“Come on, let me bandage those up” he hears her say as she enters his room with an aid kit that must be at least as old as the first apocalypse, which for some reason makes him want to smile.
His hands, wrapped up in an already really dirty gauze, bloody, ragged, were the last thing on his mind. He did feel a throbbing pain that went from his wrists up to his elbows but he choose to ignore it as its presence was something calming for him which to another person would probably sound insane.
He’s always been like that ever since he was a kid. He’d have these...attacks sometimes, since his dad got floated and then after Octavia was born.
First, when it was after his father’s death, he had been so young, still just three, but he’d wake up screaming, his shirt sweated, his body unconsciously throwing itself to the wall.
He slept with his mother back then, just the two of them-he was always on the inner side of the small cot so he wouldn’t fall on the ground. Aurora had found out the hard way that he was a restless sleeper. He’d fallen so many times and she had taken him to medbay so often, she knew the doctors were beginning to question it, question her and her parental abilities.
He had flung himself so hard one night, he got a concussion and she had to spent the week sewing at home, instead of going to her work place, so she could keep an eye on him. She’d wake him up in the middle of the night, every two or three hours and ask him his name and which station he lived on and what his favorite story was or what were the color of his eyes.
After that he always slept on the inside. But that had not helped calming his restless sleeping nature down.
She’d wake him and hold him tight, put his hand on her neck and make him feel her pulse or count with him to a hundred and then backwards or ask him to multiply or add, divide and deduct. And by the age of five he’d be so advanced in his math that he could jump straight to first grade.
After Octavia was born, he’d still have those attacks, it got worse actually, so worse, he would stop breathing and it wouldn’t be until Aurora brought baby Octavia and put her in his arms that he’d calm down.
She’d told him then, one night, that he had to stop this, had to find a way to ground himself, that it couldn’t keep happening anymore.
He’d tried everything-he’d count, he’d multiply, add, divide and deduct but some nights it wouldn’t be enough, some nights he had wanted to scream, to toss, to yell in the space surrounding them, to even...disappear. And he’d hated those nights for he had not only no idea what to do, but he also got scared-of who he was, of what he was becoming.
Then one day when he was ten, this boy at school who kept harassing him (one of the many), tripped him over. He fell so hard, he heard a bone crack and when he got back to his senses, took off his old shoe and saw how crooked the last two toes of his right foot were, he knew they must be broken.
He told no one, though. He limped a bit, but when he got home, he wrapped them in duck tape and lied to his mom that he slipped down the hallway. The pain has been excruciating for days. But those were the days he slept soundly.
He knew it was sick to want pain. And he never inflicted it on himself on purpose. But whenever it happened, he didn’t mind it. He welcomed it actually. And for years after that accident, even now, when Clarke was opening up the old rusty aid kit and taking out the gauzes, he almost wished she wasn’t-a sick part of him enjoyed the throbbing.
After the two broken toes that healed wrong and sometimes, still on rainy days hurt him, he somehow got a grip of himself. It surprisingly got better. He still had nightmares, he still woke up sweating, but it’d be once or twice every week, not every night.
Years later, just after Clarke left camp, after they irradiated Mount Weather actually, did he realize why that was-he had given up. He was scared still that Octavia could be found, that his mother could be floated and they were, it happened and he had feared it as much as he had expected it-he was not seeking his death, but he was prepared for it.
He was so lost after the Mountain that on nights he walked camp, left it, went into the forest and welcomed the sunrise by the river. He’d walk hours without even realizing so. And he’d sometimes stare at the raging waters that jumped over and under piles of rocks looking beautifully and he’d wonder what it’d be like to be lost in that beauty.
A few weeks after Clarke had left, he’d gotten a fever that persisted for two weeks. He had no idea what it was from-he wasn’t sick, he felt weak, he was tired, he barely dragged himself out of bed and got dressed and he hadn’t told anyone.
Like those years before with his broken toes, he decided to simply relish in it.
It was all, it seemed, that he had left.
He hadn’t told anyone, it was getting warm outside, if his cheeks were a little more flushed they’d think if was the sun that was so cruel it gave half the camp burns.
If he seemed tired as he headed to the mess hall for dinner, they’d think it’s cause he spent the entire day hunting out with the group, or training the new cadets, or building cabins, or helping patch up the ark.
If his eyes were a little haunted-like they were now as she removed the old bandages off his hands-they’d understand, comment on in quietly by the fire at night-the mountain, the mountain.
Yes, and they’d be right-the man conquered the mountain and the mountain crashed him with its weight.
He did not seek higher things or reach sky-high peaks-he got buried in the foots of it.
Then one day he couldn’t get out of bed. He hadn’t even realized it was morning, he had been so tired, he slept soundly well into the afternoon. He’d burned, he had felt himself burn, he had let his soaked shirt move up and down his back with every torturous turn he made so uncomfortably.
And the saddest of it all was that if they hadn’t needed him to cover a guard shift that evening, nobody would’ve come and found him.
It was Monty who did. At first he didn’t recognize who the bony fingers touching his forehead belonged to. He should’ve for only one other person moved through camp like a ghost.
The other was far far away from home. The other, was now taking care of his hands.
Monty had made a fuss about it. Apparently dragged not only Abby but Kane in his room too. Then he’d heard Octavia’s voice as well and surprisingly...even Jasper’s.
He couldn’t make much sense of it all. He knew he was talking in his sleep and delusion and he hoped he wasn’t saying something too embarrassing. He told them to go away, tried to fight every hand that even attempted to touch him to such a point that Abby couldn’t properly examine him.
He had only let Octavia hold his hand and he’d begged her to make them go away and somehow, somehow, she had succeeded. In the end it was just him at her in the room. She had hugged him, spooned him actually, rocked him a little in his arms as if he was a baby.
It lasted for a few days. And then he felt good, better. And he pretended as if it has never happened but he hoped it never would again.
But it did. Four more times. Four more times that he ignored and hid from everyone really damn well.
He liked thinking it is something that happened to him and that would just eventually stop.
But deep down he had always felt it’d probably come again. And he was refusing to admit, he felt a little feverish even now. He told himself it was because of the hands.
“It’s beginning to get infected” Clarke had announced still not looking at him.
She refused to and he knew why-they had left everyone behind. Monty with Harper’s dead body back in camp. Murphy and Emori, fighting to get to the bunker but never making it there. Raven, who’s leg finally, really betrayed her and she couldn’t make it back in time form the satellite tower to the lab.
She had radioed for them to go, just leave, gave them last instructions and tried to keep it together as the wave swallowed her whole but Bellamy had heard the break in her voice, he had imagined the tears.
And his sister-buried under the ground, in a hole in a floor much bigger than their own. That night when Clarke had fallen asleep on that same cot where she changed his bandages, he laid down on the floor and with his finger he traced a rectangle on the metal in the same shape and form as the hole Octavia hid in when she was a kid. He repeated the motion so many times in a desperate attempt to chase away the feverish tremors shaking his body and in the end, he had succeeded as he had finally fallen asleep.
“You okay?” he wakes up to her fingers gently touching his cheek, tracing something as if there was a map on his face until he realized she was dotting his freckles together.
He had grabbed her wrist gently, smiled and nodded. Her fingers kept tracing his face-his nose, his eyebrows, then his lips-lovingly, wantingly. But nothing else had happened-it wasn’t the time yet.
He had moved up on the cot next to her. It felt so strange even now, after all these years, to be on the outside, so close to falling off. But he had hugged her,spooned her actually. He had thrown his bandaged arm over her stomach and she had buried her back in his chest. She had fallen asleep after a while and when it was his turn to outline her silhouette with his finger, he had carefully slipped away and found the starboard window bay.
He’d sat down and pressed his forehead to the cold glass, watched as the Earth burned, burned, burned brighter than anything he had ever seen in his life. He had felt that fire inside him too and shivered.
What is wrong with me? he had asked himself then. God, what is wrong with me? I’m alive. I should be glad I’m alive.
But then again have I ever been glad? The question had settled into him like a rock, pulling him down.
He’d always wished Octavia was born first. Or that he simply was not born at all. His mother had told him they’ve wanted him so much-her and his father. But he had been the reason his dad worked crazy extra hours and began that strike in Factory station that has resulted in him being floated.
If he was never born, his dad would still be alive. So would his mom. And Octavia would probably not be trapped in a bunker under the ground.
The rock pulled him down harder.
He curled up on the floor, closed his eyes, shivered. It’s as if everything that has happened to him so far was finally piling on top of him, keeping him pressed down, unable to breathe. And this time, there was no reason to get up. Octavia was away, safe from him. The delinquents were dead and most of their deaths were his fault. Clarke was here but she was fine on her own. She’s always been the stronger one out of the two of them.
He went back into his memories.
Dug the slumped tired figure of a man wearing an old blue-grayish plaid shirt, with darker skin and very freckly face-more freckly than his own. His hair-God, his hair, it was so messy, so thick, he remembers grabbing it in his little baby fist and pulling,making the man laugh.
He smiles.The fire inside him burns brighter.
He makes himself get up an hour later and drag himself back to the cot.(he’s afraid of the day he won’t be able to get up.) Carefully, he slips in and hugs Clarke the same way he did before.
She hasn’t stirred-unlike him, she’s a peaceful sleeper.
She hums a little and pulls him closer as if he was a blanket she simply missed. He remembers another time when they’ve fallen asleep like that.
It was so long ago, a little after they had landed and has established themselves as the camp’s leaders. She has been exhausted one night after dinner, hadn’t slept for three days, fighting the flu that had left more than half of the kids trapped in their improvised medbay.
When he noticed her staggering on her feet, he swiped her up in his arms and brought her to his tent, carefully laid her down and then when he tried to leave, she kept his arm tight in her embrace and practically pulled him down. They’ve slept like this together, peacefully, all night, without any nightmares or interruptions. In the morning she had been the first one to wake up and they never spoke of it again.
“You’re warm” she whispers as she wakes now. He smiles in her ear and she feels him breathe, slowly, sharply even, as if he was sick or as if the air was so goddamn heavy to be pulled in and out of his lungs. Her hand slid down the bandages on his arms and she felt them.
”Those are wet already. I need to change them.”
“Shhh” he had hummed in her ear ”Would you rest for once?”
“Rest? We have ton of shit to do. We need to prepare the algae farm, figure out the hydro system, try and find some clothes, turn on the computers and-”
“My god, Clarke Griffin!” he grips her hand with his bandaged one ”Stop. Just stop.” she does, much to her surprise ”Breathe” she doesn’t ”Come on, breathe in! That’s my princess. Now out and again. Nice isn’t it?”
“We watched the world burn, Clarke” he utters with his heavy hoarse voice ”We’re stranded on a half-dead station, not knowing if we’ll ever be able to come down. For the next five years it’s only going to be you and I.”
“Once again: your point?”
“There’s no point, that’s the thing. Let yourself live without logic for once. Lie here and sleep, breathe, roll in bed, cuddle in me, seek warmth, fall asleep again.”
“Bold of you to assume I’d want to cuddle in you.”
“And you’re doing what now, exactly?” he raises his eyebrow smugly and it earns him a slap to the chest ”Ouch!”
“You deserved it.” she turns around, really cuddles in his chest, then moves her head up and their noses bump.
He wants to kiss her. He really does. For some reason, he doesn’t know why, but he feels as if he doesn’t have that much time left. He can still feel the fire, that same fire from before, burn inside him. It was not yet fully ignited, but he knew it was there and he wanted to spend every moment he had left with her. Doing all the things he wasn’t bold enough to do before.
“We have all the time in the world, you’re saying?”
“There’s no world anymore. But time” he feels the shiver creep up his back ”yes.”
And what a liar he is.
That night they dance by the starboard window bay to some old beat he found on one of the computers and somehow made echo throughout the entire ring. Then they sit down, she’s pulled up to his chest again. He braids her hair. They talk-about the time they first landed, about the death of their kids, about them being not only leaders but parents without even realizing it. Then about the mountain. Lexa. Pike. The war.
And then he stops her cause he knows she’ll go into how he got so ruined and he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want them talking about him. He only wants her-to hold her, to dance with her, to trace her nose and cheeks.
He kisses her for the first time on the cheek as he holds her pressed to his chest. He’s so glad she’s hot and blushing herself because that way she can’t feel the fire burning inside him harder now.
She squirms, giggles and god what an unearthly sound it is. Then she moves her head back and kisses him herself. It’s sweet, giddlish, mostly just really loving. It replaces the fire in his heart with light-the soft and gentle kind. The sun-like one.
She lets him move his hands, from her arms, to her chest, to her stomach, to her tights.
They make soft, very slow love on the floor.
He wakes up burning again. And he thinks it won’t be too long now.
But he’s wrong, surprisingly wrong.
He gets an year, an entire year of dancing with her at night, picking her up, carrying her to bed, sleeping on the outside of the cot, holding her in his arms, tugging her braid and annoying her in the morning.
Sometime in the fourth month in, she figures something’s not right. He’s hot and she enjoys having him keeping her warm but this is unnatural. She curses herself she didn’t notice earlier.
He waves it off. But some days she can feel it’s hard for him to get up at all.
One day he doesn’t.
She finds blisters on his back later that night.
It’s the radiation. It must be. He admits to running off the rover that day during the storm to pick a kid stranded away from his mother in the black rain.
But she knows there’s more so she pushes.
He tells her he never had a hazmat suit on, he burned some but it healed with a few of the pills her mom gave him.
This can’t be all of it. So she pushes for more.
He admits he’s not sure it’s the radiation at all. Or at least, not just that. He feels something heavy inside him, something big, dark, different. He felt it first after the mountain.
She doesn’t have an x-ray, she doesn’t have much of an equipment at all. Barely any medication, mostly aspirin and some vitamins.
How is she to treat whatever he has with vitamins?
One day when she’s made him take his shirt off and her hands are moving down his chest she finds a lump somewhere in his right side, in a place she definitely didn’t expect to find anything at all, in a place, she hasn’t even bothered checking before.
It’s big, it hurts him.
She cries for the first time then. He pulls her head down and lets her tears fall down on his face.
He thinks how he doesn’t want them to go anywhere else-he caused them, she was in pain because of him, he deserved that pain to come back to where it came from.
The fever was the worst of it for him. He burned, bright, fiery, yet tiredly, slowly. Very torturously.
A few months before he died, he started telling her stories of his childhood, of his mom and dad (she didn’t even know he had a dad), of Octavia and what a menace she was.
And then of the delinquents.
Of them. All the moments he found her intimidating, all the times he wished he could touch her. He could recall the exact time of day, the month, what the weather was like, what he craved to really do to her and how he couldn’t. Until now.
They still loved slowly, patiently. Sometimes fiercely as the fire burning inside him but more rarely.
After, she liked tracing the freckles on his warm face. He still outlined her silhouette. He liked thinking in another life he’d get to remember her and stubbornly, he persisted on getting a very accurate image in his head of her. Of them.
He liked them like that. Like ocean waves, coming in harsh, ebbing away quietly, lovingly, slowly back to their home, back to their togetherness.A speck of nothing in a big black dark sky with stars shining for everyone but them.
Their last dance is a few weeks before he dies. It’s a crazy one-she liked thinking of it as his protest against the universe, one last rebel way of him to give it the finger for the way it has handled him (so wronglfully).
They danced danced danced-rock, swing, blues and finally, quiet piano songs perfect for the slow beating of his heart. And then after he was gone, months later, she had realized it probably wasn’t his last desperate attempt to flip the bird at the world-it was just him making her live, truly, breathlessly, heavenly, one last time.
And she had cried harder that night than when he had died.
He hadn’t gone peacefully. She doesn’t believe anyone ever does or if they did, she wasn’t lucky enough to witness it. And he wasn’t lucky enough to have it.
He burned in fire, fever skyhigh, sweat drenching his entire small weaker self, a pain inside him he refused to acknowledge to her but the tight grip of his fists and his quiet groans, spoke louder than his words ever could.
“Let’s cuddle” he had asked. He didn’t like her looking down at him with the most worried expression on her face. He didn’t want this to be the way he remembered her face before he died, as selfish as it was.
He had squeezed her hand.
“Come here.” he hadn’t asked, just pulled her down with his last remaining strength. He had spooned her, pressed her to his chest”Close your eyes” he had whispered like all those months ago but now it wasn’t sleepily. It was tiredly. ”Come on, indulge a dying man’s last wishes.” she did so ”Breathe in” he had commanded”Breathe out.”
And so she did.
They did together. Moving like the ocean waves-in synchrony.
Until he didn’t.
He ebbed away.
And still...he held her in his arms.