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Titanic: the untold story

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Many of you are familiar with the famed love story of The Titanic. Rich girl falls in love with poor boy, boy tragically dies in the sinking of the unsinkable. This isn’t that story.

This story goes beyond that of the rich and the poor and of a special class that traversed it all. Free to roam the promenade deck, crew quarters, or down in the nitty lower decks if they pleased; behind the passenger spaces and into engineering, dark corners behind exposed piping, boatswain’s storerooms, and below-water cargo holds.

Who are these people and what were they doing onboard the Titanic?

Well, like everybody else, they were there to make money. And what makes money? Sex.

Undocumented and omitted from the crew’s list, the Titanic offered a different service that wasn’t on the brochure. Without television, movies and internet, what did you think people did while underway for weeks during the 1910’s? You can only lounge in the pool for so long before your fingertips raisin, see the same show before it became mundane, drink and eat your fill. But sex? Sex was a sure bet.

Just like all businesses, it was organized. Comprised of a high society of managers and investors with profit margins and division. It was all hidden in the woodworks, snaked thickly under a façade that no one would know unless they knew what to look for. No money trail, no list of employees. Nothing. Word of mouth, someone who knew someone who knew someone else, and a bit of luck was what got you in.

 

 

April 10, 1912

Southampton, England

 

“I want in,” said Clarke as she slapped a wad of notes on a pub table. “I want in, and I want in now.”

She had just under an hour when the location and description of the person revealed itself. An hour before the Titanic got underway.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the woman replied. She had dark hair with sharp eyes.

“In peace, may you leave the shore,” Clarke whispered, “in love, may you find the next.”

The woman reached out, collecting the notes and making a brief count by fanning the stack through her thumb before batting an eye back up at Clarke; studying her, judging her.

“The rest of it,” she said.

“Safe passage on your travels, until our final journey on the ground. May we meet again.”

Clarke got the verbiage right.

“You’re pretty, but sorry, we’re not looking for anymore,” replied the woman.

“Look,” Clarke clenched her jaw. “It took me months to find you, months for this opportunity. I just need one voyage.”

Of course, Clarke never expected to get into this line of work. Who does? But the job paid well, extremely well, and when she heard there was an opportunity onboard the Titanic, Clarke leapt at the chance. It didn’t take a genius to do the math. A ship that size with the amount of wealth onboard, she’d be set for life. One voyage, one trip, and Clarke could have it all—leave the life she’d gotten into and start anew. The American dream.

Clarke thought it would be easy to find the name of a contact, but the process proved more difficult than imaged. At first, Clarke went through her coworkers, but nobody went that high up. Then, she started going through her clients, the higher paying ones and finally, in the nick of time, acquired what she sought. But, the information came at a cost and Clarke scrounged the last of what she had; flipped the couch cushions, smashed the piggy bank, and sold her belongings. This was her chance and she wasn’t going to let it sail away. Literally.

“From what I’ve heard, with a ship like that, I’ll make more in mere weeks than what I’ve made in years. One voyage, and I promise I’ll get out of your panties.”

“Hm, feisty,” said the woman as she considered. “Women too?”

Clarke rolled her eyes, “Of course.”

Clarke found it interesting; those who paid the most weren’t single, rich men, but husbands with wives. Clarke didn’t mind.

The woman rolled the notes and shoved them in-between her bosom, “Fine. But your buy-in is going to be double for the late notice.”

Clarke dropped her jaw in anger. “It took me—”

“Did you want in or not?”

“Yes,” Clarke gritted her teeth. “But, that’s all that I have.”

“Not a problem, you can pay back the rest from what you’ve earned, with twenty percent interest.”

“Interest? You’ve got to be shittin’ me.” Clarke was feeling more swindled by the second.

The woman pulled the roll of notes out, about to toss it back at Clarke. “Fine, you can—”

“No,” Clarke said. “Twenty percent it is.”

Even with the payback price, Clarke was still going to be set after the end of all of this.

Clarke watched the woman produce a ticket; she seemed to have several on-hand and whispered to herself—something about someone not being happy about the late addition.

“Here,” the woman held the face of the ticket in low view. “When you get onboard, go to the bow on the main deck. There will be a woman there with a red scarf and a necklace that matches this,” she turned the ticket over which revealed a round symbol, similar to a ship’s wheel. “Give her the ticket. She’ll escort you the rest of the way.”

Clarke snagged the ticket. “Thank you.” And picked up her lone rucksack of sparse belongings and headed for the gangway.

If she thought snaking through the crowd on onshore was bad—ducking underneath rows of photographers, boarding the vessel itself was a nightmare. While crossing the narrow gangway, Clarke was pushed, pulled, tripped, and even grabbed.

Clarke whipped her head around, “Excuse me.”

The bastard chuckled, “Sorry little lady,” and kept walking.

“Bloody pig,” Clarke cursed under her breath as she approached the end of the brow.

“Ma’am,” the crewman tipped his hat. “Ticket please?”

She handed him the slip. While he scanned it, Clarke couldn’t help but wonder and let the worry momentarily flash across her eyes; hoped that she didn’t just dump her entire worth—which wasn’t much albeit, into a fake ticket.

He handed the ticket back to her and gestured, “Welcome aboard the Titanic.”

Clarke smiled; she was in. Literally, a foot into her future hopes and dreams when she stepped onto 46 gross tons of steeled perfection.

Once inside, Clarke couldn’t tell which direction was forward or aft. Not only was the vessel huge, but the crowd made it difficult to see and orient herself. People were lined up along the entire port side; men, women and children waving goodbye and blowing kisses to loved ones onshore. Clarke didn’t have that luxury, not in a long time.

At eight years old, both of Clarke’s parents died in a fire. Their apartment complex had gone up in flames and the firemen did their duty and saved Clarke first—the little blonde girl with smoke drawn tears, from the seventh story window just before the building collapsed. Since then, Clarke rotated through several orphanages until she was 14. Fed-up with the system, she left to make a life on her own. And well, life at 14 wasn’t easy. Clarke simply didn’t make enough money, which was how she ended up in the line of sex work, now six years later.

Finally, Clarke emerged on the far side of the vessel, the starboard side, where there were significantly fewer people and made her way forward. As the open deck of the bow revealed itself, Clarke spotted the one; a brunette well dressed in a black pea coat, white blouse, complete with a red scarf that regally waved in the wind. The outfit didn’t scream upper class, but the woman was well off. Very well off.

They made eye contact as Clarke stepped closer and pulled the ticket out of her pocket. She flashed it in the woman’s view and the brunette responded with a look of curiosity. Clarke hesitated for a moment—thought maybe it was the wrong person, until the brunette extended her reach.  

“Who are you?” she said curtly.

“Clarke. Clarke Griffin.”

The brunette retrieved a small, folded paper from her coat pocket that will be burned later via cigarette and scanned the short list.

“I don’t have a Clarke Griffin,” she said and eyed Clarke with discontent. “Bloody hell Anya, I told her no more walks-ons.”

Clarke shuffled, switching her weight from left to right. “Please,” Clarke said.

After a long, overdrawn moment, the brunette raised her hand under Clarke’s chin and lifted Clarke’s face up into the light. The brunette’s stare was more penetrating than the woman in the pub. It would have been intimidating if Clarke wasn’t doing the same thing; studying the woman before her. The brunette was gorgeous; full plush lips under a perfect coat of burgundy lipstick, light makeup—she didn’t need much, deep vibrant green eyes, and curled locks of chestnut hair. She even smelled good.

“Have you sailed before girl?” the brunette asked, dropping her hand.

“Yes.”

The brunette raised an eyebrow for details.

“Overnight ferries,” Clarke expanded on her experience.

“Mn, well didn’t you get lucky to land a gig like this one? Anya’s always had a soft spot for blondes, though they do typically attract more guests. Can you produce an American accent?”

Clarke cleared her throat, “Yes, I can produce an American accent.”

Clarke spotted the briefest hint of satisfaction in the brunette’s eyes.

“Even luckier. Not many of my girls can.” The brunette stepped passed. “Come. This way.”

She led Clarke along the starboard side, inside, and below deck. They passed through a main corridor filled with passenger cabins. The scent of brass polish and fresh oak stain wafted the hallways. It was the smell of new and rich. They continued forward to the crew cabins, an area without decor. Still new, but less rich, and stopped at a closet door.  

The brunette opened the closet door.

Clarke didn’t know what she expected, but it was nonetheless, a closet. It was stocked with all the basic cleaning supplies; brooms, mops, buckets, and towels. However, the brunette gestured Clarke in, discretely closed the door behind them, and proceeded into the darkness. She pushed on the far bulkhead ahead and like magic, Clarke watched the wall rotate like a revolving door to reveal a hidden spiral stairwell that traveled an odd half deck below. They entered an invisible “tween-deck” that didn’t exist on paper.

If you pulled out an architectural drawing of the Titanic, the blueprint would show the closet, but no stairwell behind it. The hidden space was drafted into the original plans that were then discarded as soon as the last rivet was pounded in. Then, the blueprints were replaced by a replica; a mastery of concealment.

As they descended the stairs, Clarke heard commotion; people laughing, cards shuffling, and glasses clinking. It was a common space, not luxurious but not shitty either, furnished with lined couches, wooden tables, and a full bar scattered with drinks. The space was filled with mostly women, beautiful women, but also, a small pod of young men.

Walking through common area, the brunette turned down a hallway and into a small stateroom with two bunks. The upper bunk had already been taken with a bag atop, looks like Clarke was getting the bottom bunk.

“This is where you’ll be staying,” the brunette said. “You’re free to wander the decks, get an early gauge of customers, or do what you wish as the vessel sets sail. However, once the evening approaches, you’re expected to be available anytime during the night hours. Anytime. Is that clear?”

Clarke nodded.

“Good. There are several exits from this space, but that closet is the only entrance you shall enter from. Understand?”

Clarke nodded again.

“Good.” The brunette turned to leave, but Clarke stopped her with a small touch of her elbow.

“Wait.”

The brunette looked back with a quirked eyebrow.

“What’s your name?” Clarke asked.

“Lexa.”

/

At the strike of noon, the ship’s horn sounded three long blasts as it pulled away from the dock. Flowers, hats, and other celebratory paraphernalia littered the water below as the Titanic set sail. Ashore, people cheered with sparkles of flash photography going off like shimmering stars. 

Clarke felt the low rumble of the steam engines lock into gear as the tugs separated. Plumes of smoke emerged from the stacks and masked the sky until the vessel picked up speed, carrying itself away from its black clouds.

Clarke always liked the fantail. She enjoyed the view from the aft rail, looking down at the three propellers that churned the ocean like a giant electric mixer. The blades sliced through the water and kicked up a white rush of bubbles that spilled over itself and waked out, leaving a perfect succession of waves.

She took a deep, relaxing breath. This was it. She felt guilty for her lack of remorse—so little care for her home country and ready to start anew in America. Her imagination played at the possibilities. What would she do? She could draw and paint. Sing and dance. Or even go to school. Clarke didn’t know how to read—aspired to learn.

The orphanages barely sustained enough funds to feed the children, let alone educate them. So, Clarke was left with just the basics, enough to get by. But what really kept her afloat was her quick and clever grasp of numbers. Arithmetic came easy to her, she had considerable experience gambling. Unfortunately, she found out the hard way—that if she won too much, “they” always found her and robbed her beyond her initial investment. By the end of the day, she lost more than she earned.

Clarke wasn’t sure how long she’d spent gazing out into the open sea, one maybe two hours. The shape of land was long gone and despite the mid-afternoon sun, a chill had picked up. It caused Clarke’s skin to rise and urged her inside. Sinking below deck and recalling the path Lexa lead, Clarke entered through the closet and down the spiral staircase.

The chit-chatter of all the workers amplified the tween-deck to a near deafening. And the cigarette smoke was at least triple fold compared to earlier. Clarke felt lost; she didn’t know anybody, but caught sight of Lexa along with the dark-haired woman she met at the pub.

There was no mistake about it, they were setting up a table. A poker table. And Clarke grinned.

“Need a fifth?” Clarke said as she approached the table.

Lexa looked up, and the woman next to her, scoffed.

“Are you joking?” said the dark-haired woman at Clarke and turned to Lexa. “This one’s got no money Lex.”

Lexa looked Clarke dead in the eyes. “No.”

“Oh c’mon,” Clarke leaned forward, placing a hand on the table and said with confidence. “Take it from my earnings. But I guarantee, you won’t need to.”

“Scram,” said the dark-haired woman.

Lexa raised her right hand, “Anya.”

It immediately shut the dark-haired woman up, apparently named Anya. Lexa didn’t even blink. “Clarke. Sit.”

To be told to sit in such a canine way was no doubt rude. But it didn’t prevent Clarke from smiling as she pulled the chair out across from Lexa. Anya sat to Lexa’s right and two other women filled the vacancies. Usually amiable, Clarke would have introduced herself to the other two women but didn’t care to. Not with her eyes locked on Lexa’s. Unable to look away.

Lexa’s piercing green eyes heeded a warning. But Clarke saw it as a challenge—wanted to take a machete to those forest greens as if to reveal a place of hidden secrets and ascend to unforeseen riches.

As Anya dealt, she spoke with a fresh lit cigarette in her mouth. “Aces high, no wilds, no limit. Ante up ladies!”

Purposely, Clarke folded the first few rounds to acquire a read on the other players, their tells and tendencies. She had a solid grasp on all except Lexa.

Lexa had a masterful poker face. Not a single clench of her jaw, lick of her lips, or gulp of a swallow. A stone face fitted only with roaming eyes; from her cards to the pot, to the other players, met Clarke’s eyes, and back down.

“I’ll raise,” Clarke said on her fifth hand. It was a shitty hand with a weak pair of threes.

The rest of the table matched her small raise. All except Lexa. “I’ll fold,” said Lexa.

Irritating.

Without doubt, Lexa was trying to get a gauge on her as much as she was Lexa.

Clarke raised again, significantly more this time which effectively caused the table to fold and start a new round.

“Raise,” said Lexa.

“Call,” Clarke said. She had a slightly better hand, a two pair, this time. “Actually, call and I’ll raise you.” And Clarke tossed in two more chips into the pile.

Lexa nodded and matched Clarke’s bet while the table around them folded.

“Let’s see it.”

Clarke presented her hand, “Two pair, king high.”

“Two pair,” Lexa repeated and with the slightest tick of discontent, “queen high.”

Yes!

Clarke won and scooped the small pile towards her.

“Well ladies,” Anya announced, “looks like we have a game of poker.” And re-dealt.

It was clear the prime duel was between Clarke and Lexa. Anya didn’t last long after the first two players went and within the hour, only Clarke and Lexa remained. Their piles of chips were near equal; Lexa’s, neatly stacked in a tower and Clarke’s, in a mountain on her left. They were well matched, went back and forth, which gained a small audience. People began to make side bets at the start of each round.

Clarke gripped her cards. It was her best hand yet, a flush of hearts. She had to play this just right. Lure Lexa in.

“Raise,” Clarke threw in a small, almost laughable amount considering it was just them left.

“That’s all Clarke?”

Lexa pulled out a pocket watch. A curious item for a female Clarke thought, but didn’t go beyond that single introspect. It was also a tell, maybe Lexa was getting impatient with their volley. Or, maybe Lexa wanted Clarke to think she was getting impatient.

“Alright,” Clarke said, and spliced her hand down half her mound of chips and pushed them in.

“You do realize your… shift starts soon Clarke?”

Or was Lexa luring her in?

If she was, it was working. The inflection in Lexa’s tone was nonexistent and tempted Clarke. Cautiously, Clarke weighed her statistics. Lure aside, she was confident in her hand.

“Fine, we end this right now. All in,” Clarke said.

While several bystanders gasped, Lexa smiled, and Clarke swore she was going to work double to make up for her impending loss.

“All in it is.”

“Let’s see it ladies,” Anya said.

“Straight, ace high,” Lexa said and splayed her cards out in front. They looked pretty. A ten, three face cards, and an ace.

Clarke’s wasn’t so pretty, with low, mismatched numbers and non-face cards. But, she still had the upper hand.

“Flush.”

And Clarke let out the dirtiest smile. Several “followers” she’d earned cheered behind her.

Clarke stood and leaned all the way forward onto the table, cupped Lexa’s tower of chips with her hands and slowly dragged them across—never breaking eye contact. To Clarke’s surprise, Lexa didn’t look mad. But more along the lines of… proud. A ghost of a smile played along her plush lips and green eyes gleamed of intrigue. It caused Clarke to swallow a thick gulp.

“Tomorrow,” Lexa said to Clarke. “We’ll do this again, tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Clarke counted her winnings from the poker game, stashing a small amount aside for tomorrow night’s game and hiding the rest in the only place she had—under her mattress.

There was a knock at her door and Clarke flinched slightly, not expecting company and turned.

“Sorry,” it was Lexa. “Didn’t mean to frighten you. There’s no need to hide your earnings like that, by the way. Consider it a code of courtesy. Typically those caught looting from within our own don’t leave with all their digits.” Lexa flexed her fingers.

Clarke didn’t know if that was a simultaneous warning for her.

“Habitual, I guess…” Clarke responded.

“I have your first assignment,” Lexa stepped into the room. “You are to head to the Third Officer’s stateroom. He goes by the name Herbert. Herbert Pittman. He wants you there before eight.”

Time on deck was 7:33 P.M.

Clarke nodded.

“When you’re done, make sure to collect payment. The money comes directly to me. I hold onto your portion until the end of the voyage, understand?”

Clarke nodded once again.

/

As Clarke made her way up through the decks, she could feel the weight of the ship under its churning engines. Rivets popping as they bore load and the creaking of new steel. Steam expanded into the turbines and the Titanic was engaged at full speed.

Clarke arrived at her destination—a door labeled “Third Officer” and she knocked.

“Why, hello. Please, come in, come in,” the Third Officer gestured her in. “I’m Herbert, but you can call me Herb.”

Herb was a plump one—a round face, round belly, round everything. But, he had kind, hazel eyes and not the type of gentleman Clarke was expecting.

“I’m Clarke.”

“Wow, you’re certainly a pretty one…” he said, nervously fiddling his fingers then wiping his palms down his pants.

“Thank you,” Clarke said, stepped into his space, and placed a hand on his chest. “What… did you have in mind?” Then curled her hand around the back of his neck.

“Oh,” his face flared red and stepped away. “Wait, wait—"

Clarke lifted an eyebrow, “Don’t be shy.”

“This—” he stuttered, taking another step back. “This isn’t—how do I put this, I—”

Clarke had been around shy men before, but this was the most extreme case. He was probably a virgin.

“Well c’mon, spit it out,” Clarke said. “I don’t have all night—unless that’s what you’ve arranged for.”

“I have… actually.”

“Alright, then what would you like?” Clarke asked again.

“I’m not interested in copulating,” he blurted.

Who says it like that? Clarke tilted her head, analyzing his statement.

“Um, Mr. Pittman.”

“Herb, please, call me Herb.”

“Herb. You do realize what kind of… services I offer?”

“Uh yes, yes, I do. But see… I’m just looking for some company? Would that be alright?”

“Company?”

“Yes… for someone to be here when I get off shift. Keep me company—while I sleep. And—and maybe accompany me to some of the officer dinners. All— many of the other officers have girlfriends… wives. And it gets lonely at times.”

Clarke nodded slowly, “So… you want someone at your arm in public.”

“Yes, precisely.”

Clarke nodded. “And at night?”

“I stand the night watch, eight to midnight. I don’t care what you do then, as long as you’re here before the end of my watch. I don’t like to sleep alone.”

Clarke looked at the clock on the wall, it was almost eight. “You’re due to start your shift soon then?”

“Yes. So—so if you can be here before midnight, just be sleeping or whatever you like. As if—as if you were my girlfriend. You know, normal things. I won’t touch you.”

The more Clarke looked at him, the more innocent he became. Just a lonely soul seeking company.

“Alright.”

“Oh,” he turned to his desk and retrieved a fat envelope. “That should cover everything. But please, let me know if it’s not enough. I asked for blonde hair and blue eyes but didn’t expect an angel.”

Clarke smiled, then took the envelope, giving the notes a brush of her thumb. They were crisp and new. “This should do just fine,” she said. “I’ll let you know if more is needed.”

“Oh good, well… I’m off to the bridge now. Please, feel free to make yourself at home. Have some tea, call for room service if you’d like. I also have a small collection,” he gestured at a small shelf of books. “You’re free to those too.”

Books… about that. Clarke considered giving him some money back if he’d teach her how to read. But with Lexa tracking the funds, she wasn’t about to risk any side transactions, regardless of how minor.

“Thank you, Herb. That’s very kind of you.”

He put on his hat, then tipped it. “Have a nice evening Clarke. I’ll see you upon my return.”

As soon as Herb closed the door, Clarke pulled out the stack of money. Eyes bulging big because it was the most money she’d ever seen, let alone hold in her hand. He had paid for the entire voyage and Clarke dreamt of the things she could buy—new clothes, jewelry, deposit on a loft.

Christ—Clarke could not trust herself with this amount of money. So, she stuffed it back into the envelope and made her way downstairs. The money belonged in Lexa’s hands.

When Clarke spun through the secret closet passageway, the common space was silent. All the workers were gone. All “working.” It was a bit eerie.

“Lexa?” Clarke knocked on Lexa’s door. It was ajar. “Lexa?” Clarke pushed in the door and it swung open without a sound. With a quick scan, Clarke laid her eyes on Lexa, who had fallen asleep on the couch with a book on her chest. Clarke gulped, unsure whether she should wake Lexa. Before she could decide, her gaze landed on the small coffee table with what appeared to be a journal and a freehand sketch.

The sketch was a scenic image—mountainous sky, trees and a river that flowed down to the bottom of the page. Clarke stooped nearer, trying to get a better look and turned the journal towards her. She couldn’t read the writing—poetry maybe, she wasn’t sure, but the drawing was very intricate. Details that revealed themselves as she got closer.  

“What are you doing?”

Clarke gasped, took a large leap backward and stumbled on her own heel.

“Sorry! I just—” Clarke held out the envelope. “I just came to give you this.”

Lexa sat up, folding the book at the corner of its page with a deep look of skepticism. Or annoyance. It was difficult to tell. Then, she closed the journal and snatched the envelope from Clarke.

“Done for the night already?” Lexa asked while making a brief count of the money.

“No—no. He um—I don’t need to be back until midnight. And, it’s a lot of money. I didn’t want to… be responsible for it.”

Lexa stood and walked to a safe that doubled as her nightstand. Kneeling down, Lexa opened the safe and stashed the envelope inside. Then, she pulled out a small ledger and jotted down the amount. She looked over her shoulder at Clarke. “You may leave now.”

“Sorry—again, I didn’t mean to—”

“And Clarke, next time you decide to read someone’s journal. Perhaps, not?”

“I didn’t read anything, I swear.”

Lexa raised an eyebrow.

“I didn’t.”

Clarke didn’t know what she had to prove or why she felt like she needed to. It was the most embarrassing piece of information about herself and it came spilling out as if she were a ten-year-old being scolded by a nun.

“I was just looking at the sketch—I can’t read.”

This caused a very different response from the brunette, her eyes softened. Clarke swore she drew empathy with those three words.

“What do you mean… you can’t read?”

Clarke shrugged. “I can’t read.”

“We played poker.”

“That’s different. Numbers.” Clarke brushed a loose strand from her eyes. “It’s alright, no need to pity me. I’ve managed just fine.”

“Sit down,” Lexa nodded at Clarke.

“What?”

“You said you needn’t be back until midnight, sit.”

Something so… commanding about Lexa. Clarke had had her run into plenty of personalities, but none as compelling as Lexa. The brunette had a weakening effect. Clarke sat—the same couch Lexa was just sleeping on, the cushion was still warm. She watched Lexa walk to her desk and pluck a book from the shelf. Lexa had a lot of books, three, maybe four times more than Herb.

Lexa took a seat next to her, thighs lightly brushing, and presented the book.

“Do you know the alphabet—recognize letters, their sounds?”

Is this really happening?

“Why are you doing this?” Clarke asked.

“Everyone should know how to read,” Lexa simply said as a generic statement.

“What’s this going to cost me?”

“Time, determination, and patience.”

Clarke was expecting a monetary amount and rolled her eyes.

“That’s very philosophical, but honestly, what’s this going to cost me?”

“Nothing else. Is this something you want, or no?”

Clarke gave a small, shy nod.

“Here,” Lexa handed her the book. “This should suffice as a good start. Begin with the title.”

Clarke chewed her lip as she gazed upon the words before her. “The J…Jun…”

“Jungle.”

“Jungle B-book.”

“Good.”

Clarke moved to open the first page but Lexa tsked.

“Ah, the author. Who is it by?”

The author was much more difficult. A combination Clarke had never seen before.

“By R—Rud…ugh, Rud…”

“Rudyard.”

“Rudyard Kip…Kip-pel-ing”

“Just Kipling.”

“Rudyard Kipling.”

Lexa spent almost two hours with her, Clarke reading what she could and Lexa filling in the remainder. Clarke was reaching the edge of fatigue and wasn’t sure how Lexa was managing—to listen to someone read this slow must have been painstaking for Lexa.

“Good Clarke,” Lexa said, and took the book from Clarke’s hands. “I think that’s enough for now. Got through quite a bit.” Lexa folded the corner of the page like she did the other book.

“Thank you… Lexa, for your time.”

“I expect you back tomorrow,” she said with a kind tone and soft smile.

Clarke felt the corners of her lips pull into an earnest smile. No one had ever treated her like this—with genuine care. She could only compare it to the earliest memories of her parents. But since their deaths, was always on her own. No one gave her a pass, there were no freebies. And as intimidating as Lexa was, had a type of amicability. Open and approachable, yet mysterious and alluring. Like she was full of secrets.

“Good night, Lexa.”

“Good night, Clarke.”

When Clarke reentered the stateroom, it was dark, quiet, and lonely—how she left it. She understood why Herb would want the company. Months at sea, alone. Clarke readily crawled into bed and fell straight to sleep. The hum of the rocking ship only lulled her into a deeper slumber.

/

April 11, 1912

Clarke woke to sunlight illuminating through the round porthole and Herbert was getting ready. She didn’t even feel his return, left untouched to just her dreams.

“Morning to ya, you sleep well?” he asked.

“Yes, quite.”

“I—I know I only arrange for the evenings, but would you care to accompany me to breakfast? It’ll be in the officer’s mess, we’ve got a nice galley—our own line of chefs.”

Clarke hadn’t thought about food, but as the words “breakfast” emerged, her stomach jerked. Reading was hard, and it had drawn a different energy from her in an astounding way.

“Breakfast sounds wonderful, Herbert. Thank you.”

The officer’s mess is nice. The furniture, table clothes and waiters, all clad in white.

“Coffee?” A waiter offered Clarke.

“Yes, please,” Clarke eagerly answered.

“So, what do you think of the ship? Magnificent, isn’t she?”

Clarke nodded while she shamelessly dove into her plate of eggs, hash and black pudding—mixing it all together in a slop and putting it on top of her toast for a generous bite. It was delicious.

“Yes…” Clarke responded in part mouthful, “she’s—” Then, a very recognizable brunette entered the galley, “—beautiful.”

Lexa was accompanying another officer, a solemn-looking man whose giant beard matched the room: white.

Herbert’s eyes followed her gaze. “Oh, that’s the Captain. Edward Smith. I had the pleasure to sail with him on the Olympic.

Although Lexa gave Clarke a quick glance of acknowledgment, turned her attention back to the ship’s captain. Herbert continued to talk, but it was ambient noise to Clarke as she studied the interaction between the Captain and Lexa. It was a professional meeting of sorts, businesslike—discussing money, cuts, and percentages.

“It was the Capn’s idea you know?” said Herb.

Clarke’s focus shifted, “I’m sorry, but what?”

“To offer your…services to the crew. He said it would boost morale and I’m most certainly appreciative.”

“That’s… very thoughtful of him.”

“Yes, he’s an excellent Skipper. I was fortunate to hear he was going to be our commanding officer and…”

Clarke’s attention drifted again, eyes back on Lexa. Lexa was smiling now, it seemed as if the business aspect of their meeting was over and had turned to lesser important topics. Lexa must have cracked a joke, or something amusing enough to render the Captain laughing out loud. With his full, white, beard, he was jolly enough be Santa Claus.

Clarke yearned to be part that conversation. Next to Lexa again, to learn about the brunette.

“Would you like some more food?” Herb asked.

“Oh, no thank you,” Clarke dabbed her mouth with a napkin and placed it atop the plate. “It was wonderful though.”

“Well, I’m off to start the daily rounds,” he said. “Would you care for a tour of the bridge?”

“No thank you,” Clarke said, standing. “Maybe tomorrow?”

He nodded. “Oh, I forgot to mention, there’s an opening dinner tonight in the grand ballroom. Would you care to accompany me?”

“Of course.”

Herb excused himself with the brush of his cap brim.

/

The morning was brilliant, and Clarke took the opportunity to walk the Promenade deck. It was flush with thin planks of wood, waxed and shined to a high gloss. Clarke leaned on the handrail and looked out to sea. Sunlight casted long shadows over the crest of waves and the sky produced thick swaths of pink and blue, unrolled cotton candy.

This wasn’t bad at all. Clarke considered for a split second continuing to sail with the Titanic, beyond her maiden journey. No, that wasn’t why Clarke was here; American shores lay ahead.

“Did you sleep well, Clarke?”

Lexa had come alongside her, leaning on the handrail and touching elbows.

“Lexa. Yes—I slept well,” Clarke said. “Very well.”

“You’re a quick study.” Lexa pulled a cigarette from a silver, slim, metallic case and offered one to Clarke.

Without restraint, Clarke grabbed one for herself—Lexa had nice cigarettes, Clarke only afforded the kind you rolled yourself. Automatically, Lexa struck a match for her and Clarke held her face into the cove of Lexa’s hand. It was then that Clarke made brief eye contact. Lexa’s green eyes were brighter than ever. The morning glow of the sun climbing off the sea only served to increase Lexa’s natural beauty. She was stunning.

“Anya mentioned that you were only interested in a single voyage, but… you’re welcome to stay aboard.”

“That’s um, a very tempting offer. But I have no interest in… maintaining this lifestyle.”

“That’s understandable. What do you plan to do in America?”

Clarke shook her head with a deep inhale, smooth smoke filled her lungs. “I don’t know, I didn’t really have a plan. I just knew I needed to get out.”

“Then you’re speaking for both of us,” Lexa said, exhaling a long puff into the wind.

“Why don’t you then? Clearly, you have very marketable traits—reading, book-keeping, setting up meetings,” Clarke nodded at the bridge, referencing Lexa’s morning powwow with the ship’s captain. “Quite the businesswoman if you asked me.”

Lexa’s gaze fell, dismissive. “I can’t. I have… obligations.”

“Obligations?”

“It’s complicated.”

 “Complicated?” Clarke drew another pull from her cigarette, “do you prefer to speak about something else?”

Lexa held a long pause, no doubt reflecting on what she wanted to say—how much she wanted to reveal. Clarke waited in an ebb of silence as Lexa cycled her jaw muscles, clenching and relaxation, clenching and relaxing again.

A strand of sunlit brown hair blew across Lexa’s face, caught in the crosswind, and Clarke found herself reaching out. “Or,” Clarke said and tucked the errant strand behind Lexa’s ear, “we don’t have to talk at all.”

Lexa merely nodded and remained quiet. For fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, they stood in easy silence, drinking in the sea and sky. Clarke inhaled the last of her cigarette, then flicked it out into the vast blue water.

“When I was sixteen,” Lexa started.

Clarke honestly didn’t expect Lexa to speak, content with their stillness.

“I was taken out of school,” Lexa said. “I was attending a preparatory academy in Oxford. My father could no longer afford it, I didn’t understand why at the time—maybe I’m just ill-fated for this role—I later learned that my father was a reckless man who had spent every night with a different woman after my mother’s death. She passed when I was twelve and for four years, he accrued an insurmountable debt to this… ‘society.’ When he had nothing left, they put a bullet to his head took me as payment. I served the remainder of his debt… as one of their own workers.”

Lexa said this all in a stone face, not a single trace of emotion.

Jesus—that’s horrendous. But surely you must be old enough now to leave?”

Clarke guessed Lexa to be in her mid-twenties, at the most. Her youth was easily masked by her maturity.

“When I realized I had no control of my situation, I took advantage of it. Worked my way up into the Council. Earned their respect.”

“There’s a council?”

“Yes. A president and committee—comprised of several politicians, key decision makers, and wealthy investors. It’s quite the business. I’m compensated well for what I do.”

“Bloody hell.” Clarke didn’t realize the power and hierarchy of her current state of employment. “Should I expect to pay an income tax?”

Her quip produced a quick smile on Lexa’s face. “You say that jokingly, but in fact, a portion of the profits is equated for tax paying.”

“No fucking shit.”

“Only way the money comes out clean.”

The sound of the ship’s horn interrupted them, they were approaching Queenstown, Ireland. The Titanic’s final port call before making her way cross-Atlantic.

Lexa looked at her watch. “A bit early,” Lexa said in a quiet mumble. “If you can excuse me, Clarke. I have matters to tend to.”

Clarke nodded as she watched the brunette walk away. And Clarke thought her own life story was sad. With what Lexa just told her, she’d expect a lot more bitterness out of the brunette. Anger with the will of vengeance, too. If it were Clarke, she would have probably left that “council” burning.

The sound of steel chains rattled like thunder against the Hawse-pipe as the Titanic dropped its anchor. Clarke made her way below deck; more people were brought aboard through tenders and the Promenade was quickly crowded. As she descended the spiral staircase, she bumped into Anya, on her way up.

“Excuse me,” Clarke said.

Anya was carrying a small suitcase, looking ready to disembark. “Clarke. By chance have you seen Lexa?”

“She was just on the Promenade deck.”

Anya nodded, “Thanks.” And continued up the stairwell.

When Clarke returned her stateroom, she discovered a book on her pillow. The same book from the night before. The Jungle Book.

Smiling, Clarke turned to the first page and started all over again.

/

If Clarke thought breakfast was good, then dinner in the grand ballroom made her feel like a Hollywood celebrity. There were servers walking around with champagne and hors d’oeuvres, a quintet playing live music, and décor meant for the Queen herself. Life on the Titanic was a dream.

Just when Clarke decided the grandeur couldn’t get any better, her eyes landed on the most spectacular thing yet. Lexa, adorned in a full-length dress, was descending the staircase. The glass of champagne slipped from Clarke’s hands.

“Fuck,” Clarke said under her breath, but before she could kneel to clean it up, a server was already there.

“No problem m’lady,” the server said, bending down to pick up the glass and wiping the spill.

“Would you like another glass?” Herb offered.

“Um, sure,” Clarke said with eyes still glued on the brunette in the distance.

As Herb left to get Clarke another drink, Clarke watched the ship’s captain greet Lexa at the bottom of the stairs. The captain was flanked by another gentleman with dark features and a large, curling mustache.

“That’s Mr. John Astor the fourth,” Herb said, returning to Clarke with a new drink.

“Thanks, Herb.”

“He’s the richest man on the Titanic. A millionaire. Eighty million or somethin’ like that.”

That turned Clarke’s head. “Eighty million?” Clarke could barely fathom a single million, but eighty?

Herb nodded. “American businessman. Investor type.” Herb took a cracker topped with caviar as a server walked by.

Considering what Lexa told Clarke this morning about investors, Clarke guessed that Mr. Astor was a big contributor to their services. She watched the three: Lexa, Captain Smith, and Millionaire Astor, disappear into the crowd.

Several hours pass as dinner was served, comprised of a seven-course meal with more forks than Clarke knew how to use. Clarke sat by Herb’s side but witnessed Lexa at the head table. Every now and then, they would make eye contact. Lexa would catch her staring or vice versa. It was an interesting dynamic for Clarke, Lexa was ever more difficult to read.

Dinner concluded with sweet wine, more champagne, and large slices of white cake with thick, fluffy frosting. Clarke had two pieces, she rarely experienced dessert of such indulgence. Then, came the dancing. People paired up with the basics of a waltz.

“Clarke?”

For a second, Clarke thought Lexa was going to ask her to dance. It wasn’t uncommon for two women as their husbands sat, smoking and drinking.

“Lexa.”

“I just wanted to bid you good evening, you look lovely tonight.”

“Oh, um, thank you. You too, as well Lexa. Are you leaving?”

“Yes,” Lexa said. “I have some calculations to finalize. I expect to see you again later tonight?”

Clarke nodded, “Yes.” She was looking forward to the later evening, the downstairs’ agenda full of poker games and private readings. Full of Lexa. Clarke wanted it to be those later hours now. She was helplessly drawn to Lexa, a slave to her presence, and felt disappointed as Lexa departed.

/

After two hours of dancing, the ballroom began to dwindle, and Clarke made her way downstairs. Interestingly, the lower she descended, the drunker the people were. The ship had transformed into a massive vessel for alcohol; stumbling young gentlemen barely old enough to hold their liquor and couples kissing down the hallways—Clarke recognized a few of the other workers. She bypassed them and disappeared into the closet.

If she thought upstairs was drunk, then downstairs was an utter ruckus. Singing, cheering, men kissing men, women kissing women, and variations in between. It smelled like sex and smoke and alcohol. It was the brothel that it was built to be.

Clarke smiled as her eyes landed on several poker tables with simultaneous ongoing games. Then, there was Lexa, laughing at one of the tables with a cigarette in between her fingers. But something else entirely off-putting.

Lexa had changed out of her formal dress and was sporting trousers. Men’s styled with suspenders complete with a newsboy cap. She looked boyish. She looked adorable. She looked entirely too… fuckable.

Arousal churned deep in Clarke’s core and she bit her lip. Clarke had slept with plenty of women, it was part of the job. But no woman struck her like Lexa did—a cast of lightning and it set Clarke on fire. They made eye contact and Clarke was ready to combust.

“Clarke!” Lexa gave a quick nod over, looked to her right and told the person to leave. “This spot’s yours. Come.”

Chapter Text

As expected, the poker table was down to Clarke and Lexa, again. Each with an equal split of the chips. Sitting to Lexa’s left, Clarke wasn’t certain whether it was a good or bad thing—good because the eye contact wasn’t as direct, bad because of Lexa’s proximity, seeming to close in on her as the night grew darker.

“Raise,” Lexa said, tossing a handful of chips into the pile.

Clarke chewed on her lip, a decision-making tell she didn’t mean to reveal but it was already too late by the time she realized. It was as if Lexa had peeled her open in the past 24 hours and revealed her bare soul. Clarke had a two pair, king high—it was a decent hand, enough to volley a bit, but Clarke wasn’t interested in volleying, she wanted the full pot—to take home the big fish and reel Lexa in with a master hand.

“Fold,” Clarke replied, tossing in her cards at the dealer.

Lexa tossed in hers with a slight look of disappointment. “Oh, come now, Clarke. Play with me.”

Clarke swore Lexa’s words hinted with seduction. It was all coy and lure as Clarke watched Lexa light another cigarette and puffed an “O” in Clarke’s direction as the dealer dealt. Clarke resisted a shuddered as Lexa shrugged off her suspenders, so they hung loosely around her waist, allowing her to relax her shoulders. Then, Lexa flipped her cap backward and picked up her cards.

Lexa was having a crippling effect on Clarke; the dynamics were so drastically different from the evening before. Clarke was sweating, feeling each palpation through her chest and palms sticky. She reached for her cards with nervous hands, hoping for a combination to boost her confidence. Despite the crowd cheering behind her, Clarke needed the assurance to face Lexa, who was sitting so relaxed, so comfortable, so… smug.

Peeling her cards from the green table, Clarke was satisfied to discover three aces and a pair of queens—a full house. It was beautiful, and Clarke thwarted the smile that threatened to spread across her face. It was exactly what she needed to go all in, because sitting next to Lexa—looking the way she was looking—was becoming unbearable.

“All in,” Clarke said.

“Already, must have something good.” Lexa clicked her tongue, deciding. “Alright, all in for me too,” Lexa said as if wearing metal armor, impenetrable and immune to lose. “Let’s see it.”

Clarke splayed her cards down, “Full-house. Triple aces.”

Spectators oohed, aahed, and whistled. Lexa ticked a single eyebrow. “Impressive,” she said plainly.

With a sigh of relief, Clarke felt victorious and reached for Lexa’s pile of chips. Lexa immediately placed her hand on top of Clarke’s and the sensation made Clarke’s breath hitch.

“But…” Lexa said. “It’s still not enough.” And revealed a four of a kind comprised of the lowest cards that existed, a bunch of twos.

“Shit…” Clarke slumped down and the crowd booed—many losing their side bets they had on Clarke.

“Would you like to try your luck again, Clarke?” Lexa said, offering to start another game.

“Um, no—no thank you,” Clarke replied. “Perhaps tomorrow night? Plus, I don’t think I quite have enough time for a second game,” Clarke said, mindful of midnight approaching—although it was more of an excuse than a true reason.

“Very well,” Lexa replied and scooted off her seat. “Count me out as well,” Lexa said to the dealer and the table filled up with new players as Clarke and Lexa stepped away from the scene.

“That was a nice hand you had, Clarke. I would have done the same.”

Standing square to Lexa, Clarke nodded. At this direct angle, Clarke’s eyes began to roam across the woman before her. Lexa; with large, glowing green eyes, thick plush lips, and a gleam of sweat that ran down her neckline, dipping below her partly unbuttoned shirt. Clarke swallowed a parching gulp.

“Uh—thank you,” Clarke nodded, briefly. Lexa was suffocating her even though they were at least three feet apart. “If—if you’ll excuse me.”

Lexa’s brow furrowed, “Have I upset you?”

“Oh, no—goodness no.” Quite the opposite. “I um, I just need to gather a few things before I make my way topside.”

Lexa gave a single nod and stepped aside for Clarke to continue to her stateroom.

Bursting into her room, Clarke slammed the door behind her, gasping. God, Lexa looked good. Clarke had never experienced such effects from another woman before and it threw her completely off kilter. Clarke’s blood was running hot as if she were down in the furnaces of the Titanic herself with red and white coals radiating a scorching heat. Clarke recalled Lexa’s exposed neckline, Lexa’s jawline, the entirety of the outfit, everything about Lexa tonight frazzled Clarke like never before.

“Jesus, Clarke, get a grip,” she muttered at herself and rubbed her face deep into her palms. A shower would be good. Below decks, they had access to a shared washroom, but topside, Herb had his own.

Quickly, Clarke gathered some belongings to journey up to Herb’s stateroom. Moonlight sliced through the porthole and a small, barely noticeable, flurry of snow dusted outside. Clarke shivered, she was never a fan of winter and imagined she’d end up somewhere warm in the States. Perhaps Florida or further west, California. As Clarke flipped on the lights, she momentarily reveled in the fantasy of Hollywood—to be a movie star on the red carpet alongside flashing lights and rolling cameras. Fans at her feet, agents on the phone, and reporters at her doorstep.

Ring!

The sound of the telephone pulled Clarke from her daydreams. Herb left no instructions for answering the phone, so, Clarke ignored it. Answering a call was not her place, plus, it never rang again after that.

The shower was hot and water pressure, plentiful. A stark contrast to her days growing up with a bucket of lukewarm water and washcloth. This was wonderful. Steam filled the space and Clarke inhaled the white moisture with a smile, letting hot water trickle from her head to toes. Again, Clarke considered staying beyond the one-way voyage. Life on the Titanic was proving difficult to resist—and this comfort was just one of the fellow officer’s staterooms. Clarke imagined the indulgences of the wealthy on board and what would be available to her. With each passing hour, it was becoming more and more difficult to convince herself to leave this ship of dreams.

Clarke curled into the bed with a sleepy smile painted on her lips. The snow had stopped but left a cake of flakes along the round of the porthole. Thoughts of Lexa easily floated in her mind; Clarke wondered what Lexa was doing this very moment, if Lexa was asleep, perhaps reading—likely. She pictured Lexa sleeping on the couch again, the way Clarke had found her, and how soft and innocent Lexa looked. With that image, Clarke drifted asleep.

/

April 12, 1912

Clarke awoke similar to the day before, with sunlight dancing on her eyelids and Herb up and about, dressing for his duties.

“Top of the mornin’,” Herb greeted.

Slowly, Clarke rose. “Goodness I slept like a baby—hardly realized you had returned.”

“Yeah…” Herb agreed. “I’ve always slept better while underway. Rockin’ of the ship, hum of the engines or whatnot.”

“I can’t recall the last time I’ve had such a good night’s rest.”

“Care for breakfast?” he offered once again.

Clarke nodded, “Please.”

 This morning, Clarke opted for an omelet stuffed full of cheese, vegetables, and sausage. Clarke polished her plate and washed it down with a second cup of coffee. Although, breakfast wasn’t the only thing Clarke was concerned with as she continuously scanned the lounge for Lexa’s presence. But, Lexa never arrived.

“How ‘bout that tour of the bridge?” Clarke said to Herb as they stood from the table.

A gleam of pride flickered in Herb’s eyes, he clearly enjoyed his work and expression mirrored a child excited to show off their toys.

“It would be my pleasure,” Herb replied and held out his elbow for Clarke to take.

They traveled one deck up to the bridge and the view of the golden sea opened itself up through the glass windows that stretched the width of the ship. Sunlight highlighted the dark mahogany floors and every inch of brass was shined to a perfect polish. Centered was the ship’s wheel, and adjacent was the engine-order telegraph arrowed on half-speed.

“Wow…” Clarke exhaled. “This is spectacular.”

At the wheel stood the helmsman, shadowed by the quartermaster of the watch, and thirdly, a lookout on the starboard wing.

“Clarke, this is Harold, the Fourth Officer and Quartermaster of the Watch,” Herb said, introducing Clarke to the bridge crew.

“Hello,” Clarke greeting and shook Harold’s hand.

“Robert, the helmsman, and Freddie over there is lookout.”

The other two merely nodded at Clarke’s presence. Despite feeling ridiculously out of place, the bridge crew was quite polite as Herb walked Clarke around and explained some of the navigational equipment: plotting charts, compass, sextant.

“I beg your pardon?” Clarke said.

“Sextant,” Herb repeated. “Bit of a peculiar name, but it’s for celestial navigation. You see—” Herb picked up the instrument, “you look through this sight here and it measures the angular distance between two objects.”

Clarke nodded, peering through the eyehole with one eye like a pistol. She didn’t know she was supposed to be looking at, but it was fun to play with all the nautical knick-knacks. Clarke especially liked the binoculars.

“Thank you, Herb,” Clarke said. “That was… fun,” she said honestly.

Herb tipped his hat, “Of course. I love it. Do you need an escort down?”

“No, thank you. I can find my way.”

“Very well, g’day, Clarke.”

As Clarke departed the bridge, she veered to the outer staircase to retrace her steps on the Promenade deck. One, because the morning was too nice to spend inside. And two, Clarke secretly hoped to see Lexa again. While the ship was vast, and Lexa could have been anywhere, Clarke found Lexa in the same spot they were yesterday, leaned forward against the handrail with a cigarette between her fingers.

“Um… morning,” Clarke said as she approached. This morning was chillier than yesterday, and Clarke tugged her coat closer to her chest.

Lexa turned. “Clarke, I thought to expect you out here.” Automatically, Lexa withdrew and lit a cigarette for Clarke.

“Oh, uh, is there a reason why…?” Clarke responded, both dubious and curious as to why Lexa was looking for her. She had already lost all her money to Lexa the night before.

Lexa gave a minute shrug while offering the lit cigarette to Clarke. “No particular reason other than your company.”

“Oh.” Clarke’s face flushed in flattery, now thankful for the morning chill that already had her cheeks rosy pink. “Thanks,” Clarke said, almost too shy to take the cigarette from Lexa’s hands. “But certainly, there must be far more interesting people aboard to keep your company.”

“Mm…” Lexa shook her head as she took a long pull, “you would reason, but they’re all the same. Rich. Entitled. Fake.”

“So, what does that make me? Poor, unentitled, and real?”

Lexa cracked a smile, glancing over at Clarke’s quip. “Precisely. Although…” Lexa turned to face Clarke and placed a hand under Clarke’s chin like she did upon their first meeting. “It’s the realism I’m most interested in.”

The contact made Clarke shiver, and her lower lip began to tremble.

“Are you cold, Clarke?” Lexa dropped her hand. “Would like to go inside?”

Clarke agreed with a nod because being cold was a more plausible explanation for suddenly going numb.

“Have you by chance paid a visit to the ship’s library?”

Clarke shook her head. “I didn’t even know there was a ship’s library.”

“Then perhaps would you like to join me?” Lexa asked. “I have yet to see it myself.”

When they entered through the library doors, it was clearly a space reserved for those among the first class. Lexa had access to it all; the library consisted of mahogany-lined walls, oak carved furniture, and dark green upholstery. Many of the tables exhibited built-in game tops for chess, checkers, or backgammon. Men and women were sprawled about, reading, writing, or otherwise lounging with their alcohol and cigarettes. What rich people did wasn't far from what they did below decks, just significantly quieter.

“Lexa…” Clarke whispered. “It’s so quiet up here.”

Lexa let out an amused exhaled. “We’ll pick out a few and head below, alright?”

Normally, a few meant two to three books, but Lexa handed Clarke book after book, stacking them up in Clarke’s hands like you would while gathering logs for a fireplace.

“Lexa—are you joking with me?” Clarke whispered, now peering to the side of the growing stack. “You said a few.”

Lexa hummed another quiet laugh. “Some of those are poetry, nothing more than a few paragraphs.” And added another book on top.

“You said this place is a library, can’t you just… come back later?”

“That’ll last me the night, I plan on returning tomorrow.”

Clarke’s jaw fell agape. “All of these?”

“Well… a couple are for you, but yes.”

“Bloody hell, woman.”

They returned below decks to Lexa’s stateroom where Clarke unloaded her arms onto the coffee table, books toppling over like a set of dominoes.

Lexa brushed her fingertips across the pulled two from the pile. “I think you’ll enjoy these.”

Clarke squinted her eyes to read the covers. “Pet-er Pan, and the W…Won—”

“Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Clarke frowned.

“What’s the matter, Clarke?”

“I already know what happens in these. Peter Pan, a boy who never grows old. And Dorothy, trying to get home while running away from an evil witch.”

“Oh, rubbish. It’s different to read the entire story, word for word.”

Clarke continued to display an unexcited expression, though thankful for the opportunity.

“Here,” Lexa patted the space on the couch next to her. “How ‘bout I read you one of my favorites?”

“Uh… I hardly think that’s necessary,” Clarke said, suddenly nervous to sit next to Lexa. It wasn’t as if Clarke didn’t want to, it was because she wanted to too much. “Don’t you have like… accounting to do? Some business meeting to attend?”

“No, completed that yesterday. Balanced the books this morning. C’mon, I insist.”

Forget about leaving the ship of dreams, Clarke knew the closer she let herself get to Lexa, the more difficult it would be to depart. But right now, with Lexa looking so sweet, both charming and inviting, how could Clarke resist?

/

They spent the day together with Clarke listening to Lexa read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. More than once, Clarke resisted the urge to snuggle into the brunette, partly fascinated by the story, partly fascinated by Lexa herself. Listening to Lexa’s voice was angelic; she had a poetic timbre, and by late afternoon, Clarke had drifted asleep on the far side of the sofa.

A knock and murmurs at the door stirred Clarke from her slumber, but it was Lexa’s hand on her shoulder that ultimately woke her.

“Clarke?”

“Mn?”

“Sorry to wake you.”

Clarke sat up, “S’fine, sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“I need to you to get dressed into… something nicer. There’s a guest here—a very wealthy one.”

At this, Clarke cocked her head—she had momentarily forgotten her main purpose on board—slipped into the fantasy of a “normal” life.

“Of course,” Clarke responded.

When Clarke emerged from her room in an evening dress, she noted that Lexa had also changed, escorting a man she recognized from yesterday. The millionaire. Astor.

Automatically, Clarke joined the lineup of women (and a handful of men), for Astor to undoubtedly “take his pick”. He walked the line with Lexa, cigar in hand.

“As one of our top investors, you may choose of any my girls—or boys, for the evening,” Lexa said.

Clarke watched him scan the row. Then, Astor turned, giving Lexa a once over.

“And, what of you?” Astor said to Lexa.

“I’m sorry, Mister Astor, but I am not an option,” Lexa simply replied.

“I’ll pay you, directly,” he said.

Lexa dismissed it. “Sir, with all due respect,” Lexa dropped her voice, “even if I were an option, I don’t fancy men.”

Astor gave a single puff of cigar, “Even better because you haven’t even considered my offer.”

He was a true businessman and spoke with intrigue that even left Lexa curious.

“Go on,” Lexa said.

“I have unique tastes Madam,” Astor strolled down the line again. “I like to watch…” Then, he stopped in front of Clarke but eyed Lexa. “You,” and turned to look at Clarke, “and her. One hour.”

Clarke’s heartbeat jumped leagues, threatening to hammer out of her chest as Lexa’s gaze fixed on her.

“I’ll pay triple… hell, money isn’t an issue, give me a price,” Astor said.

Lexa licked her lips, “Triple is fine.”

Clarke swallowed a thick gulp that bobbed down her throat.

“But…” Lexa trailed and looked at Clarke. “The decision is yours, Clarke.”

Clarke could feel her eyes darting left and right, fleeting from Lexa’s before she’d burst.

“What do you say, Clarke? One hour. You and I?” Lexa restated.

The air was charged with a thousand volts.

“Fine,” Clarke said with the most confidence she could muster. “But I want half the cut,” Clarke blurted, though she didn’t care about the money, she needed to mask her fear.

“Thirty-percent,” Lexa said.

“Forty, and I still pretend like I’m having a good time.”

“Ha,” Lexa chuckled. “Done.”

/

Astor’s cabin matched the grand ballroom—fit for royalty with white marble floors, dark wood carved furniture, and a balcony with an unobstructed view of the ocean.

“Please…” Astor gestured toward the bed, “if you could… as if I weren’t here.” Then he walked to the far end of the room, to the bar, and began to pour himself a drink. Mindless. Casual.

Contrast, Lexa stepped close, inches from Clarke’s face, and Clarke inhaled a shuddering breath. Lexa stare was penetrating, leaving Clarke feeling open and vulnerable. Clarke couldn’t help but let her trepidation show, hands shaky and breathing, rapid, like some amateur on their first job.

“Clarke?” Lexa’s voice was a mere whisper. “If this isn’t something you want, I can tell him the deal’s off.” Lexa nodded in Astor’s direction, who had taken his drink out onto the balcony and puffed through his cigar.

Clarke blinked. “No. It’s fine.” Clarke locked her eyes with Lexa. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Lexa said, bringing a hand up to Clarke’s face and brushing a curled blonde lock aside.

“I’m sure,” Clarke replied. “I want this.”

Lexa gave a nod and with it, dipped in for their first kiss. Clarke’s lungs surged with sudden intake at the contact. It was electrifying. Then, Lexa parted and brought a hand to Clarke’s face, turning it to kiss her again at a different angle. Clarke felt a swipe at the seam of her mouth and easily yielded to the glide of Lexa’s tongue against hers.

The kiss grew deeper and Clarke swore her knees were buckling, but Lexa’s arm held her snug around the waist. Clarke didn’t realize when that had happened, or how her hands were now all over Lexa—clawing at Lexa’s chest and snaking up into Lexa’s thick hair.

Lexa was backing her up, crowding her towards the bed until they stumbled onto it. Moans escaped from Clarke and she wasn’t even close to pretending. They way Lexa was kissing her, overloaded with passion, with hunger, a profound yearning. Clarke was ill-prepared for the surge of meaning, the assault of her feelings. Like when you go to see a shrink and they suddenly uncover something buried inside. Lexa had sparked something deep within Clarke and it was quickly roiling into an uncontrollable flame.

“Lexa…” Clarke sighed as Lexa worked her clothes, effortlessly stripping Clarke bare. Clarke felt merciless to do anything under Lexa. She could only hang on as Lexa dragged her tongue down Clarke’s neck and took a nipple in her mouth.

“Oh my god,” Clarke gripped Lexa’s head.

Lexa was amazing, and they had barely gotten started. Lexa’s tongue worked its way between both of Clarke’s nipples, giving them slow and equal attention, sucking and laving with occasional nips. Clarke squirmed at the wetness pooling between her legs; she was close to coming from Lexa just working her tits.

“Lexa,” Clarke panted and began to push insistently on Lexa’s shoulders. “Lexa, please.”

Clarke heard Lexa chuckle as the brunette returned to Clarke’s lips with more kisses. Smug kisses, because Lexa had turned Clarke into a needy, wanton mess. Usually, it was the other way around. Never had Clarke been so powerless, especially in the bedroom. This was all backwards.

“What would you like Clarke?” Lexa whispered as she kissed her way around Clarke’s ear. Clarke wondered if it was all an act for Lexa—worried it was all an act. Face it, Lexa worked in the system since she was sixteen, no doubt she knew how to affect people. But right now, Clarke couldn’t care less as the brunette whispered oh-so-sweetly into Clarke’s ear. “My fingers… my mouth… both?”

“Unnnhhhh,” Clarke moaned, eyes rolling back at the thought.

Lexa took it as a yes and descended, peppering kissing across Clarke’s belly until she was between Clarke’s legs.

“Oh fuck!” Clarke yelled as Lexa laid a sloppy first kiss on her heat. For a split second, Clarke flinched from the sudden sensation, but Lexa tugged her thighs tight and pressed in with her tongue. Lexa licked, swirled, and sucked with loud, messy, slurping noises that echoed the room. All that Lexa seemed to care about was Clarke’s pleasure, dipping in with her tongue every now and then, but never failing to return to Clarke’s swollen bundle of nerves with long, generous laps.

Clarke’s legs began to tremble and that’s when Lexa slid deep inside, filling Clarke better than she had ever known.

“Oh fuck, Lex! Oh, my fucking god!” Clarke gripped Lexa’s hair with both hands, shamelessly rocking into Lexa’s face while fingers pumped in and out of her. The sucking turned into flickering and Lexa curled inside of Clarke with perfect precision. This was the best Clarke had ever had.

“Lex, I’m coming! Oh, fuck I’m coming!”

Lexa sped up, fucked Clarke harder and it sent Clarke into oblivion. Clarke shuddered wildly, and Lexa pressed on, coaxing every spasm out of Clarke until she was spent. Slowly, Lexa drew out, kissing Clarke’s inner thighs and back up. They locked eyes with Lexa lingering inches from Clarke’s face. Clarke wanted so badly to know the thoughts behind those emerald trees.

Was it all an act? Or was this real?

Clarke reached forward, cupped Lexa’s cheek to pull the brunette in for a kiss, but Lexa leaned away.

“Time’s up,” Lexa said.

“Wha—”

Unexpectedly, Lexa rolled off Clarke and stood. “Your hour’s up, Mr. Astor.”

Oh yeah, him.

Astor was sitting in a chair, shadowed in the darkness. Clarke had utterly forgotten he was in the room. Had it really been a full hour?

“Well, wasn’t that splendid,” Astor said, standing and pulled a stack of cash from his inner pocket.

Clarke sat up, mind fuck-fogged, and struggled to put on her clothes. Lexa was still predominantly dressed.

“Tomorrow night?” Astor suggested.

“No, I’m sorry but that was a one-time deal,” Lexa said, sternly. “You can choose between any of my other girls. But you won’t get either of us again.”

There was no room for persuasion in Lexa’s tone. The deal was done.

“Shame,” Astor said. “Both such pretty girls.”

Lexa made a brief count of the notes and put her coat back on. “Clarke are you ready to go?”

Uh,” Clarke nodded but was scarcely managing to slip back into her dress.

Clarke’s knees were still weak as they exited into the passageway, struggling to maintain her balance in hopes that Lexa wouldn’t notice. But, Clarke could only wish to be so lucky as she stumbled on her third step and Lexa caught her by the waist. Instinctively, Clarke flung her arms around Lexa’s shoulders and found herself, again, inches from Lexa’s face.

Chapter Text

Inches from Lexa’s mouth, Clarke could smell herself. She glanced down, Lexa’s lips were puffed, slightly swollen from the previous hour and Clarke wanted to soothe it with her own.  Rake her tongue across before driving it back into Lexa’s mouth. When Clarke’s eyes moved to meet green, gauging the moment, Clarke swore she saw past the façade. Through the trees and into the forest. It wasn’t an act, it couldn’t have been. Not with the way Lexa was looking at her right now. Beyond want and desire, because Clarke was plenty familiar with the superficial look of lust through the years. No. This was something else and the intensity behind Lexa’s eyes set a fire in Clarke’s belly.

Harnessing her courage, Clarke took a chance and closed the gap. She placed a single kiss on Lexa’s lips. Except, Lexa didn’t kiss back, although, she didn’t shy away either. Determined, Clarke tried again, pressed further and skated her tongue across Lexa’s lower lip and that’s when Lexa turned a soft cheek.

“Clarke…” Lexa whispered in a semi-serious tone reminding Clarke of where they are and more importantly, who they are. “What are you doing?”

Retracting, Clarke thought she had mistaken and imprinted her own simmering feelings that were quickly boiling over. No one had ever fucked her like that. It was soft and sensual, she was touched with care and tenderness; it was not fucking but something akin to love-making. Clarke received the confirmation she needed when she returned her gaze to Lexa’s telling eyes; Lexa was desperately trying to put up a wall that came crashing down so unexpectedly. Taking advantage of Lexa’s waver, Clarke verbalized her case.

“I want to touch you,” Clarke said. “Will you let me?”

“Clarke…” Lexa repeated with a slight warning in her tone. “This is not the place—” Lexa’s words are supported when the click of a door sounded from the end of the hallway. Peering at the noise, Lexa further distanced herself from Clarke, straightening her posture and clearing her throat. “We have jobs, Clarke. I have duties to tend to—I cannot simply… mingle as I please.”

“Bollocks.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“You didn’t have to agree to Astor’s terms.”

It was clear that Lexa was rarely questioned in such a way, taken aback by Clarke’s challenge and Lexa ticked her head in both annoyance and admittance.

A beat of silence.

Two.

Three, when a fog of tension blanketed the air between them. Clarke didn’t know what to say, only stare at the impasse. Refusing to let Lexa drift away, Clarke cut through the fog with two steps forward and pressed Lexa against the wall for another kiss, curling her fingers around the base of Lexa’s neck. This time, Lexa reciprocated, and god did she reciprocate. Without the presence of a paid audience, a moan escaped from Lexa and Clarke swallowed it whole, burying her tongue in Lexa’s mouth and tangling her hands in Lexa’s thick hair.

Another click of a doorknob from down the hall had Lexa pausing, pulling away and forcing Clarke to take a step back but Lexa quickly grasped Clarke’s hand, “C’mon.”

/

The RMS in RMS Titanic stands for Royal Mail Service. The Titanic, first and foremost, was a cargo ship with ample storage space below decks to transport goods over the ocean. Goods such as food, grain and meats, textiles, automobiles, and furniture.

When they descended below, Clarke assumed they were returning to the tween-deck, Lexa’s cabin. Curiosity struck when they bypassed the closet door and continued down the passageway, into another, then another, zigzagging down through the bowels of the vessel that received few, if any, visitors for Lexa had led into a large cargo hold.

“Woah…” Clarke exhaled.

The hold was massive, lined end-to-end with rows of new automobiles (one with a curiously foggy interior), but Lexa pressed onward, past the cars, crates, and boxes until they were greeted by a watertight door. The twist and turn of the heavy steel handle echoed the hold and they entered another hold replete with furniture. Expensive furniture that was so new, the space smell like a lumber yard. Sofas, chairs, and mattresses were butted together in transport, most vertically stacked until Lexa snaked their way further aft, where finer furniture was transported in their intended horizontal positions to avoid damage.

This was where Lexa picked the nearest bed—it looked incredibly expensive—with a lavish headboard alive with intricate wood carvings coated in shiny new lacquer. Clarke didn’t feel worthy, but all sense of worth, or lack thereof, faded when Lexa sat down and pulled Clarke on top of her, crashing their lips together and picking up where they’d left off.

They began stripping and Clarke experienced a luxury she was devoid of hours earlier: Lexa’s bare skin on hers. She wanted to map every inch of it with her mouth, but in the essence of time (after all, Clarke was due back to Herb’s cabin) Clarke navigated directly south. Tracing her hand between Lexa’s bosom, down her stomach and between her legs where Clarke bypassed a neat tuft and was met with a warm slick.

“Clarke…”

Her name slipped from Lexa’s lips in the most endearing way and Clarke yearned for more. After a few superficial brushes, Clarke sunk her fingers deep into a pool of velvet. Lexa let out something between a gasp and a moan, inhaling clipped spurts on air as if she hadn’t been touched in ages. Clarke stilled her fingers, letting Lexa adjust to the pressure before starting a slow pump, in and out. Gradually, Lexa began to move with her and wrapped her legs around Clarke’s torso as they picked up rhythm.

Sought to give Lexa more, Clarke backed her hand with her thigh and pressed in harder, memorizing the look of pleasure on Lexa’s face: eyelids fluttering, lips parted, and soft moans with each breath reaching for the next. Lexa was more exquisite than the furniture surrounding them.

Clarke continued to drop kisses where she could afford, licking up Lexa’s neck and down her jawline before returning to her lips. With each successive thrust, Lexa’s kisses grew sloppier, heels hooked tighter, and nails dug deeper. Clarke quickened her pace and curled her fingers, hoping to bring Lexa to the edge of ecstasy as Lexa did her. But Lexa clung tightly as if her body refused to give Clarke the control. Intentional or not, Clarke wasn’t going to have it.

“Lexa, let go…” Clarke coaxed in a whisper against Lexa’s ear. “I’m here, let go.”

“Clarke,” Lexa moaned and again, Clarke reveled in the way Lexa said her name, storing it permanently in her memory for she never wanted to forget this moment, this feeling; an unfamiliar sense of belonging she’d never experienced until now. Something deep within was telling her that all she needed (and will need) was right here in her arms. So, she thrusted harder, faster, giving Lexa everything she had until Lexa came undone beneath her. Lexa’s back arched from the mattress, bucking against Clarke and she held her snug, pumping Lexa through the entirety of her orgasm until she sank back down.

Pure awe washed over Clarke; looking at Lexa was like looking at a goddess. An untouchable immortal being and Clarke was just graced with her presence.

“You’re so beautiful,” Clarke said and kissed Lexa’s open lips, once, then tipping their foreheads together to rest in the moment. Carefully, Clarke withdrew her hand, about to bring them to her lips when Lexa clasped her wrist and brought Clarke’s fingers to her own mouth, suckling herself from Clarke’s fingertips with a look of fire from hell. Emerald eyes fell like a forest to wildfire and Lexa pulled Clarke in for a searing kiss, sitting up and yanking Clarke against her body.

To taste Lexa from her lips was a painful tease. Clarke was thirsty, and the sparse droplets only intensified her thirst; she wanted to drink Lexa like a waterfall. Abruptly, Clarke gave Lexa a rough shove back against the mattress to descend between her legs. Their fingers remained linked when Clarke licked a generous lap across Lexa’s sex, gathering Lexa along her tongue to suck and drink. Midway, Lexa released one of her hands, sinking it into Clarke’s hair, pressing and guiding Clarke where she wanted, and Clarke easily obliged. With her now-free dominant hand, Clarke began to play at Lexa’s folds, dipping in every so often until Lexa writhed for more and was grinding up into her face. Finally, Clarke slipped all the way in, reliving Lexa’s plush walls.

“Fuck, Clarke!”

Fingers tightened in Clarke’s hair and Clarke propelled inwards. Once. Twice. Lexa came on the third with walls fluttering and clit pulsating. Clarke hummed in satisfaction, riding Lexa’s orgasm with her mouth and fingers until its very end.

Withdrawing, Clarke crawled her way up until their mouths met again. They exchanged kisses, savoring each other and slowing the tempo to a lazy pace. Smiles were hummed, and once, a Clarke caught herself giggling in merriment.

They kissed, languid and slow, until things began to reaccelerate, pick up urgency until Clarke was grinding down against Lexa’s pelvis. Leisure, roaming hands were replaced by insistent hands; Lexa was gripping Clarke’s ass and pulling her down with each grind and Clarke’s felt wetter than the ocean itself, dripping and smearing herself all over Lexa, desperately angling downward for more friction.

“More…” Clarke whined. “Please…”

Without pause, Lexa shimmied below Clarke’s body until Clarke hovered over Lexa’s face and gradually, Lexa guided her down until Clarke’s center of pleasure was reacquainted with Lexa’s mouth.

“Mmf… Lexa,” Clarke gave a hoarse moan.

Clarke was so wet the fear of drowning Lexa was a legitimate thought. But Lexa’s arms held her thighs snug and Clarke could only hold on for dear life, fingers weaving into the intricacies of the headboard with Lexa’s mouth working her again. Lexa had no restraint, delving deep with her tongue, over and over. Clarke bounced, squirmed, and rocked in this sea of pleasure when Lexa finally reached around and thumbed her clit, tripping circles with each pass of her tongue.

“Oh god! Fuck!”

The steel vastness of the storage room exacerbated Clarke’s resounding moans. And for a ship that was carrying well over two-thousand souls, it was as if they were the only two aboard. Clarke could hear Lexa humming in her own gratification as Clarke’s orgasm closed in, growing nearing and nearing with each of Lexa’s strokes.

“Lex, I’m—”

Clarke came spilling over the precipice, unable to finish her sentence. A release of pleasure flooded her system and Clarke craned her head back, letting out a long moan into the now-humid air, before releasing her hold and collapsing backward. Lexa was the best, ever.

Unable to move, Clarke hazily recalled Lexa shifting around her, cradling Clarke’s head into her arms until she came to rest on Lexa’s chest. Though Lexa’s breathing had calmed, her heart continued to beat rapidly against Clarke’s ear. It was soothing. It felt like home—or at least a comforting feeling Clarke associated with what “home” could feel like—and she didn’t want this to end. No just tonight, but indefinitely.

“Will you come with me?” Clarke finally asked, and propped herself up from Lexa’s bosom. “To America?”

A hum of amusement sounded from Lexa’s throat. “Are you mad, Clarke?”

“I’m not joking.”

Lexa sighed and began shifting away from underneath Clarke. Clarke momentarily chided her own stupidity, her lack of thought and instinct as if she were a child lost in wants and wishes. Wants and wishes she knew were empty; the constant disappointment that was life. But Lexa didn’t move far, leaning over the edge of the bed and fished in her pile of clothing for cigarettes. The click and snap of Lexa’s pocket watch sounded before she leaned back up. Two cigarettes rested between her lips as she spoke. “It’s almost midnight, Clarke.” Lexa struck a match, lighting them both and offered one to Clarke. “You should be retiring to the Third Mate’s cabin soon.”

“Lexa…” Clarke accepted the cigarette and placed it in her mouth, reluctantly rolling off Lexa to ready for Herb’s cabin. “I don’t understand why you choose this life when you’re clearly capable of making a decent life on the outside,” Clarke said as she dressed. “Leave all of this, you can make a new life in American. And a damn good one.”

With another sigh, Lexa sat up and began to gather her own clothing. “A discussion for another time, perhaps?” Lexa said and stepped forward to trace Clarke’s jawline, tilting her head to angle Clarke’s eyes at hers. “Princess.”

“Pardon?”

“Like Cinderella—due at midnight.” Then Lexa kissed her. “Beauty unmatched if I should say so myself.”

Charmed at Lexa’s clear attempt to flatter in lieu of discussion, Clarke conceded and didn’t push the conversation. They finished dressing in simple silence, stealing a kiss before parting ways though Lexa’s reservation to give Clarke an explanation irked Clarke through each rising deck. She found herself stomping by the time she reached the main deck, frustrated by Lexa’s ‘secrets’. What wasn’t Lexa telling her?

Clarke arrived at Herb’s cabin one minute before midnight and within a few minutes, Herb entered.

“Oh, hello Clarke. You’re still up?”

“Yes, I’m—um, was just getting to bed,” Clarke said and began removing the clothes she just had off minutes ago.

Herb was kind and easy, showering before going to bed with minimal conversation as if they were an old married couple. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow, snoring a light and low rumble, reminding Clarke of a large, gentle teddy bear. Unfortunately for Clarke, sleep evaded her and she laid awake, staring at the ceiling. Mind left running to mull over the evening with Lexa.

Despite their physical intimacy, Clarke feared that she had positioned herself leagues from Lexa. She didn’t know whether to push harder or let go, pondering back-and-forth and back-and-forth. Her brooding state was interrupted when Herb stirred next to her, he twitched and whimpered as if having a nightmare. Automatically, Clarke placed a palm on this back and gave him a gentle rub until his tremors stilled.  

The notion, along with Herb’s circumstance, drew sympathy from Clarke. She imaged Herb’s daily routine, sailing day and night, completing a shift only to return to an empty cabin. The isolation at sea, surrounded by water for miles on end only to arrive at the port to turn around and sail back the other way. Soon, Clarke’s thoughts bridged to Lexa with a duty not so unlike Herb’s and she pictured Lexa, alone with her books while responsible for supplying clients with paid affection and false intimacy. It tugged at Clarke’s heart and in that instant, Clarke decided.

/

April 13, 1912

“I want to stay on board,” Clarke said in a firm tone.

Lexa smiled, amused like a knowing parent with a demanding child. “You’re not in charge here, Clarke,” Lexa replied and returned to her book. She sat comfortably on her sofa, back against the arm and feet kicked up with a mug of tea within easy reach.

It was mid-morning when Clarke strolled into Lexa’s office with her decision. After a restless night of contemplating her life, Clarke never hesitated to seize an opportunity when she saw one and she knew, once she stepped foot onto American soil, Lexa would never cross her bow again.

“I wish to stay—” Clarke said and stepped forward, pulling Lexa’s book down from her vision. “—with you.”

Slowly, Lexa pressed her lips together in what Clarke surmised was the look of either disappointment or regret. Maybe a bit of both. It was as if the evening apart gave Lexa time to repaint on her mask; she was tremendously difficult to read.

“No, you won’t, Clarke. You deserve a chance in America and I won’t take that from you.”

“Ugh,” Clarke huffed. “You’re just as deserving of those same chances. Leave this.”

“Clarke.” Lexa’s tone bit with warning, a stark contrast from last night when her name slipped so tenderly from those same lips. Impatience was brewing and Lexa snapped her book shut in one motion. “I cannot leave this ship, this position. You don’t understand.”

“No, I don’t. So if you can explain it to me then maybe—”

Clarke’s voice was rising with each syllable and though the door was closed, Lexa hushed at her.

“Shhh— sit down, Clarke,” Lexa said in a calm and steady voice, removing her feet from the sofa to leave a vacancy for Clarke.

Despite the steam that threatened to come of her ears, Clarke sat.

“First,” Lexa started, “I’d like to apologize.”

Clarke scrunched her brow in puzzlement.

“I should not have accepted Astor’s proposal on our previous evening,” Lexa continued.

“You regret last night?”

“Ah—no, I don’t regret anything,” Lexa said and reached for a strand of loose blonde hair, sweeping it from Clarke’s face and tucking it behind her ear. “I am quite fond of you, Clarke. You’re a smart girl.”

Clarke smiled, shy and bashful, and leaned her face against the palm of Lexa’s hand.

“You’re also a very passionate and driven individual and I don’t doubt your success in the Americas.”

Lexa then paused, as if she needed a moment to prepare for what she was about to say next.

“And as I stated earlier, I cannot go with you to America. Not because of lack of desire, but obligations. I—some time ago, I was working closely with one of the main investors when he hired me personally to… tend to his wife.”

Clarke gulped at the sudden, uninvited rouse of jealousy that flooded her system.

“Needless to say, we reached a point where business was no longer business. She and I… discussed means of leaving. Her, in terms of divorce, and I, parting from the society. We set our plans in motion, but the husband was infuriated and unwilling to let her go. On the evening we were scheduled to depart, she was supposed to meet me at the train station.”

Lexa’s voice fell soft and low, swallowing thickly before the starting the next sentence and Clarke waited on bated breath.

“…And?”

Slowly, Lexa shook her head. “She never made it. Instead, he came to the station with her confiscated ticket in hand and confronted me. Later I discovered that he had… had strangled her in what I can only imagine in a fit of rage.”

Gasping, Clarke placed a hand over her mouth.

“He threatened me and I was left begging for my own life. He held a high position in the society and spared my life in exchange for indefinite duties here, onboard the Titanic. A banishment, so to speak. Hence, I cannot ‘just leave’ for I do not doubt his ability to find me and have my head. It is also why I do not engage with clientele, a decision that is my own, and again, I apologize for last night…” Lexa’s hand shifted from Clarke’s face and she swiped the pad of her thumb across Clarke’s lower lip. “I shouldn’t have let myself… but sometimes, the heart wins over the head.”

Speechless, Clarke stared at Lexa, doe-eyed and stunned to her core. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but certainly not this. The heartbreak and agony reduced Clarke into a puddle and a tear trickled its way to the seam of her lips. Lexa kissed it, licking away the hint of salt before planting another kiss on Clarke’s temple.

“Now,” Lexa whispered, “quit fussing and enjoy the day with me, Clarke. Hm?”

Realization set and Clarke wanted to pout like a child. Kick and scream for it was over before it began. Maybe it should have angered her—that Lexa knew this—but a gaping hole sunk in Clarke’s heart.

“But…” Clarke mumbled.

“There are no ‘buts’ Clarke. Things just are,” Lexa said softly. “And I play with the hand I am dealt. Now, I would very much enjoy your company for the day, if you’ll have me?”

Lexa’s comment drew a wry smile from Clarke, sniffling once as she wiped her cheek and nodded. Unhurriedly, Lexa rose from the sofa and began to gather a handful of books.

“What are you doing?”

“Going to the library, these are ready for return.”

“Already?”

It had been less than 24 hours since Clarke held those books for checkout in her arms.

“I—I don’t sleep often… or well,” Lexa admitted, preparing a stack in her left hand while reaching out with her right. “Coming?”

Nodding, Clarke took hold of Lexa’s hand to assist her off the couch and together they emerged from below, ascending to the Promenade deck with forearms linked.

Chapter Text

The seas were calm and the mid-morning sun was glorious, bathing the Titanic in a warm orange glow. The fog had just burned off and visibility reached for miles and miles. Lazy waves lapped at the vessel’s hull while gentle westerlies swept across its open decks. It was Saturday and the Titanic cruised at full-steam ahead, 21 knots maximum speed with all six boiler rooms churning hot and heavy as glowing red coals converted liquid into steam, spinning turbines and exhaled black plumes like a smoking lung.

In the library, Clarke studied Lexa as Lexa studied the books, watched her thumb through the pages and Clarke contemplated Lexa’s content with this life; it wasn’t a bad life by any means, access to a wealthy lifestyle without actually being rich. Surrounded by men and women of the highest class. Cigarettes, drinks, and food complemented by the ocean, sunrises, and sunsets.  

Lexa had settled with four new titles in hand, but instead of returning downstairs, Lexa took a seat at an empty table and gestured Clarke to do the same. It made Clarke uncomfortable and hoped that Lexa wouldn’t be having her read aloud. Though no one paid them any mind, Clarke still felt as if everyone’s eyes were on her. She was unaccustomed to this type of silence, this environment of academia. And like dogs that could smell fear, her apprehension stemmed from the fact that this was the most time she’d ever spent in a library and those around her could sense that she didn’t belong. They would take notice that her fingers struggled to turn the pages, eyes rove at a snail’s pace, and mind fight to grasp meaning in unfamiliar words.

“How’s your penmanship?” Lexa asked.

“Huh?”

“Your penmanship. Can you write?”

Clarke nodded, “I can write my name, is that by what you mean?”

“Here.” Lexa slid a book in Clarke’s direction. And judging by the thickness, too advanced for her reading level. Then, Lexa sacrificed several pages from her journal accompanied by a pencil. “Start copying.”

This was… different.

“Lexa, I don’t understand. Why am I doing this?”

Lexa gave Clarke a quick and assured smile. “Better your chance at a job when filing an application—I’d expect no less.”

Lexa was setting her up for success, giving Clarke the tools she needed upon arrival to America. Grateful, Clarke picked up the pencil and flipped to the first page.

“Oh, and if you come across a word you don’t know, underline it,” Lexa instructed.

Nodding, Clarke turned to her task while Lexa cracked the first of the three remaining books. Judging from the Roman numerals, it appeared to be a series and she was going to finish that series because Clarke’s peripheral noted the rate at which Lexa was turning pages. Faster than anyone in the room, faster than anyone Clarke had ever seen. Lexa’s eyes didn’t move from left to right, just straight down the page. Clarke was staring before she realized, gawking even, when Lexa’s vision drew up and caught her gaze.

“Did you have a question, Clarke?”

“Uh… no, I—sorry.” Clarke pulled her eyes away, looked down and returned to her assignment. It was poetry, with short and clipped lines and sentences, betraying the overall thickness of the book. It was nice poetry, things rhymed like soar and boar and core. Although, not always.

As instructed, she underlined the unfamiliar words and continued until they were interrupted by a server who was carrying small plates of food. Here, they paused for lunch, an assortment of sandwiches and fresh cut fruit was accompanied by hot tea and ice-cold lemonade. Sunshine leaked in through the windows, reflected off their water glasses and made Lexa’s eyes look greener than ever. When Clarke was lucky, she would catch a glimmer, a reflective sparkle that warmed her soul.

“You have nice eyes, Clarke.”

“Pardon?”

“Your eyes. They’re lovely.”

Clarke pursed her lips together and blushed. “I—thank you, Lexa.”

Lexa tipped her gaze in acknowledgment and while Clarke wanted to say more and echo the same, found herself speechless. Flattered and cajoled. She couldn’t muster small talk and too soon were the plates, cutlery, and glasses whisked away and the room returned to a state of study.

Clarke continued with her scrawl of an effort while Lexa flipped page after page until, at some point—Clarke’s unsure when—she’d stopped writing words and started doodling. More than doodling, drawing, and shading. The lines on Clarke’s parchment began to look like the lines on Lexa’s face. The shape of her eyes, high of her cheekbones, strike of her jawline. The curve of her ears and flow of her hair.

Lexa had leaned back in her chair, reading in complete content for she hadn’t looked up in a long, long while. Not when the waiter stopped to pour them an afternoon cup of tea, which had now since turned cold; not when someone bumped her chair; not even when the ship’s horn sounded and made Clarke flinch. Lexa remained in total stillness, captivated inside a story Clarke was now very curious about. Lexa was nearly finished, reading faster than she’d started as if racing to reach the end.

As Clarke began to fill in the background of her drawing, adding depth by shadowing the column of books behind Lexa, she decided she would miss this. Dearly. Though short, their affair would undoubtedly leave a deep gash in Clarke’s soul. She wanted days of this—years of this—for Lexa’s company was the easiest she’d ever been in. Her presence cultivated a unique gratification in Clarke’s chest, an indescribably wholeness that Clarke already ached for; the Titanic was four days away from docking in New York, scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning, April 17. Clarke would count the hours, cherish the minutes, savor the seconds. And right now, she wished she had a medium of color to capture the green refracting in Lexa’s eyes. It sparkled with specks of gold so precious, so real that Clarke could bottle them. She did the best she could with the charcoal tipped pencil, shading and shading, rubbing coarse lines with her fingertips and transforming them into soft edges. Then, meticulously reshading and reshaping.

“Clarke.”

“Huh?!”

Lexa reached out and turned Clarke’s drawing toward her.

“Sorry, it’s not— I—” Clarke stopped mid-sentence. She had no excuse nor explanation.

“This isn’t what I meant by penmanship,” Lexa said, although she smirked as soon as she recognized the drawing as herself. Clarke knew she already had Lexa’s forgiveness, but couldn’t help the embarrassment that typically accompanied drawing your crush as if they were school children. Stick figures holding hands and surrounded by hearts, rainbows, and flowers.

“You have quite the talent Clarke…” Lexa murmured, studying the drawing and clearly impressed. Though if she were flattered, she hid it well from Clarke.  

“I— um, thank you.”

Lexa flipped the page back to Clarke’s original assignment, returned to the words Clarke had underlined and proceeded to pluck a dictionary from the shelf. And together, Lexa went over each word with her and to Clarke’s surprise, quizzed her on them. It was then that Clarke realized Lexa was enjoying this: teaching, instructing, sharing knowledge. Pride and satisfaction filled Lexa’s eyes when Clarke could recite definitions, word for word even. And that’s when Lexa ventured from assignment and began to pick words at random for Clarke to memorize. It was like a game, to see how many Clarke could remember and recite. Clarke knew she had a good memory, it was her guise for lack of reading skills. She’d ask someone to read something once and simply memorize their reply. But Lexa pushed through that, forced Clarke beyond memorization and use the word in sentences until Clarke began to falter, trip over synonyms and mix similar sounding words.

“Um… to ‘have a lot of something’.”

Lexa shook her head, “That’s ‘copious’,” and repeated, “the word is ‘capricious’.”

“Oh, bloody hell.” Clarke’s eyes flitted left to right as she searched for the word’s meaning. They had gone over so many that began with the letter C: conflagration; callous; compendious; credulous—there was also an incredulous. “I—uh, I don’t know.” Clarke threw up her hands, sighing and then slumping.

“Do you… capitulate?”

“Yes! I give up!” Clarke replied, smiling because she remembered that definition.

Lexa laughed. It was wonderful and Clarke pressed on for more. “I give up,” she repeated, leaned forward in her chair and recited the synonyms. “I yield.” Locked eyes with Lexa. “I surrender.”  Licked her lips. “I submit.”

The morning had come and gone. The afternoon had come and gone. And now, the evening sun was setting in the west with pink skies and purple oceans and green eyes turned black. Clarke struck the chord she wanted; they’re not laughing anymore and a low churn of want arose in their bellies.

Lexa stood without a word, replaced the books in their respective shelves and exited the library. Clarke could only follow suit, assumed they were going back to Lexa’s stateroom or the storage room from the night before—both locations well below decks—but Lexa never descended past the middle deck, walked along the starboard side and steered aft. Where are they going?

Clarke’s question was soon answered by a distinct aroma of steam, soap, and shampoo. The Titanic’s swimming pool flanked Clarke’s left and just ahead, the Turkish Bathhouse. Clarke vaguely recalled hearing about the Titanic’s bathhouse, an exclusive first class accommodation equipped with rooms of varying temperature and humidity.  

 Upon entrance, Lexa was greeted with recognition.

“Miss Woods, how can I help you?”

“One room please.”

The receptionist nodded, “Of course.” And without question, provided Lexa a key to one of the private rooms.

“Clarke.” Lexa extended her hand for Clarke to take and nodded with both insistence and assurance. Slowly, Clarke reached to link fingers and Lexa lead them through the common area. The walls were adorned with blue-green tiles, pillars of carved teak, and bronze lamps. A fountain made of marble. They turned into a hallway lined with doors leading to the private rooms and Lexa swiftly unlocked one.

She pulled Clarke in, who hardly had a chance to glimpse around before Lexa closed the door and pressed Clarke against it for a kiss. The kiss turned urgent, turned hungry, Lexa’s tongue working Clarke’s, pushing and pulling. Garments fell and their dresses pooled at their feet. Lexa intertwined both their hands, raised Clarke’s arms overhead and kissed down her jawline, back up, then sucked at the soft patch of skin just behind her ear.

“Mmm…” Clarke hummed. She closed her eyes, revelled the feeling of Lexa’s skin on hers. Bare, flush, and full. Lexa then slotted a thigh between and pressed. It drew a long moan from Clarke and Lexa did it again and again until Clarke tipped her head back against the door, eyes rolling behind her lids. Her senses became hyper-attuned: the smell of the floral oils in her nostrils, heat of the steam on her skin, and minute hums of satisfaction from Lexa sounded her ears. She kissed Clarke everywhere. Down her neck, across her collar bone, licked at the valley between her breasts before drifting to take a nipple in her mouth.

“Sssss…” Clarke hissed as a jolt of arousal struck her core. Never had she been pleasured like this—tended to and serviced. It was always the other way around. And suddenly, Clarke began to feel out of place. She dared to slip open an eye to take in her surroundings: a freestanding tub, a crimson chaise lounge, side table, a small selection of alcohol. The room was candlelit, clearly prepped for intimate encounters and all meant for the rich; wealthy paying customers who could afford luxuries of this extent. Clarke didn’t belong, just like the library, and a tendril of doubt induced a sense of panic.

“Lexa…”

“Mm.” Lexa murmured acknowledgment but made no effort to leave Clarke’s bosom, kissing and sucking.

“Lexa,” Clarke said with a more serious lilt. This caught Lexa’s attention and she stopped, looked up and cupped Clarke’s face. “What’s the matter, Clarke?” Kiss.

“I—I don’t deserve this…”

Lexa scrunched her eyebrows. Perplexed. “You deserve the world, Clarke. Don’t ever consider yourself less,” Lexa said. It was as if the universe was making up for all of Clarke’s misfortunes: the fire that took her parents’ lives; the overrun orphanage with unforgiving paddles; the unsheltered nights on cold cobblestone alleyways, all atoned through green irises. They bore through Clarke with affection and adoration. “Here,” Lexa whispered softly, “let me take care of you.” And dropped to her knees.

Lexa kissed the inside of her thigh before shouldering a leg and gradually made her way between, leaving a trail of wet kisses until she reached Clarke’s core. She never broke eye contact, looked into Clarke as she placed her mouth over her clit and sucked.

“Mmph.” Clarke sloped her head back, unable to hold Lexa’s gaze at the sensation and threaded both her hands deep in Lexa’s hair. And for the first time, truly accepted what was offered to her. She rocked into Lexa’s pretty face with legs shaking and struggled for balance until Lexa nudged her toward the lounge, resituated Clarke onto her back and spread her wide.

Sweat dewed their skin and Lexa never stopped. Never slowed. Made love to Clarke with her mouth until she came. Once. Twice. The third with her fingers plunged deep. When Lexa finally came up for air, she dropped warm kisses across Clarke’s body until she reached her lips. They kissed, long and languid, as if nothing else existed. Alone in the Atlantic.

Steam swirled the room as the tub fulled with hot, hot, water piped from the bowels of the ship, and Lexa guided Clarke in where together, they sat facing the same direction. Lexa brushed Clarke’s hair aside and planted a kiss at the base of her neck before shampooing Clarke’s head, ran her fingers deep into Clarke’s scalp and massaged.

“Mmm…” Clarke leaned into Lexa’s fingertips. Never had she been doted on like this, treated like royalty, a princess from a distant land. Pleasured, cleaned, and groomed only to be pleasured again for Lexa tugged Clarke against her chest and ran her right hand underwater, her left came up to cup the weight of Clarke’s breast. And as Lexa worked her again, made gradual circles around her clit, sweet nothings began to fall from her lips: You’re so beautiful, Clarke. You’re so smart, Clarke. You’re so special, Clarke.

Then, poetry.

From fairest creatures we desire increase

Lexa quickened her pace.

That thereby beauty’s rose might never die

Pressed harder.

But as the riper should by time decease

Rubbed faster.

‘Is tender heir might bear the memory

And slipped inside.

“Lexa!”

Clarke’s eyes slammed shut, craned her neck into Lexa, and gripped the edges of the tub. Water sloshed and splattered onto the floor as Clarke’s body twisted in release, shaking in Lexa’s embrace until she froze at the peak. Paralyzed in ecstasy. Lexa brought her down gently with still fingers and soft kisses. Traced her lips along Clarke’s jawline, around her ear, and nuzzled her neck.

Leaning in, Clarke cupped Lexa’s jaw and brought their mouths together. She felt dizzy, unsure if it was the heat of the water, intensity of her orgasm, a combination thereof, or, simply Lexa. Three words threatened to spill from Clarke’s lips for she had nothing else that could rival what Lexa just did—how it made her feel.  

“Lexa, I—”

“Sshhh…” Lexa hushed—knowingly. “We shouldn’t talk about it,” Lexa said. Her tone was gentle but insistent.

Clarke bit her lower lip, saddened, though she understood why. She kissed Lexa again, swiped her tongue along the plush of Lexa’s lower lip before giving it a light suck. Then Clarke rotated her body to face Lexa and it was her turn to touch. She let her hands roam: around Lexa’s sleek shoulders, down her arms, across her back. Lexa’s skin, hot and wet and soapy. If Clarke couldn’t say it, she’d at least show Lexa how she felt and slid her hand between them. Fingertips played at Lexa’s center of pleasure, gathered silk in circles, again and again, until Clarke glided inside.

Lexa dropped her head back and exhaled a pleasuring sigh; a column of precious neck exposed itself, flushed red from the heat and steam and Clarke licked at it. Licks turned to sucks and sucks turned to bites. More water hit the floor when Lexa threw a leg over the porcelain edge, angling wider for Clarke to drive deeper inside.

“Clarke…” Her name fell from Lexa’s lips with both tenderness and desperation and Clarke pumped faster and harder. Lexa’s hand gripped the nape of her neck and puffs of air grazed her ear with each and every moan. Lexa was close. Her body ridged and taunt and ready to snap when Clarke added a finger, pressed deep and flatted her palm against Lexa’s clit for her to grind. Lexa began to shudder and at last, came undone in a shockwave that rocked them both.

“Clarke!” It ripped from Lexa's throat and Clarke silenced it with her mouth. Swallowed the successive moans and whimpers that proceeded afterward, kissed and coaxed Lexa down to a slow stop. Foreheads tipped together.

Outside, the stars shone through a clear night; a cold front lurked to the west, pushing away clouds and moisture, paving a path for the waning moon, a bare crescent sliver in the sky. Aboard, guests clinked their glasses in the diner, children kicked a makeshift soccer ball on the open deck, and in engineering, 150 firemen stoked the belly of the beast, shoveling over 600 tons of coal into a raging red pit. Everything was perfect; the Titanic holding up to the grandeur of its name. And Clarke and Lexa sat there, face-to-face, chest-to-chest, heart-to-heart; submerged in each other and Clarke bottled up the moment for forever safekeeping.  

 

Chapter Text

April 14, 1912

The Titanic sailed steadily through the empty night. Quiet, alone, undisturbed. The watchman made his rounds while the bridge logged calm seas and moderate winds, air temperature gradually dropping as the vessel entered a large western cold front.

Fitful dreams plagued Clarke’s sleep. They didn’t quite categorize as nightmares but placed her in a restless limbo between heaven and hell. Tormented with the illusion of home, a warm hearth that rested within Lexa’s chest serving as reminder that it wasn’t hers to have. She twisted, distraught and confused until one last twist woke her. A bright beam of sunlight leaked through the porthole; she must have overslept. Clarke squinted. Despite her late rising, she didn’t feel rested. Mind troubled. The unconscious struggling to find peace with the conscious. Clarke considered that perhaps this was all a dream, that soon she’ll wake up back on the streets of London. Clarke stretched along the bedspread and she was quickly reminded of reality. Her body a content sore from the evening before, the taste of Lexa still on her lips.

After the bathhouse, they sat for a casual dinner, just the two of them before falling below decks. The evening started with a poker game. Soon, it was paired with alcohol and Clarke vaguely remembered dancing. The entire tween-deck rapt with drunken cheer. A mix of workers and clientele, smoking, gambling, drinking, and laughing. Lexa included. She had changed back into her newsboy outfit, casual and comfortable, and would occasionally drape an arm over Clarke’s shoulders in conversation. Clarke had never felt more special. And finally, just before midnight, before Clarke was due to Herb’s, dragged Lexa into her stateroom, touching and kissing like starved lovers as if they hadn’t spent all afternoon doing the same.  

Clarke took in a deep breath and stretched out into the sheets. They were cool and smooth; Herb was gone, dutifully standing his morning watch on the bridge, and Clarke slipped out of bed. Automatically, she descended below in search of Lexa only to find the door to Lexa’s stateroom closed and locked. Clarke knocked.

“Lexa?” She knocked again.

“She left.”

Clarke turned. “Pardon?”

“About an hour ago,” replied a woman Clarke recognized from the evening before. “I passed her on the way down the stairs, she was on her way up.”

“Oh, thank you.” Without thinking, Clarke went to the library for that was the only location she could fathom unless Lexa was engaged in another meeting of sorts. The Captain’s office or officer’s lounge, discussing numbers, cuts and wages, managing personnel and shipboard operations blind to the common eye.

When Clarke didn’t spot Lexa after her first scan of the room, an uncomfortable stir roused in her belly. Again, she questioned how she was supposed to depart this vessel—to leave Lexa behind. Bile rising at the inevitable, which settled when Clarke’s vision finally landed on Lexa. She was sitting in a cornered chaise lounge. Relaxed. Perfect. One arm was resting across her stomach while the other held up a book.

From where she was sitting, Lexa had the entire room in view and easily monitored the entrance. And, as if she could sense Clarke’s presence, her green gaze flitted up from the page and found blue. Clarke couldn’t see Lexa’s lips behind the book, but Lexa’s demeanor brightened in that very moment, the corners of her eyes tipping up in merriment.

Lexa’s gaze never fell as Clarke stepped across the room; Lexa drinking her in like a full glass of sunshine—and Clarke let her.

“Good morning,” Lexa greeted, closed her book and stood. “Have you had a chance for breakfast yet?”

“No,” Clarke shook her head.

“Wonderful.” Lexa smiled that smile from the evening before. “Sunday brunch aboard is rumored to be one of the best. I was—hoping for you to join me.”

The corner of Clarke’s lips curled to match Lexa’s. “That sounds perfect.”

Linking elbows, they strode upstairs to the Parisian café located on the topmost open aft deck. The wind had completely abated and the ocean looked like a flat sheet of glass. It mirrored the flawless mid-morning sky with a round orange sun dotted against a cloudless, blue canvas. They sat adjacent at a square table where a waiter poured them their option of tea or coffee, the spread was ever impressive. Bacon, sausage, black pudding, beans, grilled tomatoes, and eggs whichever way you wanted. An endless assortment of bread, toast, jams, and marmalades.

For a few moments, Clarke succumbed to fantasy. To have Lexa like this, all to herself while being waiting on as if there were wealthy women of stature, movie stars on their way home from England. Hollywood bound for the farming California town was just starting to make its transition from agriculture to film. Clarke envisioned endless Lexa-fill days, living in joy and wealth and leisure. She had never experienced one of the three, yet, sitting here, envisioned the triad.  

“Madam?” A server stopped at their table and dipped with a basket filled with an assortment of magazines.

Lexa nodded and selected several, two of which were the same, one for her, one for Clarke. “Here, Clarke. Read what you can—” she said and smiled reassuringly, “—but I don’t think you’ll find it as challenging as you might fear.”

Naturally, Lexa was close to done with the entire print before Clarke flipped the page. And, as Clarke read, she felt eyes on her; green eyes roving behind a teacup, sneaking peeps like a shy child. It was distracting, made it difficult for Clarke to concentrate on reading and understanding the words before her. So, she glanced up from the page and caught Lexa’s stare. Remnants of the evening before surfaced, when Lexa looked at her with dark eyes, deep and sultry. Heavy with lust and seduction. But now, here in the daylight, Lexa’s eyes were of a softer hue, tender and warm, lined with a hint of playfulness.

“Yes, Lexa?”

“Just—” she sipped from her mug, holding in it both hands, “—admiring.”

“Well, your admiration is appreciated… and also, quite distracting.”

Caught, Lexa tipped her eyes down at the next magazine and continued to read in silence. Brunch stretched lazily into the early afternoon and they departed with content bellies, where Lexa lead Clarke into her personal quarters. Past the couch, the desk, the safe and guided Clarke onto her bed. It was a slow lovemaking. Lexa’s sheets were soft, nicer than Herb’s Clarke must admit, although she was aware of her own bias. They smelled deeply of Lexa: her perfume, her soap, her. Clarke was surrounded; Lexa’s body pressed above, pillows and bedding below. Silk in every direction. Hours of it until they both reach exhaustion. Sated and satisfied, they fell into a restful sleep.

“Clarke…”

“Mm?”

“Clarke, wake up…” Lexa whispered. She was spooned against Clarke’s back and ran her fingers up and down Clarke’s arm. “It’s nearly half-past.” Lexa kissed her shoulder. “Unless… you want me to send a different girl up to keep the Third Mate company…?”  

Somewhat torn, Clarke eventually shook her head. “No—Herb, he’s sweet. Company, that’s all he wants and nothing else,” Clarke said. She turned and pressed her face in the crook of Lexa’s neck, soaking in a few final minutes of Lexa before getting up.  

“Are you sure…?” Lexa double checked, pressing a kiss at the top of Clarke’s head. “It can easily be arranged.”

“Hm, jealous, are we?”

Lexa exhaled an amused huff. She said nothing and as Clarke rolled out of bed. She was slow to dress, partially teasing Lexa’s roving eyes, partially delaying her departure, then kissed Lexa once more before leaving.

/

11:30 P. M.

On the bridge, Herb was preparing his entry into the ship’s log at the end of his watch approached. He made note of the outside air temperature; it was thirty degrees. Since entering the cold mass of dead air, the temperature had dropped a considerable twenty degrees compared to noon that day. Winds, a bare five knots. Herb stepped outside onto the bridge wing and shouted at his lookout, who was huddled in his coat on the crow’s nest. Arms crossed and face tucked underneath his collar.

“Eh, Freddie!” Herb yelled. “How’s it lookin’?”

“Nuthin’ Herb! Fuckin’ dark without a single chop in sight!” Freddie reported back. “Freezing my balls off!”

The night was one day shy of a new moon. It was a dark sky and produced no light, only the stars cast sparse twinkles of visibility.

Herb chuckled, a cloud of moisture trailing. “Just half-hour left mate!” Inside, he flipped the thirty-minute hourglass for the final span of his watch. The engine order telegraph registered at full-speed and radio, silent. Herb reached for his cigarettes, struck a match, and took a long pull. As he made his logbook entry, Freddie sounded from outside. He was shouting, yelling and waving both his arms at the bridge. And words bestowed on Herb that no sailor ever wanted to hear.

“Iceberg, right ahead! Right ahead!” Freddie hollered and began to ring the ship’s bell.

Herb stepped outside for an unobstructed view, and sure enough, a large white block appeared in the foreground. It loomed ahead like a massive ghost. The cigarette fell from Herb’s lips as he dashed for the ship’s wheel and cranked it hard to port. Then he reached for the telegraph and yanked it backward, ordering a FULL ASTERN. Alarms buzzed at the sudden reverse course; Herb ignored them and grabbed the telephone, immediately phoning the Captain.

11:40 P.M.

The Titanic struck the iceberg at her starboard bow. The initial impact caused the first set of rivets to pop like buttons and as she grazed past, the ice penetrated its hull and peeled her like a zipper. Steel plates failed and sub-freezing water roared into the forward compartment.

Clarke was on her way to Herb’s stateroom when the vessel swayed to port, followed by a sudden jerk strong enough for Clarke to lose her balance and she had to brace against the wall. Odd, Clarke thought. Then, came the noise. A distant shriek of what sounded like metal-on-metal. A long groan and extended creak, then, after a few seconds, the terrible noise subsided. Clarke worried that perhaps one of the engines blew or some other mechanical malfunction. The last thing on her mind was the possibility of striking an iceberg, colliding with another ship was more likely.

While Clarke was readying to settle into bed, balancing on a foot to undress, the ship tilted. The Titanic had started to list toward starboard. She sensed something was wrong and for a few minutes, stood there considering: Should she call up to the bridge for Herb? Or, better yet, should she go below and return to Lexa? Either way, instead of going to bed, Clarke redressed—her gut was telling her to. The same gut she followed when gambling with all bets in. Just as she reached for the door, the knob turned and Herb came tumbling in, frantic. His face was red, dewed with sweat, and his breathing, hard and heavy.

“Clarke! You need to get to the boat deck!”

“What?!”

“Boat deck,” Herb repeated and strode across the room, fumbling through the wardrobe and pulled out two white life vests.

“What’s happened?”

“The ship—” He pressed one of the vests at Clarke’s chest and swallowed to catch his breath. “—she’s sinking.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Oh no, my dear, it is very possible. We struck an iceberg and it caused a breach in the hull. The first three compartments below are already flooded, the fourth, beginning…”

Clarke went temporarily deaf as she digested the information. Herb was still talking, spewing out ship facts, something about the lifeboats, passenger numbers, and evacuation. Her stomach dropped, chest caving and gut-wrenching. The first three compartments below are already flooded. Clarke had only one thing—one person—in mind. Lexa. She envisioned a wave of thick blue water, busting into the tween deck and drowning everyone in its surge. Her veins iced like the decks below; Clarke was frozen in place, shocked with news of the unbelievable.

“Clarke!” Herb placed his hands on her shoulders, gave her a shake to bring her back into reality. “Clarke! You must go!”

“What?”

“To the to lifeboats, we’re about to start evacuating. Before they’re full.”

“What? What do you mean before they’re full?”

“Didn’t you hear what I said—there’s not enough lifeboats for everyone,” Herb repeated. “We’re sinking. People will die. Now please, Clarke, go.

Clarke expected Herb to escort her directly into a lifeboat, she was ready to protest because all she wanted to do was find Lexa. To her surprise, Herb rushed past, leaving with the life vest in hand.

“Wait—where are you going?”

“Back to the bridge, the Captain will need assistance. It’s—my duty,” Herb replied. Tragedy lined his tone; the gravity of his words taking weight. He was prepared to go down with the Captain, who will go down with the ship.

Clarke placed a hand on Herb’s face and she leaned in with a peck on his cheek. “You’re a good man.”

He nodded and with that, left. Clarke followed him out the door and when he turned right to ascend toward the bridge, Clarke steered left and down the stairs, where she bumped into an elderly couple and nearly knocked them down.

“Excuse me, young lady.”

“Goodness, I’m sorry—get, get to the lifeboats!”

“What?”

“The ship’s sinking!” Clarke called as her feet clapped down the stairs, voice echoing upwards. She crossed the top of the grand staircase where first class guests were still drinking and dancing, oblivious to what’s soon to come. “Get to the lifeboats!” Her commotion rang through the ballroom where she gained partial attention. They paused, looked at her with full glasses of wine, cigarettes half lit, smart tuxedos and magnificent gowns.

“The ship is sinking!” Clarke repeated. “Get to the lifeboats!”

The crowd broke out in laughter; they thought it was a joke.

“This ship is unsinkable!” Someone yelled.

Unsinkable!” Another reiterated, raised his glass, and to Clarke’s disbelief, toasted the vessel. “Hear, hear!” An uproar of drunken cheer erupted. The music continued and Clarke was aghast. Precious time was ticking by, water pouring in by that thousands of gallons and she needed to find Lexa. Just then, several crewmembers happened to walk in behind her with the announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s been an emergency, if you can please make your way to the boat deck in an orderly fashion—”

It was like a day of opposites. They stood and laughed when Clarke said to run; they screamed and scrambled when the crew said to move orderly. Dropping their glasses and storming the staircase. Clarke ran before she was trampled on their way up, made her way down and turned down the final hallway towards the spiral staircase, where, she broke into a sprint.

Those residing in the lower decks were racing upstairs, pant knees and dress hems wet. More confused than panicked when, at 12:05 A.M., official orders were given to uncover the lifeboats and crew to begin assisting passengers in an evacuation. Suddenly, Clarke felt like a fish swimming upstream when the word spread and chaos caught like a dry prairie fire. Doors to her left and right opened and people poured to escape. At the very end of the hallway, where the closet door was supposed to be closed, it was wide open with fellow workers running out.

“Lexa!” Clarke yelled down the passageway and continued to push her way through. “Lexa!”

Finally, what was less than a minute felt a lifetime when Clarke arrived at the top of the spiral staircase. She heard it before she saw it, water, lots of it, for the tween-deck was half flooded. “Lexa!” Clarke called again. She considered that perhaps Lexa had already left, hoped that she was safe high on the boat deck. But Clarke had to be sure. It didn’t help that she had a rational fear of water. She didn’t learn how to swim until late in life, a weak dog-paddle was usually the most she managed. Clarke stared into her fears, and with a thick gulp, stepped into the icy water.

It shocked her system, so cold it produced a burning sensation. Clarke winced, gritted her teeth and continued into the water until she reached the floor of the tween-deck. The water was waist high but quickly rising, moving and swirling and roaring.

“Lexa!” Clarke continued to yell though could hardly hear her own voice over the flooding water. She waded towards Lexa’s stateroom and a combination of relief and panic set when Clarke saw her. Relief that she found her; panic that Lexa was still down here. She was drenched, head to toe, and Clarke couldn’t fathom why, until she watched Lexa take a deep breath and dunked into the water.

“Lexa!” She shouted, again, it was automatic even though Lexa was underwater. Clarke half-ran, half-dove. It was like a thousand needles to her skin, piercing her numb. She paddled toward Lexa’s submerged figure, then reached and grabbed at her—any limb, any piece of clothing—and Lexa rose, breathless and shivering.

“Clarke?! What are you doing here? Why aren’t you on the boat deck?”

“Looking for you! What are you still doing here? This place is almost flooded to the ceiling!”

“The safe, it won’t open.”

“The safe?

“It has everything, Clarke. Everything I owe them!”

“Have you gone mad?! You’re not going to owe them anything if you’re dead!”

“Then they’ll find me—and I’ve already given enough of my life to the! I lost everything! I can’t do it, again.”

 “How could they know?”

Lexa stared blankly at her for a moment, not processing the words. “Pardon?”

“You could die here, sink with the ship, and they would never know,” said Clarke, urgently. “Come with me to America.”

“Clarke…” Lexa shook her head, calculating the risk while the water rose to their chests. God, it was cold. “I—I can’t… they’ll find me, kill me—” Lexa paused. “Kill you too.”

“Lexa.” Clarke grabbed Lexa’s hand and squeezed it, tight. “Listen to me. This ship is going to sink, and Herb told me there are only enough lifeboats for half the passengers—if that. People are about to die. They will never know, everything on board is about to be buried in the sea. Please.”

The walls groaned, the weight of water on the opposite side placed pressure on a bulkhead, pressure it was never meant to bear.

“Lexa—” Clarke said the most convincing, most worthy, thing she could say—had ever said, to anyone. There was no better time for the truth. “I love you.”

Lexa’s eyes widened. Her plump, blue-tinged shivering lips parted in disbelief.

Clarke nodded, gripped Lexa’s hand and begged with her eyes, tears threatening. Please. Come with me.

That was all Lexa needed. Decided, she looked at Clarke, nodded, and squeezed Clarke’s hand in return. Lexa was about to speak when she was interrupted by a metallic clank: DINK DINK DINK. In came in multiple successions, one after the other; the rivets that held the steel plates together began to fail, shooting off like bullets as they came undone.

They made a break for the staircase, wading as fast as they could in chest-high water. They were halfway when the wall collapsed and a rush of water knocked them down. It was like running away from a giant oceanic wave, impossible to dodge and overpowered by sheer force. They tossed and tumbled in the tide and Clarke held Lexa’s hand until she could no longer. The current churned hard, spun them around, and forced their hands apart.

Underwater, Clarke dog-paddled upward for a pocket of air only to be met by the ceiling. Blocked against it, she looked around to try and orient herself, but she was surrounded by floating furniture and debris. A paralyzing terror snaked through her at the prospect of drowning. Worst yet, she was afraid that Lexa might drown, too. Just then, a hand grabbed her at the shoulder. It was Lexa, gesturing for Clarke to swim in the opposite direction. Clarke nodded, following Lexa underwater and swimming past wreckage. She kicked and scooped at the water best she could, scrambling forward. Her lungs burned for air and she fought the urge to gasp, pursed her lips tight, and forced her arms and legs to keep moving. The edges of her vision began to black, Lexa’s figure faded. Then, the most basic of involuntary functions overcame her and Clarke’s body sucked in a large gulp of ice-cold water.

/

“Clarke! Clarke!”

Clarke choked, tried to take in a breath but something was keeping her from doing so. Something lodged in her throat and she felt her chest spasm as if she were about to vomit.

“Keep trying to breathe, Clarke! C’mon!”

She felt her body being drawn upright. A smack between the shoulder blades forced a single violent cough that had her spewing out a small puddle of water. Drool fell from her mouth when Clarke finally took in a breath of air.

“Clarke.”

Familiar hands cupped her face.

“Clarke, look at me.”

Slowly, Clarke focused her eyes and brought her hands to Lexa’s, drawing in deep breaths as their fingers intertwined.

“There you go, breath,” soothed Lexa.

Clarke wanted to stay, resting, but they were out of time because the passageway had cleared. She worried that the lifeboats were full, the ship listing steep to starboard and bow dangerously sloped. 

“Can you stand?”

Clarke nodded and Lexa helped her up, using the handrails to fight the grade for it was a climb uphill with the ship’s nose in the sea.

12:45 A.M.

Clarke and Lexa emerged outside on the boat deck in time to witness the first lifeboat being launched in a flurry of panic and disorder. It was only half loaded, davits swung haphazardly, and ends of the lines uneven, one side taunt, the other slack. The crew struggled to maintain order, screaming, “Women and children first! Women and children!” But the notion ignored as the threat of Titanic’s sinking closed. Passengers pushed and pulled, fought over who entered the lifeboat, diving over each other to get on board.

BANG!

A gunshot. They ducked, everyone ducked. No, it wasn’t a gunshot, but a bright white light lit up the sky overhead. A crewman had fired a flare gun into the night. Whether it was to manage the chaos or to signal for help, Clarke wasn’t sure. Probably both. Either way, he managed some of the crowd’s attention and reiterated. “Women and children!”

This was their chance, a brief pause in mayhem, and a scant window of opportunity opened itself. “C’ mon, Clarke,” Lexa said and pulled Clarke ahead. They threaded between the wealthy, dressed in the finest clothing, and the poor who had nothing but holed rags. It didn’t matter now how much money you had; it was everyone for themselves.

Lexa nudged forward until they reached the edge of the next lifeboat. They anticipated climbing aboard without issue for its capacity was upwards of fifty and it was only partly loaded with a dozen or so people. Just as Clarke and Lexa reached the edge of the gunwale, about to step over, the lifeboat made a sudden drop.

“No, wait!” Clarke screamed.

A man—a rich one judging from his clothing—had leaped aboard, took hold of one of the lines and hit the release hook. The front end of the lifeboat dropped. People aboard screamed at the sudden weightlessness, tipped unequally, until someone else managed to pull the aft hook, bringing the second lifeboat jolting down in a premature launch.

Word was spreading that there wasn’t enough room on the lifeboats for all passengers—despite some of the crew falsely reassuring people in an attempt to maintain order.

“Look! That one’s hardly full!” Someone pointed and shouted. And that’s when Clarke and Lexa were overrun by a charge of people, nearly knocked overboard as men and women began to climb over the railings and drop their bodies in the lifeboat. It was a horrific sight as some miscalculated their fall, striking a limb or otherwise before splashing into the water. People began climbing over each other, hopping on shoulders and pushing others down. A foot landed at the base of Clarke’s neck, weighing her down, and she fell to a stampede of feet.

“Ow! Ugh!” They kicked and stepped and stomped, uncaring and Clarke shrunk into the fetal position, arms desperate to protect her face and head.

“Clarke! Clarke!”

BANG BANG BANG!

It was assumed that the noise was another flare, but no parachute of light umbrellaed the sky. Someone did have a gun and they opened fire on the crowd. A man dropped dead in front of Clarke’s face, bullet to the head with eyes still open and Clarke stared at death in the eyes. She was paralyzed when a yanking force hauled her up onto her feet.

“Clarke! Are you all right?”

Lexa was bloody, but she seemed more concerned about Clarke, cradling her face and brushing her hair. It took a second for Clarke to realize that Lexa was covered in someone else’s blood, splatter from the man who was shot.

“Yes.” Clarke nodded, “I’m alright.”

BANG! They ducked, again.

“C’ mon, Clarke, we’ll find another boat!” They shoved their way to midship but unfortunately, the scene was the same no matter which way they ran, port or starboard, forward or aft. A mess of people scrambling, pushing, pulling, and fighting. There were simply too many people to make it anywhere close to another lifeboat. Crewmembers were overtaken by passengers, who took it upon themselves to uncover the boats, unhook the lines, and begin lowering in pure selfish efforts.

BANG! A flare this time.

“Maybe help is on its way,” Clarke said as she gripped Lexa’s hand in hers. “Herb said they were going to call for help. Maybe we don’t have to make it onto a lifeboat—just stay on board long enough ‘til we’re rescued.”

Although Lexa didn’t immediately respond, Clarke watched Lexa consider her suggestion. Calculating. Then, Lexa shook her head, a single, slight tick. No.

“Help might be on its way, but there’s no guarantee,” Lexa responded. “We’re getting on a lifeboat, one way or another.”

The Titanic continued to dip bow first into the Atlantic, exacerbating the rate at which the lifeboats were launched for fear that they would sink right along with the vessel. Water breached the engine room where thousands of pounds of burning coal was doused with seawater, filling engineering in an exploding plume of hot steam. The engines drowned, buckled, and seized. The ship lost power. Dark and dead in the water and people screamed. This prompted some to jump overboard and swim to the handful of lifeboats that had made it down. The rest in various states of launch. Clarke feared that that was Lexa’s contingency plan, dive in and swim. Instead, Lexa picked up her pace and lead them to a staircase.

“Lexa, where are we going?”

“Getting on a lifeboat from one deck below,” she replied. “We’ll leap on as it’s being lowered.”

Downstairs, it was significantly less crowded. Almost empty save for a few others that had the same idea. Clarke and Lexa ran to the railing, looking up at the underside of the remaining lifeboats, trying to gauge which one was about to go next.

“Down there, Lex!” Clarke shouted as she caught sight of one. They raced down the ship’s length, feet padding along the deck that echoed eerily. It was like the ship knew, death was upon her, for once she sank, no footstep would ever befall on her floors again. Their timing was near perfect, the edge of the lifeboat was bypassing the rail when Clarke and Lexa climbed over, grasped hands and jumped for their lives.

Though just a few feet, Clarke felt airborne forever. Stomach sinking and heart stopping until they landed in the center of the lifeboat, falling into a midst of people. Startled, the other passengers gasped, but then, screamed. Clarke and Lexa’s falling weight forced the lifeboat to accelerate in a short free fall. It smacked the water hard and seawater splashed over the sides, soaking those who weren’t already wet. The boat rocked left and right as it gained stability and finally, settled.

Clarke looked at Lexa, unbelieving. Was that it? Had they really made it? The moment of relief was short lived as Clarke’s gaze skimmed up in astonishment. The Titanic made a steep nosedive, which thrusted its propellers high into the night, tall as a skyscraper. People jumped, fell, or otherwise slid down the exterior of the ship, hitting the water with dreadful speed. Two of the lifeboats that didn’t detach in time scraped along the hull, the lines bound with the cables, caught and choked, tossing people out of the boat.

Slowly. Unimaginably. The Titanic began to bend under her own weight for she was never meant to be upright.

“Shit…” Lexa murmured and scrambled up. “Get the oars in the water!” She shouted, automatically taking charge. “We have to paddle away from the ship.” No one questioned her, too shocked or dumbfounded to think for themselves and looked for leadership. Lexa had it, and they did as she commanded. “Quickly!” Lexa grabbed an oar of her own to help distance them.

Iron screamed as it ripped; the Titanic cried as she broke in half and crashed into the water. Several lifeboats were engulfed in the wake, capsizing and dumping people into the frigid sea. For a second, Clarke feared that they weren’t far enough away and they, too, would capsize. The wave was big and came with a rumble.

“Turn the bow in the wake!” Lexa ordered. “Now, now!” And Lexa drove her oar into the water astern, using it as a rudder, and cranked. Her efforts angled the boat into the oncoming wave and avoided immediate capsize. The front of lifeboat rose high, causing people to fall and slide backward in a pile. They were almost vertical when one person from their boat fell out. Lexa dove after them.

“Lexa!”

The wake passed under them and Clarke nearly went in after her. But Lexa was in little distress, clearly helping the victim swim back toward the lifeboat.

“Lexa! Here!” Clarke outstretched her oar, pulled them in, and several people aided with hauling them back inside.

“We have to go back,” Lexa said.

“What?”

“We have to go back. Help the others, that water is a death sentence.”

“No,” someone else said. A man. Middle-aged, middle-classed. “If we go back, they’ll swarm the boat, take us all down.”

Lexa shook her head, disagreeing. “I could barely move in that water. We’d be lucky to fill this boat.”

“No! I’m not going back, it’s not worth the risk!” He argued.

Clarke watched. Lexa was shivering, violently, and all Clarke wanted to do was hug her. Warm her. Keep her safe. And Clarke stepped between them and looked him dead in the eye.

“She just saved our lives—kept up from capsizing,” Clarke said. “We go back, slowly. Pick up who we can one-by-one and if we’re overwhelmed, everyone can be ready to paddle away. Alright?”

“I don’t want to go back either!” Another woman shouted from the corner. She was cold, wet, and scared. Clarke couldn’t blame her. And the lifeboat burst into a debate, taking opposing sides.

“It’s not worth the risk!”

“We can’t just let them die!”          

“Enough!” Lexa finally said. “We’re wasting precious time—how about we take a vote?”

A vote. That seemed to gain consensus.

“All those in favor of returning?” Lexa proposed and counted the raised arms. “All those opposed?”

It was difficult to tell from initial glance, near close a fifty-fifty split, but in the end, those in favor were the slight majority. Cautiously, they rowed back toward the wreckage. Lexa was right, they weren’t swarmed for the onset of hypothermia had already begun. Many were already numb, unable to speak or move. Those without life jackets quickly lost mobility and drowned. Others who managed the clunky vests stood a chance of rescue and they plucked as many as they could out of the water, but it still wasn’t enough and watched people freeze to death before their eyes. Until soon, they were cruising through solid bobbing bodies with white faces and blue lips.

 

“Is there anyone else!” Clarke called at the water. “Can anybody hear me?!”

Silence.

With nothing else left to do, Clarke sat and tucked her knees into her chest. Lexa took a seat next to her, pressed close, and reached for Clarke’s hand. The adrenaline from earlier had gone and they shivered and shivered. Frost forming on the tips of their hairs. Choked sobs echoed the water’s surface and a thin fog crept in while they waited for rescue, perched in a floating graveyard.

/

The RMS Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, at 2:20 A.M., two hours and forty minutes after it struck the iceberg, which was an inconceivably short amount of time all things considered. She was, after all, the newest of the new, top of the line. Wronged was the assumption that the Titanic didn’t require a full complement of lifeboats because the main vessel would stay afloat long enough for rescue to arrive. At 4:10 A.M., the RMS Carpathia arrived on-scene. She was also a passenger steamship rival to the Titanic and had just left New York, bound for Fiume, Austria-Hungry, but received Titanic’s distress signal and set a course for her last known position. For almost five hours, the Carpathia recovered a total of 705 survivors from the lifeboats and set a course west, returning to New York.

April 18, 1912

At 9:00 P.M., the Carpathia pulled into the New York harbor and Clarke’s eyes fell on the Statue of Liberty for the first time. A bright light illuminated the underside of her face. The face of freedom and opportunity. It was bittersweet, for Clarke’s arrival to American only reminded her of the many that didn’t make it. More than 1,500 lives they said.

At that moment, Lexa walked up next to her with a wool blanket draped over her shoulders. She opened her arms and hugged Clarke from behind, wrapping them snug. Others aboard were too busy observing the Statue to pay them any mind and Lexa stole this moment to press a kiss at Clarke’s temple. The first kiss in days; they had been eating and sleeping in the common spaces of their rescue vessel, cramped with its original passengers plus survivors. Privacy was nonexistent.

“I love you too, Clarke.”

Clarke’s heart skipped a beat. She felt Lexa hug her tighter, inhale a deep breath, and spoke. “I honestly never thought I’d love again—care so much again. However, you. Not only do you remind me of who I once was, who I could be again, but you’ve set me on fire—I find myself aflame for you like no one before.”  

Clarke twisted in Lexa’s embrace to look at her. A single tear fell from Lexa’s eye and tracked down her cheek.

 “Lexa…” Clarke had no other words and pulled her in for a long, long hug. They held each other until the vessel moored and their peace disturbed by the surge of reporters, photographers, friends, family, onlookers, and support groups. Thousands were there to witness first-hand the evidence of Titanic’s sinking. They ducked and dodged the hoards of reporters in their faces, families holding photos and looking for their loved ones until they reached a blockade. It was set for all survivors to single-file through the authorities; policemen were taking names. Automatically, Lexa’s grip tightened in Clarke’s hand.

“Don’t worry,” Clarke said. “Follow my lead.”

“Name?” the policeman asked.

Clearing her throat, Clarke dropped her British accent and spoke in an American lilt. “Clarke Griffin.”

“You’re an American?” the police replied.

“Yes,” Clarke nodded. “We were on our way home.”

“At the slim chance, do you have any identification?”

“No, it was all lost, onboard,” Clarke replied.

He nodded, all too understanding, and then looked at Lexa. “Name?”

“Alexandria,” Lexa said in her own American accent. “Alexandria Griffin.”

The policeman scratched his brow, returned his glance to the pair, and gestured between the two with his pen. “Relation?”

“In-laws,” Clarke blurted. “Our husbands, they were brothers—" Clarke’s voice trailed as she looked over her shoulder, insinuating that they had lost them during the sinking but in fact seconds from practically eloping with arms looped.  

“Oh, my, I’m so sorry.” The policeman tipped his hat in respect and immediately returned to his notebook. “Thank you for in the information ladies. You can proceed to medical and services area.”

They nodded, gripping each other harder with each step.

“Oh wait, ladies?”

They paused, dead in their tracks. So close.

“Almost forgot. Address?”

Clarke was quick, “1401 Eighth Street. Queens. Apartment 214,” she fabricated.

He scribbled the address, “Thanks again Miss, you two take care now. And again, my condolences.”

Turning, Clarke and Lexa began to walk away, faster and faster until they near broke out in a sprint and a smile smeared on Clarke’s face. They had nothing. No money, no jewelry, no riches. But survived the sinking with everything.

 

///

 

“That’s five, ten, fifteen, and twenty,” Clarke counted the bills and splayed them in front of the gentleman.

“Thank you, Miss,” he said. “Oh, and I uh, happen to notice you don’t have a ring… would you care for dinner sometime?”

“Oh, thank you, but I’m already with someone,” Clarke replied. Her eyes drifted to the woman behind him. Sometimes she liked to wear her hat, conceal her eyes behind a large brim with nothing but lush lipstick stained lips in Clarke’s view. It would drive Clarke mad—and she knew it. “Next!”

Lexa stepped up to the counter with her weekly pay slip in hand, ready for deposit. She always waited in Clarke’s line.

“Good afternoon,” Clarke greeted. “Full deposit, Ma’am?”

Lexa nodded, once, then looked up, slowly revealing her eyes. Brilliant green eyes, that even after nearly four years, stole Clarke’s breath away. “That’s correct, the full deposit.”

They exchange no other words as Clarke recorded the deposit slip in the bank log, provided a receipt, and watched Lexa walk—saunter—out the bank doors. Lexa was up to something today, Clarke could tell. What, she’s not sure. Sometimes Lexa would surprise her with flowers, candlelight dinner, or tickets to a show and go into the city for a night out.

They resided in a small town just outside of Los Angeles. Clarke was a bank teller who never once miscounted. And Lexa, an English teacher at a local high school. The move out west was gradual, a few months in New York, then Chicago, Minneapolis, until Clarke said she wanted to go somewhere warmer and they took a train southwest. Arizona was too hot for Lexa, so they continued, touring the States at their leisure until they settled in California. Finding a job was a non-issue, each time credentials were required, they claimed its loss on the Titanic.

Clarke clocked out early since it was Friday and rendezvoused with Lexa sitting on a bench just outside. She would read and wait for Clarke, here, every day. School was out an hour before Clarke’s shift ended. It was a typical Southern California day; the sun bright and warm, the breeze cool and comfortable. Sometimes, they would detour through the park and they did so today, linking hands as they strode home. It was a small park, tucked into an awkward part of town and seldom saw visitors.

“Don’t you ever tire of all those men, constantly asking you on dates?” Lexa asked.

Clarke quirked a brow. “Why, jealous?”

“Pff—of course not,” Lexa said, nonchalantly. Although her fingers told Clarke a different story, fidgeting in Clarke’s hand.

“Oh, come now, Lexa, you can tell me. Just admit it.” Playfully, Clarke tugged at Lexa’s fingers and kissed her on the cheek.

Lexa didn’t reply, but instead, used Clarke’s momentum to bring them closer together. Held Clarke flush and kissed her, soft and slow. At some point, they migrated to a nearby tree and Clarke pushed Lexa against it, sliding her tongue along Lexa’s in wholesome familiarity. “Mmm…” Clarke hummed, hands slow roaming but quickly becoming restless and urgent. “Let’s go home,” Clarke murmured and released her hold.

“Wait—just before we do…” Lexa retrieved a small box from her pocket. Clarke knew from the exterior and she gasped as Lexa took a knee and opened it.

It was simple. A single diamond and it was everything Clarke could ever want; she couldn’t have stopped the tears if she willed.

“Lexa, I—” She was nodding, profusely. “Yes.”

Lexa smiled and smiled with bright and happy eyes. She pulled the ring from the case and slipped it onto Clarke’s finger. “Oh—god, Lexa.” Clarke stared at it, never anticipating a ring on her finger. Overwhelmed with joy, Clarke leaped at Lexa with legs around her waist, arms around her shoulders, and kissed the woman she loved.

Lexa laughed. “I won’t be the one who’s jealous anymore.”

“So, you do admit to being jealous.”

“Always,” she smirked, and Clarke kissed her.