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.
So I'm back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was
To the gypsy that remains
Her face says freedom with a little fear
And if I was a child and the child was enough
Enough for me to love, enough to love
She is dancing away from you now
She was just a wish and her memory is all that is left for you now
You see your gypsy,
Goodness strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
I still see your bright eyes, bright eyes
And it all comes down to you
- Fleetwood Mac, ‘Gypsy’
“Absolutely not.” Anya’s arms were crossed, her eyes burning with rage. “Are you all out of your fucking minds? We don’t take charity!”
“I wasn’t asking your permission,” Lexa snapped, crossing her arms and squaring off with her mentor. She shot a dirty look in Echo’s direction. “You wouldn’t even know if someone wasn’t a nosy spying bitch with a big mouth!”
“Echo did the right thing. I won’t have you going and sucking up charity food at some bougie diner when all I do day and night is work to make sure everyone knows the Grounders can take care of themselves! It’s for your protection! I keep you all safe, and warm, and fed, and feared! And you want to ruin all of that so you can bang some skayon girl who probably just feels sorry for you?”
Lexa didn’t think; she launched her fist and the next thing she knew, she was rolling around in the dust with her mentor, both of them clawing at each other and crying out in anger. Everything else around them disappeared—Aden’s soft gasp, Octavia’s protective arm immediately encircling him and pulling him back from the mess, Echo’s mildly amused expression as she apparently enjoyed the show, Lincoln and Luna screaming at them to stop and trying to pull them apart.
Lexa fought hard, driving her fist into Anya’s kidney and flipping them over before Anya regained the upper hand and gave her what would surely be a black eye inside an hour. Lexa let out a frustrated cry and flipped them once again, this time aiming her fist at Anya’s sternum. She hit her, and hit her, and hit her until Luna and Lincoln both grabbed her arms and ripped her off Anya’s chest.
Lexa twisted and kicked in their grasp, but together they were too strong for her, and she wailed angrily, “Let me go, let GO of me!”
Luna snapped in her ear. “No! Not until you calm down.”
Lexa wrenched her arms, nearly popping her shoulders from the sockets, until she saw Anya sit up, shoving Echo’s help away and glaring at Lexa with a feral growl. “You, are no longer my second.”
Her words hit Lexa like an electric shock and all at once she went limp in Lincoln and Luna’s grasp. “N-no, Anya, I’m sorry, I ju—”
Anya pulled herself off the ground, her face dark with rage as she spat blood to the floor at Lexa’s feet. “Get. Out.”
Lexa watched with wide eyes and felt hot tears stinging her eyes. “No, Heda, please. I don’t know what came over me..”
“I don’t care!” Anya snarled, her disappointment and embarrassment clear on her face. “All of you, just—just get out of here.”
Lexa’s body slumped as Luna slid her arm around her, guiding her towards the mouth of the overpass with Lincoln and Octavia escorting Aden closely behind. Echo made a move towards Anya, who snarled something incoherently at her as well, and she seemed to be in shock as she looked around helplessly before following the others slowly.
Lexa had managed to cry off her mark a few blocks before the diner. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually cried. Crying was weakness, and she’d known that long before Anya taught her.
They were sitting in a small drainage ditch behind what used to be a Blockbuster Video, where Lexa had stopped to throw up and then refused to walk further. Her hands were still stained with the blood she’d drawn from Anya, and the darkness in her heart felt like it was expanding throughout her entire body. She stared at her hands, shaking a little, her voice cracking.
“What did I do?”
Luna and Lincoln were sitting on either side of her, trying to reassure her, but she barely heard their voices through her shocked haze. Echo sat with them, her face painted with guilt, holding Aden on her lap. Aden, too, had been crying, and it twisted the metaphorical dagger in Lexa’s gut that on top of everything, she’d ruined his Conclave as well.
It was Echo’s voice that finally broke her reverie. It was soft and shaky, and she unconsciously held Aden a little tighter against her chest as she spoke. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this would—I thought she would just talk you guys out of it.”
Luna looked up at her quietly, her voice gentle as ever. “You were trying to protect us all. Nobody blames you, Echo.”
Echo clearly didn’t buy that, and Lexa shook her head a moment, trying to clear it, her voice hoarse but not unkind when she responded. “Luna is right. I made a stupid call, and you tried to help. I just wanted..”
Octavia was sitting a bit lower in the ditch, her back to them as she fiddled with her works, her hands shaking lightly. Lincoln glanced up to her and then at Luna unsurely.
Luna nodded, and Lexa pushed his arm lightly, her voice quiet. “Go. It’s okay.”
Lincoln swallowed and let go, sliding down the ditch until he was next to Octavia, wrapping his arms around her for a moment and kissing the top of her head before taking over for her, trying not to look at the old track scars on his own arms as he did.
The gentle waves of ash that extended across Luna’s face seemed to soften it even further as she put her arm around Lexa’s shoulders. “How about we fix your mark? Or would you rather..” She cleared her throat. “Would you rather wash it off the rest of the way?”
“No,” Lexa said quickly, startling even herself. “Please fix it.”
Luna nodded, looking a bit proud as she slid a satchel of ash from one of the many pockets on her cargo pants and gently began reapplying Lexa’s mark for her. A few feet away, Echo was helping Aden do the same.
“Won’t Heda be mad?” He asked nervously, biting his lip.
Echo’s voice was kind but firm. “Anya may be Heda, but oso ste laik Grounders, with or without her. It is not up to her to decide for all of us; it never was.” Aden smiled a little and closed his eyes as Echo carefully used her fingertip to draw the muted stars out exactly as they were on his arm.
When Lexa and Aden’s marks had been put into place and Octavia was relaxed once more and leaning dreamily on Lincoln, the group slowly got to their feet and began walking slowly towards the diner once more.
People stared; that was a given.
After all, a group of dirty kids in tattered clothing wearing ash in warpaint patterns across their faces had just entered an incredibly clean 50s-style diner and were standing awkwardly near the counter.
Aden was all but hiding behind Echo while Octavia leaned tiredly on Lincoln, and Lexa felt the knot in her stomach getting tighter and tighter as she glanced around. What was she doing? They didn’t belong here, that was becoming even more clear.
Lexa was just about to push them all back out the door and never look back, when Clarke appeared from behind the counter and bounded over to them with a huge grin. “You made it!”
Lexa’s knees grew wobbly. Clarke was even hotter than she’d remembered her being just a few short hours ago. Piercing blue eyes that made a connection with her own and didn’t let go as she waved them inside and past the serving counter. “Come on, come on. We’re back here.”
Much to Lexa’s surprise, Clarke grabbed her suddenly very clammy hand and pulled her behind her. The others followed in a daze as she led them past the chrome tables and past the kitchen doors into a large room that was empty but for some folding tables and chairs.
“I’m sorry about the mess,” said a dark-haired girl that popped up from seemingly out of nowhere once they had entered. “We’re renovating back here, so we can have like, wedding receptions and birthday parties and meetings and stuff. Usually we just hang out back here and play better music and don’t have to listen to a bunch of screaming kids and cranky parents! I didn’t know how many people you’d be bringing, so if there’s not enough chairs, we have more out back, and I—”
Clarke rolled her eyes and tugged Lexa to her side. “Guys, this is Raven, my best friend, and a serious caffeine addict. I’d apologize for her behavior, but she’s only got a little bit of blood in her Red Bull stream, so she’s almost always like this.”
Lexa forced herself to focus on something besides Clarke’s hand in hers. “It’s really nice of you to invite us here, Raven.”
Raven waved her off. “Any friend of Clarke’s date is a friend of mine.”
Date? Lexa couldn’t help it. All the troublesome thoughts in her head flew out the window and she felt a stupid smile crossing her face.
“Well, thank you. Uh—this is Lincoln, Octavia, Luna, Echo, and Aden.”
Clarke was still holding her hand as everyone greeted one another, and Lexa used her free hand to nudge Aden lightly when she realized he was staring at a metal brace on Raven’s leg she hadn’t noticed before.
“Don’t stare, Aden. It’s rude,” she hissed out the corner of her mouth.
Raven’s bubbly smile never faltered. “Oh, no, it’s okay. It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? My dad actually custom made it for me, ‘cause all the ones we tried were hella uncomfortable. So this is a one-of-a-kind, Jacapo Sinclair original, no other one like it in the world.”
“You’re too kind, Rae.” A handsome, dark-skinned older man came in from the kitchen and gave her a gentle squeeze on her shoulders. “Well, what do we have here? Have you two actually resorted to hiring people to convince me you’re trying to make new friends now?”
Raven rolled her eyes. “This is Clarke’s date, Lexa, and Lexa’s.. Lexa’s, uh..” She faltered awkwardly, a blush spreading quickly across her pretty face.
“You kids and your slang. What an interesting name for ‘Family’, don’t you think, Clarke?”
Lexa smiled; she liked him already. “Mr. Sinclair, thi—”
“Just Sinclair is okay. Or Pops, if you want. Pretty much everyone calls me Pops around here.”
Aden surprised everyone—probably himself most of all—when he volunteered from behind Echo’s hip, “I used to call my dad Pops.”
Clarke looked over at him and let go of Lexa’s hand to kneel to his height. “Me, too. My dad died a few years ago, though.”
Aden came out from his hiding place then, and gently rested his hand on Clarke’s shoulder. “My dad died, too. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Clarke smiled kindly and returned the gesture, patting his shoulder lightly. “I’m sorry for yours, too.”
Sinclair clapped his hands together, taking in their motley crew, and smiled widely. “Let’s get all of you fed, yeah? Milkshakes and burgers all around?”
They all nodded shyly, offering thanks as their tight protective clump slowly began loosening up as they got more comfortable.
“Aden, is it?” Sinclair said, kneeling down as Clarke had. “Would you like something to snack on in the meantime? I make some mean mozzarella sticks, you know. I’d be a little insulted if nobody wanted any..”
Aden offered him a wide smile and nodded. “Yes, please.”
“World famous Sinclair Stix coming right up,” he nodded and started back towards the kitchen, pausing to regard his daughter. “And Raven, try to keep the volume somewhere below totally deafening, would you?”
“No promises,” she sassed, turning the boom box on the shelf on and wiggling her eyebrows a little.
Clarke led Lexa to one of the tables, which had a small cluster of candles in the center that Lexa hadn’t noticed before, and they both sat nervously.
Lexa cleared her throat a little. “Raven and her dad are very nice.”
Clarke nodded. “Rae’s been my best friend since we were kids. Sinclair’s not really her dad, but her mom died when we were in fifth grade. She was on her own for awhile, and Sinclair was our teacher. When he found out she was sleeping in the park, he went out looking for her all night and brought her home, and she never left.”
Lexa swallowed her emotions back, but her voice was soft and sad anyway. “That’s really great. That he did that. I wish..” Clarke watched her with a solemn face, but said nothing, waiting for her to continue. Lexa shifted uncomfortably. “I was going to say that I wish someone had taken me in, saved me, too. But someone did. And I—I thanked them by hurting them today.”
“Sometimes we hurt people we care about without meaning to,” Clarke said softly. “I hurt my mom a lot after my dad died. I blamed her for it, but it wasn’t really her fault.”
Lexa’s voice was very quiet and tense as she ran her finger slowly through the dancing flame of the candle closest to her. “I really hurt her. With my hands. I didn’t mean to, I just..”
Clarke reached across the table and took her hand in both of hers, cupping it gently; holding it like Lexa was something precious and fragile to be both protected and worshipped. “She’ll forgive you.”
Lexa’s eyes met hers, her lip trembling a little. “You don’t know her.”
“No, I don’t. But I can’t imagine anyone not forgiving you for anything. You’re so..” She trailed off, her cheeks blushing rapidly.
“Y—you don’t really know me either. I’m not a good person, I don’t do good things.”
Clarke leaned forward a little, her fingertip circling one of Lexa’s knuckles slowly. “I feel like I know you, though. Is that weird? It doesn’t feel weird, but I probably sound crazy.”
Lexa swallowed hard and shook her head a little. “Is it weird that it doesn’t sound weird?”
Clarke shook her head as well. “You do good things, too. I can only imagine what it must have taken to violate Grounder code to come here. But you did it, and all of these people followed you here. They trust you.”
Lexa’s eyes flashed a little, stunned. “Grounder? How..”
Clarke rolled her eyes. “I’ve lived in this town my entire life. You think I don’t know a grounder when I see one?” She motioned across her eyes, her other hand still holding onto Lexa’s, and Lexa sighed. Of course Clarke knew. Who else walked around wearing war paint and hanging out at the food pantry? “I’m guessing the person you hurt, the one that saved you, was Anya? They call her the Commander, right?”
Lexa nodded, another wave of guilt crashing down on her. “She didn’t want you to come here. Charity is a big no-no, that’s why you guys were looking over your shoulders at the pantry, why Grounders never come to the shelter or panhandle.”
Lexa felt suddenly uncomfortable and pulled her hand back reluctantly. “Are we like, under surveillance or something?”
Clarke looked mildly stung, but wiped the look off her face quickly. “My mom is a doctor, down at the free clinic. She started it, actually, after my dad died. She’s treated a lot of Grounders over the years, and she talks about it a lot. I mean, not like, private stuff. Just about how homeless kids face different kinds of illnesses and how you really have to look for things most doctors wouldn’t look for in young kids coming into a regular practice.”
Lexa nodded slowly, taking it in. No wonder Clarke was so involved in volunteer work, if her mother ran the clinic. Something clicked in her head. “Your mom is Abby, isn’t she? Dr. Griffin.” Clarke nodded a little, glancing at their hands that we’re no longer linked together. “She’s really nice. I had pneumonia last year at Christmas, and she let me sleep at the clinic for a few days so she could give me the IV antibiotics instead of pills.”
Clarke smiled slowly, unconsciously reaching for her hand again. “I remember that. I mean, not by name or anything, but she told me she had a very sick girl down there. Actually, what I heard was that she had to practically strap you to the bed to get you to stay. That you were stubborn enough to give me a run for my money, I think, was the actual phrase she used.”
Lexa laughed—an actual, honest-to-goodness belly laugh—and then looked shocked. She couldn’t remember the last ti—Actually, she could. It had been the last night she spent with Costia, tagging the walls of the underpass where they’d first met and drawing silly pictures of each other to celebrate their anniversary. Her throat contracted suddenly and turned the laugh into a choked sob at the end when the memory of Costia hit her heart.
Clarke watched her with gentle concern, rubbing the back of her hand. “You had a girlfriend then. She came to see you at the clinic.” Lexa just nodded, her tongue thick in her mouth and her throat too tight to speak. “Someone brought her in a few months after. With.. with a gunshot wound. My mom rode in the ambulance with her and assisted in the surgery. She remembered her, that she was.. sweet.”
“She was sweet. She was everything,” And with that, Lexa felt the tears bursting from behind her eyes, burning a path down her cheeks. She stood quickly, pulling her hand from Clarke’s and accidentally pushing past Sinclair as he entered from the kitchen, unable to even generate an apology as she headed through the diner proper, out the door, and ran down the street.
And ran, and ran, and ran..
This body will fall, I’ll be dragging it through the rain
Drying it with blood and remorse
This head will explode, it will leave thoughts and woes
Letting everybody read them
These swollen eyes, seeing nothing but clouds
Those broken minds wanting nothing but light
I’d like to move into your chest, carry myself behind your ribs
Become one with everything that’s yours
Forget what it’s like being alive
Dead walking silhouettes, heartbroken baby girl
Black-minded light-searcher, non-feeling life drop
- Adna, ‘Silhouette (Always Yours)’
Lexa was floating.
Octavia lay on the mattress on the floor with her, their fingers brushing where they were linked over her works. Lexa wasn’t even sure what The Red had in it, but it burned her veins like pure liquid fire before it made her float; before it made her forget.
Sometimes she couldn’t even remember what she was trying to forget. Something about small, bloodied footprints. Angry hands on her, slamming her into walls. A boy in a parking lot. Other boys, her skinny body slammed onto a bed face down while a voice hissed into her ear to be quiet, be quiet, don’t wake the others. A caramel-skinned girl, badly beaten, and then a wound from a gun that just wouldn’t stop bleeding. Her world turned upside down. Blue eyes, endlessly deep pools like entire worlds were hidden within them—kind and accepting. And running; my god she always ran, didn’t she? From the bad, from the good, from everything and everyone that reached for her.
Octavia let out a weak moan. “You’re thinking too loud…”
Lexa struggled against overwhelming pressure to turn her head, and Octavia’s eyes were open but absent. “I’m not saying anything.”
“You’re thinking too much. Your face is really loud. It hurts.”
Lexa closed her eyes and turned away, her voice slurring. “Hurts me, too.”
“Keep it.. Shhhhh… Have my own hurts, don’t want yours.”
Lexa apologized, but she wasn’t sure if it was out loud or not. She closed her eyes and floated, and floated away.
Something was wrong.
The Red coursed through Lexa’s veins, pounding in her ears and turning her skull inside out. Her lips felt sharp and her hair ached, and somehow the back of her neck had gained about two hundred pounds and was weighing her down so much she thought she might not be able to stand up again ever. She couldn’t remember where she’d left her legs, which might be a problem if she wanted to get up, too.
The problem was that she needed to get up, because Octavia was on her back, and she was choking. Lexa knew this was a problem, but she couldn’t quite remember why until Octavia went still and the choking stopped.
The problem was her choking, and now she isn’t choking, so no problem, the little voice in the back of Lexa’s head whispered. Lexa really wanted to roll over and go to sleep, but she just knew the voice was wrong, somehow, despite the fact that it seemed to be making good sense.
She looked at Octavia, who was silent with her eyes half open. They were glassy and unseeing, and Lexa used all of her strength to pull against the weight on the back of her neck that had her pinned, rolling to her side to look closer at Octavia.
Her skin was pale, her veins almost purple beneath it, but they weren’t pulsing. A shudder echoed through Lexa’s body and she tried to scream her name, but it came out barely louder than a whisper. The Red kept telling her to lay back and enjoy it, but something was wrong because Octavia’s chest wasn’t moving.
Lexa lifted a heavy arm and slapped at Octavia’s chest, the hollow thud echoing off the decrepit walls that surrounded them. “Wake!” She slurred, slapping her face this time. “O, get awake! Y—you get awake!” She raised her voice as loud as she thought was possible and screamed out, “We need a someone! I forgot—she needs—”
A groan came from the mattress on Octavia’s other side. Lexa opened her eyes more. “Lincoln! I—it’s—we need help..”
Lincoln, who had only bumped once, let out another groan, but sat up, and Lexa allowed herself a moment to be impressed with his sitting ability. She wondered briefly if she could sit when she found her legs, too, but then remembered why he needed to sit up.
“Linc, Octa.. Octav—ee—uh needs.. something..” She felt her words slurring further as The Red surged within her again, and she collapsed on her stomach, her hand still on Octavia’s chest. Had she done another bump? She didn’t think so, but she threw up on herself anyway, and that seemed to snap Lincoln back into the world again for some reason.
He slid over to Octavia on his knees, yelling words that made no sense as Lexa threw up on herself again. She would help, she had to help, but first she needed to lay down harder. Just for a minute.
“Lexa, wake the fuck up!” Lincoln snapped. “We have to get her to the clinic.”
Lexa smiled into the puddle of vomit she lay face down in, feeling warm and safe and unsure of what Lincoln was so upset about. “Jus’ a minute.. Sleep..”
Lincoln’s voice was incredibly panicked now, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She thought perhaps he needed another bump to calm down, but she was too tired to help him. Maybe Octavia could do it.
She threw up one more time and felt vaguely annoyed as it pooled beneath her nostrils. The last thing she heard as she let The Red take her over was Lincoln shouting for help like the drama queen he was.
Lexa was tied down.
She opened her eyes and saw metal everywhere. A loud, annoying noise was screaming in her ears and there were cold sticky things attached to her chest. She opened her mouth to call out, and a strong hand twisted her head sideways as she threw up forever.
She thought it would never stop, but it finally did, and the hand let go of her as she rested back, dazed.
“Lexa. Lexa, wake up. Stay with me.” A clammy hand took hers, and she mumbled incoherently. “What’s that? I didn’t hear you. Lexa, wake up, it’s okay.”
Lexa groaned at the sharp pain in her stomach and chest. “Octavia.. She forgot to breathe..”
“It’s okay, Lex. Octavia’s on her way to the hospital, too.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” she mumbled, feeling herself flashing in and out of consciousness. The hand squeezed hers gently, and all she could see were wide blue planets of concern, and she thought it was nice that the solar system had come out to keep her company while she got Octavia to someone who could make her breathe again.
The kind but worried voice shook her shoulders, which made her dizzy, and she closed her eyes to stop the world from vibrating around her. “Lexa! Lexa, wake up. Stay with me, I will fix you. I won’t let you die.”
Lexa smiled sleepily. “You’re a nice planet.”
Lexa was in a bed, and everything hurt.
She was too tired to panic, and her eyes opened slowly, searching for the nice planets for a moment before she came back to herself.
She tried to sit up, but everything was heavy and painful, and her vision spun as the world tilted, so she laid back again.
The voice was hoarse, and when she turned to look at it, the wide blue eyes were ringed in red and framed by messy blonde hair.
Clarke was sitting in the chair beside the hospital bed and looked like she hadn’t slept for days. Lexa wanted to reach for her, but found her hands were cuffed to the railings of the bed on both sides. She instinctively began pulling against them, panicking at the confinement. “Clarke, help!”
Clarke stood quickly and knelt on the edge of the bed, her hands encircling her wrists gently. “Lexa! Lexa, it’s okay! Calm down, you’re safe.”
Lexa stopped struggling and gazed away from Clarke with shame, remembering the last time she’d looked into those brilliant blue eyes and ran. Then, slowly, bits and pieces of memory came back to her, and she snapped her head back around to the girl who still hovered over her, holding her wrists, her face a mask of fear.
Clarke swallowed hard. “She.. She’s alive.”
Lexa closed her eyes briefly as relief washed over her body. “Thank god.”
“She..” Clarke shifted a little so she was sitting on the edge of the bed instead, but left one hand resting gently on Lexa’s wrist. “They had to put her in a coma. They don’t know yet if..” She trailed off, looking down at her own lap quietly.
Lexa felt her heart drop into her stomach. “No. No, she.. She’ll be fine, though. Right?” Her voice cracked at the end, and she felt like she was a little girl again, kneeling in a pool of blood and trying to wake her parents.
Clarke’s shoulders moved only slightly, her voice soft. “It’s too soon to tell.”
Lexa closed her eyes as the tears came, and Clarke carefully tugged the restraints around her wrists loose, suddenly not giving a fuck if it got her in trouble. Lexa didn’t move, though, so she gently folded Lexa’s arm—the one without the IV in it—over, and slid into the narrow hospital bed alongside her. She stretched out and tentatively put her arm out a bit. Without hesitation, Lexa rolled onto her side and buried her face against the chest of the girl she barely knew but somehow felt like she’d known her entire life.
Clarke’s arms wrapped around her tightly, and Lexa broke. She sobbed and sobbed, and Clarke just held her and held her.
And Lexa let her and let her.
It was a few hours later when Dr. Griffin came in and found Clarke and Lexa curled up together in the bed, both of their faces streaked with dried tears, both of them asleep. Her daughter was, as usual, snoring loudly, but it didn’t seem to be bothering Lexa at all, which was fairly impressive.
She watched the girls for a moment before knocking lightly on the clipboard she carried. “Clarke..”
Clarke groaned and mumbled against Lexa’s temple. “I’m sick.. no school today..”
Abby rolled her eyes. “Halsey is here.”
Clarke sat bolt upright, her face smeared with drool and her hair in wild tangles on one side of her head, gasping. “Where?”
Lexa woke at the sudden movement in the bed, her tongue fuzzy and eyes stinging as she looked around groggily, taking a moment to remember where she was. Clarke’s eyes narrowed as she woke fully. “That was hella harsh, Mom. You don’t joke about Halsey.”
Lexa blinked and suddenly rolled onto her back, trying o push herself up and slide her hands back into the restraints subtly. The last thing she wanted or needed right now was to get Clarke—or her mom, for that matter—in trouble.
Abby just held her hand up. “Lexa, it’s okay. I have privileges here, and I took both you and Octavia on as patients and lifted the psych hold.”
Lexa’s eyes widened a little, her throat on fire and voice scratchy when she responded gratefully, “Thank you, Dr. Griffin.”
Abby studied her sternly. “Don’t make me regret it, please.”
Lexa shook her head quickly, meaning it. “I won’t. I swega klin--uh, I swear, I promise.”
Abby pulled the chair over and sat down, regarding her. “Lexa, I need to talk to you about some things, ask you some questions. Personal things, if I’m going to be your doctor and treat you properly.” She glanced at her daughter.
Clarke slid off the bed with a yawn and a slight stumble. “That’s my cue to bounce.”
“No, stay,” Lexa said quickly, her voice almost a whine.
Clarke reached out and gently touched her fingertips to her palm. “I’m going to go check on Octavia, okay? Just.. just talk to her.” Her voice lowered to a whisper, meant only for Lexa’s ears. “Be honest. You can trust her if you can trust me, okay?”
Lexa nodded quietly, biting her lower lip as Clarke gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and watching her leave the room for a moment before turning her gaze back to Dr. Griffin.
“We’ll start easy, with the basics. What’s your full name?”
In light from the dark, there came a spark
Carried me down with a loving heart
Where do we end, love never far
Home is all I wanted, never do we part
- Emily King, For Them
[Seven Months Later]
Lexa was running.
“Get your butt back here!”
Aden giggled as he darted across the field in his soccer uniform, hiding behind Clarke with a squeal. “Save me!”
Clarke laughed and gently disentangled herself from him. “No way, you started it!”
Lexa chased him around Clarke a few times, both of them trying to fake the other out by going in the opposite direction, before they took off towards the picnic area again.
The tables and trash cans had balloons tied all over them in bright colors, and there were kids everywhere, making it harder for Lexa to track him through the crowd. She finally managed to tackle him playfully when he rounded one of the unused grills, and they rolled into the grass together, giggling.
“Why are you wearing that, anyway? You’re not playing today, you dork.”
Aden wiggled through the grass, laughing hard. “Ma said the birthday boy can wear what he wants, nerd!”
Clarke watched as a dark-haired girl wearing the same uniform ran over and bounced a basketball on her knee a few times, saying something to Aden. His ears turned bright red as he got up and ran after her towards the basketball court, leaving Lexa smiling after them in the grass.
Clarke jogged over and dropped into the grass beside her, picking a twig out of her hair. “He’s got a little crush, it looks like.”
“Definitely. Her name’s Madi,” she said in a sing-song.
“They’ll look adorable standing on their own wedding cake,” Clarke replied, nudging her playfully.
Lexa laughed softly, resting her head on Clarke’s shoulder. “I think Madi-and-Aden has a nice ring to it.”
“It does,” she agreed, resting her head against Lexa’s. “Plus, she seems like the kinda girl who won’t think he’s deeply uncool for crying when he opens his present.”
“Just so you know, I’m planning to cry when he opens it, too. I can’t believe your mom managed to keep the whole thing quiet. He has no idea.”
Clarke rubbed her shoulder lightly. “I know. He’s gonna lose his mind.”
Lexa felt her eyes welling up a little and unconsciously shifted closer to Clarke. “Your mom is amazing. Sinclair, too.”
Clarke kissed her head softly. “Funny. They said the same thing about you when they handed me this.” She took a card envelope out of her jacket pocket and handed it to her.
Lexa sat up, looking at it curiously. “What is this, congrats on finishing rehab?”
Clarke shrugged a little. “Something like that. I begged them to let me be the one to give it to you.”
Lexa gave her a strange look, but Clarke just shrugged a little as she started to open the envelope. She pulled out a card, and a neatly folded piece of paper fell out into her lap. She read the card quietly, her eyes starting to well a little bit, and then slowly widen as she reached the end. The card slipped from her hand as she murmured a quiet, “No way,” and picked up the paper, unfolding it.
Her eyes filled rapidly as she scanned the page and immediately looked to Clarke for confirmation that it was real. Clarke just nodded a little, watching her read the page a few more times, smiling wider each time. “Congratulations. You’re officially a high school graduate.”
Lexa let out a cry of joy and tackled Clarke in a hug, pulling her down to the grass beside her and kissing her happily. Clarke laughed lightly against her lips before kissing her back softly. “Brainy chicks are so hot, you know.”
Lexa looked at the page and let out another whoop, her entire face lit up with happiness. Clarke gently rolled her onto her back and kissed her again, deeper this time. Lexa’s tongue slid past her lips, and Clarke’s slid along the length of hers, her hand resting over her rib cage and stroking it gently. Lexa moaned softly into the kiss, wrapping her arms around her and pulling her tightly against her until her hips bracketed hers. She briefly wondered if anyone would miss them if they snuck off into the woods for a little bit.
It was Clarke who broke the kiss a few minutes later, her lips swollen and chest heaving lightly. “Jesus, I wish we were literally anywhere else right now..”
Lexa groaned as she saw the catering van with ‘Arkadia Bay’ logo on the side pull up. “We can’t even sneak away now, Pops is here.”
Clarke chuckled lightly and playfully nipped at her lower lip. “Later. We can sneak away when they’re all distracted with cake.”
Lexa sighed and sat up, brushing the dirt off herself as Anya and Echo climbed out of the van in their diner uniforms, carrying a fairly massive cake carefully over to the table Sinclair directed them to.
She watched them quietly, unconsciously leaning into Clarke, her voice soft. “I still.. can’t believe any of this is real. Any of it. Least of all you.”
Clarke just smiled and kissed her cheek, standing up and putting her hand out for her. “C’mon, you big brainy knowledge-snacha. Let’s go join the party.”
There was one present left, and Aden picked up the manila folder and looked at it with confusion. “This is for me?”
Abby rubbed his back gently. “I think it will be your favorite present today.”
“No way, the remote control car is my favorite,” he said, looking over at Lincoln, who was sitting beside Octavia’s wheelchair.
“Octavia picked it out. I wanted to get you some socks, but she insisted.”
Octavia smiled, her face still weaker on the left from the strokes she’d had after the overdose, but it was genuine and beautiful, Lexa thought. “I thought you’d like that better.” Aden giggled, seeming to have forgotten the envelope he held, and Octavia nodded at it. “Why don’t you see what that is before you decide your favorite, though? Maybe it’s the title to a real car or somethin’.”
“I’m not old enough to drive!” Aden replied, but obediently opened the envelope and pulled out a stack of paperwork, a frown crossing his face as he studied the documents. “What is this?”
Abby knelt down beside him, wrapping her arm over his shoulders and her other hand on his stomach, patting it lightly. “Those are your official adoption papers. It was finalized last week.”
Aden’s eyes went wide, his head spinning to look at her. “I’m adopted? You’re my Ma, for real?”
Abby’s voice quivered as she tried to hold back tears. “I was already your Ma for real, but now the whole world knows it, too.” She kissed his cheek softly. “Happy birthday, Aden Griffin.”
Aden just stared in shock for a moment before he burst into tears, turning and wrapping his arms around her neck, hugging her tightly. Lincoln grabbed the stack of papers that threatened to flutter from his hands as he linked them together behind Abby’s neck. There wasn’t a dry eye on the pavilion; even Anya was sniffling as she lingered near the back of the clapping crowd, her hair neatly pulled back and resting on the shoulder of her crisp polo.
Lexa’s hand searched for Clarkes, linking their fingers together as she cried shamelessly as well. “Your mom really is amazing.”
After a few minutes, Abby rubbed Aden’s back and addressed the crowd. “And I think we have one more present, but it’s not for Aden.”
Aden mumbled into her neck. “There’s nothing else I want, anyway.”
Lexa laughed with the rest of the crowd, wiping away the tears on her cheek.
“This one is actually for Lexa,” Raven said, appearing as she usually did from out of nowhere, and Lexa was too distracted by the way Anya was clearly distracted by Raven to realize that her name had been said.
Luna and Clarke both nudged her from behind at the same time and she snapped out of it. “Huh?”
Everyone laughed and Lexa felt her cheeks redden. “A present for me? For what?”
Raven rolled her eyes and snatched the card out of her hand, waving it around. “For getting your high school diploma, you idiot.”
Lexa looked down at her shoes with a sheepish smile when the clapping started up again as Sinclair approached, his eyes still full of tears from a few minutes ago, and Lexa felt guilty; like she was stealing Aden’s thunder, when his being adopted was far more of a big deal than her getting a diploma.
Sinclair cleared his throat a little and glanced around. “A little over seven years ago, I had a beautiful, strong, smart, incredible young woman come into my life. For a long time, I thought she needed me around to take care of her, but it turned out I was the one who needed her in my life more. I thought, then, that was everything I could want in the world. How could I be any happier, right? I love my daughter, I love my job. I love my life, and I thought it was complete. But once again, I was wrong. Because less than a year ago, another brilliant young woman came into my life and made me realize that I still had so much room in my heart that it just needed to be filled.”
He rested his hand on Lexa’s shoulder as hot tears stung her eyes. She tried to wipe them away quickly, but couldn’t keep up with the rate they were flowing as Sinclair handed a manila envelope exactly like Aden’s to her.
Lexa couldn’t even reach for it. She looked at him in disbelief, paralyzed. “What?” Was all she managed to get out as she looked at the envelope dumbly.
“Open it, already!” Octavia cried, slapping her good hand on the arm of the wheelchair. ”Jesus.”
Everyone laughed except for Lexa, who was opening the envelope with shaky hands. It couldn’t be; it just couldn’t.
But it was. Right there, in black and white, in her hand—as real as the ground beneath her feet and the feel of Clarke’s hand at the small of her back. She didn’t even realize she was reading it out loud.
“Lexa Woods Sinclair.”
Raven practically dove at her, drawing her into an impossibly tight bear hug as she stared at the pages in shock. “Welcome to the family, sis.”
Lexa burst into tears, melting into Raven’s arms and feeling the tightness in her chest finally releasing after all these years, and somehow she knew the rubberband-like pain that had almost always been with her, would not be back.
She closed her eyes as Clarke and Sinclair’s arms went around her as well, and she felt Aden press his way into the tight cocoon and hold onto her too. She reached for him immediately and pulled him to her chest, rubbing his back as they cried and let themselves be held by people who loved them.
“One big, awesome, dysfunctional family,” Octavia said, resting her head on Lincoln’s shoulder. He kissed it softly, and Anya watched and smiled a little, thankful they had all gotten a second chance. Not even. Some of them hadn’t even had a first chance yet.
After a few minutes, she approached Lexa, her voice soft. “Congratulations, strik-snacha.”
Lexa smiled tearily at her. “Thanks, Heda. Congratulations to you too, I heard you made shift manager.”
Anya shrugged a little. “I was always pretty good at telling people what to do.”
“Yeah, you were,” Lexa replied with a smirk. They shook hands, grasping each others’ forearms, and Lexa nodded before letting go, beginning to turn away.
“Hey, Lexa?” Anya cleared her throat a little and Lexa paused. “Thanks. For not listening to me.”
Lexa smiled again and this time, drew Anya into a brief but long overdue hug. “Anytime.”
Lexa was flying.
She cried out with joy, leaning back on the tire swing so far that her hair dragged on the ground as Lincoln spun her, Luna, and Echo around again, all three of them squealing as they grew more and more dizzy. On the regular swings adjacent to them, Clarke and Raven were swinging so high it seemed like they might loop right over the top at times, competing to see who could get the highest while Octavia judged the contest. Aden and Madi chased each other across the playground with plastic swords, and Anya sat with Sinclair and Abby, talking animatedly.
Lexa watched the world rotating, watched the people she loved dancing in her orbit, watched the girl who had triggered something more open and kind inside her heart.
Lexa kicked her legs out, setting the tire spinning even harder than before and hung her head down, wide green eyes watching as it all spun around her in a brilliant streak of colors. She felt happy, and safe, and like it was finally okay for her to laugh.
So she did. She loved, and she spun, and she laughed..
And laughed, and laughed.