, she says, “You matter to me. You and your happiness. Even if I never see you again. I just-” Her throat clogs with the tears she’s holding back, and her voice drops to a whisper. “I just want you to be happy.”
Clarke puts a hand to her forehead and breathes as slow as she can with the way her body is racing. She expected Lexa to have a few secrets, but not that. She’s angry, but not as angry as she was a minute ago. She feels herself trying to hang onto her anger as it drains. Anger is simple; what she feels now is confusing.
“Can I have a minute?” she asks.
Lexa blinks a few times, startled. “Of course,” she says. She stands up, holding back a begging expression. “Take all the time you need. I’ll be in my office.”
Lexa’s quiet exit relieves some of Clarke’s tension. She lays on her back and breathes and breathes and breathes. It almost sounds like that labor breathing she’s seen on TV.
Clarke wants to believe Lexa. If she can’t believe Lexa, she has nothing.
She thinks about every early morning and late afternoon they spent together, how she might have enjoyed them just a little bit more knowing Lexa wasn’t cheating on someone. And she thinks about all the times Lexa could have told her, could have lifted some of her burden, but chose not to.
She feels her anger start to flood back in.
Everyone’s pain seems to have fallen on Clarke. She wonders what about her is so bad or wrong that she attracts everyone else’s suffering.
She imagines what her mother would tell her to do, what she would think if she could see Clarke’s life now. A miserable wife, a terrible mother, a cheater who can’t handle the consequences of her decisions.
God, Clarke misses her mother more than ever. She feels the weight of that loneliness pressing down on her chest, as though her mother left a vacuum in her that will never be filled.
She thinks maybe her mother wouldn’t say anything if she could see her now. She’d just draw her into the kitchen and start taking out ingredients. She’d place the box of cacao next to the sugar bowl.
“You gotta take the bitter with the sweet, honey.”
Clarke hears her mother’s voice almost as though it’s in the room. It’s comforting and devastating at the same time. Clarke knows she’s taken too much bitterness in hopes of someday getting something sweet. Maybe it’s time she stopped doing that.
She feels her weight pull her deeper into the thin cushion of the exam table. She can’t reconcile Lexa’s lies with the woman she knows; the soft, tender, trembling woman whose kisses and words have propped her up so she could bear the weight of her life. The lies don’t pair with Lexa, like ingredients never meant to go together.
Sometimes unlikely things do go together. Like balsamic vinegar and strawberries. The vinegar gives the strawberries a more complex flavor.
Clarke thinks of the lies she’s told. To Chad, to Jo, to Stef and Margie, to herself. And if she’s honest - god, she hates to admit it - her biggest lie lately has been to Lexa. The lie that started when they first met and Lexa asked if she felt safe at home. Clarke has followed up on that lie every time she conceals Chad’s behavior. She’s justified her lies, saying she’s doing what she has to do to not get hurt, to keep what little control she has over her life.
At the end of the day, she’s just as much of a liar as Lexa. Perhaps she has no right to be angry. But she has to lie to survive.
And then she realizes:
Lexa’s been lying to survive too.
Pretending her wife was still alive was the only way Lexa knew to not be crushed by her grief. She may not have feared physical harm, but she felt pain. Clarke knows that pain all too well. Grief is a wound few people seem to recover from.
She knows what it’s like to lose the most important person in the world, how it can cloud judgment and disguise a person from themselves. At the very least, she can allow Lexa her grief.
Clarke doesn’t know what to do. She’s angry and hurt and feels guilty for not owning up to her own lies. But she’s also relieved. Maybe even - somewhere in the mix of everything inside her - she feels a pinch of hope. Just enough to add leavening to the weight of everything else.
Maybe someday, if she ever has the opportunity to leave Chad, and if for some reason Lexa still likes her, they could have a chance to be happy. Really, truly happy. Happy beyond a few hours in the back of Lexa’s car or in the lobby of Lexa’s office.
Forgiveness feels like the quickest way to that far off happiness. But Clarke is always too quick or too slow to forgive. With Chad, too quick. With the rest of the world, too slow. She needs to know that Lexa’s grief hasn’t warped her the way grief warped Chad. She needs the whole story.
She looks around the room wonders how long it’s been and if Lexa is going to come back. Rather than wait, she calls out. “Dr. Woodward!”
She hears footsteps right away and Lexa opens the door timidly. She looks hopeful, but Clarke can see her eyes are red.
Lexa’s been crying the whole time. That’s almost more startling than anything else today. Clarke isn’t used to seeing such thorough remorse from someone who has wronged her.
Lexa hovers in the doorway, looking at Clarke like a frightened child.
“Come sit down,” Clarke says. She doesn’t sound angry, but she doesn’t sound warm either.
Lexa closes the door and slides to the stool. It jangles on its wheels as she sits.
Clarke turns onto her side, looking at Lexa as calmly as she can.
“How did she die?”
Lexa swallows, looking relieved but still frightened. “Ovarian cancer.”
Clarke feels her compassion start to grow in her chest. She softens a little.
Lexa nods, her face betraying just how awful it was. “We found it because we wanted to start fertility-” Her voice catches and she shakes.
Clarke is filled with sadness for Lexa and her wife. She can’t imagine hope dying faster than that of a person learning such a terrible thing in lieu of starting a family. She adjusts on her side.
Lexa swallows. “It felt like the cruelest joke in the world, like I should have been able to tell…”
Clarke isn’t used to seeing this uncertain version of Lexa. She rushes to reassure her.
“But you weren’t her doctor. I’m sure you did everything you could.”
Lexa shrugs, looking dejected. “I wanted to tell you so many times. Especially since I knew you felt guilty. But I couldn’t-”
Lexa halts again and Clarke waits.
Lexa sighs. “I couldn’t stand the thought of my grief being one more thing you tried to take responsibility for.”
Clarke feels an unexpected pang of pity where she expected to feel anger or confusion. Lexa is so cloaked by her own sadness, she can’t see that she isn’t a burden. She is all the lightness Clarke has.
Still, Clarke is cautious.
“Is there anything else I don’t know about you?” Clarke asks. “Anything big?”
Lexa shakes her head, certain.
Clarke feels her anger extinguish.
“I know what it’s like to lose someone, you know.”
“I know,” Lexa says, pinning her hands between her knees and looking down. “I kept telling myself you would understand.”
Clarke reaches forward brushes a few stray strands of hair over Lexa’s ear. “You shouldn’t have to bear it alone,” she says.
“You’ve helped me more than you’ll ever know. I’m sorry for being so selfish,” Lexa sniffles. “I hope you can forgive me someday.”
Clarke cups Lexa’s cheek, seeing the sparkle of tears against her lashes.
“I hope so too.”
Clarke looks at Lexa’s pleading, earnest face. She has never found anything but the truth there. After staring at her for a moment, she sees Lexa clearly.
While Chad’s grief turned him into a hardened shadow of himself, Lexa’s grief has only made her softer.
For the first time Clarke understands what she recognized in Lexa the first time they met: they are both grieving, both lonely beyond belief, both hungry for hope. They share the same wound.
Instead of happiness they have a few stolen moments in backseats and against office walls, a few kind words whispered into darkness.
It’s not enough.
She finally has a reason to hold and cushion Lexa. She wants to remove her from all her troubles as much as she wants to remove herself from her own.
She pulls Lexa down and brings their lips together.
Lexa kisses her back, stunned and grateful. Clarke kisses her deeper, trying to pour her sympathy into the kiss.
Lexa must be able to taste it.
“Please don’t pity me,” Lexa begs, pressing their foreheads together, breath brushing against the wetness on Clarke’s lips. “I couldn’t bear it.”
Clarke kisses her again, hoping her lips don’t taste like pity. She does pity Lexa, but above that, she feels–
She has to say it.
“What if I just love you more instead?”
Lexa shivers, stunned by the admission. “That would be– That would be okay.”
Clarke kisses her again. “Then that’s what I’ll do.”
Lexa lets herself be drawn in further, hands gliding over hair, smoothing it, tongues slipping together. It’s a trembling, soft kiss.
Lexa pulls away just long enough to say, shaking and unsteady, almost a whimper, “I love you too, Clarke.”
Tears break down her face, meeting Clarke’s cheeks. Each one is sacred, and Clarke is honored to receive them.
“I wish we could run away.”
Clarke clings to Lexa’s willingness to entertain the daydream. It’s the closest thing she has to hope.
She thinks of all the places she wants to go with Lexa. The only place she can think of is a proper bed. Not even to have sex. Just to hold each other and sleep until the aching stops.
“I just want to sleep.”
Lexa straightens up, wiping her face, making a few exhausted, determined expressions as she regains composure.
“Meet me outside in ten minutes. We can go to my house.” She stands, giving Clarke’s hand a squeeze. “Or maybe we’ll run away.”
She gives the first smile Clarke has seen on her face that day as she leaves the room, closing the door behind her.
Clarke finds the energy and strength to sit up, legs dangling off the side of the table, wondering if she dreamed it all.
But on the tray beside her is Lexa’s ring. She left it there on purpose.
Lexa wants to move on from her sadness. Something has made her feel ready to take off her ring.
If Clarke weren’t so heavy, she might think she was the reason.
She feels her heart race with the excitement of Lexa’s proposal. Even if they only spend the afternoon together, even if they only go to Lexa’s house to sleep, it will be a reprieve from the rotating pie display of Clarke’s life. She heaves her pregnant body off the exam table, swollen feet meeting the cool floorboards.
She feels a snap and a gush down her thighs. A puddle of clear goo forms beneath her and she stands in it, stunned for a moment. Her heart races faster and her eyes go wide.
It’s happening. Now.
Lexa rushes back into the room, eyes wide and frantic at the tone of Clarke’s voice. “What?”
Clarke looks up at her, eyes equally wide.
“My water just broke.”
Chapter 10: Filling
Are you ready to meet the baby???
Something about Lexa smooths over when she sees the fluid on the floor. She lowers her voice and moves slowly into the room.
“Okay,” she says. It’s deep but soft. “Here we go.”
Clarke, on the other hand, is spinning into panic. “Lexa, I don’t know what I’m doing. I didn’t even read the book! I thought I had another week or two, now I have to-”
“It’s okay,” Lexa says, cupping her shoulders. “I’ve gone through this many times. Just take a deep breath…”
Clarke gasps for air a few times, belly heaving.
“I don’t even have a carseat!” she says, breaking into tears.
Lexa squeezes her arms tighter and Clarke calms enough to take a shaky breath, letting it out slowly.
“It’s okay. We’ll get you one. Can you feel your contractions?”
Clarke shakes her head, then second-guesses herself. “I mean, there’s been some pressure…” She shifts her hands from her stomach to her sides.
“Those are starter contractions.”
“Oh.” Clarke feels silly for not recognizing she was going into labor. She expected contractions to be more sudden and severe, like a belt cinching around the waist so hard she felt like she would burst. She wipes her face. “What do I do?”
“Just keep breathing until your contractions get more intense.”
Clarke feels like there should be more to it than that, but Lexa is a doctor.
Lexa rubs Clarke’s arms. “Do you want me to take you home?”
Clarke gives a desperate, terrified shake of her head. Home is the last place she wants to be.
“Okay. We can stay here, if you think you’ll be comfortable,” Lexa says.
“Don’t we need to go to the hospital?”
Lexa gives her a reassuring smile. “Not for a while. This part of labor is fairly mundane. It’s best to stay somewhere you’re comfortable.”
Clarke chews on this information. It certainly isn’t what she expected from all the movies and TV shows she’s seen. But if being in labor means she gets to sit in Lexa’s office for a while undisturbed, it might be more pleasant than she expected.
“Do you want to call your husband?”
Clarke shakes her head vehemently.
“He should probably know you’re in labor,” Lexa says, apologetic.
“He probably wouldn’t care,” Clarke grits out.
“Okay,” Lexa says, stepping back. “I’ll let you decide when to call him.”
Lexa helps Clarke change out of her exam gown and back into her clothes, making sure she’s cleaned up first. Clarke looks down at her belly, wondering if it looks different without all the amniotic fluid. Sure enough, her belly looks lumpy and less round.
Once Clarke is dressed, Lexa puts a gentle hand on her back and ushers her out of the exam room into Lexa’s office. She makes sure Clarke is comfortable in a chair before she calls the nurse to clean up the exam room.
“I can put on a movie or something,” she offers, gesturing to her computer.
Feeling frayed at the edges, Clarke shrugs. Lexa opens her laptop, enters the password, and pulls up Netflix. She offers the computer to Clarke, but Clarke is too distracted to choose anything. Lexa chooses for her, some asinine comedy meant to keep her in good spirits.
Lexa takes out some files and starts making notes on the other side of the desk. She’s as calm as ever, and it makes Clarke uncomfortable. She keeps looking up from the sitcom at Lexa, wondering what feels strange about this.
The receptionist comes in to say goodnight after a while. Lexa looks up, giving her a professional smile, explaining that Clarke is just waiting on her husband and Lexa will lock up after she leaves.
As soon as they know they’re the only people in the building, Lexa gets up and sits in the chair beside Clarke. She taps Clarke’s legs, signaling for Clarke to put her feet in Lexa’s lap. Clarke does, and Lexa runs her hand up and down Clarke’s calves as she continues writing with her other hand.
It’s so simple and intimate a gesture, Clarke feels herself calm from her frenzy of worry. As she does, focusing on the computer in her lap, she feels a tightening around her stomach. It cinches harder than before, but it’s bearable. She stiffens a bit, and Lexa looks up.
“We’ll start timing with that one,” she says, looking up at the clock on the shelf.
Clarke is amazed at how well Lexa knows her body. For all the anguish she’s suffered during her pregnancy, Lexa is her saving grace.
She focuses back on the show, oddly pleased at how easy labor is so far. Her contractions are manageable and seven to ten minutes apart for the next few hours. It’s peaceful and quiet.
Clarke gets up to pee and stretch, remarking on how calm and unhurried she feels. Lexa smiles at her and looks back down at the file in her lap. As Clarke walks back to her chair, she sees the framed picture of Lexa and her wife tucked beside a medical textbook on the shelf.
She knows it’s a risk, but she feels compelled to embrace the sadness of the woman she loves.
“Can I look?” she asks, tapping the frame.
Lexa pauses, then gives a subtle nod.
Clarke pulls the photo out, studying it thoroughly this time: her wife’s beaming face, the arm wrapped around Lexa, the hand with the sparkling ring pressed to the smooth skin of Lexa’s shoulder, the soft waves of Lexa’s hair, the brilliant white of their dresses.
There is so much joy and life and promise in the photo, Clarke wonders if Lexa kept it out to torment herself. She can’t imagine the smiling woman growing sick and dying.
And Lexa - Lexa had to watch her wife go from such a buoyant, lively person to burying her.
No wonder Lexa didn’t want to tell anyone.
Clarke isn’t sure how comfortable Lexa is speaking about her wife, but she wants to show Lexa how much she cares without sounding pitying.
“How long were you with her?”
“Eight years,” Lexa says. “Married for four.”
Clarke feels her heart tighten like the tightening in her belly. She imagines what it must have been like to lose someone that had been such a constant in Lexa’s life after being tossed between parents arguing over custody, being teased and excluded for being gay, losing her grandfather. Being with a good, kind woman must have been how Lexa survived the chaos of medical school and residency. She understands why Lexa wanted to pretend she wasn’t gone.
“And you wanted to have a baby…”
Clarke feels her heart twist with sadness. Lexa was part of a We. A We that wanted to start a family.
It’s been a long time since Clarke felt like part of a We. She wonders how long it would take to feel alone again if she lost a husband or wife she truly loved.
She looks down at the picture, noticing how young and sweet Lexa’s wife looks.
“Did you ever feel like you were cheating on her with me?”
Lexa looks caught off guard by the question. She stares, then gives a timid nod.
Clarke feels something bend toward Lexa in her chest. She knows Lexa loves her, but love is complicated and layered and bittersweet. “Do you still?”
Lexa bites her lip, then shakes her head, even more timid.
There’s something sad in knowing Lexa has let go of her wife a little bit, even if it makes room for Clarke. She wishes Lexa could have both.
Clarke feels a contraction start, this one a little more intense than the others, and puts the picture back. She doesn’t want to unravel Lexa with too much talk of her wife in the hours before she has to deliver Clarke’s baby.
“Breathe,” Lexa says, seeing the tension pull through Clarke as Clarke leans against the bookshelf to steady herself. “Count to ten.”
Clarke does, and when the contraction releases, she moves back to her chair. She doesn’t put her feet back up, wanting to feel grounded as she goes deeper into labor.
Clarke feels the future looming closer than she wants it to be. Once the baby is born, aside from a few post-natal appointments, she doesn’t know how often she’ll be able to see Lexa. She wants to savor every minute they have together.
“I want to know about her,” Clarke says.
Lexa gives her a calm smile. “Okay,” she says. “But right now just relax and breathe.”
Clarke tries to relax, shifting in her seat, trying to focus on the show. But she’s distracted and keeps looking around.
“I told her about you,” Lexa offers. “When I went to see her the other week.”
Clarke thinks about what she imagined that day - Lexa taking her wife to a restaurant or spa or on a long hike - and feels her heart twist when she replaces those images with Lexa sitting in the cemetery talking to a headstone.
“What did she say?” Clarke asks. It’s an odd question, but she means it only to embrace the relationship that is still alive in Lexa’s heart.
“Not much,” Lexa says with a sad smile. “She never does.”
Clarke gives a tense smile, shifting in her chair. It’s quiet for a moment.
“She would have liked you,” Lexa says contemplatively. “In another life you would have been friends.”
Lexa has complimented Clarke many times, but this one - this feels like the biggest compliment Lexa has ever given her.
Clarke’s not used to receiving anything, let alone compliments. “Maybe in another life I would have had friends.”
Lexa reaches to brush against her hand on the armrest of the chair Clarke is clutching. “I’m your friend.”
Clarke bites her lips, knowing it’s true underneath everything else they are to each other. They can’t have a title besides friends, but it doesn’t feel like a lie. Lexa is the first best friend Clarke has had since high school.
Another contraction approaches suddenly and more intensely than any Clarke has felt so far. Her mouth falls open and she chokes on air being forced out of her. Her whole body stiffens and pain shoots through her. It grips and holds for long enough that she starts to curse, legs shifting under her.
Lexa sits forward, knowing immediately Clarke will start to get worked up. “Breathe,” she coaches. “Count to ten.”
Clarke winces and tries to breathe evenly as Lexa glances at the clock again.
When the contraction releases, Clarke looks to her for guidance.
“We’ll see how the next few go,” Lexa says.
Clarke nods, feeling her anxiety start to ramp up, but trusting Lexa to know when it’s time.
The next four contractions happen rapid-fire, such that Clarke feels like there almost isn’t a break between them. They stretch on forever and Lexa starts to stir from her tranquility.
“It’s time to go,” she says an hour later. “You should call your husband.”
Clarke scowls, still biting down on the tail end of a contraction.
“I’ll have one of the nurses do it when we get to the hospital. Or maybe after the baby comes. Or on its eighteenth birthday.”
Clarke expects Lexa to give her an amused or disapproving look, but instead she stands, offering her hand to Clarke. Clarke lets Lexa tug some of her weight up, feeling her legs sting and cramp with stress from her contractions. She almost topples over and Lexa catches her, arm on her back. Clarke finds her footing, but stays propped against Lexa for a moment.
It’s quiet and calm, and Clarke doesn’t know when she’ll feel this way again. She presses a kiss to Lexa’s neck and takes a deep inhale of the scent of Lexa’s skin.
Then she pulls back, looking for comfort and confidence.
“Are you ready to have a baby, Mrs. Griffin?” Lexa asks, eyes sparkling over a soft smile.
It’s the first time Lexa has called her Mrs. Griffin privately in months, and Clarke knows she’s half kidding. It’s endearing.
Clarke gives her a nervous smile and nods, giving her one final whipped cream kiss before letting Lexa guide her out of the office and out to her car.
Clarke’s contractions start hitting her relentlessly as they drive. She starts groaning and gasping and Lexa keeps one steady hand on the wheel as she presses Clarke’s arm or thigh with the other.
Lexa helps her get registered while Clarke groans and protests in the wheelchair. It seems to take forever and Clarke doesn’t want to sit, but the nurses insist.
When she’s finally brought to a room, Lexa makes sure she’s comfortable on the bed before giving Clarke’s hand a pat. “I’ll see you later,” she says. There’s no intimacy or affection in it, and Clarke feels like she’s being abandoned.
“No, wait!” Clarke protests.
Lexa eyes her, glancing at the nurses meaningfully. “I’ll be back when it’s time.”
Clarke feels her body accelerate with fear and anger and the beginning of another contraction as Lexa leaves the room.
Clarke is tough. She’s taken the blows of her life day after day after day without cracking. And yet the labor is so excruciating and Chad is pissing her off so thoroughly, she finds herself thinking this might break her.
Chad smirks as he dips his head to see what he’s capturing on the camera as Clarke pants and sweats on the bed.
“Chad, I swear to God, if you don’t turn that fucking thing off I’ll shove it up-”
“Easy, baby,” Chad chuckles. “Don’t want Chad Junior to come out cussing like a sailor.”
“We are not naming the baby Chad Junior.”
“Just do your breathing, baby.”
“Chad,” Clarke grits. “Go get me more ice chips.”
Chad turns the camera off and sets it down, obedient for once. It’s the only satisfying thing about the situation.
As he walks around the end of the bed, the door opens and Lexa walks in in her scrubs, surgical mask hanging around her neck.
“Hello again, Mrs. Griffin,” she says cooly.
Clarke scowls, too irked by this strange version of Lexa and too pissed off at Chad to do anything else.
Lexa pauses in her tracks for a split-second before extending her hand. “You must be Mr. Griffin,” she says. She doesn’t say Nice to meet you or anything remotely cordial.
Chad snorts. “Last name’s Dunlop.” He gestures with his thumb over to where Clarke is sweating and seething. “She wouldn’t take it.”
“I’m sure she’s made other sacrifices,” Lexa says cooly.
Chad scratches behind his ear, then walks around Lexa out into the hall.
Lexa walks over to Clarke, setting her clipboard down. She sees the washcloth in the bowl of cold water and Clarke can tell from the yearning look in her eyes she wants to pick it up. If a nurse or Chad were to walk back in the room, it would look odd. But Lexa does it anyway.
“He seems charming,” she says quietly as she dabs at Clarke’s forehead.
To anyone else it would sound sincere, but Clarke can hear the sarcasm dripping from her words.
Lexa presses the washcloth to Clarke’s forehead a few more times, and Clarke feels like she’s washing off more than just sweat.
Lexa glances at the monitors beeping beside Clarke, reading the vitals of Clarke and her baby. She checks the saline bag dripping into Clarke’s IV.
“Did the drugs help?”
Clarke nods, though admittedly they didn’t numb her as completely as she’d hoped.
“Everything looks good,” Lexa says, setting the washcloth back in the bowl. “Do you need anything?”
Clarke flexes her hand, reaching for Lexa’s, feeling the pull of the surgical tape pull at her skin and the sting of the IV as it shifts in her vein.
Lexa puts her hand in Clarke’s for a second, long enough for Clarke to give a weary squeeze. The drugs and her exhaustion pull her head back against the pillow. She feels like she might fall asleep between contractions.
“I wish it was just you and me,” Clarke mumbles.
“I know,” Lexa says. She gives Clarke’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I’m sorry. I should have insisted on transferring you to another doctor a long time ago.” She pulls her hand away. “At least I’ll be here when she’s born.”
Clarke lifts her head, wondering if she heard Lexa right. She arches her eyebrows and Lexa raises a hand halfway to her mouth.
“I’m so sorry,” Lexa says. “You didn’t want to know.”
Clarke thought she didn’t want to know, but knowing changes everything.
She’s having a little girl. Motherhood becomes more real when she imagines tiny pink shoes and plastic barrettes and sundresses made out of old pillowcases like her mother used to make.
“No, I- I’m glad,” Clarke says.
Lexa gives an apologetic wince as the door swings open.
They’re not holding hands anymore, but Clarke pulls hers further into her lap. They both look toward the door, relieved to see it’s another nurse.
“Let’s see how dilated you are,” the nurse says cheerily.
Clarke adjusts her shoulders, settling back, preparing for the stretch to come. The nurse puts on a glove and settles between Clarke’s legs. The door slides open again and Chad walks in with a cup of ice.
Chad ignores the nurse and Lexa, and Clarke knows it’s because he doesn’t like her talking to other people, let alone someone sticking their hand inside her.
Only an idiot would be jealous of Clarke’s current situation.
Clarke breathes as the nurse checks her, trying not to show any discomfort.
“Nine,” the nurse says triumphantly.
“Not too long now,” Lexa says. She fixes her gaze on Clarke’s forehead, and Clarke knows she would kiss it if she could. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
Clarke exhales as she nods and watches Lexa leave the room.
Clarke is terrified. The pain is unbearable even with the drugs, and the actual delivery is something she’s tried not to think about for the last eight months.
It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be bloody and exhausting. And when it’s over, she’ll never get to be alone again. The baby inside her will demand things from her until she dies.
Some part of her earnestly hopes she’ll die before the baby is born.
But Lexa wouldn’t let that happen. There’s a kinetic energy to her as she prepares for the delivery. She’s authoritative as she directs the nurses and orders Chad to do whatever Clarke tells him to do.
Clarke is fully dilated, the nurses are there, Lexa is seated on the stool between her legs. The tools for cutting the umbilical cord and cleaning up the baby are laid out on a tray.
“When the next one starts, bear down,” Lexa says. There’s nothing soft in her voice, nothing loving or kind. It makes Clarke more anxious.
She nods, but feels paralyzed.
Everything is ready, but Clarke doesn’t want to push. Even though her body is telling her to, even though she can feel the baby’s feet pressing up against her ribs trying to help, she doesn’t want to push.
She hears the beeping that indicates her next contraction is starting.
“Here we go,” Lexa says. “Bear down and count to ten.”
They wait, gloved hands ready, but Clarke doesn’t move.
“Bear down, Mrs. Griffin,” Lexa demands.
Clarke can’t do it.
Lexa glances up at her when the contraction ends. Her face is steely and serious.
“Is something wrong?”
Clarke swallows and manages to squeak out. “I can’t.”
“Yes you can. When the next one starts, bear down and count to ten.”
Clarke breaths, praying the next one will never come. But it does, of course. She feels the urge to push, but can’t make herself do it.
“Mrs. Griffin, you have to push,” Lexa says.
Clarke just whimpers and waits for the contraction to ebb.
Lexa lifts off the stool, pulling down her surgical mask, staring down at Clarke with an intense, authoritative expression.
“You can do this. You’re a very strong person, and the only way out of this is through.”
Clarke swallows, giving a trembling nod.
When the next contraction hits, Lexa speaks to Clarke in a way she’s never heard before. She’s stern, almost punishing as she demands Clarke push. She doesn’t raise her voice. Instead she keeps it low and hard.
It’s enough to jump-start Clarke into bearing down, determined to show Lexa she can do it.
It takes about half an hour, which the nurses assure her is normal. She tries to make as little noise as possible. She doesn’t want Chad to know how much pain he’s caused her. She doesn’t want him to have the satisfaction.
When it’s over, the baby squeals and protests the harsh light and cold air and the various tools stuck down her nose as Clarke falls back against the bed, spent.
“It’s a girl,” one of the nurses says, trying to sound excited.
Clarke hears Chad let out a noise of disgust but doesn’t look up to see his reaction. He’s the last person she cares about.
She stares at her baby, this gray-pink mass she just pushed into the world. She looks at the tiny body in Lexa’s hands, arms and legs shaking, little mouth gaping in a squawk like a baby bird, and can’t believe she made that.
She made that.
A person. A whole human being. A baby she thought she would never love. She looks at her, still flailing and covered in blood and vernix, and feels-
She feels everything.
Awe. Fear. Protectiveness. Power.
Instant, unconditional love.
Her little girl. Her one purely good and innocent thing.
The baby is wiped off and wrapped in a blanket and handed to Clarke, whose arms curl around her instinctively. She looks down at the wrinkled, ruddy, displeased face, and feels her heart shatter and grow back five times bigger.
She never wants to let go.
Chapter 11: Gratuity
Chad doesn’t respond when Lexa offers to let him cut the cord. He seems horrified by everything he just witnessed between Clarke’s legs. Lexa clamps the cord and offers the scissors to Clarke.
But Clarke is too transfixed by her little girl to hear anything Lexa or the nurses are saying. Everything around her is muted except for the wailing pink bundle in her arms.
He daughter is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
Lexa cuts the cord and busies herself inspecting Clarke for damage and preparing for the delivery of the afterbirth.
Clarke feels Chad trying to get her attention but ignores him. She swats him away like a fly hovering over a pie.
“Hey now,” Chad protests. “Remember what you promised.”
Clarke looks down at the baby and giggles. It sounds drugged and slow, but the only drug-like effect Clarke feels is the awe she has for her daughter.
“Hi,” she whispers to the baby.
The baby arches her back, twisting her too-small body, eyes still sealed under her swollen brow.
“Mrs. Griffin, would you like us to wash her off?” the nurse asks gently.
“In a minute,” Clarke says, beaming down at her little girl. “I want to get a good look at her first.”
She opens the blanket and her eyes travel from the baby’s face to her neck, her chest, her belly with the fresh-cut clamp of cord, her skinny frog legs and tiny feet. Clarke counts her fingers and toes, remarking at each one.
She’s the weirdest looking creature Clarke’s ever seen, and she’s perfect.
Reluctantly, she hands the baby to the nurse, feeling a pang in her chest at the separation. She hopes it won’t take too long to wash her.
“You remember?” Chad says, growing more agitated. “You promised not to love the baby more than me.”
Whatever effects the drugs and the baby have on her, she snaps out of her haze for a blazing moment of clarity. She looks Chad hard in the eye and knows she’s done with him. She’s got a little girl to protect now.
“I don’t love you Chad.”
The room goes silent aside from the monitors beeping. Even the baby stops crying. The nurses and Lexa freeze where they’re huddled over the sink.
Clarke feels courage rise up from the same place where her daughter grew. “You’re a terrible husband and I want a divorce.”
A nurse drops a plastic tray and bends to pick it up.
Chad is frozen for a moment, then lets out a strained chuckle. He looks to the nurse, grinning as though they share a joke.
“Those must be some good drugs you gave her,” he says, keeping up the charade. “She’s talking nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense,” Clarke says. Her voice is hard and determined like Lexa’s was half an hour ago. In the safety of the hospital and Lexa’s presence, she finally says what she’s wanted to say for months. “You’ve hit me and called me names and controlled our money for years. You won’t let me have a car or a phone or see my friends or go anywhere. I don’t want my daughter growing up around that. I want a divorce.”
“Now just a minute,” Chad says, dropping all trappings of jest as he goes dark. “I never did any of those things.”
“Yes you did,” Clarke says, raising her voice. “You would have hit me the other day if I hadn’t told you it was barbaric to hit a pregnant woman.”
“You shut up,” Chad shouts.
“Mr. Dunlop!” Lexa booms, louder than either of them. “Lower your voice in my delivery room!”
“Did you hear what she said to me?”
“Loud and clear, and I suggest you calm yourself if you don’t want to add fuel to her allegations.”
“The fuck does that mean?” Chad says, squaring his shoulders and glowering at Lexa.
Lexa wastes no time, striding over to the phone by the door. “I need security.” There’s no calmness in her voice, and for a second Clarke wonders if she’ll actually come at Chad swinging.
“I got a right to be here!” Chad protests.
“Not if you threaten or intimidate my patient!” Lexa barks back at him.
Chad scowls at her, shifting agitatedly, and Clarke fears it will actually come to blows between them. But soon two security officers burst through the door and grip him by the shoulders, escorting him out into the hall. His protests fade until all they can hear is the beeping of the monitors and the soft squeak of shoes in the hallway.
“I’d like to speak to Mrs. Griffin alone,” Lexa says, voice shaking.
The nurses finish washing the baby and wrap her in a clean blanket, putting her in a clear plastic bassinet, not daring to look at Clarke. They shuffle out of the room quickly.
Lexa comes to stand beside Clarke. Clarke can feel every part of her wants touch her, to cup her face, to hold her hand, to cradle her head against her neck. But she doesn’t. She looks at Clarke like she’s made of tissue paper.
“Clarke,” Lexa swallows. She bites her lips, shaky as she asks, “He hits you?”
Clarke looks down at her hands, afraid of what will happen now that Lexa knows her secret.
She didn't mean her lie to come out like this. Not when she's helpless, still bleeding on the delivery table. She braces herself for Lexa's anger.
But Lexa looks to the ceiling, holding back tears, trying to compose herself. “Oh my god... It’s so obvious. How did I not see it?”
Clarke doesn’t have an answer for that.
“This is why doctors can’t treat their loved ones,” Lexa says, visibly upset with herself. “I missed something any idiot would have seen because my judgment was clouded.” She swallows again and looks down at Clarke. “I’m so sorry, Clarke. I should have been firmer about finding you another doctor.”
“It’s okay,” Clarke mumbles.
“It’s not okay. There are ethical standards in medicine for a reason. I’m sorry I put you in danger.”
Clarke stares down at her hands, wondering what to say to Lexa. She doesn't know how to respond to someone caring for her so aggressively. “Everything turned out alright.”
“We were lucky.”
Lexa closes her eyes and takes a quiet breath through her nose, trying to steady herself. When she opens her eyes she’s calmer.
“Are you serious about leaving him?”
She’s looking at Clarke with such pained hope, Clarke feels the urge to comfort her. She holds her gaze and nods.
A smile trembles across Lexa’s mouth for a split-second.
“Do you want to file a restraining order?”
Clarke nods again. She wants to do everything she can to get away from Chad, even if she has to live in a hotel or shelter.
“Okay,” Lexa says, looking relieved. “I’ll go ask about paperwork.”
She turns to go.
“Lexa,” Clarke calls after her.
Lexa turns back to see Clarke’s arms outstretched toward the bassinet. She walks over, lifting the baby, calm and swaddled now, and places her where she belongs.
Despite everything that just happened, all Clarke can think about is the tiny girl in her arms. She’s an innocent. A fresh start.
She looks up at Lexa with an expression of unabashed pride. She didn’t expect to feel so powerful when she became a mother.
“You did beautifully, Clarke,” Lexa says softly. “I’m proud of you.”
Clarke is full to bursting already, but she feels an extra warmth in her chest.
Stef and Margie come to visit her a few hours later, bringing flowers and balloons. They hover, a hushed celebration, smiling at Clarke and the sleeping baby in her arms.
“Would ya look at that,” Margie says. “You sure had you a baby.”
“She’s so little,” Stef says, awed.
“Didn’t feel so little coming out,” Clarke says with a good-natured grumble.
“Did it hurt?” Stef asks, wrinkling her nose.
“No, I’m sure it felt great,” Margie deadpans. “We brought you something.”
Clarke raises her eyebrows and Stef holds up a carseat with a big pink bow on it.
Clarke is stunned. “How’d you know?”
“A little birdy told us,” Margie grins. “Can I hold her?”
“Sure.” Clarke lifts the baby toward Margie, who receives her with sturdy arms.
“Wooooow,” Margie hushes. She looks down at the baby’s sleeping face, her little fist bunched beside her cheek. “Does she have a name yet?”
“Grace-May Abilene Griffin.”
“That’s pretty,” Stef says, glancing up at Clarke as she leans over Margie’s shoulder.
There’s a moment of silence as Stef and Margie look down at Grace-May in wonder. Clarke swears her pride fills the room to the brim.
“How’s everything at the diner?” Clarke asks. It feels like ages since Chad pulled her out by the elbow, though it’s only been a few days.
“Fine, fine,” Margie says dismissively.
“Sorry you got stuck with all my shifts.”
“Don’t even think about it. Just rest up and come back when you’re ready.”
“We were real worried about you,” Stef says. “We thought maybe Chad-”
Margie cuts her off with a stern look.
Clarke fidgets, wanting Grace-May back in her arms so she has something to hold. “I don’t think Chad and I will be seeing each other much anymore. Unless it’s in court.”
Margie looks up, surprised. “For real?”
“Well damn,” Margie says, impressed. “I never thought you’d leave him.”
Clarke shrugs. She’s not sure she can explain the clarity Grace-May has given her. Not in a way Stef and Margie would understand. “Just trying to be the best mama I can be.”
Margie makes a little cooing noise, and Clarke isn’t sure if it’s for her or Grace-May.
Stef gives a sheepish smile and says, “Maybe once you get all settled and such… maybe we can all hang out? Somewhere other than the diner?”
Clarke is startled by the offer of friendship. She hasn’t had friends in so long, it feels abrupt and strange. She almost doesn’t know how to respond.
“Uh- sure,” she says, unsteady. She sees Stef’s gaze fall to the floor in disappointment and adds, “I’d like that.”
Stef brings her eyes back up and gives a shy smile.
“She’s gonna be busy with this little one though,” Margie says, beaming down at Grace-May, who is waking and starting to fuss.
“I’ll find time,” Clarke says, reaching to take Grace-May back into her arms.
“Well,” Stef says, still a little skittish, “We sure are glad to meet her. She’s precious.”
Margie smiles, still gazing at Grace-May. “She sure is. A real cutie pie.”
Clarke grins down at her baby. “My best pie yet.”
It’s quiet now. Clarke and Grace-May have been brought into the room where they’ll spend the night. It’s dark and peaceful and there hasn’t been any sign of Chad.
She can’t tear her gaze off Grace-May. She’s perfect, from her tiny curled toes to her little smushed-up face and its displeased wrinkle.
Clarke can’t wait to know everything there is to know about her. What makes her laugh, what music she likes, what she’s afraid of, what her favorite kind of pie is. Grace-May is only a few hours old and is already the most fascinating person in the world. Clarke is humbled with the charge to care for her.
Lexa comes to check on Clarke when she knows no one else will be in the room. She walks in slowly, quietly observing as Clarke feeds Grace-May. She watches in silence, not wanting to disturb the peace.
Clarke finishes and pulls her hospital gown back over her shoulder. Lexa takes a few steps forward.
“I transferred your care to another physician.”
“She’s very good. She has decades more experience than me.”
Clarke just nods distractedly, looking down at her baby. “That’s fine.”
“If you need help getting to appointments, I can drive you or lend you my car.”
Clarke doesn’t respond. The day-to-day details of life don’t matter anymore. She knows what’s important and she will beg, steal, and kill to protect it.
Lexa takes another step, cautiously approaching the bed.
“How are you feeling?”
Clarke can’t stop gazing down at her daughter. “Like I’ve been given a fresh start. She’s the best thing I’ve ever made, Lexa. All I want to do is take care of her.”
Lexa looks down at Clarke, eyes shining. Something’s stuck in her throat. “All I want to do is take care of you, Clarke.”
Clarke looks up.
Lexa has papers in her hand. She looks nervous. “The nurses and I can corroborate your story so the restraining order goes into effect immediately. But you need addresses for your residence and place of employment.”
Clarke looks back down at Grace-May, acutely aware she’s homeless now. She starts tipping into her first bad feeling since Grace-May was born; she doesn’t have a home to offer her.
Lexa takes a breath in for bravery. “Come stay with me, Clarke.”
Clarke hesitates. She doesn’t want to depend on Lexa. She swore if she ever got free of Chad, she would never depend on anyone again.
And yet – Lexa. Gentle, generous, grieving Lexa, who has already done more to care for and protect her and Grace-May than Chad ever did.
Lexa, who would never ask her for anything but kindness.
Kindness and maybe a slice of pie.
“Just until you can afford your own place,” Lexa adds. Her voice is small and scared Clarke will say no. “You don’t have to do anything. Not even make pies unless you want to. Just rest and take care of her.”
Maybe it’s the drugs, maybe it’s the rush of hormones, maybe it’s the way her heart was just broken open by the little girl in her arms, but Clarke wants to say yes.
Still, she’s cautious.
“Just until I get my own place?”
“Of course,” Lexa says, nodding as though she would agree to anything. “As long as you need.”
Clarke swallows, nervous. “Okay.”
Lexa smiles in disbelief.
Grace-May stirs and makes a little grunting noise that fades into a sigh as she shifts back into sleep.
Both women smile down at her.
“She’s beautiful, Clarke.”
“She’s perfect,” Clarke agrees.
“Mrs. Griffin, you have a visitor,” a nurse says, poking her head into Clarke’s room.
Clarke looks up, confused. She isn’t expecting anyone else. Stef and Margie visited her already, Chad isn’t allowed near her, and no one else cares.
“She said her name is Jo.”
Clarke is pleasantly surprised. She didn’t expect Jo to visit her.
“Are you feeling up to visitors?” the nurse asks.
Clarke nods, looking around to make sure the room is presentable for Jo.
Jo comes in, not tiptoeing like everyone else. She looks like she owns the place.
Clarke gives her a sheepish smile, adjusting Grace-May in her arms. She’s so proud of her, but she’s not used to having anything to show off.
“Well, what do you know,” Jo says. She’s not exactly smiling, but she’s not frowning either. “You did it.”
Clarke’s smile widens.
“Heard you left that good-for-nothing husband of yours, too.”
Clarke nods, figuring Stef or Margie must have told her.
Jo leans on the railing of the bed, peering down at Grace-May.
“Babies are so funny-looking.”
Clarke feels a pinch between her eyebrows.
“Yours looks pretty normal.” It’s the closest Jo gets to a compliment.
“I think she’s perfect,” Clarke says, softly defensive.
Jo catches Clarke’s eye and they share a look. Jo’s expression says I told you so, and Clarke’s grin says I know.
“She got a name?”
“Grace-May,” Clarke says.
“That’s right, the girls told me it was something like that.”
Jo grips the railing of the bed and drums her fingers.
“Where you two gonna live?”
“Um…” Clarke looks around, not sure she should say anything. Jo is the only person who knows about Lexa, and she probably thinks it’s superficial and wrong.
“You’re not gonna be out on the street, are you?” Jo’s voice is protective while at the same time judgmental.
“No,” Clarke says definitively.
“Good,” Jo says, giving a bob of her head. “That’s all that matters.”
She reaches down to the purse dangling off her wrist, sunglasses tumbling off her head as she looks down. She catches them, shoving them in her purse as she continues fishing through the gold-chained bag.
“I’m about to have a change of address myself,” she says nonchalantly.
“My girlfriend and I are going for a month long cruise. Afterward we’re moving to Florida.”
Clarke isn’t sure if Jo means her girlfriend in the sense that many older women use the word, or if she means it in the way she wants to think of Lexa.
“It’s time,” Jo says with a fatigued yet tough smile. “This town’s too small for me anyway.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Clarke says. She wants to be cheerful and polite with Jo, but she’s so tired she can’t hold back a yawn. “When are you leaving?”
Clarke thinks of Jo’s constant grumpy presence in her section and realizes she’ll never get to serve her again.
“What’s gonna happen to JoJo’s?” she asks, hoping she still has a job to go back to.
“I reckon it’ll stay right where it is,” Jo says. “So long as you keep making pies, customers will keep coming.”
Jo pulls an envelope out of her purse and places it on the rolling table beside Clarke as Clarke yawns again.
“What’s that?” Clarke asks, words stretched through her yawn.
“A consolation prize,” Jo says. “You may not have gone to the pie bake-off, but you won in my book.”
Clarke’s mouth snaps closed as she finishes yawning and she raises her eyebrows in an effort to stay awake.
Jo reaches forward to pat Clarke’s thigh, giving Grace-May a nod of consideration.
“You did good, Clarke,” Jo says. “It’s been a treat knowin’ ya.”
Jo doesn’t meet her eyes as she gives her a final pat and turns to go.
“Been a treat knowing you too, Jo,” Clarke calls after her.
Grace-May makes a whiny, sleepy sound and Clarke looks down to see her fighting off sleep. She’s struggling to stay awake.
“Yeah, me too,” Clarke mumbles to her.
She tips her head back, ready to welcome sleep when her curiosity gets the better of her. She reaches carefully toward the envelope, finding it thick and weighty. She struggles to open it with her free hand, then pulls out a stack of papers.
It looks like a bunch of legal documents or something, and Clarke almost calls after Jo that she left the wrong envelope. But stuck to the front of the accordion fold is a post-it written in Jo’s handwriting.
Clarke - What’s the point of success if you can’t share it with the people you care about?
Clarke sets the papers down and peels off the post-it. She reads the document, eyes blurring over lines and forms and boxes. She spots her name a few times and puzzles over it until-
Her heart skips a beat, then starts again double-time. She half expects Grace-May to start kicking frantically in her belly before she remembers Grace-May is in her arms.
She may never have to depend on anyone ever again.
Jo has given her majority ownership of the diner.
Lexa’s little house in North Hatch is small but cozy. It’s not fully lived-in yet, but there’s a rocking chair on the wraparound porch Clarke loves to sit in while she nurses when it’s not too cold. Lexa brings her tea or cocoa and they look out at the thinning sycamores and piles of crunchy leaves underneath.
It’s quiet most of the time, and Clarke is alone during the day. But when Lexa is home and they’re craving conversation, it’s deep and heavy.
Lexa tells Clarke about her wife. She shows her pictures and talks about their romance and wedding and honeymoon, how she watched her go from the vivacious, healthy girl she married to a sickly, dying woman. She talks about the funeral and her decision to move away and start fresh, foolishly thinking it might help her forget. Sometimes Lexa cries, but mostly Clarke feels Lexa letting her deeper into her heart.
Clarke tells Lexa all about Chad: the naive, hopeful beginning, how he wooed her with his guitar and promises and old-fashioned charm. She tells her about the tragedies that hit them both, the losses they suffered, and the bruised and battered details that make Lexa weep and curse herself for not detecting. Clarke feels numb about it most of the time. She almost can’t believe she never has to see him again.
As Grace-May’s skin pinks and her eyes open more and more, Clarke falls deeper and deeper in love. There are so many things about motherhood she never imagined: the soft sleepy grunts and sighs as Grace-May rolls through sleep and waking, the sudden twitching of her tiny limbs and the crossing of her untrained eyes, the soft, quick puff of her breath in sleep, the smell of her head, the gradual focusing of her wondering gaze on Clarke’s face. Clarke loves every little thing about her. Even her cries, even her multiple wakings during the night, even her messy diapers.
Clarke has endless questions. She feels foolish for not reading about how to care for newborns while she was pregnant, and is desperate to make up for it. Lexa answers some of her questions, but is careful to point Clarke to her new doctor when appropriate. Mostly Lexa soothes Clarke’s nerves and assures her she’s doing just fine.
There’s never a question that Grace-May is Clarke’s baby. Lexa asks before picking her up or trying a new way of soothing her. She is so gentle and respectful, Clarke is almost unsettled. Clarke knows she made the right choice by accepting Lexa’s offer. She appreciates the care and support Lexa gives her as she heals and adjusts to being a mother and starts the divorce proceedings.
Chad signs papers and divides their few belongings as though he doesn’t care. Clarke offers him the house in exchange for surrendering parental rights to Grace-May, and he accepts without hesitation. He doesn’t inquire about her health or ask to see the baby. He seems eager to be done with both of them. Clarke supposes it’s his pride; everyone in South Hatch knows why they’re divorcing, and the sooner he can detach from her, the sooner he can pretend he isn’t the man who hit his wife. Or maybe it’s his remorse; she’s seen enough hints of it to know it’s there somewhere. In his heart, he doesn’t want to hurt her. Maybe he finally let that part of him win.
Lexa is suspicious, accompanying Clarke to get clothing, baby furniture, and a few sentimental objects while Chad is working. Lexa says she wants to see Chad burn; Clarke wouldn’t even want to see him then.
Secretly, she hopes he gets the help he needs.
Clarke sleeps in a twin bed in the nursery Lexa set up for her and Grace-May. The room is comfortable and quiet and erases any expectations Clarke might have worried Lexa harbored. Lexa waits for Clarke to initiate any gesture of affection between them beyond little touches and smiles. They aren’t sure what they are to each other right now. Their romance takes a pause for a few weeks. But seeing the respect and care Lexa gives them both - often in the form of space - makes Clarke love her more.
Though Clarke is often distracted by Grace-May, she adores learning all the little things that make up Lexa: how she takes her coffee, how she sits on the couch with a book, how she undoes her braid at the end of the day. They gradually lean toward each other, smiling over breakfast, kissing goodbye as Clarke hands Lexa the lunch she packed her, hooking hair over ears mid-conversation.
Lexa is gentle with her, nurturing and kind, always forgiving of the accidental barbs Clarke throws out when she’s frightened. Clarke knows it’s Chad’s fault she’s so skittish and doubtful, and she’s angry he still has such a hold on her. But Lexa is soft and proves herself worthy of Clarke’s trust every time Clarke challenges her.
One night Clarke leaves her bed in the nursery and wanders down the hall to Lexa’s room. She nudges the door open, taking in the outline of Lexa under her duvet.
She doesn’t know what she wants. She only knows there’s a chill inside her that even Grace-May can’t ease.
She steps hesitantly toward the bed, placing one knee on it before climbing decisively in. She doesn’t know how Lexa will take to this; they’ve never slept next to each other. Maybe Lexa likes her space. Maybe Lexa isn’t ready to sleep beside someone new yet. But Clarke feels too much space around her and too much space inside her where Grace-May used to be. She pulls back the covers and slips in, nudging her body toward Lexa.
Lexa’s eyes fly open and she blinks as she registers Clarke on the pillows beside her.
“I was cold,” Clarke mumbles.
Lexa swallows, then reaches out, lifting the covers, making space in her orbit for Clarke, as though she feels the same chill, the same suffocating space.
Clarke burrows, breathing in, feeling the space she has too much of filled with Lexa, feeling Lexa’s warmth soak into her. She slips her hand over Lexa’s waist, and Lexa drapes her arm over Clarke’s back, resting her chin on the top of Clarke’s head.
Lexa holds her quietly, stroking her hair, and Clarke feels something clutch in her chest. With Grace-May she feels the constant swell of pride; with Lexa she feels the squeezing of gratitude. It slowly balances out and she settles into sleep.
Even though Clarke has to feed Grace-May every few hours, she doesn’t return to sleep in the nursery again. Soon Lexa’s bed feels like her own.
One night she feels Lexa shiver and looks up to see her crying.
“What’s wrong?” Clarke asks.
Lexa shakes her head, swallowing.
Clarke presses whipped cream kisses to her cheeks and waits for the lump in Lexa’s throat to dissolve.
Lexa’s confession comes out a shaky whisper. “I thought I’d sleep alone forever.”
Clarke feels a weight press down on her chest, sadness forcing the air out of her, squeezing her heart til it hurts. She presses a bittersweet chocolate kiss to Lexa’s lips and wishes there was something she could say to make Lexa hurt less. She wishes she could show her how healthy she is or promise to live forever.
She settles for pressing Lexa’s hand over her beating heart, showing her she’s not alone.
Eventually Lexa settles and falls asleep. Clarke stays awake, watching her, holding her, wondering at how a human heart can bear such a loss and still love again.
They still don’t talk about what they are. Clarke kisses Lexa goodnight and good morning and makes breakfast quiches on weekends. They go for walks together and Lexa helps her give Grace-May baths. They hold each other every night and tell each other about their days. But they don’t have a word or a page they both point to.
Clarke wants to know. But Lexa seems softly guarded when silent questions arise, redirecting Clarke’s attention to Grace-May and Clarke’s own needs.
“We have time,” she always says.
And Clarke knows she’s right, but at the same time, Clarke has needs beyond food and water and sleep.
“How long until I can have sex?” she asks one night over chicken and cranberry pie.
Lexa’s fork pauses mid-air.
“I’m sure your doctor can tell you,” she says, not making eye contact.
“But you’re a doctor and you’re right here.”
Lexa looks down at her plate. “It varies depending on tissue damage and personal comfort, but six weeks is the medical guideline.”
Clarke swallows, knowing full well Lexa knows the limited extent of her tissue damage.
“It’s been seven weeks,” Clarke says.
“So it has.”
Grace-May makes a gurgling, displeased noise and Lexa looks relieved for the interruption.
Clarke takes her time putting Grace-May to sleep that night. She rocks her, singing to her, making sure she nurses as much as she can before setting her in her crib. Clarke goes to the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror, taking a few deep breaths for courage. She may be a mother now, but she is also a human woman with a heart that doesn’t want to beat alone. Clarke worries if they don’t start now they never will.
She’s nervous. It’s one thing to meet for hurried sex without feelings before and after work. It’s another to have sex for the first time since giving birth.
And it’s another to make love to a person for the first time knowing it’s love.
She goes into the bedroom where Lexa is sitting in bed reading, glasses perched on her nose, knees drawn up to create the perfect angle for her book.
Clarke takes off her robe, leaving herself in nothing but her underwear and nursing bra.
Lexa looks up, eyes flashing with anxiety before she fixes them back on her book.
Clarke kneels on the bed, making her intention clear as she crawls forward. She nuzzles Lexa’s ear as she removes her glasses and closes her book, placing them on the bedside table as she kisses up Lexa’s cheek.
Clarke hears Lexa’s breathing change immediately. She’s nervous and hesitant, but she wants this.
“Hi,” Clarke hushes in her ear.
Lexa’s legs shift under the covers as she twists her head, uncertain if she wants to bare her neck to Clarke or meet her lips.
“Hey,” Lexa whispers back.
Clarke cups her cheek, trying to still her enough to kiss her. As she does, Lexa’s legs slide out and she drifts down the pillow, half melting, half shrinking in fear. Clarke’s mouth follows her.
Clarke slips her hand under the covers and finds the hem of Lexa’s sleep shirt, sliding under and up Lexa’s stomach.
“Are you sure?” Lexa asks, breathless as she pulls away from the kiss. “We have time.”
Clarke leans over her, dropping her weight gently into the soft give of Lexa’s body. She hums and kisses down her neck, showing her that this is how she wants to spend their time.
Lexa lets out a shaky breath and surrenders, wrapping her hand around Clarke’s waist as though she’s wanted to do this for weeks.
As they undress each other, gentle and hesitant, Clarke feels as though she’s never done this before. Fear starts to seep into her, and she almost misses her belly between them. Before it had always frustrated her, making her feel like she couldn’t get close enough to Lexa. But now there are no barriers, nothing keeping them apart, nothing dulling the intensity of their bodies pressing together under the sheets. Lexa is flush against her, pulse racing, and Clarke is frightened.
They go slow, barely making any noise beyond their shaky breath. Under any other circumstances Clarke would find the pace agonizing, but she’s grateful for it now. She feels fragile and unsteady. When Lexa touches her between her legs she shakes a little. She cries when she comes. Lexa cries too, whimpering little I love yous into Clarke’s neck as Clarke’s hand slips between her legs. Clarke whispers I love you back.
Afterwards they lay in each other’s arms letting relieved tears wet the pillows, soggy giggles and sniffs echoing through the room. It’s good and real and honest.
They’re still awake when Grace-May wakes for her first feeding, and Lexa doesn’t tense or object when Clarke brings her into bed and they all lay skin-to-skin.
Lexa loves the whole of Clarke, and Clarke wasn’t whole until Grace-May.
Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, and before Clarke knows it, Grace-May is four years old and has never known any home but the one Lexa has given her.
Thank you all for reading. An epilogue will be posted Wednesday.
Chapter 13: Epilogue: True Love Pie
Thanks so much to everyone who read and commented on this story. It's been a joy to write and share. I love this fandom.
Thanks also to my beta youreterriblemuriel and to @decalexas for reading through each chapter and keyboard smashing with me. I love collaborating and both of you make writing so much more fun.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Clarke hovers in the doorway of the kitchen, watching. Grace-May’s dimples are poking into her cheeks as she concentrates on the crust she and Lexa are draping into a pie tin. Her curly blonde hair is pulled into a little puff on top of her head, her bangs not quite reaching her bright blue eyes. Lexa’s hair is pulled back in the french braid she wears every day and she has that hint of work-weariness to her Clarke always wants to wipe away. But she smiles and encourages Grace-May as Grace-May uses a fork to finish the edges of the crust.
Grace-May is more than Clarke could have hoped for in a child. She has Clarke’s creativity and determination, Lexa’s intelligence and gentleness with people and animals, and her own sense of wonder and joy she brought with her.
When Clarke went back to work, she brought Grace-May with her, putting her crib in the sunny pie-making room. Grace-May slept most of the time, and Clarke could feed her whenever she needed. Clarke had often been glad for the distraction during her first few fumbling months as owner. By now, everything was working smoothly and the diner was as successful as ever. Grace-May always had someone to look after her; the waitresses were keen to take a break to tend to her, doting on her and showering her with gifts and kisses. Margie even made a miniature version of the diner uniform, and as soon as she was capable, Grace-May would walk from table to table with an order pad, pretending to take orders like her mother and her caretakers, charming all the customers.
Grace-May started preschool this year, and Clarke isn’t used to being away from her for so long. She’s always hurrying to get home in time to have dinner and give Grace-May her bath before bed. But tonight she takes a moment to just watch, remarking on how time has flown by.
Grace-May finishes marking the edges of the crust with the fork and wipes her hands on her apron. She sticks her pudgy finger in a pile of flour, then reaches up to press it onto Lexa’s nose. Lexa grins, then returns the gesture, tapping Grace-May’s little nose with white. Grace-May giggles, then puckers her lips, and Lexa leans down so Grace-May can kiss the flour off, then does the same.
It’s so choreographed and practiced, Clarke is certain they’ve done this before.
Clarke feels her heart swell. Her daughter and Lexa baking is the sweetest thing she’s ever seen.
“What are you making?” Clarke asks, making her presence known as she comes into the kitchen and sets down her purse.
Grace-May and Lexa look up, startled. Lexa runs her wrist over her nose, wiping away any leftover flour.
“Pie!” Grace-May says, as though it wasn’t obvious.
“Without me?” Clarke asks, feigning offense.
Grace-May’s smile falls and she looks up at Lexa to see if they overstepped.
“We were waiting for you to make the filling,” Lexa says.
Clarke lets her smile spring free again and Grace-May’s slides back in, still checking to make sure Clarke isn’t really upset.
Clarke walks around the counter and scoops her up, peppering her face with kisses, making them smack as Grace-May giggles and tries to twist away.
“What kind of filling shall we make?”
“Butterfly blueberry!” Grace-May says, making up something silly to see if she can make Clarke laugh.
Instead of laughing, Clarke says, “Oh good, I just picked up some fresh butterflies to put in.”
Grace-May’s eyes go wide in alarm before she feels the crooking of Clarke’s finger in her side, tickling her, letting her know she’s joking.
Grace-May lets out a shrieking giggle and twists so hard Clarke sets her down.
Clarke leans in to press her lips to Lexa’s cheek. Lexa turns her chin quickly to catch Clarke’s lips instead.
This kiss doesn’t have a borrowed flavor like whipped cream or toffee or cinnamon or coconut. This kiss is all its own: a coming-home kiss. Clarke’s favorite.
Grace-May climbs up on her stool again, impatient as Lexa asks how the diner was and Clarke asks how the office was. Soon Grace-May is demanding their assistance and they let the conversation rest for now. Together they get out ingredients, mixing them with a few pinches of spice as Grace-May tells Clarke about her day at school. When it’s done, Lexa picks up the bowl, ready to pour the filling into the crust, but Grace-May shrieks, “Wait! ”
Lexa pauses and Grace-May says, “You gotta put the love in first.”
“Oh-okay,” Lexa says, setting down the bowl. “Go ahead.”
“My thumbs aren’t big enough.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Clarke says. “The oven makes it grow to the perfect size.”
“You do it,” Grace-May insists.
Clarke nods at Lexa and waits for her to press one thumbprint in before she reaches over and presses hers nesting into it, completing the heart.
“You do one too,” Clarke says to Grace-May.
Grace-May contemplates for a moment before pressing her little thumb twice underneath Clarke and Lexa’s thumbprints, making a smaller heart.
“Now you can pour it in,” Grace-May instructs.
Lexa pours the filling in and slides the pie into the oven. They clean up and have dinner, and after giving Grace-May a bath and brushing teeth, Clarke puts her to bed.
After Grace-May is asleep, Clarke and Lexa cut a slice of pie and sit at the kitchen table.
Lexa almost chokes on her first bite. Clarke takes a bite and gags. The crust is way, way too salty. She wonders if Lexa turned away for a moment and Grace-May dumped salt in, thinking it was sugar.
Lexa wipes her mouth as her eyes water.
“That is the worst pie I’ve ever had,” she says.
Clarke chuckles, hushing her in case Grace-May is still awake.
“We can eat around the crust,” Clarke says. “It’s what’s inside that counts.”
Lexa holds her gaze, warm and suddenly serious. She seems to decide something and sets down her fork.
“You once told me no one had ever asked you to marry them over a slice of pie.”
Clarke feels her stomach tense with apprehensive joy.
Clarke looks down at Lexa’s hands where they rest empty on the table. There’s no ring or box, but she almost prefers it that way.
“I want to ask you. But only if you want to be asked.”
Clarke bites her lip, feeling a blush wash over her she hasn’t felt in a long time.
They’ve lived together for four years now, slowly combining their lives, though not without constant caution on Clarke’s part.
When Clarke went back to work, Lexa offered to lend Clarke money to buy a car to make her commute easier, but Clarke had refused, not wanting to exhaust Lexa’s generosity or indebt herself to Lexa further.
Clarke had balked when Lexa asked to make Grace-May the beneficiary of her estate on Grace-May’s first birthday, thinking it meant Lexa thought she had some familial claim to Grace-May. Lexa explained she only wanted to make sure Grace-May could go to college and travel the world if something should happen to Lexa. Nothing more.
After two years, Lexa had asked if Clarke wanted her name on the deed of the house, since Clarke had been helping with the mortgage, but Clarke had refused for a while, saying she wasn’t ready to own property together.
Whenever Clarke withdraws or backtracks, Lexa just nods and accepts it, waiting until Clarke is ready for a new step. Gradually Clarke has softened and learned to trust that Lexa truly wants nothing but good things for her and Grace-May.
After their first trip to Yellowstone together, she realized she wants her family to stay like this forever. She can’t do anything about Grace-May growing up - and she is growing up so quickly - but she can make sure Lexa knows she wants what they have to last.
Perhaps more importantly, she can show Lexa she’s willing to take the first step.
“I don’t want to be asked,” Clarke says.
She pauses a moment too long, and Lexa’s gaze falls to the table.
“I want to ask you,” Clarke adds.
Lexa blinks a few times, looking back up, then nods as tears collect along her lower lashes.
Clarke realizes Lexa’s been waiting a long time to ask. The expression on Lexa’s face indicates that being asked is even better than the Yes she was hoping for.
“I have one condition,” Clarke says.
“Okay,” Lexa says, hesitant.
“I want you to adopt Grace-May.”
Lexa shrinks back in surprise.
Clarke knows Lexa doesn’t actually object to the idea of adopting Grace-May. She’s just careful not to overstep, so careful to let Clarke feel in control. But seeing how sweet Lexa was with the pie crust earlier, Clarke knows it’s time.
Clarke says leaning forward to try to retrieve Lexa. “You always defer to me, saying you’re not her mom. I think you are her mom. But we don’t have to ask her to call you that. She can keep calling you Lexa if that’s what you want. ”
Lexa relaxes a little bit.
In Clarke’s mind there is no doubt that Lexa is Grace-May’s mother now. She wasn’t at first. She watched and encouraged Clarke for most of Grace-May’s first year. But Lexa grew into motherhood day by day, just as she and Clarke grew together. The three of them are a family, and marrying Lexa without a commitment to Grace-May feels like a lie of omission. They’ve forgiven each other their lies long ago, and Clarke doesn’t want new ones.
Grace-May brought Clarke to Lexa. Now it’s time for Clarke to give Lexa to Grace-May in return.
“I want to make sure that if something happened and I wasn’t there, you’d be able to protect her.”
Lexa’s forehead crinkles in a question.
“Imagine if you were here with her while I’m at work and she climbed up that tree she loves in the back yard. What if she fell and broke her little arm and had to wait until I got to the hospital because you can’t make medical decisions for her?”
Lexa looks uncomfortable at the thought.
“Or what if- what if something happened to me and she had to go live with-”
Clarke doesn’t finish her sentence. She doesn’t need to.
Lexa swallows and her gaze falls to the table. They both know they don’t want that to happen.
Lexa takes a breath and nods. “Okay.”
“Yes. I would do anything for her.”
Clarke beams, her smile blooming wide in her chest.
She’s going to marry the woman she loves. The most important person in her world will legally have another mother. They’re a family.
“Marry me,” Clarke says.
“Of course,” Lexa answers back, tears brimming.
Clarke stands, drawing Lexa up and into her arms, laying every sweet, tender flavor of kiss she can think of on her lips.
Finally, she has the life she wants.
I've just posted a new work called Six that I plan to update regularly. It's a queering of the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, only without all the rape and abduction and stuff. Check it out!