Chapter 1: Chapter I
The hospital curtain swished back with a little screech and Lexa heaved, weighty furious heaves that shuddered her chest, puffing in an effort to acclimate from the seven flights of stairs furiously sprinted to get here. The backpack was thrown to the floor and her hands found her hips just in time to position herself as Clarke peered over her shoulder from the half-packed suitcase.
"Don't." Clarke warned her with a raised finger and read the anguish in her flexing jaw.
"I came out of the meeting with six missed calls on my phone!"
"Nope." Clarke interrupted her wife's growling. "Indoor voice."
Lexa flexed her jaw and hesitated, "Clarke, get the hell back in the bed." she nibbled with too much bite for her wife's liking. Clarke let her disapproval known with a raised brow and twisting neck as she re-ordered the suitcase.
"Try again." she hummed softly.
"It took seven rings for the doctor to pick up his cell and I know that because every single one of them was like a knife to my damn chest." Lexa softened and shook like an autumn leaf, her eyes glistened like dirty emeralds. "So please, for me, I'm begging you. Get back in the bed Clarke…"
She should be used to this by now, it was a weekly game they played. Occasionally bi-weekly if her wife was feeling more boisterous than usual. It didn't matter how often it happened, every glance at her phone that was greeted with missed calls from their paediatrician was Clarke's death. Their daughter's premature birth. The cerclage in her cervix failing. The constant looming threat of a late term miscarriage. Clarke's arrest for murdering the duty nurse she hated venomously. Always a long list of terrible, awful, possible scenarios that left Lexa heavy with cast-iron in her belly that she had to drag around the streets and up seven flights of stairs until she could see with her own two eyes that her wife was alive and well.
"Earth to Lexa?" Clarke reached out and waved in front of her glazed eyes until they blinked in cognisance. "Ah, there she is…"
"I was listening."
"I know you're lying because you didn't do the face."
"The face you do when I tell you I'm coming home and I'm not backing down this time." Clarke told her and counted down in her head for Lexa to bristle the way she always did when they had these conversations.
"I swear to god, on an atomic level, you are more trouble than carbon!"
Clarke slumped backwards into the visitor's chair and wrung her hands thoughtfully. It stalled Lexa, the sad look in her eyes and the way she cured fluttering little kicks with a hand swiping over her swollen belly. It finally killed her watching Clarke crack open in the big vulnerable way she so rarely did.
"We can't afford any of this and I don't know how we're going to pay the medical bills…" Clarke hung her head and suddenly Lexa felt useless. It was the truth. They settled in New York after Lexa retired her cage mits and the sponsorship money was enough to get them started-up for the first few years but summer couldn't last forever, autumn was on the horizon.
"I'll sell my belts." she sighed, softened and sorry.
"I don't want you to do that."
"I'll sell them." Lexa reiterated and moved close enough to press kisses into the cusp of Clarke's forehead. "There no good to me now… they're just going to sit in the closet gathering dust otherwise."
"You lost your teeth for them." Clarke reminded her and relinquished the folded up sweatpants in her hand to the side table. Lexa ran her tongue over the porcelain implants in her mouth and felt a bitter tang in the back of her throat.
"And you lost more." Lexa remembered Clarke's last pregnancy sadly and bit the inside of her cheek. "I'm sorry... I know I came in here gung-ho. I know you need better from me."
Lexa moved until the proximity between them was intimate and miniscule once more. There was a learned rhythm to their fights, it was rehearsed and perfected and Lexa made a habit of always losing. Clarke undug her fingers from the arms of the chair and leaned back against the plastic cushion, appraising and thoughtful, it took a barely there stretch of time before she reached for Lexa's bad hand.
Unwelcomed and scolding, Lexa tolerated the contact as Clarke traced a finger over the calloused skin on her knuckles and the dimly felt patch on her hand where most of the nerve damage existed. "I'm much happier when you take your frustration out on me than the rest of the world." Clarke mused.
"All I do is whine a little before you run me over with a ten ton truck."
Clarke rolled her eyes and closed her hand around Lexa's fingers, "Run you over?"
"Flatten me. It absolutely feels that way trying to argue with you." she said exasperatedly.
"Is it bad that I like having that over you?" Clarke chuckled and stood up, the bump strapped to her gut set her off balance but Lexa was there, wrapping Clarke's arms around her shoulders to keep her steady.
"I love it."
Lexa hummed thoughtfully and leaned in until her nose grazed against the crevasse that joined Clarke's cheek and nose, it earned a tiny grin, then a little laugh, a kiss, another one to the underside of her jaw and all she could do was bask in the attention her wife rained over her.
It took a little convincing to get Clarke back in the bed. It took soft eyes and the promise of a date night, comprising of Disney films and nothing but Cool Whip for dinner, before she would even look at the pyjama pants Lexa tried to put her back in.
Eventually Lexa won in the fifth by decision. Indra, the nurse Clarke so deeply hated, poked her head around the door and bested her wife in that pithy tone that made Lexa hang off of her nerves for fear Clarke would pounce. This time Clarke tolerated the dressing down with nothing more than a bristling mumble as she clambered back into the bed, next time the nurse wouldn't be so lucky and Lexa was certain.
She settled her wife, begrudging and irritated, in for the night and took the express train downtown. It vibrated and bustled with people getting out of the city landscape towards wherever home was and Lexa sat amongst them, gym shorts in her purse, flexing her knuckles eagerly for the next stop. She dared to close her eyes for a moment and simply exist in the gentle jolts of the carriage sprinting along the tracks, though it was quickly disturbed by a sharp tug to the sleeve of her jacket.
"Mmm?" she arched her brows and opened a single eye.
"Lexa Woods?" a girl of maybe eleven or twelve asked with a weighty brow, pointing in her face with narrowed eyes. "You're Lexa the Commander Woods." she confirmed once again on the nod of Lexa's exhausted head.
"My friends just call me Lex but sure, that's me."
"I'm a huge fan." she laughed in disbelief and sagged boneless into the neighbouring seat, kicking her legs softly. "Dad used to let me stay up and watch the prelims before bedtime and you were always my favourite!"
"When you fought Ontari Osaka, the night you were the first woman in history to headline, we stayed up to watch that…"
Lexa smoothed her fingers over a deep dug out bit of scar in her knee covered by the navy pantsuit, it was earned in the second round, a torn ligament, though she carried on until victory in the fourth.
"Ooh ooh! And when you unified the bantamweight belts!"
Responsively, her tongue ran over the implants in the front of her bite where three incisors and a canine exploded out of the gumline on the apex of a caught elbow. It was nothing compared to the hell she caught off of Clarke after the fight. Pacing and infuriated, Clarke stalked around the camp's locker room whilst the dentist appraised what was left of her mouth, muttering assurances that this was it… this was the last time.
"Sister's Revenge is my all time favourite, I couldn't stay up for that one because I had a Jujitsu heat in the morning but I watched it on Youtube as soon as I could."
"Sister's Revenge was my favourite too." Lexa chuckled thoughtfully and gingerly flexed her hand, feeling the lack of sensation across the meat and knuckles where nerve damage eroded into her. It was an ugly kind of fight, one of the few that she purposely dragged into the fifth with the sole intention of causing more damage to her opponent, the rising star of women's mixed martial arts, Octavia Blake. She walked away victorious with career-ending nerve damage that Clarke secretly welcomed and Octavia barely limped out of the ring with enough of herself intact to fight another day. It was a treasured victory, her final one, there could have been more but she gladly sacrificed them to avenge Anya's brutal loss.
"...Is it true she's blind in one eye?"
"I think you'd have to ask Octavia that."
"My brother says you only won that fight because you stuck your thumb up her butt when you guys were wrestling." the girl said loudly.
Lexa snapped her head up at the bluntness of the comment and pinked up in embarrassment. "Well… your brother is an idiot." she bristled and crossed her arms.
"So you didn't stick…"
"No!" Lexa hushed her as the rest of the carriage glanced at them in horror. "I beat her fair and square."
"That's what I said!" she exasperatedly sighed and folded her arms across her chest. "I'm Polly by the way." she peered up with big brown eyes and stuck out a hand and Lexa accepted it in her own.
She was dark skinned with freckles speckled over the bridge of her nose and beneath her eyes, frizzy hair and brown eyed, no doubt going through a growth spurt Lexa surmised from the way she handled her new-found height. There was puppy fat in her cheeks and a Powerpuff Girls pencil case poking out her backpack that gave her age away, but other than that she seemed older than her age.
"I'm two stops away so if you have anymore questions… now would be the time?" Lexa shrugged and settled into this old familiar feeling.
"Do you still train?" Polly asked excitedly, all teeth and wide eyes.
"That's where I'm heading right now… when you eat as many cheeseburgers as I do you've got to do something to stay in shape."
"Why did you retire?"
The question earned a little reluctant chuckle, of course it would be this question, Lexa cursed internally for opening herself up to it. "Well, I love someone very much and I want to be around in fifty years to keep loving them." she explained over the noise of passengers disembarking.
"Your girlfriend right?"
"Wife now." Lexa grinned and her fingers ghosted along the wallet in her pocket with her face in the plastic window.
"Does this mean you won't fight on Warrior Night?"
Lexa shook her head, though it would have been an idea. Warrior Night was the once a year event when a fighter could bank on making enough money to comfortably retire… if they won at least. A winner takes all gauntlet with ten knockout round fights over five days. In the very beginning, back in the rookie days, she considered it but the damage was toll taking beyond anything comparable in combat sports and she saw that first hand when Anya lost in the semi-finals with her left ankle on the wrong way round.
"I couldn't even if I wanted to… I'd need five thousand votes and I'm not even licensed to fight in the state of Nevada anymore." Lexa explained and scratched the space behind her ear.
"It's being held in New York this year." Polly added thoughtfully.
"As much as I would love to get in there and finish what I started…" Lexa hummed and swallowed, regretful and despondent. "I work in auditing now, that's my thing, you know?" she tried to sound upbeat.
The sequential beeps from the carriage doors signalled the end of their interview with the train slowing into the station. Polly frowned and glanced between the doors and the former champion, it left a boulder in Lexa's gut, enough so that she tempted the idea of inviting her to watch her shadow train. She thought better of it, tomorrow's headline of 'kidnapped girl found in former-champion's gym' would definitely set Clarke off on one of her lectures.
"I'm glad I met you tonight kiddo." Lexa patted her shoulder and rose from her seat, slinging the bag over her shoulder and sinking her hands into her pockets.
"One day I'm going to be a fighter just like you." Polly told her urgently.
The words halted Lexa. Despite the winding of her gut, despite the urge to run from the words, despite everything she clung to enough of herself to unwind her clenched hand and turn to peer at Polly with some semblance of a manacled expression.
"One day you're going to love someone and you'll want to be around for fifty years to keep loving them. Trust me on that, okay? Go into auditing… there's way less bone resetting." she left the parting advice and hopped on to the platform.
She made it three steps before the loud beeping signalled the carriage doors closing, she pulled herself away and turned in time to catch a last fleeting glimpse of her travel companion, Polly waved and grinned from the window and like an idiot Lexa found herself waving back.
"Should I even ask?" Anya approached from the adjacent platform and levelled a bemused glare.
"I made a friend, you should try it sometime."
"I'll take that as a no..." she mused as they wandered towards the elevator out of the underground. A bitter draft, cold and unforgiving, stormed its way from the surface through the underground passageways and left Lexa shivering.
"Anya?" she mused with her nose buried inside the lip of her coat.
"Mmm?" her sister replied and rooted for a chapstick that rolled around the bottom of her purse.
"How much is the prize money for Warrior Night again?"
Chapter 2: Chapter II
A few days had passed and yet the snow and blustering wind kept their nails dug firmly into the streets outside, slippery and dangerous as it was, Lexa still went to work on East 96th then took the subway to Clarke's hospital on the Lower East Side. Afterwards she got the J train to the gym and jogged the three miles from Glendale Avenue to their apartment on Latimer Street when she was done. The weather was no competition for her.
There's a rhythm that comes with knocking the speedball that satiates a small pleasure within Lexa, the sensation of her knuckles scuffing the leather, the speed of her hands, the blankness of her mind when her body exerts its power. With Muay Thai class finished for another week, she allowed Anya to see the little kids off so she could have some time on the ball in peace.
"Sure you want to be out jogging tonight?" Anya's teeth chattered as she closed the gym door, quickly pulling her hands up to heat them with her breath.
It was a bitter cold that made the gnawing pain in her ankle all the more worst. Lexa hated that. Hated the way her sister insisted on keeping the gym open on nights like this, hated the way she refused to use her cane to climb the icy stairs to her apartment above, hated that she wouldn't take her prescription. It was all top-shelf bullshit.
Lexa kept her rhythm on the speedball, beating her knuckles so fast they were a pink blur. The individual muscles in her back burned in the best kind of way and she held her focus, ignoring the sight of her annoyed sister in the mirror.
"Hey, Rocky, I'm talking to you." Anya distracted her.
"Well as a matter of fact," Lexa stilled the ball, "I'm going back to the hospital tonight. It's date night." she explained and caught a glimpse in the mirror of Anya's frozen state.
"Date night?" Anya raised a brow and began to stuff the mitts and pads strewn over the floor back into the tattered cardboard box. "You said she can't leave-"
"She's not." Lexa said too defensively, almost reassuring herself in the process. "Clarke isn't leaving the hospital. I'm taking the date to her."
"Who are you anymore?"
"You'll understand someday when you're married."
"So you love to remind me." Anya rolled her eyes.
Lexa moved pensive and awkwardly towards her, lip caught in her teeth, hair pushed back into a sweaty bun with her muscles rippling down her exposed gut. "Hey so... I was thinking and I wanted your advice on something." she mumbled.
"No," Anya warned without so much as glancing away from the mits she stuffed into the box one by one. "Don't go to the hospital dressed like that she won't find it cute." she looked her sister's physique up and down. "You look ready to go twelve rounds with Pacquiao."
"About that," Lexa piped in and closed the proximity between them.
"I was thinking about Warrior Night."
"Double fucking extra no!" Anya glared at her.
"I want to compete-"
"No, Lexa." she growled and dropped the box, storming off as she did.
The box split and sent pads flying the moment it was thrown to the ground. It made Lexa fight harder for her sister's ear, eagerly, she followed Anya around the mat whilst she grumbled and tidied away, waiting patiently for a pause to speak again.
"It's in New York this year." Lexa tried to sound upbeat. "I'm still licensed in all five boroughs so maybe we could think about-"
"Nope. Stop. Shut up. I don't want to hear you talk about it Lex, I mean it."
"But if you would just hear me out!"
"Do you want to end up like this?" Anya cocked a brow and demonstrated the scar tissue on her bad leg, the one that she limped and dragged every day, the feeling and sensation was completely dimmed in her ankle and foot after Octavia nearly tore it off in the semi-finals. "Or what about Sylvia Santos, remember her? She shits in a bag now and thinks it's 2001, that's how long McMann choked her out for."
"I've beaten Octavia and McMann."
Anya flinched at that and Lexa felt guilty for bringing it up. Anya was the better fighter, she was the one who was supposed to win the big bouts and retire undefeated. It was the plan too until some over-hyped rookie snapped her ankle before she even had the chance to tap out.
Lexa remembered the aftermath though she tried often to forget it. There was weeks of Anya in hospital with complicated surgeries and talks of amputating below the knee to stop the infection spreading. The nights were filled with Clarke rubbing the small of her back in the waiting room, begging her to retire, begging her not to end up like that. Days wasted fixing support rails to the shower and walls that Anya point blank refused to use when she came home. Nights jogging over in the middle of the night to hold her sobbing sister, promising to bring her home a victory over the woman responsible for all of it.
Lexa licked her lips, "I beat Octavia, and I can beat anyone else-"
"It isn't the point!" Anya gnashed.
Lexa rolled her hip and tossed her sister onto the mat, scrambling for dominance with an armbar. "I didn't want to have to do this." she sighed and jerked her hips into the air, applying pressure on the joint.
Anya's arm cocked back like a gun with all of the pressure resting on her elbow and shoulder. Desperate and unwilling to lose to her little sister, she threw her weight around and failed to escape Lexa's grips.
"You're… such…" Anya gasped and clenched her eyes, she tried to throw her body over again but Lexa had her good, shoulders squared and knees locked in. Eventually she relented and let her body soften against the mats beneath them in submission.
"I'm such a what?" Lexa sat up with her sister's elbow still trapped in the clinch of her body.
"Cunt." Anya grimaced and winced.
"Does this mean you'll hear me out now?" Lexa raised an eyebrow, relieving a necessary bit of pressure off the iron grip that threatened to pop Anya's shoulder out of place. It wouldn't be the first time, nor the last, dislocated shoulders and rolled out elbows and all the excruciating things that required hospital visits for everybody else were just occasional teeth-gritting accidents for them.
Nonetheless, Anya relented and nodded with gritted teeth, inhaling a deep gasp as Lexa released her arm and rolled away.
"Unless you have a better idea I could really do with three million dollars right about now. Clarke is in the hospital, our apartment is falling to pieces, oh, and I'm going to be someone's mom in three months." Lexa bristled at that part, shaking her head in disbelief. "All I would need is five thousand votes and someone like you to train me..."
Lexa turned and stretched out her back, taking a tiny bit of a relief in every pop that ran down her spine in the process. The workout leggings were next on the agenda, the film of perspiration caught inside of them turned cool in the chill of the gym. Lexa waited for her sister to speak and peeled them down her thighs until they fell to the floor.
"Anya?" Lexa raised a brow at the silence and peered over her shoulder.
It was impressive. Lexa had to admit that much as her body smashed the ground and pain imploded in the bit of her chin that broke the fall. Anya was always silent and stealth, mangled ankle or no mangled ankle. It took her less than maybe three seconds to move from a heaving pile of shit on the floor to the huntress she once was, leaping through the air and tackling her sister to the mat with her arms locked firmly around her head.
Lexa blinked back into reality, her face pressed into the mat, she was immediately aware of the lack of oxygen travelling to her brain and had Anya's sinewed forearm against her throat to thank for that. She wriggled at first and Anya's knees responsively dug further into the bottom of her spine.
It took eight seconds for her vision to blur and her throat to clench around the little breaths she managed to fight for, with slack hands, limp figured and unable to do more than slap her submission on the top of Anya's arm, she waited for her sister to relinquish her clinch but it didn't come.
Anya kept her position and dug her knee deeper into the bottom of Lexa's spine, tightened the hold on her windpipe, silent and pensive as she did it. Lexa kept tapping, desperate and sputtering for air until the fight seeped out of her and she fell limp on the floor.
It took maybe half a minute for Lexa to come around, she blinked her eyes into focus first, gasped for a breath and ran her hands over the aching bit of windpipe Anya very nearly collapsed. She rolled on her back and gulped in the air, thankful for its plentiness.
"What the fuck." Lexa wheezed and blinked.
Anya leaned over her, gloating like a wolf with its catch whilst her sister reorientated herself. "Warrior Night is a free for all. Imagine Clarke in the front row, sat there with your baby in her belly, watching you tap desperately for air but they don't break the submission. Imagine her watching you die like that." she wrung her hands and took victory in the repulsed expression of Lexa's face.
"Nobody has ever died." Lexa grunted and used her sister's hand as leverage to sit upright.
The gym span so fast it sent her dizzy, she did well to hide that. Head spinning and stomach churning, she hid behind her staunch resolve and accepted the open water bottle from her sister's grasp.
"Really?" Anya cocked a brow whilst she drank. "Tell that to Sylvia's kids or Dave Kasich's wife, they're not the same people Lexa. I'm not the same person. How much money is worth your daughter winning her first track and field without you cheering her on? How big a payday do you need to make the odds of Clarke wiping your ass for the rest of your life bearable?"
"Fine, fuck!" Lexa blurted, ashamed and repulsed. "It's off the table."
"If I have to sell the gym to help you-"
"Don't you dare."
"I won't watch you kill yourself."
"I won't. I won't even think about it anymore." Lexa sighed and felt guilty for lying.
"Good, don't." Anya pressed a kiss to her stubborn little sister's forehead. "There's always another way."
Lexa nodded at that, her sister had a way of being painfully right. There were other ways to make the money, she could sell her kidneys or deal drugs again like they did when they were fresh out of foster care. She was certain Anya would find all of it more preferable to Warrior Night and so she reluctantly conceded and spent the rest of their work out running drills with her.
The J train to the lower side was quiet and for that she was grateful. Showered and put together, the external remnants of her workout were all tidied away and replaced with the heels and black trousers and beige trenchcoat that became her mundane uniform these days. The gnawing ache in her shoulders and muscles remained, welcomed and occasionally dissipating as she relaxed into the seat.
Two guys recognised her as they got off on Fulton. They didn't bother her, thankfully, but she knew nonetheless. All it took was a nudge and a discrete point in her direction, both of them looking between the phone screen in hand and her sitting figure with wry little smiles. She should have smiled back but it felt redundant, whatever old promotional picture or magazine cover they were looking at, she wasn't that woman anymore, she couldn't be.
Broad Street was her stop and it came three minutes later. It was usually a seven minute walk from the subway to the hospital but tonight felt like a good night to challenge herself, heels or no heels, she took long fast strides and shaved sixty-seconds off the walk. Rewarded herself with the elevator to the seventh floor for her good timekeeping.
"Hey pretty girl," Clarke peered over her book.
"How did I do?" Lexa looked her outfit up and down, closing the door behind herself and shutting the blinds.
"Your ironing gets better everyday. I'm convinced once you master the dryer you won't need me anymore." Clarke teased and watched her foot over, kissing the side of her cheek. "How's Anya?"
"Awful as always."
"Did she beat you up again?" Clarke frowned and took Lexa's chin between her fingers, the bruise around her throat not escaping her for a second. There was a disapproving little noise, a furrow of her brow, Lexa felt guilty for all of it. "I'll have words with her later." she settled and scooched over so her wife could get on the bed too.
"You're not my mom."
"She listens to me."
"She listens to no one." Lexa complained and pressed her head to her wife's chest. The steady thud of her heart was reassuring, so was the bump beneath her fingertips.
It was easy to forget why it was she worked a job she hated alongside co-workers she hated in a part of city she hated, always so easy until she set eyes on the ultrasound in her purse. Until she remembered what it was all for in the end.
"Don't do that." Clarke warned and buried her nose into freshly washed tendrils of hair. "You can't distract yourself with the baby when I haven't got to see you all day. It's not fair." she murmured and kissed her wispy hairline.
"I miss you so much." Lexa frowned and arched her neck to kiss Clarke again. "If I could trade places…"
"I know I wish you could too. You'd handle this better than me that's for sure." Clarke agreed and slipped her finger along the buttons of her wife's blouse. "What did you do today?"
"Audited Weinstein & Co's financials from the last fiscal year. Super sexy important stuff, you know?" she grinned and earned a little chuckle from her wife, "Lexa Woods, Financial Audit Officer. It's just what I do." she extended both her pointer fingers and winked.
"Have I ever told you how wet it makes me thinking about you merging spreadsheets?"
"Yeah Daddy, abide that data protection act and fax those F-234 forms to the IRS." she moaned and slipped a hand up her wife's thigh.
"You are so weirdly specific." Lexa rolled her eyes and stopped the hand that worked her zipper. "What did you do today?"
"Can we talk about that later? I missed you…" Clarke whined and slipped her hand around her wife's thigh again.
"That will still be there." Lexa told her firmly and pulled the offending hand to her mouth, laying kisses across the knuckle and flashing Clarke a little look. "What did you do today? It must have been something good because you didn't take your turn on Words With Friends until lunchtime."
"Well I narrowed it down to four names."
"Progress, I like it. Hit me with them."
"Hmm…" Lexa paused and bit her mouth, "Bella for short." she narrowed her eyes hopefully.
"Maybe." Clarke conceded, "And last but not least, Anya?"
"I would literally rather call her Kevin."
"Well it looks like Arabella is still the winner." Clarke smirked and cupped Lexa's cheek. "That or Kevin."
"Bella for short." Lexa reconfirmed. "Bella Kevin Woods."
Clarke rolled her eyes, hands either side of her wife's face to pull her in for a kiss. She lingered there, kissed her again, kissed her and kissed her and kissed her until she made up for all the ones she missed like there was a limit per day that she needed to keep existing. Lexa obliged her and let wandering hands slip up her blouse and explore her abs.
"Now these?" Clarke murmured into her mouth, pulled at her bottom lip whilst her fingertips dipped into the muscles. "I always liked these."
"I didn't see Nurse Ratchett on the way up here?" Lexa offered, unbuttoning the first few buttons of her blouse.
"I'd say we've got twenty minutes before the evening shift come in?" Clarke hummed and unbuttoned the next three. "Think it's enough time for you to audit some fiscals I've been sat on for a while?"
"Enough time for me to audit them twice."
Lexa checked the lock on the door and removed her blouse and kicked off her heels, clambered back onto the bed and set to work. She let Clarke dictate the pace, hands travelling up to the back of her bra, her own hands slipping inside her pyjamas. They should be better behaved, Lexa knew that, but the week had been long and she missed her wife unbearably.
There was a bright flash through the crack in the blinds. Followed by two more in quick succession and racing feet that thudded down the hallway.
"Did someone just," Clarke snapped forward and her eyes searched the window. "Lexa I think someone just took pictures of us..."
"Fuck." she bit and climbed off her wife regretfully. "Don't worry I'll call the hospital security and ask them to check."
"Why would someone want to take pictures?" Clarke raised her brow.
It had been at least two or three years since they were of any relevance to lurking photographers. Even then it was only occasional, only opportunistic moments when they were spotted at dinner or on vacation whilst Lexa still kept her sexuality quiet or at least tried to.
"I have no idea."
"What are you not telling me?" Clarke sighed and crossed her arms.
Lexa narrowed her eyes indignantly at that, made a little noise in the back of her throat to illustrate her displeasure whilst she buttoned her shirt back up and searched for her cell phone.
The search quickly became redundant. As if on command, Clarke's phone started to buzz again and again and again relentlessly.
"No one. They're texts and news notifications." Clarke puzzled and unlocked the phone.
Lexa slipped her shoes back on and commanded an air of order to her appearance. "What's happening?" she looked over her shoulder nonchalantly. It was then she caught the expression in Clarke's face, the terror, the shock, the anxiety, the sadness.
"Clarke?" Lexa took her hand.
Clarke snapped back to reality, snatched her hand away and slapped her wife's arm and pushed her away until the phone slipped off the bed and hit the floor. "How the hell could you?"
"What?! Why are you being crazy?!" Lexa complained and rubbed her arm.
"You entered yourself for Warrior Night?"
"I absolutely did not do that!" Lexa said the words quickly, reassuringly, raising her hands to defend against whatever Clarke might throw at her. "I did the opposite of that! I thought about it but Anya talked me out of it, you can ask her."
Clarke pinched the bridge of her nose and inhaled a slow breath. She ignored the world for a moment, processed the six headlines she just read, ordered the words around in her head and tried to make sense of it all.
Lexa finally discovered her phone as she slipped a hand inside the pocket of her trenchcoat resting on the chair. There was a hundred and sixty-eight notifications on the screen, she might have noticed it earlier if she wasn't so busy shaving that minute off her walk here.
Former Champion Number One People's Choice
Lexa Woods, Will She Fight Again?
Lexa 'The Commander' Woods, Everything You Need To Know About The Woman Taking Over The Internet
Meet The Eleven Year Old Girl Responsible For The Commander's 700'000 Warrior Night Votes (And Counting!)
Lexa flicked through each headline until she caught a familiar face photographed for The Herald's piece. Tentatively, she clicked the last article and skim read the first paragraph, nearly dropping her phone in the process.
"Who the Hell put you forward?" Clarke hissed nervously and clicked the remote, stirring the TV to life in search of some inkling of what was going on. "I swear to god if Anya had anything-"
"She didn't." Lexa blinked and did her best to absorb the details of the article. "It was a kid I met yesterday on the subway, Polly." she read from the screen and felt her stomach turn itself inside out.
Chapter 3: Chapter III
The classroom clock ticked backwards, Polly was certain of it, she watched it intently waiting for three o'clock to come and somehow her eagerness drove the minute hand the wrong way with each strike.
"Polly Ramirez!" Mrs Pateo snapped, "Don't tell me there's something more important for you to be doing than direct variations?"
"No Mrs Patio." Polly huffed and moved her pencil around the formula hand out.
"Mrs Pateo." she corrected her and stepped forward, setting her glasses around her chest on their chain. "I'm not a yard fixture or a deck swing, Miss Ramirez. What am I?"
A nightmare from hell, she grimaced. "The best teacher in the world, Mrs Pateo." Polly gritted her teeth and forced a sheepish smile, pleading with the forces that be not to earn another detention. "I just got confused with the variables, I get it now though." she reassured her math teacher.
Mrs Pateo softened at the compliment, "Are you sure? We can stay behind and do some additional sheets if you'd like the help…"
"Oh, no thank you." Polly grew pinker and scrawled away on her workbook.
"You'd have to teach her to read first."
Mrs Pateo snapped her head to the back of the classroom where Tommy and the rest of the boys sat chuntering and giggling like hyenas. Polly sank in her chair, fists clenched, trying to rise above the little insults they always use to pick on her. That's what dad always says before he leaves for the airport... rise above it all. It was easy for him, she thought, he was an airline pilot after-all, rising above things was his job.
"You can start tidying away." Mrs Pateo leaned down and whispered, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Polly breathed a sigh of relief and made quick work of re-stocking her pencil case. The bell rang, her coat was slipped on, bag holstered around her shoulder, and she slipped out of the classroom and pelted the buffered hallway until she was the first out of the doors.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she made it onto the sidewalk and walked a short distance down the street, hands gliding along the cold black railings, hood pulled up around her head so Tommy would struggle to see her.
"Polly!" A voice yelled and footsteps raced up on the pavement beside her.
Polly turned and blinked, staring at the woman in front of her, hands tucked into her trench coat pockets and collar shirked up around her neck. It took a second before she was certain but sure enough, it was Lexa Woods there in the flesh and from the pink in her cheeks and shiver in her mouth, Polly surmised she'd no doubt been waiting a while.
"Polly?" Lexa repeated sternly.
"Sorry… what?" she shook herself, awestruck and nervous. "How did you know where I go to school?"
At that Lexa pulled out her phone screen with the local news headline illuminated in black and white. Polly was proud of that one, there was a picture of her on the front with her boxing mitts around her neck, she'd have to ask someone to print it so she could frame it for Pops when he came home from wherever in the world he was this week.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Lexa snapped.
The violence of her voice made Polly jump. Lexa wasn't particularly scary, not in person at least, she had soft features and nice dark curly hair, her fingers were manicured too. It was all these little things in their acclimation that made her look like any regular woman. The snap of her voice was cold though, like a bitter frost that stung Polly with an immediacy.
"You what? Thought you would meddle in a stranger's business?" Lexa furrowed into a frown, eyes settling into big angry things. "My wife is very sick, Polly, and last night people came to the hospital to take pictures of her because you put my name forward for that stupid gauntlet…"
"I just wanted to help." she admitted quietly.
"Well you did the opposite!"
The mothers who walked past with their children in hand glared at them disapprovingly, eyeing Lexa as if she were a bad parent dragging family business out into the street. It made Polly blush and throw her eyes to ground. "I'm sorry Lex." she felt big tears pool in her eyes.
Lexa paused for a moment, regretful and sorry, she did well not to show it and Polly was none the wiser. She wrung her hands and slipped her palm down the side of her neck, huffing a sigh.
"Come on." she nodded and took Polly's hand softly.
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere that sells pie."
Lexa made it halfway down the street with Polly in tow before she stopped in realisation, glancing at the child holding her hand. "I Should call your folks and check that's okay, right?"
"Oh, it's okay." Polly mumbled quickly, "My dad's a pilot and he's away on business. My aunt takes care of me but she isn't home much so I just have to be home for curfew."
"Oh… okay?" Lexa nodded and thought about calling Clarke to double-check this wasn't child abduction. "When is your curfew?"
"You're like eleven years old?"
Lexa shook her head and bit her tongue. It wasn't her business, far be it from her to criticise someone's relaxed parenting. The urge grew more intense the closer her own parenthood loomed, friends warned her about it, apparently it was called nesting. That word felt mild in comparison to the things she got upset about, if it wasn't a lack of sidewalk crossings or child-friendly playgrounds it was kids staying out late and not eating their vegetables.
Always in a hurry, she buried any maternal feelings down into her gut and took a quick pace with Polly at the side of her. There wasn't much talking, whatever talking there was came from the eager young girl who made a point to wave at every other classmate they passed so they all knew she hung-out with Lexa Woods in her spare time. After she was done waving, she looked up at the fighter each time and told her an arbitrary bit of information about the classmate they just overtook.
Between Luther-King Boulevard and Regent Corner, Lexa learned Becky with a 'y' was always late for class and beckie with an 'ie' never did her homework, Hakeem always wore sneakers even though the school rule is smart black shoes and Muhammed always licked the gluestick when no-one was looking. That one made her crack a smirk.
It took twelve minutes and one out of breath eleven-year-old later, but they arrived at their destination, a worn out Italian cafe with little chairs and umbrellas outside that were thick with greening damp. The low hum of people talking and ordering coffee drifted from the open door onto the street and as soon as they stepped inside the warmth and buzz enveloped them too.
Lexa unwound herself bit by bit as they stood in line, the scarf came off first and then the leather gloves were peeled and stuffed in her pocket. She pushed a pair of reading glasses up her nose and examined the menu boards above the counter, and Polly couldn't break her stare away from observing her mundanely exist.
"Do you know what you want?"
"Hmm?" Polly blinked.
"To eat?" Lexa peered at her and smiled, "Do you like gelato?"
"I don't have any money."
"Don't worry about that." Lexa assured her. "I get the hot fudge sundae with a Snickers milkshake. Do you like Snickers?"
Polly nodded and stood at her side when their turn to order came. The man behind the counter seemed to know Lexa, she watched him shake her hand and slap her shoulder familiarly. Lexa didn't say too much, just picked from the menu and exchanged small pleasantries, pushing the bridge of her glasses up her nose at least half a dozen times in the two minutes they waited for their order.
They sat in a booth at the back that had torn green leather seats. Polly didn't care about that or the greasy looking tables, she thought the cafe was marvellous. She'd ask her Pops to bring her here when he was home, they'd have Snickers milkshakes too and share a sundae, she decided, the one in front of her was definitely too big to finish by herself.
"As I was saying…" Lexa brought her back to reality with a stern expression and slurped a long thick sip of milkshake. "I'm not happy about you putting my name forward, Polly."
"You said the only thing stopping you was that you'd need five thousand votes, so I got you the five thousand votes." Polly shrugged and licked her spoon.
"Five thousand and then some." she snorted, "Besides, anyway, that wasn't what I said."
"I didn't mean to make you angry."
"I'm not angry. My wife on the other hand?"
Polly grew sheepish again and dipped behind the whipped cream on her sundae, hiding from Lexa's acute gaze. "I just wanted to make things better." she mumbled.
"You're a kid, you don't have to make things better for anyone, especially not me. I'm no-one important, okay?"
"You are to me."
Simple as the words were, they attacked Lexa's chest. It was a strange feeling, it made her hot with guilt for letting this little girl down. Nonetheless, the memory of Clarke's heartbroken face soon set her right again.
"You know I can't enter, right?"
"You can." Polly eagerly reminded her, "You have more votes than anyone in the history of Warrior Night and you're licensed in all five-"
"I know." Lexa halted her with a small chuckle, "I know, kid. I'm just not entering. It wouldn't be fair on the people I love."
"Because Anya The Animal got hurt?"
"She's just plain old Anya to me, but yeah, that too. I don't want them to worry."
Polly sat in silence for a moment and nodded, tried to hide her disappointment terribly and made Lexa feel all the more guilty for trying to hide her glassy eyes and wobbling lip in the first place. It took a moment but she reclaimed her composure, nodding and righting herself.
"Mhm?" she chewed a mouthful of hot fudge.
"Can I meet Anya The Animal?"
"She has a gym like five blocks from here. You could go to her Muay Thai classes if you wanted to?" Lexa furrowed her brow in confusion, everyone knew about Anya's gym.
For anyone looking to seriously train it was the only place to go, though she stopped training fighters a while ago, grew tired of seeing scrappy kids get hurt and beaten up in the ring. There were still classes though, it hardly payed the bills but there were a steady stream of people who came and trained underneath her tutelage.
"I can't afford it." Polly murmured and burned with embarrassment.
"Your dad's a pilot?" Lexa baffled, immediately guilty for blurting it out.
"Oh… yeah…" Polly nodded. "I just, well, I don't know. I just can't afford it." she explained, stirring her spoon carefully and pretending to be nonchalant.
It was then Lexa looked at her school shoes. They were battered with a big hole in the toe, scuffed from wear and definitely fourth generation hand-me-downs, she knew that expertly from her own tough childhood. It was the rucksack she picked up on next, the zipper was broken and the waterproof lining torn down the side.
Polly caught her looking, nervous and quick with shame, she tore the rucksack from her side and set it beneath her feet out of view.
"How long has your dad been away on business for?" Lexa asked tentatively.
"A while." Polly mumbled. "He'll be home soon."
Yeah, they were always coming home soon. Lexa remembered saying similar lines when she was a girl. Mom and Dad were on an all-expenses paid vacation they won on a gameshow, she said that one so often she almost convinced Anya of it too and she was four years older.
Lexa mumbled to herself resentfully for being such a pushover and checked her watch. "You think you can finish all of that in the next ten minutes?" she sighed.
"Because, we're going hunting for an Anya The Animal and I know just where to find one."
The sight of Polly slurping her milkshake down and clearing away spoonfuls of sundae, shuddering and wincing with brainfreeze at every mouthful, made her chuckle. Lexa couldn't stop herself reaching over with a napkin and wiping the cream and fudge from the corners of her mouth, she paused when she realised what she was doing, pulled her hand away and busied herself with her phone instead.
Clarke don't be mad.
Which means you've done something I'm going to be mad about.
When was the last time you texted me to say 'Clarke don't be mad, I've took the garbage out.' or 'Clarke don't be mad, I've bought you a puppy?'
Okay, valid point. Is Anya with you?
Yeah, we're taking bets on whatever the hell it is you've done this time.
Love you both too. Tell her to stay put.
Lexa pocketed the phone and took a last sip of milkshake. Polly was already on her feet, coat slipped on and bag over her shoulder ready to race over and meet her hero. It made Lexa a little jealous to see the excitement the prospect of her sister earned, of course, she'd never admit that though.
Without forgetting to grab an extra milkshake for Clarke, they made their way to the subway. Polly in charge of the cupholder and Lexa on MetroCard duty. Polly ducked beneath the turnstiles, slipping into the crowd and sending the fighter into a near-nervous breakdown for fear of losing her. Lexa was quick on her tail, skipping down escalator steps and dodging annoyed travellers to catch up to where she waited on the platform for her new friend.
"Don't do that!" Lexa said, exasperated.
"What?" she shrugged as the subway cars whizzed past them.
Lexa yanked her backwards away from the platform for her own peace of mind. "Just, stay put. Okay?"
"Got it." she nodded.
It took twenty minutes to get to the hospital. Every second of which Lexa watched the girl out of the corner of her eye like she was a toddler. It was stupid, Lexa knew that, she seemed like a streetsmart kid. Definitely wise beyond her years and a little too clever, but nonetheless, Lexa watched discreetly just in case danger presented itself.
It was just as well she did, the side streets along the Lower East Side towards the hospital were icy and slick. Before Polly even had the chance to slip Lexa caught her under the arm and stopped her footing over a particularly evil looking patch of ice. Lexa caught her own feet once or twice too, steadying herself with a fire-hydrant here or a street lamp there. Why she wore heels she never knew, they were impractical and hurt, but the rest of the women at the firm wore them and Lexa would be damned if she didn't.
"What's Anya like?" Polly asked eagerly as they slipped through the automatic doors into the building.
"You'll see for yourself."
"Is she nice?"
"Nope." Lexa laughed, "She's the worst."
"Will she be nice to me?" Polly reiterated nervously.
Lexa hit the button for the elevator and turned to face her, dipping down just enough to get a better look at eye level. She stayed there for a moment, appraising and eyeing the girl, taking her chin between her fingers. "Well…" she sighed. "I guess you're kinda cute. She's a sucker for cute kids."
"I'm not cute." Polly scowled and pulled away.
"My kinda girl." Lexa ruffled her hair.
There was a squeal before the doors opened. It came from across the reception and was followed by another shocked squeal from the same mouth as Lexa turned in the general direction of the noise. It came from a woman in her early-thirties clutching her phone, practically falling over herself in her hurry to approach them both once she caught sight of the retired fighter.
"Shit." Lexa grimaced.
"What did you say?"
"Nothing." she told the girl quickly, "Just… act cool."
"Lexa Woods!" the woman finally got within grasping distance, and Lexa wished to god she wouldn't make the mistake of trying to move for a hug. It happened every now and again, always people with no sense of personal space who felt the need to touch her or worse, ask her to put them in a headlock for some gaudy photo.
"Yep, that's me." Lexa awkwardly laughed and took the notepad that was extended in front of her. "Do you have a pen?"
"Here." Polly pulled out her pencil case, "Is glitter-gel okay?"
Lexa paused for a moment, turning back to the red-faced woman. "Is glitter-gel okay?" she asked with a smile, scrawling her name in sparkly pink. "Who's it for?"
The woman gave her name and by the time they were finished the elevator had already departed without them on it.
"Wait... isn't that the kid who put you forward for Warrior Night?" the woman gasped and pulled out her phone, holding it up to them whilst Polly smashed the floor button. "Does this mean you're entering Warrior Night?" she asked them both excitedly, shoving the phone between one face and the other.
"Come on lady I gave you an autograph. Why do you have to shove a camera in the kid's face?" Lexa bristled and pulled Polly behind her figure out of sight.
The doors opened and they both careened inside away from the prying gaze of the people starting to turn and look at them. The door closed and Lexa released a sigh, relinquishing her protective grip over the girl.
"Sorry Kid." she apologised with a little look.
"That's okay, I've been in front of a lot of cameras this week."
"I guess you have." Lexa smirked and shook her head.
They ascended into the beating heart of the hospital quickly without the car stopping on any of the lower floors, straight up the seventh, which Lexa was grateful for in case the crazy woman downstairs tried to outrun them up the building.
"What should I say to Anya?" Polly blurted as they stepped off into the floor's reception area.
"Mrs Woods." Lexa smiled and nodded at the receptionist, signing them both in. "I don't know, maybe hi?" she suggested and scrawled their names with purple glitter pen.
"Seriously." Polly jabbed her hip. "I heard she hits anyone who looks at her leg?"
"Well, I guess you know not to look at her leg then."
"Lex…" Polly whined and followed the fighter down the bleached linoleum hallway. "What if she doesn't like me?"
"Why do you even care?"
"Because… she's my favorite."
"Do you say that to every ex-champion you meet?" Lexa huffed indignantly.
"No, but I, I just, I." Polly lost herself to nerves the closer they got to the room. "She's just, like me. That's all."
"Because she's mixed race?" Lexa tried to fit the pieces of this puzzle together. Anya was ambiguous at best, that was how she described her ethnicity on government forms at least. Lexa wasn't sure of Polly's heritage but if she looked closely she could see the comparison between them both.
"Sure, why not." Polly muttered to herself and rolled her eyes, anything to end the ordeal. "You're both my favorites, okay?"
"Okay, thanks." Lexa smiled and wrapped an arm around her. "For what it's worth, you probably shouldn't tell her that. Let her think she's the favorite."
"Got it." Polly breathed a big breath and nodded.
It was so excruciatingly normal inside the hospital room and yet somehow Lexa fed off the excitement too, couldn't help but be a little disappointed at the mundane sight of her wife and sister lying side by side eating all the free hospital pudding Clarke had been sitting on all week, watching Judge Judy re-runs and talking about the old days.
"Are you just going to stand there like an idiot or get in here whilst there's still a peanut butter pop left?" Anya slung the wrapped dessert at her sister and glared.
Clarke laughed, it stilled into a curious silence once she caught sight of the nervous girl hidden behind Lexa's legs. "You didn't tell me you were bringing company?" she said inquisitively.
"I told you not to be mad." Lexa quietly mouthed the reminder and lifted her brows, warning her wife with no time for impact. "Polly." she cleared her throat and tugged her forward. "This is Clarke, and that over there is Anya."
Polly stood there, twiddling her hands and blinking nervously. Clarke was beautiful, way prettier than in the pictures she saw on the internet. Her hair was scraped off her face into a bun and it made the freckles on her nose stand out, her smile was nice too, she couldn't help but stare at it.
"Hi." Clarke offered a pudding pop forward.
"You're pretty." Polly blurted and blushed, "I, er, we brought this for you." she exchanged the pudding pop for the milkshake she'd nursed the whole way here.
"Thanks, for the milkshake and calling me pretty." Clarke chuckled, nudging her sister-in-law's ribs.
Polly paused again, looking between the hospital bed and her friend. Lexa made herself busy unravelling her outer-layers, bit by bit until she finally flopped down in the visitor's chair with her pudding. Sheepishly, Polly turned back and peered at Anya.
She was bigger in real-life. Polly didn't know why she found that so surprising, on television she was always bigger than the girls she fought, but she almost looked too long for the hospital bed. She was slim though, pretty too, her eyes were deep set like her own. It made her all the more nervous to see her in the flesh.
"You're Anya The Animal." she blurted and tried to sound cool, though it came out in one jumbled excited mess.
"Last time I checked." Anya muttered and ignored her, watching the television set intently.
"I love you." Polly blurted again, hating herself for not keeping it together.
She knew she wasn't being cool like she planned in her head but she didn't care, like her life had been leading to this point all along, like this was the apex of her existence, she allowed herself to be mercilessly tactless.
"I… it's just you're my hero and I love you so much and I wanted to meet you and-"
"Shouldn't you be apologising?" Anya tilted her head.
Anya didn't mean to be rude, she knew that she was from Lexa's violent burrowing stare but it came so naturally to her. Especially when it was little girls who treated her like she was still something special because she wasn't, she was a has-been and that truth made her bitter in all the ways she would have despised herself for in the beginning.
"I… I don't understand?" Polly mumbled, looking between Anya and Lexa.
"Running around talking to newspapers? Getting Lexa all those votes for a fight she doesn't want? Making Clarke sick with worry because of it all?" she motioned to her sister-in-law beside her. "I think you have some serious grovelling to do." Anya sneered and broke her heart.
"Honey, you didn't make me sick with worry." Clarke reassured Polly's crumpling expression, punching Anya in the side and making her groan. "Come here," she gestured forward gently.
Polly stayed rooted in her footing, nostrils flaring, throat stinging, eyes burning, senses dimmed, dying and not able to pretend otherwise. Her heart fractured into dust, it felt that way. She willed herself not to cry, demanded that much of herself, and yet still her eyes failed their singular job and let boiling hot tears dribble over her lids.
"Polly?" Lexa asked tentatively, wrapping a hand around her shoulder.
"Get off me!" Lexa earned a quick snap. Polly didn't like being touched, didn't like hands on her, could barely handle physical contact at the best of times. Instead she stood there for a moment shaking, trying not to cry, furious and humiliated but still she made herself stare at Anya. "I'm glad Octavia Blake made you a cripple!" she seethed and bolted out the room.
Silence fell. It was unwelcome and heavy and made Lexa feel sick. "Are you alright?" Lexa checked in with her wife quickly, ignoring her sister for now. "I've got to go and get her before she wanders out into the streets..."
"Relax. She'd need a staff keycard to get off the floor, just give her five minutes to calm down." Clarke soothed the coiled tension that burrowed into Lexa's spine. "I guarantee you she'll be hiding in the cafeteria, where else could she go?"
Lexa nodded, flexed her jaw and breathed in and out, then nodded again. It took everything not to punch her sister. Every nerve vibrated with the urge to beat her mercilessly and the only thing that stopped her, the only thing, was Clarke's condition.
Anya sat there watching the little television set, blinking the glassiness out of her eyes, just about managing to look unphased.
"You know every time I think you might be capable of doing something nice, you just go ahead and fuck it in the ass." Lexa forced herself to say the words, wavering and barely holding back the wrath of her voice.
Anya just nodded.
Chapter 4: Chapter IV
Lexa couldn't wait the five minutes, her feet set off after one and a half. She slipped along the hallways looking for symptoms of the girl. Somehow, she kept her cool, kept repeating in her head what Clarke said, she was always right, of course Polly would be waiting in the cafeteria feeling sorry for herself.
Lexa slipped into the cafeteria and saw no-one except for the janitor. Pulse racing, stomach somersaulting, she jogged round the room and looked beneath the tables, behind chairs, behind vending machines, inside the cleaning cart. Even tried the locked door to the refill cupboard for the coffee machine until she earned a tongue-lashing from the janitor.
Next was the bathroom, Lexa kicked every stall and peered beneath the ones that were locked for those tatty hole-ridden black shoes but none of them were Polly's. She rolled out into the reception like a natural disaster, craning her neck each and every way looking for the kid, until eventually she conceded defeat.
"Miss?" Lexa blurted at the receptionist, cheeks puffing and red faced. Praying that damn kid would walk around the corner any second.
The receptionist smiled politely and pointed at the waiting area, covering the receiver with her hand. "Take a seat."
"No, Miss, you don't understand-"
"Ma'am," she warned Lexa politely, covering the receiver again. "please take a seat and we'll be with you as soon as we can."
Lexa's hand slipped over the desk, her fingers jammed into the button on the telephone handset, seething and pink faced. "The kid with me earlier is missing and so help me god if I don't find her…" she pinched the bridge of her nose and imagined the headlines tomorrow morning. "I need you to help me find her." she repeated, forcing a semblance of calm over herself.
"What does your daughter look like?" the receptionist quickly started tapping away at her keyboard.
"She isn't my daughter she's this kid I found and… she was wearing… oh fucking Christ what was she wearing?!" Lexa bit her mouth and racked her mind. "Hole-ridden shoes and this... this... this ripped up blue backpack. The shoes are black and her toe is sticking out in a pink sock." Lexa said the words so fast none of them felt right in her mouth.
"She was wearing a silver windbreaker jacket." Anya spoke up quietly from behind, leaning on her cane.
Lexa didn't hear her sister creep up behind her. Didn't know she'd even left Clarke's room. Anya had that look in her face, the one where her mouth curled inwards between her teeth and her eyes stared straight past whatever was in front of her. She reserved that look for the few occasions when she knew she fucked up.
"You've helped enough." Lexa hissed at her big sister.
Anya nodded and hung her head, guilty and nowhere near guilty enough. "I'll keep an eye on Clarke." she mumbled an excuse to make herself feel useful.
"Try not to fuck that up to."
Anya winced at the acidity of Lexa's words as she limped down the hallway, her cane thudding loudly every few steps she got. Anya hated that noise, hated the way it followed her, hated the way she couldn't escape it, hated the way the palm of her left hand was calloused from using the cane so often. Thirty-two and crippled like an old woman, maybe the kid was right afterall. Maybe she deserved this.
It was rare Anya felt guilty for her little outbursts. Never batted an eyelid at putting her do-good neighbour in his place every time he rushed out to carry her groceries. Couldn't even remember a time she felt bad for giving hell to any sucker stupid enough to drone on at her about the benefits of acupuncture or aloe-vera or whatever damn miracle cure they condescendingly told her about.
This time was different though, the way that kid looked at her set her belly full of lead, reminded her of the days when the belt was hers and she was the champion of the world. It didn't feel good, it felt the opposite, the yearning for it all dripped poison into her veins and all she could do to make herself feel better was wipe the stupid hopeful grin off that kid's face. Except it didn't make her feel better, it made her feel like garbage.
By the time she got back to Clarke's hospital room the alarms were already blaring from speakers in the ceiling with orderlies and nurses alike running up and down checking the locks on the doors that lead off the critical care floor. Anya couldn't help but roll her eyes and exhale a deep breath, because of course something would have to happen to make her feel even guiltier.
"I don't even want to look at you." Clarke stared straight at the television with arms folded over the bump as she limped through the door.
"Worried me sick?" Clarke repeated mockingly over the blaring sound of the alarm. "How could you say that to her?"
"You were worried sick. You haven't shut up about Fight Night all day." Anya reminded her.
"Yeah, but you don't tell a child that!"
"I'm so disappointed with you."
"I know." Anya said again and tried desperately to be normal. "Can we stop acting like this is a fucking Amber Alert? She's probably hiding in a bathroom somewhere licking her wounds." she groaned and flopped down in the chair beside the door.
Clarke ignored her, pretended to be enthralled in the local news report that was inaudible beneath the cacophony of blaring noise.
"Seriously?" Anya sighed.
"Get out." Clarke snapped at her sister-in-law, rubbing little circles on her stomach as if it would settle the niece she'd no doubt disturbed. "That girl looked at you like you were her hero... and you just… you broke her heart." she bit her mouth and waved her towards the door "Get out. I'm serious."
"Fine." Anya shrugged and pulled herself up out the chair, "Just for the record, I'm no one's hero." she sneered over her shoulder.
"You knew the risks, you got hurt, it's time you man-up and start moving on with your life." Clarke told her bluntly.
The words stung like ice slipping over her skin. She gritted her teeth, wanted to say something caustic in return, but she held onto the urge and stopped herself. It was the truth after all. It was Clarke who warned her not to enter the gauntlet in the first place, told her horror stories of the people Octavia Blake had left in her wake, but Anya always knew best, right up until she didn't. And though she wanted to punish Clarke, no, needed to punish her, she didn't, because she built her own cross.
Instead she took her frustration out on the linoleum floor, forcing herself to drag her foot and walk without the thump of her cane around the nurses station. She could manage it for minutes at a time sometimes. if she was teaching class she could drag herself around on the soft mats without too much trouble, too absorbed in the joy of the sport to care about the pain. But walking around? Doing the mundane? The pain would become too much and she'd be forced to thump along again, for now the gnawing ache that shot up her leg was welcome.
Anya breathed a sigh as she reached the bottom of the hallway past the empty nurses station. It was quieter down here, less busy, no one was looking for a missing child in a dead-end corridor. Hand jammed into the wall, bent over and breathing, the first bitter tears attacked her lids. There was no sound, Anya wasn't that proficient at crying. Instead the sting of small tears dribbled her cheeks and she just stood there and let them.
It took maybe less than a minute before she heard the noise. It was a small sound, hiccup and you'd miss it, but unmistakably the aching sob of a child. Her eyes darted to the source of the noise, there was a supply cupboard tucked away a few feet in front of her on the left.
Anya dragged herself forward and set her hand on the door handle, she pressed forward and there was a tiny bit of give in the door, to someone in a hurry it would appear the door was locked but she knew better. Someone was sat on the other-side blocking it from opening.
"Go away." Polly whispered from the other side.
"Believe me, I'm trying to." Anya sighed and rolled her eyes. "How long are you planning on hogging the cupboard? I was kinda hoping on taking a turn too."
There was a scraping sound along the wooden door, the shuffling of someone readjusting, then, the door opened just a crack.
"Hi." Anya said and caught a red-raw brown eye.
"I'll say sorry to Mrs Woods but not to you."
Anya smirked at that, firstly because the kid was so defiant and secondly because Clarke hated being called Mrs Woods. "You don't have to say sorry to anyone." Anya sighed and raised a brow. "Can I come in?"
Polly thought about if for a second, then opened the door just wide enough for Anya to squeeze through. She had to duck beneath the door frame and the lack of light inside left her unaware of the drop off step into the cupboard. Luckily, before she could tumble and break her neck, two small arms wrapped around her belly and caught her.
"Er, thanks." she said awkwardly, dusting herself off as Polly snapped her arms back to her side.
Polly made a small noise in acknowledgement and flopped back down, closing the door and sealing them in. It was pitch black, completely devoid of light except for a small glowing strip at the bottom of the door. Anya sighed again, rolling her eyes that pudding day had turned into this mess. Nonetheless she pulled out her phone and set the backlight bright, illuminating the tiny closet.
"I was… a little harsh." she spoke up first.
"Look, I'm not good at apologies."
"That wasn't an apology." Polly told her matter-of-fact. "Pops says an apology is only apology if you really mean it." she explained away, twiddling her thumbs thoughtfully.
She was a scruffy kid, hand-me-down clothes and ripped up shoes. She kinda stunk too but maybe now wasn't the right time to comment on that. She was long and gangly for eleven years old, reminded Anya of herself when she was that age.
"Your Pops sounds smart."
"He is. He's a pilot." Polly wiped her nose with the back of her arm, voice trembling and knees pulled to her chest.
Anya extended her legs and crossed her bad foot over her good one, cane resting over her lap whilst she leaned into the cleaning supplies shelf. "Is he now?" she mused, feeling guiltier by the second.
"Mhm." Polly nodded, "He's on business right now but if he was here he'd know what to say to make me feel better."
"Where is he on business?"
"Erm," Polly paused thoughtfully. "Madagascar."
"Oh," Anya chewed her lips and though she wanted to, she couldn't stop herself blurting the truth. "So how long have you been in foster care for?"
"What?" Polly's eyes shot up.
"It's okay... I was a foster kid too, so was Lexa, but I'm guessing you know that what with you being my number one fan and all."
"Ex-number one fan." she muttered.
Polly acclimated to the truth, silent and brewing in it whilst Anya waited patiently. "I was in foster care." she admitted quietly, "I stay with my auntie now, or at least I'm supposed to, I haven't seen in her in a few weeks."
Anya nodded and exhaled. "Is that why I'm your favorite? because I was a foster kid too?"
"Your dad hit you too but you never let him hurt your little sister. You said it in an interview once and I wished I had a sister like that."
The words suckered her right in the gut, knocked the wind out of her chest, rendered the urge to breathe an impossible feat. Somehow, she disguised it well and kept a thin veneer of control above her aching guilt for being such a cunt.
"He never had a good right swing… Lexa would have been too young to remember that stuff. She was four when they took us away, I think." Anya recalled it indifferently with a small sigh like it was yesterday, leaning back and stuck in memories of her little sister with eyes too big for her head, crying in the back of a social worker's pick-up truck whilst they drove her off to a home on the other side of town.
Eight years old and bruised to the Heavens, she earned the nickname Houdini quickly for her ability to sneak out and slip through the city to the foster home where her sister was kept. In the end, it was less headaches and paperwork for the social workers just to move a few places around and settle them together. It was the first small victory Anya could remember.
"I thought if I could get The Commander to fight again other girls like me would see and she'd be like a superhero for them the way you were for me."
"I'm no one's superhero." Anya shook her head and exhaled.
"You were mine." Polly shrugged and twiddled the toggles on her beaten up windbreaker.
"You know, I didn't see it at first, but I totally get how you wrapped my sister around your little finger."
"I'm sorry I was mean to you about your leg." Polly blurted, eyes brimming with simmering guilt as she pulled her knees to her chest. "Sometimes when I get too angry I just..." she lost her voice to nerves. "I'm just, sorry. Okay?"
"Okay." Anya nodded. "I'm sorry I was rude to you. It's kinda my thing."
"Does it hurt?" Polly nodded to her ankle.
"Oh you know…" she breathed. "Only if I move."
"That sucks." Polly frowned and shuffled across the floor until she sat parallel with the ex-fighter, almost jammed into her side. "You could still be a hero, you know?" she whispered and peered up at her.
"Have you met me?" Anya blurted and furrowed her brow.
"Deadpool is a hero and he's a dingus who got hurt badly too."
"I'm not Deadpool."
"I know, I'm just saying."
"Well don't." Anya huffed and crumpled beneath the hopeful exuberance of the kid beside her. "We should go back… Lexa's probably crapped a brick."
"You… you won't tell them what I told you right?"
"That your dad isn't a jet-setting pilot?" Anya chuckled because of course Lexa already knew. "No. I won't rat you out."
"What?" Anya sighed and watched the kid snatch at her pinky. "Fine, yeah, whatever." she entwined her little finger dutifully.
"How come she acts like the big sister?" Polly stood up and cocked her head.
"Because, she never had to be the big sister when we were younger so now she thinks she knows everything and it's just a whole damn thing." Anya complained and pulled herself up slowly, wincing as she did.
The light from the corridor made them both wince as they climbed out of the cupboard. Anya was sore, her ankle absolutely pushed to its limits as she got out of the tiny closet with the kid in front of her.
"Here," Polly slipped a hand around her waist and took the fighter's arm over her shoulder. "I can help."
"Thanks but I'm okay-"
"Shuttup." Polly rolled her eyes and stopped her ex-fighter pulling away, "I've got you."
Anya blinked and relented, "Okay." she nodded at the kid's determination and allowed herself to be shouldered back towards Clarke's room.
It was a bombsite when they finally got there. Anya wanted to spin on her good heel and limp back to the cupboard she crawled out of but there was no time for that, besides, the grip on her waist was tighter than she was willing to let on.
"Hi." she cleared her throat as Clarke and Lexa gave details to a security guard with a little notepad in his hand. "I found her." she nodded down to the girl wrapped into her waist.
"Thank god." Lexa flopped down and covered her head. "Where the hell were you?!" she snapped at Polly, aching with worry.
"Hey!" Anya snipped and laid a protective hand around the girl. "You don't talk to her like that, okay?"
Lexa paused and blinked at them both, wondering how it was she and her sister were always constantly switching roles. Polly was grinning, cheeks and eyes still pink from her tears, but none it stopped her bashfully smiling like an idiot beneath Anya's sinewed arm.
"We were worried about you." Lexa huffed and peeped at the girl with a disappointed eye. Clarke joined in too, opening her arms and beckoning the girl to her.
"I'm sorry I made you sick." Polly mumbled apologetically and took tentative steps towards Clarke.
"Feel this," Clarke told her and pressed her palm into the wriggling spot beneath her belly. "I've got a Woods in my belly. You couldn't break us if you tried." she teased and winked, squeezing her hand.
"That's so cool." Polly grinned, pressing her hand against the bump again. "Lexa, have you checked this out?" she looked between the champion and her wife's belly.
"Yeah, once or twice." she smirked.
"Mrs Woods can I come and see you again?" Polly asked softly and looked between Lexa and Anya for approval too.
"Only if you come and see me too." Lexa acquiesced and looked at her sister expectantly.
"Oh yeah. Me too." Anya added way too late.
"Come on, Polly, I'll take you home."
"Oh, no." Anya interrupted, sighing to herself that a pinky promise was enough to break her icy resolve. "I'll take her home, I'm heading that way. Might as well."
Lexa stares for a moment, confused and concerned over this thoughtful version of her sister. "It's really no trouble." she promised.
"Nah, you should stay here with Clarke. Come on kid, get your crap together."
"Anya, language." Clarke eyeballed her.
"Sorry," she sighed. "Get your stuff together."
Anya limped fast with her cane thudding the station floor as they got off the stop before Glendale Avenue. Anya almost forgot the kid on the tube, probably would have too if it wasn't for the phone buzzing in her pocket from a worried Lexa every five seconds.
"Can I hold your hand?"
"No." Anya mumbled gruffly and sighed.
Polly didn't ask again, content enough just to be riding around the city beside her hero. Anya wasn't good at people, Polly didn't mind though, she seemed more honest than all the other adults she met and maybe that wasn't a terrible thing.
She stayed as close to her as possible, following her through turnstiles and hopping along at the side of her dragging figure. For a woman with one working leg, she was fast.
"Sidney Street, right?"
"Yeah." Polly nodded and tucked her hands into her pockets as they stepped outside of the station into the bitter chill that nipped at them.
The walk was short and quiet. Anya spent the entire journey huffing at herself for being such a pushover, the feeling subsided as they turned into the project where Polly stayed. It made her freeze and pull herself out of her own thoughts, the road looked so much like the one her and Lexa grew up on before protective services took them. Pitbulls locked up in yards, burned out cars, busted street lamps.
"Is this your building?" Anya asked quietly as they opened the gate to a project block.
"I'll wait here whilst you go inside."
"No, that's okay." Polly brushed it off quickly, "Thanks for walking me home."
Anya was going to leave, she wanted to and knew that she should, but something didn't sit right in her stomach. "I'm going to stand here and watch you go up to your place." Anya stood her ground, leaning on the gate post.
Polly stood there sheepishly, looking at the floor with a burning shame.
"Polly… spit it out."
"I can't get inside until my auntie comes home."
"What time will that be?" Anya bristled.
Polly shrugged, "Sometimes it's early, sometimes late, sometimes…"
"Not at all?"
Anya looked around with violence seething in the back of her throat. There were guys across the street drinking out of paper bags on their step and she so badly wanted them to say something, to try something, just so she had an excuse to hurt someone right now.
"Where do you go when she's not home?"
"I ride the subway."
"Come on." Anya blurted and held out her hand, unable to listen to more. "You're coming home with me."
"What about my auntie?"
"Fuck her." Anya growled and stomped down the street, child in hand. "We'll deal with her in the morning."
Polly squeezed her hand, liked the way it felt. Anya glanced down at her, her deep set eyes settling into a regretting look. "Don't tell Lexa you heard me curse."
"I won't." she promised.
Anya made it to the end of the block, cane thumping away, dragging her foot along, managing just fine. She paused as they turned the corner, winced quietly and rolled her foot in its socket.
"I can help?" Polly spoke up and wrapped her arm around Anya's side again.
Anya shrugged away just a bit too forcefully, her hand pushing the back of the kid's shoulder blades as she stumbled backwards from the embrace. "Sorry." she winced. "I just… I'm not good with people trying to help me, okay?"
"I get it." Polly understood these foster kid habits well.
The walk to Anya's place was short but it took a while. She stopped often, drawing a breath and wincing every street or two. Polly was patient, didn't mention or say anything about it though she was no doubt tired herself.
Anya walked up the steel steps to her apartment above the gym, Polly following behind her. She wobbled every step, limp foot threatening to catch in the metal slats, Anya soldiered on regardless.
"7pm is my training time. You can either join in or wait up here and watch cartoons or something." Anya breathed and opened the door, grabbing the mail as she did.
Polly looked around, her apartment was cool. Around the TV there were pictures of her and Lexa in their heyday, photos of her holding the inaugural belt for the women's division. On the coffee table a cat slept with twitching swishes of her tale.
"Don't mind her, she's a deaf old lady, been with me since I was twelve." Anya shook her head and pulled two glasses from her kitchen cupboard. "Water?"
"What's her name?"
Polly laughed at that and waited for Anya to give in and tell her the cat's real name. "Seriously?" she said after a moment, stepping forward to pet her black fur.
"Snagglepuss the cat. Why, is that a problem?" Anya said a bit too defensively for her old lady.
"Nope, I like it." Polly didn't even bother to turn around, tickling the old cat behind her silvering ears.
"Are you coming downstairs to train or what Kiddo?"
"Wait, you really meant it?" Polly's eyes lit up.
Anya furrowed and wrinkled her nose in confusion.
"I can really train with you?" she whispered, awestruck.
"So long as you can keep up." Anya watched Polly practically touch the ceiling she jumped with such joy. It warmed whatever was left of her heart though she'd never admit that. "I've got some old kit samples that should fit you." she brushed it aside and set off to her bedroom.
"What?" she stopped down the hallway and peered over her shoulder.
"Thanks." she blinked away watery eyes and clutched her hands to her chest. "When everyone started supporting Lexa you were still always my favourite, even when I told you earlier that you weren't, I was lying."
She felt her mouth tighten at that and her throat burn. "Come here." she breathed, looking off the ceiling to wipe her eye discretely. Hugging didn't come naturally to Anya, she just wasn't built for it, was the reason most of her exes left in the end too. But for Polly she made an exception and briefly wrapped her arm around her.
"I bet I could beat you in a fight though." Polly quickly added, raising her chin bravely.
"Don't get ahead of yourself."
Did you take her home?
About that Lexa...
What did you do?
She's sleeping in your old room tonight, I'll call you in the morning and explain everything.
Took her back to the aunt's place and no one was home. She said sometimes she doesn't come back till late or come home period. Couldn't just leave here there, I'll call protective services tomorrow.
Do you want me to come get her?
Nah it's fine. We just finished running drills and now she's glued to my old fight tapes. The kid eats like a fucking beast, is that normal? Did you feed her?
Who are you and what did you do with my sister?
Shut up. I can be nice.
Okay well as enthralling as this conversation is, I'm about to miss the part where I knock Julie Kedzie on her ass in the second so I'll call you tomorrow.
BTW, I gave it some thought and if you want to enter Warrior Night, I'll train you.
WHERE THE HELL DID THAT JUST COME FROM?!
Just… shut up and think it over. If you want the fight I'll have your back and if you don't want the fight I'll have your back still. She said something earlier about being a rolemodel for kids in bad situations and I don't know, it pulled at my heartstrings okay?
Okay, weird, but okay. I'll talk to Clarke and see what she thinks (unless you have three million dollars lying around?)
No but so long as you win your first four qualifiers that will put you in the top three. You could walk away with a hundred grand prize money without even having to enter the semi-finals.
For real. Talk to Clarke and let me know what you think.
Chapter 5: Chapter V
Knuckles stinging, tongue sweeping over the porcelain teeth in her mouth, ribs aching, muscles throbbing, Lexa stands beneath the cascade of hot water and washes away each reminder of her deceit like a sin. Sore and furious with herself, well and truly over the what the acceptable deadline of telling her wife these things constituted, she hung her head and melted into the steam.
Lexa snapped up and wrapped the plastic shower curtain around her body. Glaring and rolling her eyes, she caught sister stood by the bathroom door chuckling and shook her head. Anya moved and lowered herself onto the closed toilet seat, wringing her hands thoughtfully as she did so.
"You have to tell her sooner or later, the prelims are two weeks away and the press will announce your entry any day now."
"I will. Just not today." Lexa offered tersely, turning the faucet off. "Pass me a towel."
Her sister obliged and slung the towel from the radiator at the curtained shape of her. "Polly is coming by to train tonight." she mentioned, almost shrugging.
"Third time this week."
"Do you?" Lexa raised a brow and dried herself off. "I think it's great that you're looking out for her but she still has to go back to that dump every night. What happened to calling Protective Services?"
"I will." Anya sighs reluctantly. "Just not today."
"You spoke to the aunt yet?" Lexa asks, wrapping the towel around herself.
"Polly won't let me. She's too embarrassed."
"Since when did that ever stop you?"
"Don't tempt me." Anya simmered and rose from her seat. "Date night at the hospital tonight?"
"Something like that."
Anya chuckled and limped out of the bathroom, wrapping her long blonde hair into a messy bun ready for training. "You should think about telling her sooner rather than later, Lex." Anya hollered over her shoulder, slipping away down the hall.
Lexa rolled her eyes into the obviousness of it, catching a glimpse of her guilty expression in the mirror as she climbed out of the shower. "Don't you start too." she muttered at her reflection and sighed.
The urge to tell Clarke came suddenly and without warning, it came in the moments her wife fell asleep in the hollows of her body, or the seconds of silence between the end of a commercial and the start of another, the threat of five rounds always ready to burst out of her chest and ruin her wife's life on any given wonderful mundane moment.
She righted herself as she got ready for the hospital, recited and practiced excuses for the tiny grappling bruises that marred the skin around her arms and wrists whilst she fixed her shirt. Next was the graze on her elbow, pink and tender, definitely earned slipping on the ice, definitely.
She made these little excuses up until eventually she was dressed and hidden beneath her long caramel coloured coat and a wool scarf that wrapped so high around her head it nearly touched her bun.
The trip to the hospital was spent curled over her phone, furiously refreshing the news page for the millisecond of comfort it brought knowing news hadn't yet broke. She was safe for another two minutes, breathing and steadying her nerves, she'd make it another twenty metres before the urge to refresh the webpage came-over her again, and so she walked downtown refresh-by-refresh, with fingers crossed that nobody would recognise her today.
The minute in the elevator was spent righting herself in preparation of the hardest part. No matter how much she wanted to, no matter how well intended it may be, tonight was not the night to tell Clarke anything other than how beautiful she looked. Thursday was date night, and Clarke deserved date night, she deserved to be at home picking out color palettes for the baby's bedroom and fussing over tiny little pink outfits but unfortunately she was stuck here, and Lexa was left with the fun stuff, and so date night was the least she could do for her.
Unfortunately, Friday was chocolate pudding day, and the weekend was for Desperate Housewives marathons, and Monday was for sneaking outside to sit on the bench for lunch so she could feel sunlight on her skin, and then there was no point in telling her Tuesday or Wednesday because that meant ruining her entire week.
Lexa was well and truly fucked.
The nurses were congregating outside of Clarke's door when the elevator doors opened. It sent Lexa into the gut-churning sprint that seemed to exist outside of the passage of time, she moved and the world didn't, abstract and simple as that was, her feet pounded the linoleum and for a split second the universe was nothing more than ripples of those footsteps and tiny whispered threats of the sight they would find when they finally stopped.
"Why are you out of breath?" Clarke eyeballed as she practically flew into the door frame.
Lexa rolled her eyes, exhausted by the need for constant urgency and relieved that this time it was unnecessary. Clarke was there and definitely in one piece, legs crossed over one another with an old photo album in her lap of Lexa's childhood photos, or at least the ones that were recoverable, how long had she been showing everyone her baby photos?
"You were a cute kid." one of the nurses softly nudged her side.
Apparently too long.
Clarke chuckled at the comment and flicked the next page, "How adorable would it be if she had your hair?" she pouted and lifted the picture of a wild little Lexa getting bathed in a mop bucket, earning a chorus of coos from the nurses behind her.
"Gene splicing is way above my paygrade so let's just hope she has all of your features and Donor 19321As mind for mathematics like we paid for."
Clarke rolled her eyes and closed the book. "She's in a bad mood." she whispered to the nurses.
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here."
"We'll do this again tomorrow." she winked at the nurses above the sound of her brooding wife, and they disappeared down the hallway after a handful of fleeting goodbyes and see you laters.
Lexa stood there awkwardly, scratching her head and watching her wife. Clarke set the photo album down, folding her arms over that precious bump that became the axis of their earth and she felt herself get a tiny bit jealous watching.
It was almost dusk but not quite, instead, they were trapped in that awkward hour of the day when the sun settled low enough to stare at them through the window, blinding and voyeuristic in ways that irritated Lexa.
"What do you think of Bella?"
"I thought we already picked that name?"
"I know but that was yesterday, how do you feel about it today?"
"It's as good as it was yesterday." Lexa shrugged and smiled. "Still feels right on my tongue."
"I feel like something's wrong." Clarke complained with a sigh and looked up at her wife. "Are you sure you're happy with Bella? Don't say that you are just to make me happy if you don't like the name."
At that Lexa started to roll her eyes, "Clarke—"
"I'm being serious." Clarke crossed her arms over her belly and eyeballed her. "Because you don't get to call her Bella and then give her another name afterwards."
"Why would I even—"
"Your real name is Alessandra." Clarke reminded her.
"Well I didn't name myself, did I?" Lexa rolled her eyes.
"Whatever you say Sandra."
"Sorry, it never gets old." she bit a smirk and chuckled, "So we're in agreement, it's Bella?"
"I see you've made friends with the nurses?" Lexa nodded over her shoulder.
"Oh yeah," Clarke broke into a little smile, "The girls are great. Most of them have kids too so we show each other pictures and it helps pass the day away. Do you want to keep making small talk or do you want to lock that door and check out this big financial audit situation I've got going on." she parted her thighs just slightly. "Small talk is fine too though?" she raised her brow, already knowing which one it would be. Lexa slammed and locked the door so fast it was nearly world record worthy. "That's what I thought." Clarke smirked.
How did Clarke always unhinge her like that? Lexa would never know. Then again maybe she wasn't supposed to, maybe that was one of the mysterious little joys of marriage like pulling a rabbit out of a hat or picking the right card. Quickly, she clambered on top of the bed and settled beside her with a tiny smirk.
Clarke cupped her cheeks, grinning and too alive for this place. She placed a kiss to her jawline first, and then one to her nose, and then their lips finally met and the gauntlet was so far from Lexa's mind maybe the worrying was for nothing after all.
"Have you kept a record of all your invoices?" Lexa whispered, slipping a hand up the inside of her thigh until the breath against her lips grew ragged.
"Mmhm," Clarke bit her smile and slipped her leg over the cathedral of Lexa's hip, ignoring the quiet hum of the hospital outside.
Between the bit of skin that connected her calf and thigh, the very armpit of her knee, Lexa's fingers slipped around and held the skin there, keeping her pregnant wife's thigh trapped over the side of her hip. "Do we always have to talk like this?" she chuckled and pressed her nose into her cheek.
"I think your job is sexy."
"I'm the only woman in the world who's been married to the uncontested bantamweight champion of the world and the best auditing officer in all of New York and trust me, you are far sexier."
"There's an active Facebook fan group that disagrees with you."
"Fuck the fan group." Clarke growled playfully and brushed the tip of her nose against her own, taking her cheeks in her hands. "You know I'm your number one, right?"
"There's a girl in Brazil with my name tattooed on her ass—"
"There's a girl in this hospital bed with your baby in her belly."
"Yeah, you got her beat." Lexa smirked, wrapping her arms around her. "Were those days really so bad though?" she sighed, guiltily.
"No, are you kidding me?! Those days were the best." Clarke chuckled in the thickness of those memories. "Do you remember when we visited a different country for the first time?"
"For the XL fight in Melbourne? God yes." Lexa groaned in satisfaction of the past and rolled towards her wife. "That hotel did the best hot wings."
"I was a walking sunburn for four days, you had to cover me in lotion every night." Clarke rolled on her back, her whole body caving with laughter.
"I really wasn't complaining." Lexa joined in too.
Stretching the tight muscles in her back, flexing the ache in her thighs, Lexa felt nothing but guilt for her deceit beneath her own laughter. Was it really such a terrible lie? she swallowed the thought away.
"When you were nineteen you finished fights so fast I never thought you could even get hurt." Clarke cleared her throat, sighing and staring at the ceiling. "But then you got older, and the fights started going into the second and third, and then one day I found myself watching them stuff gauze in your mouth where your teeth used to be, and the lifestyle and money just didn't matter anymore."
"I always won." Lexa rolled her head to the side and searched her eyes, reminding her of these things gently. "I had so many wins left."
Clarke sighed and cupped her cheek again, "But it wasn't the girls you fought who were losing, it was me. Every time I watched you walk in that cage and wondered whether you would walk back out again, it was me who lost."
"Would you really have left me if I didn't quit?" Lexa quietly remembered the ultimatum.
It had came some time after the accident when Anya was first out of the hospital. The nights were spent restlessly half in bed and half by the phone, or jogging to Anya's apartment to deal with the aftermath of her last fight. Sore and tired, Lexa had crept back inside after sunrise to find her sat with her cases packed by the sofa. It was either the cage or them.
Lexa chose them, and Clarke allowed her one last fight, and that was that.
"No, I couldn't have done that to you." Clarke whispered thoughtfully and pressed her cheek into the space beneath Lexa's collarbone. "I guess we don't have to linger on those things. It was a good life when we were young, but then we grew up, didn't we?"
"Yeah… we did." Lexa lied.
She felt Clarke stiffen into the realisation that something wasn't right. Slowly, she sat up and peered at her curiously, licking her lips as she did. "Lexa, Why are you doing the thing?"
"The thing you do when there's something you're not telling me."
"I'm not doing anything!" Lexa exasperated and lied.
Kicking the pile of blankets off her legs, rolling her hips until her feet were on the ground and Lexa was scrambling off the mattress to guide her back to bed, Clarke began the waddling search for her phone.
"What are you doing?"
Clarke dug through her purse relentlessly, "Figuring out what's going on." she hummed over her shoulder.
"I'm not doing anything!" Lexa repeated, pinching the top of her brow. "Would you please just stop and get in bed?"
"Swear on your daughter's life there's nothing wrong?"
Lexa blinked and swallowed, cursing internally as she melted beneath the stare of her tiny pregnant wife. How did she always do this? How did she always know what buttons to press?
"I knew it!" Clarke growled and knitted her brow together. "Did you think I wouldn't find out? Did you think you could just tell me on the day?"
"I'm sorry." Lexa clenched her eyes and her throat was tight, "I just… you don't need the stress right now and it's my job to do whatever it takes to take care of you all."
"You should have told me." Clarke shook her head and paced backwards and forwards. All Lexa could was guiltily watch her move. "You think I don't know things and then you walk in here with it written all over your face—"
"That I'm entering the gauntlet?"
"—That Bella isn't your first name pick. Wait." she blinked into the information, "What did you just say?" Clarke heaved for a breath.
The blood rushed to her head. Did she just? Wait, what? Was this happening? Lexa sat down and covered her mouth, staring at her wife's hung jaw and the devastation that melted into her expression with each passing moment of realisation.
"I have to take care of you guys." Lexa tried quietly, clawing her aching throat with her fingers. "Can you understand that?"
The tears started to come. Lexa stood and helplessly moved closer to try and hold her. "Don't you dare!" Clarke snapped and pushed her away, wiping her own tears like they were little droplets of shame. "I need you to leave."
"Get out! I mean it!" Clarke ached into her tears and wrapped her arms around her chest. "I love you and we will figure this out but right now you need to go and give me space because I need to scream and shout and I don't want to do that around you right now."
Lexa bit her mouth and nodded, it was moments like this that made it worse. Moments where she broke Clarke's heart but Clarke still held on to enough of herself to remind the part of her that was forever a foster kid that everything would be okay and she wouldn't be left alone again.
"I love you." Lexa hung her head, "It might not be the right call but it's the only way we're going to pay these medical bills and send her to college one day."
Clarke paused, turning to peer out of the window into the beating heart of the last rays of sunlight, anything so that she didn't have to look her in the eyes right now. "I love you too." she nodded, wiping her nose. "But you need to go."
Chapter 6: Chapter VI
“I can’t do it faster.”
“Try harder, and do it faster.”
“I’m trying!” Lexa gawked and rolled her eyes, stilling the speedball with two hands. “What? Do you want me to break the sound barrier?” she glared over her shoulder.
Polly sat on the edge of the ring and kicked her feet softly, almost disinterested, licking long drips from an ice cream cone with just a smidge of the white stickiness on the button of her nose. “Anya said I’m in charge whilst she picks Raven up from the airport.” she pouted.
“Faster.” Polly said it again and nudged her head towards the ball, “Or do you want to run laps instead?” she dared Lexa.
Chewing and muttering under her breath, Lexa turned back to the ball and did as she was told. Three weeks out from her first fight, she could use all the help she could get. Though, any help concerning the problem of her radio-silent wife would be far more welcome. She was stuck in those thoughts as her hands pummelled the leather, and it was those thoughts that made her stronger and faster, her hands the only part of her capable of threshing out that frustration and turning it into something external. In this case, a speed ball vibrating against the backboard so fast that both her hands became a blur — it was barely enough, but it was something tangible, a tiny way of exerting her frustrations over the whole damn thing.
And it was frustrating, the fact that Clarke was always so much more, and ironically, proficient at fighting than she ever was. She could draw fights out for days if she felt like it, turn them over and spin them around until both of them thought they were fighting over new and mundanely small things when in actual fact they were pussy-footing around the real issue. In her head, Lexa counted six losing fights this last week as she pummelled the leather, there was the wrong shade of pearl she painted the baby’s bedroom, the caffeinated mocha from Starbucks that she knew was decaf because she watched the barista prepare it — but kept her mouth shut anyway, then, the patchy wi-fi in the hospital that was her fault too, the wrong laundry brought back from home, her phone buzzing during Judge Judy time, and finally, a vanilla yoghurt brought from home the day beforeits use-by date. Apparently Lexa was trying to kill her with that one.
“Clarke must still be really angry with you.”
“Kid, dont.” Lexa warned over her shoulder with a raised brow. “You shouldn’t listen when the grown ups talk.”
Polly hummed and nodded, tucking thick curly ropes of hair behind her ear with her brow furrowed in thought. “Maybe she’d feel better if we took her some videos of you training, that way she’d see how good you are still and she wouldn’t be scared—”
“Kid!” Lexa snapped, exasperated in the knowledge that all of this did stem from something that was very much her fault, Clarke was terrified and she was to blame for her fear. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t shout…” she measured her voice and pulled the velcro off with her teeth. “Grown up stuff isn’t easy. Clarke isn’t easy… but one day you’ll love someone and you’ll understand.”
“I love you guys.” Polly said it so innocently with a puzzled look, as if it was the most instinctive answer she could give, and set her pens and paper down. “And Anya especially… except for when she makes me eat vegetables.”
“She makes you eat vegetables now?” Lexa raised a brow.
“Last night.” Polly specified with a little eye roll, “Carrots, broccoli too. It was gross, like, really bad.”
“Well see now I know she loves you.”
Lexa chuckled and smiled, shaking her head. “One day when you’re older… you’ll understand.”
The gym was empty save for the two of them, it was that awkward hour of the day when she snuck from work early with excuses about external meetings and came to the gym before the evening classes started. Polly was always here during those hours now, school bag haphazardly thrown by the turnbuckles and homework sprawled out on the mat as if this was her home. The sight always left Lexa smiling, and then guilty for smiling, because Polly had a home, albeit not a good one, but a home she should be living at nonetheless.
“Quit staring at me like that!” Polly crossed her arms and challenged her, and Lexa was suddenly aware she’d been gawking at the girl for more than a few seconds.
“I can’t help that you’re so cute!” Lexa whined with a high-pitched voice and stepped forward, pinching her dark freckled cheeks between two fingers and pouting until Polly was rolling her eyes and slapping her hands away.
“Nope, I’m not cute. I’m the boss.” Polly pointed her finger and talked like a girl much older than her age.
“Fine,” Lexa sighed and frowned. “What’s next boss?”
“Look. Here.” Polly raised a sheet of paper covered in her scribbly colourful writing. “I did the math and you only did thirty hours of training this week, that isn’t enough! Felicity DeVoe trains all day, every day, and she doesn’t cut corners like you-”
“Watch it.” Lexa raised a brow and caught herself loving this, being stern and matriarchal like she was training for the future. Nonetheless she took the paper out of her hand and though the math was off… Polly wasn’t that far off. “Felicity DeVoe has five straight losses, trust me, she won’t be a problem.”
“Did Anya say that when she got in the cage with Octav-”
“So help me God!” Lexa pinched her brow and willed herself to find the strength.
Thankfully, she didn’t need to because Anya was quick on his heels, already lurking by the front door and gleefully watching her pet-child annihilate Lexa’s patience bit by bit. Her cain thudded across the acrylic, she dumped it near the floormat and dragged herself over the rubber without any support, suddenly stern-faced and angry and Lexa couldn’t work out who had earned it this time.
“Where’s Raven?” Lexa tried to change the subject.
Polly’s right.” Anya said quietly, rubbing her neck. “Coming off the back of five straight losses with Lexa Woods as her first opponent… do you think DeVoe is not going to come at you with everything she has and then some?”
“I’m still the best in the world.” Lexa said too defensively, too proud of the fact.
“No.” Anya shook her head and smiled, “You were, and then you quit. And the girls carried on training, getting better, getting faster. And the sport you left two years ago… it isn’t the same one you’re coming back to now.”
“Get to the point.” Lexa furrowed and knew what was coming.
“You need to quit your job.” Anya crossed her arms, “If you’re serious about winning — there can be no distractions.”
“And what the fuck do I tell Clarke?!”
“That’s your problem, not mine.” she shrugged. “If you’re the best in the world like you say you are... act like it.”
The silence between them in the hospital room is so plentiful Lexa doesn’t even begin to know what to do with it. It’s intimidating, terrifying even, and all she can do proficiently is simmer in her thoughts and leave the silence be. The television whirred away, she guessed that counted for something. It didn’t really though, neither of them were particularly interested in the local news — and Lexa wanted more than anything to reach over the blankets for the remote and switch it off, well aware that, sooner or later, another fluff piece on her return to the sport would air and she would have no choice but to let Clarke spend another week furiously finding unimportant things to reap into monstrous problems.
“Don’t.” Clarke slapped her hand away as she leaned for the remote.
“Talk.” Clarke sighed and pretended, terribly, to be interested in the ribbon cutting party at the new local library on the tiny fuzzy screen on the drawers.
Lexa opened her mouth and then thought better of it. Groggy and tired and suffering with their daughter, Clarke was doing the best she could. Lexa knew that, and maybe the best thing she could do too was just keep her mouth shut for five minutes and give her some peace and quiet. She closed her mouth and sighed, fixing on the library instead.
“You really wasn’t going to tell me, were you?” Clarke quietly snapped.
“What?!” Lexa exasperated, swallowing roughly, her throat not wanting to disrupt the soreness of her workout. “You just told me not to talk!”
“Your boss called me.”
“Mmhm.” Clarke seethed like the eye of a hurricane, blinking and tensing her jaw. A hand wrapped up into her mouth, thumb between her teeth whilst she settled the brewing storm in the chimney of her windpipe. Lexa watched on helplessly. “She wanted to know if she should mail your 401K forms or were you planning on going back to the office to pick them up with your stuff.”
“Fucking Linda!” Lexa growled and cupped her face. “Please.” she muttered and rubbed her temples, aware of how bad this looked, aware of how bad it really was. “I called her this afternoon. It hasn’t even been a day… I swear I was going to talk to you…”
“After you already quit your job!” Clarke snarled and gave up trying not to.
“We are in this now.” Lexa said softly and inched closer off the chair. “There can be no distractions. Come on, Clarke, you remember how training camp used to be-”
“Don’t you dare!” the words rushed out of her lungs and Lexa watched her ache and suffer. “Do you know what I remember Lexa? I remember running through hallways to get to you after that fight,” the start of tears make her pause, “they were shoving towels in your mouth to stop the bleeding and it wasn’t enough. There was puddles of it on the floor. Puddles. And the people around you? The doctors? The coaches? They didn’t care! You didn’t care! Because it could have been worse and it was all part and parcel of the fucking job!”
Calm out of necessity, dying beneath the reserved, Lexa sucked in air and blinked away tears and grinded her jaw slowly until the burning in her throat dissipated. “I cared.” she hung her head and said it almost too quietly to be heard.
“Yeah,” Clarke looked away and snorted in disbelief, “only after I lost a baby that night.”
Lexa’s knees jerk at that, “Please-”
“Don’t bring it up?” Clarke glared. “Don’t bring up the fact that we lost a pregnancy? That we grieved and cried and promised each other we’d try again? Or, that Anya pretty much lost a leg? How many things do we have to lose because of the fighting? If you didn’t find Anya when you did we would have buried her-”
“Don’t you dare!” Lexa warned with a stern brow and gagged on the memory of her sister sprawled on the bathroom floor, the empty pill bottles rolling around, blue lips refusing to draw a breath, hauling her over the toilet with fingers jammed down the back of her throat, screaming, begging, pleading for someone to call an ambulance because she couldn’t lose her. Not her sister. It makes the vomit build up into her windpipe and her nostrils flare for breath. “Don’t ever mention that again.” Lexa warns her wife, barely gets the words out too, but she means every single one of them.
“I would rather be in debt and live in a garbage can for the rest of my life than lose you… do you not fucking get that?”
“No.” Lexa shook her head and looked up with guilty, earnest eyes. “Because I go home to an empty apartment, to an empty bed, and you’re here in hospital and there is nothing I can do to fix the fact you have preeclampsia, or that I could get a phone call any moment telling me you’re dead.” she snapped her fingers, “Just like that. But what I can do? What I’m good at? I can climb in that ring and give it my all and maybe, just maybe, take care of you both for the rest of my life. I can do that.”
“I’m not asking for that.”
Lexa swallowed, “I’m telling you that’s how it’s going to be.” she rose from the chair and clambered on the bed. “Because I love you and it’s my job.”
Clarke pushed her away, right in the breadbasket of her chest, growling and muttering for her to get off and leave her alone and other tiny things she didn’t mean. It was a losing fight, one of only a handful, and eventually she threw in the towel and allowed herself to fall apart in Lexa’s arms.
“It’s okay, it’s alright.” Lexa crooned and pulled her into the cathedral of her chest, holding her right there until she stopped wrangling and fighting. “It’s alright.” she hushed and closed her own eyes into the sound of Clarke’s muffled sobs against her shoulder. “I know. I know baby. Let it out.”
“I can’t be a burden around your neck. I can’t be the thing you would risk your life for.”
“You always were and you always will be.” Lexa smoothed fingertips down the ridges of her spine and felt guilty for enjoying the simple pleasure of her wife tucked into her body again. “No more hiding or going home to empty apartments, you’re my wife and I’m staying here with you. And you can hate me, and hate this situation, and hate the whole world; but I am coming home, here, to you every night until that baby is in our arms and we can breathe again.”
“The nurses will kick you out.” Clarke gave a tiny laugh between her sobs.
“Let them try.” Lexa whispered and kissed her wife’s forehead, “I’ve been working out a lot lately.”
Chapter 7: Chapter VII
There’s a moment each day that’s indescribable, always between three and four, Monday to Friday, five days a week. Anya grew accustom to it quickly, the sound of nimble feet making quick work of the staircase outside. Three knocks always followed, eager and precise against the door.
Like a leading lady Anya played her role well. Rolling her eyes, mumbling inconveniences to Raven’s nearby ear, she feigned it brilliantly. But then she would open the door and for a single indescribable moment, the facade was broken and she couldn’t help but smile, and today was no different.
“Can I come in?” Polly puffed out of breath from the brisk jog.
“Mmm,” Anya sighed and tossed a playful look over her shoulder to Raven. “What do you think?”
“We need our head coach, get her in here!” Raven yelled back from the kitchen island, juggling dinner and Lexa’s warm up plan in tandem.
“You heard the lady.” Anya lifted her arm and nodded her head, allowing Polly to pass around her into the heart of the small apartment.
“Hey Ray!” Polly chucked her backpack on the sofa and ran over for a high five.
The backpack was new and courtesy of Anya, though it was nothing really. Just sponsor merchandise sent over to them by the promotion after the prelim media day. She couldn’t have the kid running around her gym in beat up sneakers and ripped clothes anymore — people would ask questions.
“Loving the tracksuit Lil’ P.” Raven brushed the dust off her shoulder.
“Can you believe they sent this for Anya? It's way too small!”
At that Raven looked at Anya with a knowing glance, and all Anya could do was roll her eyes and stay quiet over the chopping board she was tasked with. The jet-black tracksuit wasn’t part of the free merchandise but she could hardly have the kid running around in pants so outgrown they hung around her ankles. People, questions, that was the only reason why.
“Can I stay here tonight Anya?” Polly glanced up at her with those impossible to refuse brown eyes.
She wanted to say no, if only to prove that she was still capable. It was way far past that now though and it felt ridiculous that Polly still felt the need to ask. After all, Anya bought the Ronda Rousey bedsheets for the comforter in what was once the spare bedroom. Anya hated Ronda Rousey but Polly wanted them and they were practically free with the Reebok discount… so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
She gave up asking if Polly called home to double-check it was okay. Polly would say yes. She would ask again. Polly would continue to lie. And Anya would let it slide. The whole thing quickly grew tiresome.
“Fine,” Anya mumbled and cut the carrots, “but you’re running drills with Lexa tomorrow. I want her on her feet all morning, no breaks, no time outs, you gotta keep her busy.”
“Duh!” Polly rolled her eyes, she was well aware of her job by now.
It was a week out to the first night. It would comprise of three fights, and if Lexa won her draws, she would go on to the semifinals the following Saturday, the finals on the Sunday after. By the beginning of next month they could be millionaires.
Anya smiled at the thought, well aware the first thing she would do is burn those Ronda Rousey bedsheets and buy the Holly Holm ones instead. She was a sucker for a good underdog after all. The boring stuff would be taken care of too, the bailing out her credit line, the paying off the electric bill, all the necessary stuff to keep the gym doors open. Holly Holm bed linen would be first on the agenda though.
“So how come you guys don’t love each other anymore again?” Polly asked quite casually and chewed on the raw carrot.
“Kid!” Anya pinched her brow.
Raven chuckled, unphased and unbothered by the constant lack of filter. Really, it was beyond irritating. The way she was always so calm, always so prepared for everything. Then again she was always like that, right from the very beginning when she took over her training programme from the Mom & Pop gym around the corner when Anya first signed the big league.
“Have you met her?” Raven grinned and threw a dish rag at the scowling mumbling figure hunched over her carrots. “I’ll tell you a little secret, it goes something like this…” she bent forward a little and whispered still loud enough to hear behind the cupped hand. “For how tough she pretends to be, for how much she pretends not to be bothered, she’s got a heart bigger than Times Square.”
“So she still loves you?” Polly leaned against the counter and chewed away.
Anya found herself laughing at that too and for once it wasn’t the bite or quip of a sarcastic laugh, it was pure. Still, she just stood there and cut the carrots like she was supposed too, surrounded by girls she shouldn’t love but somehow, maybe, sorta, does.
Dark and quiet with the day now done, the evening cooled into inactivity. Anya had already cleaned and closed down the gym, double checked the locked door, and then once again after that just to be safe. Then she hobbled upstairs to the shower and left the gaggle of girls hunched round the sofa watching old fight promotions. Lexa’s laugh carried through the apartment while she washed her hair, it was enough to make Anya crack a smile too.
She wasn't particularly used to having people around all the time, it was exhausting, and on her worst days it tested her patience to the point where she found herself sat in a cold corner of the gym for twenty minutes worth of peace and quiet. But today it wasn’t bad. Raven was here, the kid too and Lexa also made a nice addition. It felt so much like the old days, when her and Raven and Lexa and Clarke travelled the world and made themselves into a small family unit. Then the fight with Octavia came and there was no more family unit after that. Well, there was, but it was just never the same without Raven.
Then again, much like everything else, that was Anya’s fault too.
Anya took her time rinsing the suds out of her hair, she could hear the explosion of laughter from the living room. It was a raucous sound that spilled through the veins of the apartment, the noise of Polly’s giggles and Raven’s sniggers and Lexa’s wolfish sounding laugh. It was all temporary, she reminded herself, eager not to grow to accustomed. It made her heart ache forcing that truth down her throat but she did it anyway. Maybe then it would hurt a little less when it all came to pass.
By the time she sat on the toilet and dried her hair with the towel, simultaneously rolling her seizing ankle round the joint, she was ready and righted once more. Sighing and hunched with the towel in her hands, Anya sat quietly beneath the whir of the bathroom fan. Maybe it was Raven being here that got her thoughtful like this, she considered it. Ex-girlfriends have a habit of bringing bad memories with them, but with Raven, it was worse. She brought good ones. The best ones. Ones that reminded Anya of how good she really did have it.
It would be easier if she wasn’t here, but Lexa needed the best if she was going to be the best and Raven was as good a nutritionist as it got. Still, Anya couldn’t help but wonder if it would really be so terrible if Raven had just done the reasonable thing and deleted the single email that was sent her way. Instead, impossibly and frustratingly Raven as she always was, she boarded a flight to New York two days and later and here they all were.
“Anya?” Lexa’s voice slipped through the bathroom door.
“Coming.” She replied and wrapped the towel around her sinewed body. “Just, give me one sec.” The bag of painkillers on the counter were urgently hidden inside the sink cupboard, right behind the u-bend drain where no one would find them.
Maybe that had something to do with all of this too, though she pushed that thought aside. Anya didn’t have a drug problem. A drug problem insinuated that her relationship with the little blue pills that offered her the brief warm fuzziness instead of the doldrum of constant pain somehow affected her for the worse. It didn’t. It made things tolerable. It made the pain tolerable and for that they could claw her prescriptions from her cold dead hands.
“Anya come on open up!” the knocks on the wood came again.
Anya swung the door open and the steam billowed out around her. “What?” she huffed at her sister.
“I’m leaving now, you’ve been in here for like two hours I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” Lexa said softly.
Two hours? It felt like twenty minutes. Anya blinked the haziness away and nodded, “Sorry.” she cleared her throat. “Leg was acting up. I took a hot bath.”
“I can see that.” Lexa murmured in disapproval, appraising her blown out pupils and the sauna-like bathroom behind her.
“Don’t do that.” Anya’s face twisted in expression.
“What?” Lexa snapped. “Worry that my sister’s a junkie?” she brought her voice down to a whisper, looking over her shoulder for tiny listening ears. “I am done with picking you up off of bathroom floors, do you understand me Anya?”
At that Anya rolled her eyes and cocked a surely look at her little sister. The brief warm fuzziness was nice while it lasted, but now here they were, and she was as riled and bad-tempered as she always felt. It was the indignation in Lexa’s face that sobered her, that curled top lip and steely cool stare she did when she was so much better than everybody else.
“You stand there and act like I’m not the first person who picks you up when you fall down.”
“Okay, Anya.” Lexa bit and rolled her head in frustration. “I get it. Dad hit you. You were old enough to remember when we were taken away. You remember the shitty foster families. You protected me. The list goes on and fucking on. But when are you going to grow up and stop acting like a feral cat?” Lexa grabbed her damp shoulders and growled. “I have got a baby coming in two months time. My wife is in the hospital and I don’t know how I’m supposed to tell her that the lights are off at our place because, oh yeah, I quit my fucking job. I have got everything riding on Warrior Night and if you don’t get your shit together? So help me god I’m going to lock you in the car trunk until you’re fucking clean. Do you hear me?” Lexa snarled and squeezed her slack jaw. “Is what I’m saying right now reaching through your thick fucking skull, Anya?”
“I hear.” Anya muttered angrily through the iron grip around her jaw.
“Good.” Lexa snatched her hand away and straightened herself.
It was the coughing that let them know they weren’t alone. Both of their eyes snapped around at the same time to find Raven leaning against the wall a few feet away, a bowl of popcorn in hand and the TV remote in the other.
“Oh, Raven,” Lexa swallowed and stood straighter. “We were just—”
“Talking about how Anya is high right now? Yeah, I overheard.” Raven clarified and chucked a handful of popcorn in her mouth. “So,” she spoke and chewed, “what are you taking? Benzos? Klonopin? Oooh! Oxycodone? Now that. That is a fun one.” Her eyes grew wide as the popcorn bulged inside her cheek.
“Look I’ll take Polly with me to the hospital, you can babysit this one.” Lexa shrugged towards her sister with a sigh and rubbed her neck.
“Do you mind not talking about me as if I’m not here?” Anya shoved her and wrapped the towel tighter around her body, limping through the bathroom door towards her bedroom.
Raven softly smiled and remained unphased, “It’s fine, honestly. I can take care of them both, you should go and be with Clarke right now.”
“Seriously, stop fucking talking about me as if I’m not standing right here!”
“Lower your voice Anna Nicole Smith before Polly hears.” Raven leaned in to Anya. “Go and get dressed, now.”
For once in her life, Anya does as she’s told without much argument. She mumbled and sighed, reminded herself why this was the precise reason that she didn’t have guest. But still Anya trudged to the bedroom and slumped on the bed, inching herself up the mattress towards the cushy inviting pillow that had her name written all over it.
She could hear them talking outside, barely. Something about a drug problem. Something about searching the apartment for a stash. Good luck to them, she smiled to herself. Between the loose tile in the bathroom and the fake back in the seasoning cupboard and the soap compartment on the dishwasher that’s never used, she could hide Anne Frank and her typewriter in this apartment without anyone catching wind.
She felt tired. It was that kind of tired that rendered her whole body useless and her speech slurred. Blinking and desperate to ward away sleep, Anya eventually failed at her single task after just a few minutes and passed out completely.
“Where’s Anya?” Polly yawned and tried to seem wide-eyed.
It was late, really late. All Raven could do was keep her busy with old tapes and junk food the kid really shouldn’t be eating and hope Anya would wake up sooner rather than later. She could hear her snoring through the door and that was reason enough not too enter. She knew Anya better than anyone, knew when she needed help and when she needed to be left alone. Tonight was one of those nights that were probably better not to find out which in front of the watchful eyes of a child.
“Just sleeping,” Raven smiled and softly flicked the end of Polly’s wrinkled yawning nose. “You wanna go get some shut eye? You’ve got an early start tomorrow.”
“Nah, not yet. I’m super awake.” She lied.
Raven couldn’t help but smile at the kid. She was so much like Anya. Sure, they both had a similar skin tone and those similar cat-like eyes, freckles too, even similar-enough long bushy hair. But It was the personality more than anything that did it, the constant good mood and ability to play-down the truth purely for the sake of maintaining her own hand. Well, Anya used to be a lot better at that before the accident.
The truth of it was that the evening ritual consisted of Anya telling her to go to bed, Polly telling her back that she wanted to stay up, and Anya pulling her out of the seat and over her shoulder, limping down the hallway on her cane towards the spare bedroom with a large child hanging down her back. They’d stay in the bedroom for a while with the door left open enough for Raven to hear their conversations. Anya would tell her stories about the old days and Polly would lie there and eat it all up until she eventually fell asleep.
“Anya will wake up soon, right?” Polly tried to ask casually.
“You know, I think she’s not feeling so great tonight kiddo. Why don’t you go get ready for bed and I’ll tell you a story instead.” Raven wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
Polly quickly shirked away, blushing and embarrassed. That was a mistake Raven realised quickly. Polly didn’t like to be touched, apparently it was just Anya who was allowed to hug her every now and then or throw her around.
“Anya doesn’t tell me bedtime stories. Bedtime stories are for babies.” Polly sniffed.
“I know you like hearing about the old days. I know plenty of stories about that, I was there for all of it.” Raven sighed. “But, I guess after all you are too big for bedtime stories…”
“I can ask for any story and you’ll tell me?” The kid shot Raven a look.
Never has anyone in the history of the world backtracked as quickly as that child. It made Raven stifle a laugh watching her quickly get up to change into her pyjamas and brush her teeth. Once the bathroom light was switched off and the rustling sounds of clambered bedsheets came to a rest, Raven got up and footed down the hallway.
The spare room was so different now that sometimes she forgot she once lived here too. When it was her apartment, the spare bedroom was their office but now the boxy room had been repurposed for a child. There was a small stack of comics and reading books beside the bedside lamp, a book project sprawled over the desk and action figures lying around on the floor.
She made a mental note to remind Anya in the morning how weird it was that her best friend was a ten year old.
“Anya normally sits there.” Polly pointed to the end of the pull-out bed.
“Gotcha,” Raven moved to where she was instructed and flopped down with a huff.
“So, any story?” Polly lifted both brows and made a face.
“Within reason.” They both said at the same time. “Exactly, kiddo.” Raven added with a chuckle.
“Why did you break up with Anya?”
Taken aback, Raven hesitated. She smiled one moment and then frowned the next, confused and aware this wasn’t appropriate bedtime material for a ten year old.
“Ask me something else.”
“That’s all I want to know.” Polly shrugged.
“Okay, well, it’s complicated. There we go, story time finished. Sweet dreams!”
“Wait,” Polly’s hand suddenly shot out and wrapped around Raven’s wrist, stopping her from getting up off the bed. “Please Raven? I won’t tell. I promise.” She softened her big brown eyes.
Raven totally got it now. Why it was so impossible for Anya to say no to the kid. She was incredibly cute.
“I, er, I didn’t break up with Anya.” She patted Polly’s knee over the comforter. “Which is why you would have to ask her if you really want to know.” Raven lowered her voice and offered a soft sigh.
It was a cop-out answer because she knew well why things didn’t work out in the end. Just because she wasn’t the one to call it quits didn’t mean she didn’t play her part. She did. She knew that. She regretted it every day.
She tried in the beginning, she was there from the ring floor they scooped her up from to the operating theatre doors; promising the screaming girlfriend clinging to her hand that she would fix it for the entire ambulance ride. She would get her the best physiotherapist. The best surgeons. The best coaches. The best of everything. It didn’t take long for either of them to figure out it was an unkeepable promise. How do you watch the love of your life lose the only thing that got her out of bed in the morning and stay sane knowing you’re not enough to fill the void? It was a question Raven never found the answer to.
And by the time Anya bitterly told her for the countless time to just pack her things and leave already, she was too tired to keep searching.
“Do you think she left because she was hurting and she didn’t want you to hurt too?” Polly asked innocently enough. “Maybe she just said it because it made her feel better having someone stick with her even after she told them to go away. I do that sometimes.”
“Maybe.” Raven’s throat hurt thinking about it. “Grown up stuff is hard though, kid. It’s really really hard and people do their best.”
“I don’t think that’s true. Sometimes it’s hard to do our best. Sometimes we just do okay and hope okay is enough.”
“I get why Anya likes you so much.”
“Oh yeah,” Raven grinned and tried to swallow the lump that came with thinking about the past for too long. “You’re a little fudgesicle.”
“That’s kinda racist.” Polly levelled a stare.
“What? I didn’t mean.” Raven quickly recovered in front of the now laughing child. “I’m Hispanic too.” She huffed and crossed her arms.
“I’m just messing with you.” Polly smiled and settled into the pillows with a yawn. “I’m going to go sleep. Anya will probably wake up super early.” She explained and closed her eyes.
“Yeah, we’ll make her breakfast.” Raven smiled and resisted the urge to tuck her in.
“That sounds nice.”
“Get some sleep kiddo.” Raven stood and walked to the door. She flicked the lamp off as she passed.
“It’s never too late to stick around with someone. You can always just give her a hug and tell her you still like her, if you feel like it.”
“I don’t. But thank you for the advice anyway dude.” Raven chuckled and brushed it off.
[If you enjoy this story check me out HERE where you can find my other work!]
Chapter 8: Chapter VIII
Anya awoke reluctantly, it was the sound of the toilet flushing first. Then, after a moment, it was the bedroom door creaking open and another body slipping between the sheets, shuffling behind her. Convinced it was Polly, she forced herself to remain still and quiet as if she was still asleep.
It was barely dawn. She ascertained as much from the lack of light in the room. Blinking and suddenly aware of herself Anya sat up and wiped her eyes clear. It was time to kick Polly out, she’d never clambered into her bed before but it was definitely a step too far. She wasn’t about to explain to the police why there was a ten year old child of no family relation in her bed. No, that’s too much Michael Jackson for anyone.
“Come on buddy, back to your room.” Anya yawned and shoved the pile of blanket beside her.
“Wrong buddy.” Raven suddenly appeared, yawning too. “Go back to sleep, it’s alright.” She hummed and settled back down with closed eyes.
“No, this is not alright Raven!” She growled and shoved the blankets again. Raven groaned and moved. Anya rubbed the back of her neck and simmered while the unauthorised ex-girlfriend adjusted beside her. “What the hell are you doing in my bed?” She finally asked reluctantly.
“Technically it’s my bed. You kept it along with the lazy boy.”
“Yeah well you lost the right to call it your bed when you fucking packed your bags and left so you can just go ahead and do what you’re best at and leave. Right now.” Anya sneered and pointed at the door.
“You don’t remember, do you?” Raven’s eyebrows knitted.
“Last night. You don’t remember asking me to hold you, do you?”
Anya pulled back and looked her up and down. She twisted through her dreamy memories of the day before like bubblegum around the forefinger, searching through barely there stretched out strands for an iota of recollection. She couldn’t remember much. She swallowed and narrowed her eyes. “I would never say that.” She finally scoffed and clambered out of bed.
“Oh, but you did.” Raven was quick on her tail, sitting up and swinging her legs out of the bed. “I came to check on you. I brought you cereal. I made sure you weren’t dead. I didn’t even bring up the whole functioning drug addict thing, and you?” Raven turned and smiled softly, pleased indeed. “You asked me to hold you.”
“Well, I’m a shitty functioning drug addict then.” Anya grumbled and stormed out of the bedroom and down the hallway towards the kitchen. There was an empty mug in hand, soon to be filled with coffee that she could stir and stare into mindlessly while Raven no doubt made this more than what it had to be.
“You know at first I thought it was cute that you had the kid around. I thought it was really great that you were… doing something? I don’t even know where to begin with that. But I thought it was great.” Raven trailed behind her and leaned against the kitchen island with a cool stare. “But what business do you have trying to take care of a child when you can barely take care of yourself—”
“Stop.” Anya said calmly and looked up from the mug that was quickly failing in its singular task of rescuing her from this shit storm. “You don’t come in my house and tell me what I’m capable and incapable of doing. You don’t know me. You don’t know a damn thing.”
“Because I left?” Raven replied boredly.
“Because you left!” Anya snapped and launched the mug at the wall. “You left! I nearly lost my leg and you fucking left! I couldn’t walk and you left! I stood there and watched you tape up your fucking boxes and you left! You broke my heart, Raven.” Anya’s voice quivered and she felt all the more embarrassed for it. “You broke my heart and you fucking left.”
For a moment she looks embarrassed too, and that makes Anya feel better. Slightly. It isn’t much but it’s something, the way Raven’s head rolls forward and her shoulders slump. It’s a victory, the kind that Anya hasn’t won in a while. She feels better for it.
“You left first.”
“Excuse me?” Anya bit.
Raven lifted her head, her eyes filled with an unphased kind of resolve. “You nearly lost your leg and I stayed. You couldn’t walk and I stayed. You screamed and cried and pushed away everyone who loved you… and I stayed. You burned through physiotherapist after physiotherapist and I stayed. You sat on the sofa with the fucking blinds closed for thirteen hours a day in silence and I sat there right beside you. I stayed.” Raven nodded with righteous determination. “And then for the infinite fucking time you told me to leave and I realised that the girl I loved? The girl I knew? She died in that ring and you took her place and so yeah, sure, whatever. I’m the bad guy. I left. But you left me long before.”
Raven shrugged and moved around the kitchen island, completely calm and almost bored as she picked up the broken pieces of ceramic mug — as if she was used to this. For a moment Anya swallowed the truth, because the fact of it was that Raven was definitely used to this. Smashed glasses and hateful outbursts made up the better part of their last months together — Raven was expert enough in this game. It ashamed her.
“I’m sorry I didn’t die in the ring and make a martyr of myself for you.” Anya sneered and turned away, opening the cupboard for another mug.
“I can’t say I never wished for it.” Raven sighed uncomfortably and set the pieces in the garbage can. She dusted her hands and moved around Anya’s brooding figure for a mug for herself. “I’m not a perfect person. Dealing with it was hard, dealing with you was harder… I wish I had stayed if that even means anything to you. I guess it doesn’t but I have accepted what I did to you. I hope one day you can accept it to.” Raven rested her hand on Anya’s shoulder for a moment, then blew a piece of hair out of her own eyes.
“I have to take Polly to school at 8.30.” Anya mumbled and changed the subject, desperately.
“What time do you think it is?” Raven almost laughed. “I took her to school this morning. Think again, buddy.”
“Even better, I have to go and pick her up from school.” Anya mumbled and reached for her keys from the bowl. “You should stay here and watch Lexa, make sure she eats right.” She added as an afterthought.