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Counterprotest

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Almost two miles into her usual Saturday morning run, Lexa turns a corner and sees a crowd ahead on the tree-lined sidewalk in front of Arkadia High School.  In fact, the whole street is blocked off, yellow police tape and several police vehicles blocking the usually quiet road. Lexa slows her pace, mentally weighing alternate routes while music continues on her headphones, but then she sees signs bobbing above the crowd.  A tall bold-lettered one proclaims God’s hatred for a certain group she’s pretty sure never got mentioned in the Bible, and certainly not using those kinds of slurs. Another just says “REPENT” but the printed images surrounding the letters are more expressive, if nauseating.

Lexa sighs.  The Church of Eastpolis.  She’d read in the news about them coming to town. Arkadia High was putting on a production of The Laramie Project this week, and the church members were protesting it as sinful.  She’d already sent an anonymous but generous donation to the school’s theatre program and GSA group.

She realizes her feet are still pulling her forward, at a walking pace now, out of horrified curiosity and anger.  She’d never seen this particular group of bigots up close before. She pauses the music and slings her headphones around her neck, under her ponytail, and if anything the chants are even worse than the signs.

But rising over the protesters’ hateful words are even louder chants.  Separated from the dozen or so Church of Eastpolis members by a few feet and a staggered line of bored-looking cops is a much larger crowd of counterprotesters with their own signs.

“Hey, you wanna help me really piss off these bigoted shitheads?”

“What?” Lexa turns to look into glinting blue eyes.  The counterprotester nearest her has unruly blonde hair, is about Lexa’s height, and okay wow, she’s really beautiful even with anger clear on her face.  She’s holding a hand-drawn poster with a weeping Jesus and a quote stating “Guys, I Said I Hate FIGS”.

“I said, do you wanna really piss off these bigoted shitheads?”

Lexa snorts.  “How would you suggest doing that? They seem pretty pissed off already,” she says.

The pretty blonde takes a step forward, giving a slow, appreciative look up and down at Lexa, who feels suddenly very aware of the sweat cooling on her skin.  “We could make out.”

She steps even closer, then waits, and Lexa is unexpectedly and completely lost in that steady blue gaze, and in the sudden urge to touch the curve of her cheek, the beauty mark above her slightly smirking lips.  She nods absently, entranced, and then she’s leaning forward, eyes drifting shut.

Warm lips meet her own, as gentle fingertips cup her jaw. The first touch sends a tiny shiver through Lexa, and then the blonde changes her angle slightly, open mouth sliding across Lexa’s lips. It’s perfect. It’s almost too much. Lexa’s heart is racing like she’s just run ten miles instead of two, and her hand reaches to ground her on that beautifully-curved cheek.

Distantly Lexa registers noise in the background and movement past her right elbow. She jerks backward, just as the poster this woman still held in her left hand is ripped in half.  A balding, grey-faced man is screaming at them, though it’s hard to make out any intelligible words. As Lexa shifts slightly to push the woman and herself away from him, a gob of spit is hurled from the man’s mouth and hits the side of her face. Before Lexa can react to this, he swings the two-by-four handle of his own sign straight towards the blonde’s head.

It’s automatic, an instinct honed by years of training.  Lexa’s right hand grabs the wood in mid-swing, while her left fist arcs around and connects with his chin.  As he staggers backwards, she vaguely registers that her trainer Gustus would be disappointed; it wasn’t the cleanest hit. But someone is grabbing her arms now, two people actually, who both know how to immobilize.

“You’re under arrest!” 

***

It happens so fast.  Clarke is completely absorbed in the unexpected intensity of the kiss, her body thrumming, when the protester begins screaming and spitting at them. She doesn’t even have time to move before he swings his heavy sign towards her head.

But it doesn’t connect.  The brown-haired woman grabs it and punches him in one swift movement. The two police officers grabbing her by her tattooed arms quickly breaks Clarke from the spell, however.

“Hey, let her go!” She darts forward.  The woman is silent and motionless, her beautiful face gone impassive, while one of the cops reads her Miranda rights.

“Step back, ma’am,” the other cop warns Clarke, as he tightens a ziptie around the brunette’s wrists.

“What are you doing?! That was self-defense, he was attacking us!”

“That isn’t for us to decide.  She hit him, we’re just doing our job.”  They start to walk the woman towards one of the police cars.

Clarke’s blood is boiling as she follows them. “Oh, but that guy gets away free? He and his friends are threatening children.”

“Ma’am--”

“Where are you taking her? What precinct?”  

Ziptie cop opens the rear car door, sighing.  “Precinct 12, over on Water Street.” He moves to help the dark-haired woman get in, but she stands still for one moment, looks back at Clarke.  She’s amazingly calm, her bearing almost regal, despite the protester’s spit still shining disgustingly on her cheek.

“Call Anya, her number is 317-555-7892.  Please,” she adds.

“Ok wait, 317--” Clarke fumbles for her phone and starts typing the number.  The brunette repeats it as she stoops gracefully and sits down in the backseat without help.

Clarke watches the police car roll away, anger and guilt and fear all roiling in her stomach, before shaking herself into action.  She heads away from the protest, requests a rideshare from the corner, and then calls the number the mystery woman gave her.

Nobody picks up.

A voicemail begins with a woman’s voice, sounding slightly bored, “This is Anya’s phone.  Obviously I’m not able to talk. Text me, probably.”

Clarke ends the call, then redials.  Again to voicemail.

By the time she’s on the third ring, the car has arrived.  As she confirms the destination with the driver and buckles in, the same voice answers, this time live.  

“How did you get this number and why do you keep calling me?” Anya sounds decidedly unfriendly.

“A friend of yours gave it to me.  She just got arrested, she told me to call you.”

“Who?”

“Shit, um, I don’t know.  I didn’t catch her name. Brown hair, green eyes, tattoos on her arms?” Ridiculously good kisser , Clarke’s brain chimes in, which is true but really not appropriate at the moment.

“That’s Lexa.   Fuck.” Clarke is impressed by how much meaning and emotion the woman got out of that one short swear word.  It reminds her a little of her friend Raven.

“They’re taking her to Precinct 12, over on Water Street.  I’m heading there now.”

“I’ll be there soon,” is all Anya says before she hangs up.  Clarke is left alone with her thoughts and her racing pulse. Okay, so she just kissed a total stranger and nearly got clobbered by a homophobe.  This woman--this Lexa, and why does that name sound familiar?--just got arrested because of her, because of her stupid reckless stunt.

She didn’t mean for any of that to happen, she just wanted to fight back against those awful people with something that wasn’t hate.  And, okay, maybe she wanted to kiss a beautiful woman in tight running gear who had appeared as if by magic right next to her in the street.

She thumps her head back against the seat. Fuck.

Ten minutes later at the precinct, she’s trying to explain to the stern-looking uniformed woman behind a desk and a sheet of bulletproof glass that she doesn’t know Lexa’s last name or record number.  “She was just arrested twenty minutes ago, I just got here.”

“Are you a family member? Lawyer?”

“No, I--”

“How about you take a seat, ma’am.  I’ll see if I can track down some more information.”

Frustrated, Clarke goes to sit on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the waiting area. She debates calling Anya again and scrolls through a backlog of unread texts from Raven.

Hey homo, sorry I can’t come to the protest with you

My leg is acting up :(

Anyway punch a Nazi for me

JUST KIDDING don’t do that

Your mom will kill you if you get arrested

She’s starting to text a response when a woman with tousled, dark-blonde hair and a motorcycle jacket on strides into the precinct and up to the desk.  “I’m here for Ms. Lexa Woods. I’ve been informed she was recently brought here. I’m her lawyer, Anya Greene.” She hands the police woman her driver’s license and a business card.

Clarke rushes over.  “You’re Anya? I’m Clarke, we were just on the phone.”  She holds out her hand to shake.

Anya just looks at her, and doesn’t shake it.  She has an angular face, with high cheekbones below dark eyes rimmed with eyeliner, and her expression is serious.  The police woman hands back her ID and types on her computer briefly before looking up.

“She’s being processed now, but they’ll bring her out to meet with you after that in an interview room.  I’ll buzz you through.”

“Thank you, officer.” Anya says.  She pauses, turns sharply to Clarke.  “You were there? Saw what happened before she got arrested?”

“Uh, yeah I--”

“She’s coming with me,” Anya tells the officer.  “I need to ascertain whether she’ll need to give a statement on record to your fellow officers.”  

The police woman seems intimidated by Anya’s brusque, professional confidence, and merely asks for Clarke’s ID.  Then Clarke is following Anya through a set of double doors and down a hallway. They’re directed to a windowless room with four chairs arranged around a small table, where both women sit.  Anya opens the leather portfolio she’s brought with her, with a notepad inside.

“So you’re Lexa’s lawyer? I thought you’d be her family member or something,” Clarke says, still reeling a little.

“I’m both.  Her lawyer and her cousin.”

Anya’s wearing an expensive watch and jacket, and her pants looks tailor-made, Clarke notices.  She doesn’t know a ton about clothes, but Raven loves watching Project Runway and she’s picked up on some of the details.

Something suddenly clicks in Clarke’s memory.  “Wait a minute, you said Lexa Woods?!”

Anya turns in her seat to look at Clarke. “You mean you didn’t know?”

As in the millionaire tech inventor and CEO of Trikru Corporation? That Lexa Woods?”

“Technically she’s a multi-millionaire, but yes. You really didn’t recognize her? She’s kinda famous,” Anya snarks.

Clarke’s mind is looping on holyshitholyshitwow. She might be hyperventilating a little.  “No, she was all in running gear and, and, tattoos...shit, I got Lexa Woods arrested!”

Anya narrows her eyes. “Okay Clarke, you need to explain to me exactly what happened.”

Chapter Text

Lexa absently rubs the fading indentations on her wrists as the police officer leads her to a small interview room; zipties weren’t exactly designed for comfort. She isn’t surprised to see Anya there, but she is a little surprised to see the blonde counterprotester sitting next to her. Thought she would’ve freaked out and disappeared.

“What the fuck, Lex.” Anya makes it a statement, not a question or exclamation.

Sighing, Lexa sits down across from the two women. “It wasn’t on purpose, Anya.”

Anya glares at her. “I leave you alone for one weekend and this is what you do.  You go make out with a stranger and get arrested for fighting?”

Lexa lowers her head, feeling like she’s sixteen again and getting chewed out for skipping school.

“She--” Anya levels the same glare at the counterprotester, who to her credit doesn’t flinch, “told me what happened.  But I still want to hear your version of this idiocy.” It takes surprisingly little time to recount, and Anya mostly nods, asking a couple of questions to confirm.

“Okay, this actually isn’t too bad,” she says at the end, her glare waning.  “I went and spoke with the captain here while we were waiting for them to process you, and he said they aren’t planning to charge you.  They don’t like the optics of it. Now the Church of Eastpolis might try it, they’re known for suing people who try to fight back against them.  But they don’t like losing, and you’ve got a pretty decent self-defense argument. Plus a hotshot lawyer, if I do say so myself.”

Lexa quirks an eyebrow, then releases a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.  Her cousin stands and closes her portfolio. “I’m gonna go see if they want to take any statements now or if we can get you released.”

Mochof, Onya.” She uses the old tongue, the one they grew up speaking, to emphasize her thanks.

“Pro, heda.”  Of course, Anya uses her nickname and ruffles her hair on her way out of the interview room, making Lexa scowl.  

After a moment, she glances over at the blonde woman, giving her an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I don’t think I ever got your name.  I’m Lexa, by the way.”

“Oh, we covered that,” says the woman with a rueful chuckle. “I’m Clarke.” They shake hands across the table, and Lexa is struck by the warmth of Clarke’s skin, remembers her fingertips against Lexa’s jaw.  She shivers slightly, and tells herself it’s because it’s chilly in the building, and she’s only wearing athletic leggings and a tank top.

She clears her throat. “Thanks for calling Anya.”

“You’re welcome.  She’s, uh, kind of intense.  Thought she’d take my head off when I told her what we did.”

“It runs in the family,” Lexa says ruefully.  “You should meet our Aunt Indra.”

Clarke looks at her, and a mischievous glint enters her blue eyes.  “Speaking of intense...you kiss every girl who accosts you at a protest that way?”

Lexa can feel her face redden. “I don’t usually...do things like that.”

“What, kiss girls? Could’ve fooled me, you’re pretty good at it,” Clarke teases her, before relenting.  “You know I didn’t recognize you until Anya said your full name?”

Lexa stiffens a little.   Here it comes.  The bad part about being a famous, wealthy CEO was that everyone treats her like she’s some superstar.  They want to know about the glamorous life they assume she lives and look at her with an unappealing combination of jealousy and awe.  

But instead of the usual inane questions, the first thing Clarke says is, “So is it true that you actually made your Board of Directors cut your salary last year?”

“Um, yes.”  The other woman raises a disbelieving eyebrow, and Lexa explains. “I don’t think it’s right for a CEO to earn 300 times what their average worker earns.  I think it’s bad for company culture and society in general. I made them put the money into a free daycare program for employees’ kids instead.”

“That’s pretty awesome of you,” says Clarke, but it feels like a genuine compliment and not starstruck flattery.

Lexa shrugs, a little embarrassed.  “Anyway, it’s not like I could actually spend twelve million dollars a year.”

“I dunno, I can think of a few things I’d--” Clarke begins to say, but the door swings open and Anya stalks back in.  She’s back to the glaring.

“What’s wrong?” Lexa asks.

“Somebody took a video at the protest, and they recognized you.  Lex, you’re all over the fucking news.”

***

Anya is pacing, clearly in damage control mode. Her rigid posture and flashing eyes makes Clarke think of a warrior ready for battle.  “Well, you’re already out and proud, so it isn’t like that’ll be news. But making out with some rando at a protest isn’t gonna look good, Lex.”

Lexa visibly bristles. “She is not a ‘rando’--”

“I kinda am, you don’t even know my last name,” Clarke points out, but she thinks it’s nice Lexa is defending her.  “It’s Griffin,” she adds in a stage whisper.

Anya sighs.  “This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but we’re halfway through the acquisition of Azgeda Inc. and it’s still shaky,” she reminds her cousin.  “You know their president is conservative, she practically disowned her son Roan for donating to a Democratic candidate. She seems okay with the lesbian CEO thing, but if you’re flaunting it and starting fights and sleeping with strangers--”

“--Which I’m not,” Lexa cuts in, shooting her a dark look.

Anya waves dismissively.  “It’s how Nia perceives it, and how the media picks it up. Especially after the whole thing with that senior VP.  They’ll find out you and Clarke aren’t dating and have a field day…” She pauses, then focuses on Clarke, glancing up and down at her.

“What?”

“...unless you two ARE dating.”

“No,” Lexa states. “Absolutely not.”

Clarke mock-glares at Lexa. “Hey, ouch! ‘Absolutely’?” I mean, under different circumstances I’d definitely go on a date with her...maybe several dates.

Lexa flushes slightly. “Anya…”

“Look, it’d be temporary.  Just to distract and redirect the press until they move on to the next thing.  Plus we can spin it, get people’s sympathy for you defending your girlfriend. I mean look at you two, you’d make a disgustingly attractive couple.” The lawyer examines both of them, before her eyes narrow. “Wait—Clarke, you aren’t a stripper or something, are you?”

Clarke can almost feel Lexa’s blush now, mirrored in her own.  “Jesus, An!”

“No, I’m not a stripper,” Clarke manages.  “I teach art at Arkadia High School.”

“Ohh, that’s perfect.” Anya actually smiles, wolfish. “Any past convictions? Girlfriend or boyfriend at home? I notice you aren’t wearing any rings.”

Clarke hesitates.  It wouldn’t still be on her record, after all... “No convictions.  And no significant other either,” she adds. She’s tempted to glance at Lexa, to see her reaction to that.

“Anya, you can’t be serious,” Lexa hisses, her green eyes flashing. She says something rapid and furious in the same language she’d spoken earlier to Anya...Trigedasleng, Clarke realizes.  The Woods family have been in Polis for generations, of course they would speak it.

Anya cuts her off in English. “Trust me.  I’m just trying to protect you and the company.”  She starts scrolling through her phone, ignoring her cousin’s eye roll.

Lexa turns back to Clarke. “And you’re okay with this?”

“I feel like it’s the least I can do to help. It was my idea for the stunt in the first place, you kinda went to jail because of me.”

“It isn’t your fault. You didn’t spit on me, or arrest me, and I’m the one who threw the punch.  But if we do this, you’ll be in the spotlight too.”

Clarke shrugs. “Wouldn’t be the worst thing, to pretend I’m dating a brilliant, hot inventor. Even if she is an ex-con,” she can’t help teasing.

“I’m not a—I haven’t even been charged,” Lexa stammers.

“And my goal is to keep it that way,” Anya states firmly.  “So what d’you say?”

Lexa bites her lip.  “This is a terrible idea but...okay, fine.”

“Good,” her cousin says.  “Because there’s already a news truck and some paparazzi outside the precinct, and I need you two to hold hands and act like a couple as we walk out.”

***

(3 missed calls, Raven Reyes)

(1 missed call, Octavia Blake)

(7 text messages, Raven Reyes)

 

Clarke.

WTF.

Why didn’t you tell me that you’re fuckiNG DATING LEXA WOODS??!!

And she actually punched a Nazi for you?!

CALL ME

Btw Your mom’s def gonna kill you

Your ass looks great on the news tho

***

Chapter Text

“So you’ll need to agree on a timeline. When you met, when you started dating, all that.”

Anya has her notepad out again, checking things off a list.  She, Clarke, and Lexa are in a quiet coffeeshop near the waterfront.  It’s owned by an old friend of Lexa’s, a curly-haired woman named Luna, who gave Clarke a penetrating look when they arrived and directed them to a secluded corner in the back.

“We’ll also have to plan for the media aspect.  Lexa, your media manager will work with you on that for your official social accounts--” Lexa doesn’t hide a grimace, “--and yes, I know you hate that. But she’ll mostly help protect your privacy and manage any responses or press inquiries.”

She turns to the blonde.  “You’re fairly low-profile on social media, which is good.”

“I’m a high school teacher, last thing I want is my students finding me online,” Clarke explains. “You Facebook-stalked me?”

“And Instagram-stalked, yes,” Anya says unabashedly.  Her tone turns even more serious. “The news outlets haven’t figured out who you are yet, but when they do, you’ll probably get a ton of hacking attempts and messages.  Some of the messages will not be nice. You’ll want to boost your privacy settings, don’t answer phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize.” She pauses. “If you get any death threats with specific personal information, let me know, in case we need to get police involved.”

Clarke looks down at her coffee, fiddles with the cup. This is a lot, and it’s suddenly much more real than it had seemed the previous day.  

She’d seen the footage on TV, from both the protest and as they’d left the precinct, her and Lexa holding hands tightly.  “#ProtestBae” was already trending online, Raven had texted her with an inordinate amount of glee.

“We don’t have to do this,” Lexa reminds her, quiet concern in her voice.

“I know.”  Clarke chews her lip.  She thinks of the articles and posts that had proliferated overnight.  There were headlines like “Trikru Stock Dips After CEO Arrested” and “Hotheaded Tech Star Brawls with Protester”, but also “Lesbian CEO Lexa Woods Kisses Girlfriend, Punches Bigot, and Wins Our Hearts” (an Autostraddle post)  and “Extremist Church Banned from Protesting at School after Scuffle”.

That last bit of news had made her smile.  The incident had provided sufficient grounds (or sufficiently embarrassing motivation) for the school district to ban the assholes from the blocks around the high school, since it was technically a “Violence-Free Zone”.  So now the kids--her students--wouldn’t have to go through a gauntlet of screaming zealots to get to and from school every day.

“I want to do it.  It’s worth it,” she says at last. “Besides, it’s just temporary like you said.  We’ll pretend to break up after the hubbub from the protest dies down.”

Lexa nods once.

“Okay.  Then you two are gonna have to make it convincing. Go on dates. Hold hands in public. Post sappy pictures and tag each other, whatever,” Anya fires off orders. “Lexa, you should take her as your date to that charity event next week. I already had your assistant put it on your calendar.”

Sha, Heda. " Whatever it means in English, Lexa’s tone is full of mock obedience.

“Clarke, I would like to have you sign a non-disclosure agreement.”  Lexa’s expression darkens and she opens her mouth to protest, but the lawyer continues.  “BUT, I don’t like having the paper trail of an NDA. I’d rather keep this...private. Lexa doesn’t get a lot of privacy in her life.” Her tone is marginally softer at this last part.

“I can understand that,” Clarke says.  “And I promise, that isn’t necessary.”

Anya nods slowly, but her gaze hardens again.  “Besides, if you ever did try to leak this, I would make sure the press destroyed you. I’d drag out every ugly thing you’ve ever said or done, ruin your name and your career, without hesitation.”

“Enough, Anya,” Lexa says in a dangerous tone.

Clarke swallows hard but stares back at the lawyer. “I would never do that.”

“Good.”  Anya gives them both a final look and tears out a piece of paper from her notepad.  She leaves it on the table as she gets up. “Here’s a list of things you should memorize about each other in case of questions. Now I’m going to go enjoy what little remains of my weekend. You two behave, don’t talk to any reporters, and please don’t punch anyone else.  Practice pretending to be madly in love.”

***

“I apologize for my cousin,” Lexa says after Anya leaves.  “She can be...over-protective.”

Clarke shrugs and takes a sip of her coffee.  “I get it. She cares for you. Plus your job is so public, I can understand the need for protection.”  

Lexa is almost surprised by how easily Clarke seems to accept it, and grateful.  “That’s true.” And Anya has had years of practice protecting her, especially during the rough period after Costia.  She shakes off the thought and glances down at Anya’s list. “‘First meeting/date.’ A good place to start.”

“Hmm...how about we met at a yoga class?” Clarke suggests.

“I’m not really into yoga.  I run and do martial arts. Muay Thai.”

“Ah, hence the punch.  How’s your hand, by the way?”

“Hurts.” Lexa gives a slight shrug.  “I hit him at a weird angle, my trainer would be disappointed in me.”

Clarke reaches out and takes her hand, turning it over to look at the slightly pink knuckles, gently curling her fingers in.  “Does it hurt when I do this?”

Lexa stiffens at the touch, but shakes her head.

“What about this?”

Another stiff shake.  Clarke’s touch is warm, careful, as she manipulates Lexa’s hand.

“You know, you’re gonna have to get more comfortable with me holding your hand if we’re going to do this.  We really do need to practice, huh?” Clarke stops her examination, and merely intertwines their fingers.  Lexa forces her own to slowly relax, until the gesture feels natural, easy. “Doesn’t seem like you broke anything, anyway, but you should keep an eye on it.”

“I thought you were a teacher, not a doctor.”

“My mom’s a doctor.”  Lexa can tell there’s more to the story, from the slight furrow in her brow, but Clarke doesn’t seem willing to explain further right now.  “Okay, well, I hate running and can’t see myself doing Muay Thai, so maybe we met on Tinder?”

She shakes her head.  “I wouldn’t be on it. Privacy concerns, given my job.  Plus…” she hesitates, then admits, “their interface design is shoddy.  It bothers me.”

“You nerd,” Clarke teases. “Well, I would say we met at a lesbian bar or something, but I don’t think anyone actually meets that way anymore.” She looks around the coffee shop as if searching for inspiration. There’s art hung on the walls, with labels marking pieces for sale.  

Lexa follows her gaze.  “I helped Luna find a couple of those artists.”

“You like art?”

“I appreciate it, yes.  I go to a fair number of gallery openings and exhibits.”  

Clarke’s eyes light up.  “That’s perfect! I’m an artist. Well, I do it on the side...teaching mostly pays the bills, but I manage to sell a few pictures every now and then.  Helps fund my coffee addiction,” she raises her cup in illustration. “Let’s say we met at an art show.”

Lexa considers it.  “That could work.”

Clarke leans forward over the table. “So let’s play it out...say, I bumped into you and spilled my drink on your clothes, we got to talking and walking around the gallery together--”

Lexa can picture it in her head: her irritation waning as she looks into pretty blue eyes, while Clarke apologizes and tries to use her cocktail napkin to mop up the mess.

“--you told me you’re an artist, I asked you what you thought of the show--” she chimes in quietly.

“--I said I thought it was actually pretentious crap and there’s an exhibit I was more excited about opening the following week--”

“--and I suggested that maybe we should go to it together,” Lexa finishes.

“Smooth,” Clarke comments approvingly.  

Lexa blushes a little.  

“Well, a woman as gorgeous as you asking me out to an art exhibit? I definitely would’ve given you my number.”

Lexa’s blush deepens, but she’s rescued by Luna, who refills their coffee cups and places a plate with a croissant between them.

“On the house,” she says before they can speak up, her voice a little gruff.

Mochof,” Lexa replies softly, while Clarke thanks her as well.  Dark eyes pore over both of them for a moment, takes in Clarke’s hand still holding Lexa’s, and her expression softens a little.  She nods and heads back to the front of the cafe.

“Luna and I sort of grew up together.  I gave her some seed money to start this place,” Lexa explains, picking up a fork and knife to split the pastry.

“Oh.  So you two never…” Clarke raises an eyebrow.

Lexa’s eyes widen.  “No! I mean we--no.”  There had been a moment, once, maybe...but Lexa had made her choice, then, and Luna hers.

“Okay.” Clarke seems amused by the reaction.  

Clearing her throat, Lexa changes the subject.  “So what’s next on the list?”

“How long we’ve been dating.  Say, uh...four months? If it’s much longer than that, my friends and my mom will really question why I’ve been hiding it from them.”

Lexa nods in agreement, then gestures to the halved pastry, oozing with the raspberry filling Luna makes from scratch.  “You should try it, she’s an excellent baker.”  

At Clarke’s first bite of flaky crust and tart raspberry, she lets out an actual moan.  “Fuck, that’s good. You were right,” she says around a second mouthful.

Lexa can’t help but stare, fighting the sudden urge to shift in her seat.

“What, do I have food on my face?”

“No,” she manages, in a slightly choked voice.  “Are you always this...vocal about food?”

“If it’s good, yeah.” Clarke shrugs.  “I tend to be pretty vocal in general.  Hence the counterprotesting,” she adds wryly, taking another bite.

Lexa focuses on cutting a neat piece of pastry with knife and fork.  “You teach there, right? Will you get in trouble for being at the protest?”

“Yeah...probably not.  It wasn’t during school hours or anything, and the principal was kinda pissed about the church members harassing our kids anyway.  Think he’ll have my back.”

“Are you out at work?” Lexa has been worried about that, about this incident outing Clarke.

Clarke chuckles.  “Well, I’m the teacher sponsor of the GSA and I have huge rainbow and bi pride flags up in my classroom.  So yeah, pretty out and loud.”

As they finish eating, she reads from Anya’s list.  “Schools attended, year graduated. College major. Brief work history, seriously?” She looks up at Lexa, amused.  “Your cousin seems to think this is a job interview, not a fake relationship.”

“Well, we do need to get to know each other.  Especially before the charity event next week.”

“Yeah, but memorizing a list of facts like,” she glances down, “ ‘languages spoken’ and your alma mater isn’t gonna come across as convincing.”  She crumples the list into a ball and stands up. “C’mon.”

Lexa glances up at her.  “Where are we going?”

“Do you have time for a walk? I don’t know what your schedule is like on weekends--”

The brunette briefly consults her phone, the calendar app she uses with its multicolored tags, ignoring the tinge of guilt over unread emails.  “Nothing too pressing. I had cleared some time.”

“Then let’s go.” Clarke leads them out of the coffee shop, with a final wave of thanks in Luna’s direction.  They head a block over to the park stretching along this part of the waterfront, lined with old oak trees and slightly neglected-looking benches. Normally it would be more popular on a weekend afternoon, crowded with joggers and families and older men fishing from the railings along the water, but it’s overcast today and there’s a chill in the air. Clarke pauses zip up her leather jacket, and takes Lexa’s uninjured hand when she’s done.

“This is okay, I’m assuming?” she asks, wiggling her fingers in indication. “I mean if we’re going to look like a couple…”

Lexa nods. Their hands seem to fit well together, somehow.

“What about a kiss on the cheek? Peck on the lips?”

“We did already kiss, you know,” the CEO observes dryly.

“Yeah, but that was just a stunt, right? I don’t wanna make you uncomfortable, cross any boundaries.”

Just a stunt. The words send a strange pang of disappointment through Lexa.  “Kissing is fine.”

She isn’t expecting the teacher to actually lean over and kiss her on the cheek right then and there. Her face warms even more.

“Figured we should practice,” Clarke explains, smirking. “Same goes for me, by the way. Kissing is fine.”

“Good to know,” Lexa manages.

“Okay, so your turn now.  Ask me some first date questions.”

She thinks for a moment.  “Why did you choose to become a teacher?”

“Wow, no softballs, huh?” Clarke says with a soft laugh.  “No favorite color or TV show?”

“Your favorite color doesn’t define you.  Entering a career like teaching is a fairly significant decision and says something about one’s nature.”

Clarke darts an unreadable look over at her.  “I had a...rough time in high school. Without art, it would’ve been even rougher.  I wanted to help kids like that.”

“Very noble.”

“I guess.  Some days it’s harder to remember, they can be little assholes sometimes at that age.”

“I bet.” Lexa’s lips curl into a small smile, despite herself.  “Your turn.”

“Fine. What’s your favorite color?” The teacher grins, tongue behind her teeth.

Blue followed by bronze, while it turns out Clarke’s fond of red and black, and somehow they get onto a brief tangent about Hogwarts houses.

(“I feel like you’d totally be in Ravenclaw but most of your friends would be in Gryffindor,” Clarke tells her.  

“What about you? Gryffindor is a little too on-the-nose…”

“Yeah, but it fits. My friend Raven always says the Sorting Hat would consider putting me in Slytherin and I’d refuse out of stubbornness.”)

Favorite foods take a while, because Clarke has a lot of favorites; Lexa makes mental notes for future fake dinner dates.  They talk a bit about college, and grad school, and how Clarke loves working at Arkadia High, despite the ancient building with its finicky boiler heating.  

Lexa doesn’t talk much about her own work.  “It’s more boring than most people think,” she says with a shrug.  “A lot of strategy meetings and organizational politics.” With the recent merger it has felt a lot like more planning for D-Day than designing tech innovations, to her dismay.  This is the first Sunday she’s taken off in months.

The conversation flows so easily, Lexa is surprised to realize they’ve walked the whole length of the park.  She stops for a moment to lean on the railings overlooking the water; Clarke whips out her phone and snaps a quick picture.

At Lexa’s arched eyebrow, she defends, “You look good.  And you heard Anya, we’ll need to be lovey-dovey online.  In fact...” she steps in close to Lexa, wraps an arm around the brunette’s waist, and holds her phone at arms-length.

Lexa feels awkward, isn’t really sure where to aim her gaze, whether her smile looks real enough. She’s distracted by the scent of Clarke’s shampoo, the sun-warmed leather of her jacket close to her.  When Clarke glances at the couple of photos she’d snapped, she tuts.

“How are you the CEO of a tech company and you don’t know how to take a good group-selfie?”

Lexa makes an affronted noise.  “Trikru isn’t a social media company, we actually make useful software and innovations--”

But Clarke bumps her with her hip, grinning. “Lexa.  I’m messing with you, we look great.”

She likes the blonde woman’s grin, the way it lights her eyes, the beauty mark just above it, but she shoves that thought down.  They aren’t actually dating. It’s just a ploy, like Clarke said, just temporary.  But it's unexpectedly hard for her to pull herself away.

“I should probably get going,” she says. “I have an early call with Mumbai tomorrow.”

“No problem, hotshot. But when can I take you out for another date?”

“Another?” Lexa raises an eyebrow.

“Well technically our first was the art exhibit that never happened, but this counts as one too. We had food and held hands.”

“I think you spend too much time with high-schoolers, if that’s your entire definition of a date.”

“It’s possible,” Clarke says, unconcernedly. “Anyway, Anya want us to be seen together and I’m kind of afraid to disobey her.”

Lexa smiles at that, and thinks about her schedule.  She’ll have to move some things around, but... “Dinner on Wednesday? Seven thirty?”

“Sounds great. Gimme your phone.”

Hesitates for only a moment, Lexa unlocks her phone and places it in the blonde’s waiting palm. She quickly types a number into the contacts list and adds—Lexa peers over— “Bae” followed by two hearts, a kissing emoji, and a peach.

“I wouldn’t call you that—you can’t—“ Lexa sputters.

She laughs and scales it back to “Clarke” and just the one kissing emoji. “Acceptable?”

Lexa manages a nod.

“Okay, text me later and we’ll figure out the details for Wednesday. I better go catch up on lesson planning and laundry myself.”

With a final smile she’s about to walk off, but Lexa impulsively catches the cuff of her jacket, before she even fully realizes what she’s doing. “You forgot something, bae.”

“What’s that?”

Lexa tugs her closer, as Clarke rests a hand on her hip to keep from stumbling, and leans in to press a kiss to her lips. It’s chaste and brief, just a hint of pressure against softness, but still makes a shiver roll down her spine.  She blames it on the wind coming off the water.

“Goodbye kiss. Figured we should practice,” she says with as much nonchalance as she can muster.

Clarke blinks at her, her eyes deep blue under those long eyelashes, breath slightly uneven.  And that’s when Lexa knows she’s screwed.

***

Chapter Text

 “You’re so screwed.”

Raven states it simply as she walks into Clarke’s classroom on Monday during their lunch break.  

“What? Why?”

“Because I’m plotting my revenge for you not telling me that you’re dating Lexa Woods.”  The chemistry teacher squints upward in thought. “There’s liquid nitrogen involved, and some rubber erasers--”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier,” Clarke tries to head her off.  “It’s still really new, and she’s a very private person.”

The brunette waggles her eyebrows as she hops up to sit on Clarke’s desk, leaning her cane against its edge. “You should know all about her ‘private’ person, huh…”

Clarke rolls her eyes. She should’ve expected this: it’s Raven, after all.  “Ok, now you’re making me feel less sorry for not telling you.”

“Well, I’m still offended. I’m your bestie! Me and O, we tell you everything! I told you about that thing with Wick—“

“And I really did NOT need to know some of those details, thanks,” Clarke says with a shudder.  “Anyway, we’ve been taking it really slow.”

Raven grows a little more serious.  “I get that. Because of Finn and everything, right?”  

Clarke just nods.  It isn't...entirely untrue; there's a reason she hasn't really dated in a while.  

Octavia arrives at that point, pausing for a moment in the doorway to appreciate the rush of cooler air--Clarke’s classroom, for some reason, is always five degrees cooler than any other part of the school building.  As the PE teacher, Octavia has spent most of the morning outdoors with her classes, and she’s slightly sweaty, tendrils of hair sticking to her temples.

“Hey guys,” she pants, pulling two Tupperware containers out of a bag. Wordlessly she hands one to Raven, who opens it and sniffs.

“Ooh, is this Lincoln’s chili?”

“Yeah, he made a big batch last night.” Octavia produces two spoons, and Raven happily digs in.

“You better make an honest man out of him, O,” she says around a mouthful of chili. “He’s a good one.”

“Speaking of honest--" Octavia levels a glare at the art teacher. “When were you gonna tell us about your secret girlfriend?”

Clarke rolls her eyes again, and between bites of her sandwich she tells them the story--or rather, the authorized version that she and Lexa had established.  The other two, among her closest friends after several years teaching together, go ‘ooh’ and ‘aww’ at appropriate intervals.  When she tells them about the protester spitting on Lexa, they also go 'eww', and Raven mutters about 'fucking homophobes' deserving to get punched.

“So what’s she like? Besides famous and brilliant, obviously,” Octavia asks.

Clarke thinks for a minute. She’s only really had two conversations with Lexa, one of them in a police precinct, but it almost feels like they’ve known each other for longer. “Kinda quiet, unless it’s a subject she feels strongly about. She’s a good listener. Likes art and food.”

Raven leans forward over her chili.  “Okay, listen. I’ll forgive you for hiding the fact that you had a whole entire girlfriend, who’s a smokin’ hot bajillionaire, if you tell us one thing about Lexa Woods.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s she like in bed?”

“I’m not telling you that!” Clarke sputters. She hadn’t thought to prepare an answer for that.  

But she can’t help wondering...what would Lexa be like in bed? A considerate and thorough lover, she thinks, given how thoughtful she comes across.  She’d probably have stamina, with her level of fitness. And those thighs she got a good glimpse of in Lexa’s running outfit, Jesus…

“Rae, I think you broke Clarke,” Octavia remarks.  “Look, her eyes are glazing over.”

Raven smirks.  “That good, huh?”

Clarke just flips them both off and takes a vigorous bite of her sandwich to avoid answering, feeling her face—and other parts of her—grow warm.

Fortunately they leave it at that, and the conversation moves on to more mundane topics.  “Half day for you and me coming up,” Octavia tells Clarke. “Freshmen and sophomores are out on that science museum trip.”

“Ugh, lucky. I’ll be leading that trip. It’s gonna be like herding cats,” Raven grouses.

“You’re just grumpy because the museum staff won’t let you play with their Tesla coil anymore,” Clarke points out.

Her friend pouts.  “It wasn’t even a big explosion, honestly...”

Clarke isn’t sure who thought Raven Reyes would be a suitable role model for children, but she’s actually one of the most popular teachers at Arkadia High.  It’s probably because she starts every school year with hands-on science demonstrations—as in, she sets her (ethanol-covered) hand on fire, creates a volcano of instant foam from a two-liter bottle, and generates multicolored sparks over a Bunsen burner.  It's quite the show, but possibly the bigger miracle is that it gets students excited about chemistry.

She eyes her watch.  “Five minutes til bell, you guys.”  The other two pack up their lunch containers, while she starts getting ready for her next class.

“So when do we get to meet your new boo?” asks Octavia as they head for the door.

“I dunno, she’s super busy…” Clarke tries to demur.

“Bring her to Murphy’s on Friday!”

“Lexa isn’t a teacher, remember? She’ll be working at 3 pm on a Friday.”

“Whatever, she can show up after--” But Clarke is literally saved by the bell, and doesn’t reply.  At some point she’ll probably have to introduce Lexa to her friends, she realizes, to keep the pretense going.  The thought makes her unaccountably nervous. Like actual butterflies-in-stomach nervous.

But it doesn’t matter whether or not they like her, she reminds herself. This isn’t real.

The butterflies feel pretty darn real, though.

***

Raven and Octavia aren’t the only ones with opinions to share about her ‘relationship’ and its secrecy until now.

“Miz G, what the heck!”

“Care to elaborate, Madi?” Clarke says, without looking up from the lesson materials she’s assembling two days later before school.  

“You’re dating Lexa friggin’ Woods?!!” Madi dumps her bag theatrically on one desk before perching atop another, Aden--her fellow freshman and best friend--following right behind her. “And you didn’t tell us?!”

“Contrary to popular belief, teachers do have lives outside of school,” says Clarke dryly. “And we aren’t required to keep our students informed about them.”

Aden waves a dismissive hand, a gesture Clarke could swear he’s picked up from Raven in chemistry class. “But this is important, Miz G.”

“Yeah,” Madi chimes in, “Lexa Woods is like the most powerful out queer woman in the country.  She’s a philanthropist, she’s the head of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, she’s won all these awards...What?” The girl realizes Clarke and Aden are both staring at her and blushes. “I--did a project on her last year for class.”

“Anyway, Madi’s giant gay crush on your girlfriend aside--" Aden ignores his friend’s indignant squawk, “--This is a huge deal. You two are all over the Internet.”

Clarke can’t help but grimace a little. True to Anya’s word, the media had quickly figured out who she was.  She had already had to turn off her notifications and ignore several unknown callers on her phone, and she was studiously avoiding the news.  She didn’t exactly want to know what strangers were saying about her on Twitter.

“Did Lexa really punch that guy?” Aden asks, with a little awe of his own.  

“Yeah, she did.  But violence is generally not a good conflict resolution strategy,” Clarke adds hurriedly, in a moment of teacherly responsibility, “so don’t go around punching people yourself.”

“You know, I watched a thing about Lexa Woods in the news a while back,” Madi says in a too-casual tone.  She’s looking down at her fingers as they trace over some graffiti carved into the desk. “Then my mom came in and saw the part where Lexa said she was lucky that all of her friends or family supported her being a lesbian.  And that she hoped we’d get to a point where everyone could have that.”

She looks up, and her eyes glisten with unspilled tears. “Mom made me turn off the TV.  Said she didn’t wanna hear that liberal skrish.”

Clarke’s heart aches. She may not be fluent in Trigedasleng like some of her students, but she knows enough to understand the profanity.  “Madi...”

The girl sniffs and raises her chin.  “But I don’t care. Even if I can’t be out to everyone yet, I’m proud of being gay, too. Like Lexa.”

And that helped make this worth it.  If the visibility, the representation, could help kids like Madi, maybe win over some parents that weren’t as hardcore in their bigotry as her mom, then it was worth the privacy invasions and the pretending.  At least for now.

She rounds her desk and goes to stand in front of Madi, meeting her glistening eyes.  “You know I’m proud of you, right? Just the way you are. Both of you,” she adds, throwing a glance at Aden, who stands a little taller. He’s the only out trans kid at the school, and she knows it must be hard at times; she’d had to advocate for him with the school administration so they would change his name in the class rosters.  

Times like this, Clarke wishes she could give both of these kids a hug. But it’s pretty frowned-upon for teachers to touch students even casually.  

“Thanks, Miz G.” The girl ducks her head and wipes her streaming nose on the sleeve of her denim jacket.  

Clarke rolls her eyes and plucks a Kleenex from the box on her desk, handing it to Madi.  “But I’m not gonna be so proud if you two are late to first period,” she says, mock-stern.  

“Whatever, it’s just geometry.  I can do that in my sleep,” Madi mutters as she hops off the desk, sounding more like her usual self.  Aden waves his goodbye as they leave the classroom.

She texts Lexa later between classes. You have a fourteen-year-old super fan. Actually I think she has a bit of a crush on you

I’m flattered. But I’m also practically old enough to be her mother. And very taken.

Clarke can’t fully quash the little giddy feeling that runs through her.   Oh yeah?

Yes. Haven’t you seen the tabloids? I’m dating a “blonde bombshell in a leather jacket”.

...That is an actual quote. My social media manager has sent me highlights with links. She also says they’re calling our relationship “Clexa”.

Clarke laughs. She can almost hear the amused disdain in Lexa’s words.

It isn’t entirely a bad thing. Remind me to tell you later about your fan.   We’re still on for tonight, right?

Of course. Looking forward to it, Clarke

Her first class starts to arrive, a welcome distraction. Because that’s the thing: she’s looking forward to seeing Lexa as well, on their “date”...but maybe a little too much.

***

Chapter Text

 Lexa checks the mirror.  Again. She fiddles with a piece of hair—was it a good idea to straighten it?—and evaluates the makeup she’d touched up after her final meeting of the day—too much eyeliner? Too shimmery?

Then she shakes her head in bemusement. The piece of hair flies loose. You’re being ridiculous. Acting like a nervous goufa when this isn’t even a real date, she tells herself sternly.

Her assistant had been taken aback a couple of days ago when she’d directed him to rearrange her calendar, moving a working dinner with a couple of her R&D heads.

“What should I put on your calendar instead for that evening, heda?” Ryder had asked.  She doesn’t tend to use Trigedasleng at work, but he’s worked with her for years and has never once called her ‘boss’ in English.  

“Just block it out as private, please.” His surprise at this, though quickly masked by professional indifference, made her realize--it had been a while since she last went on a date.  What was that woman’s name, the specialist in machine learning algorithms? Rebecca? She was pretty but only talked about herself and her work; there’d been no spark and subsequently no second date.

(Technically this was a second date with Clarke.  Or third, depending on how they counted it…)

Her phone dings with the alert of her ride’s impending arrival, and she casts one last quick look at the mirror.  She’d opted for charcoal slacks and a blazer, both tailored to her slim frame. For some reason she needs a bit of the armor of her professional wardrobe, which tends to be austere, on the masculine side.  Lots of gray and black and navy. The kind of garb that (unfortunately) earns her more respect in the boardrooms mostly full of white men, even if it isn’t always what she’d choose for herself.

But under the blazer she wears an almost gauzy rose-pink top, paired with a gold pendant necklace and strappy heels that’ve been neglected in her closet for months.  She’d even taken the time to do her nails while on an interminable conference call that morning.

Lexa breathes out.  Then she turns off the lights, grabs her clutch bag, and heads for the elevator.

The restaurant has been all over the local food blogs lately, and Titus raved about it last week.  Arriving a few minutes before their reservation, she’s pleased that their table has a nice view, right along the large front windows.  She’s less pleased to find that the place is loud, sounds echoing off the tiles and faux-industrial walls, and it’s flashier than she was expecting, with a menu boasting the most obscure ingredients of the moment.  She’s perusing the list of trendy--and in her opinion, overpriced--cocktails when Clarke arrives.

The flash of familiar blonde hair pulled back in a loose half-ponytail draws her eye initially, but as Clarke follows the hostess towards their table Lexa finds herself staring.  The woman is wearing a black top under a wrap-style jacket and light-wash jeans that cling to her thighs, her legs, all the way down to her ankle boots.

She yanks her eyes upward as Clarke gets closer, finding a warm smile.

“Hey darlin’.”  The teacher leans over the table to give Lexa a quick peck on the lips.

After the hostess walks away, Lexa raises an eyebrow.  “ ‘Darlin’ ?”

“No? Well you didn’t like ‘bae’, so I thought I’d try something else.  What about ‘sweetie’?” Blue eyes twinkle teasingly.

Lexa grimaces.  Clarke laughs and settles into her chair, studying the menu.  The lights overhead--those big Edison bulbs installed in every new bar and restaurant in the city, it would seem--make the golden highlights in her hair sparkle. “So what’s good here?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve actually never been here before, but my COO speaks highly of it.” Lexa hides her sudden nerves by examining the menu herself.  For the third time. She feels the urge to explain, “I tend to have working lunches and dinners with clients, mostly. I’m not really used to…”

“Taking a girl out on a romantic fake dinner-date?”

“Right.  Or even a real one.” Lexa smiles wryly.

“Guess I’m lucky then.” And somehow the teasing warmth in Clarke’s eyes melts a whole evening of nervousness right out of her.

***

The food is alright.  Overhyped, overpriced, and nothing to make Clarke really moan over.  The cocktail is better, though she limits herself to just the one since it’s a school night.  Fortunately there’s Lexa, and the conversation with her flows just as easily this night as it had on their walk along the waterfront.

The view isn’t bad either.  Sometime after their drinks arrived, Lexa had taken off her blazer to reveal this pale-pink top of some slightly sheer fabric, with a scoop neck showing off her collarbones and just the tiniest hint of cleavage.  Her straightened hair falls in a glossy curtain past her shoulders, and Clarke itches to tuck a loose piece of it behind Lexa’s ear. Nothing should hide a face that beautiful.

Fuck, okay, so I’m attracted to her. That’s...fine.  That’s natural. I mean look at her, Jesus. But she just talked about how she doesn’t really date.  And even if she did, I’m sure she wouldn’t choose to go out with some lowly public school teacher, she’s a millionaire and a CEO...

Clarke casts for something to quell the swarm of thoughts and doubts.  “I didn’t tell you about your super-fan yet, did I?”

Lexa shakes her head.

“I probably shouldn’t have favorite students, but she’s totally one of my favorites.”  And she tells her about Madi, about how the girl is smart and brave and funny and scared to come out to her mom, unfortunately with reason.  About how she sees Lexa as a role model.

“I think she wants to be you when she grows up.  That, or she has a crush on you. Jury’s still out.”

It surprises Clarke, how moved Lexa seems by all this.  Her eyes go round and her gaze soft, as she tucks that rogue piece of hair behind her ear.  “I’m flattered either way. Honestly that’s one of the reasons I came out publicly, for the younger generation.  I want it to be easier for them than it was for me.”

Something shadows her expression, a momentary wall of blankness, and Clarke wants to ask but she also doesn’t want to pry into a painful topic.  Before she can figure out what to say, someone interrupts them.

“Ms. Woods! What a pleasant surprise to see you here.”  The voice is rich, though showing its age, as is its owner--an older white man in a plaid sports jacket.  Gold cufflinks show at his wrists, and his white hair is perfectly coiffed.

A split second’s irritation flickers across Lexa’s face, but she hides it so quickly Clarke doubts the man saw it.  “Mr. Wallace. A pleasure indeed,” she greets him, shaking his hand.

“It’s Dante, please.  And I don’t mean to intrude on your night,” he adds, his look encompassing Clarke as well, “I just wanted to congratulate you personally on completing the Azgeda acquisition.”

“Thank you.  I’m fortunate to have a very skilled M&A team.”  Her posture ramrod straight, chin lifted, Lexa’s whole demeanor is positively regal.   Honestly it’s kinda hot, a little part of Clarke points out, which is not helpful.  “I believe it will prove to be a fruitful alliance.”

“I certainly hope so.”  A smile crinkles Dante’s face.  Something about his friendly tone nonetheless rubs Clarke the wrong way.

“I don’t believe you’ve met Clarke.  My girlfriend,” Lexa adds. There’s a slight hesitation that makes the blonde want to both roll her eyes and smile.  She’s really terrible at pretending.

Clarke stands to shake the man’s hand, which he clearly wasn’t expecting, and gives him her best fake smile, the one she uses on particularly annoying parents on Arkadia High’s PTA.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You as well, Clarke.  You two make a beautiful couple.” He gives her a strange look, then turns to Lexa again.  “You’ll have to bring her to the charity dinner next week. You’ll be there, I assume?”

“Of course,” Lexa says, but her jaw tightens ever so slightly.

“I look forward to seeing you both again soon, then,” Dante says.  He flashes one more white-toothed smile. “Enjoy your night, ladies.”

They’re both quiet for a moment as he walks away, and a server comes by to refill their water glasses.  “So, is it just me or does he give off a bit of a used car salesman vibe?” Clarke asks finally in an undertone.  “I think it’s the sports jacket. It’s too...shiny.”

It cracks Lexa’s icy professional facade, unfurling a tiny hint of a smile.  “He and his son are trying to get me to invest in their educational software.  They’ve been...rather aggressive with their pitches. I’m sure they will try to make the case for it again at the charity dinner.”  She shrugs, but her shoulders are still slightly tense. “I’m sorry for the awkwardness. I should’ve expected to run into someone from the industry, eating somewhere like this.”

“Hey, it’s okay.  At least it’ll help sell the story, right? Anya said we need to be visible…”

Lexa nods, watching her own hands as they toy with her water glass.  “You know, I don’t necessarily mind being in the public eye,” she confesses in a low tone.  “I suppose I’ve gotten accustomed to it. It just...would be nice to go out and not run into someone who wants to sell me something, or convince me to invest in something. To be just Lexa and not the leader of Trikru all the time.”

She looks suddenly tired, older than her age.  Clarke studies her for a second, and then downs the last sip of her drink.  “You’re done eating, right? Let’s get the check and get out of here.” School night be damned.

Lexa glances at her in surprise.  “What--”

“I know a place where you won’t run into anyone you know, I promise.”

***

“Here we are,” Clarke announces.  A slightly ramshackle set of steps leads to to a converted rowhouse painted fire-truck red, faux-Celtic lettering over the door reading Murphy’s Pub.  She reads the slightly dubious look on Lexa’s face and takes her hand, tugging her forward.  “C’mon, it’s better than it looks from the outside.”

Once inside, she greets the slender white guy who’s stacking up glasses behind the bar. He has deep-set eyes and a surly expression, but it warms ever so slightly at the sight of her.

“Hey Griff, wasn’t expecting you here tonight.  Got a new beer you’ll like, hoppy and bright and all that shit.”  He’s already got a pint glass ready at the tap.

“Sounds good, thanks Murphy.” She turns to the brunette.  “What do you want? My treat, since you insisted on paying for dinner,”  she adds with a smirk and an eye-roll.

“This is the girlfriend?” Murphy looks up and down at Lexa, evaluating her.  She returns his gaze steadily.

Finally the man gives her a nod and tosses the bar towel over his shoulder.  “Your first drink’s on the house,” he declares. “For decking a fucking homophobe on TV.  I haven’t heard Monroe cheer so loud since the last women’s World Cup finals.”

“Monroe co-owns this place with him,” Clarke explains.  “She usually bartends on weekends.”

“I will...take that as a compliment,”  Lexa says, a little taken aback. “Can I have a gin and tonic?”

“Coming right up.”

As they take their drinks over to a table, Lexa looks around at the small bar.  “I take it you’re a regular here?”

“Yeah, kinda.  Most Friday afternoons a bunch of us teachers head over here after school. It’s only four blocks away, it’s pretty quiet, and more importantly on a teacher’s budget, it’s cheap.”

Dim fluorescents and Christmas lights strung behind the bar illuminate the place, with its fake wood panelling, a battered jukebox, and a dartboard in one corner.  Lexa’s heels had stuck to the floor at least twice on their way in. It’s a world away from the glitzy restaurant they just left.

She likes it.

“See? Pretty sure you won’t find anyone from the business world here,” the blonde observes, raising an eyebrow.

“I think that’s a safe bet.”  They share a smile.

“So I’ve been dying to ask you something.” Clarke leans forward, elbows on the table, and it makes her shirt stretch tight across her chest.

Lexa’s gaze lingers for just a moment, before she catches herself.  She gulps a sip of gin and tonic. “Go ahead.”

“What’s the story behind these?” And she reaches out to touch one of the tattoos peeking from under the cap sleeve of Lexa’s top.  Her skin tingles even at the fleeting brush of contact. “Doesn’t really seem in character for a nerdy MIT grad turned high-powered CEO.”

“They’re traditional remembrance tattoos, in Trigeda culture.  Less common nowadays, but some of us still wear them.” She gestures to the top pair of identical markings, closest to her shoulder, and then the second pair.  “This is for my mother, and this one for my father.”

“What about the third?”

“I...lost someone special to me.”  Lexa takes a breath, looking down at where her own thumb brushes over the last tattoo.  “Her name was Costia.” Her throat locks up, and she can’t bring herself to push any more words past it.

A warm, gentle hand reaches out and cups her own, where it rests over her bicep.  “I’m sorry,” Clarke offers. “I didn’t mean to bring up something painful.”

Lexa just dips her head in a nod.

“I know how hard it can be to lose someone.  My dad died when I was in high school.” Clarke pauses, absently rubbing her thumb over the back of Lexa’s hand.  It almost distracts her from the blonde’s next words. “Getting a symbolic tattoo probably would’ve been a more reasonable way of grieving than what I did at the time.  Let’s just say I got a little reckless and rebellious.”

“Grief can make people do unusual things.”

“It’s true.” Clarke finally sits back, shaking her head ruefully.  “But listen to us. This is way too serious for second fake-date conversation.  I need to be wooing you with my wit and charm, not getting us both on the verge of tears.”

“Wait, why are you the one doing the wooing?” Lexa retorts.  She’s nothing if not competitive.

“We can both woo each other.  It’s 2019 and we’re both women, fuck heteronormative gender roles.”

Lexa actually laughs.  “Well how would I best woo you, then? Apart from good food?”

The blonde pretends to think hard, propping her chin on her fist.  “I mean, I wouldn’t say no to the occasional bouquet of flowers. I like when someone listens to me, like really listens, and makes me smile.  Someone who can challenge me, introduce me to new things…”

Something flutters in Lexa’s chest.   I could do all of that...

“...Oh, and defending me from an attacking bigot is pretty swoon-worthy, to be honest.”

She chuckles a little at that, until something behind Clarke’s shoulder catches her eye. “Well fortunately I don’t see anyone to defend you from here, but what about challenging you to a game of darts?”

Blue eyes spark with defiance.  “You don’t know who you’re going up against, Woods.  You don’t stand a chance.”

“You’ve never seen me play.”

“Oh, you’re on.”  And the look Clarke shoots her, dark and teasing, makes something flutter a little lower down in Lexa’s body.

***

“You hustled me.”  

Lexa turns a look of wide-eyed innocence towards Clarke, who doesn’t believe it for a minute.  “I did not pretend to be less skilled than I am, Clarke.”

“No, but you also didn’t tell me you’re like a freakin’ darts prodigy.  How the hell did you land three bull’s-eyes in a row?”

“Good hand-eye coordination?” the CEO suggests, as she returns from tugging her darts out of the board.  

Clarke scoffs into her beer.

“I had a fair amount of practice in college,” Lexa admits.  “There was a little bar near the lab I worked in, they didn’t card and they had a dartboard.”

“Really? So you did leave the lab sometimes, you nerd…”

“The bartender was cute, too,” Lexa adds, blushing.  Clarke laughs.

They go several more rounds.  Though Clarke has won many a game in the bar against Octavia and Raven, and she had even demanded the good darts from Murphy instead of the crappy ones he keeps for students and tourists, they’re quite evenly matched.  Glancing around, she realizes they’ve drawn the attention of a couple other bar patrons, as well as Murphy himself. He frowns absently at the two of them while refilling a pitcher.

“Last round,” Clarke says.  And she suddenly turns and steps close to Lexa, tucks a hand into the small of her back to draw her nearer.  Lexa seems slightly surprised by the proximity. “A kiss for good luck, ‘sugar’?”

She tips her head slightly towards their small audience, and Lexa appears to understand.  She rolls her eyes at the endearment, but plays along. “Of course.”

And she leans into Clarke, presses their lips together.  It starts out chaste as the goodbye kiss from the park, or the greeting kiss from the restaurant, but then somehow shifts.  Lexa tilts her head, nose brushing gently against hers, and it feels so good her mouth opens slightly in surprise. She can feel Lexa’s warm breath and just the tiniest hint of a soft tongue and--she pulls back.  Lexa sways forward ever slightly before she seems to remember herself.

Clarke is reeling.   That was...really good acting. Or maybe... But no, the kiss at the protest had felt like that, and that had just been for show, too.

...Right?

“Your turn to lose, Clarke,” Lexa murmurs.   

She mentally shakes herself, and tosses a devil-may-care grin at the brunette.  “That’s what you think. Watch this.”

She loses.  Loses spectacularly, given how well she’d been doing the whole game, but she’s thrown off by the kiss and the fact that Lexa is still right there with those lips and those eyes.  Meanwhile Lexa’s darts sink unerringly into the board, as if the kiss actually did bring her luck, which is totally unfair.

Clarke only manages not to pout because Lexa’s little white-toothed grin of triumph when she wins is actually kind of cute and...oh God, she needs to stop this crush from growing, right now.

“I should probably call it a night.  I do have work tomorrow,” she says.

“As do I,” Lexa agrees, suddenly formal again.  “I should call a Lyft.”

“I’ll wait with you outside,” she offers.

“That isn’t necessary, Clarke--”

“It’s fine, my bus stop is right outside anyway.”  She checks her phone briefly. “And the next one’ll be here in ten.”

The CEO gives her an unreadable look before nodding.  “Thank you.”

***

Out on the sidewalk, Lexa’s head is spinning a little from the drinks, or from the kiss, or both.  She shouldn’t have let herself get carried away, she probably crossed a line...there’s a slight air of tension now as they stand slightly apart from each other, Clarke digging her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.  She glances at her phone; her ride is a minute away.

Niron.” It comes out of nowhere, surprising even Lexa.

“What?”

Lexa clears her throat.  “That’s what I would call you, if we--if we were actually together. Not ‘bae’ or ‘sweetie’.  Though it means the same thing, I suppose, in Trigedasleng.”

It’s the language of family and home and kru. The language her mother and father spoke to her before they died, the language she shares with Anya and Indra and their whole rambling extended family.  

Niron.” The teacher repeats it.  Her accent isn't half-bad. “How do you say ‘Good night’?”

Reshop.”

Reshop, niron,” Clarke murmurs, her voice even huskier than usual, and a wave of longing threatens to swamp Lexa.  She swallows hard as the car pulls up.

“Good night, Clarke.”

And she forces her reluctant feet towards the car.  She watches through the window as Clarke leans against the bus stop sign, practically glowing in a pool of yellow from the streetlight.  Lexa isn’t an artist, but right at this moment she wishes that she could paint, draw, somehow capture the beauty of this image that vanishes all too quickly behind the car.

Her phone buzzes, and she sees a full stack of notifications--including two from Anya, one from Ryder, and one from her social media manager.  She sighs. I can’t even take an evening off...

The first text from Anya is typically short and blunt.  

Bad news, Lex.  Church of Eastpolis scum is going to file charges after all.  But don’t worry, we can take him. And we will.

Her stomach twists a little.  She trusts Anya with her life--her cousin is a warrior in the courtroom--but she still doesn’t like the idea of getting sued.  She glances at the second text.

You and Clarke made it on some gossip blog tonight though, so good job.  You look like you actually like her.

She gulps, suddenly guilty and self-conscious.  Is it that obvious? Her completely unexpected and ill-advised crush on this woman who’s practically a stranger?

The social media email includes a screenshot of a post showing her and Clarke, framed in the window of the restaurant.  Trikru CEO spotted at hot dinner spot with her date...she ignores the rest, ignores the number of likes and retweets, focusing instead on the slightly blurry photo.  Clarke’s head is tipped back slightly as she laughs at something, open and beautiful. And Lexa is giving the blonde a warm, fond look, a small smile that she hasn’t seen on her own face in photos for a long time.  Because it’s real.

She shivers.  Maybe this charade wasn’t such a good idea.

But it’s the final message that makes her blood truly run cold.  Ryder emailed her--and he rarely sends emails after her admittedly late work hours, respecting her time--with a calendar notification.

Heda, Nia Winters requested to meet with you personally asap.  I blocked out time on Friday morning before you leave for New York.

And that’s enough to sober her completely, washing away the last glow of happiness from the night she’d spent with Clarke.  What the hell does Nia want?

***

Chapter Text

“Nia, it’s good to see you.”  The lie falls easily from Lexa’s lips as the other woman enters her office.  She’s had plenty of practice during the course of the acquisition. “Please, take a seat.”

As Nia does so, Lexa studies her.  Nia Winters is old enough to be her mother, with brown hair pulled back into a smooth bun and a pearl necklace at the collar of her expensive silk blouse.  She’d be beautiful, in a sharp-featured, WASPy sort of way, but too often her face is twisted by a condescending sneer.

“What brings you here today? I believe you told my assistant it was a personal matter...”

“That’s right.  I’m here because I want to help you, Lexa.” Nia smiles, but it doesn’t fully reach her icy blue eyes.  “I’m a mother as well as a businesswoman, and a mentor to Ontari. And I know with losing your parents so young, you didn’t have much guidance.”

Lexa has had Titus, Indra, Anya, and other mentors providing her with sound advice over the years, but decides not to mention that. “What guidance are you offering?”

“You and I sell products, but we also sell a brand.  An image of the company. Which reflects one’s own personal image, of course.”

“Of course,” Lexa repeats.  She just watches the woman calmly, waits her out. Nia likes to hear herself talk.

“I know the general public is more...tolerant these days,” Nia says, like ‘tolerant’ was a distasteful word.  “But you must face facts. The board members of companies like ours, the investors and venture capitalists, they tend to be older men with an expectation of how women behave.  You need to have a certain softness, a certain approachability.”

Lexa grinds her teeth through this patronizing lecture, but manages to keep the simmering anger off her face...again, only thanks to much practice.  “I should think my business success and experience should speak for themselves, regardless of my gender or...softness,” she retorts coolly.

The older woman laughs without mirth.  “That is a wonderfully naive belief.” She sits forward in her chair.  “And I think you know better, Lexa. Now, getting into a public brawl over a political issue is already bad enough for your image.  Though this time your choice of partner may help with that--the press loves a pretty blonde,” Nia says, and Lexa burns at this reduction of Clarke to her appearance.  

“She is much more than a ‘pretty blonde’--”

“Of course she is,” Nia concedes, sycophantically, but then her voice sharpens.  “In fact, I wonder what else there is to her. What else you might not know about her, and her past.”

It’s a jab, meant to test for weakness.  Or a threat of blackmail. Clarke had told Anya she didn’t have any skeletons in her closet, but perhaps she hadn’t told the whole truth.  Lexa can hardly admit she doesn’t know that, though, so she lifts her chin, keeps her gaze on Nia.  

“I trust Clarke.  She has nothing to hide from me.”

“Really?” The woman’s lips curl into something that’s more smirk than smile, and Lexa seethes inside.  “Well, isn’t that sweet.”

“Yes.  I’m very lucky.”  A headache is starting to throb behind her eyes.  “I appreciate your sharing your concerns and...guidance, Nia.  I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m leaving for a trip to our New York office soon, so unless there was something else you wished to discuss...” Lexa stands.

“Oh no, I won’t impose further on your schedule.”  Nia stands as well. “I appreciate your taking the time to meet.  Mochof,” she adds.

Pro ,” Lexa bites out, and walks the woman to the door.  Nia uses Trigedasleng strategically--trying to reinforce their shared heritage, to make Lexa feel connected and therefore indebted, even though in everyday life and in the media the woman distances herself from their culture.  It grates on Lexa’s nerves.

When Nia is finally out of sight, Lexa takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly.  Then she asks Ryder to come in to her office.

“I have a taxi to the airport scheduled for you at ten, heda ,” Ryder tells her.  “And here is your briefing folder for New York.”

“Thank you.” She takes the manila folder from him; he knows which documents she likes to review when she goes to visit the Trikru satellite offices.  “Can you find me some time in the morning in the next couple of weeks and reserve one of the courts at the club?”

“Of course.” He makes a note on his tablet.

“Also...I’d like you to find someone on-staff who can...research a person for me,” Lexa says hesitantly.  “Someone who can be discreet.” 

His dark eyes flicker to hers, but he merely nods.

“Thanks, I’ll jot down the details for you.”  She glances at her phone to check the time, only to see she has a text from Clarke. 

I had fun the other night.  But I demand a darts rematch.  

Despite her earlier anger at Nia still weighing down her mood, Lexa smiles almost automatically.  She starts thinking about her calendar, about when she can see Clarke next. And that makes her pause.

“You should take the afternoon off, Ryder.”

Dark, bushy eyebrows raise in surprise.  “Are you sure?”  

“I’ll be traveling anyway, so I won’t need you here.  And I’m sure Gustus would love to see you.” Her personal trainer and weekly sparring partner is Ryder’s husband--they had met playing rugby years ago, and are still quite adorable together.  She suddenly feels guilty about how many nights she’s asked Ryder to stay late instead of going home to his husband, how many mornings he has shown up early to help her prepare for an 8 am board meeting.  Lexa hadn’t thought much about it before, but now that she’s wondering how to fit another date--another fake date, that is--into her schedule, it’s hard to ignore how little free time she has.

For years, her life has centered around Trikru Corporation.  Her parents’ unexpected death during her sophomore year of college had left her the sole inheritor of a growing company and a sizeable fortune.  After Costia, she had given up on personal attachments in favor of building strategic partnerships and growing the business even further. But she can’t deny that the few hours she’s spent with Clarke recently have been somehow just as rewarding as all the accolades she’s received in Forbes and Wired.  If not more so.

She doesn’t realize she’s smiling to herself as she composes a reply to Clarke’s text.  Nor does she see the appraising--and slightly amused--look her assistant gives her before he leaves the office.

***

“You brought Lexa Woods here? To Murphy’s?!” Raven’s incredulous voice rises over the background music and noise of the bar.

Clarke, Octavia, Raven, and a few other Arkadia High teachers are crowded around their usual tables, beers in hand and a nearly-demolished platter of wings in front of them. It’s part of their Friday afternoon tradition; upon their arrival Murphy doesn’t even need to ask for orders, just brings over the wings and the first pitcher of beer. 

“Shit, that means you two are getting kinda serious,” Octavia observes. “Bringing her to your favorite bar?”

“Yeah, you didn’t even take Niylah here,” Raven chimes in.

The blonde nearly chokes on her beer.  “That was...different.”

“Yeah, different ‘cause you and Niylah were just fuck buddies.  This time there’s FEELINGS,” Octavia insists, batting her eyelashes dramatically.

Clarke threatens to chuck a wing bone at her, and Octavia ducks, laughing.  

“I wouldn’t say it’s serious, necessarily.  It’s just...I wanted to take her somewhere she wouldn’t be recognized.  Where she could just chill and be herself.”

“She beat Clarke at darts,” Murphy comments as he comes by with a fresh pitcher of beer.  Clarke glares at him for the betrayal.

Raven cackles. “No way! I think I like her.”

Anyway, enough about my dating life,” Clarke says, trying to change the subject.  “What’s this I hear about a school shutdown, O?”

“Eastwood High is apparently on probation.  If their scores don’t increase, they’re supposed to get shut down next year.  The basketball coach over there told me,” Octavia explains. “But get this, he also said he saw this list of other schools on probation, and Arkadia was on it.”

Clarke frowns.  “But that doesn’t make any sense, our test scores aren’t that low.  I mean, sure, they aren’t the highest, but we’ve been improving in math and science…”

“...Not to mention we have more ELL kids and less funding than the top ranked schools,” Raven adds in an undertone.  “We have to do more with less.”

Octavia scoffs.  “Yeah, like the superintendent gives a shit about that.  Pike just wants success stories to brag about.”

“Or an excuse to convert more schools into charters run by his buddies.”  Clarke took a sip of her beer. “Speaking of which, O, how’s your brother liking it over at his new school?” Bellamy Blake was also a teacher; he’d gotten a job teaching history and geography that year at a charter school across town, Montwether Academy.

Octavia makes a face.  “He says it’s kinda shitty, actually.  They expect the teachers to stay really late and run all these extra tutoring sessions, without paying them any more.  They have this super rigid curriculum and, like, military-style discipline.”

“Yikes.  Good thing we didn’t go somewhere like that for high school,” Raven says.  She points a BBQ-sauce-stained finger at Clarke. “Little miss teen rebel here would’ve gotten kicked out.”

“Hey, I was a good student,” Clarke protests.

“Didn’t you get arrested?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t press charges.  Besides, that was after...after my dad died.”  Clarke’s voice grows soft at the last part, and both her friends go quiet as well.  Octavia rests a comforting hand on Clarke’s shoulder. 

“Guess that’s something else you and Lexa have in common, huh,” she points out after a moment.

“What do you mean?” Clarke asks before she can catch herself.  

Octavia raises an eyebrow in surprise. “You know, the whole ‘losing a parent when you were young’ thing.”

Shit.  Now she vaguely remembers from Lexa’s Wikipedia page--both her parents died in a private plane crash when she was in college, or maybe high school.  Lexa hasn’t really talked about them, except a brief mention about the meaning behind her tattoos.

She really needs to research her ‘girlfriend’ more.  Octavia is giving her a weird look, but fortunately Raven chimes in then.

“That and getting arrested.  And you both like to eat pu--” Clarke slaps a hand over Raven’s mouth almost by reflex.

“Oh my god, I can’t take you anywhere,” she groans.

“What? It’s true!”

***

Hey, are you busy? Clarke texts her later that night.

Lexa had just left the New York Trikru office, after a brutally long afternoon of meetings and project updates, and arrived back at her hotel. She’s idly flipping through the room service menu, exhausted and almost too hungry to decide what she wants to eat.

No, I’m free. But also in New York, she texts back.

Can I call you real quick?

Curious, she replies with “sure” and a moment later her phone rings.

“Hey, I figured it’d be faster than texting,” says Clarke’s warm, slightly husky voice. “I just wanted to ask you about that charity event next Friday. You still wanted me to go with you, right?”

“Yes.  If you wouldn’t mind,” Lexa adds courteously.  “Anya’s right, it will be a good public appearance.”  And hopefully will help distract people from the news of that protester filing assault charges against me, she thinks but doesn’t add. They had already texted about it; Clarke had steadfastly promised to give her eyewitness testimony if needed.

“I don’t mind at all.  I mean, I’m assuming something like this means open bar and fancy hors d’oeuvres…”

Lexa chuckles.  “Your assumption is correct.”

“So what should I wear? Is this, like, black tie? I think I actually have a black skinny tie somewhere...”

Lexa is suddenly distracted by a vivid mental image of Clarke in a fitted white dress shirt, hair tousled and top button undone, her slim artist’s fingers reaching up to loosen a silky black tie…

She clears her throat.  “Um, it’s not quite that formal, but maybe nicer than cocktail wear.  You can wear a tie if you want. Or a dress. Whatever you feel good in.”

“What are you planning to wear?”

Lexa opens her mouth to describe the outfit she’d had in mind, then closes it.  She has a sudden urge to go through her entire wardrobe when she gets back and find something truly stunning.  Maybe even buy a new dress, as she hasn’t done in a while. “Can’t tell you, that would ruin the surprise,” she says finally.

A delighted chuckle comes over the phone.  “Mysterious. Well, I’m sure whatever it is, you’ll look fantastic in it.”

Lexa is glad that the other woman can’t see her blush right now.

They settle the logistics for the evening, and then Lexa finds herself at a loss for words, yet somehow reluctant to end the call.

“I guess I should let you go…” says Clarke.

“Yes, I should really get some dinner.”

“Dinner? You know it’s nine pm, right? In teacher hours that’s like midnight, even on Fridays.”

Lexa smiles.  “When I visit our satellite offices I tend to pack a lot into one day.  I’ll probably just get some room service and then go to bed.”

“I’m sorry Lexa, but room service in New York City is just a crime.  You have pizza, bagels, food from basically every country in the world--”

“Yeah, but honestly I’m just so hungry right now I think I might eat the TV remote,” Lexa jokes, and it earns a deep-throated laugh from Clarke.

She could listen to that laugh all night, hunger pangs be damned.

“Go. Eat. I’ll see you next week.”

“See you then. Reshop, Clarke.”

And if she isn’t imagining it, she can hear the smiling warmth in Clarke’s final, “Good night.”

After she hangs up, Lexa eyes the room service menu again, hears her stomach growl in the echoing silence of the hotel room. Then she gets up and grabs her keycard.

The pizza shop three blocks away from her hotel is the first one she sees, garish with signs proclaiming AUTHENTIC!! “NY” SLICES and so tiny there’s only a single counter at the window where she sits. The pizza is greasy, hot enough to burn the roof of Lexa’s mouth, nothing like what she would normally order for herself...and incredibly tasty. Or perhaps she’s just so hungry that anything would taste good. 

She wonders whether Clarke would like it.  Texts her a picture of the half-eaten slice with the caption, Happy now?

There’s no response until the next morning--Clarke apparently wasn’t joking about early teacher bedtimes.  But the reply consisting mostly of heart-eyes and drooling emojis makes her smile, and starts her day off on a much brighter note.

***

Clarke didn’t have major plans for her half-day off from work--catch up on laundry and do some sketching in the park, maybe.  She’s surprised--and okay, a little excited--to see Lexa’s number on her caller ID just after lunchtime, while she was packing up to leave school. 

 “Hey sweetpea,” she drawls teasingly, “this is unexpected…”

But the voice that answers is definitely not Lexa’s--nor even female, from the sound of it.  “Miss Griffin, I apologize for the intrusion,” the man says. “This is Ryder, Miss Woods’s executive assistant.”

“Uh, hi,” she replies, confused.

“I would not have called, but unfortunately Miss Woods has become ill at work.  She is attempting to continue with her schedule, but it seems she would be better off at home.”

“So she’s being stubborn.  Why am I not surprised,” Clarke muses aloud.

Heda’s perseverance is usually a strength,” Ryder replies, and his droll tone combined with the slight emphasis on ‘usually’ speaks volumes.  “Ordinarily Miss Greene could convince her to go home, but she’s in court today. And Miss Woods nearly fainted during a conference call half an hour ago…but don’t let her know I told you that.”

Clarke hesitates.  “I’m not sure if she’ll listen to me...”

“She might.  She has mentioned you recently,” the man says, and from his tone it sounds like a pretty significant thing.

That gets Clarke’s attention.  Lexa doesn’t seem the type to share much about her personal life, even with her assistant...but of course, she’s probably trying to sell the pretend relationship.  

Well, Clarke certainly isn’t going to ruin that image, so she finds herself headed downtown to the imposing glass-and-steel tower that is Lexa’s domain.  

She can’t help but admire the efficiency of it all.  As soon as she arrives in the expansive lobby of the Trikru Corporation headquarters, a security officer greets her and ushers her to an elevator.  It takes surprisingly little time to ascend, given that she’s headed to one of the top floors; her ears pop twice. Once out of the elevator, Clarke barely has time to take in the reception area--beautifully carved wooden seating, a two-story wall of living plants, and was that an actual tree ?--before a giant of a man with a resplendent beard and mustache approaches.  His bulk looks like more suited to a Viking longboat than a corporate boardroom, but his navy blue suit is impeccably tailored.

“Thank you for coming, Miss Griffin.  I’m Ryder.” He gestures towards a hallway.  “Please follow me.”

“How long has Lexa been sick? Has she been to the doctor?” Clarke can’t help it; she’s the daughter of a doctor, after all.  “Last time I saw her she was fine…”

“She seemed a little tired and hoarse yesterday,” he replies.  “But Heda does not like hospitals.”

“'Heda' ?” 

“It means ‘boss’.”  The man glances at her, then adds quietly, “I must say I was surprised to learn about your and Miss Woods’s relationship.  She is very dedicated to her work and does not spend much time on personal matters.”  

Clarke gets the sudden feeling he knows something is fishy about the relationship.  But his cool professional expression softens ever so slightly as he continues. “She seems...happier, lately.  It is nice to see this change.”

She swallows. “I’m glad I can make her happy.” 

She isn’t sure whether it’s the right thing to say—or even if it’s a lie—but it seems to satisfy Ryder, who nods and pushes open a door for her. 

Clarke walks into...well, she’s not sure what she was expecting, but it wasn’t this. One whole wall of the office is glass, with what looks like a small balcony behind it, but that’s the most extravagant feature.  Otherwise it’s simple, functional, and surprisingly small compared to the reception area: there’s a wooden desk with a two-monitor computer setup, some shelves, a filing cabinet and a printer. 

Lexa leans over her desk, studying some kind of print-out as intently a general surveying enemy forces.  But Clarke can see the exhaustion rounding her shoulders, the way she’s really leaning most of her weight against the desk itself, and the cough that shakes her slender frame.

“Ryder, can you bring me the--” she glances up and sees Clarke.  Her eyes widen. “Clarke. What are you doing here?”

Aware that they have an audience, Clarke walks over and presses the back of her hand to the CEO’s forehead. “Well apparently you fainted during a conference call but didn’t think to tell your girlfriend you’re feeling sick.”

“I didn’t faint-- ” Lexa protests, but starts coughing too hard to finish, leaving her slightly breathless.

Clarke frowns, not pretending now.  Lexa’s skin is warm under her skin, her eyes glassy with fever, yet she’s shivering a little.  “You should be at home in bed.”

“Clarke, really, I’m fine--”

“Not from the sound of that cough, you aren’t.  And you’re burning up,” she observes. 

“I’ve had worse.  There’s too much on my calendar today.”

“Actually, heda, I cleared your schedule for the rest of the day,” Ryder cuts in.  “And tomorrow as well.”

Lexa levels a glare at him that would’ve made even a bigger man tremble, but the effect is ruined when she sneezes.  It’s a squeaky little sneeze. It’s adorable .

“It’s just a cold,” Lexa insists hoarsely.

“It looks more like the flu,” Clarke points out.  “Which means you’re gonna be useless if you stay anyway, and you’ll just risk getting your employees sick.  Plus you have that event coming up, remember?” The CEO’s resolve seems to waver a little. “You need to rest, Lexa.  C’mon, I’ll take you home.”

“But you have work--”

“I actually happen to have the afternoon off.  Kids are on a field trip.”

Finally Lexa gives in.  “Fine. I will go home. But I’m taking my laptop with me--”

“I’m sorry, but your laptop is being checked by IT for possible malware,” Ryder says smoothly, and even Clarke can tell it’s a flat-out lie.  She grins. She likes this guy, how fiercely protective he is of Lexa.

“Ryder, would you mind grabbing her jacket?” Clarke asks in a sweet tone.  

Lexa mutters something rude-sounding in Trigedasleng, but she doesn’t fight when Clarke helps her put on her jacket.  She’s coughing so hard by the time they reach the elevator that Clarke places a hand at the small of her back to steady her.  And Lexa really must be feeling bad, because she allows herself to lean into the touch, ever so slightly.

***

Lexa hates being this weak.  She doesn’t like feeling like a burden, and she’s used to taking care of herself.  But Clarke genuinely doesn’t seem to mind helping her. She had insisted on stopping at her apartment first, hopping out of the car and returning a few minutes later with a bulging tote bag.

As soon as they reached Lexa’s apartment, the teacher had shooed her towards the living room while she bustled into the attached kitchen. She’d sunk down onto the couch gratefully, her body aching, but was now frowning at an email on her phone from one of her board members.

“Are you trying to do work?” Clarke’s voice sounds suspicious.  She comes in bearing a bowl of soup, a bottle of water tucked under one arm, and two boxes of medication under the other. 

“Email doesn’t really count,” Lexa contends, but Clarke gives her a stern look that she’s guessing has been honed against many a wayward student. 

To her embarrassment, it works. She sets her phone down on the coffee table, earning an approving nod.

“All right, here we go,” Clarke announces. “Step 1 of the Griffin family flu treatment, courtesy of my doctor mom.”

She makes Lexa take the flu medication and a giant multivitamin first, before she hands over the soup and, with a flourish, produces a small packet of oyster crackers. It makes Lexa smile.

Her eyes widen as she tastes the first spoonful of steaming soup.  “Wow, this is amazing. Did you make this?”

“I wish I could take credit, but no,” Clarke answers. “My neighbor gave me a whole bunch a while back and I froze some.”  

“Well, your neighbor is a fantastic cook.”  Lexa starts to practically inhale the soup.

“He is.  Uses the fresh herbs and veggies he grows in his yard and everything. Fortunately for me, he sometimes makes more than he can eat and brings over the extras...though I suspect it’s just an excuse to come and talk to me.”

“Sounds like he might have a crush on you,” Lexa observes, and something like a chill runs through her.  Must be the fever. It’s definitely not the thought of some presumably handsome neighbor trying to woo Clarke with this really incredibly delicious, homegrown food. 

Then she realizes Clarke is chuckling.

“I doubt it, seeing as Mr. Amara is a ninety-year-old widower.  I think he sees me like one of his grandchildren. He tells me to put on a scarf in the winter when I’m leaving for work and yells at the squirrels in Italian when they try to steal his tomatoes off the vine.”

Lexa smiles at the mental image, unaccountably relieved.  “He sounds lovely. I--” 

But before she can say more, a racking cough erupts, making her double over.  Clarke deftly relocates her bowl to the safety of the coffee table, then rubs a soothing hand over her back, between her shoulder blades.  Lexa closes her eyes at the touch.

“Try not to talk too much,” Clarke says softly.  “Let your throat rest.”

Nodding, Lexa straightens and takes a long sip of the water Clarke hands her before returning to her soup.

“Next up is step 2 of the treatment.” At Lexa’s questioning look, the blonde continues, “You change into your PJs, stretch out on the couch, and we watch a cute and/or sappy movie. Something Pixar, preferably.”

“You don’t need to stay, Clarke. I don’t want to get you sick,” Lexa croaks.  

“Please, my immune system is made of steel,” she scoffs.  “It’s exposed to thirteen hundred teenagers each day, it can handle whatever you’ve got.  Plus I already had my flu shot this year.” 

Her hand rubs Lexa’s back again, and a strange look crosses her face. “When was the last time someone took care of you, anyway?” she adds, in a softer tone.

Lexa honestly has to think about it.  “Anya looks after me, sometimes.” She doesn’t admit that her cousin’s version of care is generally tossing a box of Kleenex at her and telling her to ‘get her ass in bed before she gives anyone else the plague’.  Knowing Anya, it’s still a loving gesture.

Before that...she has vague memories of being sick as a kid and her mom actually staying home with her, making her peppermint tea with honey.  But often her mom was still working in the study while Lexa slept or read, and once she was old enough she stayed home on her own while sick. Took care of herself and dutifully did any make-up assignments from school.

“Well, since Ryder said she’s in court, today you get me.  So, what kind of movie are you feeling? The Incredibles?” Clarke squints at her.  “You seem like you could be a post-apocalyptic kinda girl, maybe some Wall-e?”

“How about Coco?” Lexa asks shyly.  She’d caught the first half of it on a plane a month or two ago--it was either that or La La Land, and she was way too gay for that one.

“Good choice.  You want some more soup?”

Lexa’s almost surprised to realize her bowl is empty. “Yes, please. But you don’t have to get up, I can get it—”

Clarke waves off her protests.  “Shhh. I’m taking care of you, remember? You go put on some pajamas, get comfy.”

Levering her aching body off the couch, Lexa does so. She has to admit, it feels nice to shed her work clothes knowing there’s nowhere she has to be today, nobody expecting her to be the boss. It feels equally nice to hear the quiet domestic sounds of Clarke moving around the kitchen.  She’d expect it to seem jarring, since usually the only other person visiting her apartment is Anya, who rarely ventures into the kitchen except to grab a corkscrew. But Clarke has this way of sliding into Lexa’s life like she belongs there--and she finds, more and more, that she doesn’t really mind.

***

Predictably, Lexa falls asleep a half hour into the movie.  Clarke hears her slow, slightly congested breathing from the armchair she’s sitting in, and glances over. Lexa had exchanged her contact lenses for round tortoiseshell glasses that somehow made her eyes look more grey than green. Combined with her lavender pajamas, they also make Lexa look impossibly cute and young and nerdy, and Clarke’s never really had a thing for girls in glasses before but now she gets it.  

(Or maybe she just has a thing for Lexa, but nope, she’s not examining that thought head-on. Not yet.)

She carefully removes those glasses, placing them on the coffee table, and drapes the throw blanket over Lexa.  Then she returns the soup bowl to the kitchen and spends a couple of minutes snooping around the apartment, because she’s only human. It’s clear from the finishings that Lexa is well-to-do—from the furniture that looks straight out of a West Elm showroom to the massive granite countertops—but it isn’t ostentatious. In fact, it looks more like a nice AirBnb than anything else; there’s a feeling somehow that its occupant doesn’t spend much time here.

Finally, she gives in to the urge she’s had since she first met Lexa—well, okay, one of the urges—and takes the sketchbook and charcoals out of her bag. She’d been planning to go sketch in the park during her half-day off, but this gives her a chance to practice some figure drawing.  And it certainly doesn’t hurt that her sleeping model is stunningly beautiful, even when sick, all long eyelashes and curved cheekbones and wisps of dark hair...

Clarke tends to lose track of time when she sketches or paints. So she’s not sure how long it has been when Lexa stirs fitfully. A frown forms on her face. Her head jerks sharply, and then she wakes with a gasp, sitting bolt upright.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay.” Clarke immediately abandons her sketchbook and moves to the couch, putting a hand on Lexa’s knee, the other on her shoulder. “It was just a dream.”

Lexa coughs, rests her head in her hands, shivers.  Even through her pajamas, Clarke can feel the fever burning through her.

“It felt so real,” Lexa murmurs hoarsely. “There was a board meeting but I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have any slides and the board members were angry.” Her brow furrows. “I think they were also wearing colorful tutus and critiquing my poor Instagramming skills.”

Clarke snorts, then claps a hand over her mouth. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting that.” A giggle boils up anyway, but Lexa joins her, chuckling wheezily.

“Fever dreams can be pretty bizarre,” Clarke says eventually. “How are you feeling?”

“Still tired, but a little better. Sorry, I’m not a very good movie date.” Lexa gestures to indicate the movie—Clarke had turned the volume down low while she slept. 

“You’re sick, it’s okay. You can always make it up to me later with a real movie date.” She realizes how that sounds, and quickly corrects herself. “I mean, not real real but like a fake date to the actual movie theater.”

But Lexa doesn’t seem to notice any awkwardness; she just smiles sleepily and yawns. “That sounds nice.”

Clarke forces herself to move away from Lexa’s sleepy eyes, to clear her throat. “Maybe you should actually get in bed. Seems like you could use more sleep.”

“But I’m comfy here.” A full lower lip juts out slightly in a pout. 

“Lexa, you’re shivering like a leaf.”

The other woman looks away.  “It’s just...nice having company, even if I’m asleep for it.” 

Clarke isn’t sure what to say, surprised by the admission, but Lexa misreads her hesitation.  Her posture stiffens, formality shuttering her face again. “Never mind. I understand if--I’ve already imposed enough on you today.”

Clarke touches Lexa’s knee again.  “Hey, I already told you. I’m happy to take care of you.”  And it’s true; knowing that Lexa so rarely receives this kind of care makes giving it feel special.  “I was actually going to offer to spoon you. I’m ridiculously good at generating heat. Raven calls me the thermodynamic source to her sink, whatever that means…”

She realizes she’s babbling and cuts herself off.  It must reassure Lexa, though, who heaves herself up from the couch and holds out a hand to Clarke. Before she can lead the way to her bedroom, however, her gaze falls on the sketchbook abandoned on Clarke’s chair. 

She picks it up, staring.

“Oh, that’s – it’s not finished yet,” Clarke says awkwardly.

But Lexa just looks at her with round eyes.  As if she’d done something amazing. “It’s beautiful. You have a real talent, Clarke.”

“Thanks. I hope you don’t mind, I haven’t had the opportunity to do any figure drawing in a while…” and you’re a perfect model even while asleep, she just manages not to add. That might sound a little creepy.

“I don’t mind,” Lexa murmurs.  It seems like she’s about to say more, but she starts coughing again. When she finally catches her breath, she gives Clarke a tired, rueful look. “I think you’re right about sleeping some more.”

Clarke squeezes her hand in return. “Lead the way.”

Lexa’s room is just as minimalist as the rest of the apartment, but the large bed in the middle of it looks cozy, piled with pillows and a decadent-looking comforter.  There are few decorations--some candles lining the windowsill, an abstract metal sculpture in one corner. Lexa slides gratefully under the covers, and Clarke slips off her shoes before doing the same.

She’d expect it to be awkward--they’re barely, what, friends?--but it feels almost natural when she slides close to Lexa.  The other woman’s back and hips fit against her body like they’re matching jigsaw pieces, one hand curls over her side while the other tucks under Lexa’s neck.  Lexa gives a small sigh and sinks back into Clarke, still shivering slightly.

Clarke almost shivers herself, for an entirely different reason.  And suddenly she’s questioning her own sanity, why she ever reasonably thought that offering to cuddle Lexa would be a good idea, because now she’s close enough to smell Lexa’s shampoo, to kiss the back of her neck--and oh god, now she’s thinking about kissing the back of Lexa’s neck.  Lexa shifts again, getting comfortable, but that makes it even worse because her ass, her shapely ass that Clarke had possibly maybe checked out while they were playing darts, is now nestled against Clarke’s groin, and she’s going to spontaneously combust. Is that possible? Like scientifically? Raven would know.  

She’s spiralling.

“You really are warm,” Lexa mumbles, sleepy.  “S’nice.” A cough erupts again, rattling deep in her chest, and that’s what helps Clarke settle down.  Lexa’s sick, and as inconveniently aroused as she is, her desire to take care of the other woman comes through stronger.

“Shhh.”  She wraps her arm tighter around Lexa and intertwines their legs, willing warmth and comfort into her.  “Sleep now.”

“‘Chof.” By the time Lexa’s breathing soon evens out into sleep, Clarke’s libido has calmed down mostly.  And she’s stuck awake and alone, wondering what the hell she’s going to do about her growing feelings for Lexa.

***

Chapter Text

The next morning at school, Clarke is so distracted she starts in on a printmaking lesson for her first class, and only realizes it isn’t what she’d had planned when Madi speaks up.  

“Uhh, Miz G? I thought we were still on the drawing unit?”

“Right.”  Right, and Madi would know because she’s doing figure drawings of Shuri and her favorite female Marvel characters, including the ones she’s ‘shipping’ together or whatever it’s called… “Yeah, everyone get out your sketchbooks.”

She takes her own sketchbook out, intending to show a couple of examples to her students, only to flip to the page with Lexa.  And immediately slams the book shut before any nosy students can see it--or notice her lack of composure.

She really needs to talk to someone about this.  But she can’t, they’re keeping it hidden and she’s pretty sure Anya would actually murder her if word got out to the press that their relationship was fake.  Unless it’s someone she has dirt on herself...

After the class leaves, Clarke goes to Raven’s classroom; they’re on the same planning period schedule, and the chemistry teacher is sitting on her desk, eating and grading some tests.

Clarke flops onto a stool across from her.  “I need some advice.”

“You came to the right person.”

Noticing something, Clarke pauses. “Are you eating cookie dough for breakfast?”

“Yeah. Why, you want some?” Raven asks. She nonchalantly scoops another spoonful out of the tube. 

“Uh, no thanks. Um.”  Clarke tries to focus, takes a deep breath.  “So I think I’m...maybedevelopingfeelingsforLexa.” 

“You wanna try that last part again, slower? Because it sounded like you said you’re developing feelings for Lexa.”

Clarke just nods.

“Uh, sorry to state the obvious but...you’re dating her, Clarke.  That’s normal.”

“Except I’m kind of not.”  At Raven’s confused look, she hastens to explain.  “Listen, you have to swear you won’t tell anyone this.  Seriously, you can’t tell O, you can’t text it or post anything about it online.”

Raven’s eyes widen and she gives a fake gasp.  “You’re pregnant with Lexa’s baby!”

“Shut up! I’m being serious.  If this gets out…” Clarke darts a nervous look over her shoulder, but the classroom door is closed.

“Oooh, it’s serious ...” she singsongs around a mouthful of cookie dough.  

She should’ve known better; Raven’s middle name ought to be Irreverent.  (Or Trouble. Or Likes to Make Things Go Boom…) “I’m not kidding. If I find out you told anyone, I’ll tell O about that thing with her brother.”

Now her friend stares at her, shocked.  The threat must convince her that Clarke’s actually worried, because she relents.  “Okay jeez, I promise. Seriously, I won’t tell a soul.”

Clarke takes a slightly shaky breath.  “Lexa and I aren’t really dating. The first time I actually met her was at the protest...I didn’t even know who she was, but I dared her to make out with me in front of the Church of Eastpolis assholes.”  She bit her lip, remembering that kiss all too well. “And then--well you saw it, the guy tried to hit me.”

Raven’s spoon stays frozen halfway to her mouth for a long moment as she absorbs all of this.  “Holy shit. You’re shitting me.”

“I’m not, I swear.  And then she got arrested, it was kinda my fault, and it went viral.  And apparently it would look bad in the media if a famous CEO is going around kissing strange women and punching people.”

The chemistry teacher stares at her for another moment, but then her quick mind catches up.  “But if she’s kissing her established girlfriend and protecting her from a homophobe, it’s easier to spin,” she guesses, and nods.  “Makes sense.”  

“Yeah.  So we’ve been going on fake dates and stuff, to keep up the story, but the more I get to know her…” Clarke rubs a hand over the back of her neck.  “Rae, she’s really amazing. She’s so smart and thoughtful and, like, funny in this understated kind of way, and she’s fucking gorgeous --”

Raven laughs.  “And you are totally falling head over heels for her.”

“Maybe.  I don’t know.  Yeah?” Clarke feels her face warm, and lets out a sigh.  “But she said she doesn’t really date, and besides, she’s Lexa freakin’ Woods, she’s totally out of my league.”

Raven sets aside her cookie dough tube, stands up, and grasps Clarke’s shoulders.  “Okay, first of all, nobody’s out of your league. You are Clarke freakin’ Griffin.  You aren’t just a snack, you’re a five-course meal.”

“You really need to stop using slang you hear from the students,” Clarke mumbles, but Raven ignores her.

“Second of all, how do you know she isn’t falling for you too? The pictures of y’all on social media...she looks pretty into you, Griff.”

“But that’s just pretending, for the look of it…” 

“Well, it looks pretty real.”  Sounding unconvinced, Raven sits down and digs into her cookie dough again.  She chews for a moment, looking thoughtful. “Hey, you know how you can tell for sure?”

“How?”

“Wear a low-cut shirt and get her tipsy.”

Clarke glances again at the door of the empty classroom, for any potentially young ears listening in.  “Rae! That’s terrible advice!”

“I don’t mean get her shitfaced and be a creeper! Just, y’know, flaunt your assets,” her friend wiggles her eyebrows, cupping her hands suggestively in front of her chest, “and see if she gets...distracted.”

It’s a measure of how bad Clarke’s crush is, that she honestly considers it for a moment.  “I should probably just talk to her. Be honest about my feelings.”

“I mean yeah, duh, but where’s the fun in that?”

“You’re incorrigible.” Clarke sighs again and moves to perch on the desk next to her friend.  She’s going to have to be brave and grown-up and actually talk to Lexa. She’s going to have to make herself vulnerable, and risk getting rejected by this beautiful, intriguing woman.  

“I think I need some cookie dough,” she whines.

Raven smirks and hands her the tube.  “Breakfast of champions.”

They sit for a few moments in silence, trading the spoon back and forth.  “Speaking of breakfast, my moms are doing brunch soon,” Raven says eventually.  “You should come. Bring your fake girlfriend, Mami would shit a brick if she got to meet Lexa Woods.”

Clarke has been a guest at the periodic Reyes-Hernandez brunch for years, ever since she and Raven first met and with only a brief hiatus during the most recent Finn drama.  Raven’s mothers treat her almost like a second daughter. “Who’s cooking?”

“Mom will, don’t worry.  Mami’s just in charge of the drinks and music.”

“I’ll be there.  I’ll see if Lexa can come.”  Raven snorts at her wording, and Clarke rolls her eyes.  “Not like that, you perv.”

“Oh shit, that’s right--you actually don’t know what she’s like in bed, do you?” Raven realizes, but then she frowns.  “But didn’t you say you slept over at her apartment the other day--”

“She was sick, I stayed to look after her.  And I just slept there, we didn’t do anything,” Clarke’s voice rises about an octave higher than usual. 

Raven nudges her with her elbow, grinning.  “But you wanted to, huh.”

Clarke drops her face into her hands.  “ So much.  God.”

Raven’s laughter rings in the empty classroom, before she pats her friend’s back sympathetically.  “You poor bisexual.”

“You can make me feel better by helping me pick out what to wear to this gala thing.”  As Raven starts to open her mouth, Clarke cuts her off. “And no, don’t tell me I should just wear something that shows off my cleavage.”

“I wasn’t gonna say that!” she protests.  “Really! I was just going to ask why you aren’t asking Octavia for help.  You know she’s got better fashion taste than me, as much as I hate to admit to weakness.”

“Oh, I already texted her about it.  You’re my backup plan,” Clarke jibes, hopping up off the desk.

“Asshole.” Raven sticks her tongue out.

“Jerk,” Clarke retorts fondly.  She hands the spoon back. “Better go get ready to educate some bright young minds.  See you at lunch.”

***

Well before lunch even arrives, however, the front office buzzes Clarke’s classroom intercom.  “Ms. Griffin, we have a delivery for you here.” It’s the drawling voice of the semi-retired guy who’s their security officer.

She frowns, pausing a slideshow of Impressionist artists.  “I wasn’t expecting a delivery. Do you know where it’s from?”

“Oh yeah.  It’s from Louwoda Florists, and there’s a card here for you.  From a ‘Lexa’, the card says--”

“Okay, great,” Clarke rushes to say, before he can read it aloud, though she already spots a couple of kids in her class giggling and whispering.

“We’re gonna send it over to your class, there isn’t enough room here in the office.”

“Sure, fine. Thanks.” She hurries to get back to her lesson before the students’ attention is completely unraveled.  “So, Monet--not to be confused with Manet , or with Janelle…”

Five minutes later she might as well give up on trying to teach, after two delivery guys arrive laden with flowers.  Not just one bouquet, or even two, but at least a dozen large bunches of flowers, beautifully arranged and color-coordinated, with actual glass vases and everything.  She watches in bewilderment as the men place them on her desk, on a table when her desk runs out of room, and then on the windowsill when that gets full.

Her entire class is laughing and talking and taking photos on her phone.  She’s probably going to be all over Snapchat or something within the hour.

She plucks a card out from one arrangement of lilies.

          I can’t thank you enough for taking care of me. Your ‘special treatment’ worked wonders.

          Here’s a token that I hope will bring much-deserved beauty to your day.

          --Lexa

If this bounty is just a token...she shakes her head and sticks the card in her pocket, still a bit flustered.  The noise in the classroom has risen considerably; there’s almost no hope of settling back into a PowerPoint presentation now.

“Okay, change of plans,” she announces, switching on the lights.  “Instead of learning about the Impressionists, let’s do an exercise on how they painted flowers from life...”

***

(The news of the flowers gets around the school quickly.  Come lunchtime, Raven saunters into her room and closes the door behind her.

“So tell me again how you’re fake -dating Lexa Woods? Because this--” she swings her cane around to indicate the greenery, “--looks pretty real to me, dude.”

Clarke has to fight a grin--and fight the bubble of hope rising in her chest.)