When sorrows seem to find you day after day
You leave a dream behind you every step you take
Well sometimes there is not an answer for the heartache we feel.
Sometimes we have to shatter, before we can heal.
Been a long and lonesome winter, with the curtains drawn.
The distraction of our struggle drowns out the cause.
But the sun shines warmer, when you are chilled to the bone.
The welcome is so much sweeter when the prodigal comes home.
When there are no words and everything hurts
This moment is in the making
So keep walking that line, another step and you'll find.
This life is for the taking, so take it now.
Soon we are going to look back to see what remains
When trouble is behind us and everything has changed.
- Elenowen, “For the Taking”
THEN: 43 Days After Praimfaya
Clarke carried Madi, trailing Lexa and Aden as they walked down an unfamiliar corridor.
Madi was twirling her fingers through bits of Clarke’s hair, one forearm resting across Clarke’s forehead as she whined a little. “But what kind of surprise is it?”
Lexa and Clarke laughed, and Lexa called back, “It would not be a surprise if we told you what it was, strikon.”
Madi laid her head against Clarke’s and gave them her best pout and saddest voice. “I don’t like surprises..”
“I do,” Aden said firmly, hopping over the lines separating the metal plates that made up the floor of the Ring. “Surprises are fun.”
Madi harrumphed and buried her face in Clarke’s neck, clinging to her tighter. She actually liked surprises too— she loved them, really. But maybe if they thought she didn’t, someone would tell her where they were going.
Clarke chuckled and rubbed Madi’s back a little bit. “Don’t worry, Grumpy Bear. We’re almost there.”
“One of these days you have to tell me about this grumpy bear you always speak of, Clarke. Why is it so unhappy?” Lexa shook her head a little, reflexively reaching out to steady Aden when he tripped over a shoelace he didn’t know how to tie yet.
Clarke just laughed harder, and Madi lifted her head to watch. She liked to see Clarke laughing. She had a big smile—the biggest one Madi had ever seen, really—and when she laughed, her eyes glittered like there was magic inside of them. Madi thought that Clarke might have a secret bottle of happy that lived inside her; something that nobody else had, something that was uniquely Clarke’s.
If your happiness lived inside your heart, Madi thought that Clarke must have a much bigger heart than other people. She’d asked her about it once, and Clarke laughed a big, beautiful laugh, one that showed all of her teeth and crinkled her nose, and filled her eyes with sparkling that looked like stars.
She’d told Madi that maybe that was true, but if it was, it was only because Madi and Aden and Lexa took up all the space inside her regular heart, and it had to keep growing because she loved them more and more every day, until her heart overflowed with happy.
Madi traced her fingertip lightly over the wrinkles at the corners of Clarke’s eyes as they stopped in front of an unfamiliar airlock.
Lexa pointed to a small engraved plaque beside it that had strange markings on it. “Aden, can you read this?”
Aden bit his lip and squinted his eyes, carefully following the short lines. Some of them, Madi knew. Raven had just taught her the letter ‘P’ that morning, and how it started words like “pots” and “pans” and “planet”, like Earth. She recognized the letters, but they didn’t make any sense. Madi tugged on her earlobe a little, as she usually did when she was cranky, and wished Aden would hurry up so they could see their surprise.
Aden spoke slowly, carefully, as he sounded out the sign. “F-ah—”
“F-ih,” Lexa gently corrected. “See, that’s an ‘i’, but there’s no other vowel, so it’s a short ‘I’.”
“Good, Aden. And this one?”
“Pode?” Aden shook his head quickly. “No, it’s ‘Pod’, right? Film Pod, it says Film Pod.”
Madi tugged at her ear a little harder while Lexa and Clarke both praised Aden, and she squirmed a little. She didn’t know what a ‘Film Pod’ was, and she was worried that was the whole surprise, a stupid sign for Aden to read and show off.
Clarke jostled her slightly in her arms. “Hey, no ear-pulling, you’re gonna be dragging your ears on the ground when you grow up if you keep doing that.”
Madi dropped her hand to play with the watch on Clarke’s wrist instead, but with a grunt, so Clarke would know she wasn’t happy about it.
Lexa smiled and opened the airlock. They walked into the strangest room Madi had ever seen. There was nothing in it but lots and lots of chairs. It looked like a million people could sit together in here, but the chairs were all facing a wall, which seemed silly.
Madi decided she didn’t care if her ears dragged on the ground and went back to tugging on one as Clarke carried her to the chairs that were closest to the wall. Lexa and Aden sat down, and Clarke shifted Madi in her arms a little, leaning in to Lexa.
“Here, sit with Lexa for a minute, okay? I have to go get your surprise.”
Madi let herself be transferred into Lexa’s lap instead, wrapping one of her tiny braids around her fingers and holding it against her cheek. Lexa always wore her hair the same way, and Madi’s favorite part was all the little braids that were hidden like secrets among the patterned ponytails and loose waves that surrounded them.
Clarke disappeared for a minute, and came back empty handed, sitting next to Aden. “Okay, Raven. Hit it.”
Madi didn’t see Raven anywhere, and was about to whine about the surprise when the wall in front of them suddenly lit up as bright as the sun. Madi let out a frightened squeal and curled tighter against Lexa.
“It’s okay, strikon,” Lexa said soothingly, stroking her back comfortingly. Aden was tensed, but trying to pretend it hadn’t startled him too, as Clarke rubbed his arm reassuringly. “Watch, look at the light.”
Madi tentatively peeked out from where her face was hidden in Lexa’s hair as the light changed, and suddenly there was music playing. A big castle was on the wall now, with brightly colored explosions happening around it in all the colors of her wax sticks, and maybe more than that. Madi couldn't believe her eyes and ears, and slowly lifted her head away from where she’d been trying to hide it moments ago.
Some letters came on the screen, and then even more letters, but Madi wasn't angry at them anymore, because different music was playing. Something that sounded like singing voices, but it sounded more like the Azgeda songs Echo sang to her than the ones Murphy liked to dance to. It was beautiful, even more beautiful than Clarke’s laughing. Madi watched, enchanted, as a picture of the sun appeared with so many bright colors she couldn't even count them all before they changed again.
Suddenly, the wall was full of drawings of all kinds of animals. Some of them, Madi recognized from her lessons with Luna—there were birds, and zebras, and even an elephant. Some of them, she didn’t recognize at all, and a few of them looked downright silly or scary. It took her a moment to process the new information before she realized something astonishing.
They were moving.
The animals were drawings, but they were somehow alive, too.
Beside her, Aden slid from his seat in a trance, settling on his knees on the floor and staring at the moving pictures with his jaw slack. The picture showed hundreds of animals, and then followed a bird as it flew over all of them and landed near—Madi gasped. Could it be?
“Biga sofstepa,” she whispered in awe. Lions were her absolute favorite, and there was a picture of one right in front of her, with his beautiful hair blowing around in a breeze Madi couldn’t feel.
She didn’t want to look away for even a heartbeat, but she spared a brief glance anyway. She saw Clarke leaning over and kissing Lexa, and they were both smiling. Their eyes were wet when they rested their heads together, and then Madi had to look back at the pictures on the wall to follow the very skinny pauna that was walking towards the lion. She didn’t worry, though, because she knew Clarke and Lexa were having happy tears, not sad ones, and Aden was leaning back against their legs on the floor, and Madi was safe and warm all wrapped up in Lexa’s arms.
Madi thought to herself that she was the luckiest girl in the whole earth and space, all put together, and she wanted to be this happy forever. Her heart would fill up and overflow like Clarke’s. It would grow bigger than the whole universe with all the happy she would collect, and someday she would be a grown-up that threw her head back and crinkled her nose when she laughed.
She would smile, and laugh, and love—all of it, big enough for everyone to see and her eyes twinkling like starlight. Just like Clarke.
NOW: 2199 Days Without Lexa
Madi sat at the table with her face buried in a book and gnawing idly on one of her braids as she read. Aden, his shoulder length hair tied back in a tight braid that rested flush against his scalp and revealed the shorn sides of his head, snatched the book from her hands as he passed by.
“Hey!” Madi snapped, grabbing for the book unsuccessfully, her dark eyes narrowed. “Give it back, skrishmelon!”
Aden just shook his head and stretched up to put the book on a nearby shelf far too high for Madi to reach. “No way, strikskrish. You know the rules. Dinner time is family time.”
The collection of braids woven with feathers and small bits of hardware on Madi’s head clanked together as her head spun towards him. “You’re so bossy! Jeez, Aden, who died and left you in charge, anyway?”
Aden’s teasing grin faded quickly, his face tightening. Madi felt the blood drain from her face and her stomach turning when she realized what she had said. “I didn’t mea—”
Aden shook his head quickly, waving her off. “It’s fine. I know.”
Echo and Luna joined them at the table, engrossed in conversation. Madi silently slumped lower in her chair, her face stormy and jaw set. Aden reached out to try to reassure her with a gentle pat on her shoulder, but Madi just shrugged him off and watched sullenly as everyone else joined them.
Well. Almost everyone else.
The group made small talk while beginning to load up their plates. Madi, having lost her normally voracious appetite, mostly focused on pushing her food around her plate. She just wanted dinner to be over. She just wanted to go back to her room, curl up in her favorite chair, and go back to reading about Arya Stark learning to sword fight in peace.
“Madi?” Luna’s voice was gentle with concern as she tilted her head to study her from across the table. “Ste ogud?”
“I’m fine,” Madi grunted the blatant lie, then paused. “Actually, I don’t feel so great. Can I be excused?”
Luna glanced up the table, exchanging a look with the others, and after a pause, it was Echo who spoke. “Sure, Madi. Just leave your plate, I’ll take care of it for you.”
Madi stood, ignoring Aden’s gaze on her. “Mochof.”
Once she was out of earshot, Murphy addressed the rest of the table. “What was that about?”
Eyes turned to Aden, who merely shrugged and quickly busied himself with his dinner.
Murphy took Madi’s plate and dumped it into his own, continuing to talk around a mouth full of food. “I mean, she seemed even more ’moody hormonal teenage girl’ than usual. Didn’t she?” He glanced to Roan to back him.
“Maybe she’s thinking about the fact that we’re still here after six and a half years.” Roan grumbled, wincing when he realized what he’d just done. Every head turned towards him, and he immediately felt awful when he saw the look of guilt on Raven’s face. “Skrish, Raven. I’m sorry. I know you’re trying.”
“She is.” Luna’s voice was firm as she rubbed Raven’s leg gently under the table.
Raven tried to shake it off, but her eyes dulled with sadness growing behind them. “And anyway, we had an agreement. You brought up the time, you get to choose your punishment. Dishes, latrine, or Clarke?”
Roan groaned and rubbed his face. “Come on, Raven. It was an accident..” But there wasn’t a single sympathetic face looking back at his and he knew he’d already lost that battle. “Fine. I pick Clarke.”
Murphy paused mid-bite to mutter, “I would have gone with latrine, personally.”
Raven shot him a withering look and unapologetically grabbed a handful of the fried potato slices he’d taken from Madi’s plate as punishment. “Shut up, Murphy. Clarke’s been through a lot. She’s still going through a lot.”
Murphy, mollified by both her point and the loss of his crisps, nodded a little. “Yeah. I know. I’ll fix her a tray, I’ll be on kitchen patrol tonight.” He stood up and grabbed his and Madi’s empty plates before anyone could respond and moved quickly out of the room. He didn’t think he could take the stifling tension in the air much longer without snapping anyway. He was more than happy to have an excuse to abandon that particular ship before it got any more depressing and claustrophobic.
“Family fun night,” he muttered to himself once he was out of earshot, but there was no vitriol in his tone. Truthfully, he felt more sad about it than anything else.
The remainder of the meal was practically silent as the others retreated inside their heads.
Clarke lay quietly beside Lexa’s unmoving form in their bed. Tubes and wires seemed to be going in every direction, and the only sound besides the hum of the machines clustered beside them was the soft whooshing of the ventilator filling and emptying her lungs for her.
She played idly with the long, neat braid before her, gently untwisting it and combing her fingers through the loose ringlets it produced.
“Maybe we’ll wash your hair tomorrow. It’s only been a few days since last time, but it’ll feel good, don’t you think?” She sighed lightly. “I know, my braiding skills are really lacking. I can ask Echo to do it instead, if you want. Aden’s gotten pretty good at it too. I think Madi’s a little jealous, cause hers are always a mess. Just like mine.”
Clarke pushed herself up, taking a brush from the nightstand and beginning to run it through her hair slowly.
“I know he hasn’t been here in awhile. I guess he’s been training pretty hard. You should be proud of him, he’s an amazing fighter now. Luna told me he dropped Roan like a sack of apples the other day and didn’t even break a sweat.”
Clarke paused, lowering the brush. “I already told you that, didn’t I? I’m sorry. You must be really tired of hearing all the same shit over and over. There’s not a whole lot going on up here, though. Every day’s the same.”
She stretched a little, cracking her back and then her knuckles. “Maybe Octavia will come by, too. That’ll be nice, won’t it? To see Octavia again. She’s doing really well these days. I know it took a long time, but she’s really strong. She just needs to have faith that Bellamy and Lincoln and everyone else are okay down there. She has to know that everything is going to be okay, and she won’t be alone forever.”
Clarke’s throat tightened up and she unconsciously leaned in a little closer, her voice growing softer. “None of us will be alone forever. We’re gonna find out way back to the ground, all of us. And Octavia will be back with Lincoln and Bell, and you’ll be back with me. We’ll get to see Mom and Kane again. And things will be so much better. No more wars, no more Conclaves. Just you and me, and Madi and Aden, and everyone we care about. It’ll be so much better. You just have to believe that, Lexa. You have to have faith, that’s all.”
Clarke searched Lexa’s face intently, looking as always for the slightest twitch or shudder; for any sign that Lexa was still in there and still Lexa.
As always, the sign did not come.
Lexa sat facing the wall, her knees pulled to her chest with her chin resting on them. She listened to Clarke’s quiet babbling as she scraped her thumbnail roughly against the wall.
Scritch, scritch, scritch, she heard.
Skrish, skrish, skrish, she thought.
When she had finished, she wrapped her arms around her legs and glanced over the sea of superficial scratches that covered the cold, dark cinderblock wall.
Becca stood on the other side of the bars with her arms crossed and a look of annoyance on her face. “I would offer you a pen and some paper, but I don’t expect you’ll take it today, either.”
Lexa scowled, not even bothering to glance at the mildly imposing figure in her peripheral. “I want nothing from you, natrona.”
Becca merely shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
When Becca had gone, Lexa rested her chin on her knees again and turned her gaze to the scratched wall. Her eyes traced a path across all 2,199 marks and landed on the first one she had made.
“One, two, three..” Lexa whispered to herself as she began counting them once more, keeping her voice quiet. Quiet enough that she could still hear Clarke’s murmured words snaking their way into her subconscious. They wrapped around her like a favorite cloak, and she breathed them into herself, letting them keep her warm and safe in this vile, empty hell.