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Head Over Boots

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The wind was warm on her skin. All around her, stalks of grass fluttered in the breeze, and Lexa watched their bowing forms create waves that moved across the plains. The browning grass was peppered with the occasional wildflower, their pink and purple petals bright in the sunlight. All was calm, moving at nature’s slow pace, and although Lexa knew there were probably a million things she and Clarke should be doing, for some reason she couldn’t remember a single one.

Lexa wasn’t sure exactly where they were, which was how she knew this wasn’t real. She always knew where she was on the ranch, could always point back to the cabin as if there was a string connecting her to it.

But even though this was just a dream, it was a nice dream. She and Clarke had been wandering side-by-side for what felt like forever. They walked up one grassy slope and down the next, saying nothing to each other but not needing to. Sometimes Lexa would look over and see the sunshine transforming Clarke’s hair into a thousand speckles of light, or notice how the sky was reflected in Clarke’s eyes as she gazed upward. Lexa felt a soft touch on her hand and realized that Clarke had intertwined their fingers together. It was the most natural feeling in the world.

But Lexa felt the sunlight dim. The smell of moist earth and sweet flowers faded. She tried to cling onto the open sky and verdant hills and Clarke’s hand but no matter how much she fought, the softness of her sheets, the tangle of her hair atop her pillow, and the sliver of sunlight just peaking through her window broke slowly into her awareness.

With a tinge of disappointment, Lexa knew she was back in her own bed, but she swore she could still feel the sun warm on her cheeks and Clarke’s hand in her own. She closed her eyes and tried to remember it all… if only because it had been so tranquil, and Lexa needed more of that before she had to face the challenges of the day.

(It had nothing to do with how Clarke had held her hand.)

But even as Lexa tried to imagine herself back in the grassland, something was different. She took in a deep breath. Was that…

Bacon?

Lexa opened her eyes, squinting only slightly as the sun crested the horizon outside her window. The scent of cooking bacon was unmistakable now, and Lexa didn’t know how she had managed to ignore it for so long. She felt a dim pang of regret as the last remnant of the dream slipped away.

She sat straight up in bed with a jolt, realizing that this was the first time she would see Clarke since she had given her the package of clothing two days ago. She hadn’t been avoiding her, of course, but the day had been very busy… Lexa had met with her cattle buyer, who would be purchasing her calves at the end of the season; she had visited Anya’s office to discuss her financial plans, which were looking more stable; and she had even found herself dropping by Indra’s home as well to discuss how her business was doing. Once she had returned to the ranch, she immediately went out on horseback to check on the herd and stayed there for hours. In any case, she hadn’t had time to see Clarke.

(But she had not been avoiding her.)

Regardless, Lexa’s priority now was finding out who was cooking bacon in her kitchen. Anya was a vegetarian and refused to even look at meat (ironic, considering that most of her accounting clients were in the beef industry). Indra’s sense of protocol was too strict to allow her to ever drop by unannounced. And Clarke, based on the last two months of evidence, was barely able to cook macaroni and cheese out of a box.

So when Lexa stepped out of her room in her navy blue pajama pants and old T-shirt, she wasn’t prepared for the sight of Clarke standing in front of the stove, spatula in hand, flipping bacon in one pan and eggs in another.

Luckily, Clarke didn’t turn, which left Lexa the chance to rush into the bathroom and shut the door silently behind her. She bound her unruly hair up into a tight braid and stared at herself in the mirror until she thought she looked less tired. Until today, she had always been awake before Clarke. Lexa prided herself on being an early riser: it mean that she normally accomplished more by noon than most people did in their entire day. Having someone else in the cabin awake before her threw her off-balance. She liked appearing collected and in control at all times, but that was hard to do if her sleep-disheveled hair was sticking out in every direction.

When she was satisfactorily cleaned up, Lexa left the bathroom and sat down at the table, more heavily than she meant to, but she was tired and hungry.

“We have a lot of work to do today,” she said evenly to Clarke as way of greeting, choosing to ignore the fact that this was the first time Clarke had made something besides a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

Clarke looked over her shoulder at Lexa as she flipped slices of bacon. Lexa felt a drop in her stomach that she attributed to how hungry she was.

“And how is that different from any other day?” Clarke asked with much more humor than usual this early in the morning. Lexa wondered how long she had been awake.

Instead of her usual pajamas consisting of sweatpants and her college sweatshirt, Clarke wore the new pair of jeans and wool sweater that Lexa had bought her. They both fit her perfectly, but of course they did--Lexa had an eye for detail. Still, she was pleased to know that Clarke would finally have appropriate, well-fitting clothes to work in instead of her skinny jeans and paper-thin jacket.

“How do you like your bacon?” Clarke asked after Lexa hadn’t responded.

Lexa stared hard at her back, the offer taking her by surprise. “Is some of that for me?”

Clarke turned around only long enough for Lexa to see her roll her eyes. “What, do you think I would cook half a package of bacon just for myself? Now answer the question.”

Between the dream and this situation, today was already more full of surprises than Lexa would normally like. But somehow, she didn’t mind these surprises. “Crispy, almost burnt,” she admitted at last, not knowing why it felt like she was revealing a bigger part of herself than just a breakfast order.

Clarke worked in silence from then on, the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee almost more than Lexa could handle. When Clarke placed a fresh cup of coffee and a plate piled high with food in front of her, Lexa had to consciously slow her actions, carefully pick up her fork, and slice one of the eggs in half. Yolk oozed across the plate, just how Lexa liked it. But Clarke hadn’t asked her about how she liked her eggs. She must have observed how Lexa had cooked herself breakfast over the past few weeks.

“So…” Clarke drawled, breaking the long silence between them. “I wanted to thank you for the clothes, and boots, and, you know, basically buying me everything I should have bought before I got here. I don’t know if one breakfast can do that, but I figured it was a good start. And I’ll pay you back for all of it when I have the money, of course.”

Lexa was trying to eat slowly, but it was hard to do so when this was probably the best breakfast she had eaten in years. Where had Clarke been hiding these cooking skills since she had arrived? “You don’t have to pay me back,” she said in between bites. “I had to buy it. It’s my obligation as your employer to make sure you have the right protective equipment for the job you’re performing.”

Even as intent as Lexa was on the rapidly disappearing bacon and eggs on her plate, she still noticed how Clarke’s smile dropped. “Well, still. Thanks. I owe you one.”

“Summer will be here before long,” Lexa said, already finishing off her plate. “You won’t need most of the gear until winter returns in a few months.”

Clarke stared at her long enough across the table that Lexa was beginning to wonder if she had food all over her face. “I think the phrase you’re searching for is ‘you’re welcome,” Clarke said with a hint of an edge.

Lexa swirled the last of her coffee in her cup and then shook her head. “There’s no need to say that if there’s nothing to thank. You’ll be a better worker if you’re protected from the elements.”

Clarke snorted a laugh to herself that Lexa thought could have been bitter. “Whatever you say, Lexa.” She glanced down at her plate. “Did you like your breakfast, or are you just trying to get away from me as fast as you can?”

Lexa looked up at her again, feeling the conversation slipping back into familiar territory. She didn’t know why Clarke felt so obligated to say thank you for something that Lexa really had had no choice about. But maybe it was the fact that Lexa didn’t want to seem unappreciative for the breakfast, or that she was more tired than she had thought, but Lexa heard herself say, “It was the best breakfast I’ve had since my mom was alive.”

As soon as she realized what she had said, Lexa froze. She hadn’t meant to share that with Clarke, not now. Not ever, really. But it was out, and Clarke was looking at her with bright blue eyes that shone even in the dim light of the kitchen. Lexa knew she should feel self-conscious about what she had just said, but for some reason, she didn’t.

“I’m glad you liked it,” Clarke said simply, returning to work on her remaining toast.

Lexa got on her feet. She knew something had passed between them, but she couldn’t quite grasp what it was. “I’ll do the dishes. You should prepare the horses. We need to check the fences before we move the cattle to a new pasture.”

Clarke couldn’t hold her gaze. “It’s… been a while since I was last on a horse. I could use a refresher.”

Lexa felt the old, familiar frustration toward Anya, that she had hired someone so inexperienced in almost all aspects of how to live and work on a ranch. But Lexa stifled those feelings--they didn’t help anyone, and besides, Clarke had shown herself to be more than capable with what Lexa had thrown at her so far. If she showed half the tenacity toward this as she had during calving season, then Lexa had nothing to worry about.

“I’ll be out there as soon as I’m done,” Lexa said, rolling up her sleeves and preparing the sink water.

Clarke grabbed her jacket and headed out, leaving Lexa in the empty cabin that was still full of her muddled thoughts. Because, even as most of her dream had already faded, the feeling of Clarke’s hand in her own was as vivid as ever.



**********



Clarke cooked most days after that, breakfast and dinner. Lexa hadn’t eaten so well in years, and she noted how her normally wiry muscles were losing some of their tone. But Lexa couldn’t care less: she felt healthier and stronger than ever.

During the spring, it had only been Lexa and Clarke in the kitchen on most days, fending for themselves and scraping together sorry excuses for meals that barely filled their bellies. But now, Lexa would pick up on the scent of cooking onions, or garlic, or steak, all the way out at the barn, and know that it was almost time to head back. It was more effective than one of those old dinner bells that her mom had used, back when Lexa and her dad had been out in the fields with the cattle.

Lexa knew it was impossible, but she swore that those scents must have traveled all the way to town, because Anya started showing up for dinner two or three times a week, “to check on her investments,” she insisted. Lexa had reason to doubt that, when Anya would head straight to the kitchen every time and ask Clarke what she was cooking that day. Even Indra, with her farm machinery repair shop and acres of hay fields over 30 miles away, picked up on the scent and dropped by the ranch at least once a week around dinner time. Indra had even started bringing a board game with her when she dropped by, so dinner and game nights were becoming a regular event. Lexa hadn’t known she had missed it, the sound of conversation and laughter in her home.

And she had Clarke to thank for it.

But she had a lot of things to thank Clarke for. The calves, cows, and bulls were healthier than Lexa could ever have hoped. But as the months passed, Clarke confused her more and more. Lexa was convinced that Clarke had absolutely no ranch experience before she had arrived at Woods Ranch, and yet….

She was good at it.

Clarke had been soft before, in more ways than one. Physically, Lexa had watched her strain while holding one of the young calves still, or while walking up and down the many hills that covered the ranch. But Clarke was getting stronger, more quickly than Lexa had thought possible. At first, Clarke had collapsed into bed each night and struggled to wake up each morning, but she seemed more energetic now with each passing day, even as the workload never seemed to lessen.

But it was the mental strengthening that fascinated Lexa the most. Lexa had seen right through Clarke’s confident act at first, which was why Lexa had been so furious at Anya for hiring her. But with each passing day, Clarke’s confidence--real confidence, built from performing the same tasks day in and day out--began to build. She saw Clarke beginning to do things without really even needing to think about them: tying a rope here, repairing fence there, noticing a calf limping from all the way across the pasture. Lexa hadn’t thought that Clarke’s soft hands would have been suited to this life, but she had been wrong.

But one thing did not come naturally, which brought Clarke no end of frustration: riding horses.

As Lexa had suspected, Clarke needed more than just a refresher. At the end of their first riding day, when Clarke had walked bowlegged across the yard and cursed nonstop under her breath, she had finally admitted that the last time she had ridden a horse was in elementary school. But still, Lexa took things slowly, trusting that Clarke would not give up until she had mastered it. Or at least, that’s what Clarke had done with every other task on the ranch.

On this one… Lexa was really trying not to doubt her. She had doubted Clarke before, and that had proven foolish. But it was hard not to when Clarke almost fell off the back of the horse when he unexpectedly started to lope, or when Clarke’s feet were so far forward in the stirrups that she looked like she was sitting in a recliner, or when her horse simply refused to move at all.

But despite these setbacks, Lexa couldn’t deny that Clarke was getting better. She practiced riding every opportunity she got, often saddling up after dinner and riding around the yard until it was so dark that Lexa could barely see her from the cabin window. Over time, Clarke’s posture improved, her muscles strengthened, her confidence in commands and leading the horse grew, even if sometimes a look of panic so intense crossed Clarke’s face that Lexa had to turn away to hide her amusement. Clarke needed a patient teacher right now, not someone who laughed at her mistakes.

(Not that that stopped Lexa from re-enacting Clarke’s saddle-sore walk to Anya next time she showed up to the ranch for dinner. Unfortunately, Clarke turned from chopping vegetables at just the wrong time to see the display. The way she gestured the knife toward them was meant to be menacing, but it only had Lexa and Anya laughing even harder.)

So when Clarke wanted to go out with her to repair fencing and corral cattle--on horseback--Lexa was hesitant. But Clarke jutted out her jaw, crossed her arms, and raised her eyebrow so convincingly that Lexa couldn’t say no. If Clarke wouldn’t be able to walk the next day, Lexa felt like she wouldn’t even need to waste the breath to say “I told you so.”

But Clarke made the hours-long ride through the pastures without a hitch. The grass was already tickling at their feet as they rode, taking full advantage of the warming weather and abundant sunshine of early summer. Thunderstorms had rolled through a couple of days before, providing the rain the grass needed to shoot up and provide excellent feed for the cattle.

After a long ascent, they reached the highest point on the ranch, nestled at the foot of hills that were still capped in snow. Below them, the pastures rolled on and on, a brilliant green of rebirth against the puffy clouds moving lazily across the sky.

Clarke turned her horse in a slow circle, and Lexa felt pride swell inside her, remembering when she had taught her how to do that the previous week. Clarke took in the sight below them, awe sketched across her face.

“Wow…” Clarke said, barely loud enough for Lexa to hear over the constant breeze that blew on the high plains. “It goes on forever, doesn’t it?”

Lexa had already memorized the view from this hilltop years ago, but it always brought her satisfaction to know that all of this was hers. “Woods Ranch continues all the way to that stand of trees to the north, the road to the south, and the cabin to the east.”

“It’s beautiful. These cows are pretty lucky to have all of this.” Clarke glanced over to Lexa then. “And I guess we’re pretty lucky, too.”

Lexa was surprised at the flutter in her chest that Clarke’s comment caused. It was such a simple statement. Of course it was beautiful out here. But the way that Clarke lumped herself and Lexa together, that casual familiarity, that they were in this together… Even though Clarke still frustrated her sometimes, there was no doubt in Lexa’s mind that she had never had a ranch hand quite like her before.

But nearby, outside of the ranch, a hunter’s rifle sounded and all hell broke loose.

Lexa instinctively clutched her thighs around her horse’s flanks, as the horse reared up on her back legs. Fingers gripping the mane and reins tightly, Lexa could only hold on for dear life as the powerful animal beneath her began galloping down the slope. She barely registered Clarke screaming her name, but she was already so far away that the sound was almost lost in the wind roaring in her ears.

Her instincts kicked in. Lexa fell into the rhythm of the gallop, squeezing and relaxing her muscles in time with the horse’s movements, trying her best not to be thrown off the horse or fall beneath the galloping hooves. Gradually, she knew that the immediate danger was over, but there was no slowing the horse down, either. After that rifle shot, her horse was spooked and intent to get as far away from that sound as she could. All of Lexa’s cues--her steady voice, light pulls on the reins, sitting deep in the saddle--were being ignored in the horse’s urgency to escape the threat.

So when Lexa saw a flash of gold in the sun, followed by an equally fast, equally dangerous horse and rider careening toward them from the side, Lexa had more than enough reason to  brace for impact. But Clarke, her own horse galloping beneath her, headed them off perfectly, bringing them both to such an abrupt halt that Lexa had to clasp around the horse’s neck to prevent flying forward.

The only sound for a long time was their ragged breathing.

Lexa wiped the sweat from her eyes and stared in disbelief at Clarke. It had happened so fast, that she wasn’t sure if she hadn’t imagined it all. “How did you… How did you do that? I never even taught you how to gallop.”

“Fast learner, remember?” Clarke replied with what Lexa swore was a wink, but she was still too in shock to really know for sure.

But Lexa couldn’t wrap her mind around it. “I wouldn’t even expect an experienced rider to be able to do that, Clarke. I don’t know if I could do that.”

Clarke circled her horse away from her, but Lexa thought she had seen Clarke’s cheeks reddening. “All you have to say is ‘thanks,’ you know. But you’re not very good at that.”

“Thank you.”

Clarke spun the horse around again, facing her directly. Lexa hadn’t imagined her blush, though now her expression was more one of surprise.

“Thank you, Clarke.” Lexa repeated, noting Clarke’s lips had parted slightly. She was still shocked, Lexa thought, and not just from Lexa expressing her gratitude. Lexa guessed that Clarke was just as surprised that she was able to stop Lexa’s horse as she was. “You saved me from a fall, or worse, and risked her own life in the process. Thank you.”

“Now that you’ve started saying it, you just won’t stop,” Clarke said, but not in a mean way. It almost sounded… fond? Lexa didn’t know, but it was a nice change.

“Are you OK, though?” Clarke continued, looking her up and down.

Lexa studied her as well, but couldn’t find any obvious injuries on Clarke. “I should be asking you that.”

“I’ll take that as a yes, then.” Clarke looked over her shoulder. “What was that gunshot, though?”

Lexa soothed her horse, even as another shot rang out. Luckily, this time her horse didn’t spook.  “The rancher on the next property over was probably hunting wolves. They’re becoming more common around here and sometimes kill calves or weak cattle in the herd.”

“You don’t carry a gun with you around the ranch, though, do you?” Clarke asked.

“No.” Lexa started walking her horse away from the fence line. She didn’t want to risk spooking her horse again if she didn’t have to. “I try to my best to coexist with the wolves. I haven’t needed to shoot any yet.”

Clarke nodded. “I respect that.”

They rode in silence for a time, but Clarke turned to her with a furrowed brow. “So we’re just going to keep going today and pretend that you didn’t almost get thrown off your horse and trampled?”

Lexa just shrugged. “What else is there to do?”

Clarke laughed to herself, and it was just as welcome a sound as the birds returning to the grasslands in spring with their songs and calls. “It’s just…. I think I would have shat my pants, if I were you.”

“Then for all our sakes, I hope your horse never spooks like mine did,” Lexa joked.

She was rewarded with another laugh, and Lexa smiled too. She could really get used to that sound.



**********



They spent most of their time around the pastures on horseback after that. The calves were putting on an astounding amount of weight with the favorable summer weather: a steady stream of thunderstorms were bringing enough moisture to make the grass grow thick and tall. Still, they needed to keep the cattle moving around the ranch, and she and Clarke were getting much more efficient in corralling together.

Lexa told herself to keep her expectations low, to not expect Clarke to master this skill like she had all of the others before, but Clarke once again showed that if she set her mind to something, she would achieve it.

Lexa had never seen anything like it, or anyone like her. Clarke seemed to have some kind of intuitive grasp of how to manage the cattle. Based on the last three months, Lexa could tell that Clarke was made for the ranch, same as her. But when Lexa told her that, Clarke didn’t react as favorably as she had hoped.

“What? Like it’s hard?” Clarke said with a hint of sarcasm, saddling her horse in the barn alongside Lexa. She looked like she had been doing this all her life, and it drove Lexa mad that Clarke couldn’t see how incredible that was.

“Clarke, you saved a backwards calf on your first day here, even though you had never done it before. That’s extraordinary.” Lexa felt strange, praising anyone so openly like that, but it was the truth, and she needed Clarke to realize it.

But Clarke just waved her hand at her in dismissal. “I’d watched a video about it like, three times. It’s not that complicated”

“To you, maybe.” Lexa cinched the saddle tight on her horse. “We hired summer help a couple of years ago. He threw up when he saw his first birth, and he couldn’t even be in the barn while we were castrating calves.”

“Men are weird like that,” Clarke admitted, adjusting the saddle one last time and giving the reins a final look-over. Everything was perfect, from what Lexa could see. “And listen, while I appreciate that you think I’m awesome and that you won’t be firing me anytime soon, you really don’t have to tell me how great I am all the time.”

Clarke stepped onto the stirrup and propelled herself onto the saddle, effortlessly. Lexa thought back to her first day on a horse and almost laughed aloud at the difference. Even if Clarke refused to acknowledge how far she had come in just a few short months, Lexa knew that she was special.

Lexa mounted onto her own horse, and they walked them out of the barn and into the soft morning light. The sun had just risen over the horizon less than an hour before, but it was already starting to warm up. With summer in full swing, they only needed jackets for morning and evening now.

“I’m only telling you this to let you know that if you want it, you have a future in the ranch industry,” Lexa insisted. She could never tell if Clarke was taking her seriously or not, and this was one time where she needed Clarke to know how important this was.

Clarke looked over to her, frowning. “Are you telling me you want me to stay on your ranch?”

Lexa looked at her in surprise. “What? No.”

Lexa really hadn’t meant that at all, and it was far too soon to make such an invitation anyway. Clarke had done extremely well over this season so far, but she reminded herself that it had only been a few months. Clarke still had another eight months on her contract, and a lot could happen. But the hurt look on Clarke’s face told her that she should rephrase.

“Whether this ranch, or a different one,” Lexa began, “I think that you could be a successful ranch hand, or even a ranch owner, if that’s what you wanted. Based on what I’ve seen, you have a gift for it.”

“Yes… maybe I’ll open a rival ranch and compete with you,” Clarke said airily, and Lexa knew that their serious discussion was over, as far as Clarke was concerned. “I’ll buy up all the surrounding ranches and raise cattle that are healthier, happier, and most importantly, cuter than your cattle. It’s the cuteness that makes them taste good, you know.”

Before Lexa could even think about responding, Clarke clicked to her horse and started loping, edging down the grassy hill and into the sunrise. Lexa smiled to herself, wanting to do nothing else on a Tuesday morning than to ride across the plains with someone who was her match.



**********



“They’re… uh… really going at it, aren’t they,” Clarke said with some measure of disgust.

Lexa looked up from the lasso she was hooking onto the pommel of her saddle. “That’s the point.”

They had released three bulls into the herd five days ago, and they would leave them there for another forty days before putting them back into isolation on the other side of the ranch. Giving them such a short window to mate encouraged the bulls to get the job done as quickly as possible but also ensured that they had a chance to mate with every cow in the herd. Cattle raising was a science, even if most people didn’t understand that.

“But I mean… wow.” Clarke approached the enclosure, eyes wide. “I feel like there should be a subscription service for this or something. Not that I’m into it, but I’m sure somebody is, you know?”

“That’s disgusting, Clarke.”

“I know, I know,” Clarke trailed off. “Still, it’s sad when a bunch of cows get more action than I do.”

Lexa knew that Clarke was joking, but she still bristled slightly. She picked at a chunk of leather that was threatening to come off of her saddle, the same saddle she had been using for that last ten years at least. “You can go to town for that sort of thing,” she said vaguely. She wasn’t even sure why she said it.

“For sex?” Clarke asked point-blank. Sometimes, she could be incredibly blunt. “Are you talking about a brothel or something?”

Lexa sighed, already regretting this conversation. She shouldn’t have said anything. “That’s not what I was suggesting. I was thinking more traditional methods, like meeting someone at the bar.”

Clarke laughed at her. “No offense, but that bar in Polis looks a little too sketchy for me.”

Lexa felt the piece of leather she had been picking at come undone from the saddle in her fingers, and she flicked it into the ankle-high grass. Her hands needed to keep moving, though, so she knelt down and began inspecting the fence (even though they had inspected it just a few days before). It bothered her that there wasn’t anything wrong with it that she could fix.

“The bar isn’t that bad,” Lexa insisted, even though she wished this topic was already over. If Clarke was feeling… unfulfilled on the ranch, then, as her employer, Lexa needed to help her think of solutions, even if she found them distasteful. “I know the owner. It may look rough on the outside, but he keeps it clean on the inside. And…” Lexa hesitated but continued in an even tone. “It would be easy for you. All you’d have to do is walk in. I’m sure men would be falling over themselves to buy you a drink.”

There were some good men in the town, Lexa knew, but there were also a lot of entitled fools. Men who had grown up on farms and ranches and felt like they knew everything, even if they couldn’t tell the difference between a Senepol and a Salers.

Clarke knelt beside her then, and Lexa found herself trying even harder to find some kind of flaw she could fix in the fence. It had nothing to do with how Clarke’s hair was falling over her shoulder, or how the jeans that Lexa had bought her perfectly accentuated her legs when she was kneeling like that. Lexa just knew that she would rather not be talking about Clarke hooking up with some random man in town.

“The men will be lining up, huh?” Clarke rocked back onto her heels. “Either there’s not a lot of competition in this town, or you just think I’m pretty.”

Lexas sighed, finally giving in and glancing over to Clarke, only to be met by the smuggest grin she had ever seen. She knocked her shoulder into Clarke’s and was happy to see that she lost her balance, if only briefly.

“Don’t read into things, Clarke,” she said, willing her expression to be as neutral as possible. “It was a hypothetical situation.”

“Right.” Clarke laughed at her, not maliciously, and she turned thoughtful a moment later. “But it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m taking a break for a while.”

“Taking a break?” Lexa asked, genuinely curious. She and Clarke hadn’t talked about anything like this before, and Lexa was beginning to realize how little of Clarke’ past she knew.

“From sex,” Clarke admitted. “I… went a little crazy after my last break up. Slept around a lot. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was doing it as a coping mechanism. It turns out that being angry at your ex isn’t a great reason to sleep with somebody.”

Lexa processed that information for a long moment. “Was coming to the ranch also a coping mechanism?”

“Yes and no,” Clarke admitted, sighing. She stood and leaned her back against the fence, facing away from the herd and looking out over the empty pastures around them. “It played a part, definitely, but there were a lot of reasons to get out for a while. Don’t you ever just need to escape? Go on a long vacation?”

“No,” Lexa said simply, standing beside Clarke. She really didn’t need vacations. She hadn’t taken one since she and her dad had gone on a road trip for a week when she was in high school. It was one of her favorite memories, but she thought it was mostly because of her dad. “I belong here. If you truly belong somewhere, you don’t feel like you need to leave.”

Clarke paused for a long moment, thinking it over. “What about when you’re stressed, or need to unwind? What do you do?”

Lexa shrugged under the scrutiny, keeping her eyes on the horizon. “I watch the sunset. Or listen to the wind rustling through the grass. Maybe pour myself some whiskey.”

“Whiskey, huh? I’m not surprised.” Clarke smiled over at her in such a way that Lexa felt her ears burning.

But Clarke’s smile faded, and Lexa didn’t think she imagined a slight hunching in her shoulders. “The ghost in my past was named Finn,” Clarke said flatly. “Who was yours?”

Lexa’s mind raced, trying to figure out how Clarke could have known about her, what little secret she had revealed accidentally. “What do you mean, my ghost?”

“Oh come on, Lexa.” Clarke shot her a stern look. “My ghost was dating another girl at the time, even though we had agreed to be monogamous. He assured the both of us that we were the only girl for him… but then I walked in on him with the other girl. So I’m wondering, what’s your story of woe? You stare more wistfully at the stars than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Lexa shifted against the fence, suddenly unsure of whether it was safe to be talking to Clarke about all of this after all. Granted, Clarke was from the city, and people’s views there were generally more progressive than they were in the country, but what did Lexa really know about her except that she had voluntarily left everything behind to work at her ranch?

But when Lexa looked over to her, she didn’t see a bigot, or a fanatic, or a cruel manipulator who would hold her secrets against her in a small town where word of mouth was faster than any news channel. If Lexa knew anything about Clarke after working by her side for the last four months, it was that she wouldn’t hurt her.

Lexa decided all at once. “Her name was Costia.”

A slight raising of the eyebrows was the only sign of Clarke’s surprise, for which Lexa was grateful. The only people in town who knew about it were Anya and Indra, and Lexa wanted to keep it that way.

Lexa kept her gaze over the fields, even though she wasn’t really looking at anything. “Costia and I had known each other our whole lives. Went to school together. Dated, secretly, for two years and five months.” Lexa stopped herself from going into more detail. But it was so refreshing to be able to talk about her, to tell the truth about her. “But she didn’t belong here. She was always dreaming of the outside world, of making it big in New York, of backpacking in Europe, of swimming with dolphins and climbing mountains and exploring temples… So she left.”

“Where is she now?” Clarke asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Lexa admitted with a small shake of her head. “Costia left the week after we graduated high school and hasn’t been back since. She never called or emailed. But there hasn’t been anyone since her.”

Clarke turned to her quickly, eyes wide. “You haven’t dated or… anything since high school? That was what, six years ago?”

“Seven,” Lexa said. “She left seven years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” Clarke said, even though Lexa didn’t know what she should be sorry for. “She must have been really special.”

“She was everything to me.” Lexa said flatly. It had been a long time ago, after all, even if the pain never faded completely. “But I respect her choice of leaving. She wouldn’t have been happy here.”

Clarke nodded as the silence lengthened, but her brow furrowed. “Sorry, but… and you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to… but how can you go seven years without dating someone or… having sex?”

Lexa didn’t really understand her confusion. “If I don’t love someone, then what’s the point of being sexual or romantic with them? But more than that, why would I want anything like that with them?”

“Probably because it feels really fucking good,” Clarke said, sighing and looking out over the grassland. “But I get it, in theory. And I guess I’m making the same choice, but for different reasons. I just need to focus on other things in my life and not use sex as a way to try to get away from my problems. You know?”

“In theory,” Lexa replied, feeling the smallest of smiles creeping up on her despite none of their subject matter being particularly funny. But it was nice to be able to share this with Clarke. She made an effort and listened to her, and Lexa hoped that she was able to offer the same kind of comfort to Clarke, even if Lexa didn’t understand exactly what she was going through, either.

But through it all, the nagging feeling that Lexa had overshared crept up within her. Why would she tell a temporary hire about Costia? It wasn’t like she and Clarke were friends… or anything else, for that matter.

“We should get back,” Lexa announced as she pushed off of the fencing and took her horse’s reins. She needed time to think about this. And she couldn’t think at all, if Clarke was looking at her like she was just then. “I’d like to go over the latest weigh-ins and see if we’re on track for the calf market in October.”

Clarke looked like she was about to say something but eventually just took her own horse’s reins and followed along behind Lexa.

Not for the first time, Lexa wondered if she and Clarke had crossed a line. The package, the game and dinner nights, the dream, and now sharing about Costia… If there had been a line, Lexa was beginning to think she had crossed it weeks ago. But if they had crossed it, Lexa had to decide if she cared.



**********



She didn’t.

Or at least, that’s what the evidence was pointing toward. Because every time that Lexa noticed a line, and saw herself about to careen over it, she did nothing to stop herself. She, the master of self control and knowing what she wanted and how to get there, was being reduced to an impulsive, giddy lunatic who might as well get a carpe diem tattoo.

They were firmly into summer now, with the long days allowing them to stay out in the pastures longer. The calves were growing faster than Lexa had ever seen, a combination of above-average rainfall and Clarke’s constant attention to their health. But Lexa couldn’t help but notice that she payed special attention to one calf in particular.

“What’s wrong with her?” Lexa asked, watching Clarke kneel beside the young calf, which was already as tall as Clarke’s waist and strong enough to knock her over if she wanted to. But despite how strong the calf was becoming, Clarke just scratched behind her ear and elicited what Lexa could only describe as the cattle equivalent of a purr.

“The real question is, what’s wrong with you for thinking something’s wrong with her? She’s perfect,” Clarke said, scrunching her face at the calf in affection. “Look at her fur! Look at how thick it is!”

“Clarke, they all have thick fur. They’re Galloways.”

Clarke shot her a look as if she were daft. “But hers is especially thick. It’s like the softest blanket I’ve ever touched in my life. And this lucky punk gets to walk around in it all the time.”

“During the summer,” Lexa deadpanned. “Lucky her.”

But Clarke either chose to ignore her sarcasm or didn’t notice it. “I’ve named her Daenerys,” Clarke announced, clearly proud of herself.

Lexa stared at her, unbelieving. Why would anyone name a calf that they would be selling for beef in a few months? “Daenerys,” Lexa repeated to herself. It sounded familiar. “Is that the one with the dragons?”

Clarke laughed a little. “Yes. She’s only, like, the most well-known character on TV right now.” She smiled down at the calf and nuzzled her ear again. “And while she may not be the mother of dragons, at least she’ll be the mother of cattle.”

Lexa frowned. “We’re selling her in a few months. For food.”

Clarke covered the calf’s ears with her hands. “Don’t listen to that mean old woman. She doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Lexa knew that Clarke would regret naming the calf as soon as they were selling all of them to the feedlot. But Lexa didn’t have it in her to drive that point home any further, not when this one calf--this one, stupid calf that looked exactly the same as all the others but Clarke could still pick out of the entire herd in less than a second--brought her so much joy.

If that one calf made Clarke happy, Lexa wouldn’t fight her about it. Because, even though Lexa wouldn’t say it aloud, it was important to her that Clarke was happy.

(And maybe she was reaching, but she thought that Clarke was happy being on the ranch with her.)



**********



The landline rang. After Lexa had gotten internet installed on the cabin a few years ago, she had used the phone less and less, to the point that it was unusual to get a phone call. And now, it was past sunset, and Lexa was almost ready to call it a night after being out in the pastures all day with Clarke, but someone was calling the ranch.

Lexa stood from the dining room table, where she was having a cup of tea and reviewing her budget for the summer (it was tight, but as long as they didn’t lose any calves, they should be fine), and crossed into the kitchen to pick up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey! It’s Raven. I hope I have the right house, otherwise this is really awkward. Is Clarke there?”

The name jogged Lexa’s memory. “Raven… you’re Clarke’s friend.”

“Uh, yeah. Clarke’s best friend.” The woman’s tone somehow became simultaneously more playful and dangerous. “And you must be Lexa.”

As curious as she was about what kind of person Clarke would become friends with, Lexa felt like it might be better to avoid this conversation until later (when she had more intel on Raven, specifically). She placed the phone on the table but could still hear Raven on the other line.

“Are you there? Lexa? I’ve heard so much about you…”

But Lexa was already leaving the kitchen and searching the cabin for Clarke. It didn’t take long to discover that Clarke was in the shower.

“Clarke! Raven’s on the phone for you,” Lexa yelled through the door, loud enough to be heard over the sound of the running water.

“Oh my God, Raven!” And then, slightly panicked, “She hasn’t talked to you, has she?”  

Lexa heard a commotion through the door, and a few moments later, Clarke came bursting out of the bathroom, wrapped only in…

Lexa averted her eyes, but too late to avoid seeing everything that the towel didn’t cover, which was a lot. She knew that Clarke was well-endowed, based on the fitted sweaters and shirts that she wore, but detecting the slightest hint of something through a sweater and seeing it practically bursting from beneath a towel were two very different things.

Luckily, Clarke was in such a hurry to get to the phone that she didn’t look up to see Lexa’s burning cheeks, or the way her legs instantly turned to jelly, or how she practically ran to her room and nearly shut the door behind her.

With her room opening onto the kitchen, and Clarke speaking much more loudly than necessary, it wasn’t difficult for Lexa to overhear the conversation.

“Raven! What’s going on? I thought you were only going to call me if it was an emergency--”

Clarke must have been cut off, as she lingered in silence for a while.

“No, I haven’t had a chance to check yet. We’ve been out all day. What’s going on?”

Clarke was silent for a long time, to the point where Lexa almost wondered if she had hung up on Raven or vice versa.

“OK, yeah, I’ll call her tomorrow. I’m going into town in the morning and will have service. Listen, I’m sorry my mom came after you like that. It’s not fair that she got on your case for me not telling her where I was going. I’ll deal with her, OK?” A long pause. “Yeah, sorry, it’s been so busy around here. But I’m actually pretty good at this whole ranch thing. Raven… Raven . Stop laughing.”

Lexa could imagine Clarke’s smile as she said that. Whatever problems were happening with her mom, it seemed that Clarke still wanted to be on the ranch. That was good news.

(For the business, of course.)

Clarke laughed so hard that Lexa couldn’t help but smile herself. “Fuck off, Raven. Oh, I finally named my favorite calf… Daenerys. Yes… I know! She’s going to be such a badass. But for now she’s just an adorable ball of fur. I’ll send you some pictures I took today.”

Lexa realized it was ridiculous that she was sitting on her bed, her ear angled toward the crack in the door, listening to her employee’s conversation with her best friend back home. But she couldn’t help but enjoy hearing about what Clarke considered to be the highlights of her time at the ranch. The fact that she even had favorite experiences was enough to put Lexa at ease.

“Yeah,” Clarke said, voice quieting. “I know what I said about her before, but she’s not like that anymore.”

That really got Lexa’s attention. She rose from her bed and stood next to the wall near the door, convincing herself that it wasn’t as desperate as it looked.

“No, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the past few months. She got on my case a lot at first, but now… she’s kinda funny. And really passionate about her ranch. Like, I’ve never seen someone care so much about anything.”

That was a decent review. Lexa had never been lauded for her good humor before, but it brought her some satisfaction that Clarke thought she was funny.

Clarke spoke again a minute later. “God, no. I came here to get away from all that, you know that. It’s just… you know, if I have to spend all day with someone, I might as well not hate their guts.”

Another pause, then Clarke laughed. “That’ll happen when hell freezes over. Don’t worry, I’ll get my mom off your back. Alright, have fun at the party tonight. OK, love you too. Bye.”

Lexa frowned. She hadn’t known that Clarke was keeping her job at the ranch a secret from her mom. That seemed messy and could only lead to trouble down the road. She counted to ten before she stepped out of her room, keeping her eyes firmly above shoulder height when she sat across from Clarke at the dining room table.

(She so intently didn’t look at her chest that she swore she could see it all the more clearly.)

Clarke looked at her in surprise. “Oh. I thought you had gone outside.”

“So your mom doesn’t know you’re here?” Lexa asked, holding her cup of tea between her hands and willing her breathing to be calm.

Clarke winced, her shoulders sagging. “So you did hear everything I said.”

Lexa couldn’t help herself. “You also said I was funny,” she said with no emotion.

Clarke rolled her eyes, but that didn’t hide her slight smile. “Look, you already know that I wanted to get away from some stuff at home for a while, and my mom was part of that.”

But Lexa straightened her back and pinned her with her stare. She knew how effective it could be. “I need to know if my employees are having problems that could affect them on the job.”

Clarke’s looked like she was about to argue back, but finally she just sighed. “You got anything stronger than tea?”

And that’s how Clarke began telling her about her mother over whiskey (thankfully after returning to her room and changing into actual clothes). It was Lexa’s go-to whiskey--she had been buying the same brand since she had turned 21. Anya always said it tasted awful, but that just meant there was more for Lexa.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Clarke described her mother as controlling and manipulative, pressuring her to use her degree in biomedical science to pursue an MD like she had done. But when Clarke displayed more interest in animals than people and decided to follow that passion instead, Clarke never heard the end of why her mom thought that was a mistake. More critically, at least for the short term, her mother had cut her off financially when Clarke started taking more veterinary electives. That was another reason she had to leave: to clear her head, escape from her mother’s thumb…. and make some money.

At some point, they had headed outside to the porch swing, glasses refilled with whiskey. It was late, and Lexa knew she was usually in bed an hour ago, but this felt too important to let drop. She could lose a little sleep over making sure Clarke was alright.

(Because that’s what employers did: take care of their employees.)

“Honestly, I wish I could be more like you,” Clarke said, breaking the silence and making the fine hairs on Lexa’s arms and the back of her neck stand on end.

“What do you mean?” Lexa asked, trying to cover her shock. Why would Clarke be jealous of her? Even though Lexa still didn’t know much about her, she did know that Clarke was a college graduate and had the means to pick up her life and try something new at the drop of a hat.

But Clarke just raised her eyebrows at her, like it should be obvious. “You run your own business, Lexa. You own a house. You own like.. thousands of acres of land. So much land that I don’t even really know how much.” Clarke took a long swig of whiskey. “To put things in perspective, I am over $20,000 in debt and own nothing except my car and a shitty laptop.”

Lexa shot her a sidelong glance. “And your car has a flat tire.”

Clarke growled and picked up one of the cushions on her seat, throwing it point-blank at Lexa. Lexa deflected it with an arm, sending it flying behind her on the porch.

Clarke just glared at her, although Lexa could tell there was no fire in it. “I’m trying to tell you I admire you, Lexa! Learn how to take a compliment. Jesus.”

“I don’t get a lot of practice these days,” Lexa said with a self-conscious shrug.

Clarke grunted a laugh. “That’s hard to believe.”

It took Lexa a moment to realize the veiled flattery there. But as much as Lexa wanted to know what Clarke meant by that, she thought there should be a limit to their somewhat tipsy talk on the porch. Discussing Lexa’s supposed attractiveness with her employee was off limits.

Obviously.

(But why would Clarke even say something like that? What was the point?)

The quiet stretched between them. Beyond them in the fields, the insects were coming alive, filling the crisp night air with their chirps.

Eventually, Lexa cleared her throat. “You should know that you’re not as unsuccessful as you think you are.”

Clarke laughed but without humor. She downed the rest of her whiskey in one go. “You really are hilarious.”

“No, I’m being serious, Clarke” Lexa said, turning toward her on the swing. Even in the dark, she could see the crooked set of Clarke’s mouth. “You have freedom to go wherever you want and do whatever you want. You were strong enough to leave behind everyone you knew to come here. You’re building a life for yourself, the life that you want and not the one that your parents chose for you.”

Lexa stopped herself. She realized that Clarke was staring at her, and she wondered if she had already said too much. Maybe it was just the starlight, but she thought Clarke looked paler than usual.

But eventually, Clarke let out a breath and gave her a small smile. “I guess it’s good to take a step back and look at all the good things every once in awhile.”

“But not too often,” Lexa said with faux seriousness. “I don’t want us to get too cocky.”

“Too late for some of us…” Clarke said under her breath, before breaking out into a grin as Lexa gaped at her.

But Lexa was fast. She grabbed the cushion that Clarke had thrown at her earlier and chucked it back at her. She got Clarke right in the chest, and Clarke burst out laughing.

And Lexa found herself laughing along.



**********



Disaster struck. Or at least, that’s what Clarke would have her believe.

Daenerys was missing.

Lexa tried to ignore the flutter in her stomach when she saw how absurdly worried Clarke was. “Just slow down, Clarke. How do you know she’s missing?”

“I’ve counted the herd three times.” Clarke was searching through the cattle in their enclosure “She’s not here. Her mom has been crying all day.”

Lexa ignored the fact that cattle don’t cry. But besides Clarke’s panic, there was another reason to worry: the ranch couldn’t afford losing a calf right now. “Let me count them one more time, then we’ll decide what to do.”

As Lexa entered into the pasture and counted the cattle one by one, Clarke remained outside of the fence and was practically chewing on her fist. Lexa needed to be able to tell her that everything was alright, that she was just tired and miscounted those times before, but Lexa came to the end of the herd and sighed.

There really was one missing.

Lexa prided herself on her stony expression, but it evidently wasn’t stony enough to fool Clarke. She held her hand in front of her face, and Lexa had never seen her more anxious, even during Clarke’s first calving… and the first calf she had helped be born was Daenerys.

“Lexa, we have to find her.” A furrow had taken up permanent residence between Clarke’s brows, and Lexa wanted to make it disappear. “We have to go right now, we have to…”

Standing in front of Clarke again, Lexa quelled the voice that warned her about crossing lines, as she placed her hands on Clarke’s shoulders. They were quivering ever so slightly. “We’re going to find her, Clarke. But we need supplies first.”

“But she must be close,” Clarke insisted, worry coming off of her in waves. “We counted them yesterday, and she was still here. If we start now--”

“No, Clarke.” Lexa squeezed Clarke’s shoulders, and it seemed to ground her. Clarke was suddenly looking very intently into her eyes, and Lexa had to fight the urge to step back… or to step closer. “We’ll need extra food, water, shelter, and medical supplies if she’s hurt. We can’t rush into this.”

Clarke nodded, calming down. She took a deep breath and let it out. “OK. But if you think we’re walking the horses back to the barn, you have another thing coming.”

And sure enough, they loped all the way back to the cabin, loaded up enough supplies to keep them reasonably comfortable for a few days, and loped right back out to the pastures surrounding the rest of the herd. Even Lexa was sore after that, despite her years of experience in the saddle. She couldn’t imagine how much Clarke must be hurting, but Clarke didn’t say a word, and if anything, she rode faster as the hours wore on.

But after an endless day of searching and calling and riding up one hill and down another, Lexa led her horse to a stand of trees alongside a stream.

“Clarke, we need to stop,” Lexa said, dismounting. “There’s no use in searching if we can’t see.”

Clarke opened her mouth as if to protest, but she eventually nodded and joined Lexa on the ground a moment later.

The shadows were lengthening, plunging the grassland into a twilight that quickly sucked away the day’s heat. Lexa pulled on her flannel and hoped it would be enough. Clarke put on her own jacket as well, one that Lexa had bought her a couple of months ago. It still filled her with satisfaction whenever she saw Clarke wearing something she had bought her (which was most of the time, considering how impractical Clarke’s wardrobe had been).

They set up their camp in silence, Lexa tying up a tarp between the trees and Clarke gathering water from the stream. In a few minutes, Lexa had their sleeping bags arranged on a blanket beneath the tarp, and Clarke had built a fire out of the branches that were littering the ground.

Lexa was taken aback by how easily and quickly Clarke had built the fire, but considering Clarke’s many skills, maybe she shouldn’t have been. “You’re pretty good at that,” Lexa said, gesturing to the fire that crackled in the dusk. The world was reduced to gray tones, except for the pure brightness of their fire.

“My dad taught me,” Clarke said, staring into the flames, voice flat and distant. “He took me camping sometimes. I hated it.”

This was the first time Clarke had mentioned her father. Lexa had her suspicions, but she asked anyway. “What happened to him?”

“Construction accident.” Clarke’s voice remained emotionless, but Lexa thought her eyes were shimmering in the light of the fire. “He was lead engineer on a new skyscraper. He thought one of the beams was installed incorrectly and could be unsafe… and he was right. He was evacuating the site and checking to make sure that no one was still inside... and the whole building collapsed on top of him.”

Lexa tore her eyes away from Clarke and stared into the flames. It was such a personal moment, so raw, that it felt like an intrusion to watch her as she shared this. “That was very brave of him. He must have saved a lot of lives.”

But Clarke just pursed her lips and poked around the fire with a stick. “My mom got even more obsessed with her practice after that. I barely saw her. And we never went camping again after that.”

But the fire continued to burn and snap and warmed them as the night cooled. Lexa didn’t know what to say, or if she needed to say anything, but she couldn’t let Clarke feel like she was alone. “He may be gone, but his fire still keeps you warm,” she murmured into the night.

Silence descended on them once again, but Clarke added a log to the fire, spurring it even larger and brighter. They listened to the buzzing of insects and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees for a long time, and Lexa felt her weary muscles sagging with the thought of sleep.

But finally, when Lexa was about to lay back into her sleeping bag and get as good a night’s rest as she could on the cold ground, Clarke cleared her throat. “What happened to your family, Lexa?”

It was a lot to get into this late at night. She thought about just telling her goodnight and letting the matter rest forever. She didn’t owe Clarke her story, after all. But then again, Lexa didn’t owe her an overnight search for her favorite calf, either. If not for Clarke, Lexa would have returned that night and resumed the search in the morning.

And yet, there they were.

But if there was any good time to tell her story, Lexa supposed it had to be a night like this, surrounded by miles and miles of desolate grassland, firelight warming their faces. Secrets seemed less serious when shared in the dark.

So Lexa pulled her flannel closer around herself and told Clarke everything. How her mother had inherited the ranch from her family. How her father had come here to work over the summers during high school. How he had asked her to marry him out in the fields one day. How they constructed the cabin themselves, built up the ranch from twenty cattle to over one hundred, and happened to have a daughter along the way.

And then Lexa told her how it all ended: in a car crash so violent and senseless that everyone in the community was in shock. How the town came together, provided Lexa enough food and goods and supplies to last her literally for years, but no one could give her back the two people that she wanted most.

That’s how 17-year-old Lexa inherited the ranch. It was the last piece of her parents that she had left, and the reason why the thought of another hard winter pushing her to sell the ranch was so terrifying.

As silence settled between them and the fire burned low, Lexa watched the half moon make its slow journey across the sky. The night was chilly, but Lexa warmed when Clarke moved to her side. They didn’t touch, but it was a reminder that she wasn’t alone.

Clarke’s voice, low and soft, broke through the crackling of the fire. “I think they would be proud of you.”

Lexa didn’t respond. Couldn’t, really. Her parents would be proud of her, no matter what happened to the ranch. But Lexa wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she had to sell it. She would honor their memory, no matter what it took.

When they finally zipped into their sleeping bags, Lexa stared up at the stars for what seemed like hours, her mind turning and lost in memories that had been unearthed that night. But feeling that pain meant that her love for her parents was still alive. Hurting was a small price to pay to know that she would never forget how much they meant to her.

Well into the night, Lexa heard Clarke shifting beside her and a long sigh. It seemed that she had her own pain to deal with.

The next day, the sun blazed hot and had them sweating in the saddle. They had to regularly detour back to the stream to refill their water bottles, which had Clarke on edge with the time they were losing. But with only a couple hours of daylight left, Clarke let out an excited cry.

“Dany!”

She galloped down the hill to where the calf was tangled by her fur in the barbed wire fence. Even though Lexa was exhausted, Clarke’s bright smile made it all worthwhile.

When they managed to cut her loose, Clarke dropped to the ground and hugged Daenerys tight in her arms, tears streaming down her face. And Lexa thought that, if a calf was capable of hugging, Daenerys hugged her right back, burrowing her furry head into Clarke’s chest and calling out excitedly.

Lexa knew it was such a bad idea. These calves were raised for beef. They, including Daenerys, would be sold and slaughtered in just a few months. And yet, seeing the pure joy on Clarke’s face, and God damn it, if she didn’t think that was joy on Daenerys’ face tool… Lexa couldn’t criticize Clarke for caring so deeply about her, even if she knew her fate.

Watching Clarke and Daenerys’ reunion, and how Clarke’s smile was wide and free, her laughter exuberant, her devotion unwaverable, her spirit unstoppable, Lexa realized something.

You really can’t choose who you fall for.