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Book IV: Hearts Still Beating

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I wake up every morning with a new resolve

Two hands and one heart, let the world revolve

One chance to reach out and find a place for me

One chance to find love for all humanity

Love is a madness, if thwarted it develops fast

When you fish for love, bait with your heart, not your brain

I keep skipping stones, hoping for a change

But things just stay the same

I keep walking roads, looking for a home

That I can call my own

- Hans Zimmer & Dan Reynolds, “Skipping Stones”

 

 

 

A Madness

 

 

Echo, Luna, Roan, and Aden waited on either side of the hallway, each armed with as many weapons as they could hold apiece. Madi, Raven, and Clarke stood just beyond the airlock door, tightly clumped around Octavia, who was uncomfortably wearing Lexa’s mantle.

 

“Did I mention that I really hate this plan?” Octavia said quietly through gritted teeth, adjusting the strap.

 

“Once or twice,” Raven muttered under her breath. “And for the record, I agree.”

 

“Neither of you hate it as much as Lexa does,” Clarke hissed, thinking of Lexa left fuming in the closest room. They had otherwise unanimously decided she wasn’t anywhere near ready to be involved in a potential firefight. Clarke had tried to make Madi wait with her, until Madi pointed out that she was more qualified as a warrior than Clarke was these days.

 

Murphy waited just ahead of them, at the airlock panel. He glanced at Clarke nervously. “Are you sure about this?”

 

“Nope,” she replied simply. The Ring gave a massive shudder as the small ship that had launched from the Eligius IV attached to the docking bay, and everyone swayed for a moment. 

 

Clarke touched Octavia’s lower back, her voice barely audible. “You’ve got this, Wanheda.”

 

Octavia tilted her chin up just slightly and gave one short, single nod in Lexa’s signature move, setting her jaw. They all watched nervously as the doors on the new ship began to slide open, and Madi instinctively reached for Octavia’s hand, sending a sharp ping through Clarke’s chest. Octavia squeezed her hand gently as she eyed the dark figures on the other side of the airlock.

 

There were four of them, from what she could see; at least they had the numbers if that’s all there was. They were armed with large firearms, and one of them stepped forward, probably taking stock of the situation as well. 

 

Octavia turned the sword in her hand, deliberately using the freshly sharpened edge to reflect the ceiling light against the door before giving a nod to Murphy. The group took a collective breath as he pushed the airlock door open, removing the last barrier between his family and the strangers.

 

The one who had stepped forward was a woman as well. Her hair was tied back in a neat but casual ponytail, and she wore a brown jumpsuit and lightweight armor. Her pale blue eyes scanned them quickly, taking stock of the situation before she cleared her throat.

 

“Who’s in charge here? I’m guessing you?” She addressed Octavia, glancing at the sword in her hand. “I like the Medieval vibe, but we aren’t here to fight.”

 

“Why are you here, then? Why do you invade my people’s home?” Octavia gave her best impression of Heda, and even Clarke was mildly surprised by how accurate the portrayal sounded. 

 

The woman remained where she was, the men behind her looking only slightly less nervous than the occupants of the Ring looked at the moment. She studied Madi with slight interest before returning her gaze to Octavia’s. “We didn’t know anyone was here. We’re looking for medical supplies. How many of you are there?”

 

“This is all of us.” Clarke stepped forward, pausing when the newcomers raised their guns at her. She quickly put her hands up, but didn’t move any closer. “What kind of medical supplies?”

 

The woman glanced sideways at Murphy. “I’m guessing the kid is yours?”

 

Madi narrowed her eyes, crossing her arms. “I’m not a kid.”

 

“Of course you’re not.” The woman smiled then, a bemused look crossing her face briefly. “You know what quid pro quo means, kid?” Madi just glared at her in response. “It means I won’t call you ‘kid’ if you tell me how many people you actually have. And why your leader let us dock with you.”

 

“I’m not stupid, either,” Madi shot back. “I’m not telling you shit.”

 

“Yeah, I can see that. So, how about this instead?” Before the words were out of her mouth, one of the men had grabbed Murphy and had a pistol to his head, while the woman aimed her gun directly at Octavia. “You tell me what the game is here, how many people you have hiding back in that hallway—and anywhere else on this ship—and we won’t blow out everyone’s brains. How about that deal, kid? You like that one better?”

 

Madi glanced at Octavia, who shook her head almost imperceptibly. Madi swallowed hard, but set her jaw, saying nothing. 

 

“How about you, Leader? Are you stupid? Believe me when I tell you that we outgun you, even if you have 50 more people back there. Even if you have a hundred people back there.” She smiled dangerously, addressing Madi once more. “Hey kid, you ever seen a sonic drill? It’s designed to blow holes in mountains. And my guys still on the expedition vessel have one ready to go and instructions to blow the hell out of this place if anyone is… Uncooperative.”

 

“If they do that, you’ll die too,” Clarke pointed out, and the woman just smiled again.

 

“But my people will still be alive. Can you say the same?”

 

Octavia pressed her forehead against the gun aimed at her, her eyes flashing and tone firm. “If you blow this place to hell, you’ll destroy the medical supplies you need. Not to mention the doctor you probably need, too. I don’t know your business, but I don’t think you’re going to destroy the only healer left in the universe.”

 

The woman in the jumpsuit chuckled lightly and tilted her head, taking Octavia in once more. “I would hate to have to kill such a strong leader. I like that in a woman. ”

 

“I’m taken, but thanks for the interest,” Octavia sassed. “Lower your weapons, and maybe we can work something out.”

 

The woman leaned just a little closer towards Octavia, tilting her head and addressing her own people without breaking her gaze.

 

“Kill the kid.”

 

“No!” Aden flew from the hallway, his gun at the ready and Luna still attached to his back, trying to prevent him from moving closer. Echo and Roan quickly followed, each of them with weapons drawn.

 

“Well, what do we have here? Lying right off the bat, is that any way to treat a guest?”

 

“You’re not guests, you’re invaders,” Raven snapped, her gun trained on one of the men. 

 

“Potato, po-tah-to,” the woman replied. “All I’m asking for is for your leader to tell me the truth.”

 

A voice responded from behind them that sent a chill up Clarke’s spine.

 

“The truth is I am actually the leader here, not Octavia.” Lexa stood shakily behind them, one hand braced on the wall for balance. Clarke groaned internally; she should have known the temptation would be too much for Lexa to resist, even in her seriously weakened condition.

 

“Octavia, eh?” The woman lifted an eyebrow appreciatively. “Weird name. What’s yours, Actually-The-Leader?”

 

“Lexa. And I would appreciate if you would ask your attendant to take his gun off my daughter.”

 

The woman studied her briefly and in a move they had certainly not been expecting, she nodded to the man, who lowered the gun he’d been holding on Madi. Clarke allowed herself a brief moment to appreciate how Lexa still maintained a serious air of authority, even when her unsteady legs were visibly trembling beneath her.

 

“Nice to meet you, Lexa. You can call me Diyoza.”

 

Lexa glanced at Madi, and then to Murphy. “Perhaps our people can help each other. We have something you need, and you have something we need.”

 

“And what is it you need, Leader Lexa?”

 

“A ride to the ground.”

 

The man holding Murphy hostage spoke for the first time then, his voice gravelly and an unpleasant expression on his face. “I don’t like it. They probably don’t even have any medical supplies. They just want to make us vulnerable.”

 

Diyoza shrugged a bit at Lexa. “McCreary’s not my smartest guy by a long shot, but I think he’s pretty on the money right now. If we lower our weapons, what’s to stop your people from killing mine and just taking our ship?”

 

Lexa took a step forward and began to open her mouth. Clarke watched with horrified familiarity as Lexa’s eyes widened slightly and the rest of her froze before she crumpled to the ground. Clarke cried out and rushed to her side, forgetting about the guns, the strangers, and everything else except Lexa, who lay shuddering on the floor, her muscles stretching and straining as she seized.

 

Diyoza faltered just slightly, but McCreary was the first one to speak. “It’s a trick. She’s faking it.”

 

“She’s not faking it!” Madi’s eyes were already welling quickly as she snapped at him fearlessly. In response, he gripped Murphy’s collar tighter and aimed his gun at Madi instead.

 

Diyoza watched as a stream of thick, dark blood began running out of Lexa’s nose and ear. She glanced back at McCreary, an eyebrow lifted.

 

“Think she’s faking that, too?” 

 

Clarke was in a daze as Lexa’s shudders suddenly stilled, her chest no longer rising. “No. No, no, Lexa, don’t do this. Oh, fuck! She’s not breathing.. Lexa?”

 

Echo glanced around and made a call, chucking her gun down the hall to Diyoza’s feet before dropping to her knees beside Clarke. She began chest compressions as Clarke tilted Lexa’s chin up to clear her airway. 

 

Diyoza watched with increasing interest and understanding as the others tossed their weapons as well, and held brief, rapid discussions with each other. Several of them just left, jogging down the hall while discussing a stretcher, while two more headed in a different direction for supplies.

 

Her men were all staring at her as she slung the gun over her shoulder, but it was Shaw who spoke first.

 

“What is this? After all that, they just lay down arms and walk away? That's crazy.”

 

“It’s a madness,” Diyoza murmured quietly, watching the tearful chaos exploding before and around her. “Love is a madness.”

 

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” Paxton snapped.

 

“Shaw,” she finally commanded, ignoring Paxton entirely. Her eyes were trained on Madi, who was wringing her hands tearfully as she watched the chaos, “Collect the weapons and then stand down. McCreary, let the boy go.”

 

Paxton looked pissed as he reluctantly let go of Murphy with an unnecessary shove. “This is a mistake.”

 

“We have their weapons.”

 

Paxton practically snarled, hungry for blood as ever. “Do you think, in your infinite wisdom, that the ones who just left won’t come back with more?”

 

Diyoza shrugged. “If they do, we kill them all. Starting with the kid.”

 

 

Raven sat in the common area, her good leg bouncing anxiously as they all sat in an increasingly awkward silence. The woman—Diyoza—and her men were opposite the rest of them, except the one they called Paxton. He was pacing the room and gritting his teeth, and his entire vibe made Raven feel like she was in the presence of something unholy and full of rage. Like a time bomb about to go off.

 

She honestly just hoped if he did, that the knife carefully wedged inside her leg brace would be enough to put him down like the rabid dog he seemed to be. If not, there was always the one tucked in the back of her cargos, and a smaller one Roan had custom crafted for her to replace the buckle on her belt seamlessly. 

 

And if those weren’t enough, she had 29 teeth that she was pretty sure she could do some pretty serious damage with if need be.

 

Luna was in the operating pod, assisting Clarke and Echo. Raven had long since finished pulling blood and was at the part of the experience that she hated the most; being useless, sitting around and waiting, being patient. Like it was possible to be patient when someone you loved was on the brink of death. What an aggressively stupid concept.

 

Diyoza’s pale eyes scanned around the room slowly, measuring each of them up. You could practically hear the hamster in her head running on the wheel, and Raven had a surprisingly bold appreciation for this woman who seemed to study people the way Raven herself did. Slowly, thoroughly—taking her time to make up her mind about someone. This wasn’t a woman that liked playing games, and Raven sheepishly had to admit to herself that she kind of liked her because of that alone. 

 

It wasn’t very often that people took their time to measure you; most waited like snakes, coiled to strike or protect on pure base instinct. But instinct was a funny thing, because it was so often wrong. For hell’s sake, instinct had told Raven she could trust Finn, could believe in him; that he would never hurt her like so many others had.

 

And obviously, she’d been wrong.

 

So fuck instinct; the measure of a person wasn’t cultivated from the first point on your shared timeline, it was distance over time. How far would someone go to have your back, to rescue you, to let you lean on them? How far would they go to lean on you? Would they break your heart or your spirit, would they shatter the nerves in your leg? And if they did, was that the measure of them, or did it matter if years later you trusted them with your life, your soul, your heart? Would you let them braid your hair and sleep in your bed and listen to music while sharing a packet of chips with you? 

 

After all, instinct told her not to trust John Murphy. Time had showed the truth of him, and he rubbed her shoulder comfortingly as if he could hear her thoughts. Raven gratefully leaned into his touch, and Diyoza’s analytical gaze fell on them.

 

“How long have you been together?”

 

Raven practically felt Murphy blushing, and she shrugged her other shoulder as he replied, “Um, we aren’t, really. Not.. not really, like that.”

 

Diyoza just raised an eyebrow, and Raven felt practically haughty in her sudden need to defend her friend, her brother in arms, her confidante, her—Jesus, there wasn’t even a word for everything he had become to her and to Luna. And really, Raven thought to herself defensively, fuck labels anyway, right? Who needed them?

 

“We’re unofficial fuckless buddies who share a life and usually a bed,” Raven said, her voice tighter than she would have liked. Anticipating misunderstanding, rejection, judgement for sure—how did you explain something that had no name to someone who couldn’t see your heart? Who didn’t know what you knew about a simple boy with floppy hair and a mischievous grin as broken as yourself, or a simple girl with wild red-tinged curls and a voice like ocean waves, just as broken too? How did you even begin to name such a thing, especially when people were quick to judge and even quicker to dismiss things they didn’t understand?

 

It turned out she didn’t need to worry about the reaction of a woman who also took her time to study people before deciding on them. Much to her pleasant surprise, Diyoza nodded her head in approval and looked vaguely impressed by her honesty. “I had one of those once.” 

 

Raven lifted her chin appreciatively and gave her what could almost pass for a smile. Her hesitance wasn’t against Diyoza in that moment, though. It just felt wrong to smile when Lexa was in surgery and her entire family was hurting this much in the meantime.

 

Just then, the door opened. Every head in the room swung towards it when a disheartening wail filled the room behind Echo’s shattered face. 

 

“W—we stopped the bleed, but she’s.. not waking up,” Echo stuttered out quietly, her face lined with worry and guilt and frustration and hopelessness. The sight burned Raven deep into her core and her heart dropped into her throat, then further, into the hollow, aching, pit of her stomach.

 

“No!” Madi wailed, collapsing in on herself until she was a crumpled, sobbing ball on the floor. 

 

“W-what happened?” Aden choked out, trying to hold his tears back. 

 

Echo shook her head. “We think it’s the flame. We need to take it out, but the neural mesh is embedded in her brain stem. If we had Abby..”

 

Diyoza frowned. “You said there was no one else on the ship.”

 

“There isn’t,” Octavia replied quietly. “Abby is Clarke’s mother, a more experienced doctor. She’s on the ground.”

 

Diyoza nodded slowly as the pieces fell into place. “That’s where we’re all going anyway, right? What’s the problem?”

 

Echo’s voice was strained and her tongue felt thick in her dry mouth. “We can’t bring Lexa through an atmo landing. Not in this condition, she won’t make it. Not to mention, she might bleed to death before that even matters.”

 

Diyoza smiled slowly as another wail from Clarke burst out of the room and filled all the empty space around them. 

 

“Want to bet?”

 

It didn’t take long to get Lexa settled into the cryogenic chamber, and Clarke stubbornly stood near it, her hand pressed to the door. Eyes still red and puffy from sobbing, her voice dry and cracked with the few words she had spoken. 

 

Roan rubbed her back comfortingly, not bothering with pretty lies or vague reassurances that would bring her no relief anyway. He just stood with her, a guard dog at her side. At her insistence, Madi had gone with the others to buckle into seats, but Clarke had steadfastly refused to move from her vigil at Lexa’s icy respite, and Roan had steadfastly refused to move from his vigil at Clarke’s side.

 

When Shaw’s voice came over the intercom to announce they would be moving shortly, Raven’s voice was chattering wildly in the background about the ship, and its fuel sources, and the advanced tech equipment that was present.

 

Roan gave a gentle smile as he and Clarke sat on the ground and braced as best they could. 

 

“Raven sounds like she’s in her glory up there.”

 

Clarke nodded a little, her heart too heavy for more than that minor acknowledgement, and truthfully Roan was appreciative of any response he could get from her. Especially if it didn’t involve having to put her in a choke hold or bandage anything as a result.

 

He put his arm around her shoulders as the engines roared to life, vibrating the floor beneath them slightly as the ship began to pull away from the Ring’s orbit. Clarke leaned into him a bit. She bit her lip and sighed and felt a jump in her stomach as they began to cruise. Everything about her was tight and anxious and knotted, and some of it began to ease just slightly as she came to the realization that she would see her mother soon. She would see Bellamy and Monty and Lincoln. She was going back to her world, to her other family and friends. She was going back to the ground she had been reborn on; back to the life she had tried to build there.

 

Clarke was going home.