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Be the Lightning in Me

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Lexa learned that her family was poor at a very young age. It’s not really something that a happy kid like Lexa would realise without a frame of reference, without people who had more than her to compare her life to, so while it was just her and her family she never realised that she was growing up with very little. She was fed, clothed, and warm (albeit due to copious layers of clothing and blankets rather than lots of central heating) so she was content.

The happiness cracked away a little when her ignorance of all things monetary was lost. It was kind of an odd discovery for her and it forever changed the way she looked at the world. It was a journey that began on her very first day of school and that first reality-inducing moment stuck with her for many years to come, though she didn’t realise exactly what had happened at the time.

It had been a sunny day, the sky was that bright shade of blue that Lexa loved so much, and her tummy was wiggling around inside her all weirdly. It could have been nerves or excitement, she wasn’t sure and she didn’t really mind. School was going to be great, she just knew it. She walked into her classroom with her rucksack high and heavy on her back, packed with every tiny thing she thought she might possibly need on her first day of kindergarten. She probably wasn’t going to use all seventeen pencils scattered in her bag amongst various toys, notepads, a few books, and her incredibly squished sandwiches but Lexa always felt better when she was prepared.

The first kid that spoke to Lexa was Gus Brown and he asked her why she had holes in her jeans. He was big for a five year old, something that kids often found intimidating, but little Lexa wasn’t fazed. She just stood boldly before him, looking adorable with her usually messy hair teased back into braids, and glanced down at her exposed knees before turning her gaze back to Gus.

“They were my sister’s jeans so I dunno,” she shrugged with an ease that only a very young child could have under the scrutiny of her peers. She blinked up at him with wide, forest green eyes. That’s what her mom always called them. Lexa liked that, she felt that she was made for big adventures in the wilderness back in those innocent days.

“Why are you wearing your sister’s jeans?” Gus had asked, no real malice in his voice but a frown pulling at his brows. Lexa regarded his confusion with polite curiosity.

“‘Cause my mom says sometimes we have to share clothes, sharing is nice.”

“I never share clothes,” Gus told her simply before walking away, leaving Lexa to ponder as to why his family weren’t so nice as to share clothes too.

She headed further into the classroom, dismissing the boy’s remarks. School is going to be awesome, she reminded herself. And it was. Mostly.

Lexa was so happy a few weeks later when she inherited her sister’s cookie monster t-shirt. She had always loved it, completely adored it in fact, and she knew that one day it wouldn’t fit Anya anymore and it would become hers. She was frustrated to find that Anya was reluctant to give it up, her stubborn streak always had a way of peeking out just to annoy Lexa. Or so she believed anyway.

“But Mom, it’s my favourite!” Anya had whined, pouting down at Lexa who was two years and eight inches her junior.

“But Anya, it doesn’t fit anymore! Mommy says we have to share, it’s nice to share,” Lexa told Anya with a proud nod to her mother who just smiled sweetly at her. She was too young to see the way that her mom’s mouth turned down a little at the corners when she gave her that smile and the lines that were already drawing themselves around her eyes from working two jobs and constantly feeling like she wasn’t giving her daughters a good enough life.

“But I’m the only one that ever has to share,” Anya huffed.

“You can share my stuff too.”

“You’re too small, I can’t wear your clothes.”

“Um…” Lexa bit at her lip, little mind working to think up something to balance the scales. Anya was right, it was only her that had to share. If Lexa had been the only one that had to share then she would have been annoyed too. “You can share my toys!”

Anya folded her arms, her mouth a harsh line as her gaze burned down at Lexa.

“I don’t want your stupid toys, they’re for babies.”

Lexa folded her arms too.

“I’m not a baby!”

Anya put her arms by her sides.

“Are. Baby.

Anya’s fists were clenched and Lexa felt the sadness bubble up inside her. Her eyes began to sting and she swallowed hard, she didn’t want to look weak in front of her sister. She wasn’t a baby, no matter what Anya said, and she had to prove that to her.

Anya was her favourite thing in the whole world. She loved her more than candy, more than that cookie monster t-shirt, more than her mom, even. She was big and strong, and Lexa was pretty sure she was the cleverest seven-year-old there was. She taught Lexa to do roly-polys and how to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (which took her hours and she took Lexa over and over it syllable by syllable one rainy Sunday afternoon until she could do it all by herself). She even taught her to tie her shoes because their mom was always working and their grandpa who took care of them had arthritis in his fingers and couldn’t show her himself. Sometimes when Lexa had a bad dream she’d crawl into bed with Anya and Anya would complain, tell her that she had cold feet and that she was stealing the covers, but she never kicked her out. Sometimes she’d even put her arm around her and Lexa would fall asleep with a ball of warmth in her stomach, all of her fear banished by her protector. So yeah, Anya could be mean sometimes but all the other things she did made up for it so it was OK. She hated it when Anya was angry with her but it never made her hate her, it just made her want to try to please her more.

“You can have my lion,” Lexa offered, fidgeting where she was stood in the middle of their tiny living room, scuffed shoes kicking at a rip in the carpet. She didn’t notice the way her mom held her breath from where she was sat on the couch watching them, stifling the urge to cry with a hand pressed to her mouth, the emotion instead building in her eyes until they glistened.

Anya stepped forward, all signs of anger gone.

“No, Lexa, he’s yours.”

Her deep brown eyes, so unlike Lexa’s, were soft and she put her hand on Lexa’s shoulder. Lexa just looked up at her, utter devotion set in her steady jaw.

“We share in this family, he can be yours now.”

Lexa ignored the sadness she felt inside at the thought of not having her lion anymore. She remembered getting that lion, she remembered her dad taking her and Anya to the fair, she remembered how he won it on one of those claw machines. She had made a fuss until he chose to give the toy to her instead of Anya, though he promised to keep playing until he won her one too. Anya was a good big sister and she just sighed when Lexa got her own way.

But of course Lexa was oblivious to all of this.

What she remembered most clearly was that when she took the toy, giggling and hugging it into her chest, her dad beamed bigger than she had ever seen. She had flung herself into his arms, whooping with glee as he swept her up and onto his shoulders where she sat proudly, the lion clutched under one arm, her free hand gripping onto her dad’s straggly hair that she had always loved to play with. He never did manage to win another one for Anya but his next promise was that he’d buy her another toy soon.

He left a week later.

Two years had passed but Lexa could tell that Anya wished she had a lion of her own to cuddle up to when she missed him.

“No, Lex, I don’t want him,” Anya said, shaking her head, “you can have my t-shirt, it’s OK. It doesn’t fit anymore and it’s too cool to get left in the closet.”

And then Anya did something she rarely ever did. She pulled Lexa into a hug.

Happiness flooded through Lexa even though Anya’s already long and wavy hair was tickling her nose. They had never been affectionate siblings, they bickered a lot and Anya invariably went off in a huff. Lexa was always the one to try and bridge the gap between them.

Anya was starting to harden even at the age of seven, her ignorance already having burned away with two years at school throwing her into the harsh reality of growing up as a poor kid. (Lexa didn’t even learn about the racism Anya faced until she was a lot older.) But sometimes Anya was that soft girl she had been before Lexa’s dad had left, back when they were a family, back when she’d felt like she had a dad that wanted her even though he hadn’t been her own.

Over the years, when she knew Anya was unhappy in some way, Lexa would leave her lion in Anya’s bed. He always returned a little while later with the faintest smell of Anya clinging to his increasingly ragged fur and Lexa would nuzzle her nose into him, glad she had been able to help a little. She had never been very good with emotions and she dealt with her rather temperamental sister in the best way she knew how.

Stood there in Anya’s arms Lexa was safe and loved, and Anya helped to protect her from the harsh world for a little longer. Lexa always felt indebted to her for that.

But over time she began to notice things, especially when she was at school, and her innocence began to fade. Her classmates talked about vacations to countries she’d never even heard of when she herself had never left the state. They were always talking about going out to dinner, going bowling, watching their new videos in their bedrooms. Lexa was amazed, they had a tiny TV in their living room, she’d have loved to have her very own one! She also noticed that the kids looked at her strangely sometimes when she said certain things. She quickly stopped mentioning that her clothes came from Anya a lot of the time and that she was so good at cutting out things because she liked to help her mom cut coupons out of the paper before they went grocery shopping. She started to notice that when things got really tight and she asked if she could go to a birthday party, her mom would get this pained expression on her face. It wasn’t long before Lexa realised it was because she didn’t have enough money to buy a gift for her to take with her. By pretending that she didn’t want to go to parties she saved her mom the awkward conversation Lexa knew would come one day and eventually she stopped actually wanting to go to parties at all. Before long she didn’t even get invited anymore anyway. People whispered about her sometimes but she didn’t mind, she generally just buried her nose further in whatever library book she was immersed in that day. She loved to lose herself in other worlds, it was her escape before she even realised what that meant.

Lexa, Anya, and their mom may have been poor but they loved each other and they were happy in their sweet, if a little shabby, home. Lexa liked being the baby of the family and she didn’t even realise how much easier that had made her life until she wasn’t the baby anymore. She watched her mom grow bigger with wide eyes and bright smiles, so in love with a person she hadn’t even met yet. She’d snuggle into her mom’s side on the couch every evening, her baby sister kicking her hand each time she smoothed it over her mom’s swollen stomach. Her heart thumped even harder than the baby’s kicks and she couldn’t believe her mom was clever enough to grow a person inside her!

The birth of Ontari drove a wedge between Anya and her family. She knew how much harder things were going to get, especially when Ontari’s dad never appeared, but Lexa found a new sense of pride and responsibility when she first laid eyes on the tiny baby sleeping in her mom’s arms.

That was the day everything changed for Lexa, it was the day that she learned of her duty to her family, and it was the day she realised that Anya wasn’t going to be the only one sharing anymore.

 

*

 

Although she was slower to harden than Anya, by the age of twenty-one Lexa was pretty much closed off to all but her family. Oh and her roommate Raven, she’d somehow managed to get herself an invite into Lexa’s rather exclusive clique too. Lexa couldn’t deny that the ever effusive Raven was incredibly observant, learning more about her than she even knew she had divulged. It was the longest time before Lexa realised that the two of them were friends and, actually, Raven had to point that fact out to her. So it was only those few people that ever really saw past Lexa’s cool and calm exterior and she quite liked it that way. They were probably the only people that really saw her at all, something else that didn’t bother her.

It was on a chilly Thursday in November during Lexa’s third year at college that things were set to start shifting in her usually calm life. She had just thrown her coat on and was about to head for the door, her bike helmet clasped in one hand, when her phone rang. She fished it out of her pocket and was greeted by a photo of a grinning woman with dark hair and green eyes on the screen. Unfortunately for her she was running ahead of schedule that day, much like most days, and she so she actually had a little time to talk. She sighed, knowing she couldn’t in good conscience ignore the call.

“Here we go,” she said to herself, resigned, and she answered, leaning against the door she had almost escaped from. “Hello?”

“You bought Aden new shoes?” Her mother’s unusually stern voice shot straight through her.

Busted.

She willed herself to be as tactful as possible going forward.

“Yes, his old ones were falling apart, Mom, he needed some new ones.”

She heard a sigh on the other end of the line. She understood that her mom felt guilty but her duty to her little brother outweighed her own guilt at overstepping with her family’s precarious financial situation. She knew when she bought the shoes that her mom wasn’t going to accept them easily and though she felt guilty every time she tried to help out with her siblings, she was powerless to resist. Her mom had a lot of pride but Lexa thought that perhaps eighteen years of struggling to raise kids alone was enough. She was an adult now and she wanted to help. And if maybe she could stop her brother and sister from getting teased the way she and Anya had, perhaps she could save them a lot of heartache.

She still remembered the time her mom couldn’t afford to replace her shoes when she was eight, the same age Aden was now. It had been winter and she’d had to walk to school each day with Anya. She’d always turn up with soaking wet socks and have to sit all day uncomfortable with freezing, sopping feet. She never told her mom because she hadn’t wanted to be a bother and she hadn’t wanted Aden to be one either.

“I know they were, Lexa, I was going to buy him some more after I get paid next week.”

“And now you don’t have to.”

“Lexa,” her mom warned.

“Mom, honestly, it’s fine.”

“It’s not fine, Lexa!” Lexa slunk across the room and threw herself onto the couch, slumping back into the slightly lumpy cushions. She put her helmet on her lap and braced herself for an argument. “You’re my child, I don’t expect you to help me out, I’ve got this under control. I’m better off now than I was with all four of you under my roof.”

“I just wanted to help, Mom. It’s OK to accept some help, you know? I’m working, I can afford it. I’m not a kid anymore.”

“You’ll always be my kid though and kids don’t need to buy stuff for each other. You should be spending that money on yourself or buying stuff for that little apartment of yours, I know it could do with some work.”

“My apartment is fine, Mom. Raven and I are happy with it the way it is. Aden’s shoes, however, were not fine.”

The line was silent for a moment, Lexa knew her mom wouldn’t be able to argue forever. She may have been a proud woman but she really did hate to see her kids go without. If Lexa had her way she’d help out a lot more but she knew it was pointless to even try.

“I’m going to pay you back next week.”

“And then I’ll just put the money you give me towards that new phone you promised Ontari when she broke hers the other week.” OK, so maybe she would always keep trying to help. Her siblings were her weakness and she thought that was alright.

“Lexa, please, just stop.”

“Mom, stop worrying, OK? I’m doing fine, just let me help you out sometimes. You gave me everything when I was a kid, let me help you do the same for Ontari and Aden.”

Her mom’s reply was quiet.

“I didn’t give you everything.”

Lexa traced her finger over a scratch on her helmet, awkward in the silence that fell between them. She pulled in a deep breath, taking extra care with her words.

“You gave me everything you could.”

For a second she thought she heard her mom sniff but then she spoke and her voice was steady and bright. Perhaps Lexa had been mistaken (she hadn’t been and they both knew it but she could pretend for the sake of her mother’s dignity).

“Thank you, Lexa. You come by and see us soon, OK? I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Mom, but I have to get to work now. Give the kids a kiss from me, yeah?”

“I’ll give Aden a kiss but I’m afraid Ontari is too cool to let her mom kiss her these days.”

Lexa let out a small laugh, shaking her head. Her mom was definitely right there.

“OK, I’ll pin her down myself when I come over. How’s Sunday?”

“Sunday’s perfect. And Lexa?”

“Yes, Mom?” Lexa braced herself, she knew what was coming.

“How’s your sister doing?”

Anya’s name wasn’t often used in the Woods household anymore. Ontari and Aden quickly learned not to ask about her or even mention her, they didn’t want to make their mom sad. Lexa wasn’t even sure when it was that she’d last heard her mom use it. (It was the day Anya left, Lexa realised later, it was after the argument. She could still hear her mom screaming at Anya’s slowly fading figure, each time her name reverberated around the neighbourhood it became more desperate, an unanswered plea that left their sobbing mother in a heap on the sidewalk.)

“She’s fine.”

“And she’s still out in Africa somewhere doing that house building thing?”

Lexa grimaced, glad her mom couldn’t see her. She hated being stuck in the middle.

“Yes.”

“Which country was it, again?”

“I’m not sure, she moves about a lot I think.”

“But you’re still keeping in contact?”

“Yes.”

“Good, good. I’m glad.” A pause. Lexa imagined her mom sat on the ageing couch and twirling her hair around her finger like she always did when she was feeling uncomfortable. The way her sigh cut through the space between them made Lexa sad. “Will you tell her I miss her?”

She always asked her to do that. Lexa had only done it once.

“I… I really have to go, Mom.”

“OK honey, sorry.”

“Bye, Mom.”

“Bye, Lex.”

Lexa hung up the call and dropped her phone to the couch, hands coming up to her face as she exhaled deeply. She sat and breathed for a minute, trying to ignore the way her stomach squirmed. She gritted her teeth and pushed the guilt down, grabbed her phone again, and sent a quick text to Anya.

 

I can’t keep lying to Mom for you.

 

Lexa was about to bike to work when she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket with Anya’s reply.

 

Just a little more time. Please, Lexa.

 

*

 

Lexa had been surprised to discover that she actually quite liked working at the bar at the edge of campus. She’d never really been a drinker herself, she was way too conscious of the fact that she was on a full academic scholarship at college to be so frivolous with her time, but she didn’t mind making drinks for other people. Due to the size of the college, and her relative anonymity being the work-focused hermit she was, not a lot of students recognised her. Occasionally she would see people she knew but often they didn’t know who she was. It didn’t particularly bother her, in fact it was kind of preferable to the few times when people from her classes had tried to make awkward small talk with her as she made them their various drinks.

Lexa was a loner and she liked it that way.

She had panicked at the start of the semester when her boss at the coffee shop had told her he needed to cut her hours but within a few days she’d managed to get herself a job at Sanctuary, one of the best hangouts that Arkadia University had to offer. Indra had been wary at first, Lexa had only just turned twenty-one after all, but she could be quite persuasive. She was quite a serious young woman and had learned well how to relate to adults seeing as though they were the people she had mainly associated with her whole life. Teachers always loved her, she had a way with them that she just didn’t with people her own age.

So Lexa was the youngest employee at Sanctuary and she was quite happy about that. She learned how best to deal with drunken young adults pretty quickly and she became very good at her job. On this particular Thursday night she had been working there for couple of months and, for some ineffable reason, Indra had decided to hire a new girl and disrupt Lexa’s carefully planned life.

It was about ten minutes before opening and Lexa was using her time to brace herself for the onslaught of energy that always erupted the moment those double doors opened and the students came pouring in. In her last blissfully unaware moments Lexa was wiping down the ageing wood of the bar, one of many charming features that compiled themselves into the rustic feel of this homey yet vibrant place. First she heard the soft footfalls of her boss and the slightly more cumbersome ones of her companion, next a voice bringing her the news she was reluctant to learn.

“Lexa, I’d like you to meet our new bartender,” Indra said in her usual serious tone that demanded immediate attention.

Lexa already felt anxious just knowing there was someone unfamiliar stood with Indra and she gulped hard, willing herself to be the sociable person she knew she could pretend to be. She pushed a polite smile onto her face, dropped the rag she had been cleaning with on the bar, and turned around.

Her smile dropped quicker than the rag when her eyes found a familiar face.

“This is Clarke, I just hired her this afternoon,” Indra told her, motioning to the gently smiling blonde next to her. “Clarke, this is Lexa.”

Clarke didn’t seem to recognise Lexa and it took all of her strength not to roll her eyes at her. Of course she didn’t recognise her. Sure, Lexa didn’t usually mind that people didn’t notice her so why did it sting a little this time?

Lexa considered pretending that she didn’t know who Clarke was, feigning ignorance would probably be the smart move here, but in the few seconds that Lexa hesitated she had a feeling that her face had given her away. There was something in Clarke’s expression that seemed to be questioning Lexa and that, plus the flash she felt when those vivid eyes locked with her own for the first time, made her tighten with unexpected nerves. She felt vulnerable somehow, exposed in that gaze, and she felt herself go on the offensive.

She couldn’t help the bitter way in which she replied.

“We’ve met, actually.”

Clarke had held her hand out to shake Lexa’s, an oddly formal gesture that only served to puzzle Lexa, but Lexa ignored it. At Lexa’s tone, Clarke clenched her hand into a fist and returned it to her side.

“We have?”

While at first Lexa had reacted harshly to defend herself against those piercing eyes, her irritation began to return as she thought about the reason why she knew Clarke. Something about this girl had rubbed her up the wrong way as soon as she’d first laid eyes on her a little over two months ago and perhaps that was what irritated her so much about the fact that Clarke didn’t recognise her. She felt safer in deciding that Clarke was merely annoying, it was better than thinking about the fact that Clarke unnerved her. She clung to that tightly.

“Well, we’ve never spoken to each other, exactly, but you’re in my Genetics class.”

Clarke cocked her head to the side, pretty blue eyes narrowing as she strained to remember. Lexa had not been able to tell what colour her eyes were before, the lecture hall was quite big and she tended to sit near the back. She conveniently ignored the fact that this was possibly why Clarke had never noticed her before.

“I am? I mean, I know I take Genetics but you’re in that class?”

Yes,” Lexa could feel herself getting more annoyed and she was grateful when Indra interrupted their awkward conversation.

“OK girls, sort that out on your own time. Lexa, you’re going to be showing Clarke the ropes tonight. You’re the same age so I’m hoping she’ll learn better from you… though judging by that interaction, perhaps not. Don’t kill each other, alright? I’ll be out back if you need anything.”

She gave a curt nod to both girls and left them, Clarke frowning at Lexa, her gaze much bolder than Lexa felt. She decided that her best course of action would be to ignore her past misgivings about Clarke and treat this purely as a business matter. Clarke, however, didn’t seem to want to follow her lead on that.

“OK, so you can just watch me at first, you’ll need to learn where we keep all of the drinks and how to mix certain cocktails, we only serve a select few but we have a menu somewhere you can study.”

“Great, more studying.”

Lexa grabbed the rag off the bar and handed it to Clarke, trying to ignore the way those eyes seemed to be watching her every move, a slight smile pulling at smug lips.

“Here, you can finish cleaning down the bar before we open in a minute.”

“It looks clean to me.”

“Just do it, Clarke.”

“Fine. This is probably why I don’t recognise you, you don’t seem like you’re much fun.”

Lexa ignored her comment, checking the cash register was filled with enough change to start them off for the night. She also ignored the childish pout on Clarke’s lips but she couldn’t help but notice it in her periphery. Lexa knew she was in trouble when Clarke’s quizzical expression returned.

“Do you go to many parties?”

“Clarke,” Lexa warned.

“What? It’s a simple question! I thought perhaps I might have seen you somewhere else and that it might jog my memory.”

“No, I don’t go to parties.”

“Right, right. Do you have any friends in our Genetics class? Maybe I know them.”

“I go to class to learn, not to make friends.”

“Figures,” Clarke said quietly as she wiped absently at the countertop.

“Excuse me?” Lexa bristled, it was definitely going to be difficult to ignore Clarke’s annoying nature.

“You know, if you’re as work-focused as you claim, I’m surprised you even noticed me,” Clarke said casually, passing behind Lexa to clean the other side of the bar. Lexa caught a whiff of something soft, perfume and perhaps a hint of laundry detergent. Apparently even annoying people could smell nice, something that just irritated her further.

“It’s hard not to notice someone that frequently distracts the majority of our class.”

Lexa couldn’t help but look over at Clarke to see how she reacted to her comment. A devious smile pulled at the corners of her mouth and Lexa just rolled her eyes.

“As far as I can recall, I’ve never been called out by the professor for disrupting the class so perhaps it’s just you I’m distracting, ever think of it like that?”

Damn it, this girl was good.

“Well whoever you’re distracting, it’s annoying.”

Clarke stopped cleaning and tilted her head again in that cute, curious puppy kind of way that Lexa had already decided she hated.

“I think maybe I was wrong about you, Lex.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Fine. Lexa.”

Lexa tried not to be curious, she tried not to ask what Clarke had been going to say, but she failed. She was weak.

“What were you wrong about?”

“I think maybe you actually are a lot of fun.”

Lexa frowned.

“You do?”

“Oh yeah,” Clarke said, smile setting Lexa on edge, “you seem so uptight and I think that trying to loosen you up and get you to actually react to things is going to make long nights working here a hell of a lot more fun.”

There was a darkness at the edges of Clarke’s playful expression that Lexa didn’t like. It was the only thing that stopped her biting back with what she would like to believe would have been a scathing response, though she really, really wanted to. She couldn’t believe Clarke’s audacity, she’s only been working there five minutes! Apparently she was just a game that Clarke wanted to play and Lexa was determined that she wasn’t going to lose. If she lashed out she’d definitely lose the upper hand and so she just sighed, wishing she hadn’t asked. Working with Clarke was already proving to be quite the battle.

Of course, she couldn’t know how different a battle she would soon be facing with Clarke.

While the way that Clarke had first interacted with Lexa had made her nervous, she was actually quite normal once the hoard of people came pouring in a few minutes later. Lexa had expected her to keep flashing her that grin that made her seem as if she were staring right past those walls that she liked to keep up but Clarke remained calm and attentive for the rest of the evening. She watched as Lexa showed her where they kept everything, nodding politely to show that she was listening. She was good with the customers, she noticed when things were beginning to run out, and she kept their little space behind the bar nice and tidy. Lexa couldn’t fault her and she was actually thinking that perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad working with Clarke after all. She’d made a snap judgement based on observations from afar, it was perfectly reasonable to think that perhaps she’d been wrong. Perhaps first day jitters had just made Clarke act all overly confident, perhaps she wasn’t going to spend her time trying to rile Lexa up after all.

Lexa wasn’t often wrong but, oddly, she hoped that she had been this time. Of course that was just because she wanted her work life to be as easy as possible, not because she actually wanted to like Clarke.

It was with a soft happiness humming through her body that Lexa left the bar that night. She always left her bike chained securely out the back and she went to retrieve it, tugging her gloves on as she went. Winter was settling deep into Arkadia, Lexa’s breath plumed out around her and she glanced up at the sky. She found it cloudless and dazzling with stars. Her lips twitched with the beginnings of a smile and suddenly there was someone at her side. Such was the calm inside her, it didn’t even startle her. She turned her head to look at who had fallen into step with her. It was Clarke.

“You did well today, Clarke,” Lexa said, offering a slight inclination of her head as they continued to walk.

“You sound surprised,” Clarke replied, raising her eyebrows a little.

“Not surprised, pleased. It’ll be good to have a little more help.”

“I’m glad I please you,” Clarke said seriously and Lexa couldn’t help it, she laughed. Clarke, however, didn’t.

“Uh, yeah, sure.” Lexa began to feel a little uncomfortable as her lone laugh echoed in the frosty air and she stopped walking, pointing over to her bike. “Anyway, I’m going this way so I’ll see you soon?”

“You can count on it,” Clarke replied, a smile returning to her lips.

There was something mischievous in that smile and the feeling that Clarke was delving into her soul with her eyes had returned. Lexa pretended to be focused on unlocking her bike but she watched Clarke walk away and get into a sleek, shiny car that she thought was probably blue, it was hard to tell in the orange glow of the streetlights. That uneasy feeling was back in her gut and she tried hard to push it down, she didn’t know Clarke well enough yet to know for sure if having her around was going to be a bad thing. She was a little concerned that she may have been right about her after all. Only time would tell.

Chapter Text

Lexa slept fitfully that night after going to bed as soon as she got in, only delaying her urge to crash for long enough to offer a polite greeting to Raven who was burrowed under a blanket on their couch with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. But a new day brought sunshine and a sense of normalcy back to her and she headed off to her first class of the day, arriving early as always. She settled happily in her usual seat at the back of the moderately sized lecture hall, preferring it when she was able to escape quickly at the end of class.

She was just straightening her notebook and assortment of different coloured pens on the little table in front of her when a familiar laugh cut through the bustling room. It was the laugh that had been plaguing her all semester, the slightly gravelly, very hearty laugh that had irritated her to her very core each time she heard it, each time it distracted her usually unshakeable train of thoughts. Her head snapped up that laugh, the annoyingly pretty laugh that belonged to the source of her frustration. But the odd thing was that this time it wasn’t annoyance that made her heart pound a little harder, instead its racing rhythm was accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach that ludicrously felt quite like nerves. Her eyes scanned the mass of her peers making their way to their seats and finally a flash of blonde caught her eye.

Clarke.

She’d forgotten all about her, a night of sleep and something new to focus on often worked that way with Lexa. She was nothing if not determined when it came to directing her attention to the most important things in her life, most of which were her classes these days. But there Clarke was again, Lexa’s one vice, the one thing that seemed to distract her like nothing else ever had. Perhaps she was becoming a dithering teenager after all, just a few years behind schedule. Wait, no, that couldn’t possibly be it. Clarke was just annoying, nothing more.

Anyway.

Clarke was stood in the aisle with a few girls that Lexa vaguely recognised as the ones that she was most often talking to and she was at such an angle that Lexa could just see her side profile. Vivid in a sky blue sweater, her bright hair glistened in the artificial light. An odd flutter in Lexa’s chest coincided with the realisation that Clarke’s sweater matched her eyes. She wouldn’t have known such a thing until last night, until actually being close enough to learn the colour of those eyes, and it gave her a thrill she couldn’t explain. Some people said that the eyes were the window to the soul but Lexa felt it was the opposite that was true. She wasn’t sure what was behind those gorgeous blue pools of mystery but she was pretty sure that they had the ability to bore right inside her and unearth her deepest, darkest desires or secrets. Or whatever interesting thing Clarke may or may not have been looking for in her. As it was, she was glad to be out of their gaze for the time being.

Admittedly, it was a little strange that Lexa kept feeling her eyes being pulled back to Clarke but it seemed she had quite the presence that was hard to ignore. Her slightly deeper voice seemed to travel, she was free with a laugh that was bold and contagious (if a little annoying when you’re trying to concentrate, of course), and even her hair, her smile, and her clothing choices were bright enough to travel to everyone in the room. Something about Clarke pulled people towards her and Lexa could hardly blame herself for giving the girl a little of her attention, she knew it wasn’t just her being drawn in so it wasn’t a big deal.

When Clarke’s head turned a little in Lexa’s direction as she greeted a guy that had just joined their group, Lexa felt her cheeks heat up. She fidgeted in her seat, played with her hair and let it fall in her face a little, unconsciously hiding from the face that had been briefly angled her way. Clarke didn’t notice her and Lexa wasn’t surprised, she’d never noticed her in class during the two months they’d both been in it, it figured she still wouldn’t notice her now. Not that she wanted Clarke to see her, of course. She leant down to rummage through her bag, figuring she could skim over the required reading again while she waited for the professor to appear. It was important that she used her time wisely, her courses were difficult and combining a heavy workload and two jobs meant that efficiency was key when it came to succeeding.

Once the class was underway, Lexa kept her eyes on a path between the professor and her notes, determined that she wasn’t going to be distracted. The smug smile Clarke had given her the night before when she’d said that perhaps it was only Lexa whose attention she diverted had Lexa wanting to prove a point. She was just being silly letting one annoying girl distract her from her education. Education was the most important thing and she really needed to be mindful of that.

As if she ever forgot.

While it was true that Lexa had always been a fiercely determined girl, around twenty minutes into the class she caught sight of Clarke again. It was purely by accident, of course. She’d knocked one of her pens onto the floor and her line of sight shifted as she righted herself from where she had bent down to pick it up again. Clarke was sitting a few rows from the front and off to the side of where Lexa was, perhaps half a dozen seats further to the right. A flash of surprise at the sight of her made Lexa take a deep breath in and she stifled it by pulling her lips into her mouth, feeling awkward. Seeing Clarke sat there leaning back in her chair with her head propped up on her hand had caught her off-guard, that’s all.

She watched Clarke’s left hand whizzing her pen across the page in front of her with impressive speed for someone who looked entirely relaxed in her demeanour. It was a few seconds before Lexa realised that Clarke was doing what she was supposed to be doing and she picked her pen up again, tearing her gaze away from pretty golden curls falling over that bold blue sweater and back to their ageing professor at the front of the class. Mostly she managed to maintain her attention but for some reason she found herself glancing back at Clarke every so often. She was still listening though, she was.

About halfway through the class Clarke’s pen stilled and she turned to look over her right shoulder. Lexa watched the way Clarke’s hair moved as she did so, the light rippling over the tumbling curls as the majority of them were thrown over the opposite shoulder. Lexa found herself wishing she had any artistic inclinations or talent at all because there was something quite gorgeous about that sight and it felt wrong that it hadn’t been captured and preserved. Clarke's focus returned to the front again and Lexa’s eyes followed suit but Clarke was still bright in her periphery.

A few minutes later Clarke looked over the other shoulder, this time towards Lexa. The movement had drawn Lexa’s eyes again but as soon as she saw Clarke facing her way she turned her gaze back to whiteboard on the front wall, feeling her cheeks heat up. She fidgeted in her seat, tried to concentrate on the drawl of their professor, tried to write down the important points of his endless speech, but Clarke’s slight movements were still filling up her mental capacity. Clarke was looking around, head moving slightly, eyes scanning wildly, and finally it happened. Clarke stilled, evidently having found what she was searching for, or at least something had won her attention. Lexa tried to focus on her notes but she was too curious, she just had to know what Clarke was looking at. It wouldn’t be her, that would be ludicrous, but she wanted to find out what it was that had captured Clarke’s eyes anyway.

Gripping her pen tightly in her slightly sweaty hand, she turned her head a fraction and allowed her eyes to fall on Clarke. Their gazes locked and there was that feeling again, that feeling of surprise, the tiny bolt of lightning that jolted her entire system. Annoying or not, intimidating or not, something about Clarke had Lexa intrigued. Curiosity was a natural human trait, she couldn’t be blamed. Clarke held her gaze for what seemed like at least a minute and though realistically Lexa knew it was far less than that, it was impossible to know for sure. (It was about five seconds but she would be forever convinced that it was longer.) Then Clarke’s previously unreadable expression softened and Lexa wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it but it seemed as if Clarke gave her a small smile before turning to face the front again.

Clarke didn’t turn around again for the rest of the class. Perhaps she’d found what she was looking for. Perhaps she was disappointed with it. Lexa wasn’t sure but she felt a little empty without those eyes on her which was strange, all they had done the night before was make her feel uncomfortable. But this time… this time she felt… seen.

 

*

 

Lexa considered not rushing out of class straight away once it was over like she usually did. She thought maybe she could just pack her stuff away slowly, catch Clarke as she was leaving or something. It would be the polite thing to do, wouldn’t it? Or maybe Clarke might come over to her and say hi, stranger things had happened! But ultimately Lexa decided just to bail, she’d see Clarke at work later, she didn’t actually need to talk to her. She tried to ignore the overwhelming reason why she headed off so quickly on her own; she was nervous. She didn’t want to be a bother or talk to Clarke if she was unwelcome so she just left, feeling a little foolish. Social interactions had never really been her strong suit and quite often when you’re bad at something, the easiest thing to do is avoid it. Not always healthy but sometimes much simpler.

Time dragged itself by on decrepit legs for the rest of the day. Lexa was relieved to finally get home that afternoon, she had been looking forward to studying from the comfort of the couch and away from prying eyes. But she was almost two hours in and she’d barely made a dent in her required reading. The time left before she had to go out to her shift at the bar was rapidly trickling away but she couldn’t seem to make that fact motivate her. Raven found her sat staring blankly at her textbook, at the same page that had been torturing her for the last ten minutes. Lexa had no idea what was wrong with her, it wasn’t as if she was plagued with too many thoughts, there was just a void in her mind making it hard to concentrate. Apparently words didn’t travel well in a thought vacuum.

It took Lexa a few moments to register that the familiar clacking sound on the thin, worn-away carpet was Raven’s cane. In fact, she didn’t really notice her roommate at all until she chucked her bag down on the couch next to her. Her eyes turned up just in time to see Raven grimace as she lowered herself down onto the other end of the couch.

“Dude, am I glad that week is over!” Raven said, shrugging her coat off awkwardly before looking expectantly over at Lexa.

“Mhmm,” was the only reply she received.

Raven threw her coat on top of her bag and tried again.

“How was your day? Anything exciting happen?”

Lexa’s eyes were back on her book, unmoving.

“Fine. No.”

Raven frowned, watching her friend for almost a full minute before huffing.

“Oh, my day was OK, thanks for asking!” Raven replied with mock enthusiasm, her tone saturated with sarcasm. “Hobbling back and forth across campus has truly fucked up my leg but at least I’ve got two days free of classes to rest it now!”

“Yeah, yeah. Good.” Lexa frowned at the page before looking up at Raven, her words finally eliciting a response from the void. “Wait, your leg is hurting again?”

Raven rolled her eyes.

“Of course that’s what you pay attention to.”

“What do you mean? If you’re experiencing more pain than usual you should definitely go back to your doctor. Remember he said you should-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know Lex, I was the one that went through the gruelling surgery to try and get rid of the pain last time. What’s up with you today, anyway? You’re more monosyllabic than usual.”

Lexa sighed and closed her book, allowing the topic of conversation to be diverted. Raven’s leg was a sensitive subject.

“I’m sorry,” Lexa said, making eye contact with Raven to show her that she really was paying attention this time. “I’m just a little spaced out today, that’s all. And I don’t mean to lecture you about your leg, I just worry.”

“I know you do, and I appreciate that.” Raven gave her a small smile and Lexa had to fight not to say more about the pain that Raven was clearly in. She looked tired beneath that smile, her brow was a little creased, her jaw clenched just the slightest bit. While Lexa couldn’t help but be concerned, she just had to trust that Raven would get it seen to if it really was a problem. Lexa knew it was always worse after a more active day, perhaps that’s all it was. “But enough about my problems, where’s your head at if it’s not here?”

“Nowhere, I just can’t focus. I think I’ll leave studying for the weekend.”

Raven’s jaw dropped and she gasped comically. She reached across the couch and put her hand on Lexa’s forehead.

“Well you don’t feel warm so your brain isn’t being cooked by a fever. Wait… You’re not Lexa, are you?!” She edged back to her side of the couch and narrowed her eyes, her expression darkening. “Who are you and what have you done with my roommate? What are you? An alien invader? A shapeshifter? Aha! I know.” She threw her finger in the air, a wide grin on her face. “You’re a spy! You’ve been sent to assess me and recruit me to the government’s top secret lab for building robots that will one day be smarter than us! I knew someone had to have noticed my genius by now!”

Lexa laughed, she couldn’t help but be endlessly amused by Raven’s goofiness and her ability to spout utter nonsense at top speed.

“You’re so weird. Honestly, it’s not that unusual for me to put off studying.”

“It’s completely unusual!”

“I’m entitled to an off day, I’m just not focused.”

“But focused is your middle name!”

“I don’t have a middle name.”

“I know that.”

Lexa smiled.

“I know you do, I’m not always as literal as I appear.”

“I know that too.” Raven slumped back into the couch cushions, using her hands to help move her leg gently as she got herself more comfortable. “Are you OK?” She asked, turning her head to look at Lexa, worry tugging at her features.

“I feel like I’m the one that should be asking that. Don’t worry about me, are you OK?”

“I’m fine.”

The smile on Raven’s face begged Lexa to believe her, to drop it and leave her be, but Lexa wasn’t fooled and her caring nature was difficult to smother. A lifetime of looking out for her whole family had left her with this need to take care of everyone around her and Raven definitely looked like she needed her. Besides, Lexa had learned a lot about Raven in the two years they’d lived together, she knew her friend was stoic but she also knew that she took better care of herself if she had someone encouraging her. She’d be grateful even if she’d never actually ask for help.

Lexa tried to be soft yet nonchalant as she spoke, like it wasn’t a big deal that Raven was struggling. Raven hated to seem weak.

“Have you taken anything for the pain today?”

Raven hung her head, looking sad. She pulled the sleeves of her sweatshirt over her hands and fiddled at their cuffs, refusing to look up as she answered quietly.

“No. I don’t want to rely on the meds too much.”

“And that’s good,” Lexa encouraged, trying to smile a little in case Raven got bored of staring resolutely at her sleeves and looked up again. “But if you’ve had a tough day, you need to take something otherwise you’re just going to run yourself down, OK?”

“OK.”

“I’ll get you some now,” Lexa said, getting up and heading over to the little kitchen at the far end of the room and rummaging around in their jumbled up box of first aid stuff and medicine.

Their apartment was small and a little run down but after having lived in a dorm room together for the first two years of college, having separate bedrooms and an open plan living room and kitchen was practically like having a mansion. Not to mention the luxury of a bathroom that wasn’t shared by a whole floor of students. In fact, this was the first time Lexa had a bedroom to herself since she was six years old. She was still working on filling up the space despite her room being on the smaller side of moderate.

She took two of the tablets out of their tub and ran a nice cold glass of water before heading back over to Raven, who finally looked up and gave her a slightly sheepish smile. It was a grateful smile that triggered a rush of warmth across Lexa’s chest, the protective warrior inside her satiated for the time being. She placed her hand on Raven’s head and smoothed it back over her hair, following her ponytail, curling it loosely around her fingers for a moment before letting her hand come to rest on a slowly relaxing shoulder. Raven took big gulps of water to wash the tablets down and sighed, letting the glass come to rest in her lap.

“Thanks, Lexa.” She seemed very interested in the bead of water making its way slowly down the outside of the glass but the lines in her face softened as Lexa watched, and that’s how Lexa knew she’d made the right call.

“No problem.”

She gave Raven’s shoulder a little squeeze before she moved to pick up the abandoned coat and bag on the couch. She was often picking up after Raven, a habit that had begun on their first week of college and one that had been long since ingrained in Lexa since her childhood living in a tiny house with too many people. Initially it frustrated Raven, she was quite happy living in disorganisation and she’d invariably ended up confused when she came back to the dorm and none of her stuff was in the same place. But she soon came to understand Lexa’s system and found it was easier just to let her be relentlessly tidy rather than fight with her about it. She also hated seeing Lexa twitch with irritation each time she came in to find their room a mess and how she’d mutter to herself as she struggled to keep herself from tidying. Living in such close proximity with someone definitely forced to you to tolerate their little quirks.

Their bedrooms led off the living room a little way behind the couch and Lexa put Raven’s stuff inside her room for her before coming to sit on the coffee table opposite her. On her bad days, often Lexa would help Raven take off her shoes because it hurt too much for her to bend forward. She knew today was one of those days and she also knew that Raven would be too proud to ask for help.

“Indra hired a new girl at the bar, she started last night,” Lexa found herself saying as she leaned down to untie Raven’s shoes. She hadn’t even realised that Clarke had been on her mind until the words escaped her. Raven leaned right back into the couch cushions, her gaze settling above Lexa but she sounded interested when she replied. Raven was always interested when Lexa spoke but especially when it was of her own volition, it wasn’t often she said much without prompting.

“Oh God, she’s not as useless as last month’s attempt at a new hire, is she?”

Lexa looked up, caught Raven’s grin, and smiled as well, despite the memory of the previous hopeless guy.

“I’m not even sure that would be possible.”

She was definitely better than the fumbling idiot who had dropped four glasses in one night, forgot all the orders, and instead of asking the customer to repeat themselves just made it up. Clarke’s competency made up for her irritating nature. Just about, anyway.

“So?” Raven looked down at her expectantly when she didn’t immediately elaborate.

“So?”

“So she’s not that useless but is she any good?”

“Seems like she could be.”

“That’s good!”

“I guess.”

“You guess?”

Lexa finished pulling Raven’s shoe off and finally looked properly at her friend.

“There’s something about her that’s a bit…”

Raven gave her a questioning look when she faltered, unsure how to describe Clarke.

“Oh no, what did she do? Ooo, wait, is she hot? You wanna ask her out? Aww is that why you’ve been so quiet? Little Lexa’s got a crush!”

“No, Rae, jeez,” Lexa almost sighed out and she let out an exasperated laugh, feeling slightly uncomfortable. She’d never liked talking about her love life, or lack thereof. Not that Clarke was remotely anything to do with her love life. But Raven’s assumption had her flustered anyway, even if it was just a joke. “I think she’s going to be a pain in the ass, to be honest. She’s in one of my classes and she’s always so loud, laughing and talking and stuff when I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Oh no, she’s clearly the spawn of Satan and she must be stopped! Laughing and talking? What is this madness?”

“You’re being weird again.” Lexa frowned and Raven just laughed.

“You’re such a little nerd.”

Lexa pouted like she was offended but that warm feeling was back again, the kind that you get sometimes when you’re happy in the company of family.

 

*

 

“I saw you in class earlier.”

Lexa had been performing her usual pre-opening bar clean when Clarke came up behind her, startling her slightly. She whipped around, heart hammering from the sudden interruption.

“You did?”

Clarke looked a little windswept, her curls just a touch more haphazard than usual, but she definitely made it work for her. She gave Lexa a slightly sceptical look.

“You didn’t see me? I’m pretty sure you were looking right at me.”

Stupid, Lexa chastised herself, she’s not attacking you. Don’t lie.

“I… Oh yeah, I noticed you briefly.”

“Yeah, I thought so. I was looking for you.”

“You were?”

“Well yeah, I wanted to see if you really were in my Genetics class.”

“What, you thought I was lying?” Lexa frowned at Clarke, her surprise at the implication drawing her eyes to Clarke’s but they evaded hers almost instantly. And if Lexa wasn’t mistaken, perhaps there was a hint of colour coming to her cheeks too.

“No, of course not. I just meant… I hadn’t noticed you before, it’s a big class. I just wanted to check for myself,” Clarke told her, nodding to herself, seemingly satisfied with her own answer. Her gaze grew bolder again.

“Sure, OK.”

“I was going to come and say hi but you were gone so quickly I didn’t get the chance.”

“Oh, you were?” Lexa tried to act as nonchalant as possible, tried to quell the way her brain was screaming at her that she should have waited for Clarke after all. But she hadn’t needed to see Clarke, she hadn’t wanted to see Clarke, had she? Why was she being so weird? She fumbled and tried to crawl back from her rapidly spiralling thoughts. “I-I had to get across the campus for my next class, uh, sorry.”

“No problem,” Clarke shrugged, a smile perhaps indicating that she was enjoying Lexa’s awkwardness.

At least someone was.

Lexa fidgeted some more, fiddling with the rag in her hands.

“I’m sure we’ll be spending a lot of time together from now on anyway,” Clarke continued.

“We will?”

“Yeah, Indra’s put me on all of your shifts.”

“She has?”

“Yep, I imagine she'll tell you about it later, she caught me before I left last night. She said she thinks we’ll make a good team.”

“Hmm.”

“You don’t think so?” Clarke raised an eyebrow at her, the muscular control something Lexa herself was unable to impose over her own face and she followed the movement instead of meeting Clarke’s eyes.

“I barely know you, Clarke. Perhaps we will.”

Silence hung between them for an uncomfortable amount of seconds and Lexa finally forced herself to meet Clarke’s gaze again. As she did so Clarke smiled, her eyes boring into Lexa’s for a moment before they looked her up and down. She licked her lips and took a step closer to Lexa.

“Oh I’m pretty sure we will.”

She took another step closer.

It was a bit too close really. Lexa could see the way the light danced in the gentle waves of Clarke’s irises. It was pretty, she was pretty, and that was a problem.

Clarke reached her hand out towards Lexa and, because Lexa was a self-proclaimed bumbling idiot, she went to step back and bumped into the bar, panicking a little when she realised there was nowhere to go. She was trapped and Clarke moved closer still, letting out a pretty laugh at Lexa floundering in her current predicament. If bright blue eyes could be considered dark then that was the perfect way to describe them, though her smile was definitely darker. Clarke’s index finger skimmed a pale, clenched fist and Lexa inhaled sharply, heart thumping throughout her entire body. Everything seemed to speed up suddenly when Clarke’s smile widened and she tugged at the rag in Lexa’s vice-like grip.

“I’ll clean the bar down, yeah?”

Lexa let go and Clarke blissfully backed off, smile still hanging smugly on her lips.

“Uh, yeah, OK.”

And just like that Clarke’s expression was light again, her smile soothing, and Lexa was almost starting to think she’d imagined the strange charged energy that Clarke had been exuding before. She was probably just building up all of this in her head because she was hopeless around pretty girls. It was probably time to admit that Clarke’s attractiveness was becoming a factor in Lexa’s awkwardness here, as reluctant as she was to do so.

Whether or not she was imagining this tension, Lexa was even more curious about Clarke after this point. She was quite the mystery, sometimes reeling Lexa in with her charm, other times causing her to bristle and resist if she hit the wrong buttons (or the right ones when considering Clarke’s little game, of course).

Being in close proximity to Clarke, while intriguing, still refused to let Lexa forget why she had found Clarke irritating in the first place. She knew Clarke’s cheekiness was part of her charm but when she just wanted to get through the evening and go home, it was then that it really grated on her.

But Lexa’s annoyance shifted over the two weeks of working with Clarke before the Thanksgiving break. It was less of her being annoyed by specific things Clarke did (often she knew that Clarke was doing these things deliberately just to get a rise out of her and she wasn’t giving in on that front) and it became more about the fact that Clarke just seemed a little too perfect.

Lexa felt she was a realist in life and that she saw herself in a fairly truthful light. She wasn’t hampered by ridiculously low self-esteem like she knew a lot of girls her age were, nor did she have an over-inflated ego and sense of self-importance. She knew she was clever but that she had to work very hard to be so, she knew she was at least moderately attractive (though of course that was partly subjective), and she knew she came across as a little cold to most but also that was just how she was. The realist in Lexa couldn’t help but be a little annoyed by Clarke because she just seemed to have so many good qualities. After one particularly gruelling shift in which Clarke had been in an extraordinarily determined mood, managing to make Lexa blush at least once an hour, Lexa found herself laying in bed staring at her ceiling and watching the shadows of tree branches waving in the wind and thinking about Clarke.

They say God doesn’t give with both hands but Lexa was starting to believe that God, if he in fact existed, must have had at least six. It was no wonder Clarke was so good at drawing people in. Lexa could hardly be blamed for being one of them.

Six shifts in to their newfound partnership and Lexa had finally got to the point where she could admit that yes, Clarke was attractive. Somehow her DNA created features that blended together in such a way that made her pleasant to the eye. Perhaps it was facial symmetry, Lexa had read studies about how symmetrical faces were rated as more attractive during her brief dip into Psychology in her first year. Of course, she couldn’t be sure that this was the case without more investigation and that would definitely make her seem a little odd, not that she cared what Clarke thought of her. Perhaps it was the beautiful blend of striking blue eyes and shimmering golden hair that looked good no matter if it was softly curled at the beginning of a shift or in messy disarray after a long night dealing with drunken idiots. Maybe it was her smile that lit up every one of her rather elegant features or the spark of mischief that often coloured her expression. Lexa wasn’t sure what it was exactly but even though she had tried to ignore the fact for a while, she had to finally accept that Clarke was pretty, perhaps even gorgeous.

Even more grudgingly, Lexa had to admit that Clarke was funny. It seemed to be Clarke’s objective to get a rise out of Lexa and her main weapon was humour. The longer they spent together, the harder Lexa was finding it not to laugh at Clarke’s goofiness. Though sometimes it didn’t make her laugh; sometimes it made her smile because Clarke was actually kind of adorable. The first time she got Clarke to make a cocktail on her own Lexa got this weird pang inside her as she watched Clarke bite at her lip as she held tightly to the cocktail shaker, flashing worried yet amused eyes at Lexa as she began to shake. While she initially seemed concerned she’d spill it everywhere, she soon became more confident and grinned adorably. Once she’d made a few, Clarke began to do a little shimmy as she shook her cocktails, her eyes always seeking Lexa out to see if she was amused. She was, God help her. She was. But Clarke’s humour wasn’t always the cute and silly kind, sometimes it was sultry, sarcastic, or teasing. The main reason for this much darker humour seemed to be to make Lexa squirm as much as possible, to make her uncomfortable or embarrassed. Clarke’s voice would deepen when she was like this, her smile was slyer, she was annoying with it and yet kind of irresistible at the same time.

While sometimes Clarke’s humour was dorky and kind of lame, like when she told totally juvenile jokes to the customers sometimes, mostly her wit was sharp; she was clearly very clever. Her hand often went up in class and her answers were clear, concise, and almost always correct. She was bold and confident, she was well-liked by pretty much everyone whether they be colleagues, customers, students, or teachers, and she was actually a really hard worker. She was able to be an attentive and friendly bartender while still keeping a lot of her attention on Lexa, something that she found disconcerting and yet oddly thrilling at the same time.

So yes, things were changing. Clarke wasn’t quite the annoying person that Lexa had first judged her to be, she was just a little annoying because really she was actually kind of awesome. Lexa was a little jealous… and maybe a little of something else.

That other thing was something she was definitely still in denial about.

 

*

 

Lexa had accepted that she was kind of boring a long time ago. She could most often be found studying or with her head deep in a book, lost in a kind of excitement she had never known in real life. Reality wasn’t overly thrilling and neither was she and that was OK. But, for some completely ludicrous reason, Clarke’s attention was often diverted her way during their shifts. It had Lexa kind of perplexed. She had forgiven herself for being a little entranced by Clarke, she was the very epitome of interesting after all, but Clarke’s strange fixation with her didn’t make the slightest bit of sense. It gave her an odd thrill and somehow made her a little uncomfortable at the same time.

So Lexa was trying her best to act normally despite having the attention of someone so outgoing and confident on her and, suffice it to say, it wasn’t going to well. She spent a great deal of her time being a confusing mix of flustered and exhilarated, and she was finding it rather exhausting. While usually she was the queen of the cool and unfazed, every night for those first two weeks she ended up blushing profusely at some point during their shift. Despite the low lighting in the bar, she knew Clarke could tell that she was having an effect on her which annoyed Lexa more, in turn just making her redder. Somehow Lexa had lost her Zen and Clarke was definitely to blame.

It started off with seemingly innocent probing into Lexa’s life, which she skilfully navigated through years of practise at being closed off, but soon Lexa wasn’t even sure what Clarke’s intentions were anymore.

“Clarke, you shouldn’t flirt with the customers,” Lexa said in as unaffected a voice as she could muster with the irritation that was crawling through her skin. It was their final shift before the Thanksgiving break and while Lexa knew Clarke was good with the customers, she didn’t always agree with her methods. That was a consequence of them being fundamentally different people, she supposed.

“I’m not flirting,” Clarke said, flashing a smile to the guy she had just served and turning to Lexa, putting a hand on her hip.

(It was a nice hip, quite the intoxicating curve… But wait, Lexa was being stern, she was.)

“Oh please, you just giggled at that guy’s joke.”

Clarke rolled her eyes but didn’t seem overly affronted by the harsh edge to Lexa’s tone. Indra seemed quite happy to leave Lexa to it when it came to training Clarke so who was going to tell her this kind of thing if Lexa didn’t? But Clarke was proving to be strong willed, only making Lexa more determined to mould her into the perfect bartender.

“It’s called being friendly, Lexa, you should try it sometime,” Clarke replied, her voice annoyingly pretty in her amusement.

“I am friendly!” Lexa bristled, crossing her arms across her chest.

Way to not let her get to you, Lexa.

A devastatingly devious smile claimed Clarke’s lips and she checked the bar to make sure no one was waiting on them before stepping a little closer to Lexa.

“You’re polite, not friendly. There’s a difference.”

“I don’t need them to be my friends, Clarke.”

“I’m not saying you need to make them your friends. I just mean that it doesn’t hurt to be friendly.”

“I’m polite, I smile, I give them what they want, what else am I supposed to do?” Lexa hated how exasperated she sounded and how she couldn’t help but watch Clarke’s surprisingly delicate-looking hands gesticulate as she replied.

“You can talk to them a little if they want to talk to you.”

“I don’t want to talk to them.”

Clarke let out a rather musical laugh and Lexa clamped her teeth hard against it. She was not going to break.

“Of course you don’t. Anyway, my point is that being friendly pays off. Literally. I get some good tips.”

“I get good tips!”

“But they’re not as good as mine.”

Lexa sighed, looking around and wishing someone would come and interrupt them. She was losing, she knew she was, and that feeling settled uncomfortably inside her.

“It’s not a competition, Clarke.”

“That’s a good thing for you because you’d be losing if it were.”

Lexa rolled her eyes, deciding it was time to give up. Determined to have the last word, she straightened up and used her most authoritative voice, the one she used on her siblings when they were misbehaving.

“Don’t flirt with the customers, Clarke.”

Lexa was relieved when she noticed a group of girls headed their way and she turned back towards the bar, effectively ending the conversation. Apparently Clarke wasn’t privy to the social cues that Lexa was displaying, or she’d decided to just ignore them, and she followed Lexa. Evidently she wasn’t quite ready to back down yet and she came to stand right next to her, leaning in a little to speak once Lexa had finished serving the girls.

“Just the customers or…”

Lexa flicked her eyes over to Clarke, keeping her head straight so as to appear uninterested.

“What?”

“Is it just the customers that I’m not allowed to flirt with?”

Lexa could feel the colour rising in her cheeks and she bit at her lip to try and reign in the sheer embarrassment clawing at every particle of her being. This was ridiculous, she was ridiculous, and just when she was getting ready to combust in her discomfort she was startled by Clarke letting out a brash laugh.

“Jeez, you are too easy,” Clarke said, eyes twinkling with mischief. Lexa clamped her teeth down hard, trying to loosen her clenched muscles and appear unfazed. Unfortunately, the way Clarke looked at her just made her feel even hotter. Her face was still close, her gaze wandering, and Lexa forced herself not to look at her. Hot breath tickled her ear and Lexa’s stomach nose-dived as she realised that Clarke had stepped even closer. Her voice was soft and raspy in all of the right, and completely frustrating, ways when she spoke. “Well, I don’t know if you’re easy. Though I guess if I flirt as much as you think I do then I might find that out some day.”

Lexa considered high-tailing it out of there in the second that immediately followed her entire body being engulfed in flames but, luckily for her, Clarke stepped back and Lexa couldn’t help the breath of relief she let out at being relinquished from Clarke’s metaphorical yet powerful hold. Clarke gave her a wink before heading over to some giggling girls loitering at the far end of the bar, leaving her to her mortification. She couldn’t stop thinking about Clarke’s implications and her mind seemed to whir with the thought that perhaps Clarke wanted to flirt with her. It would only be to make her uncomfortable though, right? Just another part of her game. It wouldn’t be about trying to deepen their relationship… It wouldn’t really mean anything.

She tried to convince herself of that for the next couple of hours, tried to ignore the way Clarke looked at her and the way her fingers tingled when they both went to reach for the same glass and their skin brushed. She tried so hard, she really did, but during another lull her stupid thoughts escaped from her equally ridiculous mouth.

“So do you flirt with the customers to get tips?”

A big part of Lexa wanted to transform into a dust mote flying blissfully free in the air when Clarke turned to look at her but a strangely overwhelming part really wanted the answer to that question so she didn’t try to take it back. She knew she that should drop the subject, and that she shouldn’t have brought it up again, but something about Clarke kept her wanting to know more. She was becoming a frustrating mystery that Lexa needed to figure out. Lexa had always had a thirst for knowledge, ever since she was a tiny kid asking Anya endless questions as soon as she knew how to form sentences.

“I’m not flirting,” was Clarke’s kind of disappointing reply. Dissatisfied, Lexa resumed her uncharacteristic probing. It didn’t usually fall to her to pry into people’s motivations, it was normally her being the indecipherable one and others trying to get her to open up.

“Well, whatever it is you’re doing, is it for tips?”

Clarke didn’t look offended by the question which Lexa found herself relieved at, hearing her words she realised it was kind of an asshole thing to insinuate. Clarke simply looked curious, her head tilted a little to the left, her expression appearing thoughtful if a little subdued.

“Contrary to your life experiences, some people actually enjoy interacting with others,” Clarke told her, tone unreadable.

A silence engulfed them, well as much of a silence that could exist amongst the hum of music and the chattering of drunken strangers anyway. It just gave Lexa’s curiosity time to grow.

“You talk the same way to guys and girls, did you know that?”

“Am I supposed to talk to them differently?”

Lexa shrugged, unsure of where she was going with the conversation. She hadn’t really made this observation until the second before the words escaped her and it widened the chasm of her curiosity. She grew more confident in the fact that Clarke hadn’t shut her down.

“You do that cute little thing where you tilt your head as if you’re really listening, you make eye contact, sometimes you even giggle and they all seem to love it, regardless of gender. I reckon you’ve made a few girls question their sexuality with your charm, Clarke.”

One of Clarke’s eyebrows rose but Lexa was too thrilled by her discovery to realise that she’d kind of complimented her unintentionally. If Clarke was pleased by Lexa’s observations, she didn’t show it.

“I have a way with people, what can I say.”

“Evidently you do.”

“So you’ve been watching me?”

And with that Lexa was forced to focus back on herself. She was thrust back to reality, back to being a flustered mess instead of hiding in the objectivity that came with her relentless need for information.

“Oh, well, it’s important I evaluate your progress in this job.”

“Oh yeah? Sounds more like you’re trying to work out what kind of people I like to flirt with.”

Lexa wasn’t sure she liked the way Clarke’s smile shifted, it was a little too knowing.

“You said it’s not flirting,” she combated, trying to put up her defences.

“It’s not but you think it’s flirting.”

“What’s your point?”

“You’re trying to figure me out.” Clarke looked a little too delighted by this fact and Lexa had definitely lost the upper hand in the conversation.

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve seen you watching me sometimes, you’ve got quite the intense stare going on.”

“I do not,” Lexa huffed, trying with all of her might not to appear as embarrassed as she felt. That was why she didn’t like to question people’s motives, it only ever got her into trouble.

“Hey, you’re only human. I know I’m nice to look at.” Clarke stuck her tongue out between her teeth in a cheeky gesture that was a lot sexier than Lexa had expected to find it.

“I’m not-”

God, she had completely lost the power here and she was mentally throwing herself in the trash with all of the other garbage for being so foolish.

“Hey now, don’t go all defensive on me. Like I said, you’re too easy. And definitely fun.”

Lexa huffed at Clarke’s obvious enjoyment of her discomfort. She ran a hand through her hair and knelt down to face up the bottles of drink in the little fridge behind them, grateful for a reason to divert her attention and for the cool air on her unusually warm cheeks.

“I don’t mind, you know,” Clarke said from behind her.

“Mind what?”

Lexa swivelled round, still crouching awkwardly in front of the open fridge. The angle afforded quite the different perspective of Clarke’s face, her features were thrown into semi-darkness, and it harshened her usually soft angles. Somehow Lexa felt as if she were some lowly peasant worshipping an almighty, albeit rather judgemental, queen and so she stood up again, feeling nervous as Clarke looked her up and down.

“I don’t mind you looking at me.”

Lexa tried to think of a witty comeback, tried to think of anything at all that wouldn’t make her sound like the fool she clearly was, but the best she could do was give a pained smile before turning back around and crouching in front of the fridge.

But of course that wasn’t embarrassing enough.

In her haste to distract herself from her awkwardness by rearranging bottles, her fumbling hands knock one over and it tumbled to the floor with a resounding crash as it shattered. The sound jolted Lexa into action and she practically sprinted out back to get a dustpan and brush but she wasn’t fast enough to avoid hearing Clarke’s reaction to her mortifying lack of cool.

“Smooth, Woods, real smooth.”

Clarke’s cackle echoed around Lexa’s mind for the rest of the evening.

Idiot.

She was suddenly very grateful that she wouldn’t see Clarke for another six days.

Chapter Text

Most kids have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up. It’s not always realistic nor is it often what they actually end up becoming but there’s usually something to which they aspire. Sometimes it’s a wistful dream, sometimes it’s just an interest that dulls with age. Occasionally it becomes their driving force. But kids are fickle, their minds limitless, and they want so many things before the real world constricts them.

Take Lexa as an example.

Lexa was completely enamoured by space back when she was just a small ball of questions and wild curls. Her grandpa used to watch all of these documentaries about stars and planets and solar systems when they were over at his place and that was what sparked her interest in science initially. She would sit pressed up close to his frail arm, completely fascinated by the possibilities of the universe. She quickly decided that when she was as big as her mom that she was going to be an astronaut. And she wasn’t just going to go into space or visit the moon, she was going to go all the way to Neptune.

Neptune was Lexa’s favourite planet and she’d often lose herself thinking about how cool it would be to go there, Earth was boring compared to Neptune. Neptune didn’t have mean kids or broccoli so it seemed like the perfect place to tiny Lexa who sometimes just wanted to get away. She even planned all of the things she’d take with her like her books and her lion, and she’d obviously have to convince Anya to go with her, even if she was annoying sometimes.

Of course, age and the accompanying knowledge she gathered shattered that dream. With time it occurred to her that it wasn’t really possible to go to Neptune, that it took Voyager 2 around twelve years to get all that way and actually that seemed a little lengthy to a kid who had barely lived half of that time. Not to mention the fact that it was a gas giant so she’d never actually be able to stand on it, which kind of ruined the fun. Also, Lexa wasn’t so thrilled about the idea of dealing with the extreme cold and terrifyingly fierce hurricanes that were known to ravage the planet. She’d probably miss her family too. Anya would definitely not come with her, she had asked.

So Lexa’s dreams for her future changed and she found a multitude of other careers she wanted to pursue throughout her childhood. By the time she reached high school everything was starting to seem a little harder and a whole lot scarier. The future was much more daunting the closer it got. But Lexa’s thirst for knowledge kept her going and she hoped it would ultimately guide her through her uncertainty.

While most kids had these big and often fantastical dreams, Lexa’s younger sister Ontari had only ever wanted to be one thing. Well, one person. The only thing she ever really wanted to be was her big sister Lexa. There was a six year age difference between the two of them and Lexa was at least three times warmer towards Ontari than Anya was so she very quickly became the favourite sister. Of course their mom was Ontari’s first port of call when she was very young but once she had to go back to work and the kids were back with their grandpa, Lexa become Ontari’s number one. Lexa did everything for her because her grandpa struggled, she was nothing if not dutiful. She wore her responsibility like a badge of honour, she was a big sister and she wanted nothing more than to be the best for Ontari.

Anya couldn’t stand it when Ontari cried so it fell to Lexa to stop her, to play games with her, to feed her, and give her piggy back rides, whatever it took to keep that surprisingly powerful set of lungs from disturbing their big sister (who Lexa was still a little in awe of). Lexa began to learn how different being a big sister was from being a little sister. She understood the way Ontari looked up to her because she herself often marvelled at Anya’s brilliance and she managed to excuse it in times when it became annoying.

As Ontari grew to be a small child and started making decisions for herself, it became very clear that she was moulding herself after Lexa. Ontari’s hair was the same shade of brown as Lexa’s and their mom’s but it fell straight and was much thinner than Lexa’s thick and slightly wild mane of curls. Ontari began pleading Lexa to braid her hair for her every night before bed and she’d grin to herself happily in the morning when she’d wake up, take her braids out in front of the mirror, and see her hair hanging wavy over her shoulders.

The fact that Ontari and Lexa shared a room only intensified Ontari’s ability to copy her big sister. It was a tiny three bedroom bungalow that the Woods clan lived in and for a while it had been an OK size for them. But then when Ontari came into the picture, it became very clear that two of the girls were going to have to share. Lexa would have quite liked to share with Anya but Anya made it very clear that she wasn’t going to share with anyone. While this made Lexa a little sad, she understood and thought perhaps it would be better if Anya had her own room. She was a difficult kid sometimes, even Lexa who was often blinded by her love and admiration of her sister could see that.

So Lexa agreed to let Ontari share her room with her and they made it work. It helped them to grow really close but it also facilitated Ontari’s copying. She didn’t want to wait to grow into Lexa’s hand-me-downs, she wanted to wear the clothes Lexa grew out of as soon as she stopped wearing them. There was apparently no fun in wearing the old ones she hadn’t been around to see Lexa wearing when she was younger. She often came strolling out of their room in too-big t-shirts that hung almost to her knees, a book tucked under her arm, her hair wavy in its post-braid glory, and Lexa would just smile at her. Sure, she was mimicking her quite well and it was cute. For a while. When Lexa began to edge towards her teenage years it wasn’t so cute anymore. But, ever the dutiful sister, she put up with it. After all, they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery… Or her mom did anyway when she confessed after Ontari had gone to sleep one night that she was getting a little tired of being followed around all the time. It was hard to focus on her homework sometimes when Ontari would sit right next to her at the table in the kitchen doing her colouring, constantly peering over at Lexa and mirroring her every movement.

These behaviours carried on throughout Ontari’s childhood and the only real break Lexa got from it was when she was at school. Sharing a bedroom was harder than she had ever anticipated and she was somewhat relieved that she never really had any friends to bring home with her. Sure, she had kids that she liked to sit next to in class but they were never really close. Not until Lexa met Costia. But Costia was different, she was special. Costia’s house was big enough for Lexa to stay at a lot so it wasn’t too bad. Not that Ontari liked that too much.

Now Lexa always knew she liked girls, it wasn’t a fact that overly alarmed her or worried her. It’s just the way she was, kind of like how she had brown hair and green eyes. Of course it wasn’t as obvious as aesthetics but her family figured it out pretty early on. Lexa was sure that the first rainbow flag of suspicion was raised one day when she was in the third grade and she came home very upset that her teacher was getting married. She had cried to her mom that she didn’t like that Miss Wilde was getting married because she wanted to marry her one day. Her mom had just laughed, cuddled her in tight, and told her she was sure she’d find the right person to marry one day. And maybe that person wouldn’t be twenty years older than her. Lexa had told her, in between sobs, that age didn’t matter. So yes, her family knew she was gay for a long time and that lead to one of the funniest events in the whole Ontari-copying-Lexa saga. It was a memory that the now teenage Ontari found utterly mortifying. God help Lexa if she ever brought it up.

Ontari had gone to a party at a friend’s house during the summer before Lexa moved away to college. She was so excited and she had bounced up and down in front of Lexa for an impressive amount of time trying to convince her to help her get ready. Lexa was happy to do it, she just found her sister to be rather entertaining and left her hanging for a bit, enjoying watching her in her enthusiasm. Ontari was starting to grow up and Lexa found herself savouring these innocent moments of childhood that were still occurring, very aware that they would begin to taper off soon enough. Lexa didn’t feel as if Ontari was really old enough for makeup but she agreed to help her put some on anyway, someone needed to show her how to do it and somehow it seemed like her place to do so. She’d taught Ontari a lot in her life. Anya taught Lexa, Lexa taught Ontari, that’s how it seemed to go in their family. Come to think of it, she wasn’t sure who taught Anya. Perhaps their mom, it wasn’t always so bad between them.

Lexa found herself looking forward to Ontari coming home that night and gushing about the party but instead she shuffled into their room quietly and went straight to bed. She barely spoke for the next two days. Lexa and her mom were incredibly worried about her and finally Ontari decided to break her silence.

“Lexa, can I talk to you?”

Lexa had been sat on her bed reading, knees to her chest and face mere inches from the pages of her book as another world danced in her mind, captivating her completely. It had taken a moment to pull herself out and she really wanted to tell Ontari to leave her alone but the look on Ontari’s face when she finally tore her eyes from the page had her agreeing straight away. She moved to sit on the edge of her bed and put her book down, trying to show she was completely open to whatever her sister had to say to her.

“Of course, Tari, what’s up?”

Ontari let out a sigh loaded with troubles that seemed far beyond her years and sat on her own bed facing Lexa. Her legs hung off the side and they were wiggling incessantly as the nerves chewed at her.

“I… Something happened. At the party.”

“OK…”

“I kissed someone.”

Lexa was surprised, for sure. To her Ontari was just her baby sister, she was only twelve! But before long she would be thirteen and she was just a few weeks from starting middle school, Lexa reminded herself. As much as Ontari wanted to be like Lexa, at a fundamental level she just wasn’t. She was definitely more interested in the social aspects of her schooling, it shouldn’t have been surprising that she reached this milestone long before Lexa had in her own life.

“Oh yeah?” Lexa tried to act as casual as possible to lighten the mood for the very obviously stressed Ontari, she wanted to help relieve the tension in her in any way she could.

“Yeah.”

Ontari was staring resolutely at her knees, her hands tucked under her legs, her hair hanging limp and unusually straight in front of her face. When it seemed clear that Ontari needed a nudge to keep talking, Lexa spoke.

“OK… Was it bad? Good? Is this why you’ve been so quiet?”

“Yeah, I guess. It was… I don’t know”

“Do you want to tell me who it was that you kissed?”

Ontari shook her head.

“No, I mean, yeah. But I don’t want you to freak out.”

“I’m not going to freak out, you can tell me anything, you know that.”

“It was just a stupid dare,” Ontari told her knees; Lexa could barely hear her she was speaking so quietly. “You knew you were gay when you were really young, right?”

Lexa’s heart started to beat harder. Oh God, was Ontari about to come out to her? It hadn’t gone too well when it had been Anya’s turn to figure herself out, Lexa wasn’t sure it was going to go so well this time either. But she was getting ahead of herself, she was going to stay calm. Lexa had kind of become like the unofficial therapist for her family over the years, the sounding board that was often the voice of reason, she was definitely the calmest and most collected out of the four of the women in the house. Aden was the only one that didn’t cause any drama and that was because he was only six and had finally got over his penchant for tantrums.

“Yeah, I did.” Honesty seemed like the best way forward in this situation.

“And you were sure when you first kissed a girl, right? Like it made sense? You kissed her and you were like oh yeah, I’m gay.”

Lexa shrugged.

“I guess so but I kissed a girl for the first time a long time after I’d got used to the idea that I was gay. It doesn’t always work that way.”

“It doesn’t?” Ontari finally looked up.

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Oh.” Ontari fidgeted where she was sat for a few seconds, chewing on her lip, obviously very uncomfortable. “I kissed a girl, Lexa.”

And there it was.

Lexa gave Ontari a soft, encouraging smile.

“Hey, that’s OK. It doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to. It was a dare, right? It doesn’t define you. Or if it made something clearer then that’s OK too.”

“I just… I’ve been having these feelings lately and I wasn’t sure about them but now…”

“It’s OK, you can tell me.”

“Lex…” Ontari looked incredibly serious, her strong jaw firm and steady as she got ready to reveal a big part of herself to her favourite person in the whole world. “I think I’m straight.”

And jeez Louise, Lexa almost burst out laughing. Which was awful of her, she knew that. She held it in and, honestly, that had been the last thing she’d expected to come out of Ontari’s mouth in that moment. Her family had been starting to look pretty queer, Anya was bisexual, she was gay, it made sense to her that Ontari would be somewhere on the gay end of the spectrum. But no, apparently not.

Lexa took a deep breath and stood up, walked the few steps that separated their beds and sat next to Ontari. She put her hand on Ontari’s knee and gave her a serious yet supportive look.

“So you didn’t like the kiss then, huh?”

Ontari shrugged.

“I dunno. It was my first kiss, it was kind of weird. Everyone was watching us and laughing and cheering and stuff. But it made me think, you know? And then I was talking to this boy that sits next to me sometimes in class and I thought about what it would be like to kiss him and I got this feeling right here-” Ontari put her hand over her heart “-and then it all kinda made sense.”

Lexa gave a soft chuckle. She remembered that feeling.

“It’s OK to be confused when you’re young. You might realise you like girls or boys later, you might know for sure now. You might even like both or neither. Whatever way it happens, it’s OK. And it’s completely OK to only like boys. Just because Anya and I like girls, it doesn’t mean you have to. You’re your own person, Tari, you don’t always have to do things the same way as your big sisters.”

Ontari nodded, her bottom lip beginning its devastating wobble that had made Lexa crumple so many times in her life. She put her arm gently around Ontari’s shoulder and pulled her in to her. Ontari sighed and nestled her head into Lexa’s neck, her muscles seeming to loosen the longer she stayed there.

“I knew you’d understand.”

“Of course I do. And even if I don’t I’ll always try. I love you no matter what, kid. You don’t ever have to be worried about telling me things. I know you’re going to middle school soon and I’m moving away to college but I want you to feel like you can talk to me, OK? I know it’s not always easy to tell Mom things, Anya can be a little scary sometimes, and Aden’s too little but you’ve always got me, you know? Even when I’m at college you can call me up at any time.”

“I know Lex, you’re the best. I love you too.”

Lexa relaxed, placed a kiss on her baby sister’s head, and realised that this was the first time Ontari had really admitted to being different to Lexa and what a massive difference it was. Neither of them realised the significance of that moment but it was actually the first step that Ontari took towards moulding herself into her own person independent of Lexa.

And now, at almost fifteen years old, Ontari was barely recognisable as the excitable little kid that had emulated Lexa’s every move.

Putting the battered old key into the lock of her childhood home the day before Thanksgiving, Lexa’s heart beat a little faster at the anticipation of returning to the comfort of her family. She visited them as often as she could manage between working her two jobs, attending her classes, and studying, it was only a forty minute bus ride to her hometown of Polis so it wasn’t too hard to do. She probably could have moved further away for college but it just so happened that the best scholarship offer had been in Arkadia. Having her family nearby was just a bonus, she wasn’t quite sure who she was without them. She was very sure she didn’t want to find out. She could grow with them nearby, that seemed OK.

She was greeted by a beaming Aden throwing himself at her, chattering away at an impressive speed as soon as she had set foot over the threshold. She wrapped her arms around him, kissing his hair and smiling broadly. As Aden finally relinquished his hold on Lexa, Ontari came skulking out of her bedroom, ostensibly as a result of the commotion occurring on the other side of her door. She was nothing if not the epitome of a sullen teenager, hair falling in her eyes, chin lowered, arms folded. Lexa almost didn’t approach her but she made herself at the last second, just as she was going to walk past her to wherever Aden was trying to drag her. She tapped Ontari on her arm, drew her attention to her, and there were those soft brown eyes finally meeting hers. The girl stood in front of her may not have seemed much like the kid she grew up with anymore but she knew those eyes.

“Hey kiddo,” Lexa said, smiling.

“Hey,” Ontari replied, and while her tone was a little less than enthused, there was definitely a smile trying to fight its way onto her face.

That was all of the encouragement Lexa needed. She pulled Ontari into a hug, heart swelling at least two sizes as Ontari gripped onto the back of her coat as she squeezed her tightly.

“I’ve missed you,” Lexa said as Ontari pulled from her grip. She seemed to have softened now and she just rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of her big sister.

“Jeez, Lex, when did you become such a softie?”

Lexa reached out to ruffle Ontari’s hair but Ontari was wise to her tricks and managed to dive out of the way.

“I’ve always been a softie, Tari, you know that. Aden loves me being a softie, don’t you buddy?” Lexa said, turning to her little brother and wrapping her arms around him, lifting him off the floor as she pressed kisses into his cheek. He squealed with delight and a cute little giggle threatened to drown out his agreement.

As Lexa released Aden she looked between her two youngest siblings.

“Mom at work?”

They both nodded.

“Alright, so who wants to make some thanksgiving decorations while we wait for her to come home?”

“Me! Me! Me!” Aden practically shouted jumping up and down like the world’s most resilient rubber ball.

“Yes, Aden’s in, what about you, Tari?”

Ontari just shrugged and wandered into her room instead of giving a proper answer. Lexa rolled her eyes and turned to her brother.

“Guess it’s just you and me then, little dude.”

She put her arm around his shoulders and guided him into the kitchen, Aden chattering all the while. They’d only just opened up the packets of paper Lexa brought with her and spread them out on the table, and unearthed some scissors and glue, when Ontari appeared and hovered in the doorway. Lexa just smiled up at her and carried on with what she was doing, choosing a piece of paper and explaining to Aden that they were going to draw around their hands and then cut it out to make paper turkeys. She could see Ontari smiling in her periphery at Aden as he got all excited trying to choose which colour paper to use because apparently conventionally coloured turkeys were boring. It only took a few minutes for her resolve to break down enough for her to shuffle forward in socked feet and sit in her usual chair opposite Lexa. Lexa just smiled across at her as if it wasn’t a big deal that Ontari wanted to make paper turkeys with her brother and sister.

Before long they had settled into their activity, the table a mess of discarded trimmings and kind of wobbly turkey hands, and Lexa was having a great time. She hadn’t thought about her bumbling ineptitude ever since stepping inside the house which, despite being small and shabby and more than a little cramped, was definitely her favourite place in the world. In fact, around her family she was completely in her element, confident in her actions and feelings like she wasn’t around pretty girls with rather big egos.

Aden was chattering away for almost the entire time, jiggling on the spot like the intense bundle of energy he was. He told her all about his friends and school and the new show he’d started watching and Lexa just loved his enthusiasm. Ontari didn’t say much really but she kept looking up at Lexa as if she wanted to and it was when Aden left the table for a few minutes to sprint to the bathroom that Ontari finally spoke up.

“Lexa?”

Lexa stopped her meticulous cutting and put her scissors down, very sure from her sister’s tone that she required her full attention. Sure enough she was greeted with the sight of Ontari nervously pulling on her sleeves, apparently determined not to look up. The apprehension her sister was exuding reminded her of that time a little over two years ago when she told Lexa of her first kiss and she wondered just where the conversation was going to go this time.

“Yeah?”

Ontari kept on pulling at the fabric but as she let out a deep breath, she began to smile. Such a small action had such a big effect on Lexa, it put her at ease and she was very grateful for it.

“I have a boyfriend.”

Now that was something to which Lexa wasn’t quite sure how to respond. A big part of her was thrilled for Ontari, was completely roped in by the puppy-like wideness of her eyes when she finally looked up. She looked happy, thrilled in fact, although still a little nervous. But of course there was that tiny part of Lexa that instantly bristled because this kid better be good to her sister or she’d go and find him and she’d-

But no, this obviously meant a lot to Ontari, she could be the cool supportive sister.

And go and beat the kid up if he ever did wrong by Ontari.

“You look happy,” Lexa stated, knowing that Ontari wasn’t really looking for her approval in the matter.

“I am, he’s really sweet. Oh and he’s so smart too, Lex, I think you’d really like him. He asks really awkward questions that distract the class sometimes so he gets picked on a bit but he just loves to learn like you do. You know like how you always drove Anya mad when you used to…” Ontari trailed off, whipping her head around like her mom might catch her using the ‘A’ word before remembering that she was still at work. Lexa gave her a sympathetic smile and reached across the table for her hand.

“He sounds like a nice kid.”

“He’s great and I…” She looked down bashfully, cheeks flushing, and when she looked back up again Lexa was struck once more by how grown up Ontari seemed. “I really like him.”

“Well maybe I can meet him one day and, don’t worry, I promise not to be embarrassing.” Lexa drew a little cross over her heart and Ontari smiled, flashing Lexa back to the big beam Ontari used to give her before she was struck with the curse of teenage angst.

While Lexa was kind of sad to see how much Ontari had changed and that she was growing up, she was also a little glad she was coming into her own as an individual. It was really nice to see the person Ontari was becoming and Lexa was sure that their separation had a lot to do with it. With Lexa gone and Ontari fully immersed in her own life - her very plentiful life with her friends at school - she was finally free to do things because she wanted to, not because she thought Lexa would like to.

Lexa liked being the one Ontari confided in about all sorts of things but it was times like these that then Lexa wanted to talk to someone too. That someone had always been Anya but it was different these days. Anya lived far away, she had a whole other life with responsibilities and people she cared about and Lexa didn’t always feel like she could go to her about everything. Especially not sensitive things like those concerning her family. She wanted to talk to Anya about how their baby sister had got her first boyfriend but she couldn’t. That time that Ontari had ‘come out’ to Lexa, however, it had been Anya that she talked to about it.

Anya had moved out just after graduating high school but she still often came by the house, mostly to hang out with Lexa. The day after Ontari’s confession was one of these days and times like this were invariably Lexa’s favourites. It had been weird living in the house without Anya, although her absence had at least given Aden his own room, finally.

While Lexa loved Anya, she was really glad that it was her that Ontari had decided to confide in, and not Anya. Because when Lexa told Anya about Ontari’s confession, Anya had burst out laughing.

“Oh Jesus, that kid makes me die. She actually had to come out as straight?”

“Anya, come on, it was really hard for her!”

“Life as a straight person is hard?” Anya gave her a sceptical look and Lexa just shrugged.

“Well no, it’s not usually but you know what Tari’s like, she’s always copied everything I do. She’s seen us dating girls, it probably seemed more normal to her than being straight does. Soon enough she’ll realise how much easier she’s got it being straight.”

But Anya was still laughing and Lexa rolled her eyes.

“You’re such a little shit, don’t you dare laugh if Tari talks to you about it, OK?”

That made Anya stop.

“Lex, I’m an ass, sure, but I’m not heartless. I know I don’t show it a lot but I love that kid, you know?”

Lexa softened. She did know. She also knew how hard Anya had always found it to cope with the fact that their mom had been… let’s just say a little unwise in her decision to have several more children than she could afford. While she herself would have never given up the life she had for one where they were better off with less siblings, she wasn’t sure Anya felt the same way.

“I’m glad to hear it, she was so serious and worried about it.”

And at that moment Theia, their mom, walked into the kitchen where the two of them had been talking, startling them both as she joined in the conversation.

“So Ontari came out to you as well then?” She said, chuckling as she walked around them to rummage in the fridge.

Lexa couldn’t help but notice how Anya stiffened, things were tense at this point between Anya and their mom, just a few weeks from reaching the blowout that effectively ended their relationship.

“Yeah, she told me last night,” Lexa said, glancing over at Theia who was now preparing a sandwich.

“Ah, of course she told you first. She told me this morning, sat me down on the couch and everything, pacing up and down until she finally just blurted it out. I can’t believe that growing up with you two has made her think being gay was the norm. It’s kind of hilarious.”

“It makes a change from us being the ones excluded,” Anya said through clenched teeth.

Theia stopped buttering her bread and just stood, frozen, with her back to them for a few seconds.

“Yes, I’m sure it does, Anya. You know I don’t ever want you to feel that way here. We’re all about being open and accepting in this family.” She began buttering again after a taking a deep breath.

“Yeah, and sometimes I think we’re a little too open with people.”

Lexa winced at the sharpness in Anya’s tone. It was a dig at Theia’s love life, she knew, and Theia did too. But they both ignored it. They always ignored it and they just kept scraping by, barely being amicable.

“Can you believe our baby sister kissed a girl earlier in her life than you though, Lex?” Anya continued, apparently brushing past the awkwardness that was threatening to stifle Lexa.

“It is kind of weird.”

“I think you mean kind of hilarious,” Anya laughed, prodding Lexa’s arm.

“Hey, I think I should get points for figuring out that I was gay way before either of you figured yourselves out. Just because I didn’t kiss a girl that early on doesn’t mean a thing.”

“Still funny though.”

“You two have a lot more friends than me, there’s more chance of these things happening if there are more people involved,” Lexa defended. “And anyway, do you really want to compete on firsts? Because I know for a fact that I had sex with a girl before you did.”

“Yeah but I had sex before you did.”

A knife clattered on the kitchen counter and Theia grabbed her plate with a final look at her daughters.

“I did not need to hear any of that,” she said, shaking her head and chuckling to herself as she left the room.

Lexa smiled sheepishly at Theia as she went but Anya ignored her completely and carried on their conversation.

“You were just lucky your best friend was questioning her sexuality, not all of us had it that easy. Queer girls aren’t easy to come across, you know.”

“Funnily enough, I do,” Lexa said, raising her eyebrows at Anya.

“Fair point. So, wanna take bets on Aden?”

Lexa rolled her eyes and threw a grape from the bowl on the table at Anya.

“Shut up, An.”

“Oh you’re no fun.”

Anya told her that a lot but Lexa knew she didn’t mean it. She said a lot of things she didn’t mean. Lexa thought that all of those times when Anya had talked about running away and starting a new life that she hadn’t mean it either. But two weeks later she was gone.

Lexa lost her best friend that day and so instead of thinking about how she was going to tell Anya all about Ontari’s boyfriend revelation, she just kept cutting out her turkey hands, letting herself get lost in the innocence of the two youngest Woods kids. She let herself marvel in how much they were growing up but she had to admit that it saddened her a little. She didn’t even want to think about a time when they’d be old enough to move away and leave her too.

By the time Theia got home from work later that evening, the Woods kids had stuck their paper turkeys haphazardly all around the house and were sat under a blanket on the couch watching a movie. Well Lexa and Ontari were watching a movie, all of the pre-Thanksgiving excitement had tired Aden out and he was fast asleep with his head in Lexa’s lap. She was brushing his hair absent-mindedly and she kept looking over at Ontari as they watched the animated characters run about on the screen, immensely glad to be home.

Family time was one of Lexa’s favourite things but the holidays always felt a little strange these days. It was totally normal for generic family time at home to not include all five of the Woods clan but when someone was missing during the holidays, things always just felt kind of… incomplete. It had been over two years since Anya was last in their family home and her absence still made Lexa sad. The two sisters still saw each other occasionally, though not anywhere near as often as Lexa would like, but sat there around the kitchen table eating their Thanksgiving feast without Anya just made Lexa miss her even more. It must have been even worse for their family who never saw Anya at all.

The women in the house all had a side of the dinner table that was theirs until Aden was born, then Aden shared his mom’s side. When Anya left, Anya’s side became Aden’s side. While he was a sweet and happy presence, filling the gap in the table didn’t fill the void that Anya left in their family and Lexa knew she wasn’t the only one who felt it. She thought it was why her mom always went over the top with the holidays. She was trying to make up for the loss of Anya, the loss that Lexa knew full well her mom blamed herself for. There wasn’t really anyone else to blame, except Anya, and Theia had enough hardship missing her oldest child without hating her for leaving too.

That thanksgiving was a happy day, mostly, but as Lexa curled up in her old bed that night, full of love and copious amounts of her mom’s food, there was only one person she could think of. She may have told herself not to talk to Anya about Ontari but she couldn’t curb her need for her big sister entirely.

 

Lexa: Happy Thanksgiving, An.

 

She wanted to say more, she wanted to tell Anya how much she missed her, how much they all did, but she didn’t want to make her feel guilty. Anya may have pretended to be unaffected by it most of the time but it couldn’t have been easy to walk away from her entire family. Just as Lexa was drifting to sleep again her phone lit up and she made herself look at it.

 

Anya: Happy Thanksgiving, Lex. Tried making my own dinner today like mom always did but it sucked. Even Rio wouldn’t eat it and he’ll eat anything. The holidays are always the hardest.

 

Lexa was surprised at such an honest reply from Anya and she stared at her phone for a little while, trying to think of the most tactful way to reply.

 

Lexa: I hope you managed to enjoy your first thanksgiving with Rio even if the food was bad. You’ll get better, I’m sure.

 

She sent the message but there was more she wanted to say… She shouldn’t though… Should she? She typed out another short message before shoving her phone under her pillow and trying not to think about how Anya would respond.

 

Lexa: We all missed you today. It feels wrong without you.

 

Lexa wanted to go to sleep, she wanted to not care about Anya’s reply but she just had to know.

 

Anya: The thought of coming home is scary but today that’s all I wanted.

Lexa: I’ll help you through it when you’re ready, I promise. Mom will forgive you. I love you.

Anya: Love you too, sis. Might take you up on that one day.

Lexa: Please do.

 

Lexa laid in the dark for a while listening to Ontari’s gentle breathing, trying not to get her hopes up too much. This wasn’t the first time Anya had said she might come home and Lexa hated how disappointed she felt each time Anya grew more and more distant. In the end she had to curl herself into a ball to stop herself from crying. Only when she’d manage to calm her breathing did she finally fall asleep. She dreamt of blazing blue eyes and golden hair, the person to whom they belonged one she had forgotten about completely.

 

*

 

Lexa headed back to Arkadia on Friday night so she could be up early for her shift at the coffee shop on Saturday morning. Raven was still at her parents’ and their apartment felt odd without her; she was quite the large presence. Lexa hadn’t known such a tiny space could feel so big and lonely. Just when she’d decided that perhaps doing some studying would be the best distraction, Anya messaged her to ask if they could talk on skype. Now that brightened up Lexa’s mood considerably and it was with a bounce in her step that she headed off to work the next morning.

Winter had laced its sadistic fingers around Arkadia turning the air bitter and the streets icy so Lexa opted to walk instead of choosing the slightly more dangerous option of cycling, quite enjoying the way the sun was warm on her face despite the cold that nipped at her exposed skin. She just plunged her hands deeper into her coat pockets and nestled her chin into her scarf as she meandered her way through the more scenic part of town, once again glad that she always left early for everything she did. The fresh air cleansed her, it seemed, and while she was reluctant to go inside to work on such a gorgeous day, it had at least set her up in a great frame of mind for dealing with potentially tricky customers.

It was quieter than usual what with a lot of the students being away for the holidays, it was mostly just the Arkadia locals left and although it was a fairly large place, the students made up a fair percentage of the clientele that frequented the quaint little coffee shop. There were a few students in that day, Lexa could tell who they were by the fact that they sat furiously typing on their laptops, only getting up to get more coffee every so often. Her regulars were still about, Mrs Nelson with her usual 10am tea and muffin, Mr Brooks with his coffee and danish, and Jerry and Kyle for their usual Saturday coffee date.

One other person Lexa knew came in that day, one she had never seen there before, one she had ever even expected to see. Lexa saw her as soon as she walked through the door and wasn’t sure if the fluttering in her chest was excitement or nerves.

Whatever it was, it was ridiculous and, quite frankly, inconvenient.

Of course Clarke would show up to Lexa’s place of work just when she was in a really good mood. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she’d already inserted herself into Lexa’s other job, now she was coming in here for coffee?

Lexa plastered a smile on her face and waited for Clarke to walk over to the counter to order, annoyance dissipating in favour of a strange surge of pleasure in seeing the shocked expression that momentarily claimed that incredibly-pretty-by-the-light-of-day face when she noticed Lexa. A smile as soft as the shade of pink that coloured her cheeks quickly took over Clarke’s face as she gathered herself.

“Lexa,” Clarke simply stated when she reached her. There was a hint of surprise in her tone and if Lexa wasn’t mistaken, it seemed as if stumbling upon her wasn’t an entirely unpleasant turn of events in Clarke’s morning.

“Clarke,” Lexa replied, a little surprised at how she didn’t even have to force herself to sound polite. She may have even sounded a tiny bit happy. Odd.

“I didn’t know you worked here as well.”

“Yep, I do.”

“Oh, well, cool I guess. You must be crazy busy juggling two jobs and college though, huh?”

“Yeah, I suppose. I don’t mind being busy.”

“I get that.” Clarke smiled like she really did understand and fiddled with the scarf around her neck for a moment. “Can I get a coffee please?”

“Excuse me?” Lexa had got a little distracted by how Clarke’s hair seemed to shine even brighter in the sunlight, glittering as her head moved and the sun caught the different shades. It occurred to her that she’d never actually seen Clarke in the daylight before, only ever in windowless lecture halls and at the bar in the evenings.

“I’d like a coffee? Please?” Clarke pointed to the machine behind Lexa and she slapped a palm to her forehead.

“Right, I serve coffee, you came in for coffee.”

Lexa expected Clarke to make a joke, to mock her or something, but instead she just gave a wholesome laugh.

“Yes, I did.”

Lexa found herself chuckling too, not entirely uncomfortable in the way her cheeks flushed as she busied herself getting Clarke’s coffee. This time it felt more like she was in on the humour, it wasn’t being used against her. It was kind of nice.

“One coffee,” Lexa said as she put the cup on the counter and pressed the lid in to place.

“Thank you,” Clarke replied, holding out a bill to Lexa who reached to take it just as a loud crash resounded around the shop.

Clarke’s hand clenched the bill and crumpled it, her free hand going to her head at the sound. Lexa’s fingers brushed against Clarke’s as she took the money from her, still reeling from the noise. She looked around and found its source: an upended tray full of cups and plates dropped by a careless fellow employee.

“You alright, Joey?” Lexa called out, leaning over the counter to see the young guy scrambling around on the floor.

“Yeah Lex, I got it!”

Lexa just shook her head and turned back to Clarke.

“He does that at least once a month,” she told Clarke, chuckling. Clarke was still rubbing at her forehead and Lexa moved to put the money she’d taken into the register.

“You OK, Clarke?”

“Yeah, just a headache.”

“Rough holiday with the family? I know mine often give me a headache.”

Lexa was just trying to be light and friendly, she hadn’t expected the way Clarke reacted to her words. Her hand fell away from her forehead and her shoulders seemed to slacken a little. Clarke smiled and met Lexa’s eyes but it didn’t seem very genuine.

“No, I found my roommate’s vodka stash, I came out to replace it before she gets home. Thought I’d get some coffee for the hangover.”

“Oh. So, how was your thanksgiving?”

Lexa didn’t know why she asked it, she probably should have left it when she saw how Clarke had changed but she was curious. She was suddenly realising that she didn’t know a single thing about Clarke’s life. She knew what she was like as a person, or at least what she was like around Lexa and the customers at the bar, but that was it. Clarke never talked about herself or her life which in Lexa’s experience was quite odd. People usually liked to talk about themselves, especially really chatty, confident people like Clarke. Somehow Clarke was talkative but never talked personally, a feat some may consider kind of impressive.

“Uneventful. Thanksgiving was the day I discovered the vodka actually, that’s why the headache’s so bad, I didn’t learn my lesson after the first time.” Clarke stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets. “How was yours?”

“It was nice. So you stayed here?”

“Yeah.” A silence hung between them and as much as Lexa wanted to pry, the way Clarke’s brow had furrowed made her a little nervous. But then Clarke’s expression changed, it lightened… No, that wasn’t the right word. It emptied. “I decided it was too far to travel just for a couple of days. Plus, I transferred here at the start of the semester, I’m still settling in so I didn’t want to disrupt that. My last school was only an hour away from home, I didn’t realise how hard it would be to go so far away. It’s a lot to get used to.”

“You’re a transfer?”

Clarke tilted her head a little in that characteristic way of hers.

“You didn’t know that? I thought you’d know everything given how you knew me long before I knew you.”

It seemed as if Clarke was trying to be playful but it fell a little flat. Perhaps in the bright light of day her humour just didn’t work so well. But Lexa wasn’t sure that was it, it seemed as if Clarke’s heart wasn’t really in it. Lexa just shrugged.

“I just figured I’d never seen you around before. It’s a big campus and I took a lot of different kinds of classes before I settled on my major. I’m quite often in classes with people I’ve never met before.”

“I suppose that makes sense.” The little bell on the door of the shop clanged as a new customer came in and Clarke picked up her cup. “I should go.”

Lexa was a little disappointed, oddly enough, but it was probably better that Clarke left. She knew how distracting she often found her.

“OK, I’ll see you Monday night?” Lexa said, offering Clarke a smile.

“Yeah, see you.”

Clarke was just turning to leave when Lexa called out to her, unable to curb her curiosity.

“Clarke? Where’s home?”

There was a wistful smile on Clarke’s lips as she answered.

“California.”

Lexa watched Clarke leave the shop before she turned her attention to her next customer, wishing Clarke had stuck around a little longer. She wanted to tell her that the only state she’d ever been to other than the one she lived in was California. She wanted to ask her where exactly she was from. Did she like going to the beach? Could she surf? Had she ever been to San Francisco or L.A.? Did she love the palm trees? Lexa had gone to L.A. with her best friend Costia when she was sixteen and she had loved the palm trees.

Costia had grown up there and she and her family were going back to visit for the summer and she had invited Lexa along. It was the best summer of Lexa’s life and she had hoped that she’d get to go back for the next one with Costia too. And sure, Costia had gone back to L.A. that summer but she had gone back to stay, her family tiring of the comparatively small and bleak Polis. They seemed to take any warmth the place had ever had away with them. Lexa hadn’t realised how dismal a place it was until she’d found the light and lost it again.

That night Lexa went to bed and dreamed of walking along the boardwalk, smiling up at the bright, hot sun, feeling light and free. Another set of footfalls beside her let her know she wasn’t alone and she turned to face her companion. She expected to see Costia grinning back at her, she’d had this dream many times before, but this time there was someone else beside her. If Lexa would have remembered the dream upon awakening she’d have been very confused as to why Clarke was there but immersed in the calm of another world it seemed like the most natural thing.

 

*

 

Things felt different with Clarke once they were back at work again. Lexa wasn’t sure if their dynamic had indeed shifted or if it was her that felt different. Something about the crack in Clarke’s usually unshakably bubbly demeanour at the coffee shop that day had given Lexa a bit of confidence around her, oddly enough. It was as if she’d finally realised that Clarke was human, she felt things other than the desire to make Lexa squirm as much as possible and as a consequence, Clarke had a lost a little of her power over Lexa. Not that she seemed overly bothered, if she even noticed it at all.

Clarke still tried to get a rise out of Lexa, sure, she teased her and occasionally pushed the boundaries of normal human interactions but Lexa found herself becoming less and less flustered. Whether she was desensitising to it or growing as a person it was hard to say. Perhaps it was even in part because Lexa had her own mission these days. She’d managed to get three pieces of information out of Clarke that day at the coffee shop: she was a transfer student, she grew up in California, and here in Arkadia she had a roommate (admittedly the last one wasn’t very exciting but Lexa would take what she could get). So these little nuggets of information had opened this tiny window into Clarke’s life and Lexa, for some strange reason, found herself wanting to know more. She wasn’t used to having to work to gain for information from other people and it was kind of thrilling to really want to get to know someone, even if she couldn’t quite understand why she did.

The next piece of information Lexa gained about Clarke walked right into the bar and presented itself to her.

A certain territory comes with working a bar full of drunken students and it was not all pleasant. As soon as Clarke had started working there Lexa had found herself keeping a closer eye on the customers, noticing how often the guys, and occasionally the girls, would look at Clarke. While there was nothing wrong with admiring a person’s looks no matter how much alcohol you’ve had, Lexa had discovered that drunken people were often a lot more overt with their attention and sometimes pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour. It may have been kind of funny to watch their intoxicated brand of flirtation sometimes but Lexa had found it a little unnerving herself when it had happened to her a few times (that was in part due to the fact that she wasn’t quite so keen on being hit on by guys, of course).

Clarke was someone that Lexa knew from the start would attract a lot of attention. She was friendly and funny, she was incredibly pretty, and she looked good every single night she showed up to the bar even though mostly she was just clad in jeans and a tank top. It ended up hot by the end of the night and sometimes Clarke would tie her hair up into a messy ponytail and reveal her neck, that sumptuous curve where it led to her shoulder and… OK, Lexa was really, really gay and maybe drunken people didn’t notice what a nice neck Clarke had.

But that was beside the point.

The point was that Clarke often had people hitting on her in the bar. It was also obvious from early on that Clarke was good at rebuffing their advances, almost like it was a skill she had perfected over the years. Perhaps it was. Clarke was attractive, no doubt she’d had to fend of countless admirers in the past. Regardless of the fact Clarke could clearly take care of herself, Lexa was still on guard and ready to step in at a moment’s notice.

The first time Lexa judged a customer to be going too far she had just come from the stock room, her arms wrapped around a very heavy box of bottles, when she found Clarke leaning on the bar talking to a guy. The guy was also leaning on the bar and he was smiling. She couldn’t see Clarke’s face from where she was stood but their proximity already had Lexa bristling. The guy said something and Clarke laughed, then he moved forward to kiss her on the cheek. That was Lexa’s signal to spring into action. She shoved the box from her arms onto the bar and stomped over to Clarke, grabbed her arm, and pulled her towards her.

“Excuse me,” Lexa said as she stepped in front of Clarke, effectively shielding her. “You need to step back.”

The guy did as he was told and held up his hands in surrender but his face twisted into a smile that Lexa didn’t like. She rolled her eyes at him and turned to Clarke.

“Are you OK?”

“Yes, I’m fine. You didn’t need to do that, Lexa.”

Lexa pulled on Clarke’s arm and encouraged her to step away from the smarmily grinning guy. Clarke complied, a quizzical look on her face and it made Lexa feel a little warm. Her heart was thudding with adrenaline and she moved her hand as if she wanted to cup Clarke’s cheek to reassure her, to really look at her to see if she was OK, but she stopped herself at the last moment and let her hand fall to her side.

“You have to be careful with the customers, Clarke. I don’t want them to take advantage of your kindness.”

Clarke smiled and Lexa relaxed a little. She really did look alright.

“I appreciate that, I do, but I know that guy, it’s OK.”

“Oh…” Lexa trailed off, stepping back a little and gazing over at the guy. He was watching them, that grin still hanging annoyingly on his face as he ran a hand through his too-long hair.

“Yeah, that’s Finn,” Clarke said, gesturing over to him and he held his hand up in acknowledgement.

“Hi, I’m Finn. I’m the boyfriend,” the guy called over to them.

Boyfriend?

Suddenly Lexa disliked him more than when she thought he was a drunken stranger hitting on Clarke even though logically it was better. At least for Clarke, anyway. Clarke was safe and she wanted these advances, Lexa told herself, this Finn wasn’t just a creep.

“No, he’s not,” Clarke said to Lexa, shaking her head. “You wish, Collins,” Clarke continued, heading back to the edge of the bar and grinning at Finn.

“You bet I do.”

“So you’re OK?” Lexa asked, feeling more than a little foolish as she followed her.

Clarke turned to her and smiled softly. She ran her hand gently down Lexa’s arm as she spoke.

“Yes, I’m fine. But thanks for having my back.”

“No problem,” Lexa mumbled, trying to ignore the way that Clarke’s touch tingled despite the fact that she was wearing a long sleeved shirt and there hadn’t actually been any skin-on-skin contact.

“I guess every princess gets her knight in shining armour even if they’re a little… unconventional,” Finn said, laughing to himself.

Clarke rolled her eyes and sighed as if she were exasperated by Finn but her cheeks flushed a pretty pink. Lexa wasn’t sure if it was at the attention or the implication but she definitely wanted to know.

“Finn, aren’t you supposed to be taking those drinks to your friends?” Clarke called out to him, her eyes never leaving Lexa’s. It was a little unnerving but Lexa kind of liked it. It made her feel better about this whole Finn situation, that was for sure.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going. Catch you later, Princess.”

Finn, mercifully, left with his drinks and Clarke’s stare didn’t falter. She tilted her head a little as Lexa fidgeted with the cuffs of her shirt.

“You’re kind of sweet, did you know that?” Clarke said softly.

“I… I am?”

Lexa was pretty sure she was actually a big idiot and not at all sweet but she was in no position to argue at that moment in time.

“Yeah. It’s not really in what you say, it’s more about what you do. It was nice of you to defend me, even if I didn’t need it.”

Lexa shrugged.

“I’m a firm believer that women should stick together in the face of patriarchy.”

Clarke raised an eyebrow and chuckled.

“Hell yeah, girl power!” She said, holding her hand up to Lexa who just frowned at her. “This is the part where you slap your hand against mine,” Clarke whispered to Lexa, winking at her.

“Right,” Lexa said, doing as she was told.

High-fiving Clarke was an interesting way to end the encounter but that’s what it did, Clarke headed off to deal with a customer and Lexa just stood there for a moment, flummoxed.

Every time that Finn and his friends wanted another round of drinks that night it was Finn that came up to get them. Lexa watched the way he tried to time it so that it was Clarke who served him and not Lexa and it irritated her more and more as the night went on. On his fourth visit Lexa managed to intercept him and served him before Clarke could. She regretted it almost instantly. He didn’t say anything much to her but she didn’t like the way he looked at her. It was almost as clear that he didn’t like her as it was that she didn’t like him.

It was a busy night at the bar and Clarke and Lexa didn’t really have much of a chance to talk which suited Lexa, she wasn’t feeling particularly loquacious. Not that she often did. But as the night wound down, Clarke came up beside Lexa while she was taking out her weird mood on a particularly sticky spot on the bar with a cloth.

“Are you OK, Lexa?”

“I’m fine.”

Apparently Lexa’s clipped tone wasn’t enough to deter Clarke because she continued.

“Are you sure? Because you seem quieter than usual. I thought we we’re getting on pretty well these days.”

“Yes, I’m sure. I guess I’m just tired, it’s been a busy shift.”

“If you say so.”

Clarke started to walk away and even though Lexa had wanted to be left alone, she had been trying to drive Clarke away in fact, she was disappointed that it had actually worked. How ridiculous. And that’s how it happened. Her curiosity and all of her weird feelings about this Finn guy bubbled to the surface and the words flew out of her mouth unbidden.

“So what’s the deal with you and Finn?”

Clarke paused in her tracks and Lexa felt small when she caught sight of the smile on Clarke’s face as she turned around. It was a knowing smile and Lexa didn’t like it. It quickly disappeared though and Clarke’s expression shifted back to being neutral but soft.

“There is no deal, really. We’re friends. We live in the same building and hang around with a lot of the same people. He was one of the first people I met when I moved here and he was really nice and welcoming. I needed that, you know?”

Lexa nodded, feeling a little more confident because Clarke hadn’t shut her down.

“And he likes you? Likes you as more than a friend, I mean.”

“Yes, he does.”

“And do you… like him like that?”

Clarke gave Lexa that quizzical look again, her mouth tilting in a cheeky smile.

“What is this, a slumber party? Are we going to braid each other’s hair and talk about our crushes?”

“Very funny, Clarke. If you don’t want to answer you can just say so.”

“No, no, I’m just kidding, Lex.” Clarke nudged her arm playfully and Lexa felt a thrill pulse through her. She liked this slightly gentler, playful Clarke. She seemed much more open and a lot less abrasive. “No, I don’t like Finn like that.”

“But he’s… cute, right?” Lexa waved her hand non-committaly, she wasn’t exactly an expert on male attractiveness. Clarke looked amused at this gesture and Lexa felt once again that Clarke was way too perceptive.

“I guess?” Clarke said, shrugging. “I’ve just never really thought of him like that.”

“No?”

“No. Besides, he’s not really my type.”

“He’s not?”

“Not really. Plus, he talks way too much. He always wants to know how I’m feeling and tries to find out every little thing about me.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Well, no, I guess not. But he’s not the kind of person that makes me want to talk, if that makes sense? I’m a private person.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“You have?”

“Yeah, I really don’t know much about you.”

“And I don’t know much about you either.”

“That’s because I’m not very chatty, you may have noticed.”

Clarke laughed.

“I have noticed.”

“But you’d open up to the right person?” Lexa asked, no idea where all of these questions were coming from.

“Well sure. When you’re close friends with someone or in a relationship with them it’s different. But with Finn I feel like he’s trying to force a level of intimacy between us that I’m just not comfortable with.”

“I guess that makes sense. I’m only really open with my best friend and my family, I’ve never felt the need to talk about every little thing about myself with every person I meet.”

Clarke smiled.

“Yeah, I’m the same.” She paused for a moment, looking oddly uncomfortable. “So, no girlfriend then?”

“Excuse me?” Lexa was a little confused at the way her heart started to race at the question.

“You said you’re only open with your best friend and your family, so does that mean that you don’t have a girlfriend?”

Now it was Lexa’s turn to raise her eyebrows at Clarke who seemed to colour a little but Lexa had to give her credit for not backing down.

“Nope, no girlfriend.”

“Oh, OK. Good to know.”

Lexa regarded Clarke for a moment with curiosity. She thought perhaps if Clarke could be bold, so could she.

“Why’d you want to know?”

Lexa tried out a smug smile for herself, quite enjoying the way Clarke’s eyes seemed to be drawn to it momentarily as she pondered her answer. Their eyes locked again when Clarke seemed to find her words and she shrugged in a way that was perhaps supposed to be nonchalant but instead just seemed awkward. It was kind of cute though.

“I was just looking for confirmation of something I was pretty sure of from the first time I met you.”

“Oh yeah, and what’s that? That I’m single?” Lexa grinned and rolled her eyes, knowing exactly what Clarke was getting at but she was enjoying this new confidence of hers too much and she wanted to make the most of it. “Way to rub it in, Clarke.”

“No, not that. I just wanted confirmation that you’re into girls.”

Lexa wasn’t sure why Clarke wanted to be enlightened in the matter of her sexual preference but it was kind of funny that she felt the need to ask. Lexa was nothing if not obvious. While she was definitely in denial about a few things these days, her blatant homosexuality wasn’t one of them. She was pretty sure it was quite blatant for others to see, too, especially if she spent a lot of time with them like she did with Clarke.

“And how does you asking if I have a girlfriend and my answer being no confirm that for you?” Lexa asked, enjoying making Clarke work for her answer.

“Oh please,” Clarke laughed with a quick glance around to make sure no one was waiting on them. “You know as well as I do that if I’d have asked a straight girl that exact question she would have corrected me instead of just saying no. Or there would have been gay panic in the eyes of a questioning girl.”

“Fine,” Lexa relented with a dramatic sigh, “you’ve got me, I’m gay.”

“I knew it!” Clarke belted out, throwing her finger in the air as if she had made a very important discovery. Lexa couldn’t help but be reminded of Raven, she reckoned the two of them would actually get on really well. Better than Lexa and Clarke ever had, that was for sure. Lexa couldn’t help but laugh at Clarke’s enthusiasm.

“You’re kind of a dork, did you know that?” Lexa told her.

Clarke sighed almost wistfully.

“There are many sides to me.”

“I’ll say.”

They considered each other for a moment.

“Clarke?”

“Uhuh?”

“Why did you want to know if I’m gay?”

“I thought we were sharing?”

“We were?”

“Yeah, we talked about who we are and aren’t attracted to, now we just have to braid each other’s hair. Oh and maybe watch a horror movie whilst buried under a duvet on the couch.”

Something must have been very wrong with Lexa because for a moment that idea didn’t actually seem so unappealing.

“You’re a strange one, Clarke.”

Lexa went to turn away, she liked to at least look busy when she was supposed to be working even if she actually wasn’t, but Clarke spoke again and made her stop.

“Fine, you caught me, I was curious, OK? Like I said, I was pretty sure and I’ve kind of been abusing that knowledge and using it to get under your skin but I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t overstepping too much. Although, to be fair, if you were straight you probably would have freaked out by now. You’re definitely not completely oblivious to my charm and I wanted to know if it was for the reason I suspected.”

“Oh charm, is that what they call it?”

“For sure, I’ve been told that I have a way with the ladies.”

“Ah, and you’re modest too!”

Clarke shrugged.

“I have many good qualities.”

“Apparently so.” If Clarke was allowed to be curious and want confirmation, Lexa was too, right? “So I’m very obviously gay, we’ve established this, now it’s your turn.”

“What?”

“I thought we were sharing?”

Clarke gave a rather devastating half smile that had Lexa hoping that she was right in her assumption. Not that it mattered, it wasn’t like she wanted anything to happen between the two of them.

“Do you really need to ask?”

“Well you did,” Lexa reasoned.

“Fine, I’m bi. Also totally obvious.”

Lexa grinned despite herself.

“Very.”

“Glad we’ve got this clear.”

“Yep.”

“And Lexa?"

“Yeah?” Lexa was waiting for some taunting remark or flirtatious jibe but she was very surprised by what actually came out of Clarke’s mouth.

“I know I’m a pain in the ass a lot of the time but if I ever go too far, just tell me, OK? I may enjoy getting a rise out of you and making you blush but I never want to make you genuinely uncomfortable.” Clarke seemed so sincere and Lexa couldn’t help but let a little crack appear in her carefully constructed walls. This was a completely different way that Clarke was getting to her and she wasn’t at all aware of it. That’s what made it even more dangerous.

“Oh trust me, you’ll know if you go too far,” Lexa said, trying to seem lighter than she felt.

“OK good, I just wanted to make sure you knew that before I…”

Clarke leaned close, biting at her bottom lip as she reached a hand out towards Lexa. Lexa was frozen solid, helplessly watching Clarke inching closer. Time seemed to slow and she took a deep breath in when Clarke brushed her fingers across her cheek. A small smile bloomed on her lips as her fingers captured a stray curl of Lexa’s hair that had been lying on her cheek and she tucked it behind Lexa’s ear. The way her fingertips brushed against its shell sent a tingle down the entire left side of Lexa’s body.

“That’s been bugging me for our entire conversation,” Clarke said, her voice low, and somehow it succeeded in being gentle whilst having an edge to it too. She was so close that Lexa could feel her breath against her face.

Lexa pulled her lips into her mouth, daring herself to meet Clarke’s eyes. They seemed to glitter with a constellation and just as she was getting ready to launch herself into outer space, her gaze was drawn to a soft pink tongue tracing over enticing lips. As soon as her focus changed, Clarke pulled back and laughed.

“See, now I don’t know how there was ever any doubt in my mind,” Clarke said, running a hand through her own hair. If Lexa hadn’t been so preoccupied by the flutter in her chest and the heat that seemed to be moving lower down her body, she might have noticed that Clarke’s usual brash confidence was a little lacking. To the undistracted mind Clarke may have even looked a little flustered. “You’re very obvious, Lexa. And way too easy to rile up.”

“Yeah, and you’re a little shit, Clarke,” Lexa countered. She shoved her hands in her pockets and looked properly at Clarke who seemed to be watching her with interest.

“That may well be true but I’m just being honest with you. Oh, and one of these days those springs you’ve coiled up so tightly inside you are going to burst free, Lex, and it’s very possible that you’ll just explode. You might wanna work on that, just a little friendly advice. It’s not good to keep things bottled up, you know?”

Clarke nudged her arm playfully, such a stark contrast to the deep intensity they had seemed to reach a minute ago and it eased Lexa a little. With every new thing Lexa learned about Clarke she felt better, though somehow her need for information still hadn’t been satiated. She still found herself a little flustered, sure, but she was definitely starting to feel more confident around Clarke and it brought forward another side of her, she had always liked a challenge. She may have been easy but she’d seen a few cracks appearing in Clarke’s usually cool façade too. Clarke wasn’t quite as tough as she seemed and Lexa was pretty sure that there was some fun to be had there for her as well.

Two can play at this game, Lexa thought with a grin.

Chapter Text

“I’m late, I’m late, I know!” Clarke practically yelled as she came bursting through the back door into the bar a few days later, startling Lexa who had been rearranging glasses somewhat absent-mindedly.

Lexa glanced at her watch and then back at Clarke who looked rather windswept, her cheeks pinched pink from the cold outside. Her red plaid shirt was unbuttoned and hanging off one shoulder, revealing the unhealthy amount of skin that her tank top teased (unhealthy for Lexa’s easily distracted mind, that was).

“You have two minutes to spare, Clarke, you’re fine.”

“I do? I am?” Clarke ran a hand through her hair and gave a relieved laugh. “Oh shit, I thought I was really, really late. My dad’s been calling me all day and I finally gave in and then he wouldn’t stop talking and…” Clarke trailed off and finally looked properly at Lexa. She bit at her lip and suddenly became very interested in her shoes. “Right, too much information. I’m here, I’m ready, hello.”

“Hello to you too, Clarke.” Lexa looked Clarke up and down, unable to help herself, and raised her eyebrows when their eyes connected. “Weren’t you a little cold outside dressed like that?”

Clarke looked down at herself as if she’d forgotten what she was wearing and she tugged her shirt back on properly. She did a couple of the buttons up at the middle and it clung to her figure in a way that Lexa really shouldn’t have been noticing.

Sometimes she was ridiculously gay, honestly.

“I only had to run in from my car so it’s fine. I was in a panic so apparently forgot my jacket.” She ran a hand through her hair again. “I probably look a state, I didn’t even have time to check myself in the mirror before I left, I’ve been studying all afternoon and time just got away from me and…”

Lexa just watched Clarke yammer on with a small smile on her lips, quite enjoying seeing her acting less collected than usual. She wasn’t about to tell Clarke that the whole dishevelled look was really working for her, and that she’d actually never seen her look bad, but as she noticed a leaf tangled in Clarke’s hair she saw an opportunity. With Clarke rambling, it felt like the perfect time for Lexa to be bold.

Player two, time to enter the game.

She stepped towards Clarke slowly, smile growing a little.

“You look fine, Clarke. Except…”

She licked her bottom lip as she stopped maybe a foot or two in front of Clarke, enjoying the tiny height advantage she had over her. She reached her fingers out and ran them through Clarke’s hair, following the loose curls down until they got to the leaf. The left half of her mouth quirked up in a wry smile as she tugged it free and her eyes flicked to take in Clarke’s reaction. Clarke didn’t seem interested in meeting her gaze, instead her eyes were trained lower and Lexa pulled on her lip gently with her teeth as an experiment. Clarke gave a wobbly smile and gulped audibly. Yep, Lexa had her.

“You had a leaf in your hair,” Lexa said, twirling it in her fingers between them, staying close. Clarke finally met her gaze.

“Thanks.” She narrowed her eyes at Lexa, tilting her head thoughtfully. “I think I underestimated you, Woods.”

Lexa wanted to grin in triumph but she reined it in and gave a small, relaxed shrug. Clarke, however, did smile but it was laden with something that made Lexa feel like it wasn’t she who had the control after all.

“I think you might be right.”

Clarke stepped closer. Lexa pulled in a breath as delicate fingers tugged at one of the curls that hung on her cheek. Clarke watched as it sprung back into position again before twirling it around her finger, everything in her expression painted into a seduction.

“Your hair is gorgeous, has anyone ever told you that?”

Lexa nodded, determined to seem unaffected.

“Yes, more than once.”

“Well they were right.”

Lexa could see the different shades of blue in Clarke’s eyes from this distance, streaks of light fading into darkness from the inside out. The proximity made it hard to keep her focus though, every time Clarke’s eyes met hers she flicked them away and Clarke appeared to be doing the same. Lexa ran a hand through her hair and scooped it over one shoulder.

“It’s annoying sometimes, it’s really thick.” She ran a hand over her exposed neck and to the dip of her shoulder, delighting in the way Clarke watched her movement. When her hand return to her side, Clarke pulled her gaze back up.

“I know what you’re trying to do, Lexa.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“You’re trying to beat me at my own game.”

Lexa finally allowed a smile to grace her lips but she kept it small, trying to entice Clarke in.

“Is that so?”

“Yes, you’re trying to get to me the way I get to you but you’re just playing into my game.”

“I- I am?”

“Mhmm, flirting is more fun when it’s reciprocated.”

Damn it, Clarke was good at this. Lexa had never really been one for flirting. She’d only dated two girls in her life, one had been her best friend and the other had been extremely forward. She’d never really had to try to flirt before. Not that she was trying to lure Clarke in for romantic reasons, she just wanted to get her own back for all the times Clarke had got to her.

Lexa leaned closer, willing herself to be bold as she rested a hand on Clarke’s hip. She stopped when she reached Clarke’s ear, deliberately waiting a few breaths before she spoke.

“I guess you’re in for some fun then, huh?” She squeezed Clarke’s hip and was just about to internally celebrate the sharp intake of breath she heard from Clarke when a hand gripped at her bicep. Clarke’s head shifted until they were almost cheek to cheek, their skin occasionally brushing as they struggled to remain steady.

“Lucky me,” Clarke said, voice low and rumbling. Lexa swore she could feel it throughout her entire body, it was as if it was trying to convert her to a new way of life and boy was she ever ready to defect.

Shit, this was going to be harder than she thought.

Just as Lexa was completely at a loss for what to do next, a bang on the door roused them. They sprang apart and Clarke’s hand went to her heart in shock. Lexa looked at her watch.

“Fuck, we were supposed to open up five minutes ago!”

She ran over to the door and unlocked it, really glad that the big glass windows in it were frosted so that the three burly guys she let in wouldn’t have been able to see their… interaction, let’s call it. Upon returning to stand behind the bar she found Clarke leaning up against it casually and while it might have seemed like Clarke was keeping her cool, there was a flush of red spreading down her neck and to her chest which Lexa found herself staring at until she realised how totally obvious she was being.

Clarke watched Lexa the whole time she was serving the guys and as they turned around to choose a table to sit at she came up behind Lexa. Hands landed lightly on her hips and there couldn’t have been more than a few inches between them, Lexa swore she could feel the heat radiating from Clarke’s body to her own.

“Oh it is so on,” Clarke said breathily, lips behind the shell of Lexa’s ear. Lexa closed her eyes against the powerful impulse she had to just step back that tiny little bit to rid the distance between them. This wasn’t about satiating her own strange desires, this was about winning. This was about enjoying Clarke wanting her and watching her lose her cool. She turned around in Clarke’s grip, gentle hands running across her stomach, lingering for a second, as she did so.

“You bet it is.”

And Lexa watched as Clarke smiled unsteadily before she slipped out of her grasp and walked away, feeling like a fucking rock star. This was going to be fun.

 

*

 

And so that’s how the dynamic between Clarke and Lexa shifted once more. Lexa grew bolder and gave as good as she got in terms of Clarke and her flirtations. They got on better than they ever had before and Lexa no longer really found Clarke annoying, just a little frustrating each time she managed to elicit a response in Lexa that she didn’t mean to give. Like Clarke had this habit of stretching when she yawned, causing her shirt to ride up just enough to reveal a tempting sliver of skin above the waistband of her jeans. Or sometimes she’d tie up her hair and rub her hand down her neck and shoulder like it was aching but Lexa was pretty sure it was just a ploy to get to her. It was working but she tried her best to get her own back, her favourite trick being coming up behind Clarke when she least expected it, resting her hand on the small of her back, and talking much closer to her than necessary. She had to give herself credit, she actually wasn’t as bad at flirting as she had expected.

The semester was drawing to a close as the battle between the two of them raged and Lexa found herself becoming more and more preoccupied with her school work. It distracted her a little from her previous goal of trying to get a rise out of Clarke. The night before she had a particularly gruelling exam, which she didn’t feel nearly prepared enough for, she took her notes to work with her figuring that if she needed to check a fact quickly during her internal revision session, she could do so quickly without anyone really noticing. She could see Clarke watching her each time she pulled a page from the heap under the bar to look at but she ignored her, too stressed to engage in their usual contest on that particular occasion. Eventually Clarke addressed Lexa’s compulsive fact-checking.

“So you really take this whole college thing seriously then, huh?”

Lexa was feeling far too agitated and grouchy for Clarke’s teasing and she couldn’t help the way she snapped in reply.

“Yes, I do, and you should too.”

“I do take it seriously, I just don’t feel the need to study at work.”

“I have an exam tomorrow and I’m worried I’ll remember something wrong but convince myself its right and then fail completely simply because I didn’t have my notes to check against. Trust me, it’s better this way otherwise I’d be insufferable all night.”

“Oh no, what a difference that would be to how you’re acting now!” Clarke mocked and Lexa just huffed.

“Look, I’m not in the mood to play games tonight, Clarke, OK?”

“Alright, alright,” Clarke said, holding her hands up in surrender, actually looking a little guilty. “I’m sorry, exams are shit, I’ve been a wreck all week too, I get it. Trying to amuse people with my humour is one of the ways I let out my frustrations.”

Lexa relaxed a little and her features drooped sadly.

“I appreciate that and I didn’t mean to get angry, I’m just stressed.”

“Well maybe I can help you out with that.”

Lexa raised her eyebrows at the remark and Clarke flushed prettily.

“I didn’t mean that in a suggestive way… I’d really just like to help put you at ease. Maybe we can just talk while we work, take our minds off exams?”

“I really should just go through as much of my course content in my head as I can, I can’t afford to waste any time.”

Clarke clacked her tongue.

“Come on, Lex, I’ll bet you’ve been drilling all of this into yourself all day, I’m sure you can take a little break and let your mind relax. I’m a great conversationalist.” She flashed Lexa a bright smile and she couldn’t help but let herself be drawn in by it, sinking into the comfort it brought her.

“I guess a little break wouldn’t hurt. But we have to make sure we pay attention to our customers, I don’t want you distracting me too much.”

Clarke rolled her eyes and gave a little chuckle.

“We’re bright girls, I’m sure we can manage to talk and work.” She motioned to a customer and got the girl her drink, smiling all the while, occasionally flashing that warmth back at Lexa. Lexa spotted another girl further down and went to serve her and they got into an easy rhythm of working. Lexa quite enjoyed knowing that Clarke was there to talk to if she wanted to and she started to relax.

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college, you know,” Lexa said a little while later in between customers.

“Really?”

“Yes. I can’t help but take it seriously. I’m on a scholarship so I can’t afford to mess up, I need this.”

“I respect that, Lexa, I do. And I take it seriously, too even if I’m here on my parents’ money. I don’t want to rely on that forever.”

Lexa nodded, to herself more than to Clarke.

“I thought your family must be pretty well off.”

“What made you think that?”

“I’ve seen your car. It’s… very nice.” That was an understatement. Lexa knew very little about cars and even she could tell it was ridiculously expensive.

“Oh…” Clarke shrugged. “Yeah, I told my dad I didn’t need a car over here but he insisted. He hates that I moved to the other side of the country and he went a bit over the top in making sure I had everything I needed.”

“That’s sweet though, it must be nice to have parents that care that much.”

Clarke looked at Lexa for a moment like she wasn’t sure if she should ask another question but she spoke again anyway.

“You mean you don’t?”

“Oh no, I do. I have my mom, at least. She does her best. My dad left a long time ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m not. I’d rather he left than stuck around being unhappy with us.”

The sadness that had clouded Clarke’s expression faded as she spoke again.

“I bet your family are especially proud you’re at college if you’re the first.”

Lexa smiled.

“They are. How about yours? If you’re well off does that mean your parents went to college?”

Clarke looked down and brushed at a bit off fluff on her shirt.

“They…” She hesitated and Lexa suddenly felt foolish.

“I’m asking too many questions, aren’t I? You said you don’t like talking about personal things and here I am prying into your family life. I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer that. I just-”

Clarke cut her off.

“No, no, it’s OK. You’re right, I don’t normally talk about stuff, it drives Finn crazy and my other friends find it a little weird that I don’t talk about home but… It’s hard sometimes.”

“Really, Clarke, you don’t have to answer.”

“No, no, I… I think I want to.”

“You do?” Lexa suddenly felt like her breathing was too shallow as she remembered that Clarke said that she’d only open up to the right person.

Clarke nodded slowly, her hands fiddling in front of her.

“Yes, my parents went to college.”

“That’s cool,” Lexa said softly, smiling. She turned to deal with another customer, leaving Clarke to busy herself with a little tidying. “What do they do?” She asked when there was no one else waiting on them.

“Doctor and an engineer.”

Lexa’s eyes widened.

“Wow, that’s quite impressive. Who does what?”

“Dad’s an engineer.”

“And your mom’s a doctor,” Lexa finished.

Clarke didn’t meet her eyes but she nodded. When she didn’t speak anymore, Lexa began to feel uncomfortable.

“You’re a biology major, right? You considering going into medicine?”

“Maybe,” Clarke said, shifting on her feet. “That was always the plan.”

“And now?”

“The closer I get to deciding, the harder it seems to take that final step.”

Lexa gave Clarke a sympathetic smile.

“Now that I understand. I’m considering medicine too.”

“You are?”

“Yeah but I’m keeping my options open. I’ve wanted to be so many things in my life.”

“I think you’d make a really good doctor.”

“Thanks.” Lexa smiled for a moment, taking in the compliment before she got distracted. “Wow, I can’t believe your mom is a doctor. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?”

Clarke just shrugged and Lexa realised that she had probably overdone it with the personal questions. She began to panic and started rambling instead of leaving Clarke to answer.

“My mom has had a lot of jobs over the years, nothing special. She’s worked in a laundromat, at Denny’s, Walmart, in a few bars, whatever she could to keep me and my siblings in food and clothes.” Lexa hadn’t meant to reveal so much but she had a feeling that Clarke didn’t really want to talk about her parents anymore.

“You have siblings?” Clarke asked, a smile beginning to win out over the obvious discomfort on her face. “I’ve always wished I wasn’t an only child.”

“I do, two sisters and a brother.”

“That’s awesome. I bet you’re a great sister.”

“I’d like to think so,” Lexa said, grinning proudly.

Clarke’s smile brightened. It was a nice moment, as much as she had been enjoying her contest with Clarke, just talking like normal people do was a pleasant change.

A ringing from Clarke’s pocket distracted them both from their happy little fragment in time. Clarke pulled her phone out and looked at it before tapping the screen and putting it back in her pocket.

“Anything important?” Lexa inquired. “I’ll be alright here for a few minutes if you want to go and call them back?”

“No, it’s fine, it’s just my friend from back home.”

“Are you sure it won’t be anything important?”

Clarke shook her head as if Lexa was being silly.

“No, he’ll just be trying to get me to go home for the holidays.”

“Wait, you’re considering not going home for the holidays?”

“Maybe, I’m not sure.”

“But it’s Christmas!” Lexa had always loved Christmas, even if her family hadn’t had the money to buy copious amounts of presents. It was all about the atmosphere for her. And about family, of course.

“I know but I have to work here and-”

Lexa cut her off.

“I’m sure Indra will give you some time off. She closes for most of it anyway and the rest of us that live nearby can cover the other shifts fine without you. You should go home, Clarke, you’ve already missed thanksgiving.”

“Lexa-”

“No, seriously, it’ll be fine. I know you’re still in your settling in phase and everything but you deserve to be with your family for the holidays.”

Clarke looked a little pained but, to her credit, she tried to smile anyway. It wasn’t overly convincing.

“I’ll think about it if you’ll agree to stop talking about it, OK? It’s not just as simple as that.”

Lexa drew a little cross over her heart.

“OK, I’ll stop.”

“You’re such a dork,” Clarke said; she’d started smiling more genuinely at Lexa’s childish gesture.

“You’re one to talk,” Lexa said, grinning cheekily. She found herself walking closer to Clarke and resting a hand on her forearm, catching her eyes and looking at her sincerely. “You OK? You seemed a little… sad?”

Clarke watched as Lexa’s fingers traced gently over her skin.

“I’m fine. Talking about my family… It just makes me miss them more.”

Lexa frowned and tilted her head to the side a fraction (a habit she’d picked up from Clarke recently) as she considered Clarke. Her fingers kept moving without her even realising it. She was getting much more used to being in close proximity with Clarke these days, touching her arm didn’t seem like too much of a big deal.

“Clarke, can I ask you something?”

Clarke brought her eyes up again.

“Sure.”

“Why’d you transfer? I mean, you’re obviously finding it hard being so far away from your family and you were already at another school nearby… why didn’t you just stay there?”

Clarke pulled her arm away from Lexa’s touch and cradled it in her other one.

“It just… it wasn’t working out. I had to get away.” Clarke paused for a moment and looked around the bar as if she’d rather be anywhere else. But unfortunately for her it was a slow night what with most students having exams and opting to study instead and there was no one for her to run off to and serve at that moment. Lexa felt that there was more Clarke was considering saying so she waited, taking a step back to give Clarke her space. “I decided to transfer really late and I only managed to get transferred so quickly because my parents have been friends with the dean of admissions since they were kids.”

“Wait, your parents are friends with Kane?”

Clarke nodded.

“Yeah, he used to live over in California. He hung out at ours all the time. He pulled a few strings to get me in here, he’s like family.”

“Well that was really good of him.”

“Yeah.”

Clarke’s answer to her question was vague and Lexa wanted to ask more but she seemed so reserved, just an echo of her usual bubbly self and truthfully, it was weirding Lexa out. She’d just wanted to get to know Clarke, figuring it would be nice to find out where she came from but this… This wasn’t what she expected. Clarke wasn’t the same when she was talking about herself and her family. Lexa suddenly felt uncertain, like she didn’t really know Clarke at all. Clarke wasn’t being brash and seductive and loud, she was stood looking so small with her arms wrapped around herself as if she were trying to hide from everyone and everything. Lexa felt guilty for making her so vulnerable. She had delighted in the little cracks that had begun to appear in Clarke before but she was worried she had gone too far this time, that she might not be able to scoop it all back in. She didn’t want to be the reason that Clarke had to patch herself up again.

“Yo, can I get a drink?” A deep voice boomed at them and Lexa snapped to attention.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry,” she said, rushing over to the tall guy a few feet away.

By the time Lexa had finished serving him, Clarke almost looked like her old self as she pottered around, busying herself walking around the tables and collecting glasses. Lexa still felt odd though, like she’d gone too far, and she had this insatiable need to make it better, to make Clarke better. It was her caring nature coming out again and eventually it won over her general reticence when it came to people that weren’t her family.

They were just leaving the bar after their shift, both about to go in different directions, when Lexa turned to Clarke and put a gentle hand on her arm.

“Clarke?”

Clarke stopped walking and looked at Lexa, concern dusting the angles of her face as she took in Lexa’s expression.

“Lexa?”

“I’m sorry if I upset you before. I’ve been feeling bad about it all night and I just…” Lexa faltered, wondering if she should ask for what she wanted. The soft, curious look on Clarke’s face and the way her eyes glittered in the moonlight convinced her to go for it. “Can I give you a hug? You just really looked like you needed one when you were stood there and-”

Clarke cut her off. Lexa knew she was rambling but she was oddly nervous and still had guilt ringing through her body. She was very grateful for the interruption.

“A hug sounds really nice,” Clarke said, smiling.

Lexa wasn’t sure where to go from there, she wasn’t really a hugger, except when it came to Ontari and Aden. Should she wait for Clarke to come to her? Should she just go for it? Arms around her waist, neck, or back?

But she needn’t have worried. Clarke stepped boldly towards her and wrapped her arms around her neck, Lexa’s instinctively snaking around Clarke’s middle. Clarke was unbelievably soft and yet firm, she held onto her tightly, pressed her body close, and Lexa was pretty sure that Clarke’s nose ended up pressed into her hair as if she were trying to get to the crook of her neck. Lexa felt herself grip tighter and she turned her head towards Clarke, breathing in the familiar scent of perfume and laundry detergent that she couldn’t help but notice each time Clarke was close to her.

The longer they held each other, the more Lexa relaxed and she stopped worrying that this was perhaps longer than a usual hug and she forgot to worry about why it felt so good to hold Clarke this way. Instead she just focused on how it felt to have someone pressed against her, to feel her chest moving with the unavoidable need to be alive, and marvelled at how different it felt to hug Clarke rather than her family. She hadn’t been hugged like this in a long time.

Clarke was the one to part them which was the most surprising thing about the hug. Yes, Lexa had been the one that asked for it but she hadn’t realised that she wasn’t going to want to let go. She thought it was for Clarke, to comfort her in missing her family, and she supposed it was a little bit about easing her own guilt… But she hadn’t realised how much she really needed to be held. It was kind of unnerving but as they stepped away from each other and properly looked at one another again, Lexa stopped feeling weird about it. Everything about Clarke was soft and open, her face bright and beautiful. It must have been a clear night because she could see every tiny detail and-

Wait a minute.

Lexa looked up from where they were standing outside the front door of the bar and noticed they’d forgotten to turn the lights for the sign off. In bright white lettering the word ‘sanctuary’ glowed above them. When Lexa looked back at Clarke, she saw her gaze was trained up at the sign and their eyes eventually met again. There was something safe in the way they connected for a moment and Lexa couldn’t help but smile.

Sanctuary, huh?

 

*

 

Lexa was in the midst of an unusually good shift at the coffee shop the following Saturday when Indra called her up. As soon as she saw her name on her phone she knew what her boss wanted. On any other day she probably would have groaned, perhaps if she’d have been having a really bad day she may have even ignored the call. But today wasn’t a bad day, today was the first day of freedom from exams and Lexa was in a fabulous mood so she answered.

“Tris called in sick, I need you to work with Nyko tonight, Lexa,” Indra’s characteristically formal tone informed her after her usual perfunctory greeting. Often people sound different on the phone but not Indra, she was just as fierce as ever. “You were my first choice as a replacement, I can ask someone else if you’re busy but I know you like to get more hours in when you can.”

“OK, sure, I’ll be there.”

Indra seemed a little surprised at her speedy acceptance and quickly got off the phone before Lexa could change her mind.

Lexa quite liked working with Nyko, he was a huge grizzly bear of a guy and while that made him look intimidating, he was really nothing of the sort. She knew she’d be exhausted after doing an eight hour shift at the coffee shop and then another six hours at the bar but Indra was right, she did like to pick up extra hours if she could. This was especially true at this time of year, she could maybe get a little something extra for her family for Christmas with more hours under her belt. Her last exam had been the previous morning, meaning that she didn’t have a ridiculous amount of college work to do so she reckoned she could swing it.

Raven thought she was crazy when she came home, crashed on the couch next to her, and told her of her intentions for the evening.

“But you said you’d watch that documentary about the life cycle of a star with me tonight!”

“I know I did but they need me.”

“But Lexaaaaaa…” Raven pulled a sad face at her, trying to tug at her heart. It made her feel bad, of course it did. She would much rather stay home with her friend but, as always, her sense of duty won out.

“I could really use the money, Rae.”

Raven sighed and nodded.

“Yeah, I get it. I guess I’m just going to have to eat all of the popcorn I bought by myself then,” she said mournfully, laying her head dramatically against the back of the couch and looking up at the ceiling as if eating her very favourite snack food was a massive imposition.

“I guess so”

And all of the Twizzlers.”

Lexa’s interest piqued at that.

“You bought Twizzlers?”

“Well yeah, they’re your favourite, though I have no idea why. Red Vines are where it’s at!”

“No, Twizzlers are definitely better.”

“Nuhuh.”

“Yuhuh,” Lexa mocked and heaved herself off the couch to hunt through the cabinet in the far corner of the kitchen that had become Raven’s place for stashing yummy treats. She unearthed the Twizzlers with a triumphant “aha!” and practically skipped back to the couch, incredibly happy with her prize. She pulled out one of the delectable twists from the packet and began to chew on the end. Raven narrowed her eyes at her.

“Deserters don’t deserve Twizzlers.”

“Tomorrow I’m all yours, we can watch the documentary then.”

“But I’m going home tomorrow!” Raven whined, pulling her best pouty face.

“But your parents are coming in the afternoon, aren’t they? How about we do the life cycle of a star sat in our pjs eating pancakes? I’m cooking.”

Raven’s eyes widened in excitement but she quickly reined it in and gave another dramatic sigh.

“I suppose that would be OK.” Lexa rolled her eyes at her and she finally relented, giving her a big beautiful smile. “Fine. Go to work and be all helpful and responsible. I’ll just have fun by myself and eat an irresponsible amount of sugary treats.”

“I’m sure you’ll have a great time. And tomorrow morning, it’s a date, yes?”

“Whoa now, I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet, we’ll see how good your pancakes are first.”

“You know my pancakes are amazing.”

Raven glanced away wistfully into the kitchen as if she were watching one of her favourite foods come in to being.

“They are amazing.”

Lexa grinned triumphantly, tucked her feet underneath herself and sighed, savouring the quiet and the comfort, (and the sweet goodness of the Twizzlers, she couldn’t forget that) knowing that soon she’d be heading into the cold night to work for the rest of the evening.

“So how’s the pain in the ass?” Raven’s voice broke into Lexa’s happy and rapidly tiring little bubble.

“Excuse me?”

“The new girl at the bar… what’s her name? The girl you complained about pretty much every day for several weeks last month? Gosh, what was her name? You’d think I’d remember it considering how you must have mentioned it like a hundred times.”

Had Lexa really complained about Clarke so much? She considered it for a moment and realised that yes, she probably had. A small, annoying feeling began to niggle inside her. It felt a lot like guilt.

“OK, fine, I may have had a few issues with her at first and vented my frustration to you on more than one occasion,” Lexa admitted. “But…” She didn’t realise she was smiling as she thought about Clarke but Raven sure did and her eyebrows shot up in amusement. “Things are getting better now. I think I’m finally making progress.”

“Progress?”

“Yeah, with working out how best to deal with her.”

“Right, right, and how is that, exactly?”

“You’ve got to be bold.”

“Bold?”

“Yeah, people like her need someone to push against. She was always flirting with me because she found it fun to get a rise out of me or she just generally tried to be annoying so I’d stop being so calm all the time. But now I just get her right back.”

“Wait, you’re flirting with this girl?”

“No… Well yeah, but just for fun. Just because she does it to me.”

Raven narrowed her eyes, Lexa could almost see her trying to piece together the situation in her mind.

“Sounds kind of like she likes you.”

Lexa let out a derisive, rather unattractive snort at the suggestion.

“No, no, she definitely doesn’t.”

“But she’s spent so much of her time flirting with you, hasn’t she?”

“Yeah but it’s all just a game to her.”

“And what is it to you?”

“I’m just paying her back for it.”

“No, I mean do you like it when she flirts with you? Does it work?”

“I… Sometimes it catches me off guard, sure, but I have no interest in embarking on a relationship with Clarke.”

Raven looked at Lexa disbelievingly.

“Whatever you say, Lex.”

Lexa rubbed her hands on her jeans a little uncomfortably.

“We work together, it would be weird. And I’m sure she wouldn’t date me anyway. I think you’d really like her though, you’re quite similar. I, uh, maybe I should set you two up instead…”

Lexa had no idea why she was saying such a thing, did she really want Raven dating Clarke? Then Clarke would end up at their place a lot of the time and Lexa really wouldn’t be able to get away from her. She imagined Clarke sat between them right now, nestled into Raven’s side, and she started to feel weird. She frowned against the feeling. It shouldn’t matter to her if Clarke dated Raven, should it? It wasn’t like they were even friends.

“Hang on, am I hearing this correctly? You want me to date the girl that you’ve been complaining about being annoying for ages, the girl that’s practically been tormenting you, the girl you are currently engaged in a giant flirt-off with? Really?”

Lexa felt herself colouring and she looked down at her hands.

“Uh, when you put it that way…”

Raven surprised Lexa by reaching over and taking one of her hands, much calmer than she had been just seconds ago.

“It’s OK if you like her, Lex, even if she doesn’t like you. We all have feelings sometimes, it’s not a bad thing.”

Lexa appreciated what Raven was trying to do but she didn’t like Clarke, she didn’t need a pep talk about it.

“I’m fine, Raven. It was just an idea. I’ve not seen you date anyone in a while and I just don’t want you to be lonely.”

“I’m not lonely, I have you.”

Lexa looked up from their hands which were still linked and smiled softly at her friend. There was something interesting in Raven’s expression but Lexa couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.

“It’s not the same thing, though.”

“Yeah well you haven’t dated anyone since the beginning of freshman year, that’s even longer ago.”

Lexa thought about it for a moment. It hadn’t even occurred to her that it had been so long. She’d thrown herself headfirst into her college work and since then she hadn’t thought about much else. There had been that brief thing she had with that girl in her intro to psych. class but she quickly found herself distracted by her education again. She wasn’t someone that overly craved physical affection, nor did she particularly feel like she was lacking in people to emotionally connect with in her life. Raven always made sure Lexa talked about her feelings, even when she didn’t want to or didn’t realise she needed to. But then she thought about that hug Clarke had given her last week, how good it had felt, and she started to feel a little empty knowing that it probably wouldn’t happen again.

“I guess it has been a while. But like you said, I have you.”

Raven released Lexa’s hand and folded her arms around herself. She fidgeted on the spot with her eyes down for a moment before looking over at Lexa.

“Lex?”

“Yeah?”

“I need to tell you something.”

“OK…” So there was something up with Raven, or at least something she needed to get off her chest.

“I’m actually kind of seeing someone.”

“Wait, you are?”

How had she missed that?

“Yeah, I mean it’s really new and she lives kind of far away but… It’s nice.”

Lexa smiled.

“You wanna tell me about her?”

Raven suddenly looked even more nervous as clutched her arms around herself more tightly. She shook her head.

“No, not yet. But I will if things get more serious, OK? I don’t want to get my hopes up just yet.”

“But you’re happy?”

A pretty smile slowly pulled at Raven’s features and her grip on her arms loosened, as if she were losing herself in a memory of this mystery girl.

“I am.”

“Then I’m happy for you. I’m here whenever you’re ready to talk about her.”

“I know you are, thanks. And Lex? If you do like Clarke, you should definitely consider going for it.” Lexa was about to argue and Raven could obviously see that because she interrupted her before the words could even come out of her mouth. “I said if. No pressure, OK? I just think it would do you good to get back out there. I know you’re fine on your own, and I was too, but…” She shrugged and Lexa couldn’t deny that there seemed to be a little extra light coming from Raven in that moment. “Look at me, I’m more than fine now.”

“If I meet someone I like then sure, I’ll consider dating again. But I really am fine, Raven.”

“OK, that’s all I ask. You spend so much of your time working, I just want you to have some fun.”

Lexa nodded, grateful for the silence that washed over the two of them. Raven grabbed the remote and flicked the TV on and Lexa just curled up and ate her Twizzlers for a while, lost in her thoughts. Maybe she was a little lonely… She had clung a lot more tightly to Clarke during their hug than she normally did when people hugged her. But she definitely shouldn’t date Clarke, they worked together. It could be an absolute disaster.

Not that she wanted to date Clarke anyway. What a ridiculous thought.

 

*

 

Three hours into Lexa’s shift at the bar that night and she was seriously lagging, regretting her life choices immensely. Why had taking on an extra six hours when she had already worked all day seemed like a good idea? It was a busy night, the place packed with students celebrating the end of exams, having a final night out before they parted ways for winter break. Everyone was especially loud and rowdy and Lexa may have been losing her patience a little. To his credit, Nyko was really trying to keep her spirits up, chatting to her and being especially helpful, dealing with the most difficult customers himself.

Lexa was just letting out an overwhelmingly large yawn when a familiar voice snapped her out of her reverie.

“Hey stranger.”

Lexa’s head whipped round and she was greeted by the sight of Clarke leaning on the bar and looking up at her. Her hair was curlier today as if she’d properly styled it, her eyes expertly lined with ashen tones, her lips slicked in deep red lipstick. She was wearing a flowy silver shirt that caught the light prettily, hiding the definite lines of her figure but it was the hint of what was beneath it that made it look so tempting, made her look tempting.

“Clarke, what are you doing here?”

“I could say the same to you, you don’t work Saturdays.”

“Tris is sick, I offered to cover.”

“But didn’t you work at the coffee shop today?”

Lexa was surprised that Clarke knew she worked there on Saturdays but she tried not to let it show.

“Yeah, what can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment.”

Clarke’s lips quirked up in a rather alluring smile.

“I’ll say.”

“So you’re here for… social reasons?” Lexa asked, feeling a little awkward. It was weird Clarke being on the other side of the bar for a change. Clarke laughed prettily at her choice of words.

“Yes, my friends are over there.” She pointed to a table in the middle of the room and Lexa’s stomach clenched when she saw that Finn was a part of the group. “We’re celebrating the end of the semester.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“It’s a shame you have to work otherwise I’d invite you over for a drink.”

“I don’t really drink.”

“Well I would have just bought you a coke or something then,” Clarke teased.

“I don’t think Finn would have been too thrilled with you inviting me to join you guys. He doesn’t seem to like me very much.” Finn had been in a few times now and Lexa could definitely feel the glares he’d been throwing her way.

“Who cares what he thinks. He just doesn’t like it when I pay attention to people other than him. He’s still not given up on the hope that one day I’ll wake up and decide I’m in love with him. Not likely.”

“No?”

“No. Even if I was in to him, I’m not exactly looking to be with anyone right now.”

“Oh, OK.”

Clarke’s gentle expression turned playful.

“Disappointed?”

“What? That you…No, no, just…”

“Chill, Lex, I’m kidding. I know you wouldn’t want to date me.”

“Oh no, it’s not that, it’s just-”

“Again, I’m joking, don’t have an aneurism on me.”

Lexa let out a nervous laugh and reminded herself to breathe. This was just Clarke, she was getting used to her, she didn’t need to panic.

“Can I get you something, Clarke? I’m working and Nyko’s going to get mad at me if I keep talking to you.”

Clarke glanced over at Nyko who was quite calmly serving the bustling group of customers that had banded together and then back at Lexa, clearly not believing in the slightest that Nyko would get mad at her. Thankfully she didn’t argue the point.

“Yeah, sorry, I’ll have a vodka soda, please.”

“Coming right up.” Lexa busied herself making Clarke’s drink and she found herself speaking when she presented it to her. “So vodka’s your poison, huh?”

“What?”

“Well that time you came into the coffee shop and you were hungover you said you’d been drinking vodka.”

“Oh.” Clarke took a sip of her drink. “I forgot about that. Yeah, maybe. It does the trick, I suppose.” She slipped her hand into her pocket, pulled out a twenty, and handed it to Lexa. “I’ll see you around.”

And with that she walked away and Lexa found herself watching her until she sat at her table with her friends. Next to Finn. Finn who caught her looking and stared her down until she busied herself with her work again.

What is wrong with you, Lexa?

It wasn’t long before Clarke came back for another drink.

“Hey there pretty lady,” she said, her smile looser than it had been before. From the way her eyes were shining, Lexa guessed that the previous drink hadn’t been her first.

“Hello, Clarke. Same again?”

“Please.”

This time Clarke seemed to be leaning on the bar more for support than anything. She seemed coherent enough though so Lexa was sure that it wasn’t quite time to cut her off yet. For some reason, the fact that Clarke seemed a little tipsy and freer with her words had Lexa feeling an odd brand of confident. While she’d been easily flirting with Clarke lately and was getting better at asking her questions, now she found herself actually wanting to be genuinely nice to her. It was a strange feeling, though not entirely unwelcome. Something in her really wanted to see how Clarke would react to a sincere compliment, not just how she reacted to Lexa’s rather obvious displays that she found Clarke attractive.

She presented Clarke’s drink to her and dipped a straw into it.

“You look beautiful tonight, Clarke,” she said softly, heart fluttering at the way Clarke looked down, smiling, and began playing with her straw. Bashful was a new shade on Clarke, and definitely an attractive one.

“I do?”

“Mhmm. Not that you’re not always beautiful, of course, but-”

“Hey,” Clarke said, cutting off her rambling before she could really get started this time. She reached her hand across the bar and placed it over Lexa’s where it had been clutching on to the wood a little too fiercely. It was cold yet soft and Lexa fought the urge to move her hand and link their fingers. “I know what you meant, thank you. You look very nice, yourself.”

“I look like I always look,” Lexa dismissed.

“Yes, and you always look nice.”

“Uh, thanks, I guess.”

“Wow, you are even worse at taking compliments than you are at giving them.”

Clarke laughed but Lexa didn’t mind because it didn’t seem mean. Clarke’s jibes seemed a lot more like playfulness these days, a kind of humour that included her, she wasn’t just laughing at her, she was encouraging her to laugh too. So she did.

Clarke tried to hand Lexa another twenty.

“No, Clarke, you paid way too much for the last one, that’ll cover this drink too.”

“That was a tip for you, silly.”

“That was more than twice the price of the drink.”

“Math doesn’t work in a vodka saturated brain. Take the money.”

“Keep it, Clarke. Go and have a good time with your friends.”

“You’re no fun,” Clarke pouted and Lexa couldn’t deny that it was cute.

“Some of us have to work to serve the rest of you so you can have fun,” Lexa said, smiling.

“Fine,” Clarke relented with a sigh. “But I’ll be back.”

“I’m sure you will.”

However, the next person that came to talk to her wasn’t Clarke.

“Lexa?” Finn said as he moved to the front of the crowd, trying to grab Lexa’s attention. He needn’t have bothered, she’d noticed him coming towards her as soon as he stepped away from his table.

“Yes? What can I get you?”

Finn looked over at his friends before turning back to Lexa and talking as quietly as the noise in the bar would allow.

“You need to be careful with Clarke.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, I know you don’t like me and I get that, I do. I don’t particularly like you either.”

“Good to know. What’s your point, Finn, I’m working.”

“I know, this won’t take long. I just…” Finn ran his hand through his hair, his face turning a little more serious. “I think I’m in love with her.”

Lexa’s stomach squirmed with discomfort and perhaps something else… Pity? If what Clarke said was true then this guy was in for a lot of heartache.

“OK.”

“What I mean is that, despite that, I’m worried about this thing with you guys.”

“What thing?”

“This… thing!” He waved his hands back and forth between them unhelpfully as if he were trying to indicate something to her. “You just have to be careful with her. There’s something… dark about her, have you noticed?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“She gets… sad, I guess. Distant. Cold. It’s a real contrast to the bubbly Clarke I’m sure you’re used to, the one that she was when I first met her. But when you get to know her, it’s like she starts slipping.”

“It’s not my place to get involved in Clarke’s life. We just work together.”

“I don’t think Clarke sees it that way.”

“She doesn’t?”

“She smiles more around you, you know? Pays more attention to you than I’ve ever managed to get from her.”

“I haven’t done anything really.”

“Then maybe she sees something in you, I don’t know. But you need to be careful.”

“I’m not going to hurt her, Finn. I…” Lexa hesitated, not yet ready to face how she really felt about Clarke. She wasn’t entirely sure herself, it definitely wasn’t something she wanted to reveal to a virtual stranger, and especially not to Finn. “We may only work together but I do care for her.”

“No, you need to be careful. People like Clarke… They’re all well and good until things go wrong and then…” Finn sighed. “I don’t know, I just don’t think it’ll end well.”

“If you’re just trying to drive me away so you can be with her, you needn’t bother. There’s nothing going on between us.”

“Not yet.”

“Finn-”

“Has she ever told you why she transferred?”

“Sort of, I guess. She said it wasn’t working out.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit vague?”

“She’s entitled to her privacy.”

“But she’s not told anyone what happened. We’re supposed to be her friends.”

“You might be but I’m not. It’s not my place to pry into her reasoning behind anything.”

“I just want to help her, to make her happy.” Finn’s whole demeanour seemed to sag and Lexa felt a little sorry for him, actually. He was obviously just trying to make himself feel better about Clarke not wanting to be with him, making out that she was damaged or something so he could justify it.

“Look, Finn, I appreciate that you care a lot about her but I’m really not the right person to be talking to about this. If Clarke wants to share her past with you, she will. But she’s a private person, the kind of person that only shares with someone when it feels right. I can’t help it that she hasn’t found that person yet. I’m sure she’ll find them in time and maybe they can help her out if she’s as sad as you say. But she seems fine to me.”

Finn looked at her disbelievingly and honestly, Lexa didn’t blame him. She didn’t quite believe herself either. There was something a little off about Clarke sometimes but she’d always just figured it was just more obvious when Clarke was sad or feeling off because she was usually so happy and bubbly. It was just the contrast that made it seem worse. Most people had dark, sad stuff in their past and Clarke definitely deserved her privacy.

“Just be careful, OK? Don’t lead her on if you don’t like her, and take care of yourself if you do, OK?”

“Finn-”

“Please, Lexa.”

“OK, fine, I’ll be careful.”

“That’s all I ask. Well, for that and a beer, please. Oh, and another vodka soda for Clarke.”

And just like that they were back to the curt and stilted speech that she had been accustomed to with Finn.

Clarke didn’t come back up to the bar again, her friends seemed to supply her drinks for her, and Lexa couldn’t even lie to herself and say she wasn’t disappointed. A small dose of Clarke had brightened up her night and she was seriously lacking again after that strange encounter with Finn.

“Are you OK here for a few minutes, Nyko? I’m going to go and gather up some glasses,” Lexa said a little while later, eager to leave the confines of the space behind the bar and stretch her legs for a bit.

“Go for it.”

Lexa nodded, grabbed a tray, and headed to the nearest table to start piling up the glasses people had left behind or were no longer using. The bar was quieter now, they were only an hour from closing and this was often the kind of time people started moving on to other bigger, busier places like the clubs. Clarke’s group of friends had got smaller but she was still sat there with a few guys, one of them being Finn. Lexa made her way back and forth gathering up glasses and after about five minutes Clarke noticed her.

“Lexa!” She leapt up and stumbled as she tried to walk over to her. Lexa somehow managed to put her tray down and catch Clarke before she could go hurtling onto the floor. “Wow, you’re like Spiderman!”

Lexa pushed Clarke upright and let go of her but Clarke grabbed onto her forearm as if she needed her to keep steady.

“Um…”

“You know how in the first one when Mary Jane falls and Peter runs over and catches her, but y’know, he also caught her whole tray of food like pow, pow, pow!” Clarke whipped her hand around as if she were trying to catch imaginary falling food on it, her other one still firmly gripping on to Lexa.

“Oh yeah, right.”

“My hero,” Clarke said, grinning. “Thank you.”

“Sure, Clarke. No problem.”

Clarke wobbled a little and Lexa’s hands automatically came up to rest on her hips to steady her.

“How much have you had to drink?” Lexa kept one hand on Clarke’s hip and brought the other to her cheek, looking into her eyes. Clarke blinked up at her lazily, eyes glassy, a loose smile on her lips.

“A few, I think. I feel kinda like jell-o, y’know. I like jell-o, it’s wobbly and bright and fun. Do you like jell-o?”

“Yes, I do. Clarke, I’m going to get you a glass of water and you’re going to drink it all, alright?”

“No, don’t go! Stay with me, stay and dance!”

“I’m working, you know we don’t get dance breaks.”

“Come on, Lex, I told you that you need to loosen up. I can teach you how to do that, I’m good at being loose, just look at me!”

She began to sway her hips from side to side, the movement running quite elegantly up her whole body for someone so inebriated. Somehow Lexa’s hands were both at Clarke’s hips again and gripping harder as arms looped around her neck, their bodies coming close.

“See, dancing is good.”

“I’m not dancing.”

“You’re not? But everything feels like it’s moving.”

“That’s just you. Oh, and that vodka is probably sloshing around inside you and making you dizzy.”

“Oh yeah, maybe.”

Clarke giggled and pulled her head back to look at Lexa properly.

“You’re really pretty, y’know.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

“Yes, Clarke.”

Clarke frowned at her.

“You don’t have to just say it because I asked, you can say no. I don’t want to make you say it.”

“I mean it, Clarke.”

“You sure? Because it’s OK if you don’t think I’m pretty. I’ll think you’re pretty either way.”

She couldn’t help but smile at the way Clarke was looking at her, so concerned that she may have led her into saying something she didn’t mean. She swept the hair back from Clarke’s forehead with gentle fingers and looked right into her eyes as she spoke.

“You’re gorgeous, that’s what I think.”

And with that Clarke gave a happy sigh, burrowing her head in Lexa’s neck. Lexa caught sight of Finn glaring at the two of them over Clarke’s shoulder and she found her arms wrapping protectively around Clarke’s back. When Clarke finally pulled away, Lexa guided her back to her chair and was relieved when she sat down without a fuss.

“I’m going to get you that water, OK?”

“Don’t go,” Clarke pouted.

“Keep an eye on her,” Lexa said pointedly to Finn who just raised his eyebrows at her, obviously completely disbelieving everything she’d said earlier about there being nothing going on between the two of them.

It took Lexa longer than she’d have liked to get the water back to Clarke, she had to help Nyko out for a bit, but she eventually got it to her. The Clarke she found slumped with her head in her hands was nothing like the one she had left ten minutes ago. She sat down next to her, putting the glass in front of her.

“Clarke, here, drink this.”

“I don’t want it.”

“She’s being difficult,” Finn told her, looking a little annoyed.

You’re being difficult,” Clarke slurred, frowning exaggeratedly over at him.

“I was just trying to convince her that she should let me take her home.”

“It’s not my home,” she said quietly, turning to Lexa with pleading eyes. “Don’t make me go back there. He wants me to go back. They all want me to go back.”

“Who do, Clarke?”

“She just keeps rambling on like this, she won’t let me take her home to sober up.”

“I-” Lexa started but Clarke interrupted her.

“I don’t want to go with you, Finn. I just wanna…”

Finn looked over at Lexa hopelessly.

“You’ll feel better after some sleep, Clarke,” Lexa told her. “He’s just trying to help.”

“I don’t want his help. He’s not sensible.”

“Clarke, what the fuck?” Finn said, looking rather exasperated and more than a little hurt.

“She’s drunk, Finn. Don’t take anything she says to heart.”

“I know but-”

“He’s not sensible,” Clarke rambled on. “He loves me, he can’t be sensible. Tha’s not a sensible thing to do.”

Now Lexa wasn’t sure who to feel more sad for, Finn and the way his shoulders sagged when he realised that Clarke knew just how he felt and yet still didn’t trust him, or Clarke for feeling that someone loving her made them unwise and untrustworthy.

“She doesn’t mean it, my sister used to say all sorts of things when she’d come home drunk. I don’t think she really meant any of it.”

Finn just shook his head, defeated.

“She’s right, I’m clearly no good for her. She doesn’t want me.”

“Finn, tha’s not what I meant,” Clarke said, putting a clumsy hand on his face. “You’re my friend, I’m sorry. I just hurt you, it’s what I do, I’m no good.”

“Clarke, stop,” Lexa said, seeing the way both Clarke and Finn were breaking. “Finn, leave her with me, I’ll take care of her, OK? I’ll take her into the back and let her sleep it off for a bit and when I’m finished here I’ll get a cab and take her home.”

“You sure? She’s really difficult when she’s like this,” Finn said, looking genuinely concerned.

Clarke scooted closer to Lexa, wrapping her arms around her and burying her head in Lexa’s neck. Lexa didn’t even notice how she wrapped a protective arm around Clarke as she spoke.

“I’m sure. I had to look after my drunken sister a lot when we were teenagers and she was a far more difficult person than Clarke. I’ll be fine. She’ll be fine, I promise.”

Finn looked at her for a few seconds before finally nodding.

“Clarke’s got my number in her phone if you need me, OK?”

“We’ll be fine but thank you, Finn. Get home safe.”

“You too.”

And with that Finn and the other guys left, all looking decidedly awkward. Clarke’s hold tightened and Lexa turned in her chair so she could wrap both of her arms around her. The longer she stayed there the more anxious she became, she was supposed to be working, but when she heard Clarke sob quietly against her she knew she wasn’t going to move until Clarke was ready. She looked over at Nyko with what she hoped was an apologetic expression and he offered her a sad smile.

 

*

 

Lexa eventually got Clarke into their tiny staff room and tucked her up under her coat, leaving her to sleep while she finished up the last half an hour of her shift. Nyko gave her a sympathetic look when she came out and she just sighed.

“Is she OK?” he asked.

“Yeah, just too much to drink.”

“We’ve all been there.”

“Yeah,” Lexa agreed, even though she hadn’t been, actually.

“So you two are getting on well, then? I know you weren’t too keen on her at first.”

“I suppose we are. Clarke… Well, she surprised me.”

Nyko smiled at her, soft and unjudgemental.

“She’s lucky to have a friend like you, Lexa.”

Lexa felt herself blush but she also felt a little nervous. Were she and Clarke friends?

“Thanks. And Nyko? Could you maybe not mention this to Indra? I don’t think she’d be overly happy knowing a member of her staff was in here getting wasted, even if she wasn’t actually working.”

“No problem, but maybe tell Clarke to do her drinking elsewhere next time. Or, you know, try and get her to learn her limits.”

“Will do.”

When it came time to take Clarke home, she resisted once again.

“You want me to give you guys a ride?” Nyko asked, coming into the staff room, apparently drawn in by Clarke’s vociferous protests.

“If you wouldn’t mind, that would be great,” Lexa said.

Clarke pulled on Lexa’s hand from where she was sat on the couch until Lexa sat next to her.

“I don’t want to be alone, Lex. Don’t make me go back there.”

“I…” Lexa suddenly had an idea. She wasn’t sure it was a good one but it might work. “You can come and stay with me tonight, if you want?”

“Really?”

“Yes really. I’d feel better knowing I could keep an eye on you anyway.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to impose.”

Lexa nodded her head, smiling softly.

“You won’t be. Come home with me, Clarke.”

Now that was a sentence that Lexa had never expected to say.

Clarke smiled.

“Yeah, OK.”

Having a quick nap seemed to have calmed Clarke down somewhat, or perhaps it was because she was no longer being told that she had to go back to her apartment that had placated her. She was no longer irritable, nor did she appear overly upset as Nyko drove them the ten minutes back to Lexa’s place.

“This isn’t my apartment,” Clarke said, sounding a little surprised as they pulled up.

“No, Clarke, I told you that you could stay with me. Unless you’d rather-”

“No,” Clarke interrupted, “no, I want to stay with you. I mean, I’d rather stay with you. I just kind of thought you might have been saying that just to get me to leave the bar, that you were just going to take me home anyway.”

Lexa shook her head, reaching across the space between them in the back of the car and putting her hand on Clarke’s thigh.

“I wouldn’t lie to you.”

Clarke looked at her for a moment, seeming surprisingly lucid, before her gaze was drawn down to Lexa’s hand. She traced her finger along the back of it, looking a little worn.

“Thank you.”

“It’s no problem, honestly. Come on, let’s get you inside, you’re going to need a lot of sleep to sober you up. Thanks Nyko,” Lexa said, leaning forward to briefly rest her hand on his shoulder.

“No worries, kid. Take good care of her, OK?”

“I will,” Lexa assured him and she climbed out of the car, rushing around the back of it to help Clarke who was struggling to get to her feet. She offered both hands out to her and when their fingers linked, she heaved her up. Clarke giggled as she stumbled forwards and into Lexa’s arms.

“Rescuing me again,” Clarke said, clacking her tongue and then laughing some more. “See? You’re definitely my hero.”

Lexa couldn’t help but be amused and a little flattered that she was actually anything to Clarke at all. She looped an arm around Clarke’s back, gripping onto her hip to help her to keep steady as they walked up the path to the front door. Clarke gasped, apparently having a sudden realisation.

“Finn was right!”

“About what?”

“You’re my knight!”

“Huh?”

“In shiny armour, you know, like in the fairy tale.”

“Oh,” Lexa said, surprised to be finding drunk Clarke so adorable. “I think you mean knight in shining armour.”

“Why, what did I say?”

“Shiny.”

Clarke stopped walking and frowned at Lexa, mouth hanging open a little.

“How’s that different?”

Lexa just chuckled and shook her head.

“Never mind.”

Clarke kept chattering as Lexa keyed in the combination for the main door to the building.

“I’ve always wondered where you lived and now I know!” She exclaimed, looking rather pleased with herself.

“Do you even know where we are?”

Clarke thought about it, tongue pressed between her teeth.

“Um, Arkadia?”

“Yes, funnily enough I live in the place where I work and go to college.”

“Don’t be mean,” Clarke said, slapping Lexa lightly on the arm as they stepped inside and walked down the hall to Lexa’s door. “Ooo, another thing I’ve learned: you live on the ground floor!”

“Your powers of deduction are outstanding, Clarke, really.”

“You’re being mean again,” Clarke pouted.

“I would never do such a thing.”

“Would too. But I do it to you too so I guess that’s fair.”

Lexa hesitated before she put the key in the lock. She was pretty sure Raven wasn’t up, she hadn’t seen any lights on from outside, but she couldn’t know for sure. Raven often had a habit of watching TV in the dark, swaddled like a burrito in a blanket, only her little face poking out.

“Now Clarke,” Lexa put her hand on Clarke’s arm to get her attention. She’d been staring off down the hall, distracted by god knows what. Lexa was starting to think that it wasn’t just cats and kids that seemed to see the ghosts lurking around in the world, drunk people did too. “Clarke.”

“Yah?” Clarke said brightly as her gaze whipped back to Lexa, eyes dazed but attentive enough.

“My roommate is probably asleep-”

Clarke cut her off, back to being excitable.

“Thing number… three? You have a roommate!”

“Yes, I do. She’s a heavy sleeper but if we do manage to wake her up she will be incredibly grouchy so do you think you can be quiet for me?”

“You don’t need to talk to me like I’m a child, Lexa,” Clarke said, folding her arms across her chest and scowling, embodying the spirit of a defiant child perfectly.

“Sorry…” Lexa said, thinking that actually dealing with drunken people was very much like dealing with children a lot of the time. Actually, it was probably harder because they’re bigger and of the opinion that they are capable of doing a lot of things while intoxicated that they really shouldn’t. “I just don’t want to wake her up.”

“OK,” Clarke said, her voice a loud hiss, an attempt at a whisper, no doubt. She put her finger to her lips. “I’ll be quiet.”

“Good.”

Clarke narrowed her eyes at Lexa.

“Shh.”

Lexa rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure how it always ended up being her taking care of people, apparently it was just her lot in life.

Thankfully there was no sign of Raven inside and Lexa managed to get Clarke to drink a load of water before sending her into the bathroom with an old shirt and some sweatpants of hers into which to change. It seemed a safe assumption that Clarke couldn’t get into too much mischief in there so Lexa went to get changed in her bedroom, tugging on her soft blue pj bottoms adorned with little stars and a tank top, opting to keep her bra on, feeling a little uncomfortable in the presence of a verbally unrestrained Clarke.

A clatter had Lexa rushing to the bathroom door in time to hear a pathetic little whimper come from the other side.

“Lexa?”

“Clarke, can I come in?”

“Help, Lexa,” Clarke whined.

“I’m coming in, Clarke.”

Lexa tried the handle and was very relieved to find that Clarke had neglected to lock the door. When she saw Clarke slumped in the middle of the floor, her arms up over her head, and her shirt stretched over her face with her bare stomach and chest on show, Lexa could only sigh.

“Lexa?” The pathetic little pile on the floor called out softly.

“Yes, I’m here, hold on,” Lexa said and she knelt down in front of Clarke, noticing the mess of toiletries on the floor next to the sink. So that’s what had caused the clatter.

“Hold your arms up straight, Clarke, I’m going to pull your shirt off.”

Clarke, mercifully, complied and Lexa lifted the material easily from her, revealing a flushed face and messy hair. Lexa couldn’t help herself, she ran her fingers through Clarke’s hair to neaten it and won a dopey smile for her efforts.

“I got so lost.”

Lexa laughed at drunk Clarke’s flair for the dramatic before it suddenly occurred to her that Clarke was topless in front of her and her cheeks began to burn, her eyes flicking off to the side. She grabbed the shirt she’d given Clarke from the floor by the door.

“Hey, Clarke, put this on.”

“Wait, I need to…” And with surprising dexterity for someone who had just got lost inside her own shirt, Clarke reached around her back, unhooked her bra and pulled it off, leaving herself completely bare.

“Oh!” Lexa practically squeaked, holding the shirt up between them.

Clarke let out a derisive laugh.

“Don’t be such a prude, Lex, they’re just boobs,” she chastised, snatching the shirt and tugging it on.

Lexa wanted to protest, to tell Clarke she wasn’t a prude, that she was trying to be respectful of her diminished mental capacity, but she realised nothing she said would sound good in such a situation. Mostly what she was thinking was that this really wasn’t the way she’d imagined seeing Clarke topless for the first time. Not that she thought it would ever actually happen… But that didn’t mean that she didn’t think about it from time to time. Clarke was pretty and Lexa was a very weak gay, it was hardly her fault. The slightly bashful smile Clarke gave her had Lexa thinking that Clarke understood her predicament somewhat.

Clarke apparently didn’t mind Lexa undressing her because all she did was unbutton her jeans and lift her hips up, eyes boring into Lexa’s until she realised Clarke expected her to help and she tugged them off for her. Lexa was ridiculously warm and she tried not to look as she slipped the sweatpants onto Clarke’s legs, encouraging her to stand and pull them into place herself.

They brushed their teeth together side by side at the sink, smiling softly at each other every time their eyes met in the mirror, Clarke making a ridiculous amount of mess with her toothpaste. She ended up with a smear of it on the shirt Lexa had given her and Lexa wiped it off for her with a towel, Clarke watching her all the while.

When Lexa got Clarke to her bedroom, she hesitated. Clarke, however, seemed delighted by the sight of the bed. She slumped down onto it almost immediately, burrowing her way under the covers like she belonged there. She nestled her face into the pillow and sighed, eventually noticing that Lexa had yet to move.

“You coming?” She asked sleepily, eyes fluttering shut.

“Um, no, I’ll sleep on the couch. You’re welcome to the bed.”

Clarke’s eyes snapped open again.

“No!”

“The guest always gets the bed, that’s like a rule or something, isn’t it?”

“Don’t go,” Clarke said gently, turning in the bed so she could look at Lexa.

“I…”

“I can share.” Clarke bit at her lip, all traces of the dippy drunken Clarke gone. Something in her demeanour made Lexa ache. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Lexa didn’t know what to say to that so she padded across the room and slid into the bed next to Clarke. She’d feel better being close by anyway just in case Clarke needed her, it made sense to sleep together… To sleep in the same bed, she corrected her tired mind.

Any tension that had arisen in Clarke when she thought Lexa was going to leave her disintegrated as Lexa settled down next to her. They lay facing each other, Clarke in a ball with the duvet pressed into the lower half of her face, Lexa with her hands tucked under her cheek neatly.

“How’re you feeling?” Lexa asked, slightly enamoured with how soft Clarke looked in the lamplight.

“A little dizzy,” Clarke admitted, voice muffled through the duvet, “but not too bad. You?”

Lexa let out a long breath, trying to calm the nerves that were making it their mission to tighten all of her muscles.

“Tired, I think.”

Clarke nodded.

“Long day.”

“Very.”

“Sorry for being a mess.”

“You’re not a mess.”

“I’m a big mess. Huge. Messy, messy.”

“Alcohol will do that.”

“It’s not just that.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah… Lexa?”

“Yes, Clarke?”

Lexa was a little worried with where the conversation might lead, Clarke seemed so serious, but she’d almost forgotten she was dealing with the nonsense of a drunken mind.

“You need more cushions.”

“Pardon?”

“On your bed. It’s comfy but it’s not cosy. You need a comforter and some cushions to make it extra squishy and comfy.”

“Do I?”

“Uhuh, I have loads, it’s so cosy.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

“I sleep better with lots of cushions.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have anything to offer you.”

“Oh, no, that’s OK. But what do you do if you need comfort?”

“I go to sleep and then the feeling goes away.”

“But what if you can’t sleep?”

Lexa dug her hand under her pillow and pulled out her scruffy old stuffed lion. As soon as Clarke caught sight of it her whole face brightened.

“Lexa Woods has a stuffed animal in her bed, this may be my greatest discovery yet.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“It is! I spent so much of the first few weeks we worked together trying to make you act like a human and here you are all mushy with a stuffed animal! Aww, you’re so cute.”

“Clarke.”

“Sorry, sorry, I’ll stop. And don’t worry, your secret is safe with me, I wouldn’t want to ruin your street cred.”

Lexa very nearly snorted unattractively.

“I have no street cred.”

“Oh come on,” Clarke said, looking over at her disbelievingly, eyebrows raised. “I bet you were one of the cool kids at school.”

“Not even a little bit.”

“No?”

“No.”

Clarke took the lion from Lexa’s hands and looked at it very closely.

“So what’s this little dude’s name then?”

“Why do you think he has a name?”

“Look at him! He’s too well-loved to not have a name. Plus you just said ‘he’, ergo, he totally has a name.”

“Clarke, you should sleep.”

“Oh come on, Lexa, I’m pretty sure I cried on you today, that is going to be really embarrassing when I sober up, I think you can manage to tell me your lion’s name.”

“Fine,” Lexa sighed, fidgeting a little. “He’s called Roary.”

“Of course he is,” Clarke said, practically beaming over at her. “And how is that spelled?”

“Um… Why?”

“Because,” Clarke said, as if that one word was a sufficient answer. “How do you spell it? Like the name or like the sound a lion makes?”

“Like the sound,” Lexa admitted.

“I knew it! You’re a massive dork!”

“Surely you already knew this.”

“It’s still cute each time I find more evidence of your dorkiness though.”

Lexa flushed at Clarke’s odd brand of compliment, quite enjoying the playful way Clarke was teasing her. She definitely seemed a lot more coherent now, the water must have helped a least a little.

“Lexa?”

“Yes, Clarke?”

Clarke had Roary clutched to her chest and she was looking over at her with beautifully wide eyes.

“Your lips look like they taste really nice.”

Jesus, Clarke Griffin was definitely going to be the death of her.

“Uh…”

“I really want to know. They look so soft and pink and…” Clarke’s tongue peeked out and ran across her bottom lip, drawing Lexa’s eyes to it.

“You already know what they taste like, Clarke.”

“I do? Ah shit, did I kiss you then forget about it? I do that sometimes.”

“No, no, I just mean… We both just brushed our teeth, I’m pretty sure they’d just taste like toothpaste.”

“Oh. Oh yeah. I guess. See, I didn’t think I’d forget kissing you.”

Lexa had no idea why Clarke’s drunken mind was veering onto this course but it had her heart racing. Clarke seemed at ease though and her eyes fluttered closed. Lexa thought Clarke had fallen asleep when she was quiet for a while and she was just starting to relax when Clarke’s voice startled her a little.

“I’m going home for Christmas,” she said, voice barely more than a cracked whisper.

Lexa opened her eyes.

“That’s great, Clarke.”

“Maybe.” Clarke pulled Roary in tighter to her chest. “You’re not going to leave, are you?”

“No, Clarke, I’m not.”

“Good.”

Clarke sighed, shuffled a little, and was still. Before long her breathing evened out and Lexa lay there watching her for longer than she’d care to admit.

Chapter Text

Unable to relax with Clarke sleeping next to her that night, Lexa had given up and sat reading her book instead, glasses perched low on her nose as she tried to get her relentless mind to give in to its exhaustion. It must have worked because one minute she was finally engrossed in a fictional world filled with badass warriors and the next she was waking up with her head slumped on her shoulder at an uncomfortable angle. The intensity with which the sun streamed in through the gap in the curtains made her snap to attention; it was late. Her gaze flicked over to where Clarke had been the night before, a rush of disappointment seizing her for a moment when she realised that Clarke was gone. The only evidence that she’d been there at all was the ruffled duvet and Roary perched precariously on the pillow.

The next thing Lexa noticed was that she was no longer wearing her glasses, nor was her book in her lap. She found them neatly placed on the nightstand next to her phone which she reached for instinctively. She was very surprised to see a message notification on the screen with the name ‘Clarke’ and a little red bubble with the number ‘10’ attached to it. She didn’t have Clarke’s number so it was very odd indeed. Letting herself sink further down into the comfort of her bed, she opened the conversation, heart tapping an upbeat rhythm.

 

Clarke: Hey Lex, it’s Clarke. I took your number off your phone and gave you mine, I hope that’s not too weird. I just wanted to apologise but didn’t want to wake you up, you looked so peaceful.

Clarke: OK, so here goes. I’m so sorry! For all of the things I remember and for the things I probably forgot, I am sorry.

Clarke: Also I’m sorry for just leaving.

Clarke: And thank you for taking care of me, for making sure I was safe, and for letting me sleep in your bed (I hope I didn’t kick you in my sleep, I’ve been told I do that).

Clarke: I really do appreciate your help.

Clarke: I hope this doesn’t make things awkward between us.

Clarke: But at least I woke up to us both still dressed so I can’t have done anything too stupid ;)

Clarke: Oh god, I’m so embarrassing, I’m sorry about that too.

Clarke: Anyway… I’m going home tomorrow but I’ll see you when I come back? Have a great Christmas, Lexa :)

Clarke: Oh and I totally owe you, by the way, you’re a good person :)

 

Of course Clarke was a serial texter. Lexa smiled a little at this new piece of information she had gleaned, thankfully giving herself something other than the remnants of her disappointment at Clarke’s absence to focus on.

She read the messages over an unhealthy amount of times and probably would have continued for a while longer but she was interrupted by an erratic knocking at her bedroom door after a few minutes. The source of the noise didn’t wait to be granted access, however, and Raven came barrelling into the room, limping over to her and settling onto the end of the bed with wide eyes and a massive grin.

“Did you have a girl over last night?! I heard someone leave the apartment earlier but this fucking leg slowed me down when I went to see who it was! I wanted to grill you for details but it was early and I know you worked late last night but, Lexa, tell me everything, woman!” She bounced on the spot, slightly haphazard morning hair loose and shaking along to her erratic rhythm.

“I might if you breathed long enough for me to get a word in!” Lexa laughed, only a tiny bit irritated with Raven’s need for information. She had become quite used to sharing things with Raven and even welcomed it a lot of the time these days.

“Oh yeah,” Raven said, panting from the ferocity with which she had spoken and probably from the effort it took to limp across the apartment so quickly unaided. “Oops.”

Of course, Raven completely deflated at Lexa’s story of what had really gone on the night before but she soon got excitable again when Lexa, a little reluctantly, told her about how Clarke had wanted to find out what her lips tasted like. She prodded Lexa with questions the whole time she was making pancakes for her, as promised, and was only finally quiet when they put the documentary on and she lost herself in the wonders of space.

After Raven had left that afternoon Lexa felt at a loss completely, she had to stay in Arkadia for a few more days before the bar closed for Christmas and she had no one left to keep her company. She’d have welcomed Clarke’s relentless flirting as a distraction and even her earlier, more irritating habit of just generally being annoying, that’s how bored she became. Working with Tris, Nyko, and the others just wasn’t the same. She thought about texting Clarke and telling her something to that effect but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Just because Clarke wanted her to have her number, it didn’t mean that she wanted to hear from her. She had only text her once, just to tell her not to worry about the drunken fiasco and that yes, she would indeed see her after Christmas.

Eventually Lexa got to go home for a few days, back to her family and the strangely comforting sound of her siblings bickering and her mom yelling at them to “stop it, for God’s sake, its Christmastime, can’t we all just love each other?” It was nice to be home, as it always was, and Theia really outdid herself with the dinner and the decorations, Lexa suspected she’d been saving up any money she could for a while to try and make it as special as possible. But there was still that hole in their family, the one that no amount of board games and piles of food could remedy, one that had only ever been filled with the sarcastic attitude and reluctant smile of the oldest Woods kid.

Theia disappeared for a while after dinner and Lexa found her in the back yard, shivering and crying over a photo of tiny three year old Anya in a Santa sweater with a cheesy grin on her face, eyes screwed tightly shut in her glee. She tried to hide it, tried to wipe away the tears before Lexa could see them, but her smile didn’t fool Lexa. So she wrapped her in a hug and Theia clung onto her so tightly that it was almost uncomfortable. She let her do it anyway and rubbed her back slowly, trying to sooth her, very aware that she was the only one her family had to lean on now that Anya was gone.

It wasn’t long before Lexa was back in her apartment alone again, getting herself ready for a new semester and new classes, and going back and forth to work. She found herself missing Clarke which was kind of odd, while she realised that she quite enjoyed Clarke’s company where she once had almost dreaded seeing her, she hadn’t realised that she’d actually become a little attached to her.

She was surprised to hear from Clarke before winter break was over, Indra had told her she’d be back to work the week classes started, but apparently Clarke was back in Arkadia sooner than that.

 

Clarke: Wanna come to a party on New Year’s Eve? I know it’s your day off and I thought perhaps if you hadn’t (foolishly) agreed to cover for someone else, maybe you’d be up for it?

 

Lexa didn’t reply to the message all day. Did she really want to go to a New Year’s party with Clarke? She probably wouldn’t know anyone else there and if Clarke was busy with other people, she would be left to fend for herself. And it wasn’t even like she could make Raven go with her, she wasn’t back from her parents’ yet.

But that night she lay awake in bed unable to sleep, watching the shadows of the tree branches scratching at her ceiling again in the moonlight, and she couldn’t stop thinking about Clarke’s offer. She should at least reply, whether she decided to go or not, right? That was just common curtesy. So it was out of a sense of politeness, and a desire to actually sleep, that Lexa finally picked up her phone and replied to Clarke’s message.

 

Lexa: That depends.

 

Clarke text back almost straight away and Lexa felt a thrill run through her.

 

Clarke: On what?

Lexa: You’re not going to get really drunk and refuse to go home, leaving me with no choice but to bring you back to my place again, are you? ;)

 

Lexa was surprised at her impulse to be a little humorous, she was fully intending on turning Clarke down until she started typing. But there was something undeniable about Clarke, and about Lexa’s desire to be in her company. It was strange but there it was, pulling her towards Clarke at all times, powerful and so easy to get lost in.

 

Clarke: Not one of my finest moments, I’ll admit. If you object so much to the idea of me ending up in your bed again, it may ease your mind to know that the party is actually at my place. You can just stow me away in my own bed and leave me to it :)

 

That actually did ease Lexa’s mind a little and she lay there grinning by the light of her phone until it gave up on her and left her in the darkness with nothing but a massive blind spot in the centre of her vision and something that felt oddly like excitement swimming inside her at the thought of seeing Clarke earlier than she had anticipated.

And so that was how two days later Lexa found herself walking up the street to Clarke’s building, Clarke having text her the address, passing many parties in full force on her way. Clarke’s apartment was on campus and apparently a lot of students had come back for New Year’s. Lexa felt stiff as she walked, her jeans seeming too tight, her coat feeling like it was restricting her, and part of her considered just going home again. It’d probably be safer just to tuck herself up in bed with a book and ring in the new year that way, just like she always did. But she had told Clarke she’d go, it would be rude not to show up, so she carried on walking, stuffing her hands in her pockets and breathing in the frigid air in the hopes that it would calm the agitated fluttering of nerves under her skin.

She managed to slip through the door of Clarke’s building as a drunken couple stumbled out of it, saving her from ringing the buzzer, and she got in the elevator to the fourth floor. It was rickety and old and it was with relief that Lexa stepped towards the door as it slowed to a stop. As soon as it binged open a wall of sound hit her, sticking her to the spot for a moment in her surprise.

Her eyes rushed around the world that had just come into life before her, the rambunctious alien planet comprising of the kind of New Year’s party that Lexa never thought she’d end up at. The hallway was packed with people talking and laughing, some wearing party hats, stumbling around and looking like they were having a marvellous time. Music blared from one of the apartments, all of which seemed to have their doors propped open. Lexa wasn’t sure she’d ever felt so out of place in her life. She didn’t recognise a single person. But she clenched her slightly sweaty hands into fists and slipped her way through the crowd, peering in each doorway looking for the right number and hoping that Clarke would still be inside her own apartment.

It turned out that Clarke’s apartment was at the opposite end of the hallway to the elevator and Lexa almost sustained several injuries on the perilous journey, the most alarming incident being when she tripped over a girl that was sat on the floor and almost landed flat on her face. Luckily for her, a tall and admittedly handsome guy caught her by the arm and righted her, allowing her to continue on her search for Clarke. The speakers seemed to be in an apartment in the centre of the hall which at least meant that it wasn’t quite as loud by the time she walked awkwardly over the threshold of Clarke’s place, eyes eagerly scanning for the person she knew would ease her amidst the throng of people.

“Are you lost?” An inquisitive yet friendly voice said, pulling Lexa’s gaze off to her side. She found a pretty girl with braided blonde hair smiling at her, a bottle of beer in one hand and a phone in the other. Lexa hadn’t realised she looked so obviously out of place and she felt deeply uncomfortable, wishing she had texted Clarke to meet her outside. Or that Clarke had warned her that the party was a whole floor kind of deal. Perhaps if she’d have known it was going to be such a busy affair she might have had the sense to avoid it completely.

“Oh, no, I’m looking for someone.”

“Perhaps I can help?” The girl seemed friendly enough, and thankfully quite sober, so Lexa nodded, hopeful that she indeed could.

“Her name is Clarke Griffin, she invited me here tonight.”

“Ah, you’re Clarke’s friend!” The girl’s eyes seemed to light up with recognition. “Lexa, right?”

Lexa eyed her with unintentional suspicion. She wasn’t used to people knowing her before she knew them. Her reputation had never once preceded her.

“How do you know that?”

“Well she told me you were coming, of course! I’m Niylah, I’m her roommate.”

The girl, Niylah, gave her a smile that almost felt like too much in its level of friendliness but Lexa appreciated that she was easy enough to talk to.

“Oh, oh, that’s good, I guess I’m in the right place then.”

“Yes hon, you are. I’m sure Clarke’s about somewhere. You can try her room first, if you like?” Niylah pointed to a door on the far side of the room.

“Yeah, thanks.”

Lexa offered Niylah a smile, kind of delighted at the prospect of seeing Clarke’s room. Clarke had seen hers, even if she had been too drunk to do more than just crash into bed, it seemed only right that Lexa was afforded the same curtesy. Plus, she was just really intrigued to see more of Clarke, to get to know her better. To see her in a setting that was inherently hers would be an entirely new experience for Lexa, one that could definitely prove to be enlightening.

“You know, Clarke and I don’t really see much of each other, I swear that girl is always busy, but she’s mentioned you a few times.”

Niylah was looking at Lexa in a weird way, perhaps a little curiosity tugging at her. She took her in with her head tilted, eyes looking Lexa up and down as if she were trying to figure her out.

“She has?”

“Yeah. She’s a nice girl, I think we’d be good friends if she was interested but she mostly just keeps to herself. I know she’s found transferring harder than she expected but since she’s started mentioning you she’s seemed a little… happier, maybe? She talks to me a little more. I mean, that could just be because she’s getting used to me but I think you’re good for her.”

It seemed oddly forward of Niylah to speak to Lexa like this without ever having met her before, and especially so if she really didn’t know Clarke well like she claimed. That was the second person to point out that Clarke was different around Lexa and she wasn’t sure quite what to make of it. She could feel that her cheeks were burning at Niylah’s words and though a part of her appreciated them, she wasn’t sure she was ready to deal with them at this moment in time. She kind of just wanted to figure her own feelings out before she tried to embark upon untangling Clarke’s as well. If there were any feelings there, anyway.

“Um, thanks. It was nice to meet you, Niylah,” Lexa said, beginning to step towards Clarke’s bedroom, eager to remove herself from the slightly odd conversation.

“You too, Lexa,” Niylah said, smiling genuinely and inclining her head.

She held Lexa’s gaze until Lexa finally turned properly to head across the room and she took a couple of deep breaths before knocking on the door, glad to be out of Niylah’s slightly intense eye contact.

There was no answer.

Lexa knocked again.

“Fancy seeing you here,” a voice came from behind her, making her whip around.

“Clarke!” Lexa exclaimed, both alarm and relief flooding through her at Clarke's sudden appearance.

Clarke beamed back at her, looking genuinely happy to see her.

“I’m glad I managed to find you,” she said, “I didn’t realise the party was going to be the whole floor otherwise I would have warned you. Luckily, I just ran into Niylah out there and she told me she just sent you here.”

“Oh yeah, she did. She seems nice.”

“Yeah, she is. She’s easy to live with, she leaves me to my own devices and we just talk in passing. It’s kind of what I need right now, it’s good to have some space.”

Seeming to realise she’d overshared, Clarke fidgeted on the spot for a moment and Lexa couldn’t help but let her eyes wander down Clarke’s body. She was dressed simply in a blue plaid shirt and jeans but the way her clothes clung to her curves had Lexa a little distracted and feeling incredibly goofy in her bulky winter coat. She unzipped it and slipped it off, Clarke’s eyes drifting as she revealed her fitted navy button-down shirt.

When Clarke’s gaze finally returned to Lexa’s face, their eyes met and their smiles mirrored each other’s, both a little bashful, and they stood like that for a moment, enjoying the oddly comfortable silence between them. Lexa startled when Clarke’s hand came up to touch her upper arm briefly, tongue wetting her lips before she spoke.

“I’m really glad you came.”

Lexa took in a breath, meaning to return the sentiment, but one second they were stood there just looking at one another and the next Lexa was somehow in Clarke’s arms, sinking into her, her coat falling to the floor, forgotten. Relief flooded through her and she held on tight, nuzzling her face into Clarke’s neck, hair tickling at her nose. Clarke gripped her back just as fiercely, quelling Lexa's anxiety over the impulsivity of her actions.

After a few seconds Clarke chuckled against her and Lexa pulled back, feeling vulnerable all of a sudden.

“Miss me?” Clarke said, grin cheeky but hopeful. There was something in her expression that seemed sincere, almost as if she were nervous about the answer.

“Actually, yeah,” Lexa found herself saying, pulled by Clarke’s expression into being truthful. “The bar’s not been the same without you.”

Because that’s the only reason she missed Clarke, wasn’t it? She didn’t miss her any other time, just in the dullness left in the bar in her absence. She certainly didn’t think about her anywhere else.

Oh come on, Lexa, how long are you going to keep this up?

She pushed her relentless questioning thoughts deep into the darkest corner of her mind and focused on how happy Clarke looked at her response.

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Clarke said, smile resplendent, somehow looking smug and yet shy all at once. “I’m quite the fabulous presence.”

“That you are.” Lexa picked her coat up from the floor, cheeks heating up. “How was your Christmas? I didn’t expect you back yet.”

“It was… different. I came back a few days early. How was yours?”

Lexa saw Clarke’s walls thrust back up so she didn’t push her, she reminded herself that if Clarke wanted to talk, she would. And that Clarke didn’t owe her any explanations, it’s not like they were friends. And even if they were, she still wouldn’t push her.

“It was nice, thanks.”

“Good. Shall we get a drink?”

“Uh yeah, I guess. I just…”

“What?”

Lexa turned and motioned to Clarke’s bedroom door behind her.

“I was curious to see your room. I was hoping you were in there so I could be nosy. After all, you’ve seen mine.”

Clarke smiled in a way that had Lexa’s legs feeling like spaghetti about to lose its battle against boiling water.

“Well if I’ve seen yours then I guess it’s only fair I show you mine.” She winked and Lexa rolled her eyes, pretending that she wasn’t actually thrilled by the fact that Clarke was already rolling easily back into her little flirting game even after them being apart for a while. It was comforting in the weirdest way, she had never thought she’d feel like that about something that had initially made her feel so off-balance. But she supposed she was just glad that they were moving past the drunken fiasco from a couple of weeks before, happy to re-establish the sense of familiarity they’d found with each other. “Why don’t you head in there and I’ll bring you a drink?”

“OK.”

“Coke?”

“Please.”

Clarke pushed the door open before leaving Lexa to her perusing, hand brushing down her arm gently as she went.

Lexa wasn’t really sure what she had been expecting Clarke’s room to look like but there was nothing out of the ordinary or exciting about it. It still had a small smile creeping onto her face though as she stepped inside. It was all in the little details that led her to infer things about Clarke, things that gave her an insight into the girl that had become this perpetual mystery in her life. There was a teetering pile of paperbacks on the far corner of the desk, each with a makeshift bookmark sticking out of the top part way through as if Clarke had started them all but got distracted by a new one before she had finished. The desk itself was haphazard in its organisation, a mess of cluttered piles of school work and random pieces of stationary. Her bedspread was covered in blue swirls, and she did indeed have a lot of cushions on it like she had told Lexa before, as well as a blanket thrown messily on one side as if she’d just taken it off herself to get up and left it there. There was a photo frame face down on the nightstand which also had at least seven hairs ties strewn about on it. It was all so Clarke and Lexa loved it entirely.

She stepped forward and picked up the photo, not even questioning the impulse. A young woman with dark hair and darker eyes smiled up at her, wrapped in the arms of a man with shaggy dark blonde hair and blue eyes so bright that Lexa knew exactly who these two people must be.

“So, this is my room,” Clarke said from the doorway and Lexa put the photo down, feeling a wave of guilt lap over her.

Clarke came to stand next to her, suspiciously eyeing her discomfort at being caught.

“Making yourself at home, I see?”

“I was just… It had fallen over so I just picked it up and I couldn’t help but look… Are they your parents?”

Clarke nodded, glancing over to the photo and then back at Lexa. She handed her a plastic cup and sank onto her desk chair, Lexa following suit and perching on the edge of Clarke’s bed opposite her.

“Yeah, that was taken just after they got married.”

“You’ve got your dad’s eyes.”

Clarke smiled.

“I do.” Her eyes flicked back to the photo again and she seemed to lose herself for a moment.

“Is it warm back home right now?” Lexa found herself asking. “I mean, I know you’re from California so it might be, depending if you’re from the north or the south?”

“It’s not warm, exactly, but it’s not cold either. I’m from San Diego.”

A million more questions passed through Lexa’s mind but Clarke looked uncomfortable again so she refrained from letting any out.

“That’s cool. I like your room, by the way.”

Clarke looked around her, perhaps trying to see it through a newcomer’s eyes.

“I feel like you have an advantage over me here, I was too drunk to really get a good look at yours and here you are studying mine intently. I have to admit that I don’t remember a lot about the end of that night, not just what colour your bedspread was.”

Lexa shrugged, quite enjoying having that going for her for the time being. Mostly she felt she was losing with Clarke but not this time.

“I believe that is your own fault there, Clarke,” she said, rather smugly.

“You have a point. I do remember one thing very clearly, though.”

“Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

“I met a very cute little guy named Roary. I woke up cuddling him in fact. Now I don’t normally spoon with someone I just met but…” Clarke laughed at the way Lexa rubbed at her forehead, clearly embarrassed. Just like that Clarke had stolen the power back.

“See, I was hoping you wouldn’t remember that.”

“Why? He’s cute! And you’re cute for having him.”

“He has sentimental value, I’ve had him since I was three.”

“Oh, now that’s even cuter. I feel honoured to have been allowed to cuddle him.”

“He smelled like you for a while,” Lexa admitted quietly.

Clarke raised an eyebrow.

“You know what I smell like?”

“You do spend a lot of time invading my personal space,” Lexa said, raising her eyebrows right back at Clarke. “I’ve become quite familiar with a lot of things about you.”

“Another good point. Doesn’t sound like you mind too much.”

Lexa shrugged, trying to exude an air of nonchalance she never seemed to manage around Clarke.

“I guess it’s not entirely disagreeable.”

Clarke took a sip from the bottle of beer in her hand, Lexa watching a little too intently.

“I decided to stay away from the spirits tonight,” Clarke said, apparently aware of Lexa’s fixation. “I don’t want to be a drunken mess again. I really am sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it, you weren’t that bad. Well, after I told you that you could stay at mine, anyway. Before that you were being a little more difficult.”

“I’ve been told I’m a very headstrong drunk.”

“That’s not exclusive to drunk Clarke.”

“Touché. I know I’m annoying a lot of the time anyway but if it’s ever too much you can just tell me.” Clarke sounded good-natured as she spoke but something in her seemed sad as her gaze settled on Lexa.

“You’re not annoying, Clarke. I mean, you annoyed me a bit at first but I’m pretty sure that was your intention.”

“Yeah well, you made it so fun,” Clarke said grinning and sticking her tongue between her teeth in a rather adorable manner. “I was bored, I guess.” Clarke’s smile turned to a grimace. “That kind of makes me sound like an ass…”

“Kinda.”

Lexa smiled and Clarke gasped dramatically, holding her hand to her chest.

“You weren’t supposed to agree!” Her eyes were shining and the way she held herself was relaxed and open so Lexa wasn’t worried that she had really offended her. Clarke at least owned up to her weird habits.

“Honesty can be a good thing,” Lexa said, still smiling. “And with that in mind, I should tell you that while I didn’t know what to make of you at first… You’re actually OK, Clarke.”

Clarke let out a loud laugh.

“Oh how you wow me with your enthusiasm!” She grinned for a moment before her expression turned more serious. “I’m glad I’m not too annoying now though.” She hesitated and looked down at her hands for a moment before looking back up at Lexa. With her head tilted down but her eyes up, her eyelashes looked impossibly long and her eyes were so blue in the light that Lexa could see their colour even from several feet away. “And besides, I found a much more fun way of getting to you, didn’t I?” She bit at her lip and Lexa found herself mirroring the action for a moment, enamoured.

“I guess you did,” Lexa admitted softly, and sipped at her drink. It felt odd to acknowledge their flirtation and the new tone it seemed to have taken on. “Do you want to get back to your friends?”

Clarke shook her head.

“None of my friends are here.”

“They aren’t?”

“Nah, they aren’t back yet.”

“So… Finn isn’t here?” Lexa looked around the room as if she expected to be able to see him lurking around somewhere.

“No, he’s not.”

That was definitely a relief.

“Have you spoken to him since that night at the bar?”

“No. I mean, he text me to make sure I got home OK but I’ve not heard anything from him since then. I think I pissed him off.”

“Yeah, maybe. He was genuinely worried about you, though.”

“His heart’s in the right place.” Clarke regarded Lexa for a moment, head tilted, hands fiddling in her lap. “Did he say something to you that night? I feel like I remember you guys talking at the bar.”

“Um…” Lexa hesitated. She didn’t want to get in the middle of their friendship and she certainly didn’t want to cause any drama. Lexa was pretty much allergic to drama. Well friend drama anyway, family drama seemed to be unavoidable. “We talked a bit, yeah.”

Clarke nodded, resignation taking over her face.

“I thought so.”

“It wasn’t bad though. I know I said he doesn’t like me, which he doesn’t, but he wasn’t mean or anything.”

“No, he wouldn’t be, he’s not really like that. Can I ask what you talked about?”

“Well, about you.” Clarke nodded as if that was what she had expected. It made sense, Lexa supposed, she was their common denominator. “He, uh, he said he’s worried about this thing we have between us.” Lexa did little air quotes around the word “thing” as her stomach swam unsteadily.

“Thing?” Clarke said, frowning. “You mean us as in you and me?”

“Yeah. He’s convinced there’s something more going on between us than us just being two people who work together.”

“Of course he is.” Clarke sighed. “Why do guys always have to make friendships awkward by developing romantic feelings?”

“I can’t say I’ve experienced that myself.”

“Ugh, lucky.”

“Uh, yeah. But come on, Finn’s not here tonight so we should enjoy that fact. We don’t have to worry what anyone thinks because ultimately it doesn’t matter.”

“Does it bother you that he thinks there’s something going on between us?”

Lexa hesitated, thumb tracing over the condensation that was forming on her cup. She could feel Clarke’s eyes on her and she took a deep breath, unsure what Clarke wanted to hear.

“No,” she said, shrugging, and her eyes flicked up to Clarke. “I know there’s not so it’s fine. We get on, we mess around a little, it doesn’t have to mean anything.”

An unhappy wave rolled through her stomach at her words, apparently disbelieving their sincerity. It may have just been wishful thinking but she could have sworn she saw a glimmer of disappointment on Clarke’s face. But that couldn’t have been it, that wouldn’t have made any sense.

Clarke nodded, expression becoming impassive.

“Exactly.”

The smiles they exchanged were awkward and Lexa couldn’t help but wonder which stray path she had wandered down in her usually simple life had led her to be at a party with Clarke.

 

*

 

“No way, you did not do that.”

“I’m telling you, I absolutely did.”

“You really proposed to a girl on the playground in third grade?”

“Yep, I made her a bracelet out of daisies and she wore it all day,” Clarke said, grinning and puffing out her chest, looking incredibly proud of herself.

“She accepted?”

“Of course she did, who wouldn’t? I was a catch back then, all the kids wanted to marry me.”

Lexa snorted, taking another sip of her beer. Somehow she had decided that there wasn’t really any harm in having a couple of drinks and the two of them were sat at the end of the hall just by Clarke’s apartment door, leaning against opposite walls with their legs outstretched next to each other’s. Beer was kind of gross but she was on her second and actually wasn’t too opposed to how it made her feel warmer inside - a little calmer, a little tingly.

“So you’ve always been this charismatic, huh?”

“Hell yeah, my major criticisms from my teachers were that I talked too much, argued my points too fiercely, and never backed down when sometimes I should have.”

Apparently she hadn’t changed much at all. Clarke’s fighting spirit was definitely something that Lexa admired about her.

“And you really have always had a way with the ladies,” Lexa said cheekily, remembering how Clarke had bragged to her about it before.

“You know, I’m going to be truthful right now,” Clarke said, eyes glittering as she patted her hand against Lexa’s calf, “despite my venture into wooing girls as a third grader, I didn’t keep that cool around girls for much longer. It’s a wonder it took me so long to figure out I was bi, really, I was such a flailing mess around pretty girls.”

“Kids play make-believe all the time, I guess. And girls can be scary, even if you aren’t attracted to them.”

“True. No one seemed to think my proposal was weird at the time, nor did they seem to notice my gay leanings, least of all me. But looking back on my childhood, it seems glaringly obvious in most of my memories. Is it the same for you?”

“I think I always kind of knew, to be honest. I always felt different. And my mom loves to tell the story of how I wanted to marry my third grade teacher, who was a woman, of course.”

“So you had a third grade gay escapade too!”

“I did.”

Clarke leaned forward, laughing, and held her hand up to Lexa. She heaved herself forward and slapped her palm against it, grinning.

“We are so cool.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“OK, so, first kiss?”

“Excuse me?”

“Who was your first kiss?”

Lexa took another swig of her drink, driven to curiosity by Clarke’s question. She wondered how much information she’d be able to get out of Clarke if Clarke herself was getting curious.

“My best friend Costia when we were sixteen.”

“Straight girl crush?” Clarke asked, eyebrows tilting in sympathy.

“Nope, she’d just figured out that she was gay and we were both curious.”

“Wow, you hit the jackpot! Did you date?”

“Eventually, for a while. After that first kiss we kind of just kept going with the physical stuff and pretended like we were experimenting, like it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t think either of us wanted to admit our feelings in case we ruined our friendship.”

“But doing… stuff with her didn’t feel like it would ruin it?”

Lexa shrugged, cheeks pinking as the memories came flooding back to her.

“We didn’t want to stop, I guess, so we pretended for a long time.”

“And did you guys… Was she your first?”

“She was.” Lexa was feeling soft from the alcohol in her blood, the memory of her first love, and Clarke’s inquisitiveness which made her feel kind of… wanted. Her guard was well and truly down and it wasn't an unwelcome feeling.

“That’s really cute, Lex.”

“I suppose it was.”

“What happened between you guys?”

“She moved back to L.A. at the end of junior year. We stayed in touch at first but it was too painful in the end.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“OK, your turn.”

Clarke grinned, running a hand through her loose curls, ruffling them in a way that was just unfair. How was Lexa expected to not be transfixed by the action?

“What do you want to know?”

“Well I told you my firsts, so tell me yours.”

“With a guy or girl?”

“Both.”

Clarke's gaze drifted to a point on the wall above Lexa as her mind pulled her back in time.

“OK. First kiss ever was when I was… thirteen? It was with one of my best friends, Wells. We kind of grew up together. Our parents had been couples that met in their college days so Wells and I spent a lot of time together. His mom… She, uh, she died when we were seven and his dad didn’t cope so well so Wells stayed with us a lot. When we got to be teenagers things started to change between us. We started dating and he was my first everything.”

“Now see that’s even cuter, you guys had so much history and got together. Can I ask what happened?”

“I started to realise I was into girls, I got curious and I hated that I had this whole other part of myself that I hadn’t unlocked yet, that I couldn’t really work out while I was focusing on Wells. I felt awful and I didn’t want to hurt him so I just decided to come out to him, see how he dealt with it, before I decided what to do next.”

“What did he say?”

Clarke chuckled to herself.

“He hugged me and honestly he looked so relieved that I was completely confused. Then he told me that he was pretty sure that he was bi too.”

“He did? Oh my, that’s kind of hilarious.”

The girls chuckled and Lexa felt warmer at the way it sounded.

“I know,” Clarke agreed.

“So what did you do?”

“We decided to go our separate ways romantically. We just tried being friends for a while, said we could always go back if we wanted, you know?”

“And did you?”

Clarke shook her head.

“No.”

“Are you still friends?”

“Yeah, we are.”

There was something pensive in Clarke’s expression and Lexa left her for a moment before resuming her questioning.

“OK, so tell me about your firsts with girls then.”

Clarke’s smile was a smug little tilt that made her look really quite beautiful. It was one of those ones that made Lexa feel as if Clarke was seeing right inside her, as if she knew exactly what she was thinking.

“Of course you’re more interested in that.”

“What can I say, I’m more into the gay stuff.”

Clarke laughed.

“Such a nerd. OK, fine, first kiss was a girl called Harper. It was during spin the bottle, it was sweet but she was straight so that’s all it was. First for everything else was this girl called Jess in my senior year.” Clarke looked off down the hall wistfully as if she were looking over at a beautiful sight instead of the mess of drunken bodies chattering and dancing down there. “She broke my heart.”

“Her loss,” Lexa said, squeezing Clarke’s calf briefly and smiling.

“Yep, and don’t you forget it.”

Clarke drained the last of her beer and pouted, got up and came to sit next to Lexa. She sat so close that their arms pressed together and Lexa couldn’t help the way that her eyes fluttered shut briefly at feeling Clarke’s warmth against her, even if it was through their shirts. Clarke reached out and wrapped her hand around Lexa’s beer, tugged it out of her hand, and took a generous gulp from it.

“Hey!” Lexa protested, snatching it back. “Get your own!”

“But I don’t want to get up. And anyway, I shouldn’t drink too much, I probably shouldn’t get another one.”

“Yet it’s OK for you to drink it if it’s mine? That’s some rather questionable logic, Clarke.”

Lexa drank a little more, eyes narrowed at Clarke. It was more awkward to look at her with her sat so closely but she couldn’t deny that she was enjoying the proximity.

“I’m just making sure you don’t drink too much, you’re bound to be a lightweight.”

Lexa wanted to protest but she could already feel the buzz of the alcohol so she knew Clarke was right. She definitely didn’t want to push it too far either, she’d hate to make a fool of herself and ruin what was actually turning out to be quite a fun night. The next time Clarke stole her drink, their hands touching for arguably a little longer than necessary, Lexa allowed it. She was weak, so so weak, because she really enjoyed watching Clarke’s lips wrap about the bottle and the way her tongue licked over her lips as she handed it back to her. She must have zoned out in her attack of homosexuality because suddenly Clarke was grinning and patting her on the leg.

“Earth to Lexa, I asked you a question.”

“Huh? Oh sorry, what did you ask?”

“I asked what Hogwarts house you’re in.”

“You like Harry Potter?”

“Of course, who in our generation doesn’t?”

Clarke had a point there.

“I was sorted into Ravenclaw, how about you?”

“I guess I can see that. I got Gryffindor.”

Lexa smiled.

“Oh yeah, I can see that for you too.”

“I feel like you’d be a good Hufflepuff though,” Clarke said, shifting so she could look at Lexa properly. She turned her body so her arm was leaned against the wall, her legs tucked under her, knees just about touching Lexa’s hip.

“How so?”

“You just seem really trustworthy, you know? And I bet you’re really loyal, I’ve heard the way you talk about your family. I wouldn’t have said you were one when I first met you but you just seem so open and caring now. And you’re not confrontational, you’re rational and collected. But I guess Ravenclaw makes sense because you’re a total nerd.”

Lexa was surprised, and more than a little flattered, that Clarke had made so many observations about her and that they all seemed to be positive. She was so used to people her age thinking she was cold and distant but Clarke had persevered and made her way past the exterior and found the softer Lexa she was always reluctant to admit was underneath.

“There’s more to being a Ravenclaw than being a nerd,” she said, choosing not to address the compliments Clarke had given her.

Clarke laughed and rolled her eyes.

“I know that.” She bit at her lip thoughtfully, eyes lingering low on Lexa’s face. Lexa was still facing forwards but she could feel Clarke’s gaze on her and it made her feel hot all over. “I don’t feel like a Gryffindor really.”

“No?”

“No. One of the major traits of Gryffindor is bravery and I’m not brave at all.”

“You seem pretty brave to me.”

Lexa turned to look at Clarke and was surprised at just how close their faces were now. Clarke evaded her gaze, eyes going to her hands in her lap.

“Hardly. One of the things I’m best at is running away from things. Why do you think I moved across the entire country right before a new school year?”

Lexa shrugged.

“I don’t know, you never talk about it.”

Clarke's posture stiffened.

“No, I don’t.”

Lexa nudged Clarke’s arm, unnerved in the sudden change in Clarke’s demeanour. She’d sunk into herself again like she did sometimes and Lexa couldn’t help but wish that she knew what caused that to happen.

“Hey Clarke, you know, sometimes it’s brave to take care of yourself though, sometimes that’s the hardest thing of all.” Clarke met Lexa's eyes again cocked her head as if she were weighing up her words. She reached out and traced a finger gently down the underside of Lexa’s forearm and it was all Lexa could do not to shiver at how good it felt. The tension stretching in the silence between them was making Lexa feel uneasy and so she started talking again, trying to calm her fluttering heart. “And anyway, you’ve been very brave with me, or at least really bold. You’ve not exactly been shy in your flirting, even though it’s just a game. And you don’t back down easily.”

Clarke kept tracing patterns into Lexa’s skin, eyes watching the movement.

“Yeah but I could have been braver with you.”

“You could? In what way?”

Clarke’s finger dragged down Lexa’s arm to her hand and she laid her palm on top of Lexa’s, pressed the tips of their fingers together for a moment before sliding them together and linking their hands. She let out a deep breath and finally looked up at Lexa, eyes more vast in their mystery than the night sky, her teeth tugging on her bottom lip.

“Ask me again at midnight and maybe I’ll show you.”

Before Lexa could even begin to fathom if Clarke could have possibly meant what it sounded like, Clarke had jumped to her feet.

“I’m going to get us another drink, don’t go anywhere.”

Lexa downed the rest of her beer and leaned her head against the wall, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Another drink definitely sounded like a good idea right then, screw being sensible.

 

*

 

It was just a few minutes before midnight and Clarke and Lexa were stood close in a crowded room, Lexa was pretty sure it was Clarke’s apartment but she couldn’t be certain with the amount of people around them. The events of the evening were blurring behind her, a mash up of faces and smiles and Clarke’s brash and beautiful laugh, and she wasn’t sure exactly how they had got to this point. She was lighter with a couple of more beers in her but heavier in the way Clarke was looking at her, all open and admiring and beautiful. Music was playing but Lexa wouldn’t have been able to say what it was, she could just feel the beat in her bones as her heart raced at their proximity and the way Clarke tangled their fingers together, pulling her even closer. Her hands sought out Clarke’s hips as they moulded together, fingertips burning on hot, enticing skin as Clarke swayed to the music. Arms linked behind her head as their chests came together and Lexa may have even been dancing a little herself, enjoying the way it felt to have Clarke moving against her. It felt like the start of something but in the haze of alcohol and desire Lexa looked back and saw it wasn’t the start at all, they were already a few steps into this confusing path they had taken.

They stayed like this for while, their gazes locked, bodies writhing together - electric, intoxicating, all-consuming - and then the music cut out. Lexa blinked at Clarke, almost pulled away as she was jolted from her reverie, everything feeling more real once she was able to hear more than the thrum of music. It had created this isolated world for the two of them but suddenly there were people chattering around them and Lexa realised just how publicly they were situated and suddenly everything they were doing seemed incredibly intimate and, actually, quite scary. Clarke smiled and held her close, prevented the rising panic from taking over, fingers coming up to brush a few stray strands of hair off her forehead with a kind of tenderness that Lexa hadn’t expected.

TEN…

Lexa nodded in recognition as the lone voice rang out over all of the others. Right, it was New Year’s Eve, it was almost midnight, it was time for the countdown.

NINE…

Everyone else joined in this time but Clarke didn’t. Lexa didn’t either, she was too enamoured by the way Clarke was looking at her, voice box rendered useless.

EIGHT…

Lexa moved her hands to get a better grip on Clarke's hips to steady herself and somehow her hands ended up on soft, bare skin. She inhaled and bit her lip as she rubbed her thumbs over the warmth of those delectable curves.

SEVEN…

Clarke’s eyes fluttered closed at Lexa’s touch and she sighed, arms pulling her closer. Lexa hadn’t even realised that was possible at this point.

SIX…

Their heads seem to fall together at the same time, foreheads bumping softly. Lexa kept her eyes open, worried that she had gone too far, but Clarke was smiling. It was kind of miraculous.

FIVE…

Oh God, was Clarke actually nuzzling against her nose? Oh shit, she was.

FOUR…

Lexa knew for sure now what Clarke had meant before about being brave. And yet it seemed impossible, all of this couldn’t actually be leading anywhere, it had all just been a game. That’s all this was, right? Clarke was trying to make her feel flustered again.

THREE…

“Is this OK?” Clarke asked in the excited buzz that punctuated the regular rhythm of shouts around them.

TWO…

Lexa nodded, hands trying and failing to pull Clarke even closer, noses rubbing together again. She licked at her lips, wondering if in the history of the universe ten seconds had ever felt so long.

ONE…

“Are you sure?” Lexa couldn’t help but ask in that final second and she was pretty sure her heart was ready to beat its way out of her chest and start breakdancing next to them as Clarke nodded against her.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

As the cheers enveloped them, they stood fixed for another second. Just one second and Lexa couldn’t bring herself to breathe at all. Just as she was beginning to think that Clarke was going to back out, that maybe she’d have to Gryffindor-up herself, or even worse, that it was a joke after all, Clarke pushed her lips forward the inch that separated them.

It was the lightning strike again. The pulse of adrenaline and desire flashed bright behind her eyelids as she learned how it felt to kiss Clarke, to have her sucking on her lip, humming into her mouth, smiling against her lips like she made her so goddamn happy. It was surreal and yet somehow the most real and alive Lexa had felt in a long time. The music blasted back on but it was nothing in comparison to the heavy beat of Lexa’s heart as her fingers gripped hard at Clarke’s hips in the first few seconds of that kiss. There was a brief moment where their lips parted and they rested their foreheads together and that was all it took for Lexa to decide what she wanted. She kissed Clarke again, this time ready for the assault on her senses, hands coming up to cup at Clarke’s cheeks, thumbs stroking across that rosy skin. The world swirled in a cacophony of noise and bodies embracing each other but Lexa couldn’t care less who might be watching. She began to feel so light and she was incredibly glad that Clarke shifted her arms to hold onto her around her back, fingers digging into her flesh ever so slightly through the fabric.

“Yeah, get it, Clarke!” a voice shouted and Clarke broke their kiss, grinning hard and shaking her head.

“Shut it, Jasper!” she yelled over her shoulder before turning back to Lexa.

The sight of Clarke smiling so brightly with her cheeks flushed and her lips looking pinker with the pressure they’d been under had Lexa sure that she was lost in one of her dreams again. People around them were moving about and hugging all of their friends, exchanging quick pecks and happy exclamations, and yet there Clarke and Lexa were, entirely wrapped in each other. Part of Lexa wanted to write this kiss off as just a slightly drunken New Year’s kiss, she’d heard people often liken to kiss at the turn of midnight on a new year. But the way that Clarke was still holding her close, rubbing soothing patterns on her back as she calmed her down after their interruption, had Lexa feeling that perhaps it was more than that. But it couldn’t be, could it?

And that’s when the next lightning bolt hit her, at the exact moment that she finally realised what was going on, and it shook her right to her core.

She liked Clarke.

She wasn’t sure what they were to each other, she wasn’t even sure that they were friends, but suddenly she knew she wanted to be more. When the hell had that happened? This was all just supposed to be a game, wasn’t it? A bit of fun to pass the time. Lexa had never even liked Clarke as a person at first and now all of a sudden she was getting overwhelmed by a kiss? What if this was still just a game to Clarke and here Lexa was having feelings? She wasn’t sure she could handle that.

“Hey, are you OK?” The way Clarke cupped her cheek, the tenderness in her touch, and how her electric eyes calmed to gentle waves on the shore, had Lexa a little scared.

“Yeah, I’m good. I just…” Lexa shifted until Clarke took her hand from her face and she stepped back, distancing herself. “I just realised how late it is, I’ve got to get up early tomorrow to head back to Polis for the day.”

“Oh, oh OK, at least let me walk you home?”

“No, really Clarke, that won’t be necessary.”

“But you shouldn’t be out on your own at night.”

“If you walk me home then you’ll have to walk back here and you’ll be alone. And besides, I’m out later than this four days a week after my shifts at Sanctuary.”

“I guess you have a point. But be careful OK? Call me if you need anything.”

Clarke was still smiling but it wasn’t the same as before, there wasn’t the same light in her eyes, nor the same tilt to her lips. Lexa didn’t want to read too much into this, it wasn’t a good idea to get invested. Clarke had said she wasn’t looking to be with anyone and she should respect that.

“I’ll be fine. See you around, Clarke.”

“Yeah, thanks for coming.”

Lexa offered Clarke a weak smile and shoved her way out of the apartment, all of a sudden feeling like she was being suffocated by the amount of people everywhere. It wasn’t until she was halfway home, the cold searing in her lungs and numbing all of her skin, that she realised she had left her coat behind. She just kept on walking though, the rhythm of her feet pounding on the sidewalk the only thing helping her to regulate her heavy breathing.

Once she was home and in the safety of her bed, knees drawn up to her chest and fingers running across lips that she could almost still feel Clarke against, she finally let go of the tension in her muscles. It’s a terrifying moment in a girl’s life when she realises she has feelings for someone who’s probably completely emotionally unavailable.

Her heart sank when she remembered how she had lied to Clarke about having plans the next morning and everything in her ached when she realised that if she hadn’t been such a coward, she might still be kissing Clarke right now.

Suffice it to say, Lexa didn’t sleep much that night.

 

*

 

Things were… tentative, let’s say, once Clarke was back working at the bar again. She had tried a few times to start up their usual flirty antics on that first night but was only met with awkwardness and indifference from Lexa and she had eventually given up. Lexa felt the guilt chewing away at her for the entire shift and she hated it. She couldn’t help the way she responded to Clarke though, she’d gone into major self-preservation mode and it made her seem much colder than she intended. This coldness was completely at odds with how she felt inside which was all warm and fluttery, something she’d been hit with as soon as she walked into work to find Clarke already there.

Lexa hadn’t liked anyone in a long time and she wasn’t really sure what to do with it.

Clarke, despite it all, was gracious throughout the whole shift. She let Lexa’s coolness go without remarking on it and she backed off when she sensed Lexa was uncomfortable. For the most part they just concentrated on their work.

Lexa thought she’d avoided having to talk about it once they'd locked the door after the last customer left at the end of the night but nope, apparently not. She was collecting up glasses, itching to get home, when Clarke came over to help.

“Lexa, are you OK?”

Without looking up from her task, Lexa replied, trying to keep her tone as light as possible.

“Uhuh, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Clarke, I’m sure.”

“Because you’ve been weird all night.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You do, I know you do. You’ve been uncomfortable all night, you’ve been avoiding talking to me almost completely. You’ve barely even looked at me, let alone smiled at me.”

“I can’t be in a good mood all of the time.” Lexa’s jaw felt horribly rigid as she spoke and she hated the way her hands were trembling in her agitation. But the thing she hated most of all was how sad Clarke sounded, how lost. She couldn’t bring herself to look up and see just how she was affecting Clarke, just hearing it was bad enough.

“But you’ve been fine with all of the customers.”

“Service with a smile is a necessary part of working here.”

“That’s bullshit, I’ve seen you be grumpy with customers before.” Clarke sounded irritated instead of sad now and Lexa wasn’t sure if that was better or worse. Either way, she hated that too.

“Clarke, just leave it. I’m sorry I wasn’t feeling up to playing your little game today.”

She walked away with her tray full of glasses and took them out the back. Clarke followed her.

“It was the kiss wasn’t it? It made things weird between us.”

“No, Clarke, it’s fine.”

Lexa began to load up the dishwasher, still resolutely avoiding looking at Clarke. If she had she would have seen how nervous Clarke looked, how worried, it would have softened her and Lexa really didn’t want to be soft in that moment, she needed to be strong.

“Lexa, you can talk to me if there’s something wrong, you know.”

“There’s nothing wrong.”

“It doesn’t sound like it.”

“Look, Clarke, I appreciate the concern but we’re not friends, you don’t have to do this.”

Clarke was silent and that’s what made Lexa give in. She couldn’t help it, she had to see how Clarke was reacting. Without her speaking she had no way of knowing how she was feeling. Her throat thickened when she saw how hurt Clarke looked, how her eyes were glittering as they filled with tears, how she stuffed her hands into her pockets making her whole body seem small.

“Right, of course. We’re just two people who work together, right? Nothing more.” Her voice was all harsh angles and it cut jagged patterns into Lexa’s skin.

“I… I didn’t mean that to sound so blunt. I just mean that you don’t owe me anything.”

Clarke frowned as a tear won its battle and rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away angrily.

“If I fucked things up with that kiss you can just tell me, Lexa. I’d rather you just tell me than keep being this way with me. I just… I thought you wanted it too.”

She had wanted it, god had she wanted it, but it didn’t seem wise to admit that.

Lexa walked out of the room and into the dingy hallway but a hand tugged on her arm and pulled her around again.

Lexa.

“You didn’t fuck it up, Clarke,” Lexa finally said, quietly, hating how small she sounded. Clarke slumped against the wall and Lexa could feel herself breaking. “The kiss was nice, I really liked it.”

(Failure to execute detachment, a meek three out of ten at best.)

Clarke had her palms flat on the wall behind her and she looked up at Lexa, forehead smoothing out at her words.

“You did?”

“I did.”

Lexa leaned on the wall opposite Clarke.

“I did, too. So why did you bail?” Clarke voice was low and constricted, almost a plea for honesty. “I don’t believe you had to be up early, I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

“I know, I shouldn’t have lied, I just…” Lexa took in a deep breath, no idea how to get out of the situation. “I just have no idea what you want from me, Clarke.” She wanted to say that with conviction, she wanted to use it to push Clarke away, but instead it came out so sad that Lexa kind of hated herself for it.

“I don’t know either,” Clarke admitted, shaking her head and pulling on her lip with her teeth. “All I know is that I can’t stop thinking about that kiss.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Lexa had barely stopped thinking about it either but she couldn’t bring herself to admit that.

“Do you really think we’re friends?” is what she chose to say instead. She was aware that it sounded odd and a perhaps somewhat childish, it might have made her sound really dense or naïve, but she couldn’t help it. She had never been very good at friends.

Clarke gave Lexa a look of disbelief but she didn’t seem irritated by the question or Lexa’s blatant idiocy.

“Well I thought we were at least getting there. And I’d definitely like to be friends. There’s something about you that just...” Clarke waved her hand about as she searched for the right word, Lexa’s gaze fixed to her lips as she waited for it to come. “Something about you just fits. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, it does actually.” Lexa found herself smiling, relieved that she wasn’t alone in being unable to describe how she felt.

Clarke smiled back at her.

“Awesome, so, friends?”

“Yeah,” Lexa said, warmth spreading through her chest at how Clarke looked almost shy. “Friends.”

“Friends can hug, right?”

“Sure, yeah, I think some friends do that.”

Lexa gave a little chuckle but as soon as Clarke began to step towards her, her heart started up its erratic breakdancing again. She was going to hug her, or let Clarke hug her anyway, but before Clarke could reach her, something happened. Something in her mind must have short-circuited because she did something that made absolutely no sense in the context of the conversation they’d just had. She wasn’t sure what triggered it, maybe it was the look of serenity on Clarke’s face as she approached her, maybe it was the soft way her lips were tugging into a smile, perhaps it was even the way that Clarke’s hair still managed to glitter beautifully in the dim light of the hallway like she was some kind of goddamn angel, but something caused Lexa to have a massive lapse in judgement. She stepped forward to meet Clarke, her hands reaching up to cup her face and then sliding into her hair to grip onto the back of her head, and she pulled their lips together.

Clarke didn’t help the matter, she just encouraged her further, a fact that delighted her in the moment but ultimately just made it all harder.

The little moan of surprise and appreciation Clarke let out a fraction of a second after their lips met spurred Lexa on and before she knew it, she was assaulted by this all-consuming desire and she had no idea what to do with it. It was overwhelming, glorious and terrifying all at once, so she did all she could think to do, she pushed harder into Clarke hoping that maybe she’d understand it. She pressed her body against Clarke’s as she held her head close, lips unmoving but locked deeply in a kiss as she took a deep breath through her nose, trying to gather herself. The force of this kiss, and Clarke’s apparent willingness to let it happen, had Clarke backed up against the wall with Lexa covering every inch of her that she could with her own body. Clarke moaned again and Lexa sped up the kiss, sucked on her bottom lip, traced her tongue across it, and almost lost her heart in a frenzy as their tongues slid wet and warm over each other. Clarke’s hands were in Lexa’s hair one second and under her shirt the next, on her stomach and then her back, eager to discover all she could but indecisive and greedy.

When Lexa's hands began to wander too, discovering the surprisingly toned flesh of Clarke’s stomach, a scrap of remaining sense woke up in the back of her mind and she pulled back a fraction, just enough to break the kiss.

“Clarke.” Her voice came out deeper than she realised it would, laced with desire and, oddly enough, she almost felt embarrassed by how much the encounter had affected her.

“Mmm,” was Clarke’s reply and she gripped onto Lexa’s head and pulled her back in again.

If drowning could feel good then that’s exactly what Lexa was feeling in that moment. She was being submerged in Clarke completely and she knew it was bad but there was no part of her that wanted to stop. Unfortunately, that little sensible part of her was awake now and so she pulled back again, resting her forehead against Clarke’s as she tried to catch her breath.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she practically whispered, and Clarke just smiled and shook her head.

“Why not?”

“We work together.”

“So?”

“So it could get awkward.”

“Not if we don’t let it.”

“But it already got awkward today, I made it awkward after one little kiss.”

“Then don’t be so awkward,” Clarke said, humour colouring her tone and tugging at those delectable lips in a way that almost had Lexa breaking and diving back into the silky smooth feeling of Clarke’s lips on her own.

“But Clarke-”

And Clarke was kissing her again, tongue trying to convince her that it was OK, that it was completely fine that she was willing to give every part of herself to this girl she’d hated for the first three months that she known her just to get one more kiss from her. So she let herself be drawn in for a moment because she was weak, so weak and so, so attracted to Clarke, no matter what she had told herself before.

Reason was just about to pull Lexa back again when Clarke broke their kiss.

“I can hear you thinking, Lexa.” Her laugh was a gentle flutter in her throat that reminded Lexa that she hadn’t kissed Clarke there yet. She really, really wanted to though. She wanted to kiss her everywhere. “We can stop if you want.”

Their foreheads were resting together again and Lexa sighed, entirely conflicted.

“I don’t know what I want,” she admitted, because that seemed like the best thing to do.

“Well I’m pretty sure that I can feel what you want,” Clarke said, voice gravelly and seductive but her eyes sparkling with that cheeky Clarke light and yes, Clarke could definitely feel what she wanted. Every part of her ached for Clarke, it was true, yet why couldn’t she let it happen?

“OK, let me rephrase.” Lexa hesitated and took a deep breath, trying to gather herself. Clarke gave her a sweet little kiss on the cheek and Lexa blushed harder than she had in a while. Sometimes the little things can really get to a girl. “Not helping, Clarke.”

“Sorry, sorry, I’ll keep my lips to myself… for now.”

“Thank you. I’m not sure what I want to happen here… in the long run. Short term? Short term is easy but… I don’t want to make things weird.”

“I get that, I do. But do we have to think long term? Can’t we just enjoy this now?”

“Well no, for a start we’re at work right now. Indra lives upstairs, she could walk in at any moment.”

Clarke looked up at the ceiling, mouth hanging open slightly, and a cute worried look had taken over her face when she looked back down at Lexa.

“You have a point there. Yikes.”

“Yes, very yikes indeed. And next, if things went badly between us it would make working together really hard. I need this job, I don’t want to jeopardise it.”

“I get that, I do, and I don’t mean to be blunt here but it’s not like we’re getting into a relationship. I wasn’t lying when I said I’m not in the right place for that at the moment. But as a person I really like you and I’m very attracted to you.” Clarke paused for a moment, eyes turning away from Lexa’s. “You make me feel more than I have in a while. I was so numb all the time and then I met you and you were so grumpy and unapproachable and yeah, it became this game to get under your skin. But then it was fun and you were sweet and pretty and now I just keep thinking about how fun and sweet and pretty other parts of you must be and I just…” Clarke bit at her lip, eyes coming to rest on Lexa’s mouth with a longing that had the coil of desire low inside Lexa tightening further.

“So what do you want, Clarke?”

“I’d rather show you.”

Clarke’s gaze was devilish and delicious and Lexa’s eyes fluttered close as fingers snuck up her shirt and ghosted across her stomach, thumb briefly tugging against the button of her jeans.

Fuck, that’s really not helping.”

“I’m just being honest,” Clarke said, voice rough, her nose dragging against Lexa’s cheek, breath hot and enticing on her skin. Lexa squeezed her eyes shut more tightly and she allowed herself feel it all for a moment. But as they opened again, she let her head take over.

“I appreciate that but… I don’t know if I can do this.”

“What, casually making out with your friend and seeing where it leads?”

“Yes, that.”

Something in her tone must have seemed serious because Clarke stopped all of her efforts at seduction. She pulled her hands out from under Lexa’s shirt and managed to slip around her so she wasn’t against the wall, ridding them of each other’s touch completely. Lexa felt cold without her and the aching inside her echoed around in that emptiness that Clarke left behind. It was better this way, her head told her, but her heart still screamed at her not to listen to such foolish logic.

“That’s OK, Lex, I know not everyone can do that kind of thing. I’ve never done it before myself but… If you wanna do this, this… friends with benefits thing, for want of a better phrase, then you know where to find me. I’m willing to give it a try if you’re ever up for it.”

And then Clarke smiled this pure and devastatingly beautiful smile that completely contradicted the fact that she had just offered to have no strings sex with Lexa whenever she wanted it and Lexa was just so goddamn torn because this girl was incredible. She was a pain in the ass, she was a tease, she was stubborn as hell and yeah, she was closed-off and sad sometimes, but she was like the first drop of water after being stranded in the desert for a day with no supplies. Only Clarke had the power to quench the thirst that Lexa hadn’t even realised had been building inside her for the last few months of this game they’d been playing.

But suddenly it didn’t feel like a game, suddenly it was all feeling very real.

It was too much, it was all too much. Lexa had these stupid, inconvenient feelings now. It wasn’t just physical attraction, she was pretty sure it was more than that for her. Could she really open herself up to a physical relationship knowing that Clarke didn’t want it to be any more than that? She wasn’t sure she could. Her head and her heart were at war, her heart didn’t care if it got broken because having Clarke in that way was better than not having her at all, right? But her head said no, save yourself, keep your distance. So she did the only thing she could think to do in the situation.

“I’ll bear that in mind, Clarke. Thanks. But we need to finish cleaning up and head home, it’s getting late.”

“Yeah,” Clarke said, running a hand through her hair and letting out a deep breath. “You’re right.”

Lexa suddenly realised how ruffled Clarke looked, how her shirt was crinkled and hiked up above her hips, how her lips were redder than usual, her cheeks shining with colour, and Lexa had a weird sense of pride filling her for a second. She watched Clarke walk back out into the bar, hips swaying and hands smoothing her shirt down, wanting nothing more than to just follow her out there and grab her by the arm, pull her into her, and mould their bodies together until she couldn’t feel anything but Clarke anymore. What she wouldn’t have given in that moment to make her mind shut the hell up and just kiss Clarke again, take her home with her, and lose herself in her completely.

But alas, Lexa was a slave to her head. Her heart just had to settle for second place as it always did, cold and lonely in the prison of her chest.

Chapter Text

So the new semester arrived and classes started back up again, leaving Lexa with less time to dwell over her newfound feelings for Clarke and she was relieved. They still saw each other at the bar and occasionally around campus but their friendship had kind of ground to a halt. It wasn’t as if they were colder with each other, or more distant, it was just that nothing was changing. They flirted playfully occasionally but it didn’t feel as if it were leading anywhere anymore, Clarke seemed to just be letting Lexa be and she was very grateful for that.

A couple of weeks into Lexa’s tiring schedule of alternating between her two jobs, copious classes, and studying, and she was already exhausted. She only had one night off from the bar during the week, Wednesdays, which she usually filled with studying but on this particular free evening, Lexa was struggling to get motivated at all. She was just sat on the couch with a bowl of pasta, pushing it around as it grew cold, no interest in the sitcom playing on the TV. She hadn’t slept much in the past few days and she wasn’t sure why, it was starting to get to her.

When her phone rang, it jolted her from the haze in her mind and she put her bowl on the coffee table before answering the call. It was Ontari, and Lexa expected her sister to start complaining about their mom as soon as she picked up, or perhaps start talking about her boyfriend with whom she was growing more and more enamoured each time Lexa spoke to her, but what she actually encountered was much different.

“Lexa?” Ontari’s panic-stricken voice shot across the line to Lexa, making her gut clench instantly with fear. There was a low hum in the background of the call as well as, alarmingly, what sounded like someone crying. “Lexa, is that you?” Her voice was almost a prayer, calling out to her protector, and Lexa felt something inside her pulling her to wherever Ontari was. She wasn’t sure she’d ever been so terrified in the face of the unknown.

“Yes, it’s me. Tari, are you OK? What happened?” Lexa was sat up straight on the couch now, every atom of her being itching to tear off to wherever Ontari was.

“It’s all my fault, Lexa, Mom is going to kill me, oh god-”

“Ontari-”

“She’s gonna-”

“Ontari!” Lexa practically yelled down the phone, becoming more terrified with every second that screamed by. “Ontari, I need you to tell me what happened.”

“It’s Aden,” Ontari said, suddenly quiet, her voice breaking a little. “He was being so annoying and jumping around the house when I was trying to study so I sent him out to play on his bike even though it was dark and cold and I knew it was icy and… He fell.”

“Is he OK? Is that him I can hear crying?” Lexa’s heart was a sledge hammer against her ribs but she tried to keep the panic out of her voice because that wasn’t going to help the already frantic Ontari.

“Yeah, that’s him. He’s… I think his arm is broken.”

Shit.

“OK, OK, just make sure you stay as calm as possible, alright, try not to scare him.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

“Good. Where’s Mom?”

“I… I’m not sure. With a friend, I think. Yeah, she went to see a friend. I was babysitting, you know and, and-” Ontari took a deep breath, trying to calm her stuttering words. “I called her but it went straight to voicemail, so I called you. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“That’s good, kid, you did good. Where are you now?”

“We’re in a cab on the way to the hospital, it was all I could think to do.”

Lexa let out a breath, incredibly relieved and proud that Ontari was managing to think logically in a crisis. She totally understood why she was waffling and struggling with her words and it was OK, the main thing was that she was being proactive.

“Good, that’s good.”

“Will you come?”

“Of course, I’ll be there as soon as I can, OK?”

“Yeah, just hurry. Aden was crying a lot and he's only just starting calming down because I told him that the doctors could make him better.”

“And they will. Just get him there, take him to the ER, and I’ll meet you. Do you know which friend Mom went to see? I’m going to try and get hold of her.”

“No, I’m not sure who it was, she didn’t say, but she left a number for emergencies. I was gonna try it but Mom was so serious about not calling it unless we really needed to.”

“And we really need to now, OK, Tari? She won’t get mad at you. Do you have the number?”

Ontari said she did and Lexa ran into her room to jot it down on a piece of paper.

“I’m on it, Tari, don’t worry. Just remember to stay as calm as you can for Aden, OK, keep him distracted, keep talking to him, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Ontari’s voice was thick with tears as she answered.

“Thanks Lexa, I love you.”

“I love you too, kid.”

And Lexa hung up. She was about to call a cab for herself, figuring she could call the mystery emergency number while she waited for it to come, but then she had a sudden thought of something that could be a better option. She was panicking and her mind rushed to one of the people that made her feel safe. She hesitated for a second with her thumb hovering over the contact she wanted to call and then she remembered the fear in Ontari’s voice and she clicked on it, not wanting to keep her siblings waiting any longer than necessary. She had to be the calm and dependable one that her family always expected her to be.

Clarke picked up on the third ring.

“Well hello, to what do I owe the pleasure of your call?” Lexa could tell that Clarke was smiling from the way she spoke and she felt her heart slow just a little, her muscles relax just a tiny bit. Luckily for her, she didn’t have time to consider the profound effect Clarke had on her with only just a few words, it would have made her recent foray back into denial all the more hard to keep up.

“Hello, Clarke,” Lexa said seriously, trying not to soften when she still had so much more that she needed to sort out. “You know how you said you owe me for that night before Christmas? Well, I have a favour to ask.”

Clarke chuckled.

“Ah, I wondered when that would come back and bite me in the ass. What can I do for you?”

Lexa began pacing the living room as she spoke, free hand tapping against the top of her leg as she walked.

“My brother broke his arm and I need to get to the hospital as soon as possible to meet him and my sister there. We haven’t been able to get hold of our mom yet and they’re scared and I-”

“I can be at yours in five minutes.” Clarke’s voice was firm and no longer playful.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, see you soon.”

The line disconnected.

Lexa tore around the apartment grabbing together anything she could think of that she might need, shoving on her coat and shoes, before practically running out of the front door to wait for Clarke. She let out a breath when she saw that Clarke was already there with a minute to spare.

“Thank you so much for this, Clarke,” Lexa said as she opened the passenger side door and climbed into the car. “You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Where are we going?”

“Polis Memorial.”

Clarke nodded and typed it in to the built in GPS (Lexa was correct in her previous assumption, that car was fancy as hell) and clicked accept when she found what she was looking for.

“OK, let’s go!”

And Clarke started to drive, the gentle movement of the car actually soothing Lexa somewhat. She felt better knowing that she was on her way to being with Ontari and Aden, that all that separated them was a half an hour drive. She hated feeling helpless and now, with Clarke’s help, she felt a little less so. This experience only increased her determination that she was going to learn to drive once she’d saved up enough money to do so, sometimes you really did just need a car.

She glanced over at Clarke, really seeing her for the first time since she got in the car now that her panic was starting to recede. Clarke was dressed in work out pants and what looked like a soccer shirt underneath a thin, waterproof coat. Her hair was pulled back into a somewhat haphazard bun, a few loose curls falling prettily around her face. It was a different look for Clarke, one Lexa hadn’t ever expected to see, and it threw her for a minute. It reminded her that while she had been getting to know Clarke well, she was still kind of a mystery. It was also just weird being sat just the two of them with no customers around after the last few weeks of their tentative exchanges. While Lexa hated that their friendship wasn’t progressing anymore, she wasn’t really sure what else to do.

“Did I interrupt something?” Lexa asked, motioning towards Clarke’s shirt.

“Oh, not really, I was just about to head out to soccer practice.”

Lexa raised her eyebrows, surprised again.

“You play soccer?”

“It would be a little weird if I went to soccer practice but didn’t actually play soccer,” Clarke teased, taking her eyes from the road for a second to flash Lexa a look.

“I just didn’t know that, that’s all.”

“I told you before that there are many sides to me.”

“Yes, you did. I’m sorry to pull you away from your commitments.”

“It’s no problem, really. I’m happy to help. We’re friends, remember? It’s what friends do.” Lexa nodded, feeling a little odd about being the one that needed help for a change. “Is your brother OK?”

“As OK as he can be, I suppose. He’s in a cab on the way to the hospital with my sister right now, she’s trying to keep him as calm as possible. I actually need to try and get hold of my mom, do you mind?”

“No, go ahead,” Clarke said, turning down the radio. Lexa hadn’t even noticed it was on.

First she tried her mom’s cell, hoping that she’d answer but it went straight to voicemail, just like Ontari had said. So she pulled the crumpled up piece of paper with the mystery number scribbled on it from her pocket, smoothing it out with unsteady fingers. She dialled and it took a while for someone to answer, she had just been about to give up when the call connected. Lexa didn’t think she’d had a preconception about who she was expecting to answer the phone but when the voice that spoke was deep, she realised that she had. She hadn’t been expecting a man.

“Hello?”

She was only thrown momentarily and she ploughed forward with her go-to formality with barely a hiccup, trying hard to get herself through what could be an awkward conversation.

“Hi, I’m looking for Theia Woods. This is her daughter, Lexa.”

“Lexa,” the man said as if it were familiar to him. That was a good sign, confusing but good. “I’ll get her, hold on.” She heard a scuffle on the other end of the line, muffled talking, and then her mom’s voice came to her, sounding confused.

“Lexa? How did you get this number?”

“Ontari gave it to me. She called and said she thinks Aden’s broken his arm.”

“Wait, what? Why didn’t she call me?”

“She tried, it didn’t go through.”

“My phone must have died.”

“That’s not important, Mom, you need to get to Polis Memorial, the kids are scared. I’m on my way now, I should be there in twenty minutes.”

“Is Aden OK?”

“He’ll be fine, just get there, OK?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll leave right away,” Theia said, sounding dazed more than anything. “And Lexa, I can explain about all of this.”

“Not now, Mom. What matters is that we get to the kids, OK?”

“Yes, of course. I’m really sorry. I’ll call Ontari on the way, make sure they’re OK.”

“Good. See you soon.” And Lexa hung up, not waiting for her mom to say goodbye.

She sank into her seat, leaned her head back, and breathed deeply, eyes closed.

“You OK there, Lex?” Clarke’s slightly worried voice came to her, making her open her eyes again. She’d almost forgotten she was there, she’d got so caught up in the call and the weirdness of the situation.

“Oh, just fabulous.” Lexa couldn’t help the bitterness that came out in her voice and then she felt bad, Clarke didn’t deserve to have that put on her. She was being so good to her.

“You wanna talk about it?”

“No,” Lexa said bluntly, feeling angry at herself for being so affect by her mom keeping this from her rather than at the fact that her mom had actually been lying. She knew what was going on, she wasn’t stupid. She could hear Theia’s guilt over the phone. “I think my mom’s got a new boyfriend.”

She hadn’t meant to say it but there was something really soft and unjudgemental about Clarke in that moment and, for better or worse, Lexa had come to trust Clarke, to take comfort in talking to her. Even if she had found things overwhelming recently. She didn’t want to put all her shit on Clarke but she was there and she was offering and being kind. Normally she’d talk to Raven and there had been a time when she would have talked to Anya, but Clarke was as good as anyone. Maybe better, somehow. There was something soothing about her and she was definitely impartial.

“And that’s… bad, I take it?”

“Yes!” Lexa burst out. It was only a few seconds before she felt a little ashamed and she forced herself to calm down and be rational about it. She sighed, watching the street lights flick by outside as they sped down the highway. “No... I don’t know, it could be. It’s complicated.”

“Family often is,” Clarke said, sounding older than her years, her eyes still on the road. She seemed engaged without being over-interested, just enough attention and care in her to make Lexa feel as if she were just waiting for her to talk when she was ready. That calmness made her feel safe and eased her into explaining herself. She felt that if Clarke was going out of her way to help her, an explanation was the least she deserved. And as Clarke had said before, they were friends now.

“My mom doesn’t have the best track record with men. She…” Lexa hesitated. She loved her mom and this was a sore subject, it was a major factor in why Anya had left, after all. Not the only one, but it was part of what pushed her that final step out of the door and out of their lives for good. “She’s too trusting, she doesn’t learn. She loves so easily, falls so hard and so fast. She’s got four kids by four different men and none of them stuck around to help her out.”

Clarke let out a breath, fingers tapping gently against the steering wheel.

“I didn’t realise, I’m sorry, that must have been hard on you guys. And on her too, obviously.”

“It was,” Lexa agreed. “My dad stayed the longest. Anya was only six months old when he and my mom met and he stayed around until I was three. Anya and Ontari’s dads were never in the picture, they never wanted to be involved. Aden’s dad tried at first but he moved out of state a few years ago and he sends meagre child support cheques every now and then, he doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. So it’s just been the five of us, you know. Our mom worked a lot so we stayed with our grandpa but he died when I was eleven so it fell to me and Anya to help out more.” Lexa sighed, feeling guilty saying all of this. “I can’t fault my mom in her desire to take care of us, she’s always worked herself into the ground trying to provide, but it’s hard not to feel a little resentful about her choices sometimes.”

“Yeah, I can understand that.” Clarke’s hand came to pat awkwardly at Lexa’s thigh, as if she were trying to encourage her, to let her know that it was OK to have these feelings. Lexa still felt like it wasn’t.

“I want her to be happy, I do, but she’s obviously been lying to us about dating someone. She didn’t tell the kids where she went, just that she was with a friend, but it was a guy on the phone. She sounded so guilty. I think he must be her boyfriend, it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Clarke’s hand had stayed on Lexa’s thigh as she listened and now it squeezed firmly.

“Perhaps just give her a chance to explain herself before you get too angry, hey?”

“I’m not angry at her, not exactly. It’s just… It’s a hard situation.”

“She was probably just looking out for you guys, not wanting to pull you into her love life again and get your hopes up. Perhaps she just didn’t want to put that burden on you.”

Lexa hoped that was the case, she’d had enough burdens put on her by her family in the past than she should have had at such a young age. Not that Lexa ever thought of it that way. To her they weren’t burdens, they were her duty. She turned to Clarke and nodded.

“You’re probably right. Anya always acted like our mom was a bad person, that she was being selfish dragging us all through it and I can see why but… I could never hate her for it like Anya did. I think our mom was just lonely.”

Clarke returned her hand to the steering wheel, nodding.

“And Anya is your other sister? She’s older?”

“Yeah.”

It was in that moment that Lexa realised that she hadn’t really talked much about her family to Clarke before. She’d made a few comments about thanksgiving and Christmas, mentioning Ontari and Aden a few times, but she’d never mentioned Anya by name until now. It was kind of weird to talk about her with anyone when considering that she was the thing that their family had spent the last two and a half years trying to get over. Lexa and Raven talked about her sometimes, she knew she was still in touch with Anya and they'd actually met a few times.

Lexa was relieved when she saw the sign for the hospital and realised that she wouldn’t have to carry on the conversation. She was stressed enough without going into the whole Anya story too.

“You can just drop me off out the front if you’d like, Clarke, thank you so much for the ride.”

“Do you want me to stay?”

Something inside Lexa tugged and she really wanted to say yes, to have Clarke stay and keep her calm, but she knew she shouldn’t.

“Oh no, you don’t have to do that.”

“Are you sure? I mean, I’ve already missed soccer practice so I don’t have anywhere to be.”

“I’m really sorry about that,” Lexa said, unbuckling her seatbelt, “and I really appreciate your help. But you should go, enjoy the rest of your evening. I’m sure my mom can give me a ride home later.”

“I really don’t mind hanging around, Lex.”

“Who knows how long I’ll even be here.”

“It could take a while, ERs can be slow, then there’s the X-ray and everything…” Clarke said, trying to catch Lexa’s eye, sensing her pulling away. “But I can just hang out in the car, or hang out nearby, get some dinner or something. Or I can just come back later and get you, I don’t sleep till late.”

Clarke seemed so insistent about sticking around that Lexa stupidly let herself be lulled by her again.

“You can stay and maybe come in with me?” Lexa’s heart was beating hard, filled with that ridiculous hope that Clarke could be more for her than she actually was. “Then you don’t have to be bored on your own and we can just hang out and wait together? Talk a little?”

“Oh…” Clarke cut the engine, having just pulled into a parking space. “I’m not sure that’s such a great idea…”

“No, no, of course not, I just thought-”

“No it’s not… I just, I’m, um, I’m not great with kids, you know? I don’t like them or they don’t like me or… We just don’t get on so well. I’d probably just make things worse. Besides, it’s times like this that you need family, they wouldn’t want some strange girl hanging around.”

No, but I might.

Lexa watched the way that Clarke’s hands were fiddling in her lap.

“You might have to get used to kids if you want to be a doctor, Clarke.”

“I told you, I don’t know what I want anymore.” Clarke’s voice was a little harsh and very defensive and Lexa cringed, wishing she hadn’t said anything. She knew a little something about not knowing what she wanted and she felt bad for making Clarke so agitated.

“Just go home, Clarke, I’ll see you around. Thanks for the ride.”

And she left the car, not looking back as she hastened towards the main entrance.

 

*

 

Lexa first came across the term ‘half-sister’ when she was in the first grade and one of her classmates noticed her talking to Anya in the playground at recess. The girl asked Lexa who Anya was later day and she told her proudly that she was her big sister.

“But she doesn’t look like you, my big sister looks like me,” the girl had said, narrowing her eyes at Lexa, apparently not quite believing her.

“Not all sisters look the same,” Lexa protested, feeling confused as to why this girl was questioning the validity of her sister at all. She was her sister, it was a fact that she didn’t know how to prove.

“Is she your real sister?”

“What’s a not real sister? We live together with our mom and our other sister and we fight and stuff, that’s a real sister. You saw her, I didn’t make her up.”

The girl just folded her arms across her bright pink carebear shirt, frown never fading.

“Do you have the same dad?”

“Uh, no.”

“Oh,” the girl just rolled her eyes at Lexa as if she thought she was foolish. “Then she’s your half-sister.”

And Lexa had almost laughed at that, she began to smile but the girl still looked serious so she stopped herself. She just kept thinking, how is Anya half of a sister? She’s big and tall and annoying, Lexa was pretty sure that she couldn’t be half of anything.

She asked Anya about it later, feeling a little nervous. She didn’t want Anya to be any less real, any less whole, she was her sister and she loved her more than anything.

“Anya?” she said, shuffling into Anya’s room where she was laying on her bed throwing a ball repeatedly into the air.

“Yeah?” Anya didn’t stop what she was doing, didn’t even glance over at Lexa but she didn’t let that deter her.

“Can I ask you something?”

“If I say no, will you still ask anyway?”

“Well, yeah, I guess…”

Anya laughed to herself and sat up, leaning her back against the wall, and patted the spot next to her.

“What’s up? You’ve got worried-Lexa forehead.”

Lexa rubbed at the creases that had formed in her skin and tried to smooth them out but they just kept springing back again.

“This girl at school said you’re my half-sister.”

Anya looked at her for a moment, expressionless.

“I am your half-sister.”

Lexa’s eyes widened as she gazed over at her big sister. She looked her up and down but she definitely didn’t look like half of a sister.

“But… You can’t be… I don’t get it?”

“You know what a half-sister is, right?”

Lexa shook her head.

“No, not really. You’re not half a person, are you?”

Anya laughed at that and it made Lexa feel even smaller than she already looked in her too big denim overalls and long braids. When Anya saw her expression she put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into an awkward side-hug for a moment.

“It doesn’t mean I’m half a person, silly, it means that we share half of our parents. We have the same mom but different dads, that’s what makes us half.”

“But half sounds like less, I don’t like it, you’re just my sister.”

“Hey, just because we’re half, doesn’t make us any less of a family. Even if one of us was adopted we’d still be sisters. We’re sisters because we live together and we love each other, even if you’re a pain in the butt.”

Lexa wrinkled up her nose.

“Nuhuh, you’re a pain in the butt!”

Anya just chuckled at her.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re anything less to me than my little sister, OK? I’m never gonna have a sister that’s got my mom and dad, and you won’t either. We’re halves and Ontari’s half too, but we’re all sisters, we’re all family.”

Lexa smiled and sank back to lean against the wall behind them, feeling much happier being reassured by her favourite person.

She was fiercely defensive of her siblings after that moment, she’d never let anyone diminish their relationship with her just because none of them shared the same dad. When she went rushing into the ER fourteen years after that day and saw Ontari sat with Aden leaned up against her side, she felt that protectiveness again, that feeling that they were her whole family, that there was nothing half about them whatsoever.

As soon as Ontari saw Lexa heading towards her she got up as quickly as she could without jolting Aden too much, he was sat there with his alarmingly swollen arm cradled in his lap looking very sorry for himself. She ran across the room and threw herself into Lexa’s arms, holding onto her so tightly.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered, voice unsteady, bones like steel rods stiff against Lexa. She even seemed to be trembling a little. She pulled away and Lexa ran a hand over her hair trying to soothe her and Ontari leaned into her touch, the worried lines in her face softening. “I talked to mom, she’s coming. You called her friend?”

“Yeah, I did. She’ll be here soon, it’s all going to be OK now.”

They walked back over to Aden together, Lexa holding Ontari against her with an arm around her shoulders. Aden looked up at them sadly and Lexa kneeled down in front of him, brushing his hair from his forehead, drawing his eyes to her. His forehead was slick with sweat and her stomach clenched at seeing her usually happy and bouncy brother struck down so dramatically. He wasn’t crying anymore but his eyes were red and bloodshot, he looked exhausted and definitely like he was in a lot of pain.

“Hey buddy, how’re you doing?” she said softly, smiling as best she could, ignoring the way that her heart was hammering in her chest and how all she wanted to do was pull him into a hug and shield him from every little bad thing in the world. That, obviously, would just hurt him but she would gladly take on his pain herself if she could. She just kept stroking his cheek, his forehead, his hair, trying to reassure him that she was there for him now, that it was all going to be all right.

She loved all of her siblings fiercely, she’d do almost anything for them, but they were all special to her in different ways. Anya was her older sister, she’d always respect her opinion and crave her validation, and she always wanted to be the best she could to make her proud. Ontari was different because this time it was Lexa that was the role model. She was so protective of her, she tried to guide her, tried not to disappoint her, and made sure she was always there for her. Aden was entirely different because he was the baby of the family and the only boy. They’d all doted on him for his whole life and he was this fabulously happy and unshakable presence in Lexa’s life. If she was ever down and needed cheering up, all she had to do was go and sit with Aden, let him waffle away to her or play a game with her, and it reminded her that the world wasn’t all bad, that she would be OK. He was her good luck charm, her happy little life raft keeping her afloat when all of the women in her family just seemed to want to drag her down (though not intentionally of course). And that’s why it hurt so much to see him like this, she never wanted him to have to feel the bad stuff, he was too good, too small and innocent.

“It hurts, Lex,” Aden said sadly, big brown eyes flicking between her own. He tried to smile but only really succeeded in grimacing.

“I bet it does,” Lexa said sympathetically, her hands on Aden’s knees now and she gave them a squeeze. She noticed that his jeans were ripped and grubby. “You’re being so brave though, buddy.”

Aden nodded, straightening a little in his seat.

“Yeah? Brave like you?”

“Like me?”

“Yeah. I was crying a lot because it hurts but then I thought of you and I was like, oh Lexa wouldn’t cry. Lexa never cries. So I told myself I could be brave like that too.”

Lexa just smiled at Aden, her throat thickening at his words. She couldn’t let him see her cry after that! He was wrong, of course she cried, but she tried to be as solid a presence in his life as she could, tried to stay calm and collected for her family in times of trouble. She’d become the epitome of stoicism as she grew older, just crying in her bed clutching Roary to her chest when no one else was around.

“It’s OK to cry if you need to, Aden. It’s great that you’re being brave but everyone needs to cry sometimes.”

“Even you?”

“Even me.”

“OK. But I cried and now I’m being brave, yeah?”

“Yeah, I’m proud of you.” Aden nodded, looking a little happier, and Lexa turned to Ontari who was sat next in the chair next to him. “And you, Tari, you’ve been really brave too.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ontari said, rolling her eyes at Lexa like she was being ridiculous, like she didn’t need the praise and validation like her kid brother did. But Lexa knew her well enough to know that the little smile on her lips meant that she was secretly pleased, she was just too cool to show it properly.

“Lex, is it broken?” Aden murmured.

There was something quite scary and yet oddly comforting in the way that Aden was looking at Lexa, it was something she had become familiar with over the years of helping to raise her siblings but she still felt the gravity of it even now. Aden trusted her, he was relying on her to take care of him, to be honest with him but gentle. It was her duty and her burden all at once. She’d learned to shoulder it pretty well, starting when she was little and she learned from Anya how to help pick up others when they needed her. She’d begun to realise that it wasn’t fair to leave it all to Anya so she helped her. But then, of course, Anya left and Lexa was alone in it all. That’s not to say that Theia wasn’t there for them, she was, but she was just one woman. And Theia needed someone sometimes too.

“I think so,” Lexa told Aden, giving him a sympathetic look.

He sighed, resigned, suddenly seeming much older than eight.

“Yeah, me too.”

Ontari wrapped her arm around Aden’s shoulders, careful not to touch his arm in any way.

“They’ll give you a cool cast while it heals, remember like I had when I broke my wrist?”

Aden looked over at her and Lexa smiled at the awe on his face and the admiration he had for his sister. Just the idea that he could have something Ontari once had seemed to make him happier.

“Really?”

“Yep. And they might even let you pick a colour,” Ontari said, poking at his chest affectionately.

“I already know what colour I’m gonna pick,” Aden said, sitting up a little straighter.

“Oh yeah?” Ontari grinned over at Lexa, they both knew exactly which colour he’d choose.

“Yep, green!”

The girls started laughing and Aden smiled properly for the first time since Lexa had arrived.

“Aden, are you OK?”

Theia’s frantic voice travelled over to them and Lexa stood and turned in time to see their mom practically sprinting across the waiting room, long hair flowing behind her, coat billowing, cheeks a harsh red from the cold January air. A force to be reckoned with when in protective mother mode, Theia fell to her knees in front of Aden, carrying out the same erratic comforting that Lexa had given him when she had arrived shortly before. Theia smoothed over her youngest child’s hair, his cheek, his sweaty brow, looking right into his eyes before glancing down at his arm and grimacing. She quickly reined in this expression though and gave him a sad smile, leaning forward to kiss him on the cheek. He squirmed away before looking between his sisters as if to say “jeez, isn’t our mom embarrassing?” but when Theia took his uninjured hand in her own, Lexa saw how hard he squeezed hers.

“Yeah, Mom, I’m OK. Lexa said I’m being really brave.”

Lexa sank into the seat the other side of Aden to Ontari and watched as her mom looked between the two of them.

“I bet you are, my sweet boy.” She gave him another reassuring kiss on the cheek before turning to Ontari.

“What happened?”

“He fell off his bike.”

“What was he doing out on his bike in the dark?” Theia’s tone was light for Aden’s sake but there was a darkness to her eyes that Lexa had seen a few times. It was her way of silently scolding in public so that others wouldn’t notice. It was a mom thing.

“You know how he gets! He was driving me crazy charging around the house so I let him go out for a bit. I was watching him, he stayed on the sidewalk, I made him put his bright coat on so people would see him! But it was icy and he slipped, I didn’t think it through.”

“It’s not her fault, Mom,” Aden said quietly.

“Hey, I know, sweetie,” Theia said, turning back to Aden. “I know, I’m just a little worried, you’re my baby, I worry about you.” She looked up at Ontari. “I’m sorry, Tari. I’ve just been panicking. Of course it’s not your fault. Kids fall, it’s what they do.”

“I’m really sorry, Mom,” Ontari said, eyes filling with tears.

And Theia got up and pulled Ontari into her arms, holding her close and rubbing her hand over her hair.

“You don’t have to be, honey. Aden’s fine, everyone’s fine.”

Lexa just watched her family interact, a hard feeling in her stomach when she thought about the man on the phone, and she dreaded when it came time to talk about it.

 

*

 

“Tari, do you want to go and get some snacks from the vending machine? I’m sure there’s one around here somewhere,” Theia said, holding a couple of bills out to Ontari who nodded and took them.

“Do you want to come, Lexa?” Ontari asked.

Lexa caught sight of the look her mom was giving her and she knew that she wasn’t going anywhere.

“I think I’ll stay here. Grab me something sweet though, yeah?” she said, smiling over at Ontari who nodded.

When Ontari was gone, Theia locked her eyes with Lexa from her seat in the row opposite her. Aden had gone in for his x-ray and it seemed that Theia had found the perfect time to talk to Lexa.

“His name is George.”

“OK.” Lexa had no idea what she wanted to say to her mom about all of this and she hoped she would just explain herself and take the responsibility away from her. Theia offered her a small smile, her fingers drumming against her thigh.

“I’ve known him for over a year now, he used to come into Denny’s a lot when I was working, he was one of our regulars. Then over the summer he asked me to get coffee with him sometime. I…” Theia hesitated, a fidgety hand coming up to fiddle with a curl of her hair like she always did when she was nervous. “I said no at first and he accepted it. He still came by a lot and we started to talk more and then it was about a month later that he asked me for coffee again and I thought it couldn’t hurt. So we went and it was… nice, it was really nice, you know, to talk to someone that wasn’t you kids, someone that didn’t just talk to me because I worked with them or because they were making polite small-talk as they waited for their food. He wanted to talk to me just because he genuinely liked listening to what I had to say.”

Lexa tried to seem detached as she watched her mom talk but she could feel herself beginning to soften at the way Theia grew wistful, happier, as she continued to talk.

“I was so worried to date again after… You know, after everything-” and here Theia looked down at her shoes as her feet fidgeted on the floor; Lexa could hear the tears in her voice- “I didn’t want to drag you kids into it if it didn’t work out so I didn’t tell any of you. I just told Ontari and Aden I was seeing a friend every week or two, I made sure they had his number just in case but neither of them even asked who I was going to see. I don’t know if they ever suspected, if perhaps Ontari did but… I knew you would have, so I didn’t mention anything to you. I was going to tell you soon if it was still going well but…” Theia trailed off, eyes back on Lexa again.

“And is it?” Lexa asked.

“Is it what?”

“Is it going well?”

And then Theia seemed to transform as a beautiful smile bloomed on her face. She looked less tired, less worn, and so much younger than Lexa ever remembered seeing her. Lexa's heart began to beat faster.

“Really well,” Theia said, fingers interlocking in her lap, eyes shining. “Oh Lex, I haven’t felt like this in such a long time. Not since your dad.”

And that’s when Lexa knew it was really serious. Her dad had been her mom’s great love. She’d made a lot of unwise choices with men over the years but Alexander had been the only one she had truly loved. While she had chosen to give her children her own last name, she had named Lexa after her dad, in a way, giving her a part of both of them. The day he left them all didn’t just affect Anya and Lexa who lost their dad, it shattered Theia. For a long time Lexa wasn’t sure she’d ever recover. But sitting there in front of her in the waiting room of the ER was her mom as she never remembered her, she was glimmering with hope and life and Lexa couldn’t help but not be mad at her decision to hide her relationship.

“I’m really happy for you, Mom,” Lexa said, soft and sincere, and Theia just about crumbled.

“You are?” She said, voice cracking and eyes filling with tears.

“Yeah.” Lexa nodded, feeling a little misty-eyed herself. “I know how much you loved Dad, how hard that was to get over… And I get it, I get why you didn’t tell us. Especially after everything with… Well yeah, anyway, I’m happy you’re happy.”

“You have no idea how much that means to me, Lexa. I just wish I could have found him sooner, you know? That I wouldn’t have messed up so much on the way. I mean, I wouldn’t take back all of it, some of my least wise decisions got me all of you kids but if I could have just met him after I had Aden… Maybe Anya wouldn’t have left.”

“Hey,” Lexa said sadly, getting up and going to sit next to Theia. She took her hand in one of hers and placed the other over it, stroking it slowly. “Don’t think like that. You might not have been ready for him then, they say timing is everything. You met him at a time when you were ready for him and the most important thing is that you found each other despite all of the bad stuff in the past. And Anya…” Lexa sighed, looking her mom in the eye, seeing so much of herself in her. “I still have hope that Anya will come home one day.”

Theia let out a sob and her free hand went to her mouth to stifle it. Tears began to roll down her cheeks and it was all Lexa could do not to start crying herself.

“I want that more than anything in the world.” Lexa pulled her mom into a hug, letting her cry on her for a moment. “Don’t tell her about him yet, please?”

“I won’t.”

Lexa understood her mom’s plea and sure, she probably wouldn’t have told Anya anyway because they tended to avoid the subject of family when they spoke, but she couldn’t help but feel uneasy. She hated keeping secrets from her family and it just reminded her of the secrets she was still keeping from everyone for Anya. She wished with all of her might that Anya would come back to them all, that she would finally try to rebuild that bridge she had set up in flames two and a half years ago.

Theia loosened her grip on Lexa and pulled back, giving her a teary smile. She reached up and tucked Lexa’s hair behind her ear.

“Thanks, Lex. And I’ll talk to Ontari and Aden about it, alright? I want to tell them myself. It’s not fair that you know and they don’t. It might even affect them more because they actually live with me, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. So you’re happy?”

Theia smiled bashfully.

“Really happy.”

By the time Ontari came back with an armful of snacks and a sheepish grin Lexa and Theia were sat chatting away happily, both much more collected than they had been only five minutes before.

 

*

 

Lexa’s phone vibrated in her pocket while they were still sat there waiting - apparently it really did take a long time to sort out a broken arm - and she pulled it out, unable to help the smile that came onto her face as she saw Clarke’s name in the notification window.

 

Clarke: I happened upon this cute little diner on my way back to Arkadia and decided to stop off for a while. The coffee’s not as good as the stuff you made me that time but it’ll do.

Lexa: Oh yeah? You could have had a nice quiet evening at home for a change and yet you’re sitting in a diner instead?

Clarke: I’m not really an ‘evening in by myself’ kind of girl. Besides, I wanted to hang out nearby in case you needed a ride home.

Lexa: I told you not to worry about me!

Clarke: I’m not worried, nerd. I just want to help. Besides, I’m using my time productively, I’m making a start on an essay for one of my classes. I found a pad of paper and a pen in my trunk, the diner has wi-fi so I can look stuff up on my phone, I’m good!

Lexa: I’m probably still going to be a while.

Clarke: Then I guess I can get a lot of this essay written! Give me a ten minute warning and I’ll be there, OK?

 

Lexa grinned, she couldn’t help it, but she didn’t see the way Theia was looking at her, having noticed the way her whole demeanour had changed.

 

Lexa: OK, I will. Thanks :)

 

She sat smiling at her phone for a little longer before Theia interrupted her.

“So, who’s making you smile like that, Lex?” The interest in her mom’s tone and the knowing smile on her face were enough to make Lexa defensive.

“Just this girl I work with.”

“Oh, just a girl, hey?” Theia said, giving Ontari a grin. Ontari quirked her eyebrow at Lexa and she could feel herself begin to blush. She tried to rein in her embarrassment, she didn’t want to get grilled too much.

“Yeah, she’s just a friend. She gave me a ride over here.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“Yeah, she’s nice.”

They sat there for a while longer in silence, Lexa definitely not enjoying the way Theia and Ontari were looking at her, before Theia spoke again.

“So, are you going to tell us about this girl?”

“No, there’s nothing to tell.”

“What’s her name?”

At that moment Lexa’s phone buzzed again and she grabbed it a little too eagerly.

 

Clarke: I am so bored of being productive, oh my god. You need to save me before I end up eating my weight in pancakes just for something else to do.

 

And Lexa grinned like a fool.

“Lexa?” Theia said, snapping Lexa’s gaze up again.

“Yeah?”

“I asked you what this girl’s name is.”

Lexa looked back at her phone, still smiling, missing Clarke, and found herself really happy that she was hanging around so she could pick her up later, then she looked back at her mom.

“Clarke, her name is Clarke.”

“Ooo, Clarke, how pretty,” Theia crooned and Lexa felt mortification rising powerfully within her.

“Lexa and Clarke, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g,” Ontari sing-songed.

Lexa huffed and slumped in her seat.

“Shut it, you two.”

Theia and Ontari just burst out laughing while Lexa’s complexion tried to win first prize for the most impressive shade of crimson ever known to man.

 

*

 

With his arm in a cast and painkillers in his system, Aden was looking much more like his old self as they left the hospital later that evening. He was chatting away, telling them all about his x-ray and what a good boy the doctor had told him he was, and Lexa was relieved. There was life in his eyes again, a slight bounce in his step, and she had no doubt that after a good night’s sleep he would be up to his old tricks again.

They all stopped outside the main entrance to part ways and that’s when Lexa noticed Clarke stood off a little to the right of the entrance. She raised her hand in greeting, giving Lexa a warm smile, and Lexa smiled back. Theia watched how her daughter’s attention had been diverted and looked over at Clarke, coming to stand beside Lexa and nudging her in the side.

“She’s pretty.”

Lexa agreed, of course she did, but she couldn’t do so out loud to her mom so she just rolled her eyes.

“Mom, please.”

“OK, OK, I’ll be quiet. And you’re lucky I’m feeling nice otherwise I’d go over there and say hi.”

“Thank you for your restraint.”

Lexa turned to her family and hugged them one by one, careful not to knock Aden’s arm as she leaned down to his level to hug him last.

“I’m proud of you, buddy. You’re one tough little cookie.”

“Yeah, I am,” Aden said happily, grinning and puffing out his chest, looking incredibly pleased with himself.

“Thanks for your help today, Lexa. You come by and see us soon, OK?” Theia said, arm protectively around Aden with Ontari at her side.

“I will. See you all later.”

And Lexa turned to head to Clarke, feeling nervous and excited all at once. She loved her family, loved spending time with them, but she really wanted to spend some more time with Clarke. Things may have been complicated but one thing Lexa knew for certain was that she was happier when Clarke was around.

“Hey,” Lexa said when she reached Clarke, stopping just in front of her.

“Hey yourself,” Clarke replied, smiling in a way that had Lexa’s heart all fluttery. Clarke rubbed her hand down Lexa’s arm in greeting and Lexa wanted to hug her but she faltered. Ever since their encounter a couple of weeks ago she’d been trying to keep her distance from Clarke physically as she tried to work out what it was that she wanted. Until she had done so, it was probably better not to go there. Not even a hug at the end of a stressful night seemed wise.

Sometimes being sensible really did suck.

“Shall we go?” Lexa said instead.

“Yes, let’s. Come on, the car is over here.” And Clarke led them to the far side of the parking lot. “So how’s your brother doing?”

“He’s alright, thanks. He’s just tired now more than anything, it’s been a stressful evening for us all.”

“I can imagine it has. He looks sweet.”

“He is, the sweetest.”

“And the two women were your mom and your sister?”

“Yeah.”

“You guys really look alike.”

“I guess.”

They reached the car and climbed inside, Lexa finally relaxing once Clarke was driving and she didn’t have to worry about what to do anymore. She just let Clarke take her home, happy with the radio humming quietly and the way that every so often Clarke would smile over at her quickly. The closer they got to Arkadia, the more anxious Lexa began to feel; she really didn’t want to say goodbye to Clarke yet.

When they were parked outside of Lexa’s building Clarke cut the engine, leaving them in the dark and the quiet.

“Thank you so much for today, Clarke.”

“It was no problem, honestly. And now we’re even.”

“I guess we are.”

Clarke unbuckled her seat belt and turned so she could look at Lexa a little better.

“That’s not why I did it, though.”

“Huh?”

“I didn’t just help you out because I felt like I owed you. I’d have done it either way.”

“I know,” Lexa said, smiling because she knew it was true. “You’re a good friend, Clarke.”

Clarke nodded, her expression thoughtful. Lexa unbuckled too and turned in her seat, feeling herself being pulled in by Clarke.

“I’ve been thinking about what I offered the other week, you know…” Clarke grimaced before smiling nervously, “the whole friends with benefits thing, and I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“That was totally not cool of me and it was a lot of pressure to put on you, I know that.”

“It’s fine, Clarke. I’m kind of sorry I couldn’t take you up on it.”

“You are?”

And once again Lexa was a slave to this desire to be honest with Clarke, lulled into the safety she always found with her.

“Of course. You’re gorgeous and a really good kisser, like wow.” Clarke’s giggle was low and beautiful and oh how Lexa wished she didn’t have to be so sensible all the time. “Of course I thought about accepting about a million times since you offered but I think if you’re not up for a relationship, we should just be friends. Friends with benefits is great in theory but in reality? Well, in reality I don’t think it would end well and I kind of like where we’re at now, does that make sense?”

Clarke leaned her side into her seat, head relaxing against the headrest, and she smiled softly.

“It makes perfect sense.”

“Good.”

“But you would have sex with me if it could truly be uncomplicated?” A kind of insecure curiosity was colouring Clarke’s features at her question and Lexa gave her a gentle smile, one that absolutely did not reflect the explosion that had just gone off inside her.

“In a heartbeat,” she uttered, voice wavering with the powerful truth of her words.

The tension was thick between them and there was something in Clarke’s expression that made her seem as if she were wrestling with her feelings.

“You want to come inside?” Lexa asked, needing to break the silence in order to stop herself from giving in to the sudden need to kiss Clarke. She seemed to feel that way a lot lately and it wasn’t good when she’d just said they should be friends. God, this girl really had her head in a mess.

“I-”

“We can just hang out and work on the whole 'being friends' thing," Lexa said, cutting Clarke off when she realised how her invitation sounded. "We’ve not really hung out much outside of work.”

“Yeah, OK, that sounds good,” Clarke said, hesitancy fading, and she nodded.

And so that’s what they did. They settled on the couch - Raven was out with some guys from her physics class and wouldn’t be home for hours - and they just chilled out together. They talked for a while, the conversation light and blissfully uncomplicated, and then watched a movie. Somehow Clarke kept getting closer to Lexa throughout it and by the end she was falling asleep with her head on Lexa’s shoulder, Lexa’s arm around her protectively. Lexa sat and watched the menu screen of the DVD repeat itself over and over for a ridiculously long time before she could bring herself to wake Clarke up.

She smoothed her free hand over Clarke’s hair, tucking the loose strands behind her ear to reveal her flushed cheeks and fluttering eyelashes, and it occurred to her how peaceful Clarke looked. She hadn’t seemed so content, so innocent, in all of the time that Lexa had known her. Perhaps a good friend was just what Clarke needed and Lexa was determined to be that for her. She placed a gentle kiss on Clarke’s forehead before waking her slowly, nudging her arm until she came around. Her smile was sleepy and beautiful as she saw Lexa looking down at her and her whole face coloured when she realised what it was that she was leaning on. She sat up straight, still hazy, and looked at Lexa.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

“It’s OK, Clarke.”

“What’s the time?”

Lexa looked at her watch.

“It’s a little past one.”

“I should go home,” Clarke said, pushing herself to sit at the edge of the couch as if she were about to get up but she sighed, unmoving.

“You don’t have to.”

“I… I don’t?”

“No,” Lexa said, nerves dancing inside her, and Clarke gave her a quizzical look. “You’re tired, you should sleep some more. You can stay here. But only if you want to, of course.”

Clarke frowned at her for a few seconds before her expression relaxed and she let herself slump back into the couch cushions.

“Thanks Lex, I really didn’t want to go out in the cold. It’s so cosy in here.”

“And bed will be even cosier. Come on.”

Lexa dug out some clothes for Clarke to wear and sent her into the bathroom to get changed and then they brushed their teeth together side by side like they had a month before, this time both completely sober and nervously avoiding each other’s gaze in the mirror. Clarke was settled in Lexa’s bed by the time she’d finished in the bathroom, everything about her soft in the lamplight, her hair loose from its bun now, and she looked really quite good in Lexa’s favourite NASA shirt. She was propped up with pillows, her eyes heavy with sleep, looking content and beautiful. Everything about the way that Lexa slipped into the bed beside her felt different from the last time they were in this position together and oddly enough, even though Clarke was fully aware and sober this time, it was less daunting than when she had been drunk. Things had definitely changed a lot between them and Lexa couldn’t shake the feeling of hope that filled her when her eyes locked with Clarke’s. They seemed to be heading in a good direction, she really believed that if she could focus on being friends with Clarke her romantic feelings for her would go away.

Oh sweet, naïve little Lexa.

“Lex?” Clarke whispered once they had snuggled down in the bed facing each other, both drowsy and relaxing in the warmth and each other’s company.

“Yeah?”

“There’s just something about you.”

“What do you mean?” Lexa asked, eyes opening to find Clarke’s soft and eager to meet hers.

Clarke licked her lips. She looked nervous and, oddly, and almost a little in awe. Her eyes searched Lexa’s face for something and she sighed.

“Things were so bad and I thought moving would make them better but it didn’t really… And then I met you. Somehow with you I just feel…” Clarke faltered and her voice wavered when she finally spoke again. “I feel safe, I think. Yeah, safe. It's good, you're good... For me, I mean.”

Lexa had spent so much of the evening seeking Clarke’s comfort and yet here Clarke was, feeling safe and comforted when Lexa hadn’t even realised she’d been doing anything. What a weird friendship this was going to be.

“I know the feeling,” Lexa said, reaching her hand out to squeeze Clarke’s forearm.

Clarke moved closer gently, wrapping her arms around Lexa and pulling her so close that Lexa was worried she’d feel how hard her heart was beating at the contact and in the wake of such an honest confession.

She was so screwed and it was in that second that she accepted her fate. Spending time with Clarke was worth it. Her head may have been begging her to be sensible but it wasn't completely impervious to Clarke's pull. And, unbeknown to her head, that bold but foolish heart of hers was edging forward slowly, planning its coup, biding its time.

It wasn’t long before they both fell asleep, Clarke with her head on Lexa’s chest; she never really pulled away after the hug. Lexa drifted off with the faintest smile on her lips, content with Clarke’s weight on her and how it eased her nervous heart.

 

*

 

The pull of sleep relented a fraction and Lexa was eager to let it tug her back under once more - she was warm and content, body humming pleasantly - but then she heard a noise. Her consciousness began to reform again, blurred pieces becoming whole as the noises continued. She frowned as she opened her eyes to find her room dark except for the sliver of light coming from under her bedroom door. She realised that Clarke was no longer cuddled up to her and reaching a tentative arm out onto the other side of the bed revealed that she was no longer in the bed at all. Lexa’s heart sank, she’d really thought Clarke would stay this time and she definitely didn’t want to think too much into her disappointment. But as she became more aware of her surroundings, she realised that the sound she had thought was the TV was also accompanied by talking. It seemed as if Raven was home and she had company. But then there was a laugh, one that Lexa had heard plenty lately, and she suddenly knew who Raven’s companion was.

Lexa heaved herself out of bed, hoping she was right, and found herself blinded by the light as she opened her bedroom door.

“Hey there sleepyhead,” Raven said, not even tearing her eyes from the screen in front of her.

“Sorry, did we wake you?” Clarke asked as Lexa shuffled into the room, her eyes slowly adjusting to the harsh glare of the light and the sound of clashing swords on the TV. As the room started to calm in her vision, she was very surprised to see Raven and Clarke sat side by side on the couch playing a video game together, both leaned forward with their faces creased in concentration. Lexa couldn’t shake the feeling that she had woken up in the wrong universe.

“No, I don’t think so. I was just confused, I thought you’d gone home.”

Clarke shook her head, still not taking her eyes from the game in which she was so engrossed.

“Nuhuh,” she said then went quiet again as she bit on her lip and began aggressively button-bashing until she stabbed her foe with an almighty sword. She cheered in triumph. “I woke up a little while ago and got up for a glass of water.”

“And that’s when she found me,” Raven added. “You didn’t tell me you had company.” She flashed Lexa a look that had Lexa sure that she was jumping to the wrong conclusions.

“It was late and we were tired so we decided to crash. I told you Clarke had given me a ride to the hospital, didn’t I?” Lexa said, perching on the arm of the couch nearest Clarke.

“Oh yeah, you did. How is Aden anyway?”

“He’s OK, he was excited to get people to sign his cast at school tomorrow by the time I left him so I think he’s pretty much back to normal.”

“Good, poor little squirt.”

“Uhuh.” Lexa looked at her watch and was surprised that it was almost four in the morning. “How come you’re still up? You don’t seem too drunk?”

“Nah, I couldn’t drink because I had to take my meds before I went out, you know I can’t mix them with alcohol. I just watched the guys make asses out of themselves instead.”

Lexa laughed, she could only imagine. Those guys acted like idiots when they were sober, she knew they’d be even worse with alcohol in their system.

“I hope you got loads of evidence of that to embarrass them with in the future.”

“Oh don’t worry, I totally did. Anyway, I was still a little hyped up from being out when I got home so ended up playing my game and Clarke looked interested so I invited her to join me. She’s not half bad actually, way better than you, Lex.”

Lexa huffed. She’d always wanted to be good at video games but for whatever reason she really sucked and invariably just embarrassed herself whenever she played them with Raven.

“Well I’m glad you guys are having fun, I guess.”

“We are,” Clarke said, “Raven’s pretty cool, I can’t believe you haven’t told me much about her.”

“She’s so bad at talking about things,” Raven said as if Lexa wasn’t even there.

“Hey, I can hear you!”

“I know, I wanted you to hear. You’ve got to admit that you’re shit at it, Lex. It’s terrible Clarke hasn’t heard of my awesomeness until now when she’s finally had the chance to witness it for herself.” Raven gave her another pointed look and Lexa knew she was in for a serious discussion with her as soon as Clarke was out of earshot.

She watched as both girls grew intensely locked into their game, leaning even further forward as they fiercely pressed buttons, letting out various grunts and sounds of distress and frustration until they both shrieked loudly when they reached the peak of their stressful ordeal and the screen flashed red and it all froze. They both slumped back into the couch, looking exhausted and disappointed.

“Fuck, we died,” Raven lamented.

“We were so close!” Clarke whined. “Solid effort though.”

“Absolutely.”

Lexa just watched the two with an odd mixture of confusion and amusement, still feeling a little disoriented in a world where her two friends were hanging out with each other in the middle of the night and playing video games.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Clarke said, putting her controller on the coffee table and standing up. “Bathroom,” she added helpfully, motioning across the room.

Lexa watched Clarke as she made her way across the room, once again admiring how good Clarke looked in her shirt. It fit her curves more snugly that it did Lexa’s slim frame and it wrinkled with each step Clarke took as her hips swayed. When the door to the bathroom clicked shut it snapped Lexa out of her daze and she turned her gaze to Raven who was staring at her with wide eyes and a dumbfounded smile.

“What the fuck did I miss? I went out for one evening!”

“What?” Lexa frowned at Raven, confused.

“You and Clarke! Who, by the way, is gorgeous. You spent months talking about her, complaining mostly, and yet you neglected to mention that she’s practically a Greek goddess?!” Raven’s voice was quiet and yet insistent and Lexa knew she wasn’t going to give in easily.

“Nothing’s going on with me and Clarke, I told you, it was late so I said she could stay over.” She decided to ignore the comment about Clarke’s beauty because she knew if she tried to deny it, it was be painfully obvious that she was lying.

“So you didn’t have sex with her?” Raven said, eyes narrowing.

“No!”

“You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, I wouldn’t forget that.”

“Oh ha ha, that’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“Yeah…” Lexa said, almost sounding like a sulking child.

“So you’re just hanging out and sharing a bed for the night.”

“Pretty much.”

Lexa sank from the arm of the couch into the spot that Clarke had vacated and sighed.

“Oh Lexa,” Raven said, sounding mournful, a hint of pity in her eyes.

“What?”

“You’ve got it bad, girl.”

Lexa was about to deny it but the look Raven gave her was sweet and understanding and she put her head in her hands.

“I know.”

“Do you think she likes you?”

Lexa leaned back and looked at the ceiling, shrugging.

“No. I don’t know. Maybe she could. But there’s something she’s not telling me, something that makes her really guarded. She says she can’t be in a relationship right now.”

“And why did she tell you that? Did you ask her out?”

“No…” Lexa bit at her lip, debating not explaining further. But she relented once again. “She offered to have sex with me, y’know, friends with benefits kind of thing.”

“And you said no?!” Raven practically exploded and slapped her hands over her mouth.

“Raven!” Lexa hissed.

“Sorry, sorry. I’ll be quiet. I just mean… That must have taken a lot of restraint. Like I said, that girl is gorgeous. I don’t think I’d say no.”

Raven!

“But I wouldn’t sleep with her because you like her, obviously!”

“Thank you, and you’re really not helping, it was fucking hard.”

Raven nodded and gave her a sympathetic smile.

“Well at least you know she’s attracted to you… It might work out in your favour in the end.”

But Raven’s sad little eyebrows didn’t give Lexa much hope and before she could say anything in reply, Clarke emerged from the bathroom. She yawned as she walked towards them, arms stretching up, face creased rather adorably. Clarke’s shirt pulled up a little to reveal that gorgeous sliver of skin above the waistband of her pants and Lexa couldn’t help but remember how good it had been to feel that skin beneath her fingertips just a few weeks ago.

When Clarke’s eyes opened and her face relaxed again, she gave Lexa a really sweet smile.

“I think I’ll be able to sleep again now,” she told them, pointing towards Lexa’s bedroom door. “I’m going to go back to bed. Thanks for the company, Raven, it was fun.”

“Don’t sweat it, we should do it again sometime if Lexa will let us.”

Clarke chuckled and Lexa frowned at Raven, pouting a little. Clarke stood in front of Lexa and held out her hand to her.

“You coming?”

“Sure,” Lexa said, taking the offered hand and letting herself be pulled up, heart fluttering at the contact in a way she wasn’t proud of.

“Night Raven,” Clarke said as she led Lexa to her room, their fingers tangling together.

“Night,” Raven said, eyebrows rising as Lexa gave her a final helpless look before she disappeared into the room. She just about caught Raven mouth what she was pretty sure was “you’re so fucked” and she couldn’t help but agree.

They fell asleep on separate sides of the bed and Lexa woke up a few hours later bathed in light with Clarke pressed into her back and an arm around her middle. She couldn’t help but think that even if she was fucked and this whole being ‘just friends’ thing actually killed her, this definitely wasn’t a bad way to spend her last days on earth.

Chapter Text

A knock on Lexa’s bedroom door pulled her out of her reverie; she was sat slumped in her desk chair staring blankly at her laptop screen.

“Yeah?” The reply that she managed to force from herself was listless and monotone, she couldn’t even be bothered to feign interest in whatever Raven had to say to her. She had very little interest in anything at that moment in time.

“Hey,” an unexpected voice replied brightly and Lexa sat up almost immediately, spirits lifting as Clarke popped her head around the door.

“Clarke!” Lexa didn’t have the energy to rein in how happy she was to see her and act in her usual casual way. Clarke seemed happy with this, however. She beamed in reply, came into the room and plonked herself down on the end of the bed. “Did I know you were coming?” Lexa asked, swivelling her chair around to face Clarke.

“No, uh, I was bored,” Clarke told her, tugging off her coat and kicking off her shoes. She had a habit of making herself at home and it was something that she seemed to have done in Lexa’s life during the last month. She had settled herself right in the midst of it and Lexa couldn’t say she minded. “I thought you might like some company while you study and that maybe we could compare notes on that essay for Genetics.”

Clarke shuffled on the spot and the way her smile changed gave her away. Lexa narrowed her eyes at her.

“You’re stuck, aren’t you?” Lexa said.

“So stuck, please save me!” Clarke whined, flinging herself backwards to lie on the bed and hiding her face in the crook of her elbow.

Lexa laughed and rolled her eyes at the pitiful pile of grumbling human on her bed, though really it was more at herself for finding her adorable than actually for Clarke’s benefit as she clearly couldn’t see her. She heaved herself up and shuffled over to lie down next to Clarke.

“I have to confess something to you,” she said softly, looking over at Clarke. Bright blue eyes peered out from under a slender arm and Lexa offered a sheepish smile. “I haven’t even started it.”

“You haven’t?” Clarke moved her arm away from her face and turned to Lexa. Somehow they were a lot closer than Lexa had realised and her stomach swooped unhelpfully.

“Nope.”

Lexa couldn’t help that her eyes were drawn to Clarke’s mouth as she smiled, delicate pink stretching beautifully before her. She licked her lips, allowing herself a moment of weakness before returning her attention to the only-slightly-safer destination of Clarke’s eyes.

“OK, that makes me feel a little better. Wanna get started so you can help me?”

Lexa sighed, tearing her gaze from those pleading eyes and that hopeful grin, tucking her arms behind her head and staring at the ceiling.

“Not really.”

“Oh come on, Lex. You’re a total brain, you’re my only hope!”

A hand squeezed at Lexa’s waist and she let out an uncharacteristic squeak. Clarke seemed delighted with this noise and she repeated the action, Lexa squirming, her arms flailing up to bat off the offending hand.

“Clarke, stop it,” Lexa huffed, trying to stop the smile that was threatening to win the battle against her stubbornness as Clarke grinned over at her.

Clarke propped herself up on one elbow, body tilting ever so slightly towards Lexa as she looked down on her.

“I’ll stop if you agree to help me.”

“Claaaaaaaaaarke,” Lexa moaned, face creasing up in distaste. “I’m really not in the mood right now.”

Clarke’s hand came up to squeeze at her other side this time, causing her body to press against Lexa’s side as she leaned precariously over her.

“What’s up, grumpypants?”

“I’m just not in a good mood, OK? I got soaked in the rain on my way home and now I’m grouchy.” Lexa pouted at the memory, she hated the rain.

“You could have called me, I’d have come and picked you up.”

Clarke had been doing that a lot lately. Ever since the crazy bout of snow they’d had a few weeks back, Clarke had started driving Lexa to and from work so she didn’t have to risk slipping off her bike (or her feet, really). While Lexa had protested at first, she didn’t want to be a bother, she was powerless against that winning smile.

“I wasn’t sure what time your soccer game ended,” Lexa said, brushing her hand over her stomach unconsciously.

“First of all, it’s a match not a game,” Clarke informed her, playful exasperation in her tone, “and secondly, it finished at two. I told you that yesterday.”

“Right, right, you did.” Lexa believed that she had but she couldn’t remember it at all. “Uh, how’d it go?”

“We won, of course,” Clarke said proudly, whipping her hair back over her shoulder in flourish. Lexa tucked her arms behind her head again, quite enjoying the view and feeling much more relaxed as Clarke got into her story. “You should have seen me afterwards though. I got slide tackled by this tiny girl in the second half and fell over, I was absolutely covered in mud. My hair was pretty much brown by the time the rain and mud mixed together.”

“Yuck,” Lexa said, grimacing.

“It’s kind of fun to get a bit messy sometimes though, don’t you think?”

Lexa screwed up her face in response and Clarke laughed.

“Or not…” Clarke conceded. “Anyway, I could have picked you up. You know I don’t mind.”

“I know you don’t, I should have called. I wish I had! It was so windy that I couldn’t use my umbrella and my hood kept blowing down. I got so wet and cold.” Lexa pouted up at Clarke, strangely eager for a little sympathy. While she had still been feeling a chill from her battle with the elements just a few minutes ago, the warmth in Clarke’s expression was definitely helping her fight it. And, you know, the fact that Clarke was very kindly sharing her body heat right then was possibly helping too, though she was probably unaware of how much it was affecting her companion.

“Aww, so this crazy hair thing isn’t deliberate then?” Clarke’s wandering hand patted at Lexa’s crazy curls that had splayed out on the bed around her.

“No, Clarke, it’s not. Rain makes it frizzy.”

“I can see that.” Clarke grinned down at her, tongue between her teeth.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to agree!”

“Oh come on, you’re still cute even with messy hair, especially in your sweats and this fuzzy hoodie,” Clarke said, hand tugging on the bottom of the aforementioned fuzzy hoodie.

“It’s cosy,” Lexa defended, trying to shrink down into it and hide inside the enticing cream fabric. It was her go-to item of clothing when she was feeling sorry for herself.

“I’ll bet.” Clarke’s hand came back to Lexa’s side again, thumb stroking against the fabric as she admired it. “I like seeing you all casual like this.”

Lexa looked up at Clarke disbelievingly, really trying to fight against the feeling of powerlessness that filled her at having Clarke leaning over her like that. She was also trying not to think about the fact that she was actually kind of enjoying it.

“You see me being casual all the time. You’ve even seen me in my pyjamas.”

“True, true. And that was also very adorable, just like you are right now.”

“Don’t call me adorable.”

“Why? It’s just a fact!”

“I’m not adorable! I’m cool and… a badass?”

Clarke scoffed.

“Yeah right. I might have believed that when we first met but the more I get to know you, the more I feel like you’re really just a giant softie.”

Lexa was back to pouting again. Why did people always say that to her? She was too bad at dealing with emotions for that to be true, surely.

“Come on-” Clarke squeezed at her side again- “you know you wanna help me with this essay.”

“Oh, do I?”

“Yeah, of course you do. You live for that kind of thing and you love spending time with me so come on, let’s get to it.”

“I can think of way more fun things to be doing right now rather than working,” Lexa said, toned laced with an implication that she hadn’t intended.

Clarke blinked down at her, the overhead light creating a halo around her in the gloom of the evening. Her features were dark, smile quirking menacingly, and Lexa gulped.

“Wait a minute, you wanna blow off studying and actually hang out?"

“Why are people always so surprised that studying isn’t my first choice of activity?”

“Because you’re always studying, it’s what you do!”

“Not true!” Lexa protested, trying to ignore the way that Clarke’s teasing hand had just decided to stay resting against her side, how Clarke herself was still flush against her, knee resting on her leg to keep her balance. If Lexa shifted her leg a little, she was pretty sure Clarke’s would fall between hers and that would be bad… Wouldn’t it?

“Oh yeah? Prove it. What should we do instead?”

“We could… Uh…”

Clarke’s face had been hard with defiance as she challenged Lexa but when Lexa faltered, eyes evading nervously, Clarke seemed to lose her fight. Her hand gripped at Lexa’s side again but this time it was gentler, more like a caress… except that no, that would be a ridiculous word to use in this context, right? Clarke readjusted her position and seemed to lay a little of her weight on Lexa and oh how Lexa wanted to wrap her arms around Clarke’s waist and pull her closer like she was longing to. But she stopped herself. Of course she did, damn sensible Lexa and her over-thinking. Well, that was until she saw the way Clarke’s eyes seemed to have drifted down to her lips, teeth biting at the soft smile on her face. Maybe she could… But no, she said they shouldn’t…

Just as Lexa was about to explode with the internal crisis she was experiencing, a knock at the door made the two of them spring apart. By the time Raven had thrust herself into their presence, Clarke and Lexa were sat awkwardly next to each other at the foot of the bed, Lexa feeling more than a little flustered.

“Uh…” Raven looked between the two of them, eyebrows rising. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No,” Lexa’s voice cracked and she coughed, trying to regain her composure. “No, we were just… studying?”

“Or we were about to, anyway,” Clarke added, laughing nervously, her hand combing through her hair.

“You guys are being weird…” Raven’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. She looked as if she wanted to pry further but then seemed to remember that she’d come in the room for a reason. She shook her head and focused back on Lexa. “Anyway, you have a visitor.”

“A what?”

“Ontari’s here.”

“Ontari’s…” And before Lexa could get up and investigate, Ontari’s sheepish face appeared beside Raven’s in the doorway.

“Hi, Lex.” She had her hands on Raven’s arms and her chin on her shoulder, hiding herself behind the slightly taller girl.

“What are you doing here?” Lexa asked as she got up from the bed, still feeling awkward at the interruption. She glanced quickly at Clarke who was staring at her knees, clearly feeling a little weird too.

Lexa didn’t notice the way Ontari’s fingers gripped harder into Raven’s arms but it prompted Raven to flash her a warning look.

“Not that you aren’t welcome,” Lexa added, walking closer to her sister. “I just wasn’t expecting you.”

“I know,” Ontari said, finally coming out from behind Raven. She hovered awkwardly until Lexa gave her a hug. “I just needed to get out of the house for a bit, is it OK if I stay for the night?”

Lexa could see the worry in Ontari’s demeanour, it was in the way her feet fidgeted and her hands dug into her pockets even though her face remained sweet and hopeful.

“Does Mom know you’re here?”

Ontari nodded.

“Then yes, you can stay.”

“Uh, I should go and leave you guys to it,” Clarke said from just behind Lexa. She had apparently been putting her shoes on while the others talked and she had her coat folded over her arms as she came towards them.

“Oh wait, I should introduce you guys. Ontari, this is my friend Clarke, Clarke, this is my sister, Ontari.” Lexa gesticulated awkwardly between the two of them and they offered each other perfunctory smiles.

“Yeah, I remember, we saw her at the hospital,” Ontari explained.

“Yep, I saw you too, briefly,” Clarke said to Ontari who nodded.

“Look, I didn’t want to interrupt you guys,” Ontari said, looking between Clarke and Lexa. “I can just watch TV or something and you can… do whatever you were doing.”

Raven was watching the interaction, mischievous smile on her lips, obviously quite enjoying herself.

“No, no, I’ll go,” Clarke insisted.

“No, really, you should stay,” Ontari said, smiling more genuinely this time.

“How about we all hang out?” Lexa found herself saying, much to Raven’s delight.

“And what do you propose?” Raven asked, eyebrows rising to match the quirk in her lips.

“Um…” Lexa looked between the three girls, eyes lingering the longest on Clarke when she got caught up in the soft smile on her face. “Girls’ night in? Movies and takeout?”

“Ooo, that sounds good,” Ontari said, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“Sure does,” Raven added, slinging her arm around Ontari’s shoulder.

Clarke was the only one not to reply so Lexa turned to her, patting her arm with a gentle hand.

“You in, Clarke?”

“I don’t want to impose,” Clarke said but she was still smiling, clearly only a gentle nudge from giving in.

Lexa was about protest and convince her to stay but Ontari beat her to it.

“You wouldn’t be. Come on, Clarke, I want to get to know the girl my sister keeps talking about.”

Honestly, Lexa wanted the ground to open up so she could hide in the dank earth beneath it rather than have to deal with the repercussions of Ontari’s words but unfortunately the universe just wasn’t that accommodating. She hadn’t even mentioned Clarke that much and Ontari knew it but siblings seemed to exist just to be a pain in the ass most of the time. She calmed down a little when Clarke gave her an amused look though. It was just gentle teasing, it was OK, nothing to freak out over.

“Oh she talks about me, huh?” Clarke said, her expression playful and soft. Lexa was a total sucker for this kind of Clarke, well any kind of Clarke really, and she was happy to see that Clarke seemed pleased.

“Oh definitely,” Raven answered, giving Lexa a wink and Lexa just huffed. Trust Raven to add fuel to the flaming pile of her remains.

“You may have come up a few times,” Lexa admitted, trying her utmost to stop the colour leaking into her cheeks and the way Clarke’s hand came up to rest on the small of her back for a moment eased her somewhat. “We’re friends, I’m allowed to talk about my friends.”

“Yes honey, you are,” Clarke agreed, giving a little chuckle.

“You’re such a dork, Lex,” Ontari said, laughing too.

“I second that,” Raven added.

Lexa sighed, looking between the others.

“Fine, fine, I’m a dork. Is it time to stop picking on me yet?”

“Aww, poor Lexa’s feeling ganged up on,” Raven said, grinning at her.

“I’m used to it,” Lexa said mournfully as if it was a massive burden she’d had to bear for a long time. It sort of was, she figured, having siblings felt a lot like that sometimes. Raven was practically one of them these days.

“Oh you’re such a martyr,” Raven said, rolling her eyes.

“Yep, so dramatic,” Clarke chided, giving Lexa a soft smile as if she didn’t really mind it at all. “But kind of adorable.”

“Stop calling me adorable!” Lexa protested, losing her battle with embarrassment and heat flooded her cheeks.

“She hates people implying in any way that she’s cute or sweet,” Raven told Clarke as if Lexa wasn’t stood right there. She didn’t appreciate it. Ontari nodded her head vehemently beside her.

“Oh, I’ve noticed,” Clarke said.

Lexa was torn in that situation; part of her wanted to leap out of the window and into the cold, rainy night to get away from the trio of teasing she was fighting against and the other part of her was happy to have three of her favourite people actually complimenting her in their own weird way. Adorable wasn’t exactly a bad thing to be called, she supposed, it just felt a little odd.

“If you keep being mean, I’m not buying you guys dinner,” Lexa said, folding her arms and pouting like the petulant child that she felt she was completely warranted to behave as in that moment.

“She’s so cute when she gets all huffy,” Raven laughed, shaking her head.

“I’m not so sure, you’ve not had to live with her for as long as I did,” Ontari frowned but her lips were trying to tip into a smile.

“True but it has been quite a while now. Come on, let’s go and find the takeout menus before she gets angry and makes us pay for dinner.”

Raven guided Ontari out of the room, the two of them chattering away, and Lexa backed up until she reached the edge of her bed and slumped dramatically onto it.

“I’m sorry about them,” she said, looking up at Clarke.

Clarke was smiling, beautiful and captivating, and Lexa couldn’t lie to herself and say she wasn’t a little enamoured in that moment. There was something rather intoxicating about Clarke being above her like that.

“Don’t be, they’re great,” Clarke soothed. “You’re really lucky to have them.”

“I guess I am,” she said, mouth suddenly feeling dry. She licked at her lips and tried not to be so much of a dork as she forced herself to say what she really wanted Clarke to know. “I’m really lucky to have you, too.”

Her words brushed a pretty pink over Clarke’s cheeks and sent a hand into her hair, raking back those gorgeous curls from her face.

“I’m going to keep calling you adorable if you keep saying things like that to me, you know,” she said, voice soft and calm. She offered Lexa her hands and pulled her to her feet.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Lexa said quietly, feeling a little nervous stood before Clarke with their hands still linked. Only one step forward and she’d fill the space between them. But alas, she wasn’t brave enough for that.

“Of course.”

“It doesn’t sound so bad coming from you.”

Clarke hummed, pleased, and she moved closer with a level of confidence that Lexa wished she could muster. It made her heart falter in her chest for a second and her eyes fluttered closed when Clarke’s lips pressed to her cheek, her hands automatically squeezing Clarke’s in the intimacy of the action.

“Come on, dork,” Clarke teased, lips only a fraction from her skin now, warm breath flowing over her in a way that had Lexa wanting so much more. “Let’s go and order some food before you turn into a pile of mush, you big softie.”

And before Lexa could say anything, Clarke was dragging her from the room by the hand and they joined the others in perusing menus. It was several minutes before her heart stopped racing.

 

*

 

Clarke insisted on paying for dinner but Lexa wasn’t having any of it. They started a good natured argument that was finally settled by the two of them agreeing to split the bill as Raven and Ontari unloaded the delivery guy of his bags, rolling their eyes and grinning at getting a free dinner. Lexa and Raven’s apartment was a bit small for the four of them but they made it work despite only having one couch, at some points they sat squished up on it together, Lexa not minding that she ended up pressed into Clarke’s side, and sometimes one of them ended up sat, or occasionally sprawled out, on the floor.

Somehow Lexa had been outvoted and the others had decided that because they were having a girls’ night in, they should watch chick flicks. Lexa didn’t like to admit that she enjoyed those kinds of movies as much as she actually did but the three other girls knew her well enough to know that she secretly loved them. Even Clarke in their fairly new friendship had already pegged her as the softie that she really was beneath her somewhat cold and apathetic exterior.

If any of them saw Lexa get a little teary-eyed at the end of 10 Things I Hate About You, they didn’t say anything. Though Clarke’s hand did come to rest briefly on her leg but Lexa had been too distracted by her need to hold back her emotions to really enjoy it, which was a shame.

Lexa was among the winning voters for the second movie along with Clarke and Raven, the two others who were also inclined towards females, and that was Imagine Me & You. Ontari relented easily, very used to being surrounded by queer girls, though she did roll her eyes playfully at their eagerness.

“I guess there won’t be any boy-talk during our girls’ night then,” Ontari joked. She was sat in between Raven and Lexa on the couch with Clarke on the floor in front of her as she braided her hair intricately down the back of her head.

“I’m afraid not,” Lexa said, chuckling.

“Hey, I can do boy talk!” Raven protested. “I’m in to people of all genders, remember?”

“Yeah but you’re currently dating a girl,” Lexa argued.

“That doesn’t erase my sexuality,” Raven threw back at her.

“Wait, you’ve got a girlfriend?” Ontari’s eyes lit up and her fingers paused in their braiding so she could look over at Raven.

“Lexa!” Raven practically yelled, slapping her on the arm. “I told you that in confidence!”

“Oops, sorry.” Lexa shrugged. “We’re all friends here though, right?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just...” Raven fiddled with her hands in her lap. “It’s early days, we’re not labelling anything yet.”

Clarke had craned her head round as best she could while Ontari had hold of her hair and she seemed to take in the uncomfortable look on Raven’s face and came up with a solution.

“I’m bi, I can do boy-talk,” she offered, and Ontari’s interest was diverted away from Raven who gave Clarke a grateful smile. Lexa just watched the three of them with curiosity and tried to curb her intrigue as to why Raven was being so reticent. It really wasn’t like her.

“There, see? Clarke and I can do boy-talk. Have you got a boy you want to talk about?” Raven asked, nudging Ontari’s side, colouring her cheeks a bashful pink. “Maybe this new boyfriend of yours that Lexa was telling me about?”

“Lex, you told Raven?”

“Was I not supposed to?” Lexa said, looking confused. “Didn’t we just have this conversation? Why are there so many secrets?!”

Ontari just shook her head at Lexa.

“So, what’s his name?” Clarke asked and Ontari carried on weaving Clarke’s hair with her delicate fingers.

“John. But everyone calls him by his last name, Murphy.”

“Ooo,” Raven crooned and Ontari blushed harder. “What’s he like?”

Ontari twisted a hair tie at the bottom of Clarke’s braid and flopped back against the couch cushion. Clarke scooted around on the floor to look up at her and all three of them waited for Ontari’s reply.

“He’s so great,” she said, nerves moulding her body in a way that Lexa was unaccustomed to, Ontari hadn’t been bashful since she first told Lexa about him. She’d heard so much about him for the last few months but had yet to actually meet him. “He’s funny and smart and…” Ontari trailed off, expression wistful.

“Is he cute?” Clarke asked, grinning.

“So cute,” Ontari agreed and Raven nudged her again, making her giggle.

They continued to talk about Ontari’s boyfriend and Lexa just watched, happy seeing her sister gushing like that. Clarke and Raven were great with her, offering little bits of advice, sharing things from their own experiences, and Lexa just sat there, her gaze drifting between the girls and the movie that was much more on topic for her than the boy-focused conversation. At a lull in all of the talking and giggling, Lexa decided to interject.

“I dated a guy once,” she offered, feeling a little left out and hoping she could join in. Suddenly all eyes were on her. There was a beat of silence and then all three girls burst out laughing.

“That may have been the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard,” Raven wheezed, trying to catch her breath.

“Why is that so weird?” Lexa shifted her gaze between the three messes that had once resembled humans, perplexed at the sudden disintegration in the coherency of the girls.

“You are the gayest person I know, Lex,” Raven said and Ontari snorted.

“Same here,” Ontari agreed, nodding her head and wiping a tear from her cheek.

“Oh I don’t know, I’ve known a lot of gay girls in my time,” Clarke said, lips quirking gorgeously. “But you’re definitely up there with the gayest.”

“Who are you even talking about? You’ve never dated a guy!” Ontari exclaimed, face creasing up in confusion. “You’ve been the biggest gay for as long as I can remember. Wait…” She narrowed her eyes at Lexa. “You’re not talking about Monty Green in seventh grade, are you?”

“Yeah, why did you say it like that?”

“That doesn’t count!”

“Yes is does!”

“Why have I not heard this story?” Raven demanded, looking between the Woods sisters.

“I need to hear this,” Clarke said, grabbing a stray pillow from the floor and putting it between her back and the coffee table in order to get comfortable.

“There’s barely a story,” Ontari said.

“It’s the only guy story I have, Tari, let me have it,” Lexa chided, switching into bickering sister mode. “Not all of us can be outstanding heterosexuals like you.”

“Tell the story!” Raven jeered.

“Yes, tell it!” Clarke added, clapping her hands repeatedly in anticipation.

“OK, OK, you’ve twisted my arm,” Lexa said, pleased that at least some of them were showing interest.

“You brought it up, don’t act like you were reluctant to tell it!” Ontari said, exasperated but fighting the grin that threatened to take over her whole face.

“Whatever, they want to hear my story so let me tell it, Tari, jeez,” Lexa said, rolling her eyes playfully at her sister.

“Oh my god, you’re so annoying,” Ontari huffed.

“You love me,” Lexa said, grinning cheekily and pressing a sloppy kiss to Ontari’s temple.

“Ugh, whatever, just tell your stupid story, nerd.”

“OK.” Lexa took a deep breath, feeling alive in having people anticipating what she had to say. “Monty Green used to sit next to me in English and he had a hard time with his spelling because of his dyslexia. So when he was stuck, he used to whisper a word to me and I’d whisper the spelling back. I was so nice to him-” here Ontari scoffed and Lexa shoved her arm causing her to fall giggling back into Raven’s lap- “and one day he asked me if I wanted to hang out at his place.”

“Ooo,” Raven and Clarke crooned, before dissolving into giggles once more. Somehow they’d regressed back to being teenagers in the space of five minutes.

“I know, I know. So, being the nice kid I was, I accepted. His mom made us dinner and when she left us to it, he dug out this big candle from the cupboard and lit it with a match after about five tries. He told me nervously that his friend told him that girls like candles. I don’t know about girls in general-” Ontari butted in.

“She’s right about that, ayoo!”

“Ooo, get a cold compress for that buuuurn,” Raven laughed.

“Anyway,” Lexa said, ignoring them both. “My point is that I liked the candle.”

“She’s crazy about candles,” Ontari told Clarke who just smiled and nodded as if she were locking that little tidbit away in a safe space in her mind. Or Lexa kind of hoped so, anyway.

“Weirdly crazy,” Raven added.

Lexa gave them both a stern look because honestly, the floor was hers yet they kept interrupting her!

“The dinner was nice but Monty… Well, Monty was all twitchy and weird and I had no idea why. We got on so well in English class, I just didn’t understand it. But then when we’d finished and I got up to help him take the plates out to the kitchen, he kissed me.”

“Bold move!” Raven said, nodding as if she were impressed.

“Absolutely,” Clarke agreed.

“Totally stupid move, as it turned out,” Lexa carried on. “I was so surprised that I dropped the plate and it smashed on his foot.”

This time when the girls burst out laughing, Lexa joined them. It was kind of funny.

“That is such a Lexa thing to do,” Raven just about managed to say in her fit of laughter.

“Wait a minute, I thought your first kiss was with that girl, Costia? That’s what you told me,” Clarke said, frowning up at Lexa.

“It feels like she was the first, Monty doesn’t really count.”

“See! I told you he didn’t,” Ontari said, sticking her chin out proudly.

“OK fine. But that’s the day I decided it was time to embrace my gayness, so I guess it meant something in a weird way. I learned that heterosexuality was dangerous for those around me, I needed to distance myself from that sharpish. His mom dropped me home on the way to the ER and I came out to my family.”

“You’re a menace to straight guys everywhere, apparently,” Raven said.

“It’s not just the guys,” Clarke informed them, grinning. “I once said something vaguely suggestive to her at work and she smashed a bottle of beer. Luckily I was standing far away enough to not be injured.”

“Hopeless,” Raven said, shaking her head.

“Utterly,” Ontari seconded.

“It’s a good job you’re hot,” Raven told her, “otherwise you’d probably still be a virgin.”

“Hey!” Lexa exclaimed. “I told you my story and still I get picked on?”

“It was a cringe-worthy story, to be fair,” Clarke said, giving Lexa an apologetic look.

“And do you want to know the best part?” Ontari said, sitting up straight and looking between Clarke and Raven, a shit-eating grin on her face. Lexa slumped back into the couch, she knew what was coming. This was definitely going to get her teased even more. “Monty Green? The sweet kid that gave Lexa her first kiss? Totally gay now.”

And the laughter started again.

“That’s not my fault!” Lexa yelled indignantly. “That’s not how it works!”

Clarke managed to heave herself up off the floor and she came to perch on the arm of the chair next to Lexa.

“We know that, honey,” she said, patting her on the shoulder, still laughing in a way that Lexa found hard to be annoyed at. “You can’t deny that it’s hilarious though.”

Lexa almost forgot what they were talking about when Clarke’s hand slid down to the centre of her back and stroked there for a moment, her icy eyes somehow incredibly warm, and she just smiled as if melting were the most relaxing thing she’d ever experienced.

“I guess it’s pretty funny.”

“Fuck, I love you, Lexa,” Raven said, wiping tears from her cheeks with one hand while the other clutched at her stomach, her face creased in pain from all of the laughter.

“I love you too, you ass,” Lexa huffed, leaning back into Clarke’s hand, not so subtly hoping for more attention.

“Aww, you’re all so cute,” Clarke said as her hand began to move in gentle patterns against Lexa's back again. It was all Lexa could do to stop herself biting at her lip at the way it sent tingles down her body.

“We are pretty cute,” Raven said, nodding to herself.

“You know it,” Ontari said.

The laughter petered out and they all seemed to relax, happy and content in each other’s company.

“We missed a lot of the movie,” Clarke pointed out, drawing Lexa’s eyes back to the screen.

“I’m rewinding it,” Raven said.

“Noooo,” Ontari moaned.

“Yes!” Clarke and Lexa said in unison. Clarke nudged at Lexa’s shoulder until she scooted over, squishing into Ontari’s side so that Clarke could slot in beside her. Raven grabbed the remote and backed up the movie.

“Back to the regularly programmed gayness,” Raven quipped and Ontari gave a sigh.

“Fine, fine, let’s get our gay on.”

“Good girl,” Lexa said, patting her sister’s thigh before unsubtly pressing herself closer to Clarke. She could have been mistaken but it seemed as if Clarke breathed in a little harder at the contact.

It was shaping up to be a great night.

 

*

 

“Shit, it’s late,” Raven said two movies later, stretching her arms out in front of her and yawning.

Lexa checked her watch and saw that it was a little past midnight. She looked to Ontari whose eyes were drooping.

“Time for bed, kid.”

“I’m not a kid,” Ontari mumbled, something she often protested since starting high school.

“OK, well whatever you are, kid, adult, alien, I don’t care, it’s bedtime. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Ontari grimaced, burrowing her head into the arm of Lexa’s hoodie.

The following day was the day that the Woods kids, minus Anya, were meeting the mysterious George, their mom’s new boyfriend. Lexa had suspected as soon as Ontari turned up unannounced that the dinner planned for the next day was the real reason she was there. She had confronted her between movies two and three when Clarke and Raven had gone to pick a new one from Raven’s room.

“So are you going to tell me why you’re really here?” she had asked softly, turning to Ontari, trying to seem as calm and open as possible, she didn’t want to spook her.

“Mom is driving me crazy,” Ontari sighed, letting herself sliding further down into the couch cushions.

“What’s she doing?”

“Obsessively tidying to get ready for tomorrow. Anything I do she complains at because I might possibly make a mess. I just had to get out of there.”

“She’s just nervous.”

“I know that and I get it. Doesn’t mean she’s not super annoying.”

“What was Aden doing in all of this?”

“You know what he’s like, he has so much energy. He’s been cleaning with her, charging around with a broom and a duster like it’s his job.”

Lexa chuckled. That sounded like Aden.

“Didn’t you want to help, too?”

“Not really.”

Lexa sensed there was something Ontari wasn’t saying but she didn’t want to push her into clamming up entirely. They sat there for a few moments, the only sound the muffled chatter of Clarke and Raven off in Raven’s room, either having forgotten the task at hand or proving to be ridiculously indecisive.

“Lex?” Ontari finally said, voice small, and Lexa had a sudden flash of little Ontari at aged five the night before her first day of school. She had woken Lexa up as she hovered beside her bed, her bear hanging at her side by its arm from her clenched fist, teeth biting at her bottom lip. Ontari picked up this habit again, gnawing on her lip for a second before she forced herself to speak. “Are you nervous?”

Lexa let out a breath and took Ontari’s hand in hers.

“Yes, I am.”

Ontari sighed and gave a small, relieved smile.

“Me too.”

“I thought you might be. But it’ll be OK, Tari.”

“But the last time…”

“I know. But Mom really likes this guy, she’s been dating him for a while and you know, from what I’ve heard, he sounds really nice.”

Ontari just kept on nodding as Lexa spoke, her hand gripping at Lexa’s fiercely. Lexa wasn’t sure she believed her own words but what she really needed was for Ontari to believe them.

“He does sound nice,” she agreed, voice barely above a whisper. “You…” Ontari’s voice cracked and suddenly her reticence became tears sparkling in her eyes and a wobbly bottom lip. “You won’t ever leave like Anya did, will you?”

And it was all Lexa could do not to cry, honestly. It may have seemed like they had moved on but Anya had affected them all in more ways than she would ever know. Lexa knew it hadn’t been easy for Anya to leave, that she’d been unbelievably hurt when she’d gone, and that she was just looking out for her own well-being which of course was important but… Lexa had never really admitted it to herself before but she resented her a little for it. Especially when she saw how much it had scarred their siblings, Ontari especially. They were blameless victims in it all, they didn’t deserve any of this. Theia was the root of the problem, even if she hadn’t meant to be, but the kids? They had done nothing but love Anya and she had just left them just like she had their mom.

Lexa pulled Ontari into her arms and held her tight, allowing herself the smallest of moments to feel the sadness she so often tried to fight.

“I will never leave you, Tari,” she said, gritting her teeth, fire burning in her chest at the way Ontari breathed in deeply against her. “Never.

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

When Ontari shuffled in her grip, Lexa let her go and pulled back. She took in Ontari’s tear-stained face and wiped at her cheek with her thumb, offering her a sad smile.

“We’re going to give this guy a chance for Mom, OK?” she said gently, locking her eyes with Ontari’s to make sure she was really hearing her. “She’s had a hard time too and she deserves to be happy, no matter what’s happened in the past. If he’s a douche, we’ll deal with that later. But we’ll get through it all together, OK? No one’s leaving this family ever again, I’m not going to let it happen.”

Ontari gave her a watery smile, nodding.

“Yeah, OK. We can do this. It’s just dinner, we can do dinner.”

“Exactly.”

“Aden’s excited,” Ontari admitted.

“Of course he is,” Lexa said, letting out a breath and smiling at her sister. She could always rely on little innocent Aden to be the beacon of hope in the family.

What she didn’t realise, however, was that Aden wasn't the one that provided the hope for their family most of the time, it was Lexa herself that had always done that.

A girls’ night in seemed to have been just what Ontari needed to calm her nerves and now at the end of the night with Lexa bringing up the dinner again, she seemed much calmer.

“I should go home,” Clarke said, getting to her feet.

Ontari’s failing eyes snapped open and she sat up fast.

“No, don’t go!”

Clarke chuckled, looking a little flattered at Ontari’s protest.

“I really should, it’s a bit of a full house here tonight,” Clarke said, carefully avoiding Lexa’s gaze.

“We can make room!” Ontari said. “I’ll sleep on the couch, you can sleep with Lexa-” her eyes widened and she exchanged a look with Raven “-I mean, you can sleep in Lexa’s bed with her.”

“Honestly, I think I’ve imposed on you guys enough.”

“But Lexa will make pancakes in the morning, won’t you, Lex? You have to stay if there’s pancakes!”

Lexa didn’t realise she’d be making pancakes but the ferocious way in which Ontari repeatedly patted at her leg informed her that she didn’t have a choice in the matter.

“Score! Lexa’s making pancakes!” Raven exclaimed. “You have to stay if there’s pancakes, Clarke, Tari’s right.”

“Come on guys, maybe Clarke has somewhere else to be,” Lexa said and she turned to Clarke, not wanting her to feel trapped into staying because of Ontari and Raven.

“I don’t have anywhere to be until late tomorrow morning and besides, I do really like pancakes,” Clarke said, smiling, eyes finally shifting to Lexa.

“Yeah?” Lexa’s heart began to beat faster and she was suddenly worried about her ability to perform under the pressure of a pretty girl who she so desperately wanted to impress. Tomorrow was surely going to be the day when she’d burn her pancakes for the first time in recorded history.

“Yeah. So sure, I’ll stay, if that’s OK with you, Lex?”

“Mi casa es su casa,” Lexa said and then cringed because honestly, who was she becoming? She’d never taken a Spanish lesson in her life. But Clarke just chortled as if she found her entertaining.

“Cool but I’ll take the couch. Tari, you can sleep with our master chef here.”

“OK, if you insist." Ontari yawned and heaved herself up off the couch. "I’m going to get ready for bed."

“Me too,” Raven said, getting up and following Ontari across the room. “Sleep tight, kids.”

“Night,” Clarke and Lexa chorused, and somehow it was just the two of them left.

“You really don’t have to stay,” Lexa said, getting to her feet. She felt awkward being sat down while Clarke was stood up.

“I know, I want to.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes Lexa, I’m sure.”

“Good.”

“Though I am going to miss being your cuddle buddy sleeping out here.”

Lexa could very easily have lost her cool in that moment and so she walked around to the back of the couch and gripped onto it for something to do, as if she were trying to hide herself very unsuccessfully.

“Uhuh,” was all that she could think to say. When the silence carried on between them, Clarke changed the course of the conversation.

“Ontari’s a great kid.”

“She is,” Lexa agreed. Clarke began to walk closer and that's when Lexa began to panic. It was as if she had completely forgotten how to be alone with Clarke after an evening of spending time with her in a group. “Let me go and get you some PJs,” she said quickly before practically charging into her bedroom.

Ontari had already collapsed into bed and she laughed at Lexa’s skittish movements and uncomfortable expression.

“You’re such a nerd, why don’t you just tell her you like her?”

Lexa ignored her comment.

“Brush your teeth before you go to sleep,” she said impatiently.

“Whatever, nerd,” Ontari said but Lexa had found what she was looking for and she headed back out into the living room. She had washed the NASA shirt and pants she had given Clarke the last time she stayed over and kept them aside for her in case she ever stayed over again. She hadn’t even considered what a hopeful move that had been at the time but it occurred to her in the moment that she handed them over to Clarke.

“Thanks,” Clarke said, smiling as she took the clothes. She was stood leaning against the back of the couch now and she put the pile on top of it, her eyes never leaving Lexa’s. “I had a really nice night. You were right, there was definitely a better way to spend the evening than writing that stupid essay.”

“Yeah, that was definitely better.”

Lexa dared herself to step a little closer, Ontari’s words echoing in her mind. If she told Clarke that she liked her, was that selfish? Clarke had said she didn’t want to date anyone but while Lexa had originally thought that the charged air between the two of them was just part of a game they were playing, it seemed a lot more real these days. Clarke had already said she was attracted to Lexa, she offered to have no strings sex with her, for god’s sake. But there were these looks that Clarke would give her sometimes, soft and sweet, and Lexa couldn’t help but hope there was more to it that just pure physical attraction.

Her heart threatened to give up entirely when Clarke held a hand out to her and she wasn’t entirely sure what was expected of her in the moment. So she went with her instincts and put her hand in Clarke’s, a thrill shooting through her at the way Clarke pulled her closer with one swift movement.

“I’m so glad we’re friends,” Clarke said softly, voice low and rumbling all the way to Lexa’s core. She came to settle in front of her, just an inch away from touching her, and their hands broke apart.

“Mhmm,” was all Lexa managed to say and Clarke just smiled over at her, hands coming to her hips and pulling her closer. Lexa’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment and then she tried to get a grip of her senses. “This doesn’t feel like friends,” she said in a barely-there voice.

“How so?” Clarke asked, head tilting curiously, eyes crinkling at the corners in her amusement.

“You know how,” Lexa said, utterly distracted by the way that their hips came together just out of alignment, Lexa’s resting above Clarke’s.

“I suppose I do.”

One of Clarke’s hands released its hold and came to tuck Lexa’s hair behind her ear. Lexa begged herself to do something, to pull away, to wrap her arms around Clarke, to kiss her, something, instead of just standing there like a fool. But she was utterly powerless, stumped, stuck, and confused as fuck, in all honesty.

“What do you want from me, Clarke?” Her voice was almost a plea, she hated the way it sounded but she was so lost.

Clarke’s hand came to rest on Lexa’s neck and she looked into her eyes with such intensity that Lexa felt like she might explode. It would have probably been easier than living through that moment.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, shrugging. “All I know is that I like being close to you. Is that OK?” Clarke’s expression suddenly turned vulnerable and her hands dropped to her sides. Lexa wanted to say no, she wanted to know exactly what was between them and where, if anywhere, it was going, but something in Clarke’s eyes begged her to say yes and let it go.

“Yes,” she said, unable to deny that she enjoyed it too. “But for now, I should leave you to get some sleep.”

Clarke nodded, softening, and she leaned in to press a light kiss to Lexa’s cheek.

“Thanks, Lexa.”

“For what?”

“For just letting me be… well, me, I guess.”

Lexa frowned at Clarke for a moment, still so confused by the enigma of a girl before her, but she had hope that one day she’d figure her out.

“Oh, well, you’re welcome, I guess.”

Before her sense could win out, Lexa returned Clarke’s sentiment and kissed the curve of her cheekbone, heart beating wildly at the proximity. She was just pulling back when Ontari came out of the bedroom, feet dragging on the carpet in her tiredness. She was pretty sure she heard a noise of disgust come from her sister but that could have just been a tired moan. (It wasn’t.)

By the time all of the girls were ready for bed and Lexa was settling down next to the barely awake Ontari, her heart had finally calmed.

“You’ve got it bad, Lex,” Ontari mumbled and Lexa just sighed as she turned out the light.

Yes, yes she did. And she really didn’t appreciate people reminding her of that fact.

 

*

 

Dinner the following day was a quiet affair at first, Theia tried her best to facilitate conversation but her kids seemed to have lost the ability to form coherent sentences longer than three words. She grew more and more exasperated with time, finally excusing herself to use the bathroom, probably to rant to herself about her terrible decision to have so many children. Or so Lexa thought, anyway.

George looked between the three kids, each on a different side of the table, surveying them all. Lexa wasn’t sure how old he was, exactly, but she’d have put him in his late forties. He still had an impressive head of neatly styled dark hair but it was speckled with grey, almost entirely white at his temples. His face was clean-shaven but his hair was a shade dark enough that his stubble was probably always visible. He’d donned a knitted sweater for the occasion and just based on his appearance, he seemed more domestically-inclined that the slightly rougher looking men of Theia’s past, Lexa’s dad included.

“Listen guys, I know this is weird,” George said, locking his fingers together in front of him on the table in the spot his plate had been sat just a few minutes before. “But I really care for your mom. I just want her to be happy and you guys are her world so I’d love to get to know you. No pressure, alright? But maybe we can try? What do you say?”

Lexa was about to agree, how could she begrudge him such a simple request, but Aden beat her to speaking.

“Do you like video games?” he asked. His face screwed up as he waited for an answer, as if he were ready to start judging George according to what he said. Theia and Lexa had clubbed together to get Aden a somewhat outdated console for Christmas and he had since become obsessed with it.

“I’ve not played many,” George admitted, his eyes creasing up at the corners as he smiled, “but I reckon I’d enjoy them if someone would teach me. Do you know anyone that might do that?”

Aden sat bolt upright in his seat and beamed, nodding his head so hard Lexa was concerned he might injure himself.

“I could teach you!”

“You could?!” George had somehow reached the perfect level of enthusiasm to hype Aden up into mega-excitement mode and seeing them interacting made Lexa vow once again that she would try her hardest for her family.

“Yeah!”

“Well after we’re all done here, we’ll ask your mom if we can play, how about that?”

Aden was nodding and he jiggled so intensely in his seat that he ended up on his feet and he ran from the room.

“Um… Should I go and get him?” George asked, looking between Ontari and Lexa, seemingly a little perplexed.

“Oh no, he does that,” Ontari said, offering a small smile and Lexa was proud of her for that. “He has so much energy, it’s a miracle he stayed sat down for the entire dinner, to be honest.”

“He was wiggling around an awful lot,” George said, giving a hearty chuckle and neither of the girls could resist smiling.

“That’s Aden,” Lexa said.

“Where’s Aden?” Theia asked as she came into the room and settled herself back down next to George.

“He got excited and ran off,” George told her and Theia smiled.

“Yep, that’s Aden.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Well I guess that means he doesn’t want any ice cream,” Theia said, grinning and raising her voice for the last two words.

Predictable as ever, Aden came charging into the room, eyes bright and hair dishevelled.

“Ice cream?!” He was panting and grinning, and when the other four started laughing he joined in, happy to be amusing everyone.

Theia got up and pressed a kiss to the top of her son’s head and all of them seemed to sigh in relief, the ice effectively broken by the innocence of an over-exuberant eight-year-old.

Over the course of the afternoon George managed to loosen them all up with his determination in playing video games with Aden, and the carefully thought out questions he asked Ontari in particular, but Lexa for the most part just watched her family adjusting to the new presence in the house. She had never been the best with new people and she knew it was especially apparent during that afternoon but she was more concerned with everyone else than herself for the moment.

George offered to drive Lexa back to campus on his way home later on, insisting that he didn’t mind despite the fact that he actually lived in the opposite direction to Arkadia. Lexa knew what he was doing but she didn’t feel that half an hour in a car with a guy who was practically a stranger was the best thing. She agreed anyway, seeing the way her mom’s eyes pleaded with her.

It wasn’t a fun drive.

They sat in silence for most of it, the radio doing very little to distract from the awkwardness that was lingering between them. By the time they pulled up outside Lexa’s apartment she was just about ready to open the door and jump out whether they were still moving or not. She was about to thank George and take her leave quickly but he stopped her.

“Lexa, wait,” he said, voice calm but commanding. Not in a scary and overbearing way, it was more of a plea that the soft person residing inside Lexa had no choice but to adhere to. “I had all of this stuff that I was going to talk to you about on the drive over but I’ve got to admit, my nerves got the better of me.”

“Nerves?” Now that had intrigued Lexa.

“Yes, believe it or not I was ridiculously nervous about meeting all of you kids. But you especially. Theia speaks so highly of you, I can tell from the way she talks that she relies on you a lot, she really cares what you think, and she’s told me that you’ll be the hardest to get close to.”

“Of course she has.”

“She didn’t mean it in a bad way, I’m sure,” George tried to explain, his hands moving in awkward gesticulation in the limited space between his torso and the steering wheel. “She just said you’re more reserved than your siblings, that it takes you longer to warm up because you’re so cautious.”

“I suppose that’s a fair assessment.”

“She also told me about what happened with Anya.”

“She did?”

“Yes. It took her a while because she kept crying but yeah, I heard the story.”

“All of it? She told you why Anya left?”

“Yes.”

“Wow, she must trust you.”

“Why’d you say that?”

“None of us ever talk about it, it was all so hard on us all. For her to bring it up and not worry you were going to bail too, well, that’s real trust.”

“Oh, she was worried to tell me, she said that straight away. But she also said that she couldn’t get any closer to me without me knowing the whole story.”

“And how did you react?”

“I was a little scared at first, it was a lot of emotional baggage, for sure.” George gave her a very sobering looking and Lexa appreciated that he was being so honest with her. “Your mom is great, she really is, but a woman crying that much is bound to give any guy a fright. But the more she told me, the more I got why she was crying so much. So I listened until she stopped crying, and then I listened some more.”

“That’s kind of impressive,” Lexa admitted, nodding.

George leaned back into his seat and let out a breath.

“I’m glad you think so. I just want you to know that I know how much you’ve all been through. I mean of course I can’t understand it, no one could without living it, but I know what happened. I want to be good for all of you. I’ve got baggage too but I’d like for us to all be able to move past it and start… not a new life, I know you all have your own lives, but maybe we can start a new chapter.”

Lexa fixed him with her most intense, judgemental gaze, trying to figure him out. She was impressed when he didn’t back down, didn’t falter in his eye contact, and she relaxed a little.

“That sounds like something we can do,” Lexa said gently and when George looked like he was about to speak, she stopped him. “Look, I know I’ve been a little cold today but like you said, I’m just cautious. I’m making sure my family can handle it before I worry about whether I can. But they’re all willing to give you a chance so I am too.”

“I’ll try my best to do right by you all.”

Lexa nodded and was about leave but she couldn’t help the question that slipped from her lips.

“You said you have baggage? Can I ask what?”

George opened his mouth as if he were about to speak but his jaw moved uselessly and he sighed. Lexa felt bad and she scrambled to take her questions back.

“I’m sorry, it’s not my business, I’ll just go.”

“No, no, I know your business because of your mom, you deserve an answer.” He rubbed his faintly aging hands on his pants and watched the movement for a moment before turning back to Lexa. “I was married once but my wife... she, uh, she died."

A pang went through Lexa's chest, she felt awful.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I really shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, I’m glad you did. I just… I’ve not dated a lot since that. I tried to, it’s been a long time now, almost twenty years, but…” His eyes drifted away from Lexa and the lines in his face smoothed out as his expression grew wistful. “I’ve not felt this much since I was with Lily. It’s different, of course it’s different, but it feels so good to connect again.”

And that was the moment Lexa decided her gut feeling the first time she’d laid eyes on George was correct, he was a good guy. It didn’t mean that things would go well, that he’d be around forever, but she knew he was the kind of guy her mom deserved to have finally found for herself.

“I get that.”

“You do?”

“Sure,” Lexa said, offering a small smile. “Thanks for telling me. And maybe we can make Sunday dinners a regular thing.”

“I’d really like that, Lexa.”

“I should go, I’ve got a load of work to do for my classes.”

“Yes, yes, of course you do. I’ll see you soon, yes?”

“You will. Goodbye George,” Lexa said, not even having to force the smile that took over her face.

As she walked towards her apartment, bracing herself for the questions that were bound to be thrust upon her when she was reunited with Raven, she found herself really hoping that George was going to stick around.

And he did.

 

*

 

Later that evening Anya popped up on skype at the time that she did most often, right when Lexa was in the middle of something. She had been trying to make a start on her essay and she wasn’t sure which would be more exhausting, the essay or making small talk with Anya while avoiding the subject of what she’d been doing all day.

Lexa ended up leaned forward on her desk, head propped up in her hand as she talked to Anya. Well, Anya was doing most of the talking.

“Lexa, are you OK?” Anya asked after about five uninterrupted minutes of mostly aimless chatter.

Lexa sat up straight and frowned at the slightly pixelated image of her sister on her laptop screen.

“Huh?”

“Are you even paying attention to me?” Anya said, sounding a little irritated.

“Yeah, yeah, I am, sorry.”

“What’s up with you today?”

Of course she couldn’t say that she was completely drained from worrying about their family and the effect their mom’s new boyfriend would have on them all because it was best that Anya didn’t know about him. At least, for now, anyway.

“Nothing’s up.”

“Are you sure? You’re quieter than usual.”

“I guess I just don’t have much to say.”

Anya raised her eyebrows in disbelief.

“Doesn’t sound likely.”

Lexa sighed, she really did feel quite spaced-out.

“I was up late last night, I’m just tired.”

“Ooo, hot date?” Anya asked, grinning.

“No, nothing like that. I was hanging out with Clarke, Raven and Ontari, we watched movies till late. Now I’m trying to write an essay that I really should have started by now.”

“Wait, Clarke? As in the Clarke from the bar that you moaned about for the whole of last semester and then stopped mentioning completely?”

Lexa rolled her eyes, Anya sounded just like Raven. That’s what she got for allowing the two of them to become friends. Not that she would have been able to stop them if she had tried, they were both way too stubborn for that. In fact, they would have probably been even more determined to be friends if Lexa had tried to fight against it.

“I didn’t moan about her that much.”

“Oh come on, you mentioned her every time we talked. I figured she quit or something when you stopped talking about her.”

“I didn’t realise I’d stopped.”

“Wait a minute…” A sly grin spread across Anya’s face. “Are you guys dating? Is that why you stopped mentioning her? Because actually she’s your girlfriend now and you spend all of your time watching movies and making out? You never tell me about girls, it makes perfect sense!”

“We’re not dating.” She wished she could claim such a thing.

“Are you sure?” Anya was still grinning as if she didn’t believe Lexa in the slightest.

“I’m sure. We’re just friends. She annoyed me at first, yes, but we figured out a way to work with each other and we ended up becoming friends. We hang out occasionally, is that so bad?”

“Of course it’s not bad, I just find it a little suspicious that you haven’t mentioned her.”

“Well there’s nothing going on, believe me.”

“You know Raven will tell me if I ask her.”

“Not if I tell her not to.”

“Aha! So there is something to tell!”

“There’s nothing to tell, Anya, drop it.”

“Then why are you getting so annoyed with me?”

“Because you’re annoying! You’re my sister, you’re the one who’s best at annoying me.”

“Come ooooooon, Lex,” Anya whined. “I don’t have a lot of people to talk to around here, you’ve got to give me something juicy!”

“I don’t have anything good for you.”

“Lexa…”

“There’s nothing going on between me and Clarke,” Lexa said, slumping forward onto her desk again, head in her hands.

“Oh sweetie.”

“What?”

“You like her.”

“Who?”

“Clarke.”

“What about her?”

“Oh come on, Lex, stop dodging the subject and just admit it. You like Clarke, don’t you? You never were very good at hiding things from me.”

“Only because it was easier just to tell you because you were so annoying about it.”

“Exactly! So tell me.”

“Fine. Yes, I like Clarke.”

“I knew it!”

“Now can we talk about something else?”

“You don’t want to gush about her to me? I can give you some advice?”

Lexa scoffed.

“I don’t think you’re the best person for advice about girls, An.”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’ve not got the best track record.”

“That’s not my fault. I just happen to have been attracted to some real train wrecks over the years, it wasn’t me that made the relationships end so badly.”

“Yes, but it’s your lack of judgement with women, and men actually, that worries me.”

“Low blow, sis.”

Lexa finally dragged herself out of her defensive state enough to notice the way Anya had sunk down into her couch, looking a little defeated. In her tiredness, Lexa had completely forgotten what a sore subject that had become with Anya over the years. She made a mental note to torture herself over her flippancy when she had the energy tomorrow.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer but I don’t need any help.”

“That hopeless, huh?”

“I don’t know, really.” Lexa sighed, thinking about all the times Clarke seemed to enjoy being as close to her as possible. “Sometimes I think she could like me too but she doesn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone right now.”

“And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Oh my god, you’re making this so difficult!” Anya complained, running a hand through her slightly dishevelled hair in her exasperation. “Do you want to be with her?”

Lexa sighed.

“Honestly?”

“Yes, honestly! Come on, we’re sisters, we share.”

For better or worse, Lexa thought a little bitterly.

“OK, honestly, I want that more than most things these days.”

Anya just grinned at her in a way that would have made her curl up in embarrassment had she any energy at all.

“That’s so fucking cute, Lex, tell her!”

Before Lexa could protest and do something stupid, like ask why people kept telling her what to do when they could barely govern their own lives without her help, Anya got distracted and her head whipped around.

“Lex, I’ve gotta go, I think Rio’s up.”

“Alright, give him a hug from me,” Lexa said, trying not to let the relief show in her voice.

“Will do. Chin up, kid, I’m sure you’ll work out what to do with Clarke.”

And Anya’s image disappeared. Lexa switched the screen back to her essay, stared at it for a moment, sighed, and closed her laptop. She figured it could wait a little while, as could this whole Clarke predicament. It wasn’t as if either of them would be going away just yet.

 

*

 

Over the next month, life continued to progress much as it always had. The air grew warmer, classes intensified, and somewhere in amongst everything Lexa became more confident in the changing areas of her life.

Everything with her family seemed to be smoothing out again. They were all adjusting to George being around, they’d had a few more dinners together with much more talking from all parties involved, and Ontari had called Lexa up just the other day to tell her how annoying it was that their mom was singing happily around the house all the time. Lexa began to loosen her grip on the anxiety surrounding her family.

She and Clarke carried on in their friendship, developing this desire to spend most of their free time together, even if they did spend an awful lot of that time studying. See, the problem was that they were both really busy. They both had work at the bar and classes, Clarke had soccer and various activities with her other friends, Lexa had Saturdays working at the coffee shop and visits with her family, so any time they had free, they had to use to study. And that’s why it became a habit to study together. Raven had stumbled upon on them at ungodly hours in the night several times, both of them asleep on top of their piles of books and worksheets on Lexa’s bed, and had to wake them up in order to get them to actually go to bed properly.

And that’s how Clarke ended up staying over a lot too. Lexa didn’t mind it but it definitely wasn’t helping with her attraction to Clarke. They invariably woke up a tangle of limbs and Lexa was painfully aware of how much she missed being close with someone.

To be quite frank, she missed sex.

Having the physical proximity of a beautiful woman with none of the release was becoming quite difficult and she found herself regretting her refusal of Clarke’s friends with benefits offer on more than one occasion. But she handled the problem alone like she had most of her adult life, determined not to mess up her friendship just for the sake of an orgasm by a hand other than her own. And really, that was a tiny problem compared to Lexa’s still growing feelings for the ever-confusing Clarke. But she brushed them aside as best she could and just focused on enjoying being around Clarke. It made things easier. Sure, it was a temporary solution but that was better than pining.

(There may still have been a little pining.)

So life was going well and of course that meant something had to come in and shake everything up, right? Lexa was just starting to believe that she might make it through the rest of the school year without any more hiccups but just before spring break something happened.

Of course it did.

It was a Wednesday, one of Lexa’s favourite days because she didn’t have to work at the bar. Clarke always came over after soccer practice and they’d hang out, sometimes they’d study and others they’d do something fun. On this particular Wednesday they were planning to start watching Supergirl together, Clarke had never seen it and Lexa was adamant that she needed educating in the area.

Lexa opened the door to her apartment with a grin on her face after walking back from her last class, expecting to see Raven sat in her usual spot on the couch. Sure enough, there she was but this time she wasn’t alone. Sat next to her, leaning back into the corner of couch like she belonged there, was someone that Lexa hadn’t seen in person in months.

It was Anya.

“Hey kid,” Anya said as soon as their eyes locked, smiling. She got straight to her feet and strode confidently over to Lexa, never missing a beat.

Lexa didn’t handle it quite so well.

She couldn’t have looked more like a cartoon if she tried. She froze completely, hand still held up awkwardly from where she had just pushed open the door by the handle, the door creaking shut behind her. Her jaw dropped and she could imagine her cartoon-self having to scoop it up off the floor and put it back into place before she was able to speak properly again.

But Anya seemed unperturbed; she just wrapped her arms around Lexa while Lexa’s hands came up to rest on her back in a reflexive action. By the time Anya pulled out of the hug, Lexa still hadn’t found her words.

“Wow, what a reception. I’m glad to see that you’re happy I’m here.” Anya was still smiling but it didn’t seem genuine anymore. If Lexa wasn’t mistaken, and all the time they’d spent apart over the last few years hadn’t robbed her of knowing her sister like she used to, Anya was masking her anxiety and that’s what shocked Lexa into speaking.

“Of course I’m happy you’re here but… Why? I mean, what are you doing here? You didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry. But you’ve been a bit distant lately so I didn’t want to bother you with my shit and then this was all kind of a last minute thing so I thought it’d be more fun if I surprised you.”

“Well, it worked.” Lexa hated how strangled her voice sounded and she gave a nervous titter that sounded nothing like she could ever remember coming from her mouth in her entire life.

Things were just starting to settle and here was Anya, one of the most tumultuous people in Lexa’s life, appearing when she was finally finding her footing. Just her presence threatened to disrupt it all and for that one selfish moment, Lexa wished she hadn’t shown up at all.

“I guess it did.” Anya shuffled on the spot, nerves finally clawing their way past her confident exterior. Anya had a habit of hiding how much she was struggling in life with confidence that she managed to drum up out of nowhere, Lexa had worked that out pretty early on in their childhood spent together. “I can explain it all, Lex, I promise. I just need to stay with you for a bit, is that OK?”

“Yeah, of course,” Lexa said, nodding dumbly, her fingers tingling as her awareness seeped back after the initial shock began to wear off. She looked around the room, noticing Raven perched awkwardly on the couch in a manner that was very uncharacteristic of her. It was definitely a weird situation and this wasn’t the first time that Raven had got caught up in it. The next thing she noticed was a cluster of suitcases and bags at the edge of the room. “Wait, where’s Rio?”

“Sleeping in your room, the drive made him all agitated.”

“Oh.”

“Actually, I should probably go and wake him up, he won’t sleep tonight if I don’t.”

“No, no, you should sit. I’ll get him.”

“You sure?” Lexa nodded and Anya frowned. “Are you OK? You look a little pale.”

Lexa gave that nervous laugh again, hating herself a little for it. She put her hand on Anya’s arm, noticing the way her sister’s face was creasing up with concern, and she pulled the best smile from her archive that she could manage with the tiny amount of mental capacity she had available to her.

“I’m fine, Anya, and I’m happy you’re here, that you both are. You just caught me off guard, that’s all. When I come back you’re going to tell me everything, OK?”

“Absolutely, I owe you that much.”

Lexa let out a deep breath and gave Anya a proper hug this time, gripping her tighter when she realised that she still smelled the same. It calmed her poor frazzled heart, as did the soft smile and dorky thumbs up Raven gave her from over Anya’s shoulder.

“I’ll be right back,” Lexa said once she had released Anya.

Upon peering around her bedroom door, her heart was soothed further when her eyes found the little boy bundled up in the middle of her comparatively enormous bed. His head whipped up as she failed to shut the door quietly behind her and she beamed at his cute, fabric-creased face. Half of his tight curls had plastered themselves to his head where he’d been laying on them and he smiled dopily, his eyes still dazed.

“Hi Rio,” she said softly, making her way over to him and sitting herself on the edge of the bed.

Rio moved haphazardly into a sitting position, he was still a little uncoordinated having only just learned how to walk, and he held his arms out to her. She scooped him up and settled him in her lap, wrapping her arms around him, kissing his soft, dark skin, his deep brown eyes creasing up as his smile grew wider.

Technology hadn’t done her nephew justice. She hadn’t seen him in months and he was even more gorgeous than she remembered him, and so much bigger than he’d seemed over the webcam and from the pictures Anya had sent her.

She may have been shocked by their arrival but with the grinning boy in her arms, she knew she wanted them to stay for good.

Don’t get your hopes up, she told herself as Rio’s pudgy little hand came to tap at her cheek. They probably won’t stay for long.

Chapter Text

The moan of pleasure that came vibrating up from Clarke’s chest, moulded low and gorgeous as it reached her throat, and emerged through smiling lips was one that was very conflicting for Lexa who was finding her new-found friend hard to resist as she shone in the morning sunlight. Clarke had just bitten into one of Lexa’s pancakes, smile mischievous as Lexa eyed her nervously, worried that she had done something wrong in their concoction because of the way that Clarke had kept leaning over her shoulder as she cooked, smelling so good with her hair tousled from what was probably an uncomfortable night sleeping on the couch. Also the fact that Clarke was wearing Lexa pjs made her even more captivating, there was something quite satisfying about a beautiful woman wearing your clothes, Lexa was realising. It had all distracted her a little, as did the less than subtle looks and grins that Raven and Ontari would flash their way each time Clarke rested her hand on Lexa’s back or nudged her playfully as they laughed together.

Clarke had teased that Lexa’s pancakes couldn’t possibly live up to the reviews that Raven and Ontari had given them the night before when they had pestered her into promising to make them. Clearly she had been proven wrong, her face loosening in her bliss and head tipping back, reminiscent of some divine being that Lexa had never believed existed before.

“Oh my…” Clarke managed to say in the midst of chewing and the serenity that seemed to have befallen her upon tasting what was apparently considered a delicacy in these parts.

“Good?” Lexa asked, gulping hard against the tugging deep inside her that so often wanted her to step into Clarke’s space so she could be nearer to her.

So good.” Clarke swallowed and opened her eyes, pools of clarity, their waves of calm washing over Lexa, and their gazes locked. “I’m in love,” she said, voice reverent and low, so much more elegant than the way that she shovelled another forkful of food into her eager mouth in the following seconds. Lexa’s heart was a stuttering mess.

“Told ya,” Raven said around her own mouthful, not even bothering to finish chewing before stuffing more soft, fluffy goodness into her mouth. She was sat on a stool at the breakfast bar in the tiny kitchen with Ontari sat next to her, cheeks puffed out with food as well, head nodding vehemently.

There were only two stools so Clarke and Lexa were stood, Clarke at the end of the little bench and Lexa opposite Raven and Ontari. Lexa cut a neat section out of her pancake and found that yes, it was pretty good. She’d probably had better but she was pretty sure that food tasted better when you hadn’t had to cook it yourself.

“I want to marry these pancakes,” Clarke groaned, staring at the piece she had just stabbed with her fork and raised to eye level. She gave it a look that could only be considered pure awe, eyes adoring it in a way that had Lexa a little jealous.

(Lexa rolled her eyes internally at herself for being jealous of breakfast food. What a ridiculous thing to be experiencing.)

Instead of just accepting the compliment to her culinary prowess, Lexa’s slightly addled brain (addled by everything Clarke had done in the last hour since Lexa had emerged from her bedroom nervously clutching at the bottom of her shirt like she’d used to as a child) started to ramble.

“Wouldn’t it be a bit weird for you to eat your spouse though?”

Clarke turned her attention to Lexa and raised her eyebrows, lips quirking into an amused grin and while Lexa’s gaze was captivated, she could hear the snickering from Raven and Ontari and she knew what expressions they’d be pulling.

“Not… I mean… just…” Lexa gave up, her face greedily stealing all of the blood from her body and displaying it for everyone to see. She chiselled her way out of that bold blue stare and smothered her embarrassment with an uncouth bite of pancakes.

“Fine,” Clarke said, free hand running through her hair as if to tidy it up a little but it only really succeeded in ruffling it further. Of course it made her prettier which just made what she said next all the more difficult for Lexa to process. “Then maybe I should marry you so you can make me pancakes for the rest of my life. Is that better?”

Lexa’s ability to speak her native language was lost for a good few seconds and she was saved from having to bumble in her new inarticulate ways by choking on her food, spraying a good amount of it at an unsuspecting Ontari. And least it distracted her sister from the teasing she was about to get for being such a bumbling goon; she earned herself a look of disgust instead.

Clarke was at Lexa’s side with a hand banging against her back rhythmically almost instantly, a movement which calmed to a slow rub as Lexa managed to swallow the remnants of her food and catch her breath again. Feeling like a prize fool she turned to look at Clarke, expression incredibly sheepish.

“You don’t have to marry me to get me to make you pancakes,” Lexa said unevenly. “I can make you them as a friend.” She hated how small her voice sounded, how pathetic and sweet, like why couldn’t she just sound nonchalant and cool? When had she lost the ability to detach herself from her feelings?

Clarke shrugged, eyes glittering with humour.

“I don’t know, Lex, that’s a pretty big commitment, agreeing to make pancakes for a friend forever. It might sound easy enough now but what about when you’ve got some gorgeous wife years down the line and you have to come over to my place to make me pancakes instead of staying in bed with her? Surely that’s gotta put a strain on a marriage.”

“I didn’t mean that I’d always make them for you or that I’d make them whenever you wanted them. I just mean that I could sometimes.

Clarke’s hand had been resting gently on Lexa’s back throughout this whole conversation and it was the only thing stopping Lexa from noticing the rapt attention that Raven and Ontari were paying to the two of them. When Clarke moved away and put her hands on her hips in a powerful yet pensive stance, the two sets of eyes trained on them came into Lexa’s focus and she narrowed her eyes back at the girls in a glare that must have been pretty good because they both quickly looked back down at their plates, busying themselves with cutting and scooping up more of their pancakes.

“No deal,” Clarke said after a few moments, head shaking gently. “I need these pancakes for the rest of my life.”

“Well that seems a little unreasonable, Clarke.”

“What can I say, I’m a hard woman to please,” Clarke joked, winking in an over the top manner that had Lexa letting out a ridiculous snort for a reason of which she wasn’t quite sure.

“Care to elaborate?” Raven asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively and Clarke just let out a beautiful, melodic laugh.

“I’ll leave that to your imagination.” Her voice was deep and seductive, flashing Lexa back to an image of Clarke pressed between herself and a wall, pupils blown and lips swollen from fierce kisses. The memory felt like lightning; it was jarring and then gone as quickly as it had come. In its place, a feeling of jealously flooded through her at hearing that tone, the suggestiveness, directed at Raven even if it was just a joke.

“Maybe we can come to a compromise,” Lexa said, feeling the need to pull Clarke’s attention back to her. She touched her arm lightly with a tentative hand before pulling it back to link with the other one behind her.

“Oh yeah?” Clarke turned to Lexa again and Lexa’s stomach tried to vacate the premises. She hadn’t thought it through, she was welcoming flirtation and she had told herself over and over as she tried to fall asleep the night before that she shouldn’t do that anymore. It was just making things more confusing.

“Maybe.” Lexa busied herself eating the remainder of her pancake before heading over to the sink to start washing the dishes.

“She cooks, she cleans, she’s quite the domestic goddess,” Lexa heard Clarke say from behind her. She ran her fingers through the bubbles in the bowl, trying to hold back her grin. “How’re you still single, Lex?” Lexa’s hand gripped into a fist, bubbles erupting into soapy snowflakes in front of her.

“Ooo, ooo, I know!” Ontari said brightly and Lexa whipped around to see her sister bouncing in her seat, cheeky grin on her face, and a hand raised in the air.

“Don’t you dare,” Lexa shot at her, jaw clenched in a blend of panic and irritation.

“Whoa, scary Lexa’s made an appearance!” Ontari said, laughing a little but she put her hand down and fell silent very quickly.

“She’s a complex woman, our Lexa,” Raven told Clarke, eyes glinting. “She’s hard to please too but I suspect she’ll find the girl that pleases her soon enough.”

“Oh I’m sure she will,” Clarke said, looking at Lexa briefly, sending the smallest of smiles floating her way.

“OK, OK, can we please stop talking about my love life, or lack thereof?” Lexa sighed, soapy hands held out awkwardly in front of her.

“Only if you agree to make me pancakes for the foreseeable future,” Clarke said, grinning.

“And me!” Ontari trilled.

“And me!” Raven added, smile wide.

“Fine.” Lexa huffed and turned back to her dishes, relief washing over her as she heard a conversation start up behind her. It made her drop her guard and she was very surprised when Clarke was suddenly at her side.

“But we’re going to carry on negotiations for your pancake-making services again in the future, OK?”

Lexa gulped and just nodded, not trusting herself to say anything. But suddenly everything shifted, colours brightened, outlines sharpened, the chattering voices from behind them got quieter and then stopped completely as an arm snaked around Lexa’s back, a hand squeezing at her hip. Lexa found herself turning in Clarke’s grip and suddenly they were in her bedroom, in her bed, Clarke’s weight comforting on top of her as she laid there, head on Lexa’s chest. Everything was hazy and warm and Lexa craned her neck so she could kiss Clarke on the top of the head.

Her body jolted, eyes snapped open, and suddenly she was staring at a shadow-streaked ceiling, the only weight on her the duvet that barely covered half of her body. She had fallen asleep thinking of that morning with Clarke, Ontari, and Raven, replaying it in her mind to soothe herself after the events of the evening. It was her way of coping sometimes, reliving happy memories, and her mind had carried it on, shifting it into what was most definitely a dream right at the end.

Of course it wasn’t Clarke laid beside her like she found herself wishing, but her sister. It was Anya, Anya who only hours ago had admitted to Lexa that she lost her job and her place to live and Lexa was the only person to whom she and her son could turn.

Lexa sighed and turned onto her side, eyes tracing over her Anya’s well-swaddled form. Somehow she always ended up being the one to pick people up from the ground and in the dark of the night, with the lingering feeling of how safe she had felt at the end of her dream, she admitted to herself that she was tired. Tired of saving people, tired of keeping secrets, and tired of having to be the strong one all of the time.

 

*

 

The Sunday following Anya and Rio’s surprise arrival found Lexa incredibly reluctant to get out of bed. She could hear Anya and Raven chattering away beyond her bedroom door, could hear them encouraging Rio to eat his breakfast and making him giggle, but she couldn’t bring herself to join them. She loved them all very much, she really did, but she was very much feeling the need for a little space. She’d not had that all week now she had to share her bedroom with Anya and Rio, which of course she was happy to do, but it was usually her only place to just be. At work she had to conduct herself in the proper manner, in her classes she had to be in full-on brain mode, but in her bedroom she could just relax if she wanted to, no expectations, no having to hide her feelings about things, it was just easy.

But things with Anya? They weren’t easy.

Lexa had given Anya a few days to settle into the apartment, to get over the stress of being forced to leave the place she had called home, to recover from what must have been a very difficult decision to go to her sister for help, but Lexa knew she had to talk to Anya now. She needed to find out what her plan was. It was in no way a permanent solution and Anya needed to know that. It was Lexa’s life and while she was happy to help, she needed to set some ground rules. But having a talk about plans and responsibility with Anya? Lexa absolutely did not want to do that. It had never gone well in the past, chances were it wasn’t going to this time either. Anya could be difficult, she was unpredictable and occasionally angry, and very often incredibly defensive. She had a lot of pride and it made her quite a difficult person to deal with. So Lexa burrowed down further into her duvet, blocking out the light and muffling the happy sounds of her family for a little longer while she tried to get up the courage to do what needed to be done. Like always.

She nuzzled her nose into Roary’s ragged fur and breathed in that comforting smell he always had, trying to calm her fraught nerves. Her phone binged from her nightstand and she reached a clumsy hand out from under the duvet to get it, frowning when sunlight tried to wend its way into her little cave of self-pity. The text she found upon unlocking her phone made her feel even worse.

 

Clarke: Hey Lex, I’ve missed you this week. I’m sure you’ve just been busy but are you free this afternoon? We could study together?

 

Lexa sighed and slipped the phone under her pillow. She hadn’t meant to be so distant with Clarke but she could feel herself being strange with her at work and she had no idea how to stop it. Clarke knew her well enough to know when something was wrong and while Lexa appreciated that Clarke would happily listen to her, she couldn’t let her guard down enough to talk about it. Which was weird, she thought she’d been getting better. But Anya coming back into her life so suddenly had completely thrown her off. She’d bailed on the plans she and Clarke had that night without explanation which Clarke had just accepted but she didn’t deserve how cold Lexa was being. But she couldn’t help it, she didn’t know how to feel.

Just when she was beginning to feel herself reaching a new level of despair at her current situation, a blaring alarm had her jumping out of bed and running out into the living room. Rio’s cries rattled through her bones as she ripped open the door to see Raven scooping him up into her arms while Anya shrieked at the frying pan that was gushing black smoke with alarming ferocity.

“What the hell happened?!” Lexa yelled over the noise, hastening over to Anya and taking the pan from her, throwing it into the sink. She shoved open the window to try and get some of the smoke out and Anya just stood on the spot watching her, eyes wide.

“I was trying to make pancakes,” Anya said in a small voice and Lexa, who had been incredibly tense just seconds ago, relaxed a little.

“Oh.” She grabbed a dishtowel and began fanning it in the air near the smoke alarm which was still blaring, trying to clear the air enough to silence it. Eventually it worked and the only sound left was the wailing of Rio and Raven shushing him as he clutched onto her, her hand brushing over his hair to try and calm him.

“Here, I’ll take him,” Anya said, making her way to Raven and holding her arms out to Rio. He heard her coming and instantly reached for her, curling himself around her and burrowing his head into her neck. His cries petered out into little gasps as Anya rubbed her hand down his back and Lexa felt herself softening even further. “I’m sorry,” Anya said, bouncing on the spot to soothe Rio.

“It’s fine, just maybe stick to cereal for breakfast.”

Anya offered a sheepish smile.

“I just wanted to make you something nice, you know, to say thank you.”

“For what?” Lexa found herself fidgeting awkwardly so she turned to look at the now only slightly smoking pan in the sink and the remnants of the pancake that Anya had burned rather spectacularly. She was going to need to soak that otherwise she’d never get it clean.

“For taking us in. I know it was a lot to ask.”

Lexa took in a deep breath through her nose before turning back to look at Anya and letting it out through her mouth, willing her heart to calm.

“You’re welcome, you know I’ll always help in any way I can.”

“I do,” Anya said, smiling and nuzzling her nose into Rio’s hair for a second, her eyes fluttering closed. It made Lexa’s heart clench when she saw how tender Anya was as a mother. But she couldn’t let that distract her from what she knew needed to be said.

“But we need to talk about your plan,” Lexa said, trying to sound serious but not too commanding. No one could tell Anya what to do, it had always been that way.

“I know,” Anya said calmly, surprising Lexa.

“I’m just gonna…” Raven motioned towards her bedroom with an awkward smile and hobbled away as quickly as her leg would allow, leaving just the Woods family occupying the small living room and kitchen combo.

Anya shuffled over to the couch and sat down, just about managing to pry through Rio’s vice-like grip and get him to sit on her lap instead of clinging to her. Lexa followed her and sat at the other end of the couch, smiling softly as Rio looked over at her with those gorgeous dark eyes.

“He’s growing up so fast,” Lexa commented, reaching her hand out to run a gentle thumb across his tear-streaked cheek.

“He is,” Anya agreed, kissing his curls and wrapping her arms tighter around his torso.

“I can’t believe it’s been over a year since you last showed up here unannounced.”

Anya grimaced, having the grace to look a little guilty. For the first time since she’d arrived Lexa let herself really look at her sister, let herself absorb the gravity of the fact that Anya was really there. She looked tired. She usually dyed her hair a little lighter but her roots had grown out a few inches, there were shadows under her eyes, her cheeks looked more hollow than usual. Lexa hadn’t realised before how worn she looked. But she was a single mother of a boy that had only just reached his first birthday, of course she was tired.

“I didn’t mean for it to become a pattern, I just… You’re the only one I can turn to, you know?” Anya’s tone was solemn, it didn’t suit her at all.

“I know. Are you going to tell me what happened?”

“I did.”

“You told me you lost your job and you couldn’t afford your place anymore but that was it. What about your friends out there? I thought you were happy.”

Anya sighed and scooted Rio off her lap, placing him on the floor. They watched him toddle over to his bag of toys in the corner of the room where he started to babble to himself before they turned their attention back to each other.

“I…” Anya ran a hand through her hair and Lexa began to feel incredibly nervous at how unsure of herself Anya seemed, how down-trodden. “Rio makes me happy, don’t get me wrong, I love him more than I ever thought was possible but… I wasn’t happy there. My friend I was living with, Megan, she got a new job in another city and moved away. She had a couple of months left on the lease that she’d already paid off and she let me stay there. I figured I could get myself a new place in that time. I had my job and Rio’s dad sends me child support so I thought I could swing it but the company I was working for went under. All of my other friends were gone too, that lot never stay in one place long, so we had no one left.” Anya’s voice had begun to shake and Lexa watched as she tried to pull back her emotions. It left her heart aching. “You’re the only person we have, Lex, that I have.”

“You never told me you were in trouble.” Lexa sank back into the couch cushions.

“I couldn’t admit it, I’m sorry. I was so scared that if I told you I was coming you’d try to make me go to Mom instead so I just decided to show up, so you couldn’t really turn me away. I knew you wouldn’t, that you could never do that.”

“You can stay here as long as you need to, An, I meant it when I told you that before, but you need to make a plan.”

“I know.”

“You should think about getting a job, decide whether you’re going to stay in the area because if you do, I will do my best to help take care of Rio while you work. Raven might even be able to help a little too.”

“I think I want to stay here, I want to stay near you,” Anya admitted quietly. “I’ve spent too long running away from our family but I can’t run now I have Rio, it’s not fair on him. And he loves his aunt Lexa, I can’t keep him away from you.”

Rio glanced up as he heard his name and they both gave him similar smiles until he went back to rummaging through his toys.

“And what about Mom?” Lexa asked, heart picking up its pace as she braced herself for Anya’s reaction.

Anya suddenly became very interested in the pillow on the couch and pulled it into her lap, smoothing her hand over the fabric and watching how the colour changed as she pushed the strands one way and then the other.

“What about her?”

“She lives a thirty minute drive from here, aren’t you worried you might run into her? What if she comes over for a surprise visit?”

Anya shrugged. She looked as if she were trying really hard to keep calm but Lexa still knew her well enough to see through her façade. “I’ll check the peephole before I answer the door.”

“Are you going to see her? Or the kids?”

“I don’t know.”

Lexa had started now, she figured she might as well keep going. Pushing Anya wasn’t wise but with her blood pounding in her ears, she did it anyway.

“It’s not fair to keep Rio from her.”

Anya flinched, her expression darkening. “What she doesn’t know can’t hurt her.”

“But the longer you keep him a secret, the worse it’ll be.”

“The damage is already done,” Anya snapped.

“Anya-”

“No, Lexa, if you’re so worried about Mom’s feelings then why have you not told her? You could have done.”

“No I couldn’t!” Lexa was beginning to feel exasperated, her patience wearing thin, and she hated how out of control her voice had suddenly become. She’d been doing so well.

“Sure you could have! It’s not like I was around to deal with her anyway.”

“You told me not to tell her so of course I didn’t, I’ve not told anyone he exists!”

Lexa rose to her feet as she fully lost control of her emotions, voice getting louder and beginning to shake. Anya looked worriedly over at Rio and Lexa followed her gaze, relief washing over her when she saw that he was far too engrossed in a musical book that was currently singing to him to be worried about his aunt getting emotional. She took a breath and clenched her fists, trying to calm herself down. She tried again, voice low and jaw clenched.

“The only person in my life that knows is Raven because she was there that day you showed up at our dorm heavily pregnant and begged me to help you.” The bitterness in her voice surprised her. It seemed to hit the right note with Anya because she slumped in her seat, looking incredibly small.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. I knew when I came to you back then that it was going to put a lot of pressure on you, even more so when I decided I didn’t want our family to know about Rio. But I’m grateful, Lexa, I really am. I needed that time.”

When Lexa didn’t sit back down Anya got to her feet and took Lexa’s hands in her own. She had to work to get her fingers to loosen but eventually Lexa allowed her to link their hands and Anya moved herself into Lexa’s eye line until she finally managed to win her eye contact.

“I’m sorry for making you keep this huge secret and for every secret I ever made you keep when we were young. I know there were a lot.”

Lexa let out a snort of derision despite herself and a memory came back to her.

“Like that figurine you broke when I was six and we encouraged Mrs Braverman’s dog into the house so we could blame it on him.”

“Yes, like that.”

“And all of the times that you came home drunk and I took care of you while you threw up and I let you talk my ear off about Danny or Mia or… Oh what was her name, that girl you were totally in love with in tenth grade before you’d come out? Lucy something…”

“Peters,” Anya filled in, smiling a little. “Lucy Peters.”

“That’s it, Lucy Peters, you were crazy about her.” Something in Lexa relented and her lips turned up the tiniest bit.

“You knew?” Anya’s eyes widened, her smile growing.

“Of course I knew!” Lexa let out a laugh, tugging on Anya’s hands. “You talked about her all of the time, you cried one night when you came home from a party drunk and told me about how she kissed some jock and barely spoke to you all night.”

“And you let me agonise over my sexuality for another six months before I got the courage to tell you when you could have just said that you knew?”

“You weren’t ready, I wasn’t going to rush you. You’ve never liked being rushed.”

“That’s true.”

“It’s why you just got so defensive.” That earned Lexa an eye roll but she continued anyway, Anya had always hated how easily Lexa could see through her. “Because you knew I wanted to get to you talk to Mom but you’re not ready.”

Anya’s eyes began to glisten and she pulled hard at Lexa’s hands until they were wrapped in a fierce hug.

“I’m almost there, Lex, I’m trying, I really am. I just…” Anya took in a deep breath and Lexa could feel the way it made her shudder against her. “I just need to find my footing here first, OK?”

The two girls pulled away from each other at the same time and Lexa ran a hand down Anya’s arm.

“OK, take a little time.”

“Thank you,” Anya breathed out, nodding to herself, shoulders relaxing. “I miss them, though, I really do.”

Lexa swallowed the tears that were threatening to come and willed her voice to be steady. “They miss you too.” Anya nodded again, a tear falling down her cheek and she brushed it hastily away.

“Do you think they’ll ever be able to forgive me for leaving?”

“Yes, I do,” Lexa said calmly, fully believing it. She wasn’t just saying it to make Anya feel better, to get her to finally spill this secret and lift the weight of it from Lexa’s shoulders, she really did believe they could all be a family again one day. It wasn’t going to be easy and Lexa could see that Anya knew that too, she could see it in the way Anya was still frowning, in how small and uncertain she seemed, but she knew they could get there. They just needed to work through it all together. But until that day, Lexa had a feeling she was going to have to get used to sharing her room again. Maybe it could be fun, she’d always wanted to share a bedroom with Anya as a kid but they never actually had. Despite everything, she couldn’t deny that she was happy to have Anya back in her life.

She stepped forward and pulled Anya into a hug again, smiling as they relaxed together and their breathing seemed to fall into sync. She was startled when something grabbed onto her leg and she looked down to see Rio clutching onto her, gazing up at the two of them.

“Hey little guy,” Lexa said, pulling out of Anya’s grip to pick him up and cuddle him to her chest. Anya smiled softly at the two of them and wrapped her arms around them both, kissing Rio’s cheek and then Lexa’s.

“It’s good to be home,” Anya said as her fingers dug into Lexa’s back.

“It’s good to have you home,” Lexa echoed, finally feeling at ease for the first time since Wednesday afternoon.

Nothing had felt quite right since Anya had left but finally Lexa had hope that maybe they could get back some sense of normalcy for the first time in years. Whatever normal meant these days, anyway. A lot had changed, after all.

 

*

 

The rest of the morning passed by more easily, all three girls were much more relaxed around each other than they had been every day previously, but by the afternoon Lexa was growing a little anxious again. She hadn’t replied to Clarke and whereas normally she’d invite her over on an afternoon like this, she didn’t quite feel comfortable doing so this time. Eventually she decided that it would be good to get out of the house and she tried to coax the others out with her, there was a spring carnival on at the edge of town that she thought they might all enjoy, but Anya just burrowed herself further into her blanket cocoon on her end of the couch when Lexa suggested it.

“Come on, An, we haven’t done anything since you got here! Have you even left the apartment?”

“Of course I have, I went to the store.” Anya closed her eyes as she nuzzled her face into the couch cushion, loose curls falling in front of her face.

“Oh wow, that sounds thrilling.”

“You guys go, I’ve got a headache, I don’t feel like being around all of that noise and shoving through crowds of people.”

Lexa sighed from where she was sat on the floor in amongst an explosion of large building blocks with Rio.

“Raven? You up for it?”

Raven, who was sat at the other end of the couch to Anya even more tightly wrapped in a blanket in a strangely accurate imitation of a burrito, gave Lexa an apologetic look.

“I’m really not feeling up to it today, my leg’s still worn out from the week. I don’t want to push it too far and then struggle getting around to classes tomorrow, you know?”

Lexa fiddled with a few blocks in front of her, adding them to the wall she had been building. Rio blinked over at her and yanked the top one off, grinning at her.

“Yeah, I get it,” Lexa said grudgingly to Raven. “How about it then buddy?” She turned to Rio, running her hand over his cute tight curls. “Just you and me?”

Rio pulled himself to his feet, gripping onto Lexa’s shoulder to steady himself and he used the other hand to push her wall of blocks over. He let out a triumphant shriek as it hit the floor and broke apart, clapping his hands and giggling with such ferocity that he lost his balance and fell onto his bum with a thud. Anya grimaced at the noise coming from her son and Lexa made her decision.

“Fine, Rio and I will go out so you guys can relax and enjoy the quiet for a few hours, OK?”

“You’re a wonderful sister, have I ever told you that?” Anya said, smiling over at Lexa as she got to her feet and heaved Rio into her arms.

“Nope, you should definitely tell me more often.”

“You’re wonderful and I love you, thank you.”

“No problem. We’ll have a good time, won’t we little man?” Lexa said to Rio, pressing her nose into his cheek before peppering his skin with kisses. He began to giggle and swat at her face with a pudgy hand and she laughed.

It took them a little longer than Lexa anticipated to get ready because Rio put up a good fight when it came to putting his coat on, it had been a while since Lexa had dealt with such a small child and it was definitely going to take some time to get used to it again, but just over half an hour later they were finally meandering their way through the crowds at Arkadia’s annual spring carnival. Rio had settled surprisingly well in his stroller and seemed to be enjoying watching the world pass by, occasionally twisting around to look back at Lexa and make sure she was still there. It hadn’t really occurred to her that Rio was probably a little young for most carnival activities and just when she was wondering if perhaps she should try him on one of the little rides, a voice stopped her in her tracks.

“Lexa?”

She felt a strange flash of anxiety in the second her name reached her ears and she gripped harder onto the handles of Rio’s stroller for a moment before turning towards the sound. She found Clarke elegantly ducking around several people off to her right in the crowd, a smile on her lips but confusion in the lines of her face.

“Clarke, hi.”

“How are y-” She reached them and stopped talking when she noticed Rio sat in his stroller staring up at her. She looked between the two of them a couple of times before her face broke out into a bright smile. “And who is this little guy? Don’t tell me you’ve gone and got yourself a third job babysitting, Lex.” Clarke expression was playful and Lexa licked her lips, feeling a little uncomfortable with the questions that would surely come but ultimately she was happy to be back in Clarke’s presence. The crowd was bustling around them and so she began walking again, Clarke falling into step with her and never looking away.

Lexa gave a nervous laugh.

“Uh, no, no new job. This is…” She hesitated, very aware since her conversation with Anya that morning that she had in fact never told anyone about Rio. She’d talked with Clarke about her family a fair amount but had only mentioned Anya briefly. “Clarke, this is my nephew, Rio.”

“Your…” Clarke blinked over at Lexa for a little longer than was comfortable before she seemed to have to pull her lips into a smile. “You have a nephew?”

“I do.”

“You never mentioned that.”

“I know.”

“And he’s Anya’s?”

“Yes.”

Lexa’s fists were clenched around the stroller’s handles again and Clarke seemed to notice how rigid she’d become because she softened. She leaned down a little as she walked to look at Rio.

“Hey Rio,” she said in such a sweet tone that Lexa felt herself begin to melt on the spot. She couldn’t see his face from this angle but she could tell he was looking at Clarke and she seemed unperturbed by whatever reaction he was having. She straightened up again and turned back to Lexa.

“He’s gorgeous.”

“He is,” Lexa agreed.

“Forgive me for saying this, though, he doesn’t exactly look like you.”

Of course he didn’t, his mom was half Tibetan and his dad was black while Lexa’s ethnicity was not diverse at all, but she liked to think maybe something of her would come out in him one day. Maybe her affinity for books or her love of learning. Clarke couldn’t know any of this, obviously, and it wasn’t the first time that someone had made that kind of comment to her. Strangers were especially fond of pointing out the obvious. She brushed it off with a nonchalant shrug.

“True, he’s definitely much cuter.”

“Hey, don’t sell yourself short, you’re pretty cute too.”

Clarke nudged her arm into Lexa’s, chuckling, and Lexa was thrilled when she stayed close. It could have been as a result of the hoard of people roaming around them though but whatever the reason behind it, it was nice. She still felt a nervous as she spoke again, though.

“So do you want to join us?” she asked tentatively, watching Clarke closely for any signs that perhaps she wouldn’t want to but was too polite to say so. “I know you’re not a big fan of kids, or maybe you don’t want to spend your time with us, or maybe you’re meeting someone here or something but you’re welcome to-”

“Whoa Lexa,” Clarke interrupted, putting a reassuring hand on Lexa’s shoulder for a moment. “I’d love to hang out with you guys. I was bored today with no one to hang out with because someone wasn’t texting me back-” Clarke looked pointedly at Lexa who gave her a sheepish smile- “and there were fliers all over my building for this carnival so I thought I’d check it out. Plus, I’m a California girl and this is the first sunshine we’ve had in a week, I need the vitamin D.” She tipped her head back, eyes fluttering closed as she took in a deep breath, lips tilted up happily. She bumped into an older man and he huffed at her but Clarke just giggled, chirping an apology over her shoulder.

“OK,” Lexa said, powerless against the smile that took over her lips. “We can enjoy the sun together.”

Clarke’s eyes came back to Lexa and she nodded.

They carried on walking, arms bumping together occasionally as they jostled through the crowd. Rio peered around the side of his stroller at the two of them and Clarke grinned at him, giving him a wave. He watched her for a moment, unsure, before a shy grin appeared on his face and he gave her a little wave back. He hid his face in the fabric of the stroller for a few seconds before poking his head back out again and grinning as Clarke pulled a surprised face at him, causing him to hide again. He kept popping his head back in and out, each time gaining a new expression from Clarke until he was giggling and Lexa was finding herself wanting to throw herself into Clarke’s arms and hide there for a little while. Something about having her around made her feel so safe and seeing her interacting with Rio so sweetly only increased how much she liked her. And apparently she wasn’t the only one that did.

“I think he likes you,” Lexa commented as they miraculously managed to find an empty bench and sat down, Rio squirming in his stroller to be released. Lexa unfastened the clasp securing him in place and picked him up but he continued to squirm when she sat him on her lap, holding his hands out to Clarke who just beamed at him.

“It sure looks that way. Do you want me to take him?” Clarke said, looking at Rio the whole time. She held her hand out to him and he gripped at it, tugging it and trying to pull himself closer.

“Only if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, come here cutie.”

Clarke picked Rio up and sat him on her lap and he just gazed up at her, eyes wide and face unsure for a moment. He looked back at Lexa as if he regretted his decision so she smiled at him encouragingly. After a few seconds he gave her his adorable, four-toothed imitation of her expression before turning to Clarke with more confidence and tugging at the material of her coat.

“Look, Clarke, you really don’t have to hang out with us if you don’t want to. I know you said before that you don’t really like kids and we can just do something later after I take him back to Anya if you want.”

“What do you mean? I love kids! What’s not to love about something this adorable?” Clarke rubbed her thumb across Rio’s pudgy little cheek and he grabbed at it and held onto it tightly in his fist, staring up at her with wonder.

“But when you took me to the hospital when Aden broke his arm you said you didn’t like kids so you wouldn’t come in.”

“I… I did?” Clarke wasn’t looking at her, she was still paying attention to Rio, so she didn’t see how confused Lexa looked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

“You didn’t have to make an excuse about not coming in, I didn’t expect you to.”

Clarke finally looked up and her smile slipped as she noticed Lexa’s expression.

“I like kids, Lex, I do, but your siblings are a bit older and I thought it would be awkward with them so maybe that’s why I said it. I don’t know, I was nervous, I remember that much.”

“Nervous?”

Clarke fidgeted, playing with Rio’s fingers until he pulled them away and began patting his hand against her palm.

“Yeah. I mean, we didn’t really know each other well then. We’d not hung out since we… Uh…” A little colour came to Clarke’s cheeks and she bit at her bottom lip, eyes meeting Lexa’s for the briefest moment in a way that had her stomach suddenly feeling very heavy. “Since we kissed that night at the bar and uh… I didn’t want to mess things up by being all weird in the hospital with you and your family.”

“It’s fine, Clarke, really. Just know now that you don’t have to lie to me. If you’re not comfortable with something you can just tell me.”

Clarke’s answering smile was gentle.

“I do know that. We’re closer now, things are less complicated, and, just so you know, I love kids. I was one of the most sought after babysitters back home, in fact.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep, what can I say, kids just love me.”

“I can see that. And it’s good you like them so much because you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of Rio now.”

“I will?” Clarke’s focus was entirely on Lexa now and Rio seemed to have settled in her grip, leaning back in the crook of her arm and watching the people milling around them with no real interest.

“Yeah, he’s going to be staying with me for a while. Well, Rio and Anya will be.”

“Oh, well that’s cool, right?”

Lexa took in a deep breath to try and combat the anxiety in her gut and inclined her head gently.

“Yes, it is. Look, Clarke, I’m sorry I bailed on you the other night and that I’ve been a little off it’s just… Anya showed up out of the blue and it kind of threw me off.”

“You don’t have to apologise, really. I can survive without you for a few days. I mean, it’s tough but…” Clarke was grinning, everything about her so soft, and it made Lexa feel a little better. She gave her a slightly unsteady smile and Clarke frowned before tugging at Lexa’s wrist until she relinquished the grip on her thigh. Their fingers wove together in a way that came much more naturally to both of them than Lexa reckoned was healthy under the circumstances.

“So Rio’s an interesting name,” Clarke said after a while when Lexa didn’t say anything more.

“It is.”

“There’s a story there, right, about Anya and Rio?”

Lexa nodded, her hand gripping Clarke's more tightly. “Yeah, there is.”

“You can talk to me about anything, you know that, right?”

“I do, thank you, Clarke.”

“No problem, that’s what friends are for.”

Clarke gave a soft smile and while Lexa appreciated the sentiment, her heart seemed to deflate in her chest and she sighed, slipping her hand free. She folded it with her other one in her lap instead, forever conflicted when it came to the word ‘friend’ where Clarke was involved. But that wasn’t important in that moment, Lexa had enough on her mind without allowing her feelings for Clarke to get her even further bogged down in her confusion. So she decided on the only thing that might make her feel better under the circumstances: finally telling the story of Anya and Rio.

“Anya left the summer before I started college,” she began suddenly, wanting to start before she lost her nerve.

Clarke had been glancing down at Rio during the silence that had filled the void between them, smiling as his eyelids began to droop and he yawned in that insanely cute way that had Lexa’s ovaries aching on any other day when she wasn’t so preoccupied. With Lexa’s voice reaching her Clarke turned towards it, face smooth except for the tiny frown lines appearing between her eyebrows.

“She left? As in moved out?”

“No,” Lexa shook her head, “she left. For good. I’m the only one in my family she’s had any contact with in the last two and a half years.”

Clarke shook her head the tiniest bit as she tried to work out what to say.

“Was that her choice? To not talk to your family?”

“Yes.”

“But you guys kept in contact.”

“Yes.”

“What happened?” There was something very gentle in the way Clarke sat and listened and Lexa was grateful, it made it much easier for her to recount the day that shattered everything.

She told Clarke about how Anya had come over to visit her and her family on a sweltering afternoon the summer before she started college and how Aden had gone looking in their mom’s room for one of his toys that he’d lost. Anya had followed him in there and found the pregnancy test box in one of the drawers that Aden had ripped open in his search. She recounted how Anya had shown it to her, every muscle in her body tight and the angles of her face sharp, voice low and trembling. Lexa had told her to calm down, that they didn’t know how long it had been there, maybe it was old, maybe it was left from when their mom had got pregnant with Aden, maybe it was nothing to worry about. But Anya was furious and she stormed out into the backyard where Theia was pulling up weeds from between the concrete slabs and demanded to know what was going on. Lexa had just followed in her wake, powerless to stop the fight she knew was going to happen. Theia was on her feet quickly, face stark of colour, unsteady dirt-covered hands reaching out to Anya as she pleaded with her. She bought the test the other day, she told them, her period was late and she just wanted to be sure. Of course she was careful but she wasn’t on the pill, it was too expensive to justify when she was single for the majority of the time.

It all escalated so quickly, Anya’s voice rising while Theia’s broke, the noise drawing Ontari and Aden out of the house. Aden began to cry as accusations were thrown from both sides: irresponsible, selfish, ungrateful, heartless. They mixed together in the air between them, the hurt palpable, and Ontari yelled for them to stop before Lexa led both her and Aden inside. She couldn’t do it anymore, Anya told them, hands in her hair, raking it back in her frustration. Things were supposed to be getting better for the kids since Anya had moved out and Lexa would be gone soon too. Another child would stretch them so thin again, Ontari and Aden deserved better than she and Lexa had ended up with, they deserved to not be so disadvantaged.

Theia knew all this, she said, she didn’t plan on having another child. Anya was jumping the gun here because she hadn’t even taken the test yet, but if she was pregnant, she wasn’t sure what she’d do. Anya laughed bitterly at that and Lexa wanted to run and hide in her bed from all of it, her fingers aching to dig into the softness of Roary for comfort. Her world was falling apart around her and she couldn’t stop it. She’d seen Anya and their mom fight many times, mostly about Anya’s behaviour both at home and at school, but this was different. It felt so different, it felt… final.

It was final.

Anya said it again, said she couldn’t do it anymore. She’d picked up the slack for too long, watched Theia make bad choices that affected her kids without their consent to any of it, shaping their lives in a way that wasn’t fair. Didn’t she know that? Couldn’t she see what she was doing to them? Anya saw it all because she was the oldest but she was an adult now, she had her own life to live. It wasn’t her mess anymore. She looked at Lexa, shoulders slumped, face drawn and pale, and pleaded with her not to let any of it break her while her own voice cracked. She told Lexa that she’d always been better than her, always handled things so well, she was so strong and Anya hated that she couldn’t be too. She held her hands and looked right into her eyes but Lexa could barely see Anya through the tears as she told her to make a better life for herself. She made Lexa promise to stay strong, made her promise to take care of their family, said it was OK if she hated her but she had to go. Enough was enough.

And she left.

But Theia wasn’t done fighting. She ran through the house after Anya, ran to the front door on wobbly legs, legs which finally gave out as she reached the browning grass in their front yard. She fell to her knees and pleaded, dragging herself as far as the sidewalk. This couldn’t be it, they were family, they’d always be family, they could get through anything, they had already got through so much.

And Anya finally stopped. She stopped and looked at what she had reduced their mother to. Lexa watched her face flash with disgust for a moment from where she was leaned in the doorway for support but the look was gone so quickly she wasn’t sure if she had imagined it. Because then Anya's face was just filled with sorrow, with resignation, and she sighed. Her voice was so quiet when she spoke her final words to Theia, it was her own plea.

“I need this. Please just let me go.”

Lexa let out a sob that she hurried to stifle with her hand but Anya heard it anyway. She looked over at her and gave her the most broken smile she’d ever seen before turning and walking away.

Theia still screamed after her anyway, throwing her oldest daughter’s name repeatedly across the street, but Anya never looked back. People came out of their houses at the noise, pity and irritation were all Lexa could see, but when Anya rounded the corner Theia fell silent. That was worse somehow. Lexa expected her to cry, she had practically been sobbing as she yelled, but she stopped that too. Ontari emerged from the house, face red from the tears she couldn’t fight, and together she and Lexa pulled their mom up off the ground and led her inside. Lexa consoled her, told her that it was a bad fight, yes, but perhaps they were empty threats. Anya was hurt, she always said horrible things when she was hurt and she always came back. They’d leave her for the rest of the day to calm down and then Lexa would go over to her place the next day and see her.

It was overcast and stifling the following morning as Lexa made her way to Anya’s apartment. She found the door ajar and pushed it open slowly, knowing with painful certainty what she’d find.

It was completely empty.

She tried calling Anya’s cell but the stern mechanised voice that answered told her the number had been disconnected. Wandering around Anya’s apartment Lexa hoped to find something left behind, just something of Anya’s she could hold onto, or maybe a note or something explaining, but there was nothing. The bedroom still smelled like her though and Lexa sank to the floor in the corner of the room and cried with her knees pressed to her forehead.

When she got home, her duty as the remaining oldest of the Woods children kicked in for the first time. She told her family that Anya was really gone.

Of course, Theia wasn’t even pregnant. It was all for nothing, she sobbed later that day to Lexa.

She had never felt as helpless as she did in the following weeks.

Lexa blinked a few times, the scene dissolving around her and the chattering of the crowd ebbed back in. She watched families clinging together, children running, mothers laughing, fathers wrapping their arms around their loved ones, friends talking happily. The sun was beating down on them but the air was cold, it wasn’t summer, it was March. The fight was long over, Lexa reminded herself.

Her gentle telling of the story, as well as Clarke’s calming presence, had sent Rio to sleep, his head nestled into the curve of Clarke’s chest, which Lexa noticed as she looked over at her audience. Her lungs seemed to fill with air again as she took in her nephew’s innocence and the way Clarke’s expression lightened when she followed Lexa’s gaze down to the little boy. It wasn’t long before the reprieve was over though.

“So where did Anya go?” Clarke asked softly, prodding Lexa to continue. There was a curiosity in her expression, though her eyes mostly just exuded sympathy.

“To her friend’s, at first,” Lexa began, hoping the next part of the story would be easier to tell. She wasn’t there for most of it, after all. No, she was in Arkadia trying to live without her life-long best friend.

Anya had gone to stay with a friend out of town and they heard from her for the first time a week after the fight. She wrote Lexa a letter, apologising for cutting all ties but asking to be left alone. She’d contact Lexa when she was ready. At the end of the scant explanation, she wished Lexa luck for college and said she was sorry she wouldn’t be there to help her move in. But she was so proud of her and all she knew she would accomplish.

The next time Lexa heard from Anya she’d been at college for a month and she received a text from an unknown number. It was Anya telling her she was leaving the country for a while and asking her not to share her number with their family. If she did, she’d have to disconnect it again. It may not seem fair but it was what she needed. And so that was how they stayed in contact for a year, sporadic text conversations whenever Anya could manage it, she travelled around a lot and didn’t often have any access to mobile networks. She joined a relief effort programme and stayed in Africa for most of that year doing anything that was required of her, manual labour mostly, building houses and cultivating crops. Then somehow she ended up in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.

“She was in Rio?” Clarke asked, snapping Lexa out of her story. They both looked down at the sleeping boy for moment and when their eyes met, Lexa nodded.

“Yes, Rio.”

Anya managed to skype Lexa for the first time while she was in Rio and it took all of her strength not to cry as they talked, getting lost in updating each other on their lives. Anya spoke of her new friends she’d made out there, the group of girls she was living with, the guy she had started seeing, the temp jobs she was switching between. It sounded so wild and exotic in comparison to Lexa’s stories of her classes and nights in with Raven. Despite that, it felt so good to really talk to Anya again and Lexa dared to hope for the first time that she’d get her sister back properly. Anya ended the call with the promise to make a skype chat a regular thing and Lexa watched Anya’s face disappear from her laptop screen, smiling through her tears.

She didn’t hear from Anya for four months. Four long months that culminated with a knock on the door of Lexa and Raven’s dorm room. Raven had been clacking her way across the room on crutches to get something so she answered the door and Lexa was deep into her studying mode so she didn’t turn around when Raven asked the person if she could help them.

But then she heard her name in Anya’s voice.

She looked up from her desk on the opposite wall and turned around just as Raven moved aside to allow Anya in. Lexa’s mouth hung open as she took in the incredibly foreign sight of her sister in her dorm room, and the even more shocking swell of Anya’s stomach. Everything stopped for a few seconds, all three girls silently regarding each other. But as Anya’s worried expression shifted into a smile, Lexa came back into her body again. She was on her feet and wrapping her arms around Anya faster than she realised she was capable of moving and everything changed from then on.

“And that’s how Anya came back into your life?” Clarke asked, rocking Rio gently as he snuffled in his sleep.

“Yeah. She stayed in our dorm for a few weeks and the girls on our floor were really good about it. I don’t think anyone had the heart to report us for having her there, even a stranger could see what a hard time Anya was having. But Raven and I got her through it. We got into contact with her old friends and found her a place to live, helped her prepare for the baby, and we watched Rio be born.”

“Raven too?”

Lexa nodded, smiling at the memory.

“Yeah, she was so great throughout it all. She never complained at having to share our space, she coaxed all of Anya’s feelings out about it all with me, we talked everything out until Anya finally came to terms with everything. Raven was my rock through it all.”

“Wow, I could tell she was a great friend but I didn’t know she was that great.”

“I know, it’s crazy.” Lexa felt warmer at the reminder.

“So Anya’s been living in the place you guys found her until now?”

“Yeah. But her circumstances changed so she came to us for help again.”

“And you took her in.”

“Of course.”

“You’re a good person, Lexa.”

Lexa gripped onto her knees with tense fingers.

“I’m trying to be but it’s harder having her here than I thought. She made me promise to keep it a secret that she’s back in the country and that she had Rio and my guilt over that has just festered in the year since it all happened. But she was so broken, I knew she couldn’t face our family too.”

“I can’t imagine what it was like for her but I also can’t imagine not wanting my family to know something so huge, something so beautiful.”

“I know and it sounds bad that she’s keeping something like that a secret, it does. But you have to understand, Clarke, that Anya left because she couldn’t cope with our mom’s choices and how they affected us all but she ended up just like her. Pregnant in a foreign country by a man who had very little interest in the child. Our mom got pregnant with Anya in Tibet while she was travelling, her dad was just a fling and our mom didn’t know she was pregnant until she got back home. Anya was in love with Rio’s dad but he wasn’t exactly the best guy she could have chosen to father her child. He’s a responsible guy but so motivated by his career that he can barely see past it, a family wasn’t in his plan. Anya assures me he’s got a good heart and he sends her money but he’s never met Rio. So despite everything, she’s ended up with the same kind of life.”

Clarke’s face drooped.

“No wonder she was so broken.”

“Exactly. But we got her through it and while I know at first she regretted not ending the pregnancy when she could, she got used to the idea of being a mom. And actually, she’s a natural. She never struck me as being very maternal, I did most of the caring for Ontari and Aden, but she surprised me. Actually, I think she surprised herself most of all.”

“That’s really great, I’m glad it all worked out.” Clarke patted Lexa’s leg.

“Well, it hasn’t exactly. She still hasn’t talked to our family.”

“I know and it sucks, it truly does, but do you know what I think? I think it’ll be all right given some time.”

Lexa looked up from Clarke’s hand, which had stilled on her leg, and into bright eyes shimmering so beautifully in the sunlight.

“You do?”

Clarke nodded.

“I do. And do you want to know what else I think?”

“Of course.”

“I think you need some cotton candy.”

“Huh?” Lexa frowned, confused.

“We’re at a carnival, remember? You’ve told me the story of Anya and Rio and I really appreciate that but now I think it’s time we put the past behind us for a while and enjoyed our present, what do you say?”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Lexa said, smiling.

“Good. Because you look like you could use some fun. And, oh, look who’s waking up!”

Rio’s little fists were rubbing at his eyes and he blinked blearily up at them.

“Hey little man,” Lexa cooed and he held his arms out to her. She picked him up and held him close, smiling across at Clarke. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“No problem. Come on,” Clarke chirped, getting to her feet, “the carnival awaits!”

 

*

 

They spent the next couple of hours making their way through the carnival, munching on sugary treats, laughing together, and taking Rio on the little rides. Lexa’s favourite was the carousel which had Rio grinning from their seat and copying Lexa each time she waved as they passed Clarke’s position in the crowd.

Clarke tried for so long to win a stuffed toy on the claw machines but failed and instead tried the prize-every-time hook-a-duck game. As she caught one of the obscenely yellow plastic ducks floating round and round in the ring of water on the end of her pole she cheered enthusiastically and Rio clapped in Lexa’s arms. Her prize was a plush duck, a less offensive yellow with stitched eyes and an orange beak, and she presented it to a grinning Rio who looked at it with awe for the next half an hour.

Lexa’s favourite part of the afternoon was when she jokingly pouted over Rio getting the toy and not her and Clarke’s response was to press a kiss to her cheek, lips beautifully warm against her cold skin.

“Does that make up for it?” Clarke asked, staying close as she grinned at Lexa. Lexa looked at Rio who was still in her arms and cocked her head a little, pretending to really think about it.

“Oh I don’t know, the duck is really, really cute.”

“Fine,” Clarke relented, the word almost a sigh, but her smile was still wide as she leaned closer again to press another kiss to the same spot on Lexa’s skin.

“How about that?”

The muscles in Lexa’s cheeks were beginning to ache from overuse and she nodded.

“Yeah, I guess that’s a fair trade.”

“Good.”

Clarke kissed her again anyway and Lexa’s heart hammered for the next five minutes.

They eventually agreed they should head home, the air was getting colder and their feet were beginning to ache, and they made their way back, chatting happily and making Lexa forget all about the stress she’d been feeling lately.

“I actually had a really great time this afternoon,” Lexa said as she and Clarke walked up the path to her apartment building, their arms brushing lightly with each step.

“Haven’t you learned by now that you’ll always have a good time with me around?” Clarke joked, flashing a beautiful smile Lexa’s way. She was pushing Rio’s stroller, Rio who was all tuckered out from an afternoon of fun and was snoring lightly with his new duck nestled into the crook of his neck. Lexa laughed, feeling light.

“Of course I will. Today was just what I needed, someone to talk to and some time out of the apartment having fun, so thank you.”

“Anytime, and I mean that,” Clarke said, nudging her shoulder into Lexa’s.

Lexa nodded, feeling a little nervous as she shifted back to that vulnerability again, pushing open the door to her building. “I hope it wasn’t too much for you, you know, my story.”

“Not at all, it was enlightening.”

Lexa raised her eyebrows at Clarke’s response. “Are you sure you’re not judging me for the secrets I’ve been keeping from everyone?”

Clarke shook her head and they stopped walking, having reached Lexa’s front door. “No. Sometimes secrets are necessary for one reason or another. Your loyalty to Anya shows strength, Lex, your Hufflepuff side is shining through.” Clarke tapped her on the nose in a surprisingly cute gesture. “It’s what makes you such a great friend.”

Lexa ducked her head, so distracted by the compliment that she couldn’t even feel the usual pang that normally struck upon hearing the word ‘friend’ in relation to Clarke. In that moment she was immensely proud to be Clarke’s friend, to have her in her life, and she was reluctant to let their day together end.

“Do you want to come inside?” she asked, smile shy and cheeks rosy. “I’d really like for you to meet Anya, she’s really great.”

“I’d love to.”

Lexa unlocked the door and pushed it open.

Everything seemed to come crashing down around her when she saw what was going on in her living room. The two girls she had left behind swaddled on the couch were still there but their positions had changed, now they were both horizontal, Anya laid flush on top of Raven, lips crashing together fiercely in the briefest of moments before they noticed Lexa stood there and sprang apart. Anya was on her feet before Lexa had a chance to blink, straightening her shirt and brushing her hair back from her face. Raven pushed herself into a sitting position, hand over her mouth, cheeks flushed, ponytail askew. The four of them just stood for a moment looking between each other and it was Clarke who eventually broke the silence.

“Um, Lex, I think I should go.” She touched her hand to Lexa’s arm lightly and Lexa turned to her, giving her an unconvincing smile.

“Actually, can you take Rio into my room for me? I need to talk to my sister.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you need.”

Clarke made her way past, giving Anya and Raven an awkward smile which they didn’t return.

“Lexa, we can explain,” Raven said as soon as the bedroom door clicked shut.

“I just…” Lexa ran a hand through her hair, clutching at her scalp before yanking her arm out in front of her, gesturing at Raven and then Anya. “What are you doing?! You know she’s seeing someone, right?” Lexa said pointedly to Anya.

“Yeah, about that, Lex-” Anya tried but Lexa cut her off.

“No, no, let me finish. I’m happy for you to be here but I don’t need you disrupting our lives, we’ve been- no, I’ve had to learn to live without you for years but you just show up and start fucking things up and I-”

“Lexa,” Raven warned, voice firmer than Lexa ever remembered hearing it. “Please listen before you say something you’ll regret, OK?”

Lexa let out a breath, the tone in Raven’s voice making her stop and take in the situation before her. Raven pushed herself to her feet waveringly and Anya was at her side in an instant, an arm around her waist to steady her in a way that seemed entirely too natural. Anya had seemed incredibly tense before, fists tight and jaw tighter, but pressed into Raven she looked more at ease. The only visible tension was now around Anya’s eyes, they were as dark as ever but glistening a little, lines drawn around them by her agitated muscles. Lexa’s stomach seemed to bottom out at the shift between the two girls before her and she swallowed, folding her arms over her chest.

“OK, explain. I’m listening.”

“Do you want to tell her or should I?” Raven asked, looking up and across the few inches that separated her and Anya. Anya gave a small, weak smile and inclined her head slightly, seemingly dismissing Raven who sank back onto the couch.

Anya took a step closer to Lexa.

“Tell me what?” Lexa said against gritted teeth, almost entirely sure that she couldn’t be about to hear what she thought she was.

“I’m the girl that Raven has been seeing.”

Well fuck.

Raven was leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and she put her face in her hands as Anya spoke, shoulders hunching further. Anya’s hands fiddled in front of her as if she wasn’t quite sure what to do in the silence that followed her admission. Lexa just tightened her arms around herself and gaped at the two of them.

“You’re…” She finally tried to speak but words failed her again.

“We’re dating, Lex.”

“I wanted to tell you,” Raven started, face peering out of her hands, “but it was all so new and Anya thought it was best if we waited a little while.”

“Of course she did,” Lexa spat, gaze darting back to her sister.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anya’s back straightened, her arms coming up defiantly to cross at her chest, mimicking Lexa’s somewhat hostile stance. Lexa unfolded her arms, fists clenching at her sides. The two of them had found themselves in many stand-offs with each other over the years and Lexa had definitely not missed them in Anya’s absence. She was quite the formidable opponent and honestly, Lexa was just tired. But the anger won out and her thoughts barrelled through before she could even consider keeping them to herself like she normally did.

“Well keeping secrets is what you do best, isn’t it?” The venom in her voice surprised her and Anya recoiled.

“Lexa, that’s not fair,” Raven began, looking as if she were going to get to her feet again but Anya held up a hand to her.

“No, I’ll handle this.”

“You’d better get used to her bossing you around, Raven, it’s another one of her strong suits,” Lexa said lowly, feeling uncomfortable with the anger that had brewed inside her so quickly. She hadn’t even realised how much resentment she’d be harbouring.

Raven bit at her lip, clearly an uncomfortable mix of anger and sadness running through her system as she squirmed from her spot on the couch. She bit at her bottom lip and stayed quiet though and Lexa was relieved. She was pretty sure she could only handle one of them at a time.

“OK, Lex, you’re angry, I get it,” Anya started, pulling the pain off her face and replacing it with an almost convincing neutral expression. She held her hands up in surrender in front of her for a moment. “But this is just about me and Raven, you don’t need to make this into an attack against me and all of the times I’ve fucked up.”

“Oh no?” Lexa scoffed, her hands coming up wildly to thrash in the air in her frustration. She could feel herself losing the control she had worked so hard to maintain over the course of her life, it was slipping away so quickly and it scared her. “This seems entirely related to all of your fucks ups, it feeds into your pattern. And not just yours but mine too. I just let you get away with everything and do you know what? I’m sick of it. Sick of being the one forced to keep your secrets, of being the one that has to lie for you. That’s what I’ve always been, isn’t it, your fucking secret keeper. That’s all I’m good for. You tell me things to ease your guilt, you tell me and it’s like oh OK, I’ve told someone, that’s enough for now. But you couldn’t tell me this? Something that really affects me? Raven is my best friend, Anya! She’s the only one I’ve been able to talk to about you since you left and now you’re going to take her for yourself? Can’t you see how selfish that is? You’ve made me lie to my entire family, the family you abandoned, and now you’re going to take away Raven too? Can’t you see how much I’ve given up for you?”

The muscles of Anya’s jaw tightened as she allowed Lexa’s jagged words to hit her over and over but eventually she couldn’t hold it all in anymore.

“How much you’ve given up, really? I gave up my whole family! You still have them, they still love you! They must hate my guts by now and you’re naïve to think even for a second that they’d take me back after all I’ve done.”

“How would you know? You haven’t been here!” Lexa’s voice was becoming shrill, her usual composure was gone and it took all of her strength to claw back the tears that threatened to dissolve her completely. “You didn’t have to listen to Mom cry herself to sleep for weeks after you left. You didn’t have to keep lying to the kids when they asked when their sister was going to come home. You don’t know how much your absence has been felt, how much they want the hole in our family to be filled with you again, you couldn’t possibly know how bad it’s been. You just did what you always do, you only thought about yourself. Just like you are now.”

Anya’s expression was dark but Lexa was beyond caring. She was all in.

“Leaving was the first time I truly put myself first,” Anya defended. “I gave everything to our family and Mom kept making it all so much harder. Can’t you see that I had to leave? I thought you understood that?”

“But you left me!” Lexa practically yelled. “You left the burden that we had always shared on me!” Lexa tried to catch her breath, gasping, and Anya sighed.

“I know.” Her voice was calmer now, her posture sinking, and some of the anger in Lexa receded. “I hated to leave you more than I can tell you, you can’t seriously think that it’s been easy for me? That I didn’t cry for months about it? That it doesn’t physically hurt me that my son is growing up without his family? How much of a bad person I feel for keeping a little boy away from the people who should love him most? Of course I feel terrible! I never wanted you to be my secret keeper but for better or worse, you were the only one I ever felt like I could confide in. I love you and you make me feel safe and it’s been awful being away from you. I hate it so much.” Anya’s voice had begun to wobble at its edges and she paused, taking a shaking breath, a tear falling down her cheek. She seemed to push all of the pain that had begun to build up out of her system as she looked back at Raven, face softening, and she turned to Lexa again with the faintest of smiles on her lips. It was a calm expression but it was tinged with sadness. “But you were never going to be my only safe place, Lexa, and you should feel relieved that you’re not the only one I have now. I have Raven, she listens to my problems too, she looks out for me, you’re not alone anymore.”

Lexa appreciated the sentiment even in her frustration but she was more confused than anything.

“But this doesn’t make any sense, you’ve only seen each other once since Rio was born. How can this be happening?”

“Why don’t you come and sit down and we can talk about this, Lex, come on.” Anya tried to take her hand but Lexa snatched it back, folding her arms again.

“No, I’m fine where I am.”

“OK, suit yourself.” Anya glanced quickly at Raven, who gave her an encouraging nod, before she resumed speaking. “You know Raven and I kept in contact after Rio was born, you must remember how close we all became living in your dorm together, and we just got on so well. It started with texts, she checked up on me a lot, but then we started talking more often. After a few months she came to visit me. I think she told you she was going to see her family.” An ashamed nod from Raven confirmed that statement. “We decided not to tell you because we didn’t want you to think there was anything going on between us, which there wasn’t at first. But the more we saw each other… Things happened.”

“So is this serious?” Lexa found herself asking, curious though she didn’t really want to be. Truthfully she just wanted to be angry for a while.

Anya seemed to be holding back a smile as she answered. “We’re taking things slow, I’ve got Rio to think about and then there’s you…”

“What about me?”

Anya shook her head, seemingly at herself more than Lexa. “We were worried how you’d take it. It looks like we were right to be.”

“That’s not fair,” Lexa said, the fight almost entirely draining from her. What she wouldn’t have given just to put everything on pause and clamber into her bed for a while. “The fact that you lied is what hurts the most.”

“I know, I should have realised that before and I’m sorry. Just don’t hold it against Raven, please, she wanted to tell you from the start but I…” Anya hesitated, looking much more unsure as she fidgeted on the spot.

“You what?”

“I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t want to risk upsetting you. I know I’ve been dangerously close to losing you ever since I left, I didn’t want to push you over the edge.”

“Seriously?” Lexa was feeling exasperated now, she just wanted to give up but the pain was still roiling around inside her and she couldn’t let it go. “After all that I’ve done for you, after all of the lies I’ve told for you and secrets I’ve kept, you still couldn’t trust me? Can’t you see that I’d do anything for you? You could never lose me.”

“I know, I know, and it’s not that I don’t trust you, I do. I just… All I’ve ever done is disappoint you. I didn’t want to fuck things up with Raven early on and disappoint you even more.”

“You hurt me a lot by leaving but you never disappointed me, An.” Lexa sighed. “Not until now. And Raven? You were the one person I really thought wasn’t a liar. I always knew Anya had it in her but you?”

Raven just hung her head in shame and Lexa hated how guilty she felt about it.

“Don’t, Lex, leave her alone," Anya defended. "Being with Raven is important to me, she makes me happy in a way I haven’t felt in… I don’t even know. The lying was bad and we know that and you have every right to be angry about it. But please don’t be mad at us for realising there was something great between us and going for it, just believe me when I say it’s making us very happy.”

“But didn’t it ever occur to you how much you could mess up because of it?”

“Of course it did but if you like someone that much, isn’t it worth it?”

Lexa hesitated. “Honestly, I don’t know,” she sighed, shaking her head slowly. Somehow she was thinking about Clarke and Anya gave her a sympathetic smile. “Is it?” Lexa found herself asking quietly.

The light that seemed to pour from Anya’s face as she glanced at Raven and then back at Lexa again had her heart aching.

“Yes, it is. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.”

“I’ve never been so good at that.”

“I know and you put other people first all of the time but sometimes you’ve got to think of yourself too.” Anya watched Lexa for a moment and seemed to be weighing up the risk of saying something. She spoke again though, gently and with a small smile on her lips as if she didn’t want to spook Lexa. “Maybe you should just tell Clarke that you like her.”

Lexa blinked at Anya and was about to protest that idea when a clearing of the throat drew all of their attention to a figure in Lexa’s bedroom doorway. Clarke was stood looking a little sheepish, cheeks flushed and hand still clasping the edge of the door.

“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt but I wanted to wait for the yelling to stop before I came through. You’d all gone quiet so I thought maybe it was over but I can see I should’ve waited a little longer.”

Lexa could feel her heart beating in her ears, she’d forgotten all about Clarke being in the next room during the argument and she didn’t even want to think of how much she could have overheard. And, possibly most importantly, did she hear what Anya had just said?

“It’s fine, Clarke, I’m sorry to put you in such an awkward position,” Lexa said, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as she felt.

“Don’t be, but I really should go and leave you to it.”

“Don’t go on our account, please,” Anya said, walking over to Clarke who was still hovering awkwardly in the doorway. “I’ve been wanting to meet you and I think I just made a bad first impression.”

Clarke’s smiled and shook her head.

“Families are complicated, I get it, don’t worry. Is everything… OK?” Clarke looked between the three girls and Lexa felt herself soften at the care in her expression.

“It will be,” Lexa said quietly and Anya turned to look at her, relief in every angle of her face.

“Yeah?” Her eyes were wide and hopeful and Lexa nodded.

“Yes. But I need time, OK? You showing up threw me off and now this… I just need to adjust.”

“Yeah, OK, that’s fair.”

“You can come back to mine if you want,” Clarke said, stuffing her hands in her pockets. “You can stay as long as you need to.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

Lexa nodded, a smile the only thanks she could muster in the moment.

“OK, let me go and grab a few things.”

Upon heading into her bedroom to pack up a bag, Lexa found Rio fast asleep in the middle of her bed. The sight relaxed her so much that she was a little startled when Clarke came up behind her.

“He was starting to wake up with all the noise so I cuddled him up on me on the bed to settle him. It was just easier to leave him there instead of putting him in the crib, I hope that’s OK.”

“Of course, thank you for that. And I really am sorry.”

“Honestly Lexa, it’s fine. But can I just say one thing?”

“Sure.”

“You look like you need a hug,” Clarke said, head tilted down but her eyes looking up at Lexa, impossibly big and beautiful at that angle.

“I think you might be right,” Lexa admitted, and just like that they turned towards each other and moulded themselves together, Lexa with her arms around Clarke’s neck, face burrowed into her hair and Clarke’s hands clutching fiercely into her back. The slightly unsteady way in which Clarke’s body moved against hers as she took in a deep breath had Lexa wondering if Anya was right, perhaps she should take a leap of faith.

The hug was over too quickly and Lexa was just back to feeling drained and a little sad instead, barely enough energy to step let alone leap.

“Come on, I’ll take care of you,” Clarke encouraged, nudging Lexa’s arm to get her to resume her packing. Lexa smiled, liking the way that sounded.

It wasn’t long before they were leaving, just exchanging polite smiles with Anya and Raven as they did so, there was still so much up in the air between them but Lexa didn’t have the energy to risk bringing any of it up again.

“Take as much time as you need,” Anya said as she stood in the doorway and watched them go. Lexa glanced back and inclined her head once, feeling relieved when the door clicked shut a few seconds later.

They’d almost reached the building’s exit when there was the sound of a door opening behind them and the familiar clacking of a cane on the floor. A voice called out to her.

“Lexa, wait.”

Lexa sighed and stopped, both she and Clarke turning to watch Raven hobble towards them. The gentle hand Clarke placed on the small of her back made her feel a little better.

“What, Raven?” Lexa didn’t sound angry, just exhausted, but it still made Raven flinch.

“I just wanted you to know that you’ll never lose me. Even if things don’t work out between me and Anya, I’ll always be in your life. You’re my best friend and you mean the world to me.”

Lexa could feel tears pricking at the back of her eyes and before she knew what she was doing she was hugging Raven, something they rarely did, Raven’s hand that wasn’t supporting herself with the cane pressing fiercely into her back.

“Thank you for saying that,” Lexa said as they pulled apart.

“Of course. But, just so you know, this thing is…” Raven looked down at her feet for a moment, clearly nervous, before she found the words she wanted to say. When she did, a kind of calm befell her and it had Lexa’s heart picking up its pace. There was something very beautiful in the confidence Raven was suddenly exuding. “It’s really serious between us. Anya’s reluctant to admit it because she’s scared, you know. She’s scared to be back here, scared she’s going to let everyone down, but I can admit it. I love her, Lexa. I love her a lot, and I’m going to do right by her and Rio, I can promise you that.”

Lexa let Raven’s words sink into her for a few seconds and really thought about how best to respond.

“She’s lucky to have you,” she finally said. “I don’t doubt you’ll be good to them, you always have been to me.”

The relief Raven felt at Lexa’s acceptance was plain to see and she smiled.

“That means a lot, thank you. I’ll let you go now and like Anya said, take all the time you need. We’ll be here waiting for you. Always.”

Lexa nodded, her throat thick, and it calmed her when Clarke’s hand slipped into her own. They bid their farewells and Clarke tugged on her hand and led her from the building.

They didn’t unlink their hands until they reached Clarke’s apartment.

 

*

 

The two girls didn’t talk much that evening, Lexa was feeling completely drained and was glad that Clarke seemed to sense that. They ordered take out and watched TV for a few hours, completely neglecting the studying that they both knew they should be doing. Lexa got cold after a while and Clarke gave her hoodie of hers to wear, it was soft and navy blue with the Arkadia crest on the front and her soccer number on the back, 21. Lexa snuggled deep into it, surrounded by the familiar and calming scent of Clarke, and she began to drift out of consciousness.

Clarke woke her up a little while later and encouraged her into bed but with Clarke looking soft and sleepy before her, Lexa suddenly didn’t feel like sleeping anymore.

“Thanks for letting me stay.”

“You’re welcome, I’m glad I could help.”

“It’s nice to have someone taking care of me for a change,” Lexa admitted. “I feel like I’m always the one that has to be responsible.”

“Well then I’m happy to help, you can be as irresponsible as you like.”

“Really?”

“Yep,” Clarke said, smile reaching her eyes and making them glitter like her very own constellation.

Lexa licked her lips, scooting closer to where Clarke’s head was resting on the other pillow, hair flicked over her shoulder out of the way.

“How much of what was said back at my place did you hear?” Lexa asked quietly, curling her hand into her chest.

“Uh, most of it, I think. You guys were pretty loud.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. So you didn’t know that Anya and Raven were… doing that?”

Lexa shook her head. “I had no idea.”

“Wow.”

“Uhuh.”

Clarke considered Lexa for a moment, her eyes roaming over Lexa’s face, seeming to absorb every inch of it.

“You remember how I teased you about how I wanted to make you react to stuff when we first met? How you seemed entirely too controlled?”

“Yes, Clarke, I remember.”

“Well, it kind of shocked me hearing you get so worked up like that. I mean, I know now that you have feelings and everything, obviously, but… I guess I just got so caught up in making you react in other, more fun, ways that I just didn’t expect to come across the negative stuff.”

“I don’t normally get that angry. I guess I’ve been saving it up.”

“I’m pretty sure I warned you about bottling things up,” Clarke teased.

“Yes, I believe you did.”

“Anger’s not the most fun way to get your stress out but I think after you’ve had a good sleep you’ll feel better for it.”

“I hope so.”

“And I’m here for you.”

“I know.”

Laid there in the soft glow from the rather interesting choice of lamp Clarke had, a glitter lamp, Lexa was feeling calmer than she had all day. She watched as the light rippled on Clarke’s skin, everything looking kind of like they were underwater with the way the glitter danced in the liquid of the strange lamp, and she sighed.

“And what about what Anya said as you came out of my room? Did you hear that?”

Clarke nodded and Lexa’s stomach squirmed, her cheeks flushing with warmth.

“Yeah, I did.”

“You shouldn’t listen to her,” Lexa said quickly, tensing up. “She thinks she knows more than she actually does, I don’t… I mean…”

“Lex, it’s OK,” Clarke said gently, her hand coming to tug Lexa’s from where it was nestled into her chest and she threaded their fingers together. “I’ve known for a while.”

“You have?” Lexa was surprised. Things often got intense between them, sure, but Lexa had assumed that Clarke thought it was just physical attraction. Something they were both almost painfully aware of after their encounters.

“I have and I don’t want to get your hopes up but-”

“You don’t like me like that, I get it.” Lexa looked down at the space between them, she didn’t want to see the look on Clarke’s face as she confirmed her suspicions. “It’s fine, we’re better off as friends anyway.”

“No, let me finish.” Clarke brought Lexa’s hand to her chest and held it close, gripping it tightly, and Lexa could feel the thrum of Clarke's heart beneath her excruciatingly soft skin. Her eyes closed at the pleasure of it, the intimacy overwhelming her somewhat, and it made her want to feel more. “I like you, Lexa.” Lexa’s eyes opened again and took in the vulnerability etched into every inch of Clarke’s face. “I like you as more than a friend… but I’m not sure I can be what you need, what you deserve, right now. I just…” Clarke hesitated, hand squeezing Lexa’s tighter. “I’m not ready, I’m sorry.”

Lexa inclined her head before looking back at Clarke. Something in Clarke had changed, it was as if she’d cracked herself open a little and part of what she’d hidden inside was starting to spill out. Her teeth pulled at her bottom lip and her eyes were darting between Lexa’s as she waited for a response, the angles of her face drawn downwards in her disappointment. It had Lexa aching in a way entirely different to how Clarke’s touch had only moments before.

“Don’t be,” Lexa said carefully, trying to keep the confusing mix of emotions from being heard in her voice. “You have to look after yourself, Clarke, it’s important.”

“But I want to look after you too.”

“And you can. We can be there for each other as friends,” Lexa assured her, pulling their hands back to rest on the mattress between them, trying to alleviate the heaviness of the intimacy that was making it hard for her to follow the meaning behind her words.

“I wish we could be more,” Clarke all but whispered, her eyes on their hands, and Lexa’s gut clenched with longing.

“And maybe someday we will be.”

“Yeah, maybe someday,” Clarke echoed, hope in her voice but only sadness in her expression.

Despite becoming much closer in the last few months, Lexa had never managed to figure out why Clarke was so reluctant to be in a relationship. She could tell something had happened to her and as much as she wanted to know what it was so she could try and help, she was content in being patient. After all, Clarke was special and she deserved to be able to do things in her own time. Her wellbeing was much more important than Lexa’s feelings.

It takes as long as it takes.

Though it had only been a small leap that Lexa had taken, it had earned her some very important information: Clarke liked her.

After a time the girls smiled at each other, warmth surrounding them, and Lexa watched Clarke's eyes flutter closed before relaxing herself. They drifted to sleep together, breathing in sync as reality slipped away, and they slept solidly until morning, a true testament to what an exhausting day it had been.

Their fingers were still linked when they awoke.

Chapter Text

When Lexa was six, she ran away from home.

Or she attempted it, anyway.

She packed her rucksack full of all of the things her surprisingly sensible young mind deemed essential for her adventure: a change of clothes, a book, a photo of her family pressed right into the bottom, some pencils and paper, and of course her lion, Roary. The final touch was an immaculate PB&J placed at the very top. She made it herself, cutting the crusts off with careful concentration and a tight jaw. The plastic bag crackled as she slipped the sandwich inside it and she whipped round, heart racing, scared she’d be caught in the act and made to explain herself.

No one came.

Back in her room she put on her sneakers, crouching on the floor and fastening the laces with clumsy fingers, tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth and braid falling over her shoulder. She made sure to double-knot them, she had to be a big girl and big girls didn’t have loose laces flapping around their feet while they walked. She took one last look around the room that had been hers all of her life, and for the last few months Ontari’s too, before letting out a sigh much bigger than her slight, six-year-old frame and heaving her rucksack into place on her shoulders.

Her mom and baby Ontari were asleep in the living room, she knew, and she had planned on slipping out without peeking in at them but she couldn’t help herself. She could hear their gentle breathing and the quiet chatter of the TV so she knew it was safe. She crept inside, barely daring to breathe, face set in stony determination as she took in the tired lines on her mom’s face poking out from the blanket on the couch. When she reached Ontari’s basinet she peered inside, surprised to find her awake and blinking happily up at the ceiling. She squirmed at the sight of Lexa, perfect pink lips tipping into a smile that could have been for her or it could have been gas, Lexa was never sure. She suddenly felt incredibly sad in the grip of those dark blue eyes, eyes that would soon become brown, and she almost didn’t go.

Almost.

But when she remembered why she was leaving she took a steadying breath, jaw clenching in sync with her fists, and she pressed a kiss to Ontari’s forehead before leaving the room on soft feet. The front door barely made a sound as she pushed on the handle and suddenly she was stepping out onto the sunlit street, a world of possibilities at her fingertips. So many possibilities that she had no idea what to do with them. An adventure away from her family had seemed much more fun in the abstract when she’d been unable to sleep the previous night. Now all she could think to do was walk, expression serious and an agitated hand sweeping back the stray hairs that were already starting to escape from her braid.

The wind was cold despite the springtime sunshine, Lexa’s slightly misshapen grey cardigan wasn’t much of a match for it, and that’s when she realised she’d forgotten to bring her coat. She shook her head to herself as she walked but it was too late to turn back, she figured, she’d just have to make do without it.

An hour later found little Lexa sat on a swing at the park a few streets from her house, utterly lost for what to do. Her rucksack lay just a few feet away, missing the sandwich that she had already eaten more out of boredom than hunger. Her scruffy sneakers scuffed at the ground each time she swung gently forward, her head resting on the chain just above her fist. Even more hair had come out of her braid in the wind and she was starting to worry, she couldn’t braid her own hair yet, what was she going to do if it all came out? And it was with the threat of having to deal with her wild curls by herself that Lexa realised she’d made a grave mistake in running away from home. It hadn’t occurred to her where she’d go, where she’d sleep, or how she’d feed herself, all she’d thought about was the way that her mom seemed to look right through her and Anya’s cold silence and mean stares.

Walking down the path and out of the park she tried her best not to cry, her knees now growing cold too because of the stupid holes that stupid Anya had ripped in her stupid hand-me-down jeans years before, and she crossed her arms over stomach, pulling her cardigan closed to try to keep warm. She wasn’t sure where she was going but her feet moved unbidden until she reached a familiar doorstep.

She finally lost her battle when the front door opened and an old man appeared, his soft smile turning down at an angle that matched his newly adorned frown when he saw the tiny girl stood on his doorstep.

“Lexa?”

And Lexa let out a sob, throwing herself into his arms so hard he went “oof” but he held onto her tightly until she caught her breath enough to manage to speak.

“Can I stay with you, Grandpa?” she asked quietly, tear streaked face glistening in the early afternoon sunshine. She focused on the familiar creases in his face, the lines that made him gentle and soft, and not on the eyes that she worried would judge her when she told him why she was there.

“Come on inside, honey,” was his answer and she followed his limping form into the tiny house, closing the front door behind her.

It was with a glass of apple juice in her hand and the sweetness of its taste still on her lips and her tongue that she managed to confess her ordeal, eyes trained on her fidgeting feet that hung off the edge of the comfy chair, still a long way from the floor, in her grandpa’s living room.

“I ran away from home.”

The only sound for a while was the ticking of the old clock on the mantelpiece and the shuffle as her grandpa tried to get comfortable on the other chair with the way his bones always ached.

“And why did you do that?”

It wasn’t the response Lexa had expected at all. She gripped onto her glass and felt it solid and slippery with condensation beneath her fingers. After taking a big gulp of juice, she finally looked up and across to pale blue eyes.

“No one has time for me anymore.” She shrugged. “It’s OK, they won’t miss me.”

And the terribly sad thing about all of this was that Lexa, tiny Lexa with the ripped jeans and the wild strands of hair breaking free from her braid and the double-knotted laces, really and truly believed what she was saying. Her grandpa didn’t stop her to argue but his brow furrowed and his lips turned down in a way that made Lexa feel very heavy inside. She didn’t want to make her grandpa sad, she loved him very much. That’s when it occurred to her that she hadn’t thought about whether he’d miss her if she left. The way he held her when he answered the door and how he smoothed a hand over her hair as he handed her the glass of juice made her sure that he would have.

She had to try and make him understand so she talked and he just listened, nodding his head occasionally in a way that comforted her. It felt really good to be listened to again. She told him about how hard everyone was finding it to adjust to having a baby in the house. She talked about how their mom cried a lot, how all she did when Ontari was asleep was sleep herself, and how she and Anya had to make their own lunches for school from whatever they could find in the sparse cabinets in the kitchen. She told him about how Anya had got suspended from school for a couple of weeks for fighting with another student and had since refused to talk to anyone, not uttering a word even to Lexa. All she got from her when she tried to talk to her was a glare and usually a door slammed in her face. Their mom was too tired to fight against her so she let her do what she wanted. Anya spent more time at her friend’s houses than she did at home, just holing herself up in her bedroom at night and during school hours amidst her suspension.

Lexa’s lip trembled a few times in her storytelling but she fought back the tears, feeling proud when she got to the end of it with dry cheeks. Her fingers ached from gripping onto her glass so fiercely and she moved to put it on the table, wiggling all of her digits with a grimace before looking back over at her grandpa.

“Come here, Lexa,” he said, beckoning her with his arthritis-curled hand and she got to her feet, dragging them on the carpet and avoiding his gaze as she walked towards him. Gentle fingers under her chin finally made her pull her focus up and she was surprised to see a smile on his face. “Now I want you to listen to me, honey, OK?”

Lexa nodded, pulling her lips into her mouth and looking seriously at him. With him sat and her stood just in front of his knees they were of a height with each other and she liked not having to look up to the person talking to her for a change.

His voice was strong yet soft as he spoke and he held her hands as best he could in his own, tugging on them a little each time her gaze wandered away from him.

As Lexa grew older she thought about this day a lot, about how her grandpa had managed to give her strength when she felt she had none, and it got her through a lot of hard times. She couldn’t remember exactly what he’d told her, though she’d tried with all of her might to hold onto it all for as long as she could, but the sentiment still stood strong in her heart. The main thing he taught her was about not giving up on those you love who love you in return. Some people, he told her, you had to give up on. If they hurt you more than you can handle then sometimes it’s all you can do and it was OK if she needed to do so. Her dad was the perfect example, she later realised. But even though Anya was difficult and her mom was sad and Ontari cried all the time and took up their mom’s attention, Lexa had to be strong and help them through the hard times. There would be times, he told her, that she would need them and then they’d be there for her too. That’s how families worked. Things would get better, he was going to help them through it, he assured her, she just had to be strong for a while.

And that’s when he pressed the golden locket into her palm, surprisingly cold to the touch and the pattern carved into the surface beautiful in its intricacy. Lexa pried it open to find a worn, black and white photo of a young man and a small girl inside. Her grandpa told her of the bravery of her Grandma Cassie when her dad went away to war. She had to help her mom take care of her siblings when he was gone, had to help even more when he never returned. He told her of how strong she had been, how much her family loved her, and how much like her he thought Lexa was.

Lexa considered this story and looked at the photo for a while longer, surprised at how familiar that little girl seemed, before closing the locket with a gentle click and folding it inside her palm until it wasn’t cold anymore. She could see the love and admiration in her grandpa when talking about his late wife and she felt sad but also a little proud that he believed she could be so strong just like the woman he loved so much. When he wrapped her into a hug she felt a lot less lost than before.

Her mom came to pick her up a short time later and she waited nervously by the window as she watched her rush up the path with Ontari in her arms, cheeks red and hair whipping wildly in the wind behind her. She barrelled through the front door and emerged into the living room with a sense of purpose that Lexa hadn’t seen in her for a long time. She looked powerful, unstoppable, and Lexa tried to keep hold of that image of her mom to remember in the bad times. She waited for the yelling, the tears, the disappointment, but none of it ever came. Her mom handed Ontari to her grandpa and took three long strides to reach Lexa, dropping to her knees and pulling her into a hug so fierce that Lexa understood with every inch of her being that she would never leave her family again, that she would never give up on them.

And she never did. Not until Anya betrayed her trust.

She wasn’t sure how it happened but somewhere in amongst the sting of the lies, Anya’s attempt at diverting the conversation, and Clarke’s interruption, Lexa gave up. It was only for a moment but that willingness to let go of the person she’d held most dear shook her to her core and heaped a whole load of guilt on her too. In that moment she considered what her grandpa had told her about letting go of the people that hurt you too much. But as the chasm in her mind opened when she thought about life without Anya, she knew she’d deal with any pain that came for the tiniest nugget of a chance that she could get her family back together again. It wouldn’t be easy, there was so much to work through, but they were worth it. Anya was worth it. Lexa had no idea who she was without her.

 

*

 

Upon waking the morning following the fight Lexa’s mind was blank, the warmth curling around her entire body the only thing of which she was dimly aware. At the sound of a contented hum she cracked her eyes open, her first concrete thought being the realisation that she wasn’t in her own bed but in Clarke’s. The room was lit by tendrils of sunlight in a way that was almost guaranteed to heal the soul a little and if that didn’t do the trick, the sight before her was sure to do it. Clarke was nothing but a lump in the duvet and a face full of dishevelled hair, one arm emerging from the cocoon just enough for its hand to lay limply in Lexa’s, their fingers entwined and a little clammy. Lexa’s lips began to tip towards a smile before her second thought of the day came barrelling through and tore it away as she remembered why she was at Clarke’s in the first place; they never stayed there. The harsh angles of Anya’s face and the memory of her own anger were a sobering punch back into reality that she really could have done without. The third thing that came into her mind was a much needed relief; it was spring break, she could take the stress of classes out of the equation for a while. She allowed herself to sink back into the mattress, loosening her rigid muscles, grateful for one less thing to juggle. Especially in the wake of everything that had transpired the day before.

She let the impulse to brush Clarke’s hair back from her face win out over her characteristic hesitance, though she had to wrest her hand from Clarke’s grip to be able to do so. The movement made Clarke stir in her sleep, sketching her lips into the softest of smiles as Lexa let her fingers linger against her scalp. With a sigh, Lexa allowed Clarke and the sunlight and the faint chirping of the birds outside lull her, nestling her head back into her pillow. She’d have to deal with everything soon enough, she knew, but sleep was a much more tempting option for the time being.

Her second awakening wasn’t quite as sweet. The sun was still streaming in but its warmth no longer reached her and that’s how she knew she was properly awake this time. The loss of the contentment from before left her raw and aching, as if all of the good had been scraped out from inside her, leaving her hollow. Clarke began to stir and rather than risking having to talk to her Lexa turned over, curling herself into a ball and clutching onto her knees tightly. She could tell the moment that Clarke woke up, her breathing became more purposeful, less calm, and she felt her stretch beside her. A hand landed on her exposed arm, one finger fluttering onto her skin at a time, and it took all she had not to flinch at the touch.

“Lex?”

Clarke’s voice was barely above a whisper, it was sweet and soft, but Lexa couldn’t bring herself to respond. Clarke laid there for a little while before getting up and leaving the room and Lexa was surprised at the relief she felt at being alone.

With time her mind began to spiral and just kept coming back to the fact that she hadn’t bailed on her family since she was six years old. And that was only for a few hours, plus she hadn’t known any better being so young. That had been the only time she’d wavered, the only time she’d given up on them, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d failed in leaving so much unresolved with Anya. Leaving had saved her a lot of heartache at the time but the problem wasn’t gone, she was going to have to go and trample over the open wound again before it could even begin to heal. Perhaps it was better done sooner rather than later. Keeping her family together was the only consistency she had ever known and without it, she had no idea what she was supposed to do. She couldn’t risk losing Anya, no matter how much the lying had hurt. She wished she had her grandpa to make her feel strong again, she could really use his gentle prose and steady gaze.

All of this thinking just led her to the exhausting decision that she should probably go home and address all of the leftover mess but then a clatter from beyond the bedroom door startled her. Her eyebrows knitted together as the harsh sound pierced through her bubble of worry and somehow the sound of banging mixed with a colourful smattering of curse words in Clarke’s clipped voice made the beginnings of a smile tug at Lexa’s lips. It was a feat close to the impossible and she was a little disappointed when the next few minutes brought only silence. But, luckily enough, the darkness creeping up on her again was banished by the sound of sizzling and… was that singing?

In her eagerness not to sink back into her mind, and with her curiosity piqued, she slipped out of bed, tugging on Clarke’s hoodie again to banish the morning chill. Her bare feet in the soft, unyielding carpet made her feel a little better, a little more in touch with reality, as did the cold of the door handle against her palm.

Her eyes found Clarke immediately; she was in the kitchen at the far side of the living area with her back to Lexa. She was dancing to her own beat, voice clumsily playing with octaves that Lexa hadn’t known she could reach, dropping words in favour of humming each time she stumbled over the lyrics. Her hips swayed as she prodded at whatever was in the pan on the stove with a spatula. Lexa had been watching Clarke for almost a minute when Clarke stopped what she was doing, tensed her shoulders, and spoke to herself in a commanding voice. It was all Lexa could do to stop herself from laughing and revealing herself from where she was stood frozen just beyond Clarke’s bedroom door.

“C’mon Clarke, you can do this,” Clarke told herself, picking up the frying pan by the handle and shaking it back and forth a few times. Lexa frowned, trying to work out what Clarke was doing, and then Clarke whipped the pan up in front of her. A pale, blob shaped thing flew into the air and then Lexa understood; Clarke was making pancakes. Unfortunately Clarke’s encouragement hadn’t worked, she could not, in fact, do it, and the pancake flew haphazardly over her head and landed on the floor behind her with a thwack.

“Ah shit,” Clarke sighed, turning around and jolting with surprise when she noticed Lexa stood smiling at her from the other side of the room. She chuckled, hand going into her hair in a rather adorable way. “Morning! I’m, um, I’m cooking breakfast. Or, y’know, I’m trying.” Her cheeks were bright with warmth, perhaps from being caught, perhaps from the heat of the stove, Lexa wasn’t sure. But they were coupled with a bashful smile that made Lexa realise her mistake in ignoring Clarke’s attempt at contact earlier on, she would have probably felt much better in her company. It was hard to move past years of self-isolation when lost in the depth of her ability to worry once she’d found friends she could seek solace in. With her family she’d been reluctant to burden them but friends were there to help shoulder those burdens. Or so Raven always tried to convince her anyway. Even after a few years it was a concept she still struggled with.

Clarke bent down to pick up the pancake from the floor, cursing yet again when it proved to still be very hot, and straightened up, sucking on her index finger with a pout.

“Come and sit down, I’m gonna try again,” Clarke told Lexa and she complied, making her way across the room and plopping down on one of the chairs at the island opposite the stove. “Did you sleep OK?” Clarke asked, pouring more batter into the frying pan.

“Yes, I did, thank you. Did you?”

“Yup. These- ow-” she recoiled from the spitting pan- “these pancakes are hard little fuckers to make! You made it look so easy.”

“We can’t all be good at everything, Clarke,” Lexa said, receiving a glare over her shoulder for the comment.

“I wanted to make you a nice breakfast so I’m going to try.”

“OK, but I would have been happy with toast.”

“Toast is boring. Pancakes are magic.”

“All right, Clarke, pancakes it is.”

There was quite a lot more cursing involved in Clarke’s efforts and the sound eventually drew another person into the kitchen. Lexa hadn’t even realised that Niylah was home and she had, in fact, actually forgotten that Clarke even had a roommate. Niylah yawned as she plonked herself down next to Lexa, frowning as she took in the scene in front of her.

“Wait a minute…” she said, looking between the two of them so purposefully that her ponytail whipped back and forth until her scrutiny came to settle on Lexa. “What did you do to Clarke?”

“Excuse me?” Now Lexa was frowning too, confused at the odd expression on Niylah’s face.

“She’s cooking,” Niylah said incredulously.

“Yeah?”

“Clarke never cooks. I was starting to think she didn’t even know what a stove was.”

“Hey, that’s not true!” Clarke called over her shoulder, flipping a pancake with her spatula this time to save it ending up on the floor. “I cook all the time.”

“Putting frozen food in the oven isn’t cooking, Clarke, nor is reheating leftover takeout,” Niylah chided, grinning at Lexa with a level of familiarity that they definitely hadn’t reached yet. Oddly enough, Lexa didn’t mind it. It made her feel a little better about being sat next to a virtual stranger in her pjs and with the vulnerability that was still draped over her.

“Sure it is!” Clarke protested.

“OK, fine, this is the first time I’ve seen you actually make something and cook it, not just chuck it in the oven or the microwave,” Niylah conceded with an eye roll, more for Lexa’s benefit than Clarke’s, she wasn’t even looking.

“I’m making Lexa breakfast.”

“It wasn’t my idea,” Lexa assured Niylah, holding her hands up.

“Hold on…” Niylah looked between the two of them again, eyes narrowing. “Clarke’s making you breakfast, you’re wearing her hoodie… Am I interrupting something? Do I need to invest in some noise cancelling headphones? You guys never stay here!” The grin that was slowly lighting up Niylah’s face was starting to make Lexa feel nervous. Her heart began to race at the implication and, despite her embarrassment, she definitely wished the situation was as Niylah was seeing it.

Clarke just laughed, putting a pancake on a plate to the side of the stove, her nonchalance making Lexa feel guilty for her disappointment.

“You’re not interrupting anything, we just wanted a change of scenery.”

Lexa was grateful that Clarke didn’t divulge the true reason they were there.

“You’re sure?” Niylah said. “Because I can go back to my room if you want.”

“No, please, this is your apartment, you can be wherever you like,” Lexa told her.

“And you can try some of my delicious pancakes!” Clarke said brightly.

“Is she a good cook?” Niylah asked Lexa, leaning closer and speaking behind a cupped hand.

Lexa shrugged. “I don’t know, like you said, Clarke never cooks.”

“Hey, I can hear you two and I don’t appreciate the lack of support here! I’m trying to be nice.”

“Sorry honey, I’m sure they’ll be wonderful,” Niylah said sweetly, almost sounding a little patronising but the way Clarke grinned at her suggested she was pleased with the sentiment regardless.

Clarke began humming to herself as she continued to make her pancakes and Niylah turned her attention to Lexa.

“So, what have you got planned for spring break?”

Lexa tapped her fingers on the worktop. “Um, nothing really. Studying, working, nothing exciting. How about you?”

“Pretty much the same,” Niylah replied, nodding with a resigned smile. “I’m completely buried in essays and exam prep.”

“You’re a senior, right?”

“Yep. I’m not going to scare you by telling you the pressure I’m under but let’s just say I’d give anything to have the time to go off with the spring break crowd to the beach and party for a few days!”

“Have you done that in the past?”

Niylah nodded. “This is the first year that I haven’t. Have you ever done it?”

Lexa shook her head. “It’s not really my scene.”

“Oh, right, no, it’s not for everyone. Y’know, drunk college girls with low inhibitions and the desire to experiment… not everyone’s thing.” Niylah seemed to drift off into a wistful stupor for a moment before snapping back to reality with the clang of Clarke’s spatula on the frying pan. “I miss being young and frivolous.”

“I’ll bet,” Lexa said, feeling a little awkward. She couldn’t relate, not really. She’d always felt older than her years and she’d definitely not had sex with a load of questioning college girls. Part of her would have liked to have lived the sociable college lifestyle but the much more grounded and realistic part of her realised she took the path that she was most comfortable with.

“Lexa might stay here this week, if that’s OK with you?” Clarke said, bringing two plates over to them, each with a slightly wonky stack of pancakes on them.

“Of course!” Niylah said brightly. “I was starting to worry that you didn’t want me around your friends. I don’t want to be the embarrassing mom friend but I’m so glad you’re finally bringing someone home.”

Clarke chuckled affectionately. “You’re fine, don’t worry.”

“I’ve been trying to get her to bring you over here for months but she never does,” Niylah said to Lexa. “I know she’s always at yours and I just want her to feel that she can have you over here too.”

“OK, now you’re being the embarrassing mom friend,” Clarke said, rolling her eyes and grabbing her own plate of food.

“Fine, fine, I’ll stop.”

“Please do, and eat up, ladies!”

Lexa picked up her knife and fork and cut a chunk out, placing it gently into her mouth with a little apprehension. She tried to keep her face passive as she chewed; the pancakes weren’t the worst thing she had ever tasted but, to put it simply, they weren’t great. Niylah was more sceptical than Lexa, staring at her forkful of food with a comical kind of fear before sniffing at it and then shoving it in her mouth before she could back out.

“So? How’d they taste?” Clarke asked, face hopeful.

“Good, they’re good,” Lexa said, forcing a smile.

Niylah, however, wasn’t quite so tactful in her expression. She grimaced, chewing slowly as if she was reluctant to actually ingest the food. When she swallowed it was with great effort and she just looked sadly up at Clarke.

“I’m sorry, honey, I can’t lie to you. It’s a good job you have a lot of other skills because cooking? Totally not one of them.”

“What? They’re that bad?”

“No,” Lexa said, shaking her head and taking another bite. Yes. “No, you just need a little practice. And maybe a more accurate set of scales.”

“Lexa, you’re too nice. Clarke, thanks for trying,” Niylah said. “I think I’m going to go out for breakfast. I’ll be in my room getting ready if you need me.” She hopped up and left them with a small smile.

Clarke just stared after her roommate with an incredulous look on her face. She grabbed her fork and sliced messily into her pancakes with it, shovelling the food straight into her mouth and sighing.

“Maybe I should leave the pancake making to you.”

Lexa nodded, trying to stifle a laugh.

“Yeah, I think that would be best.”

“I just wanted to make magic,” Clarke pouted, putting her fork down and moving to sit in the chair that Niylah had just vacated, slumping forward with her chin resting in her hand.

“I’ll bring the magic to you, don’t worry.”

Clarke smiled. “So what do you want to do today?” she asked, straightening up as her expression brightened, and she nudged her shoulder against Lexa’s.

Lexa let the silence hang between them for a moment before she felt she could manage to answer. “I should go home.”

Clarke turned to look at her, a little crease forming between her eyebrows. She shuffled in her chair, seeming to distance herself from Lexa, and rubbed her palms on her thighs.

“Oh, yeah, of course. I just thought… Never mind.”

“You thought what?” Lexa turned towards Clarke in her chair.

“Well I thought, actually I kind of hoped, that you’d stick around a bit longer. I guess I shouldn’t have assumed-”

“It’s fine, Clarke, really. I just… I have a lot to work through with Anya.”

“I know you do.” Clarke nodded, looking as if she was going to drop it but just when the resignation seemed to set in her expression, she hardened with purpose again. “But if you need more time, or you want to just chill out for a while before you face her, then you’re welcome to stay here. We can just hang out and watch movies, do some studying, head out to work together. It could be fun. I promise I won’t even cook for you. You can cook, or we’ll order in. Or I’ll give Niylah my best puppy eyes and she can cook for all three of us.”

Lexa laughed, relieved that Clarke seemed less tense. It gave her the courage to lean against her arm for a moment without worrying that the contact would be unwelcome.

“That does sound tempting.”

“Definitely! Niylah’s a great cook.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. I’m not going to force you to avoid your problems or stay if you don’t want to but you’re welcome here. I’d love to have you and you heard Niylah, she doesn’t mind you staying.”

Lexa thought about it for a moment, thought about how exhausted she still felt, how she wasn’t really ready to deal with everything yet even if she felt like she should, and then about how Anya and Raven said they’d wait as long as it took her to want to talk it out.

“I guess I could stay for another day. It can’t hurt, right?”

Clarke grinned. “In my experience, a day with Clarke Griffin can only help.”

Lexa rolled her eyes. “Of course you’d say that.”

“Of course I would! I want you to stay.”

“Then I’ll stay.”

“Only if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“Good.”

“And Clarke?”

“Yeah?”

“Please take these pancakes away from me before I forget how bad they are and try to eat them again.”

The pout Lexa won for her comment made her feel good about her decision. They decided to join Niylah for breakfast at the café down the street and then spent the rest of the time before their shift at the bar watching movies. Clarke painted Lexa’s nails and Lexa braided Clarke’s hair and they laughed until their stomachs hurt from more than just the copious amounts of sugar that they had consumed during the afternoon.

Staying with Clarke had definitely been the right decision.

 

*

 

The next day Clarke got up before Lexa again. She wasn’t one to lie about in bed of a morning apparently, something which hadn’t been evident when she’d stayed at Lexa’s. She excused herself to shower, leaving Lexa alone for the longest time since she had been staying there. She tried to get herself up too but she only got as far as getting out of the bed and agonising over making it neatly before she sank back onto it again, a leaden feeling taking over her limbs. After sitting there for a moment, hands braced on her thighs, she decided to follow her sedentary desires and read for a while. It wasn’t like she had anywhere to be.

By the time Clarke came back into the room Lexa was immersed in her story, knees bent with her book propped up on them, immensely enjoying the way that fiction was able to distract her from any real life troubles.

“So I was thinking in the shower and-” Clarke began but Lexa cut her off.

“Ooo, did it hurt?” she quipped, supressing a cheeky grin in order to grimace in sympathy at Clarke. She looked up from her book just as Clarke rolled her eyes in response.

“Oh ha ha, Lexa Woods, ladies and gentlemen, Arkadia’s newest comedian.”

But Lexa’s foray into humour was over when her gaze wandered from Clarke’s face and she became intensely aware, in more than just her mind, that Clarke was stood in the doorway wearing nothing but a towel. Her bare shoulders glistened with water droplets, her hair was ruffled from where she’d obviously tried to dry it with a towel, and her legs, oh her legs… Suddenly Lexa was realising a big problem with spending so much time with Clarke but she couldn’t bring herself to want to leave because of it. Quite the contrary, actually. She hadn’t quite had time to adjust to her attraction with the newfound knowledge that Clarke actually liked her but was unwilling to act on it as yet. It was all a little strange.

When she didn’t manage to come up with a response, in fact barely being aware that they’d been talking at all, Clarke tilted her head to the side, seeming to notice Lexa’s wandering eyes and flushed complexion.

“You OK there, Lex?” she asked, lips tugging into a rather satisfied smile, and Lexa snapped her eyes back to Clarke’s face.

“Oh, oh yeah…” She cleared her throat, the presence of Clarke shimmering in her post-shower glory causing her vocal cords to constrict and fail her. “I’m, uh, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? Because you look a little… out of it.”

The smile Clarke gave was devastating and confirmed that she knew exactly how Lexa was feeling. Lexa was too distracted to care though, especially when Clarke’s hands came up to tuck her towel more securely around herself and her mind began to wander. Suddenly she was imagining the towel soft beneath her own fingertips and how much she’d enjoy loosening its hold on Clarke and letting it fall between them and oh god, no, could she handle that? Clarke was naked under there. Completely naked. Lexa imagined being confronted with that much of Clarke with one swift tug and… Whoa. System overload seemed like the only eventuality. Her fragile mind kept wandering though and she was sure that if she should ever be so lucky as to undress Clarke she’d do it slowly, savour it, let her poor, hopelessly gay-self adjust to each new piece of skin on show. That sounded less terrifying. In fact, it sounded good. Too good.

Lexa shook her head, trying to shake herself back into the present. She really shouldn’t have been thinking like that with Clarke stood right in front of her, and especially not when Clarke had said she wasn’t ready to be with her.

She’s your friend, Lexa, chill out, would you?

“No I’m…” Lexa hesitated as she weighed up her options. Clarke knew she liked her, it couldn’t hurt to be honest, right? She was clearly on to her anyway and while it may have been a little selfish, she was quite curious to see how Clarke might respond to her attention. “Yeah, OK, I’m a bit distracted.” She shrugged, forcing herself to be bold and meet Clarke’s eyes. “Do you ever get such a strong reminder of your gayness that you have to stop for a second and marvel in it?”

Clarke frowned at Lexa, seemed to look her over and assess her words before laughing. “You’re weird.”

“But have you ever felt that?”

“Yeah, you know, I think I have.” Clarke tilted her head to the side in that adorable way that Lexa had once hated but had since grown to love, eyes wandering and tongue tracing along her bottom lip as she considered her. “And you’re feeling that way now?”

“Mhmm,” Lexa confirmed, more than a little enamoured with the way Clarke was looking at her. “You’re stood still wet from the shower in just a towel, how could I not be?”

Clarke took in a breath and blinked a few times in the seconds that followed. The smile that finally came was shyer than Lexa had expected it to be, making Clarke somehow incredibly cute as well as sexy. On paper it didn’t sound possible but Clarke was kind of amazing, if anyone could pull it off it would be her.

“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment,” Clarke said softly, still just standing by the door.

“You should, it was meant as one.”

“OK, then I will.”

Lexa fiddled with the book still resting on her knees, pulling her gaze from Clarke for a moment.

“I didn’t make you uncomfortable, did I? I know there’s this line between us that we can’t cross but…” She trailed off, not sure what else to say.

Clarke just shook her head with a soft smile, one hand coming up to run through her hair in what seemed like a nervous gesture while the other held onto the hem of her towel.

“No, no you didn’t make me uncomfortable. It’s just that…” She hesitated, hand stilling in her hair for a moment before coming to rest on her lips, fingers pressing into the pinkness of them and drawing Lexa’s attention.

“It’s just what?” Lexa found herself asking in a kind of daze.

“You’re just making me wish, even more than usual, that things didn’t have to be so complicated between us. I mean, I know it’s me that’s complicating things but-”

“Don’t worry about it, Clarke,” Lexa interrupted, shaking her head. The last thing she wanted was for Clarke to feel pressured into anything. She had her reasons, whatever they may have been, and that was good enough for Lexa. “I’m the one that turned down your offer before, you know, the sex thing.”

“And you were right to.”

“That doesn’t mean that I don’t regret it sometimes, though. Especially now.”

Clarke looked just as dazed as Lexa felt, they were wandering too far into some very masochistic tormenting so she tried to pull their focus away to something else, anything else.

She cleared her throat. “Anyway, you came in here like you had something to tell me?”

“I did?” Clarke’s brow furrowed for a moment before her expression cleared in a flash as the memory came back to her. “Oh, I did! Yeah, I was thinking in the shower-” Lexa’s eyes flicked down to Clarke’s body again at the mention of the word and Clarke seemed to notice because she gave her a guilty smile- “sorry, I mean, I know you’ve not really talked about it and maybe you don’t want to but I just need to say this: I’m really mad at Anya.”

Lexa had no idea what she’d been expecting Clarke to say but it definitely wasn’t that.

“You’re…” She blinked at Clarke, dumbfounded.

“I’m mad at Anya,” Clarke repeated, nodding her head for emphasis.

“You are?”

“Yes, I am. I wanted to leave you to process everything yesterday and I hoped you’d talk about it in your own time but I always think a lot in the shower and the more I thought about the whole situation, the more annoyed at her I became.”

“Um, OK,” Lexa said, shrugging, unsure of what Clarke expected her to say.

Clarke just sighed at her and finally made her way further into the room, coming to perch on the edge of the vacant side of the bed, body angled towards Lexa. Had she made that move during their previous topic of conversation it would have distracted Lexa further and made their decision to remain friends even harder but she was barely even aware of Clarke’s state of undress anymore. While it had been overwhelming and incredibly frustrating the way that they were teasing themselves, Lexa couldn’t find it in herself to be glad of the shift in topic.

“I know you wanted me to cut Anya some slack for making you keep Rio a secret from your family and I was willing to because it wasn’t my place to have an opinion but after hearing the fight… After her keeping such a big secret from you and sneaking around with your best friend…” Clarke shook her head, eyebrows tilting in a way that spoke of her unease. “I can’t do it, Lex, I’m mad. I can’t be impartial. You’re my friend and I’m on your side in this.”

Lexa let out a breath and nodded. “OK,” she said, closing her book and running her hand over its cover, “you can be mad.” She tried with all of the strength she could muster to remain calm, to not let all of the harsh words and pain from the argument wash over her as she was forced back into the memory. Falling back on her habit of bottling things up wasn’t the wisest move given the explosion it had finally resulted in but despite the fact that she felt like she needed to fix things, she definitely wasn’t ready. Not yet.

Clarke looked oddly exasperated at Lexa’s calm reply. It was a strange look on her, she obviously had got herself quite worked up while thinking in the shower.

“Are you mad?”

“I… I don’t know what I am.” She should be mad, she knew that. Probably would be soon enough. But right at that moment she was more overwhelmed than anything.

“If I were you I’d be mad,” Clarke told her. She definitely sounded it, or irritated at least. She was holding herself awkwardly as if there was tension in her muscles and her face was set in harsher angles than Lexa was used to seeing.

“Clarke,” Lexa sighed, feeling incredibly tired all of a sudden.

“Yeah?”

“Can we talk about something else?” Her voice was quiet and something in its tone seemed to resonate with Clarke. The rigidity in her posture loosened, her body sagging, and she slumped forward a little where she was sat. She nodded, smile small and sad.

“Yeah, of course. I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re working through it in your own way but you can talk to me if you need to, OK?”

“OK, thank you.” Lexa inclined her head gently, trying not to sound as closed off as she felt.

Clarke reached over to give Lexa a pat on the leg and a smile before getting up and heading over to her dresser a little way off the end of the bed. She picked up her brush and began tugging it through her hair, hand coming up to keep her towel in place as the movement made it jostle. Lexa was grateful for the distraction, as unwise as it was to be so, and she allowed herself to be thrown back into her attraction to Clarke again as she watched the muscle in Clarke’s arm flex as she pulled the brush through her hair, enjoying the view as she turned around fully to look at herself in the mirror. Lexa took in the definition of Clarke’s shoulder blades, the curve of her hips, the pale skin of legs that were almost entirely on show in that tiny towel. What didn’t occur to her, however, was that Clarke could see her in the mirror. But eventually she looked up and caught her eye in the reflection, a jolt going through her as she noticed the colour in Clarke’s cheeks and the way she was biting at her lip. She’d definitely been able to see the desire in Lexa’s wandering gaze. The intensity in Clarke’s eyes was fuel on Lexa’s already smouldering cheeks and they ignited in a way that had her pretty mortified. Of course that only made her skin glow more brightly.

Tearing her attention away she shuffled awkwardly on the bed, clearing her throat and opening her book again. She heard Clarke chuckle and the low octave it resonated in only made her heart pound harder.

“I’m sorry,” Clarke said and Lexa kept staring at the first line on the page in her book. “I was going to get dressed in the bathroom but I forgot my clothes.”

“Mhmm, that’s fine,” Lexa replied, still not looking up.

“No, I don’t think it is. I’m being an ass, aren’t I? I’m not making this any easier for either of us. I mean, I’m not doing it deliberately but I can be more careful.”

“Clarke, really, it’s fine. This is your apartment, you can do what you want,” Lexa tried to assure her, finally looking up from her book. She hated to admit it but what Clarke was saying made sense. They really should be more careful. It was going to be hard enough as it was.

“I’m going to go and get dressed in the bathroom,” Clarke said, rummaging in various drawers in the dresser and piling up her clothes on top of it.

“OK.” Lexa watched her with more interest than she should admit under the circumstances before a question occurred to her. It had already been an embarrassing morning, she figured it couldn’t hurt to ask it even though it was a little awkward. It was probably best that they understood the situation they were in properly anyway. “Clarke?”

“Mhmm?” Clarke continued her search for clothes and Lexa gathered herself.

“When I mentioned your offer before, you said I was right to turn you down. Why’d you say that?”

Clarke turned around, a simple blue shirt hanging from limp fingers.

“What do you mean?”

“Well it was your idea in the first place. Why’d you think it was right of me to turn it down?” Lexa had been avoiding Clarke’s eyes as she spoke but she forced herself to connect them. When they met, however, Clarke’s dropped down.

“I realised I was being selfish,” Clarke said after a pause.

“Selfish?” Lexa closed her book again. Who was she kidding, she wasn’t going to be able to concentrate anymore.

Clarke dropped the shirt from her hand onto her pile on the dresser before turning back to Lexa and crossing her arms across her chest. It was a very defensive gesture that was unintentionally distracting for Lexa as it managed to emphasise Clarke’s already impressive cleavage.

“Yeah,” Clarke said, shrugging. “The way you kissed me, how intense it all was, made me think that we could just have sex and it wouldn’t have to mean anything. We didn’t know each other very well then and I just… I was being a little naïve I guess. You just made me feel so good and I wanted to keep feeling it. But then the way you reacted to the offer…” Her eyes finally came up to Lexa’s and she looked a little sad. “I could tell that it wouldn’t just be sex for you.”

Lexa slumped back into the pillows a little more. “You could?”

Clarke nodded. “You looked so conflicted. I could see you wanted me,” she paused, running her fingers through her hair, “desire looks so good on you. But there was this sadness in you too. I didn’t want to end up hurting you by letting you fall into that hole. I was pretty sure when you said you’d consider it that you weren’t going to accept so I just let it go.”

“Oh.” Lexa sat up a little straighter, setting her book aside and shifting to cross her legs. She folded her hands into her lap, fingers fiddling nervously. “Do you think you’d have been able to keep your feelings separate?”

“No, of course not,” Clarke admitted. “I ended up liking you without even having sex with you so…” She shrugged, picking up her pile of clothes. “I’ll, uh, I’ll be right back.”

Lexa just nodded and watched her go, wondering when in the hell everything in life had become so complicated.

 

*

 

“Do you know what really sucks about this situation?” Lexa suddenly burst out later that afternoon. They were sat on the couch watching TV, Clarke’s feet in Lexa’s lap and her hands on strangely appealing ankles, when the thought occurred to her. Ever since Clarke had brought Anya up earlier and they’d decided to close the door on their complicated attraction for one another, Lexa hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the fight. It was about time she started to deal with it, she supposed.

“What sucks?” Clarke said absent-mindedly as she munched on some chips, eyes not leaving the screen.

“When something bad happens in my life, there are three people that I’d consider talking to about it: Anya, Raven, and Ontari. Maybe my mom too, I suppose, but not often because she has enough to worry about. But now I can’t go to any of them. Anya and Raven caused all this mess and my mom and Ontari…” Lexa’s heart sank when she considered the implications for Ontari. She knew how hurt her mom would be but Ontari… That was going to be even harder to deal with, she was completely innocent in amongst all of the mess. Aden, too. “They have no idea about Anya or Rio.”

Clarke picked up the remote that had been balanced on her stomach and paused their show. She swallowed her mouthful of chips and turned fully towards Lexa, her eyebrows drawing down in sadness.

“Oh sweetie.”

“She’s going to hate me,” Lexa said, words barely more than an exhale as the truth of the statement hit her head on.

“Who is?”

“Tari. I…” Lexa put her hand to her forehead. “I’ve lied to her for years. She’s been so hurt by Anya and she - fuck – she trusts me to be dependable and honest with her but look what I did!”

“Lex…” Clarke pulled her feet out of Lexa’s lap and instead came to sit at her side, legs folded underneath herself.

“OK, I’m mad now.”

“Good, let it out.”

“Why did I do it, Clarke? Why did I lie for her? Why did I jeopardise my relationships with the rest of my family for a girl who couldn’t stick around for me? Who once went four months without sending so much as a single message to let me know that she was OK? Who does that?!” Lexa’s heart was pounding so hard that her chest ached and her fists clenched against the anger that was brewing inside her. She hated being angry but it seemed like the only way to deal with the hurt still swimming through her blood. “Why do I let myself be roped in by her every time?!” She deflated, forehead creased in anguish as she looked over at Clarke.

“Because you love her,” Clarke said softly, hand tracing down Lexa’s arm.

“Yeah, and look where that love has got me,” Lexa spat bitterly. “I showed her unconditional love and support and she started sneaking around with my best friend. She didn’t even have the decency to be honest. I know she’s a liar but I never thought she’d lie to me.” Lexa’s anger abated again, the fluctuation already making her tired, and Clarke seemed to sense it because a gentle hand came up to stroke at her head, fingers running lightly along her scalp in a comforting motion.

“People mess up, it’s what they do. Some of us more than others, true, but I don’t doubt that she loves you too. You just have to make sure she knows how much she hurt you and that it’s not OK.”

Lexa sighed. “Maybe I should have talked to her more about her life when she was gone, maybe I shouldn’t have kept trying to get her to come home and talk to Mom. It was all I wanted for such a long time but now she’s here… I’m realising that if she goes back home it’s going to wreck everything for me. I mean, I can’t keep on keeping this secret but they’ll all know that I’ve been lying to them. My family will take Anya back, I know they will, my mom won’t even hesitate, but me? I betrayed their trust. They’ve all been depending on me for years and I let them down.”

“It wasn’t your job to make Anya’s life easier, you can’t blame yourself for her not wanting to come home. It was her decision. The secrets you kept were more than enough. You were all she had, it’s OK that you wanted to help her.”

“I was all she had because she left everyone else. I’m not sure I should have allowed myself to be the only one she’d talk to.”

“OK,” Clarke said, a gentle hand reaching up to tuck Lexa’s hair behind her ear. “What do you think would have happened if you’d told your mom when Anya showed up pregnant at your dorm?”

“I…” Lexa sank back into the couch cushions, eyes fluttering closed as Clarke continued to trace the flow of her hair behind her ear with her fingers despite the fact that it was all clearly well tucked behind there by now. “It would have been a disaster.”

“Tell me how.” Clarke’s tone was calm and grounding and it really made Lexa think.

“If I’d have told my mom she’d have come over and Anya probably would have run again. She was so broken when she showed up, so angry, she hated herself for being just like Mom, and to see her while she was like that… She’d have hated me.”

“And you’d have lost her.”

“Yeah.”

“And what about your family?”

Lexa sighed. “They’d have been devastated all over again. And if Anya refused to talk to me then we’d have no way of knowing if she was OK at all. At least I’ve always been able to tell them that she was getting on with her life, that she was safe.”

“So maybe your decision to listen to Anya stopped you all from losing her forever. This way you might be able to get her home eventually.”

“It still doesn’t feel right though.”

“No,” Clarke shook her head, “I know it doesn’t. I’m not sure there was a right decision here. Whatever you did, someone was going to get hurt. But do you know something these scenarios have in common?”

Lexa shook her head, turning to look at Clarke. She found her eyes bright and unwavering, they made her feel stronger. They made her feel safe.

“You get hurt either way while trying to spare your family pain. You’re always looking out for them, Lex, and I think they know that. No matter what you chose do when Anya came to you back then, your family will understand eventually. Sure you’re going to have to deal with the fallout, they might get mad, but they’ll come around. I’m sure they want to be complete again just as much as you do. The thing that made me mad at Anya, aside from the lying about Raven, was that you shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place.”

“But she didn’t have anyone else, Clarke!” Lexa burst out, tears pricking at the backs of her eyes. Despite just saying that it was Anya’s fault that she only had Lexa to talk to, she still felt so conflicted. She knew Anya didn’t feel like it was her choice that she was isolated. She’d said as much before. It was so hard to be reasonable about everything with the complicated emotional entanglements.

Clarke handled Lexa’s frustration with a gentle voice and an arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer and encouraging her to rest her head on her chest.

“I know, honey, I know. I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end. If anyone can make that happen, you can. I think you’ve got the biggest heart of anyone that I know.”

Lexa let herself sink into Clarke, the muffled thudding of her heart calming her own erratic pulse.

“I do?”

“Mhmm,” Clarke hummed. “I’ve seen the way that you are with Raven and Ontari and Rio, and I’ve felt what it’s like to be cared for by you. You’re so full of love that I don’t think you know what to do with it all.”

Lexa exhaled deeply, nuzzling into the softness of Clarke’s skin. Despite not having her usual people to turn to in a difficult situation, she had still managed to find someone to help her through it. How did Clarke always know the right thing to say?

“People normally think I’m cold,” Lexa stated.

“Well that’s because they’ve not had the chance to get to know you like I have.”

“Thanks Clarke.”

“For what?” Clarke’s hand came up to smooth over Lexa’s hair, fingers raking over her scalp in a way that had her relaxing further.

“For listening. For giving me a place to stay. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Sure you can, your company is more than enough. I was going to end up stir crazy during spring break without classes to keep me busy. Not that you have to stay here that long…”

“I want to stay,” Lexa assured her. “At least for a few more days.”

“OK,” Clarke replied, her grip tightening on Lexa’s shoulder.

“You’re already crazy though, you know, for missing being in class. I thought I was obsessed with school but even I’m glad for the time off.”

“It’s not that I miss them, I just don’t like having nothing to do.”

“Nothing is all we do when we hang out!”

“Yeah but nothing with you is fun. I don’t really like being by myself.”

“I’ve noticed,” Lexa said chuckling softly against Clarke’s chest before pulling herself upright again, reluctant to leave the comfort and warmth of Clarke’s embrace but she wanted to be able to look at her properly. She leaned her side into the couch cushion. “I’m glad my dysfunctional family life can be of some help to you.”

Clarke shoved her arm. “Shush you, you know I’d rather you be happy without me than sad with me.”

“Well I’m happy with you right now, is that OK?”

“It’s more than OK. And you really don’t have to stay here if you need to go home and sort things out. But you’re more than welcome to stay for longer if you want.”

“I want to stay, Clarke.”

“Really?” Clarke’s head tipped to the side, gaze hopeful.

“Yeah. Except… Is it bad that I’ve kind of let Anya and Raven make me homeless?”

“Hey, you’re not homeless,” Clarke cooed, hand coming up to tuck Lexa’s hair behind her ear again in a tender gesture that Lexa definitely didn’t mind. “You made a choice to put your own need to process things above their need to absolve themselves of what they’ve done. If you’d have stayed there that day you guys would have argued more and then you’d have probably just forgiven them. But, in my opinion, they don’t deserve your forgiveness yet. Let them sit in their guilt for a bit, it won’t hurt them to really think about the consequences of their actions. They drove away the one person that has always stuck by them, that’s gotta sting.”

Lexa considered Clarke’s reasoning for a while and eventually she nodded gently. “I think you might be right.”

Clarke’s smile started out soft but brightened as excitement seemed to take over her.

“So you’ll stay with me?” The hope in the contours of Clarke’s face was almost too much for Lexa to bear. There was so much need floating between them that they had to be careful with. If Lexa could do whatever she wanted in that moment she’d have been pressing her lips to Clarke’s and pulling her on top of her, the weight of her sure to make her feel even safer and… Nope, she wasn’t going to go there.

“Yes, Clarke, I’ll stay. I’ll talk to Anya and Raven when I’m ready and that’s not yet. I’m the one who was wronged, I get to decide when I want to talk it out.”

“Hell yeah you do!” Clarke cheered, holding her hand up to Lexa until she slapped hers against it.

“You’re such a dork,” Lexa chuckled causing the light in Clarke to brighten even further.

She’s so beautiful, I think I-

“You love it,” Clarke quipped, grinning cheekily.

Lexa gulped. “I do,” she replied much more softly than Clarke’s previous boisterousness, the weight of that little word stolen from her thoughts sitting heavy on her heart.

“Good,” Clarke said, calming right down and mirroring Lexa’s cadence. She couldn’t let herself hope that Clarke could feel that intensity too. And even if she could, it wasn’t going to make Clarke forget her reservations.

The tightness in Lexa’s chest was too much to keep inside so she did the only thing she could think of to try and ease it while still tiptoeing precariously on her side of the line between them. She pushed herself forward and wrapped her arms around Clarke, pressing her nose into her neck and breathing in deeply as Clarke followed her actions, relishing how tightly Clarke held onto her.

Lexa had always known what it was to be needed, she’d been needed by people her whole life, but with Clarke, sure there was need, but there was also something else. With Clarke she always felt wanted. She felt wanted, she felt safe, and it was enough.

She ignored the ache in her chest as that four letter word dissolved into her bloodstream, let the hum of contentment in her muscles drown out the way her heart whispered its terrible secret: it’s not enough.

Chapter Text

It was with the warm but slightly rough press of lips to her forehead that Lexa awoke the following morning. She stretched, enjoying the feeling of her muscles growing taught before loosening when another kiss, this time a little wetter, a little softer, was pressed into the same spot again. She opened her eyes slowly, a ridiculously dopey smile taking over her face when she saw Clarke sat on the edge of the bed leaning over her.

“Hey,” Clarke said, voice laced with the smile on her lips. Its warmth had Lexa sinking further into the mattress, intensely aware of the smoothness of the sheets against her skin as her body began to follow her consciousness in its bid to face the day.

“Hey,” Lexa echoed, voice much rougher than Clarke’s but it made Clarke’s smile brighter just the same.

“I’m going to the pool for a swim, I’ll be back in a little while.”

Clarke had straightened up at some point, Lexa wasn’t sure when, she was too focused on the gentle way Clarke’s hand caressed the side of her head, thumb smoothing over her temple and into her hair. It felt nice. Like, really nice. Maybe if she turned over towards Clarke a little more she could get her to play with her hair and – wait, Clarke was leaving?

“Nooo,” Lexa whined sleepily, eyebrows forming an alliance to protest against Clarke’s decision, her lips joining them in their displeasure. “Stay here, come back to bed.”

Clarke chuckled, honey-sweet and deep in the way that usually made Lexa’s insides burn with desire but in her tired state all it did was make her ache pleasantly.

“As much as I enjoy how cuddly you are when you’re half asleep, I need to go and exercise. You know I don’t like to sit about too much.” Clarke’s fingers made their way into Lexa’s hair, placating her for a moment and causing her eyes to close as she let out a moan of pleasure. She missed the satisfied grin that Clarke gave her, only coming back to her senses when it hit her again that Clarke was going to leave.

“But you said you like it when you’re with me,” Lexa complained, not even caring how petulant she sounded if it would get Clarke to come back to bed.

“I know,” Clarke said, pressing a saccharine kiss this time to the warmth of Lexa’s cheek. “And I’ll make it up to you later with an afternoon on the couch, how’s that?”

“That sounds… Wait, what day is it?”

“Wednesday, why?”

“I have to go to Aden’s soccer game this afternoon. I promised him I would.”

“Then you can go and I’ll spend the afternoon on the couch.” Clarke grinned, tongue poking out between her teeth cheekily, making Lexa pout.

“That’s not fair, Clarke! At least stay and be lazy with me now to make up for an afternoon apart. I’m in your bed, I’m not at the pool. You should stay with me.”

Clarke chuckled again. “Now who’s making us just being friends harder?”

“I didn’t…” Lexa muscles suddenly became tense and her eyes opened fully from their droopy state. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, her back sinking into the pillows. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”

“I was just teasing,” Clarke assured her, demeanour backing up her claim. There wasn’t a single mote of tension in her and Lexa softened, enjoying the sight of her favourite version of Clarke. She liked all kinds of Clarke, of course, but this gentle, sweet Clarke was the one that was making her tiptoe towards a much heavier sentiment.

“Wait a minute…” Lexa narrowed her eyes at Clarke, realising something. “You’re the one that woke me up with kisses just now. I think we’re both equally guilty of struggling to just be friends.”

“You’re right,” Clarke admitted, nodding. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK, we can try harder.”

Silence hung between them for a moment before Clarke seemed to gather herself, pushing the odd expression off her face.

“How about I come with you to see Aden play?”

“Really?”

“Sure, why not? It’ll save you getting the bus and I have no plans. We don’t even have work tonight, I might even buy you dinner afterwards.”

“You really want to spend an afternoon with my family watching eight year olds play soccer?”

“I like soccer! And I like Ontari. I’m sure I’ll like the rest of your family too. Wait, Ontari will be there, won’t she? Because it’ll be less scary if someone I already know is there.”

Clarke was smiling and damn it, it was contagious.

“Yes, Clarke, Ontari will be there.”

“Cool. I mean I’d come either way but…” Clarke shrugged and Lexa just blinked at her for a few seconds, basking in Clarke’s sincerity and her desire to spend time with her regardless of the situation, and the decision was easy, really.

“OK, you can come. And maybe I’ll come with you.”

“Come with me where?”

“To the pool.”

“You want to come and watch me swim?” Clarke raised an eyebrow at her.

“Uh, no, that would be weird, right? I could swim, too? I can swim.”

“I’m sure you can,” Clarke laughed.

“Then I’ll come and swim. I hear exercise is good for you.” She sat up straighter, trying to prove that she was up for the challenge.

“I’ve heard that rumour.”

“Oh wait… I don’t have my bathing suit.”

“Right, of course not. Then stay in bed, you can come another time.”

“We could stop by my place on the way?” Lexa asked, feeling a little nervous as she said it.

“Are you sure you’re ready to go back there?”

Lexa nodded slowly. “Yeah, it’ll be fine. I need to go and grab some things anyway. I wasn’t exactly expecting to stay here this long, I need some more clothes.”

“OK, let’s do it. We can grab breakfast after our swim, my treat.”

“Breakfast and dinner? You really know how to treat a girl,” Lexa said, smiling despite the squirming of her stomach at the thought of having to see Anya.

“Oh you have no idea. Are you ready to get up?” Clarke asked, an eyebrow quirking at the way Lexa seemed to be sinking further down against the pillows again.

“Yes, just give me a few minutes to get ready.”

Clarke nodded, rising up off the bed. She was already fully dressed which Lexa hadn’t even noticed before.

“OK, I’ll be out in the living room. If you’re not ready in ten minutes I’m coming to drag you out of bed.”

“I’ll be ready, don’t you worry.”

Clarke’s laughter continued even after she shut the door behind her.

 

*

 

If it wasn’t for Rio, Lexa probably would have allowed herself to hope that Anya and Raven would still be asleep as she let herself and Clarke into her apartment a little while later. It was just gone ten, still relatively early for a spring break morning, and they could have still been asleep if they weren’t living with a baby. So it was with a slightly shaky hand that Lexa unlocked the door, already able to hear the chatter coming from behind it. As soon as she pushed it open, however, everything went silent. To avoid looking at the others for as long as possible Lexa turned to close the door behind them and took a few confidence-boosting breaths. The encouraging smile Clarke gave her helped a little too.

Eventually she forced her eyes take in the familiar sight of her living room, finding everyone at the far end in the kitchen. Raven and Anya were sat on stools at opposite sides of the breakfast bar, Raven with Rio sat in her lap. Anya had her back to Lexa and was holding up a tiny spoon piled with cereal in front of her son who was the only one that hadn’t frozen upon Lexa and Clarke’s entrance. Rio squirmed in Raven’s grip, trying to get to the spoon that had frozen just out of reach of his mouth, moving his jaw as he wiggled to try to get the cereal. Eventually he gave up and reached his hand out, yanking it easily from Anya’s grip. While he had the ability to pick up and hold things and the determination to feed himself, he still hadn’t quite developed the dexterity to do so effectively with utensils, and so as he brought the spoon to his mouth he ended up tipping the cereal on to the worktop. His subsequent whine of frustration brought them all out of their daze.

“Lexa, you’re home,” Anya exclaimed, relief flooding through her as she sprang up from her seat and walked across the room towards her.

“No,” Lexa said quickly, taking a step back and bumping into the door in her haste to make the distance between them more clear. It obviously worked because Anya stopped, neither of them noticing Rio’s complaints, nor Raven’s talking as she tried to placate him with another spoonful of his breakfast. “No, I’m not. I just came to get a few things. I’m going to stay at Clarke’s for a while.”

The smile that Anya had given when misunderstanding the situation stuttered and died, leaving her looking devastated. Despite everything, it hurt Lexa to see that pain in her sister but she wasn’t going to give in. She wasn’t going to be guilted into getting over everything before she was ready.

“Oh, right, OK.”

Lexa was relieved when Anya didn’t argue with her and she led Clarke by the hand to her bedroom, not giving another look to the others. She was surprised to find her room neater than she’d left it, all of Anya’s things gone.

“She’s sleeping in Raven’s room,” Lexa said blankly as the realisation hit her.

“I guess that makes sense,” Clarke said gently. “They’re together.”

Lexa nodded, a strange numbness taking over her body. “I just never really thought about it.”

The sound of talking came to them from outside as they stood and stared around the room, Lexa’s hand finding its way back into Clarke’s as the voices got louder. It was Raven who finally said something that was actually audible.

“Anya no, wait-”

And then the door burst open. Lexa and Clarke whipped around, their hands breaking apart, to see Anya pulling her arm out of Raven’s grip and stepping over the threshold.

“Anya, come on, leave them be,” Raven tried again, hand clutching uselessly in the air as Anya evaded her grasp.

“Go and watch Rio, I need to talk to my sister,” Anya said impatiently, turning back to Raven. When she found Raven’s expression a mixture of unimpressed and concerned, she softened. “Please, babe, I need to fix this. Please just watch Rio.”

Raven frowned at Anya, seemingly more with resignation than with irritation now, before giving Lexa an apologetic look and disappearing from the doorway. Anya took the opportunity to close the door behind her. She made to step further into the room and Lexa stepped back instinctively, her legs bumping into the edge of the bed as she shrank away once again. Anya’s sudden entrance was a shock and Lexa was floundering, caught between wanting to yell at Anya to get out and wanting to speak her mind. Clarke stepped into the space between them, standing strong and straight in front of Anya, chin raised.

“I think maybe it’s best that you leave,” she said firmly, prompting Anya’s eyebrows to raise in surprise.

“I don’t think that’s really your decision,” Anya said matter-of-factly, eyes never leaving Clarke’s. “I just want to talk to her for a minute, I’ll leave you both alone after that.”

“I don’t know that she wants to talk to you, Anya.” Clarke’s tone was polite but clipped. To someone that didn’t know her they probably wouldn’t find it too affronting but to Lexa, who more often than not saw the gentler side to Clarke, it seemed surprisingly harsh.

“Clarke, it’s fine.” She reached forward and tugged at Clarke’s arm, pulling her to stand next to her. “I’ll be fine.”

“Do you want me to stay?” Clarke asked quietly, leaning in close to Lexa and ignoring Anya completely.

“Please,” Lexa whispered in reply. Clarke squeezed her hand, giving her an encouraging smile, before walking around the bed to look out of the window, giving the sisters the appearance of privacy but not leaving Lexa completely. Lexa was grateful.

“Thank you, Lexa,” Anya practically whispered, the tension in her shoulders loosening. But Lexa wasn’t softening.

“Don’t thank me, Anya. I don’t want to hear your excuses right now. I just wanted to tell you myself to leave. This isn’t something you can fix in your own time frame.”

Anya blinked at Lexa for a moment, jaw moving uselessly, before she managed to gather herself.

“But if you just let me explain-”

“No,” Lexa said, voice controlled and low. “I don’t need you to explain. I know exactly what happened, I heard all about it the other day. I don’t need you to try and justify it.”

“Lex, please-”

“No, Anya, stop. You don’t get it. I’ve been accepting your excuses for years but nothing’s changed. You can list them to me all you want but it’s not going to erase what you did.”

“But if we just talk about-”

“Do you just want to talk at me and try to make me understand or do you really want to know what I have to say? Do you actually care how I feel?”

“Of course I care, Lexa.” Anya clasped her hands in front of her, eyebrows drawn down in something that looked a lot like guilt. “Talk to me, please, tell me whatever you need to.”

But Lexa couldn’t speak. The words eluded her, she felt helpless, and she just shook her head.

“OK, I’ll go,” Anya said quietly, pulling her eyes from Lexa and just like that she turned away.

Suddenly Lexa’s gut seemed to burn with rage. Anya was just going to give up? After she’d burst into the room and tried to make excuses, after she forced Lexa to feel all she’d been holding back? That was so not-

“You hurt me, Anya,” Lexa cried suddenly, losing the measured tone of her voice but just about managing to keep the volume low and steady. Her fists clenched and her forehead creased as she breathed deeply against the anger simmering just below her skin. Anya turned round, eyes wide and face rapidly paling. “I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me, I let you have your space, I didn’t tell anyone where you were, I kept your child a secret for you… I did everything I could to deserve your trust and yet you still didn’t trust me enough to tell me about your relationship. Your relationship with my best friend-” Lexa took a shuddering breath, a wash of helplessness threatening to drown her- “the only person I could confide in after you left. You and I aren’t as close anymore, I know, we’ve been living apart for years, and we’ve be lying to our family, sure, but the one thing we’ve always had is each other. I thought that meant something to you. But apparently not. I trusted you, Anya, and you betrayed me.”

Lexa’s eyes filled with tears, causing Anya’s stunned face to swim in and out of focus, but she swallowed the best she could, refusing to let the hopelessness rising up inside her win.

“I didn’t-” Anya stuttered, taking a step closer and reaching her hand out as if she wanted to put it on Lexa’s arm. The movement made Lexa panic and she felt the need to cry intensify as her heart clenched in the confines of her chest. Anya must have noticed the sudden change because she stopped all forward motion and pulled her hand back. She cradled the rejected hand in the other one, shoulders sagging. “I never meant to hurt you. But you’re right, I fucked it up, I know I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust you, it’s just that-”

“Stop!” Lexa practically yelled, holding her hands up in front of her, shaking her head. She was disappointed in herself for raising her voice and she hated how it sounded, it wasn’t going to make anything better. Besides, she really didn’t want Rio to hear it. She took a breath and tried again, tried to show her pain through her tone rather than through volume. “I don’t want your explanations or your excuses, I’m tired of hearing them. Haven’t you been listening to me?”

“Of course I have! I want to make things better, tell me what I can do to fix this. I can’t live without you, Lexa, you’re the only family I have.”

“And whose fault is that?” Lexa said bitterly, blinking back the tears and setting her jaw firmly.

Anya looked like she wanted to argue, she even stepped forward confrontationally, but she took a deep breath, eyes closing, and seemed to release each of her tensed muscles one by one before looking back at Lexa again.

“Tell me what I need to do to make this better and I’ll do it. I’m going to prove to you that I’m taking this seriously, that I want to change and be better for you.”

Lexa was a little taken aback by Anya’s words and by the sincerity on her face but she tried to maintain her composure, she didn’t want to give Anya the upper hand.

“You’re going to get a job. You’re going to get a job, find an apartment, and move out of here. We need boundaries.”

“OK, I can do that.”

Lexa gave a stern nod. “I will help you with Rio but that’s all. We’re not going to snap back to being close straight away, An, you need to know that. I need time to figure out how I’m going to fit you in my life again, if I can fit you in my life again, if I can trust you. I’m assuming you’ll want to stick around for Raven and that’s fi-”

“I want to stick around for you. I’m not going to leave the area, I want to be there for you just like you’ve been for me for years. Even if I was too wrapped up in myself to truly appreciate it.”

Lexa’s throat began to constrict and the openness on Anya’s face hurt, like a knife scraping around in the aching hole in her chest. She wanted to be mad at her, she needed to be, otherwise she was pretty sure she would shatter completely.

“Don’t do that. I don’t want to hear it right now. Just get an apartment and a job-” Anya nodded along, expression hopeful- “get your life together and then we’ll see.”

“We’ll…” Anya frowned, all signs of hope fading as the light in her eyes seemed to extinguish. “We’ll see?”

Lexa nodded, remembering what Clarke had said. She needed to make sure that Anya understood just how badly she’d hurt her, to make her understand the seriousness of the accumulation of so many lies.

“Yes. We’ll see. So much has changed since we were in each other’s lives properly and we need to work out who we are to each other now.”

Anya took a few shaky breaths before mumbling out “OK.”

“And I need you to do one more thing.”

“Name it,” Anya said firmly, “I’ll do anything.”

Lexa tried not to grimace, she was pretty sure Anya would regret saying that.

“I need you to consider talking to Mom.”

“OK,” Anya said calmly, a single nod indicating her assent.

“You… OK?” Lexa was rendered just short of speechless, she had expected some kind of argument, at least.

“Yes, OK, I’ll do it.”

“You’ll do it? As in you’ll consider it or you’ll actually do it?”

“I’ll do it, I’ll talk to Mom.”

Anya was so calm, so gathered, and her eyes were wide and honest. It was too much for Lexa, all of her muscles seemed to give up on her and she sank onto her bed, a hand coming up to press against her chest. She lost all of her fight upon hearing the thing she’d wanted most for close to three years. It couldn’t be real. She’d thought maybe she could convince Anya with time but not this quickly.

“Because you feel guilty,” she muttered. It was the only reason she could think of that Anya would finally give in to her pleas after all this time. She felt the panic rising in her again, her throat weaving tight with tears, her heart fluttering under her palm, and her free hand gripped at her thigh as she tried to calm herself.

Within seconds, as if sensing her distress, Clarke was by her side. With an arm looped around her back and a thigh pressed against her own, anchoring her, the anxiety slowly began to abate. Anya looked between the two of them for a moment, regarded the way that Lexa leaned into Clarke’s touch, eyes closing in a languid blink before her expression cleared and she looked up at her again.

Anya shook her head and sank to her knees in front of them, all of her focus on Lexa.

“I’m not doing it out of guilt, I’m doing it to give us a clean slate. You’re right, we need to start again. But we can’t do that with this massive secret holding us back in that unhealthy pattern. If I’m going to truly work on being honest, I need to do it in all parts of my life.” She shifted to capture Lexa’s evasive eyes. “I’m going to own up to everything, take responsibility for it all, and leave the rest to her. It’s her choice whether she forgives me or not but I will make sure she doesn’t blame you for this, Lexa, not for one second.”

Lexa just blinked at Anya, finding it very strange to be looking down at her for a change. Anya had always towered over her in more than just height and it was actually refreshing to be above her for once. She’d spent so much of her life looking up at her, looking up to her, that she was growing quite tired of missing out on everything else around her. She couldn’t be the girl who fit her whole life around her older sister anymore.

Anya clasped her hands in her lap as if in supplication, vulnerability painfully apparent in the lines of her face. “I’ll do this without you if you want but I’d prefer it if you were there. You’ve always known best how to talk to her, I don’t want to make things worse.”

Lexa nodded, clamping her teeth down so hard her jaw muscles ached from all of the tension. She couldn’t help it, there was a fluttering in her chest, the fragile wings of hope daring to fly in the face of the girl that had come so close to destroying her. She wished with all of her might that she could have her sister back, that they could have the happy relationship they’d had when they were small, back before Anya had grown harsh and resentful and so unbelievably angry at the world. She missed the girl that would run in the rain with her, breathless and giggling, the girl that sang along to commercials with her, the girl that let her curl up in bed with her when she was sad or scared. Anya hadn’t been that girl for a long time and Lexa needed to let her go. She also knew she needed to let go of the version of Anya that came afterwards, the one with the sharp words, icy stares, and the heart burned by the feeling of injustice at her difficult upbringing. The Anya at Lexa’s feet wasn’t either of those two girls and it was going to take time to trust this new version of her, to learn what kind of person she really was.

“I’ll help you,” she said quietly. “But I think you should go now.”

Anya slumped where she was sat, looking utterly helpless. “OK, I’ll go. I just want you to know that I love you, Lexa. No matter what. Even if you decide you can never forgive me.” She pushed herself up onto her knees and pressed a gentle kiss into Lexa’s cheek. As she pulled back, Lexa looked over at Clarke to avoid having to catch Anya’s eye and noticed the stony set of her face. Anya looked at her too and flinched. To her credit, though, she stood her ground. She straightened up and looked down at Clarke seriously.

“I would have never said that Lexa needed anyone to protect her, I still wouldn’t, but I’m glad she has you in her corner, Clarke.”

Clarke didn’t change her expression and Anya offered them both an awkward raised hand in farewell and left the room. The click of the door shutting behind her seemed incredibly loud as it echoed in all of the emotions that had spilled throughout the room in the preceding minutes.

A gentle hand coming to rest on the small of Lexa’s back was all it took for her to crumble, for every bit of resolve she’d dragged from the worn edges of her body and mind to turn to dust, and she turned to Clarke and wrapped her arms around her fiercely, the sobs wracking her entire body. Clarke held her just as tightly, grounding her in the way that she always did, calming her with soft words of encouragement.

They didn’t go swimming.

They went back to Clarke’s apartment with coffee and bagels and watched TV until Lexa fell asleep with Clarke curled around her.

They only just made it in time for Aden’s soccer game.

 

*

 

“Go Aden!” Lexa bellowed as she watched her little brother run across the pitch with the ball at his feet, teeth gritted in concentration as he navigated around the players from the opposing team. One of his teammates called his name and he looked up, saw the empty space between the two of them that the defenders had failed to fill, and chipped the ball across it, allowing the other kid to kick it with surprising force into the goal. The Polis side of the crowd erupted in cheers but Lexa was determined to be the loudest. A solid nap and the distraction of her family had her feeling much better after her emotionally-draining morning.

“She never cheers this hard when I play,” Lexa heard Clarke say and she drew her eyes from the wild mass of eight-year-olds hurtling across the pitch to see Clarke leaning towards Ontari, the two of them chuckling.

“That’s because I’d look crazy at a college soccer game screaming like this,” Lexa reasoned. “Here I can get away with it because the parents are crazy.”

“So you’re just holding back from screaming my name then?” Clarke asked, grin devilish as she nudged the sniggering Ontari’s arm.

“I’m sure there was a better way to phrase that,” Lexa chastised, slapping her hand affectionately at Clarke’s arm.

“Oh I’m sure there was,” Clarke laughed. “But none that would have made you blush and fidget in that adorable way you do.”

Lexa tried to not do just that, softening Clarke’s smile. Ontari scrunched up her nose as she watched them interact.

“You guys are gross,” she said, disgust in her voice but eyes dancing with playfulness. “Don’t act like that around Mom or she won’t believe you two aren’t dating and you’ll never hear the end of it.”

Lexa decided to be grateful for the heat that filled her cheeks at the implication because it helped her to combat against the cold bite of the wind. She still shot Ontari a dirty look for good measure, though.

“No one believes we’re not dating anyway, you’re all very annoying,” she huffed.

“Then stop acting like a ridiculously cute couple!” Ontari argued affectionately.

“We do not act like a couple.”

“We kind of do, Lex,” Clarke admitted, hand coming up to rest on the small of Lexa’s back. The familiarity of that action made Lexa realise that perhaps they did act like a couple. So if they liked each other as more that friends, they were attracted to each other, they spent all of their time together, and they acted like a couple… why weren’t they actually a couple? Right, Clarke.

“Whatever,” Lexa said, lips dangerously close to forming a pout but she fought against the urge with all of her might.

“Aw, she’s so cute when she sulks,” Clarke teased and Ontari grinned. They both had to supress their humour though when they caught sight of Theia and George heading towards them with Styrofoam cups in their hands and matching smiles on their faces.

“How are the boys doing?” Theia asked as they reached them and handed the steaming drinks to the girls.

“Toby scored after Aden passed to him,” Ontari told her, gripping onto her drink with both hands and cradling it close to her body.

“Oh, good on them. Aden will be so pleased you could come to such a good game, Lexa,” Theia said as Lexa revelled in the warmth spreading from her coffee to her fingers and throughout her body. It was a much needed relief in the early spring chill. Polis had already scored four goals, an unusually high number for soccer, especially with the shorter halves the kids played. The last time Lexa had come, Polis lost dismally and Aden was even more disheartened because he’d wanted to impress his big sister.

“I’m sorry I don’t come more often, I’m just always so busy with classes and studying, you know?”

“Yes, sweetie, I know. Don’t worry about it.” Theia smiled at Lexa before turning to Clarke. “And thank you for bring her, Clarke, it’s very nice to properly meet you, finally. Of course we’ve heard a lot about you, from Ontari, not from Lexa mind you, she’s always been very quiet about her relationships. Well, about most things really.”

Lexa rolled her eyes. While her stoicism had ultimately made life easier for her family, giving them one less person’s drama to deal with, her mom was always trying to get her to open up more.

Mom, I told you that we’re just friends.” She sighed, taking a sip from her cup. She didn’t want to make Clarke feel awkward with these assumptions, especially given the complexity of their relationship in the wake of their confessions.

Everyone seemed to ignore Lexa’s protest, however, and Clarke answered Theia instead. “It’s no problem, I’ve been wanting to meet you guys as well.”

“So how do you like soccer?” George asked Clarke. He’d been standing quietly watching the women talk, one arm around Theia’s shoulders and his free hand gripping onto his coffee.

“I love it,” Clarke replied, smiling up at him. “I actually play on Arkadia’s girls’ team.”

“That’s awesome,” he said brightly, seemingly genuine in his sentiment. The more time Lexa spent with George, the more he seemed like such a laid back guy and she was relieved to see her mom easing into the relationship well. Someone so calm and uncomplicated was definitely what she needed after years of inconsistency and drama.

“It is. Do you like soccer?” Clarke asked him.

George’s smile turned sheepish. “I’m not really one for sports, I was more of a math nerd when I was young. I much preferred to be indoors learning things or reading books. I still do.”

“That sounds a lot like this one,” Clarke said, gesturing with her thumb over her shoulder to Lexa who was stood only partly listening. She was getting caught up in the game again, very much enjoying seeing Aden so focused on a single task. It was good to see him channelling all of that energy he had into something so productive.

“Hey, that’s…” Lexa had been about to protest but when she whipped around and caught sight of the sceptical expressions on her family’s and Clarke’s faces she stopped, shoulders sagging in resignation. Clarke was spot on in her assessment of her. “OK, fine, that does sound like me. We all have our strengths.”

“Yes, and you’re much better with your mind than with your body,” Clarke teased, tongue poking out from between her teeth as she grinned.

Ontari snorted and Theia shook her head.

“I don’t need to hear this,” Theia said.

“Mom, she didn’t mean it like that,” Lexa tried to explain, narrowing her eyes briefly at Clarke who just shrugged nonchalantly at her in response. There was no getting around her embarrassment this time, her cheeks burst into full, magnificent colour as she clamoured for words to help her fix the situation. “She just meant I’m not so good at the physical stuff…”

Ontari snorted and George put a hand over his eyes. Yeah, that didn’t sound better. Clarke looked positively gleeful at Lexa’s floundering.

“She doesn’t even know what she talking about,” Lexa tried again, “I’m actually really good at…” But the more she scrambled to recover the conversation, the harder everyone laughed and she gave up, letting out a chuckle herself. It was an exasperated one but the glint in Clarke’s eyes made her drop her chin to her chest and laugh a little harder despite herself.

A collective gasp from the crowd had all of them turning back to the pitch just in time to see Aden leaping up from the floor, his entire left side streaked in mud and a grin on his face.

“I’m OK!” He yelled once he found his family in the crowd. He beamed, waving at their concerned faces. They all sank with relief as the game resumed and he continued, unfazed, and Lexa was glad to be out of the focus of everyone’s attention.

They all settled into a line near the edge of the pitch to watch, Lexa in between Ontari and Clarke. After a little while, when her focus began to slip and she started being much more aware of Clarke stood right next to her, she gave up and turned her full attention to her. She leaned closer, voice low and a level of confidence in her bones that surprised her.

“You really don’t know what you’re talking about, Clarke,” she whispered, trying not to appear fazed, when Clarke turned her head slightly to concentrate as Lexa talked. “I’m actually really good with my body.” She relished the way that Clarke blinked slowly as she absorbed the words, knowing she shouldn’t be flirting with her but eager to get her back for the teasing earlier. Two can play at this game, she thought smugly, a little of that old competitiveness between them flooding back into her. “Maybe not in sports like you but I have my talents. My hands are especially skilful.” She smiled seductively as she allowed Clarke a moment to flounder in the revelation, and a thrill shot through her as Clarke’s eyes finally turned to meet her own.

“Oh, I don’t doubt it.”

Damn, she’d forgotten how good Clarke was at this. Was it weird that she kind of missed it?

“Mhmm,” Lexa hummed, trying to maintain the air of nonchalance that was rapidly dissolving. That was when she had an idea and the urge to laugh rose in her throat, threatening to ruin the mood before she’d even managed to say what she had planned. She was so lame, honestly. “Yeah.” She moved even closer, she could feel Clarke’s breath hot on her face coming from slightly parted lips. “I’m really good at needlework.” And Lexa finally let her laughter erupt from her chest, leaving Clarke speechless, eyes still dark with the remnants of lust and a disbelieving smile sketching onto her face.

“You are such a dork,” Clarke said, shaking her head and shoving Lexa’s arm hard, catching her off-guard and making her wobble as she continued to laugh.

“You love it,” Lexa said once she got her breath back a bit, trying to not be bothered by that word and slinging her arm around Clarke’s shoulders. She smacked a rough, noisy kiss to her temple and gave her best mischievous smile.

“I do,” Clarke replied, cheeks pink and eyes flicking to Lexa’s lips for a fraction of a second before she turned her attention back to the pitch again. “I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m a bad influence on you.”

“I think you might be right.” Lexa turned her eyes to the pitch too.

“I bet you can’t stitch for shit though,” Clarke suddenly said.

“Of course I can!” Lexa protested, jostling Clarke happily against her.

Somehow Lexa’s arm stayed around Clarke’s shoulders as they watched and Clarke leaned into her a little until the match halted for half time. When Aden came running over to them Lexa released Clarke and ran to meet him, lifting him up off the floor in a big hug and marvelling at just how big he was getting. She didn’t even care that she got mud all over herself in the process. She just laughed, heart thumping when she caught sight of Clarke watching her with a sweet smile.

 

*

 

They ended up going out to dinner with Lexa’s family that evening and it was the first time all week that Lexa was fully distracted from her tension with Anya. In amongst the bustle of the restaurant, the chatter of family, the excited jiggling of Aden in the chair next to her, and the way Clarke smiled softly across the table at her as they all interacted had her at her most content in ages. Sharing her family with Clarke was much more fulfilling than she could have imagined and, despite their recent roadblock, she could still feel the two of them becoming closer. The way their legs came to rest against each other’s under the cramped table had her cheeks warming and she had to hide her smile with a big bite of pizza because Ontari was looking at her suspiciously. She’d been so worried that seeing her family would only make her feel guiltier over the secret that she was currently harbouring in her apartment but all of the bad was lost in the smiles and laughter of her family.

It hit her full force on the car ride home.

She was subdued once they were back in the apartment and, oddly enough, Clarke was too. They barely spoke, Clarke watching TV while Lexa read her book at the other end of the couch. When Clarke made a move to go to bed Lexa followed out of habit and she was a little disappointed when Clarke turned away from her the moment she slipped beneath the sheets to join her. She flicked off the lamp with a sigh and all was quiet.

Lexa lay there for what felt like a long time and she was startled when Clarke spoke.

“Your family are great,” she said, her voice much rougher than Lexa expected.

“They are,” she agreed, eyes open and on the vague outline of Clarke’s body that she could just about see in the darkness. She was still facing away from her. “They really like you. I mean, I knew they would, but just so you know, you were a big hit.”

“And I like them too, thank you for letting me tag along.”

“Thank you for coming.”

“Mhmm,” was all Lexa got in reply. After a while she was just about to give up and turn over to try and sleep when a deep breath from Clarke stopped her.

“Clarke, are you OK?”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“You’re much quieter than usual.”

“So are you.”

“I was thinking about Anya,” Lexa said, surprised by how easy it was to admit it. If she’d hoped that her honesty would prompt Clarke to feel compelled to do the same, it was fruitless.

“Oh,” was all Clarke said. But she turned over and faced the ceiling, Lexa could just make out the line of her nose and the angle of her chin in the small amount of light coming from outside.

“Was it lonely being an only child?” Lexa asked. When the silence seemed to pulse around them she began to count in her head, promising herself that if Clarke hadn’t answered before she got to twenty she’d say goodnight and leave Clarke be.

On sixteen, Clarke spoke.

“No.”

Lexa was surprised to get an answer but she knew Clarke wouldn’t elaborate so she found herself rambling with the electricity firing too quickly across her synapses.

“So much of my childhood was revolved around my siblings, you know, what with my mom working all the time and I just can’t imagine life without them around. It must have been a whole different experience being the only kid.” When Clarke still didn’t offer any more information Lexa decided to try one more time. “Were your parents around more than mine?”

More silence and then:

“My dad was.”

Lexa shuffled in the bed, pulling the duvet up to cover her shoulder.

“Oh, that’s cool.”

Clarke hummed in agreement.

“What about your mom?”

Clarke took in a deep breath and turned her head towards Lexa. She couldn’t make out her features but she could tell by the way Clarke spoke that she had tensed up. “Why so many questions?” Her words were stilted, blunt, and Lexa was surprised by the sudden harshness. Its juxtaposition with Clarke’s previous vacancy left her reeling. She blinked to clear the edges of her vision that faded to darkness each time she stared for too long, trying to pick the right words so as not to cause the same reaction in Clarke again.

“I was just curious, I’m sorry if you don’t feel like talking. I was just thinking about family since you’re getting to know mine and I realised that I still don’t know anything about yours.”

Clarke was still for a moment and then she shifted her body to face Lexa completely, fidgeting to get comfortable on her side. Lexa was surprised when she felt gentle fingers stroking down her arm under the duvet and she exhaled, the tension loosening from her muscles. It was an apology and forgiveness all at once and it had her feeling tired, her eyes fluttering closed as her awareness began to slip away. They soon snapped open again though when Clarke started speaking.

“My mom always worked a lot so when I was little my dad stayed home to take care of me until I went to school. He and I got on really well, we were like best friends, we did everything together. I told you about Wells and what happened to his mom, right?”

“Yeah, she died, didn’t she?” Lexa was reluctant to say too much and scare Clarke from saying more but when she spoke again, it was with a little more strength in her voice. She seemed to be settling into her story.

“She did. Afterwards Wells was always over, sometimes his dad was too, so I had all of them around. I had a lot of friends at school too, I didn’t really need brothers and sisters.”

“Did you ever want any before that?” Lexa couldn’t help but ask.

“Sure,” Clarke said. “But when I learned where babies came from I realised that there was no point in hoping for a sibling. I knew my mom was far too busy with her patients to have another kid. She barely had time for me as it was.” The rasp that weaved its way into her voice spoke of sadness and it caught Lexa off-guard. Her hand searched the darkness and the warmth between them for Clarke’s and she linked their fingers together, relieved when Clarke gripped back firmly instead of rebuffing the contact.

“Did you miss her a lot?”

“Yeah,” Clarke admitted, her thumb rubbing steadily on the back of Lexa’s hand. “I didn’t understand why she was never around and when she was, why she was always asleep. But as I got older it just became normal and I realised that her job was important. Sometimes I missed her but, despite not having siblings, everyone else in my life made sure that I was never lonely.”

Lexa pulled Clarke’s hand up to her lips and pressed a light kiss to her skin.

“But you left them all and moved to the other side of the country right in the middle of college…” Lexa wondered aloud. When she realised she’d spoken, she voiced the question that followed naturally. “Weren’t you lonely then? I don’t think I could have moved away from my family."

Clarke shrugged awkwardly from her position. “I was at first, I guess.” She pulled Lexa’s hand towards her, resting it snuggly on the swell of her chest, fingers still entwined. “But now I have you.”

Nerves were beginning to tickle in Lexa's stomach at the intimacy of the moment and she realised that she should probably try to distance herself, to de-escalate the intensity building between them. “And your other friends,” she added, helplessly, though she couldn’t actually remember the last time Clarke had even mentioned her other friends, let alone spent any time with them.

“And them,” Clarke agreed, though her heart didn't really seem to be in it.

Lexa pulled their hands to rest on the mattress between them.

“Do you still miss your family sometimes anyway?”

“Every day.” Her response was immediate and firm and she unfolded her hand from Lexa’s, tucking it into her chest and bringing her knees up.

“Even your mom?”

“Especially her,” Clarke said, voice barely more than a shaky exhalation.

The silence prickled around them and Lexa conceded, knowing she was going to be awake for a while but feeling bad for the sadness she could practically feel seeping out of Clarke.

“Sleep well, Clarke,” she said finally, turning over.

“You too, Lex.”

Lexa was right, it was a long time before she fell asleep. When she finally did she dreamed of being a child again and meeting little Clarke at the playground. They chased each other round and round until Lexa’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much and they toppled into a giggling heap on the asphalt. She’d have liked to have known Clarke back then. Maybe things would have ended up different between them.

Chapter Text

Clarke still seemed a little subdued the following morning and she woke Lexa with a nudge to her arm instead of kisses to her forehead this time. When she said she was going for a swim, Lexa decided to tag along to make up for having to break their plans to do just that the day before in the wake of her confrontation with Anya. And she may have been feeling a little guilty for prodding into Clarke’s home life last night…

Regardless of Lexa’s motives, Clarke assured her she was happy for the company and Lexa felt good about her decision until she was stood in her one-piece at the edge of the pool. It wasn’t busy, just a few people swimming lengths and a couple of young women treading water at one side, but Lexa was feeling self-conscious. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d swum, perhaps it was during high school? While she had been capable, she had never excelled or managed it with any semblance of grace.

She just stood and eyed the dull blue water, the way that it shimmered under the unflattering lights way up on the ludicrously high ceiling not making it any more appealing.

Clarke, on the contrary, was in her element. She gave Lexa a cute grin before diving neatly into the water, barely a splash resounding in her wake. Lexa followed her sleek form under the ripples with her eyes for a while before Clarke broke the surface and carried on swimming the length of the pool, head turning in a way Lexa remembered being taught in her swimming lessons at school as a child.

Lexa had watched Clarke playing soccer a few times by this point and her ferocity on the pitch had not prepared Lexa for the elegance Clarke displayed as she swam. When playing soccer Clarke was a warrior: gaze fierce, jaw set in determination, and a fist raised as she barked out encouragement and guidance to her teammates. She was quick on her feet and nifty with a ball in a way that hinted at elegance, yes, but the mud streaking her clothes and body, the gritting of her teeth as she tackled the opposition to reclaim the ball, made the pure-instinct and talent that Clarke ran on much more apparent than anything. As Lexa watched the smoothness of Clarke’s strokes and the barely-there ripples of the water around her, she realised that there was a lot more to Clarke than talent.

It was clear from the way that Clarke acted around people, and especially around Lexa from the day they first officially met, that she was confident in her body but as she swam it became apparent that she also had great control over it too. Every few fierce strokes of her arms propelled her forward impressively, feet kicking below the surface as Lexa could do nothing but watch. She was especially impressed when, at the end of her first length of the pool, Clarke disappeared under the water and flipped around, pushing off the wall like Lexa remembered seeing the athletes do during the Olympics that she and Raven had watched over the summer. Clarke glided back towards Lexa and Lexa just stood and watched, self-consciousness lost in the wake of Clarke’s example. This time when Clarke reached the wall she stopped and clung onto the edge, pulling her goggles off her face and looking up at Lexa. Her breathing was impressively calm, her face bright, and Lexa couldn’t help but smile.

“You coming in?” The harsh lighting made Clarke’s skin glitter and Lexa licked her lips nervously.

“Um, yeah. I’m just… I’m not that good of a swimmer. I mean, I can swim well but not like that.”

“Like what?” Clarke’s eyes were wide from where she had to look up at Lexa and there were already tiny red marks appearing beneath them from the suction of her goggles.

“Like a professional!”

Clarke chuckled, tapping a surprisingly warm hand against the top of Lexa’s foot.

“I’m not a professional, I just like to swim. Come on, you’ll be fine.”

Lexa frowned in disbelief but moved to sit at the edge of the pool anyway, dangling her feet into the water and grimacing at the shock of the cold lapping at her calves.

“That’s not the way to get in a pool,” Clarke chided. “It’s better just to get it over with. You’ll be cold if you just sit there.”

Lexa huffed in response but she secured her goggles over her eyes and let Clarke hold her hand and guide her into the water. With a nod of encouragement from Clarke she immersed herself completely to acclimatise and Clarke’s grin as she resurfaced was worth the cold and the early rising.

“Now what?” Lexa asked stupidly, feeling strangely nervous in Clarke’s gaze.

“Now we swim!”

And Clarke launched herself away from the edge, leaving Lexa to shake her head and follow in the soft waves she left behind.

Of course Lexa was fine, just like Clarke had said she would be, but she definitely enjoyed watching Clarke swim more than she liked actually doing it herself. She had to race to try and keep up with her and it made her lungs and muscles burn in a way that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. The grin Clarke gave her when she caught up to her and grabbed onto her in the middle of the pool was well worth the exertion, especially when she failed in treading water as they tried to recover and Clarke had to grab hold of her to stop her sinking. She let her feet match Clarke’s in their rhythm as they tried to stay afloat together, a little exhilarated by the press of so much exposed skin against her own. When it became impractical to stay that way any longer they made their way to the edge of the pool and bobbed there for a little while to catch their breath, legs brushing together occasionally and hands just inches from each other as they clung to the rubber lip of the pool.

Exercise wasn’t proving to be too heinous after all. It was amazing what good company could do.

 

*

 

“That girl is totally checking you out,” Clarke said as she came sidling up to Lexa behind the bar that night, a sly grin on her lips.

“No, she’s not,” Lexa dismissed, not even looking up from the tap as she filled her current customer’s glass to the top with soda. She pushed it across the countertop to the guy who handed her a bill and she opened the cash register to rummage for the change.

“You don’t even know which girl I’m talking about,” Clarke chided, the playful irritation obvious in her voice.

Lexa handed some coins to the guy with a smile before turning to Clarke.

“Yes, I do. She’s the one at the end of the bar with the shoulder-length dark hair and the purple shirt.”

“Oh,” Clarke’s smile wavered almost imperceptibly for a moment, so briefly that Lexa started to think she’d made it up when Clarke began to barrel onwards again in her teasing manner. “So you have noticed her!”

“Of course I have because despite this bar not having any stools, she’s decided to treat it like her own personal table. Besides, I know her.”

“You… Wait, you know her?!” Clarke slapped Lexa lightly on the arm, eyebrows rising comically. “Why didn’t you lead with that?”

“I didn’t think it was important.” Lexa shrugged, turning away from Clarke to pick up her cloth and wiping a condensation ring off the wood of the bar.

“Of course it’s important! She keeps looking up at you, I think she’s waiting for a lull so she can hit on you.”

“Perhaps.” Lexa could feel Clarke’s eyes on her and she was actually kind of having fun with Clarke getting worked up over her nonchalance over the whole situation.

“Come on, Lex, who is she?”

“Just a regular at the coffee shop.”

“What’s her name?” Clarke came to stand next to Lexa and tried to catch her eye. Lexa noticed another customer and walked away to serve him.

“Why do you assume I know her name?” Lexa asked casually as she turned to get a glass from the counter against the back wall.

“Because…” Clarke smiled sweetly at the guy Lexa was serving as he looked at her curiously. Once he left, Clarke grabbed at Lexa’s arm to stop her from walking away again. “Because you know the names of all of your regulars.”

Damn, Clarke really did know her well.

“Fine, her name is Daisy.”

“You’ve never mentioned her.”

“Do I normally talk about my regulars?”

“No but-”

“Well there you go then, that’s why you’ve never heard about her.”

“Does she like you?”

“I doubt it.”

“She’s into girls though, right?”

“I have no idea, Clarke.”

“She definitely looks like she is. She keeps looking over here.”

“So you’ve said.”

“Are you going to talk to her?”

“I’m working.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to talk to her?”

“Clarke,” Lexa said abruptly, pulling her arm from Clarke’s grip. “Why so many questions? Perhaps we should, oh, I don’t know, do some work maybe?”

“I know, it’s just…” Clarke shuffled on the spot, tugging on the bottom of the fitted white shirt she was wearing, “we’ve never really talked about girls before.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Clarke, honestly.”

Clarke just blinked over at her for a moment and Lexa tried to give her most innocent smile.

“Say whatever you want but that girl is coming over here to prove me right.” She was looking over Lexa’s shoulder and she whipped her head round un-coolly to see that yes, Clarke was right. “You serve her,” Clarke said, patting her on the arm as she walked away and headed out the back.

Before Lexa even had time to make sense of what had just happened, Daisy was stood mere feet away smiling over at her.

“We’ve gotta stop meeting like this,” she quipped, smile a shade too bright for Lexa’s current disposition. “You know, you serving me drinks, me paying you for them… I didn’t know you worked here, too.”

“Uh yeah, hi,” Lexa said awkwardly. “Serving is what I do. What can I get you?” She tried to project her most pleasant bartender persona but all that seemed to do was spur Daisy on. A smile that big could only mean Clarke was right, couldn’t it? She felt a little anxious at the thought. Was that normal? Oh god, she was totally overthinking it all. Goddamn Clarke and her ability to get into her head.

“I’ll have a rum and coke please,” Daisy said, eyes bolding locking with Lexa’s and holding them captive for longer than Lexa was comfortable with. She’d never noticed how dark her eyes were, roughly the same shade as her hair and… Had she always been that tall? She was only a little shorter than Lexa from her vantage point on the raised floor behind the bar which meant she’d definitely be quite a few inches taller than her when they were on an even footing. They’d only ever spoken when Daisy had been sat at a table in the coffee shop or with a counter between them so she hadn’t really noticed her height before.

“Coming right up,” Lexa said, tapping her fingers on the wood of the bar before turning around to get a glass, shovelling ice into the bottom and pouring a third of the glass with the spirit.

“She’s totally checking you out right now,” Clarke said, appearing at Lexa’s side and making her jump. She began moving the glasses on the worktop into straighter lines in an oh-so-obvious attempt at looking busy while really only succeeding in being nosy.

“Clarke, please, just do some actual work,” Lexa sighed before turning back around and filling the rest of the glass with coke from the tap. Daisy watched her as she did it, catching her eye as she looked up and pushed the glass across the bar.

“You have beautiful eyes,” she said, smile wide again. Her eyelashes were thick and dark and yeah, maybe she was pretty but the compliment just made Lexa feel a little uncomfortable.

“Uh, thanks.” She cleared her throat. “That’ll be four bucks, please.”

Daisy handed over a ten and when Lexa gave her the change she stuffed it into the tip jar with a smile.

“Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to buy you a drink instead of buying one from you,” she said, tone tipping flirtatiously, and Lexa’s heart sank. She offered a half-hearted chuckle, trying not to cringe with the confirmation that Clarke was right. Daisy took a straw out of the pot on the bar and dipped it into her glass, eyes never leaving Lexa’s as she wrapped her lips around it.

“Hmm, maybe,” Lexa felt compelled to say to placate the girl and it worked, Daisy gave her a final smile before heading down to the end of the bar again.

“Told ya,” Clarke said as she breezed casually by on her way to get some shot glasses for her customer.

“Shut up.”

Lexa had never actually been hit on by a girl at work before. Well, besides Clarke, but that hardly counted. That had just been a game at the time. She’d been hit on by a few guys and though it made her feel awkward, it was easier than being hit on by a girl, somehow. Perhaps it was because she’d known for as long as she could remember that she wasn’t interested in guys, she knew it wasn’t her fault that she felt the need to rebuff their advances. But having an admittedly pretty girl coming up to her and trying to make her smile had actually made her more uncomfortable. She liked girls a lot and she was loath to hurt one in any way, she’d never really had to before. While it may have actually been wise for her to try and start shifting her focus from Clarke, especially if there really was no hope there (which she couldn’t be sure of just yet), she just wasn’t into it.

“Ten bucks says she gives you her number by the end of the night,” Clarke said to Lexa a little while later. She was definitely far too interested in the way that Daisy’s eyes seemed to keep finding their way back towards them and Lexa wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

“Alright, you’re on,” Lexa agreed with a nod and a curt smile. Oh how she'd hoped to win the bet. And it wasn’t because she wanted the money.

She lost. Of course Clarke was right. Daisy came up to the bar as she and her friends were leaving and pushed a napkin across the wood at Lexa with a very pretty smile. Lexa just blinked at her until she turned away before daring to look down at what she’d been given. In slightly messy handwriting was a phone number.

Damn it, Clarke. Why did she have to be so good at this?

Lexa picked up the napkin and stuffed it in her pocket, not knowing what else to do with it, and when she next got the chance she handed out a crumpled ten dollar bill to Clarke. She expected some kind of celebration from Clarke, her usual confidence and competitiveness making her boast her win, but her reaction was surprisingly sombre.

“Told ya,” she said quietly with a small smile.

They didn’t talk much for the rest of the shift.

 

*

 

The odd tension between them seemed to lift as they left the bar later that night.

“I can’t believe you made me walk to work today,” Clarke complained as they headed up the street, leaving the bar blissfully behind them. She linked their arms and made sure that Lexa was looking at her before giving her best pout.

“It’s not that far to your place, Clarke.”

“It is! It takes like half an hour to walk!”

Lexa shook her head at her but she couldn’t help but smile in her amusement anyway. “You know, for someone who claims to need to exercise to avoid being restless, you really do rely on your car to get around a lot.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Clarke huffed. “I haven’t seen you complaining when I’ve driven you back and forth to work for the last two months.”

“Well obviously I was doing it for the company,” Lexa said playfully, tugging Clarke closer to help bolster against the cold night air. Or that’s what she told herself anyway.

“And who can blame you, really?”

Their laughter echoed in the quiet of the street and Lexa exhaled deeply, enjoying the wash of starlight coating the slick sidewalk.

“I would have made you pay for a cab home if it hadn’t stopped raining, though,” Clarke said, hopping over a puddle.

“Well it did stop so shush, enjoy the outdoors, would you? Look at the sky, it’s gorgeous.”

And so Clarke did, joining Lexa in gaping up at the stars that had been revealed when the rain relented and the clouds pulled back for the main event. The sky was completely untarnished, glittering beautifully above them. It was a new moon that night and as such, the stars were not dimmed by its stolen light. The girls stumbled a little as their diverted attention made them less aware of their feet and they began laughing again.

“We shouldn’t stargaze and walk, it’s dangerous,” Clarke said, unlinking her arm from Lexa’s and instead weaving their fingers together and pulling her along after her as they hastened down the street.

“Where are we going?” Lexa asked as they turned off from their course back to Clarke’s apartment.

“You’ll see in a minute.”

It was actually more like three minutes, Lexa thought pedantically, not overly enjoying being torn off her trajectory, but she was soon distracted as Clarke tugged her into a park that she had only ever walked past before. They stopped when they reached a bench and Clarke wiped at the seat with the back of her sleeve before motioning for Lexa to sit down.

“What a gentleman,” Lexa teased and Clarke gave her an over-exaggerated bow in reply. She sat down next to her, leaving a few inches between them. Lexa looked around but there wasn’t much to see, just an expanse of grass with a few trees at the very edge and an empty playground on the furthest side. “And why did you bring me here?” she asked, turning to look at Clarke.

“So you could stargaze safely.”

“Who said I wanted to stargaze?”

“You almost made us fall over trying to get me to look at the sky while walking. So gaze.” She gestured at the sky that arched over them with a flourish of her hands. They did have a pretty impressive view from their vantage point. “Behold the vastness and the beauty of this universe in which we arbitrarily orbit around a big hot rock as we search for our purpose in life.”

Lexa gave Clarke a sceptical look. “OK, weirdo.”

Clarke looked unperturbed though, just smiled softly as she leaned back into the bench, shuffling as she tried to get comfortable against the hard wood. Lexa followed suit and yeah, it really wasn’t comfy. If the only the weather had been better, then maybe they could have gone there with a blanket and laid it out on the grass and… Wait, didn’t that sound kind of…

“Isn’t stargazing supposed to be romantic?” Clarke asked, taking the word right out of Lexa’s head for the second time that week.

“Maybe,” she replied, shrugging. In another world, in another universe, in some alternate timeline where Clarke felt comfortable enough to be with her, maybe it would be romantic for them. This would probably have been the point where Lexa would take Clarke’s hand. (She wished she could take Clarke’s hand.) And while they were tactile sometimes, she was ever mindful of being so in the appropriate circumstances so as to not make Clarke uncomfortable or have her feeling pressured into being something to Lexa that she wasn’t able to be.

“I don’t get it,” Clarke said abruptly, throwing her hands up in the air and letting them fall back to her thighs with a slap.

“Get what?”

“People’s fascination with the stars. They find it comforting to look at them, right? They’re pretty, sure, but I can’t see anything more than that.”

“Oh… OK.” Lexa chanced a quick glance at Clarke and the frown creasing her brow. “Then why did you bring me here to stargaze?”

“Because you like the stars.”

They sat for a minute just staring up at the sky and then Clarke spoke again, much more softly this time.

“Why do you like them?”

Lexa smiled, not turning away from the dappling of lights above her, feeling almost serene with the gentle breeze in her hair and the sudden calmness of the girl sat beside her.

“I don’t know too much about the whole romance thing when it comes to stargazing, really. And yeah, some people find them comforting. Some because it makes them feel a part of something bigger, others because it makes them feel small and insignificant in comparison to the vastness of our universe and it makes them feel better about their problems. But personally? I love them because of my grandpa.”

“Your grandpa?” There was intrigue in Clarke’s voice and Lexa swore she could hear a small smile in it too. It was like a trickle of warmth down her spine, making her tingle all over.

“Mhmm, yeah, he was an astronomer. Not as a profession but as a hobby. He stargazed every night, charting the lunar cycle and the stars in the sky, marking what was visible depending our position and our weather, as well as any other celestial phenomena that occurred.”

“And he passed that interest on to you?”

Lexa inclined her head. “He did. He taught me all about the planets, stars and constellations, he explained to me about our solar system, our galaxy, and the universe. I could name all of the planets in our solar system before they taught us them in school.” Lexa felt a flush of pride at the memory of her teacher beaming at her as she stood behind her desk reciting them in her careful voice. Sometimes the other kids rolled their eyes at her because she so often answered questions in class but she didn’t care. Not until she got older.

“I can totally see you as a little know-it-all as a kid, you haven’t really changed,” Clarke joked, digging her elbow into Lexa’s ribs. Lexa grinned despite herself but otherwise ignored the comment.

“Do you know any constellations?” she asked instead.

“No,” Clarke replied quickly, shaking her head. “I remember learning some stuff in Physics but they didn’t teach us constellations. Oh wait, I think I know one, actually. Orion?”

“Sure, that’s one,” Lexa said, pointing low in the sky, not far above the horizon. “That’s it there, you see? The most obvious thing is the belt, the three stars in a straight line.”

Clarke leaned a little closer, following Lexa’s finger with her eyes.

“Uh, yeah, I think I see it. Where’s the rest of it?”

Lexa traced her finger across the sky, trying to ignore the warm breath she could feel on her neck from Clarke across the dwindling distance between them. “Those two down there kind of look like his feet, imagine lines between them and the belt making his legs.”

“Mhmm,” Clarke hummed, she was much closer to Lexa’s ear than she’d realised and she tried her hardest to ignore the new wave of goosebumps that trailed down her entire right side, starting at the shell of her ear.

“And, uh, up here, these stars make up his body and head.” Her finger followed the familiar pattern while her lips followed the feeling of warmth inside her as she remembered her grandpa showing her this very constellation when she was just a small girl. She couldn’t have been more than six. He’d shown Anya too but she had gone back inside very quickly unlike Lexa and their grandpa who stayed out until Lexa’s teeth had started to chatter with the cold. “And there are his arms, he’s often depicted holding a club here and a shield here,” she added, sketching them roughly, her eyes flicking over to Clarke with each new shape to check she was following along. Clarke was gazing up with a loose jaw, her mouth hanging open slightly as she concentrated, eyes narrowed as she squinted to see better. She was utterly perfect and Lexa had to press the swelling in her chest back down with shaking hands before she could continue to speak. “It’s setting right now, that’s why it’s so low in the sky. Can you see it?”

“Yup, yup, I see him.” Clarke turned her head towards Lexa and caught her looking at her. She smiled unabashedly in response but it made Lexa blush anyway. She was grateful for the sheen of white cast over everything by the stars for paling her cheeks. Or she hoped it did anyway.

Lexa was definitely glad that Clarke was sat to her right, it meant that the arm she pointed with was at least keeping a little distance between their faces despite Clarke’s lack of a concept of personal space. It also meant that her hand didn’t end up wandering and doing something silly like coming to rest on Clarke’s thigh or finding its way into her hand.

“Show me another one.”

Lexa smiled and complied, this time pointing out Ursa Major which was currently hanging almost directly above them. Again she traced the stars with her finger, stealing glances at Clarke’s gentle smile as she explained that the constellation’s name meant ‘great bear’ in Latin and that the Big Dipper was a part of it, otherwise known as an asterism, and not a constellation of its own.

“It’s kinda cute,” Clarke said, voice distorted from the way they were craning their necks to look at it. Lexa chuckled because of course Clarke would say that a cluster of stars was cute.

“And there, look, that’s Polaris.”

“Polaris is a constellation too?”

Lexa gave a playfully exasperated sigh.

“No, Clarke, it’s not. It’s a star.”

“What constellation is it in?”

“Ursa Minor.”

“And what’s that? A little version of the bear one?”

“Actually, yeah, kind of,” Lexa said, impressed.

“Really?”

“Yes, it makes up a smaller bear, or its body and tail anyway. It’s near Ursa Major, you see, but it’s up the other way compared with it.”

“OK, so which one is the star you were talking about?”

“Polaris?”

“Yeah, what about Polaris?”

“Have you ever heard of the North Star?”

Clarke nodded.

“Well that’s it. It goes by different names. It’s called the North Star because it’s directly above the northern axis of the earth’s rotation which means it doesn’t really appear to move in the sky.”

“People use it to find their way home, right?”

“They used to, yeah. It can be used for navigation if you know how and for those that did in the past, it became a guide. Now we have GPS and smartphones I’m sure people don’t really use this method anymore but it’s still cool knowing the stars are up there to help you if need them.”

“It is cool.” And Lexa believed that Clarke found it cool, that she was managing to make the stars interesting for her, and she was really enjoying sharing that with her. “Can you navigate with them?”

“I haven’t tried for a while but I reckon I could.”

Clarke smiled. “Then I guess that makes you cool too then, huh?”

Lexa gave an odd kind of scoff, nudging her shoulder against Clarke’s.

“If you say so. Do you want to learn more?”

“Yes, please,” Clarke said sweetly.

Lexa pointed to her next constellation, not too far from Polaris. “You see this sort of wonky ‘w’ shape here?” Her finger traced the lines with an echo of sadness.

“Yeah, what’s that one?”

“Cassiopeia.”

“Tell me about it.”

Lexa let her hand drop and it came to settle in the negligent space between them, resting partially on her leg and on Clarke’s. Clarke linked their arms together and snuggled into Lexa’s side, her head coming to rest on her shoulder as she continued to let her eyes wander the vastness of the night sky.

“Cassiopeia was named after a woman in Greek mythology who became very arrogant about her beauty, as well as that of her daughter, Andromeda. She angered Poseidon by boasting that they were more beautiful than the sea nymphs, who were known for their beauty. He punished her by sending a monster to destroy her husband’s, the King’s, land and an oracle told them the only way to stop it from happening was to sacrifice Andromeda, which they did. Andromeda was saved but as an alternate punishment, Poseidon sent Cassiopeia into the sky where she was doomed to circle the celestial pole, bound to her throne, for all eternity.”

Clarke lifted her head off Lexa’s shoulder to look at her and she scrunched up her nose. “That’s not a very nice story.”

“No, I suppose not. But when I was a kid it was one of my favourites.”

“Why?” Clarke settled again and Lexa smiled at the memory of her grandpa pulling her into his side as they gazed up at Cassiopeia, the cadence of his voice, and the fondness in him as he told the story and was transported back in time.

“My grandma was called Cassie. It wasn’t short for anything but my grandpa would call her Cassiopeia sometimes and then when he finally told her why he called her that, she was horrified at being named after someone so arrogant and selfish. But my grandpa found it hilarious to tease her this way because he knew they were nothing alike. He always told me of her selflessness, her devotion to her family above all else, and the love he had for her because of it. He also said she was fun to tease and he loved how much she’d huff at him for it, though it was affectionate, he assured me.”

“OK, now it makes a little more sense, I guess.”

Lexa nodded, turning her head to let her lips ghost over Clarke’s hair and she enjoyed the moment, letting her eyes close for a second before resuming her story.

“My grandpa wanted to name my mom Andromeda, after Cassiopeia’s daughter, but Grandma Cassie wouldn’t let him.”

They both gave a laugh that was warmer than the cold air around them, their voices blending together in a way that calmed Lexa even further. She leaned a little more into Clarke as they enjoyed the quiet of the night and the way it felt to be so close.

“You were eleven when he died, weren’t you?” Clarke asked after a time, her tone tentative.

“Yeah,” Lexa said sadly but her heart gave an extra hard beat at the fact that Clarke had remembered that when she was pretty sure she had only mentioned it once, and months ago at that. But then again, she really shouldn’t be surprised at this point, Clarke had done nothing but prove herself to be thoughtful and attentive. Surprisingly so after the way things had started out between them.

“What about your grandma?”

“She died before I was born, when my mom was a teenager.”

“Oh-” Clarke hesitated, tightening her hold on Lexa’s arm before her voice returned with a slight wobble- “that must have been hard on your mom.”

“It was. I mean, I wasn’t there to know but she talks about her sometimes.”

“It’s a shame you never got to know her. But you were close with your grandpa?”

“Yeah, he looked after us a lot when we were kids.” Lexa tried to keep the sadness from her voice but it was hard with the heaviness in her heart. She wondered how her grandpa would feel seeing her sharing the knowledge he’d given her as a child now, so many years after his passing. She felt a little lighter when she realised that he would be proud. “He loved telling me about Cassiopeia because it reminded him of his wife that he’d loved so fiercely and lost too soon, you know? He always loved the stars but after she died they carried even more significance. He’d look out for that constellation when we were out at night, I’d see him doing it, and he was always smiling when his eyes fixed on it. He told me it felt as if Grandma Cassie was looking down at him, huffing like she had done when they were twenty years old and he called her Cassiopeia for two straight weeks.”

“And now you think of him when you look at it, don’t you? Just as he always thought of her?”

“I do.”

“Does it make you sad?”

“Sometimes. Not as much as it used to, though.”

“But you still miss him, even after so long?”

“Of course, it never really goes away.”

There was a pause where Lexa was dimly aware of the pulse in her neck because of the way that Clarke was pressed into her.

“No, it doesn’t,” Clarke said quietly, attempting to shuffle closer to Lexa but stilling when she realised it wasn’t possible. The only way they could be closer was if they began to fuse together, atoms vibrating with atoms until they were swirling into one and, really, it felt as if that had already begun to happen somehow.

The shaky exhalation Clarke let out gave Lexa what she needed in order to put aside her concerns and press a kiss to the top of her head. They sat there for a few minutes longer and just as Lexa was about to suggest that they head home, she had lost all feeling in her toes from the cold, Clarke spoke.

“I think I get it now.”

“Get what?”

“Why you like the stars. They’re beautiful.”

“They are,” Lexa agreed.

“You’d make a good teacher,” Clarke mused and Lexa smiled.

“Thanks, it’s on my list of careers to consider.”

“Well whatever you end up doing, I’m sure you’ll be awesome at it.”

Lexa pressed another kiss to Clarke’s head. “As will you.”

“Lex?”

“Yeah?” Lexa said against Clarke’s hair, eyes closing at the familiar scent.

“Are you going to call Daisy?”

Lexa frowned, jolted from the tiny universe that was expanding between them, and pulled herself away. Clarke let go of her arm as she did so and straightened up, her eyes avoiding Lexa’s. There was a slight crease in the skin at her temple from where she’d been resting on Lexa’s coat and her hair was a little dishevelled. Lexa reached out a hand to smooth it down and the way Clarke leaned in to her touch, the way her eyes fluttered closed, had Lexa’s heart beginning to beat faster.

“No, Clarke, I’m not.”

“Why?”

Lexa brought her hand around to cup Clarke’s cheek and Clarke leaned into it before turning her head and brushing her lips against trembling fingers. She clamoured for the right words to offer to Clarke in that moment to soothe her, torn momentarily between wanting to be honest and her own need for self-preservation.

“Because I’m too caught up in someone to be interested in dating anyone else,” she said softly, nerves intensifying when Clarke finally looked at her again. The pale light from the stars left her eyes dark and the way their gazes locked made Lexa shiver.

“If you wanted to try and move on, I’d understand,” Clarke said gently, her eyes never leaving Lexa’s.

Lexa believed her but she could also see how sad the thought made Clarke and she knew she needed to tread very carefully to express herself in the correct way. She took her hand from Clarke’s cheek and folded it with her other one in her lap.

“If you want me to move on I can try, though I don’t know how well it would work, to be honest. But I don’t want you to just feel like I’m hanging around with you just waiting for you to give in. I’m not. I want to be your friend more than anything else and if that’s all we can ever be, that’s fine. And if you ever feel ready to be more? Well that’s more than fine.”

Clarke just blinked at her, beautiful eyes dancing with starlight.

“Do you want me to move on?” Lexa prompted when Clarke didn’t speak.

“No,” Clarke replied with a soft shake of her head. “I just wanted you to know that I'd get it if you wanted to date someone else. I can’t… I mean, I’m not...” Clarke shook her hands between them in her frustration before raking unsteady fingers through her hair.

“Hey, it’s OK,” Lexa cooed. “I don’t expect anything from you. I want as much of you as you’re willing to give, Clarke, nothing more.” She took Clarke’s hand in hers, needing her to believe what she was saying. As much as the thought of never being with Clarke in the way that so much of her wanted was incredibly painful, the thought of not having her in her life at all was sheer agony.

“OK,” Clarke said after considering her for a while longer. She nodded and pulled Lexa’s hand up to her lips, pressing a kiss into her palm. “Are you ready to go home?”

“Yeah,” Lexa replied, allowing Clarke to link their fingers once more. Their hands fit together so perfectly and she smiled when Clarke stood up and tugged to her to her feet.

“Will you teach me more about the stars sometime?” Clarke asked when they were face to face again, hands swinging between them.

“Of course.” And before Lexa could do something she might regret, she pulled on Clarke’s hand, encouraging her to walk, and they made their way back to Clarke’s apartment together.

It may not have really been her home but somehow anywhere with Clarke was starting to feel that way.

 

*

 

Lexa struggled to fall asleep again that night but Clarke was gone within minutes, her steady breathing frustrating Lexa as the minutes ticked by and her consciousness still clung to the edges of her mind. As much as she was enjoying Clarke’s company, like, really enjoying it, as the week had progressed the niggling feeling inside her had grown as she’d continued to ignore her real-life responsibilities. Her time at Clarke’s was a respite but all good things had to come to an end eventually. Or so they always said, anyway. While part of her was happier ignoring her problems with Anya, they really needed to be worked on if they ever had any chance of moving past it all. Hiding wasn’t an option in the long term.

She was caught off-guard when Clarke rolled over in her sleep and flung an arm over her, tucking herself into her back and sighing contently with the press of her forehead into Lexa’s wrinkled shirt. The weight on her, against her, was soothing and she considered how Clarke would react when she told her she needed to go home. There had been no signs that Clarke was growing tired of her being around, of having her filling her space, and there was a tiny part of her that hoped that Clarke would be disappointed that she was going to leave. Not that she wanted to upset her, of course, but…

It was with the thought of disappointing Clarke, who had been so eager for her to stay for as long as possible, that she decided to get up early the next day. Every morning so far Clarke had been out of bed before Lexa was properly awake but this time Lexa was going to beat her to it. She stretched out to grab her phone, trying not to wake Clarke, and set a quiet alarm, resolving to turn it off as soon as it woke her the next morning. She ignored the way something inside her cringed when she realised how little sleep that would leave her with but it would be totally worth it to see the look on Clarke’s face when she surprised her.

Lexa succeeded in her plan. There was a terrifying moment when she thought Clarke was going to wake up when she had to extricate herself from under her arm the following morning but she froze as Clarke began to stir, only daring to try again when Clarke was settled once more.

The clear sky from the night before had persisted into the day and the warm rays of sunshine pouring into the kitchen from the window on the opposite wall helped with the way the tiredness burned at Lexa’s eyes. It was actually quite nice to be up and bustling in the kitchen. She pottered around, smiling to herself as she mixed her carefully weighed out ingredients, always preferring to cook from scratch rather than using a packet mix. Remembering how Clarke had referred to her pancakes as magic, she felt as if she should be cackling as she combined her ingredients in her newly dubbed cauldron, more commonly known as the worn-looking plastic bowl she’d dug out of the back of one of the cabinets. When she was pouring the batter in with the oil dancing in the frying pan she suddenly panicked that Clarke might not wake up and come out of her own volition to discover her magical pancakes. But then she figured she could just load up a plate and take it to her, wafting them above her nose until she stirred enough to open her eyes and adore Lexa for it.

(She was a sucker for the way Clarke did that, for she knew even in her reticence that Clarke liked her a great deal.)

She needn’t have worried though. Clarke emerged scruffy and stumbling ten minutes later as Lexa was pouring the last of the batter into the pan. Her face was creased up in a mixture of tiredness and confusion. Once she caught sight of Lexa some of the lines in her face smoothed out, leaving only tiredness etched there.

“Lex?” she said, voice groggy with sleep and Lexa smiled at her as she shuffled her way over to the kitchen.

“Morning sunshine,” Lexa sing-songed and she chuckled when Clarke’s eyebrows weaved into a frown at her uncharacteristic exuberance. It was fun being the one that had already had a chance to wake up properly before greeting the other for a change. She pulled a carton of orange juice from the fridge and poured a glass for Clarke, presenting it to her just as she sat down at the island across from the stove.

“Morning.” She took a sip of the juice, wincing as the acid hit her taste buds. “You’re up early."

“I am.” Lexa took the final pancake out of the pan with the spatula and completed her second stack before heading to dig the syrup out of the top cabinet.

“And you’re making pancakes.”

“Yes. Or magic, as you called them the other day.”

Clarke’s frown began to loosen its hold on her face.

“You made magic for me.”

“Just like I promised I would.”

Lexa walked around the counter, plates in her hands, and put one down in front of Clarke, the other in the empty space beside it. She sat next to her and just like that Clarke’s frown was gone. It took mere seconds for her to immerse herself in the pancakes and she was halfway through before she spoke again.

“Ohm’god,” she said inelegantly, her mouth still filled with food. “I’s s’g’d.”

“I’m glad,” Lexa replied with a chuckle, finding the uncouth nature of Clarke’s reverence before her cooking to be rather adorable and not gross like she probably should have done. She really did have it bad. But with the sunlight filtering in and Clarke happy beside her, she couldn’t find it in herself to mind. She just kept working her way slowly through her own food much more gracefully than Clarke.

With only a quarter of her spoils left, Clarke paused and swallowed deeply.

“Have I mentioned that I love you?” she said and then she turned to look at Lexa who rolled her eyes in amusement.

“Yes, you love my pancakes, I get it. They are pretty awesome.”

“Oh, yes, they so are.” Clarke paused to gaze back down at what was left with a longing that was a little too intense to be aimed at breakfast food, (unless you’re Leslie Knope, Lexa thought, amused) then looked back at Lexa. “But I meant you.” Her cheeks were slowly pinking and Lexa just frowned at her, not really understanding what was happening.

“Me what?”

“When I said that, I was talking to you.”

An explosion went off in Lexa’s chest and the devastation left in its wake was the red masking her entire face.

“I-”

“I mean, as a friend, you know, because you made me pancakes and hung out with me all week and took me to meet your family and taught me about the stars and…” Clarke trailed off as Lexa began to smile at her rambling, thankfully feeling the heat subside from her skin as Clarke’s bumbling nature proved that she was just as much as a goof as Lexa was. “What I meant to say, really, is thank you. Thank you for this whole week, it’s been the best one I’ve had in a long time.”

Lexa inclined her head gently, taking a slow breath through her nose to calm her fluttering heart. “You’re very welcome, Clarke. Thank you for having me and for helping me through everything. It’s been a very good week for me, too.”

“Anytime,” Clarke said, smile demure, and the way that their eyes locked had any attempts Lexa had made at calming her heart rendered useless. It was marching to the beat of the exhilarating feeling that Clarke seemed to give her more often than not, especially when she looked at her that way. It almost had her daring to hope that… But no, she shouldn’t. She was very relieved when Clarke turned back to her pancakes.

Lexa suddenly wasn’t very hungry and she hadn’t even made it half-way through her food by the time Clarke had finished all of hers. She pushed her plate towards Clarke who beamed at her and tucked in immediately, causing Lexa to laugh fondly as she picked up Clarke’s abandoned plate and headed over to clear up the mess she’d left behind when cooking. Not that there was much, she liked to clean as she went.

She concentrated on washing the dishes for a little while, glad to have Clarke out of her sights so she could calm her poor, stricken heart. Her feelings for Clarke had only intensified in all of the time they’d spent together that week and she was seriously starting to doubt whether she’d ever be able to get past it while remaining Clarke’s friend.

“Lex?” Clarke’s voice was small and it made her turn around instantly, grabbing onto a dishtowel to dry her hands.

“Yeah?”

“You’re going home, aren’t you?”

Something in Clarke’s tone stole all of the oxygen from Lexa’s lungs and she deflated, leaning against the counter for support.

“I have to,” she said quietly, fighting to keep her words measured so as not to give away just how devastated she felt.

Clarke pushed Lexa’s now-empty plate away from her, settling her arms on the worktop.

“When?”

Lexa clutched at the dishtowel still in her hands. “Soon.”

Clarke sighed, apparently at Lexa’s reluctance to be precise. “How soon?”

“Today.”

Clarke nodded, pulling her bottom lip into her mouth as she regarded Lexa. It wasn’t that she looked sad, exactly, Lexa couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was that had changed in Clarke in the last thirty seconds, but it was painfully apparent that something had. Lexa had never regretted putting her family first more.

“I have to go,” Lexa repeated, trying in vain to banish the anguish roiling in her gut.

“I know you do.”

“I’ll miss you,” Lexa dared to say and it set alight a small smile on Clarke’s face. It was sad but beautiful just the same.

“I know that, too.”

Lexa tried to offer Clarke a comforting smile in return but was ashamed of how cold it felt, how empty. To distract herself, she picked up the abandoned plate and turned back around to the sink with it, relishing the fact that the water was a little too hot against her skin when she submerged her hands. She heard Clarke get up and it had her heart pounding but she wasn’t sure why. When footsteps came towards her, she closed her eyes, trembling hands turning to fists in the soapy water.

“Clarke, don’t,” she warned, voice low and scratched with dread.

“Don’t what?” Clarke replied, her voice coming from much closer than Lexa expected. She didn’t know what. The tension in her hands loosened a fraction as she reminded herself to breathe.

In through the nose, out through the mouth.

A gentle hand came to rest on her shoulder but instead of offering comfort, it just weighed her down further with confusion. She pulled her hands from the bowl, drying them on the dishtowel before turning around again. Backlit by the sun, she found Clarke beautiful, radiant even with her forehead creased and teeth worrying at her lip. She wasn’t serene like a goddess should be but that was the word that sprang to Lexa’s mind, nonetheless.

“Lexa…” Clarke managed to say before shuffling on the spot, hands wringing in front of her, teeth going back to her lip again. She bounced on the balls of her feet in her agitation and relinquished her lip as she let out an almighty breath. “I know you have to go but I really don’t want you to. Everything makes more sense when you’re here.”

Lexa chanced taking a step forward, her heart tearing itself into pieces with every second that wasn’t spent comforting Clarke in the difficulty she was currently experiencing.

“I’m not leaving you, Clarke, I’m just going back to sleep at my own apartment. We’ll still hang out loads, you can stay over, I can come back and stay here sometimes… Nothing’s going to change between us.”

Clarke nodded, her eyes at their feet, and she kept on nodding.

“What if I want it to?” she said finally, head stilling, and Lexa’s eyebrows barely had time to furrow before Clarke had closed the gap between them, hands cupping at her cheeks.

“What are you doing?” Lexa breathed out, the sudden movement and overwhelming implication of Clarke’s actions making her panic. She was very close to pulling back and running.

“Changing things between us. Is that OK?”

When Lexa just blinked, dumbfounded, Clarke looked between each of her eyes, taking it all in, blue flashing back and forth before she let her eyelids drop and she rested her forehead against Lexa’s.

And that’s when serenity found Clarke. She was calm, still, her hands warm and solid at Lexa’s cheeks, her stance strong and sure, but unfortunately Lexa was a few steps behind her. She wavered and pulled out of Clarke’s grip, wrapping her arms around herself, searching for a comfort she knew she wouldn’t find.

“But last night… I didn’t think you’d… You said…” Lexa kept trying to articulate her confusion but it wasn’t working.

“I’m an idiot, Lexa. I didn’t see it before.”

“See what?” Lexa asked, feeling tinier than she had done since she was actually tiny. She might as well don her ripped jeans and twist her hair into braids. She’d probably fit nicely in one of those ludicrously small chairs in the elementary school classrooms the way she felt in that moment. She tried to take comfort in the clarity in Clarke’s expression as she listened to her talk.

“I wanted a physical relationship with you because I thought it was all I could handle, that kind of intimacy never scared me. It was everything else that did. But I set aside the physical thing for your comfort and somehow essentially ended up in a relationship with you anyway. Everyone else in our lives can see it but somehow, I was too close to truly understand what that meant.”

Lexa just stared at her, mouth hanging open uselessly.

“I’ve been thinking about it all week.” Clarke continued. “We’ve been spending so much time together and I realised how stupid my hesitation is. I’ve been too scared to let you in but you’re in there anyway, whether I meant to let you be or not.”

“That doesn’t really sound very good, Clarke,” Lexa managed to say, utterly perplexed as to what was going on. Hope was something she absolutely couldn't let herself have.

Clarke shook her head. “I’m saying this all wrong. I’m sorry, I just…” She sighed, a masterpiece of a smile painting itself onto her face as she seemed to come to terms with everything all at once. “I want you, Lexa. I want all of you. I want to be with you. In every way.”

And somehow Lexa’s grip on her own arms loosened and her hands came to hover in the air between them. Everything about Clarke was drawing her in and she was weak, so so weak because flowers of hope were blooming in her chest despite everything and they burst into full colour when Clarke took her hands in her own almost instantly, the light in her never dimming.

“Are you sure?” Lexa couldn’t help but ask, even with her heart screaming at her in her chest to believe her. But her head said no, you can wait, don’t rush in too fast. You’ll shatter, don’t you know that?

Clarke gave a musical yet incredulous laugh.

“I may be fucking terrified but you’re the only thing I’ve ever been sure of, Lexa, right from that first day in the bar when you refused to shake my hand. There was something about you that I could never shake. I’m finally ready to admit that I don’t want to shake it. I want you, Lexa, please believe me.”

And Clarke tugged on Lexa’s hands, testing her willingness to let down those carefully constructed walls and she just…

She let go.

I love her, said her head, smashing down those walls as their bodies came together again. When the dust settled her heart finally spoke, basking how it felt to be free of its prison: I’ve been saying that for the longest time.

And just like that, the fight was over.

Without being aware just how close they now were, Lexa was surprised when she felt Clarke’s lips brush against her own. She wasn’t sure who it was that had closed the gap between them but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that it was time.

About goddamn time.

Her eyes closed reflexively and everything clicked into place with a flash of lightning, the surge of electrical impulses throughout her entire nervous system finally snapping her to life. Her right hand smoothed from Clarke’s cheek, through her hair and to the back of her head, pulling her closer, while the other hand found its way to her hip to achieve the same goal. Clarke apparently had the same impulse because their bodies pressed harder against each other, the force somehow too much and not enough all at once and so Lexa deepened the kiss, needing to be sated. The way Clarke paused in her efforts to pull at Lexa’s bottom lip with her own, sucking on it, caressing it with her tongue, made Lexa ache and she found herself pushing Clarke against the counter, relishing in how good it felt to be able to give in to her desire. Clarke was so soft and pliable under her fingers, her lips, and Clarke’s hands raked under her shirt with pure, pulsing need that made her sear all over.

Clarke tasted like syrup from the pancakes and it just fit because the smile that Lexa could feel against her lips absolutely would taste like that. Despite the intensity pounding through them both they were smiling and in sync as their ferocity calmed and their kisses became more languid as they enjoyed how it felt to finally be together again. Lexa’s hands, that had somehow made their way under Clarke’s shirt, slowly smoothed down the flesh of her sides, their lips breaking apart as she reached the curve of her hips.

They leaned for a moment with their foreheads pressed together, breath tickling each other’s faces and blowing stray hairs away from them as they both seemed to almost pant in the wake of such intensity. Lexa was suddenly nervous, she couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes at first. She was worried that Clarke would be nervous and fumbling and ready to back-track what with her reticence up to this point, but Lexa realised she couldn’t hide forever.

She opened her eyes and her doubts evaporated instantly.

The first thing she found was a captivating blue and she pulled back a fraction, hands never leaving Clarke’s skin, so she could look at her properly. Their eyes locked as they held onto each other and that’s when it happened again, the swell inside her that made her want to say things she wasn’t sure Clarke was ready to hear. The current inside her surged and she pushed forward again before the words could form inside her and ruin the moment. Just kissing was overwhelming enough, there had been enough revelations for one day. It was still early, the sun not even high in the sky yet and already the axis of Lexa’s world had been pushed from its usual point of rotation. Words could wait until later. They had time.

Lexa savoured the kiss and let herself relax into it, shivered a little at the way Clarke’s fingers slipped up the back of her shirt and dug into her skin, grip intensifying with the whimper she could practically taste on the other girl’s tongue. Somehow the new rhythm they created was more consuming than the fast-paced one from before and Lexa broke the kiss, lips instead going to Clarke’s neck, eager to hear those noises coming from low inside her without a mouth against hers to muffle them.

She was rewarded several times over for the way her hips pressed Clarke back into the counter as she explored her burning skin, tongue tasting and lips caressing as Clarke moaned deeply, fingers gripping even harder into the muscles of her back. Lexa was struggling to continue on her path with the way the desire built inside her and she gratefully let Clarke pull her back up to her lips again. Clarke’s tongue was cold this time from where she had been breathing open-mouthed in her pleasure and Lexa soon rectified that with the heat coursing through her.

It was all too fast, Lexa knew that, but after so much time having to hold herself back from acting on her desire she was reluctant to stop when Clarke was willing and moaning for her, when her hands and her lips and her tongue were finally getting to experience what her mind could only imagine before.

(Her imagination was like an old, soundless, black and white movie compared to the ultra-sharp, high definition, technicolour of the real thing. Clarke was beyond imagining and she wanted her.)

Lexa was always thinking, even in moments like this, and she was just thinking herself further into the arousal coiling low inside her. Before she realised what she was doing she’d slipped a leg between Clarke’s and pressed it against her, causing the most miraculous noise to vibrate through her. It made her kisses taste that much sweeter and Lexa wanted so much more. Clarke rolled her hips against Lexa once, struggling to bite back a moan against Lexa’s lips this time, before she broke the kiss, completely breathless.

“I hate to be the one to say this,” Clarke said, eyes dragging away from their point of temptation and to Lexa’s, “but maybe we should slow things down a bit.” The colour from her cheeks was spreading down her neck and to her chest, reaching the cleavage that was beautifully on show in her low cut sleep shirt and, yeah, no, that wasn’t helping Lexa at all. “This is all a lot to take in.”

Lexa nodded slowly, feeling hazy with the desire still coursing through her. “You’re telling me. I had no idea that was coming.”

“Me neither,” Clarke admitted.

“But you said you’d been thinking about it all week.”

“That doesn’t mean I thought I’d be ready to do anything about it. Or brave enough.”

“I’m glad you were.”

“Me too.”

The smile on Lexa’s lips was born in her heart from the way Clarke looked at her and its creator mirrored it perfectly.

Clarke’s hand came up to brush back a few stray hairs from Lexa’s cheek and remained there as her eyes seemed to crack into Lexa’s very soul.

“Don’t go,” she said softly, bringing their foreheads together again.

“I have to, Clarke, we’ve covered this.”

“Tomorrow, go home tomorrow. Let me have you for one more day,” Clarke pleaded and the gentle way her nose nudged at Lexa’s had a giggle fluttering free from her chest.

Lexa closed her eyes as their lips touched once more.

I’d give you every day, if I could.

“One more day?” she echoed against Clarke’s lips.

“Mhmm, just one.”

“OK, one more day. I think I can manage that.”

Clarke’s answering smile was addictive and Lexa tasted it again and again, until a question popped unbidden into her mind.

“Clarke?” she said, pulling back again and Clarke cocked her head in that adorable way of hers.

“Lexa?”

She almost didn’t ask, almost shook her head and pushed back in to kiss Clarke again, but something in her made her say it despite it perhaps not being the wisest move.

“Why were you so scared to be more than friends?”

Clarke’s eyes skittered away and Lexa was about to mentally chastise herself for ruining a perfect morning but she stopped when Clarke’s reply came, much calmer than she had expected it.

“I’m not very good at being open. You’ve probably noticed.” Clarke shrugged a shoulder with an air of nonchalance that seemed a little forced. Lexa tilted her lips in reply.

“Perhaps.”

“But I’m working on it. I want to be able to tell you things.”

“OK.”

It was an evasive answer, Lexa knew it and she could see that Clarke did too. She could also see the concern in the angle of Clarke’s features, the fear that Lexa would push her to divulge more before she was ready but, while she was curious, that's not how she wanted to go about things. She could give Clarke time to open up, she had already done so much for both of them that morning.

“I know I said we should slow down but we can keep kissing, right?” Clarke asked. “You have no idea how much it’s been torturing me for months not being able to do just that-” Lexa raised her eyebrows at Clarke disbelievingly- “OK, so maybe you know exactly how hard it’s been.”

“I really, really do,” Lexa said, grinning and pushing forward to reunite their lips.

She wasn’t sure if she’d ever get used to kissing Clarke, her heart was wild in her chest from the first press of softness and they were just settling back into a tantalising rhythm when a knock at the door had them breaking apart.

“Are you expecting someone?” Lexa asked, a little breathless.

“No,” Clarke said, kissing Lexa again and talking against her lips. “It’s probably for Niylah.” She deepened the kiss and the knock echoed through the apartment again. It took every bit of strength Lexa had to pull back enough to speak.

“Niylah’s not here, remember? She went on a date with that girl… I can’t remember her name right now-” Clarke pressed a gentle kiss to her lips, smiling like she knew she was the cause of Lexa’s forgetfulness- “but she said not to expect her home until morning. I haven’t heard her come home yet.”

“Oh.” Clarke’s eyes were focused on Lexa’s lips and her smile was intoxicating with the desire that tinted it.

“Are you going to answer it?”

“Do I have to?”

The knock came more frantically this time. The visitor was clearly determined not to give up.

“Fine, I’ll get it,” Lexa said, pressing a kiss to the tip of Clarke’s nose and pulling out of her grip.

“Nooo, don’t go,” Clarke called after her and Lexa laughed, she could hear the pout in her voice and she was tempted to turn back to admire it but the knock came again and didn’t stop this time, the person apparently very insistent that they were going to be let in.

She opened the door and every atom inside her seemed to jump a few inches in the air as a voice shouted

“Surprise!”

Lexa put a hand to her chest, staring at the girl stood right outside the door with her arms in the air and her eyes screwed tightly shut with the force of the grin on her face. She looked young, Lexa guessed she was about her age, and she had long brown hair and what seemed like a penchant for dark colours.

“Um…”

At the sound of Lexa’s voice, the girl’s eyes snapped open and her arms dropped to her sides.

“Oh.” She peered around Lexa as if she were looking for someone and Lexa frowned at the girl’s apparent reluctance to properly greet someone whom she had just interrupted in the middle of something very important (not that she could know that, of course, but still).

“Can I help you?”

“Maybe,” the girl said, finally deigning to look back at Lexa. “I’m looking for Clarke Griffin?”

“Oh, well, you’ve found her. Can I ask who you are before I go and see if she’s home?” Lexa didn’t want to give Clarke away completely if this was a visitor that she didn’t want. The fact that she hadn’t come to greet this person herself upon hearing her voice from across the apartment had her a little suspicious.

“I’m her best friend, Octavia. Are you her roommate?”

“No, I’m her…” Lexa stumbled stupidly over her label, “Lexa. I mean, I’m her friend, too. And my name is Lexa.”

“She hasn’t mentioned me, has she?” the girl, Octavia, said, her head tipping to the side thoughtfully.

“Uh, sure she has, you’re her best friend, of course I know who you are.” Lexa wasn’t exactly sure why she was lying but it might have had something to do with the way that Octavia’s expression was quickly becoming exasperated and, frankly, a little judgemental.

“Sure, whatever. It’s OK, don’t feel bad, she’s never mentioned you to me either. But then again, she barely ever takes my calls so it’s not really surprising.”

Lexa just stared, confused, at Octavia, wondering why Clarke hadn’t come to rescue her from the awkwardness yet. The apartment wasn’t big, there was no way she hadn’t heard her by now. She peered behind the door at Clarke to find her still stood where she’d left her in the kitchen, eyes wide and face almost ashen.

Surprise, indeed.

“Are you going to invite me in then?” Octavia said, sounding a little irritated. And with that Clarke suddenly sprang to life, hastening across the room with an awkward smile on her face directed at Lexa. The smile popped into life as she caught sight of her supposed best friend and if it wasn’t for the way her fists were clenched by her sides, Lexa might have believed that the smile was genuine.

What the hell was going on?

“Octavia! What are you doing here?”

A smile leapt onto Octavia’s face and she stepped forward to meet Clarke, flinging her arms around her and they squeezed each other tightly. Lexa stepped out of the way of the teetering mess of a hug the other two seemed to have lost themselves in.

“I decided to fly out and surprise you, I’ve missed you!”

“Uh, yeah, me too,” Clarke said as she pulled away. She took a couple of steps back before she managed to drag her eyes to Octavia’s face. “You didn’t feel like calling first?”

“No because then it wouldn’t have been a surprise, duh.” She tapped a finger against Clarke’s forehead.

“Right… Does Wells know you’re here?”

“What is he, my keeper? No, he doesn’t know, he’s staying with his dad for break and besides, I don’t need his permission.” Octavia frowned, head whipping back and forth between Clarke and Lexa before letting out an almighty sigh. “Is someone going to invite me in or does politeness not exist here in the east? I didn’t know you’d start picking up back habits so soon after leaving, Clarke. It’s bad enough that you took so long to answer the door!”

“Sorry, Octavia, come in, please,” Clarke said, and she and Lexa stepped backwards to let Octavia barrel through the doorway, luggage in tow. She threw herself down onto the couch and gazed around the room with a bright smile and wide eyes, apparently very at home in the place that Lexa now felt almost like a stranger in.

Lexa knew that Clarke had been holding things back but with her life in California, well, safely back in California, it was easy to forget that there was a whole part of her that she had never known. Lexa looked at Clarke, expecting her to seem different with a part of her old life catching up with her but she didn’t. She looked the same.

But no, not quite the same. She looked utterly lost and Lexa didn’t blame her. So much for one more day to spend together before entering the real world again.

Lexa fidgeted in her discomfort, both in the odd energy in the room and the way the desire still hummed through her body in the wake of what had been such a good morning. She couldn't help but hate Octavia a little bit for interrupting them in such a pivotal moment in time. She tried her best to not let it show though, offering a smile to both girls, hoping that one of them would say something, and soon.

Chapter Text

The energy between Clarke and Octavia was odd and it wasn’t long before Lexa excused herself to get dressed in the safety of Clarke’s bedroom. She was packing up her scant belongings when the door opened just a crack.

“Lex, can I come in?” Clarke’s voice came through the gap, her head poking in as she eased the door open further. She kept her eyes averted though.

“Yeah,” Lexa replied, pressing a neat pile of clothes into the bottom of her rucksack.

Clarke waited until the door clicked shut behind her to speak. She didn’t step any further into the room. “I swear I had no idea she was coming.”

“Yeah, I figured as much considering her exuberant exclamation of the word ‘surprise’ when I opened the door to her.” Lexa let out an attempt at a laugh but it did nothing to lift the weight that had settled in the room. She didn’t need to look at Clarke to feel it. “It’s fine, Clarke. It’s nice, in fact. Nice of her to surprise you and fly all this way.”

Lexa took a breath as she continued to unnecessarily push at her clothes, as if she could force the pulsing disappointment inside her down too. She had really wanted one more day with Clarke but thanks to Octavia’s arrival, going home was the only option.

When she heard an uneasy breath from Clarke it snapped her out of herself and she finally turned away from her packing. She found Clarke leaning against the door, posture sagging, and the sight engulfed her mind completely.

“I feel more blind-sided than surprised,” Clarke said, resting her head back against the door and letting her eyes float up to the ceiling.

“Blind-sided?” Lexa’s heart was beginning to pick up its pace in reaction to the way Clarke was behaving, the honesty of her reply, and she wasn’t sure if she felt more intrigued or concerned. One the one hand, Octavia could offer some previously lacking insight into the girl that had, so far, proven to be something of a mystery but on the other… was Clarke ready for that? And come to think of it, was Lexa?

She tried to keep her expression neutral as she continued. “What do you mean? Is this not a good surprise?”

“No it’s… I don’t know.” Clarke sighed. “It’s just so typical of Octavia.” Her tone slanted into irritation, her jaw tightening, but she kept her voice low, obviously very aware of Octavia still on the other side of the door.

“She likes to just show up?”

“She likes to manipulate a situation to get what she wants.” The venom in Clarke’s voice made Lexa wince internally, though she tried not to show it.

“Oh…”

The way Clarke’s gaze dropped to Lexa, her eyes cold in the wake of the bitterness in her voice, made her decide that prompting her to elaborate would be unwise. Luckily Clarke saved her from having to speak further.

“Wait…” She pushed off the door with her hands and made her way over to Lexa, eyes on the bag she had been packing on the bed. “You’re leaving?” She folded her arms and cocked her head with a frown.

Lexa nodded, fists clenching in her discomfort. “I know I said I’d stay one more day but with Octavia here…” She offered a small smile. “I was planning on leaving today originally so it’s okay. You should spend some time with her, just the two of you.”

Clarke lowered herself onto the bed slowly, sighing when Lexa sat next to her. “I’d rather have you stay than her,” she admitted, fingers fiddling in her lap. She sounded more resigned than annoyed now, though, so Lexa tried to make herself relax. It was probably nothing, just some friendship drama.

“I’m sure you’ll have a great time together,” Lexa encouraged. “And besides, you’ll see me at work tonight.” She nudged her shoulder against Clarke’s and received a reluctant smile.

“I guess. But why did she have to show up now? Right when we…” Clarke trailed off, cheeks pinking. Lexa couldn’t help but be distracted by the way Clarke nibbled on her lip as she regarded her, the arousal low inside her still pulsing dully from their encounter barely ten minutes earlier. When she managed to drag her eyes back up to Clarke’s again she found them much softer than before. “Are you okay with… all of that?” Clarke asked gently.

“I’m more than okay with it,” Lexa said, taking Clarke’s hand in her own. “I’m not leaving because of that.”

“Okay, good.” Clarke seemed to let go some of the tension in her posture and she allowed Lexa to link their fingers properly. “Maybe we can revisit that once Octavia’s gone? Spend some time just the two of us?”

“As opposed to all of the group-hangs we’ve had all week?” Lexa bumped her shoulder into Clarke’s again, pressing against her for a little longer.

“You know what I mean. Spend some time alone to figure out exactly where we stand now.”

“Of course I know what you mean,” Lexa said, grinning cheekily to try and pierce through the strangely stifling air still circling them. She watched as Clarke’s eyes were tugged to her smile and, like it was the easiest thing in the world, she let herself be drawn in by the adoration on Clarke’s face.

Oh how Lexa wanted to deepen the kiss as soon as their lips touched but she couldn’t let herself. Instead, she caressed Clarke’s bottom lip with her own – for admittedly longer than was wise with Octavia mere feet away on the other side of the door – drawing a deep breath through her nose to try and calm the ache spreading throughout her entire body. She broke the kiss reluctantly, resting her forehead against Clarke’s.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Clarke breathed.

“Me too. Just let me know when you’re free and then I promise I’m all yours.”

Clarke smiled, leaning forward to capture Lexa’s lips again. “I like the sound of that.”

 

*

 

That night Lexa was cleaning down the bar just before opening as usual when Clarke announced her presence by slamming the back door before her purposeful steps drew closer.

“There you are! I’ve been worried about you!” she exclaimed. Lexa turned around, a frown marring her face upon seeing the look Clarke was giving her.

“Worried, why?” She leaned against the counter, folding her arms across her chest, cloth still in her hand.

Because I assumed you’d want a ride to work like normal but when I went by your place to pick you up nobody answered the door!”

Lexa shrugged. “I guess Anya and Raven weren’t home.”

“And neither were you! Also, you didn’t answer my messages all afternoon, what’s that about?” Clarke fidgeted from where she had stopped a few feet away. She appeared slightly breathless, her hair just a touch more mussed up than usual, and her cheeks were flushed in a way that Lexa would have totally been distracted by if Clarke hadn’t looked so visibly distressed. She began to wring her hands and Lexa just stared at her, perplexed by her countenance.

And then she realised.

“I left my phone in my bag on silent,” she said, letting her arms fall to her sides and stepping closer. “I’m sorry, Clarke, I didn’t think.” She held out her hands but Clarke ignored them, instead obliterating the space between them with three forceful steps and pulling her into a hug.

“Hey, are you okay?” Lexa cooed as the arms around her tightened. Clarke nodded into her shoulder but clearly wasn’t ready to let go just yet so Lexa stroked her hair, hoping the action would soothe her. She felt lips press to her neck and, despite everything, heat rushed through her body at the reminder of that morning.

That was a thing they did now, she supposed, just casually pressing kisses into exposed skin. If Lexa had wanted to kiss that curve where Clarke’s neck met her shoulder then she could have, she was pretty sure that Clarke wouldn’t object. Life really was crazy sometimes.

When Clarke finally pulled away she switched her grip from Lexa’s back to her arms but her intensity never lessened. She looked at Lexa, really looked at her as if she was searching for something, and then sighed.

“You didn’t go home, did you?”

Lexa’s heart stuttered. “No,” she admitted, shocked into doing so by how easily Clarke had seen through her. How was she so good at that?

“You could have just told me that, Lex,” Clarke said softly, fingers loosening their hold on Lexa’s arms and instead caressing the fabric of her shirt. It may not have been skin-on-skin contact but it was enough to make her tingle. “You didn’t have to leave if you weren’t ready.”

“When I left I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to go home,” Lexa’s quiet voice answered.

“Oh, well you could have come back. I wouldn’t have minded.”

Lexa nodded, feeling a little shaken by Clarke’s sincerity. There was something very unfamiliar in all of that, in being taken care of, in someone knowing her so well, and she could feel the vulnerability clawing its way to the surface. She’d taken on all of her family’s problems for so long it felt so odd to see Clarke stood before her willing to do the same for her. Even after everything she’d done for her all week. Perhaps it felt more strange since the shift in their dynamic that morning. Lexa wasn’t quite sure but it made her feel kind of off-balance. It was definitely going to take some getting used to.

“I know,” she said, willing her voice to be stronger than she felt. “But you needed time with Octavia and I was fine, really, I was. It’s just… apparently deciding to go home and actually doing it are two very different things.”

“Oh, sweetie.”

“It’s fine, Clarke. I’m fine.”

“I know.” Clarke offered a smile, one so understanding that it made Lexa feel like a part of her was cracking open, and let her hands drop from Lexa’s arms after a final squeeze. “Where did you go all day if you didn’t go home?”

“To the library,” Lexa admitted.

Clarke raised an eyebrow. “For nine hours?”

“Pretty much.” Lexa shrugged. “I mean, I left to grab some lunch but that’s about it. I had plenty of work to keep me busy, I didn’t get as much done this week as I’d planned.”

Clarke gave a pretty, bashful grin. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be, I had a great time,” Lexa said softly, ducking her head, relieved at the lightening in the tone of conversation. She could feel the colour rising in her cheeks and she chanced flicking her eyes back up at Clarke to see her reaction. The look Clarke was giving her only made her blush harder, heart working overtime to help the blood get to the surface of her skin faster. “I just figured I should play catch up while I was already avoiding other responsibilities.”

“Ever the good student,” Clarke chuckled.

“I try. So what did you and Octavia get up to today?” Lexa was eager to move the conversation along again, not exactly keen to linger on her inability to face her own life.

Clarke ran a hand through her hair, eyes skirting away for a moment before something in her settled and a smile reclaimed her lips.

“You know what I’d rather do right now than talk about that?”

Apparently Lexa wasn’t the only one trying to avoid a particular conversation topic. She couldn’t really fault Clarke’s tactics because even though she wanted an answer to the question, she was definitely too weak to resist.

Clarke’s eyes flicked back to Lexa as her tongue peeked out to roll over her bottom lip. Lexa could feel the warmth in Clarke’s hands through her clothes as they came to rest on her hips and just as she felt Clarke begin to tug her closer, footsteps made them both spring away from each other. Clarke’s eyes widened so suddenly that Lexa almost laughed out loud at the awkwardness careening around inside her. Luckily, she managed to stop herself. Just.

“Hello, girls,” Indra’s usual, stern voice rang out and Clarke whipped around quickly, moving to stand by Lexa’s side like she was getting into formation for her general.

“Hello, Indra,” the girls chorused and Lexa had to fight the urge to laugh again. They sounded ridiculous.

“I’m thinking of adding a permanent third bartender to each shift so I’m going to observe you tonight to see how you get on without the added help, alright?”

“Yes, Indra,” the girls said in-sync again and Indra looked between the two of them, her expression as unreadable as always.

“Do you find it too busy on nights when I’m not here and it’s just the two of you?” she asked, looking from Clarke to Lexa. Evidently she noticed the way they both opened their mouths at the same time to answer because she held up a commanding finger. “Lexa first.”

Lexa gave a breathy laugh and looked to Clarke who also seemed to be rather amused. “Um, well sure, it can be busy but I think Clarke and I handle it pretty well. It couldn’t hurt to have an extra pair of hands, though.”

Indra inclined her head once and then turned so she could focus on Clarke. Words were often unnecessary when it came to understanding Indra and Clarke immediately began speaking when those dark eyes settled on her.

“I agree with Lexa. It can get pretty busy but I think we make a great team.”

Indra nodded once more, eyes searching both girls for a good ten seconds before she finally spoke. “You do make a good team. It seems I made the right call in putting you on Lexa’s shift, Clarke.” The girls turned to look at each other at the same time and Lexa felt fluttering in her stomach when their eyes met. “I’m glad you get on so well.” And then the strangest thing happened, Indra’s lips tugged up the tiniest fraction into what anyone who was used to her lack of outward emotions would definitely call a smile.

Clarke pressed her arm into Lexa’s and Lexa wanted nothing more than to have another week for just the two of them to revel in their newly embarked upon closeness.

“I hope you’ll be just as accommodating to any new bartender I may decide to hire in the future,” Indra said, her usual passivity restored.

An intake of breath from beside Lexa let her know that Clarke was definitely fighting a laugh this time and Lexa was determined to keep the conversation as serious as possible.

“Of course we will be,” Lexa assured her, though of course their relationship would definitely be different with anyone new that started. She couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit disappointed at the thought of it not just being the two of them anymore. But then again, she supposed she saw enough of Clarke outside of work for it to be okay.

(She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to get enough of Clarke. She couldn’t wait to get more of her, in fact.)

“Yep, you can count on us,” Clarke added.

Indra nodded again, seemingly pleased. She checked her watch. “Five minutes until opening, girls. I’ll be in the storeroom; I trust you can handle everything until I’m back.”

And she left without waiting for their reply.

“I guess we won’t be making out at work anymore then,” Clarke said, nudging Lexa’s arm with her own.

“That was one time!” Lexa exclaimed, turning to Clarke and laughing.

“Wanna make it two?”

And Clarke’s hands were on Lexa’s hips, her eyes locked on her lips, and Lexa was weak, so so weak because she found herself leaning in closer despite the sensible voice that still niggled from where it had been pushed to the back of her mind.

“Indra’s only a few rooms away,” Lexa tried to protest, lips mere inches from Clarke’s.

“Then kiss me quickly before she comes back. Gotta make the most of it before we have a new work buddy.”

“Oh, you’ll be seeing plenty of me elsewhere, just the two of us.”

“Mmm,” was all Clarke managed to get out before they invaded each other’s space.

Lexa lost herself for a minute in the way their lips glided together so smoothly and the soft taste of Clarke’s tongue. She gripped her fingers into the dip of Clarke’s waist as she conjured up every ounce of willpower inside to make herself pull back.

“You know, Octavia’s going to be asleep when I get back, I bet she won’t even notice if I don’t come home until early tomorrow morning,” Clarke said, whisper breaking as her voice grew husky with the smile the coloured her words. “Maybe I should come home with you so we can do more of that.”

Lexa nuzzled her nose against Clarke’s. She couldn’t say she wasn’t tempted. “When is she going home?”

“Sunday.”

“Then by all means, come over on Sunday when she’s gone and I’ll make the wait worth your while.”

Clarke’s fingers gripped Lexa’s hips tighter. “You promise?”

“Absolutely.”

And because clearly Lexa’s willpower was insufficient against the beauty of that adoring yet lust-filled smile and those sparklingly dark eyes, Lexa pressed her lips back to Clarke’s again, letting her mind be whisked away from the reality that was waiting for her at the end of that night’s shift.

Indulging herself for another minute couldn’t hurt, right?

 

*

 

Actually going home really was more difficult than making the decision to go back there, it was true.

Lexa stood outside her apartment for a good minute willing herself to reach out and unlock the door before she finally managed it. It was probably a good thing that she wasn’t able to stay with Clarke because with how terrible she was feeling, the way her stomach was churning, and the nerves clawing at every inch of her, she probably would have been tempted not to even get out of Clarke’s car when she dropped her off. But, knowing she had no other option, she’d just given Clarke a gentle kiss goodbye and tried to soak up as much reassurance as possible from the way Clarke gripped the back of her head and gazed into her eyes, voice strong and sure when she said,

“You’ve got this, Lexa.”

No one would even be up, Lexa told herself as she finally stepped forward to unlock the door. She wouldn’t have to deal with anything just yet. She pushed the door open and before she could make her way inside, she had already frozen once more. Raven was sat on the couch, a blanket wrapped around her whole body and head, just her face poking out, revealing wide eyes that shone in the light that came from the TV – and now the hallway – in the otherwise dark room.

So much for no one being up.

Raven’s jaw dropped. “Lexa,” she said quietly, blinking over at her. Everything else about her was still.

“Hi,” Lexa managed to say over the sound of her heart thudding loudly in her chest. Though she was unaware of making the decision to move, she finally stepped over the threshold and shut the door behind her, plunging the room into semi-darkness. The TV continued to chatter away, each change in camera angle causing a small flash and the lighting of the room to shift as the two girls continued to stare at each other.

“You’re here.”

“I am.”

“Are you staying?”

“Yes.”

Raven blinked a few more times before the faintest smile flitted across her lips for a moment. “Good,” she mumbled, nodding to herself more than to Lexa, it seemed.

“Anya’s asleep?”

“Yeah. Do you want me to wake her? I’m sure she’d want to know that you’re home.”

Lexa shook her head. “No, I’ll see her tomorrow. I just want to go to bed.”

“Okay.”

And Lexa began to walk past the couch and towards her bedroom but she stopped when Raven spoke again.

“I’m glad you’re back, Lexa.”

Lexa wasn’t glad to be back but she couldn’t say that. So she just didn’t say anything. The silence was obviously too much for Raven because she began talking again.

“Nothing feels right without you here. I know it’s our fault that you stayed away and we totally deserved it but-”

“I didn’t leave to punish you,” Lexa interjected, a little bit of fight coming back to her worn mind at the implication. “I left because you guys hurt me.”

Raven tugged at the blanket until it came off her head, the movement pulling some rogue hairs from her ponytail and leaving them standing haphazardly. They caught the light and Lexa focused on them so she didn’t have to see the way that Raven crumpled where she was sat.

“I know. I’m so sorry, I’ve missed you so much.”

And the jagged edges in Raven’s voice stole Lexa’s gaze, her gut twisting uncomfortably when she saw the way Raven’s eyes were glistening.

“How come you’re up, anyway?” Lexa asked, shoving her hands into her pockets, eyes skirting away once more.

“I can’t sleep at the moment,” Raven said quietly, eyes finally leaving Lexa and going to her hands that were fiddling at the edges of her blanket. “You know when I’m stressed I don’t sleep but Anya’s the opposite. It’s so frustrating. I can’t stay in there with her.”

A vague sense of warmth began to spread through Lexa’s chest and she was quick to quash it, saving her from allowing a smile she wasn’t ready to show just yet.

“It is frustrating,” she agreed. “She was like that when we were kids too. I just used to lay there and listen to her breathing, getting more and more annoyed that she wasn’t awake to be stressed with me.”

“That’s how it’s been all week!” Raven seemed to brighten a little at their found connection, even if Lexa was now focused intently on keeping her face passive. “I don’t even bother trying to go to bed when she does now and actually I haven’t even made it to bed the last couple of nights. I just fall asleep on the couch and she wakes me up in the morning when she gets up with Rio.”

Before Lexa could stop herself, she’d walked back towards the couch and sat down next to Raven, perching gingerly on the edge of the seat.

“I’m the reason you can’t sleep?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

“Partly. But it’s not your fault, it’s ours completely. Mine and Anya’s. I just feel so awful.”

And Lexa looked at Raven, really looked at her best friend for the first time in a week. She definitely looked like she hadn’t been getting much sleep. Her colour was off, her forehead creased in a way that made Lexa sad, and she looked so small half wrapped in that oversized blanket. Lexa sighed.

“I know you do. And, to be honest, I think we just need to move past this. Keeping your…” Lexa hesitated, still not quite used to the fact that her best friend and her sister were together. She tried again, determined to be rational about everything. “Keeping your relationship from me was bad but the relationship itself isn’t. I just need you to know that I’m not okay with the lies, Raven.”

“I do know that, I promise, I know it. It’s all I’ve thought about since you left. I’ll never keep something like that from you again.”

“You’d better not, you’re only allowed to date one of my siblings.”

There was a moment of silence before Raven’s laughter startled Lexa, but not as much as her own attempt at humour already had. She really had missed Raven, even if she couldn’t admit it before. She’d been so caught up with being mad at Anya, in the betrayal she’d felt, that she’d not really considered what to do about Raven.

“You’re such a dork,” Raven said in a way that was so familiar it ached.

“So you keep telling me.”

Raven shuffled a little closer, leaving just a few inches between them. “So, how was your week?”

Lexa pulled at the sleeves of her coat which she hadn’t yet taken off, chewing on her lip as she tried to decide on how much she wanted to reveal. She leaned back into the couch cushions.

“All things considered, it was pretty nice.”

“You enjoyed staying with Clarke?”

Lexa looked over, expecting to see a knowing grin on Raven’s face, to see that teasing shine to her eyes, but all she found was Raven’s face soft and open, only the gentlest brush of a smile on her lips. It was sweet and non-judgemental and Lexa relaxed. She so desperately wanted to talk to someone about Clarke but she wasn’t sure she could handle the ‘I told you so’ that would inevitably come with any admission she made. But this was Raven, the only real friend she’d ever had. It was so hard to hold back with the one person that had always encouraged her to be one-hundred percent herself.

“I did. I… uh, I really like her-” Lexa paused, taking a steadying breath- “and she likes me, too.”

“Of course she does,” Raven said with a beautiful smile, holding Lexa’s gaze. “I mean, how could she not?”

Before Lexa knew what was happening Raven had moved to rest her head on Lexa’s shoulder. There was only a moment of surprise and then Lexa was sighing and laying her cheek on the top of Raven’s head, closing her eyes, and allowing herself to feel relief at finally being reunited with her best friend. Oh how she’d missed it. The girl she’d been when she first met Raven would have never believed how much but she really had.

“She kissed me today,” Lexa practically whispered, not even realising she was going to say it until it was halfway out. She was ever so grateful when Raven didn’t erupt with excitement like she’d expected.

“And how was it?” Raven asked, not moving from the way they were leaning together. While she couldn’t see her, Lexa would have been willing to bet a lot that she was smiling. She could hear it in her voice.

“It was like magic,” Lexa said, flashing back to the moment that everything had changed.

“Mmm,” Raven hummed in approval. “I know the feeling.”

Lexa turned her head to press her lips to Raven’s head, prompted into doing so by the warmth in her chest. It wasn’t something she often did but, in the moment, it just felt right.

“I’m glad you do.” She settled again, watching the way Raven’s hand came to rest right beside hers. “Wait, you mean you’ve felt that with Anya, right?”

“Yes,” Raven chuckled. “With Anya.”

“Okay, good. That’s good.”

“Are you happy with Clarke?”

And even though Lexa knew Raven couldn’t see her reaction, her cheeks still flushed at the involuntary smile that took over her entire face.

“Very. And you’re happy with Anya?”

“I am.” A pause, a trembling breath, and then, “but neither of us feel complete without you.”

Lexa’s heart wavered, her eyes prickling, and she knew it would be evident in her voice but she couldn’t not say anything. “I know that feeling, too.”

“I love you, Lexa.”

“Mhmm,” Lexa agreed, shuffling against the cushions of the couch, her heart slowing. “I love you, too.”

And they stayed like that for a while, simply calm and enjoying each other’s presence. Lexa may have still been nervous about seeing Anya again but she couldn’t deny that, actually, she was kind of glad to be home. Even if she did miss Clarke.

(She missed her a lot, especially when she climbed into her cold bed alone.)

 

*

 

Nothing seemed quite right.

You get used to your life being a certain way, become accustomed to a familiar pattern, settle into a comforting routine, and Lexa had relied on that to keep her going amidst the stress that always seemed to find her. But then Anya showed up out of nowhere and, with that one event, Lexa’s whole world shifted out of alignment. Everything had been so settled since moving to Arkadia. (Well, except for that blip where Anya showed up pregnant, of course.) She knew where she stood with everything going on in her life and knew what to expect with each new day that came. But Anya’s return and the fact that she planned to stay had triggered – and still would trigger – so many changes, leaving Lexa powerless against the ripples of consequence flowing through her life.

Anya’s presence put her family in jeopardy. Nothing would be the same after she finally went to talk to their mom. After Theia, Ontari, and Aden learned that Lexa had kept such huge secrets from them. That lingered on the horizon – a steady, blurred presence waiting to charge into being and change her life, and that of her family, forever.

And then there was Raven, Lexa’s best friend, and her home. She lost them both and though she had made her way back, nothing felt the same anymore.

Lexa had been happy when she’d gone into her room after her talk with Raven that night and found Rio sleeping peacefully in his crib in the corner, and hadn’t minded getting him up and giving him breakfast the next morning when he began to whimper to get her attention. But when the minutes ticked by and neither Anya nor Raven came out of their room to take over caring for him, Lexa felt the uneasiness trickle down her spine when she realised she’d have to go and wake them up.

It was awkward, to say the least, when she knocked on the bedroom door with Rio in her arms. She had to push it open when she didn’t get an answer, as much as she didn’t want to. All Lexa could really see from that angle was two lumps in the duvet but it wasn’t long before there was movement. The shape Lexa had deduced to be Anya was the first to move and she peered up at the door, face creased in confusion only for a moment before she sat bolt upright, the reality of Lexa stood there sinking in.

“Lexa?” Anya’s face was expressionless, aside from her unusually wide eyes. “You’re… you’re here?”

Evidently Raven hadn’t had the chance to tell Anya that Lexa was home yet.

Lexa tried her best to brush past the awkwardness of the reunion. “I have to go to work. Rio’s had breakfast but I need you to watch him now.”

It took every bit of strength she had not to cling to the boy in her arms too tightly as she walked up to her sister, still incredibly on edge with the gaping chasm between them. She plopped Rio down onto Anya’s lap and Anya just stared up at her.

As Lexa walked away, Anya found her voice again. “Thanks for getting him up.”

The whole exchange was very odd and disjointed and Lexa didn’t look back. Couldn’t. She felt bad for just leaving but she figured Raven would fill Anya in on her coming home and besides, they had time to figure things out. It was definitely going to take time. Probably a lot of it.

The only shift in Lexa’s world that had worked out for the better (so far, anyway) was the one that had occurred between her and Clarke not even twenty four hours earlier. She clung to it as she walked to work, the buoy keeping her afloat amidst the rough waters of her home life. But when Clarke and Octavia showed up at the coffee shop later that afternoon, Lexa was reminded that not all was settled there either.

For the first moment it was wonderful. Lexa felt a flash of surprise when she turned around with a mug-laden tray in her hands and saw Clarke pushing open the fingerprint-speckled glass door, a smile on her face that immediately dragged the whole shop out of the gloom bequeathed on it by the overcast light of the day. Lexa’s lips tipped up into something entirely unworthy of the adoration on Clarke’s face until she caught sight of the girl stepping out of Clarke’s shadow. It stuttered and threatened to fail when she remembered how odd Clarke had been in Octavia’s presence the previous day.

And there it was, evident in how Clarke’s lips grew tight when she turned back to make sure that Octavia was following her before she headed over to Lexa. How her jaw muscles clenched as she attempted to rekindle that smile once more. But as she drew closer she seemed more sure, more relaxed, and Lexa felt better in the knowledge that she could help put Clarke a little more at ease. Perhaps things weren’t all bad.

“Hey,” Clarke said, a little breathily and totally beautiful, stood before Lexa.

“Clarke, hi,” Lexa replied in an equally soppy tone before pulling at the reins of her galloping heart and turning to Octavia. “Hello, Octavia.”

“Hey,” Octavia replied, looking between the other two girls before looking Lexa up and down. “Nice apron.”

Lexa was pretty sure that Octavia was trying to be humorous and not judgemental but she couldn’t help but look down at herself, feeling a bit self-conscious. “Uh, thanks. What are you guys doing here?” She walked over to the counter to deposit her tray and Clarke and Octavia followed.

“Clarke’s been showing me around Arkadia,” Octavia replied before Clarke could speak. There was something her tone, something in the way she rocked on her feet, which suggested discomfort. Clarke seemed to be running off the same supply because she just closed her mouth and nodded.

“Oh, that’s cool. And you’ve been shopping, I see?” Lexa gave her best attempt at a calm smile as she indicated to the cluster of bags in Octavia’s hands. Clarke had a couple, too.

“Yep,” Octavia replied once more, nodding. She seemed a little more relaxed this time, like she’d managed to claw herself out of the awkwardness surrounding them. Lexa wasn’t sure which one of them it was stemming from, exactly, but something told her that it was probably Clarke. No matter who was causing it though, they were definitely all feeling it. “I had to get a new outfit for tonight, I didn’t pack for a party!”

“A party?” Lexa questioned, turning to Clarke who was fidgeting on the spot, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Yeah, Niylah’s decided to throw a floor party again. She’s going crazy with all of the studying and people are starting to get back from break now so… It’s actually why we’re here. We came to invite you along.”

“I, uh-”

“I mean, you don’t have to come if you’re busy, I know you probably need to spend some time with Anya and Raven to, uh…” Clarke hesitated, eyes flicking to Octavia like she was mindful of saying too much in front of her. Octavia had lost interest in them though and was instead looking around the shop. “But, uh-” Clarke gave a nervous laugh, raking her hair back in a way that was totally distracting- “if you’re free, you’re welcome to come.”

And Lexa felt herself resenting Octavia once again for her unexpected presence. All she wanted to do was step right into Clarke’s space, run her fingers through her hair, and kiss away the uncertainty on her face but she couldn’t. Well, that wasn’t just Octavia’s fault, she supposed. She probably wouldn’t do that in a room full of people anyway, and definitely not in her place of work while she was on the clock, but still. That wasn’t the point.

“I’ll be there,” Lexa said instead, and Clarke smiled, her fidgeting ceasing, and Lexa felt her stomach clench in anticipation. Whether it was at the prospect of more awkwardness around Clarke and Octavia or the possibility of stealing a few morsels of alone-time with Clarke she wasn’t sure. Probably both, in all honesty.

Lexa reached out to take Clarke’s hand quickly and gave it a squeeze but she wasn’t quick enough. Octavia turned back and caught sight of their joined hands, a devious smile taking over her face. Clarke pulled her hand back, cheeks pink and pinched in an expression Lexa had learned meant that Clarke was holding back laughter.

“Okay, cool, we’ll see you later then, yeah? The party officially starts at eight but come over any time.”

“Alright, Clarke, see you later.”

And before Octavia could say anything, Clarke linked an arm through hers and dragged her from the shop. Clarke was definitely going to get an earful once out of Lexa’s vicinity, that was for sure. Lexa just stared after them, a small smile of amusement on her face.

She had a feeling that the night would either prove to be very enlightening or a complete disaster.

As it turned out, it was both.

 

*

 

By the time Lexa got home later that afternoon, all she wanted to do was sleep. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept for more than six hours in a night and she was beginning to very much regret taking on her job at the bar. But she needed the money and so she’d keep on pushing herself, just like she always had. Instead of studying before going to Clarke’s later, she decided perhaps a nap would suit her better.

Lexa found Anya and Raven sat on the couch when she pushed the door to her apartment open, Anya tucked under Raven’s arm and leaning against her chest. The noise drew their eyes and they pulled away from each other when they saw Lexa.

“Hey,” Lexa said, closing the door and leaning back against it. She had to at least say something, things were already weird enough.

“Hi,” the girls chorused in reply but then Raven fell silent and Anya continued. Lexa gripped her keys more tightly in anticipation of what she might say. “How was work?” was all it turned out to be and Lexa leaned a little more of her weight back into the door, relieved.

“It was okay. I’m going out this evening so I think I’m going to sleep for a while.”

Anya nodded. “Sure. I moved Rio into Raven’s room. I only left him in yours because you were gone but now you’re back, you should have your room to yourself.

“Uh, thanks.”

And Lexa pushed off the door with her hands, making her way across the room without another word. She wasn’t sure she had any left in her at all.

“Have a nice sleep,” Anya called after her but Lexa just kept walking.

She probably needed to stop just walking away from people when they were talking to her but, you know, baby steps.

She was just about to collapse onto her incredibly enticing bed when she noticed it. A chain of daisies hung over the bedpost. All of a sudden her eyes were brimming with tears and she sank to sit on her bed, holding her breath against the memories that flooded her mind. Shaking fingers reached for it and she draped the flowers over her palm, ghosting over them with the pads of the fingers of the other. Images flashed through her mind: plucking daisies from over-long grass in her backyard, Anya’s smile beating back sadness in Lexa’s chest, the warmth that took over instead as Anya draped the daisy-crown she’d made onto Lexa’s head. Laying on the lawn and looking up at the sky with Anya by her side. Day after day of Anya grabbing her hand when their mom was sad, dragging her outside and into their own little world that they’d made for themselves.

Anya remembered. Of course she remembered. She must have had more memories of that time that Lexa did; she was older, after all. Their childhood hadn’t been easy but they’d always stuck together. Until Anya left for good, that was.

Before she realised what she was doing, she reached up and placed the loop of flowers on her head like the crown they’d always used to be for the two girls who had just wanted to escape. She gave a watery chuckle and, exhausted, let herself fall sideways into her pillow, scooped up her feet, and curled herself into a ball.

Yes, Anya had left, but she was back now. She came back, she remembered, and she wanted to make things right. Perhaps they could be again.

Lexa was asleep before the tears even had time to dry on her cheeks.

Chapter Text

The night was going better than expected.

It may have not started well, neither would end so either, but at that moment Lexa was in a good place. And where was that good place, you ask? In Clarke’s bedroom with the incredibly gorgeous owner of said-bedroom pressed between herself and a wall.

Very good indeed.

Just a few minutes earlier she had allowed Clarke to drag her away from the throng of party-goers meandering through the hall while Octavia was adequately distracted by Jasper and Finn being their usual over-exuberant selves. Lexa couldn’t help but feel a little smug at the way Finn watched as Clarke took her hand. She didn’t feel guilty at all, surprisingly. She’d told him there was nothing going on between them months ago, back when there really wasn’t, and she had never expected there would be. How was she to know that things would turn out this way?

The feeling of Clarke’s hand in hers, the tightness of her grip, and the grin she kept throwing back over her shoulder as she led Lexa across the room had her heart racing, the waves of anticipation ebbing into excitement as she realised where they were headed. Once Clarke closed the door of her bedroom behind them and walked further into the room, everything seemed like a dream. The music was still loud but with the door closed it was muffled and filtering into the room strangely, the odd quality of everything around her only intensified by the couple of drinks that were flowing through her. It was all making her feel kind of floaty and it wasn’t unpleasant. She’d been hesitant when accepting Niylah’s offer of a drink when she’d first arrived but was slowly coming to realise why small amounts of alcohol could be a good thing. She felt unguarded and warm, cushioned by it, and it turned what could have been a very anxiety-filled moment into one much less daunting.

When Clarke finally turned around she gave the most devastating grin before biting her lip – an invitation that Lexa seized without hesitation. It only took three steps to close the gap between them and another four wobbly ones to reach the wall as they stumbled with the force of the kiss and Lexa’s need to push into Clarke as fiercely as possible.

Clarke’s grin was the sweetest thing Lexa had ever tasted and she captured it over and over as her fingers skated against the hot skin of Clarke’s sides under her shirt. Everything else was gone – the lingering tension between Clarke and Octavia that had still been evident when Lexa had arrived an hour before and had been weighing on her mind, her anxiety at Clarke’s uncharacteristic hesitance to be tactile with her in Octavia’s presence, and the press of people milling around not ten feet from where they were currently making good progress in having the most intense make-out session that Lexa had experienced in years.

Oh god, wait a minute – the people.

"Fuck," Lexa said against Clarke’s lips. Clarke hummed and Lexa swore she felt it vibrate through Clarke’s chest and into hers, she didn’t just hear it.

“Mmm, I know, you feel so good.” And Clarke’s tongue claimed Lexa’s again, fingers fisted in her hair as their hips pressed eagerly together.

Lexa actually had to bite back a moan and claw at the arousal clouding her mind to say what she had actually intended.

“No,” she said, pulling back a fraction so she could actually form words, “that’s not what I meant-”

“This doesn’t feel good?”

“No, I mean, yeah, but-”

And then Clarke’s lips were at her throat, pressing a tale of exultation to its curve, trailing down from her earlobe to her collarbone in a way that had that bitten-back moan manifesting with renewed fervour. This time she couldn’t hold it back.

“How about that?” Clarke asked, and Lexa could hear the smile in her voice, the smugness, before those lips came to suck at the juncture between her neck and her shoulder.

“Uhhh…” Lexa quickly realised that this wasn’t the way to get her words out and so she dragged Clarke’s face back up to hers with her hands, holding it a couple of inches away so she could get out what she wanted to say. “What if someone walks in on us?” Her breathing was ragged which surprised her, though it really shouldn’t have.

Clarke’s hands came to grip at Lexa’s and pulled them from her cheeks so she could move forward to claim Lexa’s lips again.

Oh god, Lexa was a goner.

“You’re cute when you’re worried,” Clarke said between kisses, her hands coming to Lexa’s hips to pull her closer even though there was no way that was possible at this point. “Luckily for us, my door has a lock.”

“But did you actually lock it?” Lexa persisted. “I don’t remember you locking it and I definitely didn’t.”

“I’m pretty sure I…” Wide-pupiled eyes flicked between Lexa’s before her body grew rigid. “I didn’t lock the door!” And suddenly Clarke sprang out from between Lexa and the wall, running across the room in the most haphazard way before falling against the door and twisting the lock. Lexa could do nothing but laugh while Clarke just stood there with her forehead against the wood, breathing so heavily that her shoulders were rising and falling visibly.

“Good job one of us was still capable of thinking logically,” Lexa said as Clarke turned around and leaned her back against the door, still breathing deeply.

“Oh please,” her eyes met Lexa’s, “don’t even pretend that you weren’t as distracted as I was.”

“I had enough presence of mind to think about locking the door.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Now come here and let me erase that presence of mind for you.”

And so that’s how Lexa had Clarke pressed up against the door instead, fingers coming up to run through her hair. Her newly cut and straightened hair that had Lexa overcome with an undeniable case of heart-eyes when the elevator door had binged open and she’d caught sight of her earlier that evening. Clarke’s usually wavy, longish hair at been cropped to her shoulders and now hung soft and straight. While Lexa had loved her hair the way it had been before, she couldn’t deny that she loved it this way too. If Clarke shaved it all off Lexa was pretty damn sure she’d still look amazing. Though she would miss running her fingers through it.

She pulled her lips from Clarke’s and kissed across her cheek to her ear, trailing her nose against its shell as Clarke’s fingers dug into her back.

“Your hair is gorgeous,” she whispered, and she swore Clarke shivered in reply. “You’re gorgeous.” This time Clarke’s fingers gripped even harder at her back, nubs of short nails pressing into her skin through the fabric of her shirt. And to stop herself from saying more, from spilling those words that her heart was beating solely for Clarke, she reunited their lips again, not fighting it when Clarke pushed her back towards the bed.

“Shouldn’t we get back to the party?” Lexa asked as her legs hit the soft of the mattress.

“Nuhuh,” Clarke said, shaking her head. “I don’t wanna share you.”

“But Octavia came to see you, to spend time with you.”

“Octavia wasn’t invited so Octavia can take what she’s given.” Clarke’s tone would have given Lexa pause at any other time but, as it was, she couldn’t really be blamed for being a little distracted.

And down they went, Clarke climbing eagerly on top of Lexa as she laid powerless against both her desire and Clarke’s will. Oh, oh, this was all so new: Lexa, Clarke, and a bed in an entirely sexual way for the first time… Her hands were at Clarke’s hips of their own volition, pulling her closer even while her mind struggled to catch up.

“But you said you wanted to slow down yesterday, maybe we should slow down,” she tried, hating herself for it, somehow revelling in the insistent press of Clarke’s tongue against her own while simultaneously growing a little concerned with Clarke’s impatience and the bite at the end of each kiss. Granted, she had never encountered this side to Clarke before but even so, something felt a bit off.

“All I want it you.”

More kissing. Slick lips, an eager tongue, legs tangling together, and thigh muscles tightening.

Clarke really wasn’t making it easy.

“And you’ll have me,” was Lexa’s delayed response, finally making it through the haze of lust, “when your apartment isn’t full of people that might interrupt us or overhear.”

Clarke’s answering kisses were a pretty convincing argument against Lexa’s, as was the way their bodies had begun to rock together. It took a lot of strength for Lexa to push Clarke back a fraction, eliciting a desperate moan that only made it harder to keep from kissing her again. Lexa wiggled until she managed to roll them both onto their sides and pressed a soft kiss to Clarke’s nose.

“Please, Clarke, I want to start this right with you, okay?” Lexa stayed close, looking deep into those eyes that still had so much mystery behind them, so much that Lexa was nervous to explore, and finally Clarke nodded.

“You’re too good, you know that, Lex?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Now come on, your friends are out there having a great time, let’s go and enjoy the party with them.”

“Fine,” Clarke relented, sighing and rolling her eyes in such an affectionate way that it had Lexa’s previously pounding heart shifting into more of a flutter instead.

God I love her.

And, just like that, Lexa’s concern had dissipated. For a short while, anyway.

 

*

 

So they went back to the party.

It wasn’t too bad, actually. Things seemed lighter once they were all a little inebriated. Clarke and Octavia seemed much happier together than Lexa had seen them so far, laughing and telling stories about people they’d gone to high school with and the kind of parties to which they used to go. Lexa got enough of a glimpse of high-school-Clarke to be sure that they would have never even spoken had they attended the same school. Even with their rocky start, perhaps they really had met at the right time.

After a while the dancing really got started and the way Clarke grabbed onto Lexa’s hand again, tugging her into an empty space in the middle of her living room, the way her smile faltered as their bodies came together, and the way it felt to rock to the pulse of the music against each other, had Lexa resenting her sensible side for pulling them from the privacy of Clarke’s bedroom.

The connection between them was humming excruciatingly and Lexa gripped at Clarke’s hips as the desire built inside her. She pressed her forehead against Clarke’s and closed her eyes, giving herself over to every little thing that she was feeling. Five senses was far too many to process, especially when sight gave her those piercing blue eyes that softened so much at their proximity and the way they kept flicking down to her lips. Lexa couldn’t even bring herself to care who was watching, who might be judging two girls for pressing up against each other in the middle of a crowded room, or the fact that this was all so new and they’d not even told anyone that they were tentatively seeing each other yet. Or at least Lexa hadn’t.

Were they even seeing each other? Was this dating or experimenting? Just a test run or should Lexa have been gearing herself up to ask Clarke to be her girlfriend? Girlfriend. Lexa’s fingers gripped more fiercely into Clarke’s hips at the word and the arms linked around her neck pulled her even closer in response, making her smile.

Don’t open your eyes, she kept telling herself. Meeting Clarke’s gaze seemed too scary. But with them closed she began to worry that she’d forget where she was, that she’d kiss Clarke in front of everyone, that she’d say something she shouldn’t, so she opened them.

Shit. So blue. Oh so, so blue. Lexa’s new favourite colour, for sure. The contrast between the swell of black pupils and blazing irises was gorgeous and Clarke’s eyes had these cute little crinkles around the edges and then Lexa looked down and realised what was causing them – Clarke was smiling. She was smiling and the kindling in Lexa’s heart caught alight and she smiled too, smiled and gripped harder, shifting her head and pressing her nose to the side of Clarke’s cheek as she tried to hide from the adoration she could see on that beautiful face. She still couldn’t believe any of it was happening.

Clarke let out a husky laugh right into Lexa’s ear and Lexa just nuzzled in closer, the whole left side of her body dappled with goosebumps thanks to that holy sound.

Lexa was utterly lost in Clarke and she didn’t notice the eyes on them. She didn’t notice the satisfied grins on both Octavia and Niylah’s faces as their suspicions were confirmed, nor the sad eyebrows tilted by an unhappy mouth from Finn, nor the way Jasper clapped him on the back supportively but his eyes were way more interested in the girls than they should have been. Nothing else mattered but Clarke, and Lexa wanted the weekend to be over so it could just be the two of them again.

Things didn’t stay that good, though. Of course they didn’t.

Lexa didn’t drink much more, she was still getting used to the whole college party scene, and while Clarke did, it wasn’t a great deal. She seemed quite happy immersing herself in Lexa instead, stealing quick but deep kisses every time they managed to sneak away from Clarke’s friends for a few minutes. But Octavia? Octavia had quite a lot to drink. Lexa was inclined to blame the guys at first. Finn appeared to be drowning his sorrows, Jasper was joining him in solidarity, and Octavia seemed to be getting roped in too. But after a while it was evident that she was doing it of her own accord.

When Clarke excused herself to go the bathroom, Octavia seemed to sense an opportunity. She headed over to Lexa who was leaned against a wall in Clarke’s living room, trying not to look as out of place as she felt without Clarke by her side.

“So you and Clarke met at work, right?” Octavia asked, no preamble. She was smiling but it didn’t reach her eyes. “She mentioned she started working in a bar a while back. Well, I say mentioned, mentioned to Wells, anyway. Not to me.”

“Yeah,” Lexa nodded, answering the question and ignoring the other comments, shoving her hands in her pockets. She really hoped there wasn’t a line for the bathroom so Clarke would come back quickly. “Yeah, we did. But we have a class together, too, so we’d seen each other around before that.” She didn’t mention the fact that Clarke never noticed her before the bar. That wasn’t important.

“I was surprised to hear she had a job, I thought she’d be too busy with classes at a new school and everything else. Besides, it’s not like she needs the money.”

“Mmm.” Lexa wasn’t really sure where Octavia was going with the conversation.

“But maybe it’s a good distraction, I guess. She’s never been one to sit about when she’s got a lot on her mind.”

A lot on her mind?

“Yeah, she likes to keep busy, I guess,” Lexa agreed.

Octavia raked a hand haphazardly through her hair, scraping it back from her face. “Yeah, before she came out she was the same. She ran away to her grandparents’ place on the east coast for the summer, spent the whole time playing soccer with these kids at some summer camp or something. I don’t know. She never really told me much about that time.”

“Um, okay.”

Octavia continued to survey her, seemingly unfazed by Lexa’s lack of a lengthy reply. She was proving to be much more lucid than Lexa expected; she was clearly much better at holding her alcohol than Lexa had assumed. It was… disconcerting.

Octavia seemed to be on a mission and Lexa didn’t like it.

“She didn’t tell me about you, either,” Octavia continued. “And neither did Wells, actually. He always holds out on me when it comes to Clarke.” Her expression shifted, a sloppy grin taking over her face, eyes glittering. Okay, so there was the drunken sheen. “Or maybe he just doesn’t know ‘cause Clarke felt weird talking to him about her new girlfriend. You and Clarke are together, right?”

“Uh-”

Before Lexa could even really hesitate like she was definitely going to, Octavia had barrelled on in her train of thought.

“Because you look pretty together to me. Clarke’s been giving you a crazy amount of heart eyes and she’s been by your side all night. I thought I’d never get a chance to actually talk to you without her steering the conversation away to something else.”

(Wait, had Clarke been deflecting Octavia? Lexa tried to think back but couldn’t remember much more than sweet touches and sparkling eyes. Damn it, she had been too distracted by what Clarke was doing to really take in what she was saying.)

“And don’t think the rest of us haven’t noticed how you guys keep sneaking off to make out,” Octavia teased, grin growing even wider.

Lexa’s cheeks flushed and Octavia laughed, putting her hand clumsily on Lexa’s arm as something in her seemed to soften.

“It’s nice, don’t worry. I’m just playing with you. It’s good that Clarke has someone to talk to about everything.” She took a breath and fidgeted a little, her hesitance quite the juxtaposition to her previous effusive rambling. “How’s she been doing anyway? She never tells me anything; even Wells can’t get much out of her. She gets really weird if anyone tries to ask her how she’s coping.”

Lexa looked at Octavia for a moment, weighing up her sincerity. There was a giant red flag waving above Octavia’s head but as the silence stretched between them, the other girl’s expression dropped, a look of genuine concern adding itself to the new and disconcerting demeanour she had adopted. Lexa wasn’t sure if it was worse than the drunken exuberance or not. Both seemed worryingly unpredictable in their nature.

“She’s been okay,” Lexa offered, forcing herself to relax, and Octavia gave her a gentle smile. Placating her couldn’t hurt, right? “I mean, I know moving away from her old school and her family was hard on her. She misses them a lot, and you too, I’m sure, but she’s coping well, I think. Being in a new place is always an adjustment.”

As Lexa talked, she started to feel discomfort creeping through her skin at the way Octavia was looking at her. Her eyebrows were pulling down into a frown and her mouth hung open slightly in an expression that looked very much like confusion. And then, all of a sudden, it shifted.

“Fuck, she didn’t tell you, did she?” Octavia said, shaking her head. The movement made her wobble on the spot but she soon steadied herself, eyes never leaving Lexa.

“Tell me what?”

“Why she moved here. She didn’t actually tell you, did she? Oh Jesus, Clarke.”

Lexa just blinked at Octavia. “She told me she needed to get away.”

“Of course she did,” Octavia scoffed, and Lexa was beginning to worry at Octavia’s shift in expression. “Typical Clarke, runs away from everyone and refuses to talk about her problems, even with the people she cares about. Who care about her. You know, I used to call her up all the time to check on her but she barely ever answered so I gave up in the end. Wells says we have to just leave her to deal with things on her own, that’s just how Clarke is, but I don’t think Jake should have let her go.”

“Um, okay…” Lexa said, the discomfort wending its way through her entire body. She didn’t feel like she had the right to be hearing any of this but Octavia was stood right in front of her and, despite her level of intoxication, she looked about ready to stop Lexa if she tried to escape. She was just about to chance it anyway but Octavia kept talking, interrupting her thought process.

“I had to lie to Wells to come here, you know. I only told my boyfriend I was coming and I’m sure Wells will work out what I’ve done soon enough, or he’ll get it out of Lincoln, he’s too nice, but he can’t stop me. Just because he’s known Clarke longer it doesn’t mean he knows what’s best for her-”

“Octavia, I don’t think you should-”

“I mean, I know it was her mom but I loved Abby too, we all did. And poor Jake, his only kid leaves just after his wife dies and-”

“Octavia-” Lexa grabbed the other girl’s arms- “stop.” Her heart was racing as Octavia’s words really hit her and she let her hands fall back to her sides. They seemed to hit Octavia too as she realised what she’d said and she took a step backwards in surprise, bumping into a passing guy. He flashed her an irritated look but she was clearly far too shocked to apologise to him.

She put her hand to her mouth. “Shit, I didn’t mean to-”

And then the worst possible thing happened. Clarke reappeared.

“Hey guys, what are you…” She looked between the two of them – at the way they avoided her eyes, the way Octavia’s hand wobbled in front of her mouth, and how her eyes widened when she finally managed to look at Clarke – and froze. “What happened?” The smile died on her lips and she blanched, her voice terrifyingly emotionless when she found it once more. “Someone tell me what happened.”

“Clarke,” Octavia started, taking a step towards her, reaching out to her with shaking hands. Clarke immediately stepped back and Octavia sank into herself. “I didn’t mean to say it, it just came out. I just got caught up in being mad at you for leaving and I accidentally said that your mom-”

Don’t.

Lexa had to tear her gaze from the utter shame on Octavia’s face to look at Clarke. What she found was barely someone she recognised. Clarke wasn’t just blank now, oh no, this was worse. Clarke was cold. Every angle in her face was suddenly harsh where only minutes ago they’d been soft, her eyes carved from ice so brittle it made Lexa hurt.

“That wasn’t yours to tell.” Her voice was calm but anger simmered in its depth, Lexa could feel it.

“I know, I’m sorry, I just-”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You need to talk about it, though! You can’t just keep running away from your feelings, Clarke. You haven’t even told your girlfriend-”

“We’re not-” Lexa tried to interject, not really knowing why. That wasn’t what was important at that moment. Clarke’s mom… Clarke’s mom was dead. How had she missed that? Sure, Clarke barely talked about her family but Lexa should have been able to tell by the way she talked about her when-

(Later, when she couldn’t sleep, Lexa saw it. She saw how Clarke talked less about her mom than her dad, how she said she missed her mom more than anyone, how she’d sounded so sad when Lexa had mentioned that her mom had lost her own mom as a teenager. How she’d known just what Lexa meant when she said the pain of grief never really goes away.)

“You know, just because you lost your mom-”

Clarke flinched and Lexa just wanted to whisk her away, wrap her in blankets, and hold her so she didn’t have to go through that conversation. “Octavia,” Lexa warned but Octavia carried on like she hadn’t said anything.

“-it doesn’t mean you have to lose the rest of us. We all lost her too and we were supposed to stick together, that’s how people work through their grief-”

“No,” Clarke said firmly, her whole body rigid. “You don’t get to decide how I grieve. You have no idea what’s best for me in this, Octavia, don’t even pretend. I did what I had to to keep going. I couldn’t stay in that house without…” Clarke closed her eyes and took a deep breath before looking back up again. “My dad let me go, Wells let me go, but you…”

She took a step closer to Octavia and while part of Lexa wished she could leave – she felt like she was intruding – a bigger part was just very glad she wasn’t on the other end of what she could sense coming. She almost felt bad for Octavia. Almost. But as shocked as she still was, she was on Clarke’s side.

“You’re selfish, Octavia. If you really wanted to help me, you’d have respected that I wanted to be left alone. You’d have waited for me to come back to you because you know I always do. But you didn’t. You showed up unannounced at my home and forced your way back into my life to ease your mind about how I was doing, maybe so you don’t have to feel so guilty for not being able to stop me from going. But this has nothing to do with you. This is my grief, she was my mom, and it was my choice to leave. I don’t want you here, not if you can’t respect that.”

“But Clarke-”

“No, listen to me.” If Clarke had lost her cool somewhat before, she had regained it now. She was calm, controlled, and yet so, so harsh in her tone. “I want you to go.”

Tears were sparkling in Octavia’s eyes, she looked utterly devastated, her mouth hanging open – she’d definitely got more than she’d bargained for. Lexa honestly didn’t know what she was feeling towards either of them in that moment. Everything was a mess and there was a roaring in her ears that was making it harder and harder to take everything in.

“I-I don’t have anywhere to go,” Octavia stammered. “My flight isn’t until tomorrow and it’s late, Clarke, where am I supposed to go?”

Clarke went to speak but her jaw flailed uselessly. Just when Lexa thought Clarke was going to soften, that she’d give in and let Octavia stay, she folded her arms across her chest.

“Fine. Then I’ll go.”

And just like that she turned to leave.

Octavia went to follow her but Lexa put her hand on her arm. “I think it’s best if you just leave her. I’ll go.”

She caught up with Clarke in the still bustling hallway.

“Clarke, are you…” She sighed, knowing what she was about to say was stupid but she couldn’t think of anything that could possibly make things better. “Are you okay?” They fell into step with each other or, rather, Lexa had to walk quickly to keep up with Clarke who apparently wasn’t slowing down for anything.

“I don’t want to talk,” came Clarke’s once more emotionless voice.

“Okay, you don’t have to talk but at least come and stay at my place. I don’t want you to be walking around outside alone right now and you certainly can’t drive.”

“I want to be alone.”

When they reached the elevator they stopped and Clarke pressed incessantly at the button until it irritated Lexa too much and she grabbed her hand to still it. She tugged on it until Clarke finally met her eyes.

“I’ll sleep on the couch, you can have my room.”

“Lexa-”

“Or I’ll stay here with Octavia, make sure she gets to the airport okay if you don’t want to see her at all. You can just stay at mine alone. I’ll make sure the girls don’t bother you.”

“I don’t know…”

“Really, Clarke, I think that would be best. I want to know that you’re safe.” Lexa was surprised when Clarke maintained eye contact but she looked too tired to do much more than just give in. And that’s what she did.

“Okay.”

“Okay, good. Will you let me walk you there?”

“Lex…” Clarke seemed to crumple and Lexa sucked in a breath, the look on her face knocking the air right out of her lungs. She looked broken and Lexa felt awful. “I can’t…”

“Then let me call Anya to come and pick you up. I’ll tell her not to ask questions and then you’ll be back quickly and you can just climb into bed.”

The elevator finally rattled onto their floor and they stepped inside.

“Will that stop you from worrying?”

No.

“As much as possible when you’re feeling this way.”

“Then okay.”

Lexa called Anya once they got out of the building and Anya agreed to come straight away. Lexa figured that she would. They only had to wait for five minutes and they did so mostly in silence. It was cold and Lexa wished she could stand close to Clarke, take her arm and help comfort her through touch when she knew words would never be enough. But Clarke kept her distance and so Lexa did too.

Eventually Clarke broke the silence and Lexa wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or terrified of what she might say.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

Lexa let out a long breath. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not. I know it’s not. It’s just… I can’t say it, you know? It’s not that I wanted it to be a secret or anything. Or… I don’t know. Maybe I did.”

“It’s really okay, Clarke. But you can tell me things. I’ve trusted you with more than pretty much anyone in my life. I told you all about Rio and Anya, things I never thought I could talk about. I want to be able to do that for you too.”

Clarke gave a weak smile. “Yeah, well, a dead mom is a little more tragic than a secret nephew, don’t you think?” As soon as the words were out of Clarke’s mouth Lexa could tell she regretted them. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. Your stuff is important too, I just mean…”

“Clarke, stop, you’re fine. It’s a big deal, I get that. I get why you didn’t tell me. I just want you to know that I’m here.”

And then, thankfully, Anya pulled up. Lexa made to step back but Clarke stepped towards her more quickly, wrapping her arms around her.

“Thank you,” she whispered into the crook of Lexa’s neck.

Lexa shook her head, tightening her grip around Clarke as she willed herself to keep it together. “Get some sleep, Clarke, and don’t worry about anything. I’m here for you when you need me, okay? Just say the word and I’ll be there.”

Clarke pulled back. “Okay.” She pressed their foreheads together for a moment, breathing deeply, before her eyes slowly opened once more. They seemed calmer again, much more like Clarke, and Lexa let out a slow breath.

Clarke pressed her lips to Lexa’s cheek quickly before turning away and sliding into Anya’s car. Lexa gave Anya a nod of acknowledgement and she received a soft smile in reply. It appeared that her sister was glad she had been able to go to her for help despite everything. And, honestly, Lexa was too.

She watched the car until it disappeared around the corner and it took a few minutes before the cold settled into her bones enough to make her shiver and that finally made her move to go back inside.

It felt like a lifetime had passed but the party was still in full swing when she got back upstairs, it could have only been minutes since Clarke had returned from the bathroom. It was so strange how quickly things could change.

The heavy thud of the base just seemed to echo around the space inside of Lexa as she stepped into Clarke’s apartment, feet far too heavy.

“Where is she?” Octavia asked, rushing over to her.

“She’s gone back to my place with my sister. She’ll be safe there, she just needs time.”

“She’s had like nine months and she’s barely spoken about it, she needs to at some point. It’s not like it was her fault or anything, it was-”

Lexa held up her hand, feeling ever so weary. “Don’t, Octavia. Just… stop talking.”

And she walked away, heading into Clarke’s room and closing the door behind her. She leaned against it, sinking to the floor, and rested her head on her knees.

It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Lexa ended up putting Octavia to bed a little while before the party’s demise. Time had lost all meaning by the point at which Finn had come and pulled her from the darkened recesses of Clarke’s bedroom. He implored her with slurred speech to come to the bathroom which alarmed her at first, especially when he held out a hand to coax her, but then his posture sagged.

“It’s Octavia.”

And then Lexa found herself holding Octavia’s hair back, barking at the dithering Finn to find her a hair tie before Niylah came to investigate and pulled one off her wrist with a sympathetic smile. Lexa declined help from all of them after that, tied Octavia’s hair in a bun, and switched to rubbing her back instead as the girl voided her stomach of all of the evil from the evening. Lexa wished it were possible to do that with the poison that seemed to be flooding her system, wished she could get the image of Clarke’s sharpened edges and icy eyes out of her mind.

Octavia was sobbing most of the time, incoherent as tears streaked through her makeup, leaving marks that should have made Lexa feel pity. Or maybe disgust. But she felt nothing at all. The only thing she could think of was Clarke.

Anya had put Lexa in a similar position many times as a teenager, though she wasn’t sure if that made having to do this for Octavia better or worse. It was with a dull ache in her muscles and tiredness prickling at the backs of her eyes that she cleaned Octavia up, coaxed her out of her sweat-stained shirt and jeans, and into a loose shirt. She tucked her into Clarke’s bed with surprisingly little resistance and Octavia was asleep within minutes. Lexa watched her for a few moments from a distance, deliberating, and then crept back over and gently rolled her into the recovery position. Just in case.

It was with a large sigh that Lexa tugged the comforter off the end of the bed and headed back out into the living room. The music was much quieter by this point; still thudding dully from one of the other apartments, and the front door was closed. The only people left in the room were Niylah and a pretty, dark-haired girl who was falling asleep resting against Niylah’s chest.

Lexa wrapped the comforter around her shoulders and sank onto the other end of the couch.

“Is Octavia okay?” Niylah asked, voice just a fraction above a whisper.

“She just needs to sleep it off.”

“And Clarke?”

Lexa tried to ignore the jolt of electricity that went through her at that name. She wasn’t sure how much Niylah knew. “She and Octavia had an argument so she’s staying at my place for the night until she cools off.” That didn’t feel quite right but it was all she wanted to divulge for the time being. It wasn’t her place to say more. Niylah didn’t seem to object though.

“Do you want me to keep an eye on Octavia so you can go to Clarke?”

Niylah was a lovely girl but Lexa was finding it a little too much to have someone being so sweet to her when she felt so vulnerable. She swallowed back the tears that she didn’t deserve to shed and shook her head. “Can I stay here?”

The girl leaning up against Niylah let out a noisy breath and Niylah’s expression shifted from gentle concern to something even softer and much more adoring. She looked down at the girl, brushed her hand over her hair, and then pressed a kiss to the top of her head. Clarke and Lexa had been wondering about the mystery girl Niylah kept going off to visit, speculating about whether it was just casual as was Niylah’s style or if perhaps it was something more. Now Lexa knew. She found herself wanting to tell Clarke and almost made a move to do so but then she remembered she couldn’t. Not right then.

Niylah turned back to Lexa, face sombre once more.

“Of course you can.”

It took Lexa a moment to remember what she had asked. “Thank you.”

Niylah nudged the girl awake – Lexa felt bad for not knowing her name – and encouraged her up. A very similar look of adoration was on the girl’s face as Niylah wrapped an arm around her waist and it made Lexa’s heart hurt. They bid her goodnight and she was just about to settle down on the couch for what was bound to be a terribly frustrating and broken few hours of sleep but then Niylah came out again. She lingered on the other side of the room, biting on her lip as she looked at Lexa.

“Should I be worried about Clarke?”

Lexa’s stomach tightened, as did her jaw as she wrestled with the best way to put what she wanted to say. In the end, she conceded.

“I don’t know.”

“You’ll talk to her tomorrow though, right?”

“Sure, if she wants to talk.”

Niylah nodded, more to herself than to Lexa, it seemed. “If you need my help with her, or anything, you know where to find me.”

“Yeah, thanks, Niylah.”

Niylah relaxed against the wall, a smile ghosting over her lips. “You guys make a cute couple.”

It took everything Lexa had left in her not to flinch – it felt like they’d never get to be just that, like everything was determined to get in their way. She gritted her teeth and nodded in acknowledgement, hoping to appease Niylah. It seemed to do the trick, or she at least sensed that Lexa couldn’t take anymore, because she finally went back to her room.

Lexa had been right – she didn’t sleep much at all.

 

*

 

The first thing Lexa became aware of was the shuffling of feet outside her bedroom door. She opened her eyes slowly, everything materialising in a blur, as she heard whispered voices just beyond the threshold.

Everything came flooding back to her and she blinked the sleep from her eyes. Her stomach squirmed as she registered that she was back in her bedroom. Of course. She had left Octavia back at Clarke’s that morning, texting Clarke as she walked home to tell her that she was on her way. Disappointment seeped from her core outwards, turning her cold, when she arrived at the apartment and found it devoid of Clarke. Anya, her mouth downturned, had explained that Clarke had left a while ago, and Lexa had just nodded glumly. She slunk into her room and flopped onto the bed, the smell of Clarke still clinging to her sheets making her curl into a ball at the ache that started pulsing from her chest.

Lexa wasn’t sure how long ago that had been, time was still eluding her, and she rubbed a hand over her face, willing her eyes to stay open. She knew what was coming, could see two patches of shadows through the crack under the door. Yep, there it was – a gentle knock. She heaved herself up to rest against her pillows, straightening the blanket she must have draped over herself at some point (wait, did she do that?) before beckoning her sister in. She knew that’s who it would be.

Anya’s face appeared around the edge of the door, lines of worry tracked into her skin, but something about Lexa made her soften, eyebrows tilting into something more like sympathy instead. That was worse somehow, and Lexa pulled her knees up to her chest.

“Can I come in?” Anya asked gently, voice low in a way that should have been soothing. It wasn’t.

Lexa considered refusing but, in the end, it felt like the only thing worse than talking to Anya was dealing with the guilt she knew she’d feel if she sent her away.

She smoothed an imaginary crease out of her blanket. “Sure.”

As Anya stepped into the room, she raised the mug in her hands in offering. Lexa hadn’t noticed it before. “I thought you might like some hot chocolate.”

Lexa fixed her gaze on her fingers and the way they gripped at her knees through her blanket but her resolve didn’t last long. A quick glance up revealed the hope in Anya’s expression and Lexa hated it. Anya was just hovering by the door, waiting for Lexa to say something, do something, but Lexa had no idea how to act around Anya in light of everything that had happened between them. She had still felt so raw and then everything with Clarke happened and… it was all too much.

It was a few uncomfortable seconds of Anya’s eyes on her and Lexa trying her best to ignore their weight before Anya spoke again.

“I even put in those little marshmallows that you like,” she tried, “you know, like when we were kids and you-”

“I remember,” Lexa said, cutting Anya off. She couldn’t hear it in that moment, didn’t want to be dragged back into the past by Anya’s reminiscing, however well-intentioned it might have been. She’d spent too much of the last few years clinging onto what she’d lost. She didn’t need to be reminded of a time when they’d always made their way back to each other. It seemed far too difficult to do that now. She could have let Anya finish, could have let her tell the story of how it was always her making it up to Lexa, how each time she upset her, hurt her, or pushed her away, no matter how big or small a deal it was, eventually she’d always come back with those wide, hopeful eyes, and that damn hot chocolate. And of course Lexa always forgave her. But none of that would have helped.

She wasn’t ready to forgive this time. Not yet. Although, that hot chocolate did seem appealing. She hadn’t been able to face making it since Anya left.

“Thanks,” Lexa said, finally.

That was all Anya needed to press the door closed gently behind her and step further into the room. When she reached Lexa’s bedside she held the mug out to her by the handle and Lexa took it carefully, cradling it lightly while she gauged how hot it was. She found it a pleasant temperature, perhaps a little on the warm side but the slight burn wasn’t unwelcome. Everything had become a blur around her again and that little bit of pain helped her to focus, to draw her back out into the real world. She gripped the mug tightly with both hands and it sent goosebumps up her arms; she hadn’t realised she was cold until that moment. She pulled it to her core, relishing the feeling flooding through her.

“Do you want to talk about Clarke?” Anya asked, pulling Lexa’s gaze up from where it had got stuck on the little pink and white marshmallows floating on top of the hot chocolate.

“What about her?” Lexa replied, jaw feeling tight. If Raven had told her what she’d said the other day-

“About why I had to come and pick her up last night and why you didn’t come home with her.”

“You didn’t have to do anything,” Lexa bit back. She expected the edge to her voice to make Anya flinch but it just made her deflate. That was worse somehow. She couldn’t help the way she was bristling, even if Anya wasn’t quite on the topic she’d thought. Of course, she couldn’t be sure that Raven hadn’t told Anya what she’d said, she supposed it was bound to happen now they were a couple… She didn’t really like that thought.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Anya said quietly. She took a deep breath and seemed to gather herself because when she spoke again her voice was stronger. “I was just worried about her. She didn’t say a word to me, just went straight to your room when we got back and didn’t come out again until this morning. I know she’s not my biggest fan or anything but she didn’t even acknowledge Raven so I know it wasn’t just me.”

When Lexa didn’t reply – she still wasn’t quite sure how – Anya came to sit on the edge of Lexa’s bed, more towards the end to keep the space between them. But she twisted her body towards Lexa, giving her full attention to her.

“Sorry,” Lexa sighed. “I didn’t mean to snap, it’s just…” She took a sip from her mug to give herself a few more seconds to work out the best thing to say. For some reason, finally meeting Anya’s eyes helped. “I’m worried about her, too.”

Anya’s expression softened. “Maybe you should go and talk to her?”

Lexa shook her head. “I’m not sure she’s going to want to talk.”

“Did you guys have a fight?”

“No, no, but she fought with her friend, one from back home that had come to stay with her.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“And why did this mean that you couldn’t come back here with her too?”

Lexa bit at her lip. “It’s not my place to say.”

“Right,” Anya nodded, folding her hands in her lap, “of course.”

They sat in silence for a little while longer. Lexa let the warmth of the hot chocolate, the thick sweetness of the molten marshmallows, soothe her. The tentativeness between the two of them was certainly an improvement on the tension that had been present pretty much ever since Anya had shown up, even before the argument.

“I’m sure she’ll talk to you when she’s ready,” Anya said after a time, holding out a hand and letting it hover in the air before meeting Lexa’s eyes. She took a breath, offered a small smile, and lowered her palm until it rested on Lexa’s now outstretched leg. She gave a brief squeeze before getting to her feet. “If you need anything, I’ll be out there.”

Anya was almost at the door when Lexa finally found her voice again. It was barely there but Anya heard it and stopped. “Thank you.”

“It was only hot chocolate,” Anya said as she turned back around.

“Not just for that. For Clarke. For trying… Just, thank you.”

Anya nodded, smile strong. Determined, somehow. “Of course. I’m always here for you, Lexa. I know I screwed everything up by leaving, and by lying to you, but I’m never doing that again. I know you can’t trust that right now, that you probably can’t trust me in any way, really, but I’m going to prove it to you. I promise.”

Lexa knew she wouldn’t be able to respond to that without unleashing a whole mess of emotions and, really, she wouldn’t have even known where to begin anyway. Instead she just nodded and watched as Anya left her alone once more.

Her eyes stayed fixed on the door for a while, the world blurring around her as they slipped out of focus, but she kept on drinking her hot chocolate until the mug was empty. Only then did she finally move and trade it for her phone off the nightstand.

No new messages.

She sighed, putting her phone back down again. She definitely needed to wait for Clarke to contact her first… right?

 

*

 

Either the water pressure had suddenly become amazing or Lexa was even more spaced out than she’d realised because the water raining down on her from the shower felt sharp, hot needles beating into her skin, goosebumps forming upon first contact. She held her hands under the jet for a while, letting the intensity of the water hit skin well-versed in a wider variety of stimuli, allowing it to then drizzle from her palms down her stomach and all the way to her feet. Her vision blurred the longer she stood there and then, without any real conscious thought, she stepped forward and into the stream of water. She closed her eyes as it pattered on top of her head, slicking her hair to her skin in seconds. The way the beads ran down her forehead, her cheeks, and dripped off her bottom lip made her feel better somehow, like she was being cleansed.

By the time the world around her started to feel more solid, the bathroom was filled with steam and stiflingly hot. It quickly began to make her feel dizzy, threatening to steal away that lucidity again. She washed quickly before turning off the water and drying herself, deliberately avoiding the mirror. It was fogged up anyway but she had no desire to see what a day of agonising over Clarke had reduced her to. She had grabbed some clothes out of her room without really paying much attention and, when she slipped her shirt on, she was immersed in the smell of Clarke. She looked down and realised she’d put on the NASA shirt which Clarke had pretty much claimed for herself now. A dull ache radiated out from Lexa’s heart, Clarke must have worn it last night, there’s no way that smell could have lasted a wash cycle. Or maybe it could have – as Lexa was discovering, there was something about Clarke that just didn’t want to be shaken off.

The cool air of the living room was incredibly welcome when she stepped out of the bathroom and she was surprised to find it empty when Anya, Raven, and Rio had all been in there before. The rest of the apartment seemed very quiet too, usually at least one of the other three could be heard at any time during waking hours, they weren’t a quiet bunch. She checked Raven’s room and, sure enough, there was no answer when she knocked. Pushing the door open revealed it to be empty. It struck Lexa as very odd that they’d go out without telling her.

It was with a frown on her face that Lexa returned to her own room but she never made it over the threshold, stopped in her tracks by an unexpected sight.

Clarke.

Clarke was perched precariously on the edge of Lexa’s bed and as soon as she saw her she was up on her feet, hands pulling at the sleeves of her grey sweater, eyes wide and wary.

“Clarke,” was all Lexa could manage to say as she blinked over at the other girl. Her heart was hammering stupidly fast and that surreal feeling draped itself back over the world once more.

“Hi,” Clarke said in reply, hands still fidgeting and her feet shuffling on the carpet. Unsure-Clarke was a version of her that Lexa definitely wasn’t used to seeing. The absence of the smile that usually greeted her told her all that she needed to know. Clarke wasn’t okay. Of course she wasn’t. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m here. Anya let me in.”

“No, no, I’m glad you’re…” Lexa took a breath. “It’s fine. I don’t mind.” She finally stepped into the room, closing the door behind herself more out of habit than anything. “Do you know where they went?”

“Yeah, Raven suggested they take Rio out for dinner. I think they wanted to give us some privacy, you know, to talk or whatever. The look Raven gave Anya wasn’t exactly subtle.”

Lexa stuffed her hands in her pockets, her arms feeling weird just hanging uselessly by her sides. What did she normally do with them when she talked? “That sounds like them.”

“Yeah.”

Silence fell between them. Clarke’s eyes found the carpet and stared at it intently. Lexa just took Clarke in, trying to figure out what exactly it was about her that seemed so wrong. She’d seen her in bad moods before, in sad moods, but this was different.

It had to have been almost a minute before the silence was broken.

“I’m s-” Clarke began just as Lexa also attempted to speak.

“Do you-”

And then they both stopped, nervous, smileless laughter coming from them at the awkwardness. God, it was awkward. Lexa wanted to fidget, to bite at her nails or play with her probably slightly crazy damp hair just for something to do other than just stand there foolishly. They had been in such a good place not even twenty-four hours ago and yet there they were, not even knowing what to say to each other.

Clarke finally looked up and Lexa’s breath caught in her chest. She looked so tired.

“I’m sorry for bailing on you last night,” Clarke said. It seemed weird to stand so far apart and talk but Clarke made no move to come closer so Lexa kept still too. Even though every second that ticked by was painful in how hard it was to not be able to comfort Clarke in the way that she wanted. The only way she really knew how.

“Don’t worry about it, Clarke.”

“Octavia told me that you took care of her.” Clarke folded her arms across her chest, eyes still on Lexa. “Thank you.”

Lexa inclined her head in acknowledgement. The thanks weren’t necessary, of course, but she could tell that Clarke needed to offer them more than she needed to receive them.

“How is she fairing? She looked rough when I left this morning.”

“She feels pretty shit and, uh, not just because of the excessive drinking.”

Lexa watched the way Clarke’s fingers dug into her upper arms, how the fabric of her sweater creased under the pressure.

“I can imagine. So you guys… talked? About things?”

“A little. She apologised.”

“That’s good.”

Clarke nodded. “We still have a lot to work through. I know I hurt her too and obviously I…” Clarke faltered. “But I think things will be better, you know, eventually. She left for the airport a little while ago.”

It was becoming a pattern that Lexa had no idea what to say to people that day, apparently, and she hated feeling useless like that.

“I’m sure you guys will get there in time,” she tried, lamely.

“Yeah.” Clarke didn’t seem entirely convinced but she took a deep breath before finally releasing her grip on her arms and letting them fall to her sides. “This isn’t exactly what we planned for a night together after Octavia left, huh?” She finally gave the slightest of smiles, though it seemed more out of nerves and perhaps exasperation rather than from any genuine happiness.

A wistfulness for simpler times, perhaps. Lexa could relate.

“Life doesn’t always go the way we plan.”

“You can say that again.”

And that’s when Lexa chanced it, she took a step closer.

Clarke didn’t back away and the hope it sparked made Lexa feel bolder.

“Do you want to talk about it? About your…” She stopped herself, remembering how visceral Clarke’s reaction had been the day before with the mention of her mom. “Do you want to talk about her?”

Clarke shook her head. “No.” Her voice trembled around that single syllable and even in the waning light of the setting sun Lexa could see the way that her eyes were shining with tears.

She took another step. “Then what do you want to do? Did you just come to apologise?”

“I don’t know.” A tear slipped down Clarke’s cheek and this time Lexa took two steps forward before she could stop herself. She reached out a hand towards Clarke.

Clarke backed away and Lexa tried not to shatter.

“I’m sorry,” Lexa said as she watched an impatient hand come to brush that tear away.

“No, no, you have nothing to be sorry for, it’s just… I don’t know if I can…”

This time a sob escaped Clarke and, though she was quick to stifle it, it was already out. Her eyes widened as her hands pressed firmly over her mouth. Sorrow built in Lexa as she watched Clarke fight it.

“Clarke…”

Clarke tore her hands from her face and when her voice came this time it was stronger. Guarded in a way that seemed worse than the tears.

“See, this is why I don’t talk about it. It’s why I moved away from everyone who knew.”

“Why? Because you get upset?”

“No, because of the way you’re looking at me right now.”

“How am I looking at you?”

“Like you pity me.”

“Clarke, I don’t pity you.”

“I know that look, Lexa, it’s all I got for weeks afterwards, until I moved away. Of course you pity me. My mom… she died and I’m standing here crying in front of you.” Her words were sharp, her tone sharper, but Lexa was determined not to let Clarke push her away. She could see where this was going.

“I hate seeing you in pain like this, Clarke. It makes me wish I could fix everything, make it all better so you can just be happy like you deserve, but it’s not pity. Seeing you like this hurts because I-” And there Lexa hesitated because she had almost said it. She almost confessed what she’d been fighting to hold back for days and, while she realised the hypocrisy in fighting against it when all she wanted was for Clarke to let go, now was definitely not the time for that.

“Because you what?” Clarke asked, everything in her softening.

“Because I care about you. I like you a lot and you’ve become very important to me. I’m invested in your happiness.”

This time it was Clarke who took a step closer.

“Was that really what you were going to say?”

“Clarke…”

Another step. “Lexa?”

“Clarke, please, not right now. We should focus on-”

But Clarke took two steps this time and now it was Lexa that had to fight not to step back. The sorrow in Clarke’s expression was gone, it had been taken over by something… darker. Much deeper, much more confusing. Her eyes still glittered with tears but they left Lexa’s and fixed lower, tongue tracing over her bottom lip. The space between them would be gone in two more steps and Lexa was a little scared about what would happen once it was.

Wait, why was she scared?

“I don’t want to talk.”

“We don’t have to talk about it, not ‘til you’re ready, but we can just grab some dinner or watch a movie or…”

Another step.

“Please, Lex, you told me to wait until we were alone and now we are and I need you. I want you.”

Silence, and then

“You can say it,” Clarke said, eyes connecting with Lexa’s once more.

Lexa shook her head. “I can’t.”

Clarke reached out for Lexa’s hand, linked their fingers and tugged at them, willing her to take that final step.

And Lexa, overwhelmed and confused as she was, took it. She’d never wanted anything more than to be exactly what Clarke needed, what she wanted.

(But she wouldn’t say those words, that was one thing about which she was certain.)

“Show me?” Clarke’s voice was little more than a whisper, needing to be nothing more given their proximity.

Her eyes searched Lexa’s, flicking back and forth between them, perfectly clear. No tears, no intoxication, just… Clarke. She was just Clarke. Needing, wanting, pleading for Lexa. Lexa liked to think she could be strong but faced with such a sight it was pathetic how weak she had become.

Something in her let go and her muscles loosened, posture slackening and moving her to close the fraction of space that separated them. Their chests pressed together and Lexa’s eyes closed of their own volition. Their foreheads came together with the smallest thud and everything slotted into place.

“I’ve missed you,” Lexa breathed out, everything in her succumbing, and when Clarke spoke once more, Lexa could feel how close their lips were.

“Show me,” she repeated.

And so Lexa did.

The kiss was slow, tender, but quickly deepened, and Lexa’s hands were swift in realising their need to grip onto Clarke’s hips and pull their bodies together. Clarke’s answering gasp was followed by her hands in Lexa’s hair, fingers lightly grazing at her scalp in a way that had the skin down the back of her neck tingling.

Being with Clarke often made Lexa feel like she could float away but this time it seemed different. This time everything around them seemed heavy, filled with potential, as they teetered on the cusp of a world that remained, so far, unexplored. Clarke seemed to feel it too – it was in the desperate gasps she let out between kisses, the way her hands raked down Lexa’s back, gripped onto her hips, and fisted into her hair, movements erratic and greedy.

Just when Lexa was starting to feel like she couldn’t bear the intensity anymore, that this either needed to stop or progress before she exploded, Clarke broke the kiss, leaning her forehead against Lexa’s. Lexa opened her eyes instantly and she found Clarke lifeless before her.

“Clarke? Are you okay?”

Clarke nodded against Lexa’s head but her eyes stayed closed and she didn’t speak. When she made no other move, Lexa started to worry.

“Clarke, look at me.”

Nothing.

Clarke, please.”

And Clarke opened her eyes.

Lexa had to cross her own to properly focus on Clarke but once she’d managed it, her heart sank. She pulled her head back, hand coming to cup at Clarke’s cheek with the awful realisation that her eyes were filled with tears once more.

“Sweetie, what’s wrong? Was it too much?”

“No, no, it’s not that. I just…” Clarke’s voice broke and her fingers gripped into Lexa’s hips. “I can feel it.”

“Feel what?”

“I spent so long hiding from it,” Clarke breathed out, her eyes scanning the world around her erratically while her head stayed still. She looked disconnected from reality and Lexa was beginning to get a little scared. “I ran away from all of the reminders, the house full of pictures of her face, her slippers by the chair in the living room, her coat still on the hook, my dad sleeping on the couch instead of in their bed… She was never home, you know? She was always at the hospital and then she was home but she was sick and then she was at the hospital and then she just never came back. But part of me kept… not forgetting but almost… expecting her to come home. Like she was just working another long shift or I’d just missed her again. Like if I just went to help out at the hospital I’d see her on one of the wards. But I didn’t go back to work there and she didn’t come home. And my dad was always home. He was home and crying and I couldn’t talk to him. He had always been my favourite person, Lex, for as long as I can remember. And then one day I came home from just driving around because I had to get out of that house and I found him drunk on the kitchen floor. He sobbed to me that he wished that it had been him instead. I tried to make him feel better but nothing I said worked. In the end I put him to bed but he just kept saying it over and over – that my mom was better than him, that her life was worth more, that she could do more good if she was still here. I thought about what it would have been like to lose him instead and I just couldn’t imagine a pain worse than what I was already feeling. Maybe that meant nothing could hurt me more or maybe, maybe it could, maybe it would have been worse. And there was a second…” Clarke hesitated, took a breath as her fingers dug into Lexa’s skin, “just a second, when I was relieved that it wasn't him. After that I just couldn’t…”

Clarke’s eyes found Lexa’s and they were so wide – wide with shame and brimming with tears. “God, it sounds so awful. I sound awful.”

Lexa sighed. “No, Clarke, you were grieving. You are grieving. Losing someone tests us all in ways we could never imagine, makes us think and do things we never thought we would. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay.”

Clarke shook her head. “Just a second. It was just a second. I wouldn’t…”

“I know, sweetie.” Lexa put a gentle hand on Clarke’s cheek for a moment. “I know.” As hard as it was to hear Clarke’s story, Lexa wanted to know more. And she could tell Clarke wasn’t done. “So you left?” she prompted.

“Yeah, I had to. The house was the same but so different, you know? It was awful, I couldn’t handle it. And I really couldn’t face going back to college with people who knew what had happened. And my friends? I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to them. They tried but I…” Clarke shook her head, tears escaping down her cheeks. “I ran away so I didn’t have to be reminded constantly of what I lost and it worked, after a while I started to feel better. But now, now that you know-” her fingers gripped tighter and Lexa could feel them trembling- “I can feel it again. You look at me differently now. Even if it’s not pity, you know what happened. If you know then I know and if I know then I have to feel it and accept it and live with the fact that she’s…” and Clarke’s babbling trailed off, her breath catching and her eyes searching Lexa’s desperately.

Her tone was more measured when she tried again, her words breathy but deliberate. “You kept me distracted right from that very first night at the bar. There was just something about you. I didn’t know what it was so I made it all a game and I started to feel better, started to forget.” Clarke’s hand came up to cup Lexa’s cheek for a moment, the briefest of smiles taking over her lips, so painfully brief, before that hand returned to a hip again. “You filled up the hole inside me, you fed into my denial and I knew it wasn’t healthy but I started to feel good again and now… it’s gone. The illusion has shattered and I know I can’t get it back. You’re standing there looking at me sadly because you know my mom is dead and all I can do is feel it. She’s fucking gone, Lexa. What am I supposed to do?”

It was all Lexa could do not to crumble under the pressure on her hips, to break under the pleading gaze of the woman she loved, blue eyes flicking wildly between her own as she searched for an answer in her.

“I…” Lexa’s throat was constricted by the tears she was determined not to shed. It wasn’t her time to cry, she needed to be strong for Clarke because the cracks were spreading rapidly across her surface, extending deeper than Lexa had ever seen them go. She needed her wits about her so she’d be ready to catch all of the broken pieces after the inevitable fall. “You can’t run forever, Clarke. You deserve better than that. I think you have to let yourself remember.”

Clarke shook her head, tears beginning to fall down her cheeks.

“If this is what remembering feels like then I don’t want to remember. I want to forget.” Something in Clarke darkened again and her eyes flicked down to Lexa’s lips. “I want to forget.”

And before Lexa had a chance to react Clarke had surged forward, connecting their lips once more. Lexa tried to pull back but Clarke was insistent, her hands pleading, and it took Lexa a few seconds before she managed it.

“Clarke, stop it, come on. This isn’t good for you.”

Clarke’s posture sank as Lexa spoke, her breathing coming in ragged gasps as the tears finally won out. “I can’t…” she stammered and her knees buckled, sending her to the floor. Lexa fell almost as quickly, following not just because Clarke practically pulled her down with her grip on her hips but more because every fraction of her felt impossibly tied to this girl. In that moment she knew that she’d follow Clarke anywhere, through anything.

She didn’t know if she could get Clarke through this but she knew she had to try.

So she did all she could do, she wrapped her arms around Clarke and let her sob into her shoulder. She rubbed slow circles into her back, didn’t complain at how hard Clarke gripped onto her, didn’t try to talk to her or offer her anything. She just let her feel it. And oh, how she wished she could take all of her pain away and feel it herself instead. But she knew that Clarke’s only way forward was through the middle of it all. And it didn’t seem like Clarke had a choice in the matter anymore anyway.

It was a long time before the sobs petered out into occasional hiccups and Lexa felt Clarke turn her head into her neck.

“I’m sorry,” came Clarke’s hoarse voice and Lexa had to swallow before she trusted herself to reply.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Clarke. I’m here for you, whatever you need.”

“I don’t want to be a burden.”

Lexa ran her fingers across Clarke’s cheek, brushing of a stray bit of hair that had got stuck in the tear-streaks. She felt a small, sad smile tip her lips. “You’re not a burden.”

“I am now. You have enough people to look after in your life without adding me to the pile.”

“I’m fine, Clarke, I promise.”

“You’re too good, Lex, I swear. I just wanted to be someone that you could let yourself go around. Someone that didn’t lie to you or cause you stress or rely on you too much. I wanted to be your rock the way you are for everyone else in your life.”

Clarke was coming dangerously close to babbling again and so Lexa brushed at her hair, pulling her in closer, trying to soothe her.

“You are my rock, Clarke. That doesn’t mean that you can’t feel things too, that you can’t have bad days or problems. That’s what being in a relationship is, it’s being there for each other no matter what. Among other things of course.”

Clarke finally sat up straight, wiping the tears from her flushed cheeks with unsteady hands. Lexa seized the opportunity of being released from Clarke's grip to reach over to her desk and grab the box of tissues from it. She handed it to Clarke who took it, blinking at her with wide eyes.

“A-a relationship?”

“Um…” Shit. “Or a friendship, y’know, it’s not that different sometimes, especially between queer girls. But we’re, y’know, sort of more than friends, y’know?”

“Lexa, stop saying y’know.” Clarke, miraculously, gave a little chuckle as she mopped herself up with a tissue, the faintest of smiles brushed into her features. “I’m not freaking out. Though I’m starting to think that you are.”

“You’re not?”

“I’ve just sobbed all of my emotions out, I don’t think I have it in me today.”

“So you’d freak out otherwise?”

Clarke bit at her lip and shook her head. “No. A relationship with you… it doesn’t sound bad at all.”

Despite everything, Lexa was smiling. “You wanna get off the floor?”

“Yes please, I can’t feel my feet.”

And, as it turned out, neither could Lexa. When she stood up she stumbled a little and Clarke gave a watery chuckle before she ended up doing the same thing.

As soon as they were both upright and steady, Clarke was in Lexa’s arms again without Lexa having to do a thing. They gripped onto each other for dear life, Lexa’s heart hammering and those words on the tip of her tongue once more.

Not yet.

“I’m so tired,” Clarke lamented against Lexa’s shoulder.

“Wanna come to bed with me?” Lexa blushed as she heard her words and quickly fumbled. “You can spend the night and we can sleep? I don’t know about you but I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Me neither,” Clarke admitted and they let go of each other at the same time, heading over to their designated sides of the bed.

The world had gone dark around them since Clarke’s arrival and the streetlights outside guided their way. Clarke tugged off her shoes and her pants and Lexa followed suit, taking off her pants, and they both slipped into the bed. They didn’t even hesitate before curling around each other. It was as if that was the way they’d meant to exist all along.

Clarke fell asleep first, quickly and quietly, and Lexa dropped off soon after.

Chapter Text

Lexa woke up an unknowable amount of time later, the room still enveloped in darkness, with something tickling her nose. Upon a quick mental scan of her body she realised that she was curled around Clarke, her face in her hair, front pressed to Clarke’s back. She let herself enjoy the feeling of Clarke for a moment, tucking her arm around her more tightly and pressing a kiss to her shoulder before pulling away.

“Lex?” came a small voice, and a hand reached for Lexa’s arm just as it was moving away.

Lexa stilled. “Yeah?”

“I just… I wasn’t sure if you were awake.”

“I am,” Lexa clarified.

“Me too.”

“You don’t say.”

Clarke gave a little laugh in reply, her fingers squeezing Lexa’s arm. The gesture pulled Lexa back into Clarke by her heart and she curled around her again, shifting so she could press a kiss to the first bit of skin she could find.

“Mmm, that’s nice,” Clarke breathed, and suddenly Lexa was feeling a little more awake and a lot warmer. She pressed another kiss an inch to the left of the first one, a thrill pulsing through her at the way Clarke pulled at her arm, drawing it tighter around her middle.

Before Lexa could really register what was happening Clarke had turned over and was hugging her, every inch of them pressed together in a way that seemed way more intimate than any contact they’d ever had before. That may have been due to their new level of openness with each other starting with their conversation the night before, or perhaps it was the fact that neither of them was wearing pants and Clarke had quite successfully tangled their bare legs together. Either way it had Lexa breathless and even hotter than before, nervous hands rubbing at Clarke’s back as she let the other girl get out whatever need she was experiencing.

When the hug continued on for much longer than even their extended level of intimacy dictated as normal, Lexa began to get concerned again.

“Clarke, are you okay?”

When Clarke began to move, Lexa thought she was going to pull away but all she did was turn her head and press a kiss into the crook of Lexa’s neck.

“I’m okay,” she confirmed, breath hot against Lexa’s skin.

Lexa tried not to gasp as Clarke kissed her again and, oh, was that her tongue?

“Lex?”

“Yeah?”

“What time is it?”

“I have no idea.”

“Do you think it’s nearly morning?”

“Again, I have no idea. We went to sleep pretty early so who knows how long we slept for. I can check…” But Clarke was pressing kisses against Lexa’s skin again, trailing a line of them up her neck, and their legs were tangling tighter, the muscles in them tensing. Lexa really didn’t want to move.

“Lex?” Clarke said after a little while longer of this, snapping Lexa back to reality. She had been slipping off blissfully, enjoying the wet press of lips and the feeling of Clarke’s bare thigh under her palm (oh, how she had enjoyed letting that hand wander).

“Yes, Clarke?”

“I’m starving.”

And as if summoned by Clarke’s confession, Lexa’s stomach let out an extremely loud rumble and both girls giggled. Clarke pulled away just enough for Lexa to be able to see the outline of her face in the darkness.

“Apparently you’re not the only one. Wanna get up?” Lexa grinned and she was pretty sure Clarke was doing the same.

Clarke leaned in a little closer and Lexa was definitely weak because her breath caught as Clarke stilled with her lips just a fraction in front of hers. She could feel the warmth from the other girl and she waited with a pounding heart for her to close the gap but she didn’t.

“Not really,” Clarke admitted and Lexa was confused for a moment, having forgotten that she’d even asked a question. They were so close that when Clarke spoke those words, her lips brushed again Lexa’s. Before she could act on the desire that action had caused, another rumble radiated out from between them. This time Lexa wasn’t sure who it had come from. “But I think we should.”

“Okay,” Lexa sighed dramatically and she was rewarded for her reluctance with a quick press of soft lips against her own. Clarke didn’t allow them to get carried away though, heaving herself up out of bed in a way that Lexa didn’t think she was strong enough to. She’d definitely ignore her own hunger for Clarke.

Clarke’s pale, bare legs were the brightest thing in the room once she was standing and Lexa definitely lay there for a few moments enjoying the view, the darkness allowing her to get away with it mostly unseen.

“Come on, nerd,” Clarke admonished, throwing a pair of pyjama pants at her from the drawer and tugging on a pair herself.

Lexa, regretfully, got up and grabbed her phone to check the time.

“It’s two am.”

“You know what tastes really good at two am?” Clarke asked, walking over to Lexa and looping her arms behind her head, pulling their torsos together.

You, was all Lexa’s mind could think because, honestly, she was a lost cause for flirtatious night-time Clarke, even after all that had happened between them. Especially because of all of that.

“What?” was what she actually said, however.

“Pizza.”

Lexa could hear the smile in Clarke’s voice and she couldn’t help but lean in to taste it.

“Pizza it is.”

Clarke kissed Lexa again, her arms unlocking from behind Lexa’s neck and hands wandering down her body. They stopped at the small of her back for a moment, pushing up the fabric of her shirt and flattening against her skin before skirting along the waistband of her underwear, dipping lower and gripping the flesh there for a moment. Clarke tugged her closer by it, hips coming together teasingly. Lexa tried her best not to whimper.

“You’re really not making me want to get you pizza, Clarke.” The arousal was obvious in her voice and she was relieved when Clarke spoke in much the same way.

“I don’t want pizza anymore.”

As much as Lexa was willing to ignore her own hunger, she was much more concerned about Clarke’s. And so she decided that someone needed to be the sensible one and that someone was going to have to be her. No matter how regrettable it was. She pulled away, missing Clarke’s touch as soon as it was gone, and tugged on the pants that Clarke had thrown at her before.

“Come on,” she said, taking Clarke’s hand. “We have plenty of time.” They both smiled at the truth in that statement.

It was almost three am before their pizza was ready. Clarke, it seemed, was determined to test Lexa’s ability to focus on the task at hand, waylaying their progress over to the freezer several times with kisses and hands gripping at hips. Later, she erased all memory of the pizza cooking in the oven with deft fingers under Lexa’s shirt and a gentle tongue against her own as they lay tangled together on the couch.

They burnt the pizza.

 

*

 

Reality seeped back in around them the following morning, the haze of their night time tryst banished by the harsh light of the day. Clarke left soon after they woke, needing to get ready for class. Spring break was over and they both had a great deal of studying to do to prepare for finals which were rapidly approaching.

They didn’t have a chance to spend much time together outside of work for the next couple of days and in the bustle of the bar they didn’t really get the chance to talk. It seemed Indra had been right about needing a permanent third person on their shift.

By the time Wednesday night rolled around and the girls finally had a night off, Lexa was feeling awkward around Clarke. They hadn’t mentioned Clarke’s confession, nor their tentative relationship status. Lexa wasn’t sure where they stood, except that they were in that vital window where things needed to progress, lest they end up just dancing around their feelings for each other again. She considered inviting Clarke over that night but she backed out and deleted the text as soon as she’d finished writing it.

However, sitting around in her apartment for an evening with Anya and Raven definitely wasn’t an appealing alternative. Things had been stilted between them all since Lexa had come back from Clarke’s and so Lexa convinced the two of them to go out for the evening together. She was quite happy for some quality time with her nephew and a little peace and quiet – a little time away from those eyes that always seemed to watch her, wondering how best to make amends. She thought perhaps she’d even get an early night for a change.

She was just getting Rio out of the tub, wrapping his towel around him and bringing him to her chest, when her phone buzzed on the counter. She glanced down at it as she rubbed the corner of the towel into Rio’s sodden hair and a smile broke out on her face.

 

Clarke: Nights without you are no fun.

 

Lexa grabbed her phone and headed to Anya’s room with Rio to dig out some pyjamas for him. She popped him down for a moment to reply and he toddled off to pull some of his toys out of a box in the corner, towel still draped over his shoulders like a cape.

 

Lexa: They’re pretty dull without you, too.

 

Rio was dressed by the time Clarke replied. Lexa picked him up and put him on her hip, not even noticing how he started twisting his fingers through her hair as she opened the message.

 

Clarke: Want some company?

 

Lexa text back straight away – she was way past trying to act cool and waiting a while.

 

Lexa: If you don’t mind that I’m babysitting Rio then absolutely.

 

Lexa had barely sat on the couch, Rio only halfway to his toy corner, when there was a knock at the door. Her heart began to beat faster as she went to answer it and it had reached a ridiculous pace by the time Clarke’s bashful face was revealed.

“That was quick,” Lexa grinned, all awkwardness forgotten.

“I may have already been outside when I text you,” Clarke admitted, hands fiddling in front of her.

Lexa had an undeniable case of heart eyes as she took all of Clarke in, admiring how beautiful she looked stood there in a red plaid shirt and jeans, her hair unstyled and hanging loose and wavy above her shoulders. Lexa couldn’t resist her – she stepped forward and hugged her tightly, clinging onto her, barely able to breathe with the swelling in her chest.

“I’m glad you were.”

When they eventually pulled apart, Lexa’s eyes went to Clarke’s instantly. Her stomach fluttered in a way that spread all the way to the tips of her fingers when she found them looking straight back into hers. She gripped onto Clarke’s hips and smiles spread across their faces at the same time and, while she couldn’t be sure about Clarke’s, Lexa knew hers was pulling up straight from her heart.

Clarke’s eyes were soon diverted by movement behind Lexa and her smile shifted into something soft and beautiful. She let go of Lexa and stepped around her.

“Hi, Rio,” Clarke said gently, kneeling down a few paces away from the little boy that had been staring up at them with big, wide eyes.

Rio blinked at Clarke for a little while, appraising her, and Lexa watched them both. Clarke’s smile never wavered and she kept her distance, waiting for Rio to decide what he wanted to do. It was a few more seconds before he toddled off in the other direction, expression never changing.

Clarke was still crouched when she turned around to look up at Lexa, face still soft but no longer shining with that smile.

“I guess he’s shy,” she said, shrugging. Just as she went to get up, Lexa stopped her.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Lexa said, grinning as Rio headed back towards Clarke. “Look.”

She motioned her hand to where Rio was walking his characteristic little wobbly walk, his yellow duck from the carnival in his hands. He stood in front of Clarke and held the duck out to her.

“Wow, look at your duck!” Clarke said in that perfect tone that captured children’s attention so easily, taking the proffered toy from him.

And, finally, Rio smiled. He held out his hand and patted the duck’s head.

“He’s awesome, Rio, I’m really glad you like him,” Clarke said, and Lexa definitely fell in love with her a little more.

Rio grabbed the duck in his pudgy fist and pressed his lips against its head. He handed it back to Clarke and watched her expectantly until she mirrored his action – apparently she was unfazed by the slightly grubby fabric – and his smile turned up a few notches.

Lexa began to melt where she stood.

Her heart tugged her down to their level, knees clicking as she reached the floor, and they both turned to look at her. The kiss that she leaned to press into the flushed skin of Clarke’s cheek was not a conscious action, she was running on pure love in that moment. Rio seemed to get a little jealous of the attention though because he stepped in between them, presenting the duck to Lexa, and gave her such an intense look that she had never seen so much proof that he was Anya’s son. She pressed her lips to the duck’s head and then to Rio’s before pulling him into her lap. Clarke beamed at them both and Lexa couldn’t believe that she had ever felt reticent about inviting Clarke over.

For the first time in over a week, her apartment finally felt like home.

 

*

 

The girls were sat on the couch watching cartoons a while later (they’d put them on for Rio but he had quickly got bored and toddled off to play again) when they heard a crash from the kitchen.

Lexa was on her feet immediately, already cursing herself for letting cartoons distract her from her mischievous nephew. Clarke was right behind her but she didn’t notice; she was too panicked.

“Rio!” she called out, and it wasn’t long before they discovered the source of the noise.

Rio was sat on the kitchen floor, pots and pans littering the space around him, and patting at the floor happily. Lexa let out a sigh as she continued towards him and as she got closer, she realised what he was doing. He grabbed his duck from his lap and put it in the slick liquid that now coated the floor.

Oil. Rio had knocked over the bottle of cooking oil.

And was now sitting in the greasy puddle he had created.

And skating his duck around in it.

Fuck.

He looked as content as ever and just as Lexa was starting to think about how in the hell she was going to clean up oil, she heard a laugh from beside her, finally making her aware of the fact that Clarke had followed her.

“Oh no,” Clarke said, her voice distorted by laughter.

Rio looked up at them.

“Dah!” he exclaimed, beaming and holding up a hand shining with oil. Lexa watched as the viscous liquid dripped down his sleeve.

And she burst out laughing. She looked at Clarke and they both laughed harder. It wasn’t long before Rio joined in too, his devious little cackle just spurring them on even more. Lexa ended up creased forward with the way the laughter twisted in her stomach, clutching at her middle. If anyone would have walked in on the three of them in that moment, they probably would have thought they were crazy.

It wasn’t quite as funny once they embarked upon the very difficult task of cleaning the oil off the floor, a very resistant little boy, and his beloved duck, though. They put Rio in the tub for the second time that night, trading his duck in for one of the rubber variety and amusing him with bubbles. Lexa left Clarke watching him while she had the fun task of trying to clean up the floor. She kind of managed it but it remained very slippery, she had a feeling they’d be skating on it for days to come. They really would have to keep an even closer eye on Rio.

As for the duck, that was a lot harder to clean. Lexa tried wiping the oil off with a cloth but it had soaked all the way through. She eyed it up and eventually made her decision. She flung it in the washing machine and tipped detergent into the drawer, figuring the duck was already so well-loved, he really could have done with a wash soon anyway.

What Lexa neglected to consider was how Rio would react to his new favourite toy being subjected to a wash cycle.

He was all poppered up in a fresh, grey onesie when they unleashed him on the living room. The sound of the washing machine was the first thing that drew his attention. It was odd because he’d never shown any interest in it before – it was like he knew. Clarke and Lexa looked at each other, eyes widening in horror as Rio tottered over to it as fast as his chubby little legs would carry him. They followed in his wake, helpless against the cry that he let out when he saw his new friend floating around in the water that now filled the machine.

Rio banged his palm against the glass of the door, speaking his own version of English that none of the rest of them had come to understand yet. The drum began to turn once more and Rio began to wail.

“Oh, Rio, no, come here,” Lexa cooed, crouching down and grabbing the boy around his middle, tugging him away from the machine.

That’s when Rio really began to cry.

“Oh god,” Clarke said, grimacing.

“I should have waited until he went to bed!” Lexa exclaimed, releasing Rio who was squirming erratically in her grip.

Clarke knelt down beside Lexa. “Yeah, that would have been smart.”

They ended up giving in to Rio and waiting for the cycle to finish on the floor in front of the machine. Rio watched his duck turn over and over in horror, eyes wide and mouth open in a perfect ‘o’. His eyes were filled with tears pretty much the entire time despite the girls’ constant reassurance that his duck was just getting clean and was probably having fun in there. And then making sure to tell Rio that washing machines weren’t for little boys to have fun in though, of course.

The spin cycle was rough.

It was past Rio’s bedtime by the time their ordeal was over but he wouldn’t settle until Lexa let him examine the duck – which he did quite thoroughly – before cuddling it to his chest, his eyelids drooping. It was another five minutes of crying when Lexa had to take it away from him again, explaining to him that the duck needed time to dry before he could be played with, but Rio didn’t seem to understand that.

They placed the duck on the radiator in the living room in plain sight of the couch where Lexa finally got him to cuddle up on her lap and settle. His sobs had petered out into little hiccups by that point and his eyelids were starting to fall once more. She handed him over to Clarke while she went to prepare his nightly bottle.

By the time she came back, warm bottle in hand, Rio looked perfectly content. He was nestled against Clarke’s chest, her arm around his back. He reached out his hands for the bottle when he saw Lexa and she gave it to him, smiling at Clarke.

“Are you okay with him? He looks happy there.”

Clarke smiled back. “Absolutely.” She pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

Rio began to guzzle down his milk, eyes wandering around the room as he did so, always flicking back to his duck drying on the radiator on the opposite wall. It wasn’t long before his blinks started to come more slowly, eyes staying closed for longer each time, and his hands began to drop from where they’d been holding his bottle up. Clarke noticed and held it for him instead. He continued to drink while Lexa tried not to make it too obvious how hard her heart was beating watching Clarke being so good with her nephew.

Clarke looked up and Lexa’s heart skittered but the smile she received put her at ease again. She wanted nothing more than to be alone with Clarke so she could show her just what she was feeling but she was quite happy to keep doing this for a while. The level of contentment she felt was amazing.

Rio didn’t quite finish his bottle. His gentle vocalisations stopped just before his swallowing did and his lips went slack around the teat. Clarke wiggled it for a moment, testing to see if he’d latch on again, but he didn’t. She pulled the bottle from his lips and Lexa took it from her, taking it back into the kitchen. When she returned she found Clarke stroking a gentle hand over Rio’s curls, down his tiny arm, tracing over his little fingers.

“You’re a natural with him,” Lexa said quietly, coming to sit much closer to them this time. She pressed a kiss to Rio’s forehead.

“I’ve always loved babies,” Clarke replied, looking over at Lexa with gentle eyes. “And he’s so gorgeous, it’s hard not to love him.”

Lexa felt herself locked in by both Clarke’s gaze and her words. She definitely knew that feeling. Clarke took in a slightly shaky breath like she knew what Lexa was thinking, her eyes moving lower on Lexa’s face. The warmth flooding Lexa started to pulse slowly and she leaned in, carefully so as not to disturb Rio, and pressed her lips to Clarke’s. The kiss was lingering, unmoving but deep, lips between lips, softness against softness, and Lexa had to take a deep breath in through her nose to calm the fluttering in her chest.

It was with great effort that Lexa pulled away but she stayed close, leaning her arm against Clarke’s, and their eyes went back to the cartoons still dancing around on the TV.

“I helped deliver a baby once,” Clarke said a little while later, breaking the sleepy silence that had filtered gently around them. It was barely eight o’clock but it felt so much later.

“You did what?” Lexa said, eyes widening, attention turning back to Clarke.

“I helped deliver a baby,” Clarke repeated, brushing light fingers down Rio’s arm. “Well, I mean, kind of.”

Lexa just blinked at Clarke for a moment, Clarke who just chuckled sweetly at her expression.

“I’m going to need more information than that, Clarke!” Lexa exclaimed.

“Okay, okay,” Clarke conceded, still seemingly amused. “My, um…” There Clarke hesitated, eyes going down to Rio again for a moment while she gathered herself. “My mom is…” she cleared her throat, “was a doctor, I told you that.”

Clarke paused to let Lexa answer but she didn’t dare out of fear that she’d scare Clarke from telling her story. She just nodded instead.

“Yeah, well, we got stuck in standstill traffic on the freeway when I was about seventeen. We hadn’t moved in about an hour when a guy came running back down the rows of cars. He was looking for a doctor because the woman in his cab was in labour.”

“Oh my god.” Lexa was unable to help her exclamation but thankfully Clarke was unperturbed and nodded in agreement.

“Exactly. But my mom went to him straight away. She was a cardiothoracic surgeon, probably hadn’t delivered a baby in a long time, but she didn’t even hesitate. She grabbed her medical bag out of the trunk, she always had it in there for emergencies, and went with him.” Clarke seemed to be settling into her story and though her eyes were shining with tears, she didn’t seem too sad. Not really. “She gave me this look before she left, stared straight into my eyes, and I could feel the determination in her. The purpose. I think that was the first time I really started to understand her calling to help people. I just nodded at her and she ran off, but after a few minutes I couldn’t help but go and find her to see what was happening.

“The woman was already crowning when I got there and wow, I’d never seen anything so… Well, disgusting. But completely amazing at the same time.” Clarke’s eyes had been focused on a spot in the distance but they came back to Lexa. “I watched my mom deliver the baby, watched how good she was with the woman, keeping her calm, and how she instructed the cab driver to keep people out of the way to try and preserve as much of the woman’s dignity as possible. She was laid out across the backseat of the cab and to be honest, they probably should have just burned the cab afterwards instead of attempting to clean it.” Clarke gave a little chuckle and Lexa joined her. “And when they baby was out, my mom called to me to get the scissors for cutting the cord out of her bag. I handed them to her, dazed, I hadn’t realised that she’d even noticed me there. I grabbed a blanket out of the bag too and was ready to take the baby and wrap him up when she handed him to me a few moments later. It was like she knew what I was going to do. I’ll never forget the way that baby screamed out his first breath of air, the way the mom wept, and how it felt to have those tiny blue eyes open and to be the first thing he ever saw.”

“That’s amazing, Clarke,” Lexa said, completely captivated by the girl sat beside her.

“It was amazing. My mom smiled over at me, watched me give the baby to his mother, and I could feel how proud she was of me. A lot of people in my life expected me to become a doctor like my mom but that was the first time I actually wanted it for myself.” The tears were falling freely down Clarke’s face but her voice held strong.

“And do you still?” Lexa asked, remembering how defensive Clarke always got when she tried to discuss future studying and career options with her.

“I honestly don’t know.” Clarke took a deep breath, wiping the tears from her cheeks with the hand that wasn’t curled around Rio. “I worked at the hospital with my mom until she… I only did basic things, obviously, but after… I just couldn’t go back there.”

“But what about another hospital?”

“It wasn’t just that hospital. I kind of lost faith in it all, I guess. My mom spent her entire adult life doing everything she could to save people’s lives but, in the end, they couldn’t save hers. The-” Clarke’s voice began to wobble and Lexa’s gut clenched in anguish- “the cancer was too aggressive. By the time she started showing symptoms it was already far too late. How is that fair?”

“It’s not fair,” Lexa said, holding Clarke’s gaze, cupping a damp cheek with her palm. “It’s not fair at all.”

The conversation died down after that and eventually Lexa relieved Clarke of her sleeping nephew, taking him into Raven and Anya’s room to put him down in his crib. Clarke followed and the two of them watched Rio settle in his sleep by the light coming in through the door. Lexa wove her arm around Clarke’s back and gripped onto her side, pulling her into her body.

“Thanks for coming over,” Lexa said, watching as Rio rubbed at his cheek in his sleep.

“Thanks for having me over,” Clarke said, returning the sentiment with a soft voice and her head leaning awkwardly on Lexa’s shoulder.

Lexa moved to look at Clarke and that’s when Clarke pulled her into a hug.

“And thank you for… well, just everything. For listening to my problems and for waiting for me to be ready to talk about them.”

“There’s really no need to thank me, Clarke. I’m always here for you. And I was glad you were able to tell me that story about your mom.”

“Me too.” Clarke pulled out of the hug and looked at Lexa. “But I know it wasn’t good of me to keep things from you, that it kept us apart, in a way. It was part of the reason I was so guarded, after all. But I want to make it up to you.” Her hands gripped into Lexa’s sides, making her stomach clench in anticipation.

“Oh yeah? How?” Lexa couldn’t help the smile that tugged at the corners of her lips.

“I want to take you out on a date.”

“A date?”

“Yep, a date. Dinner, movie, flowers, moonlit walk, stargazing, whatever you want.”

The light in the room may have been lacking but Lexa was aware of every little detail of Clarke. She watched as the corner of her eyes creased up with that pretty smile brushed over her lips.

“I just want you,” Lexa found herself saying, internally cringing at how soppy she sounded as soon as the words were out. But before she could apologise for it, Clarke’s gaze intensified before moving down to Lexa’s lips.

“Oh, you already have me.” Clarke’s voice was dripping with seduction and Lexa was drawn to it immediately, bringing their lips together right then and there, all nerves from earlier on forgotten.

A loud snore from Rio broke them apart a couple of seconds later. Lexa grabbed Clarke’s hand and pulled her quickly from the room – she knew the laughter that threatened to come would wake Rio if they lingered much longer. Once they were on the other side of the door she let it out but it was quickly smothered by Clarke’s lips and she felt a lot less inclined to laugh after that. There were much more vulnerable noises brewing inside her in reaction to the things Clarke was doing with her tongue, the way her hands were wandering, pushing at the boundaries of fabric just enough to tease but not nearly enough to satisfy.

“So,” Clarke said, pulling her lips back just enough to speak. “Saturday night?”

“Saturday night?” Lexa’s mind was distracted and she pressed their lips together again, needing more contact.

“Yes, Saturday. The date?” Clarke chuckled, allowing Lexa to kiss her deeply again.

“Yes,” was all Lexa could surface for long enough to say before sinking back into her new favourite feeling.

Oh, and it was a really, really good feeling.

 

*

 

The three-day wait for their date proved to be too busy and far too long for Lexa’s liking. Why on earth did she have so many classes and so many hours of work before she could actually just spend time with Clarke? She found her mind wandering constantly to that bright smile and those glittering eyes. More than anything it wandered to lips and hands in places, hot touches burning, and months of tension between the two of them finally being allowed to reach its peak. It really had been a long time coming (double entendre totally intended).

Lexa felt like the giddy teenager she never was but had always expected to be at some point based on the movies she watched when she was younger – flitting around the house after her shift at the coffee shop ended that Saturday, not able to settle to any task. She ended up getting ready far too early and consequently changing her outfit five times thanks to having too much time on her hands. Such was her level of distraction, she even managed to talk to Anya and Raven. Only a little though. She had told them about her date a couple of days earlier and they both smiled at her a lot as she bustled around, clearly enjoying her excitable state.

She had just finished putting on what she was pretty sure would be her final choice of outfit for the night when a knock at the door drove her out of her room. Clarke wasn’t due to pick her up until seven and it wasn’t even six yet. Lexa rushed past Anya and Raven who were in their favourite spot on the couch, her heart racing at the thought of Clarke being just as impatient for their date as she was.

The breathless smile on her lips died as soon as she opened the door and discovered who was standing on the other side.

Ontari.

Lexa’s eyes widened and she froze.

Oh god.

“Hi, Lex,” Ontari said, voice soft and expression sheepish, just like the last time she had shown up unannounced.

“Ontari,” Lexa managed to force out. She was dimly aware of the sound of the TV behind her; the roaring in her ears hadn’t quite managed to drown it out.

“Can I come in?” Ontari asked, frowning at her sister’s lack of decorum.

“Um-” shit- “I’m going out.”

Ontari’s posture sank. “Where?”

“I’m not sure, exactly. But with Clarke.”

“Oh. Is she here? Can I say hi?”

“No, she-”

But Ontari had already peered around Lexa and caught sight of the two girls frozen on the couch who looked as terrified as Lexa felt. Ontari’s eyes turned back to Lexa and her heart clenched when she realised they were filling with tears.

“What’s going on?” she whispered, voice catching. The words were barely more than an exhalation but they cracked Lexa open. All of the tiny pieces fell to the floor as Ontari took a step back, jaw loose and tears spilling from wide eyes.

Suddenly Anya was on her feet and by Lexa’s side. There was no going back now.

“Tari, hi,” Anya tried, but Ontari only had eyes for Lexa.

Lexa felt like they were kids again, Ontari looking up to her, looking to her to fix things, to make things better.

“She’s here? You didn’t tell us she was here.”

“That’s my fault,” Anya tried again. “I asked her to wait a while so I could-”

“How long has she been here?” Ontari hadn’t looked away from Lexa who was still frozen with her hand gripping onto the edge of the door, her eyes bloomed wide in horror as her world teetered on the edge of destruction.

Her mouth just flapped uselessly, words completely failing her.

“Lexa,” Ontari’s voice grew strong, anger tinting her tone. There was no sign of the tears anymore. “What’s going on?”

Lexa’s lapse in human functions was clearly making things worse, upsetting Ontari more, but she couldn’t help it. It was like she had short-circuited and before she had the chance to gather herself, the one thing she hadn’t anticipated came toddling into view. Ontari’s eyes were drawn down and Lexa followed them, everything running in slow motion as she took in how the little boy wrapped his arms around Anya’s leg and looked up at them all.

“Whose baby is that?” The anger was gone from Ontari’s voice, the words barely there at all.

“Mama,” Rio said, tugging on the fabric of Anya’s sweats, giving Ontari her answer.

Anya took in a shaky breath as Ontari finally looked at her, and then looked down at her son. She picked him up and held him close, her eyes slowly going back to Ontari as Rio nestled into the crook of her neck. He was getting tired, it was nearly his bedtime after all.

“He’s yours?” Ontari said, finally addressing Anya.

Anya nodded and Ontari gritted her teeth, her jaw muscles clenching. She turned back to Lexa.

“How long, Lexa?”

Lexa’s chest was starting to tighten, her eyes prickling with tears at the expression on Ontari’s face.

“How long what?” she just about managed to say. She hated how small she sounded.

“How long has she been here?”

“A couple of weeks.”

“Weeks? And you never told us?”

“Ontari, I told you that was my-” Anya started but Ontari didn’t let her finish.

“I’m not talking to you.” The anger was back again.

“I’m so sorry,” Lexa sighed, not knowing how she could make any of it better. It was like a switch flipped and Ontari just looked lost, small, and Lexa was strongly reminded of the little girl that Ontari had once been.

“I can’t…” Ontari started, and she shook her head, tears beginning to shine in her eyes once more. She took a couple of steps back and bumped into the wall on the other side of the hall. It seemed to trigger something in her because she just ran.

Lexa was quick on her heels and she reached her before she could get to the door to the building.

“Tari, please, come back and I’ll explain everything. I never wanted to keep any of this from you, it’s just a difficult situation.”

Ontari whipped round. “You’ve been in contact with her all these years, Lexa, how did you not know this before a few weeks ago? She couldn’t have managed to keep something so big from you, she never could keep a secret where you were concerned…” Silence reigned as a painful understanding dawned on Ontari’s face. “You already knew, didn’t you? About the baby?”

“Tari-”

“No, don’t ‘Tari’ me, just answer me properly. When did you find out about the baby?”

“Last January.”

Ontari blinked in surprise but seemed to rein in all of her emotions to get out the next question.

“And how old is he?”

“He just turned one.”

“So you’ve known he exists for his entire life, longer even, but you never told us?”

“Anya asked me not to.” Lexa knew how pathetic that sounded as she said it but it was the only explanation she had. It was the truth, as weak as it was.

“But you didn’t have to listen to her!” Ontari exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air in her frustration. “I thought you’d grown up, I thought you wouldn’t let her push you around anymore like she did when we were kids. Especially after all she’s done. But nothing has changed, has it? You still put her first, you always have.”

“Tari, please, no, it’s not like that-”

“It’s exactly like that. I could never compete with her and when she left, I thought maybe… But that was stupid.”

Ontari turned to leave again.

“Ontari!” Lexa called out, too stunned to move, but Ontari didn’t stop, didn’t look back.

She wasn’t sure how long she stood there staring at the door but then Anya and Raven were either side of her, coaxing her back to the apartment. As soon as she was over the threshold, she broke free of her stupor and ran to her bedroom to get her shoes.

“I have to go and find her,” she told the others as she came back out again, pulling on her jacket.

“I’ll come with you,” Anya said and then looked over at Raven. “Can you watch Rio?”

“Of course.”

Lexa barely registered any of this as she headed for the door but she looked back before she opened it.

“Call me if you find her. And Anya, don’t freak out on me but you know what this means, right?”

“I have to talk to Mom.”

Lexa nodded and then left the apartment, pushing that thought out of her mind. She needed to concentrate on Ontari for now.

One problem at a time.