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Connecting Flight

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Usually Lexa liked being in airports.  She liked the liminal space between departure point and destination, which put everyday life on pause and made anything seem possible.  She liked how everyone was on their way somewhere, inviting daydreams about their own travels--that woman was bringing back one of her mother’s famous peach pies in a hatbox; that tired-looking man returning to his husband after spending months abroad for work.  Plus she’d usually let herself read something just for pleasure: no student papers or journal articles allowed, only trashy magazines or some sci-fi pulp.

But the conference had left her exhausted, and she hadn’t had time to download any books onto her Kindle, and for once Lexa just wanted to be home already.

So when the announcement came over the intercom at her gate that Flight 100 to Polis was delayed for a technical problem, she bit back a groan of annoyance.

Another person near her didn’t hold back their groan.  “Seriously? Fuck--oh shit, I mean shoot, I really ought to stop cussing around you…”

Lexa turned in her seat to see a young woman with wavy blonde hair, holding a baby on her hip and looking distressed.  She had just walked up, hands full with her boarding pass, a rolling suitcase, a black leather backpack dangling from one shoulder, and the baby, who was just starting to fuss and whimper.

And she was pretty.  Really pretty, beautiful even, with round lips over a slightly dimpled chin, blue eyes sharp and clear despite rings of exhaustion and slightly smudged mascara...and those eyes had locked onto Lexa, who looked away, but not quite in time.

“Hey, can you hold her for a second? I just need to--” and before Lexa knew what was happening, she had a lapful of baby.

The little girl stared up at her with big, round, blue eyes--the same shade as the woman’s, Lexa noted absently--and wriggled slightly.  Lexa hurried to adjust her grip under the baby’s armpits and supporting her back, while chubby legs kicked against her lap. She was wearing a grey onesie with a hood that had pointed ears and a raccoon mask on it, as well as a ringed tail.

Lexa’s heart melted.

“Thank you,” a husky voice said nearby, and she saw the baby’s mother had taken the empty seat right next to her.  She rifled through the backpack, moving diapers and wipes aside. “I just don’t have enough hands, and they made me check her stroller, and of course I forgot her fucking carrier--” she pulled out a baby bottle full of water and a can of formula, then winced.  “And I also keep forgetting not to cuss around a baby.”

Lexa chuckled.  “You’re welcome.  And hey, at least you have a little while longer until she starts repeating your words. She’s what, six or seven months old?” 

The blonde measured out the formula and dumped in the bottle.  “Almost six. I’m gonna have to make myself a swear jar or something in the meantime, or else her first word is gonna be a profanity.”  She was wearing a black denim jacket and ripped jeans, Lexa noticed, and had faint pink highlights growing out in her hair. Not much like the typical overly-protective upper-class parents Lexa was used to seeing in the fancier parts of Polis, pushing their Scandinavian-imported strollers to bilingual baby yoga or whatever the new thing was.

“You’re traveling alone?” Lexa asked.

“Yeah.  It was supposed to be with Bellamy,” the woman growled, “but he bailed on me...” The baby started to whimper and wriggle more, seeing the bottle being prepared.  Lexa tried to keep her from wiggling right off her lap and, in a fit of inspiration, started making funny faces at her. She stilled and stared upwards, a little crinkle of concentration forming between wispy light-brown eyebrows.  Then her face lit up in a smile that made Lexa inordinately proud of herself.   

The infant promptly unleashed an ear-piercing pterodactyl shriek of joy, followed by “bahBAAAbaba. BAH!”

“Okay, c’mere baby girl,” the blonde said, in a voice immediately warmer and less grumpy.  Lexa turned slightly to facilitate a smooth handoff of the baby, and felt their knees and hands brush.  The woman settled the little girl across her lap with a practiced movement and gave her the bottle. She immediately went to town on it.

Lexa took a moment to study this stranger.  Despite her frazzled air, she stared down at her daughter with a gentle, unadulterated smile.

“I’m lucky that she’s such a good eater.  Now if only she was that good at sleeping, too,” the woman observed, before she looked up and saw Lexa watching her.  She grimaced. “Sorry, I’m doing that new parent thing and talking about my baby’s eating and sleeping habits to a total stranger.  You probably don’t care.”

“No, it’s okay.  I have nieces and nephews, I get it,” Lexa said.  “And I did just hold your baby, so I guess I’m not a total stranger.”

The woman smiled, which only made her even prettier. Lexa gulped.  “I’m Clarke, by the way.” She propped the bottle so she could shake hands.

“Lexa.” Her hand was smooth, her skin warm, and god, Lexa was such a lesbian. 

“Nice to meet you, Lexa.” She looked down at her baby again.  “And this little nugget is Madi.”

“She’s beautiful.”  Like her mother, Lexa thought but didn’t add, because that would be a terribly cliché line...even if it was entirely true, in her opinion.

“She is,” Clarke agreed wholeheartedly. She ran an adoring finger over her daughter’s eyebrows. “Best thing that came out of my last relationship by far.”

A voice crackled over the intercom and announces that the delay would last at least forty-five minutes while the plane was checked. Lexa glanced at her watch.

“I should get some food,” she commented, then added on a sudden impulse, “do you want me to grab you anything?”

The blonde looked up in surprise. “Oh no, it’s okay…”

“I don’t mind.  It looks like you have your hands full,” Lexa nodded towards Madi, who was halfway through her bottle and showing no signs of slowing down.  “So how about you keep an eye on my bag, and I bring you the tastiest fare Terminal C’s food court can provide?”

Clarke smiled again.  “How can I say no to that?”

Standing, Lexa stretched her back and arms, stiff from her previous flight.  Her sweater rode up a little, and she thought she caught Clarke’s gaze tracing subtly over her body.  Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but the woman’s cheeks looked a little pink when she glanced down again.

“Any food preference? Allergies?”

“If you brought me cheese pizza, I’d probably kiss you.”  Now her cheeks were definitely pink. “Um, I mean…no, no allergies.”

Lexa just smiled and lifted an eyebrow.  “Pizza it is, then.” She waved away Clarke’s attempt to give her some cash for the food.  “Don’t worry about it, the university is covering my meals anyway.”

When she returned a short while later, pizza box and her own salad in hand, Clarke had just finished burping Madi and was wiping a little spilled milk off her raccoon onesie.

“That is a great onesie, by the way,” Lexa told her. “I’m very jealous.”

Clarke grinned. “I know, right? I joke about how she’s a little raccoon because she loves shiny things and fruit and being nocturnal. My friend Octavia got it for her.” She saw the pizza and her eyes lit up.

“Thank you so much, I’m starving. Lemme just finish here.”

Clarke spread a small mat on the floor at her feet and placed Madi on her tummy, setting a couple of toys in front of her.  Baby occupied, she made grabby-hand motions towards the pizza box until Lexa handed it to her, smiling.

Clarke dug in to the pizza with vocal appreciation, somewhat distracting Lexa from her salad. “So you work for a university?” she said between bites.

Lexa gathered her wits. “Um, yeah, I’m a professor at Polis U.  Political science department, but I also teach a military history course.”

“Huh.  I would’ve guessed, like, Romantic poetry,” Clarke said.  “You look a little too boho for Civil War battles.” She indicated Lexa’s clothes--a loose grey crewneck sweater over dark leggings, with her favorite black Vans.

“I save my tweed blazers with the elbow patches for lectures,” Lexa quipped, though she actually did wear a tweed blazer sometimes.  “When I’m traveling I like to be comfortable.” 

Clarke hummed in agreement. “Where are you traveling from?”

“A conference in Detroit.  What about you?”

Clarke leaned forward to nudge one of Madi’s toys within her uncoordinated grabbing distance, prompting a trill of glee. “Visiting my mom and dad in Massachusetts. They hadn’t seen Madi in a while.”

After leaving the conference, Lexa had been tired of talking.  Tired of making small-talk with other academics at the happy hours and lunch sessions, tired of practicing and then giving her presentations.  Especially tired of diplomatically fielding meandering, self-involved ‘questions’ from cishet white men during the Q&As, because she wasn’t tenured yet and couldn’t risk pissing off potentially important figures in her field.

But talking to Clarke was easy instead of draining.  Her intelligent eyes and ready smile drew more words from Lexa, about her work and her candle-making hobby and her family, and in turn she shared just as freely about herself.  

Clarke was a graphic designer in Polis, self-employed although she worked on-call for a couple of firms. She loved space and sci-fi shows like The Expanse and Orphan Black.  She used to be in a local rock band. Madi had been a surprise, but a much happier surprise than finding out the father--Clarke’s decidedly ex-fiancé--was cheating on her when she was four months pregnant.

Her tone had darkened at that, and she’d covered Madi’s ears while she called him “a manipulative asshole”, but her daughter had only grinned at the sensation of her ears being covered.  Clarke grinned back. She reflected the baby’s joy so strongly Lexa was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, and for a wild moment she considered asking if Clarke was single.

A buzzing sound came from the blonde’s pocket, and she pulled out her phone.  “Sorry, it’s a client,” she said and answered it. “Mr. Jaha, good to hear from you…”

Unfortunately, the moment her attention shifted away from Madi, the baby kicked her feet and burst into tears. Lexa saw the conflicted look on Clarke’s face, torn between client and crying child, and swept the little girl up onto her hip.

“C’mon, let’s go look at the planes.”  She jiggled the baby and, making eye contact with Clarke, tipped her head questioningly towards the windows a few yards away, still within eyeshot of the seats.  Clarke nodded her assent, mouthing ‘thank you’.

Madi cried louder for a moment, reaching over Lexa’s shoulder towards her mother, but as they reached the windows Lexa turned so that her view was of the tarmac outside. 

“Look, Madi! What’s that?!” She pointed at a plane taxiing past, drawing the baby’s attention enough that her crying paused.  “Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s—actually, it is a plane, never mind.”

Madi whimpered. Her chubby fingers entwined in Lexa’s hair.

“Bad joke, huh? Not a fan?” 

Lexa kept the narration going until Madi was content again, big blue eyes fixed on the scene outside.   As the two of them watched a plane take off, one of the airline staff came up wearing a smile.  

“Ma’am, we’re going to start boarding fairly soon.  You and your wife can board early if you want, so you have more time to get situated with the baby.”

Lexa stuttered.  “Oh--we’re, we aren’t actually…”

“Oh, sorry, your partner then? I just assumed, since it’s legal now and everything,” the woman said.  “Anyway, it’ll be right after we announce first class.”

She walked away before Lexa could say anything else, and Madi stirred a little, only to settle more comfortably against Lexa.  The baby’s head had started drooping, tilting towards her chest. Her tiny eyelids kept fluttering closed despite her attempts to fight it.

Madi’s fine hair was dark, Lexa noticed, close to her own in color.  And she and Clarke had been sitting closely together, talking and both holding the baby, and she’d brought Clarke food...it was a reasonable mistake for the worker to make.  Of course.

So why did it give her a sudden pang of longing?

Another minute later Madi had fallen asleep with her cheek pressed against Lexa’s shoulder, fist still gripping her hair.  Clarke finished her call and walked up. A slow smile spread over her face at the sight of them.  

“Thank you, again,” she said quietly as they headed back to the seats.  “Here, I’ll take her back--”

“If it’s okay with you, I’ll hold her a little longer.  Don’t want her to wake up,” Lexa murmured.

“That’s fine.  I’m impressed you got her to sleep already, must be all that practice as an aunt.”

“I guess so.”  Lexa settled carefully back into her seat without waking Madi.  “I used to volunteer with foster kids, too.”

Clarke gave her a sideways look, one that lingered.  “Wow, you really are the whole package, huh? Professor Hotstuff who volunteers with foster kids...you must have guys lining up to date you.  Or girls,” she added in a casual tone. “I don’t want to assume…”

“Girls is right,” Lexa responded, and thought she saw a flicker of interest in Clarke’s eyes.  “Though according to the gate attendant, I’m off the market.”

“What?”

“She assumed we were married.  Said my wife and I could board early because of the baby,” Lexa said conspiratorially.

Clarke laughed.  “I’m flattered. She assumed I could land you, I mean look at you...”

Another flash of those blue eyes, darting over her face and down to her lips, and now she was sure of it: Clarke was definitely interested in her.  A tingle of excitement ran through her whole body, and wow.  This was a stronger reaction than Lexa had had to any woman, even a crush, since Costia had broken up with her two years before.  

“I think it’s the other way around,” she murmured, letting her own gaze roam.  “I’d be the lucky one.”

She could see Clarke’s breath catch.  “You know, if we weren’t in an airport right now and Madi wasn’t sleeping on your shoulder--” she rasped, low and wanting.  

Taking a chance, Lexa reached out her free hand and rested it on Clarke’s thigh, tracing slow, small circles on the denim with her thumb.  “Agreed.”

“This is crazy.  I don’t usually--we barely know each other,” Clarke said, shaking her head.

“I know.”

“I have a kid.”

“I know.”  Said kid gave a little sleepy sigh, as if on cue. “She’s really cute.”

You’re really cute.”

“Do you want to go on a date with me, Clarke?”

“Yes.”  The answer was immediate.

“When?”

“As soon as I can find a babysitter after we get back to Polis.”

Lexa felt the warmth of the child in her arms, and the equally warm contentment she also felt when she was holding one of her nieces or nephews. Her brother Lincoln and sister Anya had four kids under the age of five between the two of them, and “Aunt Yexa” was much-loved by all of them.  Mostly because she was really good at making scary faces and snarly monster-noises.

“If you want, we could have the date at your place, after she’s asleep.” She realized how that might sound and added quickly, “I mean, um, we could order dinner or watch a movie.  So you don’t have to worry about a babysitter.”

“Netflix and chill on a first date? I’m not a loose woman, Lexa,” Clarke said with fake indignation.  But then her voice softened into genuine warmth. “That’s actually a really nice offer.”

Before she could say more, the intercom crackled to life again.  “Flight 100 to Polis is now starting the boarding process here at Gate 34.  We’re going to start with our platinum and business-class members…”

“I should take her, so you can get ready to board,” Clarke said, reluctantly sitting forward.  

“Hang on,” Lexa said.  “First, take out your phone again.”

Clarke obeyed.  

“Okay, now open your contacts and type in ‘Professor Hotstuff’--”

Clarke laughed and typed in ‘Lexa’ instead. 

“I guess that’ll do.  Now my number is…”

Soon she heard the ding of an incoming text, presumably Clarke sharing her own number.  And then in the background, “...anyone who needs extra time, you may board now…”

“That’s my cue.” Clarke got up and slung her backpack on, then carefully reached out and managed to transfer Madi without waking her.  Their heads tilted close in the process, enough for Lexa to notice how long Clarke’s eyelashes were, how very blue her eyes were. 

“Thank you, Lexa.  I really can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this.   I usually hate airports,” she admitted.

“I enjoyed it too,” Lexa said softly, staring up as if to memorize her features.  “I hope your flight goes smoothly, Clarke.”

“Yours too.”

Clarke made to turn away, but stopped and swung back.  Leaned down and swiftly kissed Lexa. Just a brush of lips, a hint of pressure, and all too soon it was over.  

“For the pizza,” she said with a wink.

And then she was gone, headed through the gate and down the ramp to the plane.

Lexa checked her own boarding pass, made sure her bag was zipped, and ignored the urge to reach up and touch her lips.  Instead, she read the two texts Clarke had sent her.

First time I’ve ever wished for a longer flight delay. May we meet again soon.  

In the meantime...text me, cutie.  ;)

Her boarding zone was called, and she headed up to the podium.  The same gate attendant who’d spoken to Lexa earlier took her ticket, and then glanced at her.  “Oh no! You couldn’t get seats together with your partner?”

“Actually, we aren’t--” Then an idea struck her.  “No, we couldn’t.”

“That’s a shame.” The woman checked her computer quickly.  “You know, the other person on her row hasn’t boarded yet. I could switch you…”

“Thanks, that would be great.”  Lexa hoped it would be. Hoped it wouldn’t be weird or stalker-ish or presumptuous.  “And can I ask you for one more favor?”

A moment later, favor secured, Lexa’s new ticket was printed and scanned.  The gate attendant smiled. “Here you go, Ms. Woods, seat 19B. Have a nice flight!”

When she arrived at row 19, a blonde head was tilted down, arranging a still-sleeping baby more comfortably on her lap.  “This seat taken?”

Clarke looked up, and the surprised but happy look that immediately bloomed on her face told Lexa it maybe wasn’t weird or stalker-ish or presumptuous.  “You’re sitting here? What are the odds of that!”

“Well, the gate attendant thought it was a shame I wasn’t seated near my ‘partner’, so she offered to move me…”  Sitting down, Lexa gestured at the in-seat TV screens and brought out the other favor: two sets of headphones. “It’s a two-hour flight.  I thought...maybe we could get a head-start on that movie date?” 

Clarke’s bright smile was all the answer she needed.