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Quality Ingredients

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“I thought a lot about it,” Clarke swallowed hard.  “If you’re up for it, I think we should get everything out on the table, and if we feel good about it all, we offer each other a second chance and a new start together.”

“What does that mean, exactly?” Lexa asked apprehensively.

“I want to know about this relationship you had that has so much control over you, and I want to know why you didn’t feel like you could tell me about it so that I can adjust any behaviors I need to,” Clarke sighed.  “And if after we tell each other all of those things, and we don’t feel like they’re deal breakers, we set some new boundaries around secret keeping, we apologize to each other, and then we pick up where we left off.”

“And if you do feel like it’s a deal breaker?”  Lexa flicked her eyes across the table to meet Clarke’s.

“I can’t imagine I will after everything everyone has said,” Clarke replied.

“Great,” Lexa rubbed her hands over her face to collect herself.  “Who’s everyone?”

“Who’s Costia?” Clarke countered gently.

“We met in Vegas,” Lexa relented through a massive exhale.  There was no sense fighting it and no sense hiding it a second longer. “I was young.”

“How young?” Clarke’s voice was monotone as she encouraged her.  In hopes that Lexa would open up to her, Clarke knew she needed to stay calm, try not to judge, and wait for it all to come out.

“Twenty-five? Twenty-six? Somewhere in there,” Lexa sipped her wine and looked through the wall in front of her into her past for the facts and the pieces.  “It was the Nightblood pre-launch party.  She had a restaurant nearby.  She had designs on me, and I didn’t know.  I already had New York and Miami, and Warpaint in LA was going off.  My Los Angeles and Las Vegas days are all kind of hazy.  I was at my worst then.”

“In what way?” Clarke folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair.  “You were so successful.”

“If you define success by the traditional benchmarks of money and accolades, then yes, I was very successful,” Lexa carried on.  “But if you define it by quality of life, I never truly have been successful until recently.”

The past week had been an absolute rollercoaster.  The celebration into the freefall of distrust followed by the ups and downs of asking for advice, being given it unsolicited, and the surprise of all of the answers from their closest people had both women drained.  After spending the last few hours in a tailspin of wondering if Lexa was on the side of the road somewhere, all Clarke wanted to do was hold her, kiss her, love her and forget about it all. Clarke promised herself she wouldn’t give in to any of that until she heard Lexa speak for herself, and the strain of it was audible in her voice.

It was the toughest exercise in restraint she’d had in ages.

“I was my worst in every way,” Lexa rolled her eyes.  “That was around the time I went from the small circles of socialite famous and low-level food famous to mainstream, on TV a lot, household name, on a bunch of cooking shows and in food news headlines all the time, famous.  I was voted into the Maxim Hot 100 that year if you’ll believe it.  I turned down dancing with the stars that year.  I didn’t have time.”

“I want to revisit all of that in another conversation,” Clarke held up a finger and Lexa swallowed a chuckle.

“Costia had been in Vegas for a while.  She was a lot older than I was.  Thirty-eight at the time I’m pretty sure?  She played me so perfectly that I almost have to respect it.  Her restaurant was near mine, and definitely threatened by mine, and since I was such a jackass back then, I personally invited her and her management team to the party to rub it in their faces,” Lexa winced.  “I lost track of the meaning of hospitality when I got too cocky.”

“Haven’t you been used to having and doing whatever you want since you were born?” Clarke raised a brow.

“Not like this,” Lexa shook her head with wide eyes.  “I wasn’t mature enough for the kind of worship that comes from a lot of people when they’re faced with celebrities.  Particularly in an industry of excess.  If I wasn’t at a party, I was throwing one.  I got used all the time to fill bars and parties.  I would be invited to something or asked to be somewhere in a very calculated way so that the right people would find out about it and pack the house in those days.”

Clarke topped off her wine and kept her mouth pinched shut so Lexa would keep talking.

“And I get it, that’s the nature of the business,” Lexa shrugged.  “Especially in cities like that.  But I didn’t realize that Costia was essentially doing that with me to boost her own name.  She knew I had a thing for strong, confident women.  She studied me to the letter and prepared her approach.”

Lexa’s mind was transported back to those days in gigantic kitchens with high ceilings serving hundreds and hundreds of people a day.  The uppers and the downers and the shots and the bottles.  She laid off of her bad habits to get Nightblood open, but once it was, once she met Costia, it was all backsliding downhill from there.

“And I fell for it,” Lexa said, defeated.  “I fell for all of it.  I was too blinded by my own ego and what I thought was love to listen to anyone.  Indra told me from the jump she didn’t like her, but there was some tension back then between Indra and me.  She got me out of LA pretty quick and we were lucky to get Roma who had so much experience so we could set up and leave.  I dried out in Maine for a while before we went back to Vegas, but I couldn’t help myself.  The lights, the atmosphere, the fame that just escalated so quickly,” Lexa trailed off.  She thumbed the woodgrain of the tabletop to avoid looking at Clarke.  She didn’t want to see her reaction.  “I was right back where I started and Costia struck at the exact right moment.”

“How long were you together?” Clarke’s voice was hoarse from a week of crying and little sleep.  Lexa hated that it was sexy because she knew she caused it.

“Years,” Lexa admitted.  Clarke closed her eyes and tried to keep cool and honor her own bargain of calmly talking it out.  “We lived in Vegas for the first year, but the next we were essentially on a world tour.  We went on trip after trip exploring the world for food and ideas.  She showed me off everywhere we went when we were home.  This party, that opening, this event.  Thinking back on the way she spoke to me back then, it was so gross and I just couldn’t see it.”

“While all of this sounds pretty terrible, I still don’t see why you felt you couldn’t tell me about it,” Clarke sighed.

“I became so awful.  I was awful to Indra.  I said some things to Anya I wish I could take back. I treated my staffs poorly.  I was cooking nonsense.  She was really into molecular gastronomy and manipulating food in a way that’s interesting from a scientific standpoint and all, but it’s not me.  None of it fit.  I got so lost in being this version of myself that she curated for me and I went along with it. I don’t know if it was the drugs or the booze or the gigantic head I had or what, but,” Lexa paused to choose her words carefully.  “I almost gave up everyone and everything for this person that was meticulously taking me apart piece by piece.”

“Why would you do that?” Clarke asked quietly.  “That doesn’t sound like you at all.”

“Because I loved her,” Lexa glanced away.  “I thought I did, anyway.  After falling in love with you, experiencing real, honest love, I know I was just so lost back then.  I wanted it to be true, so I convinced myself it was.”

“Why did you break up?” Clarke topped off Lexa’s wine with flushed cheeks while she tried not to let her words about love sink in too deep and derail her resolve.  They smashed into Clarke’s heart and made the urge to hold Lexa close and forget all of it well up inside of her, but she pushed it back down.

“She convinced me that we should open a restaurant together.  Indra and I had already decided on San Francisco, so Costia came with us and was built into the business plan.  She was supposed to be the CDC there.  I’m still not sure how or why Indra agreed since she hated her so much, but she did.  Some days I wonder if Indra knew that the only way to really expose Costia for what she was would be to get in as close as possible.  She’s quiet and she’s reserved, but Indra is observing everyone and everything around her every second of every day.  She has a real gift for understanding people.  I’ve always known, loved and admired that about her.  It’s part of how we became friends, and absolutely why we have stayed partners and friends through so much.  I was love-stoned, I didn’t listen to Indra, and that absolutely kills me.”

Lexa took a big sip of wine and ignored that her voice broke as she spoke. 

“I wasn’t very good with my money back then,” Lexa continued.  “Or ever, to be honest.  I have so fucking much of it that I never had to think about it.  It’s been very foreign to me that you don’t care about it, because my fortune has played a role in literally every single relationship I’ve ever had.”

“I’m in love with you, not your money,” slipped out of Clarke’s mouth without warning.  Lexa’s heart fluttered at the sentiment.

“I don’t think you understand what a big deal that is for me,” Lexa met Clarke’s eyes.  They both swallowed hard because it felt too good.  “I accepted the fact a few years ago that it may never be the case for me.  That despite constantly surrounding myself with people, that I would truly be alone forever.” 

“I don’t understand that,” Clarke furrowed her brow.  “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Everyone in my life speaks to me differently because of who I am and what I have.  Everyone.  Just take a look at your nursing team,” Lexa shrugged.  “I’m surprised they haven’t asked you about Costia themselves.  The internet moves fast, and it was years ago, but it’s all there.”

“I know,” Clarke muttered.  “They found her.”

“Wonderful,” Lexa rubbed her eyes and tried to calm down.

“So you weren’t very good with money,” Clarke settled into her chair and forced them to keep going.  They were in it now.  The only way out was through.  “What happened?  What makes all of your chefs refuse to speak her name?”

“Costia knew that I sort of viewed money in the abstract since she was by my side blowing mine all of the time.  If I needed another couple hundred thousand dollars, I could just call up my guys in Portland and have them sell off a house somewhere that I’ve never even been to that I didn’t know I owned.  Get rid of the car at my LA apartment, I’ll just buy a new one the next time I’m there.  We don’t talk about it much because you never ask, but I’m that kind of rich,” Lexa almost looked embarrassed as she said it.

“I don’t really know how to assign feelings to that,” Clarke looked away as she tried, but all she could see was one of a kind furniture, high end appliances and reminders that Lexa was right.  Clarke grew used to being driven around in a car with a price tag twice her salary.  All of the luxury that came with being Lexa’s other half crept in so casually that it was familiar now.  Clarke didn’t think about it most days, so when it popped up in ways too obvious to ignore, it came as a shock when it shouldn’t.

“You’re obviously very beautiful, very smart and charismatic, but what drew me to you the most was that you didn’t really give a shit about who I am,” Lexa said slowly.

“I didn’t know who you were,” Clarke shrugged.  The thought of it now seemed ridiculous since Lexa and her obvious fame had become such a huge part of her life.

“I can’t tell you the last time that happened to me,” Lexa replied.  “And that’s not an attempt to be smooth.  It’s simply just true.”

“Everyone has been trying to tell me that,” Clarke sighed.  “It just never really sank in.”

“Costia knew it.  She knew exactly who I was, and she wanted me for it,” Lexa paused to take a big sip of her wine.  She was thankful that Clarke remained so calm and let her get it all out.  “One day I noticed a bunch of money was missing.  Mine, not money from the business.  I wasn’t mad about it, just curious that maybe we had pulled restaurant money from the wrong account or something, and I went to the restaurant in progress to ask her about it.  When I walked into the kitchen, she was fucking the accountant on one of the prep tables.”

“Jesus Christ,” Clarke muttered involuntarily.

“So,” Lexa gave Clarke a little look.  “We broke up, and I kind of lost my shit.”

“How much money?” Clarke asked, unsure if that was the point or if she even wanted to know.  It was all she could think to say.

“Fifty grand,” Lexa said flatly.

“Oh my god,” Clarke blurted out quickly.  She didn’t know if that was lot of money in the grand scheme of the conversation, and there was something dizzying in it.

“It doesn’t matter.  That’s not even what it was about.  I didn’t see any of it coming and it was all so unbelievably obvious.  I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life,” Lexa’s voice wavered with the urge not to cry again.  “Indra was so kind to me and she had every right not to be.  She flew Anya out to help.  I fell completely apart for a while.  I didn’t get out of bed for a week.”

“Why were you so embarrassed?  You didn’t do anything wrong,” Clarke asked, searching for the problem.

“I may have been a good partner, or the partner she wanted, but I did plenty of things wrong to other people in the process,” Lexa sighed.  “I never learned to be a proper wealthy adult because I became one with zero guidance when I was still a kid.  I didn’t learn how people are going to treat you.  I wasn’t ready and I thought I knew everything and I was sorely mistaken.”

“What does that have to do with this?  With any of this?  I still don’t understand why this was all something you felt like you couldn’t share with me,” Clarke said earnestly.  “I’m not even mad anymore, I’m just so confused.”

“No one ever taught me that no one was going to care who I really was and that I needed to make sure I knew damn well exactly who I am to get through it,” Lexa’s worry lines returned as she struggled through her words.  “I was a brat for a long time.  Maybe I still am. I wouldn’t know because no one will tell me.”

“I feel like Anya would,” Clarke remarked offhand.

“I guess you’re right about that,” Lexa rolled her eyes.  “I had to figure it all out on my own, and it took me way too long.  No one ever told me no. I could have and do whatever I wanted, and I took it to extremes in my young age.  I was so gross, and that was the pinnacle of my horrible behavior.”

“You seem to have learned from your mistakes,” Clarke gave her a warm look.  “I’ve found you to be nothing but classy.”

“It took a while.  A TON of therapy,” Lexa’s eyes widened.  “My father used to say out loud when I could hear him that I was supposed to be a boy, and since I was a girl he had no use for me.  He wanted a successor and not an heiress.  They barely raised me.  No one prepared me for what this life was going to truly be like, especially for a woman, especially for an attractive woman, and particularly for an attractive woman who doesn’t fuck men.  I had no examples of healthy relationships.  Not even theirs, necessarily.  They died in a yachting accident and their bodies were riddled with cocaine.  That sentence alone is absurd, but that’s the kind of people I am.”

“That’s the kind of people you come from,” Clarke corrected her.

“I never knew how to tell you any of this because it’s gross.  I’m ashamed of it.  I work every day to dismantle all of this.  The things I’ve done.  The things they did.  The constant lust for the next rush.  It’s not pleasant conversation and I never wanted it to be part of what we have.  I don’t talk to anyone about it.  It’s twisted, and part of why I felt like I’d always be alone.  I can do and have anything I want, but what the fuck’s the point of all that if you have no one to share it with?” Lexa’s tears caught up with her and she coughed on the sob that slipped out.

“I didn’t know any of that,” Clarke recoiled. 

“This is what I mean when I said there is a lot you don’t know about me.  I don’t talk about the reasons my life is hard because it turns people off,” Lexa took a deep breath to will herself to stay on task.  “No one wants to hear how sad a grossly rich person is.  Most people think I deserved what happened to me with Costia because of all the years I acted like such an asshole.  Outside of Anya, Indra, and a select few of you now, I don’t think I’ve ever even had any real friends.  They work for me or they worship some version of me that’s not even real.”

“But you’re so lovely,” Clarke couldn’t keep it in. The big picture was starting to come together now and the urge to hold back from comforting Lexa wandered into a gray area.

“I’m glad you think so,” Lexa sighed.  “I wasn’t for a very long time, and the culmination of everything I was wrong about led up to that exact moment where I was made a colossal public fool,” Lexa picked up the bottle of wine and ran her thumb over the label.  It was the same wine that Clarke said was her favorite the night she, Raven and Octavia came into Houm back before the two of them so much as kissed.  “That’s why I don’t talk about it. I don’t give a shit about her specifically anymore.  Sometimes I can’t even remember exactly what she looks like.  But I will never forget the feeling that I was so wrong about everything, absolutely everything, including who I even am,” Lexa shook her head lightly as she tried to put the right words and thoughts together.

Clarke couldn’t figure out what to say either.

“That’s why I never told you about it,” Lexa finally finished.  “I don’t tell anyone about it.  I honestly try not to think about it.  It fucks me up too much.”

“When you told me there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know about you,” Clarke began hesitantly.

“I never should have said that,” Lexa jumped on Clarke’s words.  “It wasn’t what I meant.  I panicked.  I was so scared that I was going to lose you over this.  That I had fucked up again somehow and it still found its way back to her, and back to my mistakes.  It came out wrong.”

“What did you want to say instead?” Clarke sat forward and leaned her elbows on the table.  As the pieces fell into place, she felt forgiveness rising to the surface.

“I should have said that my life is a lot different than it looks,” Lexa rubbed her forehead.  She was still stiff from the drive, stiff from the past week, stiff from absolutely everything.

“Just because I don’t know the specifics doesn’t mean that I don’t know and understand that,” Clarke said softly.  “And I’ll only know the specifics if you tell me.”

“I know,” Lexa’s voice fell into a pool of defeat mixed with comfort and relief that Clarke was responding so well.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Is there something I did that made you feel like you couldn’t talk to me?” Clarke asked.  She looked to Lexa and the concern in her eyes was too much.

“Not at all,” Lexa couldn’t stop herself as she reached across the table and took Clarke’s hand.  They both relaxed their shoulders when Clarke squeezed her hand back.  “We were always having such a great time.  I never wanted to bring you down with all of this.  Coming back to Maine, opening Houm, really digging in at Woods Financial, I’ve been truly exploring who the fuck I am for the first time in my life.  What I care about.  What I want.  I know everyone thinks I’m this strong, ice cold, boss babe or whatever, but that’s only at work.  I’m excellent at working. I thrive in being in charge, but I’m not good at relationships.  I’m not good at having actual friendships. I’m not really great with people in general because so few of them have cared who I really am.  Most of my life at the end of the day isn’t even real.”

Tears welled up in Lexa’s eyes and she squeezed Clarke’s hand again. 

“Or at least it wasn’t,” Lexa sniffled.  She kept one hand on her wine glass and the other in Clarke’s and ignored the tears rolling slowly down her cheeks.  “Until I met you.”

“Lexa,” Clarke’s voice got stuck in a whisper as she fought tears herself.

“I mean it.  It’s not a line,” Lexa sighed.  “I should have opened up sooner.  I know it feels like I let you believe things that aren’t true, or lured you under false pretenses, or kept things from you, but it’s not like that at all,” Lexa tried to catch her breath. “You didn’t want the money, you didn’t want the fame, you didn’t want the notoriety, you just wanted ME.”

“Of course that’s all I wanted,” Clarke whispered.

“And I gave it to you,” Lexa said with purpose as she looked right into Clarke’s eyes.  Clarke blinked and two big tears tumbled out of her eyes.  “This is my first time for real,” Lexa cleared her throat.  “I should have been clearer about that.”

“I suppose it was irresponsible of me to think I could just have you without all of the other stuff,” Clarke looked at her sympathetically.  “Everyone was always on my case about it from the start and I viewed it all as gossip and nonsense.  Everything was so wonderful between us that I wanted to think the rest would just sort itself out somehow.”

“While all of that doesn’t necessarily define who I am, it’s part of the package and part of me at the end of the day,” Lexa sighed.  “I should have known better when you told me you got it all and still wanted to see me.  We were excited and everything was new.  I shouldn’t have let that be the end of it.  We should’ve done this sooner.”

“Well?” Clarke took a deep breath.  “We’re doing it now.”

Lexa flicked hopeful, pleading eyes up at Clarke. 

“Clarke,” Lexa began.  She shook her head to try and clear the tears and frustration.  “I’m sorry.  I love you so much.  I want to move past this somehow, and I really hope you’ll move past it with me.”

“I love you, too, Lexa.  A lot. It’s the best kind of scary and wonderful at the same time,” Clarke tried to grin through her tears.  “Thank you for telling me the truth.  I would love to move past all of this with you.”  Lexa’s face bloomed into the most relieved grin.  “Just promise me that you’re always going to be honest with me, even if you think I’m not going to like what you have to say.”

“I promise,” Lexa said with intention.  “Promise me you’ll just ask me any time you want to know something, and you’ll take a realistic approach to everything that comes with me being, well, me.”

“I can’t promise I’ll be good at it right away, but I promise I’ll always try,” Clarke grinned back. 

“I think that puts us in the perfect place to give each other a second chance per your original proposal if you do,” Lexa squeezed Clarke’s hand again.  They both wiped at their tears and let out nervous laughs.

“Yes, I think it definitely does,” Clarke sighed with relief.  Her phone lit up on the table with a text from Raven wishing her a merry Christmas.  “Hey, look at that,” Clarke held the phone up so Lexa could see the time.  “12:02.  It’s Christmas.”

“So it is,” Lexa smiled softly.

“I got you a gift,” Clarke pushed her chair back and headed for the door.  In that moment, Lexa finally noticed that Clarke had an overnight bag with her and the swell of relief it brought almost set off a new flood of tears.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Lexa sighed with relief.

“It’s just a little something,” Clarke took a flat box out of her bag.  It was wrapped in paper with shiny snowflakes and had Lexa’s name written on it in Clarke’s doctor’s scrawl.  “In the spirit of moving forward, just open it and don’t make a thing out of it.”

“Thank you,” Lexa took the gift and carefully unwrapped it.  She lifted the lid off the box and the next round of tears pushed their way to the forefront.  “Clarke,” Lexa tried.

It was a print of painting by a local artist they had commented on in the early days of dating.  A perfect, bright acrylic of the patio they had drinks on during their first date.  The lighting was just so and the whole thing looked like it could have been the very same day they swapped stories and fell in love in the autumn sun.

“Thank you so much,” Lexa couldn’t stop smiling.  “I love it.”

“You’re welcome,” Clarke grinned back apprehensively.  They were both unsure of what to do with themselves and how to adjust to this new phase right away.

“I got you something, too,” Lexa cleared her throat as she got up and opened the linen closet by the bathroom.  She pulled down a wrapped package and set it on the table in front of Clarke.

“If it’s extravagant, maybe it should wait,” Clarke sighed.  She didn’t want to ruin the new ground they covered with Lexa’s money.

“It’s not. I promise,” Lexa grinned again, this time bordering on smug.  “In fact, I think you just might know exactly what I paid for it.”  Clarke took the gift and gave Lexa a quizzical look before pulling the paper back.

“Okay, if I wasn’t sure about us working all of this out before, I definitely am now,” Clarke laughed as she tore away the rest of the paper.  She laughed and cried at the same time as the full cycle of emotions settled down.

Lexa’s gift was the exact same painting.

“Lexa,” Clarke tried, but couldn’t get anything else to come out.  She was overwhelmed and overcome and too tired to navigate it anymore.  All she could do was laugh.

“Merry Christmas, Clarke,” Lexa laughed with her.  Clarke lunged forward and embraced Lexa in the tightest, warmest hug she could.  She clung to her body and felt the comfort and safety of Lexa’s embrace take over. 

“Merry Christmas, Lexa,” Clarke pulled back to see Lexa’s face.  “Can you please just,” Clarke swallowed past the lump in her throat.  One of her hands lingered on the back of Lexa’s neck and the other at her waist.  “Can you please just kiss me already?”

It wasn’t full of fireworks or explosions or rising waves of want.  It wasn’t the exciting dance of lust or the ringing in their ears of their need for each other rattling around inside of them about to burst.  When Clarke pulled Lexa closer and deepened their kiss, it was safety. It was comfort and relief and home.

It was love.

“I hate fighting with you,” Lexa blurted out between kisses.

“Me too,” Clarke said quickly as their kisses sped up and deepened.  After the wall between them came down with a tentative embrace, their hands found their homes all over each other’s body.  “Let’s not do it again for a while.”

“Agree,” Lexa’s chest heaved when Clarke caught her bottom lip between her teeth.

“I missed you so much,” Clarke said in a hushed tone against Lexa’s neck. The need and the want in Clarke’s voice was all Lexa needed to take her firmly by the hand and take her upstairs.

***

Clarke woke up early.  She fell asleep propped up on the pillows with Lexa curled up in her arms with her head on Clarke’s chest.  Six hours later, they were still in the exact same position.  After the whirlwind of a week and the spectrum of emotions, they were both exhausted.  She could smell Lexa’s hair and cologne and sweat before she opened her eyes, and Clarke prayed she wasn’t dreaming.

Lexa’s breathing told Clarke that she was still sound asleep.  Clarke brushed the curls away from her face and snuggled Lexa closer. After days and nights of uncertainty, everything felt right again.

Clarke’s mind wandered back to the first morning she woke up at Lexa’s and took everything in that was a new and exciting puzzle at the time. The photo of Anya and Lexa with the baby on the dresser was the day Lexa left for culinary school in New York. They both told Clarke and Roan over dinner how hard that day was for both of them.  The sketches of the portraits on the wall were drawn by Aden and they were of Anya’s parents when they were younger.  He told Clarke all about the contest he won with them and how he gave them to Lexa for her birthday last year.

The photo of Lexa’s parents wasn’t on her dresser anymore.  Clarke wasn’t sure when Lexa took it down, but after their conversation from the night before, she wasn’t surprised.

“Good morning,” Lexa mumbled against Clarke’s skin.  Her lips were warm.  She tightened her arms around Clarke’s body and pulled her closer as she left soft kisses across her chest.

“Good morning,” Clarke smiled sweetly down at her.

“This bed is so much better with you in it,” Lexa grinned with her eyes closed.

“I missed you,” Clarke ran her nails up Lexa’s bare back. 

“I’m going to make you the biggest, saltiest, butteriest breakfast,” Lexa growled in her early morning voice that hung low in her throat and was always perfect for flirting.  She arched her back into Clarke’s touch.

“Ooo, baby. Talk dirty to me,” Clarke giggled.

“I told Anya I’d be over around one, so that gives us just enough time for a lazy Christmas morning,” Lexa grinned. 

“I’m excited to see what Christmas is like with that crew,” Clarke wagged her eyebrows.

“It’s in that family’s DNA to be hyper all the time about absolutely everything,” Lexa laughed. “On Christmas, they turn it up to eleven.”

“Amazing,” Clarke smiled and pushed more of Lexa’s hair behind her ear.  “How did you sleep?” Clarke kissed her forehead gently.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve slept for real in like a week,” Lexa sighed.  “I could sleep another ten hours.  I’m exhausted.”

“Why don’t I go get the coffee started and you can have another ten minutes?” Clarke asked with a few more kisses.

“Deal,” Lexa dropped her heavy head back onto the pillows as Clarke slipped out of bed. 

Although Clarke’s warmth and scent still remained on the sheets, it wasn’t as restful without her and Lexa get up a few moments later.  She sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and gave herself a few deep breaths while trying not to think about the absolute disarray she left the house in. Her office was a mess.  There was a pile of mail she hadn’t tended to somewhere.  She couldn’t remember the last time she did laundry and knew there was a mountain of dirty uniforms hiding somewhere.  Her packing for her trip was scattered and messy and out of character.

Lexa sauntered to the closet, eyes still closed and flicked the light on.

Every last item was in its place.  She blinked a few times, then checked again.  She pulled out a sweater and a pair of jeans with confused eyes and shook her head before meandering downstairs.

“I’m realizing now that I don’t think I have a lot of food, but I’m sure we can figure out something,” Lexa called out as she came down the stairs.  The smell of coffee and the sound of Christmas music washed over her.

“Oh, I think we’ll be okay,” Clarke smirked.  Lexa met her in the kitchen and was greeted with a hot cup of coffee and Clarke standing next to the open refrigerator in her old college sweatshirt, her glasses and her underwear.

The fridge was full.

“I know how you like to have options,” Clarke grinned. She had taken her hair down to shake the night of wearing it in a tight bun out and her big, blond, perfect curls drew Lexa in.

“Did you clean my closet?” Lexa blurted out.  She couldn’t help it.  Clarke’s kindness and consideration even in the middle of a fight was overwhelming.

“I did your laundry, I went shopping, and I picked up after the tornado I found when I got here,” Clarke smiled softly.  Lexa’s eyes welled up with some leftover tears and she held a hand over her mouth.

“I can’t believe you did all that,” Lexa coughed to cover up that she was so emotional.

“I said I was going to,” Clarke shrugged with a playful smile. 

“Thank you so much, Clarke,” Lexa wrapped her arms around Clarke and held her close.  She breathed Clarke in and buried her face in Clarke’s hair.  “For everything.”

“Of course,” Clarke tucked her hands around Lexa’s waist and held her there.  “Now, what was that about the biggest, saltiest, butteriest breakfast?” Clarke wagged her brows at Lexa as they pulled out of their embrace.

“I love you so much,” Lexa sighed before leaning in for another kiss.

Clarke sat on the island and kept the music going while Lexa cracked eggs and fried bacon.  They sent their texts and calls to friends wishing them a merry Christmas and letting them know that while there was some work to do, they were okay.  Clarke made Lexa laugh with tales from Christmas morning in her childhood and how her father kept the Santa magic alive as long as he could.

While Lexa cut potatoes and made toast, Clarke set the table.  Her heart swelled at the two paintings sitting side by side in similar frames.  She took a photo of them next to each other and surprised herself when the first person she thought to send it to was her mother.  She switched the music from traditional holiday tunes to funk while they drank coffee and mimosas and laughed away the last of the tension over breakfast.

After a shower together that took much longer than it would have had they taken turns, they dressed for the day, gathered their gifts and anything for the party and headed out.  Lexa reached across the console and held Clarke’s hand the entire drive.

“Merry Christmas!” Aden and Anya threw the door open together and greeted Clarke and Lexa with a group hug and holiday grins.

“Clarke, I am so, so glad to see you,” Anya squeezed Clarke extra tight.  “And to see you two together! Ulgh! Lex! I’m just,” Anya paused to wipe the tears in her eyes.  “Holy shit, I am just so relieved!”

“I’m glad that we’re both here together to see you, too,” Clarke grinned and snuck a warm look out of the corner of her eye at Lexa.

“Your text said you guys are good.  Are you good?” Anya asked hesitantly.  “Like, ‘you can put on a face for the holiday’ good, or like, GOOD good?”

“Always direct, this one,” Lexa shared a smirk with Clarke as she slung her arm around Anya’s shoulder.

“Still some work to do while we learn how to merge these two lives the best we can, but very good good,” Clarke smiled sincerely.

“Awesome,” Aden gave her a meaningful smile.

“Thank fuck. Let’s open some bubbles!” Anya leaned into Lexa’s side hug.  “We’ve got about an hour before everyone starts showing up.  Aden’s been working his butt off setting up, so I told him he could play with his new Xbox for a little while before he has to share it,” Anya clapped him on the shoulder.

“Nah, I can play it later.  It’s not going anywhere,” he waved a hand.  Anya covered her mouth with her hand at his maturity and tried not to bubble over with tears again.  “I got you guys some presents if you want to open them before the chaos.”

“Well, my friend,” Lexa smiled at him.  “We got you some, too.”

The house smelled like food.  Lexa ordered the beer and wine through the restaurant and it was all through the house for easy family access.  Anya’s tree glittered in the corner of the living room loaded with gifts underneath for cousins and friends.  The new Xbox in question was set up and idling on the home screen still untouched.  They gathered on the floor around the tree and traded wrapped packages.

“Alright, this gift comes with a lot of responsibility.  You and I are going to have to spend some time together so I can teach you to take care of it,” Lexa handed Aden a big, heavy box.  Anya looked over his shoulder to see what it was.

“I can live with that,” Aden chuckled as he pulled the paper back and took the lid off the box.  “Whoa! Lex! Holy shit!” he exclaimed.  It was a full set of brand new, high end knives.  Every specialty knife and tool he could possibly need.

“I’m gonna let you have that one, because this is an incredible gift,” Anya grinned behind him.

“Thank you so much!” he almost knocked her over with the force of his hug.  “This is so cool!”

“It was actually Clarke’s idea,” Lexa turned the grin back to Clarke.  “I was stuck on what to get you and she suggested I set you up for your culinary journey.”

“Thank you!” He moved his aggressive hug to Clarke next and she laughed as he clung to her.  “I love it! I am seriously the luckiest boy ever.”

“Well, you’ve been such a good kid that I think you might’ve been on the nice list twice,” Anya said with pride.

“You’re a little mushy today,” Clarke chuckled with Anya.

“Christmas brings it out of me,” Anya laughed, but still had a tear in her eye.  “It’s the one day a year that I take a day off from being sarcastic and allow myself all of my feelings.”

“What did you two get each other?” Aden asked as he examined the sheaths on a few of the knives.

“I don’t know if your mother’s going to be able to handle this one,” Lexa grinned at Clarke.

“Oh god,” Anya took a gulp of her drink and wiped her eyes again.  “What was it?”

“I got Lexa a print of a painting of the deck at the beer bar where we had our first date,” Clarke’s cheeks were pink with laughter and emotion.

“Love that,” Anya took a deep breath to calm herself.

“And I got Clarke the exact same painting,” Lexa added on.

“Stop!” Anya’s eyes welled up again. “I need to fix my make up,” Anya held back a few blubbers as she excused herself.

“She’s been all over the place today,” Aden chuckled quietly.  “I let Roan in super early this morning before heading to his family’s for the day.  I helped him put a bunch of presents under the tree for her Santa-Style, and he made a huge breakfast for us and dipped before she woke up.  She still hasn’t recovered.”

“That is absolutely adorable,” Clarke said as she leaned in to look at his knives with him.  “I don’t think I would’ve expected that from him.”

“Roan has been full of surprises lately,” Lexa widened her eyes quickly before sipping from her glass.

“He’s gonna come by later tonight.  I can’t wait to show him these!” Aden carefully lined the knives all up on the rug to get a good look.

“Careful.  Some of those are nicer than his.  He might be jealous,” Lexa elbowed Aden.

“Alright! I’m back! I’m composed! I’m okay,” Anya took a deep breath as she barged back into the room.

“Merry Christmas!” her front door burst open and a handful of cousins Clarke recognized flooded in.

“Here we go,” Lexa gave her a little grin and helped Clarke to her feet to go say hello.

The afternoon was a whirlwind of greetings, hugs, kisses, introductions to partners who weren’t at Thanksgiving and glass after glass of wine.  Now that she was prepared for how up close and personal Anya’s relatives made themselves, Clarke found the rhythm and kept her cool.  Although she and Lexa wound up in sperate conversations all throughout the day, they gave each other reassuring glances, held hands when they could reach, and tried to regroup together every hour or so in the guest bedroom under the guise of needing something from their coats.

A bunch of the female cousins in their early twenties that were obsessed with Lexa’s fame but always tried to play it cool and were now newly obsessed with Clarke and the fact that she seemed to be a permanent part of Lexa’s life monopolized Clarke’s time after dinner to get the details on how truly extravagant Lexa was when she traveled.

Their conversation the night before played on repeat in Clarke’s mind.  This was all part of Lexa. The money and the people who wanted to know about the luxury.  Photographs taken by strangers and published in print.  Rumors on the internet, buzz about her business and buzz about her personal life, it was all part of it.  Clarke engaged just enough to give them a little of what they wanted without giving too much away.  She glanced up and saw Lexa standing alone in the middle of the crowd carefully choosing a bottle of wine. 

And this time it all felt okay.

Clarke kept her wits about her and after a few nuggets of the details of their trip to New York, she quickly shifted the questions to the fiancés and husbands of all the women around her and the upcoming weddings she’d likely be attending.  It worked, and she had all the women laughing and off the topic of Lexa and her extravagance in no time.

“Alexandria,” Gustus said from behind Lexa across the room.  Lexa glanced up from the selection of wines on the counter.  He gently wrapped his giant arm around her and gave her a jovial squeeze.  “How’s my favorite brother’s daughter?”

“I’m your only brother’s only daughter,” Lexa smirked at him with a look in her eye from her younger years.

“I can’t say favorite niece in this room, Lex. Look around,” Gustus said quietly out of the corner of his mouth and rasied a brow at the dozens of cousins.  She laughed uninhibited like she did when she was a girl as he gave her another squeeze.  “You look good, Kid,” he held her a little closer.

“Thank you,” Lexa sighed through a smile.  They were facing the dining room table where Clarke was caught up in conversation with a few of Anya’s cousins in their early twenties.  Judging by Clarke’s conspiratorial smiles and all of their giggles, Lexa guessed they were talking about the pack of their fiancé’s and husbands gathered around Aden’s Xbox.

“I know it’s been a long, rough road for you,” Gustus said quietly, but his voice held pride.  “I don’t know if I tell you how proud I am of you often enough.”

“Of course you do,” Lexa stiffened up.

“Since no one is demanding our attention at this moment, why don’t you and I go get a beer from the coolers on the deck,” Gustus nodded with intention to the back yard.  He clapped her on the shoulder a few times.  “Grab your coat.”

Clarke glanced up and met Lexa’s eye across the crowded room and sent a warm smile her way.  Lexa returned the look before finding her coat.

“One for you,” Gustus handed her a cold can once they were both outside.  The sun was long gone at five PM. The air smelled like impending snow again. Lexa tucked her coat tighter around herself and set the can on the railing of the deck to warm up her hands.

“Thank you,” Lexa said quietly.

“There’s something I always wanted you to talk to you about, but never knew how to say it to you,” Gustus took on a seriousness of purpose.  “I think you’re ready now.”

“Seems ominous,” Lexa couldn’t fight a shiver in the cold. 

“Are you smoking these days?” Gustus asked.

“Only smoking meats,” Lexa chuckled.  He did too as he reached into his coat for two cigars.  He offered one to her.

“That’s a slippery slope for me,” Lexa declined politely.  “I’ll be chaining cigarettes by sunup.  But thank you.”

“We never spoke openly about why your father got the company, the properties and all the money, and I got nothing,” Gustus lit his cigar and took a puff. 

“We don’t need to,” Lexa sipped her beer.  “I’m the boss now.  I’ve read all the documentation.”

“I couldn’t do the things your father could,” Gustus glanced away into the dark backyard for ghosts of his past. “Definitely not the things our father could.”

“I can’t do them knowingly,” Lexa agreed. “I think I did a lot of them unknowingly when I was young,” she added with a grimace.  “I feel like all I do at Woods Financial is try to fix and change things that I find out were built on shaky moral ground.”

“They weren’t necessarily bad men, but they had dicey morals at best,” Gustus tried to smile at her but neither of them could get all the way there.  “I couldn’t do it.  I was vocal about it from a young age.  My father and I had a lot of issues.”

“I know a little something about that,” Lexa clinked her beer can against his.  “My mother was sweet to me when she wanted to be, but he was always cold.”

“He loved you,” Gustus rested a hand on her shoulder.  “He was brought up poorly and emotionally stunted as a result.  He didn’t know how to show it, but he loved you.”

“I know he did in some way,” Lexa shrugged.  “But I don’t really think about it anymore.  There’s no point.  It’s never productive, and nothing will change now.”

“I don’t know if anyone ever told you, but they wanted to hire an Au Pair for you and they wanted to send you to boarding school in Paris for kindergarten through high school.  I talked him and your mother into letting you grow up with Anya and letting us watch you instead,” Gustus said with a bashful smile.  “I loved you too much.  You were such a sharp kid.  I wanted to make sure you had a chance at a normal life at a public school with normal kids and some family values from a family that had them, too.”

“I didn’t know that,” Lexa looked up at him earnestly.  “No one ever told me that.”

“If our father was still alive at the time, I might not have won.  It was a blessing in disguise that your parents worked so much and were so busy that if an easy solution presented itself, they just took it,” Gustus took a long pull from his beer.  “It was important to me that you had a fighting chance not to turn out like they did.”

“I always thought it was a no brainer since we were all family.  I didn’t know how complicated your relationship with him was until after he died,” Lexa toed at the snow on the deck. 

“I didn’t think you needed to know,” Gustus offered up a little shrug.  “I wanted you to know that someone was always looking out for you in some way.  We weren’t equipped to raise you with what you needed to get ready for the life you have, but I had to try.”

“Thank you,” Lexa wrapped her arms around him and hugged him close. 

“I can’t begin to express how proud I am of you,” Gustus said again.  He had a gentle hand on her back.  “I don’t feel like there are big enough words.  We were all a little worried about you for a while there, but you keep rising to the occasion every time.”

“I figured out at the end of the day, there was no other choice,” Lexa said solemnly.  She rested her cheek against the front of his jacket.  It was cold, but she didn’t care.

“There always is, Alexandria,” he patted her back.  “And you’re making all the right ones.”

“Thanks, Gus,” Lexa leaned back so she could look up at him.  “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.” A chorus of laughter from Clarke and the cousins at the table came through the back door.  Lexa glanced over her shoulder to see Clarke clapping her hands with a few of them as another cousin made sarcastic bows over a well-told joke.

“All the right choices,” Gus repeated as they both watched Clarke get up from the table and bring back a bottle of wine to top them all off.  She said something they couldn’t hear, and all of the girls burst out laughing again.  Two of them high-fived her and she kept her smirk in check.

“I’m certainly trying,” Lexa leaned her weight against him and let him hug her for a while.

With the formal gift giving and meals behind them, the party grew fun and rowdy and full of laughs and chats throughout the whole house.  The littlest kids were done behaving, the youngest adults were ready to party and the middle adults had been since the morning.  Clarke hadn’t seen Lexa for a little while, but there was no shortage of conversation.  She made her way back to the counter full of drinks to take a quick and quiet breath alone.

“Have you ever tried counting them?” Roan said lowly to Clarke as he sidled up beside her to get himself a beer.  He nodded his head at the sea of Anya’s relatives all exchanging laughs and hugs.

“Hey!” Clarke smiled at him. “When did you get here?”

“I don’t know.  Time moves differently in here,” He rolled his eyes when a baby started crying and someone in their preteen years claimed not to be responsible.  Roan had a wrapped gift tucked under his arm.  He was wearing a collared shirt and a sweater with dark jeans and dress shoes.  He had his hair tucked back neatly.  Clarke often forgot how handsome he was because she predominately saw him sweating in his uniform.

“I have zero cousins and I’m an only child,” Clarke gave him a look. 

“Get out of here!” Roan coughed into his beer as he laughed.  He set the gift he was carrying on the table.  “How the hell are you dealing with all of this?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke sherugged as she took in the delightful pandemonium around them.  She had a smile warmed by wine and a heart wrapped in relief.  “I kind of like it.”

“I have to admit that I wasn’t sure if I would see you today,” Roan wrapped an arm around Clarke and pulled her out of the way of a train of six- and seven-year-olds chasing each other through the kitchen with a new soccer ball that came barreling up behind her. 

“Oh!” Clarke yelped.  She was surprised by the sudden movement, and she didn’t think she and Roan were the kind of friends who hugged much.

“Sorry,” Roan grinned sheepishly.  “Fast kids and high heels don’t usually mix,” he nodded down at Clarke’s shoes.  He tightened his half hug around her. 

“How do you know that?” she joked.

“Don’t get excited.  I have three sisters and they all have kids,” Roan joked back.  “How are you doing?”

“I’m good,” Clarke replied.  She meant it, and it felt great to say.  “I’m sure Anya told you the details.”

“She didn’t, actually,” Roan sipped his beer with a little shrug.  They both glanced up as the soccer ball made its way back through.  This time Lexa had it.  She carried it over her head and dragged a few little kids across the hardwood floor that clung to her legs and laughed hysterically. 

“Aden!” Lexa shouted across the open room to him sitting on the floor in front of the TV with the teenaged cousins.  “Go long, Bud!”  Lexa threw the soccer ball across the crowd and he caught it.  The little kids cried out in defeat and chased after him.

“Lexa told me about it,” Roan told her.  Clarke turned to him with surprise.  The kitchen was so packed with people that they were close enough to only hear each other.

“Really?” Clarke asked him.  She wasn’t sure why she felt hopeful.

“I’ll deny it if you tell her I told you, but she’s been an absolute fucking mess,” Roan smirked.  Clarke lowered her head to hide her shy smile.  “She was very open about it with me, Indra and Octavia.  She asked us for advice.”

“She did not,” Clarke sighed.

“Big time,” Roan chuckled.  “She loves you. A lot,” he nodded at Lexa who ducked behind Jeremy to hide from Anya who was rip shit about the soccer game taking flight.  Lexa was wine drunk and couldn’t stop laughing.  Jeremy took on a boxer’s stance and Anya got fed up and stormed off.  After high fiving Jeremy, Lexa shot a guilty grin at Clarke before Aden called her name and threw the ball back. 

“She really is something,” Clarke couldn’t slow her heart down.

“I’m so glad you both worked everything out.  I was worried about you,” Roan gave her a light squeeze and left his arm around her.

“Thank you, Roan,” Clarke looked up at him.  “That means a lot.”  Clarke and Roan spent a lot of time together, and Clarke started to realize that he might have quietly become a bigger part of her life than she thought.  They hung around at Blake’s, she saw him at Houm a few times a week, and they went on double dates with the Woods Girls, but he was still a little closed off when it came to that kind of affection.

“Yeah, well,” He said bashfully and took a gulp of beer.  “You and I are part of a very elite group as the potential future Woods-In-Laws,” he shrugged one shoulder and the weight of his words hit hard as she watched Anya march into the dining room with Aden’s head under one arm and Lexa’s under the other.  Aden and Lexa fist bumped behind her back.  “We need to look out for each other.”

“I guess I never really thought of it like that,” Clarke sighed.  

“I’ve thought about it for a little while now,” Roan shrugged again.  “Thank god you’re so cool,” he said playfully.  She laughed and bumped her hip against his. 

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Clarke’s laugh died down.  “But you’re right.  It’s good company.”

“Do you know if we have to play any sports today?” he asked her lowly.  Clarke let out a loud laugh.

“I don’t think so,” Clarke chuckled.

“Thank god,” Roan exhaled and took his arm back and set down his drink to reach his back pocket.  “I brought you something.”

“Roan!” Clarke yelped.  “You didn’t have to do that!”

“It’s just a little something fun,” he waved it off and handed her a small wrapped package slightly smaller than a paperback book. 

“You really shouldn’t have,” Clarke handed him her drink so she could use two hands.  She pulled the wrapping back to reveal a black case with a gold crown on it.  She looked up at him quizzically.

“Open it,” he grinned.  Clarke gingerly popped the case open to reveal a set of gold painted darts.  “I figured The Queen should have a special set.”

“This is so great!” Clarke beamed.  She was genuinely moved.  She couldn’t help herself and gave him a big hug.  “Thank you so much.”

“I’m sure this won’t be our last time keeping an eye on each other,” he hugged her back.  They pulled apart to see Lexa and Anya making their way over still swatting at each other.  “Next time it might be me, so keep an eye out, yeah?”

“Merry Christmas, Roan,” Clarke shared a look with him that landed somewhere between being in on a joke and being so thankful to have him.

“Merry Christmas, Clarke,” he returned it.  Anya and Lexa had their arms around each other and were hugging and laughing now.  Anya was wiping her eyes again.  “To many more with these two exciting, challenging, powerful women,” he nodded at them with love in his eyes and held his drink up to Clarke’s.

“I’ll cheers to that,” Clarke laughed before clinking her glass against his.

“Hey, Honey!” Anya absolutely lit up at the sight of him.  She dropped everything she was doing, wrapped him into a big hug and kissed him hard right in the middle of the room.  Roan was stiff and surprised.  A few of the cousins let out whoops and drew attention to them.  “This man plotted with my son and snuck in here this morning and made sure I woke up to a bunch of gifts, and they made me breakfast all before I was out of bed!  Shut up and let me have this!” Anya barked at them over her shoulder through her happy tears that wouldn’t quit before pulling Roan in for another kiss by the front of his shirt.

“Uh, Merry Christmas?” Roan addressed the entire group nervously with Anya’s limbs slung all around him.

“Roan, you’ve simply been full of insight and thoughtful gestures these days,” Lexa patted him on the back. 

“Yeah, well, I recently got promoted and got a fat Christmas bonus from my kind and generous boss, so I’ve been spreading the holiday cheer when I can,” Roan winked at Lexa.  “Speaking of, where’s Aden?  I brought him something.”

“What’s up, Roan!” Aden found his way over to the excitement.  “Merry Christmas, partner in crime!” Aden high fived him.

“Nice work today, my man,” Roan kept one arm around Anya’s waist and slid the other around Aden’s shoulders. “Thank you for all your help.”

“I can’t handle this,” Anya wiped her uncontrollable tears again on the front of Roan’s sweater.  He winced but didn’t stop her.  “I’m so fucking moved, and I don’t know where to put all of this happiness.  I’m not used to having this much.”

“Brought you something, Dude,” Roan handed Aden the gift he walked in with.  “I was going to give it to you this morning, but it will make more sense now that Lexa has given you hers.”  Aden took the gift and unwrapped it with excitement.

“No way!” Aden cried.  It was a knife bag similar to the one Roan brought to work every day that Aden said he liked.  “Thank you so much!  This is so awesome!” Aden looked up at Roan.

“You need to take good care of those,” Roan messed up his hair.

“You two were in on sweet gifts, too?!” Anya pointed back and forth between Roan and Lexa.

“He gave me a set of royal darts because I’m the queen,” Clarke added.

“I need a minute,” Anya choked up, grabbed a bottle of wine off of the counter and excused herself.  Roan watched her go with a confused and startled look.

“I know it’s hard to tell because she can’t stop crying, but this is the happiest I have ever seen her since we were kids,” Lexa gave him a big grin. 

“Heyo! Woods Restaurant Group in the house!” Lincoln bellowed when he caught sight of Roan and Lexa together.  He had a Santa hat on, a bright red three-piece suit, a box of booze in his arms, and Octavia, Indra, Raven and Bellamy trailing behind him wearing equally over the top outfits.  “I brought booze, I brought stupid excessive garnishes, I brought all my tools, and I made these nerds dress up, so let’s make some drinks!”

“I tried to stop him, but he insisted,” Octavia rolled her eyes but couldn’t stop a festive grin.  She had an oversized green sequined blazer on that looked like it came from Lincoln’s closet.  “He was drunk when we picked him up and was determined to be Bar Santa.”

“Clarke!” Indra’s eyes widened hopefully at the sight of Clarke and Lexa arm in arm.  “What an absolute relief and delight it is to see you here.”

“Thank you, Indra,” Clarke left Lexa’s arms to pass out holiday hugs to all of her friends.  “I’m so glad you guys are all here now!  This is perfect! Merry Christmas!”

“Oh my god, it keeps getting sweeter and nicer in here!” Anya cried when she returned and immediately lost her composure again.

Lincoln unloaded his bar gear and passed out cocktails left and right.  The local friends and cousins all seamlessly blended together.  Raven took up her typical role as the DJ and had the whole house up and dancing together.  The littlest cousins got picked up and passed around while everyone shouted out the lyrics and laughed and hugged and danced.

Clarke had her phone out to capture some photos of the explosions of holiday joy.  Just as she lined up a new shot, the screen changed to an incoming facetime call from her mother.

“Mom! Hi! Merry Christmas!” Clarke shouted over the noise.  Abby was at her desk in her lab coat and glasses.

“Merry Christmas, Clarke,” Abby grinned.  “Where are you?” Abby puzzled.

“I’m at Anya’s house,” Clarke turned around so she could get the wild party in the screen behind her. 

Octavia and Lincoln were dancing close right behind her.  A bunch of cousins in their twenties had the little kids on their shoulders.  Raven stood on the counter with a drink and phone changing the music and laughing.  Bellamy and Indra bumped hips with Roan and Anya.  Even Gustus was busting a move in the middle of it all.  Clarke could see Lexa in the background noticing that Clarke was on the phone.

“That looks like quite the party!” Abby laughed at all of the holiday hats, silly sweaters and loud outfits. 

“Merry Christmas, Dr. Griffin,” Lexa popped up beside Clarke.

“Merry Christmas, Lexa,” Abby smiled right at her.  “It looks like you two are pretty busy, so I’ll let you go.  I just wanted to say hi.”

“No way! Hang on!” Lexa turned around to face the party.  “Hey! Turn it down a little!” She yelled to Raven.  Everyone looked up at her.  “Clarke’s mother is on facetime!”

“Hi, Abby!” Octavia cried out. 

The room burst into choruses of ‘Hi, Abby!’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Abby!’  Clarke caught a taste of Anya’s happy tears as she watched Lexa joyfully getting the whole room involved.  Abby’s laugh floated through the speakers.

“Come on! I’ll introduce you around,” Lexa took the phone and made the rounds to get everyone say hello and wave.  Clarke didn’t have time to stop her.

“Hey,” Octavia tapped Clarke on the arm.  They were all sweaty from dancing and laughing and drinking and singing.  “Looks like it all worked out?”

“Yes,” Clarke sighed as her chest swelled when she saw Anya, Roan and Lexa all burst into laughs at something Abby must have said.  “Thank you.  You were right.  We just needed to get it all out and listen to each other.  A little ways to go, but all good work to be done.”

“Good,” Octavia gave her a big grin. “You wanna dance?” Octavia sarcastically held a hand out, then brought Clarke into the middle of the kitchen dance floor.  They got Raven down off the counter and before she knew it, Clarke was surrounded by all of the people she loved dancing her heart out.

“So that’s everyone!” Lexa found her way back to Clarke.  Abby caught view of Clarke in a state of total joy with her head back, laughing and dancing surrounded by people.

“Mom! There you are!” Clarke laughed and brought the screen back around. “Did you get the gifts I sent you?”

“I did, but this one is the best one,” Abby let out a big grin.  She was still settling her overwhelmed chuckles at all of the new faces and every kind word they had about how much they loved her daughter.  “You look so happy, Clarke.”

“Thank you, Mom,” Clarke blushed.  She felt Lexa’s hand on her lower back and was surrounded by loved ones in every direction.  “I really, really am.”