Built an empire from a pile of sticks, sticks and stones, sticks and stones
Foundation's made of broken hearts, broken hearts and broken bones
Voices in my head, they screamed "you will lose, you will lose"
Start a revolution and we'll rebel, we'll rebel
Feel all of the things that we never felt and never felt
When we're all that we have left, yet we aim to kill
Pretending that we're made of steel
Living in a battlefield
I feel extraterrestrial
Out of sync, a separate soul
But in the end, I'm not alone
- Clairity, ‘DNA’
Running is all she’s ever known.
From the house where her parents were murdered when she was four. Her Lion King socks had left a trail of tiny bloody footprints leading to the shed in the backyard; the one where she’d hidden for two days after finding their bodies.
From the foster homes that came afterwards; the ones where there had been hands that touched her only in violence, and the ones where she’d been ignored entirely and stashed in a room with half a dozen other broken children nobody loved. The few she didn’t run from, she was moved from after only a few months or even weeks anyway; her belongings dumped unceremoniously into garbage bags and tossed carelessly into the backseat of cars that smelled like stale McDonald’s alongside herself.
From the boy that grabbed her in a parking lot one night and took the last bit of herself that had still belonged to her.
She ran, and she ran, and she ran; but no matter how hard or fast or far she ran, she was still lost and she couldn’t seem to figure out where she had gone.
She’d forgotten to leave a trail to follow home this time.
Lexa was fifteen when she met Anya.
She’d been sleeping curled up in a dark corner of a makeshift skate park where the old underpass was for a defunct section of interstate. The punk skater boys didn’t scare her anymore because they only looked scary and inside they were mostly soft and warm and damaged like she was.
She woke up to the sound of crying. A mournful wail that sent a shiver through her scrawny, underfed body, starting at her head and shooting down her spine into her gut. She woke brandishing the knife she slept with, briefly looking around in a panic until her gaze settled on the source of the sobbing.
It was a young girl about her age, with dark skin and neatly plaited hair. She was backed up and bracing herself against a pile of old cinderblocks, a dark bruise already marring her caramel flesh and tears streaking a path down a dirty but beautiful face.
Lexa hopped to her feet and ran over without a second thought, skidding to a stop when she saw an older, taller girl with faded red streaks in her long, dark hair. There was ash smudged on her face, and she was beating the shit out of a man who looked to be in his early twenties. Blood gushed from his nose and still, the girl pounded him mercilessly.
She watched as the girl knocked him to the ground and pressed a strong leg that ended in a tattered combat boot onto his chest as she knelt over him. She could now see that her hair was a collective cacophony of braids and dreadlocks wrapped in thin leather-like strips, with various pieces of small hardware—washers and a few feathers—accenting the wild tangles.
She leaned over the boy’s face and snarled with a tone that raised the hairs on the back of Lexa’s neck, “If you ever touch one of my kids again, I will rip your fucking dick off and shove it down your throat until you suffocate on it.”
The guy sounded like a small child when he whimpered in return. “I’m sorry, Anya! I didn’t know she was one of yours; she’s not marked.”
“So you think it’s okay to touch little girls as long as they’re not mine?” Anya’s voice was pure poison as she hissed in his face, twisting his arm hard enough to generate a pop that echoed through the park.
“N-no, I didn’t—”
“Shof op, scum. If you put your hands on anyone who doesn’t ask you for it—mine or not—I’ll cut your fucking hands off. Nobody belongs to you, branwoda.” Anya spat on his face before releasing his arm and getting up, watching with narrowed eyes as he scrambled to his feet. Still bleeding, limping, and clutching the arm she’d had a grip on, he booked it as fast as his beaten body would allow. Anya made sure he was gone before turning around to the crying girl, her face softening instantly.
“Costia, I—” She paused when she saw Lexa standing a few yards away, her eyes quickly narrowing. “Who the fuck are you?”
Lexa swallowed har, the glint of a knife in Anya’s hand catching her gaze as the girl immediately moved to the younger girl’s—Costia’s—side protectively. Lexa’s mouth was dry, her voice soft. “Lexa.”
“Well, Lexa. Did you enjoy the show?”
Lexa tilted her jaw up slightly in defiance. “Yes. I did. Fuck that asshole.” Every nerve in her body vibrated with fear, but she refused to show it, casually holstering her knife. “Is she okay?”
Costia was cupping her cheek, which Lexa could now see had a gash in it as well. Her voice was soft and melodic and she replied directly to Lexa. “I’m okay.”
Anya turned on Costia once more, apparently deciding Lexa wasn’t a threat at the moment, and her voice was tight with worry and annoyance. “You almost weren’t. Where’s your mark, Costia? You know it’s all you have to protect yourself out here, and you refuse to wear it.”
Costia studied her tattered basketball shoes, the complex mass of braids in her hair covering her face like a curtain. “I don’t like being marked, you know that. I can take care of myself.”
Anya’s lip curled slightly. “Clearly not.”
“Marked?” Lexa wondered aloud, forgetting the potentially dangerous situation with the potentially psychotic girl who had nearly killed someone only a moment ago.
Anya gritted her teeth and took a satchel out of her pocket, dipping her hand inside and taking out a small pile of ash, holding it out to Costia. Costia swallowed a little reluctantly, but then gazed in the direction the boy had gone and seemed to reconsider. Her face relaxed slightly as she took the ash from Anya’s hand and carefully smeared it across her eyes in a slightly swirled pattern. It matched Anya’s, but was uniquely different at the same time, and Lexa found herself moving closer with curiosity.
Anya watched her knowingly, looking her up and down. “Everyone around here knows the marked ones are Grounders. Are mine.”
“So you’re like, a gang, or something?”
Anya smirked a little. “Something like that.”
Lexa fished in her pocket, pulling out a styptic pencil she carried because the sight of blood still freaked her out all these years later. She held it out silently, and Anya’s face softened just slightly and she inclined her head at Costia, granting permission.
“I can’t see to—” Costia whispered, lifting her eyes shyly to Lexa. Lexa too, glanced at Anya and when she nodded again, Lexa approached and began gently treating Costia’s wound.
Anya watched quietly, seeming to assess Lexa for a few minutes before speaking.
“So, what’s your story?”
Anya slammed Lexa up against the wall, and she felt her spine vibrate with the impact and tasted copper in her mouth.
“Sloppy!” She snapped, holding her hand tightly around Lexa’s throat and giving it a little squeeze for good measure. “Sloppy and stupid, and now you’re dead.”
Lexa shut her eyes briefly and let out a scream of frustration.
Anya let go of her, wiping her cheek with the back of her hand. “You were doing just fine until you left your blind side open.”
Lexa grunted and rubbed her throat with a glare. “A blind side is by definition something that’s open!”
Anya raised her voice. “Which is why you have to be aware of it at all times. Unless you wish to end up like Costia.”
Lexa’s green gaze grew furious as she snapped her head around to meet Anya’s eyes, fire burning in her throat and chest. “Don’t fucking—”
Anya didn’t hesitate before slamming Lexa into the ground, her knee on her chest as she leaned in close enough that Lexa could feel her hot breath on her face. Her voice was quiet but dangerous. “Don’t fucking what? What can you tell me to do, strikon? You cannot even stay on your feet unless I allow you to. Costia is dead because she did not listen. Do you wish to join her, little snacha? Is that why you do not listen either?”
Lexa let out a feral growl as she twisted her strong muscles beneath Anya and flipped them over suddenly. She slammed the older girl flat onto her back, hard, and rolled onto her chest with the edge of her knife pressed to her throat, her green eyes burning with rage and exhilaration.
Lincoln, an older boy who generally served as Anya’s lieutenant, and Aden, a young boy they’d found a few weeks ago, clapped and whistled from where they sat watching on a broken strip of concrete wall.
Anya looked momentarily stunned, but a small, rare smile slowly spread across her lips. “Good.”
Lexa climbed off of her gracefully and held her hand out to help her up. Anya studied it for a moment before nodding slightly and taking her hand as she stood.
“You did well today, strik-snacha.”
Lexa rolled her eyes. “It’s not a raccoon mask.”
“Right. It’s a crying raccoon,” Lincoln called out helpfully. “The crying part is important.”
Lexa snapped good-naturedly. “Shut up, Harley Quinn. Aden, make sure you pick something better than some stupid diamonds tonight.”
“And better than a sad trash panda,” Lincoln added, patting Aden’s back.
Aden looked at them with wide, fearful eyes, and Anya inclined her head towards Lexa, dismissing her silently.
Lexa wiped her hands on her pants and put her knife back in her holster before going over and pulling herself up on the wall beside Aden. “I was nervous before my conclave, too, you know. But it’s so easy. And once it’s over, you’re officially one of us, a Grounder. And you’re marked, so the world will know. You can go out on your own and still be safe under our protection.”
Aden’s voice was soft, and he unconsciously leaned into her a little. Lexa softened and put her arm around the small boy’s shoulders; she couldn’t help it, he so reminded her of Costia—gentle and sad and all wrong for this sort of life. “It’ll be okay. Have you chosen your mark yet?”
“I—I thought maybe..” He held up his forearm, where he’d been drawing with charcoal from the fire. A soft streak that vaguely resembled a dancing strip of stars was the only design that remained clear; the rest of his doodles were all smudged away.
Lexa smiled. “Stars?”
Aden nodded a little, his head resting against her shoulder. “I want to be an astronaut. I thought..” He trailed off, shrugging.
“Don’t be embarrassed. You’re smart enough to be an astronaut, and I like the stars, too.”
“You don’t think it’s stupid?”
Lexa swallowed hard, thinking of she and Costia laying on the warehouse roof and pointing out constellations to each other. Making up their own, counting the ones they could see, making up little girls’ stories about leaving Earth and finding a planet somewhere else in the universe where they could be alone and happy and live without violence.
“No, Aden. I don’t think it’s stupid at all.”
“Anya is going to kill us for this,” Octavia whispered as they stood in line together.
Lexa shrugged, nonplussed. “Only if she finds out.”
Lincoln squeezed his girlfriend’s shoulders lightly. “And even if she does, I don’t really care. Free food is free food. Just because she looks down on charity doesn’t mean—”
Octavia flipped her long hair back out of her face—an action that reminded Lexa to teach her how to properly braid it so it was easier to fight when you had to—and unconsciously rubbed the track marks on her arm nervously. “I don’t care about the food, I want the condoms. I’d like to end the whole ‘Addicted Mom’ cycle here. I can’t even take care of my own shit, I don’t need a kid to be all fucked up ‘cause of me, too.”
Lincoln rubbed her arm comfortingly as well, his hand closing over hers. “We’ll get them. If not here, I’ll go to the pharmacy again.”
“They know you too well there, Linc.”
Lexa fiddled with her hemp bracelet a little as she watched them, her heart seeming to tighten as she remembered the way she and Costia had interacted so comfortably with each other the way they were. “I’ll go, then. They don’t know me there. I can help.”
Octavia turned and looked at her affectionately, something deep and broken in her eyes. “Thanks, Lex.”
Lexa opened her mouth to answer, but found that her voice was missing. She’d caught sight of the table loaded with various hygiene and health products as the line moved through the door, and it wasn’t that old creep they called Jaha manning it this month. In his place was a drop-dead-gorgeous blond with the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen in her entire life.
Her mouth went dry all at once, her muscles tightening and her nerve endings firing off. She felt like she’d been sucked into a vacuum and could no longer breathe.
Octavia followed her gaze back and forth, her brows furrowing as she leaned into Lincoln a bit and whispered. “Is she.. okay?”
Lincoln, too, followed her gaze. “Uh-huh. I think she just found her new girlfriend, that’s all.”
Lexa didn’t move a muscle beyond her arm shooting out and smacking across Lincoln’s gut. “Shof op, I’m not into some rich bitch skayon.”
“Lexa, if you were a dude, your dick would be the size of a submarine right now.”
She hit him again and felt a slight sense of pride in the grunt that escaped his lips, secretly hoping it would bruise just enough to remind him to shut up more often.
“She’s just.. nice to look at,” Lexa lied. The truth was, Lincoln was right. There was nothing she could see about the soft, suburban girl that made her think less about dragging her into in alley somewhere and—
Holy shit, she was looking right back at her.
Lexa’s green eyes widened as they met deep blue pools and a sort of electricity seemed to pass between them. The girl looked mildly shaken, but swallowed hard and plastered a smile on her face, waving them over. Lexa hadn’t even realized they were next, and it took Octavia shoving her from behind for her to remember how feet worked.
She shuffled over to the girl, feeling herself tingle as she realized she was even more beautiful up close.
The girl continued to smile a little nervously as she took in their ragtag little group. “Clarke.”
Lexa paused, realizing she’d been trying to wipe the ash off her face with her sleeve, and looked at her, confused. “Huh?”
The blonde’s cheeks reddened quickly. “Uh.. Sorry. Clarke is, is me. You probably don’t care, I mean, you have other stuff on your mind. But I, I like to be polite, kind of, and I’m sure that doesn’t matter, I ju—” She stopped, closing her eyes briefly. “I’m Clarke. Is what I was trying to say. Hi.”
Lexa watched her babble, her eyes glued to her lips and the tiny beauty mark above them that was hypnotic for some reason. “Lexa. This is Lincoln and Octavia. I’m Lexa.”
Clarke seemed to relax a little and smiled. “I take it you’re Lexa, then.”
Octavia and Lincoln shared a look and a smirk, and Lexa, sensing it, subtly elbowed him in the gut once more. If Clarke noticed any of it, she didn’t seem to care. “What can I do you for today?”
Lexa almost fell over, and she knew her cheeks were flushing. “Uh, we.. Can I get some soap, and I need a new toothbrush, a kid’s one if you have it. And like, a bunch of condoms? Like as many as you can give me without getting in trouble?”
Clarke looked—disappointed? “Oh. I mean, uh. Yeah, of course. We’re only supposed to give out five at a time, but..” She looked around furtively and, apparently deciding the coast was clear enough, slipped a box into Lexa’s bag alongside the other supplies before handing it over.
It took Lexa a moment to process Clarke’s facial expressions, and she felt like a complete idiot when she did. “Oh, thank you. This is—it’s.. not for me.” She chucked the bag into Lincoln’s chest and tried to ignore the muffled giggles from behind her. “I don’t use condoms.”
Clarke raised an eyebrow, and Lexa cringed and wished the floor would open up and swallow her, because Hell couldn’t possibly her worse than this. “I mean, I would use them. If I needed them. But I don’t need them.”
The perfectly-shaped eyebrow went up a little higher and Lexa’s desire to die right then and there increased exponentially. She briefly wondered if she could just walk away and never come back, but she had a feeling that Lincoln and Octavia wouldn’t follow her. No, instead they would stay and chat up Clarke, and say even more embarrassing things to to the goddess before them that by now definitely thought Lexa was a complete idiot and a mess. The worst part was, Lexa agreed.
Lincoln patted Lexa’s shoulder and addressed Clarke. “She doesn’t need them because she’s one hundred percent pantysnacha.”
Octavia turned to look at him incredulously as Lexa shrank, unconsciously wiping at the ash on her face again, feeling smaller than she had in a very long time. Much to her surprise, though, Clarke laughed softly. “Is that like, slang for a raccoon? Snacha?”
Lexa looked up at her quickly. Anya’s code was notoriously confusing by design, and it had taken this Clarke about five seconds to figure it out. She wasn’t even sure why, but it was a massive turn-on in addition to blowing her mind. Clarke, off her look, shrugged a little. “Your mask, and snacha, sounds like snatcher. Raccoons are clever little thieves.” Those bright blue eyes darkened right in front of her, and Clarke leaned forward just a little, her voice softening. “Are you a clever little thief, Lexa?”
Lexa’s breath hitched in her throat and she felt very suddenly uncomfortable in her ripped up jeans, Lincoln’s submarine comment echoing inside her head and making her thankful her arousal was less obvious than it could be. Maybe not that much less, she thought, as Clarke smirked lightly at her.
“I am a lot of things,” Lexa finally said, her voice thick as she stared down Clarke’s v-neck at some very impressive cleavage.
“I believe that.” Clarke sat back a little, that wicked eyebrow of hers flicking upwards briefly as she unabashedly looked Lexa up and down. “I’d like to find out what those things are if you’re free later. You know the Arkadia Bay Diner on 9th? I’ll be there at seven tonight. If you wanted to run into me.”
Lexa’s cheeks flushed and her muscles tightened even as Octavia instinctively rested her hand on the small of her back comfortingly as she replied instead. “We can’t really afford to—”
Clarke’s bravado disappeared quickly, and she looked embarrassed and slightly panicked. “Oh, god. I didn’t mean—No, my friend’s dad owns the place. He’s used to feeding all of us, he loves it actually. You guys should come too,” she added, nodding to Lincoln and Octavia. “And like, anyone else you want to bring.”
Lexa glanced at Lincoln, sharing a desperate but unsure look with him at the thought of what Anya would have to say about all of this.
Lincoln put his hand on both hers and Octavia’s shoulders, and smiled at Clarke. “Thank you, Clarke. We’ll be there. And thank you for the—” he wiggled the bag a little.
Clarke smiled brightly. “Great. I’ll see you guys tonight, then.” Her gaze zeroed in on Lexa once more, her pupils so dark there was practically no blue left. “Especially you, pantysnacha.”
Just then, a guy about their age with slightly stringy, emo-band hair, approached Clarke, looking pissed. “Griffin! You’re not supposed to make friends with them! Jesus, you give them some toilet paper and send them on their way. We’ve got about a hundred more people waiting for basic hygiene supplies while you’re trying to get a prom date.”
Lexa’s chest tightened with the desire to deck the kid as Lincoln dragged her and a similarly pissed-off Octavia to the door, but she was mildly comforted when she heard Clarke dismissively tell the kid, “Go float yourself, Finn. I don’t hear anyone else complaining.”
Amused, Lexa glanced back to catch Clarke winking at her and mouthing, “Seven.”
As if she could forget.