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You See the Smile That's On My Mouth (it's hiding the words that don't come out)

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They meet in kindergarten at Octavia Blake’s birthday party. 

 

Octavia invites the whole grade, swarms of kids show up to the rickety, wooden roller skating rink bearing colorfully wrapped gift boxes and clutching at a parent’s hand.  Clarke’s dad takes her in the musty blue hatchback, and her stomach is jittery with excitement when he helps her out of her booster seat in the back of the car. 

 

He kneels with her in the gravel of the parking lot, tucking a strand of hair back into her ponytail as he grips her shoulders.  He assumes an expression that is meant to be serious, but she can see the smile at the corner of his mouth. 

 

“Remember to say thank you, Baby Girl,” he tells her as he runs a hand over her back, “don’t eat cake until you vomit again, okay?” She grimaces at the memory and he leans in to press a hard kiss to her forehead.  “I’ll pick you up in three hours, all right?”

 

Clarke nods seriously before grabbing Octavia’s present out of the backseat and tugging her dad toward the door.  He leaves her there after running a hand through her hair again, watching her dodge through the crowd of children to deposit her present on the gift table, tiny arms pumping as she rushes to tackle Octavia in a hug. 

 

Octavia is wearing a crown which Clarke thinks is pretty cool, and she helps Clarke tie her Unicorn roller skates on without laughing when Clarke stumbles over the double-knot. 

 

(Clarke commits the double-knot to memory after that because even though Octavia was there to help her this time, her dad says you should always be prepared to do things on your own)

 

Octavia goes to snoop around the gift table and Clarke skates, arms pinwheeling, to the slick, shining wooden floor of the rink.  There are purple and green lights strung across the room, and Clarke moves to hit all the purple reflections on the floor, watching enraptured as she glides through them. 

 

She is just skidding her way around the curve of her first loop when she sees a girl clinging to the railing of the rink.  The girl looks absolutely terrified, eyes wide and knuckles white as she grips the metal bar so tightly that Clarke almost fears she will break it.  Her brown curls keep falling across her face and the girl can’t push them back, unwilling to release her hold for even a second. 

 

Clarke figures it is her duty to help her, no one should look so scared at a birthday party, there is going to be cake later and the whole room glows with color and the noise of pitched laughter.  Clarke rolls toward the girl slowly, holding out her hands to stop when she reaches the railing next to her.  The girl turns to her, still fearful but eyes narrowed a little bit in distrust.

 

“Do you need help?” Clarke asks, beginning to reach out a hand.

 

“No,” the girl snaps, harsh and cutting as her grip tightens on the rail.  Clarke pulls her hand back as though she has been bitten, pouting out her lower lip and angling away, just a bit. 

 

“I was only offering,” Clarke mumbles, “I was just trying to be nice like my dad said.” And maybe her dad hadn’t explicitly told her when he dropped her off to be nice, but he was always reminding her of it, like, all the time and he certainly wouldn’t object to Clarke trying to rescue this pretty girl with the grumpy mouth.  Clarke shrugs and turns to skate away, but the voice interrupts her again, softer this time. 

 

“Wait!” the girl says, and Clarke turns, “I didn’t mean it,” and then quieter “I’m sorry.”  Clarke lets her pout drop and just stares at the girl.  “I like your unicorn skates,” the girl says and this, even more than the apology, makes Clarke smile.

 

“Yeah?” Clarke says, glancing down at them, “My mom got them for me. Unicorns are my favorite animal.”

 

The girl’s fearful glare drops completely now and she actually smiles, “Me too!” she says as she looks down at her own skates, “Mine don’t have any.”

 

Clarke just shakes her head, exasperated, “It doesn’t even matter, though,” she says, “we can just pretend.” 

 

The girl smiles even bigger now and Clarke’s stomach does this weird little flip-flop at the sight and she wonders, for a second, if she is about to vomit even though she hasn’t even had any cake yet. 

 

“Do you want to skate on them now?” Clarke asks, and the girl’s face drops again. 

 

“I can’t,” she whispers, all shame and scared, “I don’t know how.” 

 

“I’ll show you,” Clarke says, she rolls a little bit away from the railing and extending her hand.  “My name’s Clarke,” she says, “and my mom says I’m a really good teacher.”

 

Lexa looks at Clarke’s hand before prying one of her own hands off the railing and reaching out to fit it with Clarke’s.  “My name’s Lexa,” she says, palm warm and sweaty against the soft skin of Clarke’s hand, “and my mom says I’m destructive.” 

 

“Destructive?” Clarke asks, only half wondering as she gets used to the feel of Lexa’s hand against her own.

 

Lexa shrugs and starts to release her other hand from the rail, “It means I break lamps a lot, I think.”

 

Clarke isn’t quite sure what to make of this girl, who is still white faced as she stands without the support of anything but Clarke’s hand.  They skitter out from the wall a few hesitant steps, Clarke leading as Lexa follows shakily behind.  Lexa is smaller then Clarke, all knobby knees and pointed elbows that skew at weird angles as she fights to keep her balance. 

 

“See, Lexa? This isn’t so bad?” Clarke says, turning her head to look at Lexa as they pick up speed, motions less spider-legged as they make their way around the gentle curve of the rink.  “Do you want me to let go?” Clarke asks.

 

At the question, Lexa seems to seize, her hand tightens around Clarke’s and her face pulls into a look of terror again.  “No, don’t let go—” she starts, forgetting to concentrate at the horrifying prospect of Clarke releasing her hold.  At the distraction her legs slip, unable to keep up with Clarke, and she pitches forward knocking them both to the ground. 

 

Clarke manages to throw out her hand to catch herself, but Lexa hits chin first.  They lay dazed for a second until Lexa lets out a whine of pain and Clarke glances over.  Lexa’s face is bleeding from a cut right under the curve of her chin. 

 

It is a lot of blood. 

 

Clarke’s stomach usually gets squirmy at the sight of blood but looking at Lexa, eyes welling with tears and lip shaking, she can’t find it in herself to do anything but try to comfort her. 

 

They are still holding hands and Clarke clutches tighter, leaning down to catch Lexa’s eyes. 

 

“It’s going to be ok,” she murmurs.  A few parents begin to rush over and Clarke pays them no mind, holding Lexa’s watery eyes with her own, “there is going to be cake later.”

 

Lexa smiles at her and lets out a shaky gasp, “You're still holding my hand,” she says, not a complaint, just an observation, voice tipping with a precarious kind of wonder. 

 

“Yeah, Lexa,” Clarke says, “always.”

 

*

 

At the end of the party Jake Griffin finds Clarke wedged next to a little girl with wide green eyes and a purple band-aid plastered under her chin.  Clarke is feeding her little bites of cake, which almost makes him take a step back in surprise because to his knowledge Clarke doesn’t share cake with anyone. 

 

He notices their hands are clenched tightly between them, and even though it makes eating cake difficult, they don’t let go. 

 

The party doesn’t officially end until Octavia smashes a slice of cake into Jasper Jordan’s face and things begin to escalate dangerously close to a food fight.   When they leave it takes a few minutes to coax Clarke to let go of her new friend’s hand, eventually separating them with the reminder that they can see each other tomorrow. 

 

 Clarke pouts the entire car ride home. 


 

 It is the tenth day of first grade and Lexa has a small half-moon scar curved under the jut of her chin.  

 

Clarke brushes it with her thumb when Lexa swings down from the jungle gym.  “Ouch,” she whispers and Lexa just thrusts out her scrawny chest and grins.

 

“It doesn’t even hurt,” she boasts. 

 

“I know,” Clarke says back, so taken by her friend’s antics but never quite sure why.  Lexa still only comes up to the bridge of Clarke’s nose, but she acts like she towers over everyone on the playground.  She has a cutting glare that, rumor has it, made Monty Green wet his pants in art class on Monday.

 

Rumors have not been confirmed, but Lexa and Clarke both insist it to be true, which is enough confirmation to convince almost the entire first grade class. 

 

(Monty Green only hangs out with Jasper Jordan anyway who, according to Octavia, eats glue so it’s no one’s loss honestly)

 

Lexa tilts forward into Clarke, pushing against her until they are just a mash of gangly limbs and dirty sneakers.  Lexa buries her nose in Clarke’s hair, smelling mulch and strawberry jam from lunch and when Lexa pulls back Clarke’s eyes are the same color as the blue crayon that Lexa stole out of the arts and crafts bin and smuggled home. 

 

“We should go on an adventure,” Lexa blurts and Clarke’s thumb goes back up to brush over Lexa’s roller skating scar.  Lexa grins against the splay of Clarke’s hand until she nods in agreement. 

 

“We should go in the woods,” Clarke says, pulling back from Lexa to gesture at the fringe of trees that surrounds the playground. 

 

Lexa whoops and grabs at Clarke’s hand, tugging her toward the playground’s edge.  They crash into the small copse of trees and for ten minutes, before the teacher finds them, they are warriors.

 

(When Mrs. Cambell does find them Lexa takes the blame even though it was Clarke’s idea.  She has to sit in timeout all indoor play-time and Clarke sits with her because that is what best friends do.)


 

It’s the first day of second grade and Clarke gets to school early so she and Lexa can pick out desks right next to each other.  She plasters unicorn stickers all over the cover of Lexa’s binder and pokes at her tummy to coax out the smile that is getting harder and harder to find.

 

Lexa’s sweater has a whole in the sleeve and she pokes her thumb through it forlornly while the teacher introduces herself.  Clarke, without hesitating, finds her new pair of scissors in the inside lip of her desk and cuts a matching hole in her own sleeve.  It was her brand new sweater with the little strawberry pattern, but the look that Lexa gives her make the sacrifice worth it. 

 

Lexa comes back to Clarke’s house after school and they find Clarke’s dad in the kitchen, leaning over the sink, the front of his shirt soaked with dish soap.  He swings Lexa up in the air and calls her “Lexa T-Rexa” and lets her do her best growl.  He watches Lexa mime a bite at Clarke’s shoulder that turns into a prolonged nuzzle, Clarke reaching up to tug at Lexa’s curls without enough force to hurt.

 

If he notices the hole in Clarke’s sleeve he doesn’t say anything. 

 

*

 

Lexa’s dad leaves and doesn’t come back and Lexa stops talking in class. 

 

*

 

Lexa sleeps over at Clarke’s house more and more, even on school nights if her mom says its okay. 

 

Clarke always gives Lexa her favorite pajamas and they brush their teeth side by side in front of the mirror, elbows brushing and Lexa foaming her mouth so furiously that it drips down her chin.  Clarke wipes Lexa’s face clean, gentle and slow, not noticing the way Lexa begins to flinch from her touch. 

 

They curl into Clarke’s twin bed, both tucked into the skinny edges of the other, two heads on one pillow.  Clarke murmurs a request for a goodnight kiss and closes her eyes as Lexa presses a wet kiss to the corner of her mouth. 

 

Lexa smells like toothpaste and summertime and her elbows dig into the soft of Clarke’s stomach but she doesn’t mind. 


 

They are in third grade and Lexa spends her eighth birthday with Clarke in the woods behind Lexa’s house. 

 

They find rolly-pollys under the bark of fallen trees and build a fortress of leaves that they hide themselves in, protected from danger of any sort.  Clarke smears dirt under their eyes for camouflage and they belly crawl back to the house before standing on tip-toes underneath the kitchen window, watching Lexa’s mom make lunch. 

 

Lexa’s mom sees them when she looks up, beckoning them inside with a tired smile.  When she finds them dirt smeared and grass stained the smile stays and she wipes affectionately at the mud on both of their cheeks, pressing matching kisses against the crowns of two heads, one blonde the other brown. 

 

She props them in chairs at the small table wedged in the corner of the kitchen, listening to them recount adventures as they chew through half a pb and j each.  

 

(Clarke doesn’t even mind that there is no cake, being with Lexa is so much better.)


With fourth grade comes the idea of crushes and the whole class is abuzz with the idea of it.  Boys aren’t just gross anymore, an idea that seems to excite Octavia and Clarke.  Lexa secretly thinks they are still smelly and loud, but she doesn’t say anything because Clarke is looking at her with wide eyes and that pretty smile. 

 

Finn Collins gives Clarke a valentine and Lexa watches Clarke blush, looking down at the red, construction paper heart in her hand and then back up to him with a brilliant smile that Lexa had kind of thought was only reserved for her. 

 

Lexa’s chest roars dragon-angry and she thinks, in that moment, that she could breathe fire. 

 

*

 

The dragon only quiets later that night when Clarke gives Lexa a box of candy heart while they sit on the rug of Clarke’s bedroom floor. Lexa turns the box over in her hand, swiping a thumb across the label and taking deep breaths before she looks up to meet Clarke’s eyes. 

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to give this to Finn?” she asks, angrier then she means to, and Clarke seems to notice her pout for the first time that day. 

 

Clarke tackles Lexa to the rug, lying half-on top of her, Lexa feeling every breath Clarke takes against the expanse of her ribs.

 

“Finn’s just a boy,” Clarke answers seriously, wrinkling her nose, pressing her face close to Lexa’s so their foreheads touch and their eyes cross to meet one another’s.  “I don’t love Finn.”

 

“But you love me?” Lexa asks, breathless at the thought, hoping that Clarke can’t feel the stutter of her heartbeat where it presses against her. 

 

“Of course,” Clarke says heaving a sigh, “you’re my best friend.”

 

Lexa and the dragon are reassured and later that night Clarke feeds her candy-sweet hearts with her fingertips and Lexa feels the dragon spark and roil. 


 

In fifth grade Lexa pushes Finn Collins off the top of the jungle gym.  He cries like a baby and Lexa has to go to the office to talk to the principal about her behavior.  Lexa’s mom gets called in and she has to leave work early, looking worn and drawn out as she sits next to Lexa in the faux leather chairs. 

 

Lexa has to apologize to Finn the next day and gets recess privileges taken away for the rest of the month.

 

“We have a zero tolerance violence policy at our school,” the principal says, condescending and stern to Lexa and her mom across from him. 

 

“I know,” Lexa’s mom sighs, “I know, I know.”

 

She doesn’t smile for the entire car ride home and Lexa thinks it’s maybe her mom she should apologize to and not stupid Finn Collins. 

 

Clarke doesn’t talk to Lexa for two weeks and holds Finn’s hand at recess behind the slide. 

 

Lexa thinks that caring too much about something is worse then not caring at all. 

 

*

Jake and Abby look out the window into the backyard, Abby slightly worried and Jake grinning.

 

“Are you sure it’s okay to leave them out there alone all night?” she asks, doubtful, for the third time this evening.

 

“Baby,” Jake says, curling an arm around her waist and turning her to face him, eyes crinkling as he smiles, “we live in the suburbs.” He glances out the window again, “I think they will survive a night alone camping in the backyard.” He pauses and eyes Clarke who is already digging into the stash of snacks that are piled in a basket next to the sleeping bags, “Provided they don’t overdose on smores.” He raises his voice to call through the window, “Clarke, Lex! Try not to eat all the chocolate before the sun even goes down!”

 

The girls look up at the window guiltily and Clarke sticks out her tongue while Lexa does a series of cartwheels across the lawn.  Lexa wipes out on her fourth consecutive cartwheel and Clarke runs over, half laughing and half concerned, to help Lexa up.

 

Abby watches Clarke brush dirt off of Lexa’s cheek and smiles when Lexa grins, star-struck and lopsided, up at her daughter.  “Yeah,” Abby says turning from the window and addressing her husband, “You’re right, they’ll be fine.”

 

*

 

It is fully dark now and they are both huddled into one sleeping bag, the other lying forgotten on the grass beside them. Lexa lies on her back, staring up at the sky, wondering at the moon and the pin points of light that surround it. 

 

“What do you think is up there, Clarke?” she asks quietly. 

 

“I don’t know,” Clarke mumbles.  She isn’t looking at the sky, instead she is curled on her side, head tucked into Lexa’s neck as her hand strokes over the thin cotton of Lexa’s shirt.    Lexa still has a little bit of marshmallow stuck to her cheek from smores and she swells like sweet-spring grass and chocolate. 

 

“You’re dirty,” she murmurs, breath warm against Lexa’s skin.  Lexa turns her head just slightly toward Clarke, her eyes are starting to droop as well and the night is so so clear. 

 

“What?” Lexa ask, shifting imperceptibly closer to Clarke.

 

“You have marshmallow on your face,” Clarke says and then, with a sleepy grin, “I’m going to eat it.”

 

“You wouldn’t,” Lexa answers, too tired to really protest.

 

“Watch me,” Clarke says, scooting so she is hovering above Lexa, blocking the night sky with her fall of blonde hair and tired eyes. 

 

This is the part of the game where Lexa would usually squeal and roll away, batting at Clarke’s hands and attempting to retaliate.  But she is so tired and Clarke feels nice against her so she doesn’t move.  Clarke was obviously expecting her to, already leaning in, and when Lexa doesn’t move she keeps going. 

 

They are soft against each other, loose from the combination of nighttime delirium and too much melty chocolate and graham crackers.  Clarke leans down, ignoring Lexa’s slightly shuddery breath as she licks at the marshmallow on Lexa’s face.  Lexa still doesn’t move away, doesn’t even giggle when Clarke pulls back, tongue sweet with the marshmallow and lips parted. 

 

They stare at each other, Lexa is so small beneath her and Clarke almost worries about crushing her.  “Finn kissed me,” Clarke says, hushing the words out into the dark, watching as Lexa flinches. 

 

“How was it?” Lexa asks, because that is what she is supposed to say. 

 

“Kind of gross,” Clarke answers, ducking down closer as the wind picks up. 

 

They are so close now and Clarke keeps leaning in and Lexa keeps not pulling back. Clarke kisses her just barely, a chaste touch of the plush of their lips, Clarke rending a sigh from Lexa’s mouth as their chins knock, clumsy and artless. 

 

They break apart with a soft smack and stare, wild and young, into each other’s eyes. 

 

“Okay,” Clarke says into the space between them.

 

“Okay,” Lexa says. 

 

Clarke nestles back into Lexa’s shoulder and they fall asleep. 

 

*

 

The next morning they wake up blinking and bleary in bright sunlight.  They laze all day under the blue sky and don’t talk about their last day of elementary school or smores or the way Lexa stares at Clarke like she can’t remember how to breathe.

 

(Neither mentions the kiss and by the time the day ends they both assume the other has forgotten.)


 

Lexa think that sixth grade might actually be the worst thing. 

 

Eighth graders are obnoxious and loud and the middle school smells like the boy’s locker room almost all the time.  Lexa only has two of her eight classes with Clarke and sometimes an entire day will pass where they don’t even see each other except for lunch.

 

Worst of all, Clarke has about a thousand new friends and their lunch table is so crowded with chatter and loud laughter Lexa considers the merit of eating alone.  Lexa likes some of them, but her enjoyment of their company is overwhelmed by her intense dislike for a few. 

 

Like Wells Jaha. 

 

Wells Jaha is handsome and tall and Clarke Griffin’s new best friend. 

 

The Jaha’s and the Griffin’s have been friends forever, or so Clarke tells her, but Wells didn’t go to their elementary school because he was too busy going to a fancy private school where he learned how to do stupid fancy things.  But since his dad is the principal of the middle school, he goes here now.  He sits too close to Clarke at the lunch table while she laughs at his jokes and pushes at his shoulder playfully.

 

And the thing is that Lexa isn’t jealous, she just wants her Clarke back. 

 

*

 

Clarke thinks that middle school might actually be the best thing. 

 

The art room has an entire wall of paints and canvases that you are allowed to use if the teacher likes you.

 

And the teacher likes Clarke.

 

She meets Harper and Maya and Monty.  She gets to see Wells every day. Clarke likes everything about her new friends.  She likes Maya’s pretty, dark eyes and Harper’s shiny hair, she likes Monty’s smile and that Wells greets her with hugs before class.

 

Everything is almost perfect. 

 

Almost.   

 

The problem is Lexa.  Lexa who sits further and further from her at the lunch table.  Lexa who keeps declining Octavia’s slumber party invitations and never smiles, not even when Jasper trips in the cafeteria and dumps an entire can of orange soda down the front of his shorts. 

 

Lexa keeps disappearing somewhere under this rough glare and her ripped jeans and Clarke misses her with a tenderness that aches low in her stomach. 

 

*

 

Wells leans his elbows on the lunch table, not even trying to hide his smile.

 

“So my dad says it’s okay,” he starts, grinning, “you guys can totally come over on Friday, it’s going to be great.”

 

Clarke smiles in response and the rest of the table nods eagerly, breaking into chatter about whose parents can drive who.  Monty offer to bring his x-box and he and Jasper high five. 

 

“You're going to go down, Octavia,” Jasper crows, words slurred around the plastic of his new retainer. 

 

“Oh please,” Octavia says, and she flashes him a grin, “I may not be a complete nerd like you but I am sure I can kick your butt at anything that involves hand-eye coordination.” 

 

Maya bursts out laughing, only stopping when she sees Jasper’s face drop, Harper has no such reservations, only laughing harder at the devastation written in the slope of Jasper’s mouth. 

 

“What about you, Lexa?” Wells says, breaking through the other’s conversation, “Are you coming?”

 

Clarke turns to where Lexa slouches, eager to hear her answer.  She tries to catch Lexa’s eyes, signal to her to say yes, that it won’t be the same without her. But Lexa avoids her gaze obstinately and just scoffs. 

 

“I wouldn’t go to your house if it were the last place on earth,” she spits at Wells, far more harsh then the situation calls for.  Clarke can’t understand where this is coming from, she watches with confusion as Lexa’s ears burn red like they always do when she is embarrassed. 

 

“I don’t know why you have to be such a bitch all the time, Lexa,” Wells says, rushing it out in one breath.  The entire table turns quiet, no one has ever heard anyone say the b-word so loudly at the lunch table before, let alone Wells. 

 

Clarke sees Lexa’s scowl waver for just a second before she pushes harshly back from the table.  “I was just born this way, I guess,” Lexa says, turning her back on them and stomping from the cafeteria. 

 

Clarke jumps up too, ignoring Well’s hand on his arm as he tries to pull her back down. 

 

“You’ll get in trouble,” he hisses.  Students aren’t allowed to leave the cafeteria during lunch period, especially without asking permission.  Clarke shakes his arm off her as she darts from the cafeteria before the lunch monitor turns from where she is chastising a boy for throwing a plastic fork. 

 

Clarke finds Lexa in the girl’s bathroom in the art hall.  She is slumped between two sinks, hands fidgeting with the laces of her sneakers and her head bowed.  She doesn’t look up when Clarke walks in, just turns her face toward the wall.  Clarke kneels in front of her, running soothing hands over Lexa’s fidgeting ones, coaxing her to face her.

 

When Lexa does, Clarke sees that she has been crying, eyes rimmed red and a glistening streak running down the high arch of her cheek.  Clarke hums out a noise of discontent at the quiver in Lexa’s lip and reaches out to stroke at her face with her thumbs, her low ache turning into a steady throb at her friend’s tears.

 

“Lex,” she coos, “what’s wrong?”

 

Lexa sniffs hard before speaking, words crackling free from her dry throat.  “I don’t like Wells,” she says.

 

Clarke furrows her brow and scoots closer on the cold tile floor.  “But,” Clarke starts, “I like Wells.”  She knows that wasn’t the right thing to say as soon as Lexa flinches away, wrenching free from her touch with a bitter laugh.

 

“I know,” Lexa says, “You like all of them.”  There is a long pause her where she sniffs again and looks down, “More then me,” she adds.

 

Clarke almost gasps at the ridiculousness of that those words, but she laughs instead.  Lexa looks up at her at the sound, face so hurt and broken that Clarke’s laugh immediately dies. 

 

“Oh God, Lex no,” Clarke says, catching her face up in her hands again, “I’m not laughing at you.  It’s just—” she pauses to lean in closer, bumping their foreheads, “—do you not hear how silly you sound?”

 

Clarke isn’t sure how to say what she means.  She isn’t sure how to tell Lexa that yes, Clarke likes Maya’s eyes and Harper’s hair, she likes Monty’s smile and Wells’ friendly hugs. 

 

But she loves the way that Lexa’s eyes change color depending on the light.  She loves Lexa’s curly hair that always ends up in Clarke’s mouth when they fall asleep curled in the same bed.  She adores Lexa’s quiet grin and the way she hugs her, pressing into Clarke so completely that all she knows is her smell and the angle of Lexa’s body against her own. 

 

Clarke really likes all of her new friends, but she loves Lexa. 

 

Clarke doesn’t say any of this because she thinks trying to say those words might break her, that the immensity of them is too much for this tiny bathroom, too much even for brick walls of their school and the stretch of their entire town. 

 

So she kisses her instead, pressing her lips against Lexa’s tear tracked cheeks, messy and hard. 

 

“You’re my favorite, you know that?” Clarke tells her, finding her Lexa behind those guarded eyes and ripped jeans.  She kisses Lexa’s cheek again just because, and they stay in the bathroom until the bell rings and then just a little bit longer, because it feels so nice to be alone. 

 

*

 

Lexa thinks that sixth grade might not be all bad.

 

*

 

Lexa’s mom is having a baby. 

 

Lexa is old enough now that she knows that the baby won’t be just like her.  Lexa’s dad is gone and the baby will be half of Lexa’s mom and half of somebody else.  But when her mom tells her, stroking through Lexa’s hair before bed, Lexa knows this baby is going to be all hers. 

 

“Your going to have a little brother or sister,” her mom whispers to her and Lexa can feel her heart swell a size to accommodate all this new love she has for this person who doesn’t even exist yet.

 

Lexa watches her mom change over the next few months, stomach growing rounder as her eyes grow more tired.  After school Lexa makes them scrambled eggs over the gas stove and they eat on the couch.  Sometimes Lexa’s mom pulls up her shirt so Lexa can feel the soft swell of her skin.  She reads the baby the books she is assigned for school and sings it lullabies after her mom falls asleep.

 

Clarke is almost as excited as Lexa is, and when she visits she joins them on the couch for their dinners of scrambled eggs and ketchup, pressing her palm over Lexa’s mom’s stomach, waiting for the kick that makes her squeal in excitement and catch at Lexa’s lit, happy eyes. 

 

“How lucky this baby is,” Lexa’s mom says, smoothing Lexa’s braid with her one hand and cupping Clarke’s chin with the other, “to come into the world with such amazing big sisters.”

 

Clarke blushes and looks down as Lexa’s watches her, her rapidly growing heart speeding up at such a sight.

 

*

 

“Do you think you want to have babies?” Clarke asks Lexa later that night in the warmth of Lexa’s twin bed. 

 

Lexa turns to face her, tracing Clarke’s profile in the dark, “With the right person, I guess,” she answers. 

 

Clarke turns to face her too, snuggling closer until they are nose to nose. “You're going to be such a good mom,” she says.

 

Lexa almost laughs, “Clarke,” she protests, “We’re only 11.”

 

“Still,” Clarke says, remaining serious, “if I had a baby I would want you to raise it, too.”

 

Lexa’s desire to laugh dies, and they just stare at each other, maintaining eye contact despite the swaths of darkness that surround them.  They are far too old to make these kind of claims, Lexa thinks.  They aren’t kids anymore, they can’t dream of growing old together, of a single house between the two of them, of kids and love and flowers on the kitchen counter.

 

(Lexa pretends that she hasn’t lived out this fantasy a million times, she pretends like the enormity of what this means isn’t beginning to become clear to her.)

 

“That’s not the way the world works,” Lexa says, voice harsher then she means, an attempt to hide the way her entire being softens as Clarke edges closer, their noses brushing.

 

“I don’t see why not,” Clarke says, voice a husky rough that is brand new and tantalizing.  Lexa blinks slow, before rolling away, turning her back to Clarke’s voice and pink mouth.

 

When she wakes up she is facing Clarke again, legs tangled over the thin sheet, hand grasping at the curve of Clarke’s hip.  Lexa’s entire body flushes hot and she feels a kind of warmth build low in her stomach.

 

She wonders what is wrong with her.


 

Nathan is born in the summer before seventh grade.

 

He is brand new and loud, all squishy face and tiny grasping fingers.  Lexa holds him in the cream-white room in the hospital, sticking out her tongue until he mimics her, nosing into his warm baby smell, watching his wet baby yawns with a kind of wonder.  Lexa thinks her love for him might just split her down the middle and she reminds herself again that getting attached is a bad idea, but when he wraps his hand around her thumb she forgets every promise she has ever made to herself about wishing and loving and the sin of it all. 

 

He gurgles and she melts.

 

*

Over spring break of seventh grade, Clarke and her family go on a family trip to Six Flags.  When Clarke asks Lexa if she wants to come, Lexa stares at her with open mouthed astonishment.  She twists at the hair ties that line her wrists and ducks her head before answering.

 

“Are you sure you want me to come?” Lexa asks, small and breathy, “Not Octavia or Wells or something?”

 

Clarke takes Lexa’s hands to stop the fidgeting and tugs at her until she meets Clarke’s gaze.  Clarke can’t understand how her friend, so sure and loud, abrasive even, seems so scared in the face of Clarke’s love.  Lexa treats Clarke so fragile and soft, in a way she treats no one else except for maybe Baby Nate.  She looks at Clarke like she is going to be taken away, which Clarke thinks is dumb because Clarke knows she isn’t something to be had.

 

But, with Lexa staring at her all doe-eyed and wondering, Clarke thinks that being had by Lexa doesn’t seem so bad.  The thought makes her flush without knowing why and she drops Lexa’s hands, equally breathless now. 

 

“Of course I want you to come,” Clarke says, eager to divert her attention from the heat that seethes under her skin, “You’re my best friend.”

 

*

 

They ride roller coasters until Clarke is close to vomiting.  She can feel the cinnamon bun from earlier turning in her stomach and her head spins from the quadruple loop the last ride boasted.  Lexa, however, has never looked more in her element.  Her hair is falling out of the braids that Clarke twisted it into during the car ride and her cheeks are pink with the thrill of it all.

 

“Freaking yes!” Lexa crows, craning her head to look up at the monstrosity of a ride that they just conquered, she whoops and turns to Clarke, “Again!” she shouts. 

 

“Lex,” Clarke whines, clutching at her stomach, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

 

Lexa’s face immediately drops to one of concern and she tugs Clarke to be seated on a low stone wall that lines one of the small gardens that decorates the park.  She pouts her lips in sympathy and tugs Clarke closer to her.  Clarke groans and nestles into the heat of Lexa’s neck, smelling the sharp bite of her, skin slicked with sweat from the summer sun and sweet like the sun-block that Abby made them slather on in the parking lot. 

 

Lexa coos sympathetically and works her hand under the cotton of Clarke’s tank top.  She rubs circles over the soft skin of Clarke’s tummy, kneading with her fingers, her touch enough to make the nausea in Clarke’s stomach begin to evaporate.  Clarke buries into her further, whining at the press of Lexa’s fingers. There is that hot build in the base of her stomach, and she thinks that having Lexa close to her feels so good she doesn’t know what she will do. 

 

Before Clarke can settle into Lexa further, a family passes them and the father, a red-faced man wearing a sweat-stained shirt and a hat with a curved bill, snaps a word at them.  It is rude and it is angry and there is the venom of hatred behind it that, even though Clarke doesn’t know the meaning, makes her cheeks blush and her head feel fuzzy.

 

Lexa’s face contorts at the word and she pulls her hand away from Clarke so fast it looks as though she has been burned.  The family passes and the man turns away, but Lexa doesn’t look back at Clarke, she just balls her hands tightly by her side and swallows hard. 

 

Clarke wants to ask her about it but decides against it, she is wary of the expression that is rippling across Lexa’s face, and simply stand, gesturing to the roller coaster before them.

 

“Want to go again, Lex?” she asks, bright and cheery, ignoring the way that her stomach rolls at the thought.  Lexa’s face brightens slightly and she nods, leading the charge back to the end of the line.

 

After they stumble off the ride again, Lexa’s face has cleared and she has that wind-swept look in the set of her grin.  Lexa grabs Clarke’ hand and tugs her toward the bumper cars, squeezing through the crowd with her pointy elbows and slim hips, only slowing to smile at Clarke behind her. 

 

After the continual jolt of the bumper cars and the thrill of Lexa’s affectionate grin, Clarke forgets completely to ask what the word ‘dyke’ means. 

 

*

 

Clarke trades her clumsy fifth grade kiss with Finn Collins for a clumsy seventh grade one. 

 

He meets her at the park near her house and they sit in the grass next to the soccer fields.  She is butterfly-stomach nervous and he runs a hand through his hair every thirty seconds like clockwork.  Clarke finally meets his eyes and considers that he is just as anxious as she is. 

 

She lets him edge toward her while they talk and when he holds her hand her stomach swoops with an unsteady lurch.  She isn’t sure if she likes the feeling.  She doesn’t really have time to consider the situation further because he is leaning toward her and her thoughts quiet because his mouth presses to hers. 

 

This kiss is harder then the first, his lips are chapped but his face, where it presses against hers, is warm.  His hand slides to the hinge of her jaw and she settles her hands on his waist.  She remembers to keep her eyes closed and thinks that this is nice, that this feels comfortable and safe and grounded.

 

(At some point during the kiss she decides not to tell Lexa about it until the last possible moment, just because.)

 

(Clarke had thought when she was younger that Best Friends tells each other everything.)

 

(Clarke thinks now that those sweeping statements just aren’t very realistic.)

 

*

 

“That’s right, Nate,” Clarke says, narrowing her eyes, “Come to me, not that stupid grumpy face over there.”

 

“Hey,” Lexa says with a scowl from where she is seated across the rug, “No trash talking, that’s unfair.”

 

Clarke shrugs and holds out her hands to Nathan who is gurgling from where he is plopped at the center of the carpet, “Come here, baby,” she coaxes to him before turning back to Lexa.  “All’s fair in love and war,” she says with a scathing glare.

 

Lexa scoffs and holds out her hands to Nathan as well before raising her chin regally in Clarke’s direction.  “There is no love here,” she says, “I see naught but war on this battlefield.”

 

Clarke works to hold her glare, suppressing the smile she wants to award to Lexa’s dramatics.  She compromises with an eye roll and snaps her fingers, grabbing Nathan’s attention.  He is playing with his toes now, a source of never ending amusement to him, ignoring the girls who vie for his favor. 

 

“Baby boy,” Clarke croons, “We both know that I’m your favorite.”

 

Nathan glances between Clarke and Lexa with some confusion, upset by the fact that they sit on opposite ends of the carpet and he can not crawl to both of them.  He lets out a shriek and almost starts to cry before the glint of Clarke’s earrings distracts him.  He struggles to his hands and knees and crawls to her, murmuring happily when she scoops him up and props him against her shoulder.  

 

“Yes,” Clarke yells, startling him slightly.  She fixes a look on Lexa, raising an eyebrow and smirking.  “Let it be known, I am his preferred babysitter.” 

 

Lexa’s scowl deepens, “Whatever,” she mutters, “he only went to you because he doesn’t get to see you all the time.”

 

Clarke scoffs, “C’mon, Lex.  Don’t be a sore loser.” She drops her joking tone and studies Lexa’s sullen expression closer.  “And what do you mean he doesn’t get to see me?” she asks, voice pitched high in confusion as she bounces Nathan distractedly, “I’m here all the time.” 

 

Lexa shrugs and drops to her back, staring at the ceiling.  “Not really,” she says, “this is the first time you have come over in weeks.”

 

“That’s not even true—” Clarke starts, trailing off when she realizes that it just might be.  Hanging out with Finn is time consuming and last weekend she and Octavia went to get pedicures and she and Wells study after school and—

 

Clarke studies Lexa and moves to grab at her leg but Lexa pulls away.  Clarke groans and turns back to Nathan.  “Is your sister a big grumpy butt?” she coos, ignoring Lexa’s huff.   Nate giggles and she leans into him to blow a raspberry into the soft pooch of his cheek.  He laughs harder and she tickles him with one hand, pressing insistent kisses to his chubby face until he squeals in delight. 

 

Clarke glances at Lexa before continuing to talk to Nathan conversationally.  “I wonder if anyone else deserves the tickle treatment?” she asks.  Nate gurgles.  “Because,” Clarke says, setting Nathan gently onto the rug, “I’m thinking your big sister might.” She launches herself at Lexa then, straddling her prone form, pinning Lexa’s kicking legs with insistent hips. 

 

Clarke leans down and finds Lexa’s neck with her lips.  She blows a raspberry playfully as Lexa protests.  “Ew, gross, Clarke!” Lexa yells, hands pushing at Clarke’s shoulders in a half-hearted attempt to get her off. 

 

“Still got some fight left, huh?” Clarke says, “I can fix that.”  She leans in further, pressing playful kisses against Lexa’s face.  They are wet and messy, lips separating from Lexa’s skin after each kiss with a loud smack.  Lexa gives up the pretend struggle, focusing more on remembering how to breathe as Clarke kisses the corner of her mouth. 

 

Clarke’s cheeks hurt from smiling and she is overwhelmed with the sight of Lexa, flushed and panting, beneath her.  She thinks about Finn’s kisses that make her chest warm and her hands sweat.  She wonders why he doesn’t create this low build in her stomach the way that Lexa does.

 

Lexa, who is raising herself to her elbows now, eyes serious as they dart to look at what Clarke thinks might be her mouth.  Clarke shifts down to meet her, angling her head just barely, eyes starting to drift shut.

 

They are interrupted by a loud gurgle from Nate who is struggling to crawl toward them, obviously feeling left out.  Clarke lets out a sharp laugh, dropping her head to Lexa’s chest.  She leans her forehead there for a second, cradled by the warmth of her and the buzz that still lingers on her lips.

 

(Clarke and Finn go their separate ways by the end of school year.)

 

(They agree to stay friends.)


 

By eighth grade there really isn’t getting around it anymore. 

 

Lexa is so gay. 

 

Like.  

 

Levels of gay that probably haven’t been matched since the prehistoric era when there were gay lady t-rexes who beat all the other lady t-rexes at roller derby. 

 

(Lexa might be going through a roller derby stage right now.  Ellen Page changed her, okay?)

 

As soon as Lexa fits the word to the feeling that murmurs in her chest, it becomes so much easier to breathe.  Occasionally the swell of the word makes her nervous and sometimes she wants to hate it.  Sometimes she can’t stop thinking about all the possible reactions of her schoolmates or her mom or angry men on the street that want to hurt her for loving this way.

 

But mostly it just feels nice to understand this part of herself.  And girls are so so pretty, which is definitely a bonus. 

 

Lexa doesn’t quite have a handle on it yet.  It is almost like this new understanding has opened her eyes to so many things, all of which have the potential to make her very nervous.

 

A girl at the checkout counter of the grocery store told Lexa that she had pretty eyes and Lexa blushed so hard Clarke teased her about it for the entire car ride home. 

 

And there was the other problem.

 

Clarke.  

 

Clarke who made Lexa’s stomach bottom out and her heart tug hard at the center of her chest.  Clarke who was spending more time with her again, sleeping over every Friday night and cuddling close in the twin bed that they are much too big for. 

 

Lexa loves Clarke so much that it aches.  She reminds herself that is how you feel about your best friend, that it is easy to confuse the eternal bond of friendship with a crush. 

 

*

The first person that Lexa tells is Nate.

 

She helps him across the kitchen, his arms extended over his head, hands clutching at Lexa’s fingers.  He is taking wobbling steps on the tile floor with her help, and every step generates a new shriek of excitement from his gaping mouth. They make it to the rickety wooden table in the corner and Lexa eases her hands from his, guiding his grip to the rungs of one of the chairs.  He stands shakily without her help, gazing up at her all wide grin and green eyes. 

 

Lexa cheers for Nathan, waiting for him to finally get bored and fall to his padded diaper with a dull thud before she seats herself next to him.  She pulls him into her lap, kissing his cheeks with two matching “mwah” sounds that have him grinning again, clutching excitedly at her hair with eager fists.

 

“Nate,” she hums out, waiting until he turns his curious eyes to her.  The kitchen seems more charged now that she has his attention, warmer despite the cool press of the tile against her legs.  She wonders for a second if she might drown in the weight of the words that catch in her throat, but she spits them out into the room after a beat of struggled breathing.  Admitting her truth feels like clambering aboard the most buoyant life boat to ever float. 

 

“I’m gay,” she tells Nate and the otherwise empty kitchen, “I hope that’s okay,” she finishes, pulling him a little closer against her chest. 

 

He gurgles in response, tugging on a curl and blowing a spit bubble.  She figures that is the best reception she can ask for.  “Can I have a kiss?” she asks, turning her cheek toward him.  He complies with a wet smack of his lips against her face and she grins down at him, at ease in her own skin in the way she thought before she might never be.  

 

Their mom walks into the kitchen ten minutes later to find them regarding each other with matching grins. 

 

*

The second person that Lexa tells is her mom. 

 

Lexa is leaving for school, backpack slung over her shoulder, one hand on the doorknob.  Her mom shouts for her to wait, jogging to where Lexa stands, Nate propped on her hip. 

 

“You almost forgot,” she says to Lexa, smiling as she presses a brown paper bag lunch into Lexa’s hand. 

 

Lexa blurts out the words somewhere in between trying to say “goodbye” and “I love you.”

 

Her mom stares at her for a second, still smiling softly, before she presses a kiss to Lexa’s forehead. 

 

Lexa scowl a little bit less at school that day, only remembering to frown when Wells slings his arm over Clarke’s shoulders at lunch.

 

*

 

Octavia holds Clarke’s hand steady while she paints on the final coat. 

 

Clarke closes her eyes and hums happily, head spinning a bit from the nail polish fumes and the warmth of Octavia’s bedroom.  She hears Octavia giggle and feels her release her hand.

 

“You can open your eyes, dork,” Octavia says, ‘I’m done now.” Octavia picks up the blue bottle and spins on the little black top as she leans in closer to examine Clarke’s nails, “And can I just say,” Octavia adds, “they look magnificent.”

 

Clarke studies them with a smile, “They totally do,” she says.  “Although, I probably shouldn’t tell you that, I don’t know if your head should get any bigger.”

 

“Hey!” Octavia yelps, shoving at Clarke’s shoulder, “It’s not my fault I am amazing.”

 

Clarke laughs and rolls off the bed, careful to keep her nails from smudging.  She glances around the room, eyes lighting on the object hanging on the back of Octavia’s desk chair.  Clarke picks it up carefully between two palms and regards it with interest. 

 

“O, is there any reason you have a plastic crown in your room?” Clarke asks, twirling it in her hands. 

 

Octavia looks up from her dresser where she is arranging her nail polish, and grins.  “So no one forgets that I am royalty,” she says haughtily. 

 

Clarke groans at her friend and moves to put the crown down.  Octavia stops her before she can, wresting it from Clarke’s grip and moving to place it in Clarke’s golden hair.  Clarke stays still, letting Octavia fuss with its placement, positioning it perfectly on her head, running her hands, slow and soothing, through Clarke’s hair.

 

  Clarke studies Octavia while she leans over her.  Octavia has the prettiest little way that she sets her mouth when she thinks and her jaw line is impossibly alluring.  Octavia stops messing with the crown and catches Clarke staring at her.  Her mouth curves into a little smile and she presses in close, pushing down the tip of Clarke’s nose with her own. 

 

“See something you like, Griffin?” she asks, voice raspy, breath hot against Clarke’s mouth.  Clarke flushes red and scrambles backwards, forgetting to be careful with her nails, distracted by the nervous spark in her chest.  Octavia grabs at Clarke’s wrist and hauls her back toward her, hands reaching up to catch at Clarke’s blushing cheeks.

 

“Calm down, Clarke,” she says, laughing lightly, “I was only teasing.” 

 

“I know,” Clarke mumbles, even more embarrassed now, unsure of what to do with the fluttering in her tummy, “You just startled me.”

 

Octavia furrows her brow and cocks her head to the side, “I would think you would be used to girls flirting with you,” she says.

 

Clarke scrunches her face, “What?” she says, thoroughly confused now. 

 

Octavia laughs again, louder this time, amused by Clarke’s oblivious expression.  “Y’know,” she says, “with the way you and Lexa go on…”

 

Clarke shakes her head, bewildered.  “The way me and Lexa what?” she asks.

 

Octavia opens her mouth to answer but is interrupted as her bedroom door slams open, hitting the wall with a jolt.  Octavia and Clarke both startle and turn toward the noise, Clarke’s breath catching when she sees the boy that stands in the doorframe. 

 

He is tall and wide shouldered, with messy curls that fall in his eyes and a spray of freckles that Clarke finds utterly endearing.  He has Octavia’s dimpled chin and Octavia’s annoyed pout as he looks in the room. 

 

(Clarke thinks that the grouchy curve of his lips also kind of reminds her of Lexa but that is neither here nor there, really.)

 

“Octavia,” the boys says, voice deep and exasperated, “what the hell did you do with my lacrosse stick?”

 

Octavia rolls her eyes and stands to face him, “Relax, Bell,” she says, kicking a shoe on the floor in his general direction, “it’s just in the backyard.”

 

He kicks the shoe back at her and holds his palms out in front of himself, gesturing with a vicious annoyance.  “Why is it in the fucking backyard?” he asks. 

 

Octavia steps closer to him and mirrors his hand gesture.  Clarke observes quietly.  Despite the violent gesturing and aggravated expressions, it is clear that they love the fight of it all.  Clarke thinks that must be what it is like to have a sibling. 

 

“It’s in the backyard,” Octavia continues, “because I was using it.”

 

“Why were you using it? Use your own.” The boy says, throwing his head back with a sigh.

 

Octavia matches his sigh with a glare, “I can’t use my own, it’s broken.”

 

“How did you break a lacrosse stick, Octavia?”

 

Octavia shrugs ruefully, “Murphy was being an ass so I hit him with it.”

 

The boy drops his annoyed expression, looking mostly impressed now.  “You broke your lacrosse stick on a boy’s head?”

 

“It was his face actually,” Octavia says, “and technically it didn’t break until he ran it over with his car.”

 

Clarke and the boy both start laughing and then stop, startled, staring at each other.

 

“I wish I was there,” the boy says, still looking at Clarke, and then “Hey O, you gonna introduce me to your friend?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Octavia says, stepping back and taking Clarke’s hand, “Bellamy this is Clarke, Clarke this is my older brother Bellamy.  He’s home from school on break.”

 

Clarke has never met her brother before and to be honest, when she had heard stories about Octavia’s history-nerd older brother who went to the preppy private high school outside of town on scholarship, she had pictured him differently.

 

A lot differently. 

 

They regard each other for a second more before he nods at both of them.  “Well,” he says, hooking his thumb over his shoulder, “I’m going to go practice lacrosse in the yard with the stick you didn’t get run over.” He is almost out the door when he turns around, throwing Clarke one last look.  “Nice crown, Princess,” he says, leaving Clarke flushed and stricken by a Blake for the second time that day.


 

So Clarke has a problem. 

 

And that problem, all five foot seven of it, is leaning against the jamb of Clarke’s front door. 

 

Clarke spent the entire three months of summer before ninth grade in Maine at her Nona’s house.  She spent weeks clambering over rocky beaches, hiking with her dad, and meeting a million cousins that she didn’t even know she had. 

 

But she returned unchanged, maybe a little bit leaner from days of constant activity and way better at drawing lighthouses, but Clarke all the same. 

 

Lexa, apparently, didn’t get this memo. 

 

Clarke has been talking with her on the phone every day, she knew about Lexa’s job at the neighborhood pool and every detail about Nathan as he grows bigger and bigger.  But now Clarke is wondering if she should have asked Lexa for updates on her growing patterns as well. 

 

This solemn teen slumped on her porch in front of her isn’t the scrawny girl she left behind.  Lexa shot up for one thing, it seems that the growth spurt Lexa’s mom has been promising Lexa since elementary school wasn’t just a myth.  Days by the pool have left her tan and lithe, arms all muscle and legs flexing out of tiny jean shorts. 

 

She lost any last traces of baby fat on her face, cheekbones standing out under half-lidded eyes that are traced with an almost scary amount of eyeliner.  But it works for Lexa, which is so unfair.  The set of her is different too, her mouth not tempered into a scowl, instead her lips form this horribly indifferent pout, hair tossed, long and tamed, behind her shoulder.

 

Clarke thinks she would be scared of this girl if she wasn’t so busy trying to deal with the throb that has taken residence low in her stomach again.  She is sure she is going to say something utterly embarrassing and traumatizing but, luckily, her dad does it for her.

 

He comes up behind Clarke in the doorway and takes Lexa in.  There is a beat of silence where they all just wordlessly appraise each other. 

 

“Lexa T-Rexa!” Jake finally yells, pushing past Clarke to pull Lexa into a suffocating hug, lifting her off the floor and digging his chin into the top of the head, “I almost didn’t recognize you, stranger!”

 

And just like that it’s Clarke’s Lexa again, sheepishly grinning up at Jake with fidgety fingers, words formal as she greets him. 

 

Jake leaves them with a few more parting words that go largely unheard by both Clarke and Lexa who are staring at each other again.

 

“You look—” Clarke stammers at the same time that Lexa chokes out “I missed—” they both stop abruptly and there us another fit of silence before Clarke bridges the gap between them, pulling Lexa into a tight hug.  She still smells like summer Lexa, all tangy sun block and heat, and Lexa hugs her back, fierce and desperate, just like always. 

 

Clarke still has a problem, but at least this time all five foot seven of it is wrapped around her.   

 

*

 

Lexa walks home from school with Clarke.

 

They meander painfully slow, side by side, stride synced and hands brushing between them.  Lexa stops them at one point just so she can trace a line from the top of her head to a few inches above Clarke.

 

“I’m finally taller then you,” she says righteously, bopping Clarke on the top of her head, “the world is now perfectly in balance.”

 

Clarke glares balefully, edging up onto her tip toes until they are even.  “Whatever,” she says, “we both know I could still beat you in a fight.”

 

Lexa raises an eyebrow and inclines her head, annoyingly smug and condescending, “You just keep telling yourself that, Clarke.”  Lexa reaches down and tugs on Clarke’s hips, pulling them until they are flush with hers.  She presses in close, eyes narrowed and teeth bared, “You wouldn’t be able to handle what I’m bringing to the table.”

 

Clarke pushes in too, relishing the way that Lexa leans away imperceptibly, blinking twice, fast. “Oh please,” Clarke says, reaching out to wind her arms around Lexa’s shoulders so she can’t get away, pushing in so they are chest to chest, “all you’re bringing to the table is a load of false confidence and a stupid fake glare.”

 

Lexa swallows hard before arranging her face into an exaggerated version of her glare, pouting her lower lip comically.  “I’m sorry,” Lexa says, “are you trying to tell me that you don’t like my smolder?”

 

Lexa manages to hold the ridiculous expression for a few more seconds until they both dissolve into giggles, tension evaporating as their bodies soften against the curves of the other.  Lexa’s fingers are still gentle on the slope of Clarke’s hips and Clarke wraps her arms more securely around Lexa’s shoulders. 

 

“We both know that if I got mad at you it wouldn’t even be a fight,” Clarke says, thumbing at the soft hairs at the base of Lexa’s neck, “you would be tripping over your own feet trying to escape me.”

 

Lexa replies by huffing out a laugh, stroking a ticklish line up Clarke’s side with gentle hands.  “High-school-Clarke is very aggressive,” she says seriously. 

 

Clarke nods, “You better believe it.” 

 

They stay like that for a while longer, wrapped around each other on the empty sidewalk in front of Clarke’s house, exchanging teasing words and nudging in closer and closer. 

 

Clarke thinks that this Lexa, breathless as she talks about her first high school debate class, stumbling to express all that she wants to says, is the most beautiful Lexa she has ever seen.

 

*

 

Jake snorts loudly as he looks out the living room window, leaning his elbows hard on the frame. 

 

“Abby,” he calls, “Abby, come look at your daughter.”

 

Abby walks in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.  “Is she home from school yet?” she asks, curiously, “She’s almost twenty minutes late.”

 

Jake snorts again, lifting the curtain to the side so Abby can see, “Wow,” he says sarcastically, “I can’t possibly imagine why.”

 

Abby scoots in next to him at the window, looking out at the scene in front of them.  Clarke with her arms folded around her best friend’s neck, Lexa tugging her in equally close around the waist.  They both seem to have forgotten that they are in the middle the neighborhood, distracted by dazzle of the other. 

 

Abby narrows her eyes, “We might need to go separate them,” she says, mock concerned, “I’m a little worried that Clarke is going to strangle Lexa with that hold she has on her.”

 

They both burst out laughing, Jake wrapping an arm around his wife’s waist, tugging her in close to his side. 

 

“When do you think they’re going to figure it out?” Jake asks.  They watch as Lexa leans down to press a long kiss to Clarke’s cheek, right on the corner of her smile. 

 

“Hopefully soon,” Abby says, turning away from the window, “I’m a little worried Clarke is going to explode.”

 

“Oh, to be young again,” Jake says leading them back into the kitchen, “and to be in love.”

 

Abby shoves at him playfully, “I hope you aren’t saying what I think you're saying.”

 

Jake turns and faces her, “Don’t worry, babe,” he says, “I’m still young, I’m just not in love.”

 

The girls walk into the house to find Clarke’s parents fighting playfully in the kitchen.  Clarke wrinkles her nose as her dad wraps her mom in his arms and kisses her soundly.  She makes a gagging noise and turns to Lexa. 

 

“PDA is so gross,” she says, tugging Lexa up the stairs, “I really don’t know why people feel the need to do it.”

 

*

 

Lexa wakes up at two in the morning to the rolling credits of a movie and Clarke’s sleepy sigh.  They must have fallen asleep on the couch at some point during the film, their third of the night, and Lexa looks at Clarke fondly before she takes in their position. 

 

Clarke is flat on the couch, lying on her back, head resting on one of the throw pillows.  Lexa’s feet hang off the end couch, her arms wrapped securely around Clarke’s middle, head resting on Clarke’s chest.  Clarke’s hands have made their way up the back of Lexa’s t-shirt, fitted warmly in the dimple of her back. 

 

Lexa moves a little closer to Clarke, drawn in by another sleepy sigh as Clarke’s hands tighten more securely around her back.  Lexa is about to put her head back down and fall asleep when Clarke jolts awake.

 

She blinks her eyes blearily, bringing her hands out from under Lexa’s shirt to wipe at her own mouth. 

 

“Lex?” she mumbles, “Did we fall asleep?”

 

Lexa nods silently, sitting up a little bit so Clarke can slide out from underneath her.  Lexa curls into the curve of the couch, arms wrapped around her knees as she stares at the blue home screen of the TV. 

 

Clarke watches her, almost fully awake now, brow furrowed as she takes in the strained line of Lexa’ back, the tension that is caught up in nervous hands and a stiff neck. 

 

“What’s wrong, Lexa?” she asks.  When Lexa doesn’t answer she edges closer, brushing her hand over the jut of Lexa’s knee. “Lex,” Clarke whines again, “why are you all pouty?”

 

Lexa shrugs hard, “I don’t know,” she mumbles.  But she does know, the weight of her secret presses hard in the pit of her stomach, fluttering weakly in her chest.  Best friends are supposed to tell each other everything, she doesn’t know why she can’t seem to tell Clarke this.

 

(Because everything could change, because Clarke could hate her, because she could ruin everything, because, because, because.)

 

Clarke is pressing closer to her again, and Lexa just wants her to stop.  When Clarke gets near her, she can’t seem to think, and Lexa really really needs to be able to think right now.

 

She doesn’t know how she got to this level of almost panic from the calm of her sleep just a few minutes ago.  It is getting harder to breathe and Clarke is trying to meet her eyes and the whole thing is too much. 

 

Lexa doesn’t mean to say it, but the burden of keeping it contained inside of her chest is choking her. 

 

“I’m gay,” she says to the heady static of the empty room. 

 

“I’m gay,” she says to the plaster wall of the Griffin’s basement.

 

“I’m gay,” she says to her best friend who is sitting beside her on the plush of the tan couch.

 

“I’m gay,” she says and Lexa thinks that she just might cave in at the empty hollow that is left behind with the release of the words. 

 

She closes her eyes tightly, unable to look at Clarke’s reaction.  Unable to do anything but regret the escape of the words that she has carried for what feels like an eternity. 

 

The first thing she hears is silence and then the whisper of Clarke moving against the couch.  She wonders if the Griffin’s will want to kick her out now or if they will wait until morning. 

 

But then cool fingers are touching her cheek and there is Clarke’s voice, the warm rasp of it, humming softly as she strokes over Lexa’s cheekbone. 

 

“Oh, Lexa,” Clarke says, a little bit broken at the way Lexa flinches away from her, “Oh, Lex.  Open your eyes.” 

 

Lexa does, slowly, finding Clarke’s eyes close to hers, blue and wondering and so so loving. Clarke’s fingers continue to stroke at her cheek and she hums out another little noise.

 

“Thank you for telling me, Lexa,” Clarke says, leaning in and kissing the tip of Lexa’s nose, “I am so so glad you did.”

 

They watch each other for a few seconds more, Lexa’s eyes heavy now, tired and spent from the press of those two words.  Clarke is blinking slowly too.  The room is dark and Lexa can’t remember if breathing ever felt this good before. 

 

Clarke wraps Lexa up in her arms, pulling her back on top of her as she lies down, nuzzling into the soft fabric of the couch, stroking back up under Lexa’s t-shirt.

 

“Goodnight, Lex,” she murmurs softly. 

 

Lexa says nothing in return, just closes her eyes and sleeps, heavy and undisturbed, not waking until Jake calls them upstairs for pancakes in the morning.

 

*

 

Jake drops Clarke and Lexa off at the stoop with instructions to “be good” and “not have too much fun.”

 

Clarke just rolls her eyes but Lexa turns from where they clambered out of the backseat, ignoring Clarke who is tugging on her arm and throwing glances up at the towering house impatiently.

 

“Thank you, sir,” Lexa says quietly. 

 

Jake just smiles and ducks his head to meet her eyes, “Just keep my girl out of trouble, Lexa-rexa,” he says, prompting a small smile from Lexa and another eye roll from Clarke. 

 

“Okay dad,” Clarke groans, dragging Lexa a few steps closer to the porch, “if I shoot up I’ll be sure to make sure the needles are properly sterilized.”

 

Jake tries to yell something after them but Clarke is already pushing into the house, Lexa gifts him with a wave before disappearing inside the doorway as well.  The foyer is huge, the ceiling arched high with clear windows that reveal acres of unlived on land beyond the roll of a pristine yard. 

 

It’s Lexa’s turn to roll her eyes, and her face drops into a glare as she continues to survey the house.  Clarke stops before they reach the door to the basement and turns to face Lexa, gripping her shoulders and nudging in close.

 

“I know that you don’t like Wells,” Clarke says, rubbing at Lexa’s arms, “but I promise this will be fun.  His dad isn’t home and everyone is going to be here.” Lexa face softens slightly and Clarke reaches out to tug at a strand of Lexa’s hair, “It’s only one night, Lex, okay? And we are in high school now, there are gonna be lots of boys here,” Clarke ducks in closer to Lexa, dragging a finger down the bridge of her nose, “and girls, too.”

 

Lexa’s ears blush red at the tips and Clarke grins, intertwining their fingers and tugging her into the bright, loud of the basement. 

 

*

 

So Lexa might be having a little bit of fun.  The party has thinned out some, most of the kid’s parents picked them up before too late, leaving only about fifteen of them in the cavern of the basement.  Wells scrounged up some fancy bottles of wine from his dad’s wine cellar and they drank it straight from the bottle, mouths wrapped around the glass lip of the bottle, trying not to wince at the unfamiliar heady taste of the drink. 

 

Few of them have really drunk much alcohol before and they are probably acting more intoxicated then they actually are.  Lexa’s head is spinning pleasantly and she listens to Nathan talk with interest, liking the play of his words as he tells his story.  Clarke left her side an hour or so ago, last Lexa saw her she had her arm curved over Maya’s shoulders, watching Monty set up the music with interest. 

 

Fox is sprawled by Lexa’s feet and she keeps urging Lexa’s hands into her hair.  “Feels nice,” she had slurred at some point during Nathan’s story and Lexa had rolled her eyes but complied to Fox’s demand, sifting her long hair through her fingers absentmindedly as she sinks deeper into the couch. 

 

Harper approaches with a loud grin and a fistful of doritos from the snack table.  She plops on Nathan’s lap, smearing dorito dust on the shoulder of his shirt.  He doesn’t seem to mind, just wraps an arm around her waist, leaning in a little closer to Lexa as he does. 

 

*

 

Clarke isn’t one hundred percent sure how she got here.  One second she had been teasing Monty in the corner, looking to find his smile that she hadn’t seen all night, and the next she was sitting in a loose circle with everyone else.  A bottle resting in the middle, all fifteen of them attempting to look completely put out by such a trivial game but largely failing as everyone casts around excited glances.

 

So yeah, spin the bottle is childish and cliché and kind of stupid but it also promises a great deal of amusement.  Clarke glances around the circle, finding Lexa across from her.  She is deep in conversation with Atom, and Clarke thinks the word ‘kissing’ and ‘Lexa’ in the same sentence and her stomach lurches in that familiar way.

 

She ignores it like she always does, looking away quickly when those pretty green eyes glance up to catch at hers. 

 

There is an awkward beat of silence once everyone is seated, Monty shifts uncomfortably next to Clarke and Wells opens his mouth to say something when Octavia cuts him off.

 

“Okay, since no one else is going to, I’ll start.”  She grips the body of the bottle and looks around the circle with a grin, “We all know everyone here would be down for kissing me, anyway.”

 

Everyone laughs and relaxes, and Clarke wonders at Octavia’s ability to put people at ease.  Even Lexa, who rarely allows herself to relax in front of anyone but Clarke, is leaning back on her forearms, watching Octavia with interest.

 

Clarke glances at Octavia and then back at Lexa.  She wonders if Lexa thinks that Octavia is pretty.  She shakes her head quickly because of course she does, Octavia is kind of breathtaking.  But still, she feels a flash of heat at the thought and swallows it down as Octavia spins.

 

The bottle lands on Sterling and Monroe guffaws loudly, shoving at his shoulder as his face pinks and he shrinks back.  Octavia grins, crawling across the circle and grabbing his face between her hands.  She kisses him soundly but briefly, releasing him with a smack and patting his heated face with her hand.  “Your turn, S,” she says, still smiling, “if you have recovered.”

 

He swats at her good naturedly and spins, watching the rotating bottle with hopeful eyes.  It lands on Monroe and a swell of cheering rises from the group, paired with laughter at the affronted expression on Monroe’s face.  Sterling watches her, slightly awed, and shrugs.  She heaves out a dramatic sight but lets him kiss her, slightly longer then the first kiss, both of their hands clenched at their sides.  Everyone is still laughing when Monroe spins, landing on John who in turn lands on Octavia. 

 

Octavia’s look of disgust makes Clarke groan in sympathy, catching Lexa’s eyes again across the circle.  She is smirking at Octavia and the awkwardness that is their kiss, and she pulls a subtle face at Clarke that makes her laugh.  Clarke’s laugh dies in her throat when Octavia lands on Lexa.  A quirk in Lexa’s eyebrows in the only real indication of her surprise but Clarke, who is well versed in all of Lexa’s subtle language, catches her swallowing hard before she moves toward Octavia.

 

Octavia, for whatever reason, casts a worried glance at Clarke before scooting closer across the rug.  They start to lean toward each other, slower then the other pairs, Octavia’s hand finding its way to Lexa’s thigh as their eyes drift shut.

 

(Clarke thinks she might be about to hyperventilate but that is irrelevant because-)

 

Octavia and Lexa are kissing, Lexa pressing in close, mouth opening just slightly to close over Octavia’s bottom lip.  Octavia lets out this small noise of surprise that hums from the back of her throat and nods into the press of Lexa’s mouth.  They don’t break apart until the circle starts “ooohing,” Finn grinning as he leans over to whisper something to Wells. 

 

(Clarke would chastise them if she wasn’t dealing with the way that Octavia brushes back her hair, breathless, and Lexa’s quiet smirk.)

 

Monty nudges Clarke and she turns to him, still slightly dazed.  “You okay there because—” he starts, stopping halfway through his sentence, looking at something behind Clarke with parted lips. She turns to look and sees the wine bottle, pointing at her, and Lexa’s hand still hovering over the body of it. 

 

Lexa’s eyes are wide and she lets out a short panicked noise, “I umm—it looks like I—”

 

“You have to kiss Clarke!” Octavia crows, shoving at Lexa from behind, sending her falling forward across the circle.  Everyone is tittering again and Clarke is pretty sure that Lexa is going to vomit.  Her stomach clenches and she feels an irrational burst of anger in the quick of her.  She just doesn’t understand, Lexa seemed perfectly fine to kiss Octavia, why doesn’t she want to kiss Clarke? They are best friends, right?

 

(And best friends tell each other everything.)

 

(Clarke thinks she might be breaking that rule.)

 

Monty shoves her forward as well, until she and Lexa face each other in the center of the circle. 

 

“Okay,” Clarke breathes.

 

“Okay,” Lexa says in return and she is leaning in.  Clarke closes her eyes and thinks of waking up in bed next to Lexa almost every Sunday.  Thinks of the way she pushes close to Lexa in those early morning hours, how they breathe the same air and shiver against the warmth of one another.  Lexa puts her hand on Clarke’s waist and Clarke tells herself that this is no different. 

 

Their lips touch and Lexa’s mouth is surprisingly soft against hers, mouth closed as she nudges against the bow of Clarke’s top lip.  Lexa tastes sweet, like wine, and Clarke moves her hand to press right above Lexa’s heart, to feel the thrum of Lexa’s pulse against her palm. 

 

Lexa jars away at that, their lips separating with a soft smack.  They stare at each other, suspended and frozen, before Clarke smiles. The smile feels slightly forced against her mouth but when Lexa smiles back it is so worth it, to find that deep swell in Lexa’s eyes that Clarke thinks might just exist for her. 

 

They resume their seats after the obligatory hushed laughter from the group and Jasper leans over to her. 

 

“Must be weird to kiss your best friend,” he says, smiling his loose, full cheeked smile, “like if I kissed Monty.”

 

Monty grins at him and shakes his head, “Not on your life, Jas,” he says.

 

Jasper’s smile drops, “Monty,” he whines, “I would rock your world.”

 

Their argument is cuts short when Wells pushes Clarke’s shoulder, “Your spin, Clarke,” he says. 

 

John snorts, “He’s hoping it lands on him.”

 

Both Clarke and Wells snap a chorus of “shut up, Murphy,” before Clarke spins the bottle. 

 

(Clarke catches Lexa looking at Wells with narrowed eyes and Clarke feels like she is forgetting something really important.)

 

So the bottle lands on Lexa. 

 

Octavia laughs so hard that she falls sidewise onto Maya who pulls her into a hug, smiling as well at the stricken look on Clarke and Lexa’s face.  Wells groans and Finn nods appreciatively. Clarke ignores them all, even Jasper’s whisper of “this could be us” to Monty. 

 

She sets her shoulders and rises to her knees, shuffling across the circle.  She is not going to let her friends get the last laugh on this one, and the only way to do that is to approach this with gross amounts of confidence. 

 

She finds herself on her knees above Lexa who is still cross-legged.  Lexa looks up at her and Clarke smiles and quirks her eyebrows.

 

“Are you glad you came?” she asks quietly.  Lexa laughs this soft, breathy thing and rises to her knees as well.

 

“It sure beats another night of Monopoly,” she says.

 

Clarke scrunches up her face in a pout, “But you love Monopoly,” she starts, unable to say more because Lexa kisses her jutting bottom lip lightly before moving to fit her mouth against Clarke’s soundly, taking advantage of their kneeling position to wrap her arms around Clarke’s neck. 

 

They pull apart after a few seconds, but Lexa keeps her arms around Clarke, tugging her so they fall back into a pile on the floor, laughing.  Clarke smoothes a kiss on Lexa’s cheek before returning to her spot, ignoring Monty’s curious glance. 

 

(Clarke wonders why everyone doesn’t just kiss their best friends all the time, especially when they taste really nice and have such pretty, quiet smiles.)

 

(Hypothetically or whatever.)

 

*

 

Lexa thinks that this game is completely stupid. 

 

 

It’s the kind of stupid that let Lexa’s put her tongue in Octavia Blake’s mouth so she probably shouldn’t complain. 

 

It’s also the kind of stupid that let Lexa kiss Clarke’s curved upper lip, that let her taste that sheen of lip gloss and feel the give of Clarke’s body against her own. 

 

It’s the kind of stupid that let Lexa wipe that smarmy smirk off of Wells Jaha’s face. 

 

Which could be worse. 

 

Lexa’s head is still buzzing from the wine and she can feel her eyes slowly drifting shut.  She leans back on her hands, lolling her head to look at the ceiling, absentminded and dazed.  A loud swell of noise from her friends makes her look up and Lexa sees Clarke staring down at the bottle with disbelief written on her face.

 

The first thing Lexa realizes is that she must have just missed seeing Clarke kiss someone, which might be a good thing because it simultaneously makes her lightheaded and a little bloodthirsty.

 

(It’s just that Mr. Griffin told Lexa to take care of Clarke, okay? And she isn’t exactly doing her job if Finn Collins is sticking his tongue down Clarke’s throat.)

 

The second thing that Lexa realizes is that the bottle is pointed at her. 

 

Again.  

 

“Oh,” she breathes out quietly, locking eyes with Clarke.  It’s Octavia who breaks through their friend’s jeers.

 

“Well, you know the rules,” she says cheerfully, hopping to her feet and dragging both Clarke and Lexa with her.  “Third times the charm, you are both banished to Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

 

“Are you kidding?” Clarke yelps, wrenching free from Octavia’s grip, “that is not a rule.”

 

Jasper nods wisely, “It’s kinda a rule,” he says.

 

Monty nods as well, “The fates have spoken,” he chimes in. 

 

“Have fun in there,” Monroe calls, setting off another chorus of laughter from the group. 

 

Lexa ignores how sweaty her hands are and just shrugs, reaching out to tug lightly at Clarke’s shirt.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” she mutters, “Let’s just do it.”

 

Clarke’s cheeks pink and Lexa moves to tease her but is shoved roughly into a small closet next to the pool table. 

 

“See you in seven minutes,” Octavia says cheerily before sealing them in the almost dark of the closet. 

 

Clarke and Lexa stand awkwardly for a second before sinking to the floor, propped next to each other, backs against the door. 

 

“We can just sit it out,” Clarke says.

 

“Obviously,” Lexa snaps quickly, harsher then she intends to.  She sees Clarke turn her face away from her but it’s too dark to get a good read on her expression.  “I mean,” Lexa continues, “you’re my best friend, so kissing you is kind of weird.”

 

She is lying.  Oh God, she is lying.  But she just came out to Clarke and luckily things didn’t get weird.  So the last thing she needs is for her to make things weird now, for Clarke to find out that Lexa likes her.

 

A little bit.

 

A lot.

 

A little bit a lot more then she is supposed to. 

 

Clarke would be grossed out she is sure and this, what they have, what they are, is more important then any little crush on Lexa’s part.

 

They sit in silence for the next seven minutes, but Lexa takes Clarke’s hand and Clarke grips her fingers tightly. 

 

Yeah, Lexa can’t mess this up. 

 

*

 

After everyone else falls asleep, they sneak out into Wells’ backyard.  They lie in the cool grass, supplicated and shivering, and look at the stars.  Clarke turns and noses into Lexa’s neck, making her giggle. Clarke kisses the soft skin of her jaw just once before running her thumb over Lexa’s lips, looking at her in that careful, curious way she does.

 

“I like the way you feel,” she whispers. 

 

Lexa nods, heart high in her chest, breaking, shattering, quaking with every shuddering breath she takes. 

 

Clarke ducks down to kiss at her jaw again, lips warm against the curve of Lexa’s skin.  Lexa’s mouth falls open at the feel and she gasps into the dark, swallowing the chill of the wind and so many stars.

 

Clarke kisses Lexa’s open mouth, surging and quick, like she is being moved by something out of her control.  She laps, warm and wet, into the heat of Lexa’s mouth.  They both keep their eyes closed but Lexa can see the immense press of the sky anyway. Her chest echoes with swallowed starlight and Clarke’s back arches under the press of Lexa’s fingertips. 

 

They fall asleep in the grass and wake up in the morning, heads aching and dew covered. 

 

(Neither mentions the kiss and by the time the day ends they both assume the other has forgotten.)