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Head Over Boots

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The rains came heavy that summer. Wisps of clouds coalesced into dark, roiling storms, splitting the sky with flashes of light and claps of thunder. Even so, Lexa rested easy. The sheets of rain made the grass practically shoot up right before her eyes, and healthy grass meant a healthy herd.

Even so, the work on the ranch never stopped: branding the young calves, tending sick cattle, feeding calves by hand when they had to be quarantined away from their mothers, medical exams for the horses, maintaining the truck, repairing the roof after a storm, communicating with the buyers who would be taking the calves in just a few short months…

Lexa tried to imagine doing all of this on her own. She couldn’t. She remembered what it had been like before Clarke, to work herself ragged each and every day, passing out at night and waking up just a few hours later to do it all over again. Although there was still so much to do, Lexa awoke each morning excited for the day… or maybe she was just excited to wake up to hear Clarke’s slow breathing beside her, feel her hand resting heavily on her hip, roll onto her back and gently kiss Clarke awake.

It was all of the above. Clarke made her life easier in so many ways, with her academic knowledge of cattle that had transformed over the last year into practical knowledge; with her tireless work ethic and ability to make light of any situation, even if they found themselves caught in the rain and had to gallop back to the barn to avoid the worst of the storm; how Clarke chose to stay with her rather than return to her friends and family in Seattle; how Clarke could calm her with a touch, excite her with a look, love her with words and without equally.

Lexa didn’t allow herself to wallow in past choices, but it was still difficult to forgive herself for almost ruining everything with Clarke. Especially when Clarke had been right, that there was a way to earn extra money for the ranch, that Lexa could be successful and happy all at the same time. It was the first time in her life that she felt like she had it all, everything that was important to her, finally, even if only for a short time.

Because Lexa knew what was important to Clarke. No, she wouldn’t be content to stay on the ranch for the rest of her life. She had ambition, she had dreams, she didn’t feel the ranch and it’s soil and streams running through her veins. Lexa knew she would have to let her go.

(But not now… not for weeks yet. She could enjoy everything she had ever wanted until the very moment that Clarke was leaving.)

Until that time, Lexa would continue to marvel at how the sunlight danced in Clarke’s hair, how her hips rose and fell in the saddle as she galloped across the grassland, how her smile brought Lexa more peace than she had ever known, how she made Lexa feel simultaneously vulnerable and empowered.

Until that time, Lexa would love her with everything that she had.

**********

Clarke’s hand hovered over the gate’s latch. “I just don’t know if I’m ready for this.”

Still on horseback, Lexa returned back around the three bulls, keeping them in a tight grouping in front of the gate. “Ready for what?”

Sighing, Clarke opened the gate that led to the other pasture, where the other cattle were grazing. Lexa only needed to close the distance with the bulls to encourage them through the gate. Although bulls were generally the least well-mannered cattle in the herd, they seemed to have no argument against moving closer to the heifers and cows. Clarke watched them go with a heavy expression.

“Clarke, what aren’t you ready for?” Lexa asked, as she dropped to the ground beside Clarke. She tied the reins off to the post beside Clarke’s horse and leaned backwards against the fence.

Clarke propped an elbow onto the fence and gazed out at the herd. “I feel like my baby is all grown up. It’s like I’ve given birth to her and taught her how to speak and put her through school, and now…” Clarke’s mouth wrenched to the side. “Dany’s going to be buggered by a bull.”

The concern that Clarke was showing, that Lexa would have called ridiculous a year ago, was one of the reasons that Lexa so valued having Clarke on the ranch (and in her life). “Daenerys is an adult now. She gets to run off and date whoever she wants.”

“But it’s like she’s 18 and doesn’t really know what she wants yet and will settle for anyone who’s not that bad.”

“Clarke, she’s a heifer, not a naive teenage girl.” But seeing that Clarke still wasn’t satisfied, Lexa reached over and tucked a strand of Clarke’s hair behind her ear. She loved that, being able to do these small gestures whenever she wanted. They were a language all their own. “She’s not going to forget about you. And I’m sure you’ll fall in love with her calf, too.”

Clarke looked doubtful for another moment before relenting, a smile overtaking her. “They’re going to be cute. Dany’s passing down some good genes.” But she looked away again and frowned slightly. “Do you ever think about kids, Lexa?”

The question wasn’t coming out of nowhere. After having the Monroe family at the ranch earlier that year, and the Bennetts and Chens the month before, the Woods Ranch had more children running around than ever. More children than Lexa had ever thought there would be.

“I never had thought about it,” Lexa said slowly. The wind was picking up, tossing the little strands of her hair that had come undone from her braid around her face. “Since my parents died, I’ve only been able to focus on the ranch. I haven’t been able to consider anything beyond that.”

“Really? Not even once?” Clarke asked.

“I’ve thought about it, in the abstract,” Lexa said, “but it has never been a practical option. I don’t want to raise children unless I’m financially secure and in a committed relationship. I grew up with both of my parents, with their unconditional support, and I would want any children that I had to enjoy the same.”

“I can understand that,” Clarke said thoughtfully. “And that’s smart, to consider what worked in your own life, with your own parents, and figure out what you would like to pass down… and what you wouldn’t.”

Lexa got the feeling that Clarke was talking around something. “What would you want to pass down?”

Clarke shook her head slightly, her mouth twisting to the side. “I guess… my parents gave me a lot of opportunities. I went to good schools, had lots of activities, was busy all the time.”

“But?”

Clarke leaned more heavily against the fence. “They were never there. They were always working and had crazy schedules. Between that, and them signing me up for everything under the sun, I barely saw them.” She turned her eyes to Lexa then, a little sad. “I guess I would want to give my kids more time. I would show them I cared by just being around, as simple as that sounds.”

Lexa turned to face the same way as Clarke, looking out over the herd, and slid up next to her until their shoulders touched. “I would want to give them more choices than I had. I don’t regret staying here and taking over the ranch--I wouldn’t want anything else--but I never had other options. My parents always had me working here in my free time. They talked about me taking over when they got older. This was always the path set out for me. If I ever had children, I would want them to have more paths, or make sure they knew they could create their own.”

Clarke stared at her for a long moment, eventually leaning over and giving her a short kiss. Still close, she said “For what it’s worth, I think you would be great with kids.”

“One thing at a time.” She inhaled deeply, letting the scent of Clarke mix with that of fresh grass and moist earth. “First, the ranch needs to stabilize. And then…” She kept her eyes fixed on the horizon, blue sky meeting the shifting waves of grass. “There would need to be another parent.”

“Wow, you make finding the love of your life sound very romantic,” Clarke said, amused.

Lexa could only turn her head and take in the sight of Clarke leaning on the fence, the hint of muscle displayed in her arms (muscles that hadn’t been there when she had first arrived at the ranch), her golden hair blowing in the breeze and eyes as bright as the sky and that smirk that Lexa both loved and wanted to kiss away.

But Lexa couldn’t speak. Saying it aloud, that she had already found the love of her life, that if she ever were to have a family, she could see herself doing it with Clarke, was all too much. How could she tell someone who was leaving to pursue her dreams--something that Lexa supported--that she would never find someone else quite like her?

In the silence that developed between them, Clarke’s smirk gradually faded and her lips parted. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Lexa wrapped an arm around Clarke’s waist and closed the small distance between them. She kissed her slowly, growing deeper, and by the time she pulled away, she was breathless. “Have I told you how glad I am that I met you?” she finally managed.

“Only a million times,” Clarke said, squeezing her sides. “You’re kind of a sap, you know.”

Lexa could only grin at her before stealing another kiss. She and Clarke would just need to take things one step at a time.

**********

Lexa was more nervous than she should have been. Just because Raven had been Clarke’s closest friend for the past four years didn’t mean that meeting her was some kind of test. (But if it was a test, Lexa would excel at it, of course.)

But it wasn’t a test, of course, and she needed to not freak out just because Raven had known Clarke for so much longer and had actually been a part of those crazy college stories that Clarke had told her about. It made no sense to be nervous, and even less to be jealous that Raven had seen a side of Clarke that Lexa never would. So she wasn’t nervous, or jealous, or uneasy, because that would be ridiculous.

But when Clarke burst up from the couch, Lexa forgot how not nervous she was, just for a moment.

“They’re here. Oh my God, they’re actually here,” Clarke said, as she practically squealed on her way out of the cabin.

Lexa took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Everything would be fine. Meeting Clarke’s best friend was an important step in their relationship. And for all she knew, it might even be fun.

(Tell that to the anxiety coiling and uncoiling itself in her stomach.)

She rose up from the couch and walked outside with a determined step She stepped out to the porch ready to accept her fate, no matter what happened. But as soon as she watched Clarke bounding up to a somewhat beat-up sedan, holding and being held by a dark-haired woman in a death grip, spinning in circles…. all of Lexa’s anxiety left her body all at once. How could she be nervous, when Clarke was obviously overjoyed to see Raven?

She looked over to the other woman getting out of the car, Octavia, who was a little shorter than Clarke with long brunette hair. She walked over to Lexa and extended her hand. “It seems like they’re not going to be doing introductions anytime soon, so… I’m Octavia.”

Lexa remembered back to the last time someone tried to shake her hand in her driveway. At that time, with Clarke, she had almost refused to shake her hand, her bitterness about having to hire help and certainty that Clarke wasn’t the right person for the job making her cold. But now, taking Octavia’s hand, she thought how strange that would be, now. So much had changed with Clarke in her life.

“I’m Lexa, the owner of Woods Ranch,” she said, Octavia’s grip strong on her own. That was good--she wouldn’t trust anyone with a weak handshake. “I’m glad you could come out and visit Clarke.”

“Yeah, well…” Octavia looked over to Raven with an affectionate look. “She said there would be horses and shit. I may have grown up in the city, but there’s no way I could say no to that. And Raven was really excited about coming out here. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but she and Clarke are like, best hoes or something.”

Lexa smiled to herself. “Or something.”

Octavia turned back to the other two. “Raven! Stop being rude and introduce me to your best hoe!”

Raven shot her a look but hung an arm around Clarke’s shoulder and walked her over (Clarke was still smiling ear-to-ear). “Speaking of rude ,” Raven said. “This is my girlfriend, Octavia.”

Clarke extended her hand, but Octavia went in for a hug. “Oh no, we’re well beyond handshakes. She’s told me too much about you.”

Clarke laughed as she returned the hug. “I don’t know whether to be honored or horrified.”

“Honestly? Probably both,” Raven said, as the other women stood apart again.

Lexa was just starting to feel like she was on the outside of everything happening, when Clarke came to her side and took her hand. Her smile changed to something more somber, but it tugged at Lexa’s heart harder than ever. “This is Lexa.”

Raven stared at her for a beat too long. She was jutting her jaw, her head tilting to the side at a stubborn angle. Lexa could feel herself being assessed, but she couldn’t blame Raven. She had no doubt that Clarke had told her everything that had happened between them, all the hurt she had caused Clarke.

But finally, Raven’s shoulders relaxed and she enveloped Lexa into a brief hug. She clapped once on her back, hard. “I can’t wait to get to know you, Lexa.”

Lexa thought she understood it, the suspicion and the jealousy. But based on what Clarke had told her, she thought she knew a good way to lessen Raven’s misgivings. “I thought we could all get to know each other over some drinks tonight.”

“Horses and booze?” Octavia said excitedly. “This place is sounding better and better.”

“What are we drinking?” Raven said, crossing her arms and clearly unconvinced.

“For Clarke? Tequila, of course.” Lexa said, winking at her ever so slightly. She didn’t think she imagined the way that Clarke’s eyes flickered to her lips. But she refocused on the rest of the group. “I’ll be having whisky. But I also bought beer, in case that’s what you would like.”

“What kind of beer?” Raven asked, getting even suspicious now.

Clarke had told Lexa what Raven’s favorite beer weeks before. Lexa pretended to forget the name “An IPA… Red something, I think?”

Raven’s face lit up. “Redhook? You’re kidding me. I didn’t think they sold that out here.”

“They don’t, which is why I special ordered it,” Lexa said as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Raven scrunched her eyes at her but then grinned. “What are we still doing out here? Wait.” She paused and pointed at Lexa dramatically. “Are the beers cold?”

But Lexa just stared at her, quirking an eyebrow. “What kind of operation do you think I’m running out here?”

Raven just barked a laugh, limping a little as they all made their way into the cabin. Lexa had heard about the fall that had permanently injured her leg when she was a child (but hadn’t stopped her from skateboarding and swimming and getting in trouble). And whatever Lexa had maybe been feeling before about meeting Raven was being replaced with something much more similar to excitement for the next two days.

**********

Clarke had made her practically county-famous lasagna for dinner, and the drinks had flowed freely. Lexa had never felt like a particularly social person, but the group of them made it feel easy. There was a carefree back-and-forth in their conversation, an exchange of stories and experiences that led one to the next. Although she had lived such a different life than the rest of them, Clarke served as a sort of bridge between their lives. For every ridiculous university story, Clarke would recall something that had happened on the ranch or in Polis, and Lexa would feel like her reality was included again.

Unsurprisingly, many of Raven’s stories had a common theme: drunk Clarke. With each of them, Clarke would only hide her face behind her hands and, as it turned out, ready a story from her own arsenal about Raven. But Lexa got to hear all about that time that Clarke challenged a bunch of frat boys to strip poker and won (“With only my top off,” Clarke bragged, and Lexa had no problem imagining it); how Clarke had decided to hotbox her car just as a police foot patrol went by (“Weed is legal there, OK? It was fine,” Clarke interjected); and one particular study session they had where they awarded each correct answer with a sip of beer (“It was a good system… until the fourth beer or so,” Clarke said, as Raven rolled her eyes).

But Clarke shot back with her own stories: Raven trying to impress a group of guys by skateboarding past them and falling in the most dramatic crash Clarke had ever seen (“I only rolled twice!” Raven said. “And don’t forget how they tended my wounds afterword. Such gentlemen.”); and Raven studying so hard for one of her exams that she didn’t sleep for three days straight and started hallucinating (“The bunnies were teaching me partial differential equations. It was pretty helpful, actually”).

And Octavia, Lexa decided, was a lot tougher even than she looked. She grew up in a tiny studio apartment with her mom and brother; was only able to attend college because she earned a full-ride soccer scholarship; told off a physics major at the bar who argued that her sociology degree was worthless (“I told him that sociology was a science, just like physics, and explained to him what the scientific method was in excruciating detail for the next half hour); and punched a man in the kidney on the dance floor after he decided to dance with her without her consent (“I had seen him try the same thing with three other women. He deserved it.”).

And Lexa? She found herself talking about what it was like to go to a high school with eighty people (“We knew whenever someone started dating less than ten minutes after it happened.”); how she had participated in an amateur rodeo until she was seven years old (Clarke looked at her like she was scandalized--she hadn’t told her about that yet, and for obvious reasons… the outfits had been mortifying); and how she had once attended a party that was literally a group of people standing in the middle of a field, lighting anything they had in their trucks on fire, and drinking until they were blazing drunk and passed out in the back of their trucks (Lexa left early. The party had been Anya’s idea, of course).

But as the evening was winding down, Clarke offered to show Octavia what kinds of shows she had on her laptop, and Raven tapped Lexa on the shoulder. “Want to get some fresh air?” she said, grabbing another beer from the refrigerator.

Lexa nodded and followed her out of the cabin. The night air was brisk, but after being in the summer heat all day, Lexa was grateful for it. She sat on the bench and motioned beside her. Raven sunk down next to her and propped her feet up onto the porch railing.

“Not a bad life you have out here, Lexa, I’ve got to admit,” she said, taking a swig of her beer.

Lexa swirled her glass around in a tight circle, but it was mostly ice at this point. “It has its advantages. A few more, since Clarke arrived.”

Raven lolled her head to the side to look at her. “You like her.”

But Lexa just smiled. “I love her.”

“Oooh boy,” Raven said, dropping her feet back down in front of her. “Listen, I was this close to coming out here and beating you up a few months ago.” She held her fingers an inch apart from each other.

“I know I hurt her, and I regret that.” She knew this matter was between her and Clarke, but she understood why Raven was worried. “I don’t know if things will ever be simple between us, but Clarke is safe with me.”

“Here’s the thing.” Raven took another sip of beer. “Back in college, Clarke used to date and hook up with a lot of people. Like, a lot .”

“That’s… nice,” Lexa said. “But I don’t need to hear the details.”

“No, hear me out.” Raven turned on the bench, looking at her more intently. “She’s dated a lot of people, but I’ve never seen her light up like she does around you.”

Lexa’s throat was suddenly very dry. She drank down the watered down whisky in her glass in one go, just to be able to speak. “I’ve never been happier than I am now with Clarke.” Her voice was raspier than she expected.

“You don’t really sound it, buddy.” Raven clapped a hand onto her back, but less hard than she had during their hug earlier that day. “But I get it. It’s got to be overwhelming.”

Lexa leaned back on the bench, looking out over the driveway, the shadow of the barn, the glint of stars in the dark sky. “I’m not sure how much Clarke has told you about me. I was doing the same work before she came. Managing cattle, selling them, just trying to make ends meet.”

Lexa cleared her throat, glancing over to Raven. “But after Clarke arrived, everything started to make sense. Why I was doing it. Everything was a burden before she came. I was working here out a sense of duty, but with her, everything came alive. Me, my love for the ranch, my love for her… I know I can survive without Clarke, but I’m not satisfied with just surviving anymore. I don’t think I’ll be satisfied ever again without her.”

Raven watched her with her mouth hanging open, but after Lexa went silent, she closed it again and finished her beer. “Thanks for opening up about that. I don’t really know what to say, except it sounds like you don’t want her to leave next month.”

“Of course I don’t want her to leave,” Lexa said, looking out into the darkness beyond the porch again. “But I also trust her to do what’s right for herself. And right now, I think that means going to school and becoming a doctor.”

Raven whistled low. “You guys got some star-crossed lovers shit going on, which I don’t envy. At all. But, for what it’s worth…” Raven’s mouth twisted to the side as she looked at her. “I’m rooting for you guys, whatever ends up happening between you. Because you support her, and she goes on and on about you, and really, I just want to visit this ranch again. It’s dope.”

Lexa smiled over at her. “You’ve barely seen any of it yet.”

“But I’ve got some good vibes out here, Lexa. Good vibes.”

They were both silent for a long moment. Insects hummed in the grass beyond the porch, and Lexa found herself getting lost in her thoughts.

But Raven turned to her with a serious but odd expression. “So you used to do rodeos, huh?”

Lexa rolled her eyes. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you about that.”

“Ooooh, there’s got to be photos.” Raven was literally sitting on the edge of her seat. “You have to show me. Now.”

Lexa got up abruptly and pointed at Raven’s empty can. “Why don’t I get you another beer instead?”

“That is a pathetic excuse for a distraction tactic.” Raven was back on her feet as well and opening the door for her. “The sooner you give in, the less annoying I’ll have to be.”

Lexa took a deep breath and let it out. “One photo.”

Raven laughed in victory and burst into the cabin yelling, “Lexa’s going to show us all her childhood photos!”

And of course she did. Because Clarke was looking at her with a pleading look that made Lexa’s knees weak, and Lexa had no intention of hiding any part of herself from the woman she loved. Even if there was a photo of her dressed as a rodeo clown.

**********

They didn’t have enough horses for everyone to ride together, so she and Clarke woke up early the next morning and corralled the cattle into fields closer to the ranch. The cool morning air was magic on Lexa’s skin, such a relief from the days that were becoming smoldering. And being alone with Clarke, if only for a couple of hours, was more relaxing than anything else Lexa could imagine.

On their way out to the pastures, the sun just above the horizon and saddles creaking and horses breathing steadily, Clarke looked over to her. “I saw you and Raven had a long talk outside last night.”

Lexa swayed gently in the saddle, back and forth, and was pleased to note how comfortably Clarke rode now as well. It seemed to take her no effort at all. “We talked about you, of course.”

Clarke laughed lightly to herself. “Of course.”

“I think she wanted to assess how much I care about you.”

“That sounds like Raven.” Clarke paused, looking over at Lexa apologetically. “She wasn’t too… pushy, was she?”

“No, she was fine.” Lexa let her horse inch closer to Clarke’s, to where Lexa’s leg was brushing up against her. “I really don’t mind telling people that I’m in love with you. “

Clarke gave her a fond look. “And I really don’t mind hearing you say that. Lexa--” Clarke stopped abruptly and shook her head. “This probably isn’t the best time to talk about this.”

“What is it?”

Clarke took in an unsteady breath. “What do you think about long distance relationships?”

Lexa stared at her, how the morning light lit up her cheeks so gently, how her hair tied back behind her head rocked side to side with every step, how she looked like she belonged out here. She suddenly wanted to kiss her. “I think that I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, because…” Clarke’s smile grew, bright enough to light up Lexa’s life. “I don’t think I’m quite done with you yet.” She became more somber, sending a shiver through Lexa. “I don’t know if I ever will be.”

Lexa wished that they weren’t riding, so that she could hold Clarke and kiss her and show her what it meant to her to hear her say that. “I never wanted to end things when you leave here, Clarke. I don’t think I could.”

“Well good, because now you’re going to be stuck with me for a little bit longer.”

“How will I manage?” Lexa said, grinning over at her, until she considered what this would really mean for them. “I’ve never done this before. Fallen in love with someone who insists on leaving me.”

“You’re making it sound so much more dramatic than it really is. But I haven’t done this either. I’ve had friends who’ve tried long distance relationships, and…” Clarke let out a small laugh. “They all said it sucked.”

“We don’t have many other options,” Lexa said, frowning. “Unless you can become a doctor through correspondence.”

“I think they call it online school now, Lexa. And no. There are labs, and a practicum. I’ll definitely need to be there.”

“And I definitely want to be with you, in whatever way I can.” Lexa had never been more sure about something in her life. “So we should do this, even if it’s hard.”

“We’ll need to be very open with each other. Communication is important.” Clarke gave her an apologetic look. “We haven’t always been great at that.”

“No… but we’ve gotten better,” Lexa replied. “We have phones and the internet. I can figure out how to use a webcam.”

Clarke smirked at her. “Sometimes it’s like you’re 80 years old. You’re like a grandma wrapped up in a hot young body.”

“I think that still counts as a compliment?”

They were coming up to the herd now, grazing lazily in the early morning light. Lexa pulled her horse to a stop, Clarke doing the same beside her. She let Clarke’s beauty wash over, struck again by the fact that Clarke wanted to still be with her, even if she couldn’t physically stay with her.

“Clarke.” Lexa let her swirling thoughts take shape before she continued. “What does this mean for after you’re done with school?”

Glancing up at the sky, Clarke let out a shaky breath. “I wish I knew. Four years is a long time. I don’t mean to be confusing, or lead you on, but I honestly don’t know.”

She dismounted and stood in the knee-height grass, looking over the herd. Lexa joined her, standing by her side, and Clarke took her hand.

She looked over to Lexa, brow furrowed. “I know how much can change in one year. How much could change in four?”

Leaning over, Lexa laid a long kiss on her temple. “Dating long distance is just the first step. If we want to take more steps, we can.”

Clarke gave her a lingering look before placing her hand into the soft hairs at the nape of Lexa’s neck. “Have I told you what a great girlfriend you are?” She pulled her closer, kissing her gently. She spoke close to Lexa’s lips. “But you’re right. One step at a time.”

Lexa leaned in, reuniting their lips and letting the shape of her mouth and glide of her tongue seal the words between them. She clung to Clarke’s waist, the flare of her hips familiar beneath her fingers, the press of her body both comforting and sending a shock through her system.

When Clarke pulled away, her eyes were dark. She cocked an eyebrow at her. “Do you think it’s inappropriate for us to have sex tonight with our friends in the next room?”

“Very,” Lexa said, even as her grip on Clarke’s waist tightened.

“Want to do it anyway?”

Lexa just grinned. She knew it was answer enough.

**********

The rest of the visit was a whirlwind. Raven fell in love with Daenerys in less than a second, which was no surprise. She and Clarke took no fewer than ten selfies with her, and then Octavia got jealous and jumped into their photo, and then everyone was yelling for Lexa to get in the photo too. Somehow, Daenerys stayed calm the entire time and looked directly into the camera.

More surprising was how quickly Octavia learned how to ride a horse. Lexa barely showed her anything, before she started trotting around the field and shouting back to Raven. “Hey babe, look how amazing I am!”

Of course, Raven had to climb up into the saddle and prove that horse riding couldn’t be that hard if Octavia was doing it. She brushed off Clarke’s instructions and tried to make her horse meet Octavia on the other side of the pen… to no avail. Her horse began meandering around and eating grass instead, which had Octavia in stitches as she walked her horse around her in circles.

They even convinced Lexa to let them do some target practice on the other side of the cabin. This time, Lexa didn’t let anyone skip her instructions and showed them how to operate the rifle safely.

By the end of it, Raven held the rifle almost reverently in her hands. “It’s like… I can feel the Second Amendment coursing through my veins.”

Octavia shot her a look. “Are you going to buy one when we get home?”

Raven just made a face and handed the rifle back to Clarke. “Hell no. These things are dangerous.”

That night, Clarke proposed going out to the bar in Polis, and the other women enthusiastically agreed. Clarke looked over to Lexa, the secret of their almost-first-kiss in the bar hovering between them. “Care for a drink?” she asked, her far too sultry to be fair.

But Lexa struggled and exercised some self control (which was exceedingly hard to do when Clarke was looking at her like that). “I should get some work done tonight. But I’m sure you’ll have a great time.”

Clarke bent over, leaning an arm on her shoulder and whispering in her ear. “I’m going to get you out there before I go, you know. And I still haven’t paid you back for what you did that game night.”

Lexa remembered how she had traced her hand up Clarke’s thigh under the table that night, how Clarke had been twitching at the slightest pressure. That, and the tickle of Clarke’s breath on her neck now, were almost enough to convince her to go. “I’m looking forward to it,” Lexa said, pivoting in her chair so her lips were aligned with Clarke’s, but she kept her distance. “But not tonight.”

“Your loss,” Clarke said, eyes locked on Lexa’s lips. But she backed away and yelled towards Raven and Octavia’s room. “Come on! Tonight’s $4 pitchers and bingo night!”

After the women got dressed (Clarke in a blouse cut so low it was almost a crime) and left, Lexa returned to the barn and saddled up her horse. She moved the herd back away from the barn into greener pastures, ones that still had abundant growth and hadn’t already been consumed that year. She took the time to groom both horses thoroughly, and when dusk fell, she brought the rifle inside and cleaned it at the table.

She had let her mind go blank, let herself be absorbed in every task and movement. But by the time she was done, Lexa was struck full-force by her new reality: Clarke was leaving the ranch, but she wasn’t leaving her .

Lexa had barely let herself hope for this. She had known that Clarke was made for more, that she needed to pursue her goals and that they couldn’t be accomplished on the ranch. But their discussion had opened up so many more possibilities that Lexa’s heart had trouble processing. Could she dare hope that Clarke would still love her in four years?

(It was a given that she would still love Clarke in four years. There was no alternative.)

But Clarke… she would be in a new city, a new group of people, new friends. People who might understand where she comes from better. People who share her experiences. Would she want to stay with someone like Lexa, with her ranch in the middle of nowhere, this one life that she had known, and likely the only life she would ever know?

Lexa knew she wasn’t inferior. She was independent and proud. But the real question was, was she enough for Clarke?

Outside, the truck roared back into the driveway and brought Lexa back to where she was: in her kitchen, the rifle parts spread out in front of her on the table, a mug of tea forgotten beside her. A moment later, Octavia and Raven burst into the cabin singing.

“Hey if the sun don't come up tomorrow

People I've had a good time

I'm just laid up here in a country state of mind.”

Clarke came in after them with an apologetic look to Lexa as she hung the keys on the hook next to the door.

“Lexa!” Raven yelled at her, clearly more than a little intoxicated. She was carrying a… package of beef. She threw it down onto the table next to the rifle parts. “I won bingo! And look what they got me!”

Lexa stared at it for a moment. “Wow, they gave you… meat.”

“Hey, sound a little more excited. I defeated five old men to get this.”

Clarke patted Raven on the shoulder. “Why don’t you put the meat in the fridge and we can get you in bed?”

“Better idea,” Octavia said with a sly smile to Raven. “We should cook it right now.”

“Oh my God yes.” Raven was already searching through cupboards for a pan. “It’s the next best thing to drunken McDonald’s. Which, for the record, doesn’t exist in Polis.”

“Do you guys need any help?” Clarke asked, seeming to be torn between amused and terrified.

Raven just brushed her away with a hand, humming under her breath. Octavia started humming with her louder and louder, until they burst out into song again.

I'm just laid up here in a country state of mind

Catching these fish like they're going out of style

Drinking this homemade wine.

“OK,” Clarke drawled, looking over to Lexa again and frowning down at the table and rifle. “Should I be worried that you’re taking guns apart at midnight?”

But Lexa was already putting it back together. She had done it so many times growing up that it didn’t take long. She replaced the trigger lock and looked up to find Clarke staring at her. “Is something wrong?”

Clarke walked past her, tracing a finger along her arm and up to her shoulder. “Put the gun away and come to bed,” she said quietly.

But Raven and Octavia howled in the kitchen, despite how busy they seemed to be throwing the slab of meat into a frying pan. “Clarke’s getting some,” Raven announced.

Clarke just smiled with a suggestive eyebrow raise and took Lexa’s hand as soon as she had replaced the rifle in its place near the door. “Don’t burn the house down,” she called back to the kitchen as she dragged Lexa toward their bedroom.

The breath left her lungs when she felt herself pushed back against the closed door of their room. Clarke held her there by her arms and didn’t seem in a hurry to let go anytime soon. Neither of them had turned the light on, and Lexa could feel more than see Clarke’s body pressing up against her own in the faint moonlight filling the room.

“Did you miss me?” Lexa asked, testing the grip that Clarke had on her arms, but Clarke pushed against her with enough force to keep her there against the door.

“No.” The answer was belied by Clarke’s lips brushing against her jawline and down to her neck. “But I do remember what we talked about earlier.”

Rather than fighting against her grip, Lexa could only tilt her chin away to give Clarke better access to her neck. She sighed when Clarke started sucking her skin, even if she was afraid of the mark it might leave. “I remember too. And we decided this was inappropriate.”

She could feel Clarke smile against her. “And that we were gonna do it anyway.”

Their mouths connected for just a few seconds, before Clarke pulled her from the door and backed her up to the bed, pushing her backwards. Lexa fell with a laugh as she bounced on the bed, but her laughter stilled at the sight of Clarke crawling toward her and on top of her. Clarke perched above her, staring down at her, her hair falling down in rivers on either side of her head.

Lexa was overwhelmed by the weight of Clarke’s gaze. It carried on forever, and the more that Lexa looked, the more lost she became in it. When Clarke lowered down toward her, Lexa felt like she was being swept away. The kiss did nothing to ground her, only making it seem like she was floating and might never fall back to Earth ever again.

In that moment, Lexa felt like more than enough.

**********

It was an extraordinarily hot day. Summer was in full-swing, bringing with it long days, easy travel across the plains, and a constant stream of sweat down Lexa’s back that only worsened as the sun’s rays intensified. Lexa had taken to wearing her cowboy hat to keep the worst of the heat off of her face and neck. One morning, after she had filled up her water bottles and packed her lunch for the day, she flipped the hat onto her head only to find Clarke staring at her.

“I still think it’s unfair that you get an awesome hat and I don’t.” Clarke had said with hands on her hips.

Lexa ran a hand along the rim of it, tilting the end slightly toward Clarke. “What you’re saying is, you think my hat is awesome?”

“So not the point, Lexa.” She plucked the hat from Lexa’s head and placed it on her own. It perched on the top of her head. “You have to admit, I can pull this look off pretty well.”

At the sight of Clarke wearing her hat--the hat that she had worn ever since early high school--Lexa gulped and reached forward, straightening the hat on Clarke’s head. “You can pull off any look, Clarke.”

“You big flirt,” Clarke said, grinning. She pulled Lexa forward by her lightweight flannel with both hands. She switched to her absolute worst accent, some conglomeration of cowboy and southern belle. “I reckon this rancher is ‘bout to get herself kissed.”

Lexa went willingly, Clarke’s lips flowing against hers like waves on a lake. At some point, the hat fell off of Clarke’s head, and Lexa somehow had the attention to catch it. She replaced it on Clarke’s head and took a step back, assessing. “It’s a little small on you. Come on.”

She took Clarke’s hand and led her into their bedroom. She went into the back of the closet, and it didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for. She held out the hat with its well-worn felt and leather band. “Try this on.”

Clarke turned the hat in her hands, frowning. “This hat has really been around.”

Lexa, suddenly self-conscious, held her hands in front of herself. “It was my mother’s.”

Clarke stopped stroking the felt and held the hat like it was something sacred. “Are you serious? I can’t wear your mom’s hat. What if it blows off my head, or gets trampled by cattle, or--”

But Lexa just took the hat out of her hands and placed it gently atop her head. It fit her perfectly. “This hat has survived far worse than that. She told me once that it fell off while she was riding, and one of the bulls attacked it with his horns. If this hat can survive that, I’m sure it can survive whatever you throw at it.”

Clarke still looked unsure. “But it was your mom’s.”

Lexa smiled at her, pulling the hat’s cords snug around Clarke’s chin. “And I want you to wear it.”

Clarke gave her the oddest smile then, her lips tight and brow furrowed. Her voice was quiet. “How are you so good to me?”

It almost physically hurt Lexa to hear that kind of uncertainty in Clarke, to know that she didn’t feel worthy. She gently rested the hat onto Clarke’s back, secured around her throat by the cord. Leaning forward, Lexa kissed the top of her head and drew her into her arms. “It’s because you deserve it. You deserve more, but this is all that I have to give you. And I loved my mom. It only makes sense to give you something that she wore.”

Clarke let herself be held. But after a few moments, she beat lightly against Lexa’s chest. “Leave it to you to take me whining about not having a hat and turn it into something sappy and beautiful.”

Lexa laughed against her, kissing the top of her head again. “I’ll take that as a compliment, Clarke.”

Every day after that, rain or shine, Clarke wore that hat. And each time, it only reminded Lexa of how proud her mother would be if she could meet Clarke.

**********

It had all started with Lexa reading a book on the couch and Clarke surfing the internet on her laptop next to her. Clarke turned the screen toward her and looked at her critically. “What do you think about dildos?”

Without warning, a sudden and very convenient cough racked through Lexa, so that she didn’t have to answer immediately.

Clarke’s smile continued to grow the longer that Lexa went on. “I’m not sure how to interpret you almost coughing to death.”

“It’s…” Lexa got control of herself and looked back to the laptop. The dildo took up most of the screen. “I just wasn’t expecting that.”

“No one ever expects dildos. But now you are, so now we can talk about it. What do you think?”

Lexa scratched the back of her neck self-consciously. “I’ve never really used one.”

“Would you want to?” Clarke asked, as straight-forward about sex as always. She clicked to another tab on her laptop. “And what do you think about harnesses?”

Lexa’s eyebrows shot up. It wasn’t that she was inexperienced in sex, per se… but then again, she had only had sex with two people in her life, and one of them was Clarke. And she and Costia had never used sex toys. She looked more closely at the screen. “Is that made out of leather?”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “Of course you care about that. Yes, it’s leather, and made right here in the good ol’ US of A. Most importantly, it fits multiple sizes, but I was thinking about a six-inch.”

“Does that say $100?” Lexa sat back on the couch again, not trying to hide her skepticism. “That’s a lot of money for something I can just do with my fingers.”

“It’s different,” Clarke explained, giving her an easy smile that made her weak. “It’s… bigger, for one thing. A lot fuller. And it keeps your hands free for other things.” Her eyebrow raised suggestively. “But it’s just something else to try, if you want to.”

“Will I be the one wearing it?”

“I’d like you to. But I can wear it too. I’ve done it before.”

To be honest, strap ons were just about the furthest thing from Lexa’s mind. But the idea of Clarke wearing a harness was… interesting. She couldn’t decide if it was anything beyond that. Then she imagined herself wearing it, having Clarke naked in front of her, being able to hold onto her hips or breasts while fucking her, being able to translate the movement of her hips into Clarke’s body… “I could try wearing it, but I don’t want you to. At least for now.”

“Fair enough,” Clarke said, as she slid across the couch towards Lexa and kissed her behind her ear. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I love your fingers, don’t get me wrong.” She picked up Lexa’s hand and kissed her fingers. “But there’s something about you with a huge-ass dildo between your legs. I think it would be hot.”

“I guess we should give it a try, then.”

With Clarke still holding her hand, Lexa ran her fingers along the side of Clarke’s mouth. When Clarke’s lips parted, Lexa traced her finger into her mouth and felt Clarke’s tongue running against it. When Clarke’s mouth closed around it and sucked, Lexa knew that this was about to get out of hand.

(It did, in the best way possible. But Clarke ordered everything they would need for this experiment once they were done. She said it was for science, but Lexa just laughed and kissed her again.)

**********

Lexa looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. It was ridiculous.

“Lexa! Are you ready yet?” Clarke called from their bedroom.

She gave herself an experimental shake. The harness stayed in place, but the strap-on attached to it gave an up-and-down wobble that felt strange against her pelvis. She squatted down a few times with it, tried to get used to the leather against her hips and thighs. She thought that she might consider it a part of herself, eventually, but for now, it was all just unfamiliar weight that sloshed around whenever she moved.

Lexa figured that this was as good a time as any. She straightened her T-shirt and tested the straps on the harness again. She left the bathroom and had to walk with a wider but awkward gait to accommodate her new hardware.

Standing in the doorway, Lexa stared down at herself. “Does this look right to you?”

After many seconds of silence, Lexa looked up again to find Clarke’s gaze sliding all up and down her body. Clarke herself was laying in bed, completely naked, her skin pale against the sheets.

Clarke finally found her voice as her eyes found Lexa’s. “Very right. Come here.”

Lexa slowly made her way toward the bed, and she watched Clarke’s eyes widen as they fixated on the strap-on bouncing in the harness. She climbed onto the bed and made her way on top of Clarke, propping herself up on her hands and knees.

Clarke looked up at her with a growing smile. “I like that you are trying to protect your modesty by wearing a T-shirt above your new cock, but I don’t think it’s really working.”

“Want it off?” Lexa asked her, letting her eyes wander across Clarke’s flesh, from her beautiful smile to the swell of her breasts and lower.

Rather than answer, Clarke reached forward and tugged the shirt upward. Lexa sat back on her heels to let Clarke pull it over her head. As soon as the shirt was free, Clarke hummed and took one of her nipples into her mouth, sucking and twisting and releasing it with a slight pop. “Much better.”

Lexa let the moment build between them, before lowering herself down above Clarke once again. She shifted her hips forward uncertainly but felt the harness tug against her as the strap-on made contact with Clarke’s center. Clarke took in a sharp intake of breath.

“That’s interesting,” Lexa said, dipping her head to kiss along Clarke’s cheek, while grasping the dildo in one hand and sliding it up and down Clarke. She continued her line of kisses to Clarke’s neck, finding a spot that she knew was Clarke’s favorite, as she let one hand wander down to Clarke’s breast. The dildo still in her hand, she pressed the entire length of it against Clarke’s clit, letting it slide against her slit and back again.

When she came back to find Clarke’s mouth, Clarke kissed her eagerly, her tongue moving confidently against Lexa’s, pushing and pulling and taking Lexa’s breath away and replacing it with fire instead.

Lexa kept up her movements, pressing against Clarke and feeling anticipation building in Clarke’s body. “I was doing some reading about this…” she said in between kisses.

“You did research?” Clarke’s hand was slipping down now, covering Lexa’s on the strap-on, and increasing the pressure against her clit and up and down her slit. Lexa could feel it becoming slick in her fingers.

Lexa’s own breath was speeding up. Seeing Clarke like this was always enough to get her excited. “It said that--” She had to pause, as Clarke let out a small moan. She swallowed and tried again. “It said that the best pose for beginners was for you to be on all fours.”

“Doggie style?” Clarke asked, rocking against Lexa with her entire body now. “Let’s do it.”

Lexa lifted off of her, even though the break in contact was the last thing that she wanted. But Clarke sat up and took the bottle of lube from the dresser, squirting some into her hands and rubbing it all along the strap-on. Lexa kneeled in front of her, breathing jagged. Even though she couldn’t feel it herself, having Clarke stroke it like that was still doing things to her. But none of that prepared her for when Clarke twisted around and jutted her ass out toward her. Clarke was very well gifted in that area already, but when she turned her head and looked at Lexa with hooded eyes, Lexa’s pulse was racing.

She took one of Clarke’s cheeks in her hand and couldn’t keep herself from kissing it. Her other hand slid around Clarke’s waist, down her front, and found her clit, already expanding and sensitive. Even just gentle pressure was enough for Clarke to buck up against her. And Lexa hadn’t even begun, not really.

She took the strap-on, which was slick now and slid easily in her grip. She separated Clarke with the other, and the sight of Clarke in front of her, ripe and pink and rocking backwards in preparation, was almost more than she could take. She pushed forward carefully, rubbing the strap-on once again all along the length of Clarke.

Clarke pushed herself back against it and groaned. “You are such a tease sometimes.”

“I can tease you more, if you want…” Lexa said, knowing full well that’s not what Clarke wanted.

“No more teasing. Just fuck me,” Clarke said, blunt as ever.

So Lexa took the strap-on and aligned it with her hole. Clarke was right, it was substantially larger than her fingers, even if she used three or four of them at once. She pushed it forward gently with her hips, using her hand to keep it aligned, and it slid in effortlessly.

But as easy as it seemed, Clarke gasped out and pitched her hips backward. “Oh my God, yes.”

So Lexa tried a little further, and Clarke’s reaction only grew. She took Clarke’s hips and pulled her toward her, Clarke moving with her willingly. Clarke was crying out, and Lexa felt like she hadn’t really done anything yet.

Rather than move Clarke against her, Lexa tried just pushing her hips further toward Clarke’s. The strap-on sunk in even deeper, and watching it move into Clarke like that was more satisfying than Lexa thought it would be. She tried retracting her hips and watched as it slid out of her. She grabbed Clarke’s ass tightly and pushed forward again, and Clarke’s moan was the most delicious thing she had ever heard. She tried it again and again, but eventually, she pulled too far back and the dildo slid out of Clarke.

“Oh. Sorry,” Lexa said, feeling self-conscious. aligning it again with Clarke’s opening.

But Clarke didn’t laugh at her, only seemed even more desperate for her than before. So Lexa just pushed back inside of her, and Clarke moaned out again, even louder. Lexa pushed forward more than she had before, until she could feel the natural limit of how far she could go. She was almost up to the base of the strap-on. So she settled back into the rhythm that she had tried before, pulling back and sliding forward again, and Clarke was moving with her as well.

Holding Clarke’s hips, she tried rocking her hips more with each thrust. She felt Clarke tightening up like a spring, even as Lexa was breathing heavily from her exertion. It wasn’t easy, but watching Clarke pulsing in front of her, being the cause of her moans and cries, was worth every bead of sweat.

When she knew Clarke was getting close, Lexa slowed down her movements again, making them deeper and longer until Clarke was practically writhing against her. But she sped up again, gradually. Clarke whimpered, her name, louder and louder, until she was coming and shaking in Lexa’s grip. Lexa kept a slower pace until Clarke was falling against the sheets of their bed.

The strap-on slid out of her, and Lexa looked down at it, amazed that it and a few thrusts of her hips had made Clarke cry out like that.

But then Clarke was flipping onto her back, resting her forearm on her forehead, gasping for breath,. Lexa laid beside her, turning Clarke’s head toward her to kiss her. Clarke’s enthusiasm soon had Lexa having to break away just to catch her breath.

Clarke’s blue eyes were sharp when she looked over at her, her chest still heaving. “I’ve got to say, this was one of my better ideas.”

“I was that good, huh?” Lexa said, letting herself feel cocky. Because watching Clarke come that hard, and being the cause of it, was one of the best feelings she had ever had.

Clarke laughed and pulled Lexa closer to her by her stomach. “It just means I’m going to make you do it again.”

“Oh no,” Lexa deadpanned before breaking into a huge grin and kissing her again.

**********

As much as Lexa wanted to slow time and make that summer last forever, August came as she knew it would. She suspected that Clarke was also regretting the passage of time. Sometimes, Lexa would catch her just staring out across the grassland, unmoving, for minutes on end. Or Clarke would be joking with her then freeze with an expression that bordered on terrified, before pulling Lexa into a hug that was tight enough to force the air out of her lungs.

(Lexa held her back just as tightly.)

It was with that same tangle of emotion that Clarke planned her going away party. When she began telling Lexa what she wanted, and who she wanted to be there, her eyes would light up in anticipation. But inevitably, at some point Lexa knew that she remembered how this might be the last time she would see many of these people, and she sobered. But Lexa would take her hand and assure her that people would be delighted to send her off, and Clarke’s smile returned for a moment at least.

That’s how Clarke talked to Gustus and planned out the perfect day for the event: a line-dancing night held once a month at the bar, complete with live band and (Clarke winked at her at this point) whiskey specials. Her initial invite list expanded from Anya and Indra, to Sienne and the other diner employees, to the nice guy working at the grocery store, to practically every person that Clarke interacted with in Polis on a semi-regular basis. As far as Lexa could tell, half the town would be attending.

And when she and Clarke stepped into the bar, it certainly seemed that way: the place was packed, even for a weekend. As soon as their feet crossed the threshold, the music went nearly silent, and everyone in the bar turned toward them and cheered. Lexa reached over and squeezed Clarke’s hand, smiling as Clarke’s cheeks turned deep crimson. But Clarke waved at everyone and thanked them for coming. Soon, the music was turned back up and most people returned to their tables.

Clarke shook her head. “I can’t believe how many people there are here!”

“Are you more popular than you thought?” Lexa asked, directing Clarke toward the bar with a hand on her back.

“I can’t… I just appreciate that they would even take the time to be here.”

Lexa leaned in close, breathing Clarke in deep, wrapping an arm around her waist. “That’s because you’re worth it.”

Clarke swallowed hard and stared at her for a long moment, before taking Lexa by the hand and dragging her toward the bar. “I need a drink, otherwise I’m going to start crying, and we’ve only been here ten seconds.”

Lexa let herself be led, and the crowd around the bar parted for them to shoot to the front. Lexa recognized most of them as business and ranch holders in the area, and somehow, they all knew Clarke as well. Although Clarke had been the one to pick up supplies in Polis most of the time, Lexa hadn’t really known how many connections she had made in town in her short time there. It made her proud.

Behind the bar, Gustus leaned on the counter and gave Clarke a big grin. “About time you showed up to your own party.”

“I’m on time,” Clarke said. “Everyone else is just early.”

Gustus barked a laugh. “I’ll give it to you, today only. Now what are you drinking tonight? Everything is on the house for you.”

Clarke’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Yeah I do. You’ve brought a lot of joy to this town.” Gustus shot a meaningful look at Lexa. “And I’m not about to let you out of here without showing you I’m grateful for that.”

“You already have,” Clarke insisted. “And you’ve kind of let me take over your bar on a Friday night.”

“And look at how much fuller this place is than normal,” Gustus said with a glance around the bar. “You’re drinking for free, Clarke.”

Lexa leaned in toward him. “You do know how much Clarke can drink, right?” She winked at Clarke, who was trying her best to glare at her (and failing miserably).

But Gustus just laughed. “As if I could forget that karaoke night. People were stomping so hard the bar shook.” He took out a short glass from beneath the counter. “I know you’re drinking whiskey, Lexa. But what am I getting you?”

Clarke looked at Lexa with a small smile. “The same.”

Anya came out of nowhere, slapping Clarke on the back. “I was wondering when you would finally show up.”

Unexpectedly, Anya slipped an arm around Clarke’s shoulders and squeezed. Lexa had never known her to be a physically affectionate person, but it seemed that Anya made the exception for Clarke.

Turning back toward the bar, Anya settled her stare onto Gustus. “Another round for Indra and me, Gustus.”

“What would you like?”

But Anya’s gaze ran up and down Gustus’ body. “You know what I like.”

Gustus grinned at her behind his beard, getting another pitcher from beneath the bar and filling it from the tap.

Lexa leaned in toward Anya, Clarke close beside her. “When did that start happening?”

Anya waved nonchalantly to the both of them. “A few weeks, but it’s just casual. I gave him my number after Clarke’s birthday, and I guess it’s escalated from there.”

Clarke nudged her with her shoulder. “Are you saying that I was a matchmaker between you too?”

But Anya just rolled her eyes. “God, Clarke. It’s just sex.”

But Lexa found that hard to believe, when Gustus slid the pitcher of beer over to her across the counter, and Anya let her fingers linger on his as she took it.

After Anya had started making her way away from the bar, Clarke leaned into the counter and glanced back meaningfully to Gustus. “Well, aren’t you two adorable these days.”

Gustus just coughed and ran a hand through his beard. But his eyes returned to watch Anya weaving her way through the busy bar, and Lexa couldn’t help but smile.

After that, their glasses of whiskey in hand, she and Clarke slowly made their way through the bar. Every group of people that they were trying their best to push past would turn toward them, see Clarke, and need several minutes to catch up and tell her how much they would miss her and wish her the best. Every time, Clarke took a healthy sip of her whisky, a wave of sadness passing over her face before it was replaced by her best attempt at a smile.

(But Lexa could see how bittersweet these moments were for her.)

Finally, and after having to circle back to the bar for more whiskey, they made their way to the pool tables in the back. They knew they would find Anya and Indra there.

When even Indra hugged Clarke, Lexa knew that this was a rare event. Indra would shake hands, high five, and clasp shoulders, but she had never seen her hug someone that wasn’t in her immediate family.

Once again, Lexa was amazed that Clarke had made such a deep impression on her friends, and the people of Polis, in such a short amount of time. And again, she felt that pang of regret that Clarke would be leaving all of this behind, when she so obviously could make a life here. But she trusted Clarke, trusted in her instincts and aspirations. She needed to do what was best for herself.

With the four of them, they only managed to get in one game of pool (no surprise, Anya’s team with Clarke won) before the band arrived.

“Good evening, everybody!” the singer announced to a cheer from the bar. “I understand that one of Polis’ adopted sisters is leaving us. Where is she? Clarke?”

Clarke gave an embarrassed wave, as the people in the bar gave another cheer.

“Well, this song is going out to you. Have you ever line danced before?” the singer asked her through the microphone.

Clarke looked at Lexa desperately. “Never,” she yelled back to him across the bar.

The band’s guitarist played a ditty that Lexa interpreted as shocked, as the singer said “Well don’t worry. We’re going to teach you everything you need to know. Aren’t we?” he said louder, to the rest of the bar.

Everyone yelled that they would, even as they began forming lines in the center of the bar, where all of the tables and chairs had been put up against the walls.

“You’re going to make me dance, aren’t you,” Lexa said to Clarke grumpily.

Clarke downed the rest of her drink and grinned at her. “You better believe it.” She took Lexa’s hand and walked purposefully toward the dance floor. “I may not know what I’m doing, but you’re doing it with me.”

Lexa let herself be tugged across the bar and and took a space with Clarke near the back. She hadn’t danced like this since high school and honestly didn’t miss it that much. But when Clarke looked over to her, a big grin on her face, her boot stomping along with the band’s steady beat, Lexa suddenly didn’t want to be anywhere else.

The twang of the guitar began, and Lexa knew the song immediately. Like clockwork, the others in the bar began hitting their heels and toes against the ground, with one foot and then the other.

I was driving through Georgia in late July

On a day hot enough to make the Devil sigh

I saw a homemade sign written in red

Rind County Watermelon Festival Ahead”

But Lexa wasn’t just going to stand there and pretend she didn’t know how this went. Following along with the others, she stepped forward and clapped, and Clarke watched her in amazement.

“Shit, this is going to be harder than I expected,” Clarke said, watching her every move carefully. She tried copying Lexa’s movements, always a beat behind, and Lexa did the grapevine directly into her. Clarke harrumphed, pinching her side. “Not fair. And where have you been hiding these moves for the past year.”

But rather than answer, Lexa just added more swing to her hips, as she twirled in place and faced the other direction with the rest of the group. She began calling out her movements as she was doing them. “Toe, heel, triple step. Toe, heel, triple step. Step, kick and clap. Step, kick and clap.”

And slowly, Clarke was getting it. Lexa could see her relaxing and falling into the rhythm of the song. She laughed when she started moving in the wrong direction and bumped into Lexa again, but Lexa couldn’t be sure if it had been accidental or not. But then Clarke was moving her hips back and forth and spinning in place, and Lexa couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of taking Clarke out dancing earlier. Because even if she personally felt lukewarm about dancing, she felt quite differently about watching Clarke dance.

Well we got a hundred gallons of sweet red wine

Made from the biggest watermelons on the vine

Help yourself to some but obey the law

If you drink don't drive do the watermelon crawl”

When the song ended, Clarke placed her hands on her hips as she caught her breath. “I think i was actually starting to learn that one. But they’re going to change the dance again, aren’t they?”

“There’s a lot of different line dances, Clarke.”

Stepping into her space, Clarke gave her a crooked smile that she must have known full well what it did to Lexa. “And you know all of them, don’t you?”

Lexa, just barely, resisted the urge to lean over and wipe that smirk off her face with her lips and tongue. People in town may love her and Clarke, but making out with her girlfriend on the dance floor would have been pushing it. “You can’t grow up here and not learn line dancing. It’s tradition.”

“And you were never going to tell me this.”

Lexa shook her head, until the band started playing another song. She moved quickly, taking her hand and placing the other on the small of Clarke’s back, twisting her around in circles as the other people in the bar began another line dance. But they were far enough in the back that they could get away with breaking the rules (or at least, that’s what Lexa chose to believe). And Clarke’s laughter in her ear was more than enough motivation to keep spinning her in circles.

When Lexa slowed to a stop, clinging onto Clarke both because she wanted to and because she was too dizzy and unsteady to stand on her own, Clarke gazed at her with what she could only call love.

“You’re full of surprises, Lexa Woods,” Clarke said to her over the music.

She inched her body closer in Lexa’s arms, pressing against her, and Lexa was suddenly too aware of how Clarke’s button-up shirt clung to her, how it swelled over her chest, how it tucked into her jeans and showed the flare of her hips.

Clarke leaned into her ear. “But I’m going to show you a surprise of my own.”

Before Lexa could even react, Clarke was twisting out of her arms and dragging her by the hand across the bar. They somehow managed to avoid all of the people moving and kicking and clapping in unison, and finally, Lexa realized their destination.

The restroom.

The door had barely closed behind them before Clarke’s lips were on hers, moving fast. Lexa’s eyes shot open, as she tried to scan the bathroom with Clarke doing her best to make her forget her own name. It didn’t look like anyone else was there, but then Clarke was nipping her bottom lip and sliding a leg between Lexa’s, and it was suddenly becoming less important to her that they were doing this in the middle of a public restroom…

But one of the toilets flushed, and Lexa pushed Clarke back into one of the empty stalls. She could feel Clarke grinning against her lips, as she maneuvered them into the stall and latched the door behind them without ever having to break contact.

Clarke pulled back with one long lick across her lips, her hands wandering down to Lexa’s jeans. She pushed Lexa backwards, until Lexa felt her shoulders hit the stall door with a thud. She should have been concerned about whoever was still in the bathroom with them hearing, but she couldn’t spend more than a second of thought on that when Clarke was pinning her with her stare and her fingers were unbuttoning her pants.

Lexa had always known that eventually, Clarke would get her back for what she had done to her during that game night. But she hadn’t expected that it would mean Clarke fucking her in the bar. She knew it was a terrible idea, but Clarke was lowering the zipper on her pants with her eyebrows raised.

When Clarke pressed against her, her breasts smashing against Lexa’s chest, and her breath warm on her ear, Lexa knew she was a goner.

“You have to be quiet,” Clarke whispered in her ear, as her fingers settled onto Lexa over her underwear.

Even at that small touch, Lexa had to suck in a breath. Her fingers pushed aside the fabric of her boy shorts, and the sudden sensation had Lexa bucking up against the door. It rattled in its hinges.

“Careful, Lexa.”

Clarke was kissing and sucking her neck now, and Lexa was vaguely worried about having to walk back out into the bar with a row of hickeys along her neck, until Clarke’s fingers were pulsing against her and making her mind go blank.

Grinning at her evilly, Clarke was watching her every reaction to each movement of her fingers. She added a finger into her, and Lexa couldn’t help the huff of air that she expelled. Clarke raised an eyebrow at her, but Lexa just pulled her in closer by her ass into a kiss. She ran her hand down into Clarke’s pants, pulling out the shirt she had tucked in, gripped her more and more tightly as Clarke’s rhythm inside her increased. She knew she was holding her tight enough to leave a bruise, but she couldn’t care when Clarke’s tongue was swirling against hers, they were panting into each other’s mouths, and Clarke was pushing up into her so forcefully.

Clarke’s fingers were hitting just the right spot, and Lexa heard herself whimper against Clarke, which seemed to only encourage her to hit it over and over again. Lexa’s hips were moving in time, sometimes hitting the door behind her, but she could only focus on grounding herself by grasping onto Clarke, trying to muffle her moans by releasing them into Clarke’s mouth, the sensation of Clarke’s finger inside of her, pushing and curling, and the rocking pressure against her clit, bringing her closer and closer.

It came over Lexa all at once. She wasn’t prepared for it and cried out, slamming her body back into the door. Clarke didn’t let up, as Lexa felt wave after wave course through her. She braced herself against the door, her head falling back against it, eyes shut tight. Finally, she felt herself slumping and Clarke’s fingers sliding out of her and shifting to her waist. She was grateful for how Clarke held her, because her legs were weak beneath herself.

Lexa gulped, her breath slowing down. “That is not what I was expecting from tonight,” she whispered.

“That’s why I said it was a surprise,” Clarke whispered back, a satisfied look in her eye. “And I think you enjoyed it.”

Lexa rolled her eyes, even though she could feel her cheeks coloring, and zipped and buttoned her jeans. “I think we’re now even in having sex with each other in public places.”

“For now,” Clarke said, leaning in close again and staring down at Lexa’s lips with a smile. “Unless you want to push our luck.”

It was oh so tempting, just to cross that small distance between them and let herself forget where they were. But with some modicum of self control (which seemed to be in shorter and shorter supply since Clarke had arrived in her life), Lexa unlatched the door behind her and swung the stall door toward herself, trying to ignore the wistful twist of Clarke’s lips behind her.

Emerging from the stall, Lexa looked up.

And Sienne, the waitress from the diner in town, was staring at her with wide eyes from the entrance of the restroom.

Clarke was right behind her, and though her fingers had migrated to Lexa’s waist again, they slackened their grip as Clarke stood up straight beside her.

“Oh. Sienne,” Clarke said, her voice higher than usual. “I’m really glad you could make it tonight!”

Sienne opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out.

Clarke let out a nervous laugh. “You’ve been there a while, haven’t you?”

Sienne just pointed toward one of the other stalls. “I think I’m just--”

At the same time that Clarke was pointing toward the door back out to the bar. “We should probably--”

But Lexa tugged her toward the sink and turned on the water. They washed their hands as quickly as they could, as Sienne disappeared into one of the empty stalls.

When they emerged back into the bar, Lexa couldn’t hold it in anymore. Clarke’s burning red cheeks were too much for her not to burst out laughing.

Clarke ran a hand over her face, letting out a sigh, before smacking Lexa’s shoulder with the back of her hand. “Will you quit? It’s not funny.”

Lexa got herself under control but couldn’t stop smiling at her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that mortified.”

“You don’t get it.” Clarke led her back to an empty table and leaned in toward her, speaking just loudly enough to be heard over the music. “I can never do anything right around her! She has overhead not one, but two filthy conversations I’ve had with Raven in her diner. She must think I’m sex-crazed.”

“Would she be wrong if she did?” Lexa asked, enjoying how Clarke turned on her.

“OK, you’ve literally tried to fuck me under a table. You don’t have some sort of moral high ground on this.” Clarke’s voice had grown louder. She muttered under her breath, clamping her mouth shut, but her eyes lit up as she looked to Lexa’s neck. “Besides, I’m not the one with a giant hickey on my neck.”

Lexa’s hand rose automatically to her neck, as if she would be able to feel it. Or at least cover it up. “I knew it...”

Clarke pointed to the other side of her neck, her smile growing. “There’s one on that side, too. Sorry not sorry.”

Lexa just held both hands around her neck and sighed. “Maybe we should cut back on public sex for a while.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” Clarke said, smirking at her. “I just need to avoid seeing Sienne again for the rest of my life, and you just need to cover your neck for the next couple of weeks. Although I don’t know how you’re going to line dance with your hands like that.”

Lexa lowered her hands, shooting her a questioning look, but Clarke just burst out laughing.

“Sorry, sorry. But they’re getting darker. I really shouldn’t have done that.”

Lexa popped up the collar of her shirt, hoping that would at least cover some of it. She took Clarke’s hand, pulling her up out of her seat and toward the group of people still dancing in lines. She taught Clarke one dance, and then another, their arms and legs swinging with beat of the songs and twang of the singer’s voice; their hands clapping and their feet stomping in tandem with the other people that Lexa had known all her life, and Clarke had been adopted by in the last year; their eyes searching for each other and finding each other, time and time again.

By the time that the music was winding down, and many people had gone home, they made their way to the exit, and Clarke turned back to take it all in one more time. Lexa stood in the doorway, holding the door open for her, but she didn’t rush her. When Clarke turned toward her again, Lexa could see the tears resting in her eyes. She wrapped an arm around her shoulder and kissed the side of her head, before guiding her slowly back toward the truck.

**********

Clarke never slacked off with her work, even during her final days on the ranch. If anything, she had more initiative than ever, checking the cattle for every foreseeable illness or impairment and double-checking ranch records and projected purchasing schedule for the next several months.

After they had returned from their latest check of the herd, Lexa finished up her grooming of the horses and found Clarke hunched in front of the mini fridge in the corner of the barn, a line of vaccination boosters in front of her. She was so absorbed in what she was doing that she didn’t hear Lexa’s approach.

Lexa kneeled down beside her. “Counting the boosters again?”

“And checking their expiration dates,” Clarke said, before gathering them all and placing them back into the refrigerator. “There’s enough here, and they’re all up-to-date.”

Lexa ran a hand up Clarke’s back, resting it between her shoulder blades. She felt Clarke leaning back into her touch. “We already checked them all last week, Clarke.”

Clarke closed the refrigerator and let out a sigh. “There’s no harm in checking them again. I want to make sure everything goes smoothly after--” She stopped abruptly, looking at the ground.

“Everything’s going to be fine,” Lexa assured her, and not for the first time. “I know when to give the cattle their shots. I’ve figured out where to get hay this fall. We already worked out our grazing schedule this year, so I can keep the cattle closer to the barn during the winter. And we already sent in our weight estimates to the feeding lot.”

But Clarke turned to her with a concerned look before looking away. “I know, but we thought we had taken care of everything last year, too.”

“Clarke.” Lexa waited until Clarke’s eyes returned to her again. “You’re going to have to trust me, that I can handle this.”

“Of course I trust you.” Clarke leaned into Lexa, who wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “But I can’t leave without knowing that I did absolutely everything I could to help.”

“You already have. You’ve done more than enough, for me and the ranch.” When Clarke still didn’t meet her eyes, Lexa reached out her hand and gently turned Clarke’s face towards her. “I love you, Clarke, and it’s only because of you that I really believe that the ranch is going to survive.”

Clarke took Lexa’s hand and held it in both of her own. She rubbed her fingers back and forth across Lexa’s palm. “I know the ranch will survive, but… will we?”

“If that’s what we both want, then yes.” Lexa tightened her grip around Clarke’s fingers. “And I know that’s what I want.”

“That’s what I want, too,” Clarke said, a sad smile coming to her lips. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid.”

“We’re allowed to be afraid. We have a long road ahead of us.”

Clarke stared at her for a long moment before leaning in to kiss her. It was brief and tinged with sadness, and Lexa only held her all the tighter.

Turning under her arm, Clarke looked at her again with moist eyes. “I can’t help but feel like I’m making a mistake. It’s hard to feel like leaving you is the right decision.”

And it was at least as hard for Lexa to make arguments in support of Clarke leaving her. But she knew that, whatever Clarke was feeling at the moment, she was too ambitious to stay at the ranch forever. She forced herself to smile for Clarke’s benefit. “How long have you been dreaming about becoming a doctor?” she asked.

Clarke huffed a sigh, blinking slowly. “Since I was five.”

“And you got accepted to your first choice in schools.”

“I did.”

“And you know that I will wait for you, as long as you need me to. As long as it takes.”

Some of the tears that Clarke had been holding back spilled out of her eyes. She wrapped her arms around Lexa’s waist, and Lexa held her back just as tightly.

“I love you, Lexa,” Clarke said, muffled against her shoulder. “I don’t know what I did to deserve someone like you.”

Swallowing thickly, Lexa rested her head against Clarke’s. “Funny, I ask myself the same thing.”

They stayed like that for a long time, Lexa rocking her gently, as she could hear Clarke sniffling in her arms. But finally, she lifted Clarke to her feet. Still with an arm around her shoulder, she began walking them out of the barn. “How does some tea sound?”

Clarke didn’t say anything, just nodded against her shoulder.

**********

As strong as Lexa was trying to be, Clarke’s last full day on the ranch practically knocked the wind out of her. Although it was a bright day, warm without being hot, the breeze gentle, it almost seemed too perfect. It was like even the ranch was begging her to stay.

She remembered back to that day in the pastures, over a year ago now, when Clarke had told her about why she had come to the ranch. She had been escaping people who had disappointed her and embarked on her own path. Lexa marveled again at how much bravery it must have taken for Clarke to leave behind her friends and family to live with a complete stranger on a ranch. And once again, she couldn’t believe how quickly Clarke had taken to life here, how it fit her like a glove. Clarke had learned so much, accomplished more than Lexa had ever imagined, and, to her immense credit, stayed on the ranch when Lexa had needed her most.

But she wasn’t the only one to learn and grow in the last year. Even as Lexa had been falling in love with Clarke, it was like she was falling in love with the ranch again as well. Seeing it through new eyes had made her realize how unique her life was,and how much she would sacrifice to make sure that it succeeded.

But the ranch was so much more than just land and cattle. It was tranquility, grass bent in rolling waves by the whispered words of the breeze. It was the celebration of new life, a cow turning around with tired eyes and greeting her calf for the first time. It was discovery and joy, a child laughing as he was hoisted onto a horse and led around the yard. It was the satisfaction of a job well done, the clinking of ice in a glass of whiskey on a chilly autumn evening. And it was that feeling of coming home, even when Lexa had never left the ranch at all, waking each morning with Clarke tucked into her side and holding her close.

But now, Lexa had to let go. She could do it, she knew, only because she loved Clarke too much to hold her back from her future. One she desperately wanted to be part of.

Their days together counted down, but they completed their tasks as they always had. They rode out into the grassland, their legs brushing up against one another’s. Clarke swayed in the saddle as confidently as ever, her red flannel bright against the browning grass, her hair putting the sun to shame, her eyes as blue as the sky but tinged with something that Lexa couldn’t let herself think about, not now.

Clarke was especially diligent in her check-up of the cattle. She went from one to the next, giving each of them a pat along the neck as she moved on. The last one she checked was Daenerys.

Lexa watched her perform the same check-up that she had done for the others, but then Clarke just stood there, motionless, silent. Lexa crossed to her side but said nothing. There was nothing to say.

After a long minute, Clarke moved forward and hugged Dany’s neck from the side. When Clarke released her, Daenerys turned toward her and placed her head squarely into Clarke’s chest and mooed.

Clarke backed away and turned toward Lexa. She looked at her very seriously. “Please keep her safe,” she said barely above a whisper.


“You have my word,” Lexa said. She knew it was foolish to say something like that, when anything could happen, but she couldn’t deny Clarke the comfort of knowing she would do everything in her power. “I won’t let anything happen to her.”

Clarke nodded, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. “And you have to send me pictures of her calf as soon as he’s born.”

“Consider it done.”

Clarke managed one last attempt of a smile back at Daenerys, who was watching her with soft brown eyes. “You be good now,” Clarke said with forced lightness. “Don’t let Lexa wander off by herself and get caught in the snow again.”

Daenerys kept staring at her, her jaw working in circles as she chewed the cud, which Lexa supposed was agreement enough.

As she turned back toward her, Clarke’s smile slipped. She trudged to her horse and held onto the saddle for a long moment.

Slipping up beside her, Lexa placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you ready?”

“No,” Clarke said without facing her.

But soon, Clarke put her foot in the stirrup and pushed herself into the saddle. Lexa followed suit, and they both looked over the herd in a silence that was full of Clarke’s reluctance to go. Finally, they turned their backs to the cattle and slowly made their way back toward the ranch.

**********

Lexa awoke the next morning with Clarke’s arm wrapped around her stomach, holding her tight against her. For a few precious seconds, she only knew that she was warm in bed, Clarke’s legs tucked up behind her own, her lover’s breath warm against her neck, pieces of her hair scattered across her back. She only knew that she felt safe, and loved, and whole.

And then she remembered.

She backed herself more firmly into Clarke and relished how Clarke’s arm tightened around her. Clarke’s sigh told her that she was awake… she wondered how long she had been lying there, holding her, waiting for Lexa to wake up.

Waiting for Lexa to wake up, on their last morning together.

Lexa had managed to be so strong up to that point. She had told herself that’s what Clarke needed. Seeing Lexa break down into ugly tears wouldn’t help her make the right decision for herself and leave. It would only make everything more difficult.

But her control was breaking, and Lexa felt the tears already running channels down her cheeks. But she couldn’t help it, not now, even when she was trying to be the strength that Clarke needed.

As much as she wished that she could lie there forever, Lexa flipped onto her back. Clarke was still on her side facing her, still naked from the night before, and despite her eyes being red and swollen, Lexa couldn’t help but feel beyond grateful that she got to wake up that morning and see them.

Lexa wiped away one of the tears that had freshly fallen from Clarke’s eyes. “You’re so beautiful in the morning,” she said, almost reverently.

Clarke gifted her with a short laugh, even if sounded suspiciously like a sob. “Please. I’ve been crying for hours. And I’m not the only one.” She reached forward and wiped Lexa’s cheek clean as well. She laughed again, a little more convincingly. “Don’t we know that it’s too early to cry?”

Lexa wrapped an arm around her, as Clarke moved to snuggle into her shoulder. She traced her fingers up and down Clarke’s arm, trying harder than ever to remember the feel of them, the rise and fall of muscles that Clarke had gained during her time on the ranch, the curve of her shoulder and the sweep of her back. She felt Clarke’s lips brush against her collarbone.

“I never imagined it would be this hard to leave you,” Clarke whispered against her, kissing her skin again.

“And I’ve never wanted someone to stay so badly,” Lexa said. She knew it would only make Clarke’s choice harder, but she couldn’t help herself.

“You do understand though, don’t you?” Clarke asked, with so much uncertainty in her voice that Lexa was immediately, fully awake.

“Of course I do.” She moved to her side, so that they were just inches from each other, looking into each other’s eyes on the bed. She ran her fingers down Clarke’s cheek and cupped it in her hand. “You need to do this, Clarke. I would never stand in the way of something that was this important to you. But I do need you to remember something.”

Clarke watched her as if she could start crying again at any moment.

So Lexa took both of her hands in her own. She stared intently into her eyes. She channeled every bit of her love for Clarke into her voice. “I need you to remember that my love for you is stronger than you could ever know, deeper than I could ever express. And that, no matter how long it takes, I’m not going anywhere.”

But then Clarke was crying again, and Lexa hadn’t realized that she had started again too. Clarke’s lips moved swiftly to hers, desperate and tinged with tears, and Lexa tried her best to kiss them clean, as if she could take away Clarke’s sadness if she only kissed her hard enough and thoroughly enough.

She tried not to think about how this could be the last time, as Clarke shifted on top of her, pressing down against her core. She knew that she may have been clinging onto Clarke too tightly, that her nails may have scratched along her back, but she couldn’t find it in herself to relax her grip. She was grateful that Clarke kept on kissing her, that she didn’t relent for a single moment, so that Lexa couldn’t fixate on worrying about how she could possibly live her life without Clarke there beside her.


But soon, they were both collapsing into the bed again, and their tears were flowing just as much as they had been before, and Lexa thought it had only brought her closer to the fact that this was actually ending. As grateful as she would be to hear Clarke’s voice on the phone or see her on a screen, how could any of that compare to Clarke gasping for air beside her, sweat running down her chest, fingers grasping at her even though they had been holding each other nonstop since last night?

Lexa couldn’t stop running her hand through Clarke’s hair. But eventually, Clarke’s hand rested on top of hers, bringing it to a pause.

Clarke took a deep breath and released it. “I need to go,” she murmured.

And despite Lexa knowing that she was right, her fingers didn’t seem to understand. They tightened around Clarke’s hand. But Lexa nodded, and it took everything in her to sit up. Clarke followed, still letting Lexa hold her hand.

“I just need to get dressed,” Clarke announced, as if she needed to, as if Lexa thought she would be driving naked. “My stuff’s already in the car…”

“I know, Clarke. I helped you pack it yesterday.”

“Right, I just…” Clarke let out another breath. “Fuck, I hate this.”

Lexa squeezed her hand and forced herself to release it. She hated it too, but saying it out loud would only make it worse. “Any breakfast for you this morning?”

For the first time that morning, Clarke gave her a genuine smile. It only made Lexa’s heart ache more. “Why? Are you going to cook me something?”

Lexa tried her best to smile back. “If you like burnt toast and runny eggs.”

The affection in Clarke’s eyes was almost more than Lexa could handle. But Clarke eventually looked away. Even like that, brow furrowed and staring off at nothing, she was so beautiful. “I wish I could, Lexa. But I think I should just go.”

Lexa leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. “I understand.”

As Clarke got dressed, Lexa threw on jeans and a light flannel of her own before heading to the kitchen and getting some coffee started. Even if Clarke didn’t want to stay for breakfast, she wasn’t going to let her leave the cabin without at least something in her stomach. She heard Clarke brushing her teeth, but Lexa had a hard time moving from where she was leaning against the counter. It seemed like nothing she could do in those moments would be enough. What did you do when the love of your life was leaving you, maybe forever?

Clarke came out of the bathroom in her work jeans and shirt, the ones that Lexa had bought her. She stared at her and swallowed thickly. Lexa wished she knew what to say.

The coffee maker beeped behind her, making Lexa jump. But she used it as an excuse to grab a mug from the cupboard and pour a cup of coffee. She added some milk and sugar, even as she could feel Clarke watching her every move. When she crossed the room and handed it to her, Clarke’s eyes were wet again.

Lexa smiled at her and curled Clarke’s hand around the mug. “It’s just coffee, Clarke.”

But Clarke frowned down at it. “But… what about the mug? I won’t be able to give it back to you.”

“I think you will. Someday.”

Clarke looked up to her then, eyes shining more brightly than Lexa had ever seen them. She placed the mug onto the table carefully before wrapping her arms around Lexa’s shoulders. She stood there, for a long moment, just looking at her and making Lexa feel like she had everything she could ever want in the world, if only for a few more minutes.

Clarke’s lips met hers, and her arms tightened around her. Lexa held Clarke’s waist and pulled her in, and it was good. It was everything. Lexa never wanted to stop, even though their kiss seemed to give her life and take it away.

When they parted, Lexa could only rest her forehead against Clarke’s. She closed her eyes, breathed her in, memorized the feeling of her waist in her hands, the sound of her breathing, the energy that was Clarke’s and Clarke’s alone.

But then Clarke was pulling away, wiping her eyes and her nose and looking miserable. Why was Lexa doing this to her? Why was she making her delay? She was only making it worse.

Lexa took the mug of coffee and put her hand on the small of Clarke’s back. “Let me walk you to your car.”

Clarke just nodded to her silently, and they slowly made their way out the door, down the steps of the porch, across the dirt driveway. It was still early enough for the birds to be chirping, and the wind held the promise of a warm day. It would have been a perfect morning to be saddling the horses and riding across the ranch, but instead, they were making a choice that both had agreed on but neither was completely happy with.

Lexa placed the mug onto the roof of Clarke’s car and took Clarke into her arms again, squeezing tight. Clarke hugged her back just as ferociously, taking deep breath after deep breath. But they couldn’t stand there forever. Lexa placed a kiss on Clarke’s cheek as she pushed away, but Clarke pulled her back in for another kiss, short and quivering.

“Call me when you get there?” Lexa said, amazed at how steady her voice was when she was literally falling apart.

“Of course.” Clarke tried to smile at her. “I should go, though. I need to go. I love you, Lexa.”

“I love you too, Clarke.”

“I should…”

“You should.”

Clarke still lingered for a long moment, staring a hole into Lexa’s heart. But then she turned toward her car, opened the door, sat down. Lexa handed her the mug, and she placed it in the cup holder (would it spill? Why hadn’t Lexa thought of that?). The cowboy hat, the one that had been Lexa’s mom’s, was resting on the passenger’s seat. Lexa had made her take it, because she couldn’t handle what it meant if she didn’t.

Clarke started the car and rolled the window down….and the song that played on the radio nearly broke her.

Cause you’re the one I want, you’re the one I need

Baby, if I was a king, you would be my queen

Clarke laughed, a little bitterly, in the front seat, giving Lexa a significant look. “Of course it would be this song.”

But Lexa could only shake her head. That night when Clarke had sung this song… sung it to her, it had seemed, that had started everything between them. So why wouldn’t it be the way they would say goodbye?

You’re the rock in my roll

You’re good for my soul, it’s true

I’m head over boots for you.

Clarke breathed in deeply and let it all out in a huff. “Goodbye, Lexa.”

Lexa swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Goodbye, Clarke.”

She forced herself to step back from the car, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of Clarke. They watched each other for a long moment, but finally, as if against her will, Clarke put the car into gear and turned her gaze forward.

I wanna sweep you off your feet tonight

I wanna love you and hold you tight

Spin you round on some old dance floor…

The twang of the guitars faded, as Lexa stood there and watched Clarke embark on the long road ahead of them.