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Individual Medley

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Elation is a strange feeling, Clarke has decided. Even stranger when it's not her own to experience, but the Olympics have a funny way of making the bizarre intoxicating. She's alight and tingling off the accomplishment overflowing the room, much like the champagne bubbles bubbling over rims and fingers and dripping sticky to the floor. Even as she sucks the sticky liquid from her knuckles, she almost can’t believe that she’s here, surrounded by the world’s best athletes all high off their triumphs or drowning their disappointments with just as much fervor.

Octavia and Bellamy are long gone, probably recreating their glory moments with their respective teammates as they work their way through the open bar with reckless, brilliant abandon. She'd long gotten over there absence, though, with plenty else to occupy her attention. She'd gotten far more time with them at the party than she could’ve hoped for, laughing and crying with them, trying on their medals, sharing in their adrenaline and excitement as the proud best friend of two new Olympic medalists. She's happy , just soaking it all in. Happy to and and willing to be wonderfully distracted and encompassed by the euphoric bubble. 

 

And now she finds herself pleasantly buzzed and in the middle of a group of heinously tall people she assumes to be the US basketball team. Or maybe volleyball. She wonders which team is taller on average for about a second before something tickles at her attention and she turns.

Oh.

Lexa Woods is…is staring at her. No, can’t be. Clarke looks around but there’s no one particularly outstanding around her, well other than the fact that everyone is. She turns back around and flushes because Lexa Woods is definitely looking at her, smirking even.  And now, oh god, she’s looks around again because there’s no way Lexa Woods is actually walking towards her.

 

Clarke gulps and feels her entire body respond in a jumble of nerves and excitement and she’s not even a little ashamed to admit that she’s star struck. She shouldn’t be, her best friends are Olympians after all, but this is Lexa Woods, 3-time Olympic medalist in swimming who just broke the world record for most gold medals earned by a female athlete as America watched on with tears in their eyes and screams in their throats, “Woods” plastered across shirts and flags and even some foreheads.

 

“Hey,” the swimmer shouts over the music, a confident and overtly flirty smirk on her face as she struts into Clarke’s space.

 

“Hi,” Clarke shouts back, knowing that there’s a dumb smile on her face but not really caring about anything other than the stunning woman in front of her.

 

“You’re very pretty.”

 

A bashful chuckle gets lost in the thrumming of the room and Clarke thanks god for that. “Thank you,” she shouts, “You’re very forward.”

 

Lexa Woods nods amorously and grabs at Clarke’s visitor pass, eying it playfully. “Who are you with?”

 

“What?” Clarke takes a step forward and tilts her head up towards the swimmer who towers over her. She points to her ear then rolls her eyes at the music. Lexa smiles and accommodates her, bowing her head down and getting her mouth close. Clarke shutters.

 

“I said, who are you here with?”

 

“Oh! I have a couple friends around here somewhere. They're athletes as well. Well not--I'm not. I mean they're athletes as well as you. Well not as well, I mean they're good...but they're like bronze medal good. Which isn't to say that's not good! I just mean..." Clarke finally figures out how to shut her mouth, and she does so with enthusiasm, kicking herself internally. Lexa just smiles and lets the lanyard and tag drop back to Clarke’s chest.

 

“What sport?”

 

"I'm sorry?" Clarke gathers herself, trying not to get lost in Lexa’s tan face and sharp angles. The warmth and sweetness in her eyes takes her by surprise. She's seen that face on TV for years now, but in person, she's a whole other creature. 


Lexa grins. "What sport do these dead beat bonze medalists play?" 

 

Clarke feels herself flush as she laughs at herself. "Soccer." 

 

Lexa nods and deftly nabs two drinks off the tray of a passing waiter. “Want one?”

 

Clarke takes it with a mouthed ‘thank you’ and doesn’t hesitate to take a large sip. And it helps, oh does it help, because when Lexa begins speaking again she feels decidedly more relaxed and definitely more flirty.

 

“What country?”

 

Clarke scoff and taps at the US crest on Lexa’s jacket. “USA, of course.”

 

Lexa laughs and taps back at her, her finger poking suspiciously at the Australian flag pin on her collar. “What’s this, then?”

 

“Oh, you noticed that did you?”

 

“Yeah,” the swimmer says, short and full of mischief. “What gives?”

 

“I was born there!”

 

Lexa “ahs” over the rim of her glass and Clarke decides the look in those green eyes is intrigued. It only fuels her fire further.

 

“I just beat an Australian,” Lexa smirks and it’s dripping with a good-hearted cockiness that surprisingly makes Clarke swoon.

 

“I know,” Clarke says chuckling, and then, “You’re cocky.”

 

Lexa nods with a wide, toothy grin. “I know. So what’s your name?”

 

“Clarke. Griffin.” She has to shout it twice for Lexa to finally hear it but when the swimmer does she smiles and not so subtly tucks a strand of hair back behind Clarke’s ear.

 

“Nice to meet you, Clarke Griffin. I’m Lexa. Lexa Woods.”

 

Clarke laughs, “I know.”

 

Something like pride and desire flashes through the green eyes flitting back and forth between Clarke’s mouth and eyes and Clarke finds herself nodding quickly when she’s asked if she wants to find somewhere a little quieter.

 

When Lexa guides her out to the car she’d rented, Clarke feels the magic of it all start to drain from her suddenly. She stops in her tracks, halting Lexa too with a tentative brush to the swimmer’s back. When Lexa turns around, she’s smiling, but it falls as soon as she sees the distress on Clarke’s face.

 

“Can we walk?” Clarke asks, eyes fumbling around to find something to land on.

 

Lexa charmingly places her hand under Clarke’s dropped chin and raises her eyes. “I’m not actually drunk, Clarke, you know that right? I have a press conference tomorrow and I’d never put you in the car with a drunk driver.”

 

Clarke swallows and nods, eyes now flitting back and forth between Lexa and the car. “I’d just—I’d prefer to walk.” She holds her breath and nearly cringes against the backlash she expects to pour forth at her, but it never comes. Instead Lexa just shrugs and laces their fingers together with a calm smile.

 

“It’s a beautiful night with a beautiful girl, anyways. A walk would be nice.”

 

Clarke looks at her stunned for a moment before she accepts it with a shy smile and closes her fingers around Lexa’s.

 

Lexa’s palm is warm and sure against hers and it’s a little uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar, but it’s certainly not unwelcome. Especially not with the sky now completely dark and the sidewalks almost totally deserted.

 

“Do you know where you’re going?” She asks when Lexa stalls at a split road.

 

Lexa smiles, “I think so,” and tugs her left. “We’ll find out.”

 

And oh, they do. It somehow seems like a blink of the eye by the time they’re back at Lexa’s hotel room, though Clarke doesn’t forget the pleasant small talk they’d shared and the way Lexa’s silhouette in the moonlight was canvas worthy.  It plays in the back of her mind when the back of her head hits Lexa’s hotel room wall. Lexa is kissing her and sighing like she enjoys it and Clarke can hardly believe it. She’s teetering precariously close to the edge already when Lexa draws back and stares at her.  

 

“Is this okay?” The swimmer’s question is sweet and endearing and a needed pause in the middle of the hurricane they’d become. Clarke follows the swimmer’s hand down the plane of her stomach and into the waistband of her jean shorts, then underwear, and nods. She undoes the button herself, letting her hips jog forward into the heel of Lexa’s palm as her head falls back against the wall offering up the soft skin of her neck to Lexa’s hungry and adventurous lips with a gasp and choked back moan.

 

“Okay?” Lexa whispers, her hand making small circles, audible in Clarke’s arousal.

 

“Mhm,” Clarke hums, nodding before bowing forward and connecting their lips. They’re sloppy and heated and rushed together, charged with adrenaline and alcohol, national pride, the wonder of the Olympics, and the cool press of Lexa’s medals between them.

 

“God, you’re sexy,” Lexa mutters when her fingers venture lower.

 

Clarke wraps her arms around Lexa’s neck tighter and grips into her marvelously wide shoulders, her legs come up to wrap around Lexa’s waist. The swimmer catches her effortlessly and laughs in nothing more than a whisper. “Needy,” she says but it’s muffled by the kiss she’s already pressing back into Clarke’s open and waiting lips.

 

Clarke’s grateful she’s in Lexa’s arms because she’s quickly verging on too hot, too aching and the room spins a little bit every time Lexa digs her fingers into Clarke’s ass and helps her grind against abs so defined it has Clarke choking on the air desperately trying to get in and out of her lungs. Something sparks low in her stomach and she startles because it’s too strong too fast and it’s building before she can get a grip on it.

 

“Wait, wait, wait” she pants, her palms flat on Lexa’s chest, pushing but wanting so badly to be pulling.

 

“What, what’s wrong? You okay?” Lexa’s eyes are just as frantic as her words as they peel apart. She starts to lower her, but Clarke digs in and kisses her in quick reassurance.

 

“No, I’m good, just—“ she squeaks when Lexa shifts her upwards, readjusting her weight, and her head falls forward to meet the swimmers, both of them struggling to find their breath. “Slower,” she manages. “I got close…”

 

“Close?” Lexa frowns and the sounds of their pants are the only thing that fill the room, that and the hum of the AC that Clarke is pretty sure is broken. Realization hits the swimmer and she blushes. “Oh you mean…”

 

Clarke laughs and nods, their foreheads rubbing together, eyes sparkling, lips swollen and wet and itching for more.

 

When her back hits the bed moments later, her eyes flutter closed and she tries desperately to think of anything that will dull the burn of Lexa’s fingers skirting up her thighs.

 

She barely registers Lexa’s quiet “Can I take these off?” She nods, admittedly hating the way her jeans are thick and stiff between them. Lexa tugs them down her hips, pressing feather light kisses in their wake leaving Clarke a shivering mess at the contrast of her warm lips and the cool air. Clarke grasps sloppily at Lexa’s biceps urging her back upwards after her shorts are gone and shoes are pulled off and thrown somewhere.

 

“God, you’re gorgeous.” Lexa nudges her nose into Clarke’s cheek, her lips pressing kiss after kiss to the corner of her mouth until Clarke turns her head and catches her lips. She licks into Lexa’s mouth, throbbing at the way it makes Lexa shutter, the smallest of moans catching in the swimmer’s throat like she’s trying to hide it. But Clarke hears it, oh does she hear it, and she’s desperate to draw it out of her again.

 

Hooking her hand around the nape of Lexa’s neck, she tugs the swimmer down and their teeth knock together. Lexa snorts and Clarke smiles as her tongue runs across the front of her teeth soothing the slight abrasion it’d caused. “Sorry,” Lexa whispers, kissing her again, this time soft and gently.

 

“S’okay,” Clarke mutters, “won’t be the last time that happens.”   

 

“Don’t think so?” It’s quiet and playful, strained by the way Lexa is still panting and chasing every expanse of skin Clarke offers up to her.

 

Clarke shakes her head, biting her lower lip because god, she feels sexy. For the first time in ages she feels sexy because Lexa is looking at her likes she wants nothing as bad as she wants her and Clarke would be lying if she said it wasn’t slightly overwhelming.  Lexa laughs and kisses her and Clarke thinks it’s one of the most wonderful sounds she’s ever heard, though that might be the alcohol talking. Then again, now that she thinks about it, the buzz of the alcohol has significantly ebbed and everything is sharp and clear again. Wonderfully sharp and clear. Terrifyingly sharp and clear.

 

“Hey,” Lexa checks in with her, lips ghosting across her face. “You good?”

 

It’s then that she notices Lexa’s hand back down between her legs, the stillness of it drawing her attention. She arches up into it with a small smile and sucks Lexa’s lip into her mouth, swiping her tongue over it and letting it go with a small pop. Lexa’s eyes darken so quickly it almost seems unreal but Clarke feels the reality of it everywhere, in the burning tips of her ears, the tingling and thundering in her stomach. Most of all she feels it in the quiver of her thighs and the throb of her clit against the sticky confines of her underwear. When Lexa takes an adventurous and possessive nip at Clarke’s collar bone, she lurches into Lexa’s thigh, shuttering in approval at the new friction. Her hands come to the hem of Lexa’s shirt and tugs, “off?” she whispers.

 

Lexa licks her lips wickedly and draws back, removing her medals before crossing her arms in front of her to pull off her shirt. Clarke is mesmerized, marveling at the rippling muscles in the swimmers arms and stomach, her eyes trailing the expanse of skin as every inch is revealed, almost never ending along Lexa’s long and powerful torso. It becomes clear to Clarke why she’s the best. Every inch of her is long, lean, and streamlined, made for slicing through the water.

 

A hand to her cheek, cupping and tugging upwards, draws her out of her reverie as Lexa captures her lips again, their tongues sliding together with a spark that jolts through Clarke. She gasps, their lips separating only for their foreheads to join and Clarke hears Lexa’s breath catch and stutter forward.  “Your turn,” Lexa’s barely able to husk out.

 

Clarke lifts her arms and lets her shirt be pulled over her head, shaking her hair out, missing the way Lexa’s mouth falls open ever so slightly in complete reverence. Had she seen it, it would have helped keep away the bile that rises in her throat when she suddenly remembers the large scar just below her sternum.

 

Lexa doesn’t seem to notice or care. Instead her hands splay across Clarke’s stomach, her thumbs brushing across the curve of her lower ribs turning Clarke’s skin into a constellation of goosebumps. The tips of her fingers brush the underside of her bra and Lexa’s eyebrow quirks up in the silent question. Forcing aside her insecurities, she pushes up on her hands and lets herself be pulled into Lexa’s lap, ankles hooking at her lower back. She loops her arms around Lexa’s neck as Lexa reaches around her and undoes her bra.

 

Lexa’s fingers are barely there, just hints of a touch as she brings the straps over her shoulders and tosses it to join her shoes. “And you?” Clarke asks, her eyes downcast and voice quiet.

 

Lexa leans back and slips out of her sports bra, her swimmer’s lats bulging and flexing with the motion. Clarke can’t stop herself when she presses forwards and latches onto them, hands running up and down in exploration of the various layers of muscles there. She doesn’t miss the similar scar Lexa carries on her ribs, but affords the swimmer the same discretion and instead refocuses her attention on Lexa’s muscles.

 

Lexa let’s out a short sort of chuckle and grabs Clarke’s hips, pulling her close, whispering “that tickles” against her lips.

 

“Sorry,” Clarke draws her hands away, but Lexa catches them, brings them to her lips then places them on her shoulders.

 

“It’s okay. Feels good too.”

 

“Sore?”

 

“Mm, a little.”

 

“You were amazing today,” Clarke gushes, her hands tangling in the ends of Lexa’s ponytail.

 

Lexa smiles a small, almost shy little thing, and kisses her deeply, pulling away only to mutter, “I don’t wanna talk about me, Clarke.”

 

“What do you want to talk about?”

 

Lexa threads her fingers through Clarke’s hair and pulls her back towards her lips in good-natured annoyance. “I don’t really wanna talk.”

 

“No?”

 

Lexa smiles and shakes her head, pitching forward to lower Clarke back onto the bed. Clarke feels exposed and shy as Lexa finally gets the full breadth of her topless, eyes sweeping across her like they can’t decide where they want to settle.  She wants to reach up and kiss her, distract her from her study, but then Lexa’s hands go to her ribs again, just under the swell of her breasts and atop her scar.

 

“Gorgeous,” Lexa breathes, thumb coming up to brush across the underside of Clarke’s nipple. Clarke gasps, surprised by how such a fleeting touch can catch fire in her body so quickly.  She looks up at her and wonders if the blue of her eyes are just as absent as the green in Lexa’s. She almost misses the hue, but the lust it’s replaced by sends excited shivers through her.

 

“C’mere,” she pleads softly, tugging at Lexa’s forearms until the swimmer let’s herself be pulled down.

 

They melt into each other, kisses growing quickly into heated sucking and nipping, teeth clashing again occasionally in their urgency just as Clarke had promised. When Clarke rocks her hips into Lexa’s searching for some relief, Lexa let’s out something close to a growl and it surges through Clarke like a tidal wave. She has to bite hard into her cheek to keep from coming then and there. Lexa’s head falls forward sloppily and knocks into Clarke’s, her breathing hot against her face. Clarke grabs Lexa’s cheeks and crashes their lips together, desperate to trap that heat between them, loving how it feels wrapped around her and tugging between her legs.

 

“Can I take these off?”

 

It takes a second for Clarke to register Lexa’s voice and find her touch indicating what she wants. As if reading her mind, Lexa strokes sideways to draw her attention and Clarke trembles at the tickling just above her pubic bone. Lexa’s finger hooked over the elastic of her underwear is gentle and hesitant but clear in intention.

 

Clarke nods quickly and kisses her. “Yeah, take ‘em off,” she says as she pulls away. She lifts her hips and closes her eyes as Lexa pulls them down around the curve of her ass. A hint of embarrassment tugs at her when she feels the unmistakable pull of her wetness clinging between she and her underwear, but then Lexa’s eyes close and her head drops to the pillow, their cheeks pressed together as the swimmer visibly struggles to steady herself.

 

Clarke runs her short nails up Lexa’s back soothingly, trying to focus on that rather than the overloading sensation of her bare center now against the rough material of Lexa’s jeans. “You okay?” she asks, working to keep the tremble from her voice.

 

Lexa nods and pulls back, flushed, practically panting and pupils blown so wide Clarke can see her own reflection in them. “You’re beautiful, Clarke,” Lexa gasps, her hand snaking between them, any hesitation or coyness long gone.

 

After Lexa slips out of her jeans and boxer briefs, everything is a blur of throbbing, gasping and desperate groping. When Lexa finally runs a finger up Clarke’s dripping slit, they gasp out together, Clarke whimpering and arching forward, Lexa groaning, lips coming down to suck on Clarke’s shaking lower lip.

 

Lexa’s fingers are gentle and barely there at times, rough and fast and urgent at others, and Clarke finds herself building too quickly again. Lexa is good, really, really good and she feels her orgasm rushing towards her like a derailed freight train. She grips at Lexa’s rippling back, fingers slipping over the ridges of muscles in constant motion and buries her face into her shoulder, eyes clenched shut in a desperate attempt at control.

 

She doesn’t mean to, but when Lexa pushes into her suddenly with two fingers, Clarke bites down on the thick cord of Lexa’s trapezius muscle as she cries out, her hips jerking forward to meet Lexa’s thrust. If it hurts, Lexa doesn’t show it, just curls her fingers up and strokes the ridged walls of Clarke’s pussy, clearly enjoying the sensation as much as Clarke.

 

Clarke is so wet Lexa starts to slip out of her but Clarke clenches and tightens around her, desperately holding onto the amazing feeling of Lexa inside of her.

 

“Feel good?” Lexa whispers against the corner of her mouth.

 

Clarke’s lips and mouth feel dry from where Lexa had neglected them in favor of her neck and breasts and can only nod, bucking forward to keep Lexa’s slipping fingers deep inside of her. Taking mercy on her, Lexa adds a third and they both sigh in relief, finally finding that delicious, tight stretch.

 

“Oh shit,” Clarke whispers, voice cracking in a whimper at the end when Lexa starts to push deeper into her, “god, that feels so good.”

 

Lexa nods in agreement and presses sloppy, open mouthed kisses up Clarke’s neck until Clarke bows her head and catches her lips. They try to stay connected, but with Clarke’s head falling back every few seconds, gasping and keening, they settle for Lexa pressing kisses wherever she can reach, usually a cheek or forehead or Clarke’s favorite, the underside of her jaw.

 

They get into a rhythm, Lexa settling on a quick, but deep thrusting motion that moves Clarke’s whole body. The stretch is finally tight enough, the thrusting deep and hard enough, to tug at the inner portion of Clarke’s clit where it connects behind her vaginal wall. She’s never come like this before, but she feels the unmistakable build coming on faster and harder than ever before and doesn’t question it.

 

In a moment of crazed desire, she releases Lexa’s hip from her death grip and thrusts her hand between them and straight into Lexa.

 

Fuck, Clarke,” Lexa gasps in surprise. They simultaneously surge forward, knocking into each other messily and they laugh breathily until their moans overtake them again.

 

Clarke begins thrusting quickly, her thumb coming up immediately to rub at Lexa’s swollen clit, trying to catch her up. Lexa let’s out a long, stuttering moan that Clarke has to actively breathe through to keep from coming at the glorious sound.  Lexa’s hand stills, momentarily distracted, but before Clarke can miss it Lexa moves again with renewed fervor.

 

Clarke knows her body well enough to know that she’s seconds away from bliss but she clenches and tries to hold on anyways, desperate to stave off the inevitable a little longer, wanting to get Lexa closer.

 

Her plan goes to absolute shit when Lexa takes a play out of her book and brings her thumb up to graze across her clit. Her orgasm hits her suddenly and violently sending her into a groundless abyss she doesn’t feel prepared for. It’s strong, stronger than she’s ever felt, yet somehow it feels just beyond reach, throbbing and burning but not quite satisfying. She’s confused, frustrated and yet high on immense pleasure all at the same time and she has no idea how to handle it. She let’s out a needy moan and pushes hard into Lexa’s hand, searching for more.

 

When Lexa’s snakes her free arm underneath her back and pulls her up, pressing their chests flush, Clarke explodes. She jerks and cries out, burying her face in the crook of Lexa’s neck and trembles so hard it almost aches as she finally comes, reaching the satisfaction she’d been clawing at. The build-up had been so strong, stronger than any orgasm she’s had, she’d mistaken it for a climax. She almost laughs at the way her body had known it wasn’t the finale before her mind did, but there’s no time to reflect when she notices Lexa panting in her ear, grinding her pelvis into her hand. She feels hazy and uncoordinated, still pulsing and shaking from her orgasm, but Lexa is so beautiful in her quiet pleasure, almost shy in the soft noises she chokes back, that Clarke can’t help but do everything she can to get the swimmer to the same bliss she’d experienced.

 

When Lexa comes just seconds later she freezes with her open lips pressed to Clarke’s, the smallest hint of a whine vibrating through them. Clarke nips and licks at the sound, smiling at the ring of muscle clenching against her fingers and wanting desperately to be able to pause and rewind the moment, experiencing it again and again.

 

Clarke is still panting and coming down from their collective high when Lexa seems to gather herself and begins pumping into Clarke again, lazy and slow, not after anything more, just clearly enjoying the feel of it. Clarke enjoys it too, so lets her keep going, appreciating the way it keeps her feeling full after such a strong high. She skirts her fingers up Lexa’s arms and shoulders, tracing the ridges of her muscles and marveling at the soft, thin hairs standing on end. “Are you cold?” She whispers, voice tired and raw.

 

Lexa shakes her head and kisses her. Somewhere in the back of her haze-filled mind, Clarke know it’s a bit strange. The way they lay there quietly, staring into each other’s eyes, Lexa still buried deep inside of her, thumb massaging gently at Clarke’s clit, coaxing out the last of the aftershocks of her orgasm in between soft kisses and whispered compliments. Lexa’s supporting hand is steady beside Clarke’s head, shifting occasionally to allow her to dip down and nuzzle against Clarke’s cheek or hair. It’s all a little strange because it’s soft and intimate and familiar in a way that two strangers shouldn’t be able to be.

 

“Hey,” Lexa whispers, pulling Clarke back out of her thoughts.

 

Clarke smiles and presses up to kiss at her questioning lips, reassuring and urging her onwards. “I’m okay,” she smiles and grips at Lexa’s hips, pulling her back down from where they’d started to float away.

 

“You sure?”

 

Clarke nods and wonders when the famous Olympian above her had gone from lusty and heated to overwhelmingly gentle and attentive, her every move careful and soft and filled with the desire to please. “I’m more than okay,” she mutters.  

 

Lexa kisses her on the forehead and Clarke hums, happier than she ever thought she’d be going into this. Lexa pulls out of her one finger at a time and with their eyes connected, licks at them, eyes fluttering closed in obvious enjoyment. Clarke clenches at the sight, feeling her cheeks and neck heat up in the beginnings of arousal. Her own eyes flutter close as she attempts to get ahead of it, wanting to go again but feeling the heavy, intoxicating pull of sleep settling heavily in her body with each passing second.

 

“Sleepy, sweetheart?”

 

Clarke’s eyes fly open at the term of endearment and something lovely flips in her chest. She smiles and nods, head falling back further into the pillow.

 

“I’ve got the room for the night. Told my roommate to make herself scarce,” Lexa says, her still-damp hand coming up to stroke at Clarke’s still-flushed cheek, “why don’t you rest now.”

 

Clarke nods, “I just need a minute. Then I can go.” She tries to be light about it but she doesn’t miss the way her stomach drops, always hating this part. She’s never been good at shaking the shame she feels when she’s kicked out after a quick sexual tryst and something about this woman, stroking almost lovingly at her face, makes it seem even harder.

 

Instead of nodding though, Lexa frowns and leans down to leave a quick kiss on her lips. “You don’t have to leave, love. You can sleep here.”

 

Clarke gulps, because oh. Oh this is bad. Her eyes widen ever so slightly as she stares at Lexa’s sweet eyes, the hue having slowly returned to a bright, emerald green. Her stomach squirms nervously as she struggles to ignore the feelings she knows she shouldn’t be feeling for a stranger, especially a stranger who just gave her the best orgasm of her life. She nods slowly anyways because, truth be told, she’s so exhausted she’s not sure she could have made it back to her hotel even if Lexa had asked her to.

 

She doesn’t think she’ll be able to sleep with the nerves sparking in her stomach and thoughts surging through her mind, but then Lexa rolls onto her side and pulls her into a bear hug of sorts. An arm snakes around her waste and the other goes around her shoulders, holding her in a way she can’t remember being held before. The breath that leaves her when Lexa kisses her forehead and gives her a quick squeeze is thin and shuttery. As if reading her clearly and trying to comfort her, Lexa brings a hand to the nape of her neck and alternates between scratching at her scalp and carding through her hair.

 

She’s teetering on the brink of sleep when she feels Lexa shift and lean down, pressing a whisper of a kiss into her hair. A wave of warmth and affinity surges through her and she pulls back just enough to capture Lexa’s lips in a soft, lingering kiss. “I’m so proud you,” she says when she breaks apart to breathe, “you made America so proud.” It sounds silly coming out of her mouth and she almost regrets it, but then she hears Lexa’s breath hitch and when she looks up, the swimmers eyes are shiny and wide.

 

“Thank you,” Lexa whispers, her voice the softest Clarke’s heard all night. Clarke reaches up and strokes at the sharp, high curve of Lexa’s cheek bone, loving the ability to feel and be so tender. There’s something almost sad about Lexa now that she’s really paying attention and she feels a fierce tug to love and protect her, at least for the night.

 

She nestles back down into Lexa’s hold and kisses her cheek, fingers grazing ever so slightly across the jut of her collar bone. She’s still mesmerized by all the muscles stretching beneath Lexa’s tan skin and wants to explore them all, taking in the way they flex and give with her breathing, the bumpy or smooth texture of them depending on the area of her body, and most of all she really wishes she could see them up close in action, not on some grainy television. “You’re incredible, you know that right?” She murmurs.

 

Lexa chuckles sleepily and shakes her head, “anyone can swim, Clarke.”

 

“Not like you,” she mutters, fingers tracing the Olympic rings tattoo just above Lexa’s heart.

 

Lexa stays silent, hand absentmindedly still stroking into Clarke’s hair.  

 

“Do you think you’ll retire?” Clarke asks, suddenly feeling like she needs to know everything there is about this athlete, wanting to be a part of her past and present and future, wanting to understand the inner workings of her accomplishments and her plans, but knowing with growing disappoint at the back of her mind that she is just another fly on the wall.

 

She expects some kind of quick, cookie cutter response the swimmer might give to a reporter, but Lexa hums like she’s actually deliberating and her fingers still in her hair. They start up again after a moment and Clarke swoons when Lexa kisses the top of her head and sighs in preparation for an actual answer.

 

“Maybe after the next Games. I think I’ve got another in me. Maybe two.” She pauses, then pulls back to get a better look at Clarke, looking almost weary. “Please, ah—I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t repeat that. I shouldn’t really be talking about it to, you know, anyone who isn’t my coaches until I make an official statement.”

 

Clarke nods vigorously and presses up to kiss her as if that will assure her better than anything. And it seems to because Lexa smiles easily and pulls Clarke back close. “Between you and me though,” she mutters, “I’d like to at least do another. I’m only twenty-four, why quit just because a few records were broken, you know?” 

 

Clarke nods and kisses Lexa’s tattoo once, twice, and then nuzzles into her. “I know I’d kill to see you swim again.” Oh for fuck’s sake. She closes her eyes in extreme annoyance at the fangirl in her having gotten the best of her, but Lexa doesn’t seem to mind. On the contrary, the swimmer hums and holds her a little tighter.

 

“I like the idea of you watching me swim,” she whispers.

 

Clarke swells and has to choke back the sigh or laugh or whatever it is that bubbles in chest at the admission.  “Oh yeah?” She barely manages to ask in an even tone.

 

“Hmm,” Lexa hums in assent, “I also like the idea of seeing you again.”

 

Christ. Clarke tingles in delight and wonders briefly if maybe she’d actually fallen asleep and is now dreaming.

 

“Does that sound okay to you?”

 

There’s a hint of hesitance, a smidgeon of vulnerability, in Lexa’s voice that startles Clarke because it’s the last thing she’d ever expected to hear in that silky smooth voice. She nods quickly and pulls back yet again to kiss her, thinking that even after so many she’d never tire of how warm and satiny soft Lexa’s lips feel. “More than okay,” she assures, a wide smile crossing her face before it disappears again under Lexa’s lips.

 

They kiss the sleepiness out of their bodies and it’s another several hours of Lexa making her cry out before Clarke is lying still again. Lexa is asleep already, one arm wrapped possessively, or maybe protectively, around Clarke’s waist, the other pressed between them where her fingers still rest against Clarke’s tingling and slightly aching center. It’s a good ache though, a sated ache that feels heavy and warm against the ghostlike pressure of Lexa’s fingers. She presses up and kisses the corner of Lexa’s slightly parted mouth before falling back to the slow rising and falling of her chest. Her heartbeat is strangely slow and somewhere between consciousness and sleep she remembers reading something about professional athletes and their slow resting heart rates. She listens to it for several moments, counting the beats until the room seems to grow darker and her eyes flutter shut.

 

 

  //

 

There’s something vaguely familiar tickling at her consciousness, settling on her cheek for a fleeting second before it moves to her temple, forehead, the corner of her mouth. She smiles when she realizes what it is and turns sleepily to catch Lexa’s lips. She feels heavy and warm still cocooned in the blankets and in the swimmer’s arms, but she pushes herself to wake, wanting to fully enjoy the way Lexa seems pressed to cover her in kisses.

 

Her eyes peek open with some effort and she blinks against the soft slanting morning light. It bathes Lexa in an angelic glow and it all feels unreal. Like maybe she’s dreaming, had dreamed it all starting last night, and had yet to wake up from some undoubtable alcohol-fueled blackout. She half expects to suddenly be jolted awake and find herself slumped over at the bar of the US Celebration party house, still a little drunk, shorts too tight into her bent waist and shoes god knows where.

 

But Lexa whispers “Good morning, gorgeous,” against her lips and when she opens her eyes, she’s not drunk, her body is deliciously clothes free and her shoes are…still god knows where. She smiles and stretches, arching up into Lexa and reveling in the sound of the swimmer’s soft chuckle.    

 

“How’d you sleep?”

 

Clarke hums and toys with a strand of Lexa’s hair before she leans up and kisses her, whispering “good” into the curve of Lexa’s smile. But then something dark and uncomfortable hits her and she startles further awake. She feels like an intruder, like a fool lost inside a false hope and draws inward slightly, shying from Lexa’s touch. “What time is it?” She asks quietly, eyes dropping and avoiding.

 

Lexa yawns and grunts out a long stretch before rolling over to check the clock on the bed side table. “Almost nine,” she says, her voice still raspy from sleep and oblivious to Clarke’s sudden panic.

 

“Shit, I’m sorry,” Clarke hisses, pulling away when the swimmer turns back around, “I should go.” She scrambles to untangle herself from the sheets and huffs in frustration when she just makes it worse.

 

“Whoa, hey, hey,” Lexa grabs at Clarke’s face and stills her with gentle brushes of her thumb across her cheek, her eyes are wide and concerned and maybe even a little scared. Clarke feels frantic and confused, not used to not being kicked out in the morning and unsure how to continue. “What’s wrong?” Lexa asks, a spectrum of micro expressions flitting across her face so quickly it makes Clarke’s head start to spin.  Lexa leans over and presses a shy and tentative kiss to the corner of Clarke’s mouth, gentle and testing and concerned. The tension in Clarke dissipates and she settles, her mind quieting and head slowing so that when Lexa tries again, Clarke turns and catches her lips.  It’s chaste at first, but Lexa nudges her with her nose, hot breath dancing across her face and Clarke moves to deepen it.

 

The kiss is slow and sound and strangely loving while Clarke tries to push aside her thoughts of insecurity.

 

“Why were you going to leave?” Lexa asks, pulling away to hook her hand around Clarke’s hip and draw her closer.

 

“I just don’t want to monopolize your time.”

 

Lexa hums in disapproval and kisses her chastely but earnestly. “I enjoy your company.”

 

“I don’t know why,” Clarke chuckles sardonically before she can stop herself.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Clarke toys with the top of the sheets and sighs. “I just…don’t know why someone like you would enjoy someone like me,” she says in whisper that tries and fails not to tremble.

 

“What do you mean someone like me?”

 

Clarke snorts and nods towards Lexa. “Like…you. An Olympian. The Olympian. America’s hero, the best swimmer in the world... shall I continue?”

 

Lexa laughs and goes back to her cheek, stroking, a few quick kisses just barely peppered across her face.  “Anyone can learn to swim, Clarke,” she mutters but Clarke shakes her head.

 

“Not like you.”

 

“Yes, like me. It’s just about hours. Hours and hours in the pool and not having anything else to lose. You though,” she pauses and kisses her. “God, Clarke, you’re exquisite.”

 

And oh boy, Clarke tries. She really, really tries, but when she chuckles it comes out as more of a choked sob and her vision blurs.

 

“Oh sweetheart,” Lexa sort of gasps, her lips coming to kiss at the tear track on Clarke’s cheek which only makes her eyes water harder, “you are so, so beautiful. And funny. God, you’re funny. And you’re sweet and caring and to be frank I’m not sure how we got here because when I saw you last night and my jaw hit the floor I thought for sure you’d send me on my way once I finally got the courage to go talk to you.”

 

Clarke laughs and wipes at her eyes, feeling embarrassed but a lot lighter. “I’m sorry, I’m just not use to this.”

 

Lexa frowns and cocks her head to the side, “what are you used to?”

 

Shrugging, Clarke relaxes back into the sheets and rubs at her forehead, the faintest hint of a hangover headache ticking the nerves there. “Being alone,” she finally mutters.

 

You? But you’re so…lovely.”

 

Clarke weakly pushes at Lexa’s chest and smiles, shaking her head. “And yet I seem to manage to get left a lot.”

 

Lexa sputters and shakes her head almost angrily. “Idiots,” she mutters. But then she seems to deflate when she sighs and rolls onto her back. She pulls Clarke with her and then on top of her and Clarke has to silence the mew that comes when Lexa starts massaging at her scalp. “But I know the feeling,” the swimmer almost throws away as if not really meaning to say it out loud.

 

Clarke can’t help Lexa’s tragic past from seeping into her mind at the soft admission; the traumatic death of Lexa’s parents, her swimming for hours to survive after a tragic boat crash and how that led to her prodigious abilities and career. The stories had been plastered all over TV for months leading up to the Olympics.  If she remembers correctly, Lexa was eleven at the time, in and out of foster care until she finally found her place in the pool. She’d watched with wonder, cried with the old photographs of the boat wreckage, the family photos put into greyscale for effect.

 

Lexa’s story was extraordinary, really, becoming a national champion just a few years after the accident, internationally ranked and sponsored in her young teens, allowing her to become emancipated and escape the foster care system. In the videos it all seemed so glamorous and triumphant, but now that she’s up close, lying there with her head on Lexa’s chest looking up at the clenched jaw and distant eyes of the swimmer, she can only imagine how alone she’d been. She wonders if Lexa even likes swimming, if it had been a fun outlet for her as a child, or if it was just a means of survival.

 

The thoughts tug hard at the knot in her throat as she brings her lips to the underside of Lexa’s chin, then her jaw, her pulse point, cheek and everywhere else she can reach. “I like your company too, Lexa,” she whispers.

 

The shaky little breath Lexa lets out and the way her eyes tremble shut when they kiss makes Clarke swell inside, her hands suddenly everywhere in an attempt to love and soothe and show. You’re not alone. You’re not alone. “You’re not alone,” she shutters out just before Lexa’s tongue licks its way into her mouth.

 

When Lexa rolls on top of her the weight is nice. She’s all lean muscle, big and solid but she gives in all the right ways and Clarke feels safe rather than smothered under her. As Lexa’s hands grazes down her stomach, she barely manages to whisper “I have to meet Octavia at noon,” before the swimmer slips her hand between her legs, catching Clarke’s gasp with a kiss before breaking into smirk and saying, “that’s plenty of time.”

Chapter Text

Clarke runs into the main hall of the Olympic Village, her hair falling slightly out of her French bun, but otherwise looking nicely done up despite the fact that she’d sprinted all the way from her hotel across the village. She apologizes profusely to Octavia as she stumbles through the doors, her friend looking startled and bewildered but overwhelmingly relieved to see her.

 

“Clarke! Where’ve you been?”  

 

Clarke waves her hand around, pointing at her chest and then holding up her index finger until she manages to catch her breath enough to talk.  “I’m so sorry, O. I got…caught up. I didn’t make you late did I?” She gasps in between sucking wind and grabbing at her cramping side. 

 

Octavia shakes her head and tries to hold back the smirk on her face at Clarke’s extreme lack of fitness. “No, you’re fine,” she says,  “still waiting on Bell, anyways. Seriously though, where’ve you been?”

 

“I—I was just, you know, I was around…”

 

Octavia’s brow arches so high it almost recedes into her hairline, but a rushing Bellamy saves Clarke from anymore questions when he comes huffing up to them and claps Clarke on the back. “Griff! You made it, good. O thought you might’ve run off with some hot athlete or something, never to be seen again.”

 

Clarke nearly short circuits at the words but somehow manages to laugh innocently, pressing past the siblings before either of them can see the monstrous blush seeping into her cheeks. “Well we’re all here, so we should go now, right?” She throws over her shoulder, cursing under her breath and hoping to high heaven she won’t get asked about it later.

 

She can hear them behind her as they head towards the large hall just off the lobby where the Family and Friends luncheon is being held, a chance for athletes and their guests to meet fellow Team USA Olympians and their guests. Clarke had been reluctant at first, unsure of whether she liked the sound of being trapped in a room with thousands of people she didn’t know. Octavia had assured her the luncheons were split up by event and it’d only be about a hundred people she didn’t know.

 

Her stomach flips nervously at the wall of sound that forces out towards them when the hall doors are opened and she hesitates, steps stuttering just enough for Octavia to notice.

 

“You okay?” The younger Blake asks, falling into step beside her.

 

Clarke pulls out her phone and looks down at it, the excuse old and worn but the only one she can muster in the moment. “Yeah…I just. I need to return a phone call real quick. Is that okay?”

 

Octavia looks like she might argue at first, but then she squeezes Clarke’s shoulder and nods. “Yeah, just join us when you’re done. I think we’re at the table towards the back left corner.”

 

Clarke watches the pair go, wondering if she’ll actually end up going in or just bail the way every part of her body is demanding her to do. This is why she’s here, though, she reminds herself, to get out of the house. To distract herself, to move on, to do anything but what her body demands her to do. She leans against a wall of windows in the lobby and closes her eyes to the warm rays of sun shining through. She tries to calm herself.

 

A small smile creeps onto her face when she thinks of her morning, Lexa’s strong but gentle fingers mapping out every sweep and curve of her body. Her lips on her thighs and then deliciously higher. Lexa’s sweet eyes and gentle way about her fill Clarke to the brim with feelings long forgotten, feelings she didn’t think herself capable of anymore, and though thoughts of the swimmer make her feel instantly more settled, she now tingles with a subtle but fierce longing to see Lexa again.

 

She startles when a door across the lobby flies open and echoes through the atrium, a jumble of hushed but angry voice following suit. She turns, only remotely interested in following the sounds until her eyes catch on a familiar figure. She’s upright in a heart beat when she recognizes Lexa’s tall, striking figure looking amazing in grey dress pants and a white-button up rolled at the sleeves. She would have chuckled at the coincidence had she not been so stunned.  

 

She watches as the swimmer and a man several inches shorter than her stall in the doorway arguing animatedly in whispered tones until Lexa’s palm collides with the wall and she turns away from the man. With her hands on her hips, head shaking as the man continues to talk at her, Lexa sparks and ignites with every hard steps she takes in her pacing. Clarke watches on, her eyes glued to the swimmer, waiting for what exactly she doesn’t know, but feeling the need to be there, to be available or something.

 

She sees the moment Lexa gives up, her head hanging in defeat and nodding with a hand raised until the man pats her on the arm and leaves. She’s in the middle of deliberating whether or not to make her presence known when Lexa does it for her, looking up and connecting their eyes from across the room. She may be imagining it, but Clarke swears Lexa looks relieved when their gazes meet. Lexa immediately turns and starts walking towards her, a small smile on her face.

 

There’s a knot in Clarke’s throat she’s trying to swallow when Lexa reaches her, and she’s not sure who initiates it, but they’re hugging as soon as they’re close enough.

 

“Hey,” Lexa breathes into her hair.

 

“Hey back,” comes Clarke’s muffled reply after she, in a moment of brash confidence, plants a kiss to the crook of Lexa’s neck. Lexa’s strokes her back in response and Clarke can feel some of the swimmer’s tension dissipate. “Are you okay?” She adds.

 

Lexa sighs and pulls away, her hands slipping down to rest lightly on her hips. “Yeah. Just…politics.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“There’s this thing,” Lexa starts, hand coming up to tuck a stray blonde hair back into place before returning to Clarke’s hip, “Team USA does every time that’s like a lunch for athletes and their families to sort of thank them for showing support and what not. They used to be optional and up to the athlete’s discretion, but I got an email this morning after you left saying I was expected to show up.” Lexa shrugs and shakes her head as if thinking in annoyance.

 

Clarke nods, but doesn’t say anything, waiting for Lexa to continue because she can see that there’s more in the way that Lexa’s eyes flick back and forth rapidly looking at everything and nothing. She wants to sooth the obvious distress in her, but doesn’t know how, so she gives Lexa’s biceps a gentle squeeze where she’d let her hands settle and raises on her tiptoes to give her a quick kiss.

 

Lexa surprises her by leaning into it, her hand coming up to Clarke’s cheek to keep her close for a moment, the pair of them both forgetting about their worries for a glorious several seconds. When Lexa pulls back, breathless and flushed, Clarke thinks she’s never seen anyone more beautiful in her life.

 

It makes Lexa’s next words all the more devastating. “I never go to these, because I don’t have any family or friends,” the swimmer says simply, quietly. “And it’s awkward. I don’t need people’s pity, you know? I’ve been handling myself on my own for over a decade. But when I go to these things, it’s like I’m the pitiful orphan kid all over again. So I don’t normally go, but I was told I have to go this year because of... I don't know. My heightened press, I guess. They said people were expecting to see me, but—“ Lexa goes from quiet to flustered in a flash and Clarke rushes to soothe again, her hands rubbing up and down the swimmer’s long arms. Lexa huffs out a breath and stills, “—Who wants to watch me pathetically have nowhere to go or no one to sit with? That’s not what the people want. I can’t give them what they expect of me if I don’t have it.”

 

“You do have it,” Clarke says quietly.

 

“I don’t,” Lexa shakes her head, “I don’t have family or friends here. I don’t have a big happy family to take pictures with and introduce to other people. I’m not—I’m not the perfect American sweetheart they want me to be, Clarke. I’m –I’m just not.”

 

Clarke kisses her again, she kisses Lexa until Lexa pulls away to suck in a shaky breath.“You’re perfect, Lexa,” she murmurs, “and you do have friends here. I’m your friend.”

 

Lexa’s eyes shine and she looks stunned for a moment, then full of gratitude, and Clarke likes it. She likes this effect on Lexa, likes feeling needed and appreciated and wanted. Lexa opens her mouth like she’s going to say something but the moment is ruined when an errant photographer spots Lexa and runs over, his mouth going a mile a minute as he snaps picture after picture, quickly joined by a crowd of journalists and other press members alerted by the commotion. Lexa steps in front of Clarke, blocking her, and addresses them quickly in an effort to shoo them off, but they’re relentless.

 

Clarke feels the panic strike immediately, the running and the yelling colliding in her brain as the round, white light of the flashing cameras transports her back to the worst night of her life. She sees headlights and hears the sickening crunch of metal. Her father’s shouts melding with her screams. She tastes metallic in her mouth and feels the front of her dress grow thick and wet over her stomach as her breathing quickens painfully in her chest.

 

She floats in and out of reality, Lexa’s back coming into focus only to be replaced by memories of wreckage and darkness and ambulances until nothing about her surroundings is rooted in reality anymore. She’s laying in the middle of a highway looking up at the star littered sky. She can feel the jagged piece of metal in her stomach because it keeps her from being able to turn and see where her father’s shouts are coming from.

 

She’s been here before, enough times to know that it’s coming. In just a few more seconds she’ll hear the screeching of tires, she’ll hear the car plow into her wrecked one, she’ll hear something loud and heavy sliding towards her, and then it will all go silent. The next sound she’ll hear will be the beeping machines that she wakes up to a week later and then the silence where her father’s voice used to be.

 

But none of that comes. Just as she feels her body tense in preparation, Lexa’s voice tickles at her mind like a whisper somewhere in the distance. It grows louder and louder until she recognizes her name and Lexa’s voice swims into view. Lexa’s hands feel cold against her burning cheeks and it shocks her back into reality so quickly she doesn’t realize at first that she’s on the floor.

 

Lexa is wiping at cheeks repeatedly and she realizes she must be crying. She tries to take a breath to stop her tears but it comes out tight and short and then she’s panting in panic because she can’t breathe.

 

“Hey, hey, don’t panic, it’s okay,” Lexa says moving her hands down to take Clarke’s. She squeezes them rhythmically, and Clarke is surprised by how quickly it helps, how it grounds her. “You’re safe, Clarke. You’re safe.” Lexa’s voice calm, almost practiced in nature, and she shields Clarke with her back effortlessly so that the people still crowded around them can’t see her. She’s still panting but when Lexa helps her up and leads her out of the lobby she can feel herself becoming more and more in touch with reality.

 

Octavia is by her side too, as is Bellamy, and she’s not sure when they got there, but it doesn’t matter. Bellamy lets her lean against his chest as Lexa turns to talk to Octavia who is nodding and gesturing worriedly. She hears Octavia say “no cars,” and then Lexa is back by her side.

 

“We’re going to get you back to your hotel room, okay?”

 

Clarke just nods and lets Bellamy help her back upright, swaying slightly from the ground that still feels like it’s slightly spinning.

 

Lexa wraps an arm around her next and before they turn to go, Octavia grabs Clarke’s cheeks in her hands and kisses her on the forehead. “I can go with you if you want…”

 

Clarke waves her off weakly and tries to smile, but she feels like lead and as if she’s perpetually on the brink of tears. “I’m fine,” she whispers, “go to the lunch. I’ll see you soon.”

 

"She turns to Bellamy who is watching her closely. "Go, I'm okay, really," she tells him as her head falls to Lexa’s shoulder and she shutters out a sigh. She can see both Blakes want to argue, but she’s tired and feeling fragile and just wants to lie down. 

 

“I need to lie down. I'll text you later, I promise. Go, enjoy” she musters.

 

She doesn’t watch them go when they finally do. She just rests against Lexa as they walk down the sidewalk, not processing much. Can’t process much. She tries to focus on the way the ground feels beneath her feet, tries to control her breathing, but they’re walking by a parking lot and every time a car rolls past she jumps.

 

“I’m sorry,” she thinks to mutter when Lexa’s hand squeezes her hip and she remembers she’s not alone.

 

“For what, Clarke? Everything’s okay,” comes Lexa’s still ever-calm voice. It’s slightly deeper than normal and a notch softer and it feels good to hear. It soothes over her firing nerves a little bit, but with that refresher comes the realization that she is still shaking and still struggling to find her breath.

 

“This isn’t how you imagine your morning, I’m sure,” Clarke says, and then “I—sorry, I need a second.” She stops and leans forward catch herself with her hands just above her knees. “I can’t breathe,” she pants.

 

Lexa doesn’t panic, just moves to Clarke and helps stand her up, “try to keep your torso elongated. Gives your lungs more room,” she says as she rubs large circles into Clarke’s back. “Here, let’s sit.” She guides her to a nearby bench and sits her down, her hand still attached to Clarke’s back.  Clarke puts her face in her hands and tries to breathe, but her grasp on the present feels like it’s slipping the tighter she tries to hold on. It scares her. That had been her worst flashback in a while and she desperately doesn’t want to go back to that place.

 

“Clarke?”

 

Clarke leans back into the back of the bench and removes her hands. They shake as they come down until Lexa grabs them and squeezes again. “You’re okay,” she says. “You’re safe.”

 

“I just feel like I can’t—I can’t settle. I don’t know…I—it’s not usually this bad.”

 

“That’s okay. That’s normal.” 

 

Clarke looks up at Lexa with wide eyes, the realization hitting her that she is probably not alone in these kinds of experiences, given Lexa’s history.

 

“Do you take medicine?” Lexa asks.

 

Clarke nods but then her heart sinks. “I forgot it in my room and I didn’t take it this morning because, well…” she smiles and Lexa chuckles, nodding. Her hand comes up to massage Clarke’s neck and she leans over, kissing her temple.

 

“What do you take?” She asks when she draws back.

 

“Sertraline. 50mg.”

 

Lexa wordlessly removes the charcoal grey satchel from her back and digs through it, first pulling out a power bar, then a Gatorade, then a prescription bottle. “If you’d like, I take 25mg, you can have two of mine.”

 

Clarke blinks, again taken aback both by Lexa’s shared experience and her kindness. She nods and takes everything Lexa offers, including her shoulder to lean on after she’s swallowed everything and taken a few deep breaths.

 

“Let’s play a game,” Lexa suddenly says, sitting upright.

 

Clarke is slow to rise, and if it were anybody else she’d say she’s too tired to play a game. And that’s true, but somehow she finds herself unable to say no to the swimmer, so she sits up and nods. “Okay. What game?”

 

“How about ‘I spy?’”

 

I spy? Really?” Clarke laughs and shakes her head when Lexa smiles and nods and insists that she go first. “Okay fine, you go first. But prepare to lose.”

 

“I’m not good at losing,” Lexa cracks with a wink and Clark is surprised by how relieving it is to hear Lexa’s cocky confidence from the night before.

 

 

 

It hits her about halfway through the third round how amazing Lexa is at this—not the ‘I Spy,’ though she is pretty good at it. No, what is so stunning about her is that she is effortless in her comfort. For the past ten minutes she had Clarke focusing on tangible things, real things right in front of her, below her, around her. Forcing her to live in this present, forcing her to slow down and focus on what made her feel real and alive. Effecting extinguishing her panic attack.

 

All in the guise of a simple, little game.

 

Her breathing is steady again, her heart rate back to a normal pace. She’s not sweating or shaking or jumping at every little sound. Instead, she is happy and at ease. Not only that, but she finds herself enjoying so many new discoveries about her surrounds, like the different greens of the trees around them, or the different murals on the sides of all the buildings. She's seen more shades of red in the last fifteen minutes than she has in days and for the first time in months she feels the itch to paint again.

 

It makes her cry. Suddenly and quietly. But she's not sad. In fact, she’s smiling and chuckling through her tears because this sweet, beautiful woman used a game to calm her down, a game so that she didn’t feel broken and like she needed fixing, and simultaneously helped her find her love of color again.

 

 “I’m sorry,” she chuckles and wipes at her eyes when Lexa leans in worriedly, the skin on her tan forehead turning into an accordion of sorts with concern. Clarke joins their hands and squeezes, letting Lexa know she’s okay. She sighs and looks up at her with wonder. “I just…how’d you know?”

 

“Know what?” Lexa asks, her voice maybe a little nervous, but still low and smooth.

 

“How’d you know ‘I Spy’ would work so well?” There’s a pause and it hit’s Clarke. “It works for you, doesn’t it?”

 

Lexa’s smile is almost imperceptible and a little sad she nods. “Keeps you present,” she mutters, “when the past is too much. You can do it yourself too…just make yourself look for something that would be a good one to pick if you were with someone else. Something small or hidden, you know, whatever. As longs as you really focus on finding something, it’ll help.”

 

Clarke studies her, wondering. “How often do you do it?”

 

Lexa stands and holds out her hand, helping Clarke to her feet. Clarke keeps her eyes trained on her, searching all the little flickers of emotion Lexa seems to try to suppress at every turn. But Clarke can see it. She can see the fear and that sadness that seeps into Lexa’s eyes when people ask her to remember her past. She can see the way the corners of her mouth want to tremble when she speaks about being alone. She says it doesn’t bother her, but Clarke knows better.

 

She sees the pride and the happiness there too. She sees it in the way she holds her shoulders, the way her jaw locks, not in anger, but in confidence. People talk about the mysterious, stoic swimmer that obliterates records and makes history every four years but is virtually unknown. Yet when Clarke looks at her, she sees everything there is to know about the swimmer. What makes her laugh, what makes her tick, what she likes and doesn’t like. What her thoughts are and what she wants. Maybe she remembers it from the way Lexa had moaned her name the night before, or maybe it’s just that it’s clear as day on the swimmer’s face, if one bothers to take a good look.

 

It’s why she knows the answer before Lexa says, “before every race.”   

 


 

 

She wakes up in Lexa’s arms, her breath warm on the side of her face. For a moment, in her sleepy haze, it’s almost as if the past several hours had never happened. It’s as if she’d fallen into bed with Lexa the night before, exhausted themselves together, and had only just woken up.

 

But there’s a weight in her chest when her eyes finally blink open, and it’s not the nice weight of Lexa’s arm slung over her like it had been this morning. This weight is heavier and darker as it sprawls through her body, twisting and churning. It’s faint, but it’s there, unmistakable in its familiarity. She turns her head to look at Lexa, hoping that it will help, hoping the reminder that she is not alone in a hospital bed will quell the thoughts pricking at her consciousness.

 

And it does. She stares at Lexa and feels herself start to settle, her chest filling with a warmth that forces out the dark weight. Lexa’s lips are parted in her sleep, and they’re chapped. She can’t remember feeling them being chapped when they’d kissed…again and again. But up close in the light of the late afternoon, she can clearly see the peaks and plateaus of hard, dry skin there. It’s endearing and young, and makes her think of snow days spent outside in the frosty air with her father as they made the world’s largest snowmen.  Though for Lexa, she imagines it’s the long days in the pool, soaked in chlorine, that does it. Lexa never had snow days with her father. May never have even built a snowman before. It makes Clarke ache so she leans forward and kisses her on the cheek, gently as to not wake her up.

 

Lexa stirs anyways. A small smile sliding onto her face despite her eyes remaining closed. “How are you feeling?” Her voice is raspy and slow and Clarke can’t help but kiss her at the sound of it. It draws a chuckle out of Lexa that Clarke, again, can’t help but kiss at.

 

They kiss and kiss until Clarke feels the unmistakable pressure of arousal building between her legs. Lexa’s hand goes under her shirt to cup at her breast before her eyes are even open and something about it makes Clarke laugh.

 

Lexa cracks one eye open and smiles. “What?” She whispers.

 

“Are you going to keep your eyes closed the whole time or am I about to be sleep fondled?”

 

Lexa’s eyes fully come open as she bursts out laughing, her head coming up to bury in Clarke’s chest. Clarke runs her hand through Lexa’s long waves mussed from sleep and can’t remember exactly the last time she felt this happy.

 

 


 

 

Clarke should've known a late lunch with Octavia would be a bad idea, but she felt bad for missing the luncheon. And after a nap and some...cuddling, she felt significantly better and owed her some time. Until Octavia opened her mouth. 

 

“You’re sleeping with her?! With Lexa Woods?! Clarke, you gotta be shitting me!”

 

Clarke just eyes Octavia amusedly as she chews her salad slowly and enjoys the way the warm, tropical air brushes through occasionally.

 

Clarke.

 

“Octavia, I’m eating,” Clarke finally says, grinning mischievously.

 

“Which brings me to my next point. Why are you here if you could be there eating something else…namely, Lexa Woods.

 

Clarke chucks a piece of lettuce at her and laughs. “She’s at a press conference. I’ll see her tonight. Now, can you drop it?”

 

“Yeah, you’re gonna see her tonight because you’re sleeping with her! Lexa Woods!

 

Clarke huffs and drops her fork into her bowl so that she can give Octavia her full attention. And by that she means a good, hard glare. “No, I’m going to see her tonight because she’s taking me to the boardwalk for a late dinner. Okay? And stop saying her name like that, it’s weird.”

 

 “Like what?”

 

Clarke wipes her mouth with her napkin and sinks into the back of her chair, her sunglasses coming down over her eyes. “Like she’s some kind of alien or something.”

 

Clarke” Octavia sits up quickly and leans onto the table grabbing Clarke’s hands, “You’re sleeping with Lexa freaking Woods, the most decorated female Olympian of all time! Wake up, sister. She is some kind of alien, and you’re her Katy Perry.”

 

Clarke snorts out a laugh and pulls her hands out of Octavia’s grasp. “Katy Perry?”

 

“Yeah, you know, that song, ‘ET’? I don’t know, it’s like a million years old, it sounded good in my head.”

 

“Most things do, O.”

 

Octavia goes to smack her but is interrupted when Bellamy shows up with a pretty brunette with a killer body and clears his throat. “Ladies,” he greets.

 

“Brother. ‘Bout time.”

 

“Hey, Bell” Clarke greets with a smile, “who’s this?”  

 

“This is Raven. Raven, this is Clarke, a good friend, and that’s my sister, Oct—“

 

“Holy shit, Raven Reyes, you are amazing,” Octavia bursts out, thrusting her hand forward to shake. “That gold medal final was insane, your left hook is insane! I’m a huge fan.”

 

Raven chuckles and shakes her hand. “I could say the same to you. Women’s soccer killed it. You’re a midfielder, right?”

 

Octavia nods and sits with a glare when Clarke tugs on her shirt and nods towards her chair. “Chill out,” Clarke mouths.

 

“So, what were we talking about?” Bellamy asks, grabbing Clarke’s water to sip from once he sits down. He ignores the way she good-naturedly smacks his hand away.

 

“Oh nothing,” Octavia muses, mischief lacing her tone.

 

“Octavia…” Clarke warns.

 

Bellamy and Raven look back and forth between the two of them until Octavia smirks at Clarke and says, “Just talking about how Clarke is sleeping with Lexa Woods…”

 

“Octavia!” Clarke smacks her friend and rolls her eyes, trying to hide her blush in her hands.

 

“Holy shit, Lexa Woods? Like the Lexa Woods?” Raven gasps, sitting up in her chair.

 

“That’s the one,” Octavia says, then shoots Clarke a self-satisfied smile. “See. Told you.”

 

Bellamy sits up and looks at her seriously. “Please tell me earlier today wasn’t some kind of rouse so you guys could go back and play hookie.”

 

The table goes quiet and the tension washes over them palpably.

 

“What the hell, Bell,” Octavia says quietly, her eyes leaving Clarke to shake her head at her brother.

 

“Well?” Bellamy asks, hard and unmoving.

 

“Are you serious?” Clarke hisses, “Yeah, I totally made up having a debilitating panic attack in front of a crowd of reporters who will no doubt plaster my face all over the fucking internet and the tabloids so that I could run off and play hookie with Lexa,” she spits, kicking her chair back and throwing her napkin onto the table as she stands. “What’s the matter with you?”

 

Bellamy sighs, realizing his mistake and goes to grab for Clarke’s wrist, but she yanks it away and grabs her purse. “I’ll text you later, O,” she mutters.

 

Octavia nods and squeezes her hand before Clarke turns to Raven. “So sorry, Raven. It was lovely to meet you, I hope to see you again sometime.”

 

Raven smiles weakly and murmurs out a “you too,” before Clarke storms off without bothering to look at Bellamy.

 

“Dude, what?” Is all Octavia can manage when she turns back to her brother.

 

Bellamy brushes away her lecture, knowing full well he screwed up. To his relief, Octavia lets it go with the promise that he’ll talk to Clarke later.  They finish lunch, quietly though not entirely awkwardly as Raven and Octavia hit it off well and leave Bellamy to stew in his guilt as they talk. When they’re done, they head further into town and explore until the sun starts to wane. As they’re walking back to the Village, Octavia pulls Bellamy aside and tells him to find Clarke and fix things, “now, Bellamy.”

 

And he does. Find her, at least. She’s in her hotel room and when she lets him in she looks stunning and surprisingly dolled up.

 

“Going somewhere?”

 

She stands with her hip cocked in the doorway, arms crossed. “Not that it’s any of your business, but yeah. I have a date in half an hour, so what do you want?”

 

He rubs the back of his neck with his hand and raises his other in a half-hearted shrug. “I messed up.”

 

 “Yeah, you did.” She’s upset, but no longer angry. “What was that all about?” She adds a little quieter, “It’s not like you.”

 

Bellamy leans against the door frame and crosses his arms. “I think I got jealous.”

 

She freezes. “Jealous? Of what? Lexa?”

 

He nods and it startles Clarke for a moment. They’d always been like siblings and if Bellamy was starting to have feelings for her, she didn’t know how to even begin to deal with that. He must see the panic in her eyes, because he quickly stands up right and shoves his hands in his pockets, not knowing what else to do with them.

 

“Not like that,” he assures her, “just…you always used to go to us when you were upset about your dad. And suddenly you preferred Lexa...it threw me off, that’s all. I let it get the best of me and…I’m sorry.”

 

“Bellamy,” there’s annoyance in her voice, but also a lot of care, so she steps forward and gently pokes him in the side so that he looks up, “I wasn’t upset about my dad. I had a panic attack. A bad one. And Lexa happened to be there. And yes, I preferred Lexa in that moment but not because of what you’re thinking. Lexa didn’t want to go to the luncheon in the first place. And I knew that you guys did, so I preferred to keep Lexa from the luncheon rather than you. It wasn’t personal, Bell.”

 

His jaw flexes with the information and he reminds her of Lexa in this moment, all of his hard, sharp angles but eyes soft and loving. “It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for her, though,” he mutters almost as an after thought.

 

“What?”

 

“It was the cameras that set you off, right?”

 

Clarke nods, eyes searching Bellamy’s face apprehensively.

 

“Well, they wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for her. They were taking pictures of her.”

 

Clarke feels it boil in her chest and she knows part of the anger is residual from her panic attack earlier. They always leave her moody and sensitive, but this, this was mostly Bellamy. A strange, new Bellamy that she didn’t like one bit. She feels herself want to rage, but clenches her fists instead and takes a deep breath.

 

“Bellamy, stop. They would have been taking pictures if it’d been you too. You’re all Olympians.”

 

“Not like her,” he states.

 

No, not like her, that’s true, Clarke thinks, a small smile forming in the corner of her mouth as she’s visited by a flash of pride. She takes his hand for a brief moment and squeezes before letting it go again. “Bell, you’re just going to have to trust me, okay? She’s good for me. For now. It’s all really new…like Day 2, new, okay? I’m gonna need you to try to reel it in a little while I figure this out.”  

 

He nods and Clarke can see he’s a mixture of frustrated, guilty and embarrassed. It’s a combination he wears often, but it’s endearing on him. Sometimes. She pulls him into a hug and settles there, his presence comforting through its familiarity, despite his inability to communicate well at times.

 

“I just worry about you,” he murmurs.

 

She nods against him then pulls away. “I know you do. You’re protective. Of me and Octavia. It’s just who you are, and I appreciate that. But sometimes it’s misplaced, okay? I’m a big girl. I’m not the eight-year-old from across the street anymore, I can take care of myself.”

 

It’s his turn to nod. He stands back and takes her in, whistling lowly. “Well. Lookin good, Griff.”

 

She smiles, “think so?”

 

“Yeah. Lexa’s a lucky a chick. Don’t get mad, as your figurative big brother, I’m supposed to say this. If she breaks your heart—“

 

“You’ll break your hand over her face, yeah yeah I get it.”

 

He scoffs, his hand coming to his chest in feigned insult. “I would not break my hand. It’s ‘break her face.’ That’s how the saying goes.”

 

“Mhm, I know it is, but we both know you’d cry like a little bitch if you punched her in the face.”

 

He ponders it, then shrugs, “Fair. But who wouldn’t. Girl’s got cheekbones for days.”

 

Clarke smiles as she imagines Lexa’s face and those wonderful cheekbones she’d peppered in kisses just hours earlier. She pushes him out the door minutes later and promises him she’ll be safe when she gets a text from the swimmer saying she’s downstairs.

 

“Be nice,” she tells him in the case that he sees Lexa in the lobby. He kisses her on the head and ruffles her hair before slipping into the hallway so that she can finish getting ready.

 

 


 

 

“So I saw Bellamy in the lobby earlier,” Lexa says, smiling, as she laces their hands together on their stroll after dinner.

 

“Oh god, was he nice?”

 

Lexa nods her head from side to side, deliberating. “Well, he said if I hurt you he’d break his hand on my face, so…”

 

Clarke looks at her stunned before they both laugh. Clarke leans into Lexa’s arm and puts her head against her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

 

“He cares about you. I get it. Big brothers are supposed to be protective.”  There’s something in Lexa’s voice that makes Clarke think she’s talking from experience. But she can’t remember hearing about any siblings. Lexa looks down at her and sees it in her eyes.

 

“I have a foster brother. Sort of. We lost touch when I emancipated myself.”

 

Clarke kisses her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s alright,” Lexa says, shrugging, “he did a lot for me growing up, so I get it. That’s all. Besides,” she cracks a grin, “Bellamy’s harmless.”

 

Clarke chuckles and nods, “he’s a lot of talk.”

 

“Most men are. It doesn’t faze me.”

 

“No?” Clarke teases and stops to turn and look at her. She loops her hands around Lexa’s neck and gets a good look at her. She’s beautiful like this, her hair down and brushed to the side, cheeks tinged pink from the day’s hot sun. Her eyes seem greener outside and she is radiant in her loose white button-up and jean shorts. She seems utterly relaxed, Clarke realizes, almost ethereal away from the hustle and bustle of the village where everyone knows her or demands to know her.

 

Lexa bops her on the nose gently with her finger and shakes her head. “C’mon, I wanna show you something.”

 

 

That something is the most stunning sunset Clarke has ever seen. She’d expected something like this when Lexa had taken her to dinner at the boardwalk, but it’s still breath taking, especially viewing it in the warm embrace of Lexa’s arms on a warm, sandy beach. She leans back against Lexa’s chest and places her hands on Lexa’s knees which bracket her waist. She turns for a kiss and Lexa meets her eagerly, but gently. It’s nice. Being with Lexa feels easy and familiar. Their touches and conversation are effortless. 

 

“Thank you for dinner,” Clarke murmurs with Lexa’s lips against her neck.

 

“Thank you for the company. I had fun.”

 

“I did too.” And so she did. Clarke can’t remember the last time she felt this light. A twinge of anxiety sparks and flares every once in awhile when she lets herself consider the possibility that Lexa is using her…that this is fake and fleeting and Clarke is just a distraction for the time. But Lexa’s hands or lips always seem to be right there, soothing her over without having to be asked.

 

She leans back into Lexa’s chest and quietly watches the waves roll in and out. It’s unbelievably relaxing and exactly what Clarke needs. It’s the whole point of this trip—to breathe, to move on, “to live a little.” For a moment she feels guilty for not spending more time with Octavia who was by her side the whole process, even in the most precious moments of her training. She’s the one who bought her ticket here and would take “no” for an answer.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Hmm?” Clarke turns and meets Lexa’s gaze, and smiles. “Yeah, I’m okay. Why?”

 

“You got really quiet on me.” Lexa leans forward and catches her on the cheek with a soft kiss.

 

“Just thinking.”

 

“Good thoughts?”

 

“Not bad, just…” Clarke shifts so that her back is against Lexa’s left knee and she can get a better look up at her, “I was thinking about Octavia.”  For a moment she worries Lexa will frown, perhaps even feel jealous and get annoyed that she would bring up another woman on their date. At the same time, the thought that she’s on a date, with Lexa, makes her flutter excitedly. But then she feels nauseous thinking that she may have just ruined it.

 

But Lexa surprises her again, though it shouldn’t be a surprise by now. Lexa just smiles and brushes Clarke’s wind-blown hair out her face and tucks in behind her ears. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Clarke searches Lexa’s face for any sign of annoyance, but she finds none in the openness there. She decides Octavia would want this for her, and in this moment, she wants nothing more than for Lexa to know that she has her full attention. “No, that’s okay” she murmurs, eyes scanning the beauty of Lexa’s face. She leans in and kisses her, but when she goes to draw back, Lexa hooks her hand around the back of Clarke’s neck and keeps her close.

 

Clarke’s hand tangles in Lexa’s hair as they kiss, gentle but earnest. Everything about them together seems this way. Soft but fervent. Tender but desperate. They are what the other has needed and wanted for so long it consumes them, but in the quietest of ways.

 

When they pull back, they’re both breathless and sporting dopey grins. “I like kissing you,” Lexa murmurs and Clarke hums. “I like kissing you too.”

 

They sit back and watch the hot pinks and purples melt into the dark horizon, the air getting slightly colder with the nighttime breeze. Lexa’s wraps her arms around Clarke’s waist and rests her chin on her shoulder. “Whatcha thinkin’ about now?”

 

Clarke’s places her arms over Lexa’s and rubs her thumbs over Lexa’s hands clasped at her stomach. “Does it scare you ever?”

 

“What, baby?”

 

Clarke smiles at the pet name, her eyes still looking out over the darkening waters. “The ocean. I can’t look at cars anymore with out feeling like I’m going to throw up.”

 

Lexa nods and kisses her on the cheek. “It used to. And when I started swimming, I used to get flashbacks in the middle of the pool. I’d think I was in the middle of the ocean again and I’d start screaming.”

 

Clarke turns showers Lexa’s lips with quick little kisses until Lexa grabs her cheeks and keeps her there.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Clarke says against her.

 

“It’s okay. It’s okay” Lexa repeats in a whisper as if telling more than just Clarke. Lexa seems unbreakable, and so strong. But there’s something warm and wet and…salty when their lips connect again. Clarke peels back and is stunned to see Lexa’s eyes wide and wet.

 

“Lexa—“

 

“I’m okay. I promise.”

 

Clarke brushes away Lexa’s tears and kisses the tracks they leave. “I know you are. But you don’t have to me. Not with me. Not if you don’t want to.”

 

When Lexa slips her tongue into her mouth and drags it across Clarke’s, it sends a sharp shock through Clarke. She flushes hard and feels her body temperature spike under Lexa’s roaming hands, and wants to fall into it. She forces herself to pull away and look hard into Lexa’s face.

 

“Lex—“

 

“I’m okay. I’m okay, I promise.”

 

Clarke doesn’t stop her when Lexa leans back in. She feels wanted and needed and it turns her on so fast she almost doesn’t have the mind to worry about Lexa. But she does, anyways. Lexa must feel her hesitate because she becomes more earnest in her kissing. “I want you,” she whispers and Clarke hears the desperate I need you in her tone.  Her hands are alight over Clarke’s body like she doesn’t want to miss a single inch. It makes Clarke feel so alive she could almost scream. Instead, she pushes harder into Lexa’s lips and pulls her closer.

 

She doesn’t know she wants it until it’s happening, but when Lexa’s palm slides down the slight paunch of her stomach and into the waistband of her shorts, she's right there with her. Her staccato moan vibrates through both of them.

 

“Is this okay?” Lexa whispers, her hands stilling until Clarke nods and leans back a little further into Lexa's knee to give her a better angle. She takes a quick look around, but the beach is empty and almost completely dark except for the moonlight and the distant lights of the boardwalk.

 

“We’re alone,” Lexa whispers, and kisses Clarke’s earlobe before moving back to her lips. Clarke nods and settles back, hips jutting up when Lexa’s hand moves again. She massages her first through the thin fabric of her underwear, wanting to work her up, but Clarke is already there. “You’re already wet,” she whispers, awe-filled and reverent.

 

Clarke nods and sighs, her hand trembling as it traces up Lexa’s arm and latches onto the back of Lexa’s neck. Her fingers are in constant movement, scratching and pulling in nervous energy.

 

Lexa senses it immediately and shushes her gently, “I’m right here,” she promises.

 

Clarke wants to tell her that she’s okay and that she just wants more, but Lexa already knows. Her fingers push Clarke’s underwear to the sides and runs a finger through her, head falling back slightly at the feeling. “I love touching you,” Lexa whispers when her head falls back forward and she peppers kisses across the side of Clarke’s jaw.

 

God, Lexa,” Clarke gasps, fingers tightening in Lexa’s hair.

 

It doesn’t take long. Lexa quickens her pace to match Clarke’s breathing until the gasps and whimpers spilling out of Clarke are non stop. Lexa doesn’t even have a chance to enter her before Clarke clamps down on her Lexa’s neck and cries out into the crook of it.

 

Lexa keeps her fingers pressed firmly to Clarke’s pulsing clit and holds her while she trembles through the aftershocks, Lexa’s lips ceaseless as she lets no patch of skin she can reach go unkissed.

 

Clarke feels wonderfully delicate in Lexa’s hold, like she can crack wide open and still be beautiful in Lexa’s eyes. She feels like she doesn’t have to be strong and put together with Lexa, doesn't have to force a smile onto her face for the sake of everyone else’s comfort.  She can cry and tremble and break and Lexa still looks at her the way she’d looked at her like she’s the moon and the stars.

 

Lexa fingers are still slightly sticky when they come up to guide Clarke’s face to hers. She kisses her once and pulls back like she means to say something, but then goes back in for another, and another until they’re both smiling too wide to continue. Lexa nudges her forehead into Clarke’s and closes her eyes. “Was that good for you?” It’s genuine and innocent in nature. Clarke’s first instinct is to chuckle because of course Lexa wouldn’t realize that she’s the best Clarke’s ever had, but she ops for a nod and grateful kiss instead.

 

Her hand goes to unbutton Lexa’s jeans to return the favor, but Lexa shakes her head and pulls her hand away. “It’s getting late,” she says quietly. Before Clarke can feel rejected, Lexa pulls her into a hug and kisses her cheek over and over, “I don’t want to be walking back to the village too late,” she explains and the nerves in Clarke’s stomach settle.

 

“But what about you?”

 

Lexa kisses her one last time. “That was for me. You’re beautiful when you come.”

 

Clarke blushes so hard she actually feels the heat in her cheeks, and she's glad for the dark so that she doesn’t have to look Lexa in the eyes. Lexa chuckles and stands, wiping her hands of what’s left of Clarke’s arousal and sand on her shorts before reaching down to help Clarke up. “Ready to head back?”

 

Clarke nods and takes her hands as they start the stroll back. She leans into her on occasion when the streetlights get sparse or a group of rowdy men walk too close as they pass. Lexa kisses the side of her head and pulls her in close every time.

 

“So…” Lexa starts but then seems to grow nervous.

 

It’s a new look on her that Clarke’s not used to. She squeezes Lexa’s hand to urge her on.

 

“When do you leave?”

 

Oh. Clarke’s stomach bottoms out so hard her breath stutters in her throat. This is all temporary, a dream locked into a few days on the other side of the world from her home, from her bleak and upsetting reality. “I---uh,” her exhale is thin and ragged as she tries not to think about what she has to return to.

 

“Hey,” Lexa stops and swerves in front of her, grabbing her hands, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just…I want to see you again, and I don’t know when you’re leaving.”

 

Clarke nods and tries to smile, but she knows it looks more like a grimace. God, she should be used to this by now. Saying goodbye or preparing for it. “I’m actually here for another week. Octavia wanted to do some sight seeing before going back home.”

 

“And where’s home for you?”

 

They turn back to walking, their hands joining again automatically. “LA. Well, technically Manitou Springs. That’s where my mom lives. It’s a tiny town in—“

 

“Colorado? Manitou Springs, Colorado?”

 

“Wha—yeah…how’d you know?”

 

Lexa beams and Clarke doesn’t miss the way there’s suddenly almost a skip to her step. “It’s right outside of Colorado Springs right? I’ve visited it once, very briefly before the last Games.”

 

What? Why?” Clarke chuckles and shakes her head, “there are like 4,000 people in my town. And nothing to do.”

 

“Well, I was only there for about an hour. We were going to the Cave of the Winds.”

 

“We?”

 

“My teammates. Before every Olympics I spend about two months at the OTC. That’s the Olympic Training Center. We had a day off and decided to go up there and check the caves out. We stopped in Manitou for lunch. It was lovely,” she turns to Clarke and taps her nose, “like you.”

 

Clarke teasingly knocks her hand away and chuckles, swaying into Lexa. “ It’s nice, I have to admit. And I do miss it sometimes. I haven’t been back since—“ her smiles falls and she goes quiet. “Not since the accident,” she mutters, angry at herself and sad all at the same time. She hates it, how her emotions betray her at every turn, swaying hard and fast in every direction so that she can’t catch them. “What kind of daughter leaves her grieving mother all by herself?” She covers her face in her hands and digs the heels of her palms into her forehead. “God, I’m such a mess.”

 

“Hey, hey, hey,” Lexa pries Clarke’s hands away from her face and holds them, “you’re grieving too, Clarke. It’s—it’s okay. I made plenty of…regrettable decisions after my parents died. It’s normal. You’re still healing.” She does almost a bob and weave sort of maneuver to catch Clarke’s dipping gaze. “Hey.” Clarke looks up at her, bottom lip bit to keep from trembling. “It’s okay.

 

“Okay,” Clarke just barely whispers. 

 

It’s a short walk the rest of the way back. It’s quiet but not uncomfortable with both of them lost in their own thoughts.

 

“Hey,” Clarke says, suddenly.

 

“Hey yourself.”

 

“When do you leave?”

 

“Two days from tomorrow. The team’s doing some sight seeing and then I’ve got to do a press tour. 21 cities in 30 days.”

 

“That sounds brutal,” Clarke quips, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. They stall at the door of Clarke’s hotel lobby, neither wanting the night to end.

 

“I’d like to see you after if it’s over. If that’s okay. I mean if you’re interested in that or, whatever…”

 

Clarke chuckles. There’s something that feels powerful about the mighty Lexa Woods shifting nervously in front of her. Powerful, and amusing. Lexa has no idea what she does to Clarke. To see her likes this, it gives her the confidence needed to take Lexa’s hand and pull her inside with her. Lexa watches her with searching eyes as Clarke leads her into the elevator, then down the hall. When she has her in her room, she gently walks her back into the door and lifts her shirt over her head. “Of course I want to see you after it’s over,” she finally says and Lexa lunges at her, exhaling in relief.

 

Clarke laughs as Lexa hoists her up and peppers her in happy kisses. “Oh thank god,” the swimmer gasps. Clarke kisses the smile off her face and when Lexa drops her on the bed, she immediately squirms backwards until her head hits the pillow. She crooks her finger at Lexa who doesn’t hesitate to drop on the bed and hover over her.

 

“I’m going to the waterfalls tomorrow morning with Octavia,” Clarke mutters as she unbuttons Lexa’s shorts.

 

“Okay, I can leave tonight. It’s no problem.” Lexa sits back on her heels and peels her shirt off.

 

Clarke moans and grabs Lexa’s sides, pulling her back down.  “You don’t have to leave. I just…I have to get up early,” she pants.

 

“So…I should only make you come like, a couple times then? Versus all night?”

 

Clarke laughs and pushes Lexa away only to grab her and pull her back. “I never said that.”

Chapter Text


 

Clarke really tries to be present when she goes off with Octavia to see the sights. For the most part she is. She laughs when she’s supposed to, squeals and gasps in awe at all the right times. Octavia’s teammates who tag along are nice and Bellamy’s new friend, Raven, is even nicer.

 

But Lexa made the mistake of giving Clark her number that morning after kissing her awake. So when Clarke’s not smiling through her shivers when they plunge into an icy waterfall basin, or screaming as she flies down a zip line, she’s looking at her phone.

The fact of the matter, is that Clarke misses her. Misses her smile and her voice, misses the way she listens when Clarke needs, or talks when Clarke can’t. She misses her when she shakes the entire bus ride up to the falls. She misses her almost to tears when she breaks down and calls Lexa and Lexa talks to her the rest of the way there. She misses her when she asks Clarke to describe the scenery and misses her when Lexa says it sounds beautiful.

 

She misses her when she hears Lexa stall her PR team multiple times and is a good ten minutes late to her press conference just so that she can stay on the phone with her. When she thanks Lexa as she clambers off the buss, she misses her to the point of aching when Lexa tells her she’s so proud of her and can’t wait to kiss her when she gets back. It does nothing to help her focus the rest of the day, but Octavia just teases her and tugs her along.

 

And it’s not that Clarke doesn’t enjoy herself. She does. Immensely, in fact, and can’t remember the last time she spent an entire day smiling. But Clarke misses being able to turn to Lexa and point out the starburst of color in a flower way up in the canopy. When they get into a small safari-looking vehicle to get to the top of the zip line, she misses playing ‘I Spy’ with her, because it’s just not the same alone. Not when she’s struggling to catch her breath. She misses her because taking pictures of the objects she finds to show Lexa later shouldn’t help so much, but it does, and that’s gotta mean something.

 

She misses this time away from her because even though she’s smiling, and having fun, she will see Octavia for the rest of the week and once they go home. But Lexa leaves in two days, and they promise each other they want to see each other again, but time has always had a funny way of fucking Clarke over.

 

So, it’s not that she doesn’t want to be there. In fact, a day out with her Octavia and Raven and the rest of the girls makes her feel normal for once. Makes her feel the way a woman in her young twenties should. Makes her feel the way she did before her father died, before setting off airport security alarms every time she travels because there’s still metal in her body.  Before her favorite place in the world became a nightmare her mother is still trapped in. A mother she hasn’t talked to in months. She feels good like this, happy with her friends. It’s just that, with Lexa, she feels alive.

 

“Hey…”

 

Clarke whips her head out of her phone and smiles when she finds Octavia peering at her, her dark wet hair dripping down onto Clarke’s shoulder.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah, I—“ Clarke tries to think of an excuse but Octavia’s smile reaches so brightly into her eyes she knows Octavia isn’t upset. Clarke raises her phone and smiles sheepishly. “I got a text.”

 

Octavia just chuckles and wraps her in a bear hug for the sole purpose of getting her wet. Clarke squeals and pushes her off, hesitating only slightly when she puts her phone away to chase Octavia back into the frigid water.

 

 


 

 

Lexa is still in a meeting when they get back and it crushes Clarke’s day dreams of scrambling off the bus into her arms. A part of her thinks it’s for the best though because Lexa doesn’t need to see her like this. Not again. She doesn’t need anyone to see her like this so she shrugs off Octavia’s offer to walk back with her.

 

The quiet walk alone does her a little good, especially when she starts peering around for ‘I Spy’ objects. Really, she’s colleting new colors to experiment with on a canvas when she gets home, but it makes her a little queasy to really think about that so she’ll keep calling it ‘I Spy’ for now. By the time she gets back to her hotel, she’s not quite so pale, not shaking so hard, not feeling so stunned and skittish. She feels almost completely back to normal by the time Lexa shows up at her door with a bouquet of wilting flowers and a bottle of cheap champagne.  

 

“What’s this?” Clarke asks with a laugh when Lexa holds them up to her, beaming.

 

“The best I could do in fifteen minutes. I wanted to see you, but I wanted to bring you something…but I wanted to see you. See the predicament?”

 

Clarke smiles when she nods and moves aside for Lexa to follow her in. She’s still smiling as she plugs the sink and fills it with water, then sticks the flower stems into it. “Ingenious,” Lexa cracks with a twinkle and Clarke smiles again.

 

 

 

She’s smiling, smiling, smiling until the sight of Lexa on her bed hits her like a truck.  She comes in from the bathroom hours after Lexa had thoroughly exhausted her, toweling her hair and willing her still-weak legs to move, and finds Lexa already almost half asleep as she lounges on her bed, wet hair thrown up in a messy bun. She’s got the TV on but Clarke can tell that the swimmer is sleepy. She’s gotten used to her body now, reads her well enough to know that Lexa is exhausted but happy, muscles tense still from her last race, but content as they melt into the white comforter on her bed. If she weren’t choking on the realization that she wants this, wants this more than anything she’s wanted before, she’d go over and start kneading the knots out of those powerful legs and arms.

 

But it hits Clarke so hard she feels her heart stutter when she realizes that Lexa looks like she belongs and Clarke wants her to. She’s about to turn and rush back into the bathroom, but Lexa looks up and catches her eye. Lexa’s smile falters the way it had when she’d seen how pale Clarke was when she first opened her hotel room door, so Clarke knows she must look as terrified as she feels.

 

“You alright?”

 

Clarke nods and walks to the bed in her best attempt at casual. By some grace of god, Lexa doesn’t probe further. She doesn’t even move to cuddle with her and for a flash of a second Clarke feels put out. But then she realizes the thought of being held right now would feel stifling and she would much prefer just to lay next to her anyways. She glances over at Lexa to see if Lexa knew all that and executed accordingly or if maybe it was just coincidence. But Lexa’s face is blank and gives away nothing as the colorful lights of the TV dance across it. The only movement is that of her eyes that blink and flutter in a valiant effort to stay open until Clarke leans over, kisses her on the cheek and tells her to sleep.

 

“But I want to take you out to dinner.”

 

Clarke smiles and inches a little closer, just to feel some of the heat radiating off of Lexa’s skin. “It’s only seven. We can go out after a nap. I’m tired too.”

 

“Did you have fun today?” Lexa rolls over on her side and places her hand on Clarke’s stomach. It’s gentle and hesitant, barely even there, because of course she could tell that Clarke had needed the space. Nothing was ever coincidence with her. Clarke wiggles closer and places her hand over Lexa’s, keeping it firmly there and Lexa seems to relax as if she too were scared of something between them. It soothes Clarke for the time being. Because maybe she isn’t alone in her insecurities. Maybe Lexa is just as worried she will never see her again when she leaves.

 

The thought almost makes her scoff because why would anyone not want to see someone like Lexa again? It’s Lexa who will be in a different city almost every day. Lexa who will have fans fawning over her, sponsors fighting for her, woman flirting—

 

She closes her eyes as if to close out the thoughts and exhales, steady and long and practiced. Lexa curls her fingers over Clarke stomach and scratches gently, drawing her attention. When Clarke opens her eyes, Lexa is staring down at her with a furrow in her brow.

 

“You seem…” Lexa drifts off and shrugs a shoulder noncommittally but Clarke can see that she wants to continue in the way her eyes sweep back and forth like a pendulum across her face.

 

“What?”

 

“I don’t know. Did I do something?”

 

It’s not angry or accusatory, or even hurt. It doesn’t guilt Clarke or punish her. It just hangs there gently in the air, curious and worried. And that’s the problem, Clarke thinks. Lexa doesn’t expect anything from her. Never has. She’s gentle and quiet and unassuming, letting Clarke lead them through each step. Lexa let’s Clarke take what she needs, but what if this isn’t what Lexa needs?

 

“You didn’t do anything,” Clarke assures her softly, “but…”

 

Lexa’s brow quirks.

 

“What are we doing?”

 

Lexa’s hand stills and slides off her stomach as the swimmer draws into herself. It’s like watching a tide slip away from the beach, only, when Clarke looks at the fear in Lexa’s eyes, she’s not sure she’ll ever come back in again. Not if she doesn’t catch her. She rolls onto her side and hooks her hand around the back of Lexa’s neck, drawing her close. She kisses her until she feels Lexa start to settle, but she doesn’t draw back. Not until she whispers “I’m scared,” against her lips and kisses her again to keep the utterance from going too far.

 

It’s Lexa who pulls away first. Pushes her away, actually. Just slightly. “Clarke—“

 

“I like you.” 

 

They both freeze, Clarke with wide eyes, Lexa with the smallest hint of a smile in the corner of her mouth. “Well, I like you too.”

 

“This just feels too…”

 

“Good?”

 

Clarke nods. “And I don’t want it to stop. Everything good always stops.”

 

Lexa’s hand comes up to caress her face and when Clarke leans in to it, she realizes it’s a touch she’d come to love over the past few days. A touch she’d come to yearn because it was soothing and attentive. Lexa is always so attentive. And touchy. Her hands never seem to be still when she’s around Clarke, but a gentle touch to her face, specifically, always seemed to mean the same thing from the swimmer. Comfort.

 

“I’m not going anywhere, Clarke.”  

 

“Technically you’re going a lot of places. Twenty-one to be exact.”

 

It’s cheeky and evasive, they both know it.  Lexa laughs through her nose and shakes her head as she heaves Clarke over and onto her chest. They’re silent for a while and when Lexa’s hand stills on her back, Clarke thinks maybe she’s fallen asleep. But then Lexa presses a kiss to her temple and sighs. “I’ll be in San Diego in two weeks. I could fly you up. It’s the closest I get to LA for the tour, and it’d only be for a couple of days, but it’s only a fifty-minute flight. And it’d  be better than nothing…if you want.”

 

Her voice goes from tentative to animated back to almost a whisper when she finishes and Clarke thinks she’s beautiful like this. So eager but quiet in her desires and excitement. Much like in her pleasure. She flushes when she thinks back to their session in the shower, Lexa’s pleasure easily drowned out by the sound of the shower head. It’s a strange sort of juxtaposition. Lexa is long, almost gangly, but so, so powerful. She exudes confidence, even cockiness at times, but the more Clarke knows her the softer Lexa seems. She’s a gentle giant, really, hidden by people’s projections of what an elite Olympian who destroys records every four years should be like. If she didn’t feel like she knew Lexa so well, she’d say she’s an enigma. But in reality, Lexa is quite easy to read. Like the way her eyes give away the fact that she’s thrumming with barely restrained excitement clouded in anxiety as she awaits Clarke’s answer.

 

“That’ll be expensive, won’t it?” Clarke says, teasing, but genuinely concerned.

 

Lexa grins. “I don’t know if you know this, love, but I’m worth quite a bit.” Clarke watches her try to hold it together but when Clarke snorts, Lexa breaks and their foreheads come together as they laugh.

 

“I suppose you are,” Clarke murmurs once they’ve quieted.

 

“Will you let me, then? Please? I meant what I said, I want to see you again. Preferably sooner rather than later, but I’ll wait if I have to. A month’s really not that long, if you think about it. And we could text, I suppose. Probably Skype too if you--”

 

Clarke cuts her off with a searing kiss and hands that can’t figure out where they want to settle. They land briefly on Lexa’s cheeks until they flutter down to her neck, then to her chest, her ribs, her hips, until they loop around her back and tug her in close. 

 

“So…” Lexa ventures when she pulls away for air, “it that a…?”

 

Clarke chuckles and kisses her on the nose, “it’s a yes, Lexa.”

 

 


 

 

Euphoria shouldn’t be able to crash so hard, but it does.  Clarke paces back and forth, her head in her hands gripping in anguish.  She takes a few, frustrated steps towards the waiting town car, then whimpers and turns back around. She’s so angry with herself she could scream, but her terror keeps her small and quiet. Her phone buzzes in her pocket and she knows it’s Lexa telling her she’ll be right down.

 

She’s not allowed in Lexa’s room in the Village anymore now that the swimmer is leaving. Lexa had only just left Clarke’s hotel room a few hours ago, needing to pack, after spending the morning of her departure with her, but it had felt like a lifetime. And yet now that she’s pacing outside of Lexa’s building with the town car driver staring at her like she’s a maniac, she wonders how that time managed to fly so quickly.

 

She doesn’t even notice Lexa at first. She sees her walk out the doors and lower her bags to the ground, but she doesn’t register her until Lexa’s hands are on her cheeks, desperately trying to keep her still.

 

“Hey, hey, hey,” Lexa chants, her thumbs trying to quell Clarke’s tears to no avail. “Clarke. Clarke, just breath, sweetheart.”

 

Clarke shakes her head and places her hands on top of Lexa’s, gripping onto them as they stare at each other.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Clarke’s lip trembles dangerously close to a sob, but her anger keeps her from breaking, and instead she huffs, wet and shaky. “I want to go with you. I want to kiss you and hold you before you go through security. But—I—“ she shakes her head again and looks away.

 

“You can’t get in the car,” Lexa murmurs, understanding when she peers over Clarke’s shoulder and sees the waiting town car.

 

Clarke’s head breaks past Lexa’s hands and falls to her shoulder in defeat. When Lexa wraps her in a tight hug, she breaks wide open, raw and exhausted. She muffles her sob in the grey fabric of Lexa’s long-sleeve Team USA t-shirt, and clamps her eyes shut, hoping Lexa will see her tears as frustration rather than desperation. She’s not pathetic or weak. She’s not sobbing because she won’t see Lexa for two weeks, though that doesn’t help. She’s sobbing because she’s so sick of not having a choice. She should be able to see Lexa off at the airport if she wants to. Should be able to drive to a party on the other side of the city that Octavia desperately wants to go to tonight. She should be able to choose, be able to explore and travel and have options.

 

“I used to be so normal,” she chokes into the crook of Lexa’s neck, “and now—“

 

“You’re perfect, Clarke. You’re perfect, and I’m going to take a shuttle. Would a shuttle be better?”

 

Clarke draws back, astonishment in her eyes. “I—but won’t that make you late?”

 

Lexa smiles that awful, awful, wonderful smile and uses the sleeve of her shirt to wipe Clarke’s cheeks dry. “No later than if I take that car. Can you do a shuttle?”

 

Clarke thinks about it. Visualizes herself getting into it, riding in it. It makes her stomach flip uneasily but it’s not paralyzing. It’s not like a car, compact and easily obliterated.  She did a bus, she could do a shuttle.

 

“Yeah. I think that’d be okay. Will he be mad?” Clarke takes a small look over her shoulder at the man in sunglasses peering at them.  

 

“Nah. I’ll tip him big. Can you do that while I call our coordinator? She’ll get us on a shuttle.” Lexa pulls out her wallet and hands Clarke several bills. When Clarke hesitates, Lexa looks up from her phone and then reels back. “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t even ask. Is it hard to get close to them too?”

 

Clarke bites her lip because yes, it is, but it doesn’t mean she can’t try. “No, I’m good.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yeah.” Clarke nods, to herself more than anything, and takes measured steps towards the car. Her breathing spikes and her heart sputters in her chest, but when she looks back at a possible escape, she finds Lexa watching her with pride plastered across her face as she talked into her cell phone. Lexa sends her a thumbs-up and Clarke smiles, small, but genuine. So genuine.

 

 


 

 

“Are you going to be okay on the way back?”

 

Oh my god. She hadn’t thought of the way back. Clarke had been so focused on memorizing Lexa’s face, the sound of her voice, the way her thumb swiped back and forth across her hand, that she hadn’t even considered the after. But that was the beauty of Lexa for Clarke. She forced her to exist in the present because Lexa was too dynamic not to be experienced in any other way. Her presence consumes Clarke in the most wonderful of ways, but now that they stand at the entrance to the security line, the snapping of cameras clicking over the white noise of airport, the after looms ominously close, and Lexa’s absence even closer.

 

Clarke starts to panic, but Lexa fixes her with a firm, but loving look. “You’ll be good. You’re so strong. Stronger than you know. I’ll call you as soon as I’m through security and we can talk until you get back. How’s that sound?”

 

Clarke nods quickly. “Okay.” It comes out like a whisper that makes Lexa smile.

 

“I can’t wait to see you again.”

 

“Two weeks.”

 

Lexa nods. “Two weeks.”

 

“Will you call me?”

 

“Every day if you want.”

 

Clarke leans in and Lexa meets her in a soft kiss that wants to be so much more, but the cameras and reporters do not go amiss out of the corner of their eyes.

 

“What will you tell them? The ones at press conferences?” Clarke asks, gesturing to the small, nosey crowd.

 

“If they ask, I’ll tell them it has nothing to do with my swimming and leave it at that. That’s what they’re there for. Unless you want me to talk about it. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud I get to be the one kissing you. But your privacy is the most important. We probably should have talked about this sooner…”

 

They chuckle and Clarke runs her hands up Lexa’s arms, committing more things to memory. “We were a little busy, I guess.”

 

Lexa dips and kisses her, quick and chaste but longing. Clarke feels it too. A longing to go back to the things that had kept them so busy the last few days. And it wasn’t just sex. It was quiet walks and long dinners, innocent touches intimate in their own way, tearful confessions of painful memories, and tears of a different sort during confessions of hope for the future.

 

“You should probably get going.”

 

Lexa nods and hoists her bags up from the floor.

 

“Got your medals?”

 

Lexa taps the side of her duffle. “Right here.”

 

“All seven of them?” Clarke grins proudly at her and even winks.

 

With a shy smile and tint to her cheeks, Lexa nods.  “I’ll see you soon.” She pulls Clarke into a semi-awkward hug around her bags and kisses the top of her head.

 

“So soon,” Clarke assures them both.

 

She watches her go, even after she disappears into a crowd of fans and reporters. At one point she thinks she can see Lexa peek over the top of them and smile at her. She waits there another several minutes until the Xanax she’d taken to handle the drive starts to kick in and things start to swim.

 

The drive back to her hotel just outside the Village isn’t long, but the Xanax puts her to sleep, remarkably. She wakes up to several concerned texts and a missed call. When she returns that call, she smiles all the way up to her room as she listens to Lexa’s relieved chatter. They talk for another hour and a half. Clarke asks about the press tour and Lexa explains each stop and each event, not without mentioning several times that “for some reason” she has a feeling San Diego will be her favorite. Clarke just laughs and tells her that “for some reason,” she’s inclined to agree.

 

“I’m gonna grab a snack, gimme one sec.” Clarke listens to Lexa’s polite niceties as she pays for a snack and some gum, and smiles when she hears the cash teller congratulate her on her medals. Lexa’s quiet, humble gratitude makes Clarke swell with affection and longing. She listens to the excited fawning of fans in the background who ask for Lexa’s autograph and smiles at Lexa’s quiet “sorry, one sec” to her each time as the swimmer accommodates each one of them.

 

At one point she offers to hang up upon imagining Lexa with her arms full of duffle bags and snacks, cell phone pressed between her ear and shoulder, and fans glued to her hips. But Lexa insists and Clarke is all smiles.

 

 

And that’s how many of their conversations go for the next week and a half. Clarke must know every single blemish and discoloration of her very white ceiling by now because most of her nights consist of staring at it as she lays in her bed and quietly listens to Lexa talk about the cities she’s in. Lexa tries her best to draw conversation out of Clarke, but Clarke is just too content to listen to Lexa’s calming, smooth voice.

 

She knows by now that there isn’t all that much Lexa can really tell her. She never actually sees the cities she’s in, except for the spectacular views her top floor hotel suites tended to provide her. The first picture she’d gotten of the New York city skyline through a bay of floor-to-ceiling windows made something jump and spark in Clarke—probably from the immediate image of letting Lexa press her against those windows and kiss her dizzy.

 

By now she is also thoroughly familiar with the way press conferences operate, so really there’s isn’t anything new to talk about. Yet somehow Lexa manages to make everything riveting. Or perhaps Clarke is just infatuated. Their conversations are light and effortless. They talk long into the night with Lexa usually staying up well into the early morning given the time change between the east coast and west coast. Clarke worries that it will over-tire her, but Lexa never seems to bother, on the contrary she always reminds Clarke that she’s the best part of her day.

 

They stick to phone calls because Clarke doesn’t think she can bear to see Lexa’s face and not be able to kiss it. She never tells Lexa that, instead coming up with weak excuses here and there that the swimmer undoubtedly can see right through, but Lexa never pushes.

 

It isn’t until two days before she’s supposed to fly out that they decide to Skype. Clarke tries furiously to wipe away her tears before connecting, but as soon as the window pops open and Lexa appears, the swimmer’s face falls and Clarke knows her eyes must still be red.

 

“Oh, love,” she sighs, “I’m so sorry.”

 

Clarke smiles and chuckles weakly through her wet eyes because how could she not? “It’s okay, it’s not your fault” she says as she sniffs and pulls herself together. Seeing Lexa’s face, in real time, is overwhelming. She is breathtakingly beautiful to Clarke with her long, chestnut waves pulled over her shoulder and glasses falling down her nose. “Hi,” she says softly.

 

“Hey, beautiful.”

 

Clarke’s heard it a million times from the swimmer, but the way Lexa’s eyes soften when she says it makes Clarke feel wonderfully fluttery inside.

 

“Are you mad?” Lexa asks timidly. 

 

Clarked rubs her forehead and shrugs. “No,” she whispers. Seeing her face twisted in discomfort during her panic attack plastered all over the internet as the ‘Mentally Unstable Fan All Over Lexa Woods’ was certainly not a good feeling, but she wasn’t mad. If anything it confirmed her worst thoughts that she was just a fan to Lexa. She was a good lay wrapped up in the euphoria of the Olympics but after that she was just like anyone else. It didn’t make her mad, it made her sad and annoyed with herself. She had been such a fool to think—

 

“Clarke….”

 

Clarke raises her eyes to meet Lexa’s concerned ones. “What?”

 

“You got lost in that beautiful mind of yours. What were you thinking?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

Lexa frowns and pulls the computer closer to her. “Don’t do that.”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Don’t disappear. Don’t—“ Lexa shakes her head and rubs her hands over her face. “I’m so sorry,” she mutters.

 

It’s heartbreaking. Clarke’s never seen Lexa look so upset before and she chides herself for being so wrapped up in her own feelings she hadn’t taken a second to think about what Lexa might be feeling.

 

“I know it’s…hard…to be with someone like me. I’m visible and the press is unforgiving, but I—I can promise you that I’ll do everything I can to keep it away from you. Just--” then Lexa’s voice drops, “just give me a chance.”

 

In that moment Clarke has never wanted the ability to reach through a computer screen more. She can hardly believe that Lexa think she’s the one who needs to have a chance taken on her. She’s reminded of how soft and gentle Lexa had been when they were together, almost unsure of herself and shy at times in the most beautiful of ways. She wonders how often Lexa had been left or hurt over the media's infatuation with her personal life, how many women had decided Lexa just wasn’t worth it.

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Clarke says decidedly and swells with affection and pride when Lexa’s head whips up and a surprised kind of smile graces her face and reaches those emerald green eyes.

 

“So…you’re still going to come, then?”

 

Clarke smiles and nods. “Yes, of course. I can’t wait.”

 

Lexa beams and jumps off the bed with computer in toe. “Have you ever been?”

 

“To San Diego? No. I almost went with Octavia a few years ago to surf, but it fell through. I was really excited, so I can’t wait to actually see it.”

 

Lexa stands and walks across the room. She places the laptop down on the counter of her hotel room’s kitchenette and Clarke watches with a growing ache in her chest as the swimmer flits back and forth across the screen in her flannel pajama pants and hair in gentle waves down her back. She looks so soft and warm like this Clarke longs to be in her arms. She stills somewhere out of frame and Clarke can hear her dinking around at the sink.

 

“Hey, Lexa?”

 

“Mm?”

 

Clarke chuckles. “Can I please see your face?”

 

“Oh! Yeah, sorry.”  The camera whips around and Lexa comes into focus holding a mug.

 

“There she is,” Clarke murmurs with a small smile.

 

“You look sad,” Lexa mutters with frown.

 

Clarke hums and burrows down into her blankets. “I just miss you.”

 

Lexa nods and keeps the mug to her mouth after she sips, thinking. “I miss you too. But I’ve been looking at the schedule and I think I can get out of my prep meeting in the morning so that we have that time to ourselves. And the press conference should be over by noon and then I’m all yours the rest of the day. And the day after that. I was thinking we could--”

 

Clarke listens with a content, sleepy smile on her face as Lexa rambles on about the different things she thinks Clarke would enjoy doing during her short trip. She doesn’t zone out, per say, but Lexa’s voice is soft and gravelly with sleep in a way that makes Clarke’s own eyes grow heavy with the soft warmth it sends through her. But when Lexa’s voice goes earnest and serious, she pushes up and forces herself to awaken.

 

“I promise you I’m going to clear up that media mistake. And I’ll make sure they don’t do it again. I’m so sorry they did that. I should have gotten ahead of it. I--”

 

 

“Hey, hey,” Clarke soothes, hand instinctively going out to touch the computer screen. She retracts when she meets its hard surface and wonders the last time two days of waiting felt this hard. “It’s okay. I was upset more for you than for me.”

 

“For me? Why?”

 

“Because I…I just have a lot going on with me right now. And I don’t want that to come out in a bad way in the media and hurt you by association.”

 

Lexa shakes her head and smiles. “The only thing you could do to me by association is elevate me, Clarke. You’re so special.”

 

It makes Clarke bite her lip and Lexa’s eyes blatantly fall to her mouth, fixated and wanting. Before she allows herself to heat up Clarke clears her throat and pulls the laptop up her body to rest on her upper stomach. “I”ll see you soon.”

 

Lexa nods seemingly still in a trance, then clears her throat. “I should head to bed. My flight’s early.”

 

“You get in at ten, right?”

 

“Yeah. Land, head straight to the Children’s Hospital, then to the luncheon, the photo shoot, then back to the airport for you.” She smiles and winks.

 

“Busy day,” Clarke hums.

 

“It’ll be worth it when I get to kiss you that night.”

 

Clarke’s stomach flips at the admission because she’d been worried about their reunion. Of course she wanted to kiss her, she dreamed about it, thought about it often, but wasn’t sure until now if Lexa had wanted that too. They’d been a whirlwind of hot and gentle, desperate and tender at the Games. She had no idea how it would be in a new setting, but Lexa is staring at her with those attentive and gentle eyes full of genuine attraction and it amazes her.

 

“I can’t wait,” she remembers to say and Lexa chuckles.

 

“Sleepy?”

 

Clarke nods with a tired smile as she sinks further into the covers of her bed.

 

“Ok,” Lexa’s face goes soft and loving, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”

 

They discuss tomorrow’s plans again very briefly more for the excitement than for any logistical reasons, but when Clarke’s eyes start to close they finally agree to call it a night. Clarke stares at the black screen a little longer after Lexa’s face is gone, trying to convince herself that this was all real. A well timed ‘good night’ text from Lexa settles her nerves and all she can think of as she falls asleep is how it will feel to bury her face in the crook of Lexa’s neck and be held by her once again.

Chapter Text

Never has two days felt so simultaneously quick as they did slow. Clarke was a whirlwind of nerves and excitement as she packed and did things here and there to pass the time. Her apartment was cleaner than it had ever been and dishes so spotless they shone. She never thought herself to be a nervous cleaner, but here she is sweeping for a second day in a row as she watches Lexa’s press conference on ESPN.

It’s just a recording because by now Lexa is in the air getting ready to land in the very airport Clarke will be landing in later this evening, but it’s comforting none the less. It’s comforting because Octavia texted her that morning apologizing profusely because Bellamy forgot they planned to drive Clarke to the airport in his large truck meaning that they would have to take Octavia’s car. Her compact car. Her small, small car that could be crumple in seconds and crush her inside of it—

But there was Lexa’s face on the TV, smiling and nodding calmly as people asked about her future plans and if she’d compete at the FINA World Championships in Paris in two years. Clarke had spent all day trying to ignore the panic swirling and building inside her mind and body, but something as simple as listening to Lexa gracefully evade giving too much away with that smile of hers helped more than Clarke would like to admit. But she didn’t let herself think too far past how much it made her miss the swimmer.

And missing her is about the only thing that gets her through the ride to the airport and the flight. Airplanes didn’t normally bother her, but she hadn’t stopped shaking since the car and even the instant-release Xanax she took seemed to make things worse because now everything is spinning too.  She’s never been to this airport before and through her haze it takes her almost twenty minutes to get from the gate to the Arrivals area.  She feels panicky and nervous when she turns the corner and the hallways opens up into a large atrium area bustling with people. What if Lexa isn’t there? What if she’s there, but she’s not happy about it? What if—

Her thoughts ramble on as she wrings her hands nervously, eyes scanning the mass of people waiting for their friends and family. Her footsteps feel heavy and resistant but everything else is eager and longing. It’s a strange combination, a nauseous feeling that is neither all anxiety nor all excitement.  

She’s about to text her and save herself the embarrassment of looking around for someone that may or may not be there until a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye catches her attention. She turns and stills when she spots Lexa pop out of the crowd, a huge grin on her face and hand raised slightly in the air as if to signal her. 

And just like that the nausea topples over into a flurry of excited palpitations that send Clarke stumbling forward until Lexa catches her in a tight, almost desperate hug. Lexa seems broader than she remembered her too be, like she can’t get enough of the swimmer in her arms. She wraps around Lexa’s shoulders and tucks into the crook of her neck, almost chuckling at how relieving and nice it is to touch her again. Lexa runs her hand through her hair and kisses the side of her head several times, whispering “I missed you” until Clarke can’t take it anymore and pulls back to get a good look at her face.

“I missed you too,” she murmurs, eyes jumping around Lexa’s face trying to take her all in. Her hands shake slightly when she raises them to rest on Lexa’s chest. Lexa looks at them with her brow furrowed in that sweet concern of hers and it takes everything in Clarke not to surge forward and kiss her.

“Are you okay?” Lexa asks, taking Clarke’s hands in hers and stroking them with her thumbs.

Clarke nods and shakes her head at the same time, overwhelmed by the day and the beautiful woman standing in front of her.  “Just a long day,” she mutters, sighing as she brushes her hand briefly across Lexa’s cheek trying to convey that she’s okay.  

Lexa nods and wordlessly grabs her bag, staving off Clarke’s protests by kissing her quickly before breaking into another smile. The feel of her lips, even just that quickly, was intoxicating and sets Clarke’s body alight with tingles. Her hand wants to drift up to her lips to trap the feeling there, but she restrains herself and let’s Lexa take it instead.

It feels just as easy as it had in the beginning, the two of them falling into effortless conversation and soft, comforting touches here and there.  Things only start to go bad when they approach the double sliding doors to the outside and Clarke sees the line of cars and swarming paparazzi.  They call Lexa's name as the swimmer comes into their few and Clarke swallows the little bit of upchuck that just burned its way up her throat.

Before Clarke can panic any further, Lexa drops her hand to the small of her back and steers to the left. “We’re not going that way,” she mutters with a frustrated smile.

“Are there always reporters following you?” Clarke ask more in amazement than in accusation.

“No. It usually just happens in short bursts after a competition or something. They were around this morning, but that’s only because they knew I was coming in today for the press conference and luncheon. There weren’t any here when I came to pick you up so the driver must have tipped them off.”

“That’s obnoxious.”

Lexa shrugs and keeps her hand on Clarke’s back, now rubbing slightly and Clarke presses back into the soothing touch. “I’m used to it by now.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“When it bothers you,” she says simply and beckons Clarke to follow her down another hallway.

Clarke dips her head, happily flustered, and smiles because this is what she had longed for. The way Lexa cared, the way she worked to make Clarke smile, the way she made Clarke feel safe after so long of feeling chaotic. She leans into Lexa’s shoulder and Lexa leans down to catch her forehead in a quick kiss. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispers and all Clarke can do is nod and pepper her shoulder with shy kisses because somehow that's easier than words when she’s feeling this full of affection.

“How was your day? You seem a little worked up,” Lexa notes and it comes out so gently Clarke doesn’t feel embarrassed under the observation.

 “Bellamy forgot he was supposed to be taking me to the airport today,” she sighs, not angry, just still recovering, “he drives a big truck, which isn’t great, but it’s better than a car, but since he forgot, Octavia to take me. And she drives a Prius.”

“Ah. A little shook up then, huh?”

Clarke nods and lets out a breathy chuckle. “A little. I feel better now.”

“Good, I’m glad,” Lexa says it and it’s genuine, not just any platitude tossed aside because it’s the right thing to say. She sounds sincerely relieved to hear that Clarke feels better. And that care is what sends waves of heath radiating through Clarke.  “How about the busses?” The swimmer adds. “Where do you live? There’s probably a bus to LAX, right?”

“I live in Mid City, but the LA busses make me a little nervous. They’re just…I don’t know.”

“You live in Mid City?”

Clarke swallows nervously and waits for the scoff that she assumes will come upon knowing that she lives in a less the desirable area of LA. But it doesn’t come. Lexa just shakes her head and looks amazed. “I live in SaMo!”

Clarke freezes. “Are you serious?”

“Yes! Oh my god, how have we never talked about this? We’re no more than fifteen minutes from each other.”

Clarke feels hope flash through her and reinvigorated excitement for what the end of Lexa’s press tour might mean for the two of them. But she doesn’t dare say anything in case Lexa doesn’t feel the same. “I knew you lived in SoCal, but I didn’t know where,” she says softly, chancing a small smile.

“Well, that makes visiting a whole lot easier,” the swimmer says and it’s like an invigorating tidal wave of relief to Clarke to hear that they’re on the same page.

“True,” is all she Clarke can manage to get out around her wide smile.

“So public transportation is a no go?”

“Well… I don’t know. It’s probably okay, I just don’t…I don’t know. There’s something about it that makes me nervous.”

“Always or after…” Lexa ventures, her brow sporting just the beginnings of a worried frown that Clarke has decided makes her look a bit like a puppy.

“Oh, after. Only after. It was fine before. It all was,” she adds, an old sense of defeat creeping in.

Lexa nods in understanding. “I can’t do boats. Not even kayaks or canoes,” she offers in an attempt to make Clarke feel better. And it does. “My therapist says it helps to address the root of the fear. Not that you need my unsolicited advice as if I’m some expert or something—“ she starts to chide herself, but Clarke untangles their hands and wraps her arm around Lexa, pulling her close so that she can lean her head on her upper arm.

“I’m sure there’s a lot you could help me with. This is all kind of…new to me,” she assures.

“Well,” Lexa clears her throat and stands up a little taller with purpose, smiling just barely. And Clarke likes that she seems to be able to reassure Lexa as much as Lexa does for her. “Do you know what it is about the busses?”

“I think the crowdedness?” Clarke squints in thought, trying to visualize herself on a public transit bus. “I don’t know…there’s just no way out if…something happens. You’re trapped.”

Lexa hums in understanding and presses a comforting kiss to her temple as she steers them down one last hallway. “I get it. I’m not actually a huge fan of public transportation myself. But shuttles are still okay, right?

“Mhm.” Her answer is short and tight and Clarke knows Lexa can hear it, but it’s the best she can do because after today she really doesn’t want to think about any more driving, none the less act like she’s okay with more, though that's exactly what she would do if asked of her.  

“Not great, I know,” Lexa admits, “but we’ll only have to take it twice and not even that if you don’t want. I booked us here at the airport Hilton so we don’t have to go anywhere tonight, so you don’t have to worry about that. I figured you’d be tired and stressed and such. And tomorrow you don’t even have to come with to the press conference, but if you want to, I scheduled a shuttle just in case.” Lexa dies off with a nervous smile and Clarke can’t help but swoon. If she needed a reminder of how precious Lexa is, there it was, in all of her adorable rambling that still very much did it for Clarke.

She laughs one, short almost disbelieving laugh at how perfect the swimmer is, and stops their walking with a hand on Lexa’s arm. She looks around briefly before standing on her tiptoes and tugging Lexa towards her, pressing their lips together. She’d be surprised by her own confidence if not so desperate in her gratitude. She kisses her deeply and hopes she can convey all the things she’s feeling in that moment, but that would be impossible. So she settles for raking her hands through Lexa’s hair and holding her as close as she can.

When she lets go of Lexa’s shirt and pulls back, the swimmer sways on her feet before her eyes flutter open to reveal wide, glassy emerald green Clarke didn’t know she missed so much until she just nearly lost herself in them. She presses back in and kisses her again until, in the heat of the moment, Lexa walks her backwards a couple steps backwards and they’re up against a wall. They stutter apart when footsteps echo down the hallway and a business man in an expensive suit chuckles as he walks past them and pushes through the double doors into the lobby.

“I guess we should head in,” Lexa says with slightly labored breathing, her eyes like pinballs across Clarke’s face. No one had ever studied Clarke the way Lexa constantly did, always searching, always marveling. Whether it was out of fear or nerves or admiration she didn’t know, but something about Lexa told her that maybe it was a combination of all three. Lexa was a woman of few words, but her eyes spoke multitudes, especially when on Clarke and Clarke herself wasn’t sure if it scared her, made her nervous, or made her feel admired. Probably somewhere around all three.

She follows Lexa through the double doors into the attached hotel lobby and freezes. It’s the nicest hotel she’s ever been in with four different front desks, an upscale bar on one side and some of the fanciest lounge chairs she’s ever seen on the other. The interior design is stunning, tantalizing to all of Clarke’s senses as her head flicks about trying to take it all in. She’d never expected a hotel airport to be so nice, but nice it was. So nice that she almost feels uncomfortable in what she always deemed her “comfortable” flying clothes, surrounded by women and men dressed to the nines.

It makes sense though that the hotel airport would be where all the powerful business men and women stopped on their breeze through of different cities. The cavernous ceiling has a beautiful chandelier and Clarke itches to sketch, the way it shimmers and pops against the otherwise cool color scheme of the lobby.

“What do you think?” Lexa leans over and whispers, content to have watched Clarke take it all in with awe in her eyes.

Clarke draws her eyes away from the chandelier and finds something much brighter, much more magnificent in the way it popped against its surroundings. She finds Lexa smiling at her with her head cocked slightly to the side in that look of wonder she sometimes had when she looked at Clarke.

“It’s lovely,” Clarke replies, and of course she means it about more things than one. “Thank you,” she adds, it almost getting caught in her throat with the gravity of just how loving and caring Lexa is, even to someone as new as Clarke. Someone as troubled. But when Lexa looks at her, Clarke doesn’t feel new or troubled. She feels like they’ve known each other forever, or at least that they should have, and she feels normal again. Better than normal. She feels alive and overwhelmed with feelings that finally don’t make her feel like she’s suffocating on the air of every day life.

“There’s a rooftop pool. I hear it has some pretty cool views of the planes taking off on one side and the ocean and skyline on the other. I don’t know if you’re tired, but I was thinking maybe we could go grab a drink and take a dip…”

The idea of a cool pool and a nice glass of wine before crawling into bed with Lexa sounds amazing, so she nods vigorously. But when they get to the room, they don’t quite make it up to the roof. Clarke drops her stuff and immediately wanders over to the wall of windows she’d gotten used to seeing in Lexa’s pictures and wonders if all of Lexa’s rooms alwahs looked like this.

“Perks of sponsorships,” Lexa says as if reading her mind. She shrugs it off like she doesn’t really like it.  “They pay for everything on these trips, though I ask them not to. I’d much rather the money go to something more…useful. I could pay for it myself if it’s something I wanted but…they insist.”

Why Lexa feels the need to justify, Clarke’s not sure, but she reckons it has something to do with how fiercely humble Lexa always conducts herself in her press conferences and in general, almost confused in her desire to please but naturally deterred by the attention. She always looks a little lost on dry land, unsure of where to turn or where to look, eyes always seeming to wander for the lanes of the pool, rigid and steady. Something to follow. She looks a little that way now, overwhelmed with all the space and Clarke in the middle of it. Clarke could be content to watch her like this forever, such a quiet, kind and unsure little thing trapped in that large, powerful frame. But when Lexa grows antsy, Clarke takes pity on her and walks back over. “Well,” she rests her hands on Lexa’s hips, “it’s nice for tonight.”  

“And tomorrow?”

Clarke nods, “And tomorrow.”

“And then you leave,” Lexa frowns, her forehead falling to rest against Clarke’s.

“And then I leave,” Clarke echoes in a whisper.

“I miss you already,” Lexa chuckles.

“I’m right here.” Clarke tilts her chin up and kisses her chastely, once, twice, until Lexa catches her on the third time and deepens it, her hands coming up to cup Clarke’s cheeks. It’s affectionate and dare she say reverent, and Clarke melts into it. Her hips come forward to meet Lexa’s, opening up to her because Lexa is gentle in a way she’s not used to; she’s not used to feeling so safe, but Lexa’s hands are soft and tender when they slide up her back and pull her close, so she relaxes and falls into her.

She expects Lexa to continue, but the swimmer doesn’t. Instead, she just holds her in a tight hug, her chin tilting up to rest atop Clarke’s head. “I’m happy you’re here,” she murmurs for the second time that night.

Clarke nuzzles into the crook of her neck and agrees with a smile and slight nod of her head. Lexa smells a little like him. Fresh and confident, a cologne that probably has some exotic name for wood or water. “What are you wearing?” She whispers, letting Lexa sway her to the invisible music that makes them both just a little more comfortable.

“Oh, it’s Tommy Hilfiger.”

Clarke’s hand slides up the length of Lexa’s long torso. She smiles, sad and nostalgic. “My dad wore something like it,” she murmurs, eyes closing around a memory.

Lexa is quiet for a moment, then surprises Clarke. “So did mine,” she whispers.

The confession curls between them, expanding in the spaces they couldn’t manage to close themselves. Clarke finds the hem of Lexa’s shirt and toys with it until a kiss to her head urges her fingers under the material. She explores the hard curve of Lexa’s oblique, then inches upwards to trace each dip and swell of the muscles above it with nervous, enchanted fingers.

Lexa dips and nudges Clarke’s face upwards to take her lips in a slow, easy kiss. It’s languid and exploratory as they both remember what the other feels like, tastes like. It’s not their first time, or even their second or third, but somehow this time feels different because this time…this time Clarke knows that they are more than just a few nights on the other side of the world lost in a high of emotions. This time Lexa is cradling Clarke’s head as she kisses her breathless and it’s full of everything they’ve never shared with anyone else before.

Clarke’s shirt comes off only once she feels alight and paper thin from Lexa’s reverence. After removing her bra, Lexa sinks to her knees and wraps around Clarke’s waist, pressing her cheek to the curve of Clarke’s stomach. Clarke tries to ignore the way her chest still flips nervously at Lexa’s initial brush of her scar. It’s easier when Lexa kisses it with complete comfort and even admiration. Clarke encourages herself to relax and runs her fingers through Lexa’s hair, massaging her scalp in ways that make Lexa moan ever so slightly, just under her breath. And that helps.

When Lexa stills, Clarke strokes across her eyebrow with the back of her finger, then down her cheek to her lips, where Lexa kisses it. “Sleepy?” Clarke asks, still a little breathless. Lexa shakes her head then turns and trails her lips across the soft skin of Clarke’s ribs, her hips and just under her breasts. She takes in the sweet, subtle smell of Clarke’s pale skin that’s beginning to flush under her attentive touch. As Lexa inches lower Clarke wonders if she can smell her burgeoning arousal and for a moment she grows self-conscious and tries to gently push Lexa’s head away. Lexa stills and rests her chin just above Clarke’s pants line, looking up at her with glassy, green eyes. “Do you want me to stop?”

Clarke blushes and smiles at the same time, unsure of how to explain why her hips dance away from Lexa’s facetious grin every time it dips towards her waistline. She shakes her head once and then nods in encouragement when Lexa stalls, staring at her a second longer to make sure. Clarke smiles and pets her, so Lexa dips back down. She hooks her finger over the band of Clarke pants and underwear, pulling them down just enough to pepper the top of the swell of her pubic bone in promises as delicate as butterfly wings. It sends a surge of arousal dripping into her underwear and Clarke has to place her palm on Lexa’s forehead and push her away again. Lexa lets herself be pushed away without hesitation and moves back upwards to play with her breasts, giving Clarke the space to breathe and relax.

Clarke’s head falls back with a soft chuckle of disbelief at her body’s reactions to Lexa before it hinges forward again to look down at the swimmer. When Lexa moves back down her body and teases the inverted arc between Clarke’s hips, Clarke squirms again and Lexa’s chuckles. The swimmer’s eyes are big with questions and sparkling with mirth, but Clarke just shakes her head bashfully.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Clarke whines good naturedly, humming when Lexa runs her nose along her lower stomach and nips at the swell of her hip bone.  

“Tell me,” Lexa husks.

Clarke removes her hands from Lexa’s hair and brings them up to her eyes. “I’m really wet,” she whispers.

 “Hmm?”

“Lexaaaa,” Clarke whines, jogging her hips around not wanting to repeat the embarrassing admission.

“I didn’t hear you, really.”

Clarke huffs and glares, but she’s biting her lip in a desirous grin and Lexa thinks she looks gorgeous like this, thrumming with life in such a tender way, exquisite in her subtlety.

“I’m really wet,” she murmurs slightly louder, digging the heels of her palms into her eyes as she turns crimson.

Lexa beams and wraps her hands around Clarke’s behind, pulling her pelvis forward. She sucks and nips and kisses until Clarke is a writing mess in her hands.

“Can I take these off?” Lexa asks, tugging gently at the elastic waist of Clarke’s yoga pants. Clarke nods and closes her eyes as Lexa slowly peels them down her legs, kissing each inch of skin revealed in the process.

By the time she grips onto Lexa’s shoulders and steadies herself as she steps out of her pants, she’s close to dripping and feels the unmistakable pressure of her body relaxing and opening up, readying itself. She jumps when Lexa presses her nose to her center and nuzzles at her, unashamedly breathing all of her in. Clarke’s doesn’t know what to do with her hands. Putting them back in Lexa’s hair feels too demanding, putting them on Lexa’s shoulders feels defiant, and god she does not want her to stop. Especially not when Lexa’s tongue parts her ever so gently and begins to explore her, every curve and valley and peak, all except for the swelling bud that aches for attention.

Reading her the way she always does, Lexa slides her hands up Clarke’s thighs and grabs her hands, interlocking their fingers, giving them both somewhere to squeeze, something to ground themselves in. Someone.

Clarke’s head falls backs and her hips jut forward into Lexa’s mouth, knocking her back slightly. Lexa just smiles and flows with it, rocking forward again to nose at Clarke’s center before dipping back in. She hums and the vibrations feel good, so good that Clarke’s knees give slightly for a second and she grips harder onto Lexa’s hands. When Clarke has steadied, Lexa smiles up at her in a way that reminds her that Lexa is an elite athlete, a warrior, a ferocious competitor used to winning. It’s almost a smirk that she gives Clarke as she takes one of her thick thighs and drapes it over her shoulder, except it’s too fragile around the edges to be quite a smirk.  Lexa slowly peels her gaze away and layers her newly exposed inner thigh with searing kisses that make their way relentlessly back up to her center. A center that she now embarrassedly realizes, is dripping down her other leg.

Lexa drinks her in, decimating her into tiny eruptions, like stars in the sky. Explosions of energy and light in the quiet darkness around them. Clarke hardly notices Lexa swinging her other leg over her shoulder so that she’s perched in the air, completely at Lexa’s mercy. She’s never felt so free, so powerful in her trust. She grips into Lexa’s hair as the swimmer moves to palm at her behind, squeezing and steadying.

When Clarke turns her head to the side, she finds the sun plunging into the sapphire of the night, bleeding orange behind it. It trails through the skyline of buildings, exposing window lights desperately trying to be like the stars above them. Her father loved the night sky. She blinks, for a moment frozen apart from Lexa, searching for him. Her eyes water, collecting above her lower lashes. She curls into Lexa, hands digging into the wild, chestnut waves. Help me, she wants to cry out, help—

In one swift motion, Lexa is away from her then back again, holding her. Then cradling her, walking with her, lowering her. She hears a sorrowful hiccup and her eyes startle up to Lexa, searching for the noise, but it’s not there. The swimmer's green eyes bore down into her, open and wanting so badly to help. Another hiccup, and Clarke realizes it’s her own sorrow, her own chest heaving, trying to keep everything at bay. Her cheeks are wet when Lexa’ bends down to kiss at them.

“I’m sorry,” Clarke shutters, trying to keep Lexa from fading, not wanting the only comfort in this moment to go away.

“It’s okay,” is kissed into her skin over and over again, little prayers for relief, promises of protection.  Clarke tangles herself around the swimmer above her, clinging to the weight that presses into her, settling her, loving her. “I’m here,” Lexa whispers. Clarke feels it, feels all of her in her intensity and passion, in her desperation to soothe and fill.  When she’s sure it’s still okay, still what she wants, Lexa sucks the air out of Clarke’s lungs, touches her and fills her, all reverent and completely relentless until Clarke can’t possibly think about anything but trying to breathe and roll with the lithe body atop her.

“Clarke—“ Lexa gasps and Clarke presses up to take a taste of her name on Lexa’s lips. As Lexa builds her up, it becomes harder and harder to keep her lips there but she tries desperately because it’s warm and soft and Lexa’s breath on her face feels like the closest to home she’s gotten in a while. Lexa curls inside of her and rubs and kisses and Clarke’s head falls back to the pillow, mouth open in a tireless rhythm of gasps and moans. She whimpers when she comes, Lexa’s name spilling from her and dying in the crook of her neck that Clarke burrows into as she trembles through the immensity of imploding. She worries a moment for the taught skin of Lexa’s shoulders, wondering if she’s leaving little crescent moons in her wake, but Lexa doesn’t seem to mind.

And they don’t stop. The rooftop pool is long forgotten in the silver sheen of the moon that spills through the windows and colors the rest of their exploration. They blend together effortlessly, and if Clarke were able to pull out of it and get a good look at them together, she’d think it was the most beautiful mixture of green and blue, brown and blonde, tan and pale. Perfection on a canvas. Devastation through the ages like Da Vinci or Michelangelo.

Usually feeling colorless, Clarke drowns among a deluge of hues in this moment—the white of the sheets, the mauve of bruised lips, the ivory of their scars, the rose of flushed cheeks, a rainbow all of their own, made between them, within them, and around them.

They’re tender together, but it’s also deep, a fierce magnetism that plunges and yanks at every neglected space until they’re both exposed and bleeding and healing. When Lexa cries out for the first time as she trips after Clarke into oblivion, Clarke feels it reverberate through her, scaring away all of the ominous things that normally rattle her in the quiet, stillness of long nights, alone and colorless.

They hold each other long after it’s all over, sweaty bodies pressed together bare and warm. The rumble of planes and the sighs of waves talk over each other occasionally, but otherwise the night is quiet, quiet enough to elevate the labored little puffs of Lexa’s breathing as she steadies the both of them. She pulls Clarke onto her chest, and runs just her finger tips up her damp back in little designs.

“Are you writing?” Clarke murmurs, kissing the thick chord of muscle in Lexa’s neck that strains and releases with the swimmer’s movements.  

“Yes.”

“What are you writing?”

Lexa’s fingers still and she flattens her palm, wiping the slate clean. “Can you guess?” She begins again.

Clarke closes her eyes and breathes Lexa in, no longer smelling her father, just the culmination of she and Lexa coming together in more ways than one. Lexa is slow and steady, precise like a gold medalist, gentle like a lover. Clarke follows each letter, a warmth settling in her chest with each curve and line and sweep. She smiles and kisses her neck one last time as Lexa’s hand comes to a stand-still.

Nothing has ever felt more real in this moment, not even before. Not before when her body was unmarred, her mind unscathed and her family unbroken. Not even then could match the buzz of life thrumming through her as she takes in Lexa's message. She shifts and props herself up, getting a good look into Lexa's wide eyes just barely visible in the dark. Lexa reaches up and tucks a strand of sweat-slick hair behind her ear for her and smiles. Clarke sighs, never more sure of anything in her life. 

“I think I might love you too,” she whispers.

Lexa breaks into a grin and leans up, capturing her lips, in the slowest, perhaps most tender, kiss of the night. They just barely manage to keep it going through their wide smiles that eventually crumble into hushed laughter. Just barely.

 

Chapter Text

The water is always cold at first. Cold and dark and turbulent. Waves fight with the surface in a giant, thunderous war. Screams are muffled in the foam that fills her lungs and for long, long seconds, she’s sinking.

And then she turns her head, takes a breath, and continues. Stroke, slice, pull, kick. Stroke, slice, pull, kick. Repeat. Sinking in the in between until she can get to the next breath, head above water, mind beyond memories.

Lexa swims to forget what she will always remember, every stroke striving to pull her further and further away from the images that surface every time she submerges.  The first time she told Gus, he thought it was crazy, wrong. Unhealthy. But then she kept winning, and he never mentioned it again.

She hasn’t swum in two weeks, and she can feel it. Her lungs sear against her ribcage trying to keep up with the only pace that means the difference between winning and drowning. Her deltoids ache and her lats burn, her glutes are numb and her quads feel like lead, but she can’t stop because the screaming is the quietest it’s ever been and there’s something new. There’s Clarke between every stroke, that hair and those eyes.

Blonde and bright, bright blue interrupt the images of splintering wood and gasoline fires that normally litter her mind as she pushes herself harder and faster. The change is weird for her, but not unwelcome. Certainly not unwelcome. When she swims, Lexa usually only ever sees her parents’ boat erupting against the black night. It turned her into a champion, and for that she’s sort of sadistically grateful. But today none of that matters, because today there’s Clarke.

With each new stroke, slice, pull and kick, more and more of Clarke manifests until Lexa can almost feel the memory of running her palm down the plane of Clarke’s warm stomach, kissing at the soft moans that spill out of her lips, holding her against her chest as they both struggle to catch their breath.

By the time Lexa breaks the surface, panting and flushed, her body is heavy and numb but everything aches for Clarke. After Clarke had left San Diego, Lexa had wondered if maybe inviting her had been a mistake, because nothing in a long time had been quite as hard as saying goodbye again after only two days.

She drags herself out of the pool and stands, surveying the lanes still cast in the dark of the early, early morning.

“Why don’t you ever turn the lights on like a normal human, Lexa?”

Lexa turns to see Anya standing in the doorway, arms crossed and pencil skirt suit already nicely pressed at five in the morning.

“I focus better in the dark.”

Anya shrugs, “suit yourself.” She gingerly crosses the threshold onto the tile, eyes suspicious of the wet, slippery squares. “I hate wet tile,” she grumbles under the sound of her clacking heels.

“You picked the wrong athlete to represent then.”  Lexa crosses the slick surface with ease, peels off her cap, and grabs her towel from the nearby bleachers.

“Well, not all of us are built like fish.”

“Not all of us wear six-inch heels to the poolside,” Lexa quips, smirking ever so slightly when Anya rolls her eyes.

“Are you gonna be dressed and ready by noon? The kids are very excited to see you.”  Anya waits for an answer while Lexa tugs on limbs and rolls her back like a large, quiet mountain cat, wrestling all the kinks and fatigue out of her muscles.  “Lexa.”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. I’ll be there.”

“Noon. And the press conference is tonight at eight. Got that?”

Lexa nods and continues stretching. “Tonight at eight.”

“I mean it, Lexa.”

“You act like I’ve just not showed up before,” Lexa huffs, dropping her arms from their contortionist acts.

“You’ve just been a little…off lately.”

“Off?”

“Distracted.”

“Distracted...” Lexa mulls it over with a furrowed brow. She’d never been called ‘distracted’ before.

“I just need you sharp for a few more days. Then you’re done and you can go eat pizza or whatever you Olympians do after the Games.”

“I eat pizza whenever I want,” Lexa offers honestly.

Anya grins. “Of course you do. Anyways, I’m serious. Just give me a few more days of focus, okay? I know you’re tired.”

“I’m not tired, Anya. I’m—“

“Off. As I said--”

“I’m not off,” Lexa snaps.

“Well something’s different, Lexa. You’re…I don’t know. Different and--”

“I’m Happy,” Lexa cuts in, “Happy is the word you’re looking for, Anya,” she says a little more sharply than perhaps she’d intended.

Anya has the decency to look slightly embarrassed before she nods and relaxes her stiff pose. She reaches out and grips Lexa’s shoulder in what Lexa knows is a struggle to show any outwardly affection. “I’m glad, Lexa,” Anya says softly, “just…be there at noon. Okay? Then I want to meet after to prep for the press conference. This is a big one. Are you ready?”

“I always am.”

Anya smiles because the swimmer is right, Lexa is always ready. “Get going before your muscles cramp up. It’s cold in here,” she says, chasing away any chance of being perceived as caring by pulling out her phone and immediately making a business call. Lexa can only watch in amused amazement and let her manager do what she does best: manage.

 


 

 

Lexa stands cool and collected, hands in her pockets, as Anya hurriedly fidgets with the stiff collar on her white button-down. “It’s crooked,” the manager huffs.

Lexa shrugs and kicks at a smudge on the floor. “It’s fine, Anya.”

“Don’t do that,” Anya protests, dropping down to a prim squat, “you’ll scuff them.” She rubs the end of her own navy blazer over the toe of Lexa’s pristine, brown leather Oxfords. They’re fine, always are, but Anya is a nervous fixer, always tugging and pulling at Lexa’s outfits until the last minute.

Lexa just sighs and undoes her cufflinks, slipping them into her pockets. As she rolls up her sleeves she can practically see the aneurism occurring in her manager’s head, but she just grins and shakes her head. “It’s fine, Anya,” she says again before the manager can squeal at the new wrinkles in her sleeves.

“You should have left your hair wet like I told you to.”

“Why? So it could drip all over my shirt? No thank you.”

Anya rolls her eyes and begins her pointless fidgeting with Lexa’s already immaculate hair. “I told you. It looks good to the press to seem like you’ve just finished swimming.”

“It’s eight o’clock at night, Anya. I’ve finished swimming by the time they’ve even woken up to take their morning piss.”

“That’s real nice, Lexa.”

Lexa just shrugs and chuckles, attempting to see the paper she was given over the make-up artist’s hands who Anya had called over to needlessly touch her up. “Who’s ‘The Rant?’” she asks, squinting at the list of press who would be present.

“Small sociopolitical press from Poughkeepsie. Where are your glasses?”

“Upstairs,” Lexa murmurs, still scanning. “Why is a small sociopolitical press from upstate New York here?”

“Because you’re Alexandria Woods. Everyone is here. Are you wearing your contacts?” Lexa just grunts. “Lexa?”

“Hold on.”

“Lexa—“

“Yes I’m wearing them, but Anya, shit. I said no ‘Squaker!’ I won’t do a press conference for them.”

Anya shoos away the make-up artist. “It’s not for them, Lexa. There are hundreds of different outlets here.”

Lexa bunches the paper in her fist and shoves it in her pocket. “Yeah, and I said make sure ‘The Squaker’ wasn’t one of them. They’re a sorry excuse for a media outlet anyways.”

“They have a readership count in the millions, Lexa, we can’t just not invite them.”

“Yeah, and so does National Inquirer. TMZ. You name it, doesn’t mean it’s any good.”

“They’re not good, but that’s not the point. The point is that they’re well read and they’re already here. I can’t ask them to go.”

“Sure you can. It goes something like this: ‘hi, you’re media is shitty and toxic and I don’t want you at my athlete’s press conference because you suck.’ Bam. Easy.”

“Lex—“

“Anya!” Lexa nearly shouts, and the manager looks around to see who they’ve disturbed. But the hallways are empty. Lexa take a deep breath, clenching her fists in her pockets to keep control. Anya glowers at the motion and takes the list out of Lexa’s pocket. She uncrumbles it, then runs her hand over the front of the swimmer’s pressed navy slacks, smoothing the wrinkles created from Lexa’s fists. “I don’t want them here,” Lexa reiterates, quiet but stern.

“What do you want me to do, Lexa? There are probably dozens of sleezy tabloid reps here. I can’t make an announcement asking every low class, pap-fueled publication to leave.”

“I’m not asking you to. I don’t care about the others, Anya. I care about ‘The Squaker.’”

Anya shakes her head and gently tugs the ends of Lexa’s hair, getting it to lay smooth over her shoulder. “It’s eight-fifteen. There’s just not time.”

God, Anya,” Lexa growls in frustration and shoves her hands into her hips, pacing. “Make time. I won’t talk with them in the room. Get them out, or I will.”

“What is the deal, Lexa, jesus ?”

“They!—” She slams her open hand against the wall and fumes. Anya stares at her hard, daring her to make a scene, and Lexa wants to. God does she want to. She wants to storm in there, rip the ‘Squaker’ representative out of his chair and toss him outside. Instead she practices the self-control and discipline only an Olympic athlete has the capacity for and closes her eyes, catching her breath. Her jaw grinds when she opens her eyes again and Anya is looking at her impatiently.

“They plastered her face all over the fucking internet and called her an unstable fan , Anya,” she says with forced evenness. “ An unstable fan --about a woman suffering extensive trauma and heartbreak. A woman who, by the way, means a great deal to me. So, please, just…just do it, okay? God, they disgust me.”

“Lexa, look. I hear you. I really do. What they said about your friend was horrible—“

“She’s not my friend, Anya. I… god .” Lexa runs her hands over her face, severely out of practice when it comes to talking about emotions. “I love her, okay? I love her. And I am not going to disrespect her by sitting in a room with the people who tried to deface her. She’s a world-class, highly respected painter, Anya. Did you know that? No? Me neither. Not until I saw an article about the ‘crazy fan who once was a painter and now is a maniac.’”

“Wow," Anya breathes, "okay. She pinches the bridge of her nose. There’s a lot in there that we need to talk about. Later. But for right now, you need to listen to what I am saying. There just isn’t time at this point to subtly ask them to leave,” Anya looks at her watch, then at the doors leading into the room where the press conference will be held.

“Then don’t do it subtly, I don’t care. Look—“ Lexa holds up her hand to stop Anya’s protests then holsters it on her hip— “I never ask anything of you. I’m not hard to manage, I’m low maintenance, I stay out of trouble. I win everything you put me in and make you a lot of money. The worst I do is sometimes not answer your calls—“

Anya scoffs and nods emphatically, but deep down she knows the swimmer is right.

“I don’t ask for much, but I’m asking for this, Anya, please. I don’t want them here.”

They stare at each other, both piercing and immoveable. But Lexa has the upper hand of being right, so Anya sighs and nods exasperatedly. “Okay. Fine.”

“Thank you, Anya.” Lexa smiles her small, subtle smile that lives just in the corner of her mouth, and goes back to looking down the list of present media outlets, now with one less to worry about.

 


 

It’s been in thirty minutes and Lexa is already tired. The questions are endless and mundane. It’s supposed to be about her future, where will she compete, for how long, what are her goals, etc. etc. and yet in the past half hour she could probably count on one hand the amount of relevant questions she’d gotten.

She tries not to look too excited when Anya stands up and calls for the last question.

“Lexa! Lexa! Over here!”  The press members are all out of their seats, raising their pens or recorders in the air and Lexa takes deep breaths through the chaos. She always hates this part, when in their panic people get pushy and frantic, loud and demanding.

Anya calls on someone she doesn’t recognize and knows they must be from a smaller press. It takes a while for people to settle, but when they finally do, she almost wishes they hadn’t.

“Lexa, why did you have ‘The Squaker’ removed from today’s press conference? Was it because of their most recent article?”

“Does it have to do with the woman from San Diego?” Another one pipes up out of turn.

“Will you be upping your security after the incident?”

It’s a madhouse until Anya stands again and regains control over the mob, forcing them into quiet. They all turn to Lexa and if anyone there knew her well enough, they’d be able to see that the water glass in her hand was seconds from shattering. Lexa puts it down slowly, allowing herself to calm enough to answer without shredding the reporters to pieces.

“Look,” she starts, eyes still trained on her glass, “I’m not a fan of personal questions. I think this is an inappropriate platform for them.” She raises her eyes and casts them around the room. “But,” she sighs, long and deliberating, “that being said, this needs to be addressed.” She pauses, wishing for something—what exactly, she didn’t know. She thinks maybe she wishes for some time, or maybe some quiet. She wishes Clarke were still with her. Wishes she were back home in LA, enjoying the sun or maybe the way Clarke feels under her lips. She wishes she could hear Clarke’s laugh of feel the flutter of her soft stomach under her exploring fingers. Sometimes she wishes this weren’t her life. That the words “press conference” and “fame” were so foreign to her she could only laugh at the thought of them while she lounged on her family boat with her parents, drinking her grape juice while they sipped from their favorite Summer wine.

She sits forward and stretches her endlessly long arms, her brow furrowed under the harsh florescent lights. She wills herself to get through this one last question. She has one week and four conferences left before she could go home and be with Clarke. She could do this.

She takes a sip of her water.  “About three weeks ago,” she clears her throat, “‘The Squaker’ wrote a horrendously inaccurate and cruel article about someone very dear to me.” The crowd comes to life again. “No—” she waves her hand at the rise of comments, “no, I’m not going to go into detail here. The fact of the matter is—” she has to pause for the noise to die down enough for her to be heard. She takes another sip of her water, waiting. Anya rises again and settles them like a professional, all the while Lexa’s eyes are on the clock. The sound of Anya’s chair sliding when the manager sits back down brings Lexa’s eyes back to the crowd.  She swallows her sip and clears her throat once more. “The fact of the matter,” she begins again, this time a little more quickly, hoping to get through it, “is that what they think they saw was wrong. What they wrote was even worse. And I won’t tolerate anything of that nature again. I can’t stop you from writing what you what. All I can do is ask that you please respect me and my privacy and that you respect my friends and their privacy. That’s all I have to say at this time. Thank you.”

The crowd roars with questions, but she’s up and out of her chair before any of the white noise can morph into words. Anya gives her shoulder a squeeze on the way out before she turns back to the crowd for closing statements.

 


 

 

“So I’m very dear to you, huh?”

Lexa smiles and ducks her head, hand coming to scratch nervously at the back of her neck as Clarke’s eyes sparkle back at her from the computer screen. “You could say that,” she mutters through her shy grin.

“Thank you.”

“For what?"

“You stood up for me. I really appreciate that.”

“Of course I did. What that publication wrote was disgusting. I talked to my lawyers right after it happened about getting it retracted and they actually just touched based the other day saying it looks promising. And about a week ago I put in a fine request as well, so that’s in motion. If I can help it, nothing like it will happen again.”

Clarke smiles her soft, sleepy smile and Lexa feels her chest contort into all kinds of lovely, but painful yearnings. “You’re quite the knight in shining armor, Ms. Woods.”

Lexa chuckles, shaking her head. “You’re hardly a damsel in distress, Clarke. I just—I should have gotten ahead of it in the first place, so this is the least I could do.”

“Well, it means a lot. Thank you.”

Lexa feels the praise swim through her in powerful currents of pride. Like this is what she was born to do. What she was made to do. To love and protect Clarke, respect her, cherish her. Admire and honor her. “You’re very welcome,” she mutters quickly, not sure how Clarke manages to make someone like her, an athlete with years of training for this exact kind of thing, tremble and blush with nerves.  “So,” she says after a moment, gathering herself, “tell me about your day. I’ve missed you.”

They talk and talk and talk. Until they don’t. Because nothing ever quite seems to last in Lexa’s life.

It starts with another article, this time even more invasive and intrusive. The reporter goes all out, scrounging up photos from the Olympics, from San Diego, even pictures of Clarke in LA, thousands of miles away from Lexa. Suddenly the entire world is interested in the woman who is always around America’s favorite Olympian. Suddenly Clarke’s accident, her heartbreak, pictures of her father are all over every sleazy tabloid’s front page. Suddenly Lexa feels herself trying to keep everything at bay when all it wants to do is rush out to sea in stormy chaos.

Suddenly Clarke doesn’t answer her calls and suddenly, Lexa is alone.

 


 

 Lexa has never been a drinker, but she finds herself at a bar every night in Colorado Springs having opted for the Olympic Training Center after the end of her press tour rather than go home to LA and be reminded of the fact that Clarke doesn’t want to talk to her, let alone see her.

Anya calls and calls, but Lexa has taken a habit of leaving her phone back in her housing at the training center. It’s modest and plain but it was enough for the time being so one night she showed up, unpacked her things, and tacked up two pictures on the wall and that was that.

She’s been there for almost two weeks now, and people are finally starting to catch on that she is not a big talker. The bartender knows her drink and has it ready before she has to ask, people stare but they’ve finally stopped asking for photos with her. She gets the occasional request for an autograph, and when it’s from little girls who look up at her like she’s the world, she can’t help but relent.

Lincoln finds her tonight just like that, smiling down at a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, signing a bright pink kickboard. They’d never been close, but Lincoln had always somehow managed to understand her better than the others did. He was never deterred by her quiet demeanor or her stoic focus. In fact, he finds a lot of inspiration and motivation in the champion who signs little girls’ kickboards and doesn’t quite realize the impact she has on the world.

“Feels a little less dramatic coming to a bar that’s attached to a family restaurant, doesn’t it?” He grins and sidles up next to her once the little girl has left with her parents to occupy the other side of the small, hometown establishment.

Lexa shrugs. “It’s the only bar in town that knows how to make my drink right.”

“What are you drinking? Next one’s on me.”

“It’s fine. I was about to leave.”

“So stay for a bit. You don’t have anywhere to be.”

“How would you know?” The thick glass of Lexa’s tumbler clinks down on the sticky wood of the bar and she toys with it, trying to get it to balance on its bottom rim.

“Because you’re here at the OTC…in September… after breaking world records and winning seven Golds. Obviously you have nothing better to do.”

“You’re here too.”

“I didn’t win seven golds.”

Lexa rolls her eye and drinks out of the replenished cup that’s placed in front of her.

“You could be out having fun, doing whatever you want. Instead you’re here acting like you have nothing better to do.”

“Yeah, well I did and now I don’t,” she mutters sardonically.

“Ah yes, the lover’s quarrel. That would bring me to my next point—“

“Lincoln, don’t.” She turns to get up, but he stops her. “Look,” she sighs, “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but—“

“Would you cut the shit and listen to me for a second?” Lincoln stuns her into silence and all she can do is raise her brows and let him continue. “You look like shit, Lex. You’re swimming like shit—no, don’t argue, your times are shit. You can thank me for the tough love later—and to top it all off you’re drinking shitty alcohol. You’re a three-time Olympic gold medalist and you’re sitting here wallowing like an asshole.”

Lexa laughs in shock. “Is that supposed to be a pep talk? You suck at it.” Lexa takes a big gulp and hisses as the amber liquid burns down her throat.

“Let me finish.”

“Lincoln—“

“Seriously, Lex. Let me finish.”

Lexa relents and leans back, crossing her arms as she turns to finally give her attention to the first silver medalist in USA Men’s diving in a decade, won over eight years ago at her first Olympics. He’d impressed her and eventually befriended her, taking her under his wing when the rest of the world seemed intimidated by the wounded teenager who was taking the pool by storm.

“She’s embarrassed, Lexa. She’s embarrassed and overwhelmed. This isn’t her world. This is our world, and we’ve been learning how to deal with it for years. It’s been, what, a month for her? And she’s having to figure it all out while the rest of the world publicly learns of her deepest, darkest memories. She’s just scared, Lexa. Don’t let her push you away when she actually needs you the most.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” She goes to take another sip, but it’s already empty. “She doesn’t need me. I did this to her. Being with me did this to her.”

“She’s just overwhelmed. You need to talk to her.”

“I’ve tried.”

“Try harder.”

Lexa grinds her teeth and stares at him in frustration. But then realization dawns on her. “How—“ she puts the empty glass down slowly, “how would you know what she’s feeling?”  She eyes him suspiciously and the guilt glows in his cheeks. “Lincoln.”

“I uh…I may have a thing with Octavia and we may have talked about Clarke the other night,” he admits quietly.

“With—wait. Really? With Octavia? Like Octavia what’s her face…Blake or something?”

He nods. “We met at the Games. Look, it’s really new. So don’t…don’t go embarrassing me or whatever.”

Lexa grins. “You’re a diver, you do that all by yourself.”

“Hey! Easy.”

She shrugs, wondering how feeling happy for your friend can also feel so incredibly nauseating. “I’m glad for you, Lincoln. Octavia seems great.”

“She is. Know what else she is?”

“What.” She sighs, done with the conversation and the memories and the feeling of the cold glass under her finger tips rather than Clarke’s warm skin.

“She’s informative. Clarke’s apparently a mess without you. She needs you. And frankly, you need her. You look like shit.”

Dude.

“I’m just telling it like it is, Lex.”

“Well you suck at it. Besides, she doesn't need me. I fucked up,” Lexa groans.

“You didn’t do anything wrong. You have to remember that.”

“I didn’t protect her.”

“That’s not your job—“

“Yes it is,” she snaps. “It unequivocally is. You protect the ones you love and when you can’t—“ she pauses and her lower lip trembles and she hates herself for it. “When you can’t, you lose them." She pushes her stool back with a loud scrape.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I just. I need to think.”

She’s tosses a wad of bills on the counter and leaves before he can stop her. He grabs his coat and follows after her at a jog. “Lexa—“ he calls, catching up with her just as she’s about to cross the street. “Hey,” he grabs her leather sleeve.

She turns, tired and annoyed and eyes stinging dangerously. “What, man? Seriously, what do you want from me?” It’s croaky and wet in her throat.

“I’m flying out to LA in a few days to see O. You should come.”

Lexa chews on her cheek, hoping the pain keeps her from doing anything stupid. “I can’t. I won’t force myself on her.”

Lincoln nods. “Do you want me to try talking to her?”

“Only if she wants to. Don’t—“ she lets out a long sigh and shakes her head, “don’t push her.”

 


 

 

Clarke has never been more miserable in her life. No, that’s a lie. She knows exactly a time when she’s been more miserable because it’s plastered all over every tabloid cover in her local super market, not to mention all over Twitter.

But now feels pretty awful too. She hasn’t talked to Lexa in a week and it’s one of the hardest things she’s ever done. And the worst part, is that she’s not even mad. At the tabloids, yes, of course, but at Lexa? Her sweet, sweet Lexa? She could never be mad. What she is, is ashamed. Ashamed and disgusted and severely unsure of herself and how she fits into Lexa’s crazy world of fame and fortune.

And so she can’t bring herself to answer Lexa’s calls or texts, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before they become break-up messages.

“Clarke?”

Clarke looks up from her plate, startled to find three pairs of eyes on her. “Sorry…what?”

Lincoln drops his fork and leans forward in his chair, placing his forearms on the table. Octavia swats at him until he rolls his eyes with a slight chuckle and leans back. “I asked you to consider it.”

Clarke’s eyes jump from face to face looking for clues, but she’d spaced out a while ago, completely lost to the conversation. She bites her lip in shy embarrassment.

“You didn’t hear any of that, did you?” Octavia chuckles as she stands and clears everyone’s plate.

“Hey, I’m not done with that,” Bellamy protests. Octavia takes his plate anyways and smacks him lightly on the head.

Clarke watches the pair fondly until Lincoln leans back in and gently touches her wrist. “Clarke,” he implores quietly.

“You want me to talk to her.”

He nods with his sweet, gently eyes and the resemblance forms a thick knot in her throat.

“She doesn’t need me, Lincoln. I’m making her life more difficult.”

“By not talking to her, yeah. She’s a wreck, Clarke.”

“Hey,” Octavia snaps, coming back in from the kitchen, “take it easy. Don’t blame her.” She shoots her boyfriend a warning glare and sits down next to Clarke. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, Clarke.”

“I want to talk to her,” Clarke cries, “I just—“ she shakes her head and lets out a shaky breath that only does more to upset her.

“If you want to, then you should. She’s dying to hear from you.”

Clarke looks at Lincoln with big, sorrowful eyes. She knows what she wants, but she doesn’t know how to go about it. Not when all she can think about is how the world must see her and how no one like Lexa could possibly want that in their life.

“At least tell me something, Clarke-- do you blame her?”

“Lexa? Wha-no! No, of course not. She didn’t have any control over it. But I’m really hurt and angry, and I don’t know how to deal with it yet. And I don’t want to direct any of that at her or punish her in any way.”

“Well, you not talking to her is punishing her. She thinks you hate her, Clarke. She—“ Lincoln bites his tongue, flustered, and tries to keep from coming off heavy-handed. Especially with Octavia’s boot digging into his shin. “She needs you, Clarke. At the very least she needs to know you don’t blame her. She’s all alone right now.”

“She’s not alone,” Clarke murmurs. “She’s got you. And all of her other friends. I’m just dragging her down. Look at the tabloid, Lincoln!” She grabs one out of a nearby trashcan and chucks it onto the table. She stabs the cover with her index finger and bores into him. “’Unstable and Erratic, Who Is Alexandria Woods’ Obsessed Fan?’” Her voice cracks and she turns her head away sharply, stifling her trembling lip in the fabric on her shoulder. When she closes her eyes, a tear skids down her cheek and Octavia is by her side in an instant. “You would think that they’d at least manage to get a picture of us kissing or something, so that they can see I’m not—,” she chokes down a sob, “an unstable fan .”

“Hey,” Octavia soothes, pulling Clarke’s head to her shoulder, “it’s all trash. You know that. They choose to focus on what they want to.”

“You said you and Lexa never really showed much PDA, right? Maybe they genuinely don’t realize,” Bellamy offers.

Clarke shrugs in both anger and sadness. “We thought discretion would protect our privacy. Guess we were wrong.”

“Generally, you wouldn’t be wrong,” Lincoln says quietly, “it’s just bad timing. Lexa is a hot topic right now and things always get really crazy after competitions. It either goes really great or really nasty. You guys got unlucky this round.”

“Or maybe it has nothing to do with luck,” Clarke says sardonically. “Maybe there’s never been anything nasty about Lexa before because I’m the one spurring it.”

“Oh it’s been bad, before, Clarke,” Lincoln chuckles, “I don’t know how long you’ve been following Lexa—“

Years, ” Octavia teases, bumping shoulders with Clarke and drawing the tiniest of smiles from Clarke’s tear-streaked face.

“Well then you’ll remember how aggressive the media was about her family when she was in her first Olympics. It was brutal. They left nothing unsaid. I didn’t know Lexa very well then but I know it really bothered her. She’s just better than the rest of us at hiding it.”

“And there was that other girl a few years ago. What was her name?” Bellamy shoots off, much to the surprise of everyone else. “What? I’m fan too,” he mutters.

It draws a much needed chuckle from all of them.

“You’re talking about Echo,” Lincoln says, the slightest hint of bitterness coating his words. The others miss it, but Clarke certainly doesn’t.

“Who’s that?” She asks. “I never really followed press…until now.”

“Bad time to start.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” she laughs, but it comes out more like a mess of sniffs and chest rattles.

“Echo is…was…not great. She and Lexa were dating when Echo used to swim for USA before she got kicked off the team for sabotage. You can take a wild guess as to who she sabotaged."

"Are you serious?" 

“Yeah. Turns out Echo just wanted to get close to her to ‘dethrone’ her,” he airquotes. “Played all kinds of mind games, kept her from training, you name it. The point is, when it all imploded, the media was all over it. They're aggressive and deplorable. This isn’t on you. And it’s not on Lexa either. But that's not what she's thinking right now. She misses you, Clarke, and frankly she’s freaking out."

“I miss her too,” Clarke murmurs, eyes wetting all over again. “But I’m not what she needs right now.”

“You’re wrong—”

Lincoln. ” Octavia shoots daggers.

Lincoln raises his hand. “Babe, hear me out.” He turns to Clarke. “Clarke, you’re everything she needs. Lexa has been alone her entire life and when you came into it, it’s like everything changed. I’ve never seen her smile so much in the eight years I’ve known her.”

Clarke can’t help but smile too, briefly, before her face falls again. “I just don’t want to bring her down. She doesn’t deserve that.”

“And you don’t deserve to think that’s what you would do. And Lexa doesn’t think that. Clarke, listen. This probably isn’t my place to say, but I think you need to know—“ Lincoln assures, but he’s interrupted.

“Then maybe you should keep it to yourself and let Clarke make up her own mind,” Bellamy huffs, rejoining the conversation.

“Bellamy, chill,” Octavia warns.

Clarke places her hand on Bellamy’s tense forearm and smiles at him. “It’s okay, Bell.”

“He’s pressuring you.”

“I can handle myself. He’s just trying to inform me.”

“You can inform yourself. You can call her yourself. If you want to know, why don’t you just talk to her?”

Octavia smacks him on the shoulder and Clarke just stares at him, her mouth opening and closing in a desperate attempt for an answer. “I--,” she stumbles.

“Get up,” Octavia orders.

Bellamy looks at her in confusion.

“Get up. This isn’t our conversation. Let them talk.” She turns to Clarke as she urges Bellamy out of his seat. “We’ll be in the living room if you need us.”

Clarke nods and watches them go, staring at her fidgeting hands on the table. “She misses me?” She asks quietly, when she and Lincoln are alone.

Lincoln nods. “Greatly.”

“What were you going to tell me?”

Lincoln leans back and rubs at his forehead, wrestling with whether or not to tell her, and what the consequences might be if he does or doesn’t. “Look,” he starts, “I don’t know what Lexa’s told you about her childhood. But like I said, it was…rough.”

Clarke looks both upset and confused and Lincoln knows he can’t get away without specifics.

“Lexa grew up completely isolated,” he explains.  “She was a superstar before her parents ever passed.  But being only ten, mainstream media hadn’t really caught on yet. But we all knew her. Everyone with USA Swimming and Diving and on the junior national teams knew her and they hated her. She was so much better than everyone else that no one talked to her out of jealousy. From what I remember, she was really close to her family because of that. Outside of them, Lexa grew up thinking that she was completely alone and she learned to just accept that. And then her family died. By the time she was sixteen and we met, she was a brick wall. Sweetest, most humble person you’ll ever meet, but totally closed off. She gave Echo a chance, but obviously that only made things worse. I’ve known the girl for eight years and I still don’t truly know anything about her because she doesn’t let people in.”

He rubs at his head and sighs. “She’s learned that when she lets people in, they hurt her or she loses them. But she let you in, Clarke. I don’t know how, but she opened up again and let you in and I’m pretty sure you are the most important thing in her world. She doesn’t care what other people think. She never has. But she cares what you think, and right now she thinks you don’t want to have anything to do with her. You should call her. Octavia and Bellamy are right...do it when you’re ready…just, try to do it at some point. Okay?”

Clarke has a hard time hearing the rest of his speech because she’s busy agonizing over the image of little Lexa being ostracized and hated on, going through her parents’ death alone, battling silently under the harsh eyes of everyone. Then Echo. She wipes at her eyes as she nods and thanks Lincoln quietly for talking with her. She can’t focus for the rest of the night, and eventually excuses herself halfway through the gang watching Zootopia on Netflix.

She crawls into bed with Lexa’s navy blue USA sweatshirt, worn at the sleeves from where Lexa had tugged at them over the years when she was nervous, a tell Clarke had watched Lexa perform countless times during her post-race interviews.

The sweatshirt no longer smells like Lexa since she’d been given it, okay stolen it, back in San Diego. Not even a little bit. But it’s soft and warm against her skin and if she really tries, it feels a little bit like a hug from the swimmer. Which she is in desperate need of. She stares at Lexa’s face on her lockscreen, tracing the outline of her jaw on the screen and hating the way it feels hard and cold unlike the real thing.

She knows it’s late in Colorado by now, but after two weeks of not speaking, and hearing from Lincoln, she can’t wait any longer. The line rings three times and each time, Clarke’s heart rate quickens. After the fourth ring, she thinks that maybe Lexa won’t pick up. Best case scenario, the swimmer is asleep. Worst case, she’s decided to give Clarke a taste of her own medicine. But just before she’s about to hang up, the ringing stops and Clarke’s heart leaps at the sound of Lexa’s croaky voice saying her name. She’s not sure if the croak is tear-induced or sleep-induced…she hopes to god it’s the latter.

“Lex—“ she breathes, eyes immediately clouding over as she burrows further into her sheets and pulls the hoodie up to her chin. “Lex, I’m so sorry.”

"What?” Comes Lexa’s emphatic voice.  “No. No, love, you have nothing to be sorry for.”

Clarke closes her eyes tighter and wipes the new, salty drips on her cheeks off with the top of the sheets.

“I should be the sorry one. I should have…stopped it,” Lexa continues, “Somehow. I should have protected you from them,” Lexa continues and Clarke can’t stop the whimper she’d been restraining from spilling out of her lips. It’s stops Lexa cold in her tracks.

“Clarke? Baby, what’s wrong?”

Clarke shakes her head and pulls the sheets up further. “I miss you,” she chokes out. “I miss you so much and I know I hurt you.” She’s crying now, head and chest aching from the emotional strain, and for a terrible second she thinks maybe the tabloids are right. Maybe she is broken and unstable.

Lexa is silent for a moment only because, if Clarke could see, she is straining to hold back her own tears listening to Clarke’s sniffs on the other side of the line. “Clarke—“

“Can I come see you?” Clarke blurts out.

“Wha—yeah. Yes. Of course, of course you can,” Lexa says immediately. “When do you want to come? I’ll get your ticket.”

Clarke chuckles and wipes at her eyes, slowly feeling the strain of the last two weeks finally leave her. “Um, I need to pack. But…I could come, I don’t know. I could even come tomorrow? I mean, that’s probably too soon. I just mean that technically I’d be available, but you probably need time to--”

“No,” Lexa interjects, “no, it’s okay. You can come tomorrow. You can come whenever you want.”

Chapter Text

Whenever she wants turns out to be a late night red-eye two nights later after giving herself some time to decompress and prepare herself for travel.

 

She gets in sometime between late night and early morning while it’s still dark outside and the airport is just starting to wake up. She’s barely awake herself as she walks through the deserted terminals. It’s nice for once to feel so calm in an airport. It’s almost enjoyable—the rhythmic clacking of her suitcase wheels against the floor as she watches the sleepy planes meander across the tarmac as she passes.

 

She tries to draw from some of that peace when she rounds the corner and walks towards the pick-up area. She grips the handle of her suitcase a little tighter and presses on, eyes bouncing from person to person in search of the face she both longs to see and is terrified to see.

 

Her heart starts to sink when she doesn’t find her, even after walking through the small collection of people and into the baggage claim area.

 

The unmistakable threat of panic tugs in her chest when she does a slow 360 and still, nothing. She takes out her phone and goes back through their texts making sure she told Lexa the right arrival time, checks the clock in the airport to make sure it’s not a time-change issue, double checks that she went to the right side of the airport. Everything lines up...except, that is, for Lexa.

 

Clarke picks at her phone case and tries not to think about all the possible reasons that could have kept Lexa from showing up. Maybe there was traffic. Maybe she was angry, and decided not to come. Maybe there had been an accide—

 

She clenches her eyes shut and wills herself to think about anything else, anything but Lexa crushed inside of a car. She doesn’t have to work for long before she hears her name. It’s breathless and a little unsure to her ears. She opens her eyes to find Lexa walking towards her quickly, so impossibly soft and inviting in her black hoodie and grey, tapered Nike sweats. “Lex,” she murmurs, relieved and nervous all at the same time.

 

“Hey baby,” the swimmer just barely manages to sigh before she’s grabbing Clarke’s cheeks and kissing her.

 

Clarke lets out the tiniest sound, somewhere between a whimper and a hum, as her hands leave her suitcase and latch onto Lexa’s hips. Her fingers immediately find the little bit of skin peaking out above Lexa’s waistband, and squeeze as she draws the swimmer closer. It feels like an eternity, a wonderful, overwhelming eternity, before Lexa finally pulls away and rests her forehead against Clarke’s. “Hey,” Lexa breathes through slightly labored breaths.

 

Clarke's eyes flutter open and she smiles a real, genuine, smile for the first time in days. “Hi,” she whispers.

 

“I’m glad you here.”

 

“Me too.”

 

“My rover still gonna be okay for you?”

 

“I think so.  I’m sort of hopped up right now, I don’t think it will bother me,” Clarke admits with a shy and tired chuckle.

 

“Any particular reason? Or just your normal Xanax for the travel?” Lexa grabs Clarke’s hand in one hand and the handle of her suitcase in another.

 

“Just been a long couple of weeks,” Clarke mutters.  And she immediately regrets the way it flashes across Lexa’s face like guilt. “Hey, it’s not your fault,” she promises, squeezing her hand.

 

“It is. But…” she sighs, “I appreciate that.” It’s a little cool and detached, more so than Clarke has ever seen Lexa be with her. It terrifies her and sits heavy in her stomach the whole rest of the walk to short term parking.

 

“This is me,” Lexa says, unlocking a large, black Range Rover and stepping back to let Clarke adjust.

 

“It’s nice.” Clarke stretches out to touch the side of the Rover. “I—“ she cuts off and pulls her hand back. “It’s a bit of a process,” she explains with downcast eyes.

 

“Take your time.” Lexa gives her a smile but otherwise remains passive.

 

Clarke turns back to the car and tentatively reaches out, planting her palm on the door. She takes a deep breath, forcing herself to focus on this car. It’s black compared to her father’s blue. The finish is a matte, not shiny. It’s bigger than her father’s, of course. Cleaner too. She smiles briefly. She visualizes herself getting in, closing the door and putting on her seat belt. She can’t keep her head from falling between her shoulders when the image of the door closing flashes through her mind. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, “I just need a second.”

 

“I’m in no rush, sweetheart.”

 

Clarke looks back at her and feels something a little lighter play through her. Maybe Lexa isn’t mad at her, isn’t pulling away. Maybe she too has just been pummeled by the last two weeks. “Lex—“

 

“Hm?”

 

“I just…I’m sorry I froze you out. I didn’t know how to handle it. I was overwhelmed and angry--not at you--but I was angry. And I didn’t want it to come out on you.”

 

Lexa nods and gives her a sad smile. “I understand. It’s okay.”

 

Standing there in the slowly oncoming dawn, Clarke gets a good look at Lexa. She seems so small against the deep sky, hands shoved in her pockets and shoulders rolled forward. Maybe it’s just shadows, or maybe Lexa’s eyes are heavy and sunken and dare she say, despondent. Looking at her feels the way those little middle school drawings always looked. The ones with the hearts being impaled by an arrow.

 

She blinks past her tears, sick and tired of feeling so broken, and walks back to the one thing that makes her feel whole. “It’s not okay,” she mutters into the crook of Lexa’s neck. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have abandoned you.”

 

The pitiful sound that comes out of Lexa at the words feel like a hammer to the heart and all she can do is hold her tighter.

 

“I thought I lost you.”

 

Clarke shakes her head and tries not to crush the swimmer. “Never. I’m not going anywhere.” She pulls back and they both go to wipe away the other’s tears, falling into soft chuckles. “Let’s go home,” Clarke sighs.

 

“Yeah?”

 

She nods, takes a deep breath, and steps into the car.

 

 


 

 

Lexa never was very good at being happy. Not for lack of trying. She certainly wasn’t miserable, not all the time, but she was lonely. And it was so familiar that she had grown accustomed to it and, almost secure by it—her ever loyal companion, always tagging along. It lulled her into a false sense of contentment that for the most part tricked her into a kind of paper-thin happiness, only fueled further by fame and fortune.

 

But then Clarke had come along, abuzz and alight in the middle of the men’s basketball team, eyes huge with wonder, jumping up and down to the music in that way people do when they have a burden to forget, and in that glorious moment, they manage to do so. It’s what had given Lexa the startling confidence to approach her that night, play with her visitors pass, tease her and kiss her and steal her breath away in the most perfect of ways. She was the most exquisite thing Lexa had ever experienced and she had quickly become the tidal wave that flooded Lexa’s little dingy of a life with real, devastating, pure happiness.

 

But somewhere in the space between the days of the past two weeks, that confidence had slipped away inside of her, taking up residence in her chest and throat and never leaving, a pulsating orb of hate that makes her hand hesitate and shake as it reaches out to touch the woman now laying asleep in her bed at the OTC. Fully clothed and exhausted from the twenty-minute drive, Clarke is just as stunning as the night Lexa had seen her, but now she seems so far away. As if Lexa had never managed to traverse that space between herself and the girl with red, white and blue face paint and the Australian pin.

 

Her hand finally connects and she lets out a shaky breath as her fingers instinctively mold to the curve of Clarke’s hip, as if they had been made specifically to love this woman. Her thoughts torture her as she watches Clarke sleep, so that by the time Clarke wakes up, there are tears in Lexa’s eyes.

 

With eyes still fighting sleep, Clarke immediately pushes up onto her elbow in sleep-muted alarm as she wipes at Lexa’s cheek. They stare at each other, hearts brimming with a strange combination of love, pain and fear, neither quite sure what to say. Clarke’s eyes sweep her face, a thousands questions taking up residence in the micro expressions cycling through.

 

“Are we okay?”

 

Lexa swallows. “I don't know...are we?” She means it genuinely, because she needs to know what Clarke thinks. But it hurts Clarke, she can see that immediately. It scares the girl next to her so violently that she can physically measure the way Clarke retracts. With a quivering lip Clarke looks at her like she’s been punched or maybe betrayed.

 

“Hey,” Lexa reaches for her and Clarke breaks, head falling to Lexa’s chest as the girl shakes. “Shh, it’s okay.”

 

“I want us to be okay,” Clarke cries, holding Lexa’s shirt in a death grip.

 

“We’re okay. We’re okay, baby, I promise.”

 

Clarke cries and Lexa can tell that it’s more than just this moment. It’s weeks worth, no, months worth of heartache and exhaustion that never seemed to give this beautiful girl a break. Lexa holds her like she’s holding Clarke together, but in reality it’s the other way around. Clarke doesn’t need anyone to hold her together. She’s the strongest person Lexa has ever met and it’s being around her, with her, that gives Lexa the strength she never knew she lacked.

 

She rubs her hand up and down Clarke’s black, soothing her into soft, sporadic sniffles until they both feel like finally they have their heads above water.

 

“Everything’s going to be okay, Clarke” she murmurs into her hair.  

 

Clarke nods and pulls back, chuckling out a soft apology when she sees the circle of darker grey on Lexa’s chest. Lexa laughs and Clarke presses in to capture that sound and keep it close forever. There was plenty that needed to be talked about, but tonight wouldn’t be that night.

 

 


 

 

“I hate this part,” Lexa groans.

 

“Oh yeah? Why?” Clarke pulls a Twizzler out of the bag resting atop the covers on their laps and tickles Lexa’s face with it. Lexa of course tries to bite at it before Clarke cheekily pulls it away and treads it into her mouth.

 

“Well for one thing, it’s theoretically impossible for that to be a thing. You can’t possibly travel that distance at that speed without hitting a meteor.”

 

Clarke sits up and stares at Lexa with a surprised grin on her face. “Oh my god,” she says as if making a huge revelation, “Lexa Woods is a nerd. I can’t believe it.”

 

“Oh stop,” Lexa swats away the hand that’s booping her on the nose and shoves a handful of skittles into her mouth. “I just like space, is all,” she mumbles with a full mouth.

 

“Honey, everyone loves space. Not everyone goes around whining about the astrophysical impossibilities in Star Wars. Face it. You’re a nerd.”

 

Lexa frowns and turns back to the TV in a fake pout. Clarke can’t help it when she leans in and nips at the apex of Lexa’s jaw and neck. “I think nerds are hot,” she whispers.

 

Lexa cocks a brow, but continues to stare at the screen. “Not a nerd.”

 

“Definitely a nerd.” Clarke brushes the candy off their laps and adjusts the covers so that she can climb into Lexa’s lap. She faces the swimmer and runs both her hands through her hair, causing Lexa’s head to fall back in bliss. “Sexiest nerd there is.”

 

“Sexy, yes. Nerd, no. I’m cool.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Clarke leans in and catches Lexa’s bottom lip between her teeth before she lets go and catches it again between her lips, sucking and pulling until Lexa kisses her back. “So cool,” Lexa breathes when Clarke breaks to catch her own breath.

 

“Shh, nerd. I have big plans for you.” Her hands trickle down the side of Lexa’s face and stop at her chest, bracing herself as she starts to rock her hips forward, egging Lexa on.  

 

“Can nerds do this?” Lexa challenges, kicking off the covers and standing with Clarke wrapped around her waist.

 

“This one apparently can,” Clarke huffs, rolling her head back to allow Lexa more access to her neck.

 

Lexa pushes her against a walk and sucks at that one little spot just under Clarke’s jaw that always makes her buck.

 

“You have a thing about me and walls, don’t you?”

 

Lexa nods and rocks into her mercilessly.

 

“I like holding you.”

 

“You can hold me in bed.”

 

“Not like this.”

 

Lexa jogs Clarke up, shifting her weight, and readjusts so that she gets two handfuls of Clarke’s wonderful ass.

 

Fuck,” Clarke gasps, “you’re right about that.”

 

“I’m always right.”

 

“Because you’re a nerd.”

 

Lexa glares and shoves her hips into Clarke, holding her tight against the wall so that she can let go and pull her shirt over her head.

 

“I like those,” Clarke whispers, fingers coming down to marvel at the ridges of Lexa’s well-defined stomach.

 

“Made ‘em just for you,” Lexa teases and pulls Clarke’s own shirt off. “I like those.” Lexa stares at her breasts and Clarke laughs.

 

“I know you do.”

 

“I like them a lot.”

 

Clarke nods and wraps her arms around Lexa’s shoulders. “I know.”

 

 

When they eventually make it back to the bed, tired and nicely sated, Lexa can’t help the staring. She runs her finger down the bridge of Clarke’s nose, over her lips and around her chin.

 

“What are you doing?” Clarke’s voice is nothing more than a whisper, feeling like the softness of the moment somehow called for it.

 

“Memorizing.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Like what you see?”

 

“Love it.”

 

Clarke leans forward and Lexa meets her in a short and gentle kiss that finally feels like they’re back to their old selves again. “I’m really glad I came.”

 

“If I recall, it happened more than once.”

 

Clarke smacks her lightly on the chest and stretches across her to turn off the bedside lamp. Once cast in darkness, they grow silent, only the faint sounds of wind in the trees audible over the hum of the heater.

 

“I’m glad you came too,” Lexa murmurs into Clarke’s hair. She holds her as tight as she can until sleep begins to pull loose her arms. Clarke nuzzles in further to compensate and Lexa thinks it might just be her favorite way to fall asleep.

 

 


 

 

It’s too late by the time it happens. Her alarm rips into their warm, cozy cocoon and yanks them out of sleep with a start that twinges in their chests.

 

“Jesus,” Clarke gasps, hand coming to rest over her thrumming heart. She’s wide awake now, any lingering sleep having been pounded out by the siren coming out of Lexa’s phone.

 

Lexa scrambles to untangle her arms from Clarke’s torso and the sheets, serving only to tangle them further.

 

“May I?” Clarke offers.

 

Please,” Lexa groans.

 

Clarke grabs the phone, slides it open, quickly enters the passcode that Lexa relays to her and switches off the alarm that had so rudely woken them up at 3:30 in the morning. They collapse back into each other with the offensive object finally taken care of and it takes Clarke a moment to remember to ask why on earth Lexa has an alarm set for so early.

 

“It’s when I get up to go train. I totally forgot it was on, I’m so sorry.”

 

Clarke burrows into her and arches her back in a stretch so resembling that of a lion cub, Lexa has to bite her lip to keep from chuckling.

 

“Well, do you want to go?”

 

“Go where?”

 

“To train.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

Clarke rubs her eyes and meanders up to her elbows so that she’s peering down at the sleepy swimmer. “Well, I’m up now. So if you want to, let’s go.”

 

“You’re gonna come with?”

 

“Why not? Let’s see what you’re made of, champion.”

 

 


 

 

It’s a mistake. Oh god it’s a disaster of a mistake that Clarke so dearly wishes she could take back the second her skin hits the frigid water. She comes up sputtering and squealing to a wildly grinning Lexa and can only manage to glare through her chattering teeth.

 

“Cold?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“Start moving around, you’ll warm up.”

 

“I don’t think I ever will understand the meaning of warmth again, Lexa Woods. What kind of sick hell is this? How cold is this damn water?”

 

Lexa swims over to the side of the pool and hoists herself up to the edge to get a look at the thermometer on the wall. “Looks like it’s 25C.”

 

“In American, please,” Clarke chatters.

 

“77 degrees. Are you really that cold?” She swims back over to her and pulls Clarke into a hug, running her hand up and down Clarke’s chillbump-covered arms as swiftly as the water drag lets her.

 

“It’s freezing.”

 

“Do you wanna get out?”

 

Clarke shakes her head and wiggles free from the swimmer, fierce and determined. “No, let’s do this. C’mon. Show me what you start with.”

 

“Alright. Typically, we start off with a free swim. Really it’s whatever you want, just to get the blood flowing.”

 

Clarke nods. “Okay, let’s go.” She pushes off the wall and starts swimming, looking back after a couple of strokes to see if Lexa is following her.

 

She’s not. She’s stuck with her feet planted to the ground because she can’t believe how much she’s in love with the purple-lipped dork who agreed to go swimming with her at four in the morning. But then Clarke calls to her and Lexa can’t help but go to her.

 

“Are you coming?”

 

Lexa grins and pushes off the floor, catching up to Clarke in a mere stroke and a half.

 

 

 

They swim beside each other, Clarke exerting herself and Lexa lazily backstroking along. She takes about one stroke to Clarke’s three, but they stay next to each other for about 600 yards and it’s definitely the most perfect swim Lexa’s ever had. It's so nice to actually enjoy the person swimming next to her rather than feel the almost crushing need to beat them. 

 

Clarke is out of breath by the time they return on their 12th lap, but her cheeks are rosy and her lips are no longer blue, so it’s an improvement.

 

“I gotta take a break,” she pants, hanging her arms over the edge of the pool, “sorry.”

 

Lexa shakes her head and beams, so proud and still mightily in love, if not even more so. “You killed it, baby. 600 meters is a lot.”

 

“You decimate people in 600 meters. I just barely made it.”

 

“Well, I’ve been training my entire life. You did pretty damn good for a newbie.”

 

Clarke scoffs and swings around, latching onto Lexa who catches her effortlessly. “I’ll have you know I’m no newbie. I won an award on a summer league swim team once when I was 10. I’m practically a professional.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah. You better watch who you’re talking to. I may just lap you on the next round. Just you wait.”

 

“Hey, I don’t doubt it.” Lexa chuckles and kisses her, all kinds of happy and content. “So what award did you win?”

 

“Uh, you know… I just can’t remember…”

 

Lexa gasps. “You lie! Tell me, tell me!” She says as she attacks Clarke’s ribs in a relentless tickle invasion.

 

Clarke shrieks and howls with laughter as she writhes in Lexa’s arms, desperate to escape but impossibly locked in Lexa’s much stronger arms. “Stop, stop, stop,” she pants, “I’ll tell you. Stop, you’re gonna make me pee!”

 

Lexa stops and pushes Clarke off her, holding her at arm’s length to make a point. Clarke rolls her eyes and swims back to her, wrapping her arms around Lexa’s waist and leaning back to float.  

 

“So what did my fearless swimming champ win in summer league?”

 

Clarke smiles and peers up at the large flood lights lining the ceiling. “Most likely to sleep through practice.”

 

Lexa laughs and pulls Clarke back up to her so that she can kiss her. “And here you are wide awake. I’m impressed.”

 

“Yeah, well I’m pretty great,” Clarke shrugs.

 

But of course Lexa nods in genuine agreement. “You are.”

 

“That was a joke.”

 

“Okay. But you are. You’re great. You’re the most special person on the planet to me and…” Lexa hesitates, then decides to just shrug, “You’re great,” she says again.

 

Clarke loops her arms around Lexa’s neck and presses her cheek to Lexa’s in a hug. “Say it,” she murmurs.

 

Lexa gulps. “Say what?”

 

“What you’ve been wanting to say since last night.”

 

Lexa thinks about lying. She thinks about what she could say and get away with, but that wouldn’t be authentic. And Clarke is the most authentic thing in her life—so wonderfully real and raw and unashamed in her presence. And Clarke deserves to hear it, now more than ever. So she nudges Clarke off her shoulder and looks her in the eyes.

 

“I love you,” she breathes. It’s soft, but it’s not hesitant or wavering. It’s not even shy or scared or unsure. It’s the strongest conviction she’s ever had, her most loyal friend for the past month and a half. Her love for Clarke was and is the best thing she’s ever done and so she says it.

 

“How long do your workouts usually last in the morning?”

 

“Why?”

 

Clarke smiles. “Because I really wanna take you to bed right now.”

 

Lexa laughs, full and deep, for the umpteenth time today and it’s easily the happiest she’s ever been. “We can go now.”

 

“No, no. Finish your swim. We’ve got until the end of forever for you and me, babe.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

Clarke hums in ascent and peels herself off of the swimmer. “Get to it. I’ll time you.”

 

“You should probably know that I’m pretty fast…” Lexa teases.

 

“Oh you think so, nerd? We’ll see what the clock says. Clock never lies.”

 

Lexa wades to the wall and pulls herself out of the pool and onto the starting block. Clarke tries really hard not to ogle her, but she’d watched this happen for years on her screen and despite the fact that she’s seen Lexa naked on numerous occasions, Clarke can’t help but be a little bit star struck.


Lexa bends and flexes, getting into her mark position, toes and fingers curling over the edge of sandpaper-y block. She stares down the end of the pool with an admittedly terrifying focus that Clarke finds herself enchanted by. It’s mesmerizing the way the simmer morphs from Lexa into Alexandria Woods, the 3-time Olympic champion. It takes only a matter of second to slip into an almost entirely new being as she raises her hips in her set position.

 

“Hey Lex…”

 

Lexa blinks and turns her head, a soft smile gracing her face when she finds Clarke looking over at her with unmuted adoration. “Yeah?”

 

“You should know…I love you too. To the end of the pool and back.”

 

“Only to there?”

 

Clarke shrugs. “And maybe another lap or two.”

 

Lexa smiles. “To the end of the pool and back, and a lap or two. I’ll take it.”

 

Clarke counts her down and Lexa takes off. Had they been actually keeping time, they would have realized that on that morning, with her hair out of her cap, dopey grin on her face, and the love of her life at the edge of the pool with her feet dangling in the water, Lexa Woods shatters her own world record by an astounding three seconds.

 

“I love you to infinity,” Clarke murmurs, and she swears Lexa swims faster.

 

 


 

 

“So let me get this right…” Clarke straddles a weight bench and munches on a Cheeto as her eyes shamelessly drink in the sight of Lexa doing pull-ups before her. They had been at the OTC for almsot a week now, paling around and generally enjoying each others presence and partaking in copious amounts of make out session and..."taining." And it's the most relieved Clarke has been in a while, surprisingly enough. Never would she have expected that a facility designed to make her work out would have such an effect. “You just get free run of the place whenever you want?”

 

Lexa lets out a slow, controlled breath and contracts upwards with one, swift pull. “Pretty much,” she breathes.  “I basically grew up here. They’re used to seeing me around.”

 

Clarke tries to swallow the idea of a young, orphaned Lexa growing up in a training center with nothing but hard work accompanying her through her heartache.  For the sake of their wonderful last few days spent out of the media’s eyes, just getting reacquainted to each other, Clarke forces a smile and nods. Though she can’t help but be curious.

 

“When did you start training here?”

 

“A few months before the accident. My mom heard that Titus Smith was taking on new athletes and at the time he was the best of the best. So we came out here for a trial, he accepted me and that was that.” She hops down for a second and rolls her shoulders before jumping back up for another set. “After everything happened,” she grunts, “I said I wanted to come back here, so I stayed in the children’s home down the street. And just never really left.”

 

Clarke exhales and comes off the bench, needing to be closer to Lexa. Wanting to touch her and hold her and remind her that she was no longer so alone. Sensing it, Lexa lets herself drop from the bar again and wordlessly wraps her arms around Clarke who pretends, only for a moment, to be offended by the sweat.

 

“I love you,” she murmurs into Lexa’s shiny neck before she turns her head and kisses her shoulder.

 

The soft little smile Lexa gives her is Clarke’s favorite and worth all the sweaty hugs in the world. She barely registers Lexa saying it back before she pushes in for another hug.

 

“You’re touchy today,” Lexa murmurs as she cards through Clarke’s hair. Before Clarke can feel any residual shame or embarrassment over what she might normally process as an insult, Lexa hums and kisses her on the head. “I love it. I love how cuddly you are,” she sighs.

 

And it feels like a confession. The way Lexa sort of whispers it, like if she says it too loud, it might disappear. Lexa is always giving, in every sense of the word, but there’s a hesitancy in the way she takes. Almost as if she’s afraid of it, Clarke’s noticed. And after her talk with Lincoln, she could certainly see why.

 

All she feels she can do is hold Lexa tighter and try to show her that not all taking yields pain. It gives her a sense of purpose after so long of feeling useless and for a moment, out of habit, she wonders what she could possibly be giving Lexa in return for all Lexa does for her. When Lexa let’s out a long exhale and melts into Clarke’s shoulder, tired muscles giving up their valiant battle, Clarke gets her answer. She gives Lexa the space to be herself. To be tired and vulnerable and not always perfect. She gives her a physical and metaphorical shoulder to lie on. She gives Lexa the ability to just be Lexa, soft, vulnerable and so, so sweet. With Lexa’s head weighing heavier and heavier on her shoulder, she carefully reaches behind her to the bench and grabs her trash and Lexa’s bag before nudging the swimmer up.

 

“I have an idea,” she says as encouragement when Lexa groans and refuses to move.

 

“Does it involve you and no clothes? Those are my favorite ideas.”

 

“Actually,” Clarke says, chuckling, “yes.”

 

Lexa of course immediately perks up, much to Clarke’s amusement, and grins at her. “I’m listening.”

 

 


 

 

Clarke has the best ideas. Really, truly, the best. Lexa runs her palms up Clarke’s stomach and around her breasts, massaging gently under the warm, soapy water as she thinks about just how great Clarke’s ideas are.

 

“That’s nice,” Clarke hums lazily as she lets herself sink back even further into Lexa’s hold.

 

“I would have to agree. They’re quite nice.” Lexa rolls a nipple through her fingers causing an involuntary moan out of Clarke... at which they both chuckle.

“You better be careful what you start, champ.”

 

“I know what I’m doing.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

Lexa hums and drags her lips up Clarke’s neck, slowly, torturously, just how she knows Clarke likes it.

 

“That’s not fair, Lex,” Clarke breathes and the rasp in her voice tells Lexa she’s getting exactly what she wants.

 

“All’s fair in love and war, babe.”

 

“Oh okay…” Clarke grinds her hips backwards into Lexa’s straddle and the swimmer groans ever so slightly. “So that’s fair, right?”

 

“You play a mean game, Ms. Griffin.”

 

“I’ve been known to be a contender.”

 

“Hm. I like that.”

 

“Yeah? Competitiveness turns you on, does it?”

 

“Nope. Just you.”

 

Clarke shimmies around in the oversized tub until she’s in Lexa’s lap, an improvement very much appreciated by Lexa who immediately closes in for a kiss that she is eagerly granted.

 

“That was a good answer, champ,” Clarke says when she pulls back to breathe.

 

“Well you know,” Lexa kisses her again, short and sweet, “I have been known to be a bit of a contender.”

 

 “Just as I thought you were slick. There you go stealing my lines.”

 

“Copying is the sincerest form of flattery.”

 

“Who told you that? Ghandi?”

 

“My mom, actually.” It’s out of her mouth before she can stop it, and god does she hate herself for it. The mood immediately shifts, she sees it happen like a light switch on Clarke’s ever expressive face. Lexa mentally kicks herself as the room grows silent and she sees Clarke struggling to think of what to say as her smile falls and her eyes drop.

 

“Lex, I’m sorry—“

 

“Clarke—“

 

It silences both of them and Lexa can’t keep her head from falling to Clarke’s, ashamed and desperately needing the woman’s comfort in a strange juxtaposition of want and embarrassment. “I do that,” she whispers, shaking her head. “I ruin things just when they’re getting good.”

 

“You didn’t ruin anything, Lexa.” And she can’t quite tell what it is in Clarke’s voice, but she doesn’t like it at all.  “I shouldn’t have teased you about it.”

 

“We were both teasing. I shouldn’t have brought up my mom.”

 

Clarke’s head whips up and she looks astonished, except for her glistening eyes. Those just look sad. “You should always be able to bring up your mom, Lex. I want you to be able to.”

 

“It just brings people down. It’s not worth it.”

 

“Hey,” Clarke grabs her face between her hands and hinges Lexa’s face upwards until their eyes meet. “I want you to be able to talk about her.”

 

Lexa nods, but her head falls as soon as Clarke lets go. She’s thankful that Clarke doesn’t try to right it again because at the moment, she’s not completely sure she’d be able to look into those big, earnest blue eyes and not crack.

 

“Lex?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Promise me you’ll talk about her if you need to. I’m always here for you. You know that, right?”

 

Lexa nods again, draining every ounce of strength in her to raise her head and meet those torturous eyes.  She stares for a moment, thinking long and hard about the next few words that come out of her mouth. With the small smile Clarke gives her, she presses on with a deep breath.

 

“She was so wise,” she murmurs.

 

Clarke joins their hands in the cooling water and squeezes.

 

“She always had the answer to everything. Big or small she always knew how to cheer me up.”

 

“She sounds wonderful.”

 

“She was, yeah. Sweetest person you’d ever meet.”

 

The feel of Clarke’s gentle fingers on her cheek, brushing her hair back, nearly destroys her in it’s love and tenderness. She has to bite her cheek, a place worn tough and ridged from years of holding things together in front of people.

 

“I see where you get it from,” Clarke murmurs before kissing her on the corner of her mouth. When Lexa turns her head to catch all of Clarke’s lips, she doesn’t expect for everything to come flooding out. She feels it first on her cheeks, wet and hot, then on her lips, salty and unwelcome.

 

“Oh, Lex,” Clarke pulls back just enough to pull Lexa back in, cradling her head to her chest. Lexa tries desperately to get a grip as she listens to the steady heart beat under her ear that beats strong and hard.  

 

“I’m sorry,” she cries, hating the way her throat burns and her voice cracks. It’s foreign to her, to hear herself cry. She can’t remember the last time she actually let the tears flow further than the lip of her lash, and it’s almost a strange sensation. And a painful one. One that brings back memories more than a decade old but might as well have happened just weeks ago with how raw it feels in her chest.

 

Perhaps this is what her therapist meant about letting it out more often. She chuckles silently to herself and nuzzles further into Clarke’s hold, enjoying the sensation of being held just a little while longer. She’s about to pull away and wipe at her eyes when she hears something funny beneath her ear that makes her stomach leap into her throat. It’s an absence of sound. The absence of a beat or pulse or anything for a good two seconds sends a chill through her until Clarke gives a little jump and the pulse is back. It has her startling upwards to check Clarke’s face for answers.

 

“Hey, shh, it’s okay, I know what you're thinking--” Clarke tries, one hand massaging her chest, the other trying to calm Lexa’s sudden movements.

 

“Your heart stopped,” she gasps, eyes darting across Clarke’s face in a flurry of bewilderment. “It stopped for at least two beats. I heard it. What—are you okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Clarke smiles and places her hands soothingly on Lexa’s thigs, “yeah, I’m fine, baby. Don’t worry.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“Nothing happened. I’m okay.”

 

“No, but…your heart. It stopped. Like it actually stopped and started again. Do we need to go somewhere? There’s a 24-hour clinic on the third floor. We can go now, we just—“

 

“Lexa.” Clarke grabs Lexa’s flailing hands and holds them close to her, dropping her chin to kiss at the white knuckles. “It’s not a big deal. These things happen with me sometimes. I have an ICD to fix it. Everything’s okay.”

 

Lexa continues to look at her frantically after she’s heard the news, but she’s stunned into quiet more than anything else. When Clarke let’s go of her hands with a soft smile, Lexa immediately places her hand on Clarke’s chest and knows she must look like a terrified child. “You’re okay?”

 

“I’m okay.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

Clarke chuckles and pushes herself out of the tub, then reaches down to help Lexa up. “I’m getting cold. Let’s get in bed.”

 

Lexa follows her out and grabs towels for them, still processing the information and trying her best to ignore the absence of sound that had invaded the love of her life’s chest for a whole two seconds.

 

They climb into bed, bare and freezing until Lexa turns on the heater and burrows them under the covers. She pulls Clarke onto her chest and gives her a hug that she hopes conveys everything she can’t manage to say. Like, a ‘thank you,’ and an ‘I’m so glad you’re okay,’ and a desperate, ‘I love you more than I think I can manage, but I’ll try my best anyways.’


“I’ve never noticed a scar,” Lexa murmurs, running her finger tips up Clarke’s back.

 

Clarke tenses and Lexa wishes she better knew the girl in her arms—what makes her hurt, what makes her scared and nervous. What brings on that shyness from a girl with so much heart and life thrumming through her. She sometimes wonders if he or she has a name—the culprit for Clarke’s sporadic but persistent insecurity that Lexa tries as best she can to kiss and soothe and love away. The idea of the cause having a name makes her jaw grind with a terrifying fury she never knew she possessed until this woman danced into her life those months ago. And it seemed to rear up more than ever lately—at tabloids, at cars, at nameless strangers who may or may not have hurt Clarke in another lifetime.

 

With Clarke still quiet in her arms, Lexa remembers to come back down, holding onto Clarke more tightly to tether herself to the girl and the moment. She kisses along Clarke’s cheek and forehead, silently apologizing for raising the question that had Clarke hiding her face in the crook of her neck. “I’m sorry,” she emphasizes aloud when Clarke still doesn’t move.

 

“It’s okay,” she feels more than hears.

 

“You know you’re beautiful, right?”

 

Clarke shrugs. It both saddens and angers Lexa and she wishes she knew the bastard that didn't worship Clarke well enough, making her paralyzingly shy of her scars and trauma.

 

“Hey.” Lexa pulls back to get a better look at Clarke who keeps her head dipped and eyes lowered. “Hey, look at me, please.”

 

Clarke does look at her, but Lexa almost wishes she hadn’t. Her eyes are soft and sad, too sad for such a beautiful face, and it turns Lexa’s world upside down. Clarke had a particular knack for doing that in the best and worst of ways. Clarke’s like a roller coaster, one that gets Lexa’s heart pumping and her stomach leaping around the caverns of her body, making her feel alive and terrified and exuberant all at the same time. But her lows feel like the end, when you’re flying down the slope and you can’t feel your heart beating in your chest and instead it’s lodged somewhere in your throat making it hard to breathe. But instead of wanting to get off, it makes Lexa want to hold on tighter. To close her eyes and hunker down until the next rise forces air into her lungs again and everything is okay.

 

Her eyes find Clarke’s soft, sad eyes and she cradles her face, hunkering down. “I love you. All of you. You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. Hey, I mean that,” she adds, keeping Clarke from chuckling away from her. “Do you believe me?”

 

Clarke shrugs one shoulder up to her ear and tries to hide in it. Lexa frowns and presses their foreheads together. “Do you at least feel it?”

 

This gets the smallest of smiles from Clarke and Lexa hears the distant clicking of tracks as they start the climb back up the slope. Clarke nods and it sparks in her chest.  “It takes time.”

 

“What does?” Clarke speaks for the first time in minutes and it’s like getting off the ride, stepping onto firm ground and feeling the fresh stillness of the air drain the tense residual coils of adrenaline out of your cramped limbs.  

 

“To undo all the shitty things shitty people put into our heads. But as long as you feel it… as long as you know that I love you and I think you’re the most beautiful person ever created, then I’ll take that.”

 

Clarke smiles. “Feels a little bit like Silver though, doesn’t it?”

 

Lexa chuckles and pulls Clarke back towards her. “Never with you, love. You’re the best Gold I ever got.”

 

“Better than Rio? You got seven there, remember.”

 

“Better than Rio. Better than Beijing and London and Rio combined.”

 

“Wow,” Clarke breathes, playing along, “that’s a lot of Golds.”

 

“Yeah well,” Lexa kisses her, “you’re the best one I ever got.”

 

“That’s quite corny, Ms. Woods.”

 

“I have been known to do the romantic things every once in a while.”

 

“Oh have you now?”

 

Lexa grins and nods, delighting in the way she feels so silly and light with Clarke, even in the depths of their shared despair. She kisses her until her lips are numb and her body is hot and tense, and then they spend hours undoing it all.

 

 

They face each other once the lights finally go off along with the heater now that they’ve been thoroughly warmed. Both sets of fingers absentmindedly trace soothing designs into cheeks and backs and hips, drawing out an occasional hum or a whisper of a kiss in approval.

 

“The scar is hidden,” Clarke murmurs out of the blue just as Lexa’s eyes are fluttering closed. She fights hard with sleep to be attentive, eyes suddenly searching through the dark to find Clarke’s face.

 

When it seems that Clarke is not going to elaborate, Lexa nods. “Okay,” she whispers, and kisses her once, twice, and a third time for good measure.

 

But Clarke does continue. Her head falls to Lexa’s chest and the swimmer does her best to open up only enough to close back in around her, legs tangling and warm breath tickling her neck. “I was burned. In the accident. I needed a skin graph. Several actually.” Clarke’s sentences are soft and clipped, as if saying them any differently might suck her back into that reality, and Lexa more than ever knows the feeling. She rubs Clarke’s back and tries to be bipartisan in her attentiveness—both interested and unassuming.

 

“They put the ICD in the night of the accident because I wouldn’t have lived without it.”

 

It’s Lexa’s turn to tense, but Clarke soothes it away with a couple of well placed kisses.

 

“When I started to heal, I underwent a few skin graph procedures about a month apart to try to fix the skin on my chest from all the burns. That’s the discoloration.”

 

“I thought it was a birthmark,” Lexa chimes in innocently and miraculously it makes Clarke smile.

 

“Not quite. But that’s why you can’t see the scar.”

 

“Does it bother you?”

 

“What? The ICD?”

 

Lexa nods and then hums when she realizes Clarke can’t see her well.

 

“No, not really. I don’t know it’s there most of the time. The shocks hurt a little, sometimes.”

 

“Shocks?”

 

“When my heart rate gets too slow, it sends electrical signals to my heart to get it going.  Or if it’s too fast or chaotic it acts as a defibrillator and shocks it to stop the arrhythmia. I don’t really feel those, so I don’t notice it. But when my heart stops...now that I feel. It sends a stronger shock to get things going again and those sort of feel like a mini horse has kicked you in the chest. ”  

 

Clarke chuckles and Lexa tries to, but she really doesn’t like it one bit. The idea of Clarke’s heart stopping makes the room spin a little and she has to hold on a little tighter to keep from drifting away into her darkness.

 

“It’s the mental aspect that’s the hardest, though,” Clarke says quietly. “When you feel the shock you’re not thinking about how it’s over before you even knew something was wrong and now everything’s fine. All you can think of is that your heart just stopped and if your ICD failed, you could have died. It’s like psychological warfare.”

 

“You seemed so calm,” Lexa murmurs into her hair.

 

“I’ve just gotten used to it.”

 

“Does it happen a lot?”

 

“Not a lot…”

 

“How many times, Clarke?” Lexa doesn’t mean to have an edge to her voice but suddenly she is very overwhelmed and completely aware of her helplessness in the matter.

 

“It's happened about four times since I got it six months ago.”

 

Lexa let’s out a long breath and presses her face into Clarke’s hair, speechless.

 

“Are you going to leave?” It’s barely above a whisper and Lexa almost misses it. But she doesn’t, and what it does to her heart makes her think that maybe she needs an ICD.

 

She shimmies down so that she and Clarke’s faces are even and grabs her cheeks. “Why on earth would I leave?”

 

“Finn did.”

 

“Who’s Finn?”

 

“My ex.”

 

Having a name for what she always suspected certainly does not help, but she swallows the wrath that builds up in her throat and forces herself to be calm. For Clarke. Though all she can think of is their first night together and how small Clarke had seemed when she’d shied away from her touch and offered to leave in the middle of the night. She wants to ask her if Finn used to make her leave after they were together. If Clarke was used to being pushed out of the bed so that some asshole could get “better sleep” or whatever shitty excuse he came up with, but that would mean focusing on the idea that he’d slept with her, gotten the most precious parts of her that should be adored and protected, and that just feels like too much.

 

Clarke’s paralyzing embarrassment about her scars becomes more clear too. It’s easy to imagine some idiot disliking the idea of a marred body, recoiling and avoiding it until Clarke was left with nothing but a crippling complex.

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” she promises, and she’s never been more serious in her life. She knows they should drop it from there, but she can’t help herself because it’s Clarke, her precious Clarke, and Clarke’s lovely heart. One that struggles to works and sometimes stops. She needs to know. “What’s wrong with your heart?” It’s small and scared and Lexa wishes it weren’t. She wishes she could be strong all the time, but this wants to break her.

 

“I um—“ Clarke’s voice cracks and Lexa once again berates herself for being too curious. Before she can tell her it’s okay, Clarke takes a deep breath and plunges into it. “I had a massive heart attack during the accident. It ruined my heart and the electrical wiring so it doesn’t like to beat on its own. Stubborn like me,” she attempts at humor.

 

Lexa clenches her eyes shut and shoves her face into the top of Clarke’s head. “But it’s okay right?” She whispers, trembling. “It’s not going to—you’re not going to…”

 

Clarke squeezes her and shakes her head against her chest. “No. I’m okay. You’re stuck with me.”

 

“Like glue.”

 

Clarke nods. “Like glue. Super glue.”

 

“Gorilla glue is stronger.”

 

Clarke chuckles and kisses her forehead. “Okay, like gorilla glue.”

 

 


 

 

 

Last night wiped Lexa out, emotionally, physically, everything. Her limbs feel heavy as soon as they hit the pool, and she can’t keep her nightmares out of every stroke today. She rarely has days like this, where swimming feels more like torture than survival, but she chose this career, and she has to maintain it. So she swims and swims, taking more breaks than usual to come up for a kiss from Clarke that settles her nerves enough to get her through a few more 400s before she needs another one again.

 

It doesn’t help that the lights are on and there’s another person two lanes over, hence the lights. Clarke had asked who it was when they’d first entered, having grown accustomed to having the pool to themselves at this hour of the early morning, but Lexa couldn’t tell her because she didn’t know. And that bothers her. She makes an effort to know everything about her pool—the temperature, the length, the occupants. It frustrates her to no end, but all she can do is try to swim her program and attempt to relax.

 

She even tries taking off her goggles, forcing her eyes to remain shut, but it doesn’t help, so she puts them back on and resigns herself to the fact that today’s swim is going to be difficult.

 

She comes up for air a short while later, hangs on Clarke’s legs dangling in the water, and tries to catch her breath. It’s harder than it should be, but it’s not from the exertion and she knows that. Clarke offers her a bite of her breakfast bar, but it sits poorly on Lexa’s stomach and she politely declines the second offer.

 

Clarke looks at her with those knowing blue eyes, and runs her hand across Lexa’s tense jaw. “Are you okay?”

 

Lexa assures her that everything’s fine, but she knows she’s transparent under those eyes. So before Clarke can question her further, she takes off for another lap.

 

The images grow more and more vivid in her mind until even the water tastes a little salty. It’s the faint sound of her mother’s screams that finally stills her towards the end of the pool, way too far from Clarke. She kicks rhythmically to keep herself above water as she pulls her goggles off and flings them and her cap to edge of the pool. It helps a little, everything’s not so tight around her face, but when she goes to dip her head under, looking for the cool, refreshing chlorine, it’s still too salty.

 

Fuck, ” she hisses. She loops her arm around the lane rope and hangs on, trying to control her breathing, but the harder she concentrates, the faster the images come. She looks back at Clarke who is looking down at her phone, and she’s both glad and terrified for it. A part of her doesn’t want her to see this. A part of her needs her to.

 

Lexa searches around frantically for something to focus on—a color on a sign, a spot on the ceiling, anything she can find for Clarke to play ‘I Spy’ with later, but her vision is already starting to go in and out. She closes her eyes and starts to count to ten, but before she reaches five, there’s a loud bang that echoes tremendously through the hall. She hears Clarke shriek and something rains down on her, but before she can do anything about it, the pool is completely gone in her mind and a giant wave of black ocean water overtakes her and pushes her under. Her fingers slip from the piece of wood she had been holding onto and every time her head bobs above water, it’s just long enough to hear her mother’s shouts.

 

She cries out, but her mouth fills with water and then she’s choking on it as she struggles to stay above the surface.

 

She hears her name being screamed over and over again and then a desperate, “help her!” but it doesn’t prepare her for the arm that wraps around her waist. She panics and twists out of it, landing an accidental kick to some part of a body as she kicks away.

 

“Help her!”

 

“I—I can’t!” There’s coughing and sputtering and a blur of yelling.

 

“No, no, wait! Don’t touch her! Don’t get in!”  

 

Lexa looks around wildly and tries to see through the images of the pool and the ocean that flip flop back and forth in her mind. There’s a splash near her and she jumps, finding herself momentarily in the pool before it shifts back to her most terrifying night.

 

“Lexa!”

 

She whirls around and sees Clarke nearing her carefully, her eyes wide and terrified as she swims through the dark water and boat wreckage.

 

"Clarke?"

 

The novelty of seeing Clarke in her flashback shocks her back into reality so fast it sends her under again as she startles to figure out where she is. Something latches onto the back of her swim suit and yanks her upwards until her head breaks the surface and she gasps greedily at the air.

 

“Lexa, Lex, please, look at me. Please, hey,” Clarke’s voice pierces through the chaos and Lexa blinks just in time to see Clarke dipping under in a struggle to keep them both afloat. She grabs Clarke firmly around the waist and kicks hard, taking over the job of keeping them above water while she takes deep breaths and tries to ground herself.

 

“Lex—“ Clarke coughs and spit through her panting, “Lex—you’re okay,” she coughs again, “you’re okay, baby. We need to get out.”

 

But Lexa can’t move save for the kicking of her legs keeping them afloat. She’s staring out at the wreckage of her parents’ boat that gleams orange as it drifts away from her. When she hiccups and feels a hand on her face, she realizes she’s crying. When she blinks hard and focuses on the hand, the pool comes back into her vision and she sees Clarke’s face, worried and wet with more than just pool water.

 

“Clarke—“ she chokes out.

 

Clarke smiles. “Hey. Hey, baby. There you are. We need to get out of the pool, Lex, there’s glass in it.”

 

“Glass?”

 

“The light blew out. It shattered all over you.” She picks a piece out of Lexa’s hair and shows it to her. “Can we get out?”

 

Lexa looks around and sees several faces staring down at them from the edge of the pool and it makes her cringe.

 

“Can you get out? Do you need help?”

 

Lexa shakes her head and averts her eyes, embarrassed and still reeling. It’s a wonder she can even move, but after Clarke sends the small crowd away, the two somehow manage to get out, slowly and painfully. Lexa scrapes her knees against the side of the pool, but she barely notices as she collapses in Clarke’s lap.

 

“You’re bleeding,” Clarke gasps, doing her best to haul Lexa’s dead weight higher into her lap. “Baby—“

 

“I’m okay,” Lexa pants, just barely beginning to catch her breath. “I’m okay. I’m okay.” She says it like a chant—a chant that’s old, but familiar to her.

 

“Yeah, you’re okay. I’m right here, you’re okay.” Clarke holds her head close and rocks her, alternating between picking glass out of her hair and kissing her forehead. “I’ve got you.”

 

 


 

 

Lexa doesn’t process much. She vaguely recalls Clarke holding her, then helping her up and leading her to the other end of the pool where she towels her dry and collects their things. She sorta remembers visiting the clinic and Clarke holding her hand the whole time as a doctor pulled glass out of her scalp and hair, but even that feels like a dream.

 

Things start to sharpen in the shower when Clarke runs her hands so gently through her hair, shampooing and conditioning with special anti-bacterial soap as the doctor had instructed. She likes the way Clarke talks to her softly the whole time, the way she kisses her every time she let’s out a shuttering breath or tenses at some perceived loud sound or other.

 

She tries to remember what she’d done last time after a panic attack to calm herself down, but it’d been a while and she can’t think of anything helpful. She tries to keep herself from shaking, desperate not to burden Clarke with any of this, but she’s helpless to it all. Her body betrays her and worst of all, her mind does, tricking her into thinking she’s in trouble when she knows she’s not. Everything she tries only makes it worse until she finally gives up and collapses into Clarke, letting herself be comforted by someone far better at it than herself.

 

She tries to answer Clarke’s quiet questions as best as she can, once they crawl in bed together. But she feels pretty useless at this point, mumbling when she can, nodding or shaking her head when she can’t. She likes the distraction of noise on the TV that Clarke so aptly thinks to turn on, and with her back being rubbed and her head and lips kissed gently every once in a while, she eventually falls into a restless sleep.

 

 


 

 

Clarke doesn’t sleep that night. She hushes and soothes Lexa’s tortured sleep sounds every few minutes, and watches her during the quieter moments, completely lost as to what she should be doing. Lexa had always been the strong one, the one to comfort her and know exactly what to do and say.

 

She feels like she’d been able to do nothing for Lexa, nothing productive. She knows that’s not true by the way Lexa had calmed every time she was in her arms, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t feel enough because Lexa was suffering and she hadn’t been able to fix it. She was almost relieved at first when Lexa had finally fallen asleep several hours ago. But now Lexa fidgets and whimpers every few minutes, and it's worse because she can’t get it to stop with her kisses and quiet assurances. When it began, Clarke had tried waking her, but Lexa is out cold and oblivious to her initial attempts.

 

She does the only thing she can, and holds Lexa close, trying to convey to her that even in sleep she’s not alone.

 

 

She doesn’t even realize she’s fallen asleep until she is being jarred awake again by something sharp to her ribs. Lexa tosses and turns, bony joints threatening to take Clarke out as Clarke struggles to swallow her sleep and get a hand on the situation. Lexa is whimpering and huffing like she’s having trouble breathing and it scares Clarke to see someone so strong and impervious look so vulnerable.

 

When she can’t wake Lexa up by coaxing her with soft words and kisses, she rolls over and flips on the light. It blinds her momentarily before she blinks and rubs at her eyes, forcing them into submission. But she doesn’t like what she sees. There are dried tear tracks on her face that heartbreakingly tell Clarke that Lexa had been crying in her sleep. And Clarke hadn’t been able to do anything about it because she didn’t even know she’d dozed off.

 

When she leans in closer and braces Lexa’s head between her hands, she notices her beautiful long lashes are wet again, tears threatening to spill over and saturate the dried tracks from whatever hell she’s living in.

 

She grows more desperate in her attempts, shaking Lexa’s whole body and calling her name. The swimmer thrashes about as whatever’s happening in her mind escalates to something Clarke’s not sure she can get ahead of, and for a moment she thinks about calling her mom.  She looks back at her phone on the nightstand, but then she hears her name inside Lexa’s panting and it reinvigorates her efforts.

 

“Lexa—hey, c’mon, Lex, it’s Clarke. Wake up, baby. Wake-up, Lexa, it’s Clarke. You’re okay.” She slides her hand under Lexa’s back and tries to haul her up, but Lexa is solid muscle and dead weight that Clarke just can’t lift. It seems to do the trick though because Clarke’s name grows louder as if Lexa is growing more conscious, and when Clarke shakes her again, Lexa surges up with a gasp, almost knocking their heads together.

 

“Lexa—hey, shh, you’re okay,” Clarke tries her best to sooth, but Lexa is panting like she can’t catch her breath, and Clark feels the sympathetic tightness in her own chest acutely. Or maybe it’s just her ICD trying to calm her frantic heart. She runs her hand around Lexa’s jaw and wipes at her tears, all the while trying to bring her back and ground her in reality.

 

Lexa’s eyes dance around frantically until they land on Clarke’s face. When they do, Lexa loses the battle and she breaks down, falling into Clarke’s chest as she cries and heaves. It terrifies Clarke to see her like this, split wide open and raw. To see Lexa, who never cries, collapse and soak through her shirt with her tears stuns Clarke and reminds her that Lexa is only human. She feels pain and fear the same way as anyone else and it’s really then in that moment that the true depth of all that Lexa has been through hits Clarke.

 

Clarke knows it’s not fair to compare their pain, but compared to her six months of suffering she can’t imagine what Lexa’s life has been like—growing up alone and in a world that views her every move through a magnifying glass, surrounded by people who want to use her and make money off of her, never love her. She thinks back to the luncheon back at the Olympics, how Lexa hadn’t wanted to go not only because she didn’t have family, but because she thought she didn’t have any friends.

 

Clarke wills herself not to cry. It’s not about her, it’s about Lexa, and protecting and loving and soothing Lexa as best as she possibly can. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, but when Lexa clings to her and finally dies down in the crook of her neck, she hopes that she’s doing at least something right. She continues to rub her back and press the gentlest of kisses to her forehead long after Lexa’s fallen asleep, but by then, Clarke knows that more than anything, she’s soothing herself.

 

 


 

 

They have another several rough nights—to the point where the both of them spend most of their days like zombies with only enough energy to go out for an occasional meal or catch a matinee movie. Lexa doesn’t swim again, not even in the smaller back-up pool while the main pool is being drained and cleaned for glass. Clarke worries about it, but Lexa seems better for it, at least for now. She catches her staring longingly at it occasionally when they get in a short workout in the gym above the pool, but when she offers to go in with her and just take a leisurely float, Lexa shakes her head and goes back to her silent run on the treadmill.

 

But for the most part, things seem okay. Clarke assumes Lexa will be moody or distant, knowing how she herself gets when she’s riddled by anxiety, but apart from the fatigue, Lexa goes unchanged. She’s just as sweet and doting as usual. It’s the only thing that keeps Clarke from succumbing to her worrying thoughts about Lexa and whether she’s doing enough for her. But it’s also unsettling how calm and stoic Lexa is through it all. Clarke can't help but wonder if Lexa is swallowing it all, forcing herself to be okay. It's what Clarke had done at first, pretending not to feel it so that she could just move on. It's a startling thought, knowing how that had panned out for her--debilitating depression and the darkest thoughts she'd ever harbored. It’s the final push for her to do something she’d been thinking about since she arrived in Colorado Springs.

 

She calls her mom.

Chapter Text


 

It’s not like it’s been a terribly long time since she’s called her mom, but her stomach had still flipped nervously when the line started to ring. She’d talked to Abby just a few weeks prior to flying out to see Lexa in Colorado when the second tabloid came out and she didn’t know whether to cry or scream. And then she’d called her a few weeks before that to tell her about the tall, gangly swimmer she’d met at the Olympics.

 

Abby had been skeptical, of course, of the famous Olympian who had her daughter in the tabloids just one day after knowing her, and things weren’t looking up for Lexa when it happened again several weeks later. Clarke knew that, so asking her mom if they could come visit had been…a lot of talking in circles until her mother had finally told her to take a deep breath and get on with it already.

 

And then of course Abby never hesitated, not even for the Olympian, as soon as the words were out of Clarke’s mouth. Because It had been six months since they’d seen each other. Six months since Abby had watched her daughter be put on a feeding tube and ventilator while her husband was buried deep into the ground. Six months since Clarke had woken up in the hospital a week later, disoriented and in endless pain to the news of her father. Six months since they’d tried to make it work for each other—silent breakfasts, meaningless small talk, small but larger than life attempts at happiness that always somehow ended up in yelling and screaming until they crumpled into each other’s arms. Six long months since Clarke had decided she couldn’t do it anymore, hopped on a train, and took it as far away from the memories as she could.

 

 

“Hey, love. You doing okay?”

 

Clarke peels her forehead off the cold window and turns to Lexa. The swimmer is floating slightly, a little blurry too—from the Xanax, she knows—but she’s beautiful. Hair down in long waves over her cream, knit sweater and burgundy flannel. Her glasses are perched luxuriously on her nose, and her cheeks are pink from the heater. She’s the epitome of a Colorado Autumn, every bit a part of the mountains that loom on either side of them as they take the small highway towards her home.

 

She smiles. Because, “Yeah,” she is okay. For once in a long time, she’s okay in a car.  Her voice is croaky from her in-and-out sleep and the dry cold that always seems to accompany the changing of leaves in Colorado. It had once amazed her as a little girl, what a difference thirty minutes could make driving to and from “Town” as her family had always called it. Autumn always came faster in her sleepy little nook nestled high in the mountains.  It always sent the inhabitants of Manitou scurrying against the wind into every Mom and Pop coffee shop for warm cider or hot coffee. Puffs of chilly air escaped out of the small talk on street corners long before it ever made it down the mountain to Colorado Springs. And the Autumn drizzle came and stayed, blanketing her home in the muted tones of Fall, long after the sun arrived back in “Town” to thaw it all anew.

 

It was her favorite time of year, when everything came to a slow, inevitable stand still. When her town became even quieter, even cozier, ever so locked in the low hanging fog that made it seem as if Manitou was keeping the most glorious secret in it’s leaves that dripped orange and yellow and red. Mornings started earlier there, and nights melted sooner into the crimson sparks of a warm, fireplace seen flickering in curtained windows.

   

It was home, and it was perfect. Clarke had missed it desperately, just below the surface of her numbness so that she hadn’t really realized it until she was here, winding through the mountains on a road that ran through her memories the way the blood ran through her veins where Lexa’s warm hand rested comfortingly on her knee.

 

“You sure?”

 

Clarke draws the hand up to her lips and kisses it, a small smile humming on her face when she nods. Lexa smiles back and Clarke feels something settle inside of her as she returns to the window, eyes finding the last remnants of “Town” in the side rearview mirror. It feels strange for the departure to be accompanied by a subtle stirring of excitement. She knows it’s the anticipation of introducing Lexa to her town and her mother. But it had always been the other way around— it’d always been excitement barely constrained in her tiny body that accompanied the drive into the big, exciting world of Colorado Springs with her parents.

 

It always seemed like a vast, strange world all on its own compared to Manitou. “Town” was where buildings twinkled in the sun like the diamond on her mother’s wedding ring. It was where art erupted like magic in giant museums, and where larger than life athletes came to flash their white smiles and sign her posters as they headed into the looming OTC. It was where she fell in love with everything that made her eyes shine bright as a little girl, like a paint brush in hand or her butt planted firmly in her father’s lap in front of the TV, watching human bodies twist and turn and sprint and swim and lunge unthinkably.

 

“Town” was where sidewalks took you endlessly to things that threatened to make your jaw hit the ground. It was a place just as terrifying as it was awe-inspiring. A place where streets came ferociously to life with cars and people. Where strangers were people to avoid, not smile and chat with as she might at home. It was a maze and a treasure trove, chaos wrapped up in wonder.

 

It was a place filled with memories of her childhood, her excursions to candy stores and Macy’s to see Santa. To special art exhibitions being held way past her bed time—her father always took her, “just don’t tell your mother,” he would tease with a wink and a skip in his step. A place filled with business men in suits and women in long, pretty dresses. A place filled with sunny Saturday afternoons at the pool, watching the future Olympians put on a mock meet for the community. A place no one else really thinks much of, but to Clarke, and the others from her tiny home, it was a land of glistening possibility.

 

And It felt strange to be driving away from it all. From the place that had brought her so much joy as a child. The place that had seen her reunion with Lexa and their week of quiet laughs and playful touches, the longest sighs and the quietest of moans. It felt strange that this departure seemed to promise a new beginning, when “Town” had always been the thing to bring on the start of something novel and wonderful.

 

She had expected this journey to feel as if she were barreling ahead towards the worst time of her life.  She expected to be petrified and reluctant, gripping onto the seat and wishing more than anything that she could just go back to that small room and that small bed at the OTC, wrapped in Lexa’s arms to the sound of the heater humming in the background. She’d expected it to feel like ripping open her trauma once and for all.

 

But it doesn’t. It feels thrilling. It feels like both a return and a departure. Like something new, and something familiar, all at the same time. It’s the best feeling she’s had in a while, because it feels like hope. Hope and Lexa.

 

But it’s also the worst feeling because it feels like forgetting. And it’s not even the guilt of forgetting that feels the worst. What makes her eyes prick and her heart thud heavy against her chest is that she wants this. She wants to forget.  After so long of hurting, deep in her bones like it was an inescapable part of her, she’s so ready to remember what it feels like to breathe again.

 

“It’s beautiful here.”

 

“I wish you could see this at Christmas,” Clarke murmurs, eyes not leaving the the window, but now looking ahead at the trees that flash by in a collage of colors.  

 

Lexa gives her knee a gentle squeeze. “We can come back.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Sure, I think that’d be great. I love Christmas. It’s…” she trails off. This of course pulls Clarke’s head from the window.

 

“It's what?”

 

Lexa shakes her head, her grip tightens minutely on the steering wheel, only visible in the way her knuckles glow a shade whiter. Clarke takes the hand on her knee in her own and interlaces their fingers. “What, babe?”

“I just…haven’t done an actual Christmas since my parents died. It’s my favorite holiday, but it was never the same in the group home or once I was on my own.” She shrugs. “I miss it. It’d be nice to do something with you and your mom.”

 

The words cause that weird kind of mix again that only Lexa manages to bring on. Clarke feels overwhelming sadness for her but also adoration and inspiration for Lexa's relentless optimism in the face of tragedy; she's amazed at how one life can poses so much despair and yet so much strength and joy. And Lexa navigates it with unparalleled grace that Clarke tries to emulate when she can.  

 

“Do you ski?”

 

Lexa grins.

 

Clarke laughs for no reason other than Lexa's smile just makes it bubble out of her, and nudges Lexa's shoulder. “What?”

 

“I tried once.”

 

“And?”

 

“Let’s just say sticking to swimming was a good decision.”

 

“Oh boy.” Clarke let’s out a low sigh and shakes her head seriously. “I don’t know if this is gonna work out.”

 

Not missing a beat, Lexa frowns and nods dejectedly. “I know. I’ve heard you Coloradoans are pretty obsessed with your winter sports.”

 

“Excuse me. It’s not an obsession. It’s a way of life.”

 

“Oh. My bad.”

 

Clarke stares and stares, trying to stay in character of being mad, but utterly failing because Lexa is just so stunning like this. Behind smiles that can barely be contained, teasing eyes and mischievous tones, she’s a vision.

 

“I love you,” she blurts. It surprises them both, but neither shy away from it—they say it often enough, after all—though somehow this feels different. Heavier. In a good way. It’s heavy like an anchor, keeping them both here, steady and safe despite their circumstance.

 

“I love you too, Clarke,” Lexa says, and her voice is soft. So, so soft. Not like in volume—in volume it is firm and unhesitant—but it’s soft in its timbre. Soft around the edges. Soft like warm sheets wrapped around a Saturday morning. Soft like Lexa’s lips on hers in the middle of the night, just whispers of kisses, when she can’t sleep. Soft in that kind of way that when your life finds some harmony, all of the barbs seem to kind of just dull and break away. 

 

 

The trees get brighter as they drive further north, just as the film of condensation on the windows grows thicker with the rain now falling down in droves. Clarke runs her finger through her childhood canvas and tries to stay occupied as they near the bend where her life should have ended. Lexa senses her restlessness though. She always does.

 

“Is there a particular way you’d like me to go?” She holds up her phone’s GPS as if to offer a new route.

 

“There’s a road up here to the right. Meadowlark. If you wanna take a right there, that’d be good. It takes a little longer, but.”

 

“Sure,” Lexa fills in before Clarke feels the need to explain herself.

 

 

The nerves set in soon after when the outer limits of her little town come into view. Out of the wilderness of the Colorado mountains, a gas station pops up, then a diner, a general store and even a super market.

 

“It’s a left up here,” she murmurs.  Then, “Lex?”

 

Lexa hums and offers her eyes for a moment before they go back to the road.

 

Clarke chews her lip, trying to find words to put to the buzzing in her stomach, but comes up short. “Um. Nevermind.”

 

“Nervous?”

 

Somehow both surprised and unsurprised by Lexa's intuition, she sighs and gives in, nodding. "Yeah. A little." 

 

“Me too.”

 

“Wait, really?”

 

Lexa chuckles. “Of course. I’m about to meet your mother.”

 

Clarke squeezes her hand, comforted by suddenly being in the position of assurance. “You’ll be fine. She’ll love you.”

 

“Think so?”

 

“Just flash that pretty smile of yours.”

 

And Lexa can’t help but do it.

 

“Yeah, exactly,” Clarke chuckles, “you got it.”

 

 

Turning onto her rain-kissed road hits her like a ton of bricks. “It’s that one,” she squeezes out, pointing through the frantic windshield wipers to the white, two-story Colonial in the middle of the cul-de-sac.

 

Lexa nods and then turns serious and logistical. “I’m gonna pull in and you run inside, okay? I’ll get the bags.”

 

“Oh, Lex, that's so sweet. But I can help, babe, it’s okay.”

 

Lexa doesn’t say anything, just pulls into the driveway and shuts off the car and suddenly Clarke is left struggling to process the fact that she is actually home. Her heart thunders in her ears almost as loud as the rain.

 

“Hey—“ Lexa unbuckles and turns to her. She grabs Clarke’s shaking hands and gives them a gentle squeeze. “It’s okay. Take some deep breaths.”

 

Clarke locks into Lexa’s calming, emphatic eyes and does as she’s told. They sit there for a minute, long enough for the front light to come on and the door to open. A blurry figure emerges in the doorway for just a second before it, a woman, dashes out into the rain.

 

“Mom—“

 

Clarke scrambles out of her seat and throws open the door, nearly tripping over herself to get to her mother.

 

Completely oblivious to the rain now, Clarke slams into her, both bodies cradling each other as best as they can with the large umbrella Abby had brought out smooshed between them. They bend and bow in each other’s arms, Clarke pushing further against her mother, hiding her tears in Abby’s jacket collar as Abby tries to get as much purchase around her daughter as she can.

 

“Oh, sweet girl,” She coos as Clarke shakes and heaves, “it’s okay. It’s okay, Clarke.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Clarke squeaks, “I’m so, so sorry.”

 

Instead of a verbal response, Clarke feels her mothers hand run up and down her back soothingly and she tries to remember to breathe. It’s a long several seconds before she’s composed herself enough to pull away and get a good look at her.

 

She reaches up and holds her mother’s cheeks, wiping through her tears and chuckling wetly. “I’m sorry,” she whispers again.

 

“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” Abby presses her hand over Clarke’s on her cheek and smiles. “You’re home.”

 

Clarke nods, soaking it all in—her mother’s face, her childhood home pouring forth a golden light through the thick, grey rain, the garden in the front she’d learned how to draw roses in. “Yeah,” she laughs, shaking her head and shrugging like she can’t actually believe it. “Come meet Lex.”

 

 

//

 

Clarke stands glued in the doorway, just under the awning, as she watches Lexa rush around to unpack the car. There’s something about seeing her here, at her childhood home, hugging her mother in greeting, and urging them to stay dry while she takes the brunt of the storm, that makes Clarke fall a little harder. It makes it hard take her eyes off of her.  

 

She watches Lexa’s swift, chivalrous movements with pride and adoration, both excited and nervous to be falling in love with her, at this time, in this place. It feels promising and terrifying all at once, but somehow she’s not scared, just excited, and a little overwhelmed.

 

When Lexa rushes in a minute later and sets the suitcases down in the foyer, Clarke immediately wraps her in a towel and hug. “Thank you,” she says against her cold, wet cheek and relishes in the swimmer’s quick upturn of a smile in response.

 

“Come in, come in,” Abby urges, showing up behind the two to close the door and lock up for the night.

 

With the three of them standing there in the little hall, it’s not awkward, but it’s unsure. The six months of separation coated in pain makes itself abundantly clear in the silence spaces between them where mouths open and close, but find themselves mute.

 

Abby and Clarke bounce small, timid smiles back and forth between each other, and it’s moments like these that make Clarke kind of nauseous again, like she can’t quite get enough air into her lungs because it is so viciously clear what she had and what she'd lost. An effortless relationship with her mother being one of them.They  had always been close. Their relationship always a source of comfort and respite... until it wasn’t. And now Clarke’s not quite sure how to navigate something that doesn’t just fall into place like it used to.

 

Lexa places her hand on Clarke’s lower back, intuitive as always, and Clarke relaxes immediately, even just slightly. When she looks back, Lexa is smiling down at her, wet hair matted to her face and lips purple and trembling minutely. She looks beautiful. Beautiful and cold.   

 

“Hey, sorry. Can I take these to your room and change?” She says it in sort of a whisper like she doesn’t want to interrupt whatever it is she and her mother are silently fighting through. Clarke loves her both for the consideration and the aptly-timed distraction.

 

“Oh, I’d like to change too. Maybe take a really quick shower.” Clarke looks to her mom, emboldened by the realization that Lexa needs her. Even if it is just to show her where everything is. It gives her some much-needed purpose and direction, no matter how small. “I’ll show her around, change and then we’ll be back down?”

 

Abby looks just as relieved and nods enthusiastically. “Great. Are you hungry? I can put something on.”

 

“Uh…” Clarke looks to Lexa, but the swimmer just smiles—patient and unobtrusive. She turns back to her mom whose eyes play like a tennis match between the two, as if trying to figure out their connection. “Maybe a little?”

 

//

 

Abby of course goes all out. By the time Clarke is stepping out of the shower the unmistakable smell of her favorite dish has wafted up the stairs and completely filled the hallways. She audibly moans, albeit quietly, and can’t help it when her pace quickens in an effort to get back to her room and drag Lexa down stairs to taste her mom’s famous rosemary roast chicken.

 

But she doesn’t find her in her room. Instead she walks past a room that was once her very own painting studio, and does a double take when she spots Lexa’s tall frame dominating the center of it.

 

Her stomach drops when she realizes what Lexa is doing. What she’s looking at and what she's touching. When she walks in, gripping her white towel protectively around her, Lexa is still tracing the outline of her own figure on an old but well-kept canvas.

 

She’s not sure why she clears her throat, but something in her feels the need to explain. To stutter out some pathetic excuse and apology about not being a crazy fan or a stalker, just a kid with dreams from a city where Olympians are gods and the Games are their pearly white gates that get opened only once every four years. But before any of that can even make it out her mouth in anything coherent, Lexa turns to her with wide, wet eyes, her lips parted in that subtle form of awe and adoration that devastates Clarke in every single way. Her fingers still rest on the ridges of paint like she can’t really believe its there.

 

“I never meant for you to see that,” Clarke murmurs.  “I—you—” She shrugs and hangs her head. “You weren’t supposed to see it.”

 

Lexa just shakes her head and turns back to the painting, pressing her hand more firmly to it. For a fleeting, terrible moment, Clarke wants to ask her not to get the oils of her skin on it. Instead, she just watches, trying desperately to discern what Lexa might be feeling. All she ends up doing is winding herself up into a bundle of nerves.

 

She stares at the small canvas, eyes studying and scrutinizing as if the work was no longer her own after so many years left alone to hang in the room. The strokes are young, but not without talent, and for a moment she remembers the process fondly. All the pride and hard work pouring into, so clear in its passion after watching Lexa break what people had deemed the “unbreakable record of twenty-four years" as a sixteen-year-old nobody. It’d made Clarke feel like she, herself just one year younger, could do anything.

 

It’d been her best work to date at the time and she aches a little all over when she recalls bounding into her father’s office to pull him by the hand to see the still wet paint coloring the canvas. Even now, with her years of experience and fine-tuned eyes, she can see that it’s well done. But it’s not the quality that makes her nervous. Or even the fact that it’s Lexa. It’s the moment captured on the canvas that makes her want to dive head first into her covers like a little girl and never emerge again.

 

“Do you know what this is?”

 

She jumps at the sudden sound of Lexa’s soft voice and shakes her head out of instinct before realizing Lexa still isn’t looking at her. She clears the terror out of her throat and murmurs out a no. 

 

Lexa turns and offers her the smallest of smiles. Thought it's sad and strangled and Clarke wishes more than anything she knew what to do to make it easy again.  She starts by explaining. Justifying.

 

“It was on the front of an article after your first Olympics, and I just thought you looked so beautiful and peaceful in the middle of it all, so l—” she stops when she realizes what she’s just admitted and feels the blush rush up her neck and over her jaw and cheeks. “I’m sorry, I know it must feel like I invaded your privacy, but I was fifteen and enamored and—“

 

“Clarke.”

 

Clarke swallows whatever other nonsense she was going to let pour out of her mouth and forces herself to be brave and meet Lexa’s eyes. It’s almost too much though, and her instinct is to look away. There’s something amazing happening in the endless expressions that take up residence in Lexa’s eyes, and they all feel too big and too meaningful for her little painting in her little room in her little house.

 

“That letter,” Lexa starts, quiet and strained, struggling to work over the lump in her throat, “is the only thing that survived the accident.” Her hand goes back to the painted piece of paper in painted-her’s hands and Clarke can’t help but remember how long it’d taken her to get the angle and depth right.  

 

Lexa’s hand glides to other portions, skimming over the bench she’s sitting on and the crowd of fans and other Olympians behind her filing out into the grassy area for a meet and greet. She traces it all like she’s remembering a life time ago.

 

“The night of the accident…” She pauses and when Clarke walks around to her side to weave their hands together, she can see the way Lexa’s jaw bulges under the strain of the memory. “We had this annual tradition where we’d go out and write letters to each other, put them in bottles and toss them over. After it happened, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. It would have been the last thing they ever said to me, so I--” She stops and shrugs like the words are caught in her throat. When her mouth twitches to the side, Clarke realizes she's just struggling not to cry.  

 

The single tear down Lexa’s cheek comes only seconds later, and she lifts up on her tiptoes to brush it away and leave a kiss in its wake. Lexa smiles at her and rubs her eyes, sighing. “I thought I’d die if I didn’t find those letters.” She looks at Clarke and chuckles. “Fourteen-year old drama.”

 

Clarke smiles because she thinks that's what Lexa needs her to do, but everything in her wants to break down and cry for her sweet, sweet swimmer who should have been high on broken world records, but was too preoccupied with finding her dead parents' letters to be so.  

 

“When I won my first FINA World Championships, I used my prize money to hire some investigators. Titus thought I was nuts and should put it towards my training, but I just couldn't shake the idea that I could find them. We had been close to the coast when it happened that I thought for sure the bottles must have made it to land eventually. The wind had been blowing that direction all week too." Lexa shakes her head and shrugs again.

The silence drags on long enough for Clarke to wonder if she should say something. But Lexa starts up again.

 

" After two years, all of them gave up except for this one guy. He was crazy,” She laughs. “All cock-eyed and grungy and he smoked this crazy pipe that always smelled like dead skunk. Looking back, I realize it was probably weed. He looked like one of those cartoon fisherman with the gray beard and everything. He was nuts, but he never stopped looking."

 

"He sounds kind of amazing."

 

Lexa smiles like she's lost in another time and nods. "I invited him to the Games because he was really the only person I knew. He didn't show up at first, and I thought that maybe he didn't actually care and just wanted the paycheck. But he found me that day,” she points to the picture, “right before we all had to go mingle and—shit sorry.” Lexa raises her eyes to the ceiling and blinks hard until Clarke wraps her arms around her shoulders and pulls her down for a hug.

 

“It’s okay,” she murmurs, “you’re okay.”  

 

Lexa heaves out a long, shuttery breath before she nods into Clarke's shoulder. “He found my mom’s. That’s—“ she peels away and points to the letter in the picture, “that’s right after he gave it to me. The reporters took a picture and told some story about me being a wide-eyed teenager overwhelmed by the sudden sponsorship offer letters I was giving. But you..." She laughs like she can't belief it. "Look at what you did.” It lacks any accusation or malice, just simply awe and it leaves Clarke unsure of how to respond until Lexa finally turns to her. “It’s beautiful. You captured it so...it's beautiful, Clarke.”

 

Clarke grins, sheepishly. “Not creepy?”

 

Lexa laughs again and shakes her head. “No. I suppose maybe it was just fate. We were always meant to be in each other's lives. Besides, I was pretty slick as a sixteen-year-old I’m not surprised you fell for me.”

 

It’s such a relief to have Lexa back to smiling and teasing that Clarke lets out a bark of a laugh that surprises her into tears and then she just feels like a mess. A happy mess. All frayed and thin and alive and in love. Everything magnified by being home. This must be what healing feels like.

 

 Lexa lets out a long, cathartic sigh and Clarke knows the moment is over. Part of her wants to gush about the painting now that she knows she won’t be judged for it. Part of her wants to talk about the way she’d seen the light in the photograph and the soft smile on Lexa’s face and how still and peaceful her little bubble seemed amidst the chaos of bodies and excitement in the background of the picture that'd made her immediately want to paint. . She wants to tell her how she’d never worked so hard on anything in her life. Wants to tell her it had meant so much more than just a painting. It meant believing in herself the way Lexa had believed in herself, and how that message couldn’t have come at a more important time in her life as a busty, blonde adolescent female who was struggling to be taken seriously for anything other than her looks.  It's surreal to think about how Lexa had been there for her, even then. 

 

But her mother calls them down, letting them know dinner is ready, and Lexa looks tired, and the chicken smells amazing, and she’s still in a towel. So she lets the moment be over in favor of curling into Lexa’s side for one last, quiet second, just the two of them, before heading back to her room to change and eat.

 

//

 

“So how is it that you two met, exactly?”

 

“Mom.”

 

“You just said you met in Rio, honey, can't a mother be curious?”

 

"Can't a daughter have her privacy?" 

 

"Well, fine, if you don't want to tell me..." Abby pouts in good humor. 

 

Clarke rolls her eyes, amorously meeting Lexa’s, but the swimmer is smiling and looks as calm as ever.

 

“We met at the USA Celebration House after the last day of the Games,” Lexa fills and Clarke wraps her hands around the swimmer’s knee under the table, because she can, and that’s a nice feeling.

 

“And you’re aware that Clarke was born in Australia?”

 

Lexa grins and nods, allowing herself to finish chewing before she gives Clarke a mischievous wink that does all sorts of inappropriate things to her, considering she’s at the dinner table with her mother. “We discussed it. It’s something we will definitely have to work through, but I believe we can overcome it.”

 

Clarke scoffs and guffaws, pouting for show, but really she couldn’t be happier. Watching her mother and Lexa interact and laugh and eat together around a table she at one point might have thought thought lost its joy for ever, fills her so full she feels like bursting by the time the candle on the table has burned low and the rain has slowed from a downpour to a pleasant patter.

 

“I’m sure you two are tired," Abby concludes after they've all caught their breath from laughing at Lexa's story about one her teammates being forced, all in good fun, to wander home in a Brazil jersey as penance for having accidentally and drunkenly wandered in their House one night during the middle of the Games.

 

"I’ve got the guest room made up if you’d prefer the bigger bed.” Abby turns to Lexa, “I’m afraid Clarke never could let go of her full.”

 

“It fits me just fine,” Clarke protests as she stands and helps her mother clear their plates.

 

“I’m sure it does, sweetheart, but Lexa is quite a bit taller than you. Speaking of. I often wondered. How tall are you?” Abby comes next to the swimmer and sizes herself up to her, all of which makes Clarke smile.

 

“About 6’4, m’am.”

 

“What did I tell you about that?”

 

Lexa grins. “Sorry. About 6’4, Abby.”

 

Clarke’s mother shakes her head in awe and takes the plate from Lexa, much to the swimmer’s protest. “I think you may even be taller than Jake was.”

 

Clarke hears his name like a punch to the chest. Her heart plummets through her and out onto the floor where she tries not to step on it as she struggles to catch herself from tripping into panic.

 

But Lexa’s eyes are on her, vigilant and concerned, and she refuses to ruin everything they’d been building up to, so she swallows, takes three deep breaths, and pushes forward into the kitchen after her mother. “That was great, mom. Thank you.” She means it, but she can hear that it’s a little tired and a little sad in her voice, and all she can do is hope that her mother doesn’t hear it too.

 

When her mother turns and wordlessly hugs her, she knows she has. Though she’s grateful when her mother leaves it at the hug, a kiss to her cheek, and demands that the couple let her finish the dishes and go ahead on to bed.

 

 

 

It isn’t until she’s stripped down to her underwear and a nightie under the covers of her pink-flowered comforter, and laying against Lexa’s chest that she finally feels her hands stop shaking.

 

It takes her a little too long to remember why they’d come in the first place, and she feels guilty once she's thought of it. When she turns her head to catch as much of Lexa’s face as she can in the moonlight, she’s relieved to see that it looks calm and relaxed. “How are you doing?”

 

Lexa smiles and kisses her forehead in a way that makes Clarke feel wonderfully small and safe and loved. “I’m good. How are you doing?”

 

“I’m good.”

 

“You sure?”

 

Clarke hums and nods, burrowing in because her eyes sting a little but in that good way that means sleep is coming. “I’m glad you’re here with me,” she whispers.

 

“Me too.”

 

“I think it’s going to be good for us.”

 

“So do I.”

 

Clarke presses a kiss to the relaxed chord of Lexa’s necks muscle and sighs, tangling her feet with Lexa’s calves which just barely fit onto the bed. “I love you.”

 

In the morning she won’t remember if Lexa actually said it back, but she’ll remember feeling it in the way Lexa hugs her just a little bit tighter and promises that they’ll be okay.  

Chapter Text

Lexa can’t remember where she is when she first wakes up.  The first thing she notices as she blinks into awareness is that her feet are an uncomfortable mix of cold and numb, and her lower calves ache where the end of the bed presses into them. The large fan above her is unfamiliar as well as the ceiling around it, and nothing about the frigid air that stings her nose as she breathes in reminds her of her typical mornings at home.

 

But there’s a pleasant, warm weight atop her that has slowly, over the past month or so, grown familiar, no matter where Lexa found herself waking up. She’d come to expect the feeling, come to crave it. The feeling had created a new home. A home in a person. A home in Clarke. The thought makes her smile as runs her hands up and down the length of Clarke’s back working sleepy little sounds out of slowly stirring muscles and fluttering eye lids.

 

“Hey there,” she whispers, but she knows full well Clarke’s not ready to be awake yet. It just feels good, having someone to say it to. Someone to wake up to. She gets a barely-there kiss to the bottom of her jaw in response, just the smallest, simplest of gestures that feels almost too precious to be receiving. Precious and warm. It reminds her that her feet are cold.

 

Her attempt to pull her legs up and onto the bed is torrid at best given the fact that she simply just does and will not fit. She hasn’t tried long before all of her shifting and jostling eventually draws out a repeated string of whines and adamant burrowing from Clarke that forces Lexa into submission with a small chuckle and shake of her head. Her feet will just have to go cold. She clenches and unclenches her toes, willing them to warm a little. It doesn’t really help, but Clarke’s content little sigh that tickles her neck after she’s settled again makes it bearable. At least for now while it’s still dark out and her lids are just heavy enough to offer an attempt at falling back to sleep.

 


 

When she wakes again thirty minutes, maybe an hour later, it still takes her a moment to place herself. And Clarke’s warm weight is no longer there to keep her grounded and settled when her nerves spike as she opens her eyes to an unfamiliar, whiter than white ceiling—all too similar to the one she’d spent weeks of her childhood staring up at as strange machines beeped around her.  

 

Her eyes slowly find homey touches as they sweep her surroundings. Mostly in the form of Clarke’s colorful paintings. There’s a burst of reds and oranges on a canvas to her left, some blues and greens to her rights. It’s not quite as settling as Clarke herself, but imagining little Clarke, slaving away in front of an easel—maybe even with her tongue poking out like it had when she’d taught Clarke how to lift weights properly—does a pretty good job of calming her.

 

Enough so that she doesn’t jump when Clarke shuffles into the room and says her name in a croaky little sound.

 

She blinks sleepily away from the paintings and almost gasps when she lands on Clarke leaning in the doorway. She doesn’t, of course, but she almost does. Because Clarke is exquisite with her sleep-mussed hair and soft eyes still struggling to wake. There’s miles of skin on display in Clarke’s choice of a tank-top and underwear—soft, pale, probably warm skin that makes the pads of her fingers tingle—and she’s smiling at her like nothing makes her happier than walking in to find Lexa awake and waiting for her.

 

“You’re awake,” she says softly, still smiling as she walks over to the bed, and Lexa can’t stop staring the whole way. She remembers to nod somewhere in there, and thinks to move only after Clarke has peeled back the covers and nudged her over with a chuckle. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Like…that.” Clarke crawls into her lap so that Lexa is being straddled—which definitely doesn’t help the staring problem—and cups her cheeks, nuzzling her nose along Lexa’s face until she gets what she wants. Lexa kisses her. “You’re staring at me,” Clarke whispers.

 

“You’re beautiful.”

 

Clarke doesn’t say anything and instead hides her face in the crook of Lexa’s neck, an embarrassed tell Lexa has slowly begun to be able to identify. It makes her smile, something that still feels a little awkward on her face having not done much of it for the greater part of her adult life.  But she can’t seem to make it stop so she presses it into Clarke’s hair and hopes it will go unnoticed. “How’d you sleep?”

 

Clarke drags her bottom lip up the column of Lexa’s throat in response that makes Lexa’s eyes flutter shut and a chill ripple through her body. She hums through her smile, not expecting much more, but when Clarke nips at the hinge of her jaw and gently sucks at her earlobe, her eyes snap open and a strangled groan tumbles out of her.

 

She can feel Clarke’s smirk in her kisses as she makes her way back around to Lexa’s lips, leaving a wet trail all the way across her cheek before nudging Lexa’s chin up for a better angle. Instinctively, despite the confusion of Clarke’s sudden onslaught, Lexa wraps her hands around Clarke’s hips and pulls her close as she’s kissed. When she makes the mistake of of sighing, Clarke wastes no time deepening it.

 

And god, she’s enjoying it, she really, really is, but when Clarke starts rocking her hips into her she knows they need to slow down. Painfully tearing herself away, she breaks the kiss and licks at her lips, dilated eyes searching Clarke’s face for answer.

 

“Hey, wait,” she pants as Clarke leans back in. “Clarke.”

 

“Mm?” Clarke keeps at Lexa’s lips like she hasn’t tasted them for days, and hooks her fingers in the back of Lea’s shirt to keep her close.

 

“Baby…we shouldn’t…”

 

“Why?” Clarke’s whine makes her smile for a moment before she pulls back again and puts her hand teasingly over Clarke’s mouth.

 

“Your mom’s downstairs.”

 

Clarke shakes her head and mumbles something incoherent into Lexa’s hand until the swimmer removes it, chuckling. “What was that?”

 

“She’s got a morning shift. She told me last night while you were in the shower.” She looks at the clock above Lexa’s head. “We’ve got like six solid hours all to ourselves.”

 

Lexa watches the mischievous grin form on her face and caves, leaning forward to kiss her. “You’re cute,” she says, earning a giggle. Sometimes Lexa can’t believe just how cute this wild, little thing she’d manage to keep around is. And when Clarke toys with the bottom of Lexa’s shirt and teases the skin there with the gentle backs of her fingers, she nearly loses it.

 

“I don’t want to be cute. I want to be under you.”

 

Lexa flushes hard at the words, feeling things spark and tug in a suddenly jolt of arousal. “Oh?” She manages to stutter out. She doesn’t miss Clarke’s satisfied smirk, though this isn’t exactly new. Only Clarke is able to do this to her—to render her a stuttering, nervous mess when for most of her life she had been the cocky, confident asshole who smooth-talked her way through everything. She could have rolled her eyes at herself if she weren’t so busy trying to hold it together as Clarke took off her shirt, then went for Lexa’s.

 

“I’m cold,” she mutters as a week excuse for her shivering.

 

Clarke chuckles and rubs their noses together, totally not buying it Lexa knows, before pecking her on the lips. “Remind me where you’re from, again?”

 

“You have a painting of me on your wall. I know you know where I’m from,” Lexa teases and its Clarke’s turn to blush. Lexa nips playfully at her bottom lip and apologizes for the jab with a tender kiss and hands that tangle gently into Clarke’s hair, massaging until the blush is gone and Clarke is putty in her lap.

 

“I’m from Florida,” she whispers right before she ghosts kisses over the shell of Clarke’s ear, loving that they are still a tint pink.

 

Clarke’s “I know” is almost lost in the small moan she lets out when Lexa drifts one of her hands up towards Clarke’s breast and mimics the movements of her other hand in Clarke’s hair.

 

“That—“ Clarke shutters, “that’s nice.”

 

“Yeah? How about this?” Lexa slides her hand down the plane of Clarke’s soft stomach and slips it into her underwear, making gentle little circles where she thinks her mark is.

 

Clarke makes a choked little sound in surprise then nods distractedly as she rocks her pelvis forward and digs her fingers into Lexa’s shoulders.

 

“Good?” Lexa whispers.

 

“Uh huh,” Clarke mews, her eyes clamped shut, one hand now braced on Lexa’s thigh behind her as she leans herself back, pushing her hips forward even further.

 

“You’re so worked up,” Lexa says in jest, but mostly awe. It hadn’t been terribly long since they’d have sex last, what with the travelling, but she guessed it had been long enough. Not that she’d complain. Clarke is beautiful like this, and so in her element. Normally shy and still a little timid with her in their normal day activities, Clarke came alive in bed and stole Lexa’s breath away with every waking minute.

 

Clarke nods just barely listening to her as she rolled her hips in tandem with Lexa’s patterns. “Can you feel how wet I am?”

 

Lexa dips her fingers past the fleshy folds and nearly loses her mind at what she finds. “Oh my god,” she moans, her free hand snaking behind Clarke’s back to pull her up and hold them close again. When Clarke doesn’t protest at the shift, Lexa’s presses their foreheads together, wanting to be close, but still wanting to watch Clarke’s face as her fingers continued to explore just how aroused Clarke is. “What’s going on?” She asks, her fingers stilling, and then renewing when Clarke bucks her hips slightly urging her on.

 

“I just miss you.”

 

“I’m right here.”

 

When Lexa stops exploring and moves with more purpose, more rhythm, she gets the gasp she’s looking for and smiles when Clarke buries her face into her neck and wraps around her shoulders.

 

“Don’t stop, okay?” Clarke half moans, half whispers in between leaving hot, wet, open-mouthed kisses along Lexa’s collarbone.

 

Lexa holds her closer and nods. “I won’t. I won’t, baby,” she promises and seals it with a kiss to the top of her head.        

Chapter Text

 

Lexa is not a grumbler, but she’s not meant for the cold either. She’d practically been raised just 30 minutes south at the Olympic Training Center, but those 20 miles made a big difference in temperature. A difference that had her biting back grumbles and burrowing into her coat as she walked hand-in-hand Clarke with through the quaint streets of her hometown.

 

“Burrow any further and you’re gonna disappear,” Clarke teases, giving her mitted hand a squeeze.

 

“It’s cold.”

 

Clarke kisses her shoulder happily and chuckles, adding a slight skip to her step. Lexa watches her as she throws her head back and sticks her tongue out, totally unperturbed by it all with her pink cheeks and hair almost completely white under its dusting of snow.

 

“We’re almost there,” Clarke says, and when she turns to look at her, Lexa can feel the blush that blossoms underneath her already rosy cheeks as she’s caught staring.

 

“You’re doing it again.”

 

Lexa smiles, no intention of stopping. “I know. Sorry.”

 

Clarke stops and flings her puffy-coat arms around Lexa’s waist, burying her face in the front of Lexa’s jacket. She’s mumbling something, but Lexa can’t quite make it out until Clarke finally pulls back and looks up at her with eyes slightly wetter than before. Instinctively, protectively, lovingly, Lexa takes one of her cheeks in her mitted hand and holds her face there as Clarke leans into it.

 

“I’m okay,” Clarke murmurs, reading the inevitable question on Lexa’s concerned lips. “It’s just a lot, having you here. You know?” The look in her eyes, the one that always feels too big, too important, and too special for someone like her, makes Lexa’s throat ache.  

 

“In a good way, though,” Clarke continues as if Lexa weren’t sure. The thoughtfulness, the gentle kiss Clarke presses to her cheek on her tiptoes, the sighed “I love you,” all adds to the knot in her throat until she’s forced to clear it and urge Clarke onward again before she loses it in the middle of the sidewalk.

 

“So where is it we’re going, exactly? Is it in this state?” She teases when she gets her voice back.

 

Clarke hip checks her, but of course she doesn’t go anywhere and Clarke is left to rub at her hip own and chuckle at herself. “We’re almost there,” she says, smacking Lexa’s arm playfully this time—a much better tactic. “I thought you were an athlete, missy?”

 

“I’m not tired, I’m cold! And I can’t feel my toes.”

 

“You are such a baby,” Clarke laughs, looping their arms together and leaning her cheek against Lexa’s shoulder.

 

Lexa grumbles something into her scarf, but secretly she loves the teasing. Secretly, she’d walk a million miles in the snow, unable to feel her toes, to see Clarke smile and glow like this. 

 

 

“So what are your plans?” Clarke asks a little while later once the crunching of the snow under foot and the tweeting of birds overhead has grown monotonous.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Like…for your life. After this. You’ll have to get back to it all eventually, right?”

 

Lexa doesn’t miss the way Clarke’s voice wanes a little as she asks, as if she truly believes this is just a temporary stop on the road for Lexa—a vacation maybe, a quick break from reality. And maybe it is, because it’s certainly a lot better than the reality she’d come to know before meeting Clarke that night at the party. But quick? Just a temporary stop?—That’s not what she wanted. That’s not what she planned for. That’s not what she hoped Clarke wanted and planned for.

 

“Well I—“ she starts, but isn’t sure how to continue.

 

“I know you have to get back to training…and being famous and all that,” Clarke tries for a laugh, but Lexa can hear that habitual sadness intoned in her soft words and shy smiles. There’s a part of her that feels so angry towards it, like she just wants to scream and kick the sadness away until she is breathless and exhausted because it infuriates her that someone so beautiful could be suffering so greatly. Another part of her, the part that most people don’t see because it’s soft and open and weak, wants to soothe it away with gentle lips and steady hands, coaxing it out of her until it’s no longer so easy for her to slip into a frown.

 

She stops walking and turns to Clarke, removing her glove to brush her thumb along the soft, cold skin of her cheek. “I think...To me, it seems like you’re waiting for this to all end, as if it’s on a deadline, or has an expiration date,” she says carefully. She let’s her hand fall away as Clarke’s eyes focus on her. “But that's not what I want. I want to be with you, Clarke. For as long as I can…as long as you want me.”

 

“But your training—“

 

“I’ll always have to train. It’s my job. But having to train and get back to my life in LA doesn’t have to exclude you. We live fifteen minutes away from each other after all.”

 

Clarke’s eyes drop, and so does Lexa's stomach. “I’m just thinking I need to stay here. For a while. At least for a couple of months. My mom’s been alone for so long, . It’s quiet up here. I think that’s good for me,” she says so quietly Lexa has to bend to hear it all.

 

She wraps her arm around Clarke’s waist and pulls her close, kissing the top of her head. “So then we stay here,” she says simply.

 

Clarke looks up at her, and god she looks so beautiful with those wet, blue eyes and pink cheeks. “We?”

 

Lexa’s insides stutter as she realizes she might have understood wrong. Perhaps Clarke wasn’t asking her to stay. Perhaps she was telling her she needed some space. Perhaps she wanted to know about Lexa’s plans because she was wanting her to get the hint.

 

She steels herself for rejection. “Yeah I mean, if that’s what you want.  But if not, I can totally go whenever you want,” she recovers quickly.

 

Clarke chuckles and Lexa nearly slips when Clarke swings around and slams into her chest, squeezing her tightly. “Of course I want you to stay. I just never thought you would want to. You have a life, and training, and fans…I couldn’t possible ask you to stay up here in the middle of nowhere with me.”

 

Lexa smiles and hugs her back, wondering only briefly if the residents of this sleepy little town have noticed their strange walk interrupted by hugs and lip-chasing kisses. One man with a grey beard and a raccoon hat walks right past without so much of glance, and Lexa realizes perhaps they are busy with their own strolls, and their own girls with snow-flake wet hair and sweetly chapped lips, to care about what is going on around them. Lexa realizes perhaps that is exactly the appeal. It’s a different kind of ‘quiet’ than she’s familiar with. One she thinks will not take long to grow to love.

 

“You’re not asking me to,” she says when Clarke kisses the underside of her jaw, bringing her back to attention, “I want to. The quiet is good for me too.”

 

Clarke grins. “Just the quiet?”

 

Lexa grins back at her, rolling her eyes. “Okay, you’re right. Your mom too.”

 

“Hey!”

 

//

 

They continue on their walk in a fit of laughter and more stolen kisses until they finally end up at Clarke’s favorite diner nestled between an old-fashioned candy store and family hardware store. Lexa stalls, looking up at the colorful siding and ornate wood trimming. It’s like something out of a dream, or maybe a memory. Something tugs in her chest and she thinks that if she closes her eyes, she may be able to feel her mother’s hand on her shoulder, her sweet voice whispering in her ear to pick out whatever candy she wants.

 

Instead, it’s Clarke who runs her hand up her back and asks her if she’s okay. She nods because she mostly is. It’s a happy memory, even though she can’t make out much, she knows it’s a happy one. She can feel it.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she promises, turning back to Clarke with a smile.

 

“You sure?”

 

She nods and encourages Clarke to take them inside, challenging her to find something on the menu that won’t set her back three years in her training and nutrition regiment.

 


 

“Well this one is really good, but totally a heart attack waiting to happen,” Clarke says after they’ve sat and peeled out of their cold, wet layers. She points to a pancake order on the front of the menu, thoughtfully.

 

Lexa grimaces slightly at the words “heart attack” as they come out of Clarke mouth—it hits a little too close to home given Clarke’s own finicky organ. Clarke catches her and rolls her eyes, placing her hand over Lexa’s across the table. “Not an actual heart attack, babe.”

 

Lexa frowns. “I know.”

 

“So what are you going to get then?”

 

Lexa drifts back to the menu, humming occasionally. She hadn’t had food like this in a while. Not junk food, just...homey food. She could barely remember the last time . It twists slightly in her chest the way the candy shop had. She’s feeling everything so vividly these days. So raw and clear and deep. She frowns again.  “What do you get?”

 

 

By the time the heap of fruit covered waffles comes out, Lexa’s not hungry. Her thoughts are loud and her chest hurts a little bit for no good reason, and that makes her antsy. Clarke had commented on her twitching fingers more than once, and she’d promised she was okay. In reality, she’d just moved her hand below the table where she could continue tapping out a nervous rhythm on her thigh that amounted to nothing of consequence.

 

Clarke watches her closely. She can feel it, even with her eyes trained on the figure-eights her fork is scraping into her plate. She has a penchant for messing things up when they’re good. She knows this. Knows it like she knows the feel of pool plaster on the bottom of her feet. Like she knows that it takes thirty-five strokes to get to one end of a pool, and thirty-six to get back again. She knows she can hold her breath for three minutes while exerting and almost six minutes while still. She knows how much she can squat and how much she can bench. She knows how many pull-ups she can slug through before her bad shoulder wants to pop out.

 

She knows that the knot in her throat is discomfort not sadness. But that the itch in her eyes is sadness not discomfort. She knows that the media asks her to smile more and that Anya asks her to talk more and that Gustus asks her to rest more and that the children’s home asks her to visit more.She knows that she’s the best swimmer in the world, she knows that she’s the loneliest person in the world. She knows that she loves Clarke more than she’s ever loved anything in her life. She knows that she is broken. She knows what she knows, truly very well.

 

The problem is, she doesn’t know Clarke. She doesn’t know the people that walk up to their table, asking how Clarke’s been. She doesn’t know the names of friends, neighbors and family that are thrown around and touched upon as they try to catch Clarke up. She doesn’t know the small smile that crosses Clarke’s face when Dara, the plump waitress with big eyes and a nice laugh, talks about Jake’s visits to the diner with his tiny little girl in his lap. Doesn’t quite know the tone with which Clarke thanks the old man with the polka-dot tie for showing her a picture of him and her father. She doesn’t know this Clarke in this town with a full and complex life that existed before her. Without her.

 

She sits quietly with a knot in her throat and an itch in her eyes, fingers thrumming against her jeans as she tries to make herself take up less space in the booth. She counts strokes in her head to help her concentrate. Holds her breath to help her listen and digest the fact that there is so much unfamiliar terrain to the person she thought she knew better than she knew anyone.  

 

“You’re freaking out.”

 

Lexa blinks several times, cut off around stroke twenty-three, almost out of air, when Clarke abruptly stops in the middle of a memory and exposes Lexa so effortlessly—because while Lexa doesn’t know Clarke, Clarke knows everything there is to know about Lexa so it seems.

 

“Are you panicking?”

 

Lexa shakes her head.

 

“You sure?”

 

Another shake. A frown in correction, then a nod.

 

“Do you want to play ‘ISpy?’”

 

She feels petulant shaking her head again, but she can’t make herself speak.

 

“Do you want to go?”

 

Clarke’s eyes bore into her, but while it’s intense, it’s not hard. In fact, it’s so, so soft in the way that it’s intense, Lexa is stuck feeling small and stupid and mute.

 

With a sympathetic cluck of her tongue, Clarke slips out of her booth and scoots into Lexa’s, nestling into her side where Lexa has to admit she fits so wonderfully. Clarke’s hand goes to her stomach and begins rubbing warm, purposeful circles, as if trying to quell the raging nerves there she can’t even see. It’s not a gesture Lexa would have expected, nor was it one she thought she’d enjoy, but the comfort it yields is undeniable. And once again, Clarke knows her best. Clarke knows her better than Lexa knows herself.

 

She knows Lexa when she doesn’t try to speak, just sits there and presses occasional kisses into Lexa’s fleeced shoulder. Knows her when the circles over her stomach renew whenever Lexa’s breathing hitches with anxiety. Knows her when she quietly orders a cup of tea for her and doesn’t ask why she doesn’t drink it, just wraps her hands around the hot cup and holds on.

 

She knows that running her hands through the hair at the nape of her neck will instantly sooth her when her body stiffens with the panic that shoots up her throat. Knows that slow and steady wins the race, and lets Lexa make the first move to leave. She knows that when Lexa is silent the whole walk home, it’s because she’s desperately trying to get the words untangled and out of her mouth, but can’t. She knows that when they collapse onto Clarke’s bed, Lexa won’t be the first to initiate touch, but that she’ll want it.

 

What Clarke doesn’t know, is that all that knowing makes it worse. Because what does Lexa know? Lexa knows that Clarke doesn’t like cars. She knows that someone named Finn gave her separation anxiety and a body complex. She knows that she doesn’t like her scars and every time Lexa peels her out of her shirt, she shrinks until Lexa kisses her back to her full height. She knows that she murmurs in her sleep and that she likes to be held throughout the night or else she starts to squirm. She knows that she’s not a morning person, but that she has the sweetest, raspiest laugh when she wakes up, and that her eyes are the bluest when they first open.

 

She knows Clarke’s favorite color and her favorite song. She knows that more often than not she picks something up high when they play ‘ISpy.’ She knows Clarke is ticklish on her left side more so than her right. She knows that her neck is overly sensitive and that she likes to be kissed until she can’t breathe. She knows that she is sad. She knows that she is beautiful.

 

She knows that, in comparison to what Clarke knows, none of that seems to matter.

 

Clarke settles onto her chest and pushes under her jaw into the crook of her neck, asking quietly if it’s okay as she does so, and of course it is. It always is. She just wishes her hands would stop shaking. She just wishes her mind would stop shouting and her heart would stop pounding and her face would stop burning. She wishes the ocean would stay out of her ears, wishes that her mother would stay out of her mind. Wishes that her lungs would stop constricting.

 

“Okay, whoa,” Clarke says quietly, sitting up calmly, but with slight alarm. “I need you to breathe, Lex. Your heart is racing.”

 

It’s only then that Lexa realizes she’s panting, chest rising high and plummeting low with every passing second that doesn’t feel like a second and more like an indecipherable swash of time that is impossible to grasp onto as it flies past her.

 

Clarke pulls on her arms until she’s sitting up, and her hands go back to her stomach. But this time they’re pressing, steady, firm. “Breathe from here,” she murmurs. “Right here.”

 

Lexa tries to focus on the weight of Clarke in her lap. The warmth of her thighs wrapped around her hips. The walls are shrinking and expanding, back and forth, back and forth. Clarke’s paintings are spinning and sliding, the room is tilting. The curtains and the windows and the lights are jumping around. Her eyes strain to keep up.   

 

“Hey.” Clarke places her hands on either cheek. Steady, steady, steady. Clarke’s face is still. Her eyes, quiet. Her smile, gentle. “Just look right here. Be right here.”

 

 


 

 //

 

When Lexa opens her eyes, it’s darker outside. There’s a warm glow in the room from the bedside lamp, illuminating the small space around her which gives the illusion of it being later than it is. Her watch reads ‘5:30pm.’ Just as she’s wondering what Clarke’s mother might be up to, knowing she must be home by now, she hears the homey sounds of someone puttering around a kitchen. A pot clangs, an oven timer goes off. The sink is turned on and off. The fridge is opened and closed.

 

It’s all wonderfully simple. Simple and safe.

 

Clarke’s face is close, so close she has to scoot back to get a good look. They’re sharing a pillow, Clarke having inevitably gravitated close at some point after Lexa had accidently succumbed or perhaps she had been coaxed into it. It was hard to remember. She stares at Clarke, so soft and still in her sleep, angelic even. Real. Irresistible.  Lexa reaches out, runs her fingers gently over the slope of her cheekbone, down under the curve of her jaw, around her chin. She does this several times. Just petting. Just admiring.

 

She has the sudden urge to apologize with her fingers on this beautiful, precious little thing that she doesn’t quite think she deserves. Instead, she leans forward and kisses her on the nose. Then between her eyebrows, on an eyebrow, on the forehead, and a cheek, and the corner of her mouth until she gets a sleepy hum and an even sleepier smile.

 

“G’morning.”

 

Lexa smiles. “It’s evening, actually.”

 

Clarke presses her face into the pillow and stretches out long and languid, content. “I don’t care,” she sighs, totally still again, face hidden.

 

Several seconds pass. And then another several until Lexa wonders if maybe she’s fallen asleep again. She slips her hand under Clarke’s shirt to feel the warm skin of her back.

 

“Your hand is cold.”

 

“Sorry.” Lexa starts to withdraw.

 

“I didn’t say stop.”

 

“Oh. Sorry.” She puts her hand back and Clarke hums.

 

“Stop saying sorry.”

 

“Sor—okay.”

 

Clarke turns and stares up at her, hair in her face and lines of sleep carved into her cheek. She’s so stunning Lexa can feel her heart beating in her throat. “Are you still upset?”

 

Lexa shakes her head.

 

“You feel dark right now.”

 

“It’s dark out.”

 

“You feel sad. You say sorry a lot when you’re sad.”

 

Lexa flattens onto her stomach, turning her head so that they can face each other like two little kids at a sleepover. “I’m okay.”

 

“I know you’re not.”

 

Lexa frowns.

 

“No, no. I mean. That’s not what I meant. It’s okay. It’s okay that you’re not okay. It’s okay to not be okay.”

 

Lexa smiles because a flustered Clarke is a very cute Clarke. She kisses her into silence. “I wasn’t okay earlier. I got overwhelmed.”

 

Clarke nods and interlaces their fingers together down by their hips. “I know.”

 

“I’m okay now, though.”

 

“Yeah?” 

 

Lexa nods.

 

“What happened?”

 

“I realized something.”

 

“What?”

 

Lexa shakes her head.

 

“Please?”

 

“Clarke.”

 

“We have to communicate, Lex. We have to. That’s how we heal. That’s how we help each other.”

 

“I don’t think you’ll like it.” She hates how small her voice sounds. Hates how it instigates the flash of worry, the skip of panic, across Clarke’s face.

 

Clarke tightens her grip on Lexa’s hand. “Are we okay?”

 

“I think so…”

 

Clarke does the thing. When she’s scared, Lexa’s notice, she retracts. In every way possible, she retracts into herself, a contortion of anxiety, sadness and animosity. Like she’s been betrayed. Like she’s been cornered. She retracts away so hard sometimes it’s almost impossible to catch her. To keep her in place, steady.  Clarke scoots away and looks at her with those big eyes full of anger and sadness and betrayal and fear. She’s a whirlwind, a storm so beautiful and destructive. Powerful. Lexa would let herself be totally and completely swept away by it if it came to it.

 

She grips onto Clarke's hand and shakes her head, refusing Clarke’s retreat. A storm of her own, she snakes her hand around Clarke’s waist and pulls her back, gripping tightly when Clarke begins to wiggle away again.

 

“Stop.” It’s commanding, but it’s quiet. Gentle and open, so that when, if, Clarke refused, there would be no struggle.

 

But there rarely is. Clarke stills, her eyes still wide and a mess of too many emotions all at once.

 

“I’m going to be honest with you.”

 

There’s a moment of hesitation before Clarke nods and waits for Lexa to find her voice again.

 

“I don’t…” Lexa huffs, turns her face into the pillow and lets out a frustrated growl before turning to look at Clarke again. “I don’t know you.”

 

Clarke repels again, but Lexa’s hand is still firm on her hip. “Stop,” she says again. “I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to beat me to it.”

 

Clarke’s eyes widen slightly, and for a moment, just for a moment, Lexa considers that maybe she knows more about Clarke than she thinks. The confidence blossoms in her chest.  “I don’t know you, yet. Not really. We just kind of dove head first into this thing because it felt good. It feels good, right?”

 

Clarke nods.

 

“Yeah. It feels good. But today, in the diner, you knew all these people. And they all knew you. And they knew about your dad and your childhood. All these things I should…I should know. Because they’re you. They make you, you. And I love you.”

 

“You’ll learn,” Clarke starts to protest.

 

“I’m not done.”

 

Clarke nods, silent again.

 

“I know I’ll learn. But I just thought…I thought I knew more. I thought I knew you well. So well. The way you know me. But I don’t think I do. And that scares me, because I want to know you. I want…I want to know you and I thought I did. But I don’t.” She frowns. She’s never been good at talking. Not about her feelings. Not about her thoughts. “You know me," she tries, in a last ditch effort to summarize.

 

“I don’t,” Clarke whispers, “but I’m starting to. That’s how this goes. You and me. We get to know each other.”

 

“We went fast.”

 

“Yeah.” Clarke nods. “We did.”

 

“I just thought I knew more.”

 

Clarke shifts closer, then stills. Asking for permission. Lexa presses their arms together. “You know me better than anyone.”

 

“That can’t be true.”

 

“It is. It just is. Maybe you don’t know the little things. Maybe you don’t know all the details. But you know the important things. You know how to get me to breathe during a panic attack. You know how to make me smile when everything else feels like it’s pulling me under. You know how to make me feel safe. How to make me feel loved and worth it. You know how to make life interesting again. That’s the good stuff.”

 

Lexa nudges their noses together. “You are worth it.”

 

“See?” Clarke smiles and kisses her on the nose. “You’re the good stuff.”

 

“Will you tell me about your childhood?” It’s barely a whisper, afraid to push too hard, prod too deep.

 

“Will you tell me about yours?”

 

“I’ll try.”

 

“Then so will I.”   

 

//

 

Dinner is a quiet affair. Marcus Kane comes over and Lexa holds Clarke’s hand under the table the whole time, letting her squeeze out all of her shock and pain and confusion at the intruder in her father’s seat.

 

He’s a nice man with sweet eyes and a friendly smile, much more open by nature than the Griffin women, Lexa can sense that right away. He’s helpful and easy in conversation, curious at all the right times and a good listener at others.

 

But he upsets Clarke which upsets Lexa, and she lets out a sigh she hadn’t known she’d been holding once Abby has closed the door behind him for the night. She lingers in the hallway with her, eyes trained on Abby’s ramrod back, familiar in so many ways as Abby seems frozen in place, staring out after the man.

 

“I’ve hurt her,” Abby suddenly murmurs, just loud enough for Lexa to realize she’s being spoken to. She takes an unsure step forward. “Right?” Abby turns, looking up at her. “I just messed up, didn’ I?”  

 

Lexa looks back briefly towards the kitchen where she can hear Clarke working on the dishes. “I think she probably could have just used some warning.”  

 

“I just wanted her to see that things are okay. Things are adjusted. She doesn’t have to worry so much.”

 

Uncomfortable and unsure of her place, Lexa rubs the back of her neck and frowns, holding back a shrug. “I think…what you have to understand…is that to Clarke, that didn’t look like adjusting. That looked like replacing.”

 

“Her father.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“It wasn’t. It isn’t. He’s just a friend.”

 

“She held my hand under the table all night.”

 

Abby’s eyes go wide and her face softens in sympathetic regret. “He’s just a friend.”

 

“You deserve to be happy, Mrs. Griffin—“

 

“Abby, please.”

 

“Okay. Abby. I’m not going to judge whether you deserve whatever that was…or is. It’s not my place, and I’m not the one it matters to...but I think you owe it to the both of you to be very clear about what’s happening.”

 

She can’t read the expression on Abby’s face as she stares, just that her eyes are harsh like Clarke’s. Harsh in that they see too much, know more than they should and peel Lexa open layer by layer until she’s raw and painfully transparent.

 

“I’ll go talk to her,” Abby sighs, giving Lexa’s bicep a reassuring squeeze. Lexa hates herself a little bit when she can’t make herself reciprocate the openness. She tries her best, giving Abby what she knows is a guarded smile, before venturing into the living room to give them space to talk.

 

She can hear their hushed voices as she takes in the warm room accented by cream and burgundy. There are no pictures of Jake, but Clarke is everywhere in all forms, full of life with that signature smile and her bright blue eyes. She traces the frames on the mantle gingerly, afraid to disrupt even a speck of dust, but unable to keep from reaching out,  as if she can play catch-up via osmosis.

 

It takes everything in her to stay put when the voices in the kitchen grow louder and tense. She hears Clarke’s voice crack and then the slamming of a pot, all things telling her to run in there, to protect her. Love her. Shield her from things she can’t possibly shield her from.

 

She takes slow, hesitant steps in their direction, waiting for them to work it out. Hoping that Clarke can find the words that she needs, find the strength that she so effortlessly exudes when it comes to everyone’s happiness but her own.

 

Abby looks lost and broken when she follows a raging Clarke out of the kitchen, grasping at the trailing air behind her daughter. She looks at Lexa for help, but Clarke is already pushing past her for the front door, a hurricane Lexa knows not to try to stop.

 

“I—“ Abby tries. 

 

Lexa shakes her head, hoping that Abby knows it’s not out of malice, just an awareness that the time for words had long passed. “I’ll handle it,” she offers simply as she grabs Clarke’s coat off the back of the couch and follows her out into the night.

 

She finds her halfway down the dimly lit street, arms wrapped around her stomach in an effort to stay warm. Or maybe in an effort to hold herself together. With the stoic set of her face it was hard to tell.

 

She catches up to her at a jog and tries not to take offense when Clarke doesn’t turn to meet her, not even a smile when she pulls up next to her and places a hand on her lower back in silent greeting.

 

“Here, it’s cold out.” She offers and wraps Clarke’s coat around her shoulders, holding it in place until Clarke eventually unwraps herself and lets Lexa help her into the sleeves. She feels more than sees Clarke’s eyes on her face as she silently zips up her jacket for her.

 

“She’s sleeping with him.”

 

“Oh…I don’t know about that.”

 

Clarke thuds to her chest and sighs long and hard, a palpable exhalation of a million different emotions that only Clarke is capable of harboring all at once. It’s part of what makes her so impossibly beautiful. And so impossibly sad.

 

“Everyone’s moving on without me. Why can’t I?”

 

“No one’s moving on without you. People just…heal differently.”

 

“By getting into bed with someone? Hell of a way to heal.”

 

“You got in bed with me,” Lexa offers with a weak chuckle. It’s supposed to be a joke, but she regrets it as soon as it’s out of her mouth, wincing at the sound of it. Clarke pulls back and stares at her with barely hidden disgust and anger before Lexa feels herself being pushed away, wordlessly and without a second look.

 

As she stands there in the middle of the sidewalk feeling like an idiot, she remembers she’s not funny. She remembers why she’d spent so much of her life with her mouth clenched shut. She remembers why Anya tells her to speak less and nod more. She remembers she rarely can say what she feels and feel what she says. She remembers this all, just a little too late, and Clarke’s back is getting harder and dimmer the longer she watches.

 

 


 

 

 

The couch is longer than Clarke’s bed. She can fit if she turns and bends her knees, which is nice. But the air is colder without Clarke curled into her side and there’s a street light shining on her face through the curtains. The pillows are thin and scratchy and the blankets aren’t nearly heavy enough.

 

She could find an endless list of discomforts, but they’d all boil down to Clarke’s absence. And since this was a self-imposed exile, she really had no room to complain. Not about the cold or the pillows or the blankets. Not about how her hands ached to roam Clarke’s warm skin or how her lips yearned for that soft, golden hair. Not about how she longed to hear her sweet, little sleepy sounds as she fidgeted and nuzzled closer—

 

With a groan, she shoves her face into the back of the couch and begs for morning.

 


 

 

It’s freezing and still dark out by the time she gives up pretending to be asleep. Her legs ache and tingle, and it’s then that she finally remembers why. She sits up with a shiver, her head hanging low with the weight of sleep still tugging it down. Her fists automatically come to her thighs, kneading out the stiffness and the zaps of restlessness.

 

With the resoluteness only a request from her body could bring about, she quietly climbs the stairs to Clarke’s room and slips in through the cracked door. She shoves her hands into her armpits to keep from running them over Clarke’s sleep mussed hair as she navigates the room looking for her suitcase. It’d managed to get stuffed halfway under the bed, likely during their rather rigorous morning activities, and she only finds it after stubbing her toe on its corner.

 

Cursing under her breath, she yanks out her nylon Nike leggings, socks, and her running shoes, alongside a t-shirt and jacket. She stares at her choices hesitantly for a moment, wondering if it’ll be warm enough. But then Clarke stirs and Lexa’s chest aches with too many things, and she knows that there’s no way she won’t run hard enough to be warm.

 

 //

 

No matter how hard she runs, her toes damn won’t get warm. They burn with every strike against the cold, wet ground, but somehow it’s good. Somehow it’s keeping her attention away from things like Clarke’s angry eyes and Clarke’s silence and Clarke. It keeps her attention away from the locals who stare at the tall, running stranger as they start to sleepily meander out into the streets on their way to work. It keeps her attention away from everything. Everything except, of course, the most important thing.

 

Like sensory memory, the throbbing of her lungs and the fire in her muscles coax out memories she was always striving and struggling to suppress during exertion. Memories that refused to stay put with the elevation of her heart rate and the working of body. Like sensory memory, the straining and pushing and panting plunged her mind into cold, dark waves and muffled screams until she was lost in the in-between. Neither here nor there. Not living. Not dying. Suspended and caught fighting to get somewhere.

 

In the pool, it made her the fastest. It made her impervious, relentless, brutal. It made her the best. She knew that. Knows that. But out here, on the dark, slippery unfamiliar streets of the early morning, it makes her feel small. Small and weak and angry. So she plows on, one foot in front of the other, harder and faster until she’s sprinting down unfamiliar roads, desperate to find peace and maybe some fucking quiet.

 

Her eyes blur as she struggles to locate it. Her breathing is too loud and the waves are too loud and the screams, god the screams, never let up. She’d forgotten what this was like. Between the medicine and the therapy and the distractions of preparing for the Olympics, this struggle…this panic was suddenly foreign and terrifying and overwhelming in it’s power.

 

She comes skidding to a halt in the middle of a small, deserted road surrounded by autumn-kissed trees and magnificent pines. There’s a dusting of white on the ground and when she looks up, bearing her over-heated face to the cool sky, she realizes a light snow had begun to fall at some point. It’s beautiful. It should be, at least, but she’s too busy trying to get things to stop spinning. She’s busy trying to keep the contents of her stomach down, busy trying stay her breathing.

 

She realizes all at once she’s busy trying to quell a panic attack in all the worst of way. She feels like a teenager all over again, completely unaware and ill-equipped to handle the heavy, heavy burden of trauma.

    

 Closing her eyes, she wraps her arms around herself and focuses on the road. Sturdy. Still. Present. She uses all ten toes, despite their numbness, to feel it beneath her, grounding her to something real, something strong and safe. She tries to ignore the other strong, safe thing in her life that her body yearns for.

 

When she opens her eyes again, her axis has righted and the spinning has slowed to a quiet meander that’s much more manageable. The snow, she thinks. She bends and scoops up as much as the light dusting will let her, and runs it over her face, relishing in it’s frigid ability to help. As a kid, she remembers sticking her face in the freezer when things got to be too much. It was quiet and cold and still in there. She chuckles as she looks around, realizing that her entire surroundings are a freezer, and of course, this is where she’d ultimately end up to heal.

 

She circles in place, looking around for details, little things to focus on now that everything is still and behaving, and she can see without getting sick. There’s a cross on the side of the road, simple and well-loved with all its adornments. She gravitates towards it, wondering.

 

She recognizes his eyes immediately. The picture that hangs around the cross is small, but those icy blue eyes are unmistakable and undeniably hereditary. Like the pictures in Clarke’s living room, Lexa brushes her fingers over the wood delicately, as if pressing too hard will stain it with her presence.  The flowers surrounding it are fake, but she supposes that’s for longevity, and marvels at the various hues, so bright and resilient and sure in the gloomy gray surrounding them.

 

The symbolism is so perfect for her new life with Clarke—staring death in the face and finding only peace and beauty— she could almost laugh if she weren’t busy trying to wrangle back her tears. If only Lexa of just one year ago could see her now, crying all the time, cuddling, talking about her feelings. This time she did chuckle as she rocked back up to her feet and shook herself out.

 

//

 

Her jog back to the house left her cold, wet and exhausted, but considerably lighter. Her muscles had finally calmed, along with her mind, and she silently reprimanded herself for not realizing what she'd needed sooner. She hadn’t swum in weeks and hadn’t had the chance to workout since leaving the OTC with Clarke, it was a wonder she was on the fritz. As she walks through the back door to the kitchen, she promises to remember the athlete that she is and the dedication to training she’d once had. The dedication that had saved her life.

 

She’s wiping her feet on the door mat when slight movement from the kitchen makes her aware of Abby watching her quietly over the rim of a mug.

 

“Abby—good morning,” she offers quickly, suddenly feeling like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

 

Abby smiles knowingly, at least it looks knowingly, and stands from her hunched position on the counter, making Lexa grow more nervous and more stiff by the second.

 

“Morning. Out for a walk?”

 

Lexa swallows. “A run. Yes.”

 

“You look freezing. Coffee?”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Lexa can see the stairs leading up to a warm shower and the safety of solitude. The rejection is on the tip of her tongue when suddenly something drains out of her and she doesn’t have the will anymore to keep locking herself away. At least not right now.

 

“You know…I’d love some.”

 

//

 

How she managed to go from a quick cup of coffee to covered in flour and pancake batter is beyond her, but here she is, scowling at a laughing Abby and desperately trying to wipe flour off her face.

 

“Clarke said you’re a wonderful cook. I think she may have oversold your abilities,” Abby says through her chuckles. Lexa tries not to shirk away from her helping hands as the mother pulls batter out of her hair.

 

“I’m a great cook. I’ve just never experienced a mixer with quite so much horsepower.”

 

“Jake tinkered with it one summer. Said he could make it more efficient. In reality he just managed to turn it into a baking chainsaw.”

 

Lexa chuckles and looks down at the flecks of batter covering her jacket. In one resolute decision, she unzips it and shrugs it off onto the island stool next to her, determined to get Clarke’s favorite breakfast meal right.

 

“Bananas,” Abby says, holding one up. “Makes ‘em fluffier.”

 

Lexa grimaces, but Abby just smacks her with it and begins unpeeling.

 

“Tell me, Gold Medalist. What’s your typical breakfast consist of? I highly doubt pancakes is on the list.”

 

Lexa smiles and averts her eyes, unsure of when these pet names had become a thing and when she’d started liking the sound of them. “Eggs, spinach and oatmeal.”

 

“Eggs, spinach and oatmeal. That’s quite…well, that’s really quite boring.”

 

Lexa scoffs. “It’s not boring. It’s healthy. Packed full of the nutrients I need to fuel a morning workout.”

 

“Ah yes. Nutrient-rich. So sexy.”

 

Lexa chokes on the sip of coffee she’s in the middle of taking and stares wide-eyed at a grinning Abby. “It’s breakfast! It’s not supposed to be sexy. Besides, you’re a cardiologist. You should be commending my healthy choices. And like I said…food isn’t meant to be sexy. It’s just fuel,” she mutters.

 

“Food is sexy, Lexa. It’s the spice of life! Take Clarke’s favorite, for example. Fluffy, buttermilk pancakes with a berry medley garnish and warm, honey glaze, topped with a tuff of whipped cream. Sexy.”

 

“Anything’s sexy with the right adjectives,” Lexa grumbles. “You could just as easily say pancakes with fruit and honey. Not nearly as sexy, but essentially the same thing.”

 

“Yes, well that takes all the fun out of it. Hand me those strawberries, would you?”

 

Lexa pushes the carton forward and watches as Abby separates the leaves with years of domestic expertise showing through her swiftness. The thought, the picture that leaps to mind, of Abby standing in the kitchen on cold winter mornings with the warmth of the oven accompanying little Clarke’s breakfast preparation…. It forms a little knot in her throat that she forces down with several large sips of coffee.

 

“The adjectives are the point,” Abby says suddenly.

 

“What?”

 

“The adjectives. You’re right. Everything sounds good with the right adjectives. The point is to live within them.”

 

“But that’s contrived.”

 

“Not if you’re genuine about it.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

Abby abandons the strawberries and rights herself to get a good look at Lexa. A look that makes the swimmer nervous as she sits expectantly on the other side of the island.

 

“When I say sad, what are the adjectives that come to mind?”

 

Lexa frowns. “Sad is already an adjective.”

 

“Yes, but you can give adjectives, adjectives, can you not? Someone can be angry, or someone can be stupendously angry. Right?”

 

Lexa nods.

 

“Right. So…sad. What comes to mind?”

 

“Terribly,” Lexa offers cynically, already knowing she’s going to be good at this game. She’s well acquainted with sad.

 

“Is that all?”

 

She shrugs.“Grossly. Deeply. All-consumingly…”

 

“That’s not a word.”

 

“No, but you get the point.”

 

Abby smiles again and this time, Lexa doesn’t avert her eyes. She’s intrigued, annoyed, and suddenly all too familiar with the wisdom in that face. “I do. But you don’t. Not yet. What else can you think of for sad?”

 

Lexa huffs. “I don’t know. Pitifully? Pathetically?”

 

“Lexa.” Abby grabs her wrist and squeezes gently. “Do you want to know what Clarke first said about you when she called?”   

                                                                   

Lexa doesn’t make a move, unsure of whether or not she wants to know.

 

Abby plows ahead anyways. “She said, ‘Mom. I’ve met this girl. And she’s amazingly, wonderfully, beautifully sad, and I think I really like her.’”

 

The tears, Lexa thinks. Relentless. She closes her eyes against them and tries to breathe. Abby squeezes her wrist with each word. “Amazingly, wonderfully, beautifully.”

 

Lexa rolls her eyes when she’s not able to stifle a sniff, but Abby, so much like Clarke, just coos and runs a cool, soothing hand along her cheek. “Oh, sweet Lexa. You see your sadness as something dark and terrible. Clarke sees it as something beautifully human and wonderfully complex. And she’s right.” She taps her on the nose and smiles, returning to the strawberries. “Choose your adjectives wisely, and live in them, sweet girl.” She shoves a carton of raspberries towards her. “Cut.”

 

Lexa takes them, anwilling distraction, and begins cutting. “I thought we were talking about the sexiness of food,” she grumbles after clearing her throat.

 

“We were talking about how right I was and always am.”

 

Lexa doesn’t look up from her raspberries, but she does grin.

 

//

 

It’s not until the pancakes are in the oven keeping warm that a soft thudding behind them alerts them to Clarke presence.

 

Something scared and excited and nervous flutters in Lexa’s chest as the thudding gets louder and Clarke finally round the corner, fist in her eye, yawning herself into existence. Lexa notices immediately the wonderfully pale rose of Clarke’s cheeks, and imagines how warm she must be. She notices the shimmer of Clarke’s blue eyes still struggling to wake against the bright morning sun and the dull, lines of dreams still tracking their way up her arms and neck. She looks so much like love materialized into a physical form, Lexa can hardly stand it.

 

She jerks up from her stool, mid sentence, silent and shy and in awe. She misses Abby’s quiet chuckle and shake of her head.

 

When Clarke’s eyes land on her, she doesn’t say anything. Her face remains still and for a terrible, awful, lingering second, Lexa thinks she’s going to be ignored.

 

Instead, in her soft, mismatching PJs and fluffy white slippers, Clarke shuffles across the tile and falls into Lexa’s chest, burrowing into her neck with the sweetest, sleepiest of sighs. “Good morning,” she whispers, wrapping further around her until she’s totally engulfed. “Please don’t do that again.”

 

Lexa looks surprised for a second, then looks around at Abby who had since taken up the terrible attempt at pretending to be oblivious, busying herself with cleaning the kitchen.    

 

“Do what?” She murmurs, still unsure of her standing with Clarke who had, only twelve hours ago, walked away from her in anger without a word.

 

“Not come to bed.”

 

“I was on the couch.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I thought you were mad at me.”

 

“I was.”

 

Lexa opens her mouth, but shuts it immediately, unsure of hour to respond.

 

Clarke pulls away and places her hands on either side of Lexa’s cheeks, demanding her full attention. “Listen to me closely, Champion,” she commands, her voice still soft and raspy with sleep, “I will never be so mad at you that I don’t want to spend the night being held by you. Unless I say so.”

 

“But you stopped talking to me…”

 

“Did I say, ‘sleep on the couch?’”

 

“Well, no, but—“

 

Clarke squeezes her cheeks and shakes her head. “No, I didn’t. For future reference, I’ll never not want to fall asleep and wake up with you just because I’m mad. That’s like, the highlight of my day. You said a dumb thing. But you also weren’t wrong. I just…I needed some time. I wanted you to come up later.”

 

“I can’t read minds, Clarke,” Lexa implores quietly, her eyes earnest and wide.

 

“I know. And I’m sorry.” Clarke leans in and when she kisses her, Lexa feels twelve hours worth of anxiety slip right out of her onto the floor. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs again for emphasis and Lexa smiles. “Are you...are you cooking?” She runs a finger down Lexa’s neck and shows it to her. It’s covered in flower and all Lexa can do is laugh.

 

“You said she was a good cook,” Abby mutters from behind them, not at all subtle now in the fact that she’d been watching them over her mug, grinning. “You lied.”

 

“She is. Well…she was.” She looks at Lexa. “You were. What happened?”

 

“That…that thing happened,” Lexa sputters indignantly, pointing to the mixer.

 

Clarke barks out a laugh and shakes her head. “So you've met Sharknado, then.”

 

“Is that what you call it? I call it hell.”

 

“He’s a little overzealous, yes, but he makes the best pancakes. Just add bananas. Makes them—“

 

“Fluffier, yeah. I’ve heard,” she grumbles, but soon smiles when Clarke flings into her arms again and peppers her face with kisses.

 

“Today’s going to be a good day,” Clarke sings, and Lexa thinks she couldn’t agree more as she kisses Clarke’s cheek and dodges Abby’s flour flinging.

 

Chapter Text


 

“I’m sorry, did you say another month?! No, no, no, I must have heard you wrong. See, I thought you just said another month, Lexa. MONTH. Which, obviously, has to be a mistake of some kind. Hold on, let me move, my reception must be SHIT!”

 

“Anya.” Clarke hears Lexa sigh as she pads down the carpeted hallway towards the open bedroom door. When she pokes her head in, she can see the frustration rippling through every inch of the swimmer’s tense muscles, from her hunched shoulders to her clenched fist. “It’s not a big deal—“

 

“Not a big deal? Not a big deal?! Lexa, are you kidding me?! The Games ended two months ago! This is PRIME media-exposure time! We’ve got about six months to a year before your buzz dies down. FINA is coming up in just, hold on…

 

The shouting pauses and Clarke watches Lexa run a hand over her face. Now’s not the time, but Clarke can’t help but marvel at her. It feels like a dream still, sometimes. This incredible, famous Olympian, so cool and casual in her white t-shirt and grey sweat pants, talking to her agent about media, and fame, and all of the glamour Clarke had once balked at far away in her sleepy, little town.

 

And now it’s all here, sitting on her pink, childhood bed.

 

“401 days. 401 days, Lexa. Did you hear me?”

 

“Yes, Anya, Jesus.”

 

401 days. That’s going to fly by, Champ. You have America’s heart, you always do, these Games certainly helped with that, but your media coverage the past couple of months has been less than great.

 

Clarke’s stomach drops as she realizes what Anya is referring to. Who she’s referring to. She takes a step back and leans against the wall outside of her room, closing her eyes in guilt.

 

“Anya.” Lexa huffs. It’s low and gritted, a warning even, she might say.

 

“We need to refocus their attention. You need to dazzle them, remind them who you are. FINA is at the back door, Lexa. You can’t afford anymore bad rep, whether it’s because of something you’ve done or because of who you’re associating with. There will always be something. You need—“

 

“I don’t need shit, Anya,” Lexa growls, causing Clarke to poke her head back in. Lexa has switched the phone to her outer hand.  Clarke can’t help but appreciate the way Lexa’s tan bicep strains as she clenches the phone, her knuckles white and forearm flexing. A bristling Lexa is a sexy Lexa, regardless of how inappropriate the observation is given the context. “One, stop perpetuating that outlandish shitstorm the media tried to pass off as a ‘story’ by acknowledging it. I don’t want to hear about it ever again, unless it’s in court where you’re helping Clarke and I sue them for emotional distress.  Two, I’m staying here for another month whether you like it or not, that’s final. If you want media buzz, they can come to me. Three, speaking of the shitstorm, I got your email about that phone interview. Consider this my formal rejection.”

 

“Hold on, I want to revisit number two—“

 

“I don’t care. And I have to go—“

 

“Lexa—“

 

“Anya, listen. You are the best agent I could ask for, and I thank you, but right now I need you to leave this alone and trust me. Okay?”

 

“I hope you know what you’re doing, because if you don’t…”

 

When Lexa turns and catches her eye, a surprised but pleased look on her face at the sight of her, Clarke tries to hide her blush in her shoulder, and gives her an awkward, little half wave. Lexa smiles and gives her a little wave back, mouthing “sorry” and rolling her eyes at the phone as Anya continued to ramble on.

 

“Anya, stop. Anya…Anya!”

 

“What?”

 

“I have to go. You have to let me go.”

 

“I just need you to understand the timing—“

 

“Anya, I’m going.”

 

“—and we need to capitalize on your success, Lexa—“

 

“This is me going. Okay? I’m going. Good bye—“

 

“Wait, just one more—“

 

“Good bye, Anya.” Lexa tosses her phone to the bedside table with a thud. “Unbelievable,” she sighs, leaning back against the headboard. She stretches her hand out towards the door and Clarke is quick to shuffle in and grasp it, letting Lexa pull her onto her lap. “Hey there.”

 

“Hi.” Clarke’s hands automatically go to Lexa’s hair, twirling the ponytail through her fingers as Lexa kisses her in greeting. It’s so impeccably easy, this thing they’d gotten themselves into that past couple of month. “Everything okay?”

 

“Yeah, Anya’s just—“ but before she can finish, Lexa’s phone is going off again and Clarke is hunkering down for a cuddle, tucking her head in Lexa’s shoulder as the swimmer apologizes, and answers the phone yet again.

 

“Hey, coach.”

 

“What’s this I hear about you not training for two months?”

 

“Oh I’m great, life’s been good, so sweet of you to ask. How are you?”

 

Lexa, FINA is—“

 

“401 days away, yeah so I’ve been told. It’s also been in my calendar for two years, not that anyone asked. I’m also in the habit of winning FINA, like very often, so I’m not exactly sure why you all are so up my ass about it.”

 

“You should be training. I just got a call from Anya saying—“

 

“Probably a load of shit. I haven’t taken two months off from training, Gus, I’m just doing it up here instead of in LA.”

 

“Where’s up here?”

 

“Colorado.”

 

“Colorado Springs? You at the OTC?”

 

“Sort of.”

 

“Sort of?”

 

Clarke hears Lexa pause and feels her eyes on her. Looking up, she finds Lexa looking down at her, smiling softly as she runs her hand up her back. “I’m…taking care of myself,” she answers, holding the gaze.

 

“That’s great, Lexa, but what are you doing to train? How am I going to train you in Colorado? I thought you were doing the press tour then coming home. What’s going on?”

 

“Nothing’s going on. Look—“ Lexa lets out a sigh that Clarke feels deep inside of her, igniting an urge to protect and sooth. So quickly had this quiet, gentle giant taken over her every thought and desire. She slips her hands under Lexa’s shirt, settling on the warm, firm expanse of her powerful torso.

 

“I just need some time to myself, get my head back in the game. I think I’ve earned that, don’t you? Seven golds is two more than you bet on, so you owe me.” Lexa says it in a teasing, cocky tone, no malice, and it transports Clarke back to that first night. Lights low, music loud, Lexa’s cocky smile entirely too intoxicating as she boldly latched onto Clarke’s visitor’s pass and asked for her name.

 

“Yeah, well. Don’t let it go to your head, kid. I just want to make sure you’re staying in shape. Are you lifting?”

 

“Lifting and running. There’s a nice, little gym here with everything I need.”

 

“How about a pool?”

 

“I can go into town if I need to swim.”

 

“What do you mean IF. You NEED to be swimming, Lexa.”

 

“I’m—“ her voice goes soft, like she’s ashamed, and Clarke burrows deeper, bringing her hands around to slide up her long, broad back to pull her close. “I’m having a bit of a hard time right now. In the water.”

 

“Your flashbacks?”

 

Lexa hums and buries her nose in Clarke’s hair.

 

“Have you talked to your therapist about it?”

 

“Once, last week.”

 

“Did it help?”

 

“A little, yeah. But I think I just need some time.”

 

Clarke hears Gus’ sigh and she prickles in anticipation of his rebuttal, but the man concedes, and Clarke kisses the underside of Lexa’s jaw as an extra reassurance. “Just promise me you’ll try to get in the pool within the next couple of weeks. Once you do, I’ll see if I can get up there for some sessions. And then you need to come home. The girls miss you.”

 

“If I can get in the pool and you can haul your ass up here without Mark killing you, I’ll even let you run test sets.”

 

Clarke enjoys Gus’ booming laughter on the other line, despite not having a clue as to what ‘test sets’ are. All she cares about is the way she can practically feel Lexa’s smile against her hair before another kiss is pressed into it.

 

 

 “Deal.”

 

When Lexa hangs up, she is quick to scoop Clarke up and walk with her across the room, smiling at Clarke’s squeals.

 

“What are you doing?!”

 

“Taking you downstairs. I’m hungry.”

 

“Why are you holding me?”

 

“Because I can.”

 

Clarke snorts and tangles her fingers through the hair at the nape of Lexa’s neck. “So who are the girls? And Mark?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Oh the phone you said—oh my god, please don’t trip.” Lexa chuckles and Clarke instinctively grips her thighs tightly around the swimmer’s narrow waist as she begins down the stairs.

 

“You’re fine, I got you. The girls are the women’s swimming team at USC. I train with them when Gus is busy assistant coaching them during the season. He likes me close, so as long as he’s there, I train with them in the mornings. Mark’s their head coach. He’s a real pain in the ass when it comes to Gus dividing his attention during their season.”

 

“But he’s your coach.”

 

“Technically they had him first. I met him at my first Games and he invited me to train with him and the girls.”

 

“What happened to Titus?”

 

Lexa smirks. “Fired his bald ass.”

 

//

 

At this point, over a month into their little daily routine, it’s just shameful. She feels like a teenager again, ogling some hot crush with her mind thrillingly in the gutter. She tries, she really tries, to do something other than stare at Lexa while she plows through her lifting session. But today is arm day, and god does she love those arms. So big, and long, and powerful, and—“

 

“Babe?”

 

Clarke jumps. “Hm?”

 

“I asked if you could pass me that towel.”

 

“Oh.” Clarke grabs the towel off the bench beside her and saunters it over to her, taking every step to let her eyes rake up the sweat slick shirt revealing stretch after stretch of cut muscle.

 

“You, my love, are not subtle.”

 

Clarke blushes. “I’m sorry. You’re—well, look at you.”

 

“I need a shower, I’m disgusting.”

 

“You’re gorgeous. Like a fucking marble statue,” she sighs, running her hands over the ridges of Lexa’s stomach.

 

“Someone’s a little thirsty.”

 

“When you look like that…”  

 

Lexa chuckles. “Well, why don’t you join me in the shower?”

 

Clarke’s eye bulge and she looks around, burning red. “We’re in a public gym,” she hisses.

 

“So what? It’s not like anyone’s here. It’s a week before Thanksgiving.”

 

Clarke looks around, taking note of the truth of Lexa’s statement. The gym is empty, though that was typical for their gym dates given that Lexa enjoys working out at the ungodly hour of five in the morning.

 

Today though, it’s eerily empty given that it’s late afternoon, the pair having opted to skip their morning session for a different kind of cardio session altogether.

 

“You know, actually,” Lexa starts, stalking towards her with a grin on her face, “we wouldn’t even have to hide out in the shower. I could just,” she reaches out and pulls Clarke forward by her hips, “take you right here,” she presses their bodies together, then their foreheads, “right on this bench.”

 

“Lex--” Clarke breathes deeply, one hand on Lexa’s chest as if that will keep her from tripping over into that alluring realm of deviancy that she so badly wants to lose herself in. Lexa thumbs at the waistband of her yoga pants, pulling them down just enough to expose the curve of her hip bone.

 

She can feel her heart pounding in her ears, adrenaline coursing through her and transforming into arousal with every suck of Lexa’s lips on hers, every inch of her skin exposed to the swimmer’s wandering fingers.

 

Her pants are halfway down her ass when she stutters, her heart freezing at the possibility of movement just outside her periphery. She jerks back and looks around, dreading the inevitability of finding some stranger’s eyes staring at them with disgust. But she finds nothing. Just Lexa’s concerned, guilty expression.

 

“Hey—“

 

Clarke slides her pants back up and offers that puppy-dog of a look a reassuring smile, one hand going up to cup Lexa’s cheek. “It’s okay. I think I’m just too shy for this,” she chuckles, embarrassed.

 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed.”

 

“You didn’t push. It was hot—I was into it, I just. I’m still up for that shower though…”

 

The swimmer grins. “Oh yeah?”

 

“Most definitely.”

 

 

//

 

 

 

She should have known. She should have fucking known when her phone went off every other god damn minute while she was in the shower, but she was happy and naïve and at peace for once in her stupid, miserable life, she couldn’t possibly believe this could be happening again.

 

 

//

 

 

Like a nightmare, Clarke had stepped out of the shower to find her phone once again alight with tweets, messages, and plenty of other forms of social media she didn’t even know existed, all aimed right, viciously at her. In her own damn hometown, no less.

 

She stared at the vicious words, shaking, eyes blurring, stomach plummeting as each new line of trash poured forth in response to the most recent headlined photo of WOODS’ STALKER FAN FOLLOWS HER TO TRAINING CENTER. SWIMMER’S SECURITY GROWING CONCEREND.

 

“Hey babe?”

 

Clarke wipes furiously at her face as Lexa’s wet footsteps grow louder behind her, blissfully, infuriatingly oblivious.

 

“We’re out of shampoo, you wanna run by the—whoa, hey, hey, hey—“

 

Clarke lets out a sob, collapsing into herself as Lexa rushes to her side and tries to find her face through her curtain of wet hair. 

 

“What’s going on? Clarke? What—“

 

Clarke shoves the phone into her chest with so much force, Lexa actually stumbles backwards as she attempts to clasp onto it. “What—“

 

“Fucking read it!”

 

She’s expecting outrage, hoping for it even, but what she isn’t expecting is for Lexa to go completely still and quiet.  

 

She wants to reach out and brush Lexa’s thick, wet hair aside to see her face. To see what all it’s holding where words fail. But before she can move, Lexa collapses to the bench beside her, eyes still trained on the phone. Infuriatingly silent.

 

She tries to quell the anger burning inside her. It’s not Lexa’s fault. It’s not. She could have…what? Made a statement? Corrected them? It was Clarke who had mentioned once, in the middle of the night with Lexa holding her soft and steady, that she didn’t want their relationship to be public yet. Not while she, while they both, were focused on trying to heal. So what is it Lexa could have done better, exactly? She runs it over in her head, searching and sifting through all the possibilities of blame because she’s angry and hurt and needs something, anything to lash out against.

 

“I’m so sorry, Clarke.” When Lexa finally speaks t’s a pitiful, wet, whisper of a sound that draws her attention back down to the seated swimmer, all of Lexa’s previous might and power squelched into this defeated little thing all hunched over and trembling.

 

She’s so torn, caught between furious and placating, between wanting Lexa to understand that this isn’t okay, and wanting to cup her cheek and tell her that it is.

 

“I’ll fix this. I’ll fix this, Clarke, I promise.”

 

“You said that last time.” She doesn’t mean to say it, but it tumbles right out of her, hammering through Lexa with abandon. She can see the moment it shatters her.  

 

Lexa’s movements are slow, ginger, as she places Clarke’s phone on the bench and slides off of it. On her knees, Lexa’s face reaches just above her bellybutton, and when she presses it there, arms wrapping around her waist, Clarke pauses, stunned. But with a shaky sigh, she runs her hands through Lexa’s wet hair and cries.

 

“I’m so embarrassed,” she confesses, squeezing Lexa’s head when Lexa gives her waist a squeeze. “I feel like such an idiot.”

 

Lexa peels back and looks up at her with so much guilt, so much pain, in those wide, watery eyes. “You’re not an idiot. You’re not. And you’re right, I should have done a better job last time. I thought—I don’t know,” she stutters, “I just thought it’d stop. I thought they’d get bored with me.” She presses her face back into her stomach.  “I’m so, so sorry, Clarke.”  

 

Clarke sighs, watery and congested, and moves away to pull Lexa to standing. But the second she drifts, Lexa tightens her grip and let’s out a pitiful sound that breaks her heart. “Oh, Lex—“

 

“I know I messed up, Clarke,” Lexa cuts in. “I know I did. I’m so, so sorry. But let me—let me fix it. I’ll fix it. Just please…don’t leave.”

 

It’s desperate and yanking and surprising because she had no intention of leaving. It hadn’t even crossed her mind. She runs her fingers through Lexa’s hair, gently pulling her head back to get her face. She almost regrets it when she does, though, those wet, green eyes tearing her a part one layer at a time.


“Everybody always leaves,” Lexa whispers, gripping onto Clarke’s shirt as if she’ll disappear at any moment.

 

It dawns on her. Lexa’s parents. Echo. Herself. Lexa had been left at one time or another by all of the people she loved. And the last time this specific issue had come up, Clarke had shut her out, totally and definitively, ignoring her calls and cancelling their plans to visit when that second headline had come out.

 

They were all guilty, all their betrayals having trained Lexa to believe that those she loved would always go. That it was just a matter of time before Lexa was left alone, kicked while she was already down.

 

“Oh god, baby.” It hits her hard, but with Lexa on her knees all she can do is hold her head tight and run her hands soothingly through her hair. “I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“Please don’t leave,” Lexa repeats, words muffled by her tears and Clarke’s stomach.  

 

“I’m not, Lex. I’m—“ with a bit of a struggle she detaches Lexa from her waist and drops to her knees, pulling her in for a proper hug. “I’m not. I’m right here. You’re stuck with me, remember? Like gorilla glue.”

 

Lexa cries into her shoulder until their knees are sore against the tile, but Clarke doesn’t move. She holds Lexa like Lexa had held her so many times, so committed, so protective. When Lexa finally quiets save for her labored breathing, Clarke scratches at the nape of her neck and pulls away, whispering assurance to every small noise of protest.

 

“Lexa.” She grabs her towel nearby and hands it to the swimmer. “Blow your nose, sweetheart.”

 

Lexa takes it wordlessly and does as she told, looking small and child-like with her bright red eyes and trembling, salty lips. 

 

“Let’s get you off the floor, come on.” She hauls Lexa’s lumbering body up onto the bench, chuckling slightly when Lexa offers little help, her hulking giant of a baby. “You’re solid muscle, you know that right?”

 

Lexa offers her a weak, little smile.

 

 

 

//

 

 

Clarke’s eyes are like a pendulum, swinging back and forth over the rim of her mug as she watches Lexa pace. The transformation was incredible. Watching Lexa go from sad and meek to this force of nature storming about through her living room was like nothing she’d ever seen before. Lexa never ceased to amaze her with all her complexities and multitudes.

 

An in-person?”

 

“Yes, in person, Anya” Lexa practically steams as she vice grips the phone. “And I want the fucking ‘Squaker’ front and center, along with whatever other trash tabloid circulated this and the last two rumors.”

 

“Lex, you rejected their affiliate’s phone interview. What makes you think they’re going to want to fly up to Colorado for an in-person?”

 

“Because I’m Lexa fucking Woods, that’s why!” 

 

Clarke smiles to herself as she takes a sip of the tea Lexa had so gently brought out to her a minute ago, a silent apology still written all over her face.

 

“I don’t care how you do it, Anya, but I need you to get this done. Please. I should have handled this months ago. I don’t what the fuck is wrong with me.”

 

“Hey—“ Clarke butts in, uncurling from the couch to sit up and place a hand on Lexa’s back—“nothing’s wrong with you.”

 

Lexa offers her a small, disbelieving smile before the fire returns to her eyes. “Anya?”

 

“Yeah, I’m here, Lexa.”

 

“I promise, if you make this happen, I’ll say yes to the next four interview requests you pass along.”

 

“Make it six.”

 

“Five.”

 

“Ugh…deal. I’ll see what I can do.”

 

 

 

//                             

 

 

“Is this really necessary?” 

 

Clarke watches on fondly as Lexa grumbles at every tug and pull Anya makes to the swimmer’s outfit.

 

“You’re the one who called for a press conference, Lexa.

 

“Yeah, a press conference. Not the Ellen Show. I never asked for a talk show, Anya.”

 

“You know, most clients would be thanking their agent for a gig like this. The least you could do is look decent for it.”

 

“I will look decent, Anya. I’m in Armani.”

 

Clarke laughs and revels in the quick wink Lexa sends her in response. She loves her like this, all dressed to the nines in her tailored suit and polished loafers. Lexa exudes power in this state, commanding a room with little less than a head tilt. It’s almost funny, watching people do their best to get close to the swimmer with shy smiles and hesitant photos—knowing that behind closed doors, when it’s just the two of them, Lexa is nothing more than a sweet and shy gentle, giant.

 

“You look nervous,” Anya tuts.

 

“I’m not nervous,” Lexa snaps, swatting Anya’s hands away from her tie.

 

“You sure about that, Champ? You’re sweating through your makeup.” Anya takes out a handkerchief and wipes at Lexa’s forehead.

 

“The lights are hot. I don’t get nervous. It’s not in my genetic sequencing.”

 

Anya rolls her eyes and turns to Clarke. “Is she always like this? How do you stand her?”

 

Clarke chuckles. “You tell me. You’ve known her longer.”

 

“Good point.” She sizes Lexa up and ignores her cocky grin. “Once a little shit, always a little shit,” she grumbles, tugging again on Lexa’s collar. “Why won’t this lie straight?”

 

Lexa shrugs. “Maybe because I’m not?”

 

“Oh my god. I’m so done with you. Clarke,” Anya nudges Lexa towards her, “please keep her out of trouble for the next fifteen minutes, would you? I need to go talk with their producers. H n’ M will be in shortly to work on you, so don’t go far.”

 

“H and M?” But Anya is already out the door.

 

“Hair and Make-up,” Lexa explains, needlessly brushing hair away from Clarke’s face because she knows it’s comforting.

 

“I’m nervous.”

 

Lexa gives her a small, loving smile. “Me too.”

 

 

//

 

 

Back stage is overwhelming. There is constant movement and constant shouting of things that make absolutely no sense to Clarke. There have been more hands in and on her face than she could count in the last five minutes alone, and Lexa had been whisked away from her long ago.

 

When she finally comes back, Clarke is nearly at her whit’s end.

 

“Hey, Clarke, look at me. It’s okay.” Clarke tries her best. Lexa’s hands are warm on either side of her face where they rest firmly, trying to ground her against the commotion on the other side of the door, but she’s still panicked. She can feel it in every part of her trembling body.

 

She tries to stay her breathing, but it’s too loud and unfamiliar in the cramped, dark hallway that leads to the stage, and Lexa is about to leave her there, for longer this time.

 

“You’re going to be so great.”

 

“I don’t think I can do this.”

 

“You can, baby. You can. It’s just like rehearsal.”

 

“What if I mess up and people still think I’m crazy?”

 

“We’re not doing this for them. We’re doing it for us. We’re doing it to share our beautiful relationship with people who care. People who want to know you, the real you.”

 

“What if I forget what to say?”

 

Lexa smiles, and pulls her into a hug. “There’s no script, baby. You can’t mess up. We’re just having a nice little chat with Ellen.”

 

“What if I miss the prompts?”

 

“Then you just respond naturally to whatever you hear. It’ll be okay, and I’ll be right next to you.”

 

“But what if—“

 

“Shh.” Lexa brushes her thumb across Clarke’s lips. “No more what ifs. You’re going to be fine.”

 

Clarke clings to her, make-up be damned as she buries her face into Lexa’s chest. “I’m scared.”

 

“Clarke, look at me, sweetheart.”

 

Clarke does so, with wide eyes and a trusting heart.

 

“There she is. Beautiful.” Lexa whispers. “Listen to me. If you’re scared…like really, really scared, we don’t have to do this. I’ll just go out for my segment and we’ll skip you. I can still make the point without you there. But if you’re just nervous, then I want you to really hear me when I say that it’s all going to be okay…and I’ll be right there with you, and then we can fly back to your mom and go back to laying low. Whatever you want.”

 

“I want you.”

 

“I want you too.”

 

“I want you without being called names.”

 

Lexa nods and holds out her hand.  “Then we do this?”

 

With a deep breath, Clarke nods back and adjusts the mic in her collar. “We do this.”

 

 

//

 

 

It’s like being back at the Olympic aquatics center, the cheering, the clapping, the energy.  Clarke can’t quite tell whether she’s giddy with excitement or sick with nerves as she watches Lexa on the screen above her head, waiting in the dark hallway for her own introduction cue.

 

It’s all so unfamiliar and dazzling—the lights, and cameras, the producers running around, shouting into walkies. Living in LA lent some exposure to the sparkle of Hollywood, but never had she experienced it quite like this—so up close and in the middle of it all.

 

She can only imagine how ordinary this is for Lexa, and somehow that makes it worse, rather than better. Somehow that’s intimidating instead of comforting, daunting instead of motivating.

 

Because unlike Lexa, Clarke is just a small town girl from the mountains. Sure, there had been the trips to Paris at the height of her career. There had been the galas and the fancy wine and the old men in suits offering numbers for her paintings with so many zeros it made her chest hurt. But she’d always felt on the outside looking in. A mistake, a wrong turn home that landed her in New York City with a museum contract and front page feature on The New Yorker. And that had been ages ago. That had ended it all. Everything she ever cared about.

 

She’d been happy to leave all the glamour behind.Though on Lexa, it’s absolutely stunning.

 

A production assistant taps on her shoulder. “Ms. Griffin? You’re on in five.”

 

“Oh.” Clarke licks her lips and fidgets in place, looking around for something, anything, that will tell her what to do. What’s about to happen. She gets a sympathetic smile from a woman with a headset and clipboard, but then the PA is back in her face, adjusting the microphone at the collar of her dress.

 

“So what’s the deal with these rumors?”

 

Clarke looks up to the screen, her stomach flipping, as Ellen finally dives head first into the whole reason for the interview.

 

“Oh jeez.” Lexa rubs at her head and shrugs with a chuckle. She’s so calm and comfortable in front of the camera. It’d be swoon-worthy if Clarke weren’t so busy trying to keep herself upright. “You know it’s just…it’s crazy what people manage to come up with when they’re bored or looking for a payday.”

 

“Well you know, maybe if you gave them something to actually write about…like, I don’t know, maybe you should have swum better at the Games.”

 

“I know.” Lexa shrugs again and turns cheekily to the audience. “Next time, guys, I promise. I’ll bring home that bronze.”

 

Clarke chuckles alongside the audience, losing herself for a moment in Lexa’s charm.

 

“Really, though,” Ellen tuts.  “It’s just such a common place problem in stardom that we don’t really talk about it anymore, but this stuff ruins lives. I mean, it’s really damaging.”

 

“It is.”

 

“You know, just the other week, the press was going on and on about whether or not I could get any better looking with age, you know? And that of course made Portia jealous”

 

The audience cracks up, and Clarke is relieved at the light tone Ellen is using to discuss everything.

 

And let me tell you… an angry wife is like nothing else…”

 

“Oh believe me,” Lexa grins, “you have no idea. But see the difference is, when you make Portia mad, she, what? Maybe gives you the cold shoulder. Or steals the blankts at night. When you piss an ARTIST off, she paints about it and hangs it up over the mantle like—‘please, I dare you to pull that shit—oops, sorry—I mean that stuff, again. It great. Your worst moments immortalized right there in the living room.”

 

The audience laughs again, and Clarke feels the blush creep over her cheeks even before the PA glances at her and dabs her face with more powder. “You’re on in one.”

 

“She’s here, right?” Ellen asking, feigning obliviousness just as they’d rehearsed.


“Oh yeah. She’s back there somewhere. Probably planning ways to murder me for telling on her on national television.”

 

“Well why don’t we ask her? Yeah, let’s get her out here. Can someone—yeah, someone go grab her. Get her out here, let’s meet the painter!”

 

 

 

 

//

 

 

And for all of the stress and nerves and preparation, it’s over in a second. She has a surprisingly good time and before she knows it, the clapping ushers them out.  Ellen speaks with them afterwards for a while—most of it she can’t remember, and then she’s back in Wardrobe, focusing on the soothing gesture of Lexa’s thumb on her hand as she’s helped out of her microphone.

 

Lexa squeezes and Clarke drags herself out of her mental limbo, that exhausted space somewhere between numb and panic and relief.

 

“Doin’ okay?” Lexa’s voice is soft and warm in the muffled chaos outside the door.

 

She nods, offers a smile out of habit, and turns back to the mirror to watch the last of the tape get pulled off of her stomach where the wire had rested.

 

“You did so well.”

 

“You’re all set, Clarke. Hair will be in to help you get those extensions out.” With that, the woman, whose name Clarke had already guiltily forgotten, exits the room and everything seems to settle again. Just the two of them. Calm and quiet and together.

 

“Hey.” Lexa reaches for her and Clarke lets herself be dragged over and into her lap. She collapses and buries her face in Lexa’s shoulder. “You did so well. It’s over now.”

 

Clarke nods, fingers gripping into the back of Lexa’s Oxford.

 

“I love you,” Lexa whispers into her hair, then kisses her there, lingering.

 

Clarke hums. Lexa is big and solid and easy to hind away into. She’s perfect, so, so perfect.  It’s overwhelming how much she loves her, Clarke finds it getting stuck in her throat.

 

“I can feel you panicking.”

 

She shakes her head and Lexa holds her a little tighter, so intuitively giving her the comfort she needs. Lexa’s hand runs up her back and into her hair. “No?”

 

Clarke finally pulls back, clearing her throat. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

 

“I know. I know that was a lot to handle, but you were so—“

 

“No, not by that.”  Clarke takes Lexa’s face in her hands. “By how deeply, ridiculously in love with you I am.”

 

 

//

 

 

Clarke had almost forgotten how difficult it is to get around Los Angeles without using a car. There were the buses of course, but Octavia and the gang had invited them to lunch while they were in town, and that was all the way over in Mid City—a bus ride would take at least an hour—way past her threshold for vehicle transportation.

 

She’s got her face pressed to Lexa’s chest, hands stuck snuggly in the swimmer’s jean pockets, as they wait at the valet station for the Warner Brother’s studio lots where Ellen had been taped. The sound of Lexa texting away is soothing as she deliberates all the different ways of getting to Mid City she can think of. A car ride after today’s stress might actually drive her to insanity. The bus in highway lunch traffic would certainly asphyxiate her and the train makes her motion sick. If only they had Lexa’s rover—spacious and seemingly indestructible. She’d gotten used to the smell of its leather and Lexa’s cologne wafting together, they way she knew where all the knobs and buttons were for her favorite radio station and the perfect temperature. For the first time in almost a year, she found herself longing for a vehicle.

 

“Our ride will be here in a minute.”

 

She tries not to tense, but the panic stirs in her stomach and shoots through her fingers—she can’t help that she clenches.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah,” she lies.

 

Lexa doesn’t press, but she shifts and fidgets above her until she’s forced to disentangle with a small whine that Lexa quickly shushes away. Seconds later, she’s handed a pill and bottle of water.

 

“This will help.”

 

Clarke smiles, enamored by Lexa’s vigilant care. Her consistency. “Thank you.”

 

“Of course.” Lexa runs her hands up her back, slow and firm just how she likes. Just how she needs it to help her stay calm. Then Lexa hugs her, let’s her long arms wrap all the way around her torso and squeeze, ever so gently. “I love you,” she murmurs, and Clarke feels the panic slide right out of her.

 

She kisses Lexa’s sternum and a fleeting thought passes through her mind about the strange placement of the kiss. It makes her blush, but she can feel Lexa’s contented hum vibrate through her lips, and that’s all that matters.

 

“It’s here,” Lexa warns gently and guides Clarke back to her own axis, hand still on her back when she turns to face the car.

 

She’s so happy she could almost cry at the sight of the black Range Rover waiting for her at the curb. She turns to Lexa, wide eyed and flushed. “Did you—?”

 

“It’s not mine….but it’s close. As close as I could get it. And I’ll stay off the highways. We’ll go slow and take our time. Nice and easy. Sound good?”

 

It does. It truly does. “Yeah,” she murmurs. She wraps her arms around Lexa’s waist one more time and breathes her in, stealing a moment just to be present and grateful and content. 

 

//

 

 

“So you guys are like, pretty serious then?”

 

Clarke tracks Lexa’s movements with her eyes, easily picking out her tall, lanky frame among the people in the restaurant. She watches her get stopped a couple times on the way to the restroom to take a picture here and sign something there.

 

Her head rests heavy and still a little swimmy in her hands as she shrugs. “Yeah, I think so. I mean. I’m in love with her.”

 

Octavia lets out a low whistle and Clarke doesn’t miss the way she casts a wearied side glance to Bellamy and Raven. “I know what you’re thinking.” She picks her head up and latches onto her lemonade. The cold, tang down her throat helps her feel present.

 

“I didn’t say anything.”

 

She glares at Octavia, lightly without much malice. “You don’t have to. I’ve known you my whole life and I know that look.”

 

“We’re just worried about you,” Bellamy cuts in, pressing in onto his elbows.

 

“I don’t need your worry. I’m a big girl.”

 

“We know you are. But you’ve had a really hard year. We just want to make sure you know what you’re doing.”

 

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she snaps, looking between the two of them—leaving Raven out of it because she looks just as comfortable as Clarke herself feels. “But who ever does? I don’t have to have all the answers or know where this is going, and I certainly don’t have to explain myself to you. Just accept that I’m happy. She’s good for me.”

 

“She’s a professional athlete, Clarke.”

 

“So? So are you. What does that even mean?”

 

Octavia sighs, taking over from Bellamy with a gentler tone. “Look, she’s on a high right now. She’s just finished the Games as the most decorated Olympian in history and was received really well on her press tour. That can go to someone’s head and make them do things that maybe they’re not ready for.”

 

“So what are you saying?”

 

“I’m just saying that being with a professional athlete is difficult. She’s going to have to start training full time again soon, travelling to meets, etc. She about to be really busy and I just want you to be prepared for that.”

 

Clarke takes another sip of her lemonade, letting the information ruminate. It’s not news to her and she’d by lying if she said she hadn’t thought and worried about it before. But there’d been a tickling at the back of her mind, the slightest familiar urge in her finger tips and a preoccupation with color, particularly in the world around her. It made her chest tight and her throat hurt, but she’d found herself, unavoidably, interested in painting again. Lexa could travel and train and she could…paint.

 

It sounds weak in her mind, so underwhelming compared to Lexa’s dazzling life, but it’s a grand step-up from the past half year, and she’s proud of herself. “She’s good for me,” she murmurs again. 

 

Octavia smiles at her, but it annoys rather than reassures. “I’m glad, Clarke. We just—“

 

“Can you stop with this ‘we’ bullshit? I’m not a child. I don’t need an intervention. Worry for me, fine. But don’t treat me like I’m incapacitated.”

 

Octavia opens her mouth to speak, but Lexa reappears behind Clarke with a strong, calming hand to her shoulder. “Everything okay?” She asks, clocking Clarke’s expression.

 

She pulls Lexa down to sitting and leans her head on her shoulder, nodding. “Yeah, everything’s great.”  She turns to look up at her. “I think we should go out tonight.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah.” She gives Octavia and Bellamy and a meaningful glance. “We all need to have some fun.”

 

//

 

If she thought Lexa was going to have some judgements about her rinkadink apartment in the less desirable next door neighbor of Lexa’s neighborhood, she’d seriously mistaken Lexa’s interest in her home at all.

 

No, Lexa was all about Clarke as soon as they’d gotten in the door. Pressing her against the wall, hands wandering, lips claiming.

 

She can barely keep up with each new touch, each whispered nothing into her ear before being nipped and nudged further back into wall. When Lexa’s arm snakes around her back and tugs her close, she finally relaxes, catching her bearings and letting Lexa’s hips keep her in place.

 

Her lips are somehow both dry and wet, tingling, by the time Lexa pulls back and smiles at her, dazed and vibrant.

 

“Oh.” Is all she can manage with her chest heaving and throat struggling to swallow.

 

“Sorry.” Lexa’s forehead falls to her and she grins, even chuckles slightly. “I’m just…I’ve been looking forward to this.”

 

“My apartment?” She chuckles at the thought.

 

“No. Well, partly I guess. Mainly just. Having you here. In LA. With me. It makes it feel real.”

 

Clarke smiles, hands not so sneakily running a searing path up Lexa’s stomach. “Yeah, it does. Doesn’t it?”

 

“I wanna go out in WeHo. Show you off to all the gays, let them want you.” She nips at Clarke’s lower lip. “But you’re mine.”

 

Clarke sucks weakly at the hot air between them and nods. She leans in and can’t help the soft, little sound she makes when Lexa kisses her. “I didn’t know you were so…possessive,” she mutters against her. “I kinda like it.”

 

With lips hovering just above hers, like she’s being tested, Lexa grins. “Just kinda?”

Really like it,” she breathes, and shoves herself into Lexa, knocking them backwards toward the living room. “Couch,” she pants.

 

 

//

 

“Oh god, Lex—“ Clarke presses herself back into the couch, arching up into Lexa’s touch. “That’s so good. That’s so—“ The words come tumbling out of her faster than she can register their actual meaning, rendering her a mumbling, pleading mess.

 

“Like that?”

 

All she can do is nod and try to press closer.

 

When Lexa’s phone goes off for what’s at least the eighth time that minute, her eyes clench shut and she groans. “Again? I hate that thing,” she grumbles.

 

“Just ignore it.”

 

“I’m trying to.”

 

Lexa presses down into her and kisses her as she drives her fingers in, deeper, harder, longer, helping her focus. With a short keen, Clarke jerks and loops her arms around Lexa’s neck, feeling her solid frame. Enjoying her warmth. Letting it reassure and love and sooth and ignite. Octavia’s comments had festered in her brain for the rest of lunch and on the way home. It worried her, and angered and scared and confused her to the point of shaking hands and watery eyes.

 

But now Lexa had her pinned, chasing away any doubts and concerns by sheer force of her devotion trained singularly on making her feel good.

 

Except that damn phone.

 

It buzzes again and Clarke could almost cry with the way it jars her out of her pleasure. “Oh my god, Lexa. Deal with your phone. Please.

 

Lexa huffs and falls down onto her, burrowing her head in her chest. “It’s going to keep going. I was spotted. Just pretend it’s not there.”

 

Clarke jogs her hips, rotating around on Lexa’s stilled fingers, not even an ounce of shame at this point in her arousal. Lexa chuckles and nips at her throat, dragging her teeth down until it makes Clarke shutter.

 

It goes off again. This time the two-tone of a twitter notification.

 

Clarke digs her fingers into Lexa’s hips and pulls her close. “Can’t you turn the sound off?” She groans.

 

“It is.”

 

“That does not sound silent, babe.”

 

“It buzzes on silent when it’s a social media notification.”

 

Clarke sighs and lets her hips fall, defeated and aching.

 

“Just ignore it, it’ll die down.” Lexa pistons her fingers, but Clarke shrugs away and shakes her head with a grin.

 

“It’s gone, baby.”

 

“Nooo,” Lexa whines, distraught, “totally?” She tries again. “Are you sure?”

 

Clarke squeals and wiggles away from her, overly sensitive, and amused by Lexa’s deepening pout. “Later,” she promises with a peck and loops her fingers around Lexa’s wrist, gently pulling her out from inside of her.  “I promise.”

 

She chuckles when Lexa flops to the floor with a groan and grabs her phone of the coffee table, chucking it clear across the room.

 

“Easy tiger,” she says, laughing. She nudges Lexa’s ribs gently with her toes before waltzing off.

 

“Claaarke,” Lexa whines, “come back to me.”

 

Clarke grins, but doesn’t stop. If anything, she puts a little more sway into the swing of her hips. “Come on, I want to shower and change before we go to your place.”

 

//

 

Lexa’s place is larger than looks possible from the outside. Though it seems fitting for Lexa, her tall frame and long limbs looking at home in the oversized everything.

 

“It’s a little…much,” Lexa murmurs and Clarke can tell she’s been caught staring. She can tell it makes Lexa nervous, having Clarke here, having Clarke gaze upon her home so intently.

 

“No, I like it. It’s…big.”

 

“Yeah…” Lexa’s gaze falls and Clarke tries to put a finger on what this weird thing in the air is between them.

 

“Big is good,” she tries. It earns her a small grin and a mutter that sounds awfully like ‘that’s what she said.’ She steps closer, but Lexa keeps their distance the same, subtly shifting and maneuvering out of the way as if there were a pole between them, moving but never shortening.

 

“Hey.”

 

Lexa’s silence is deafening in the cavernous space that can barely hold the discomfort emanating off of the swimmer.

 

“What’s goin on, Lex?” This time, Clarke doubles her efforts and catches Lexa by the sleeve, pulling forward until she can get her hands around her hips and hold her steady.

 

“I know it’s a little gaudy. You don’t have to like it, I just hoped...”

 

She presses herself into Lexa’s torso and nuzzles as she tries to hear what’s really in Lexa’s words. Fear. Nerves. Anxiety. She sighs.  “I like it, Lex. I do. I just wasn’t expecting it. But it’s beautiful.”

 

“It…helps me cope.”

 

Clarke nods, the swishing of her cheek against the fabric of Lexa’s shirt almost loud in the otherwise still home.

 

“Lots of space to clean and organize…it keeps my mind from wandering. During the down time.”

 

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Lexa.”

 

“It’s just. I know it’s big. And I’ve never wanted to be one of those people who live lavishly just because they can. We didn’t have much money growing up. And I just…I know my p—I know they’d question why I’m letting myself have all this—“

 

“No one’s questioning that, Lexa. Look at me.” Lexa reluctantly raises her wet eyes.  “You’re allowed to have this. You’re allowed to be happy. To treat yourself. Don’t let anybody judge you for this. Sweetheart.” She grabs Lexa’s cheeks. “You are such a good person. You’re allowed some luxury in life, okay? After what you’ve been through? You are so amazing. So resilient and powerful and inspiring. Your parents would be so proud of you. Nothing less. I mean it.”

 

//

 

They almost don’t make it out.

 

While Lexa is changing, Clarke wanders out onto the balcony that is almost a full living space in and of itself.

 

It startles her at first, the images that jump to mind as she takes in the poolside bar, the patio heat lamps and fairy lights strung up. The way the ocean line shimmers off in the distance, the orange sky melting into it as hints of stars begin to peek through as if to check that it’s really night.

 

It’s the perfect spot for hosting parties and when her mind immediately fills the space with people, people who compliment her on her beautiful home, people who thank her for the party invite, she’s overwhelmed by how easy it is to insert herself there. As if it’s hers. Theirs.

 

She’s overwhelmed by the phantom weight of a toddler slung low on her hip, the tingling on her back where Lexa’s strokes her in passing as she mingles with their friends, sipping on a beer or maybe her head thrown back in laughter.

 

It startles her at first, but then it settles. Like a seed, she can feel it burrow into the soil of her deepest desires, its roots likes tendrils wrapping around her ribs and blooming inside of her chest. Making it hard to breathe. Making it hard to swallow. But in a good way. In a way that reminds her that she’s alive. A fleeting voice tells her it’s too early for thoughts like this. Tells her that they’re moving too fast. Tells her that she should be weary of how hard she’s fallen.

 

But then she feels a slight breeze at her back, and there’s a presence. One that makes her heart flutter. One that tingles at her neck. But she doesn’t turn. She waits until Lexa is there, behind her, wrapping around her. She turns enough to let Lexa reassure those thoughts with gentle kisses to the space behind her hear. Sure hands wrapped around her hips, holding her steady within those images taking root inside of her.

 

“You came at a point in my life where I thought it was all over,” she murmurs, surprising even herself by speaking aloud. I was in so much pain and so vulnerable, and you took me into your life and made me feel safe. You made me feel like I could breathe again. And I know that’s trite, but if you think about it. If you really think about what it feels like to not be able to breathe—“ she pauses, wondering suddenly if perhaps she has misstepped with the metaphor. Of course Lexa knows what it’s like to not be able to breathe.

 

But Lexa—sweet, committed, gentle Lexa—doesn’t stray. She simply nods into the back of her head and kisses her hair. It makes her smile, when Lexa reverts back to her quiet self. The one that shows rather than tells. The one that seems in such contradiction with her massive presence, both physical and otherwise. Lexa’s fingers graze the skin under her shirt with a little more intent than a simple passing touch. The pads of her fingers roam higher as Clarke’s head falls back to her shoulder.

 

“You’re beautiful.”

The whisper is almost lost in the hum of the oncoming evening, but just before its gone it coils around Clarke’s senses and she swallows, her hips brushing back, mouth, sliding into a part.

 

“I love you.”

 

Fingers dip into the waistband of her jeans. Her own reach behind and tangle into Lexa’s hair, pulling when Lexa touches her. Sighing. Her legs widening. The rumble of an airplane catches her gasp and tows it away into the night. She can feel every dip of pressure, ever place Lexa’s fingers visit. Then, all too soon, it’s gone and Lexa’s fingers drag up her stomach, sticky like a humid summer night.

 

“I don’t want to go out anymore,” Lexa whispers, fingers sliding up to Clarke’s throat. No grip, just a warm, smooth place hold that flutters with life.

 

She swallows, feels the bob against Lexa’s palm. “Me neither.”

 

They almost don’t make it out, but Clarke’s phone buzzes halfway through Lexa’s travel back southwardly and then they’re both chuckling, flushed at being caught in the moment, even if only through a strongly worded text message telling them to ‘get their asses to the club.’

 

 “Tonight,” Lexa promises and kisses her cheek.

 

Clarke nods and wraps Lexa’s arms around her waist, standing just a little longer in the midst of her future.

Chapter Text


 

There’s a lot to be learned about a person in how they treat their Monday mornings. Whether they engage the day at the sound of the alarm, or retreat, moaning and groaning into the vestigial pieces of Sunday that linger in the dark draw of the curtains.

For most of her life, Lexa had treated Monday mornings the way she treated any other. Engaged with the day by the first arpeggio of the serialized chime on her phone, Lexa had places to be and goals to reach and horrors to forget. And so she would rise, shaking out the drips of moonlight that dotted her skin as she greeted the day before the sun even considered elevating from its sleepy horizon embrace.

But lately, more often than not, Lexa has remained coated in the tug of the moonlight-slick sheets, cool to the touch under the rumble of the overworked air conditioner in Clarke’s small bedroom window. Lexa still rises with her alarm, emerging out of the weekend with a slight yawn and the crackle and pop of her twisting spine, stiff with her return to training soaked into her muscles. But these days, she lingers. Blinking herself further into awareness, taking note of the time and her impending workout, Lexa allows herself the luxury of lingering as she watches the slow rise and fall of Clarke’s chest.

The air around her breathes like an autumnal Colorado morning despite what promises to be a sweltering Los Angeles day; it’s the perfect day for a workout. It’s the kind that leaves Lexa’s skin stinging from the barrage of UV and chlorine, the air filled with the sounds of children and the smells of sunscreen. It’s the kind of summer day from her childhood, disguised and wrapped up pretty in the convenient package of a mild Los Angeles spring.

A smile filters down to her hand and runs along the curve of Clarke’s bare hip, so very warm to the touch despite the cool air. Unable to stop there, Lexa runs her hand up the contour of Clarke’s body, her touch soaking into the soft, sleep-filled bones of her ribs, the maze of scars and stories on her back, sprawling under her fingertips until the chill bumps they consort with outdo them. She can’t hold back a smile because someone once told her she’d never amount to anything—an orphan kid from the Florida Everglades who couldn’t close her eyes without suffering—but here in this moment she feels like a god, with an entire universe under her palms, reacting to her touch.

Surely the immutable laws of the universe can teach more impressive and exalted lessons than the holy books of all the religions on earth.

The quote barely escapes her lips, but Clarke shifts at her tone, becoming impossibly softer. Blossoming for her in the arch of skin that goes on like the ocean towards the edge of the earth. Endless as Clarke stretches.

Like she’s keeping a secret—the secret of Clarke’s sounds, of the way her breath feels again Lexa’s ear when it hitches right before she shatters wide open, the secret of the feel of her lips, of the look of her eyes all glassy in the dark, the secret of what it is to know Clarke, this ever expanding universe, with the intimacy of Greece’s noblest astronomers—Lexa runs her her hand down chest, her stomach, onwards in an exploratory path towards the peaks and craters of Clarke’s body.

Clarke settles with a hum, her back returning to the earth, her chest once again rising and falling in a steady rhythm that pushes air into Lexa’s own lungs. A reluctant glance at the clock tells Lexa that only minutes have passed. But within Clarke’s universe, time always seems to slow, like the stretching of the very fabric of spacetime itself, until there is a suspended stillness in which Lexa remembers what it is like to breathe.

Like any other Monday morning, Lexa rises with her alarm. But these are the days in which she lingers, kissing her little universe into awareness until it retreats, stretching and humming into the quiet embrace of the fading weekend that Lexa too so desperately wants to hold onto.

Instead, she leaves a glass of water and a note, as she does every morning, and greets Sunday’s leftover stars as the horizon is just beginning to glow.

//

 

For Clarke, her relationship with Monday mornings are torrid at best. In fact, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Clarke doesn’t have relationships with Monday mornings at all. If anything, it’s a flirtationship, at best; an idea to move towards as she tries to move on from the sticky grasp of Sunday, the remanence of which clings to the corners of her eyes and the undersides of her limbs, begging her to stay cocooned with it in the dark room and cool sheets. And for all of ten minutes, for old times sake, she lets it have its way.

The time between Monday morning and Monday afternoon becomes her reality check. Were it Sunday, it would rear its ugly head and make-up for its intrusion by way of a cute café with flowers and pets on leashes and patios with ivy and a robust brunch menu. Lexa’s arms would swing low around her hips and her smile would make even the most aggressive gawkers all worth it, and Sunday would slowly meander into the afternoon with the high sun watching over its progress.

But Monday middays present nothing of the magic of Sunday brunch. They dredge on towards nowhere in particular, poking at Clarke’s mind like the devil on her shoulder asking her unpreoccupied thoughts to come out and play.

Unavoidable in her cluttered, little living room, Clarke catches the collage of colors stained onto pine out of the corner of her eye, calling attention to itself, consorting with the devil as an endless whisper in her ear.  It would be so easy to return to what she knows. So easy to feel the threaded canvas under her fingertips, to balance the contour of the brush in the cradle of her joints and to smear life into existence in a bounty of colors.

It would be so easy if the act weren’t burdened by memories and tragedy and crushing guilt Clarke manages only by pretending how easy it isn’t. As Clarke brushes past the trusty easel collecting dust, she can’t help but sketch with her eyes the contour of Lexa’s body in motion, an aquatic thing of wonder that captivates Clarke’s artistic imagination no matter how hard she tries to ignore the inclination. The image fades, body part by body part as she shuffles into the kitchen and greets the inevitability of the day.

Hours pass by easily through the wrestle of Clarke’s mind that exhausts her herbal tea collection and Netflix cue. Before she knows it, she has over-thought herself all the way to the metro, down the grimy escalator, and onto the platform whose familiar tiled floor stares back up at her as she waits and the world fluctuates around her.

From Fairfax and Pico to Wilshire and Western, Lexa’s eyes manifest onto the plane of her mind in light, circular strokes of green and grey, sometimes interrupted by a screaming child or the screeching of breaks against well-worn tracks. Broad swashes of brown and white and orange create the softness of cheeks she kisses daily as the train moves again, and then a chin and neck and chest dusted white to catch the sun manifests as they pass through the city.

From Wilshire and Western to Exposition Park, Clarke paints in her mind to soothe the ache of a passion that her heart wants but her mind can’t resolve, each click of the track and then each step a new stroke until she’s standing in front of the USC Aquatics Center, breathing in the sunshine as the canvas slips from her mind and the smell of chlorine replaces it.

These are her Mondays, the constant wrestle against weekday thoughts that sneer at soft Sundays spent in bed and at lazy brunches. But there are the joys of Monday too. The smell of pool water and the cool breeze that wafts off of it as she approaches the gates is as welcoming as weekend sheets. As is the sound of Gus’ whistle and his melodic shouts that guide the girls through the water.

“You going in?”

And of course there is the sight of Lincoln’s smile, almost always there as she stands before the iron and soaks up the experience of Lexa’s world from the outside looking in, a moment to herself, before it consumes her in a flurry of greetings and hugs from swim caps she barely knows but has come to enjoy all the same.

“Good day for a swim.”

“Too bad you don’t swim.”

“Look at you, taking up Lexa’s swimmer elitist bullshit already. I’m hurt, Clarke. Really.”

Clarke waves him off with laugh  made casual through months of their teasing relationship, and follows him through the short corridor that opens up into a bombardment of shouts and sunscreen and boisterous sunshine. She cups her hand over her eyes and takes it all in, scanning the long, lean forms of her new friends, marveling at the way their athletic bodies work like well oiled machinery.

“Think Lex is inside on weights right now. I can let her know you’re here.”

In no particular rush to hurry the day along, Clarke shrugs and smiles at the diver from under her hand, tilting her head up to take him all in. “I’ll see her when I see her. No need to interrupt her if she’s still going.”

“I just know how much you like to watch her in the pool.”

Clarke shoves him away with a grin and a promise to keep his mouth shut, and takes her well worn seat at the top of the bleachers, a spot she’d strategically picked out on her first visit for its slightly sheltered position from the unyielding sun.  She returns the waves she receives from the girls that’d slowly sneaked their way into her heart and tracks the faces of some unfamiliar ones she assumes must be visiting or trying out, a few of whom cast her unsure and questioning gazes as she settles in with her sunglasses and book.

She reads lazily with the kind of inattention that the pleasant distractions of the pool always yield, flipping pages absently as she takes in only every other paragraph before her gaze and thoughts wander to a certain splash or forceful whistle. A smile crosses her face as she watches Charlotte work on her kicking form off to the side, the freshman showing so much improvement since the beginning of the season that her slowly acclimated eyes have learned to be able to see.

“They’re looking really good these days.” Octavia foregoes anymore of a greeting than that and climbs her way to the top of the bleachers, each step heavy as if she’s been at the gym all morning, and plops down next to the content wallflower. “Here.” She hands Clarke a Mike’s hard lemonade and grins at Clarke’s look of exasperation.

“It’s literally noon, Octavia.”

“Hot, spring days call for lemonade, don’t kill my vibe.”

“That’s not lemonade.”

“Okay, well then give it back—“

Clarke moves the bottle out of reach and pops off the top, grinning as she sips.

“That’s what I thought.”

The two friends sit in silence as the sun rises and their bottles warm into condensation drops that Clarke wipes against the back of her neck as the practice meanders on into the afternoon.

“You drive over here?”

“Train.”

“How was that?”

The bottle hangs between Clarke’s knees as she lowers to her elbows and shrugs. “Same as usual.”

“Did you read?”

“I drew.”

“You…really?”

Clarke peers across her shoulder at the familiar shape of her best friend. “Sorta.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It was in my head. Imagined myself at an easel, painting.”

“And? How was it?”

“Not like the real thing.”

Octavia leans back until her back hits the bleacher behind them, the intrigue gone. “No, I suppose not.” Her commentary fades as her eyes find the figures Clarke has already honed in on. “They’re gorgeous aren’t they?”

Clarke doesn’t answer as she cups her hand over her eyes again and watches Lexa stride out beside Lincoln, both in some kind of deep and amusing conversation that shines in the white of Lexa’s teeth and the slight shake of her slick, broad shoulders.  She waves when Lexa’s steps stutter as the swimmer looks to where Lincoln is pointing, and finds Clarke there, consistent in her visits as always.

“God, you two are hopeless.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re giving me a stomach ache.”

“Far cry from when you were warning me about her a few months ago.”

“Look, you can’t blame me for looking out. You’re my best friend and you’ve been through a lot lately. I just want you to be happy. And safe.”

“She says the same thing.”

“Well, good on her.”

“How are you and Lincoln?” Octavia’s answer gets lost in the way Lexa moves in the water. Never before would she have considered swimming a beautiful sport—not like ice skating or gymnastics—but with Lexa it’s stunning; the way she seems to float on the surface, as if her stomach just barely skims the glassy layer as she glides across the length of the pull in a matter of strokes. “Only the best can make it look like that,” Lincoln had told her on one of her first visits as he sat in Octavia’s spot.

“And the sex. God.

Clarke peels her eyes away from Lexa and looks at Octavia with amused cynicism. “Please, don’t.”

“You asked.”

“I didn’t. I really didn’t.”

“Well.” Octavia presses the cool neck of the bottle to her cheek and sighs out the breath Clarke feels billowing around in her own chest. “He’s great. In general, I mean. Things are great.”

“I’m happy for you.” Lexa comes to a still at the end of the pool and Clarke feels herself shift forward and rest her cheek in her hand, as if she might catch what Gus is saying to her.

“She’s going to kill it in Paris.”

Pride sneaking into the corner of her lips, Clarke turns to Octavia and hides the quirk in her palm. “You think so?”

“Mhm. Lincoln thinks so too.”

“She wants another two Olympics.”

“If anyone could do it, it’d be her.”

“Yeah. She’s amazing, isn’t she?”

“A freak of nature.”

“Careful.”

“I’m only jealous.” Octavia bumps shoulders with her and watches Lexa almost as intently as Clarke does. An athlete admiring an athlete. A gaze Clarke could never understand but could always appreciate.

“It makes me nervous.” The admission surprises almost as much as it does frustrate and Clarke curses lazy Monday afternoons with their hard lemonade and best friends that seem to give way to the utterance of such private things.

“Nervous?”

Clarke doesn’t look away from where Lexa now sits on the edge of the pool looking over a piece of paper in Gus’ hand.

“Clarke?”

“It’s fine. We’re fine.”

“We’re? You and Lex?”

“We’re fine.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t.”

“It’s nothing.”

“And yet…”

“You weren’t wrong.” Clarke adjusts the sunglasses on her face to counteract the vulnerabilities spilling out of her mouth. “She’s gone a lot. Training. Traveling.”

Octavia sips from the bottle nearly empty now between her fingers, not wanting to be right, but not surprised. “Have you talked to her about it?”

“Once or twice.”

“And?”

“And she’s been open. Receptive. I don’t know…virtually perfect in every way.”

“But.”

Clarke stops, her gaze finding Lexa again, this time between the wakes her powerful limbs create as she runs through another set. “But, I don’t think it’s her issue to fix.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean. Look at her. Look at her. She’s the world’s best swimmer and she’s got the world at her feet and I’m...what am I?”

Catching on, Octavia clucks at the ridiculous sentiment and sets her bottle down, signifying her full attention and the demand for Clarke’s as well. “Don’t do that. You’re Clarke.”

“Exactly. I’m Clarke. Just Clarke.”

“No, not just Clarke. You’re so much more than that.”

A breeze interrupts them as it meanders through the pages of Clarke’s book and blows cool the sweat thinly lacing her back and neck, and for a moment Clarke is several years younger and full of forward momentum. Paint flecks her fingers and dots the fringes of her face and emails crowd her inbox as voicemails excite her childhood dreams of Paris and Rome and galleries with her name on it. Springtime brings shows and job offers and romance with the world and color and life itself, and Clarke wants nothing more than to osmose into every waking moment that presents itself to her. “It feels like a lifetime ago.”

“What does?”

“That I felt like I was somebody.”

“Clarke.”

“It’s nothing, O. Really.”

“I thought you were doing better.”

Clarke finds Lexa once again and is relieved to see her pulling herself out of the pool where Gustus stands with a triumphant smile and fluffy, grey towel. “I was. I mean I am. She. She makes it better.”

“But…”

“No buts. She makes it better.”

“And yet…”

Clarke grins. “That’s still a ‘but.’”

“Yeah, well I feel like there’s more.”

Clarke gathers her things and bundles them under her arm before she turns to spare another moment with her befuddled and befuddling friend. “There is more. That’s kind of the thing. There’s more, I can feel it. I just don’t know what it is yet.”

“So go find it.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“Do you want my honest opinion?”

“You’re going to give it to me anyways.”

Octavia settles back into bleachers, sprawling out into the now vacant space as if she’s seven feet wide and growing. “I won’t. If you really don’t want it.”

“Go on then.”

“I think you’re gonna find some of what you’re looking for when you start painting again.”

“Octavia—“

“You asked.”

“I didn’t, actually.”

“Well. If it’s all the same.”

“It’s not.”

Octavia shrugs, new bottle already in hand and shades pulled down just for the effect of being able to peer over them at her beautiful mess of a best friend. “Don’t let life leave you behind, Clarke. You’re too good for that.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“And Clarke?”

Clarke stalls at the bottom of the bleachers, peering up at her.

“I happen to love ‘Just Clarke.’ I think she’s pretty great.”

“You’re sappy when you’re tipsy.”

Octavia salutes the air between them. “Happy Friday to me.”

“It’s Monday.”

“Is it?”

Clarke chuckles as she walks away, feeling an unfamiliar tug towards something she can’t quite put her finger on. It feels lighter in her step and wider in her smile, the kind of temporary freedom confessions bring. It’s something like a spring breeze and a direction that feels oddly like forward. Slowly forward.

 


 

Slowly forward turns out to be quickly terrifying. Clarke finds herself more reserved more often, or so Lexa tells her from time to time. It’s gentle and tinted with concern rather than any sort of annoyance, but she can feel the way it shims them apart momentarily until they pull each other back with sweet words and fervent touches.

The truth is, as Lexa grows more focused, Clarke grows more aimless, a desperate sort of wanderlust taking her over that never quite seems to satisfy. Lexa spends more and more of her days training and Clarke is left up to her own devices as she tries to figure out why forward is not all it’s cracked up to be.

That’s how she comes to find herself standing in front of the gallery, a safe but devoted distance away. Ivy grows up the light brick façade in a way it never had before and Clarke finds herself charmed by it. A quick, daring peek against the glass shows that the space is as empty as it was the day she’d found it, the floor covered in dusty ram board and the upper wrap-around balcony railing twisted and slanting, waiting for her to polish it into its full potential.

For a brief moment, she allows herself to entertain a fleeting curiosity about who now holds the deed and whether they’re looking to sell.  For an even briefer moment, she catches her reflection in the windows and eyes herself, deciding she doesn’t really know the woman that she sees staring back at her.

She’s late for dinner, but Lexa doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, it seems the swimmer’s touch is slightly more attentive, her lips slightly more possessive and her words definitively more affectionate, an open, giving heart having grown even more fond in distance the day had placed between them. And under Lexa’s loving, sure hands, Clarke remembers a little bit of herself again.

//

 

Lexa is gone for most of April when Gustus tugs her up to the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center for an intensive three-week conditioning program that has her training from sun up to sun down. At least that’s what Lexa tells her when Skype is almost completely abandoned and phone calls are short and exhausted.

Lexa has never given her any reason to doubt before, so she’s not exactly sure where the slithering, meddling sensation comes from, but it tastes an awful lot like misplaced bitter resentment when she yells at Lexa into the phone one night and tells her not to call. She lasts all of thirty-two hours before Octavia gives her a look from across the couch that has her slinking into her bedroom to catch Lexa before she falls asleep.

“It’s like she’s on this incredible path forward and I’m stuck in this weird bubble of nothingness. And I’m so scared of being left behind but I think I’m even more scared of holding her back.”

“Have you talked to her about it?” Octavia licks melted ice cream off her knuckles as she looks at Clarke across the café table. For a moment it’s almost like old times. For a moment, they’re just two twenty-somethings full of warm spring days filled with the mindless, pleasing regularities of life, ice cream in hand and an entire day to waste on perfect nothingness. Octavia catches on the scar on Clarke’s forearm, long and puffy and white against the early spring tan she dawns, and the moment fades into the crease of Clarke’s brow.

“I can’t really articulate it.”

“You just did.”

“It’s not the same with her.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It just isn’t. She deserves more than that. Afraid of being left behind…it’s such a tired cliché and she deserves more than that.”

“She deserves honesty, Clarke. And so do you.”

“It’s not that easy.”

In an instant Octavia is reminded of the little girl who’d moved in next door and promptly crashed her bike into the mailbox at the end of her driveway, sitting there with stubborn tears in her eyes until Bellamy had ventured out with a popsicle and a band aid, a little sister in tow. “You always were difficult. You know that, right?”

“That’s not helping.”

“You’re just so hard on yourself. You make everything so much harder than it needs to be. You and Lexa are what lowly mortals like myself dream of being and having. Don’t waste that just because you’re a little unsure of yourself right now. Don’t let go.”

“I’m not letting go.”

“Yeah, but you’re thinking about it.”

It’s an evil fantasy, and she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t deprecatingly entertained it more than once in the company of a sleepless night and a lonely bed. It’s always gone in the morning, though, and the only remnants left are the exhaustion and annoyance in her bones and the love for Lexa that never seems to fade, no matter how lost in the maze of her own mind she gets.

“Clarke.” The sounds of Sunday brunch clatter and hum around them as they stretch out the inevitable into bite-sized quiches and five-dollar bottomless mimosas that drip down their forearms in the high sun of the afternoon.

“What happened to me, O?”

“I mean, do you want a list or an outline?”

“I was going places.”

“You still are.”

“I killed him.”

“Clarke.”

“I killed my father.”

“Hey. Stop it.”

“Maybe this is penance. Maybe this is all I have look forward to for the rest of my life. This aimless nothingness. A life for a life.”

“God, you’re morbid today.”

“It’s the mimosas.”

Octavia takes a sip of hers and nods. “I know.”

“And it’s April.”

“I know.”

“What do you think he’d want for his birthday if he were still here and it’d been me instead?”

 “Honestly, I think he’d wish you were still here and it’d been him instead.”

Clarke avoids hearing the answer by finding the glimmering necklace of the ocean wrapping around the horizon, the mirage of the shimmer sucking her into a sightless stare that Octavia doesn’t bother to interrupt.

“She lost both her parents, and faced a physical trauma just as bad as mine. Worse, even. I’d say. Being trapped in the middle of the ocean at night for hours as an eleven-year-old. Swimming just to keep from sinking. And look at her. She turned it into an Olympic sport. By that logic I should be an Olympic shish kebab by now, right?”

“Don’t joke about that.”

“It’s mine to joke about it.”

“Yeah, well it’s not yours alone,” Octavia snaps with an edge to her voice that sobers Clarke out of her morbidity immediately.

“I’m sorry. It’s April.”

Octavia offers her a sad, lopsided smile. “And the mimosas.”

“And the mimosas.”

Brunch meanders on into the afternoon as the morning rush quiets into a lunchtime trickle punctuated mostly by families and an occasional dog walker.  An ocean breeze breaks through the monotony of the heat just as the mimosas find their bottom and loose their appeal as the two friends luxuriate in a day that feels built for the sort of thing.

“I went by the gallery a few weeks ago.”

“Oh yeah?”

Clarke hums around the rim of her water glass, held against her face more for the chill than anything else.

“How was that?”

“Sad.”

“Yeah.”

“It looks good.”

“Oh yeah? What is it now?”

“Still nothing.”

“Maybe you should—“

“I thought about it.”

“Really?”

Clarke smiles at the memory of her brief little fantasy she’d had in that moment in front of the ivy-covered brick. “Yeah.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah, but. You know.”

“What?”

“What would I do with a gallery space? I’m an artist who can’t even stand to pick up a brush anymore.”

“So put your old works up.”

“People have seen those.”

“Yeah and it got you installation deals with some of the best museums in the world.”

“I don’t even know who owns it these days.”

“So we find out.”

“I can’t afford it anymore.”

“So I pitch in. Bellamy pitches in. Your mom. Hell, Lexa would probably buy it for you tomorrow outright if you asked.”

Clarke chews the thought into her lower lip, letting the ideas flutter into her heart rate, the closest to excited she’s been in a while. She pushes it away just as quickly. “I don’t know.”

“Let yourself be happy, Clarke. It’s time.”

“What if I can’t anymore?”

“You can. You just have to learn to how to do it again. Like riding a bike.”

Clarke grins. “I crashed my bike into your mailbox.”

“Yeah. You did.”

“Like riding a bike, you say?”

“Mhm. But maybe we’ll add training wheels this time.”

 


 

Having Lexa home again puts everything back into place. She comes back leaner and stronger, but the familiarity of her brings tears to Clarke’s eyes the moment she wraps her arms around her neck and remembers what it’s like to feel steady again.

The relief breathes between both of them, loud and clear in its quiet softness as Lexa reminds herself what it is to know Clarke. She takes her time despite the fatigue in her muscles and the worry in her overzealous mind, relearning her favorite parts and creating new ones as the stillness of the night and the closeness of their bodies finally lulls them and stamps out that fretful buzzing lovers are prone to when too far apart.

“I missed you,” Clarke says needlessly. It’s obvious in her every reaction to Lexa’s equally enamored action, but it feels important to say.

“You’ve disappeared on me for a little bit there.”

Clarke nods as the air conditioner kicks in and signifies the end to their reunion as Lexa sinks to her back and Clarke follows on top of her. “I’m having a bit of a time finding myself.”

“I can understand that.”

“You make it seem so effortless.”

Lexa’s chuckle makes Clarke’s head bob and suddenly they’re light again, easy the way only two people totally in sync can be. “It took me ten years to find myself again after the accident. It’s been a year and a half for you. Give it time.”

“That’s all anyone ever says. Give it time. What if I’m sick of waiting?”

“I can understand that too.”

“I just want to feel better. I want to live again and not wonder what things would be like if it’d never happened.”

“I don’t want to sound selfish.”

Clarke nudges her, amused by the ridiculous notion of Lexa being selfish. “Go on.”

“It’s not going to come out right.”

“That’s okay. Tell me.”

“If it’d never happened, we wouldn’t have met. And if by some fate we had, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten each other in the same way that got us here.”

“And where is here, exactly?”

“I don’t know. Together? In love? Mid City, Los Angeles?”

Clarke folds herself further into Lexa’s chest and hides away her dark parts because now doesn’t feel like the time. Lexa is back and Clarke is breathing and she tells herself that it’s all enough because the alternative feels earth shattering.

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost you, but you’re right here.” Lexa’s whisper yanks out what Clarke has just folded away and it sucks the wind out of her to be revealed so suddenly, so transparently in the quiet hold of Lexa’s protective arms and vulnerable whisper.

“I’m right here.”

“I know.” Lexa kisses her head because they both know it’s not completely true. Clarke is slipping and for the first time it feels like maybe Lexa is letting her.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Can we maybe not do this tonight?”

Lexa presses her face to Clarke’s hair, leaving her scalp damp when she pulls away. “Can I touch you again?”

Clarke nods and rolls over, pulling Lexa with her. “I love you, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll be okay.”

“Sometimes I’m not sure.”

Clarke spreads her hand across the back of Lexa’s neck and holds her close. “We will be.”

Lexa kisses her, sad like a goodbye neither of them are ready for. “I love you too,” she whispers, holding on for as long as Clarke will let her.

//

 

Some days are better than others and weekends are always the best. When it’s just the two of them, ignoring the world together in a purposeful show of defiance, they lock into place in a perfect unison that drives out any dissonance. But Mondays always come. Like Lexa’s alarm, they come blaring into existence, tearing them out of their content lull and shoving them into the week in different rhythms on different schedules.

April comes and goes, leaving Clarke with no more excuses at least until another year comes along and reminds her of what she’s lost. May should make it better, but instead it makes her angrier. Lexa swims and swims and swims and Clarke can’t remember how to even float and so they drift. Slowly, but surely, there’s an ocean between them and Clarke can see that this is one Lexa’s not sure how to tread in.

It ends almost as quickly as it began. Heavy rain marks the occasion. It’s fitting, Clarke thinks. It’s the way movies always portray these kinds of moments. Her eyes are red and wet to the touch all the way from Fairfax and Pico to Exposition Park, and it seems right that everything else be gray and crying around her.

Lexa’s quiet, stagnant tears full of kinetic potential but stuck around the green of her eyes are the hardest part.  Clarke wants her to yell. She wants her to be angry so that Clarke can feel justified. But Lexa, her sweet and gentle Lexa, understands and understand and understands until Clarke herself can’t remember what it is they’re comprehending.

She’s the first to yell. She pushes against Lexa’s forgiving embrace and looks for a fight. She blames the absence. She blames the swimming. She blames everything there is to blame until Lexa just stands there drenched and unresponsive. Clarke breathes in the smell of the chlorine and the rain mixing together in the air in a way that should smell like rebirth. It should like the end of Spring and the beginning of Summer, that middle ground where everything stills and vibrates with anticipation. But today it just smells wet and cold.

The rest of the team had opted for an indoor workout, but Clarke had found Lexa in the pool, chugging away like she knew what was to come. And maybe she did, the way Clarke had been acting. Clarke stood by the pool, umbrella watching over her dutifully until Lexa came to a kick turn and stopped, perhaps sensing her. If she hadn’t known before, Lexa knew then. The tears were immediate, but they hid themselves well as she looked up against the rain at Clarke, her pruning fingers clinging to the beveled concrete edge.

“I just. Can I just have a moment?” It’s all she’d said, her voice cracking to betray those hidden tears, and Clarke had nodded and waited as Lexa likely tried to swim the heartbreak out of her body.

And that found them here, Clarke under the umbrella, Lexa under a towel much too small for her hunched shoulders.

“So that’s it then?”

Clarke can’t look at her, knowing that she’ll break if she does. “I guess so,” she murmurs.

“You guess so?” The anger Clarke had been searching for slithers into Lexa’s tone but it’s not vindicating the way Clarke had hoped.

“I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to do this. Don’t do this.”

“You’re never around.”

“I’m not the one letting go, Clarke.”

“You’re not exactly holding on either.”

Lexa scoffs and looks like she wants to walk away, but to her credit, she fixes herself to the wet concrete and stays. “I can’t hold onto something that doesn’t want to be held. I won’t do that. I won’t do that to you.”

“You won’t fight for me?”

Jesus , Clarke. You don’t want me to!” A lawn chairs gets chucked and the doors to the gym crack open to find Gus’ face checking on the commotion. He disappears as quickly as Lexa is able to wave him off, and then they’re alone again.

But things have shifted. It’s all finally sunk in for Lexa and she doesn’t know how to process this level of pain and so she shuts down and gives Clarke what she wants because she’s good at it. “Don’t be a coward.”

“I’m not, Lexa. I…I just can’t be with someone so transient when I feel so lost as it is.”

“You knew who I am. You knew what you were getting into. You promised you’d never leave! Don’t—” Lexa blocks the tears with her lip pulled between her teeth and shakes her head.

“Lex—“

“Don’t do this. Don’t give up. Please.”

It’s easy to slip out of Lexa’s grip with the rain coating their skin and exhaustion in Lexa’s body.  It’s the easiest, hardest thing she’s ever done and she regrets it almost as much as she needs it. “Please don’t call, okay?”

When Lexa nods, Clarke can see, plainly, devastatingly, that she won’t.

 

Chapter Text



There’s one text. In the first two months, there’s one text that slips through and it’s obvious that Lexa is drunk. Clarke sets her paint brush down and clutches the phone to her chest as she tries to imagine what Lexa is doing, what her life is like now and if she’s happy. She hopes desperately that she’s happy.

 

Looking at her watch tells her that it’s nearly three in the morning in Berlin and with FINA qualifiers over, she can only imagine the celebrations being dragged out across the city.

 

A thick, black swash of paint to the middle of her piece helps her ignore the idea that Lexa might not be celebrating alone. Another swash soaks up the anger as she reminds herself that she has no right to be upset. She’s the one who let her go. She’s the one who gave Lexa every reason to find someone else. She pushes the thoughts aside until she needs a new cup of rinsing water and a new brush. A few more strokes have her ignoring it all into the front of her consciousness until she looks at her phone again and tells herself that the text probably means none of that is the case, and that’s what she decides to hold onto.

 

“How’s it going?”

 

Clarke twists her body to reveal the budding composition to Octavia’s inquisitive eyes and lets herself sink into the pride she sees on her friend’s face.

 

“It looks amazing, Clarke.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“They’re gonna love it.”

 

“They asked for something light. To match the other installations. This isn’t exactly that.”

 

“They asked for something good. This is good.”

 

“It’s not too much?”

 

“It’s honest.”

 

Octavia hovers behind Clarke’s shoulder and eyes the piece, taking everything in. The green eyes, the sharp angles, haunting but beautiful.

 

“How are you doing?”

 

Clarke looks to her messy, abstract version of Lexa and smiles, sad. “I miss her.”

 

“Does she know you’re painting again?”

 

“No. We haven’t talked. What’d Lincoln say?”

 

Octavia’s hesitation is enough to tell her that she doesn’t want to know how Lexa is doing.

 

“She texted me.”

 

“She…yeah?”

 

“Mhm. Just a minute ago.”

 

“What’d she say?”

 

“I’m not sure. It’s gibberish.”

 

“Lincoln said they’d be going out with team Germany now that competition swim is over. Maybe it was a butt text?”

 

The thought sinks to the pit of her stomach. It’s very likely that it had been nothing more than that. She’d assumed it’d been a drunk text. She’d assumed Lexa was just as miserable as she was and that she was reaching out in the only show of vulnerability that either of them had been able to muster since the break-up. She’d assumed and imagined Lexa, several drinks in, sitting in a crowded bar or club with Clarke on her mind.

 

“You know, you could always try again.”

 

Clarke blinks up at her. “I’m the one who told her not to call. And you’re probably right, it was probably an accident.”

 

“No, I mean. I meant the relationship.”

 

“Oh.” Clarke turns back to her easel and tests different colors in her mind until she picks up the brush again.

 

“You’re doing better. You’re on better meds, you found a better therapist, you’re painting again. You should be proud of yourself. You’ve got new pieces in a show that will probably put you back on the radar in a matter of minutes. Maybe it’s time to reach out.”

 

“That wouldn’t be fair of me. I let her go for a reason. She doesn’t need the baggage. Especially not now. FINA is in three months.”

 

“You really think Lexa cares more about FINA than you? It’s not even a qualifying year. I guarantee you Lexa would choose you over it in a heartbeat.”

 

“You’re probably right, because Lexa is the sweetest thing to ever exist, which exactly why I can’t insert myself back into her life right now. I could never ask that of her. She’s worked so hard for career. I can’t hurt her anymore than I have, and I certainly can’t be a distraction.”


“You’re not a distraction, Clarke. You’re—“

 

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, O. Okay? I let her go and I have to accept what that feels like. She doesn’t deserve to be yanked around like a yo-yo just because I feel a little better. And I need to finish this.” She turns back to her painting.

 

“So finish it. And then maybe think about calling her.”

 

“Octavia.”

 

“Alright. Alright. You coming out with us tonight?”

 

Clarke throws her a look and at this point Octavia knows better than to argue.

 

//

 

The show does put Clarke back onto the radar. In fact, it flings her so far front and center that there are times Clarke goes weeks without landing in Los Angeles. It keeps her busy and exhausted, so much so that there are long stretches of days she can almost ignore the ache that had taken up residence inside her like a loyal friend.



New York is just as she remembers it to be, with its energy and momentum that never seems to ebb. Except, of course, for the special kind of stillness that befuddles the city as Autumn rolls in for her month-long residency at the Arkadia. It isn’t exactly the MOMA, but it’s important among enough circles, and more than charming, especially as the evening lights of Central Park flicker in through the windows and cast everything in an orange glow. It’s her favorite time of day to work in the little studio in the back, painting and sometimes just watching the city begin to slow to that place where the afternoon recedes and the night has yet to begin.  

 

It’s normally her quietest time, which is why she’s slightly bewildered to hear the little bell ring as the front door opens. It takes her a moment to place herself out of her thoughts, but when she does she’s not totally surprised to see Nylah standing in front of her largest painting. She’s not used to seeing the woman without a cloth thrown over her shoulder and her hands propped against a bar top, but this Nylah is nice too. This Nylah is soft and easy and makes her stomach churn guiltily because this Nylah doesn’t deserve any of what she knows is inevitably coming. She stands back for a moment, taking the bartender in as she takes in the painting on the wall.

 

“Hey, you.” Nylah smiles up at her from the lower level of the gallery when she senses her and turns. “I thought I’d finally come by and see your work. I can leave if you’re busy.”

 

Clarke takes a brief survey of her paint covered clothes and sees what Nylah sees, chuckling at how disheveled she must look. “No, it’s okay. I was just fucking around anyways.”

 

“These are amazing.”

 

“Think so?”

 

“Yeah. The hype is real. I looked you up, you know.”

 

Clarke grins. “Did you, now?”

 

“Mmm. Sounds like you’re a pretty big deal.”

 

“A lifetime ago, perhaps.”

 

Nylah steps into her space and tucks hair behind Clarke’s ear, smiling at the way the orange sunlight makes the painter look so warm and inviting. “I’ve missed you at the bar.”

 

Clarke nods. She uses the crooked brochures in the holder on the wall as an excuse to step away and avert her eyes as she straightens them.

 

“Clarke, are we…are we okay?”

 

“Nylah—“

 

“I know last Friday was—“

 

“Nothing,” Clarke interrupts more blatantly than she’d planned this conversation to go, but Nylah is here looking up at her with sweet, anxious eyes and Clarke knows she’s going to have to be firm.  “Last Friday was nothing. Nylah,” she sighs, not having the energy and not wanting to be the person to this to her. “You kissed me, and I was a little bit drunk and a lot a bit sad, and I knew it was coming and I should have stopped you sooner. That’s my fault. I shouldn’t have let it get to that point.”

 

“And what point was that?”

 

“I don’t know. Whatever point I led you to that made you think you could kiss me.”

 

Nylah laughs softly and casts her eyes around the room. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

“Sorry?”

 

Nylah’s gaze finds her again and she shakes her head, not angry, maybe a little exasperated. “Look at you. You’re beautiful and sweet and stupid talented. You didn’t make me think anything, Clarke. I wanted to kiss you. I’m attracted to you. Anyone with a brain would be.”  

 

Clarke smiles at the floor, uncomfortable because it’s not coming from the woman she wants. “You’re sweet,” she tries.  

 

“But not sweet enough?”

 

“It’s not that.”

 

“Can I ask what it is?” Her shrug is noncommittal and deflecting, but Nylah remains, steadfast. “Is it the swimmer?”

 

“I’m sorry?” The way her head whips up and her eyes go wide must give Nylah everything she needs because the bartender smiles and nods.

 

“I see you checking your phone sometimes. Swimming stats. I’d know them anywhere, my brother dives in college.”

 

Clarke doesn’t know what to say, so she stands there frozen silent as Nylah moves past her and takes a tour of the room. She stops in front of a small close-up of a face and hums the way many of Clarke’s patrons do.

 

“Is this her?”

 

Clarke joins her and nods, eyes remembering the time spent on this particular piece. It’d been about three months after she’d broken it off and she’d woken in a panic with the idea that she couldn’t remember what Lexa’s face looked like. She didn’t put the paintbrush down until she was sure that every detail was safely secure in her mind just as the sun was beckoning in a new day.

 

Nylah smiles. “She’s beautiful. She looks a little bit like—” she pauses with a breathy kind of chuckle. “Oh. That…that certainly explains a lot.”

 

“I..I don’t....”

 

Nylah nods like it’s all clicking into place and Clarke feels uncomfortably opaque. “Alexandra Woods. She’s your swimmer. I don’t think I’d want anyone else either,” she laughs. “I can respect that.”

 

At Lexa’s name, the air comes out of Clarke’s chest so quickly she almost chokes on it. Despite how often Lexa crosses her mind, their time together still feels like something she’s forced into being from another life. Hearing the name from someone not a part of that time feels strange and displacing.

 

“Can I ask you a crazy question?”


Clarke swallows away the lodged air in her throat and nods, still staring at the painting with that face she spends too much time thinking about.

 

“Is she really as tall in person as she seems?”

 

Clarke cracks a smile and wraps her arms around herself, chuckling as she nods. “Yeah,” she sighs, eye glassing over. She thinks herself ridiculous for it, for reacting to something as mundane as height. But she’d loved that so much about her swimmer. How she could throw herself into Lexa’s chest and disappear from the world for a little while. “Yeah, she is.”

 

“Hot,” Nylah teases, and Clarke’s chuckle turns into a laugh as tears begin to betray her cheeks.

 

//

 

“Hey, Champ. You feeling good?”

 

Lexa swings her long arms back and forth, smacking her back on each back swing as she stares down the length of the pool, hardly hearing Anya beside her.

 

“Your times are looking fast. Gus says you’re in great shape, and—“

 

“Anya.” It’s almost a growl and it cuts through the empty aquatics center like a knife.

 

“I just need your head, Lex. Can you give me that? Head in the game for just another month and then you can do whatever you want.”

 

“My head’s here.”

 

“Really? Because ever since Clarke—“

 

“Don’t. Anya. I mean it.” Lexa’s pendulum comes to a still and she steps off the block, towering over Anya still, even on equal footing. “I’m fine. My head is here. My times are as good as they’ve ever been, and you need to back off and let me do my job. You do yours, I’ll do mine.”

 

“You’ve had three panic attacks in the pool in the last month, Lexa, you can’t act like I have nothing to worry about.”

 

“Are you worried about me, or are you worried about your commission, because I assure you—“

 

“Oh, stop it, Lexa. Jesus Christ. I’ve been with you since you were sixteen, don’t pretend to not know where my interests lie.”

 

“You seem awfully concerned with my winning lately.”

 

“I’ve been awfully concerned with you fulfilling your goals, Lexa. You may not be able to see it at the moment, but there is a lot more to life than break-ups. I know that it feels like the end of the world right now, kiddo, I do. I really do, I know how much she meant to you. But I promise you that letting your life-long dreams slip by will weigh far heavier forty years down the road than a failed relationship. This is all you’ve ever dreamed of.”

 

Lexa peels her cap off and stretches it around in her hands, mulling over what she knows to be wise words, but not wanting to hear any of it. “It’s not all I’ve ever dreamed of. It’s just all I’ve ever known. And then I knew Clarke, and I think that maybe she became all I’ve ever dreamed of,” she mutters, staring at the stretched imprints of her fingers in the silicone.  

 

Anya sighs and squeezes Lexa’s shoulder as she watches Gustus stride down the hallway towards the pool entrance. “Then do this for me. Get through FINA. Give yourself, your career and your fans some closure and then go after her if that’s really what you want. You’ve only got three weeks before this thing starts and we’re already in Paris. Don’t throw it away. Not like this.”

 

“Who said I’m throwing it away?”

 

“You don’t have to say it. I can see it all over your face, Champ.”

 

For a moment Lexa wonders if she’s really that transparent or if Anya is simply a good guesser. “I’m just so tired, Anya. I…. I’m so tired.”

 

“I know, hon.” Anya gives her a sad smile that Lexa could probably draw from memory given the number of them she’s received in the past five months. “Gus is here. Just try to get through this practice and we’ll take it from there, okay? Step by step.”

 

Lexa’s eyes find the pool and she doesn’t see the quick conversation Anya and Gus share as they watch her from the doorway.

 

“She’s angry,” he sighs, noting the undeniable set of Lexa’s muscles, tense and defensive. “It makes her fast.”

 

“It always has,” Anya murmurs. “Titus used to get her all riled up before meets. Used to sit there and joke around about how her pain pushed her better than any other motivator. Sick fuck.” She turns to Gus. “Please be careful with her. She’ll swim herself into the ground if you ask her to.”

 

“I know my athletes, Anya.”

 

“And I know my girl. She’s going to hurt herself if we’re not careful. I just want her to walk away from this having done the best she’s capable of, and she can’t do that if she injures herself. I want this to be good for her… this could be it, Gus. This could be the end.”

 

He scoffs and waves her off, but she knows that he knows, and she knows how hard it hits, so she lets him walk away and pretend that they still have all the time in the world with the best swimmer the sport has ever seen.

 

//

 

Paris is beautiful in the winter. With the tourist season over, the city seems to take a deep breath as the streets, like winding capillaries, expand and pump life back into the old-world charm of a city in love with itself, a quiet sort of rejuvenating that hums just below the surface. It’s the season of sleepy, grey mornings punctuated only occasionally by a hiccup of life—an old man and his dog, a dedicated shop keeper throwing open the shutters, a crêpe stand operator and the rattling of his cart down the cobblestone. And an artist on the corner, trying to take it all in.

 

Clarke finds herself still a little bit star struck by the foreign magic of it all. It’s not her first time in Paris, but the last had been just a quick pass through to see the museums she one day dreamed of being in. It’s almost unrecognizable now after a month of slow, thrilling acclimation. It’s hardly the same city when it’s experienced as a temporary local— the way the city truly lives in the quiet early morning markets and dew covered parks, far from the tourist traps that yield nothing of the trueness of Parisian life.

 

Her fingers have gone slightly stiff in the grumpy bite of the early morning air, but she presses on, charcoal to paper, trying to capture the evanescent quality of this particular dawn on the Rue Charles Baudelaire before it slips into the bustle of the day.

 

Max [8:32am]: I am at the galerie,,, the pieces look incroyable, Clarke. Are you excited for the opening?

 

She smiles down at her phone as she imagines her new friend and boss, with his funny hair cut and artistic mustache, circling the gallery with her pieces ready to hang. He is sweet and pretentious in an amusing sort of way, harmless to those close enough to him to realize it. It’d taken her several weeks to get to that point, but now that she has, she isn’t sure if she would have made it this long without him and his effervescent boyfriend, Michele. Max had taken a chance on her when she needed it most, scooping her out of the end of her residency in New York with a dazzling offer and romantic city straight out of her dreams. They’d since been drunk together. They’d since cooked together, painted together, explored the city together. They’d cried together, Max over the hardships of this and that, Clarke over a girl with brown hair and wide shoulders at a café who turned around and wasn’t Lexa. In just a little over a month, they’d been through a lifetime together, and for that he was forever endeared to her.

 

She’s packed up her sketch book and bag and is crossing the street to La Petit Oiseau Café when a bus drives by with the familiar blue and gold bannering of the upcoming ‘FINA Championnats d’Aquatiques’ advertisement plastered proudly on its side. It lurches in her chest the way it always does, but she’s not amiss to how much easier it’s gotten. The second time it’d happened she’d spent a week’s worth of pay calling home to Octavia, asking her if she’d pick her up from the airport when she flees the country the next day. “ You knew she’d be there at some point during your stay when you said yes. You prepared yourself. This is just part of it. Buck up, Griffin,” is all she’d gotten out of a sleepy, 3AM Octavia.

 

Now, the sight stills her in her tracks for a slight moment, sure, but then she pushes on again, resigned to the fact that it’s just another installment in the city she’ll call home for the next couple of months. The swimmers and divers will come in three weeks and then they’ll go. It’s a minor interruption that’s no more personal than the interruption of the construction detour near her flat or the pipe burst block-off along the Seine near the gallery. It is what it is—an annoyance, a frustration, an inevitability she tells herself is nothing of importance.  

 

But of course it is. She knows this in the way she takes the long route home from work, the path that takes her straight along the aquatics center in hopes that just maybe, she’ll spot her. She knows it in the way she catches herself actively searching as she sits at the café each morning, each café a little closer to the area Lexa would be in, a little further from the gallery. She knows it in the way that every time she tells herself it doesn’t matter, that she doesn’t matter, Clarke finds herself looking harder.

 

“Quoi de neuf, mon petit ananas?” Max breaks into her thoughts as she steps into the gallery, his smile immediately brightening her day as he presses it to her cheeks. “Why the lengthy face, uh?”

 

She laughs. “It’s ‘why the long face,’ mon ami.”

 

“Ah, merde. Well I tried. What is eating my little pineapple today?”

 

Clarke unburdens herself of her items as she lets the clean, white interior of the gallery, and the silly mustached face of her friend, pull the stress out of her bones. “You know,” she picks up a freshly printed invite Max must’ve brought with him this morning and eyes it. “Usually idioms are the hardest part of a new language to learn, and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you go one sentence without them.”

 

“Idioms are the spice of life, Clarke. They are the most importante to learn, n’est-ce pas?”

 

“I suppose. These are really good. You were right, I really like the way this font turned out.”

 

“Michele says we should take them to the roof and toss them during an evening wind. All of Paris will come to the show. It will be grand!”

 

“Michele is a hopeless romantic who thinks we live in the 1950’s, and you encourage him.”

 

“Alors, peut-être he has a flair for the dramatics…but he is beautiful, isn’t he?”

 

“I guess,” she teases as she pinches his cheek and brushes past him to busy herself preparing the gallery for the impending afternoon. “Did the order of champagne flutes come in yet?”

 

“We have over a month before the show.”

 

“I know, but I told you that we need time to anticipate shipping delays, or getting the wrong product. How about the plates? Did you at least order those? By the way, I’m going to have to run out later today to run to the market.”

 

“You know you are not as sneaky as you think you are, little mouse.” He follows her into the back and leans against the frame of the storage room doorway as Clarke hides away unpacking a box.  “Little mouse.”

 

Clarke grins up at him from behind a curtain of her hair. “Which is it? Pineapple or mouse?”

 

“You can add une chieuse as well if you’d like.”

 

“I don’t think I want to know what that means.”

 

He simply cocks an expectant eyebrow at her as she rocks back on her heels and considers telling him for more than a moment that her heart is aching something fierce today. She considers telling him that sometime between now and in three weeks the love of her life will be a twenty-minute walk away from her, and how that feels like the world is both opening up and crumbling down around her all at the same time.

 

“I think I want to scrap the blue piece from the show,” she says instead. “It’s not going to fit with the others.”

 

Max throws up his hands and rolls his eyes, muttering something about ‘exhausting’ and ‘women’ and ‘stubborn’ in dramatic French as he stomps away to unlock the front doors. “And Clarke!”

 

“Mm?”

 

“The blue is staying!”

 

//



“Maybe we should go out?”

 

“I’m going to pretend like I didn’t just hear you say that.”

 

“This is the athlete lounge, Anya. Why don’t you go sharpen a pencil or something,” Lincoln taunts. It draws a small smirk out of Lexa which is more than worth the glare and smack he receives as the agent gets up and crosses the room towards them.

 

“I’m serious, Lincoln. Don’t be stupid. You’ve got about two weeks before competition swim starts. Keep your head down, and stay focused.”

 

“We should probably take the vodka handles out of our bags then, right—“

 

Anya advances on him like a bat out of hell as the diver shrinks away, chuckling in surrender. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding, Jesus. Lexa, call her off! Call her off!”

 

Lexa chucks a pillow from the couch at him and stands, stretching the long, hard day out of her limbs. “I’m going upstairs.”

 

“Good idea.”

 

“No, don’t do that. Come out with us.”

 

“Oh, now it’s an us? Names.”

 

“Anya.” Lexa glares at her until the woman throws up her hands and leaves muttering death threats under her breath.

 

“Should I be concerned for my safety?”

 

“Do you keep your door locked at night?”

 

“Lexa. Don’t play.”

 

“She’s harmless, Lincoln, don’t be a baby.”

 

“She’s scary. ” He stands, stretches his own tired body out, and sighs at Lexa hovering by the door. “You really should come out with us. Nothing crazy, we just wanna stroll. See the other side of the city we haven’t seen yet. After dark, you know? City of Lights.”

 

“Thought it was the City of Love,” she spits more venomously than she’d meant to.

 

“Lex.”

 

“I’m fine, I’m just tired. I’m gonna head up. Text me when you’re leaving.”

 

Lincoln brightens. “You’re really gonna come?”

 

“I’m gonna think about it.”

 

//



There’s always been a certain kind of calm Lexa finds in the night—a sort of resignation to the vastness of the universe and the triviality of life that brings about a mild kind of peace inside of her. She’d found it first while on her back in the middle of the ocean. Exhausted and barely conscious, she can remember the moment it washed over her. The waves having finally calmed, the rain having finally ceased, Lexa lay floating on her back, out of fear, out of tears, just simply being as the stars twinkled down at her, the brightest she’d ever seen. It was the kind of feeling existentialists and philosophers would drool over, but for Lexa it simply meant a second chance. A second chance to be. A second chance to fight, gently and quietly, for the next second, the next minute, the next moment.

 

Her friends’ laughter and undulating excitement skips and hops down the empty streets as they poke around the empty city that accepts them with sleepy indifference. They tug at her and dance in her path until she gives them the small smile they’re searching for and then she’s alone again with the sky and her thoughts, a pattern which takes them all the way to an empty park across the city.

 

“Les jardins de Charles Baudelaire,” Lincoln reads the sign out in his exaggerated French accent as the small group comes to a halt. They wander through the black skeletons of trees and pay homage to the night with their jokes and their conversation that reaches just the tips of Lexa’s consciousness. She takes it all in, experiencing only a percentage as her mind wanders from thing to thing too quickly to process, too uninterested, too tired to linger, but attempting all the same.

 

A bottle of alcohol is pulled out of a bag at one point during the night by a junior diver she doesn’t really know. He’s short and scruffy, Murphy she thinks his name could be, and Lincoln swears by his talent and his drive, despite the demeanor that might say otherwise.

 

“Hey, I think I’m gonna keep walking.” She nudges Lincoln with her shoulder as the group ramps up like wolves in the night. They’re loud and alive and happy and it’s good, Lexa thinks. But it’s hard. And so she pats him on the back and stands, taking only brief moments to wave off the rise of protest that wafts out of the few who are present enough to notice her.

 

“I’ll come with.”

 

“No, it’s okay. You can stay.”

 

“I know I can. But I’d rather go with you.”

 

Lexa smirks at him to let him know that she’s indifferent to his company, too cool for such things, but he doesn’t buy it for a second, and Lexa secretly likes the fact that they’re close enough to understand such silent things.

 

They stay silent for the most part, beyond words and unsure of where to start even if they’d wanted to try. They make turns and cross streets until nothing is familiar except for the silver of the moon and their shadows that follow loyally behind.

 

“What do you think you’d be doing right now if you weren’t a swimmer?”

 

Lexa tugs her jacket around her closer as the night deepens, and shrugs. “Probably wouldn’t be here.”

 

“How do you figure?”

 

“Well.” Lexa stalls at an intersection then follows him off to the left. “Without swimming, I’m not sure I would have made it this long.”

 

“As in...”

 

“As in there’s only so much grief the world can expect a person to endure before they do something about it.”

 

Comprehension is somewhat slow to dawn in the quiet of the night that yields itself to peaceful things, not violence, but eventually he nods. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs.

 

“Swimming kept me alive, I don’t have any delusions about that. When the whole world is watching you, there’s not much time for anything else.”

 

“I suppose not.”

 

A silence overtakes them again until they stop at another intersection and study the unfamiliar shadows and silhouettes of the city.

 

“What if none of that had ever happened to you? What do you think you’d be doing now?”

 

“That’s kind of a cruel task you’re asking of me, don’t you think? To imagine a world in which my parents didn’t drown in their sleep while I spent the night treading water in the middle of the Atlantic…”

 

“Yeah,” he deflates. “I’m sorry.” There’s nothing really much more to say to an answer like that; to a life that had endured so much more than most could even comprehend.

 

“Grad school,” Lexa eventually sighs as they cross another street.

 

“Hm?”

 

“I think I’d probably be in grad school. Maybe getting my doctorate. Florida State. Somewhere close so I could drive home to have dinner with my parents on the weekends.”

 

Lincoln grins. “That sounds nice. And I totally called it, I always knew you were a nerd. What subject?”

 

Lexa comes to a stop at a corner and stares up at the sky. “I think maybe astronomy. Or maybe physics. I don’t know. Something that takes the earth and sky and jams them together into some sort of feeble understanding. I dunno. I think—“ she brings her attention back down to admire the world around her, but instead, what she finds brings it to a screeching halt. Her mouth freezes, the rest of that thought lodged painfully in her throat as her chest grips at her heart thrown into overdrive.  

 

Lincoln’s head snaps back to the city around them at the silence and he finds Lexa’s gaze on a shop across the street, home to the sole light shining brave against the consuming darkness of the quiet little road they’d wandered onto. There’s movement inside, a woman pacing, adjusting things on the walls then standing back, a process on repeat that takes several circuits for Lincoln to realize what it is that’s going on. Lexa rounds on him with bloodshot, wild eyes.

 

“Did you know?

 

Lincoln’s dizzy trying to keep up with Lexa’s pitching directions, her words never quite making it into full sentences.

 

“I swear to god, Lincoln. I swear to god, man. If you knew—if you led me here…”

 

“Lexa, I promise you—“

 

Shit, man. What did you do? What did you do? God, this is a joke. This is a sick, fucking joke, right?”

 

She’s like a cyclone, pacing back and forth and around, flustering herself into a frenzy that refuses pacification. Lincoln reaches for her, but she bolts as soon as he gets close. Within seconds, all he’s left with is the jarring clatter of an unlucky trashcan being plowed over as Lexa flees.

 

//

 

“Hey, Max?”

 

“Ouais?”

 

“I think we need to switch these two.”

 

Max wanders out of the back and props his chin on Clarke’s shoulder, studying the wall. “If we move the big one, the two with the green tones will be next to each other.”

 

“They all have green tones, Max. There all of—shit,” she jumps, interrupted by a loud, metallic clanging. “Did you hear that? What the fuck was that?”

 

“Probably the damn ratons laveurs again. Pay no mind. I think we should keep the big one here, it’s your best piece—”

 

“No, no,” Clarke murmurs already moving towards the windows. “This was across the street, not the alley. And France doesn’t have raccoons, you silly man.”

 

“Sure we do—”

 

“That was a rat that one time, Max.” She cups her hands against the glass of the door and scans the empty streets for signs of life, but it’s just as empty as it’d been for the last several hours.  “Weird.”

 

“It was not a rat that one time,” Max insists as he comes to join her at the windows.

 

“It’s okay to be afraid of tiny, fluffy things, no one’s judging you.” She cracks open the door and peers out.  

 

“It was huge, Clarke! I’m not afraid of rats, that wasn’t a rat. Close the door, it’s freezing.”

 

“Maybe it was the wind,” she sighs. “Or a cat.”   

 

“Madam Lavasseure’s cat, probably. I hate that evil creature.”

 

“Leave the cat alone, Maximillian.”

 

“That thing is no cat. It has eyes like the devil and teeth like—“

 

“Come away from the window,” she laughs, shaking her head.  



//

 

“Lexa. Lexa, breathe. You need to breathe—what the fuck did you do to her?” Anya snaps her attention to the ragtag group of frightened teammates, some of them drunk, some of them overwhelmed and exhausted.

 

“I can explain, but this needs to be private.” Lincoln inches towards Anya who stands protectively in front of the panicked swimmer, daring him to continue. His steps stutter under her hard gaze.

 

“God dammit, Lincoln. I told you not to drag her out with you. She needs to be rested and focused not…not this. Look at her!”

 

He doesn’t. He doesn’t want to see his friend’s blood shot eyes or her shallow breath. He doesn’t want to know the agony that his mistake has strangled her into. Gus leaves Lexa’s side with a silent fury in his eyes that unsettles the room more effectively than any of Anya’s shouting. “Go to bed,” he growls. “All of you. You’ll be doing sets tomorrow morning until you can’t remember what it feels like to walk on land anymore, and then you’ll run. As for you,” he glares down at Lincoln, “I assure you I will be talking to Alan about what to do with you and Mr. Murphy. I have the feeling you’ll be wanting to get your sleep tonight as well.”

 

//

 

“Lexa—“

 

“I’m fine, Anya.” She’s anything but as she trips and stumbles down the hallway, hand braced on the wall as she sways against the black wanting to cave in from the sides.

 

“Lexa, just wait up. Wait up. Hey—” It takes a lunge that nearly throws her off balance, but Anya manages to grasp the hem of Lexa’s jacket and hold her in place. “Stop it. Look at me.”

 

“Anya, please. ” Lexa struggles in her agent’s grip, a pathetic twisting and pulling worn weak from exhaustion. “I can’t breathe, Anya, I can’t…I can’t—”

 

“Shh, I know. I know, just relax.” Anya guides her to the floor and holds Lexa’s head against her chest as she shushes away the tears and gasps of the sixteen-year-old she’d practically raised. “Hang on, okay? Hang on to right now, right here, with me. I know you can do it.” She knows all of this tricks by now. Nine years of this and Anya knows exactly where to start, exactly where to linger, and exactly where to end when she finally hears Lexa’s breathing begin to even out. “You’re okay, kiddo,” she murmurs. “You’re okay.”

 

“I saw her,” Lexa croaks. “She was right there.”

 

“Who was?”

 

Lexa pulls herself up and leans back against the wall, letting the cool wallpaper feel good on the back of her head. “Clarke. She’s here, in Paris.”

 

“I…Lexa, I don’t think—“

 

“I know it was her, Anya. She’s here. I saw her. God , she was so beautiful.”

 

//

 

It’s against Anya’s emphatic instruction not to that Lexa goes back. It’s late and she’s not even sure that Clarke will be there, but she goes. She gets lost more than once, but it’s good because the remnants of the sun have finally slipped away leaving more shadows for her to stand in by the time she arrives.

 

The night seems to know that she’s coming. It’s quiet — eager, almost, in its observance of the lone figure milling about it’s streets, pacing and standing and pacing again. It watches Lexa with a curious breeze as she finds herself directly across from the soft light of the gallery. Flyers of the upcoming show fills Lexa’s eyes with pride and longing, but she doesn’t dare step closer to read the dates.

 

She can see Clarke through the window, milling about slowly, sometimes throwing her head back in laughter at something the man with her says. Lexa finds herself smiling along sometimes, hands shoved in her pockets as she simply stands and soaks her all in.

 

Clarke’s hair is longer now, her curves perhaps the slightest bit fuller. She’s the most beautiful thing Lexa has ever seen, and it throbs strangely inside of her chest, a cruel and perplexing dichotomy of happiness and forlorn. More than once, she watches Clarke move towards the window at which she considers coming out of her shadows…considers walking across the street and throwing open the door.

 

More than once she considers what it might feel like to wrap her arms around Clarke again and bury her face into the soft, floral tresses of her hair. But as the moon finally rises to its highest position, she lingers a second longer, then lets it all slip away as she retreats back into the night and tries to forget.

 

//

“Hey. Hey!” Gustus, as far as coaches go, has always been gentle and steady. One of encouragement and support, he’d been just the thing Lexa needed as a sixteen-year old coming off of her first Olympic success. Titus had been brutal and cruel and uninterested in Lexa’s health so long as she was making a name for him. He had pushed her to her extremes, had forced her to delve into her most painful memories until she was like a dog, running from her own shadow. Under Titus, she was the most skittish thing anybody had ever seen outside of the pool, but inside it, she was God’s gift to the sport, and that’s all that seemed to matter.

 

But Gustus—with his booming laugh and ridiculous beard—Gustus had always been a bit like a father. He’d always been the firm hand that steered her in the right direction when she was too young, or too angry, or flustered, or overwhelmed to see for herself. He was a walking juxtaposition in that way—a giant of a man who was tender and kind. He was as gentle on Lexa as she would allow, tough too when she needed it, and together they found the rhythm that catapulted her into swimming stardom.

 

“Hey, look at me!”

 

However, today was not the day for gentle prodding. Today, the only thing his firm hand was steering, was Lexa by the arm as he wrapped around her bicep and yanked her out of the pool.

 

“What the hell was that?!”

 

Lexa shakes out of his grip with a glare to rival his own and sets her jaw, ready for a fight. She looks every bit the broody teenager he’d taken as his charge, except that unlike the gangly little thing she once once, she now stands at 6’4, solid muscle and admittedly quite a presence as anger washes in waves over her face.

 

“Don’t fucking manhandle me, Gustus,” she snaps.

 

“Then don’t make me call your name five times. Where is your goddamn head, huh? That was your second false start and we’re not even halfway through the session. What do you think is going to happen if you pull this bullshit next week?”

 

“I don’t have to think very hard, the rules are pretty clear. False start, disqualified, but thanks for the rulebook refresher.” She starts to turn but Gus is anticipating her, always anticipating her, and grabs her by the wrist.

 

“I swear to god, Gus. Let go of me.”

 

“If I do, are you going to walk away?”

 

“I haven’t decided yet.”

 

“If you walk away, I’m pulling you.”

 

This stills her from the inside out. She stares at him like she doesn’t want to believe him, but his eyes dare her to push it. “Are you serious?”

 

“Dead. I’m not going to let you embarrass yourself, your team, or your country, for God’s sake, Lexa! What the hell is going on with you?”

 

She pulls testily on her arm, her chest heaving like a wild animal caught in cage, but his grip is firm. “Let go of me,” she snarls.

 

“I’m not going to let go until I know that you know exactly what decision you’re making if you walk out of practice right now.”

 

She hesitates, a moment just long enough to consider her options—to visualize herself walking out, to hear about her unceremonious pull out of the FINA championships plastered all over the news—she yanks her arm out of her coach’s grip and squares up to him, chin like a flag of defiance. Her eyes flash like a challenge, but Gus holds her there with his experienced gaze and waits until the anger uncoils out of her as it always does with a little bit of confrontation and a little bit of time.

 

He sees it the moment it slinks out of her. She deflates nearly and inch as her gaze drops and her chest slows. Her jaw relaxes as her fists do and when he does a final sweep of her, all he sees is the broken teenager he’d first watched step up onto the Gold medal podium with the serious, somberness of a witness taking the stand.

 

“Are you done?”

 

The mild taunt pulses in her jaw, but it’s a test worth taking—a gentle check of her anger reflex—so that he knows the bomb has defused. When it stops short of reaching her eyes, Gus nods and lands a heavy hand over the back of her neck, holding her attention close to his face.  “I need you to be calm and focused today. Can you do that?”

 

The nod comes slowly the way any agreement does when steeping in linger pestilence. But he’s learned to pick his battles with Lexa, and the gesture at least is good enough for now. “Good. Get back in the pool, alright? And no more false starts.” The nod is slightly more responsive this time so he gives her a gentle shake and a pat on the back before she lets out a final, relinquishing sigh, and plunges back in.

 

//

 

There are certain moments in life that invite a suffocating kind of nostalgia. Graduations come to mind. Moves, whether your first from your childhood home or your third or fourth or fifth after college. Sometimes dates and kisses and new people can bring it on, and sometimes it’s the people we’ve known all our lives. Sometimes it’s weddings where we watch our best friends transition into something new and foreign. Sometimes it’s funerals and we hang onto those memories press around our throats because we’re not ready to say goodbye.

 

The nostalgia comes in all shapes and forms, but the feeling is always familiar. It tugs at the chest and brims at the eyes. It brings about those happy, sad kind of smiles and that sweep of wistfulness that feels somehow light and heavy at the same time.

 

Clarke feels all of it at once as she sifts through the invites in front of her. The night is particularly still and the gallery infinitely quiet as it watches her go through each one, a personal message to the people she knows, a personal doodle to family and the people she loves, a salutation to the whomever is left over.   

 

But her hand hesitates over the last name on her list as it defies categorization and stares up at her expectantly. It’s last for a reason—more of a nostalgic whim; an indulgent wish she’d entertained only for herself as she’d added it on at the last moment.

 

She smiles down at it in that happy, sad kind of way and transfers each letter to the invitation, knowing more and more with each curve and loop that the shimmery cardstock will never make it past this moment right here. But still, she curls the thick, black ink with purpose into deliberate letters more intricate than the rest, and allows herself the moment, just for the night. The doodled designs that follow around it are gentle and fluid like the water from which they’re inspired, and by the time she’s done, she feels a pleasant sort of calm deep within her she hadn’t realized had been missing until it was back.

 

The peace is short-lived, though—scared away like a skittish animal as the door to the gallery flings open and Clarke finds herself staring at a very flustered, very beautiful swimmer stuck in her doorway. She tries and fails to keep her heart from falling out and hitting the floor, stunned frozen by her efforts as Lexa stands before her like she herself is not sure what’s just happened.  

 

If it were another time, Clarke might laugh. She might laugh at Lexa’s impulsiveness, the way she’s always been one to fling herself passionately into something without thinking, then finding herself completely overwhelmed and surprised by the aftereffects of her own actions. The look is always the same—a bewildered, dazed sort of expression that widens in her eyes and flushes in her cheeks. Clarke always thought her to be particularly stunning like this, the way she looks both so young and so powerful at the same time; like she could take on the world, but perhaps failed to plan.

 

“I…”

 

The sound of her voice is more jarring than she expects it to be—the way it might feel to hear a ghost speak whom you’ve just convinced yourself isn’t real.

 

“I…I’m sorry to barge in.”

 

Clarke desperately searches for something to say as she watches Lexa rub the back of her neck the nervous way she always does when she’s feeling shy or stressed, or both. It’s unnerving how familiar she is; how easy she is to read as if they’d never changed and time had never passed. It’s unnerving and it’s wonderful and it comes out of her like a disbelieving sort of chuckle as she steps forward and flings herself onto Lexa.

 

Lexa’s arms around her again feels exactly the way it should. She’s warm and strong and she smells like expensive cologne and chlorine and soft skin, the way she always has. Her hands are wide and steady on the plane of her back as she’s pulled infinitely closer, and for a moment, Clarke almost forgets the past six months without this having ever existed.

 

Too soon, Lexa pulls away from her with that wide-eyed look about her again, and Clarke tries to ignore the way it looks an awful lot like regret. Dread hits her like a freight train when she sees Lexa starting to backpedal away from her.

 

“I shouldn’t have done that. Clarke, I’m sorry.”

 

It’s her name that does it. It sounds exactly the same and it hurts, but it’s beautiful and everything she wants, and so she reaches out and grabs Lexa’s hand, stilling her with a slight squeeze. When Lexa continues to pull away from her, she begs her brain for words, anything to keep Lexa here just a little longer.

 

“Clarke—“

 

“It’s okay,” she finally gasps, her voice punching through her like a stuttering engine ignition finally turning over. “It’s...god, it’s okay. Lexa. Hi. You’re—hi.”

 

If Lexa notices Clarke still holding onto her hand, she doesn’t say anything. Though she supposes Lexa might be too busy with the millions of thoughts she can see running through her mind with the way her green eyes skip back and forth along her face.

 

“You’re here,” Lexa finally says in more of a sigh than any actual words. “Paris, I mean. You’re in Paris.”

 

Clarke nods when words squirm away from her again leaving her dumb and mute. The swimmer still looks like she wants to bolt, but at least for a moment, Clarke thinks she might have her here, so she let’s Lexa’s hand drop from her grip. “I got an exhibition,” she manages.

 

“I saw.” It slips out of Lexa suddenly and she flushes at the confession when it catches Clarke’s attention. “I…this is going to sound so weird,” she says, feeling the need to explain. Feeling the need to tell Clarke that she’d been outside this whole time. That she’d come to do this every night for the past week, but had gotten stuck every time. That tonight she’d walked straight here from a horrible practice and hadn’t bothered to wait in the shadows like normal because she knew that if she did she’d chicken out again.

 

“Weirder than us both ending up in France at the same time?”

 

“I…sorry. What?’

 

“You said, ‘this is going to sound weird.’”

 

“Oh. Yeah, no, it’s nothing.” Lexa nods and her explanation is lost into the floor as that bewildered sort of frozenness takes over again.

 

“Lexa?”

 

“I shouldn’t have done this,” she says and moves with a swiftness that startles Clarke into taking a step back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come.”

 

The confusion and surprise and everything else storming around inside reaches Clarke’s eyes suddenly as she struggles to understand everything that’s happening too unexpectedly and too quickly. She steps forward hoping to close the widening gap between them, but Lexa is faster and more determined.

 

“Lexa, wait.”

 

“I’m sorry, Clarke.”

 

“Lexa!”  Clarke follows her at a jog down to the street corner, and just barely manages to latch onto her coat before she’s able to cross. “Please, wait. Lexa, please.” It’s desperate even to her own ears, but she’s past the point of caring. Not with Lexa so close, so attainable if she could just get her to stop.

 

Lexa does stop. She turns at the slight jerk of Clarke’s grasp and the gentle tug that’s a question more than anything. She can’t bare the tears in Clarke’s eyes, and she wants to stay. She wants to make them go away, wants to runs her hands over the bones under her eyes and remember what Clarke’s skin feels like.  But she can also hear Gus and Anya and her own rationale telling her to run and focus and swim.

 

“Please.” It’s a beg now as Clarke slips her hand up from Lexa’s coat sleeve to her wrist, finding more purchase, more urgency in her efforts to keep Lexa from fleeing. “This doesn’t have to be anything. We don’t have to—I just want—“ Clarke lets go of her and wraps her arms around herself like she knows nothing she says will keep Lexa here, and it hurts too much to keep trying.

 

Lexa surprises her and steps closer. “What? What do you want?”

 

Clarke shrugs and looks to the dimly lit street around them, the streetlight catching on the salty tears clinging to her lashes. It makes Lexa take another step forward.  

 

“Clarke?”

 

“I just want—I don’t know—I—I wasn’t prepared for this, and I’m a little overwhelmed, I—“ Clarke’s hands come to her cheeks in her stress and Lexa can see with practiced and experienced eyes that the panic is too close to the surface. Instinct takes over as she steps into Clarke’s space and overlays her hands on Clarke’s.

 

“Okay. Okay, it’s okay.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Clarke whispers, her voice cracking. She shakes her head in their hands and tries and fails to speak.

 

“It’s okay.”

 

“I don’t want you to think I’m not happy to see you. I am. I really, really—“ the emphasis gets lost in the hitched breathing that chokes it’s way up her throat and only sometimes makes it out. “I just—“ Her voice is thin and hoarse from the tears she’s fighting. Lexa feels it in her own throat as she nods and tries to understand the bits and broken pieces of effort spilling out of Clarke.

 

“This is why I was going to leave. I didn’t…I didn’t do this right. I upset you. I’m sorry.”

 

“No, no, god, it’s not you. Today’s just been—“ Clarke’s hands twitch and Lexa pulls her own away, not remiss to the fact that she really hadn’t wanted to. Clarke crosses her arms, and toes at the ground, a quirk Lexa recognizes as one of own and wonders when exactly that switch had happened.

 

“Clarke—“

 

“I’ve been personalizing invitations to my show all day and it makes you sort of think, you know?” She dives in without letting Lexa finish, and Lexa backs off because she can see that Clarke needs this.

 

“It makes you think, who are all these people and what do they mean to me? And who gets to come and who doesn’t? Who gets the personalized message and who just gets their name written into the blank space? It forces you to choose and it forces you to move backwards when all you want to do is keep moving forward because backwards is too hard, because backwards is where my dad is alive and receiving my invitation and flying to France with my mom, and backwards is where I fell in love with you and made a life with you and it’s where you don’t need an invitation because you’re already right there by my side and backwards is—“

 

It’s another mistake, a disastrous mistake when Lexa can’t take it anymore and presses forward, kissing Clarke silent, kissing her calm until the frantic energy seeps out of Clarke and is carried off by the slight breeze. Lexa kisses her until Clarke goes quiet and still. She doesn’t deepen it, but Lord knows she wants to. She lets Clarke be the first to move, hands coming to hips, nose brushing hesitant and urgent somehow all at the same time.  

 

Lexa tells herself no, but still she feels her hands move to either side of Clarke’s neck, tugging her close and tripping along until Clarke’s back finds the wall of a building three doors down from the gallery. It jars them apart and Clarke shivers as the night licks at her exposed hipbone and chills her wet lips.

 

“That,” Lexa breathes, eyes stunned wide, “was a mistake. That was a mistake, I’m sorry.”

 

Clarke’s heart lurches hard at the sting of rejection, but this is what she thinks she deserves as Lexa steps back and shoves her betraying hands into her pockets. She watches Lexa size her up, feeling somewhat exposed as her cold lips and heaving chest is studied and scrutinized before Lexa shakes her head. “I’m sorry.” It’s nothing more than a whisper, and then she’s gone.

 

//



Clarke waits. She waits a full three days pretending not to wait until there are no more boxes to be unpacked, no more shelves to be organized and no more paintings to touch up. The gallery is the cleanest it’s ever been and Clarke’s desk drawers look like a drill sergeant went to town on them.

 

Three full days and Lexa doesn’t come back. Three full days and Clarke feels herself going crazy from the inside out as she sits and waits in the spotless gallery that’s too clean and too quiet.

 

Octavia tells her not to do it, but she also tells her where their hotel is, and so it’s not exactly a surprise that Clarke finds herself leaning against the stone façade, hoping that by some twist of fate Lexa will come out and see her there and hug her again. It’s the kind of night for it—where the stars glow a little more confidently with the absence of the clouds, and the air nips at lungs until they’re invigorated and alive under beating hearts and fuzzy scarves.

 

Clarke gets lost in her own nervous thoughts as stands there for ten, fifteen, thirty minutes. She can feel herself shivering from time to time as a stray honking or sporadic burst of passing laughter draws her back and offers new, shifting sights every time it happens. She pulls her coat more snuggly around her and fixes on an elderly woman with her dog across the street. The woman’s hat is slipping off as she’s leaned over the tiny ball of white fluff, but to Clarke she looks utterly composed—like she knows exactly who she is and what she’s doing, the kind of quiet contentment gleaned from years of daily routine.

 

“Clarke?”

 

She feels like a paint-speckled nobody caught taking up too much space in the hallway as Lexa stands at the entrance of the hotel, flanked by her absurdly fit and attractive teammates. She reminds herself that she’s not fourteen anymore as they look on, expectant of an answer from the nervous intruder, but out of habit, she can’t help but feel like she’s cowering as she tries to decipher the meaning in their stares—perhaps they’ll just pass her, perhaps they’ll shove her into a locker. It’s always in the stare.

 

“What are you doing here?” Lexa looks around at her teammates before breaking away from the pack to stand in front of Clarke’s hesitant gaze.  

 

“I’m sorry to intrude, but I—“ She catches sight of the lingering teammates standing off to the side and doesn’t have to try hard to see that they’ve chosen the locker. Her words stutter to a halt at the sight of their glares and her eyes fall to the hands she’s working tirelessly into knots.

 

“Clarke?” It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together. Lexa throws a look over her shoulder that sends her teammates reluctantly ahead. “Did you need something?” She dips, looking for her eyes when Clarke just shakes her head and doesn’t look up.

 

“I’m sorry about the other night. I don’t know what came over me. It won’t happen again.”

 

“It won’t?” Clarke finally looks up and there are tears in her eyes that are unsure whether or not they want to fall.

 

“Well, I—no. I mean. No. Right?” Quick to temper these days, Lexa shoves her hands into her hair and steps back when Clarke doesn’t have an answer for her right away. She laughs bitterly up at the sky and shrugs at the world as Clarke continues to stand there, lost and unsure.

 

“Lex—“

 

“What do you want from me, Clarke?

 

“I—“

 

“You broke up with me, remember?” It snaps out of her like an angry dog and Clarke startles into complete silence. “You just left. You left and I didn’t even blame you, Clarke because I knew you were struggling and I knew I couldn’t help you. But still. God, it tore me apart and now you’re here wanting—wanting what? What is it that you want, Clarke? Because I don’t know how to do,” she gestures between them violently a few times as she tries to find the word. “ This. I don’t know how to do this anymore, but you’re here so obviously you want something.”

Clarke’s lip betrays her in its tremble as she nods and steps back, instinctively wanting distance between her and the anger rippling off of Lexa.

 

“What do you want?” Lexa repeats, belligerent and angry and hurt.

 

“I don’t—“

 

“Don’t say you don’t know. You don’t get to come here and then say you don’t know.”


“No, I—“ Clarke’s voice is soft behind the tears as she continues to put space between them, inch by inch. “I’m sorry. I should go.” She turns, but Lexa immediately grabs her and swings her into the stone wall, careful and vigilant of her head and back. In moments, she crowds Clarke’s space with her big, questioning eyes and sad lips, and kisses her with all that anger until both their lungs can’t take it anymore.

 

She can feel the way Clarke trembles under her hands, can hear the tiny sniffs as she presses their foreheads together and pushes the slightest bit in her longing and frustration. Clarke gives, soft and weak, and sinks further back into the wall. “What do you want?” She repeats in a growled whisper. “Hm?” She shakes Clarke ever so slightly.  “Clarke. What do you want?”

 

This,” Clarke finally cries, more tears than consonants. “ You. I just…I miss you.” With a softness that starkly contrasts everything emanating off of Lexa, Clarke curls her fingers around the nape of Lexa’s neck and strokes until she feels Lexa calm. “I don’t need anything more than this,” she whispers. “I don’t want to upset you, or distract you. I just needed to make sure you were real. You came and went so quickly, I wasn’t sure—I mean I’ve dreamed of that before and I couldn’t be sure that—“

 

Lexa kisses her again, easier, with a little less force this time. She slides her hands underneath Clarke’s shirt and brushes up her back, searching for the heat of her skin in the frigid air they can see every pant of breath in. She tugs at Clarke’s lip and presses into her hips, eager for this. Wanting it. Hating herself for it.

 

“Do you live close?”

 

Clarke can hear in Lexa’s tone that the swimmer has no casual interest in her neighborhood. She’s not going to ask how long it took her to walk here or if the walk was pretty. She’s not going to ask her how she likes it or what the cafes are like or if there are any nice parks nearby—all things Clarke has come to cherish about her little corner of Paris.  No, with Lexa’s hand sliding around the curve of her behind and tugging her close, with her lips prodding at the corner of her mouth, Clarke knows that there is one thing, and one thing only on Lexa’s mind.

 

And she really can’t bring herself to care.

 

//

 

It’s not slow or gentle or anything like the way Clarke had dreamed this might go. It’s not pretty and it’s not sweet, but Lexa is kissing her. Lexa is pressing her into the bed, and Lexa is touching her, and Lexa is here, and that alone is good enough. Even as the tears coat her eyes and the hurt hugs her chest.

 

Her hands shift from Lexa’s strong hips to her back, pressing the swimmer close, trying to make up for everything else between them. She buries her face into Lexa’s shoulder and breathes her in and kisses the raised rings of her tattoo and tells herself that this is enough. That this is what she wants. That this will help.

 

Lexa comes quickly, short and stunted, nothing like the way they used to be before. It’s emotionless and satisfied, a physical release and nothing more. It sounds like relief. It sounds like frustration finally defeated, like a system finally purged. Clarke clings to Lexa’s now relaxed body, wondering what comes next. What comes next now that Lexa has found her relief?  What happens now that she’s been purged?

 

Lexa rolls off of her quietly and sits at the edge of the bed, her large shoulders hunched over in realization of what they’ve done. “Did you—?”

 

It takes a moment to realize what Lexa’s asking, but when she does, Clarke flushes.  “Yeah,” she murmurs, and clenches her thighs together as if the violent, unsatisfied throb there will out her in her lie. She stares at the broad expanse of Lexa’s back. She wonders if she stares hard enough if it will reveal what she doesn’t want to know—traces of others, their hands, their kisses.

 

Lexa nods and braces on her knees to stand, unfurling inch by inch to her full stature that has Clarke craning to look up at the back that still hasn’t turned. Lexa slides her jeans onto her long legs and bends for her shirt, struggling to locate it.

 

“On the chair,” Clarke helps, her voice hoarse from holding it all in.

 

Once fully dressed, Lexa finally turns, her hand so familiar on the back of her neck as she goes nervous again, still refusing to meet Clarke’s gaze. “Clarke, I—“ She grabs her jacket from the floor and swings it on, trying to formulate her thoughts. Trying to explain what she’s feeling without having a clue as to what that might actually be.

 

The world ticks on around them, soaked in moonlight and stillness as the rest of the city sleeps, oblivious to Lexa’s failed attempts to traverse the space between them. She’s not sure if she even wants to.This had been what she needed. This has been the closure she’d told herself she needed since seeing Clarke that first night in the gallery. This had been what she needed to put everything to rest and give Anya and Gus and all those counting on her the focus that they deserved.

 

That’s all this had been, she promises herself. “Clarke—“

 

“It’s okay.” Clarke is quick to stand, taking the sheets with her and holding them tight to her chest. She closes the gap and reaches out, but stops, seeming to realize midair she doesn’t know what it is she’d intended to do. Her hand falls awkwardly to the hem of Lexa’s open jacket where she fiddles with the zipper. “I told you, this doesn’t have to be anything more than tonight.”

 

Lexa nods, unsure if it’s what she wants to hear. She can tell by the distant noises outside the window and the own fatigue in her body how late it’s gotten to be. She knows that Anya probably has half of France out looking for her. But she takes a moment to look at Clarke. To really look at the woman she’d spent the last several hours actively trying not to focus too hard on.

 

Clarke has grown paler since they were last together. The scars Lexa had gotten used to, the small ones from the shattering windshield that littered Clarke’s neck and collarbone are all but gone in this new hue. She finds herself missing them. Finds herself remembering their first night together and how shy Clarke had been. Finds herself remembering their beginning months, their origin story when scars both literal and figurative had been so prominent and raw, when they’d been each other’s solace, each other’s healing and peace and the object of each other’s all-consuming adoration. Like nothing could ever go wrong again.

 

As she dwells she finds herself taking a step forward. Then another until her hands are on Clarke’s wet cheeks, drawing her in. The sound Clarke makes when she kisses her breaks her heart. She can hear exactly what it is that Clarke wants and needs and it’s so much more than just tonight. It’s so much more than what she thinks she can give her and it swirls uncomfortably, dangerously around in Lexa’s stomach as she allows herself just one more second, and then another, against Clarke’s lips.

 

It’s Clarke who finally pulls away, head twisting to the side, separating them but keeping Lexa close like she can’t bear to accept what she already knows. That Lexa isn’t ready. Lexa isn’t interested. May never be, and Clarke is but a visitor passing through Lexa’s life now. An acquaintance at best. An annoyance at worst.

 

“I’m gonna go,” Lexa whispers against the corner of her lips. She kisses her, barely there in good bye, and then she’s gone with as little trace of her existence as when she’d come and gone at the gallery, leaving Clarke a mess in her own head.

 

Chapter Text

It’s not exactly surprising when Clarke finds herself in Lexa’s bed two days later. What’s surprising is when she finds herself there the day after that, and then again and again.

 

“We have to stop doing this,” she whispers as her breath begins to return to normal, fluttering across Lexa’s chest.

 

Lexa hums in agreement and nudges at Clarke’s chin with her nose, wanting access. Wanting to kiss her until she forgets to keep talking. And for a moment, Clarke lets her. Tangled together like the familiarity of a Sunday morning, they kiss like nothing’s changed.  Except that everything has—the emotion of it, the physicality. It’s all different and it hurts just as much as the familiarity soothes. It’s an endless, detrimental cycle and Clarke hates herself for letting it continue. And yet, when Lexa pulls back only to dive back in, Clarke lets her, again and again.

 

The rain is just as relentless as Lexa’s lips. It came early one morning and forgot to stop, soaking the Parisian streets in melting greys that were eager to make their mark upon the world.  And upon Lexa’s skin. Clarke runs her fingers through the shadows of rain drops on Lexa’s shoulder blade, connecting the dots as if it might draw her a picture and shed some kind of light on what it is they’re doing.

 

“Don’t fall asleep,” she murmurs.

 

Lexa grunts and nestles further into the pillows.

 

“Lexa.”

 

“I’m just resting.”

 

“You’ve got an hour before you need to be at the pool.”

 

“it’s raining.”

 

“You like the rain.”

 

Lexa rolls onto her back with a huff and squints at her—whether out of malice or fatigue, Clarke can’t be sure. “Used to. I used to like the rain. But you ruined it.”

 

Clarke sits back and sighs, opting ignore the familiar barbs. She peels herself out of the sheets, taking one with her as she goes about the cumbersome process of looking for her clothes. “Just once I’d like to do this without my clothes being strewn everywhere,” she says with a chuckle, trying to lighten the tone.

 

“Just once I’d like to this without hating you so much I feel the need to tear your clothes off,” Lexa mutters. Clarke’s almost sure she wasn’t meant to hear it, but she does, and it slams into her like a freight train. Sick to her stomach, she turns to Lexa with hot tears already stinging her eyes.

 

“What?” Her voice is small and deeply hurt, and no matter how she tries, she can’t hide that.

 

Lexa props herself up on her elbows and looks at her. “What?”

 

“You hate me?”

 

“I…hate what you did to us.”

 

“What I did?”

 

“Yeah. What you did. You broke us, Clarke. You—“

 

“I took time. I took time for me because I was drowning.  In your wake. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be with someone like you?”

 

Lexa looks away, her eyes falling to her bare torso where evidence of Clarke’s existence still lies in frenzied, red lines. “Apparently pretty miserable.”

 

“No,” Clarke says softly. “It’s beautiful and—and special, and wonderful, but god Lexa, it’s…deafening.”

 

Lexa looks up at her, her big, green eyes wet and focused on Clarke’s face as Clarke worries her hands around the sheet covering her body.

 

“You’re Alexandra freaking Woods,” Clarke whispers, her voice cracking. “Who am I when I’m standing next to her? Who is anybody when they’re standing next to her? I needed time to figure out who I was next to you.”

 

“You were Clarke.”

 

“Clarke wasn’t good enough.”

 

Lexa runs her hands over her face and into her hair. “Clarke was always good enough,” she murmurs, refusing to look at her.

 

“And now? Now you hate her?”

 

“I said I didn’t hate you.”

 

“You sure as hell don’t like me,” Clarke says as she tugs on her clothes.

 

“It’s hard to like someone who breaks your heart.”

 

“Yeah, well.” Clarke slips into her jacket and takes her purse from the chair. She throws her hair up and grabs her keys, moving towards the door. “Try living with her.”

 

Lexa tosses on a shirt and follows her out into the hallway. “So you regret it, then?”

 

“Regret what?”

 

“Breaking up with me.”

 

Clarke sighs. “I regret that I wasn’t ready for you. I resent it. I always will. But I can’t hate myself forever. I did what I needed to do.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay?”

 

Lexa nods, a look of something akin to acceptance crossing her face for the first time since Clarke had seen her in Paris. “Okay,” the swimmer says, breathy and heavy like it’s a weight off her chest. “I think I just needed to hear that it hurt you as much as it hurt me.”

 

Clarke gives her a sad smile. “Maybe more.” She turns and leaves before Lexa can say anything else.  

 

 


 

 

“I can not believe I’m in Paris right now!”

 

Clarke grins at her giddy friend and nudges her down the road, acting as her eyes as the visitor’s head moves on a swivel to take in all of the sights. 

 

“Are we close?”

 

“It’s around the corner.”

 

“This city is insane. There are literally…. Clarke, there are literally food stands every ten feet.” Octavia looks around in awe, her hand clutched to Clarke’s forearm both for effect, and out of genuine amazement.

 

Clarke laughs and it rattles in her bones, dusting her off from the inside out, throwing open the curtains, and letting some light in. It burns a little at first, but then it settles, and she feels it like a warmth, spreading through to all her neglected nooks and crannies. “Haven’t you been here before? For friendlies and what not?”

 

Octavia shakes her head, still struck by her surroundings. “Just Lyon and Marseille. I was out with my ankle last time we went to Paris. I’ve always wanted to go.”

 

“Well.” Clarke stops them at the corner, and sighs. “Now you’re here. And Lincoln…is right in there.”

 

Octavia follows her point and looks up at the large stadium situated somewhat oddly in the middle of the city. “You’re coming in, right?”

 

“Ah…no.” Clarke chuckles oddly and runs her fingers through her hair, her multitude of rings catching on strands and tugging them out of her already very messy bun.

 

“Still? Clarke, seriously?”

 

“Look, just because we’re in the same city does not mean we have to see each other.”

 

“Oh sweet child of mine.” Octavia steps in and tugs at Clarke’s collar, pulling it aside. “There’s only one reason that Clarke Griffin wears turtlenecks.” She flicks the hickey on Clarke’s neck. “Don’t pretend you’re not already seeing her.”

 

Clarke swats her hand away and tries to hide her blush, failing miserably under her best friend’s intent gaze. “I’m not,” she tries, weakly.

 

“So you’re hooking up with some hot Frenchie? Is it the guy from your flat?”

 

Clarke snorts. “Maxim is gayer than I am.”

 

“Not possible,” Octavia says, grinning. She turns back to the stadium. “Be honest. Is it really not Lexa?”

 

Clarke doesn’t want to admit it. Doesn’t want to make it real, but when Octavia looks over at her with that look in her eye, she feels compelled beyond reason. As if only now does she realize she’d been keeping a secret that she desperately wants to release.  “Of course it’s Lexa,” she murmurs.

 

“Clarke…”

 

“I know.”

 

The two stand there on the corner, neither sure what to say next. The cold drives them onwards, and without really realizing what’s happening, Clarke has crossed the street with Octavia and entered the lobby to the stadium.

 

It’s the smell of the chlorine that reminds her where she is, what she’s doing, and that she can’t be a part of any of it. “I’ve to go,” she says quietly to Octavia who’s preoccupied by the high ceilings made out of glass. “Lincoln will be out soon.”

 

Octavia catches her wrist and wraps their fingers together, eying her in worry. “Dinner tonight?”

 

“You two should catch up.”

 

“I have all the time in the world to catch up with him. You’re the one I came for.”

 

Clarke arches her brow and grins at the uncharacteristic show of tenderness from her otherwise crass and somewhat abrasive friend. “You’re going soft on me, O.”

 

“Well, that tends to happen when your best friend goes off gallivanting across the world and doesn’t call.”

 

“I call.”

 

“You only call when you’re upset.”

 

It’s too true to argue with, so she lets the guilt silence her.

 

“But I get it, you know?”

 

Clarke gives her her best attempt at a smile and squeezes her hand. “How about brunch tomorrow? That way, you and Linc can still have some time together tonight.”


“You sure?”

 

Clarke grins. “You’re getting sappy. You need to get laid.”  

 

Octavia gives her a smile that far outshines her own and lets go of her hand. “It’s good to see you, Clarkey.”

 

Clarke drops their hands and re-shoulders her bags, anxious to put distance between herself and the stadium. “Call me tomorrow, okay?”

 

//

 

She misses Octavia’s call. It’s not until she’s watching Lexa pull her jeans back on that Clarke even thinks to look for her phone…which, as it turns out, happens to be completely out of charge.

 

“Shit. Do you have a charger?”

 

Lexa looks over her shoulder, her fingers still latched around the waistline of her jeans. The way in which she’s twisting makes her back muscles look amazing, and for a moment, Clarke is momentarily distracted.

 

“Clarke?”

 

Her eyes snap away and she looks up at the swimmer’ face, trying to mask the thoughts in her head by chewing down on her bottom lip. “Hm?”

 

“I said you can’t stay here.”

 

“I’m not asking to stay.”

 

“You’re asking for a charger.”

 

“Yeah, my phone’s dead.”

 

“Charge it at home.”

 

Clarke rolls her eyes and flops back down on the bed, throwing her forearm over her face to block out the pesky morning sun. “I just need a little charge. Enough to call Octavia.”

 

“Octavia’s here?”

 

Clarke nods and peeks under her arm as Lexa shrugs on a shirt and lifts her hair out of the collar. She studies the rippling of her shoulders with each movement, the flex of her stomach underneath the gray fabric of the t-shirt that rides up every now and again.

 

“You’re staring.”

 

“You can’t even see me.”

 

“I can feel it. Can you hurry up?”

 

Clarke presses up to her elbows and looks at her, confusion etched into her features. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” Lexa says, pressing her fist into the surface of the desk she’s leaning on. “Can you just hurry up?”

 

“I need to charge my phone.”

 

“I said do it at home.”

 

“Lexa.”

 

“Do it at home, Clarke!”

 

Clarke jumps at the sudden escalation and sits up, looking for her clothes. “What is your problem?” She snaps as she yanks on her shirt, the surprise transforming into anger until she’s nearly furious.

 

“I just don’t want you here anymore. Is that a fucking crime?”

 

Clarke scoffs, but doesn’t bother with any more of a response. She shimmies into her leggings and grabs her bag from the floor, throwing things around as she searches for the rest of her that’d been discarded in their late night and early morning tussle.

 

She’s angry with Lexa, yes, but she’s really angry with herself. She’s fed up with her own stupidity, tired of her fruitless efforts to find some semblance of what they’d once had. She’d told Lexa that it didn’t have to be anything more than one night, but god, what a joke that had been. She’s angered herself to tears by the time she’s shoving past Lexa, making a point to avoid even the slightest brush of their shoulders.

 

“Clarke—“

 

Clarke whips around, fury in all of her features and trembling in her fists. She raises her brow in impatience as Lexa just stares at her from the door way. “What?” She snaps, when Lexa still remains silent.

 

“I didn’t mean to upset you, I—“

 

“Yes, you did,” Clarke bites, cutting her off. “That’s all you’ve been trying to do since the moment you came to see me at the gallery. And I get it, Lexa, I do. I get that you’re mad at me. I get that I hurt you. I get that you want to give it right back to me. And I’m sorry. Okay? I'm so, very sorry. But I'm also...fuck, I'm also—" she heaves in air, her bottom lip beginning to tremble against her will. “I’m so tired,” she continues, her voice cracking. “I’m so, so tired.”

 

Lexa looks at her, red beginning to ring around her eyes. “Then why do you keep coming back?”

 

Clarke laughs, but it’s mostly just a sob as her chest feels like it’s beginning to implode.  “Seriously?

 

Lexa shrugs.

 

“Oh my god. Because—because I miss you! God, I miss you, Lexa. Don’t you get that? I miss you so much sometimes it hurts to even just put one foot in front of the other.”

 

“I—“

 

“No.” Clarke shakes her head, waving her off, sure that if she hears more, she will break and never find all of the pieces to put herself back together. “Don’t say anything. Just don’t say anything.” She turns and starts to walk away.

 

“Well, that sounds fair,” Lexa calls after her, sarcasm dripping on the words.

 

“Fair?” Clarke whirls around, this time laughing incredulously. “Fair? Look at me! I’m a person, Lexa! A person! I know you’re mad at me, but you—you don’t get to fuck me and hate me. You don’t get to fuck all your frustrations out and then toss me aside in disgust, like I'm some kind of...like I'm—“ but she’s crying too hard to continue now. She shakes her head and buries her face in her hands.

 

Clarke.” Feeling like an idiot, feeling like an asshole and sick to her stomach with what she’s done, Lexa steps forward and gently grasps onto Clarke’s elbow. But Clarke jerks away from her like she’s been burned and pulls her face out of her hands, heartbreak saturating her red, puffy eyes.

 

“I’m not a toy,” she gasps, hugging herself. “I’m not a toy and you—you don’t get to do this. I never used you. I never—” she swallows over the lump in her throat and shakes her head.

 

Lexa draws shaky breaths, eyes on the floor. “It takes two to sleep together,” she murmurs, ashamed, but trying to defend herself anyways. “You agreed to this too. You used me too.”

 

“No. I never used you,” Clarke repeats. “I never used you,” she says with emphasis, wanting desperately for Lexa to understand. Needing her to know that the sex was never about letting out her frustrations. The sex was never about anger. The sex was never going to be just one night. But she’s too tired to stay to see if Lexa gets it. She’s too tired. She turns and she keeps walking, and for once, she finds herself not caring whether or not Lexa calls after her. 

 

//

 

“You look like shit.”

 

Clarke smiles at her best friend in disingenuous gratitude and continues her silent chewing.

 

“I’m just saying. Usually people walk away from a night of sex feeling refreshed.”

 

Clarke gives her a sharp look.

 

“What?”

 

“Just.” Clarke sets her fork down and clears her pallet with a sip of cold water that feels delicious on her inflamed throat, raw from crying all morning. “Can we just not?”

 

Maybe it’s the bags under her eyes or the paleness of her skin. Maybe it’s the hunch of her shoulders that gives it away, or the persistent redness of her eyes despite the three cold showers she’d taken—whatever it is, Octavia takes one long look at her and nods. “You were doing really good,” she mutters, before letting it go.

 

 


 

 

 

They say there are five things that make the individual medley swimmer great.

 

One: high pain tolerance.

 

The 400 IM is perhaps the most painful of all events. The chest will ache, the lungs will sting, the muscles will burn. On the last lap of the breaststroke, it will feel like the body is ready to shut down. This is where the IMer survives. This is where the IMer learns to thrive.

 

//

 

Lexa knows when Anya has entered the auditorium because the giant flood lights go on and Lexa has to close her eyes to keep everything out. She counts each stroke, not once failing her in measuring her progress down the lane. At each kick turn, her feet land sure and she pushes off hard, ignoring the burn in her thighs.

 

She doesn’t stop when she hears the muffled sound of her name being called. She just counts. One, two, three. Her kick turn starts at thirty-four, and then she starts over.  She doesn’t know how long she swims, just that her chest has stopped throbbing and the burning in her thighs is down to a dull ache. At this point she knows she has pushed past her pain threshold, but with each stroke, she sees her mother’s face smiling back at her.

 

 

 

She struggles under the water, her arms flailing and her feet kicking at nothing. She’s not panicking, not yet. She’s determined to get it this time. She can see that she’s close, despite what feels like going nowhere.

 

She gives another hard kick, stretching out her arms, her fingers reaching, reaching, reaching. Her lungs feel like they’re about to burst, and she’s not sure how much longer she can go. But with a final kick, her fingers brush and she’s lifted out of the water and into the bright summer day, cheers accompanying her triumph.

 

“Good girl!”

 

Lexa beams up at her mother, water streaming down her face and into her nose and mouth, making her cough. Her mother chuckles and pushes her wet bangs back, looking at Lexa with so much pride it has her chest fluttering with happy butterflies.

 

“You did it, baby girl!”

 

Lexa giggles and squirms in her mother’s grip, launching herself into her chest and holding on tight. Her mother’s skin is warm, even in the cool water, and she smells like perfume and sunscreen. Lexa tucks her face into the crook of her neck and grips onto the back of her mother’s swimsuit, her tiny fingers working themselves comfortingly over the fabric.

 

“Richard, did you see that?”

 

A man’s deep, calming laughter rumbles somewhere behind her and she feels her father’s hand on her back. “Our little guppy,” he gushes, his hand moving up to tussle her wet hair. “Swimming the length of the shallow end at four years old! We’ll make an Olympian out of her yet!”

 

 

Lexa kicks against the burn and fights the compression in her chest. Just one more stroke, one more moment with them. It’s all she needs.  Just one more.

 

 

 

//

 

 

Two: iron-clad focus.

 

They say the IMer is the most focused of all the swimmers—that the IMer is the smartest swimmer, and often the most talented. They say that the IMer must be both a distance swimmer and a sprinter. They must know when to turn it up, and when to turn it down. They have to know how to power through the last round of breaststroke, but conserve for the all out sprint of the final lap of freestyle. They must be focused through every kick and every stroke, until their fingers hit the sensors.

 

//

 

Lexa doesn’t hear the sound of Gus entering the water. She doesn’t hear Anya who is now pleading with her at the top of her lungs to stop. Her eyes are shut, her heart is pounding, and she’s counting. She just needs one more stroke. Just one more. And once she’s hit that, she just needs another. If she just keeps swimming—

 

She doesn’t notice any of it until she is being yanked out of the water. The tile is cold against her back and the lights hurt her eyes. She blinks as Gus taps her cheeks, his bearded face floating into her vision and finally, finally blocking out those awful lights.

 

His mouth moves and she thinks he might be saying her name.

 

//

 

Three: mental toughness.

 

They say the IMers have an endless capacity for hardship. They say that the IMer is the most dependable, versatile, and strategic swimmer. If there is an event to swim, and no one to swim it, the IMer is called. If there is a medley to be swum, and an anchor is needed, the IMer is called. They do not waver under pressure, or bend under demands. They are often the toughest of the swimmers, physically, and most importantly, mentally. Sometimes, to a fault.

 

//

 

When Lexa wakes, Anya is standing in the corner, arms folded across her chest. Her eyes are red, but she doesn’t look sad. She looks angry. The hard angles of her face are taught against the skin encapsulating them, and when Lexa shifts to get a better look, she’s never seen Anya look quite so trapped between anger and anguish.

 

“You did it again,” the agent mutters, hard and unforgiving. “You promised you’d never do this again.”

 

//

 

Four: perfect pacing.

 

The IMer may find that teammates approach them for tips on pacing. While the 400m Individual Medley is an event as a whole, it is made up of four, separate 100m events.  The IMer must know how to pace all of them in order to pace the overall event. This skill will be envied, coveted and admired.

 

//

 

Fatigue hugs her legs and drags the soles of her feet into the ground with every step she takes against the cold tile of the hospital floor. Her muscles burn so severely that just the wind her gate generates bites into them.

 

She shrugs off the poor nurse who barely comes up to her shoulder, and leans into the wall as she shuffles down the hallway towards the voices of her people.

 

“I told you to be careful with her.”

 

“This is not on me, Anya. If Lexa is going through something, you need to be the one keeping an eye on it. I’ve got six other athletes to get ready for competition swim in five days.”

 

“If Lexa can’t swim, there’s no point in your six other athletes. We all know who’s going to pull the US through this competition. You said she wasn’t taking her breaks at practice. That didn’t clue you into the fact that she was on her way to another blackout?”

 

“Lexa always gets like this before competition. She’s tough, she’s focused, she knows how to pace herself. I had no reason to doubt that.”

 

Anya scoffs. “She wasn’t being tough or focused, and she certainly wasn’t pacing herself. She was being stupid, Gustus. And reckless. She hasn’t blacked out since she was eighteen. This is a problem.”

 

“If this is about that girlfriend of hers—“

 

Lexa leans her head against the wall and closes her eyes, not wanting to hear the rest. 

//

 

Five: durability

 

The IMer will not fail. They will push themselves to the brink, and still, after dragging themselves out of the pool, they will stand strong.

 

//

 

Anya watches her like a hawk in the locker room, betraying no particular emotion, but not exactly holding back either.  

 

“Stop glowering,” Lexa mutters, lunging deeper into her stretch. “I’m trying to focus.”

 

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

 

Lexa switches legs and rolls her shoulders, not bothering to look at her agent. “What’s there to be ready for? Either I win or I don’t. It’s as simple as that.”

 

Anya pushes off the wall and walks over to her, hovering behind her as she bends town to stretch her hamstrings. “You and I both know those are not the only outcomes that can happen when you get into the pool, Lexa.”

 

“I’m not going to have an attack if that’s what you’re worried about.”

 

“How can you be sure?”

 

Because,” Lexa huffs, righting herself, “I’m focused. Or I would be if you’d stop micromanaging.”

 

“Five days ago you blacked out in the pool and swam for five hours straight without a break, and you’re telling me not to be worried.”

 

“I didn’t say not to be worried.” Lexa crosses an arm over her chest and stretches her deltoids. “I said to stop micromanaging.”

 

“Is there a difference?”

 

Lexa grins. “With you? No, I suppose not.”

 

“Lexa, I’m serious,” Anya says, almost pleading with her as she grips onto Lexa’s bicep. “You really scared us last week.”

 

“I just went for a little swim, An,” Lexa says, smiling. “Alright? Besides, that’s what you guys pay me the big bucks to do. I’m fine.” She claps her agent on the back and shoots her a wink, leaving Anya standing there with the distinct feeling that Lexa is far from fine.

 

//

 

 

“Only you,” Lincoln chuckles, finding Lexa on the large back balcony of their hotel. “Only you could walk out of a hospital and five days later win a gold medal.”

 

Lexa palms the heavy metal in her hand, turning it over back and forth between her hands. “It’s all a little silly, don’t you think?” She mutters, turning her eyes to the sleepy city sprawled out before them.

 

“What? Medals? Yeah, only the people who get them every time they swim think that.”

 

“Don’t be so humble,” she grins, “I saw your results today.”

 

“There’s a first time for everything.”

 

“How’d it feel?”

 

“Standing on the top of the podium? Um, amazing.”

 

Lexa smiles, shaking her head. She scans the few lights scattered about in the darkness and can’t stop herself from wondering what it is Clarke might be doing right now. “I meant…how does it feel to perform when everything else in your life is right?” Off Lincoln’s confused look, she sighs and leans back onto her heels, her elbows pressed into the railing of the balcony. “You’ve only dived like that once before. After a visit from Octavia back in Colorado. Your dives were flawless.”

 

Getting it, Lincoln nods and comes to stand next to her, shoulder to shoulder.


“I take it things are still good between you two?”

 

“I mean…yeah, it’s pretty good,” he says nonchalantly, and she smiles, grateful for a friend who stuffs down what she knows is overwhelming happiness, just to make things easier on her.

 

“You don’t have to do that. Not for me.”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Act like it’s nothing.” She turns to him, resting her temple on her fist. “I’m happy for you. You know that, right?”

 

“Lex.”

 

“No, really. I am. She’s a good kid.”

 

“So is Clarke,” he ventures, cautiously.

 

“Ah.” She chuckles, returning to the city. “Yes, well. I’ve gone and royally fucked that up.”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“No?” She peers over at him, grinning sardonically. “Well, you must know something I don’t, then.”

 

“I know that you love her.”

 

Lexa scoffs, smile still on her face. “You’re naïve.”

 

“I’m an idealist.”

 

“Synonym for naïve.”

 

It’s his turn to laugh as he draws back and rests his hands on the railings. “You love her.”

 

“I do,” Lexa concurs, quietly. “That’s no secret.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

Her brow scrunches and she looks at him, eyes flicking over his face in study, trying to workout where he’s going with this and whether to be annoyed.

 

“Are you sure that it’s common knowledge?”


“Lincoln.”

 

“Are you sure that she knows?”

 

“Clarke?”

 

He nods.

 

Her gaze turns once more to the city and something unsettling flickers through her stomach as she takes in the far fewer lights shimmering against the deep blue of the night sky. There was a hopefulness to the signs of life permeating the dark. There was a warmth to the imagination it lent itself to—to the idea that Clarke was out there, not that far away, wandering around under the lights of her gallery, or maybe her bedroom. The idea that she was awake and experiencing the same world as Lexa, right that very moment. That they occupied the same moment of time, closer than physical space may suggest. She frowns at the growing darkness, wishing she could hold it at bay. She’s never been a fan of night fall. It’s always been too quiet. Too violent in its stillness. It’s always lent itself too easily to her scariest, loneliest thoughts. She misses Clarke the most at night—when the lack of her warm body pressed into her chest makes the air thick enough to choke on.

 

“You need to show her that you still love her,” Lincoln says gently, hand coming over to rest briefly over her wrist. “Remind her.”

 

She chuckles under her breath. “This isn’t about love.”

 

“No?”

 

She shakes her head.

 

“What’s it about then?”

 

She shrugs, turning the medal around in her fingers. “Timing, maybe. I don’t know. Baggage. I wasn’t good for her. She needed to heal. She needed time to just…feel it all, and then let go. She needed to purge. It’s been a hard two years for her.”

 

“It’s been eleven for you.”

 

“Yeah,” she breathes, nodding. “Yeah, it has.”

 

“Aren’t you tired?”

 

“Exhausted.”

 

“So then stop.”

 

She squints at him. “You’re going to have to stop speaking in riddles. It’s about two hours past my bed time, and your wise, sagey bullshit is giving me a headache,” she laughs, and he grins, standing up straight.

 

“It’s been eleven years. You’ve put in your time, don't you think?”

 

“I don’t know what that means.”

 

He sighs. “ It means stop. Stop...stopping yourself. Stop cutting it all out. Just stop…stop fighting.”

 

“Lincoln. I don’t know what that means.

 

“Yes you do. You do. Just think about it.”

 

“Lincoln, seriously—“ but when she turns around, he’s already walking away, and she’s too perplexed to stop him.

 

Chapter Text

 


 

Clarke has only ever once been this angry-- an anger that consumes everything around it, leaving no one or no thing left untouched. It’s an anger that makes her physically shake; an anger that stunts her into prolonged silence or catapults her into sudden, unrestrained tears. It’s the anger she felt when when the world wronged her so profoundly that she woke up from a ten hour emergency surgery only to find out that, while she survived against all odds, her father was dead.

 

Back then, the anger had halted her life in its tracks. Now, it drives her into her work with a reckless abandon that keeps her up all hours of the night. Maxim stops bothering to check on her several days into the paint-filled tirade when Clarke slams the door and tells him to go to bed. It’s not until Clarke hears that Lexa has landed herself in the hospital that she comes up for air. It’s the first time she’s texted Lincoln in months, close to a year, but she can’t bear the muddled messages of Octavia as the middleman when it comes to Lexa’s health. When he doesn’t answer, she thinks she might lose it.

 

That’s when it hits her just how much she still cares. No matter how angry she is, or wants to be, there is an overwhelmingly large part of her that cares so damn much about Lexa, it might actually destroy her.

 


 


“They’re going to be leaving soon.”

 

Clarke can see that Octavia tries to slip it in like any old conversation starter while they eat their breakfast, and does her friend a solid by pretending the not so subtle attempt at advice never happened.

 

“Clarke.”

 

“I’m ignoring you.”

 

“I can see that.”

 

Clarke stabs at her food aggressively, refusing to meet Octavia’s eyes.

 

“Why, may I ask?”

 

“Because I know you and I know when you’re about to annoy me.”

 

“I only annoy you when I’m right.”

 

Clarke scoffs. “Is that what you tell yourself?”

 

Octavia doesn’t take the bait, just studies her, and chews. Then, “You look like shit. Again.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Clarke.”

 

Clarke slams her utensils down and they clatter harshly against the porcelain plate. “What, Octavia? What could you possibly have to say right now that is so important I can’t finish my fucking eggs?”

 

Used to the barbs, but not inhuman, Octavia recoils and sits back in her chair, putting distance between them...just in case Clarke lunges. She waits, staring her friend down. It takes longer than usual, but Clarke finally blinks and works through a massive sigh before running her hands over her face. “I’m sorry,” she mumbles behind her hands. She looks up and offers an apologetic smile.

 

“It’s okay.”

 

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

 

Octavia chuckles. “Yes, you do.”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“Yes, you do.”

 

Clarke glares for a moment, then admits defeat. “I don’t know what to do.”

 

“What’s on your mind, right this minute. No filter.”

 

“No filter?”

 

“None.”

 

Clarke sighs. She shrugs because she hates her answer. “You can’t patronize me.”

 

“I won’t.”

 

“No filter, it’s Lexa. Lexa in the hospital. Lexa less than ten blocks away from me. Lexa telling me she hates me after having sex with me all night. Just...Lexa. Always. All the time. Good and bad. I can’t get her out of my head.”

 

“And she’s leaving soon.”

 

“Yeah. Then there’s that.”

 

“You worried about it?”

 

Clarke tries to think. Worried isn’t the right word, but she doesn’t know what is, either. There’s no concrete way to describe what she’s feeling, and that might be the hardest part. If she could give it a name, she could finally pin it down and send it off into the night for good instead of staying up all hours, cursing her existence and assaulting innocent canvases.

 

“I don’t know what I am. I mean, I don’t even really know what I’m allowed to feel. Can I feel worried? She’s not mine to feel worried about. I’m also pissed at her, so why should I care if she’s leaving?”

 

“But you do.”

Clarke shrugs. “I do.”

 

“Because you care about her?”

 

“So much. Too much.”

 

“Maybe the space will be good for you.”

 

“That the thing,” Clarke growls, growing frustrated. “Space implies that we’ve been together, and need to separate. That separating will do us some good and allow us to come back to each other. But we’re not together. We haven’t been for almost a year, and we certainly aren’t going back to each other. Look what happens when we do.  But here I am, still pining and still pissed. I don’t know what it means.”

 

“Well yeah, the sex kinda muddled things there. Probably shoulda gone with god instead.”

 

Clarke chucks a piece of ice at her, but follows it with a grin because Octavia is right. And she’s annoying when she’s right. “So what am I supposed to do now?”

 

Octavia links her fingers behind her back and gives a mighty stretch, kicking her feet up on the empty chair next to their table. “I think you just need to let it be.”

 

“What the hell does that mean?”

 

Her friend shrugs. “Just...let it be. Don’t try to figure it out. Let whatever happens happen. You’ll find your way back to each other with time, I’m sure.” She comes back to the table and grabs Clarke’s face. “And in the meantime, for the love of god, stop having sex with her.”

 


 

 

The Parisians complain about the rain the way they complain about Americans in their city. It’s a nuisance—a hovering, clinging inconvenience that clogs up the streets and makes even the day’s most banal tasks tedious.

Clarke thinks it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. She should be preparing for her opening night, but instead she sits a bench under a café awning and draws. She hadn’t been able to get Octavia’s words out of her head for days, and she couldn’t take it anymore. She had to get out of the gallery.

 

She loves the gentle thrumming of the drops on the taught fabric above her, and the splashing of puddles as people dart about like they’re made of sugar. Clarke stretches her hand out to catch the drips that trickle off the edge of the awning, working the water around her fingers, pressing it into her skin. Decidedly not made out of sugar, she frets not about the prospect of melting, and collects each drip until the coldness of them makes her fingers ache.

It should shake her how accustomed she’d become to these little chases of feeling—moments of quiet desperation, reaching out into the world around her for even the slightest bit of tactile immersion—something to remind her, assure her, that she isn’t floating aimlessly about, unable to connect with the space around her. She exists in this world. She does. She can.

She wipes her hand dry on her scarf and returns to her charcoal stick. She sketches out the park across the street, the dripping branches, the flooded grass, the hooded and hunched figures on their way home before dark. Her lines are light and airy, nothing like the oppressive heaviness she feeling tugging her down with every thought, every unsettled flip of her stomach or stab in her chest.

Hearts are only meant to break once, she’d thought. Hers had cracked so many times, Clarke wondered sometimes if it was even still there. She’d lay in bed at night, her fingers pressed to her wrists in between anger fueled paint sessions, measuring each stilted, erratic thump until it eventually put her to sleep.

Even now, her fingers itch to take stock of her pulse. Instead, she lifts her head and watches the weary passers-by, breathes in the crisp air, smiles at the bandit squirrel making off across the street with a soggy bagel half. There are ways to exist in this world. There are ways to be happy. She promises it to herself as she rubs the shading into place and sketches out another tree.  

Her phone buzzes in her purse beside her. A part of her wants to ignore it and remain in this quiet, rainy bubble of seclusion for as long as she can. Another part of her, however…

Lincoln [18:34pm]: Hey, Clarke. Apologies for the delay, lot’s going on. Lexa’s okay. Just needed rest and fluids.

Her heart thumps wildly at the response for a moment. She’d been waiting so long to hear back, several days of wondering whether she’d fucked up so much that even sweet, sweet Lincoln wanted nothing to do with her. She knew that Lexa had been fine, she’d read it online, but she’d wanted to hear it from Lincoln. A part of her maybe even hoped that she’d get a little more than she’d asked for. A part of her still couldn’t stop thinking about Lexa. It was an insatiable thirst that kept her dehydrated and always concious of it.

 

She should respond, she knows, but she also knows that Lincoln will understand why she doesn’t. There are too many emotions to feel about the news, and about the person it belongs to. There is still so much anger where there is also want. But she refuses to let it surge up inside of her any longer. The sadness comes as it pleases, but she refuses its kinship as best she can as well. It’s relief, a little annoyance, and finally catharsis that she hosts and allows to linger for a moment longer.

 


 

 

His hand on her jaw hurts. That’s the only thing she can focus on--not the cheering crowd, or the boomy, echoey swim hall, not the chills erupting under her shin or the fatigue in her legs. Just his hand, clenched around her chin, holding her attention on his mean, ugly face.

 

“Get your head in the fucking game, Woods,” he growls at her. “What do you think you’re doing?”

 

Lexa wants to shrink away, but his grip is firm and his eyes dare her to rebel. She hates his eyes the most, especially when they stare her down like this. She’s so very tired and hungry, and all she wants to do is forfeit and go to bed. It’s not a meet that matters. The only point of it is so that the coaches can show off to each other before the junior qualifiers.

 

“Are you even listening to me, Woods?”

 

She glances back up at his face, hating him the longer she stares. She hardly recognizes the man her mom took her to meet just three years ago. He’d been all smiles and encouraging words back then. She hates the hot tears that form at the thought of another lifetime when swimming was fun and her family wasn’t at the bottom of the ocean.

 

It’s a smack to her cheek that has her wrenching out of Titus’ grip and scrambling backwards on her bench. He’d been mean, but he’d never hit her, and now she’s trapped in front of hundreds of people who are none the wiser as to what’s happening amidst the crowded pool deck.

 

“You’re going to finish this meet, and you’re going to win. Is that understood?”

 

Lexa shakes her head, clamping down hard on her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

 

“No? You think you have a choice? I’m coaching you for free and you think you get to choose when you do or don’t swim? That’s not how this works, kid. When I say swim, you say how fast. Got it?”

 

Finding her voice, Lexa draws her knees up to her chest and shakes her head. “I don’t want to.”

 

Titus slams his fist down on the bench, sending Lexa’s fourteen-year old frame leaping out of its skin. “You’ve never swam so well in your damn life! What’s the problem?!”

 

Lexa doesn’t know how to tell him that when she was swimming her last set, she forgot where she was. She doesn’t know how to tell him that instead of chlorine, she tasted salt. That instead of the bottom of a pool, she saw the endless depths of an ocean filled with the debris of her family’s boat. She doesn’t know how to tell him that she heard her mother’s screams and saw her father’s face, and the only thing she could think to do was to kick harder and swim faster because if she did, maybe she could reach them in time.

 

“I don’t want to go back there,” she mutters, wiping her tears on her bare shoulder. “I don’t want to see it again.”

 

“What are you talking about? Just swim your damn sets and we go home.” His voice softens slightly for a different approach. “I thought you wanted that Xbox, huh? Thought that’s what you were going to do with your prize money. Don’t you want those games?”

 

Lexa shakes her head. “I just want to go home.”

 

Titus practically growls as he stands from the bench and yanks Lexa up with him. He bends down and gets in her face. “Listen to me, and listen to me well because I’m not going to say this again. You’re going to get in that pool. You’re going to do or see whatever it is that put you at a 2 minute 200 IM, and you’re going to show these assholes exactly what a Titus Smith swimmer can do. Got it?”

 

“And if I don’t?” It’s not a challenge. It’s the softest, meekest little question that slips out of her before she can stop it. She flinches, expecting a strike to come, but it doesn’t. When she looks up, Titus is staring at her, cold as ice.

 

“If you don’t, you go back to Florida.”

 

He says it with steel in his voice and it makes Lexa cower more than anything that’s come out of his mouth that day. She can’t go back to Florida. She can’t go back to the children’s home that sent the oldest kids to bed without dinner because they didn’t have enough food. She can’t go back to fist fights that broke out at night when the adults were asleep, or the crying toddlers that wailed for their parents early into the morning. She can’t go back to being so close to her former home, her former life, but having nothing to show for it.

 

Titus puts his hand on her shoulder and squeezes. “Whatever you have to do to win, you do it. Otherwise, you go back and your life is over. Understood?”

 

Lexa swallows and looks back at the pool. She had a decision to make. One evil over another. Swimming saved her life, and now it would be her life. It was that, or it was nothing. There was never going to be a choice.

 

“Am I understood, Woods?”

 

Lexa looks back at him. It this was going to be her life, she might as well makes the most of it. She’d see her parents, and relive the accident, as long as it meant going forward. She couldn’t go back, not without them. As long as she had Titus, she had swimming, and as long as she had swimming, she had her parents. She’d let that drive her, until she just couldn’t go any more...


Lexa sits with her feet in the pool, dangling in the cool water. There are tears in her eyes, but she doesn’t bother wiping them away. They will only continue to come. She’d left Titus at sixteen, nearly ten years ago, but his grip on her never quite seemed to fade. She kicks at the water in a weak show of frustration. He’d derailed her life completely and she had let him. For two years she let him manipulate her, exploit her trauma and her pain, let him transform her into a mindless machine driven by toxic permutations of her parents’ death over and over until she knew of nothing else. For two years, he refused to let her move on, and for ten years after that, so did she. She couldn’t do it anymore.

 

It’s the clicking of heels on tile that tells her who is joining her without having to turn around. She doesn’t bother hiding her tears. Anya has seen plenty of them. She’s just about the only person who has seen them, besides Clarke, and Lexa is beyond caring.

 

Somehow knowing before even sitting down, Ayna runs her hand over Lexa’s hair, then down to her back as she sits next to her swimmer. They don’t talk at first. Anya just lets Lexa kick at the water and let loose the occasional sniff. She squeezes Lexa’s thigh at times, looks at her phone at others, just providing the comfort of her presence and the understanding of all that Lexa’s been through.  

 

“Is that it, then?” Anya asks softly after several moments of silence. “Are we done?”

 

Lexa lets out a long, shuttery sigh. She shakes her head and shrugs. When still no words come, she throws up her hands and lets her head fall as the tears return.

 

“Hey, it’s okay. You can take a break, Lex. If that’s what you need. You’re more than just a swimmer, you know that right? I know you love it, but you can be someone else for a bit if that’s what you want.”

 

Lexa looks at her with red eyes. “That’s the thing, An. It was never about swimming. It was never about the sport or the Olympics or the medals. It was about them. It’s always been about them.”

 

“Who, Lex?”

 

“My parents.”

 

“Your--I don’t understand.”

 

Lexa swirls her feet around in the water, trying to find the courage to tell Anya after all this time.

 

“Lex.”

 

“I see them when I swim. The harder I swim, the more clearly I see them. And if I stop…I don’t see them anymore.”

 

Anya sits frozen in silence with the information, overwhelmed by the new glimpse into Lexa’s life. As her agent, she feels irresponsible. As her friend, she feels devastating guilt and sadness.  

 

“Lexa...I. I didn’t know.”

 

“Only a few people do.”


Anya nods, things clicking into place. “Titus?”

 

“Yes. He was the first.”

 

“That’s why he got you riled up before meets?”

 

“Gus knew too.” Lexa can feel Anya tense beside her, but she presses on. “He didn’t think it was healthy, but when he saw how fast it made me…”

 

Lexa--

 

“I know. I shouldn’t have let it go on, I just--”

 

“You should have told me. I could have helped you. I had no idea you were doing this to yourself. I could’ve...we could’ve been doing things differently your entire career.”

 

There’s a lot of things she could have, should have, done differently, Lexa thinks. She could have told Titus to shove it up his ass. She could have told her therapist the truth about flashing back every time she swam hard. She could have been healed, put back together, moved on over a decade ago. She could have worked through her shit, and maybe, just maybe, she could have been there for Clarke. Maybe, she could have been the person Clarke needed.

 

“I wouldn’t have wanted to,” She admits. “ Not at first. I could have addressed it for what it was, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to let them go.”

 

Anya places her hand on Lexa’s thigh and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Maybe it’s time to stop now. Maybe you should stop fighting it.”

 

Lexa looks up at the familiarity of the words. She frowns, trying to place them. “What do you mean?”

 

Anya chews on her lip. Her brow creases and she shakes her head, and it’s almost as if she’s feeling guilty.

 

“Anya…”

 

“We all knew something was wrong, Lex,” Her agent says quietly. “We knew you weren’t happy. But you were winning...so easily, too. You were such a phenom, it was easy to forget you were in pain.”

 

Lexa knows this. She’s always known it. She’s been USA Swimming’s medal machine for years. They used her and she let them because what else did she have going for her? Still, it hurts to hear it put so bluntly. Maybe there’d been a part of her that thought it was all in her head. Maybe there’d been a part of her that wanted to trust in the only semblance of family she’d known since her parents’ death.

 

“Yeah,” Is all she can say. “I know.”

 

Seeing the defeat and the hurt in Lexa’s features, Anya panics. She grabs Lexa’s hand and pulls it towards her. “What can I do, Lexa? How can I help? Just say the word and it’s done.”

 

Lexa pulls her hand away gently, “I think I need to take some time.”

 

“Okay. Okay, what does that mean? What do you need? You want to postpone your press tour? We can pull you from the Euro Prelim, postpone your--”

 

“I don’t want to postpone anything.”

 

“Okay. We can do whatever you want, just--”

 

“I want to cancel it.”

 

“I--you what?”

 

Lexa turns to her and looks her dead in the eyes. “Cancel it. All of it.”

 

Anya is slow to nod, but she does. “Okay. Okay, we can do that. For how long?”

 

“Indefinitely.” Lexa pulls her feet out of the water and stands.

 

“Lexa. Are we…” Anya shakes her head. She lowers her voice, almost in disbelief. “Is this you retiring?”

 

Lexa shrugs. “I don’t know, An.” And she doesn’t. She has no idea what she’s doing. The only thing that she knows is that if she doesn’t stop now, she’ll swim her life into the ground, more so than she already has. “I just need some time. I’ll send you a statement tonight.” She doesn’t say anything more and doesn’t look back when she walks out of the hall.

 


She only has to knock once before Lincoln opens his door. She’d practically jogged from the pool to their hotel, and she’s out of breath from the cold, wet air that’d been hanging over the city for the past week.

 

“Well, hi,” he says, grinning at her pink cheeks and wild eyes.

 

“You meant my parents.”

 

“I--what?”

 

“You told me to stop fighting it. You meant my parents, swimming. All of it. Right?” When he doesn’t answer right away, she backs up and leans against the wall, overwhelmed. “Right?”

 

“I--yeah, Lex. I guess so,” he says, quietly.

 

“How’d you know?”

 

He frowns. “You’re more transparent than you think, kiddo. We could see it. We all could. You were holding onto something huge, and it was making you great, but it was also...torturing you. You were wound so tight as a kid. Like if you let go you might burst apart into tiny pieces and never be put back together.  I wanted to help, I just didn’t know how. I figured, as long as you wanted to swim, as long as you wanted to keep going, I could at least try to be your friend. As best that I could be. But when I saw you after your last swim...I knew you were done. I just didn’t know if you knew it yet. ”

 

Lexa nods, the tears coming back faster than she could stop them. “Linc?”

 

“Yeah, Lex.”

 

“I think...I just retired.”

 

It hits him hard to hear it out of her mouth. It’s both the last and the exact thing he was expecting. He’d almost hoped for it. He wanted Lexa to finally catch her breath. He wanted her to let go. He just never assumed it’d happen so quickly. He swallows his surprise and nods.

 

“How do you feel?”

 

“I…don’t know yet.”

 

“Have you told Gus?”

 

“No. I’m going to call him...soon. I just. There’s something I need to do first.”

 

He nods. He lets her get halfway down the hall before calling out to her. When she turns, he smiles. “She’s at the gallery, by the way. Her show opens tonight.”

 

Lexa stutters. “I--how did you?”

 

He laughs. “Transparent. Remember?”

 


 

 

It feels almost like a wedding with Raven, Octavia and her mother all crammed into Clarke’s tiny bedroom above Maxim’s gallery. Raven has fussed with her hair three different times and her mother can’t stop taking pictures. She might be the only one in the room not crying, and that could very well be because she’s been too busy rolling her eyes.

 

“It’s a gallery opening, jesus. I’m not drying for fuck’s sake.”

 

“She cusses when she’s nervous.”

 

“It’s her first solo show in almost two years, let her be nervous.”

 

“She’s not nervous, she’s just worried about the champagne flutes that there are plenty of. I counted myself.”

 

“Well, I can understand the fear. Maxim is a space cadet from what I’ve gather. Clarke will be--”

 

“Clarke is right here, ” Clarke chimes in, swatting Raven’s hand away. “My hair is fine. I am not nervous, and the champagne flutes are fine. Maxim is an airhead, but he is a very sweet, special airhead and I am eternally grateful for this opportunity he’s giving me. So be nice to him, I mean it. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to put my dress on and--”

 

It’s Bellamy who comes barrelling through the door, shoving his phone in her face. “Have you seen this?”  

 

“Bellamy! What the hell, get out!” Octavia shrieks, pushing on her brother’s back, but he’s steadfast.

 

“Fuck off, O, this is important. Clarke, look.”

 

Clarke sighs and grabs the phone expecting some ridiculous new meme or an article on carnivorous plants. What she reads, instead, makes her heart skip a beat, quite literally. Her hand flies to her chest as she clutches at it in disbelief.

 


 

 

USA Swimming

Anya Green, anyagreen@polissportsmanagement@gmail.com

 

Lexa Woods to go on Indefinite Hiatus from Competitive Swimming

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Paris, France, 03 February 2017 - 3x Olympic Gold Medalist, Lexa Woods, has announced an immediate and indefinite hiatus from competitive swimming with the conclusion of the FINA World Championships in Paris, France. Ms. Woods will not be taking any interviews at this time.

 

As of 2017, Ms. Woods is the most decorated female swimmer in the sport’s history with 10 Olympic Gold medals, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze, as well as 5 FINA World Championship Gold medals. She has been swimming competitively with USA Swimming since the age of eleven when she joined Titus Smith at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  At the age of sixteen, Ms. Woods joined Gustus Phillips and began training at the University of Southern California.

 

Ms. Woods has not stated her reasons for this hiatus, and hopes for privacy and understanding as she steps away from the sport to pursue other interests.

 


 

“I--” she waves off Raven’s attempts at grabbing the phone, distractedly, in shock. “I have to go.”

 

“Hold on there. Clarke?” Its Abby’s turn to crowd her daughter’s space as she places her hand on Clarke’s shoulder and bends down. “What’s wrong, honey?”

 

“I--” Clarke shakes her head. She stands and yanks on her coat. “I have to go,” is all she repeats.