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Strange Traditions

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Clarke walked with Vargas and Ella to the festivities. It was no surprise, really. In the time she’d spent as liaison between the grounders and her people, they’d become like extra shadows. Friends too, she hoped. 

The two wore the greens and muted browns of Trikru, as did Nyko and the apprentices who joined them on the way, but all had adorned themselves with trinkets and facepaint. Clarke had been subjected to it too. Ella had painted delicate lines to frame her eyes, the gold flecked kohl cool on her skin. Upon seeing the end result in the small mirror the warrior held up for her afterward, Clarke had gasped, surprised. Her eyes appeared a darker, almost purplish blue — without bottom — and the sweeps of kohl across her eyelids glinted the same color of her hair. Like sunlight filtering through trees. 

The facepaint the others wore was also more colorful than the warpaint she was used to seeing on warriors. It glinted gold like hers in the firelight, or green, or blue. Instead of hardening the faces all around her, the carefully drawn lines gentled features, softened hard angles and square jaws. Something reserved for ceremonies then, rather than war.

As for the brooch holding her cloak closed at her throat, it came from Vargas. She’d been about to use the one Alyra gifted her, when he intervened and pinned the fabric in place with a clasp made of wood and bone.

[ This isn’t a present, is it? ] Clarke eyed him with suspicion.

Emotion flitted through his features so fast it was like a lightning strike, but eventually he replied.

[ Just a way to make you a little more Trikru for a night. ]

Even so, she still stood out. Others dressed in blue, the delegation from the Boat clan for example, but none of them wore the sky over their skin. 

Clarke stood out, and people took note. They whispered, and elbowed one another as she passed.

The weight of all those gazes accompanied her until they reached the bonfires, and she was glad when the apprentices she’d grown most friendly with insisted she should accompany them to get food. 

[ Do you have it? ] She signed to Vargas in a rush, before they tugged her away from the rest of the group. She had entrusted Lexa’s gift to him before they’d left the Tower.

[ Don’t worry. ] He waved her off with a smile. [ All will be well ]

Her stomach twisted into knots. 

The apprentices pulled her along as they chatted among themselves excitedly, and Clarke was content to simply listen to Nara prattle on about a pretty boy with soft brown eyes from the Red Rock clan. 

“He’s a craftsman,” she confided to Clarke as though she was sharing a big secret. “Like his father and his father’s father before him.” 

“Red Rock are stonemasons.” Ilda, the other apprentice, explained. Of course. 

“He’s so handsome.” Nara sighed, her face a little dreamy. “Do you think I should ask him to dance? Clarke?” She liked spending time with Nyko’s apprentices because they never treated her like someone other than a healer. Both older than Clarke was, they would soon leave Polis to take residence as healers in a village. Nara might end up in Red Rock territory, if hers was more than just a crush. 

“I don’t know,” she answered with a slight shrug. “I guess if you really like him, dancing is one way to get to know him better.” 

Nara giggled and blushed a vivid crimson.

They’d come to the cook fires, and at the sight of food, Clarke remembered she hadn’t had anything since breakfast. She’d been too nervous to. But the sight of so many foodstuffs made her ravenous. There were more kinds of meats than she could name, roasted vegetables and sweets. Many other things — each clan had put up stalls showcasing their delicacies. 

She’d relaxed just enough to consider carved slices of what looked like venison when someone cleared their throat behind her. 

It was Ontari.

“Hey.” 

“Hi.” 

Clarke threw a glance over her shoulder, hoping to be rescued, but Nara and Ilda had wandered off, attracted by a vendor who sold leather bracelets and other pieces of jewelry. 

There was something about Ontari putting her on edge. Clarke didn’t share the natural dislike for Azgeda many in Polis openly showed, but the girl was so strangely intense around her. She always stared at Clarke with dark, inscrutable eyes that never seemed to miss a thing. Even back in the infirmary, with blood running down her face from the ragged gash on her temple, she’d tracked her every movement without voicing her discomfort. Without a wince, although Clarke knew from first hand experience how bad the bite of suture needles stung. 

It set Clarke’s teeth to grinding.

“Here. I brought you something to try.” Clarke blinked, noting for the first time that Ontari was holding a skewer for her to grab. “It’s a treat from my clan,” the girl went on explaining. “Our fields don’t grow many things — our summers are too short — but we’ve figured out a way to conserve the little fruit we have. Try it,” Clarke took the treat from her uncertainly, and brought it up to her nose for a quick sniff. It smelled vaguely of honey and herbs she could not identify. “I promise it’s good.”

It was, and messy to eat too. By the time Clarke was done, her chin was sticky with the honey coated bits of fruit.

Ontari grinned at her, eyes alive in sheer delight, and Clarke couldn’t help but smile back, some of the tension that had burdened her in the past few days finally lifting.

“Will you dance with me later?” Ontari asked, and stepped a little closer. An area had been cleared for dancing near the bonfires, and a small group of people had gathered there. They carried flutes and drums, and a number of other instruments Clarke failed to recognize. 

“I… uh… I think you’d be disappointed.” They had music on the Ark, recordings from the old times, but little room or cause for dancing. “I’d probably trip over my own feet trying to keep up.” Especially in her dress.

“I’ll be happy to teach you, Clarke.” There was a strange timbre to her words, as though she was thinking of something else entirely. Despite the daily practice, Clarke still had trouble with the woods clan language, and the dialect Ontari spoke was different enough that, while she could still grasp the general gist of what Ontari said, the pitch inflection of some words was completely lost to her.

“I… uhm…” Clarke wet her lips, buying time so that she could find something smart to say. 

Her eyes roamed beyond Ontari's shoulder and came to rest on Lexa.

Every thought Clarke had ever had packed up and left her head. 

Contrary to everybody else, Heda was in armor. The set was different than the one Clarke had seen her wear when on campaign, a shirt of overlapping scales laquered onyx black. The sash affixed to her shoulder guard looked a sharper red by contrast and the polished pommel of a sword poked from behind her shoulder. She wore her usual warpaint and medallion, and the effect in the shifting shadows cast by the nearby fires was ethereal. 

Clarke was reminded of the first time she’d seen her emerge at the head of a column of warriors to surround the dropship. The sentries they’d posted around their camp — if they could be called that — swore there had been nobody among the trees. One blink was all it took for the warriors to emerge from among the trees, impalpable like smoke.  

As it had done so many moons prior, her heart accelerated. 

Lexa’s eyes met hers across the clearing, and even at a distance, Clarke could see appreciation flit across the Commander’s gaze. It was only a moment, then the vibrant green of Heda’s eyes turned to Ontari and darkened. 

Shadows stretched across Lexa’s face, and her expression was cold enough to send a chill rippling through the air. 

Clarke was suddenly compelled to melt back into the crowd, but she was rooted to the spot. So was Ontari next to her, but instead of avoiding the Commander’s frosty glare, she was frowning back at her, shoulders tense in quiet challenge. 

Whatever was going on between the two of them, Clarke wanted no part of it.

Taking advantage of the fact she seemed to have been forgotten, she slowly began to edge away, her progress abruptly ended after a few paces. 

She bumped into something, someone soft, and would have fallen to the ground if not for a strong hand shooting out to catch her.

“Anya!” 

The stone-faced warrior was the last person Clarke would have expected to enjoy a festival, but Anya was actually smiling at her. Just the barest curve to her lips, but it was enough to soften the sharp angle of her jaw. 

It made her look younger too.

When Clarke noticed Anya wasn’t wearing her customary leathers, she did a double take. The woman was dressed in a woolen tunic the color of winter clouds, and breeches a shade darker. Leather boots reached almost to her knees, highlighting well-toned calves and the lines of paint across her cheeks were not those typical of a warrior either. The kohl had a greenish cast to it, and Clarke’s mind went to the legends she’d read of on the Ark. Dryads and forest spirits, who appeared out of the greenery to aid lost travelers. 

“Uhm,” she swallowed hard, and her throat hurt as though she’d stuffed her mouth with sand. “Hi there.”

“I was looking for you,” Anya stated without much preamble, “I wanted to give you something.”

Oh not you too . Clarke managed to bite the words back at the last moment. She didn’t get a chance to say anything at all, because Anya guided her hands around a sizable bundle.

“Open it,” the warrior urged, uncharacteristic smile still in place. “I do hope you will like it.”

Clarke watched herself undo the strings that kept the bundle shut as though her hands belonged to someone else entirely. She was aware of Ontari staring, and worse still that Lexa was watching as well. She’d made no move to get closer, but there was a weight to her gaze which Clarke was unable to ignore.

Then, the cloth hiding Anya’s gift fell away and she forgot everything else. She held pages and pages of creamy paper, loosely collected within a leather binder. There was a set of charcoals too, and sticks of chalk in different shades. 

“I…” If sky and ground had one thing in common, it was how many resources came at a premium. She’d been shown by the people who maintained the library in Polis how old scraps of paper were reduced to mulch to be reused. On the Ark it had been the same. Once, when she was about seven, Clarke had gotten her hands on an unused notebook someone had forgotten buried in storage, and when her mother had discovered she’d used it up for drawing, she’d kept Clarke from seeing her friends for a week. Without thinking, she threw her arms around Anya’s neck, hugging her tight.

“Thank you.” The words were hoarse, scratching her throat on the way up. Pressed against Anya’s lean shoulder, just like her cheek. Clarke hoped the warrior wouldn’t detect the strain that unshed tears were putting on her voice.

Anya’s arms rose to hold her a bit awkwardly, like she was unused to such displays. It wouldn’t surprise Clarke in the slightest; she never would have though the general liked her well enough to gift her something. Heart flip-flopping in her chest, she did her best not to think of the ever growing list of people she owed a present to. 

She’d barely had the time to pull back that Lexa appeared at her elbow as though out of thin air. 

“I’d like to have a word with you, Clarke.” The Commander took the paper and colors from her, handing them back to Anya. “Now, please.”

The lilt in her tone made it clear it was an order. 

Lexa started through the crowds without waiting for Clarke to reply, and her only choice was to follow in her wake. Not that it was hard; sensing what mood Heda was in, people parted before her, creating a bubble of space that moved with her.

“Lexa—!” Clarke clamped her teeth around the name a split second after it had tumbled from her lips. She’d never called her that . It had felt way too personal. Improper. The name felt lovely on Clarke’s tongue, but she fought down the urge to say it again, and called. “Commander, what’s happening? Did I—?” 

She couldn’t finish. Had she done something wrong? Infringed on some tradition without knowing? She worried that she had, and that Heda was taking her away from the gathering as a small courtesy, before a proper dressing down. 

They were just past the last of the fires, when Lexa stopped, turning on her heel to face her. 

“I am sorry to have dragged you off like that, Clarke, but I need to know who you will choose.” 

She sounded so distressed it took Clarke a moment to really understand her words. 

When she did, she could not make any sense of them. 

“Choose?” The moon was little more than a sliver, but gave off just enough light to see by. Lexa appeared drawn, almost gaunt, and much like she’d done when she’d given her the dress, she wasn’t quite meeting Clarke’s eyes.

“Yes.” Lexa cleared her throat. “Which of us will be allowed to court you.” 

The more Heda spoke, the less she made sense. Clarke wondered whether she’d had too much to drink. Ontari had interrupted her before she could try any of the food and drinks the stalls had for sale, but she’d had their ale before, and it was strong enough to make warriors twice her size fall on their face after one too many tankards. 

“Court...me?” 

“Yes!” A touch of exasperation entered Lexa’s voice. “You’ve accepted gifts from several people, and everyone is desperate to know who you will choose!” Clarke had a feeling the desperate part was a tad self-referential. 

“I… Oh, my God .” Clarke was grateful there was a tree nearby that she could lean against. “Oh. My. God.” Putting her face in her hands, she groaned. Her cheeks felt so hot against the pads of her fingers, she must be glowing with her shame. “Oh, God, everyone’s going to think I’m a slut .” She was wearing the dress Lexa picked for her. Had worn the brooch from Alyra’s daughter. And the leather from Ontari. Hugged Anya for her gift and actually slept with the wolf pelt Idris had given her. 

“A...what?” Lexa inclined her head confused, and Clarke realized she’d switched to english. She didn’t know if Trigedasleng had an equivalent. She explained herself more fully, hoping that the hastily-cobbled sentences would get the point across.

“No!” Lexa shook her head, looking absolutely baffled. “Why would we…? No, Clarke. If anything people think you’re being wise to choose your...uh,” she used a word Clarke had never heard before, but that she supposed could translate as ‘ prospect ’. “But you are still confused. Are your traditions so different?” 

“They’re— Yes.” Clarke said weakly. “A present isn’t an indication for that kind of— uh— interest among my people.”

“Oh.” Lexa’s shoulders slumped. “Well, I guess that answers my question. Forget I said anything, Clarke and feel free to go back to the bonfires.”

She was offering an opening. Clarke could slip away, back to the light and the warmth of the fires. She was suddenly reluctant. 

Clarke had long since resigned herself to the fact that Lexa would never like her back the way she liked her, but what the older girl had just said to her more than hinted at the contrary.

“Uhm. Well, I— I had a present for you.” Lexa’s eyes rounded so quickly it almost made her laugh. “And I wasn’t trying to imply anything by it, because I never thought you would— but I—”

“You what?” The wind picked up, near scattering her question. Clarke barely heard her. She had drifted closer, eyes glittering a green so dark it could pass for black amid the shadows. 

“I never thought you’d be interested in me the way I’m interested in you.” Telling her the truth was easier than she’d thought. Her own brazen admission left Clarke a little breathless. A bit lightheaded.

Not as much as Lexa’s lips crushing to her own did a moment later. 

Clarke was backed into the tree more fully, Lexa’s lean body pressed into hers, pinning her to the rough bark. She was so shocked by the turn of events she could do nothing more than let herself be kissed, and only when she felt the warm tip of Lexa’s tongue swipe insistent at her lower lip, did Clarke remember she was supposed to kiss Lexa back. To let her into her mouth.

Brain finally kickstarted into thinking she reached up, waving her fingers in Lexa’s tangle of braids and pulling her even closer. She allowed herself to feel the wiry strength of Lexa’s body and breathed her in, gasping when a thigh pushed firmly between hers.

“Here?” She asked, drunk on Lexa’s light scent of sweat and wood smoke. Intoxicated by the way her calloused hands were sliding down her sides, to the slit that opened up one side of her dress. When Lexa’s pulled the sheer fabric aside, Clarke gasped a little. The fur-lined cloak had kept her warm, but now her bare thigh was partly exposed to the cold air, and her skin pebbled with goosebumps. 

“Here,” Lexa asserted, rubbing some warmth into her flesh. Her fingers edged closer to the join of Clarke’s thighs with each pass, making her moan a little. 

“What if someone finds us?”

“Good,” Lexa practically growled the word against her neck. “So they’ll know who you belong to.”

Clarke had no idea where the shy, tongue-tied girl had gone, but it was not the one whose hands were steadily making progress underneath her dress. Lexa’s words should have incensed her — she didn’t belong to anybody! — but Heda’s ferocity caused arousal to overflow her underthings instead. When her questing fingers brushed Clarke’s sex through panties rendered all but nonexistent by the amount of slick, Clarke’s entire body jolted. Her hips rolled forward and they both sighed.  

“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.” Lexa confessed against her throat, suckling at her pulse until the skin there was raised and quickly bruising. 

“Then why didn’t you? Why didn’t you tell me?” Clarke’s remark ended in a whimper. Lexa’s fingers had found her clit, and she stroked it through her panties until it stood stiff and throbbing against her thumb. “I can take those off.” Clarke muttered, frustration edging her tone. What Lexa was doing would feel so much better once the barrier between them was gone. 

“No need.” Her panties were pushed to the side, Lexa’s fingers deftly sliding underneath. “There.” 

“Fuck.” Without Lexa’s weight holding her upright, Clarke would have tumbled to the ground. She could feel her touch everywhere and where the Commander’s fingers actually brushed, it was like a trail of fire. 

The night around them came alive with messy, increasingly loud noises, but Clarke couldn’t find it in herself to be concerned about people overhearing. Not anymore.

“It’s just not done among the clans.” Lexa answered in the end. Her thumb was pressing on Clarke’s clit, now hard, now feather-like. It drove her mad. “We show our intentions with gifts, and the recipient’s reactions tell us whether we have a chance or not. These things aren’t… discussed.” 

Clarke could tell she was having difficulty doing so now, and it had nothing to do with the hand working sweet and steady between her trembling thighs. Everything to do with the heat coming off of Lexa’s face, nestled into her neck. 

There was a pressure building in her abdomen different than anything she’d felt before. During her first winter on the ground, Clarke had bunked with Finn. What had been a necessity to fend off the cold, soon turned to something different. She’d enjoyed it while it lasted, and he’d been gentle, but somehow always more concerned about his own pleasure than hers.

With Lexa it was different. 

She was completely focused on Clarke, and how she bucked against her when her fingers pressed just a little harder, or teased around her opening.

“Lexa?” Clarke gently scraped short nails along her cheek to capture her attention.

“Yes Clarke?” 

“Take me to bed, please.” 

Lexa’s smile cut through the darkness, blinding white.

*************

The air in Lexa’s bedroom was thick with heat from a lit brazier. Almost stifling. Her bed was too big for one person, let alone two, but there was no risk of Clarke losing herself among the furs. 

Lexa didn’t allow it.

She stood naked at the foot of the bed, skin shimmering with sweat. Her eyes roved Clarke’s body without reserve, and her cheeks were flushed by lust as well as heat. The Tower’s halls had been empty, everyone gone to the Oestara’s bonfires, and Lexa had seized upon the opportunity, starting to undress her long before they reached her rooms. 

Some of the clothes they’d worn may still be scattered outside. 

Clarke used the small moment of respite to admire her in turn. Lexa was all lean muscle and smooth skin, except where she bore the traces of her calling. Some of her scars were jagged and raised, others as thin as a hair and nigh invisible. Clarke ached to map them all with hands and tongue, but she wasn’t given the chance to.

When she tried, Lexa simply crawled on top of her, kissing her back into the mattress and grinding down until a mess of slick had pooled between their bodies. 

Clarke had scarcely come down from the near climax at the bonfires, and it only took a few expert strokes of Lexa’s hand to feed her inner fires. 

Eventually, just when she was about ready to beg, Lexa settled down between her thighs, and softly nuzzled into her belly.

“Are you…? Can I…?” 

“Please.” Clarke nodded so hard her head could have fallen off. “Please Lexa I need—” 

“I want to taste you.” 

The assertion was enough to make her clench.

Shifting forward, Lexa dove between her legs, one shoulder gently pressed against the inside of her thigh till Clarke got the message and moved her legs further apart. 

Her tongue swept Clarke’s folds deliberately slow. She explored her outside labia first, then held her open with two fingers so that she could reach a little deeper, stroke along her thudding clit. Flesh that was already over sensitive responded, and Clarke felt herself gush again — this time directly into Lexa’s waiting mouth. 

Her lips sealed around the nub of tenting flesh, and Clarke’s hips bucked, so violently Lexa was almost thrown off of the bed. She had to pause and sling an arm over her hip bones, fingers digging into the tender flesh of her side to hold her down. Clarke did her best to will her body still, but the moment Lexa’s mouth was on her sex again, working faster at her clit, her hips jumped again — out of control. It became some sort of test. Lexa pinned her down with every ounce of strength she had, and Clarke’s body tried to wriggle free, the stimulation not enough and way too much to bear at the same time.   

The pressure she had felt inside her belly was back with a vengeance, but now it forked along her spine with each pass of Lexa’s tongue. Liquid lightning. 

Clarke was electric with it. 

At the same time her cunt started to clench, one of her hands fell to Lexa’s hair for purchase, gripping hard. 

Release smacked into her so hard to leave her winded, to make her fly over the edge without any clue whether she would stick the landing.

Lexa was there to see to that, cradling her to her chest while Clarke shook and cried out. And cried herself dry. It had been years since someone had touched her with the reverence Lexa was displaying now, hand soothing through her sweat-matted hair while she whispered sweet nothings in her ear. Part of Clarke was dying to know what Lexa said, the growly sounds she made close enough to english to be painfully familiar, but that would come later on. After all their needs had been seen to — perhaps Lexa would teach her the words she was too self-conscious to ask Vargas about.

Hours went by (and several more climaxes), the new day dawning while they were still awake and lazing in one another’s arms.

At her request, Lexa rested on her stomach, Clarke straddling her ass as she examined the ink spanning her toned back.

She couldn’t help but grind down a little now and then.

"You're insatiable." 

With a low growl, Lexa flipped her over, hand cupping at her sex. "I like it."

Spreading Clarke open, she entered her with ease. She fucked Clarke with three fingers, long, deep thrusts that hooked and dragged against her walls. 

There were many blooming marks on Clarke’s chest, and Lexa lowered her head, intent on adding more. 

"I love it," she repeated, sucking a puckered nipple in her mouth. She let it go with a wet pop, eyes flicking up to meet Clarke's. "I love the way you dance."

Clarke thought back at how many people had talked to her of dancing that past week and groaned.

*************

Anya was, of course, to be found in the training yard. 

Clarke paused only long enough to grab a training stave from one of the weapon racks before storming up to Lexa’s general with fire in her eyes.

“You knew!” She thrust, aiming at Anya’s stomach, but her move was easily deflected, the warrior’s quarterstaff swinging back around to rap her knuckles.

“You did it on purpose!” 

Determined to strike her at least once, Clarke closed in again. This time Anya tripped her, and she ended up sprawled on the ground, mouth full of mud. 

“You should thank me,” Anya leaned onto her staff, smirking down at her. “Lexa would have never made her move otherwise.”

Clarke picked herself up slowly. She could see Anya’s point after a fashion and the fire that had pushed her out of bed so early started to die down. 

Lexa could be surprisingly shy. Clarke already understood as much. She hadn’t been the night before, when she’d claimed Clarke mere meters away from the light of the bonfires, despite the danger of discovery. But she was in the grey non-light of early morning, when Clarke extricated herself from the tangle of naked limbs and blankets as gently as she could, trying not to wake her. She failed, and Lexa watched her get dressed with the closest thing to a vulnerable expression Clarke had ever seen on her. 

“I will be back.” Clarke cleared her throat. “I’d like to come back tonight. If you’re okay with it, that is.”

Lexa’d rubbed the faint crease her pillow had left across her cheek and nodded without speaking. She didn’t have to. Her eyes told Clarke all there was to know.

“Can I ask you something?” She said now as Anya clasped her outstretched hand to help her up. “If Lexa hadn’t reacted, what then?”

“Then I would have led you beyond the fires.” 

Fuck, but the woman loved to watch her squirm. 

Clarke threw the stave at her, and as it thwapped Anya squarely in the chest she grinned.

“Just so we’re clear, I’m keeping your present.”

Anya made a show of rolling her eyes, but she was clearly amused.

“Of course you will.”