Clark had had an uncanny ability to see through Jemilla since the two first met. Claire could set her at ease with one of those soft smiles anytime she needed it. The two hadn’t thought twice about making her a member of their family or their village. Their kids were adorable (and not considered a food source) and looked up to Jemilla as though she were another mother. Jemilla honestly cared about them...but they still weren’t her tribe. Clark knew. Jemilla shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course Clark would know.
“You miss them.” He said simply sitting on a log bench. “We have some similarities to your old tribe, it’s true, but sometimes I can tell that you’re thinking about them. You like us a lot, but you love them. Would you care to tell me why that is?I want you to be happy here.”
“It would take me forever to list all of the things I loved about my old tribe. They aggravated me and it was a struggle to keep them reined in, but they were family to me and I loved them. Ducker’s ambition, Schwoopsie’s laugh, Smelly-Ball’s loyalty, Keeri’s compassion, Chorn’s...Chorn-ing, Tiblyn’s strength, Emberly’s willingness to listen to me...and Zazzalil.” Jemilla didn’t bother to deny it. Clark could always just tell somehow.
“What about Zazzalil?” Clark asked, his smile soft and knowing. “You said something nice about everyone but her.”
“She drove me insane. You know that. I know there are probably some good things about her too, but I don’t think she would ever have let me see them.” Jemilla thought aloud.
“Why is that?”
“I’m not sure… I do know she’s the only one in the tribe that I have never seen cry. Even after a mammoth killed her father, the last of her blood family. She never knew her mother. Molag told me the villagers all kind of raised her together and she spent a lot of time alone until she and Keeri became friends.” Jemilla recalled everything as she thought about what those things meant in terms of the Zazzalil she thought she knew. “What do you think it all means?”
“Zazzalil...Zazzalil probably feels like she has to be brave; not brave like Smelly-Balls with the fighting, but brave on the inside? So we won’t know she hurts, maybe? I’ve never really spoken to her about it. I never really felt I needed to. Keeri would know more, but I don’t think she would know what to do with the knowledge” Jemilla had always liked that Clark asked hard questions, but they were making her head hurt now. She really didn’t want to discuss Zazzalil at the moment. It left an ache in her heart for some strange reason.
“What do you intend to do with that knowledge, Jemilla? What does all of that mean to you, or should I say, for you? Think of Zazzalil for a while in terms of ‘brave’. I’ve got a feeling I may be needed elsewhere for a while.” Clark stood and dusted off his palms as though he had been working.
He did that sometimes. Clark would say something very cryptic and wander off. He wouldn’t bring it up again either until Jemilla came back to him with an answer. Usually he would wander away and not come back until she had one.. Uncannily, he he always just knew.
Jemilla sat in that same place in exactly the same manner for a while to try and figure out what it all meant, what Clark was getting at, and how any of it could possibly apply to her. She wanted answers, but only had more questions now. Jemilla had been sent into exile (though admittedly, she had been asking for it) and even in her new tribe, with a new family all she could think about was her old one. Clark would probably tell her that meant something as well. Claire came in to fix a late lunch for the children and mentioned having spoken to Clark about Jemilla’s ‘thought puzzle’.
“You are smarter than you give yourself credit for, but I think you came here looking for something. I don’t need to know what and I don’t think you even know what yet, but nearly everyone Clark brings here is, in one way or another.” Claire said quietly, staring meaningfully into Jemilla’s eyes. “Everything he says has a double meaning, but he just won’t come out and say it. You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. It’s one of my favorite things about him.”
Jemilla found that to be pretty absurd, but accepted the sentiment anyway. It was good to know she had her spouse's’ support.
“Thank you, Claire. I think I’m going for a walk and think all this over.” Jemilla stood and kissed Claire’s cheek and left to stroll around the village.
She found a small grove of trees and leaned against a large oak staring up at the leaves, trying to quiet her racing thoughts long enough to focus. Jemilla was realizing she didn’t know Zazzalil half as well as she had thought she did. She’d thought she had known the members of her tribe completely...everything about them. Zazzalil had always been a bit different, but Jemilla had never considered that she wasn’t there for her enough. She wondered how many other ways she may have failed her people. Jemilla hadn’t ever questioned herself before.
Zazzalil’s inventions could be brilliant, but more often were very dangerous. Jemilla hadn’t wanted her to injure herself or any of the rest of their tribe members. At the time it had made a lot of sense to publically ban the spear. Looking back it seemed like maybe she should have heard Zazzalil out, only in private, and without demonstrating on Keeri. It could be a useful tool, especially in conjunction with her fire invention. Jemilla massaged her eyes with the heels of her hands. It was too late to do anything about it now. Jemilla wasn’t welcome in the Firebringer’s tribe.
Back at her new family’s hut, Jemilla realized she probably wasn’t going to be getting any sleep with the way her mind was turning over and over. She sat in a corner and closed her eyes, attempting to quiet her restlessness in time for sleep. Claire and the children had all been sprawled across their bed asleep by the time she had gotten home. Clark, however, had yet to return. Jemilla wasn’t worried though, he had pulled similar stunts on several occasions
Each time that Clark disappeared, he returned with a new member for their Neanderthal tribe. Usually it was some lost person who had no idea of what they were doing with their lives. Mostly people like Grunt who had been with them after meeting Emberly and left shortly after Jemilla’s arrival to go find her again, exiled like Jemilla and looking for a family, or just trying to find themselves. She couldn’t help but to wonder about who he might bring home with him this time. Everyone he returned with had some sort of effect on the people around them.
“Jemilla, honey, you’re going to be miserable sleeping like this. Get in the bed. I assure you we will be able to survive without our Peacemaker for a few more hours this morning.” Claire offered Jemilla both of her hands and pulled her to her feet. Jemilla would have to admit she was definitely sore from the awkward position she had slept in. Claire led her to the bed and tucked her in. Jemilla was asleep again in mere moments.
She woke up rested, but disoriented. Her natural curls looked more like a bird’s nest than someone’s actual hair. Jemilla dressed, ate, and tended herself before heading out into the camp. Her brain was still kind of foggy, but she was content and her people didn’t seem to particularly need her. Clark still had not returned with his latest lost lamb so Jemilla was left to her own thoughts again.
It turned out that Jemilla didn’t like her own thoughts. She didn’t want to think about Zazzalil but that was who kept coming up whenever Jemilla was still enough to allow her thoughts to wander. A whole other question to ponder about; why was it always Zazzalil of all people who would pop into her mind? Sure, that was who had exiled her from the tribe and almost gotten them all killed (twice in one day), but Jemilla had done her best to put all of that behind her. Maybe it was because Zazzalil had annoyed her so much, so often, that it felt like a loss to not be hurriedly correcting a crisis once a week.
It didn’t feel like the right answer, but it made more sense than anything else Jemilla was thinking up. Jemilla couldn’t believe she might could possibly miss Zazzalil. That seemed impossible. Zazzali had driven her insane for so long… It just couldn’t be Zazzalil had actually warmed her way into Jemilla’s heart. Come to think of it, Zazzalil had spent a lot of time in Jemilla’s head.
Jemilla’s mind kind of felt like she was swimming in a sea of cotton candy. She quite possibly thought more about Zazzalil now then she did before leaving the tribe. It was annoying and a bit depressing, but mostly confusing as hell. She decided she must be going crazy, especially given she could see Zazzali walking through her village, right now, hand in hand with Jemilla’s own husband. There was no way that she could have made her way there, right?
Jemilla was frozen in her tracks, watching Clark brusquely answer Zazz’s probably thousand of questions. She tried to find an answer beyond the obvious for how someone who looked and dressed a lot like Zazzalil was walking towards her. ? Did Jemilla actually want Zazzalil back there? She could feel her heartbeat in her face and became increasingly dizzy.
“Jemilla! Did you see the new girl Clark just brought in? She’s pretty hot, right?” Claire said, coming up to Jemilla from behind.
“Zazzalil.” Jemilla replied simply, finding herself incapable of saying anything else.
“That’s Zazzalil? Your Zazzalil? Who invented fire and exiled you and took over as leader of your old tribe? Defeated Snarl Zazzalil? That’s that Zazzalil?” Claire questioned incredulously.
“Yep. She’s the one.” Jemilla answered flatly. Claire had just given Jemilla exactly what she needed : a reminder of why she’s pissed.
“You never mentioned that she’s hot.” Claire pointed out, decidedly unhelpfully.
“It never really seemed relevant. How attractive she is has never been reflected in how much of an asshole she is.” Jemilla growled lowly. “Anyway, I had better go greet her. I don’t want her to stay for too long.”
“There’s someone I want you to see, Zazzalil,” Jemilla can hear Clark saying. His voice is low and even; deadly serious. Jemilla knew all of that was nothing but Clark’s own flair for the dramatic. She smirked slightly at her husband’s slightly twisted sense of humor.
Quickly, Jemilla readjusted her fancy hat (she totally understood Ducker’s fondness for his own now) so it sat correctly on her head. She brushed her clothes down and waited for Clark to bring Zazzalil to her. Her heart continued to beat hard as she contemplated what she was going to say.
“Jemilla?! Oh, thank the Duck you’re here. We need you!” Zazzalil said as soon as she saw her.
“Let me guess… I was right, and everything has gone to shit since I left?” Jemilla asked with a hint of snark.
“I was a terrible leader. I poisoned the water, killed all of the mammoths, and let Ducker burn the village and most of his hair.” Zazzalil said, her tone somewhere between desperation and hysterics.
“What makes you think I would want to go back with you, Zazzalil? I’m happy here. I have a husband, a wife, and two beautiful children. I’m a leader here. They respect me.” Jemilla said, meaning each word to be a barb.
“I have more respect for you now than I ever have.” Zazzalil said, her voice heartbreakingly sincere. Jemilla hadn’t ever heard her speak in a cowed tone like that before. She wasn’t sure she liked it.
“So long as you’ve learned something, I guess.” Jemilla said blankly, not giving Zazzalil any quarter. “Is everyone okay?”
“Everyone except Grant. He’s some guy Emberly met. Snarl took him, and all of the others decided to set off on some half-brained, half-baked idea of a rescue mission that will inevitably end up with someone or everyone injured, and maybe worse.” Zazzalil said looking both concerned and terrified.
“Didn’t I scare him away earlier on?” Jemilla asked. “I definitely did not want him coming back around our people. Outsiders are never good for us.”
“It didn’t take.” Zazzalil said with a half-hearted shrug. “They’ve all gone and gotten independant. I couldn’t control them anymore. Even Keeri told me to fuck off.”
Zazz said it flippantly, quite off the cuff, but Jemilla knew her well enough to tell whatever had actually transpired had hurt the smaller woman more than she actually cared to admit. Keeri and Zazzalil had been the closest of friends for as long as Jemilla could remember, maybe more if she thought about it more closely. That thought burned a bit. Jemilla cast it aside and studied Zazzalil’s face more closely. It was strange, how much seeing Zazzalil hurting affected her.
“So, you’re saying that you want me to leave all of this, the life that I’ve built and the family I’m a part of, to come back and clean up the mess you’ve made? You seriously think they could get hurt?” Jemilla asked.
“They’re hunting down Snarl armed only with a rock covered in shit.” Zazzalil said with a disgusted deadpan. Jemilla understood then why Zazzalil had come to her for help. Zazzalil hated having to need anyone, but she was finally desperate enough to ask, becuase she loved her friends and knew she couldn’t save them on her own.
That touched Jemilla more than anything else. She could identify because she loved those people too. Maybe she loved them too much, and maybe that was why she had never settled amongst the Neanderthals. Zazzalil nodded firmly, looking determined. Jemilla knew even if she didn’t go with Zazzalil, that Zazzalil would go after the others anyway. She would probably die during the rescue attempt.
Jemilla knew she couldn’t allow Zazzalil to perish. . She didn’t want to live in a world without Zazzalil. The smaller woman was a light, a creative spark, that the universe needed. She stood thoughtfully for a moment and mulled that over. Something inside of her had changed, or maybe had always been there without her knowing it.
“I have a wife and a husband here, Zazz. The tribe here respects me and looks to me for leadership. I have responsibilities and I can’t just leave.” Jemilla protests, scared of this new feeling that seemed like it might swallow her whole.
“Sure you can, Jemilla. We’re self-sufficient and don’t really need a leader. I only told you that to make you happy.” Clark popped back around to tell her that, then promptly left again.
“And if you come back then...limited time offer: I’ll be your wife. You can have all of this, alllll night, every night.” Zazzalil gestures to herself and spins around. It was ridiculous yet somehow still endearing. Jemilla found it odd that this wasn’t something that she had ever taken into consideration before. She had always cared about Zazzalil as a member of her tribe, but had never thought of her romantically or physically before.
“Damn, Zazz.” Jemilla murmured, dumbstruck by the sudden shock to her entire worldview. Zazzalil seemed pretty shocked by herself as well. Jemilla wondered if Zazzalil had ever considered them as an item before. Now that she was looking at Zazzalil in that way, she couldn’t seem to turn it off.
“Please, Jemilla. I can’t lose anyone else that I care about.” it sounded suspiciously like begging. Zazzalil’s eyes were wide and worried. Jemilla found it amazing that she could go from goofy to completely sincere and earnest so quickly. She found herself quite hypnotized by the beautiful light brown pair of eyes, made that much warmer by the reflection of the lift that hit them.
“Okay, I’ll come back. I’ll help you save the others from themselves. I can’t … I can’t guarantee I’ll stay afterwards; especially considering the possible reactions for how they’ll see me again.” Jemilla finally agreed.
“You know our tribe. They’re fickle and easily influenced. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but mostly… not so much.” Zazzalil said with a shrug, a lot of the tension melting from her shoulders. “You’re the smart one, do you have a plan for what we should do to get these doofuses out of trouble?”
“Uhm, yeah. Do you remember that spear that you made?” Jemilla asked with that hint of a smirk she got whenever she had figured something out or was about to do something particularly crazy. “We are going to need a lot more of those.”
“I like this plan already.” Zazzalil grinned wickedly and followed behind Jemilla.
Jemilla made her goodbyes and headed off with Zazzalil. The smaller woman took her hand hesitantly, doing her best to be comforting. Jemilla was grateful, but the action took her by surprise. This sort of thing wasn’t what she was used to from Zazzalil, and she found she really appreciated the change. Jemilla couldn’t remember having ever seen this kind and gentle side to Zazzalil before. She probably didn’t show it often, Jemilla expected, and probably only in private of maybe with keeri. She was really glad she was getting to see it too.
“I’m sorry you had to leave your new family behind. Clark and Claire seemed nice.” Zazzalil said in that new and different gentle voice.
“It’s okay. This is probably for the best...besides, I’ve got a new wife now.” Jemilla said with a smile back at her.
“Wait, you were serious about that?!” Zazzalil looked shocked and Jemilla’s heart stopped for a minute. “Oh, that’s cool. I’m into it.”
Jemilla decided then and there that she would probably never be capable of understanding this woman. Her head was spinning and it felt like she might start to hyperventilate at any moment. She was beginning to realize she might actually have had real feelings for a while. Jemilla never considered herself to be oblivious before but she was maybe starting to see it now.
It was a long trek, and all along the way, the two women used the opportunity to get to know one another better and put their spears together. Despite their differences, they found they made a pretty good team. At night they slept close together to stay warm, and on more than one occasion had woken up with Zazzalil wrapped around her from behind. She was warm, strong, solid, and there. It was different when it was just the two of them, from sleeping in the cave with the entire rest of the tribe.
There was something very intimate about the trip, and maybe even romantic. Jemilla would start walking and Zazzalil would quickly catch up and take her hand with a shy smile that made Jemilla fall in love with her just a little more every time. She wondered if Zazzalil even realized how special even just that one small action was to her. She wished she could have something that small and special she could do for Zazzalil. Jemilla had never thought she might feel this way about another person.
“Well, this it.” Zazzalil announced with a heavy sigh. She let go of Jemilla’s hand and hefted the the spear easily, brandishing it as though she were practicing or preparing herself for something. “Do you feel ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Jemilla nodded, adjusting and readjusting her grip on her weapon.
“Hey, Jemilla, uhm, could you let me take the lead on this one? I don’t want you to get hurt and you’re more Peacemaker than fighter.” Zazzalil said, making those serious eyes again.
“I don’t want you to get hurt either, Zazzalil. I’m not going to let you fight for me. What kind of leader would I be if I did? We’re a team now, and we need to do this together, just like everything else.” Jemilla insisted. She hated Zazzalil’s deep seated need to be a hero. Jemilla had decided early on not to accept any of that self-sacrificing bullshit whenever her new wife would try to protect her.
Zazzalil seemed to consider the statement and whether or not she would continue to argue the point. Jemilla watched her think and almost said something, but enjoyed all of those emotions crossing Zazzalil’s very open face. The smaller woman nodded shortly and leaned against her spear with a very defiant, and determined look. Jemilla leaned her own spear against the stone wall, suddenly concerned. Zazzalil took it as a cue and grabbed Jemilla’s arms, letting her spear fall to the ground.
“There’s just one thing, before we go in there and do this, that I absolutely have to do, at least once.” Zazzalil’s voice went low and serious, deep in a manner Jemilla didn’t recognize.
Jemilla seemed concerned, until Zazzalil grabbed Jemilla’s biceps, with a grip as tight as anything she had ever felt. Zazzalil pushed up onto her toes, trying to get up as high as she could to meet the other woman’s lips. One hand left Jemilla’s arms and moved to the back of her neck, pulling Jemilla into her even further. After the shock subsided, Jemilla melted into Zazzalil and allowed herself to be taken over by the feeling of the strong little woman pressing into her. Jemilla’s hands had flown up semi-defensively out of shock and slowly lowered to Zazzalil’s hair and waist.
If asked, Jemilla would have said the kiss lasted for years. It was probably only a split second, maybe even a whole minute, unless you were in that world with them. For a first kiss, Jemilla would have to admit it was perfect. Zazzalil had her own own romantic side, Jemilla was learning; though Zazzalil would never admit it. Jemilla made a mental note to make a point of telling her or letting on that it was important to her and that she appreciated it.
“Hmmm, yup. Feel free to do that anytime you like.” Jemilla leaned back and hummed, smoothing her own hair down before moving to do the same thing for Zazzalil as well.
“Noted.” Zazzalil said with a smirk, picking up both spears and passing Jemilla’s back to her.
“We’ve got this, right?” Jemilla asked, looking worried and possibly a bit nauseous.
“We’ve got this, Jemilla, and even if we don’t, I’ve got you.” Zazzalil promised. “I swear, I’ve got your back.”
“Good, because I always have your back too, babe.” Jemilla replied, leaning on her spear and kissing Zazzalil’s forehead for a long moment.
Zazzalil’s face flushed a deep pink at that, touched all of the way down to her core. She felt almost as though she had just been blessed in some way.
“You ready?” Jemilla asked.
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Zazzalil agreed, shifting her spear to her left hand so she could take Jemilla’s hand and hold it the whole way there.
“Pass me the fire. Pass me the fire!” Jemilla heard one of the girls calling.
“Babe, I thought you said that all of the fire was gone?” Jemilla said, very confused.
“Just wait, babe. It’s not a fire.” Zazzalil said with a tone of mild disgust.
“It’s a rock...covered in shit. Why...I don’t understand. What the hell are they thinking?” Jemilla groaned.
“Emberly shat a fire. They think it will pass for fire long enough to get Snarl away from Grant.” Zazzalil explained, shoving through the crowd of their tribe murders and pulling Jemilla along behind her.
“Stupid idiots.” Jemilla rolled her eyes. Fueled by aggravation and anger, she drove her spear forward when the beast sprang forward as soon as he saw Zazzalil. The beast let out a surprised yelp and collapsed mere inches away from where Zazzalil stood, her body still tensed in preparation for the attack. She uncoiled as Jemilla quickly returned to her side.
“I must have made an impression.” Zazzalil scoffed nonchalantly. “I do tend to have that effect on women.”
“I’m your mommy, now.” Keeri said in the distance, coming around the corner with two baby Snarl cubs in her arms.
“Are you sure that you can handle that, Keeri?” Jemilla asked cautiously. “Those are wild animals. They’ll be dangerous when they grow up.”
“I’ll teach them not to be. They can hunt for themselves when they grow up. Eventually, they’ll be able to protect us too.” Keeri said looking determined and strong.
“That’ll be great, Keeri. We’ll figure out where to keep them once we’ve figured out where we are going to keep ourselves.” Zazzalil agreed giving Jemilla a look to double check that the pronouncement was okay by her as well. Jemilla nodded slightly in reply with a soft smile. She was happy to agree and even more happy that Zazzalil seemed like she was going to take their new partnership seriously.
Everyone began to mill about getting caught up with one another and as Jemilla began to step away to join them, Zazzalil caught her by the wrist.
“Are you okay? Not hurt anywhere? That was pretty intense…” Zazzalil asked with brown eyes leveled at her carefully.
“I’m fine. I just knew that I wasn’t about to lose you again and had thrown that spear before I even thought about what I was doing. What about you? Are you okay?” Jemilla asked.
“I’m good now that I know you’re good.” Zazzalil answered, scuffing her foot on a nearby stone absently. “So, what are we going to do with them?”
“We’ll figure it out, I’m sure.” Jemilla assures her with a voice full of the utmost confidence, completely certain that with her tribe back and Zazzalil at her side, nothing would be able to shake them.
“Together?” Zazzalil asked, offering Jemilla her hand.
“Together.” Jemilla answered, accepting it gratefully.
“Everybody grab something or someone and let’s haul ass out of here!” Zazzalil called over her shoulder, maintaining a strong grip on Jemilla’s hand and her own spear.
Jemilla and Zazzalil led the tribe to their old cave in relative quiet. When they arrived, everyone looked to Jemilla and Zazzalil expectantly. Jemilla dropped Zazzalil’s hand and stepped away slightly to to distance herself. They both immediately missed the contact.
“What’s going on? Are you both here for good?” Tiblyn asked.
“If you’re both back, then who is in charge and do we get to have spears and fires?” Ducker asked, uncertain of whose ass he should be kissing.
“I guess that we do owe you something of an explanation.” Jemilla answered with a shot scoff. She turned to Zazzalil. “Would you like to explain it to them or shall I?”
“Feel free.” said Zazzalil.
“After you all burned down the village, blamed it on Zazz, and exiled her; she came to me for help in rescuing you all…” Jemilla began the story and Zazzalil just stood and listened contentedly, allowing the other woman’s voice to wash over her and put her at ease.
“So, are you two...like, together now?” Schwoopsie asked. Emberly and Ducker both perked up at that. They had been rooting for this particular pairing for several years now, unbeknownst to anyone else.
“Yes, we are. We intend to get married as soon as we get everything back to a relative normal around here.” Zazzalil answered, moving back to Jemilla’s side and wrapping an arm around her waist.
In the back of the group, Jemilla could see Ducker and Emberly high five. That was another of Zazzalil’s inventions everyone had become rather taken with. Jemilla smiled softly at Zazzalil until she turned and met her eyes. Jeilla leaned down and kissed Zazz’s forehead, enjoying the way the smaller woman blushed in response.
“After a lot of discussion we decided that while individually we were okay leaders; together we could be much better. We balance one another out. Hard work and creativity, industry and fun, are all important. Hopefully, this will make our tribe the best again.” Jemilla said and was met with the world’s first applause.
“What about Grunt?” Emberly asked, finally speaking up.
“What the hell is a Grunt?” Zazzalil asked, looking confused.
“My boyfriend! The one that we all just risked our necks to save!” Emberly said in a tone of complete and utter exasperation.
“Oh! That guy! I had already forgotten about him. Uhm, I guess if Keeri can keep some baby Snarls, you can keep your Grunt unless Jemilla feels otherwise.” Zazzalil says, thinking out loud.
“I have no objections.” Jemilla agrees, though she still isn’t sure that she likes or trusts this Grunt guy. “So are we agreed on this new plan?” Jemilla asked the rest of the tribe, feeling maybe she should take their opinions into account as well.
She was met with various shouts of agreement and a singular “Schwoopsie!”. A familiar hand wrapped around her own from out of nowhere and everything felt at peace with the world.