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LIFETIMES

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(Lexa’s POV)

Lexa can hear it – the whispers of her own people.

Indra is practically growling her thoughts but Anya just walked beside her quietly all night. Which is how she knows none of them approve of the scene from the balcony. She knows it’s rude to leave the party early although she really wants to. It was quite the torture to be making small talk with people who she knows are only looking to get on her good side with the hopes of maybe getting a favour from her.

The worst of it was avoiding Clarke for the rest of the night.

She watched from the corner of her eye when Clarke and the Chancellor finally re-joined the party. The press definitely noticed. They wouldn’t leave Clarke all night, not even bothering to be subtle about the fact that they were shadowing her.

Anya had whispered that Clarke and Octavia left the party about fifteen minutes before it was officially over. She ignored the information but said about five minutes later that she was ready to turn in for the night as well. Anya gestured at Indra who couldn’t have left the room quicker if she tried.

Lexa approached the Chancellor, bid her good night quietly, thanked her sincerely and left with much less fanfare than when she arrived. Anya walked with her without uttering a word, Gus behind her, stiffer than ever and when they finally reached the guest wing, Indra was already waiting, refusing to meet her eyes.

“Who wants to speak first?” she asked icily as soon as she dismissed the rest of her party.

The three of them stood in the small living room inside the presidential suite. The last time the three of them shared this kind of tensed silence, Anya was putting her inside a bulletproof vest after Indra had given a report about rebels breaching her tower’s first line of defenses.

Now, unsaid as it was, it wasn’t her security they were mulling over.

Anya smiled defeatedly.

Indra just stood in attention.

“Speak now or I will never want to hear whatever it is that is killing you both inside” Lexa said, through clenched teeth. “I will not have you whisper behind my back. Not while we’re here.”

“Did you have a good night, Commander?” Anya asked with a smirk.

“Nor will I have you taunting me” Lexa warned.

“I truly do want to know”

“If that is all that you have to ask, you can leave” Lexa said, her tone making it clear that staying wasn’t an option.

“Good night, Lexa” Anya bid, bowing to her slightly. “Please get some rest”

Lexa then eyed Indra when the doors closed behind Anya.

“Commander, may I have permission to speak freely?”

Lexa grunted her approval.

Indra relaxed faintly before finally looking at her. “Do you remember what I told you before we left for Arkadia?”

“That there are perils here I know not of? Were you talking about the Chancellor’s daughter, Indra?”

“No, Commander” Indra replied, her discomfort imminent by her simulated patient tone. “She is not a threat to you. I speak of those surrounding her. Of her people. This land is unsafe and there are eyes everywhere. Spies.”

“It’s been a long day, Indra. You would do me the courtesy of not being cryptic”

Indra sighed. She sometimes forgets how young of a commander Lexa is.

“The Chancellor’s daughter is not a threat to you, Commander. But going beyond the line of a casual friendship with her opens the both of you to threats your enemies will exploit. Continuing to dance too closely and they will have something to use against you”

Lexa considered Indra’s words. They weren’t unreasonable and she has thought about it. She just chose to make an exception tonight. She was sure no one would come barging in that balcony, that’s why she chose to wait until the whole ballroom was caught up in the festivities before asking Clarke to dance.

“The press?” she asked Indra after realizing that she didn’t have an argument.

“Will be dealt with whichever way the Chancellor sees fit” Indra supplied. “Public opinion is not my concern, Commander. War prevention is”

“Thank you, Indra” Lexa said sincerely despite the deep-seated superiority coloring her words. “You haven’t let me down so far.”

“Have a good rest, Commander” Indra said, bowing like Anya did.

“Wait”

“Yes?”

“What did you tell Clarke?”

Lexa could see a million thoughts running through Indra’s mind. She could tell her most favoured general was choosing among the possible answers which confirmed in her own mind that there was something brewing she didn’t know about. Indra indeed harbour some less-than friendly feelings for Clarke.

“I told her not to lose your gift, Commander.”

“I heard that part. What did you say before that?”

Lexa watched her more closely, hoping that Indra would just come clean tonight.

“Nothing of consequence, Commander. She was just wondering why you seemed familiar”

“I see” Lexa replied, hiding her surprise. She knows there is a familiarity between the two of them but it is odd that Clarke would ask Indra about it.

A question for another day.

“Have a good rest, General”

“And you, Commander.”

Finally left alone with nothing but her thoughts, Lexa quickly changed out of her gown and into the sweat pants and tank top laid out on her bed. There was a folder right next to it which contained summarized details on tomorrow’s activities. In her other visits to other nations, she would stay up reading everything just to be sure that nothing would surprise her.

A little too late for that.

She was surprised the minute she laid eyes on Clarke.

And tonight was the most pleasant surprise of all. Granted, tomorrow might make her pay for it but deep inside her she has already decided that tonight’s events was a debt she would gladly make and repay over and over again.

If she was going to lose sleep tonight, her hours will not be spent planning for a routine barracks inspection. She would much rather relive every heartbeat shared with this girl who holds the sky in her eyes. This girl who has giggles that could rival the most melodic of songs and put to shame the grandest of classical pieces. She scolded herself as she thought of how she was describing Clarke’s laugh when a few hours ago, she could not even make sense of why the girl in her arms was chuckling all throughout a dance she had spent hours planning in her head to be perfect.

Maybe Indra was right. Maybe letting her guard down was a mistake.

She is the Commander of Blood.

She didn’t go to Arkadia just to find herself enamoured and completely entranced by some girl enough to forget her boundaries but less than 24 hours since her arrival and she may have gotten herself into an international crisis. Although Anya dropped the term “scandal” instead of crisis. Lexa doesn’t think of Clarke as either. She doesn’t even understand why this is such a big deal. They were dancing. You would think that such an act would strengthen international relations, not shatter them.

Not that that’s the reason she asked Clarke to dance. No. Absolutely not. There was no agenda behind it.

And if she must, she will lose sleep over replaying every turn and every heartbeat of their dance. She will spend the entire night awake to memorize the details of this memory. And she will not regret a second of it.

Except that the third knock at her door a mere two hours after she finally fell asleep woke her up and made her curse under her breath. She was lost in dreams she never had before. Dreams she never thought possible.

Dreams of herself dancing with Clarke in that balcony before both finally giving in to their desires. She kissed Clarke first – gently, carefully, like she would break if she didn’t exercise caution. Then Clarke kissed her back as if her lips were a memorized canvass. She knew this would be their first kiss, only it wasn’t.

Not at all.

Clarke knew every corner of her lips and her tongue was at home inside her mouth. And she felt it too – the certainty of where Clarke’s lips would be, where her nose would be, where the nook of her neck would angle even if her eyes were closed. She was trying to chase that feeling – of knowing this dance, this kiss, this body. She wanted to know where it was coming from. How can she be sure? How can this feel like the millionth time they have done this and still be full of wonder as only a first would feel like.

She was grasping for that feeling when suddenly it wasn’t an intangible concept she was grasping, but Clarke’s body, all tangled up in hers. On a bed she has never seen before but knows. On sheets she has never slept in but brought her sanctuary. Clarke was slightly sitting on top of her with a smile, the faint glow of the sunrise threatening to enter this room which she can recall from somewhere. She stared at Clarke’s figure, almost a silhouette in the dark.

This dream, this imagination felt like an accurate image of something she had never laid her eyes on. Of something she didn’t even dare imagine before. She met Clarke’s lips halfway and a delightful laugh escaped her own before they both escaped under the sheets.

This cannot be a dream.

It was real. She can feel it. She can feel her.

She can hold her.

She can touch her.

She is being touched by her.

This should be real.

But that third knock came too harshly and too quickly to be anything other than a disturbance. A wake-up call. One designed to bring her back to what is truly real.

She cursed once more.

If she knew what kind of dream she would be having, she would have willed herself to sleep earlier. She cursed under her breath again when she realized the rest of her body probably enjoyed the dream a little too much too. She had to calm her heart down, wipe off the traces of sweat from her forehead and neck then maybe just ignore the fact that those aren’t the only parts of her she should be wiping off.

“I’m awake!” she yelled at the door, reaching for her robe. She put it on before letting in an already dressed and ready-to-go Anya.

“You slept in” Anya said, a little too perkily for her Lexa’s taste. “That’s new.”

“Am I late?” Lexa asked, straining to find a clock in the room. There was none. “What time is it?”

“It’s 6:45 and no you are not late. It’s just that you always used to beat the sun in rising” Anya replied, studying her from head to toe. “How many hours?”

“Two, maybe” Lexa said, massaging her head. “What is it you were banging on my door about then?”

Anya grinned, “Breakfast is ready in the dining room. Should I have them send yours up here?”

“No. I’ll get ready and come join you”

When Anya left, Lexa hurriedly got in the shower and washed off whatever traces of her dream she had on her. She can’t believe if Anya didn’t wake her up, she would have ran late to her own visit. And she hated being late at anything. She punished soldiers for being half a minute late.

Then again, her dream was worth it.

When she came out of the shower, someone had laid out her full combat uniform on her bed. It calmed her down. She would much rather wear camouflage and battle gear than a full dress uniform or a gown. She would much rather fight in the war zones than behind closed doors or headquarters. After all that has happened so far, it was a welcome sight for her to be reminded of why she was there.

She was already tying the laces of her combat boots when she heard her door open.

“I thought I told you I will have your head the next time you walk in my room without knocking?!” she growled, reaching for a 5-inched combat tactical knife strapped onto her ankles.

Lexa looked up and was about to throw the knife she just unlatched at who she thought was Anya when she found Clarke standing there with a mixture of horror and confused look on her face. She was dressed casually, like when they first met – fitted slacks, a button down, and another unbelievably preppy navy blazer.

“Please don’t kill me” she said in a small voice.

Lexa was about to apologize – not something she was used to – when she saw that Clarke was slightly shaking. At first she thought it was nerves then she realized her intruder was holding back laughter.

“You’re laughing” she hissed.

“I’m trying not to. I laugh when I’m nervous”

Lexa glared.

“I laugh at death threats too” Clarke continued to tease.

“I thought you were Anya” Lexa muttered, returning the knife back inside her boot. That was about the extent of her apology. “Did you need something?”

“You”

Lexa stopped trying her laces and snapped her head up at Clarke.

“I mean, I needed to talk to you before you head out for what I was told is a full day”

“Hmm. Who have you talked to already?”

Clarke grinned knowingly. Lexa just glared back her question.

“How’d you know I’ve already talked to anyone?”

“Gus didn’t stop you at the door and you said you were told I had a full day.”

“Right. Do you always have everything so organized in your head, Commander?”

Lexa resisted the urge to wink at her so instead she just smirked, “Not everything.”

Clarke turned away with a blush, a sight Lexa realized she was now used to. A sight she enjoyed very much.

“Good morning, Clarke” she said, her voice just above a whisper. She had moved closer and with what now seems like a signature move, with a step, she bridged the gap between them. “What can I do for you?”

Clarke took a step back and Lexa realized that they may be in completely different mind sets. Fighting off the urge to reach over and hold Clarke’s hand to assure her that what happened last night was not something she regretted, she decided it would be better for the both of them if she just stand her ground and give this girl all the space that she needs.

“I came here to apologize” Clarke started. She met Lexa’s eyes when another silence threatened the room. “For last night – if that dance caused you any problems, I wanted to apologize in person.”

Lexa kept her face stoic but her eyes were sharper than the razor strapped to her ankle. She wondered if the Chancellor made Clarke go to her to personally apologize or if this was entirely Clarke’s idea.

“I realize that it might have brought about some issues with your team and it was completely out of line for me to have—“

“I asked for the dance” Lexa cut her off, half because she didn’t want to hear the rest of the apology and half because she wanted to see how Clarke would react.

Clarke smiled smugly, “Technically you didn’t ask.”

“More reason to keep your apologies to yourself. Is that all?”

Clarke shook her head. “I just need you to understand that I wasn’t thinking right and I should have been more careful and considered the consequences it would have on you.”

“And what consequences might those be?”

Clarke raised her arms up in the air and let them fall back down to her sides in a gesture of defeat. “I don’t know. Didn’t you get in trouble?”

Lexa smirked as she realized the Chancellor didn’t send Clark to apologize to her. She was here because she worried for her. She worried she had gotten into problems simply because they danced last night. It was probably wrong of her seeing the distress Clarke was in as she started slowly pacing in the room, but it brought her a sense of warmth. Like flowing river of relief that someone she thought of and dreamed of last night made the effort to come and see her out of concern and not out of duty. This brought her satisfaction. And courage.

And…knots in her stomach.

“Clarke” she said softly. The knots in her stomach tighten whenever that name sings through her tongue. “Are you here because you worry I might have had a scolding after dancing with the most beautiful girl at last night’s party?”

Clarke blushed again. “Yes?”

“And who would scold me?” Lexa quizzed.

“Well… You have people around you. You’re almost never alone. They’re protective. And you’re a walking rule so who knows?” Clarke blabbered to no one in the room in particular, making Lexa smirk some more.

“But who would admonish me? Indra? Anya? Don’t tell me Gustus.”

Clarke stopped pacing to look at her. Lexa kept an effortlessly unamused face. She watched patiently as Clarke’s stare came from bothered to understanding to fierce to stumped.

“I came all the way here to apologize for nothing?

Lexa nodded.

“I spent last night tossing and turning and worrying about you when there was nothing to worry about?”

Lexa nodded again.

“I barged in here for no reason.”

“If it is any consolation, I did not get much sleep last night too.”

Clarke looked alarmed. “Are your accommodations—“

“My thoughts were just occupied,” Lexa cut her off again.

“Ah”

Lexa watched as Clarke directed her gaze at the paintings on the wall, much like the last time they were in the room together. Her discomfort seems to fade whenever she gazes at art, like the beauty of the unreal makes her more at peace with the reality of her surroundings.

It was a movie Lexa could spend all day watching. And she didn’t even like movies. She didn’t like fantasy or fictional characters. They are pointless to her. They always tend to make you imagine something better than the harshness of the world only to let you down in the end. They never stick. They never last. They’re never real. She always finds herself wanting for the film to move faster and just end her suffering.

But watching Clarke get so immersed in a beautiful world was a movie she prayed would never end. She wanted to stand next to her and see what she was seeing but the step back and away from her earlier was still fresh in her mind.

Unless it was war, she will not go where she was not wanted.

“Do you have any free time at all today?” Clarke asked her in a failed uninterested voice.

“Late afternoon, or early evening”

Clarke turned to her with a beam, “Excellent. Is it at all possible to meet with you then? Just you and me?”

Lexa thought about it. She was sure the free hour in her schedule was supposed to be spent getting ready to go out with Clarke’s friends. She already knew she would need every possible second to prepare. Unless tonight was not going to happen.

“Are you uninviting me from tonight?”

“What?” Clarke frowned at her. “No! Did you want me to uninvite you?”

“Of course not. What is the meeting for?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Lexa stared at her, trying not to grimace at the thought of something she would have no chance to prepare for. How does she tell this girl that on a long list of things she hates, surprises are somewhere in the top three? Also, her security team just might hate Clarke more when they hear about it.

“Okay” she replied after deciding against the voices in her head.

“That’s it? You don’t have to consult with anyone?”

Lexa smirked at her again. “And say what?”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “You can stop being cocky, you know. You can just say it flat out that you don’t answer to anyone and you make your own rules and you’re basically the boss of everything.”

Lexa sighed heavily, knowing that everything Clarke said was true. Mostly true. She finally willed her legs to stand next to Clarke and stare up at the painting she was surveying earlier. It was an abstract of a mother and a child. It was distorted in every possible way but Lexa could see it – a mother cradling a baby with protective authority. She wanted to reach for Clarke’s hand, half because she liked holding her and half because she felt like she needed some sort of human support.

She didn’t. She couldn’t.

Not knowing what to do with the hands that now craved for affection and not weapons, she placed them behind her and waited for Clarke to look at her and ask her why she was quiet again.

“What?” Clarke predictably asked her with an inquiring glower.

“Not everything”

Clarke raised an eyebrow at her.

“I’m not the boss of everything” Lexa explained. “And I answer to the needs of my people.”

“Oh.”

Lexa wanted to add more but knew better than to rattle Clarke. Her next words would put a distance between them she was sure she wasn’t ready for.

“Is there anything else?”

Clarke shook her head as she took an unconscious step away from Lexa again. It was an insignificant distance when you gauge it but Lexa still felt it. It was impossible to miss.

“I am to have breakfast with Anya. Join us.”

“I can’t. My mom is expecting me. We usually eat together”

Lexa nodded and exited the room quickly. She was slightly surprised when Clarke didn’t follow her. She was halfway to the guest wing’s dining room when she heard hurried footsteps trailing her and Gus. Clarke was panting by the time she caught up to them. And in a show of unawareness to her culture and protocol, bypassed Gustus and the unspoken rule of walking a step behind the Commander unless given the permission to walk beside her.

Lexa regarded her with a look but she completely didn’t get it.

Why bother at this point?

“Yes?”

“You just left” Clarke said, in between breaths.

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know we were done with the conversation.”

Lexa stopped walking, so did Gus but Clarke kept walking and talking until she realized she was about five big steps away from Lexa. She turned back at her with an annoyed look.

“What is wrong with you now?”

“I was comparing” Lexa said, her voice gentle but colored with a realization strong enough to knock them both to the ground. She walked slowly to where Clarke was and regarded her with another look – this time mildly affectionate and meekly amused at the irritation escaping Clarke’s face.

“Comparing what?!”

Gus grunted from behind them, clearly displeased with the level of disrespect he feels was being given to the Commander. It was unheard of and if this was any other person or if they were back in Polis, someone would either have been thrown to jail or hanged by now.

Lexa ignored him and Clarke didn’t even hear him. She was too busy being annoyed at Lexa.

“Comparing the difference between leaving you and watching you leave” Lexa said.

“Well, that’s just—“ Clarke started indignantly before the sentiment of the statement dawned on her. “You were doing what?”

Lexa smiled at her, the same way she did the night before when they were dancing. She started walking in a slower pace and smiled some more when Clarke walked  beside her.

“So…which one did you prefer? Of the leaving and the watching, I mean”

They were just outside the dining room and they could both hear arguments and discussions being made from inside. She dropped her voice when she asked and Lexa could tell that the anxiety she felt from her earlier had crept back. Too bad this part of the guest wing had no paintings to calm her down. Again, she had to stop herself from reaching for Clarke’s hand.

At this rate, she would be tired before the day even began.

“Neither” Lexa replied.

“Why’d you compare then?”

“You presented the options” Lexa said with finality. “Thank you for walking me to breakfast.”

“Sure.”

Lexa walked towards the door being held open for her by Gus and Clarke was going to head to her own breakfast date when she heard her name from a voice inside the dining room. She turned and found Lexa standing by the doorway, practically frozen on the spot. She didn’t look at all scared or disturbed with what was inside so she checked it out as well.

“Mom?” Clarke exclaimed as soon as she saw her mother squaring off with Indra.

Lexa glared her warning at Indra and relaxed only when Indra allowed Abby to pass by. She then stole a glance at Clarke, concerned that their morning had indeed taken a turn for the worst. She was going to say something reassuring but Abby already started talking.

“Commander, I came to apologize for last night” the Chancellor said. “I have sent word to the associated press to keep their distance from you and your visits and to keep everything strictly focused on official events.”

“Thank you, Chancellor” Lexa acknowledged. She stole another glance at Clarke whose unease at the situation was becoming more evident. “For the record, I asked your daughter to dance.”

“What?”

“For the record, you didn’t ask” Clarke muttered, making Lexa smile fondly at her.

Something everyone in the thankfully missed as all their attention was on Clarke.

“I appreciate the gesture, Chancellor and I look forward to our meeting this afternoon”

Even The Chancellor can tell if she was being dismissed. She extended a hand and Lexa shook it firmly.

“I would appreciate keeping things in perspective.” Lexa reiterated her point before letting go of Abby’s hand.

“Of course, Commander” Abby replied, less than convincingly. “Good luck on the barracks visit. I hope the progress of the army you sent us will please you.”

Lexa gave a curt nod and walked towards her empty seat in the breakfast table. When she noticed in the room has moved she exhaled sharply. “Shall we go on about with our day or would you like to rehash your discussions earlier?”

Clarke snorted. “Have a good day, Lexa.”

“And you, Clarke”

Abby followed her daughter out of the room and Anya and Indra took their places on either side of Lexa. They waited for her to start eating and followed suit quietly. It was Anya who broke the silence frist.

“What did the Chancellor’s daughter want, Commander?” she asked, pouring Lexa some coffee.

“To walk me to breakfast”

Anya chuckled when the answer brought a scowl to Indra’s face.

“Girl has big dreams” Anya joked.

Lexa ignored the comment and directed her attention at Indra. “What is it that Clarke is too young to know and I’m too unprepared to find out?”

Anya choked on her juice and Indra stopped chewing her toast.

“Did you think I didn’t hear?” Lexa tested. “Are we to begin this morning with a lie?”

“No, Commander” Indra said, her mind already running a million scenarios. Again.

“Then try not to lie to me again” Lexa warned.

She ate the fruits on her plate silently, allowing Indra to come up with anything other than the truth. She knows from experience that if something was being hid from her, it was for her own good. She just hated the fact that Clarke was now involved in the messy business of her trade. Her life. Not only that, she hated being sure that The Chancellor was in on a secret she wasn’t. The leader of a foreign nation knows something about her that she doesn’t.

If they were to talk of an international crisis or scandal, they need not look further. This whole breakfast was going down faster than an industrial country’s economy.

“It is about the bomb, Commander”

Lexa smirked inwardly. Indra knows her lies.

“What about it?”

“It’s ready”

Lexa looked up at her. Was it a lie?

“Ready?”

Indra nodded before throwing a glance at Anya.

“Commander, they didn’t want us to know that it is but now that we do The Chancellor wanted us to be clear to you about it” Anya supplied. “It has been ready for a while. Before Clarke’s father died, he was supposed to visit Polis and report to us about it.”

“Yet the new Chancellor has changed her mind?”

“It would appear so”

Lexa set her fork down and regarded one woman back and forth. “And Clarke is too young to know about a nuclear bomb her father created for us?”

Indra gulped. “Yes.”

“And I am unprepared to find out that the purpose of our visit is in jeopardy?”

“Yes, Commander.”

Lexa nodded then took a sip from her coffee. “Tell me something, you two. What is more nuclear? What could destroy me faster and more efficiently? A bomb designed to stop what lies beyond the Cold Mountains from killing every man, woman and child in Arkadia? Or lies from my own people?”

“I wasn’t lying, Commander—“

“Yes you are!” Lexa raised her voice. It wasn’t even a yell. But she never speaks with violent force that anything above a whisper or a controlled and levelled speaking voice was enough to make the hairs at the back of both women’s neck stand.

“The bomb may be ready and the Chancellor may be withholding it from us but that is not what was going on here before I arrived. Now, you can either choose to tell me now or I will find out for myself and when I do, you best hope it is forgivable.”

The tension from her words could have set the room on fire.

“Commander—“ Anya started but just left the word hanging. She too didn’t know how to approach this seldom seen side of Lexa.

“Commander, please understand, this is a sensitive issue and we are not lying about it. She would not grant us access to the bomb. And she will not divulge why only that she wants you to know about this change of heart” Anya finally found her words.

She waited until Lexa processed the information.

“What of Clarke?”

“A nuclear bomb in the hands of a nation inexperienced at war and your concern is Clarke?” Indra asked.

“A pissed off Commander in your presence and you chose to speak out of turn?” Lexa snapped at her General. “Yes, she is a concern! Yes, I wonder what her role is in this pseudo-diplomacy tactics you employ! And yes, Indra, I still am of suspect to your less-than-subtle apprehension towards her!”

Indra composed herself as Lexa now visibly shook the table. Anger was a beautiful thing in the eyes of a military state. It wins wars.

But it also destroys people.

Lexa, at this very moment, is beautiful as she is destructive.

“I apologize, Commander. My concern is your safety. And our people’s well-being. Nothing more”

“What is her role in this argument, Indra? I will not ask again.”

Indra looked at Anya with an unspoken question. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with courage from the air when she received a look of confirmation.

“That would depend on you, Commander” she replied quietly. “I know you have your lessons and I know you know your history. The last Commander who—who had close relations with a foreigner nearly burned Polis to the ground.”

“Would this be the same Commander who fell prey to the enemy, Indra?”

“Yes.”

“She is not an enemy” Lexa stated with a certainty they only heard once before – the day she made her vows as Commander. “And do not think me to be stupid to put my personal feelings ahead of my people’s concerns.”

Indra nodded. “Agreed, Commander. But history is clear. When a Commander does not guide her heart, walls and regimes fall.”

“And unlike, Indra, Commander…my concern goes beyond the security of your person” Anya chimed it. “I do worry about affairs of our state…and the affairs of your heart.”

Lexa held up her hand to stop the two of them from talking.

“Are you meaning to tell me that you both had a yelling match with the Chancellor of Arkadia – after you have both rigorously reminded me to be a diplomat and not a warrior on this trip – simply because you feared I would get in bed with her daughter?”

Indra cleared her throat uncomfortably as an answer.

Anya smiled patiently at her, “I was merely cautioning you with who you trust, Commander. Who you choose to sleep with is out of my jurisdiction”

“Do you really think now is the best time to mock me?”

Anya shook her head.

“Now would be the best time to remind you, Commander that as much as we can control external factors in order to achieve all our goals here, we cannot, how ever much we hope to, control you. How Clarke plays into this visit is entirely up to you.”

Lexa understood what Anya was saying.  She also knew better than to pretend that there wasn’t anything going on with her and Clarke. They’ve been alone three times in the past 24 hours and she knows that this time was stolen. Coveted. An escape from the world they were both trying to keep alive. A refuge.

A sanctuary they found in each other.

Or maybe it was just her who feels that way.

She still couldn’t shake off the image of Clarke taking a step back from her.

“What did the Chancellor have to say about us?”

“She really was here to apologize. She is under the impression that her daughter was inappropriate with you” Anya replied, cautious but obviously amused. She didn’t think Lexa would refer to herself and Clarke as an ‘us.’

“It was a dance” Lexa snarled.

Anya shrugged. “Can we put this behind us, Commander?”

“Can we?”

Anya slumped in her seat. “Yes.”

They both turned to Indra who remained wordless. Lexa knew that it was not an issue Indra would put to rest anytime soon but the fact that there was no visible resistance was assurance that the matter will not be brought up again in the duration of their visit. She waved her hand and that was the end of that.

Lexa allowed the rest of the conversation to be handled by Anya who gave her a run down on the day’s schedule and they discussed probable concerns with each site they would visit. They reviewed the credentials of each person they would meet that day. Indra gave her a report on the state of the army they lent to Arkadia and it excited her to meet the men and women who have been away from Polis. She had quickly realized in her tenure as Commander that part of the job is to uplift the spirits of her warriors and to offer them a taste of home.

She had pushed all thoughts of Clarke to the back of her mind until she saw her towards the end of her inspection of the barracks, late that afternoon. She was there with Octavia and a soldier wearing Arkadian military colors.

“Bellamy” Anya whispered to her as they walked towards the hangar where tanks they have sent to Arkadia were stored. “Octavia’s brother. Nothing there.”

Lexa smiled to herself upon hearing the answer to a question she was never going to ask. She signalled for her delegation to stop where they were at. The soldier acting as her guide stood at attention and immediately the group silenced and looked around for what was causing the delay. She gave Anya a soft commanding glance riddled with a plea and as soon as Anya took the cue and carried on the group’s hanging conversation, Lexa stepped away from them, still closely followed by Gus.

“Commander” Octavia greeted her. “How is the tour so far?”

“Impressive” Lexa said genuinely meaning it even if she only had eyes for Clarke. “I did not know you would be here.”

“Octavia wanted to see her brother” Clarke explained.

Lexa eyed the tall soldier between Clarke and Octavia, gave a respectful but quick nod and didn’t say anything. She just stared at Clarke again, taking in the features she didn’t get a chance to relish that morning. She truly does enjoy just looking at her or hearing her speak, even if half the time she is unsure of what was being said. She debated whether she should pull Clarke aside now and tell her about the conversation she had with Indra and Anya but quickly decided against it. It would be foolish for her to do that.

“Tonight, then” was all she said and took her leave without saying anything else.

“I think you do have a preference!” Clarke called out to her.

Lexa knew what that meant but still feigned a look of innocence on her face when she faced her. She could tell Anya from afar was losing the attention of their group but at the moment, she was more interested in hearing the rest of what Clarke had to say.

“You clearly prefer leaving me!” Clarke called to her, refusing to just say it to her closer. Octavia was giggling while her brother looked confused next to them.

“You are sure of this?”

“Clearly!”

Lexa smirked through her eyes, an act intended only for Clarke. They traded glares playfully even though she maintained her stance, superior and awfully sure of herself. Clarke, meanwhile, was smiling with mischief. She doesn’t know how long they both stood there, a world apart it seems, but finally when she twitched an eyebrow up at Clarke, the message was clear.

This was a stand-off. She challenged Clarke’s theory.

It could have been a minute, or an hour, she had lost track of the number of heartbeats produced in her chest. Lexa just stood there, refusing to let go of the hold she has on Clarke’s eyes. She could hear Anya approaching her from behind and with those footsteps came the sound of a possible discord but once again, against her own judgment, she didn’t move.

Clarke finally looked away, biting her lower lip to stop to suppress a grin.

“We should be going now, Lexa. Enjoy the rest of your tour!” she called out before scurrying off with Octavia and Bellamy on her heels.

And Lexa realized that maybe Clarke was partly correct. Maybe she did prefer not to watch Clarke walk away and leave her.

The rest of the afternoon came about uneventfully although it was becoming evident to Lexa that the soldiers and the machinery they have sent to Arkadia are under-utilized. By the time they were returning to the Chancellor’s mansion to call it a day, she had voiced her concerns about the prospect of putting the soldiers to a test. They have not seen action since they were deployed in Arkadia and it alarms her that when the time comes that they will be needed, they could very well have forgotten their training.

“I will see what I can arrange with their Defense Secretary” Indra assured her. “You truly feel that the war beyond the mountains will reach Arkadia, Commander?”

Lexa looked out the window of the car. The city was peaceful. It painted of safe haven and bliss. The citizens of Arkadia could very well be spared by what act their enemies might have prepared for her but having seen and met people there only strengthened her resolve not to risk their lives.

“War is certain. I aim to make sure its effects are contained” she answered. “Even if the Chancellor does refused to give us our bomb, I would sleep much better knowing they at least know how to use it.”

“You really think it would come to that? The Arkadians wielding a nuclear weapon? Don’t you think you should at least negotiate the bomb’s turnover?” Anya asked from beside her.

“Who wields it will not matter so long as it is pointed towards a common enemy and away from friends. And loved ones”

“And so long as Clarke is safe” Anya finished her thought.

Lexa chose not to respond. She had to make a decision on whether she well tell Clarke about the bomb. She knows she’s against it. She knows her late father is a sore topic. And she knows she will look less of a Commander and more of a concerned girlfriend if she insisted on certain measures for her safety.

As soon as she arrived in her room, she threw herself on the bed. She reached for a pillow and allowed herself to take a nap maybe for five or ten minutes before she gets ready to meet up with Clarke but as soon as she nestled the side of her face, a jolt of nervous energy hit her. She scrambled off the bed and stared at the pillow.

Suddenly she was back in her dreams again – caressing Clarke, running her fingers down Clarke’s chest, kissing her in every surface where there was skin. Suddenly she was back in her dreams – laughter and giggles in between moments of heat and passion and pure sexual pleasure. Suddenly she was back in her dreams – sharing a bed, a pillow with Clarke and hardly any sheets to cover them both, they whispered to each other their plans and hopes and fears.

She grabbed the pillow and something about it just sends shivers all over her. It was the exact same pillow from her dreams. Was it a premonition or has she entirely lost control of her subconscious? Because you can’t be attached with a tug of familiarity to a dream that is yet to happen.

She wasn’t imagining it. She wasn’t even projecting.

She was…reliving.

A memory. A glimpse of the past.

History.

She shuddered at her own train of thoughts that she didn’t hear her door open and close. She caught the breathing behind her when her it was already too close to her and it was too late to reach for her knife. So instead, she spun around, elbow raised, hitting her intruder squarely in the jaw before grabbing their shoulders and pinning whoever it was on the bed.

“OW!” Clarke yelped in pain, reaching for her jaw.

Lexa stared at her in horror. “What are you doing?”

“ME?!” Clarke yelled at her. “You hit me!”

“I thought you were an assassin!”

Clarke stared at her as if she was the most ridiculous creature on the face of the planet.

Lexa loosened her grip on Clarke’s shoulder but conveniently forgot to get off from on top of her. She watched in horror as Clarke massaged her jaw. She reached slowly and touched it, slightly swatting Clarke’s hand so she could examine it herself. Thankfully, her blow was not at all hard, for some reason. There was barely any pink on the skin.

“Lexa”

“What?” she muttered, her eyes still scouring for any sign of injury on Clarke’s face.

“Your belt…is pressed up against my—my---well it’s about to pierce my skin” Clarke said, her face furiously blushing, effectively hiding what possible scratch Lexa’s elbow might have inflicted.

Lexa looked down at their body on top of Clarke’s and carefully stood up.

“What were you doing?” she asked when Clarke sat up on her bed.

“Coming to get you?”

“What?”

Clarke rolled her eyes. “Did you forget?”

“Of course not. I merely thought we would meet out the door or in the lobby”

“Why? The press would see us there”

“Are we hiding?”

Clarke stood up from the bed and gestured slightly with her hands, as if they were explanations. Setting the awkwardness of the last five minutes aside, Lexa watched her with growing fondness and realized that she didn’t need an explanation.

“Do you need me to change?” she asked when Clarke gave her a look admitting that there were no words to follow the hand gestures.

“No, you’re perfect as you are.”

“I meant my clothes”

“I know” Clarke said with her mischievous smile. “Let’s go, Commander.”

Lexa took a deep breath and followed Clarke outside the room. Neither Anya nor Indra were within sight but Gus was there, as silent as ever. Clarke did most of the talking as they walked hallway after hallway. She took in her words like they were a prayer or an enchantment. She didn’t notice much about their surroundings but she was still aware enough to observe that in the many halls and stairways they passed through, they did not once encounter anyone.

Soon they stopped in front of two huge doors and Clarke beamed at her, like an excited child on the eve of her birthday.

Lexa raised an eyebrow at her.

“Yes, I’m this excited to show you a room” Clarke said defensively.

“It’s a welcome sight”

“I haven’t even shown it to you!”

“I didn’t mean the room”

“Oh” Clarke blushed slightly.

Lexa made a mental note to always try and make Clarke blush whenever she could. She followed her into a long rectangular room with bare white walls. When Clarke had said they were to make a quick educational tour, she thought she was to be educated of Arkadia’s history and custom. She was sure they were heading to the mansion’s library or an old study room previously occupied by past Chancellors. She even went as far as expecting to meet scholars and professors in a classroom.

She did not expect an art gallery.

Upon the parallel walls hung paintings, sketches and portraits of different sizes, themes and style. Clarke offered her hand as an invitation to walk through the gallery together. Lexa took it without hesitation, trying to forget the image of Clarke not wanting to be close to her.

She whispered for Gus to wait outside the allowed to be pulled down the immaculate hallway.

“You are giving me an art lesson” she said when they stopped in front of an oil canvass of meadows of different colored flowers.

“I figured you could use one” Clarke replied, still holding onto her hand. “This one is called ‘Spring Mornings’”

Lexa leaned forward to examine the flowers closely. There were about six different flowers in the painting and she memorized each one. Then she saw the signature on the bottom right.

“This is yours” she gasped slightly.

Clarke just laughed at her reaction.

Most unwillingly, Lexa let go of Clarke’s hand before rushing from one portrait to another. She looked each one closely, Clarke’s giggles echoing around the room.

“These are all yours!” Lexa declared as she made her way back to where Clarke was standing. “They are beautiful.”

“Thank you. Not as beautiful as the ones in your room – which is obviously the purpose of this trip” Clarke explained. She pointed to a painting of an abandoned lighthouse. “Like this one, the angle of the light is all wrong. But it was one of my dad’s favourite. So I kept it. And this one—I’m proud of it and he loved this one especially but come closer and look at the strokes. If you are going praise art ou should be able to distinguish the strokes and styles to avoid sounding ignorant.”

Lexa didn’t heed invitation. At the mention of the late Chancellor, she instantly remembered the newspaper clipping about Clarke’s exhibit. “You didn’t sell this in the exhibit you held after his death.”

“You know about that?” Clarke’s mildly surprised reaction was adorably embarrassed.

“I did try to study about you before going here.”

“And?”

“They cannot write you with mortal pens on ephemeral paper even if they tried” Lexa declared in a whimsical sigh tinted with frustration and irony.

Clarke’s smile grew but she avoided her eyes, patently shy at the compliment.

Lexa kept walking towards the end of the hall, interested in the rest of Clarke’s art but at the same time creating enough space to hide her own red face. She heard herself say the words and never had her insides somersault more.

Her trained eyes tried to scrutinize the lines, the strokes and the light Clarke kept talking about but instead all she could see were moods, feelings, expressions and…secrets. Like there was a rough sketch of a riverbank. Clarke said it was one of her earlier works so if you’re critical about sketches, you would notice the poor lift of the charcoal as well as the cluttered shading of her untrained fingers.

Lexa couldn’t see any of that. She could see excitement culled from a child’s innocent outlook on life. She could practically hear Clarke’s younger voice laughing at the sight of clean and wild current from the river. She could feel the rush of freedom from someone who had little to no concerns and awareness of the vileness of a world far different from this one.

Lexa slowly understood how earlier Clarke can be transported to another world through paintings of strangers hanging on the bedroom wall of another stranger. She didn’t know a childhood like Clarke’s. She didn’t know of any art other than ones used in combat. She has never looked at a riverbank and see only water and fun games. Riverbanks were usually boundary markers and a source of water. A quick stop during training. There was no excitement or laughter or freedom. Only survival. Only security. And all the ways to achieve them.

“Lesson learned” she whispered to herself.

“What was that?” Clarke asked her.

“Nothing. I really like this”

“Come over here and see this—“

Lexa turned to where her voice was coming from, on the other end of the hall. She walked slowly, contemplative of how she would open up about the fact that the Chancellor, Indra and Anya were discussing the two of them.

“Clarke”

“Yeah?”

“How much trouble are you in?”

Clarke had her head practically pressed onto the huge painting she was calling for Lexa to see. She froze a little then slowly looked up to her.

“Honestly? A lot. You?”

“Not as much. Should we be meeting like this?”

Clarke regarded her gloomily. “Would you want to walk away again?”

Lexa returned her gaze with one of longing. Of empty wanting. She shook her head.

“Then, no. I don’t think we should be. In fact, I was told not to” Clarke admitted. “Yet here we are. If you can’t tell by now, it seems I’m unable to stay away from you, Commander.”

Lexa didn’t say anything. She just held her eyes. Now, out of habit. And desire.

And comfort.

“Do you regret asking me to dance?” Clarke asked her.

Lexa shook her head once more, this time more fervently.

“But it created tension between you and Indra. And Anya. And maybe my mother”

“I realize that” Lexa said, taking Clarke’s hand and breathing a silent thank you when she didn’t pull away. “But I do not regret it. Or you.”

Clarke smiled at her, hand fidgeting slightly but grip not at all willing to let go.

They stood silent for a moment, Lexa’s eyes fixed on the artist who was trying to educate her on the technicalities of art, in a room full of painted lessons.

“Um. This one is my favourite” Clarke said, pulling her arm gently as an invitation to look at the painting on the wall.

Lexa half-heartedly stopped basking in her face then looked at the piece Clarke was already describing.

Only Clarke didn’t need to describe it.

“Where did you—How did you paint this?” she interrupted Clarke.

“Oh. I don’t know. I was about 13 or 14 when I made it. I guess it just came to me and I loved the idea of a tree house because we obviously don’t have those here? So I painted this one and then added the hanging bridge connecting to another one. Completely unplanned, too. I just found a lone tree house to be rather bare and—“

“Lonely” Lexa whispered.

Clarke raised an eyebrow at her. “Yeah. Yeah, lonely. So, yeah. Tree houses. I asked my dad to build me one but there aren’t a lot of trees in Arkadia and I’m not very good at climbing them anyway”

Lexa nodded absentmindedly. Her eyes dragged all over the painting and its exquisite detail. Then she found it – a feature she was looking for but was hoping not to find. A wooden sign hung on one end of the hanging bridge: DO NOT PASS. And right under it was a careless scribble, “SECURITY ALERTED.”

“What made you add that?” she asked Clarke, a shaking finger pointing at the sign.

Clarke frowned as she tried to remember. “I can’t recall why. Maybe it was just stupid whim. But I guess it’s also cause this was an escape, you know? When I drew this, I was in a bad place because my parents were getting busier and busier with their political careers and I always wanted to run away. So this was kind of that place.”

“The place you would runaway to – if you could.”

“Exactly. It would be my own fortress, you know? So I thought it was smart to warn intruders” Clarke finished with a chuckle.

Lexa offered a smile. “Tell me more about this runaway place.”

Clarke looked vaguely surprised but pleased that Lexa had taken interest in her favourite piece. So she talked about the trees that she drew, some of kinds she has never seen before. She describe why the tree houses were angled a certain way and why it was dusk in the background. She explained why the oil on the bridge looks heavy, saying she didn’t know how to make it look stronger. Then she went about why there was only light from inside one tree house and not both.

Lexa listened, her heart barely keeping up with the words. She had her own explanations in her mind.

The trees were common in the forests of Polis. She has walked and ran through rows and mazes of them. She has climbed them as much as she tore them down. She has burned their wood and has slept upon their branches, high up from the ground.

The tree houses are angled that way because it would allow separate inhabitant to still keep an eye on each other – keep each other safe. Two tree houses may imply less loneliness but it also calls for attention. Having them positioned like that would allow whoever was dwelling in either house to have a clear view of anything that might climb or enter the other.

The hanging bridge looked sturdy because it was hardly ever crossed. The inhabitants were high on boundaries. Hence the sign.

Only one house was lighted because there eventually came a point when no one stayed in the other house anymore.

Lexa’s thoughts ran and ran as far as her dim memories could remember. She could hear Indra’s voice telling her the story of the twin tree houses, perched in the middle of the forest. Her memories ran and ran until Indra’s voice was as clear as Clarke’s.

She was back to being sixteen again. About 15 to 18 feet above ground, sitting on a sleeping bag with Indra next to her, telling her of a legend she could no longer remember. But she was back. On wooden floors, fresh air entering open windows and the colors of the sunset seeping through every crack they could.

She was back. To that very same tree house Clarke painted. The one with the light on.

She was back to one of the few, precious, and tender moments of her teenage years.

She could hear it, Indra’s warning from seven years ago.

“That sign, Lexa. Can you read it?” she was asked as the then Colonel pointed at the wooden sign of the bridge.

“DO NOT PASS. SECURITY ALERTED.”

“You know what that means?”

“That people should not come here?”

Indra shook her head. “That people will come here. It is up to you to decide who to let in and keep out.”

“Is this a lesson on defense, Colonel?” she asked.

“On security”

“There is a difference?” her younger self challenged.

“When you become Commander, you will understand.”

Now, she remembers.

Indra had found her there. She had tried to run away from her training camp. That was two days before she would be sent to her first warzone. Not to fight, but to observe. She was scared because she knew she would end up fighting. And fighting would lead to killing. She has hurt, injured and rendered a number of soldiers incapacitated but at that time, she has never killed. She didn’t know if she was ready to.

So she ran. She ran into the dying sun.

She didn’t know where to go until she found the tree houses. She had never gone to this side of the forest before and so thought this was the one place they couldn’t find her. The one place she could run away to.

Indra found her easily then decided to tell her of that legend.

Now, she knew what Indra meant.

The difference of defense and security.

Defense leads to security.

Defense is the wall. Security the purpose of the wall.

A person defends herself to be safe from the perils of the world.

A Commander defends herself so her people will be safe from their enemies.

She has been defending herself from harm for as long as she can remember. She has been building walls and shields and all defences imaginable so she can be safe from bullets and bombs and…pain. She has been defending herself to stay alive and lead her people. She would be no use to them dead.

She is their security.

She is defending them well.

She looked at Clarke and the radiance of passionate glow in explaining art to her tore down walls built over the years. She understood then that one can build defences to last lifetimes, to propel purpose and to fulfil destinies but one person – if it’s the right person – can completely topple down all of that.

You can defend and defend for as long as you live but when it’s the right person knocking on the door, you might not even wait for the security systems to crumble. You would take her hand and walk her in.

A breach in the security of an empire built to keep people out can come in the form of a friend, an ally, a lover – that was the lesson of the legend.

Lexa smiled back at Clarke and agreed to whatever she was being invited to. She allowed herself to be taken by the hand again and be pulled out of the gallery. She pushed back all questions that painting raised. She fought back guilt. She will not bemoan this moment Clarke chose to share with her.

Tonight, she will choose to forget a legend every Commander should know by heart.

She cannot remember the rest of Indra’s story. It would be senseless to recall it anyway.

She already knew that while her defenses were still a fortress, someone was already behind the walls.

What if this Commander’s heart knows something else?