One Shoulder Evening Dress

I want more grounder music. More songs like Take a Life With Me. Songs about love and loss, of myths and legends. I want songs about heroes and their battles; songs about Lexa. I want instruments forged from scrap metal and leather. Instruments salvaged from pre-war caches; some of which are used as designed and others repurposed to wonderful effect.

I want grounders dancing. Men dancing with men to flaunt their prowess on and off the battlefield. I want men dancing with men to fall in love and women doing exactly the same. I want grounders of all traits and clans, dancing to music that echoes and pounds inside them.

Give me grounders dancing around fire pits in the dead of night, with nothing but ale and off-key singing as accompaniment. Give me huge festivals where the music is so loud it can be heard across the seas. Show me the graceful turns and intricate footwork that only the best warriors can master. Bring the mountains down with the foot stamping in the aftermath of battle.

Show me a celebration of alliance. Show me Clarke on the outskirts of a great hall, trying to hide, mesmerised by all the dancing figures. This is not the music of the ark, or the symphonies of her ancestors the mountain men lauded so much. This music is life. It’s in her blood and making demands she doesn’t know how to assuage.

There’s a pattern to some of the madness. Grounders dance in groups and some as partners. They spin circles around each other and tattoo the flagstones with their boots. Some look locked in combat, with others showcasing that grounders love as fiercely as they fight.

But recognising the pattern and making the movements are two entirely disparate concepts. Clarke says as much when Titus asks if she’s going to join the celebration meant to honour Wanheda and her people. But curiosity does get the better of her; gaze flickering to Lexa on her throne.

Does the Commander dance? Is she like the lithe warriors whose steps would dizzy the butterflies? Or is she the kind for big and bold, and raucous singing along? Somewhere in between?

Titus raises his glass with the hall when a new chant begins that tells the story of the first grounder wars. Whether the wine or the music, or wicked mischief, a knowing smile plays around his mouth. He looks at Clarke and – barely loud enough to be heard above the descant – says, “You have seen my Heda fight, no?”

And soon she gets to see Lexa dance. Clarke is watching the footwork of a broad-backed warrior so intently, trying to shuffle her feet to the same, when Lexa is abruptly by her side. Lexa’s pupils are wide in the low light and a faint sheen of sweet has gathered at her hairline. The ‘no’ on Clarke’s lips dies before she can breathe it. Lexa has pulled her onto the dance floor. Someone has taken her drink and it’s just the two of them trapped in the press of exuberance.

Lexa can dance. Clarke can’t. She stumbles and stops and steps on Lexa’s feet often enough to be sure she’s caused lingering damage. But Lexa is eminently patient and smiling. The smile alone is enough for Clarke to persevere, even though she knows her friends are laughing at her somewhere.

The steps don’t get easier but Clarke gets steadier. It helps that Lexa’s hands are at her waist and her shoulders and low on her hips. She tucks in behind Clarke to show her how to twist one way and move her feet the other. Their dresses whirl to mad effect around their ankles. Lexa’s dress has even slipped away from one shoulder. She spins away to draw Clarke with her and Clarke is helpless but to follow.

When the humming-bird tremors of instruments fade away, Clarke stumbles to a stop in Lexa’s arms. Her hair is falling free of its intricate braid work. Her cheeks are flushed red and her mouth is open to draw rapid breaths. There’s an evanescent moment to wonder at the smile so clear in her eyes, before the drums start.

This music, Clarke can move to. This was the music her genes knew without question. She can stamp her feet and clap her hands, and lose herself in the journey back to her origins. The room is rocking off its axis with the circles they turn. But with Lexa as her fixed point on the horizon, she isn’t going to fall off the edge of the world. Or so she thinks.

Clarke was not raised among the rivers and trees like Lexa; her cousins were the stars and galaxies. She knows what happens when two bodies with immense gravitational force get too close. Light leaves the room. They’re swallowed by a vacuum where all she can hear is Lexa’s laboured breath. They’re at the event horizon of stars about to go nova. A single electron out of orbit and Clarke knows she’ll be beyond the point of no return.

Lexa saying her name pushes her too far. The slope of her shoulder and the way her ribcage expands and contracts is too much: her soft skin over lean muscle, the scent of her sweat, and her inescapable aura. All too much.

Never enough.

Somewhere between the drum beats, she yanks Lexa into a kiss that is too much teeth and too much heart. She’s going to die if she stops. If she doesn’t get her hands in Lexa’s hair and her body tucked in close, she’s going to cease to exist. If she doesn’t kiss Lexa like the world is ending, she’ll end up as one of those stars that never becomes anything more than a brief phenomenon, one soon forgotten.

Clarke isn’t ashamed of the whimper of protest that leaves the back of her throat when the kiss ends. Nor that it’s heard by the entire – now silent – hall. She’s too mesmerised by Lexa blushing to care about the grounders all hollering and whistling; or her mother’s stunned face in her periphery.

The music starts again and Lexa stumbles through the steps right along with Clarke. She’s so turned around that she gives up on the dancing entirely, drags Clarke to a secluded corner, and gets to learning the steps to an entirely new dance. And Clarke is happy to let her. She’s pretty sure she can teach Lexa a thing or two in this dance.