Clarke has always had exceptional wards. Ever since she was a teenager, and would use them to keep her mother from her room while she blasted witch pop from her speakers and skulked about in long black skirts – such a cliché – she has been able to easily keep people at a distance.
(Her therapist would say this is indicative of a deeper issue, but that’s by the by.)
When she moved into her new apartment she set up her standard wards by the door, along the windows, and across the corridor, and when her neighbours cross through their shared hallway at all times of the night she can usually ignore the slight tremors of sensation she feels. So when a knock comes to her door without any warning, she almost falls from her armchair, where’s she curled reading an old book of her father’s. Albus, her tetchy familiar, jumps from her lap and throws her an infuriated glance at being disturbed from his nap, his tabby fur bristling.
The knocking comes again, more impatiently, and Clarke stares at the door in amazement. She feels for her wards, but there is no disturbance, and a shiver runs through her as she realises that the person behind the door must have magic. The third bout of knocking is enough to rouse her from her chair and send Albus skittering across the floor into the bedroom.
Clarke braces herself and uncurls her fingers to reveal the blue magic of mage fire in the palm of her hand. She was never the best at defensive magic, but if the person on the other side of the door means her harm this will at least give her a fighting chance.
“Hello?” Comes a voice from behind the door, as she ducks under the herbs drying above the doorway. “I really need your help!”
It’s enough to give her pause, and her mouth drops open when she peers through her peephole to see her neighbour stood outside – her very pretty neighbour, who always seems to be bringing girls home who Clarke has to resist the urge to curse with boils - wringing her hands together anxiously.
She opens the door just a crack and demands, “You have magic?” Her neighbour startles at the sight of her,
“Oh! Hi, yes, yes I do.” Her eyes flicker nervously to the mage fire, “Um, I come in peace.”
“Oh, sorry,” Clarke closes her hand around the fire, extinguishing it with a puff of purple smoke. She opens the door, but doesn’t step back to welcome her neighbour inside. No matter how pretty the girl is, even now with her dark hair falling from her braid and a manic expression in her eyes, she knows not to welcome strangers over her threshold without good reason. “Are you alright?”
“Not really,” The girl cringes, “I really need some scorpion venom, have you got any?”
“Scorpion venom?” Clarke stares at her, eyes wide with disbelief. “Well yeah, I have a few vials, but-”
“Please, please could I borrow some?” Her neighbour cuts through her, eyes impeaching. “It’s an emergency.”
“Yeah, fine, I guess.” Clarke backs away over the threshold. “Come in, let me find it for you.”
“Thank you,” Her neighbours steps hesitantly inside, and stands politely in the hallway as Clarke crosses the room to dig through her cupboards. Albus appears from the bedroom to give her neighbour a suspicious glance and trots across the living room to curl up on his favourite chair, as if worried she’ll steal it.
“Don’t mind him,” Clarke says over her shoulder, “He was a warlock in a past life, so he thinks he knows best about everything.”
Albus gives a haughty sniff and her neighbour smiles.
“Your place is amazing,” She offers, and Clarke follows her gaze through the apartment.
The high, domed ceilings and roomy living room, with an open fire, fit impossibly into the studio apartment. Plants grow from every corner and when she peers into the ceiling above, the evening sky is just beginning to be filled with streaks of pink.
“Oh thanks,” She offers a shy smile, gathering a few bottles of venom into her arms. “My friend Raven is amazing at spatial enchantments, she helped me.”
“Do you know a lot about potions?” Her neighbour casts a glance at the rows of ingredients in her kitchen, and the cauldrons lining the china cabinet.
“I dabble,” She answers, modestly, “Will this be enough?”
“More than enough, thank you.” The girl accepts the vials gratefully, but hesitates,
“Actually, would you be able to help me? I could really use the help of an expert.”
“Oh, I’m no expert,” Clarke hastens to correct her.
“You’re much better than I am though,” Her neighbour pleads. “Just five minutes or so?”
She is helpless to the pleading in the girl’s pretty eyes, and gives in far more quickly than she would like to admit. “Fine.”
With one final glance at Albus, she summons her keys into her hands and follows her neighbour across the hallway and into her apartment.
“I’m Lexa, by the way,” Her neighbour says over her shoulder, casting a pretty smile aside like it’s nothing.
“H-hi, I’m Clarke,” She goes weak at the knees at the sight of that smile.
With an elegant flick of the wrist, Lexa lets her into her apartment. Far from the cluttered, eclectic taste of her own apartment, Lexa has turned her place from a small, shabby studio to a spacious, neat, warm apartment, filled with white accents and colour coded bookshelves. Wide windows, reminiscent of apartments uptown, let the golden evening sunshine in and candles are flickering neatly near the window seat in the living room. The only thing out of place is the weasel lounging on the back of her couch, glaring at them both as they enter the room.
“Sorry about her,” Lexa shuts the door behind them, hurrying to the kitchen with her vials in hand. “She’s really mad at me.”
“Is she your familiar?” Clarke has never seen a weasel for a familiar before, but then Finn had a toad named Yoda, so who is she to judge?
At her words the weasel hisses her protest and Lexa cringes delicately.
“No,” She nods to the snowy owl on the bookcase in the corner of her living room, and says. “That’s Astrid, she’s my familiar.” The bird pokes her head out from beneath her wing to fix Clarke with one yellow eye, before turning away again. “This,” Lexa glances back at the weasel, “is Anya, and she is why I need your help.”
Clarke can’t help the curious smile that crosses her lips. “You know her?”
“She’s my friend,” Lexa explains, as she begins to gather ingredients on the spotless work surface. “She bought a bad spell from some back alley dealer, thought it would turn her into a bird.” Lexa rolls her eyes when the weasel squeaks her indignation. “She needs me to change her back in time for a date she has tonight.”
Clarke can’t help but laugh, gazing down at the furious little creature in Lexa’s apartment. “This sounds exactly like something my friends would do.” Her eyes narrow as she watches Lexa pull out a clunky iron cauldron and settle it over her hob. “Are you really using that?” She cringes as Lexa starts to prepare her ingredients. “You definitely shouldn’t be chopping the berry root that finely.”
Lexa grimaces a little, stepping back to let Clarke peer over her shoulder. “Like I said, I’m no expert at potions.”
Clarke sighs, and turns away to hide her grin as she offers. “I suppose I could make it for you.”
Lexa’s eyes brighten with relief. “Really? That would be amazing Clarke, thank you.” She glances back at the weasel and prompts, “Anya, thank Clarke.” The weasel just flicks her tail impatiently, and Lexa sighs and gives Clarke an apologetic smile, “Sorry, she’s always mean, even when she’s human.”
The words draw laughter from between her lips, “It’s alright, I wouldn’t want to be a weasel either.” She looks back to the cauldron and rolls up her sleeves. “Let’s get started, can you be trusted with stirring?”
“I think so,” Lexa allows, returning her grin, and retrieves a ladle from one of her neatly stocked drawers.
As she begins to slice the berry root, Clarke asks, curiously. “So why didn’t you have any scorpion venom of your own?”
“Oh,” Lexa wrinkles her nose, “I got into a fight with my usual supplier.” When Clarke glances at her, intrigued, she continues a little reluctantly. “I saw him at the Hallowed Inn with Anya the other week, slipping something into some girl’s drink. I called him out on it and things got a little heated.”
Clarke pauses, her knife stilling, and she feels fury curl in the pit of her stomach. “That makes me sick, love potions should be illegal. Not everyone knows the charms to reveal it.”
“I know,” Lexa agrees quietly, and for a moment they are both silent as Clarke tips a healthy amount of slug juice into the cauldron. “At least you had some to hand,” The smile she offers is distinctly charming, and Clarke fumbles not to slice her fingers off.
“Always good to have some spare,” She finally offers, a little lamely, and then rushes to continue, flushing up to her ears. “How did you even know I had magic? I’m so careful.” The expression Lexa fixes her with is distinctly sceptical, and she bristles. “What?”
“I’m sorry it’s just,” Lexa half shrugs, “You really aren’t that careful. Last month when you had a house party? I swear a hundred people went through your door and I could hear your indoor fireworks.”
Clarke’s blush darkens again and she laughs sheepishly. “I guess you have a point.”
“But before that,” Lexa continues a little more quietly, and when Clarke steals a glance at her, she is gazing resolutely into the cauldron, pink tinging her cheeks. “You make toadstool soup… sometimes I can smell it through the walls.”
For a second Clarke thinks she may be able to magic herself away in a puff of smoke, so painful is her embarrassment. “Oh I-I’m really sorry, I didn’t…”
“No, don’t be,” Lexa hurries to correct her, looking up to meet her eyes. “I like it, reminds me of home.”
“Oh,” As Clarke gazes at her it is like something tender is blossoming between her ribs, something soft and warm. “I can always bring some over if you’d like. I normally have leftovers.”
“Really?” Lexa’s expression brightens, and Clarke has to resist the urge to reach out and take her hand.
They are disturbed by a raucous clatter from behind, and turn to see that Anya has jumped up onto the counter and pushed a metal tin filled with teabags to the ground.
Lexa glares at her, “We’re going as fast as we can!” Her expression softens when she turns back to Clarke. “I’m really sorry about her.”
“My friends are worse,” Clarke assures her with a laugh, and scrapes the berry roots from the chopping board into the cauldron. “Stir that three times clockwise, three times anticlockwise, got it?”
“Got it,” Lexa nods, watching from the corner of her eye as Clarke begins finely chopping mandrake leaves. “So how did you get so good at potions?”
“I just think it’s like cooking,” Clarke shrugs, “You get a feel for what’s right.”
“You’re being modest,” Lexa smiles, “Is your line of work in potions?”
“Occasionally I sell them on the side,” Clarke smiles, “But I’m studying to be a Healer.”
“Wow,” Lexa’s eyes shine bright with admiration. “That’s amazing.”
Clarke can feel the blush returning to her cheeks, and has to look back to her slicing to stop herself from turning bright red. “What about you? What do you do?”
Lexa gazes bashfully down into the cauldron, “I’m a teacher, and I’m writing a book on transfiguration.”
“Really? You must be so good at it.”
Lexa shrugs, lifting the ladle aside to let Clarke slide in the mandrake leaf. “I suppose it’s like you and potions, it just feels like it comes naturally.”
“Will you show me?” Clarke can’t help but ask, and the warm evening light that shines in through the kitchen window dances across Lexa’s features as she smiles, shyly, and waves her hand.
The vase of flowers in the window twitches and then the flowers lift from their stems and turn into beautiful, white butterflies fluttering across the room to circle both of them playfully. Clarke lets out a delighted laugh, gazing upwards, and when a butterfly settles on her hand she gasps in amazement. Another bang comes from behind them, and Clarke flinches as Lexa gives her friend a glower so severe Clarke is sure she would turn to dust beneath it.
The butterflies turn to flowers, fluttering down to the floor, and Lexa sighs. “We should finish this,” She says, and Clarke nods her agreement.
“Final touch,” She reaches out and accepts the ladle from Lexa, tipping a few drops of the scorpion venom into the mixture. Murmuring a quiet incantation, she waves her hand over the cauldron and watches the liquid turn as green as summer grass. Lexa fetches a small saucer and they fill it with a spoonful and place it on the counter beside Anya.
“If you have some Tupperware,” Clarke comments conversationally. “This can freeze and keep for up to six months.” Her gaze flickers to Anya, who is drinking feverishly. “In case this happens again.”
Lexa smiles and opens her mouth to respond, but with a sudden flash of light and the slight whiff of singed fur, the weasel on the counter transforms into a tall, furious looking blonde woman, who pushes herself off the counter with a curse.
“I am going to kill that bitch if I ever see her again,” She fumes, her voice rasping, and Clarke has to bite back her laughter as the woman shakes herself. “And you,” She turns on Lexa, “I was a weasel for almost eight hours because you couldn’t work up the courage to ask your crush for one final ingredient!”
Clarke’s eyes widen, her gaze landing on Lexa, who gapes at Anya’s words and stammers.
“I-I don’t…. that’s not what happened-”
“Oh please,” Anya huffs and with a click of her fingers her outfit disappears, replacing itself with a smart dress and patent heels which click against the tile of the kitchen floor as she flings open a cupboard door and says. “Look! She already has scorpion venom!”
With that, she turns on her heel and strides from the apartment, slamming the door so hard the hinges shake. A long silence follows her departure, and Clarke turns to fix her gaze on Lexa, who is staring down at her shoes as if they might vanish from her feet at any second.
“So,” She leans against the counter, fighting the urge to grin like a lunatic. “You already had some scorpion venom?”
Lexa grimaces, “I guess so.” She offers an innocent smile, “I must have missed it?”
“You know if you wanted to ask me out you could have just done it like a normal person.” She teases, but ever so gently because Lexa looks so painfully embarrassed she feels sorry for her.
“I couldn’t,” Lexa admits, a little pathetically, “I see you come and go all the time and I try to catch your eye in the corridor, but you never say anything more than hi. I thought you hated me.”
“Hated you?” Clarke’s heart drops, “I barely knew you! I mean sure, I was a little jealous of the parade of half-dressed girls coming in and out of your apartment-”
“It is not a parade,” Lexa rolls her eyes, and then hesitates, “Wait, you were jealous?”
“I was,” Clarke admits, freely, “You’re gorgeous, I wanted to curse them all with boils or a rash or something equally as gross.”
“Why were you jealous?” Lexa sounds a little awed, and Clarke laughs.
“Because they’d all been on a date with my gorgeous neighbour, who I’ve been secretly crushing on.” Lexa’s eyes widen and as a grin crosses her features she gathers herself enough to say.
“Well maybe we can do something about that, are you free tonight?”
Clarke glances at the cauldron and half shrugs, biting back her huge smile. “I suppose my work here is done, what were you thinking?”
“Pizza and a movie?” Lexa glances at her TV, “I have Netflix and Hulu.”
“What a charmer,” Clarke teases, trying to ignore the excited butterflies in her stomach. “Only if I get to pick the movie.”
Lexa’s smile widens. “Deal.”