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”Fucking Skaikru,” snarls Lexa, hurling into the room on a gust of wild wind. Anya curses at the leaves and dirt scattering into her bar, but Lexa ignores it, scowl fixed on the bleeding cut on her left arm. Her favorite coat is ruined.
“What the fuck happened?” Anya is at her side at once, a similar scowl aimed at the wound Lexa’s pressing her free hand to. She’s using her other hand to vainly attempt to remove the stopper to the vial, tearing her teeth into it before Anya snatches it to open it herself. Lexa waves a hand, drawing the contents of the vial out to float above it.
“It was a coup,” grunts Lexa, hissing as the liquid snakes through the air to settle over the deep gash in her bicep. Her skin bubbles and froths, steam rising as it heals. “The Coven didn’t even get the chance to convene. Skaikru was waiting in the folds, weapons drawn. They knew we were coming.”
“Townsfolk and traitors,” mutters Anya in disgust. She glares at Lexa a moment longer, at the new skin forming raw and pink, before she shakes her head and crooks a finger. The broom perched against the wall near the door snaps into her hand, and she wastes no time using it to sweep up the leaves Lexa had brought in. “So what happened exactly?”
Lexa fills her in, but afterward, when Anya rants and raves as she cleans her bar and Lexa rests with a full glass of whiskey to numb the fury roiling in her gut more than the nonexistent pain of her tingling arm, she doesn’t offer any further information. She doesn’t tell Anya that the only reason she made it out alive had been because she’d caught a glimpse of the pretty blonde she’d been seeing at the library for the past two weeks— that she’d unthinkingly, stupidly, followed her out of the battle. She made it halfway down an empty alley when she noticed the sigil on the back of her jacket and stopped in her tracks. Skaikru.
She’d been so shocked that this girl— this kind human girl who talked about fantasy books with children, who often offered fleeting eye contact and shy smiles with Lexa, who almost kissed Lexa the one time they managed to talk on a rainy Thursday afternoon—also enjoyed killing Lexa’s people. Over the past fifty years, over three hundred witches were killed by Skaikru hunters. Today had claimed at least another dozen. Because of this girl, Lexa had almost been one of them.
She’d lost her head when she saw her. Blanked out. Followed the flash of blonde and angry blue eyes down an alleyway with no thought other than how? The blonde had whirled around, lifting her crossbow, aimed wide blue eyes that narrowed when they landed on Lexa. Lexa barely had time to part her lips before the blonde fired at her.
She was lucky the girl was a terrible shot. The bloodarrow caught her on the arm and that was it. It was the closest Lexa came to dying since she took down the Azgeda Queen years ago. She barely managed to hurtle through the open window beside her; miraculously stumbled through a human home, wiping their memories with a hoarse gasp and haggard jerk of her arm, staggering through their front door and leaving them blinking as they return to themselves. By the shouts, she’s guessing the blonde was following after her, but she didn’t take a moment to check— she threw herself into a teleportation spell and landed half a block from the bar.
Lexa’s lips downturn as she looks down, trying her best to ignore the unpleasant squirm in the pit of her stomach, a sinking sensation she wishes wasn’t so familiar by now. Disappointment. She should have known. Clarke had appeared at the library Lexa frequented exactly two weeks before the Conclave; it’s not the first time a spy has been sent to neutral territory. Lexa knows better than to think it a coincidence. Perhaps deep down she did know, but she hoped it was a coincidence. That’s even more dangerous. Lexa closes her eyes for a moment, reaching up to grasp her necklace, pressing the hematite hard enough to the heel of her hand the point of the crystal nearly breaks skin.
She liked her. That’s the worst thing about it. She was kind and smart and funny and had a smile that made Lexa’s heart tremble and eyes she could lose herself in. Now all Lexa can see is those same blue eyes clouded with hatred, those same soft pink lips curled in revulsion. She knew Clarke’s favorite book was the Malazan Book of the Fallen, that she was named after Space Odyssey, that she loved coffee with an obscene amount of milk and sugar, that she had a cat named Oppenheimer, and that she blushed when interrupted from an almost-kiss by an inquisitive ten-year-old wondering where he can find Moby Dick and if they think his mother would allow him to read it.
Lexa releases her breath with an exhale, opening her eyes to look down at her reflection in her glass. Now she also knows what Clarke looks like before she tries to kill her. And that she’s a shit shot, lucky for Lexa.
“You should stay here tonight,” Anya tells her, scrubbing her countertops with a rag and a furious expression. “Doesn’t sound like it’s safe out there right now.”
“It’s as safe as it can be at the moment.” The whiskey is a welcome burn in the back of Lexa’s throat. Helps her stop reliving the shock of seeing blue eyes that are normally so warm turned to ice on her instead. “Indra called me, said Skaikru scattered after we cast the shield up. She’s burning the dead after their Coven sisters have paid their respects. Lincoln guided the others home.”
“I should have been there.”
Lexa freezes, her glass to her lips as she shifts her gaze to look at Anya over the rim. Her sister’s face is clouded with a stormy mix of emotions: anger, concern. Shame. Lexa lowers her glass and sighs, waving her hand to draw another glass out and another bottle up to tip its contents into it. She reaches into one of her pockets to pull out a sprig of Chrysanthemum and a dash of Nightyuj, hovering them into the glass of whiskey to calm her.
“Don’t be foolish,” murmurs Lexa, dropping her gaze when Anya takes a swill of the drink to look at her own. She adds a drop of Nightyuj into it for good measure before tipping it back into her mouth. “You are needed here. What would your children do without you?”
“Live with their foolish aunt instead?”
Lexa rolls her eyes as she sets her glass down with a clatter and stands up. “They wouldn’t last two days.”
“Fuck off, you know you spoil them rotten.”
“It’s not about that.”
“You’re the Commander,” says Anya flatly. “If they’re not safest with you, they’re not safe with anyone.”
“They’re safest here, with you. Protected by this place.” Lexa winces as she draws her coat up. Frowns as she observes the sleeve. She runs her finger over the cut to mend the fabric, but the stain of nightblood won’t ever come out.
“And so are you. You should stay here tonight—”
“I’m going home,” snaps Lexa. “I’m tired and I want to be in my own bed. And I’m going to do some scrying.”
Lexa doesn’t answer. Anya’s scowl deepens.
“Be careful,” she warns her.
She’s already pulling the hemlock out of her pockets by the time the door to Grounders’ swings closed.
She didn’t lie to Anya, Anya exactly. She does go home, and she does scry— but the moment she gets her results, she’s rushing out, dagger in hand and pockets laden with ingredients. When she teleports from the darkened shadows of her streets, she finds herself standing in the shadow of the library.
Lexa rolls her shoulders and glares up at the building. Clearly some were too dishonorable to hold to the old ways, and she’s not surprised it would end up to be Skaikru, the newest clan to travel over the Dead Zone, seeking to the magic lingering in this part of the world— of course, in their case it was to eradicate it, but regardless they were still bound to the same laws. It was always the way of their worlds. If they wanted to break the rules, they deserve to be punished for it. If they want Lexa to show them why she was named Heda, she’s only happy to oblige.
She storms up the stairs and into the library, cloak billowing behind her, one hand free for spells and the other clutching her dagger, deep in her pocket. It’s All Hallow’s Eve so the library is empty, all the children out trick or treating. Empty except for the blonde sitting in her usual corner among the bookshelves, blonde head bowed. Wearing the same leather jacket she wore at the conclave. Fury surges in Lexa, and she rushes forward, relishing in the moment Clarke looks up at the sound of her approaching and her eyes widen as she stumbles to her feet.
“You,” Lexa snarls, rounding on her at once. Blood rushes to her ears as she backs the blonde up, blocks out the tiny gasp she gives when her back hits the shelf and a few books go crashing down.
“Wait, Lex, please—”
“Don’t call me that, you’re a fucking stranger!”
“I’m not— I’m not,” gasps Clarke, chin craning up when Lexa lifts her dagger to her neck. “I know you!”
It infuriates Lexa more than anything else has so far— even her taking a fucking shot at her. Two weeks. Two weeks of Clarke manipulating her. Shy smiles and stray touches, flirting and hushed conversation, all for her to aim a crossbow at her. “Shut up.”
“I know your full name is Alexandria,” says Clarke breathlessly. Lexa freezes, brow furrowing, grip slackening slightly. Clarke takes it as permission to plow ahead. “I know you have seven tattoos— one on the back of your neck of an incomplete infinity sign that you got when you lost Costia, a tribal one on your arm from when you graduated from the academy, and a huge one on your back after you became Heda that’s meant to represent the conclave.” How is this possible? Lexa’s hands fall limp, but Clarke doesn’t pull out free. She twists her wrists to grip Lexa instead. Her eyes are soft but her tone is urgent. “I know your niece and nephew are your favorite little people in the world. I know you have a black cat named Cliche and you sleep with rosemary beneath your pillow, and you hate the smell of cinnamon but love the taste, and that you can fall asleep within ten minutes of someone playing with your hair, and you cry every year when you decorate your grandparents’ graves with wishflower seedlings, and that—”
She cuts off with a strangled intake of breath when Lexa holds her dagger to her throat.
“How long have you been watching me?” she snarls, even as a voice in the back of her head tells her this is more than that. Even if Clarke was tailing her and managed to keep it hidden from Lexa’s wards, she wouldn’t have known that particular information. Not unless Clarke had lived inside her head, and Lexa knows her wards are strong enough to keep her out of there.
“I haven’t been,” manages Clarke, blue eyes wide and chest rising and falling rapidly. “I mean— I mean I have, but from a distance. To keep us safe.”
“You better start making sense,” Lexa warns her, ignoring the way Clarke winces when the dagger presses into her skin, drawing blood.
“I— I can’t.” Lexa’s scowl deepens, hating the way her stomach twists as Clarke’s eyes well up. “It’s a spell. It won’t— it won’t let me talk about it.”
“You’re Skaikru.” The venom in Lexa’s voice makes Clarke flinch. “You don’t use spells. You have no magic.”
“I—” Clarke’s brows knit as she struggles to speak. Lexa’s grip slackens, just slightly, as an inkling of comprehension sinks through her. Clarke is opening and closing her mouth, unable to manage even a single noise. Her eyes are unnaturally bright, her face drawing pale. She freezes in Lexa’s grip, unable to even lift a hand, and shudders for a moment before finally giving up. It seems as though the moment she does she can breathe again; she takes a wild intake of breath, sagging as though tired.
This sort of thing cannot be faked. Lexa stares, at a loss for words herself, as Clarke’s eyes fade back to their normal deep blue. She eyes Lexa with a strange mixture of emotions— Lexa struggles to place them but she can easily recognize the sadness.
“Your favorite broomstick is covered in flower carvings,” Clarke whispers. Lexa stiffens, lips parting. “I bet you can’t remember how they got there. Can you?”
No, Lexa can’t. She thought she might have woven a spell in her dream, when she woke one day to find her broom in the same place she left it, propped up in the corner by the doorway, not a bristle out of place but the entire wooden bar decorated in beautiful, intricate flowers. Lexa finally pulls the dagger away, leaving a thin trail of red on Clarke’s throat, and steps back, confused.
Clarke wordlessly lifts her arm to draw back her sleeve. There’s a tattoo on the inside of her wrist. Moonflowers and hemlock, wolfsbane and nightshade. The same flowers carved into her broom. Lexa’s gaze darts from the tattoo up to meet Clarke’s gaze and finds her already studying her. For a moment they just look at each other, and Lexa can’t make sense of anything, except—
“You tried to kill me.”
Clarke shakes her head at once. “I didn’t. I missed on purpose. I had to at least shoot, we were being watched.”
Lexa clenches her hands into fists, the dagger digging into her palm. “By who?”
“I won’t be able to say. But I promise, Lexa, I would never hurt you. I’ve been at the library just to be close to you. To try to see if I could fix things somehow, if I could get you to—” She cuts off, lips downturning as her eyes flash and skin drains of color. She swallows thickly. “Sorry.”
It should probably embarrass Lexa, the hope trickling through her. She doesn’t even know for certain Clarke is telling the truth, though something in Lexa is urging her to believe it. Perhaps she just wants to believe it. She only knew Clarke for two weeks, but they had a connection. Clarke was familiar.
Lexa’s heart thuds as the pieces connect. Clarke was always too familiar. It was one of the things that had drawn her to her. Her warm smile, her blue eyes, their easy conversation. It was always too easy.
“When did I forget?” she asks quietly, and Clarke’s eyes fly open wide, relief visible over every line of her face.
Clarke doesn’t answer right away; she stands there with a frown, shifting her weight on her legs, eyes clouded like she’s trying to figure something out. When she does speak, it’s careful. “I decided I should go to the library three weeks ago. The week before that, I nearly died again. When I woke up, I remembered a pub I used to really like. ”
Lexa runs a shaky hand through her hair. “So you’ve remembered, but this— this enchantment is still holding you?”
Clarke doesn’t answer, just stands there paler than ever, and Lexa takes it as confirmation.
“How long did we know each other, before?”
Silence again, Clarke appearing to wrestle with herself, eyes too bright. She finally looks behind her and pulls a book off the shelf. The Sorcerer’s Stone. “Book one takes place over the school year.”
Nine or ten months. Nearly an entire year. Lexa swallows. She’s lost a year of memories? How had she not noticed? This has to be a powerful enchantment. Who even had the skill to pull off such a feat? Nia is gone. Becca is sleeping. Who could have…
“Do you know who did this?” she says sharply, fingers tightening over the dagger again.
Clarke shakes her head.
Lexa breathes out a shaky sigh. She tries to force herself to remain calm and impassive, but she thinks she fails at it as she looks at Clarke and blurts out the question she really wanted to ask since the moment she realized what this meant.
“Did we love each other?”
And now, finally, for the first time, Clarke seems to truly relax. Her shoulders drop, and her lips curve slightly, face creasing in a tired, weary, barely-discernible smile. Her eyes focus on something behind Lexa. She steps close to her to reach up behind her and tap a finger on a book’s spine, and Lexa’s too busy dealing with the thudding of her heart at the sudden proximity than to twist around to see the book. “Bounty as boundless as the sea,” whispers Clarke, and Lexa doesn’t need to look at the book anyway.
This must be why Clarke chose the library. She knew Lexa came here, from their history. And it’s on neutral ground, so Skaikru shouldn’t be here.
But Skaikru had broken the pact today. Who’s to say it won’t happen again?
“We should keep our distance,” Lexa tells her, flushed from the heat of Clarke’s body so close to her own. “If we were being watched and your people are breaking the pacts, it’s not safe here anymore.” It’s not safe anywhere. Lexa doesn’t even know if Skaikru are Clarke’s people— she doesn’t know Clarke at all, though apparently she once did. It would be beyond foolish to fall into something now, when she knows nothing and their apparent history speaks for itself in terms of how unacceptable this is. Who could have stolen Lexa’s memories? Who could have cursed Clarke never to speak of it?
“In vain I have struggled. It will not due. My feelings will not be repressed.” Clarke taps another book— unnecessarily, again. Lexa just stares at her, unable to prevent the slide of her gaze dipping down to pink lips.
“I don’t even know you,” Lexa says, and even she can hear the defeat in her voice. She barely manages to drop her dagger back into her pocket before she’s reaching for Clarke.
Magic tingles in Lexa’s fingertips when soft hands brush through her hair, warm palms curving around the back of her neck. She looks so overwhelmingly relieved, so desperate for this, so yearning, Lexa can feel it reverberate in her chest.
“You will,” Clarke murmurs into the space between them, and if the way those two words shake the air isn’t enough to make Lexa rethink the idea that Skaikru has never had magic of their own, well. Pressing Clarke into the bookshelves and kissing her until she can taste the memories lingering just out of reach certainly does the rest.