24 Epiphanies

4

Officially, the second letter came early in the morning. The sky was filled with murky, grey clouds that loomed over the house ominously, covering the sun's face. The soft rumble of thunder was heard just under the hum of the tea kettle as Clarke stood, solitary and quiet at the sink. She looked out the window to the streets and the houses beyond, a pensive expression worn on her features.

The whistling of the kettle jolted her from her thoughts, and soon enough Clarke was sitting at the kitchen bar, blowing gently on her very hot cup of chamomile tea. Her seat gave her the perfect view through the windows, allowing her to glimpse movement that wandered to-and-from the driveway.

That was when she saw the mailman walk over to their side of the street. He waved at her jovially through the window as he placed a few envelopes into the mailbox before he continued on his way, whistling a jolly tune loudly through his teeth.

Anya and Quinn were both still asleep, and there was no one watching her as she practically leapt out of her seat and rushed out the door without a second thought.

Her hands quaked as she opened the mailbox, sorting through the letters as she walked back up the steps and into the house. Two were notices from the city government concerning water usage, and another was the electrical bill. It took about three seconds of desperate searching until she came across the one she had so shamelessly craved.

The writing on the envelope was distinctly her wife's; she could recognize Lexa's orderly script anywhere. Abandoning the other letters on the bar, Clarke ripped open the envelope and pulled out the folded paper within.

Unlike the first one she had received, Clarke was disappointed to see that the letter was rather short. It was only one sentence. She scoffed loudly, and let the paper slip through her fingers and onto the surface of the kitchen island. Clarke covered her face with her hands, propping her elbows on the table.

"So what does it say?" Anya's voice jolted her out of her reverie. The other woman had appeared at her left shoulder, peering at the words on the page.

Clarke did not bother responding, instead handing the page to her. Anya read it briefly, her eyes scanning the page efficiently. Then she snorted, her eyes gleaming with laughter.

"What's so funny?" Clarke asked irritably. She did not understand what her wife had been trying to tell her with this one sentence, and she clenched her fists at her side.

Anya chuckled and sat down on the stool next to Clarke. She pointed one finger at the letter. "That this is the memory she wants you to remember." Clarke reread the words on the paper, and sighed.

"She wants me to go to the gun range." She groaned. "The gun range where we had our third date."

"And ask for Gus." Anya added with a mock-serious face, before her face burst into a grin. "Now isn't that romantic." Anya snorted, patting Clarke's shoulder in a conciliatory fashion. Clarke just stared at the page, her blue eyes scrutinizing the letter as if there was some hidden writing that she just could not decipher.

When she still refused to move, Anya nudged her with her shoulder. "Just go down there, maybe there's a surprise waiting for you." She suggested. "Knowing Lexa, she probably has some tricks up her sleeve."


"I still don't know why I'm doing this." Clarke grumbled under her breath as she parked the car. Anya and Quinn were sitting in the backseat, having decided they wanted to join in on this scavenger hunt.

As she cut the ignition, Clarke sat there, staring. The concrete building looked the same as it did 24 years ago. She had not come back to this place in that long. Her knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel tightly.

Behind her, Anya and Quinn filed out of the car, and Quinn poked her head into the driver's side to address her mother. "Don't be a chicken mom, let's go in." Quinn urged her, and Clarke muttered something under her breath before she unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car.

"This is silly." Clarke repeated for the fourth time as they walked over to the doors of the shooting range. Quinn's arm around her waist was the only thing that stopped her from turning tail and running.

"Oh please, like you aren't as curious as we are about what Lexa's left for you." Anya snorted as she led the way. The woman walked up to the front desk and rang the bell.

A few minutes later produced a hulking, balding man that lumbered out from what Clarke knew from memory was the indoor target range. He came up to the desk and scowled at the three women, his dark eyes scrutinizing and critical.

"What can I do for you?" It was more of a grunt than a true sentence, but his atrabilious exterior did nothing to deter Anya.

"We're looking for a Gus?" She asked. The man grunted unintelligibly, and nodded. Without much warning, he turned around and disappeared once more.

"Cheerful fellow." Anya commented as she flashed Clarke a smile. Clarke only nervously returned the gesture. They waited for only a few seconds before a new figure appeared on the other side of the desk.

The man was tall and broad, with short black hair cropped close to his scalp and a beard to complete the ensemble. His eyes were a beady dark brown as he greeted the three women with a smile that made his intimidating features look soft and mild.

"Hello, I'm Gustus, but people call me Gus," He rubbed his beard with a large hand. He gave each woman a polite smile. "Bill tells me you are looking for me?" He asked. Quinn nudged Clarke, and Anya paused, waiting to see if Clarke would speak up. When the blonde refused, Anya sighed before she turned to address the ma.

"Hi, I'm Anya, and this is my sister-in-law Clarke," She gestured with a hand, "and my niece Quinn." She held out her hand, and Clarke reached into her bag to pull out the envelope. Anya took hold of it and placed it in front of Gustus.

"What's this?" He asked with mild curiosity.

"My sister, Lexa Woods, gave Clarke this letter, and she told us to come here to ask for you." Anya explained. Instantly, Gustus's eyes widened in an almost comical manner, and his hands moved up to brush his short cropped hair in realization. He stared speechless, at Clarke, and the blonde nervously shifted backwards, with Quinn holding her firmly in place.

"You're the wife?" He addressed Clarke directly. The blonde looked down at her feet shyly, before finally meeting his intense gaze. She nodded once, dipping her chin just a quarter of an inch, yet that slight movement caused the most surprising reaction of all.

Gustus reached for the box of tissues on the corner of the desk, wiping at the corner of his eyes. The three women were stunned by the astonishing rush of emotion, and Anya leaned forward and uncomfortably patted a brawny shoulder.

"There, there." She said, giving Quinn and Clarke an incredibly awkward expression. Gustus blew his nose noisily, and seemed to pull it together well enough to tuck one large hand under the desk and retrieve a familiar white envelope from the confines of a shelf.

He offered the envelope to Clarke, and she inched forward to take it from his hands. "Thank you." She said quietly, and he nodded, his eyes still welling with tears. Clarke looked down at the letter in her hands, and her legs were automatically moving to the exit, abandoning Quinn and Anya when Gustus called her name.

"She really loved you." His voice was gravelly and croaky as he said it, but Clarke understood it all the same. She turned to him and gave him a tight smile.

"Thank you." Clarke repeated, and this time her companions followed her out the door.

Once they had piled into the car again, Clarke opened the envelope and read like a woman possessed as she tore through the words. In the silence, Anya and Quinn observed as the blonde's eyes flashed from one end of the page to the other until finally, she had finished.

She released a raw, gurgling breath, a hand covering her eyes. Finally, after a long moment, Clarke laughed a short, watery chuckle that made the others wonder about the contents of the letter. They did not have to wait long to find out.

"She says she fell in love with me on our third date." She murmured, her hand falling away to rest on her lap. She looked forward, through the windshield and at the shooting range's tinted glass doors. "She said that me holding a gun and firing it with a squeal was possibly the most endearing thing she'd ever seen or heard, and that it was love from that moment on."


"Now just make sure your legs are stable and apart, shoulder width is always a good marker." Lexa's voice was calm and soothing as she stood behind Clarke, her hands resting deliciously on the blonde's hips as she manipulated her body to the correct posture as she was speaking. Her lips ghosted against the flesh of Clarke's ear, and the blonde's mouth curved into a smile.

"You do realize that I'm holding a gun, right?" Clarke commented as Lexa's chest brushed against her back as she shuffled to help the blonde stand in the proper position. "Now's not the time to get me all hot and bothered."

"Please." Lexa scoffed as her hands drifted up to gently nudge Clarke's shoulders to face the target. "The safety's still on, and you're more likely to drop the gun than to fire it." The brunette teased her as she finally released her and stood off to the side.

Lexa leaned against the separating wall between Clarke's cubicle and hers, crossing one leg over the ankle of the other. Her earplugs were hanging around her neck, and Clarke's eyes wandered slowly from Lexa's eyes to the jawline and the long slender neck below. The brunette seemed to notice her distracted state, and she grinned diabolically.

"Like what you see Griffin?" She asked, one hand on her hip as she teased her date.

"More than like, can I touch?" Clarke flirted back shamelessly, and Lexa's smile only widened at her words.

"Why don't we make this a little more interesting then?" Lexa suggested, and Clarke frowned.

"How?"

"If you can hit that target on the head in your first shot, we can do whatever you want later." Lexa proposed.

"And if I don't?" Clarke asked. "Not that I won't, I'm just wondering what my options are." She added cheekily.

"If you don't, you have to come with me and Lincoln to the gala on Friday." Clarke groaned, pouting at the brunette.

"But I hate hanging out with snobby law school people!" She moaned. "Well, besides you of course." Clarke amended quicky

"It can be our fourth date." Lexa suggested, hoping it would be a good incentive for the blonde to agree.

"Ugh." Clarke groaned. She was only inches away from pulling out of the deal, but then she caught sight of Lexa's winning smirk and the way she cracked her knuckles like she had already won, and she immediately made up her mind.

She straightened her stance, glaring out in the distance to the target fifty meters away from her. "You've got a deal, Woods."

"Can't wait for Friday then." Lexa said smugly, and Clarke ignored her in favor for concentrating on the task at hand. She took a deep, calming breath, and stared forward, squinting. She unclicked the safety, her hand hovering over the trigger.

Clarke's steadied herself, her arms straight, and with one more breath, she tapped the trigger once. Immediately, the gun's chamber snapped back, and the sound it made was so frighteningly loud that she released a panicked squeal of surprise.

Lexa laughed loudly at the sound Clarke had made, bending down to grip her knees as she chuckled heartily at the outlandish yelp that had released unbidden from the blonde's lips.

Clarke hid her embarrassment by refusing to glance Lexa's way, and instead turned her attention to the target. That moment of focus instantly brought a winning smirk to her face. Lexa, who was still recovering from her laughter, finally stood to her full height.

"Hey smartass, why don't you look at this?" Clarke indicated with her chin, and Lexa looked in the direction she had pointed at. The result had her gaping, her jaw dropping comically.

"What? How? That's-" Lexa was spluttering as she stared at the target, wide-eyed and disbelieving. The hole in the center of the target's temple was clear even from the distance.

"Impossible?" Clarke asked smugly. "Well guess who just won?" She smirked as she placed the gun on the table and bounced excitably behind Lexa as the brunette moved forward to get a closer look.

"I can't believe this." Lexa finally said, and she shook her head, her brown ponytail swinging as she examined the target again.

"Believe it!" Clarke crowed. "I won! Now I don't have to go to that boring gala." She inched over and quickly pecked Lexa on the cheek. "And the fact that I get to have my way with you tonight just makes the victory all that sweeter."

Lexa chuckled, and she turned to face Clarke, her arms crossed. "Fine, fine. You win." Instantly Clarke pumped a fist high in the air and began a ridiculous, over-the-top victory dance, which only increased the size of Lexa's smile.

Clarke shimmied around Lexa, her dance moves and her swinging arms only getting more outlandish, until she noticed that Lexa hadn't moved a muscle. Instead, she was simply watching her, an affectionate gleam in her eyes. "Are you okay?" Clarke asked, slightly concerned with the brunette's silence.

"I'm fine." Lexa assured her, though Clarke could see that the other woman's eyes were now fixed on her lips.

"You've got that look on your face." Clarke commented, her finger poking the brunette on the cheek. "That pensive look."

"I just think you're really, quite ridiculously talented." Lexa admitted, gesturing to the target with her chin. "You really are more than just a pretty face." She said as she tenderly met the blonde's gaze.

"And you better remember that!" Clarke quipped before she stepped closer to Lexa and brushed her lips teasingly against hers. The urge to deepen the kiss was nagging at the corner of her mind, but Clarke knew better than to start something that they couldn't be able to finish, and so she regretfully pulled away when the desire to request entrance to Lexa's mouth reared its head.

She leaned back, and grinned as Lexa's grasp around her waist tensed in protest. "Let's go?" Clarke quirked an eyebrow at Lexa in question, and the brunette nodded in assent.

"Yup, as fast as possible." She pocketed her earplugs and allowed herself to be led out of the room to the front desk.

"That's dirty." Clarke commented cheekily, which earned a snort from her girlfriend.

"You're just really inappropriate. I shouldn't bring you anywhere." Lexa drawled lazily as she was pulled away by Clarke in the direction of the exit.

"Oh hush."


"That's so cute." Quinn said after a momentary lapse in conversation. Anya immediately made a gagging noise, which elicited a dramatic eye roll from Clarke before she turned in her seat to face her daughter.

"Yeah, I had no idea she had actually fallen in love with me while I was holding a gun." She confessed. "We'd discussed it before, but I always thought she'd been joking." Clarke chuckled lightly as she recalled all those late night conversations, had in the darkness and quiet while Quinn slept. "I didn't know her well enough at the time, but over the years I noticed that she just had those, soulful eyes that seemed to convey just how much she cared for me." Clarke smiled wistfully. "Those eyes became the first indicator of whatever she was feeling, even if she sometimes pulled her walls up and wouldn't talk to me."

"Heart-eyes." Anya supplied the term. "She was a gooey little pineapple." The metaphor made Clarke wrinkle her nose in protest at the other woman.

"But I don't like pineapples."


The next few days passed like a whirlwind for Clarke. Without fail, each day she received a new letter, a new epiphany, as Lexa had termed it. Each letter was numbered, and Clarke kept them in a folder in the study. Most of the memories were distant, very few were closer to the current year, and as she read them all, Clarke felt herself being transported to the decades that she had endured with the love of her life at her side.

The disastrous first date she had recounted to Quinn had been the third one she had received, and the fiasco of the karaoke night she and Lexa had gone to with Raven and her date had accompanied it the next day.

That night was when they had officially become girlfriends. It had had been the first time Lexa had officially met Raven. The shorter brunette had been snarky and sarcastic as she always was, but a nonplussed Lexa had handled the situation with poise and an equal dose of sarcasm. Clarke had always considered that date to have gone wonderfully, despite the rudeness of Raven's date. He had been a complete asshole, and when he tried to flirt with Clarke, that had been the last straw for Lexa, who had knocked on his ass and sent him away with his tail between his legs.

Her words had been brief, but the message was clear all the same; she would always fight for her. After reading it twice, it had left Clarke with a bittersweet taste in her mouth and an ache in her chest; Lexa would never be there to keep her safe anymore.

That ache became ever-present with each passing letter, and Clarke was beginning to wonder the point of all this. It only increased the size of the gaping abyss in her heart, and with every passing day she was unsure of why she continued to read them. But she did it anyway. This was the last thread that connected her to Lexa, and she did not have the courage to deny herself. Clarke heaved a low sigh, her fingers clenching the fifth letter in a vice-like grip as she read.


"I hope they don't scare you off." Clarke fussed with the buttons on her shirt, her nervous energy getting the best of her as she and Lexa walked the expanse of the hallway and up to the apartment. Lexa had never been inside before, nor met the rest of the gang, which only made Clarke anxious for the dinner to go well.

Lexa sensed all the anxiety coming off of the blonde in waves, and she raised a hand to steady Clarke's jittery movements. "Clarke, relax." Her eyes were playful and light. "What's the worst that can happen?"

"They could ask you a bunch of inappropriate things, piss you off, or you could end up punching one of them." Clarke blurted, and Lexa blinked a few times in surprise.

"Clearly you've been overthinking." Lexa said soothingly. She shifted closer so that she could kiss the crown of Clarke's head. "It will be fine. I'll try not to punch anyone or get annoyed."

"But what if they get under your skin?" Clarke fretted, and Lexa smirked.

"Don't worry about that." She reassured her, and she clasped their hands together. "Just try to relax, the whole point of tonight is for me to get to know them, so let me do that." Clarke inhaled slowly, her eyes closing for a heartbeat before they opened again. The sea blue depths were significantly calmer than they had been seconds previously.

"You're right." She nodded, tightening her grip on Lexa's hand. "Let's just go in there, screw it. I love you, and that's all that matters." Clarke reassured herself, and she gave Lexa a tense smile as she fished her key out from her pocket.

They were bombarded by people the minute Lexa's foot stepped into the apartment. Raven rushed over and clapped Lexa hard on the back. "Lexa! So glad you could make it, come take a seat!" She tugged Lexa away before Clarke could even raise her voice in objection.

"Clarke, over here." Monty called to her from the kitchen where he was busy preparing dinner. To his left, Jasper and Octavia were occupied with chopping…something…with giant knives. Making note to avoid them at all costs while they were still wielding the sharp, potentially dangerous cutlery, Clarke crossed the living room to Monty.

"Hey Monty." She greeted him with a one-armed hug.

"It's great that you've arrived in time for this." He motioned to the train wreck that was Octavia and Jasper. "I need your help watching the spaghetti while it boils. I've got my hands full with this chicken and keeping those two safe."

"Sure thing." Clarke said, moving to see to the pasta in question. Just before she turned her back on the living room, she cast a glance to find Lexa, and found her seated at the recliner with Bellamy and Raven facing her on the sofa.

"So Lexa, what are you studying?" Bellamy asked, squaring his jaw in an intimidating manner. Lexa blinked calmly back at him as she responded.

"I'm in my last year of law school." She responded tautly, the set of her jaw and the thin line of her mouth indicating to Clarke that she was uncomfortable with the situation. Clarke attempted to leave her to it, hoping to respect Lexa's wishes to let her handle the interrogation herself. Besides, Raven seemed to be doing a good enough job keeping the peace between the two of them.

Bellamy's next question however, had Clarke furious. "Any other girlfriends we need to be aware of?"

Abandoning the pasta amid Monty's disapproving gaze, Clarke crossed the distance between the living room and the kitchen and pulled Lexa up by her hand before the brunette could respond. Lexa's face was filled with a controlled rage as she glared at Bellamy, her fists clenched.

"Babe, why don't you go help over in the kitchen?" Clare glared at Bellamy reproachfully as Lexa got to her feet. "I need to talk to Bellamy privately."

Lexa took off immediately with Raven hot on her heels, leaving Clarke standing in front of Bellamy with her arms crossed. "Do you want to tell what that was?" She asked in a furious whisper.

"Look Griffin," Bellamy started, "I'm just trying to look out for you, just in case she's got another girl on the side or something."

"Bellamy if you don't stop talking right now I'm going to punch you in the mouth." Clarke growled. "Stop trying to sabotage my relationship with Lexa right off the bat!" She hissed quietly.

"I'm just making sure she's not going to break your heart." Bellamy argued defensively, lifting both hands upward to explain himself.

"Let me handle that okay?" She snapped back. "Just try to act like a normal human being for two hours or I swear I'll kick your ass."

"Fine!" Bellamy shook his mop of wild hair from his eyes. "Don't say I didn't try to protect you."

"I don't need your protection!" Clarke hissed before she spun on her heel and abandoned him in favor of joining Lexa and the others on the other side of the kitchen island.

Dinner had mostly gone well, with Bellamy earning the occasional kick on the shin from Clarke when he went too far. Monty had gotten along well with Lexa, seeming to be the only one polite enough to have a conversation with her. Raven and Octavia were…well…Raven and Octavia, and Clarke knew that the evening had actually been executed much better than she had expected.

However, to Clarke's chagrin, Lexa was not spared from observing the shenanigans that the group typically went through, from Jasper flinging a spoonful of mashed potatoes at Monty, to Octavia having a knock-down-drawn-out shouting match with Bellamy when a comment was made regarding Lincoln.

It was shortly after they had finished dinner that Clarke immediately excused herself and Lexa for the night, leaving Raven and Octavia to handle the boys for the rest of the evening.

They were walking to Lexa's car in the quiet. The streetlights were on, the dark sky speckled with silver stars as Clarke linked their arms together, her head leaning on the taller girl's shoulder as they walked. "That was certainly an eventful evening." Lexa's voice was muffled slightly by the collar of her coat.

Clarke adjusted the angle of her head so she could meet Lexa's eyes. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" She asked tentatively, pushing her hands into her pockets as she bumped Lexa lightly with her elbow.

"It's a good thing." Lexa chuckled low in her throat. "Your friends are very protective of you, and I can't find fault in loyalty." She took her right hand out of her coat pocket to link her fingers with Clarke's.

"So you're not scared off by them?" Clarke pressed the brunette, squeezing Lexa's palm.

"Of course not." Lexa sighed. "Bellamy may have crossed the line earlier, but he's like a brother to you, so of course he would act that way."

"I've told him so many times to tone it down." Clarke groaned. "He had no right to interrogate you about your dating history."

"It's fine Clarke, really." Lexa's free hand went up to soothe the frown lines appearing on the other girl's forehead. She gave her a reassuring smile, her hand lingering to remain on the junction between Clarke's jaw and neck. Lexa shuffled close to connect their lips in a placating kiss. "You're worth it." She murmured gently, the words ghosting across Clarke's skin. "I love you, and I'm never going to be chased away by people who love you and want to protect you." Lexa chuckled, and added: "I should thank them really."

"Why?" Clarke pulled away slightly, perplexed by the brunette's statement.

"Because," Lexa brushed away a strand of Clarke's hair to get a better view of the blonde's brilliant blue eyes. "They've been shielding you from the douchebags and the psychos for years, just in time for me to jump in." Clarke laughed, her white teeth flashing under the fluorescent lights. "But I hope that they know now that protecting you and your heart, that's my job." Lexa promised, and they kissed once more under the endless black sky and the sliver speckles of light above.

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