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Charcoal Fingerprints

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It’s because she feels restless, Clarke tells herself. 

Because waiting to go into battle is agony and it makes her feel all jittery inside, like she popped one-too-many of the energy tablets they sold on the Ark. She tries to walk off the feeling, pacing a short path along the table covered in plans for the fight that could start at any minute.

The third time Lexa sighs in annoyance, she stops. 

Clarke crosses her arms and glares at her, at the way she’s so calm in this powder-keg moment. Lexa’s hand doesn’t waver as she drags the stick of charcoal across her cheek, and something about the steadiness of her makes Clarke’s fingers curl into fists. 

“It is not polite to stare, Clarke,” Lexa says, eyes fixed on the small mirror in her other hand. “Or are the rules different in the sky?”

The corner of her mouth quirks upward, apparently amused by her own hilarity, and a dozen retorts about mockery sit on the tip of Clarke’s tongue, but she doesn’t say any of them. 

It’s because she feels restless that she walks to where Lexa is sitting and takes the charcoal from her hand.

“Let me,” she says.

Lexa’s mouth falls open for an instant before she closes it and tilts her jaw upward, eyes finally trained on Clarke’s own. She just stares at her, like she’s trying to work something out, and it makes Clarke’s stomach flip. 

(At least the jitters are gone.)

She’s about to back down, to laugh it off as a joke, when Lexa sets the mirror aside and gives a shallow nod. 

(The jitters are back, but they feel different from before – buzzing and hopeful and warm.)

Clarke swallows and steps closer, rolling the stick in her hand and feeling the soot rub off on her fingers. It sends her back in time, to when she’d grip a pencil in her cell and sketch one of her naive, romanticized drawings of the Earth. 

She could never have imagined just how brutal life is on the ground. But as she leans over Lexa and slips two fingers under her chin, tilting her face upward, she realizes she could never have imagined the beauty, either. 

“Clarke,” Lexa says, and Clarke blinks, coming back to herself. Lexa’s eyes are still on her, green and tranquil, and Clarke feels her edginess subside. 

“Yeah?”

“Do not mess it up.”

Clarke breathes a short laugh out through her nose, causing a wisp of Lexa’s hair to tremor near her temple, and she notices just how close they are. Their boots are touching and as Clarke leans over to press the charcoal to Lexa’s skin, their faces are mere inches apart. 

“Don’t worry – I’m a good mimic.” She bites her lip as she begins her work, mirroring the shape Lexa had drawn on her left side. “I draw. Well, I used to. Before.”

Lexa blinks, slowly, and Clarke can feel her eyes on her again. 

“And what did you draw?”

“Earth. The ground. Well, what I thought the ground would be like, anyway. But looking back, all I drew were fairytales.” She cups Lexa’s jaw and tilts her face to the side. 

“Fairytales.” There’s a hint of a smile in her eyes. 

“Yeah. Do you, um, have those?”

Lexa closes her eyes and opens them again, nodding without moving. “Mermaids who rule beneath the seas, poisons that can only be cured by an act of love.” She pauses, and Clarke can feel her throat work beneath her palm. “Blonde princesses who live in castles amongst the clouds.”

Somewhere, outside the walls of the commander’s tent, an army is preparing for war. They are donning their armor and sharpening their knives and singing battle songs. But when Clarke meets Lexa’s gaze it all just fades away.

She licks her lips and watches Lexa’s eyes drop to the newly wetted skin. 

“Yeah?” She breathes out a shaky laugh and focuses on Lexa’s cheekbone, smudging the paint with her fingertips. “How does that one end?”

“How all fairytales end, Clarke.”

Her voice is soft and it makes Clarke freeze in place, waiting for her to say more. But Lexa only watches her. 

“Close your eyes.” 

She does as asked and Clarke knows it’s pathetic, but she can practically feel the loss of her gaze. Still, she takes her time smoothing the paint over Lexa’s eyelid with her ring finger, reveling in the soft tickle of her lashes against her calloused skin. 

“We had eyeliner on the Ark that was sorta like this,” she says. “Girls would wear it before going to dances or parties. Some boys, too. I was always better at putting it on other people than myself.” 

Lexa’s paint is finished now, but Clarke lingers, running gentle fingers across her work. She thinks she feels Lexa hum contentedly, and when she glances at her her eyes are open. 

“What was its meaning?” she asks, and Clarke blinks.

“What’s meaning?”

“The paint on your eyes when you were on the Ark. What did it signify?”

Clarke stammers, searching for a way to explain such a superficial practice to someone who has lived their whole life rooted to the cold, stark ground. 

“Nothing.” She drops her hands from Lexa’s face. Her voice is as hollow as she feels. “It meant nothing.” 

Suddenly Lexa’s eyes are right in front of hers and they’re standing chest to chest. Before Clarke can ask, Lexa’s fingers brush against hers and gently pry the charcoal from her fist. 

Now, Clarke can feel Lexa’s warm breath on her lips and her eyelids flutter closed before she can stop them. Then there’s a strong hand holding her jaw steady as Lexa glides the paint over her lashes. 

She makes quick work, and when she’s done Lexa strokes a finger across Clarke’s cheek. 

“Nothing means nothing, Clarke.” Her eyes are firm when Clarke meets them again. “It means you are strong.” 

Clarke smiles, blinking against the sting building in her eyes, and somehow their fingers twine together. 

Slowly, the sounds of the army seep back in. Men are shouting, fires are crackling, horses are whinnying. 

But Lexa squeezes Clarke’s hand and she smiles. She is ready to face it, now.  

***

This is how fairytales end on the ground. 

They are shattered by broken promises, by dried blood streaking over carefully drawn paint. 

They are choices made with heads and not hearts. They are empty apologies and backs stabbed.

They are charcoal fingerprints on the back of your hand that you can’t bring yourself to wipe off. 

(And even when you do, they don’t fade.)