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Quality Ingredients

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She was too young for burnout.  Something different was going on.

Lexa moved slowly around the kitchen.  It was early afternoon and all of the chefs were working on prep.  There were enough of them to handle all of the work.  She was just there to oversee everything.  She set a pot of water on the stove for Indra who she knew was working on sauces.

At just thirty-three years old, Executive Chef Alexandria “The Commander” Woods owned six restaurants.  She had a collection of six Michelin stars across four of her restaurants in the four cities that awarded them.  She had two books out and had appeared in more magazines and television spots than she could recall.  It wasn’t burnout.  If anything, she had finally made it and was coming alive.  She had award winning food in her place in New York.  She set the bar for service standards at her restaurant down in Miami.  She was a household name in San Francisco.  Her spot in LA popped up on most celebrity favorites lists.  Her Las Vegas location was a not-to-be-missed destination on any foodie guide about Sin City. 

The Portland, Maine restaurant wasn’t about any of that. 

Considering it was drastically the smallest city she had put a flag in so far, there was an immense amount of pressure on Houm, her most recent establishment in her hometown of Portland, Maine.  Lexa was very public about it and took all of the press and hype in stride.  After spending two months traveling around Italy to cook and eat and figure out what to do for her sixth location, it finally occurred to her that what she needed was to get back to her roots. 

In the kitchen and on the map.

Authentic Italian cooking had always been her calling.  She spent time in France and she spent time in Spain.  She cooked and ate her way through Japan and China.  Brazil.  Argentina.  Portugal.  Russia. Morocco.  Nothing spoke to her like Italian food.  Right out of culinary school, she made a plan to back pack through Europe and eat and drink and cook and learn, but she never made it out of Italy.  It was too perfect.

“A watched pot never boils, Commander,” Indra sighed.  Lexa shook her head and blinked a few times to clear her daze.  She’d been staring at the pot of water on the stove completely lost in thought.  She forgot to turn the burner on.

“Wise words,” Lexa half smiled at her Head Chef.  Indra half smiled back.

Indra worked under Lexa in her very first restaurant in New York over ten years ago.  They were both from Maine, but didn’t cross paths until they were in culinary school in New York.  Indra was incredibly talented, but she didn’t want to be an executive chef.  She wanted to cook great food and maintain a solid kitchen.  She didn’t have the drive Lexa had to lead the whole staff.  She didn’t have the creativity Lexa had to design a full menu to match a visual dining concept and build a bar menu to pair with it.  She couldn’t get people to blindly follow her like Lexa could.  She didn’t have the money to do the whole thing at twenty-two years old like Lexa did, either.

But she moved on with Lexa to each new place.  Each new city.  Each new kitchen.  They barely even had to speak now they worked so well together.  New York was a given, Lexa had to open her first place there.  Miami was hot at the time and was easy to open up shortly after the instant success in New York. LA was a no brainer and Vegas was an obvious move to add to Lexa’s roster.  San Francisco was a lot of work.  Lexa took years to perfect the plan before opening it. There were a lot of setbacks on that one.  Indra opened each location as Head Chef just below Lexa as Executive. 

Lexa didn’t ask Indra to come to Portland.  It was a small city full of food and it had a good scene to be sure, but in the wake of all of Lexa’s prestige, it didn’t carry the same weight as the other five restaurants.  It was more of a passion project, which the press never let her forget, but she didn’t treat it with any less seriousness of purpose.  She walked Indra through the proposal one night over drinks to get some feedback and ideas and Indra’s first response was ‘when do we leave?’.

Houm was a huge success.  They were two hometown girls returning after a decade of success and the city ate it up.  Lexa’s Authentic Italian training made for top notch cuisine.  She and Indra assembled a team that worked flawlessly together.  Lexa barely even cooked anymore.  She didn’t really do anything.  The place ran itself.  It was that September afternoon while she stared down into the cold pot of water that Lexa realized what the feeling was.

It was time for something new.

“You okay, Commander?”  Indra asked with more sincerity as she chopped herbs to prep a sauce.

“I think it’s time.”  Lexa folded her arms across her chest.  Her pristine white chef’s coat hadn’t had a spill on it in weeks.  She hadn’t had to check Indra’s sauces in months.  Indra was too good.  Everything was predictable and perfect.  They had a solid spectacular rating since the day they opened.  Even the front of house staff was amazing.  She had Food and Wine Magazine coming in a few weeks to do a feature on her and the new place.  Everything was going too smoothly.

It wasn’t burnout at all.  Lexa was bored.

“Is that so?”  Indra set her knife down and folded her arms across her chest to mirror Lexa.

“Yes,” Lexa sighed and turned the burner on.  The familiar clicking of the igniter and hiss of the gas soothed her. “I’m ready to start work on the next place.”

“Thoughts?”  Indra looked Lexa up and down.  It hadn’t gone unnoticed that Lexa was growing distant and a little stale.  Indra was surprised it took her this long to come to the conclusion that it was time for the next thing.

“Just that so far,” Lexa shrugged and reached for the salt. 

"I like it,” Indra nodded in confirmation.  “I’m in.”

“No more girls,” Lexa sighed.  “No girls when I’m working on a new place.”

“I know the rule,” Indra shook her head and held back a grin.  “Not that there will be an issue anyway.  You’ve been going home alone for a while now,” Indra shrugged.  Lexa gaped at her and Indra’s lips gave way to a smirk.

“Maybe this little dry spell was what I needed to push me into deciding it’s time,” Lexa salted the water and gave it a stir.

“If that’s what you need to tell yourself,” Indra chuckled.

“I’m going to take a walk and check in on everyone.  You’ve got your lists?”  Lexa asked.    Indra gave her a knowing smile.  She didn’t need to ask and they both knew it.  She didn’t even really need to be there but she had nothing else to do.  “Let me know if you need anything,” Lexa sighed and started her walk through.  They opened at four on weekdays and spent the days prepping.  They hosted a brunch on Saturdays and Sundays with a break in service before dinner. 

Her schedule didn’t lend itself to a social life.  Indra was the closest friend she had, and she wasn’t even certain they were necessarily friends.  Soldiers who had survived the same war, maybe.  Close and loyal for certain, but she was never really sure if Indra actually liked her.  No one knew her better than Indra, save maybe Anya, her cousin.  Everyone she knew worked for her and kept a healthy barrier of respect up that prevented them from truly becoming friends. 

It made dating difficult and making friends at her age even harder.  She was D list famous in a very small town and everyone knew who she was. They were either fake nice to her because they wanted to get close to the famous part of her, or they were afraid of her and got out of the way.  She knew all of the chefs in town and they knew her, respected her and looked up to her, so going out wasn’t easy either.  She took advantage of her status to get pretty, young women into bed with her, but they didn’t stay the night.  She always called them a cab.

She was just passing time, and suddenly starting to feel it.

“Roan, be careful with that lamb, we don’t have a lot of it and I’m not getting any more in until Tuesday,” Lexa said sternly as she passed behind Roan prepping lamb chops.

“Heard, Chef,” He nodded curtly. 

“Where are you with beef and poultry?” Lexa stood up a little straighter.

“Poultry done, starting beef after this set,” Roan nodded down at his knives and chops.  Lexa flicked her eyes to the clock on the wall dramatically and he followed her gaze.  It was already one.

“Cutting it a little close, aren’t we?” She said sternly.

“It’ll be done, Chef,” Roan sighed.

He had been screwing up a lot lately and she was riding him extra hard.  He was a good chef, he just had a lot to learn.  He was cocky and smirky and hunky and had the hots for Anya and none of it was sitting well with Lexa.  She was on him constantly and he was not doing well under the pressure.

“I’ll be back at two to check your progress.  If I’m not happy, I’ll work alongside you and make sure it gets done,” she warned, turned on her heel and headed for the dining room.

“You’ll be happy, Chef!” he called after her as she walked away.

“Hey Commander!” Lincoln shot her a warm smile from behind the bar.  He was in a t-shirt and dress pants with his suspenders hanging low from his waist.  A pressed white shirt and black bowtie waited on a hanger on one of the high backed bar stools.

“Hi,” she sighed and leaned her elbows on the bar.

“You alright?” Lincoln raised a brow at her.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she waved a hand to dismiss it.  He didn’t look convinced.  “You need anything from me?  Are you all set up here?”  Lexa glanced behind the bar.  He was prepping his garnishes and doing inventory.

“Not a thing, Chef,” Lincoln flashed a pearly white smile at her.  He was so efficient that she didn’t need to even think about him anymore.  She was just looking for something to do.  Lincoln managed the bar staff and inventory and worked with Lexa on the menu.  He rolled his fall cocktails out the week before and they were an instant smash.  The fall menu was perfect.  Everything was perfect and efficient and absolutely fine without her.  Indra communicated with the front of house since she was the leader of the kitchen.  Lexa just sat back and made sure the whole operation was up to her standards.

“Excellent,” Lexa sighed again.

“Are you sure you’re alright, Lexa?” He asked, this time more sincere.  He was one of the few who got away with addressing her by her name.  It was also the cue that he was asking Lexa the woman if she was alright, not Lexa the chef.  Lincoln wasn’t really a friend either, but he was getting pretty close to it.

“Just got a lot on my mind,” Lexa shrugged.  “Nothing bad.”

“Well,” Lincoln dragged the word out as he poured her a glass of soda water with a lemon and a lime and slid it across the bar at her.  “Half-baked therapy is what we bartenders are known for if you need to let it out.”  He dramatically dropped a straw and a cherry into her drink and grinned at her.  She cracked a smile at him.  “There she is.”

“Thanks,” Lexa tipped the glass at him and walked back through the bustling kitchen to her office.

                *****           

Across town, Dr. Clarke Griffin stood on the top floor of Ark Memorial Hospital staring out the window.  She could see most of downtown Portland from there and out over the water.  There were two cruise ships docked.  Canadians pouring in for fall foliage.  It was a little too early.  Just the tips of the trees were starting to turn yellow.  The autumn sky had arrived with all of its perfectly blue glory.

“Dr. Griffin?” She jumped.  She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there.

“Yeah?” She turned around to find two of her interns, Monroe and Miller, standing patiently behind her. 

“The Chief wants to see you,” Miller smiled at her.  She sighed, stole one last glance out the window and strolled to the elevator.  Monroe and Miller fell in behind her.  She glanced at her watch.  Only a few more hours to go.  She’d been at the hospital for three days now and was looking forward to leaving her shift.  It had been so slow, which was a good thing, in a way, but it gave her too much time to think.

“Big plans?” Miller asked after a few moments of silence between them. 

“Me?” Clarke glanced at him.

“You keep checking your watch,” he nodded at her wrist.  “Got a hot date?” He gave her a goofy grin.

“Not even kind of,” Clarke chuckled.  Miller had no idea how loaded a question it was.  Clarke had been keeping to herself for far too long.  Her most recent ex burned her badly.  She threw herself into work to forget about him and realized a few weeks ago that it had been over a year since he made her look like a colossal fool.  She hadn’t even thought about dating since.  There was the visiting orthopedic surgeon from DC that Clarke fell into a purely physical routine with last Christmas.  She was older, she was established and she was really good in bed.  Clarke spent a few forgettable nights with a blonde banker she met at the bar.  The woman was as boring in bed as her conversations about finance.  Other than that, she worked overtime, slept a lot and passed time with her girlfriends.

“Too bad,” Miller shrugged with a playful smirk.

“Just tired.  Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.  Been a long shift,” She sighed and stretched her neck just thinking of the crappy few hours of almost-sleep she’d gotten in the on call room that morning.  The doors opened with a soft ding and the three of them poured into the busy first floor of the hospital.  Miller and Monroe turned left towards the nurse’s station and Clarke turned right towards the chief’s office.  She nodded hello to a few doctors and nurses as she made the long walk.  His door was open when she got there.  He was sitting behind a large solid wood desk with his glasses on doing paperwork.

“Dr. Griffin!  Just who I wanted to see!”  Ark Memorial’s Chief of Surgery, Dr. Thelonious Jaha, had a stoic smile, broad shoulders and a voice for politics.

“Chief,” Clarke nodded at him and dropped with familiarity into one of the chairs across from him.

“How are you doing today, Dr. Griffin?” His smile was too wide.  He wanted something. 

“Just fine, Chief,” Clarke sat up a little straighter.  She had a feeling she knew what it was.

“I’m not sure if you heard, but Dr. Jackson’s grandmother passed away this morning and he had to catch a flight out of town,” Jaha began slowly.

“I knew she was sick, but I didn’t know she passed.  I’m sorry to hear that,” Clarke’s eyebrows knit together.  Dr. Jackson was one of her mentors and one of the best trauma surgeons they had.  She’d been working under him for three years hoping to take that title from him eventually.  “He told me about it, but I didn’t realize she was so bad.”

“Apparently she had a rapid decline.  He called about an hour ago saying he was getting on the next flight.  Unfortunately, he was going to be covering the ER when you left today.  I have Wells coming in tomorrow, but I’m going to need you to stay on until he can get in here,” Jaha said firmly.  It didn’t go unnoticed that he was telling her, not asking her.  He had a knack for that.

“Sir, I’ve been on fifty-five hours straight already,” Clarke tried to keep her voice calm.

“I know.  I’d appreciate it if you tried to get some sleep today.  I’m more concerned about tonight,” Jaha gave her a curt smile.

“Alright,” Clarke sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to change his mind.  “Is there anything else?” She asked as she lifted herself out of her chair.

“No thank you, Dr. Griffin,” Jaha gave her a closed lip smile.  “You’ve got permission to use one of your interns overtime to stay the evening to help you out.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Clarke muttered and strolled out of his office. 

Rather than head straight for a nap, she breezed through the café and got herself a cup of tea before heading back up to the top floor to her window.  She liked watching the little city go by.  It was so different from San Francisco where she grew up.  Everything was so colorful.  The blues of the water and the sky still took her breath away after six years.  She let out another sigh and pulled her cellphone out of the pocket of her lab coat.

“Yeah?” Octavia, one of her best friends and roommates shouted into the phone.  Clarke could hear the telltale sounds of the kitchen in the background.  The loud of hum of grills and appliances.  Dishes clinking. 

“Hey, O, It’s me,” Clarke said loudly into the phone.

“Whaddup, Girl?” Octavia asked, balancing the phone on her shoulder as she used two spatulas to pull a sloppy Rueben off the grill and slice it in half. 

“Did we have plans tonight?”  Clarke winced, ashamed she couldn’t remember.

“Nah,” Octavia replied cooly.  She slipped the Rueben onto a plate and spun around to the fryers to pull up a basket of onion rings.  “Raven’s getting back from Seattle, I’m working.  Figured you two assholes would just sit here and drink.”  Octavia plated the onion rings and slapped her hand down on a bell above the line.  “Harper!  Order up!”

“Alright, great.  Turns out I have to stay on an extra day, so I won’t be home until tomorrow night,” Clarke grumbled.

“What the fuck!  I’m starting to forget what you look like!”  Clarke could hear Octavia’s smile through the phone.

“I know, I know.  Duty calls,” Clarke yawned and sipped her tea.

“Alright, Doc,” Octavia shouted over the noise.  “It’s lunchtime, so I gotta go.”

"I’ll see you tomorrow!”  Clarke replied.  “Tell Raven I’m sorry but I’ll catch up with her tomorrow night.”

"You bet.  Take it easy!” Octavia hung up.  Clark dropped her phone back into her pocket and chuckled at her friend’s antics.

Octavia was the owner of Blake’s Bar on the east end at the bottom of Munjoy Hill.  It was a complete dive, but the food was amazing.  Octavia could really cook.  She kept a small staff and the food had a cult following in town.  The bar wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but in Portland, Maine, even the seedier neighborhoods weren’t really that bad.  Octavia, Raven and Clarke lived in the apartment above the bar and got a steal on it through the landlord who had an impossible time getting anyone to rent the space above the party pub. 

Clarke worked insane hours and was only home a few days a week.  When she was, she was dead to the world and slept through anything going on at the bar when she wasn’t downstairs partaking in the fun.  Raven traveled a lot.  She was a software engineer for a tech company that made digital security systems.  They were based out of Seattle, but let Raven work wherever she wanted.  She had to show up for meetings and product rollouts every few weeks.  She was awake for days at a time, and the noise of the bar never bothered her.  Octavia ate, slept and breathed the restaurant, so living above it gave her constant access to it. 

They all went to undergrad in Boston together.  Octavia dropped out after the first semester claiming that it wasn’t for her and she didn’t fit in and moved back home to Portland.  Raven and Clarke stayed friends with her and visited often given Portland’s proximity.  When it came time for Clarke to go to med school, she ended up in Maine.  Raven had no family ties and no geographical ties to her job, so she went too and they got the group back together.  Octavia opened Blake’s shortly after and the three moved in.  They’d been there for eight years now.

Clarke took one last long look at the view.  She liked watching the red and yellow ferry boats making their journeys to and from the Casco Bay Islands.  There was a sailing regatta going on.  Probably kids.  She knew they did that on Saturdays.  There were two great big freight ships down by the train station.  She took a last swig of her tea before tossing the paper cup and heading for the on call room to crash.

“Good night, Dr. Griffin!” Miller called after her with a grin.  “Better rest up for that date!”

“It’s with you, sucker!  You’re in the ER with me tonight!”  She made a goofy face at him before letting the door fall shut. 

*****

“Hey, Kid,” Anya’s voice came through the phone.  Lexa sat in her office chair with her eyes closed.

“You’re not that much older than me,” Lexa snapped with rehearsed intonation. 

“Just enough,” Anya said back with the same sense of practice.  “How are you doing?  I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I’m alright,” Lexa shrugged.

“Yeah?  That’s very convincing.  What’s going on?”  Anya deadpanned.

“Your new boyfriend Roan is working my last nerve,” Lexa muttered.  She reached a hand up to massage the headache brewing in her forehead at just the thought of him.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Anya snapped.  She sounded exactly like she did when they were teenagers.

“He’s trying to be,” Lexa snapped back.

“So what if he is?” Anya smirked.  Lexa could hear it in her voice.

“You’ll be out of luck if I kill him before he gets the chance,” Lexa rolled her eyes.  Anya laughed.

“When’s your next day off?  Aden’s dying to see you and I wouldn’t hate a look at your face either,” Anya asked with a much warmer note in her voice.

“Monday,” Lexa sighed.

“Alright.  Monday it is.  Come over for dinner.  I’ll cook,” Anya replied.

“Sounds good,” Lexa reached for a pen and jotted it on her desk calendar.  “Shoot me a text that day and let me know what I can bring.”

“Jesus, just yourself!  Would you relax for five seconds?”  Anya huffed.

“You know I don’t know how to do that,” Lexa let out a little smile.

“Yeah, it’s annoying,” Anya laughed.  “Take care of yourself.  I’ll talk to you, Lex.  See you Monday.”

“Thanks, you too,” Lexa smiled genuinely as she hung up.

She and Anya had been raised like sisters even though they were actually cousins.  Their fathers were brothers.  Lexa’s parents both worked constantly.  Her father was the CEO of a finance company he built from the bottom up.  Her mother was the fourth generation owner of one of Maine’s largest and oldest paper manufacturing companies.  They were always traveling, always in meetings and although very loving, mostly absent. 

She spent a lot of her childhood at Anya’s.  They were both only children.  Most people that met them assumed they were sisters.  No one rode Lexa harder than Anya.  No one called her on her bullshit and no one pushed her to be great the way Anya did.  On the reverse, no one took care of Anya or watched out for Anya or protected Anya quite like Lexa. 

They were tough teenagers.  They were only two years apart with just one school grade between them and they raised hell on the small town.  Lexa grew up with a lot of money and used it to have a lot of fun.  She was impossible to control.  From a very young age, she was forced to be independent.  Her parents were always away for work and she refused to let their beachfront property go to waste, no matter the season.  They were party animals and known for it, but when they were eighteen and twenty, the party came to a screeching halt.

Anya got pregnant.  She wasn’t sure who the father was, and all three of the possible choices fled the second they found out.  She kept the baby and her son Aden, now sixteen, became her whole world.  Lexa was in the delivery room holding Anya’s hand when she missed the call from her father’s assistant about the accident.  Her nephew came into her life the same day her parents left it.

She had been a very serious person ever since.

Saturday night dinner service was in full swing and all of the staff was hustling in the kitchen.  Indra kept strict rules about no talking unless absolutely necessary.  Lexa sauntered up to Indra at the grill where she was turning a few steaks.

“How’s it going?” Lexa asked.

“Everything is perfect as usual, Chef,” Indra replied calmly.  Lexa shot a glance over at Roan as he plated salads.

“How’s this asshole doing tonight?”  Lexa asked quietly.  Indra cracked a smile.

“He’s alright,” Indra shrugged.  “I’m not in love with the way he trimmed this meat, but I’m making do.”  Lexa didn’t reply, just marched straight up to Roan.

“It’s my understanding that Indra doesn’t like the proteins you worked today,” Lexa said sternly.

“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” Roan didn’t look at her.  He kept his eyes on the salads he was plating.

“Did you ask her to check them before you cut them all?”  Lexa asked, leaning into his space more.

“No, Chef,” He sighed and lifted his plates into the window.

“Do you want to let me know why that is?”  Lexa asked, her voice even but firm.

“I did them the way you showed me, Chef.  I didn’t think I needed to bother her with that this afternoon,” Roan replied, his eyes still on the food.  Lexa grabbed him by the front of his white jacket.  He turned to face her, startled.

“Apparently not,” She growled at him.  “So we have a Saturday dinner service in progress with a bunch of shitty proteins that you can thank your lucky stars Indra is talented enough to work with.  The doors of this building have my name on them, not yours.  When a shitty plate hits the table, it has my name on it, not yours.  So you’re going to do things my way, and not yours.”  She tightened her grip on the fistful of chef’s coat.  She wasn’t yelling.  She was calm and direct and it was somehow so much worse.  “So put down that knife and get your ass out of the way.  I’m going to take over your station for the evening and you’re going to be my bitch until I decide I’m ready to have you back on this line, do you understand me?”

“Yes, Chef,” Roan nodded nervously.  He moved to set his chef’s knife on the counter, but missed and it toppled to the floor.  The clatter sounded louder than it should have in the tense kitchen.  Lexa huffed and rolled her eyes.

“First order of business, get over to dish and wash that knife and bring me a stack of cold plates from the fridge.  You’re getting low and these have been out too long,” Lexa gestured to the plates at the salad station.  Roan just stared at her.  “Do you need me to fucking say it again?”  She snapped.

“No, Chef.  Sorry, Commander!” He jumped out of her way.

“Sorry doesn’t get me those plates any faster!” Lexa called over her shoulder and slid calmly into his station.  She rolled up the sleeves of her jacket and ignored the satisfied and terrified looks coming off of the rest of the staff.  She plated the salads with ease and checked her inventory of ingredients. 

“Roan!” She shouted without turning away from the plates she worked on.  “I’m going to need more goat cheese when you get a second!”

“Sure thing, Chef.  Here are your plates and the knife you asked for!” Roan hurried up behind her with a stack of plates in both hands and a chef’s knife wedged in one hand sticking out haphazzardly.  Lexa turned around to ask him for something else and the knife caught her across the forearm.

“Shit!” She yelped.  Lexa jumped back and glared at him.  A hot line of blood immediately appeared against her skin.  They both looked down at it and then at each other.  She glared daggers at him.  He froze.  Indra looked up from the grill across the kitchen.

“You cool over there, Commander?” Indra leaned back to see what was going on.  Lexa never had outbursts like that.  She sounded startled and hurt.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!” Lexa cried.  She grabbed a towel from the counter and pressed it over her bleeding arm.  “Why the fuck would you carry a knife like that?  Where was my warning?  Behind me, sharp, maybe?!  Are you fucking new, asshole?  Is this your first fucking day?!” Lexa shouted.  There was already blood seeping through the towel.

“I’m sorry, Chef,” Roan stuttered.

“Chef,” Indra warned from down the line.  No one was sure if she was trying to calm Lexa down or suggest Roan handle his business.

“Get out,” Lexa nodded towards the back door.  He was still frozen where he stood. 

“That’s an order, chef!” Indra called calmly from the grill.  All of the cooks tried to appear busy, but they were all sneaking glances out the corners of their eyes.  Lexa hadn’t lost it on someone in ages.  Roan looked for something to say, but couldn’t find it.  “Emori!  You’re on salads!  Commander, you okay?” Indra gave Lexa a stern look.

“I’m fine!” Lexa snapped over her shoulder and stormed to her office.  She let the door fall closed behind her and dropped into her desk chair. 

With the sounds of the kitchen muffled, she yanked open a drawer and pulled out a first aid kit.  She’d cut and burned herself a million times.  It came with the territory.  She had skipped stiches more than once, but after careful examination and deliberation, this one looked like she was going to need quit a few of them.  She wrapped it up as best she could, grabbed a clean towel to be safe and stomped out of the office.

“Indra!” Lexa called down the line.  All heads turned up to her.  “I’m going to get some stitches.  House is yours until I get back.”

“Heard, Chef.  Good luck,” Indra nodded.  “Heads down, everyone!  Focus!  No talking!” Indra barked.  Lexa kicked the back door open and walked right past Roan who was complaining into his cell phone out back by the dumpsters.  She climbed into her car and awkwardly made the short drive across town to the hospital with one hand.

Chapter Text

“Is it twisted to feel a little let down that it’s a slow night?”  Miller flicked his eyes up at Clarke.  He sat at a desk at the nurse station in the ER and Clarke stood beside him as she sipped from her coffee.

“It’s still early,” Clarke shrugged and stifled a yawn.

"You sleep okay?”  He asked her.  She had her glasses on and her hair was a little messier than usual.  She still looked tired.  She had fresh scrubs on and was on her second cup of coffee but all of the standing around wasn’t doing much to perk her up.

“Took me a little while to get there, but yes, I did get a few good hours, thanks,” Clarke replied and took another sip of her coffee.  “And it’s not twisted.  You’re going to struggle with that your whole career.”  She still did.  There was nothing quite like the feeling of saving someone’s life even when she did it every day, but there was truly nothing like the feeling of NOT saving someone’s life.  Clarke worked in trauma, so it happened a lot more than if she were in another field.  She got the surprise surgeries from car accidents.  She got the rare but still too regular gunshot wounds.  She got the hunting accidents and the motorcycle accidents and the boating accidents.  She got the people who made mistakes.  She didn’t have carefully planned tendon surgeries or meticulously calculated tumor removals. 

She saved a lot of lives, but she lost a lot of them too.  She had to step back and remind herself that a slow night was a good thing.  No one was suffering.

“Hi, Dr. Griffin, Dr. Miller,” Maya, one of the nurses approached the two of them carrying three charts.  “We have a laceration of the forearm in bed one, looks like stitches.  She’s a thirty-three year old female.  We have a very obvious broken arm in bed two, seventeen year old male.  Haven’t gotten him to x-ray yet, but I don’t need to see the films to know that thing is a mess.  Also chest pains and fever on a fifty-four year old male in bed three.”

“So much for a slow night,” Miller chuckled.

“What do you want?” Clarke asked him.

“Definitely not stitches.  That’s boring,” Miller scoffed.

“She didn’t say how many stitches or what caused it,” Clarke raised a brow at him.  “Could be really juicy.  Literally and figuratively.  Who knows?  She might need that whole arm cut off.”

“Damnit,” Miller sighed.  Clarke caught him again.  He was always so eager and she was so calm and patient.  It came with her years of experience and the field she was specializing in.  He liked being around her, and even though her constant calm always knocked him down a few pegs, he admired it and wanted to work with her as much as possible.

“You get chest pains in three, I’ll take a look at stitches and tell her to hold tight while I get broken arm down to X-ray.  Sounds good?”  Clarke asked.

“What if chest pains is just gas?” Miller whined. 

“You wanna roll that dice?  Could be something really good,” Clarke taunted.  “Unless you want the stitches.  Although, we haven’t gotten a whole lot of details on broken arm.  Maybe that’s the good one.”

“Fine.  Give me chest pains.  But if he’s just full of one big fart, I’m finishing broken arm,” Miller muttered and grabbed his chart from Maya.  “You take stitches.  It’s been a while since you were alone in a room with a thirty-three year old female.” Miller wagged his brows at her.

“Deal,” Clarke laughed and took the charts from Maya and ignored Miller’s dig.  “Maya, I’m going to need to arrange for x-rays, can you call down and get that started for me and get a team up here to wheel him out?”  Clarke set her coffee down and pointed at Maya.

“Absolutely, Dr. Griffin,” Maya nodded.  She liked being around Dr. Griffin, too.  Clarke put the interns and nurses at ease and ran a very calm ship.  It was what made Jackson pick her out of her pack of interns to work with him in the first place.  She was a leader in her group.  People listened to her.  That was important in a crisis.  And as soon as the crisis was over, she was silly and funny and sweet again.  Patients loved her.

“Perfect,” Clarke called over her shoulder as she pulled open the curtain on bay two.  She turned to the patient and paused.  She was in a white chef’s uniform with ‘Lexa’ embroidered on the chest in forest green, she looked a little familiar and she was sporting the most gorgeous scowl.  “Hi, I’m Dr. Griffin,” Clarke smiled.  She noticed the beautiful scowl soften when she did.  “And you are,” Clarke trailed off and shuffled to the correct chart.  “Alexandria, correct?”

“Lexa is just fine,” Lexa sighed.

“Nice to meet you, Lexa,” Clarke held a hand out to shake.  Lexa gently reached out with her good hand and took it.  Her scowl completely faded and she almost smiled at the doctor’s warm touch.

“So what happened?  I hear we’ve got a pretty good cut on your arm?”  Clarke set her charts down, snapped on a pair of gloves and reached for Lexa’s wrapped forearm.  She carefully peeled back the towel Lexa had pressed to it to find a blood soaked bandage. 

“I have an idiot who works for me who wasn’t paying attention,” Lexa grumbled.   “It was a kitchen knife, but it was fresh from dish so it was sterile.”

“That’s no good about the idiot, but great news that it was a clean knife,” Clarke let out a little laugh at Lexa’s blunt response.  Lexa felt herself relax at the delightful sound of it.  “I’m going to take a look at this real quick to make sure we don’t have something royally bad going on.  I have to jump next door and meet a young man with something broken and get him set up with some x-rays, then I’ll be back to do whatever we need to do here, is that cool with you?”  Clarke asked candidly and pointed to Lexa’s wound.  Maybe it was her patient’s piercing green eyes or maybe it was her utter lack of sleep, but Clarke felt instantly at ease with the calm, attractive chef.  “I’m assuming by how put together you are that there is not something royally bad going on and we should be able to take care of this in no time for you.”

“Works for me,” Lexa sighed.  “I figure my night is already ruined, so take you time.”

“Ruined?” Clarke joked.  “What’s more fun than hanging out with a bunch of doctors on a Saturday night?”  She pulled back Lexa’s bandage.  Lexa winced.  She didn’t want to admit that it was pretty painful.  “Oh yeah!” Clarke nodded and shot Lexa a goofy smile.  “This is a good one!”

“What?” Lexa gasped.

“We’re going to have to stitch this one up for you.  You’ll need quite a few, but I’m a pro and I’ll do what I can so you’ll have minimal scarring,” Clarke shuffled through a set of drawers and grabbed a swab.  “I’m going to clean this up a bit and hit you with some Novocain.  I’ll take care of my broken friend while that sinks in and be back to close you up in a minute.  Any allergies to Novocain?  I didn’t see anything on your chart.”

“Nope,” Lexa shook her head.

“Great.  Hold still for me,” Clarke took great care in cleaning Lexa’s wound.  She was gentle and so precise while still being quick.  Lexa watched the doctor’s hands.  As a practiced chef, she could appreciate someone with good hands, even through the blue latex

“You have very good hands,” Lexa blurted out.  She winced once she realized she had said it out loud.  It had been way too long since she last got laid and this beautiful doctor was doing a number on her.

“Is that so?” Clarke smirked at her.  She could see Lexa’s cheeks turning pink.  “I’m actually a surgeon,” Clarke paused and filled her syringe.  “Hold still, this is going to hurt a little,” Clarke took a hold of Lexa’s arm and shot her a reassuring smile when she hissed in a sharp breath of pain at the surprise of the injection.  “Normally I’m in the OR, but we had a staffing shortage, so I’m the ER Doc tonight.  These are highly trained hands, so thank you for noticing.”

“Sure thing,” Lexa tried to smile.  The discomfort of her wound was being eclipsed by Dr. Griffin’s warm smile and feminine shoulders.

“Alright.  Hold this with your other hand on top for me for a few minutes and I’ll be right back to take care of that,” Clarke put a pad of gauze into Lexa’s good hand and guided her to place it with pressure over the cut.  Lexa couldn’t help but keep her eye on the highly trained hands as they touched hers.

“Thanks,” Lexa tried to push out another smile.

“Ten minutes or less.  I promise,” Clarke grinned and stepped out of Lexa’s bay.  “Good evening, Matthew!  I’m Dr. Griffin.” Lexa could hear Clarke talking in the next bay over.  She huffed out another sigh and wiggled her fingers.  Her arm was already starting to feel numb.  She heard the doctor let out a laugh in the next bay and caught herself smiling at the sound of it.  Clarke talked animatedly and her voice mixed with an excited teenaged boy who let out the occasional yelp of pain as she examined him.  He laughed at Clarke’s jokes and the whole thing made Lexa feel calm.  Maybe it was the pain killers.  Or maybe it was the Doctor’s blue eyes that matched her scrubs so perfectly.

“How’d I do?  Did you time me?”  Clarke glanced at her watch as she opened Lexa’s curtain again.  Lexa let out a small chuckle.  Clarke mouthed ‘one second’ to Lexa and held up a finger.  “Bryan!  Be careful with him!  This man just led his people to victory!” Clarke barked.  The boy being wheeled out for x-rays was in a full football uniform, muddy cleats and all.  He held up a thumbs up to Clarke.  “Alright.  How are we doing?  Is that thing numb yet?”  Clarke pointed at Lexa’s arm.

“Seems that way,” Lexa shrugged.

“Let’s have a look,” Clarke pulled up a stool and sat very close to Lexa.  Close enough that Lexa could lean over and smell her curly blond hair if she wanted to.  And she wanted to.  “So where do you work?”  Clarke asked politely.  It made Lexa pause.  Most people knew who she was.  She had been enjoying Clarke’s confidence and goofy demeanor.  Normally people in town treated her differently.  They were nervous and stiff and fake.

“I’m the executive chef at Houm,” Lexa replied, waiting for it to sink in for Clarke.

“That place is absolutely freaking delicious,” Clarke dropped her professionalism for a brief moment.  “Like, out of this world delicious.  There’s this one thing there, oh what the hell is it called?  Everything on the menu is in Italian.  I can never remember the names of anything,” Clarke trailed off.  She readied her needle.

“What’s in it?” Lexa asked.

“All kinds of stuff, it’s awesome.  There’s like these shaved Brussel sprouts and I think prosciutto and then the sauce is made with like eggs or something?  And the garlic is so good, it’s messed up.  Is there chicken in it maybe?  Or do I add chicken when I get it?  I can’t remember,” Clarke laughed. 

“I know what you’re after,” Lexa chuckled as well.  “The carbonara.  It’s on the winter menu.”

“Can you feel this?” Clarke poked Lexa near her cut.

“No,” Lexa replied.

“Great.  Hold still and look somewhere else if this kind of thing skeeves you out,” Clarke started on Lexa’s stitches.  Lexa focused on Clarke’s jawline and the two little wrinkles that formed between her eyebrows when she squinted through her glasses at her work.  “What else is in it?  What am I missing?”  Clarke puzzled as she stitched.

“Caramelized shallots,” Lexa replied without missing a beat. 

“Yes!” Clarke cried triumphantly.  “I love those.”

“The mix of seasonings in the sauce is not what you’d expect,” Lexa added on.

“What is it?” Clarke asked.  She paused to peek up at Lexa over the rims of her glasses.  It made Lexa swallow hard.

“That’s classified,” Lexa replied, her throat suddenly dry.  Normally a good looking woman made her feel confident, but this hot doctor had her clammed up like a teenaged boy.

“Oh, I see,” Clarke chuckled.  It made Lexa sink further back into her bed.

“We have that on the New York Menu and the Vegas menu, too,” Lexa said offhand as she tried to think of anything besides what color her doctor’s underwear must be.

“Oh my god, you’re Lexa Woods,” Clarke paused in her stitches as she did the math.  Lexa sighed.  Now it was going to change.  She was enjoying the casual flirt they were having while she got her wound closed up, and now Dr. Griffin was going to be weird about it.

“Guilty,” Lexa smirked.

“I read it on your chart, but your full name threw me off.  It’s been a long shift.  I apologize, I didn’t put that together,” Clarke turned her eyes back to her stitches and squinted to focus.

“No apology necessary,” Lexa smiled at her.

“So you’ve got the one here, New York, Vegas, where else are your places?”  Clarke asked.  She wanted to keep Lexa talking.  She liked the sound of her voice.  She liked when she smiled and since they started talking about food, she hadn’t stopped.

“I also have Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco,” Lexa replied, relieved that the tone of Clarke’s voice and the curve of her back didn’t change at all when she realized who was sitting in her emergency room.

“What the hell are you doing up here when you have all those beautiful places you could be living in?”  Clarke yelped.

“Portland is my home,” Lexa softened.  “No place is more beautiful than this place.”

“I’ll give you that,” Clarke nodded her head but didn’t look up from what she was doing. 

“How long is your shift?” Lexa asked to keep the conversation going.  She wanted to hear Clarke talk.  She wanted to ask her anything and everything.  She wanted to know more about her.  She wanted to hear her laugh again.

“Long,” Clarke let out a soft laugh.  “Longer than usual.  I’ll be here until tomorrow night.”

“And I thought chef’s hours were tough,” Lexa rolled her eyes.

“It’s not always like this.  We’re a man down right now,” Clarke tied off Lexa’s stitches.  “There we go.  Seventeen stitches for you, my friend.  Told you it was a good one.  Because of where that is on your arm, I need you to take it easy for a few days, maybe a week anyway,” Clarke talked as she wrapped bandages around Lexa’s arm with a skilled and practiced grace.  “I don’t want you using that arm much or you’ll probably bust a few.  It will be painful, unpleasant, and also gross.  Keep it covered and wrapped and I’m going to send you home with something you can put on it to help it heal.  Are you going to need a note for work for your boss?”  Clarke asked, her speech sounded rehearsed as she snapped her latex gloves off and rolled her stool to the desk to make notes on Lexa’s chart.

“I’m the boss, so no thank you,” Lexa chuckled

“That’s right,” Clarke shook her head and sarcastically rolled her eyes.  “Sorry.  Long shift,” She mumbled again and made a few more notes.  “We’ll need you back in two weeks to have a look and take those out.  I would prefer you didn’t drive yourself home since one of your arms is mostly numb.  Is there someone you can call?”  Clarke asked.  Lexa paused when she realized that the answer was no.

“I can walk, actually.  I live in the West End,” Lexa pointed over her shoulder with her thumb towards her end of the city.

“Are you sure?  Are you feeling well enough for that?”  Clarke asked with genuine concern in her eyes.  It made Lexa’s stomach drop.

“Yeah, of course,” Lexa smiled at her.  “This is just a scratch.”

“Alright,” Clarke sighed and smiled back.  “Maya will be in to check you out in just a moment.  She’ll help you plan your follow up.  Go easy on that.  I mean it,” Clarke pointed at Lexa’s bandages.

“I will, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa smiled at her.

“Have a nice night!”  Clarke smiled back and disappeared behind the curtain leaving Lexa alone with her growing thoughts about what Clarke might look like with her glasses off and her hair down and Lexa’s navy blue sheets behind her.

*****

“She’s not gonna fire you, man.  She’s just pissed,” Lincoln clapped Roan on the shoulder as they walked down the street after Lincoln closed up the bar.  “To be fair, you cut her fucking arm off.”

“I didn’t cut her fucking arm off, you dick!  Who told you that?” Roan gave him a shove.  Lincoln laughed and tripped a step to the side.

“I’m just breaking your balls, dude.  Don’t worry about it.  Just make sure you do everything she says and be cool.  She’ll take care of you.  She appreciates respect and honor, you know that.  The fact that you’re trying to screw Anya is probably not helping your case,” Lincoln shrugged.

“If she has such a hot, cool, single cousin, maybe The Commander shouldn’t be introducing her to any hot, cool, single men,” Roan muttered.  “Where the hell are we going, man?” Roan looked around.  They were walking up hill and Roan wanted to know how far up the steep sidewalk of Munjoy he was going to have to go.

“One of my regulars, the food blogger guy, that dude with the famous Instagram about Portland food, told me about this bar over here that has unreal food, but it’s kind of a dive and you’d never know it was any good,” Lincoln pointed up the hill to a lit up brick building with a cheesy, old school neon sign.  “It’s called Blake’s Bar and it’s supposedly one of Portland’s best kept secrets.”  Lincoln was a local and loved discovering every corner of his little city.  He got tips from his bar guests all the time on places to try out. 

“Interesting,” Roan trailed off as he followed Lincoln through the door.  Nothing about it screamed food blog.

It was eleven o’clock on a Saturday night and the place was packed.  It was a little dirty in a charismatic way.  The décor looked like it was from the seventies without an update since.  There were booths along one wall and a long, battered bar top with red pleather bar stools.  There were two pool tables, some outdated televisions, and an eclectic array of customer made artwork and miscellaneous junk littered the walls.  It smelled like good food and spilled beer.  A handful of twenty-somethings were playing darts and cheering loudly.  Classic rock poured from old speakers.  A fit, blond bartender was slinging pints and pitchers.  Tacky string lights in various shapes, hot peppers, mugs of beer, Patriots and Bruins logos and flamingos added to the poor lighting.

“Come on, man.  You can’t judge a book by its cover,” Lincoln waved him over to where two people were leaving the bar.  “Or it’s ambiance.”  There was a chalkboard behind the bar titled “menu”.  It just said ‘Saturday: Rueben, Burger, Wings, Nachos, Surprise Appetizer, Greek Situation, Fried Shrimp, Tots, Salad’ in loopy, feminine handwriting.

“Quite the menu,” Roan rolled his eyes.

“Hi Gentlemen!  Something to drink?” The bartender asked.  She and Lincoln went over the extensive draft selection together.  He liked her spunk as they argued over which local brews were better. Lincoln liked a clean brew, she liked some of the trendier stuff.  They finally agreed on a pair of Rising Tides that she deemed acceptable.

“So, tell me more about this menu,” Lincoln pointed to the board.  The bartender gave him a sympathetic smile.

“You’ve never been here before, have you?”  She smirked.

“How obvious is it?” Lincoln grinned at her.

“Since you’re being so nice about it, I’ll do you the same favor, but this is going to be the last time,” the bartender warned.  “Unless you’ve got a food allergy, Octavia doesn’t like people asking too much about the menu.  She doesn’t want to give away her secrets.”

“And if we do have food allergies?” Roan asked slyly before sipping his beer.

“Then you’re either lying or you’re in the wrong place,” the bartender replied dryly.

“So no details, no descriptions, no precautions, we just pick one and roll with what comes out?” Lincoln pointed to the menu again.

“That’s the gist of it.  For what it’s worth, no one is ever disappointed,” she shrugged.

“In that case, get me the Reuben, get him the burger and we’ll split the surprise appetizer,” Lincoln grinned.  He liked this place already.  It was so foreign to the environment they worked in.  At Houm, every grain of salt was meticulously accounted for.  The descriptions of the meals on the menu were multiple sentences long and in more than one language.  The wine list was literally a bound book.  He loved the prestige and art to working in fine dining, but there was something exciting about this place already.

“How do you know I don’t want the Greek Situation?” Roan snorted.

“That sounds like a second visit gamble,” Lincoln replied quietly as the bartender leaned into the kitchen and shouted the order.

“One Rueben, one burger, one surprise, all three for two fresh sailors, corner pocket!” She shouted over her shoulder to the kitchen.

“And you think ordering something that literally has the word surprise in it is a good idea?”  Roan eyed him.

“I got you a burger, too.  That sounds safe.”  Lincoln shrugged.  They passed the time commenting on the drawings pinned to the wall behind the bar.  Lincoln, ever charming, got everyone around him to tell him what their favorite thing on the menu was, and in doing so uncovered some of the ingredients for future visits.  He got a dozen different answers of favorite dishes and none of them were on the menu board that night.

“Okay, where are my brave new travelers?” Octavia burst out of the kitchen carrying a plate.  She wore a tight black t shirt with rolled up sleeves and dirty jeans with her hair tucked back under a bandana.  She had a red apron slung carelessly low on her hips with multiple stains on it.  Lincoln glanced up at her and met her gaze.  They both paused.

“Two boys on the corner,” Harper said and nodded at Lincoln and Roan as she counted money with both hands.

“Gentlemen,” Octavia set the plate down between them with six fried balls on it.  “I hear you’re the brave souls who’ve never been here that ordered the surprise.”

“That would be me,” Lincoln grinned at her.  “So, is this the appetizer and you’re the surprise?” He pointed at the plate, then at her.

“Brave, cute and naughty, huh?”  She winked at him.  “Usually I don’t do this, but since you’ve been up everyone’s asses in this room about what they like to eat here, I thought I’d tell you what you’ve got in front of you just this one time,” Octavia gestured at the plate again.  “My special jalapeno poppers.  Peppers marinated in a secret sauce, hope you like spicy.  Ground pork blend inside with my special cheese mix and a few other things I had lying around.  Bacon wrapper is holding in the grilled onions and the entire thing is dipped in tempura batter and deep fried.  I’m not telling you what’s in the dust on top, but I can tell you it’s spicy, salty and sweet.  There’s a house dipping sauce if you think you need it to cool it down.  That’s a matter of preference.”

“You’re kidding me, right?  All of that is in each one of these?”  Lincoln picked up one of the golden brown fried delights and eyed it suspiciously.

“See for yourself, Handsome,” Octavia shrugged.  Lincoln dove in and took a big bite.  He struggled at first, but started to chew and pinched his eyes shut.  An involuntary groan escaped. 

“Holy shit,” he sighed once he swallowed.  “I have to know all of these secrets.”

“Maybe someday,” Octavia sighed sarcastically.  “I’m Octavia Blake.  This is my place.”  She reached a hand across the bar.  “You’ve passed the test and you get to come back.”  Lincoln reached for her hand and they shook.

“Lincoln.  This is Roan.  We work at Houm and heard your place was not to be missed,” Lincoln replied.  Octavia shook both of their hands.

“Couple of fancy boys, huh?”  She flashed them a smile.  “Chef Lexa’s a genius.  I’ve eaten at Houm and Polis in New York, Trikru in San Fran and Nightblood in Vegas.  I’m a fan of the food, but I’ve heard she’s not easy to work for.”

“You heard right,” Roan grumbled.  Lincoln glared at him.

“She’s tough, but it’s for all the right reasons,” Lincoln covered for his friend.

“I’ll take your word for it.” Octavia pointed over her shoulder.  “I’ll be back.  I need to go add the secrets to your Reuben.”  She spun around and hurried out back to the kitchen.  Lincoln sat up a little straighter to get a good luck at her backside as she walked away.

“It’s a good thing the food’s so fucking good, cause I can tell you’re going to be dragging me back here for that all the time,” Roan nodded his head after Octavia.  Lincoln covered up his smile with a swig of his beer.

“You’re not wrong about that,” He laughed and took another big bite of his appetizer.

*****

“Oh man, Chef!  You don’t even know!  The flavors!  It was like getting punched in the face, but like in the best way!”  Lincoln gushed.  He followed Lexa around the kitchen the next day at work.  They were in the lull between brunch and dinner and Lexa puttered around the kitchen gathering ingredients.  Lincoln was all cleaned up out front and had nothing to do until four. His bowtie was untied and hung around his neck with his top few buttons undone.  He brought her a drink as an excuse to come out back and chat with her.  He couldn’t stop telling Lexa about every bite of food he had at Blake’s the night before.

“You mentioned that,” Lexa muttered.  She dumped her armload of ingredients on the counter and winced at the pain in her arm.

“Should you be doing that?” Lincoln pointed at her bandage.  “Let me help you.  What else do you need?”

“I’m fine.  Tell me more about the appetizer,” Lexa waved him off and started slicing prosciutto.

“Marinated jalapeno stuffed with pork and cheese and something sweet, I think it was sweet potato maybe, possibly carrots?  Surrounded in bacon and grilled onions and then tempura fried.  She had this dust on top, looked like sugar but tasted spicy and salty and sweet all at the same time I don’t know how she does it, Chef, it was fucking crazy!” Lincoln talked with his hands.  It made Lexa laugh.

“And she doesn’t keep a regular menu?” Lexa sliced shallots next.

“I guess not.  She just cooks what she wants that day and you can like it or not,” Lincoln shrugged.  “It seems so dirty and wrong but so right at the same time.  You’ve got to come with us next time.  They’ve got a full bar and twenty beers on tap and pool and darts and the place is full of people.”

“Sounds fun,” Lexa shrugged as she peeled a clove of garlic.  She meant it.  It sounded like the complete antithesis of her place.  She couldn’t imagine the stress of flying by the seat of her pants every day when she got to work, but the idea of being at the table in a place like that sounded adventurous.  It had been a while since she had any fun.

“It was so fun!  Roan and I went last night.  We’re gonna see if Indra wants to come tonight.  I heard a rumor there might be pulled pork on the menu and I gotta know about that!” Lincoln cried.

“I’ll see if I’m up for it.  I’m off tomorrow so I might duck out early if you’re all here,” Lexa replied, then chopped her Brussel sprouts.

“Alright, that’s fair.  But I’m definitely taking you there soon!” He pointed hard at her before making his way back to the bar.  Indra came up quietly behind Lexa.

“I haven’t seen that boy so excited in a long time,” She nodded her head in the direction Lincoln skipped off to.  “What’s got him all wound up?”

“He found a new restaurant that has him really jazzed.  He’s going to ask you to join him tonight, by the way,” Lexa chuckled.  She moved on to chop herbs.

“What are you doing, Commander?” Indra asked after a long pause.  She wore a hesitant expression as she took in the calculated prep Lexa was doing.  “Certainly you’re not pulling out elaborate reconstructions of the winter menu just to make yourself lunch.”

“Ah, no,” Lexa bit the insides of her cheeks so she wouldn’t grin.  She’d been thinking about Dr. Griffin all day.  The smiles they shared, the way she made her laugh and the way she touched her hands.  It nagged at her that the pretty doctor was going to be at work another whole day.  Lexa hadn’t felt the urge to cook something in weeks that wasn’t ordered by a guest.  That afternoon, she found herself collecting ingredients to make Dr. Griffin’s favorite dish before she realized what she was doing.  “The doctor that took care of me last night is a fan of ours.  I’m bringing her the dish she likes on my way home as a thank you,” Lexa tried to keep her back to Indra so she wouldn’t see how red her cheeks were.

“You’re joking,” Indrea deadpanned.

“Is there something wrong with that?”  Lexa asked indignantly.  She stood up a little straighter to try and match Indra’s strong posture.

“I thought you said no girls,” Indra squinted at her.

“I’m not trying to sleep with her!”  Lexa huffed.  “She did a great job.  She treated me like just another human being and not ‘Chef Lexa’ and she was really nice to me!”

“Blonde?  Light eyes?  Nice rack and an ass to match?” Indra asked flatly.

“Are you spying on me?!” Lexa gasped.

“Lucky guess, Commander.  You have a type,” Indra gave in and reached into a nearby fridge for the pasta she knew Lexa would need to complete the dish.

“I told you, it’s not about that.  There was something different about her and I really appreciated it.  I just want to do something nice and say thank you,” Lexa snapped.  “People say thanks with food all the time.  It’s a thing.”

“Baking cookies for a neighbor who lets you borrow their snow blower is a lot different than hand delivering a meal from a four-star restaurant when you’re an award winning celebrity chef,” Indra snorted.

“So just because I’m some big deal I can’t say thank you with food anymore?” Lexa sighed.  “That doesn’t make any sense.  I’m bringing her this carbonara as a thank you and that’s final.”

“Okay,” Indra sighed.  She knew when to drop it with Lexa. 

“And I’m not going to sleep with her,” Lexa added firmly.

“Alright,” Indra replied, her voice a little higher and full of apprehension.

“I’m not!” Lexa snapped.

“I said okay!”  Indra laughed. 

*****

“Dr. Griffin?” Fox, one of the newer nurses stopped Clarke in the hallway.

“I swear to god, Fox, if this is not a life or death situation, I will make it one for you!” Clarke called over her shoulder at the nurse trailing behind her.

She was exhausted.  After stitching up Lexa at seven at night and setting the broken arm around nine pm, Chest pains turned out to be emergency double bypass surgery that she had to scrub in on because they were down experienced surgeons.  She came out of that around five in the morning and was yanked immediately into an emergency C-section.  A healthy baby boy was born and mom was closed up by nine am.  Just as her head hit the pillow in the on call room, her pager went off to bring her into a really ugly compound shin fracture.  She scrubbed in to help put the plates into that guy’s leg, and now it was five pm and Wells Jaha was late. 

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Fox stuttered.  She skipped a step to keep up with Clarke’s determined march to an empty bed to close her eyes until Wells arrived.  He was in New York training with a highly acclaimed neuro surgeon and was due back at Ark Memorial that afternoon.  “There’s a Lexa Woods at reception in the ER asking for you?” Clarke’s running shoes squeaked on the tile as she screeched to a halt.

“What?” Clarke spun around and Fox almost crashed into her.  That cut wasn’t bad at all.  There was no way she was back in for complications.

“I told her you might be in surgery and she said not to bother you and that it’s not that important, but I heard you were done with the plate installation, so I came to find you.  I wasn’t sure if this was the kind of thing you’d want to miss?”  Fox winced.  “Do you know her?  Is she a friend of yours?  No one told me what to do.”

“She’s in reception in the ER?”  Clarke repeated, ignoring Fox’s questions.  “Is she okay?”

“She seems fine.  She’s not here for medical attention.  She said she has something for you,” Fox shrugged uncomfortably. 

Clarke shook her head, pulled her glasses off and hooked them in the neck of her scrubs.  She rubbed her eyes and switched directions toward the elevator.  What the hell could Lexa Woods possibly have for her?  She was anxious and nervous at all of the unknowns, but mostly trying to figure out why she was smiling at the thought of the elevator doors opening and the good looking chef standing on the other side.  She hadn’t had a spare moment to process their mild flirtation and how fun it was to be a little silly with someone who seemed to be into it, even if she was stitching her skin closed at the time.

“I really am sorry, Dr. Griffin.  I know you’re exhausted.  I got another message that Wells will be here by ten pm the latest,” Fox added on.

“TEN?!” Clarke cried as the doors opened with a soft ding.  A few people looked her way, startled.

“I’m sorry!” Fox yelped.  “His train was delayed.  He’s getting in from New York and coming straight here.”

“It’s not your fault, I’m sorry for yelling,” Clarke sighed.  She glanced around the waiting room and spotted Lexa sitting patiently with a white shopping bag with Houm’s logo on it on her lap.  She had her checkered chef’s pants on with a leather jacket in place of her bright white chef coat.  Clarke felt the smile from before tugging on her lips again.  Lexa jumped to her feet when Clarke approached.

“Dr. Griffin, hi,” Lexa smiled awkwardly.  It was adorable and made Clarke pause and push all of her frustrated and tired feelings to the side.

“Chef Woods.  To what do I owe the pleasure?  You didn’t bust those things open, did you?”  Clarke pointed at Lexa’s arm.  “I warned you.”

“What?” Lexa asked, confused.  She was started by Clarke’s bright blue eyes.  The doctor wasn’t wearing her glasses from the night before and Lexa wasn’t quite prepared for how blue her eyes really were.  “Oh, no, my stitches are fine.”

“That’s good to hear,” Clarke smiled softly.  “I got a message that you brought me something?”

“Right, yes,” Lexa sheepishly handed the bag by the handles to Clarke.  “I wanted to thank you for a job well done.” 

“You really didn’t need to do that!” Clarke laughed nervously. 

“Yeah, but I wanted to.  It’s the carbonara.  The dish from the winter menu that you said you liked.  I made it for you,” Lexa tried to stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth.  She felt like such a geek and was second guessing every ounce of this questionable food gift.  Maybe Indra was right.  Clarke peered down into the bag and then snapped her head back up at Lexa when she told her what was in it.

“You made this for me?  And you brought it here yourself?”  Clarke gaped.  Her mouth hung open at the kindness of the gesture. 

“Well, yeah,” Lexa shrugged and tried to smile nonchalantly. “You said you were going to be here until later tonight.  I thought you might like some dinner.” 

“You’re absolutely right about that,” Clarke rolled her eyes.  “Do you have a few minutes?  I’m out of surgery for the day, god willing.  I’m just about to find a place to sit outside and eat this before crashing.  Do you want to join me?” Clarke nodded hear head towards the doors to the outside.  Lexa panicked internally, the words ‘no more girls’ blasting loud and clear through her mind.

“I could stay for a few minutes,” she shrugged, pushing her own warnings away.

Chapter Text

“Now, I’m not complaining because this is really incredible,” Clarke began with her mouth full.  “But you really didn’t have to do this.”  She and Lexa sat on a bench in the grassy park next to the hospital up on the Western Promenade while Clarke ate her gifted dinner.  The sun was setting and there was a cool breeze blowing through the trees.  The yellow Autumn sunlight on the water made Clarke squint.  A small handful of fallen brown leaves skittered through the streets and collected in piles by the curb.

 “I know I didn’t have to,” Lexa shrugged.  She liked watching Clarke eat.  The way she held her plastic fork with those skilled fingers and used such care with creating each bite made her knees a little weak.  She could feel her brand new attraction to this girl taking over.  “I wanted to.”

“If this is what I get for a few stitches, then I’m owed a life time supply of cake for everything else I’ve done since I saw you last,” Clarke rolled her eyes.

“What happened?” Lexa asked.  She didn’t care that Clarke was eating and talking.  Normally someone talking with their mouth full made her want to scream.  Lexa cursed herself for thinking it was cute when the doctor did it. 

“I set a broken arm, no big deal.  Scrubbed in on an emergency double bypass surgery to help out, helped deliver a baby and assisted in putting a plate in a man’s leg,” Clarke replied as calmly as if she were relaying her afternoon of running errands.

“So you fixed an arm, saved a life, brought a new life into the world and put someone’s leg back together since last night?”  Lexa gaped.

“All in time for dinner,” Clarke chuckled and shoveled another big bite into her mouth.  She was starving and the dish was too perfect to slow down.

“That’s amazing,” Lexa blurted out.  She let the reality of it sink in.  Clarke was telling jokes and being sweet while she gave Lexa a few stitches because she was capable of such amazing things.  Patching Lexa up was nothing.

“It’s not a big deal,” Clarke shrugged and scraped some of the sauce from the corner of the take out container.  She didn’t care that she was going to have garlic breath.  It was too good to let a single drop get left behind.

“I think the guy with the newly working heart might say otherwise,” Lexa smirked.

“Yeah, maybe he thinks it’s a pretty big deal,” Clarke laughed and shook her head.  Her smile reached all the way to her eyes. She caught Lexa’s gaze and neither of them said anything. They were both amazed at their instant comfort with each other.  Clarke was perfectly social, but she hardly ever interacted with people she didn’t already know unless she was about to cut them open.  Something about Lexa made her feel good. 

Clarke’s pager went off and startled both of them.  Lexa looked away and scratched the back of her neck.  Clarke let out a huge sigh and glanced at the message on her pager.

“You’ve gotta be friggin’ kidding me,” She muttered.

“Is everything okay?” Lexa asked, a note of worry in her voice.

“Here we go again,” Clarke gave Lexa a closed lip smile.  “Time to go help save someone’s life again.”

“I should be going anyway,” Lexa pointed awkwardly over her shoulder towards the street.  She didn’t know what to say to that.  She didn’t make life saving decisions for people.  She just made them dinner.

“I’m sorry,” Clarke gathered her empty take out box and stood up. 

“No need for apologies,” Lexa smiled.  “Go get to that life that needs saving.” She waved Clarke towards the hospital doors.  Clarke glanced down with a shy smile.  “Come in for dinner sometime soon.  I’m not there on Mondays.  Almost any other night I am, though,” Lexa added on.  She hadn’t planned for it.  Honestly she hadn’t planned on seeing the foxy surgeon again after the surprise dinner delivery, but the invitation fell out anyway.  “If you come in, ask for me.  That way I can come out and say hi.  Maybe chip away at Broken Leg’s cake tab.  My pastry chef is very good.”  Lexa smirked.

“I’d like that,” Clarke replied and willed herself not to blush.  She slid her glasses back on in an effort to hide it.

“I’ll see you around, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa half smiled and waved.  She walked backwards a few steps and tucked her hands into the pocket of her jacket then turned and headed towards her car.  Clarke watched her go before making her way back to the hospital.  She cocked her head to the side when Lexa pulled out her keys and hit the button on the tag.  The tail lights on a new Range Rover parked a few cars down flickered in response.  Apparently being a hot, young chef had its financial advantages.

Not wanting to be caught staring when Lexa inevitably looked in her rearview, Clarke made a hasty retreat back to the hospital.  She couldn’t believe she was going into one more surgery.  The page was for the ER, so she was thankful she wasn’t far away.

“Dr. Griffin, thank god!” Fox exhaled a sigh of relief.  The ER was a buzz.  All of the nurses looked on edge.

“What’s going on?”  Clarke plastered on her fake smile to help ease their worried minds. 

“The chief is in OR two.  He needs you right away!” Fox replied, falling into step beside Clarke who was already on the move to scrub.

“What do we have?”  Clarke asked calmly, pulling off her lab coat as she walked.  She handed it to Fox without question and hurried to a sink.  She looked up through the observation window and paused briefly.  A young man, maybe in his twenties, lay on the table with a three foot two-by-four protruding from his gut.  “Jesus Christ,” she muttered, swallowed the instant of shock and tied on her cap and mask.

“Construction site accident,” Fox read from the chart in her hands.  Her voice was breathy.  She was still so green that some of the more gruesome situations made her a little light headed.

“I can see that,” Clarke nodded slowly as she scrubbed her hands and arms.

“The chief is in there.  He was on site and we hoped not to call you in, but this is clearly…” Fox trailed off.

“No worries, Fox,” Clarke replied, her reassuring sense of calm washed over them both.  “I completely understand.”  Clarke smiled at her.  Even with her face covered, Fox could see the smile in Clarke’s eyes.

“Thanks, Dr. Griffin,” Fox exhaled deeply.  Clarke finished her scrub and entered the OR.

“Sorry I’m late,” Clarke made her way to the table.  A few interns got out of her way, all relieved she was there.

“Welcome, Dr. Griffin,” Chief Jaha replied.  He had a knack for being even calmer and more even keeled than she was sometimes.  “No need for apologies.”

“What’s the plan, Chief?” Clarke looked him in the eye across the patient.  The upright two-by-four between them caused her to learn to the side to make eye contact.

"From what we can tell from the scans, this is through the stomach, possibly his kidney and a whole lot of the small intestines.  There’s going to be a lot of bleeding to watch for when we pull this out.  I want you to extract and I’ll start on clotting, I’ll have you assist once the two-by-four is clear, you got it?” Jaha maintained his lock on her eyes.

“You want me to pull it out?” She confirmed.

“Yes,” Jaha replied.  “Straight up.  Do not move it side to side, don’t hesitate, just one quick pull, Dr. Griffin.  Straight up.  There’s already a lot of bleeding, but when you pull that out, we’re going to have a whole lot more.”

“Got it,” Clarke nodded.  “Tell me when you’re ready.”

It was chaotic.  Her movement was perfect and precise, but as soon as she removed the plank, his monitors flew into fits of alarms.  Jaha moved quickly to stop the bleeding, asking frantically for tools and supplies.  Clarke handed the two-by-four off to another doctor and got herself ready to assist.

“Blood pressure’s dropping rapidly,” One of the interns warned.  “Too rapidly!”

 “We need more blood!” Jaha called over his shoulder to another doctor.

“Watch that kidney,” Clarke nodded towards Jaha as she took the clamps and gauze from the nurse beside her.

“I see it,” he muttered. 

“Where do you want me?” Clarke waited for him to give her instruction.

“Intestine, lower left in front of you, start there,” Jaha didn’t look up.  She went to work immediately.  The nurse beside her handed her everything with rapid grace.

“Sir, that Kidney,” Clarke warned again.  He was working on the stomach.

“I said I see it, Dr. Griffin,” Jaha got out through gritted teeth.

“Heart rate’s falling!  If we don’t get that bleeding stopped, he’s going to crash!” the intern cried.

“Chief, I really think that kidney needs some-“

“Clarke!” He snapped.  “I said I’ve got it!”  Jaha barked at her.  She paused, frozen in shock with her hands holding the man’s intestines together.

He never addressed her by her first name in front of interns and nurses and everyone else in an operating room like that.  It was disrespectful and unprofessional.  They had a deal between them to keep their personal relationship out of the Hospital.  He seldom used her first name at all.

“Sir,” she replied with sassy emphasis on the term of authority.  “I’m sorry.”

 Thelonious Jaha and Abby Griffin went to med school together.  They did their internships in Seattle together.  They were residents in Chicago together.  He was a general surgeon.  She specialized in trauma.   They were longtime colleagues and friends.  When he arrived at Ark Memorial the first year of Clarke’s residency as chief of surgery, she couldn’t deny that she had known him and his son, a prominent neurosurgeon, her whole life.  She had already emerged as the intern to watch in her group and worried his arrival would ruin what she had built for herself at AMH.

It made her work even harder.  She didn’t want any of her peers thinking she was handed anything she didn’t deserve.  She kept her distance from Jaha and his son and kept their relationship as professional as possible.  It worked, and she was doing very well.  Most of the staff forgot there was anything besides a long, professional relationship between Clarke and the chief.

“Once I have the stomach under control, I’ll take care of the kidney you’re so concerned about,” Jaha eyed Clarke.  She held the wound in the intestines closed with one hand and grabbed a fistful of gauze with her other to apply pressure to the kidney.  She smiled up at him.

“I’ll wait,” She shrugged.  It made him soften and realize he had crossed the line with her.  It didn’t happen often, but when it did, he always felt terrible and she avoided him for days.  Clarke took his silent apology and moved her hands off of the kidney so he could start his work.  Blood flowed at an alarming rate when her gauze pad came off.

“Get a crash cart on stand by!” Clarke called over her shoulder.

“BP is way down!” One of the interns cried.  Frantic beeps from the monitor filled the room.

“He’s crashing!” A second called out.  Without warning, the frantic beeping lead to the dreaded flat line tone.

“Get me a defib ready, charge to 120!” Clarke grabbed the paddles with her bloody hands.  “Clear!” she called.  Jaha pulled his hands back and she shocked the patient in his chest.  Nothing happened.  “Charge!” Clarke barked again.  Jaha trained his eyes on the monitors.  “Clear!” Clarke shocked the patient again.  It took four more tries before she got a heartbeat.  “Alright!”  Clarke cried out triumphantly.  The room collectively exhaled.  She set the paddles aside and dove back into his opened abdomen with Jaha.

“Good work, Dr. Griffin,” Jaha sighed and closed up the wound on the kidney.

“Thank you, Sir,” Clarke replied with a content sigh.  They worked quietly for a long time as they closed wounds and slowed bleeding. 

“I spoke to your mother yesterday,” Jaha began after a long lull.

“Did you?” Clarke said emotionlessly as she removed another sponge.

“She asked after you,” Jaha trailed off.

“With all due respect, sir,” Clarke paused and dropped the last of her sponges and gauze in a pan.  “Spit it out.”

“I’m just curious as to why your mother calls me to find out how you’re doing,” Jaha tried to soften his tone.  He didn’t want to come off aggressive.  Sometimes he had a hard time remembering that Clark was thirty-one and not twelve.  He’d know her since she was born and he had a hard time remembering she was an adult.

“I was just wondering the same thing,” Clarke said curtly.  “Since she doesn’t call me to find out how I’m doing.”  The rest of the OR fell silent.  They all knew that Clarke and Jaha had a complicated relationship and they always tried to give them a wide berth whenever it showed itself in public.  Clarke never used it to her advantage, and they all respected her for it.  Out of solidarity, most of them were on her side, but they’d never utter a word of it.

“Clarke, come on,” he tried again.

“Chief Jaha,” Clarke cut him off and put a strong emphasis on his title.  “I think this is hardly the time or the place.”  She tied off the last of her sutures.  “Do you need me to close him up or do you want to do it?”  Clarke’s voice was cold.

“I’ll take care of it, Dr. Griffin,” Jaha sighed, feeling defeated.  He glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’m sure Wells is just about here if he’s not here already.  Why don’t you call it a night.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Clarke nodded at him before heading out of the OR.  She angrily stripped out of her gloves and mask.  She stuffed them into the trash and moved to the sink to wash up. 

She was furious. 

Clarke built her own reputation at Ark Memorial.  She was ahead of her peer group of interns from the start and earned her place in trauma on her own.  She had the same smarts and the same fight as Abby.  Her mother had risen all the way to chief of surgery of her hostpital.  She’d been in her position as chief for almost ten years now.  She was still in San Francisco where Clarke grew up.  San Francisco, which Clarke hadn’t visited in over six years.  San Francisco where her dad died.

She was twelve. 

Clarke was Jake Griffin’s whole world.  Abby was the breadwinner and was always working.  Jake worked a day job, never felt insecure about his wife’s professional superiority, and poured everything into taking care of his wife and his daughter.  He coached Clarke’s soccer team when she was ten.  He always took the day off to chaperone field trips.  He did the cooking and the cleaning and the laundry since Abby spent so much time at the hospital.  He was the fun dad, and her friends raved about his pancake breakfasts at sleepovers.

He showed her how to draw.  He was really good at it.  They went for drives to see the seals on the coast.  They went hiking together.  He had a great singing voice and made up songs about whatever she and her mother were doing.  He was the sweetest, warmest, happiest man on earth and always claimed that Clarke was the reason.

They were coming home from the movies.  He took her to see the latest animated feature that she tried to claim she was too old for, but he really wanted to see it and claimed she was taking him to the movies and not the other way around.  One second they were laughing and singing songs from the Disney flick they’d just watched, and the next there was so much noise.  Confusion and then the ground was where the sky should be.  Her hair was full of glass.  Her dad was crumpled and bleeding beside her.  She reached towards him, reached for his hand.  They pulled her out of the car first.  As they loaded her into the ambulance, she watched them easing him out of the car.  They closed the doors and drove away.

Clarke was mostly fine.  Bruised with a few cuts.  She broke her ankle, but it was a very clean break and healed perfectly.  Her heart, however, was still healing to the day.  Maybe it never really would. 

Dr. Kane, her mother’s good friend and trusted colleague was there when Clarke and Jake were brought in.  Abby was there, too, but was removed from duty immediately.  She sat with Clarke, both of them broken and numb while they waited to hear the news.

Clarke would never forget the look on Dr. Kane’s face.  It was a tragic, deep sadness when he came out of the OR.  Her mother crumbled.  Clarke felt like she should fall apart, too, but it didn’t come right away.  It didn’t feel real.  Watching Kane comfort her mother in his arms, Clarke decided she wanted to do what they did.  She wanted to be a surgeon.  She wanted to save everyone else’s dad.

She changed quickly and didn’t speak to anyone as she left the hospital and headed for the garage.  She hadn’t done an eighty-hour shift in a while and she hoped she wouldn’t have to do one again any time soon.  She couldn’t wait to get into bed.  Or maybe she wanted to eat more than sleep.  Or maybe eat in bed.

Jaha’s dig about her mother ate away at her on the drive home.  She did some quick math recalling that she had talked to her mother around the fourth of July.  She remembered because they were comparing notes on similar firework related injuries they both had to deal with.  Jesus, it was coming up on October.  Had it really been that long?

After Jake died, Abby threw herself into work more than ever.  Clarke had no choice but to become pretty independent as a young kid.  Without Jake there to keep everything light and wonderful, it dawned on both Abby and Clarke that they hardly ever spent any time alone together.  They didn’t have jokes and routines like she had with her dad.  They didn’t have special secrets and memories.  The uncomfortable silence drove between them like a wedge and it had been pushing them apart ever since.  Sometimes she hated Jaha for taking the job at Ark Memorial.  Seeing him all the time reminded her of her mother.

Clarke pulled into the driveway behind Blake’s and parked.  She sat quietly in the car for a few minutes to calm down before facing her friends.  She shook off the shit with Jaha, shook the tension out of her shoulders from the intense surgery she just completed.  Sometimes it took a while for the adrenaline to wear off for Clarke to really feel the stress she physically carried.  Seeing Raven’s car in her usual spot made her spirits lift.  She shook off the last of her discomfort so it wouldn’t show through to her friends.  After locking the car, she strolled into Blake’s.

“Hey!  There she is!” Octavia cried out. 

“Griffin!”  Raven shouted.  Raven sat at the bar with a beer and a plate of half eaten food.  Octavia was on the other side of the bar working when Clarke stumbled in around eleven that evening.

“Food.  Beer.  Lots of beer.  Lots of food,” Clarke murmured and fell into Raven’s open arms.

“Come here, Girl,” Raven squeezed Clarke close to her chest.  “I haven’t seen you in weeks!”  It was amazing considering they lived together how long Clarke and Raven sometimes went without seeing one another.  Between Clarke’s marathon shifts and Raven’s travel schedule and all-nighters, they passed like ships in the night for a month at a time sometimes.  Unlike her absent phone calls home to her mother, it made her heart ache when she hadn’t seen Raven in a few weeks.

Raven and Octavia kept her sane.  The three of them held a nice system of checks and balances for each other.  Clarke was the responsible one, Raven was the smart one and Octavia was so real you had to brace yourself for her opinion if you wanted to stay in a suspension of disbelief about something.  All three of them were extremely hard workers, fiercely loyal friends, and had formed a strange little family since all of their actual families were mostly absent.

“I missed you.”  Clarke’s voice was muffled by the front of Raven’s hoodie.  Raven kept her locked in a tight, squashed embrace. 

“I missed you, too!” Raven gave Clarke an exaggerated kiss on the top of her head before helping her right herself and settle in on the stool beside her.

“Save any lives?” Octavia asked as she set a pint of beer down for Clarke.  She always asked.  Octavia glanced out the corner of her eye at a Red Sox game on one of the TVs while she waited for Clarke to answer.

"I saved two lives, actually.  And helped a new life enter the world.  And then put a bunch of patches on some other people,” Clarke paused to take a huge swig of the beer.  “And I think I got hit on.”  Both girls perked right up.

“Oh yeah?” Octavia smirked.  “Do tell.”

“You guys know Lexa Woods, that chef, right?” Clarke pulled Raven’s half eaten food in front of herself and started picking at the French fries.

“Do we know Lexa Woods,” Octavia scoffed and waved a hand at Clarke.

“No way,” Raven gave Clarke a little shove in the shoulder.  “Lexa Woods hit on you?”

“She was in the ER last night.  Wait, was it last night?  What day is it?  I’ve been awake for too damn long,” Clarke paused and looked away in thought as she tried to count the days.

“It’s Sunday night,” Octavia replied pointing around the quiet bar. 

“Right.  It was last night.  She came in needing stitches and I was on, so I took care of it and we talked and had a lovely rapport but I didn’t think it was anything more than just polite professional flirting,” Clarke shrugged.

“Should you be flirting with your patients?” Raven raised a brow.

“If they’re as hot as Chef Woods, she should,” Octavia smirked. 

“She flirted with me first,” Clarke shrugged.   “I think?” She added on as an afterthought.

“I fuckin’ love her.  I’ve eaten at more than half of her places around the country.  She makes good shit and she’s a hottie, too.  No bullshit, no nonsense, but in the empowering way, not the shitty way.  It’s kind of her thing.”

 “How do you know that?” Clarke shot Octavia a quizzical look over the top of her beer glass.

“I know things about food, Clarke.  I watch the food network.  I read blogs and magazines.  I keep up to date.  It’s my craft.  She’s a local and she’s kind of famous.  If you got out of that damn hospital once in a while, you’d know that, too,” Octavia laughed.

“She did look surprised when I didn’t recognize her at first,” Clarke said thoughtfully.

“Oh my god,” Octavia muttered and rubbed a hand over her eyes.

“But I was telling her about that dish I really like over there at Houm, you know the one,” Clarke pointed at Octavia. 

“I do.  You’ve been asking me to make it for you for over a year and every time I tell you I don’t do that kind of fancy cooking,” Octavia scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to Harper to take out back to the kitchen to get Clarke’s dinner started. She didn’t ask Clarke what she wanted.  She could tell by Clarke’s tried, red eyes that she didn’t have it in her to make a decision and that she’d eat whatever showed up.  “I respect the hell out of it for sure, but I can’t do that.  If I made it for you, you’d get mad that it wasn’t the same.”

“Anyway,” Clarke brushed Octavia off.  “We talked about it.  We talked about her restaurants.  I don’t know.  We talked a lot, actually,” Clarke added on.

“Get to the part where she hit on you, unless this weak shit is it,” Raven scoffed.  Clarke laughed.

“I know I’m lame, but I’m not that lame,” Clarke’s laughter died down.  “Today at like four or five, she showed up at the hospital and she made the dish for me and brought it over to say thank you.”  Neither of the girls said anything for a few beats.

“She’s in love with you,” Octavia finally said flatly.

“She is not!  Don’t be ridiculous!” Clarke swatted at Octavia and took another sip of her beer.

“Clarke.  Food is her language.  It’s how she expresses herself.  That chef wants you,” Octavia said, this time much more seriously.  “Badly,” she tacked on as an afterthought.

“I think she was just being nice,” Clarke gave Octavia the side eye.

“I think she was just being smooth,” Octavia raised a brow at Clarke.  “And I think it worked.”

“Nothing worked! What are you talking about?” Clarke snapped.

“You’re blushing and grinning,” Raven replied and slid her plate back in front of herself.  “You like her.”

“I don’t like her!  I don’t even know her,” Clarke grumbled and covered up her involuntary grin with another sip of her drink.

“Yet,” Raven elbowed Clarke in the ribs and gave her a suggestive look.

“It’s not like you know how to get in touch with her anyway,” Octavia shrugged.

“She invited me to Houm for dinner and said she’s there every day but Monday,” Clarke muttered.  “She told me to ask for her.”

“She wants you!” Octavia cried, a huge grin on her face.  She slapped the bar top for emphasis.

“Ladies, apologies for interrupting,” Murphy said sarcastically as he set a plate down in front of Clarke.  “Avocado BLT for you, Griffin.”

“Thanks, Murph,” Clarke nodded at Octavia’s cook and shoved a French fry into her mouth.  He gave her a sassy grin before ducking out back to the kitchen.  She found him off putting when Octavia first hired him, but over the last two years, Clarke had really come to like the sarcastic cook.  He fit in well.  “But anyway,” Clarke carried on.  “It’s the most excitement I’ve seen in a while, so I’m going to just enjoy it.”  She handed Octavia her empty beer glass for a refill.

“Listen, I’m all about that,” Raven nodded in confirmation.  “You’re way overdue for happiness.”

“I agree,” Octavia set the full beer down.

“Glad to hear you two think I’m miserable,” Clarke sighed.

“You’re not miserable!” Raven snapped.  “But you do really need to get laid.”

“Alright, enough about all this,” Clarke held her hands up.  “How was Seattle?”  Raven bust into stories about her recent trip to the home office and Clarke half listened to them all with Octavia’s words about Lexa wanting her rattling around in the back of her mind.

*****

“It’s really not a big deal, Anya.  It’s just a few stitches,” Lexa waved Anya off.  She hung her jacket up by the door and cursed herself for wearing short sleeves that showed her new bandages to dinner at Anya’s house.  Her cousin shot off into Mom Mode at the slightest thing.

“I still don’t like that,” Anya snapped as she took the bottle of wine Lexa was carrying out of her hands and headed for the kitchen.  “Aden!  Lexa’s here!” Anya shouted over her shoulder.  Lexa followed behind her and smiled at the sound of Aden running from upstairs.

“Lexa!  Hi!” He cried and gave her a big hug. 

For a teenaged boy, he was remarkably well adjusted and self-aware.  He and Lexa had always been close.  Anya joked in passing that Lexa was the strong male presence in his life.  Lexa was good at sports and fixing things.  She accompanied Anya when she made large purchases like her house and her car because she knew how to talk that talk.  She had a motorcycle and nice cars.  She always brought good presents and asked him real questions about his feelings, hobbies and interests.  Lexa took Aden skiing and bought him his first bike.  She was always dating very good looking women and had a lot of sound advice on the topic that he had more and more questions about lately.

Lexa treated him like an equal much earlier in his life than she should have.  Whenever Anya gave her a hard time about it, all Lexa had to do was remind her of the kind of kids they were and Anya instantly softened.  Aden was a little nerdy.  He liked art and music and books.  He was close with his mom and he wasn’t ashamed of it.  He had a tight circle of nice friends.  He was a good kid and he made average grades in school.  Anya had done a really great job with him.

“Hey, bud!” Lexa messed up his shaggy light hair.

“Careful!  Lexa has stitches in her arm!” Anya warned without even turning around.

“Badass!” Aden whispered to Lexa so his mom wouldn’t hear him.  “What’d you do?”

“Some numb nuts that works for me accidentally got me with a chef’s knife,” Lexa scowled.

“Did you kill him?” Aden was thrilled with it. 

“I thought about it, but your mom likes him, so I spared him,” Lexa whispered back.  “This time!”

“Aden, go wash your hands!  Lex, get in here and stop ruining my son!” Anya shouted from the kitchen.  Lexa heard the pop of the cork on the bottle of wine.  She laughed and draped her arm around his shoulders as they headed for the kitchen.  Anya had the table set and ready.  She pulled a pan of chicken out of the oven and set it on the stove top.  She had a big fresh salad at the ready and a few side dishes.

“So, junior year.  How’s that going?” Lexa asked Aden as they all settled in for dinner.  She helped Anya get everyone’s plates loaded up.

“It’s alright,” he shrugged.

“Does he have any of our teachers?” Lexa turned to Anya.

“Too many of them,” Anya rolled her eyes.  “My parent teacher conferences are going to be unpleasant.”

“Not for this little gem,” Lexa smirked at him.  “They probably don’t believe he’s yours.”  Aden grinned at his mom and her cousin any time they talked about what wild women they used to be.  It didn’t seem believable.  Lexa was so stoic and all she did was work.  She was all business all the time.  His mother worked in accounting at the company Lexa’s dad founded.  She wore trendy blazers, drank wine with the ladies in the neighborhood on Thursday nights, had recently taken up cross stitching while she watched bad TV at night and was one of the moms who came to a bunch of the football games to see him and his friends in the marching band. 

Now that he was old enough to be let in on what Anya and Lexa were really like as teenagers, and his mother was not just his role model but also his cautionary tale, he had a hard time believing these two boring, if not hard working and loving, woman used to be so wild.

“Sometimes I don’t believe he’s mine,” Anya laughed and sarcastically pinched Aden’s cheek.  He swatted her away.  “So, Lex, I don’t mean to put you out, but Aden has something he wanted to ask you,” Anya began with more purpose in her voice.  Aden looked at her for assurance, then smiled shyly at Lexa.

“Sounds serious,” Lexa sat up straighter.  “Is it about girls?  Cause we’ve talked about this a million times and I don’t think we should do it in front of your mother.”  All three of them laughed.

“No, no, nothing like that,” Aden’s laughter died down.

“Then what’s up, bud?” Lexa sipped her wine.

“I want to learn to cook like you do,” Aden finally got out, fidgeting with his sleeves under the table.  Lexa paused.  He glanced at Anya who gave him an encouraging nod.

“Really?”  Lexa asked, taken aback.  He had always helped her in the kitchen on holidays and family functions, but she thought it was more about wanting to spend time with her than with the food.

“Yeah,” He smiled.  “I know you’re super busy and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I thought maybe I could come work for you a few days a week if you have room for me so I could start learning.”

“What brought this on?” Lexa asked softly.

“He had to do a series of reports the first week of school for English class on different family members and why he would want to turn out like any of them when he’s a grown man,” Anya caught Lexa’s eyes across the table. 

“I remember those,” Lexa smiled fondly.  “My dad cried when he read mine.”

“Right, but Aden doesn’t have a dad, so he filled the father spot of the project with you,” Anya spoke deliberately.  

“Mom,” Aden tried to stop her, embarrassed.  Lexa’s heart felt like it might burst.  She tried to remain collected and not show how much she wanted to hug him.

“You did?” Lexa set her fork down abruptly. 

“Well, yeah,” Aden shrugged.  “I hope I turn out like you.  You’re a cool dad.”

“Me?!” Lexa swallowed hard.  “Why?”

“You’re so awesome,” Aden shrugged.  “You have a ton of cool restaurants that you opened all by yourself.  You don’t have any parents but you still figured out how to be an extra one for me.  You and Mom are best friends.  You always do anything she needs, even when you live far away or when I’m annoying.”

“That’s a bold faced lie.  You’re never annoying,” Lexa pointed hard at him. 

“And since you’ve been home the last few years, it’s like we’re a little family again.  I like that you came home when you didn’t need to.  I think you make smart choices and I want to be cool like you, so I need to learn to cook.”  Aden didn’t look at her, just kept cutting up his dinner.  Lexa rested a hand over her mouth at how sweet he was.

“We got to talking about why he wanted to be like you, and thought maybe he could start by learning your work ethic,” Anya added on with a warm smile.  Lexa swallowed hard.  She was taking on much more responsibility than just a new bus boy.  She felt like she needed to start paying attention to who she was in front of him.  She didn’t realize he was putting so much stock in her.

“Well,” She began and took another swig of wine.  “Then I’ll just have to fire someone and give their spot to you,” she grinned at Aden.  He laughed, knowing she was joking.

“Only if you have room for him,” Anya added sternly.  “We don’t want to put you out.”

“I always have room for him,” Lexa mock scoffed.  “But seriously, we can work it out.  Maybe weekend afternoons you can come in and help with prep after brunch and you can stick around and help out during dinner service.  We’ll start with that while you get settled into school and we’ll see about maybe one or two week nights if you like it.”

“Really?!” Aden cried.

“Yes, really!” Lexa laughed.  “This is good timing.  I actually just decided I’m going to start conceptualizing my next place, so I need a few extra hands on deck.”

“Oh yeah?” Anya eyed her.  “Does that mean the rule is in effect?”

“Yes ma’am,” Lexa let out a heavy sigh.

“Then what’s with the face?” Anya asked.

“I don’t have a face,” Lexa wrinkled her nose at Anya.

“Yes you do.  You just made a face.  Like you’re upset about the rule.”  Anya didn’t take her eyes off of Lexa as she leaned back in her chair and sipped her wine thoughtfully.  “Who is she?”

“She’s no one,” Lexa snapped.

“She’s someone!” Anya called out in a sing-song voice.

“There is no she!” Lexa laughed nervously.

“Lexa, come on,” Aden chuckled. 

“Et Tu, Aden?” Lexa gaped at him.

“I’m going to find out eventually,” Anya shrugged.  “So you might as well just tell me.”

“Fine,” Lexa grumbled.  She knew Anya was right and there was really nothing to hide because there was nothing going on.  “The doctor that worked on me and I had a nice thing going.  I brought her some dinner yesterday at the hospital to say thank you for stitching me up.”

“Smooth,” Aden nodded in approval.

“Aden!” Anya snapped.

“I gotta learn to cook,” He shook his head.  “Chicks love a guy who cooks.”

“You bet your ass,” Lexa smirked at him.

“Lexa!” Anya cried in the same motherly tone.

“But that’s it!  I brought her the food, we chatted while she ate, I don’t even know anything about her.  I don’t even know her first name.  She’s just pretty and smart and nice and perfect, but that’s it,” Lexa said shyly.  “I don’t even know if I’m ever going to see her again.  And besides, no girls while I’m conceptualizing.  That’s the rule.”

“What kind of pretty?” Aden smiled at her.

“Blonde, hour glassy, unreal blue eyes, and she’s a surgeon,” Lexa winked.  “Good hands.”

“Nice,” he slapped her a high five.

“I don’t think I want him working for you after all,” Anya let out a tired sigh.

 

Chapter Text

Clarke slept most of the day on Monday.  It happened after she spent more than three days at a time at work.  She watched some TV, snoozed between loads of laundry and hardly came out of her room.  Raven invited herself in for the afternoon claiming her eyes were burning from staring at code and she needed a break.  She pushed Clarke over in bed to make room for herself to watch some bad movies and laugh together. 

It was exactly what they needed after so much time apart.  Clarke’s job came with its obvious set of stresses, but Raven internalized hers.  She always joked that it would take too long to explain what she even actually did for work to Octavia and Clarke in order to fill them in on what she was so stressed out about, so the three of them agreed to just understand that Raven’s job was hard.

Around dinner time, Raven looked over to find Clarke was sound asleep again. She ducked out quietly and let Clarke rest knowing it had been a tough week.  When Clarke woke up around ten that night, she was hungry and a little confused about where she was.  One of her sketch books was open to a blank page with Raven’s font-like, all capitals handwriting in red sharpie that just read “Come downstairs!  BEER!”.

With a smile, she rolled out of bed and stumbled to her closet.  She had showered before bed last night and slept on her wet hair all day.  Now it was a giant mess of curls.  She decided to go with it and piled them up on her head.  It was a Monday late night visit to Blake’s.  She wasn’t going to see anyone.  After pulling on some ripped jeans and an old flannel that she left unbuttoned over her tank top, she headed for the back stairs. 

They had their own entrance to the apartment.  A set of precarious wooden steps ran up the side of the building to their front door.  The back of their apartment housed a second set of tight stairs that exited into the back of the bar by the bathrooms.  It had a door at the bottom and the top that locked so they never had to worry about bar guests finding their way upstairs.  It made it very convenient on cold nights to not have to go outside to get to their hang out spot. 

Their proximity to the bar, the fact that Octavia’s bar TVs were better than the little one they had upstairs and the laid back ambience inside lead to Raven and Clarke pushing the limits on their standards.  They were often caught frequenting Blake’s in their pajamas, bringing down food from upstairs, bringing board games or Raven’s work down, and altogether making themselves a little too at home.  Raven came down in her bathrobe once and Octavia drew a line. 

“Hey! Sleeping Beauty!  You made it!”  Raven raised a glass to Clarke who offered up a sarcastic curtsy before taking the empty stool next to Raven.

“Hey, Clarke,” Harper smiled at her.  “You want a beer?”

“It feels a little scandalous since I just woke up.  Can I have a breakfast drink?”  Clarke stifled a yawn.

“I can do a Bloody Mary or I can put a shot of orange juice in your beer.” Harper held up a pint glass and waited for Clarke’s response.

“You know what?  Just give me the beer and hold the orange juice,” Clarke laughed.  She rubbed her sleepy eyes and yawned again.  “How about a fall brew?  Maybe a Pumpkinhead or something with apple?  That’s kind of like a breakfast pastry, right?”  Clarke got out through her yawn.

“You gonna make it, there, Killer?”  Raven joked.  She was watching a bad space movie on one of the TVs.  Clarke wasn’t sure which movie, but it looked like it was made long before they were born.  Raven loved them and knew almost every sci-fi movie ever made.  On quiet nights at the bar, Harper gave her the remote and Raven watched whatever she wanted.  All of the regulars knew not to challenge her and Raven knew not to change the Red Sox or the Patriots.  They had an arrangement.

“Yeah, sorry.  Still waking up,” Clarke sighed.  “What’s she making today?” Clarke craned her neck to see the chalk board.  Spicy Night: Cheese Fries, Chicken Sandwich, Grilled Cheese Masterpiece, Tacos, Not Your Mom’s Veggies, Breakfast Nachos, Sliders, A Chocolate Thing, Octavia’s Pick.

“I forget what’s in Grilled Cheese Masterpiece, but I think it’s huge,” Raven shrugged.

“It’s different from Grilled Cheese Explosion, right?” Clarke squinted at the board to read it.

“And also different from Grilled Cheese Surprise and Grilled Cheese In Your Face,” Raven replied indifferently.

“You want something to eat, Clarke?” Harper asked over her shoulder as she poured two drafts for a pair of guys sitting at the other end of the bar. 

Clarke didn’t recognize them, which was rare.  Normally everyone at Blake’s was vaguely familiar.  She half recognized the two groups of people sitting in the booths.  There were two girls playing pool that she felt like she knew but couldn’t figure out why and just assumed it was from the bar.  One of them looked like one of the barista’s she got coffee from on the way to work, but Clarke couldn’t tell if it was really her in different surroundings.  Portland was so small and had such distinct styles that everyone started to look a little familiar.

“Can you ask her to make me a breakfast sandwich?” Clarke was slowly getting sucked into Raven’s cheesy movie.  She rested her chin in her hand with her elbow on the bar and sipped lightly from her beer.

“She’s in a feisty mood tonight,” Harper warned.

“She’s in a feisty mood every night,” Clarke shrugged.

“Fair enough,” Harper laughed and ducked her head into the kitchen doorway. “O!  Clarke’s here and wants a breakfast sandwich!  She just woke up, but she’s already downed a beer.”

“Hey!” Clarke snapped sarcastically.

“Did you tell her it’s spicy night?” Octavia shouted back.

“She can read!” Harper called back and dropped the beers in front of the two guys.  Clarke watched her chatting with them with a sense of familiarity.  Harper was relaxed and laughing at their jokes.  The guys were comfortable with her.  The handsome bald one pointed at bottles on the shelf behind Harper and made motions like he was mixing a drink.

“Who are those guys?” Clarke asked Raven who didn’t look away from the TV.

“What guys?”  Raven pushed a french fry into her mouth.

“These two over here.  Harper looks like she knows them, but I’ve never seen them before,” Clarke tapped Raven on the arm to get her attention.  Raven looked over.

“Oh, those guys,” she playfully rolled her eyes.  “I don’t know who they are, but they’ve been here a few nights in a row.  The cute one with the shaved head and the smile has the hots for Octavia and I’m pretty sure she’s not upset about it.  The one with the man bun and the beard is a little salty but he’s pretty funny.  I forget their names.”

“They got cozy in here awfully quickly,” Clarke sipped her beer thoughtfully.  Maybe Octavia was getting soft in her old age.

“Like I said, I think O likes him,” Raven shrugged.  “He seems like a good enough dude from the few nights I’ve spent at the same bar with him.”  They both watched Octavia come out of the kitchen and deliver his food.  He freaked out at the site of the Grilled Cheese Masterpiece and Clarke felt much better about her decision to not take a chance on it.  It was about four inches tall and filled to the brim.  She could see in the way Octavia smirked and posed against the bar while she talked to him about the food that there was definitely something going on there.

“I gotta go.  I’m burning Clarke’s breakfast, but I’ll be right back,” Octavia pointed at Clarke and shot the guys a wink.  “Move down and sit with them.  Those are my best friends I told you about.”  The guys obeyed and picked up their plates and beers and slid down to the empty seats next to Clarke.

“Hi,” Bald and Smiley held his hand out to Clarke.  “I’m Lincoln, this is Roan.  We’re following directions.”

“I’m Clarke, this is Raven,” Clarke laughed at him.  “Please, join us.”  She gestured dramatically to the empty stools all around them.

“I’m not changing the channel,” Raven picked up the remote and held it close to her chest protectively with two hands.

“I prefer an obscure space movie as my background at all times,” Lincoln held his hands up in defense.

“I’m not sure if you’re joking or not, but I like where you’re going with it,” Raven looked him up and down to try and figure him out.

“So you’re the famous best friends, huh?” Lincoln asked before taking a massive bite of his towering sandwich.

“It appears that way,” Clarke raised a brow.  “I’d like to say you’re the famous something but this is the first I’m hearing about you.”  Lincoln paused to swallow the bite of food in his mouth.

“We came in by chance on Saturday and I’m determined to get the pulled pork, so I’m coming every day until I get it so I don’t miss it,” Lincoln grinned.  “I heard it’s to die for and that she does it in the fall.”

“It is and she does,” Clarke replied, deciding she liked him.  He instantly put her at ease.  “Insider tip: She doesn’t do it on the weekends.”

“What!” Lincoln gasped.

“It takes all day.  It’s only on the dinner menu, and it’s usually on a Monday or Tuesday when she’s quiet during the day and can tend to it,” Clarke stage whispered.

“Stop giving away my secrets!” Octavia snapped as she set a breakfast sandwich down in front of Clarke.  “I’m down to a weird selection of cheeses, Clarke.  Delivery is tomorrow morning.  I hope that’s good.  If it isn’t, let me know and I’ll make you something else.”

“I never met a cheese I didn’t like,” Clarke shrugged and investigated her sandwich.  It didn’t look like Octavia put too many crazy ingredients on it.  Harper reached across the bar for Clarke’s empty glass and filled it without asking.

“How is it?” Octavia nodded her head at Lincoln’s sandwich.  His mouth was full again, so he held two thumbs up and made a face of pure food bliss at her.  She smirked at him.  “That’s what I thought.  What about you?” She turned to Roan.

“Unreal,” Roan had the chicken sandwich.  She served it on freshly made waffles instead of bread with a spicy syrup and perfectly balanced secret sauce that resembled gravy, as well as a few seasonal surprises that she rotated.  It was a huge hit every time.  “I want to ask you what’s in the sauce, but I know you won’t tell me.”

“You are correct,” Octavia smiled at him.  Lincoln jumped when his phone rang.  He pulled it out of his pocket and held it out to see who was calling.  He was sitting so close to Clarke that she happened to catch a look at the screen by chance.  Her eyes shot open when she read “Lexa Woods Calling” on the screen.

“What’s up, Boss?”  Lincoln swallowed the last of his bite.

“Are you still at work?” Lexa asked.  She was driving home from dinner at Anya’s around ten.  They had a great time and she made plans with Aden for him to come in the coming Saturday to get acquainted with the restaurant and the team.  After he and Lexa played a few rounds of video games, Anya sent Aden up to his room to do his homework while she and Lexa had another glass of wine and caught up.  Anya admitted that she and Roan had coffee more than once already and that she was starting to really like him.  She wanted Lexa’s blessing and none of her bullshit on continuing to pursue it. 

“Nah, me and Roan are at Blake’s already.  We closed down around nine.  It was dead.  I think Indra might still be there.  Did you need something?” Lincoln asked.  Lexa could hear muffled sounds of a bar in the background.

“I wanted to talk to you, actually,” Lexa sighed.  She knew she had to grow up and let this thing with Anya and Roan play out.  Lincoln had helped her sort through a few complicated emotional situations in the past.  He treated her like a normal person laced with professional respect that she was his boss, but not so much so that he ignored the fact that she was a human being with a life outside of the restaurant that included normal human emotions.  He was buddies with Roan, but not so close that he’d be blinded by that.  He was the perfect person to tell her what she needed to hear.

“Yeah?  What’s going on?”  Lincoln asked.  He was always so pleasant to her.  Always so helpful.  Lexa paused.  She was at an intersection where she could turn right to go home, or tale a left and head towards the East End to Lincoln’s new favorite spot.

“Did you say you were at Blake’s?  That place you’ve been obsessed with?”  Lexa asked reluctantly after a deep breath.

“You bet.  The quest for pulled pork!  You know I can’t sleep right until I have it,” Lincoln joked.  Lexa shook her head softly and let out a chuckle.  “The owner’s friends are here and I just got some insider info on how to get it, so this evening is already a success.”

“And you’re with Roan?” Lexa asked hesitantly.

“Is that a problem, Chef?” Lincoln asked carefully.  He was off the clock.  It wasn’t really any of Lexa’s business who he was with, but he never wanted to make her uncomfortable.  He respected her too much, and though he’d never say it to her face, really liked her.  Lexa was too intense for actual friendship, but he made sure to get as close to her as she’d let him.

“You guys going to be there for a little bit?”  Lexa flicked on her blinker and switched into the left lane.

“Just got our food and we have good company, so I’d say so.”  She could hear the shrug and the smile in his voice.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” Lexa said firmly and took a hard right turn.

“Awesome!” Lincoln cheered.  “I’ll have a beer waiting for you.  Not sure what’s going on, but you sound like you could use it.”

“I appreciate that,” Lexa replied with an involuntary smile.

“Lexa’s coming!” Lincoln grinned and hung his phone up.  Clarke froze.  Was it possible that there was more than one Lexa Woods in their small city that was also a chef?

“Who’s Lexa?” Raven asked, her eyes darting from her movie as a commercial came on.

“Our boss,” Lincoln replied.

“She hates me,” Roan said flatly to the girls.  “Why the fuck would you tell her to come here?”  He hissed at Lincoln.

“She doesn’t hate you, Man!  I told you that!” Lincoln back handed Roan in the arm, taking care not to get his Grilled Cheese Masterpiece sauce on his buddy’s shirt.  “She doesn’t hate him,” He turned to Raven and Clarke with a sincere smile.  “He’s trying to date her cousin and Lexa’s being douchy about it.  She rides him really hard at work because she wants him to push himself.  They had an accident the other day and she sent him home.  It’s all blown over.  She’s cool.  It won’t be weird.  I promise.”

“You’re the idiot with the kitchen knife!” Clarke gasped.  Roan and Lincoln stared back at her in shock.

“Excuse me?” Roan yelped.

“You guys work at Houm, don’t you,” Clarke said reluctantly.  They nodded, trying to figure out where she was going with this.  “I work at Ark Memorial.  I did Lexa’s stitches on Saturday night.”  Both of the guys had wide eyes and couldn’t look away from Clarke.

“Holy shit,” Lincoln back handed Roan again without taking his wide eyes off of Clarke.  This time he left a grease stain on Roan’s sleeve.

“What are the goddamn odds,” Roan chuckled.

“Why are you so freaked out by that?  This is a small city, guys,” Clarke laughed nervously.

“You’re the hot surgeon,” Lincoln pointed at her.

“Don’t call my friend hot!” Octavia snapped, entering the conversation as she cleared Raven’s plate. 

“I’m not calling her hot!” Lincoln squawked. 

“Why not?  She’s hot.  You don’t think she’s hot?” Octavia gave him a look.

“I’m not really sure what you want me to say right now?” Lincoln puzzled and tried to read Octavia’s expression.  Raven rolled her eyes.  Octavia already had this guy right where she wanted him.

“The Commander thinks she’s hot,” Roan smirked as he swooped in to save Lincoln.

“Who’s The Commander?” Clarke wrinkled her brow.

“Lexa,” Lincoln smirked to match Roan, done with his silent battle with Octavia. 

 “Interesting nick name,” Clarke kept her brow furrowed trying to figure out what was going on.

“If you worked for her, you’d totally get it,” Lincoln assured her.  “But she was going on about the foxy doc that took great care of her all day on Sunday.  How was the carbonara, by the way?” Lincoln raised a brow at Clarke.  Her cheeks were instantly flushed.

“You’re full of shit,” Clarke let out in a nervous, breathy voice. 

“If we’re so full of shit, how the hell would we know about any of that?” Roan quirked his brow at her too.

“You two set this up.  You knew they worked there.  You’re all pulling one over on me,” Clarke glared at Raven and Octavia.

“I don’t even know what you guys are talking about,” Octavia shrugged. 

“I’ve never met these clowns,” Raven shrugged.

“Lexa Woods is coming here?  Right now?  To yell at you?”  Clarke looked past Lincoln at Roan.

“God, I hope not,” Roan sighed.

“And you had no idea who I was when you sat down,” Clarke tried once more.

“I don’t know your last name and Lexa doesn’t know your first, so this would have been a pretty slick set up if it was one,” Lincoln grinned.  “Harper, can I get an IPA for Lexa?  Do you have funky Bow or Maine Beer Company on tap?  If not, get me something clean like those, please.”  Lincoln nodded at Harper behind the bar who was eating the whole thing up.  All six of them looked up at once when the door opened.

It was Lexa. 

She paused, mildly confused by the stares on her entrance and headed over to the group.  Clarke was seated behind Lincoln’s broad frame and Lexa didn’t notice her at first.  Raven and Octavia both tried to stifle their amused giggles.  Roan froze, half expecting Lexa to pull out a chef’s knife and even the score.

“Hey, Commander!” Lincoln broke the uncomfortable silence and slapped Lexa a high five that he turned into a firm handshake.  “I got you a beer.”  He handed the pint to her.

“Thanks,” she sighed and took it from him.  The blonde on the stool beside him spun around.

“Fancy seeing you here, Chef Woods,” Clarke smirked.  Lexa almost dropped the glass in her hand.  Her stomach plummeted in the best way.

“Dr. Griffin,” She smirked back.  She had just spent twenty minutes gushing about the woman she’d never see again to Anya.  She had just mentally written her off even though the pretty doctor’s smile still showed up when she shut her eyes.  She had just decided on the way home from Anya’s that she’d never get to know what was under those scrubs and that it would have to be okay that way.  No More Girls.  She was conceptualizing.

“Please.  Let’s start over now that we’re our regular selves and not working or bleeding.”  Clarke extended her hand to shake.  “I’m Clarke.”

“Lexa,” Lexa smiled confidently as she took Clarke’s hand.  It felt familiar and perfect.  It felt dangerous because she knew that feeling in the pit of her stomach didn’t bode well.  No More Girls.

“Here, join us,” Clarke said, pushing Raven over one stool and sliding down so that Lexa could sit between her and Lincoln.  “Get something to eat.  On me,” Clarke smiled.  “I owe you one.”  Lexa nodded in thanks at Clarke before taking a huge gulp of her beer and averting her gaze from those smiley blue eyes.

They all got to know one another.  Clarke and Raven filled in the blanks on their history with Octavia, how they all knew each other and why they spent so much time at the bar (they lived there and only knew how to cook six things between the two of them and only one of them was a meal).  There was a particularly embarrassing story about how Raven met Clarke involving Clarke being locked out of her and Octavia’s dorm room in a towel and Raven exposing her lock picking skills to an RA.

 Lincoln told a long drawn out tale with many interruptions from Lexa about his disastrous interview with her a few years ago.  Roan kept his distance quietly, still convinced that Lexa was there for the sole purpose of killing him and was just biding her time and luring him into a false sense of security.  All the while, Octavia kept bringing out small plates of samples for Lexa to try and the two of them gushed about food together.  The crass cook wouldn’t admit it out loud, but the opportunity to showcase everything she had for Lexa Woods, who enjoyed every single bite in detail, was kind of a big deal.

“Hey, Idiot With The Kitchen Knife, let’s go play some darts,” Clarke nodded her head at Roan and slid off of her stool.  She caught on from Lincoln’s phone call that Lexa was here to see him and that all of their fun was getting in the way of that.  Lexa was doing everything she could not to look at Roan and was trying to be inconspicuous about it, but Clarke could see it. 

“Why, Dr. Griffin, how could I refuse an offer like that?” Roan sarcastically smiled at her.  Lexa caught Clarke’s gaze, thankful that she had somehow read her mind.

“C’mon, Raven.  You’re coming too.” Clarke poked Raven in the side who flinched off of her stool.  “You’re welcome,” Clarke leaned in and spoke lowly into Lexa’s ear as she passed.  Lexa pinched her eyes shut at the husky voice so close to her cheek.  Lincoln shot a closed lip smile at Clarke as she dragged Roan away.

“Okay, first of all, she’s great,” Lincoln kept his voice hushed and gestured at Clarke.  “She’s super pretty and super nice and she’s a freaking surgeon.  You’ve gotta hit that.”

“I can’t,” Lexa sighed through a sad smile .

“Why the hell not?  She’s your age, which you can never seem to lock down.  She’s self-established and successful and doesn’t really seem to care that you’re you,” Lincoln waved a hand at Lexa and she let out a short laugh.  “She works even more than you do so she won’t be crying about your schedule.  Her friends are great and normal and seem to live on the same weird time zone we do as restaurant people.” He ticked all of the pros off on his fingers.  “Not to mention that rack.”  He made a bug eyed face, then smirked at Lexa.

“If she’s so great, why don’t you ask her out?” Lexa laughed.

“Because she doesn’t want to go out with me.  She likes you,” Lincoln grinned.

“She does not,” Lexa scoffed.

“She most definitely does, Commander,” he tried again, softer this time.

“I didn’t come here to talk to you about her,” Lexa sighed and took a long swig from her beer.  “Although you’re not wrong about that rack,” She said out the corner of her mouth with a lingering glance at Clarke writing Roan’s name on the score board with chalk.

“What did you come here to talk to me about?” Lincoln nodded when Harper pointed to his empty glass from across the room, silently asking if he’d like another.

“This thing with Roan,” Lexa began.

“Lexa, you know that was an accident,” Lincoln jumped on her words.

“Not that thing.  I’m over that thing,” Lexa replied and dismissed it with a wave of her bandaged arm.  “I mean Anya.”

“Oh, that thing,” Lincoln smirked into his drink.

“What’s that about?” Lexa eyed him.

“Why do you want to talk to me about it?”  Lincoln asked warmly, trying to put Lexa at ease.

“I think he really likes her,” Lexa let out a tense breath.  “Is he a dick?  I don’t really know him outside of yelling at him and his subpar meat trimming skills.  He’s an average chef at best, and he could be way better if he’d just fucking focus and listen to me, but that’s a whole other thing,” Lexa rolled her eyes and pulled a sip from her beer.  “But what kind of man is he?”  She flicked her eyes up at Lincoln.  He was trying not to laugh.

“He’s a good guy,” Lincoln nodded.  “If I had a sister, I’d let him take her out.”

“Are you sure about that?” Lexa winced.  “Because you don’t have a sister, and I sort of do.”

“He’s a much better friend than he is a chef.  I’ve known him a long time, but I can’t say I’ve ever dated him,” Lincoln shrugged playfully.

“Ass,” Lexa jokingly whacked him in the leg.

“Anya’s a grown up, Lexa,” Lincoln patted her on the shoulder.  “If I know her and you two well enough, she’s going to do it anyway whether you tell her she can or not.  You might as well just be part of it from the beginning so no one sneaks around and lies to you or makes it weird.  Nobody wants that.”

“If he treats her poorly,” Lexa began.

“Then show no mercy,” Lincoln agreed immediately.  “But don’t let your shit with him get in the way of the two of them starting something good.  He’s clean, no drugs unless you count booze.  He takes care of himself, he’s loyal and he works hard, you know that.  He’s not taking home a ton of girls unless he’s really good at hiding it.  I spend a lot of nights after work hanging out with him, so I like to think I’d know.”  Lincoln pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.  Clarke was beating Roan at darts and it made Lexa’s lips twitch up into a smile. 

“Maybe you’re right,” Lexa sighed reluctantly.

"Of course I am,” Lincoln replied with a self-satisfied smile. 

“Thanks,” Lexa took a deep breath and a gulp of beer before getting off of the stool and heading over to the game of darts.  “Roan,” she tapped him on the shoulder.  He was a good head taller than she was, but still shrank away when he turned around to face her.

“Yeah?” He winced, still unconvinced she wasn’t hiding a set of knives on her person with plans to cut him limb from limb.

“I’m cool with the Anya thing,” Lexa muttered.

“Really?” Roan cocked his head in surprise.

“For now,” Lexa warned, holding up a finger.  “If you fuck it up in any way,” she trailed off.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll see your fine knife skills up close and personal on my balls, got it,” Roan said quickly and held his hands up.  Lexa laughed.  Clarke perked up at the sound of it.  It was feminine and genuine and almost didn’t suit her.

“I wasn’t prepared with quite so much detail, but yes, essentially,” she actually smiled.  “Truce?”  She held her hand out to shake.  He eyed it suspiciously before reaching out and grabbing her hand.

“You got it, Commander,” he replied.  “Dr. Griffin just handed my ass to me, so I’m going to get another drink.”  He clapped Lexa on the shoulder and left her to play in his place.

 “You think you’ve got what it takes to dethrone the queen of darts?”  Clarke smirked and waved a handful of darts at her.  Lexa tried to contain her grin.

“The queen, huh?”  Lexa took a set of red darts from Clarke.  “We’ll see about that.”

“I’ve seen Clarke win enough times for one lifetime.  I’m getting dessert,” Raven followed Roan back to the bar.

“Looks like it’s just you and me,” Clarke smiled with the slightest raise of her brow.

Clarke’s flirting was relentless and try as she might to resist it, Lexa couldn’t.  She was losing miserably which thankfully meant the game wouldn’t last too long.  Clarke was as good at the game as she claimed, maybe better since Lexa was expecting it to be an empty threat.  She had an expert grip on the darts with those damn hands and Lexa tried to look away but couldn’t. 

Lexa couldn’t pin if it was excitement about her proximity to the girl she told herself to forget, if her attention was completely consumed by the swell of Clarke’s chest in her low cut tank top that was on full display beneath the loose flannel she wore, or if maybe she was actually just terrible at darts, but Clarke swiftly took an easy win.

“And that’s game!” Clarke cheered with a fist in the air.  Lexa let out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“Let me buy you a victory beer, my queen,” Lexa chuckled and nodded her head towards the bar.  She held her arm outstretched and let Clarke lead the way.  They eased onto two stools away from the rest of the group.  Harper dropped off two beers.  “So how did you get so good at that?” Lexa pointed over her shoulder at the dart board.

“I do live upstairs,” Clarke reminded her and nodded towards the ceiling like it would explain everything.   “Raven and I spend a lot of time here.  We’re here on nights like this when no one else is, so we get a lot of time with the game.  We had a forty-seven round tournament during the blizzard of 2012.”

“Who won?” Lexa smirked.

“Do you have to ask?” Clarke mock scoffed.  “We’ve been over this.  Highly trained,” Clarke held up her hands and wiggled her fingers.  Lexa felt the wave roll through the pit of her stomach again.

“Mm, so I’ve heard,” Lexa nodded and covered another smirk with a sip of beer.

“What was that about before?”  Clarke nodded at Roan who was telling an animated story to Lincoln and Raven who were both laughing hard.  Lexa scowled.

“That guy,” She shook her head.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to pry,” Clarke back pedaled, her voice soft and assuring.   

“No, no, it’s fine.” Lexa pulled a sip from her drink and gave a blasé wave of her hand.  “My cousin, who’s essentially my sister, we’ve been really close our whole lives, has gone on a few dates with him.”

“So, what’s the issue?  He seems nice enough,” Clarke looked up to see that Roan’s story had progressed to him acting something out that looked like dancing and Lincoln and Raven were doubled over.  Watching them laugh so hard made a smile spread across Clarkes face.  It was contagious.

“It’s complicated,” Lexa replied.  “She’s got a kid.”

“Dad still in the picture or something?” Clarke asked and ran her fingers up and down her glass making lines in the condensation.  She was a little nervous in a good way and excited in the best way to be sitting so close to Lexa and having a real conversation.  They hardly knew each other, but there were no awkward pauses.  There was no stuttering.  She felt like she could talk to her like an old friend.

“There never was a dad in the picture, actually,” Lexa paused to decide if that was the complicated part. 

“So why is that an issue? It’s not like the little guy is used to a different dad then,” Clarke shrugged.

“The little guy is sixteen and way too smart for his own good,” Lexa smiled when she talked about him.

“Gotcha,” Clarke nodded in understanding.

“Plus, Roan works for me and he’s moving up despite his recent butchering of my forearm,” Lexa rolled her eyes.  Clarke chuckled.  “I haven’t decided if his relationship with me is the complicated part or not.”

“Is he nice to her?” Clarke asked.

“Seems that way,” Lexa replied.

“And she likes him?” Clarke went on.

“A lot, apparently.  I was over at her place for dinner tonight and she was asking me to get over it and give her my blessing cause she’s going to go out with him whether I like it or not,” Lexa sighed. 

“Then why are we even wasting time talking about it?  Sounds like you need to stop worrying about all of the reasons it’s a bad idea and start enjoying all of the reasons it’s a good idea,” Clarke gave her a playful shove in the shoulder, and it sent a shock through Lexa. 

No one ever called her out.  No one ever told her what to do or gave her a hard time.  Lexa wished a woman had a long time ago, because it was a major turn on.

“So, he’s nice to her, she likes him, he has a good job, he has nice friends,” she pointed at Lincoln.  “He’s sort of hunky if you’re into that.”  Lexa followed Clarke’s gesture.  Roan and Lincoln had their arms around each other’s shoulders and were laughing so hard.  Raven held a hand to her chest as she tried to catch her breath from her recent fit of hysterics.  “Apparently he’s hilarious?” Clarke added on as a joke.

“Maybe you’re right,” Lexa said slowly without taking her eyes off of him and focusing back on Clarke.  A loose curl had fallen from the pile on her head and Lexa wanted so badly to reach up and tuck it behind Clarke’s ear.  It took her everything she had not to.  “How’d you get so smart?”

“Duh, I’m a doctor,” Clarke joked and gave Lexa a less aggressive playful shove in the shoulder then let her hand trail down to linger at the hem of Lexa’s leather jacket.  She gave it the slightest flirty tug towards herself to pull Lexa closer.  Lexa flicked her eyes back at Clarke with a start.  In the dim light of the bar, they were so damn green.

“How could I forget?” Lexa asked, her eyes lidded as she did all she could not to look down at Clarke’s chest.  Looking her in the eye didn’t seem like a much better idea. 

She froze with panic as she realized for the first time that she really wanted to kiss this girl. 

It wasn’t just the fun fantasizing like when she walked away in her scrubs and Lexa tried to determine the outline of her curves through the lab coat.  It wasn’t hypothetical passing thoughts that Clarke was a fox and probably great in bed with those god forsaken hands she wouldn’t shut up about.  It wasn’t a purely sexual urge like she got while watching Clarke devour the meal she prepared that put ideas in Lexa’s head about so, so many other things.

It wasn’t about kissing her to start the process of getting her into bed.  It wasn’t about casting her famous, patented charm to have a scandalous bar bathroom fuck.  It wasn’t about making sure it was Lexa she craved and not some dumb dude at a party who would likely have no idea what to do with such a wonderful body.  It wasn’t about winning or conquering or self-validation.

She wanted to honestly and truly kiss her. 

And Clarke had a look in her eyes like she’d kiss her right back.

“So, Woods,” Octavia appeared in front of them on the other side of the bar.  Lexa whipped her head around to Octavia with guilt in her eyes.  She felt like she’d been caught.  Like Octavia could look at her and understand everything she was thinking.  Maybe it was the IPAs or maybe it was the spell Clarke’s smile was casting on her, but she was feeling a little fuzzy.  Clarke blew Lexa’s normally smooth, suave routine apart.

“Yes?” Lexa cleared her throat and focused on Octavia.  She wiped her hands down the thighs of her jeans to keep herself from involuntarily reaching out and pulling Clarke closer.  She was suddenly hot.  It felt like the temperature in the bar had jumped up thirty degrees.

“What’d you think?”  Octavia tipped her chin up at Lexa, trying to stay hard and cold.  She didn’t want to give away that she was anxious about Lexa’s over all opinions.

“About the food?” Lexa asked, still trying to get her head back into the conversation and out of a sea of imagines of Clarke’s mouth.

“No, the motherfucking service.  Yes, the food!” Octavia laughed.  Clarke did too, and the sound of it ripped through Lexa and made her wince.  It was too good.  Clarke’s honest, loud laugh was too sexy.

“Honestly?” Lexa paused to sip her beer.  She collected herself and had to put on the professional attitude.  “This is some of the best food I’ve had in a long time.”  She held on to her pint glass to give her something to do with her hand.  The other gripped her thigh.  Her knee bounced as she talked.  She was forcing herself to be Chef Lexa and not the afterhours version that took beautiful women home.

“I don’t believe you,” Octavia said flatly.

“Your flavor profiles are incredible.  You could order any two dishes on this menu and they’d complement each other, which is not an easy thing to do, considering you’re doing high end comfort food.  I’m guessing it’s part of why you change the menu every night.  You’re not lazy and you’re not disorganized, you’re actually exactly the opposite, but the average Joe thinking it’s messy works for your image.  Same average Joe isn’t going to understand the layers you have happening in this place.  It’s ironically not that ironic.  You’re ahead of your time.  I’d go so far as to say you’ve got a gift,” Lexa sat up straighter. 

Clarke just stared, her mouth open slightly.  Lexa’s professional, confident voice mixed with her suddenly stoic posture was too much.  Her squared shoulders in her fitted jacket drew Clarke’s eye.  The way Lexa held her glass made Clarke wish those strong but slender hands were on every inch of her body.  The slight tilt up of her chin, a cocky, strong move but still sexy all the same, had Clarke leaning closer.  This version of Lexa was the Chef Woods she had heard so much about.

And it was totally hot.

“Your grip on sauces is better than some formally trained chefs I’ve worked with that have been doing this longer than we’ve been alive.  At first I thought you were over doing it on ingredients, but after trying everything, you’re spot on.  I kept asking myself what I would take off of each plate, but the answer is nothing.  The balance is there and the skill is there, but you’re packaging it in a way for the common diner to digest and enjoy without even realizing they’re in the presence of greatness.  I couldn’t cook the way you do in a million years.   You have something unique and really impressive going on here, even if it is a little messy,” Lexa replied thoughtfully.  She was a little drunk, but could morph into Chef Lexa in her sleep when needed.

“You’re not bullshitting me, right?” Octavia eyed her carefully.  It was far greater praise than she was expecting.

“Of course not,” Lexa said coolly as Clarke slid her hand over the hand on Lexa’s thigh and threaded their fingers together.  Lexa’s knee instantly stopped bouncing and she and she ran her thumb over Clarke’s without missing a beat.  “If you know anything about me, you know I don’t do that.”

“Well,” Octavia almost looked bashful.  She would have if she did that sort of thing.  “Thank you.  Very much.  You’re allowed to come back.”  She nodded at Lexa curtly and turned abruptly back to the kitchen.

“You can’t tell, but she’s really excited that you liked her food so much,” Clarke leaned closer to Lexa and spoke quietly.  She smelled so good.  It was a mix of crisp and clean and vaguely masculine scents, but it worked for her.  It really worked for her and Clarke forced herself not to shiver as she took a deep breath of it her in.

“Of course I can tell,” Lexa turned to Clarke and was knocked over by the urge to kiss her again.  They were so close together.  It wouldn’t take much at all.  She was holding her freaking hand.  Wait. What was she doing?  She was supposed to be avoiding girls right now.

“You chefs all speak the same language or something?” Clarke bit her lower lip.  Lexa swallowed hard at the site of it, but hid it well.  Instead, she flipped her hand over to get a better hold of Clarke’s.  Clark glanced down at their linked fingers and rested her elbow on the bar to turn and face Lexa.  The movement brought her ample chest into full view. 

“We do, actually.  They teach it to us at culinary school,” Lexa gave a flirty smile to cover up the fact that she had just taken in an eyeful of Clarke’s cleavage.  “Octavia learned hers on the streets, though.  Different dialect, but I can still get the gist,” she smirked.  Clarke laughed a little too loud.  She was excited and a little tipsy and feeling the high of being so close to such a confident, good looking human for the first time in way too long. 

“Commander!” Lincoln called out to her.  He and Roan were standing up and putting money on the counter.  “We got your tab.  We’re catching an Uber out of here.  Let’s go!  You can share it with us.”  Clarke gave Lexa’s hand a squeeze.  She wasn’t done yet.  She didn’t want it to be over, but a glance at the clock told her it was time.

“When do you work this week?” Lexa asked, trying to hide the desperation and conflict in her voice.  She had to see her again but knew she really shouldn’t. 

“I go in early on Thursday morning and I’m done Sunday around noontime,” Clarke replied, her desperation matching Lexa’s.  She let go of Lexa’s hand to reach over the bar to where Harper kept her order pads.  Lexa hated how cold she felt without Clarke’s touch.

“Do you want to do something Sunday?  I’m usually free after brunch service,” Lexa blurted out before the angel on her shoulder had time to stop her.

“If I actually get some sleep this shift, which I should,” Clarke paused to scribble her number on a Blake’s guest check.  “Then yes, definitely.” She folded the paper, pulled one side of Lexa’s jacket open and stuffed her number with buzzed and flirty force into the inside chest pocket. 

“Let’s go, Lex!” Lincoln was at the door shouting after her.  Lexa glanced down at her pocket, then back up at Clarke.  Clarke still had a grip on her jacket.

The urge.  The kissing urge.  It was back so hard.

“Your ride is leaving,” Clarke smirked, bit that lip again and nodded towards the door.  She released her grip and gently patted Lexa on the shoulder.

“I’ll see you Sunday,” Lexa smiled earnestly.

“If you remember to call me,” Clarke offered up a playful shrug.

“Good night, Dr. Griffin!” Roan shouted as Lincoln approached and put both hands on Lexa’s shoulders.

“It was nice meeting you, Clarke,” he smiled sincerely at her.  “Commander, I swear to god, I am just drunk enough to carry you out of here and totally strong enough to do it.”

“If you so much as try, you’re fired!” Lexa snapped and pointed hard at him.  “Good night, Clarke!” She grinned at Clarke as she was dragged out of the bar.  Clarke laughed and waved good bye to the crew as they spilled out onto the street.  She let out a content sigh and spun around on her stool to find Raven, Octavia and even Harper all smirking at her.

“What?” She asked, feigning innocence.

“Come on, Clarke!” Raven warned.  “What the hell?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Clarke shrugged and finished off her beer.  She took out her wallet and set a few bills on the counter to cover her tab.  Octavia never charged them the real amount, but Clarke always over paid.  “Octavia, Harper, thank you for a lovely evening,” she offered up a drunk, mock salute and headed for the back stairs.

“That’s it?” Raven gaped.

“For now,” Clarke shrugged. 

“She’s back!”  Raven slapped the bar top as Clarke strutted out back to the stairs.

 

Chapter Text

Lexa sat at her desk in her office at Houm with her face in her hands trying to calm her racing mind.

Indra had the day off and Roan was handling prep.  She had expected him to come in and try to be pals with her after their semi unprofessional night at the bar together where she told him she was cool with him dating her cousin, then she was all over a beautiful woman right in front of him.  Much to her pleasant surprise, it seemed to have the exact opposite effect.

He was early.  When she showed up at ten, he was already well into prep.  He had on his whitest chef jacket and his hair was very neat.  He was working with the staff incredibly calmly and signed for the delivery and put everything away himself.  When she tried to help him, he reminded her with a knowing smirk that Dr. Griffin told her to go easy on the arm, then sent her on her way. 

She breezed through paperwork.  Indra and Lincoln kept such detailed and pristine records that it was mostly verification and filing on her part.  She had done all of the ordering and silently checked in on Roan’s prep a few times.  Without her questioning it, he asked her to check his proteins and coached Emori to have Lexa taste her sauces throughout the day to make sure they were prepared to Lexa’s specifications and standards. 

Tuesdays were traditionally quiet.  He handled himself during dinner service very well, and Lexa used the slow day every week as a vehicle to train Roan to be Indra’s replacement when she and Indra inevitably moved on to the next thing.  He didn’t know it was happening, but she did. 

Lexa usually spent the afternoon and evening in the office and made herself available if he needed it, but sat back and let him solve his own problems.  He had a ways to go, but he was full of potential and she hoped he’d recognize that and get his head out of his ass soon.

Lexa checked in with all of her other locations on Tuesdays and went over all of their numbers.  She spent a few minutes on the phone with each head chef if time allowed.

The head chef of Polis in New York was fine, as usual.  That place was so solid and her chef there really knew what he was doing.  He was old enough to be her father and reminded her of it often.  They always enjoyed their catch ups and he always told her she needed to spend more time in New York.  There was always a new restaurant he wanted her to try on her next visit.

The chef at Nightblood in Vegas was too busy to talk long, but in a good way.  They were more profitable than ever this year.  He was glad to hear things up north were going well.  He told Lexa she was overdue for a visit and he wanted to hit the tables with her the next time she was in town. 

Her chef at The Flame in Miami was in great shape.  Her new Sous Chef was getting settled and the saucier she hired three months back was doing some great things.  She encouraged Lexa to make a trip down to warm her bones back up as soon as the weather turned up north.

Trikru’s chef de cuisine in San Francisco was absolutely killing it.  She didn’t have much time to talk to Lexa as her head chef was on vacation, but she had great ideas for the winter menu already and hoped Lexa would make a trip out soon to go over it and visit some local farms to help her make good choices.  She had a sommelier on staff that was changing the game in town and wanted Lexa to come for a tour of wine country to pick out the 2017 bottles like they had done every year.  

The chef in charge of War Paint in Los Angeles had such a solid crew that she admitted to Lexa that she was sitting in the office with her feet up that day.  She wanted in on the San Francisco wine trip, asked after Aden and Anya, asked if Lexa was seeing anyone, said it was a waste of a perfectly hot bod that she wasn’t, then emailed over her weekly reports.

Lexa had built an empire that ran itself without her and provided her with nothing to do but stew in her own thoughts and doubts.

Clarke’s phone number, folded and wrinkled on the order ticket from Blake’s Bar, lay on her desk with Lexa’s cellphone beside it.  Lexa hadn’t pinned Clarke to be so slick.  She put the ball completely in Lexa’s court.  Clarke didn’t have Lexa’s number, so she forced Lexa to make the move.  The magic of the beers and the food and the dingy bar lighting was gone and now she had to be a sober, solid adult and send a pretty girl a text message.

It felt impossible.

“Hey, Chef?” Roan poked his head into the office and startled Lexa out of her agony over ten numbers in choppy, doctor’s scrawl.  He startled her out of thoughts about the curve of Clarke’s hips in her low-slung ripped jeans.  She jumped in her office chair and spun towards him in an effort to look poised.  “Yikes, Commander.  You in the middle of something?  You want me to come back later?”

“What?  No, no.  I was just thinking about something.  What’s up?” Lexa stealthy picked up her phone and set it on top of Clarke’s number to get it out of her eyesight.

“You sure you’re okay?”  Roan asked her carefully.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Lexa scratched her forehead and looked away from him.  “Did you need something?” Lexa fiddled with the edge of the guest check with Clarke’s number on it that stuck out from under her phone.

“We’re about to open the doors.  I just wanted you to know dinner service is on,” Roan told her.  “I’ll be on the grills.  Emori is handling pasta.  Prep is really solid.  It’s raining and there are only a few two-top reservations this evening, so if you had anywhere else you wanted to be, we’ve got this tonight.”

“I make the schedule around here,” Lexa reminded him, a mock serious tone in her voice.

“No!  I know.  That’s not what I’m saying,” Roan held his hands up in defense. 

“I know, Roan,” Lexa softened. 

“I just meant that if there was something you’d rather be doing than watch me cook,” Roan pointed at her phone covering Clarke’s number.  “Like, say, take a savvy blonde out for a cocktail somewhere nice for instance,” he paused and gave her a little shrug.  She rolled her jaw, embarrassed that she was caught and looked down at her phone again. “Don’t let us get in your way.”

“How’d you know?” She flicked her eyes up at him.

“You weren’t exactly discrete about it last night, Commander,” he grinned at her.  Lexa picked up the paper and tapped the edge of it on her desk a few times.  She pushed her phone away.  He picked up on her discomfort.  “And I’m not saying it to be a dick or give you a gross hard time or anything like that.  I mean it.  She’s cool.  Like, really cool.  You should see where that goes.”

“I’d appreciate it if you kept everything from last night to yourself and didn’t tell the staff about it,” Lexa said with a warning tone.

“Who am I gonna tell?  Lincoln was there, no one else likes me and I’m afraid of Indra,” Roan joked.  Lexa chuckled.  “I’ve got to go cook now.  You think about it.  I’ll leave you to your…whatever it is that you’re up to.”  He backed away slowly with a reassuring smile.

“Are you just trying to get rid of me?” Lexa jumped up and poked her head out the door to catch him as he walked away.

“You did something nice for me.  I’m trying to do something nice for you!  I thought that’s how it works!” He called over his shoulder and turned the corner towards the grills.  Lexa scowled and dropped back into her office chair.  After too many moments of painful, tense worrying, she picked up Clarke’s number and her phone.

“Fuck it,” she sighed to herself and typed Clarke’s contact info in.  She typed a message several times, then promptly deleted each one.  She couldn’t start this.  She was supposed to be forgetting this girl.  She was supposed to be buckling down and figuring out what was next.  She was definitely not supposed to be thinking about her hips and her lips and her hands and her smile and her eyes.

Before she realized what was going on, she had her jacket on and walked out to tell Roan she was leaving.

“Night, Commander,” He smiled at her. 

“It’s not like that,” Lexa gave him a face.  She didn’t want him spreading rumors even though he claimed he wouldn’t.  Professional Roan was going to take some getting used to.  “I’m going home.  I have more work to do.”

“Whatever you say, Boss,” He nodded at her.  “Have a nice night.”

The drive home was short.  She almost wished it was longer.  The gray skies and raindrops on her windshield were soothing to her swirling thoughts.

She paused at a red light to type another message to Clarke, and then deleted it again with a frustrated sigh.  When she got home, Lexa set her phone on the kitchen counter and went up to her room to change.  She put some music on, opened a bottle of Malbec she’d been saving, then found her way into her home office.  One of the shelves in her book case had all of her notebooks from over the years while she was working on opening her restaurants.  She pulled out an arm load and dumped them on the island in the center of the kitchen.

It was all part of the process.

She had to live through who she had been in order to decide who she was going to be next.

Tonight, she needed to remind herself of why she had the stupid rule in the first place.

Lexa kept a series of notebooks to keep track of her ideas and to do lists and thoughts and recipes while she was opening each new place. She had invoices taped on some pages, business cards from places she and Indra liked, recipe ideas scribbled in between and any and everything she felt that was relevant to the process.  She kept notes on her travels to other countries to learn about different types of food and techniques.  Her whole life in food over the past decade and a half was written down.

When she got the urge to start something new, she would pull them all out, sit by herself, drink a bottle of good wine and read through them to find the best and worst parts of herself and her food to avoid the mistakes and build off of what really worked.

The New York notebooks always brought back fond memories.  She had no idea what she was doing back then.  Her food ideas were bold and over reaching.  Her concepts for the space were way over the top.  She was so delightfully naive.  She and Indra were so hopeful and young and excited.

The names of women she slept with and the corresponding restaurant she took them on a date to were doodled in the corners of the pages.  They used to bring back certain smells and memories of where she took them to eat to impress them into her sheets, but there were so many girls and they were so far away that the Kristins and Amys and Jennifers of the New York Notebooks all blurred together. 

She was such a cocky jerk back then, tallying her conquests in her books like that.  It was gross, but it was exactly who twenty-on year old Lexa was.  She stuck a post it on a few different recipe ideas she wanted to come back around to as well as a few restaurants to visit again and set her New York books in a neat pile.

She buckled down when she opened Miami.  The books were much neater, much more composed.  The menu made sense early.  She had a very clear plan for Miami.  She hardly slept back then and the design ideas for the space were interesting and made a lot of sense.  There were less girls’ names in those books and none of them towards the end once she was really focused.

Each girl at least had the meal she took them out for scratched next to her name.  That part of it she liked.  Sometimes the restaurant, or depending on the recipe, she made it at her place.  Lexa poured another glass of wine as she paged past a ton of Cuban food and girls with Latin names from her and Indra’s first trip to Miami to scope out potential spaces.  She could remember those long nights, up late in the empty restaurant working with Indra on exactly the right rubs for her jerked meats.

She poured a second glass of wine and stacked Miami up neatly with post its on her favorite pages. 

The Los Angeles pages had a lot of girls in them, too many really, mostly with interesting cocktails beside their names, not food, and were a total mess.  She made crazy notes, wrote all over the pages with no regard for margins and the whole thing was a train wreck.  She was a monster at the time.  Anya had been giving her a lot of shit back then for not being around for holidays.  It took Lexa years to realize that Anya was just worried about her.

When she opened up War Paint, she was getting a lot of great press.  A lot of the press was about how young, rich and hot she was, not necessarily about the food, but that was LA.  She let it consume her.  Lexa’s quickly building empire was getting to her head, and she was riding the high and partying very hard.  She was surrounded by women, booze, drugs and money all the time and completely acted the part.

The LA place was rebellious in design and in menu.  She’d be lying if she said she didn’t hate who she was back then.  She and Indra opened it up, then she got it staffed and got the hell out as soon as she could under the guise that the New York place needed her to come back. 

There was an awful lot of creative food in that book, though.  She was way outside of her comfort zone experimenting with Mexican flavors and authentic South West ingredients, as well as Japanese styles that were far outside her normal skillset and training.  She did good work and a lot of learning in LA.  Both about food and about herself. She was twenty-five, hot and high profile and drinking herself ugly every night.  The growing pains left some scars.

She set the Los Angeles books aside and finished her second glass of wine.  Her phone buzzed on the counter and made her pause.

“Hi,” Lexa said and rested the phone on her shoulder so she could keep paging through.

“Roan said you went home early.  Are you okay?”  It was Anya.  She sounded worried and skipped any pleasantries.

“I’m fine.  What’s he doing telling you that?”  Lexa tried to keep her voice steady.  She forgot for a minute that she decided she was fine with all of that.

“He told me about last night,” Anya was more sincere.  It sounded like she was driving.  “Thanks for that.”

“Yeah, well,” Lexa drowned the rest of what she wanted to say with a sip of her wine.  Maybe some other time.

“Heard about the doc, too, by the way.”  The smirk coming through the phone made Lexa blush.

“I’m doing my notebook thing right now.  Can I call you tomorrow?” Lexa winced.  She didn’t want to blow Anya off, but a large part of why she was even doing this tonight was to help sort her thoughts about what to do about Clarke.  To decide if she was even ready or certain she should even do anything at all about Clarke.  If she started gushing now about her pretty eyes and how funny she was and how soft her hands were, it would be over before it started.

“Sounds good.  I’ll be at my desk on and off all day,” Anya replied.  “Go easy, please.  Call me later on if you need to.”

“I will,” Lexa smiled as they said their goodbyes and she set the phone back on the counter before moving on to Las Vegas.

Her Vegas books were very polished. 

It was the first time she instilled the rule.  She sited her success in Miami and her spiral in LA as the reason for it, and it totally worked.  After hiding in New York while the LA ship righted itself, she went home for a few months to regroup. 

She spent a lot of time with Aden and Anya.  He was in second grade and really starting to figure himself out.  She took him camping and spent a ton of time at their place.  She had her own place, but it felt like she lived with them.  She made dinner all the time and she and Anya hung out a lot.  They were good times on the heels of the mess of Los Angeles.

Lexa planned for Vegas even more meticulously than she did for Miami and it put her back on the map.  She had a seamless opening and everything was perfect.  There wasn’t a single woman’s name throughout all of the preparation and conceptual stages of the Vegas books.  She spent the whole time working on food and working on herself.  It paid out in spades.

She tabbed a few pages where she was experimenting with Greek food.  She went through a Portuguese and Spanish phase around that time as well.  She knew what was coming near the second half of the last Vegas volume.  The part of the process she dreaded mixed in between marinated feta and spice blends for paella.

Costia.  2012 Hall Napa Valley Cab Sav.  2 bottles.

If Nightblood in Vegas hadn’t already been a pretty done deal, Costia might have ruined it.  They met at the pre-launch party.  Lexa was still young at the time and she fell instantly head over heels for Costia.  She was the executive chef at one of the rival spaces in Las Vegas and played to Lexa’s ego to get her to bed the first time. 

Costia was in her late thirties and had an air of sophistication that intrigued Lexa.  Lexa grew up with money and fine things, but surrounded herself with so many people who did not.  She had buried that side of herself.  She didn’t like that side of herself.  She caught a glimpse of what it did to her in LA.  She threw money around like an asshole, bought expensive gifts for women she barely knew and overcame hardships by paying for them.

Costia brought that side of Lexa right back out with alarming ease.  Lexa was instantly infatuated and would do pretty much anything Costia asked without noticing who she was becoming in the process.

The San Francisco books were next.  It was so fun at first.

Lexa had slept with countless woman of all walks of life, but she never slept with other chefs.  Most of the chefs she spent time with were her subordinates.  Most other chefs were intimidated by her and avoided her socially.  There were a plenty of servers and bartenders from back in the day, but Lexa never slept with anyone she worked with in the kitchen.  She was always the boss, so she never had any true peers.  She always thought of Indra as an equal because they were so synced that Lexa never had to pull rank and remind Indra who was in charge.  She respected her so much.

But Costia was an equal.  She was another executive chef and a champion manipulator that knew exactly which of Lexa’s buttons to push, how hard and when. 

The sex was great. 

They were both passionate, creative people who drank a lot of expensive booze while cooking unbelievable food together.  They were professional, high class entertainers.  They were both world travelers.  They went on exotic vacations on a whim.  Lexa had unlimited funds and Costia had extremely expensive taste.  It was easy to deny the fact that your girlfriend was crazy when you were in the Maldives for five days with nothing but her bare skin, bottomless cocktails and incredible sunsets.

Indra hated her.

Indra never cared what Lexa did in her personal life as long as it didn’t affect her professional life.  Lexa was good about keeping her trail of conquests out of the kitchen and out of her and Indra’s affairs.  Costia, as a fellow executive chef, had a license to be included.  She was one of Lexa’s professional peers.   

Indra was in a position below her and Costia never let her forget it.  She had so many damn opinions and none of them were any good.  Her style was the antithesis of Lexa’s.  They had totally different relationships with food.  Costia used food for power.  She used food for fame and money.  She played to trends and changed who she was to stay relevant.

 Indra hated who Costia turned Lexa into.  Lexa was insufferable to be around and her food was awful and her ideas were just bad.

The first rift between Lexa and Indra was never about business.  They had opened four places together and they never fought once.  Lexa had been the ugliest version of herself in LA and Indra never said anything outside of a few passive aggressive suggestions that Lexa get her shit together. 

But Costia.

Indra couldn’t stand Costia.  She was so fake.  Her food was fake.  She was into gimmicks and tricks instead of just making good food.  She was everything that Lexa wasn’t and it was tarnishing the San Fran project.   The décor was weird.  The menu didn’t flow.  The food didn’t have an ounce of soul.  Indra and Lexa started growing distant during that time, and Lexa didn’t see it because she was too blinded by thinking she was in love. 

Lexa skimmed over pages and pages of terrible food.  Food that wasn’t hers.  Formulas for molecular gastronomy and other magic tricks that didn’t suit her.  It was painful.  She wasn’t sure if the shitty version of herself she was reliving on the pages or what she knew was coming next was what made her feel like crying, but she forced herself to keep going despite the sick feeling in her stomach.

They were a serious couple for almost three years.  They lived together in the bay area and they were inseparable.  Lexa was so in love.  Sure, Costia was high maintenance, but Lexa lived to serve and loved being the suave, loaded, talented young buck that Costia came home to and paraded around at parties.  

There was a power struggle that Lexa was blind to.  Lexa had four, soon to be five, very successful restaurants.  Costia, who was twelve years older, only had two, and one of them was in Vegas in the shadow of Nightblood.  Lexa was praised in the press constantly.  Lexa was asked to do TV spots.  Costia found everything wrong with the fact that Top Chef asked Lexa to guest judge.  Twice.  On two different seasons in two different cities.  Costia told Lexa that framing her magazine covers was tacky.  Lexa had seventeen.  Costia had three. 

Lexa also was the sole heir to two huge fortunes, technically owned her father’s company, and had a controlling interest in her mother’s, both of which had nothing to do with Lexa’s work at all.

Costia was very good at math and Lexa was not.

Costia was older and had more experience and helped Lexa with the financial aspects of the business.  Watching your money was tough to bother with when you had so much of it and didn’t really understand it.  Lexa never really had to pay attention to money her whole life.  She hated thinking about the money.  She knew none of it would be hers if they were still alive. 

One afternoon while Lexa was going over the books on the new place, she realized fifty-thousand dollars of her own money, not Woods Restaurant Group money, had gone missing.  She went to the half-finished restaurant space to ask Costia about it thinking she had just read it wrong.  Costia was good at that sort of thing. 

Lexa found Costia on one of the prep tables with her clothes off getting fucked by their accountant.  The irony at the time was lost on a devastated Lexa.  Costia made a bunch of excuses, but Lexa broke.  Through all of the fighting that followed as they tried to sort it out, she found out it wasn’t the first time.  It had been going on the whole time behind her back and Lexa had no idea.

Lexa had never felt so betrayed.  She’d never felt so stupid.  It was a new kind of lonely and the most bone chilling variety of shame.

But Indra was right there. 

She never said I told you so.  Indra never even brought it up.  She just pushed Lexa into work and the two of them came out on the other side.  They bought themselves out of the lease on the place and started over in San Francisco just the two of them.  They finally got it off the ground a year later.  Lexa was stubborn and demanded to see the San Fran spot through.  Once it was up and running, she took off to Italy for a while to get her head on straight.

She skimmed over the Portland books quickly.  They were only three years old and very fresh.  They were extremely neat and organized and very professional.  When she got home from Italy, she enrolled in some business and finance classes, and her work reflected that.  She swore off women and dating completely until well after Portland was up and running.  There was only one word to describe the Houm opening, and every magazine, food blogger, news caster and critic used the same one. 

Houm was flawless.

It was the culmination of her whole career.  All of her mistakes.  All of the food she had set aside because it wasn’t trendy or now enough.  All of the wines that were too old school and not up on the current trend of blending reds.  All of the Italian dishes she had eaten over there that American hot shots deemed unexciting.  She spent so much time retraining herself in classic techniques to get all of the new age, gimmicky cooking out of her system that Costia had sworn to her was the only way she’d keep up her success streak.

Houm was classic perfection.

They were celebrating their two-year anniversary in December.

So what the hell was she supposed to do now?

She didn’t have any ideas and she didn’t want to admit it.  She didn’t even feel like traveling anywhere.  She’d been everywhere.  She was content, if not a little bored, but not particularly inspired.  Now she was self-declared not allowed to date and had accidentally met the most intriguing woman.

Feeling her wine buzz and her Costia aches and pains dissolving, she reached for her phone.

“You okay?” Indra picked up on the first ring without saying hello.  Anya had texted her earlier to give her a heads up on what Lexa was doing at home alone that night. 

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Lexa sighed.  “I’m sorry to bother you on your day off,” Lexa poured the rest of the bottle into her glass.  It sounded loud where Indra was. “Are you out right now?”

“I’m with Lincoln at this damn place he’s obsessed with,” Lexa could hear Indra rolling her eyes and loved every second of it.  “I gotta give it to him.  This food is phenomenal.”

“Isn’t it?”  Lexa set the bottle on the counter and smiled at the thought of Octavia’s blend of seasonings on her chicken.  She was still trying to figure out what was in that damn gravy.

“What’s up, Commander?  What are you calling me for at this hour?  Are you drunk?” Indra asked, caught between playful and concerned.

“Only a little,” Lexa admitted shyly.

“So?” Indra waited patiently. 

“I’m going through the books,” Lexa finally sighed.

“I told you I would do that with you if you needed me to,” Indra warned.

“I know.  And thank you,” Lexa paused before going on.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to the question she was about to ask, but she had to hear it from Indra.  “Do you think my rule is bullshit?” She asked quietly.

“No,” Indra said firmly after a long pause.

“Alright,” Lexa swallowed hard, unsure if that was the response she wanted.

“I think it might need some tweaking,” Indra added on and Lexa involuntarily brightened. 

“Yeah?”  Lexa asked.

“Yeah, maybe,” Indra replied with a hopeful note.  “Look at Miami.  You were a dog back then, but you focused on the food.  War Paint shows more growth than all of them put together aside from where we are now maybe.  You were a fucking disaster back then, but you still brought really good food to the table.”

“So, what kind of tweaking is that exactly?” Lexa winced. 

“You’ve always been all or nothing, Lexa.  About everything, really.  Hang on,” Indra moved the phone away to say something to someone at the bar that Lexa couldn’t make out.  She swished her wine in her glass as she let Indra’s points roll around.  “I met her, by the way.  She went to bed early so she’s not here anymore, but I had a very nice time with your doctor.”

“God damn it,” Lexa sighed, caught for the second time that day.

“I assume she’s the reason for what you’re up to tonight and this late night drunk dial,” Indra carried on.

“I said I was only a little drunk,” Lexa joked.

“I’ll make you a deal, Chef,” Indra took a sip of her drink.  “If you get to know this one before you sleep with her and claim to fall in love with her and ruin your next restaurant, I think it will cancel out the rule.  Your rule is no more girls, and I agree with that.  But if you get yourself a grown ass woman, maybe we can talk business.”  Lexa let the words sink in.

“Costia was a woman,” Lexa muttered.

“Costia was a bitch,” Indra snapped. “And she ruined my friend.” The word ‘friend’ sank heavily into Lexa’s heart in the best way.  “She never deserved you and you know that.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Lexa laughed.

“I don’t know, Chef.  I think it’s the food.  Octavia must be a witch.  She’s got to be using black magic in these sauces,” Indra chuckled.  “They also keep the drinks coming here at a rate that can’t be legal.”

“Hey, Lexa!” she could hear Octavia shouting in the background.  “Indra invited me to come for dinner at Houm tomorrow!  Get ready to show me what you’ve got!”

“You didn’t,” Lexa deadpanned.

“I heard about the special treatment you got and I was given the same.  We can’t let that go unanswered.  We have a reputation, Commander,” Indra replied in a mock stern voice.  “But seriously.  Get out of your head and out of your books.  Put them away and just cook something.  It always makes you feel better.  Do this one right.  The new place and the new woman.  You’re alright, Woods.  You should be proud.”

“Thanks,” Lexa smiled at Indra’s warm words.

“I gotta go. I’m about to get a piece of fish that’s supposed to change my life.  I’ll see you in the morning and we’ll pick this up.”  Lexa could hear Lincoln and Octavia laughing in the background before Indra hung up.  She pushed all of her notebooks aside and opened the fridge to take Indra’s advice.

*****

“She texted me!” Clarke burst out of her bedroom the next morning into the living room.  Octavia was face down snoozing on the couch with a cup of coffee next to her on the coffee table.  It was cluttered with magazines and art supplies and make up and abandoned beverages.  Raven sat cross legged in an arm chair with her computer in her lap doing work.  She looked like she’d been up all night.  There were two empty coffee cups and a few over turned cans of diet coke in front of her on the table.  The TV was on with the volume low on the food network.

“Yeah?”  Octavia look up, her brown locks falling in her eyes. 

“And?  What did she say?” Raven closed the lid on her laptop and was at full attention.

“She said, and I quote, ‘Hi it’s Lexa.  Sorry for the delay.  Work has been crazy.  Would love to see you Sunday if you’re still up for it.  Let me know’,” Clarke read from her phone.

“That’s it?” Octavia grimaced.

“What do you mean, that’s it?” Clarke gasped.  She crossed the living room to the open kitchen and poured herself a coffee.  “That’s multiple sentences!  And she wants to see me!”  Clarke snapped, leaning a hip against the breakfast bar that divided the kitchen and living room. 

The living room and kitchen walls and cabinets were painted in various shades of blue, teal and green that almost matched from when Raven went through a heavy pot smoking phase while she was on hiatus from work for a month four years ago.  They had all been too busy to do anything about it since and were trying to just go with the kaleidoscope of hues Raven set them up with.  Most of the furniture was mismatched and the belongings of three adults clashed in the big space. 

The kitchen cabinets were open showing off the hodgepodge of plates and glassware, most of which were the same as Octavia’s dishware downstairs at the bar.  Almost every glass was a pint glass with a brewery logo on it that was either stolen from another bar or given to Octavia for free.  They had an awful lot of nice kitchen appliances and tools, also all Octavia’s, but none of it matched.

The furniture had been collected on and off by the three of them since they met and the couch had been in four different apartments in two different states. They were on such crazy schedules that cleaning their apartment never made it onto anyone’s to do list but Clarke’s, and she only got to it sometimes.  

It nagged at Clarke that they lived like college roommates into their early thirties.  She was convinced as soon as they started pairing off and moving in with significant others that things would change, but here they were.  Still the three of them, still single, still Raven’s weed-induced paint job.

“I guess,” Octavia shrugged.  “I’ve been waiting for you to get up.  I scored a favor from Lexa’s head chef, Indra last night.  She’s pretty intense, huh?  I like her.”

“What kind of intense?”  Clarke came back and pushed Octavia’s legs out of the way so she could sit on the couch with her.  “She was perfectly nice to me.”

“Everyone is perfectly nice to you,” Raven joked.  “It’s your thing.”

“Shut up,” Clarke rolled her eyes at Raven.  She didn’t want to argue the point because she knew it was mostly true.

“She just seems really serious.  Lincoln told me she’s the only one that’s not afraid of Lexa,” Octavia yawned and settled herself in so they could both fit on the couch.

“That blows my mind that everyone is afraid of her.  She seems so nice and down to earth and calm,” Clarke puzzled and sipped from her coffee.       

“A lot of chefs are when they’re not in the kitchen,” Octavia shrugged. 

“And she’s sassy and flirty and if I’m lucky, kind of handsy.  She felt like she was holding back,” Clarke smirked into her coffee.  “It was kinda hot.”

“I want to come back to the details on that in a minute,” Octavia pointed at Clarke.  “But I wanted to tell you that Lexa called Indra last night while she was at the bar after you left.  Sounded kinda serious.  I tried to butt in, but my charm doesn’t go nearly as far on Indra as it does on Lincoln.”

“Shocker,” Raven chuckled and shuffled through her beverages on the table looking for a coffee that was still hot or a soda that was still cold.  “What did you say back to your hot new chef girlfriend?”

“Nothing yet,” Clarke shrugged.  “I just woke up and saw it.”  She sighed as she reached to set her coffee on the table.  “And she’s not my girlfriend.”

“She’s gonna be,” Raven shot a knowing smile at Clarke.

“As much as I am on the Clarke Griffin needs to get laid train,” Octavia paused and both roommates perked up.  “I think you might want to be careful.”

“What?” Raven squawked.  “Why?  She’s obviously into Clarke.  We’re about to go into the instant touchy replay!” 

“I overheard Indra talking to her.  Apparently there is some kind of rule about something.  Something about women.  Also it sounds like Lexa is thinking about opening a new place, so she might not even be around for very long.  I don’t want you to get attached and then get burned again,” Octavia smiled sympathetically at Clarke.

“Who said anything about getting attached?”  Clarke tried to play it cool. 

“You did when you skipped in here like a goddamn teenager over a boring ass text message,” Octavia shot Clarke a glare.

“Shit,” Clarke sighed.  Octavia was right.

“We’re going to Houm for dinner tonight,” Octavia spoke up after a disappointed lull fell over the room.  She pointed to herself and Raven.  “Indra and Lincoln invited us to sit at the bar and they’d return the favor of a tasting night like I’ve done for them twice now.  You should come.”

“How did you manage that invite?”  Clarke asked.

“Lincoln wants me and I got Indra drunk,” Octavia grinned devilishly.  “If some of the best chefs in town like my place and my food, and apparently my friend, I’m exploiting that and getting treated like a queen in a four-star establishment.”

“You’re awful,” Clarke playfully swatted Octavia on the hip.

“But you’ll come with us, right?” Octavia asked.

“Of course I’m coming with you!” Clarke snapped as she picked herself up off the couch.  “I need to find out more about this rule.”

“Then you should wear that red dress in the back of your closet from the last fundraiser at the hospital.  Lexa will probably tell you anything you want to know,” Raven raised a brow.

“I just might,” Clarke laughed and glanced down at her phone again, trying to come up with something to say.  “That dress helped Jaha raise quite a bit of money last winter.”

*****

“Morning, Chef,” Indra nodded at Lexa as she came in through the back door.

“Morning,” Lexa nodded at her.  They were both a little sluggish and a little more tired than they ought to be for the hour. Lexa was up all night cooking and Indra was feeling her age after so much whiskey on a weeknight.  Indra checked inventory and the specials menu to determine her team’s prep for the day.  Lexa went straight for the coffee pot and poured herself a cup before coming back to help.

“You doing okay?  I know you had a long night,” Indra asked with purpose.

“You know what?” Lexa said as she sipped her coffee thoughtfully.  “I really am.  I thought a lot about what you said.”

“I had an awful lot of whiskey last night so I might need you to remind me of what I said,” Indra grinned.  Lexa let out a little laugh and poured a second cup of coffee for Indra.

“You said that the rule was no more girls, but it would be canceled out if I found myself a grown ass woman,” Lexa replied and set the coffee down for Indra.

“Damn, I’m smart,” Indra chuckled.  Lexa rolled her eyes sarcastically.

“Then you told me to put my books away and cook something.  So I did,” Lexa shrugged.

“What’d you make?” Indra blew across the top of the hot coffee before taking a sip.  There had been many times where Lexa came to Indra looking for help when she was spiraling emotionally.  Every time, Indra told her the same thing.  Put it away and go cook something.  Lexa was an amazing chef, and sometimes Indra needed to remind her of that.  Lexa had a gift, and using it always calmed her down.

“Braised short ribs,” Lexa replied.  Indra shot her a look knowing full well that Lexa’s short ribs took at least five hours to make.  “Yeah.  I didn’t sleep much.  But they came out nice.  I brought you some.  They’re in the walk-in in a Tupperware with your name on it.”

"Thanks, Commander,” Indra smiled.  “I love those.”

They moved silently into their tasks for the day.  Lexa strolled to the office to get paperwork in order and checked her emails and reports from the other stores.  There was a blank notebook on her desk that she was supposed to be using to jot notes and ideas for the next thing.  She ignored it.  She wouldn’t even touch it.  It had been sitting there since she declared last week that she was going to get started.

She paged through the folder full of info sitting on her desk from Food and Wine Magazine that she needed to review about their visit next week.  She couldn’t believe it was just about October already. 

The Food And Wine thing was old hat now.  She had done this sort of thing so many times.  There would be photographers coming.  There would be an interview.  They were doing a spot on Portland and she and two other chefs were getting features.  A lot of chefs and important food and beverage people in town were invited to a party sponsored by Food and Wine in honor of the featured chefs’ achievements. 

There would be tons of food from all kinds of vendors.  Four of the big breweries had gotten into a dogfight to headline it.  There was a new whiskey distillery from Southern Maine coming.  There would be a ton of phonies kissing her ass while she pretended she was excited to be there.  She and Indra each had a ticket to the event with a plus one.  Lexa was dreading that part of it. 

Indra had already called dibs on Lincoln and Anya was going to be out of town chaperoning an overnight school trip with Aden.  She let herself momentarily stoop to consider taking Roan, but someone had to keep the restaurant open with the three of them out for the evening.  She contemplated closing for the night so she could bring him, but that would make her look weak.

Lexa was the guest of honor and she was going to show up to her own party alone.  She didn’t really care about the party and she cared a lot less about the accolades, but she would be socially defenseless if there wasn’t someone with her she could turn to.  She’d have to be constantly on all night answering the same lousy questions from people who she should remember but didn’t.

It was going to be awful.  It was a large part of why she had been ignoring the whole thing.

Indra built her prep lists and got the chefs working under her for the day set up with tasks.  Around two o’clock, she found herself in Lexa’s office with the short ribs.

“These are great,” Indra nodded her head as she pushed another bite into her mouth.

“Thank you,” Lexa replied and set down the invitation she was looking at so she could spin in her office chair and face Indra.

“Is this the rub from Miami?”  Indra pointed her fork into the bowl.

“Kind of,” Lexa shrugged.  “It’s a little different.”

“Hm,” Indra let another bite roll around in her mouth.

“So you met her,” Lexa finally said to break the quiet between them.

“I did,” Indra nodded again.  She kept her sentences even shorter than usual.

“And?” Lexa raised a brow.  It made her uncomfortable that Indra hadn’t brought it up yet.

“I don’t know if I should tell you what I think,” Indra kept eating and kept her eyes low.

"I don’t know if I like where you’re going with that,” Lexa sat up straighter.  Indra looked down thoughtfully into her ribs for a few moments.

“Here’s the thing, Commander,” Indra began.  “You just said it’s time for something new.  Literally days ago.  It’s been long overdue that it’s time.  You’ve been kind of boring and stale for a while now.”

“I am not!” Lexa yelped.

“You don’t even cook anymore,” Indra pointed her saucy fork at Lexa.

“I do too!” Lexa snapped.

“Other than these ribs and that damn flirty pasta you made, when was the last time you cooked in here?”  Indra challenged.  Lexa scratched her chin in thought.  Now that she was thinking about it, it had been months since she so much as subbed in on the line.  She made two salads before Roan sent her to the hospital.  It hit her like a truck.

“Jesus, you’re right,” Lexa muttered.

“So it’s definitely time for something new.  Whether it’s a new restaurant or you travel for a little bit, go back to Italy, try out Thailand like you’ve always wanted, go to India, lose yourself in New Orleans like we talked about for a while, I don’t care, Chef.  You need something new,” Indra told her.  “And I’m worried you’re not going to do any of that, because Clarke’s great.”

“You like her?”  Lexa gaped.  “You hate everyone!”

“I don’t hate everyone.  I like you most of the time?” Indra shrugged.

“Yeah, but that took you fifteen years to say that to my face!” Lexa laughed incredulously.

“She seems like a pretty good woman, but I don’t want you to drop it all and get yourself ruined again.  You’re already on your way,” Indra added on quietly.  Lexa’s mouth hung open.

“I’m not ruined!” She snapped.

“You kind of are, Chef.  You don’t cook anymore.  You don’t have any fun.  You’re not dating so you hardly go out and enjoy food or drinks or anything.  You don’t see any of your friends, if you even have any.  Even Anya has to schedule you for dinner these days.  You’re your own brand of miserable and you don’t even know it,” Indra sighed.  “It’s painful to watch.”

“I’m not miserable!”  Lexa gasped.  The two prep chefs at a table not far off glanced up.

“I still don’t know what you’re telling me to do about her,” Lexa tried to keep her voice down and keep the conversation in her office.

“I’m not telling you to do anything about her.  Take it slow and make sure you even want to be here.  In this town.  Maybe you don’t conceptualize a new place right now.  Maybe you should travel again.  It did wonders for you after San Francisco,” Indra suggested.

“You mean after Costia.  You can say her name,” Lexa spat out.

“Honestly, I prefer not to,” Indra replied frankly.  “I want you to be capable of love again, Lexa.  I really do.  But not at the expense of yourself.”

“I didn’t say I was in love with her,” Lexa scoffed.  “She’s smart and she’s funny and she’s hot.  It doesn’t mean I’m packing up my knives and retiring.”

“She’s different than your usual fair intellectually,” Indra paused, a bite of ribs halfway to her mouth.  “I hadn’t thought about that because physically she’s everything that normally gets you into trouble.”

“That she is,” Lexa smirked.  Indra rolled her eyes.

“Please, just,” Indra shook her head before continuing on.  Lexa looked up at her expectantly.  “Please just be careful.”

 

Chapter Text

“Dr. Griffin!  Chef Blake!  Um, I don’t have a title for you yet, Raven!” Lincoln cried, his voice laced with glee as the three of them took seats at the bar at Houm on Wednesday evening.  “What an absolute pleasure it is to have you ladies here at Houm with us.”  He expertly set them up with glasses of water, place settings and menus with the grace of a blackjack dealer.

“Why, Lincoln, the pleasure is all ours,” Raven grinned at him as she shrugged out of her jacket.  Octavia and Clarke did the same.  The host was behind them to take the garments away before their arms were out of their sleeves.

“Oh!  Thank you!” Clarke jumped at the speed of service.

“And you don’t need a title for me,” Raven chuckled.  “I prefer not to be as fancy as these two ladies here,” Raven talked out the side of her mouth and pretended she was telling Lincoln a secret.

“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” He grinned at her.  He paused, his ice scoop half way to a glass when he looked back up at Octavia.

He had only seen her sweaty and greasy in her bandanas and sleeveless t-shirts and dirty jeans.  Lincoln was not prepared for what Octavia Blake looked like in evening make up, a black tailored dress that was cut exactly right for her body type and her dark hair flowing in loose waves over her shoulders.

“Chef Blake,” he paused, a nervous laugh sneaking in.  “May I say that you look absolutely lovely this evening?”

“I’m actually not technically a chef,” Octavia scowled.  It was a sore spot.  “But you may,” Octavia pretended to blush and fan herself.  He set her glass of water down last and smiled warmly at her.

“In that case, Octavia,” he said her name with purpose and she sat up a little straighter.  She liked it too much.  “You look absolutely lovely this evening,” Lincoln smirked.

“Charmer,” Octavia rolled her eyes.

“All of you, truly,” He tacked on.  “You three clean up very well.”  He wasn’t just trying to be cute, the three of them looked amazing.  It took him an instant to realize who they were when they approached the bar with waves and smiles at him.  He’d only seen Raven and Clarke hanging out at Blake’s in their jeans and t shirts and last night’s ponytails.  He thought they were good looking women then.  Done up in dresses and hair and make up for a nice evening out, they were something else altogether.

“Yeah, yeah,” Raven waved him off with a sarcastic stink face.  “We’re gonna tip you.  You don’t need to do any of that.”

“Yes he does,” Octavia snapped.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bartender,” Clarke carried on the charade as if they didn’t know one another and were any old bar guests.  “I recently sewed Chef Wood’s arm back together and she told me that if I ever found my way into Houm, I should ask for her.”

“Actually, Dr. Griffin,” Lincoln held a finger up, then paused.  “I can actually call you Dr. Griffin, right?  That one isn’t wrong?” he asked her quietly.

“Calling me Dr. Griffin is quite correct,” Clarke laughed.  “But that’s for my professional life.  I like to think we’re past that formality.”

“I might keep it around for formal occasions,” Lincoln grinned.  “But Chef Woods was aware that Octavia and Raven were coming this evening.  However, you, my dear, will be a pleasant surprise for her,” Lincoln shot Octavia a conspiratorial look.  “Please, excuse me, Ladies.  I’ll see what I can do about the request.”  Lincoln ducked out back into the kitchen.

“Man, O.  He certainly is yummy,” Raven watched him leave with a brow raised.

“Isn’t he, though?” Octavia sighed with a borderline predatory smile.

“He’s cute, too.  He’s very sweet,” Clarke nodded her head in approval as she glanced around.

Houm was beautiful inside.  It wasn’t the kind of place she frequented, but she’d been a few times over the last two years since it opened.  It was done very classically in neutral tones. Lots of creams, whites, beiges and grays.  Everything was polished perfectly.  All of the brass fixtures looked like they were dusted daily.  Several of the walls had exposed brick.  There were candles on every table and they lined the walls.  It looked and felt warm and cozy even thought it was a big space for the small downtown.  There was something vaguely European about it.

“Hey Chef, Hey Commander,” Lincoln nodded his greeting to Indra and Lexa.  Indra cooked at the grill and Lexa stood beside her chatting about getting the grill serviced and making a list of necessary repairs.  “Remember last night when we had a little bit to drink and told Raven and Octavia to come in for dinner for a tasting night?”  Lincoln asked, his voice high pitched.  Lexa and Indra just stared, waiting for him to go on.  “Well?  They’re here.”

“Excellent,” Indra rubbed her hands together.  “I want to show that little messy cooking prodigy how we do it over here.”

“And Clarke is with them,” Lincoln tacked on. 

“What?” Lexa whipped her head around at him.

“She said that you told her to ask for you the next time she was here,” Lincoln smirked.  “Surprise!  She’s here!”

“Fuck, I did do that,” Lexa ran a hand over her face.  She took a deep breath and tapped her fingertips together in thought before continuing on.  “Alright, you two.  We’re doing this thing full blown,” she put a hand on each of their shoulders.  “Eight courses, amuse bouche through dessert with wine pairings.  I want you making samples from you cocktail menu between courses.  Octavia’s here to make sure we’re worth all the hype we get, and we need to prove to her that we’re even better than she thinks we are.  It’ll go a long way with her.  Give them anything they want.  Treat them like goddamn royalty.  Where are they sitting?”

“At the bar.  But before you go out there, there’s something you should know,” Lincoln moved in front of her to prevent Lexa from leaving the grill.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Lincoln.  Get out of the way,” Lexa swatted at him and wiggled past him.  He jogged a step and got right behind her before she entered the dining room.  She stopped in her tracks when she looked up and saw Clarke sitting between both of her friends.

In her flannel and scandalous tank top with messy weekend hair, Clarke was sexy and adorable.

In her scrubs and her lab coat and her glasses, Clarke was an understated gorgeous.

“Oh, shit,” Lexa swallowed hard. 

Clarke had on the red dress from the back of her closet.  It clung in all of the right places and looked like it had been made just for her curves.  It was long enough to be classy but still showed off her legs.  It was low cut enough to be sexy but still managed to claim a sophisticated neckline.  Her eyes were smoky, her heels were tall and her hair.  Shit, that hair.  Lexa was beginning to think those blond curls were going to be the death of her.  They were perfectly styled and hung loosely over one shoulder exposing Clarke’s neck and collar bone on the other side.

“Yeah,” Lincoln sighed, stretching the word out apprehensively.  “She looks kinda-“

“Stunning,” Lexa cut him off.  Clarke happened to look up and she caught sight of Lexa and Lincoln across the way.  She broke into a huge smile at the sight of the chef and reached a hand up to give her a little wave.  Lexa waved back and strode over with a new sense of purpose.

“Raven, Octavia, Clarke,” Lexa began, her firm, confident chef voice showing through and her gaze lingering on Clarke.  “Welcome to Houm.  I’m so glad you made it in.” 

When Lexa came into the ER in her chef’s gear, she was frowny and had a few buttons undone with her hair in a messy pony tail.  Tonight, she had the same pressed white chef’s jacket on with her name on it.  Her hair was in a perfect low bun below her white chef’s cap.  Her neck looked so long and slender against the collar.  All buttoned up and standing up tall and proud, she looked intense in all the best ways.  She was caught somewhere between regal and militant and it was really doing it for Clarke.

“I believe a gauntlet was thrown in my house by Indra, so here we are,” Octavia chuckled.  Lexa let out a little laugh.

“My plan is to bring you out eight small courses so you can get a great picture of the full menu.  We don’t usually do it this way, it’s usually five, but I’m going to make a special exception since you’re such special company,” Lexa shot Clarke a glance on the word ‘special’.   “Lincoln will bring you the proper wine per course as well as samples from his seasonal cocktail menu in between to keep you entertained.  A tasting portion of course.  I’ve heard you girls can party, but eight glasses of wine with cocktails on tasting sized portions is probably not going to end well,” Lexa rolled her eyes with a goofy smile and they all laughed.  “Does that work for you?  Or was there something specific you were hoping to eat this evening?”

“This plan is perfect,” Octavia nodded.  “Do I get to ask you what’s in everything?”

“You can ask, but I can’t promise I’ll tell you,” Lexa shrugged.

“Fair,” Octavia nodded back respectfully.

“Your amuse bouche will be out shortly,” Lexa smiled and tapped Lincoln on the arm.  “Lincoln, could you please get these ladies a cocktail while they wait and the appropriate sauvignon blanc when their first course comes out?”

“Of course, chef,” He nodded at her and reached for a shaker.   

“I’ll be right back,” Lexa shot Clarke one more delicious smile before walking calmly back to the kitchen. It made Clarke cross her legs

“Well, chef?  Do you need me to get Roan over here to take over for me so I can work this meal for our new friends?”  Indra asked.  Roan looked up from down the line.

“No,” Lexa said confidently.  They all paused and waited for instruction.  “I’m going to cook it.”  She started pulling plates for her oyster amuse bouche and ignored Indra’s glare.

“I’m sorry, commander.  Did I just hear you say that you’re going to cook an eight course tasting meal?”  Indra crossed her arms over her chest and gave Lexa a look caught somewhere between pride and a challenge.  “Right now?”

“You did,” Lexa didn’t look up from her food.  She wasn’t too far down the line from Roan and he watched her work out of the corner of his eye. 

“For the doctor you’re in love with that told you not to use that arm for a week?” Indra eyed her.

“I’m not in love with her,” Lexa muttered.  “My arm is fine and I’m going to let her think you’re cooking it.”

“Then don’t let us get in your way, Chef,” Indra replied, this time actually smiling.

“You know I never do,” Lexa put the finishing touches on her dishes and carried them out.

“This is gonna be good!” Indra called over to Roan who shook his head, deciding to stay quiet.  Lexa ignored their teasing and headed for the dining room.  She set their plates down with expert grace and Lincoln followed with the wine.

“For your first course, an amuse bouche to get you started,” Lexa began.  “You each have a locally sourced oyster, served on the half shell.  There is a dash of apple and shallot chutney as well as a few other secrets I’m not at liberty to say.  Your wine is a sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley, it’s a 2013.”  Clarke sat mesmerized by Lexa’s professional chef persona.  She was so strong and confident with her words.  She was smooth while firm.  Clarke’s thoughts wandered to other places where she hoped Lexa was just as smooth and a little more firm.

“Shoot, Woods,” Octavia eyed the presentation.  “Your food certainly is prettier than mine.”

“I’ll say,” Raven chuckled and picked up her oyster.  “It actually fits on the plate.  I’ve had more than one sandwich served to me in a bowl because you over did it.”

“Don’t act for one second like you didn’t completely enjoy every one of those,” Octavia fired a glare at Raven.  Clarke chuckled and shot her oyster down expertly.  The fluidity of her motions and the following face she made to express how good she felt about the flavors put Lexa’s cool exterior in danger of cracking.

“Oh wow,” Clarke’s eyes widened as she reached for the wine.  “I’d say we’re off to a very good start.”  She caught Lexa’s eye and they stayed that way just a moment too long.

“I’ll return with your appetizer course shortly.  Indra is out back cooking.  She says hello.  Please let Lincoln know if there’s anything at all that you need or want,” Lexa gave them each a warm smile before heading back to the kitchen.

“Yeah, this is fucked up good and it’s just a bite,” Octavia sighed as she set down her empty oyster shell. 

“The fuck is an amuse bouche anyway?”  Raven wrinkled her nose.  “Is that Italian for oyster?  Or what, exactly?”  Octavia let out a little laugh.

“It’s French,” Octavia replied.  “I forget the exact translation, but it’s one tasty bite before a meal to get you excited.”             

“Well, whatever the translation is, it definitely worked,” Raven downed the rest of her first wine sample.  “If this is the first bite of eight courses, I’m psyched.”

“Tell me about it,” Clarke agreed.

“You’re just excited that your foxy chef girlfriend is bringing them out by hand,” Raven snorted.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Clarke laughed.  It was becoming a rehearsed response.  “But it doesn’t hurt!”

“Like I said,” Octavia polished off her wine sample.  “If the most talented chef in the city is into my friend, I’m taking advantage of it.  Do you know what people pay in New York to have Lexa personally cook them dinner?  More than two months of our rent and it’s scheduled months in advance.  For dinner.  That’s what kind of good she is.  That’s how big of a deal she is.  You two chumps have no idea what’s happening to you right now.  Don’t fuck this up for us, Clarke.”

“You’re welcome?  I guess?”  Clarke rolled her eyes. “And it was your food that got us here, not my girlish good looks.”

“It was a little bit of both,” Lincoln smirked at her and cleared their empty wine glasses away and reset them with clean glasses.

“I knew it,” Octavia grinned.  Clarke tried to blame the pink in her cheeks on the wine.

The scallop carpaccio appetizer came next and it was better than the oysters.  It also came with a few tales about the month Lexa spent in France eight years ago where she picked out the Pinot Grigio they were drinking.   Lexa worked hard not to get distracted by the faint outline of red lipstick on Clarke’s wine glass.  She begged herself not to imagine faint outlines of that red lipstick all over her own body.

Lexa brought out warm beet and goat cheese salads, told the girls all about the farm she sourced the cheese from up near Bar Harbor and a few anecdotes about a week in Germany gone bad that was totally worth it for the Riesling she found that they had in front of them.  Clarke couldn’t believe how much a laughing, storytelling, goofy version of Lexa turned her on.  She wasn’t expecting it at all, and the surprise was absolutely wonderful.

Indra watched with intrigue over Lexa’s shoulder as she prepared roasted mussels.  She hadn’t made it in months, but Lexa didn’t falter in the slightest.  Each dish looked perfect, identical and beautiful.  Lexa let the girls know the mussels were locally sourced, the sauce was freshly made that afternoon and no, she couldn’t tell Octavia what was in it, but the chardonnay they were enjoying was from Chile and if they had never been, they really should go.

“Is there anywhere she hasn’t been?” Octavia asked off hand after their mussels plates were cleared.

“Not really,” Lincoln grinned, inviting himself into the conversation while shaking his personal twist on a greyhound with one hand and setting up three glasses with the other.  “She’s been traveling since she was a little kid.”

“Is there anything she can’t do?” Raven asked sarcastically.

“She’s not very good at making cakes from what I understand,” Lincoln shrugged.  “But when a world class chef does a bad job making a cake, it’s still better than most of the cakes I’m used to.”  Lincoln poured three small sample cocktails from his shaker and set them in front of the girls.            

“So Lincoln, while we have you here and it’s going to be a moment before our next course arrives,” Octavia began.  She was feeling the buzz from her cocktails and tasting wines.  “Clarke’s got something she needs to know.”

“What’s that, Doc?” Lincoln perked up.

“I heard a rumor that Lexa has some kind of rule,” Clarke asked innocently.  The color washed from Lincoln’s face and it wasn’t lost on any of the girls.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lincoln’s voice was breathy with nerves.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Octavia smiled.  “I like that.  That is good information to file away.”

“It’s not really any of my business,” Lincoln held his hands up.

“The heart eyes your Chef is giving my friend leads us to believe it might be Clarke’s business,” Raven raised a threatening brow.

“Look, it’s just dumb stuff.  Some inside joke Indra and Lexa have.  They’ve been working together for a hundred years.  They only need to speak in half sentences because they know the other half already.  It’s not my place to air Lexa’s personal business,” Lincoln composed himself and replied professionally.

“Diplomatic answer,” Clarke nodded in approval.

“Bullshit, dodgy answer,” Octavia tacked on.  Lincoln sighed.

“Let’s just say,” Lincoln began quietly and looked over his shoulder to make sure Lexa wasn’t walking up behind him.  “Lexa is a complicated individual and getting close to her is not easy.  She has made some mistakes and has been hurt very badly in the past and doesn’t want to repeat history.  However, given the current circumstances,” he smiled at Clarke.  “I don’t believe she has anything to worry about.”  Clarke hid a bashful grin in a sip of water.

“I guess that’s a little better,” Octavia grumbled, still dissatisfied.  She wiped the look from her face when Lexa appeared with a poultry course.

“I hope you’ll tell me if he isn’t behaving,” Lexa joked and nodded at Lincoln.

“He’s being quite the informative gentleman, actually,” Clarke smirked at him.

“Excellent,” Lexa set their plates down and went into detail about the roasting process, the herb rub and the sauces and potatoes.  She admitted that she didn’t normally care for a rosé, but fell in love with this one particular bottle on her last trip to Napa. 

House made pork sausage in the house marinara came next with a tasting portion of homemade linguini to get the effect of her pasta dishes.  The cabernet sauvignon that came along beside it, one of Lexa’s absolute favorites that she kept cases of at home for personal consumption, was made in Tuscany and not very easy to get in America.  It was so good that she made them have a second taste.  Clarke couldn’t hold back a giggle at how adorable Lexa was when she got excited about the wine.  When Clarke closed her eyes as she brought the second glass to her lips, Lexa felt it again. 

The urge.  She wanted to push everything off the bar between them, climb over it and kiss her. Clarke’s lipstick was driving her crazy.

“We have just a small beef dish left, followed by dessert.  I hope you’re not too full,” Lexa quirked a brow.

“It’s going to be close, but I think we’re going to make it,” Clarke paused to take the last sip of Lexa’s favorite cab sav.  “This is incredible,” she pointed to the glass.

“I’m glad you think so.  The vineyard is absolutely gorgeous.  I think when I’m old, I’ll retire to that part of Italy and drink it all day every day and eat excessive amounts of pasta and get good and fat,” Lexa had a faraway look in her eyes.  Clarke let out a burst of laughter.  Lexa said it with such conviction that she knew it was true, and something Lexa had been planning for a very long time.

“We should all be so lucky,” Clarke got out as her laughter died down.  “I think I’ll join you,” she added playfully. 

“I think that would be nice,” Lexa smiled a little too warmly.  Lexa forced herself not to imagine it.  Not to think about growing old with her. Not to think about her blond hair going gray.  Not to think about her future smile lines because she spent a life listening to that laugh.

Shit.

“But I’m not getting fat,” Clarke tacked on sternly.

“I hate to break it to you, but if you’re going to live with me and eat my food all the time while we drink wine all day, you’re going to get fat,” Lexa let out a playful sigh to keep up the joke.

“By then I will have found a cure for fat.  I’m switching my career path tomorrow when I get back to work.  Moving out of trauma, moving into medically skinny forever,” Clarke joked right back and it was Lexa’s turn to let out a surprised laugh. 

“Sounds like a plan, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa’s smile was dangerously wide.  Clarke bit her lower lip to prevent her smile from matching.  Lexa took her leave before she did something irrational.  Once she was around the corner, Lexa took a moment to lean her back against the wall with her hands full of plates.  She closed her eyes, dropped her head back with a thud and let out a deep sigh.  “Get it together, Woods,” she muttered to herself.

“You alright, Chef?” Indra called out.

“Yup!” Lexa snapped, yanked out of her moment.  A passing bus boy wordlessly took the plates from her and she moved to the grill.  She looked through Indra’s fridge and selected a filet.

“How are you holding up out there, Commander?”  Indra bit the insides of her cheeks to hold in a smirk.

“Fine,” Lexa muttered, grabbing one of Indra’s hot cast iron skillets and buttering it.  She seared the cut of meat on each side.

“You sure?” Indra asked again.  “You look a little sweaty.”

“You look a little sweaty,” Lexa huffed.

“What color is her dress?” Indra smirked after a long lull.

“Red,” Lexa muttered.

“She’s all dressed up and looks real good, doesn’t she,” Indra stated flatly.  She hadn’t so much as glanced into the dining room, but she didn’t have to.  It was all over Lexa’s face.

“She looks fucking beautiful,” Lexa grumbled as she turned her steak.  Indra laughed.

“You’ve got it bad, boss!”  Indra shook her head. 

“Coming behind you, hot,” Lexa said with a practiced cadence.  She pulled her pan off the grill and spun behind Indra to stick it in the oven.  “And yes.  I really fucking do.”

“Remember what we talked about,” Indra warned.

“I can’t even remember you exist when I’m looking at her,” Lexa muttered.  “Never mind remember your words to slow the fuck down.”

“Oh, this is going to be wonderfully terrible,” Indra chuckled and kept shaking her head.  Lexa ignored Indra and readied her plates.  Once her beef was cooked to a perfect medium rare, she sliced it and plated it with vegetables.  She sauced the plates, garnished and wordlessly picked the dishes up.  “Remember me!” Indra shouted over dramatically at Lexa’s back as she walked away.

“I’d flip you off, but my hands are full!” Lexa called back.  Indra laughed and turned back to her grill.

“Now this,” Raven nodded in approval as Lexa set the beef dishes down.  “This is serious.  I want to crawl inside this plate and live there forever.”

“Don’t worry, I’m going to cure us so we can eat whatever we want.  We can live in this beef plate together,” Clarke perked up as Lincoln poured their wine.

“You’re just moving in with everyone, huh?” Lexa joked.

“I already live with her.  We’re just redecorating,” Clarke replied with a mock scoff.

“We should do that for real, though.  The apartment is a dump,” Raven pulled herself away from her plate and pointed at Clarke.

“My room is nice,” Clarke shrugged.  Lexa gripped the edge of the wooden bar and made herself push images of what Clarke’s room must look like with mid-morning sun coming through the windows out of her mind.  What kind of sheets Clarke might have.  What her bare back might look like while she was still asleep after a long shift at the hospital when Lexa would have to sneak out early and not wake her up and so she could get to work.  She hoped they were green.  Clarke’s hair and skin tone would look perfect surrounded by greens.

Shitshitshit.

“Don’t be greedy!  Spread it out to the rest of the place!” Octavia yelped.

“Yes, well, what with all my free time,” Clarke rolled her eyes.

“You have three days off every week,” Raven turned in her chair to look at Clarke. 

“Sometimes she has four,” Octavia snarked before putting a bite of beef into her mouth.

“And I sleep for one of them because I’m awake putting people back together for three or four days straight!” Clarke gaped at them. 

"We’re just busting you, Clarke,” Raven patted Clarke on the thigh.  “We know.  You do have better taste than both of us, though.  You should do it.”

“I’ll think about,” Clarke brushed Raven off.

“Hey, Woods, what’s your story for this wine?  It’s delicious and I want to know where we’re all going to move and drink until we’re fat and old,” Octavia grinned at Lexa.  Lexa looked down, a little embarrassed.  Maybe she had over done it with the stories.

“If you want to get old with this Syrah, you’ll have to go to France,” Lexa replied. 

“I’ve never been to France,” Clarke had an excited smile on.  “I can’t wait to get fat and old there!”

“Then you’ll have to send me a postcard and come visit me in Italy,” Lexa sighed wistfully and held her hands to her chest.  “I’ll be day drunk and full of pasta thinking of my clinically skinny lady that could have been.”

“Unless Octavia comes with us, Raven and I are going to starve, so I might be coming with you after all,” Clarke giggled.  Lexa smiled triumphantly.  With the warm beiges and whites behind her, it was at that moment that Clarke realized the green embroidered “Lexa” on the chest of her chef’s jacket was the exact same color as her eyes.  It was a perfect match.  Clarke wondered if that was on purpose or some kind of delightful coincidence.

“Woods, this beef, man,” Octavia swallowed her bite.  “This is messed up.  This is possibly the best piece of beef I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”

“Thank you,” Lexa replied.  “I’m glad you think so.  It’s a very high end cut.  The filet is very popular.”

“I believe it,” Octavia pointed her fork at Lexa for emphasis.  “But I suspect it has less to do with the quality of the beef and more to do with Indra’s technique.”  Lexa barely raised a brow, momentarily forgetting that she wanted them to believe she hadn’t been cooking.

“Even the best chefs in the world can only go so far when they start with garbage.  If you always start with quality ingredients, you’re set up to have great results,” Lexa shrugged.

“Maybe for you,” Octavia replied.  “Even the best filet in the hands of a moron is going to go south in a hurry.”

“I feel like that’s true about most things,” Clarke perked up thoughtfully. 

“Is that right?” Lexa glanced her way.

“Yeah,” Clarke nodded as she mulled it over.  She brightened into a shy smile when she made eye contact with Lexa.  “It is.”

“Furniture,” Raven chimed in.

“Cars,” Octavia added.

“Clothes,” Raven carried on.

“Booze, wine, all food in the world,” Octavia kept going.

“Jewelry,” Raven put in.

“Art,” Octavia pushed another bite of steak into her mouth.

“Technology,” Raven kept up with Octavia’s pace.

“Oh!  Tools.  Knives, for sure,” Octavia continued.

“Even people,” Clarke shrugged, knowing that if she didn’t stop them they’d go on all night.  “Shitty people make shitty friends and lovers.  Quality people make the best friends and lovers.”

“I have to check in on my pastry chef and make sure your dessert is up to snuff,” Lexa pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.  She knew it was and she didn’t need to check, but if she stuck around Clarke and that smile any longer, she was going to regret it.  She couldn’t spend another second in the presence of such a beautiful woman about to describe a quality lover without making an absolute fool of herself.

“Seriously, this beef,” Octavia carried on to Clarke and Raven after Lexa’s exit.  “I’m obsessed.”

“She hasn’t brought us a single thing that wasn’t completely delicious,” Clarke replied.  “I don’t think I can pick a favorite.”

“I can.  It’s this,” Octavia said firmly and took her last bite.  “I’m so mad it’s gone.” She sighed and sipped her Syrah.

“I think Clarke’s favorite dish is the chef,” Raven quirked a brow.  Clarke shot her an incredulous look. 

“I do wish you’d shout that louder,” Clarke scoffed.  “I’m not sure everyone in the far corner heard you.”

“Please.  Everyone knows.  You’re going on a date this weekend.  What’s to be embarrassed about?” Raven shrugged.

“It’s not a date,” Clarke said bashfully.  “We’re just hanging out.”  Clarke wanted desperately for it to be a date, and felt like it should be a date, but Lexa hadn’t called it that and everything was so new.  She didn’t want to get her hopes up.

“Right,” Raven chuckled.

“She’s eye fucking you like crazy if you haven’t noticed,” Octavia tipped the last of her wine at Clarke.  “It’s totally obvious, and super hot.  That dress was a good choice.” 

“Although we know you have noticed cause you’re doing it right back,” Raven rolled her eyes and hit the high five Octavia had waiting for her.

“Nice,” Octavia grinned.

“Thank you,” Raven nodded firmly.

“Alright, alright,” Clarke held her hands up.  “That’s enough.”

“If you didn’t want her to be eye fucking you, you wouldn’t have worn that,” Octavia kept going.

“Octavia,” Clarke warned.  She didn’t want Lincoln to overhear them and spread it back to Lexa.

“Just admit it,” Raven grinned.

“I hate both of you,” Clarke got out under her breath when she spotted Lexa leaving the kitchen.

“Last but certainly not least,” Lexa appeared again with three dessert plates.  “The cap to a delicious Italian meal, Tiramisu.” She set the plates in front of each of them.  Raven’s eyes lit up.

“Oh my god,” Raven sighed in sweet relief as she eyed her plate.  The three of them looked up at a pop of a champagne cork.

“And a glass of champagne to finish it off,” Lexa smiled.  Lincoln poured a tasting pour into three champagne glasses.  “Come on, now, Lincoln.  The bottle’s already open.  Fill those up,” Lexa gave him an encouraging smile.  The girls laughed. 

“You should have some with us, Chef!” Octavia gestured at Lincoln to pour Lexa a glass.  “We need to toast to you and this meal!”

“Oh no, I shouldn’t” Lexa waved her hands.

“Chef, it’s after nine.  Doors are closed and all of the seated guests are regulars.  You should.  This was quite the show you put on,” Lincoln didn’t take no for an answer and poured Lexa a glass.

“To Chef Woods!” Octavia raised her glass.  “This was some damn fine food.  It has been an honor and a pleasure to dine at your house,” Octavia nodded firmly.

“To Lincoln, the finest bartender with the finest behind!” Raven held her glass up.  Lincoln laughed and shot her a sarcastic wink.

“To coincidences,” Clarke raised hers.  “All of them that brought us to your table.” She caught Lexa’s eye and they shared a smirk.

“To new friends,” Lexa raised hers and the four of them clinked their glasses.

“What’s all this?  Champagne on the job?  And none for me?”  Indra made her way out of the kitchen and came up behind the three girls sitting at the bar.  Octavia perked up and spun in her chair to shake Indra’s hand.  Clarke noticed Indra’s name was embroidered in the same green.  Lexa’s matching eyes were just a delightful coincidence.

“Indra, that was some serious food you put out,” Octavia spoke around a mouthful of tiramisu.  “I feel like that filet made me realize that this is the first day of the rest of my life.”

“I’d love to take the credit, but every bite you ate tonight was prepared by Chef Woods herself,” Indra nodded her chin up at Lexa who shot daggers back at her.

“I told you to go easy on that arm!” Clarke immediately snapped.  She pointed hard at Lexa.  Everyone looked surprised at Clarke’s wife-like outburst and leaned back, Lexa included.

“I’m fine!” Lexa unbuttoned the cuff of her jacket to show Clarke her clean, tightly wrapped bandages.  “See?  I told you.  This little thing is just a scratch.”

“If you end up back in for busted stitches, I’m not going to be nice about it,” Clarke warned.

“I’m fine, Clarke,” Lexa smiled at her to calm her down.  Raven was amazed by how quickly it worked.

“So you just made all that food?” Octavia sat up straighter.  “All eight of those dishes, then brought them out here and told us about each one?”

“Yes,” Lexa replied.

“How is your jacket still so goddamn white?!” Octavia pointed at Lexa’s perfect uniform and everyone laughed.

“We don’t use handfuls of messy sauce on greasy meats,” Indra laughed.  “Our splatter factor is a lot lower than yours.  Also, the Commander has some of the steadiest hands in the business.”

“You liked my greasy meats and messy sauces,” Octavia mumbled.

“You bet your ass I did,” Indra nodded.

“This was all incredible.  Thank you again,” Clarke tipped her glass at Lexa and took another sip.

“The pleasure was all mine,” Lexa replied.

“I have to head out back and get the troops rallied to clean up,” Indra held her hand out again to shake Octavia’s.  “It was nice to see you all again.”

“I’m going to head to the rest room,” Raven slid out of her chair. 

“I’m going to join you, wait for me,” Octavia grabbed her bag and followed Raven.

“Back to work tomorrow?” Lexa asked Clarke now that it was just the two of them.

“Yeah,” Clarke sighed.  “But only three nights this week after last week, which is nice.”

“Are you still up for doing something Sunday afternoon?” Lexa asked coolly and took another sip of her champagne.

“If you’re not already sick of me,” Clarke gave her a flirty grin.

“Oh hardly,” Lexa grinned back, keeping her eyes low.  “In fact, it just might be too far away.” 

“Is that so?” Clarke rested her elbow on the bar and leaned into her hand, bringing her face closer to Lexa’s.  Lexa offered up a little shrug.

“Maybe.”  She gripped her glass of champagne to prevent her hand from reaching out and tracing the outline of Clarke’s exposed collar bone. 

“Alright, Griff.  How do you want to do this one?  It’s your turn to pay, but this is sort of different since it’s been way more elaborate than our usual nights out,” Octavia approached behind her.

“It doesn’t matter.  I got it,” Clarke waved a hand and got her wallet out.  “I need to get to bed soon.  I have to wake up early and save lives and all that,” Clarke playfully rolled her eyes.  “May we ask Lincoln for the check?”  Clarke asked Lexa quietly.

“No way, Clarke,” Octavia tried to fight her and got her wallet out too.  “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

“Put your wallets away,” Lexa waved a hand at them.  “It’s been taken care of.”

“What?” Octavia and Clarke yelped at the same time.

“There is a very good looking, young, suave brunette in the dining room that took care of your check for you,” Lexa joked.  Octavia looked around trying to figure out who it was.  Clarke rolled her jaw but couldn’t fight the spreading smile.

“You didn’t have to do that, Lexa,” Clarke shook her head and took the last sip of her champagne.  Lexa loved the way her name sounded falling out of Clarke’s mouth.

“It’s my treat.  You have no idea how much fun this was for me, or how much I needed it,” Lexa replied with a seriousness in her voice that Clarke couldn’t quite place. 

“That’s really too good of you,” Octavia smiled at her.  It wasn’t laced with sass.  It was genuine and truly appreciative.  “Thank you, Chef.  This was really amazing.  I hope you’ll come back soon and let me return the favor.”

“Don’t mention it,” Lexa nodded back.  “And that’s not necessary.  However, I will absolutely be back.  I hear Lincoln’s still on his quest for your pulled pork.  Indra was telling me about your haddock this morning.”

“The haddock is what’s up,” Octavia replied.  “Easily the unsung hero of the menu.  I’ll grab Raven and our jackets.  You tip Lincoln,” Octavia patted Clarke on the shoulder.

“She’s not making that pork any time soon, is she?”  Lexa shared a smile with Clarke.

“Oh, I’m quite certain she’s not going to make that until she’s locked him down,” Clarke agreed right away.  “Well,” Clarke continued and shuffled through her wallet to make sure she had enough cash for a substantial tip.  “If you see that good looking, young, suave brunette around, tell her I said thank you very, very much, that I had an amazing time, that I loved every story about the wine and that the food was some of the best I have ever had.”

“I’ll make sure she gets the message,” Lexa grinned even wider, showing off her straight, white teeth.  It made Clarke linger a little longer in her seat so she could take her in.

“You can also let her know that I should be done around two on Sunday if she wants to pick me up from the hospital,” Clarke tacked on and slid off of her barstool.

“I can do that,” Lexa mirrored Clarke’s tone. 

“Have a nice evening, Chef Woods,” Clarke winked before turning and walking towards Octavia and Raven at the door.  Lexa begged her eyebrows to stay down as she took in the sway of Clarke’s hips and memorized the shape of her ass as she walked away.

"So,” Indra appeared next to Lexa and watched Clarke walk away.  “How screwed are you?”

“Oh, so screwed,” Lexa replied instantly.  She downed the rest of her glass of champagne in a swift gulp. 

“I like them.  All three of them,” Indra watched Clarke thanking the hostess.  Clarke was smiling excitedly and gesturing with her hands.  The hostess laughed and gestured back.  Indra could see Clarke mouthing ‘thank you so much’ a few times.  She was the last one out and the door fell shut behind her.

“What’s up with you liking people left and right these days?  What’s going on with you?” Lexa eyed Indra carefully.

“I don’t know,” Indra shrugged.  “I like Octavia.  She’s full of so much untapped potential and raw talent and there isn’t an ounce of bullshit in her.  She’s real.  Same with Raven.  I can’t put my finger on what it is about Clarke, but she’s got it, too.  They’re very genuine.  That’s rare, especially in such good looking, skilled women our age.  I respect that.”

“I’m taking her out on Sunday,” Lexa mumbled as she turned away from Indra and headed for her office.

“Oh, Commander, come on!” Indra laughed and followed Lexa through the kitchen.  She had passed cleaning duties off to Roan and chased Lexa into her office.  “A date? Really?  Now?”

“It’s not a date,” Lexa scoffed.  “We’re just two adults hanging out.”

“Two single, foxy adults that want each other,” Indra rolled her eyes.  “Badly.  That’s a date, Chef.”

“It is not,” Lexa reached for her new notebook.  She had some ideas swimming and wanted to get them down.  Her Food And Wine Magazine party invitation slid out of the book and onto the floor.  “This damn thing,” Lexa sighed and stooped to pick it up.  “Are you ready for this?”

“If I’m not mistaken, I just have to smile beside you in the photos.  I’m not doing an interview, right?” Indra made a face.  “That’s always been our arrangement.  I don’t want anything to do with that part of this stuff.  I never have.”

“That’s fine.  That’s what I figured for the interview,” Lexa sighed.  “You’re taking Lincoln to the party, right?  I can’t have him?”

“You’re damn right,” Indra replied.

“But it’s my party!” Lexa mock whined.  “Let me have him.”

“We both know what’s going to happen here, Commander,” Indra held her hands up.  “Part of me wants to give you Lincoln to prevent it, but I can’t handle one of these things alone.  Especially here in Maine where we know everyone.”

“What do you mean, we both know what’s going to happen here?” Lexa squinted at her.

“Lexa, come on,” Indra chuckled.  “Five hundred dollars says that you end up at that party with Clarke.”

“You’re on!” Lexa agreed with wide eyed excitement.  She and Indra had been making extravagant bets on small things since Polis was successful and Indra had the money to throw around, too.  Indra always joked that she was amazed Lexa had any money left because she always lost.  “You’re screwed because she works all the friggin’ time.  This party is a week from Thursday.  She’ll never be able to make it.”

"Sorry, Chef.  This is going to be easy money for me,” Indra held up her hands.  “She’s going to that party with you.”

“Alright, five hundred, you’re on,” Lexa grabbed Indra’s hand and shook it.  “Serious question, though.  Did anything you ate at Octavia’s have her spicy gravy that’s like, not really gravy on it?”  Lexa flipped to one of the pages in her new notebook where she had scribbled a bunch of notes.  Her tone completely switched to food and Indra paused to process the change. 

Lexa completely dropped her interest in a bet, something she always enjoyed a little too much, and also moved topics from trying to date Clarke without batting a lash so she could talk about sauce.  Indra tried to peek at what Lexa had written down.  It was a bunch of different lists of spices.

This was new.

“Yes,” Indra cocked her head at Lexa.  “What about it.”

“It’s gravy, but it’s not really gravy.  But it kind of is.  It’s spicy, but it’s kind of like gravy.  It’s been stuck in the back of my mind since I ate it,” Lexa trailed off.  “Are you in a hurry tonight?  I’m thinking about sticking around and doing some sauce work.”  Indra shook her head and tried to suppress her grin.

“I can hang around,” Indra replied.  She couldn’t have been more thrilled.  She and Lexa hadn’t stayed up late experimenting in the kitchen since they opened Houm.  “Whiskey, wine or beer?” Indra gestured to the bar.

“Wine for me.  Red,” Lexa replied.  “I’ll meet you out back by the prep stoves.”

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Dr. Griffin,” Fox said carefully as Clarke strolled past her at the nurse station in the ER.  Last she saw Clarke, the surgeon was storming out of the OR with a look of disgust on her face.  Fox and everyone else were very cautious about greeting Clarke now that she was back to work.

“Good morning, Fox!”  Clarke beamed a smile at her.

And it really was a good morning.  She woke up still high on the excitement of the previous night’s incredible meal laced with constant flirting to two missed texts from Lexa.  ‘It was great to see you this evening.  Hope you had a good time’ followed up with ‘PS. Nice dress.’

“You’re looking rested and refreshed, Dr. Griffin,” Miller raised a brow at her before handing a chart back to Fox.  He had also been expecting a less than impressed version of Clarke to arrive at work.  Her scuffles with Jaha ran deeper than professional wounds, and didn’t always blow right over.

"I am rested and I am refreshed.  I spent the last few days eating and drinking and sleeping like a champion,” Clarke sighed through a smile.  She left out the part about dancing around the beginning of something very exciting with someone very high profile.

“Yeah, I heard Chef Woods is personally delivering your meals now,” Miller smirked when Clarke abruptly spun around to face him.

“What?” She swallowed.  The hospital was too damn small.

“I thought you said you didn’t have a date last week?” Miller wagged his eyebrows at her.

“I didn’t!” Clarke yelped.  She left off the part about having one this week instead.

“Fox here told me that you had a sexy surprise visitor who brought you a picnic lunch,” Miller kept it up.  He could see it getting to her and it confirmed that he was right.  Fox’s eyes shot open.  She witnessed Clarke give Jaha a hard time and didn’t want to be next.

“That was a completely professional visit,” Clarke said firmly. 

“Then I’m glad we got that cleared up,” he smirked.  She rolled her eyes at him.

“What’s going on?  Have I missed anything exciting?”  Clarke asked as she surveyed the area.  Everyone was relatively calm which was always a good thing.

“Couple of twins born in the back of a Subaru on 295 North last night.  Mom and babies are resting comfortably, but that was kind of cool.  Other than that, just your garden variety injuries,” Miller shrugged.  “Wanna get some coffee before the next thing hits?”

“Sure, that would be nice,” Clarke fell into step with him and they headed towards the café in the hospital lobby.  He chatted on about a few of the injuries that came in over the last few days while she was off.  A broken leg on a twenty-something guy.  Car accident in which everyone was fine.  A particularly gross abscess that he saw get lanced.

“Alright, now that we’re alone, come on, Griff,” Miller gave her eager eyes.  “Tell me about the hot babe with the pasta dinner.”

“You’re awful,” Clarke shook her head and stuck her hands in the pockets of her lab coat.  Her fingers grazed her phone and an involuntary smile spread across her lips.  Nice Dress.

"And to think, it could have been me doing those stitches,” Miller let out a sarcastic sigh.  “So you could say that you pretty much owe me.”

“I don’t owe you a damn thing!  You got the heart attack!” Clarke gasped at him.

“That’s true.  I guess we’re even, then,” he chuckled. “Seriously, though.  Nagging and shit talking aside,” He paused as they took their place in line for coffee.  “Is something going on with you and Lexa Woods?  Cause that chef is too easy on the eyes.”  She blushed and glanced down at her cross trainers to figure out what to say.

“I don’t know,” she sighed.  “Yes?  Not really?  Strong maybe, I guess?” Clarke shrugged.

"Right,” Miller laughed.  “I hope it works out.  Whatever it is that is or is not happening,” he gave her a more genuine smile.

“Thanks,” she returned it.

“Dr. Griffin!” Maya noticed her across the lobby.  She hurried over very excitedly.  “Hi!  I didn’t know you were here!”

“I just got here around six this morning,” Clarke replied.  “What’s up?”

“The patient you saved,” Maya caught herself and swallowed, then started again.  “The patient you assisted Jaha with last week, rather,” she corrected herself.  It made Clarke wonder how many times she had been corrected already.  “The guy with the two-by-four?  He’s awake.  He’s been asking for you if you’re not busy.”

“How’s he doing?” Clarke asked, genuine concern in her voice. 

“Better than expected, actually,” Maya sighed with relief.  “It’s been pretty grim the last few days, but last night he showed some positive signs.  He’s still in the ICU.  I’m on my way up there now.  I think it would mean a lot for him to see you.  He was adamant about it last night and we had a very hard time convincing him that you weren’t here.”

“Well, I’m here now,” Clarke chuckled as Miller handed her a cup of coffee.  “Lead the way!”  Clarke thanked Miller and followed Maya to the elevator.  They filed in with a group of people and were silent for a few floors.

“I didn’t know you were friends with Lexa Woods, Dr. Griffin,” Maya spoke up.

“What?” Clarke yelped.  Everyone in the crowded elevator tried not to eavesdrop, but she could feel it happening.  A young male nurse with a trendy haircut and hip glasses seemed particularly interested.

“If I had known, I would have told you it was her the other night.  Sorry if that made it weird for you,” Maya winced at her apology.

“It didn’t make it weird for me,” Clarke muttered as they poured out onto the ICU floor.  “What’s weird is how much you people are gossiping about one nice gesture!” Clarke grumbled as she followed Maya to the patient’s room.

“So you’re not friends with her?” Maya squinted at Clarke to try and figure her out.

“Well, I am.  I mean kind of.  I am now.  Maybe,” Clarke replied, her voice dripping with uncertainty.

“Right,” Maya kept her skeptical face on.

“It doesn’t matter!” Clarke huffed and grabbed the patient’s chart from his door and gave it a look before taking a calming breath and entering the room.  He was awake, but just barely so.  His long, messy dark hair was pushed to the side and his face was pale, but he looked much better than Clarke was expecting.  He perked right up when he saw Maya.

“Is this her?” He brightened, big brown eyes lighting up with childlike excitement.

“Yes, this is Dr. Griffin,” Maya pointed at Clarke.  Clarke took another quick look at his chart, then tucked it under her arm and switched her coffee to her left hand so she could reach out with her right to shake.  He barely got his hand up and she met him halfway to embrace it.

“Hi, Mr. Jordan.  I’m Dr. Griffin,” Clarke gave him her warmest smile.  All of the nonsense of her colleagues melted away.  The gratitude in his eyes knocked her hard in the chest.  None of that dumb stuff mattered in moments like these.

“Mr. Jordan is my father,” he coughed.  “It’s Jasper.”

“Jasper,” Clarke said strongly.  “It’s very nice to meet you.  Officially, anyway.” She added on as a joke.  “I’m already well acquainted with your organs, which I understand are doing well.”

“See?” Maya smiled at him.  It was a little warmer than her normal, reassuring nurse smile and it piqued Clarke’s brow.  “I wasn’t just being nice.  Dr. Griffin knows what she’s talking about.”

“I thought she was just trying to make me feel better,” Jasper coughed again and nodded his head at Maya.

“You’re going to want to take it easy still,” Clarke smiled at him.  “You had all your stuff rearranged pretty good.  You got really lucky, though.  If that thing was a few inches north, you would’ve been in some real trouble.”

“I feel like shit,” Jasper croaked.

“Yeah,” Clarke wrinkled her nose in sympathy and patted his leg gently.  “That’s probably going to be the case for a while.”

“They said you’re the one who saved me,” He looked her in the eye.  She swallowed hard.  His eyes were filling with tears.  This part was the best.  The absolute best.  This made the long nights and the even longer days and all of the terrible parts of her job worth it.  It made her heart swell.  She could feel it beating in her throat.

“We all did.  There were a lot of us,” Clarke gave him a closed lipped smile.  Even after all these years, these moments still got to her.

“But they said you were the one that really did it.  You zapped me or whatever they call it a bunch of times.  You didn’t quit on me,” He choked out.

“Yeah, well,” Clarke’s modest smile made Maya grin.  She loved watching Clarke with patients.  Some doctors were so cold and full of protocol and science.  Clarke was so positive and so passionate about people.  Maya liked witnessing it.  “I don’t do that.”

“Thank you,” he used what strength he had to grab her hand again.  “Thank you so much, Dr. Griffin.”

“All in a day’s work,” she gave him another smile.  “I’m going to let you rest.  It was very nice meeting you and I’m really happy to see that you’re doing okay.”  She handed his chart to Maya.  “Do you want to stay here for a bit?  Are you on rotation up here?”  She asked her quietly.

“You go ahead.  I’ll find out who is,” Maya replied.  Clarke said her goodbyes and ducked into the hallway.  She tilted her head back and wiped her eyes.  She blinked a few times before fishing in her pocket for her glasses.  Her hand bumped her phone again and she pulled it out. 

She hadn’t replied to Lexa yet.  It was so early and she didn’t want to wake her.  Judging by the time her messages came in, Lexa had been working late.  She sipped her coffee and let the smirks, smiles and shared glances from the night before wash over her as she walked the halls.  Lincoln’s words stuck with her.  Lexa had made some mistakes.  Lexa had been badly hurt.  Lexa was complicated and hard to get close to.

If Lexa was so hard to get close to, why did she essentially let Clarke climb into her lap at the bar?  It was anything but hard.  The hard part was slowing herself down.  Lexa didn’t seem to mind Clarke’s advances one iota.

Clarke paused by one of the windows and soaked in the morning sunlight.  The yellow tipped trees were turning orange.  She watched the breeze blowing piles of leaves through the street.  They looked like one big creature weaving and sweeping around cars and bushes below.  Like a school of fish moving through the ocean morphing around objects in the way.

And what kind of mistakes, anyway?  Everyone made mistakes.  It was part of living.

She sipped her coffee and scrolled to her messages with Lexa. ‘That dress once raised $300k for children’s cancer.  Remind me to tell you about it sometime.’ Clarke’s excitement didn’t have time to spiral into stress and worry.  Her pager went off summoning her to the ER.  She downed the rest of her coffee on her way to the elevator and hit the button.  She made a beeline for the OR and hung up her lab coat.  Her phone sat in the pocket untouched.  Dissecting Lexa Woods was going to have to wait.

*****

“I think you finally got it,” Indra nodded thoughtfully.  She chewed in silence for another moment.  “You’re real damn close, if not right on.”

“I feel like something’s missing.  I think I’m close on the base.  It’s not right though.  It’s salty enough, but I don’t think it’s the right kind of spicy,” Lexa sighed and drummed her fingers on the metal prep table.  “What the fuck is she using?”

Lexa hadn’t slept yet.

She sent Indra home around 2am insisting that she get some sleep.  Lexa spent the whole night in the restaurant trying to recreate Octavia’s spicy gravy-non-gravy.  It was driving her insane.  She kept coming up with tweaks to the recipe, then realized maybe she was getting it wrong because the vehicle was wrong.  Her prep staff was delighted when they showed up at nine in the morning to a buffet of various fried foods and Lexa’s multiple incarnations of the sauce. 

The likes of beer battered chicken nuggets, French fries and deep fried shrimp had never graced the halls of Houm with their presence. 

“Why don’t you just ask her?” Indra shrugged as she gave the shrimp a taste.  It was incredible.  She reached for another.  “Damn, your beer batter is good,” Indra tacked on with a satisfied wince.

“She’s never going to tell me,” Lexa scowled.  She was covered in sweat. Her chef’s coat was long shucked and filthy leaving her in a damp, black tank top.  Her curly brown locks were tied up in a sloppy bun and a black bandana kept sweat off her brow.  Her new notebook was covered in flour and beer batter and grease, but had a whole lot more pages filled up with her half-cursive handwriting that Indra had learned to decipher over the years.  “And there’s no way I can give her the satisfaction of asking her.”

“Have you slept?” Indra asked, a note of concern in her voice.

“No,” Lexa muttered and crossed her arms over her chest. There was a smudge of flour on her face.  She was covered in batter and grease.  The staff at Houm had never seen her like that.  She was usually just in the restaurant for business.  They rarely saw her cook, never mind the current mess she made that came on the heels of preparing a spur of the moment eight course meal.  “I haven’t even been home.”

“You look like shit,” Indra grinned at her.

“I actually feel pretty good,” Lexa scooped up her note book, strategically chose one of the chicken nuggets from a pan and dunked it in the lighter of the five sauces she had in front of her.  She chewed pensively before nodding and making a few notes in her book.  “That’s the mix.  It’s those two.  That’s the closest.”

“If you say so, Chef,” Indra sighed through a smile.  They both glanced up at Lexa’s phone when it buzzed on the prep table.  It was a text from Clarke.  Indra shot Lexa a look.    

“Don’t,” Lexa warned.  She pointed a stern, flour covered finger at Indra.

“I didn’t say a word,” Indra chuckled.  She wasn’t mad at all. 

The last time Indra found Lexa still in the kitchen from the night before was when they were opening Nightblood.  Lexa hadn’t been this passionate about food in ages.  There wasn’t a single practical reason for her to perfect a replica of Octavia’s sauce.  The insatiable need to understand food like this hadn’t gripped Lexa in far too long.  As far as Indra could tell, Lexa didn’t even realize it was happening.

The first time Lexa picked up her knives for fun in months was the day after she met Clarke.  Indra had known Lexa long enough to understand that it wasn’t a coincidence.

“You were going to,” Lexa warned.  She kept her glare trained on Indra and reached for an onion ring.  She bit into it dramatically and didn’t break her stare.

“You need some coffee,” Indra shook her head and moved to pour Lexa a cup.

“This has nothing to do with her!” Lexa called after Indra.

“Sure it doesn’t,” Indra said warmly as she handed Lexa a cup.  “Not directly, anyway.”

“What?”  Lexa yelped.

“Nothing,” Indra shrugged.  Lexa squinted at her over the top of her coffee.  Neither of them spoke.  Her phone buzzed again.  It was ringing this time.

“Shit,” Lexa hissed when she saw it.  It was Anya.  “Hey, I’m so sorry!” Lexa winced as she answered.  She skipped a step and headed for her office.

“Hi, I’m looking for my cousin.  I don’t know if you’ve seen her?  She had a rough night and then she vanished after saying she was going to call me,” Anya joked on the other end of the line.

“I’m sorry!” Lexa repeated.  “Hang on one second.  You!” Lexa moved the phone from her mouth and shouted at Indra who was eagerly eyeing the pan of shrimp.  “We’re not done here!  I don’t want any of your shit, though!”  Indra waved a hand at Lexa and popped another shrimp in her mouth.  “Hey, sorry.”

“Everything okay?” Anya asked. 

“Yeah, I’m fine.  Just something going on with me and Indra.  Nothing bad.  I’m kinda over tired.  I’m sorry I forgot to call you,” Lexa pushed her office door shut and dropped into the chair.   “I got busy with some stuff and then I got carried away with a few things.”

“I’m the mother of a teenaged boy.  I’ve known you your whole life.  Do you really think you’re going to get off with an explanation that fucking vague?”  Anya deadpanned.

“I’ve just got a lot going on,” Lexa sighed.  Her eye caught the Food And Wine invite on her desk.  “I have that damn Food And Wine thing you bailed on next week.  Thanks again, by the way.  I hope your overnight school trip to Plymouth Plantation is the most exciting educational experience of Aden’s life, and yours.”

“Trust me.  I’d much rather be full of free gourmet food and expensive drinks while my little cousin woos the crowd than wrangling a bunch of teenaged geeks,” Anya rolled her eyes.  “How did it go the other night?  You come out of that okay?  Usually I get a million drunk texts about you questioning your worth as a person, a chef and a lover.”

“Yeah, I’m okay.  Indra had some good advice,” Lexa shrugged and slid the invitation in front of her.  “I feel pretty good about the first two.  Not really sure about that last one.”

“Look at you, leaning on a friend.  My little Alexandria’s all grown up!” Anya laughed.

“Shut up,” Lexa muttered.

“So who did you get to take my spot?” Anya asked.  Lexa could hear her typing in the background. 

“No one,” Lexa sighed.  “I’m going to go to my own dumb party all alone.”

“Come on, Lex!  There’s not a single person you could get to go to that thing with you?” Anya pushed.

“I can’t bring just anyone.  You know how the community is here.   People will talk.  Rumors will fly.  Shit will get said.  Bringing you is both fun and safe.  I’m still mad at Aden for guilting you into this stupid field trip,” Lexa scowled.

“You’ll understand some day when the joys of motherhood grab you by the balls,” Anya sighed sarcastically.  “What about the Doctor?” She asked.  She wasn’t being sassy and she wasn’t joking.

“What about the doctor?” Lexa challenged.

“I’m serious!  Don’t you like her?  Isn’t there something kinda going on there?” Anya asked.  “Roan told me she was at the restaurant last night in a show stopping dress and you blew it out of the water with an over the top meal for her and her friends.  He was super impressed with your culinary and lady killing skills, by the way.”

“How often are you two talking?!” Lexa cried.  She pinched the bridge of her nose and clamped her eyes shut.

“Come on, Lex!  This all sounds like good shit!  You’re cooking again.  You were smiley as fuck at my house the other night.  She likes you, apparently.  Lord knows why, since you’re stubborn as hell and I’m the good looking one.” Lexa let a little laugh out.  “According to everyone else at the restaurant last night, she looks great in formal wear.  She’s a professional and she’s a grown ass woman who will know how to behave at one of those things.”

Lexa paused.  Her tired back straightened up.

Get yourself a grown ass woman, maybe we can talk business.

“All of your past poptarts were usually at least five years younger than you and totally lame,” Anya spat out. “She’s a surgeon!  That’s so cool!” 

“It is pretty cool.  Did I tell you she’s a trauma surgeon?  She saves people’s lives all the time.  That’s literally what she does for work,” Lexa gushed.  She winced.  She couldn’t be doing that.

“See?  She’s so much more interesting than you are!” Anya cried.

“Hey!” Lexa snapped.

“Which means,” Anya began with purpose.  “That she will be very interesting to talk to and people won’t bother you about the fact that you’re getting yet another award that you don’t care about for the same shit you’ve been doing forever.  Don’t get me wrong, you’re amazing, Kid.  But honestly, how many times can they do this to you?”

“Not too many more, god willing,” Lexa sighed.

“They’ll also avoid the topic that you’re getting old and boring and you don’t have a plan for your next thing yet if you have a foxy doctor on your arm to distract them.  Think about it.”

“I’m not old!” Lexa snapped.  She let Anya’s words roll around.  “Although you do have a point about her being interesting and different and foxy.”

“And apparently she’s funny and personable.  Although I wouldn’t know that because you don’t fucking tell me anything,” Anya sassed.

“I’ve been really busy!” Lexa cried.  “But she definitely is both of those things.”  Lexa scratched her chin.  “I don’t want crap flying around about us being there ‘together’, though.  You know how the press does that.  It’s annoying.  They thought you were my secret girlfriend for years.”

“Gross,” Anya gagged.   “Whatever.  She’ll probably like it.  You can use it to your advantage.”

“I don’t want to do that, Anya,” Lexa tried.

“I’m sure she’ll wear something totally hot.  You’ll get your stupid award to add to your stupid collection.  You’ll look all stoic and important in front of her in one of your expensive suits and you’ll have her dress off in the car before you even get her home,” Anya said without a hint of sarcasm.

“That’s not me anymore, Anya.  Come on,” Lexa sighed.

“Maybe it should be,” Anya shrugged.  “Because she sounds awesome.”

“I’m not dating right now!  I’m concept-“

"Conceptualizing what, exactly, Lexa?” Anya interrupted her.  “To be honest you sound bored and looking for an excuse to run from yourself.”

“I’m not,” Lexa tried, her strained voice coming out in her teenaged whiney tone that she reserved for exactly these arguments with Anya.

"Things have been pretty good for you here.  Do you really want to start all over again?” Anya asked, this time her voice more serious.  Lexa didn’t respond right away.  “Look, it’s been really good for Aden having you around.  It’s been really good for me, too.”

“I know that,” Lexa swallowed hard.

“And I think it’s been good for you, too, whether you realize it or not,” Anya added sharply.

“I can’t do this right now, Anya,” Lexa sighed.  “I was up all night.”

"Why?” Anya blurted.

“I was cooking.  I was trying to make something I ate somewhere the other day.  Look, it doesn’t matter, it was just,” Lexa trailed off and played with the edges of the invite.  “It was just work.”  She finished calmly.

“Alright.  Take it easy.  Think about the doctor. I’m going to drop Aden off Saturday morning.  Will I see you?” Anya huffed.

“Yeah, I’ll be here.  I’m going to train him myself,” Lexa scowled.  She hated when she and Anya did this.  This sister fighting.  It was always so unnecessary.  “Why don’t you come in with him.  We can have a coffee and sort through some of this when I’m not being an asshole.  I’ll have Indra get him situated.”

“That sounds nice,” Anya replied, a little warmer.

“I’m sorry,” Lexa sighed again.

“I’m not,” Anya replied.  It had been her rebuttal to Lexa’s apologies since they were little kids.

“You don’t have a reason to be,” Lexa chuckled.

"Which is exactly why I’m not.” Anya’s smug smirk was audible.  “Get some sleep, Lex,” she added on softly.

"I’ll see you,” Lexa shook her head and hung up.  She stared a little too long at her Food and Wine invite.  After too much time spent in complicated thought, she pulled open one of the drawers in her desk and took out the business check book.

Indra ran prep and worked with the front of house team.  Roan and Lincoln had the day off, so the place was relatively quiet.  Lexa hid from Indra because she didn’t want to face her own decision.  She snuck into the kitchen while Indra was out back and started putting ingredients together.  She was almost done boxing up a lasagna dish when she heard a pan clang behind her.

“What’s going on, Commander?” Indra asked calmly.  Lexa’s shoulders tensed.

“Do you really think I should travel right now?” Lexa spun around without warning.

“Not right this minute.  You look like I could drop you in the fryer, you’re so covered in flour and batter,” Indra chuckled.

“she’s got jokes now,” Lexa scowled at no one in particular.

“What’s going on with you?” Indra eyed her with concern.  “And what are you doing?” Indra tried to peek around Lexa at the food she was working.

“I’m making Clarke some goddamn dinner and I’m going to bring it to her and ask her to go to that stupid party with me,” Lexa sighed.  “Your check is on my desk.”

“That’s a bold move, Chef,” Indra said, her tone and eyes serious.

“I know it is,” Lexa huffed, her voice tight. 

“People are gonna talk,” Indra leaned her lower back against the counter and crossed her arms over her chest.  She tried to get a look at Lexa but she wouldn’t meet Indra’s eyes.

“I know,” Lexa sighed.

“She’s going to see a certain side of you,” Indra began.

“I thought about that,” Lexa replied, this time she looked up.  “And so what if she does?”  Lexa shrugged.  “She probably won’t even be able to take the night off anyway, so one way or another I’m going to look like a fool.  The old me would have at least gone down swinging.”

“The old you would have gone alone and come home with two of the bartenders,” Indra smirked.

“That’s unfortunately way more accurate,” Lexa muttered and rolled her eyes.

“So what are you looking for here, my support? My blessing or something?” Indra asked and pointed back and forth between them.  “What the hell is this?  I don’t know why you keep coming to me with this thing.  You’ve never come to me about women before.”

“And look how well that turned out,” Lexa scowled.

“Look at me,” Indra warned.  Lexa flicked her glance up.  Indra’s eyes were somehow so warm and so stern at the same time.  “Don’t try and tell me that if I told you to leave her alone, you would have.”  Lexa’s eyes fell to the box of food in her hands.  Even talking about Costia brought so much pain and shame.  “Nothing was going to stop you there.  Not me, not anything.”

"She was the last woman I,” Lexa trailed off.  “I mean, there have been a lot of them that didn’t mean anything since her, but I hardly knew any of them for more than eight hours.  After we opened here and I got weird for a while with the one night stands.  But she was the last woman I was with for real.  And it wasn’t even-“

“It was real,” Indra interrupted her so she didn’t have to finish saying it.  She knew Lexa had been keeping a wall up after Costia.  Indra wasn’t stupid.  She could see it plain as day.  This thing with Clarke had Indra softening around the edges on the defenses she had put up to help shield her friend.  “Maybe it wasn’t real to her, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real for you.”

“You said if I found a grown ass woman, we could talk,” Lexa half smiled.

“And I’d love to talk to you about it, but her lasagna is going to get cold if we sit around here going on about it all day,” Indra smirked back.  Lexa cracked a smile.

“Thanks,” Lexa said sincerely.  “I’ll be back.”  Lexa hurried to her office to grab her jacket and her keys.

“Lexa, wait!” Indra called after her.  Lexa was already running out the back door.  “Wash your face!” Indra called in vain and cringed when she heard the back door fall shut with a flour covered Lexa on the other side.

*****

“Holy shit, Dr. Griffin!” Miller clapped her on the shoulder.  “That was absolutely incredible!  I can’t believe you did that many stiches so quickly!  Is that some kind of record?” They had just cleaned up after a successful surgery.  Clarke spent the last four hours working the wounds on two car accident victims with poise and ease.  Miller assisted her and watched her hands with awe as Clarke zipped through hundreds of stitches in various locations, internal and external, on both patients.

“Someday, my friend, you will have enviable sutures, too,” Clarke joked.  Her pager went off and she squinted at it.  She was being paged to the ER.  She glanced at Miller.  “Is yours going off?”  She asked.

“Nope,” He shrugged and checked to make sure his pager was working.  Everything looked in order.

“Weird,” she shrugged and grabbed her lab coat.  “Hopefully I’ll be right back.”

“Take your time,” he waved her off.  Clarke rounded the corner to the ER and paused.

Lexa was back. 

She stood at the desk talking to Fox and Maya.  Both nurses laughed at something Lexa was telling them.  She kept her distance and watched them for a minute.  Lexa was so smiley.  She talked with her hands.  Clarke could tell by the grins and giggles on Fox and Maya that Lexa was using her charm on them.

“Here she is now,” Maya calmed her laughter and looked up at Clarke.  Clarke took a deep breath through her nose and tried to look calm.  “Sorry for the page, Dr. Griffin.  We weren’t sure where you were.”

“Chef Woods,” Clarke brightened.  “This is unexpected.  I thought I warned you about taking it easy on those stitches.”  Clarke tacked on with a smirk.

“And I told you that they would be just fine,” Lexa smiled coolly at her.  Maya and Fox didn’t budge.  They wanted to see every second of it.  The body language between the two women was incredible.  Clarke rocked on her feet, unintentionally moving herself closer and closer.  She had a mask hanging lazily around her neck and her arms crossed in her short sleeved scrubs.  Lexa shoved her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket, undoubtedly a nervous gesture, but it opened her jacket up and showed off her tight fitting, flour smudged damp tank top that clung to her lithe figure.

“At the risk of sounding cold,” Clarke started carefully as she tried to pry her eyes off of Lexa’s trim waist.  “What are you doing here?” 

“I was hoping that maybe you had a minute and we could take a quick walk,” Lexa replied with a slight nod of her head towards the door.  Clarke checked her watch and glanced at her pager once more.  “But I understand if you don’t have time.”

“I could spare a few minutes,” Clarke tried to act indifferent, but it was killing her.  Lexa had her hair pulled back with a bandana on.  Her checkered pants were tied loosely and hung low at her hips. 

And she was so, so sweaty.

“Fox, Maya, page me if you need me.  I won’t be far,” Clarke replied.  Lexa followed Clarke to the exit and it didn’t go unnoticed that she held the door for Clarke.

“Sorry to bother you at work like this,” Lexa began, a little bashful.  “Again.”

“It’s alright,” Clarke replied.  She turned towards Lexa in the sunshine.  It was a little cool and she rubbed her hands up and down her arms.  “As long as no one needs me, the break is nice.”

“I’m parked up this way,” Lexa pointed up the hill.  “I have something in the car for you.”

“Lexa, you really don’t need to-“

“It’s food,” Lexa held a hand up to stop Clarke’s worried gushing.  “No one says no to food.”

“Not yours, anyway,” Clarke let out without thinking.  It made Lexa grin.

“So I have this thing next week,” Lexa began.  She had practiced a few versions of what she was going to say on the car ride over, but none of them felt right.  “Food And Wine Magazine is coming to do a feature on me and two other chefs in town.”

“That’s incredible!” Clarke’s eyes lit up.  “Congratulations, Lexa!”

“It’s not really a big deal,” Lexa shrugged, then caught herself when she saw Clarke’s jaw fall.  “I mean, it is!  It is a big deal.  Especially for the two other chefs.  It’s huge exposure for this town, really.  But I’ve done this a bunch of times.  I kind of wish they would have skipped over me and given the spot to someone else in town that deserves it and needs the exposure.”

"So what does it entail?”  Clarke asked skeptically.  She was trying to figure out why Lexa, who she barely knew, felt the need to drive across town and tell her about it.

“I’m saying it like an asshole,” Lexa took a deep breath.  Clarke was at full attention.  “They come to the restaurant and there’s an interview and a photoshoot and some stuff like that.  But the real kicker is that there’s a big party that they put on.  They’re giving me an award.  It’s all a little silly, but it’s a good party.  Lots of food, good drink, sometimes live music, it’s a whole thing.”

“That sounds like a lot of fun,” Clarke smiled at the thought of it.

“It can be,” Lexa hesitated.  Clarke could feel her dancing around something.  They reached Lexa’s car and she opened the passenger’s side door to pull out a box from Houm.  Clarke caught a glance of the inside of Lexa’s SUV.  It looked brand new.  Everything was so clean and sleek.

“What’s the catch?” Clarke quirked a brow at Lexa.  She could hear the apprehension in her voice.  Lexa picked up the take out box.   It had her Food And Wine event invitation on top. 

“I hope that you don’t think this is too forward of me.  I know we just met,” Lexa paused and looked up at Clarke.  The smudge of flour was still on her face and she had no idea.  It was so adorable.  Clarke shoved her hands in the pockets of her scrubs to prevent herself from reaching up and wiping it away.  “But I have a plus one for the event and I thought I’d see if you wanted to come with me.”  Clarke’s eyes shot open as Lexa handed her the box and the card.  “Also, I hope you like lasagna.”

Clarke accepted the box with such ginger hands.  She couldn’t think of anything to say.

“You want to take me with you to a party in your honor?” Clarke blurted out in shock.

“It’s not just my party,” Lexa chuckled.  “There’s a few other chefs, too.  You won’t be alone or anything.  I’d just need to get my award for maybe ten minutes or something,” Lexa offered a blasé wave of her hand about one of the most prestigious magazines in her field giving her an award and throwing her a party.  “Indra and Lincoln are coming, too.  The four of us would go together.”

“But you want to bring me?” Clarke pointed to herself.  She was just so shocked.  When she saw Lexa standing in the ER, she was expecting maybe a cutesee lasagna at best, but this was gigantic.  Clarke’s shock caused a flood of doubt in Lexa’s stomach.

“You were so appreciative at last night’s dinner.  I didn’t know you knew your food so well.  After last night, I thought it might be something you’d enjoy,” Lexa replied sincerely.  “And it would be fun to have you there with me.”  Clarke’s throat felt dry.  She needed to say something.

“When is it?” Clarke asked, trying to read the invitation but her mind was racing too fast to focus on the text.  She only got as far as reading ‘An evening to honor Chef Alexandria Woods…’

“It’s really short notice, so I totally understand if you can’t get the night off from work,” Lexa tried to stay casual, but she was panicking.  This was too much too soon.  She read the signs all wrong.  “It’s a week from tonight.”

“I’m supposed to be working, but I can probably arrange something,” Clarke couldn’t hold her excited grin in any longer.  It was too cool, too exciting and too great.  “There are a few folks that owe me a favor after last week.”

"Yeah?” Lexa asked, a hopeful smile spreading.  “So you’ll come with me?”

“I’d love to,” Clarke replied sincerely.  She was glad she had two hands on her lasagna because she wanted to grab the sweaty chef and lay one on her right there.  She was being so calm and nonchalant about something so huge, and inviting Clarke to be her date on top of it.

“Great!” Lexa cried.  “It’s formal but not too formal.  I figured you would have something to wear.  Maybe a dress that raised a cool million for heart disease or something,” Lexa joked with a cheeky grin.  Clarke rolled her eyes.

“The one I have that got Ark Memorial a few hundred grand for Alzheimer’s is better,” Clarke shrugged it off with a smirk.

"I can’t wait to hear all about it,” Lexa laughed.  “You’re sure this is okay, though?  It’s not weird for me to ask you on a second date when we haven’t even had our first yet?”  Clarke opened her mouth to say something sassy but her pager interrupted her. 

“God damn it,” Clarke snapped.  She pulled the pager from the waist of her scrubs and let out a huff.  “I’m sorry.  Someone needs me in an OR,” Clarke sighed.

“Do me a favor and please never apologize to me again for needing to save someone’s life,” Lexa said sternly.  There was a humor in her tone, but seriousness in her eyes.  It made Clarke laugh.

“I’ve gotta go, but I will see what I can do about next week,” Clark replied. 

“That’s great,” Lexa nodded.  They both stood there, unsure of what to do next.  “So, can I walk you back, or do you have to run?  Is it like Baywatch?”

“No one is drowning!” Clarke whacked Lexa in the stomach playfully.  Lexa flinched with a little laugh.  “At least, I don’t think so,” Clarke grimaced.  “I’m going to feel really bad if it’s a water accident now.”

“I’ll leave you to it, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa smiled sweetly.  Clarke reached out and gave Lexa’s hand a squeeze.

“Thanks for this,” Clarke gestured her to-go box at Lexa.  “You don’t have to bring me food every time you see me, you know.”

“I know,” Lexa shrugged and gave Clarke’s hand a squeeze back.  “But I’ll probably still do it anyway.”

“I’ll like it every time,” Clarke smiled softly.

The urge slapped Lexa in the face.  She glanced down at their hands.  Clarke did too. Their eyes met and Clarke took a half step towards Lexa, her breath tight.  Lexa’s smile turned into a sultry smirk and it made Clarke’s stomach turn in the best way.  She tilted her chin up to meet Lexa’s lips and her pager went off again.  They both jumped apart.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Clarke hissed.  She had her food in one hand and Lexa’s hand in the other and the incessant beeping continued.  “I’m really so-“

“What did I say?”  Lexa warned.

“I gotta go,” Clarke had a look on her face like it was physically painful to leave.

“I’ll be back on Sunday to pick you up,” Lexa reminded her.

“Right, Sunday, right,” Clarke took a deep breath.  She was so flustered. “Thank you again,” She gave Lexa’s hand one last squeeze before pulling hers back and hurrying to the ER.  “I’ll text you about next week!” Clarke yelled over her shoulder as she pulled her pager from her waist and checked the message.  Lexa stood by her car and watched Clarke until she hurried through the double doors.  She let out a deep breath. 

Now all she had to do was wait.

“Hey!  Here I am!” Clarke came flying into the ER.  She dropped her box of lasagna and her Food And Wine party invite on the counter at the nurses station. 

“Dr. Griffin!  There you are!” Maya looked relieved.  Clarke dumped her phone and her mask on the counter and left it with her food. 

“Will you put my stuff in the on call room?  Where am I going?” Clarke asked, completely business.  She shook off the tension in her body from her almost kiss that she didn’t have time to think about and switched into trauma mode.

“Dismembered fingers, really bad lacerations in the leg.  Thirty-seven year old male.  Lawn mower accident.  He’s in OR two.  Not sure who’s coming down from Ortho yet for the hand, but wanted you to get in and assess and get started,” Maya replied quickly.  “I’ll take care of your things!  Hurry up!  It’s bad!”

“On it!” Clarke nodded and took off to scrub.  “Don’t you dare eat my lasagna!” Clarke threw over her shoulder at Maya who just shook her head.        

*****

“What?” Octavia cleared her throat as she answered her cellphone.  It was too early on Saturday morning.  The bar had been slammed the night before.  Lincoln was spreading the word throughout the foodie community via the bar guests at Houm and Octavia was concerned she would need to bring on more staff soon.  A good problem to have, but for the moment, she was just exhausted.

“Hey, O, it’s me,” Clarke said, her voice hushed and excited.

“Clarke,” Octavia grumbled and let out a huge sigh.  “Do you know what time it is?” Octavia clamped her eyes shut and pulled her blankets over her head.  “Or even what day it is?”

“I don’t, actually,” Clarke paused.  Octavia could hear a door closing in the background.  “I’m just about to get some sleep for the first time in too long.”

“It’s seven in the morning, Clarke,” Octavia yawned.  “On Saturday.  For bar owners, this is the middle of the night.”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry!” Clarke grimaced.  She shuffled through the fridge in the on call room and found her lasagna.  The invitation to the event, her whole reason for calling Octavia at the wrong time, was tucked into the pocket of her lab coat.

“I’d like to hope there’s an emergency if you’re calling me right now,” Octavia snuggled further into her pillows.  It muffled her voice.  “But seeing as though your job is to deal with emergencies, I sort of doubt it.”

“There kind of is,” Clarke put her food in the microwave and hung up her lab coat.  She stretched her back out and stifled a yawn.

]“Are you alright?” Octavia perked up.

“I think so,” Clarke let her hair down and scratched the tension from a two-day tight bun out of her scalp.  “Lexa stopped by the hospital on Thursday with some food for me and an interesting request.”

“And you’re just calling me now?” Octavia snapped, sitting up in her bed and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

“I was in back to back surgeries savings a few lives.  I must have forgotten to text you,” Clarke rolled her eyes and pulled her warm food out of the microwave.  She dropped onto the bottom bunk with the Houm take out box in her lap.

“Just a few lives?  Surely one of those people could have waited,” Octavia chuckled.

“Food And Wine Magazine is coming to town next week to do a feature on Lexa and two other chefs,” Clarke began.

“That’s fucking awesome!” Octavia brightened.  “She’s so cool.  Don’t tell her I think she’s cool, though.  I don’t want her to know,” she added sternly.

“I think she has an inkling,” Clarke chuckled.  “But she was pretty blasé about the whole thing,” Clarke shoveled a bite of lasagna into her mouth.  It was two days old, it wasn’t heated all the way through, but it was still incredible.  She paused to let the flavors sink in.  “Holy crap, O,” Clarke got out around the huge bite.  “I’m eating her lasagna right now and it’s unreal.”

“That better not be a euphemism for something dirty.  Is she with you?” Octavia let out a little laugh.

“You’re awful,” Clarke sighed and swallowed her bite. 

“She might not care that much that she’s getting a feature because she’s had tons of them.  Do you know how many magazine covers she’s been on?  Not just articles and features, but the actual covers?” Octavia asked. 

“No, do you?” Clarke paused thoughtfully.  Octavia’s encyclopedic knowledge of Lexa’s professional life might come in handy since Clarke was proving to be absolutely clueless.

“I don’t have an exact figure, but I can tell you it’s a lot,” Octavia settled back into her blankets.  “It’s entirely possible that there’s more than one in the depths of our apartment somewhere.”

“So after the shoot, apparently there’s a party in town and they’re giving her some kind of award,” Clarke carried on.  Now that she wasn’t faced with Lexa’s sweaty neck and tight tank top, she could actually focus and read the invite.  “It’s on the East End up in those old mills they converted to event space.  It’s pretty huge.  Tons of food and booze, apparently.”

“Uh, yeah.  Anyone whose anyone in the goddamn state will be there,” Octavia rolled her eyes.  “It’s a very exclusive event.  Super hard to be a vendor at, really particular guest list.  My Gritty’s guy and my Bissell Brother’s guy were both telling me about it a few weeks ago when they were dropping off promo stuff, but they didn’t tell me it was her they were here for, just that it was Food And Wine.”

“She asked me to be her date to it,” Clarke said quietly.

“What?!” Octavia shot out of bed.  “Clarke!”  Octavia snapped.  She struggled into a pair of loose sweat pants and marched into the living room.  “You have no idea what a big deal that is!”  Octavia kicked Raven’s door open.

“Hey!” Raven snapped.  She was in bed asleep in her clothes from the night before with one of her lap tops and a bunch of notes all around her.

“Get up, we need to talk to Clarke,” Octavia said seriously before leaving Raven’s door open and moving to get a cup of coffee.  “She asked you to be her date to that thing?” Octavia repeated.

“Her date to what?” Raven stumbled into the kitchen rubbing her eyes.

“You got Raven up?”  Clarke yelped.

“Talking some sense into you sounds like a two-woman job by the way you’re acting about this right now!” Octavia snapped.  She put the phone on speaker and set it on the counter so she could get their coffee going.

“What’d I miss?” Raven yawned as she eased onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar.

“Lexa showed up at the hospital and asked Clarke to be her date to a party next week that Food And Wine Magazine is throwing in her honor,” Octavia replied without turning around.  Clarke could hear her shuffling mugs around and the familiar hum of their coffee pot.

“Holy shit!  Really?” Raven cried.  “That’s great!”

“It’s not great, it’s fucking fantastic!” Octavia shouted.  “How are you being so cool about this right now?”

“Um, because I’ve been up for thirty-six hours straight while putting people back together, perhaps?” Clarke caught Raven’s yawn.  “Holding a teenager’s bleeding guts in your hands sort of takes the joy out of you.”

“Gross, Clarke,” Raven grimaced.  “We haven’t had coffee yet.”

“I called in a bunch of favors.  I’m going to get out of here for about sixteen hours so I can go,” Clarke wolfed another bite down.

“Not a lot of time for post-date fucking,” Octavia scratched her chin.

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Clarke cried. 

“Aren’t you?” Raven gave the phone a quizzical look.

“No!” Clarke yelped.  “I need to have everything in perfect order so I can fly out of here and get ready!  And then what the hell exactly am I supposed to even do?  How does one behave at this thing?  How do you act as the date of someone kind of famous?  Or at least famous in their own arena?”

“When are you off?” Octavia asked flatly.

“Lexa’s picking me up on Sunday to take me out around two,” Clarke began.

“So she asked you on a second date before she took you on your first date?”  Raven smirked and sipped her coffee.  “Bold move, Woods.”

“She said the same thing actually,” Clarke glanced away in thought, involuntarily smiling at the memory of Lexa’s grin and the smidge of flour on her cheek.

“Ulgh, why is she so awesome?  She’s too cool for you, Clarke,” Octavia pretended to scowl.

“You might be right.  You should see her car,” Clarke laughed.  Another surgeon entered the on call room and gave her a look for being on her phone before she could go into detail.  “Crap.  I gotta go.  I’ll see you guys Sunday night.”

“Maybe,” Octavia laughed.

“Enough!” Clarke snapped.  “Love you guys, talk to you soon.” 

"We’ve got to get to the bottom of this rule thing,” Raven shook her head after they hung up with Clarke.  “Before this goes anywhere, we need to know what we’re working with here.”

“Way ahead of you,” Octavia replied, not looking up from typing a text message to Lincoln. ‘Hey Big Guy.  Surprise! I’m about to start the pulled pork for tonight.  Will I see you?’

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Hey, bud!” Lexa cried when Aden came in through the back door.  Anya was behind him.

“Hi, Lex,” he replied.  Brunch was in full swing and the kitchen was busy. 

“Come on into my office.  I’ve got something for you,” she motioned for them to follow her.  Aden and Anya weren’t strangers to the back of the house at Houm.  They spent a lot of time helping Lexa out before it opened up.  She was pretty much living in the space while it was under construction.  Anya had come by before work on more mornings than she could remember to find Lexa asleep in her office.  Having Lexa in their lives made them very familiar with the flow of a kitchen and avoided the hurrying cooks naturally as they followed her.  “Are you excited?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Aden replied with a shy smile.  “Maybe a little nervous.”

“What?! Why?  There’s nothing to be nervous about,” Lexa pulled open a cabinet and grabbed a white chef jacket.  She shook it out dramatically and Aden broke into a huge grin.  It had his name embroidered on it in the same green script as her jacket.  “I hope this isn’t too big for you.”  She grinned back at him.

“Oh, no way!” he laughed and reached for it.  “This is so cool!”

“If this works out and you want to work more shifts, I’ll get you a few more,” Lexa couldn’t hold back a proud smile as he buttoned up the jacket and stood up a little bit taller.

“Thanks, this is great.  Fits great,” He replied, adjusting the buttons at his sleeves.

“Excellent.  I have to legally pay you and all that, so I need you to fill out some paperwork,” Lexa pointed to a file folder on her desk with a pen on top.  “Your mom and I are going to grab a cup of coffee while you take care of that.  Once Brunch service dies down, we’ll get you into the prep line.”

“Sounds good!” Aden replied and took a seat at her desk.

“Come on, let me buy you a coffee.  I own it all,” Lexa joked to Anya and nodded her head back to the kitchen.  Anya followed closely behind her to stay out of everyone’s way.  “You want to sit in the dining room, or do you want to go out back?  The sun hits pretty nicely this time of day.”

“That works,” Anya took her cup from Lexa and they weaved through the kitchen out the back door.  It wasn’t so glamorous, a battered picnic table in a small parking lot crammed in between the backs of other brick buildings and a few of the employees’ cars.  The dumpsters were back there as well as a lot of empty kegs, but Lexa was right about the sun.  The fall breeze was cool, but the sun still felt warm.  Winter snuck up so quickly that the native Mainers knew they should take advantage of what they had for the time being.

“He’s adorable in that chef’s jacket.  I’m going to have a hard time treating him seriously,” Lexa chuckled about Aden.  They took a seat next to each other on the same bench of the picnic table.  Lexa leaned her back against the table and stretched her legs out.  She closed her eyes and let the sun warm her face.  Anya tucked one leg up under herself and rested an elbow on the table.

“He wore one of yours for career day one year when you were in San Fran,” Anya grinned at the memory.  “He made me go get one from your place and not tell you about it.  He specifically requested one of the red ones from War Paint because he thinks the red is cool and would make him look badass.  Those were from when you were young and scrawny and not eating because you were too busy getting high and putting notches in your bed post.  It fit him perfectly.  Amazing you had the physique of a twelve-year-old boy in your twenties.  And he’s always been in the lowest percentile for his age,” Anya whacked Lexa in the arm.  She rolled her eyes at who she used to be.

“You never told me he was a chef for career day,” Lexa couldn’t help but smile.

“He wasn’t,” Anya sipped her coffee.  Lexa looked up expectantly.  “He was very specifically you for career day.”

“That kid,” Lexa shook her head and smiled.  “God, I love him.”

“So?” Anya raised a brow and waited for Lexa to go on.  The smile left Lexa’s lips but lingered in her eyes.

“I’m sorry about the other day,” Lexa sighed.  “I asked her to go with me.”

“That’s great!” Anya whacked Lexa again.  Lexa flinched.  Anya always did that.

“She hasn’t said yes, yet.  She had to rearrange her work schedule,” Lexa muttered.  “And that was Thursday afternoon.  I haven’t heard from her since.”

“She’s a fucking surgeon, Lex.  You can turn away from a pan of food for a second to type a message but I suspect that’s frowned upon when you have a bloody, dying human on the table in front of you,” Anya rolled her eyes and it made Lexa chuckle.

“I guess you’re right,” Lexa sighed. 

“Whatever.  She’ll respond when she can.  I think it speaks volumes that you even listened to me,” Anya raised a brow.

“Don’t tell anyone, would you?”  Lexa joked.  “I have a reputation to protect.”

“You sure you’re alright?  You’ve done a million of these events.  You’re not actually stressed about it, are you?” Anya asked, a snarky sister face on with a slight note of concern in her voice.

“Nah,” Lexa waved a hand.  “Not the event, anyway.  They already know what they want from me and I just have to give it to them.  That won’t be hard.”

“Then what the fuck has you so wound up lately?” Anya asked.

“Nothing,” Lexa sighed and took a swig from her coffee.

“Are you going to make me beat it out of you like when we were kids?”  Anya smirked.  “Cause I’m game, Girl.  These are my weekend jeans.  I could get into a scuffle.”

“I think I could take you now,” Lexa looked Anya up and down.

“Like hell, you could,” Anya scoffed.  “If you want to stay miserable behind that wall of yours, be my guest.  But I’m not going anywhere if you want to talk about it.”

“Thanks,” Lexa squinted in the sun.  She wanted to talk about it, and if there was anyone in the world to talk to about it, it was probably Anya, but she didn’t know how to start. 

“This is traditionally the part where you talk about it,” Anya stage whispered to Lexa.  It made her laugh.  Anya felt relieved.  She really didn’t want to see Lexa close herself off any further.

“It’s just stuff,” Lexa said dismissively as she picked at a loose thread on the hem of her jacket.

“Yes, I have actually been struggling with that myself lately,” Anya rolled her eyes.

“If I don’t open a new place, what the hell else am I supposed to do?”  Lexa turned to look Anya in the eye.  Anya softened.  She had suspected there was something going on surrounding Lexa’s career, but she wasn’t sure what it was.  “All I know is moving to a new city, building a new space, setting it up to succeed and then leaving.  And doing it again and again and again.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, now.  I don’t know what the hell else to even do.”

“You’ve been pretty happy here,” Anya shrugged.  “Who’s to say you can’t have a second restaurant in Portland?”

“There isn’t really room for another fine dining establishment in the city right now.  Not at the scale I do things, anyway,” Lexa sighed.  “I’d end up competing with myself.  The local chef community would have a fit.  Half of them already don’t me.  That would put them over the edge.”

“Why not do something super boutiquey and high end, then?”  Anya tried.  “It would attract tourists.  And there are people around here with more money than you think. You’re annoyingly popular.  People come from far and wide to eat your food.”

“I thought about that, but I’d never be able to keep it staffed properly and do it the right way.  I’d have to stay in it forever,” Lexa replied.  “Which is probably why you’d push for such a thing,” Lexa shot Anya a knowing look.

“Can you do something lower scale?  Something more informal?” Anya asked after a few quiet moments between them.  She was genuinely trying to be helpful.  She could set her sass aside when Lexa really needed it.

“It’s going to sound so conceded,” Lexa paused for a sip.  “But I don’t know how.”

“Oh, Lex, come on!” Anya chuckled.  “Even you’re not that cocky.”

“No, I mean I legitimately have no training in it.  I only know fine dining.  I only know high end.  I’d be really bad at that.  Indra, too.  It’s all we do,” Lexa replied, a sad smile sneaking into her face.  “Can you believe that?  I’m about to get an award for my culinary achievements, but I couldn’t do something simple if I had to.”

“You never did do anything half-assed,” Anya smiled at her. 

“I was up all night making fried food and dipping sauce this week because I ate a complex sauce at a dive bar that I didn’t understand.” Lexa rubbed her eyes.  “I don’t even know who I am right now.”

“So that’s what this weird attitude has been about? Your creative process?  I thought it was all about the doctor.” Anya brushed some flyaway hairs behind her ear that escaped in the morning breeze.

“Her name is Clarke,” Lexa scowled. 

“I would know that if you would just tell me things,” Anya tried not to be too accusatory.

“It’s a little bit about her, I guess, seeing as that there should be no ‘her’ right now because I’m supposed to be coming up with what I’m doing next,” Lexa ignored Anya’s tone.

“You do realize that it’s possible you’ve grown up enough to do both, right?” Anya asked flatly.  “That rule was for a very different Lexa.”

“I don’t know about that,” Lexa sighed.

“I do,” Anya replied with confidence.  “You could retire if you want,” Anya shrugged.  “It’s not like you need the money.”

“I’d be miserable doing nothing.  It’s never been about the money,” Lexa finished her coffee.  “And you know that.”

“It was worth a try,” Anya slung an affectionate arm around Lexa’s shoulder and tugged her closer.

“I’ll figure it out,” Lexa tried to smile. 

“I know,” Anya said softer this time.  The back door opened and they both looked up.  It was Roan.

“Hey, sorry to interrupt,” he began carefully.

“No problem,” Lexa assured him.  “What’s up?”

“Aden’s done with his paperwork.  He was looking for you,” Roan pointed over his shoulder with his thumb back into the kitchen.

“Perfect,” Lexa stood up and stretched her back out with her arms over her head.  Anya followed her inside.  Roan held the door for them and Lexa ignored it when Anya discretely passed an affectionate hand across his waist as she walked by him.

“What time do you think I should come back for him?” Anya asked her. 

“I’ll see how he’s holding up and let you know.  If he seems really overwhelmed, I don’t want him here for dinner.  It’ll freak him out.  I’m sure he’ll be fine, though.  Probably closer to nine if all goes well.  I can text you,” Lexa replied as they entered the office where Aden was waiting patiently.

“You don’t have to go easy on him.  He can handle it,” Anya joked.  Aden rolled his eyes.  “Have fun, Sweet Pea.  Don’t cut your fingers off.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Aden chuckled and waved to Anya as she made her exit.  Lexa purposefully didn’t watch her go because she knew Anya would search out Roan before leaving and she wasn’t ready to see them together.

“Alright, dude,” Lexa gave him a wide, excited smile reminiscent of the grins she’d give him as a little kid before building a top of the line blanket fort complete with blueprints.  “You ready to do this thing?”

“So ready!” Aden grinned back.

The Houm staff had never seen Lexa so warm and inviting.

The Commander had a reputation for having extremely high standards and a correspondingly short fuse.  Her skills were unmatched and she had incredibly fast hands.  She was all business all the time to the point that some of the staff had theories about her actually being a robot.  Unless something sent her over the edge, Lexa was relatively unexpressive aside from a few snide grins she shared with Indra on occasion.

Working with Aden at the prep tables, she was full of smiles.  She was patient.  She taught him how to use different knives, why he’d want each one and how to use them safely.  She calmly and carefully walked him through protocol and technique with encouraging words and occasional squeezes of his shoulder when he did something good.  She made idle chit chat with the other prep cooks, something she never did.  It wasn’t that she didn’t respect them, she just never had a reason to talk with them.  She was never in the trenches with them.  

That was Roan and Indra’s job.

Aden was a natural.  He picked everything up very quickly and had an ingrained understanding of food.  They talked flavor and his favorite dishes on her menu.  Thanks to Lexa, he had a pretty advanced palate for a sixteen-year-old boy. 

Lexa covered a grin up with a sip of water as she thought back to all of the times he had helped her in the kitchen.  It led into the cozy thoughts of how he wrote about her in place of a father.  Correspondingly darker thoughts flooded in about moving somewhere else right now.

“So, what do you think?” Lexa asked him as dinner approached.  She thought he was doing fantastic, but wanted to check in and make sure he was comfortable.

“I’m having a great time,” Aden shrugged.  “But I have no idea if I’m doing anything right,” he laughed.

“You’re doing great, bud.  Do you want to stay for dinner service?  I’ll have you support the line.  If they run out of any ingredients, you’ll grab them from the fridges and switch them over, grab more plates and tools, just be available for anything they need,” Lexa said.  “I think it will help you get a feel for working in the kitchen without throwing you in there for real.”

“That would be great!” Aden beamed at her.

“Perfect,” Lexa couldn’t help but smile back at him.  “Take a break beforehand.  Grab a seat for a minute and chill out.  You can go get a soda from Lincoln if you want.  I need to take care of a few things in my office before dinner.”  Lexa made sure he was comfortable before heading to her desk to get things in order.  She sent Anya a message that Aden would be staying before getting her work in order. 

It hadn’t gone unnoticed that Indra hadn’t taken the check off of her desk yet.  It was another reminder that she hadn’t heard from Clarke.  She’d been so busy all day that she forgot to look at her phone.  Once reporting was squared away, she reluctantly opened her phone up.

She lit up at the sight of a message from Clarke.  ‘Sorry for the delay, crazy few days in here.  I got myself free for your party!  Can’t wait!  See you tomorrow!’  Lexa grabbed the check and bolted out of her chair.

“Hey, Commander,” Indra nodded at Lexa.  She was at the grill getting her station ready for dinner.  “What’s with the shit eating grin?”  Lexa slapped the check on the counter.

"Cash that and buy yourself something nice to wear next week.  You’re going to have to entertain Clarke while I get my damn award.”  Lexa tried to stop smiling, but she just couldn’t.

*****

Octavia’s pulled pork worked like a charm.

On Sunday morning, Lincoln rolled over onto his back in Octavia’s bed to catch his breath.  She was just as wild as he was expecting.  She was just as creative and unpredictable in bed as she was in the kitchen, and she was completely relentless.  He took in a few deep breaths, arms behind his head as he relaxed against her pillows.

“So,” Octavia began as she climbed on top of him.  Lincoln’s brow raised in shock that she was ready to go again.  “How was the pork?”

“You want to talk about food?” Lincoln yelped as she straddled his hips and the blankets fell away from her shoulders.  “Now?”

“Not actually, no,” Octavia ran her hands across his toned, bare chest.  “I was luring you into a false sense of security, but you caught me.”

“What?” Lincoln gulped.

“What’s the deal with Lexa’s rule?” Octavia asked firmly.  She switched from her gentle palms to fingernails on his chest.  He was equal parts turned on and terrified and didn’t hate it.

“I already told you.  I can’t tell you about that,” Lincoln grumbled.

“I think you can,” Octavia quirked a brow at him as she pinched one of his nipples.  He flinched.  “And I think you’re going to.”

“It’s not my place, Octavia,” he said firmly.  There was a tiny hitch in his voice as her nails scratched past a ticklish spot.

"She’s taking her out today and she’s taking her to that Food And Wine shindig, so it’s time for you to tell me what the fuck my best friend is getting herself into,” Octavia spat out and scratched her nails harder.

“She’s taking Clarke to the Food And Wine Party?” Lincoln gasped and sat up, almost knocking Octavia off his lap.  He settled back on his elbows.  “Well, shit.”

“You didn’t know about that?” She eyed him suspiciously.

“No,” he shook his head.  “And I’m going.”

“You’re going, too?!”  Octavia cried.  “And you’re not bringing me?!”  She whacked him hard in the chest and he flinched with a surprised laugh.

"Relax, I’m Indra’s plus one,” he settled a hand on her bare waist.  Octavia’s eyes lit with a jealous flare.  “Not like that!” He assured her quickly.  “It’s a strictly professional arrangement.  But the commander asked her to that thing?”

“Yeah, and Clarke’s gonna go,” Octavia sat back, arms defiantly across her chest.  “So I think it’s time for you to fess the fuck up.”  Lincoln had a look of agony on his face, torn between his loyalty to Lexa and Octavia’s perfect tits sitting on her folded arms right at his eye level.  He heaved a big sigh.

“Lexa’s rule is that she doesn’t allow herself to hook up when she’s conceptualizing a new place.  I guess she used to be a real player and her wild sex life endangered a few of her restaurants while they were in the process of opening.  She got burned really badly by an ex when she was opening Trikru and it really screwed her up.  Every time she swears off women, the restaurants open up with complete success and no hiccups,” Lincoln exhaled.

“So where is she opening the new place?” Octavia eyed him curiously.

“She hasn’t said.  Indra thinks Lexa doesn’t even have any ideas and the whole thing might be bullshit,” Lincoln muttered, the guilt crushing him.  “But Lexa doesn’t know that.”

“So this thing with Clarke,” Octavia began.

“I don’t know what to tell you about that,” Lincoln sighed.  “Indra seems cool with it and she’s encouraging Lexa to go for it, so I don’t know what the fuck’s going on anymore.”  He looked so genuinely defeated.  Octavia had to believe him.  “Indra seems to have her finger on the pulse of what is and isn’t healthy for Lexa and Indra’s all about her and this thing with Clarke.  I can’t keep track of it and I’ve been trying to stay out of it.”

“And you’re going to that party with the three of them?” Octavia asked cautiously.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Excellent,” Octavia smirked before leaning in to catch his lips in a kiss.  “After I’m done with you, we can discuss exactly all of the signs you’re going to watch out for to make sure that this rule is dead.”

*****

Clarke had been on plenty of dates in her lifetime.  She had been on an equal share with men and women.  She had it on good authority that she was a very fun date, that she was easy to talk to and had an extremely high success rate with getting to date two.  She didn’t know why she was so nervous about going on this particular date. 

Maybe it was because it had been a while and she was just excited.

Maybe it was because she couldn’t get the outline of Lexa’s strong jawline out of her mind and it made her stomach turn over when she thought about it.

Maybe it was because she already had a second date to follow it up, so this one had better be real great.

Whatever the reason, Clarke’s stomach was full of butterflies as she pulled on her jacket and headed for the ER lobby on Sunday afternoon. 

“Enjoy your time off, Dr. Griffin,” Maya smiled at her.  “You look nice,” she tacked on.  She’d heard through the grapevine that Clarke was headed somewhere special and that she had cashed in more than one favor to get out for the evening on Thursday. 

“Thank you, Maya,” Clarke waved good bye to her.

“Any big plans while you’re off?” Maya gave her a knowing smirk.  Clarke forced a smile through a sarcastic sigh.

“Since I’m sure you already know what’s going on, let me ask you this,” Clarke paused and pulled her glasses off.  “Glasses or no glasses?”  She had her blond hair down in loose waves.  A tight pair of skinny jeans and knee high boots met a casual, lightweight tan sweater and a big plaid scarf.  She had an olive-green fall weight jacket on and her brown leather bag over her shoulder.

“Tough call,” Maya replied with a conspiratorial whisper.  “Do you have those old-school Ray Bans in your purse?”

“Yes!” Clarke gasped.  She hadn’t thought of that.

“No glasses,” Maya grinned.

“You’re right, you’re totally right,” Clarke shook her head and dug the sunglasses out of her bag.  “What would I do without you?”  Clarke shot the nurse a thankful smile and headed for the door.

“Have fun!” Maya called after her in a sing-song voice.  Clarke rolled her eyes, but loved it at the same time as she slid her sunglasses on. 

Lexa was standing by the door waiting for her. 

Her leather jacket was gone and a trendy gray wool blazer took its place.  Her slim dark jeans looked brand new and were rolled with the perfect cuff to show off her patterned socks.  Her gingham button down was somewhere between precisely starched and exactly casual enough with the top few buttons undone and a pair of aviators hooked in the neckline.  Her chestnut curls were pinned back.  She leaned a shoulder into one of the support posts holding up the overhang and balanced two take out cups of coffee in one hand while she scrolled through her phone with the other. 

Everything about her was so crisp and so cool.  Clarke paused for a moment to take her in before getting her attention.  She memorized Lexa’s long legs, one straight and the other with a bend and her wingtipped toe pointed to the ground to offset her lean.  Her long fingers held the two cups of coffee with ease.  Clarke let out a deep sigh as she imagined what else might fit perfectly in that palm.  She shook her head to clear it. 

It was just a first date. 

“Well, well, Chef Woods.  Don’t you look nice out of those chef’s pajamas I always see you in,” Clarke spoke up so Lexa would hear her.  Lexa looked up from her phone, startled, but instantly melted into a huge smile. 

“I could say the same about you and your scrubs,” Lexa smirked as Clarke approached.  Every new version of Clarke she saw, dirty, ripped jeans, formal wear, scrubs and now a casual Clarke about town, got better and better.  “I brought you a coffee.  I thought I remembered you saying you drink it black when we were talking at the bar last week.”

“I did say that,” Clarke paused for a moment, surprised that Lexa caught the tiny detail in a night full of fast conversation between six people with so much beer involved.  “Thank you very much.”  She took the coffee from Lexa and took a swig.  “So what do we have planned?”

“Well?” Lexa glanced over her shoulder.  “It turns out I had to park really far away, so I thought we’d start out with a nice walk,” she chuckled.  Clarke let out a giggle.

“Sunday afternoon is a very popular time for visiting,” Clarke replied.  “I should have warned you.”

“It’s beautiful out, so I don’t mind if you don’t mind,” Lexa said with a little shrug.  “We have coffee.  The sun’s out.  It’s probably one of the last weekends it’s going to feel this warm.”  Lexa carried on.  Her casual optimism was adorable.

“Sounds lovely.  Lead the way, Chef Woods,” Clarke gestured towards the sidewalk.  Lexa held out her arm with a slightly sarcastic grin for Clarke to loop hers through.

“Right this way, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa smiled coolly.  Clarke gently slipped her hand into the crook of Lexa’s elbow and settled into step beside her.

She smelled so good.  Clarke couldn’t quite place it.  It was fresh but old fashioned and belonged on a man but worked so, so well on Lexa.  It brought Clarke right back to the night at the bar.  She made herself more comfortable against Lexa’s side and let her lead the way up the hill.

“How was your shift?” Lexa asked and took a sip of her coffee.

“It was alright,” Clarke replied with an indifferent shrug.  “I had a really tough one with a kid who had been in a bad ATV accident.  She had a helmet on, but she was pretty messed up.  It’s always worse when they’re kids.”

“I can’t imagine,” Lexa shook her head with wide eyes.  She passed her coffee to the hand that was arm in arm with Clarke for just a moment so she could slip on her sunglasses.  Clarke couldn’t stand it and looked away.  She just looked so goddamn cool.

“The people in pediatrics that do it all the time are heroes.  I couldn’t handle that,” Clarke made the same face.

“I heard you and your dress raised them quite a bit of money once,” Lexa shot Clarke a little smirk.  Clarke laughed.  It made Lexa inch a little closer.

“Yes, that’s right,” Clarke let her laughter die down.  “The chief of surgery makes a handful of us come every year to this big charity winter gala.  It’s around Christmastime and he makes sure to have someone from every department there to kiss the donors’ asses.  It makes them feel even more self-important when surgeons and specialists are there telling them how great they are.  It’s all politics and bullshit.  Most of my colleagues are men, and so are most of the donors.  You’d be amazed what one woman in a red dress can do in a sea of black and gray suits.”

“I’ve seen you in it, so I actually have a pretty good idea,” Lexa’s smirk was so wide it was in danger of running off her face.  Clarke pretended to scoff and gave Lexa’s arm a flirty little squeeze.

“Stop it,” Clarke tried to hide her blushing cheeks in a sip of her coffee. 

“What color is the dress that did the same for Alzheimer’s?” Lexa joked.

“Black,” Clarke chuckled.  “It’s less obvious.  I was mad at the chief that year because he made me pretend to be his son’s date to the party so I went for something understated, but it backfired.  The dress worked anyway.”

“I hate to break it to you, but you could probably show up in your lab coat and do just as well,” Lexa gave Clarke a sweet smile.  Clarke tried to roll her eyes, but a bashful blush on her cheeks gave her away.

“How was your week at the restaurant?” Clarke asked.  Lexa was surprised and tried to hide it.  She sounded so sincere, like she really wanted to know.  It had been a long time since Lexa took a girl out who didn’t skip all the pleasantries and get straight to her bed or her wallet.

“It was pretty good,” Lexa shrugged.  “My cousin’s son, Aden started working there yesterday.”

“Really?” Clarke perked up.  “The same cousin you’re trying to keep away from Roan?”

“The very same,” Lexa sighed through a smile.  “I decided to back off that whole thing and get out of her way.”

“Good,” Clarke nodded firmly.  “That sounds healthy.”

“I guess,” Lexa replied.  “But he wanted to come work with me.  It was really fun to have him there.  I love that kid.”

“I think that’s sweet,” Clarke took another sip from her coffee.  “What’s he like?”

“Aden?” Lexa asked.  Clarke nodded.  “He’s a good kid.  He’s kind of nerdy.  He likes books and music and art.  He’s in the band at school and does plays and stuff.  He’s really funny and too smart for his own good,” Lexa went on.  Clarke loved how much Lexa lit up when she talked about him.

“You guys are pretty close?”  Clarke asked.  She slowed her steps down and it forced Lexa to do the same.  She wanted to make this perfect moment arm in arm last as long as she could.  She liked listening to Lexa talk.

“Yeah, definitely.  Anya’s not much older than me.  My parents were both kind of absent when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time with her family.  They pretty much raised us like sisters.  I was a senior in high school when she had him.  I was in the delivery room with her.”

“Oh wow,” Clarke’s eyebrows rose.  “That’s definitely close.”

“Yeah,” Lexa chuckled.  “Anya and I have a unique relationship for sure.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Clarke asked and took the opportunity to snuggle in a little closer.  The breeze up on the promenade was cool even though the afternoon sun was strong.  The big maples up on the hill were the brightest oranges and yellows.  The clear, blue autumn sky behind them was the perfect contrast.

“Just me,” Lexa replied with a sigh.  “Anya has a ton of cousins on her mother’s side, and I have a few on my mother’s that live up north that I don’t see too often.  Her dad and my dad were bothers and they each just had the one of us.”

“That’s kind of nice in a way,” Clarke shrugged.  “You’re lucky to have all of those cousins.  I don’t have any.”

“What?” Lexa yelped.  “No way.”

“Yeah,” Clarke nodded.  “My parents were both only children, and their parents, all four of them, were only children too, believe it or not.  They only had me, so that’s it.”

“But you’re so normal,” Lexa blurted out in shock.  Clarke let out a big laugh.  It made Lexa grit her teeth.  Clarke’s laugh ripped through her in the best way every time she heard it.

“You just met me.  We’ll see how long that lasts,” Clarke chuckled.  “You guys are from here, right?”

“Portland born and raised,” Lexa said proudly. 

“Do your parents still live in the area?” Clarke asked.  She immediately regretted it when she saw the smile drop off Lexa’s face.

“They passed away,” Lexa told her, forcing a sad smile on.  “They were with Anya’s mother.  It was a boating accident.”

“Jesus, Lexa, I’m so sorry,” Clarke swallowed hard.  “You don’t have to-“

“No, it’s okay.  It was a long time ago,” Lexa tipped her coffee back and finished it off.  “It was the same day Aden was born, actually.  It’s how I ended up in the delivery room.  He was early.  Anya’s mother wasn’t there and she was freaking out and she made me come with her instead.”

“You were so young,” Clarke winced. 

“I really was,” Lexa nodded.  She forced a smile on.  “But look at this way.  If things go well between us, you never have to undergo the stress of meeting my parents.”

“That’s not funny,” Clarke muttered.  Lexa shrugged to brush it off.

“But enough of that,” Lexa sensed Clarke’s sudden discomfort on the topic.  She pulled out her keys.  They were finally at her car.  “Let’s move on to something lighter.  What’s your favorite color, Dr. Griffin?”

“Green,” Clarke smiled, thankful for Lexa’s ability to change the subject.  While Lexa was comfortable discussing the death of both of her parents, Clarke didn’t want to talk about her dad on a first date.  Lexa let go of Clarke just long enough to open the passenger’s side door for her.  Clarke cocked her head at the gesture.  It had been ages since someone treated her like such a lady.  She was trying to remember if anyone ever really had.  “And yours?”  Clarke asked as she stepped up into Lexa’s SUV.

“Blue.”

*****

“No way!  There is absolutely no way that your favorite Karaoke song is Bust A Move!” Clarke gasped through laughter.  They were sitting outside on the deck at one of Portland’s best beer gardens taking in every ounce of sun that autumn would give them. 

The deck was full of people.  Groups of hispters freshly twenty-one.  Packs of young parents who let their toddlers run around, then panicked and chased them when they got in the way of the cornhole matches in play by preppy guys in their late twenties.  The deck housed several long picnic tables and a built-in bar with stools all around the perimeter.  It was sandwiched in between a few buildings on Exchange street.  Ivy plants weaved their way up the sides of the brick buildings that surrounded the space.

“Why is that so difficult for you to believe?” Lexa couldn’t stop laughing either.  They were perched on two barstools in the corner where the sun hit strong.  Lexa had a hard time listening because she was running her eyes over each one of the waves in Clarke’s hair as the sun hit them. 

Favorite colors gave way to favorite TV shows, favorite childhood toys, favorite places, favorite seasons, favorite holidays, favorite shoes, favorite bands, favorite movies and everything else under the sun.  Their conversation was constant and comfortable into their second beers. 

“I don’t know?  You seem so serious!  I can hardly imagine you doing karaoke at all, never mind Young freaking MC,” Clarke pulled her sunglasses off to wipe a tear from laughing so hard out of her eyes.

"I’ll have you know that I’m quite fun, thank you very much!” Lexa gasped incredulously. 

“I’m sure you’re very fun,” Clarke tried to calm her laughter down. 

“I know every word to more rap songs than you’d think!” Lexa snapped, pretending to be angry.

“Alright, I believe you and I can’t wait to see that some time,” Clarke slowed her laughter down.  Lexa couldn’t believe how much fun she was having.  She had never taken a girl like Clarke out.  Clarke didn’t talk about food.  Clarke didn’t talk about Lexa’s restaurants.  Clarke didn’t ask Lexa what celebrities she knew or had cooked for.  Clarke bought the first round of drinks. 

Clarke was genuinely trying to get to know Lexa like a regular person.

“So tell me this,” Clarke began and paused to sip from her glass.  “Outside of food and drink, what are three things that you’re into?”

“That’s tough,” Lexa scratched her forehead.  Her adorable, puzzled smile made Clarke turn on her barstool just enough so that her crossed legs just barely touched Lexa’s knee.  “Three things?”

“There’s got to be three non-food related topics that interest you,” Clarke raised a brow.

“I guess,” Lexa trailed off and tapped her fingers on the deck railing as she thought.  “Fashion, vintage furniture and traveling.”

“You travel to eat.  That’s cheating,” Clarke poked Lexa in the leg.  It made Lexa stiffen up.

“I travel to see other places.  There just happens to be food and drink when I get there,” Lexa pointed hard at Clarke.

“Fine, you can have traveling,” Clarke let out a big sarcastic sigh and rolled her eyes.

“What about you?” Lexa asked as she brought her beer to her lips.

“Three things outside of food and drink?  Or do I get food because I’m not a chef?” Clarke grinned. 

“I already know you like food.  What are three other things?” Lexa asked.

“I guess live music, reading and art,” Clarke replied without too much thought.

"Art?”  Lexa set her glass down, intrigued.  “What kind of art?”

“All of it, really,” Clarke said, her smile spreading.  “But mostly drawing and painting.  I used to be pretty good at it when I was younger, but I don’t have the kind of time I used to.  My mom was holding her breath for a while because she was worried that I was going to go to art school.”

“Must be those highly trained hands,” Lexa nodded at Clarke’s left hand resting on the bar top.  It wasn’t too far from Lexa’s right.

“These old things?” Clarke took her other hand off her knee and glanced at her nails.  Lexa noticed that Clarke wore a battered sports watch from the nineties that didn’t go with her sense of style.  She wondered if maybe it was something Clarke wore at work that she didn’t have to care about and had left it on in a hurry to leave.  While she had her distracted with the gesture, Clarke snuck her left hand across the space between them into Lexa’s right.  “You’ve got some highly trained hands yourself, from what I understand.  Did Indra say you had some of the steadiest hands in the business?”

“She’s full of it,” Lexa glanced away with a shy smile.  She leaned her leg into Clarke’s.  The urge to close the space between them was coming on strong and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to stop herself this time.

“She doesn’t strike me as the type to exaggerate,” Clarke gave Lexa a look.

“You’re not wrong there,” Lexa chuckled.

“How long have you known her?” Clarke tried not to let the hitch in her breath make itself known when Lexa slid her free hand onto Clarke’s knee.

“We met in Culinary school in New York.  Almost fifteen years ago now?”  Lexa glanced away to do the math.  “We were just kids.  I was eighteen.  We instantly got along.  We have the same ideals and balance each other out.  She’s been right by my side for everything ever since.”

“And you two never,” Clarke wiggled her shoulders, trying to find the best way to ask.

“Me and Indra?!” Lexa spat out.  “Oh, Clarke, no!  No way!”  Lexa laughed so hard.

“Well, I don’t know!” Clarke laughed too, totally embarrassed.  It was too adorable.  Lexa couldn’t tell if it was the beer or the sun or the perfect girl in front of her, but she couldn’t stop smiling.

"There are always rumors about it,” Lexa’s laughter died down.  “But I can assure you, that never has and never will be something that she and I share.”

“Good,” Clarke grinned and leaned closer.  She licked her lips.  Lexa’s breath shortened.  The urge had her by the shoulders and was shaking her.  “Because if she’s the jealous type, she looks like she could really kick my ass,” Clarke got out lowly and playfully.  Lexa had a reply on the tip of her tongue but swallowed it as Clarke leaned in closer, lips parted.

“Alexandria Woods!  I thought that was you!” A female voice startled them both.  Clarke shot back from Lexa as if she’d been burned.  She ran a nervous hand over her mouth to try and wipe the feeling of their almost kiss away.  It was becoming too familiar and she hated it.  Lexa’s whole body was rigid and it looked as though the effort to turn her neck and see who was standing there might break her.

“Luna,” Lexa spoke firmly, clearly disappointed and agitated.  A tall, dark and smirky woman stood beside them holding a beer in each hand with an eyebrow raised.  “Nice to see you.”

“How’ve you been?”  Luna asked and took a smug sip from one of the pint glasses.

“Been alright,” Lexa painted on a professional smile and stood up.  Luna set one of the beers down and grabbed Lexa’s hand in a familiar, businesslike shake.  “Congrats on the Food And Wine nod.  Will we be seeing you next week?”

 “Hardly a nod when it’s in your shadow,” Luna scoffed.  “Yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Clarke, this is Luna.  She owns East Rig down on Commercial Street,” Lexa gestured to Luna.  “Luna, this is Clarke.”

“Hi,” Clarke smiled politely and held her hand out to shake.  “I love that place.  Best salmon dish in town, hands down.”

“Thank you, Clarke.  Are you a chef, too?  You ladies having a meeting of the minds?” Luna smirked.

“No,” Clarke continued to be cordial even though she could sense some discomfort between Luna and Lexa.  “I’m a surgeon at Ark Memorial.”

“A surgeon!  Well, well, well!  Woods, you’ve certainly expanded your palate!” Luna mock gasped at Lexa.  Clarke didn’t falter.  The implications weren’t lost on her.  “Don’t let me keep you,” Luna winked at Lexa before turning away and joining her friends.  Lexa dropped back onto her barstool with a sigh.

“I’m sorry about that,” Lexa waved a hand at Luna and tried to clear the air with a frustrated huff.

“About what, exactly?” Clarke raised a brow.  “The part where she made you feel bad about your success or the part where she tried to make me feel bad about being here with you?”

“We’ve known each other for a very long time,” Lexa ignored Clarke’s insightful read on the situation.  Luna was with a group of a dozen or so people across the deck.  Every so often, one of them would glance up at the two of them and make a comment to someone else in the group.

“You wanna get out of here?”  Clarke nodded her head towards the exit.  “We’ve got another hour of sunshine.”  Clarke downed the last of her beer in a swift gulp.  “Take me somewhere else.”

“You sure?” Lexa asked carefully.  “You’re not upset?”

“I’m going to be upset if you let someone ruin this excellent afternoon I’m having,” Clarke shrugged.  “So let’s go.  Take me somewhere,” Lexa followed Clarke to the exit, a hand at Clarke’s lower back as the weaved through people showing their IDs to the bouncer and out onto the sidewalk.

"It’s about money,” Lexa confessed after a long lull.

“What?” Clarke wrinkled her nose, confused.

“Luna.  The weirdness between us,” Lexa nodded her head back towards the bar.  “It’s about money.”

“I’m not following,” Clarke leaned into Lexa as they walked.  Lexa looped her arm around Clarke’s shoulders and Clarke snuck hers around Lexa’s waist and enjoyed the closeness.

“There’s a group of chefs in this town that don’t like me,” Lexa began with a tired sigh.  “Most of them are people I grew up with.  I started my career very young and I was able to do it because I had a lot of money.  Chef’s like Luna didn’t agree with me bringing my fine dining empire back home.  She thinks it doesn’t belong here.  That I don’t belong here.  That what I do and what I stand for shouldn’t be here,” Lexa muttered.  “She was one of many who were glad I left and hoped I was never coming back.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Clarke snapped.

"Her words, not mine,” Lexa said quietly.  “I’m not telling you anything you can’t google.  I grew up with a lot of money and she didn’t.  When my parents passed, I came into a whole lot more.  Maybe too much,” Lexa sighed.  She still couldn’t believe that this was news to Clarke.  “She thinks my skills were bought and paid for and if she had the same advantages, she’d be a lot better at this than I am.”  Lexa shoved her hand into her pocket and looked down at the bricks in the sidewalks.  “She’s probably right.”

“Come on, don’t say that!” Clarke cried.

“No, I mean it.  She’s crazy talented,” Lexa said with a seriousness of purpose.  “She should be getting the recognition I am next week.”

“If she wasn’t such a bitch about it, maybe she would,” Clarke scoffed.  Lexa leaned back so she could give Clarke a pointed look. 

“I knew I liked you,” Lexa chuckled and tightened her arm around Clarke.  Her smile was so warm, the hug felt so good, the sun was hitting the rims of Lexa’s glasses in the perfect way.  Clarke couldn’t stop herself from wrapping her arms around Lexa’s waist and leaning up to press their smiles together.

“Lexa Woods!  No way!  Right here on my door step?  Really?!” A guy’s voice boomed.

“Oh, come the fuck on!” Lexa hissed at the sky.  Clarke hid her giggles and dropped her forehead to snuggle her embarrassment away into Lexa’s shoulder.  Lexa could feel Clarke shaking with laughter and it softened her anger at another foiled kiss.

“Is there anyone in this town you don’t know?!” Clarke cried, caught between amused and annoyed.

“Apparently fucking not!” Lexa snapped, convinced she’d never be able to kiss this woman no matter how hard she tried.

“What’s up, girl?”  He was a big guy with tattoos and dreadlocks and a thick beard.  He was wearing a short sleeved black chef’s jacket and sported a black apron, cargo shorts and crocks.

“Nyko,” Lexa sighed, trying to be happy to see him.  He grabbed her hand into something between a high five and a handshake.  She kept the other firmly around Clarke.  “Nice to see you, man.”

“Likewise, Chef!  Hey, Lincoln told me you finally got up to Blake’s!  That place is dope, huh?”  Nyko grinned at her.

“Yeah, really incredible,” Lexa agreed.  “Nyko, this is Clarke.  Clarke, this is Nyko.  Longtime friend of Lincoln’s and he runs this place,” Lexa pointed towards the window decals boasting ‘The Healer on Exchange’.

“Nice to meet you,” Clarke smiled at him.

“Clarke is actually best friends with Octavia Blake,” Lexa carried on.

“No way!” Nyko brightened.  “Oh shit, wait,” he pointed between the two of them.  “You’re not the doctor, are you?” he grinned at Clarke.  Her face dropped. 

This town was so small.

“Oh my god,” Lexa ran a hand over her eyes.

“Well, come the fuck in!  I was just out back coming up with some new appetizers.  I’d love your thoughts on them, Lexa,” He pointed into the busy bar.

“We were actually just,” Lexa trailed off and looked to Clarke for a decision. 

“Talking about how hungry we were,” Clarke grinned.  “Lead the way!”

“Awesome!  Come on out back!” Nyko held the door for them.

“Are you sure?” Lexa whispered to Clarke.  She had been enjoying their food free afternoon and didn’t want to force it on Clarke.

“Absolutely!”  Clarke whispered back.  “First glance at new appetizers from a guy trying to impress you?  Uh, yeah.  I’m sure.”  Lexa rolled her eyes as the two of them followed Nyko into the kitchen.

He fed them all kinds of bites.  Everything was delicious and had a heavy Mediterranean influence.  Nyko’s sous chef brought cups of beer samples out to the kitchen for Clarke and Lexa.  Nyko grilled Clarke all about who she was and tried to get her to spill some of Octavia’s secrets.  She didn’t give him any info on food, but they swapped info on live music venues and some local acts they both liked.

Clarke sat back and watched Lexa talk shop with Nyko about his sauces, his braising process, and then the two of them fought over spice mixes for their gyro recipes.  He encouraged Clarke to participate when he made fried dough balls with feta and Greek beef mixes inside.  Lexa’s heart was warm as she watched Clarke dive right in to cook.  It was nearing eight o’clock when Lexa caught Clarke yawning for the third time out the corner of her eye.

“Listen, my friend,” Lexa clapped Nyko on the shoulder.  “This has been an absolute treat, but the lady here has been up for days.  I think I should get her home,” Lexa nodded at Clarke with a knowing smile.

“I’m okay!” Clarke perked up.

“The pleasure was all mine,” Nyko winked at Lexa.  “We’ll see you next week at the F and W party, yeah?  One of the guys at Rising Tide got me a spot to tag along if I help haul kegs.”

“We’ll both be there and are looking forward to it,” Lexa replied as she wrapped an arm around Clarke’s shoulders.  “Thanks again.  This was great.  I like what you’ve got going on here!”

“Door’s always open for you both!  It was nice meeting you, Clarke,” Nyko gave her a warm grin.  Lexa led Clarke out of the kitchen and through the restaurant.  They exited out into the cool night air and Clarke took up her post cuddled into Lexa’s side.

“I’m sorry we got carried away back there.  I didn’t realize how late it was getting,” Lexa tightened her grip around Clarke when she felt her shiver.

“No need for apologies.  I love watching you cook and talk food,” Clarke replied, stifling a chill.

“Yeah?” Lexa turned to look at her.

“Yeah,” Clarke shrugged.  “You’re so comfortable and confident when you do it.  It’s hot.”

“Well,” Lexa nodded her head.  “I’ll just have to make sure and do plenty more of that.”  Clarke swatted her playfully in the stomach and Lexa let out a yelp of laughter.  Her car wasn’t far and they spent the short walk discussing what Clarke liked about Nyko’s food.  Lexa wanted to hear her opinions.

“I’m happy to keep the party going, but your yawns are giving you away, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa chuckled as they approached the car.  She unlocked it and opened Clarke’s door for her.  “I think it would be wise to get you home.”  Lexa rested her forearm on the top of the car door and gestured a hand towards the passenger’s seat.

“I’m sorry to be a party pooper,” Clarke stifled another yawn.

“Hardly,” Lexa gave her a reassuring smile.  “I had a wonderful day with you.”

“Really?” Clarke searched Lexa’s eyes for some kind of line, some kind of flirty bullshit to get this date to the next level.

There was nothing but adoration.

“Definitely,” Lexa couldn’t get rid of her smile if she tried.  “I haven’t laughed like that in a very, very long time.  I honestly can’t remember the last time, so thank you for that,” she replied earnestly.  Clarke furrowed her brow when she found Lexa’s eyes and smile full of honesty.  It had been so long since someone treated her so nicely.  Opened doors for her, picked up checks for her, snuck their arms around her waist without a motive.  Lexa hadn’t even tried to kiss her.  Clarke had made every move. 

It felt so perfect.

“Is something wrong?” Lexa asked carefully as she tried to read the look on Clarke’s face.  “Because I really thought that we were,” Clarke cut her off by grabbing the lapels of Lexa’s blazer with both hands and yanking her into a hard, earnest kiss. 

“We were,” Clarke whispered softly before leaning back in for a softer kiss this time.  Lexa’s hands found Clarke’s waist and pulled her closer.  The tension and the wondering and the second guessing and the mystery of what might happen dissolved into sweet, tentative kisses on the sidewalk on Middle Street. 

               

 

 

Chapter Text

Somehow, and neither of them were quite sure how, they managed to pull away from each other.  Clarke finally got in the car and Lexa hopped in the driver’s seat to take them the short distance to the East End towards Blake’s.  Lexa leaned over at red lights for another kiss until the cars behind her beeped when the lights turned green.  She pulled into an empty curbside spot and jumped out to get around to the other side of the car so she could open the door for Clarke.

“Such a gentleman,” Clarke got out quickly, her breath short, before wrapping her arms around Lexa’s neck to pull her in for another kiss.  Lexa backed her into the car, a hand at Clarke’s waist and the other tangled in her blond curls.  Clarke liked it too much.  She paused, her hands gently on Lexa’s shoulders as she pushed her back.

“Is something wrong?” Lexa asked carefully.  She searched Clarke’s blue eyes and found nothing but want.

“No, everything is very much right.” Clarke’s voice was high and tight as she rolled a pair of wide eyes.  “But I can’t invite you in.”

"What?” Lexa swallowed hard.  She had hoped to take this polite make out that was getting too hot for the sidewalk behind a closed door as quickly as possible.

“Lexa, this is our first date,” Clarke reminded her, a mock stern look in her eye.  “That’s so tacky.”

“We’re in our thirties!” Lexa cried.

“It’s still trashy,” Clarke smirked at her.  “And I can tell by this car and your watch and your clothes and your scent that you don’t do anything in poor taste.”

“My scent?” Lexa yelped.  Her adorable look of utter shock and confusion was not making it any easier for Clarke to push her away.

“Come on,” Clarke softened into a sweet smile.  She snuck in a quick kiss that Lexa was too slow to catch and turn into something more.  “You know I’m right.”  Lexa mulled it over and chewed her kiss-swollen bottom lip in thought.  It didn’t help Clarke’s resolve.

“May I ask you on which date it becomes no longer tacky for you to invite me in?”  Lexa asked calmly and tried to suppress the thought of ditching going up to Clarke’s apartment altogether and just pushing her into the back seat.

“Someone’s quite confident,” Clarke raised a sassy brow.  She liked Lexa’s overconfidence.  She liked it a lot.  Maybe too much.

“I already have a second date with you,” Lexa smirked back.  “And it’s a really good one.”

“That’s too bad, because everyone knows a lady waits until at least the third date,” Clarke reached up and tapped her index finger on Lexa’s nose. 

“In that case, I better pick you up for dinner tomorrow,” Lexa leaned in to kiss Clarke’s grin.

“That is absolutely cheating,” Clarke got out between kisses.

“So, seven o’clock?”  Lexa caught Clarke’s bottom lip gently between her teeth.  Clarke shivered and took a deep breath when Lexa pulled away.

“Six,” Clarke got out through a grin.  “I have to get up early on Tuesday for work.  I had to do some serious shuffling to get out for your party.”

“Six it is,” Lexa grinned back.  Clarke wrapped her into a tight hug and kissed her hard.

“I still think this is cheating,” Clarke whispered, their noses touching.  “But I’m really glad you thought of it.”

“I’m not just a pretty face.  I’m smart, too,” Lexa joked.  Clarke giggled while Lexa stole a few more kisses before Clarke finally pushed her away. “I’ll see you at six.”

“I’ll be ready,” Clarke couldn’t stop grinning.  Her cheeks hurt.  “Thank you for a wonderful time.”

“The pleasure was all mine, Clarke,” Lexa replied with a matching dopy grin. 

“Drive safe,” Clarke reached out with one hand to gently touch Lexa’s jaw, then planted the softest, sweetest kiss on her other cheek. 

Lexa stood stuck on the sidewalk as she watched Clarke walk into the bar. 

No one told Lexa Woods to wait for the third date.  Most women didn’t even have a second date with her.  No one went on dates with Lexa that didn’t end in sweaty throws.  Most women didn’t even say thank you when they left.  They expected her to show them a good time.  They expected her to take them home.  They expected her to pay.  They expected her to be something. 

Clarke hadn’t expected a damn thing.  She was appreciative, sweet and already in charge.

It was wonderful.

Lexa’s phone vibrated in her pocket and it startled her.  She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there watching Clarke through the dirty windows.  She watched her hug Raven and slap a high five to Harper across the bar before sitting down on a stool.  Lexa glanced down at her phone.  It was a text from Clarke.  ‘Stop staring and get out of here.  Rest up for tomorrow!’  She sighed, sheepish that she was caught and glanced back up at Clarke through the window.  Clarke blew her a kiss and waved before turning back to her friends.

*****

“Hey, Indra?” Anya shouted as she walked through the backdoor at Houm.  It was Monday around lunchtime and the prep cooks were all hard at work.  Normally Lexa was off.  “My genius son left his jacket here this weekend!  You mind if I look around for it?”

“It’s in my office,” Lexa said calmly as she appeared from behind racks of dry goods. 

“Oh, hey, Lex!” Anya smiled in surprise.  “What are you doing here?  Aren’t you off on Mondays?”

“Prep for Thursday,” Lexa replied with a tired smile.  She was carrying a clipboard.  She looked worry-worn and tired.

“Nice, nice,” Anya nodded.  “What about the other prep for Thursday?  Have you heard from her?” 

“I meant to message you.  She’s coming,” Lexa grinned.  Anya’s eyes lit up.

“No way!”  She gave Lexa one of her patented swats.  “That’s fantastic!”

“Yeah, I hope so,” Lexa couldn’t get rid of her grin no matter how hard she tried.  “We had a great date yesterday, too.”

“What’d you guys do?”  Anya asked and followed behind Lexa as she checked items off of her list.

“We took a little walk, got some beers at the beer garden because it was so nice out.  Ran into Luna there.  It was super pleasant,” Lexa rolled her eyes.

“Yikes,” Anya gritted her teeth.  “How’d that go?”

“Fine, actually.  Clarke handled it very gracefully and it didn’t seem to bother her.  Ended up running into Nyko who brought us into his kitchen and the three of us got to cook and eat back there for a bit.  Then I brought her home,” Lexa shrugged.

“That sounds like a really nice afternoon and all,” Anya began cautiously.  “But isn’t that kind of tame for you?”

“We made out in front of her place,” Lexa tacked on with an even wider grin.

“There’s my girl,” Anya laughed.  “She any good in bed?”

“We just made out,” Lexa muttered.

“Shut up,” Anya shot her a shocked look.

“She said not waiting until the third date is tacky,” Lexa sighed and went back to her checklist unamused.

“Well, she’s not wrong,” Anya folded her arms over her chest and rested a hip against one of the prep counters.  “But that seems sort of outside of your wheelhouse.  When was the last time you even went on a third date?”

“What exactly are you implying?” Lexa flicked her gaze up to squint at her.

“That you’re kind of a whore,” Anya said flatly.  “And I’m not implying it.  I’m straight up telling you.”

“That’s fair,” Lexa sighed and ignored the insult.  It was too accurate to argue.  “So in order to use my Food And Wine party as date three, I told her I’d pick her up for dinner tonight,” Lexa flashed a cheeky grin.

“Smooth, Kid,” Anya laughed.  “She fall for that?”

“Sure did,” Lexa smirked.  “She seemed relieved.”

“Where are you going to take her?” Anya glanced at her watch.  She was on her lunch hour and needed to get back to the office.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Lexa shrugged and looked back at her to do list. 

“Hey, Anya,” Indra smiled at them as she dropped a large stock pot into the dish pit not too far off.  “Are you here to congratulate our little Casanova on not ruining her first date with a nice girl?”

“I hate that you two are friends,” Lexa grumbled and stayed focused on her clipboard.  “Did you tell everyone to be early on Thursday?  I want to make sure prep is solid without you since I’m going to need you with me all day while they’re here,” Lexa pointed her pen at Indra.

“For the tenth time, Chef, everything is taken care of.  Put your damn list away and go home!”  Indra smiled more sincerely.  “She’s acting like she’s never done this before,” Indra pointed at Lexa and shot Anya a look.

“I am not!” Lexa snapped.

“She’s never done it before when she’s got a woman on the line,” Anya cocked a brow at her.

“Actually, she has,” Indra stood up straighter.  It dawned on her that the last time Lexa had to put on a show for Food And Wine, she and Costia were deep into their doomed relationship.  “Is that why you’ve been so weird about this whole thing?”

“I’m not being weird,” Lexa sighed.  “And I’m supposed to be working on my next move!”

“You’re totally being weird,” Indra replied flatly.

“And you’re not working anything,” Anya added in the same tone.

“Aren’t you two just the perfect fucking picture of support,” Lexa glared at them.

“Aw, Lex, come on!” Anya yanked Lexa into an aggressive hug that she didn’t want that only a surrogate sister could pull off.  She squeezed her close and mashed their cheeks together.  “We’re so supportive!  But the only way you actually open up to us is if we beat you up enough!”  Anya half joked.

“You’re too kind,” Lexa scowled as Anya placed a goofy wet kiss on her cheek.

“I’ve gotta go back to work,” Anya patted Lexa’s face.  “Good luck tonight.  Text me before the big night.  I’ll be at a Holiday Inn with seventy-five high school juniors too excited to sleep.”

“What a time to be alive,” Indra chuckled.

“Hey, that reminds me.  Aden asked me to ask you if he could take your camera on the trip.  He said you would know which one he meant,” Anya said to Lexa.

“Yeah, swing by my place and grab it before you head out,” Lexa replied, her attention back on her tasks at hand.

“Thanks, he’ll appreciate that,” Anya smiled.

“Have fun,” Lexa forced a smile back at her.  Anya threw a wave over her shoulder as she leaned into Lexa’s office and snatched Aden’s jacket on her way out.

“You alright?” Indra asked quietly.  Lexa rolled her shoulders and let out a deep breath.

“I’m fine,” she forced another smile.  “I’m going to make something to eat.  You want something to eat?”  Lexa asked, her voice tired.

“What are you making?” Indra eyed her curiously.

“I’m not sure yet,” Lexa shrugged.  “I’m going to stroll through the walk in and browse and see what talks to me.”

“I like the sound of that!” Indra grinned.

*****

“Tell me more about her car,” Raven said before shoveling a bite of her omelet into her mouth.

"No one cares about the car.  Tell us about the make out,” Octavia waved a hand at Raven.

“I care about the car,” Raven snapped through her mouthful of food.  The three of them were sitting at one of their favorite breakfast spots eating omelets, drinking mimosas and dissecting Clarke’s date.  They were able to get a window seat since it was Monday morning and fairly quiet. 

“It’s a Range Rover,” Clarke shrugged.  She could care less about Lexa’s car and kicked herself for mentioning to Raven that Lexa drove a nice one.  She should have foreseen the follow up questions.  “Or at least that’s what it says on it.”

“What year is it?” Raven perked up.

“I’m not sure,” Clarke winced.  “It looks new?”

“What model is it?” Raven pressed.

“I don’t know?  It’s black?” Clarke clenched her teeth and shied away from Raven.            

“Damn it, Clarke!”  Raven banged a fist on the table.

“No one cares about the goddamn car, you friggin’ gearhead!  Now tell us about the make out!” Octavia banged her fist on the table to mock raven.

“The make out was great!” Clarke held her hands up to stop both of them.  “It started on Middle Street and ended in front of our place.”

“Damn, Woods has some game, huh?” Raven quirked a brow at Clarke.

“How do you know it wasn’t my game that got it going?” Clarke gasped.

“That’s a great point,” Octavia nodded and pointed her fork at Clarke. 

“Cause it was,” Clarke pretended to scoff before biting into a piece of bacon.

“O, have you even told Clarke yet?” Raven sat up straight.

“Shit, I haven’t had time!” Octavia gasped.  “You went to bed early.  I didn’t get into it.”

“You haven’t told me what?” Clarke turned with concern to Octavia and sipped her mimosa.

“I’m fucking Lincoln,” Octavia replied as casually as if she were telling Clarke that she got a new handbag.

“What?!” Clarke cried.  “How the hell are you just getting to this now?!” Clarke took a bigger swig of her drink.  “When?!  How?! What?!” Clarke went on.  “You’re letting me go on about some silly make out when you’re sleeping with someone new?”

“Trust me, Griff.  They’re not doing a lot of sleeping,” Raven muttered into her mimosa.

“I made the pulled pork on Saturday,” Octavia winked.  “Worked like a charm.”

“Are you seeing him now?  Or what?”  Clarke asked, excitement taking over. 

“I’m going to meet him out tonight.  Murphy has the kitchen today for me.  He’s fucking fantastic in bed and he’s super cute and a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes,” Octavia buttered her English muffin as she spoke.  “Also, while I was on top of him yesterday morning, he sang like a bird about Lexa’s rule.”

“Please tell me you didn’t lure him to your room just to find out about that,” Clarke warned.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Clarke,” Octavia scoffed.  “He’s hot as hell, he’s funny, he’s smart, we get a long really well and he’s obsessed with me.  Honestly I’m surprised it took me this long.”

“You’ve known the guy for like a week,” Clarke deadpanned.

“Exactly,” Octavia gave her a look.

“So here’s the deal,” Raven interrupted with a sigh at Octavia’s antics.  “Lexa doesn’t let herself get mixed up with girls when she’s conceptualizing her new restaurants.”

“She never said anything about a new restaurant,” Clarke wrinkled her nose.  They talked about any and everything the day before.  It seemed like the kind of thing that would have come up.

“Exactly.  She told Indra it was time for something new, claimed her rule was in effect, then she met you and it seems like everything’s gone sideways,” Octavia carried on.  “I guess Indra’s really in your corner, though.  So that’s cool.”

“The last thing she was doing with me yesterday was pushing me away,” Clarke couldn’t help but grin at the memories of their warm touches, multiple almost-kisses and the feeling of Lexa’s strong hands on her when Clarke told her she couldn’t come upstairs.

“Well, now you know what you’re working with,” Octavia shrugged.  “If it even still applies.”

“You’re the one that’s plugged in and obsessed with her,” Clarke shot Octavia a look.  “Do you know anything about her opening a new spot?”

“I really don’t,” Octavia shrugged.  “And according to Lincoln, who’s close with Roan who’s getting real tight with Anya, the cousin, Lexa’s pretty empty handed on ideas.”

“I appreciate the reconnaissance effort,” Clarke replied.  “And I’ll keep all of that in mind.  But let’s get back to the details about how you got Lincoln from his bar stool to your bedroom.”

*****

Clarke and Lexa sent flirty texts all day, and try as she might, Clarke couldn’t get Lexa to tell her where she was taking her for dinner that evening.  Lexa told her to dress casually and that they didn’t need a reservation.  Lexa told her that she knew the chef very well and would be able to assure them a private table.  Clarke tried to get her to fess up, but only learned that the spot was in the West End and that Lexa would pick her up at six, as planned.

After tearing her closet apart, Clarke finally got herself dressed and was working on her hair in the bathroom mirror when Octavia appeared in the doorway with two bottles of light beer.

“Can I share the mirror?” she asked and pointed at the mess of makeup bags and hair supplies on the bathroom counter.  She wagged one of the Miller Lites at Clarke.

“Please!” Clarke slid over so they could both fit and accepted the open beer happily.  They clinked the necks and both took a swig.

“She tell you where you’re going yet?” Octavia asked as she plugged in her hair straightener.

“Lots of clues, but nothing solid,” Clarke replied with a shrug and set about doing her mascara.

“Sounds fun,” Octavia brightened.  “If you date this girl, like seriously date her, you’re going to have some of the best food of your life, you know.”

“I’m starting to understand that,” Clarke leaned closer to the mirror.  “We got to go into the kitchen and mess around at The Healer on Exchange with the chef.  It was awesome.”

“I find it amazing how much I can love and hate you at the same time sometimes,” Octavia grumbled as she started on her hair.  Clarke smiled at the dig.  She looked up and saw their reflections both looking back.  They’d been doing this since they were young college freshmen getting ready to go to frat parties.  Seeing their thirty-something faces staring back made her pause.  They looked old.

“He’s Lincoln’s buddy, you know.  You guys should go there.  It’s like gourmet pub food but Greek,” Clarke widened her eyes in the mirror to examine her eyeliner.

"Yeah?” Octavia perked up.  “I haven’t been there in a long time.”

“Yeah,” Clarke said.  “He knows Lexa and apparently talks to Lincoln often enough to know who I was on sight because I was blond and trying to kiss Lexa on his doorstep.”

“Excellent,” Octavia chuckled.  “I’ll ask him about it.”  They worked on their lips and their eyes and their hair in silence for a few moments before Clarke spoke up.

“She doesn’t have any parents,” Clarke said, her tone more serious.  She took a long swig from her beer.

“What?” Octavia squinted at the mirror to pluck a stray eyebrow.

"Lexa,” Clarke replied.  She was done and sat down on the closed toilet seat.  “Both of her parents are dead.  She was a teenager.”

“Yuck, that’s rough,” Octavia grimaced.  “You tell her about yours?”

“No,” Clarke sighed and pulled off a square of toilet paper to blot her lipstick.  “She was so calm and nonchalant about it.  I couldn’t do it.”

“That’s fine, Clarke.  You know that,” Octavia examined a few different lipsticks.  Dissatisfied, she leaned over to Clarke’s area of the counter.  “Can I borrow this?” she asked and held up a tube.

“Help yourself,” Clarke waved a hand, then glanced at her fingernails.  She kept them short and without paint for work.  She missed getting manicures.  “Don’t you think something like that should make her more upset to talk about?”

“We all carry our burdens in our own way,” Octavia shrugged.  “Maybe it’s how she deals with it.  Maybe she didn’t have the greatest relationship with them.  Maybe she’s not a very emotional person.”  Octavia paused to apply Clarke’s lipstick.  “Why does this have you so turned around?”

“I don’t know.  My dad died a long time ago, but it still turns me into an emotional geek if I talk about it after I’ve had a few glasses of wine,” Clarke muttered.

“You’ve been on one date.  Maybe talk about your dad after a few more,” Octavia gave her a reassuring smile.  “Also, what’s with this instant follow up date?  I thought you were trying not to get attached.”

“I told her I wouldn’t invite her upstairs until the third date,” Clarke smirked.  “And since we have her Food And Wine party on Thursday, she figured she should take me out tonight to increase her chances.”

“I can’t stand how cool she is,” Octavia sighed.  “That’s so smooth.”

“It really was,” Clarke chuckled.  “It took me everything I had not to let her know I thought so.”  Clarke’s phone dinged on the counter.  Octavia glanced at it.

"She’s outside waiting for you,” Octavia shimmied her shoulders at Clarke.  “Have fun!  You look great!”  Clarke collected her phone, took another swig from the beer before abandoning it and gave Octavia a friendly swat on the hip and told her to do the same.  Clarke grabbed a jacket and skipped down the stairs to find Lexa’s car waiting for her at the curb.

“Hi,” Lexa smiled at Clarke as she came down the stairs.  She stood on the sidewalk with the passenger’s side door open.

“Hi yourself,” Clarke tried to fight the smirk spreading on her face as she approached.  She gave Lexa one of those perfect, gentle kisses on her cheek before sliding into the car.  “How long does this gentleman act stick around?” Clarke nodded at Lexa holding her door open for her.

“Who says it’s an act?” Lexa raised an eyebrow.  “Maybe it’s just who I am.”

“A girl can dream,” Clarke smirked back.  Lexa tried to roll her eyes but couldn’t stop smiling as she walked around the car to the driver’s side.  “So, where are we headed?  I even tried looking through yelp to figure it out,” Clarke chuckled.

“I don’t think you’ll find this spot on yelp,” Lexa put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.  

“What’d you do today?” Clarke asked.  She tried to look around the car to figure out what kind it was so she could report back to Raven.

“Went to the restaurant for bit.  I have a few last-minute things to get in order before Thursday.  After that, lots of paperwork,” Lexa replied.  She was still getting used to Clarke’s genuine questions about her day to day life.  “Riveting stuff.  How was your day off?”

“It was nice, actually,” Clarke replied.  “Had breakfast with the girls and got ahead of some chores.  Bothered a hot chef about where my dinner reservations are,” Clarke shrugged playfully.  She glanced across the car to see Lexa fighting a smile.

“How’d that go for you?” Lexa asked calmly playing into Clarke’s game.

“She was impossible,” Clarke scoffed.  They made idle chatter about the afternoon as Lexa drove across town to the West End.  Clarke watched out the window as they passed the last of the three restaurants she was expecting it to be and crossed into a part of the neighborhood that was predominantly residential. 

The West End of Portland was an affluent area.  A lot of the established and tenured doctors Clarke worked with lived up there.  It was full of expensive condos, nice houses and pricy apartments.  Everything was landscaped impeccably.  Every home was freshly painted.  Every car on the street was high end.  Everything was old fashioned and current at the same time.

Lexa pulled off the street into the driveway of one of the houses and Clarke gave her a look.

“What kind of secret restaurant is this?” Clarke deadpanned.

“It’s quite exclusive,” Lexa replied and put the car in park.  “This is my place.  I wanted to make you dinner here if that’s okay with you,” Lexa confessed.  She almost looked a little shy.  Clarke stared back at her for a minute.

“It’s your night off and you want to cook for me?” Clarke asked slowly.

“Honestly?” Lexa thought about it for a moment.  “There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

“How can a girl say no to that?” Clarke had an excited smile on.  Lexa got her door for her and they made their way to the back door.  Lexa had a decent sized back yard for how tightly packed the houses were.  There was a motorcycle and a smaller car, both under their own covers in the driveway.  Lexa unlocked the door and held it open for her.

Lexa’s house was impeccable.

The entryway dropped Clarke into the kitchen, which looked brand new, and she tried not to stare.  The first floor boasted an open concept, something that couldn’t have been part of the original design given the age of the house.  Everything in the neighborhood was built in the late 1800s.  Lexa wasn’t lying about vintage furniture.  The dining room table was a work of art.  Every chair was different.  The sofa looked retro and trendy all at the same time.  Each room’s paint job matched and complimented each other.  The hardwood floors looked freshly waxed.  She had a lot of shelves with books and treasures.  She had house plants.  Everything was very clean and neat and organized.

Clarke was glad for more reasons than one that she hadn’t invited Lexa in the night before.

“Wow,” Clarke let out involuntarily.  “Your place is beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Lexa replied as she hung her jacket by the door.  “Can I take your coat?”  Clarke shrugged out of her jacket and took more of the place in.  Lexa hung their jackets and set her keys on one of a few hooks by the door.  Everything in her house had a place.  The kitchen counters were sparse.  The living room was very neat, but still held a lot of picture frames and lamps and décor.  Clarke leaned closer to see a framed picture of Indra and Lexa in navy blue chef coats hanging in the entryway.  They were laughing and each holding a whole fish.

“You look young here,” Clarke pointed to it.  Lexa turned over her shoulder to see what she was talking about and brightened into a smile.

“That’s from the place in Miami,” Lexa replied and made her way into the open kitchen.  “I think I’m twenty-three there.  We hadn’t opened yet.  We had a lot of fun back then.”

“It’s not fun now?” Clarke asked sincerely and followed Lexa.  She rested her lower back against the counter to get out of the way as Lexa pulled ingredients out of the cabinets and the fridge.

“No, it’s still fun,” Lexa sighed, then paused to choose her words.  “It’s a different kind though.”  She opened a cabinet and pulled out two wine glasses.  “I have that cab sav you liked the other night downstairs if you’re interested,” Lexa gestured towards a closed door that Clarke presumed led to the basement.

“Absolutely,” Clarke nodded enthusiastically.  “Hey,” she tacked on softly and grabbed Lexa’s hand when she turned to get the wine.  Lexa paused and glanced back as Clarke pulled her into an embrace.  “Why are you in such a hurry?”  Clarke rested her arms on Lexa’s shoulders, her wrists crossed lazily behind her neck.  Lexa’s hands instinctively rested at Clarke’s waist.

“Because if I start kissing you now, we’ll never eat,” Lexa chuckled through a smile, their foreheads touching.

“Always so confident,” Clarke teased before closing the gap between them.  Her kiss was soft and warm and sweet.  She pulled back and could feel Lexa trying to keep them together.  “Go on, then.  Start cooking,” Clarke nodded her head towards the ingredients on the counter.  “Tell me where the wine is.  I’ll get it.”

“No, no, I can go and,” Clarke cut Lexa’s argument off with another kiss.  She figured out quickly that it was the one thing that topped Lexa in her tracks.

“Where is it?” Clarke asked again.

“Go down the basement stairs and take a left.  You’ll see the wine shelves.  Top right corner,” Lexa finally relented with a sigh.

“Perfect,” Clarke snuck in one more kiss before heading downstairs.

Lexa shook her head and sorted out the food in front of her.  Clarke was doing something to her.  None of it made any sense.  She didn’t ask for a tour so she could calculate how expensive everything in the house was.  She didn’t ask bullshit questions that nobody cared about like what year it was built and when Lexa bought it so she could make assumptions about market value.  She didn’t make some kind of suggestion to get them upstairs.  She just wanted to kiss a little in the kitchen and eat dinner and drink wine.  She didn’t ask about the furniture, didn’t take inventory of the cars in the driveway and was making Lexa wait to sleep with her.

The only thing she made a comment about was a photograph. It literally the only non-materialistic item in the room.

“Don’t even tell me that you’re handy, too!” Clarke cried as she emerged back into the kitchen with the wine, startling Lexa from her puzzling.

“What?” Lexa laughed, not turning away from the pasta dough she was rolling out.

“One side of your basement is a freaking wine cellar.  A heads up on that would have been nice.  The other side is a work shop?” Clarke yelped, clutching the bottle of wine by the neck.

“It’s not a big deal,” Lexa laughed.  “I’m not a contractor or anything, but I know how to take care of my own house.”

“Who are you?!” Clarke cried, a mixture of joking and genuine.  “Why are you single?!”

“Because I work too much, people think I’m a snob and I have a tendency to be a real asshole,” Lexa laughed at Clarke’s outburst.

“Maybe the working thing, but those other two,” Clarke shook her head as she started pulling open drawers in the kitchen looking for a corkscrew.  Lexa stared, thrilled that Clarke was instantly that comfortable.  “I don’t believe any of that.”

“You don’t know me very well,” Lexa smirked and handed Clarke the wine opener from another drawer.

“I think I’m getting there,” Clarke smirked back and caught Lexa’s lips in a kiss.  “What are you making me?”

“Nothing fancy,” Lexa replied, disappointed when Clarke pulled away to open the wine.  “Butternut Squash Raviolis with a brown butter sauce.”

“Your definition of ‘nothing fancy’ is a whole lot different than mine,” Clarke laughed.

Clarke stayed in the kitchen with Lexa while she cooked.  They carried on their quizzes of favorites and telling stories about their pasts while Lexa blended roasted squash.  Watching Lexa’s hands as she worked the dough and gripped her knives made Clarke struggle with whether or not sex on the second date was really that tacky.  Lexa laughed at Clarke’s jokes and felt immediately at ease with her buzzing around the kitchen to keep her company while she cooked.  It all felt so comfortable and right and familiar.

“Have a seat,” Lexa gestured towards the dining room table.  It sat eight which seemed a little excessive for someone who lived alone.  She had a plate of food in either hand.

“Here, give me your wine,” Clarke reached for Lexa’s glass.

“Would you just go sit, please?  You’re my guest,” Lexa huffed and sidestepped so Clarke couldn’t grab her glass on the counter.

“Don’t be ridiculous.  You don’t need to serve me.  Get out of the way!” Clarke laughed.

“Damn it, Clarke!” Lexa giggled as Clarke weaseled her way around her and snatched it.  “Fine.  You get this one.”  Lexa set them up at the table.  She hit a few buttons on her phone and music filtered through the whole downstairs.

“That’s a little fancy,” Clarke smirked at her.

“It’s not that fancy,” Lexa smirked back.

Dinner conversation was full of laughs.  Lexa asked Clarke all about her college days with Raven and what having a computer genius with an affinity for explosives for a best friend was like.  Clarke handed over her phone and made Lexa type out what kind of car she had and send it to Raven whose response was full of jealous expletives and a request to look under the hood sometime.  Clarke made Lexa tell her what Indra was like as a young, school roommate in New York.  Lexa told her all kinds of tales about the late nights they’d have in the city together.

“Question for you,” Clarke began as she pushed Lexa away from the dishes in the sink that she was trying to do and backed her into the counter instead.  She snuck her fingers around Lexa’s waist and played with the hem of her button down.

“Yes?” Lexa asked and took another sip of her wine before setting it down to use her hands for better things.

“Octavia is a big fan of yours, although I’ll deny it if you tell her I told you that,” Clarke warned with playful scorn.  “And when I told her about Thursday night, she asked me if I knew how many magazine covers you’d been on.”

“Do you?” Lexa quirked a brow.  She hadn’t glanced at her own Wikipedia page in a while.  She made a mental note to check it out and see what Clarke might be able to find out about her if she looked hard enough.

“Five?” Clarke winced as she guessed.  Lexa’s face fell.  “Is that way too many?  Am I way off?” Clarke cringed.

“If they put me on this one, and I’m pretty certain that’s part of the agreement, it will be thirty-two,” Lexa chuckled.

“Jesus, really?” Clarke gasped. 

“I think that maybe I better give you a little bit of a warning about what you’re getting yourself into with this event,” Lexa let out a sigh and regretted not hanging onto her wine.  “There is going to be a lot of superficial interest in who you are.”

“I’m not following,” Clarke furrowed her brow.

“Because you’ll be there with me,” Lexa exhaled after a long pause.  “If that makes you uncomfortable, or you’re worried about dealing with that, we can put you on Indra’s or Lincoln’s arm instead.”

“Oh, please,” Clarke waved a hand while the other found its way up to straighten out Lexa’s collar.  “Do you know how much of that crap I’ve dealt with at the hospital?  I had to pretend to be my boss’s son’s girlfriend more than once because he thought it would look better for his strong, prominent neurosurgeon son to have a pretty blond there with him.”

“That’s not why I invited you,” Lexa immediately spat out, her hands thrown up in defense.

“I know that,” Clarke smiled softly at her.  “But I’m sure it can’t hurt.”

“Who’s confident now?” Lexa turned Clarke’s usual smirk back on her.

“Just spending the day with you yesterday made me realize that everyone knows you and that your name and face carry some weight,” Clarke shrugged.  “And that’s just in our little city.  I had a hunch there might be some of that at a major event being thrown for you.”

“Because we’re here in Portland and not somewhere like New York, there will be minimal press,” Lexa sighed.  “But it might be worse because I know everyone in town.  It won’t be official press, just gossipy locals.  Which is probably worse.”

“Well, you paraded me around town yesterday.  I’m sure they’ll already all have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing there with you,” Clarke grinned.  “Judging by the cuddly interaction with your friend Luna, I’m sure she’s already sounded the alarm.  She seemed awfully shocked that you were with a doctor.”

“Well, I mean, it’s just,” Lexa began and grasped for an explanation.

“Look, I’m smart, remember?  I can read between the lines.  You’re a celebrity, you’re well-traveled and you’re annoyingly good looking and rich.  If you didn’t have a checkered past, I’d be pretty impressed,” Clarke gave her a strong look.  S

he wasn’t mad.  Lexa couldn’t believe she wasn’t mad.

“So please stop worrying about me.  I’ve been around the block a few times myself.  It’s going to take more than someone you used to be to scare me off,” Clarke assured her. 

“Why are you being so cool about this?” Lexa looked at her carefully and tried to figure her out.  Tried to figure out if Clarke was hiding some insecurities.  If Clarke’s naivety had maybe been an act all along.

“Why are you not being cool about it?  It’s what you do!” Clarke laughed.  Lexa broke into a smile as Clarke rubbed her shoulders gently.  “You’re acting like you’re taking me to some sixth-grade dance and I need to be stressed about being made fun of.  You’re the one that so aptly reminded me that we’re in our thirties yesterday.  I’m a grown ass woman.  I can handle myself with a few jealous chefs and nosy bloggers.”

Lexa stiffened up in Clarke’s hands.  Clarke panicked that maybe she had gone too far.

“What did you just call yourself?” the color washed from Lexa’s face.

“Sorry,” Clarke shook her head and looked away.  “Raven’s been home for a week.  Her Latin sass is contagious.  ‘Grown ass woman’ is not typically part of my vocabulary.”

Lexa reached up to cup Clarke’s face in her hands and kissed her so hard.  It took Clarke a few surprised moments to relax and kiss her back.  It wasn’t the sweet make out from the sidewalk, it was frantic and exciting and passionate.  Clarke wasn’t sure what she said to change Lexa’s mind, but she hoped she could figure it out and use it again and again.  Lexa turned out to be just as handsy as Clarke had hoped.

“Remember,” Clarke warned between hurried kisses.  Lexa spun them around so Clarke’s lower back was against the granite.  “This is not our third date.”  Clarke wasn’t sure if she was reminding Lexa or herself anymore.

“I know,” Lexa got out in a breathy voice as she grabbed Clarke by the hips and hoisted her onto the counter.  Clarke swallowed a pleasantly surprised gasp.  She had not been expecting Lexa to be so strong. 

“You watch your stitches!” Clarke snapped before diving back in for another mouthful of kisses.  Lexa ran her hands roughly through Clarke’s messy blond curls and felt Clarke’s thighs tighten up on either side of her waist.

“My stitches are fine, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa smiled against Clarke’s mouth.  She pulled her closer so their bodies were pressed together.

“Few more days and I’ll take those out for you,” Clarke arched her back when Lexa broke away from her lips and started leaving a warm trail of kisses down Clarke’s neck.  “You don’t have to go back for an appointment.  I can just do it for you here.”

“One of the many uses for those highly trained hands?” Lexa asked between the kisses she left across Clarke’s collar bones.  With care and ease, Lexa pushed Clarke’s loose sweater up over her head.

“A million and one uses,” Clarke smirked before threading her fingers into the hair at the base of Lexa’s scalp and pulling her closer.  Lexa felt lost in it.  In her.  In her smell and her skin.  She didn’t feel the need to get Clarke upstairs and get this over with.  She was enjoying every single touch.  Every movement.  Each individual kiss.  Every perfect sigh that came out of the girl.

Clarke’s tank top hit the kitchen floor next.  Her famous fingers started work on the buttons on the front of Lexa’s shirt.  Lexa buried herself in Clarke’s perfect breasts.  Clarke slid her palms over Lexa’s taught shoulders into the selves of her shirt to push it off when the back door, which was directly in Clarke’s line of site sitting up on the counter, swung open.

“Oh my god!” Anya ducked her head and held a hand over her eyes.  Lexa spun around in shock and stood up straight in front of Clarke to cover her up.

“Really?  Even in my own house?!” Lexa shouted.  “What does it take in this town?!”

“Shit!” Anya cried again, trying to figure out what to do but she was frozen in the doorway.

“Anya?!” Lexa cried.  She froze with a hand on either of Clarke’s thighs, her button down wide open and Clarke’s lipstick smeared across her neck.

“I’m so sorry!  Jesus Christ. I’m, I’m just, I’m fucking sorry!” Anya held a hand over her eyes.  She was so embarrassed.

“What the hell are you doing here?!” Lexa shouted.  Clarke’s jaw hung open in an amused and confused smile.

“You said you were taking Clarke on a date tonight!  I came by to get that stupid camera for Aden’s fucking field trip!  I’m SO sorry!”  Anya cried.  Both cousins paused when they heard Clarke burst out laughing.

“Is this your cousin, Anya?” Clarke gave Lexa’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze between laughs and pointed at Anya.

“Hi,” Anya spread the fingers over her face so she could peek through at her introduction.  Lexa stood as tall as she could to keep Clarke covered.

“Can you hand me my tank top?” Clarke said lowly to Lexa who glanced down at it on the floor.

“Lex, come on!” Anya tried as she turned away to let Clarke get dressed.  “I said I was sorry.”

“Lexa, it’s pretty funny,” Clarke tried warmly.

“It’s not funny and you better be sorry,” Lexa snapped and pointed at Anya with a stern finger.  She buttoned her shirt up once Clarke had all her garments back.

“I’m just here for your camera and then I’ll get the hell out of your way and you can get back to, well, whatever you’re up to here,” Anya cringed.

“Are you alright?” Lexa asked Clarke very quietly.  Clarke softened into a smile.

“More than,” Clarke smiled and kissed Lexa on the forehead before pulling her sweater over her head.  “This is absolutely hysterical.”

“I’m going to get you the damn camera and you’re going to get the hell out of here,” Lexa snapped at Anya.

“Good! Great!  I’d love to!” Anya held her hands up in defense.

“Hi,” Clarke slid off the counter and approached Anya.  “I’m Clarke,” she held her hand out to shake. 

“Anya,” Anya got out through an embarrassed smile.

“Generally I make a first impression with my clothes on, but there are those special few,” Clarke tried to fight the blush in her cheeks but it was useless.

“I really am sorry.  I had no idea she was here, I swear.  She said she was taking you out tonight.  I figured you’d be at a restaurant.  When I saw her car in the driveway I second guessed, but there are a few she walks to around here, so I didn’t even think,” Anya spoke so fast.  Her apology spilled all over the room.

“It’s really okay,” Clarke assured her with another laugh.  “I’m actually glad to meet you.  Lexa has told me so much about you.”

“Oh, great,” Anya rolled her eyes.  “All lovely things, I’m sure.”

“Mostly,” Clarke shrugged.  Lexa came stalking back into the kitchen with a camera in her hands.  “We just opened another bottle of wine.  You should stay for a glass.” Clarke offered.  Lexa glared at Anya.  Clarke had a warm smile on.  Anya stared back and forth between them both as she tried to decide who to listen to.

“Maybe just half,” Anya grinned.  Clarke beamed.  Lexa sighed.  “Aden’s at rehearsal for another hour.”

“Great!” Clarke clapped her hands together and headed for the cabinet she saw Lexa pull the glasses from beforehand.  Lexa sighed and moved her and Clarke’s glasses to the dining room table.

Clarke and Anya got along a little too well.  Lexa leaned back in her chair and watched the two of them laughing and going on about all kinds of things.  They had similar taste in clothes and spent way too long complimenting each other’s accessories.  Clarke went into gushing detail about how impressed she was with Lexa’s menu and her tasting meal recently at Houm.  Anya hid her grins as she watched the two of them sitting next to each other.

They were so delightfully flirty already. 

Clarke moved around Lexa’s kitchen with a warm comfort.  Lexa sat back with her arm slung over the back of Clarke’s chair.  Clarke cracked jokes at Lexa’s expense and wasn’t bowing down to her like some kind of god among women like all of Lexa’s tarts before her.  She kept up with Lexa’s humor, she didn’t miss an opportunity for a cute jab that resulted in a shared smirk between them, and she leaned into Lexa’s touch any time she reached up and moved a blond curl back to where it belonged or something equally affectionate.

And she was so funny.

The three of them roared with laughter at various stories.  Clarke loved anything Anya could offer up about Lexa as a kid.  Lexa never missed a sassy chance to put Anya back in her place.  Both cousins gushed when they talked about Aden and what a good kid he was.  It wasn’t until Clarke yawned and Anya checked her watch that they realized it was getting late.

"Shit!” Anya yelped when she realized the time.  She downed the rest of her wine.  “I gotta go get my kid!”

“I should be getting home, too,” Clarke grumbled.  “I have to get up early and save lives.”  She slid out of her chair.  “I’m going to use the bathroom, is it right down here?” Clarke pointed.  Lexa nodded. 

“Second door on the left,” Lexa smiled over her shoulder.

"Lex,” Anya hissed once Clarke was out of earshot.  Lexa whipped her head back around to her cousin.  “She is fucking great!” Anya snapped.

“I know,” Lexa sighed through a content smile.

“I don’t think you do, Kid,” Anya snapped.  “Like, really fucking great!  She’s sweet, and she’s funny and she’s smart.  She was way too cool about me walking in on you,” Anya rolled her eyes.  Lexa snorted a little laugh out.  “Plus, she’s totally hot.”

“Excuse me?” Lexa sat up straighter.

“I mean, you said she was hot, but like…she’s real hot,” Anya nodded, impressed.  “Her smile is beautiful.”

“Should I leave so that you can have a go at her?” Lexa joked and pointed over her shoulder.

“Don’t be an asshole,” Anya warned.  “She’s fucking fantastic.”

“We’re having a very nice time getting to know one another,” Lexa shrugged and tried to be casual.

“Lex, she’s wife material,” Anya whispered harshly.

“Alright, you need to get out of here,” Lexa grabbed Anya’s wine glass and pointed to the door.  “Turns out one glass of wine is your limit.”

“I’m serious!” Anya hissed.  “She’s great for you!”

“Yes, I’ve noticed that,” Lexa muttered.

“Call your stupid rule off and let yourself be good at this!” Anya hissed.  “If you fuck this up, you’re going to regret it.”

“I’m quickly figuring that out,” Lexa let out a big sigh.

“So I head in early tomorrow,” Clarke said as she came back to the kitchen.  “I’m going to get out pretty much just in time on Thursday.  Should I meet you there?”

“Oh, no.  We’ll pick you up,” Lexa replied.  “I’ll message you, but probably around seven-thirty.”  Lexa got out of her chair and headed for the door.  She offered Clarke her jacket and shrugged into her own.

“Clarke, I can give you a ride home if you want,” Anya offered.  Lexa shot her a look. 

“Yeah?” Clarke asked, missing the beat of annoyance between the cousins.  “You don’t mind?”

“Sure.  I have to get Aden at the high school.  It’s not too far out of the way.  Lexa said you live at the bottom of Munjoy,” Anya asked.

“I don’t mind,” Lexa tried to jump in. 

“That’s silly, Lex,” Clarke grinned at her.  Lexa softened at the use of the nickname and how naturally it fell out of Clarke’s mouth.  “She’s going that way anyway.  You stay here and rest up.  Big week ahead!” Clarke gave her an encouraging look.  She wasn’t aware that Anya was aware of the prospects of date three and thought she was getting away with something cute between them.

“I’ll give you two a minute,” Anya smiled at them and scooted out the door.  They were into an embrace before the door clicked shut.

“Thank you for dinner,” Clarke smiled before leaning in for a kiss.  “I don’t think I said that.”

“You said it four times,” Lexa grinned.

“Well, it was really good,” Clarke shrugged.

“Thank you for being so calm about everything,” Lexa gave a little nod in the direction Anya left in.  “The event, my life in general and my idiot cousin.”

“She’s great,” Clarke tightened her grip around Lexa’s waist.  She didn’t want to leave but really knew she should.  “And now she knows what’s going on between us and what I look like with my shirt off so it spares you the awkward conversation of telling her too many details”

“I guess that’s a nice interpretation of the bright side,” Lexa chuckled, then leaned in for another kiss.  She lingered on Clarke’s lips and tightened her hug.  Clarke felt just right in her arms.

“I should go,” Clarke sighed.  “I’ll see you very soon.”

“Can’t wait,” Lexa pulled back and left a soft kiss on Clarke’s temple.   

               

               

 

               

 

Chapter Text

“Hey!” Clarke smiled as she dropped into the passenger’s seat of Anya’s car.  Her lips still tingled with Lexa’s kiss still on them and her stomach was full of even more butterflies than when she showed up.

“Hi again,” Anya smiled back.  “First things first,” she began sternly as she backed down Lexa’s driveway.  She had a hand behind Clarke’s head rest and craned her neck over her shoulder.  “I really, honestly had no idea you two were here and never would have come over if I did.”

“I know that,” Clarke said with a reassuring chuckle.  “The sooner you stop apologizing for it, the sooner we’ll all stop thinking about it and we’ll all feel less awkward about it.”

“That’s fair,” Anya couldn’t resist matching Clarke’s chuckle.  “Second things second, you realize she’s pretty much my baby sister, right?”

“Lexa told me all about your childhood and your families and her parents and everything,” Clarke replied.  She knew where this was going.  This was the speech.  The family speech.  The hurt-her-and-I’ll-kill-you speech.

“Oh,” Anya furrowed her brow.  It looked like she was mentally scrolling for where she could skip to in her warnings.  “Shit.  Really?”

“Yeah, yesterday,” Clarke nodded softly.  “All good things!” she added, throwing her hands up defensively.  Anya laughed.  “I expected the fierce loyalty when I finally met you, and don’t worry.  I’m cool.”

“I know it looks like all we do is give each other shit, but I really love that girl more than anything.  Except my son.  My son first, Lexa second,” Anya said, her tone joking but Clarke could hear it in her voice.  “He bumped her when he was born.”

“I think that’s great.  If you’re headed down the road where you’re going to tell me that you’ll kill me if I screw around with her or hurt her, I can stop you right there,” Clarke said matter of factly.  “It’s not like that.”

“I haven’t decided which one of you I’m worried about, if we’re all being honest,” Anya sighed.  Her phone rang and it blared through the Bluetooth in her car and startled both of them.  ‘ROAN calling’ scrolled across the radio screen.  Clarke quirked a brow.

“You can answer it.  I won’t tell,” Clarke shrugged.  Anya gave her a thankful look and hit the button to pick up his call.

“Hey,” Anya said with a little smile.

“Hey, Sugar,” Roan’s voice flirted through the car’s speakers.  Anya winced at the pet name in Clarke’s presence.

“Hey, Roan.  I’m in the car with Clarke,” Anya warned.

“Lexa’s Clarke?” He asked innocently.  She knew he didn’t mean anything by it, but Clarke’s cheeks flushed.  She was known in their circle as Lexa’s.  She liked being ‘Lexa’s Clarke.’  It felt so good and so right and so exciting all at once.

“Yeah, I’m giving her a ride home.  Don’t say anything you don’t want getting back to your commander in chief,” Anya joked.

“Oh, spare me,” Clarke chuckled.

“Hi Clarke,” Roan said in a sing song voice.  “Me and a buddy were talking about stopping by Blake’s later.  Will we see you?”

“Can’t.  Work tomorrow,” Clarke sighed.

“Next time, then.  I’ll let you ladies go.  An, are we still good for Wednesday night before the big field trip?”

“Yeah, Aden’s got play practice from six to nine, so we should be good for dinner,” Anya replied.  Clarke glanced over and loved that Anya was grinning while she talked to him.  It was sweet.  As far as Clarke could tell, Roan was nice enough, smart enough and maybe a little vanilla, but perhaps that was what someone with a strong personality like Anya needed.  She liked the thought of them now that she had finally met Anya and was glad Lexa was trying to get over herself.

“Perfect.  I’ll see you then,” Roan replied.  Clarke liked matching the snarky, funny dude at the bar with the sweet and calm voice on the other end of the line.  It somehow made him more interesting.  “Night, Clarke!” He tacked on.

“Good night,” She let out a little laugh.  Anya hung up the call.  They sat quietly for a moment.

“I know Lex doesn’t like him,” Anya sighed.

“She’s forcing herself to get over it,” Clarke shrugged.  “It appears to be working.”

“Is there anything you two haven’t talked about?” Anya rolled her eyes.  They pulled up to Blake’s.

“Girls dating girls.  It’s what we do,” Clarke joked.  “I also know her blood type is AB negative, her favorite color is blue and that growing up she liked to play pirates and you always wanted to be a mermaid,” Clarke shrugged.

“Jesus Christ,” Anya shook her head after a crack of laughter.

“Thanks for the ride,” Clarke said with a grateful smile.

“Thanks for not losing your shit when I interrupted you in the middle of a serious make out,” Anya shrugged.

“It was nice meeting you, Anya,” Clarke laughed and shook her head as she got out of the car.

*****

Clarke’s workweek had never felt so long.

Miller and Monroe were relentless with questions about how things were progressing with Lexa.  It didn’t help that while Clarke was cleaning out a leg wound caused by a fishing accident gone horribly awry, Lexa dropped off dinner for her on Wednesday night.  The box had ‘Can’t wait for tomorrow – Lexa’ written on it in sharpie.  Lexa made plenty of small talk and was getting friendly with Fox and Maya and it lead to the two of them googling the hell out of her.  It spread to Monroe and Miller and now Clarke couldn’t look any of them in the face when they had their phones out. 

Is she Clarke’s girlfriend?

Does she have any famous friends? 

Do you know how hard it is to get a reservation at Polis when she’s there?  War Paint is WORSE!

What does she look like in her regular clothes?

Did you know she’s been on Top Chef? Twice?!

Holy shit, she owns the Woods Financial Group and the Woods Restaurant Group and has a controlling interest in The Trikru Paper Company.

Are those her real teeth?

Is that her natural hair color?

So…is she a good kisser or what?

Minutes ticked by like hours.  She did everything in her power to sleep during downtime to make it go by faster, but as soon as she slowed down and relaxed, she could feel Lexa’s warm, strong phantom hands on her hips and her waist and her chest. 

Lexa was bogged down with work for the interview and photoshoot on Thursday, so her cute texts were few and far between.  Clarke tried to remind herself that a lack of surgeries was a good thing even if it made the days feel like weeks.  She roamed the halls of the hospital to stay busy when she wasn’t sleeping.  She drank a lot of coffee and wished it was Lexa’s imported wine.

Thursday morning finally arrived.  Clarke sat in her top floor window watching the ferry boats.  It was amazing what a few days did to the leaves.  Most of them were orange and red now.  She watched the tiny people milling about on the sidewalk below.  They wore hats and scarfs and down vests.  The wind whipped around the cars and lamp posts.  The sun rose up over the ocean off to her left.  It was a crisp morning and the colors were incredible.

She let out a big sigh.  It really was a beautiful day.  She felt that wishing it away so the evening could hurry the hell up and get here was a little criminal.  Clarke had just finished typing ‘Good luck today!  You’re going to be so, so great, I know it!  See you tonight!’ when her pager sounded at her hip.  She grabbed it and glanced at the message, already on the move to the elevator.

*****

“Alright, Lexa, let’s get you over here rolling out pasta.  Indra, I want you beside her,” the photographer moved them around the kitchen to get the best angles and the best light.  Lexa hated this part.  There was nothing she hated more than being bossed around in her own kitchen.

“Do you want me to do anything?” Indra asked.

“A smile would be great,” the photographer replied, his sass showing through.

"I can give that a try,” Indra threw a cheeky grin at Lexa.  “This is the easiest day of work I’ve had in years.”

“Shut up, Indra,” Lexa muttered.  There were lights and screens and all kinds of photography equipment in her kitchen.  It didn’t sit well.

“I really wish you wouldn’t have worn these white chef jackets,” the makeup artist let out a heavy sigh.  “They’re fucking washing you out in this light.  Woods, look at me,” she gestured at Lexa.  Lexa glanced up from the pasta she was working through the rollers.  Her face was met with brushes and pencils.  “Close your eyes.”

“The nerve of you to put us in classic whites at such a fine establishment,” Indra grumbled lowly to Lexa. 

“Indra, take two steps to your right,” the photographer said flatly.

“I gotta stop being part of these things.  They only want you anyway,” Indra chuckled at Lexa’s stiff shoulders.  “I feel like you owe me one.”

“I thought we discussed that the whole thing about me giving you a career gave me a pass on this kind of shit,” Lexa snapped back, careful not to move her face too much as the artist touched up her make up.

“They’re good,” the makeup girl sighed again.  She spoke in predominantly sighs and complaints.

“Too many more of these and I’m going to retire on your ass,” Indra got out lowly.

"That’s cute.  That’s very cute,” Lexa snapped.

“Ladies!  Eyes up here!” The photographer cried.  It went on for another hour.  He got them all over the restaurant doing all kinds of tasks together.  Around one o’clock, Indra was excused and Lexa was pulled into the empty dining room for her interview.

The woman interviewing her blended in with all of the reporters and bloggers and journalists that came before her.  She was plain but thought she was edgy.  Her get up was too trendy for the small city she was in.  She was styled to look ten years younger than she actually was.  She was altogether unmemorable.  Lexa knew it all too well.

The questions were basic and all of them could have been looked up before hand because Lexa had answered them all a hundred times.  Most interviews were the same.  How did she get started?  What was the inspiration for the restaurant?  What was her biggest challenge?  To whom does she credit her success?  What’s her favorite food?  What would she choose for her last meal?  Where does she like to eat?  Where does she like to travel?  Wine or beer?

“We’re almost done, Lexa,” the journalist could sense that Lexa was feeling anxious.  She kept stirring her club soda with her straw.  She picked at the threads on the cuff of her left sleeve every time she answered a question.

“That’s okay,” Lexa shrugged.  “Ask me anything you’d like. I’m contractually yours until two.”  Lexa’s smile was sarcastic, but it worked on the woman nonetheless.

“Was it hard to come home?” she asked.  Lexa’s pause clued her in that she had asked something Lexa wasn’t prepared for.

“Yes and no,” Lexa began slowly.  She scratched her thumbnail along a crack in the resin on the table top and made a mental note to get it fixed.  “Coming home meant facing a lot of things outside of food.  I had to do a lot of soul searching and work on myself.  I grew up here.  My family has deep roots in Maine.  There’s a lot here, some of it good and some of it bad.  Most of my restaurants have been fresh starts and clean slates and this was the opposite.  Creatively, professionally and personally.”

"Sounds tough,” the journalist smiled sympathetically.

“It was,” Lexa shrugged.  “But it was the good kind.”

“One last question and then you’re free to go,” she shared a smile with Lexa.  “You’re celebrating two years at Houm in December.  Congrats on the anniversary.  The Chef Alexandria Woods Formula dictates that you should be packing your bags any day now.  Can you give us any insight into what’s next for you?”

Lexa froze.

Her mind flooded with images of Clarke’s smile.  Clarke’s hands.  Clarke’s breasts.  Clarke’s shoulders.  Clarke’s ripped jeans.  Clarke’s ability to down half a pint of beer in a swift movement.  Clarke’s blond curls swishing from one shoulder to the other when she turned her head to give her a perfect eyeroll.  Clarke’s ass in the red dress.  Clarke throwing darts.  Clarke’s lips.  Clarke’s eyes when she laughed.

“That’s,” Lexa trailed off, trying to find a way to phrase it.  Aden mincing garlic in a Houm uniform moved into her mind.  Anya laughing with a coffee in the back parking lot.  Anya with a glass of wine at her kitchen table making jokes with Clarke.  Aden blushing as he told her she was like a dad to him.  “That’s currently classified.” Lexa gave a professional smile.  “I can’t disclose anything right now.”

“Not even a hint?  You can’t give us the next city we all need to book flights to so we can see what you’re cooking up next?”  The journalist tried again.  Lexa ignored the silly pun because she couldn’t swallow.  She was too busy pushing images of Clarke in her car away.  Clarke moving around her kitchen like she’d been there a hundred times before.  Indra smiling and clapping Aden on the shoulder when he helped her out on the line.  Roan hi-fiving Aden every time he did something great.  Clarke sitting on her counter shirtless in her arms. 

Clarke’s unamused glance when Lexa got chewed up by Luna.  Clarke shoving her phone number into Lexa’s jacket.  The way Clarke’s waist seemed to be the perfect fit for Lexa’s hands.  Clarke grabbing her by the lapels and kissing her so, so hard. 

Anya saying the words ‘wife material’ with a straight face.

“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that either,” Lexa finally got out through a sad smile.  “Nothing is definite right now and I can’t start rumors.”

“The rumors have already started!  Most are predicting Chicago,” the journalist told her.

“Chicago makes sense,” Lexa shrugged absentmindedly.

“So you’re saying it’s Chicago?” she sat forward, eager with her pen poised.

"I’m not saying anything,” Lexa held a hand up.

“It’s Chicago,” the journalist smirked.

“It’s not Chicago,” Lexa said flatly.  She glanced at her watch.  “And that’s two pm.  Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

“I think I have everything I need,” the journalist gave a flirty wink.  “I’ll see you tonight at the event, Chef Woods!”  She packed up her bag and threw on her coat. 

“I’m not moving to Chicago!” Lexa shouted after her as she headed out the door.  Indra appeared next to her with her jacket on. 

“We’re doing Chicago next?  I always wondered why we never did Chicago,” Indra shrugged indifferently.

“I just said I’m not going to Chicago!” Lexa snapped.

“Easy, Commander.  I was just getting you going,” Indra said carefully.

“She’s going to publish that I’m doing Chicago next.  I can tell,” Lexa grumbled.

“Let’s get out of here,” Indra clapped Lexa on the shoulder.  “Let’s go home and get ready for your party.  We can swing into Blake’s early when we pick up Clarke and you can get a blast of Octavia’s witchcraft before you have to go tell a room full of people that you’re not moving to Chicago.”

“That’s a great idea,” Lexa gave Indra a thankful look.

“Unless we ARE going to Chicago,” Indra said playfully. 

“Every time you say the word Chicago, I’m going to punch you,” Lexa warned.

“I could take you,” Indra laughed.  “Let’s get out of here.”

*****

“Well, well, well!” Octavia cried out and followed it up with a wolf whistle when Indra, Lincoln and Lexa walked into the bar that evening.  “I didn’t even recognize you fuckers.  I was going to tell you suits to take a walk!  Look at this!  You guys here for a beer or a board meeting?”

Lincoln, who was wearing a modest dark gray suit cut exactly right for his build with a sharp white shirt and a matte black tie, leaned across the bar to plant a kiss on Octavia’s cheek. 

“We shine up alright,” he grinned.  She smiled back at him, then kissed his grin.

“The Commander here needed to get some of your food to ease her troubled mind before the big party tonight,” Indra reached across the bar and grabbed Octavia’s hand in a casual shake.  Octavia minded her dirty work clothes around Indra’s crisp white blouse.  She matched it with a black pencil skirt that made her look tall and lean.  “What are we up against tonight?”  Octavia took a step to the side so they could read the menu board.

“I don’t think I’ve seen any of these before,” Lincoln scratched his chin.  Fried Olives, Angry Sandwich, Fish & Chips, Cheese Steak Bowl, Pork Belly Tacos, Dumplings But Not Really, The Wrap That Raven Likes, Serious Sausage, Bacon Dessert.

“That’s quite possible,” Octavia smirked at him.  “And also quite likely.”

“So,” Lexa asked, nodding to Harper who was pointing at the Funky Bow tap.  “What do I want to eat, Blake?”

“Dapper gent like you ought to start with the olives,” Octavia rose to Lexa’s silent challenge.  She wouldn’t admit it out loud, but Lexa in her formal wear was the most intimidating and attractive version of her she’d seen yet.  She knew Clarke was upstairs getting ready, and she needed to warn her. 

Lexa had slim navy blue dress pants on that made her legs look a mile long.  She paired them with a brown wool vest and a lighter tan jacket.  Her light blue plaid shirt offset the navy blue tie she wore.  Octavia didn’t catch the brand of Lexa’s watch, but it was shiny.  She wore a brown leather pair of shined up wing tips and rocked the suit with more confidence than anyone.  Somehow, she made a head full of long, thick curls work with her men’s fashion.  She looked so inexplicably Autumn.  “Share them with your friends.”

“These aren’t my friends.  They can get their own,” Lexa pretended to scoff.  Indra and Lincoln rolled their eyes in tandem as Harper set their drinks down.

“What kind of sauce are you running with the fish and chips?” Indra asked, a complete seriousness of purpose taking over.

“The kind you’d expect,” Octavia shrugged nonchalantly.

“I’ll have that,” Indra nodded firmly.

“I gotta know what kind of wrap Raven likes,” Lincoln put in.

“I want to see how serious your sausage is.  You make it here?” Lexa raised a brow.

“Yup,” Octavia replied.

“Let’s do that,” Lexa sipped her beer.

“I know you’re going to a food party later.  You guys want small versions?  I don’t normally do that, but you know.  We’re cool,” Octavia shrugged.

“That would be great,” Lexa nodded.

"Sausage, Chef?  You getting ready for Chicago?  Having a Chicago dog?” Indra grinned.  Lexa stayed silent, but jabbed Indra in the shoulder.

“Shit!” Indra yelped, but couldn’t stop laughing.

“Are you moving to Chicago?” Lincoln cried, his jaw hanging open.  Lexa hauled back and jabbed him in the arm as well.

“Ah!  What the hell!” Lincoln cried, but laughed all the same.

“I am not moving to Chicago!  I am not moving anywhere.  Anyone who says the word Chicago is getting jabbed,” Lexa warned calmly before sipping her beer.

“If you’re going to start punching rules, can I know about them first?” Lincoln rubbed the spot in his bicep that Lexa knocked him in.  She got him good. It didn’t surprise him.  He was quietly thrilled that he had reached a comfortably brotastic level with Lexa that she could punch him in the arm.

“I’m going to get your food started.  If you guys need more drinks, just let Harper know,” Octavia gave them a friendly smile, then whisked into the kitchen and pulled out her phone.

*****

“Raven?” Clarke called from the bathroom.  She was doing her hair.  “Was that my phone?”  Clarke heard the ding of a message, but didn’t see her phone anywhere in the bathroom.  Raven was clicking away at one of her laptops on the couch.  She glanced up to look around and spotted Clarke’s phone on the breakfast bar.

“Hang on!” Raven hopped out of her seat and headed over to it.  “It’s Octavia.”

"What does she want?  It’s dinnertime.  She doesn’t have time for texting,” Clarke wrinkled her nose.

"Oh shit!” Raven’s face lit up.  “O says that Lincoln, Indra and Lexa are downstairs eating and drinking and that they all look fucking fantastic.”

 “It’s only six!  She told me seven-thirty!” Clarke huffed.

“O says they’re having some food and Lexa’s in a pissy mood, something about moving to Chicago,” Raven looked up at Clarke and winced. 

“She never said anything about that,” Clarke paused, completely puzzled.  She kept going on her hair.

“In O’s words, sounds like nothing but might be something,” Raven shrugged.

“Am I overdressed?” Clarke yelped.  She had the black dress of Alzheimer’s fundraising fame on.  It was elegant but understated in all the right ways.  It cut her just below the knee with an age appropriate slit.  The neck line was conservative, but made her shoulders look nice and her waist look small.  Raven snapped a photo of her and sent it.  They waited anxiously for the response.

“O says you’ll fit right in, that you look hot and that Lexa in a suit makes her want to switch teams,” Raven chuckled.  Clarke’s eyebrows raised.

“Well, alright, then,” Clarke nodded in approval.

Below them, the Houm staff was laughing with Octavia completely unaware that they were being talked about.

“Alright, what is the meat in this sausage?” Lexa pointed to her plate.  Octavia just shrugged.  “If I guess, will you tell me?” 

“I think that’s fair,” Octavia relented.

"Is it a pork and lamb blend?”  Lexa asked after a few moments of chewing thoughtfully.

“Shit, Woods.  Nothing gets past you!” Octavia slapped the bar top.   “My delivery guy brought some lamb by accident.  I didn’t know what to do with it and it was too late to give it back, so I figured I’d grind it and make sausage.  Lamb’s not really in my skillset.

“It’s not hard to work with.  You’d be just fine. We should connect some time.  I could teach you a few ways to prepare it that might fit in with what you do here,” Lexa said after taking a sip of beer.

“Yeah?” Octavia asked, arms folded across her chest.  She was holding in her shouts of joy that Chef Woods wanted to hang out and cook with her.

“Yeah,” Lexa reached into her suit jacket for her phone.  “Put your number in.  We can do it next week sometime after all this Food And Wine crap dies down.”  Octavia wiped her hands on her apron and took Lexa’s phone to type in her info.

“Her beer batter is better than yours,” Indra smirked at Lexa and nodded at Octavia.  Lexa turned, jaw hanging.

“You take that back!” Lexa gasped.  She was half joking.

“I can’t.  It’s true,” Indra shrugged.  “Maybe you should have her teach you a few things when you have your little chef swap.”

“What do you say, Blake?” Lexa raised a brow at her.

“I don’t know how I feel about giving away my secrets, but I guess if we’re going to trade, I can make an exception,” Octavia let out a sarcastic sigh and handed Lexa her phone back.

“Sounds like a deal,” Lexa smiled genuinely at her.  She watched Octavia’s eyes flick to the back hallway by the bathrooms.  Her face lit up.  The three of them turned in unison on their stools to see what she was looking at.

It was Clarke.

She looked incredible.  Lexa’s breath caught in her throat.

“What’s all this?  I thought you were coming by at seven-thirty?” Clarke smirked.  It made Lexa swallow hard.  Her waist, her hips, the curve of her breast, the slit that showed her thigh at just the right angle.  Her hair.  Her jewelry.  Her smokey eyeshadow.  Every ounce of Clarke was perfect.

“We got tired of waiting,” Lexa smiled and hopped off her stool.  Clarke couldn’t stop the raise of her brow at taking in an eyeful of Lexa in her formal wear.  “You look incredible.”

“Thank you,” Clarke smiled modestly and gave Lexa a little hug with a polite kiss on her cheek.  “You do, too.”

“We’re prettier than they are,” Lincoln scowled sarcastically and slid over next to Indra so Clarke and Lexa could sit together.

“No we’re not,” Indra laughed at him.  “Nice to see you, Clarke.  Are you ready for this thing?”

“Ready as I’m going to get,” Clarke shrugged.

“We’ve got time for another drink before we leave,” Indra gestured to the empty stools.  “And it’s probably not a bad idea to get one.”

They ended up walking to the event from Blake’s.  It was a cold night.  Clarke took Lexa’s arm and cuddled close to her.  She loved that it was becoming familiar and expected and her hands found their way to a comfortable spot on Lexa’s arm.  She liked the way their hips bumped ever so slightly.  She could breathe in Lexa’s scent.

“We weren’t originally planning to go to Blake’s, so we weren’t supposed to walk over.  I hope those aren’t terrible shoes for this,” Lexa glanced down at Clarke’s black pumps.

“These girls?” Clarke mock scoffed.  “I could run a mile in these.”  Lexa laughed.

“Let’s hope you don’t have to,” Lexa chuckled.

Clarke hadn’t been up to the refurbished mills for any events yet, but she’d seen pictures.  The huge brick buildings along the water used to be factories, then sat as unused space for a long time.  Recently purchased and cleaned up, now they boasted tons of exposed brick, the original wood floors and updated Edison light bulbs at every turn.  For the evening’s event, tables were set up all around the perimeter as make shift bars and buffets.  The brewers were just getting set up and the caterers loaded food into chafing dishes.  It was only seven-thirty, so the space looked big with just small pockets of staff milling around. 

They all whipped their heads around when Lexa walked in.

Watching people react to Lexa was becoming one of Clarke’s favorite things.  Everyone stood up a little taller and stepped a little closer and couldn’t take their eyes off of her any time she entered a room.

"You two wait here.  We have to go announce our presence,” Indra rolled her eyes and pointed over her shoulder to a group of folks with clip boards. 

“You got it, Chef,” Lincoln nodded at her.

“This is pretty nice,” Clarke said as she took in the room around her.

“Yeah, it is.  I went to a wedding up here last winter.  It was great,” Lincoln shrugged, his hands in his pockets.  He watched Clarke take the room in.  She seemed equal parts calm and impressed.  “Hey, Clarke, listen.  If this thing gets overwhelming tonight, or people are weird to you, just come and find me.  We can hang out instead.”

“Thanks,” Clarke smiled at him.  She appreciated his efforts. “I expect to be fine, but I appreciate that.”

“Chefs can be kind of arrogant,” Lincoln said quietly.  “Everyone in the room thinks they’re the most important and most talented.  Lexa probably is the most talented, but she’s cool about it.  It’s one of the things that makes her so great.  There’s a group of chefs in town that really don’t care for her.”

“Yes, I’ve experienced that first hand already,” Clarke replied, recalling their chilly run in with Luna.

“I don’t doubt that you can handle yourself, but you shouldn’t have to,” Lincoln smiled warmly.  “It’s a party, after all.  So if anyone gets rude, you come hang with me and we can eat and drink as much as we can for free, alright?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Clarke chuckled.

By eight-thirty, the room was full.  Clarke took advantage of the crowded space to stand a little closer to Lexa.  It wasn’t going unnoticed and both of them politely ignored the stares and the whispers. They made their way around the room sampling food off of every table and talking with the brewers at each tap.  Flashbulbs were going off all over the room.  Clarke could see interviews, formal and informal, happening all through the crowd.  The energy was exciting and the whole room felt completely alive.

“I love this farm.  I get all of my cheeses and cured meats from them,” Lexa pointed to the next table and kept her other hand gently at Clarke’s lower back.  “We should get some of that if you’re not too full already.”

“You know that whole stigma about women eating like birds?” Clarke asked playfully.  “I eat like a dinosaur and I’m not ashamed of it.  I can eat anything, anytime, anywhere, even if I’m already full.”

“That’s a very sexy thing to say to a chef, you know that, right?” Lexa grinned.  Clarke’s cheeks had a hint of pink.  “Let’s get a plate of cheeses together and get some beer to go with it.”  Lexa reached for a pair of tongs on the table and started expertly assessing the trays and trays of cheeses and meats.  The way she held the tool and made delicate selections with it, it was like an extension of her hands.  They’d been making a lot of jokes about how skilled Clarke’s hands were, but after watching Lexa with kitchenware a few times now, Clarke knew she wasn’t the only one with some special skills.

The thought of it made her stomach drop.  As much fun as she was having, she was looking forward to the end of this third date.  The sexual tension that had been brewing between them since the minute they met was coming to a boiling point.

Lexa asked the farmer all kinds of questions, but Clarke couldn’t hear them.  She was too busy honing in on Lexa’s hand gripping the plate.  Lexa’s jaw line and the memory of how it looked in her kitchen with Clarke’s lipstick smeared on it.  Her lips as she smiled and thanked the farmer.  She tucked her hand back at Clarke’s waist and nodded her head towards the next beer table.

“There they are!” Nyko bellowed when he spotted Lexa and Clarke walking up to the table. 

“Hey!” Clarke brightened at him.  She was a little surprised to feel so relieved to see someone she knew, even if it was just barely. 

“Chef Woods, this is quite the party,” Nyko nodded, impressed.

“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Lexa shrugged.  “They just put my name on it.”

“Can I get either of you a beer?”  He pointed to the taps. 

“What do we have?”  Clarke perked up.  She didn’t know the aging process of different cheeses or what brine went with what cut of meat, but she knew about drinking beer.

It was Lexa’s turn to be impressed.  Nyko went over all six of the taps Rising Tide had for the evening.  He and Clarke went back and forth about hops, style, age and process.  Lexa was familiar enough of the brewery and kept up.

“I’m not really supposed to do it this way, but since it’s your party and all,” Nyko chuckled and pulled out a few cups.  “I’ll do a little sampler for you.”  He poured four half cups of beer.  Clarke beamed a smile at him. 

“Nice to see you again, Chef Woods,” the journalist from the afternoon interview was in line behind them.

“Hi,” Lexa said flatly.  She thought she was done with this one.  She was actually staring to have some fun.

“May I ask you who your guest is?” she smirked.  Lexa took a deep breath, but Clarke beat her to it.

“Dr. Clarke Griffin, nice to meet you,” Clarke replied and held out a hand to shake.  Lexa paused.  She hadn’t heard Clarke’s professional voice yet.  Even when she gave Lexa stitches, she was relatively informal.

“Oh! Doctor, nice to meet you,” they shook.  “And what kind of doctor are you?” The journalist kept her smirk on.  Clarke was used to this.  Her looks didn’t lend to her line of work.  Most people assumed she had a PhD in something of the liberal arts persuasion and used her title loosely.

“Medical.  I’m a trauma surgeon at Ark Memorial Hospital,” Clarke smiled politely. 

“Oh,” the journalist had Clarke’s favorite form of impressed face on.  It was the last kind of doctor she was expecting the curvy, done up blond in front of her to be.  “Oh wow.”

“How do you two know each other?” Clarke carried on and pointed between Lexa and the reporter.

“She interviewed me this morning for the magazine.  She’s on the staff,” Lexa replied.

“Excellent!  Listen, if you want to talk to chefs, if that’s your thing, you absolutely have to talk to this guy,” Clarke pointed at Nyko who had just finished arranging their beer samples on a plate so they could carry it to a high-top table nearby. 

“What?” the journalist paused, confused by the shift.  She wanted to know more about Clarke and more importantly, more about what she was doing on Lexa Woods’ arm.  Nyko perked up.

“Yes!  He owns the Healer on Exchange and if you haven’t been there, you have to go before you leave town.  Insane appetizer menu.  High end pub food with a Greek flare.  Nyko!  Tell her all about your new menu!” Clarke threw him another smile, then hooked her arm through Lexa’s elbow and lead them away before anyone had a chance to stop them.  Behind her she could hear Nyko talking about his deep fried feta and beef balls.

“How the hell did you do that?” Lexa asked lowly.

“I told you I would be fine at this party,” Clarke shot Lexa a smug smile.

“I’m never letting go of you,” Lexa replied.  It was a joke, a joke about the situation, but when she said it lowly to Clarke so no one else could hear them, it made Clarke’s knees weak.

They sidled up to a high-top table and ate their cheeses and drank their beers.  Lexa asked Clarke all kinds of questions about how she felt about each piece of cheese.  Apparently the farmer was an old friend of her mother’s and that was how Lexa found him.  Clarke watched Indra and Lincoln across the way mingling with a group of what had to be locals.  They were laughing, Indra was telling a story with some big hand gestures while a group of five guys laughed.  Lincoln hugged a lot of people, clapped a few on the back. 

They knew everybody.

Cheese samples led to oysters at another table.  Beer sample flights to sips of local whiskey.  Bruschetta and antipasti at another.  A selection of marinated steaks in bite sized portions.  Portland’s new winery had whites and reds to try.  Sliders from the most prominent food truck in town that had recently won awards.  Finger sized lobster rolls, crab cakes, clam cakes, sautéed scallops.  IPAs, pale ales, experimental fall brews, copper ales, brown ales, red ales. 

At one point in the crowd, and she wasn’t sure how it happened, Lexa got separated from Clarke and pulled into another conversation about trending high end gastropubs and if it was a trend that could survive in their city or not.  She was only half listening.  She was too busy watching Clarke across the way.

Clarke lit up every conversation and every group she was in.  People flocked to her.  She was pleasant and funny and encouraged people to talk about themselves. She picked up very quickly that chefs liked to talk about themselves and avoided the inevitable questions about being Lexa’s date by beating them to the punch and asking them to tell her all about their restaurants.

Anya was right.  Clarke was the perfect person to bring to this thing.  She was so poised.  She managed to look elegant while holding a half-eaten lobster roll and a plastic cup of beer.  She laughed hard, she told her own stories and she was a hot commodity because she wasn’t a chef or a bartender or a brewer or a distributor.  She was also a hot commodity because she was charming and beautiful and no one had any idea who she was. 

“What do you think, Chef Woods?” One of them asked her.  She hadn’t been listening.  She was stuck in a dopey half grin watching Clarke. 

And that was the part that left her unsettled. 

It wasn’t just about the curve of Clarke’s ass in that dress.  It wasn’t just the way her hands curled around the cup.  It wasn’t just the red lipstick and the damn outline of it on her beer cup that reminded Lexa of what those lips were capable of.  It wasn’t her hair or her neck or the slit in her dress that showed just enough if she was at the right angle.

It was her laugh and her smile.  It was something in her eyes.  It was her way with people, her ability to dodge stressful situations with a casual wave of her hand.  It was her interesting thoughts, her way of talking to Nyko like she’d known him her whole life.  The fact that she was absolutely fine when pulled away from Lexa and had to function alone in a crowded room of people she didn’t know in an industry she only half understood while prominently on display as the date of the guest of honor.  She was strong and smart and funny and kind.  She was so, so calm and comfortable no matter what. 

None of those things were sexual or physical and every single one of them turned Lexa on.

This woman was different.

“Chef Woods?” He asked again.

“What?  I’m sorry,” Lexa snapped her head back to the group.  They all saw where her attention had gone.  There were smirks all around.  “What was the question?”

“What’s with blond?” One of them gestured his whiskey sample in Clarke’s direction.

“She’s my guest,” Lexa shrugged.  She needed to get it together.  This was too much too soon.

“Yeah?” He raised a brow. 

“Yeah,” she replied and collected herself.  “And I think the community here is interested in food enough that they’ll trend.  Tourists will come for it, they already do.  I think the only genre that won’t survive in this town anymore is chains.  People will eat up anything, no pun intended, as long as it’s genuine.  Higher end and higher cost isn’t scaring diners off like it used to.”

"Lexa?  Can we steal you?  It’s almost time,” one of the staffers tapped Lexa on the arm.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Lexa nodded politely at the group of guys and ducked out of the conversation.  They watcher her go, disappointed that they still didn’t know who Lexa’s date was.

“I mean, yeah, I’ve seen some weird stuff in some places you don’t want to know about,” Indra overheard Clarke say with a shrug to a group of people.

“Hey, Clarke,” Indra sidled up to her.  Lincoln popped up on her other side.  The appearance of the prominent Houm staff flanking her with familiar comfort made everyone in her conversation straighten up.  “How you holding up?”

“Great!” Clarke grinned.  “Did you guys get the lobster roll?” Clarke pointed to hers. 

“No, I missed that one,” Lincoln glanced over his shoulder to try and figure out where she got it.

“Here, you can have the rest of mine.  It’s my second one,” Clarke held it out to him.  He looked down at it for a few beats and didn’t take it from her.  “Jesus, Lincoln, I don’t have cooties,” Clarke rolled her eyes and grabbed a cocktail napkin off the high-top beside her to hand it to him.  “I think they’re gone already, so eat this.  It’s your last chance.”

"Thanks,” he laughed.  He hadn’t been concerned with her cooties.  He was amazed at how comfortable she was.  Not just with him, but with the whole event.  He knew most of the people there and he even felt a little on display as Indra and Lexa’s guest.  Handing him her half-eaten hors d'oeuvres while a bunch of local chefs watched was too good.

Clarke craned her neck to see through the room.  They had an informal, makeshift podium next to one of the beer tables.  Lexa, Luna and a third male chef Clarke didn’t recognize were gathered together and the event staff was talking to them and pointing towards the podium.

Lexa just looked so damn cool.  She had one hand in her pocket and a cup of wine in the other.  She listened intently to what the staffer told them.  Clarke could see the little crease of concentration between her brows from where she stood.  She noticed it the few times she had watched Lexa cook.  It was adorable.

Luna stood beside her in a flowy blue dress.  She looked bored and annoyed to be standing next to Lexa.  The third guy was generically handsome and too excited to be there.  He looked out of place beside the two women.

“Thank you all for being here!” One of the staff members spoke into a hand-held mic after a quick mic check.  He had a suit on and had been schmoozing the most that evening.  Clarke picked him out a while ago as the head of the whole thing.  The room settled to a low murmur so he could speak.

“Food And Wine Magazine is pleased to honor Chef Alexandria Woods, Portland native, for her culinary achievements this evening!”  He paused for applause.  Clarke was alarmed at how strong it was.  Lincoln brought two fingers to his lips to let out a sharp whistle.  Indra laughed at him and clapped. 

“We love you, Commander!”  Lincoln cried.  Lexa’s shoulders shook with laughter and she shook her head.  Her adorable, little modest smile made Clarke’s brow raise. 

“Chef Alexandria Woods, graduate of the Art Institute of New York’s culinary program, opened her first restaurant at just twenty-two, Polis in New York.  It’ a Forbes rated four-star restaurant, earned a Michelin star and has been a successful staple of New York fine dining for over a decade.  Executive chef and owner of The Flame in Miami, five stars, about to celebrate its tenth anniversary, is now the service standard for the city and is yet to be topped,” he carried on. 

Clarke watched Lexa the whole time he spoke.  She didn’t flinch.  She had a confident smile on and listened to him go on.  Her shoulders were squared and she stood up straight.  She looked honored and proud, not cocky.

“She’s the executive chef and owner of War Paint in Los Angeles, celebrating eight years this spring, four stars, one Michelin star and I hear one of Brad Pitt’s favorites,” he paused to glance away from the cards he was reading to shoot Lexa a grin.  She rolled her eyes playfully.

“Is it really Brad Pitt’s favorite?” Clarke whispered to Indra with an impressed and curious smile on.

“Apparently according to some magazine,” Indra shrugged.  “He’s a nice guy.  He used to come in a lot when we were living out there.”

“That’s so cool,” Clarke gushed.  Maya had asked Clarke in passing about a list of celebrities and whether or not Lexa was friends with them.  Now Clarke knew why.

"It’s just LA.  It’s how it is,” Indra shrugged again.

"Executive chef and owner of Nightblood in Las Vegs, five stars, 2 Michelin stars, an incredible achievement in the City of Sin, successfully running six years strong.  Executive chef and owner of Trikru in San Francisco, five star rating, 2 Michelin stars, thriving almost four years now, despite a difficult start,” he paused.  Lexa’s polite smile dropped.  It took Clarke out of the amazement and wonder she was in hearing Lexa’s list of accomplishments read in front of a room full of her peers as they cheered. 

Clarke didn’t know a whole lot about ratings and restaurants, but she could tell by the way people whispered to each other with their hands over their mouths and their impressed eyebrows up that Lexa had accomplished something incredible.

“And of course, your local Woods establishment, about to celebrate its two-year anniversary, your own four-star rated Houm!”  He finished to a round of applause.  It knocked Clarke over how loud it was.  Lexa smiled and waved.  She looked surprised when he handed her a plaque.  She set down her wine so she could hold it with both hands and look it over.  Clarke could see her mouthing ‘Wow!  Thank you so much!’ while her eyes skimmed over it.

He went on to outline Luna and the third chef’s accomplishments, but Clarke drowned them out.  She was trying to add up Lexa’s success and assign some sort of feeling to it.  She knew Lexa had a bunch of restaurants and she knew she was very successful, but somehow it hit harder having it outlined by a stranger and hyped up by a room full of industry professionals than down played with a blasé wave by Lexa. 

All of Lexa’s warnings about how people would have things to say about Clarke at the party sank in.  Lexa thinking it was bizarre that Clarke didn’t know or care who she was finally hit home.  Clarke ran their conversations over in her mind and chewed her lip.  How did she not know?  Octavia made it pretty clear.

Lexa Woods was a huge deal.

“Hey,” Lexa appeared next to them once the excitement of the recognition died down.  She was carrying her plaque lazily in one hand and had a new drink in the other.  “Sorry about that.”

“Sorry?  Why the hell are you sorry?” Clarke cried.  Lexa’s eyes shot open.  Lincoln and Indra glanced at each other wondering where this was headed.  “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me you were so incredible?”  Clarke yanked Lexa into a tight hug.  Lexa was stiff and surprised.  A lot of heads turned to see the embrace.  Lexa handed her Plaque and her drink to Lincoln behind Clarke so she could get both hands on Clarke’s waist.

“I told you I had a bunch of restaurants,” Lexa tried.  Clarke pulled back and held Lexa at arm’s length.

“Oh my god,” Clarke muttered.  “You know, for as cocky and arrogant as your reputation claims you are, you certainly downplayed all of this to me,” Clarke eyed Lexa.  They were gaining a lot of attention.

“I’ll hang onto this for you, boss,” Lincoln winked at Lexa and held up her award, then took a swig from her drink.  “Why don’t you and Dr. Griffin take a walk.”

“What?” Lexa squinted at him, but Clarke caught right on and led Lexa by the arm to one of the exits.

“Clarke, what are you,” Lexa tried again, but Clarke cut her off with a hard kiss once they were in the hallway outside of the function room.  It was becoming a habit and Lexa didn’t mind it one bit.

“I get it now,” Clarke said with a soft smile.  “Why you always look so surprised when I don’t know things about you.”  Lexa glanced down and a shy and embarrassed smile crossed her lips.   “You said there are a bunch of chefs that don’t like you, but they’re full of it.  That whole room was going crazy for you!”

“For me?” Lexa’s shy smile morphed into something more playful.  She wrapped Clarke into her arms.   “I was watching you, you know.  I’m pretty sure everyone in that room is falling for you.” 

“Everyone?” Clarke raised a poignant eyebrow and met Lexa’s eyes.  Lexa paused when she realized her choice of words.  She swallowed hard, then took a deep breath.

“Yeah,” Lexa finally replied confidently.  “Everyone.”  Clarke threaded her fingers into Lexa’s hair and kissed her again, softer, but just as urgently.

The warnings fell away.  The little voice in the back of Lexa’s head that had been telling her to run and push Clarke away because she wasn’t supposed to be with anyone right now was gone.  Clarke slid her other hand inside Lexa’s jacket so she could hold her at the waist.  Her kiss and her embrace felt better and more right than anything.  Holding Clarke felt like cooking.  It felt like something she was simply supposed to do.  She couldn’t figure out how else to explain it.

“If we don’t get back to your party soon,” Clarke got out between hurried kisses.  “People are gonna talk.”  Lexa pulled her closer and kept kissing her.

“Let ‘em,” Lexa got out in a low, breathy voice.

 

               

               

               

Chapter Text

Clarke and Lexa were able to behave for the rest of the party, but refused to be split up.  Everyone wanted a piece of Lexa who was walking around with her hand in Clarke’s.  A little buzzed from so many samples and high on the relief of internally relinquishing her rule and giving into her feelings for Clarke, Lexa was all smiles and excitement.  As the event died down, they found Lincoln holding Lexa’s plaque over his head and announcing to a group of people that they were heading to Blake’s for the after party.

“So how was it?” Raven grinned.  She was sitting in a booth with her laptop and notebooks all spread out when chefs of all kinds flooded into Blake’s.  Clarke and Lexa tumbled into the bench across from her all over each other.  Clarke was wearing Lexa’s blazer over her dress.  Lexa had loosened her tie and her top button was undone. 

“It was fine,” Lexa shrugged.

“Fine? Lex, my god.  What is wrong with you?” Clarke gave her a playful shrug. Lexa laughed and draped her arm around Clarke’s shoulders.  Clarke snuggled in close to her and rested her hand on Lexa’s thigh.  Raven couldn’t suppress a smile at the look of them together.  They looked good.  They both looked so happy and at ease.  “It was fucking incredible,” Clarke said to Raven.  Lincoln walked over and wordlessly dropped off three fresh beers with a wink before turning back to the crowd.

A mix of Portland’s hip and upcoming chefs as well as long time tenured and respected chefs followed Lincoln from the party and filled the bar.  All of them raved at each and every bite Octavia brought out.  She got a ton of hi fives and hand shakes.  A few of the food truck guys were bowing to her.  Indra and Lincoln were in the middle of it all.  Octavia couldn’t play cool any longer.  She was positively beaming.

“Yeah?” Raven perked up.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how much food I ate,” Clarke picked up her beer glass.  “And every freaking thing was unreal.  There wasn’t a single bad bite of food at that thing.”

“It was a pretty good showing, actually,” Lexa nodded.  She glanced up to see Lincoln climbing onto a bar stool.  “What is he doing?”  Lexa sat up a little straighter.

“Hey!  Hey Everyone!  Hey!”  Lincoln shouted.  All heads turned to him.  He picked up Lexa’s plaque from where it had been sitting on the bar.  He held it up over his head.

  “Oh no,” Lexa muttered.  She had a hunch about where this was going.

“To Chef Lexa Friggin’ Woods!” He held his glass up.  “The best damn chef in Portland!”

 “Here, here!”  Everyone cheered back and raised their drinks.  Raven and Clarke clinked their beers together.

“Where’s your drink?” Clarke gave Lexa the eye. 

“I’m not toasting to myself!” Lexa yelped. 

“Lexa! Lexa! Lexa!” One of the drunk food truck boys started when she didn’t raise her glass.  It caught on and they were all shouting at her and banging on tables and bar tops to match their chant.

“Stop!” She let out a nervous laugh.  “Come on, stop!”

“Give the people what they want, Lex,” Clarke gave her thigh a squeeze then hopped to her feet and tried to drag Lexa out of the booth.  Lexa tried to protest and looked to Raven for help who just joined in the chanting and banged on the table top in time.  Lexa finally begrudgingly stood up and raised her beer back to them.  The bar burst into cheers.

“Thank you!” Lexa said after sipping from her pint.  “Now enough already!  Stop!  I’m old news!  One of you is next.  It should’ve been one of you tonight!”  She pointed to the group of experienced chefs crowded around the bar.  It just caused more cheering.

“Let me buy you a shot, commander!” Lincoln shouted and waved her over as he climbed carefully down from the bar. 

“Absolutely not,” Lexa held her hands up. “I’m not that kind of fun anymore.”

“I am,” Indra shrugged, feeling festive and swept up in the celebration.  “I’ll take hers.”

It didn’t take long for the rowdy room of chefs and brewers to commandeer Octavia’s sound system and get a real party going.  The usual Thursday night crowd melded in and Blake’s was completely jumping.  Raven hid her work behind the bar and was in the middle of the makeshift dancefloor with Lincoln using his tie as a lasso to get more people to join them.  Roan showed up after closing and got his share of respect from the crowd for surviving under Lexa’s rule at Houm. 

“I mean, yeah, she’s tough, but she should be.  She’s literally one of the best in the game,” Clarke overheard Roan say to one of the chefs from the party later in the evening as she weaved her way through the crowd looking for Lexa.  She had a glass of water in each hand.  “She’s kicked my ass way more than they did in culinary school.  I’ve learned more working for her than I have my whole life.”  Clarke smiled.  He wasn’t a bad guy.  He just did dumb things.

She spotted Lexa across the room.  She was at the end of the bar talking to a pair of guys Clarke recognized from the party.  Lexa had pulled her hair back earlier into a messy bun.  Her half dressed up, half casual after party look was too much and it made any ounce of restraint Clarke had left dissolve.  All of their half-finished make outs rushed up on Clarke at once.  Every ounce of want and tension washed over her while she watched Lexa laugh and make some kind of hand motions like she was cooking.  The guys with her laughed at what she was saying.  Clarke approached with purpose.

“Oh, hey, Clarke!  There you are!” Lexa smiled at her so warmly.

“Here, these are for you,” Clarke handed the two waters to the guys Lexa was talking to and wordlessly took a fistful of the hem of Lexa’s vest and dragged her to the back hallway.  The two guys clinked their waters together and chuckled at Clarke’s bold move.

"Clarke!” Lexa let out a startled laugh.  Clarke responded by throwing the door to the back stairs open and pushing Lexa through.  Lexa didn’t protest and backed Clarke against the door when it fell shut behind them.  They met eyes before lunging at each other into a frantic kiss. Clarke stepped out of her high heels to avoid tripping as they made their way up the narrow, old staircase towards her place.  The seconds where their lips parted to prevent tumbling down the stairs felt way too long. 

Lexa slid her hands over Clarke’s shoulders and into the sleeves of her blazer to push it off once they were through the door at the top of the stairs and in Clarke’s living room.  She tossed it towards the couch and hoped it landed there.  She didn’t stop to check.  Clarke’s smooth, soft arms under her palms had her attention.

Clarke flattened Lexa against the wall by the door and deepened her kiss.  Lexa took a sharp breath in through her nose, startled and thrilled by the roll in her gut at Clarke’s forward move. Clarke didn’t take her lips from Lexa’s as she pulled her tie free from her vest and expertly undid the knot and threw it over her shoulder the way of the discarded jacket.  Lexa’s hands were in Clarke’s curls to hold her as close as possible.

“Are you moving to Chicago?”  Clarke’s breathless voice snuck out between kisses.  She undid the buttons on Lexa’s vest and kissed her again before she could answer.

“No,” Lexa got out quickly.  Clarke pushed Lexa’s vest open and untucked her shirt.

“Octavia said you might be going to Chicago,” Clarke sighed when Lexa turned to kiss her neck.

“I’m not going to Chicago,” Lexa said firmly, briefly pausing the trail of kisses she left on Clarke’s neck.  She slid her hands from Clarke’s hair all the way down her back to rest at her waist and she pulled her closer. 

“But,” Clarke tried, her breath hitching as Lexa’s tongue rolled past her pulse point.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Lexa replied, pulling back to look Clarke in the eye.  Clarke’s cheeks were flushed.  Her neck was blotchy where Lexa’s lips had been. There was relief in her eyes.  Shit, she looked beautiful.  “There are always rumors about me and what I’m doing.  The Chicago rumor is new, but it’s not true.”  Lexa cocked her head and tried to figure out if Clarke believed her.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

And she meant it.  For the first time in her entire life, Lexa was starting to feel like she was exactly where she was supposed to be.

Clarke pulled her back in and kissed her hard.  She worked the buttons on Lexa’s shirt while simultaneously pulling her towards her bedroom. 

“Are you sure?” Clarke asked again, turning her doorknob with one hand and clutching Lexa’s shirt with the other to bring her in.

“I’m positive,” Lexa snuck out between kisses as Clarke pushed her shirt off.  It fell with her vest to a crumpled pile on Clarke’s floor.  She pulled Clarke closer, enjoying the way her bare arms felt against Clarke’s.  Lexa’s fingers skated over the zipper at the back of Clarke’s dress.

"Because I know about your rule,” Clarke said quickly as Lexa started pulling the zipper down.

“You do?” Lexa asked almost playfully.  Clarke didn’t take it as lightly.  She put a hand on Lexa’s chest and pushed her back.

“Yeah, I do,” Clarke said with more purpose.  The look in her eyes made Lexa’s breath hitch.  “And I’d really love to fuck you right now, but I think we need to get this out in the open so we can both enjoy it.  I get really ugly when I get hurt.”  Lexa let out a big sigh and took a step back from Clarke. 

“I don’t even want to know who told you,” Lexa began slowly and calmly.  She clasped her hands together to keep them off of Clarke while she said what she needed to say.  She didn’t want to get distracted by how warm and soft Clarke was and forget something.  She wanted it to come out right.  “But I’m going to tell you something and it might seem like too much, but you’ve got to believe me.  It’s not a secret that I have not been the greatest at keeping girls around.  Yes, I have said that I would like to start conceptualizing something new.  Yes, as you have heard, I swear off women when I am opening a new place.”

“Then what the hell is this?” Clarke pointed between the two of them.  She regretted opening this can of worms.  Her body ached for Lexa’s touch while her head and her heart held her at arm’s length.  It felt awful.

“I don’t know,” Lexa shrugged with an honest smile.  Her bare shoulders in her tank top made Clarke want to forget that she was worried about anything.  She didn’t know Lexa had a tattoo on her arm.  She always had long sleeves on.  “All I know is, I’ve felt like someone else since I met you.  It sounds cliché, but I promise it’s not a line.  I’m different.  Anya and Indra will tell you.  You do something to me, Clarke.  I don’t know what it is, but I really, really like it.”

“Really?” Clarke swallowed hard.  Lexa’s eyes were so genuine.   

“Yeah,” Lexa smiled shyly throughout her confession.  “I’m not very good at this. I know it sounds like bullshit, but it’s not.  And it’s not just because you’re beautiful and you’re smart and you’re sweet.  It’s something else.  I was watching you all night, tonight.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since I met you, and not just about getting you into bed.  I want to listen to you talk and have you make me laugh.  I want to feed you and take you places and show you things.  Tonight in the hallway when you told me you get it now, get me, get the whole thing, and you still kissed me and still wanted to deal with all this, deal with me, that was it,” Lexa held her hands up.  “You’re the exception to the rule.”

Clarke didn’t say anything.  She rolled her jaw.  She confused and like she might cry.

“Maybe I should go,” Lexa sighed and stooped to pick up her shirt.  “This is a lot.  I shouldn’t have put all that on you.  I can go,” Lexa reached for the doorknob and Clarke grabbed her arm to stop her.

"You really mean all that?” Clarke asked quietly.  They met eyes.

“Without a doubt,” Lexa smiled so warmly at her.  “I’m a better version of myself when you’re around,” Lexa shrugged, feeling shy at baring her feelings.  “Why would I swear off someone who does that to me?”     

Clarke threw her arms around Lexa and kissed her again.  It took Lexa by surprise, but she eased right back into where they left off.  Clarke’s new sense of urgency was welcomed.  Lexa dropped her shirt and held Clarke with both hands.  Clarke’s dress was gone, a combination of both of their hands fumbling with the zipper.  Lexa stepped out of her shoes while Clarke yanked her tank top over her head.  She let out a surprised yelp as Clarke pushed her back onto the bed.  It vanished when Clarke climbed on top of her.

Clarke flipped Lexa’s belt and pants undone with one hand while the other stayed tangled in Lexa’s hair.  Lexa eased back against the pillows with Clarke on top of her to get her dress pants out of the equation.

Every touch was perfect.  It was the exact blend of frantic and precise they had both been hoping for.  Lexa moved her hands across Clarke’s body like she’d been doing it for years.  She knew what to do, knew what Clarke wanted.  Clarke’s breathy sighs fueled Lexa further.  Clarke could tell from Lexa’s pleasantly surprised yelps and moans at all of Clarke’s touches and well placed kisses that she was used to doing most of the work in bed. 

“Do you really think I’m beautiful?” Clarke asked in a breathless whisper.  One of her highly trained hands slipped below Lexa’s waistband, the other on the back of Lexa’s neck as she kissed her.

“I’ve thought so since the first second I saw you,” Lexa’s voice strained as she arched into Clarke’s touch, pressing their bare chests together.  Lexa ran her hands up Clarke’s thighs, over the curve of her ass and up her back into her curls.

“How do you do that?  How do you always do that?” Clarke got out through the hot, wet kisses she was leaving on Lexa’s neck.

“Do what?” Lexa asked, her breath growing shorter as she moved with Clarke’s hand.  It felt too good and she wasn’t going to be able to keep her conversation up much longer at the rate Clarke’s nimble fingers were going.

“You always say the perfect things to me,” Clarke bit down on Lexa’s shoulder.  She put a warm kiss over the bite.  “You’re so smooth.”

“I’m just telling the truth,” Lexa guided Clarke up for another kiss on her lips before reaching between Clarke’s legs with the other hand.  Their conversation melted to incoherent half sentences and gasps of each other’s names.  Nerves and apprehension melted away and it was just the two of them, moving together in the moment.  Fireworks went off in Lexa’s brain just before Clarke fell spent, sweaty and satisfied against her.     

“I can move in a minute,” Clarke sighed through heavy breaths.  She had her head on Lexa’s chest and lay half on top of her.  Her heavy breaths came out in short gasps.  One arm draped lazily across Lexa’s bare hips.  “I just need, I just,” Clarke tried to catch her breath.  “I just need one minute.”

“Don’t,” Lexa gasped and wrapped an arm around Clarke.  She lazily threaded her fingers through the ends of Clarke’s hair.  She kissed Clarke’s sweaty forehead as she tried to catch her breath.  “Just stay right there.”

*****

Clarke forgot that her alarm to get back to work was going to go off at an ungodly hour.  It took her a moment to come to.  She woke up in the same position she fell asleep a few hours prior, naked and mostly on top of Lexa.  She sat up and silenced the alarm and rubbed her eyes.  Lexa didn’t stir.  She was splayed out on her back in the middle of Clarke’s bed.  She was smiling in her sleep.  Clarke resisted the urge to wake her with kisses when the clock told her she was going to be late.

She scowled and silently slipped out of bed and into the shower.  Damn lives that needed saving.  She towel dried her hair and made her way through the silent, sleeping apartment back to her room.  Lexa had rolled over.  She was sleeping on her belly with her arms tucked under her head.  Her chestnut curls splayed across Clarke’s pillow.  The duvet just covered her backside and left her bare back completely exposed. 

Clarke couldn’t help herself and sat down on the edge of the bed in her towel.  She planted soft kisses across Lexa’s taught shoulder blades and took a long look at the tattoo running up Lexa’s spine.  She noticed it the night before, but now it was on display. 

“Morning,” Lexa mumbled against the pillow.

“Good morning,” Clarke whispered.  “You can keep sleeping, but let me take those stitches out before I go.”  Lexa dropped her left arm onto the mattress but didn’t open her eyes.  Clarke giggled and reached into her nightstand for a first aid kit.  She found a pair of scissors and leaned over Lexa’s body to get to her bandage.  “This looks really good,” Clarke assured her.

“You look really good,” Lexa smirked with her eyes still closed. 

“Smooth,” Clarke chuckled.

“True,” Lexa buried her face deeper into the pillow.  “You smell good, too.”

“I just got out of the shower,” Clarke smiled.  “You’re all done.  No more bandage.”

"Thank you,” Lexa murmured, drifting back to sleep.  Clarke couldn’t fight a grin as she bent down and put a few more kisses between Lexa’s shoulder blades.  She dressed quickly in jeans a sweatshirt and whipped her wet hair up into a bun.

“I have to get going,” Clarke whispered and snatched her glasses from the nightstand.  “Raven and Octavia won’t be up for hours.  Feel free to sleep as long as you want.” 

“I’ll get up soon.  I need to get to work,” Lexa rolled over to face her.  Clarke bent down to capture her soft, morning lips in a kiss.  Lexa reached up to gently hold Clarke’s cheek.

"I’m just going back in for tonight.  I’ll be out tomorrow afternoon.  Let me know when you’re around and we can do something,” Clarke smiled.

“Sounds good,” Lexa laid back down and snuggled into Clarke’s blankets.  Clarke paused at the door and looked back at the woman sleeping in her bed.

She could get used to this.

*****

Lexa walked into Houm midafternoon on Friday trying to contain her grin.  She spent longer than she planned sleeping in Clarke’s bed wrapped up in the smell of Clarke’s hair and the memories of her body moving perfectly on top of Lexa’s.  She caught herself smiling all the way home.  She felt like she could feel Clarke’s hands all over her body while she showered. She was still trying to wipe the grin off when she got to work.

“Hey, Commander!” Roan grinned back at her when she walked into the kitchen. 

“We were just taking bets on what time you’d show up,” Indra joked.  The two of them had cuts of beef on the counter and were going over butchering.  She glanced at her watch.  “Give me twenty bucks, Roan.”

“Very funny,” Lexa smiled at them nonetheless and moved to get herself a cup of coffee.  “How’s Lincoln holding up?”  Both of their smiles turned to grimaces.

“He got himself real wrecked,” Roan chuckled.  “At one point, he and Raven attempted the lift from Dirty Dancing.  It ended poorly.  You should go out there and see if you want to run this ship tonight with such damaged goods.”  Roan nodded his way towards the dining room.  Lexa passed the prep cooks, pausing to dip a spoon into the house marinara.

“That needs more salt,” she said over her shoulder to Emori and kept walking.  Everyone waved hello to her and offered some kind of congratulations for the night before.  She nodded at all of them and made her way into the dining room.

Lincoln stood behind the bar with his arms folded on the bar top and his head hidden in them.  From what Lexa could tell, the bar was prepped and ready. 

“Hey,” she poked him in the arm.  He jumped awake, then winced at the sudden movement.  “How are you holding up?”

“Hey, Commander!” He pinched his eyes shut and stretched his back.  “Sorry.  I’m not firing on all cylinders today.”

“I can see that,” Lexa tried not to laugh. 

“I came in early to get everything ready so I could make sure I had myself in order before dinner service.  I’m gonna make it,” he assured her.

“I appreciate that go getter attitude,” Lexa began.  “But are you actually going to be ready by four?”

“I think so?”  He rubbed his eyes.  “Congrats again, by the way.  That was a great night.  Awesome party.  I had a lot of fun.”  He worked up a smile that looked like it took a lot of effort.  “Possibly too much.”

“Thank you.  I did, too,” Lexa smiled back at him.  “Hey, do you know what happened to my plaque?  I know you had it when Clarke and I went upstairs.”

“I think Octavia hung it on the wall to keep it safe,” Lincoln bent back down and settled his elbows on the bar top and rubbed his forehead. 

“Tell you what,” Lexa patted him on the shoulder.  “You get in touch with her and find out where that is, and I’m going to go out back and make you something to eat.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready for food,” Lincoln whined.

“Then you’ll throw up again and that will help, too,” Lexa grinned at him.  “Trust me.  I know what you need.  I’ll be back in a few.”  Lexa weaved back through the prep cooks to the walk in and started grabbing ingredients.

“Hey,” Indra leaned on the door frame of the walk in refrigerator.  “What are you doing?”

“Fixing Lincoln,” Lexa replied as she reached for some chicken.

“You cooking him a hang over cure?” Indra folded her arms over her chest.

"Yeah,” Lexa replied and looked through her selection of cheeses.

“You better make it three.  Roan and I are maybe at seventy percent at best right now,” Indra grinned.  “I’m doing my best to hide it from you, but it’s not gonna last.”  Lexa turned over her shoulder and gave Indra a mock annoyed look.

“You got it,” Lexa chuckled.

Lexa went to work and everyone tried to make excuses to pass her out back by the prep stoves to see what she was doing.  She was cooking more and more these days and it wasn’t going unnoticed. Her pastry chef watched with curiosity as Lexa rolled out pastry dough.  The prep chefs glanced over their shoulders to see what she was working at the deep fryers.  She finally brought plates out to her top staff.

“Eat up,” Lexa had a plate of food for her hungover colleagues.  It was filled with big puffed up balls of deep fried puffed pastry.  They all looked on with wide eyes.  “I used to make these when we were in Los Angeles and I was a train wreck.”

“Yeah you did,” Indra reached for one.  “You haven’t done this in ages.”

“What’s in it?” Lincoln asked carefully. 

“There’s some pork belly in there, spinach, bunch of cheeses, some sauces, fried chicken and an egg,” Lexa replied.  “I want you to eat it with a soda,” she pointed at Lincoln.

“How did you do this?” Roan broke his in half.  “How is the yolk inside still runny?  I feel like there is too much science in the way of that.”

“Magic,” Lexa winked.  They all devoured their snacks.  “So I think I’m going to cook tonight,” Lexa spoke up after a few beats of silence.  The three of them turned in unison to give her the same surprised look, all of their mouths full. 

“What?” Indra asked after swallowing a big bite.

“I’m going to sub in for Roan tonight,” Lexa kept her voice as calm as if she were telling them she was thinking about adding a new fish dish. 

“Am I in trouble?”  Roan asked carefully.  He set down his hangover snack and brushed the crumbs off his hands.  Indra and Lincoln exchanged a look trying to decide if they should leave.

“No, no, it’s not like that,” Lexa smiled at him.  “I’ll have you switch with me.  You can take a step back and run the ship tonight.  It’ll be good for you.  You haven’t done it on a weekend yet.  I’ll be here for support if anything goes south.”

“Are you sure?” Roan eyed her, trying to figure out if he was currently under some kind of test.

“Positive,” Lexa nodded.  “Now all of you eat up and get your acts together.  I don’t want a bunch of schmucks running this place.”

*****

Clarke walked on air all afternoon at the hospital.  Maya and Fox had too many questions about The Food Network’s instagam photos as well as Food And Wine’s, both of which they were following too closely, both of which had the same photo of Lexa and Clarke hand in hand, each holding cups of beer in their free hands and laughing at someone out of the frame, Clarke wearing Lexa’s blazer and clever captions referring to Clarke as Chef Woods’ Charming Mystery Woman.  Clarke rolled her eyes at them and refused to let the gossip get her down.  She answered Miller’s string of questions with an opened mouth smile and a wink, and didn’t go into any more detail than that.

She glanced at her watch.  It was almost time for dinner at Houm and Clarke hadn’t heard from Lexa much all day.  She pulled up Lexa’s number and gave her a call.

“Hey,” Lexa said warmly.  Clarke could hear her smiling through the line and it made her stomach flip over in the best way.

“Hi, sorry to bug you at work,” Clarke couldn’t fight a grin that worked its way across her face.

“You’re not bugging me at all,” Lexa replied coolly.

“No phones on the line!” Indra yelled in the background.

“I can’t talk long.  I’m cooking on the line tonight.  Roan’s getting his weekend exec feet wet,” Lexa said.  Clarke could hear shuffling plates and the hum of the kitchen in the background.

“That sounds like fun for both of you.  How’s Indra taking that?” Clarke chuckled.

“Tell Clarke you have to go!  You’re not the boss tonight!” Indra shouted again in the background.

“A little too seriously, it seems,” Lexa chuckled.  “I’ll message you when I’m done.  Good luck tonight.”  Clarke’s pager went off.  Lexa could hear the familiar beeps through the phone.  “Time to save lives?”

“Yeah,” Clarke trailed off reading the code on her pager.  “Looks that way.  I’ll let you know when I’m out of this one.  Might be bad.  Have fun tonight!”  Clarke tried to sound upbeat as she hurried towards the ER. 

She arrived to total chaos.  

Doctors and nurses flooded the waiting room from all directions.  It was full of bloody teenaged girls in bright red and white Scarborough High School soccer uniforms.

“What do we have?” Clarke kept her voice steady despite her wide eyes as she took it all in.  Maya was keeping things under control and pointing doctors in every direction.

“Brakes failed on a school bus full of varsity and junior varsity soccer players.  Broke the guard rail on the 295 south off ramp on the way to a game,” Maya replied mechanically as she fell into step with Clarke heading to scrub.  “There are forty-five girls here, four coaches, no driver.  One coach and fourteen of the girls are in critical condition.  Twenty-five girls and the other three coaches need attention but no life-threatening injuries.  Driver died on impact.” 

“Jesus Christ,” Clarke exhaled quietly.  “Where am I going?”

“Both Jahas are in OR 1 and 4, multiple head wounds.  Dr. Jackson is in 2, we need you to set up in 3.  Here’s your first patient,” Maya handed her a chart.  “She went through the windshield.  I’d hurry!”  Clarke grabbed the chart and jogged off.

It didn’t stop all night. 

The major injuries, the internal bleeding, the compound factures, the head wounds, those came first.  There was so much glass.  So much blood.  The breaks, the sprains, the tears and stitches waited until there were enough doctors to go around.  Clarke moved from one OR to the next, reading charts as she hustled to start solving the problems before she got there.  She didn’t have the option to feel tired.  She didn’t have the option to slow down.  She didn’t have the option to emotionally process that they had three teenagers die on the table in twelve hours.

She had to call the time of death on two of them, then instantly move on to the next.

Part of her felt like five PM the next day arrived in just moments.  Part of her felt like she’d been on her feet for a week.  She peeled her gloves off and chucked her mask after her last surgery and wordlessly walked to the locker room.  She sat down on a bench and dropped her face in her hands and let out a frustrated sob.  Losing patients was always hard, but not getting time to process them was even harder.

“You did good in there, Dr. Griffin,” Monroe sighed as she dropped on the bench next to Clarke.  Her face was pale and her eyes looked empty.  She was with Clarke for both flatlines.  Clarke had been amazing.  She always refused to give up.

“Thanks,” Clarke sniffed, making a slight effort to hide her weeping.  “Who had to tell their parents?” Clarke coughed around the lump in her throat.

“Jackson,” Monroe rested a hand on Clarke’s back. 

“He’s good at it,” Clarke nodded.  She wiped her eyes.  “I don’t usually do this,” Clarke sighed and gestured to her teary cheeks.

“I know,” Monroe offered up a sad smile.

“Something about all those young girls with so much ahead of them.  I don’t know.  It really got to me tonight,” Clarke ran her hands through her hair.  “Having to go through so many of them so fast.  Not getting to take a second when we lost them.”

“You haven’t lost anyone in a while,” Monroe shrugged.  “You told me my first week that it’s never easy, but it’s always worse when they’re kids.”

“It is always worse when they’re kids,” Clarke took another deep breath and tried to compose herself. 

“I’ll finish your paperwork,” Monroe tried to smile again but only got halfway there.  “You should go home.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Clarke tried.

“It’s okay, really,” Monroe patted Clarke’s back.  “I learned more from you last night than I’ve learned in months.  It’s the least I can do.”

“Thanks, Monroe,” Clarke sniffled and tried to smile back.

 She dressed quickly and headed for the garage.  Even though it was dinnertime again, she found herself calling Lexa’s phone.  Clarke sighed when it went to her voicemail.

“Hey, it’s me,” Clarke paused.  “It’s Clarke.  I’m just leaving the hospital now, it was ah, I had a really tough night,” she paused to drop into the driver’s seat.  “I’m sure you’re working, but if you’re not there too late, maybe you’d want to come by Blake’s?  I’d just, I’d really like to see you at the risk of sounding clingy.  I’ll be there all evening.  I’m going to need a drink or five.”

She tried not to think of their faces as she drove home.  The numbers on the jerseys she cut off of them were four and twenty-two.  She couldn’t get that out of her head either.  It was a detail she hadn’t even realized she noticed at the time, and now it was burned in her mind forever.  Her mind wandered to their parents.  Their friends.  Their teachers.  The community was going to feel it so hard.

And she was going to carry it inside of her forever.  She made a place in her mind for all of them, honored them, learned from them and moved on, but she never forgot the deaths.

She didn’t bother to sit in her car and calm down before going into Blake’s, she just went straight to the bar.  Octavia lit up when she saw her, but her face quickly dropped when she took in Clarke’s expression.

“Long night?” Octavia asked sincerely as she poured Clarke a beer.

“I haven’t had a night that long in a very, very long time,” Clarke let out a deep breath.  She looked worse for wear in an Ark Memorial hoodie, her glasses which she had on in an attempt to hide the fact that she’d been crying, beat up jeans and her running shoes from work.  Her hair that had been in a tight bun while she operated all night and all day was in a curly wild mess now.

“Do you want me to ask or do you want to bury it?” Octavia asked carefully.

“I lost two patients tonight,” Clarke’s voice wavered.  “Teenaged girls.” The lump was back in her throat.

“Fuck, Clarke,” Octavia’s face dropped even further.  She reached over the bar and grabbed one of hands.  “I’m so sorry.  I know how it fucks with you when you can’t save kids.”

“It’s alright,” Clarke took a long swig of her beer.  “I did help save six of them, so I guess there’s that.”

“I have that butternut squash soup on the menu tonight that you like.  The one with the bacon and jalapenos and balsamic reduction,” Octavia tried to brighten Clarke up.  “You want a bowl?”

“Can you make me a grilled cheese, too?” Clarke flicked her eyes up at Octavia.  “And not a creative one, just bread and cheese.”

“I’ll do it, but you can’t tell anyone,” Octavia winked. 

“Thanks,” Clarke sighed and pushed her beer glass around on the glossy bar top.  “Where’s Raven?”

“Upstairs working.  She’s got a conference call with the west coast that’s supposed to go on for a while.  She’ll probably be down later tonight if she finishes up.

“Can I watch TV?  Are there any sports on?” Clarke asked, her voice small.

“You pick out whatever you want, girlfriend,” Octavia handed her the remote.

The bar was packed by nine.  Lincoln dragging all of the cool chefs in town into Blake’s a few days prior had the place standing room only at night now.  Clarke sat at the bar right in the center watching reruns of the Golden Girls and nursing her draft beers.  It was nice to be in the company of so many people, so much life.  A lot of them recognized her from the event and asked after Lexa. 

Clarke looked up around nine-thirty when she heard a bunch of cheering by the door.  The crowd parted and she spotted Lexa in her checkered chef’s pants, a sweaty white t shirt and her leather jacket waving her hands for the crowd around her to quiet down.  Her bashful laugh while she tried to get them to stop warmed Clarke right up.

“Hey!  Are you okay?  I got here as soon as I could.  I’m so sorry!  I didn’t get your message until a few minutes ago.  I was on the grill tonight!” Lexa blurted out in a hurry as she approached Clarke.  Her green eyes were wide with worry.

“Hey, hey, slow down,” Clarke pulled Lexa into a tight hug. Lexa’s embrace felt so perfect.  She smelled like herself mixed with smoke and sweat.  “I’m okay.  Everything’s fine.”

“Hey, Woods,” Harper nodded at her.  “You want a beer?”

“Yes please, Harper.  How’s it going?”  Lexa smiled at her and shrugged out of her jacket and hung it on a hook on a nearby booth.

“Place is slammed thanks to your little party here the other night.  Blake says she’s going to need to hire some people” Harper smiled and set Lexa’s beer down.  “I’ve made more money in the last few days than I have in the last few weeks thanks to your chef posse, so that one’s on me.”  Harper pointed at Lexa’s beer.

“Thanks!  I do what I can,” Lexa shrugged.  Harper tended to a group a few stools down.  “Are you okay?  You said you had a really bad night,” Lexa squeezed herself in between Clarke and the guy on a stool next to her so she could rest an elbow on the bar and turn to face her.

“I ah,” Clarke looked down into her beer.  “I lost two patients last night.”

“Jesus, Clarke,” Lexa slid a calming hand over Clarke’s back.  “I’m so sorry.”

“They were teenaged girls,” Clarke shook her head.  “I’m sorry.  It was a really gory, emotionally trying, difficult night.  There were just so many of them.  I’m taking it harder than I usually do.”  Clarke paused to take a big swig of her beer.  “I’m sorry I called you all worked up like that.  I just wanted to see you.”

“Please stop apologizing,” Lexa held a hand up.  “I’m thrilled you thought giving me a call would help.”  Lexa grinned and took a hold of one of Clarke’s hands.  Clarke broke into a shy smile.

“I wanted to remind myself that I’m really alive, and well, you’ve been doing that for me lately,” Clarke flicked her eyes up at Lexa.  The grin that spread across Lexa’s lips made her feel weak in the best way.

“I love that,” Lexa beamed at her.  It was contagious and warmed Clarke’s mood.

“I have a few days off, thankfully, so I can bounce back.  I haven’t slept since I saw you last.  I was in the OR for almost twenty-four hours,” Clarke stretched her neck.  Just the thought of it made her feel stiff. 

“What are you still doing up?  Get to bed!” Lexa nodded her head towards the back stairway and moved her hand from Clarke’s grip to rub some of the tension out of Clarke’s neck.  Clarke leaned back into Lexa’s touch with her eyes closed.  She let out a hum of relief and it reminded Lexa too much of their night in bed.

“I needed to calm down first,” Clarke replied, picking her head back up.  “So you’ve been cooking?” Clarke sat up straighter and changed the subject.

“Yeah!” Lexa lit up.  “We’ve been casually training Roan to get to a level of running the kitchen without me or Indra there.  I decided this week to let him try it on the weekend, so I switched with him.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going anywhere?” Clarke eyed her suspiciously.

“I’m not, but recent developments have made me realize I might like a few nights off once in a while,” Lexa leaned forward and kissed Clarke’s forehead. 

“Clarke!  Clarke!” Harper came flying out of the kitchen.  “Octavia needs you in the kitchen right now!”

“Me?” Clarke pointed to herself.  Lexa straightened up at the alarmed look on Harper’s face.

"Is everything okay?”  Lexa asked calmly.

“Murphy cut himself.  It’s ugly,” Harper grimaced.

“You fucking chefs and your fucking knives, I swear to god,” Clarke grumbled and slid off her barstool.

“Hey, that fucking knife led me to you!”  Lexa called jokingly after Clarke as she rounded the end of the bar and shot Lexa a goofy eyeroll before disappearing into the kitchen.  She passed Octavia in the door way who had food in both hands. 

“Woods!  When the fuck did you get here?” Octavia lit up.

 "Just now,” Lexa replied.

“Sorry to take Clarke from you.  Kid almost cut his thumb off,” Octavia scoffed.

“That’s no good,” Lexa winced.  She waved to a few guys she knew at the other end of the bar and glanced at the TVs while she waited for Clarke to come back.  After a few minutes, Harper pointed at Lexa. 

“She wants you back here!”  Harper called.

“What?” Lexa yelped.  “What does she want me to do?” Lexa carefully rounded the bar and walked into the Blake’s kitchen.  Murphy was in a corner sitting on an overturned milk crate while Clarke held his hand over his head wrapped in a bloody towel.  Octavia organized a flood of tickets as they came in.  “What do you want me for?”  Lexa looked at Clarke.

“She doesn’t want you, I asked for you,” Octavia didn’t look away from her board of tickets.  “She’s going to put a few stitches in that dumbass, so he’s out of commission.  I need you to cook with me.  I’ve got a room full of your high-profile food friends and I can’t go down like this.  You’re already dressed for it.” Octavia looked Lexa up and down in half of her uniform.

“I’ve never cooked here!  I don’t know how to cook your food!”  Lexa blurted.

“According to the media, you’re the best chef in this town, so I suspect you can figure it the fuck out.  Most of it is prepped so you just need to follow basic directions.  Are you gonna help me or not?” Octavia snapped as she spun and dropped a few baskets of her jalapeno poppers into the fryers.  Lexa froze and looked back and forth between Octavia’s tickets, Clarke in the corner and the exit.  She finally raked her hair back into a bun and pulled up next to Octavia.

“Tell me what to do,” Lexa said firmly.

“That’s what I thought!” Octavia nodded and slapped a spatula against the cutting board in excitement.  “Tonight’s menu has a soup that is easy to plate.  Soup’s over there, balsamic glaze is in a squeeze bottle right next to it.  I’ve got the poppers on the menu.  They’re all prepped in that fridge there.  You drop four of ‘em for six minutes, sauce is right here.  I’ve got fries on the menu.  Same fridge as the poppers, one big handful per order.  There are cutlets for a chicken sandwich, dredge is behind you, they’re battered to order.  Falafel on the menu tonight too, so that also hits the fryers.   I’ll have you on the fryers and I also have a burger on the menu, you cook them all medium.  I’ll have you hit the patties as needed.  I’ll plate everything.  You cool with verbal cues?”

“Yes, chef,” Lexa replied as a reflex.

“None of that shit in here,” Octavia wagged the spatula at her.

“Heard,” Lexa smiled back.

“Okay, I have three falafel, two chicken sandwich, two soups, one burger and five fries, you got me?”  Octavia cried out.

“Heard, che-, uh, heard, Blake,” Lexa replied and started grabbing for food.  Clarke watched, amazed as the two of them worked together after a short explanation of what to do.  The Blake’s kitchen was known for its unorthodox, chaotic system and Lexa jumped right in with both feet.

“Very nice, keep it up! Let’s go!” Octavia’s hands flew across the board of ingredients and she put plates together, grabbing items from Lexa as they went.

“How are you going to do this exactly?” Murphy grimaced as Clarke peeled back the towel and checked his wound again.

“I’m going to take you upstairs.  I have everything we need in the apartment,” Clarke replied and patted him on the head.  “Let’s go!”

“Two more fries, two more poppers walking in!”  Octavia shouted as she glanced at the tickets pouring out of the printer.  It took Lexa about twenty minutes to get into a groove, but she got there.  Octavia had no problems telling her what to do and it really impressed Lexa.  Octavia didn’t care who Lexa was when they were in her kitchen.  She was so efficient.

"You could probably do this better with four people,” Lexa dabbed the sweat on her forehead on her shoulder.

“Well, Rockefeller, I can’t pay four people,” Octavia joked.  “So I’ve had to learn to do it with one or two.”

“That’s fair,” Lexa chuckled.  She liked that Octavia razzed her like a buddy.  “Behind you, fries four times,” Lexa pulled up a basket of fries and dumped them to a bowl, salted and passed them off to Octavia.  “You think this little favor I’m doing you earns me a few sauce recipes?”

“Let’s see if you get me out of this night and we’ll talk,” Octavia smirked.  “Harp!  Orders up!” Octavia whacked the bell on the line.

“So, you and Woods, huh?” Murphy smirked at Clarke.  He was sitting at the breakfast bar upstairs with his hand on the counter while Clarke dug through one of her first aid kits.  “That’s hot.”

“Don’t be a dick, Murphy,” Clarke sighed as she readied her needle.

“I’m not!  I’m serious.  That’s totally hot,” He shrugged.  She poked him in his wound.  “Ah! Shit, Griffin!  What the hell?”

“I told you not to be a dick,” Clarke chuckled.  He laughed too.

“Seriously though. I think it’s cool.  She makes you so smiley,” He flinched as she cleaned his cut out and numbed it. 

“She certainly does make me smiley,” Clarke tried not to smile at the thought of it and failed, proving his point.  “Don’t move.  You only really need like four of these.  It’ll be real quick.”

“She’s a big deal.  You ready for that?”  Murphy asked.

“I think so,” Clarke replied.  She made quick work of the wound and tied it off.

“Look at that,” Murphy eyed his stitches.  “You’re so handy to have around, Clarke.”

“That’s what they say,” Clarke sighed through an annoyed smile as she bandaged it up for him.  “Keep bandages on that.  You’re going to need to keep it dry.  Talk to Octavia about a few days off,” Clarke packed up her supplies. 

“C’mon back down.  I’ll buy you a drink.  Your girlfriend’s going to be busy for a while,” he rolled his eyes.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Clarke replied as a reflex.  Her stomach fluttered as she wondered how long she’d have that knee jerk reaction.

“Sure, Griffin,” Murphy opened the door to the back stairs and gestured for her to go first with a goofy grin.  She rolled her eyes at him and headed back down.

“Sorry, Clarke.  I cleared your beer in a frenzy.  I’ll get you another one,” Harper pointed at her. 

“I’ll have what she’s having!” Murphy called after her.

“You better watch your ass, Murph.  Blake and Lexa are working like a well-oiled machine back there,” Harper nodded over her shoulder as she set their beers down.  “She’s coming for your job.”

“She has her own job,” Murphy waved his newly bandaged hand and picked up the beer with his other.  “Cheers, Dr. Griffin.  Thanks for the stitches.”

“I swore an oath when I became a doctor,” Clarke sighed and clinked her glass against his.  “I had to give them to you.”

“Harper! Eighty-six poppers!” Lexa called over her shoulder as she poked her head out the kitchen door and crossed the jalapeno poppers off the menu board.

“Bummer!” Harper called back.

“Hey!” Lexa beamed at Clarke when she spotted her back at the bar.  Her grin was adorable.  She had one of Octavia’s bandanas on and a red apron over her chef’s pants. 

“You okay?” Clarke asked across the bar.  Lexa shot her a thumbs up and a big smile and hurried back to the kitchen.

“Six fries all day!  Hit me with three chickens, two patties, one falafel, Woods!” Clarke could hear Octavia shouting. 

“Heard, Chef!” Lexa shouted back.

“What the fuck did I say about that, Alexandria?” Octavia cried.

“You’re trying to undo fifteen years of intense training in one stressful hour here, Blake!” Lexa snapped back.  Clarke smiled warmly and drank her beer.  Murphy sat with her and they watched more TV Land reruns.  When eleven o’clock rolled around, Clarke had an elbow on the bar and her chin in her hand.  She was asleep.

“Hey, Griff,” Harper nudged her.  “You’re sleeping and taking up valuable real estate.”

“What?” Clarke sat bolt upright. 

“You’re sleeping at the bar, Clarke,” Harper smiled warmly at her.  “You know Octavia doesn’t allow that on busy nights.”

“I’m sorry,” Clarke yawned.  I’ll go to bed.  Is it safe for me to stick my head back there?” Clarke pointed at the kitchen.

“That’s between you and your lord,” Harper shrugged.  Clarke maneuvered behind the bar and poked her head into the kitchen.

“You know, I believe everything they say about you now,” Octavia nodded as she plated falafel and chicken sandwiches.  “Everything you make is fucking perfect.”

“Don’t flatter me Blake.  My ego can’t take it.  I’ll explode,” Lexa chuckled as she set another bowl of fries beside Octavia.  “Fries three times, six down, two patties coming.”

“Heard, girlfriend,” Octavia laughed. 

They looked perfect together.  They moved in sync, back to back with Lexa at the fryers and Octavia standing at the board plating everything.  They laughed and made fun of each other the whole time.  Clarke hadn’t seen Octavia laugh like that in the kitchen in a very long time.  She only saw Lexa smile like that when she kissed her.

“Hey,” Clarke cleared her throat.

“Hey, Clarke!” They both looked up and smiled at her in unison, then looked at each other and laughed.

 “I fell asleep at the bar, so I’m going to go upstairs,” Clarke pointed over her shoulder. 

“Will I see you tomorrow?”  Lexa asked, looking hopefully up from the fryers.

“You can see me tonight if you want to come up when you’re done,” Clarke shrugged and bit her bottom lip.  Lexa’s cheeks pinked and she broke into a girlish smile.

“I’m going to be filthy,” Lexa laughed nervously, uneasy about having the conversation in front of Octavia.

“We have a shower,” Octavia leaned her butt back and bumped it against Lexa’s.  “I won’t need you after midnight.  It dies around here in about an hour.”

“Your choice,” Clarke smiled softly at Lexa.  “Wake me up if you come in.  Night, ladies,” Clarke waved to them.

“Night, Clarke!” they said in unison.  Octavia waited until Clarke was out of ear shot.

“You’re staying here tonight,” Octavia said flatly in a tone that let Lexa know it wasn’t up for discussion.  “She’s hurting bad from last night but she’s trying to be big about it.”

“I know,” Lexa glanced over her shoulder at the tickets on Octavia’s board and dropped two more handfuls of fries into the fryer.  “I was planning on staying.”

“So, listen,” Octavia began with more purpose.  “About Clarke,” Octavia trailed off.

“Probably not a great time to tell me you’ll kill me if I fuck with your friend since I’m saving your night right now and all,” Lexa said quickly.

“What’s the deal with the rule?” Octavia didn’t look up from the food she plated.  She slapped the bell and called for Harper and slid the next set of tickets over.  She could almost feel Lexa stiffening up behind her.  “Yeah, we all know about it, by the way.”

"I know you do.  She does, too.  We talked about it,” Lexa replied calmly and shook a basket of chicken breasts free of excess grease, then dumped them to a bowl and passed it to Octavia. 

“And?” Octavia snatched the chicken breasts out of the bowl and passed it back.

“And the rule’s dead,” Lexa replied calmly.  “My plans for the next thing are in a holding pattern right now, but even if they weren’t, I’d call the rule off,” It was Octavia’s turn to stiffen up.  “Clarke is too good of a woman to pass up.  So if you’re worrying about your friend,” Lexa paused and pulled up a basket of falafel.  “Don’t.”

“Well, alright then,” Octavia nodded firmly.  “That solves that.  Let’s clear this board and then you can go shower and snuggle up to her in bed, deal?”

“I’m not leaving this kitchen until you tell me what’s in the gravy,” Lexa replied flatly.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Clarke,” Lexa whispered, gently shaking her shoulder.  Clarke was sound asleep in bed on her side with her knees tucked up and her hands balled up in her duvet under her chin.  It was well after one in the morning.  Lexa had wet hair and she was wrapped in a towel.

“Lexa?” Clarke lifted her head, confused.  She squinted in the dim light of the reading lamp on her nightstand.

“You told me to wake you,” Lexa said quietly.

“I can’t believe you really came,” Clarke rubbed her eyes and sat up a little. 

“Of course I did,” Lexa chuckled.  “Can you point me towards something to sleep in?” 

“Top drawer,” Clarke lazily pointed towards her dresser as she settled back into her pillow.  Lexa shuffled through Clarke’s clothes and found a tank top and some gym shorts and slipped into bed.  Clarke moved Lexa’s arm around herself so she could snuggle in and rest her head on Lexa’s chest.  She slipped her arm around Lexa’s waist and let out a big sigh.

"Are you okay?” Lexa asked quietly.  She worked her fingernails into Clarke’s scalp.  Clarke let out a groan of relief. 

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Clarke sighed.  “I’m usually fine after a little bit, but this one really just got to me.”

“I have no idea how you do it,” Lexa shook her head.  She tucked Clarke’s curls behind her ear and smoothed her hair down.  “Honestly, Clarke.  I really don’t.”  Clarke loved the way Lexa said her name.  The way her voice kit the K.  It sounded so perfect.

“Most of the time I can disassociate in a sense,” Clarke closed her eyes and let Lexa’s soothing touches relax her. “It’s almost like it’s not me doing the surgery.  It’s not real.  I’m not there or something,” Clarke slid her hand under the hem of Lexa’s top to rest on the warm skin of her flat stomach.  It made Lexa stiffen up in a good way.  “These girls were fifteen and sixteen years old.  They had double French braids in their hair and friendship bracelets and matching laces in their soccer cleats.”  Clarke sighed and Lexa felt her warm breath on her chest. 

“Did you save any lives?” Lexa asked, trying to find a positive.  She wasn’t sure what to do.  She didn’t know what she was supposed to say.

"Six,” Clarke replied with a little shrug.  “We saved thirteen altogether, but I had my hands on six.”

“That’s amazing,” Lexa mulled it over.  She didn’t know how to assign a feeling to the responsibility of saving lives or losing lives.  Lexa moved her hands from Clarke’s hair to her shoulders and worked at some of the knots.  “Your shoulders are tense.”

“They usually are,” Clarke yawned.  Her voice slurred a little as she relaxed against Lexa’s chest.  “How did you and Octavia do?”

“Really well, actually,” Lexa brightened.  “I haven’t had that much fun in the kitchen in ages.  Octavia’s got quite the operation.  I can’t believe they do that all the time with two people.  Sometimes she does it by herself.”

“Raven jokes that Octavia’s spirit animal is an octopus cause she cooks like she has eight arms,” Clarke chuckled low in her throat.

“She really does,” Lexa let out a little laugh.

“You didn’t have to do that, you know.  You didn’t have to cook for her,” Clarke traced absentminded circles on Lexa’s exposed hip.  It was driving her crazy in the best way.

“I know,” Lexa shrugged under Clarke.  “It was honestly a treat.  I stuck around and helped her clean up and finally got her to tell me what some of her sauces are made up of.  Her spicy gravy hijacked my brain all last week.  I stayed up all night at Houm one night trying to recreate it from memory.”

"You did not,” Clarke chuckled.

“I really did,” Lexa replied with a tired laugh.

“You can do that?  You can eat something and know what’s in it?”  Clarke’s eyelids fell shut.  She wrote Lexa’s name in cursive with her finger across Lexa’s stomach.  Lexa flinched when Clarke crossed the x softly with a soft brush of the tip of her middle finger.

“Most of the time, yeah,” Lexa’s breath hitched at Clarke’s ministrations.  “I was damn close, too.  Now I know what’s really in it.  I feel like I can rest easy tonight.”

“Oh yeah?”  Clarke snuggled closer and hooked her leg over Lexa’s.  “Solving the gravy mystery is going to help you rest easy?  Nothing else?”

“I can’t think of anything,” Lexa said playfully rolling her eyes.  Clarke picked her head up and gave Lexa a mock glare. 

“I can’t keep my eyes open,” Clarke winced, her eyes closing on her and proving her point.  “I’m sorry to fall asleep on you.  You could’ve just gone home.”

“Hey, I woke you up.  You were sleeping when I got here and I interrupted you,” Lexa grinned.  She leaned forward and caught Clarke’s lips in a soft kiss.  “This is much better than my cold bed.”

“Smooth,” Clarke giggled before kissing her again.

"True,” Lexa chuckled back.

“Night,” Clarke snuck in a few more kisses before dropping her head back onto Lexa’s chest.

“Night,” Lexa shifted and got comfortable against Clarke’s pillows and settled in against the warm weight of Clarke’s body.  Clarke’s breaths almost instantly evened out.  She wasn’t exaggerating about being exhausted. 

Lexa didn’t fall asleep right away.  She had a pile of guest checks that she had scribbled Octavia’s recipes on in a hurry.  She read over them while Clarke slept against her.  She tried not to sit up and knock Clarke over when the idea to add raspberry to one of the sandwiches struck her from left field.  She could see a pen on Clarke’s nightstand and stretched to reach it, working hard not to disturb her. 

An hour passed of Lexa jotting notes and adding ideas to every square inch of the pages, all the while with Clarke’s head resting on her.  She intermittently left kisses on Clarke’s forehead as she came up with ideas.  She brushed a hand absentmindedly through Clarke’s hair and kept writing. With the other hand.  When yawns took her over around two AM, she set the pile of papers on the nightstand, clicked off the reading light, and curled into Clarke’s embrace.

*****

Clarke woke up wrapped in Lexa’s arms.  She had one leg linked through Lexa’s, an arm around Lexa’s trim waist and her face buried in her chest.  Lexa had both arms around her.  They were curled up on their sides facing each other.  Clarke closed her eyes and took in the sensation of how perfectly their bodies fit together.  She pressed a few sleepy kisses into the crook of Lexa’s neck where she was snuggled in.

“Morning,” Lexa said in a sleepy voice.

“Morning,” Clarke replied, her voice just as husky.  She glanced at the clock.  It was almost nine.  “Do you have to go to work soon?  What about brunch?”

“The nice thing about Roan training to run the ship,” Lexa paused to kiss Clarke’s forehead softly.  “Is that I don’t have to run the ship,” Lexa sighed through a smile and settled against Clarke.  “I took the day off.”

“That certainly is a perk,” Clarke slid one of her hands under the back of Lexa’s top all the way up her spine.  She felt Lexa arch into her.

“It certainly is,” Lexa replied, one of her eyebrows twitching up at Clarke’s touch.  “Do you have any plans today?”

“Well,” Clarke began, then paused to kiss Lexa’s neck again.  “I was thinking we could lay here as long as we can both possibly stand it.  After that, my plans get a little hazy.”  Lexa laughed low in her throat as she stretched out to give Clarke more access to her neck and chest. 

“What about dinner?  Any plans there?” Lexa asked, her breath quickening as Clarke’s hands started to wander.

“Nothing yet, but I typically eat it around dinner time,” Clarke smirked.  Lexa let out a surprised laugh.

“Why don’t you let me take you out tonight?”  Lexa put two fingers to Clarke’s chin and tipped her face up so she could kiss her lips.

“Sounds like I have some plans,” Clarke’s smile got in the way of their kisses.  She gently pushed Lexa onto her back and sat up to straddle her hips.  Lexa’s hands found Clarke’s waist.

“Are you feeling better?” Lexa asked with genuine concern in her voice.

“Much,” Clarke replied before bending down to kiss her.

A half hour later, Clarke was undressed and splayed out on her stomach falling in and out of a morning sex induced sleep.  Lexa felt the opposite after their roll in bed and was energized and wide awake.  Clarke’s sheets were green, just as Lexa had hoped, and her golden hair popped against the pillow cases.  The image of her sleeping soundly, completely exposed, warmed Lexa’s insides more than she could have imagined.  She kissed Clarke’s cheek then slipped out of bed to find something to wear. 

Clarke’s room was a lot more put together than what Lexa had experienced in the rest of their apartment.  Her walls were gray.  Her furniture matched.  She had framed photographs on the walls.  There was a drafting table and an easel in the corner by the window with sketch books and supplies.  She kept her jewelry in a wooden jewelry box on her dresser with a C burned on it.  Her diplomas hung framed on the wall in her art corner.  The soft, striped rug that covered the uneven hardwood floors matched her green theme.  Lexa pulled open a dresser drawer quietly in hopes of finding some sweats.  She smiled when she turned up a whole drawer of blue Ark memorial scrubs and t-shirts.  That would have to do.

Clarke tumbled out of her room about a half hour later at the lack of Lexa in her bed and the smell of food in her apartment.  She stopped short at the site of Lexa in her kitchen making breakfast.  Lexa moved around the kitchen trying to find what she needed.  Her hair was a mess and tied loosely on top of her head.  She was dressed in a pair of Clarke’s pale blue scrubs and Clark’s Ark Memorial Hospital Softball t-shirt from the summer league they put together against Maine Medical.

It had Clarke’s name on the back, and she liked it on her.

“Dr. Woods, I’ve got a fever,” Clarke smirked, sneaking up behind Lexa to wrap her arms around her waist.  “And the only cure is breakfast.”

“Is that so?” Lexa chuckled, leaning over her shoulder to shoot Clarke a playful look.  “Lucky for you, I have some breakfast right here that’s almost done.”

“What are you making?”  Clarke peeked over Lexa’s shoulder.

“Pancakes,” Lexa replied.  “Nothing crazy.  Maybe a few eggs if you’re good.”

“I didn’t know we had pancake mix,” Clarke shrugged, then placed a kiss on the back of Lexa’s neck.

“Pancake mix?  You think I’d make you food from a box like that?  My god, Clarke.  You wound me,” Lexa mock scoffed.  She used both hands to flip the pancakes in the pans in front of her.  Lexa’s phone sitting on the counter started to buzz.  Clarke glanced at it. It was Anya.

“Hi,” Lexa said, grabbing the phone and answering it quickly, then wedging it between her ear and her shoulder so she could still use two hands.  Clarke held her by the waist from behind and peppered the back of her neck with little kisses.

“Hey, what’s up?” Anya replied.  Clarke could hear her on the other end.

“Nothing,” Lexa replied blankly. 

“Are you at work?”  Anya asked.

“No,” Lexa grabbed a plate and flipped pancakes out of the pans onto it.

“Why not?”  Anya kept on.

“None of your beeswax, Mom,” Lexa joked.  “How was your field trip?”

"Fake thanksgiving in October with a bunch of teenagers trying to use the overnight as an excuse to hook up with me and nine other moms trying to prevent it.  It was fucking lousy, how do you think it was?” Anya huffed. 

“Gross,” Lexa replied a she reached for the bowl of batter on the counter.  Clarke stepped with her, keeping her front pressed into Lexa’s back.  Lexa shot her a little smile over her shoulder and Clarke grinned back.

“What’s up with you?  What’s going on?  Where are you and why are you being weird?  I feel like something is weird with you,” Anya pressed.  Lexa sighed and opened her mouth to say something, but Clarke beat her to it.

“She can’t talk because she’s busy making my breakfast!” Clarke joked loudly enough for Anya to hear her.  Lexa sighed through a smile and shook her head.  She was still getting over the fact that nothing embarrassed Clarke one bit.

“Lex, come on!  Why are you even answering the phone?” Anya shouted.  “What the hell?  Why do you keep letting me do this?”

“Because you freak out and call three times if I don’t pick up!” Lexa laughed.

“Good morning, Anya,” Clarke called out in a sing song voice.

“Ulgh! Clarke!  Good morning, I’m sorry!”  Anya sighed.  “I swear, I am simply the fucking worst.”

“We have our clothes on this time.  She’s just making me pancakes,” Clarke shrugged and snuggled closer to Lexa’s back.

“I won’t keep you, Lex, but listen, I gotta help my dad with something today.  Aden was bothering me about some errands he wanted to run.  I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could text him and maybe pick him up for a bit this afternoon and help him out?” Anya asked in that fast-talking way she had.

“What kind of errands?” Lexa asked.

“Something asinine.  New sneakers he wants to buy or something silly that absolutely cannot wait until tomorrow,” Lexa could hear Anya rolling her eyes.  “He’s been up my ass about it all week. Teenaged boys can be such chicks.”  Lexa laughed at Anya’s frank tone.  Clarke loved Lexa’s little surprised laugh when something funny caught her off guard.  It was girlish and very cute.  She wondered how many people in Lexa’s life even knew it existed since she was so busy being Chef Woods all the time.

“I can do that this afternoon.  I’ll get in touch with him,” Lexa replied.

“You’re the best.  What are you doing for dinner?  Why don’t you come to my place when you drop him off?”  Anya asked.  “We can catch up.  I want to hear about your party.”

“Clarke and I sort of have dinner plans,” Lexa glanced over her shoulder for Clarke’s reaction, but Clarke was zeroed in on the plate of pancakes that weren’t getting served.

“So bring her with you.  She was there, too.  I want all the good details from her that you won’t give me,” Anya said flatly.

“I don’t know, Anya,” Lexa stiffened.  Was it too much too soon?  Sweet kisses in the kitchen while they giggled with her almost sister followed by a family dinner?

“What are you making?” Clarke asked, lightening the mood.  She could feel Lexa’s body tightening and stiffening.  She could read her thoughts in her tight shoulder muscles.

“The chef thing doesn’t run in the family if that’s what you’re after here, Clarke,” Anya laughed.  “I might get wild and move taco Tuesday to Sunday if we’re having company.”

“I don’t know, An.  We were planning to go out,” Lexa trailed off.

"She’s totally right.  You’re going to do a crappy job telling her about your party.  We can go out anytime,” Clarke shrugged.  “What time should we come, Anya?”  Clarke leaned closer to Lexa’s phone.

“I’ll be done at my dad’s around five, so anytime after that, come on by,” Anya replied.  “I’ll let you two go.  Sorry again for interrupting.”

“You’ve got a knack,” Lexa sighed.

“Always have!  Text Aden!  He’s still sleeping.  Maybe it’ll get his ass out of bed,” Anya scoffed.

“I will.  Take care,” Lexa replied.

“You too, Lex,” Anya said before Lexa hung up.

“If you don’t want to go,” Lexa began, leaning over her shoulder to see Clarke’s reaction.  Clarke just smiled at her.

“I’d love to,” Clarke leaned in for a kiss.  “Now, I think its high time I tested those pancakes to make sure they’re good.”  Lexa smiled back at her and leaned in for another kiss.

“Hey, Clarke!  Are you making,” Raven trailed off as she barged out of her room.  She paused when she came up on Clarke and Lexa kissing and snuggling in the kitchen.  “Pancakes?” she finished.

“Hey, Raven,” Clarke grinned at her.  “Lexa’s making pancakes.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Raven grinned back at Clarke who rolled her eyes.

“There’s plenty, Raven.  Grab a seat,” Lexa gestured to the breakfast bar.  “I put coffee on a while ago.”

“Shit, Woods.  You even serve us on our own house?”  Raven rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and poured a mug of coffee.

“It’s just my calling, I guess,” Lexa smiled and set a plate of pancakes in front of Raven.  Octavia’s door opened and the three of them glanced up.

“Hey!” Octavia brightened.  “What’s all this?  Is Chef Alexandria Woods making pancakes in my kitchen?”

“She is!”  Clarke replied, eyes wide as she dumped syrup onto her plate.

“Thanks again for the bail out last night,” Octavia nodded at Lexa.

“Don’t mention it,” Lexa replied and dished up a plate of pancakes for Octavia.

“What’d you do?” Raven asked before shoveling a big bite into her mouth.

“Murphy cut himself at nine-thirty at night while the place was fucking packed.  Lexa had just walked in to meet Clarke, so when Clarke took him up here for stitches, Lexa jumped in and cooked with me all night,” Octavia replied as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

“You just casually hopped in and started cooking with her?” Raven shot Lexa a look.  “You’re joking, right?”

“It was a little rocky for the first half hour,” Lexa shrugged.

“Stop it, you were fine,” Octavia back handed her.  Clarke and Raven each swallowed a smile at the obvious bromance blossoming between the two chefs.

“I guess everything it says on your plaque is true,” Raven chuckled

“Yeah, where is that, by the way?” Lexa turned to Octavia.  “Lincoln said you had it.”

“It’s hanging up in one of the booths,” Octavia replied.  “After you two scampered upstairs after the party, Lincoln kept carrying it around.  I had an open spot where there used to be a picture frame that someone broke.  I hung it up for safe keeping.  Remined me on your way out.  I’ll get it for you.”

“Thanks for keeping an eye out,” Lexa made herself a plate.

“It probably smells like beer now,” Octavia warned. 

“I’m not entirely surprised,” Lexa rolled her eyes.

“You’re not worried about it?”  Clarke asked her, impressed with Lexa’s cavalier attitude.

“Nah, I’ll get it later.  I’m not worried about it.  I have dozens of them,” Lexa shrugged casually, then realized how it sounded.  “I’m sorry, that came out terrible.”

“If you’ve done it, it ain’t bragging, as they say,” Octavia shrugged back.

They chatted on about the previous evening.  Raven cracked up at Lexa’s recounting of what it was like trying to learn to work for Octavia on the fly.  Octavia tried to be cool about it, but was loving that such a talented and tenured chef was impressed with her.  Clarke sat back and loved watching Lexa laugh with her friends.  She fit right in.  They already had a friendly razzing going and all beat up on each other in good fun. 

“The hardest part of working with you, and I mean this in the sincerest way,” Lexa pointed at Octavia.  “Is that you’re used to doing it yourself and you expected me to read your mind.”  Lexa got halfway out of her seat to bring her plate to the sink, but Clarke wordlessly pushed Lexa back into her seat and took the plate from her.  She noticed that Lexa’s coffee was empty and scooped her mug up.

“Well, duh, you should obviously know what I’m thinking.  What the hell, Lexa.  It’s not like it was your first time cooking with me,” Octavia mock scoffed and rolled her eyes.  Raven laughed.  Clarke filled Lexa’s mug and set it down for her.  Lexa glanced up in surprise. 

No one ever waited on her.

“Thanks,” She smiled up at her.  Clarke stood behind her and lazily snuggled her arms around Lexa’s shoulders.

"Raven, I’m telling you.  I’ve guest cooked in some challenging places.  I have an industry wide reputation for being very difficult to work for,” Lexa held a hand up and turned back to the other girls.  “This was a trip.”

“What can I say,” Octavia shrugged.  “I’m my own brand of crazy.”

“That’s painfully accurate,” Raven laughed. 

"I hate to eat and run, but I need to get going,” Lexa rubbed a gentle hand over Clarke’s arms around her neck.  “I need to get home and change and go pick up Aden,” Lexa smiled up at Clarke.

“Sounds good,” Clarke kissed Lexa’s cheek.  “You can borrow the scrubs if you don’t want to get back into your dirty chef clothes.”

“That would be fantastic,” Lexa leaned into Clarke’s kiss.  “Let me help you with the dishes,” Lexa hopped up.

“I’ve got it.  Get going,” Clarke nodded towards the door.

"No, it’s okay.  I have some time.  Let me,” Lexa tried.

"I’ve got it,” Clarke repeated calmly. 

“Only if you’re sure,” Lexa softened.

“Positive,” Clarke replied.  “Message me later and let me know when to be ready.”

“I will,” Lexa smiled at her once more before heading to Clarke’s room for her things.  She said her goodbyes to Raven and Octavia on her way out and smiled extra long at Clarke.

“So, I’d say it’s going well?” Raven raised a brow.  “I feel like I’ve hardly talked to you.”

“Oh, it’s going so well,” Clarke sighed dreamily and dropped back onto her stool with a big smile and a fresh cup of coffee.  She brought the pot with her and topped off Raven and Octavia’s mugs.

“What about the rule?  Isn’t she going to Chicago or something?”  Raven glanced back and forth between Octavia and Clarke.  “Damn work.  I’m so out of the loop!”

"She’s not going to Chicago.  Someone made that up,” Clarke replied.  She blew across the top of her coffee before taking a sip.

“She says her plans on something new are in a holding pattern, and she told me that Clarke is the exception to the rule,” Octavia smirked with a sassy brow up.  Clarke held her hands up in a shrug.

“What can I say?  I’m just that fabulous,” Clarke laughed.  “When we came up here Thursday night I freaked out a little and realized I didn’t want to have sex with her if I didn’t know where her head was, so I asked her and she told me.”

“Such a grown up,” Raven chuckled.

“Then we had some incredible sex,” Clarke let out a bashful grin.  “Then we had some more this morning,” Clarke tacked on.

“And she’s nice to you and nothing shady’s going on?” Raven eyed her.

“Not so far as I can tell.  I met Anya, her cousin.  They’re freakishly tight.  She seems well adjusted and in tune with Lexa’s sordid past and she seems on board.  Same with Indra,” Clarke picked up her fork to eat the last abandoned bites on Octavia’s plate.  “And yes, she’s very nice to me.  She’s so nice to me that sometimes I have to wonder if it’s fake.”

“It’s not fake,” Octavia said after a big gulp of coffee.  “You can tell by the way she looks at you.”

"It’s so sweet that it’s actually disgusting,” Raven agreed.  “But I like it anyway.”

“I think everyone before me has only been with her because of who she is.  She’s always surprised that I have no idea,” Clarke said.

“So why don’t you just look her up?” Raven asked like it was the most obvious next move in the world.

“I like it when she tells me,” Clarke shrugged.  “That seems weird.  I want to hear it from her.”

“Your resolve is remarkably sound,” Octavia shook her head.

“It’s a gift,” Clarke smiled.  “I also think most people have only gotten with her for her money.  You guys, I think she has a lot of it.  Like, A LOT.”

“What do you mean?” Octavia furrowed a brow.

“I’m not about to look her up, but my charming coworkers won’t stop doing it.  She owns a bunch of businesses and properties all over the country.  Both of her parents were loaded and she inherited everything.  I don’t know how to even wrap my head around that kind of wealth,” Clarke shook her head. 

“Maybe it’s best that you don’t,” Octavia replied firmly.

"Oh, thank god you said that because I really didn’t want to and wanted to keep pretending she just has nice things,” Clarke exhaled dramatically.  Raven and Octavia laughed.  “It’s in the back of my mind and it comes up every so often, but I’ve been mostly trying to ignore the fact that she’s filthy rich.”

“You’re a rare breed, Clarke.  I’m sure most of the chicks she’s been with go straight for it,” Octavia rolled her eyes.

“I think you’re right,” Clarke agreed.

“Griff, it sounds like things are going well.  I say don’t over think everything, keep doing what you’re doing, make sure she stays honest and keep having her sleep over so she can make me breakfast,” Raven popped a bite of pancakes into her mouth for emphasis.  “You both seem happy around each other.  I don’t know what she was like before, but I can speak for you.  You’re so smiley.”

“You know, Murphy said the same thing,” Clarke pointed at her.

“Because it’s true,” Octavia smiled back before she stood up.  “Alright.  I gotta get downstairs.  Have a good day, guys.  Come down for some lunch if you’ve got nothing to do.”

*****

Aden wanted to buy new sneakers, some jeans and get a haircut. 

He’d been a pretty simple teenage boy as far as style went.  Jeans, t shirts, most of them with bands he liked across the front, sweat shirts, sometimes a sweater.  He owned one suit for special occasions and was in danger of growing out of it any day now.  He had a boy’s regular haircut that he’d had since he was eight. 

Lexa gave him his space to wander the stores, but she watched him eyeballing more stylish clothes.  It took a while, but she convinced him to try stuff on and see if he liked it.  She couldn’t stand how old he looked all of a sudden.  He had their shoulders.  His baby face melted away in what felt like overnight and he was starting to cut the Woods jaw they all had. 

She made him get everything he liked claiming it was her treat.  He tried to resist and she didn’t allow it.  She passed the Super Cuts Anya always took him too and brought him to one of the hip barber shops downtown where each haircut came with a beer and a neck rub.  She drank the beer and let him have the neck rub, but his resulting haircut was excellent.  She caught him glancing at himself in the side view mirror in the car while they drove toward Clarke’s.

“So let me ask you something,” Lexa spoke up and turned the radio down.  She let him pick whatever he wanted when he was in the car with her.

“Yeah?”  He glanced up.

“Are you just having an awakening that you want to be stylish, or is this all for a girl?”  Lexa glanced at him slyly through her aviators as she pulled to a stop at a light.

“Does it matter?” He shrugged with a little smile.

“I suppose not,” Lexa shrugged back.  “Just curious.”

“Maybe a little bit of both,” he shrugged again.

“Does your mom know?” Lexa asked.

“I don’t think so?”  Aden watched the storefronts out the window as they drove through town.  “Are you gonna tell her?”

“I don’t have anything to tell her,” Lexa replied calmly.  “Other than that my best dude looks fly as hell now.” He laughed at her. 

“Thanks for this today, Lex,” His laughter died town to a sincere smile.  “Mom never would’ve understood.  She gets all motherly about everything lately.” He shuddered. 

“She means well.”  It was Lexa’s turn to laugh.

"Speaking of style and girls,” Aden sat up a little straighter.  “We’re on our way to pick up yours, yeah?”

“Yep,” Lexa involuntarily smiled at him referring to Clarke as hers.  She liked the way it sounded.  She liked the way it felt.

“Mom’s all wound up about it in a good way.  She’s been talking about how cool she is.  I’m just offended and hurt you haven’t said anything to me yet,” he said, sarcastically pouting and crossing his arms over his chest.  Sometimes his sarcasm was so much like Anya’s it was creepy.

“Shut up,” Lexa chuckled.

“Anything I need to know before she gets in the car?” Aden asked.

“She’s too beautiful for words, so no trying to steal her from me,” Lexa grinned at him.

“Indra’s right.  You do have it bad,” Aden scoffed.

“What are you doing talking to Indra?” Lexa yelped.

“You had her train me all day yesterday!” Aden yelped back.

“Hm.  Gonna need to amend that,” Lexa drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.

“I think it’s awesome.  She sounds cool.  Mom’s all about her,” Aden shrugged.  “I guess if I like her you can keep dating her.”

“You’re your mother’s son, alright,” Lexa shook her head as she pulled up in front of Blake’s.  Clarke emerged at the top of the stairs from her apartment.

“Is that her?” Aden raised a brow at Lexa.

“Yes,” Lexa couldn’t fight a grin at the site of her.

“You’re right.  Total fox,” Aden nodded in approval. 

“She’s funny, too.  And smart,” Lexa quirked a brow at him.

“Teach me everything you know,” he demanded in a quiet voice before pushing his door open once Clarke was on the sidewalk.

“Well, hello!” Clarke smiled at him.  “You must be Aden.  I’m Clarke.”  She held her hand out to shake.

“Nice meeting you.  I’ve heard so much about you,” He held the passenger’s side door open for her and gestured her for to sit. 

“Likewise,” Clarke replied.  “You don’t have to give me your seat.”

“No problem,” he smiled at her.  “I’ll hop in the back.”

“So these manners, they just run in the family?”  Clarke joked over her shoulder at Aden then glanced back at Lexa with a little smile.  “Hi,” she tacked on.

“Hi,” Lexa smiled back.  Aden rolled his eyes in the back seat.  Lexa was a pile of mush around this girl.  “Well, you’ve met Anya, so someone had to make sure Aden had some sense of decorum.  I’ll make a gentleman out of him someday.”

“Looks like he’s well on his way,” Clarke smiled.  “What’d you guys do today?”

“Ran some errands.  Took the dude for a haircut,” Lexa shrugged.  “What about you?”

“I had all of these grand plans to get some painting done, but Raven and I had lunch downstairs and she pulled out a cribbage board.  It turned into a best out of 17 tournament and that’s about all I ended up doing,” Clarke chuckled.

“Meant to tell you, Bud, Clarke’s an artist,” Lexa said over her shoulder.

“Yeah?” Aden perked up.

“Not really,” Clarke turned in her seat to face him.  “It’s just a hobby now.  I used to be really into it.”

“Aden’s really good at drawing,” Lexa put in.

“I’m not that good,” Aden looked away with a shy smile.

“Alright, Modest Molly,” Lexa shot him a look in the rearview mirror.  “He won a prize last spring.”

“Nice!  For what?”  Clarke asked warmly.

“Pencil drawings.  They were portraits,” he shrugged.  Clarke and Aden carried on about art supplies they liked and what mediums they preferred all the way to Anya’s.  Lexa sat quietly and let them go on.  Aden was so excited and gestured with his hands.  Clarke swallowed a grin.  He had the same movements as Lexa.  They had similar hands and wrists and smiles and eyes.

“What the hell is this?  I thought you were getting jeans and sneakers?” Anya shouted when Aden and Lexa came into the house with a bunch of shopping bags.  She met them all in the doorway as they came in.

"He did get jeans and sneakers,” Lexa shrugged and set the bags by the door.  “And then I got him a few other things that he needed.”

“Need has always been a colorful word for you, Alexandria,” Anya snapped.  “Look at your hair!  You look so cute!  You look like a freaking backstreet boy!” Anya grabbed Aden into a messy tight hug.

“Mom!” Aden snapped, his voice muffled by her shoulder.

“He doesn’t look like a backstreet boy!  He looks cool!” Lexa shoved Anya in the shoulder.  “Get off of him.  You’re going to mess it up!”

“Hi, Clarke,” Anya smiled at Clarke over Aden’s shoulder.

“Hi,” Clarke smiled back, giggling at their family antics.

“As promised, it’s Taco Sunday,” Anya sighed, releasing her grip on Aden and holding him at arm’s length to take him in.  He had a new jacket on, undoubtedly picked out by Lexa, and his new hair cut made him look so grown up.  She swallowed the urge to get teary and focused back on their guest.  “I have beer in the fridge.  I can make a cocktail or open some wine if you’d rather.”

“Beer is great,” Clarke held her hands up.

“Perfect.  Don’t just stand there, Lex.  Take her coat for Christ’s sake,” Anya shot Lexa a look.  Lexa rolled her eyes at her.

“Can I take your coat?” Lexa sighed through a smile at Clarke who laughed and shrugged out of her jacket.

“Clarke!  Get in here!  I want the actual scoop on this event and I know Lex isn’t going to give it to me!” Anya called over her shoulder as she walked down the hall to the kitchen. 

“You better follow her,” Lexa nodded her head at Anya.  “I’ll help Aden get all this upstairs.”  Clarke followed Anya past the living room and into the kitchen.   Anya’s house was modest.  She had a lot of pictures on the walls.  Everything almost matched and had a bohemian vibe.  Her kitchen counters were cluttered.  The dining room table had a backpack and a bunch of school books spread out.  The fridge was covered in magnets and school notices and photographs.

“Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge.  Bottle opener should be in that drawer,” Anya nodded at Clarke and a drawer next to the fridge as she sliced up an avocado.  Clarke opened it up and got herself a bottle of beer.  She closed the fridge and looked the pictures over.

Aden and a group of three other boys in marching band uniforms holding trumpets and laughing.  Anya, Aden and Lexa in dress clothes with what looked like Christmas decorations behind them.  Judging by Aden, it looked like it might be a few years old.  There were faded newspaper articles about Lexa and Houm opening held up with purple ‘Deering High School Rams’ magnets.  A football schedule magnet held coupons to the local pizza place.  A postcard from Italy with frayed edges.

“So?  How was it?  Was it fabulous?”  Anya asked as she prepped the rest of their food.

“Oh, so fabulous,” Clarke gushed. 

"I’ve been to a few of those things with her when she was between dates,” Anya replied.  “They can be so fun.”

“I can’t speak from experience as this was my first time,” Clarke lingered on a sketch of an elephant on the fridge that was incredibly accurate.  “But I had a blast.  I think there were twenty different food vendors there and at least a dozen drink vendors.”

“Did they treat her like a rock star?” Anya nodded her head at Lexa who entered the kitchen with Aden.  “Hey, you, pick up all that mess on the table.  What do you think this is?  You knew we were having guests.”  Anya nodded at Aden’s school work on the dining room table while her hands stayed busy with the food.  He scowled and hurried over.

“They did treat her like a rock star.  It was something to see for sure,” Clarke smiled warmly at Lexa and reached for another beer in the fridge, popped the top off and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” Lexa grinned in surprise.  They clinked the necks of their bottles together and took a sip. 

“Do you need anything, Anya?  Can we do anything?  Can I get you a drink?”  Clarke asked.

“No, stop, you’re fine.  I want to hear more,” Anya waved a hand.  “Was the space cool?”

“Yeah!  They did a nice job with it.  Have you been up there at all?”  Clarke asked, leaning her hip against the counter next to Anya.  Lexa watched with a smile as Clarke went into every tiny detail about each and every light fixture and napkin in the room and Anya ate up every second of it.  She went on about who else was there, what dress and shoes she wore, how Lexa’s hair looked, what Luna wore and every last bite of food she ate.  Aden and Lexa set the table and he shot her a grin at the two of them going on.

It carried over to dinner.  Clarke wordlessly jumped in and helped carry all of the food over, she and Anya still going nonstop about the beer vendors and the new whiskey distillery that was on display.  They made their own tacos and carried on through the lobster rolls and ceviche and bruschetta and beef and dessert from the party.  Lexa got everyone another round of drinks from the fridge as Clarke went on to describe the after party and Lincoln’s antics.

“As happy as I am that you got to enjoy the Chef Lexa Woods Stardom Experience,” Anya sighed.  “I’m so jealous and I wish it was me instead.”

“The Woods charm and subtlety missed her,” Lexa joked and patted Anya on the shoulder as she set her beer down.

“Oh yeah, big time,” Anya laughed.  “I’m my mother in every way.  These two got all the Woods manners,” Anya gestured at Aden and Lexa who were sitting across from each other.  Clarke opened her mouth to add a joke, but her phone ringing cut her off.  She took it from her pocket to glance at it and her surprised face made them all sit up a little straighter. 

“It’s my mother,” Clarke furrowed her brow.

“So answer it,” Anya shrugged.

“I can call her back,” Clarke tried to put her phone away.

“Answer it,” Anya said firmly.  “Take a sec in the other room if you need to.”  Clarke looked down at her phone still ringing and tried to decide what to do. 

“Go ahead,” Lexa nodded her head towards the other room with an encouraging smile.  “No big deal.”  She squeezed Clarke’s thigh under the table.  Clarke sighed and pushed her chair back.

“Hey, Mom,” she said quietly and headed for the living room.

“Hi, Clarke,” Abby’s voice almost sounded foreign.  It had been such a long time.  “Are you at work?  Is this a bad time?”

"No, I’m having dinner at a friend’s house,” Clarke replied.  “I have a few minutes.

“Oh,” Abby’s voice sounded empty.  “I wanted to touch base with you about Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah?” Clarke asked.  She knew what was coming.  She and her mother hadn’t seen each other for Thanksgiving since Clarke was in college.  Clarke had stopped getting her hopes up that last few years.  Octavia hosted it in their apartment for mother, Clarke and her brother if he wasn’t overseas.  “Did you get it off this year?”

“No, Sweetie, I’m sorry.  I have to work this time,” Abby replied.  She didn’t even pretend to sound disappointed.

“Well, that’s fine.  Me too, actually.  I just figured, you know,” Clarke trailed off.  She was in the living room and looked over Anya’s collage of frames on one wall.  A bunch of Aden’s school pictures.  A photo of what had to be her parents.  Her mother looked just like her.  A huge group of twenty-somethings at the beach that had her and Lexa in the middle.  They all looked vaguely alike and she wondered if those were her cousins. 

“Right,” Abby sighed.  “How’ve you been?” Abby tried.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Clarke replied softly.  “How’ve you been?”

“Good, good.”  Clarke could hear the familiar nod in Abby’s voice.  “Work’s good.  Busy.  How’s yours?”

“Good.  Busy,” Clarke replied.  She tried not to sound cold and failed.  “I’m a guest at someone’s house right now.  Can I call you back later?”  Clarke asked.

“Yes, of course, Clarke,” Abby sighed.  “Let’s talk about Christmas in a few weeks,” Abby added on with false hope in her voice. 

They hadn’t seen each other for the last five Christmases.

“Yeah, that sounds good.  Give me a call about that when you know more,” Clarke sighed.

“Take care,” Abby said in a small, tired voice.

“You too, Mom,” Clarke’s tone matched.

“Sorry,” Clarke announced as she came back to the table.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Anya replied firmly.  “Sorry to push you earlier.  We’re sort of sensitive about answering calls from your mother since, well, you still can.”

“Anya,” Lexa snapped.

“I didn’t mean it like that!  I meant it in a good way!  As in cherish that shit!  And I’m teaching this little punk that he always should, too!” Anya held her hands up. 

“I know what you meant, and you’re right,” Clarke offered up a sad smile.

“Everything okay?” Lexa raised a brow.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Clarke shrugged.  “She was just asking about Thanksgiving.”

“Are you going home for Thanksgiving?” Lexa asked.  It was innocent and passing and polite and Clarke knew she didn’t mean anything by it.

“Ah, no,” Clarke shook her head.

“Where’s home for you?” Anya asked.

“San Francisco,” Clarke replied and reached for her beer.  She felt like she was going to need it with the inevitable questions that were coming.

“Oh wow,” Anya said as she built another taco on her plate from the bowls all over the table.  “Your parents still there?”

“My mother is,” Clarke paused.  “My dad passed when I was a kid.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Clarke,” Anya’s face dropped.  “I didn’t know, I’m sorry.  Lex, why the hell did you just let me walk into that?” Anya hissed across the table at Lexa.

“I didn’t know either!” Lexa hissed back.  She turned to Clarke and reached for her hand under the table.  “And I’m sorry, too.”

“It’s okay, it was a long time ago.  I know you both know what it’s like, it’s just,” Clarke trailed off.

“Hard,” Anya filled in for her with a somber smile.  “It’s okay.  It’s always hard.”  The three of them shared a quiet moment together feeling the comfort of someone else who understood.

“Anyway,” Clarke carried on and sipped from her drink.  “She has to work on Thanksgiving.  She always does.  I’ve spent it with Octavia’s family or alone for a while now.”

“Well, we can’t have that,” Anya began firmly.  “I host it every year.  You should come here.”

“Totally,” Lexa blurted out.  Clarke glanced between Anya and Lexa and skipped over Aden who looked suddenly amused.  Anya was waiting for a response and Lexa was grappling with the fact that she really hoped the girl she was barely dating would come to their family’s holiday meal.  The mixture of shock and excitement was all over her face.

“That’s very sweet of you, but I offered to work so other people could spend it with their families,” Clarke replied and squeezed Lexa’s hand under the table.  “It’s not a big deal.”

“Holidays are a huge deal around here.  We have a zillion cousins and I have a million aunts and everyone comes and it’s really fun.  If you can get that work schedule changed, you should come,” Anya pointed her beer bottle at Clarke.

“I’ll think about it,” Clarke smiled sadly.  “Aden, did you draw that elephant on the fridge?” Clarke asked in an obvious move to change the subject.

“That thing?” He rolled his eyes.  “That’s a doodle from like four years ago that Mom just won’t let go.”

“It’s really good,” Clarke said to him.

“I have way better stuff than that,” Aden smiled at her.  He could see what she was doing by moving the conversation to him and was happy to help.  “Mom, can I bend the no girls upstairs rule if she’s Lexa’s girl?”  Aden flicked his eyes at Anya.  Clarke squeezed Lexa’s hand when he called her hers.

“I think that’s probably more of a question for Lexa,” Anya joked. 

"You want to see some of my stuff?” Aden asked Clarke. 

“You bet,” Clarke grinned, glad to leave the heavy conversation behind them.  She piled her silverware up on her plate and tried to clear a few more dishes.

“Leave it, I’ll get it,” Anya and Lexa said in unison.  They both locked eyes and laughed.

“Can’t argue with that,” Clarke smiled at Lexa.  “Alright, dude.  Let’s see it!”  Clarke followed Aden upstairs and left Anya and Lexa at the table.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?  Why did you let me make an ass of myself like that?” Anya snapped at Lexa as soon as they were out of ear shot.

“I didn’t know about her dad!  She didn’t tell me!” Lexa snapped back and started reaching for plates and empty dishes.

“Horse shit.  She knows your fucking blood type and she never mentioned that her dad is dead?  You insensitive asshole!” Anya hissed and cleared the plates on her side.

“How the fuck do you think something like that comes up?  So, Clarke, your favorite food is pasta, you like to read, is your dad dead or alive?” Lexa said in a mock serious voice.  “I swear, I was just as clueless on that as you are!”

“Well, we stepped right the fuck in it,” Anya let out a big sigh.  “I should have asked you before inviting her to Thanksgiving.  That was a panic response.”

“Yes, you should have, but I was going to do the same thing so I forgive you,” Lexa replied.

“Things are going good, though?” Anya shot Lexa a look over her shoulder as they both brought piles of dishes to the sink.

“Really good,” Lexa couldn’t help but smile when she said it.

“Yeah?” Anya perked up.

“Someone told her about my rule.  I told her she was the exception,” Lexa pulled open the dishwasher and took rinsed plates from Anya and loaded it.  “I told her she makes me feel good, makes me a better person and that I really like her.”

“You fucking said all of that?” Anya dropped the silverware she was holding and turned to face Lexa.

“Yeah,” Lexa replied flatly.  “Because it’s true.  She was skeptical of my bullshit, and rightfully so.  I realized at the party that she’s so worth it and I’ve got to stop being an idiot and do this thing the right way.”  Anya had a look on her face that was a cross between a proud smile and the feeling that she might cry.  She threw her arms around Lexa.

“Oh my god, it’s finally happening,” Anya squeezed her.  “You’ve finally figured out that you’ve been a shithead for so long and that you don’t need to be!”

“Anya,” Lexa warned.

“Clarke should be hearing from the Nobel committee any day now,” Anya chuckled and released her death grip on Lexa.

“She makes me so excited,” Lexa shrugged.  “I’m cooking a lot more.  I guest cooked at Blake’s last night when one of the cooks cut himself.  It was awesome.  I think I’m going to ask if I can go back a few more times just to learn more.”

“You’re one of the most talented chefs working right now and you want to work in a dive bar?” Anya raised a brow.

“I’m a very specific kind of talented,” Lexa replied and pushed the dishwasher closed once it was loaded.  “And I thought about what you said.  About doing something lower scale.  I was talking to some guys about the rise of gastro pubs.  I don’t know.  My wheels are turning.  I’m conceptualizing for sure, but I’m thinking about mixing it up and for the first time ever, being with a woman is helping the process.”

“I love this.  I love everything that’s happening.  I love this version of you,” Anya smiled genuinely at her.  “And I really love your girlfriend, so don’t blow it because I’ll have a hard time deciding which one of you I want to stay friends with.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Lexa muttered.

“Yet,” Anya shrugged.  “Now c’mere.  I broke the sliding door in my laundry room and I need you to fix it.” 

“Lead the way,” Lexa shook her head and laughed.

Upstairs, Clarke sat on Aden’s bed while he pulled out his sketch books and portfolio from school.  She gushed at his work and the two of them got into long conversations about technique.  He relayed his wish list of supplies to her that he couldn’t afford or convince his mother to buy for him, and the commiserated over their favorite paintbrushes.  They moved from his artwork to his shelves of books and then on to his music collection.  He had a turn table and a decent stereo in his room as well as shelves of records and CDs.  Clarke was impressed that a kid his age had so much classic rock and alternative off the beaten path.  He had jazz and folk.  His collection was almost as diverse as hers.

Aden loved that Clarke didn’t treat him like a kid.  They talked about classic literature and led Zeppelin like two adults, and he couldn’t put into words how good it felt to have someone that wasn’t related to him or teaching him tell him how good his art was and could gush about the expensive pen sets he wanted and understand what it really meant.

Anya and Lexa made their way upstairs when they heard two voices harmonizing over Sweet Child Of Mine and found Clarke and Aden with records and CDs spread out all over the floor singing into markers like microphones.  Aden looked embarrassed at being caught, but Clarke simply got up, never stopped her singing and twirled Lexa around as she sang.  Anya laughed and wrapped Aden into something between a hug and a head lock and made him dance with her.

Lexa had never brought home someone like Clarke.  She was beginning to realize she’d never even met someone like Clarke.  Costia met Aden and Anya exactly five times in the three years they were together, all of them on holidays and all of them ended poorly with Lexa making an excuse about work to leave early.  Costia treated Aden like something to be tolerated and Anya like something to be ashamed of.  It should have been a red flag.

But Clarke.

Lexa felt like she could burst. 

She and Aden knew every little nuance of the song and laughed together when it was over.  Anya had a grin plastered on her face.  She was already a little in love with Clarke herself, and watching her with her son sealed the deal.  She stole a glance at Lexa and Clarke together.  Just looking at them felt good.

They said their goodbyes and goodnights and Lexa and Clarke got into Lexa’s car.  Clarke leaned over the console before Lexa tuned the key to catch her lips in a slow kiss.

“I love them,” Clarke said in whisper between their kisses. 

“I’m glad,” Lexa grinned and snuck in another kiss.  “They love you, too.”  She tangled her fingers in Clarke’s hair and pulled her in for a deeper kiss.  She couldn’t believe how much watching Clarke meld into her family life turned her on.  How hot it was to see her being sweet with Aden.  How much her stomach flipped over when Clarke and Anya gushed like lifelong friends about dresses and bracelets and decorations. 

Her kisses great more earnest.

Clarke never had siblings.  She never had family banter.  She never had little cousins or uncles or any of it.  The love and warmth in Anya’s house between the three of them was palpable.  She could feel Aden’s admiration for Lexa just in the way he looked at her.  Having this perfect tightknit group immediately take her in was like nothing she’d ever known.  It made her heart swell and her belly warm at Lexa’s touch.

Every touch grew more urgent.

“Take me home,” Clarke whispered.  “Take me home with you.”

“Anything you want,” Lexa kissed her again before turning the key.

               

Chapter Text

They made it as far as Lexa’s doorstep before they were all over each other.

The path from Lexa’s back door to her bedroom was littered with discarded clothes and long pauses to deepen kisses and pull each other closer.  Clarke’s knees went weak when she had her back against the fridge and Lexa’s lips on her neck.  Lexa gasped for breath when Clarke pushed her into the wall at the bottom of the stairs and ran her hands over Lexa’s exposed torso.  Clarke giggled at first when they tripped at the top of the stairs and she landed on the floor with Lexa on top of her.  She assured Lexa in more ways than one that she was perfectly okay.

She pulled Lexa back down on top of her on the floor when Lexa tried to get up and kissed her with everything she had.  Clarke hadn’t been as successful as Lexa at putting her feelings into words.  It sounded trite to keep saying that Lexa made her happy.  That was obvious.  It was more than that.  Clarke felt valued and respected, words that didn’t come to the forefront of her mind in any of her last relationships.  Lexa made her laugh, not just because she was funny, but because she took Clarke’s worries away. 

Lexa made Clarke feel safe.

They were still on the floor with Lexa on top of Clarke, a hand on either side of Clarke’s body as she kissed her exposed breasts.  Clarke took Lexa’s face in her hands and pushed her back so she could look her in the eye.  Lexa’s green eyes searched Clarke’s with concern wondering why she stopped her.  Clarke’s baby blues had nothing but warmth and hunger in them.

“You make me feel safe,” Clarke said in a husky whisper.  She finally found the words and didn’t want to forget to say them.

“What?” Lexa’s brows knit together with her little wrinkle of worry between them.  It hadn’t been what Lexa was expecting.  The warm sentiment in the midst of their wild make out caught her off guard.

“I was just thinking that you make me feel safe,” Clarke said again and guided Lexa down for a stronger kiss while she worked Lexa’s belt.  “I’ve never been able to say that about anyone.”

“No one’s ever said that to me,” Lexa got out before moving her warm kisses to Clarke’s neck.  Safe was the last thing any woman had ever called her. 

“It’s true,” Clarke gasped at Lexa’s mouth on her chest.  She threaded her fingers into Lexa’s hair.  Lexa was so interesting but she treated Clarke like her day to day was fascinating.  She handled Clarke’s bizarre schedule without complaint.  Lexa dealt with the baggage of Clarke dealing with death on the regular with grace considering death had shattered Lexa’s world at such a young age. 

Lexa was so thoughtful.  Maybe cooking was what Lexa did and who she was, but every meal she made for Clarke just made her heart bigger.  The way she touched Clarke’s body, confidently and gingerly all at the same time.  Held doors for her.  Offered her arm when they walked down the street.  Held her when they slept.  Clarke felt taken care of.  She felt looked out for.  She felt cherished.  She felt, no, it was too soon to say the last one.

“Take me to bed,” Clarke breathed out.  She needed to have Lexa now.  She needed to put the words she couldn’t find to say to Lexa into actions.  She needed to let her body say the things she shouldn’t voice yet.

Lexa, loving Clarke’s straightforward request, sat up and helped Clarke to her feet then lead her to the end of the hall.  They tumbled into bed with Lexa fueled by Clarke’s new sense of urgency.  Clarke’s guttural need came off of her in waves and it was contagious.

“Make me yours,” Clarke whimpered under Lexa’s expert touch.  Her words pushed Lexa over the best edge.

*****

The morning brought soft light in through Lexa’s bedroom windows.  It was overcast.  Clarke lay awake lazily playing with Lexa’s hair.  Lexa had her head on Clarke’s chest, one arm draped over her body and one leg hooked over the top of the duvet.  Clarke wasn’t surprised.  They were sweating by the time they finally fell against the mattress spent and satisfied for the last time the night before.

The mere thought of their tangled bodies from last night made Clarke’s gut tighten with delight.  Lexa was amazing.  The things she did with her hands, with her mouth, with both at the same time.  The perfect words she whispered in Clarke’s ear while she brought her over the top.  The look in her eyes when Clarke pulled her back to see her face before pinching her eyes shut and throwing her head back in perfect pleasure.

The inhibitions of the first time were gone.  The slow careful moves of a morning fuck that might wake up roommates were gone.  Lexa lived alone.  There was no reason for modesty, and there had been exactly none.  They were completely open to each other, gave into everything their bodies needed and it had been an experience like no other for both of them.

Lexa slept soundly.  She didn’t stir as Clarke adjusted herself and got comfortable.  She had a passing thought about where her phone was.  She realized it was either in the pocket of her jeans, which were somewhere on the stairs or in the hallway, possibly in her handbag which she was fairly confident was in the dining room, or maybe she left it in her coat which was somewhere in the kitchen.  The thought of their trail of clothes made her smile.

Lexa’s room was neat and almost masculine in its simplicity.  It was done in grays and navy blues.  Her light fixtures were industrial.  The furniture was dark stained wood.  There weren’t a lot of frills.  The door to her walk-in closet was open.  Clarke could see just enough of the space inside to know she was jealous she didn’t have a similar closet.  Rows of shoes carefully set on shelves.  Suit jackets and dress shirts hanging in a neat row.  Chefs jackets in every color of the rainbow on a rack below them.

There was a picture of Anya and Lexa, at least she was pretty sure it was the two of them, as teenagers on the dresser.  Lexa was holding a baby who Clarke could only assume was Aden.  A frame holding Lexa and who Clarke gathered were her parents on the nightstand.  She didn’t have a TV in her room.  She had books in every room of the house and decorative pieces that were obvious souvenirs of Lexa’s globetrotting.  A Buddha sat on her dresser next to the teenaged cousins.  A carved wooden statue of a zebra on the other side.  A poster sized pencil drawing of a man and a woman’s faces hung in an ornate frame on one wall above a book case and a vintage easy chair.

Clarke’s thoughts traveled back to Aden and Anya.  For as exotic and exciting as everyone made Lexa out to be, it was obvious that her family, what little she had left, was so important to her.  Lexa was relaxed and open and comfortable and soft around Anya and Aden.  It was quickly becoming Clarke’s favorite version of Lexa.  It amazed her that a woman who could have and do whatever and whoever she wanted found such solace in really simple things.

“How long have you been awake?” Lexa mumbled against Clarke’s chest.

“Morning,” Clarke’s lips twitched up into a smile at Lexa’s voice.  “I’m not sure.  Not too long.”

“Did you sleep alright?” Lexa asked.  She hadn’t opened her eyes yet.  Clarke playing with her hair kept her relaxed and halfway to sleep.

“I don’t remember the last time I slept that well,” Clarke let out a contented sigh.

“Must be the mattress,” Lexa joked.  “It’s new.”

“Must be,” Clarke chuckled and leaned down to kiss Lexa’s forehead.  “Since I can’t imagine what else might have worn me out.”

“Worn out, huh?” Lexa propped herself up on her elbow on her pillow so she could lean in for a kiss. 

“Maybe just a little,” Clarke smirked.  “I’m out of practice.”

“You could’ve fooled me,” Lexa raised a brow.  Clarke decided that she wanted to start every morning with Lexa’s flirty voice.  “What do you want for breakfast?”

“You don’t need to make me breakfast, Lexa,” Clarke pushed a chestnut curl behind Lexa’s ear.  

“I don’t need to, but I can,” Lexa shrugged and stifled a yawn.  “They say I’m actually pretty good at it.”

“We could go out if you want,” Clarke shrugged back.  “That way you don’t have to make a mess.”

“That is an idea,” Lexa nodded in approval before coming back for more kisses.  “There’s a spot around the corner that I really like.  It should be quiet on a Monday.”

“Do you have any plans today?” Clarke asked as she traced her finger tips over the tattoo on Lexa’s arm.

“You know, this might sound crazy, and maybe you can help me figure out if she’d even be open to such a thing,” Lexa began.  She almost sounded a little shy as she slid her hand over Clarke’s bare hip and rested it there.  “But I was thinking of asking Octavia if I could come work with her for a while today.”

“Oh, she’d love that,” Clarke smiled reassuringly. 

“Yeah?” Lexa half smiled as her confidence in the idea grew.  “She asked me to teach her about lamb.  I had her give me her number so we could trade ideas.”

“Just text her, Lex,” Clarke skated her hand down Lexa’s arm and over her waist.  The use of her nickname sent a jolt up Lexa’s spine.  “She’d be more than happy to have you.  Murphy’s going to be out of commission in the kitchen for another day or two.  I can’t imagine she wouldn’t take the free help.”

“I’ll message her in a bit.  If that’s the case, I’m going to have to go to the butcher and get some lamb.  I told her I would show her a few ways to work with it,” Lexa was already making a mental to do list.

“Can I ask you something?”  Clarke asked genuinely. 

“Of course,” Lexa gave her an encouraging smile.

“This might sound silly, so let me know if it’s out of line,” Clarke paused and searched for the way to phrase it.  “If you’re such a good chef, what do you need to learn from Octavia?”  Clarke wrinkled her nose.  “I mean, yeah, Octavia’s a good cook, but you’re like, restaurant empire famous.”

“Octavia is a flavor savant,” Lexa shook her head with a little smile.  “The way she does what she does blows my mind.  I’m a really good chef, but most of what I do is ‘correct’ so to speak.  It’s the way it’s supposed to be done and I do a really great version of what certain foods are supposed to be.”

“Is there something wrong with that?”  Clarke asked and inched closer to Lexa on the bed.

“No, of course not,” Lexa replied.  “But it gets old.  I feel like I’ve plateaued.  Indra pointed out to me that I’ve been doing a lot of nothing for a while now.”

“So Octavia can show you a whole other side to your own world?”  Clarke tried.   

 “That’s my hope,” Lexa sighed.  “I’ve got to do something with myself.  I need to find a way to do something else.  I’ve done everything that I know how to do.  Houm’s fantastic and I’m very proud of it and it will be hard to top with my traditional training.  Houm has become exactly what my vision for it was to a T, which is incredible, but I’m totally bored there.  It’s the longest I’ve stayed in one of my restaurants after opening it.”

“Aren’t you only coming up on two years?”  Clarke furrowed her brow.

“Yeah,” Lexa nodded.  She caught Clarke’s hand in hers and pulled it up to kiss her fingers.  “I usually see the first year through then replace myself and Indra and move on.  Except War Paint.  I got the hell out of there even earlier.”

“How come?” Clarke asked innocently and tried to suppress a shiver at the sensation of Lexa kissing each of her finger tips one by one.  Her lips were warm and so soft.

“I was a mess back then,” Lexa tried to brush it off, but Clarke could hear the serious notes in her voice.  “I was young and fabulous and rich and hot.”  Lexa rolled her eyes, making negatives out of the positives.

“So what happened to you?” Clarke shot her a sultry smile.

“Now I’m old and fabulous and rich and hot,” Lexa joked through a smirk she couldn’t contain.  Clarke scoffed and gave her a playful shove.

“You’re such an ass,” Clarke chuckled. 

“I’ve always had a rich asshole inside of me,” Lexa smiled back at Clarke.  “I grew up that way.  My parents are both old money that they turned into lots of new money.  They were both excellent business people.  I was a horror show.  I was always throwing parties and flashing cars and acting like a little prick, but it was all shallow and in good fun.  I was never out to hurt anyone with it and I was generous with it,” Lexa linked her fingers through Clarke’s and held her hand close. 

Her hands were warm.  They were strong and gentle at the same time.  Clarke tried matching up a wild teenaged Lexa with the composed, stoic woman lying in bed with her.

“My parents died in a yachting accident.  They were great at business, mediocre parents at best, but they weren’t bad people.  They were really generous.  Maybe too generous, and everything with them was excessive and over the top.  They were partying too hard on their boat off the Bahamas, not paying attention to the weather.  Anya’s father tried to hide a lot of it from us, but knowing what I know now, I’m pretty confident there were drugs involved.  It was that kind of rich, negligible excess I lived for and it woke me right up.  I promised I wasn’t going to be like that anymore.”

“Jesus Christ, Lexa, that’s awful,” Clarke blurted out.

"Yeah, it really was,” Lexa agreed in a serious tone.  “So I moved away, got a little cool in New York and had way more money than I should have had access to.  I opened up my first place.  It went really well, and Indra and I opened Miami up after that.”

“And then what?” Clarke asked.  She didn’t want to say too much.  She wanted to just let Lexa talk.  She loved when Lexa got going on something like this and opened up to her.

“Miami was a huge success.  It was bigger than we expected and I started getting a lot of press and notoriety.  So we made a smart move for the business and did Los Angeles next.  I was in my mid-twenties, I was getting famous, I was so, so cocky and money was no object,” Lexa sighed.  She wasn’t proud of it.

“Not to mention that Los Angeles is terrible,” Clarke rolled her eyes. 

“It lends itself nicely to rich assholes like me,” Lexa tried to joke but only got halfway there.  “I tore up LA.  I feel like I don’t even know who that version of myself is looking back,” Lexa’s eyes widened at the thoughts.  “I partied like a rock star.  Girls, drugs, cars, private rooms at clubs, it was gross.  Anya and Indra knocked a lot of sense into me and I was able to drag myself out of it with their help.  I was very much headed down a road where I might do something like crash a yacht because I was too coked out to pay attention to weather warnings,” Lexa said lowly, then picked Clarke’s hand up to kiss it again.  “And I know what that does to the people you leave behind.”

Clarke didn’t say anything.  She let Lexa pause and decide if she wanted to continue or not.  There wasn’t really anything to say.

“So I got the hell out of there, detoxed in New York for a little bit, and then I came back to Portland for a while.  It was my first time back here for any real length of time and it was really nice to be home.”

“Is that what made you open a place up here?”  Clarke asked innocently.  Lexa’s face dropped.

"Ah, no,” she said carefully.  “That’s a different kind of painful tale for another day.”  The look on her face made Clarke’s brow knit together in worry.  “I don’t even know how we ended up here.  I’m sorry to be such a downer.”

“It’s okay, I like it,” Clarke shrugged, then caught herself when Lexa gave her a funny look.  “I don’t like the subject matter of course,” she added quickly, then pulled their joined hands to her lips.  “That’s not what I meant.  But I like learning about you and listening to you talk.”

“Tell me something good about you that I don’t know to balance it out,” Lexa smiled to change the mood.  “Then we’ll go get that breakfast.”

“Something good that you don’t already know?”  Clarke chewed her bottom lip in thought.  She did it often and had no idea that it was sexy.  “I know how to make a really good apple pie.”

“Do you?”  Lexa raised a brow. 

"You’re putting me on the spot.  I can’t think of anything,” Clarke chuckled.  “I’m too hungry think,” she shot Lexa some puppy dog eyes.  Lexa shook her head and laughed.  

“Dating such a pretty girl that’s constantly as hungry as you are is a first for me,” Lexa pulled Clarke in for a kiss.  “And it’s fantastic.”  Clarke couldn’t contain her grin.  She wasn’t sure if Lexa was being smooth or telling the truth and she didn’t really care.  She pulled Lexa over to her side of the bed and down on top of her for a kiss.  Lexa recovered from the surprise when Clarke slid her hands up the full length of Lexa’s bare body.  “I thought you said you were too hungry to think,” Lexa snuck out in a whisper as their noses bumped.

“You made me hungry for something else,” Clarke growled and kissed Lexa harder.

Their morning moved from Lexa’s bed to Lexa’s shower, and meandered its way into her walk-in closet while Lexa looked for something to wear to breakfast.  She wrapped her hand around Clarke’s waist as they walked down the sidewalk to the breakfast spot she thought Clarke would like.  Her pinky caught the edge of the back pocket of Clarke’s jeans and she hooked it there, enjoying the little step closer to her Clarke took at the gesture.

Clarke made her laugh all through breakfast telling her stories about Raven, Octavia and herself in their early twenties.  A road trip gone wrong where Clarke’s car broke down in Virginia and Raven fixed it on the side of the road with parts bought with money from winning a karaoke contest.  Raven and Octavia in a war over the television and would only speak through Clarke for two days.  Raven rewiring their dorm floor lights to flash and playing techno music to confuse the RA.

Lexa returned the favor with the fun side of her and Indra’s younger antics.  Lexa losing a thousand dollar bet to Indra that she could hop four parking meters in a row in Manhattan.  It turned out she could do three and a half and had a pretty good scar on her elbow.  Their adventures in Miami when they happened upon hip hop fest by accident.  Indra finding Lexa asleep on the beach in Santa Monica tangled up with a young blond TV star that Lexa wouldn’t give up the name of the morning after an Emmy’s party that Lexa catered. 

The word ‘dating’ that fell out of Lexa’s mouth in bed that morning rattled around in Clarke’s head.  It had a nice ring to it.  She watched Lexa across the table, her coffee mug held lazily in one hand and her cellphone in the other as she messaged Octavia about dropping by.  She tapped her index finger against the rim along to the music playing.  Her loose pale blue oxford shirt was unbuttoned to perfection with the sleeves rolled up.  In an effort to not doddle, Lexa had raked her shower wet hair back into a bun.  As much as Clarke loved Lexa’s curls, she loved feasting her eyes on Lexa’s perfect jawline even more.

“She said it’s cool if I come by after lunch,” Lexa glanced up from her phone and caught Clarke staring at her.  She almost blushed.  “What?” she asked with a shy smile.

“Nothing,” Clarke shrugged with a grin.  She had her glasses on and the same post-shower bun.  She found her jeans on the stairs, but Lexa gave her a flannel and a cozy weekend cable knit cardigan to throw on before heading to the restaurant.  Clarke kept discretely leaning into the collar.  The clothes smelled like Lexa. 

“So if it’s cool with you, I’ll pop back to the house, grab some clothes and we can swing past the butcher and I’ll bring you home and go see her,” Lexa sipped from her coffee mug.

“Sounds great,” Clarke nodded and enjoyed a few more moments of jaw ogling while Lexa typed out her response.

*****

Lexa stayed out of Octavia’s way while she finished her short Monday lunch rush.  She watched the way Octavia moved around the small kitchen with a practiced grace.  Her spatulas were like extensions of her hands.  She anticipated the way melted cheese behaved and none of it missed the plate.  She didn’t have to look at her board of ingredients or her sauces.  Muscle memory let her do it all without flaws.

They compared techniques for deep frying for over an hour discussing temperatures, ratios in batter, brands and types of oil they preferred and how long they left which foods down.  A few arguments arose over which beers made the best beer batter and Octavia eventually won.  Lexa broke out the packs of lamb she brought with her and started going over butchering, less traditional uses, spice blends for ground lamb and proper grilling times and temps to help Octavia get started.  It got them on a long tangent about Greek and Moroccan food that spiraled out into making whipped feta and debating what really made the best French fries.

Raven and Clarke sat quietly in the booth that had Lexa’s plaque still hanging in it.  Raven had her laptop out.  Clarke went back and forth between drawing in one of her sketchbooks and reading a book.  Every so often Lexa and Octavia’s voices, either excited or heated, wafted into the quiet bar.  It made her smile.

Murphy tended daytime bar with his bandaged hand in a latex glove.  He wasn’t great at it, but Octavia needed to give Harper’s schedule some relief and she needed to pay the kid and have someone out front while she prepped in the kitchen.  Fortunately, the afternoons were relatively quiet and he could pour sodas and draft beers without the use of his left thumb.

“So how long have you had this place?” Lexa asked, leaning her lower back against the counter as they took a short break.  Lexa jotted a few things in her notebook that was almost out of pages.

“Owned and operated for just over eight years now,” Octavia said with a sense of pride as she sipped from a plastic cup of water.  “I was bartending here for the previous owner.  Opportunity to buy it came up and I made it work.  My brother helped, but I finally paid him off last year.  It took about a year or two to get the kitchen up to snuff. I changed the name and I’ve been doing my thing as you know it for a solid six years.”

“That’s awesome,” Lexa replied. 

“I’m sweating that the landlord’s going to jack the rent on me any day now.  Munjoy Hill is getting fucking swanky and starting to pour down the hill towards me.  With the way real estate’s going around here, I’m not sure how long I’ll survive,” Octavia sighed and tried to hide the defeat in her eyes.

“You could look into some investors,” Lexa shrugged.  “Expand and do a second location to subsidize this one.”

“With all due respect, Chef Woods,” Octavia put emphasis on Lexa’s title that wasn’t supposed to sting, but did just enough.  Lexa quickly brushed it off.  “I don’t know how any of that works and wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“I don’t know if you’ve heard,” Lexa held her hand up and pretended to tell Octavia a secret.  “But I own six restaurants, a ton of real estate and a couple of businesses.  One of them is in fact the premier financial group in this city, so I could help you figure out what your options are.”

“I don’t know,” Octavia glanced away, chuckling at Lexa’s sarcasm.  “I don’t like owing people anything.”

“Just a thought,” Lexa shrugged.  “Offer stands if you want to get a coffee or a beer and talk about it some time.  The advice is free, and I’ll even let you buy me the beer if you want so you won’t feel like you owe me,” Lexa offered up a cheeky grin.

“I’ll think about it,” Octavia chuckled.

“Of course, no pressure.  Sometimes it’s just good to know that there are avenues you might not have been aware of,” Lexa smiled sincerely before shifting gears.  “Let’s pretend money is fake and doesn’t matter.  What would you do with another place?”

“I mean, how fake is this money?  Cause I could get real wild,” Octavia laughed and her smile returned.

“Semi-realistically speaking,” Lexa laughed too.

“I’ve always wanted to do something a lot larger.  Like, physically larger.  A place you could host events and have live music.  Not huge, but a lot bigger than this.  I feel like if I got my food a little more organized, it would do well in some kind of cool setting.  Like an old fire house or one of those spaces out on Thompson’s point where the warehouses are.  But the logistics on heating a place like that, getting proper water and building a kitchen and the utilities alone,” Octavia trailed off.

“I said the money’s fake,” Lexa interrupted her.  “Keep going.  Visual concept.  Diner’s experience.  Branding.  Don’t act like you haven’t thought about it,” Lexa pushed.  She was firm, but encouraging.

“Heavy focus on quality ingredients, but still easy to eat.  Kind of like what I do here, but having it make more sense.  A bigger menu.  Gourmet burgers, lots of them, and outside the box sides,” Octavia paused as a few tickets popped out of the printer. She organized them on the board and Lexa wordlessly dropped the corresponding fries into the oil.

Octavia looked over her shoulder startled at Lexa helping her out without being asked.  It didn’t bother her like she thought it might.  Lexa raised an encouraging brow for her to go on.

“Conceptually I’d like it to be the kind of place you could get a little dressed up to go to because you’d never know who you would see there.  It’d be like, a real spot, you know?  I’d love to host pop up nights for the food trucks regularly.  Be a spot the cool breweries were begging to be a part of.  A place that drew crowds on a Tuesday because we got good bands to come in.  I’d want it to be a big space that held a lot of people, but had a small bar feel where something different was always going on and you might show up thinking it was going to be a lowkey night, but then get surprised that some dope band was there.  Maybe even cross over with other local spots.  Do featured nights where another restaurant comes in and we do a mash up menu or something.  I don’t know, it sounds really farfetched.”

“It sounds fucking awesome,” Lexa said with purpose.  Octavia snapped her head up to look Lexa in the eye.  She had a confident, impressed smile on.  “It would be a ton of work and it wouldn’t be cheap to get off the ground, but if you could do it,” Lexa trailed off.  “Something like that doesn’t exist in this town yet.  Pull it off, and that would put you on the map as someone to watch.”

“I can’t even take an unplanned afternoon off right now if I’m sick, never mind devote time to something of that scale,” Octavia scowled. 

“Well,” Lexa smiled hopefully.  “When you can get a planned afternoon off, let me know if you want to talk some time.”

“I’ll think about it,” Octavia repeated, but this time matching Lexa’s hopeful smile.

“I think I’m done with this shit for the day,” Raven sighed and closed her laptop.

“What are you working on?” Clarke asked, flicking her eyes up from her book.

“Special project for my boss.  The short answer is that there’s a bug in one of our products about to hit the market next quarter and no one can seem to figure it out.  He suspended everything else I was building to solve the problem,” Raven replied.

“I don’t even want to wrap my head around what the long answer is,” Clarke scoffed and tucked a bookmark into her book and set it on the table.  Raven laughed.

"So what exactly is going on back there?” Raven nodded her head towards the kitchen where they could hear Lexa and Octavia laughing.

“Apparently Octavia is some kind of flavor guru that Lexa wants to learn from,” Clarke shrugged.  “She was telling me about it this morning.  She’s bored and having like a chef career midlife crisis, I think.  She seems to think that Octavia can teach her what she needs to know, so she’s spending some time working with her.”

“Interesting,” Raven nodded, then flicked her eyes inadvertently to Lexa’s plaque hanging beside them.

“They seem to be getting along.  Lexa’s all excited about it.  She was going on about Octavia’s sauce skills at breakfast,” Clarke rolled her eyes and tucked Lexa’s cardigan tighter around herself.  Blake’s was drafty when it wasn’t full of people.

  “That sweater’s cute.  Meant to tell you,” Raven reached across the table to feel the knit of Clarke’s sleeve between her fingers. 

“It’s hers,” Clarke said with a shy smile.  “And it smells really good.”

“So you’ve reached the wearing-each-other’s-clothes phase?” Raven raised a sassy brow.  “Tell me all about it.”

“We’ve reached a lot of phases all at once kind of quickly, but none of it feels too fast or wrong or anything,” Clarke fiddled with her half full glass of beer and skated it around gently on the tabletop as she searched for the words.  “The sex is too good for words.”

“Yeah?” Raven shimmied her shoulders at Clarke.

“Yeah.  Like, REALLY too good for words,” Clarke let out a deep breath.  “Like, can’t stop thinking about it, need to cross my legs, not sure how I’m going to go to work tomorrow, good.”

“Excellent,” Raven giggled.

“We had dinner at Anya’s last night and I spent time with Anya’s son, Aden.  He and I actually have a lot in common.  I guess Lexa is a huge part of their life.  Watching them together and being around them is like,” Clarke trailed off trying to figure out how to say it.  “I don’t know, it’s like being with you guys.  It’s warm and safe and comfortable and just, good.”

“So you’re fucking like rabbits, you’ve already met her family and they love you, the foodie community on the internet won’t shut up about how hot you two are, and everything is going really well.  What’s the apprehension?”  Raven shrugged and took a swig of her beer.

“I don’t know,” Clarke shrugged back at her.  “Nothing ever goes this well for me.  She’s sweet to me and she’s nice to me and she’s such a gentleman and takes care of me and I think she’s actually just like that.  I don’t think it’s an act,” Clarke paused for a sip.  Raven smiled back at her and let her go on.  “We work really well together.  We make each other laugh.”

“I say roll with it, Griff,” Raven grinned at her.  “Stop looking for the shitty parts and just enjoy it.”

"Is that practical, though?” Clarke winced.

“Love never really is,” Raven patted Clarke’s arm across the table.

“I never said anything about love,” Clarke said quickly. 

“Your eyes are betraying you,” Raven smirked.

“Hey, Ladies!” Lincoln strolled up to them sitting in the booth.  “Mind if I join you?”

“Hey!  Of course not!  Have a seat!”  Clarke slid over so he could sit with her.

“I’ll grab a drink first, you want something?”  he asked them both.  Clarke and Raven looked into their almost empty glasses.  “You know what?  I’ll just bring you two more,” he grinned.

“I like him,” Raven smiled.

“In general?  Or because he’s buying you a beer?” Clarke joked.

“In general,” Raven nodded.  “Although the beer doesn’t hurt.  I think he’s good for her.  Have you noticed she’s a little,” Raven trailed off.

“Softer?”  Clarke filled in.

“Yeah.  She seems less intense when he’s around.”  They both glanced up to see Octavia leaning over the counter to give Lincoln a kiss.  Murphy rolled his eyes behind her. 

“So what’s good, Ladies?” Lincoln asked as he set their beers down and dropped onto the bench next to Clarke.

“Same shit,” Raven clinked her glass against his and Clarke’s and they all took a sip.  “Different day.”

“I hear that,” Lincoln nodded.  He glanced up with a confused look on his face when Lexa came out of the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. 

“Hi,” She caught his eye and smiled at him.

“Commander,” he cocked his head.  “What are you doing here?”

“Cooking,” Lexa shrugged and sipped from her water.  She had a black t shirt on that was loose and tight in all the right places, her checkered chef’s pants and one of Octavia’s red aprons.  Lincoln had a hard time reconciling this Lexa with a mess of curls piled on her head held back with a bandana with the same Lexa he normally saw cooking in a formal, white uniform that could pass a military inspection.

“I can see that,” Lincoln puzzled.  Lexa shot Clarke a wink before disappearing back into the kitchen.  “What the hell?” Lincoln pointed over his shoulder and turned to Clarke for an explanation.

“They’re friends now,” Clarke shrugged.  “They’re teaching each other stuff.”

“Hey,” Lexa nodded at Octavia.  She was prepping ingredients for dinner.  “Why don’t you go take a break?”

“I haven’t taken a break since 2006,” Octavia smirked.

“I’m serious.  I can do this.  Go sit down with him.  Have something to eat together,” Lexa pointed towards Lincoln and the girls.  Octavia turned and gave her a completely curious look.

“What?” she blurted out.

“I thought you two were kinda dating?”  Lexa said with the same curiosity. 

“We are,” Octavia replied flatly.

“So go have some late lunch, then,” Lexa smiled at her.  “I know my skills aren’t really there when you’re yelling at me during a crazy rush, but I can prep better than anyone.  Go sit with him for an hour or two.  I’ll make you guys some food.”  Octavia squinted at Lexa, trying to figure her out.

“What is this exactly?  What are you doing?” Octavia eyed her.

“From one chef to another, I know how much stuff you miss out on with a life like ours, so take the damn favor and go sit down,” Lexa said firmly through a smile.

Octavia finally relented and joined Lincoln in a separate booth.  Clarke beamed at Lexa as she brought food out to Octavia and Lincoln.  Clarke knew what the small gesture meant to Octavia.  Lexa grinned back at her and went back to work.  Octavia and Lincoln played a game of darts against Clarke and Raven.  They spent a few minutes behind the door to the apartment making out before Octavia reluctantly made her way back to the kitchen.  Raven found their scrabble board behind the bar and set it up for the three of them to play while Octavia served them experimental lamb dishes.

Clarke and Lincoln wandered back to the dart board when Raven grabbed all of her stuff and rand upstairs to jump on an emergency call from the home office.  They laughed, goofed on each other and compared notes on how it was going dating chefs.  Clarke’s eyes lit up when Roan and Anya came through the door around eight in the evening.

“Hey!” Clarke cried, a little too excited.  She’d been drinking light beer all afternoon, watching her foxy almost girlfriend do what she did best and loving every second of her life.  Spotting her new-found friend brought her to another level.

“Clarke!  Hi!” Anya reached out and yanked Clarke into a hug.  “I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“I live here!” Clarke laughed.  “I’m generally always here.”

“Anya, hey!  What’s up, man!” Lincoln high fived Roan.

“Nothing.  Indra cut me loose early.  It’s dead over there,” Roan pointed behind him at the door.  “Thought I’d bring the lady here over to see what all the hype is about,” Roan smiled and rested a hand on Anya’s shoulder.

“Good move!  Grab a stool!” Lincoln gestured towards the bar.  Harper had relieved Murphy for the dinner rush and introductions went all around.  She filled their drinks and got out of the way so they could read the menu board for the day.

“Sweet Potato Tots, Blake Snack Stack, Patty Melt, Brie Chicken Sandwich, Empanadas, The Good Salad, Grown Up Macaroni and Cheese and Lexa’s Lamb Sliders,” Anya read aloud.  She furrowed her brow and turned to Clarke sitting on the stool next to her.  “That’s not our Lexa’s Lamb sliders, is it?”  Anya pointed back and forth between the two of them.  Clarke’s heart swelled and her chest rose as she took in a deep breath.

Our Lexa.

“Indeed it is,” Clarke replied with a slow nod.  “She and Octavia have been working out a chef exchange.”

“She told me she was thinking about that,” Anya shrugged, then turned and leaned into Roan.  “I’ll get the sliders.  You get the mac and cheese.  We’ll share.”

“I wonder what’s grown up about it,” Roan cocked his head.  Clarke enjoyed their coupley behavior.  She liked the familiarity between them.

“It’s got all kinds of stuff in it,” Clarke replied.  “You won’t be sorry.”

“What’s up, Big Guy?” Octavia shouted to Roan as she leaned out the kitchen door to see what was going on.

“Blake!”  Roan shouted back at her and waved.

“How often do you come here?” Anya eyed him. 

"Hey,” Octavia elbowed Lexa behind her at the fryers.

“Yeah?” Lexa looked over her shoulder.

“Roan’s here with a girl.  Hombre blond, jaw like yours and she’s friendly with Clarke.  Is that your cousin?” Octavia nodded her head towards the door. “Cause if it’s not, we need to go out there and fuck him up cause he’s awfully cozy with her,” Lexa paused, processing that Octavia was immediately on her side.  She liked the instant loyalty.  She peeked out the door.

“Hey, Lex!” Anya called and waved.  Lexa waved back.

“Yeah, that’s her.  No need to rally the troops,” Lexa chuckled.

“Fries three times,” Octavia said routinely.  “Good.  I’m too tired for a fight tonight.”

“So Clarke,” Anya began, taking a sip from her beer.  “Aden absolutely will not shut up about you.”

“He’s a really awesome kid,” Clarke smiled warmly at the thought of him.  She liked that it brought a fuzzy feeling to her chest.  She saw a lot of her teenaged self in him.

“Yeah, he’s a good dude,” Anya agreed.  “All morning it was ‘Clarke said this’ and ‘Clarke said that’ and ‘Clarke thinks this’ and on and on.  Lexa better watch herself.  She might have some competition,” Anya joked.

“That’s sweet,” Clarke chuckled. 

“Jokes aside, it was really cool of you to hang out with him.  I might need your help more often. Most of the time I don’t understand what he’s so excited about.  I feel like that make me a bad mother, but he’s so much smarter and so much more talented than I am.  He’s turning into a little man and I have no idea how I’m going to keep up with him,” Anya rolled her eyes.  She said it like a joke, but Clarke could see the sincerity in her eyes.

“Stop it,” Clarke said sincerely.  “You’re a great mother.”

“Now math homework, that’s where I shine,” Anya nodded before sipping her beer.

“Guess who has two thumbs, fixed a problem plaguing my company for six months and is getting a huge motherfucking bonus!” Raven shouted as she kicked the door open in the back of the bar.  She pointed to herself with both thumbs.

“No way!” Clarke cried and jumped off of her stool to wrap Raven in a hug.  Roan, Anya and Lincoln looked back and forth at each other unsure of how to celebrate.

“Yes way!” Raven slapped the bar top as she hopped onto the stool next to Lincoln.  “Harp!  A round for everyone on me!” 

“You got it, Raven,” Harper laughed at her excitement.

“I’ve got to fly out at the end of the week for a few weeks to train all of these dudes to fix it, but we’ve got it!”  Raven sighed with delight.  “So this is the last night for a while, Clarke.  You go back to work tomorrow, yeah?” Raven asked.

“Unfortunately,” Clarke replied and raised her glass.  “But not until the evening, so let’s celebrate!”

“What’s all this noise?” Octavia came out of the kitchen followed by Lexa carrying all of their food.

“Raven saved her boss’s ass and is getting a huge bonus!” Clarke raised her beer.

“Oh shit!  Really?” Octavia slapped Raven a double high five over the bar.  “That rules!”

“Yeah!  I’m going to be flying out at the end of the week to go clean up some messes,” Raven replied.

“You’ll be back by Halloween, right?” Octavia pointed at her.  “You can’t miss Halloween.”

“I should be back just in time,” Raven grinned.

"Are you guy Halloween freaks?” Anya glanced at Clarke.

"Not the kind you’re thinking of,” Clarke waved a hand.  “Octavia does a party here every year.  It’s really fun.  Not to be missed if you don’t already have plans.”

“My kid is old enough that I no longer have to make my plans based on his, so for the first time in sixteen years, I just might be able to do something fun for myself,” Anya grinned and swigged her beer.

“How fun for you,” Lexa shot her a sarcastic grin.

“What’s going on here?” Anya pointed at Lexa behind the counter.  “Are you making a new friend?”

“Maybe,” Lexa shrugged.

“She’s alright,” Octavia sarcastically turned her nose up at Lexa.

“Getting some fresh ideas and leaning some new things from Octavia,” Lexa wiped her hands on the apron tied around her waist.  “Trading her with some lamb skills.” Lexa nodded down at the sliders in front of Anya.

“These are one of my favorites of yours.  I’m surprised you let her use it,” Anya took a big bite.  “You’re so grown up now.  Learning to share, getting over all your bullshit, bringing a nice girl home to me,” Anya said with her mouthful.  Clarke shook her head and laughed.

“Yeah, yeah,” Lexa brushed her off.

“Hey, I’m pretty much done if you want to head upstairs and grab a shower and join these guys,” Octavia tapped Lexa on the arm.  “I’ve got nothing left to teach you and I’m gonna start cleaning up.”

“You sure?  I can give you a hand,” Lexa tried.

“Positive.  What did I say about owing people?” Octavia shot her a wink.  “Get out of here.”

“I’ll be right back,” Lexa gave Clarke’s hand a squeeze and hurried up the back stairs.

The rest of them continued to toast to Raven’s good news.  Clarke and Anya played darts while Raven, Roan and Lincoln broke out the cards with a few guys from one of the high-end French restaurants in town that had been hanging around Blake’s since the food and wine party.  A few dudes from Nyko’s kitchen wandered in and laughed with Clarke and Anya by the dart board.

Lexa was back down in no time freshly showered and snuggling up to Clarke.  She and Anya tried teaming up against Clarke on darts but still lost.  There was a small Monday night crowd at the bar, and most of them remembered Clarke and the Houm staff from the party.  Later in the evening, Lexa and Anya were sitting at one end of the bar watching Roan and Clarke laughing with two guys with a popular Mexican food truck in town.

“Do you have any time in your schedule this week that I could come into the office?” Lexa asked Anya before taking a swig of beer. 

“I can make some,” Anya shrugged.  “You prepping for the Q4 shareholders meeting already?  I’ll help you get up to speed for that.”

“I should probably look into it since it’s already October,” Lexa sighed.  She had been avoiding it and had to start doing the same for the paper company.  “But I wanted to go over some of my finances and look at some of my investments and pick your brain on some local real estate.”

“I’m sorry, did you say local real estate?”  Anya spun abruptly on her stool to face Lexa.

“Relax, I just want to talk to you and get your take on the climate,” Lexa glanced up at Octavia across the way as she snapped her fingers at the food truck guys and pointed to the food she had prepared them.  They hurried to it with glee.  “I want to go over my assets and see if it helps me get any ideas in place.  I want to know what you know about some areas of town and what my earnings will be from the company this year.”

“Can you do lunch Thursday?”  Anya had her phone out and scrolled through her calendar.  “I can clear two hours at eleven.”

“Definitely,” Lexa watched the food truck boys doing their trademark bowing down act after taking a few bites.  Octavia really had a gift and had no idea what it was worth.  She was smart, so smart.  Her ideas were great.  Lexa’s gears had been spinning since they spoke in the early afternoon.

“Do you have some new ideas?” Anya looked Lexa up and down.  She had a look in her eye that Anya couldn’t quite place, and she wasn’t looking at Clarke.

“Maybe,” Lexa replied, moving her gaze from the food truck boys to a group of bartenders from one of the popular Italian places in town who were high fiving Harper and pointing to their food.  They got it.  They understood what was happening.  This town was ready for something like this.  “I’m not sure yet.”

“Hey!” Clarke sat down on the stool next to Lexa.

“Hi,” Lexa smiled at her and pulled her focus from the room and directed it at Clarke.  She was still wearing Lexa’s flannel and it made Lexa grin.  She looked cute in her glasses and Lexa’s clothes and her happy party smile.

“Did you have a successful kitchen collaboration day?” Clarke asked, reaching a hand up to rub Lexa’s shoulders.

“I really did,” Lexa nodded and took a sip of her beer.  She let all of the her thoughts roll to the back of her mind to rest until tomorrow when she’d had some office time.  “Better than I was expecting.”

“Perfect,” Clarke leaned in and kissed Lexa’s cheek.

More than half of the bar guests were other chefs and restaurant workers who made their way over at some point to say something to Lexa.  Clarke ended up in Lexa’s lap as she got into a heated debate about barbeque techniques and smoking meats with a few guys.  A couple of the bartenders came by to congratulate her on the recent nod from Food And Wine.  They had worked the party, remembered Clarke and asked about what she did and were all blown away when they found out.

Roan and Anya laughed and flirted and played a game of darts with Raven and Lincoln.  The food truck boys asked Lexa about working with Octavia.  Raven bought too many rounds of drinks.  Everything was really, really fun.  Lexa glance up at one of the guys from a New American joint up on the east end that was going on about how there weren’t enough good sushi places on the peninsula, but she could hardly hear him. 

Everything felt too good.  Her old friends and family were mixing with her new friends.  She debated food on a high level with industry professionals who respected her, but treated her like one of them and not some expert that no one could disagree with.  She had a great day learning and working with someone that she wasn’t in charge of.

“Do you want to go upstairs, Babe?” Clarke whispered in a voice caught between sultry and sleepy. 

And Clarke.

Clarke’s warm weight on her lap and the whispered pet name against her ear made the whole bar disappear.  The whole world fell away.  Everything was so good.

“Make me yours,” Lexa whispered back. 

 

Chapter Text

“It appears you’ve been rather busy,” Indra raised a brow at Lexa’s exploding notebook on her desk in her office at Houm. The center of it was thick with Blake’s Bar guest checks covered in Lexa’s loopy scrawl taped and stapled in. There were post its on a few pages sticking out. The label from a hot sauce Octavia used was stuck on the back cover. The edges of the pages were caked with beer batter.

“Yeah, I really have,” Lexa replied as she spun in her desk chair to face Indra. Indra leaned her hip against the desk and glanced at her nails. “I actually cooked at Octavia’s all day on Monday.”

“You’re cooking up a storm lately, Chef,” Indra nodded her head in approval. “I’m into it.”

“She’s got some brilliant stuff going on over there,” Lexa scratched her chin in thought.

“How’s Clarke?” Indra raised a brow. It was no mystery to Indra that Lexa’s recent changes in attitude towards cooking were caused by a few factors, and she wanted to make sure the biggest one was going well.

“Clarke’s great,” Lexa bit the insides of her cheeks so she wouldn’t grin.

“Yeah?” Indra pressed it. She knew Lexa had been apprehensive about opening herself up to a woman again. Word through the grapevine was that things were going smashingly between them, but she wanted to hear it from Lexa.

“Yeah,” Lexa replied with confidence. “Really great, actually.”

“Good,” Indra nodded. “You seem good.” She added on sincerely.

“I feel good,” Lexa couldn’t fight it any longer and let out the grin she was holding in.

“That’s good,” Indra nodded. They both chuckled. “So what have you been cooking?”

“All kinds of stuff. I jumped on the line with her when she was in the weeds on Saturday night, then went back and spent the day with her all day on Monday with a little more structure. Worked through her prep. Talked sauces and deep frying for a while,” Lexa paged through her notebook as she talked to remember some of the finer points of their conversations. “You were right. Her beer batter is better than mine,” Lexa flicked her eyes up at Indra with a guilty smile.

“I need to write this date down so we can remember it as the day you actually admitted someone was better than you at something,” Indra shot her a playful smirk. Lexa rolled her eyes sarcastically at her.

“How’s it going out there? You need anything from me?” Lexa nodded her head towards the door where they could see Emori leading the prep team.

“Nah, I’m fine,” Indra waved a hand.

“I’m going to work on a few things,” Lexa opened one of her desk drawers and pulled out a fresh notebook. “I’ve got a few ideas I want to work out.”

“I love it,” Indra followed Lexa towards the walk in fridge. “Can I ask what you’re working on?”

“I’ve been thinking about some of Octavia’s flavors and a few of her dishes,” Lexa grunted as she reached for the top shelf. “I’ve got some ideas for modifications that I think would elevate them, but mostly higher end ingredients she’s probably not used to. I wanted to try it in my kitchen first and see if I’m right before I bring it up to her. I didn’t want to make her feel bad. She stocks a different kitchen than I do.”

“That girl’s food is really doing something to you, Commander,” Indra looked her up and down. She hadn’t seen this Lexa before. Even at her most creative and excited, Lexa was always very direct and confident about her process and her moves.

“There are a lot of things doing something to me right now,” Lexa sighed as she gathered a few cheeses into a pan and set it down so she could go through the herbs.

“I’ve noticed,” Indra deadpanned.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lexa turned to face her.

“C’mon, Chef,” Indra tried with a small laugh that came out in a huff. “Clarke’s got you inside out and it’s got you a little quiet. You’re a puddle of emotions any time Aden’s in here working with us. You’re up all night making gravy. You were vague and elusive at your Food And Wine party about what’s next.”

“So?” Lexa gave her a look.

“So I know you!” Indra cried. “You’re up to something! You’ve got a good idea and you’re not telling me what it is!”

“I hate it when you do that,” Lexa grumbled and carried her pan of ingredients back to the kitchen. “When you figure me out like that.”

“I knew it!” Indra hissed at her. “It’s Chicago, isn’t it!” Indra grinned at her. Lexa punched her in the arm. “Shit!” She yelped at the sting of it. “Alright, that’s fair. I deserved that.”

“Look, I’m not ready to articulate it yet, but yeah. My gears are spinning on something,” Lexa confessed and laid herbs out on one of the prep table cutting boards. She grabbed a chef’s knife from a rack nearby and started chopping. “I’m meeting with Anya tomorrow to talk about money.”

"Alright!” Indra rubbed her hands together. “We’ve been here way too long! Where are we going next?”

"Well?” Lexa began her voice high pitched. She grabbed another bushel of herbs and kept going. “I’m pretty sure we’re actually not going anywhere.” Indra’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“What?” Indra said deliberately after a few moments of quiet.

“You heard me,” Lexa didn’t look up from her work.

“Yeah, I did hear you, which is why I said what,” Indra replied, arms folded over her chest.

“That’s all I’m going to say for now. I’ve got a lot of thoughts and a lot of moving pieces and I need to talk with Anya tomorrow. I promise as soon as this comes into focus, as always, you’ll be the first to know,” Lexa let out a deep breath and turned to face Indra.

“Sounds heavy,” Indra raised a cautious brow.

“I’m thinking about deviating from the usual mold, so I need to make sure I get right with it myself first before I say anything out loud and make it real,” Lexa replied, a hopeful little smile ghosting across her features. “I promise I’ll come to you first when I’m ready.”

“Alright,” Indra nodded slowly after a very long pause. She looked Lexa in the eye in an attempt to try and understand her better. “Should I be worried?”

“No,” Lexa replied frankly and went back to her work.

“And you’re okay? Everything’s alright?” Indra tried once more.

"Everything is better than it has been in a very long time,” Lexa replied sincerely. “Maybe ever.”

“Then I’ll wait as long as I can, but I can’t promise it will be patiently,” Indra smirked. Lexa rolled her eyes playfully.

"Sounds like Vegas all over again,” Lexa chuckled. “Come here, I want to ask you about a few things,” Lexa said as she flipped her notebook open and paged through the Blake’s checks. Indra leaned over her shoulder and they got to work.

*****

“Is this your dress from the Gala two years ago?” Maya held up her phone. It was opened to Top Chef’s Instagram with a picture of Clarke and Lexa clinking their drinks together in cheers with Lincoln holding Lexa’s plaque in the background from the party.

“Put that away!” Clarke sighed, exhausted with her friends’ constant questions. She glanced at the photo. “And yes, it is.”

“You two look happy,” Monroe said as she leaned over Maya’s shoulder to get a look at the photo. It was Wednesday evening and they had been milling around all day. Clark got caught up on paperwork in secret locations so her friends wouldn’t bother her about Lexa. She took care of a few charts sitting behind the last row of shelves in a supply closet she favored. She sat in her window on the top floor for a while after telling them all she was going to go get lunch. She feigned sleep in an on call room and had a few charts in bed with her.

“We’re very happy. It’s new and it’s exciting and it’s going well. No more questions, please,” Clarke smiled politely at them. She didn’t want to jinx anything by talking too much about it, and if she got into any kind of detail on how the sex was, it was going to send her to a place where she’d need it too badly.

“How is she in bed?” Miller smirked.

“What did I just say?” Clarke gasped at him, but laughed all the same.

“So, on a scale of one to out of this world?” He raised a brow at her. They all waited, eyes wide, for Clarke to say something. Clarke, Miller and Monroe’s pagers all went off at once. They all glanced down in unison.

“Oh darn, look at that! Someone needs us!” Clarke shrugged and threw a smile over her shoulder as she headed for the nurse station in the ER. They were redirected to an OR.

“So? Come on. Just tell me,” Miller grinned slyly at her as he stood beside her at the sinks to scrub.

“A lady doesn’t screw and tell, Dr. Miller,” Clarke winked at him. “No matter how earth shattering it is.”

"Excellent,” Miller chuckled and followed her into surgery.

It turned out to be a long night. A young man who got hit by a car riding his bike finished up just in time to send Clarke and Miller into a gruesome car accident in one OR and Monroe into another with the other half of the accident where Jackson was waiting.  Clarke managed herself and her teams with practiced grace and in the end, all patients made it to recovery resting soundly.

“Got you your usual,” Miller found her sitting in her window watching the sun rise after they had cleaned up and filed their paperwork. He carried two cups of coffee, two yogurts and two apples. “I thought you might be hungry.”

“Thank you,” she brightened at him. She had been hungry, but couldn’t bring herself to get down to the cafeteria just yet. The cold October night had blanketed the city in a coat of perfect autumn frost. The sky was clear and the rising sun made every surface glisten.

“Nice work last night,” Miller dropped into the other side of the windowsill and handed her one of the coffees. She reached for the yogurts and plastic spoons and peeled back the lids to get them set up.

“You, too,” she replied. “Your composure has been really good lately. I told you that would come with practice.”

“Yeah, well,” He shrugged with a little smile. “I’m leaning from the best.” She shot a thankful smile at him and looked up at him over the rims of her glasses. Her phone rang in her pocket. She looked around for a moment for the best place to set her coffee and breakfast down before pulling it out to answer it.

“What are you doing up so early?” Clarke smiled into the phone. Miller didn’t have to guess who it was.

“Good morning,” Lexa replied on the other end. “I’m meeting up with Anya for a long lunch to go over some financial stuff, so I had to get an early start today to get things done beforehand.” It sounded like Lexa was driving. “Wanted to give you a call and say good morning.”

“Good morning,” Clarke couldn’t stop grinning. Miller chuckled and glanced out the window.

“Also, I was going over my schedule for the next month. I forgot to mention to you that I have to go to New York for a week and a half at the top of next month,” Lexa said, then took a pause to sip from her travel mug of coffee. “I’m scheduled to cook in Polis for five nights. I do it twice a year. It’s a thing. People get all excited about it,” she muttered.

“Yes, well, I can’t imagine why anyone would get excited about the executive chef making them dinner,” Clarke said playfully then took a bite of her yogurt. She was too hungry to wait. “Octavia told me people pay big bucks for that.”

“Yeah, they do,” Lexa let out a big sigh. “So I have to show up and do the dance for them.”

“That should be fun,” Clarke shrugged.

“Maybe,” Clarke could hear Lexa’s blasé shrug in her voice. “I get myself a nice hotel room on the company and I have a few nights in the middle where I don’t have to work much. I know your schedule is crazy, but if you’re interested in getting out of town for a few days, I’d love to fly you out and have you join me on the down days.”

“You want me to come to New York with you?” Clarke blurted out. Miller perked up across from her.

“Only if you want to,” Lexa chuckled. “I thought it might be fun. We can tear up New York on my days off on the Company dime. It’s technically a business trip, so everything is on the company.”

“Lexa, you own the company,” Clarke scowled sarcastically.

“I’d love to have you there with me if you’re interested,” Lexa said after laughing at Clarke’s reply. The sincerity in her voice made Clarke’s heart swell. “But I understand that it’s kind of a lot and that it’s asking a lot for you to move work around.”

“It sounds fantastic,” Clarke said with a genuine smile. “Text me the dates and I’ll see if it’s realistic. It won’t be for lack of want if I can’t go.”

“Perfect,” Lexa grinned as she pulled into the lot behind Houm. She put the car in park but didn’t get out. She wanted to stay in the heated car and listen to Clarke’s voice for as long as she could. “How was your night?”

“Long,” Clarke groaned. “Miller and I are having some breakfast. He was a huge help to me last night and kept me sane. He just brought me one of my favorite yogurts. We haven’t slept yet. Hoping to catch a few hours later this morning.”

“When do you finish up?” Lexa asked.

“Saturday morning,” Clarke sighed. “Unless something comes up.”

"I’ll bring you something to eat tonight,” Lexa tuned the car off. She could hear in Clarke’s tone that she should let her go and get some rest.

“You don’t need to do that, Lexa,” Clarke sighed.

“I know. Did you say Dr. Miller is there with you right now?” Lexa asked her.

“Yeah, he’s right here,” Clarke smiled at him as he gave her a questioning look.

“Ask him if he likes brie,” Lexa chuckled.

“Lexa wants to know if you like brie,” Clarke asked him with a shy smile on that she couldn’t wipe off.

“Hell yeah, I like brie!” he replied firmly. Lexa could hear him and she laughed.

“Great. I’ll drop a surprise off for you both for dinner. I owe him one for taking care of you when I can’t,” Lexa got out through a smile. Clarke’s cheeks pinked.

“You don’t have to do that, Lexa,” Clarke sighed and glanced out the window so Miller wouldn’t see her girly grin. It didn’t work. Her face was lit up by the rising sun and it made him smile back.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to. I feed people, Clarke. It’s what I do,” Lexa chuckled.

“Alright, alright, alright,” Clarke relented.

“I’m going to let you go. I’ve got some work to do. Let me know when you finish up this weekend. We can do something together if you’re up for it,” Lexa said hopefully.

“Definitely,” Clarke grinned.

“If you’re knocked out and you just want to go to bed,” Lexa trailed off.

“Then we can do that together, too,” Clarke shrugged and hoped her flirty smile made it through the phone.

“Of course,” she could hear Lexa’s come back to her. “I look forward to it.”

“Have a nice day. Tell Anya I said hi,” Clarke glanced out the window again, part of her absentmindedly searching towards downtown wondering if she could see Houm from her post.

“I will. Get some rest,” Lexa replied.

“She’s going to bring us some dinner,” Clarke hung her phone up and dropped it into her lab coat pocket.

“Girl, whatever you’re doing, keep it up if it gets me some Lexa Woods delivery,” Miller nodded his head in approval as he scraped the bottom of his yogurt container.

“Anything for the cause,” Clarke shook her head and gave him a playful nudge with her foot.

*****

“So what’s up with Lexa cooking at your place?” Lincoln asked Octavia. She was sitting on the counter in their kitchen while he made them omelets. He was in nothing but a pair of low slung sweats and Octavia watched his back with hungry eyes.

“The first time I made her do it. I was going to go down in flames without help with how crowded it was,” Octavia paused to take a sip of her coffee. “She asked if she could come back and learn a few things from me and teach me a few things. It was actually really fun. We both had a lot to teach each other.”

"That’s awesome,” Lincoln smiled over his shoulder at her. She had wild morning hair and a loose flannel shirt on. He loved how disheveled she looked in the morning and how little she cared about it.

"Yeah,” Octavia nodded. “At first I thought she might be up to something, but she was really genuine.”

“What do you mean, up to something?” he furrowed his brow as he flipped her omelet.

“I don’t know,” Octavia shrugged. She had been trying to figure out how to put it into words. “I kind of wondered if she and Indra were full of shit talking about how good my food was and maybe they were just being nice.”

“Oh, they don’t do that,” Lincoln jumped on her words with a little laugh in his voice.

“I see that now,” Octavia chuckled. “She really knows her shit. Like, really knows her shit. She even knows about things she doesn’t know, if that makes any sense. It’s almost like I wasn’t necessarily teaching her anything she wasn’t aware of, but I was reminding her of stuff she forgot about or something. I can’t explain it.”

"I think I get it,” Lincoln flipped his omelet and reached for two plates. “And I’m not surprised. Lexa’s one of the best in the game.”

“I’m flattered that she came to me to learn, and it really makes me feel good about what I do. She showed me a few things I didn’t know how to do,” Octavia shrugged again. “It was cool to hang out and work with food and talk the craft with someone so experienced who wasn’t an asshole about it.”

“She must see something in you that she really likes, because she can be a real asshole about it,” Lincoln chuckled.

“See, that’s the thing,” Octavia pointed at him. “I had completely prepared myself for Lexa to be a huge dick. Like about everything. I was feeling a little sweaty about Clarke dating her because of everything I’ve heard about her. I was planning for her to be shitty about my restaurant and impossible to get along with, but she’s not at all.”

Octavia slid off the counter and grabbed hot sauces and napkins while he plated their breakfast.

“She’s actually really cool. She’s treating Clarke like a goddamn queen. Those two are so adorable it’s disgusting. She’s funny and she’s nice and I think she’s even a little friendly which is weird and not at all what her reputation lead me to believe. She’s got this little sweet family life or whatever. She’s calm and cool in the kitchen with me. She’s an excellent teacher,” Octavia threw her hands up. “The only thing I expected about her that’s true is that she’s a really, really fucking talented chef.”

“Well, she used to be a lot more like her reputation,” Lincoln slid their plates onto the breakfast bar and dropped the pans in the sink. “So you had every right to be apprehensive. I’ve known her for two years now and didn’t really feel like I knew her for real until maybe a few months ago.”

“Yeah?” Octavia raised a brow.

“Yeah,” he smiled back at her and paused for a sip of coffee. “She’s been on the edge of softening up for a while, but Indra and I were talking about it, and part of it is totally Clarke.”

“That’s bullshit. They’ve only known each other for a few weeks,” Octavia scowled and took a big bite of her breakfast.

“Yeah, I know,” Lincoln shook his head. “Like I said, it’s been coming for a while. Lexa’s been going through something for a little bit, but Clarke has taken her to another level. She’s been really good for her. She’s seeing things differently now or something. We can all see it.”

“Interesting,” Octavia chewed slowly in thought. “She offered to sit down and talk with me about business and money and possibly looking at how I could finance a second place.”

“Oh yeah?” Lincoln perked up. “That’s great. I didn’t know you wanted to open another place.”

“I mean, it’s pretty much a pipe dream, but she kept pushing me on how to make it real,” Octavia sighed. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since she and I talked. She made it sound like it would be no pressure and everything, but she just knows so much and I know so little. I don’t want to look stupid.”

“I will say that you were right about one thing. Lexa is a very good teacher. She’s more patient than she wants people to know. She’s trained a ton of chefs across the country and they’re all very successful,” Lincoln picked through her selection of hot sauces and read the labels to find one he wanted. “A lot of them are twice her age. She’d be cool about it. If it’s something you’re even remotely seriously considering, you should take her up on it. There probably isn’t anyone more qualified to help you in this entire city.”

“I know,” Octavia let out a deep breath. “I’m just not sure that I’m ready right now for that.”

“That’s okay, too,” Lincoln shot her a big smile. “I’m sure it’s nice to know it’s there as an option.”

“I guess,” Octavia grumbled. “This is delicious, by the way. When did you learn to cook?” She leaned over to meet his lips for a kiss.

“Ain’t no thang,” He grinned at her before kissing her again.

*****

“I don’t really care if you don’t like the results from the analysis, I still need them on my desk by the end of the week!” Anya barked into her cellphone. Lexa suppressed a smile.

Anya was sitting alone at a table by the window at one of the seafood spots on Commercial Street they both liked. It was out on the wharf where the ferries docked and loaded. The sun streaming in through the windows made it feel warmer inside than it should for the chilly fall morning. Anya had file folders out on the table and scrolled through her tablet as she talked. She looked nice in her business professional attire. She had her hair up in a loose bun.

“Oh, don’t you dare even give me that, Echo. I gave you plenty of time. I don’t give a shit if it takes you all night to finish it. I’ve gotta have that by EOD tomorrow, you hear me?” Anya carried on. She glanced up at Lexa and shot her an eyeroll that explained everything. “Then get someone to fucking help you! We have a meeting first thing Monday morning and I need that data, so figure it out. I’ve gotta go. My eleven o’clock just walked in and you’ve sucked up enough of my morning.” Anya hung her phone up with a frustrated sigh.

“Looks like Business Anya’s got her panties in a bunch,” Lexa smirked as she sat down across from Anya.

“Business Anya is so pissed at her team of senior analysists who can’t seem to find their asses with both hands unless I’m there to point to their buttholes for them,” Anya pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes for a few brief seconds to wash away her previous conversation.

“Well, I’m flattered that a Woods Financial Group Executive Analyst made time to have lunch with me offsite,” Lexa shot Anya a goofy smile and spoke in a fake snotty accent. Anya rolled her eyes.

“Technically in some semblance you’re my boss since you own the damn company,” Anya joked. “I pulled a bunch of your files and went over your assets, which was no easy task since you have so friggin’ many. I wasn’t sure what you wanted to know about real estate so I couldn’t really prep that, but I can get whatever you need either through the company or some people we’ve used before on some other projects,” Anya said, slipping into her work voice. “So let’s talk. What are we doing here?”

“First and foremost, I need you to keep everything we discuss at this table to yourself,” Lexa held a hand up.

“Who am I going to tell?” Anya scoffed.

“Aden. Roan. Your new best friend Clarke. Indra if you’ve had too much to drink. Anyone at the company that might say something,” Lexa ticked off on her fingers.

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Anya cut her off. “Why the big secret?”

“I’m not sure this is the direction I want to go yet, and I don’t want to get anyone excited or offended if I change my mind. I need to get it more into focus and see if it’s plausible, because I’m thinking about involving some more people this time and I need some help designing the best plan on that so that no one gets screwed,” Lexa spoke carefully.

"I’m already intrigued,” Anya quirked a brow at Lexa.

“Octavia has some really good ideas,” Lexa took a deep breath. “I mean really good. She’s got a very smart concept that needs some expert guidance to succeed and probably a lot of money and networking that she doesn’t have access to.”

“Am I allowed to ask you about it?” Anya asked as she shuffled her folders looking for the Woods Restaurant Group paperwork.

“She has this vision for a collaborative space. A big enough space that you could host bands and big events, but not so big that it would feel empty on a quiet Wednesday. She wants to be a place where food trucks do pop up nights, regularly do cross over menus for the night with other local restaurants where chefs team up to merge styles for one night or a week. Get some breweries involved, just really make the thing a spot, you know?” Lexa had a hopeful smile on as she relayed Octavia’s ideas. “A place where the food community and brewers and music and just the essence of this cool city all came together and coexist.”

“That does sound really cool,” Anya nodded as she let the idea roll around. “It also sounds very expensive and like a ton of work.”

“That’s exactly what I said,” Lexa chuckled. Their waiter interrupted them briefly to take their order.

“But if you could pull it off and have her at the forefront, that would put her on the fucking map,” Anya sipped her drink thoughtfully after a long pause after the waiter walked away.

“Which is also exactly what I said,” Lexa smiled. “I’ve done enough. I don’t need another fine dining establishment that I’ll get bored of in a year. I have more Michelin stars than I know what to do with. This is something different. This is a real challenge. If we could do it, we’d be constantly working with new and different chefs which is what I feel like I’m craving lately. I’m thinking it’s time I start using my clout to back some new people and help them rise up.”

“Who are you and what have you done with my cousin?” Anya mock gasped.

“I’m serious!” Lexa cried.

“I know! I know!” Anya laughed and held her hands up in surrender. “I think it’s a genius idea. It would be huge for this town and the industry would never see that coming from you. They’re expecting you to do something big, but no one knows what it’s going to be. You’d flip them all over with something like this.”

“I know,” Lexa scratched her chin in thought. “Ideally it would be somewhere that kids from the culinary school in South Portland would want to get their internships because there would be so much going on. If we could get a big enough space, we could even do a second kitchen for collaboration and food trucks and stuff. Octavia’s sauces should be bottled and sold. She’s so unbelievably marketable and she has no idea.”

“So let’s slow down here. You’ve got a lot of pieces to this,” Anya sat up straighter. “This business plan is going to be exponentially more complicated than anything you’ve put together in the past.”

“Right. That’s why I wanted to get you involved,” Lexa nodded. “I’m going to need some help.”

“Have you talked to Indra yet?” Anya asked.

"I told her I had some ideas brewing that I needed to organize a little better before I said anything, but I did tell her that I wanted to stay here in Portland,” Lexa replied. Anya took a deep breath and let out a proud and thrilled sigh.

“I just wanted to hear you say those words out loud,” she beamed at Lexa. Lexa glanced away with a shy smile on. “I think this is a really good move for you. For a million reasons, some of them selfish for me, but not all of them,” she chuckled. “I think this is going to be a huge challenge for you creatively, collaboratively, professionally and socially. This is going to be a ton of work, Lex.”

“I know,” Lexa replied. “I don’t even know if Octavia would be into it, but I feel like she would.”

“Why wouldn’t she be all over it?” Anya wrinkled her nose as she paged through Lexa’s files to find what she was looking for.

“I feel like the financial part of it is going to freak her out,” Lexa admitted, her voice hesitant. “People in New York are comfortable around people with the kind of money I have. People around here are not. She’s made a few comments in passing about how she doesn’t like owing anyone and she’s crazy independent.”

“Yeah, that might be a hurdle,” Anya sucked a breath in through her teeth as she thought it over. “When the time comes, you could pick Clarke’s brain on it.”

“I’d rather not mix business with pleasure if we’re all being honest,” Lexa sighed.

“Smart move,” Anya shrugged.

“Octavia is concerned that her landlord is going to sell her building,” Lexa moved topics away from Clarke. She didn’t want to get Clarke mixed up in her business plans. She wanted to keep her separate and only surrounded with warmth and positive thoughts. “She didn’t go into too much detail, but she’s probably right. Munjoy Hill is getting gentrified big time. Her neighborhood is next. I was hoping you could help me get some info on who owns it, what it’s worth and maybe a market value analysis on her neighborhood so we can find out what kind of trouble she’d be up against.”

“I can do that,” Anya jotted a few notes down.

“I’d also like to look at what kind of money I could have liquid if needed to start this thing sooner than later and some estimates on what kind of money I’d be looking at for start up,” Lexa made some notes in her notebook as well. “I can get that moving. Operating costs that I’m aware of will be easy for me. Once I feel ready, I’ll bounce this to Indra and we’ll dig in. She’s stone cold on operations and she’ll point out anything I miss. She always does.”

“I do think you need to bring this up with her before you get going too much,” Anya said sternly. “Have you figured out what her role in this whole thing will be?”

“I thought about that. Traditional chef hierarchy probably won’t exist in this sort of space,” Lexa sighed. “I don’t even know if she’d be completely on board anyway. This is really different from what we normally do.”

“I’d say that’s step one, Kid,” Anya smiled sympathetically.

“I know,” Lexa nodded somberly. “If she doesn’t want to be here, I could appoint her as exec in my place to oversee all of the other places for a year or two while we built this thing. There are plenty of options for Indra. She could honestly retire if she wanted. She’s set up financially. I made sure of that.”

“She’s not going to retire. She’s the same as you. It was never about the money,” Anya reminded her.

“I know,” Lexa repeated. “I’m less worried about Indra and more worried about convincing Octavia. I feel like there will have to be some really good selling points to get her on board. I’ll have to think about that,” Lexa tapped her pen against her lips as she puzzled it over.

“I’m sure it will all come together,” Anya offered up a warm smile. She couldn’t believe Lexa was this gung ho about something so outside of her skillset and in their hometown no less. She did everything she could not to show how thrilled and over excited she was about the prospect of keeping Lexa close and focused instead on keeping her on task. “I’ve prepared a bunch of numbers for you that will answer some questions. Let’s look at this, then tell me some more about what kind of physical spaces you think you’d be after and I can get to work on finding something in the budget.”

“Thanks for doing this,” Lexa gave Anya a genuinely thankful smile.

"Don’t mention it,” Anya reached across the table and squeezed Lexa’s hand. “So check this out,” she began spreading papers all over the table and outlining Lexa’s available funds.

*****

“Hey, Bud!” Lexa called out when Aden came in through the back door of Houm on Saturday morning.

“What’s up, Lex?” he nodded at her and hung up his jacket as he shook off the morning chill.

“Same old,” She replied. He had his chef coat on with the sleeves rolled up in the same cuff she did hers. Lexa got him some checkered chefs pants. He had a black baseball hat on backwards that he swapped out for his white cap.

“What am I doing today?” He asked as he approached her. She draped her arm around his shoulder and walked with him through the kitchen.

“I’m going to have you work with Roan today,” Lexa pointed at Roan who was butchering proteins at one of the prep tables. He glanced up at the two of them.

“You want me to teach him?” Roan pointed to himself and tried to hide the surprise in his voice.

“For a little while,” Lexa nodded. She shared a look with Roan. It was both a favor and a challenge. She knew she should foster the relationship between Anya’s son and Anya’s boyfriend if she could. So far they’d been friendly enough, but giving Roan the chance to share something he was good at with Aden that he was interested in was something Lexa hadn’t done yet. She felt like she should stop being a grouch about it.

“What do you want us working on?” Roan asked. He stood up a little straighter. He could see what was happening and was grateful for it.

He liked Aden a lot, he just didn’t have a ton of access to him. The few shifts Aden spent in the kitchen were great. Aden worked hard and didn’t treat Roan any differently than anyone else. He’d been in the car a few times with him when Anya picked Aden up from a late school practice after being out on a date with Roan. He had dinner at Anya’s one evening that Aden came home towards the end of. Aden didn’t seem bothered by him dating Anya, and he definitely knew it was going on.

Roan was hyper aware of the fact that his relationship with Anya was moving a lot slower physically than it might have if she didn’t have Aden. There were no sleepovers happening. There were no late nights at bars that weren’t meticulously planned. He’d never dated a women with a kid, and he had to admit that he didn’t hate it. He was getting to know her so well and learn so much about her. It forced him to slow down and he was really enjoying it. He surprised himself with how much he was enjoying it.

“Have him shadow you on your normal tasks. Take them slow and let him know what you’re doing and why. Nothing specific, just your normal routine,” Lexa replied evenly. “Help him get to know what you do.”

“Can do, Chef,” Roan nodded at her.

Lexa strolled away and found ways to keep herself busy that kept her within ear shot of Roan and Aden throughout the morning. He was really patient with him and thoroughly explained everything in a way that Aden could understand that was informative without being over his head. His lessons were mixed with laughter and discussions of video games, TV and music. Roan asked Aden about school and what he was into while they went through the proper way to trim beef. Aden told him all about his music collection while Roan showed him how to prep lamb chops.

“No way! You like Rusted Root?” Roan glanced sideways at Aden and set down his cleaver. Lexa paused as she walked up behind them to hear it play out.

“Yeah, totally,” Aden shrugged. “I told you, man. I like everything.”

“They’re coming to Port City Music Hall next month, Dude. I have two tickets. I was going to take your mom, but maybe we should go instead,” Roan shrugged back.

“I don’t know,” Adan chuckled. “She probably wouldn’t let me go.”

“Let me take care of that,” Roan winked at him and elbowed him in the arm.

“Awesome,” Aden smiled up at him. “She likes chocolate cake and red wine if you don’t already know that.”

“I did, but if you think of anything else to help our cause, let me know,” Roan gave him a conspiratorial grin.

“Let me think it over,” Aden laughed. Lexa decided not to check in and let them keep going. She walked back to her office and left them behind her comparing notes on the things Anya liked most.

*****

“Dr. Griffin!” Lincoln broke into a huge grin as Clarke took a seat at the bar at Houm on Saturday night. “You’re looking radiant as always.”

“Thank you, sir,” Clarke smiled back at him. She got home from her shift on Saturday morning, took an afternoon nap, then freshened herself up to head to Houm. Lexa didn’t know she was coming. Octavia was working, Raven was in Seattle and Lexa was at the restaurant. Rather than sit around and wait, she decided to mix it up and have dinner there while she waited for Lexa to free up. It was nice to put on a decent outfit instead of scrubs and jeans. There were runs where she went weeks without wearing anything but.

“What would you like to drink?” Lincoln asked as he set a glass of water in front of her.

“I’m thinking I’ll just have a glass of wine,” Clarke glanced over the wine list. It was overwhelmingly long. “Do you want to just surprise me?”

“I heard a dirty rumor that she likes Lexa’s favorite Italian cab sav,” Anya smirked coming up behind her.

“Hey!” Clarke turned on her stool to give Anya a half hug. “What are you doing here?”

“Aden’s working tonight. He’s done in about an hour, so I thought I’d have a drink and a bite while I wait for him,” Anya replied. “Does Lexa know you’re here?”

“No, I decided to stop in and surprise her. We had plans to get together when she gets out of work,” Clarke replied.

“Well this is nice!” Lincoln smiled at them. They both laughed. “What can I get for you, Anya?”

“I’ll have what she’s having,” Anya shrugged. Lincoln spun away to get them their glasses. “How was your week?”

“Long,” Clarke sighed. “I just got home this morning and I slept all afternoon.”

“Lexa was telling me that you go to work for days at a time,” Anya said. “That’s wild. You’d think there would be a better way to do that.”

“Especially where I’m in trauma and you never know what’s coming, it’s kind of impossible to plan how long things are going to take. Even carefully planned surgeries go on longer than scheduled if they find a surprise. It’s easier and safer for patients to just have us on for days at a time so we finish the job and do it right,” Clarke shrugged indifferently. “I’ve gotten used to it, but it does make your options for a social life kind of shitty.”

“You could say the same about chefs, though it’s not quite as extreme,” Anya nodded her head towards the kitchen.

“It’s actually an advantage for Lexa and me,” Clarke replied and nodded a thank you to Lincoln as he set their wine glasses down. “She gets it in a way.”

“Roan and I are figuring out how to make it work,” Anya held her glass up and clinked it against Clarke’s before taking a sip. “I know Aden puts a few wrenches in the works, too. You think dating is hard when you’re a weird nocturnal doctor? Try having a kid.”

"I can’t imagine,” Clarke chuckled.

“Speaking of,” Anya brightened into a smile as Aden leaned out of the kitchen and waved at her. His eyes lit up when he spotted her there with Clarke. Clarke gave him a little wave and he ducked back in.

“Hey Lex, uh, I mean hey, Chef,” Aden said to Lexa. She was at the grill with Indra helping her plate a few dishes.

“Yeah, Bud?” She smiled at him. After spending the day with Roan, Aden had started addressing her as ‘Chef’ like the rest of them.

“Mom’s at the bar with Clarke,” Aden nodded his head towards the dining room.

“Oh yeah?” Lexa couldn’t fight a smile.

“She looks really pretty,” Aden grinned at her. Indra rolled her eyes. One Woods falling all over themselves over Clarke was enough.

“She always does,” Lexa grinned. “You still need me over here?” Lexa turned to Indra.

“Go, go on,” Indra waved a hand. “You just get in my way anyway,” she joked. Lexa mock scoffed before wiping her hands on a towel and heading into the dining room.

“Two of my favorite women sitting here together! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Lexa asked as she approached them at the bar.

“Hey!” Clarke grinned. Anya suppressed hers. Watching Clarke light up at the sight of Lexa made her heart warm. Watching the two of them together felt so good. “I was hungry and Blake’s is slammed. I thought I’d come surprise you and wait for you to finish up.”

“I love this surprise,” Lexa stood in the middle behind them both with a hand on the back of each of their chairs.

“I’m doing the same thing waiting for Aden to be done,” Anya replied. “I thought I was going to have to sit here and amuse myself, but thankfully your girl was here waiting for you so I don’t have to be alone.” Anya gestured to Clarke with her wine glass. Aden was right, she did look really pretty. Clarke’s curls were down and in all of their full, blond glory. Her makeup was subtle but made her eyes pop. She had a simple skirt and sweater on. Lexa fought the urge to kiss her hard right there in the dining room.

“Anything special you’re in the mood for?” Lexa nodded at the menu on the bar in front of them.

“I kind of like when you just choose for me,” Clarke smiled shyly at her.

“I can do that,” Lexa smiled back. “Want me to surprise you, too?” Lexa raised a brow at Anya.

“Yeah, that works,” Anya shrugged. “I’m not picky.”

“That’s a lie,” Lexa said flatly.

“Well, fine, I’m picky, but you know about it, so just give me something I like,” Anya huffed.

“I’m just saying,” Lexa tried to push it. Clarke chuckled at their sisterly antics. Both of them were such strong women that could push each other’s buttons like children.

“Fine, fine, you’re right. I’m hungry!” Anya huffed.

“I’ll send Aden out to say hi,” Lexa smiled and made her way back to the kitchen.

Lincoln and Clarke laughed as Anya described her stressful work week in the style of a standup comic. She made the dull financial world sound hilarious. Clarke relayed some of the more ridiculous injuries she had the displeasure of treating in her years at the hospital. Anya asked Clarke where she got her bracelet which led them down a very long tangent about TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and Marshalls that Lincoln decided to remove himself from. Aden showed up just in time as they got into the subtle nuances of what made a great high heel.

Aden filled Anya and Clarke in on some of the techniques Roan taught him that day. He asked his mother if she knew Roan was so cool which made Clarke laugh. She liked listening to him talk about Anya’s boyfriend in a positive tone. No one had brought it up necessarily, but Clarke wondered what the air was like between the two of them. Anya beamed at him as Aden told her all about how to butcher lamb chops.

Lexa hand delivered their meals and stayed and chatted with them while they ate. She enjoyed the familiarity between Clarke and Anya and didn’t even care that they ganged up a little too easily to make fun of her. It felt so natural and so right. She had to remind herself that she and Clarke had only been dating for a few weeks. The way Anya and Clarke interrupted each other to enhance a story, add facts and complement each other had the cadence of two women who’d known each other for ages.

Roan came out to say hi as the evening died down. Lexa stood behind the bar with Lincoln and watched Roan on one side of Anya with his arm around her listening to Aden who stood between Clarke and Anya go on about something from school.

The four of them looked right together. They all looked warm and happy and like they fit somehow. She took a deep breath and let out a content sigh.

“Hey, Commander,” Roan nodded his head at her. “Why don’t you get out of here? I’ll head up clean up tonight. You too, Dude,” Roan nodded at Aden. “Nice job today.” He reached across Anya and held his hand out for a fist bump from Aden.

“Thanks, man,” Aden bumped his hand and they both blew it up.

"You two are awfully friendly,” Anya looked back and forth between them.

“Why didn’t you tell me this dude was so cool?” Roan pointed at Aden. “All this time I’ve been hanging out with you I could’ve been chilling with him instead!”

“Alright,” Anya slid off her chair. “Go clean up,” Anya patted Roan on the chest. “Come on, Mr. Cool,” She squeezed Aden’s shoulder. “Let’s go home.”

“Night,” Roan grinned at Anya. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Night,” she grinned back and headed for the door with Aden.

“I’ll be out in a few minutes,” Lexa gave Clarke a warm smile.

They unwound in Lexa’s kitchen and shared a bottle of wine talking about their week apart mixed with kisses and hugs and touches and a little silly slow dancing to some blues music on Lexa’s stereo. They fell into bed later that night and made love like they hadn’t seen each other in ages.

The next few days off were full of making each other laugh, learning more and more about each other and fitting into each other’s everyday lives. Clarke went grocery shopping with Lexa which turned out to be quite the process. Lexa cooked dinner while Clarke chatted away and asked her questions about all of the different countries she’d traveled to. They grabbed a drink with Anya and Roan on Monday night. Lexa popped into Blake’s with a few ideas for Octavia and cooked for an hour or two while Clarke was at work.

Their lives started to merge and they both loved every moment of it. The leaves fell from the trees and the nights got colder as October passed them by in perfect days together. Lexa dropped meals off with sweet notes while Clarke worked long overnights. When Clarke was home, they never spent a night without the other. Clarke walked around Lexa’s house with familiarity. She had a tooth brush and some of her make up in Lexa’s bathroom. She left clothes behind and had enough to take up a whole drawer in Lexa’s dresser now.

Indra and Lexa continued to work unorthodox versions of fine dining food in the off hours. Indra still wasn’t completely sure what Lexa was up to, but the creativity the commander was bringing to the table was like nothing Indra had ever seen. The sloppy, wild ideas from War Paint were gone. Lexa did everything with a calculated precision blended with way outside the box ideas. Indra stopped caring about what might be next because she was too thrilled with Lexa’s energy and adventurous new style. She was having too much fun to get worked up.

Lexa rode Roan hard, but constructively. Indra could see the difference in his approach already. Lexa stepped back and let him take charge more and more. She and Indra were pleasantly surprised that he was turning out to be rather good at it. Aden started working Sunday brunch under Roan’s leadership and the two of them were getting along a little too well. She found them having an animated discussion about their favorite first person shooters one afternoon and walked away shaking her head at the sound effects they made.

“I’ll be done on Sunday morning,” Clarke snuck out through kisses. She was wrapped in Lexa’s arms taking in every second of closeness she could before leaving for work. They were in Lexa’s kitchen. They started saying good bye upstairs in the bathroom and lingered on each other’s words and kisses all the way to the door. “And Sunday night is Octavia’s Halloween party.”

“Right,” Lexa nodded, kissing Clarke harder and sneaking her hands under Clarke’s hoodie for a few last touches of her warm skin before she left for four days of work.

“I’ll probably need a nap, but you can come by whenever,” Clarke’s breath grew short at Lexa’s touches. She let herself lean into the kisses and caresses, then snapped to and grabbed Lexa’s wrists. “I’m going to be late. We can’t keep doing this or I’ll need you to finish it.” Clarke gave Lexa a knowing look with those blue eyes that brought heat to Lexa’s stomach.

“Sorry,” Lexa grinned. “I can’t keep my hands off you.”

“And I normally really enjoy that,” Clarke smirked. “But I have to go save lives now.”

"Have a good shift,” Lexa kissed Clarke softly and briefly. “Give me a call. I’ll bring you something to eat.”

"Babe, you really don’t need-“

“Shhh,” Lexa grinned and kissed Clarke once more.

“Fine,” Clarke relented. “I’ll see you Sunday,” Clarke tacked on before finally pulling away and heading for the door. Lexa leaned in the doorframe and watched her back down the driveway. She offered up a little wave when Clarke caught her glance. Once she couldn’t see her car anymore, Lexa shook off the warm feelings Clarke left on her body and headed for her office. She had to put the finishing touches on her business plan. She had a meeting with Indra next week and wanted to make sure she had a clear version of her vision.

It was time for something new.

Chapter Text

“Yo!  What’s up?” Raven’s cheerful voice came through the phone.  Clarke sat up on the bottom bunk of an on call room and rubbed her eyes.

“Hey, Raven,” Clarke yawned and stretched her back out.  She glanced at her watch and was amazed to find it was already nine o’clock on Saturday night.  Her shift passed with relative ease.  They had very few life-threatening situations.  The staff was in a decent mood and on fairly decent sleep rotations considering their norm.  “Is it really Saturday night already?”

“You bet your fine ass!”  Raven cried.  The background noise was loud where she was.  “I just got in!  I’m at the bar so I can’t talk long.  I just wanted to let you know I’m home!”

“Good!  I was wondering when you were getting in,” Clarke shrugged into her lab coat and fished through her pockets for her glasses. 

“I’m going to decorate tomorrow for O if you’re up for it.  I’d rather have you sleep so you can be fun at night though!”  Raven shouted over the noise. 

“I can’t make any promises,” Clarke smiled.  Her pager went off at her hip.  She grinned when she glanced at the code.  It was Maya’s new way of letting her know Lexa was in the building.  It read ‘HOT FOOD.’  “Hey, I’ve gotta take off.  I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Bye, Griff!  Night!” Clarke could hear Raven shouting about fireball shots to someone else before her phone clicked off. 

Clarke leisurely made her way down the hall towards reception where Lexa usually dropped food off for her.  She stopped to get herself a coffee knowing that Lexa would go through her routine of chatting with whatever nurses she encountered.  Lexa knew they were all obsessed with her and obsessed with her and Clarke’s relationship and enjoyed getting Clarke going by milking it.

Lexa was in full uniform, hat and all, with her jacket thrown on over her chefs coat.  She had a box from Houm in her hands.  She smiled and laughed at something Maya said to her.  A handful of nurses found their way into the conversation and all of them were looking Lexa up and down.  Clarke rolled her eyes. 

Lexa’s charm worked on every kind of woman on earth.

“Dr. Griffin!” Maya stood up straight and took an unconscious step back from Lexa.  The pack of nurses followed suit and moved as one.

“Hey, Honey,” Lexa’s warm grin bordered on a smirk as she turned to face her.  Clarke’s hair was in a messy pony tail and she had the glow of a hard sleep about her that she hadn’t shaken off yet.  She looked just the way she did when Lexa rolled over in the morning and found Clarke awake and smiling at her after a good night together.  It made Lexa’s stomach flip over. 

“Chef Woods,” Clarke matched the almost smirk.  She held in a grin at Lexa calling her Honey outside of the privacy of their homes.  She’d been slipping in sweet names for Clarke a lot lately and it made Clarke’s heart swell. 

“I brought you some raviolis,” Lexa gestured towards the box on the counter.  “There’s a piece of cake in there too since I’ve missed you so much this week.”  One of the nurses in the back sighed out loud.  Clarke shook her head just slightly, but couldn’t help loving it.

“Thank you,” Clarke’s smirk warmed to a genuine smile.  “Do you have a few minutes?  Want to join me?”

“Of course,” Lexa replied.  “Lead the way.”  She followed Clarke down the hall to a cluster of uncomfortable couches surrounded by fake plants.  A huge picture window gave them a view of the city all lit up at night.  Clarke dropped onto one of the couches and Lexa joined her, their thighs touching.  She could feel Lexa’s warmth through her thin scrubs and she loved it.  She always felt better having Lexa close.

“And how is your adoring public?” Clarke nodded her head back towards reception.

“Maya and the nurse posse?” Lexa grinned.  “They just like the idea of me.  You’re the one they actually love, which is why I’m so fun for them,” Lexa waved a hand to dismiss it and handed Clarke her food.

“This smells good,” Clarke smiled as she opened her food up.  Lexa remembered to get her plastic utensils every time.  “I didn’t realize I was so hungry.”

“Clarke,” Lexa began frankly.  “I’ve known you for a little while now and it’s scientific fact that you’re always hungry,” she shot flirty eyes Clarke’s way.

“That works out for you since you always seem to have incredible food just lying around,” Clarke chuckled and took a big bite.  “Are you ready for the party tomorrow?” 

“I think so,” Lexa nodded.  “Are you?”

“Oh yeah,” Clarke chuckled.  “Raven just got in.  She called me before you got here.  Should be a fun night.”

“Anya and Roan are coming as well.  Not sure when he’ll get there since he’s working.  Lincoln invited Indra, but I don’t know what her plans are,” Lexa said as she draped her arm over the back of the stiff couch around Clarke.  She felt Clarke lean back into her arm and relax.

“Awesome!” Clarke smiled at her.  Her pager went off and she scowled through a mouthful of food.  She glanced down at it and furrowed her brow.

“Everything okay?” Lexa asked.

“We’ll find out,” Clarke replied.  She hopped up and shoved a few more bites into her mouth.  She chased it with a huge swig of coffee.  Miller hurried around the corner.

“Bad car accident, Dr. Griffin!  We’ve gotta go!”  he pointed at her.

“I’m coming!”  Clarke replied and took one last gulp of coffee.  “I’m sorry to do this to you, but can you please take care of this stuff for me?  Put that piece of cake in your fridge!  I still want it!”   Clarke pointed hard at the box.

“Yeah, of course,” Lexa stiffened up, not sure how to react as Monroe hurried past them swearing at the code on her pager and looking to Clarke for a reaction.

“Thank you!” Clarke kissed Lexa’s cheek quickly.  “I hate when I ditch you like this.”

“It’s not a problem at all!  Go!” Lexa pointed down the hall.  Clarke took off at a pace between a walk and a jog and Lexa picked up her coffee cup and take out box.  She made it back to the ER reception area shortly behind all of the hurrying surgeons.  Clarke shucked her lab coat and pointed and called out to everyone around her.  She had one hand on a gurney wheeling a man in his forties who was covered in blood quickly down the hall.

“Maya!  The girl can wait.  Get her down to x ray.  The other driver’s got a nasty head wound!  Get Dr. Jaha into OR two!  Monroe’s on her way!  Miller’s with me!  We’re going to meet the chief in three!”  Clarke shouted.  Lexa watched as everyone around her fell in line.  They were all looking to Clarke for what to do and she had a plan for them without hesitation.

It was amazing.

“Dr. Miller, can you tell me anything else?  Did you talk to the paramedics?” Lexa heard Clarke ask before they wheeled him through a set of double doors and she was gone.  Lexa stood stunned in the middle of it all with her box of cake and just watched.  Once everyone was wheeled away and brought to their respective destinations, the waiting room was quiet again.  The tension in the air lingered for a moment, then fell away.  It happened so fast that it was as if the whole ordeal hadn’t even occurred. 

“Lexa,” Maya broke Lexa from her clouded daze.

“Sorry,” Lexa shook her head.  “I was just leaving.”

“She’s a very good doctor, you know,” Maya gave Lexa an encouraging smile. 

"Yeah?”  Lexa asked, making her way over to Maya.  “I mean, I figured she must be.”

“She makes everyone work harder,” Maya carried on.  “She makes us all feel good.  She’s so smart and she’s very calm.  She completely understands us and she’s the best with patients.”

“Really?”  Lexa couldn’t help but grin proudly.

“Yes,” Maya smiled sincerely.  “She’s the best.”  She enjoyed the proud smile on Lexa’s lips. 

“Thanks for saying that,” Lexa replied and glanced at the double doors Clarke disappeared behind wondering what she would have to say about it tomorrow.

Down the hall, Clarke, Miller and Chief Jaha all scrubbed to get into the OR with their car accident victim.

“Dr. Griffin,” Jaha began cautiously. 

“Yes, Sir?”  Clarke asked, holding her wet hands up and following him to get her gloves.

“We have a forty-year-old male who was in a head on collision.  His twelve-year-old daughter was with him.  She’s in the ER with a broken ankle.  She’s mostly fine,” Jaha said slowly with purpose.  Clarke felt a pang in her gut.  Jaha saw her pause.  “If this is too much for you, we can-“

“It’s not,” Clarke interrupted him as they approached the table.  “What do we have?”  A sense of calm washed over her.  She had to push it all away and not think about anything but the man on the table and the science she studied most of her life that could help him.

“Scans show serious internal bleeding.  We’re going to need to open him up and stop that.  Looks like punctured lung from broken ribs.  Heart beat is waning!  We’ve got a lot of work to do!” One of the OR nurses read the monitors. 

Clarke forced herself not to think of her dad.  She forced herself not to see Jake in this man with sandy hair that had a build just like him and a twelve-year-old daughter waiting terrified in another room getting a cast put on her leg.  She couldn’t think about what they might have been listening to on the radio when it happened.  Where they were going.  What kind of ice cream he liked. 

Jake always got mint chocolate chip.

"Dr. Griffin, I’m going to open him up.  Get ready on suction for me,” Jaha made eye contact with her.  She nodded.  “Are you still with me?”

“I’m with you, Sir,” Clarke replied firmly.

“I need blood on standby!  Keep a crash cart handy and charged!  Everybody look alive!” Jaha shouted before cutting into him.

She didn’t even want to go to that movie and he convinced her to go with him.  She couldn’t think about the Mountain Dew they shared, the pizza they went out for beforehand and the promise of staying up late listening to his records because Abby was at work all night.  He was wearing an REO Speedwagon t shirt under a flannel that Abby always told him he was too old for.

"BP’s falling!” Clarke heard one of the nurses.  She was losing focus.  She had to get back to the task.  Most of the motions she was doing she could handle in her sleep. 

"Dr. Miller, get the paddles ready,” Jaha ordered.  “Dr. Griffin, you stay with me!”  The bleeding was so bad.  Clarke wondered if her father’s was the same.  How much pain he felt.  How long he was awake.

If he had time to think of her.

They tried everything.  There was just too much damage.  Any time they stabilized one problem, something else failed.  It went on into the early morning when Jaha finally called time of death. 

Clarke’s chest felt tight.  Kane had done this for her dad.  Kane had called time of death on her father, a man he knew and respected and went to weekend barbeques with.  A man whose wife he worked with every day and saved lives with.  A man whose daughter he knew so well that he still sent a birthday card to every year even though she was in her thirties and had her own life.  He did that.  He announced officially that Jake was dead.

“Dr. Miller, take care of the crew.  I’m going to speak to the family.  Clarke, maybe you should go home,” Jaha finished softly.  She wasn’t mad that he called her by her name.  This time it wasn’t an insult and it wasn’t inappropriate.  This time it made her feel present.

“I think,” Clarke began carefully.  She paused at the hitch in her wavering voice.  “I think I’d like to go with you.”  Jaha shot her a confused look.

“I’m not really sure that’s wise,” he eyed her.

"I know exactly what that girl is going through,” Clarke took another deep breath and steadied herself.  “Literally exactly what she’s going through.  I should go with you.”

“Let’s go,” Jaha tried to smile at her but only go halfway there.  After they scrubbed and cleaned the blood off, they walked wordlessly down the empty hallway together.  He didn’t say anything to her, just put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her a step closer to him.  She was thankful for it.  She didn’t know what to say.

She remembered Jaha at the funeral.  She couldn’t remember much about the funeral, but she remembered Wells and the Chief being there.  He wore a purple tie and she had no idea why that was something that stuck with her.

They made it to the daughter’s room.  She had curly blond hair and blue yes.  She was twelve, she was terrified and she looked a whole lot like Clarke.  It caused Jaha and Clarke each to pause when they entered the room.  Her mother sat beside her in an uncomfortable chair.  Both of them looked like they had spent hours crying and were trying to rest but couldn’t.  The girl’s jeans had been cut up to her knee and she had a cast on her right ankle.  Clarke unconsciously flexed hers expecting to feel the old break.

The looks on their faces squeezed her heart. 

She couldn’t hear Jaha speaking.  His even tone sounded far away and under water.  She watched the wife’s body wrack with sobs.  She didn’t care that it was unprofessional and she reached out and gave the woman a hug and did the same for the young daughter.  The wife grabbed onto Jaha next when Clarke let go of her.  His eyes shot open in surprise. 

"Dr. Griffin, why don’t you head out,” Jaha said quietly to her as they left the room.  Clarke reached a finger under her glasses to wipe a tear away.  She held it together in front of the family, she wasn’t sure how, but now she felt like falling apart.

“Are you sure?”  Clarke asked him.  “I’m supposed to be on for another three hours or so.”

“I’m sure,” he patted her on the shoulder again.  “Why don’t you give your mother a call?”  he added on with a warm smile.  He was right.  She was ashamed that it hadn’t occurred to her to call her mother after something like that.

Clarke went through the motions of getting changed and walked to the garage in a fog.

How long had her dad lasted before he passed?  Did he know he was going to die?  Was he even conscious when they got him to the hospital?  She felt like these were things she should’ve known.  Maybe at one time she heard them but she was too clouded with anger and grief to process what any of it meant.

“Clarke?” Abby answered the phone with a start.  It was five am in California.  “Clarke, Sweetie, are you alright?”

“Hi, Mom,” Clarke sighed.  She sat in her car but hadn’t driven away yet.  She clutched her keys in her fist.  “I’m okay.”

“What’s going on?” Abby asked carefully.  Clarke could hear the sounds and bustle of the busy San Francisco hospital in the background.

“Was Dad conscious when they got him to the hospital?”  Clarke asked, a lump rising in her throat.

“What?” Abby’s voice hitched.  Clarke never talked about Jake.  Neither of them did.  It was an understanding they had.

"Dad.  When he got to the hospital the night he,” Clarke paused.  She didn’t like saying it.  “Did he know what was going on?”

“Yes,” Abby said after a long pause.  “He was awake.  I talked to him before Kane made me leave the room.”  It knocked Clarke over.  She had never known that.  She had never asked.

“Really?”  Clarke swallowed hard.  She was trying to remember the last time her mother saw or heard her cry.  It was a passing thought but she couldn’t remember when it was.  Before she went to college?  Maybe sophomore year when she was feeling lost and homesick?  Did she all her mother then?  She couldn’t remember.

“What’s going on, Clarke?  Why are you asking me about this now?”  Abby asked carefully.

“I lost a patient last night.  Chief Jaha and I were together.  Forty-year-old male who was in a head on collision with his twelve-year-old daughter who was mostly fine, but has a broken right ankle,” Clarke replied knowing it would say everything she couldn’t.  Her voice cracked near the end.

“That scenario came in and Jaha let you in that OR?”  Abby spat out.  “Jesus Christ, Clarke, you went through years of therapy after that!”

“He tried to leave me out, but I wanted to stay,” Clarke sighed.  “And I did a good job, I was alright.  There was just too much wrong.  We were in there for over six hours.”  Clarke tried to rub away the headache in her forehead.  It didn’t work.

“I’m so sorry, Clarke,” Abby sighed. 

“So you talked to him?”  Clarke asked after a long silence between them.  “Dad?  That night?”

“Only a little,” Abby said.  Clarke could hear the pain in her tone coming through the phone.

“What did he say to you?”  Clarke’s voice cracked again.  She couldn’t help it.

“He told me that he loved me.  His last words were to tell you that he loved you,” Abby paused to take a deep breath.  She debated telling Clarke the next part, but decided maybe it was time she knew about it.  “Kane told me a few years later that he kept asking for you after they took me out.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me that?” Clarke choked out around the lump in her throat.

“I don’t know, Clarke.  I should have,” Abby sighed.  Clarke could hear the waiver in Abby’s voice too.  “I didn’t know how back then.  I still have a hard time talking about it and it was almost twenty years ago.”

“Me too,” Clarke wiped her running nose on the sleeve of her hoodie.

They hadn’t talked about Jake in over a decade.  They just didn’t do it.  They didn’t even talk about him much after he died because they didn’t know how.  Clarke was in therapy all through high school, mostly to appease her mother, but that was the only time she talked about him.  She dealt with it, knew it wasn’t her fault and carried no guilt, but she was always going to be sad about it. 

“Are you still working?”  Abby asked after a heavy beat of silence hung on the line between them.

“No, I’m done.  I’m going home,” Clarke replied.

“Good,” Abby nodded.  “Are you okay?” Abby asked.  It sounded like it was hard for her to ask.

“I don’t know,” Clarke heaved a big sigh.  “Yes, I guess.  Maybe.  I will be.”

“Is Octavia throwing her party tonight?”  Abby asked carefully changing the subject.  It made Clarke pause that Abby remembered that she had this tradition with her friends.  “Maybe that will help take your mind off of it.”

"Yes, she is,” Clarke took a deep breath, thankful for the change in topics.  “I’ll be okay.  Just had my head spun a little.”

“Do you have a date?” Abby carried on.

“What are you getting at?”  Clarke sighed, too tired and worn out and wrecked to do the dance with her mother.

“One of my residents is a total foodie and a big Chef Lexa Woods fan,” Abby replied.  Clarke almost smiled.  If she wasn’t so miserable she would’ve gotten all the way there.  “Apparently Chef Woods has a mystery woman that’s a Surgeon.  My resident recently showed me a few photos on the internet and asked me if that was my daughter holding Lexa Woods’ hand at a Food And Wine Magazine party in Portland, Maine a few weeks ago.”

“Oh yeah?” Clarke asked playfully.  She and her mother hadn’t joked like this in ages.  They used to need her dad for this sort of thing.  It felt so good.  “Was it your daughter?”

“She certainly looked like my daughter, but since I don’t talk to her too often I couldn’t confirm,” Abby replied sarcastically.  “Are you dating a famous chef?”

“Yes,” Clarke replied, instantly blushing.  She glanced out the window at some of the morning nurses coming on for a shift change.  “It’s still kind of new so I didn’t bring it up.”

“How’s it going?” Abby asked.  She could hear the grin in Clarke’s voice and it made her chest swell with warmth.

“Good.  Really good, actually,” Clarke’s smile finally bloomed.  “She’s very good to me.  We have a lot of fun.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Abby smiled on her end.  She and Clarke hadn’t discussed something positive in a few years.  Maybe longer.  It was always logistics and business.  It felt foreign but not in a bad way.  “Do me a favor and send me a picture of you two so this whiny resident believes me.  She’s been up my butt to ask you about it, but I didn’t want to pry.”

"You can pry if you want,” Clarke replied gently. 

“I’ll let you tell me more when you want to,” Abby shrugged.  Clarke heard Abby’s pager go off on the other end of the line.  “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go, Sweetie.”

"No worries, Mom.  I’ll call you again soon,” Clarke replied, and she meant it this time.

"I’d like that.  Send me a picture.  Love you,” Abby got out before hanging up.

“Love you,” Clarke sighed and finally started her car to head home. 

Octavia was sitting at the breakfast bar drinking coffee and scrolling through her phone when Clarke walked in.  Octavia looked more tired than usual.  The sudden boom in her business was wearing on her.

“Hey,” Octavia smiled.  Clarke looked more ragged than usual too.  “You okay?”

“Kind of,” Clarke sighed.  Octavia sat up and tried to figure out what kind of sympathetic to be.  “The identical accident I was in with my dad came through my ER tonight.  It was trippy.  Forty-year-old dad, twelve-year-old daughter, head on collision and she broke her right ankle,” Clarke told her.  “Jaha and I lost the father.”

“Shit, Clarke,” Octavia set her mug and her phone down and gaped.  “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Clarke hugged her arms around herself.  She was trying to figure out if she wanted to be comforted or not.  “I called my mother, actually.”

“Whoa,” Octavia’s brows rose.  She was all too familiar with Clarke and Abby’s lack-of-relationship.

“Yeah,” Clarke cleared her throat to cover any evidence that she might want to cry again.  “It turned out to be really helpful.”

“Well, that’s good, right?”  Octavia asked carefully.

“I think so,” Clarke shrugged one shoulder.  “I think I’m going to lay down.  I’m feeling kind of fucked up,” Clarke said frankly.  “Too many conflicting things going on up here.”  She pointed to her head.

“You gonna make it?  Is there anything I can do?” Octavia asked sincerely.

“I’ll be alright,” Clarke sighed.  “Raven still sleeping?”

“Yeah.  Combination of jetlag and doing shots with some of the boys from the Thai Place in the west end that have been hanging around the bar lately,” Octavia chuckled.  Clarke cracked half a smile.

“I’m going to lay down.  I don’t know when I’ll be up,” Clarke pointed to her bedroom door.  “I’ll get my act together before the party.  I just need to process a few things.”

“You got it, Sister.  Text me if you think of anything I can do,” Octavia raised her coffee mug at Clarke.  “If you wake up hungry, come find me.  I’ve got some kick ass stuff on the menu for the party.  I might need a taste tester.”

“Will do,” Clarke nodded back at her and disappeared behind her bedroom door.  Octavia watched her go.  She heard Clarke turn on some soft music behind her closed door.  She scooped her phone back up and dialed.

“Octavia?” Lexa asked on the other end.  “What’s up?”

“Hey,” Octavia replied bluntly.  “What are you doing right now?”

"I’m having coffee with Anya and getting some work done,” Lexa replied.  She glanced across the table at Anya who had quizzical eyes.  They had papers and folders and Lexa’s laptop spread out all over a table in a coffee shop downtown.  “What’s up?”

“Have you talked to Clarke this morning?”  Octavia glanced at Clarke’s door and kept her voice down. 

“No?” Lexa replied, her worry wrinkle working up between her brows.  “She’s not supposed to get off for a few more hours.  I just figured she was in surgery or something.”

"Yeah, well,” Octavia took a hard gulp of her coffee.  “She’s home.”

“Okay?” Lexa said apprehensively.  “What are you not telling me, Blake?”

“She’s in rough shape,” Octavia sighed.  “Maybe you ought to come by.”

“What happened?  Is she alright?” Lexa was already out of her chair and had one sleeve of her jacket on before she realized what was happening.  Anya sat back, alarmed at her frantic movement.

“She had a twisted evening.  She always says you make her feel safe and calm and all that shit,” Octavia shrugged.  Lexa glanced shyly away and slowly sat back down.  “I think she needs some of that right now and she might not know how to ask you for it.”

“Octavia,” Lexa tried again.

“Look, man, she’s just really blue, alright?  Are you going to get your ass over here or not?  I’ve got to go down to the restaurant in a few to start prep.  Come in the bar through the alley doorway and I’ll give you my keys to come up here,” Octavia sighed.

“I’ll be done here in about an hour,” Lexa replied.

“Perfect,” Octavia polished off her coffee.  “I’ll see you in a little bit.

Clarke didn’t go right to sleep. 

Instead, she pulled a box down from the top of her closet, put some music on and braced herself.  She sat down on her bed and took a deep breath before taking the lid off the Adidas box.  It was full of photos and memories of her father.  She let her mother’s words roll around.  She couldn’t decide if it was better or worse that he was asking for her with his last breaths.   A knock on her door startled her.

“Octavia, I told you I needed a few minutes,” Clarke looked over her shoulder at the door and her scowl softened when she saw Lexa poking her head into her room.  “Oh.  Hi.”

“Hey,” Lexa said nervously.  “Octavia let me in.  I hope that’s okay,” Lexa pointed over her shoulder.  She didn’t step into Clarke’s room just yet.

“Yeah, of course, yes.  Come in,” Clarke waved Lexa over.  Lexa carefully closed the door behind her and crossed the room.  Clarke sat on her bed surrounded by photographs and event tickets and trinkets and notes.  Lexa leaned over and softly kissed Clarke’s forehead.  Clarke let her eyes fall closed and leaned into the kiss.

“I heard you had a rough night and might be in need of some company,” Lexa smiled.

“Where’d you hear that?” Clarke flicked her eyes up at Lexa.  It was amazing how quickly relief washed over her when Lexa walked into the room.

“I have my sources,” Lexa offered up a little half shrug. 

"Octavia told you?”  Clarke sighed. 

“She was worried about you,” Lexa replied sincerely and shrugged out of her jacket.  She set it carefully on the stool by Clarke’s easel.  “But I can go if you want to be alone,” Lexa nodded towards the door.

“No,” Clarke reached for Lexa’s hand.  “Please stay.”

“Alright,” Lexa replied calmly.  She brought Clarke’s hand to her lips and kissed it.  “What’s all this?”  She asked gently and gestured to Clarke’s memories spread out all over her bed.

“Here, have a seat,” Clarke gathered a few of the photos next to her to make room for Lexa to sit down.  “The car accident that came in when you were with me?  It was a little too close to home for me and kinda screwed with my head.”

“What do you mean?” Lexa asked softly.

“I told you that my dad died when I was kid,” Clarke took a deep breath.  “He was in a really bad car accident and I was in the car with him.”

“I’m so sorry,” Lexa couldn’t help but blurt out.  Her eyes widened.

“Last night, we had a forty-year-old father who was in a head on collision with his twelve-year-old daughter in the car with him,” Clarke labored over her words.  “He looked so much like my dad.  The daughter was a blond haired girl and she broke her right ankle in the accident,” Clarke paused and pulled up the leg of her jeans and flexed her right foot.  She had a light pink scar on her ankle that Lexa had never really thought twice about.  “Which is exactly what happened to me in my accident.”

“Oh my god,” Lexa reached for Clarke’s hand again.  “What are the odds of that?” 

“Pretty slim,” Clarke nodded slowly.  “Jaha and I lost the father.  We had to tell the family.  It brought up a lot of thoughts I had packed away.”

“I can imagine,” Lexa gave Clarke’s hand a squeeze. 

“I actually called my mother,” Clarke shook her head, still surprised that she had done it and still coming around to the fact that it had gone so well.  “I haven’t told you much about my parents, and you’ve told me all about yours.”

“It’s not something we need to trade evenly,” Lexa offered up a sympathetic smile.  “You don’t have to tell me anything else if you don’t want to.  I’ll find out when I need to know.”

“I’d like to tell you,” Clarke tried to smile at her but it was hard.  She carried on despite it.  “My dad was the best.  He was the sweetest, kindest man.  He was incredible to my mother.  He treated me like I was the only thing in the world.  He was nice to everyone.  He was fun, he was funny and so generous.  He gave a little piece of himself to everyone he met.”

“Sounds like someone I know,” Lexa nudged Clarke’s shoulder with hers.

“Thanks,” Clarke let out a shy chuckle.  “My mother always loved me, I’ve never doubted that.  She’s just,” Clarke looked for the right words.  “She’s a little cold.  She always has been.  She doesn’t express emotion well.  After he died, she and I realized that we never really knew each other.  We didn’t have an ‘us’ without him.  We’ve been trying since then, but mostly we just drift further apart.  In some ways, when he died I kind of lost both of them because she didn’t know what to do with me without him there to do it for her.”

“You said you called her today,” Lexa tried to find the positive.  “How was she?”

“She was actually really nice,” Clarke nodded to herself.  “She told me some things I never knew about the night he died that were helpful.  She’s a surgeon, too, so we have that in common.  Knowing what I know now puts a lot from the night he died into perspective.  It was kind of a mind fuck last night.  I kept thinking about him and what he went through and what his doctors had to do.”

“What did she tell you that helped you?”  Lexa asked innocently.

“She told me,” Clarke took a deep shaky breath.  “That he was asking for me up until he couldn’t anymore.” 

Lexa didn’t know what to say to that.  She was confident that she was the furthest thing from her parents’ minds when their boat went down.  There would never be a way to know that for sure, but she didn’t need it confirmed.  She knew it was true.  With no words, she pulled Clarke closer to her and kissed her temple.  Clarke’s body relaxed against her with relief.

“He loved you very much,” Lexa finally got out.

“Yeah, he really did,” Clarke smiled this time.  “I feel like knowing that about him helped me get over something today.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  I feel relieved,” Clarke reached for a stack of photos and handed them to Lexa who held them with careful hands.  “This is all of my memories of him,” 

The top of the stack was a shot of Jake and Clarke on a beach.  She was maybe about five.  He held her hand and smiled at the camera.  Lexa flipped to the next photo.  Jake, Clarke and Abby in formal wear.  Clarke was maybe ten.  She flipped through more of the pile.  Jake and Clarke in 49ers jerseys at a game with their faces painted.  Clarke looked about eight.  Jake and Clarke on skis.  Jake and Clarke playing soccer in a backyard somewhere.  Jake with a young man’s face and a young man’s hairline holding a tiny baby.  Jake and Clarke on bikes.  Jake and Clarke eating ice cream.

Their smiles were so real.

“You look like him,” Lexa said absentmindedly.  She couldn’t figure out what else to say.

She didn’t have this.  She didn’t have a box of memories.  Lexa had lukewarm feelings tainted with resentment and tens of millions of dollars she didn’t earn and had to carry like a badge of honor.

“My mother always said that,” Clarke wrinkled her nose.  “I always wondered if it was part of why she had a hard time looking at me after he died.”

“Are you and she still on tough terms?” Lexa handed the pile of memories and love that she had no business envying back to Clarke gently.

“We’re not on bad terms,” Clarke neatly set the photos back in the box and started cleaning up everything on the bed methodically.  “We aren’t really on any terms.  She was kind to me today.  It felt different.”

“Good different?” Lexa raised a brow.

“Yeah, definitely,” Clarke replied and settled the lid back on the box in her lap.  “I’m going to try and call her more often.”

“That’s good,” Lexa smiled encouragingly.

“She ah, she had some questions about some photos of me that turned up on the internet recently,” Clarke quirked a brow at Lexa.  “Apparently one of her residents is a big foodie and a big fan of yours.”

“You’re joking,” Lexa’s face fell.

“She asked my mom if it was me in the photos making their way around Instagram in your little corner of the world,” Clarke let out a little laugh.  She was feeling so much better.  Somehow, talking through it and sharing her change in attitude with Lexa made her feel brighter.  Complete.  “She asked if I would take a picture of us together and send it to her.”

“Because I am all for fostering the new communication between you and your mother,” Lexa began and ran her fingers through her curls.  “Make sure you get my good side,” she said sarcastically.

“You’re ridiculous,” Clarke chuckled and leaned in for a soft kiss.

“It’s a little soon to send her one of us kissing, don’t you think?”  Lexa playfully grimaced.  “I mean, if this person has heard of me, you probably don’t want your mother getting wind of the kind of person I used to be.”

“Please shut up,” Clarke smiled before kissing Lexa harder.  She set her box down on the floor and pushed Lexa back onto her bed.  After a few heated kisses, Lexa pushed her back to see her face.

“Thanks for telling me about him,” Lexa said softly.

“Thanks for letting me,” Clarke shrugged, then kissed her hard again.

Clarke found the safety, solace and relief in Lexa’s touches that she didn’t know she was craving.  Lexa was gentle with her, reading Clarke’s unspoken words.  It amazed Clarke how well they could communicate without a single word.  Their bodies did it for them.  Their lips, their fingertips, their hips. She made Clarke feel the perfect combination of alive and in the moment and safe on another plane somewhere else.

Clarke was normally one to throw her head back and clutch the sheets, but this time, she held onto Lexa, her arms tight around her, nails digging into Lexa’s back and her legs wrapped around her.  She held onto her like she’d fall away if she lost her grip. 

She told one of her best friends that she wanted to be alone, but when Lexa showed up, she realized it was what she was missing.  Lexa filled in all of her empty spaces.  Lexa fit all of her missing pieces.  Lexa made her feel whole.  Clarke had never felt it before.  Everything washed away and felt better when she was in Lexa’s arms.

“Hey,” Lexa whispered and kissed Clarke’s sweaty forehead.  Clarke was out of breath below her holding on for dear life after she finished.  “Clarke,” she tried again gently.

“Yeah?” Clarke got out between shallow breaths.

“Are you okay?”  Lexa asked carefully.  She didn’t want to like Clarke clinging to her as much as she did if it was for the wrong reasons.  Clarke had gone through a complicated set of emotions in the last twenty-four hours.  Lexa felt wanted and needed and craved, but she had to make sure it wasn’t because Clarke was in a bad place.

“Yes,” Clarke opened her eyes to look up into Lexa’s concerned face.  The look in Clarke’s lidded blue eyes told Lexa that Clarke was more than okay.  Clarke leaned up to kiss Lexa’s lips, but her smile got in the way. “I just want to be close to you.”  Her eyes fell shut and she burrowed her face into the crook of Lexa’s neck and left a soft kiss there.

“You should get some rest,” Lexa leaned into Clarke’s kiss.  “Do you want me to let you sleep?”

“Stay with me,” Clarke mumbled.  Lexa lowered herself down next to Clarke.  Clarke kept her grip on Lexa and snuggled into her.  “Please.”

“Of course,” Lexa sighed through a smile and pulled the blankets up to cover Clarke’s bare shoulder.  “Come here.”

*****

“Happy Halloween, lovebirds!” Raven shouted at Lexa and Clarke when they came downstairs later that night.  Clarke slept most of the day.  Lexa laid with her and dozed on and off.  Between her day job and planning her new business, Lexa had been burning the candle at both ends and didn’t realize how wiped out she was.  By nine o’clock, they were rested, refreshed, dressed as a pirate and a mermaid and ready to party.

“Happy Halloween, Raven,” Clarke chuckled and wrapped her friend in a hug.  She hadn’t seen her in weeks.  “How was your trip?”

“Full of work!  None of that tonight!” Raven planted a sarcastic kiss on Clarke’s cheek.  She was dressed as Lara Croft and pointed her fake guns every which way.  “You two look fucking adorable!”  Raven pointed at them with her fake pistol.  Lexa was dressed as a pirate, complete with heavy eyeliner and almost all of the jewelry from Clarke’s jewelry box.  Clarke was done up in sparkles dressed as a mermaid.  She wore her hair big and curly and Lexa had a hard time keeping her hands out of it.

“Thanks,” Clarke replied with a grin.  The bar was absolutely packed.  Raven had decked the place out in colored lights and fake spider webs and all kinds of Halloween decorations.  Clarke picked out a few faces from the usual Blake’s regular crowd, as well as tons of people from the Food And Wine party that had made Blake’s their new regular spot.  “I see you brought Lara out again this year?”

“Look, I got home last night.  What did you want me to do?”  Raven shrugged and swigged from her beer.  “Besides, look how good my ass looks in my Lara shorts,” Raven shot them a sassy wink and turned to the side in her short shorts.  Clarke caught Lexa raising an impressed brow and scoffed at her.

“What?” Lexa yelped.  “She asked us to look!  I thought we were supposed to be impressed?!”  Clarke sighed and rolled her eyes at both of them.

“Well, well, well!  Looks like The Great Lexa Woods is human after all!” Raven chuckled.  “Harp!  Let’s get these two a round!”  Raven gestured one of her guns at Harper behind the bar.  Harper was dressed as Alice In Wonderland and her short blue dress had the bartenders from one of the big concert venues up town interested in her phone number.

Clarke and Lexa ordered their drinks and mingled with the crowd.  Lexa got swept into a game of pool with a few guys from the high-end oyster bar in the Old Port that she had known since she was a kid.  They were working on a big plate of Octavia’s homemade sweet potato chip nachos and demanded Lexa try them so they could discuss. 

Clarke got yanked in the other direction to play darts with Nyko and a few guys from his kitchen.  Nyko wanted Clarke’s opinion on The bacon burger sliders that Octavia was dishing out that evening.  They were having a fight over whether the aioli was Cajun or not.  Clarke stayed out of it and enjoyed that they ordered another plate of them to continue the debate.

 Raven and Lincoln were doing their best to get an impromptu dance floor started, but so far it was just the two of them.  He was dressed as a Spartan warrior complete with sword and lack of shirt.  He had come by earlier around lunchtime to help Raven decorate, and by the looks of their dance moves, the two of them had been drinking since.

“Hey, Clarke!” Anya cried over the noise of the party.  She was dressed as Tinkerbell with wings and all and had trouble weaving through the crowd to get to Clarke by the dart board.  She held her beer over her head so she wouldn’t spill it.

“Hey!”  Clarke lit up.  “I’m glad you made it!”

“Me too!  This is wild!  This place is packed!”  Anya laughed.  “You look adorable.  Where’s your pirate?”  Anya craned her neck to try and find Lexa in the crowd.

“I think she’s playing pool,” Clarke shrugged.  “Is Roan with you?”

“He’s dressed as Zorro over there somewhere.  He ran into some people he knows from a Taco place he really likes,” Anya waved a dismissive hand and took a sip of beer.  “So Lex told me you’re going to New York for a few days while she’s there.”

“Yes!  I am!  It was a miracle that my schedule worked out, but I’m going to be there for three nights with her while she’s not cooking,” Clarke brightened. 

“Get ready,” Anya’s eyes widened sarcastically.  “They treat her a lot differently at Polis than they do up here.”

“What do you mean?” Clarke furrowed her brow.

"Houm is a lot more laid back than any of her other restaurants.  The vibe is really different up here.  If you think they’re strict and serious at Houm, wait til you see this shit,” Anya chuckled.  “I think Nightblood is the worst, but the team in Polis is really serious and fiercely loyal and puts tons of pressure on themselves to perform.”

“The scene in New York is a lot different than it is here,” Clarke shrugged.  “We like casual elegance.  That would be weak down there.”

“See?  You already get it.  You’re ahead of the game,” Anya clapped Clarke on the shoulder.  “You want another beer?  Let me buy you a beer!”  Anya pointed to Clarke’s empty glass and they worked their way back to the bar though the crowd up super heroes, cops and robbers and the slutty version of way too many occupations.  Lexa, Lincoln Roan and Raven meandered over by chance at the same time.  Octavia burst out of the kitchen with plates of food.

“Hey!” She shouted.  “My people!”  She grinned at all of them standing together.  Lexa had her arm around Clarke.  Roan and Anya were squeezed in tight face to face and sharing a cheeky grin.  Lincoln rested his elbow on top of Raven’s head and feigned a casual lean.  “Look at you all lined up in a row!”  Octavia had her normal work attire on with a cowboy hat and a bandana.  She fussed every year that she got too hot to wear a costume. 

“The food is off the charts as usual,” Lexa raised her beer to Octavia.  Everyone in the place was eating something different and asked Lexa to take a bite off of their plate and tell them what she thought.  The fish tacos were perfect.  The sliders were better.  The nachos were precisely as messy as they should be.  She had fried veggies, finger sized pastrami melts, macaroni and cheese balls and Brussel sprouts skewered with chicken and bacon all seasoned to perfection.  The French fries with flights of dipping sauces looked careless but ate so well thought out. 

“It’s what I do, Woods,” Octavia winked at her and hurried to the other end of the bar to deliver her plates.

“Another round, guys?”  Harper asked.

“This round on me!”  Indra shouted from behind them.  She was wearing jeans, a Jack Daniels t shirt with the sleeves ripped off, a red apron, a wig with long straight dark hair and a bandana over it.

“Are you dressed as Axel Rose?” Lexa wrinkled her nose at Indra.

“Or maybe Kid Rock?”  Lincoln tried and glanced at Lexa.

“Nope,” Indra grinned.

“Oh my god, you asshole!”  Octavia burst out laughing as she came to say hi when she spotted Indra joining them.  “Are you dressed as ME for Halloween?!” 

“I figured since it was your party I should rise to the occasion!”  Indra shrugged and laughed as she reached across the bar to slap a handshake with Octavia.  “Maybe it will help me channel some of your deep fried genius!”

“That is so good!”  Raven threw her guns up in the air and shook them at the ceiling.  “I can’t believe we never thought of dressing up as Octavia!” She cried at Clarke.

“I needed something I could throw together quickly.  Just closed up, Commander.  Good push earlier but kind if a slow night,” Indra tuned to Lexa

“Thanks, sounds great,” Lexa nodded at her.

“Dr. Griffin?” They all turned around at a male voice behind them.  There was a Lois Lane and Clark Kent with his shirt unbuttoned and his S emblem showing through behind them.

“Maya?” Clarke blurted out.  It was Maya and Jasper, Clarke’s patient with the two-by-four.

“Holy shit, Dr. Griffin!  I can’t believe you’re here!”  He cried.

“I could say the same about both of you,” Clarke replied.   Her friends all looked on waiting to see how it played out.

“Don’t worry!  I’m not drinking or anything.  My stuff is still sort of out of whack, but I can go out and have fun now,” he beamed at her and pointed to his stomach.  “Thanks to you!”

"Stop it,” Clarke waved a hand.  Lexa glanced back and forth between him and a bashful Clarke.  It was clear that Maya and this guy were on a date judging by their grins and held hands.

“Hey!”  Jasper cried, waving his hands and trying to get everyone’s attention.  “Hey over here!  Hey!”  Most heads turned towards him wondering what the commotion was about.

“What are you doing?” Maya hissed.

“This woman right here,” he paused and pointed at Clarke.  She froze and her eyes widened with panic with the whole room’s attention on her.  “She saved my fuckin’ life!”

“Oh my god!  Jasper!  Stop it!” Clarke cried.

“For real!  She’s a doctor and she saved me!  She saved my fuckin’ life!”  He shouted and was greeted with return cheers and raised glasses, most people were unaware of what they were cheering for, but were just happy to be excited.

“Did you really save his life?” Anya pointed at Jasper with her beer.

“I had help,” Clarke muttered into a nervous sip of her drink.

“I was in this gnarly accident at work.  Wrecking ball knocked one of the lumber trucks, everything was miscalculated really badly, sent two-by-fours flying fucking everywhere!  One of them shot right into me!”  Jasper cried, making wild hand gestures and pointing to where his two-by-four had been. 

“Oh my god!” Anya jumped at the thought.  Roan and Lincoln each sucked in deep breaths and winced.

“Yeah!  Clarke pulled it out of me in the ER!”  Jasper pointed at her.

“Really?” Anya gaped.

“Tell ‘em!” Jasper beamed at her.  “And the zapping and stuff!  She did it!”

“You did?” Lexa cocked her head and smiled proudly at Clarke.

“Yes,” Clarke chuckled.  “I did.  I held his kidney in my hand to stop the bleeding while we sewed his stomach shut and when he flatlined I hit him with the defibrillator a couple times until he came back,” she replied nonchalantly.  “Oh, I sewed your intestines back together, too.”  She pointed at Jasper.

“This woman is a goddamn hero!  Why are more of you not buying her drinks?!”  Jasper shouted at the crowd and got a few more cheers.

“Please!  Stop it!” Clarke let out an embarrassed laugh.  Lexa was very quiet.  Maya watched the whole thing.

“Jasper, why don’t we go see about playing some pool,” Maya said gently and winked at Clarke.  “I told you she was a good doctor, Lexa,” she tacked on and shot Lexa a smile that made Lexa warm up a little.

“What was that about?” Clarke turned to Lexa with a curious brow raised once they were gone.  Raven and Lincoln moved back to their dance floor and had no trouble getting people to join them this time.  Anya and Roan snuck a few steps away from Lexa to enjoy a few kisses out of her line of sight.  Indra was at the end of the bar debating the finer nuances of a good pastrami sandwich with Octavia.

“Did you really do that?  You really saved that guy’s life?”  Lexa gaped.  She made people dinner and over charged them for the experience.  She was the most famous person in the room for turning a primal need into art work, but Clarke had the power to save people’s lives and had done it probably more times than she could count.

“Yeah, I was one of his doctors,” Clarke replied.  “That was the page I got the first time you brought me dinner.  It was him with a two-by-four jammed in his abdomen.” Clarke pointed after him.  He was high fiving one of the guys from a new retro tiki bar around the corner that had been hanging around lately.  Lexa watched him laughing and smiling.  He turned and grinned at Maya and said something that made her step closer to him.

Clarke gave him that high five.  Clarke made it possible for him to be there with his arm around a girl he liked smiling and laughing.  Lexa couldn’t wrap her head around that.

“I was kind of a bitch during his surgery actually,” Clarke mused, remembering her evening with the chief.  “It was borderline insubordination, but it ended up saving him so I didn’t get in any trouble.”  Clarke tacked on with a shrug.

“You know, we joke about how you save lives all the time,” Lexa trailed off and watched Jasper drape an arm around Maya’s shoulder and put a kiss to the top of her head.   “But I never really put two and two together that you actually, really do it.”

“What’s gotten into you?”  Clarke poked Lexa in the stomach and leaned into her.  She flicked concerned eyes up at her.

“I guess I didn’t really think about what you being a doctor really meant,” Lexa’s eyebrows knit together while she searched for words.  Clarke waited patiently for her to figure it out.  “I saw you today wheeling that man in and he was all bloody and everyone listened to you.  They were all looking to you to tell them what to do.  You just knew what to do,” Lexa trailed off.

“I didn’t know you saw that,” Clarke glanced away. 

“And you’ve told me about losing patients.  Those soccer players.  The way you talk about work, Clarke, you down play it,” Lexa’s puzzled faced bloomed into a proud smile.  “The things you deal with are insane.  How are you so happy and sweet and kind and pleasant all the time?”

“I think it’s because of the things I see all day,” Clarke leaned in and put a gentle kiss to Lexa’s cheek.  She set her drink down on the bar so she could wrap both arms around Lexa’s waist.  All of Clarke’s serious exes were doctors, too.  She had never had to share this with someone who wasn’t jaded by it.  “It’s a lot easier to appreciate the little things when you have to announce for the record that someone is dead on a regular basis.”

“I feel like I have some stuff to re-evaluate,” Lexa scowled.  She felt so shallow all of a sudden. 

“How about you start tomorrow?”  Clarke said with a smirked and pulled Lexa by her pirate sash away from the bar into the middle of Raven and Lincoln’s dance party.  “Why don’t you just dance with me tonight?”

“I think I can do that,” Lexa broke into a smile when their noses bumped as Clarke pulled her closer.

Chapter Text

 I'm the worst, sorry!

Chapter Text

“Well?”  Lexa asked Indra.  They were sitting in her home office on Tuesday evening sharing a bottle of wine and looking over Lexa’s business plan for the new concept.  Indra sat silently and sipped her drink and chewed the back of her thumb thoughtfully.  Both gestures were typical any time Lexa laid out a new idea for Indra.  “Any thoughts?”  Lexa asked again.

For the first time ever, she was really anxious about sharing her ideas with Indra. 

“I might have too many thoughts,” Indra eventually replied.  She didn’t emote.  She didn’t sound impressed, but she didn’t sound turned off either.  Lexa sat behind the desk and Indra faced her in a vintage brown leather wingback chair.  Indra thumbed the edges of the pages on Lexa’s business proposal for a moment and wiped a hand over her mouth to try and find words.

“May I ask you what sort of thoughts you’re having?”  Lexa asked cautiously.  She had meticulously outlined the entire plan, complete with partnership with Octavia and multiple options for Indra if she wasn’t interested in the new concept or sticking around Portland.  Head chef at Houm permanently.  Executive chef of Houm.  Exec of any of the restaurants she wanted. Exec of all of them if she wanted.  Retirement.  Her least favorite of all, buying Indra out of her contract with The Woods Restaurant Group and parting ways.

“I can understand why you included so many different ways for me to back out of this gracefully,” Indra flicked her eyes up at her.  Lexa held her breath and waited for Indra to finish her thought.  Indra paused for a sip of her wine.  “But I’m a little disappointed that you felt like you had to include any of them.”

“You’re into it?”  Lexa exhaled cautiously.

“I think it’s brilliant,” Indra nodded.  “I think engaging Octavia is really wise.  I think this is a good move for you.  You’ll be playing much more of a business role here which is what you should start doing anyway because you’re good at it.  You’re bigger than just good food now.”

“Thank you,” Lexa tried not to smile at the compliment.  Praise always seemed so sincere coming from Indra.  She didn’t hand compliments out freely.

“There’s just one thing you missed,” Indra flipped through the pages of Lexa’s proposal to double check.

"What’s that?” Lexa sat up straighter.  She and Anya had been at it for weeks.  She thought of everything.

“What are you going to do if Octavia says no?” Indra asked with purpose.  Lexa sank back into her chair.

“I don’t know,” Lexa eventually sighed and shrugged.  She’d thought of that and chose to omit it.  “I want to believe she’s not going to say no.”

"She might,” Indra matched Lexa’s indifferent shrug.  “She’s a bad bitch.  She might not take well to you bankrolling her.”

“I know that,” Lexa huffed.  “That’s why I would put all of those other pieces in her contract.  She’d have a controlling interest and be a partner in the venture.  She would technically own part of it. It’s kind of a once in a lifetime for her.  I’m not even asking her to buy in.”

"It would be kind of tacky if you did,” Indra said out the corner of her mouth.

“The thought never crossed my mind, Indra,” Lexa gave her a look.

“I mean, this is iron clad.  Nobody loses,” Indra pointed to one of the pages with figures on real estate.  “She gets a ton of exposure and gets to create a dream venture while you pay for it.  You get a feather in your cap for bringing her onto the scene and elevating a growing city’s local scene.  I get to keep doing my thing under the radar.  We all bring something awesome to this city.  It’s great,” Indra shrugged again.

“But?” Lexa pressed.

"But is she gonna go for it?” Indra reached for her wine again.

“Do you know something I don’t?” Lexa raised a brow.  Indra didn’t speak right away.

“I just know what it’s like to be on the outside of the Lexa Woods Financial Experience looking in,” Indra finally sighed.  “It was a long time ago, but I was Octavia once.  I was a talented young chef looking for a break and you scooped me up.”

"And look how well that turned out?” Lexa gestured at Indra with her wine glass.  “You live like a fucking king in a city you love.  You’ve had so many amazing opportunities that you wouldn’t have had if you went with just anyone.”

“That I do,” Indra picked her glass up and clinked it against Lexa’s.  “But that was what I wanted.  I wanted to be scooped up by someone like you.  I wanted to fall in line.  I can’t tell if that’s what she wants.  She’s been her own boss for a really long time.”

“She was pretty passionate about the idea,” Lexa replied after a sip of wine.  “The way she talks about it, she’s been thinking about it for a long time.”

“How about this, Commander,” Indra began, absentmindedly flipping through Lexa’s proposal again.  “Why don’t we sit on this for a little longer.  The holidays are coming.  She needs to hire new people and train them at Blake’s anyway so she’s not going to have brain power to devote to this or to make a good choice right now,” Indra tapped on the cover of the proposal.  “Sparks flew on your friend crush when you went and worked with her.  Why don’t we have her come work with us?”

“What?” Lexa furrowed her brow.

“Bring her to Houm for a few days to cook with me.  See if she likes it.  If we do this thing right, it’s going to be a hybrid of her creativity and our discipline.  I’m going to have to work a kitchen with her.  We need to see if she and I jive on the line before we even think about approaching her with this thing.”

“See?  This is why I keep you around,” Lexa pointed at Indra with her pen and made a few notes in a notebook.  She was on her fourth one now.  “I think you will, though.  She and I have a good flow. Not as good as you and I do, but it’s solid.”

“You’re going to New York tomorrow, yeah?”  Indra asked.  She had her phone out and scrolled through the calendar.

“Yeah.  I leave early in the morning,” Lexa sighed as she looked at her watch.  She still had to pack.  Clarke was due to arrive for the night any minute. 

“How’s this, then?” Indra picked up the proposal and tapped the edge of the pages on the desk.  “You go to New York.  I’m going to let this marinate and look it over again in a few days.  Reach out to Octavia and see if she’d be into coming to work with you for a few days sometime in the next few weeks.  You’ll have to schedule it way out since she’s balls to the wall with no staff.  I’ll have Lincoln and Roan shake the trees on who they know in town that might need work and could help her.  After she cooks with us, we see how it feels and we go from there.”

“This is why you’re always in charge of operations and I’m always in charge of logistics and finance,” Lexa grinned.  “I like your understanding of her already.  I think it’s a good sign.”

“Girl’s a warrior in the kitchen,” Indra nodded and took another sip of her wine.  “She’s got soul for sure.  She just needs some refinement.”

“But if everything goes the way it should,” Lexa hesitated before asking.  “You’re on board?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Indra replied instantly.  “This will easily be the hardest thing we’ve ever done.  It will be a ton of work.  It’ll be expensive.  It’ll be challenging and messy and we’re adding a whole other element we’ve never worked with before that’s really unpredictable,” Indra carried on sternly.  “Should be fun,” She grinned. 

“Babe?” they heard Clarke call from the back door. 

“We’re in here, Hun!” Lexa called back to her without looking up from more notes she jotted down.

“Does she know about this?” Indra asked under her breath and pointed at the proposal on the desk.

“Not yet,” Lexa muttered.

“Smart,” Indra looked Lexa in the eye and nodded hard.  “You don’t want her influencing Octavia either way.  It needs to be Octavia’s decision.”

“I completely agree,” Lexa shrugged.

“Don’t let champagne in the bathtub and luxury hotel living with a gorgeous woman break you down,” Indra pointed hard at her.  “Keep your mouth shut in New York.”

“I will!” Lexa snapped.  Clarke appeared in the doorway.  She was wearing glasses and a messy ponytail.  She had Lexa’s gray cable knit cardigan on over a University of Southern Maine t shirt.  The cuffs of the sweater came down over her hands which she rested on the door jamb as she leaned into the office.

“Hey, I’m sorry.  Am I interrupting?” Clarke stiffened when she took in the mood between the two of them.  They both looked so serious.  She’d never been in Lexa’s office, only passed by the partially open door.  One of the walls was floor to ceiling shelves of books and frames and trophies and awards.  The opposite wall had her framed magazine covers, plaques and photos of her and Indra in front of each restaurant.  They covered the whole wall.  Clarke tried not to show how impressed she was and made a mental not to find an excuse to spend some time in Lexa’s office later and get a closer look.  “You said nine o’clock.”

 "Not at all,” Indra couldn’t help but smile at her.  Clarke was so, so far from every woman in Lexa’s lengthy history.  Indra was still getting used to it.  “I was just getting going.”

“Don’t let me get in the way,” Clarke held her hands up.  “I brought a book.  I can post up in the living room for a little while if you two need more time.”

"You’re not in the way.  We were just finishing up,” Indra replied with an encouraging grin. 

Costia would have given Indra one ice cold eyebrow raise telling her to get the fuck out without regard for whether Lexa and Indra were done or not.  Costia would have been sitting on the desk in between them pointing out the flaws in Lexa’s business plan. 

“The Commander hasn’t even packed yet and she’s leaving in ten hours, so I should give you two some space,” Indra shot Lexa a playful smile.

“How do you know I haven’t packed yet?” Lexa scoffed.

“I’ve been on more business trips with you than I can remember,” Indra chuckled and gathered the plans into her padfolio.  “I know how you operate.”

“I can do it now.  It takes fifteen minutes.  Chef jackets and suit jackets and a few other things,” Lexa huffed and rose up out of her chair.  “There’s an open bottle of Malbec if you’d like a glass,” Lexa offered to Clarke and gestured to the bottle on her desk.

“I could get behind that,” Clarke shrugged.  She noticed Indra still had half a glass of wine left.  “We’ll finish this while you pack.  Can I top you off, Indra?”  Clarke asked with a smile.

“Well, I,” Indra trailed off and glanced between them.  Lexa rolled her eyes and Clarke smiled encouragingly.  “Alright,” she broke into a grin.  Indra followed Clarke to the kitchen so she could get a glass.

“Clarke, your plane ticket is on the Island!” Lexa called over her shoulder as she jogged up the stairs.  “I don’t want to forget to give it to you!”

“Thank you!” Clarke replied in a sing song voice.  Indra watched it unfold.  Lexa was always so stoic and almost played a character with every women in the past.  Indra saw it the most with Costia.

 Now she walked around the house shouting from a few rooms away with a causal comfort.  Clarke helped herself to Lexa’s cabinets and knew where the wine glasses were without looking.  She pulled open Lexa’s fridge doors and stared in, bent at the hip looking for a snack.  Clarke’s coat hung next to Indra’s on the rack.  Her hand bag was on the island and her overnight bag sat on one of the dining room table chairs. 

“Are you ready to see The Commander in action?” Indra smirked at Clarke as she poured herself a glass and topped Indra’s off.

“I guess I’m going to have to be,” Clarke chuckled.  “Anya was telling me that they take themselves pretty seriously at Polis.”

“Well, they fucking should,” Indra scoffed.  “She was nominated for a James Beard Best New Chef award after Polis, and rising star when she opened War Paint with Polis and The Flame in her wake.”

"Nominated?” Clarke raised a brow.

“She’s never won,” Indra said quietly.  “Sore spot.”

“Noted,” Clarke nodded and sipped her wine.

"She’s too established for the rising star group, obviously.  She’s not old enough for lifetime achievement yet, so she’s stuck in the pack.  She keeps moving, so she’s never in a region long enough to get nominated for Best Chef Northeast or West or anything like that,” Indra carried on.

“She’s never brought it up to me,” Clarke fiddled with the stem of her wine glassed and pushed it around on the granite island.

“She won’t,” Indra chuckled.  “But now you know in case it comes up.  Some of our New York friends are real dicks.  I don’t know what she has planned for you two, but if you’re spending time with any of the staff, just a heads up.”

“She hasn’t told me anything yet,” Clarke shrugged.  “I’m kind of exited to just show up and see what she has planned for us.”

“Knowing her, it will be extravagant and fabulous,” Indra chuckled again.

Lexa finished packing and joined them in the kitchen just as Indra was getting to the good parts of a few stories about twenty-one year old Lexa making her presence known in New York.  Lexa scoffed, claimed that not a word of it was true, and gave Indra a good jab in the shoulder.  Indra just laughed.  She finished her wine, said good night and wished Lexa luck in New York.

“Indra said your friends in New York are dicks,” Clarke said between the kisses Lexa instantly planted on her before Indra had even backed down the driveway.

"They can be,” Lexa replied indifferently.  “They’re very different from us.”

“Are we going to spend a lot of time with your dick friends?”  Clarke asked playfully.  She hissed in a surprised gasp at Lexa’s warm hands sneaking below the hem of her t shirt to rest on her bare back.  She worked Clarke’s sore back muscles with her skilled hands.

“Hopefully not,” Lexa sighed.  “I should do my mandatory business socializing before you get there on Saturday.”

“Mandatory business socializing, sounds awful,” Clarke sarcastically rolled her eyes.

“It can be,” Lexa chuckled and kneaded Clarke’s back some more.  “Jesus, your back is tight.”

“Hunching over operating tables for days on end for years will do that to you,” Clarke offered up a half smile and rested against Lexa to enjoy the rub.  “Are you sure it’s not going to be too much having me there?”  Clarke asked, gently pushing Lexa back to make her look her in the eye.  “Do you need those few days to get your head on straight between everything you’ve got going on?”

“You’re what puts my head on straight,” Lexa kissed Clarke’s lips again.  “So yes, I’m sure.”

“Smooth,” Clarke pretended to scoff.

“True,” Lexa kissed her cheek.  “I have a seven PM reservation on Saturday that’s my last for the weekend.  I think your flight lands right around then, so by the time we get you into the city and settled, it should just work out.  They usually take me two to three hours.  My restaurant is right around the corner from the hotel, so I should catch you just in time.  If you’re up for it, we can go out that night for some food or something.”

“Sounds great,” Clarke replied.  “I can’t wait.”

*****

Saturday evening around seven PM found Clarke stepping off the plane at JFK International and slowly meandering towards the luggage carousel.  Between her week at work and Lexa’s busy schedule in New York, they hadn’t had much time to talk to each other.  Lexa had been very vague on the plans.  She let Clarke know they were staying at The Waldorf Astoria which went in one ear and out the other until she mentioned it in passing to Raven and Octavia who flipped out and forced her to look the hotel up. 

It was one of Midtown’s finest and Lexa brushed it off as if it were a Days Inn.

She told Clarke to pack for a few nights out, and Clarke wasn’t sure what that meant, so she brought way too much.  She tapped her toe as she watched the bags slowly trudge by on the carousel.  Once she spotted hers and struggled to get it off the belt, she headed for the trains.  She passed all of the drivers holding their signs while waiting for passengers important enough to need drivers.

She stopped in her tracks when she spotted a clean cut driver holding a sign that read ‘Dr. Clarke Griffin’.

“Dr. Griffin?” He asked her with an encouraging smile.

“Yes?” Clarke stuttered.  It had to be a coincidence.  New York was massive.  There must be another Dr. Clarke Griffin and he was going to be pissed when she took his ride.

“Miss Woods arranged for me to take you to The Waldorf Astoria,” he nodded at her with a polite smile.

“She did?” Clarke looked side to side still trying to figure out if this guy was for real.

“Please, allow me to take your bag.”  He relieved Clarke of her suitcase and gestured for her to walk ahead of him. 

“Thank you,” Clarke shrugged and joined him through the doors onto the sidewalk.  His was one of a long line of black town cards curbed and waiting.  He held the door for her, then put her suitcase in the trunk.

"She said you might be hungry,” the driver added on and handed Clarke a paper bag from the front seat.  “Her favorite breakfast sandwich and a black coffee for you, Ma’am.”

“Did she really make you get me a breakfast sandwich and a coffee?” Clarke gasped.  The coffee was still hot and the sandwich was warm.

“I’m just hired to do as she asks, Dr. Griffin,” he nodded at her in the rearview and pulled away from the curb.  Clarke shook her head but couldn’t wipe a grin away.  Even when she wasn’t present, Lexa was doing thoughtful things for her. 

Clarke was thankful for the food and more thankful for the coffee.  She made it out of the hospital in just enough time to run into Raven’s car that was running and waiting with her bag in the back seat.  Raven sped her across town to the airport and Clarke just made her flight.  She hadn’t eaten since the morning.  The flight from Portland to New York was so short that she had exactly enough time to down a Diet Coke and wish it was a strong black coffee like she had now.

The traffic on the high ways through and above and below Queens and Brooklyn wasn’t so bad.  Clarke expected it to be worse.  She sipped her coffee and enjoyed the sights of New York as they zipped towards the city.  She gasped involuntarily when the Manhattan Skyline came into view and didn’t even care that the driver smirked to himself up front.  She craned her neck to look up at skyscrapers and was thankful for the dark tinted windows as she took in the people on the sidewalks. 

The hotel was something from a movie, all vintage and perfect and upscale.  The huge gold font on the front of the light stone building caught her by surprise.  Giant windows rose up from the street that made the doorman look small.  Her heels clicked on the marble floors of the lobby.  She glanced up at the ornate, vaulted ceilings so far above her head. 

It smelled so good.  Something fresh she couldn’t place.  Everyone greeted her with a nod and smile.  She didn’t open a single door for herself.  She didn’t carry her own bag.  She didn’t touch a button on the elevator.  The bellhop opened the door to her room and deposited her luggage.  She had no idea what to tip him, so she gave him too much and hoped he didn’t take it as a come on.

The ornate drapes were tied back showing her a view of the Chrysler Building all lit up.  The bed had exactly the correct amount of too many pillows.  Lexa’s clothes hung in the closet.  Clarke ran her hand over the sleeves of her suit jackets as she took in the room.  There was an envelope with her name on it in Lexa’s handwriting on the bedside table.  Clarke tore into it and pull out a hand-written note.

“Clarke,” she read aloud to herself, imagining the precise way that Lexa’s tongue hit every letter of her name.  Somehow she could even hear the silent E when Lexa addressed her.  “I hope you had a smooth flight.  I should be back to the room by ten.  I know you have been tense with work lately and I’m sure traveling hasn’t helped.  I booked you a massage at the Spa.  They are expecting you if you’re interested.  If you’re up for it, I’ll take you out for a late bite when I get back.  No pressure if you’re too tired.  I can’t wait to see you.  Lexa”

A massage.  A goddamn massage at the fucking Waldorf Astoria in Midtown Manhattan after a first class forty-five minute flight and getting picked up by a professional driver holding a sign with her freaking name on it.  Clarke read the card over a few more times to make sure she hadn’t imagined it.  Apparently being Lexa Woods’ personal guest in New York City was going to be a whole lot different than it was at home.

They were expecting her, and the massage was everything she never knew she needed.  She felt weeks, maybe months, of work and stress melting away.  The massage was thoughtful and luxurious and amazing and she couldn’t contain a grin at how sweet Lexa was to her even when she wasn’t around.

With a new posture and the feeling that she was walking on air, Clarke returned to the room with a rejuvenated sense of excitement.  She rummaged through her suitcase for something to wear and headed to the bathroom to touch up her makeup.  She stopped short, not sure why she was surprised that the bathroom was equally as elegant as the rest of the hotel, complete with a jacuzzi tub built for two.

“Oh, wow,” Clarke blurted out involuntarily.  She set about freshening up her makeup and hair in the mirror once she had taken inventory of how extravagant her bathroom was.  Octavia and Raven would want a full report.

“Clarke?” Lexa called out as she came into the room around ten.  Clarke’s suitcase hadn’t made it much farther than where the bellhop left it and now it was open and a mess.  Lexa stepped over it carefully.

“Hey!” Clarke leaned out of the bathroom with a big, excited grin on.  Her eyes were smoky.  Her lipstick was precise.  Her curls were styled over one shoulder.  Lexa swallowed hard.

Shit, she was beautiful.  Sometimes a few days apart felt like weeks.

"Hi!” Lexa collected herself quickly and pulled Clarke into a kiss and an embrace.  “How was your flight?  Did you have any trouble getting here?”

“I had zero trouble doing a thing for myself because you thought of everything and had it all done for me,” Clarke tapped a finger to Lexa’s lips that now had a light brush of red on them from her lipstick.  “My massage was amazing.  That was so thoughtful.  Thank you for all of this.  You didn’t have to do all of this.  You’re spoiling me rotten.”

“We’re on vacation,” Lexa snuck in another kiss.  “Let me spoil you.”

“You’re here for work,” Clarke reminded her.

“So, you’re on vacation,” Lexa shrugged playfully.  “Pesky semantics.”

“This hotel is beautiful,” Clarke softened in Lexa’s arms.  She missed her hugs.  She missed her smell.  She missed her.

“It was my mother’s favorite.  We used to come here a lot when I was young,” Lexa replied.  “There’s something nostalgic about it for me.”

“Must be where you learned to love vintage furniture,” Clarke smiled.

“Maybe you’re right,” Lexa nodded in approval.  She had a black chef’s jacket on with her name embroidered on it in white over her heart and the Polis logo on the opposite side of her chest. 

“This is still awfully extravagant,” Clarke wrinkled her nose shyly.  “I hope you’re not just staying here because you wanted to treat me.”

“I told you already.  This is work.  Everything is on the company,” Lexa winked.

“Lexa, you are the company,” Clarke huffed and tried not to smile. 

“Then I promise to get really mad when I send myself the bill,” Lexa joked and kissed Clarke again.  Clarke laughed into her embrace.  “I’m guessing you’re up for going out for a bite?”  Lexa asked hopefully.

“Definitely.  I slept a lot this morning, so I can be on a New York night schedule tonight,” Clarke replied.

“Perfect,” Lexa leaned in for one more kiss.  “I’ll take a quick shower and we’ll head out.”

There was a French restaurant a short walk from the hotel.  Clarke had no idea she liked French food so much.  Lexa ordered them plenty to share and Clarke watched her lips as the French syllables poured past them to the waiter in an accent Clarke didn’t know Lexa had in her skillset.  Lexa told her about each bite in detail.  Fontina gnocchi in a white truffle sauce.  Black bass poached in olive oil.  Sautéed fois gras with pickled plums.  Clarke let Lexa order her whatever glass of wine she knew would make sense.

“So how has it been?”  Clarke asked after taking a sip of wine. 

“Oh, fine,” Lexa waved a hand.  “Four dinners down, four more to go.”

“How does it work, exactly?  Are you on the line cooking or what?”  Clarke leaned forward and speared one of the last bites of gnocchi in front of Lexa with her fork.

“No, not at all,” Lexa wiped her face with the cloth napkin on her lap.  “Two to four guests make a reservation per evening, it’s just one table, and I personally prepare their meal for them from first bite to last.  It’s a five course meal.  I come tableside and talk them through it.  Wine pairings, the whole thing.  I do it twice a year in each restaurant.  They book up way far in advance,” Lexa rolled her eyes

“How far?”  Clarke asked curiously.

“I think my latest booked is in September of 2019 at Trikru,” Lexa scratched her chin in thought.  “I haven’t opened up anything further than that.”

“That’s almost three years from now!” Clarke gaped.

“It’s how it goes,” Lexa shrugged.  “People go crazy for it.”

“It sounds pretty cool,” Clarke replied as she thought it over.  It was beginning to dawn on her just how lucky she was to have Lexa feeding her all the time.

“If you’re into food, it actually is a pretty cool experience.  We can do it sometime with another chef if you like.  You name the city and I’ll arrange it,” Lexa offered.  She said it with such a cavalier attitude.  Clarke was slowly coming to realize the closer she got to Lexa, the harder it was going to be to ignore that Lexa was positively loaded.

After the restaurant closed around midnight, they meandered back to the hotel bar.  Clarke threaded her fingers between Lexa’s and they snuggled close together on the cold November night.  Just as Clarke turned to Lexa and laughed at her story about her evening reservation, a young man hurrying past them banged into her by accident and knocked her back a few steps.

“Oof!” Clarke let out a surprised gasp and regained her step.

“Hey!” Lexa snapped.

“Why don’t you tell your girlfriend to watch out!” He snapped back at her.

“Why don’t you watch out for my girlfriend, asshole!” Lexa stood up a little straighter and puffed up her chest.

“Fuck off!” He waved a hand at her and resumed his hurried walk down the sidewalk.

“Are you alright?” Lexa turned to Clarke who was grinning ear to ear.

“I’m fine, Lexa,” Clarke assured her with a squeeze of her bicep as she took up her position cuddled into her side.  It hadn’t gone unnoticed at all that Lexa called Clarke her girlfriend.  It sounded genuine and normal falling out of Lexa’s mouth.  The good kind of possessive.  It shot a jolt up Clarke’s spine. Lexa huffed and muttered something under her breath as they approached the doors to the hotel.

“You know,” Lexa trailed off.  Clarke wondered if Lexa even realized she’d said it.  She didn’t show any signs of it.  It felt right.  It passed between them like it was supposed to be there.  “They have a champagne bar in this hotel.”

“Do they?”  Clarke perked up.

“Do you want to check it out?”  Lexa asked, leading Clarke through the lobby.

“I think champagne would be appropriate since we’re celebrating and all,” Clarke said with a smug smile.  She couldn’t let it go unacknowledged.  She could play it off as a joke if it didn’t go well.

“Celebrating?” Lexa furrowed her brow and turned towards Clarke with a confused little smile.

“I didn’t realize you were publicly officially calling me your girlfriend now,” Clarke smirked.  Lexa’s face fell.

“Well, I,” Lexa tried, but no words came.  “I mean,” Lexa tried again. 

“Unless that was a mistake,” Clarke softened her smirk to a genuine and reassuring smile.  She was giving Lexa an out while simultaneously telling her she was interested.

“It wasn’t a mistake at all,” Lexa matched her smile.  “Unless you want it to have been a mistake?”

“Not remotely,” Clarke leaned in for a soft kiss.  “Which way to the champagne bar?”

“Right this way,” Lexa gestured dramatically.

It was the middle of the night by the time they made it back upstairs and fell into bed.  The sweet kisses of being newly official were lost in the wake of a lusty champagne buzz.  Clarke took the lead, insisting that she couldn’t spoil Lexa with grand gestures, but had a few other methods she thought her girlfriend might like.

Girlfriend. 

It rang in Lexa’s ears as Clarke moved on top of her.  From the moment they met, she felt a sense of belonging with Clarke, but now there was a word for it.  Now she had a way to sum it up in a single word when people asked who Clarke was.  She wasn’t a nice girl Lexa had been a seeing, a doctor she was sleeping with, a woman she had the hots for, she was Lexa’s.  And Lexa was hers.

Kisses on inner thighs, fists full of curls, strangled cries of each other’s names, scratches, bites and yelps landed Lexa out of breath on top of Clarke in the hours that lingered between late and early.  Clarke pressed the softest kiss to Lexa’s forehead before pulling the blankets over them both and drifting off.

*****

Lexa had never been one to sleep late. 

She woke up first and slipped out of bed around ten.  She ordered them breakfast up to the room and ran the bath, making sure it was nice and hot.  When she walked back into the room, her breath caught in her throat.  Clarke slept on her stomach, her pale back exposed.  The soft morning light coming through the window illuminated her face.  It bounced off her blond curls. 

She looked perfect.

Lexa tipped the staff that dropped off her room service, then climbed back into bed to leave kisses on Clarke’s back.

“Mmm,” Clarke grinned, her eyes still closed.  “Is that my girlfriend leaving kisses all over my back?”  Lexa chuckled in her trail of warm kisses that started at Clarke’s lower back and moved north.

“I ordered breakfast,” Kiss.  “And champagne,” Kiss.  “And coffee,” Kiss.  “And I got the bath drawn and warm so we can eat it all while we soak.”  Clarke rolled over, her eyes wide with delight and caught Lexa’s face in both hands.

“How do you always know everything I want?”  Clarke said before kissing Lexa’s lips.

“Lucky guess,” Lexa shrugged.  She pulled Clarke out of bed and to the tub.

They lounged in the bath eating fruit and scones and bacon and champagne.  Lexa told stories about her and Anya as wild teenaged party animals that made Clarke roar with laughter.  Any tales about Anya inevitably made their way towards stories about Aden, and Clarke went from laughing at keg stands to feeling like her insides might explode because her heart wouldn’t fit anymore when Lexa went on and on about warm family stories.

Lexa struggled to keep her grins from running off of her face as she watched Clarke across from her, curls piled up on her head, poised in the tub with a glass of champagne and a strip of bacon.  Clarke was generally equal parts elegant and slobby and every bit of it was perfect.

Clarke returned the favor with a few stories about her dad, something she never did.  Maybe it was the champagne, maybe it was the feeling that she had stepped outside of reality into this magical hotel land, or maybe it was the safety and security she always felt with Lexa, but suddenly Clarke had a bunch of stories about road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway with her dad when she was eleven, skiing in Vancouver and hiking in Oregon. 

Hours later, they dressed and left their room.  The sun was out and the wind was mild, so they just walked and wandered New York.  Clarke dragged Lexa through a bunch of stores.  Lexa made sure they had a bite of something different every hour or so from a place she used to love.  They laughed so much.  Lexa had a million anecdotes about New York and her time there ages ago.  Clarke pointed to a parking meter and asked if Lexa wanted to double down on her bet with Indra and have another go at jumping four in a row.

“Hey, Babe, come here,” Clarke waved Lexa over later in the afternoon.  They were on Park Ave and the sun was low in the sky making everything orange and bright.  Clarke had her phone out.

“What’s up?”  Lexa asked.

“I want to take a picture.  Get over here,” Clarke yanked Lexa next to her and they laughed as they tried to get one that made them both look good.  It took a dozen tries.  Clarke finally felt satisfied with one where Lexa was smiling and she was laughing at something Lexa said right before she took the photo.

“I’m going to duck in here real quick,” Lexa pointed towards a boutique furniture store.

“I’ll be right there,” Clarke smiled after her.  She pulled the picture up and opened a message with her mother.  ‘You can let your foodie resident know that my girlfriend and I are in New York.’  Clarke hit send and looked up through the shop windows.  Lexa pointed at a pair of end tables and talked with the shop attendant.  Clarke sighed out through a content smile and just watched Lexa move around the shop instead of going in.

Her phone chimed that she had a new message.  ‘She’s cute.  You look very happy.  Have fun, be safe.’  Abby’s message felt genuine.  Clarke felt warm on the chilly sidewalk.  Lexa returned a few moments later with a scowl and went on a tangent about how the end tables were mislabeled and she wasn’t going to buy them if they couldn’t get their act together no matter how good condition they were in.

They wandered and walked letting the next store of interest lead the way.  Lexa followed Clarke and let her make the choices.  They turned onto an all too familiar street and she stiffened up.  She knew where they were, but she didn’t bring it up.  She hoped Clarke’s excitement and need for dinner soon would guide her down another street shortly.

“Hey!  Look!  Oh my god!” Clarke exclaimed.  Lexa winced.  No such luck.  “We’re right in front of Polis!”  The black awnings boasted the name in white script.  Polis had a lot of windows that allowed Clarke a look inside.  The decor was very clean and neat.  It was also completely packed.

“Oh, look at that,” Lexa glanced away and pretended to be surprised.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Clarke elbowed Lexa in the side.  “You were going to let me walk right by!”

“I don’t know,” Lexa shrugged.  “We were having so much fun.  I didn’t want to make it about work.”

“Lexa, this isn’t work, this is YOU,” Clarke gestured at the windows.  “This is your first place.  This was how you started your career.  This is a huge part of who you are.  I’ve heard a hundred stories about this place.  It’s famous!” Clarke gushed.

“Do you want to go in?” Lexa asked carefully.

“Yes, I want to go in!” Clarke huffed, exasperated and gave Lexa a playful swat in the stomach.  Lexa flinched away with a giggle.

“We can eat here if you want,” Lexa shrugged indifferently.  

“Really?” Clarke brightened.  Lexa hadn’t offered and Clarke didn’t know how to ask, but she was glad the opportunity to see and dine at Polis presented itself.  She’d been curious about Polis after her conversations with Indra and Anya and all of Lexa’s stories about being a young new chef.

“It looks pretty packed, but I’m guessing they can make a two top available if it’s, you know, for me,” Lexa chuckled and held the door for Clarke.

“Chef Woods!”  The hostess exclaimed.  “You’re back!  Were we expecting you?”

“No, no,” Lexa waved her hands.  “We were just in the neighborhood and decided to stop in.”  Every staff member that could see her suddenly looked rigid.  “Can you make room for two tonight?”  While the hostess looked through her book and tried not to sweat, Clarke took Polis in. 

It was a lot bigger than she expected.  Everything was a little old fashioned from the glassware to the exposed wood beam ceiling.  The light fixtures were intricate and all hung from the ceiling.  The linens were blacks whites and grays.  The staff were in crisp black uniforms.  The bar was long and made of light wood.  It smelled incredible and there was an overall feeling of warmth and comfort.  There were a lot of candles just like Houm. 

Clarke couldn’t put her finger on what it was, but it reminded her of Houm.  There was something inexplicably Lexa about Polis even though it was so different from her other space.

The hostess found them a table and Clarke sat back and watched the room fawn over Lexa.  Water and wine showed up without request.  Almost every member of the staff found a reason to stop by the table and say something to Lexa.  Reviews from the previous evening.  Congrats on her recent Food And Wine nod.  Compliments they had heard through the grapevine from the Nightblood staff.  One of them had recently been in Maine and eaten at Houm.  Lexa could see it for what it really was, though.

They were all trying to get a closer look at Clarke. 

“Chef Woods!” a bald man with tattoos wearing a black chef’s jacket made his way out to the table.  He regarded Lexa with a fatherly look mixed with respect and honor.  His shoulders were squared and rigid and he approached her with a warm apprehension.

“Titus,” Lexa stood up and shook his hand.  Clarke had seen her do it a few times now.  It was a gentleman’s businesslike gesture.  Lexa had a lot of them.

“What are you doing back here on your night off?” He beamed at her with a proud smile. 

“Titus, this is my girlfriend, Clarke,” Lexa gestured to Clarke.  She cringed at his ultimately surprised expression at the use of the word girlfriend.  Clarke smiled pleasantly, still warming up to her new title.  She never let any of the bullshit that came with Lexa’s world phase her and it amazed Lexa every time.  “Clarke, this is Chef Titus, head chef here at Polis.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Clarke,” he shook her hand.  “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Have you?” Clarke raised a brow at Lexa who winced again. 

“I know it’s a little busy in here, but she wanted to see the space and taste the food,” Lexa said nodding around the full dining room. 

She wanted to avoid Titus letting Clarke know that everyone had been talking about her all week.  They all saw the pictures online.  Apparently Polis’ saucier called Houm on a dare to find out the scoop and caught Emori on a bad day who spilled all the details on The Commander’s new woman.  It wasn’t until she spent some time in Polis that Lexa realized it was happening at all of her restaurants.  Lexa confirmed it with a serious of phone calls earlier in the week and grilled her head chefs on the climate of the current gossip. 

“Can you guys just send us a tasting of as many things as you can conjure up?”  Lexa asked hopefully.

“Of course, Chef,” he nodded a polite bow at her and disappeared back to the kitchen.  Clarke could see three more chefs one by one lean into the dining room and glance her way.

“So,” Clarke smirked across the table.  She watched Lexa’s eyes dart around and take in every detail to spot anything out of place.  A napkin two tables over was misfolded.  The busser in her peripheral vision was clearing that table incorrectly.  “They’ve heard of me?”

“I might have said a few things about you,” Lexa’s cheeks pinked.  “I couldn’t help it.  They could all tell I was happy and different.  I had to tell them why.”

A different chef brought out each course, no doubt so they could all get a turn taking a good look at Clarke.  She joked and laughed with each one, and none of them could figure out if they were supposed to laugh back or not and tried to read Lexa’s quiet expressions for permission.  Clarke gushed about every dish and got a full explanation of each from Lexa.  The staff eventually loosened up with them, and Clarke watched Lexa interact with the chefs with a familiarity of old friends.

Indra was right, though.  They were kind of dicks.  Everything had a sharp edge to it and a backhanded compliment.  Clarke brushed it off knowing that New York had a way of making people hard.  Titus was the worst, serving heaping sides of passive with his aggressive as he tried to prod Lexa for what she was going to do next.  He pushed for her to open a second place in New York.  She kept telling him she was working on something but she wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.

“How do you know him again?” Clarke asked quietly as Titus walked away from the table.

“He was one of my mentors in culinary school,” Lexa replied.  “I know he’s kind of abrasive, but he watches out for me and treats my business like it’s his own.  I see the guy two, maybe four times a year, so I don’t have to like him.  He runs a tight ship and follows my vision which is why I hired him.”

“I don’t think he likes me,” Clarke scowled into her wine.

“He doesn’t like anything if it makes you feel better,” Lexa tried to smile.

“A little,” Clarke chuckled. 

“So, you’ve dined at the famous Polis now,” Lexa leaned forward in her seat and rested her elbows on the table.  “What did you think?”

“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Clarke instantly replied.  “The food is incredible, although I have to say I’m partial to the staff at Houm.”

“Me too,” Lexa laughed with her. 

“I like the way this place looks.  Everything in here reminds me of you,” Clarke said as she looked around thoughtfully at the curtains, the menus, the paint job and the chairs.

“Really?”  Lexa asked, impressed that Clarke picked up on it.

“Yeah, definitely,” Clarke replied.  “The food is clearly you, too.  I don’t know how to use the correct foodie review terms, but this entire experience just feels like, well, you,” Clarke gestured at Lexa with her wine glass.  “So, I love it.”

Clarke paused and bit her lip, trying to keep any other words from falling out of her mouth.  She saw a hopeful look rise in Lexa’s green eyes.  They watched each other for a moment, wondering if they were going to elaborate or ignore what was moving between them.

“When you’re done with that wine, we can head somewhere else for a drink and some dessert,” Lexa finally cleared her throat.  She couldn’t look into Clarke’s perfect blue eyes for another second without saying something that it was too soon to say.

“Again with the perfect ideas,” Clarke grinned back at her, thankful that Lexa broke the spell.

*****

“I think I’m going to miss my flight and just live here in this hotel forever,” Clarke whined.  She had her arms around Lexa and did her best to stall before going down to the lobby.

Her suitcase sat packed and zippered beside her.  Lexa was in her Polis gear headed back to the restaurant late Tuesday morning.  It was the third time she had buttoned her chef jacket up, because Clarke took it off of her twice to get just a little more Lexa before flying home and being apart from her for another week.  Lexa didn’t complain and didn’t care that she was running late for a meeting.  She wanted to inhale every last breath of Clarke’s scent before she was gone.

Their long weekend was perfect.  They shopped and ate and drank and laughed and soaked and made love around the clock like there was no one in the world but the two of them.  Clarke picked out presents and souvenirs for Raven and Octavia.  She insisted on buying a few records that were apparently hard to find and she knew Aden wanted them.  She made Lexa get a treat for Anya even though Lexa protested saying she didn’t bring Anya presents for no reason, and Clarke told her that maybe it was time to start.

“We can come back,” Lexa shrugged.  “I’m pretty partial to their location in Rome and also the Shanghai hotel.  We should go sometime.”  It took Clarke a moment of staring to realize that Lexa wasn’t joking.

“Are you casually suggesting we go to China?”  Clarke asked flatly.  “Just like that?  ‘Let’s go to China sometime?’ You’re serious?”

“Yeah, China’s awesome,” Lexa replied.  “I’ve been a few times.  I love Shanghai.  You’d like it.  It’s a very interesting city.”

“But it’s all the way in China,” Clarke furrowed her brow.

“I’m not saying we need to go next week or anything,” Lexa laughed and pressed a soft kiss to Clarke’s temple.  It helped ease Clarke.  “Just some day.  We should plan some trips.  I want to take you everywhere.  Show you the world.”

“I’d like that,” Clarke melted into Lexa’s arms and got lost in her kisses.  Lexa’s phone chimed alerting them that Clarke’s car was here to take her to the airport.

“Then we’ll have to plan it,” Lexa grinned between kisses. 

“I don’t want to leave you,” Clarke whined.

“I know,” Lexa sighed.  “I’ll be back on Saturday.”

“I go back to work tomorrow and I’ll be done Saturday night,” Clarke sighed.

“Saturday it is, then,” Lexa kissed Clarke’s forehead.  “I’ll walk you down to the car.”

Clarke felt disappointed that there was a bellhop in the elevator and she couldn’t last minute ravage Lexa before leaving.  The staff behind the desk nodded hellos to Lexa as she walked through the lobby with her hand at the small of Clarke’s back.  She nodded back to them with a polite smile.

“Travel safe,” Lexa grinned.  Clarke gave her hand a squeeze.

"Good luck with the rest of the week,” Clarke half smiled.  She couldn’t get all the way there.  The magic of their little world away from everything they knew was fading.  Once she got in the car it would fall away completely and her journey back to reality would begin.  Lexa leaned in for a kiss.  Clarke left an extra kiss on Lexa’s cheek and finally begrudgingly got in the car. 

Lexa stood on the sidewalk and watched her girlfriend disappear into traffic before heading back upstairs to prepare for work.  Having Clarke in the city, making their relationship official and showing Clarke her flagship restaurant all made her feel good, but it was the small things like a shared bath, the way Clarke held her elbow when they walked down the street and the soft kisses she left all over Lexa’s body that made Lexa more sure than ever that staying at home was the right decision.  She pulled her phone out and brought up Octavia’s number.

“Sup?” Octavia asked bluntly.

“Hey, sorry, you working?” Lexa asked her.  It wasn’t quite lunchtime yet.

“Yeah,” Octavia sighed.  “You still in New York?  Are you with Clarke?”

“I’m here, but she just headed to the airport,” Lexa replied and skipped up the steps back to the hotel.  “Listen, I’ve got an idea and I’m not sure if you can swing it, but Indra and I were hoping you’d come cook with us at Houm sometime in the next few weeks.”

“What?” Octavia asked after a long pause.  It made Lexa laugh.

“I want to return the favor.  I want you to come cook at my place.  I think it might spark some ideas that you could show me, maybe vice versa.  Shake it up creatively,” Lexa nodded hello to the bellhop as she got back in the elevator. 

“I mean, that sounds cool and all, but there’s one small problem,” Octavia shrugged.  “I don’t know how to cook like you guys.”

“Yes you do,” Lexa scoffed.  “You know how to do everything we do, you just don’t know what any of it’s called.  I’ve cooked with you enough times now.  You can more than handle it.  I think it would be cool for both of us.”

“Are you sure?”  Octavia asked carefully.

“More than,” Lexa replied.

“Do I have to wear one of those dumb outfits and address you as ‘Chef’ like all your minions?”  Octavia muttered.  Lexa let another laugh out.

“Yes to the outfit, titles are negotiable, but preferred,” Lexa’s surprised laugh died down to a chuckle.  “Look at your schedule and let me know what day works.  I’ll have Indra set it up.  I’m not back until next week anyway, so no hurry.”

“Alright,” Octavia nodded, still mulling the whole thing over.  “I’ll look into it.”

“Excellent,” Lexa opened the door to her room and gathered her work. 

“Hey, before you go,” Octavia caught Lexa before she hung up.  “How was the weekend?  Did you guys have a good time?”

“It was perfect,” Lexa caught herself smiling at just the thought.

“Good,” Octavia said firmly.  “I think you guys needed that.  I’ll call you next week and we’ll set something up.  Talk to you!”  Octavia hung up and left Lexa in her swimming thoughts of a new girlfriend, new friends and an exciting new business venture.

Chapter Text

The week crawled by.

Clarke had a normal work week of non-nostalgic, non-lethal car accidents, home repair mishaps, a particularly unfortunate event for a fisherman and a burst appendix.  She was on an above average sleep schedule and still basking in the glow of her magical weekend in New York with Lexa, so she had all the nurses and interns in good moods.

And the basking was so, so sweet.

She lay on her back in an uncomfortable on call bed on Saturday morning and scrolled through the photos on her phone from the weekend.  She took a ton of the hotel because words would never do it justice to Octavia and Raven.  Now she smiled as she swiped images of the ornate marble floors and tall columns and fixtures of the lobby.  The greens and golds of the décor in the champagne bar.  The high gloss tile in the bathroom of their room. 

She lingered on a shot of Lexa in the tub.  She didn’t know Clarke was taking it at the time.  Lexa was on the phone, her chestnut curls piled up on her head, delicately holding a glass of champagne with her feet up on the edge of the tub with her ankles crossed.  Someone called from War Paint about a trip to Napa in December.  Lexa’s eyes were closed and her head was tipped back in laughter.  Clarke only heard half of the conversation before she was on top of Lexa in the bath interrupting it.

There was a selfie of her kissing Lexa’s cheek on Park Ave, another of Lexa returning the favor in front of the French restaurant from their first night.  A few photos of them together in touristy positions in front of touristy landmarks.  Lexa scowling in a handful of shots while Clarke made her pose in front of Polis.  A particularly scandalous selfie of them in bed one morning.  Photos of absolutely everything they ate.  A sneaky shot she caught of Lexa holding her hand under the table at a breakfast place Lexa used to frequent with Indra when they were younger and still awake from the night before.

Lexa was busy in New York and didn’t have much time to talk.  They had exchanged a few texts between Clarke’s surgeries.  Lexa, Anya and Aden were winterizing Lexa’s beach house on Sunday and Clarke was invited to join them for the task and the traditional post winterizing Chinese food take out at Anya’s afterwards.  She wasn’t entirely sure what ‘winterizing’ entailed, but she liked the idea of joining their family outing and was happy to be included.  Anything involving a beach house was normally a good time, even if it was November and forty degrees out.

“Dr. Griffin?” Miller poked his head into the room.

“Yeah?” Clarke rolled over to look at him.

“It’s okay.  I was awake,” Clarke replied and gestured for him to come in.  “Just resting while I have a few quiet minutes.”

“I wanted to talk to you about Thanksgiving,” Miller came in and sat on her bed with her.  She scooted her legs over to make room for him and rested a hand under head on the pillow to prop herself up.

“I’m already working,” Clarke replied before he could ask her anything.  It was common knowledge that she didn’t have any family in the area so she was a first choice when anyone was looking to cover their holiday shifts.

“I know,” Miller replied.  “The Chief said you were working the overnight as overtime and your shift technically ends around eight that evening, but since it’s the holiday and you’re available and a lot of others aren’t, he left you on extra long.”

“Right,” Clarke furrowed her brow.  “So, what?  Are you working, too?  Are you trying to get me to pull my chef strings on some pies?”  Clarke chuckled.  Miller let out a little laugh.

“I like where your head’s at with that,” he softened and pointed at her.  “But I want to come in at night.  Chief said that the only person I’m qualified to trade with is you since he’ll be here to supervise me.”

“So, you’re trying to come in on Thanksgiving?” Clarke wrinkled her nose at him.  “What’s up with that?”

“I’m doing dinner during the day at my father’s, then I’m supposed to go to my mother’s at night for dessert,” he paused and glanced down at his hands.  “Her new husband’s a raging homophobe, so I’m trying to use work to avoid going,” Miller shot her a guilty smile.  “No one says no to life saving surgeons.  You’d be doing me a huge favor if you let me have the last night of your overtime.  Besides, you still owe me one for letting you give Lexa those stitches that time,” he winked.  Clarke rolled her eyes.

“Are you sure?”  Clarke tried.  “Could you spend the evening with your dad, too?” 

“He’s on patrol at night.  It’s why we’re doing the day at his place,” Miller shrugged.  His father was a Maine State Trooper.  Between their schedules, they didn’t see much of each other.  “So, can I have your last night?  If it’s about the money, I’ll pay you.”

“Stop it, it’s not about the money,” Clarke replied.  Her mind wandered to Anya’s invitation for Thanksgiving and she wondered if it held for a late night arrival.  “You can have it.”

“Thank you!” Miller threw two fists in the air in triumph. 

"Usually this goes the other way for me,” Clarke chuckled.  “I’m normally a hot commodity for Thanksgiving.”

“I really appreciate it,” he smiled at her more sincerely.  “You should make some plans, now!  Is Octavia doing her usual thing?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke shrugged, already mentally leafing through her closet for something that was girlfriend-at-holiday-dinner appropriate.  “I haven’t asked yet.”

“I’ll let you get some rest,” he patted her on the leg and hopped up.  “Thanks again!”  she watched him go, then rested her giddy head on her pillow.

*****

“Hey!” Raven cried when Clarke arrived at Blake’s around dinnertime.   Much to Clarke’s delight, she was seated between Lexa and Anya at the center of the bar.  Clarke hadn’t heard from Lexa and assumed she was in the air.  Spotting her beside her best friend with Anya in tow made Clarke’s heart jump.

“What a nice surprise this is!” Clarke lit up.  She started with Anya and worked down the stools giving each of them a hug and lingering for a kiss when she reached Lexa.  It knocked her over how happy it made her to see Lexa smiling at her in her business casual attire.  Crisp button down undone at the neck, charcoal blazer, sharp dark jeans.  Clarke noticed Lexa’s overnight bag on the floor beside her.

"Roan asked me to meet him here when he finished his shift later tonight.  I got hungry and Aden’s with him, so I figured at least one of you would be here to hang out with me,” Anya shrugged and sipped her beer. 

“I just got in.  I wanted to surprise you,” Lexa grinned and took Clarke in, squeezing her body a little closer.  Clarke’s hair smelled like her, all floral and girly and fresh.  Clarke had on one of Lexa’s War Paint hoodies that mysteriously found its way into Clarke’s luggage while they were in New York.  It was dark red with the War Paint logo, two feminine eyes peeking through artfully crafted war paint, on the left chest and a graffiti style “Los Angeles” scrawled across the back.  They were popular souvenirs and the restaurant sold a ton of them.  Clarke had been eyeing one of Lexa’s for a while and finally made her move in the city.

“Consider me pleasantly surprised,” Clarke smirked before touching a hand to Lexa’s cheek and kissing her again.

“Take it upstairs!” Octavia shouted sarcastically as she hustled out of the kitchen with plates of food for Anya and Raven.  The dinner crowd was settled in and Octavia was moving fast to keep up.

“What, I can’t kiss my girlfriend in this classy establishment?  What kind of dive bar is this?” Clarke snarked back.

"Are you two finally calling each other girlfriends?” Raven cried, a combination triumphant and exasperated. Anya’s face and posture matched.

“Seriously,” Anya rolled her eyes.

"Hey!” Lexa snapped.

"Yes, we are, scrooges,” Clarke huffed and wrapped her arm tighter around Lexa’s shoulders.  Lexa almost looked shy about it.

“I think it’s cute,” Octavia shrugged in a rare moment of sincerity.  “Congrats.”

“Thank you, Octavia,” Clarke grinned at her.  Raven and Anya chuckled.  “We’ve only been dating for like a month,” Clarke reminded them.

“I guess that’s true,” Anya shrugged. 

“It feels like a lot longer,” Raven cocked her head in thought.

"Tell me about,” Anya elbowed her.  “Probably because we’ve had to listen to them talk about each other nonstop for all those weeks leading up to actually going out.”

“We’re sitting right here!” Lexa tried again.  She feigned frustration, but there was something wonderful about Clarke’s best friend and her own sister figure sharing a joke on her because they knew each other so well.  Lexa hadn’t called Anya to tell her she was going to Blake’s.  She hadn’t called anyone.   She just showed up.  She planned to sit at the bar by herself and go over work from her trip while she waited for Clarke.  When she spotted Raven and Anya sitting together, she couldn’t fight a smile.

Anya didn’t have a ton of friends and most of the friends she had were either old enough to be her parents because they were Aden’s friend’s mothers, or they were childless, a lot of them newly married and still partied on the weekends.  She headed to Blake’s on a whim assuming she would at the very least be able to talk to Harper behind the bar who she kind of knew and certainly liked.  Raven was thrilled to see her and the two of them watched TV together and joked with Harper about the local current events. 

Raven was no stranger to long nights at Blake’s by herself.  She and Harper were old friends now and Raven knew everybody well enough.  She was a fixture of the place.  Not one to get overly emotional, she kept it in that she thought it was amazing to be bookended by the Woods girls by total coincidence and that the three of them carried on socially like they’d been doing it for years.  She had never been crazy about any of Clarke’s exes.  They were all so serious.  She found it delightful that the supposedly no nonsense, no bullshit, big deal Lexa Woods was actually a lot of fun, and her cousin was even more so.

“They’re just jealous, Babe.  Don’t let it bother you,” Clarke grinned and tapped Lexa on the nose playfully.  None of it was lost on her.  She couldn’t think of a single ex she had that she would have wanted to find alone with Raven.  Raven would have eaten them all alive.  It was one of the many reasons Clarke loved her, but it was also true.  Finding the three of them lined up like that going on about nothing really like friends do warmed her to the core.  “Now what’s to eat?”  Clarke craned her neck to see the menu board. 

Beer & Cheese Night:  Spicy Beer Cheese Soup with Pretzel Buns, Beer Battered Cayenne and Coconut Shrimp, Copper Ale Braised Short Ribs, Beer Bread Chicken Melt, Bacon Burger Made Better With Beer, Meatball Sandwich, Tacos With A Secret, Stout Dessert.

"I’m not sure what the secret is,” Anya said with a full mouth.  “But the Tacos are an A plus,” she held up a thumbs up and got a nod from Octavia.

“The burger is better with beer,” Raven nodded after swallowing.

“Woods?  You hungry?” Octavia asked Lexa while Clarke squinted through her glasses and tried to decide what she wanted. 

“I’d love to try the ribs,” Lexa replied. 

“Clarke?” Octavia sighed, waiting for Clarke to choose.  “You look like you’re in a tacos mood,” Octavia prompted her.

"I think you’re right,” Clarke nodded in agreement.  Octavia winked at her and headed back for the kitchen.

“How do you guys always do that?”  Anya asked Lexa and nodded her head towards Octavia.  “You both know what she wants all the time.”

“The secret is,” Lexa began conspiratorially.  “Clarke likes everything, is always hungry and doesn’t care what you bring her so every suggestion is right.”

“You shut your mouth,” Clarke mock gasped at Lexa.

“So, how was New York?  I haven’t seen you!” Raven asked. 

“I haven’t seen either of them!  Tell us all about it!”  Anya piped up.

“I just so happen to have one thousand pictures of the most magical weekend ever right here!” Clarke pulled her phone from the back pocket of her jeans and huddled in between Raven and Anya.  Lexa rolled her eyes playfully and nodded a thank you to harper when she dropped off a beer for Clarke.

“You stayed at the fucking Astoria, didn’t you?”  Anya whipped her head up at Lexa after a few glances at the iconic lobby on Clarke’s phone.  “You know, that review of your assets last month wasn’t so you could piss them away!”

“It was business!” Lexa tried.

“Oh, yeah, this shot of your ass drinking champagne in the tub looks real professional,” Anya joked back, pointing down at Clarke’s phone as she gave Lexa a look.  Lexa leaned over to see the photo.  Clarke blushed at getting caught with it.

“I was on the phone arranging my Napa trip next month!  That’s literally work!”  Lexa yelped.     

“Babe, I have Anya’s present in my suitcase upstairs.  I haven’t unpacked yet.  I was home just long enough to sleep and go back to work,” Clarke said over her shoulder to Lexa as she strategically swiped past anything too racy before Raven and Anya had time to zero in on it.  She also wanted to break up the sisterly bickering with gifts.

“You got me a present?” Anya leaned behind Raven and Clarke to shoot Lexa a look. 

“Yes,” Lexa grumbled into a sip of beer.

“Really?” Anya raised a brow and wasn’t sure if she was moved or concerned.

“Clarke made me,” Lexa muttered.

“Stop that talk!”  Clarke snapped.  “O!” she called towards the kitchen.  Octavia peeked around the corner.  “I have New York presents for you and Raven!”

“You got me a present, too?” Raven lit up.

“Of course I did.  I’ll run upstairs and get them right now!”  Clarke said matter of factly.  She grabbed Lexa’s overnight bag before hustling up the back steps so it wouldn’t get forgotten.

"She really got you to get me a present?” Anya reached behind Raven and poked Lexa in the arm.  Lexa flinched away with an annoyed little sister’s scowl.

“Clarke can be quite persuasive,” Lexa sighed.

“She really can,” Raven agreed before taking a massive bite of her burger.

"Is it a gag gift?”  Anya continued to eye Lexa curiously.

“Is it that hard for you to imagine that I’d get you a present for fun?”  Lexa asked.

“Kind of,” Anya kept her eyes on Lexa and brought her beer to her mouth. 

Clarke came down the stairs with a Barneys shopping bag.  She pulled out an I Heart NY t shirt for Octavia, black of course, one of the Polis Menus that she convinced Lexa to let her walk out of the restaurant with after much protesting and eye rolls, and a magnet of the New York Subway System.  Raven’s I Heart New York tee was purple, she got her a miniature yellow taxi cab that zipped away when pulled backwards and a coffee cup boasting ‘Somebody went to New York City and all I got was this lousy mug.’ 

They struggled into their t shirts over their current clothes and insisted on having their picture taken while pretending to read over the Polis menu looking for something to eat while Raven held up her mug with her pinky out. 

“Should I be worried?” Anya gave Lexa another look as Clarke handed her the Barney’s bag.  Anya looked into it carefully much to Lexa’s chagrin and her face changed when she pulled out a patterned cashmere scarf.  It was well made, high end and looked like something Anya would have in her closet.  “What?”  Anya glanced at both of them as she felt the fabric between her fingers.

“I tried it on and Lexa said it reminded her of something you would wear so I told her she should get it for you,” Clarke shrugged and looped the scarf around Anya’s neck.  It coincidentally matched the sweater and bracelet she was wearing. 

“And she listened to you?”  Anya shifted her puzzled glance to Clarke.  “Cause let me get you my shoe size for your next trip!”

“Look!  It goes with your outfit right now!  Do you like it?”  Clarke asked apprehensively. 

"I love it!”  Anya fluffed her scarf and wiggled her shoulders at Raven.  “Do you like my new scarf?”

“Totally!” Raven nodded, pouring her beer from her pint glass into her new coffee cup.

“Thanks,” Anya caught Lexa’s glance with a sincere smile.

“Don’t thank me,” Lexa gestured at Clarke.  “It appears I’m under new management.”

“Don’t say that!”  Clarke swatted at her.  It had the cadence and familiarity of a married couple and it wasn't lost on Anya.  “Raven, did I show you the bathroom?”  Clarke got her phone back out. 

Roan and Aden showed up just as Anya was getting a little tipsy and she and Raven were interrupting every pool game with Raven’s wind up taxi cab.  The bar was packed and Aden had wide eyes as he watched his mother laughing with a group of chefs from a high end Japanese place downtown that he admired.  Lexa and Clarke were at the bar still, lost in each other and trying to find the best time to slip upstairs.  Roan kept two hands on Aden’s shoulders as he pushed him through the crowd towards Lexa who looked more or less put together despite her dreamy eyes fixated on Clarke.

“Hey!” Roan called over the noise.  Clarke turned around and her face brightened when she saw Aden.

“Aden!  What are you doing here?” Clarke wrapped him in a hug.  She had had a few and was high as a kite on being back with Lexa after too many nights in her cold bed alone. 

“Hey, Clarke!”  he laughed, knocked back a step by her enthusiasm.  He loved every second of it.

“We just left Indra, Boss,” Roan nodded at Lexa.  “We had a great night.  The kid was awesome.  Indra had him on the grill for a minute near the end.”  Roan Clapped Aden’s shoulder with a sense of pride.

“I barely did anything,” Aden rolled his eyes.

“I’m here to collect Anya.  The three of us have a pizza and movie date back at their place,” Roan absent mindedly patted Aden’s shoulder again as he looked over at Anya and Raven cheering about getting her wind up taxi into one of the pool pockets.  The chefs from the Japanese place no longer looked displeased and were now in on the game too.

"Hey, Roan, Man,” Octavia gestured at him with a plate of shrimp in her hand headed for the other end of the bar.  “You can’t have him in here after eleven.  Code and all that,” Octavia pointed at Aden.  Lexa glanced at her watch.  It was quarter of.

“No sweat, Blake.  We’re just here for Anya,” Roan nodded back at her.  “How was New York, Commander?”  Roan moved his attention to Lexa. 

“Good, good,” Lexa brushed it off.  “Productive.  Clarke came for a few days, so it was fun.”

“Aden!  That reminds me!  We have a present for you from our trip,” Clarke turned to him with wide eyes.  We.  We have a present.  Lexa’s stomach felt hot and twisted in a good way.

“What?  For me?”  He grinned back at her.  “No way!”  Clarke caught Roan looking at the Miller High Life clock on the wall above Harper’s head and wincing.

“Yeah!” Clarke replied.  “Roan, I can take him upstairs with me if you want to mingle for a bit.  There are no rules about that.”

“Are you sure?” Roan and Lexa asked at the same time.  Clarke smiled warmly at both of them.

"Totally.  Get a beer and put it on my tab,” Clarke shrugged and smiled.  Clarke motioned for Aden to follow her out back towards the apartment stairs.

“Does she have a tab open?” Roan raised a brow at Lexa who shook her head and laughed.  “She’s on your tab, isn’t she?”  He grinned.

“She certainly is,” Lexa sighed through a smile.  “Harper, whatever this guy wants is with me,” Lexa pointed at Roan.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” Roan tried.

“Shut up and take the beer, Roan,” Lexa half smiled at him.

Upstairs, Aden almost hit the ceiling when Clake pulled Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell and ACDC’s Back In Black, both first presses, out of her suitcase.  They immediately put Meatloaf on and danced around Clarke’s living room to it.  Downstairs, Roan and Lexa danced around a man to man discussion about him dating Anya, what it meant to Aden, what it meant to Lexa and a few cryptic and vague comments from Lexa about him playing a bigger role at Houm in the coming months.

Anya and Raven moved on from ruining pool games to playing darts with the Japanese chefs.  Lexa watched Roan watching Anya and softened up her tone with him.  The four of them tromped up the back stairs as midnight approached, carrying two draft beers each.  Lexa had a plate of nachos in one hand that she convinced Octavia to make for them and methodically carried two beers in the other.  She was laughing so hard at something Roan muttered to her.  It made Anya’s chest tight.  She hadn’t seen Lexa having fun with a group of friends since they were underage party animals getting in trouble.

They found Clarke and Aden in Clarke’s room working together on a piece on Clarke’s drafting table.  They were using different colored markers and drawing on the same sheet of paper rapidly drawing each other’s portraits.  ACDC blared in the background.

Clarke moved the party to the living room and made them all try it while they pulled nachos from the plate and caught stray strings of melted cheese with their bare hands.  Raven’s portrait of Aden made him double over.  It was blue and orange and surprisingly accurate. Roan made one of Lexa in green and brown that made Lexa furrow her brow at him to match the artwork.  No one was sure whose beer was whose anymore.  Aden had sodas and was happy to just be included.  He hadn’t met Raven yet, but he loved her sarcasm and playful attitude.

Clarke pulled Lexa to bed shortly after one once Anya, Roan and Aden made their way out the front door.  With Lexa’s back pressed against Clarke’s closed bedroom door, hands found their home on hips and cheeks and necks and tangled in curls.  It wasn’t lost on Clarke that it turned Lexa on to see Clarke as part of her family, and Clarke capitalized on it. 

“I missed you,” Clarke exhaled into Lexa’s neck as the fell backwards onto the bed.

“I missed you, too,” Lexa said softly before catching Clarke’s lips with her own. 

*****

“So, what does winterizing entail, exactly?” Clarke wrinkled her nose as Lexa held her car door open for her and Clarke climbed into the SUV.  She’d been wearing a cute outfit with fashionable shoes and Lexa made her change into something more practical.  Lexa also made Clarke pick out a warmer jacket and a hat, which made Clarke apprehensive about what kind of fun this beach house plan might be after all.

"I have to get the yard cleaned up before it snows.  Do the gutters and everything.  Anya usually oversees packing everything up inside.  Make sure there’s no food left inside.  We need to shut off the water so the pipes don’t freeze,” Lexa replied as she started the car.  It was early.  Clarke wasn’t thrilled with the eight am departure time Lexa insisted on either.  “There’s a long list of chores to do.”

“Usually when someone invites you to a beach house, it’s not to do chores,” Clarke grumbled.

“You don’t have to do any chores.  You can keep Anya company while Aden and I do the outdoor stuff.  We usually finish the last of the booze that’s left from summer.  You’re pretty good at that,” Lexa shot her a grin.  Clarke stifled a little laugh.

“Why are we starting so early?” Clarke whined.

“We need to catch the nine o’clock ferry.  The ferry is on the winter schedule now so there isn’t another boat until eleven,” Lexa said as she drove down the quiet Sunday morning streets to park at the ferry terminal by the water.

“Your beach house is on one of the damn islands?” Clarke cried.  “You left that out!”

“Did I?” Lexa puzzled.  “I thought I told you.  It’s on Peak’s.”

Of course she had a beach house on Peak’s island.  Clarke wasn’t sure why she was surprised by anything Lexa told her anymore.  Casco Bay was full of small islands.  Peak’s had a reputation for a reason.  A lot of the islands were rugged and the nautical version of backwoods.   Peak’s was the only one of the islands that was overly affluent, a vacation destination for out of towners and hosted some of Maine’s most expensive weddings. 

“You forgot to mention it,” Clarke chuckled.  “So how did you con Anya into cleaning out your beach house?”

“It’s technically mine, but it’s more of a family property,” Lexa replied as she pulled into a parking space.  “My grandfather built it and my dad bought it from him.  It’s one of the perks of being an orphaned only child,” Lexa shrugged.  “You get everything.”

“Lexa,” Clarke warned.  She didn’t like when Lexa made jokes about her deceased parents. 

“Anya and her father use the house a lot.  All of the cousins, too.  There’s a carefully calculated schedule from Memorial Day to Labor Day that I have to keep track of on whose week it is.  Anya wins extra weeks by helping me maintain it,” Lexa grinned. 

Anya and Aden met them at the terminal and Lexa bought everyone’s ferry tickets despite Anya’s protesting.  Anya had coffee waiting for both of them.  They were done up in winter coats and hats and scarves.  Aden was particularly excited to show the place to Clarke.  The two of them were standing at the edge of the wharf pointing out interesting boats and commenting on houses across the bridge in South Portland.

The wind down on the water whipped across their cheeks.  The sky was a dull morning gray and the ocean matched it.  Most of the leaves had fallen leaving the trees naked and sharp.  Portland looked tired without all of her color.

“So,” Anya began and sipped from her coffee.  “You’re bringing your girlfriend to the family beach house?”  Anya dragged out the word girlfriend and family with purpose.  They stood by the loading zone and watched Clarke with Aden across the wharf.

“Yes,” Lexa sighed.  A smile tugged at her lips when she saw Aden make a big hand gesture and Clarke dropped her head back and laughed.

“She’s so good with him,” Anya said with a sincere note.  Clarke poked him in the chest and he laughed back at her.

“You know, Roan is too,” Lexa raised a brow.  “I’ve been putting them together at the restaurant for a few weeks now.  You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Yeah, Aden told me about that.  He can see right through you, by the way,” Anya smirked at Lexa and mimicked her smartass tone.  “Aden really likes him,” she added on with a content sigh.

“Do you really like him?” Lexa asked apprehensively.

“I really do,” Anya flicked her glance at Lexa.  “He’s good to me.  He’s patient with everything.  He understands I can’t really have him staying over,” Anya gestured her coffee at Aden to say what she didn’t want to.

“Aden’s not an idiot, Anya,” Lexa smiled at her with a softer edge.  “He knows what grownups do on dates and sleepovers.  He’s practically an adult.”

“I know!” Anya cried.  “I suck at dating.  I’ve always sucked at dating.  I don’t even know who my own son’s father is.  I sucked then, I suck now, I’ve sucked in between,” Anya trailed off.

“You don’t suck at dating.  I suck at dating,” Lexa pointed to herself.  “This is the first time I’ve got it right in thirty-three years,” Lexa pointed to Clarke. 

“Maybe we’re just late bloomers,” Anya nudged Lexa with her elbow.  Lexa let out a laugh.

“I mean, we’re so good at everything else,” Lexa said with a sarcastic shrug. 

“And damn fine to look at,” Anya joked with her in the same smug voice.

“What, are we supposed to be perfect or something?”  Lexa shrugged a shoulder and shot Anya a smile.  Anya let out a frustrated sigh and leaned against Lexa who threw an arm around her shoulder and gave her a little squeeze.

“Honestly,” Anya rolled her eyes playfully.  The ferry came into view and made Clarke and Aden return to break up the warm moment happening between Anya and Lexa.  Clarke insisted on sitting up top outside so she could have a view on the ride despite the November chill.  Lexa joined her even though she was perfectly familiar with the view.  It was a thousand times better watching Clarke enjoy it.  The ferry took its normal route through the bay past lobster boats with happy dogs at their sterns.  The fishermen put up halfhearted waves to match Clarke waving hello to them.

"So, we didn’t bring a car over,” Clarke trailed off as they walked with the small group off the ferry and under the iconic Peak’s Island sign on the wharf.  Clarke had been out to Peaks once or twice for a summer day trip.  It was a popular tourist activity in the warm weather.  In the summertime, getting on and off the ferry was like moseying in a herd of cattle.  On the cold November morning, there were maybe two dozen of them making the trip.

“The whole island isn’t even a mile across,” Lexa said warmly and held her arm out for Clarke to take up her usual snuggle spot while they walked.  “We’re just going to walk.”

“I wasn’t expecting something so rugged from someone who lives such a life of excess,” Clarke smirked. 

“Must just be the hearty Mainer in me that I normally keep suppressed,” Lexa chuckled.

They wandered down the road, not bothering to walk on the edge.  There weren’t sidewalks. There were very few cars on the island.  Aden told Clarke animated stories the whole time about jumping off the wharf with his friends, golf cart races, an island-wide game of capture the flag that teenagers played every summer that still held legendary tales about the year Lexa won when her whole team had been captured and she hid from them by climbing across roofs down by the beach where the houses were packed in tight.

Clarke was surprised to find that the island house didn’t have Lexa’s trademark stamp of class on it.  It was modest compared to some of the homes they passed that belonged in magazines.  Its natural wooden shingles and white trim had been weathered by years of storms rolling into the bay off the ocean.  It was set back from the road and secluded by trees with a path that led down to the beach.

“Anya, I figure we’ll do the usual.  You can start inside and Aden and I will work outside.  Maybe Clarke could give you a hand?”  Lexa said over her shoulder as she turned the key in the lock and held the door open for Anya.

“You bet,” Anya nodded. 

The inside of the house held evidence of decades of good times had by family.  There were photos absolutely everywhere.  It bordered on too much, but the beachy theme and exposed wood and not-quite-finished feel of the house made it work.  Some of the pictures were black and white and featured young, buff men in tiny trunks and ladies in bathing suits with skirts from the 1930s.  The furniture was worn, but in a way that made it look lived in and not in poor taste.  It smelled a little musty, but in a good way if there was such a thing.

Anya led Clarke all over the house pointing out particularly good photos or interesting pieces.  There were four bedrooms upstairs and a fifth crammed in downstairs where a den should be.  Two of the rooms housed two sets of small bunk beds each.  The goal of the house was packing family in, not luxuriating.  There were no televisions, but there were lots of books and games.  Everything looked old fashioned and just so perfectly Maine. 

Clarke loved it.

“How often do you guys come out here?”  Clarke asked as she wound down the narrow stair case behind Anya.

“Not as often as we used to.  Our dads made it a priority when we were younger.  It would be every other weekend or so,” Anya paused to point at a photo on the stairs of her and Lexa as kids jumping off the wharf.  “Now I try to get out for at least one solid week of vacation in the summer and a few other over nights when we can.  Aden’s friends are big fans.  A lot of my cousins use the place too since Lexa’s too busy to spend a lot of time here.”

“That sounds like so much fun,” Clarke sighed.  She didn’t have cousins.  She didn’t have aunts or uncles.  She didn’t have an exciting family tradition.  “How many cousins do you have?”

“My mom was one of six, so there are seventeen of us in my generation.  Eighteen if you count Lex on the other side.  Aden’s the oldest of his generation, but there are twelve of them already,” Anya replied.  She didn’t hesitate or pause to count.  She had the number at the ready.

“Jesus Christ,” Clarke laughed.  It was so much.  She couldn’t assign a feeling to it.  She wasn’t even sure she had that many friends.

“Here, check it out,” Anya pointed to a patch of the wall by the bathroom door.  It was covered in hash marks with names written beside them.  “Summertime height chart for all the cousins,” Anya chuckled.  “I think this thing goes back to the fifties.”  It took her a moment, but Clarke found Lexa’s dashes that started with ‘Lexa – 1’ and ended with ‘Lexa – 23.’  Anya’s dashes were coincidentally all next to Lexa’s and were just a smidge higher every year.

“This is fantastic,” Clarke ran her hands over the names and tick marks imaging all ages of little boys and girls standing up as straight as possible to edge out their cousins.  Reluctant teenagers probably skewing the results by slouching and pouting.  Lexa being a good sport about it into her twenties.

“I’m going to get started, but feel free to poke around and check the place out,” Anya said over her shoulder as she pulled open the fridge.  Clarke wandered to the kitchen sink where she could look out a big picture window into the back yard and down to the water.  Aden and Lexa were out there cleaning up leaves and brush from the October rains.  “Hey, by the way,” Anya began.

“Yeah?” Clarke looked up. 

“Did you decide about Thanksgiving?”  Anya asked.  She had condiments and jars all over the counter that she planned to chuck.

“About that,” Clarke started carefully.  “It turns out that I should be able to leave the Hospital around seven or eight.  Is that too late to come by?”  she finished apprehensively.

“Uh, no, that’s when it starts getting good!” Anya cried.  “So you’ll come?”

“I’m going to run it past Lex first and make sure she’s still okay with it,” Clarke shrugged.  She picked up a trash bag Anya had out and held it open for her so they could work together.

“Clarke, I know for a fact she’s more than okay with it,” Anya chuckled.  “We can use these walls to get you started on who’s who.  Sometimes I have upwards of forty-five people in my house.  That’s my cousin Miranda,” Anya pointed to a frame holding a photo of Anya and another girl with sparklers in their hands and wearing festive American attire.  “Recently divorced even though she made us all suffer through the worst wedding ever four years ago.  She’ll probably bring a new boyfriend that we’ll all hate and pretend we like,” Anya rolled her eyes.  “And over here is my uncle.”

Anya and Clarke laughed through everyone’s description.  She had an anecdote for each of them and what Clarke could expect in a holiday setting.  Who would start a fight and who would finish it.  Who would bring a young boyfriend, which kid would be the first to cry, which uncle would start trouble and which cousin would get too drunk too early.  Eventually looking through the photos led to telling stories.  Clarke loved that Anya and Lexa were full of stories.  Once eleven thirty hit, Anya deemed it late enough for drinks and opened beers for the three of them.  Aden took a break not long after to run up the street to get some sandwiches.  Clarke came outside to find Lexa on the roof cleaning out the gutters.  Lexa swallowed a warm smile when Clarke warned her to be careful.

There was something special about the place.  It felt far away and secluded even though it was just a half hour ferry from downtown.  Clarke felt like Lexa was opening a window into her past and her life by bringing her to this place.  All of the cousins, the family history, the constant reminder of her parents in photos and knickknacks. 

It wasn’t until Clarke was huddled in Lexa’s arms on the cold ferry ride back around dinnertime that she realized how brave it was of Lexa to quietly open all of that up to Clarke.  Lexa let Anya do most of the talking for her, but maybe that was better off. 

By the time they got back to Anya’s and had take out cartons of Chinese food spread out, their pink cheeks from the cold weather had faded.  Aden had them all laughing with his take on what it was like to work for Lexa, his impressions of his mother and a few stories from when he was younger at the beach house.  Clarke watched Anya and Lexa and swore she could notice something different between them.  Something good and honest and warm. They sat closer together and shared looks more often.  She liked it.

She felt so good sitting at Anya’s kitchen table.  She felt so good sitting on the floor of Aden’s room and looking through his art projects for school.  She felt so good wedged between Aden and Lexa on the couch with Anya in a chair with her feet up on the coffee table, shoes still on.  She felt so good with all three of the Woods family members. 

They made her feel at home.

*****

"Don’t.  Say.  Anything,” Octavia warned sternly.

Clarke had just walked in the front door early on Monday morning.  She kept quiet so she wouldn’t wake anyone up.  It was normally Octavia’s day off, but Octavia stood at the breakfast bar with a cup of coffee, head to toe in a full chef’s uniform.

“I wouldn’t know what I would say even if I wanted to,” Clarke got out, a completely puzzled look on her face.

“I think she looks cute,” Lincoln perked up from the couch.

“I told you I don’t like that word,” Octavia pointed hard at him.  “Cute is for babies and puppies.  I look distinguished.”  Lincoln waved a hand at her and sipped his coffee while reading one of the magazines on the coffee table.

“May I ask what the special occasion is?”  Clarke stuttered.  Octavia’s hair was in a low, neat bun under a white chefs cap.  She wore the checkered pants Clarke had come to associate with Lexa.  Her white jacket had her name on it in forest green script.  Wait a minute.  “Holy shit, is that a Houm jacket?”

“Yes!” Octavia sighed.  Lincoln chuckled behind her.

“Is this just some elaborate dress up between the two of you or do you have something to tell me?”  Clarke raised a brow and glanced back and forth between Lincoln and Octavia.  Lincoln snorted a laugh into his coffee.

“Lexa is returning the favor and invited me to come work with her and Indra to sharpen my skills,” Octavia muttered.  “Which I’m flattered by and excited about, but I have to wear this stupid outfit if I’m going to cook there.”

 “Lincoln’s right.  You do look cute,” Clarke chuckled and moved to pour herself a cup of coffee.

“I hate both of you,” Octavia huffed.

“She didn’t tell me you were coming in,” Clarke furrowed her brow as she tried to remember if it was something Lexa said in passing.  If it was it in New York, it was perfectly likely that Clarke just forgot.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to until like, yesterday,” Octavia sighed and polished off her coffee.   “I don’t know, I’m kind of stressed out about it.”

“You’re gonna be fine, Babe,” Lincoln chimed in from across the room.  “The Commander wouldn’t ask you if she didn’t think you could handle it.  She’s tough, but she’s not evil.”

“She’s been nothing but nice to me and it’s starting to freak me out,” Octavia muttered.  “I gotta go.  I told her I would be there by ten.  Ready?” She called over to Lincoln.

“Yup!  Right behind you!” he popped up out of his chair.

“See you, Clarke.  Let’s catch up later.  I feel like I miss you,” Octavia warmed into an almost smile.  She would’ve gotten all the way there if she wasn’t so stressed.  She grabbed her jacket and she and Lincoln were out the door.  He dropped her off at Houm and she lingered by the back door before going in.  She took a few deep breaths, glanced at the gray sky, then pulled the heavy door open.

Houm smelled fantastic.  They baked their own bread and a lot of it was done in the early morning.  The sauces were simmering.  Roasting meats wafted in between the scents of dough and herbs and garlic.  The kitchen was warm.  Walking in through the backdoor from the cold was like walking into a wall.

“Hey!  You made it!”  Lexa brightened as she came around the corner and spotted Octavia. 

Octavia had seen Lexa in a lot of situations.  A lot of them made Lexa borderline vulnerable now that she was spending so much time in Octavia’s home and place of business.  Lexa in Clarke’s pajamas making breakfast was not intimidating.  Lexa in a suit was certainly appealing, but not intimidating.  Lexa in her jeans and off the clock business attire was impressive, but not intimidating.   Lexa in a grease soaked t shirt working Octavia’s fryers was welcoming, not intimidating.  Lexa passed out in Clarke’s bed while Clarke and Octavia whispered in the doorway was sweet and all, but not intimidating.

Lexa in her Houm uniform, starched and perfect with an army of chefs doing her bidding behind her, however, was totally intimidating.

“Hey,” Octavia nodded at her.  She shoved her nervous hands in the pockets of her jacket.  Her eyes darted all around.  The kitchen at Houm was bigger than the entire footprint of her whole building.  There were a dozen chefs in white jackets prepping and buzzing around, and that was just what she could see from where she stood.

"Welcome,” Lexa half smiled.  She was stuck somewhere between Clarke’s girlfriend and Chef Alexandria Woods.  They both felt it.  Octavia almost felt like Lexa was a little nervous, too.  She couldn’t put her finger on it.  “My office is right over here.  You can hang your coat there and I’ll give you a tour.  Indra will be here around eleven.”

“Sounds good,” Octavia replied in a voice that didn’t feel like hers.  She could sense all of the prep chefs looking at her.  Lexa took her coat and led her through the kitchen.  The ovens were incredible.  Octavia could see her face in the shine of the sinks.  Everything was perfect, precision and clinically clean.  No one talked to each other.  Lexa had music playing, which surprised Octavia a little bit, but it reminded her that Chef Alexandria Woods was also the version of Lexa that made pancakes in Clarke’s softball shirt. 

Lexa had a head chef, a sous chef, a saucier and a pastry chef.  They all had assistants and degrees and skills and looked Octavia up and down like she wasn’t supposed to be there.  It was so much more overwhelming than she thought it might be.

“Lexa, look,” Octavia interrupted Lexa as she showed her an inventory of knives.  Octavia had two sets of knives at the bar and one of them wasn’t even complete.  Octavia could feel Emori, the saucier, boring holes through her back with her death glare.  Octavia unbuttoned her top button on her jacket.  She was having trouble breathing.  “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”  Octavia tacked on and flicked her eyes to where three other prep chefs were staring her down.  One of them self-consciously touched the button on his jacket when he saw hers undone.

“Are you alright?” Lexa leaned in closer and spoke lowly to Octavia so no one else could hear them.  She wasn’t Chef Woods, she wasn’t Clarke’s girlfriend, she was just Lexa who Octavia had come to know as a friend, and she was genuinely concerned and upset.

Octavia swallowed hard, but no words came. 

It was everything Lexa needed to hear.

“Excuse me!” Lexa shouted and clapped her hands over her head.  Her commanding voice reached every corner of the kitchen and out into the dining room.  White hats flipped up to attention from all over the room.  “I’m sure by now you’ve all noticed that Chef Octavia Blake is visiting with us today!”  Lexa shouted.  She paced a few steps into the center of the kitchen.  “I know you all have noticed, because I’ve noticed your shitty attitudes about it!”  She paused and let the guilt crush them all for a moment.  “She’s my guest, and you’ll all do wise to treat her with the same respect you’d treat me!”  Lexa paced the long walk between prep counters and sinks and stoves with a calculated slow grace.

“She fries cheese in a fucking dive bar,” Emori muttered under her breath as Lexa passed her.  Without looking, Lexa snapped a hand out and grabbed Emori by the front of her jacket.  The entire staff sucked in a collective breath in shock.  The thud of Lexa’s fist grabbing a handful of white cloth made Octavia wince.

“And you under salt house marinara in a kitchen that is too good for you, but none of us are bringing that up in front of everyone because it’s rude,” Lexa whipped her head around at Emori who had wide eyes and was stiff with shock.  She spoke in a calm, low tone with a fake smile on and it made it so much worse than if she would just yell.  “I’ve also let slide that you have been telling anyone you run into all about my personal life because that’s just the kind of woman I am these days,” Lexa gave Emori the most terrifying smile yet.  she was capable of anything and Emori knew it.  “Chef Blake is a flavor guru that you should all be so lucky to spend time with!  She has an understanding of food and flavor and soul that some of you will never have.  She doesn’t know the French terms for knife work, but I don’t really give a shit about that.  That’s not why she’s here.” 

Lexa still had Emori by the front of her jacket, arm stretched out straight.

“Chef Blake is here to spend time with us and learn from us and work with me.  She is a personal guest of mine, and I expect you will all show her the respect and honor you would show anyone else,” Lexa released her death grip on Emori’s uniform and patted her on the shoulder.  “And if that’s not in your skillset,” Lexa paused dramatically and pointed towards the backdoor.  “Then let me show you out.  Are we clear?”

“Yes, Chef!”  They all chorused back.

“Emori, your uniform is wrinkled.  Get that straightened out before dinner service this evening,” Lexa smirked at Emori who hadn’t budged.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Octavia Scowled.

“Yes she did,” Indra smirked as she approached from the dining room.  She arrived just in time to see the whole spectacle.  “Happy to have you with us, Chef Blake,” Indra nodded at her and grabbed Octavia’s hand in their usual shake.

“You guys don’t have to keep calling me that,” Octavia sighed, still shaking off the nerves from Lexa’s display.  “I’m not a real chef.”

“Yes, you are,” Lexa smiled reassuringly.  Octavia looked for Indra’s reaction, but it was the same.  “I’ve got work to do.  Indra, can you walk Octavia through prep and show her all of the inventory?  If you don’t have anything on your lists, work on something new.  I want to roll the winter menu out at the anniversary party next month if you want to start work on that.”

“Heard, Chef,” Indra nodded and they both watched Lexa’s back until she was out of sight in her office.

“Shit, she’s serious, huh?”  Octavia finally let herself exhale for what felt like the first time in thirty minutes.

“That?” Indra scoffed.  “That’s tame.  You should’ve seen her in her Nightblood days.  The Commander was an absolute lion in Vegas.”  Octavia tried to imagine what something like that even looked like.  Every chef in the room stood taller when Lexa walked past them.  “C’mon.  Let me show you the fridges.”

Octavia felt more at ease with Indra. 

They didn’t have the advantage of having worked together before like she did with Lexa, but her guard was down more with Indra.  She didn’t intimidate her, enough though Octavia was smart enough to know that Indra had a lot of the same training and abilities Lexa had.  It didn’t feel as bad when Indra showed her how to do something better.  She liked the way Indra explained things.  It was blunt and to the point and got Octavia thinking about how she could improve so many other aspects of her work.

Dinner service approached and the two of them had built a seamless groove between them.  Octavia worked the grill under Indra’s watchful eye.  It was a Monday night so it wasn’t terribly busy and it let the two of them take their time with everything.  Octavia’s natural gift for food shined as she worked with seafood and proteins she’d never worked with before.  Her plating skills impressed Indra.  They talked flavor and what Octavia might do to change up some dishes.

“Three filets, one scallop carpaccio,” Indra said calmly and set the tickets on Octavia’s board. 

“Heard, Chef,” Octavia replied, the title slipping out of her mouth after hearing everyone around her using it all day.

“Hey, the girl learns,” Indra smirked.

“Well, when in fucking Rome and all that,” Octavia shrugged and seared meats as she ignored what she said.  “Which is kind of fitting, given the theme here.”

“And she’s funny, too,” Indra grinned.

"It helps pass the time,” Octavia grinned back.

“Can I leave you for a few minutes?  You okay, here?”  Indra asked and pointed towards the grill.

“Yeah, I’m cool,” Octavia nodded.  She fought the urge to turn around and yell and communicate with the rest of the chefs.  None of them spoke unless they needed something.  She felt like it should be more fun.

“Hey,” Indra knocked on the doorframe of Lexa’s open office door.

“Yeah?”  Lexa sat up a little too quickly.  She had paperwork spread out all over the desk, but was glued to her phone.  Indra caught a flash of blond on the screen and decided it might be best not to look too closely.

“She’s perfect,” Indra said after a long pause.

“Oh, yeah?”  Lexa grinned.

“She listens to me and looks to me for process, but her confidence in food is top notch,” Indra leaned on the doorframe.   “The way she bounced right back from your little stunt earlier surprised me.  I expected her to walk out.  She’s tougher than I thought.  We’ve gotta get her.”

“Excellent,” Lexa rubbed her hands together.  A huge grin spread on her face. 

“I still say we let the holidays pass and let January hit and slow things down.  She’ll be more likely to say yes,” Indra pointed at her.

“Maybe we’ll play that one by ear,” Lexa agreed.

“I can handle this tonight if you want to get out of here,” Indra gestured at Lexa’s phone.  Lexa glanced away and didn’t even bother to hide that she was embarrassed. 

“You’re really sure?  You really like her?”  Lexa asked once more to be sure.

“I’m sure,” Indra nodded.  “Let’s do this thing.”

               

Chapter Text

“Can I get shrimp two times on plate one and three!” Octavia called over her shoulder.  It was the night before Thanksgiving at Houm and she was on her third visiting shift.  Thanksgiving Eve was traditionally a very busy night in town and the Houm staff was not impressed that Lexa made a huge adjustment to the kitchen unannounced.

Her second visit was far less awkward than the first and she spent the bulk of it in the prep kitchen with Lexa and Indra working new ideas and experimenting.  Lexa showed off the fine dining versions of Octavia’s food she’d been working on.  A deconstructed version of Octavia’s jalapeno poppers that looked beautiful on the plate.  Lexa developed a spicy onion jam that she couldn’t wait to share with Octavia.  Lexa did one of Octavia’s wilder bacon blue burgers as a steak dish with a blue cheese butter that melted over the top of the meat topped with prosciutto and all of the veggies she normally piled high on the bun as a carefully constructed side dish.  Octavia’s famous gravy-non-gravy served with polenta fries and truffle and zucchini fritters.

Octavia was blown away.  She couldn’t believe that her food was making such an impact on this group of very talented chefs.  It made her feel better about Lexa asking her back for a third time to cook for the busy night’s dinner service.  She was going to need to hightail it across town as soon as possible because her place came alive around nine or ten for the late night crew all home for the holiday weekend.

Indra was on the grills, Lexa was on sauté, Roan was making salads and Octavia had her first go at pasta.  Emori scowled in the prep kitchen after being told she would be supporting the team and not cooking that evening.  The caliber of skill in the kitchen was lost on Emori because she was still getting over herself.

“I know how to read, Chef!” Lexa grinned as she gave Octavia some of her Blake’s Bar sass. 

“What’s this?  Trash talk in the famous deadly silent Houm kitchen?”  Octavia mock gasped.

“Nowhere stays deadly silent with you around,” Indra called from the grills with a smirk.

“Burn!” Roan chimed in with a laugh.

"Shrimp twice, Octavia.  Scallops coming in hot, Roan!” Lexa caught Octavia’s enthusiasm as she spun and dropped a portion of shrimp onto two dishes of pasta and turned with the scallops to Roan behind her.

“Scallops on the run, heard!”  Roan called back with a smile.

“So, Octavia,” Lexa asked over her shoulder.

“Yeah?”  Octavia dropped raviolis into a pot of water and rearranged her tickets.

“How busy is it going to be at your place tonight?”  Lexa asked.

“Around nine people start coming in, and then at like ten-thirty or eleven it explodes.  It’s a very hot reunion spot the night before Thanksgiving, and now that you assholes brought all your chef friends there, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be insane,” Octavia rolled her eyes and shot Lexa a look.  “So if it’s still cool if I shoot out of here right at nine, that’d be great.”

“Do you think having three professional chefs and a highly acclaimed bartender for the night would help?”  Lexa asked carefully.  Roan and Indra smiled down into their work.  Octavia stiffened up.

“What are you playing at, Woods?”  Octavia shot Lexa a look.

“I’m just saying that if it would be helpful for Roan, Indra, Lincoln and myself to come with you at nine and work for you tonight that I already have it arranged for Emori and Lincoln’s bar back to clean up after us and close down the shop,” Lexa shrugged and bit the insides of her cheeks to contain her smug smirk.  “If you want us, that is.”

“Are you going to change out of those dumb outfits?” Octavia’s smile hurt her cheeks.  She couldn’t believe it.  Having such a talented team on a busy night was truly a gift.

"What’s the dress code?  I was thinking I might cook naked,” Roan joked.

“It’s probably closer to her standards than your uniform,” Indra sassed back.

"You really set this up ahead of time?”  Octavia gave Lexa a sincere look.  Lexa just smiled.

“You told me what a busy night it is at your spot.  I was impressed you agreed to come over here for dinner at all.  It’s the least we could do,” Lexa replied with a half shrug. 

There was more to it than that, but Lexa didn’t mind letting Octavia just think she was solely being friendly.  The opportunity to help and get her chefs in another kitchen was extremely appealing.  Indra and Lexa were more than pleased with Octavia’s performance at Houm.  Octavia learned to function in a new environment and adapted to high end technique and etiquette before her first day was over. 

What they really needed to see was whether or not she could lead a staff bigger than two, and they knew she wasn’t going to do it in their kitchen.

“I don’t care what they say about you,” Octavia chuckled.  “You’re alright, Woods.”

“And I don’t care what they say about you,” Lexa shrugged back with a smile.  “You know how to cook.”

Nine PM on the dot had the five of them chucking their aprons and running out the back door to Lexa’s Range Rover to speed across town.  Emori sighed and rallied her clean up team once the doors were closed.  Octavia was crammed in the middle in the back seat between Roan and Lincoln laughing at Indra going on about a time she and Lexa made it through LA traffic to a catering event that involved Lexa breaking a whole lot of laws.  Lexa parked in Clarke’s parking spot out back knowing she was at the hospital.  She and Octavia didn’t need to discuss it, she just did it.  Their day to days were blended so seamlessly that small gestures and assumed habits went unnoticed now.

“Leave your dumb whites in the car!  We don’t wear these here!” Octavia grabbed Roan playfully by the back of his chefs coat.

“Plus, they’ll never be white again if we so much as walk through the door to your grease palace,” Indra grinned as she unbuttoned her jacket and tossed it on the passenger’s seat.  They all followed suit and had matching solid black t shirts on under their jackets.

“You guys really did plan this thing, didn’t you?”  Octavia shot Lexa a look caught between sincere and sarcastic.  “You’ve even get them in uniforms when it’s not your house.”

“I might have suggested it,” Lexa shrugged.  Harper’s eyes bugged out when the A Team from Houm walked behind the bar ready to work. 

“What the hell is this?”  She pointed at Lincoln and raised a brow at Octavia.

“I got you a bar back for the night and I’ve got a few extra cooks,” Octavia shrugged.  “I’m sending Murphy out for you, too.”

“Just tell me what to do,” Lincoln grinned.

“How did you swing this?”  Harper sent inquisitive eyes Octavia’s way. 

“Lexa’s feeling charitable,” Octavia replied.  “I’ve gotta get Roan and Indra up to speed before the real rush gets here.  Lincoln and Murphy are your bitches for the night.  Make ‘em work!”  Octavia dragged Roan and Indra out back.  Lexa followed two steps behind.

By ten-thirty, Blake’s was at capacity.  The crowd was a mix of college and twenty-somethings home for the holidays as well as the local chef community that had already closed their doors for the evening.  Lincoln was at the front door bouncing.  Murphy and Harper slung drinks as fast as they could.  Lexa swung from the kitchen to the bar running food and grabbing beer refills so she could observe Octavia running the entire show.  Octavia didn’t hesitate to whip Roan and Indra into shape in her kitchen.  They fell into a groove and kept up with her as the late night rush wore on.

“Can I get you something?”  Lexa politely asked a tall, dark haired guy wearing US Airforce dress blues.  He had an awful lot of stripes on his chest for his young smile and boyish freckles.  He was by himself and ignored all of the freshly twenty-one year old girls doing shots that were gawking at him.

“I’m looking for Octavia,” he replied coolly.  He had an air about him like he was supposed to be there.  There was something about him that was familiar, but Lexa didn’t know any soldiers.

“She’s kinda busy,” Lexa glanced over her shoulder.  She could see Octavia berating Roan out of the corner of her eye. 

“Trust me,” he said with a cocky smile that Lexa decided she wasn’t crazy about.  “She’s not too busy to see me.”

“Are you sure about that?”  Lexa raised a brow.

“I can see that you’re new around here,” his polite smile was patronizing.  “So why don’t you just run along and grab her for me.”  Lexa rolled her jaw, took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was not in her own restaurant and that she needed to behave.

“You just wait right here,” Lexa gave him a fake smile right back and spun on her heel to the kitchen.  “Blake, there’s some dick at the bar in Air Force dress blues asking for you.  He seems to think it’s important enough to pull you off the line on a night like this.”  Octavia dropped the spatulas in her hands and snapped her head up at Lexa with eager eyes.

“Really?”  She lit up.

“Yeah, do you know him?”  Octavia poked her head out into the bar, met eyes with the soldier and let out a girlish scream.  She pushed Harper aside so she could scramble around the bar and jump into his arms.  He held her so tight.  Both of them had their eyes pinched shut and the biggest smiles on.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Octavia screamed and held him at arm’s length to take him in. 

Lexa watched the whole thing and tried to figure it out.  He wasn’t a lover, there was no kiss or embrace of that nature exchanged.  It wasn’t until they both started making the same rapid hand gestures and childlike smiles as they talked over each other that Lexa understood who he was.

“Hey, Lex!”  Octavia waved Lexa over.  “Come here!  You need to meet my brother!”  His cocky smile was gone and was replaced with nothing but adoration for Octavia.

“Hi,” Lexa held her hand over the bar to shake.

“Combat Rescue Officer Bellamy Blake,” Octavia stood up straighter when she addressed him.  He glanced away with a shy smile.  “This is Lexa Woods.  Lexa, my older brother, Bellamy.”

"Nice to meet you,” Lexa forced one of her businessman smiles on as she took his hand.  Now that he was smiley and clinging to his sister, he wasn’t rubbing Lexa the wrong way.

“This isn’t Lexa Woods as in Chef Lexa Woods that you’ve been all excited about forever, is it?  Didn’t we eat at her place when I was in training in Vegas?  I’m pretty sure it was the only thing that convinced you to come see me.”  Bellamy turned to Octavia who winced as he innocently uncovered that Octavia had been a long-time Lexa fan.

“Well, well, Blake,” Lexa chuckled.  “I wish I’d known you way back when.  I could’ve gotten you primo seating.”

"Shut up,” Octavia waved a hand at Lexa and they both laughed.  “I didn’t think you were getting home in time for the holiday!” She turned back to Bellamy.

“Well, I just got in literally right now, so I guess I just made it,” Bellamy glanced at the High Life clock above Lexa’s head.  It was approaching midnight. 

"Does Mom know you’re here yet?”  Octavia asked him.

“Nope,” He grinned.  “I thought I’d surprise her tomorrow.  You’re still hosting, yeah?  You mind if I crash here tonight?”  He pointed towards the ceiling.

“Not at all,” Octavia punched him in the shoulder.  “You can have Clarke’s room.  She’s on the overnight then going to your place tomorrow, yeah?”  Octavia turned to Lexa who perked up.  She liked the way their yeahs matched.  There was something so similar about them.  They had the same shoulders and the same cheeks.  They both looked so excited and happy and relieved to be side by side.

“She should get to Anya’s around eight or so when she’s done with work tomorrow,” Lexa replied with a half shrug.  “We had plans to go back to my place after.”

"Wait,” Bellamy gave Lexa the side eye then flicked his glance back to Octavia.  “Clarke’s not coming tomorrow? She always comes if she doesn’t work.  I was looking forward to catching up with her.”

“Lexa is Clarke’s girlfriend, Bro,” Octavia nodded at Lexa who was trying to decide if she should get territorial or not.  It was a new feeling and she didn’t care for it.  Clarke had only ever mentioned Octavia’s brother in passing.  Lexa knew he was overseas, but that was about it.  She did not know that he was hunky and smiley and buff and was offered Clarke’s room when he showed up unannounced.

“Oh,” Bellamy paused and let it sink in.  “Really?”  he looked to Octavia for confirmation.

“Is that so hard to believe?” Lexa raised a brow and folded her arms over her chest begging him to challenge her.

“No! No, not at all.  I just wasn’t expecting that,” he held his hands up in defense.  “Also, if you don’t mind me asking, don’t you have a bunch of your own restaurants you should be working at?” 

“I mind you asking, you dick.  She’s my guest!” Octavia shot another jab into his shoulder.  He winced and laughed at her.  “We’re just chef friends doing chef friend things.  Mind your own beeswax, Asshat.”  Lexa was relieved that Octavia fielded the answer so she didn’t have to.  She wasn’t really sure what the answer would be.

“Hey, sorry I asked!”  Bellamy put up his defensive hands again.  “It was very nice meeting you, Lexa.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.  I’ve been traveling for the last thirty hours, so I’m going to crash upstairs.”  He paused and wrapped Octavia into a gentler hug this time.  “It’s so good to see you, O.”

“You too, Bro.  Relieved to have you home safe,” Octavia gave him a final pat on the shoulder as he fought his way through the crowded bar back to the door.  Octavia glanced at Lexa who watched him walk away with a curious look in her eye.  “I know what you’re thinking.  I can feel it coming off of you,” Octavia smiled at Lexa.

“I’m not thinking anything,” Lexa shrugged.  And she wasn’t.  She wasn’t jealous and she felt a little silly for instantly jumping to something like that.  Part of her felt crappy about wanting to protect Clarke as hers immediately, but the other part of her knew what it was.  Knew why she did it.  It was still too early to say those words, but Lexa was coming to realize that waking up without Clarke wasn’t something she wanted to think about.  She couldn’t stomach thinking about Clarke waking up with someone else.

“You can unclench your butt cheeks, tightass.  He and Clarke have never done anything,” Octavia said with a reassuring smile.  “Not for lack of effort on his part, but he gave that up a long time ago.  They’re just friends.  She’s known him as long as she’s known me.”

“I never said,” Lexa tried.  She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Oh, you didn’t have to.  Your ice cold glare when I told him he could sleep in her room said everything you could’ve tried to,” Octavia laughed. 

"Was it that obvious?”  Lexa winced.

“Let’s just say it’s a good thing he’s numb to a lot of social cues,” Octavia grinned at her.  “Seriously, though.  The only time he sleeps in Clarke’s bed is when she’s not in it, and that’s how it’s always been.”

"Thanks,” Lexa sighed, embarrassed that Octavia had to reassure her.  “I didn’t mean to be a gross jerk.”

“I thought it was kind of adorable,” Octavia joked.  “They spend a lot of time together.  When he’s home he works as a paramedic, so he delivers Clarke work all the time, so to speak.  He crashes here a lot cause my mom’s place is tiny and he’s never permanently anywhere.  He’s not really around more than six months at a time,” Octavia sighed with a sad smile. 

Lexa didn’t pry.  She was unaware Octavia’s mother was even in the area.  The first she heard of her was that Clarke sometimes spent holidays with Octavia and her mother and that Octavia did the hosting.  Nothing else was ever mentioned.

"I owe him everything.  He took care of me growing up.  He loaned me the money to buy this place.  He can be a real asshole when he puts his mind to it, but he’s a great guy at the end of the day,” Octavia carried on.

“That’s great,” Lexa smiled at her. 

“But as far as he and Clarke go?  Don’t worry about it.  Her flame burns only for you, Chef,” Octavia winked and patted Lexa on the shoulder as she headed back to the kitchen.  The title fell out of her mouth with ease.  Lexa wondered if Octavia even realized she’d used it.  “Roan!  How much have you fucked up in the ten minutes I left you unsupervised?!” Octavia shouted.

Lexa shook her head and chuckled at Octavia’s antics.  She felt a little sheepish for overreacting.  She slid her phone out of her pocket to send Clarke a quick message and found a slew of selfies of a bored Clarke in an on call room waiting for her. 

“Talk to your girlfriend later, Woods!  We’ve got shit to do!”  Murphy shouted at her. 

Upstairs, Bellamy let himself in and found Raven watching TV.  She didn’t move at first.  It didn’t register in her mind that Clarke or Octavia shouldn’t be coming in at this hour.  Part of her assumed it would be Lexa or Lincoln waiting for their respective girlfriend to finish up work.  Raven had grown accustomed to watching TV with Lincoln and drinking beer with Lexa.  She liked the separate relationship she had with her best friends’ significant others.  It made her appreciate their relationships more because she knew and liked Lincoln and Lexa as individuals, not just extensions of Octavia and Clarke.

“Why aren’t you downstairs at the party?”  Bellamy smirked at her as he set his bag down on the floor.  Raven whipped her head around at his voice, eyes wide in shock.

“Oh my god!  When the fuck did you get here?”  She flew out of her chair and wrapped him in a death grip of a hug.  “It’s so good to see you in one piece!”  She squeezed him tighter.

“It was a close call more than once,” Bellamy smiled down at her. 

“I hate that!  Don’t tell me that.  I don’t like to think about that,” Raven gave him one final squeeze then released her hold on him.  “You want a beer?”

“My god, as many as you can serve me,” he sighed and eased into one of the comfy chairs.  “I was just downstairs saying hey to O.  I, ah, met Clarke’s girlfriend?”  It was a question more than a statement.  He was still putting the pieces together.

“Lexa’s here?”  Raven raised a brow.

“What’s her deal?”  He asked, accepting a bottle of beer from Raven and clinking the neck against hers.

“What do you mean?”  Raven dropped onto the couch across from him.  She had her computers and notes out, but was mostly just watching TV.  Even though she was essentially the Queen of Blake’s, the night before Thanksgiving was too much for her and she stayed upstairs.

“I don’t know,” Bellamy shrugged after a long pull from his bottle.  “For such an amazing woman, Clarke has a knack for dating assholes.  I got into a bar fight with the last dude Clarke dated because he was so awful to her.  The last couple chicks she was with over the last few years didn’t exactly take great care of her either.  Now she’s dating some hotshot, big deal, cockyass chef?  I can’t beat up a girl, Raven.  Lexa looks a little like she could take me, so I want to make sure this isn’t going to go down in flames before I’m deployed again.”

“First, soldier man, you don’t have to beat up everyone that wrongs one of us,” Raven smirked at him.

"Yes I do,” he sat up straighter.  He was only half joking.

"Second, you’re not gonna have anything to worry about with those two,” Raven rolled her eyes.  “Lexa treats Clarke like some kind of goddess.  She’s a total gentleman, she’s super nice and sickly sweet to her, and she’s kind and generous to all of us.  Apparently the sex is out of this world,” Raven shrugged.

“Raven, I don’t need those details,” Bellamy held up a hand.  “Unless you have them and want to share them,” he smirked at her.

"Don’t be gross,” Raven whipped a throw pillow at him and he caught it hard in the chest.  “Clarke’s head over heels in love, but she won’t say it yet.  She’s always doing cute little things, they make each other really happy.  They take great care of each other.  It’s nice to watch.  O and I are thrilled.  Plus, Lexa’s cool and we like hanging out with her and her crew.  She’s gotten really tight with Octavia.  They spend time at each other’s restaurants a lot.  They hang out without Clarke pretty often, actually.”

“How long has this been going on?”  Bellamy scratched his chin in thought.  It was amazing what eight months away could do.  Octavia sent him emails every other week or so, but he hadn’t been in a place to receive any since July.

“Not long.  They met in September.  It’s still new but it doesn’t feel like it anymore,” Raven replied as she started cleaning up her work.  Bellamy let it roll over in his head. 

Everyone always thought he had a thing for Clarke, but it wasn’t like that.  He respected and admired her.  He had a deep appreciation for her.  He agreed with everything she valued and was about, but he didn’t want to go there.  If she started it, he’d never push her away, but he knew that was a line he couldn’t cross. 

Raven was the only one that really believed him when he said it.  Possibly because whenever he was around and nobody else was, he almost always ended up in bed with her.

“So don’t worry about it.  We’ve all been perfectly capable of keeping an eye on Clarke in your absence,” Raven gave him a look.  “Now why don’t you get out of that suit, put on some sweats and come watch TV with me already,” she softened into a smile.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he smiled back at her.  It was good to be home.

*****

“Okay, Griffin,” Clarke whispered to herself as she finished her make up in the locker room mirror.  She had just wrapped up a surgery that ran longer than expected, two severed fingers from an electric carving knife, how very festive for the Thanksgiving holiday, and put the finishing touches on her hair before heading to the garage.  “You can do this.”

She was nervous, mostly because she was excited, but also because she was going to a holiday as a significant other.  It had been a long time since she did that.  Lexa had assured her over and over that it would be great, everyone would love her and that there was nothing to worry about.  Anya, the host and head of her generation of cousins, was so tight with Clarke that if anyone so much as hinted at saying something out of line, Anya would smite them into the next neighborhood.

With a bottle of wine under her arm and a bouquet of fall flowers in her hand, Clarke stood on Anya’s doorstep and debated if she should ring the bell or just walk in for far too long.  It felt silly.  She knew Anya too well for these formalities.  The first time she met Anya, Clarke was topless and surprised, for god’s sake.  Lexa was hers, Anya and Aden were becoming hers, she was invited and she needed to stop making something out of this that wasn’t there.

She pushed the door open with gusto and was immediately knocked back a few steps.

Anya’s house was packed.

Middle aged men, thirty-something women, preteen boys, crawling babies and any and everything in between.  Music played in the background.  All of them laughed and yelled and told jokes.  Anya stood in the middle of the living room holding a glass of wine and a bottle of red as she circled around topping people off.  Aden and a few boys a smidge younger than he was were on the couch looking at his phone and laughing.  A handful of twenty and thirty-somethings gathered by the TV having a loud debate about their parents and who was responsible for taking care of them when they got old.

Every face in the room spun towards her as she pushed the door shut.  They were all waiting in anticipation all day for Lexa’s girlfriend to finally show up.

"Hi,” Clarke smiled nervously.

“Clarke!” Anya cried out and set her wine glass and bottle on the coffee table.  She pushed aunts and cousins and nieces aside to get to Clarke at the door.  “You made it!”  She threw her arms around her.  “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!”  Clarke instantly softened in Anya’s presence.  The nerves fell away.  “I brought some wine, I figured you can’t have too much.  These are for you as a thank you for having me,” Clarke held out her wine and her flowers so she could shrug out of her coat.

“These are beautiful, Clarke!  You didn’t need to do either, though!  You know you’re always welcome here,” Anya said with a more sincere smile.  She placed a friendly, winedrunk kiss on Clarke’s cheek and took her coat.

“I know,” Clarke shrugged as she leaned into Anya’s holiday embrace.  “But I wanted to.”

“Let’s get these in some water and find you a drink.  I think Lex is still at the table,” Clarke followed Anya who was already on the move towards the kitchen.  “Are you hungry?  Did you eat?  Everything is put away but we have a fuckton of leftovers.   There’s pie and dessert out now, but we can get you some dinner.  I’ll get Aden to make you up a plate,” she said over her shoulder to Clarke.  “Aden!” She shouted.

“Yeah?” He shouted back over the din of the party.

“Get your narrow ass in here and make Clarke up a plate!” Anya cried.

“I can do it myself.  You don’t have to make him do it,” Clarke laughed nervously as Aden hurried up behind her.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Clarke!” He paused for a brief one armed hug then skipped past her into the kitchen to get her plate started.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” She called after him.

“The magazine is out, you know,” Anya said over her shoulder as she grabbed a wineglass from the cabinet for Clarke. 

“What?”  Clarke tried to keep up.  There were even more people in the kitchen all talking and laughing.

“Is red okay?  I can open more white if you want,” Anya held up a bottle.

“Red is great, thanks,” Clarke tried to keep up.  There were some young twenty-somethings in the kitchen, more cousins, going on about the football game they watched earlier on TV.  “What magazine?”

“The November Food And Wine that has her smug ass on the cover,” Anya grinned and nodded towards the table.

Clarke spotted Lexa through the crowd in the kitchen sitting in a chair in the middle surrounded by Anya’s cousins and aunts and uncles.  They had put extra leafs in the table for the holiday so it sat twelve comfortably and right now sat about sixteen all crammed in.  Lexa was scowling in the center and every one of them had a copy of Food And Wine Magazine in their hands with Lexa’s face on the cover.  There were more copies spread out on the kitchen counters. 

“Don’t worry.  There are over fifty of them in the house.  My dad bought all of them at Whole Foods yesterday so we could embarrass her all day with it.  I saved you one.  It’s in my room.  Remind me later,” Anya grinned.

“I didn’t know it was out yet,” Clarke trailed off.  She didn’t have time to finish her thought of feeling like a terrible girlfriend and being unaware because she caught Lexa’s eye across the room.  It made her chest swell.  She knew she was grinning but couldn’t stop it.  The relief she felt when she locked on those green eyes was uncanny.  Clarke watched Lexa excuse herself and get ragged on and berated by all of the cousins as she got up to greet her girlfriend in the crowded room.

“Hey,” Lexa matched Clarke’s grin.  “Happy Thanksgiving.” She pulled Clarke into a tight hug.  It was so good to have her there.  Lexa had been waiting impatiently for Clarke to arrive all day. 

And so had everyone else. 

Clarke could feel all of their eyes on her as she and Lexa embraced. 

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Clarke replied and left a polite, family friendly chaste kiss on Lexa’s cheek.  She felt Lexa stiffen up at the smallest touch.  They hadn’t seen each other in days.  Lexa was warm and soft and smelled so good.  Clarke wanted to melt into her, but knew it wasn’t time yet.  “So, when did your magazine come out?” Clarke leaned back in Lexa’s arms so she could see her face.  Lexa glanced away with a guilty smile.

“Friday,” Lexa sighed.

“And when were you going to tell me about it?”  Clarke raised a brow.  Anya was beside her with a smug smile that she tried to hide in a new glass of wine.  She had a second in her hand for Clarke.

“Busted,” Anya shot Lexa a look and handed Clarke her wine.

“My copy is being framed.  I was hoping to look at it privately with you since you’re in it, too, but my uncle had other plans,” Lexa rolled her eyes.

“I’m in it?” Clarke gasped.  She was out of Lexa’s arms and grabbing for one of the copies on the counter before Lexa could stop her.

“It’s a picture from the party,” Lexa chuckled at Clarke, who paused and took in the cover before she opened it.  The cover was black and made Lexa pop in her white chef jacket.  Her green eyes drove off the page and right thought Clarke.  She had a smug, half smile on with her arms folded over her chest.  The familiar green ‘Lexa’ in script that matched her eyes stood out.  She was standing behind a prep counter covered in fall vegetables and cheeses and meats and unfinished pasta with a few knives on the table.  The cover boasted all kinds of phrases.  Portland, Maine, The Biggest Little Foodie City.  Fall Vegetables Done Right.  Wines To Make Your Thanksgiving Win.  Alexandria Woods, Still Inventive After All These Years, But What’s Next?

“Look at you!” Clarke lost track of what Lexa was trying to tell her.  It was so real.  It was a real magazine with her real girlfriend on the real cover.  Clarke couldn’t figure out what she wanted to say, but somehow hearing about Lexa being famous and actually holding the literal fame in her hands were really different.

“It certainly is me,” Lexa chuckled.  “Although they over photoshopped me.  I’m not convinced my eyes are that green,” Lexa wrinkled her nose and pointed to her eyes on the magazine.  “They do that all the time.”

“They are,” Clarke blurted out right away.  She hid a shy smile.  “This makes me want to kiss you very hard and very long and very slow, but there are way too many people in here,” she said in a low husky voice into Lexa’s ear as she tapped the magazine against Lexa’s hip.  Lexa winced and swallowed hard.  Her tie suddenly felt too tight.

“I’m sure I could make an excuse for us to find somewhere secluded that I could accommodate that,” Lexa grinned.

“Don’t even think about,” Anya warned and wagged a finger at Lexa.  They had both forgotten she was there.  Lexa scowled.  Clarke started thumbing through the magazine.

“Clarke!  I made you a plate!” Aden joined them and handed Clarke a heaping plate of turkey and mashed potatoes and veggies and sides. 

“Oh!  Thank you!” Clarke tucked the magazine under her arm and took the plate from him and tried to juggle the silverware and her wine.

“Dude, come on!” Anya whacked him in the arm.  “Go make her some space at the table!” She gestured for Aden to find Clarke a seat.  “And you,” Anya turned and gave Lexa the same whack in the arm.  “Sit with her.  Don’t throw her to the fucking dogs.  They’ve all got the magazine out over there.  People have been waiting to meet her all fucking day!  Go be a grownup.”

“Alright! Alright!” Lexa held a hand up to Anya.  “Are you ready?” She asked quietly to Clarke.

“I guess?” Clarke shrugged.  They made their way to the table and all conversation stopped abruptly.  Lexa let out a big sigh as all eyes fell on both of them.

“Family,” Lexa addressed them all as a unit.  All heads snapped to attention.  “This is my girlfriend, Clarke.”  After a few heavy beats of silence, they erupted in various greetings, all trying to introduce themselves at the same time and all shouting what a pleasure it was to meet the magician that finally got Lexa to settle down.

“Hi,” Clarke laughed nervously.  She set her plate, her wine and her copy of the magazine down on the table and carefully eased into a chair.

“So, Clarke,” one of the girls that looked like she was in her early twenties began.  She had the same dark eyes as Anya and wore her hair the same way.  “Have you seen the magazine yet?”

“You know?  I was just telling Lexa that I was unaware it was out yet,” Clarke said with a sly grin and a poignant look at Lexa that made them all laugh.

“Well, you’re in it,” the same cousin skipped to a page she had dogeared, spun it to face Clarke and pushed it across the table.  It was a double spread of photos from the party.  Most of them were chefs serving food.  There was a fantastic shot of Nyko serving beers to Indra and Lincoln who were both laughing.  Luna and a few other women gathered around the cheese table.  A few guys Clarke now recognized from Blake’s getting served beef tenderloin.  Lexa receiving her plaque.  The bottom right  photo was of Lexa holding a glass of wine in one hand and Clarke’s hand in the other.  Clarke was talking to someone out of the frame and Lexa was smiling at her with a look of utter adoration and love.

It was so undeniable.

It was so honest.

It was so perfect.

Clarke covered her grin with a hand, but they all saw it.

“We’ve been dying to meet the woman that makes Lexa look at her like that,” one of the aunts chimed in.  Clarke blushed and smiled down into her food.

“We were also wondering if you were that pretty in real life,” another cousin with the same teeth and shoulders as Anya wagged her shoulders at Lexa.  She was sporting a new diamond ring and had a nervous young guy next to her.

“You guys!” Lexa snapped.

“Shut up, Lex.  Let them have this.  It’s fun!” Clarke waved a hand at Lexa.  “So, am I this pretty in real life?”  Clarke joked after a pause and they all burst out laughing collectively.

“I love her already!” An uncle chimed in and gave Clarke’s shoulder a squeeze.

“So, Clarke, Lexa tells us you’re a surgeon!”

"You’re from San Francisco?”

“Aden told us you’re an artist!  How did you get into that?”

The questions came rapid fire and Clarke held her own and answered everything tactfully and concisely and tried to keep up with them.

“Do you live in Portland?”

“Anya mentioned you were in New York earlier this month.  Did you just love Polis?”

“How did you tame this wild animal anyway?”

It was clear that they loved Lexa so much.  Clarke paused to remind herself that these were Anya’s cousins, and not Lexa’s, but you’d never know it by the way they treated her.  She was right in the thick of it with all of them.  There was an overwhelming sense of pride in Lexa despite the hard times they gave her.  The teasing was all rooted in love.  Every single one of them had a magazine partially as a joke to get Lexa going, but honestly because every single one of them wanted it to show that they were so proud of her.

“Do you know what secret plan she has up her sleeve?  This magazine says nothing!”

“Everyone says she’s moving to Chicago.  Have you ever been to Chicago, Clarke?  Do you think you’ll like it there?”

“Are you going to move with her when she starts the next place?”

"What will you do about work?”

The questions got faster and heavier and louder.  Too many of them piled up unanswered.  Clarke slowed down her responses as other cousins and aunts started answering them for her and arguing about the results.  Clarke felt hot and anxious as they debated her relationship right in front of her moments after meeting her.  Lexa sat frozen beside her not sure how to react.  Clarke knew they meant well and were all just a little too comfortable with each other, but it was still a lot.

“I’m, ah, I’m going to take care of this plate and get some more wine.  Does anybody want anything?”  Clarke asked, her voice high and tight as she excused herself from the table. 

It was suddenly a little too much.  There were so many of them and they had no sense of boundaries.  Two of the younger guys offered to help her, but she politely refused and weaved her way to the sink after getting stopped four times to be introduced to more aunts and cousins whose names she promptly forgot.  She dropped her plate into the dishwasher, filled up her wine and weaved her way through the crowd to the back slider so she could get some air.

“Hey!  Clarke, wait!”  Lexa fell out onto the back deck behind her.  Clarke took a deep breath of the cold, night air. It felt good in her tight lungs.  Lexa saw her shoulders rise and fall before gently reaching a hand out to Clarke’s waist.  “Baby, are you alright?”

“There are so many of them!” Clarke blurted out as she spun around to face Lexa.  Her eyes were wide.  Overwhelmed and frustrated tears formed at the corners of her eyes.  “So, so many of them who all know everything about me and think I’m pretty and think we’re moving to Chicago!”  She threw a hand in the air, then tucked it around herself for warmth.  She took a healthy swig of her wine in an effort to calm down. It didn’t work.  She shivered against the night.  “You told me Chicago was not happening!”

"It’s not!  It’s that goddamn magazine!” Lexa mirrored Clarke’s frustrated hands.

“Then what the hell, Lex?”  Clarke hissed.

“I’m sorry,” Lexa sighed.  “That was a lot.  That was really a lot.  That was an inappropriate amount of a lot,” Lexa shrugged out of her blazer and draped it around Clarke’s shivering shoulders to keep her warm.  She pulled her close and pressed a kiss to Clarke’s forehead first, then her lips.  It wasn’t the long, hard, slow kiss Clarke alluded to before, but something better.  It was soft, safe and reassuring.  “That was my fault.  I didn’t know you were here yet.  I wanted to intercept you when you got here so you wouldn’t end up ambushed and I blew it.  I didn’t check my phone.  I didn’t know you were here.”

“I didn’t text you,” Clarke sighed and blinked back the tears she didn’t want to cry.  She was feeling better already with the noise of the party muffled by the sliding glass door and Lexa’s blazer wrapped around her.  It still held Lexa’s warmth.  “I figured I was a grown up and I know Anya so well that I could just walk into her house and it would be fine.”

“Hey, it is fine,” Lexa half smiled.

“No, I know it is,” Clarke smiled back.  “I don’t know why that freaked me out so badly.” She gestured her wineglass towards the table full of cousins inside.

“Because they have absolutely no tact and made a bunch of assumptions about things between us that you and I haven’t even talked about yet,” Lexa shrugged.  Her blunt delivery made Clarke chuckle.  The smile on Clarke’s lips lifted a weight from Lexa’s chest.  She hated that the situation moved Clarke to overwhelmed tears, but her glassy blue eyes in the dim porch light looked incredible.

“I didn’t realize we had stuff to talk about,” Clarke sniffled in the cold as she straightened Lexa’s tie.  Her tie clip was a chef’s knife. 

“We do have some stuff to talk about, but all of it is good,” Lexa took a shaky breath. 

Keeping what was going on with Indra and Octavia from Clarke was killing her.  It was logistically easy because Clarke was gone for days at a time, but when they laid together in bed or read the paper while they ate breakfast or grocery shopped or went out for drinks just the two of them, Lexa felt like she was hiding something and it didn’t feel good.  She wanted to tell Clarke all about it because she was excited about it and Clarke was the person she wanted to get excited with, but Indra’s words about Octavia making her own decisions rattled around in Lexa’s subconscious.

“That sounds kind of heavy, Babe,” Clarke shot Lexa a concerned look.

“I’ve been trying to find the right time to tell you,” Lexa took another deep breath.  “And I think it’s now.”

“What’s going on?” Clarke’s heart sped up.  Lexa looked nervous.  Lexa Woods never looked nervous.

“Indra and I are working on a new place right now.  We do have a plan, and it’s a little different from everything we’ve done before,” Lexa exhaled anxiously.

Clarke’s stomach sank.  She hoped the panic in her eyes wasn’t obvious, but she knew it was.  She searched Lexa’s eyes for something, she wasn’t sure what.  She could feel the sheer shock and disappointment in her gut working across her face and couldn’t stop it.

“So you invited me to your family holiday to introduce me to your whole family just in time to tell me you’re leaving?” Clarke threw up a wall and Lexa felt it go up.

"Clarke, no,” Lexa reassured her.  The laugh she let out confused Clarke even more.  Lexa grabbed Clarke by the hand and pulled her closer.  “I invited you into my life and into my family and into my heart because we’re doing the new place here.  We’re staying in Portland,” she paused to press a kiss to Clarke’s cold fingers and let the words sink in.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Are you sure?” Clarke asked carefully after Lexa’s confession hung in the space between them for a little too long.

It had been nagging at her that Lexa had a pattern of cutting and running that was a decade old.  Clarke wanted to believe that this was different and real, but the idea ghosted past the back of her mind more than once.  She forced it away in recent weeks while everything was going so well.  Hearing Lexa say it openly and honestly made her feel so much better.

“I’m very sure,” Lexa nodded.

“Not just because of me, right?” Clarke asked, then regretted it.  “That’s not what I meant.”

“You were one of many, many factors,” Lexa grinned and kissed her lips.  “There’s a lot more to it that I’d love to share with you, but I’m not quite ready yet.  Can we pick this up tomorrow when we’re really alone?”

“I’d like that,” Clarke softened and kissed Lexa again.  “Both the picking up and the being really alone,” she smirked before moving in for that long, hard, slow kiss she’d been holding in.  Lexa welcomed her with open arms and warm lips.  She hated the tension between them even if it only lasted a minute and all of it was unwarranted.  Feeling Clarke soften against her and all of it evaporating in their kiss was a relief.  Lexa threaded her fingers into Clarke’s hair.  Clarke grabbed a hold of Lexa’s tie and tugged her closer.

“Excuse me,” Anya snapped as she pushed open the sliding door.  They jumped apart like teenagers getting caught.  “What did I say?”

“Can you put a muzzle and a leash on your damn cousins, please?” Lexa snapped as she gestured behind Anya.  Laughter poured out the door from behind her.

“You know that that’s impossible,” Anya deadpanned.  “Look, Clarke, I’m sorry for the ambush.  I didn’t realize it was going to be so bad.  Everyone is just really, really excited about you.  I may have talked you up a little,” Anya winced.  “Fine, I talked you up a lot cause I think you’re so cool and fun and hot and awesome and you’ve made and honest man out of Lexa, here, but I’m really sorry,” Anya scowled, feeling terrible that her family had taken it over the top.  “Can you forgive me?”

“Yeah, we’re cool,” Clarke smiled at her.  She was still holding onto the bottom of Lexa’s tie.  “I just needed some air.  Hey, does she know?” Clarke asked Lexa quietly and nodded her head at Anya as she pulled Lexa closer by her neckwear.

“Do I know what?”  Anya asked sternly glancing back and forth between the two of them. 

“Yeah, she does.  She’s helping me, actually.  Anya is my money guy,” Lexa replied with a shy smile. 

“I say again,” Anya shot Lexa a hard look.  “What do I know?”

“The location of my next restaurant,” Lexa said with a knowing smile.

“Ah yes,” Anya nodded dramatically.  “Sorry I didn’t say anything, Clarke.  I was sworn to secrecy.”

“Why all the secrets?”  Clarke raised a brow at Lexa. 

“I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow,” Lexa tried to brush off Anya’s inquisitive look.

“I’m ready to be a human again,” Clarke nodded her head towards the inside.  “I’m ready.  I just needed a minute.”

“You sure?”  Lexa asked genuinely. 

"My dad’s asking for you, Lex,” Anya said with more sincerity in her voice than her usual sped up sarcasm.  “He’s looking forward to meeting Clarke the most and will likely not be nearly as shitty about it as all of my idiot cousins.”

“You ready to meet Anya’s dad?” Lexa raise a brow at Clarke.

“No time like the present,” Clarke nodded and sighed out a deep breath.  She took a big swig of her wine before stepping back through the door.  Anya was with a mountain of a man by the fridge.  He was tall and broad and built.  He had a thick, graying beard like so many Mainers.  His hair was long and held back in neat dreadlocks going gray at the roots.  The bottle of beer in his big hands looked small.

“Alexandria!” he barked across the room. 

“I’m sorry in advance,” Lexa muttered to Clarke.  She took a hold of Clarke’s hand and lead her over.  “Uncle Gustus,” Lexa nodded at him.  “I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend, Clarke.  Clarke, this is Gustus, Anya’s father.”  Clarke held out her hand to shake.

“It’s nice to meet y-oof!” Clarke yelped as he pushed her hand away and engulfed her in a bear hug.

“It’s a pleasure to have you with us, Clarke!” He held her at arm’s length by the shoulder and took her in.  Despite looking a little startled, she was just as beautiful as Lexa claimed she was.  “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“I appreciate you all having me join you,” Clarke smiled, still recovering from her hug.  His big smile and calm aura settled her unlike all of the cousins.  He was rowdy in his own way, but there was something really comforting about him.

“Is she taking good care of you?”  Gustus pointed at Lexa and shot her a side eye.  “If she’s not, you come find me and I’ll straighten her out.”

“Oh, she takes excellent care of me,” Clarke grinned and reached for Lexa’s hand again.  He watched the smile start with Clarke and spread to Lexa and loved every second of it.

“Good!  Alexandria’s my brother’s, but she always felt a little like she was mine, too,” Gustus smiled proudly at Lexa.  He dropped his huge hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake.  Clarke saw a hint of pink creep into Lexa’s cheeks.  “So it’s my job to knock her around when she screws up.”

“I see where Anya gets it,” Clarke chuckled.  “So far, so good, though.  No complaints here.”  Clarke grinned at Lexa who shot her a loving smile back.

“Gross,” Anya rolled her eyes.  She snapped from sassy sister to a soft smile herself watching something over Clarke and Lexa’s shoulders.  It was as though someone had flipped a switch and her sour attitude vanished.  They turned in unison to find Roan looking lost in the kitchen doorway.  He wore a shirt and tie and sportscoat and had his long hair tied back.  Clarke raised an impressed eyebrow.  He looked so handsome all cleaned up.

“Speaking of,” Lexa smirked at Anya.  Roan spotted Anya, Clarke and Lexa and made his way over.

“Hi,” he bent down to kiss Anya’s cheek.  “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Hey, Honey,” Anya wrapped her arm around his waist.

“Clarke,” he nodded at her with a nervous smile.  “Commander,” he tacked on and nodded at Lexa.  “Happy Thanksgiving, Ladies.”

“She makes you call her that off the clock?” Gustus shot Roan a look.

“She doesn’t make me call her that, it just usually feels appropriate,” Roan grinned.  “Good to see you again, Gustus.”  Roan caught Gustus’ hand in a firm shake.

“Likewise, Roan.  Did you and your family have a good holiday?”  Gustus opened the fridge and handed Roan a beer.  They had a very friendly rapport and Lexa wondered when that happened.  Clarke liked it.  She liked being in this corner of the kitchen with her group.  Roan and Anya were familiar and safe.  She felt the anxiety of Anya’s overwhelming clan washing away with her hand laced through Lexa’s.  She still had Lexa’s blazer on over her dress and resisted the urge to lean into the collar and breath in Lexa’s scent.

“It was nice, thank you.  Very quiet,” Roan nodded.  “Unlike this,” he glanced around with wide eyes.  He and Clarke shared a stressed out glance.

“Anya!”  One of the younger guys at the table shouted.  “It’s time!”  Anya glanced at her watch with a puzzled look.

“Oh shit!  It is time!”  Anya lit up.

“Are we seriously doing this again this year?” Lexa groaned.

“What is it time for?” Clarke asked, shooting a concerned look at Roan.  She was just starting to feel comfortable again.

“You kids are nuts with this,” Gustus shook his head

“Cousins Football!”  Anya shouted and received a rallying cry back from the table of young cousins.  “Aden!  We did the math and we’re short one, so as the oldest of your generation, you’re getting upgraded to cousin status today!”  Anya pointed at Aden across the room who threw his hands up in celebration.

"What the hell is cousins football?”  Clarke asked Lexa under her breath.  A chant of Cousins Football over and over complete with banging on the tabletop in time rose up at the table.

"Age old tradition,” Lexa muttered.  “All of the cousins in the current generation play a game of touch football in the yard that always gets out of hand and it’s usually Anya’s fault.”

“You take that back, Lexa!” Anya snapped.

“Um, let’s talk about last year.  Or 2013.  Or 2012.  Or 2009 when you almost ruined my career by breaking my fingers.”

“Blah blah, it was your left pinky and ring finger and you were fucking fine, you grouch,” Anya scoffed.

“These are my money makers!” Lexa held her hands up.  Clarke felt a stirring in her stomach as Lexa flexed her long, thin fingers in Anya’s face.

“Oh yeah?  Your hands are your money makers?” Anya snorted and snatched one of the countless magazines off of the counter and dangled it in Lexa’s face.  “Looks like it’s your girly mug that does it these days!”  Roan snagged the magazine from Anya and checked out the cover.

“Because of the work these bad boys do!” Lexa wiggled her fingers again.  Clarke bit her bottom lip, torn between wishing she’d stop and praying she’d keep going.  “It doesn’t matter that I’m foxy if these don’t work.”

“Whatever, jerk.  Clarke, can you run in those boots?”  Anya pointed down at Clarke’s Fryes.

 “Sure,” Clarke shrugged. 

“Perfect, cause Woods girls are always the team captains and no significant others are allowed on the same team, so your ass is mine!”  Anya grabbed Clarke by the elbow and joined the charge of cousins out into the back yard.  Everyone grabbed cans of beer from the coolers on the deck and rushed into the yard.  Roan and Lexa reluctantly followed into Anya’s grassy big back yard where the cousins were divvying up based on spouses and a draft Cousin Mary helped Anya put together while they were cooking that morning.

“Are we really doing this?”  Lexa whined.

“Shut up, Alexandria!” One of the older guy cousins whose name Clarke forgot punched Lexa in the arm and joined Clarke’s huddle.  Clarke looked up at Lexa and shrugged. 

She thought the whole idea of it was kind of fun.  She liked that all of these adults whose lives wove together because of blood and marriage stripped away all the grownup bullshit and acted like kids.  They ragged on one another like teenagers and brought up previous years and all of the great and awful moments used as trash talk and threats.  There were women in heels and guys in ties getting ready to get down and dirty in a late-night backyard rumble and everyone was a little drunk.

Clarke did not have a single tradition like this in her life.

“You get Roan and I get my kid!” Anya shoved Roan towards Lexa.  “Alright, team.  If we don’t win this year, I’ll kill you all myself and I’ll stop hosting and one of you assholes is going to have to start doing it.”  She pointed at all of them.  “We ready to do this thing?!”

Cousins Football turned out to be incredibly cutthroat and Anya proved herself quite the quarterback.  Clarke was shy at first and tried to find her place amidst the thirty year old men and screaming women in their twenties.  She wasn’t normally one for athletics, but she could manage running around a frosty back yard with a bunch of drunk thirty-somethings.  Anya threw Aden a touch down early on that caused Lexa to go from disinterested and bored to furious and competitive.  Clarke and Anya high fived as Lexa shouted expletives at Roan.

“Where the fuck was the block, Roan?  He’s half your fucking size!” Lexa shouted.

“I feel like I should be getting paid for this!” he snapped and took his spot up to start again.

It went on for a while and was unbelievably fun.  Clarke hadn’t been drinking all day like the rest of them and had drastically better reflexes.  Anya caught on quick and started throwing her more passes.  Touch football quickly became tackle football and cousins were dropping left and right and ruining their Thanksgiving dress clothes.  One of the bigger men took Aden down pretty hard.

“What the hell was that shit, Tom?” Aden snapped as he brushed off his jeans.  “It’s two hand touch!”

“Aden!  Watch your mouth!” Anya grabbed the ball from him and pointed sternly with her motherly tone.  As they set back up, she turned to her cousin. “And what the fuck was that shit, Tom?  It’s two hand touch!”

Clarke shook her head.  Sassy domestic Anya was one thing.   Cousins football Anya was something else altogether.  The more Clarke got to know Anya, the more she wanted her in her daily life forever.

“Hey,” Lexa smirked at Clarke as they faced off lined up for another snap. 

“Hi,” Clarke smirked back.

“I didn’t know you were good at backyard football,” Lexa gave her a sultry look.

“Neither did I,” Clarke shrugged one shoulder.  “There’s a whole bunch of stuff I’m good at that you don’t know about yet,” Clarke added suggestively.  She held her eye contact with Lexa, knowing it was distracting her.  She heard Anya shouting behind her. 

“Oh really?” Lexa perked up just in time to be plowed over from the side by Anya’s cousin Jeremy.  Clarke took off running and caught a perfect pass from Anya.  Her celebration was cut short when she found Jeremy helping Lexa up.  “I’m fine, I’m fine,” she heard Lexa laughing nervously, but she was holding a hand to her face.

“Are you alright?”  Clarke flipped the ball to Jeremy and hurried over to Lexa.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she wheezed and leaned over to rest her hands on her knees.  “Just surprised.  Knocked the wind out of me a little and my face hurts,” she replied and looked up at Clarke, whose face dropped.  “What?”

“You have got the bloodiest nose, Lexa!”  Clarke cried and tipped Lexa’s head back.  “Keep your hand right there, you’ll ruin your shirt,” she said calmly to Lexa and started walking her back to the house.  “Jeremy!  You hit her in the fucking face!” Clarke snapped.  “You’re done, Babe.  I’m taking you inside to look at this,” Clarke said to Lexa quietly.

“I can keep going!” Lexa shouted.  “I need to get his ass back!”

“No blood, no foul!” Anya shouted.

“There’s a lot of blood, actually,” Roan winced.  “He got her right in the nose.”

“Always with the money maker, Anya!” Lexa shouted back.

“Alright, here we go,” Clarke ushered Lexa through the crowd so she could lean over the sink.  “What’s this lady’s name behind me?”  Clarke asked Lexa lowly. 

“Peggy,” Lexa replied, then tried to wipe some blood from her nose and winced.  “Jesus Christ, he got me good!  That fucking hurts!”  Lexa snapped and flicked blood off her fingers into the sink.

“I know, I know,” Clarke patted Lexa’s back and ran some warm water.  “Peggy?  Can you please get me some paper towels?”  Clarke nudged the woman behind her with her elbow who took one look at the blood against the white porcelain farmers sink and grimaced.  She returned quickly with a roll.  “Let’s get you cleaned up so I can take a look at that thing.”  Lexa leaned back and watched Clarke whip up quick makeshift gauze with the roll of towels. 

“What do you think, Doc?”  Lexa tried to grin as Clarke gingerly touched her nose.  “Will I ever play the violin again?”

"Please tell me that’s just a bad dad joke and that you don’t actually play the violin,” Clarke gave Lexa a flirty scowl.

“Piano,” Lexa replied and hissed in a sharp breath when Clarke tapped her nose a little too hard.

"What?” Clarke furrowed her brow.       

“Growing up I played the piano,” Lexa replied.  “I can still do it, but I’m not that great.”

“Of course you can,” Clarke shook her head.  She wasn’t sure if she was even surprised.  “All this time I thought the piano in your den was just decorative.”  Lexa watched Clarke’s hands as she carefully rinsed away the blood in the sink.  The way she moved always made Lexa pause to watch from the very first day.

“You have very good hands,” Lexa blurted out with a soft smile just like the first time.  Clarke smiled down into the sink while she cleaned up.

“So do you,” she kissed Lexa’s cheek.  “You’re gonna be just fine.  Nothing’s broken, nothing to worry about, just a hard bang and a lot of blood.  You might have a little swelling, but I think this was just a lot of hype,” Clarke nodded at the bloody towels in the sink.  “I doubt you’ll even bruise too much.”

“That blood doesn’t make you queasy?” Cousin Jeremy finally made his way over to them and shied away when she saw Clarke’s hands full of bloody towels.

“She’s a surgeon, you idiot,” Anya shoved him out of the way.  “Are you alright, kid?  I didn’t realize you were serious,” Anya’s sass had washed away and she was genuinely concerned and motherly.  Aden weaseled his way in next to her.

“Whoa!  Did he break your nose, Lex?”  Aden gasped.

“She’ll live,” Clarke handed Lexa a fresh towel to slow the bleeding. 

“Jeremy, come here,” Lexa waved him over.

“Yeah?”  He asked.  Lexa hauled back and slugged him in the chest.  “Lexa!” he coughed and winced away.  All of the cousins whooped with joy.

“We’re square now,” Lexa grumbled.

“Why don’t we get you a nice cold beer and some ice for that nose,” Clarke patted Lexa’s arm gently and moved to lead her to sit down.  “Aden, can you get me some ice?”

The excitement from Lexa’s damaged nose and Jeremy’s damaged pride and the 2016 Cousins Football Game was behind everyone around ten o’clock.  A dance party broke out in the kitchen between the little ones that we still awake and the younger cousins that were getting party drunk and surrounded by family.  Clarke and Lexa sat on the couch with Roan and Anya and a bunch of family from all generations hearing story after story after story.  Every tale that was told had at least two interruptions from two or more cousins who were there or claimed to be.  Gustus roared with laughter at the tales of Anya and Lexa in high school and Lexa’s teenaged antics.  There were a few good ones about her run ins with the local law that made Clarke gasp and Roan belly laugh.

 Clarke felt so much better.  One of the cousins brought her a new glass of wine and offered beers to Lexa and Roan on either side of her.  They stopped asking questions about Clarke and Lexa’s future that made her uneasy.  After watching Clarke handle Lexa’s bloody nose with grace and ease, they all backed right off. 

Lexa didn’t even try to fight back when Clarke told her she was done and needed to go inside.  The Lexa of years past would’ve just let her nose bleed and tackled Jeremy right back and anyone who got in her way to try to stop her.  Clarke shut it down, cleaned her up and got her to relax in the living room and laugh and have fun in a span of ten minutes.  Everyone in the house could see it and sense it.

Clarke was so good for her.

She made Lexa better and calmer and complete.

They just made perfect sense together.  Mary’s mother made an offhand comment that they seemed like they’d been together for years.

Lexa was calm and quiet.  She let them rank on her for the magazine and only answered questions positively.  She spent the whole day answering questions about Clarke before she arrived, and every aunt, uncle and cousin could see her glowing at the mere mention of her girl’s name.  They sat on the couch discretely holding hands and laughing and chiming in details to the tales of Lexa’s wild past.  It was almost midnight when Clarke’s yawns got too contagious and Lexa decided it was time to head out. 

Saying goodby took half an hour.  Every cousin had to hug them, kiss their cheeks, tell Clarke something they liked about her and let her know that she better be back for Christmas because it was even more fun than Thanksgiving.

“Your family is insane,” Clarke chuckled as they walked down the street past the long line of cars to Lexa’s.  It had been discussed that they could come back for Clarke’s tomorrow when they did the traditional eating of all of the leftovers.

“I’ll remind you once more that there were only three people in that room that I’m actually related to,” Lexa held up a finger as she pulled Clarke’s door open for her.

"Either way,” Clarke picked up once Lexa was in the driver’s seat.  “That was really fun.  Thank you for having me.”

Despite the fact that they broke Clarke and made her freak out, she really had a great time.  By the end, she felt like she was part of it.  She had nothing like this in her life and the adjustment was tough.  The most people she ever spent Thanksgiving with was eight, including herself the year Marcus showed up late to join them.  She didn’t have cousins for cousins football.  Nobody punched each other at Clarke’s family holidays and there was no one around to laugh at it either.

"Are you kidding?  Thank you so much for coming,” Lexa leaned over and caught Clarke’s lips in a kiss.  “Are we good, you and I?”

“Yeah, of course, Babe,” Clarke furrowed her brow.  “Why wouldn’t we be?”

“I don’t know,” Lexa shrugged and started the car.  “I got really worried for a second there when you really thought I would’ve left you.”

“Oh,” Clarke’s guilty eyes fell to her hands in her lap.  She reached one across the seat to hold Lexa’s while she drove away.  “That was just some panic.  It was kind of wild to have all of those strangers asking me things I haven’t asked myself yet.”

“I get that, I really do,” Lexa brought their joined hands to her lips and pressed a kiss to Clarke’s fingers.  “But you’re okay?  And you’re okay with my new business being here?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Clarke shrugged.  “I think that sounds pretty much ideal.”

“I’ll tell you all about it over breakfast,” Lexa sighed.  She felt relieved at just the prospect of telling Clarke what she was working on.  Having it out in the open between them.  She and Indra had too many unknowns about Octavia as it was, and now her brother was back in town to shake things up. 

“I can’t wait,” Clarke smiled at her.

               

Chapter Text

“So,” Clarke began as she approached Lexa on the couch with a glass of wine in each hand. 

They opted for a nightcap when they got back to Lexa’s.  Clarke decided it was time to eat the piece of pie Anya sent her home with intended for breakfast right away and wanted to know what the hell was pie without wine anyway.  Lexa relented, and now that the bottle was open, figured they might as well finish it.  They were both exhausted from the week and the holiday with Anya’s army of invasive family, but forced themselves to stay up a little longer to be together.

“Now that we’re really alone,” Clarke slowly and carefully eased onto the couch to straddle Lexa’s lap, a knee on either side of her thighs.  She managed the whole process with the drinks in her hands.  Lexa couldn’t decide if she was more turned on or impressed.  “I can’t wait until breakfast.  Didn’t you have something you wanted to tell me about?”  Clarke quirked a brow and sipped from one of the glasses and handed the other to Lexa.

“I certainly did have something to tell you about,” Lexa perked up and slid a hand up Clarke’s thigh, over the curve of her hip and settled at her waist.

“Well, Chef Woods,” Clarke moved against Lexa’s touch.  It always amazed her how good it felt after four days away.  “Tell me all about it.”

“I want to talk about this with you so badly, but I need you to promise me that you won’t say anything to anyone about it until I tell you that you can,” Lexa began, her voice firm.

“Are all of your restaurants top secret before they’re open?  I didn’t realize being a chef was so serious,” Clarke chuckled.

“I mean it, Clarke,” Lexa warned. 

“Okay, yeah, Jesus.  First rule of restaurants, you don’t talk about restaurants.  I got it,” Clarke rolled her eyes.  “So why is it such a secret?”  Lexa savored the last few moments of holding it in knowing that everything was about to get complicated and different if Clarke didn’t like what she had to say.  She memorized the half smile on Clarke’s lips and the way the dim lamp on the end table made her eyes sparkle just incase Clarke had an adverse reaction to Lexa’s big news.

“It’s a secret because,” Lexa took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “Indra and I are going to ask Octavia to be our partner on the new place,” Lexa finally said with confidence.

“Really?” Clarke cried.  She had a huge grin on her face.  “Lexa!  That’s incredible!  Why are you sneaking around with that?”  She threw a hand up and sat her weight down on Lexa’s lap.  Her sultry moves were gone now that the cat was out of the bag and she was too excited.

“We haven’t asked her yet,” Lexa sighed through a relieved smile.  She felt taller and lighter now that Clarke knew.  “And it’s kind of important that she says yes because the entire concept for the new place is her idea,” Lexa glanced down at the sofa and noticed a loose thread on the cording of the cushion.  “She told me all about her dream space that day that I cooked with her and we all hung out there.  She doesn’t know that I’ve done all the research to figure out how to make it real, talked with our family’s lawyers and real estate brokers and moved some money around.”

“So, what’s the concept?” Clarke asked calmly.  She ran her fingertips over Lexa’s tie.  There was a tiny bloodstain on it that Clarke hoped would come out.  She knew that Burberry plaid didn’t come cheap.  “You said it was Octavia’s idea?”

“She wants a large space that you could host bands and events in.  Ideally we’d find a space that used to be something else.  An old warehouse, an old firehouse, there are plenty of mills. She wants to make soulful high end comfort food like she does now, but with more of an organized gourmet flair.  Focus on quality ingredients, attention to process,” Lexa paused for a sip of wine. 

Clarke was at complete attention and hung on every word.  She didn’t instantly jump to the same conclusions Indra did about Octavia not being interested.  It gave Lexa some hope.

“She wants it to be a collaborative space where it’s very common that another restaurant is in for the night or the week doing a mash up menu.  She wants to host pop ups for food trucks.  Get in with some brewers and really cross goods.  I’d like it if it was big enough for a second kitchen and small production facility that we could bottle her sauces.  Or let food trucks rent kitchen and refrigeration spaces.  Get kids in from the culinary school.  Work with the live music circuit and really make it an ultimate spot where all of the best parts of this amazing city’s cool culture come together.”

“Lexa,” Clarke said firmly after a long pause.  “That’s absolutely genius.  It’s a perfect blend of your skills and hers.  Your networking and business experience and refinement paired up with her food and attitude,” Clarke trailed off.  “I don’t understand why you’re not calling her right now.”

“You don’t think she’ll be weird about the money?” Lexa winced.

“What money?”  Clarke shrugged.

Lexa would never get used to the fact that Clarke didn’t care about money.  Clarke didn’t think about it all the time.  She made a modest salary so she never really had to want for anything in her average lifestyle.  She lived like a broke twenty-year-old because it was convenient and allowed her moderate paychecks to feel bigger than they were so she could buy nice dresses and occasionally lavish dinners. 

And yet, she never thought twice about Lexa’s money.  Lexa wasn’t hiding it by any means.  If anything, she was trying to make it clear to Clarke just what kind of money she had so there wouldn’t be surprises later, but Clarke didn’t seem interested.

“This is going to be an extremely expensive affair to get off the ground,” Lexa picked at the thread on the couch again.  She needed to fix it so it wouldn’t snag and pull.  “And you know that I specialize in very expensive affairs,” she shot a flirty smile at Clarke.

“Babe, the only reason Octavia hasn’t done more with her place or opened a second one is because she doesn’t have any money,” Clarke sipped from her glass.  “She’s got a ton of respect for you and knows you’re savvy.  Are you going to ask her to buy in?  Is that the problem?”

“No,” Lexa shook her head.  “Anya’s really good with moving my money around.  It sounds shady, but it’s all legit.  Basically I would invest in Blake’s Bar as Lexa Woods the person, which would give her the money she needed to invest in this project with the Woods Restaurant Group.  So I’d essentially be paying for Octavia’s initial partnership.  That’s the part I’m worried will make her uncomfortable.”

“Listen, Lex,” Clarke leaned back to set her wine glass on the coffee table.  “Octavia’s a lot of things.  Stubborn, proud, a little self-centered when she’s focused on something, maybe too crass for her own good, but she’s not stupid.  She knows a great opportunity when she sees one.”

“Are you sure?” Lexa asked carefully.

“Absolutely!”  Clarke cried.  “Is this why you were hiding it from me?  You were afraid I would tell her and screw it up?”  Clarke asked gently.

“I don’t know!”  Lexa laughed, so glad to have it out in the open.  She glanced down when Clarke carefully took off her tie clip and set it gingerly next to her wine glass.  Those precise fingers made Lexa pause to bite her lower lip.  “Indra made me all paranoid reminding me that not everyone reacts well to money and that I should tread lightly and that it needs to be completely Octavia’s decision and she can’t be swayed by you, or me, or you and me, or anything.”

“Well, she’s not wrong.  That’s good advice,” Clarke took Lexa’s wine glass out of her hand and put it on the coffee table next to hers.  She sat her hips back up into a sexier positon and undid Lexa’s tie.  Lexa kept both hands at Clarke’s waist.

“We’re waiting for the opportune time to take her out and present the whole thing to her and see what she says.  If she’s interested, we want to start scouting for a location ASAP.  This month is pretty impossible though,” Lexa rolled her eyes.  “I have to go to California for a week and a half on Tuesday.”

“Oh, shit, I forgot about that,” Clarke paused, Lexa’s tie undone in her hands.  A tiny frown slipped across her features.  “You told me that, I’m sorry.  Remind me what you’re doing again?”  Clarke leaned in for a quick kiss.  The long night of looking but not touching was catching up to them and Clarke couldn’t keep her hands or her lips off of Lexa.

“It’s going to be a lot.  I’m cooking three nights at Trikru in San Fran, similar to my New York gig.  Me and the Trikru chef de cuisine are meeting the War Paint head chef in Napa for two days for tasting and picking out my 2017 Cali wines for all the locations.  We do it every year.  Then I have to cook four nights in LA,” Lexa sighed.  “Zero days off, lots of traveling, and I’ll be home with about three hours to get ready for your hospital gala.  I might just fly in a tux just in case,” Lexa smirked.

“You wouldn’t,” Clarke joked.

“Of course, I wouldn’t.  I’d wrinkle the shit out of it,” Lexa replied without missing a beat.  Clarke let out a surprised laugh that made Lexa’s hips twitch.

“I didn’t realize you were going to be cutting it so close,” Clarke swiftly whipped Lexa’s tie off, folded it neatly and set it behind her on the coffee table.  “If it’s too much, you don’t have to come.”

“Are you kidding me?” Lexa sat up and pressed their chests together.  Clarke smirked down at her and cupped Lexa’s cheeks in her hands to give her a deeper kiss.  She was careful not to bump their noses.  “Do you think I would miss an opportunity to be your arm candy at a black tie affair where I get to throw money around and schmooze?”

“You are absolutely not allowed to throw money around,” Clarke warned and put a finger to Lexa’s lips to shush her.

“Clarke,” Lexa got out around Clarke’s finger.  Clarke reluctantly moved it away.  “It’s a fundraiser.  The point of the event is to raise funds.  I’ve got more funds than I know what to do with.  Do you know how tacky it is for a well-known multimillionaire to go to a fundraiser and not donate?”

“Then you can’t come,” Clarke shrugged.

“Why are you being weird about it?” Lexa raised a brow and worked her hands against Clarke’s tight lower back muscles.  It made Clarke relax the slightest bit.

“I’m not being weird,” Clarke glanced away.

“Yes you are,” Lexa coaxed gently.

“I just don’t want it to look like, well,” Clarke paused looking for the right words.

“That you only brought me for my money?” Lexa finished for her.  She didn’t sound upset, she didn’t look mad, if anything she had a cute, knowing smile on.

“Maybe,” Clarke muttered.

“Clarke, I’m your girlfriend and everyone in that hospital knows that.  I have a fan club of adorable nurses that fawn over me every time I bring you dinner,” Lexa offered up a smug smile.  Clarke rolled her eyes, then kissed it away.  “You’re bringing me because I’m your girlfriend.  The fact that it’s your fundraiser and I happen to have available funds is all just convenient,” Lexa waved a hand to dismiss it. 

“I guess,” Clarke sighed. 

“Do you have something great to wear?  I hope you’ll still flirt with other donors and buy a new dress that makes them add a whole new wing to the hospital with your name on it.”  Lexa snuck in another kiss.

“Stop it,” Clarke laughed shyly.  “I do have to get a new dress, though.”

“You need two new dresses,” Lexa said between the kisses she left on Clarke’s jaw.

“What’s the other one for?” Clarke puzzled, losing focus as Lexa’s tongue touched her neck.

“The Houm two year anniversary party is the Thursday after your Hospital Gala,” Lexa replied.  Clarke stiffened up.  “I reserved you and your friends a table.  Did you forget?”  Lexa asked playfully.

“No!” Clarke yelped.  “I mean, kind of.  I remembered it was happening I just didn’t realize December was so damn full for us.”

“I also have Woods Financial Group and Trikru Paper Co. yearend board meetings that Anya is trying to get me ready for,” Lexa sighed.  “Those aren’t something you need to have on your radar, just thinking about loud.  There’s a lot going on.”

“Can I do anything to be helpful?”  Clarke asked sincerely. 

“What?” Lexa paused and glanced up at her.  “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke shrugged.  “You’ve got all of this stuff going on.  When are you going to do your laundry or make your dinner or run your errands?”  Clarke pressed a kiss to Lexa’s confused, pouty lips.

“I’ll find time,” Lexa shrugged.

“Or you can let me do some stuff for you,” Clarke replied with a poignant smile.  “I don’t have quite so many skills or millions of dollars, but chores and domestic day to day?”  She paused and pointed proudly to herself with one thumb.  “I slay.”

“I’m not going to have you do my laundry, Clarke,” Lexa rolled her eyes.  “That’s nonsense.  I can just pay someone to handle it.”

“You’re going to pay someone to do your laundry when I’m just sitting right here while you prepare for god knows what meeting and this other thing and that paper stuff, and what was it?  Oh yeah!  You’re about to start a new freaking business!” Clarke cried.  She threw up both hands and let them fall back onto Lexa’s shoulders with a dull thud.  Lexa couldn’t hold back a laugh at Clarke’s outburst.  “I’m your damn girlfriend.  I can throw a load of wash in on the weekend for you and take care of a few dishes and pick us up some damn take out.”

“Clarke,” Lexa tried, but couldn’t stop giggling.

“No way.  You’re not million dollaring your way out of this one.  You need to let me help you with things.  I can’t whisk you away on vacation or buy you fancy gifts, but I can clean the counters and get your mail and stuff,” Clarke pointed a finger into Lexa’s chest.  “And I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“Why don’t we cross that bridge when we get there?”  Lexa raised and optimistic eyebrow and tried to smile.  “I want to say no right now, but after the Cali trip, the gala, the anniversary and the two board meetings, I just might let you throw a load of wash in for me,” Lexa leaned up for a kiss.

“I’m doing it,” Clarke snapped sarcastically.  “I’ll even bleach your whites.  I’m telling you, I’m going to make an amazing wife one day,” Clarke said quickly.  Lexa’s hands paused in the circles she was rubbing on Clarke’s back and hips.

It was a joke, of course.  It was supposed to be funny and sarcastic, but in the wake of the family ambush, it made both of them stall.

“When are the board meetings?” Clarke cleared her throat and tried to recover her confidence from the moment prior.

“Woods Financial is on the nineteenth and Trikru Paper Co. is on the twenty-first,” Lexa replied automatically.  She was relieved.  “That Saturday is Christmas, which will be basically the same as today but a few levels of complication will be added by gifts,” Lexa chuckled.  “And hopefully less bloodshed, but I shouldn’t guarantee it.  Anything’s possible.  You don’t have to work, do you?

“I’m not sure,” Clarke sighed. 

“Would a sizable donation at the Gala secure you the night off?”  Lexa winked.  Clarke scoffed and playfully swatted her in the chest.

“You can’t purchase me like that!  I’m not gonna be some cancer research Christmas hooker,” Clarke scowled.

“Okay, I don’t even know how to respond to that one,” Lexa chuckled.  

“If you want to donate, that’s fine, and greatly appreciated, but can you please do it quietly and not make a thing about it?”  Clarke asked sincerely.

“I don’t make a thing about things,” Lexa shrugged and leaned in for a kiss.

“You have extravagant tendencies,” Clarke smirked against Lexa’s lips.

“Right, but I’m classy about it.  It’s how my daddy raised me,” Lexa laughed in her throat.

“I like that Anya’s dad calls you his,” Clarke undid Lexa’s top button and started working the next.

“It was in their will that he and his wife would get me if anything happened to them, but I was eighteen so there were no legal obligations involved at the time,” Lexa said quietly, her little laughs and chuckles gone.  “He took it very seriously, though.”

“That’s nice,” Clarke bent down to kiss at Lexa’s newly exposed neck.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Lexa sighed at Clarke’s lips on her throat.  Her whole body instantly relaxed under Clarke once those lips touched her neck.  It was one of her spots and Clarke figured it out very early on in their relationship and exploited it whenever possible.  “About the masses making assumptions that you’d drop everything for me,”

“It’s okay,” Clarke kissed again, a little warmer and wetter this time.  She felt Lexa flinch in a good way beneath her.  “They’re just excited that you’re done being a tomcat.”

“No one has ever called me a tomcat,” Lexa laughed a perfectly surprised little laugh.  It was contagious and Clarke giggled through her kisses. 

“You were a tomcat.  It’s the perfect word for you,” Clarke sat back up. 

“But I’d never expect you to do that.  Follow me.  Drop what you’re doing for me,” Lexa said with more sincerity after her giggles settled.  She inhaled a sharp breath as Clarke undid a few more buttons and trailed her lips across her exposed collarbones.  “They’re all kind of old fashioned like that.”

“I know,” Clarke smiled softly.  “And I really appreciate that.  I’m just glad it’s not something we have to think about right now.”

“So you’re really okay with carrying this secret and not telling Octavia until I get a chance to talk to her?”  Lexa asked as she slid her hands over Clarke’s leggings and under the skirt of her dress to rest her open palms on her upper thighs.

“I mean, how long am I going to have to carry this?  The only reason I want to tell her is because I’m so freaking excited about it,” Clarke rolled her eyes.

“Clarke,” Lexa sighed.

“I’m joking, Babe,” Clarke kissed the scowl lines forming between Lexa’s eyebrows.  “Everything is going to be so nuts the next few weeks I’ll barely see her anyway,” Clarke shrugged. 

“It’s why we’ve been spending so much time in each other’s restaurants,” Lexa admitted.  “I know it surprised you that I had her come cook at Houm.  I couldn’t come up with a good reason why she would’ve done that without giving it away, so I just avoided talking about it.”

“I don’t know what you chefs do.  I just figured it was a ‘you showed me yours, now I’ll show you mine’ kind of trade,” Clarke joked.  One of Lexa’s eyebrows perked up at the innuendo.  “I think this is awesome and I think she’ll be into it.  How did she do at your place?”  Clarke asked and untucked Lexa’s shirt so she could take care of the rest of the buttons.

“Unbelievably well, actually,” Lexa’s eyes widened at the memory.  “I, ah, had to exert my authority and make an example of my saucier when she mouthed off about Octavia’s skills and right to be there.”

“Why, Commander, dare I ask what that entails?”  Clarke raised a brow and pushed Lexa’s shirt open.

“When I was young and cool and self-important I used to be a proponent of grabbing people by the front of their uniforms to make sure they were listening to me,” Lexa glanced away sheepishly.  “Give them a little shake, make them scared.  Just a little healthy intimidation and humiliation in front of her peers.  Sounds gross, but she deserved it and it worked,” Lexa shrugged.

“How very alpha female of you,” Clarke laughed.  “I want to hate it, but I’m too turned on.”

“Male dominated field.  You’ve gotta show them that you’re just as tough, if not tougher,” Lexa grinned.  “I almost did the same thing to Octavia’s brother when I met him last night,” Lexa scoffed.  Clarke paused, a hand gripping either side of Lexa’s open shirt.

“You met Bellamy?” Clarke perked right up.  Raven and Octavia both texted her that he was home early and she got some Thanksgiving selfies of the three of them with Octavia’s mother earlier in the day, but she’d been so crazy at work, then was busy getting run over by Anya’s entire family tree that she forgot to follow up. 

“I did,” Lexa nodded.  “I wasn’t that nice to him.  I know he’s your friend, but Clarke, that guy’s kind of a dick,” Lexa blurted out a little too honestly.  Clarke let out a loud laugh.

“He really can be,” Clarke’s laughter died down to a chuckle.  “It’s a defense mechanism.  He and Octavia had it pretty rough coming up.  He’s always looked after her.  I’ve known him a long time now.  When he’s home from deployment or training, he’s usually around.  His manners could use a day or two at the Woods School of Etiquette, but he’s got a good heart.  Makes poor choices, but his intentions are usually in the right place.”

“I’m sure,” Lexa scowled, her wine tired eyes lingering on Clarke’s chest.

“Wait,” Clarke grinned and tried to meet Lexa’s eye, but she looked away.  “Is that,” Clarke trailed off and touched two fingers to Lexa’s chin so she’d turn towards her.  “Is that jealousy I see in your pretty green eyes?”

“No,” Lexa huffed.

“Lexa!” Clarke scoffed out a laugh.  “Oh my god, you got jealous and you were mean to him!”

"I did not!” Lexa yelped.  Clarke quirked a brow at her, but didn’t say a word.  “Okay fine, yes, I did.  But Octavia straightened me out and let me know I was a dumbass, so I’m over it,” Lexa muttered.  “Probably,” she tacked on.

“I always wondered if you had a jealous streak and when I’d get to see it,” Clarke settled her arms on Lexa’s shoulders and played with the little hairs at the nape of her neck. 

"Jealousy is gross, Clarke.  It’s not funny,” Lexa sighed.

“Oh, it’s very funny,” Clarke nodded at her and kissed both of her cheeks.  “Especially because it’s Bellamy!  That guy?  Come on!”

“Octavia said he could sleep in your room!” Lexa whined.

“Because I wasn’t gonna be in my room!” Clarke laughed incredulously.  “She knew I was going to be in bed with you!”

“I know! I know, that’s what she said, I just,” Lexa threw her hands up and sighed.  She took an extra breath to regain her composure.  “I don’t like thinking about you with anyone else.  I like you with me too much for that.  It makes my stomach hurt.”

“Babe,” Clarke softened into the most genuine smile.  “You have nothing to worry about.  I don’t want to be with anyone but you.”  She cradled Lexa’s face in her hands and leaned in for one of those long, hard, slow kisses that Lexa was starting to live for. 

“I don’t want to be with anyone but you, either,” Lexa replied in a voice just above whisper in the small space between them.

“Then why don’t you take me to bed and prove it,” Clarke smirked before catching Lexa’s lips with her own.

*****

Clarke winced at the sound of her phone ringing on the bedside table.  She was splayed out on her back.  Lexa slept diagonally on the bed with Clarke’s bare chest as her pillow.  The duvet was bunched all around them and pillows strayed from where they belonged at the top of the bed.  One of them was on the floor.  Clarke rubbed her eyes with one hand and fumbled blindly for her phone with the other.  She glanced at it with plans to roll over into Lexa’s arms and call them back later, but changed her mind when she saw the screen.

"Hi, Mom,” Clarke croaked, still coming to.

“Good morning, Clarke,” Abby said on the other end.  She sounded tired.  It took Clarke a moment to do the math.  It was six AM in California.  Abby was still at work.  “Did I wake you?”

“Yeah, I’m in bed, but it’s okay,” Clarke yawned.  “I should get up anyway.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to call you yesterday and wish you a happy Thanksgiving.  I’ve been slammed.  Short staffed in here for the holiday so I was scrubbing in a lot,” Abby replied. 

“That’s okay,” Clarke replied and glanced down at the back of Lexa’s head resting on her breasts.  Her hair was in a messy bun with curly pieces that fell out in the throws of their love making the night before and got slept on.  “Happy belated Thanksgiving.”

“I got your texts.  I’m glad to hear you were able to duck out early and enjoy some of the holiday,” Abby paused to sip from her coffee.  “Did Octavia cook?”

“She did, yeah, but I wasn’t there,” Clarke gently organized Lexa’s flyaways while she slept and tucked strands behind her ear and around her bun.  “I went to Lexa’s family’s Thanksgiving.”

"Oh, really?” Abby asked.  It was pleasant and warm and begged for Clarke to continue.  It felt so nice to have something to tell her mother that wasn’t about work or the weather.

“Mom, it was insane,” Clarke rolled her eyes at the memory of the night before.  “Lexa has one cousin, Anya, that’s pretty much her sister.  I’ve gotten very friendly wither her and I know her well.  Anya has just Lexa for cousins on her dad’s side, but she has seventeen cousins on the other side, five aunts, all of her cousins have kids and spouses,” Clarke trailed off.  “It was so, so different from our family.”

“That sounds like fun, though,” Clarke could hear Abby’s smile coming through the phone.

“It was so fun.  Overwhelming at first, but turned out fun.  They all play football in the yard and shout and yell and swear and eat and drink a lot,” Clarke chuckled.  “They punch each other like they mean it and they hug often and they have really great stories.”

“I’m sure you fit right in,” Abby laughed. 

“Took me a few, but I got the hang of it by the end,” Clarke sighed through a smile.

“By the way, my foodie resident slipped a copy of the November Food And Wine magazine onto my desk yesterday,” Abby said smugly.

“Oh yeah?” Clarke smirked.  Lexa stirred ever so slightly and readjusted her head.  A warm hand under the blanket coasted up Clarke’s bare thigh that made her belly twitch.

“Seems like you’ve got yourself quite the woman,” Abby nodded as she spoke.  Clarke could hear her turning the pages.  She could hear Abby’s impressed face.  She could hear her taking off her glasses and biting the arm, then spinning them absentmindedly like she’d been doing Clarke’s whole life.  “I read the whole article.  Very impressive.  I noticed you made an appearance in the photos.”

“Just the one,” Clarke smiled as she twirled one of Lexa’s curls between her fingers and remembered the look in Lexa’s eyes in the photograph.  It made her pause for an extra deep breath as her chest swelled with warmth.

“You look very happy, Clarke,” Abby said more sincerely.

"Thank you,” Clarke matched her tone.  “I really am.”

And she really, really was.  Clarke couldn’t remember the last person, if anyone, that made her want to linger in bed.  She was doing well at work.  It didn’t feel tiring, it felt rewarding.   She had new friends.  She played football on a holiday with a bunch of strangers she was supposed to impress and tore the knee on her leggings and they liked her better for it.  She was talking to her mom again for the first time in twenty years.  Regularly.  Almost.  There was a mutual effort being made between them, which was more than both of them could say for the last few decades.

She was still figuring out who this version of herself was, but Clarke felt like she was her best self yet.

“About Christmas,” Abby began cautiously after a long pause.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Clarke sighed.  “My December is nuts.  We don’t have to try and force it.”

“Are you sure?”  Abby asked.  Clarke liked that her mother was trying, but it was normal for them not to be together on the holidays anymore.

“I have the hospital Gala and Lexa’s restaurant here is celebrating its two year anniversary and I’d like to be here for that.  Work is tight around so many events.  Flights are crazy expensive right now and we both know we won’t get to spend too much time together,” Clarke tried to sound confident.  “Maybe we can find time to visit in the spring?”

The suggestion fell out so naturally that it made Clarke pause to try and remember the last time she actually saw her mother. 

“I’m going to be at Trikru for a week and a half in March,” Lexa murmured, half asleep against Clarke’s chest.

“What was that?”  Abby asked.

"In March I have to go to San Francisco for ten days,” Lexa lifted her head up and met Clarke’s eyes.  “I was going to ask you to join me so you could visit with your mother.”

“Is Lexa right there with you?”  Abby asked.

“Yeah, she’s right here.  Let me put you on speaker.  She’s telling me something for both of us,” Clarke clicked the phone on speaker and held it between them.  Lexa sat up and stretched her arms over her head.  Clarke trailed hungry eyes down the length of Lexa’s back tattoo.

“Good morning, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa stifled a yawn.

“Clarke, didn’t you just tell me you were in bed?” Abby asked, a sassy edge creeping through the line.  Clarke’s cheeks instantly pinked and Lexa rolled her jaw. They both looked down at the phone in Clarke’s hand completely embarrassed.

"I’m an adult!” Clarke whined and Abby laughed.

“Good morning, Lexa,” Abby chuckled.  “What were you saying about March?”

“I’m going to be at my restaurant in San Francisco in March.  Top Chef is filming in San Fran next season and I’m guest judging an episode.  They’re doing an event in my restaurant.  I’m also doing some special reservation cooking, so I’ll be in San Francisco for a bit.  I was going to ask Clarke to join me so she could visit with you,” Lexa replied calmly.  It was a lighter version of her business voice.  Clarke scooted closer to her at the tone.

“That would be lovely,” Abby’s smile was audible.  “I’d love to meet you, Lexa,” Abby replied.

“Likewise, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa nodded and sorted out the pillows so she could lean against the headboard.  Clarke loved the little hint of blush on Lexa’s cheeks and held in her smile as Lexa pulled the duvet up to cover her chest, acting modestly as if Abby were in the room with them and not three thousand miles away.

"Well, I’ll let you both get back to your morning,” Abby said quietly.  It was the vocal equivalent to backing away slowly.  “Call me soon, Clarke.”

“I will, Mom,” Clarke yawned. 

"Take care of yourself, Sweetie,” Abby tacked on.

“You too,” Clarke clicked the phone off and set it gently on the nightstand she was coming to know as hers.  It was cluttered with two tubes of her lipstick, a book she was half finished with that she kept at Lexa’s and almost never read because she was usually too busy when she was in Lexa’s bed, a growing pile of hair elastics, her wine glass from last night with two sips left in it, her watch and a glass of water she begged Lexa to go get for her in the middle of the night when she woke up thirsty.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“No complaints here,” Lexa pulled Clarke closer to her and stole a soft, slow morning kiss.  “Is that weird for you?  Talking to your mom when she knows we’re naked in bed together?”

“She didn’t know we were naked,” Clarke scoffed. 

“I think she had a pretty good idea,” Lexa chuckled as she leaned over and picked up the pillow that found its way onto the floor.  Her morning voice was hoarse and raw from too much shouting with her cousins and a touch of a hangover.  Clarke didn’t know how to tell her it was sexy, so she just pulled her back in for another kiss.  

“She thinks we had matching pajama sets on that button all the way up to our necks,” Clarke chuckled between kisses.  “She never thinks I’m naked.”

"Then we’ll never get along, because I think about you naked all the time,” Lexa said playfully as she coaxed Clarke onto her back and moved on top of her.

“That was nice, suggesting I come to California with you and see my mother,” Clarke softened as Lexa settled above her and snuggled a few kisses into her neck.

"It was the first thing that came to mind when I looked at my schedule,” Lexa shrugged.  “I remembered you saying you hadn’t visited in a long time.  I know you and your mom have been trying.  I figured by March you’d be ready.”

“I love that you thought of that,” Clarke traced a finger over Lexa’s shoulder muscle and down across the tattoo on her arm.  She leaned up to meet Lexa’s lips. 

“If I’m going anyway, we might as well exploit that the Woods Restaurant Group always sends me in style and have you join me,” Lexa grinned.

“I can buy my own plane ticket,” Clarke grumbled.

“I know you can,” Lexa shrugged and placed a few calculated kisses across Clarke’s chest.  “But you don’t have to.”  A few more kisses up her neck.  “And you can let me do it,” a lingering, warm kiss on her pulse point.  “Plus, I can write it off since it’s a business expense.”

“How is bringing me with you a business expense?”  Clarke tried to sound sassy but her voice hitched at Lexa’s ministrations. 

“Do you want me to explain how taxes work to you right now?”  Lexa joked and pulled back to look down at Clarke.  She had a flash of Clarke sitting at the Houm bar and Lexa envisioned what Clarke’s curls would look like against her sheets.  It was a thousand times better in real life.  “Because frankly, I had other plans.”  Clarke couldn’t keep the joke going and pulled Lexa back down on top of her.

*****

Tuesday morning came too soon.

Lexa worked all weekend with Indra prepping to leave for California.  Indra took the news well that Lexa had broken the plans to Clarke.  She liked Clarke’s optimism and suggested getting Octavia to sit down with them once Lexa got back.  Indra had plans to let Roan take a little more control while Lexa was gone to see if he could handle it without her on the line. 

Clarke made good on her word and forced Lexa to give her a list of errands to run on Saturday afternoon to prepare for her trip.  Somehow in the juggling of cars and who was sleeping where, Clarke ended up with Lexa’s car at her place and had no trouble convincing Raven to join her for the afternoon run around in the luxury SUV.  After she looked under the hood, of course.

Octavia spent the weekend completely exhausting herself as Blake’s filled to capacity every night.  She was turning customers away now because they couldn’t let anyone else in.  Lincoln rustled up a few friends to bounce for her on weekends now that she needed it.  He was also ready and waiting with back rubs and warm arms when she finally fell into bed late at night.

“You know, sometimes I feel like we’re in a long distance relationship even though you live a mile away from me,” Clarke sighed as she kissed Lexa good bye.  They were in Lexa’s driveway.  Lexa was about to head to the airport and Clarke was about to head back home to sulk. 

"What do you mean?” Lexa tried to smile at her.  She didn’t want to leave and wished Clarke was coming with her.

“My schedule is crazy,” Clarke sighed.  “So is yours.  It almost feels like we live far away.”

“When I get home, let’s look at my next few work trips,” Lexa smiled and wrapped an arm around Clarke to pull her in to kiss her forehead.  “It shouldn’t be hard to convince you to go to Miami, Vegas or LA in the winter.”

“I think I could get down with that,” Clarke chuckled.  “Alright, get out of here.  You’ll be late,” Clarke sighed and clung to Lexa for as long as she could.  “Have fun.  Travel safe.  Cook good.”

“Cook good?” Lexa yelped with laughter.

“I don’t know, Babe.  I’m trying to be supportive, but I already miss you,” Clarke sighed. 

"I’ll call you when I get there,” Lexa leaned in for one more kiss. “Hey, wait,” Lexa pulled her keys from her jacket pocket and pulled one of them off.  “If Bellamy’s still at your place and it’s feeling crowded, you’re welcome to come here while I’m gone.”  Lexa pressed her house key into Clarke’s palm.

"Really?”  Clarke looked at her with wide eyes.  It felt like a big step, but somehow so obvious at the same time.

“Of course,” Lexa shrugged.  “You’re here all the time anyway.  Keep that one.  That one’s for you,” Lexa couldn’t fight the grin spreading on her cheeks. 

“Thank you,” Clarke stammered.  A key to Lexa’s place.  Just like that.

“I’ve gotta go, Baby,” Lexa sighed.  “Come here,” Lexa pulled Clarke in for one more tight hug.  She took a deep breath and inhaled all the Clarke she could before letting go and getting in the car.  Clarke watched her back down the driveway before getting in her own car and heading home.

She thumbed the key in her hand the whole drive.  It was such a casual exchange.  Lexa just handed her the key to her house nonchalantly on a whim.  It felt like it should have been more momentous.  Or something more should have been involved.  Or maybe it was perfect and she was over reacting.  She couldn’t have been more relieved to spot Raven sitting in her usual booth when she arrived at Blake’s.

“Oh, thank god!” Clarke exhaled and dropped into the other side of the booth. 

“Well, hello to you, too!” Raven laughed.  “Haven’t seen you in a few days.  You and Woods decide to come up for air?” 

“She just left for California for ten days,” Clarke replied and dropped the key to Lexa’s house on the table.  Raven’s eyes widened.  “And she gave me that.”

"Is that what I think it is?”  Raven flicked her eyes up at Clarke. 

“It’s a key to her house, and it’s mine to keep,” Clarke let out a deep breath. 

It was hitting her slowly and in waves.  The implications of the key were so much more than just a favor while she was out of town.  It was trust and understanding and vulnerability all rolled up in one tiny, metal, symbolic package.

“Shit, Clarke!”  Raven grinned.  “This is so exciting!  This calls for lunchtime beers!  Murphy!” Raven shouted, but didn’t get up.

"Is it exciting?” Clarke winced.  She was feeling overwhelmed.  She wanted the key to mean everything she felt like it meant and not just a nice favor for while Lexa was away.  She wanted it to mean a next level was reached and something more was happening between them.  Something good and bigger and mature. “Is it too soon?”

“Fuck too soon and society’s timelines.  Do what feels good!” Raven cried.

"I’m so glad you’re here,” Clarke smiled at her.  Raven’s undying support was exactly what Clarke needed. 

“Did someone say lunchtime beers?” Bellamy arrived at the table with three drafts.  It was then that Clarke noticed there was a book on her side of the booth across from Raven who was working.

“Oh, Bellamy!  Were you sitting here?”  Clarke hopped up to let him sit down.  “Oh my god, hi!  Also hi, welcome home, I’m sorry.  I’m all over the place right now!”  Clarke gave him a warm hug and let him slide into the booth first. 

“What’s going on?  You seem jumpy,” Bellamy said as they all clinked their glasses in cheers.

He looked older.  That was silly since he’d only been gone eight months, but Clarke could tell by his eyes that it had been a long eight months.  She’d have to ask him about it when she was in the state of mind to listen.

“Lexa just gave Clarke a key to her place,” Raven grinned.  “And Clarke’s having the good kind of freak out about it.”

"That seems kind of soon,” Bellamy glanced at Clarke.

“Oh, please,” Raven rolled her eyes.  “You haven’t seen them together.  They’re so in love, it’s gross.  I can’t believe it took you two love birds this long.”

“I haven’t said it yet,” Clarke said very quietly.

“What?” Raven asked. 

“I haven’t told her that I,” Clarke paused.  It caught in her throat.  She couldn’t even say it to her friends.  “We haven’t said it yet.”

“Clarke,” Raven softened.  “Really?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just surprised.  Because I’ve seen you two together and if that’s not true love, then the rest of us have no idea what we’re reading fairy tales about.”

“I know I feel it,” Clarke replied.  “I’ve almost said it.  I made a goddamn joke about what a great wife I’m going to be a few days ago,” Clarke hid her face in her hands.

“You will be a great wife.  I’m not seeing the joke there,” Raven smiled sincerely at her.

“I’m driving myself crazy!” Clarke laughed nervously.

“Love will do that to you,” Raven shrugged.

“I didn’t say that word!” Clarke yelped.

"I met her,” Bellamy shrugged in an effort to ease the tension.

“I know you did,” Clarke sighed.  She slipped her glasses off and rubbed her eyes.  “What am I going to fucking do, Raven?” Clarke picked the key up and threaded it onto her keyring so she wouldn’t lose it.

“I think it’s time to say the words, girl,” Raven grinned.  “I’m amazed you haven’t already!”

“I’ve almost said it ten fucking times a day the last few weeks,” Clarke slid her glasses back on.  “Ever since we were in New York.  Keeping it in makes me want to explode.”

“I don’t understand why you’re not just telling her how you feel,” Raven’s brow knit together.  Clarke took a hard gulp from her beer and tried to find the right words.

“If she doesn’t say it back,” Clarke took a deep breath.  “I’ll be crushed.”

“She will,” Raven reached across the table and gave Clarke’s hand a squeeze.  An alarm sounded on her computer.  “Aw, shit.  I’m sorry.  I forgot about a conference call I have in ten minutes.  I’m gonna run upstairs.  Don’t think you’re getting off the hook about finishing this conversation or about talking about the magazine!” Raven pointed hard at Clarke as she gathered her work together.

“So, you’re in love?” Bellamy spoke up after a lull between them.  Raven paused, curious to see how Clarke answered the question.  Bellamy offered up a sympathetic half smile.  Raven half expected him to say something rude, but he didn’t.  Clarke welcomed his calm presence and was glad to be in the company of friends who had known her for so long through the good stuff and the bad stuff so they could truly appreciate how she felt.

“I really, really am,” Clarke exhaled.  She almost felt like crying.  She felt so relieved to say it out loud.  

*****

“You did what?” Anya asked through the phone.  Lexa was in Detroit on a layover and it was starting to hit her that she had just given Clarke a key to her house.  A key to her fucking house.  In the driveway like it didn’t even matter.

“I don’t know how it happened!” Lexa winced.  She was at the airport bar downing bloody marys and called Anya as soon as her mood started to turn.

“How did she react?”  Lexa could hear Anya shuffling papers and moving things around on her desk.

"She kind of didn’t react?”  Lexa cringed.  “Like I said, it happened kind of fast.  I was trying to be nice, and let’s be real, her apartment is really crowded and I wanted her to feel like she had somewhere to go!  She keeps stuff at my place, too.  What if she wanted something while I was gone?”

"I mean, she could call me,” Anya replied.  Her sarcastic one shoulder shrug was audible.

"Fuck, Anya,” Lexa sighed and rubbed a hand over her eyes.  “Was that way too forward?  We haven’t even said the L word yet.”

“Oh my god, don’t use that phrase ever again.  Grow a pair and say the word love, you tool,” Anya snapped. 

“Your understanding of the sensitivity of this situation is astounding,” Lexa deadpanned.

“Whatever.  Lex, you’re so fucking in love with this girl and the whole world can see it.  When are you going to just tell her already?”  Anya spat out.  “By the way, she already knows.  You two say it every time you look at each other.  It would be annoying if I didn’t love you so much myself.”

“Is this a pep talk?  Or what?” Lexa laughed. 

“Dude, I don’t know.  But don’t get drunk and do it over the phone.  Have the girls take that shit from you while you’re in Napa.  I know how vineyards get your heart going,” Anya rolled her eyes.  “I swear to god, if you text a girl as cool as Clarke that you love her before you say it to her face, I will kill you myself.”

“This is the worst pep talk you’ve ever given me,” Lexa scowled.

"It’s not a pep talk.  This shit is real talk,” Anya snapped.  “I can’t believe I’m about to get this mushy with you, but I’m really proud of how you’ve handled this whole thing.  You’ve been great, she’s great, everything’s great, so behave in California and come home and tell this woman you’re in love with her and stop fucking around already, okay?”  Anya said sternly.

“Now there’s the pep talk I called you for,” Lexa grinned and stirred her bloody mary with her straw.

"Jesus Christ,” Anya muttered under her breath.  “Alright, listen, I’ve gotta go.  I have a meeting to get to, but keep it in your pants until you get home, deal?”

“Deal,” Lexa smiled warmly.  “Thanks.”

“Anytime, Kid,” Anya replied.  “Have fun.”

Lexa hung up the phone and rubbed the tension out of her forehead. 

Ten days was a very long time to stay quiet.

 

Chapter Text

“O!  You want in on this round?” Raven called over the bar to Octavia in the kitchen.  She was sitting at the corner of the bar on one side of Clarke and Bellamy was on the other later that evening.  It was a dark, cold Tuesday night and the place was relatively quiet.  The three of them were playing poker with Harper who lazily filled draft beers for the few handfuls of regular customers.  Octavia would play a hand if she had time.  The stakes were low, the bets were fake and it was really all just to kill time and give them something to do while they drank and talked.

“Yup!” Octavia called back.  “I’m coming out now with your food!”

“Good!  I’m wasting away out here!” Raven shouted to her.  Bellamy chuckled and shook his head.  He seemed quieter.  Clarke couldn’t put her finger on it.  Her phone lit up on the bar top as Octavia came out with their plates.  The photo of Lexa in the bath at The Astoria showed up anytime she called now.

“Excuse me,” Clarke’s cheeks instantly pinked and her lips involuntarily spread into a grin as she picked the phone up.  Raven poked her in the thigh with an open mouth smile over and over.

“Tell Lovergirl I said hello!”  Raven cooed.

“Shut up,” Clarke rolled her eyes but kept her grin as she excused herself from the bar and answered the phone.  “Hey!” 

“Hey, Baby,” she could hear Lexa’s cavalier smile on the other end of the line.  A good chill ghosted up Clarke’s spine at the sound of Lexa’s voice.  “I’m in a car from the airport to the restaurant now, just wanted to check in and let you know I’m on the ground.”

“You’re going straight to the restaurant?” Clarke asked as she weaved past a few guys she knew by sight but not name who she nodded and smiled at to find a quieter spot.

“It’s only five in California right now and my first reservation of this exciting tour is at seven-thirty this evening,” Lexa sighed.  “I probably should’ve left yesterday.  It’s only two people, though.  I can do that with my eyes closed.”

“Will you be able to get some rest tonight?  How early do you need to be up?”  Clarke asked as she eased into an empty booth to gain a bit of privacy.  It happened to be the one in which Lexa’s Food And Wine plaque still hung.  She forgot to take it weeks ago.  Now it was referred to as the Food And Wine booth and they almost always sat there.

“Not too early tomorrow.  The rest of the week is pretty crazy, though” Lexa shrugged.  “How are you?  What did you do today?”

“I’m fine,” Clarke replied and picked up one of the Bud Lite coasters left on the table and turned it on its side and balanced it between her fingers.  “I did absolutely nothing.  I feel like a slug.  I’ve been hanging out with Raven and Bellamy catching up with them.  It’s cold here tonight.  It feels like winter.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to send you some photos next week when I’m down in sunny Los Angeles.  It will make you clear your schedule for Miami in February,” Lexa grinned and shuffled through her carryon for her Trikru chef jacket.  She was going to need to change right when she walked in.  

“Please text me those dates as soon as you can,” Clarke chuckled.  “It’s not even officially winter for a few more weeks and my bones already feel cold.”

“That’s because you have soft Californian bones.  You’re not hard like us Mainers,” Lexa grinned again.  Her flirty smiles always found their way through the phone line.  Clarke’s stomach stirred at the smile she knew was there but couldn’t see.  She folded the coaster in half and watched the cardboard break.  The small act of destruction helped ease the pent up feeling the sound of Lexa’s voice gave her.

“I’ve been in New England for a long time, now,” Clarke retorted.  “Thirteen years have hardened these Cali bones.”

“It’s not the same,” Lexa said in a mock serious tone.  “Your feet give you away.  They’re always freezing when you put them on me under the covers.”

“I wish I was doing that tonight,” Clarke let out by accident.

“Me too,” Lexa replied after half a beat.  “But I’ll be back before you know it.  You’ll hardly even notice I’m gone.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” Clarke rolled her eyes.  Lexa could hear it.  It made her grin wider.  “I’ll let you go, Babe.  I know you’ve got a lot going on.  Send me some pictures and keep in touch,” Clarke said with a soft smile.

“Hey, you do the same,” Lexa’s smile matched.  Neither of them said their goodbyes just yet.  Silence hung on the line.

"I can tell you’re far away right now,” Clarke blurted out.  She felt silly for it. 

“What?” Lexa let out a little laugh.

"Earlier when I said it feels like we’re in a long distance relationship because we don’t see each other for days,” Clarke took a slow breath in and let it out.  “When you call me from Houm and I’m at the hospital it feels different.  You feel far away right now.”

“I am far away right now,” Lexa smiled gently.

“I know,” Clarke sighed.  “I don’t care for it.”

“Nine more sleeps, Clarke,” Lexa assured her in a soft, sweet tone.  “That’s nothing.”

“Be safe,” Clarke relented, knowing she needed to let Lexa go.  “Cook good.”

“I will,” Lexa laughed at Clarke’s new term of encouragement.  “Take care.  I’ll be thinking of you.”

“You better,” Clarke joked.  Lexa laughed.

“Good bye, Clarke,” Lexa hesitated, knowing she had nothing more she could say on the phone right now even though her tight chest protested.

“Good bye, Lexa,” Clarke let out the same hesitant breath.  She waited a few extra seconds so she could think the words she couldn’t say before disconnecting the call.  Lexa did the same.  She made her way back to her friends.

“And how is Chef Woods doing?” Raven asked.

“She’s good,” Clarke sighed through a sad smile and picked up her new hand of cards.  It was bad and she didn’t care.  She was losing interest in the game.  She was never very good at it.  “She’s on her way to the restaurant now.”

“Trikru is fucking awesome,” Octavia nodded at Clarke.  “I’ve been there.  It’s visually stunning, the food is incredible and the drinks are even better.”

“I’m going in March,” Clarke shrugged.  “You’ll have to tell me more.”

“Oh, yeah?” Octavia raised a brow.

"Lexa’s going back for two weeks in March.  Top Chef is doing a challenge in her restaurant and she’s the guest judge for the episode or something,” Clarke replied.  Octavia’s eyes lit up.

“No fucking way,” Octavia grinned. 

“She didn’t elaborate, but I’m sure you can ask her about it when she gets back,” Clarke shrugged.  “She asked me to come out for a little bit so I could visit with my mother,” Clarke looked at her crappy cards again, shuffled them into a neat pile and set them face down on the bar top.

“Why would she do that?” Bellamy wrinkled his nose.  “Are you even talking to your mother these days?”

“I actually have been,” Clarke turned towards him on her stool.

Bellamy was a lot of things, but he had always been there for her when push came to shove.  Clarke’s first year of med school in Maine was tough.  Octavia had just taken over ownership of Blake’s and was essentially nonexistent.  Raven was fresh out of college and dove headfirst into her career which kept her behind a closed door chugging coffee and coding for days straight.  Their best friend trio fell on its first instance of everyone doing their own thing. 

It was one of those times when they felt themselves growing up. 

Clarke was absolutely miserable back then and refused to admit it.  Bellamy was home from deployment at the time and working as a paramedic.  He helped Clarke study when he had time.  He was around a lot and listened to her freak out about school.  He listened to her freak out about the fact that she hadn’t spoken to her mother in six months and what the hell kind of family did that make them?  He listened to her freak out about whether or not she could really be a surgeon, what if something happened to her hands and made this all a total waste?  He listened to her freak out about why Portland was so much fucking colder and harsher than Boston even though they were barely two hours apart.

In turn, her late night studying and cheap beer drinking with him in the girls’ old apartment on Grant Street, Portland’s worst neighborhood by far which made Bellamy hang around even more often, lead to him spilling stories about the war.  Clarke was one of the only people he talked to about it in detail.  Blood and guts didn’t scare her.  Emotional hardship didn’t scare her.  Real problems and real life didn’t scare her.  She was the most well adjusted of the three of them and understood him better than Octavia who had no patience and Raven who had no interest.

He always said Clarke’s empathy was her best quality.

They leaned on each other while their other friends built their careers.  Bellamy hung in limbo between tours and training and Clarke’s career crawled while Raven’s skyrocketed.  Octavia was too busy for anyone or anything the first two years she was on her own at the bar.

“How’s that going?” Bellamy asked, genuine concern in his voice as he took a swig of his beer.

“It’s actually going really well,” Clarke replied.  Octavia and Harper moved away to take orders from a group of guys from the Mexican place on Congress Street that had been hanging out a lot lately.  Raven flicked through the channels and checked her work emails on her phone.  The poker game slept silently until they wear ready to play again.

“What brought this on?” Bellamy picked at the fries on his plate.  Clarke relayed the story of the accident that came through that knocked her upside down and made her call her mother and ask questions about her father.  He unconsciously glanced down at her ankle as she went through the details.  A cross of disbelief and discomfort hung on his face as she outlined the details.

“One of her residents is a big fan of Lexa’s and there were some pictures of me floating around the foodie corner of the internet after her Food And Wine party up here,” Clarke paused for a sip of her beer.  “I told my mother we’re dating and she’s been surprisingly interested.  We’ve been texting and we call every other week or so now,” Clarke shrugged.  “It’s nice.”

“You seem happy,” Bellamy tried to smile.  “And not just because you’re in love.  In general.  You look good.  You look healthy.  Maybe even a little taller.”

“Thank you,” Clarke replied.  “I feel good and healthy.  Not sure about taller.  It might just be my shoes,” she chuckled and tapped him in the shin with the toe of her boot.  “What about you?  You seem quiet.”

“Quiet?”  He raised a brow and sat up straighter.

"Which is new for you,” Clarke joked.  He laughed in his throat and glanced away.

“Last few months were hairy,” He tried to shrug it away.  “Not sure if you’ve been watching the news.”

“Yeah,” she offered up a gentler smile.

Bellamy was a parajumper in the air force.  He was part of an elite team that parachuted into combat zones to rescue the injured and trapped.  He enlisted back in 2002 and had seen some serious shit since.  In the right environment, Clarke could get him going, but she was the only one.  She could handle it and still treated him the same way after she heard the horror stories.  No one else could do that.  They either felt sorry for him or were a little afraid of him.  His work stateside as a paramedic was nothing compared to what he saw over there, but it let him keep his medical training fresh and he was a valuable part of the staff back home because of his unbreakable composure under stress.

“When do you start work again?”  Clarke asked.  She could see in his eyes and the little lines that formed between his eyebrows that it was time to change the subject.

“Monday,” he cleared his throat and pushed his thoughts of war away.  “So I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other.  I saw Dr. Jackson at the gym yesterday.  He says you’re coming for his spot these days.”

“I don’t know about that,” Clarke rolled her eyes.  “Maybe someday.”

“Hey!  Assclown!” Octavia shouted at the two of them.  Bellamy looked up casually as if she had addressed him by his name.  She was looking down at her phone.

“Yes, Sister Dearest?”  Bellamy asked.

"I’m staying at Lincoln’s tonight so you can have my room,” Octavia didn’t smile, but he could tell she wanted to. 

“Thanks,” Bellamy nodded at her.  “What’s up with that?” Bellamy subtly pointed his thumb towards Octavia who was talking to the Mexican joint chefs.  Raven had moved down a few stools to get in on that conversation.  Clarke recognized the one in the glasses from Raven’s Food And Wine party dancefloor and the Halloween party.  It looked like he was trying to get to know Raven a little better. 

“Octavia and Lincoln?” Clarke asked and pulled a sip from her beer. 

“Yeah.  Is he cool?”  Bellamy asked.

“He’s awesome,” Clarke replied and dismissed any issue with the wave of a hand.  “Don’t get any ideas.  You know I don’t agree with your aggressive bullshit.  I’m still mad about that time you got in that fight with my ex-boyfriend in here.”

“Dr. Collins deserved it,” Bellamy grumbled, using a snooty accent on his name.

“Dr. Collins did deserve it,” Clarke set her empty beer glass at the inside edge of the bar letting Harper know she was ready for a refill.  “But that doesn’t make it okay that you did it.”

“That was a long time ago,” Bellamy shrugged and looked away.  He hated disappointing Clarke.  He respected her too much.

"It was a year and a half ago,” Clarke said flatly. 

“He was awful to you,” Bellamy shot her a look.

“And you were awful to me when you punched another grown man in the face in a crowded bar because he cheated on me,” Clarke turned the look back on him.  He didn’t say anything.  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “You’re lucky he was so embarrassed.  He could’ve pressed charges or sued the pants off of you.”

"I don’t like to see anything bad happen to you ladies,” Bellamy finally muttered and nodded his head at Octavia and Raven across the bar.  Octavia had her arm outstretched to take a selfie with Harper, Raven and the guys from the Mexican place.

“As heartwarming as that is,” Clarke sighed as well.  “We can handle ourselves without your fists of fury.”

“I know,” Bellamy rubbed a hand over his tired features. 

“It’s gross,” Clarke said firmly.  “And it further perpetuates stereotypes about you military jerks,” she added on.

“I know,” Bellamy said more firmly.

“So cut it the fuck out,” Clarke tried to soften her voice to a joking tone, but she was completely serious.

“I’m sorry I did that.  Really.  I hate that it pushed us apart for a while,” he looked at her earnestly.  He was telling the truth.

“I’ll forgive you if you promise never to do it again,” Clarke flicked serious eyes up at him.  She had a way of speaking volumes with a stern look.  She always had.  Bellamy stiffened up as her icy baby blues cut through him.

“With how love sick you are, I shouldn’t need to,” Bellamy offered up a cheeky grin.  Clarke tried to scowl but couldn’t get there because too many thoughts of Lexa flooded her mind when he said the word love.  She was envious at how easily he said it and that she couldn’t find the word herself.

“Shut up,” She whacked him in the arm and welcomed the new beer Harper brought her.

*****

“Nice job tonight, Chef,” Chef Cece Cartwig, chef de cuisine of Trikru nodded at Lexa.  Lexa washed her hands after finishing the dessert course on her evening reservation and giving her thanks and parting words to her guests.  “Nice to have you back in the kitchen with us.”

Cece met Lexa in culinary school in New York way back when.  She was older, old enough to be Lexa’s mother, and was reinventing herself after a long, drawn out divorce when they were side by side in class.  When Lexa was nineteen and flailing but full of Talent, Cece was in her early forties and trying to change career paths. 

Lexa hired her right out of school at Polis after watching her technique in class and internships.  Cece was the sous chef at War Paint for a while and Lexa pulled her up north once Trikru was ready to open for real to take up the chef de cuisine position when she and Indra moved on.

Costia was supposed to be the chef de cuisine with Lexa as the executive.

"Pleasure’s all mine, Chef,” Lexa replied.  “Just like riding a bike,” she offered up a half smile.

Trikru pulled its flavors from French, Greek, Moroccan, and Turkish flavors.  Lexa hadn’t cooked the Trikru food in over six months, but it all came right back.  Grilled oyster mushrooms with a parmesan crust.  Hummus and falafel.  A warm mujuddra salad that was always a hit.  She made a pomegranate glazed lamb shank and a sumac roasted chicken.  A Parisian gnocchi in sage brown butter topped the list.  A fire roasted eggplant soup started most meals.

“I’ve got one bottle left of that William Hill we picked up on last year’s Napa trip in my office,” Cece gave Lexa a conspiratorial grin.  “I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.  Want to head out into the alley for a few smokes and take care of it like old times?”

“No smokes for me, but I’ll help you handle that wine,” Lexa chuckled.  She dried her hands and tossed the towel into the linens bin.  She followed Cece through the kitchen to her office.  It used to be Lexa’s office.  The walk was oddly familiar while feeling foreign at the same time.  All of the corners and turns were opposite of Houm’s kitchen, but Lexa’s body remembered where to turn and which counters to avoid.  “I’m off all of my other vices.  Booze and food are the only ones I have left.”

“Buzz around the rumor mill is that you’re on a short, domesticated leash now,” Cece raised a brow as she pulled open the bottom drawer of a file cabinet where she kept the secret stash of wine.  Lexa leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb and looked away with a shy smile.  There was a photo on the wall of Lexa, Indra and Cece in their uniforms in front of the restaurant.  Lexa was handing her the keys and Indra was handing her a bottle of champagne.  It was Indra and Lexa’s last day.  They were all laughing.

“Did all of you get on a conference call to discuss my personal life or what?”  Lexa chuckled.  She took a deep breath to hide her nerves on the topic.

Lexa was never very good at having professional friends. 

Cece was always good to her.  The healthy barrier of respect for the chain of command was there, but in the last few years, Cece and Lexa blurred the line on their annual Napa trips.  Lexa let her proverbial hair down a little with Cece.  She’d known her so long and through so much.  Cece sent a card any time Lexa was recognized for an achievement.  Cece always remembered Lexa’s birthday and actual facts about Lexa’s life, not just notes about her career.  She met Anya a few times and had a front row seat to the Costia explosion.

She only saw cece four or five times a year, but they spoke every week.  Cece was always warm and had the comfort of an old friend.  When they added Roma, War Paint’s head chef, to the mix, it was like old college roommates back together again.

“Roma and I talk a lot.  You know she’s way more into that shit than I am,” Cece walked past Lexa and nodded her head towards the back door with a bottle of wine under her arm and a corkscrew and two rocks glasses in her hand.  She pulled her cigarettes out of her checkered pocket and dug for a lighter in the pocket on the sleeve of her forest green chef jacket with her other hand as she shouldered the door open.  “I can’t keep up with social media and gossip.  I’m too old.”

 “You’re not old,” Lexa smiled.  Cece dropped down to sit on one of the empty kegs in the alley with her back against the brick building and Lexa did the same.  Lexa gestured for Cece to hand her the wine.   She opened it with practiced grace and poured them each a cup.  There was something delightfully nostalgic about sitting on kegs in a dirty alley drinking expensive wine out of the wrong glasses with Cece.  The smell of the cigarettes mixed with the exhaust from the grill brought back so many fond memories.

Indra never smoked.  Indra avoided all of the drugs Lexa enjoyed back when they were young.  She drank a lot when they were younger, they all did, and she’d hit the occasional joint at a party, but Indra and Lexa’s social lives didn’t start mingling the way they did now until Lexa calmed way down.  

“So what’s going on with this girl?”  Cece exhaled a deep drag and accepted her wine from Lexa.  They clinked the glasses together and each took a sip.  “What’s her name again?”

“That’s good,” Lexa nodded in appreciation of the red wine after her first taste.  “Her name is Clarke,” Lexa paused after the statement and let Clarke’s name roll around on her tongue like the cabernet she sampled.  “What do you already know?”  Lexa smiled softly and pulled her phone from her pocket.  There was a picture of one of Octavia’s masterful sandwiches that Clarke had for dinner and a selfie of Clarke in her bed with a sweet goodnight text below it.  It was after one in the morning at home.

“She’s a doctor or something, right?”  Cece asked as she exhaled.  “Hot blond?”

“Surgeon,” Lexa nodded again.  “And a very hot blond.” She scrolled through her phone and held up a photo of the two of them at Thanksgiving.  Cece’s eyes widened.

“Damn, Chef,” Cece took a drag.  “Nice work.”

“May I ask you what everyone is saying?”  Lexa asked after a lull between them.  Her voice sounded small.

She never used to care what they thought.  She never cared what her chefs thought about her choices, professionally or personally.  If they had anything to say about her choices, she reminded them that they were replaceable and that being a part of the Woods Restaurant Empire was an honor and a privilege and that she got hundreds of requests a week.

But now she wanted to know.  Now it felt important. 

She wanted them to be interested and she wanted them to like Clarke.  It felt important that they liked her.  It felt important that they all thought it was a good thing.  She couldn’t explain the need for the validation, but it was there.

“You can ask, but out of solidarity I’m not sure I can honesty tell you without a bribe,” Cece shrugged.  Lexa gaped at her.  “I’m joking!”  Cece laughed.  Lexa laughed too.  “I talked to Indra while you were in New York.  She was handling reporting while you were away.  I didn’t ask much, just commented and she mentioned that she really likes her and she really likes you with her,” Cece took a puff of her smoke.  Lexa smiled at the thought of Indra.  Indra was so good to her.  She always had been.  “Titus was an asshole about it, but that’s who he is.  Roma’s foaming at the mouth for the Houm anniversary event cause she can’t wait to meet her.  We’re all still invited, right?”

“Of course.  I have you all at the same table,” Lexa replied. 

She also left an empty seat at their table where she planned to put Octavia.  Indra wasn’t sure if it was a great idea, so they had Octavia at Clarke’s table as well.  It was a ticketed event with limited seating and they gave up a precious chair because Octavia was listed twice.  Once at Clarke’s table as Octavia and once at the head chef’s table as Chef Blake.

Octavia’s seat would be dictated by their impeding meeting with her in two weeks.

“I’m not sitting next to Titus,” Cece wrinkled her nose and Lexa snorted out a little laugh.  “Artigus is all about it.  You know he thinks you’re ‘the man’ and anything you do is gold,” Cece rolled her eyes.  Lexa’s head chef in Vegas was even younger than she was, but he would follow her anywhere she asked.  “Byrne’s been too busy at The Flame with her new staff to weigh in, but as far as I can tell, she just wants you to be happy.  She always liked you and never cared about your drama.”

“So, just Titus is being shitty?” Lexa sipped her wine thoughtfully. 

“And that’s par for the course,” Cece shrugged.  “I wouldn’t sweat that.  He thinks you should be doing more prestigious things in bigger cities.  You know he never cared for Houm and he thinks it’s bullshit that you’re still there,” Cece blew out a long train of smoke and paused for a sip of wine.  

“It’s a good thing he’s a damn fine chef,” Lexa scowled.

“He’ll shut up when you go to Chicago,” Cece waved a hand.  “What’s gonna happen with you and the woman when that all goes down?”

“I’m not going to fucking Chicago,” Lexa sighed, so tired of the rumor.  This one stuck worse than some of the past rumors.  She took a big swig of her wine.  “Who told you that?”

“I thought that’s what the latest rag was saying about you?” Cece raised a brow.

“I’d hardly call Food And Wine a rag, Cece,” Lexa gave her a pointed look.

“Chef, I didn’t read the whole thing.  I looked at the pictures.  Nice cover, by the way.  It’s one of your better ones,” Cece flicked her cigarette into a puddle in the alley and lit up another.

“Thanks,” Lexa sighed.  “I actually am about to start number seven, but it’s all still under wraps right now.”

“Yeah?” Cece perked up.  “Do tell, Chef.”

“Can’t,” Lexa shrugged.  “Not yet.”

“We’re all on the edges of our seats,” Cece smiled warmly and held her glass up.  “The staffs are rumbling about that just as much as your sexy girlfriend.”  Cece gestured her glass in a toast.  “To whatever you’re up to,” she nodded once and clinked her glass against Lexa’s.  “I’m sure it’ll be amazing.  It always is.”

“We’ll see,” Lexa grinned and glanced down at Clarke’s sleepy selfie once more, feeling better about everything. 

*****

Clarke’s work week flowed smoothly.

The three hour time difference and Lexa’s busy California schedule made their communication sparse.  Clarke tried to stay busy and be a grown up about it, but she missed Lexa lot more than she was expecting.  Knowing that Lexa’s warm kisses and strong hugs weren’t going to be waiting for her when the shift was over made Clarke slouch more than usual.

Lexa sent her photos of Trikru and San Francisco that made a tiny wave of nostalgia for home pass through Clarke.  A photo of Lexa and Cece in their uniforms in the empty dining room with a short summary of who she was and how happy Lexa was to spend time with her made Clarke smile.  Lexa sent a few shots of the food she was making.  It looked incredible.  Friday morning had a few snapshots of Cece and Lexa’s drive down to Napa.  It looked like they were having fun.  Clarke was happy to see her being social and supported after viewing what Lexa’s professional life in New York was like.

Anya called Clarke and insisted that she come over for dinner on Saturday night when she got out of the hospital.  She smiled and laughed and chimed in when she could as Clarke and Aden went on and on about music and art and what he was currently reading.  He went out with his friends after dinner and Anya and Clarke had another glass of wine until Clarke’s yawns wouldn’t quit and she decided it was time for bed. 

Clarke sat at a red light where she could make a left towards the East End or a right towards the West End.  She shivered.  The heat in her car hadn’t quite caught up with the cold December night on the short drive from Anya’s place.  It was late and there was no one around.  Lexa’s name lit up on the caller ID in her car and she realized she could be taking that right turn instead.

She had a key.

“Hey, you,” Clarke grinned as she pushed the button to answer.

“Hey, Baby!” Lexa cried, a little too eagerly.  Clarke could hear laughing in the background.

“Aren’t you the excited little one,” Clarke chuckled.  “Where are you right now?”

“We’re back at the hotel having the last of our wine for the day.  My damn chefs won’t leave my room,” Lexa laughed.  She sounded like she was having fun.  Clarke was equal parts sad she wasn’t with her and thrilled to hear that laugh.  “I’m your boss!  As your executive chef, I order you to go back to your own room!”

“We’re off the clock, Commander Hearteyes!” a voice in the background shouted and burst into a pair of giggles.

“This insubordination is an atrocity!” Lexa shouted at them.  “Clarke, they’re killing me,” she said quickly into the phone.

“What’s going on over there?”  Clarke laughed and found herself on autopilot to Lexa’s house.

“I may or may not have told my chefs all about you,” Lexa said sheepishly.  “Or corrected the rumors they have heard and perpetuated.”

"Oh yeah?” Clarke perked up.  “What did you tell them?”

“That you’re beautiful and you’re funny and you’re sweet and you’re perfect,” Lexa gushed.

"Lexa, are you drunk?” Clarke asked playfully.  She knew Lexa was close with her California chefs even though she didn’t see them often, but she wasn’t sure Lexa wanted to be this lovey and mushy in front of them.  She’d been sending Clarke texts that she was having a great time with Cece and Roma.  She hadn’t had fun with them in a while.  

“We’ve been tasting wine since nine this morning,” Lexa began. 

“Yeah, we have!” Chef Roma cried out with gusto in the background.

“So, maybe just a little,” Lexa winced.  “But I know what I’m saying and I mean what I’m saying and I don’t care that they know,” Lexa bit her lip to prevent herself from adding ‘because I love you’ to her declaration.

Clarke could hear it in the silence and took a deep breath to prevent herself from saying it back.

Not like this.  Not over the phone.

“Are you behaving yourself?”  Clarke smirked after regaining her composure as she pulled into Lexa’s driveway.

“Of course I am,” Lexa stood up as straight as her wine buzzed spine would allow. 

“Are you having a good time?”  Clarke couldn’t stop smiling at this silly Lexa on the line.

“Y’know, I really am,” Lexa replied thoughtfully.  Clarke spun the key in the lock and let herself into Lexa’s dark and quiet house.  “Roma and I are going to review our notes on the flight to LA tomorrow morning, but I think we’ve got some great stuff lined up for 2017.”

“That’s awesome, Babe,” Clarke habitually hung her coat and her keys up and poured a glass of water before heading upstairs to crash.

“They’re fun and all, but I wish I brought you with me,” Lexa sighed.  “You’d love it here.  Have you been to Napa?”

“I have not,” Clarke smiled warmly at Lexa’s words. 

“Then after we go to Shanghai and Italy and Miami and Las Vegas and Thailand and India, we’re going to Napa,” Lexa said matter of factly.

“We’re going to Thailand and India now?” Clarke quirked a brow as she climbed the stairs.  She set her glass of water on the nightstand and dropped onto the bed to take her boots off.

“Yes,” Lexa replied and paused for a sip of her wine.  “You’d love both of them.  I’m going to take you someday.”

“I suppose I could get behind that,” Clarke yawned and wandered into Lexa’s closet.  She pulled open drawers looking for something to sleep in.  Every drawer was neat and precise.  Paired socks all in a perfect line.  Undershirts neatly folded.  Chefs pants in stacks.  “Don’t you have any goddamn t shirts?” Clarke huffed in frustration after pulling open another drawer that turned out to be watches and sunglasses all in perfect boxes on display.

“Where are you right now?” Lexa’s brow knit together in confusion.

“I’m in your damn closet but everything is formal wear and chef’s clothes!”  Clarke laughed.  “It’s occurring to me now that any time we’ve gone to bed at your place we’ve been naked.”

Lexa let out an unapologetic laugh.  It made Clarke’s knees buckle.  It was so perfect and honest and she wanted it in the room with her so badly.

Don’t say it.

“Oh my god, you’re right!” Lexa’s laughter died down.  “On the right-hand side when you walk in, about knee height, there is a drawer of chef pants that has some War Paint t shirts on the bottom.  They’re red.”

“Thank you,” Clarke sighed through a smile and stepped out of her jeans and threw the t shirt on before climbing into bed.  “I hate to do this to you, Babe, but my eyes are closing.  I just got into bed.”

“So, you’re in my bed right now?” Lexa grinned.  The thought of Clarke in her clothes cuddling down in her sheets made her stomach drop.  Her hands ached to have Clarke’s skin beneath them.

“It’s not as good without you in it,” Clarke stifled a yawn. 

“Oh!  Who’s smooth now?” Lexa chuckled.

“Maybe I’m just telling the truth,” Clarke grinned.  Lexa could hear that perfect flirty grin wandering through the line.

“I miss you,” Lexa said after a few beats of silence.  Her voice was softer.  It was genuine and her silliness washed away.

“I miss you, too, Lex,” Clarke smiled and snuggled down into the blankets.

“I’m glad you’re in my house,” Lexa took another sip of her wine.  “And my life.”

“I’m glad you’re in my life too,” Clarke let out a content sigh. 

Too close.

“Good night, Lex.  Be good,” Clarke yawned again.  “I miss you.”

“Miss you too,” Lexa didn’t want to hang up.  “Good night, Clarke.”  She looked down at her phone for a few extra moments in silence before she disconnected the call.

“Oooo!  Clarke!  I’m glad you’re in my bed!” Roma taunted and Cece let out a burst of laughter.  Lexa had forgotten they were there. 

“Shut up, assholes!” Lexa laughed.  She followed them out onto the balcony so they could smoke.  Lexa took a deep breath of the fresh California night.

“Commander, you’re SO in love!  I can’t stand it!  I fucking love it!” Roma jabbed Lexa in the shoulder.  War Paint’s head chef had always been so rowdy and had a lack of filter with Lexa that everyone else who worked for her did not.  Lexa wanted to be bothered by it, but nowadays she liked it too much. 

She liked being friends with them rather than ruling them.

“I know!” Lexa cried and shook a fist in the air.  They could say it.  Why couldn’t she say it?  It seemed so easy for them.  It seemed so easy for everyone else to see.

“You’re a human again!” Roma cheered.  “I was starting to worry you’d never bounce back from, well, you know.”

“You can say her name,” Lexa sighed.

“We all hated her,” Roma said flatly.  Cece coughed on her cigarette at Roma’s blunt retort.

“I mean, she was cockblocking me professionally.  Personally, I didn’t care about her one way or the other,” Cece shrugged.  Roma snorted with laughter.  “What?  I was supposed to be next.”

“You ended up next anyway,” Lexa muttered but was smiling at the two of them smoking their cigarettes and elbowing each other and joking.  Roma was drinking straight from the bottle and Cece had a paper coffee cup from their room down the hall.

“How long have you been with this chick again?” Roma asked as she took a drag.

“We started dating about two months ago,” Lexa replied and sipped from her glass.  She had a real wine glass that she took from the hotel bar downstairs.

“Amazing,” Roma grinned.  “I’ve been stalking you two on social media.  Her friends are cute.  That Octavia Blake you’ve been hanging around with that runs the dive bar?” Roma wagged her brows and made a sarcastic bite in Lexa’s direction.  “Yummy.”

“Although she is quite the fox, Octavia is straight, very much taken and likely going to be one of your colleagues soon, so reign it in,” Lexa blurted out before she realized what she was saying.  “Fuck.”

“No way!” Cece cried.  Roma punched Lexa in the shoulder.

“You’re not doing fine fucking dining this time?” Roma shouted.  Their jaws hung slack in open mouthed grins.  “No. Fucking. Way!”

“I’ve already said to much,” Lexa clamped a hand over her eyes.  “You two and your girl talk and your wine tours and your jokes!” Lexa snapped.  “You tricked me!”

“Titus is going to shit a brick,” Cece shook her head.  “I changed my mind.  I do want to sit next to him at the anniversary party!”

“I need you both to keep your mouths shut,” Lexa pointed sternly at them. 

“I don’t know, Chef,” Roma taunted.  “This is juicy as fuck.”

“Roma!” Lexa warned.

“I’m kidding!  Come on!  Even I know when to shut the fuck up,” Roma took a quick drag.  “Are you going to tell everyone at the party?”

“Probably,” Lexa replied.  “I’ve gotta get everything in order first.”

“Well, good luck with that, Commander,” Roma clapped her hand onto Lexa’s shoulder.  “And sit me next to the rookie.  I’ll make sure she gets a warm welcome,” Roma winked.

“Please don’t do that,” Lexa shot her a look.

“I’m making zero promises,” Roma gave Lexa’s shoulder a squeeze.

“I can monitor that shit if you give me a raise,” Cece pointed at Roma with her thumb.

“Done,” Lexa laughed.

*****

“Los Angeles looks warm,” Clarke grumbled as she scrolled through Lexa’s recent texts. It was Monday morning.  She and Octavia were having a late morning coffee date before Clarke went into work.  They were at their favorite local coffee spot luxuriating in hot lattes next to a fire place. 

It was officially cold in Maine. 

They woke to a dusting a snow a few times now.  Puddles were frozen.  Cheeks turned red on short walks outside.  The winter wind arrived and blew cold air in off the sea.

“Los Angeles is warm, Clarke,” Octavia sighed.  She was reading the newspaper and Clarke was on her phone. 

"I know,” Clarke sighed.

“You miss her, don’t you,” Octavia half smiled over the top of the Portland Press Herald.

“So much,” Clarke half smiled back.  “I feel so lame, but I really do.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Octavia shrugged one sho