Clarke is only three days into being a runaway when she realizes that she did not fully think this through. When she walked away from Camp Jaha, she took only herself, a handgun with limited ammunition, and the gnawing guilt inside her. Three days without food, water, fresh clothing, or bedding of any kind, however, and she is painfully aware of how foolish that decision had been.
Her back aches from sleeping on the hard ground in the cool night air. She can already feel a thick layer of grime coating her clothes and her skin. Her hair feels stringy and gross, and she imagines that it probably looks just as bad as it feels. Her ass itches, likely due to the leaf she used to wipe herself earlier this morning, and her body is all but screaming for her to turn around and flee; run back to shelter, to feasts, to friends and family and baths.
Still, she refuses to go back. She can't. She isn't ready to face her people after what she did to the innocents of Mount Weather, regardless of how necessary that choice felt and still feels.
She needs time to process, time to adjust, time to regret or forget or accept. She just needs time, and she doesn't care if she suffers through every second of it.
Her stomach clenches and groans as she sits at the edge of a small creek, her knees pulled up to support her hands as she scrapes the sharp edge of a small rock against the end of a stick. She has been at it for a while, repeating the motion over and over and over, and she doesn't stop despite how intensely her palms sting and her fingers cramp. The pain of her empty stomach caving in to devour itself is worse, much worse, and all she can think, all she can hope, is that if she can just sharpen this stick into a makeshift spear, then maybe she can catch a fish or two … or fifty. At this point, she feels like she could eat an entire deer on her own, or even one of those massive mutant gorillas.
A flash of pain sparks in her chest at the thought of the beast, because her mind doesn't flood with images of its wild eyes or with the echoes of its roar, but rather with the haunted, lovely gaze of ….
Clarke shakes her head to clear away the image and pulls a blistered hand up to swipe at the sweat on her dirt-streaked forehead. She hisses from the sting of the salt on her fresh wounds, but she pushes through the pain and goes right back to her sharpening. She is determined to get something in her stomach before dark.
She had not been able to convince herself to eat the berries she found the night before, too afraid they would turn out to be poisonous and she would down a handful to assuage her hunger only to spend a night or two violently vomiting into the bushes or keeling over on the spot. Beyond medicinal herbs and plants, Clarke has zero faith in what little else she remembers from her botany courses on the Ark. She considers it accomplishment enough that she knows how photosynthesis works … well, sort of. Regardless, she had fallen asleep on an empty stomach, the same empty stomach that still growls at her like it would maul her if it could.
It sort of feels like it already is mauling her.
When the stick is finally sharp enough that Clarke can prick herself with it, she removes her boots and socks, rolls up her pant legs, and then rises on shaky legs and walks out into the creek. The water is cold but she grits her teeth and bears it, because there are no fish flopping around on the dirt and making this easy for her. She is going to have to suffer for her food.
Nightfall is approaching but the sun is still high enough that the creek is washed in orange and yellow hues, and Clarke can see the sunlight reflecting off the silvery backs of the small fish swimming around her legs. She is impatient when she first jabs her homemade spear into the water, eager to catch her dinner. She hits nothing but rock and loose soil, and her spear exits the water as clean and fishless as it had entered it. She lets out a sigh, shakes out the tension in her body, cracks her neck, and readies herself again.
Clarke watches the fish weave around her legs and around each other for a few moments before setting her sights on one of the larger ones. She watches it draw nearer and then she strikes, hard and fast. As soon as the spear goes into the water, Clarke jerks it back out and looks to its tip. There is nothing there, and she looks back down to see the fish she had aimed for still circling her legs, mocking her.
Letting out a harsh sigh that evolves into an annoyed growl, Clarke jabs the stick back down into the water. She jabs and jabs, checking quickly after each try, and every time, her spear comes up clean.
When the oranges and yellows of the sky deepen to red and then cool down to a soft blue, Clarke nearly sobs at her failure. She trudges out of the creek, her toes aching from the cold of the water, and grabs her socks and boots from the bank. The tiniest whimper escapes her throat as she swipes at the tears stinging her eyes before yanking on her socks and boots, picking up her spear, and heading away from the creek.
She resigns herself to the fact that she will go yet another night with her stomach empty and aching. Only this time, she has two blister-covered palms to add to the mix and a headache pinging between her eyes that she assumes is from dehydration. She figures it's better not to drink directly from the rivers or creeks until she can find something to boil the water in to make it more potable or until it rains and she can collect the pure source directly. That is, unless she gets really desperate, and if she gets really desperate … well then, Clarke figures she won't much care about whatever potentially dangerous bacteria or microorganisms might be living in the water, and she will simply suck it down like it's a fresh glass of lemonade on the hottest day of the year.
Cold hard ground isn't exactly ideal no matter where it is, but Clarke figures slightly hidden and slightly covered is better than open and completely exposed. She can't go back to the drop ship, and she refuses to revisit the bunker. There are too many ghosts lurking there, too much history carved into such a short amount of time. She will make her own shelter or she will go without.
She finds a tight space tucked under the jutted-out edge of a large boulder and claims the spot as her own before settling in and trying for the umpteenth time to start a fire.
There had always been someone else available to bring the flames to roaring life at the drop ship. There had always been someone else shouting their kill on the hunt and leading them all back to camp, eager and hungry. There had always been someone else around to provide the basic essentials, taking orders from Bellamy or herself or whoever happened to be yelling the loudest at the time.
Now, though, there is only her, worn and weary and so damn hungry.
Clarke gathers a small pile of the driest leaves and grass and sticks she can find nearby and then drops them onto the dirt in front of her chosen home for the night. She sits, legs crossed, beside the pile and grabs the longest, skinniest stick of the bunch. She holds it vertically in the center of the small pile atop a thick, wide piece of bark and presses her blistered palms to it from both sides. Keeping her hands open and flat, she shimmies them rapidly along the stick's length, down toward the pile and then back up to start again, creating as much friction as possible. She does this over and over, ignoring the sting and ache in her hands, ignoring the exhaustion riddling her muscles and bones, ignoring the throb in her head … ignoring the lonely clench of her heart in her chest and the wet drops slipping down her cheeks. She ignores everything but a single thought—fire, fire, fire.
She lets out a harsh sob and breaks her stick in half in a fit of anger when she slips in her motion and accidentally slices open the sensitive skin between her thumb and index finger. She doesn't bother with wiping her tears away as she rips off a piece of cloth from the bottom of her shirt and wraps it tightly around her right hand, tying it in a knot at the knuckle of her thumb. The tears are still there when she curls in a ball under the long edge of the boulder and drifts off to sleep with an empty stomach and stinging hands, an aching head and still no fucking fire.
Clarke shivers in her sleep, the cold seeping into her bones like a cancer intent on devouring her insides. Her brow furrows, images flitting through her mind of the things she can't forget, the people she can't let go of. She sees her own hands painted red with the blood she has shed. She sees the hatred in Jasper's eyes, hears the growl in his voice as he demands an explanation for her choice to kill his love. She sees the angry red flesh and agonized eyes frozen in death of the bodies and bodies and bodies littering the floor in Mount Weather.
She sees the hard line of Lexa's jaw, the steely resolve in her eyes. She hears the lilt of Lexa's betrayal, hears the quiver she tries to hide from her voice. She hears the Commander's solemn whisper and the rhythm of her walking away.
May we meet again.
Clarke sighs, body curling further in on itself in her sleep, as her dreams then shift and she is standing in the Commander's tent. Lexa's gaze dances from Clarke's eyes to her lips, and Clarke feels the heat of her stare and then of her kiss. It washes over her, warm and comforting, like she is being enveloped in it, and she feels it everywhere.
Heat. Heat. So much heat.
She startles awake when a loud pop sounds from somewhere behind her, and Clarke is shocked speechless to find a crackling fire, alive and flickering, where her pathetic pile of leaves had earlier been. She rubs at her eyes, a smile unconsciously tugging at her lips as she takes a moment to revel in the warmth embracing her, no longer only in her dream, but then realization snaps roughly into place and she scrambles up onto her feet as quickly as possible.
Yanking her gun from the holster on her hip, Clarke holds her weapon at the ready and squints into the darkness surrounding the outer glow of the fire that she definitely did not create.
But someone did.
Inching her way around the fire, Clarke listens for any unnatural sounds in the surrounding forest. She hears nothing beyond the buzzing of the insects, the croaking of the toads, the breeze rippling through the leaves; nothing out of the ordinary. Her sight fails her as well. She sees nothing beyond the bright halo of the fire. Everything is dark, dark and quiet.
Grounders, Clarke thinks. She knows their capabilities, their grace in the forest. They move through the trees with such ease and silence. They could be watching her this very moment, entirely undetected. The thought makes Clarke uneasy.
Have they come to finish her off, a literal severing of their fruitless alliance? But then why build her a fire? Why keep her warm?
"All right," Clarke says, raising her voice just enough that its sleepy rasp carries, "I know you're out there, so you might as well come out."
She waits but no one steps forward. Nothing stirs.
Clarke keeps a tight grip on her gun and shifts anxiously from foot to foot, gaze darting around in each dark direction. She points her gun toward the fire and shouts, "What the hell is this?"
She nearly jumps out of her skin when a deep voice spills out from the black abyss of the forest.
"It is fire."
Clarke sucks in a sharp breath through her nose and fights the urge to roll her eyes. "Yeah," she grunts, turning toward the direction of the voice and pulling her gun up in front of her. "I got that, thanks, but why did you build me a fire?"
"For warmth," the voice responds, and Clarke huffs out an impatient sigh.
She is confused and irritable and tired and hurting and hungry and the slightest bit freaked, and she is done with games.
"Why?" she snaps. "What do you want from me?"
The reply is swift. "I seek nothing," the voice answers. "Faya kom heda."
Clarke's breath catches roughly in her throat when she hears the term 'heda'. She knows very little Trigedasleng, but she has heard that word enough to know to whom it refers.
"A gift from the Commander," the Grounder clarifies from the shadows, and Clarke nods absentmindedly.
"Lexa," she whispers, the name so thick and bitter on her tongue and in her throat that she nearly chokes on it.
The rage bubbles up and spills over before she can contain it, and she kicks the ground toward the fire, a shower of dirt threatening to extinguish the flames but not quite managing. Clarke doesn't care. She shoves her gun back into its holster, rips her jacket off the ground and yanks it over her shoulders, grabs her hand-carved spear, and then walks away from the warmth and into the shadows.
"You can tell the Commander that I don't need her fire," she calls over her shoulder. "She's burned me enough already."
Her heart throbs with every step she takes, but she walks until she can't hear the pops of the flames anymore. She walks until the fire's glow disappears into the distance behind her.
She walks until she is numb.