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blood rush in the hazy glow

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“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Monty asks.

Clarke doesn’t doubt Jasper’s sense of direction, but his decision-making has always left a little to be desired. “Yeah…this is a bad idea.”

Jasper, on the other hand, looks delighted. “It’s a great idea! My friend was right, there’s no way Octavia’s gonna get ID’d here.”

That, they have to admit, is true. Clarke casts a critical eye over the front façade of the bar before them: dark green painted wood that’s chipped in places, a single dirty window, and the gold lettering that reads The Captain’s Room. The black door is closed, but a neon sign in the window blinks “Open.” She rather wishes it wouldn’t so that they could head home, even if it was a long trip back to their apartments on the other side of town.

“I don’t know if Bellamy is going to be down for this,” Monty tells Jasper, taking the words from Clarke’s mouth. “You know how he is with O.”

Clarke checks her phone, hunching against the cold evening air. She wishes she would have worn more clothes; the breeze raises goosebumps on her bare legs. “Well, we’ll find out any minute. He said they’d meet us at seven.”

The three friends stand in front of the bar for a few more minutes as Jasper attempts to list all the positive things he’d heard about the place—these are mainly variations on “a whole new crop of girls to talk to”—and Monty tries to agree about the girls while simultaneously pointing out that people probably lived in the alley that ran alongside the bar. This wasn’t exactly the best part of town, and nothing like the bars they were used to near campus.

Luckily, Clarke doesn’t have to listen to them squabble for long. Bellamy’s black truck at last roars around the corner at the end of the street, rumbling up to the curb. Bell rolls down the window and raises an eyebrow at the place. Beside him, John Murphy slouches in the passenger seat and lifts a hand in greeting.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Bellamy asks Clarke, confused. Monty lets out a triumphant sound of vindication and Jasper protests.

“I mean, it’s definitely a bar,” Clarke replies with a shrug. “And it looks like she won’t get ID’d here.”

“Yeah, but will she get jumped here?”

Valid concern.

The answer comes when a hand darts out of the backseat and whacks Bellamy on the back of the head—his indignant “Uh, ow?” goes unheard as Octavia leans forward out of the backseat with a wide grin at Clarke.

“Don’t listen to Captain Killjoy over here,” she says, “It’s perfect!”

Ultimately, it’s Octavia’s call. Her nineteenth birthday passed during the summer, and now that they’re two weeks into the fall semester and settled in, it’s time to celebrate. Her enthusiasm trumps any reserve Bellamy has, so with a sigh of resignation, he pulls forward into an empty space along the curb and parks.

Octavia spent most her freshman year escaping her cramped dorm room by crashing on the couch in her brother’s apartment, so she’s become a part of the group as much as any of them despite the three year age difference. Hell, she walks into Clarke’s apartment unannounced as often as she does Bellamy’s now. Clarke doesn’t mind: Octavia may have Bellamy’s blood, but she’s much more forthcoming with her kindness and warmth.

Until, of course, she gets onto the soccer field, where she’s all fiery Blake—no one who knows her brother is really surprised that she broke the school’s single-season “foul’s committed” record in the first ten games of her freshman season. Indeed, it’s part of the reason behind her athletic scholarship.

Octavia clambers out of the car and jogs to join Clarke, Monty, and Jasper where they stand on the sidewalk, looking up at the place. She seems to be on the same level of excitement as Jasper, while Bellamy, when he joins them, adopts Clarke and Monty’s dubious stare.

Murphy, one of Bellamy’s three roommates, walks up looking completely content to get drunk wherever.

“This still seems pretty sketchy,” Bellamy says at Clarke’s shoulder.

And that’s the deciding factor for Octavia, ever the rebel. She casts a smirk over her shoulder at her brother. “Like I said, it’s perfect. Jasper, you’re the best. C’mon.” She loops an arm into his and drags him inside. Monty shrugs and follows his roommate, and then Murphy shoves his hands into his jacket pockets, heading in too.

Bellamy looks to Clarke, who shrugs. “You know she won’t back down. She’s just a prettier version of you.”

“How about this,” Bell offers, “Adam and Nate are always down for a party. We’ll check this place out, see if Jasper’s ID theory works, let O have a drink or two, then head back over to the apartments and everyone can celebrate there. Deal?”

It doesn’t matter what Clarke agrees to because she has as much control over Octavia as she does a wild bull, but it’ll placate Bellamy so she nods. “Let’s just get it over with.”

 ---

The inside of the bar is no different than the outside, no different than a thousand bargain dive bars across the country: wood paneling, chipping red and gold accent paint, dirt cheap drinks, and spindly tables and stools cramming most of the free space. The actual bar spans the length of one wall, and there’s a single pool table in the back, partially obscured by the crowd around it.

“You going to hustle anyone tonight, Griffin?” Bellamy asks, pointing the pool table out.

“Are you always going to be bitter about that?”

“I was drunk.”

“Still counts. And you were arrogant, that's why I did it.”

The crowd is more than they expected, more than the shoddy exterior would suggest. But it’s no surprise that a group of obviously overdressed college kids stands out against the blue- and no-collar patrons crammed into the room. Clarke points out her friends huddled at one end of the bar and she and Bellamy begin pushing their way through the crowd, avoiding the strange glares of the locals.

In addition to the attention of the usual bar patrons, their friends have already gained the bartender’s attention, as well: when they join the group, Clarke slides into a barstool on Bellamy’s left and pays little attention as the man takes her friends’ orders, until he gets to Octavia.

Everyone holds their breath.

“I’ll have a vodka martini. Please,” she adds demurely, looking up at the bartender through thick lashes.

“Wow,” he replies, “I don’t get that one here often. Don’t think I’ve touched a martini glass in weeks. I got you covered, though.” And he moves on down the line after giving her a little smile, without mentioning her ID.

“Classic Blake move,” Clarke mutters to Bellamy, who’s trying to hold back a proud grin.

Jasper looks downright triumphant.

Bellamy orders a beer, rather than his usual Jack and Coke. He still has every intention of getting the group back into his truck and getting Octavia back into more familiar territory, even if he has to give up a night out to do it.

As does Clarke. They’re by far the youngest in the place, dressed for a night downtown rather than a few beers after work. Perhaps her friends had been too enthusiastic about the night to notice, but she knew Bellamy had picked up on the same uncomfortable tension between them and the bar regulars. The sooner they could head back to their usual bar down the street from campus, the better.

And then the bartender fixes Clarke with dark eyes and an easy, charming grin. “And what can I get for you, Princess?”

He has her. She hadn’t noticed how attractive he was. The thoughts of the rest of the bar vanishing, Clarke cocks her head at the name and lets a practiced smile spread over her face.

“Just a beer,” she says, echoing a little of Octavia’s coyness. “Someone has to look out for my alcoholic friends.”

“Responsible. Well, that’s no fun,” he replies. “You’ll have to let me make you one of my signatures later.”

“I have pretty high standards.” But she’s smiling back as he slides her a beer.

“Good, you should. Hopefully I can meet them. I’m Finn, by the way.”

“Clarke. And we’ll see.”

The quirked eyebrow she gives him has worked plenty of times before and judging by the twinkle in his eyes, it’s working again tonight.

---

A group of grizzled men in jeans and muddy work boots wait impatiently at the other end of the bar, pulling Finn away as soon as he finishes the drinks. The voices and the music in the bar have picked up, so Clarke and her friends Clarke and her friends circle around each other, beaming with success.

“Okay, Clarke.” Octavia leans into her, easily the most excited of them all. “Flirting with the bartender already?”

“You know me better than that, Octavia,” Clarke backpedals, “Do you really think I’d steal your thunder?”

“You don’t need to steal it, it’s all yours. I just needed him to forget my ID; you’re the one who needs the stress relief. A few hours with the bartender after the place closes down and you’ll be—”

“Cheers!” Jasper saves her by thrusting his glass into the center of the group. Octavia pretends to ignore Clarke’s indignant glower. “A toast, to Octavia’s first dive bar adventure!”

“May we all remember it,” Monty adds, wistfully.

With laughs of agreement, they clink the glasses together and tilt their heads back for long first drinks. Clarke relishes the first taste of cheap beer after the week she’s had—she’s needed a night like this—but Octavia scoffs when she brings her martini away from her lips.

“Uh, is there even any alcohol in this?” she demands, confused. She offers the drink to Clarke, then to Monty, to taste. “I can barely taste anything!”

Monty chuckles. “Oh, my sweet summer child. Welcome to the world of legal drinking.” He throws an arm around her shoulder, which she promptly shrugs off with a fake glare. “Here, bartenders put the normal, recommended amount of alcohol in each glass.”

“At least it’s dirt cheap here. I mean, two dollar drafts?” says Jasper. He’ll be forever proud of himself for finding this place, with all its virtues. In fact, two blonde, long-legged virtues walk past and completely mesmerize him.

“You’re used to the drinks Bellamy makes,” Clarke explains when she sees Jasper and Monty’s attention is gone. Her group of friends has spent many a night passed out around a homemade beer pong table in the living room of Bellamy’s apartment on the nights he plays bartender. “Those drinks are equal alcohol and mixer, and taste like the stuff I used to sanitize at the hospital. That’s why bars aren’t usually the same horror show frat parties are.”

Most frat parties,” Bellamy interjects defensively. “My brothers and I throw some good ones. Speaking of, what’s the plan, Princess? We sticking around?”

Clarke nearly chokes on her beer. “What did you just call me?”

“What, the cute bartender guy can say it but I can’t?”

“He’s not an ass, Bell,” Octavia says plainly, taking a sip of her drink. Clarke grins at her in appreciation.

“Point taken.”

Bellamy flashes her the same arrogant smirk he’s worn since freshman year, back when he was insufferable. Luckily for him, though, he mostly does it in jest now. He’s come a long way in three years.

Nevertheless, Clarke rolls her eyes at him, her habit that has stuck in freshman year, then sends a glance down the bar at Finn. He’s been engaged with other customers for the last few minutes, laughing with them as he pours their shots, but he has sent more than one surreptitious look up the bar at her when he thinks she won’t notice.

She’s noticed.

She’s a senior in college. Passably cute. Definitely comfortable with a drink in her hand. This game is nothing new to her. For her first move, she pretends not to notice Finn’s attention and turns back to Bellamy.

“Yeah, let’s stay.”

Octavia lets out an immediate “yes!” and that’s probably what prevents Bellamy from protesting—he’s never been able to deny his sister. He instead settles for giving Clarke a withering look as he digs his phone out of his pocket and texts Adam and Nate, his other roommates, to tell them not to wait up.

Octavia’s not the only one who looks delighted; there’s a certain bounce in Finn’s step when he returns to find them in their seats again.

“Alright, everyone’s taken care of, so I’m all yours.” He’s speaking to the group but looking at Clarke. “What can I get for you?”

Clarke raises her beer, still half-full. Bellamy leans forward, with other plans: “Shots. Whiskey.”

“For everyone?”

“Hell yeah,” Octavia says. Jasper, Monty, and Murphy voice their agreement. Finn gives Clarke a questioning look.

“C’mon, Griffin,” Murphy drawls, sounding bored, “I remember when you used to be fun.”

“Do you remember the time I beat you by five seconds in the shotgun contest?” Clarke fires back, then she turns to Finn. “Fine. Shots.”

Jasper lets out a whoop and Finn is smiling at her again and it’s worth it.

Finn reaches below the bar and comes up with a handful of larger-than-normal shot glasses. “Wanna make them doubles? Oh come on,” he adds when he sees her start to balk, “you’re currently on pace for three beers for the night. Live a little, Princess.”

He holds that challenge as he pours and slides her the first glass. Never one to back down, for better or for worse, Clarke grabs it and downs the shot without hesitation and without diving for her beer after. She stares him down, victorious, even as she hisses at the taste of house whiskey.

Finn lets out a low whistle. “Alright,” he concedes, laughing, “Maybe I was wrong about you. Maybe you can hang with the locals out here.”

But Clarke’s not thinking about the regulars. She’s too focused on Octavia’s valiant attempt to hold back her grimace when she takes her shot; too focused on Jasper’s laughter at he tells the stories of all the times he and Monty barely avoided getting caught smoking weed in the dorms; on Murphy and Bellamy cheering along with the crowd when a baseball player on the only TV in the bar makes a diving catch. She’s too focused on the way Finn pushes a hand back through his dark hair and leans on the bar to talk to her over all the din. Too focused on all of it to let anything ruin this night with her favorite people.

“I can have fun,” she tells him, leaning back slightly and letting the whiskey burn down into her stomach. She finishes her beer and he starts pouring a second.

“I never doubted you, just wanted to see it. So, Arcadia University, yeah?”

“Wow, how did you figure that one out?”

He deflects the sarcasm with a laugh. “Not that I’m complaining, but how did you end up all the way over on this side of town?”

“We’re…” she looks sideways at Octavia, finishing the last of her martini. “We’re just trying new things.”

“Fair enough. So what are you studying at school?”

If she had a dollar for every time she’d been asked that question, she could buy this place and have money left over for better alcohol. Her answer is well-rehearsed: “The best way to work myself into an early grave, at this point. Bio,” she clarifies, when he raises an eyebrow. “Pre-med. Fourth year. Nothing but med school applications, volunteer hours, school, work…I need nights like this.”

“Uh, yeah.” He starts to laugh. “Yeah, you do. Now I understand why you’re so responsible—you don’t know how not to be.”

His laughter is not at all unwelcome, but she narrows her eyes at his words. “Wanna bet?”

“Wanna try one of my signatures?”

Well played. She really enjoys this game. It’s been too long since she last played.

“Signatures?”

The voice cuts through the music and clatter of the bar to interrupt them is brash, indignant, and undercut with amusement. Finn groans.

“The hell are you telling them? I’m only fifteen minutes late and you’re making signatures?

They turn to see a dark-haired girl pushing through the striding through the cutout that allows the bartenders behind the bar. She tosses her purse on a shelf below, then shrugs off a jacket, revealing bare shoulders and a tank top that is nearly too tight and definitely too low-cut.

The smirk on her face is all confidence in her appearance. And deservedly so.

Another older patron to their right speaks first, letting out a sigh of relief and smacking his hand on the bar. “Raven,” he says “Thank god you’re finally here.”

Finn rolls his eyes at the man. “Oh come on, Frank, it’s not like I messed up your Budweiser refills.”

“Yeah, but look at you. And look at her.”

The new girl, Raven, seems to have no problem with the comment and even Frank a sly wink. “Aw, thank you, Frank. You know how I love flattery. I’m still not knocking any of your drinks off your tab, but I love it. Thanks.”

She takes his tip and his empty glass before she turns to Finn, arching one eyebrow and fighting back a smile. “So, you’re making signature drinks, now, huh?”

Finn shrugs in response.

Striding forward, she shoos him out of the way and grabs the bottle of vodka he had been holding; she pours the shots with practiced flourish as Finn takes up the role of readying glasses for more drinks. Raven slides the shots over and leans on the bar to chat as the six friends throw them down.

“Finn’s a decent enough bartender to cover me for me between shifts when I’m running late—”

“Which is always,” Finn points out, good-naturedly.

“—and he’s just so nice.” Raven shoots him a sarcastic glare, before finishing: “But he’s still in training. I’m the head honcho here, at your service.”

Bellamy’s attention has at last been pulled from the baseball game. He swirls the last sips of his drink thoughtfully. “The ones he’s made us have been fine.”

Raven grins, licks the corner of her mouth. “You haven’t had mine yet. How about a Moscow Mule? Hold on one second, then I’ll hook you up.”

She smacks her hand on the bar, jarring him—Bellamy’s senses may have been a little dulled, be it by the gorgeous new bartender or the alcohol—before she bounces away, heading to the far side of the bar and leaning out over it, calling to the crowd that has been occupying the pool table all night.

“Hey! You guys good, or you want another round?”

“Oh good, you’re here,” one of the guys calls back, raising his glass without turning to look at her. “The usual. And get me something top-shelf this time, Raven.”

“We only have one shelf, as always, Gus.” She returns to the group, looking satisfied, and starts pouring beers for a few other impatient customers up and down the bar.

“They have that joke every night,” Finn mutters.

“Yes we do. Stand-up comedy every night, all night, so you all might as well start tipping me now. So what are we drinking?”

She talks Monty out of another beer and into a gin and tonic, Murphy into a Manhattan, and the entire group into an extra round of shots with their new drinks. Between the extra tips she must get and her ability to get people to purchase the more expensive mixed drinks, Clarke understands how this place stays afloat.

Despite Raven’s charm, Clarke looks to Finn when it comes time for her drink order. “Just surprise me,” she tells him. “I want to see what you can do.”

“Damn, Clarke. Get it,” Octavia whispers in her ear when Finn turns to grab a bottle from the shelf on the wall behind the bar.

“Stress relief,” she murmurs back, all smiles.

“Now help me find someone to take home.” Her hazy eyes dance across the crowd, alighting on a number of men that Sober Octavia would never consider. This is her default intoxicated mode. She’s nineteen and craves the freedom to make poor decisions.

Clarke, however, is twenty-two. She knows better. She scoffs to regain Octavia’s attention. “Yeah right, Bellamy’d kill him. And then me.”

“Fffffuck Bellamy,” Octavia exclaims, louder than she realizes; Bellamy’s head whips around at the sound of his name. Clarke waves him off and pats Octavia’s thigh to quiet her. “No, no, Clarke, don’t actually fuck him.”

“You got it, O.”

 ---

Raven quickly proves herself to be more than worthy of all the extra tips; she’s splashing alcohol into multiple glasses at once with effortless accuracy, adding mixer with the other hand, sliding the completed drinks down the bar, all while chatting up Jasper and Monty.

Finn hands her a tall glass of something sparkling and strong, like champagne and vodka and some fruit that she’s too drunk to name. She’s felt the alcohol seep in over just the last few minutes, taking the edge off her consciousness and making everything lighter, warmer, blurred. She feels good. Better than she’s felt in a while.

Then she notices Bellamy’s red face, as he laughs at something Raven says and throws another drink back. He’s had far more than she has. Clarke reaches over and grabs his arm before he can replace the empty shot glass with the full one in front of him.

“Hey! You drove here, genius. How are you planning on getting everyone home? Where are your keys?”

Bellamy digs into his pocket, but pulls out his phone instead of the keys. He waves it for her. “Relax, Princess, Nate and Adam. I told them we’re staying, they said they’d come pick us and my truck up. They owe me one anyway.”

Still wary, Clarke releases Bellamy and allows herself to be appeased by his confident smile, though she maintains the glare for the nickname. Raven appears in front of her, holding two shots like a peace offering. She hands one to Clarke; then, surprisingly, throws back the second herself.

“So, you’re not from this part of town, clearly.” She grimaces against the alcohol burn. “Arcadia? Juniors, seniors?”

“Seniors.”

“Me too. Double major in mechanical and aerospace engineering.”

“Wait, what?” Monty demands, shaking his head to clear the alcohol haze.

“I’m one of you, Monty,” Raven says with a grin.

Finn speaks up. “Usually, locals aren’t really fans of college kids. Raven’s the only exception to that rule.”

“She’s the smartest bartender I ever met, that one.” It’s Frank again. And he has clearly seen his fair share of bartenders.

“That’s sweet, Frank. Alright, fine, your next beer is on the house. You know how to play me.”

Monty, majoring in electrical engineering, still has confusion written all over his face, as if he hadn’t heard Raven correctly the first time. He waves his hand to regain her attention. “Wait. Mech and aero? How the hell are you handling that workload?”

Raven’s face tinges with embarrassment and a hint of pride. “Well, it’s taken me like six years so far.”

“You also did a semester internship with NASA last year,” Finn points out.

“Yeah, filing and making coffee. Like every other intern across this wonderful country.”

“Ugh,” Clarke groans, “Amen to that.”

“This is much more fun, isn’t it? C’mon, my turn to make you a drink.” Without waiting for a response, Raven starts grabbing bottles. “You’ll probably still break my heart and pick Finn over me, but I’ll try anyway.”

Clarke shrugs, but Octavia smirks and raises an eyebrow. “You never know, with Clarke.”

Taking an order three customers down, Finn flashes Clarke a raised eyebrow and receives an angelic smile in response.

Raven has the next round of drinks out a few minutes later—and yes, whatever she makes Clarke is damn good—and she lingers in front of the group, wiping down the already water-stained bar, moving absentmindedly to the beat of the music. Bellamy watches her for a moment, then speaks up.

“So, NASA, huh? What’s a future astronaut doing in a shitty place like this?”

He’s more than a little drunk. It’s evident in his voice, in his face, in the number of shots he’s thrown back. Clarke winces when she sees the way Raven jaw clench.

Pulling in a deep breath, Raven polishes the bar for another few seconds before she turns to him; she has unclenched her jaw, but she fixes Bellamy with a defensive glare. “Clearly, I could ask the same of you. Minus the future astronaut part. Why are you sitting in this shitty place?”

It clicks for him after a moment and Bellamy flushes red with embarrassment. “I-I didn’t mean—” But when Raven’s cool gaze doesn’t soften under his foundering. When he realizes he lacks the articulation to apologize, Bellamy raises his hands in surrender, backing away from the bar. “I’m—”

He backs right into another customer, sending a drink crashing to the floor. Clarke sees it all coming from a mile away—she knows Bellamy is drunk and uncomfortable and edgy and she knows his next action before he does it. She jumps to her feet, any drunken unsteadiness gone, but Bellamy has already spun around.

“Come on, man, pay attention to where you’re walking!”

Not the wisest move.

The guy draws himself up to his full height, a half-head taller than the already tall Bellamy. If that weren’t intimidating enough, he has the lean, hungry look of an athlete, packed with muscle throughout his body. His scarred knuckles curl into fists.

“What did you say?” he asks.

 “I said, watch where you’re going. And you should keep a better hold on your drink."

“I don’t take shit from kids who don’t belong in my bar.” Every word is a threat. Bellamy’s whole body tenses.

“Then back off,” Bellamy dares.

The rest of the group suddenly picks up on what’s happening; they all move at once. Murphy is on his feet, ready. Jasper eyes an empty bottle within his reach. His fingers twitch. Octavia reaches forward and twists her hand into the back of Bellamy’s shirt—Bellamy doesn’t seem to feel it.

“Bell,” Octavia warns, softly.

Clarke is at his side, trying to gain his attention. “Bellamy, come on. We’re fine. Sit down.”

“Hey. Chill the fuck out.” It’s Raven, hard and serious. “I swear to god, any blood hits my bar’s floor and I’ll kick both your asses.”

Neither of the men seem to hear any of it. The other man lifts his head, exposing his throat, daring Bellamy, while every muscle stands taut and ready to snap.

Lincoln.”

It comes from the back of the bar, loud enough to carry over the head of every customer but somehow low and threatening, a warning call. Clarke blinks in surprise when the man’s body relaxes and he steps back in response to the voice.

She’s even more surprised when she registers that the voice was feminine.

No one moves except for the man, who gives Bellamy one last snarl before turning and stalking back to the pool table. The crowd parts to let him through. When he takes a seat at a table against the far wall, they see the table’s other occupant through the space in the crowd: the girl who called him back.

Most of the bar clientele has no idea what almost happened and continue their drinking and arguing and laughing without interruption. Gradually, Clarke’s friends allow themselves to release the tension in their muscles and they ease back to the bar, quiet among each other. Bellamy assures Octavia he’s fine.

Finn leans forward, muttering almost into Clarke’s ear.

“Like I said,” he tells her, voice low, “The locals aren’t fans of college kids. This is their neighborhood bar. They can get…territorial.”

Clarke studies the girl who stopped the fight before it began. She’s all dark hair and dark eyeliner and dark alcohol. Clarke can see what he’s saying—the way the girl slouches back with her drink cradled against her shoulder, Clarke thinks she’s never seen anyone wearing skinny jeans look so regal and so dangerous at the same time. The glare etched into her face is a clear warning for anyone who might step forward to her.

But the vodka has thinned Clarke’s blood; she’s always been brazen and right now she can’t take that warning as anything less than a challenge.

She grabs Octavia’s wrist and pulls her forward. “C’mon.”

The walk over is shorter than she thought—the girl watches her approach every step of the way—so Clarke doesn’t really have time to come up with anything to say before they’re standing in front of her.

Clarke freezes, trying to come up with something.

“Uh, hi.”

The girl raises an eyebrow without response. Next to her, the man who nearly destroyed Bellamy is equally reticent.

“I’m Clarke, and this is Octavia.”

They nod. “Lexa,” she says. “You met Lincoln.”

It’s not exactly welcoming. They fall silent, and she flicks her gaze up and down Clarke’s body, waiting expectantly.

Clarke is doing the same. In fact, though she blames her own wretched communication skills partially on the vodka, she’s also struck dumb by how good this girl—Lexa—looks as she reclines in her chair as if it’s a throne, fingers resting around her glass on the table. She’s lean, toned, with long legs kicked up on the chair in front of her. A white t-shirt a size too big hangs loose from her slim body; beneath the collar, the edge of a black tattoo is just barely visible, accentuating the shape of her collarbone and reaching up over her shoulder to her back.

An artist herself, Clarke has a wild urge to reach forward and pull at the collar of the shirt, to reveal more of the interesting tattoo. She says a prayer of thanks that she had declined the multiple shots Jasper had tried to get her to take earlier.

Nonetheless, against the nonchalant style of this girl, Clarke feels suddenly self-conscious, overdressed in her short skirt and silk top. She’s out of her depth here—a rare experience. She would have continued gaping dumbly had Octavia not elbowed her in the side.

“We, uh…we just wanted to apologize. For what happened.”

Octavia steps forward with an apologetic smile, far more eloquent. “Yeah, my brother can be a bit of an ass,” she tells Lincoln. “Don’t take it personally.”

“And we wanted to thank you for calling it off,” Clarke adds, giving Lexa a half-smile. It vanishes when it’s unreturned. “It...wouldn’t have been a pretty fight, at all.”

“It wouldn’t have,” Lexa agrees evenly. “Lincoln’s one of the best fighters in the neighborhood.”

And he has a whole cadre of grizzled, muscular friends standing behind him—all of whom, Clarke realizes, have stopped what they’re doing to watch this conversation. As if another fight is about to break out.

Clarke forces herself to ignore them, giving Lincoln a quick glance before returning her attention to Lexa. Octavia is doing enough staring for the both of them anyway.

“He looks like one. We—”

“Maybe if you’re looking to get in bar fights, Clarke, you should stay closer to the university. Where you can win them.”

Irritation sparks up into Clarke’s chest. “No one was looking for a fight. We’re just here to have a drink.”

“Fine.” Lifting her drink, something plain and dark in a lowball glass, Lexa heaves a sigh of impatience. “We get a few Arcadia kids down here at the beginning of every semester. They all want to look cool by coming to the shitty bar in the shitty neighborhood, instead of your usual clubs. Then they realize they don’t really fit in with the people who actually grew up in this neighborhood, and they don’t come back. I’ll save you the trouble of figuring that out for yourself.”

A half-dozen possible replies jump to her lips, borne of mingled resentment for and attraction to this girl and the aloof, arrogant gaze she fixes Clarke with. Her instinct wants to make Lexa smile, but her wounded pride wants to see Lexa taken down a peg.

But before she can decide either way, she feels Octavia stiffen next to her. Clarke knows that a Blake with lowered inhibitions, regardless of gender, is not an ingredient she wants added to this situation, so she speaks up before Octavia can say something stupid.

“Regardless. We’ll buy your next drink.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

She bites her tongue to compose herself. “Again,” she forces out, this time to Lincoln. “Sorry.”

Neither Lexa nor Lincoln respond. In fact, Lincoln hasn’t said a damn word. Clarke grabs Octavia’s wrist again and pulls her away, bristling with irritation and a hot prickling of embarrassment.

“Okay,” Octavia says, when they’re a safe distance away, “What a bitch. The guy was hot, though. Maybe I should flirt with him, that would piss her off.”

“We just avoided a barfight, O, let’s not give your brother a reason to start another.”

But when they return to the group, Bellamy looks on the edge of a fight anyway. “What were you doing with them?” he asks, jaw tight.

“Apologizing for you,” Clarke replies with a shrug, slipping past him to slide into a barstool. She’s dealt with combative Bellamy Blake before, nothing she can’t handle. A few minutes of simmering, and he’ll be fine.

Octavia, on the other hand, has already gotten over her irritation; she’s grinning like she just got off a roller coaster. “Clarke Griffin here isn’t quite the diplomat she thought she was.”

“Whatever,” Bellamy concedes. “Nate and Adam are on their way, they’ll be here soon. Let’s take care of the tabs. I want to get out of here.”

Clarke can’t say she doesn’t feel the same.

She casts a glance back of her shoulder.

Lexa is still nursing the same drink, watching Clarke over the rim of the glass with a barely concealed challenge in her eyes. You don’t belong here. And Clarke would take that challenge ninety-nine times out of a hundred. But not tonight. She keeps her face even and holds Lexa’s glare a little longer just to let her know that, then turns away.

“Yeah, it’s time to go.”

“Aw, you’re leaving?”

It’s Finn, just striding into earshot. When they nod and start pulling out cash to settle their tabs, he offers, “C’mon, just one more beer. You’ve been the highlight of my night.” The last part he directs at Clarke, and it soothes a bit of the burn that the conversation with Lexa left in her throat.

“Just one,” she says, begrudgingly.

Raven appears and starts settling out the tabs while Finn pours the final drinks of the night. Octavia takes her beer and tries to hand the extra three dollars to Raven, but the bartender pulls away. “Don’t worry about this last one, it’s paid for.”

Octavia’s brow knits in confusion.

“I guess Linc accepted your apology,” Raven says, nodding to the end of the bar. Lincoln is leaning there, watching the scene across the room intently; he inclines his head slightly when Octavia gives him an unsteady, shy smile of thanks.

When she sees that, Clarke flushes with relief. “Oh good, we—”

“Not yours, Blondie.” A full smirk now erupts over Raven’s face; she bites down on the tip of her tongue in an attempt to hold it back. “He only paid for hers. Sorry. You still owe me three bucks, that’s our best draft.”

Her friends erupt into drunk laughter around her. Clarke tries—and fails—to look dignified as she slowly accepts the beer and at least the bartender has the grace to bite back her amusement. Even Finn is laughing. Clarke ignores them all as she sips her drink, until Bellamy steps forward to pay for it for her.

She gives a noise of protest that he just rolls his eyes at. “Don’t give me that, Princess, you know the rule.”

“You’re arguing a free drink rule?” Finn asks.

“It’s not a rule, it’s his crazy tradition,” Clarke clarifies. “Every time we go out, no matter where we are—he buys me a drink.”

Octavia snorts. “He should. He owes you.”

“Forever,” Bellamy agrees.

Clarke is rolling her eyes again, shaking her head, so Jasper sits forward to explain it to Finn. “She saved his ass from getting kicked out of school back when we were freshman. They hated each other, and she still saved him.”

“What did he do?”

“A hell of a party.” Despite the events of that night, Bellamy sounds almost wistful— until he receives a sharp elbow to the ribs, courtesy Clarke.

Finn, however, is intrigued; no one else says anything more, so he waits until Clarke finishes her drink and gains her attention.

“I’ll have to hear that story. How about next time you come back?”

She sets her empty glass on the bar, eager to leave. “Deal.”

 ---

Nate and Adam await them outside by the time the group finishes their beers; Bellamy throws a few extra dollars more than the required tip on the bar, and leads his friends through the crowd of locals and out into the cool night air. Eleven PM is still relatively early, but the last half hour bled them of any desire to continue the party. They pile into the two cars, eyelids heavy and limbs unwieldy, looking forward to the comfort of passing out in their own beds.

In the front seat, Adam and Bellamy talk quietly about the bar—Raven, Finn, the cheap booze, the angry regulars, the way Lincoln paid for Octavia’s final drink. Clarke knows that last story is deliberate on Bellamy’s part: Adam’s had a thing for Octavia since the first time she slept over on their couch her freshman year. Even in her hazy state, Clarke rolls her eyes.

“So should I brush up on my street fighting so I can go with you guys next weekend?” Adam asks.

“Not worth it to go back.” Bellamy raises his voice to extend the conversation to the backseat. “We’ll get you a fake ID or something, O,” he offers, trying to sound pragmatic despite his slurred words.

Octavia, eyes closed, makes a noise of agreement and lolls her head on to Clarke’s shoulder.

“I know a guy,” Murphy mumbles against the window.

“’Course you do. See, Murphy knows a guy. We won’t need to go back to that place.”

--- 

Exactly one week later, the next Friday night, Clarke receives a text from Octavia.

Octavia [6:49 PM]: Let’s go back to that place.

Chapter Text

Octavia [6:49 PM]: Let’s go back to that place.

She heaves a defeated sigh.

Clarke [6:52]: What place

Octavia’s answer is almost instant.

O [6:52]: You know what place.

O [6:52]: The captain’s room.

She can’t see her desk beneath the textbook, two notebooks, loose papers, and pile of highlighted vocabulary cards scattered across it, though she knows somewhere among the mess are two half-finished lap report write-ups—both due on the same day because she had the bright idea to take cardiorespiratory physiology and endocrinology back-to-back on Thursdays.

It’s all work she needs to take care of this weekend or else surrender her life plan of becoming a surgeon and resign herself to a life drinking in tiny dive bars on the wrong side of town.

C [6:58]: I have so much to do though

It’s a valiant try. But even the best argument is useless against Octavia Blake.

O [7:00]: Clarke, come on. You have the whole weekend, and you don’t even need to drink a bunch tonight, just a few beers. You cant tell me you don’t want to see that hot bartender again

She looks from her phone to the stack of papers on her desk. Then the phone. Then the papers. She thinks about her future a fair bit, then realizes she’s just delaying the inevitable answer.

C [7:04]: Fine

O [7:05]: You are the best, C. Griff. Don’t tell Bell we’re going, he’ll kill me. I’ll text some people, be ready to go in an hour, pregame at your place

O [7:05]: make sure you look hot too

Clarke tries to be rueful as she pushes her chair away from her desk, but deep down, she knows she needs this. A few hours holding a beer instead of studying the biomechanics of a wrist and fingers holding a beer will do her good. In accordance with Octavia’s last text, Clarke takes extra time on her make-up. And with each minute she spends getting ready, her excitement to go out grows.

She’ll have to buy Octavia a drink for this.

 ---

No Bellamy means no car, which ends up for the better after Octavia does a quick public transit search and finds that the city train has a station just a few minutes from The Captain’s Room—it means everyone in the crew she’s rounded up can drink in Clarke’s apartment before they leave.

The four shots Clarke takes kick in sometime during the half-hour train ride, leaving her buzzing and pleasantly warm. Soon enough, she can’t bite back a smile at her friends. This week, Bellamy and Murphy have been replaced by two of Octavia’s teammates, Monroe and Fox, who are always a good time. The return of Monty and Jasper rounds out the group perfectly.

There’s a growing sense of anticipation between the six of them for the hours ahead—a good pregame foretells a good night out—as the train gets farther from the city center and the suburbanites getting off work empty out at each stop. By the time they’ve reached the far west side of town, they’re surrounded by empty orange seats and Clarke’s feeling the full effects of the alcohol, her confidence straddling arrogance.

She struts into the building at the head of the group this time, instinctively scanning the room. Finn and Raven are both animated behind the bar. The crowd is thinner than last weekend but the usual suspects are unchanged. And in the back, where her gaze settles, she spots the same group clustered around the pool table and stands a little taller.

She picks out Lexa immediately, even though the girl has her back to the front door. She’s arched over the pool table, readying a shot. Clarke’s bites her lip, strangely disappointed. She had traded in her skirt for jeans, ditched the jewelry, left her hair down—she is far more prepared for the atmosphere of The Captain’s Room now than she had been last week.

And at the very least, she would have liked to frustrate Lexa with her triumphant return.

Oh well. The way Finn’s face lights up when he spots her is a welcome new attraction and she makes her way in that direction.

“Oh, you have no idea how much better my night just got,” he calls at her approach, clearing a half-dozen abandoned glasses to free up the seats in front of him. Clarke returns the sentiment with a sly smile.

“So that means I’m drinking for free, right?”

“I don’t know if I want to risk Raven’s wrath when it comes to giving out free drinks…” He teases.

“I’m probably worth it.”

“…Maybe we’ll just keep it between us then,” he relents with a laugh.

Once there’s a drink in her hand, poured heavy to compensate for the fading effects of her pregame shots, Clarke relaxes. She introduces the new additions to the group, Monroe and Fox, two of Octavia’s teammates, and slips into easy conversation with Finn as the group settles into the evening. With Raven holding down the majority of the crowd, Finn’s free to work in front of Clarke, entertaining her with anecdotes about the more colorful regulars.

“And Gus, there.” He points out a burly man standing like a bored sentry in the back of the bar. “He once shrugged off a taser, right in the back alley here. Just kept standing when it shocked him.”

“Who the hell tasered him?” Clarke asks.

“Raven.” Finn laughs. “It was a bet. He got a free weekend of drinking for it.”

“I find it hard to believe Raven made that bet.”

“Eh. She was new here.”

Laughing, Clarke tries to imagine Raven facing off with and tasering the man Finn pointed out. Her eyes rest on Gus for only a few seconds, before sliding to the figure at his left: Lexa.

She’s finished her pool game and now stands in a conversation with a few friends, open and available for Clarke to study. She looks so slight in the smoky back section of the bar, surrounded by men who tower over her and women who look like they could match those men in a fight. Clarke wonders how she didn’t spot Lexa in the first place last week. Then again, though, at first glance she may look woefully out of place, but just a few minutes of observation shows that she seems to glide through the crowd with blasé confidence, the best of all of them. They laugh when she laughs, they scowl the instant she darkens. She doesn’t just fit, she thrives.

“Are you thinking about trying to make friends again?” Finn asks, recapturing Clarke’s attention. There’s a smirk on his face—he hasn’t forgotten last weekend’s diplomatic disaster any more than she has—and she lets herself get lost in the curve of that smile in order to forget about Lexa.

“Maybe I’m planning an attack,” she warns.

He hands her a new drink. “Well, see if this makes you any more peaceful first.”

“Vodka never does.”

“Good to know.”

At long last, Raven disengages from bantering with a few guys down the bar and ventures over, shouldering into Finn with a nod at Clarke and her friends. She’s tucking a decent tip into her back pocket.

“What’s up, guys? And where’s your tall handsome friend?”

Jasper exaggerates clearing his throat. “I’m right here,” he says, leaning onto the bar and giving a flirtatious raise of his eyebrows. “At your service.”

Monroe groans, Clarke boos, and Jasper drops the façade in laughter. He and Monty exchange high-fives.

Raven, however, just winks at him, smirking a little. “And I’m glad for it, handsome. Better than the usuals we get in here. But I’m talking about the other one. Dark-haired. Whiskey drinker. Uh, angry.”

“Bellamy,” Clarke clarifies.

“Yeah, Bellamy. He want a job here? He doesn’t have to know what he’s doing.” She pats Finn’s chest. “Since Finn here is leaving me, I just need some new mancandy for the female tippers.”

Clarke looks to Finn in surprise; he has focused all his attention on slicing limes at the perfect angle. “You’re leaving?”

He nods without looking up. “My mom’s sick, back east. I’m moving back to help my sister take care of her. Nothing too bad, I just need to be out there.”

“Oh.” She thought she’d at least get a few fun, easy dates out of this. Nothing too complicated. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, it’ll be fine. But, uh, tonight’s my last shift.” Her disappointment must be visible on her face because when he glances at her, Finn smiles and makes her an offer. “Stick around, after I’m done? We can talk.”

“Sure.”

She can do more than that; at the very least, he can have her number. Perhaps a simple night out can still be salvaged.

The conversation lulls, with Jasper trying to convince Fox to play wingwoman, so Clarke pulls out her phone to busy herself. There’s a text from Bellamy on the screen.

Bellamy [8:41 PM]: Sooo, everyone headed out without me, huh?

Clarke [8:53  PM]: We figured you and Murphy wanted a date night

B [8:55 PM]: He stood me up

C [8:56 PM]: Well, I guess now you can study for that huge test Octavia said you have

B [8:57 PM]: thx for reminding me. Three weeks into the semester and 20% of my grade. bullshit

C [8:57 PM]: Bummmmer

B [9:00 PM]: Where you at?

Clarke considers telling him, and then she envisions the vein bursting in his forehead when he finds out where his sister is.

C [9:03 PM]: party hopping over on Hawthorne. Nothing fun going on so its more like wandering

B [9:05 PM]: Well, we’re putting something together tomorrow night. You better be there

She thinks about the massive pile of work she has already abandoned once this weekend.

C [9:09 PM]: Wouldn’t miss it.

B [9:12 PM]: Take care of O for me, will you?

At this, Clarke rolls her eyes to her right to groan at Octavia about her brother. There must be some secret near-death experience in her childhood that neither of the Blakes will speak about. But Octavia’s gone—nowhere in the vicinity. Clarke realizes she doesn’t know how long Octavia’s chair has been empty, either. She’s always had a preternatural talent for disappearing at frat parties, of course, but why even bother dragging everyone back here if she wasn’t going to drink with them?

“Monty, where’s O?”

Monty points. Then Clarke understands.

Octavia’s in one corner of the bar, wrapped in the guy from last week, Lincoln; her back is pressed against the wall, her hands fisted in his t-shirt, her lips glued to his. But despite the way he towers over her, it’s very clear that she is the one leading the kiss.

After a half-second of shock, Clarke nearly starts laughing, all alarm gone.

C [9:04 PM]: She’s fine

It shows a wonderful amount of restraint. Without waiting for a response, Clarke shoves her phone back into her purse and whips around to face the bar, where Raven waits with the expectant gaze of a veteran bartender. Clarke needs one, because if Octavia’s having fun, she might as well, too.

“Alright, time for a stronger drink. What’re you best at making?”

“Knew you’d come around, Griffin.”

It’s clear Raven doesn’t get much opportunity to showcase her drink-making skills—this crowd isn’t the type to appreciate anything more complicated than a jack and coke—so she overcompensates by crafting a labor-intensive mojito with scientific precision and artistic flair.

Once Clarke takes a sip and gives Raven an appreciative nod, she moves onto to the next round of drinks, pouring red and blue alcohol into shot glasses too quickly for anyone to read the labels on the bottles.

“I call it Hydrazine,” Raven says proudly, topping the purple shots off with dashes of vodka. When she’s met with blank stares, her grin turns to a grimace. “C’mon, seriously? I can’t believe I have to explain this every time. Hydrazine is rocket fuel. Red absinthe, blue curacao, a little high-proof vodka floated on top for the burn. If we were up at one of your fancy college bars, I’d even light it on fire for you.”

Shrugging, Clarke throws back the shot. She nearly chokes—Raven might as well have set it on fire, the way it burns her throat going down.

“Oh my god,” she gasps out, giving the bartender a look of betrayal and disgust. All Raven can do is laugh.

“Averages to around a hundred and forty proof, baby. Don’t worry, once you have a few, you get used to them.”

“Hydrazine, huh?” Monty pulls his wallet from his pocket, fishes out a twenty, and throws it on the bar. “What other drinks do you have that’ll blow people up?” It’s more than enough to pay for another round of shots, but he waves her off when she offers him the change.

Raven pockets the big tip, grinning. “See, you appreciate me, Monty. You guys need to stick around.”

“Engineers, right?” Monty says; he high-fives her over the bar.

Monty draws Raven into conversation about senior project topics, which Clarke follows for about forty-five seconds before their mutual geekiness loses her and she casts around for something else to do. As they’ve been doing all night, her eyes alight on the back of the bar—except this time, she finds the area around the pool table surprisingly empty. She looks around. She can’t find Lexa anywhere. Invigorated by this, she downs the shot Monty paid for and grabs Jasper and Monroe.

“C’mon, we’re playing pool!”

“Hold on—”

She already has a cue in her hands. “You two against me,” she says, resisting the urge to twirl it. She probably still has the advantage, and Jasper knows it, but Monroe is a new victim.

“You’re on,” she replies, college-athlete competitiveness surging. “C’mon, Jasper.”

They lose the first game. Monroe writes it off as being distracted—by what, she can’t say. As the second game draws to a close, she realizes what Jasper already knew and by that point, Clarke is just screwing around, setting up trick shots and laughing as she tells them, “At least you’re sober enough to not bet me.”

She jumps the cue ball over another and laughs as it sends her final shot into the corner pocket, sealing the game. It’s a talent she discovered in high school and if she could milk it for money, she would, but mostly it’s good for party tricks.

And impressing bartenders, she realizes, when she looks up and sees Finn applauding. This time she does twirl the pool cue with a cocky smile.

Finn has set three beers on the table nearest them, enticing them over. “You know they basically own that pool table, right? Lexa’s been a part of this bar longer than I have.”

Clarke rolls her eyes, so hard that maybe the room tilts a little under her feet. Or maybe it’s the alcohol. Nonetheless, “I’d like to see her try to take it back.”

Raven lets loose a bark of laughter from farther up the bar. “Please tell me when the dance-off is going to start! God knows we could use some entertainment.”

Unperturbed, Clarke uses all her drunk eloquence to persuade her friends into a third game that starts as well as the last two did. In fact, the first time she scuffs a shot, it’s on purpose: as Finn had hinted at, the regulars have started returning to their posts around the pool table. She can feel their eyes on her and her friends. More importantly, she can see Lexa seated nearby, face emotionless as she observes.

So Clarke takes her time. She beats Jasper and Monroe handily, without flash, but she takes her sweet time about doing it.

When they’re done, Clarke would play another five games if she could, but sobriety looms. She hands the pool cue off to someone behind her and leads her friends back to the bar; they’re feeling light, bobbing to the music as they walk, laughing.

“Alright, Raven,” Clarke says, grinning when they return.

“What’s up next, blondie?”

“Vodka soda.” And hell, she feels good, so: “And the six? The six or so, around the pool table…” she points them out unnecessarily. “I’ll pay for their next round.”

“Even Lexa?” Raven smirks.

Especially Lexa.”

“I’ll let them know.” When she pulls away, she mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “college girls.”

Clarke toys with a cherry stem, knotting it and unknotting it with her tongue as she waits for her friends to regroup. Another useless, party-trick talent that speaks to the time she’s spent in bars. After a few minutes, Raven captures her attention when she walks past with a tray of drinks bound for the back of the bar. She watches Lexa take one, watches Raven say something to her.

Watches Lexa’s gaze flick over to Clarke and Clarke realizes she’s holding her breath.

(She lets it out, frowning a little at herself.)

Beyond the glance, Lexa gives no other acknowledgement when she gets her drink; naturally, neither does the rest of the group. They step back from the bar with their drinks and return to their game and Lexa even sets the drink aside without tasting it.

It’s infuriating in an odd way; they accepted an olive branch and then were too proud to use it. It’s the first little wrinkle in her otherwise smooth night. But, whatever. She has more important things to entertain herself with than gaining the approval of a girl she hardly knows. Fox has returned from her foray to the jukebox, promising a series of good songs. A quick search for Octavia reveals her to be in the same place, with the same guy.

And Monty’s doing card tricks now, bouncing between patrons and trying to earn a laugh, with Jasper following as his narrator. Clarke knows she should probably reign them in but she’s laughing too, light-headed, happy, floating.

She watches a couple whispering together in one of the three booths along the opposite wall. Then her gaze follows a man who stumbles by, somehow miraculously avoiding spilling any of his beer. She does a scan for her friends, makes sure they’re okay, then amuses herself again with the crowd. The time passes unnoticed this way.

But in the end, all her people watching always draws her back to the same spot, the same girl with the same drink that has at this point maybe had one or two sips taken out of it. Clarke has finished three whole vodka sodas by now.

Isn’t that a rude thing to do? Not drink something someone buys for you?

Admittedly, she can’t remember the specifics of that piece of social etiquette but she’s pretty sure it’s rude. At least, it is in her book.

It’s all Bellamy’s fault, really, if he hadn’t started a fight with Octavia’s current toy, Lexa wouldn’t be so…

She still won’t drink it. Stupid proud local.

Should she go over and say something?

She’s really not sure if the first words out of her mouth would be flirting or fighting. The vodka in her system as left her on a dangerous knife-edge between the two whenever she finds herself looking over at the girl.

Something else enters her consciousness, her field of vision. Long, shiny dark hair, sharp cheekbones—Octavia. Octavia’s back. Clarke furrows her brow and focuses hard to bring herself back to the present and away from her resentment.

“Heyyy, O,” she says, corners of her mouth twitching. “How is your first taste of oxygen in over two hours?”

“So damn good,” Octavia says, still a little breathless, as she relieves Clarke of her beer and takes a long drink. She hands back the empty glass, ignoring Clarke’s blurry-eyed glare.

“Din’it even have the dignity to get drunk with us.” Jasper swing into the group, catching himself on Monty’s shoulder. He waves a finger at Octavia. “I’m disappointed, Blake.”

Fox grins. “She had bigger things on her mind.”

“Much bigger, as far as I could tell,” Octavia says with a wink at her teammate. Her kiss-swollen lips spread into a smirk when her friends groan in unison.

“Raven! Octavia’s sober!” Jasper calls, still offended and trying to drown out that conversation before it can progress any further. Raven appears automatically.

“What’re we going to do about it, then?”

“Hydrazine, my dear.”

“Hydrawhat?” Octavia asks.

Raven, looking particularly mischievous, takes Clarke’s empty beer glass and mixes more than a double shot of her purple signature and hands it to Octavia and Clarke wants to warn her, but her lips are too numb to form anything except a soft giggle.

Octavia throws the shot back and somehow manages to keep a straight face when she does it—though her fist clenches hard for several seconds. She puts the empty glass down on the bar with a casual shrug.

“Damn, Octavia. First you get Lincoln, now you’re downing my signature shot like you’ve done it all your life. Are you sure you’re not from this neighborhood? You’re a champ.”

Stoking her pride is one way to encourage another round of shots; stoking competition between teammates and friends is another. Soon enough, the entire group is ordering more Hydrazine shots even as the clock ticks past midnight.

But by the time Octavia’s first wave of intoxication hits, the night dips downward. Monroe’s tapping out: “Some guy just grabbed my ass and I’m about to kick his for it.” And Monty has reached the point where he’s starting to hit on girls with equal frequency as Jasper, and Clarke knows even now that when they hit that point, it’s time to retreat. It takes some effort to corral them all, but even Octavia’s willing to head for the door once she realizes the room is spinning around her. Eventually, they’re all leaning on each other in the cold night air. Home.

 ---

The rhythmic clacking of the train over the tracks and the back-and-forth rocking of the car is dangerous at this point in the evening, as evidenced by the way her friends splay out on the benches around the empty car. They passed out almost the minute the train started moving.

Clarke fights to stay awake, only because she knows that if she doesn’t, this group will miss their stop and sleep the night away as the train does circuits around the city.

Octavia is the only other person not laying across multiple chairs. Instead, she’s nestled into Clarke’s shoulder, eyes shut, in one of her rare displays of drunken affection.

“Clarrrrrke,” she mumbles. “I always wanted a big sister.”

And Clarke always wanted a younger sister but another sibling is the last thing Octavia Blake needs. She shrugs her shoulder in lazy response and Octavia’s head bobs, earning a groan.

“You dick.”

That’s more like it.

“I really….” Octavia takes a heavy breath. “I…like Lincoln. He’s nice.”

“Is he?” Clarke murmurs back. “I didn’t see you talking.”

She catches a few syllables of some slurred obscenities, and then, more clearly: “Well we did. He’s very nice, Clarke.”

“Mm. Good,” she replies. Octavia’s voice is too dreamy to justify mentioning what had happened between Bellamy and Lincoln before.

“Very nice,” she repeats.

“Maybe we can go back sometime and you can…talk some more.”

“Don’t need to,” she whispers through a smirk, “Got his number.”

“Wha?” Clarke furrows her brow.

“We’re hanging out tomorrow night.”

“Bell’s party…”

“At Bell’s party. Because let me tell you something, Clarke Griffin, my brother does not control me. I do what I want. How I want. Or when. Whatever.”

Clarke shushes her, patting her knee to placate her, because Octavia adores the drama of an inspirational speech and has the tendency to launch into them whenever possible. Clarke has heard the one about independence a few too many times. Octavia falls quiet after a moment, her body relaxing. Then:

“You miiiiight need to help me out, though. Oooh…invite the hot bartender!”

That’s when she jolts awake. Finn. They had left before his shift ended, she hadn’t stayed to talk to him, she hadn’t gotten his number so that they could continue whatever was happening between them after his final night at the bar. She lets the taste of guilt and regret sit on her tongue for a moment, then swallows it.

Oh well. She can’t win them all.

 ---

Her alarm clock reads 7:04.

In the evening, unfortunately. Unfortunate because she’s still in grey sweats and mismatched socks and there is still a hangover clinging to the base of her skull. The kind of lingering hangover that makes good days drag and tedious work next to impossible.

Still, she’s soldiered through thirty pages of reading and definitions since she woke up at noon, so that’s something to celebrate.

In the kitchen below her room, her roommates are clattering around, blasting music; she can hear the clinking of shot glasses in the lulls between songs. She’s discovered that Harper and Bree always have something to do on a Saturday night, regardless of how much schoolwork they—or she—might have.

That’s what she gets for living with business majors.

She’s readying for an evening in with a few Advil and her advance organic chemistry textbook when Harper’s voice floats up the stairs.

“Claaaarrke,” she sing-songs. “What are you wearing to the party? It’s Hawaiian themed!”

“Nothing!” she calls back, trying to find she had been reading in the textbook.

Bree lets out a wolf whistle.

Groaning, Clarke raises her voice again. “I meant, I’m staying home! Call me if you need a ride later.” They won’t. They never do.

“Come on, Alpha Ep’s are always fun!”

She grimaces and loses her place in the textbook for good; Alpha Epsilon is Bellamy’s fraternity, and she had promised him last night she’d be there. He’ll show up at her doorstep, in a pineapple print shirt and grass skirt, if she isn’t.

“Fine. But I’m not dressing up!”

“Come drink!”

 ---

The slight buzz she gets in her apartment eases her hangover, until she crams into the fraternity house with Bree and Harper at her side: the heat, the sweat, the pounding music, and the scent of alcohol has turned the air so viscous it weighs down upon her and makes her lungs work to inhale, and she has to fight to squeeze between the bodies packed against each other in darkness.

It takes a few minutes before makes it through the throng of people and spills into the back yard, into the cool air, but the headache is there for good. She lost her roommates somewhere inside, but also mysteriously gained a red cup of something, which will probably be dumped discreetly into the bushes soon.

“Griffin!”

Bellamy, in all his glory: he’s not wearing a grass skirt, just a pair of board shorts and a hell of a straw hat, and about eight or nine multicolored leis covering his bare chest. John Murphy, Nate, and Adam flank him, ever loyal roommates. They throw their arms wide to welcome Clarke in. Nathan hands Clarke a cup that she actually trusts, so she tosses the old one aside.

“What do you think of the party?” Bellamy asks, gesturing around it. “It’s not quite the lecture hall bash of freshman year…”

“Thank god.”

“I remember that,” Adam says wistfully. “At least, I remember the aftermath.”

Murphy laughs. “I remember up somebody got the porn on the projector. After that is black.”

“You all still owe me for that,” she says, taking a sip of the sickeningly sweet drink Nate gave her.

“I know, I know, Princess.” Bellamy takes one of the leis around his neck and drapes it over her head. “Here you go.”

She warns him before he can do anything. “I swear, if you make some joke about getting lei’d—”

He looks on the verge of it, but bites the comment back solemnly and hands her a beer. “And here is the traditional free drink.” The new, mature, senior Bellamy. It’s nice.

“I—”

“Damn, Clarke. You need to get lei’d, apparently,” Murphy says. Ever loyal.

As she walks away, she can hear them laughing and high-fiving behind her. Any other night she would have been laughing too, drunk on terribly-mixed piña coladas by now, but something about tonight isn’t clicking.

She trudges up a staircase that leads to the second-floor deck, and looks down over the party. Only bits and pieces of it are visible, lit by tiki torches scattered throughout the yard. She spots Octavia on the fringe of a crowd around a beer pong game and watches her raise her cup up and cheer. Then Octavia turns to the guy standing beside her: Lincoln.

Clarke laughs out loud. Octavia actually did it, and Lincoln actually showed up to a college party with a girl he met in a bar. He even dressed for it, wearing an obnoxious blue and white Hawaiian print shirt. He’s smiling as he talks to her.

Maybe Clarke had misjudged him.

The cheap party alcohol burns in her throat as she finishes her drink. Another half hour, maybe, and she can head home. She’ll go back downstairs, greet Lincoln and Octavia, finishing her required appearances, and make it back to her unfinished lab report before 11:30.

Or maybe…

If Lincoln is here, she reasons, maybe she can be there. It’s like a switch. It’s even, right?

God, even now she can tell it’s drunk logic.

It still doesn’t stop her.

---

Basking in the freedom of anonymity, she lets out a contented sigh once she’s in her seat with her hand around a cold, simple rum and coke. She discarded the lei  somewhere on the train ride over, and with it, her headache.

The atmosphere of The Captain’s Room is surprisingly muted compared to her previous two trips—there are empty chairs all around her. Maybe she and her friends were the source of the noise, then. She grimaces at the thought, however inane it might be, and takes another long sip.

She's trying to read the labels that line the bottles on the single shelf behind the bar when a cool voice breaks the quiet around her.

"You're back."

Somehow, she knows who it is before she turns; she fixes an even mask on her face before she glances over to see Lexa two seats away. Her hair is tied back in a braid tonight, exposing bare shoulders beneath a black tanktop. The girl hands over a twenty to Raven and waits for her change, watching Clarke all the while.

"I'm back," Clarke agrees when Lexa offers nothing more than a glare. "I don't really know how I keep ending up here, though." It’s not the company.

"Neither do !." Lexa gives Raven a nod when she gets her change and the drink Clarke always sees her with. She glides past Clarke with the barest of sideways glances. "But if you're trying to get to the Starbucks, it's three blocks down, on First."

"Perfect,” she fires at Lexa’s back, “you can grab me a soy vanilla latte when you go."

And in that moment, she is so glad she didn't bother to bite the immature comment back, because the look on Lexa's face when she turns around will be a source of pride for the rest of the night—narrowed green eyes and one raised eyebrow, pursed lips, all reading that Clarke took her by surprise. Broke through the ice, for a moment.

Lexa doesn’t say anything else, just warns Clarke back with her gaze, then turns with a slight huff and strides to her usual post.

When she's gone, Clarke finishes her drink and crunches down on the leftover ice cubes, simmering with irritation as the victory fades. Counting bills at the cash register, Raven watches her for a moment.

"Hey, relax. Don't engage with her. You're already on thin ice around here just because you're not from here, so you're better off ignoring them."

Clarke snorts and sends a quick, appraising glance at Lexa. "Yeah, I imagine her bark is worse than her bite."

"Uh." Raven steps closer to Clarke and drops her voice. "No. I'm serious, don't engage her. You're not going to negotiate peace talks here. She's lived in this neighborhood all her life and her family owns the boxing gym two blocks over. If you start anything with her, she’s got a sweet left hook. And that would suck for me, because you're one of the only people who gives decent tips here."

Clarke stares at her.

"I don't think you can drink alcohol with your jaw wired shut, I mean."

"Thanks, Raven."

"You're welcome. Beer or another drink?"

She delays for a moment, returning to her attempts to read the bottle labels as she considers Raven's advice. Then: "Hey, Lexa!"

"That is the exact opposite of what I just told you," Raven mutters, exasperated.

Clarke pays her no attention and turns invitingly in Lexa's direction, watching the girl pull up from a pool shot; irritation is etched in every line of her body. Her friends look between their leader and this blonde interloper with surprise and something resembling curiosity. Lexa, on the other hand, holds her pool cue the way one might hold a weapon.

It rolls off Clarke's back like water. "What're you drinking?"

Lexa glances to her glass. "...Negroni."

"Perfect, never had one. Raven?"

Raven wears a petulant glare. "Don’t know what you’re trying to prove, Griffin." Nonetheless, she mixes the drink. Clarke doesn’t look over again, but out of the corner of her eye she can see Lexa watching her. Truthfully, Clarke isn't sure what she's trying to prove. She's not even sure what she's doing. But it's immensely satisfying to challenge a girl who seems so untouchable.

And then she puts her lips on the glass Raven hands her (after a quick toast across the bar to Lexa, still watching) and just barely tastes the drink before she’s pulling it away from her lips. It tastes like it’s straight out of the godfather, bitter and smoky and made for people who take themselves way too seriously. The dark brown drink nearly splashes out of the glass when she sets it back on the bar.

There’s a wide smirk on Lexa’s face. “The hell is wrong with you?” Clarke demands, but she can’t hold back a laugh either.

Lexa just raises her own glass back to Clarke and drinks it down. It’s more a mockery, a challenge back, than Clarke would like, but still. Cold and dangerous as she may be, she’s a pretty girl in a bar and the sight of her lips twisting up instead of down is incredibly welcome. And the light in her eyes before she turns back to her pool game makes the drink more than worth it.

“Casanova,” Raven says with a snort.

Clarke ignores her. She spitefully nurses her drink for the next few minutes, scrolling absentmindedly through her phone as Raven moves on to other customers—"Ones that actually take my advice."

Just as she’s getting bored, and worse, just as the Negroni might actually be starting to taste good, a text from Monty appears at the top of the screen.

Monty [11:37 PM]: Wasssup?

It's followed closely by a picture of Monty, Jasper, Nate, and four unidentified girls, wearing coconut bras. At least the three boys are too.

Clarke [11:40 PM]: please don’t bother those poor girls

Monty [11:42 PM]: they love us

Monty [11:49 PM]: is your night going okay, loner?

She finishes her drink, the last sip far smoother than the first, before answering.

C [11:54 PM]: It's great.

And she means it.

 

Chapter Text

By the time she gets home, a few minutes after noon, Clarke feels like she’s trudged through a twelve hour work day. Her emergency room volunteer job has proven brutal. At least she has two hours before her endocrinology lecture, which means the next 120 minutes will be devoted to the best nap in the history of naps. She drops her bag by the front door and swan dives face first onto the couch.

“Thursdays,” she groans into the cushion. Thursdays. Everyday. College. Life. At least naps are still sacred.

Her eyes close. Her body relaxes. Five blissful minutes pass, and suddenly her front door bangs open.

"Clarke! Are you awake?"

Octavia. Of course.

Although all of her friends have accustomed themselves to regular unannounced visits to one another's apartments, they normally just let Clarke sleep and go about their business, snagging a slice of pizza from her fridge or a DVD from her collection.

Octavia, however, has never been one to observe proper nap etiquette.

Forcing herself not to swear, Clarke grumbles, "No."

"Great. Listen, we need your help real quick."

Clarke opens one eye to find that "we" is Octavia, sitting on the coffee table in front of the couch, and Lincoln, standing awkwardly in the open doorway with his hands in his pockets.

"Clarke, this is Lincoln. Lincoln, Clarke." Introductions are a forced formality at this point, given that they've already met. But Clarke is a little ragged around the edges from weariness, and Lincoln's jaw is bulging with an equal amount of irritation, so she doesn't bother correcting Octavia.

"Hey Lincoln. What's going on?" More a question for the girl in front of her.

"We just need to chill here for a minute," Octavia explains quickly. "At least, Lincoln does. I have to—"

It's an odd second date plan. "Chill here, or hide here?"

If Octavia hears the sleepy drawl in Clarke's voice, she ignores it. "Yeah, hide here, just for a minute. We just ran into Bell, and he's being, uh...”

"He's being Bellamy," Clarke finishes for her. "Sure, go talk to him." She levers herself into a sitting position and nods at Lincoln. "Beer in the fridge if you want one. Probably deserve it right now."

With a quick whisper of "I owe you," Octavia darts out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her. The bang echoes in the sudden silence between them as Lincoln shuffles forward and takes a seat in an armchair without a word.

The minutes stretch into an uncomfortable silence. She tries and fails to come up with a mutually interesting conversation topic for the man sitting in front of her.

So, Lincoln, read any good books lately?

"This is an…interesting second date," Lincoln says at last. "Not how I imagined lunch with Octavia would go."

It's the first time she's heard him speak, she realizes; his voice is much smoother and softer than she had expected. And far less angry. It's jarring enough to give her pause before she realizes this is a viable conversation topic.

"Well, Octavia's an interesting girl."

"I know."

"Good."

So eight hours of work and school before noon really diminishes her social skills.

"Don't worry about Bellamy," she says presently, to avoid backsliding into awkward silence again.

"I'm not."

"I just meant, he's not usually such a jerk. It'll even out soon."

Lincoln nods slowly, his eyes fixed on her with an almost unnerving intensity, as if he's trying to discern which Blake sibling's side she is taking, and how much of a threat she’ll be either way.

Clarke does mean what she says, though she also recognizes the validity in Bellamy's argument: his nineteen year old sister goes to a bar for the first time in her life, tastes what the world has to offer her, and ends up taking home a grizzled, streetfighting regular who is from the wrong side of town and probably a few years past college age.

No matter her fantasies of undermining Lexa's superior attitude, Clarke can’t deny the major differences between her friends and The Captain's Room regulars.

The need for further conversation vanishes when the door opens and Octavia comes skipping through, her smile too big to be genuine. Clarke recognizes the rebellious twist of her lips, knowing it all too well: Octavia is about to do whatever someone just told her not to do.

"Come on, Lincoln. We're good!" As he climbs to his feet with a grunt of goodbye, Clarke wonders if Lincoln too has picked up on the look on Octavia's face. He will soon enough.

When they're gone, Clarke doesn't bother trying to go back to sleep again, because she knows what's coming next: Bellamy appears five minutes later, right on cue, his jaw working in frustration as he paces her living room.

Clarke is really regretting her laziness now. She could be locked in her room, asleep, had she made it past the couch earlier.

"There's beer in the fridge," she offers tiredly for the second time today.

Bell nods and returns quickly with two beers, and finally takes a seat in the same chair Lincoln had just occupied.

"I have class in an hour and a half, unfortunately," she says when he offers her one of the beers. "So you have forty-five minutes to vent."

He wastes no time. "How come she never listens to me? She doesn't understand I'm on her side."

"Because you're being an ass about this."

"How? She's nineteen. I'm looking out for her."

But it's gotten old, even to Clarke, who held all the same reservations as he had in the beginning. Forty-five minutes is suddenly too long.

"The more you "look out for her," Bell, the more she's going to fight it. Basic psychology," she adds, when he glares at her.

"Armchair psychology."

"Says the one sitting in my armchair...and drinking my beer."

Bellamy rolls his eyes in exasperation and takes an extra hard swig of beer.

Clarke switches tactics. "At least this guy isn't that bad. His name’s Lincoln."

"Not that bad? And what're your qualifications for bad, Princess?"

"You're judging him without knowing him," she fires back, giving him a glare for the nickname. "I was actually talking to him, he seems okay. And he's nice to Octavia."

Bellamy doesn't respond for a few minutes, sipping his beer quietly. "I just want her to be happy," he says at last. "And safe. You know? She's always been at my side."

"We all do, Bell.”

He nods silently.

She glances at the wall clock behind him. Ten minutes. Not too bad. Maybe a nap is still in the cards...

"Next time she comes looking for a hideout, though, how about siding with me, Griffin?"

Clarke rolls her eyes. "Oh, don't even start with me, Blake. I’m not getting dragged into a battle between you two."

"What? You've known me longer than her, you're supposed to be on my side!" But he's laughing now, crushing his first can of beer and popping the second.

"Yeah, I’ve known you longer, but don't make me regret the night I saved your ass," she replies, pushing her hand back through her messy blonde hair and heaving a heavy sigh.

Bellamy regards her thoughtfully. "Everything going okay?"

Clarke responds with an unconvincing nod that doesn’t satisfy him.

"I’m fine. Just tired...regularly."

"You've got a hell of a schedule. Just remember to take some time for yourself sometimes, okay? And you can always talk to me if it gets to be too much."

It has taken her a few minutes, but she finally has a more reassuring smile on her face. “Got it, Bell. Thanks for having my back. But I can handle myself.”

Sufficiently placated—or at least not in the mood to lose two arguments in twenty minutes—Bellamy tosses the empty beer cans into the kitchen trashcan and heads for the door. With his hand on the doorknob, he turns back. “Hey, wanna have a family dinner tonight? It’s been a while since we’ve gotten the whole group together.”

Clarkes tries and fails to hide a yawn. “I would, but I’m exhausted. Let’s do it sometime this weekend.”

“Alright. But once we’re out of college and you become a bigshot surgeon, dinner’s on you.”

“Promise.”

---- 

She didn’t lie; not really. At least, not a lie she’ll let herself feel guilty about. She just doesn’t want any of her friends searching for issues that aren’t there.

Clarke gets out of class at 3:30 with heavy eyelids and a very cloudy idea of what just happened in that lecture. But instead of heading home to sweatpants and pizza like any sane twenty-two year old, Clarke finds herself waiting at the train stop to go in the opposite direction. It’s a routine she’s established this week: out of class at 3:30, on the train at 3:41.

And she’s at The Captain’s Room by 4:22, drawing designs in the condensation on the side of her beer glass.

Monday, Tuesday, and now Thursday. The ease with which she keeps ending up here is beginning to alarm her.

Raven spots Clarke as soon as the blonde walks through the door and greets her with a jovial shout. "Oh good, you’re back! At least someone will keep things interesting around here.”

She glares out at the scattering of bar patrons, none of whom respond. Or even move. Clarke’s eyes are still adjusting to the dim light of the bar after being out in the afternoon sun—Raven has half the lights off in here, probably to cut down on energy bills, and the dirty windows don’t let in much natural light.

The only murmur of conversation in the place comes from the back, drawing Clarke’s attention once her vision focuses: the usual suspects are in their usual spots, Lexa among them. She and Clarke lock eyes for a moment, but this has become such a regular occurrence that Lexa doesn’t bother to fix her features into a glare anymore. Clarke isn’t in the mood today either.

They acknowledge each other with a small nod, then Clarke slides into one of the dozen empty barstools, with Lexa hovering on the fringe of her vision, the fringe of her thoughts.

“I just need something strong,” she tells Raven with a sigh, “I don’t care how expensive.”

“Ah, I figured your usual was a beer, at least during the week.” She proffers a bottle of vodka; Clarke nods, and Raven starts mixing. “I’m pretty much always right, so what’s up? Long day?”

“God, yes.”

At this, Raven gives an extra splash of vodka. “I feel you. My day has been pretty much the same.”

“Here, then,” Clarke says, handing a few extra dollars over. “Have a shot with me.”

“Ah, we’re commiserating now?” Raven asks with a grin. She casts a glance out over the bar—it's still early in the evening and only a few chairs are occupied, by patrons who drink with their eyes on the table in front of them—and shakes her head. "I know it seems dead in here, but weekday afternoon drinkers can get...unpredictable. I need to keep my wits about me. Ask me again on the weekend, though, since you'll probably be here."

“Don’t complain,” Clarke says with a roll of her eyes.

“Oh, I’m not. But here’s the deal, if you’re going to be one of my weekday afternoon drinkers, I need to hear your heavy backstory.”

“My what?”

“Why are you in a bar at this time of day? You’re what, twenty-one?”

“Twenty-two,” Clarke says, thinking about the question.

It’s hard to put into words how something about an almost empty, hole-in-the-wall dive bar keeps dragging her back. Maybe it's the fact that the scent of cigarette smoke and stale beer is the only thing that overpowers the antiseptic tang of hospital hallways and bio labs. She can breathe here.

But she doesn’t have the words for that, nor the heart to try to find them, so all she can offer Raven is a shrug.

“Alright, so you need an example. Ryder!” Raven calls to one of the men standing with Lexa in the back. “What’s your sob story?”

“You’re my bartender, not my therapist, Raven.”

Raven grins. “Can I have your therapist’s number, by the way? Someone needs to let her know she should have her license revoked.” He flips her off and it only delights her more. “Anyway, Clarke. Your turn. Everyone has a story, so go ahead.”

“Well, I started my day looking at a gunshot wound, if that’s any indication.”

“Are you aware of what neighborhood you’re in, Clarke? This bar is basically the clubhouse for people who started their day like that. What else you got?”

Before she can respond, a new voice breaks into their conversation. “It’s unusual for Arcadia students, though.”

Clarke and Raven turn to find Lexa, leaning on the bar with an empty glass in her hands. But she’s not trying to gain Raven’s attention for another drink—instead she's facing Clarke, her head cocked slightly. “What happened?” she asks. “If you shot someone, I’ll admit I was wrong about you.”

“Wouldn’t you be scared of me if that was the case?”

“No, I wouldn’t. What really happened?”

Under Lexa’s gaze, Clarke stumbles a bit as she tries to form her lips around an answer. For once, the vodka hasn’t made her smoother.

“I, uh, I volunteer in an emergency room, 4 AM to 10 AM twice a week. We had a gunshot wound and a knife fight come in today.”

“She’s a med student,” announces Raven. “Gonna be a surgeon, right? Go out and save the world?”

That’s a daunting prospect. At eighteen, she would have said yes. At twenty-two, her world view has changed just a bit.

“My mom’s a surgeon. I’m not sure if I want to follow her or not.”

“Where are you from?” Lexa asks.

“Washington DC,” Clarke replies. She waits a second for a reply, but Lexa just watches her and Raven, glancing between the two girls, busies herself with scrubbing away at a water stain on the bar. Clarke continues: “My dad was an aviation engineer with the Hawk Institute, and my mom’s a cardiothoracic surgeon at George Washington.”

"Well shit, can your dad get me a job if I ever get out of this place?" Raven mutters hopefully. It falls on deaf ears.

"Raven is right, you know," Lexa tells Clarke. "About your story. What is a pre-med college student, future surgeon, never seen a gunshot before today, daughter of rich parents from the country's capitol, doing in this place without a good reason?"

You don't belong here, she had said the night they met. She’s told Clarke the same thing a dozen different ways since then.

But now, despite her words, Lexa's green eyes lack the hardness they'd had that night. She's guarded, still, and there's a shadow of vitriol in her voice, but there's a curiosity there as well; her gaze lingers on Clarke as if she’s a puzzle to be put together.

It's enough, at least coupled with the alcohol, to lower Clarke's defenses. She gives Lexa a shrug and a smile that's half-amusement, half-defiance.

"I haven't found that Starbucks yet."

The corner of Lexa's mouth twitches up. "…keep looking."

---

The following morning, she blunts the edge of a minor hangover with two cups of coffee before heading up to campus to meet her friends for Octavia’s soccer game. It’s a mid-morning game, on a Friday, so the stadium isn’t particularly full; even if it had been, it’s not hard to spot the group of people she regretfully associates with.

Bellamy has dragged out half of his fraternity, plus Jasper and Monty, naturally: a dozen shirtless college boys sporting the black and green body paint of Arcadia University, their best battle cries echoing around the stadium as the game kicks off.

“Oh god,” Clarke groans, laughing. The testosterone display is less about school spirit and more an attempt to embarrass Octavia. These are her friends and she loves them but she has not had enough coffee to stand alongside them.

Before the guys can notice her, Clarke searches the rest of the meager crowd for a familiar face and finds one in the first two rows: Lincoln. Without a second thought about the possible awkwardness, she heads for him.

“Lincoln, right? What’s up?”

“Clarke.” He nods in greeting as she falls into the seat next to him. “How are you?”

“A little hungover, honestly.”

Lincoln laughs, filling Clarke with relief; she had prepared herself for at least 45 minutes of stilted pleasantries. “Next time, eat a banana, hard-boiled egg, a tablespoon of sugar, and b-vitamin complex. Works every time.”

“I’ll remember that.” Clarke leans back, stretching her arms over her head and settling down into her seat. Down on the field, Octavia runs the ball up the line and touches it past an oncoming defender, but the defender swings a leg into Octavia’s path, sending them both to the ground in a clattering of bone and muscle. Octavia pops up after a second, to the proud roar of the boys up above.

Watching Octavia limp back into position, Clarke can’t help but wince, but when she looks sideways at Lincoln, there’s a smile on his face.

“Does she know you came to see her play?” she asks.

He nods, eyes following Octavia as she holds off a defender. “I had to see how she played. She has a spark off the field, I wanted to see it on the field.” There’s a soft admiration to his voice. “She’s even tougher than I thought.”

“You should see her against our rivals. Last year was insane.”

“I’d like to see her box, actually,” he replies. “I wouldn’t throw her in the ring, but I’d like to train with her. She has a fighter’s mentality.”

“She’d love to get in the ring,” Clarke snorts. “Don’t let her know it’s an option. So you box?”

“I have been for years, at this place in the neighborhood. An old gym. It’s kind of like my second home. But you think she would like it? Maybe I'll take her by and see what she thinks.”

The gym—Clarke furrows her brow, thinking back to something Raven had said a while back. “Wait, Lexa’s gym, right?”

“Yeah, Lexa’s family’s place. It’s been there since before I was born, and most of the neighborhood filters through at some point so everyone knows her. Did she actually tell you about it?”

Clarke snorts. “Uh, no. Lexa usually doesn’t say more than three words to me. Raven mentioned it.”

Lincoln nods and the rising roar of the crowd momentarily demands their attention: Arcadia has the ball within twenty yards of the goal. Lincoln and Clarke jolt forward when Octavia fires a shot, but it drifts just wide of the post.

“She’s not that bad, you know,” Lincoln says after a few minutes.

“Who, Octavia? She’s great, didn’t you see that shot? And she has a scholarship—”

“I meant Lexa,” he replies, grinning sideways at her. “She’s not your enemy, at least. You just have to understand certain things about her.”

“Help me out, then. Why does she see us as enemies?”

“She doesn’t. She’s just…strong,” he says simply. “You have to be, to turn out as good as she did in the place we grew up.”

----

Their conversation flows smoothly through the rest of the first half; they alternate between talking about the game and about themselves, though Clarke can’t work any more details about Lexa and the neighborhood they grew up in out of Lincoln. Instead, he plies her with questions about her life, her future plans, her friendship with Octavia and Bellamy and all the rest of the guys who are still screaming their heads off ten rows up.

His interest in the stories about Octavia is reassuring. Clarke had misjudged him from the first, but now she can happily prove Bellamy’s worries wrong.

By the time the players return from their halftime break, her time with Lincoln has lifted Clarke’s mood enough to prepare her to make an appearance with the her friends. She manages to evade their offer of face paint for her and spends the rest of the game screaming for Arcadia and yelling at the referee.

Arcadia beats Metro University 1-0 on a late goal, off a pass from Octavia, so everyone is in good spirts after the game as they wait in the parking lot behind the stadium locker room.

Jasper and Miller are already debating which bars to go to and whose house they should pregame at. Murphy and Bellamy are struggling against each other in one of the most uncoordinated displays of one on one soccer Clarke has ever seen while Monty plays referee, making a series of increasingly terrible calls until Bellamy receives a red card for profanity and Murphy is declared the default champion of the world.

The whole group is laughing, right up until the moment Lincoln comes walking up. He stops short when he sees the group outside the locker room door, waiting for Octavia. Clarke offers a familiar face, but the rest of them are strangers, and potentially hostile, if Bellamy’s sudden tension is any indication.

Standing beside her, Bellamy draws himself up to his full height.

“Be nice,” Clarke mutters to him through gritted teeth. For a long moment, no one says anything as Bellamy wages his internal battle. “Think about Octavia.”

“What’s up, man?” he asks Lincoln at last, offering a stiff handshake. Lincoln accepts it.

“Your sister played a great game.”

“I know.”

They don’t get much more time to discuss it, as the door swings open and the Arcadia Women’s Soccer team comes pouring out. Octavia’s one of the last to emerge from the locker room, her still-wet hair forming a dark spot on her green t-shirt. She stops short when she sees Bellamy and Lincoln facing off.

“Bellamy and I were just agreeing that you had a great game,” Lincoln tells her. “I was impressed.”

“Uh…thank you,” she says, cautiously pulling her brother into a quick hug before sliding into Lincoln’s arms. Her eyes still flick between the two men, as if this is a trick.

“We have to celebrate,” Bellamy declares, with a proud smile at his sister. “You kicked Metro’s ass, and we helped intimidate them, so everyone deserves a drink tonight. Jasper and Miller were talking about places to go…”

“In case you weren’t aware, big brother, I’m still only nineteen.”

“I’m aware; everyone else is aware of that, right?” He very conspicuously avoids looking at Lincoln.

Clarke glares at him; Bellamy sighs in defeat and offers the olive branch to Lincoln: “Fine. Is everyone down to grab some dinner and then go to The Captain’s Room?”

“There’s a great Mexican place right down the street from the bar,” Lincoln says with a shrug. No one objects.

“Alright, then,” Bellamy declares. “That’s the plan. Everyone meet at Clarke’s at seven!”

----

“I owe you so much,” Octavia declares as a way of greeting as she barges into Clarke’s room later that night.

Brushing makeup over her cheeks, Clarke watches Octavia make herself comfortable on the bed. “So did your parents just not teach you or Bellamy how to knock?”

“I skipped class that day,” Octavia replies. “And that’s not important. I’m offering you the opportunity for a great night.”

“I don’t know…Lincoln seems like the jealous type.”

“I won’t tell him if you won’t.”

Clarke flashes a grin over her shoulder and moves to start pulling clothes from her closet. Octavia is already dressed and ready; below them, the noise level in the living room has started to kick up as her friends stream in. It’s been a while since they’ve been out together, and Octavia’s victory this morning is the perfect celebration occasion.

“What I was saying,” Octavia presses as Clarke pulls on a pair of jeans, “Since I owe you for getting Bell under control with Lincoln, I’m playing wingwoman for you tonight. You’re going home with someone if it’s the last thing I do.”

“Someone from The Captain’s Room?” Clarke asks with a derisive snort. “Seriously?”

“Okay, so it’s probably safer if you’ll take them home, who cares? The details don’t matter once alcohol is involved. Whatever. You’re getting laid.”

Octavia’s nothing if not loyal; Clarke starts to protest, but there’s such earnestness on Octavia’s face as she pleads with her eyes that Clarke relents. “Fine,” she says with a laugh. “Your brother has to take care of everyone, though. He has to make sure we don’t lose anyone over there.”

“Already taken care of,” Octavia says with a wicked grin.

A mix of trepidation and enthusiasm shoots through Clarke’s veins like heroin and she can’t help but start laughing.

Let the night begin.

----

They hit The Captain’s Room after scarfing down some of the best chicken tacos Clarke has ever had—she’s fairly certain Lincoln just gained serious points in everyone’s book for the restaurant recommendation. The bar is packed to the walls tonight. Between the music and the people, it’s much more like the popular clubs close to campus.

Octavia links hands with Clarke and stares around the crowd, looking like a kid in a candy store. “Oh, this is going to be so easy,” she says. “So what are your preferences for your one-night stands, do you want more of a—”

“All I need is enough alcohol, and it won’t matter,” Clarke cuts her off with a smirk.

“That’s what I wanted to hear.”

The group makes their way to the bar, pushing through the crowd until they’re close enough to call out an order, but Raven is in her element behind the counter; she’s flipping bottles into the air, laughing at the cheers she receives, with a few twenty dollar bills hanging out of the pockets of her skinny jeans.

When she finishes her performance and they finally get Raven’s attention, a smug grin lights up the bartender’s face. “Damn, Griffin, back again? What is this, the fourth time this week?” she shouts. “I knew you couldn’t get enough of me!”

Octavia leans closer to Clarke. “Not her,” Clarke hisses. Octavia groans, disappointed.

“Four times?” Bellamy mutters at Clarke’s other shoulder. “Do we need an intervention?”

Clarke just shrugs with a statuesque repose, ignoring them all. She has to shift sideways to squeeze between two burly guys at the bar and hand her card to Raven. “Vodka soda for me, whatever the rest of them want, and shots for all of us.”

“Oh, we’re going hard tonight! Thank god we’re done with sob-story Clarke. You built a brace and got over it, good for you.” Raven looks to Bellamy. “And you brought the angry one back, too!”

“I’m the responsible one tonight, actually,” Bellamy says, his way of a sheepish apology for his insult the last time he was here.

“You’re the responsible one, and you’re letting Clarke start her night off like this?”

“They can all do whatever the hell they want,” Bell replies with a grin and a shrug. “I just take care of them in the end.”

“Maybe you’re not such an ass, then,” Raven says. “I—”

“He is,” Clarke interrupts. She downs her shot happily and motions for a second.

Nonetheless, she sees Raven slide Bellamy a free beer when she thinks no one is looking.

They’ve all been to the bar enough times to finally feel comfortable spreading out from one another—the room is packed, so Clarke quickly loses sight of most of her friends after they take their initial shots together, but she trusts Bellamy enough to keep a handle on the situation. More importantly, Octavia stations herself four seats down, leaving Clarke with Lincoln and Bellamy while she chats in the ear of a tall, dark-haired guy with a tattoo sleeve. Clarke watches with interest, sipping her vodka soda. A few minutes later, the man sidles over.

He’s the first of the night, and thus stands no chance. Clarke chats with him for a while, before he walks away, disappointed.

But Octavia’s on a mission. She’s sitting with another man almost as soon as the first disappears. But this guy, too, falls short of whatever standards Clarke has set for herself tonight and she disengages from the conversation faster than she had with the first man.

 Really, nothing has come close to making her want to leave the atmosphere of the bar and this perfectly crafted vodka soda just yet. She orders another one from Raven and it’s better than the first.

She loses sight of Octavia for a little while after that, and instead listens to one of Lincoln’s stories about a time he had to be carried out of this place when he was barely older than Octavia. Not long after he’s finished recounting the hangover, a third man taps Clarke on the shoulder.

God, Octavia works fast.

It doesn’t take long before even Lincoln sours on this selection, as man tells Clarke a story about a date he went on the night before…with his girlfriend. Clarke tries to duck out of the conversation and politely brush the man away, but he won’t leave her alone.

“Alright, bud,” Bellamy says finally, stepping in, “She’s not interested. Get out of her face or you can deal with me.”

For a second, the man looks ready to argue, but Bellamy’s threatening look proves too much. Clarke pulls out her phone and taps out a text to Octavia.

Clarke, 9:53 PM: definitely haven’t had enough alcohol to be “the other woman”

At this, Octavia slams her phone onto the bar and comes storming over.

“It’s like you don’t even know me!” Clarke hisses at her when she gets close, outraged and trying to hold back her laughter.

“That last one was Jasper’s!” Octavia snarls back defensively. “But apparently neither of us really know you. At all. The Clarke I used to know wasn’t this picky. Guy, girl, bartender, sorority presidents, drunk, sober, it doesn’t matter—”

“She was the secretary, and if you don’t shut up, Lincoln’s going to have one less girlfriend in about thirty seconds.”

“Bring it on, you saw what I did to that Metro defender today.”

“I want—”

“Lexa!” Lincoln calls suddenly, his voice like the bell that signals the end of a round. Clarke feels like a boxer: a little unsteady, she looks around at the sound of Lexa’s name and forgets her faux-battle with Octavia immediately.

Lincoln calls Lexa’s name again and Clarke can’t spot her through the crowd until the girl approaches their group. It’s a strange sight to see Lexa walking toward her. She smiles at Lincoln, and that’s a strange sight too. Clarke’s stomach lurches a little and she grips her drink tighter.

“Lincoln,” Lexa says with a nod to him and a professional disregard for the two girls at his side. “What’s up?”

“Well, first, I thought I should reintroduce you to my girlfriend, Octavia,” Lincoln says, with a sharpness to his voice that makes Clarke’s lips curl up in a smile. She wasn’t the only one who noticed Lexa’s cold shoulder.

“Nice to meet you…again,” Octavia says in a tone that suggests the opposite.

Lexa responds with a nod and a murmured, “Nice to meet you too,” before Lincoln regains her attention.

“I had to apologize,” he says. “Anya gave me the last of your nice hand wrap tape from your locker this morning, so I owe you a new roll. And a drink.”

“It’s fine—” Lexa starts to back away.

“No, come on. You need one anyway,” he says, pointing to the empty glass in her hand. “What are you drinking?”

“Vodka soda,” she tells him, placing the glass on the smooth wood. Lincoln gains Raven’s attention and motions for another round for himself and Lexa. “Thanks, Linc.”

“Vodka soda?” Clarke asks. She holds up her own drink and wiggles it, the ice clinking. “So’m I. What happened to the dark, mysterious negroni?”

Lexa stares.

“Well, at least your taste isn’t as bad as I thought.”

“It’s not.”

Raven whisks past, depositing a vodka soda for Lexa and a beer for Lincoln without stopping for her usual salaams. But before Lexa can so much as move, Clarke snags her drink with her free hand and holds both hers and Lexa’s up; her smile hints at a challenge, one Lexa is sober enough to understand. She raises her chin.

“C’mon,” Clarke says. “Let’s go drink for drink. Loser pays the tab at the end of the night.”

Lexa takes her drink from Clarke’s hand as if the blonde were doing her a favor by handing it over.

“You’d lose.”

“So?”

“There’s no challenge in that.”

But she doesn’t immediately turn away, doesn’t dismiss Clarke the way she has in the past. There’s a spark in her eye—studying it, Clarke recognizes the same competitiveness she feels in her own chest. A strange, tenuous link forms between them in that moment. And Clarke knows how to play it.

“So you’re turning down free drinks because you’re too good to see me as a challenge?”

“Not…necessarily,” Lexa says after a pause.

“Come on, then.”

A longer pause. Lincoln stands between them like a referee, watching both girls with cautious interest. He’s probably wondering how many of Clarke’s almost-fights he’s going to have to break up tonight. What’s more, they’ve begun to attract the attention of their other friends as well, on both sides of this battle, but Clarke’s world has narrowed to Lexa, and only Lexa. She waits.

“Pool,” the dark-haired girl offers at last.

“Pool? What, best two out of three for a night of free drinks?”

“Just one game.”

“Fine. Lead the way, Lexa.”

She follows Lexa to the back of the bar, Clarke’s friends trailing behind, brimming with memories of times she hustled them out of twenty bucks or wiped the floor with some of the jocks in bars near campus who vastly underestimated a blonde-haired, blue-eyed co-ed. Lexa is just another victim in this racket, and they can’t wait to see the result.

Their confidence in her galvanizes Clarke, but she puts up a front of nonchalance. Gloating before the game starts is poor form.

Lexa shrugs off her jacket and tosses it over the back of a chair.  She circles around to the opposite side of the table to face Clarke. The lightbulb hanging from the ceiling throws the muscles in her bare arms into harsh relief, deepens the shadows around her eyes.

Clarke feels a strange rush of adrenaline that manifests in a smirk. Lexa is all business.

“Fifty on Clarke to win,” Bellamy whispers to Octavia.

Octavia hesitates briefly. “You’re on.”

“You need some life experience, little sister.”

“We’ll see.”

Their friends crowd in around them as if everyone is readying to watch a fight instead of a pool game—and judging by the grim looks of Lexa’s unit, they might be.

“Lexa’s playing pool against the college girl now? Shit, this will be a waste of time.” A chorus of drunk laughter rumbles up from the group at Lexa’s back.

“Quiet, Quint,” Lexa snaps, and the laughter vanishes. Despite the fact that Clarke is ready to battle to the death for this win, she can’t hold back a small smile when she looks across the table at Lexa.

“Start the game, Clarke,” is all she gets in reply.

Clarke sinks her first shot without hesitating on her angles. The next one is more difficult, requiring some creative positioning on her part and a fair bit of luck, but the ball spins into the corner pocket. She doesn’t have much of an option on the third shot and misses her target by a few inches; she turns over control of the table to Lexa, with a comfortable two point lead.

When Lexa starts her turn, she changes. Darkens from the jaded amusement she had been wearing, now that she has an opponent who could actually beat her. She studies at the pool table as if it’s a chessboard, a war strategy, rather than a game to enjoy with a cold beer.

“I think you’re too sober for this,” Clarke observes, sipping her own drink. Lexa’s matching vodka soda is untouched on a nearby table.

“That sounds like more of a problem for you than me.”

And it is. It’s a problem because Lexa makes a skillful shot on the next play, and it’s a problem because she’s just too damn serious all the time. Clarke frowns, her eyes traveling over the hard lines of Lexa’s body, too tense, too guarded—she wishes there was an easier way to soften that body, to make her laugh. Alcohol usually helps, but not in this case.

Lexa makes another shot to even the score at two before returning the game back over to Clarke. She brushes her wavy hair back over her shoulder, slouching against the table like she’s bored.

Her positioning isn’t a coincidence; Lexa stands directly in the path of Clarke’s only possible shot, blocking Clarke from setting up her shot. Pure strategy.

But Clarke isn’t going to ask her to move, any more than she’s going to give up her turn again. Instead, she grits her teeth in determination and moves into position right next to Lexa anyway.

Getting as close as she can without pushing the girl aside, and sets up the shot as if the other girl doesn’t exist—even though they’re so close that when Lexa pulls in a deep breath, her chest expands to brush against Clarke’s shoulder.

Clarke inhales too; her nose is flooded with the scent of the flowery perfume from Lexa’s skin.

She shoots and misses so wide right of her mark that Bellamy yelps in shock.

“Clarke, what the hell?” Murphy demands. Octavia cheers.

As Clarke backs away in surprise at her horrible shot, Lexa lets loose a quiet laugh and stands up, slinking around to the opposite side again. The scent of her perfume vanishes with her, but Clarke’s head is still spinning as she watches her move.

Lexa makes two more shots before she misses, making the score 4-2 in her favor. Her eyes are sparkling again at the game they’re playing, now that she has a comfortable lead.

It’s all luck when Clarke manages to knock one ball into a pocket and position the second perfectly with one motion—it’s also pure chance that when she strides past Lexa, she breathes in that perfume again.

Orchids, possibly. And something musky. She’s not cultured enough to identify it.

“Your perfume is fantastic,” she blurts out.

Lexa raises an eyebrow. “You like it?”

“It’s…really nice,” she says haltingly, pausing and pretending to consider the table once more instead of moving past Lexa.

“Thank you, Clarke.”

Only then does Clarke realize how close they are again: she doesn’t have to strain to hear Lexa’s low voice over the conversations of their friends or the clatter of the bar beyond. If she were more sober, more intelligent, less proud, Clarke would have stepped away.

“Are you going to surrender this now?” Lexa asks quietly. Clarke shakes her head.

“I’m a poor college student, I need those free drinks,” she manages to say.

But by the time she steps up to take the shot, the effect of Lexa’s proximity has taken its toll again.

She tries to line up the angles, but the pool cue doesn’t cooperate whatsoever. The ball bangs off the side of the table.

Game over. Even if it’s not official, even if no one watching understands, they both know that Clarke just lost.

Clarke feels blood creep up into her cheeks as Lexa goes in for the kill with cold-blooded efficiency, hitting one, two, three shots into three different pockets. Clarke tries to come up with something to say, something to distract her, but it’s too late.

“Game over,” Lexa announces. With a sharp click, Lexa cracks the black eight ball into the corner pocket.

Clarke gapes. She lost.

Lexa hands her pool cue off and throws her arms wide. She’s laughing—actually laughing—at the opened-mouth shock on Clarke’s face,and the new sound has Clarke’s stomach jolting again.

“This is our bar,” she declares, as if it’s just the natural order of things and she has no control. “You had no chance from the beginning.”

“Your bar?” Clarke responds indignantly. “What is this, West Side Story?”

Lexa narrows her eyes but doesn’t lose her amused smile, which proves to be a dangerous combination. “Good game, Clarke.”

Facing flushing, Clarke huffs and turns away, ducking into her protective circle of friends like she’s slipping behind a theatre curtain, taking her off the stage and out of sight. Following behind her, Octavia’s gloating about the fresh fifty dollars Bellamy hands her, and promises to buy Clarke a conciliatory drink, but Clarke doesn’t even hear her.

“I should ask for a rematch,” she mutters.

“It wouldn’t work,” Octavia replies, with a grin at Lincoln.

I’d make it work.

Once Clarke climbs onto her barstool, a safe distance away, she hazards a glance back at Lexa and begins to plan her challenge. Lexa’s clinking glasses with Gus, her grin still shining from her face.

Instead of imagining the rematch victory, Clarke imagines pressing her body against Lexa’s, feeling her corded muscles against her skin and pulling that perfume into her lungs.

She sucks in a breath at the sudden thought and clamps her mouth shut.

“You good, Princess?” Raven asks, cocking an eyebrow.

“Fine.”

Octavia’s right; there’s no point in marching back over and demanding another game, especially when Clarke’s mind is so far from pool she could only embarrass herself worse this time. With every ounce of determination she has left, Clarke smoothes her face expressionless and looks forward to the alcohol washing over her once more.

Chapter Text

“Forty-five more seconds, then you can rest. Keep going.”

She bounces lightly on the balls of her feet despite the lead in her muscles, her gloves tapping a hypnotic rhythm on the training pads while her heartbeat pounds in her head. Forty-five seconds. Thirty seconds. She puts all of her effort into keeping her face blank and focused, because the moment she winces, Gus is going to give her a quick whap with one of the pads.

“Don’t stop.”

Fifteen seconds. Her arms are numb and her legs are burning. She’s not sure which is worse. Tap-tap-tap.

Gus calls time and Lexa doubles over, hands on her knees, squeezing her eyes shut in exhaustion. “That—”

Whap. Gus hits her in the back of the head with the training pad anyway.

“What the hell was that?” Lexa demands, jumping up, but he’s already skipped away with a grin and she’s in no shape to catch him. “The interval was over!”

He shrugs. “Anya told me this morning that it’s been a while. We both think you’re getting cocky lately.”

“Tell Anya she can hit me herself when she stops starting fights and breaking her hands and can train with me again.” Gus tosses her a water bottle as a show of peace and Lexa cracks it eagerly.

“You know she can’t resist a fight. That’s what I’m trying to prevent you from becoming. Now come on, let’s finish with a core workout before your heartrate drops too much.”

She downs half the bottle between breaths, not caring that her trembling arm sends water splashing down over her chest and shoulders. She’s already soaked in sweat anyway. The gym’s air conditioning hasn’t worked in years and most days the building is a sauna by noon.

Once she finishes Gus’s core workout, and throws in another three hundred sit-ups for the hell of it, Lexa lays spread-eagled on the mat and dumps the remainder of the water over her body. Gus’s workouts are always particularly torturous.

She heads to the small office in the back of the gym, stopping along the way to spot Jack through a bench press and then to encourage Nyko to finish out his pull-ups. When she gets into the back office, she swings the door shut behind her to muffle the pounding rock music and falls into the chair next to Gus. He hands her a protein shake from the mini fridge. They sit in silence, basking in relief in front of the oscillating desk fan while Indra sits at the desk, poring over papers.

“Are we ever going to get the air fixed in this place?” he asks Indra finally.

Indra answers without looking up. “No.”

“Breeds mental toughness,” Lexa says. It’s Indra’s favorite quote. Everything—as long as you don’t complain—breeds mental toughness in her world.

But really, the issue is the money. It always has been. Though the back office has gotten markedly more organized since Indra took over the finances, the cash flow hasn’t improved as much. But Lexa insists on sticking to her father’s policy of allowing people to pay whatever they can for a locker and training space.

Gus grunts. “Breeds sweatstains and body odor.”

“You’re welcome to clean the mats if you’d like,” she shoots back.

“Maybe I’ll make a bet with some poor college kid who doesn’t know what he’s getting in to, and then make him do it instead when he loses.”

Lexa rolls her eyes at him and says nothing.

“You did good today, Lexa,” he says. “Your footwork, your endurance, it’s improved. You move like your father did. If you want, we can start working toward putting you in the ring for bouts. You’re a natural.”

“That won’t happen. I train just to train. That’s all.”

Gus is like family, and has become as much a fixture at the Atlas Street Gym as the rusty squat racks and leather punching bags. He has trained with her for years now, never once letting up on his quest to see her in an actual match.

“You could be great,” he presses. “What’s stopping you from trying?”

“Why would I want to?” she counters.

“Pride.”

“I’m already proud. It’s why you hit me a minute ago.”

“And even if she wanted to,” Indra adds, “No one in this neighborhood would fight her. Either they’ve known her since she was a child, or they’re friends now, or they saw her father fight. Either way, no one wants to hurt her, or get on her bad side.”

Gus points over Lexa’s shoulder before she has time to agree with Indra. “What about that girl?”

Across the main gym, Lincoln is walking through the doors; behind him trails a slim, dark-haired girl, with a gym bag slung over her shoulder.

“It’s Octavia,” Lexa says, watching her. Gus gives her a questioning look. “Lincoln’s girlfriend,” she clarifies. “Remember, from Captain’s? She’s a student at Arcadia.”

Indra snorts in contempt. “Lincoln always loved it up there, in the city, around campus. I’m just surprised one of those girls would actually come with him here.”

Lexa finishes her protein shake and tosses it into the trash as she strides out into the main gym to meet the new arrivals. Lincoln is greeting Ryder and Nyko with his customary smile, introducing Octavia to them, when Lexa arrives at his side.

“Lexa!” he says, giving her the same smile, “I’m glad I caught you. Octavia is going to train with me, I just wanted to make sure that was okay with you.”

“It’s fine with me,” Lexa replies coolly, then turns to Octavia with a slightly more dubious look. “You’re an athlete?” The muscles in the girl’s arms and legs are more than apparent, and all of them bunch at the question.

“Soccer only.”

“So you’ve never boxed.”

“Do you box?” Octavia asks, with a nod at Lexa’s still-wrapped wrists.

“I own this gym, so yes, I do.”

“It can’t be that hard, then.”

Lexa rolls her eyes to Lincoln and glares, silently condemning his choice in girlfriends, but Lincoln’s too busy trying to hold back a smile at Octavia’s spark to acknowledge Lexa’s displeasure. She raises her palms in surrender.

“Just make sure you get her wrists taped before she hits anything. Or anyone.”

----

Across town, Clarke flips over her cards to reveal a ten and a nine; Monty, triumphant, puts down two tens and scrapes the pile of one dollar bills in the middle of the table into his lap. The rest of the group groans and more than a few cards go flying.

“Will someone check Monty’s pockets for an extra deck?” Miller grumbles.

“You won’t find an extra deck, but you will find an extra large—”

“Stop!” Clarke cries, grimacing. Monty and Jasper burst into laughter and Jasper’s hand appears over the table—he’s lying on the ground—for a high-five. “Just give Harper the cards again, it’s her turn to deal.”

The remnants of their afternoon study session lay scattered around Monty and Jasper’s living room: open books, loose papers, two takeout boxes of cold Chinese food, and a handful of empty Starbucks cups are what they have to show for their three hours of work. Jasper’s on the floor, struggling with the futility of Russian Literature. Clarke would have joined him after finishing her chapter in organic chemistry, had Bellamy not suggested they take a break for some blackjack.

They’ve been playing for the last hour now, schoolwork forgotten.

Harper deals out the cards and everyone drops their last few dollars into the center of the table. Clarke checks her cards—14—asks for another, and promptly busts at 23. She swears and flops back onto the couch.

“Well, well, Griffin,” Murphy says, looking far too amused. “First you lose at pool, now you can’t win a single hand of blackjack?”

“She lost a game of pool!?” Harper nearly shouts.

“How the mighty have fallen, right?”

Clarke flips all of them off. “She cheated. Wasn’t my fault.”

“How did she cheat?” Bellamy asks sardonically; up until then, he had been remarkably supportive, but Clarke knew it wouldn’t last forever.

“She just did.”

“Biiiiiiitter,” Monty sings.

“Watch it, Monty.”

Monty and Jasper’s couch has been her favorite piece of furniture for a long time—they often come home and find her fast asleep on it—and she snuggles into it now, closing her eyes to better ignore her friends and their delight at her misfortune. She hears Monty win two more games of blackjack, to the chagrin of everyone else, before Bellamy sighs.

“Alright, we’re losing focus,” he says. “We all have midterms this week, let’s get back to work. Harp, do you have the political econ notes?”

After plenty of groaning much prodding on Bellamy’s part, the eight of them gradually traded cards for books once more. All except Clarke, drawing Bellamy’s ire. “You too, Princess. You’ve survived pre-med for three years already, don’t bail out now.”

She opens one eye to look at him from the couch. Bellamy is nothing if not determined, and if she doesn’t acknowledge his efforts, he’ll only redouble them until she gives in.

“I got it, Bell,” she says wanly. “Where’s Octavia?”

“Some gym with Lincoln, working out. I told her I’d pick her up at three.”

Lincoln is still a touchy topic, but Bellamy’s forcing himself to be okay with it all. It’s probably the only reason Octavia is allowing him to pick her up and drive her home. Baby steps. While Bellamy returns to his notes, Clarke checks her phone.

“Bell, its three right now.”

“What? Oh shi—”

“No, sit down.” She jumps to her feet and grabs his keys from the table before he can even move, remarkable for a girl who had been face down on the couch a moment before. “I’ll get her.”

“Are you sure?” he asks; Clarke’s already headed for the door.

“Just text me the address and have a coffee waiting for me when I get back!”

----

It’s not until she turns onto Atlas Street and sees the single word “boxing” stencil-painted on the side of a warehouse that she makes the connections: Octavia, Lincoln, Lincoln the boxer, Lexa’s boxing gym, Lexa. Of course.

Still, though, it’s better than being sprawled across Monty’s living room with a textbook on her face.

Pulling up to the curb across the street, Clarke shoots Octavia a quick text and waits. Midterm exams have done an excellent job keeping Lexa—and, indeed, this entire little world—out of her head for the past week, but apparently the universe has a funny way of reminding her.

Nonetheless, her interest starts to build as she watches the building, wondering what it’s like inside. When Octavia doesn’t text back and Clarke has no luck with Bellamy’s radio presets, she gives in to that mounting curiosity.

Clarke jumps out of Bellamy’s truck and heads for the entrance, ignoring the way her heartrate kicks up.

The scene inside stops her in the front doorway: pounding rock music fills the gym, from the polished concrete floor to the high exposed ceiling. There’s workout equipment everywhere, but most of it sits unused, abandoned by the men and women gathered around a central boxing ring, where two fighters circle each other, gloves raised.

Octavia is easy to pick out among the cheering crowd, not least because Lincoln’s hulking figure stands at her shoulder. She’s looking up at the men in the ring like she’s watching a nighttime fireworks show, her smile apparent even from Clarke’s distance.

The lone figure that stands back from the crowd is even easier to identify. Clarke’s gaze lingers on Lexa; she’s straight-backed, tall, her arms crossed over her chest, but she wears a look on her face that’s almost identical to Octavia’s. One of the men escapes from being pinned against the ropes and Lexa lends her voice to the cheers of the crowd, calling out something that’s lost in the noise and laughter.

Her curiosity sated—the grungy gym is exactly how she had imagined it, the fitness edition of The Captain’s Room—Clarke’s courage starts to grow instead the longer she watches. When the bell clangs, the fighters pull apart, and the crowd starts to wander back to their workouts, she steps inside.

“Octavia!”

She turns around the second time Clarke says her name, as do the four other people she’s standing in conversation with.

“Clarke?” O asks, brow furrowing with confusion. “What are you doing here?”

Clarke waves the car keys. “Bell sent me to give you a ride home.”

“It’s three already? Shit, I completely forgot! That was the fastest two hour workout I’ve ever had.” Hastily zipping up her gym bag and slinging it over her shoulder, she waves her free hand at the sentinels staring at Clarke. “Oh, and these are Lincoln’s friends: Nyko, Artigas, and Cara. You guys slaughtered me today, thanks. I’ll be sore for a while.”

Their smiles return when they look at her, with Nyko even chuckling. “You did good,” he tells her, clapping a huge hand on her back

“For a girl,” Artigas adds.

“Watch it,” Clarke snaps.

Octavia decides that’s the cue to leave, even though both she and Cara had looked on the edge of saying the same thing. She dashes away to give Lincoln a quick kiss on the cheek as he rests between jump rope sets nearby, then she returns and falls into step with Clarke.

As they leave, Clarke steals another glance at Lexa, now standing at the back of the gym, and finds Lexa is already watching her from afar. She doesn’t look away when the blonde notices. Clarke takes a steady breath. There’s still a hint of bitter defeat on her tongue, which prevents her from doing anything more than quickly raising a hand in greeting.

Lexa nods once in response before Clarke and Octavia slip out the door.

----

“That is awesome crosstraining, Clarke, you have to come back with me next time,” Octavia says, flushed with post-workout endorphins.

“Not really my style,” Clarke replies, then glances sideways at her. “You’re sweating all over Bellamy’s seat, by the way.”

“Whatever. Probably not the worst thing that’s happened in Bellamy’s truck.” Clarke gags. “Like I said, awesome workout. I can’t wait until the offseason and I can get more into it.”

“Even with Lexa hovering around like that?”

Octavia is quiet, and for a moment Clarke thinks that she didn’t hear her. But when she pulls up to a red light and looks over, Octavia’s excitement has changed to a far more muted spark, her lips pressed together to avoid turning up into a smirk.

“Someone’s still bitter about last weekends loss, apparently,” she taunts.

In that moment, Octavia is the spitting image of Bellamy Blake, down to the way her eyebrow quirks up and Clarke rolls her eyes so hard she feels like she’s in freshman year again.

“She. Cheated. It wasn’t a fair game.”

“Ha!” Octavia scoffs. “Looking hot and distracting you isn’t exactly cheating, it’s playing against your weaknesses. She may be a cold bitch but Lexa’s way smarter than she looks. You should see the way the guys at the gym submit to her.”

Clarke starts to protest, but Octavia’s on a roll. “Then again,” she continues, “You don’t have to be smart to play that card, with the way you look at her.”

What?”

"The whole bar realized it, Clarke, you think Lexa didn't? It was kind of embarrassing how easy she played you."

Clarke feels hot embarrassment creep up into her cheeks. "I was drunk."

“You’re better than that excuse, Griffin.”

For the rest of the car ride, Clarke carefully considers every word she says because Octavia is intent on bringing up the topic at every possible opportunity—the way Clarke’s cheeks flush red is too good to pass up. By the time they get back to the apartment complex, Octavia’s grinning like a fool and Clarke is consumed by raw, fierce determination.

There’s an iced coffee waiting for her on her counter when she goes storming into her apartment. Courtesy Bellamy. She doesn’t give it more than half a glance before she’s rushing upstairs to change. Five minutes later, she’s out the door.

----

It's still too early in the afternoon for Raven to be behind the bar, which is a good thing, because Clarke doesn't have the time or attention for any distractions right now. She soldiers across the room with long, powerful strides, not looking away from her target once.

Lexa doesn't even have time to turn around before Clarke draws within a foot of her.

"I want a rematch.”

"Of what?" Lexa asks as she turns, with disarming civility—which Clarke does not indulge. She gestures to the pool table behind Lexa without breaking their locked gazes or stepping back.

"Another game of pool. Same stakes, if you want."

The corners of Lexa's mouth twitch as if she wants to start laughing, but iron willpower on Clarke's face prevents it. It doesn't stop her eyes from twinkling, though. "You already lost once."

"I was drunk."

"You're kidding.”

Clarke shakes her head, showing her seriousness, and raises an eyebrow to question Lexa’s confidence; the more she learns about this girl, the more she understands how she operates and what drives her. And she’s right.

“Fine,” Lexa says smoothly.

----

Octavia’s words begin to make more sense as Lexa starts the game. Clarke understood in the car, of course, but it doesn’t truly click until Lexa stretches for a shot and attraction pools in Clarke’s stomach at the sight of her muscles rolling in her shoulders. Because naturally Lexa decided to take off her leather jacket again.

Clarke grits her teeth against the war rush, holding her pool stick a little more like a spear. Focus. She knows Lexa game now, she can’t lose. More importantly, Lexa can’t win.

She’s so focused on the green felt top instead of the lean dark-haired girl, planning it five moves ahead like a chess game, that she doesn’t register when Lexa stands aside after putting away her first shot. When she does, she looks at Lexa in confusion: the girl has the opportunity for another shot. She just can’t see it. She’s too busy looking impatient with Clarke’s strategizing.

Clarke clamps down on her tongue to avoid grinning and puts away one ball, then two, in opposite pockets. Lexa’s eyes are burning a hole in her back, but it doesn’t matter. When she’s out of possible shots, she jumps the cue ball over the eight ball anyway, just to show off. Two-one.

Lexa isn’t terribly amused. She arches an eyebrow, stepping up to the table to take aim—then she stops and looks up at Clarke from the position. “So why do you want to buy me drinks all night for the second time?”

She’s really working to win this. “The first time barely counted,” Clarke replies, “You only ordered like two for the rest of the night.”

Lexa shoots the ball without looking, makes it, and shrugs.

“I’ll admit that you’re weirdly determined about this,” she says, “And your sober pool game isn’t that bad. But what do you want to win? Free, terrible beer?”

Clarke ignores her and Lexa backs away from the table. She’s still annoyingly close behind, though, speaking in a low voice as Clarke tries to focus on lining up her next shot.

“You should relax, Clarke. You’re going to snap the pool cue, and Captain’s can’t afford more.”

Something does snap then.

“Listen.” Clarke whips around so fast that Lexa takes a step backward in surprise. “Go ahead, try and distract me when I’m drunk and stupid. You look great, but now it’s not working,” Clarke says, stepping closer. Lexa tries to move back, but she only hits the wall behind her. “And I’m kicking your ass, obviously. I’m going to beat you in this game, and I’m going to keep coming here. Nothing you do can change that. So why are you trying so hard?”

When Clarke doesn’t stop her advance, Lexa presses more firmly against the wall, out of options.

“Don’t try me.”

Her threat is barely above a whisper, yet Clarke is so close that she can hear it clearly. So close that she can almost feel the heat emanating from Lexa’s body.

“Back up,” Lexa warns again.

Clarke doesn’t move. She wants a real response, a real answer from the girl in front of her. Just once.

To her left, Lexa’s friends are on their feet, chairs knocked aside, fists clenched in anticipation. Now that their wariness of the invaders has been proven right, all they need is Lexa’s command.

Which Lexa doesn’t give. She knows, and Clarke knows, that this isn’t that simple.

It’s not the threat of mundane physical danger that has Lexa’s pupils blown wide.

“I think we need a drink right now,” Lexa says quietly.

---

Clarke still isn’t sure how they end up seated next to each other at the bar, but the next thing she knows Lexa is putting down cash for drinks, so Clarke just goes with it. They sit silently, for a few minutes. Though they exhale little bits of their competitiveness with every breath, a tension remains. This is brand new territory. Lexa's offer of drinks is a first step but flowing conversation seems far off.

Salvation arrives, as always in the form of the fresh-faced bartender, one of Raven's new trainees. Clarke addresses him immediately.

"She'll have a vodka collins," she says, unnecessarily motioning to Lexa. The way everyone does, the young man give Lexa a cautious, questioning look. She shrugs acceptance, and he scribbles it down.

"And for you?" he asks Clarke.

Now Lexa speaks up. "A seven and seven.”

This time, the bartender looks warily at Clarke as if she holds the same sway Lexa does. He really is new here.

“Whatever, sounds great,” she says.

Lexa orders a pair of shots to go with their drinks and looks back at Clarke once the man moves away. "Raven makes them the best, but it doesn’t matter. I thought you didn't like my taste?"

"You gave me a second chance, so I can try one of your "tragic, mysterious past" drinks."

"I didn't see where I had much of a choice in another pool game."

Clarke can't argue that; she wouldn't have left without some sort of satisfaction. "We'll call it even, then." Lexa looks entirely unconcerned with matters of fairness and just nods, drumming her fingers on the bar.

Over Lexa's shoulder, her friends still watch from afar. "Maybe you could tell your bodyguards we're okay, then?"

"Those four? They won't do anything unless I'm actually in trouble."

"Yeah, I'm sure that happens all the time." Clarke laughs. "You don't look like the type of girl who gets in trouble. At least," she adds at the arch of Lexa's eyebrow, "You're not someone who needs help getting out of it."

"Not yet." Lexa gives a crooked half-grin. "They still look out, though."

"Why?"

"It's..." Lexa hesitates, holds her breath a minute before turning and pointing to each of the people standing there. "Gus is like an uncle, I've known him all my life. Chrys is a training partner. Ryder is dating a cousin. Russ is a cousin. Everyone knows everyone here. Everyone looks out for everyone. You have to, in this neighborhood. That’s…just how it is.”

“But why do they listen to you like they do? You’re what, twenty-one?”

“Twenty-three.” Clarke rolls her eyes because Lexa’s missing the point, so Lexa counters with, “Well then why do your friends follow you?”

Clarke starts to argue—it’s not the same—but the arrival of the drinks at long last provides for a better distraction. Another ceasefire. Two shots; a tall, sparkling pale yellow drink for Lexa; and

Lexa grabs the shots first and hands one over. Clarke grimaces at the smell—she’s had problems with whiskey since a sophomore year Christmas party—and Lexa flashes that half-grin again. It’s something she does a lot, Clarke has realized, and at things other people probably wouldn’t. Shots of whiskey. Fistfights. Pool games. Clarke’s habit of challenging her.

“Cheers.”

---

It’s an extended ceasefire. Several hours long, in fact.

“This is so mature,” Lexa mutters, glancing around at the rest of the bar.

Clarke looks over at her, embarrassed until she sees that Lexa is wearing that half-grin again. “Stop being a sarcastic asshole,” she shoots back, slurring her words slightly, “or else stop giving me shots. I can’t tell when I’m drunk”

“You keep ordering them, Clarke.”

“Yeah but you keep downing them.” And as long as Lexa does, so will she.

The new bartender has more drink-making ability than Finn ever did but he’s painfully unaware of the environment of his new job. He spends half his time cutting limes with a laser-like precision, and serves each individual shot on a new cocktail napkin. As the bar has filled up with regulars around them, Clarke and Lexa have collected a dozen of these napkins; and somewhere along the line, Clarke found a pen.

“Alright, Picasso,” Lexa says, trying to sound disapproving and unconcerned. “Whatever.” She’s flipping through the napkins Clarke has already decorated, covered in flowers, stars, animals, little cartoons.

Clarke just giggles and ignores her as she finishes her latest masterpiece: a caricature of the bartender himself, complete with exaggerated ears and nose. She tosses it onto the pile of finished work and grabs a fresh canvas.

“How bout your tattoo?” she asks.

Lexa’s hand drifts up to her shoulder and squeezes, like she’s rubbing an aching muscle instead of ink on skin. She wouldn’t even look drunk were it not for her eyes, half-lidded and cloudy with alcohol.

“’s just a design. Family design.”

Clarke wants to reach across the space dividing them and push her tingling fingers underneath the collar of Lexa’s jacket, so she can see the black swirls and lines. Her hand twitches forward; she digs her nails into her own thigh to stop herself.

She’s too drunk for this. The smile on her face has been there for several minutes now, she knows, but she’s so content here. Warm. And Lexa is smiling too.

“C’mon, Lexa, I wanna draw it. At least describe it, if you’re too square to take off your clothes.”

Lexa’s face reddens. “Clarke, I—”

“Can I get you ladies anything else?” the bartender asks, appearing from nowhere.

Lexa claps her hand down on the bar so fast that she lets out a yelp of pain, which in turn makes Clarke burst into loud laughter, and the two girls draw the attention of the entire bar. When Clarke realizes that Lexa covered the offensive drawing of the bartender, she laughs even harder, tears jumping to her eyes.

Lexa must be drunk, because she starts laughing too. It’s the best thing Clarke’s heard in a while. She feels herself tip and claps a hand down on Lexa’s thigh to steady herself.

The bartender stares.

Then a familiar voice raises over the others.

“What the fuck, Johnny?” All three turn in surprise to see Raven, standing at the entrance to the bar with her jaw hanging open. “How the hell did you get this to work? Are they on something? Did you sell the med student something?

Johnny the bartender looks to be way out of his depth and rapidly shakes his head in alarm.

“Huh.” Raven looks between Clarke and Lexa suspiciously, glances at the pile of drawings Clarke has scattered about, then looks back to the girls. She inches forward as if they’re going to jump her as soon as she drops her guard. “All right…I won’t ask. How much have you had to drink?”

“A lot,” Clarke says, her eyes still shining with laughter. “Do not cut us off.”

“This place can’t afford it,” Lexa says confidently.

Raven can’t argue that and wouldn’t want to anyway after seeing the state they’re in.

If she does pour the alcohol any lighter than usual, though, Clarke can’t taste it in the next several drinks Raven makes them.

She loses count somewhere around the fourth. If Lexa can keep going, she can keep going.

Her drawings get messier. And stupider—but Lexa keeps laughing, even when it’s just scribbles or flowers so Clarke keeps drawing. When she runs out of napkins, Lexa leans over the bar and steals her some more.

“Those are going to cost you!” Raven shouts at her from six customers away.

“Put ‘em on my tab, Raven.”

The whole room is spinning. She focuses hard on Lexa, the only constant thing in her vision.

“I’m too drunk,” she mumbles.

“Me too.” Lexa tilts her head to the ceiling and lets out a low groan. “Fuck. I need to get home. I’m too good to pass out in Captain’s.”

“How modest.”

“Not supposed to.”

“You’re fine.”

But Lexa slides off her stool anyway, wavering slightly on her feet but forcing herself to stand tall. She gives Clarke a half-shrug and a weary smile. “Have a good night, Clarke.”

“You can’t—” Suddenly alarmed, Clarke’s dismount from her bar stool is far less graceful than Lexa’s. She recovers her balance and grabs for Lexa. “You can’t walk home alone at night! It’s…” she checks her phone “—it’s almost one!”

“Clarke.” Lexa snaps her mouth around the ‘k’ sound. “I’m fine.”

“Where’s your friends?”

Lexa frowns. “I basically own these streets.”

God, she sounds like Bell used to—all drunk arrogance, bravado, welcoming the risk in front of her.

Clarke knows how to handle Bell at his worst. At least Lexa is pretty.

“Yeah, right,” the blonde drawls, ignoring the display. She latches onto Lexa’s arm. “C’mon. Two is safer.”

 ---

Outside, most of the streetlights are shot out or flickering. Clarke and Lexa navigate through the dark, only the light of their cellphones and glowing neon signs for late-night clubs lighting their paths.

She doesn’t know where they’re going. Or where they are. Or what time it is. Or how she got here. What she is aware of, hyperaware of, is the way they sway as they walk and their bodies swing within inches of each other, arms brushing, skin burning

Clarke shivers even though she can’t really feel the cold.

The contact every few steps is nice. It’s all she thinks about—maintaining the perfect distance.

She loses track of the route Lexa leads through the mazy streets of the neighborhood. Then they’re in an alley and Lexa pulls Clarke away from stepping in a puddle. Then they’re cutting across a vacant lot through ankle-deep weeds. Lexa knows the place like the back of her hand.

Bellamy calls her, at one point. He’s asking where she is. She has no idea. Lexa gives an address, Clarke rattles it off, then hangs up.

“Almost home,” Lexa mumbles.

They turn the corner onto a wider street, lined with white houses. Clarke is floating, warm and dizzy and sleepy. She takes a deep breath of cool air to try to clear the haze—instead, it’s Lexa’s perfume that fills her head.

Now that they’ve escaped the smoky, alcohol soaked bar, the scent is everywhere and it does more than the alcohol ever did.

She inhales again, tasting it this time, and looks over at Lexa. The alcohol has blunted the hard edges of the world and everything is soft now—the air, the darkness, Lexa’s eyes, Clarke’s breath. It’s one of those moments where everything just settles.

“We’re here,” Lexa declares suddenly, sounding surprised herself.

Clarke has no idea where here is. They stop on the sidewalk, in front of a yard fenced in by a waist-high chain-link fence. A small, white house set back from the street. She doesn’t pay much attention to it, not when Lexa looks so good in the nighttime, looks so good drunk and happy and hazy.

She wants to be closer.

The world tilts and she leans forward with it, closer to Lexa. Lexa’s gaze lowers to Clarke’s lips.

The creak of hinges and the smack of a screen door meet their ears.

“Lexa?” asks a new voice, heavy with sleep. “Are you okay?”

Lexa pulls away suddenly. Clarke turns to see a figure stepping lightly down the porch steps toward them. It’s too dark to see anything but a mane of dirty blonde hair.

“Oh good,” Lexa groans, “You’re up. Didn’t have a key.”

“You were at Captain’s? Just get inside, I’ll get you a water.”

Lexa takes a minute to unlatch the gate with fingers that won’t cooperate, then stumbles into the yard and nearly into the girl’s waiting arms. Clarke’s stomach clenches for some reason at the way she holds Lexa up, practically carrying her up the stairs.

At the top of the steps, Lexa stops and looks back. “Wait, hold on, Clarke, you should come with me…”

The girl on the porch says nothing.

When Clarke opens her mouth to answer, she’s cut short by the familiar rumbling of a truck engine, just out of sight around the corner; it’s the first car they’ve heard on these empty streets all night. Her heart sinks even further.

“No, it’s okay. Bell’s here to get me.”

 ---

She doesn’t remember much after that.

The leather seats of Bellamy’s truck. Streetlights drifting past the window.

He says something. She replies, eyes closed. He laughs.

She can still smell Lexa’s perfume.

Chapter Text

"So one of my coworkers recommended this place to me, it's supposed to be good," Clarke says as they settle into their seats on the sidewalk patio of a downtown restaurant. "Whatever you get is on me."

Bellamy chuckles. "It's definitely a cut above the usual campus spots. We can just split the bill."

He may believe himself to be forever in her debt for the infamous freshman year rescue, but Clarke knows when she owes someone too. "Driving a half hour to pick me up off the street earns you a free lunch. Now hurry up and pick something, I only have a forty minutes before I have to be back at work."

"Surprised you could fit me in," Bellamy replies, grabbing his menu. "How's work going?"

"Same old. Just data entry and admin work. I heard this place has really good chicken tacos."

"Well, work is work. Gotta do this stuff before you can go out and save the world. At least Mt. Weather Med research facilities looks great on a resume."

"You sound like my mom," she says, wrinkling her nose.

"C'mon," he laughs, "It's only fifteen hours a week."

Clarke shrugs behind her menu. "I guess," she says. "But how about we don't talk about my shitty job while I'm on a break?"

"Fine. How was that hangover the other day?"

"Terrible, thanks for asking." Even two days post, the memory of the morning after is enough to make her nauseous. "I was drinking whiskey."

Bellamy winces in sympathy. "Yeah, you mentioned something about that that night. You were so gone."

"I'm too old for this, Bell."

"How did it even happen? I haven't seen you drink like that since maybe...sophomore year." But Clarke is grimacing, shaking her head, and he begins to laugh and backpedal. "Don't worry, it's great! I've missed that Clarke. These are our last few months where it's totally acceptable so it's good to have you back. I'm just curious."

Lexa. A pretty girl with perfect eyeliner smiling every time I took a shot.

"I was just in the mood for it, I guess," she says noncommittally. There's something about keeping the night a secret that is not only oddly thrilling, but also entirely necessary. Bellamy and the others wouldn't get it. She usually shares everything with them, but keeping this a secret makes it special. Whatever "this" is.

"Well, stay in the mood for it," Bellamy tells her. “There will be plenty of opportunities. The sports teams are almost done with their seasons. You ready for that?”

She gives him a mysterious grin over the top of the menu and pretends to study it, knowing full well what she’s going to order; meanwhile, Bellamy launches into a discussion of a possible job offer awaiting him once he graduates. Something about a security company position. Clarke lets him talk and offers plenty of encouragement, but lately, her own plans of the future aren’t a much better topic than discussion of her hangover.

His attention shifts once a cute redheaded waitress stops at their table to take their orders. Bellamy flashes her his finest smile.

"I was hoping you'd be the one to come over here," he tells her. "I've never been here before, can you just bring me your personal favorite draft? And a whiskey neat for her."

Clarke is halfway through rolling her eyes when she gags, much to his amusement. "Ugh. I don't even know why I'm friends with you. Sorry about him," she tells the girl with an equally charming smile. "Don't judge me by my friends, please. I'll just have a water."

Bellamy will glare at her later for trying to steal his thunder ("You always end up with the girls I start flirting with!" is a common complaint) but her effort is half-hearted and he knows it. This girl isn't her type.

"I'll remember that," the waitress says with a smile as she scribbles down their drinks. "And anything to eat?"

Bell is not to be dissuaded. "Again, I'll trust your judgement on this one. What's your favorite?"

While he chats up the waitress, Clarke resists scoffing at him and tries to act like she’s not there by pulling out her phone. There’s a new message on the screen, from a number she doesn’t recognize.

[1:44 PM]: Are you aware you gave me your phone number on Friday night?

She chokes on air and receives alarmed looks from both Bellamy and the redheaded waitress. She ignores them.

Clarke [1:44]: I wasn’t, but that must mean we got along well

[1:45]: it was on a napkin that was stained with Jack Daniel’s. And a stick figure drawing of us drinking together. What does that mean?

“Oh my god,” Clarke hisses, pressing her hand over her face in mortification. Now she remembers her napkin art that had so amused Lexa.

Clarke [1:47]: It means I’m a bored college girl who had too much Jack Daniel’s

Clarke [1:47]: which was your fault, by the way

Lexa [1:49]: That you were bored?

Clarke [1:50]: No, the JD

Lexa: Since I can’t remember, I won’t argue. In any case, thank you for getting me home.

Clarke: anytime

Lexa: I’ll buy your next drink for it.

Clarke: I’m working tonight and Tuesday, but how about…Wednesday?

Lexa: Anytime.

Putting her phone away, she looks up to see that the waitress has gone and Bellamy is grinning at her.

“What?” she asks, cocking her head nonchalantly.

His grin widens. “Your face just ran the entire emotional spectrum and now you’re basically glowing. Who you talking to?”

Again, the secret feels so much better when it’s all hers. “My group project meeting later today just got moved to Wednesday night. Which is good, because I was not prepared for it today.”

“Whatever you say. Just let me know if I need to pick you up off a random sidewalk again.”

“You won’t,” she assures him, hiding her smile in her water glass.

****

Even though it's gone cold, Clarke absentmindedly swirls the last few sips of her latte as if there's still espresso clinging to the sides of the cup that she might have missed. Three shots of espresso is usually a bad idea at nine at night, but she's also still answering emails at this point in her day so she figured she could reward herself, especially since she's on her way to the bar.

She scrolls through her inbox on her phone, swaying with the city train as it rounds a corner. First, she's trying to convince Maya, a coworker at the research center, to take Clarke's Saturday shift; her four group members are trying to schedule a meetup to rehearse their biomed presentation for class; and the volunteer coordinator at the hospital wants to confirm her for a twenty-hour workweek the following week.

As Bell had said, work is work. Nonetheless, Clarke spends more time unrolling the rim of her paper coffee cup and when the train stops, she closes down the half-finished email response. She silences her phone and slides it into her back pocket, along with the rest of her pseudo-professional student life.

It's Clarke the regular who walks into the Captain's Room now. She sweeps her hair back over her shoulder as she strides in and no one bothers to look up at the flash of blonde the way they used to. This is routine.

Except for Lexa. Her eyes are ever-searching, ever-watching, and they lock onto Clarke from the back of the bar, watching her all the way. Once Clarke slides onto a barstool, Lexa hands her pool cue off and makes her way over.

"You're still paying for one of my drinks, right?" Clarke greets her with a smile.

"Since the most expensive thing here costs ten dollars, I can do that," Lexa replies, sliding into the seat next to Clarke.

"Plus a tip!" Raven calls from down the bar, before looking back at the customer in front of her, a kid who looks barely old enough to be here. "Art, I swear, it's only nine. But I can't give you any more if you can barely stand up." The kid starts to complain.

Lexa's watching them. "Gustus!" she throws over her shoulder. "Gus, come get Artigas."

Gustus obeys, with one giant paw on Art's shoulder as he steers him away from the bar. Raven sidles over to Clarke and Lexa, watching the two men warily, but Jack is in no position to resist someone as huge as Gus.

"Thanks, Lexa," she says. "So I heard you say you’re paying for Clarke's drinks tonight? What am I pouring? Been a while since I made a hydrazine shot."

Lexa is already half a beer down, but she looks to Clarke for an answer.

"Just a beer too. For now."

“Ugh. I miss your friends, Princess. They’re more fun.”

“That’s what everyone says.”

When Raven glides away for other, “more interesting” customers, Lexa speaks up: “I don’t think I’ve seen you order just a beer since your first night here, Clarke.”

“Saturday morning hit me pretty hard,” Clarke groans. “But you’re welcome to have whiskey again if you want.”

“Not if you won’t.”

“So you were fine after all we drank?”

“Perfectly fine.”

“Sure you were. Don’t pretend you weren’t just as drunk as I was. You’re welcome for getting you home, by the way.”

Lexa flashes a half-grin over the rim of her glass as she takes a sip. “I don’t remember that, actually. But I believe it.”

“I only remember bits and pieces too,” Clarke admits, chewing her lip; as she looks at Lexa, of course the memories that come flooding back are centered on the girl in front of her. Her hair was braided then, instead of being left down in dark waves like it is now, and tonight she’s in a loose black tank top and black jeans but the way the soft glow of the mismatched lightbulbs above falls on her skin is the exactly same.

Clarke smiles at it. Even the memory of the whiskey isn't so bad.

"You know what? I will have a shot. Want one?"

"Of course."

They settle on rum after Clarke swears that she will not be drinking any whiskey—it earns her an eye-roll but she has never been the one to cave at anyone else’s insistence—and then one shot turns into two and two into three as Clarke tells her about the her job at Mt. Weather Research and the way Maya never really seemed to warm to her.

After four shots in one hour, Clarke’s starting to think that maybe she is giving in a little more than usual. But there are worse reasons to give in than going shot for shot with the girl in front of her, aren’t there?

“So are you bored this time, Clarke? Or should I steal some more napkins for your artistry?”

“You’re not stealing anything!” Raven interrupts them.

Which is a good thing, because Clarke had been about to make a very bad joke about how being an artist makes her good with her hands.

In response to Raven, Lexa waits until the girl is distracted mixing a drink for a customer; she grabs Clarke’s empty beer glass, leans over the bar, and starts filling it beneath one of the taps.

“No, you’re not boring at all,” Clarke tells her with a low laugh, her eyes drifting down to the bottom of Lexa’s shirt, hitched up to reveal a strip of tan skin at her waist.

Lexa sits back down and the skin disappears again. She hands Clarke her beer. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Lincoln told me about you.”

“Lincoln doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“He told me you have a boxing gym.”

“I know. You were there the other day.”

“So you box.”

“A little.” She pauses to put on a perfectly smooth, innocent face as Raven walks by, none the wiser to the beer theft. “You, on the other hand, are the daughter of a surgeon and an engineer, from Washington DC, with a job at a top research center, a volunteer position at a hospital, and a full course load before medical school…”

“And she’s having drinks with you,” Raven snipes, though it’s not clear if it’s a jab or a compliment, or if it’s meant for Lexa or Clarke.

Nevertheless, Clarke rolls her eyes. “Nights like this are…great. I feel better here. Everything’s more open and lighter and I don’t have to think about where I’m going to be next year. I don’t really…”

But it becomes clear that her words are falling on deaf ears when she looks up and sees that Lexa’s attention is focused sharply over Clarke’s shoulder, the muscles in her jaw clenching. Raven, too.

Clarke turns and sees that most of the bar has stopped to stare at the two uniformed police officers who have just walked in. Most of the patrons glare; some shift uncomfortably in their seats; and the voices in the bar fade to a low murmur.

“Raven,” one of the officers calls.

“What’s up, boys?” she asks, grinning as casually as ever.

“We’re looking for Artigas again. He been in here at all tonight?”

“Artigas who?”

The officer rolls his eyes. “Let’s not go through this again, Raven. You know who I’m talking about.”

The kid from just an hour earlier. Her eyes find Gus in the back. Just beyond him, out of sight behind Gus’s body, Art sits silently on a chair.Confusion rising into alarm, Clarke turns back to Lexa for an explanation, as if Lexa runs everything, but the dark-haired girl doesn’t meet her eyes. Instead, she shifts her hand onto Clarke’s thigh. It’s fine.

 “I haven’t seen him since the weekend, Kane.” Raven shrugs, sounding bored. “If I do, I’ll let you know.”

“We need to—”

“There are like twenty other bars in a five mile radius. If you’re going to go hunting for him at every one with no idea where he actually is, you should hurry out of here.”

The officer steps forward like he wants to say so much more, but Raven is leaning on the bar with the easy arrogance that will let her shoot down everything he has to say. Everyone in the bar knows it. Clarke chews the inside of her cheek: if this kid hurt someone, or did something, the cops should know.

As if she can read Clarke’s thoughts, Lexa squeezes her leg slightly to reassure her.

After making Raven promise to inform them if Artigas does show up, the cops leave and the voices in the bar start to pick up again. Lexa slowly drags her hand off Clarke’s thigh now that the threat is gone; Clarke looks down at where it had been and catches herself wishing Lexa would put it back. Perhaps even higher. To cool the sudden wave of heat that washes over her, Clarke quickly downs several gulps of her beer. Lexa doesn’t notice.

“Hey, Raven,” Lexa says to the bartender, “Thanks for taking care of him.”

Raven is too busy locking the cash register and wiping her hands on a grungy towel to look back. “No problem. Hold down the fort for me a minute, will you? I’m going to make sure someone gets that kid home.”

Clarke watches Raven jog out from behind the bar and head to the back corner where Gus and Artigas sit, already gesticulating them toward the door. Gus is nodding at whatever she’s saying.

“You all really do take care of each other,” Clarke says. “Even Raven.”

“She’s been here long enough to understand.”

“But how do you know what he did, though? What if he—”

Lexa just shrugs, unconcerned. “They usually give him a bad time, even just for trespassing, or being here underage. Are you worried about it?”

“I—no, I’m not. It’s just not something I’ve dealt with before. But if you say it’s fine, I trust you.”

“Good.” A quick smile breaks over her face and Lexa grabs Clarke’s glass again, and Clarke’s reflexes are too slow to catch her. She leans forward over the bar again.

“You can’t do this twice in one night, Lexa!”

With a snort, Lexa says, “Yes I can. I’m in charge of the bar.”

“She’s going to kick your ass.”

“She can try.”

The stool Lexa is sitting on as she leans forward wobbles suddenly, prompting Clarke to reach forward and put her hand on a drunk Lexa’s back, to steady her. She starts to laugh as the beer overflows and Lexa quickly shuts off the tap. When she pulls back to sit, a quarter of the beer slops onto the floor.

Raven is coming back. None of this is actually funny, but the fact that Lexa so effortlessly kills her smile and adopts a look of stoic, bored innocence makes Clarke choke on her beer as the bartender walks over.

“So I sent Artigas with Nyko out the back door, and—oh great, the girlfriends are laughing again.” She shakes her head as if she’s disgusted, the raises her voice to the rest of the bar. “Last call! Kicking everyone out in a half hour.”

“Are you serious?” Lexa asks, raising an eyebrow. “It’s only—”

“Midnight,” Raven says. “On a Wednesday. It’s midnight on a Wednesday and you two are drunk and the only ones enjoying yourselves at a dive bar. On a Wednesday night. Look around you: that’s not why this place is open on weeknights. Don’t you have something better to do? Let’s go, get out.”

After a fair amount of grumbling and glares as they take the last few swigs of their drinks, Clarke and Lexa spill out onto the street, still laughing. It’s only midnight. Clarke’s espresso shots are kicking in, mixing with the alcohol, and she feels like she’s on top of the world with Lexa at her side. Midnight is far too early to admit defeat and head home.

And Lexa, looking at her with sparkling eyes, can tell. “Come on, I know where we can go.”

****

The sidewalks are cracked and crooked, and every hundred yards or so, they walk past a shady group of people standing beneath a streetlight or hunched in a dark alley. And yet, Lexa walks the streets the same way she does everything else: with her head held high, her back straight, the vague shadow of a challenge on her face.

Once, as they cut between two dilapidated office buildings, Clarke glances down at their hands. Lexa has twisted the metal band of her watch around her knuckles. She thumbs it absent-mindedly. But everything else about her is calm, so Clarke has no questions of safety while she’s at her side.

 The walk feels longer than last week, taking almost a half-hour before she suddenly recognizes the street they’re on, and the rows of old, leaning, tract houses on either side of the street. Heat flashes through her body like an electric shock: they’re going back to Lexa’s place. Dark, private, safe, no pretenses or battles. Just them.

They reach Lexa’s house and Lexa jogs up the steps ahead of her, balancing on a railing that is already leaning pretty heavily. “C’mon, Clarke,” she says, waiting with her hand on the doorknob.

Clarke takes a deep breath, follows her up the steps, and nearly jumps back when Lexa swings the front door open.

There’s a party inside. Not a party that she could find on the college campus, with the lights off and sweaty bodies pressed against each other and music pounding—but there must be two dozen people crammed into Lexa’s small living room, bodies lounging on mismatched furniture and people talking and laughing and arguing about the music playing from the stereo. Lexa steps inside, Clarke close on her heels, and is greeted jovially by the few people closest to the door. The rest of the room doesn’t even know she’s walked in.

“Half of the neighborhood usually ends up here most nights.” Pride softens her usually cool eyes as she scans the room, but it’s replaced by a more serious look when she glances at Clarke. “Is this okay?”

“It’s—it’s great,” she says, honestly, lips lifting into a smile at it all. “I’m just used to parties where drunk guys grab at me in the dark and everyone’s drinking plastic bottle vodka.”

Lexa snorts. “No one will touch you, but it’s still plastic bottle vodka here, Clarke. Do you want some?”

“God, no.”

“I’ll get you a beer, then,” Lexa says, stepping close to slide past Clarke. She navigates quickly through the crowd of people in the living room and disappears into the kitchen.

It takes a few minutes before someone notices her; a blonde woman, tall and lean, like Lexa, peels away from one group and fixes her with a hard stare. She has a beer in one hand, and the other has a cast on it.

“And who are you?” she asks. The rest of the group she had been talking to stops and watches.

“Clarke.”

The woman studies her for a moment before recognition dawns. “Ah, the chivalrous drunk girl from last week,” she says, in a sarcastic drawl, “Glad to see you standing upright.”

Clarke has a blurry memory of the woman on the front steps of the house last weekend, but then she had only been a shadow and she hadn’t sounded nearly as combative, so Clarke doesn’t try to remember anything else. “Do I know you?” she offers coolly.

“This is my house, so if you don’t, you should probably leave.”

“Anya,” comes the only voice Clarke knows. Lexa comes striding out of the kitchen, stepping forward until her shoulder brushes Clarke’s; she presses a can of beer into Clarke’s hand without looking away from Anya’s face. “Clarke, this is my cousin Anya. She lives here too.”

“We met last week,” Anya reminds her, voice still cutting, “But you probably don’t remember.”

“Oh yeah,” Clarke replies after a moment of false confusion, “I had to make sure your cousin got home safe while you sat here.”

Anya’s eyes narrow but Lexa lets out a laugh. “Anya’s too busy breaking her hands on other people’s faces to come and drink with us.”

“It’ll be your face next, little cousin, unless you watch yourself,” Anya warns, a twinkle in her eye. Lexa shifts closer to Clarke, something visible to everyone present, prompting a defeated sigh from Anya. “Fine,” she says. She hands her beer off and offers her non-injured hand out to Clarke. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

At Anya’s acceptance, begrudging as it may have been, the rest of the group seems to warm to her as well. Lexa and Anya kick a half-dozen people off their couch and the new group falls onto it, with Lexa tugging Clarke down beside her, pressing together as everyone squeezes onto it. Clarke can feel every breath. She can feel her laughter as Ryder recites a story from the gym that morning about a new member who refused a bench press spotter.

Some of it is the alcohol, but Clarke feels comfortable and at home here; she feels like she’s eighteen again, on her own for the first time, delighting in all the new adventures college has to offer her.

Even when Lexa is dragged from the couch to referee a drinking contest, the feeling of contentedness persists. Everyone is laughing and carefree—she can’t remember the last time she was like this. And it’s thanks to the girl who brought her here, who also seems to be glowing with contentment now that she’s among her people.

Lexa is a different creature, in fact.

The cool aloofness with which she navigated conversations and pool games has faded within the four walls of her home. She cheers with them, holding her drink against her shoulder and watching with delight as Ryder and Quint race to finish their beers. When Quint loses, in pathetic fashion, Lexa laughs and rolled her eyes as the jeers fill the room. She’s drunk, unsteady on her feet, but she still seems to retain her senses and the glint never leaves her eye. She’s in her element and Clarke, despite all the activity going on around her, can’t stop staring. Hungrily.

She has to remind herself, as someone spills a beer and she jumps back to avoid getting splashed, that her world and Lexa’s world are entirely separate, linked only by a chance meeting in a bar. Lexa has certainly impressed on her this point, up until tonight. Different galaxies. She had never expected the two to intersect, to see Lexa so open and shining and comfortable.

And yet here they are, Clarke a satellite orbiting this new world she never expected to reach, studying its features from afar.

She has never wanted to touch the surface so bad.

Lexa flashes another smile and catches the bottle of beer someone tosses her, and the longer Clarke watches, the worse the ache in her chest becomes, burning and tinged green with jealousy of the people who are more to Lexa than simple satellites. 

She finds herself in the kitchen after this, the room nearly empty now that someone has brought the bottle of vodka into the cramped living room. Someone’s passed out face-down on the kitchen table. The window above the sink is open, the only source of cool air in the house, and she leans toward it to let the breeze cool her face. The effects of the alcohol are already starting to wear off.

Now she’s just suffering the heat of the house and the warm desire in the pit of her stomach that threatens to make her do something embarrassing if she doesn’t act on it soon.

“Clarke?”

“Wha?”

She spins and Lexa is there, close, too close—her features, dark and dangerous, are razor sharp in Clarke’s otherwise blurred vision. Her gaze drops to Lexa’s parted lips, straight teeth just barely visible behind them, and as Lexa leans in to whisper in Clarke’s ear, all she can imagine is the words she’d love to hear breathed past those lips.

Instead…

“Are you okay?”

The words aren’t as surprising at the almost nervous way in which they tumble out of Lexa’s mouth, as if Clarke were thinking of leaving. She nods first, then verbalizes: “I’m fine. I’m fine. This is great.”

Reassured, Lexa pulls back. Clarke catches her hand and Lexa freezes, just far enough away for them to look each other in the eye.

“But is there anywhere quieter?”

 ****

It’s not any quieter upstairs. Music and laughter from below continues to filter through the thin walls and floor, just as loud as if they were still in the center of the party. But when Lexa shuts the door behind them and plunges the room into darkness, everything on the other side of that door stops existing. The only thing Clarke can hear is Lexa’s shallow breathing.

She reaches out with both hands, finds Lexa’s hips, and pushes her back against the door.

Their lips meet before either girl can mumble another word or dare or joke. The softness of Lexa’s lips and the way she folds them against Clarke’s belie the grip of her fingers digging into Clarke’s waist.

She tastes like rum and the scent of the perfume that’s been on Clarke’s mind for weeks, and it’s making her head swim. The feeling of Lexa’s body, hard and lean and pliant against hers, is making it even worse.

It’s not long before their hands and their lips start to wander. Whenever one girl pulls away for a breath, the other leaves sloppy kisses over her neck and jaw line until their lips can collide again.

As Lexa kisses down over Clarke’s throat, her fingers dragging along her collarbone, she feels Clarke swallow hard. “Tell me if you want to stop,” Lexa whispers.

This is everything she’s needed since the night they met. She’s breathless as she shakes her head.

“I don’t.”

“Good.”

Pushing off the door, Lexa steers Clarke backward to the bed on the other side of the room, never once breaking the slow, comfortable string of kisses, until Clarke’s knees hit the mattress and she sinks down; Lexa follows into her lap.

“I’ve wanted this,” she mumbles. The satisfaction is evident in the tension of Lexa’s muscles and in the heat emanating from her skin. All Clarke wants to do, in that heightened state, is intensify that satisfaction. She stifles a moan in the back of her throat and kisses Lexa harder. Lexa presses back, angling them down toward the mattress with the weight of her body pressed fully against Clarke. And Clarke is giving in, mind hazy with lust.

But then something spurs her to reach a hand back and brace herself on the mattress.

Lexa pushes forward again but Clarke stays upright, stuttering the rhythm they’ve eased into. “Wait,” she says, and Lexa freezes.

The momentum shifts at that. Clarke seizes the opportunity, first loosening Lexa's awareness with a trail of kisses along her jaw, and then twisting their bodies so that Lexa is suddenly laying beneath her on the mattress, her head on the pillow and her waist pinned between Clarke’s legs.

She releases a breathy laugh against Lexa's lips, more from delight and relief than amusement in way Lexa's body tightens in shock. She's much more comfortable here, dark room, a warm body beneath her between her legs, kiss-swollen lips, and new tastes on her tongue. Panting, breathless desire and skin on fire.  Straddling someone, instead of the other way around. She's freer. In charge. There's far more to do.

Nonetheless, it’s clear Lexa has the same ideology: Clarke moves her hands to the soft skin of Lexa's biceps, pushing them up and pinning them above Lexa's head, and is immediately met with resistance and a sharp bite to her lower lip. She releases with a little smirk—an attempt at a middle ground—and Lexa soothes the skin she nearly broke through with a kiss.

Some sort of compromise achieved, they take advantage of the ceasefire to explore each other’s bodies. Lexa dusts kisses over Clarke’s pulse point, making her heart hammer, while Clarke ghosts her hands down over Lexa’s chest. She wants to explore everything, wants to feel all of her.

Dropping her hands lower, her fingers hit the skin for the first time, the strip just above the waistband of Lexa’s jeans that she had been so fascinated with at the bar—at the touch, Clarke freezes, uncertain.

"Is this okay?" she murmurs.

Lexa shows her acquiescence by taking Clarke's hand and sliding it higher, the material of her shirt rising with Clarke's arm, and from there it's a frenetic, downhill tumble started by the gunshot feeling of skin on skin. They sit up, pulling off first Lexa’s shirt, then Clarke’s, trying to keep kissing, trying to stay connected, trying to keep their balance as the alcohol and oxygen deprivation and hummingbird heartrates make the room spin. And all in darkness.

And then suddenly, it all stops. Clarke finds herself with her lips on Lexa's bare stomach, inches below a black lace bra, and the world settles again.

She lets out a sign of relief and watches as her breath raises goosebumps on the skin it touches. Lexa's fingers stroke through her blonde hair with slow, deliberate movements, but Clarke's heart is racing and they've gone too far to slow down, so she releases another breathy sigh and hooks her fingers into Lexa's black underwear and pulls. Lexa manages to kick them off beneath Clarke's body. Clarke surprises herself with a grin of pleasure when her fingers hit the newly bare skin.

And then she digs her fingernails into the back of Lexa’s thighs and leaves a sloppy kiss between her hipbones; Lexa releases a low, soft moan of need.

The sound is like hot metal. The slow rhythm of Clarke's lips moving lower stumbles, her stomach lurches at the shock it sends through her to hear this girl, of all people, genuinely whine with need. She needs to hear it again. And again.

Her eyes fly up and Lexa clamps her mouth shut, cheeks flushing darker than they were.

Clarke slides back up, gently nipping at Lexa’s neck, before she whispers, “Don’t. I like it.”

Lexa shudders, Clarke kisses her, and it tastes like victory.

They’re wearing next to nothing now but the feeling of skin on skin is intoxicating and forces Clarke up from Lexa’s body, far enough away so that she can reach back and unclasp her bra. Lexa reaches up for the skin that’s revealed and even though there’s a rush of pleasure at having Lexa’s hands on her, it takes Clarke a moment of strength to resist the urge to pin Lexa’s arms down again.

She has to remind herself that this isn’t The Captain’s Room, there’s no pride here, just them and skin and the rhythm that’s starting to build between Clarke’s fingers and Lexa’s hips.

As she moves faster, she feels Lexa's strength in every inch of her body when Lexa at last arches up off of the bed; muscles tense to steel, which immediately melts down, and her hand curls around the back of Clarke's neck and pulls her down for a deep bruising kiss that seals off the moans rising through her throat. It’s a desperate type of cling that Clarke loves because it won’t last, not with the way her fingers or the way Lexa’s hips start to roll.

"Fuck…Clarke," she breathes before Clarke pushes her over the edge.

As drunk as she is, the way Lexa says her name and rakes her fingernails down Clarke’s spine to her lower back is something Clarke will never forget. The arm she’s supporting herself on gives out and she tumbles down onto Lexa’s body, delighting in the way Lexa’s chest heaves against her own. With a steady hand, Clarke guides Lexa as she comes down from the peak, layering soft kisses on the underside of her jaw, her affection soaring.

This Lexa is raw, real, open. Clarke can’t get enough.

Once Lexa is quiet beneath her again, Clarke rolls onto her back and releases a heavy breath, chuckling softly at her first real taste of cool oxygen—it does nothing to clear the haze from her mind. That haze probably has something to do with the way Lexa's still dragging her fingers up and down Clarke's arm.

"How was that?" Clarke asks, holding back a smirk because she knows damn well what the answer should be; she just wants to hear it. Lexa's response is immediate: she swings a leg over Clarke's waist and levers herself up so to straddle her.

"Good, I'm glad you enjoyed it," Clarke says.

There are no nerves in the green eyes that look down at her. Lexa's hands, tracing lines up and down Clarke's ribcage, aren't shaking with anxious energy. The energy is all pent-up desire to be in this position now, building since the moment Clarke laid her back on the mattress.

She learns Clarke quickly, almost scientifically: the way her breathing quickens when Lexa kisses down between her breasts, the way her back arches up when Lexa digs into her thighs, the way she gasps at gentle kisses but moans deep and low when Lexa bites down. After what feels like hours of exploration it's as if they'd been together in past lives and Lexa remembers all of the best ways to send electricity through Clarke's veins with the barest of touches.

Before long—and Clarke will note how worked up she was before Lexa took control because having a pretty girl moan her name does understandable things to her—Lexa has her gasping.

Clarke has to turn her head from the dizzying sight of Lexa laying between her legs, her hands on Clarke’s hipbones, the muscles in her back rising and shifting. It’s too much. Lexa was never supposed to have this much control, this much power—Clarke focuses sideways on the way her white-knuckled fists clutch the sheets, trying to maintain some of that control.

It’s useless.

One final staccato heartbeat, one last gasp of air, and she breaks. Pleasure rolls through her body like ocean waves, driving her down into the mattress. Lexa’s name spills out of her mouth.

Bit by bit, the rushing in her veins settles and she becomes vaguely aware of Lexa’s teasing fingertips still tapping the inside of her thighs, almost unconsciously. Only once Clarke’s breathing returns to normal does Lexa make the slow crawl back up to drop onto the pillows. She doesn’t have to ask, like Clarke did, if it was good enough. They both know by the way the exhaustion presses down onto them.

Voice heavy with sleep, Clarke murmurs, "I still haven't seen your tattoo, really."

Lexa raises an eyebrow at her.

"Roll over."

The black lines from Lexa’s collarbone are difficult to see in the dark room, but Clarke can make out the swirls and spirals that cascade over her shoulder and down toward the center of her back. It moves and shudders with her back as she rolls over. The lines form a mazy pattern, larger than she expected, almost tribal. A family thing, Lexa had said off-handedly.

Clarke reaches a hand out and tries following the lines with one fingertip, tracing them down to the ridge of Lexa’s spine and back up again, the artist in her delighted.

“It’s gorgeous,” she says, as her eyelids grow heavy.

Lexa releases a contented sigh. She presses a kiss to the center of it, feels Lexa's lungs expand upward beneath her lips.

They fall asleep with Clarke's fingers still memorizing the lines.

Chapter Text

Very few times in her life has she woken up unaware of where she is—she’s too responsible for that, her recent forays into cheap dive bars and trysts with tattooed girls who could kick her ass notwithstanding.

This morning is no different. Clarke opens her eyes to the tanned expanse of Lexa’s back, the sheets bunched around her waist, and her breath catches in her throat. At the sight, yes, she could study the smooth skin all morning; but also at the situation.

Strange room, strange bed, a girl who is little more than a stranger, and the alcohol from last night till very much in her system. God, if her mom could see her now.

Grimacing, Clarke thinks about the fact that her dad probably can. She mouths a silent apology to the strip of morning sky she can see through the window, then carefully slides out of bed, reaching for her scattered clothes. It’s always amusing to see how far they’ve gotten from the bed.

Lexa doesn’t stir as Clarke dresses, not even when she wobbles dangerously while pulling on a sandal and has to catch herself with a loud thunk on the bedside table. It’d be almost worrying, if Clarke couldn’t see the rhythmic rise and fall of Lexa’s chest as she sleeps.

Dreaming of the cool darkness of her own room, she starts to tiptoe away from the nightstand when a flash of white on the wood top catches her eye. It’s a napkin—her napkin, upon further investigation, the one with her number from the week before. It’s stained with whiskey, just as Lexa had said, and a lazy sketch of two girls sitting at a bar together.

Clarke squeezes her eyes shut in embarrassment. Not her best work.

But there’s a pen nearby and the opportunity is too perfect. With a cautious glance at Lexa and against her better judgement, Clarke flips the napkin over and quickly draws a full martini glass. She adds an arrow to label it, but her foggy mind can only come up with “screaming orgasm or “sex on the beach” and honestly those are a little heavy handed, even for an alcohol-stained bar napkin with her phone number on it. She doesn’t need Lexa regretting last night any more than she already probably will.

Let me know when I can buy your next drink—Clarke.” She writes instead. The hangover is making it difficult to be witty.

After arranging the note in a more prominent spot, she turns on her heel and heads for the door; only a second glance back at Lexa slows her.

The sight of the girl looking especially small in the empty bed fills her chest with a strange, warm tenderness, expanding in her lungs. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and suddenly, the empty space on the mattress beside Lexa has a magnetic pull that she has to fight to resist. Her gaze lingers longer than she would ever admit, and everything else just fades away.

This is a good thing. Don’t ruin it now.

Clarke shakes her head to clear it and backs out of the room, these words on her mind and Lexa’s taste still on her lips.

---- 

As soon as she hears the front door close downstairs, Lexa releases a long, slow breath and flops over onto her back, sprawling across the now-empty bed. The odd mixture of relief and nausea swirls in her stomach.

“Twice in two weeks,” she mutters bitterly to the empty room. That’s about two hangovers more than she’s had in the past year, all because she lacks the willpower to turn down Clarke.

She had woken far before Clarke crashed into the nightstand, even before Clarke had opened her eyes. Lexa simply does not do mornings after well. Never has. Physicality is easy and walls fall with alcohol and hazy judgement, but you never really plan for the morning after. Awkward, sober, stripped down, and entirely too well-lit. She’s had her fair share, to be sure, but since Costia they’ve all been unemotional and well within her control.

And, as she’s recently discovered, Clarke Griffin has a particular talent for wresting control from Lexa’s willing hands, a fact Lexa was wholly unprepared for.

Her cell phone buzzes from somewhere on the floor. She scrambles out of bed for it, grateful for the distraction from her smothering self-rumination, and sees three messages from Gustus on the screen.

She groans, already knowing what they’ll read.

Gustus, [7:46 AM]: Training partner bailed. Better get your ass down here.

Gustus, [7:54 AM]: I’ll give you until 8:30 before I wake up Anya

Gustus, [8:17 AM]: Don’t bail.

“God, Gus…”

Her head is pounding already and she has no doubt her eyeliner from last night now resembles a football player’s eye black paint. But any excuses about her hangover will only draw his ire; Gustus can and will turn up at her house to grad her back to the gym, so she responds in the affirmative and starts reaching for clothes. Her gym bag is already packed, just like every morning. She’s ready to leave, physically if not emotionally, in three minutes—until the note on the nightstand gets her attention.

Of course. Far too professional to leave without some show of decorum. Lexa can only blame herself for being so attracted to a girl like that.

A martini glass and an offer of another…something. Whatever this was. Lexa almost wants to roll her eyes, but it does pull a little smile from her. The note finds a home in the pocket of her sweats.

Anya’s passed out on the couch, still in last night’s clothes and curled around an empty alcohol bottle, but Lexa doesn’t stop to wake her; she just grabs the bottle, throws a blanket over her, and heads for the door.

----

Gustus is waiting for her with a look on his face that has her dropping her gym bag the moment she steps through the door. She may have stretched 8:30 into 8:45.

“You’re late,” he growls.

Lexa gives him a glare that tells him not to push it. “I’m here now.”

“Then warm up.” He tosses her a jump rope and she gets an arm up in time to catch it, but apparently her reflexes leave a little to be desired. “Are you going to make it through this workout?”

She pulls in a deep breath, the smell of sweat and chalk and old vinyl gym mats filling her nose. A burst of affection overshadows her hangover and her lingering thoughts of Clarke. This is her place. And a grinding, crushing workout is just what she needs right now. “Try me,” she tells him, reading the jump rope.

“You’re going to have to let go of whatever is on your mind.”

“Just let me hit something.”

A grin cracks over his weathered face. That’s a plan he can get behind.

----

A train ride away, Clarke is having far less fun than Lexa is. The train ride home itself was simple—a half hour slumped in a hard plastic seat, surrounded by business suited men and women and sticking out like a sore thumb in last night’s clothes—but the most difficult part of her walk of shame is the long trek from the train stop to her apartment, and all the way up the stairs to her bed.

Next time this happens, she decides, Lexa is coming here.

She shuffles through the front door and greets Harper and Bree in the kitchen before heading for her room, until Harper calls, “Hey, want some coffee? Just made it.” and she freezes with her foot on the bottom stair.

A cup of coffee, a handful of painkillers, and a half-hour nap. Then maybe she could spend the rest of the day in bed, catching up on missed studying. There’s no way she can make it to class today.

Her roommates, at least, give her nothing more than knowing looks and a tall mug when she joins them.

“No class today?” Bree teases.

“No way in hell.”

“Well that’s a new one,” Harper says with a snort, “You’ve missed like what, three classes in your entire college career?”

“I would skip too, if I had all the crazy classes she has to take. What was the one about, like, endorphins? Endorphinology?”

Clarke drops her face to the counter, which is surprisingly cool against her skin. “Endocrinology,” she groans, mostly because it reminds her of the paper she has due soon.

She lays there for a few more minutes as Harper and Bree grow bored of teasing her and go back to their conversation. As they drone on about their plans for the day, she starts to drift toward sleep—until the front door swings open, and Octavia Blake’s chirpy morning voice floats into the kitchen.

“Hey! I don’t care if you guys have already eaten, we’re making breakfast over at Bell’s right now, so—wait, what’s wrong with Clarke?”

Harper answers before Clarke can get her head up all the way. “She stumbled in here about ten minutes ago, wearing last night’s clothes.”

Octavia has daily six AM practices with the soccer team and never drinks coffee during the season, because the endorphins of an early morning workout wake her up better than any amount of caffeine can. She practically bounces into the apartment, showered and fresh, her hair pulled into a neat braid, eyes bright; the contrast to Clarke’s messy hair and last night’s makeup is more than apparent.

She gives Clarke a long look up and down, and lights up like the Fourth of July.

“No, no, no…” Clarke warns.

Her grin only grows. “Long night?”

“No.”

“Where were you?”

“Nowhere.”

“Mhmm. With who?”

“No one.”

“Clarke.” Octavia rolls her eyes, leaning forward onto the kitchen counter. “Tell me. Otherwise I’ll just start guessing.

Clarke presses her lips together to maintain her last thin shred of patience. This conversation is bringing back painful memories of a four AM Monopoly game that should have ended at midnight, had it not been for Octavia’s determination and pride. Right now, Clarke is too exhausted for a battle of that caliber.

“Fine. Not that this is any of your business, but it was…Lexa.”

The light in her eyes vanishes, mischievous glint replaced by a hard glare. Octavia looks from Clarke, to Harper, to Bree, back to Clarke, waiting for someone to laugh first. None of them do. Bree and Harper are just as confused.

“Lexa…like Lexa from the bar, Lexa?” Octavia asks slowly. “Eyeliner and bad attitude? She doesn’t seem like your type at all, Clarke.”

Clarke shrugs. “Yeah, well…”

But Octavia just looks betrayed, her eyes narrowed at Clarke with an unfamiliar irritation in them. “Well, whatever,” she says at last. “It’s just a one-off. But still, of all the people to sleep with, I just can’t believe you picked her.”

Clarke’s bed is looking more and more inviting as this conversation drags on—admonishments don’t mix well with hangovers. She begins planning a graceful exit from the kitchen, but the front door opens and slams again, and Bellamy’s voice seals her fate.

“Oooh, who slept with who?” he asks, entering the room with half a smirk. Jasper and Miller trail behind him.

“You’re kidding me,” Clarke mutters under her breath, then raises her voice. “Since when is my apartment Grand Central Station?”

“Relax, Clarke,” Bree snaps.

Bellamy drums his hands on the countertop next to Clarke, just as annoyingly vivacious in the mornings as his sister is. The Blake siblings are taking years off of her life. “Yeah, Princess, relax. We sent Octavia over here to grab you girls for breakfast, but apparently she’s decided abandon us. Monty’s back at my apartment making pancakes. So who slept with who?”

“Clarke slept with Lexa last night,” Octavia answers quickly.

“Lexa who?” asks Jasper.

“On a Wednesday night?” Bellamy frowns.

Clarke silently curses the fact that she chose coffee over her bed. “Now you sound like Raven,” she says.

“I thought you said you had a group project last night?”

Whatever fantasies she had about politely ducking out of the conversation vanish, replaced only with a desire for the silence of her bedroom. Clarke grabs her coffee cup and heads for the stairs, calling out over her shoulder, “I missed the part where it was any of your business. Thanks for the breakfast invitation, but eggs and interrogations about my life don’t sound great right now.”

Jasper’s whistle follows her up the stairs. “Was she any good in bed?”

Clarke doesn’t dignify that with a response, but reminds herself to thank Miller when she hears him say, “Dude, grow up,” followed by Jasper’s yelp as Miller shoves him off the couch.

----

The waves of nausea are hitting her now, one after another; the only thing she can do is lean back in the office chair and try to keep her face as smoot has possible. Gustus had put her through an hour long tour of hell. The workout left a satisfying ache in her muscles, but hell nonetheless. She’s set the oscillating fan in the office to max, so forceful that every time it sweeps by, it blows papers off the desk—but it’s her only source of relief right now.

If she had the capacity or desire to move, she would probably straighten up the office; Indra will be here soon, and—

“Lexa.”

Or now.

“Morning, Indra,” Lexa forces out, without moving.

“How was your training session this morning?”

“I just workout. I’m not training for anything.”

Indra makes a low noise of disapproval. “You are always training for something, whether you know it or not. Treat it that way.”

Lexa learned long ago to accept these fortune cookie lessons and she does so now without reply. Indra shifts past her and sits down behind the desk. Everything is gratifyingly silent for a few minutes, with only the rustle of papers as Indra reorganizes things, until she finally sits down and speaks again, her voice low and burning with irritation.

“Ugh. He brought that girl here again. He will never learn.”

Lexa’s eyes fly open. She has to lean back in her chair to follow Indra’s glare out into the gym, where it settles on Lincoln and Octavia, laughing together as Lincoln readies the punch mitts. Indra is muttering something else about his frivolity, but Lexa cuts her off.

“At least she didn’t run after the first workout here,” she says, watching Octavia tape her wrists. “That’s worth something.”

Indra huffs. “It’s not worth anything yet. Now, are you going to sit here and disagree with me until your hangover goes away?”

The peace and quiet was a godsend for her workout recovery, but now that Indra is here to work, heading home to unwind is worth the effort required for the walk back. Grabbing an extra bottle of water from the office mini-fridge and throwing her bag over her shoulder, Lexa strides out of the room.

Octavia and Lincoln have thrown themselves into their workout, and Lexa watches them as she crosses the gym. Lincoln may be the veteran, hulking and packed with muscle, but his girlfriend is the one who treats the training like a battle and the punch mitts like an enemy, striking with such force that Lexa’s hands twinge in sympathy pain.

 “C’mon, keep going!” Lincoln urges, as the timer ticks toward an exhausting two minutes. Octavia is still going strong.

Her lips are curled in a snarl, his in a smile as he coaches her through the interval sessions. The contrast between their two stereotypes is jarring—or it would be, if they didn’t share high-fives and a bottle of water in between each set. Right, left, right, right, duck, right, left, duck…Lincoln and Octavia work in perfect unison, like they’ve known each other all their lives.

By their next break, Lexa isn’t the only one watching intently. Someone shouts a joking insult to Lincoln about “his boxer Barbie.”

“If you want to get in the ring with me, be my guest,” Octavia hollers back, and Lincoln has never looked prouder.

“He’s too slow, you’d dance circles around him,” he adds with a grin at his friend. “You’d exhaust him, then it’s an easy KO.”

Lexa finds herself smiling too, and wondering, idly, if Clarke can throw a decent punch.

Somehow, she can envision it perfectly.

The thought carries her home, but by the time she’s trudging up the front steps of the porch, she’s managed to resolve her face into its usual disinterest. It’s nearly noon, and Anya should be awake by now.

She is—barely. When Lexa walks in Anya is at least upright on the couch, staring at nothing in particular save a listless glance at the front door when Lexa comes in. Lexa takes one look at her, stops, and raises a judging eyebrow.

“You’re alive.”

“And you’re alone,” Anya observes, in the same bored tone, letting Lexa know that she looks way better than she actually feels. It’s a family talent. “Nice to see you, you vanished pretty early last night.”

It’s something of an admonishment, but Lexa doesn’t take that bait. Instead she gives Anya a half-smirk to remind her who passed out on the couch alone. “Sorry I didn’t stick around for the cheap beer and stories about the fight that Tristan and Ryder got into last week.”

“Oh, don’t start getting superior about things now. You would have been right there with the rest of us if you hadn’t been so distracted by your blonde hookup.”

“Clarke.”

“I know her name. Remember, you told me a half-dozen times the night she brought you home, when you were drunk.”

It doesn’t garner the expected outrage, so Anya adopts the dazed expression and slurred voice of someone intoxicated. “‘Clarke outdrank me, Anya, she drank me under the table. I’m gonna ask her on a date. Because she drank me under the table. Clarke is so great.’ Clarke, Clarke, Clarke. You were enamored. You wouldn’t shut up, I almost smothered you with a pillow.”

Her cousin, the big sister she never had, or particularly wanted. Anya at 26 is far harsher and jaded than Lexa even remembered her from childhood, and challenged her more than she expected—but family is family, and it’s nice to have blood watching her back. That’s what keeps her from battle back against Anya’s attempt to embarrass her. Instead, Lexa just rolls her eyes and heads the stairs, trying to think straight.

Anya is laughing as she follows her up to the second floor.

“C’mon, little cousin. I’m just giving you a bad time.” As Lexa ducks into her bedroom, Anya catches Lexa’s shoulder and spins her around. “Jesus, I haven’t seen you get so embarrassed in years.

“I’m going to break your other wrist,” Lexa warns, with a nod at the hand still on her shoulder. Anya pulls it back innocently.

“Fine. Listen up, though. I say this because I’m pretty much all the family you have left and I have to look out for you—don’t get hung up on her. Some rich college girl doesn’t really fit in down here, and you know it. I saw how nervous you were for her to see all of us here.”

Lexa’s response comes through barely gritted teeth: “It’s fine, Anya. I have it handled.”

“Whatever you say,” Anya says with a sigh. “I’m just trying to have your back. But whatever. Road to hell, paved with ignored advice from your family.”

“I’m already there.”

Anya rolls her eyes as she leaves the room. “God, you’re dramatic sometimes.”

The empty water bottle Lexa throws dinks off of the doorframe, missing Anya entirely as she glides out of sight down the hallway, still laughing; Lexa leaves the bottle where it falls and drops onto her bed, reaching for her phone in her pocket. When her fingers brush the crumpled napkin from this morning, she pulls that out too.

Against her better judgement, she smooths the wrinkles out and snaps a picture, then sends it to Clarke with the caption: why am I not surprised you’re the martini type?

The reply is almost immediate: oh great, more lectures about my drinking habits.

Lexa: I never said it was a bad thing

Clarke: And yet I can picture you glaring over the rim of your negroni right now

Lexa: Not lately.

Clarke: True. You weren’t glaring last night.

Apparently, Clarke Griffin doesn’t need alcohol for her brazen streak to reveal itself.

Lexa doesn’t know why she’s trying to further this conversation any more than she knows why she sent the picture of the napkin to Clarke in the first place. It’s certainly not something she would be doing in person.

Still, against her better judgement, knowing full well that it’s an invitation, she sends back: I enjoyed last night. The whole night. Even at Captain’s.

Clarke: Me too. The napkin still stands. Anytime you want another drink, let me know.

Lexa’s fingers hover over the reply button; it’s vague enough to end the conversation, but she remembers Lincoln and the way he smiled when he looked at Octavia. Then she thinks of Anya, of Indra, and Gustus. With a burst of defiance at their lack of faith in her, Lexa quickly types out a message.

Lexa: Let’s meet up at the bar this weekend again, then. Saturday.

Clarke: Saturday sounds great

----

It’s a fantastic plan that, like all of her best ones, spirals out of control quickly. The night was never supposed to end up like this.

At least, it wasn’t supposed to start like this, sober on a train ride to meet Lexa with seven of her closest friends in tow. Clarke has no idea how the night will end; these kids are too unpredictable by themselves, throwing them into whatever she has with Lexa should make things interesting, at least.

It’s not really her fault. The moment she let it slip she was headed to the bar, her personal team of Avengers assembled with pregame alcohol in hand.

Looking around at them, stretched out on the plastic chairs, she can’t really be mad. As long as they’re happy, she can figure out a way to steal away with Lexa.

Lincoln meets them at the trainstop with a broad smile, even amicable with Bellamy. Clarke is starting to like him.

Lexa is farther down the street, leaning aginst the bar, surrounded by a few other hulking figures. Octavia calls out greetings to them from twenty yards away—“Hey, Artigas, Nyko!”—and they respond with equal enthusiasm at her approach.

“Jesus, she’s befriended all of them,” Bellamy grunts.

“They befriended her first, at the gym,” Lincoln says coolly. “We’re not all vicious killers.”

Monty coughs. “That…implies that some of you are, though?”

Lexa’s face is unreadable as always. Clarke watches her as they get closer, but Lexa’s only reaction is a short nod of greeting and a scan of the group at Clarke’s back—Bell, Octavia, Jasper, Monty, Miller, and Monroe.

“Everyone, this is Lexa. And Nyko and Artigas,” Clarke adds as an afterthought. Her friends are cordial enough in their murmured introductions, as if they aren’t already exchanging sly looks with one another. They all know Lexa, if not in person than in name, thanks to Octavia’s big mouth.

Clarke has the idea Lexa may be aware of this, too. Several uncomfortable seconds tick past as she sizes them up, everyone just staring at one another, until she speaks up just as the silence grows awkward.

“So you brought half the campus with you?” The ghost of a smile is on her lips.

Clarke shrugs. “They don’t miss a party.”

“Then let’s not keep them waiting.”

----

It’s a fight night. Raven had sent around a collection for the Pay Per View cost last weekend, and now The Captain’s Room is packed wall-to-wall with rowdy patrons who are already drunk and cheering for blood. Raven even has two additional bartenders at her side to handle the crowd, but it doesn’t seem to ease the work load.

“This is great!” Jasper shouts, raising his voice because someone just took a combination of punches and the crowd in the bar roared. Jasper leads the push through the crowd toward the bar, trying to part the bodies; Clarke follows, until she feels Lexa’s hand on her shoulder.

“It’s going to take forever to get a drink.” She’s close to Clarke’s ear so that she doesn’t have to yell. “Just head for the back, I have a flask.”

The din of the bar, dozens of people packed in shoulder to shoulder and shouting at the TV screens, makes it impossible for Clarke to respond, but it does provide her opportunity to slip away from her friends without suffering their knowing smirks.

The unspoken ownership of the back area of the bar means it’s a little less crowded than the rest of the floor. Clarke feels oddly proud at being accepted there. When she finally makes it into open space she turns back to Lexa with a smile, releasing a sigh of relief

“So about that flask…” Lexa’s already pulling it from a jacket pocket, shielding it from view with her body. “Raven’s going to kick your ass if she finds out.”

Lexa just shrugs, eyes twinkling. More secrets. Clarke takes the flask and brings it to her nose. “Whiskey?”

“I thought you’d appreciate it.”

Clarke narrows her eyes in a way that is only half-joking, but takes a sip anyway. “I’m going to need plenty of it if we’re going to deal with this crowd.”

With that comes the unspoken implication that they can leave at any time, an implication Lexa understands if her dark eyes are anything to go by.

Clarke takes another drink of the whiskey, then passes it to Lexa. They fall into a strange silence—it’s the first time they’ve had a second alone since they fell asleep wrapped in each other three nights before. Clarke thinks about the night, and thinks about what could happen later, and her mouth runs dry. She doesn’t know what else to say.

A man whose face she recognizes but name she has forgotten steps forward with a pool cue. “Lexa. Do you two want to play?” He’s clearly been around enough. Clarke, glad for the chance to do something other than stare at and fantasize about Lexa’s lips, jumps at the chance with a fast nod.

The man and two others re-rack the pool balls while Lexa hands Clarke a pool cue. Casting around for a subject, Clarke gestures vaguely to the TV.

“So…are you betting on these fights at all? Who do you have?”

Lexa just shakes her head, watching and grinning slightly as a fighter on the screen faceplants on the mat, out cold. “I don’t bet on fights. It’s too easy to tell who is going to win, if you know what you’re doing.”

“What about the pool game? Wanna bet on that?”

“Sure,” Lexa says, taking aim for the first shot of the game. “I always enjoy having my drinks paid for.”

“No.” Clarke lowers her voice so that only Lexa can hear it. “How about, loser goes down on the other.”

Lexa has to pull up on her shot because the way her hands jerk in surprise, she would have cracked the cue ball directly into the corner pocket, forfeiting the game. When she looks at Clarke, the girl’s eyes twinkle mischievously, and Lexa arches an eyebrow when she realizes that was the plan.

“Seriously? You know you can’t win, so you’re just going to resort to cheap distraction tactics?”

“And I learned it all from you,” Clarke points out.

“I never distracted you. I just took advantage of your weakness.”

“So yours is a weakness then?”

Lexa’s gaze drops down to Clarke’s slightly parted, smirking lips. It is a weakness. Every inch of Lexa’s body, from the forward tilt of her hips to the quickening of her heartbeat to the warm attraction building low in her stomach, screams that she wants to take Clarke home right now, but she forces herself to exercise some restraint. Instead, lacing her fingers into Clarke’s, she pulls her back toward a dark corner of the bar where no one will stare as she leans in.

Not that she cares if anyone sees them anyway: the way Clarke’s mouth feels as it opens against hers wipes everything else from her mind.

Clarke kisses her back, hard, and then laughs into her lips; the dizzy part of Lexa’s brain decides right there that she’s never going to drink alcohol again because as good as it was to taste rum in the kiss before, this is so much better sober. Everything starts to speed up when Lexa angles the kiss to go deeper, closer, and their hands start to drift.

Suddenly, Clarke pulls away with a breathy laugh.

“Save it for later,” she mutters into the half inch of space between them, “Let’s go get a drink. I need to make sure someone will be sober enough to get all of my friends home.”

“And they’re not capable of that on their own?” Lexa grumbles, but releases Clarke’s waist all the same.

“They wouldn’t know what to do without me.”

Lexa snorts as she, somewhat begrudgingly, trails behind Clarke on the way back to her group of friends. Lexa’s friends follow behind her so that when Clarke slides into a barstool next to Bellamy, they’re surrounded by one of the more motley crews in the bar, clean-cut college kids and fighters and guys who look like they’d be more than comfortable on the back of a Harley. Everyone watches each other carefully, but once Raven appears for drink orders, the group seems to settle.

Clarke’s smile, and Lexa’s bright eyes, probably help.

“This is pretty weird,” Raven points out, under her breath, but when they glance at her she shrugs. “But whatever. Just so you all know, especially you two—” She gives Lexa and Clarke a pointed look. “—Any fucking or fighting happens out in the alley. Not in my bar.”

“Got it, Raven,” Clarke says with a roll of her eyes that belies the pink tinge in her cheeks.

The corners of Lexa’s mouth twitch and she takes a long sip of beer to cover it.

----

After that, once Raven is serving them hydrazine shots and Clarke and Lexa are still taking illicit swigs of whiskey whenever Raven isn’t looking, everyone gets swept up in the fervor of the bar, cheering when everyone else cheers and groaning when everyone else groans.

Miller proves himself to be surprisingly knowledgeable about it all, leaning over Clarke to ask Lexa questions about a favorite fighter and her experience boxing and who she thought should have won the round. Lexa answers everything, albeit stiffly—Clarke can’t hold back a smile as she watches Lexa shift with each new interaction. At least she’s trying.

“Wow, you’re really into boxing,” Clarke says to Lexa, once Bellamy pulls Miller into another conversation. “I didn’t realize. I’ve never boxed in my life. Octavia keeps trying to bring me with her, but…”

“I’d teach you,” Lexa mumbles. Then, as if that was too sweet, she adds, “For a price.

“I would probably pay whatever it is.” She smirks.

In a crowded place, filled with the drone of laughter and shouting and talking, a subtle change in inflection from joy to anger equal to the shock of alarm going off in the morning. Clarke, and Bellamy and Lexa on either side of her, are instantly alert when they hear voices rising:

“I said, get out of my fucking way. I just need to talk to the kid, find out what he knows about what happened.”

The voice belongs to a man Clarke has never seen hanging around at the bar before. He’s trying to push past Nyko, standing firm between the man and Artigas

“No, you don’t,” Nyko growls. “He doesn’t know anything about that guy getting jumped. Now get out of our bar.”

Move,” the man replies coldly, “before I break your fucking jaw.”

Clarke, Lexa, and Bellamy aren’t the only ones who have noticed the rising tension.

Octavia, quiet as a shadow, has slipped away from their group and taken up a soldier’s stance at Nyko’s side. She’s straight-backed and steady, with eyes that burn a glare into the man in front of them.

“What did you say to him?” she asks, just as much threat in her voice as her body.

In anyone else, it would be amusing—but Clarke knows her too well to smile.

“Bellamy,” she warns. “Look—”

There’s no time. The man says something to Nyko and Octavia reacts with a wild punch that sends him spinning away.

In a heartbeat the bar explodes into a brawl. Someone knocks into Octavia and she disappears in the crush of people who jump in on all sides. Bellamy instantly flings himself forward, shoving someone aside and receiving an elbow to the head for it. Lincoln appears in the middle of the fray with Octavia at his side, but he’s holding off two guys swinging at him and Octavia is trying to shove someone away from Artigas. Jasper, Monroe, Monty, and Murphy all pour into the group, shouting.

Everything is spiraling out of control. Raven is yelling, everyone is yelling, but Clarke can’t hear them. Suddenly she’s lurching forward as well, grabbing for the guy grappling with Bellamy, just to get them to stop, to pull her friends to safety, to get them out of here. She manages to give the man a two-handed shove with her full body weight and send him back, then she spins around to find a wild-eyed Bellamy. She can’t move before a dark shape appears on her periphery, swing towards her.

The punch never lands; Clarke turns to see Lexa between her and her attacker, knocking him back with two quick jabs to the face. Her movements are fast and seamless as she steps inside his punch and he catches only air.

After that, it’s over as soon as it began.

“Okay, enough!”

It’s funny how the one voice that silences everyone belongs to the woman who has been serving them alcohol all night; Raven and the two other bartenders charge into the center of the brawl and everyone freezes.

“All of you, get out,” she declares, pointing to the door. “Another drop of blood hits this floor, and I’m calling the police: I know at least half of you can’t have that.”

One man, with a crooked, purple nose, scoffs at her. Raven rounds on him. “I dare you to try me, Jack. Get the hell out of my bar.”

Raven, furious, is not one to cross. She glowers as the people involved in the fight slowly shuffle toward the door, all of them watching the other carefully but no one swinging a fist again, just yet. Behind her, Clarke edges closer to Lexa, who is breathing heavily, while Bellamy puts a hand on Octavia’s upper arm. Raven notices Bellamy, and turns on him.

“You too. Get Ronda Rousey Jr. out of here.”

“Don’t worry,” Bellamy says through gritted teeth, “We’re leaving too.” He swings around, points at each of his friends in turn. “All of you, you’re coming with me. Now.”

Clarke surveys her friends as Bellamy shepherds them into a tight group: Jasper has a bloody lip, Bellamy is sporting a few cherry red marks on his face—they’ll darken to bruises later—and Monroe just looks stunned, but that seems to be the worst of it. Octavia is still breathing hard, her nostrils flaring. Bellamy rounds on her once he sees that everyone is corralled.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Fine.”

The worry is shining through his face, but Octavia only sees the older brother who has tried to hold her hand throughout her entire life. When he reaches for her, she jerks away, grinding her teeth.

“Fine,” Bellamy says, clenching her jaw just like she is. “C’mon, let’s get home before you get in any trouble.” He starts to herd the kids to the door. He stops short when Lincoln follows, putting a hand up. “Not you. You can stay here.”

“What’s the problem?” Lincoln demands, furrowing his brow. He’s sporting a hell of a black eye, reward for jumping into defend Octavia, just like Bellamy.

“You are,” Bellamy tells him firmly. When Lincoln steps toward Octavia, Bellamy moves between them, muscles tensed as if another fight is going to start. Even Raven makes a noise of warning in the background. “You’re the reason she’s in this bar, you’re the reason she knows those guys, you’re the reason she was able to swing at them.”

“She’s not—”

Octavia raises a hand to him. She’s gone from fiery to exhausted in half a second. “Linc, just hold off, okay? I’ll call you tomorrow, we just need to get everyone back home now, keep them out of trouble.”

Lincoln looks betrayed rather than placated. “Are you—okay. Sure. Whatever.”

Octavia squeezes her eyes shut. Bellamy has finally won a round, but it’s a bittersweet victory. They start heading for the door.

Clarke, in the meantime, is standing at Lexa’s side, less concerned with the crisis between Octavia and Lincoln than she is with the way Lexa is clenching and unclenching her bruised fist. She’s watching the tendons pop out, transfixed. Clarke quietly asks if she’s okay, but gets no response.

“You should come with us,” Clarke says, raising her voice a little more, “We’ll get out of here, everyone will calm down a little bit, we’ll get back to campus, and you can stay—”

“No.” Lexa’s hands are still shaking, and her legs are even worse. She wants to run and feel it all bleed out of her. Anya was right, Anya was right, Anya was right. From the start. “Just go with them, get out.”

Clarke pulls back in surprise. “What? Why?”

“Stop treating this place like it’s a vacation from your college life, Clarke,” Lexa drawls, alarmingly blasé. “It’s not. You have no reason to keep coming back here.”

Clarke starts to argue, until she sees Raven behind Lexa, shaking her head silently. Not worth it right now. Lexa has already regained a simmering aloofness that Clarke realizes will be impossible to fight; she sours at it, wanting to fight it even harder then, but lets it go.

She turns back and walks to Bellamy, who is already twisting his face into an apology. She shakes her head to hold it off. “Let’s just get home.”

The night was never supposed to end up like this.

Chapter Text

 

Clarke [1:21 PM]: so how’s your hand?

* * * 

She sent that text three days ago and it’s been three days without a response. It is, admittedly, not the best conversation starter after the seriousness of the events that occurred, but she was expecting something. In the end, the radio silence has made for a cleaner cut. Clarke tucks her phone away and sits forward, to the work she should be doing.

“Octavia, come on. Your test is on Monday.”

“And it’s Friday,” Octavia replies with a contemptuous glance up from her own phone. “There’s no one even in the library. They, like me, have more important things to do.”

It’s true, the library stacks around the two girls are empty. But Clarke taps the open textbook in front of Octavia insistently. “Considering the fact that you still don’t have a great grasp on all the different energy pathways, you need all the time you can get this weekend.”

Octavia shakes her head. “We’re up against Mount Weather in two weeks. Last game of the season. We can’t afford to lose now, right before the playoffs start. I need to be out training.”

“Soccer, or boxing?”

“Both, the way that team plays. I can’t wait to rip into them, Clarke.” She grins like a kid going to bed on Christmas eve. “It’s going to be brutal.”

“So will your upcoming test, unless you focus,” Clarke replies.

The tutoring isn’t official in any capacity—Clarke barely remembers Bio 101, it was so long ago—but Octavia obeys anyway, dropping her phone to the desk and sitting forward with her highlighter. Clarke watches her sullenly annotate for a few minutes, as if the book is personally responsible for her being inside on such a beautiful fall day, then laughs.

“Sometimes I think that if you didn’t play soccer, you would never show up for classes.”

“Just this class,” Octavia replies, “Ask me to recite the opening of The Iliad, though, and I’m your girl.”

“The opening of The Iliad?”

Octavia rolls her eyes. “Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, black and murderous, that…”

No, no, I believe you,” Clarke says, holding up a hand. “Your brother has the same party trick. I didn’t think you were as nerdy as him, but he raised you this way apparently.”

“Yeah, my dear brother. Hopefully one day he’ll figure out he’s done raising me.”

He’s just protecting you, Clarke wants to say. Seeing Octavia in the middle of a brawl that night had scared Clarke too, and she had only known Octavia for a little over a year. She understands Bellamy’s overreaction. But Octavia has heard that more than enough, so Clarke stays silent. Seeing Octavia glance hopefully at her phone again, she tries a different conversation topic.

“Have you talked to Lincoln at all?”

“Nope.”

That falls flat. Octavia finds sudden interest in her textbook chapter again, without further elaboration. Clarke returns her attention to her research paper, somewhat relieved that Octavia didn’t ask the obvious return question about Lexa.

Clarke doesn’t really know what she would answer, beyond the same “Nope” that Octavia gave. She ponders the question for a moment as she clicks through the research tabs she has open on her laptop. Save for the single text, the situation with Lexa was buried beneath Clarke’s weekly twenty volunteer hours and eighteen unit hours and fifteen paid employment hours, not to mention the mounting pressure of looming end of term deadlines. But she’s managing it all, finally.

She hasn’t spoken to Lexa in over a week. Hasn’t thought of texting her. Hasn’t even thought of hopping on the train to the other side of town.

She has, however, found her thoughts wandering to the smoky air and cheap beer of The Captain’s Room, and the taste of alcohol on Lexa’s lips.

Only in quiet moments, of course. And those are few and far between.

“Clarke. Are you listening?”

Very few and far between. “No.”

“I said I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?”

“Study.” Perhaps for emphasis, perhaps subconsciously, Octavia shifts back and forth in her seat to a strain of music only she can hear, drumming her pen on the textbook. “I’ve annotated three chapters. I need to get up and move.”

Clarke’s a tutor, not a babysitter, and an unofficial one at that. She watches idly as Octavia bounces up out of her seat and stretches, then proceeds to pace the bookshelves surrounding them, looking at the titles.

“With the amount you work out, how do you have so much extra energy?”

“I don’t work out, I train.” Octavia starts shadowboxing with a nearby sign with a map of the library. “Come here, let me teach you how to fight.”

“You don’t know how to fight, you know how to start fights.”

She stops short, her arms falling to her side, and gives Clarke a glare. “He insulted one of my friends, Clarke, and he was going to hurt another one. What would you have done?”

Exactly what you did.

She can’t lie, she’s come dangerously close a few times when someone threatened one of her friends or some leery drunk leaned in too close to some uncomfortable girl. Bellamy may have blamed Lincoln, blamed the bar, the environment for Octavia’s actions, but Clarke can’t say it was Lexa’s influence on her that had forced Clarke into that fight once her friends were in danger. She and Octavia are both just loyal, with Octavia having the added trait of the Blake hot-headedness. They’re not that different from Lincoln and Lexa.

* * *

Bellamy appears a few hours later with lunch, part of his apology train. Despite the takeout he brings, Octavia glares at him enough for both girls and it’s clear she still hasn’t forgiven him for forcing her to choose between him and Lincoln in the heat of the moment. That glare should be enough to tell him he’s not invited to sit down, but he ignores it with expert nonchalance, smiling at Clarke instead when she politely thanks him for the chow mein.

“Are either of you busy tonight?” he asks, watching them dig in to the Chinese food.

“Not if I finish this draft in the next few hours,” Clarke says. “What for?”

“His ‘apology’ party,” Octavia fires across the table.

Bellamy glances at her, with a heavy breath, before telling Clarke insistently: “The boys and I just thought we’d make dinner for you girls. That’s all.” There is a guilt in his face, the still-lingering aftereffects of being an asshole. She ignores it.

“Just us?”

“Well, the usual suspects,” Bellamy admits. “Been a while since we’ve had one. Drinks and beer pong after.”

“So it is a party.”

“You gonna to keep critiquing my word choice, Griffin, or can you just tell me if you can be there?”

It takes three weeks to form good habits, or so she’s been told, and Clarke has only been studying each night for the past week—this would set her back. But to back out of the party even with the honest excuse of her workload would mean she hasn’t forgiven him for last week, and she already has. He’s making a genuine attempt at reparations.

Plus, she only lives six apartments away from him and multiple study break trips between her kitchen and her bedroom would require more effort than relaxing at his apartment for the night.

“I’ll be there, calm down,” she tells him, with a roll of her eyes.

Both Bellamy and Clarke look to Octavia expectantly; she responds with a groan worthy of an Oscar. “Fiiiiine. But only because Clarke is going.”

* * *

Bellamy has always possessed an aspiration to grandeur. The freshman year party, for example, that finally set him and Clarke on the path toward friendship involved his midnight annexation of a lecture hall—turns out the projector screen and sound system are top quality for drunken dance parties. Clarke had had to sprint full-tilt to the nearest dorm to pull the fire alarm, in order to flood the campus with students and give Bellamy and his friends a crowd to escape into before the police arrived. A narrow escape, and one they still revere today.

Luckily for everyone around him, he and his friends have calmed down in their less tumultuous upperclassmen years. Clarke strides through the open door of his apartment and finds that tonight’s “party” is little more than a dozen people circled around a beer pong table, with a cooler of beer nearby and a stereo hooked up to Bell’s laptop. She breathes a sigh of relief.

“Look who showed up!”

“Clarke!”

“What took you so long?”

“What’re you drinking?”

 “Where are Harp and Bree?”

Clarke laughs. “Responsibilities; anything with vodka; they’re at a business club meeting, might stop by later.” She checks the answers off her fingers as she goes. “Any more questions?”

“Well, the old Clarke is back,” Octavia says with a good-natured roll of her eyes. “Come get your ass kicked at beer pong like you used to!”

Not quite the old Clarke—she declines Octavia’s invitation coolly and keeps her distance from the beer pong table—but she’s still close enough to her old self to ease back into the comfortable rhythms of her friends. She downs the too-strong fruity vodka drink Murphy hands her as they watch Jasper and Monty systematically destroy Bellamy and Octavia. When Jasper sinks the last shot, Clarke laughs and rolls her eyes as the jeers fill the room.

“Damn it, Bell!” Octavia shouts and smacks her brother on the shoulder. He is laughing and she’s trying not to, in order to maintain her competitiveness. “We’re going again, come on.”

“Hell no,” he replies, laughing as he backs away, hands up, “Play with Adam instead, I’m out.”

He grabs Adam by the collar of his shirt and throws him into Octavia’s path, to prevent her slapping his shoulder again. “Flake,” she taunts Bellamy.

“Psycho.”

She grins. “Fine, Adam is more useful as a partner anyway. Come on, Adam, we’re taking down the Geek Squad.”

As they set up the second game, Bellamy retreats from the crowd and gets Clarke’s attention, jerking his head back to the kitchen. “Pizza’s in there, come grab a slice before everyone gets too drunk and demolishes it.”

When she follows him into the calmer, quieter kitchen of the apartment, Bellamy beelines for the bottle of whiskey on top of the fridge while Clarke goes for the pizza.

“Want a shot?”

“Of course.”

They grimace their way through one shot, then another, directly from the bottle, then fall into comfortable silence as Clarke munches at the cheap pizza, appreciative even though it’s Hawaiian. He watches her and waits until she’s nearly finished with her slice before at last speaking up.

“Thanks for coming tonight, Clarke,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest. “I really appreciate it.”

She waves the pizza crust at him and the bottle of whiskey. “Thanks for the food and alcohol.”

“I mean it,” Bellamy says with a laugh. He looks toward the living room with Octavia cheers after sinking a beer pong shot. “Octavia would still be ignoring me if it weren’t for you showing up here tonight.”

“Yeah, well…” Clarke searches for the best way to phrase it, but shrugs in the end. “You were a dick. I thought you had moved past her thing with Lincoln?”

“I was, mostly. I just reacted.”

“Over-reacted.”

Thinking of the text that has yet to be replied to, Clarke grabs the bottle of whiskey and takes another shot, grimacing less this time when she pulls it away. It’s easy to direct some of her bitterness about what happened at the bar last weekend at Bellamy, but the longer she thinks about it, the more she recognizes the divide between her and Lexa. It had been there all along. It’s why Clarke can forgive Bellamy, and Octavia hasn’t yet.

Her shot gives Bellamy a few seconds to form an answer; he’s nodding by the time she puts the bottle down again. “I know. I’m trying. She’ll forgive me eventually. But for the time being, I’m glad she has you. She really looks up to you, Clarke. She’s never had an older sister and you’ve kinda…filled that role. I appreciate it.”

“Well, she needs at least one cool sibling,” Clarke says, deflecting the sentimentality of the moment but smiling to show him she understands it.

“Hey, I’m pretty fucking cool, Griffin—”

“Bell, you made her memorize the Iliad.”

His immediate reaction is indignant, but she dares him to argue with a raise of her eyebrows and Bellamy begins to laugh because he actually can’t deny it. “Okay, whatever. Point still stands: she and I are both lucky to have you.”

With a glance back toward the living room, where Jasper and Monty are on the edge of losing to Adam and Octavia and the yelling has intensified along with the music, Clarke says, “Before you get too sappy on me, how about we go in and teach her another lesson and knock her ego down a bit, huh?”

* * *

One game, two games, three games, all close battles until the end with everyone so invested in the grudge matches that none of the other party goers want to replace either pair. Octavia and Adam take the first, Bellamy and Clarke the second and third, with only a cup to spare in each: Octavia’s demanding a five of seven, but Bellamy and Clarke know when to quit while they’re ahead and save their pride.

And it’s not until after, basking in the glow of victory, that Clarke realizes she is drunker than the few beers she planned for herself before she left her own apartment. Interestingly enough, she only comes to this realization when she finds herself on a couch with no idea how she got there.

With nothing else to do, she pulls out her cell phone. Everyone she would text is already crammed into Bellamy’s living room. She navigates to her conversations anyway, and clicks the name that has been in the back of her mind.

Clarke [1:21 PM]: So how’s your hand?

Still no response. She considers a myriad of follow-up texts she could send to Lexa, going so far as to type them out and then delete each of them in turn.

“That bad, huh?”

“I bet that guys face is much worse”

“Are you as good with the fingers on your left hand?”

That last one is half a joke, and half a thought that makes the blood rush toward her lower stomach. But she bets it would make Lexa laugh. If Lexa is drinking, at least, which she probably is. As usual.

She’s still lingering on the thought of Lexa’s fingers as she types a new draft. “Okay I’m drunk and maybe I shouldn’t be texting you but I can’t stop—”

The sudden jolt of Octavia dropping onto the couch next to her almost shocks Clarke into pressing send—she somehow avoids the button but not the near heart attack that comes with it.

“Jesus, O…”

“You know, it’s a terrible idea for you to be texting anyone in this state,” she says, peering at Clarke’s phone with bleary eyes of her own. Clarke tries to hide the name but her reflexes are too slow; Octavia pulls back with sudden seriousness. “Uh…especially not her.”

“I haven’t sent anything,” Clarke says, putting the phone away.

“But you…” Octavia trails off, the mischievousness in her eyes fading as she studies Clarke’s face.

Clarke is sure that if she wasn’t so drunk, she could mask the twist of regret and indecision that she knows Octavia can see.

“I need to go talk to Lincoln,” Octavia says suddenly.

“Uh…what?”

“Lincoln.” Octavia goes from zero to sixty as soon as she says the name, nodding, pushing her hair back out of her face, eyes lighting up. “Yeah. I need to go see him, I need to fix this.”

“You want to go see Lincoln now?” Clarke asks.

She’s still nodding. “Come with me?”

“Do you even know where he is?”

“He’s at the bar, he’s always at the bar? Let’s go!”

Her enthusiasm is infection; Clarke’s heartrate can’t help but pick up at the adventure she’s suggesting, just because of the way she suggests it. She has Bellamy’s same tendency for grandeur. When Octavia’s hand closes around Clarke’s arm, she thinks of what Bellamy said, about being like an older sister to her—and she can’t turn her down. She tries one more time to be logical.

“What is Bell gonna say?”

The look Octavia gives her implies that Clarke might as well stick a knife in her back, she’s so betrayed. “I don’t care, Clarke. We’re going. You’re coming with me. Right now. Finish that drink.”

It’s a bad decision. But, she thinks to herself as she finishes her tequila, this is the only time of her life she can make bad decisions. Next year, it’ll be med school. Then residency. Then a full-time job. No mistakes, no intentionally bad decisions…she’s twenty-two and she needs this night.

“Let’s go.”

As they slip out the door, largely unnoticed by the inebriated group around them, Clarke throws a glance over her shoulder. Bellamy is watching them, eyes sharp, from across the room. He doesn’t say a word.

 * * *

Now that she’s had a train ride to sober up, Clarke is rethinking things. Octavia’s enthusiasm is alarming. She doesn’t doubt her heart, but O’s decision-making has always left a little to be desired.

“Remember how Bellamy thought we’d get jumped our first night here?” Clarke asks Octavia, looking up at the front façade of the bar before them: dark green painted wood that’s chipped in places, a single dirty window, and the gold lettering that reads The Captain’s Room. The black door is closed, but a neon sign in the window blinks “Open.” She rather wishes it wouldn’t so that they could head home, even if it was a long trip back to their apartments on the other side of town. “Funny how things turn out.”

Octavia looks over at Clarke, one eyebrow raised. “I also remember you hitting on the bartender that first night. So yeah, it is pretty funny how things turn out.”

Without waiting for a response, she sets her jaw and pushes through the front door of the bar, giving Clarke no choice but to follow.

As always, the inside of the bar is no different than the outside, no different than a thousand bargain dive bars across the country: wood paneling, chipping red and gold accent paint, dirt cheap drinks, and spindly tables and stools cramming most of the free space. The actual bar spans the length of one wall, and there’s a single pool table in the back, partially obscured by the crowd around it.

The difference is that Clarke can name the figures in that crowd now: Gustus, Ryder, Quint, Lincoln, Nyko. She’s surprised to see Anya’s unruly blonde hair among the group as well. But once she gets over that sight, Clarke’s gaze drifts naturally to the one person she looks for every time she walks into this bar.

Lexa is right where she always is. The familiar sight is at once comfortable and awkward. It feels strange to know her so intimately and feel so distant from her tonight.

Behind the bar, Raven stops short when she sees Clarke and Octavia approach.

“Well, damn,” she says, and there is not a hint of teasing in her voice. “What are you guys doing back here?”

“We can’t have a beer?” Octavia says lightly, hopping up onto a barstool.

You definitely shouldn’t be able to,” Raven points out. “What are you, eighteen?” As if it were ever a problem before. Clarke drops a ten on the bar and Raven pulls two glasses from under the bar anyway. “But what I meant is that you can also get drinks at places much closer to campus then this. What are you doing back after last weekend?”

Clarke speaks up. “Octavia’s on a mission.”

“Ha, getting your man back?” Raven says with a grin when she sees that Octavia’s attention has turned toward the back of the bar.

“Something like that,” Octavia mutters.

“Please tell me you both went through the cliché of going shopping together to pick out the perfect outfit.”

Clarke rolls her eyes as she accepts the beer Raven hands her. With her other hand, she gestures to the simple tanktop and jeans she wears. “Does it look like we did?”

“I’m not judging you, Princess.” She finishes ringing up the beers and turns to fill a third. “I’ll send Lincoln one to let him know you two are here, then I’ll take care of some other guys who have been waving dollar bills at me all night, then I’ll be back to chat.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Octavia says, grabbing her beer and standing. “He knows I’m here.”

Side by side, on opposite sides of the bar, Raven and Clarke watch Octavia march across the room to Lincoln. They can’t hear the sound, but they can see the whole group fall quiet as Octavia starts talking—and keeps talking. Lincoln is nodding along. Whatever big speech she had planned, she’s not shy about hashing it out in front of everyone.

Everyone including Lexa. And Anya. The latter woman is smirking but Lexa watches like she’s a few seconds shy of rolling her eyes. Clarke keeps watching, waiting for it to happen.

Raven has already lost interest and is walking away, but when she sees the focus of Clarke’s attention, she stops short and returns.

“Come on, Clarke.” she asks, voice low, “They don’t think you belong here. Lexa’s pretty bound to that. Don’t make it personal.”

But it is personal, Clarke thinks to herself, as she studies Lexa through the hazy smoke that fills the bar. Lexa had gotten personal, had made it personal. They’ve come a long way since the night they met, though it seems like not much has changed.

Lexa is all dark hair and dark eyeliner and dark alcohol. All the walls Clarke had worked to tear down have been built back up again, rendering her strange and unfamiliar—the way Lexa slouches back with her drink cradled against her shoulder, Clarke thinks she’s never seen anyone wearing skinny jeans look so regal and so dangerous at the same time. The glare etched into her face is a clear warning for anyone who might step forward to her.

Beside her, Anya is smiling as she drinks and somehow looks even more dangerous.

But Clarke came here for a reason, and it wasn’t just to assist Octavia in her relationship struggles.

“I’ll have a shot when I get back,” Clarke tells Raven.

The walk over is shorter than she thought—Lexa watches her approach every step of the way—so Clarke doesn’t really have time to come up with anything to say before she’s standing in front of her.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to see her again,” Anya says to Lexa, as if Clarke weren’t there.

Lexa replies without taking her eyes off Clarke. “I didn’t think I would.”

It’s not exactly welcoming. They fall silent, and she flicks her gaze up and down Clarke’s body, waiting expectantly.

Clarke is doing the same. Anything she could have texted Lexa now sounds hollow in person, and it doesn’t help that she’s always struck dumb by how good Lexa looks as she reclines in her chair as if it’s a throne, fingers resting around her glass on the table. She’s lean, toned, with long legs kicked up on the chair in front of her. A white t-shirt a size too big hangs loose from her slim body; beneath the collar, the edge of her black tattoo is just barely visible, accentuating the shape of her collarbone and reaching up over her shoulder to her back.

Looking at her now, Clarke remembers every inch of her skin and the way it felt under her fingertips.

The hot burn of attraction, heady and desperate, surges in her stomach. She resists the urge to step forward and melt onto Lexa’s body. That’s not what this is about.

At Lexa’s side, Anya shifts, slouching into her chair more to make her presence known. It’s not a battle Clarke wants to fight right now, so whatever is going to happen, isn’t going to happen here.

“Can we talk, somewhere else?” she asks Lexa.

Lexa’s pupils are dilated, taking in everything. But unlike her friends at either side, the tension in her body is not fear or preparation for a fight. Clarke knows this; she can see the way Lexa is drinking her in. Her heart starts to pound.

“Outside,” Lexa says simply, jerking her head to the nearby back door of the bar.

* * *

Stepping out into the alley, Clarke hunches against the cold breeze that meets her and raises goosebumps over her bare shoulders. If she could have anticipated ending up in the alley behind The Captain’s Room, with Lexa leaning against the wall across from her, she probably would have worn more than the tanktop and jeans she threw on to go to Bellamy’s apartment.

The look on Lexa’s face, unbothered and expectant, pushes the thought from her mind. With no conversation topics to replace it, Clarke searches around them for something topical.

"How's the gym been?”

"Fine. Are we out here because you’re interested in a membership?”

Topical is not something that would ever work with Lexa, she should have known. Shrugging, Clarke admits it: “I just want to know what happened last week. Everything was fine—good, actually—up until that fight broke out. I was to know what changed.”

“Why?” Lexa asks.

“Because I like you,” Clarke replies in the same emotionless tone, “and I like being here at the bar.”

That’s the kind of brazen honesty she’s come to expect after Clarke has had a few drinks, the kind she was expecting the moment they stepped into the solitude of the alley. Still, it takes her a second to get over the shock of the confession and the way it flips her stomach. It's too childish to ask 'why' again in response, so Lexa shifts into a gear more similar to Clarke’s: "We just hooked up,” she says with a shrug. “It still stands that you don't really belong here."

“And yet, here I am,” she challenges.

“Because you are fucking relentless.”

Instead of responding, Clarke grins at Lexa, an odd sort of pride in her face. Her eyes sparkle in the dim light. Taken aback by the sight, Lexa can’t help but let out a snort of laughter at Clarke’s sheer audacity and unwillingness to back down. Of course she would take it as a compliment.

“I assumed you would stop coming here after the first night,” Lexa continues. “After the third time, I was starting to doubt myself. Once we started drinking together…you had forced me to give up on the idea.”

“You’ve already gone through all of that,” Clarke says, in a voice low enough to be almost threatening. “And you thought I still wouldn’t come back?”

“You’re still rather unpredictable. I couldn’t have expected you to jump into a bar brawl, for example.”

“I did, and I’d do it again. Just like I’ll come back here again. So it's pointless to be so hostile.”

She raises an eyebrow, looking Clarke up and down. The sarcasm is heavy in her voice she says with a smirk, “What, you think we’re going to be best friends, Clarke?”

“Of course not. I know nothing about you, and you know next to nothing about me. That doesn't mean we can't still occasionally play pool. Or…” she hesitates, studying Lexa’s face for a reaction, before going with it: “Or have nights like the one at your house.”

The dubious look on Lexa’s face flickers for a half-second, replaced by surprise and curiosity. She scrambles to replace it, but even once she does, her question belies her stoicism. “You're fine with random, occasional hook-ups?”

“What makes you think I'm not?”

“I…just thought you would be above that, Clarke.”

Part of her is. Part of her remembers how Lexa looked in bed the morning after they slept together, and that part of her wants more. But she can feel them shifting in the right direction, or at least trying to, and she is unwilling to give up the ground she has already conquered—not when any miscommunication could end the small flame she has rekindled between them. She’ll take what she can get, for now.

“Like I said, you know nothing about me, other than my alcohol preference.”

“I don't even know that,” Lexa says, her eyes taking in every inch of Clarke now that they’ve started to realize they’re on the same side. “You've never had the same drink twice since you've been here.”

Her smile is enough of a peace offering that Clarke feels comfortable in what they’ve achieved out here. A hope for something more. One day. Soon. Plus, late October air is starting to get to her. Giving Lexa a dark-eyed glance that begs her to follow, Clarke pushes off the wall and heads for the back door of the bar.

"You have a good memory, for someone who seems to spend all of her free time getting punched or drinking alcohol,” she says lightly.

“You don’t know anything about me either. I have other hobbies.”

“You could tell me about them, over a beer. Since we’re friends now,” she adds, a hint of sarcasm in her voice as she swings open the door.

Lexa’s sarcasm, however, is heavy and distinct and more than apparent in the way she rolls her eyes and follows Clarke inside: “Yeah, sure.”

* * *

Back inside the warmth of the bar, Clarke is halfway to the Raven when she looks back and sees that Lexa has dropped away; the girl has instead taken up her throne next to Anya again, returned to her old negroni instead of the opportunity of a new one at the bar.

Clarke swallows, frozen by ambivalence. She can’t decide whether to call this a victory or a defeat, because she still isn’t sure what her goal was in coming here tonight. The conversation with Lexa is even more of a mystery: she doesn’t know why she wants to offer so much to a girl who won’t take any of it.

Baby steps. One night at a time.

She casts another glance back. The curve of Lexa’s body, stretched out and lounging, is a sight she could watch for the rest of the night, and maybe it is unduly influencing the small bubble of hope rising in her chest now. Then again, so is Lexa’s smile, and she definitely hadn’t imagined that.

“Clarke?”

It’s Octavia, at a table less than five feet away; Clarke hadn’t even noticed. Lincoln is sitting there as well, his head bent toward Octavia, and they’re surrounded by a handful of Lincoln’s smiling friends. Octavia wears the only frown, directed at Clarke.

“Everything good?” she asks.

“Fantastic,” Clarke says. Octavia raises an eyebrow in response to that lie, but when it doesn’t come, she softens her face and Clarke cuts her off before anything sympathetic can come out of her mouth. “How are you two doing?”

Lincoln’s lips quirk up in a smile that matches Octavia’s. “We’re good,” she says, “We’re good.”

“Good.”

They nod into silence and Clarke is once again struck by ambivalence—she needs a drink but loyalty tells her to stay at the table, stay with Octavia, get to know Lincoln a little better. Judging by the number of empty glasses on the table and their unfocused eyes, he and his friends are feeling great, which should put them in a talking mood, but still the awkward silence stretches on.

“Thanks for bringing Octavia here,” one of them at last speaks up. Clarke recognizes him, but can’t remember his name. “We thought we weren’t going to see her at the gym again. She makes Lincoln more interesting.”

Lincoln gives a timbre laugh. “You’re just happy I’m too focused on her to out-train you, Nyko. Clarke, would you ever want to come train?”

“I…don’t think so,” she admits. Looking around at them all, the boxers and the fighters and Octavia, who somehow fits perfectly despite her perfect make-up and slim build, Clarke realizes that she’s the odd one out here. Plus, she’s the only one anywhere near sober.

“You know what?” she says suddenly. “I’m going to grab a drink. I’ll be right back.”

She’s leaning in to the bar and signaling to Raven when Octavia catches up with her, touching her arm lightly to get her attention. “Hey, really, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, O,” Clarke says with a nod. “I think I’m going to get out of here soon, though. Are you going to stay with Lincoln?”

A rare flash of coyness flickers across her features. “I think so, yeah.”

“I won’t stop by Bell’s then. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” Clarke tries to connect gazes with Raven again, but the bartender is occupied several patrons away. That’s when Clarke notices Octavia staring across the bar at Lexa—and it all clicks into place. Lincoln was not the only reason Octavia wanted to come here tonight, and definitely not the reason she dragged Clarke along.

“Clarke—”

She loves the loyalty. She does. But not tonight. “Go have fun with your boyfriend, Octavia,” she says, before another Blake can inject an unwanted sentimentality into the night, “I’m good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Octavia wants to say so much more, but the dismissal is clear. She wraps an arm around Clarke for a quick hug before heading back over to Lincoln. For Clarke, the work required to get a drink amongst the current rowdy crowd of the bar is looking less and less worth the drink itself.

Her intoxication has long since faded, and even the hazy buzz that interactions with Lexa tend to give her is starting to ebb. She reminds herself again of the hopeful smile on Lexa’s lips in the alley.

She’ll try again next week, she decides, and she’s about to slide from the barstool when her phone vibrates.

Lexa [11:18 PM]: My hand is fine, by the way. In case you were still wondering.

Clarke looks up from her phone. Across the bar, Lexa’s gaze is levelled on her; Clarke holds it, stoically, and tries to act like her mouth didn’t run dry at the way Lexa is looking at her.

Then Lexa nods her head at the back door of the bar.

Follow me.

* * *

“How drunk are you?” Lexa asks, the moment the fresh air hits their skin. She spins around to Clarke with her eyes darkened and wanting.

She shakes her head, knowing what that question means. “Not at all, anymore.”

“Good.”

The way Lexa moves is a callback to the fight last week, graceful and fast and powerful as she closes the distance and presses her body into Clarke’s—but her hands themselves are gentle as they grasp at her.

 For a moment she’s stiff with surprise and Lexa lets Clarke warm to the kiss and the suddenness of it. When Clarke sinks into Lexa’s body with a sigh, kissing back, she hears a noise of relief slip from Lexa’s lips.

The memory is nothing like the real thing.

This is what she wanted the moment they stepped into the alley the first time. This is what she wanted when she was drunk on the couch in Bellamy’s apartment. Not sex—Lexa. She wanted Lexa’s hands and Lexa’s mouth and Lexa.

And Lexa wants her back. She starts soft, but as time slides past unmarked and Clarke kisses back, her movements grow driven and insistent, like everything she has held back tonight and since the moment she met Clarke is now bleeding into her physicality—it’s evident in the way impatient hands begin to pulls at Clarke’s shirt, at her hips, trying to bring her closer.

Clarke lets those hands guide her as Lexa pulls them away from the door of the bar and farther down the alley. They’re stumbling as they go, trying to keep as much contact as possible to make up for the time they’ve wasted wanting each other from afar tonight.

They get several yards away before it becomes too much and Lexa backs Clarke into the wall—the rough edges of the brick scrape against her back, contrasting sharply with the soft, pliant body and warm lips of the other girl against her front. Clarke sighs into the inch of air between them, a long, shaky breath. Lexa pauses for air too. The fresh oxygen gives Clarke the wherewithal to turn her head, checking the distance between them and the back door of the bar.

“No one ever uses the door,” Lexa murmurs.

“We’ve used it twice tonight,” Clarke replies, arching an eyebrow.

“Do you trust me, Clarke?”

Oddly enough, she does.

After so long offering everything to Lexa, trying to get her to take more and give more, the only thing she wants to do now is sit back and see how far she will go with the all pretenses and illusions removed.

They can be friends. They can do this. Clarke trusts her with this. She opens her mouth, angles her head, kiss deeper. Lexa takes.

Lexa has never been shy, and she isn’t now: once Clarke deepens the kiss, deft hand closes around both of Clarke’s wrists and lift them, pinning them somewhere above her head against the brick. The low thrill shoots through her stomach when Lexa’s fingers tighten around her wrists the moment Clarke flexes her arms to test her grip. She needs Lexa to take even more of her, now.

Once she has Clarke pinned, Lexa doesn’t slow down, slipping from Clarke’s lips to her jaw and down the column of her neck. She mouths over the pulsing vein, pausing there to feel Clarke’s heartbeat thrum against her lips. When she pulls away to drop lower, the skin is glowing red. Clarke will have a mark there tomorrow, a thought which only drives Lexa to create more: she wants to leave something tangible, something visible, on the girl she can’t have.

She drifts over Clarke’s skin, taking her time to focus on her task, finding satisfaction in the way her mouth makes Clarke twist against her to get her to speed up.

In retaliation--that is really more of a reward—she slips a leg between Clarke’s and feels the fight melt out of her with the moan she releases.

Clarke kisses the only area of Lexa she can reach, a patch of skin just below her ear, and then releases a sign against the skin. Lexa shifts her leg again and the sigh ends in a hiss.

“Are you okay?” she asks, as if the soft noise that escaped Clarke’s lips didn’t render that question unnecessary.

The body that tensed and squirmed against her has softened, forming against Lexa’s body and shivering wherever Lexa’s free hand explores. Tentatively, Lexa loosens her one-handed grip on Clarke’s wrists. Her body doesn’t tense up. Instead, Clarke shifts her hips ever so slightly on the thigh that is pressing between her legs.

She wants to push the envelope, to take more of what Clarke offers.

Still kissing Clarke’s neck, she tugs at the button on Clarke’s jeans and it pops free—that’s where they both freeze. Clarke sucks in a breath. The alley may be little used but they’re still here, in public…slowly, Lexa releases her grip and lets Clarke’s hands fall from where she’s had them pressed against the brick. She focuses instead on the tiny sliver of skin revealed at the top of Clarke’s jeans, the lace underneath just barely visible.

The way Clarke’s hands immediately thread into her hair, tugging her lower across her collarbone and chest, does nothing to discourage the question Lexa’s fingers ask.

"We should go back to my house."

"How long…” Her stomach contracts in a wave of pleasure as Lexa brushes over the skin beneath her waistband again, but she chokes her words out anyway. “How long would it take to walk there?"

"Too long," Lexa admits. Clarke’s instinct takes over and she digs her fingernails into Lexa’s back.

"Then I don't want to stop."

Lexa nods against Clarke’s chest, and slides her fingers down until Clarke releases a gasp.

She’s still pinned hard against the brick but Lexa’s body is generous, allowing Clarke to roll and shift for the best rhythm against Lexa’s fingers.

She comes with Lexa’s shoulder in her mouth, stifling any sound save the whimpers that escape when she breathes. And Lexa takes all of it, never once pulling back until Clarke is completely spent. When they pull away, just far enough to breathe oxygen instead of each other, the spot on Lexa’s shoulder is tinged red, the same shade as Clarke’s cheeks. It will be purple soon enough.

* * *

Clarke doesn’t stop at the mark she leaves there. Her neck and shoulders are dotted with them; she gets her revenge later, once they’ve gathered enough strength in their shaking legs to make it back to Lexa’s house and up the stairs to her bedroom. Lexa doesn’t mind. As Clarke drifts lower over Lexa’s stomach, working diligently, the moonlight illuminates a purple patch on Clarke’s neck. Lexa swallows hard.

She knows Clarke won’t be there in the morning. The sight of the marks on her body should be enough. It always has been.

But with Clarke, it’s not.

 

Chapter Text

Monday night football and two trainee bartenders at The Captain’s Room are never a good combination, but Raven’s easy smile doesn’t show a hint of the stress that comes from customers clamoring for her attention. Taking her sweet time pouring a round of shots for another group, she leans against the bar nearest where Clarke and Lexa are sitting and lowers her voice.

"End of the bar," she mutters. "The clean shaven blonde one. He tips really well, so I've been pouring heavy all night. Arrogant as hell." She smirks. "It’ll be so easy."

"I recognize him,” Lexa replies after a surreptitious glance over her shoulder. "He’s from around here, he’ll know me. That means you're up, Clarke."

"Are you sure it's not because you don't think you can beat this one?" Nonetheless, Clarke finishes her drink and hands Raven the empty glass before sliding off her bar stool. Lexa, dark eyes sparkling, opens her mouth to reply, but Clarke shuts her up by brushing her fingers over Lexa's legs as she moves past her. A little buzzed and very self-satisfied, she stumbles forward to the guy Raven pointed out.

"Hiiiiii," she says, beaming. His eyes light up. Strike one. Dragging the vowels out much further than necessary, she leans in and asks, "Are you here with anyone?"

"No, I'm all yours, babe."

Strike two. "Perfect. I'm Clarke. I've been looking for someone to help me perfect my pool shot, you look like you can handle yourself."

"I'm your man." Without looking, he snaps his fingers at Raven (whose eyes narrow murderously). "What are you drinking?"

"I should probably stop drinking, but if you really want, you can buy me a negroni. Come on, let's go play. Wanna bet on it?"

Fifteen minutes later, Clarke slaps a wad of cash on the bar, glowing with triumph. Raven throws her head back and laughs uproariously; the corners of Lexa's mouth twitch as she quickly counts the money with a glance, her eyebrow raised.

“A hundred and twenty," Clarke tells her, grinning.

Accordingly, Raven places two shots of whiskey on the bar and steals a ten off the top of the stack Clarke won, the entire contents of the guy's wallet. It only took three games: she blew the first two, and blew him away on the third.

"I'd call you criminal," Raven says, "but since the money is just going into my pocket, I'm not gonna complain. Play nice, girls."

“Thanks for setting it up, Raven,” Lexa reminds her pointedly. Raven winks slyly as she sidles away.

Left alone with Lexa, Clarke turns to her and waits for the praise. It’s become a nightly competition: Lexa has won money faster than the fifteen minutes Clarke took tonight, but neither of them has hustled anyone out of so much at one time. There is a distinct pride on Lexa's face, even if she tries to mute it.

"Okay, but it was a little theatrical," she says dryly.

Clarke laughs, rolling her eyes. "Look who's talking. If I hadn't been drinking with you, I would have thought you had alcohol poisoning when you beat those two guys the other night. Anyway, you should thank me, this pays for our drinks for the rest of the night."

"Did he say anything after you beat him?"

"He tried, but then Gustus stood up and he just headed for the door. Glad to see he's finally warmed up to me, though."

"He has that effect," Lexa agrees. "And he didn’t necessarily dislike you early on. He’s just defensive. They all are. Anya, Gustus, Quint, Indra, even the ones younger than me. You didn't grow up here, grow up with the problems, watch businesses pop up and fall apart—they don't really think you belong here. That’s all it is."

"And do you?"

She’s momentarily distracted by the way Clarke brushes her hair off her shoulder, and takes a second before shrugging in response to the question. "Since you'll keep coming back anyway, so I see no use being hostile about it."

"God, just say you enjoy it."

"Maybe." She smiles.

Since they’re already well into their night, that is worthy of drinking to and they down their latest round of shots with smiles on their faces. Clarke leaves her head tipped back toward the ceiling and breathes in the moment after the burn of the alcohol, basking in the hazy buzz of intoxication, the warmth of her body, the feeling of Lexa's eyes steady on her. Whatever they have, they've eased into it comfortably, building a routine through unspoken agreement. It starts with a text early in the afternoon, an agreement to meet up. They share a few beers, then a few shots, a few hours of shrugging off Raven’s eyebrow raises and questionable double entendres.

When she looks back at Lexa, her dark eyes are darkened and soft. She leans in, dropping her voice so her words are only for Clarke.

“You wanna head home?”

And the night always ends like that.

It ends in Lexa’s bed, grasping at sheets and trying to stay quiet and not being able to; it ends more desperate and wanting than they ever give away at the bar; it ends with quiet murmurs against skin and sometimes awkward laughter; and finally sleep for their aching bodies. It’s easy, and it feels good, and it’s entirely theirs.

That morning, just like every morning, Clarke slips away before Lexa wakes up, catching the 6:50 train back to campus and curling up in one of the orange seats against a window. It’s early enough that she’s not getting sideways glances for still wearing last night’s clothes and make-up. She doesn’t bother changing when she gets home, either; she drops into her bed and falls asleep almost instantly.

 

 * * * * *

 

That dreamless morning nap lasts until around 11 AM—there’s no way she’s making it to her noon lecture—when her phone vibrates from somewhere amongst her sheets and pillows. Still dazed, she scrambles for it for a moment.

[10:54 AM] Octavia: Me, Lincoln, some of his friends, and Murphy and Miller are grabbing lunch soon, you want to come?

[11:09 AM] Clarke: that’s an interesting group.

[11:11] Octavia: they were the only ones available. Don’t bail on me.

[11:12] Clarke: Sure. Just tell me where and when.

[11:14] Octavia: Lucia’s, in Lincoln’s neighborhood. Meet us at 1. love ya

Twenty minutes later, only marginally more awake, she gets out of the shower to find a new message waiting on her phone.

[11:30 AM] Lexa: What are you doing Friday night?

[11:41 AM] Clarke: staying home. I have to be up early to get some work done this weekend, plus Bellamy is holding a tailgate for Octavia’s last game, so I need to be semi-coherent and mostly alive for that.

Her early morning shifts at the hospital haven’t stopped her from going to the bar in the past, but Lexa was the one who told her to stop escaping her responsibilities. She’s trying to live to that. Still, though, it sounds a little harsh when she re-reads the text. Quickly, Clarke sends a follow-up message:

[11:41 AM] I can meet you at Captain’s later Saturday night, though?

[11:44] Lexa: I’ll be there.

[11:45] Clarke: Aren’t you always?

[11:49] Lexa: I could say the same to you, considering you’re the one always at my bar

Clarke can already hear the sarcastic drawl of Lexa’s voice saying those words; for a moment, she has half an idea to show up at the bar tonight anyway, to force Lexa to raise her chin and try the same attitude when they’re face to face, only to give in later under Clarke’s lips. But instead, Clarke extinguishes that desire and holds her line.

[11: 51] Clarke: I’m making you come to one of my bars one day, then. No more home field advantage.

[11:52] Lexa: Ha. Maybe. See you Saturday, Clarke

[11:52] Clarke: See you Saturday ;)

 

* * * * *

 

Lexa tosses her phone onto the pile of paperwork on the desk, releasing a sigh of frustrated disappointment, most of which is directed at herself. Towards the end of their workout, Lexa had overheard Lincoln and Octavia mention meeting Clarke at Lucia’s for lunch later. After a scoff of Lucia’s? Really? Lexa decided to send Clarke a quick text, promising her that Lucia’s was not indicative of the neighborhood’s food scene, and that she would take her to a far better Mexican place.

Instead, she had managed a curt conversation about meeting up at the bar again soon. The end result would be the same, so it wasn’t a total loss—maybe one or two of the texts had pulled a smile out of her—but shifting the date from Tuesday to Saturday hadn’t been a fantastic result either.

She must still be discontent five minutes later as she’s going over the monthly financial reports Indra prepped for her, because when Anya swings into the office, she reads Lexa’s face immediately.

“Hey, you doing alright?” she asks. She tosses a fresh roll of medical tape across the office and Lexa catches it, but at the last possible second. Slow reflexes. That’s a giveaway.

“Fine,” she says anyway.

“Sure. C’mon, let’s go train.”

“You’re gonna hit things with that cast?”

Anya drums her fingers on the doorway impatiently. “Okay. You train. I’ll coach. It’s better than sitting in here worrying about…” She glances at Lexa’s cellphone curiously. “…Money.”

And she’s right, as Anya so often is. Lexa has always sought refuge in action rather than contemplation, so she sets her thoughts aside with the finance reports and follows Anya out into the main gym. They haven’t trained together in weeks, since Anya can’t stand being on the sidelines, but Lexa is reminded of her cousin’s work style in a matter of seconds. After the fastest warm-up of her life, Anya has her in front of the heavy bag and her stopwatch out.

“45 seconds work, 30 seconds rest. Repeat until I say stop. Ready? Go.”

Easy enough. Gustus always has a laundry list of things for her to remember every session.  She bounces on the balls of her feet, shifting back and forth, fast and efficient as she works against the punching bag in mindless, repetitive movements. Anya says stop. Thirty seconds. Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

She breezes through the first four rounds; by the fifth, it’s not quite as mindless, as she starts to recognize her limbs slowing down and becomes more conscious of her breathing patterns. When Anya finally calls “Stop” on the round, it prompts a rush of relief. She refuses to hunch over to rest her hands on her knees, spending the passing seconds instead on evening out her breathing, preparing for the next round, until Anya’s voice interrupts her concentration.

“So tell me about Clarke.”

“Uh, what?” Lexa asks, panting.

“Hold on, rest period is up. Back at it. Go.”

Round six. Anya all but shoves her back to the bag and the first several seconds is just Lexa trying to find her balance and rhythm, the idea of Clarke throwing it all off. In fact, it takes her almost the entire forty-five seconds to work back up to pace. As soon as Anya calls time again, Lexa whirls to face her.

“What about Clarke?”

“She’s contributing to whatever you’ve got going on, obviously,” Anya says coolly as she resets her watch. It only takes a half second of Lexa’s reticence for confirmation in Anya’s mind. She lets out a bitter laugh. “Damn, Lexa, I told you not to let it get like this.”

Lexa turns defensive, more than she knows she should if she’s trying to be convincing. “What do you mean, like this? We sleep together, yeah. She comes to the bar, we drink, we go home together. It’s just casual sex.”

“Thirty seconds almost up, we’ll talk about it next round,” Anya says. She gestures to the bag and preps her watch.

“No.” Lexa nearly pulls off her gloves in her defiance. “Let’s talk about it now, since you’re so interested.”

“Fine. Try to tell me you don’t like Blondie.”

“Clarke. And if I didn't like her, I wouldn't be—”

“Oh yes you would, we can both say that she's hot and you're not above having meaningless sex with a hot girl you don't have any other interests in. You like this one, I could tell when I saw you both at the bar. This just confirmed it. The question is, what are you going to do to fix it?”

If she had an answer to that question, she wouldn’t have needed to say another word to Clarke after the night they had first met. Whatever she gives Anya won’t be a real answer, and it won’t be good enough: Anya, along with half a dozen of the people spread through the gym right now, as well as the streets outside, practically raised her. She knows which answer they all expect of her. But they also made her stronger than that. It’s the first time those two things have ever come into conflict, and there’s only one way out of it.

With a shrug, she turns back to the punching bag, readjusting her gloves. “Well?” Anya demands.

“Maybe I won’t do anything.”

And she doesn’t. Clarke doesn’t text her, she doesn’t text Clarke, and the Saturday plans stand for the rest of the week. Anya, surprisingly, makes no mention of it at all, thought Lexa catches her checking the bar for Clarke more than once on the nights they walk in together.

Come Saturday, a morning sunrise over her neighborhood wakes her; the rush of late-fall morning air when she opens her window shocks her blood with energy. Inhaling it deeply, Lexa decides on a morning run before she gets too entrenched in the day's responsibilities. She had been able to stick to beer the night before but since today is likely her last hangover free morning for the rest of the weekend, she has to take advantage of that. And there's no better way than pumping her body full of oxygen yet untouched by the day.

Padding out of her room with her beat-up shoes in hand to avoid waking Anya, she trots down the stairs and into the cool morning air. Just as she’s flicking through her playlists for something that will get her heart pounding, a text from Lincoln appears at the top of the screen.

Lincoln [6:20 AM]: Hey, what are your plans for the rest of the day?

 

 * * * * *

 

Clarke awakes to the same sunrise as Lexa, albeit far groggier than the other girl. She passed the night in small bouts of restless sleep, interspersed with hours of lying awake running through the sections of her endocrinology paper she still needs to write. And when she does manage to grab a few minutes of sleep, her dreams are wrought with images of Lexa performing surgery and looking completely helpless while Clarke tries to help her through an observation window. It’s not exactly conducive to a restful night of sleep.

So when the sun finally breaches the horizon, she doesn't so much wake up as she does roll out of bed.

Bellamy’s tailgate for Octavia’s big rivalry game begins sometime around noon, even though the game isn’t until four, and after that, Clarke is heading to the bar—which means she won’t be getting any work done today or most of tomorrow. Weary and ragged as she may feel, the early morning hours are the only chance she has to tackle the final draft of her essay from hell.

In honor of Octavia’s game, Clarke picks out Arcadia sweats and an Arcadia university t-shirt for her trip to the library, hoping the universe rewards her with some good karma for her friend. With her books tucked under her arms, she gets three steps out of her apartment when she's rewarded with Octavia herself instead.

"Clarke!" she exclaims, already brighter than the sun-soaked morning. She wears her "Arcadia University Women's Soccer" sweat suit proudly, and her hair is braided and tied back in her usual style. The game isn’t for another nine hours, but she’s ready to go.

"Morning, O," Clarke says, trying for the same brightness. Probably failing. "You ready?"

She nods, fire in her eyes. "They don't know what's coming for them. But hey, you're going to the tailgate later, right?"

"Burned hot dogs, bodypaint, and coolers full of beer, I wouldn't miss it."

"Perfect. I need you to monitor Bellamy," Octavia says quickly. "Lincoln is bringing a bunch of our friends from the gym. Nyko, Ryder, Artigas, and like eight more. I'm headed over to his apartment right now to let him know, but he's more chill around you, so just..."

Clarke waves a hand to cut Octavia off there. "I got it. He'll be fine. He's getting better, O, for you."

"Good." She breathes a little sigh of relief, but catches the exhale in sudden anxiety. "And also...Lincoln invited Lexa.”

"...What?"

Her stomach flips. This is far different than asking Clarke to give Bellamy a glare anytime he or his fraternity brothers get a little too rowdy with guys who have prison tattoos. This, in fact, could prevent her from doing that altogether. Lexa is either an enjoyable distraction or Clarke's own battle to fight, and neither way is not conducive to what Octavia is asking. "Why did he invite her?"

"I told him to."

"Again...why?"

"Because she's always so superior at the gym about boxing," Octavia laments, "and I'm going to show her that soccer requires so much more than the ability to hit things."

"So basically, you're trying to prove yourself to her." It's condescending, but privately, Clarke is relieved that Octavia doesn't have an ulterior motive for this.

Octavia nods. "And also because you fucked her in an alley last week and I'm trying to be a good friend."

"Octavia, don't," Clarke says, hefting her books more securely into her arms. "I have it handled, I don't need you interfering with my love life."

"Well, then, fuck her in an alley again tonight, if that's what you're in to," she says with a shrug. "But he already told her about it.”

“Is she going to come, though?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugs, as if she doesn’t really care. She’s played her move and now she only has the soccer game on her mind.

"Fine." Arguing at this point is useless; apparently the decision has already been made, and both of them have places to be. But if Octavia thinks she won't have to deal with this later, she's mistaken. Clarke doesn't forget easily. "Good luck in your game," she forces out, moving past her.

"Good luck in yours."

At the library, she finishes the essay much faster than expected, but she suspects that has less to do with her academic ability and more with the fact that she spends most of her time wondering about Lexa and the tailgate—whether Lexa would actually show up—and debating if she should just call and ask. But because she is Clarke Griffin, each time she catches herself drifting into these thoughts, she pushes them away to focus on the task at hand.

But the less she tries to think about it all, the more she realizes that it’s useless. Today will be much more important, and potentially much more disastrous than she had anticipated when she first woke up, and here she is, wasting her time on a paper not due for another four days. She snaps her laptop shut.

 

* * * * * 

 

Since the university doesn’t allow alcohol on campus, Bellamy has long since conquered and claimed the closest off-campus parking lot to the stadium, and Clarke arrives a few minutes after noon to find that he has already established base camp three trucks, four coolers, half a dozen lawn chairs, and already more than a dozen friends and partiers, most of them engaged in a frenzied, sloppy soccer game on one side of the parking lot.

“It’s still early!” Bellamy assures her from the bed of his truck when he sees her walking up.

“And you’re already shirtless,” she notes. “That’s not a great sign, Bell. I figured you would be wearing one of Octavia’s jerseys that is way too tight for you.”

He shrugs, beaming. “I’m waiting on the bodypaint. You bring it?”

“Right here.” She tosses him the bag of body paint she promised. “I know you and Murphy have been looking forward to slathering each other up all day.”

Jasper breaks away from the soccer game and engulfs Clarke in a sweaty hug. He’s smirking as he pulls away. “Nah, we’ve only been drinking beer so far, Murphy and Bellamy are gonna wait until we break out the hard alcohol for that.”

“What did you say about me?” Murphy demands as he comes around the corner of Bellamy’s truck, shirtless as well. Clarke can’t help but laugh at the face Monty makes to hold back comment.

“Paint’s here, Murphy,” she tells him evenly, “have fun. Bell, let’s grab a beer?”

The group is still small, just their usual core and a few of Bellamy’s fraternity brothers, and Clarke wants to get a quiet word with him while she still has the chance. As their friends move in around the paint, Bellamy and Clarke head for a cooler off to the side.

“So, quite a party you got here,” she appraises, looking around at the meager-set up of chairs and empty beer boxes.

Bellamy laughs as he digs through the ice for her beer. “Okay, whatever. I have the rest of the fraternity on their way, two sororities to mix with, and plenty of people who will show up just to get drunk with all of them.”

“And you’re going to keep them all under control?”

He finally unearths a can of cheap beer and waves it in her face, then around at the rest of the early tailgate. Most of their friends have already gone back to their soccer game, and have changed it to something that more closely resembles rugby, if rugby players played barefoot and drunk. Sarcastically, he asks, “What about all of this implies a lack of control? Just go with it, Griffin. Plus, more drunk people, a bigger cheering section for Octavia.”

“Pretty sure that’s not going to be a problem,” she says, taking the beer he offers nonetheless. She would love to just go with it. Octavia made that difficult.

“You mean because of her invites?”

“Lincoln’s friends, yeah.”

Bellamy crosses his arms over his chest. “She told me about them this morning,” he says, with effort to remain even and unaffected. Clarke watches his face to determine just how much of that stoicism will remain once they arrive. Bellamy must notice; with a grunt, he adds, “And they’re apparently bringing all their own alcohol, so the more the merrier, I guess.”

“For Octavia,” Clarke says.

“For Octavia.”

It’s better than she expected—there is still a glint of playfulness in his eyes when he dives back into the cooler for more beers, rather than the usual dark clouds brought on by mentions of Octavia’s new boyfriend and his friends. So that’s one issue down. As for the second…she again feels the urge to reach for her cell phone, but the same refrain she’s been thinking all day stops her: you’ll see her at the bar tonight. Don’t worry about right now. Dark, hazy, loud, much more her style.

Clarke smiles just thinking about it, and cracks her beer.

Two more trucks arrive in the twenty minutes after that, and more importantly, people begin to straggle in on foot, usually in pairs carrying coolers of food and drinks between them. Suddenly they have more than enough people for a full eleven versus eleven parking lot soccer game plus a cheering section, and that’s when the party begins: the stereo gets turned up, as do the voices and laughter; shirtless King Bellamy reigns over a beer shotgunning contest from his elevated position in the bed of his truck; and then the chaos shifts to the empty half of the parking lot when someone tosses a ball out and two dozen already intoxicated college boys rush after it like well-bred golden retrievers, while the girls they brought cheer them on.

A rowdy cheering section for Octavia indeed, if everyone survives the next four hours.

Clarke hangs back from the chaos and is rewarded when a chair opens up next to Monty, who had somehow commandeered an entire cooler and bag of snacks for himself.

“There’s a reason I like hanging out with you the most,” Clarke says, grinning as she steals a handful of chips.

“It’s because you’re intelligent, and intelligent people like us have to stick together.” With a smirk, he reaches into his cooler and withdraws a bottle of Captain Morgan, offering it to her, but Clarke declines.

“Someone has to stay intelligent here,” she says with a nod to the soccer game. Plus, she has some long hours of drinking ahead of her, after this party.

“Pre-med Clarke Griffin,” Monty chuckles. Harper falls into the seat across from them. Unlike Clarke, she does accept the alcohol he offers. “I saw Raven in the engineering lab the other day, she told me you had been at the bar a lot, so I figured you would let loose today.”

“Not only is she at the bar,” Harper chimes in as she pours the rum into her cup with the gossipy air of a suburban mother pouring coffee, “she’s pulled the walk of shame a few times after being there, too.”

“Hey, wait—” But Monty’s eyebrows have already shot up, putting Clarke on the back foot. “Harper never even wakes up before noon! She’s not a reliable source.”

“I wake up when you come stumbling through the door at six AM on a Wednesday.”

“Oooooh.” Monty looks eagerly to Clarke for her response.

“Wow. I really thought my roommate would have more loyalty,” Clarke fires back, mock indignation on her face.

Monty laughs, waving the bottle of alcohol Harper hands him. “Too late! She drank my alcohol, she’s on my team.”

Double betrayal. “You’re both supposed to be on my team!”

“Monty, I have so many more secrets to trade for free alcohol,” Harper says excitedly, sitting forward, but Monty’s gaze has shifted to somewhere over Clarke’s shoulder

“Woah, hey—speaking of the bar…”

And there they are. Lincoln and six of his friends, striding toward the tailgate, standing in such stark contrast to a bunch of jovial young college kids at a sports game that they’ve attracted not only Monty’s attention, but everyone around them. Heads turn in confusion—and then tension. The unforgiving, uncertain looks on the faces of the new arrivals look more befitting of a rival sports team walking into an unfamiliar stadium.

Clarke doesn’t even take the time to put names to faces before she jumps up, trying to get to them before someone says something stupid.

Which proves unnecessary. “Miller!” Lincoln exclaims, reaching out to Miller to shake his hand. “What’s up, man?”

It stops Clarke in her tracks. Miller greets Lincoln, and then Russ and Nyko behind him, with the same broad smile he’s greeted everyone with so far, just like any of his friends. All at once, everyone around them relaxes—at least someone knows these new people.

Once everyone returns to their conversation, Clarke moves forward until Lincoln catches sight of her and flashes her a smile too. She starts to recognize the faces of the others behind him: Nyko, Russ, the kid that Octavia defended that night at the bar…they’re standing with their hands in their pockets, but now that Miller and Clarke have both stepped forward, they look far more comfortable.

“Come on, there’s food and beer and over here,” Clarke tells them, “And if you feel like embarrassing anyone, the soccer game can use you.”

“We’ll spare them,” Nyko replies, glancing dubiously at it as he moves past her.

Clarke turns to Miller and drops her voice. “Hey,” she mutters, “Thanks for being cool with them. Makes it easier on everyone.”

“No problem. I heard her talking about it with Bellamy this morning, figured I could help out.” He glances past her.

“By the way…your girl’s here.”

“She’s…what?”

“Clarke.”

She whips around at the sound of Lexa’s voice and finds her standing there, dwarfed and flanked on either side by Ryder and Gus, the usual half-smile on her face. Clarke isn’t sure if she manages a return smile around the shock of seeing her there.

“Shit, hi. I didn’t…what are you doing here?”

“Should I not be here?”

“I figured I would just see you at the bar tonight, but this isn’t…I could work with this.”

Lexa’s half-smile turns to a full-blown smirk. “Lincoln invited me this morning, I thought I’d support one of my boxers, so I’m so glad you can work around my presence.”

“I can definitely try, at least.”

Lexa raises an eyebrow.

"That was a joke, Lexa," Clarke says, rolling her eyes. "Do you only have a sense of humor when you're drinking?"

"Maybe your jokes are only good when you're drinking," Lexa shoots back.

“Then maybe we should get some beers.” She jerks her head to Monty’s cooler, mostly because it also contains that bottle of rum, which is suddenly looking much more palatable. If only to nullify the new nervous electricity crackling through her.

“Actually, I brought some,” Lexa says, stopping her. “Gus, where are your keys?”

Clarke allows Lexa to lead her away from the party, oddly intrigued. This is not a Lexa she’s used to dealing with: her eyes are the same, save the way they seem to study her more closely now, but she’s seems unsteady and uncharacteristically cautious in the way she moves. Clarke only realizes there’s tension in Lexa’s shoulders when they get away from the crowd and it releases slightly.  

Or maybe it’s just because she’s seeing Lexa in the regular daylight for the first time ever. It’s as valid a reason as any she can come up with.

Nonetheless, she’s even more surprised when Lexa pulls two actual glass bottles of beer out of a cooler in Ryder’s truck. Gold label, European brand—nothing they would serve at The Captain’s Room, let alone a vacant parking lot tailgate.

“Holy shit, you got fancy,” Clarke says with a laugh.

“Still not as over the top as Lincoln bringing bottles of champagne for after Octavia wins,” Lexa replies, grinning at Clarke’s whistle. “I figured I could save you from Keystone light or whatever they would have at something like this.”

“Like I said, I can probably work with this,” Clarke says. When Lexa opens it and hands it to her, Clarke examines the gold and black label of the bottle “Belgian blondes, huh? I never would have thought you liked blondes.”

"Acquired taste,” she replies coolly, looking straight ahead but failing to repress a small grin that says yes, she does.

"I'll keep that in mind next time I buy you a beer."

“Good.”

With just a glance, they quietly agree that the party doesn’t need them back just yet, and they lean against Gustus’s truck to watch it from afar. Silences between them have long since stopped being uncomfortable, and Lexa, sipping her beer with sparkling eyes as she watches her friends slip among the crowd of college students, seems perfectly at ease now. Briefly, Clarke ponders ways to extend this moment of peace between them—the game isn’t for hours anyway, they could sneak away—but she has to laugh when she sees Jasper leap into the bed of one of the trucks and start organizing a beer pong tournament.

“Jasper and Monty are beer pong heathens” she tells Lexa, pointing both boys out. She hesitates for a moment, then adds, “Let’s go back in, this will be entertaining.”

Surprisingly, Lexa nods. “After you.”

Lexa close to her side as Clarke waves them through the maze of people and the chairs and tables and coolers that have been set-up, until they reach Bellamy’s truck and hop up onto the tailgate, front row seats to the sprawling chaos all around them.

The beer pong tournament kicks off to a raging start, with over-enthusiastic spectators bellowing for odd pairings like Lincoln and Murphy or Bree and Artigas, and beyond that, shirtless fraternity boys are crashing together in a hackneyed version of skins versus skins soccer that results in more beer spilling than soccer being played. The girls cheering from the sidelines have realized their chance to embarrass the boys and have jumped into the game as well, wreaking havoc. Several people area already sporting green and black paint on their faces and upper bodies.

It’s one of the last days of good weather of the year, and they’re going to go all our enjoying it. And in the center of it all, Clarke, with a cold beer in her hand and Lexa at her side. She couldn’t be happier.

“Another win for the champions!” Jasper bellows, throwing his hands into the air as Monty sinks their opponent’s cup. Nyko and Russ do not look at all pleased, but they had to know they were the lowest seed going up into this.

“This is so stacked,” Adam complains.

“It’s always stacked,” Murphy adds, even though he and Lincoln are winning their game.

Ignoring them, Monty gleefully starts resetting the cups for the next game as Jasper updates the brackets on a whiteboard. “If only any of you have the magic touch,” Monty says, “Losers complain, winners train.”

Lexa rolls her eyes to Clarke.

“I know, I know,” Clarke says, “But they’re my stupid friends.”

She starts telling Lexa stories about the people around them—the time Jasper and Monty almost burned the dorm down, the time she saved them all from the ill-fated party Bellamy threw freshman year, the summer camping trip when they lost Murphy for the better part of a day. They’re pressed close on the tailgate of Bellamy’s truck, speaking low enough so that only the other can hear over the music and partying.

"One time,” she says, with a nod to a girl whose face is being painted, “I had to yank that girl back by her collar to keep a guy from throwing up on her at a party."

"You’re quite the hero, it appears," Lexa replies.

"But not the one they deserve."

"How tragic."

Clarke laughs. “Shut up. Go grab me another beer, then you can tell me your tragic villain origin story.”

It’s a joke Lexa doesn’t bother to deny. Instead, she takes it with a half-smile, and says, "We might need more than beer for that. How about a bottle of champagne, instead?”

It takes everything in her not to lean in and kiss Lexa right there; she’s spent the majority of this party avoiding looking at Lexa’s lips in case the sight of them this close sways her to do something embarrassing in front of so many people.

But Lexa, with her cocky grin and offer of champagne, is making the task difficult.

Lexa slides off the tailgate as Clarke’s heart flips over in her chest watching her, but before Lexa takes another two steps, she nearly collides with Bellamy; he has extricated himself from the soccer game, red-faced and laughing, so that he can start up the barbecue and get the food rolling. He stops short when sees her, glancing back and forth between Lexa and Clarke.

It takes him a second to acknowledge her, and that she is there with Clarke. “Hey. You’re the owner of Octavia’s boxing gym, aren’t you?”

Lexa stiffens at the opposition, remembering Bellamy for his actions after the scuffle at the bar. “I am,” she answers carefully.

“Bellamy…” Clarke says, more concerned about her than him.

Appearing out of nowhere, Monty joins the conversation and makes all three of them turn in surprise: “Wait, you own that gym?” he asks Lexa, eyebrows raised. “Someone go find Miller, he was thinking about joining there. You should talk to him about it.”

“I was too,” Jasper adds, somewhat uncertainly when he looks between them all.

Clarke chimes in with, “You should.” Bellamy’s face flashes betrayal for a moment when he turns to her, but she continues, “You guys could keep Octavia out of trouble. Hasn’t she been trying to get into the ring with you, Lexa?”

“She’s been trying,” Lexa says, “I won’t let her.”

“You should check it out sometime, Bell,” Clarke tells him. “Go with Miller and Jasper.”

“…yeah. Maybe I will.” It’s directed more at Lexa, but it’s less a challenge and more of an acquiescence to her; Lexa nods nobly and steps out of his way.

Once Bellamy has moved past them to start up the barbeque and Lexa slips away to grab whatever booze she decides they need after that small moment—Clarke wouldn’t be surprised if it pushed her to procure a bottle of whiskey—Clarke bends down and taps Monty on the shoulder, close enough to his ear that only he can hear.

“Thank you for that save,” she mutters to him, much like she had with Miller earlier.

He waves away her appreciation. “We went over this earlier, didn’t we? We’re all on your team.”

“I’m eternally grateful.”

“Do you want some rum now that we’ve agreed we’re on the same team?”

Lexa’s returning, two bottles of beer in one hand and, almost ridiculously, the bottle of champagne in the other. Clarke grins at the sight. Why not step it up a bit?

“Absolutely.”

It’s game over once the rum comes out. Lexa and her damn perfume have been getting to Clarke anyway, making her dizzy and making her wish she could skip to midnight already, so she figures that handle pulls of rum can really only make the whole situation glow more than it already is. It certainly makes Lexa’s face glow: she returns with the bottle of champagne just as Clarke is scowling through the aftertaste of a shot of liquor, and lights up at the sight.

Wordlessly, she strides over and hands the bottle to Clarke with just the slightest smirk. This is the Lexa that Clarke knows best: standing tall, dignified, the hint of arrogance in the swing of her hips.

The Lexa that Clarke likes most appears a half hour later, after three shots and a red cup full of champagne: smirking more broadly, dark eyes sparkling, a ragged edge to her as she leans close and Clarke breathes her in again. They’re still whispering stories to each other—every so often, Lexa lips graze her neck or her ear and, the more she drinks, the harder it is for Clarke to keep her body still when that happens. But the bottle of rum keeps getting passed around their circle of friends, and Lexa keeps filling both of their cups, so she keeps going.

Time passes more quickly, and less measured, the more they drink. At some point Bellamy hands them both plates of freshly-grilled food, his way of apologizing for his minor misstep in courtesy, but Clarke only realizes later how late in the afternoon it’s getting when she looks around and sees that the numbers of the tailgate have dwindled. The crowd is thinned out, the voices lower, and half of her friends—Monty, Jasper, Bree, Bellamy—are already gone. Most of the remaining attendees are either finishing their beers or packing up the chairs and coolers, and leaving in fours and fives to the stadium.

“Damn,” Clarke says as she pulls her cell phone from her pocket, still laughing from a look Lexa had given one stumbling drunk guy. “Kick off is in twenty minutes, we should get going.”

“Are you sure you can make it all the way to the stadium?” Lexa asks dubiously, because she never fails to play the coolly superior card.

Clarke snorts. “Look who’s talking. I’ll race you.”

She slides off the tailgate and the effects of the alcohol become much more clear the second her feet hit the ground and she stands upright, but luckily she’s still at a manageable level and turns to Lexa with a grin.

“What were you—”

What’s left of that question is lost into Lexa’s mouth when Lexa cups a hand behind Clarke’s neck and pulls her into a deep, hard kiss. Clarke melts into it immediately.

“It’s about time,” Lexa murmurs into her lips.

Clarke nips at her lower lip in reply and kisses her again, pushing Lexa’s legs apart so she can stand between them where Lexa sits on the tailgate. They don’t care who sees anymore. She could spend all day here, and judging by the way Lexa’s fingers tighten on the back of her neck every time Clarke readjusts to deepen the kiss, Lexa wouldn’t mind that scenario either.

But they can’t.

Inhaling deeply, Clarke pulls away. “Ah, the game. If we don’t leave now, I don’t think we’ll ever make it.”

Lexa just nods, unable to look up from Clarke’s lips. “I’ll follow you,” she says, looking dangerously close to leaning in again instead, which Clarke is dangerously close to wanting. “Should I bring the champagne?”

“Uh…you would never get it through the front gate.”

She snorts. “Uptight college kids.”

“Come on,” Clarke assures her, taking her hand and steadying her as she slides off the tailgate. “A ninety minute game to sober up, and then we’ll come back for it to celebrate, as long as we have something to celebrate after.”

Two dozen young adults with way too much access to alcohol will always find something to celebrate, even if that something is just being out and free and breathing.

The Arcadia Women’s Soccer team, however, gives them a hell of a reason. All game, Octaiva straddles the line between what can technically be called soccer and what would be more appropriately known as boxing—to both the delight and alarm of her supporters—and in the 90th minute of a 0-0 game, she floats in a cross from the right side and Monroe, Arcadia’s stalwart central defender, manages to smash it into the back of the net for the victory over Mt. Weather University.

After, Bellamy leads his cadre of loyal followers out into street beside the stadium, Octavia under one arm and Monroe under another, beaming with so much pride in them that one would think he won the game himself. His tailgate was not the end of his plans for the day: he brings everyone back to his fraternity house, open and waiting for their post-game celebration to begin in earnest.

“To the Ark U Warriors!” Bellamy bellows, standing atop a table with his beer raised over his head. The packed house roars and beer goes flying.

And when they run out of alcohol at Bellamy’s fraternity, they move on down the street, each successive welcoming them into another Saturday night college party. They lose each other, and find one another at the next house. Octavia challenges Lincoln to a kegstand contest and damn near beats him—and then Ryder does beat him. That touches off a series of competitions between The Captain’s Room crowd and the college students, all of which end in laughter and red-faced, hazy-eyed, very illegal levels of intoxication. And it’s glorious.

 

* * * * *

 

Clarke and Lexa, however, will have to be told about all of this later.

Somewhere between the first and second parties, Clarke tugs Lexa away from the group. In all the revelry, no one notices. Somehow, they make the two mile walk back to Clarke’s apartment, leaning close together for warmth and drunken stability and to hide the bulge of the half-empty champagne bottle Lexa has stuffed inside her leather jacket.

Lexa opens it when they get to Clarke’s front door, but Clarke meets her lips before the bottle can and it is quite forgotten after that, as everything becomes a scramble to get through the door, across the dark apartment, and up the stairs to the sanctuary of Clarke’s bedroom.

The electric energy of victory and nighttime and alcohol possessing her friends is no more volatile than what’s crackling between Clarke and Lexa right now, private and intimate between their bodies as they peel away clothes and Clarke pulls Lexa backwards onto her bed, laying back as Lexa straddles her.

“I’ve been looking forward to this all day.” Lexa pushes the hem of Clarke’s shirt up toward her stomach with one hand, while the other tilts the bottle of champagne into her mouth.

“Mhmm.” Clarke takes the champagne from her and takes her own long drink, before dropping it to the floor beside them. “Show me.”

Like she’s been granted permission, Lexa pulls off Clarke’s shirt and then her own before swooping down so that they can finally feel the friction between their skin. Clarke exhales satisfaction and inhales all of Lexa as the other girl makes her mark on Clarke’s neck—Lexa always feels good, but it feels even better to have her hear now.

“So how do you feel about coming back to my place for once?” Clarke asks breathlessly, angling her head back to give her better access.

“It’s great.” Lexa pauses to bite lightly at the exposed skin neck, then moves up to her lips. “I was getting sick of washing my sheets constantly, this will be a nice change.”

“Oh my god, you—”

Lexa silences her with a hard kiss and presses her fingernails into Clarke’s lips, prompting a sigh of pleasure and a surrender of power as Clarke gives in to her hands.

With Clarke pliant and wanting beneath her, Lexa kisses her way down Clarke’s chest like she’s savoring every inch of the journey, every taste of skin. Clarke watches her with weak, hazy eyes and trails her fingers through Lexa’s hair, pushing gently, but they have hours ahead of them and nowhere near enough alcohol in their veins to make this less than it is—Lexa is going to take her sweet time.

The hammering of her heart demands more, demands speed, but Clarke can’t deny being entranced by the way Lexa’s lips move slowly, the way her stray locks of hair tumble down over Clarke’s stomach.

Focused and precise, because she can be, Lexa knows all of Clarke’s tender spots by now, and she hits them one by one, drawing first sighs and then moans. The noises start low and deep, but as Lexa’s pace remains the same, Clarke grows more desperate, her fingers gripping the bedsheets tighter.

“Lexa…”

No response. She drags her lips over the inside of Clarke’s thighs like it’s her only goal in life. Clarke’s impatience surges.

“Come here. It’s my turn.”

She tries to sit up, reaching for Lexa, but the girl’s fingers close around her wrist and push it back down into the mattress.

“Not yet.”

Slow, slow, slow. They have all night.

 

 * * * * *

 

“I like you.”

Three words in the darkness, in their hazy state while they wait for their heartrates return to normal, falling with crystal clarity. Lexa can’t see Clarke’s face but her hands are tracing designs on Clarke’s chest and she can feel the deep inhale in response.

“Good to know the naked girl on top of me doesn’t dislike me. The two orgasms were a hint.”

Lexa leans down so that her breath falls on Clarke’s lips. This is easier in the darkness, now that they’ve long since finished the bottle of champagne and the world is quiet and there’s nothing but skin between them. Clarke pushes up and kisses her, for a moment, before Lexa edges away: she’s been thinking about this for too long to let it slip away again.

“I mean it,” she says.

Clarke hums as she understands. “I like you too, Lexa.”

“Then maybe this should be more.”

“This?”

“This.” She kisses down Clarke’s neck to her collarbone, just enough so that she feels Clarke’s pulse pick up, feels the press of Clarke’s fingernails into her spine. Part of her wishes there had been more champagne left in the bottle so that she could blame it on intoxication, like always, but the bottle lies empty on the floor and she has no choice but to keep say what she’s thinking.

“This isn’t enough.”

Clarke swallows a low moan, holding perfectly still to resist the flutter in her chest and the tightening of her stomach under Lexa’s attentions for several seconds, letting the confession sink in.

“Then give me more,” she says between kisses down Lexa’s chest and stomach. “Stay here in the morning.”

Lexa’s answer catches in her throat when Clarke goes lower.

 

* * * * *

 

She doesn’t stay.

Before she opens her eyes, Clarke feels the empty space in the bed around her and knows, instantly, what it means.

The regret and disappointment sit on her tongue like last night’s champagne and she swallows them down, twice, laughing quietly on the second exhale as she gathers the pieces of last night and reassembles the picture she knows. This is what they have. She’s left Lexa before dawn more than once. Now the roles are reversed, but the game isn’t any different. After yesterday, things can only improve from here.

In a few day’s time, one of them will text the other, and they’ll meet up at the bar again. It’s okay. This is comfortable.

“It’s good,” she murmurs to herself, breathing deeply.

She wonders, idly, if Bree and Harper made it back last night or if she’ll have to go round them up from wherever they ended their nights. There are no texts on her phone; she sends an inquiry to both of them and sets it aside. Police wait twenty-four hours to deal with missing persons reports, so she can afford two hours before a rescue mission.

Everyone else she trusts to have been able to get home without her guidance. That leaves one final responsibility to occupy her time, since the empty bed feels too large after being warmed by another body all night: she casts a scathing glare at the laptop waiting for her at the desk and the essay that will greet her as soon as she opens the screen. It just adds insult to injury.

She pulls on an overlarge t-shirt and settles in to work. As it turns out, yesterday’s work had indeed been affected by her wandering mind and as long as she has the morning free, she can’t let it happen a second time.

For those first fifteen minutes, Clarke focuses so intently on her paper, shutting out the distractions, that when the door downstairs open and closes, she hears the sound but doesn’t register it as real for the first several seconds—until footsteps on the stairs force her back into reality. There’s no response text from Bree or Harper, but that probably just means their phones are lying in a bush somewhere. She listens as footsteps pad up the stairs, as they bypass Harper’s room down the hall and instead grow closer to her door…

“Wait, hold on, I’m not wearing any pants—”

“Good,” comes a low voice, rasping with weariness and a minor hangover; it makes Clarke’s heart leap more than it should. Still bleary-eyed, wearing last night’s body-paint stained clothes, Lexa shoulders through Clarke’s slightly open door and then kicks it shut behind her—she has a cardboard coffee cup in either hand, and holds one out to Clarke.

“Some soy vanilla thing, right?”

“Are you serious?”

It takes everything in Clarke not to laugh as Lexa sets the drink on Clarke’s desk—the lightness in her chest, the strange relief that she was wrong, that Lexa stayed, has her dangerously close to shattering this moment. Lexa can tell, too. She avoids Clarke’s sparkling gaze as if that will hide the brief pink tint to her cheeks, and instead she sets her own coffee on the nightstand and flops back into bed.

After some wriggling beneath the sheets, Lexa tosses her jeans and shirt onto the floor and unwinds her messy braid, so that her hair fans out over the pillow. It’s an enticing invitation but the grin has already broken over Clarke’s face and she can’t be stopped now.

“So when I told you my Starbucks order all those weeks ago, I guess you memorized it, huh?”

“No,” Lexa grumbles without opening her eyes. “The annoying college girl in front of me ordered one and I assumed you would want one too.”

Clarke laughs. “Liar.”

“I figured you would still be asleep when I got back, you could wake up to coffee. It’s way too early to be out of bed, Clarke.”

That’s a heavy hint, and the sleep drawl of Lexa’s voice is an even heavier temptation to crawl back into bed, but Clarke shakes her head, gesturing at her laptop and the endlessly frustrating Word document. “I’ve needed to get this done for weeks. Since you’re clearly not a morning person, just get some sleep and I’ll wake you up in a few hours.”

Lexa groans.

“Okay, sooner than that.”

“There’s a good lunch place,” she mumbles into the pillow. She’s slipping back into sleep faster than anyone Clarke has ever seen, and it’s hard not to laugh. “I’ll take you. Later. After more sleep.”

“Lucia’s?”

“Better than that. Secret place. You might even like it as much as that stupid paper.”

“Without a doubt. The coffee will help, though, so thank you.”

“You can come back to bed, if you really want to thank me.”

With a smile on her face, Clarke slides back into bed to press herself to Lexa’s back; she loops an arm over her chest and presses a kiss to the space between her shoulder blades, earning a warm hum and a shiver.

“Give me half an hour with the paper, and then I’m yours,” Clarke says.

Lexa mumbles her assent into the pillow, and Clarke smiles against her skin.

Chapter Text

"So, are you nervous?"

Octavia's voice, pitched with excitement, teases the question as if she hadn't already asked it six times in the forty-eight hours since Clarke had told her the plan and agreed to go with her. As she has every time Octavia asked, Clarke rolls her eyes.

"Should I be? What, did you secretly set me up for a fight against you?"

"Of course not. I tried. Lexa wouldn't let me."

Clarke grips the handle of the car door a little tighter as Octavia careens through a turn—the streets of this neighborhood are already crooked and narrow enough for safe drivers, but a small, excited college sophomore driving her older brother's lifted truck is a down-right hazard. Luckily, Clarke knows these streets better now, and the fact that they're almost to Lexa's gym reassures her. Almost to Lexa's gym presents a whole new collection of hazards to be concerned about, but Clarke has been trying to take things one at a time lately.

"I have to say," Octavia continues presently, drumming her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel of Bellamy's truck as they wait at a red light, "I'm a little disappointed you wouldn't come work out here when I asked, but as soon as Lexa suggests it, you pull out the sports bra."

"To be fair, she has been suggesting it for a while too, and she has better methods of persuasion than you do."

Octavia snorts. "Getting laid for coming to work out. You're living the dream, Clarke."

"What about you and Lincoln?" Clarke asks, rolling her eyes again—the frequency of that action may give her a headache and an excuse to get out of this whole thing, she realizes. She just has to keep Octavia talking.

"We're dating, Clarke, we have sex anyway. And besides, he knows I like to work out so it wouldn't be leverage here. But...speaking of, what’s up with you and Lexa?"

It's the first time Octavia's voice has lost its crackle of joyful anticipation, and the sudden seriousness sets Clarke on edge. "What do you mean?"

"I mean...for the last few weeks I know you drink together at Captain's, I know you sleep together, but...what is it? Are you official?"

That answer depends on Octavia's definition of official, and the true nature of her question. Clarke sits back to ponder it. For the past few weeks since Lexa spent the night for the first time and took her to dinner the following evening, they had quickly and quietly agreed to something new between them, something sweeter and more intimate than their hook-ups before. They hadn't titled it. But Clarke gets through her long lectures with the help of text message conversations with Lexa and her dry humor. When they go out to dinner and to The Captain's Room, alone or with friends, they keep track of the jokes and sarcastic remarks and teasing insults they trade only so they can even the score later that night with soft kisses in bed. Some nights Lexa stays over—or Clarke stays with her—and they fall asleep wrapped in each other, the warm weight of the other's body bearing them through hours of uninterrupted slumber. On the nights Clarke sleeps alone, she doesn't sleep nearly as well, but she still carries a velvet warmth inside her chest, and that makes everything easier.

In just a few weeks, they've slipped, wordlessly and harmoniously, into the type of intimacy that settles the thoughts in Clarke's head and just might shift the trajectory of her life—all without ever discussing it. How is she supposed to define that for Octavia now?

"I don't know," she decides with a shrug. "We haven't really talked about it."

"Do you want to figure it out? Maybe you should."

"Maybe we should."

Octavia doesn't prod for more after that, partly because Clarke's matter-of-fact tone discourages it and partly because they've turned onto the street of Lexa's gym and Octavia is all smiles once more.

The gym is just as she remembers it: a wide open warehouse, floors scuffed and stained with the years of use. It smells like it looks, filled to the exposed ceilings with the scents of sweat and blood and chalk and metal, the result of the dozens of ripped, tattooed members working out along the walls with weight sets or sparring on the mats. But as intimidating as it all looks, the pounding rock music mixed with the clang of weights and the laughter and shouting of men and women all around the gym lends the place a pulsing human energy.

It’s already invigorated Octavia. She stands at Clarke’s shoulder at the entrance, smile bright enough to light up the whole gym on the chance Lexa couldn’t scrape enough to pay the electricity bills. Nerves writhe in Clarke’s stomach, but with a glance at Octavia and sees the girl’s eager face, she squashes them. She’s not nervous. She’ll be fine.

The moment she looks back to the hive of activity of the gym, her stomach flips again, but pleasantly, in a way that leaves her dizzy and warm—and it’s thanks to Lexa. Clarke’s smile grows to match Octavia’s as she and Lexa spot one another and Lexa peels away from her conversation to stride across the gym towards her, hips swinging and an easy smile on her face. Her body is hidden by the loose v-neck she wears but Clarke admires the athletic look of her anyway, until Lexa arrives in front of them and Clarke resolves her grin and hungry gaze to something more nonchalant. Lexa can read her anyway, judging by the look in her eye, but no point in giving Octavia more to tease Clarke about. Being here for a boxing lesson is material enough.

“Morning,” Lexa rasps coolly. She’s been training already, based on the flyaways escaping her braided hair to frame her face, but the glow of her skin suggests she hasn’t been working nearly enough to give Clarke a pass. “Ready?”

“Can people be ready to get punched?”

Octavia makes a noncommittal noise to suggest, yes, maybe they can, but Lexa glares at her. “I told Octavia I’m not letting you into the ring, so if she said-”

“I’m kidding, Lexa,” Clarke says with a laugh at Lexa’s immediate, anxious defense. Apparently Clarke isn’t the only nervous one.

“Good.”

Octavia grumbles something that is drowned out by Lincoln’s arrival to the group: he sweeps Clarke up in a sweaty bear hug, squeezing her until she groans a hello. She and Lincoln have gotten closer over the past weeks as well. The discovery that they are perfect beer pong partners really facilitated their friendship.

“Glad you’re finally here, Clarke,” he says with a broad smile. “You’re gonna love it.” He turns to Octavia and beckons her away. “Babe, come see Nyko’s new gloves, I’m thinking about picking up the same ones. I want to know if you like them.”

Octavia gives Clarke’s hand a squeeze and Lincoln advises Lexa “Don’t underestimate the blonde ones,” before they pull away and leave Lexa and Clarke together. Clarke watches her take an indulgent look up and down her body—okay, maybe she put additional effort into picking out some flattering workout clothes this morning—but when Lexa lifts her gaze to Clarke’s face, she lets out an exasperated sigh.

“Come on, don’t give me that look. You’ll enjoy it. It’s fun.”

“I can think of far more fun ways to spend an hour,” Clarke says, voice low as she steps forward and laces her fingers into Lexa’s.

“Mmm. Unfortunately, we don’t have any beds on site.”

Clarke raises a brow. “Uh, I meant drinking games or going to the movies, but I’m glad to know that’s where your head’s at, Woods.” She bites her tongue and gives a teasing smile, dropping her voice even more. “I’m a little disappointed you think we would need a bed, though.”

Lexa presses her lips together and rolls her eyes, but that doesn’t stop the pink tinge from creeping up in her cheeks. “Let’s just get your hands wrapped and get to it.”

They haven’t even started boxing yet, and Clarke has already won the first round.

 

* * * * *

 

She should have been able to tell by the tender way Lexa wrapped her hands for her, trying to hold back a smile the entire time. But it still surprises Clarke when the girl who once shamelessly used her body and Clarke’s attraction to her just to win a pool game proves to be an exceedingly patient, relaxed teacher when it comes to boxing.

“We’re just going to get the movements down,” Lexa says once they’ve warmed up and she’s pulled Clarke over to the heavy bag. “Don’t worry about hitting hard right now. Or at all, really.”

“Why not?” she asks, mostly to be subversive.

Lexa smirks. “I rather like your fingers and would prefer them to not be in casts for the next six weeks.”

“Really? I thought you were more of a tongue girl.”

“Why choose one or the other?” Lexa shoots back. “Just take it easy, we’re not pushing anything right now. Let me show you the right defensive position to start with.”

It was, truthfully, something that held Clarke back from agreeing to come along the first few times Lexa suggested this. She doesn’t have the sometimes alarming ferocity that Octavia does, so she could see no point in putting herself through a bone-crushing workout just to hit a bag a few times. But Lexa doesn’t search for an aggressive streak—she’s long since learned how Clarke moves, and uses her observations to show her how to channel it. She adjusts Clarke with her hands, shifting her hips, her arms, her wrists, backing up her, stepping her forward, guiding her through the proper movements in slow motion.

“Easy enough, right?” she asks once they’ve worked through enough. “Want to work through some circuits on the bag?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Great. Don’t forget the footwork, too. Let me show you that first.”

Lexa drops her hands to Clarke’s hips, and that’s when Clarke realizes, with a quiet smirk, that Lexa might be taking advantage of the situation: her slender fingers on one hand stay wrapped around her wrist and the other hand digs into her hip as she guides Clarke through the correct form, and her body stays close enough to brush against her with every shift in position—even well after Clarke gets the hang of it.

But she’s not going to complain. Lexa has always been physical, a tactile lover, and the barest of touches when they’re at the bar or playing pool or sitting on the couch in Clarke’s apartment leaves her feeling light and buzzing. In this unfamiliar environment Lexa’s presence is just added reassurance and Clarke finds herself leaning into her touch more often than not.

She catches Lexa smiling at least half a dozen times.

Clarke’s confidence grows quickly, fueled partially by Lexa, partially by her own stubbornness, but mostly because of the fact that she catches Octavia smirking at her from across the gym more than once. As much as she loves Lexa’s gentle touch, she has to taunt her, once she has the movements down, into giving her a tougher workout—which isn’t a difficult task.

“I don’t know why I was reluctant about this,” she says offhandedly after another minute on the heavy bag. “You make it seem like it’s such a badass thing, it’s pretty relaxed. They should introduce this up at the campus gym.”

That gets her—Clarke can tell by the quirked eyebrow. “These are intro courses, Clarke, but if you want to skip them to get to the more advanced ones, be my guest.”

“You don’t think I can handle it?” she presses.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I’ve proved you wrong before—let’s see what you have for me.”

 

* * * * *

 

That floating, breathless feeling Lexa’s proximity gives her vanishes within ten minutes of that challenge, replaced by actual breathlessness—Clarke finds herself hunched over and swearing and dripping sweat, unwilling to straighten up and look Lexa in the eye because she can already envision her cocky smirk, and that’ll just drive Clarke out of her mind. In a few ways. Standing in front of her, Lexa shifts her weight back and forth, tapping the pads she holds for Clarke to hit, energized by the whole situation. The gentle teacher had turned into a brash, gritty coach as she encouraged Clarke through a high-speed workout, and now she can claim her victory. Round two to Lexa.

“What were you saying about the campus gym?” she teases, in the same tone Clarke had used on her. Clarke just shakes her head and mentally reminds herself to respond that Lexa won’t be getting laid anytime soon—once she gets her breath back. But before that happens, Lexa takes pity on her: “Okay, okay. Let’s get some water, at least. Then we can figure out a compromise for the next drill. How does that sound?”

Clarke just nods, and finally straightens up. As expected, there’s a flash of that smirk, but Lexa looks guilty enough to try to hide it at least. The amusement in her eyes is a different story, though.

“You were doing good,” she offers when she hands Clarke a water. “I knew you’d be good at this. A few sessions, and you’ll get the hang of it.”

Octavia’s arrival spares Clarke the burden of answering. She’s shining with sweat and breathless too, but entirely too bright and chipper for the way she should be feeling. Clarke glares at her preemptively; she doesn’t notice. Lincoln joins them too, sharing his girlfriend’s joie de vivre as he dumps the last quarter of his water bottle over his head.

“How’s it going, champ?” he asks Clarke, already chuckling at the sight of her. “Don’t worry about it, first session.”

“She’s doing great, actually,” Lexa snaps.

Octavia seizes on that opportunity, whether in jest or serious excitement, Clarke can’t tell: “Ooh, really? Come on, Clarke, you should get in the ring. I’d be a great hands-on teacher. You trust me, don’t you?”

“Uh, not at all,” Clarke drawls. “I know your family too well.”

“It’s the best way to learn, though! The first time I ever came here, Lincoln jumped in to spar with Nyko to show me the right way to do everything, and it was great. I learned so much just from watching. That was how he started teaching me. Learn by doing.”

She’s rambling with post-workout endorphins, enough to amuse Clarke even as she waves the idea away and tries, unsuccessfully, to shut Octavia down. Lincoln takes the chance to talk about the first time he and Octavia sparred without holding back, and how surprising she was, and from there stems a series of boxing gym memories between the two, with Clarke and Lexa nothing more than spectators to the performance. Clarke nods along and sips her water, until Lexa touches her shoulder and cuts in on story time.

“Hey, Anya just got back from her road workout, I’m going to go talk to her. I’ll be back.” And she slips away.

Nyko and Ryder replace Lexa eventually, drawn by the group’s laughter, and entertain Clarke with even more stories: the time Lincoln broke Nyko’s nose, the time Ryder broken Lincoln’s nose, the time they tried to do a road workout drunk at three AM—and ended up with broken noses and no memory of how. The story of the brief experience they had as coaches who had no idea what to do with a bunch of kids when they volunteered to teach at the local youth center is exceptionally well-acted by the three guys, so delightful that Clarke doesn’t notice Lexa’s absence—or the gathering of people around the center ring.

That is, at least, until Octavia nudges her. “Check it out. Your girl…Lexa’s pulled on her gloves for once,” she says with a low voice, nodding her head to the ring.

The scuffle in the bar was weeks ago, and Clarke has long since forgotten the way Lexa moved then beneath all of the new memories of far more peaceful and pleasurable ways she has shown she can move. But as she watches Lexa circle an opponent around the ring, her hands raised in the same defense she taught Clarke earlier, it all comes rushing back: each movement hints at true power and supreme confidence behind a casual flow, not unlike the way Lexa looks when she comes striding around the corner of the pool table at the bar. Only this time, she’s wearing boxing gloves and has stripped to her sports bra.

But it’s not just the enticing lack of clothes that keeps Clarke’s attention—she has learned enough in the past hour and knows enough about athletics in general to admire the way Lexa maneuvers herself out of a corner with some deft footwork and darts back into the center of the ring, her opponent pursuing her. She’s good. It draws a laugh out of Clarke and a chorus of approval from the spectators abandoning their workouts and gathering in the center of the gym.

Her laugh attracts the attention of Gustus, who stands nearby barking directions at Lexa. “You appreciate that?” he asks, grinning. “I taught her that when she was a kid. It’s been a long time since she’s gotten up there to spar.”

Anya’s voice raises in reply to Gustus: “It shows!” she calls. As Gustus coaches Lexa, Anya coaches Lexa’s opponent, and apparently she loves a bit of trash-talk. “She’s rusty, Gus. I’d like to see if she can go more than three rounds with Echo.”

On cue, Lexa sidesteps one punch, only to catch a left hook follow-up. She shakes it off instantly, but that doesn’t stop Clarke from wincing in sympathy. Octavia only chuckles.

“Don’t worry. She’s fine. And she’s still winning.”

“I’m not worried,” Clarke responds automatically. As if Lexa would accept losing. “But how can you tell?”

“Look how she keeps moving. She’s making Echo chase her. And, obviously, listen to Anya.”

Gustus calls out directions, but Anya’s stream of commentary is constant: “Come on, Echo, if you get her pinned, keep her pinned, don’t play cautious and give her an escape. And Lexa, I swear to god, if you keep running we might as well call it and I’ll just tie you to the treadmill, you can get your exercise that way and Echo can have a real oppon—oof.” Lexa snaps a quick right to Echo’s jaw and Clarke swears she sees her smirk around her mouth guard.

She’s not entirely sure of the validity of the swelling pride in her chest—Lexa is not, despite what Octavia thinks, “her girl”—but damn, the way she moves makes it difficult not to cheer when she expertly dodges a swing or lands a few hits of her own. She starts to understand what Octavia means when she says Lexa is winning. Lexa keeps up a steady pace, dancing backwards until Echo oversteps and Lexa can jab past her defenses, and though she takes hits, she doesn’t seem affected by them in the slightest.

It seems like the moment Clarke starts to relax about Lexa’s comfort, it falls apart. Echo, backed into the ropes, digs deep in a sudden show of grit: she blocks one punch and ducks the second, jabbing into Lexa’s exposed stomach and knocking her back halfway across the ring.

Clarke’s fingers wrap around Octavia’s wrist and squeeze tight, but she ignores whatever reassurance Octavia tries to hiss out through her pain. Lexa has stopped dancing away; not by Anya’s orders, but because she’s struggling to pull in air. Echo advances slowly, gloves raised. She’s lean and strong, her body perhaps not as lean as Lexa’s but muscles packing more raw power. When she sees that Lexa has stalled in the center of the ring, she moves faster, the aggression coming out before Lexa can get her guard up.

Echo lands one hell of a punch to Lexa’s cheek and it’s Clarke who shouts. Lexa pulls away from the second punch, and the third, and the fourth, just out of reach of each swing of Echo’s fist. Clarke can see the desperation build up with each dodged punch. Finally Echo dives in with all of her weight behind a haymaker swing that Lexa simply sidesteps, spinning around Echo and throwing against the ropes in one single fluid movement.

The rest of the crowd yells out their praise of their fearless leader and Clarke’s smile spreads so wide it hurts her cheeks. Even Anya cracks a grin, and at that point, they might as well hand Lexa a trophy.

Clang. “Time!” Anya shouts. “That’s it, we’re done!”

At the last second Lexa rips back a punch that was halfway to its target and falls away from Echo before the other girl has a chance to react. Heading for her corner as Anya scrambles up through the ropes, Lexa ignores whatever training tips Anya starts to dispense—her eyes find Clarke in the crowd and the moment their gazes connect, her battle-weary face lights up with a pleased, slightly arrogant little smile, and Clarke flashes her one in response. She doesn’t break the eye-contact as she starts to strip off her gloves.

“Hey, Lexa, let’s go, you need to ice your lip.” Anya appears at Lexa’s shoulder, having finished tending to Echo. Her face is a mask of stoic concern despite the trash talk, up until she notices the object of Lexa’s attention. Then her lips curl into a smile. “Well, Clarke’s back. What a surprise. Now your decision to hop in the ring makes sense,” she tells Lexa.

Lexa grabs the cold compress Anya offers and holds it to her face, rolling her eyes. “Shut up, Anya.”

Anya ignores her and nods to Clarke. “You’re here for lessons, right? I promise I’m cheaper than whatever you give Lexa for one on one time.”

Anya has become a fixture at the bar as of late, the only one who Clarke isn’t entirely sure has welcomed her—even though Lexa promises that she has and that Anya is like this with everyone. In any case, Clarke’s adjusted to it; she may even enjoy it, more than she would admit. “You probably would be cheaper,” she replies, working to keep her face even and innocent. “But weren’t you training Echo?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll take my chances with Lexa, then.”

There’s clearly a cynical reply on the tip of her tongue, but with a glance at her cousin—who raises a cocky eyebrow at her from beneath her cold compress—Anya bites it back. “Yeah, of course you will. Good luck with Apollo Creed, Blondie.” She gives Lexa a playful shove and heads back across the ring.

Lexa gives a nod of acknowledgement to the compliments and congratulations thrown at her from all around the ring, but when she clambers over the ropes and jumps down from the ring, it’s Clarke she lands in front of with a proud huff of breath. She presents herself like that, sports bra and bare skin alike soaked in sweat, chest still heaving, eyes burning with her victory in a way Clarke hasn’t seen since Lexa beat her at pool their first game against each other. She didn’t think it would be possible to be more attracted to her back then.

The half of her face not obscured by the cold compress shines too brightly for someone who just finished a fight; Clarke tries to look disapproving despite the tingling in her fingers. She probably fails. She knows her eyes betray her as she steps close and pulls the cold compress away from Lexa’s face.

“Your nose is bleeding,” she informs Lexa, “And your lip.”

“I’m fine.”

Her brazen nonchalance makes it a little easier to frown disapprovingly. “Let me at least check to see if it’s broken.”

“It’s just a bloody nose, Clarke—” But the hard set line of Clarke’s mouth shuts down her argument. “Fine.”

She’s gotten too used to that stubbornness.

Lexa has just won her first fight in her first bout in the ring for years, and now she stands perfectly still and obedient in the midst of all the gym’s members and allows Clarke to play doctor. Clarke runs featherlight touches over the sides of Lexa’s nose, leaning in to examine her so close that when their breath mingles, she can watch Lexa’s pupils dilate.

“Gustus said you haven’t fought in ages,” Clarke murmurs.

“Not since my dad died.”

She blinks at that confession and almost pulls away. “Lex…I’m really sorry.”

“Happened years ago,” Lexa says, shaking her head and then giving an apologetic look when it disrupts Clarke’s examination. “He owned this place. Went from my grandfather, to him, to me. But it’s been here for years and years so it belongs to the neighborhood more than me. Same with the bar.”

Clarke has long since come to understand the fraternal bonds of the neighborhood and her lack of position within them—she’s just happy with Lexa—but hearing it spoken by the girl who has drawn her so much deeper into it all awakens something tender in her chest. Her fingertips ghost from Lexa’s nose to her cheekbones and then down to her lips. This close, with Clarke’s face filling her vision, Lexa is faced with the Sophie's choice of fixating on Clarke's lips or her eyes—she chooses eyes, because while the eye contact is just as loaded and intense as it's ever been, staring at Clarke's lips from this close would sway her to do something she shouldn't, not in front of the entire gym.

They hold like that, locked in a frozen moment, until the guise of checking her for injuries is no longer believable. Clarke pulls away and clears her throat, and Lexa releases her held breath.

"So, how am I, Doctor Griffin?” Lexa asks.

“Is that an ‘I told you so’?” she responds dryly.

Lexa’s eyes sparkle for a moment because it would be so easy to keep the charade up, but she drops it and grabs Clarke’s hand before she can drift away. “That was a thank you. Wanna get out of here?”

 

* * * * *

 

The train back to campus is empty enough as it is, and Clarke and Lexa sit nestled in a corner where they are least likely to be disturbed or become the fixture of sidelong glances from the kind of people who ride the train all day long with nowhere to be. Still, though, Clarke watches the other occupants of the train for a long while, making sure none of them are paying any attention to the two girls at the back of the car, before she drags her hand up Lexa's thigh.

Lexa's eyes fly open. She shoots Clarke a look of surprise, but when she sees the tiny smile on Clarke's lips, Lexa just huffs and sinks a little lower in her seat, accepting it. Clarke's hand doesn't move until Lexa flexes her thigh, letting her know it’s okay.

Clarke cuddles closer into Lexa's warm body, innocently laying her head on Lexa's shoulder while her hand, concealed by the chairs in front of them, dips toward her inner thigh.

"What do you think you're doing?" Lexa murmurs, lips barely moving.

"If you don't like it, I'll stop."

"Don't stop,” Lexa stammers.

Taking that request to double as a full invitation, Clarke angles her body for better leverage with her hand on Lexa's thigh and pulls the hood of Lexa’s sweatshirt off her head so that she can lean in and press her lips just beneath Lexa’s ear. Lexa lets out a small groan and leans into the touch, but then pulls away.

“I’m gross,” she says with a quiet laugh. “I thought you’d at least wait until I could grab a shower at your place.”

“About that…” Clarke murmurs, moving her lips from Lexa’s neck across her cheek to the corner of her mouth. “I have class at four, I won’t be able to hang out long at my apartment.”

“Oh.” She tries not to look disappointed but judging by the way Clarke laughs, fails. Clarke nips at her cheek.

“Relax, you think I invited you to my apartment because I have great showerhead pressure? No…I figured we could save some time and shower together.”

Lexa's eyes open again, this time with a suggestive glint instead of disappointment. Clarke grins.

"That…would save time," Lexa says, knowing full well that it wouldn't. She forgets about the feeling of Clarke's fingertips on her leg, entirely consumed instead by the soft scrape of her lips instead. She tilts her head to give Clarke more skin to explore. She doesn’t care if any of the other passengers may see them, doesn’t care about the disapproving glares—only Clarke matters.

"Mhmm." Clarke moves now from Lexa's jaw up to her ear. "For my few hours before class, I figured that we could take a hot shower, then you deserved a long massage after that workout..."

"Wow, the college has masseuses? Maybe I will enroll."

Clarke rolls her eyes and lets Lexa feel her teeth on her earlobe as a subtle warning. "Yeah, they charge extra for sarcastic assholes, you sure you can afford it?"

Lexa hums. "Well, what do you charge?"

“Just a little while with you underneath me…” Clarke's fingers inch closer to the heat between Lexa’s thighs, and the material of her sweats translates every touch to Lexa’s skin, making her shiver. She gives a low, husky laugh before her breathing picks up again, heightening into the smallest of whimpers. “And then…”

When Lexa’s finally gets control of her quickened breath, she bites her lip to keep from losing it again as she urges Clarke on. "Keep going..."

"With my fingers, or with all the things I want to do with you tonight?"

“Both. Either. Fuck.”

"Got it. Well..." Suddenly breaking from the slow, intimate pace she had been moving at, Clarke plants a quick peck on Lexa's cheek and then pulls away, grinning. "How about instead I just surprise you when we get back to my apartment?”

The slack-jawed look of betrayal keeps a grin on Clarke’s face for the rest of the train ride home.

 

* * * * *

 

“I know I’m usually drunk when we walk here, but you definitely took the long way from the train stop,” Lexa drawls—it took her most of the ride, squirming in her seat and throwing Clarke glares every few minutes, to recover her usual attitude.

"If you're going to complain, you can just wait outside until I leave for class at 4 and shower then," Clarke teases over her shoulder as she strides ahead of Lexa. Seeing the girl smile, the sparkle in her usually dark eyes, makes Clarke feel lighter than she has in months. Even with all she has planned behind the door of her apartment, just having Lexa by her side now, lit by something other than the cheap, dim glow of The Captain's Room, has Clarke giddy and grinning like she's fifteen again.

"As long as I shower, honestly," Lexa replies with a shrug. Clarke throws a withering glare at her.

When Lexa repents, Clarke unlocks her door and swings it open with a flourish, still talking over her shoulder as she enters.  "You can try to play it cool now, but—Mom?"

"Wait, what?"

"Clarke!"

From her spot on Clarke’s couch, Abby Griffin throws aside the newspaper she had been reading and jumps to her feet, throwing her arms wide. "Surprise!"

Yes, it is.

 

Chapter Text

More than once, on drunken adventures with friends, Clarke has jumped (or been pushed) fully clothed into freezing bodies of water—never has she experienced such a drastic temperature change as the drop from flushed hot arousal to icy shock as she does when she sees her mother in her living room. She recovers, somewhat, when Abby crosses the room to hug her—she manages to sputter out something like mom oh my god what are you doing here how did you get in?—but Lexa standing behind her in the doorway makes her feel like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar in front of her mother. When she pulls away from Abby’s embrace, her heart pounds with uncharacteristic nervousness.

“What are you doing here, Mom?” she asks breathlessly, trying to keep from speaking too quickly.

Abby shrugs, glowing with delight. “I had time off from the hospital so I figured I would fly in and surprise my daughter! Bree let me in, said you’d be home soon from…”

“Uh…boxing lessons,” Clarke admits, with a glance down at her workout clothes.

The initial shock of seeing her mother begins to palliate, replaced by the same joy emanating from Abby’s face, and Clarke is overcome with the desire to pull her mother in for another hug, especially before she has the chance to judge her on that answer—but Abby’s eyebrows shoot up immediately.

“Boxing?” she asks in surprise.

“I know…but it’s fun, actually.”

“Well…” For a half second her eyes flit to Lexa, but they’re back on her daughter before Clarke can say anything. “As long as you’re being safe.

“You know me, Mom.”

“Which is why I’m so surprised.”

Join the club. It takes only a few seconds of searching for an explanation before she realizes that she doesn’t have a good one, not unless she wants to explain a whole lot of debauchery to her mother, but it does make her realize that Lexa is still standing behind her. Clarke whirls to find her leaning against the doorway, hands in her pockets, the look on her face supremely casual—but Clarke know her well enough now to read the flicker of uncertainty in her gaze when she glances from Clarke to Abby.

That uncertainty translates to Clarke’s voice when she says to her mother, “Oh, and um, this is Lexa…”

Lexa makes a split-second decision and surges forward before Clarke can finish, hand outstretched to Abby. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Griffin. I’m a friend of Clarke’s, and as of today, her boxing instructor as well, apparently.”

Clarke closes her mouth and swallows hard.

“Nice to meet you,” Abby replies with a smile. “How was the boxing lesson?”

“Uh, sweaty. I just stopped by here for a shower because it’s a long way back to my place.”

Lexa trails off, with a leading glance to Clarke to ask her to take over. Clarke stares at Lexa for a moment, replaying Octavia’s earlier questions in the car again and again, before she remembers that she’s part of this conversation between Lexa and Abby. She jolts and shakes her head, releasing an easy apologetic laugh. “Yeah, Mom, the lessons are free so the least I can do is let her shower here. I’ll take her upstairs and then after, we’ll make plans for dinner?”

“Sounds great, Clarke.” The familiarity of her mother’s smile is such a reassurance that Clarke pulls her in for another hug before she nods for Lexa to head up the stairs. By the time they get to Clarke’s room and Clarke shuts the door behind them, Abby is the furthest thing from Clarke’s mind.

“So…friends?” she asks, leaning back against the door. She bites her own tongue at the disappointment in her voice—she had intended it to come across much lighter, but with the way her stomach had dropped when Lexa introduced herself, she can’t quite help it.

Lexa freezes halfway through stripping off her shirt and fixes Clarke with an uncertain gaze. “As opposed to strangers who mock each other over cheap beer a few nights a week? Yes?”

Clarke can't hold back a wry laugh, but she sobers soon enough when Lexa’s uncertainty creases her face deeper. She takes a step towards Clarke, but pauses, tense and trying to read her without compromising the situation with contact; she didn’t come up here with the assumption that they would be making good on Clarke’s promises on the train, but she also didn’t expect the maddeningly stubborn, strong-willed girl she’s become so wrapped up in to look at her with more longing than lust. Hope. It’s not unwelcome, but it is…unsteadying. So she waits. And observes. As she does best.

Clarke, on the other hand, can read Lexa. “Sorry,” she says, with a shake of her head. “It just threw me off.”

“I know we’re not just friends, Clarke,” Lexa concedes. “But what should I have said?”

“Well, it was better than telling her we’re fucking, that’s true.”

“Are you even out to her?” Lexa asks. “What would have been a better way to introduce myself?”

“Yes, I’m out to her, I have been for years.” But she hesitates on the second question. It is, in essence, the same question Octavia had asked her earlier on the way to the gym: a delineation of labels. Clarke didn’t know how to describe what they have then and she doesn’t know now. Judging by the way Lexa scrutinizes her, she doesn’t know either.

Instead, she phrases it as a simple question: “Do you…want to come to dinner with my mom and me later?”

The way Lexa hesitates is all the answer she needs.

“Clarke…” The blonde is already putting a hand up, waving away the question. “I just don’t think…”

“It’s fine, Lexa. We’re good.” Friends. Who fuck. But friends. That’s what she needed to know. It’s a truth she can harden around the fluttering warmth in her chest and keep it contained. “Now go shower, you are gross,” she adds with a smile.

It’s the kind of thing that would usually pull a grin and a matching response, under any other circumstances, but Lexa doesn’t feel the same easygoing glow that Clarke wears so effortlessly. “Yeah. Thank you.”

“We’re probably going to head out, though,” Clarke says. “We rarely get weekends like this, I’d like to take her to dinner and drinks and make the most of our time. Would you mind?”

“Sure, I’ll lock up. I know where you hide the emergency key.”

“You do?”

“You tell me every time we manage to make it here after a night out drunk as hell, Clarke. You always think it’s so clever.”

“Hidden in the drain downspout is clever, Lexa—” She’s cut off by a peal of genuine laughter that she can’t help but join after a moment. Her heart flips and she reminds herself that she is supposed to be hardening the truth of their situation against that feeling…but she can give it a few hours. At least. “Shut up and go shower. I’ll text you later.”


Lexa takes her time in the shower, in part to ensure that Clarke and her mother will have left by the time she gets out, but mostly to take the chance under the hot water to reconcile whatever is happening inside her head right now. A dinner invitation with Clarke and Abby should have sent her running in the opposite direction, and yet here she is, leaning against the wall of Clarke’s shower, thinking about it. The idea that Clarke could even ask unbalanced her—you don’t bring the girl you hook up with at the end of the night to dinner with your mother. Which would imply that Lexa is more. Which would match the way her chest feels like it’s going to burst when she looks at Clarke, who shines with something Lexa has never seen before even when she’s hunched over and swearing during a boxing workout--but goes against the pillars holding up the arrangement that they so carefully constructed between shots of rum at the bar.

It’s a long shower.

When she finally manages to shut off the hot water, she pauses for a moment to listen; the apartment is silent. Wrapping a towel around herself, she pads down the hallway to Clarke’s bedroom.

As she dresses, her gaze settles on Clarke’s bed, messy and unmade from where she left it at 4 AM this morning for her volunteer work.  Lexa indulges in the daydream of crawling into that bed and wrapping herself in Clarke’s too-large comforter, napping until Clarke gets back from class, weary and frazzled herself. Lexa would just make room in the bed, opening her arms for Clarke to rest in, and Clarke would strip off her pants and let her hair out of its bun and curl into Lexa with a contended sigh. They would have each other. They wouldn’t have to take the train to Captain’s to shake off the rust of the day, they wouldn’t have to go drink to ease their thoughts.

God. She grimaces. She needs to go drink.


Walking into The Captain’s Room late in the afternoon feels like coming home. The peeling paint, the single-shelf of cheap bottles, the huddle of her closest allies leaning against the pool table in the back, waiting for her as always. The reassuring familiarity of it all probably carries some negative connotations for a twenty-three year old girl, but she figures as long as she isn’t drowning herself in whiskey, it’s more of a social gathering place and less self-sabotage by way of early cirrhosis.

She stops in front of Raven on her way back to the pool table. “Whiskey, and a negroni.”

As long as she isn’t drowning herself in whiskey every day, she amends.

Raven’s brow raises. “It’s early, for you. Where’s your girl?” When Lexa just shrugs and repeats her order, Raven pulls away from the conversation with resident alcoholic Frank and beckons Lexa farther down the bar, toward a section of lonely seats. “Sit down, I’ll make it right now, that way I don’t have to bring it to you.”

An obvious ploy, Lexa knows it and Raven acknowledges it, but Lexa will bear the inquisition for the promise of alcohol right now. Raven pours slow, setting them up for a long conversation.

“You know, you and I never really have the bartender therapy talk I offer to everyone else,” Raven begins.

“That’s because I don’t need it.”

“She says, as she orders a shot and a drink at 4 PM.” Raven passes said shot over and begins mixing the drink.

“I’m the last person in here you should be judging for their drinking habits,” Lexa replies, casting a glance at Frank as he wavers dangerously on his stool, eyes closed.

Raven shrugs and acknowledges the point. “But I don’t really judge. I wouldn’t have said a word if it hadn’t been the first time in weeks you walked in here without Clarke on your arm or following you in a few minutes later.” She tops off the negroni with an extra long pour as a peace offering, then slides it to Lexa with a pointed look. “I like her. So what’s going on, Lexa?”

No use trying to escape this conversation, not if she plans on being here for the night. “Her mom came to visit.”

“Her mom?” Raven lets loose a laugh that bounces off the walls of the mostly-empty bar and earns a glare from a few lonely drinkers. “Please, please tell me you’re bringing her here.”

She almost chokes on her shot. “Why the hell would I do that?”

“Why not?”

Because Gus has a black eye. Because Frank is falling off his barstool. Because Anya got her cast removed two days ago and will probably have it back on by the end of the night. But mostly because inviting Clarke into this world is one thing but entering the world where she goes out for dinner and drinks with Clarke and her mother is an entirely different prospect. And combining the two…is out of the question.

“Because I don’t think either of them are ready for drinks as strong as this, Raven,” Lexa answers coolly, taking her negroni, raising it in salute, and stepping down from her barstool. The pool table in the back beckons.

“Hey!” Raven smacks the bar before Lexa can escape, and stops her for just a few seconds: “You’re not that mysterious, Woods. You’re dating a great, pretty blonde girl from Arcadia college, don’t punk out on meeting her mom under some stupid pretense about it not being that serious or all about sex. Sometimes, you and Clarke are the most hopeful thing about this place, especially on bleak nights like this.”

The look of practiced, smooth nonchalance on Lexa’s face, cultivated over years, is both her best defense and best response to Raven. She throws back a long draught of her Negroni and heads for the back of the bar.


Clarke has never really taken her mother out for dinner before, much less been able to pay for it, so it’s an odd rush to wave away her mother’s card when the check comes. “I work two jobs now, Mom,” she says smugly, handing the waiter her own card, “I can pay to take you out to dinner.”

“You’re going to let me pay for drinks, at least?” Abby asks.

Even with her mom’s uncharacteristically playful smile, all Clarke really wants to do is get home and climb into bed; her muscles have stiffened up since this morning’s workout and she has another early shift tomorrow. “Mom, it’s fine—”

“Clarke, I know you’re pulling straight A’s, and if you can afford to buy me dinner at this restaurant, then it means you’ve been working too hard lately. Plus, it’s been a while since I had a drink with my daughter. Now, where’s your favorite bar?”

What a question. Since she got her stubbornness from her mother, she knows it’s not one she can evade. Clarke briefly entertains the mental image of Abby shooting pool against Gustus and sitting silently by while Raven covers for her regulars when the cops come searching for them; she pictures trading smiles with Lexa over cheap warm beer. But in the end sticks by the decision she made in her bedroom this afternoon.

“McCarthy’s. Come on, it’s right down the street.”


Lexa picks at the label of her beer, silently fuming at the fact that Gustus is too over-competitive to pull away from his pool game against Ryder and go get her a drink. She has had just enough for her decisions to slide into questionable territory, but not enough to blunt the edges of her thoughts and allow her to get through the night without the constant itch in the back of her head that tells her she’s wrong about this. Since she doesn’t need Raven’s voice telling her she’s wrong about this, she’s been relying on her friends to grab drinks for her, and they’ve been tragically slow to jump into action for her tonight.

As it stands, she’s left shifting impatiently in her seat, her gaze flicking toward the door with a sickening sort of hopefulness every few minutes, looking for the flash of blonde hair. There’s too much longing in that fantasy; if she had something to do with her hands or a new drink to occupy her attention, maybe the thoughts of Clarke and the possible mistake she is making right now wouldn’t be so debilitating.

One more drink, poured as heavy as the first—or perhaps Anya’s scathing glare—would be enough to keep her from doing what she does next. She doesn’t get the luxury of either.

[9:21 PM] Lexa: Hey Linc, can you send me Octavia’s number?

Five minutes later, Raven turns to find Lexa standing at the bar. “Another beer, or something harder?”

She shakes her head. “I texted that girl, Octavia.”

Raven’s brow furrows. “About…?”

“Clarke.”

“And?”

“She said they’re at a place called McCarthy’s.” She takes a breath. “How do I get there?”

The grin that breaks over her face shows every tooth and is enough to light the entire bar. “No shit?”

Lexa groans. Anytime Raven smiles like that, someone is bound for some sort of hilarious misery—the last time she wore that look was the night Gustus bet her could stay standing in the alley while Raven tased him. Raven’s amusement only grows when she studies Lexa’s face and sees no sign of the girl reneging her decision to head towards campus.

“I have to see this,” Raven continues. “I’ll take you. Wick!” she calls to her latest bartending trainee as she tosses her dishtowel onto the bar and hoists herself up and over it. “You’re in charge for the next hour. No free drinks, I swear to god, I don’t care how hot the girl is.”


Raven refuses to tell her much about McCarthy’s on the train ride across town, just that it’s the most popular student bar—beyond that, she basks in obvious delight and Lexa has to resist the urge to tell her “tour guide” to fuck off. In return, Lexa refuses to answer Raven’s mostly rhetorical questions about her plans for Clarke. They end up simmering in silence for the ride, united in a mission but vaguely annoyed with one another for their own reasons.

When they make it downtown, the twinkling in Raven’s eyes becomes clear: she leads Lexa through a crowd of college-aged kids massing on the sidewalk and spill into the street outside of one of several bars along this strip of downtown. She thinks it’s over once they  push through bodies at the front door and flash ID’s to the bouncer—Lexa is lucky she’s even carrying her ID—but once Raven pulls her inside, the crowd gets even worse. College students stretch wall-to-wall in their revelry, packed onto a dance floor or celebrating up in a second-floor loft that looks down onto the main bar.

“What, did you all just finish finals or something?” she asks Raven in a low voice.

Raven looks at her, confused. “We—no, Lexa. It’s the middle of November. And it’s a Thursday.”

Lexa shrugs and goes back to scanning the crowd. She looks to the half-dozen pool tables in the back, hoping for the familiar flash of blonde, but the crowd shifts and moves and she can never catch a clear glimpse of anyone. She thinks she sees Clarke’s friends—Jasper, Bellamy, Murphy, Harper—dozens of times, but she can’t tell; everyone in here looks the same and the lighting isn’t good enough anyway. Thursday night. God.

And then, salvation comes.

It comes with a dizzying stomach flip when Lexa finally runs her eye along the bar against the back wall (four shelves, as compared to The Captain’s Room’s single one) and there she is, in the center of the bar, smiling at Abby with one hand on her drink. Despite all her reservations leading up to this moment, as soon as Lexa settles her gaze on Clarke and sees her flip her hair back over her shoulder and laugh, she knows she made the right call.

She doesn’t get long to stare before someone knocks into her from behind before dancing away with a slurred, “Sorry.” She’s reminded that there is, in fact, a whole bar packed with patrons around them—her world had narrowed to Clarke for a few moments out of time.

“Do you come here a lot?” Lexa asks Raven, wrinkling her nose.

Raven lets out a derisive snort. “Yeah, Woods, I like to spend my rare nights off from Captain’s going to other bars. Go play out your rom-com, I’m going to get a decent beer for once.”

“You’re lucky you’re the only person I trust to mix my drinks,” Lexa fires back, but her smile of gratitude belies the threat and Raven smirks. She gives Lexa a shove in Clarke’s direction before slipping away into the crowd.

It’s slow going, pushing through the college students. More than once, Lexa has to resist the urge to instigate a fight with a drunk guy who has knocked into her, because she knows she’d kick his ass. It’s tempting and in any other situation, it would provide a quick and easy escape from the place by way of being dragged out. Tonight, it would just ruin her chances to make amends, so as much as she may fear this conversation, she kills her thoughts of antagonism by focusing on the blonde girl who heart so light.

It jumps in her chest when Clarke turns and catches sight of her, and Lexa knows then that she made the right decision. The way Clarke’s face goes from confusion to shock, to the ghost of a smile before going back to shock, is worth the trip alone.

“Lexa? What are you doing here?” She blinks as if Lexa is a drunk hallucination, but Clarke clearly hasn’t imbibed that much. Abby turns and greets Lexa with a warm, if uncertain smile.

Lexa grins at Clarke and shrugs. “Well, you couldn’t stop showing up at my bar so I thought—” But then catches herself and clamps her mouth shut, because a snarky joke is not exactly what is needed in this moment; she embraces a more serious tone, and this time, turns to speak directly to Abby. “I actually wanted to talk to you, Mrs. Griffin. I didn’t know what to say earlier, but I wanted to tell you that Clarke and I are together.”

“Officially?” Clarke blurts out.

Abby and Lexa look at her at the same time, Abby raising an eyebrow and Lexa softening. “Only if you wanted to be, but I thought…”

“I do want to be,” Clarke says, a nervous smile breaking over her face, as if she’s asking Lexa to allow her to be.

“Good. Then we are.”

Lexa returns Clarke’s smile tenfold, feeling entirely unlike herself and at the same time entirely at peace. She’d close the distance between them and kiss Clarke right there, if not for her mother. Both girls turn to Abby, waiting.

“Oh, I was already well aware,” Abby says simply.

“Mom, what?”

“The guilty looks on both of your faces when you walked in the door this morning.” Abby takes a sip of her drink. “Clarke, you would never care if I disapproved of you learning how to box, you’d simply do it anyway. So I assumed you were either dating someone I didn’t know about, or doing something I wouldn’t approve of. Or both.” She looks to Lexa at this, adding, “Is there anything about you that I would disapprove of, Lexa?”

Well, she’s wearing tight black jeans, worn boots, and a leather jacket, so Lexa figures it’s probably a strong hint about where she comes from. She tries to think of the best way to soften the explanation of her home life and neighborhood for Abby.

But before she can answer, Clarke intervenes: “No,” she tells her mother firmly, “she’s amazing. She’s the kind of girl Dad would have loved.”

Clarke doesn’t say that lightly, and with the light of that new information in her eyes, Abby accedes to her daughter and turns to consider Lexa with a careful study.

“Truth be told, I was going to invite Lexa to have dinner with us tomorrow night,” Abby tells them, “so that I could determine it for myself. But since she’s here now—”

“I’d still very much like to have dinner with you,” Lexa quickly interjects. Behind Abby, Clarke beams.

Abby nods at her. “That’s good, I’m glad. We can have dinner tomorrow night, but since you’re here now, we can also get to know each other over a few drinks, so that I can find out how my daughter came to be dating her boxing instructor.”

Clarke gives Lexa a look to tell her that she’ll handle that part of the story, which lifts a weight from around Lexa’s shoulders and allows her to draw in a deep breath; only then does she realize how fast her heart has been beating. “I can pay for the next round of drinks, then,” she says, sliding into a barstool and catching the attention of a harried bartender nearby.

After a brief debacle in which Lexa orders three beers for them and the ensuing $27 bill nearly knocks her off of her barstool, Lexa settles in quickly—the bar isn’t so bad when she’s not looking at the tab or fighting her way through the crowd, but instead focusing on the beautiful girl she just openly declared her affections for, and, she thinks, gained the approval of her mother in the process. The environment isn’t exactly conducive to the type of conversation about Lexa’s life that Abby wants to have so the conversation stays light, with Lexa mostly observing and offering input as Clarke catches her mother up on all of the events of her tumultuous fall semester. Every time she looks at the girl, watching her talk, Lexa can’t help the warmth that fills her face. For everything between them and everything that’s happened since that first night they spoke in the bar…she never would have expected to wind up here, but there isn’t anywhere else she’d rather be.

She’s in love with Clarke Griffin.


At the end of the night, Clarke, Lexa, and Abby take a cab to Abby’s hotel to drop her off. Despite the fact that her hotel is only a few miles from Clarke’s apartment complex and despite Clarke’s repeated affirmations that Lexa is a badass boxer, Abby adamantly refuses to let the two girls walk home—she forces them back into the cab, pays the driver, and then leans down to Clarke’s window.

“Lexa, it was very nice to meet you and I am looking forward to dinner tomorrow night. And Clarke, there is a farmer’s market tomorrow afternoon, following your shift. Do not drink too much tonight, and do not be…late.”

“I got it, Mom,” Clarke tells her, with a bashful smile because Abby isn’t really warning her against drinking; she’s hesitant about the fact that Clarke may very well stay up all night with the girl that Abby is sending her home with. That’s a big adjustment for a mother, but also signifies a begrudging approval of Lexa, for which Clarke is grateful. She’s able to wave some of her mother’s concern away with a hug through the window and a sincere promise to meet her after her morning shift tomorrow.

Once the cab rumbles away from the hotel, Clarke capitalizes. So much has happened tonight, so much that she hasn’t been able to talk about or even absorb since Lexa walked into her bar. Even now, she can’t. The storm of emotions in her chest leaves her with only one viable option, and that is to turn and cuddle down against Lexa’s shoulder with the hope that Lexa is juuuuust drunk enough not to get flustered or sarcastic about it. But Lexa is, as always, the furthest thing from flustered. She tips her head sideways to rest it on Clarke’s while her fingers search for Clarke’s hand in her lap to entwine their fingers. The warmth and satisfaction flowing between them renders a conversation about Lexa’s speech in the bar superfluous. They bask in silence and in each other’s company for the rest of the short ride.

If Abby had paid the cab driver with a credit card instead of cash, Clarke would have had the driver take them around the city for the rest of the night, just to stay in Lexa’s arms like this. When they arrive at Clarke’s complex and step out of the cab, the cold air and the lack of Lexa’s body are affronts to her senses that leave her pouting.

And then, Lexa surprises her. As if she can read Clarke’s mind, but probably because she can read Clarke’s face, she reaches out and wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to press a smiling kiss into her temple.

“God, you really are drunk,” Clarke teases.

“I’m not!” Lexa insists, her pride wounded. “I’m not. I can handle more than the stuff you college kids drink. I’m not drunk. Just…at peace. Happy.”

Drunk and delighted, Clarke feels the happiness flood through her body as the two of them stroll along the path toward Clarke’s apartment. She can’t resist kissing the back of the hand that Lexa has slung around her shoulder. “So am I.”

But when she glances down, she has to raise a brow when she sees that with her free hand, Lexa has wrapped her wristwatch around her knuckles the way she does when they walk home from The Captain’s Room late at night. Clarke nudges her and nods at it.

“Are you really at peace though?” she asks with a smile.

Lexa gives a sheepish laugh and holds up the hand, examining the watch.

“Force of habit.”

“You’re gonna protect me from my neighbors?”

“Yeah, exactly,” Lexa snorts. “As if you need protection, you’re probably running this place. They’re probably terrified of your new boxing prowess.”

“Oh, one day and it’s terrifying boxing prowess?”

“I’m a good teacher,” Lexa says smugly.

“You are.”

It’s still early, which means that the apartment complex is blissfully empty due to the early hour; Clarke, emboldened by so much more than the drinks in her system, takes her chance. With an evasive move worthy of a boxer, she twists out from beneath Lexa’s arm, grabs the surprised girl by the hips, and turns their bodies to face each other; their faces are close and their lips pressed together before either makes a conscious choice to move for a kiss. Clarke inhales all of Lexa’s tenderness and exhales contentment, humming against her lips.

“Speaking of this morning, I promised a massage, didn’t I?”

Lexa grins.


Lexa knows Clarke’s apartment almost as well as she knows Clarke’s body and she navigates both with practiced ease. Up the stairs, down the hall, second door on the left, kick it shut behind them on; hands down her spine to grip her waist and suck a bruise into the spot just beneath the angle of her jaw that makes her moan every time. But the weeks of learning Clarke’s body and learning the fastest route up to her bedroom have also taught Lexa a surprising quality she’d never expected—she fits herself to Clarke, bends for her and capitulates to her, willingly and gratefully. Before, she would hold Clarke or straddle her or tease her into submission as she kept her up against a wall, making her feel amazing.  She still does now; but more and more often, she finds herself giving way at Clarke’s gentle insistence. Tonight, the rush up the stairs to Clarke’s bedroom ends with Lexa topless, face down on the mattress, sighing as Clarke straddles her and leans down to kiss the nape of her neck.

The minutes pass unmeasured and they don’t mark them with conversation as Clarke slowly massages Lexa’s back. She warms and primes the skin with long, light strokes before she works pressure into the knots embedded in her muscles, inch by inch, feeling Lexa tense with the pain and then relax with a sigh when the muscle releases. Under Clarke’s soothing touch, Lexa zones out with the pleasure; meanwhile, intent on her work, Clarke marvels at the tanned expanse of Lexa’s back and the way the ridges of her muscles--cut and toned from years of work in the gym--complement the intricate lines of her tattoo. Clarke could massage Lexa’s back every night and never get tired of exploring the art before her--girl and ink, both. It’s not long before she abandons her work on the knots and loses herself in tracing the lines on Lexa’s skin.

“Fuck, this feels good,” Lexa mumbles. “You’re better than I expected; I thought massage was just a euphemism.”

Clarke chuckles. “Well, you’re lucky you have a med student for a masseuse. We know anatomy.”

“I’m lucky I have a med student for a girlfriend,” Lexa corrects.

It’s the first time either of them have actually said the word out loud. As if testing it, and liking the way it feels on her tongue, Lexa repeats: “I’m lucky I have you for a girlfriend.”

The brightness of Clarke’s smile is enough to light the dim room; before Lexa can turn over and tease her for it, Clarke leans down to press another kiss to the sensitive spot between Lexa’s shoulder blades. Lexa allows this, for a moment at least, before she shifts and rolls over so that Clarke is straddling her lap, and the moment the two girls make eye contact, the smiles return, emblazoned on their faces and impossible to hide this time.

“That was a pretty smooth move, showing up at my bar and declaring everything like that,” Clarke says, biting her tongue playfully.

“You deserved it.” She lays beneath Clarke, torso bare and body on display--for her girlfriend--marveling at her luck. It’s enough to get her to sit up off the pillow and press her body against Clarke’s, kissing her neck before the other girl angles her head down to meet Lexa in a deep, moaning kiss. This has never felt more right. An electric current runs through their bodies, connecting them at the lips, and they know from the touch that neither of them will be near sleep anytime soon; they have the whole night ahead of them. But first, Lexa knows this conversation needs to happen. She wants it to happen. So after a moment of kissing her girlfriend, Lexa pulls away, breathless.

“I’m just glad you said yes. I’m glad you want to be mine.”

Clarke kisses her forehead. “Of course I did. I want you. You, and the gym, and the bar. I want all of it, everything about you.”

“And I want all of you. Your plans, your future, your Mom—

“My mom?”

Lexa turns red. “That wasn’t what I—I was just—”

Clarke laughs and cuts her off with a kiss. “I know what you meant. Now…I gave you a massage, how about that shower?”

“Hopefully you’ll have enough hot water,” Lexa replies mischievously, before she captures Clarke’s lips again.

Clarke doesn’t, as the come to find out. But as they tumble back into Clarke’s bed, wet and freezing and laughing as they scramble for warmth, Clarke promises many more showers to come.