"I saw that," Luna said, pointing at Lexa. "But I'll give you a freebie."
Because it had been impossible not to roll her eyes at the creampuff confection Clarke had come out in that made her look like an oversized contestant on Toddlers & Tiaras... with boobs. Lots of boobs. Even Clarke had laughed when she looked at herself in the mirror. "I knew it was a no as soon as I put it on," she said, "but I had to show you anyway."
"Definite no," Lexa agreed. "I still like the first one."
"You only like the first one because it would mean we were done," Clarke said.
"No, I like the first one because you look beautiful in it," Lexa said.
"You think I look beautiful in everything," Clarke pointed out.
"Except that," Lexa said.
Clarke laughed. "Except this. Just a few more."
Lexa closed her eyes so Luna couldn't see the way they turned toward the sky, seemingly of their own volition. "A few more," she agreed.
"You still haven't picked out a dress," Clarke pointed out. "You've barely tried any on."
"I'll find one," Lexa said.
"I don't know how, when you won't even look." Clarke's voice was muffled, coming from behind the door of the little changing room she'd ducked into. "Luna, will you please help her find something to at least try?"
Because Luna had found her dress almost right away – an iridescent blue-green number that was very much in keeping with her mermaid-chic aesthetic, as Clarke had dubbed it. It was already bought and paid for and swathed in protective plastic, draped over the arm of the seat where Luna had taken up residence while she waited.
"On it," Luna said, and grabbed Lexa by the arm, her fingers digging into Lexa's bicep as she dragged her into the racks. "What's going on?" she asked. "You're making this so much harder than it needs to be. It's just a dress."
"Fine," Lexa said. There was no point in arguing, and she was already going to have bruises in the shape of the tips of Luna's fingers in her arm later. She began to flip through dresses on the rack, but she wasn't really seeing any of them. Luna was right; it was just a dress. It wasn't a big deal. None of this was a big deal.
So why did it feel like the world was ending?
"Hey," Luna said, an arm snaking around Lexa's waist, pulling her in so her face was almost too close to focus on. "What's really going on?"
Lexa sniffed, and blinked, and sniffed again, swallowing hard. She opened her mouth and no words came. Luna looked at her and sighed softly, pulling her into a hug and not letting go. "It just feels like the beginning of the end," Lexa said, her voice muffled as she spoke the words into Luna's shoulder.
"You sound like them," Luna told her, pushing back a strand of hair and tucking it behind Lexa's ear. "It's not the beginning of the end. It's not even a beginning or an end. It just is. It's a dress, and a dance."
Lexa shook her head, pushing herself back from Luna, just a little. "It's another checkmark on the list."
"What list?" Luna asked.
"The one that at the end is... The End. The end of high school. The end of... everything. Life as we know it."
Luna snorted. "You really do sound like them," she said. "Life as we know it already ended once, and we survived it. If you go, if you don't go... time marches on. The end is going to come whether you check off all the boxes or not. Time doesn't stop for anything, or anyone. It doesn't even slow down. And the end could be any minute. That's one thing they taught us that's actually true. Maybe it won't come in any of the ways they thought they were preparing us for, but it will come. The only choice you get is what you do with the time you have."
Lexa looked down, staring at a stain on the floor that almost looked like it was staring back. She knew Luna was right. She hated it... but she knew it.
"Aren't you scared?" she asked.
Luna shrugged. "I've only ever known endings," she said. "I'm used to them by now."
It made Lexa's heart hurt, the reminder of everything she'd had, and even come to take for granted, that Luna hadn't for so many years. She did now – the court had finally put their seal of approval on Miss Becca's adoption of her a few weeks ago – but was it too little, too late?
"I'm scared," Lexa admitted. "I'm scared I'll lose everything, and I won't be able to get it back."
"You got me back," Luna said. "You got back to Miss Becca and Anya and Clarke." She tipped Lexa's chin up, forcing her to look her in the eye. "You move heaven and earth for the people who matter to you. You're not going to lose anything that's not meant to be lost."
Lexa sucked in a breath and let it out slowly, willing the tension from her body. Shook out her hands and reached for another dress. Because the first step toward not losing was finding: in this case, the perfect dress.
"Thank you for doing this," Clarke said, lacing her fingers through Lexa's as they left the dance floor to go find something to drink. "I know you didn't want to. I hope you're having a good time."
Lexa could feel sweat pooling at the small of her back, and her lungs ached from dancing – and laughing at what some of her (primarily male) classmates considered dancing. She lifted Clarke's hand to her lips, brushing them across her knuckles. "I am," she said, and meant it.
Clarke tugged her out of the line of traffic moving from the dance floor to the tables in the back and leaned in to kiss Lexa properly. Her heels were slightly higher than Lexa's (and how she danced in them without breaking an ankle, Lexa didn't know) so for once they were the same height. Clearly Clarke enjoyed not needing to go up on her toes or pull Lexa down to kiss her, and she was taking advantage every opportunity they got.
"I'm thirsty," Lexa said, when they pulled apart again.
"Me too," Clarke said, wiggling her eyebrows.
Lexa laughed. "Not what I meant!"
"Still true, though," Clarke said.
"You're ridiculous," Lexa said.
"But you love me," Clarke countered.
"More than anything," Lexa said. "More than ever."
Clarke drew her back into the shadows.
"I thought America was a democracy," Luna said, slipping into the seat next to Lexa at their table. "Why do we have a king and queen?"
"A king and queen we voted for," Lexa reminded her.
"I didn't vote for them," Luna countered.
"Listen," Lexa said. "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!"
They dissolved into laughter, and Lexa felt Clarke's shoulder pressing into hers. "And you say I'm ridiculous?" she teased.
One of Clarke's friends, Jasper, came up to the table and grabbed a chair, turning it around and straddling it. "Sorry it didn't work," he said.
"Sorry what didn't work?" Clarke asked.
"We tried to get a write-in campaign to get you two elected prom king and queen – or I guess queen and queen – but it never really gained traction." He shrugged. "I think people were afraid Lexa would kill them."
Lexa tensed, even though Jasper was grinning, and Clarke's fingers found her and twined through them, squeezing gently, and then a little less gently, until Lexa relaxed. She forced a smile. "It's the thought that counts," Lexa said.
"It would have been less boring, anyway," Jasper said. "Can you imagine the looks on people's faces?"
Lexa could, all too easily, and she was glad the plot had failed. She wanted no part of being up on that stage; the last thing she needed was another reason for people to not like her. Not that they disliked her, exactly... but she certainly wasn't going to win Most Popular when it came time to vote for senior superlatives. People's memories could be surprisingly long when they wanted them to be, and she'd never quite been able to shake their initial impression from way back in fifth grade that she was just a little different, a little strange, a little... not right.
Luna's hand rested on her back, the tips of her fingers a hair's breadth away from her scars, which were only partially obscured by her dress. She'd wanted to reject it for that reason, until Luna reminded her that she went out in front of people clad only in a bathing suit on a regular basis, which left her own scars on full display. If Luna could do that, Lexa could risk a few (more) sidelong glances if people noticed she had the same marks on her own skin.
"Thanks for thinking of us," Clarke said, her tone nice enough, but with an edge that was clearly dismissal... which Jasper didn't pick up on until something else distracted him, which thankfully didn't take long. She leaned over and brushed a kiss against Lexa's cheek. "You'll always be my queen," she said.
Lexa forced another smile, but her stomach clenched at the word 'always'. "And you'll always be mine," she replied, hoping it wasn't a lie.
Lexa held out her hand to Clarke. "Last dance," she said.
Clarke took it and stood, and they went to the dance floor, where Clarke slid into Lexa's arms. It wasn't so much dancing as swaying, but it gave them an excuse to be close, and Lexa would take it. Everyone at school knew they were together, obviously, and no one made a big deal about it, but they were still pretty careful about public displays of affection. This was the biggest declaration they'd ever made, without saying a word. But it was their prom, too, and they should get to be like everyone else, and do what everyone else did, and not have to worry about the reactions of other students.
Clarke rested her head on Lexa's shoulder, and Lexa rested her cheek against Clarke's hair. She wanted to say something, the perfect thing to make Clarke understand just how much her friendship and love had meant to Lexa over the years, but she didn't know what those words were, or if they even existed. So she just held her as the music played, and when Clarke lifted her head, she kissed her, soft and sweet, in front of everyone.
Clarke's lips curved against hers, and it could easily have escalated, but they didn't want to be that couple (though Lexa wasn't sure anyone would have noticed because they were surrounded by them) so they kept it short.
"I'm glad I came," Lexa whispered, her lips brushing Clarke's skin. "I'm glad we're here."
"Me too," Clarke said. She looked like she wanted to say more, but the song ended, and just like that, the night was over. The lights came up on the chaperones began shuffling them out the door, to their cars and wherever they wanted to go after. There was an official after party that Luna was attending with some of her swim friends, but Lexa had had enough of people and crowds.
So, apparently, had Clarke, because as they gathered their things from their table she stole another quick kiss and whispered, "Take me home."
"Does this make us a cliché?" Lexa asked, her lips brushing Clarke's neck where it sloped down to her shoulder as she slid the zipper of her dress down her spine.
Clarke laughed, a soft, warm sound that made Lexa's knees go a little wobbly even though they'd done nothing more than hold hands since leaving the prom. "I think it's only a cliché if you have your first time after the prom."
"Well, it's our first time after the prom," Lexa said.
Clarke snorted. "That's not what I mean and you know it."
"I do," Lexa said, unhooking the strapless bra Clarke wore under the dress and tracing her fingertips down to the small of her back, smiling to herself as goosebumps raced over Clarke's skin. Clarke turned in her arms and caught her lips, and for a few moments that kiss was the entire world... until she felt her own zipper sliding down, and Clarke's fingers slipping under the material as it parted.
"I love you," she murmured against Lexa's mouth. "So much."
"I love you too," Lexa said.
"Thank you. Again. For doing this."
"Doing what?" Lexa asked. "I haven't done anything... yet..." But even as she said it, she eased one of Clarke's arms from around her so she could slip the strap down and off, and then the other, and the top of the dress bunched briefly at her waist before slipping down over her hips and pooling on the floor.
Clarke opened her mouth, but all that came out was a sigh, and then a moan as Lexa glided her hand up her side and over her breast, cradling the weight of it in her hand as she brushed over the nipple with the ball of her thumb, feeling it pucker under her touch. Clarke pressed into the touch, and her hands resting on Lexa's hips before slipping lower to cup and squeeze her ass, bringing their bodies together.
Lexa nuzzled into Clarke's neck, kissing along her collarbone and then up to the hollow behind her ear, smiling at the sound she made when the tip of Lexa's tongue grazed the soft, sensitive skin there. Clarke's fingers clenched, bunching the material of her dress.
"You're overdressed," Clarke said when she caught her breath again. "Let me help you with that."
Lexa didn't even consider objecting as her dress joined Clarke's on the floor. They ought to hang them up, she thought, but then Clarke's thumbs hooked in the waistband of her panties, dragging them down her hips, and she decided it could – and would – wait.
They tumbled into bed, pushing back the covers instead of crawling into them, the light on Clarke's nightstand still on because Lexa didn't want to miss a single moment, a single detail, when every moment they had was precious, but some more than others. She knew she would want to remember this, maybe more than anything else from tonight. She'd gone to prom because she loved Clarke, and doing something she might otherwise avoid because it would make her girlfriend happy was one way to show it. This was another, cliché or not.
She rolled to press Clarke onto her back, but Clarke resisted, shaking her head. "Not yet," she said. "Let me..." She didn't need to finish the sentence for Lexa to understand. She let out a breath and relaxed back against the pillows, and let Clarke have her, any and every way she wanted, before finally Clarke allowed her to reciprocate.
Clarke pulled Lexa up into her arms, their bodies overlapping with Lexa half on top of Clarke, and she shivered as Clarke's fingers combed through her hair, pulling it back from her face. The other hand slid up her arm, lingering on the scars on the back of her shoulder as she bumped her nose against Lexa's until she tipped her head to accept the kiss Clarke offered.
Tears beaded in Lexa's lashes, and Clarke kissed them away and didn't ask questions, and that was a gift with a value that was immeasurable, even if this time Lexa would have had an answer if Clarke had asked why she was crying.
Because when I'm with you, I'm not broken. With you, I'm only ever beautiful.
Lexa flopped onto Anya's couch, remembering too late that it really needed to be replaced as a spring dug into her hip. She ignored Anya's smirk at her grimace and rearranged herself into a more comfortable position.
"So how was it?" Anya asked. "Was it as terrible as you thought?"
"Worse," Lexa said, but she was fighting back a smile.
"Liar," Anya said. She shoved Lexa over to make space for herself on the couch. "Did you have a good time?"
"It didn't suck," Lexa said. "I wouldn't want to do it a second time, but I'm glad I went."
"See? I told you—"
"How's Raven?" Lexa asked, before Anya could finish telling her she'd been right all along.
Anya wrinkled her nose. "She's none of your business," she said.
"Her stuff's still here, so clearly you're still friends, at least," Lexa said. "Did you talk?"
Before Anya had a chance to repeat that it was none of Lexa's business, the door opened, and Raven stepped in, setting something down next to the door with a resounding thud. "Honey, I'm home!" she called.
Lexa bit back a smile, and Anya scowled at her. "In here," Anya called back, even though the space was small enough that Raven would only need to take a couple of steps to see that for herself. "With Lexa," she added.
"Oh, cool," Raven said, poking her head around the corner and giving Lexa a wave. "Good thing I got extra." She held up a bag of takeout containers. "If you could—"
Anya was already up, taking the bag from Raven and depositing it on the kitchen counter while Raven heaved whatever she'd been carrying back onto her shoulder and carried it, limping more than usual with the awkward weight, into her room, where it landed on the floor a second time hard enough to rattle one of the pictures on the wall.
She came back out of her room and straight to the kitchen, grabbing plates from the cupboard. "Since we have company, we'll pretend that we're civilized people who don't just eat straight out of the containers," she said, flashing her contagious grin.
Anya looked at her and the corner of her mouth curled up. "I didn't know if you were coming home tonight," she said.
"I convinced them I could work from home," Raven said. "I won't, but I'm so far ahead of where I need to be, they won't know the difference, and it got me out of that sweatshop." Her hand rested briefly on Anya's back as she moved past her to get glasses.
"Why didn't you just tell them that?" Anya asked. "Instead of lugging that thing – whatever it is – home?"
"Nothing that will kill us in our sleep, I promise," Raven said. "But if you're really worried, I'll lock the door to keep it out." This time her smile was accompanied by a wink, and Lexa was sure she didn't imagine the faint blush that colored Anya's cheeks. "As for why I didn't tell them I'm ahead... that's just self-preservation. If they knew I was already done with what I needed to do, they would give me more work, and I'm tired of picking up everyone else's slack. Let them scramble for once without good ol' Raven to bail them out for a little while. It'll build character."
Anya snorted. "Right. Thanks for getting dinner."
"It was my turn to cook," Raven said. She grabbed utensils and began spooning food onto plates. She didn't ask Lexa what she wanted, but apparently she'd paid attention the last time they'd eaten together, because there was nothing on Lexa's plate she didn't like.
"Thanks," she said.
Raven just nodded, having already shoved a piece of General Tso's in her mouth. She pointed her chopsticks at Anya. "I have another convention coming up in two weeks," she said when she'd finally finished chewing. "You should come with me. I would make it worth your while." She waggled her eyebrows.
Anya's cheeks lit up like she'd accidentally bitten into a hot pepper, and she clapped a hand over her mouth as she coughed. "Won't you be busy?" she asked, taking a gulp of water.
"Not the whole time," Raven said. "This one isn't just boring technical stuff; it's more like a toy fair for tech geeks. It'll be fun."
"I don't want to—" Anya started, but Lexa cut her off.
"Yes you do," Lexa said. She looked at Raven. "Yes she does."
Raven grinned. "Awesome. I'll put you on the list for a pass. Be right back." She put her plate down and made her way to the bathroom.
"Lexa, you can't just—"
"You've been making me do things that ended up being good for me for the last six, almost seven years. This time, you're doing what I say. Consider it payback for prom," Lexa said. "And she'll make it worth your while." She did her best impression of Raven and her eyebrows, and had to duck as Anya threw a wadded-up napkin at her head.
"I hate you," Anya said.
"I know," Lexa said smugly. "You can thank me later."