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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. 

Chapter Text

She sees him laying in the bed alone tonight

The only thing touching him is a crack of light

Pieces of her hair are wrapped around and 'round his fingers

And he reaches for her side, for any sign of her that lingers

One of them bullets went straight for the jugular vein

There were people running, a flash of light, t hen everything changed

Nothing really matters in the end, you know, all the worry is over

Don't be afraid for me my friend, one day we all fall down forever

So you let time forgive the past and go and make some other plans

And you are not alone, laying in the light

Put out the fire in your head and lay with me tonight

- Patty Griffin, “Not Alone”

 

 

42 Days After Praimfiya

 

“Chancellor? Chancellor Kane?”

 

Kane startled, nearly dropping his book, and looked up over his reading glasses at one of Abby’s apprentices. 

 

“Emori. Come in, come in.” He waved his hand at her, inviting her into his quarters. “I’m sorry, Abby’s already gone down to the hospital wing. She and Nyko had a procedure this morning.”

 

“Actually, I’m here for you,” Emori said, glancing around the room. It was beautiful, with thick, rich tapestries in gemstone tones covering the walls. There were several sets of curtains, making it appear as though the room had a view, and a handful of extraordinary paintings dotted the walls as well, providing quite an impressive actual view. Emori couldn’t keep her eyes from straying as she continued.

 

“I just saw something I thought you might want to know about. Jaha has been talking to people. Telling them our resources won’t last in here. That the Mountain can’t sustain this many lives, stuff like that. And I just saw him meeting with a group, maybe a dozen or so? They were getting pretty loud.”

 

Marcus’s headache was very nearly visible in the lines that crossed his forehead as he removed his glasses and dropped them on the desk. He rubbed his face tiredly. “Mostly Skaikru, I assume.”

 

Emori shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe? Hard to tell, I don’t even know the people from my own clan. Frikdreina raise themselves. You know, if they are allowed to live at all.”

 

Marcus nodded thoughtfully. “Well, mochof, Emori. I appreciate your letting me know, and I’ll look into it. I know things have been.. difficult, with Jaha in the past. But I’ve known him a long time, and Thelonious will always do what he believes is best for his people. Inciting a riot would put his people at great risk in here as well. He wouldn’t do it, because there’s nothing to be gained.”

 

“Are you kidding? There’s plenty to be gained,” Emori said, a little louder than she intended. She paused, shifting uncomfortably, but the Chancellor just continued looking at her, waiting for her to finish. She swallowed hard and quickly lowered her voice once more. “I’m sorry, Chancellor. It’s just—if he did have enough followers, they could take this place over and kill those who refuse to follow. His people have died for their cause before, and this time it means they have plenty of food to last until Praimfiya is passed. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Would you die for your cause?”

 

Kane blew out a breath of air slowly. “I very nearly have, more than once. You?”

 

“I don’t know,” Emori said, rubbing her hands together anxiously behind her back. “I’ve never had a cause.”

 

Kane held her gaze, tilting his head thoughtfully. “Would you like one?”

 

“What kind?” Emori responded unsurely. 

 

Kane sat back in his chair, crossing his arms loosely on his chest. “Find out what Audaskai is planning. If you’re correct, many of our people could die. As you said, Thelonious’ people are willing to die for their cause and they’ve already killed for their cause. We could use a head start on what comes next. Minimize the casualties.”

 

One thing Emori had always liked about Marcus Kane was that he chose his words very carefully. Sometimes a shared silence would stretch into moments so long they felt awkward; but you could tell he was working things out internally all the while.

 

So when Marcus Kane said things like “our people” and “we could”, it was deliberate. And although he was attractive and charismatic enough that he might have convinced everyone of all sorts of lies easily, everything he said was genuine and heartfelt. 

 

After a lifetime of not trusting anyone besides her brother, it had surprised her to realize that she did, in fact, trust Chancellor Kane. He had a kind heart and good intentions, and he seldom—if ever—even said the word ‘I’. It was always about ‘us’ doing this or that, or the problems or struggles ‘we’ face. 

 

It was that idea of a shared win or a shared loss, the whole “us against the world” approach to leadership, that drew Emori in; made her want to help. She liked and respected Chancellor Kane, and Emori felt like it might be interesting to be part of a team for the first time in her life. It was a good feeling, and she carried no empathy for Jaha or his people.

 

If she had a cause of her own at all, certainly it was vengeance for the people who had taken so many lives; who had been responsible for the massacre at Tondc, where her brother Otan had been killed while visiting a friend.

 

A hesitant smile slowly spread across Emori’s face, her eyes already full of mischief.

 

“You want me to be a spy?”

 

 

No one was surprised when Audaskai—its ranks freshly filled, and with more members than ever—took over the hydrofarm.

 

The clans had been like a classroom full of children realizing they had a substitute teacher—or in this case, a substitute Commander. Rumors spread quickly amidst the dissent; that Lexa was dead, or had abandoned them, or was just weak and afraid and hiding. She had, after all, let the skayon live, let her go free despite her crimes and betrayal, and even brought the girl into her bed of all things.

 

‘Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun’ was surely a joke; proof of unmatched weakness from the Heda who had abandoned them at the eleventh hour. The idea took hold, and things very quickly became messy. The talk of a Chancellor even softer, weaker than their fallen Heda was, inevitably became the topic of most conversations.

 

The people were beginning to rebel within weeks of entering the mountain, and with five years still to go and the clan leaders growing ever more distrustful of the soft-hearted leader, Kane eventually saw no other choice. When the hydrofarm was taken back with ruthlessness, and several bodies lay broken and bloody on the floor, Kane sat quietly on the plush couch in his quarters. 

 

He sipped from a bottle of sour mash that had been stashed in the presidential suite where he now lived with Abby. He gazed quietly at the painting opposite him; done by an artist called Blake that depicted the fifth Canto in the Inferno. 

 

That was how Abby found him when she returned from the hospital for the night. She quietly sat beside him, waiting for him to open up while gently rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Talk to me, Marcus,” she implored. “Tell me.”

 

He remained quiet for another moment before speaking softly, his eyes still trained on the painting. “You know what that is?”

 

Abby shook her head. “It’s a depiction of the fifth circle of Hell, from Dante’s Inferno. I can’t stop staring at it.”

 

She curled her fingers through his hair lightly. “Why is that?”

 

He turned a piercing gaze to her, tilting his head into her hand a bit with a sigh of defeat. “The fifth Canto is reserved for sinners guilty of wrath and sullenness.”

 

“Marcus,” Abby began softly. “They aren’t dead because of you. It wasn’t your wrath that killed Thelonious. He forgot who he was, Marcus. He forgot a very long time ago.”

 

“Haven’t we all?” he replied rhetorically. “I was the one who allowed he and Charles back into Skaikru. If I hadn’t, maybe there wouldn’t be any bodies to burn tonight.”

 

Abby’s throat filled with a lump as she leaned into him, wrapping a comforting arm around his shoulders. “I know who you are, Marcus. You’re brave, kind, and a strong leader. You’re merciful, Marcus. Taking them back, giving them a second chance? That was an act of mercy. You couldn't know how it would turn out.”

 

“My mercy prevails over my wrath,” Kane murmured thoughtfully.

 

“What’s that?”

 

Kane lifted his head to meet her eyes. “It might be a way of life that simply isn’t sustainable now.” He paused, then shook his head slightly. “Maybe it was never sustainable, even before the world ended the first time. Mercy doesn’t protect your people.”

 

“I don’t believe that,” Abby said stubbornly, fanning her fingers out on his back. “I refuse to believe that. Lexa was a merciful leader, too. Thelonious wasn’t.”

 

“And where is Lexa now? Who is she to them?” Kane responded, but his tone lacked venom. Rather, his words were heavily weighted with sadness and regret. “Her people no longer respect her.”

 

“They’re not her people any more, Marcus. They’re your people, and they need you to lead them.”

 

“I’ve tried,” he snapped tiredly. “I’ve tried to lead them, Abby. But what we call mercy, they call weakness. They won’t follow me. The clans will continue to war with each other for the next five years, and by the time the ground is livable again, there won’t be anyone left to claim it. Abby.. Abby, we won’t make it five years in here like this. The dividing lines are even thicker after today’s bloodshed. What happens tomorrow, when someone else takes over Audaskai and we are right back here again?”

 

Abby’s face was stoic, her lips pressed together tightly, because she knew he was right, about all of it. She could already sense the change within him, the darkness lurking in his chest as well as her own, because she knew what they would have to become if they wanted the human race to survive.

 

“What are we going to do about it?”

 

Kane stayed quiet for a long moment; so long that Abby began to wonder if perhaps he didn’t know the answer after all. Minutes passed before he looked back at the painting and spoke softly.

 

“We show them our wrath, rather than our mercy.”

 

Abby gazed at him earnestly, her brow furrowed. “What does that mean?”

 

Kane swallowed hard before finally meeting her troubled gaze.

 

“It means blood must have blood after all.”

 

6.5 Years After Praimfiya

 

Kane eyed Abby closely, his concerns written across his face. “If we’re going to do this, Abby, it has to look real. It has to look like a coup, like you’re acting without my authority.” Abby didn’t respond, and he sighed, tilting her chin just slightly to look her in the eye. “Do you understand what that means? What you’ll have to do?”

 

Abby swallowed hard and wrapped her fingers around his wrist reassuringly. “I understand it, Marcus. I don’t like it, but what other choice is there? There’s too many of them, and they have too much power now. If we don’t do something, they’ll take over and probably take our heads, too.”

 

He studied her earnest face closely, his heart already breaking for her. 

 

Abby was haunted by every life she couldn’t save; even more so by the lives she’d been forced to take. It was clear in her eyes, in her voice. In the way she walked with her shoulders slumped just slightly forward, as if her body could not even hold itself up with the heavy weight of the burden that pressed down on her.

 

Kane leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to her forehead. Abby’s eyes fluttered closed briefly, before she swallowed hard and pulled away, setting her jaw. 

 

Later. Later, she would lay in bed and shatter, and she would let Marcus pick up the pieces. He would spend hours trying to find where all the pieces went, trying to reassemble her from the broken shards she had once again become. But there would be pieces missing when he was done; there always were. 

 

Sometimes the things you had to do stole bits of you, and no matter how much the stalwart, gentle, man beside you tried, he could not reattach that which had left you forever. He tried—god, Marcus tried so hard to fill her with his love, with his light. He held her heart right beside his own, cradling it carefully the same way he cradled her when the moon had risen. He was tender and careful, even in the way he spoke—treating her like she wasn’t full of spaces where the pieces had broken off and been destroyed, but never treating her like she was fragile. Precious, yes; but never did Marcus look at her like she was made of delicate glass. He saw the strength of her, the fearlessness and the dedication. 

 

He saw her. He saw the way her heart bled for those in pain, and the darkness that lived inside her and grew every time she was the one to cause that pain. 

 

He tilted his head then, his fingertips brushing lightly over her jawline, his eyes gazing studiously into hers. “Penny for your thoughts?”

 

Abby’s voice was soft when she gazed back and replied, “I was thinking about you.”

 

Marcus smiled, ducking his head just slightly. “Good things, I hope.”

 

Abby reached out and laced her fingers through his, pressing their hands together. Hands that would soon take another life, make another dark alliance for the sake of their people. Hands that still reached in the night for the fragile, towheaded child with brilliant blue eyes that she ached for, had sworn to protect and failed. Hands that had reached out in love, in violence, in fear. Hands just as skilled at hurting as they were at healing. 

 

Those hands held onto Marcus’ tightly as she pressed her forehead to his, closing her eyes before whispering her truth to him.

 

“Always.”

 

They held each other for a long moment; so long that Abby felt like it could have been an entire lifetime. But like all of their moments, it had to be cut short. Their people were waiting to be saved, and there was little time to lose to rapidly beating hearts and a soft, comforting embrace and so, Abby pulled away from the man she loved. 

 

Again.

 

“What we need is a martyr. Someone with a crime that the majority would agree with. Someone they’ll be uncomfortable watching be killed for something they believe they would also do, given the same situation.”

 

Abby’s voice was soft and tight when she responded. “Ilian kom Trishanakru. He stole medication.”

 

 “For a child, right?”

 

Abby nodded. “One he doesn’t even know, according to the family. They lost their daughter a few months ago. Their son has the same condition.”

 

“And this condition, it’s fatal?”

 

Abby’s voice was more bitter than she intended when she responded, “Not if treated early enough.”

 

“We give each family an allotment, I dont understand wh—“ Kane’s brow furrowed slightly as he tried to work it out.

 

“It’s one of our more rare medications, and the parents were both severely injured and can’t work much. They spent future support credits for their daughter. They’re still 3 or 4 months ahead of their credits, and their latest request for a credit extension was denied. The mother had some sort of a breakdown. Ilian witnessed it and later, he was caught leaving the hospital with several bottles of the medication.”

 

Kane studied Abby quietly for a moment. Her face was tensed, and her eyes would not meet his, and it made him realize something. “How did Ilian know what medication the child needed?”

 

Abby didn’t need to say anything; it was written all over her face, and Kane swallowed hard, trying to force his brain to forget that tidbit of information as he nodded slowly.

 

“He risked his life for someone he didn’t even know. Maybe there’s hope for this world yet.” Kane smiled gently, but Abby didn’t return it; rather, she pulled back just a little bit more—just enough that it made something deep inside Kane’s chest flicker with hurt. Her voice was tight, businesslike, and almost abrasive when she finally responded.

 

“Considering we’ve all but sentenced him to death for doing so, I highly doubt that.”

 

 

Abby sat in silence for what seemed like hours, or possibly even days, before Ilian responded from between the bars of his cell.

 

“I will give my life gladly for a chance at peace. It is an honorable death you’ve offered me, Abby kom Wonkru.” The boy—and god, Abby thought to herself, is he only a boy, a child himself—do have one request in return.”

 

“Name your price.”

 

Ilian’s voice was soft, his gaze desperate and pleading. “Move me to Emori’s group.”

 

Abby eyed him closely, tilting her head and studying his face. “You and Emori are—?”

 

“Were. We were. It wasn’t right for her.”

 

“What about you?”

 

“I love her still, if that’s what you’re asking.”

 

“It is.” Abby paused, then nodded a little. “I can make that happen. But, Ilian—you can’t tell her what’s going on. The less she knows, the safer she’ll be if it goes south.”

 

“She won’t need to know anything. She won’t kill me.” Ilian sounded far more confident than Abby was, and she tried to remember the last time she felt that confident about anything, but couldn’t. Life had always been far too unpredictable to risk that sort of surety.

 

“Emori is a kind person, despite being a little lost. But she’s a hell of a fighter. If it’s your life or hers..”

 

“Abby, I know Emori. I’ve known her much of my life. Trust me when I say, if it is only she and I in the pit, she will hesitate. And when she does, that’s when you..” He trailed off, opting to merely nod instead.

 

Abbys voice was thick with emotion as she tried to steady herself. “When I kill you.”

 

Chapter Text

I'm a reckless mistake, I’m a cold night's intake

I'm a one night too long, I’m a come on too strong

I'm a hold my cards close, I'm a wreck what I love most

I'm a first class let down, I’m a shut up sit down

I'm a day late two face, I’m a burn out quick pace

I am a head case, I am the color of boom 

I'm gonna get ready for the rain to pour heavy

Oh, let it fall, fall, let it fall upon my head

All my life I've been living in the fast lane

Can't slow down, I’m a rollin' freight train

One more time—gotta start all over

- Imagine Dragons, “Polaroid”

 

 

Reckless Mistake

 

 

Clarke stared at the ‘welcoming committee’ through the glazed windows of the ship and felt her heart drop into her stomach. Diyoza stood, tall and proud, on the exit ramp, surrounded by half a dozen of her men. Most of them were wielding large, cannon-esque guns; modified sonic drills, she had said. Weapons that could cause great devastation.

 

Perhaps not as great as the hundred or so people that stood a handful of yards away, also heavily armed, though.

 

“Where are my people?” A male voice on the very front line demanded, and Clarke felt her spirits lifting in her chest despite the standoff.

 

Beside her, Octavia breathed out softly. “Bellamy..”

 

“They’re here. I’d be more comfortable letting them come out if the rest of your people lowered their weapons, though.”

 

Bellamy shook his head a little. “We’ll lower them when you do. How do I know this isn’t a trick, that my people aren’t up there on the Ring, already dead?”

 

Diyoza had ordered everyone to stay where they were when she realized they were being met with hostility and weapons; that it be only her own men at her side, if a fight was to break out. It was her right, Clarke supposed, since it was her ship. But the anxiety and lack of something to do to cool tempers now had Clarke filled with doubt about all of it.

 

They’d been met with guns and grim faces, and tempers were flaring from the word ‘go’. If Bellamy thought they were dead, he would lead the attack himself. That’s what Clarke would do in the situation, anyway. From this side of things, she was glad she had insisted Raven, Luna, Murphy, and the kids stay onboard until they were sure things were safe.

 

A Grounder she didn’t recognize stepped forward. “If Leksa kom Trikru is on board, she must show herself. She must answer for her crimes.”

 

“Crimes?” Clarke and Echo repeated quietly. Octavia’s face paled slightly.

 

“A vote of no confidence has been held. Wonkru demands justice from their former Commander.”

 

Wonkru?” Octavia whispered.

 

At the same time, Clarke hissed, “Former?”

 

Echo and Roan stayed silent, sharing a dark look with each other.

 

A young man—perhaps only a couple of years older than Aden—stepped forward as well, announcing, “I challenge Heda Leksa kom Trikru to a bout of solo gonplei.”

 

“Fuck,” Octavia whispered. “What are we gonna do? We can’t show up without the Commander, especially if this is the political climate here..”

 

“Then we’ll have to show up with a Commander.” Clarke set her jaw, and spoke softly while still eying the increasingly restless crowd. “Echo, tell me you have your field kit on you.”

 

“Always,” Echo replied, her gaze on the crowd as well. “Why?”

 

“You know that scar on the back of Lexa’s neck?”

 

 

It seemed like hours, or a lifetime even, had passed since they landed, but really it had only been perhaps five or ten minutes that they had been locked in a standoff. Diyoza was beginning to fill with self-doubt, a feeling she was unused to and in fact, despised. She began to wonder if it was a trap all along; perhaps the people in space had played her for a fool, and now their people left on the ground would stick her foolish head on a pike somewhere to warn off other fools.

 

Behind her, on the leftmost side of the ship, Aden and Madi both paced like caged tigers, each seemingly unaware of the other despite frequently crossing paths. Luna and Raven watched in dismay, while Murphy watched the confrontation outside with a similar look on his face. 

 

“They want to kill her,” Aden practically spat. “I won’t let them.”

 

“I’m sure there’s some kind of misunderstanding,” Luna offered weakly, knowing full well that was the understatement of the century. “We can talk to them—”

 

“No way,” Raven snapped, surprising herself with her own darkened tone. “We aren’t going anywhere. We’re keeping our traitorous asses right here on this ship until everyone else takes a chill pill. If they’re this riled up about Lexa, what do you think their reaction will be to the natblida natrona?”

 

Madi glanced around at the others with a sour look on her face. “We spent all this time training to fight, and you just want us to hide?”

 

“Madi, there’s got to be a hundred people out there right now, at least. And they’re pretty pissed at Lexa, who is their leader. What do you think they’ll do to Luna, or to your brother, when they realize who they are?”

 

Madi sniffed the air disapprovingly, but seemed to settle down just slightly. “Then what’s the plan? What are we going to do? They’re going to start shooting at each other any minute.” When she got no response, Madi continued earnestly. “We have to do something. We can’t just wait here to die! We could have done that on the damn Ring!”

 

Raven glanced around the room and set her jaw, her tone decisive. “Clarke will come up with something.”

 

“Are we talking about the same Clarke?” Murphy let out a short, sarcastic snort. “Two days ago she couldn’t have tied her shoes, or even tell you which part of her body they went on, and now you think she’s just gonna pull a brilliant plan out of thin air and save us all?”

 

“Yes,” Raven responded firmly, despite every face in the room looking back at her with doubt. “I do think that, because that’s what Clarke does.”

 

“You’d better hope you’re right, because right now I’m thinking we’d be better off just slamming the door shut and heading back to the Ring as fast as possible.” Murphy muttered, jamming his hands in his pockets. 

 

“I am right,” Raven said confidently. Internally, however, she added ‘I hope’ and crossed her metaphorical fingers that she was right, and despite everything, Clarke would come through at the eleventh hour one more time.

 

Luna was still gazing out the window as Madi flopped down with annoyance, and they all remained silent for a minute or two, until Luna’s voice broke the silence once more.

 

“Oh, jok,” she murmured.

 

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Murphy responded as he and Raven pressed in around her to look out the window.

 

Luna gulped and glanced back at Raven. “Clarke pulling a plan out of thin air.”

 

“What’s happening? I can’t see!” Madi tried to wedge her face in with theirs as well, just barely catching a glimpse of a dark figure walking slowly out of the ship. Diyoza’s people parted to let the figure pass.

 

Raven felt the blood draining from her face as she spotted what Luna had only moments ago.

 

Blonde hair was swept over one shoulder, falling in loose waves alongside the back of her neck, where a fresh, hastily stitched scar now ran vertically down it. Lexa’s mantle sat on her shoulder, the red velvety material just barely trailing on the ground behind her.

 

“Oh, no..” Raven groaned.

 

Clarke walked slowly and steadily out of the ship, her eyes locked on Bellamy’s gaze of relief until she reached her destination. She gazed slowly over the sea of warriors and straightened her back, folding her hands behind it. 

 

She stood silently facing the crowd as a chaotic range of reactions broke out.

 

“How dare you wear the mantle of the Commander.”

 

Yu laik skayon, yu nou laik Heda!”

 

“Liar!”

 

“Thief!”

 

Clarke put her hands in the air, waiting for the crowd to settle as Diyoza’s men worriedly shifted their weapons. When the yelling had died down marginally, she finally opened her mouth. 

 

“Yes. I am the sky girl. And I have been to the sky once more, with Heda Leksa kom Trikru, and I’ve returned again, with only her spirit.”

 

Using the same small knife that Echo had used to cut into the back of her neck before stitching the wound hastily, Clarke made a deliberate and deep slash across her palm. She held her hand up as the nightblood began to run freely down her wrist and arm. The crowd watched in shock as she turned slowly, ensuring that everyone could see how dark her blood was; that it was no trick of the light.

 

Ai laik natblida. Keryon kom Heda don sad in,” she announced fiercely. Bellamy was watching her with stunned worry now; the remainder of the crowd was full of mostly disbelief and awe.

 

Clarke slowly scanned the sea of stunned faces surrounding her and took a deep, slow breath. One more glance across the army, and her voice sounded with every ounce of confidence she could generate, reverberating against the metal shell of the ship. “Ai ste yu heda nau.”

 

“Impossible!” 

 

“It’s a trick.”

 

Several people called for her head, and Clarke swallowed thickly, but let nothing show on her face. She hoped, if this didn’t work, that at least it would give Diyoza time to shut the door and run before things got even uglier.

 

Just when she was contemplating leaping into the unruly crowd to let them rip her apart as a distraction, a girl approached with long, multi-tonal dreadlocks and a gemstone in her nose that flickered in the sunlight. It took Clarke’s mind a moment to place her.

 

“Gaia?”

 

The girl’s face was serious; solemn as she approached and took Clarke in slowly. She did not say anything at first as her eyes scanned Clarke rapidly.

 

“May I see the back of your neck?” she finally asked.

 

Clarke nodded slowly and turned just a little as Gaia swept her hair aside and carefully inspected the fresh stitches. She ran a single fingertip over the wound, and Clarke fought to keep her face expressionless.

 

She couldn’t even bring herself to take a breath as Gaia silently inspected her; took her hand and dipped her fingers into the dark blood that still flowed there, and the clotting remains already drying on her neck as well.

 

Gaia gave her one more look before stepping forward and addressing the crowd.

 

Em’s laik natblida. This is no trick. She carries the Flame inside her; she carries the Spirit of the Commanders. Keryon kom Heda don sad in.”

 

Clarke watched with an emotion that was relief and terror somehow wrapped into one as Gaia knelt before her, ducking her head demurely.

 

Heda Klark kom Skaikru ste kicken!”

 

A chorus quickly rose around them as the others from the ground quickly took a knee, repeating Gaia’s words. Though many of them were still clearly angry, none looked quite as angry as Bellamy did as he caught her eye from under his long hair. Had he said something out loud as he knelt in the dirt, Clarke thought it was unlikely she would hear him through the din of the crowd that was currently swearing their loyalty to her. 

 

As it was, he didn’t need to say anything. Six and a half years apart had not in any way seemed to dull their ability to communicate with a mere shared glance, and the look on Bellamy’s face told her everything she needed to know at the moment; that she had made a terrible mistake in doing this.

 

Clarke took a slow, steadying breath and commanded the people—her people now, to rise once more—and to lower their weapons; that the people she had arrived with were not here to fight and should be treated as allies. If this charade meant her death, then ironically that was something she could live with. If it meant her family would be safe, her death was a small price to pay.

 

They would believe Lexa, Luna, and Aden were dead; they would not know Madi was a natblida at all, and she trusted the others to figure the rest out. All she cared about now was getting to Abby, and getting Abby to Lexa. That was the mission, and this was how they would get it done; with the others hiding safely on the ship, Clarke felt somewhat confident that she could create enough of a distraction to—

 

Chit yu bilaik?” Gaia asked, standing as the rest of the crowd did, and Clarke felt a sharp pain shoot across her chest, when the last voice she wanted to hear just then responded.

 

Ai laik Madi kom Skaikru.”

 

Gaia studied the child hard, a frown on her face as she turned to Clarke again, clearly unsatisfied with the minimal answer she had received. “Who is this?”

 

Every muscle in Clarke’s body was tensed as she responded, “Dison laik ain yongon, Madi.

 

“I did not realize you had a child,” Gaia was practically floored, scanning Madi analytically. "How old are you?"

 

If the truth works, it’s easier to remember than a lie, Clarke thought to herself. 

 

“She was orphaned. Lexa and I took her in just before Praimfiya.”

 

“That was quite noble of you.” Gaia didn’t look entirely convinced, but she nodded nonetheless, and continued leading them through the dispersing crowd. Clarke wasn’t sure exactly where they were headed, but it was the least of her worries for the moment.

 

“Are you completely out of your mind, Madi?” Clarke hissed at her.. “I told you to stay on the ship.”

 

“I’m not letting you do this alone, Clarke.”

 

“You could be killed, Madi. It wasn’t your call.”

 

Madi’s face darkened just slightly. “Well, taking Lexa’s place as leader wasn’t yours either, so I guess we both overstepped.”

 

Clarke grit her teeth as Gaia looked back over her shoulder. “Yu ste ogud, Heda?”

 

Clarke forced a smile to her lips. “Sha, mochof.” When Gaia’s gaze lingered, Clarke reached out and took Madi’s hand, ignoring the soft scoff that came from the girl’s throat.

 

They walked reluctantly hand-in-hand, the angry crowd having mostly dissipated and left Diyoza’s people at the mouth of the ship, struck dumb by whatever had just happened.

 

After a minute or so, Madi spoke softly, under her breath. “Why are we lying to them, anyway?”

 

“Because if we don’t, they’ll kill Lexa.” Clarke whispered, her jaw clenched with stress. 

 

Madi’s brow furrowed. “For being sick?”

 

“For being weak,” Clarke swallowed hard, her eyes tracking back and forth over the dissembling crowd; many of whom paused to kneel once more as she passed.

 

Clarke’s gaze shifted sideways, where several people were kneeling on the ground, their hands and heads sticking out of the wooden stockade that held them prisoner, as several children ran in circles around them, occasionally swatting the prisoners with long, thin sticks. So much for ai sonraun laik yu sonraun, she thought with a pang in her gut.

 

“The ground is really disappointing so far.” Madi’s face scrunched up a little as she, too, gazed around, and Clarke couldn’t help the bitterness in her tone when she replied.

 

“Tell me about it.”

 

Gaia stopped at a rather plain-looking and squat hut, her voice apologetic. “Forgive me, Heda. The destruction of Polis means that we have had to rebuild, but we have nothing so grand as a Commander deserves yet in New Polis. I will request Chancellor Kane put some people on it, but for the time being, I hope this is.. satisfactory.”

 

Polis was gone? Slightly stunned, but Clarke shook it off; it was just a place, after all. Sure, it had been her and Lexa’s home once, but it was hardly something to worry about just now. Gaia seemed to be waiting for a response, so she cleared her throat.

 

“Oh, this is.. great. Better than great. I was never really a fan of Polis anyway. Too crowded, you know? This is all.. open, and woodsy. Lexa will lik—er, would have, liked this better, I think.”

 

Gaia gave her a small smile. “Lexa kom Trikru was once a very fine commander. My mother always spoke fondly of her.”

 

Clarke couldn’t help it; she bristled at the idea that Lexa had been or was now anything less than the finest Commander of all time. Beside her, Madi bristled a bit as well, and Clarke rushed to speak before Madi lost her cool and blew the entire thing. 

 

“Ah, speaking of your mother, where is she? I’d like very much to play catch up with her.”

 

Gaia waved her hand dismissively as she opened the heavy wooden door to the hut. “The last I heard, she fled to Arkadia.”

 

“Fled?”

 

Gaia’s expression turned sour, her tongue coated in bitterness and perhaps even anger. “She was a coward. She left in the night, as a thief would. She has never respected our ways, and it dishonors her. It dishonors us all.”

 

Clarke blinked, slightly dazed and very much not understanding what that meant. “Oh. I uh, I’m sorry you’ve—or, we’ve been—dishonored. But I really need to speak with her. I have a very important message for Indra.”

 

Gaia studied her closely for a moment before nodding. “Okay. I will do what I can to send word to her. A Commander’s eno-telon is an important tradition. But it will have to wait, we have far too much to do.”

 

Clarke blinked once more, glancing around the simple and mostly-bare cabin they had entered as Madi did the same. “Uh, we do? What.. do we have to do, exactly?”

 

Gaia laughed softly. “Your ascension, of course. I mean, I know you’ve already taken the Flame, but our people need tradition, they need ceremony. It is what separates us from the animals.”

 

“Oh, is that all?” Madi muttered under her breath, getting a light elbow to the side from Clarke in response. 

 

Off the look of concern on Clarke’s face, Gaia continued. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to take the Flame again. We’ll just do the reading of the names, the blessing—” Gaia paused, shaking her head a bit.

 

“Well, you know all about it already, of course. I apologize. This is my first ascension, and it is a highly unusual situation, what with not having a Conclave. But I will do my best for you, Heda, ai swega em klin. This will be an ascension to remember over the campfire years from now. The first Chosen natblida ever, I could never have imagined. I’ll start arranging things, while you begin the purification ritual. We will do it tonight, before the populace grows restless once more.”

 

Clarke just stood staring, totally dumbfounded, as Gaia exited and closed the door behind her. This had definitely not been part of the plan—although it was barely a plan, Clarke supposed, as she continued to stare at the closed door.  

 

She had the vaguest feeling that this was probably exactly what Bellamy had been thinking about, and she began to panic. She didn’t know much about this Ascension, but she knew enough to know that with the Flame still inside Lexa’s head and malfunctioning all to hell, she was definitely fucked right now. 

 

“This is the worst idea I’ve ever had,” Clarke whispered in dismay.

 

“What are we gonna do now, Heda?” Madi asked haughtily, looking out the window at the now-bustling center of New Polis, where Diyoza and several others were being escorted with intrigued looks on their faces.

 

Clarke remained silent, a faraway look in her eyes, and suddenly Madi didn’t find the situation quite so ridiculous anymore; in fact, she began to grow worried when Clarke didn’t reply.

 

“ …Clarke?” Still no response, and Madi felt anxiety beginning to hum deep inside her chest as Clarke stared blankly ahead. “Clarke!” Madi swallowed hard as she pushed against Clarke’s arm, the fright in her chest beginning to grow heavier and more oppressive the longer Clarke stayed silent.

 

“Clarke?” The beginnings of terror spread inside her more rapidly than she could have predicted, and Madi’s voice fell quickly into a frightened, barely-audible, childish whisper as a result.

 

“Clarke, what are we going to do now?”

Chapter Text

I could see the signs, she was fixed to fly

It's always better fought than won for those not afraid to die

I couldn't stop, couldn't stop stop stop it

It's all the same, she takes the world and I take the blame

It's all the same, she wants to drown and I break the chain

Caring started it, I can't stop it

I believe it's too late I can't stop it

It's all for you, you get the change and I give the truth

It's all for you, take it to depths they never knew

I couldn't stop, couldn't stop stop caring

- The Spiritual Machines, “Couldn’t Stop Caring”

 

 

Clarke had just decided the best course of action was probably to grab Madi and make a run back to the ship to think of a new plan, all of them together this time, when the door opened again. Clarke held her breath, but it wasn’t Gaia, there to ask why she hadn’t started whatever the Purification ritual was. It was a girl with dark eyes and a tattoo swirling around one, a similar design to Octavia’s. She carried a tray and closed the door behind her, carefully taking a knee before Clarke and offering her the tray.

 

“I thought Heda might be hungry,” she said by way of explanation.

 

Clarke felt her stomach do a backflip; she already felt nauseous, and she was fairly certain that she would rather be lashed to a tree and tortured than eat anything just then. “Um, mochof. I—uh, I just ate, though.”

 

“The girl, then.” She offered the tray to Madi, who had a strange look on her face. 

 

“You don’t have to be on the floor,” Madi said, and the girl merely raised an eyebrow at her.

 

Clarke elbowed her again subtly as the girl replied. “I would take the tray, Heda. If the food is not touched, they’ll wonder why I was in here so long.”

 

Clarke blinked in confusion. “What?”

 

The girl stood and set the tray on the bed, glancing behind her as though someone might have followed her in without her knowledge. Satisfied, apparently, that they were alone, she turned to Clarke once more.

 

“Bellamy sent me to find out, in his words, what the hell you think you’re doing.”

 

Clarke felt a headache quickly forming behind her eyes. “People in stocks, an army of Grounders with guns, the fighting pit? I could ask him the same thing.”

 

“Not while you’re supposed to be purifying,” the girl retorted. “Look, I don’t know you, but Abby always spoke very highly of you. She thinks you must have a plan right now, or you wouldn’t have done something so stupid.”

 

“Abby? My mother’s alive? She’s here?”

 

The girl glanced out the window. “For now, but Bellamy and the other Arkadians will be leaving soon. Including Abby, myself, and the other refugees.”

 

“Refugees?”

 

She waved it off. “There’s not time to explain. Just know that New Polis is not the place you want to be when Wonkru finds out you’re lying. They’ll kill you, your kid, and everyone else they find onboard that ship. So what’s the play?”

 

“Look, uh—” Clarke rubbed the bridge of her nose slowly as Madi experimentally tasted several things off the tray.

 

“Emori. My name’s Emori.”

 

“Emori,” Clarke repeated. “Listen, can you get my mother on the ship?”

 

“Why?”

 

“There’s not time to explain,” Clarke responded as dismissively as Emori had. “I need her and Madi on the ship—what happens to me after that doesn’t matter. Just.. please, get them there. Can you do it?”

 

Emori crossed her arms and sighed heavily, glancing out the window at the stockade she was starting to feel increasingly certain she would be locked into before nightfall. “I can try. How long do you think you can.. draw out this whole Commander thing before they realize you’re a fraud?”

 

Clarke shook her head sadly, her voice tight in her throat. “Not long. Don’t worry about me, just.. take Madi, please. Get her and my mother to the ship, they’ll explain everything.”

 

Madi shoved the tray off the bed, her eyes wide with anger. “You’re just going to abandon us again, Clarke?”

 

“I’m not abandoning you, Madi. I’m saving you. I’m saving Lexa. She needs my mother more than she needs me right now.”

 

Madi scoffed, crossing her arms tightly on her chest. “Yeah, I guess it’s just a bonus that you’ll die here and never have to deal with us again, right?”

 

“That’s not true, Madi.” Clarke’s eyes were glassy behind her unshed tears, and her voice was choked. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife as Clarke and Madi stared each other down, both quivering with emotion. Emori took a small step closer.

 

“Madi, I’ll make sure Clarke is okay. I promise.”

 

“Promises are bullshit,” Madi spat, her eyes beginning to well up against her will. “Promise is just another word for a lie.”

 

“Not to me,” Emori said firmly, squatting down to look Madi in the eye. “If you help me get Abby to the ship, I’ll make sure nothing happens to Clarke. Okay?”

 

Madi studied her for a moment before slowly giving her a nod, her face still full of suspicion. “What do you need me to do?”

 

Emori smiled a little. “You know how to start a fire?”

 

 

As planned, New Polis was in absolute chaos. 

 

The food storage cabin had gone up in flames that licked the treetops, lighting some of the forest on fire as well. Just adjacent to it, the wooden fencing of the fighting pit crackled with flames as it collapsed in on itself. 

 

People were running around, passing buckets of water and looking for family members and friends as the flames spread out further and further. The air was thick with smoke, making it difficult to see more than a foot or so at a time.

 

Emori, having memorized the layout long ago in case the need to escape rose, moved quickly between the buildings until she met with Madi behind a gnarled, overgrown tree. With Madi’s hand firmly in hers, she made her way to the edge of town where Bellamy waited.

 

He and Abby were discussing something intensely, and quickly stopped when they caught sight of her.

 

“Emori? Who is this, where’s Clarke?” Abby said, just the slightest hint of panic at the back of her throat.

 

Madi opened her mouth, but Emori just shook her head as she spoke quickly. “No time to explain now. Clarke should be right behind us. We have to get to the ship right now.”

 

Abby looked at her like she’d gone insane. “What are you talking about? We’re not leaving Clarke behind.”

 

Bellamy had a similar expression as he shook his head. “If she’s on her way, we’ll wait.”

 

“Clarke said we have to go,” Madi responded. “If we stay here, they might catch us all, and we need to get back to the ship.”

 

“Why?” Bellamy asked. “What’s on the ship?”

 

Madi glanced at the group, and despite her better judgment and everything in her soul screaming against it, she decided to trust—just this once. She didn’t trust Bellamy—after all, she’d never even met him—but Octavia trusted Bellamy, and Madi trusted Octavia.

 

“Lexa is.” 

 

Every face looked stunned, including Emori’s, but Bellamy was the one who finally spoke. 

 

“If Lexa’s on the ship, then why the hell is Clarke pretending to be the Commander?”

 

The group waited with increasing tension on the ship, and the more time passed, the more it began to look like Clarke, in fact, would not be joining them. They passed the time by catching each other up on as much as possible, but the anxiety was mounting quickly.

 

The brush ahead began to rustle just then, and Emori pointed. “Someone’s coming.”

 

Every head swiveled towards the woods, just in time to see Diyoza and her men emerge from it. They were running, and as the trees parted wider, it was clear why. A group was hot on their heels, and it sounded like they blamed the newcomers for the fires that were currently reducing their city to ash.

 

“Start closing it!” Diyoza gasped as she ran at the head of the group.

 

Raven was the first to react, and obediently slammed her hand down on the button. The ramp began to lift away from the ground and had made it about a foot or so when Diyoza hurled herself inside. Her men were right behind her, and the residents of New Polis opened fire. Madi let out a scream as a bullet whizzed by her and lodged itself into the wall only an inch from her head. 

 

One of the men, Shaw, let out a scream as well, a bullet tearing through his flesh as he tried to pull himself over the edge of the ramp. More shots rang out, and several exclamations of pain followed as Diyoza yanked Shaw inside just before the door shut entirely.

 

“Oh, fuck,” Shaw gasped shakily as Diyoza rolled him onto his back to inspect the damage. Echo quickly dropped to her knees beside him and helped Diyoza rip apart his bloodied shirt as Abby joined them.

 

The bullet had torn through his lung; Abby and Echo both knew it the moment they heard the telltale whistling sound of his lost air, the moment they saw how far the blood had already spread on the floor. Abby swallowed hard and looked at Diyoza over his shuddering body, silently shaking her head just slightly. Diyoza’s jaw tightened and she looked back down at him as he expelled his last breath before going still, the light gone from his gaze.

 

Yu gonplei ste odon.” Echo swallowed hard, her hands shaking as she reached out to gently close his unseeing eyes.

 

Diyoza forced herself to press back her emotions as she always did. “Now what? We have no pilot.”

 

Every gaze turned to Raven, who swallowed hard. 

 

“I can probably fly this thing..”

 

“What about Clarke? We can’t just leave her down here in the middle of a war,” Bellamy snapped. “They’ll kill her when they realize she’s not really a Commander. If she even lasts that long here.”

 

“Then we need to get them a real Commander, like Clarke told us to,” Octavia replied, her voice showing no reticence; it was firm and commanding though her eyes were still puffy from her reunion with Bellamy and his confirmation that Lincoln was still alive.

 

Diyoza nodded her head. “I agree. We get back to Eligius, fix your Commander, and wake the rest of my guys up. They want a war, we can give them a war.”

 

“Nobody wants a war,” Luna said, her voice strained. 

 

Several more waves of bullets bounced off the metal hull of the ship, and Diyoza and Octavia both looked at Luna pointedly as they began filing back towards the cockpit.

 

“You sure about that, Red?” Diyoza asked grimly.

 

“We did this,” Madi whispered softly, as she watched the chaos outside the ship. People were even starting to climb the sides of it. “We started a war.”

 

Abby knelt beside her, her voice soft but confident. “Madi.. you didn’t start anything. Listen to me. Things were already this way, long before you came down today. We’ve been waging a war for the last six years, but now we might actually get a chance to stop one for a change.”

 

Madi sat quietly as Raven got them off the ground, looking out the window at the fire and chaos devouring New Polis, and feeling guilty. The girl who had brought her to the ship, Emori, couldn’t be blamed, really—after all, nobody had expected a firefight. But her broken promise still ached inside Madi’s chest, and all Madi could think about besides that, was how she had screamed at Clarke not long ago. Told her she hated her, that she was dead, that—

 

Madi pulled her knees to her chest tighter, allowing herself to sniffle softly as the burning ground grew smaller and smaller below them.

 

Emori peeked her head into the corridor, and called out softly, “Madi?”

 

Madi tensed slightly. She liked the girl; really, she did. But she was just another liar, as far as Madi was concerned.

 

“I know you’re upset. You think I didn’t keep my promise.”

 

“You didn’t,” Madi said quietly, her gaze locked on the window. “You’re here. Clarke isn’t.”

 

“I kept my promise, Madi. I told my friend to find her and protect her. To keep her safe until we get back.”

 

Madi’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as she finally looked at Emori. “What friend?”

 

“A powerful one. He’ll keep her safe, Madi. You don’t have to believe that, because it’s still true either way.”

 

Madi just gazed at her solemnly. “I hope so.”

 

“So what’s the plan? We’ve got chaos on the ground, the Commander in cryo, and right about now, the Wonkru army is probably getting ready to march on Arkadia and kill everyone they can find there. You guys sure know how to get a party started,” Bellamy sighed with exhaustion.

 

Wonkru is completely insane,” Octavia said slowly. “What.. the hell happened to everyone? It’s like a nightmare down there.”

 

Bellamy and Abby exchanged a look, and Abby began speaking after a moment.

 

“Peace wasn’t working in the mountain; it was barely present. There were already so many clan tensions and feuds, and.. Jaha took advantage of it. Audaskai began recruiting again, more subtly. Spreading rumors about the Commander abandoning her people, instigating fights between clans that already had issues. Telling everyone that we didn’t have enough food or resources to last five years. The people were easy to sway; they were already worried about those things. Audaskai just made it seem more.. imminent and dire.”

 

“People died. More people would have died, if Marcus hadn’t.. stepped up the way he did. He became the leader they wanted; someone who was ruthless, someone who would make the hard choices, as they saw it.”

 

Octavia’s voice was quiet as she began to understand. “Jus drein, jus daun.”

 

“Yes,” Abby replied softly. “And now we’re putting a plan into action to stop it—Marcus and I. To force people to choose a side—mine, or his.” 

 

“And hope like hell more people followed you? Enough that you could force the turnover or something? That’s a really.. roundabout way to go about achieving peace,” Octavia said dryly.

 

Bellamy spoke quickly, but not harshly. “O, you have no idea what it’s like there. It’s worse than it was before Praimfiya. Worse than when we first came down. A lot of people were already angry about Lexa’s new policies, and five years in a hole didn’t do anything to calm them down. Thinning their ranks isn’t optional if we want to have even a chance at beating them.”

 

“So let’s say Abby and Echo can fix Lexa, won’t Wonkru kill her anyway?”

 

Abby’s lips were pressed in a thin line. “We have to hope that she can get through to them the way she has in the past. She has a better chance of uniting the clans under peace a second time than Marcus or I do.”

 

“So that’s the plan? Just.. hope and pray that Lexa pulls through and gives all thirteen clans a good spanking until they behave themselves?” Octavia snapped, starting to pace the floor despite the rocking motion of Raven’s flight. “We’re literally just.. going with the, ‘just wait ’til your dad gets home’ method?”

 

“Unless you have a better idea,” Bellamy offered, raising his brow. Octavia remained uncomfortably silent.

 

“What about Clarke?” Madi said, entering from where she’d been eavesdropping alongside Emori on the entire thing from the corridor. “We can’t just leave her down there.”

 

“I told you, Kane will keep her safe. He will get her to Arkadia,” Emori reassured Madi.

 

Bellamy nodded, leaning forward a bit to address Madi. “Some of my friends are waiting in the woods, to bring more refugees back to Arkadia. They know she’s there, and they won’t leave Clarke behind.”

 

“Makes them better than we are,” Madi huffed, before flopping to the floor, chewing on the end of her braid nervously as Raven began docking maneuvers with the Eligius.

 

Abby looked over the scans for the fifteenth time, her face lined with worry.

 

Echo made another lap around the massive jughandled hallway, no longer able to take the quiet or the heavy sighs coming from Abby every so often. She picked up her pace, wondering if she could make the entire loop once more before Abby set the scans down and picked up the journal again instead.

 

Waiting. 

 

Waiting was the worst thing in the world, really. The sense of idleness, helplessness. The stillness in your own body and all around you. The lack of happening that had always driven Echo crazy. It was why she was such a skilled warrior. Most people would just wait; she made a habit of using any down time to push her body or her mind further than the last time. 

 

Each unfathomable waiting period was an opportunity to beat her own record and avoid having to think too much; both results she generally enjoyed. This time, however, she was all too happy to have only made it halfway around when Abby finally emerged and gestured for her to follow.

 

They headed back out to the cockpit area, where everyone else was assembled, waiting.

 

“The Flame does need to come out, that much is very clear. But we have a problem.”

 

“We can’t just rip it out of her head, it’s attached to very important things,” Raven volunteered, and Luna gave her a sidelong glance, rubbing her arm lightly.. “I figured that one out already. We’re gonna have to make an EMP and fry it.”

 

“Will destroying the Flame also destroy Lexa's memories?”

 

Raven breathed out slowly, unable to form the words, and after an extended pause, Abby cleared her throat and answered Luna herself. “That’s a risk factor, yes. We don’t really know how the Flame works, not well enough to predict the outcome.”

 

Diyoza, who had been quietly listening and taking everyone in all this time, glanced up at them. “The Flame? Is that what you call her drive?”

 

“Drive?” Murphy responded, eyebrows knit together.

 

“Her mind drive. She has a chip in her head, right? Has her whole life backed up on it?”

 

The entire room stared at Diyoza like she had sprouted a second head just then, except for Raven, who was looking at her with outright admiration. 

 

Off the others’ looks, Diyoza elaborated, “Before the end of the world—the first time—there was a company that made these chips that recorded your entire life. Rich people put them in their kids so they could have cute family movies to air at birthdays and funerals, basically. They also fitted some crew members—including those on Eligius III and this ship—who were heading into deep space with the drives, so they could record what they found.”

 

“Just when I thought things couldn’t get any weirder,” Murphy mumbled.

 

“That’s a little different from how hers works, but if I can…” Raven murmured, trailing off as she retreated rapidly into her head. She began pulling up information on the ships computer, muttering things about cross-compatibility and translation that made no sense to anyone but herself.

 

Sensing Raven was rendered mute for the moment, Octavia spoke up. “Even if I thought this was a good idea—which I definitely do not—where are we going to get another mind drive? Cut people in cryo open until we find one whose parents were rich enough to invest in their funeral?”

 

Diyoza glanced at the corridor leading to the dropship. “Take Shaw’s. He’s not using it anymore.”

 

“Oh, that’s a great idea. Let’s play games with tech we don’t know anything about. We’re hanging an awful lot on hope today, aren’t we?” Murphy’s tone was grim, and he slapped his hands against the wall in frustration, shaking his head in dismay. “One wrong button press, and you delete Lexa, kill Clarke, and make sure we’re all dead in another ugly, bloody war we didn’t ask for. This is a great plan. What if it doesn’t work, Raven? What then?”

 

Raven looked up at him, the hurt in her eyes uncomfortably plain to see. “It’ll work. I can do it, Murphy.”

 

“Won’t it just do the same thing to her the Flame is doing now?” Echo pointed out.

 

Raven let out a slow, steadying breath. “The Flame is a multi-consciousness drive. It holds all of the Commanders, right? That’s the problem, it’s been passed from generation to generation, and each time, it degrades even further. But these.. these ones are different. Look.” She pulled something up on her screen and pointed to it like any of them would understand. “See?”

 

Roan spoke gently when he replied, “Use your words, Raven. Help us out.”

 

“It’s a single consciousness drive!” Raven was clearly excited, but everyone else swapped looks between themselves, trying to figure out what exactly that meant. 

 

Raven, who always felt she either moved too slow in her assessments or too fast in her explanations for people, pointed at it again, her voice earnest. “It means I can put Lexa on the new drive. Just Lexa. No more damaged code, no more seizures, no more Commanders in her head."

 

Clarke was going to get caught, she just knew it. After she’d found Diyoza’s group and told them to run, she had found herself literally stuck, her ankle caught in the winding roots of a tree that didn’t seem eager to let her escape. It had taken precious moments to separate herself, and by the time she did, the first gunshots were ringing out.

 

She pulled herself up and started limping as fast as she could in the direction of the ship, but even the slightest weight on her foot sent pain shooting up her leg. Not likely it was broken, but it was definitely injured, and she began to realize she was probably not going to make it before they’d be forced to shut the door.

 

“What now, Heda?” She muttered quietly, steadying herself against a tree to rest her swollen ankle briefly. “Brilliant plan, Clarke. Super well thought-out.”

 

“I disagree,” came a deep voice from behind her.

 

Clarke let out a list of obscenities in her head and quickly reached for her knife. She spun with it in hand, and was stunned to find herself looking into a very familiar face.

 

“Kane?”

 

Marcus Kane stood before her, his village burning to her right, her ship already lifting into the air on her left.

 

“Follow me, and be quiet. If they catch you now, death is the best-case scenario.”

 

“I’m the Commander,” Clarke replied weakly, as though that would somehow matter in the face of all that had broken out around them.

 

“And they think you’re the one who ordered the destruction of their village, and they think you’re a threat to me. Tempers were running high already, and the least I can do for your mother is keep you safe until we figure something out.”

 

“So, no ascension? Cause I was definitely looking forward to that,” Clarke snapped tiredly. 

 

Kane gazed at her solemnly for a moment before responding. “There was never going to be an Ascension, Clarke. They meant to sacrifice you.”

 

Clarke looked at him in total disbelief. “Gaia would nev—”

 

“Gaia serves a new master now, Clarke. That’s the problem.”

 

“What master?”

 

Kane closed his eyes briefly, his tone laced with regret when he responded, “Me.”

Chapter Text

The mountain is steep, the ditches are deep

The task in hand is making us weep

But here's a promise I intend to keep

You've got a head full of trouble and a ship to build

You believe you won't make it, but you know you will

Your heart you're hiding, it's making you ill

Let the soulful water overspill 

I've been to the bottom, I’ve been on the train

I've slept in the gutter with my head in a drain

I've been brutally proud, I’ve been mortally shamed

I’m just learning, my friends, that it's all in the game

And we will climb higher in time..

- The Waterboys, Higher in Time (Two Pianos)

 

 

Abby watched closely from the head of the table as Echo slowly drew an incision down the existing scar on the back of Lexa’s neck. Her opening technique was flawless, Abby observed appreciatively. The skin and muscle around the Flame split apart neatly as Echo applied the slightest pressure increase. She carefully continued separating the soft tissue until the face of the Flame appeared beneath the blade of the scalpel.

 

Echo let out a slow breath of relief, wiping her forehead against her upper arm before looking up to catch Abby’s eye with uncertainty. Though she couldn’t see Abby’s mouth below the surgical mask she wore, her eyes crinkled slightly in the corners the same way Clarke’s did when she smiled.

 

“Very impressive, Echo. Even better than the last time we worked together,” Abby said, carefully positioning the suction just inside the edge of the incision. 

 

Echo ducked her head just slightly, her lips curling into an involuntary smile. Her shoulders relaxed under the reassurance in Abby’s voice and gaze. “Thank you, Abby.”

 

Abby inclined her head before turning to Emori, who stood ready on Lexa’s right side. 

 

Emori drew in a slow breath as she carefully set a clamp in place that hugged the sides of the flame, stabilizing it. With her other hand, she brought an electrode slowly closer until she felt a magnetic pull. The Flame practically seemed to grip the electrode and drag it into contact, as if it had sentience of its own, yet felt nothing more than the need to be one with the electrode.

 

Just behind Abby, Raven’s computer gave a few short, decisive beeps and then one longer, softer tone.

 

“I’m in,” Raven announced, and they all let out a collective breath of relief. Her fingers flew furiously across the keyboard as endless lines of code scrolled by and populated the screen.

 

Abby took her eyes briefly off the monitors reading Lexa’s vitals to set them on Emori. “Well done, Emori. Between the two of you, I’m beginning to think I might be out of a job.”

 

Emori blushed so deeply that it stretched up her face more than half the length of the tattoo swirling over her cheek. Behind the mask, Echo reddened partway past the scar that spanned her face, and they both softly thanked Abby in unison.

 

The room was silent but for the whirring computer and soft, steady pulse of the ventilator. 

 

The tip of Raven’s tongue just barely peeked out between her lips, a deep furrow forming between her brows as her eyes quickly scanned the code before her. Echo swallowed hard and forced her mind back into focus. She hated this—the waiting, the quiet, the stillness—and could do nothing about it. She wished she could slide into the console beside Raven’s and make sense of the seemingly random characters and symbols that populated the screen. 

 

We’ve all got jobs to do, Octavia whispered in her head. 

This is yours. That one’s Raven’s. Trust her.

 

It was hot as hell under the punishing bright lights of the surgical pod, and Emori couldn’t help but long for the artificially cool environment of the mountain’s surgical wing, where it had always been near frigid. It seemed whoever designed the Eligius IV hadn’t really cared how comfortable its occupants had been. Emori couldn’t help but allow her mind to wander, speculating on why a ship so large and expensive to build, would have forgone basic comforts that Mount Weather had not.

 

She didn’t particularly care, of course. Hell, she had lived outside for most of her life, wandering the edges of Sangedakru territory; trudging through miles of scalding sand with the oppressive rays of the sun pounding her body and her psyche day after day, year after year. She had once made it 4 days with nothing but a single handful of water in her system and nothing to shelter her from the scorch of the sun.

 

Emori was quite used to being uncomfortable, thank you very much. It was more concerning to her that warmth allowed bacteria to thrive; and since she was currently half an inch deep in the Commander’s brain, she would have preferred a temperature less sympathetic to germs, that’s all.

 

Raven typed furiously, her fingers flying across the keyboard with a remarkably controlled grace despite her speed. Echo wished she had taken more time to get more familiar with computers, because the screen looked like a random, meaningless mess to her. As it was, she had instead chosen to spend most of her time honing her medical skills, and so she kept her eyes glued to the monitors that sat in a semicircle around the surgical team. They all had jobs to do, and making sure Lexa’s vital signs remained stable? That was Echo’s. 

 

“Vitals are holding,” she murmured unnecessarily. Abby and Emori’s eyes were also glued to the various screens surrounding them, watching with keen eyes for any changes. 

 

Raven swallowed hard as she hit a final key combo and began overwriting the data on Shaw’s chip. Her voice was so quiet that only Emori caught her whispered, “Yu gonplei ste odon.”

 

Emori glanced at Raven’s face and felt something inside soften even further towards her when she realized how much it was hurting her to erase someone—even someone she didn’t know. Raven recognized the ugliness, the sadness of such a thing; the knowledge that it was like killing him all over again. The weight on your shoulders when, in that single moment, someone’s entire existence was wiped away by your own hand, and suddenly it was like they’d never even been there in the first place.

 

Emori couldn’t help thinking of Ilian; how quickly the light had left his eyes as the bullet entered his brain. She pictured him, broken and bleeding and undeniably gone as his lifeless body crumpled before her. She pictured herself as a child, awkward and lanky, with gangly limbs like a baby fawn, curled up in the hollow of a gnarled old oak just outside his village. She pictured him, a child still, holding a bow on her when he stumbled upon her there. He’d fed her that day; thick strips of meat with a smokey, slightly sweet flavor. She pictured him growing into the body of a man, stealing grains and fruits and once even the haunch of a boar, and bringing them to her, so that she might live. 

 

He had begged her to join him, to live in his home and grow fat and grey with him, and Emori had never wanted anything more in her life. 

 

But she was Frikdreina. Even the gentle, mystic people of Trishanakru would not accept a stain on the bloodline like herself. She had lied then; the one and only time she had ever lied to the boy who saved her life and grew into the man she loved. She told him it wasn’t right for her, that try as she might, she could not find it in herself to hod em in as more than a friend, a brother. What she’d really meant was that she wasn’t worth Ilian being banished, too. She had let him die without telling him she loved him, and the weight of it grew heavier in her chest the farther from that moment she got.

 

She had let him die believing she didn’t love him, and that was a betrayal that would surely live in that sick place inside her for the rest of her days.

 

 

Somewhere in a dreamless sleep, Lexa floated weightlessly in the nothingness.

 

Everything was still, and empty, and there was only dark behind her unseeing eyes, and she thought, perhaps, she had died after all. She thought, perhaps, death actually was the end, no matter how many times she had told Clarke otherwise. She thought she might float away forever and ever, and never feel Clarke’s hands reaching for her in the night again. Never feel Madi’s warmth pressed against her in a desperate hug. Never feel Aden’s light in her heart, hear his laugh echoing through her head as they sparred together, his shoelaces untied as always.

 

She soaked in the memories; they were all she had in this land of empty, in this lack of existing, in the darkest corners of her mind.

 

But, Lexa thought to herself punchily, is it really my mind if I have no control over it? Is it my body if I am not in it? Is it a memory if it is not mine?

 

Technically, the memories never really belonged to her, though, did they? Even her own were shared—all of her darkest secrets and deepest fears were laid bare for all to see inside the mindspace. If even her memories no longer belonged to her, then what did belong to her? What was left that was only Lexa’s; that was just for herself and no one else?

 

The love, the love, the love… that is yours, and yours alone, Leksa kom Trikru, daughter of Teros kom Trikru and Kyah kom Floukru, second to Anya kom Trikru, Heda of the 13 United Clans. 

 

The voice echoing through the nothingness sounded like her own; sounded like Zynbel and Rhys, like Titus. It sounded like Madi, and Aden, and Raven, Roan, and Echo. It sounded like Abby’s voice, soothing an injury. It sounded like Murphy’s voice, teasing but gentle. It sounded like Octavia’s voice, proud and firm and brave—god, she was always so brave, wasn’t she? It sounded like Anya scolding her for her stubbornness as she lay, a child still, flat on her back in the dirt once again. Like Indra, comforting the girl within while bolstering the Commander. It sounded like her people, all of them, celebrating the hope she had tried so hard to inspire in them.

 

But most of all, it sounded like Clarke—didn’t it always? At once tender and strong, gentle but unyielding. Soothing the emotions that burned in her chest while fanning the flames that burned lower, in her gut. Soft, calloused hands that healed and hurt in exactly the right measures every single time. 

 

You found me, Lexa thought sleepily, as she was pulled deeper into the nothingness. This time, it was only Clarke’s voice that responded.

 

I’ll always find you. Otaim, Leksa. Yu laik ain houd. 

 

Come find me now, Klark. Find me before I’m lost forever. Beja, niron--I need you..

 

 

“She’s tachy, o2 is dropping. Raven, you need to hurry,” Abby commanded, injecting something into Lexa’s line as a series of alarms beeped wildly. 

 

“I’m hurrying as fast as I can,” Raven replied distractedly, all of her energies focused on the screen before her as her fingers flew over the keyboard. Sweat beaded on her brow and fell to the desk before her as Abby, Echo, and Emori worked quickly over Lexa’s prone body. 

 

Echo watched Lexa’s vitals dropping slowly; almost like she was struggling to hold onto life as death fought to drag her into it’s murky depths. “Raven,” her lips formed plaintively. “Raven, she’s gonna crash.”

 

“I know!” Raven snapped, her voice breaking slightly, her tension palpable in the stuffy pod.

 

The machines’ beeping alerts sped up and grew louder, and Echo quickly shook off the panic bubbling deep in her gut. This wasn’t the time to freeze up; not with her family on the line once more. Her heart pounded in her own chest as she watched Lexa’s stuttering and slanting on the monitor.

 

Echo watched as the dips and peaks of the heart monitor shortened and Lexa’s heartbeat took on the look of a child’s scribbled drawing. Her own heart sank, and her own blood thrummed heavily throughout her body like a bass drum as she watched her rhythms grow even more erratic. 

 

“She’s going into v-fib,” she announced. Her voice sounded strange; cold and stiff, hollow and emotionless. She watched herself pull the crash cart close and help Emori ready it quickly. “Charging to—”

 

“No!” Raven cried. “Wait!” They all froze, and Echo felt a deep chill starting in her veins as the monitor’s beeps grew even more aggressive. Raven slid to the side just enough for them to watch the screen. “If you do it before this finishes, you’ll blow the Flame before the backup’s completed.”

 

On the monitor, a thin bar indicated the Flame’s upload was at 79 percent. The progress bar wasn’t, Echo was fairly certain, actually moving all that slow—but watching Lexa dying before her and having her hands tied made it seem like it was moving at a snail’s pace. 

 

Her hands clenched at her side, her knuckles turning white as she stood by helplessly. Raven’s face was practically purple as her fingers stretched and contracted over the keyboard, likely from the same urge to hurry up and do something that Echo was filled with. Abby’s lips were pressed together in a tight, narrow line, and something dark was building up behind her eyes. 

 

Emori glanced at Echo over the crash cart—now ready to go—and then to Raven, back at the screens surrounding them, before returning to Echo’s. They exchanged a look as the bar moved to 86. 

 

“Another of the vasopressin, Echo,” Abby said, her voice stiff and tight.

 

Echo, thankful to have something to do, grabbed the syringe, her fingers fumbling with the line. Emori gently held up the injection port for her with a soft, worried expression on her face. Echo swallowed hard and screwed in the leur-lock syringe, slowly depressing it.

 

All of them—Raven included—immediately turned to the screen displaying Lexa’s heart, and watched as the peaks increased slightly. They let out a collective sigh of mild relief, and Echo and Emori shared a silent nod with each other before turning their eyes back to the monitors. Raven—seemingly as frustrated as Echo was by not having something to physically do in the moment, unconsciously shifted back and forth in her chair. 

 

The bar was at 92 percent when Lexa went into ventricular fibrillation again, and Echo instinctively reached for another syringe of the vasopressin, but Abby’s hand slid over hers, gently holding it in place.

 

Echo looked up into Abby’s sorrowful gaze as she shook her head a little. “She’s had too much already. Her heart won’t be able to handle it. She’ll code, Echo.”

 

Echo swallowed against the impossibly hard lump in her throat as Lexa started fading once more, even more quickly. She said nothing, but looked at Abby intensely as her eyes began to water.

 

Abby’s voice was solemn and soft when she continued, “I’m sorry, Echo.”

 

Echo felt like the floor was splitting open beneath her, threatening to swallow her whole. How the hell was she supposed to just stand here, watching a stupid digital bar pushing forward at an excruciatingly slow pace? Watching Lexa dying right in front of her—again—and doing nothing? What kind of crazy person could even do that, much less do it without breaking solidly in half and being destroyed by such inaction?

 

They all watched helplessly as the bar climbed to 93 and Lexa fell closer to death, and Abby said quietly, “How much longer, Raven?”

 

Raven swallowed hard, her hands fluttering uselessly in her lap. “Another minute and a half, best guess.”

 

“A minute and a half?” Emori said, her voice and face growing dark. “She won’t make it, it’s too long.”

 

Raven looked haunted, staring at the wall with a tightly clenched jaw when she spoke. “If you fry the Flame, the data transfer will be interrupted. We can’t even begin to know how that’s going to affect her. Missing, deleted, corrupted files—she could lose her memory, the new drive could be totally unusable..”

 

“We’re talking about possible brain damage and other question marks, or her body dying,” Emori said softly to herself, glancing back to Echo. 

 

Echo met the other girl’s eyes and, knowing exactly what she was getting at, Echo found herself giving her a short nod of agreement. They glanced to Abby in sync, who swallowed hard at the sight of the ’94’ over the bar briefly before nodding as well.

 

Abby flipped a few dials on the crash cart before sliding the switch into place. Raven was staring at her own screen, as though she could mentally will the bar to move faster just by focusing on it and it alone. Abby glanced to Emori, who took a deep, steadying breath as she reached for the linked Flame, her face weighted down heavily with guilt.

 

Echo, unable to let the other girl take on the weight of the task alone, found herself sliding her hand over Emori’s, and she swallowed hard as their eyes met. “Ogeda.”

 

Ogeda,” Emori whispered back, and held onto the clamp around the Flame as Echo tugged on the cord attached to the computer.

 

The computer let out an annoyed beep as it displayed a message before Raven’s horrified face.

 

 

Connection Error

File Transfer Incomplete - 96%

 

 

Echo’s chest felt empty but for the fire raging in it as Abby pressed the paddles to Lexa’s chest, but it did nothing to disrupt the broken rhythm of its frenetic beating.  

 

“Still in v-fib,” Echo murmured, feeling dazed and sick inside.  Her arms felt heavy, and her head swam with dizziness and tears that could not seem to find a path to her eyes. Everything in her felt disconnected and weighted down; she was suffocating on her own breath and drowning in her own blood. Her organs turned to ash and her bones incinerated, and she was pulled apart limb from limb as she realized that Lexa was going to die.

 

Lexa was going to die, and it was going to be her fault. 

 

Abby hit her again, and a series of uneven, practically confused beeps sounded before settling into a soft, regular rhythm. The world pitched sideways in her brain, and the fog inside Echo’s dry, fuzzy mouth seemed to pour out as the realization hit her that Lexa’s heart was still beating.

 

“Tachy, no arrhythmia ,” Abby announced with a hitch in her voice, clamping down tightly on her emotions.   

 

Emori’s eyes closed briefly, and she let out a slow breath of relief. Just beside her, Echo did the same, but the air exited her narrowed throat shakily. Somehow, they had stopped Death once again from taking that which did not yet belong to him. Lexa was still alive.

 

Well. 

 

Her body was, anyway.

 

 

Raven had stopped watching the time.

 

It might have been only a few minutes, or a few hours, before Abby finished detaching the Flame’s mesh from Lexa’s brain. Raven stared, the knot in her stomach growing tighter as Echo gently pulled the neural lace free and held it up in the forceps beneath the bright surgical light.  It glinted reflectively as it turned slowly, it’s multitude of spindle legs lifeless and scorched black, before Echo dropped it into the tray.

 

Raven could only gaze numbly as Abby took the freshly autoclaved housing that now held the new Eligius drive, and guided the needle carefully into place. The neural lace ejected from the tip of it, sliding into the small incision easily. Emori adjusted the fluoroscope’s live X-ray screen just slightly, and they all watched with interest and fear as the neural lace slid around the interior of Lexa’s cranial cavity and slowly enshrouded her brain as the Flame once had. 

 

After a moment, Abby quietly informed them that the drive was in place, and Raven turned back to her screen without a word. She checked the information coming through the connection with the Eligius drive, watching as the informational panels filled quickly. 

 

She remained silent as her fingers flew across the keyboard once more, making minor adjustments and checking various things as the number 96 blinked through her mind like it was on a brightly lit sign the size of the ship they were onboard—announcing her failure and the potential fallout to anyone within miles. 

 

Raven’s heart and head were heavy when she found the information she was searching for, and slowly rotated her chair around to face the other women—all of them waiting expectantly for her assessment. Her voice was robotic, her face blank and expressionless as she lingered just slightly adjacent to her own body. 

 

“It’s working, but the data is corrupted,” she informed them dispassionately.  

 

“Tell me what that means, Raven,” Abby said gently, as Emori assisted Echo in closing the incision carefully with a neat row of stitches. 

 

Raven lowered her eyes, her face filled with shame as she shook her head faintly at the floor and said nothing.

 

“Raven,” Echo said, pausing mid-stitch, her eyes and voice pleading with her for a response. “Raven, please just tell us.”

 

Raven finally lifted her head, her face cloaked in remorse and gaze heavy with tears held back. Her head shook once more, her shoulders lifting in a semblance of a shrug as she let the words out; words that made her feel sick and pathetic, words she hated more than anything else. Words that filled her with humiliation and disgust and guilt to speak them aloud. Her voice cracked with the weight of them as she finally responded in a brokenhearted whisper.

 

“I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

Don't stray, don't ever go away

I should be much too smart for this

You know it gets the better of me sometimes

When you and I collide, I fall into an ocean of you

Pull me out in time, don't let me drown, let me down

And here I go, losing my control

And there's no cure and no way to be sure

Why everything's turned inside out, instilling so much doubt

It makes me so tired, I feel so uninspired

My head is battling with my heart, my logic has been torn apart

And now it all turns sour, come sweeten every afternoon

Say you'll stay, don't come and go like you do

Sway my way, yeah I need to know all about you

- Bic Runga, “Sway”

 

 

Arkadia was overwhelming, to say the least. 

 

The curved metal ship—the one Raven told her used to be attached to her real home, the Ring, once upon a time—arced into the sky. It was a jarring contrast framed against the backdrop of trees and nature; a lake, and even some mountains off in the distance. 

 

Aden’s hand rested lightly on her shoulder as he took it in with her, allowing himself only a moment to mourn the bustling market and skyward-stretching tower of Polis. It wasn’t much of a loss, he thought to himself, when Madi was never there; when his family hadn’t ever been there, together. He couldn’t think of it as a home of his, not anymore. It was sad, but only in the way stumbling on a dead sparrow might be; the kind of thing that made you say to yourself, “That’s unfortunate” before continuing on with your day. 

 

There were a lot of people in Arkadia, and they all rushed busily from one point to another; tending gardens, running some kind of rigged up piping from the center out into the most distant reaches of large swaths of crops, and even—

 

Madi gasped, watching a girl about her age who was approaching them. Her skin was fair, a smattering of freckles cast across her nose and rosy cheeks. Her hair was wild like Madi’s own, curling past her shoulders in a cascade of tendrils that were loosely bound with a length of hand braided twine. It hung in her face, partially covering one wide, blue eye as she paused before them.

 

But it wasn’t her hair, or the slight glaze of her partially hidden eye that Madi noticed first; nor was it her freckles, or her sun-tinted cheeks or strong arms, with muscle and tendon flexing in the light. It was the massive, beautiful white horse that she sat on that grabbed Madi’s attention, and she couldn’t help a soft gasp when the beautiful beast shook its head, its pale mane flashing in the sunlight.

 

The girl was looking right at her, her face furrowed with suspicion and curiosity. The intensity of her gaze and the way it softened when Bellamy joined them made something in Madi’s chest feel warm, and she bit her lip uncomfortably.

 

Bellomi! Monin hou!” The girl’s face lit up when she saw her leader unharmed.

 

Mochof, Reese!” He rubbed the horse’s chin affectionately. “I see you kept the place running while I was gone.”

 

Bellomi, we didn’t know if you were coming back, and then the ship approached, and we—uh..” She trailed off, shrugging a little.

 

Bellamy sighed and briefly pressed his forehead against the horse’s muzzle. “Indra’s in the woods with an army already, isn’t she?”

 

Reese nodded. “Should I tell everyone to get back to work or training?”

 

“No. No, that’s okay, Reese. I’ll take care of it. Listen, there’s some more people on the ship—er, a lot of them, actually. Including Abby.” 

 

Reese looked troubled at this, and turned slightly towards the horizon—the direction they’d come from, the direction New Polis lay in—and Madi’s eyes widened slightly as she saw the sword strapped to her back that she hadn’t noticed before. The girl was a warrior. Just like her.

 

“Can you show Madi and Aden here to some empty quarters? I think there are some rooms left on the western side, and we’re going to need a few more, probably.”

 

“Of course.” Reese nodded and turned her horse a bit so she could bow her head to Bellamy before he headed towards the tree line, where Indra and other warriors were likely crouched. 

 

Quarters? Madi realized she hadn’t really thought about where they would stay down here. Most of what had been here before Praimfiya was gone now. Certainly, she wouldn’t be living under anyone’s floor again, but somehow it had escaped her that her family was, in a sense and for the moment, homeless in a way. People without a clan, without a place to rest their heads. People without people or somewhere to call their own.

 

“Aden? Oh my gosh, Aden!” A female voice, growing loud with excitement, rang out just before a willowy figure tossed itself at Aden, hugging him tightly. Aden’s eyes widened as he stood there awkwardly, letting the girl hold onto him and looking at Madi, seemingly for help. 

 

“I—uh, you know me?” He asked, shrugging a little at Madi, a confused look on his face.

 

The girl pulled back and laughed, shaking a long, dark braid down her back. “Aden, you branwoda. It’s me! Mika!”

 

Aden’s eyes went wide and round, and his face flushed quickly, his cheeks burning red. “Mika? Oh, wow. Wow, you’re—uh, you’re really… tall now,” he finished lamely. 

 

Madi just shook her head at him and—out of Mika’s line of sight, but well within Reese’s—she gave him a thumbs down. Reese smirked lightly at the gesture from atop her horse.

 

“Me? Look at you! You’re practically a head above the forest already. Are you sure you’re not kom Trigedakru after all?” 

 

Aden laughed a little too loudly, clearly nervous, as Madi rolled her eyes and stepped forward, extending her arm. “I’m Madi, Aden’s sister.” 

 

Mika smiled and gripped Madi’s forearm, shaking lightly. “I’m Mika. Aden and I were in Heda Leksa’s novitiate class together, once upon a time.”

 

Madi looked a bit stunned. She didn’t know what she’d thought had happened to the other natblidas that Aden had grown up with. Truthfully, she had made an effort not to think about it. He never spoke of them, and when she’d seen Gaia, and the state of Wonkru, she had tried even harder to push the wonderings from her mind; certainly nothing good could have happened to any of them, that much was for sure.

 

Aden’s smile fell just slightly. “Are the others..?”

 

Mika bit her lower lip, avoiding his gaze. “Only a few. Sayen, Takami, and Arvid are here. The others..” Her dark eyes were incredibly sad, Madi could see that very clearly now. She was haunted, and frankly, Madi understood the feeling.

 

Aden looked crushed, and he glanced at Madi, a lump in his throat. Madi, understanding, nodded and touched his arm lightly. “Why don’t you and Mika catch up, and I’ll go see about getting us some beds. Really far from each other, so I don’t have to live with the smell of your feet,” she added, but with a playful smile, so Aden would know she was kidding.

 

Mochof,” he whispered with a weak smile, squeezing her hand before following Mika to a small area with a few tables on the edge of the gated area.

 

Madi turned to Reese, her mouth going a bit dry when playful, piercing blue eyes found hers. “Looks like it’s just me and you, skaiprisa,” she said, but her voice was gently teasing—maybe even a hint of flirtation?—and Madi found herself vaguely lightheaded by all the new information she’d just absorbed and the penetrating gaze of the girl in front of her.

 

Reese leaned forward a little, her face growing concerned. “Are you okay? I was.. just teasing you. I came from the sky, too. I was born there, actually.”

 

Madi’s head popped up at this. “Y-you came down with Clarke?”

 

This girl had grown up on the Ark when it was still the Ark? She’d grown up in the same place Madi herself had. But not, Madi quickly realized, the same world she’d grown up in. 

 

“Clarke Griffin?” Reese said, sliding easily off her horse, her fingers twirling strands of its mane lightly. “No, I came down after the hundred, on Farm Station.” 

 

“Oh.” Madi said dumbly, quietly annoyed with herself for feeling so awkward around this girl who seemed so at ease around her. 

 

Then again, Madi had grown up very nearly alone, and up until recently hadn’t been around more than a handful of other people at a time. Everything on the ground was overwhelming, especially the sheer amount of people she suddenly found herself surrounded by. 

 

“Is your family here, too?” 

 

Reese’s jaw set and she turned her eyes to her horse, stroking its mane lovingly, her voice a bit tighter than before. 

 

“No. No, my father was..” She paused, her chest puffing out with pride. “He volunteered for the culling. My adoptive mother, Miss Lucy, was killed by Azgeda scouts soon after we landed.”

 

“The culling?” Madi asked, her brow furrowing. She’d heard an awful lot of stories about both the ground and the sky, but this was a new word for her. Reese’s eyes flashed just a bit, and for a split second, Madi saw a world of pain lurking behind them that made her feel closer to the girl almost instantly. 

 

“We were running out of air on the Ark. I was losing my sight because of it. My father and 300 other brave souls volunteered to sacrifice themselves; to give the rest of us more time and air.”

 

Madi nodded slowly, trying to push thoughts of her own parents from her head; the way they too, had sacrificed themselves to protect herself and Aden. She tried not to think of Lexa and Clarke, either, but she sensed her pain was laid bare on her face despite her best efforts, just from the way Reese now regarded her. 

 

“You understand, though. Don’t you?” She said softly, and Madi nodded. She rested her hand on Madi’s shoulder, in a comforting gesture, and Madi surprised herself by not shrinking back from the unfamiliar touch.

 

“You got your sight back, though?” Madi said lamely. Reese smiled at her, her nose crinkling a bit in a way that made something in Madi’s stomach unfurl and begin fluttering in a not-entirely-unpleasant way.

 

“Not all of it,” she said, pushing her hair aside to reveal her slightly clouded right eye. “This one’s still no good, but I’ve managed without it this long.”

 

 She smiled, almost proudly, and Madi felt the strangest urge to reach out and touch her cheek, as though she had some need to comfort and reassure this girl who did not seem to need either of those things in the least. The feeling joined the flutter and together they pressed in on Madi’s chest, making her feel claustrophobic. She quickly linked her hands behind her back and straightened her posture, as though she feared she couldn’t fight the urge otherwise.

 

Reese just looked at her with a vaguely bemused confidence, as if she was aware of Madi’s strange, unnecessary urge. “It’s okay. I know it looks really weird, but it’s just an eye. A useless one, but it’s never stopped me before.”

 

“I’m sure it hasn’t,” Madi said, surprising herself with the soft tone to her own voice. She felt that strange, warm feeling in her chest again. Her cheeks flushed when Reese smirked lightly, like she knew exactly what was going on, even though Madi herself hadn’t quite figured it out yet.

 

“Well,” Reese said—and did Madi catch a brief wink beneath layers of hair and an unseeing glaze?—“Let’s go find someplace for your family to stay. How many people do you have?”

 

“Ten.”

 

“Big family,” Reese commented, stroking her hand over her horse’s back gently before beginning to lead the beautiful creature towards their stables.

 

Madi followed quietly and began to nod, then stopped short when she remembered.

 

“Actually.. eight. There’s.. there’s only eight of us right now.” Her voice sounded like a little girl’s voice, and her cheeks flushed with shame. “My m.. my moms aren’t here. Well, one of them is, but she’s..” Madi paused, and Reese waited patiently, all of her attention focused on Madi as she stumbled over her words. “Sick. So I guess.. yeah. Eight beds.”

 

“Is that why Abby is here? To help your mom?” Reese asked, rummaging in the sack she carried at her side.

 

“Yeah. They’re going to do surgery, or something, there on the ship,” Madi mumbled, lowering her eyes. “And my other mom is.. she’s still in New Polis.”

 

What was going on? Madi couldn’t help thinking to herself. She didn’t know this girl from Sheidheda, and she hadn’t had a moment’s hesitation before spilling her ugly, sad little truths out to the total stranger. 

 

Reese studied her quietly, reaching out and touching her shoulder lightly. 

 

“I’m sorry. Abby is a wonderful doctor, though. If anyone can help your mom, I’m sure it’s her.” Reese gave her a soft smile. “She was the one who helped save my good eye.”

 

Madi nodded a bit, biting her lower lip as Reese found what she was looking for in her bag. She offered the apple to her horse, who took it from her hand with a gentleness that stunned Madi. Like the horse understood it could harm the girl and was carefully aware of its actions as a result. 

 

Reese watched Madi staring as though in a trance for a moment.

 

“Have you ever seen a horse before?” 

 

“Only once,” Madi’s voice was soft and had a clear tone of wonder in it. “When I was very small, right before Praimfiya. My brother and two more of our clan came to rescue me. I rode on Helios while we escaped the black rain.”

 

Reese smiled a very wide smile and her good eye glittered with mischief. “You know, we can sort out beds for your family later, if that’s okay. I think I have something you’d like to see even more here in Arkadia.”

 

Madi chewed on the idea for a moment. She probably should go get their rooms sorted out. It would be dark soon, and everyone would be very tired. But the expression on Reese’s face, the glint in her eye, and the soft huffing of the beautiful beast before her was quickly wearing down her sense of duty. 

 

“This beautiful girl, Drífa, isn’t the only horse we have here in Arkadia. She’s got a few friends, too,” Reese continued, her voice laced with temptation.

 

Madi began to smile slowly. “Drífa?”

 

Reese nodded, running her hand down the long graceful neck of the animal. “It’s an old Norse name. It means snow flurry.” Her voice turned gentle as Drífa nuzzled her gently. “We found each other in one. When Farm Station landed, there was snow everywhere. Me and the other kids, we’d never seen it before, and we ran out. All of us. We were in Azgeda territory—we didn’t know it then, of course, and they attacked. They were killing everyone, all the kids. Th-there was blood, everywhere, and screaming, and I could hardly even see to begin with.”

 

Instinctively, Madi reached out and touched her hand to Reese’s shoulder comfortingly, surprising herself. Reese seemed to relax slightly, though, and she continued quietly. 

 

“I just ran. I was afraid, and I ran, and I got lost. It got dark, and I couldn’t find my way back to the ship. I didn’t even know if anyone else was alive, or if the killers were waiting there still..” She swallowed hard, clearing her throat. “I just kept running and hiding and getting more lost. Two days passed, and I had.. started to give up. I knew I would die out there—blind, and alone, hungry and cold and afraid. And then I saw this flash of white in the woods, this big blur that was glowing in the moonlight, that stood out from the falling snow. I thought it was going to attack me, but it was just this beautiful goofball here—still a colt, wandering around by herself in the middle of nowhere.” 

 

Madi regarded the girl with a soft gaze. “You saved each other?”

 

“For the first time,” Reese confirmed, with an affectionate nod towards Drífa. “We’ve saved each other a lot since.”

 

Madi finally smiled—a real smile, one that came from deep inside her heart and filled her lips corner to corner—and tentatively touched Drífa’s forehead, rubbing it gently. “I would love to see where Drífa lives and meet her friends.”

 

“Awesome,” Reese’s face lit up, and she took Madi’s hand in hers as though it were the most natural thing in the world for Reese. With Drífa’s lead in her other hand, they began walking away from the center of Arkadia. Madi felt her cheeks grow warm, but she didn’t pull away from Reese, despite everything inside telling her that’s exactly what she should do. 

 

For the first time in—god, she couldn’t even remember how long—Madi shoved her brain into a metaphorical closet and slammed the door shut. For the first time, Madi ignored the warrior inside warning against everything about her current situation, and let the soft fluttering things in her chest continue to gently swarm there.

 

It felt strangely natural to her, too. 

 

Reese glanced at her as they walked hand-in-hand, her brow just slightly furrowing. Something had been rolling around inside her head that suddenly seemed to click itself into place. Something that was so highly unlikely that it was very nearly impossible. 

 

“Did you say the horse you met before Praimfiya was named Helios?”

Chapter Text

I want to hide the truth, I want to shelter you

But with the beast inside, there's nowhere we can hide

Don't want to let you down but I am hell bound

Though this is all for you, don't want to hide the truth

They say it's what you make, I say it's up to fate

I can't escape this now unless you show me how

When you feel my heat, look into my eyes

It's where my demons hide - d on't get too close,

It’s dark inside, i t's where my demons hide

- Imagine Dragons, “Demons”

 

 

Clarke followed Kane into the home he now shared with Abby. It was a true house, restored to something vaguely resembling a building from the old world, and lushly decorated with tapestries and dark, rich colors with golden accents. It was set back from New Polis proper; nearly a twenty minute walk away.

 

“Afraid to sleep too close to the fighting pits?” Clarke said dryly, as Kane closed and bolted the door behind them. Kane just looked at her with a warning glance. Clarke lifted her hands just slightly in surrender. 

 

“Sorry.”

 

“It’s fine, Clarke. I know this all likely comes as a shock to you. A lot has changed.”

 

Clarke’s eyebrows lifted somewhat and she let out a long, slow breath of air she hadn’t been aware she was holding in. “I kinda noticed. What the hell happened here?”

 

Kane removed his jacket and hung it on a hook, then made his way to a sideboard made of a smooth, richly stained wood. He lifted a beautiful glass decanter with a golden-brown liquid in it, and pulled the stopper out. 

 

“It’s complicated,” he responded, pouring them each a glass.

 

The scent hit Clarke’s nostrils immediately, and her head swam. It was alcohol; perhaps scotch, she thought, and judging from the grainy, woodsy smell, it was quite old and of a very high quality. Kane held one of the glasses to her, and Clarke swallowed hard as she looked at it with a tightening in her gut. Kane, sensing something was off, set the glass aside and shook his head. 

 

“I’m sorry, Clarke. You’ll forgive me the need to have a less-than-clear head at the moment, I hope. I find it makes it easier to make the hard choices if there’s a certain amount of.. numbness involved. Can I get you something else? There’s water, of course. Apple cider, a sweet berry drink that I’m still not su—

 

Clarke’s eyes, however, were still locked on the glass, and it took her a moment to realize it was her own voice that was replying with, “Oh, no, it’s fine. I was just.. surprised. That you have access to scotch.”

 

It’s fine? Clarke shouted at herself internally. Are you serious right now?

 

“The leadership of Mount Weather had quite a supply, which I inherited.”

 

Kane gave her a small, agreeable smile, as he handed the glass to her once more. She took it with a forced smile, mentally gagging the voice in her head—which, annoyingly, sounded an awful lot like Octavia. It was just one little drink, after all. One drink never hurt anyone, she reasoned as she lifted her glass and tilted it towards Kane just slightly. Surely she deserved it after all that had happened recently, too.

 

“Here’s to a certain amount of numbness.”

 

Kane didn’t smile back, but he lifted his glass and touched it lightly to hers. 

 

Clarke lifted the glass to her lips and her eyes nearly rolled back in her head when the first drops of the dry, earthy liquid flowed over her tongue. This was light years away from the bitter, slightly sour and fruity sting of the moonshine that had come from Monty’s still; galaxies from the few preserved bottles of alcohol she’d encountered from the old world. It was like sipping on liquid pleasure by comparison.

 

She sipped slowly, savoring the faint bite on her tongue, but had finished the reasonably small amount in her glass before she even realized it. She glanced unsurely at Kane, who had been momentarily distracted by a painting on the wall—a particularly haunting and eerie one, if you asked Clarke—and seemed to snap out of it under her gaze.

 

He glanced at the glass and stepped aside, gesturing to the decanter. “Please. I imagine it’s been some time since you’ve had a drink, and far less time since you needed one. Help yourself.”

 

I’m helping you, Octavia’s voice taunted in her head. You ruined everything. 

 

This place is a tomb, Roan chimed in.

 

I hate you, Clarke, came Madi’s as well, in a near perfect cadence.

 

You ruined everything, they chorused.

 

“Thank you,” Clarke smiled warmly as she did so, letting the warm, leathery taste silence her demons for the moment. It was a few sips, not a few jars.

 

Really, how much harm could it do?

 

 

Mount Weather: Six Months After Praimfiya

 

“Not now, Indra.”

 

Indra’s eyes narrowed as she ignored Kane’s half-hearted directive. She shut the door to his quarters behind her, and perhaps a little bit harder than was likely necessary.

 

“I’m sorry, Chancellor. But it must be now, and you know that.” Kane rubbed his face wearily, and Indra continued without waiting for a response. “You gave the order? That’s not misinformation, it came from you?”

 

“Yes, I gave the order. And you will follow it, Indra, because I am the Chancellor.”

 

Indra scoffed, completely unimpressed by his posturing. “You don’t frighten me, Kane. I know you too well for these power games to work on me.” 

 

She paused, taking in his stance; the hang of his head, the tired gaze in his eyes, the defeat in his shoulders. For the first time Indra could remember, Kane looked very small and out of place in his seat behind the president’s desk, in his seat of power. 

 

“Or maybe I don’t know you as well as I thought I did. The Kane I knew sought peace. Wanted to save lives, not take them.” Kane lifted his head then, his gaze meeting hers, and she added quietly, “It’s not too late to change your directive.”

 

“It is too late for all kinds of things, Indra,” he responded quietly, standing from his chair. “It’s the nature of the world.” 

 

He made his way to a cabinet and poured two glasses of an incredibly old scotch, and handed one to her. Indra took it, but set it on his desk as he sipped his. 

 

“It is too late for a great many things,” she agreed. “But it is not too late for you to uphold the law. Lexa’s law. She tried to show us a better way. Lexa chose mercy; why can’t you?”

 

“Lexa isn’t here,” Kane snapped, surprising even himself with the bitterness that was clearly present in his tone, his jaw tightening almost imperceptibly. “And I’m not nearly as favored as she was. We can’t afford mercy.”

 

“No, Lexa isn’t here,” Indra agreed, folding her arms across her chest and fixing him with a measured look. “But do you think she would make the same choice if she were? Do you think most of us would? That we would choose jus drein jus daun—choose Nia’s way, Sheidheda’s way, over Heda Leksa’s way?”

 

Kane took another sip of his scotch, his eyes finding the Blake painting on the wall as he considered her question. He was quiet for a moment, and then another. Indra ran her fingertip lightly around the rim of her glass, but let it remain on the desk, otherwise untouched, as she patiently waited for what would—as always—be a measured response from her leader. 

 

The silence lingered for a long time before Kane’s gaze met hers once more. 

 

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I truly don’t know the answer to that.”

 

Indra’s voice grew heavy with the weight of his confession; of his lack of belief in the last vestiges of the human race. “Where is your faith, Chancellor?” 

 

Kane’s answer came more quickly this time, though still in the same measured, even tone. “I had to leave it above-ground, Indra. Faith doesn’t change things; action does.”

 

“Yes,” she agreed, studying him as he restlessly paced the room. “But what actions you choose to take matters. You know that. You took the brand of her coalition, Kane. You swore your loyalty and agreed to follow her. When ai sonraun laik yu sonraun was issued, you gave it your support. You told us before we closed the bunker door that all life is precious. Do you no longer believe that?” 

 

Kane balked internally when Indra used his own words, his own beliefs, to make her point. She was putting cracks in his armor, splitting open his hard outer shell and his carefully constructed facade, and he knew it, and part of him resented her for it. He set his glass down, standing quietly and facing the painting.

 

This time, the silence of his internal struggle stretched on far longer; so long, in fact, that Indra ran out of what minimal amount of patience she had within her in the first place. But when she drew his attention once more, it was in a gentle, sympathetic tone.

 

“Marcus..”

 

“Enough!” Kane startled both of them when he slammed his open palms down on the surface of the desk, rattling a tin of writing utensils on it. His jaw was set, brow furrowed and eyes narrowed. He lowered his voice, but his tone was terse and had an underlying darkness in it that felt unfamiliar and concerning, even to himself. 

 

“That was a different time. We have no Commander.” He stood straight once more, shaking his head a bit as his tone softened to a harsh sort of self-deprecation. “There's only me. And I don't see any other options. Not where we survive the next five years down here.”

 

Indra watched his internal struggle against himself, and she empathized far more than he likely realized. She too, had fought a similar battle involving her own demons; her own upbringing and training, her own flawed beliefs and the guilt that lay heavy and deep inside her soul. She had feared that Lexa would be killed for ai sonraun laik yu sonraun. She had feared all of their people would die at the hand of Audaskai or Azgeda because of it.

 

Mostly she had feared that peace had a price, and it would still be paid for in blood. 

 

“An honorable battle,” she finally said, picking up her glass and running her thumb over the rim, “Is one where each side gave their best, regardless of how it turned out. You can lose the battle and still have an honorable death. Or you can win the battle, but shame yourself and your clan.”

 

Kane’s steely gaze met hers with a dangerous challenge as she took her first sip of the scotch. 

 

“What are you getting at? You want me to answer Audaskai’s violence at the hydrofarm with nothing? Lock them up and have more mouths to feed, more tension, than ever?” Kane was ramping up, his voice growing louder and hands gesticulating as he made his argument to Indra and, she presumed, likely to himself as well. 

 

“We should risk our entire future to give these people another chance, and another, and another? We should do it in a seriously misguided attempt to keep peace among people who never wanted peace in the first place?”

 

He snapped the last sentence, and Indra slowly lowered the glass in her hand, setting it silently back onto his desk. She took a step closer to him, her gaze meeting his fearlessly as they stood toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye. Her voice was evenly modulated and there was a very quiet challenge in it as she spoke.

 

“Are you an honorable man, Marcus Kane? Because those are the same question. You ask if our lives are worth it, if the human race is worth gambling on. You used to think the answer was yes, and so did I.” Kane stood very still, his eyes fixed and unblinking, and muscles tensed as he heard her out. “Lexa thought so, too. And I think we both know what she would do.”

 

Kane didn’t argue that point; there was nothing to be gained by doing so, and they both knew it. His face grew suddenly weary, and his voice dropped into the range of a quiet sense of desperation as he replied very softly.

 

“I’m not Lexa.”

 

“You don’t have to prove that to everyone by doing this,” Indra implored. She sensed the chinks in his armor were uncomfortably close to shattering, and so she pressed against them harder, unapologetically. Her tone was sharp, but not unkind; rather it came out like a warning.

 

“You can’t imagine what you’ll set into motion if you go down that road and take their lives as payment for their crimes.”

 

Kane faltered for a moment, and everything inside him wanted to cling to her words and believe them. He wanted to rescind his directive; wanted to hold on tightly to who he was and who he wanted to be; who he wanted their people to be, and what he knew their people were capable of.

 

Then again, that was the entire point, wasn’t it? He did, in fact, know what their people were capable of. The good and the bad; the ugly and the obscene. They were capable of a great many wonderful things—innovation and empathy and love and compassion. Strength and decency, kindness and hope. But they were also capable of pain and destruction. Hatred and injustice. Violence. Cruelty. They were capable of torture, and murder, and ending the world. They were capable of exterminating each other and themselves, and he simply couldn’t let that happen.

 

Indra knew it the moment she saw Kane’s jaw clench and set into place; the battle was lost. His eyes closed briefly, and then lingered on the painting once more before turning back to Indra with a forced and unfamiliar chill in his gaze. 

 

“There is no other road available,” he replied quietly. “The decision is made, Indra. Please take the remaining Audaskai traitors to holding. They can await their punishments there.”

 

Indra stared him down, disappointment and a sort of darkness in both gaze and voice. “You mean await their executions.”

 

Kane stood straight, his face emotionless as he regarded her. 

 

“That will be all.”

 

 

Clarke hadn’t intended to drink much; just enough to dull the knife edge of her feelings. Quiet the voices in her head a bit; give her more focus, so she could figure out a plan. Knowing her body as she did, Clarke felt confident that she would recognize the line between easing pain and burying it when she happened upon it. 

 

So she wasn’t entirely sure why she hadn’t seen the line, but she did know she had crossed it and likely some time ago. Probably before she and Kane had, somehow, wound up sitting on the floor with the entire decanter set, each with a fur wrapped around them.

 

Her first indicator she might have passed that point was that she couldn’t remember how she and Kane had happened onto their current topic—Jake Griffin.

 

“Remember..” Clarke started, already choking on laughter. “Remember those ugly socks he always had? With the little, you know..” She motioned exaggeratedly, drawing a diamond in the air with her fingers as she giggled. “Those things? The ones that go like this. The whole sock!”

 

Kane had helped himself to more than a few glasses as they’d caught each other up on the past six and a half years as well, and he was currently laughing nearly as hard as Clarke herself. 

 

“Argyle! It’s called argyle. He had those hideous sweater vests with the same pattern, too. I once said to him—I said, Jake. Jake, you dress like a couch fr-o-om the o-old world—” Kane cut himself off, stuttering on his seemingly hilarious words as he laughed harder.

 

Clarke let out a guffaw, slapping her palm on her thigh. “That’s so true! I mean—god, he really did, he dressed like a couch. That’s the best way to describe it, an old.. man-couch. My mom hated it, you know? Complained that he could make some effort once in awhile.”

 

Kane chuckled, trying to refill his glass and watching as some of the liquid sloshed over the side of the cup. “Oops..”

 

“Don’t waste it!” Clarke cried, sliding to the floor and cupping her hands under the glass as if she could capture the drops that had already hit the floor.

 

“Pffsh,” Kane scoffed, waving her off. “It’s okay, I have plenty more. There’s a whole basement full of it still.”

 

“You have a basement? That is so cool!” Clarke asked, her mission to save the scotch forgotten as her eyes widened. She leaned in a little closer to Kane, her palm pressed to the floor for balance. She lowered her voice to a whisper, glancing around for potential eavesdroppers and spies before continuing, her gaze intensifying. “What the hell is a basement?”

 

She and Kane held each other’s gaze steadily for a moment before they both burst into hysterics. Clarke fell over, still wrapped in the fur, and she lay with her cheek pressed to the floor, laughing harder than she ever had in her life. She laughed until her belly ached and her throat was raw and tears streamed down her cheeks. Kane remained sitting upright, a wide, relaxed smile on his face as he shook his head, chuckling at her antics.

 

It took several minutes for Clarke to calm down enough to catch her breath, and she lay there on the floor, curled in the soft fur, her heart pounding frenetically and her face nearly purple with exertion. Her laughter grew softer and finally tapered off with a few sighs and hiccups. She lay there, breathing quietly, a dreamy smile on her face as she looked at the painting Kane had seemed so enamored with earlier. 

 

“What is that, anyway?” She asked, pointing at it. “It’s creepy. I mean, I like it, but I don’t know if I’d wanna look at it all the time.”

 

Kane’s voice and face both grew somewhat somber, and he took a halfhearted sip of from his glass, swallowing it. He lifted his index finger off the glass to point to the painting. 

 

“It’s a depiction of hell. The fifth circle of it, specifically. Where sinners guilty of wrath are cast.”

 

Clarke squinted at the painting and then glanced back to Kane, her lips slowly starting to spread into a bemused smile. 

 

“Oh, my god. That is so.. so corny,” she announced, a soft hiss of a chuckle escaping between her teeth as her tongue pressed behind them. Kane looked at her somberly for a moment, and Clarke’s smile started to fade a bit—right up until he cracked up again.

 

“It’s just so on the nose,” he pronounced, laughing into his glass. “I mean, the leader of Mount Weather was named Dante, and here I am, staring at his painting of Dante’s Inferno day after day.. Just waiting for my turn to be cast there..” 

 

Clarke chuckled softly, but there was something heavily that tugged at her from deep inside; a hollow, desperate, and sharp prodding sort of feeling. She slowly pushed herself up until she was seated, her head slightly tilted as she stared intently at the painting.

 

“The fifth circle? You said it was for wrath?”

 

Kane nodded, his eyes trained inside his glass with a sad smile on his lips. “Wrath and sullenness.”

 

Clarke glanced back at him. “What does that mean? Sullenness?”

 

Kane cleared his throat, swirling the liquid in his glass slowly. “Wrath is anger—extreme anger that’s expressed outwardly, like vengeance. Sullenness is more.. internal. Anger you hold onto, a poor temperament. Those who had no appreciation for the earth, for the beauty and goodness in life they’ve been granted.”

 

He slowly took a sip from the glass, his voice growing softer as he continued. “Their souls were cast into an eternity of torment and fighting. As punishment.” 

 

Clarke’s eyes grew haunted as she studied the lost souls in the painting, swirling around each other and heavy with rage. Souls drowning forever in their own darkness; remanded to the eternal midnight of the marsh of Styx, to pay for their crimes. Like the fighting pits.

 

Jus drein, jus daun,” Clarke whispered unsteadily, losing herself in the painting. She suddenly understood what it was, exactly, that Kane saw in it, because she now saw it as well. The painting was at once a mirror and warning; a reminder and, in some strange way, an inspiration. “I bear it, so they don’t have to.”

 

“Yes, we do,” Kane said, knocking back the last sip of his scotch before rolling the glass anxiously in his palm. “When you were in school on the Ark, did you read The Count of Monte Cristo, Clarke?”

 

Clarke shook her head just slightly. “Only a few pages. We had just started it when..” She trailed off, and let the words hang in the air, unspoken. 

 

At least, until Kane replied, “When Thelonious and I had you and your father arrested.”

 

Clarke didn’t respond; she didn’t need to. Kane lowered his eyes, still moving the glass idly between his hands for a moment, before he continued. 

 

“Alexandre Dumas wrote, ‘Farewell to kindness, humanity, and gratitude. Farewell to all sentiments that gladden the heart. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked.’ His character, Dantès, had done many good deeds up until that point. In preparing to assume the role of Count of Monte Cristo, he is readying to exact his vengeance upon his enemies. He had to, essentially, allow any goodness that existed within him, to be destroyed. To make room for his wrath.”

 

Clarke swallowed hard, staring intently at the painting as Kane finished up, a sick, heavy feeling boiling deep inside her chest. She felt nauseated, and even in her current drunken, easily-swayed state, she could not try to convince herself it was from the alcohol. 

 

“I am become death,” she whispered, shuddering internally. "Destroyer of worlds."

 

Kane tilted his gaze towards her, watching her bright eyes as her chin inclined toward the damnable painting. He watched her for a moment before speaking again.

 

“You look like Jake, Clarke; I’m sure you’re aware of that already. But your heart? The way you carry the crushing weight of it all around with you, just beneath the surface.. How it makes you question and doubt yourself, how you search so hard for the light when you’re surrounded by darkness.” He gave a loaded sigh, as though the mere words were weighing on him as well, and his voice was slightly choked when he continued, “It reminds me so very much of your mother.”

 

Clarke slowly lowered her eyes to meet his, the hint of tears rimming clear blue. 

 

“There were records on the Ring. Old newspapers, speeches. I read something once, by this pastor from before. He said that.. That people going to heaven are receiving a blessing they didn’t really earn, but those going to Hell paid their way to get there.” 

 

She was quiet for a beat, and Kane held steady, giving her the time to mull her thoughts over. Her expression grew sad and frightened, and for the first time since her father’s arrest, she looked every bit like the child she really was.

 

“Do you think that’s true?” She asked quietly, her tone laced with fear and worry.

 

Kane sat for a long while in the silence between them, as they both turned back to the haunting picture on the wall. They waited in stasis together, each hoping for his next words to be ones of reassurance, or at least clarity or understanding. She craved wisdom, sought his advice in so many words, and it took some time for him to realize that what she truly sought from him was a lie that he simply couldn’t find it within himself to give to her. 

 

He rapidly became full of regret and despair that he could not honestly release this young girl from the weight of her choices because they were, in a symbiotic sort of way, not dissimilar to his own choices. He fixed her with a sorrowful gaze when he finally answered.

 

“I think, in the end, we all get exactly what we have earned.”

 

 

 

“Those who go to Heaven ride on a pass and enter into blessings
that they never earned, but all who go to hell pay their own way.”

- John R. Rice

 

"The Circle of the Lustful: Francesca da Rimini", William Blake

Chapter Text

If you love somebody, better tell them while they're here
‘Cause they just may run away from you, you'll never know quite when
Well then again, it just depends on how long of time is left for you
I've had the highest mountains, I’ve had the deepest rivers
You can have it all, but life keeps moving
I've tried to cut these corners, try to take the easy way out
I kept on falling short of something
I coulda gave up then, but then again I couldn't have
‘Cause I've traveled all this way for something
I take it in but don't look down
And I know it's hard when you're falling down
And it's a long way up when you hit the ground
Get up now, get up, get up now, ’cause I'm on top of the world
Waiting on this for a while now, paying my dues to the dirt
I've been waiting to smile, been holding it in for a while
Take you with me if I can, been dreaming of this since a child

- Imagine Dragons, “On Top of the World”

 

 

 

When Lexa opened her eyes, she found herself looking into Raven’s tearstained face, tired and taut with stress. Her jaw was clenched, and she was engrossed in the tablet she held. Dark circles framed troubled eyes, the last vestiges of tears she would likely deny still clinging delicately to her eyelashes.

 

It hurt Lexa’s heart to watch the girl be in so much pain, this girl who had saved them all time and time again; the one they inevitably turned to as part of a solution for any crisis. It was harder still to know that Raven carried the weight of all of it on her shoulders, and that—in that disproportionate way brains had of attacking you from within—a single failure was a much heavier burden to carry than any amount of success could ever relieve. 

 

Lexa knew a thing or two about that herself, after all. It had always been harder for her to lay her head down after a success that had a body count—and unfortunately, so many of them generally did. But Raven? Raven had done so well, so many times. She’d literally saved the entire human race; surely she could see that? But truth be told, focusing on the positive had always been a challenge for Lexa, too. Counting the wins often felt empty and cold in light of the losses.

 

“Please be okay,” Raven’s voice was hoarse and weary as she pleaded with the stuffy air, with the Earth, with the universe itself. The alternative was unimaginable, and yet Raven couldn’t seem to stop imagining the possibilities anyway. In fact, it was all she’d been able to think of since the moment the computer pinged at her, informing her emotionlessly of their failure.

 

Lexa reached out towards her. Her arm felt heavy, like she was trying to lift a mountain up with nothing on her side but hope and determination. She pushed against it anyway, more concerned with Raven and the quiet tears on her cheeks than anything else at the moment. Gently, she touched Raven’s forearm, and Raven startled at the sudden, unexpected sensation. Her head snapped up to look at Lexa, who forced her tired lips to curve upwards into a tired smile.

 

“Don’t cry,” she said softly, brushing her fingertips against the inside of Raven’s wrist comfortingly. “It’s okay.”

 

“Lexa?” Raven just stared at her for a moment, her eyes wide and watering once more, disbelief stretched across her face.

 

“Who else would I be?” A soft chuckle made its way out her throat as Lexa smiled tiredly, tapping Raven’s wrist gently. “Well, perhaps Bekka. Or Sheidheda. But I do not think I am them..”

 

Raven—in a stunning move that went against all of her knowledge, respect, and love of tech—dropped the tablet to the floor and practically dove on top of Lexa. She wrapped her arms around her, laughing through tears that had begun falling freely down her cheeks. Lexa’s eyes widened in surprise, and it took her a moment to coordinate her arms enough to wrap them around the other girl, patting her back comfortingly. 

 

“It’s okay,” she assured Raven, although truthfully she had no idea what was okay.

 

“I thought I killed you,” Raven mumbled into the thick sheet of her hair. 

 

“I do not believe I am dead,” Lexa said good-naturedly; but then frowned and tilted her head to look at Raven, worry lining her brow. “Am I?”

 

“That’s definitely the painkillers talking.” Raven, despite herself, laughed softly as she lifted her head, wiping tears off her cheekbones as she shook her head a little. “How’s your head?”

 

“Hurts,” Lexa responded simply, resting her arms tiredly at her sides again. She glanced around the room, her brow furrowing slightly. It was a strange place; somewhere she could't recall seeing before. She gazed at the unfamiliar walls as Raven’s voice sounded over a loudspeaker, apparently summoning Echo, Abby, and someone named Emori to MedBay. 

 

Abby? How did Abby get to space, much less bring a stranger called Emori with her? It was awfully nice of her, to come visit like that, but still.. strange. So strange, in fact, that Lexa mulled it over for a few minutes, trying to identify the something in her chest that had suddenly grown very heavy.

 

Doubting herself—Raven had said something about painkillers, after all—she struggled to push herself up a bit, ignoring the sharp, piercing pain that shot straight through her head as she did. She looked around as Raven tried to get her to rest back, and immediately realized what the problem was.

 

She swallowed hard, her eyes growing dark with fear, as she weakly held onto Raven’s arm, stilling her movements.

 

“Raven? Where is Clarke?”

 

 

 

 

 

“Lexa, you can’t go, you need to stay here. We haven’t even assessed your brain function. Something could be very wrong,” Abby implored. 

 

Lexa was already dressed despite the severe dizziness that hit her every time she turned her head too far in any direction. She practically spat on the floor as she pulled her boots on.

 

“Something is very wrong. Clarke is out there, alone, in hostile territory. I could give a thousand skrish about assessing anything other than a way to get Clarke home. Now, someone find me my swords!”

 

Raven and Echo exchanged a glance when Abby continued rationalizing as though she legitimately believed she could talk Lexa out of anything; much less persuade her not to go after Clarke. It would have been very nearly funny if the world weren’t actively falling apart beneath their feet.

 

Lexa snapped the last buckle into place with purpose and stood up, willing her legs to remain steady as she did. She faced the others and, noting the determined look on Abby’s face, it occurred to her how very much she looked like Clarke in that moment; all stubbornness and emotions, constantly worrying about things that simply must be allowed to happen.

 

“Lexa, you were practically dead just a few hours ago. You can’t j—”

 

Muscle memory kicked in as Lexa lifted a hand quickly, her voice firm, but not unkind as she focused her eyes on Abby. 

 

“I can, and I intend to. I appreciate what you have done for me, Abby; please don’t think otherwise. But I feel fine, and I am going to get Clarke. I would rather you did not stand in my way, but it will not prevent me from going if you continue to do so.”

 

“Lexa—” Echo started, but quickly snapped her mouth shut when Lexa’s sharp eyes found hers. 

 

You will back me up in this ‘New Polis’. Or am I mistaken? Do you no longer follow me, Eko kom Azgeda? Have your loyalties moved elsewhere in my absence?”

 

Echo blinked, mildly stung by the remark. It was briefly unsettling, and startled her into the realization that she had become so used to Lexa being her patient, her friend, her family—rather than her Commander. But now, as Echo gazed at her, she found it nearly unbelievable that she’d ever seen Lexa as anything other than the Commander. Her poise, her expression, the determination in her squared shoulders. The piercing gaze that held Echo’s as something inside her chest shifted into place, and she began to feel a sensation that she hadn’t in quite some time.

 

She was ravenous; filled with craving and desire, ready to feel the blood of their enemies running through her fingers and the weight of her quiver and sword on her back. Echo was ready for a fight, and one waited for her just a few klicks away. The feeling shot through Echo’s body like a shiver. She locked her gaze to Lexa’s and very slowly, deliberately, and with purpose, she lowered herself to her knees before her Commander. Her voice was firm, her jaw set when she ducked her head.

 

Ai ste kamp raun yu, Heda.”

[I am with you, Commander.]

 

Lexa’s chin tilted up slightly, her gaze circling the room slowly; taking each of them in. Measuring her people with an oddly calm, confident look on her face, and finding not one of them wanting. A shift had gone through the room, and it was one Lexa had badly needed; the same shift Echo had felt. 

 

She was not Lexa; not now. Now she was only Heda, and Heda would, without question or risk of failure, see the return of her people. Heda was who they all needed just then, Lexa included. And so weak, powerless little Lexa curled up, still and small inside her own body, passing the reins to Heda; letting the familiar dark determination spread under the surface of her skin until there was no lingering sign of Leksa. Until there was only Heda.

 

En yu, Haihefa? Yu ste wichen?”

[And you, King? Are you still loyal?]

 

Sha, Heda. Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun.”

[Yes, Commander. My life is your life.] 

 

Roan cleared his throat as he joined Echo on his knees, his head lowering quickly. Abby and Emori exchanged a look, and Raven just shook her head in denial, her face lined with worry as Luna mouthed an apology to her before kneeling beside Roan. Murphy rubbed Raven’s shoulders comfortingly and whispered something into her ear that made her nod ever so slightly and lean into him. He kissed her forehead softly before lowering to his knees beside Luna and entwining his hand with hers as he bowed his head.

 

Emori took a step forward, addressing Lexa quietly, but with determination in her face. “Heda, ai laik frikdreina, but I can still be useful. I’m a strong fighter, I have medical training, and I have spent the last six years as a spy for Chancellor Kane.” Emori tilted her chin proudly as she removed her gloves and knelt on one knee, resting her affected arm on her remaining knee, in plain sight. “It would be an honor if you would allow me to serve in your gonakru, Heda.” 

[I’m a mutant, / your army, Commander. ]

 

Lexa took the girl in briefly, lowering herself just a bit and holding her hand out. Emori studied her briefly, cautiously lifting her deformed hand, her gaze softening when Lexa took it without hesitation and helped her stand once more.

 

Lexa’s measured gaze met Emori’s, and her voice was gentle, but authoritative. “Yu nou laik Frikdreina, yu laik ain kru, Emori. It will be an honor to serve beside you.” 

[You’re not a mutant, you’re my people, Emori.]

 

Emori looked back at her with an affected and emotional expression that she quickly hid behind a stony face and set jaw. “Mochof, Heda. Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun.” 

[Thank you, Commander. My life is your life.]

 

Lexa nodded to her silently, gesturing for the others to stand once more as well. She then fixed her gaze on Octavia, who had just returned and was carefully carrying the mantle of the Commander, as well as Lexa’s previously misplaced swords. The tattered red velvet drape brushed the floor as Octavia wordlessly moved behind Lexa and positioned it. 

 

Not taking her eyes off her people, she raised her hands and took the straps from Octavia’s hands, pointedly clicking the belt into place across her chest. Octavia carefully set her back scabbard into place, then knelt beside Luna. She ducked her head, offering the Kali swords to Lexa, who took them without so much as a blink and slid them onto her back.

 

Mochof, Wanheda, my most trusted advisor and friend. All of you, prepare yourselves for battle, ain seingeda. We leave for New Polis at moonrise. Oso gonplei nou ste odon,” Lexa commanded firmly, her eyes training from each of them to the next. The responding chorus of “sha, Heda”s came from all of them, including Abby and the others this time. 

[Thank you, / my family. / Our fight is not over, ]

 

Lexa nodded slightly, dismissing them so they could ready themselves for the upcoming fight. After a moment, it was only she and Abby left in the room, and Abby approached her as she sat on a nearby chair.

 

“If you push yourself too hard, you’ll end up right back on my operating table. And we might not be able to save you this time,” Abby said quietly. “You know that, don’t you?”

 

“Yes. I do.” Lexa inclined her head. She stayed quiet for another moment, but held Abby’s gaze, and her voice took on a more gentle tone when she did speak again. “If they find Clarke, they will kill her. You know that, don’t you?”

 

“Yes,” Abby replied softly. 

 

Lexa felt bad for the woman; she could tell the very thought of it struck through her like a scalding iron, and she did not have to imagine the pain Abby must feel, because she felt it herself. She felt it when the doubtful part of her brain continued to whisper that she would not manage to save Clarke; that she was likely long dead already, and this would be no more than a fool’s errand. That the cost would be dear, and paid in blood, and it might be for nothing. 

 

One thing Lexa was absolutely certain of was that if Clarke had been harmed or worse, she would singlehandedly and unapologetically lay waste to New Polis and everyone within its walls. She would ensure that her vengeance, her wrath, her punishment, was felt by every single person there. She would ensure that whomever was responsible for taking Clarke from her, for taking Clarke's light from the world, would feel Lexa's pain for a very long time. That they would experience a much slower and more creative destruction of their existence than whatever they had done to Clarke.

 

Her thoughts turned quite dark, and so quickly that it very nearly drew a soft gasp from her lips. She expected to feel at least reluctant to kill, as she always had been. But the question of Clarke’s life, Clarke’s existence, any part of the whole that was Clarke being taken, the imagining that someone might have hurt her—it made her feel not just eager to kill. Rather, Lexa also felt a bloodthirsty craving rumbling deep inside her soul that she hadn’t felt since the day she spilled Queen Nia’s blood with Costia’s name on her lips.

 

She wanted to hurt anyone who might have harmed Clarke; wanted to squeeze down on a tender throat and mentally record the sight of the light leaving their eyes slowly, their body growing heavy with fear until their final breath. She wanted to make someone feel her own suffering, her own pain. She wanted to lash them to a tree and spend the night delivering a thousand cuts until the unknown entity who took Clarke from her begged for mercy, begged for the peaceful solace of death—and then, Lexa would refuse and deliver another thousand cuts. 

 

Jus drein, jus daun. Blood must have blood, she thought. There had been a reason it was their mantra for so very long, after all; and certainly she would have the blood of any person who was responsible for spilling so much as a single drop of Clarke’s blood. The mental image made her feel at once sickened and starved inside herself. She craved the violence her head was imagining in such detail, yet wished at that same time that it would dissipate and relieve some of the discomfort it was causing. 

 

“Bring her home, Lexa.” Abby swallowed hard and reached out, gently resting a hand on Lexa’s shoulder. 

 

The words and action snapped her out of her uncomfortable reverie, and Lexa squared her shoulders once more, her head held high as she held Abby’s gaze for a moment; held it so that Abby might know that Lexa genuinely meant what she was about to say, more than she’d ever meant anything else in her life.

 

“I will.”

 

Chapter Text

I had a dream the other night ‘bout how we only get one life

Woke me up right after two, I stayed awake and stared at you

So I wouldn't lose my mind

But you're like the net under the ledge

When I go flying off the edge, you go flying off as well

With broken words I've tried to say it, honey 

Don't you be afraid—if we got nothing, we got us

I know that we're not the same, but I'm so damn glad 

That we made it to this time, this time, around

And if we only die once, I wanna die with you

If we only live once, I wanna live with you

- OneRepublic, “Something I Need”

 

 

It was less than an hour later—with around two hours left until the sun began to set—when they had all gathered in the main entryway of the Eligius, where Raven and Abby had a large pile of rucksacks waiting.

 

“We grabbed whatever we could find on the ship, in Arkadia, and a bunch of supplies—some real weapons, too, thanks to Kane. Each bag has rations, water, first aid supplies. A flare gun, matches, extra ammo,” Raven babbled nervously, avoiding looking directly at Luna as her pitch and timbre increased with her rising emotions. “There’s a couple of compasses, I know everyone knows how to navigate, I just thought it would be good to cover all the bases, so to speak. Better to prepare for the worst, just in case. No such thing as being too prepared, right? So, yeah, compasses, and fire starters. There’s knives in most of them, and multitools, too. Oh, and everyone has a flare gun, so if you get into a situation where you need help, you ca—”

 

Raven’s voice repeating the flare gun information was cut off in a sharp gasp as Luna wrapped her arms around her tightly, and Raven broke immediately, burying her tears in the crook of Luna’s neck as she stroked her back. Echo and Octavia began passing out the rucksacks as Roan adjusted his chest armor.

 

Lexa turned to face her warriors, but found herself interrupted even before she started to speak. Bellamy had burst in, looking somewhat panicked, with Harper and —

 

“Indra?” Lexa said incredulously. 

 

Her hair had been cut and she had a great deal more scars on her face than she once had, but it was unmistakably Indra. Lexa made as if to move towards her war chief, but thought better of it and caught herself; this wasn’t the time for a sappy reunion. 

 

Heda,” Indra replied, but her face remained solemn even as she extended her arm. Lexa leaned in quickly, sharing a one-armed embrace with her.

 

“What's happened?” She asked as she pulled back from the all-too-brief hold.

 

Bellamy and Indra shared a dark look, and it was Bellamy who responded after a moment.

 

“I know this is bad timing, but a few of the kids have gone missing. Including Madi.”

 

Lexa felt the world dropping away beneath her feet, and she couldn’t tell if she had physically weaved or if had only felt that way in her mind.

 

“What do you mean missing?” Octavia demanded, holstering her sidearm and grabbing her rucksack quickly. 

 

“We don’t think they’re actually missing, missing,” Harper said carefully. “Monty overheard Madi and Reese talking about Clarke on their way to the stables. We think they, Aden, and two more of our girls, Mika and Tris, have gone to New Polis to find her. They took three horses, some supplies, and weapons.”

 

Lexa’s mouth was dry, and part of her wished she could teleport to Madi’s location just long enough to shake the girl by her shoulders for making such a foolish, careless, potentially deadly choice. 

 

“Madi has never even been in a real fight,” Lexa murmured, dazed with fear and anger. “We can't wait; we must leave now. They can’t make it to New Polis before we do, they'll be slaughtered.” 

 

“Reese, Tris, and Mika are strong warriors. They'll keep Aden and Madi safe,” Bellamy replied quietly, gently touching Lexa’s back as though letting her know he understood her pain at the moment.

 

Glancing toward Octavia, Lexa realized that he very much did, in fact, understand; and so she looked at him quietly, nodding as he continued, “I have to stay here in case Wonkru scouts show up, but Indra and Harper will bring their gonakru with you to New Polis. Nothing is more important than getting the kids and Clarke back.”

 

Heda, I’m Harper kom Arkadiakru, second to wormana Indra kom Trikru. Our warriors are already gathered outside the ship, and we’re ready to deploy on your order, Commander,” Harper said, her jaw firmly set as she lowered her head to Lexa. Indra did the same, and Lexa bowed her head briefly in return.

 

Mochof, all of you,” Lexa responded, realizing that what Harper and Indra had just done was hand her control of their army as well as her own.

 

Later on, when this had all ended and she lay in bed safe and sound with Clarke, the kids safely tucked away in the next room, she would allow herself to bask in the feeling of pride and gratitude their complete trust had unexpectedly strengthened in her. 

 

Behind her, someone cleared their throat, and Lexa turned to find herself meeting Diyoza’s steely blue gaze, which held just the slightest hint of mischief and excitement deep within—a pre-battle sensation Lexa was quite familiar with. She tilted her head back to indicate the several dozen men that stood behind her—all of them in armor and carrying several firearms apiece.

 

“If you’ve got room for a few more, Commander, we’d like to come along,” Diyoza offered. 

 

Lexa glanced at Octavia, but she looked just as unsure as Lexa herself felt. Before she could say anything, Diyoza took a step closer to Lexa, her weapon lowered and pointed away.

 

“Commander, if it were my daughter out there, I would want all the help I could get. If we’re going to live together in peace after this, we have to trust each other. I’m putting my trust—and my guys’ lives—in your hands. Willingly. The least you can do is trust me back, right?”

 

Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun, Heda.” With that, Diyoza took one knee before Lexa, and her men quickly followed suit, as did Indra and Harper. 

 

Lexa gazed around slowly and took a soft, steadying breath, exhaling as her blood began to pump faster. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and she smiled as she held her hand out to Diyoza and guided the woman to her feet. Every cell in Lexa’s body screamed with the exhilaration of impending battle, and despite everything else, Lexa felt a confident smile spreading across her face. 

 

Gon war,” Lexa whispered, feeling the familiar thrumming that spread throughout her body. “Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun, Diyoza kom Eligiuskru. I accept your offer of an alliance. Your people march with us now.”

 

Lexa raised her voice significantly higher, calling out to the restless crowd. “Rise, warriors! We march on New Polis, and we will get our people back. All of our people,” she emphasized. Octavia and Indra moved to her side as she headed for the ship’s exit ramp, all of the warriors cheering and whooping as they fell into formation.

 

In the grass, just outside the doors, were dozens of Arkadians; some of them on horses, all of them heavily armed and armored. They parted as Lexa exited the ship first with her advisors, trailed by Echo, Roan, Luna, Murphy, Emori, and Diyoza. Diyoza’s men fell into line behind the others, and Harper and Indra’s team naturally merged into the admittedly formidable-looking army. 

 

Once outside, the soldiers began to say their goodbyes, and Lexa swallowed hard, trying not to think about the people she most wished to be holding and kissing right then. 

 

Raven was still crying into Luna’s neck and holding Murphy with her other arm, and he and Luna were holding hands as well. Nearby, Bellamy cupped Echo’s cheeks as he spoke to her softly, their foreheads gently pressed together and her hand over his heart. 

 

Abby put her arm out for Raven as Luna and Murphy rejoined the army. Luna’s chin tilted defiantly as she fought back further tears, and Murphy’s eyes were locked on the sky as he tried to shut himself down. Raven curled into Abby like a little girl, her expression pained as she did so.

 

Near the gate, Monty waited with the reins of a beautiful grey stallion, already saddled and wearing protective armor. “Commander—it would be an honor if you would take my prized gapa. He’s young, and strong, and battle-trained. He’s ready to serve at your side, Heda.”

 

Lexa considered it, eying the stunning beast. It had been a long time since she rode, and it would certainly allow her to preserve some energy. The horse tilted its head forward into her hand, nuzzling her, and Lexa melted internally. Truthfully, as a child, her favorite fantasy about being the Commander had been imagining riding a horse everywhere. And she could trust Monty; his love for Harper would have prevented any aggression towards herself. At least, that’s what Clarke would say, and she trusted Clarke implicitly.

 

“Thank you, Monty. Your generosity and support is appreciated,” she finally said, easily swinging herself into the warhorse’s very fine leather saddle. 

 

“His name is JJ,” Monty said quietly, keeping it between them as he began untying the lead he held and offered her the reins. 

 

Lexa stroked the animal’s soft mane as she took the proffered reins. “You named him after your friend, then, didn’t you? Those are his initials. Jasper Jordan.”

 

Monty paused, looking at her in stunned disbelief. “Uh, yeah. Yes. I.. I’m surprised you remember.”

 

Lexa gazed at him with a blatantly honest sadness in her eyes. “I remember all those we have lost. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, as well as your parents. I will do my best to ensure that you do not lose your partner as well. Harper sonraun laik ain sonraun.”

 

Mochof, Heda. Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun, sentaim,” Monty gazed at her, his eyes glassy with tears he was struggling to hold back, and he whispered meaningfully, “May we meet again, Commander.”

 

“May we meet again, Monty Green,” Lexa bowed her head as she guided the horse onto the path. 

 

While Monty was speaking to Lexa, the others began rejoining the troop, and their loved ones clumped off to the side, trying to comfort one another. Octavia, after hugging Raven, leaned over slightly to whisper in Bellamy’s ear, “You have something to do with Monty and the horse?”

 

“I might have mentioned something to him about someone’s current physical condition and estimated stamina level..” Bellamy shrugged, not taking his eyes off them as Monty handed the reins to Lexa. 

 

Octavia kissed his cheek, bursting with pride and taking a great comfort in Bellamy’s signature playful smile. “Thanks, big brother.”

 

“Just come back in one piece, O,” Bellamy said quietly, the smile fading as he smoothed her hair back and tucked it behind her ear. “All of you.”

 

Octavia nodded firmly, squeezing his hand before rejoining the army at the gates and mounting a cinnamon-colored horse that reminded her a bit of Helios. “May we meet again.”

 

“I hope so,” Bellamy murmured quietly, watching as the large group started off into the woods, and toward New Polis, with Lexa and Octavia leading the way on horseback. His heart broke until he could no longer see or hear the army moving in the still forest, and then he mentally slammed it shut and swallowed the key. 

 

A warrior doesn’t mourn until the war is over, Octavia’s voice lectured him from within. We all have jobs to do, big brother, and right now your job is establishing a second front in case we fail, not crying like a coward.

 

When Octavia spoke to him inside his head, she was, without fail, only a child’s version of herself. Dark hair tied up in a red bow, giggling as he chased her around their bunk, squealing his name until she surrendered to a sneak tickle attack; waking him in the night to ask him how many planets there were, or why Piglet always worried about a problem instead of trying to fix it. 

 

If Bellamy was totally honest with himself, even when Octavia was right in front of his eyes, marching courageously off to a war where she would unquestionably dominate even the best-trained lifelong warriors—he still saw the little girl in the ribbon. Carrying the weight of the world and the lives of her people on her shoulders; a burden far too large for any one person to bear alone, much less for a small girl with dark hair and a hardened soul. Driven by curiosity and bravery, ready to sacrifice everything she had on a moment’s notice to save someone she cared about. 

 

He couldn’t help think of how his sister’s description fit Lexa and Echo, fit Clarke and Raven, fit everyone who marched to war and everyone who wanted to march beside them, including himself. They all bore it, all carried the weight of it individually--as if it was they alone who carried their people. If they didn’t figure out how to hold each other up a bit better and let someone else help them, he wondered, how long it would be before they all collapsed to their knees under the unshared weight?

 

How long would it be until there was no one left to fight for?

 

“I’m not afraid,” his lips barely parted around the softly exhaled words, watching the last moving leaves in the forest settle back into place as the earth swallowed his people.

 

“I’m not afraid,” he whispered to himself as he reluctantly turned his back to the tree line and approached the remaining warriors gathered in the center of Arkadia. His warriors, his people. People who would likely die too, if Lexa’s people and Diyoza’s people, and his people, and Clarke’s people—weren’t successful. The only chance they had was if those dividing lines were as narrow as possible—if they all held onto ‘ai sonraun’ regardless of clan.

 

Bellamy stopped before his troops, glancing quietly over the crowd until his eyes found Monty. He stood just to the side of the gathered army, his eyes ringed in red after a heartbreaking goodbye with Harper. Monty gazed back at him stoically, and seemed to sense what it was Bellamy was silently asking him—they’d spoken of it often over the years, after all. And, as expected, Monty nodded his head slightly, granting his approval one final time.

 

Bellamy stepped closer, straightening his spine as he addressed Arkadia in a calm, but serious tone.

 

“We have our orders,” he announced, “From our Commander, Heda Leksa. Our remaining warriors will prepare a second front as well as a primary defense point if Wonkru should reach Arkadia. They may already have scouts out! Nobody goes outside the gate without orders, and all nonessential personnel, as well as anyone under age, are on a sunset curfew until further notice. These are our orders as the Thirteenth Clan of the Coalition of the Commander, so let’s get moving!”

 

Bellamy breathed heavily as the crowd began to disassemble to a chorus of hushed discussions among themselves. Monty nodded with a proud expression on his face before joining the dispersing crowd. The crowd that now understood Lexa was their true leader, and would follow her just as surely as they would follow himself. He wasn’t sure, however, that he could deal with the claustrophobia of returning to his quarters until his shift as second watch began; not as worried as he was, not as fast as his blood pumped through his head to a backdrop of everyone he loved dying horribly. 

 

“Raven,” he called out, jogging up to her. She paused in the doorway and spoke briefly with Abby, who hugged her before heading inside. He came to a stop as he approached her. “Raven, how do you feel about a little distraction right now?”

 

Raven’s face was pale and covered in exhaustion, but Bellamy doubted she would be any more likely to sleep at the moment than himself; a guess that was confirmed when she nodded and came back outside.

 

“I would love a distraction. What do you have? Target practice, some axe throwing? Someone I can punch until I feel better?” Raven guessed as she fell into step with Bellamy.

 

He smiled, adjusting his pace so she could keep up more easily. “Less aggressive. We have about a dozen more horses down there. I was gonna go check that they’ve got food and water, and I thought you’d like to spend some time with some soft people who don’t talk much.”

 

Raven stopped in her tracks, looking at him with a sort of curious disbelief on her face. “Bellamy Blake, am I going crazy, or has your old age turned you into a big softie yourself?”

 

“Probably a little of both,” Bellamy admitted. “If it’s too soft for you, you could just play Little Miss Hardass and go back to your room..”

 

Raven punched his shoulder as she started walking again, the last of her tears drying on her face as she forced the pieces of herself back together, grateful for the assistance from Bellamy in doing so. 

 

“That actually hurt,” he said, rubbing the spot appreciatively. “You hit almost as hard as O does.”

 

“She’ll be happy to hear that. She told me I hit like you for the first few months of training. Before I got upgraded to having ‘the punching strength of a dead fish’, I think it was..” Raven smirked at him as she followed Bellamy down to the stable. 

 

“That sounds like her mouth, for sure.” Bellamy smiled despite himself as they entered, pushing the barn door open and kicking a large rock in front of it to hold it in place. 

 

Raven probably would have had a sassy response for him if she wasn’t immediately distracted by the sight of the horses. Her jaw was open a bit and her eyes practically glazed over as she approached the particularly beautiful colt in the first stall. She was all black, with a white diamond on her forehead, and she whinnied excitedly as Raven approached her stall. 

 

Bellamy watched as Raven began talking to the gangly little beast softly, waiting for her to notice what he’d really brought her to see. It took a minute, during which Bellamy went from stall to stall, checking on everyone’s water and food until Raven’s voice abruptly fell silent. She swallowed hard, glancing up at Bellamy unsurely. 

 

Bellamy folded his arms loosely, moving to Raven’s side. “I know you can’t ride. But this little one won’t be able to carry anyone, anyway. She doesn’t need a rider, she needs a friend. One who doesn’t mind if she’s a little..” Bellamy shrugged. “Different.”

 

Raven’s eyes welled quickly as her gaze snapped back around to the three-legged colt--who was aggressively nuzzling her hand and arm like she hadn’t a care in the world--and then returned to meet Bellamy’s once more.

 

“Bell, I..” Raven shook her head a little, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. 

 

Bellamy nudged her gently. “Good to have you home, Reyes.”

 

Raven looked at him appreciatively, wiping her cheeks. “Good to be home, Blake.”

 

After taking a moment to steady her emotions once more, Raven cleared her throat, though her voice wavered just slightly, betraying her. “Does she have a name?”

 

Bellamy paused and smiled. “I’ve been calling her Pamir. It’s the callsign of—”

 

“The Soyuz T-12,” Raven murmured emotionally. “The spacecraft that carried the first female spacewalker.”

 

Bellamy gave her a gentle smile as he stroked Pamir’s muzzle. “Seemed like a sign when you came down right after she got on her feet for the first time.”

 

Raven buried her face against the colt’s head, sighing softly. “People didn’t think you were crazy for keeping a lame horse around? Feeding and sheltering her, when she hasn’t got anything to give back?”

 

Bellamy watched Raven quietly pretend that she was still talking about Pamir, and his voice was soft, his tone gentle when he responded. 

 

“Everyone gives back in whatever way they can. Pamir here might be lame, but it looks like she’s pretty good at comforting the best mechanic-slash-coder and smartest person I know. That’s not such a bad trade-off, if you ask me.”

 

Raven couldn’t help the tears any longer, mumbling a halfhearted, “Oh, shut up, Blake,” in such an obviously emotional way that Bellamy couldn’t help but smile on his way out of the barn. 

 

Raven ran her hands gently under Pamir’s chin, and the animal huffed softly, touching her muzzle to Raven’s forehead. “Being down one leg doesn’t even bother you a bit, does it, Pamir?” The horse huffed again, bowing on her remaining legs as though confirming the point, and Raven melted even further inside, if it was even possible. 

 

“We’ll figure out a way to be useful now, too, won’t we? Just because there’s no coding to be done now, and we can’t fight in an actual battle, doesn’t mean we can’t help our people, right?” Raven rubbed behind her ears vigorously, an action that Pamir appeared to find very pleasant, and she leaned into Raven’s touch with a relaxed sigh.

 

“You know, I bet I could use the computers on the Eligius to hack into Mount Weather,” she realized aloud to the horse. Slowly, Raven lifted her head from where it rested, looking slightly dazed as her brain began to spin with an intensity that was nearly too much, all at once.

 

“If any of the old weapons systems there work, we might be able to use them against Wonkru. Or at least prevent them from using ‘em against us,” she continued excitedly. Pamir stomped her feet and wiggled, as though she understood Raven’s excitement and felt the same way. She whinnied as Raven kissed her muzzle. 

 

“Looks like we might get to help our friends after all, little spacewalker.”

Chapter Text

 

We can make it right, tonight will change our lives
It's so good to be by your side but we'll cry, 
We won't give up the fight, we’ll scream loud at the top of our lungs

And they'll think it's just 'cause we're young and we'll feel so alive
All of the wasted time, the hours that were left behind
The answers that we'll never find, they don't mean a thing tonight
Throw it away, forget yesterday, we'll make the great escape
We won't hear a word they say, they don't know us anyway
Watch it burn, let it die ‘cause we are finally free tonight

- Boys Like Girls, “The Great Escape”

 

 

Swift as a deer. Quiet as a shadow. Fear cuts deeper than swords. 
Quick as a snake. Calm as still water. Fear cuts deeper than swords. 
Strong as a bear. Fierce as a wolverine. Fear cuts deeper than swords. 
The man who fears losing has already lost. Fear cuts deeper than swords. 
Fear cuts deeper than swords. Fear cuts deeper than swords.

― Arya Stark (George R.R. Martin), A Game of Thrones

 

 

Madi was flying. 

 

The wind chapped her face and lifted her hair into a rippling stream that fanned out in her wake. Clear hazel eyes squinted in the sun as it began dipping down towards the horizon. The great gentle beast beneath her seemed relieved to be out of the barn, out of Arkadia, and she happily maintained a steady, even gait.

 

“How you doing back there, skaiprisa?” Reese called into the wind. Madi held on tighter to the other girl’s waist, her chin on her shoulder as they rode in tandem.

 

“This is amazing!” Madi cried back joyfully, leaning into her back.

 

Reese threw her head back and let out a wolflike howl. Just a few yards beside them, Mika responded in kind as Aden held onto her waist with red cheeks. Tris snapped her reins, urging her horse just slightly into the lead as she howled even louder.

 

Before she realized it, Madi was howling with them, and finally, Aden joined in as well. They flew through the massive valley, howling with everything they had, and part of Madi felt dreamy and ethereal; like this was where she was always meant to be, what she was always meant to do.

 

Madi felt like she could touch the moon and stars, swirling them in the sky with the palm of her hand; maybe even capture them and take them into herself. This was what freedom felt like, she thought. When the wind pulled your wild mane into the air behind you like the tail of a shooting star, and you were flying without a tether through the weirdest and most beautiful of worlds. When your senses were filled with the smells of the forest, and the enchanting beast that was braced beneath you, warm and strong and proud, flew you past the ground like you weighed nothing at all.

 

And if you had that feeling, and there were others near you that had it, too? Madi was hard-pressed to imagine something that could feel better.

 

Tris let out a whoop then, crying into the sky as she raised her dagger in the air, “Gon war!”

 

Madi was the first to echo the sentiment, a thrill running through her entire body and one arm holding onto Reese tightly, the other punching the air with excitement. She howled again, feeling the solid, balanced weight of Reese’s sword at her back. She imagined herself as Arya Stark, imagined the blood of the direwolf pumping through her veins; fixated on vengeance, on getting Clarke back, on saving her people. 

 

They stopped near a narrow river just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon. Mika and Aden gathered firewood while the rest of them rolled out burlap sleep mats and tended the horses. Madi sat astride a fallen log, watching carefully as Tris prepared a couple of rabbits for dinner nearby.

 

“You’re watching me very closely,” Tris finally noted, lifting her head to look directly at Madi. 

 

Madi flushed lightly. “Sorry. I’ve never.. I mean, I learned how, I’ve just never had an actual, you know..” She gestured, feeling stupid. Truthfully, she’d been practically a toddler the last time she’d encountered fresh meat of any kind; she couldn’t even remember what it tasted like.

 

Tris gave her a kind smile and shifted over so Madi could see, motioning her closer. Madi slid off the log and knelt in the dirt by Tris’ side, paying close attention as Tris began explaining what she was doing, and why, and then finally handed the slim, nearly delicate blade to Madi.

 

Madi glanced unsurely at the small animal before her. She couldn’t afford to make a mistake. This wasn’t Murphy’s Earth Skills class on the Ring; a mistake out here could mean they would all go hungry tonight. A mistake out here could mean serious injuries, losing your friends, losing your life. Maybe losing yourself, if the burden of guilt was too much to bear. Offhandedly, Madi found herself understanding just a little bit more about how Clarke had become so broken, and it made her heart feel heavy.

 

“You can do it, Madi,” Reese unexpectedly piped up as she checked the container of water that sat, boiling and purifying on the fire. “You won’t screw it up.”

 

Madi took a deep, steadying breath, and miming Tris’ earlier movements, began to skin the animal carefully.

 

 

“That.. was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life,” Madi sighed into the starlit sky. She lay on her back on the log, her feet braced on either side of it and a hand on her slightly overfilled stomach.

 

“Hear, hear,” Aden added from his spot on the ground, where he, too, was sprawled on his back, his head resting on the small shield Mika had been carrying. Mika laid beside him against the shield as well, smiling at Madi.

 

“You’ve really never had rabbit?” She asked; but her tone was kind, curious—not judgmental nor mocking.

 

Madi shook her head. “I haven’t. We mostly ate fish and deer in louwoda-kliron. And plants on the Ring, mostly ones with a lot of protein.”

 

Mika smiled dreamily, gazing up at the sky. “You’re lucky, though. How many people can really say they once lived in the stars?”

 

Madi, Aden, and Reese all raised their hands slowly. They glanced at one another, and began to laugh, with Tris and Mika joining in quickly.

 

Their laughter was cut short by a long, low horn that sounded, shattering the otherwise near-silence of the trees. Madi instinctually took off like a shot, bolting into the woods as the others scattered at the suddenness of the sound as well.

 

Somewhere behind her, she vaguely heard Tris calling after her, that it was okay—something about a hunting party—but Madi couldn’t stop her legs from running. Her heart was racing as she tumbled through the forest, picking up scratches and burrs along the way. 

 

It was as though she had no control over her own body, and she thought she would have likely ran until she lost consciousness if her eye hadn’t caught a pretty good hole to duck into. Falling to her knees, she crawled inside the hollow tree and curled up in a ball, feeling the tears dropping into her lap. Tears of shame, of fear, of guilt.

 

She’d abandoned them; all of them. She’d run away, and she’d hidden. Who was she trying to kid? She was no Arya Stark. Even Sansa was braver than she was. 

 

Madi was a baby. A baby who had left her friends to whatever fate awaited them and hidden like a coward, like a natrona. She wasn’t sure which was worse—betraying her friends, or the fact that Octavia would be embarrassed and ashamed of her. Some second Madi was turning out to be. She tucked her head into her knees and cried softly, hating herself and wishing they’d never come to the ground.

[Traitor.]

 

 

Madi rocked in short, quick movements in the confined area of the hollow tree. Her heart pounded, and her breathing was labored, her body still vibrating with anxiety. She clamped her hands over her ears as she curled up into the darkness, whispering to herself.

 

“I am not afraid. I am not afraid.”

 

“Having fun hiding back here?” Reese’s voice found her ears from outside the tree, gently teasing in a way that Madi found both endearing and annoying at the same time. 

 

Madi dropped her hands from her ears and paused her rocking, frowning in the dark protection of the hollowed tree. “How did you find me?”

 

Reese’s freckled face suddenly appeared at the split in the old tree, and she shrugged. “I used to hide, too. This is the kinda place I would’ve picked back then.”

 

“I’m not hiding,” Madi mumbled, scratching at the bark petulantly. “I just.. needed a minute alone, that’s all.”

 

“I’m not judging you for it. I get it, I really do. Just..” Reese paused, her face tightening a little, and her usually bubbly tone fading into a quiet one that carried the weight of sadness in it. “Please don’t lie to me, okay? Like, tell me to go away, punch me in the face if you want to. I’d rather that, then being lied to. My dad.. He didn’t tell me what he was doing. He just acted normal. I didn’t get to say goodbye, because he didn’t think I could handle the truth.”

 

Madi shut her eyes tightly for a moment, feeling suddenly claustrophobic in the tree, though she’d been fine just moments ago. Reese sighed, turning her back and sliding into the dirt, sitting back against the outside of Madi’s hiding tree. She stayed quiet, and eventually Madi found it within herself to crawl out of the hollow. She sat beside Reese, picking at the blades of grass beneath them and remaining quiet.

 

“I was hiding,” Madi finally whispered, feeling ashamed of herself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even mean to; it just kinda happened. It.. It just happens, when I get.. I dunno..”

 

“Scared,” Reese swallowed hard, twirling a small flower stem between her palms. “It’s okay to say it, Madi. We all get scared.”

 

Madi scoffed a little in the back of her throat. “People in my family don’t get scared. They don’t hide from anything. Just me, I’m the weirdo, I’m the only one who gets scared.”

 

Reese glanced sideways towards her, picking at the fluffy seeds of the dandelion she toyed with. “Gapaskrish. Everyone gets scared, Madi. Even Commanders, war chiefs, leaders. Everyone. It’s just how you handle being scared, what you do with it, that makes the difference.”

[Horseshit.]

 

Madi pulled her knees to her chest, resting her head back to gaze into the tree canopy above them. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

 

“Use it,” Reese sat forward, her voice earnest. “You use your fear, you make it your weapon. You put every single painful thing in here,” Reese tapped Madi’s temple gently, “Into your blade instead, and you use it to strike down your enemies. You use it to win.”

 

“I don’t know how to do that,” Madi whispered, feeling pathetic and weak. 

 

She was stupid to ever have thought of herself as a warrior—the sad, broken little girl who grew up soft and spoiled in space; who had silly, childish fantasies about people a million times stronger and more interesting than herself. She was no Arya Stark, no Simba, no Wanheda, and definitely not fit to be a Commander, no matter what kind of blood she had. She was just a girl; she was just Madi. And she was afraid, and people could die because she was a coward. Clarke might die.

 

She didn’t belong out here, not at all. She thought of Simba as a young cub, his paw looking smaller than ever as he paused in his father’s paw print. That was kind of how she felt at the moment, in addition to feeling foolish for ever thinking she could fill the shoes of someone like Octavia or Lexa.

 

“First step is to stop hiding,” Reese said honestly, reaching out to take Madi’s hand into both of hers for a moment, demanding her attention. Madi finally lifted her eyes and met her gaze, and Reese continued softly, “Sooner or later, you have to stop hiding, Madi. You have to let people see you, or you’re gonna end up alone.”

 

“In the end, everyone’s alone,” Madi replied softly, unable to hold Reese’s gaze any longer. She gently pulled her hand back, wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her forehead on her knees, curled into a tight, impenetrable ball.

 

Reese was quiet for some time after that; enough that Madi finally lifted her head just a bit, to see if she was even still there. Sure enough, Reese still had Madi fixed with a strange look—one that was full of sadness and longing, but also a stubborn determination that was eerily familiar to Madi.

 

“Maybe so,” Reese finally said, her voice soft. She reached out and lightly touched Madi’s chin, guiding her gaze back to meet her own. “But what makes you think this is the end?”

 

Madi didn’t have a chance to answer before Reese leaned in and kissed her. It was a soft, brief, chaste kiss, and Madi inhaled sharply in surprise. It barely lasted a couple of seconds before Reese sat back again, looking fairly surprised herself. Cheeks glowing red, eyes widened in stunned shock as Reese looked away from her quickly, Madi blinked a few times as she tried to figure out if that had actually just happened, or if she’d just fallen asleep inside the ugly old tree and was having a very strange dream. 

 

After a couple of minutes had passed, Reese glanced back at her nervously. “I—I’m sorry. Can you say something? Anything, even if you—if you just wanna tell me to go away? The silence is kind of freaking me out.”

 

“I’ve never seen you look nervous before,” Madi said dumbly, her lips still tingling where Reese’s had touched them. Reese just stared back at her for a moment before starting to giggle. Despite having no idea what was so funny, Madi began giggling as well, the tense spell between them broken.

 

Their nervous laughter was abruptly cut off by the sounds of heavy feet crunching the leaves and branches that littered the forest floor. Footfalls far too heavy to belong to any child; these were men’s footsteps and, judging from the mixed cadence, it was several of them.

 

Reese quickly slapped her hand over Madi’s mouth, her other hand covering her own as they slumped to the ground together. Their chests raised and lowered slowly as they tried to control their breathing, and both girls’ eyes were wide with fear.

 

“I hear nothing,” a deep voice echoed from no more than a few yards away. “Halvar is jumping at thompas again. I told you he was too green for a scouting party.”

[Rabbits]

 

“That was no thompa, I heard people talking over here,” Halvar, who sounded as though he was just barely past childhood, insisted.

 

“Over here! I found them!” Came a deeper shout from the direction of the river. From the direction of camp, of Aden, Tris, and Mika. Madi felt the tears forming at the corners of her eyes as Reese covered her mouth, shaking her head almost imperceptibly at Madi’s pleading gaze.

 

Madi scrunched her eyes shut, feeling the streaks of tears that now rolled down her cheeks. Maybe they couldn’t save the others, but surely they could try? The scouts’s boots crunched the forest floor as they retreated in the direction of camp, and after a moment, Reese lowered her hand from Madi’s face.

 

“So much for not hiding,” Madi hissed, wiping away the traces of tears from her cheeks and climbing to her feet. 

 

Reese narrowed her eyes just a little bit as she stood, brushing some of the dirt off her clothing. “That was tactical hiding. Do you really think we had any chance of taking them on in a fair fight?”

 

“Now what are we supposed to do?” Madi grumbled, keeping her voice down. 

 

“Now,” Reese said, pulling her sword from her scabbard. “We make it an unfair fight, and we save our friends. You know how to use one of these?”

 

Madi nodded, taking the offered weapon and raising it, testing its weight and balance. It felt good; heavy, powerful. 

 

“I call it Needle. It’s my good luck charm,” Reese said, pulling a dagger from her boot.

 

“Stick ’em with the pointy end,” Madi murmured, turning the sword in the sunlight slowly. 

 

Had it been any other time, Madi would have needed to sit down and take a few deep breaths to ease the shock of someone besides Octavia getting it. Her entire life, she’d dreamed herself finding her strength and purpose the way Arya did. She felt—sheepishly at times—that if Arya was real, she would understand the complex feelings and confused emotions Madi was filled with. Assuming they actually survived whatever was about to happen, Madi was looking forward to having someone to share all of that with; someone who might actually understand her in a way no one else ever had before, through the lens of a constructed world that had spoken so clearly and so often to Madi’s sense of self.

 

Reese glanced up at her with a mildly surprised smile that rapidly became an appreciative one as she tied her hair off her face. “Winter is coming for house Wonkru.”

 

With that, Reese slashed at her own arm and cheek; not deep, but enough to draw a fairly copious amount of blood. She then used the dagger to rip at her clothing, and Madi watched in confusion, swallowing hard when she heard a commotion and yelling from the direction of their camp.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” 

 

Reese didn’t answer; she just grabbed handfuls of dirt and rubbed them over her face and clothing until she was completely covered. She was dirty and bloodied, and she stood before Madi, arms outstretched, and turning just slightly from one side to the other. 

 

“How do I look?”

 

“Terrible. Like you just lost a fight,” Madi replied honestly. 

 

“Good. Stay behind me, out of sight. Wait for your opening.”

 

“What does that mea—” But it was too late, Reese had taken off and left Madi standing there in the woods, holding Needle and completely alone.

 

Skrish!” Madi hissed, crouching low and obediently following Reese’s path, hoping she would know when and what her opening was. Hoping she wouldn’t let her friends down, let her brother down. Hoping she wouldn’t choke and run away this time.

 

I am not afraid. I am not afraid. You tell yourself you’re not afraid, and that’s how you slay the demon. We all have jobs to do. Being brave is yours. Reese trusts you; trust yourself.

 

She could be brave. She had to be brave. She was Madi kom Louwoda-Kliron Kru. Daughter of Klark kom Skaikru and Heda Leksa kom Trikru. Second to Okteivia kom Skaikru, the mighty Wanheda, mountain slayer. Trained extensively by Haihefa Roan kom Azgeda, Luna kom Floukru, and Eko kom Azgeda—revered warriors, one and all.

 

Madi narrowed her eyes and tightened her grip on the sword, squaring her narrow shoulders.

 

“I am a wolf, and will not be afraid,” she whispered to the forest with purpose, her fingertips tapping the hilt of the sword. “I am not afraid.”

 

When Reese stopped in a small clearing, Madi hung back, camouflaged by the brush just behind the break in the tree line. Watching. Waiting. 

 

Preparing.

 

“Help me!” Reese cried out, stumbling as she fell into the dirt. “Someone, please!”

 

“Halvar, go find out who is making that noise and stop them from doing so,” came the barked command of one of the men.

 

Madi watched with a sharp eye from where she was crouched as a pale, gangly boy no older than Aden cautiously entered the small clearing with his weapon drawn. He held the axe a bit uncomfortably, as if he wasn’t quite used to the weight of it yet, and he stopped when he saw Reese sitting in the dirt, arms outstretched behind her and tears on her cheeks.

 

“Is someone there?” Reese called, though surely she could see the boy. He was right in front of her, looking at the glaze of her unseeing eye.

 

Halvar took a tentative step closer, frowning. “I’m right here.”

 

“Please, can you help me? I got lost on my usual path, a-and something attacked me. I don’t know where I am, and I just want to go home,” Reese pleaded, her face a mask of fear that made her look even younger than she was. “Can you help me get back to New Polis?”

 

Halvar shifted sideways a few steps, as though testing Reese’s supposed sightlessness, and Reese turned her head in the opposite direction just slightly. “Hello? Please, are you still there?”

 

Seemingly convinced, Halvar slid his axe into a holster at his hip and crouched down to Reese’s side, his voice gentle.

 

“I’m here. I’m going to help you, okay? You’re gonna feel my hands on your arms in a second, and I’ll help you to your feet. Just hold onto me, I won’t let you fall.”

 

The boy took Reese’s arms carefully and, together, they stood. Halvar smiled a little, just before the hilt of Needle slammed powerfully into the back of his head. He crumpled to the ground in front of Reese, and in his place stood a heaving Madi, hands still wrapped tightly around the sword as she slowly lowered it.

 

Her pulse throbbed in her ears and she felt dizzy as she looked down at the unconscious boy in front of her. 

 

Ain yontsleya,” Reese breathed softly, brushing the dirt off herself. “Mochof, Madi.”

[My hero. / Thank you,]

 

Madi swallowed hard, feeling her nerves beginning to dissipate under the much stronger influence of her adrenaline. She offered the sword back to Reese, trying not to see the small stream of blood coming from the boy’s ear as he lay very still at their feet.

 

“Did I kill him?” Madi heard herself ask in response, dazed. She felt a little sick, a little scared, and very disconnected from her own body. It was a strange sensation; uncomfortable yet heady. Powerful and dangerous.

 

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. Not now. Our fight is not over yet,” Reese gently pushed the sword back towards Madi. “Keep it. I’m better with a short blade, anyway. I think there’s only three others, if we ge—”

 

“There’s two more of them!” A heavily armored man interrupted them as he stepped into the clearing. “And they’ve killed Halvar!”

 

The girls quickly backed up, brandishing their weapons at the incredibly large warrior. He very nearly growled behind the silver mask he wore over the lower half of his face, and his eyes were dark and full of malice. He stepped towards them slowly, a hungry gaze beginning to form. Behind him, two more men dressed similarly and with similarly large, looming figures, entered the clearing as well. Mika and Tris were with them, bound first individually and then to one another back-to-back; Aden, however, was not with them.

 

Madi felt a large, thick stone sinking into her stomach, and she opened her mouth, unsure herself what would come from it. 

 

Set yu daun,” Madi growled, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, sword at the ready. 

[Surrender.]

 

The men glanced at each other before breaking out into loud, raucous laughter. 

 

Chek au dison,” one laughed harder, gesturing at Madi. “Kwelen strikon, yu na gon jomp ai op? Yu gaf gon raun ai? Yu laik goufa!

[Look at this one. Weak little one, you’re going to 

attack me? You want to fight me? You’re a child!]

 

Madi sneered, the last of her fear dissolving to make way for her rage, and suddenly she knew exactly what Reese had meant by using her fear as a weapon.

 

Fir na gon kodon moubeda kom bleironas.”

[Fear cuts deeper than swords.]

 

Confusion crossed the man’s face as he tried to make sense of Madi’s words, and Madi used the precious moments she’d been given wisely. She launched herself at the man with a wild cry, her sword slashing across his back and unguarded shoulder, drawing a cry of pain from him.

 

Reese had taken the moment as well, and rolled to the ground, slashing across the back of the ankle of one of the men holding Tris and Mika. The bound girls fell to the ground with a shared grunt as the man screamed, limping with blood pouring from his wound. Aden fell onto the third man from a tree, landing on the man’s back. He wrapped his arms around his throat as the man slammed his back into a tree, trying to scrape Aden off him. Aden refused to let go and wrapped his legs around the man’s chest as well, pulling as tightly on his throat as possible.

 

Madi was a fair match for her battle—their swords clanged against each other as they very nearly danced back and forth across the clearing. She’d always been most adept with the sword, and though this battle was obviously a far cry from a training session, she found it surprisingly easy to anticipate his movements before he made them. Needle felt like an extension of her own body, and she was light on her feet as she parried and dipped beneath his swings.

 

He became sloppy; thrown off by the small girl who was making a fool of him. His feet grew clumsy, his swings becoming wild with rage. He’d realized Madi wasn’t a joke, and surely regretted giving up the advantage by believing she was.

 

“Is this Arkadia’s secret weapon? A child assassin,” he taunted her. “I look forward to tasting your blood now, strikon. It will be even more sweet taking it after this.”

 

Madi didn’t respond and, in truth, hadn’t paid attention to his words. The enemy would taunt and mock you, would try to force you into a misstep, a mistake. But they couldn’t tell you something you weren’t listening to, and Madi meant to prove as much.

 

She parried several more times, and found herself being backed up towards a large, knotted, overgrown tree. The man pulled his face mask off so she could see the wicked grin on his lips as he slowly approached her. He had her, and Madi knew it. She slowly lowered her center of gravity, bracing one foot on the tree behind her, testing the space she had to work with. 

 

Nobody would be able to help her; Mika and Tris were still struggling to unbind themselves, and Aden and Reese were a little busy with their own soulou gonplei. 

[Single combat.]

 

The man took another step forward and lunged.

 

Madi took one slow, deep breath before launching herself off the tree, twisting her body in the air and using the momentum to land just to the man’s side, completely avoiding his attack and taking pleasure in the sound he made as he slammed into the tree. He tried to recover, but it was far too late. Madi gathered every single emotion she’d ever felt and channeled it into the sword in her hands, driving it through the man’s back with all of her might. She felt it slice through flesh and bone, saw the blood that began to rapidly spill from his torn heart as the tip of the blade hit the tree and dug into it.

 

Madi felt dizzy again, but there was no time to care. She gave the sword a hard yank and flew towards her friends as the man’s body collapsed to the ground. One of the remaining attackers gave an angry howl, and flung Aden from his back, charging towards Madi.  

 

This time, it was even easier. The man practically impaled himself on the sword, and Madi had no choice but to stare into his wide eyes as the light in them began dying. A few yards away, the others had taken the third man down, and Tris, who had finally managed to wriggle free of some of the bonds, was the one to drive a knife into his heart.

 

Madi fell to the ground with the heavy man a crushing weight on her, her eyes glued to his as they went from realization to fear and then to nothing. Then they were just empty, lifeless, soulless eyes that had nothing in them. He was nothing, he was gone, and Madi felt like she couldn’t breathe.

 

Reese and Tris rushed to her side, pushing the body off a panting, shaky Madi.

 

“Madi? Madi! Are you okay?” Reese said quickly, checking her over for injuries. 

 

“I’m fine,” Madi shook her off a bit, trying not to note the slightly hurt look on Reese’s face as she did. Madi stared hard at the blood that still stained the large tree—the evidence of her first kill. 

 

“Where’s the other one? Halvar.”

 

“Probably where we left him,” Reese said quietly. “He’s dead, Madi.”

 

“We don’t know that. We have to check. Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe,” she said pointedly, catching Reese’s gaze. Reese just looked away, taking a steadying breath as Madi started back towards the nearby clearing they’d left the boy in.

 

“Maybe we should go back. Let Arkadia know where the scouts are,” Aden said, following behind her.

 

“We can’t go back,” Madi snapped, storming through the brush, unbothered by the branches and thorns that scratched at her as she passed. “Nothing has changed. We continue to New Polis, and we stick to the plan. Valar morghulis. We’re leaving at dawn.”

 

Aden just frowned. “Valor what?”

 

Reese’s voice sounded as hollow and empty as she felt inside, responding tiredly. “Valar morghulis, it means.. it means ‘all men must die’. It’s from a book.”

 

Aden was appalled. “You and your stupid books, Madi! This isn’t a book, this is real life, and we’re just kids, and we don’t belong out here! You killed someone, Madi!”

 

Madi stopped mid-step and whirled on Aden with a rage thumping in her chest that she was only recently aware she had in her. Her face was full of darkness and her voice dangerously low as she stood eye-to-chest with her brother, staring him down fearlessly. 

 

“If you want to cry about it, then go home, sofon. Sleep in your nice comfy bed and get your stupid precious hair braided and eat some potato chips. I’ll go save Clarke by myself, since you’re too scared, bushhada.”

[baby. / coward.]

 

Aden scowled as Madi turned on her heel without waiting for a response and continued towards the clearing. Mika reached out to touch his arm lightly, trying to diffuse some of the tension, and cleared her throat a little uncomfortably. “What, exactly, is the plan? That was never really clear. Are we just.. going to wander into New Polis and start stabbing people until we find Clarke?”

 

"If we have to. Then we tell them Arkadia remembers," Madi responded crisply, then stopped walking abruptly.

 

Halvar lay on the ground, groaning as he struggled to sit up. The side of his face was coated in blood, some of it already beginning to dry on his cheek, and he looked at their party with fear, putting his hands up.

 

“Please—I won’t hurt you. I didn’t even want to come; my guardian made me. My parents were Arkadia sympathizers, they were killed for it,” he begged, looking small and weak on the ground. “I can help you. I—I can give you information, o-or.. anything, whatever you want.”

 

“You have nothing I want but your life.” Madi fixed him with an intense stare, looking for all the world like a jungle cat readying to pounce, her chest still heaving from her confrontation with Aden moments ago. The boy began to cry as Madi approached, taking her knife from its holster and turning it slowly in her hand.

 

“Madi,” Aden said, stepping in once more, his tone pleading this time. “Stop it. He’s hurt, and he’s just a kid. Leave him here, and let’s just go. He’ll probably die out here by himself, anyway.”

 

“We can’t risk it,” Tris said quietly. “He could warn his people.”

 

Madi glanced up, and though Tris looked somewhat sick herself, she gave Madi a firm nod. She swallowed the lump in her throat, trying desperately not to hear the boy’s pleading and tears as she crouched beside him.

 

Yu gonplei ste odon,” she whispered as she forced the knife into the side of his neck, just the way Octavia had shown her. His eyes went briefly wide, but quickly closed as his body went limp and crumpled to the ground. Madi shakily retrieved her knife, taking a moment before she stood and ignoring the tears that were running down her face.

 

“We have to burn them,” she mumbled quietly. “Before sunrise, so no one sees the smoke.”

 

She didn’t look at any of them as she stuffed her knife back into her holster and walked away from them all, back towards the river and their camp, feeling even more disconnected from her body than she’d already been.

 

 

The fire was burning incredibly bright in the otherwise dark, colorless world of the night. They’d built it up significantly around the corpses they’d dragged over, and they watched together as it burned with rags held over their faces to staunch the awful scent of burned flesh and hair.

 

They stood for a very long time in complete silence, each one of the kids trapped deep inside their own thoughts, their own burdens. Aden had a particularly dark look on his face, and Madi hadn’t yet looked at Reese’s face. She was far too afraid of what she might see there—shame, disappointment, hatred perhaps. 

 

It stung a bit, truthfully. Madi had finally felt like she had a friend, for the first time in her life, and somehow in doing what had to be done, she’d managed to wreck whatever had been blossoming between them. She’d be lucky if Reese ever spoke to her again, and would understand if she didn’t. But she had to get Clarke back, and she couldn’t allow herself to break the way she knew she would if Reese’s face looked back at her own with disappointment or worse, fear. 

 

Madi feared herself and the darkness within plenty enough on her own; she didn't need someone else looking at her the way she looked at herself already. So she just stared into the fire, startling slightly when a warm hand found hers. Glancing down, she saw Reese’s arm, now bandaged from where she’d slashed herself. Her fingers instinctually wound into Madi’s, and Madi gratefully pressed her palm to Reese’s.

 

Tentatively, she looked up, and Reese’s normally smiling face was solemn, but there was no trace of fear, disgust, or anything besides a sort of sadness present there.

 

“I know we had to,” Reese said quietly, her gaze on the makeshift funeral pyre before them. “I’m not naive. We try not to kill, but sometimes we don't have a choice. I know that.”

 

“You don’t think it makes me a bad person?” Madi swallowed hard, looking back at the fire as well, their hands still intertwined.

 

“I don’t think you could be a bad person even if you were trying,” Reese responded quietly. “I think you’re a survivor, and that’s why you’re still alive. Same as me.”

 

Madi stayed quiet for a very long time. Mika, Tris, and Aden left the fireside in favor of the bedrolls, and eventually Madi and Reese sat on the log, still joined at the hand as they stood watch together.

 

“Have you done it before? Killed someone?” Madi finally asked quietly.

 

Reese didn’t answer right away, and Madi remained silent, giving her the time and space she required. She didn’t pull back from Madi, though, and after a long while, she nodded.

 

“Once. Death came for me, a few months after we came to the ground. I was.. disobeying an order. Drífa and I went hunting, even with the blizzard warning. An Azgeda scout found me, and we fought. I thought I was really done that time. Drífa helped me, though. He was kind of hanging off us, and she kicked him, hard. I jumped off and I slit his throat.”

 

Reese looked up at her, her eyes just a bit glassy with emotion, and a slight hint of shame as well.

 

“You survived,” Madi replied softly, lifting Reese’s hand to her heart and squeezing it gently. “Death came for you, and fought him, and you won. You had to.”

 

Reese nodded a little, picking at a hole in her pants leg, lost in thought once more. Madi lowered their hands, but they remained entwined as the girls sat in another long, stretching silence beside the crackling fire.

 

“What do we say to the god of death?” Reese finally asked quietly, regarding the bloody pile in the pit before them, a sick feeling in her stomach despite the knowledge that there really hadn’t been another choice, things being what they were—there rarely was another choice in this world. Or any of the other worlds dreamed up in books and old films.

 

Madi drew in a slow, steadying breath, her eyes reflecting the flames that danced just a few yards away, something hard and ugly--and undeniably powerful--running through her. Her veins had been replaced with ice, her blood still hot and thick as it pumped through the frozen tunnels she’d become, her body tensed as though she expected another battle at any moment—and perhaps she was right to. 

 

Madi stared down the flames, stared down her vanquished enemies, and breathed her response into the chill of the night air.

 

“Not today.” 

Chapter Text

Losing my control, here it is: the day I have to go

Just sit beside me, I can't let this show

How sick I feel to leave you so alone, god I'm terrified

We only want to feel as close as we can be

Use hands for holding on to your precious family

Just believe in all who shine the light to help you see

Cause if I believe in you, will you believe in me?

I kissed her on the cheek and then I waved goodbye

She had the saddest look I've seen in years, a kangaroo cry

A warm pathetic ocean flow we have to live by, we have to live by

Because we have to live, keep hanging on, keep hanging on

- Blue October, “Kangaroo Cry”

 

 

 

Murphy adjusted his rucksack on his shoulders, reaching into one of the pockets and pulling out a small packet from it. He carefully opened it and offered it to Luna, who hadn’t spoken since they’d left Arkadia.

 

Luna looked into the pack and then to Murphy, smiling just a little bit as she took one. “Potato chips?”

 

“Mhm. The last bag of ‘em, too. Tomorrow’s gonna be a really shitty first day of the rest of our shitty lives, you know,” he said, popping one into his mouth as well.

 

“And yet, I’ll consider it a good day anyway, as long as we’re alive to see it.” Luna sighed tiredly, glancing at the army that surrounded them. 

 

“Way to set your sights high,” Echo teased, popping up beside Murphy, who immediately offered the bag to her. She took a chip and kissed Murphy’s cheek, and then Luna’s as well. 

 

“It’s all about your reasonable goals. I could aim for waking up in a giant lake entirely made of potato chips, but I’ll be disappointed,” Murphy rationalized. “And I think I’ve had my fill of disappointment from this planet.”

 

“Yeah,” the girls responded in unison. Luna slowly bit into her chip, glancing behind them towards Arkadia with concern.

 

“She’ll be okay,” Murphy said, without even looking at her. “Raven is always okay. She doesn’t know how not to be.”

 

Luna smiled a little sadly, shifting her pack to reposition her spear more comfortably. “Do any of us?”

 

Murphy shrugged almost imperceptibly, but beyond that neither of them responded, and they continued walking together in silence for awhile. When the quiet was broken, it was Murphy who spoke once more.

 

“You guys have obviously spent a lot more time on the ground than me or Raven.. Do you think there’s even the slightest chance that this is a war we’re gonna be able to win? Do you think Wonkru will just.. follow Lexa, after all that?”

 

Echo and Luna shared a look with one another, and Murphy let out a deep sigh as he stuffed the remains of his chip packet back into his bag. He pulled the shoulder straps forward a bit more, and muttered, just barely loud enough for them both to hear it. 

 

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

 

 

After Ryder took over Lexa’s guard, Octavia let herself fall back into the ranks beside Indra, who was engaged in a quiet but intense discussion with Echo.

 

“—hiding under the floor when Octavia found her.”

 

“How exactly does a child get under a floor?” Indra’s facial expression didn’t change, but her eyes, as usual, betrayed her true feelings.

 

“It was my family’s old suite,” Octavia replied quietly as she fell into step with them. This time, a flick of her eyebrows and marginal purse of her lips betrayed Indra’s emotion as well. She reached over and gently grasped Octavia’s wrist, giving it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Octavia smiled a little as they nodded to one another.

 

“That was a lot of conversation without words,” Echo noted, walking in front of them, but almost entirely backwards; an impressive feat, considering the ground was anything but even. Her light-footed grace said a lot about why she had been groomed as a spy in the first place.

 

Indra looked to Octavia, her expression once again a mask of indifference. “People tell me Madi belongs to Heda and Clarke.”

 

“She does,” Octavia nodded shortly, an uncomfortable feeling beginning to form in her stomach.

 

“Funny. I would have guessed she was yours,” Indra replied with a pointed look and crooked eyebrow. Octavia flushed, shifting uncomfortably as she unnecessarily adjusted the strap on her knife holster. 

 

“The dark hair, the impressive sword skills,” Octavia began, her tone sassy. “I can see why you’d think that. Don’t forget, we both also have—”

 

“Big mouths and no modesty?” Echo interrupted, a playful smirk on her face.

 

Indra smirked as well, nodding to Echo and telling Octavia, “I like her.”

 

Octavia groaned and rolled her eyes. “If it’s all the same, I’d really rather the two of you didn’t bond all that much. It’s not gonna be good for my self confidence.”

 

Echo ignored her entirely, addressing Indra with an overly loud whisper, “They both snore loud as hell, too.”

 

“You take that back,” Octavia’s jaw dropped in mock horror, and she sped up, swatting at Echo’s arm when it was within reach. Echo laughed as she ducked out of the way, and just behind them, Luna raised her voice and looked in Indra’s direction.

 

“I can confirm that, actually,” she volunteered. 

 

Indra just shook her head at them, but her lips were just slightly curved into a ghost of a smile. Every warrior had their own method of preparing for war; it was refreshing to see that closeness and laughter still had a place in the ever-darkening world. 

 

Octavia had grown; matured into a true plangona and an extraordinary one. Indra felt a level of trust for the Azgedan former spy purely based on the knowledge that Octavia trusted her, and beyond that, it filled her with a sort of pride in who Octavia had become and still had yet to become. Something that, in all honesty, she had never felt for Gaia, and it weighed on her to wonder what might have been if she had. If she’d been proud of Gaia for being Gaia the way she now felt proud of Octavia for being Octavia—not a warrior, not a second, not a junior attendant to the Commander—just Octavia.

[Warrior woman]

 

Octavia; who clearly felt that Madi was hers as well, and was struck numb in the heart with worry as much as Lexa was.

 

Indra subtly rested her hand on Octavia’s shoulder and leaned over, whispering between them, “Knowing she is also yours makes me more confident that Madi is going to be okay. She has your spirit, after all.”

 

Octavia blinked many times in rapid succession, trying desperately to force the tears back inside her eyes, and to their credit, the others said nothing about it when she was unable to and they instead rolled freely down her cheeks. 

 

They were nearing the midway point between Arkadia and New Polis when the sun began to lower in the sky, and Lexa made the call to set camp at the riverbank just ahead. They would have fresh water and room for the horses to graze, and they would need a good night’s rest in preparation for the upcoming war.

 

They would set camp, then, nestled among the thick green oaks and massive trees with trunks larger than horses themselves. The forest was strangely quiet in comparison to the forest Lexa had grown up running barefoot in. It was eerie, haunting in a way, when somewhere nearby, a single bird chirped a sweet tune into the night, that no other responded to. 

 

Lexa was surely melancholy, because she could think only of the fact that the lone bird in the forest was not unlike herself at the moment. She lay alone in her tent, missing Clarke’s warmth, her smile, her hands reaching in the dark to comfort, protect, and hold onto Lexa. Like Lexa was just as important to her survival as breathing was; a feeling Lexa was familiar with. She’d never needed anything more in her life than she needed Clarke. 

 

But there was no Clarke to hold her, and no Madi for her to hold, and no Aden to pretend he didn’t want to be held, when really he wanted nothing more. There was no one, and Lexa realized that, for the first time since well before they’d gone to space, she was well and truly alone. There was no drunken slur of Clarke’s whispers, no song in Luna’s sweet cadence, not even the oddly familiar dark chuckling of Sheidheda. 

 

There were no memories stamped onto pages of books and petals of flowers, either. Lexa supposed she could re-read one of the books still committed to her… new Flame? Un-Flame, perhaps—it was her combined knowledge, Raven had said, and so she maintained the things she had learned over the years from the others; but the others were dead now. For the first time since the day she stood victorious, dripping with Nightblood that was mostly not her own, Lexa was even alone in her own head.

 

She’d underestimated how strange and polarizing such a thing would be. She’d gotten used to it, she supposed; having others in your head, criticizing or supporting your every thought. A forced filter through which your thoughts had to pass before they got to you, yourself. 

 

Lexa rolled over on her bedding, grunting at the dull ache in the back of her neck. Abby, Echo, and Emori had done a great job on the surgery, she knew. She’d seen the scar, and it looked no different than the scar that had already been there, just redder in color. But it did ache, and her head ached, and her heart ached, and she was uncomfortable and alone, and sleep simply would not come.

 

Lexa growled in frustration at herself, flinging her blanket off and reaching for her boots. She strapped them on and took her sword and dagger, tying her hair back into a carelessly messy braid. She paused, and then opted to grab her bow as well. She wasn’t as adept with it as she was with melee weapons, and so didn’t use it in battle—but a moonlit night might give her a shot at a thompa or two, or maybe even that damnable bird with its repetitive, overly jolly tune. 

[rabbit]

 

Yes, she’d like a shot at the animal, the poor thing lacking the intelligence to realize it was alone, too. Whistling that hopeful tune as though all was well and normal. 

 

Lexa knew she was being ridiculous about a worthless, stupid little bird that had no particular quarrel or vendetta against her, but she was too tired and worried and angry to care. She double checked herself and grabbed a torch, lighting it off the campfire. She glanced around camp, but everything else seemed to be in order and everyone besides her appeared to be asleep, as she’d been hoping they would be. She didn’t feel like arguing with anyone about wandering the woods without a guard, as though she were a child or incapable of protecting herself.

 

She made her way out of the clearing they were settled in, walking parallel to the river itself just to make it easier to get back, especially if she was bringing food on her return. Not to mention, it was the direction the blasted bird’s chirping was coming from, and as far as Lexa was concerned, it was a personal vengeance that she now owed the bird, and she no longer cared if it was petty of her. She’d never get to sleep with that happily, stupidly optimistic bird carrying on like this, reminding her how alone they both were. 

 

Perhaps later, she would tell Clarke about how she engaged in a blood feud with a bird because its happiness was preventing her from sleeping. Clarke would enjoy that story, and subsequently tease Lexa about being a bird-hater, or something far more creative and endearing. Yes, Clarke would laugh about this later, and especially so if the story ended with Lexa exacting her vengeance by eating the bird in question to assert her dominance.

 

Lexa was pleasantly surprised to find she had a bit of a smile on her lips at the thought of seeing Clarke, and laying quietly with her, giggling about her own neuroses. She’d been loathe to let herself picture such a thing when she knew realistically, Clarke could already be dead, or might be soon, and they were still a day and a half’s walk from New Polis. The more Lexa thought about seeing Clarke and holding her, the more dark rage she felt building up in her chest towards the possibility of Clarke being injured or simply gone. 

 

The darkest part of Lexa’s soul taunted her with images of Costia’s head, set upon the bed they had shared, and in her mind, Costia’s face pleaded with her from the realm of the dead as it slowly turned into Clarke’s face. Clarke’s wild golden locks replaced Costia’s dark plaited loops, blue eyes replaced brown, but both sets were glazed and unseeing in death. 

 

Lexa paused, leaning briefly on a tree. The mind picture had stolen her breath for a moment, a vivid as it was. She felt briefly dizzy and like she might be sick, and so she shut her eyes tightly and tried to think of calming images while willing herself to get it together.

 

She pictured a long, luxurious bath she and Clarke had taken once, in Polis Tower. Clarke had somehow turned the washing soap into delightful bubbles in the large, claw-footed tub. Lexa had rested reclined on Clarke’s chest, sipping from a shared cup of a berry-infused wine surrounded by the dozens of candles Clarke had brought in.

 

She pictured herself laying in bed on the Ring, awake and smiling as Madi curled into her chest, a foot hooked over Clarke’s leg on her other side. Aden slept on Clarke’s other side, with an arm slung carelessly over Clarke’s face that had apparently not bothered Clarke—at least not enough for her to move or for her snoring to cease at all. Back then, Lexa had been awake because she couldn’t bear the idea of such a happy sight being wasted on the unconscious. Clarke had gently teased her about being Commander Snugglebutt again, forgoing sleep because she was too happy to do so.

 

After a few moments, Lexa’s stomach settled once more, and she took a slow breath, considering heading back to their camp to try sleeping again. The bird had gone quiet, it seemed, and she had little hope of finding the thing in the dark if sound was no longer an option, anyway. Perhaps it had flown away and reunited with another of its flock after all, just like Lexa had to believe she would herself.

 

Lexa began to turn around, when she heard the bird whistling its tune once more, but much closer than the last time, and she quickly moved towards the sound. She followed the sound into a clearing just barely set back from the edge of the river, but as she got closer, something stung and burned in her eyes and nose. It was a smell that was unimaginably horrible, but also undeniably familiar.

 

Hesitantly, Lexa moved forward, pulling her sword from its scabbard and holding the torch as high as she could, listening for footsteps or whispered breaths, but there was nothing. Even the stupid bird had gone silent, and Lexa felt something in her stomach sinking as she approached the source of the pungent, sour smell of burnt flesh. It smelled like any other funeral, but who would have a funeral in the middle of nowhere? A day’s walk at least from the nearest settlement? The bodies would normally have been brought home to their clan or clans. 

 

But perhaps it was now Wonkru’s way, she thought. Perhaps they merely disposed of and burned their dead, but did not concern themselves with an ability to honor them later. From what she had learned of Wonkru already, it didn’t seem like they had much honor these days, anyway. 

 

The smell was strong, though—the burning could not have happened longer ago than the previous night, as some of the remains of the severely singed bodies were still vaguely smoking. Lexa covered her face as she got closer, the smell nearing unbearable. Whoever had burnt the bodies had been in a rush, too, or perhaps inexperienced at funerary procedures. The bodies were only partially burnt—unrecognizable, but very much still resembling bodies. 

 

“Le—uh, Heda?” Lexa was startled, and nearly dropped her sword as she whirled around to see Octavia standing with both hands up in surrender.

 

Skrish, Octavia. You scared me,” Lexa gasped quietly, but quickly shaking it off. “What are you doing?”

[Shit,]

 

Octavia raised her brows a bit. “What am I doing? It’s my job to protect you until the day you dismiss me. You went wandering off in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, when you’re not feeling a hundred percent, of course I followed you.”

 

Lexa shut her eyes briefly. She couldn’t be upset with Octavia for doing her job, but she was, nonetheless. “So be it, you’re here now. What do you make of this?” Lexa gestured at the pile of burnt corpses.

 

Octavia walked closer, holding her torch out to inspect it, and Lexa followed her quietly.

 

“Bodies. Badly burnt, looks like a funeral that got cut short.” Octavia squatted down, squinting closer at the pit and shaking her head a little before looking back to Lexa. “This is.. what Grounder would just leave bodies in this state?”

 

Lexa shook her head. “Even a thief or murderer deserves an honorable death and disposal. These people.. whoever did this had no care for their enemies.”

 

Octavia breathed out softly, her face a little sick as she stood. She frowned and followed something Lexa couldn’t see in the dirt. Lexa followed her, but paused when she saw the look on Octavia’s face. Something sunk, hard and heavy inside Lexa’s gut, and she felt her legs go slightly unsteady beneath her.

 

“Octavia? What is it?”

 

Octavia swallowed hard, pale as a ghost, her voice breaking when she spoke. “Hoofprints. Skrish. There.. there were gapas here. Recently, like.. last night.”

[horses, shit]

 

The world fell away, and Lexa felt dizzy as she felt herself smoothly exiting her own body. She melted into a phase where she floated just slightly above herself, and listened to her lips bringing forth the word that she felt in every cell of her being and well beyond it.

 

“No..”

 

New Polis, she knew for a fact, did not use horses, and as a result had none tamed at their disposal. There were only a few horses that would have been tied to the tree where the majority of the hoof prints were, and those were the horses the kids had taken from Arkadia when they left. Free gapas didn’t linger together beneath trees, alongside portable trough lines in the dirt. No others were missing, and Lexa’s own party—including JJ, a fine animal as Monty had said—hadn’t made it in this direction yet. Their own tracks ended at the camp site, and no other parties had come through this way in months.

 

No Arkadia parties, at any rate. If the kids had been here and encountered Wonkru, particularly enough Wonkru to ride away on the three trained beasts, at that..

 

They wouldn't have had a prayer. 

 

Octavia didn’t wait for any further response; rather, she went back to the campfire and silently but firmly yanked Lexa’s torch out of her numbing hands. Using both torches this time, Octavia leaned over the pit for a closer look at the remains, even using the toe of her boot to gently nudge several extremities out of the way. Lexa peered over her shoulder silently, because she knew Octavia already saw what Lexa herself was now looking at. 

 

The bodies were too burned to tell for certain—there were no bits of hair or clothing that might help identification—but there was enough ash, and charred flesh remains and splintered bits of bone, to account for five young adults. And there was a single leg that had been only marginally burnt and slightly cast off to the side, that was the right size and shape as Aden’s, with the singed laces still dangling from the blackened shoe.

 

Untied laces.

 

Not to mention the copious amount of blood that she could now see, reflecting the light of the torches from trees and ground alike, and slowly she and Octavia realized in unison that some of the blood was as black as Lexa’s own. When Octavia looked up at Lexa again, with tears streaming down her horrified face, she didn’t need to verbalize anything further. 

 

All of the air went from her lungs all at once, and her head swam violently as she leaned forward to vomit. Lexa felt the world pitch sideways and begin to disintegrate, and she collapsed to her knees with a haunting wail that shook the forest in both volume and pitch. Octavia fell to the ground beside her, wrapping her arms around Lexa’s waist from behind as Lexa screamed her grief to the unsympathetic woods that surrounded them. The sound cut through Octavia like a knife, and it took her several minutes to realize that she was wailing right along with Lexa, as they sat beside the smoking remains and fell to ash themselves.

 

The bird’s incessantly cheerful tweeting began again, in almost a mocking cadence of Lexa’s distraught cries. Lexa blindly shook Octavia off herself with a pained gasp, and grabbed the bow she’d brought, operating entirely on instinct as she took aim and put an end to the happy song. She felt nothing, however, as the birds corpse dropped out of the tree, arrow still in its throat as it fell into the pit full of the other remains. 

 

She felt nothing. It didn’t matter. There was no relief or comfort to be had, now. There was nothing; she was nothing. Madi was gone. Aden was gone. Clarke was likely gone. And Lexa could feel herself leaving behind her own body as well, as everything she was, and ever had been, and ever would be, all of it swirled before her and merged into a single solitary purpose: vengeance.

 

New Polis would feel her punishment, Lexa vowed, as the others woke and came running towards the primal cries that were coming from both herself and Octavia. Each of them quickly came to the same conclusion as they had upon looking, and Murphy barely clasped Luna’s arm as she sank to her knees with him as well, sobbing with her forehead pressed into the dirt. Echo stared in shock from the tree line, her face pale and bloodless, seemingly stuck in a lack of movement before she turned to throw up into a bush. Luna rocked back and forth with Murphy’s arms around her as they cried together, and Lexa curled into herself inside Octavia’s arms that now held her, trying to comfort and reassure even as she fell apart herself. 

 

Lexa had read a factual book--an old safari guide actually--about animals on the Ring. In it, they revealed an intriguing fact about kangaroos—which had always been a favorite of Lexa’s, particularly after they had read the Pooh Bear stories on the Ring with Madi and Aden. Aside of finding out more about Octavia’s worried Piglet from so very long ago, Lexa delighted in finding out that kangaroos, like many of the animals in storybooks, had a real life counterpart, and had subsequently seen several nature movies about them. The interesting fact was that mother kangaroos had a special talent—they were familiar with their offspring’s unique cry for help. A mother kangaroo would always recognize the cry of her own child when she heard it.

 

 Lexa couldn’t help it; inside of her head, she felt she had failed for any number of reasons, including and especially concerning the fact that she hadn’t heard the cry of her own child before it was too late. Lexa wondered if mother kangaroos also grieved the day their child no longer cried for them at all. She wished that the dirt she lay sobbing in would part and just swallow her whole; take her pain away, immeasurable as it was, because the weight of it was just too much for her to bear.

 

Now? Now she would scream, and cry, and regret, and ache. But when she could stop, when the tears began to slow and her throat was too raw to scream any longer, Lexa would change again. Lexa would seek out those who had taken Madi and Aden and probably Clarke from her, and make sure they were the last residents of New Polis to die. 

 

She would ensure that every single person in New Polis felt her grief, felt her rage, felt her loss. She would destroy them all, and those directly responsible, she would save for last. She would make it slow, make them truly feel her wrath for however long it took for her to feel incrementally better. She suspected it may take more than one lifetime for that, and in the meantime..

 

In the meantime, she would make them all suffer with her. She would make them all feel the crippling pain—the pain which was the only thing left inside the numb shell of her body now. Pain, and vengeance. She would take their children from them and lay waste to all they held dear. She would dismantle and destroy every man, woman, and child, who stood in her way. She would raze what remained of this nightmare planet unapologetically, and put an end to them all, if she thought such actions might make her pain even marginally more bearable than it was now.

 

When time had passed—much time, in fact, during which Lexa had remained curled in the dirt in silence, once the wails had subsided after several hours—and Lexa first formed her lips around words, her voice didn’t come out. Scratched raw from her howls of despair, her mouth dry with the dirt she had inhaled, it took her a moment to find her voice. 

 

When she did, she first whispered, and then raised her voice a bit higher, and then higher still, until the entire forest no doubt, heard her declaration. Her voice had the sharp edge of darkness in it now, as though her Nightblood itself were vaporizing into words breathed off a razor tongue. She did feel like she could spit blood, but she also felt like she would much rather taste it. She craved it in a way she never had before, with an almost gleeful, anticipatory desire. Those who had caused this pain would pay for it with their lives, and Lexa would not only unapologetically take life after life, she would enjoy doing so. She would delight in the destruction she meant to wreak.

 

The forest around her seemed to bend to her will as she chanted, louder even still, and with the others joining in now, crying to the entire world, if it might be listening.

 

Stedaun gon Wonkru! Jus drein, jus daun!

[Death to Wonkru! Blood must have blood!]

Chapter Text

I've trained myself to give up on the past 'cause

I froze in time between hearses and caskets

I was losing my mind because the love,

The love, the love, the love, the love..

I go up to my room and there's girls on the ceiling

Cut out their pictures and I chase that feeling

Of an eighteen year old, who didn't know what loss was

Now I'm a stranger, and I miss the days of a life 

Still permanent, mourn the years before I got carried away

I'm screaming from my bedroom window, even if its gonna kill me

Woke up this morning early before my family from this dream 

Where she was trying to show me how a life can move from 

The darkness, she said, to get better - I wanna get carried away

I didn't know I was lonely 'til I saw your face

I didn't know I was broken 'til I wanted to change

I wanna get better, I wanna get better..

- Bleachers, “I Wanna Get Better”

 

 

 

 

Clarke couldn’t really be sure how much time had passed.

 

She supposed it didn’t inspire panic because frankly, it was a vaguely familiar sensation by now. She knew at least one sun had risen and set since Kane brought her into his house, but it was entirely possible another sun or maybe even several suns may have come and gone in the time it took Clarke to pass out drunk on the floor and then wake confused, her head aching.

 

Across the room, Kane sat in an armchair, sipping a hot drink of some kind, and Clarke sat slowly, holding onto her throbbing head as she did.

 

“How long was I out?” Clarke mumbled, noting that her feet had become bare at some point, and beginning to look for her boots.

 

You never remember where you leave your boots, Lexa’s voice teased in her head, and it only intensified the heaviness in Clarke’s chest.

 

“Overnight,” Kane answered shortly, his face lined with worry and stress once more. “It was sloppy of me, I’m sorry, Clarke. Someone could have come in and—”

 

“They didn’t,” she cut him off, searching under a chair for her missing footwear. “We have to figure out how to get me the hell out of here. I need to get back to Arkadia and Lexa.”

 

“That’s easier said than done, Clarke,” Kane responded, his voice tight as he shook his head. “The chaos in town is settling, and the war chiefs will come soon to tell me the plan for Arkadia.”

 

Clarke’s fingers wrapped around the toe of one boot and pulled it free of the curtain it was tangled in triumphantly. “So, tell them the plan is “not wiping out Arkadia”, then.”

 

“It’s more complicated than that.”

 

“Doesn’t have to be. Are you their leader, or not?” Clarke asked, sliding her boot on and working the closures on it. 

 

“I’m their leader because I give the orders they want me to give. It’s the only reason they follow me. The minute they see me falter, see me weak? They’ll kill me, and any chance for peace, and choose a new leader. Probably one who would have no problem razing Arkadia to the ground.”

 

Clarke paused, looking at him with some disbelief. “What happened to you, Kane? People don’t follow a leader just because they agree with them. That’s not what leadership is. People didn’t like Lexa’s changes, but they followed them anyway.” She looked at him in disgust and added, “Did you agree when Jaha floated my dad? Is that why you did it?”

 

“Of course not, Clarke. But the creature that doesn’t adapt, dies,” Kane replied simply, setting his cup down. “I adapted.”

 

Clarke made a sour face and a scoffing sound in the back of her throat before closing the last buckle on her boot and beginning to search for the remaining one. 

 

“Well, adapt back. Lexa’s on the ground now, and they’ll follow her like they did before,” Clarke said simply, as though it were all just that easy.

 

 Kane bristled slightly at the implication, his voice growing tighter. “I wish it were as simple as you make it sound.”

 

Clarke grabbed her other boot and began pulling it on. “What do you think will happen if you bow before Lexa? If they see the transfer of power?”

 

Kane drummed his fingers on the table for a few moments before clasping his hands together, his index fingers resting on his lip as he mulled it over.

 

“Truthfully, I think they would kill us both. Lexa lost a lot of her favor over these years, Clarke. A majority of her people think she abandoned them in their time of need, that she was weak, and a coward. Audaskai sowed the seeds of discord, and they grew very quickly down there. We’re talking about fighting against a thick forest of dissent now.”

 

Clarke finished up with her other boot and fixed Kane with her gaze, ignoring the pounding in her head and the temptation to stave off further symptoms of a hangover by staying drunk. “Then I guess it’s time to start looking for a chainsaw.”

 

“More blood spilled,” Kane murmured, shaking his head. “Sometimes I wonder if things would be better had we all died on the Ark. The human race was already surviving here, and I wonder if all our arrival did was compromise that.”

 

Clarke made a face again as she stood, her legs slightly wobbly. “It’s a waste of time to worry about what you can’t change. Worry about how we’re gonna convince your war chiefs to relax, how we’re gonna get them to follow Lexa again. Worry all you want, just make it useful worrying.”

 

Kane studied her for a moment, noting the way her voice faltered slightly when she mentioned Lexa. “How do we know Lexa is in any condition to—”

 

Clarke’s hand quickly went up in a ‘stop’ gesture, shaking her head vehemently. “Lexa is fine. My mom will get her up and functioning and ready to take control again.”

 

Kane stayed quiet, well aware after so long with Abby that there wasn’t really any such thing as talking a Griffin woman out of believing the thing she believed, or the thing she felt compelled to do—whether that be playing Commander to buy time, or helping people to steal rare medication against their laws. 

 

So he let Clarke have this one; for the moment anyway.

 

He opened his mouth to say something else, when the front door of the house slammed open, and suddenly the room was filled with several warriors—all wielding guns—and at the forefront of the group was Gaia.

 

“Chancellor! Are you okay?” She exclaimed, rushing to Kane’s side. Kane’s face was a mask of shock, and Clarke couldn’t help but see the fear that flashed across it.

 

He was truly concerned about what he had said—that they would have little trouble killing and replacing him—and suddenly Clarke was taking everything he had said quite a bit more seriously. 

 

With that thought, Clarke let out a feral cry and launched herself at Kane, and—as predicted—Gaia physically put herself in the way of the attack. It was barely a fight; almost humiliating, really, Clarke thought, as Gaia held her head against the floor, a knee digging into Clarke’s back.

 

“What should I do with the natrona?” Gaia snarled to Kane, scruffing the back of Clarke’s neck as one would a small, wayward animal. It was a move that was painfully effective; however Clarke was mildly offended by both the implication and the casual manhandling, petty as it seemed even in the moment.

[Traitor]

 

Kane gave Clarke a look that suggested he thought she’d better be quite sure about what she was planning to say or do just then, before responding dismissively, “Take her to Titus. Perhaps he can get some information from her before she goes to the pit.”

 

Clarke felt a sickening weight in her stomach as she was yanked forcefully off the floor by Gaia’s men and marched in a tight hold from Kane’s house, leaving behind a worried-looking Kane, who watched from the doorway.

 

 

Clarke had thought Gaia would merely pass her off to Titus, but instead she was brought into a squat hut that was half built into the side of a rock face. The inside could only be described as a sort of dungeon, and Clarke felt her heart in her throat as she was chained to a wall with a set of bolted metal shackles. She swallowed hard as Gaia paced quietly before her for several minutes after dismissing the others.

 

“You thought we were all fools, Clarke.”

 

Clarke sighed in an overly bored manner, unable to prevent herself from sassing back, “Not all of you, just most of you.”

 

Gaia hit her then, with an open palm, but across her mouth, which started to bleed. “The stitches were fresh, blood still wet. You lied. I don’t know how you became a natblida, but you are no Commander.”

 

Clarke spat the blood from her cut lip to the ground, her arms held in place high above her head, and a defiant look on her face as Gaia continued, unperturbed.

 

“You thought your ruse would allow you to take over. We saw your ship. How many of you wait in the sky and in Arkadia now, to take over our home? Would you kill us all or just enslave us to your people?”

 

“You’re giving me way more credit than I’m due,” Clark said, feigning sheepishness and bracing for the hit that came once more. “You know, you’re pretty good, but as someone who’s been tied up and slapped around a lot—and done some tying and slapping myself, of course, but let’s just keep that between us girls,” Clarke wiggled her eyebrows suggestively at that, “—I have to say, Titus hits much harder than you do. Something you might wanna work on, if you’re looking to bring that extra intimidation factor to your torture sessions. Maybe then Kane will let you have all the fun with the prisoners, instead of making you call Titus in to help you.”

 

Gaia took immense pleasure in hitting her the third time, Clarke knew, but couldn’t really blame her. She’d meant to get under Gaia’s skin, and clearly she’d been successful and struck a nerve. Clarke could already feel her eye starting to bruise. It nearly felt good, though—forcing Gaia’s hand by irritating her emotions. Maybe if the girl were unbalanced enough, she’d reveal something useful, something to give Clarke a clue as to how to solve the Wonkru problem without further bloodshed. 

 

And if not, then at least Clarke could take pleasure in aggravating her for a bit before Gaia or Titus killed her.

 

“You know, you were once loyal to Lexa, or don’t you remember? She declared you into the Order of the Flame, and ate shit from your mother for months afterwards about it—and defended your choice more than a few times. Then she appointed you Fleimkepa in Titus’ place, and yet here you are, with no loyalty to spare for Lexa, for her spirit?” Clarke shook her head disapprovingly. 

 

“Lexa was a coward,” Gaia fixed her with a cold glare. “You would still claim you’ve taken the Flame?”

 

“I would still claim Lexa left me in charge,” Clarke responded, wishing she’d been a bit more clever at the verbal sparring than she was. It was more difficult to come up with witty responses now, as the lack of circulation in her hands was beginning to sting.

 

“Name one Commander besides Lexa or Becca,” Gaia challenged her, crossing her arms on her chest, a smug look on her face that grew smugger the longer Clarke remained silent and glaring. “Then it’s as I thought, and I look forward to seeing Titus break you, Clarke.” Gaia holstered her dagger and turned towards the door.

 

In a last, desperate attempt to appeal to whatever humanity might have still lurked deep inside the girl, Clarke’s voice broke slightly as she called out, “Ai sonraun laik yu sonraun! We’re all each others’ people, Gaia!”

 

Gaia paused in the doorway and turned to face her again, her expression dark and without pity. 

 

Yu nou laik ain kru,” she said simply, before shutting the door behind her and leaving Clarke helplessly hanging in the dark.

[You’re not my people.]

 

 

Despite the fear that filled her more the longer she hung in the pitch black, Clarke was more afraid of what might be coming for her in the form of Titus. If Gaia had become so heartless, what of the man who hadn’t had much heart to begin with?

 

Clarke couldn’t help being frightened. She’d been at Titus’ mercy once before, and if not for the threat to Lexa at the time, she had always believed Titus did mean to kill her and would have had no guilt or hesitation about doing so then—never mind with things how they were now. 

 

After what felt like hours of marinating in her own worry and regret, the large, heavy door creaked open, and Clarke blinked in the sudden light. A hooded figure entered, carrying a torch and closing the door behind themselves. After a moment, they lit several torches on the wall, and then lowered the hood to reveal a bald, tattooed head.

 

“Hey, Titus. Good to see you, how have you been?” Clarke forced an overly jovial tone, as though they were a couple of old friends catching up. “Have a good summer?”

 

Titus finally stood before her, meeting her eyes with a sort of urgency that felt strange and out of place to Clarke, even in this admittedly strange situation. Titus leaned closer, his voice very low and very desperate, with a pleading in his rounded eyes that was entirely unfamiliar to Clarke, and left her in confusion for a moment.

 

“Lexa. She’s still alive, isn’t she?”

 

Clarke stared at him hard, remembering how he had looked the last time they were in this position, and she could find no trace of that Titus, in the one that stood before her now. He looked only concerned, perhaps fearful even, and with just the slightest bit of hope in his face, and it threw Clarke a bit. 

 

Titus’ face grew more intent, and his voice even softer as he implored, “Clarke, please. All else aside, you have to believe I care about Lexa still. She.. was the closest to a daughter I’ve..” He cut himself off, swallowing thickly.

 

Clarke, meanwhile, chewed on this for a moment before she realized that deep inside herself, she knew it to be true. If nothing else, Titus might actually be able to help her, if he knew it was ultimately helping Lexa.

 

But if he was here for information, she’d be giving it to him and just hoping he didn’t use it to make things worse. She had to trust someone to help, she supposed, and Kane had been very.. pointed.. about telling Gaia to take her to Titus. Maybe there was a reason for that. Maybe Kane was craftier than she’d given him credit for; it would explain how things got to the point they did in Mount Weather, as well as the moves he appeared to be making now.

 

He had played chess with her father and Jaha, after all. And as Clarke well knew, the only way to win at chess was to play several moves ahead of your opponent. Was having her brought to Titus a move that was three or four more steps in the making? He was someone Gaia would never believe was still loyal to Lexa after she removed him from his post as Fleimkepa, yet also someone who had devoted his life to following the Flame, and the Commander. Titus would have been horrified by the idea of kneeling before someone else. She sighed heavily and worked her jaw back and forth for a moment before making her choice. 

 

After a long, tense minute, Clarke nodded slowly. Titus’s face filled with relief and, much to Clarke’s surprise, he immediately took a keyring from his robe and unlocked her shackles, pausing only to look into her eyes and quietly, sincerely, say, “Thank you, Clarke.”

 

Clarke rubbed her mildly sore—but now free—wrists, still a bit stunned by what had just taken place. “You’re welcome. Thanks for the rescue and the not-torturing me.”

 

“Lincoln has a group waiting in the woods,” Titus replied, taking off his cloak to reveal a second cloak, and handing the spare to Clarke. She started putting it on as he continued, “We have only a short window to get you there, and they’ll bring you back to Arkadia.”

 

“How did you know?” Clarke said, still dazed as Titus reached over to adjust her hood so it covered more of her face. “About Lexa, that she was alive?”

 

Heda’s spirit hadn’t found the next Commander yet,” Titus replied simply, a mildly surprised look on his face. His tone indicated that the answer should have been obvious, but was also not entirely unkind. “I didn’t know for sure, but I believed that Heda must be alive, and had sent you in her stead for some reason. I have faith; Gaia, however, has lost her way,” Titus said, his voice thick with bitterness and disapproval as he opened the door again, gazing around for a moment. 

 

“She’s not the only one,” Clarke muttered, crouching behind him. She was truly beginning to wonder if there was anyone left who hadn’t lost their way by now; if there was anyone left who knew where they were going or why. God knows she hadn’t ever really known those things herself.

 

Titus silently motioned her to follow him, so she did. They stayed low until they were past the tree line, and Clarke noted with some surprise and maybe a touch of amusement, that Titus was deceptively light on his feet for a man who had always seemed so weighted down with his own misery; more fleet-footed than she was—not that it was a high bar she set these days. They moved together quickly and quietly through the woods, Clarke struggling to keep up with him in the wake of her injuries, exhaustion, and hangover.

 

To his credit, Titus was fairly understanding of her lack of coordination or grace, and frequently paused in his trek to wait for her to catch up. They burst into a small clearing and were met by several firearms and swords—all of them quickly lowered when the group saw it was he and Clarke.

 

“Thank god,” Lincoln said, putting his sword back into its scabbard. “We thought you were a goner, Clarke.”

 

“Not yet,” she replied, unable to help her smile upon seeing him; just behind and slightly adjacent to him on either side were Sinclair, Niylah, Jackson, and Miller. 

 

“Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes, and of course you’re bleeding again. Why are you always covered in blood when I see you, Clarke?” Niylah teased gently, leaning over to hug her. Clarke hugged her back, surprised by how grateful she was to see her again, and looking so well. Her hair was longer, and she looked tired—Really, who didn’t lately? Clarke thought to herself—but other than that, she was very much the same Niylah she’d been the last time they’d met face-to-face.

 

Quite literally face-to-face, actually, and Clarke flushed just slightly when she realized it. Niylah, to her credit, merely smirked, as though she knew exactly what was in Clarke’s head and was amused by it. 

 

“It’s good to see you,” Clarke mumbled to her, then had similarly brief reunions with the others as well. Sinclair, of course, immediately asked after Raven and was clearly relieved to find out she was okay.

 

After a moment, Titus spoke up.

 

“I hate to cut short this reunion, but those of us who belong here need to get back and make it look like Clarke escaped on her own, and the rest of you need to get Clarke back to Arkadia,” he pointed out. 

 

Clarke, perhaps inspired by Niylah’s embrace, offered her hand to Titus, and though he looked stunned for a moment, he grasped her forearm and gave her a slight nod.

 

“Bring Lexa home,” he said quietly, his gaze locked to hers. “May we meet again, Clarke of the Sky People.”

 

“I will,” Clarke replied firmly and honestly. “May we meet again.”

 

With that they separated, with Jackson and Miller following Titus back to the heart of the singed and still slightly smoky New Polis. Clarke, Lincoln, Sinclair, and Niylah made their way back to the horses that waited to carry them to Arkadia—to Madi, and Aden, and maybe Lexa would be up and about by then, too, Clarke hoped.

 

 

Clarke held onto Niylah’s waist as they flew through the woods on horseback, trying her best to prevent her hands from slipping anywhere awkward. Niylah, to her credit, just seemed to be enjoying Clarke’s discomfort in a friendly sort of way, and feeling none of her own. Clarke supposed Niylah had no reason to be uncomfortable; it was she that had used Niylah in the past, not the other way around. 

 

Clarke forced the thoughts from her mind for the time being. There was no use to them in the moment, and if they were able to stop this war somehow, there would be plenty of time for Clarke to apologize for treating her so poorly later on; if they weren’t able to stop this war, it wouldn’t matter, anyway. They would be far too dead to worry about guilt and holding grudges.

 

They stopped after a few hours to take care of their various biological needs, and while Lincoln and Sinclair sat beside the fire, Niylah chose to sit quietly on a large stone overlooking part of the valley. Clarke approached her hesitantly, relaxing only when Niylah noticed her and slid over to make room.

 

Clarke sat beside her, and gratefully took the strip of jerky she offered her, chewing it thoughtfully as she looked out over great swaths of dead, dry land. It was disheartening, as far as views went.

 

“There’s nothing,” Clarke whispered quietly, barely aware that she’d spoken aloud in the first place.

 

“That’s where the trading post was,” came Niylah’s quiet, sad response, pointing to an area that was literally nothing but sand. In fact, all of the areas seemed to be nothing but sand dunes and burnt, ashen tree corpses.

 

Clarke had come back to the ground with quite a bit on her mind, and as such, hadn’t really found the time to ruminate on the general state of things since then. She found herself suddenly swarmed with concern and overwhelmed with questions. She hadn’t realized how dire the situation was, how much of their world had been turned to dust, and suddenly the thought of going to war seemed absolutely ridiculous to her.

 

So ridiculous, in fact, that she started laughing softly. Niylah glanced over at her unsurely, concern wrinkling her brow as Clarke laughed a little harder.

 

“We—we’re going to war, the last of the human race, over.. over this?” Clarke nearly lost her balance, laughing harder as she gestured out over the expanse of sand that had replaced nearly all of what was once a lush, green forest and bustling city. “We’re fighting over who gets custody of a bunch of worthless land we can’t even plant on!” She continued, gesticulating wildly as she stood, still unsure whether she was speaking to Niylah, or herself, or the universe at large. 

 

“Can you believe that? A bunch of sand, that’s what they want to kill Lexa over? That’s what’s got Kane babbling on about Dante and his wrath, what had Gaia using me as a punching bag? That’s what we’re going to war—again—for?” Clarke threw her hands up and just laughed harder, her eyes even watering a bit.

 

Niylah watched with increasing concern as Clarke seemingly lost her mind, and set her food down. She stood and gently put her hands on Clarke’s shoulders, trying to steady her a bit. It took a moment, but when Clarke’s gaze met Niylah’s, she found herself unable to look away, and her laughter rapidly disintegrated into crying. 

 

Without a single word exchanged, Niylah wrapped her arms around Clarke and let her fall apart. Clarke did so with gusto, thankful for Niylah’s strong, quiet presence once more. Never once asking anything from Clarke in return, never complaining at Clarke’s questionable treatment of her or total ignorance of her feelings.

 

Clarke let Niylah comfort her in the moment, and when she pulled back and looked at the other woman guiltily, Niylah had only a small, kind smile to offer back, and a comforting hand that rested briefly on her shoulder.

 

The message was clear: she didn’t care if Clarke never reciprocated her feelings; she would still be there, if ever Clarke found herself in need of a comforting embrace, in need of a friend to lean on. She could break apart, and Niylah would let her.

 

Clarke was grateful for it, and she’d tell Niylah that someday, too, she decided. 

 

If they lived, anyway.

 

 

They were just nearing the riverbed when the scent of active campfires reached their noses. Lincoln was in the lead, and he pulled back on Helios’ reins, gesturing for the others to stop as well. Clarke leaned to Niylah’s side, frowning as they glanced around. 

 

“Probably scouts,” Lincoln whispered, carefully dismounting. The others followed suit, and readied their weapons. Niylah handed Clarke a knife from her bootstrap, and Clarke nodded gratefully as they made their way through the brush. Sinclair brought up the rear with a heavy firearm, his eyes sweeping side to side and behind them, just in case. 

 

“Could it be from Arkadia?” Clarke whispered ahead, but Lincoln shook his head.

 

“I don’t think so. Why would they set camp in the day?”

 

Clarke shrugged, though Lincoln couldn’t see her. “Why would anyone?”

 

“Maybe one of their party was injured,” Sinclair suggested, glancing behind them once more.

 

“Or it’s a trap,” Lincoln countered, moving closer to the scent and, now, the sound of people. A lot of people, if Clarke had to guess, though the voices were all hushed. Their party moved closer to what they could now see was a large clearing, full of tents with gear packs strewn about. 

 

“This isn’t a hunting party, it’s an army,” Clarke murmured, but quickly realized it wasn’t from New Polis. Clarke stood quickly before anyone could reply, and jogged through the last of the trees with the others calling after her until they saw what she’d seen.

 

“Octavia!” Clarke cried out as she dashed into the clearing.

 

Octavia spun on her heel quickly, her brows lifting nearly off her forehead when she saw who had called out to her. “Clarke?”

 

Clarke’s face melted into a wide smile as she bolted the remaining feet into a stunned Octavia’s arms. Octavia hugged her back, still in shock, and Clarke felt her hands drop away after a moment. In a quiet voice full of disbelief, Octavia let out an audible gasp.

 

“Lincoln? Lincoln!”

 

Clarke let go of her, noting as she ran into Lincoln’s arms with tears already running down her cheeks, that Octavia was quite pale, and looked very much as though she hadn’t slept in some time. 

 

When Octavia reached him, Lincoln easily scooped her into her arms and they kissed as Octavia wrapped her legs around his waist, cupping his cheeks in her hands as they cried together. Rested their foreheads together and laughed through heavy tears, though there was something unquestionably reserved on Octavia’s end that didn’t quite make sense.

 

Clarke, however, was so busy watching Lincoln and Octavia’s tearstained reunion that it took her a moment to realize that nearly every single person in the clearing was just staring at her in a way that made her breath catch in her throat. She frowned a bit as she glanced around, and her heart jumped into her throat when she saw Echo approaching her. 

 

Echo. Who was meant to be fixing Lexa’s head, not marching in whatever ill-advised attempt at invasion was brewing here. Clarke went pale, and Echo quickly put her hand up a bit as she approached.

 

“It’s not Lexa,” she said quickly. “Lexa is here, actually, but, Clarke—”

 

“She’s here?” Clarke’s face lit up immediately, and she took off as quickly as her sore legs would allow her, in the direction Echo had unconsciously motioned in at the mention of Lexa’s name.

 

“Clarke, wait!” Echo called, but Clarke ignored her. Whatever was going on could wait until after she’d seen Lexa; touched her with her own hands, held her with her own arms. Made sure she was truly still alive, and here, and Lexa.

 

“Lexa? Lexa!” Clarke yelled, stumbling through some undergrowth and kicking a branch out of her path clumsily.

 

“Clarke?” Came the return cry, and Clarke felt the tears rolling down her cheeks as Lexa emerged from a tent and went very still at the sight of her. 

 

Lexa looked smaller, somehow. She was even paler than Octavia had been, her eyes cupped by dark circles that made her look even more bloodless. Her face was fairly dirty, and clear tracks down her cheeks as well as the deep red at the corners of her eyes betrayed the fact that she’d been crying—was still crying, as a matter of fact.

 

Clarke felt something clench in her stomach, and her movement toward Lexa lowered in speed. The closer she got to Lexa, the slower Clarke felt herself moving, as thought she was dazed, in a dream; a ghost haunting her own body.

 

If anyone asked her later, Clarke would tell them she didn’t know how she knew, exactly, what might have brought that look to Lexa’s face. Not one of joy upon seeing Clarke; one of dread, of guilt, of panic, even. Maybe it was instinct, maybe it was simply that she and Lexa could still read one another so well. Maybe it was just that ethereal, unknown, ‘sixth sense’ that only a parent could lay claim to. 

 

Whatever it was, Clarke knew that something had happened to to the kids before Lexa was even able to find her voice. She shook her head a little, trying to deny her knowledge, but she could read Lexa’s face even more easily than she could read her own, and everything she needed to know just then was etched in the deepening creases of Lexa’s face as she began to break.

 

Clarke just stared at her, shaking her head again as they paused mere inches from one another.

 

“No,” she whispered, and Lexa’s face crumpled instantly in response, confirming Clarke’s worst fears.

 

Clarke’s mind quickly went blank as her legs collapsed beneath her, and she landed hard in the dirt, her knees slamming into the earth and surrounding pebbles carelessly. Lexa came to the ground with her, their arms a tangle as they struggled to hold onto one another, the blood rapidly exiting Clarke’s face until she was as ghostly pale as Lexa and Octavia had been.

 

“No,” she said again. Like the universe would listen to the command of one girl, like one star or two flickering out amidst an endless span of stars made a bit of difference to the universe. Like she could make the facts change by resisting the truth, denying it.

 

Lexa wrapped her arms around Clarke as they sat in the dirt together, and Clarke gasped repeatedly, finding herself suddenly unable to remember how to draw breath.

 

“I’m sorry,” Lexa cried into her shoulder as they clung tightly to one another, rocking gently as their combined grief collapsed in on them both. “I’m so sorry, I— Clarke, I—”

 

Nearby, Echo and Octavia were taking turns filling in the others, and Lincoln had Octavia tightly wrapped up in his arms, offering her a comfort he knew was nowhere near sufficient enough for the pain that was inside her. Niylah put her hand over her mouth, her heart breaking for them all as the information and then the horror of it sank in, and she had to turn away as the wails from Clarke lodged themselves deep inside her heart, inside the pulse of her veins, and turned her stomach sick in sympathy.

 

Clarke sobbed and choked in breath for a long time, and cried for an even longer time, and Lexa held her helplessly all the while. She was crying as well, and wishing she could at least try to comfort Clarke, but there was no comfort for her to give, and her tongue shattered in her mouth when she tried to speak, because there were no words, either. 

 

“Take me,” Clarke gasped, when she had managed enough of an intake of air to speak again. “Take me to them, I need to see it myself.”

 

“There is.. nothing to see,” Lexa responded, still hovering outside her body. “Nothing you would want to see.”

 

Don’t tell me what I want,” Clarke snapped through her tears, her voice breaking and her tone almost accusatory—close enough to it for Lexa to feel a sort of secondary hurt, anyway. “I want to see them. You take me to them, Lexa. Take me to our kids, damn it!”

 

Clarke’s renewed sobs began with the end of that sentence and Lexa felt the last of the hard shell she’d been trying to hold in place all day, as it melted away uselessly. She’d thought she might be done crying, for a few minutes at least, but she’d clearly been wrong. It had only taken seeing Clarke’s face to bring her to exactly the same level of pain she’d had when she first saw the bodies—maybe even more, because she now felt Clarke’s pain, too. 

 

Clarke’s arms were reaching for her as what little she had managed to pull together fell apart once more, and despite herself, Lexa felt herself beginning to fall apart again, too. She wrapped her arms around Clarke, and Clarke wrapped her arms around her as well, and they clung tightly to one another as it set off a fresh round of tears from them both.

 

They held onto one another in the dirt as they watched their world ending right before their eyes; as they watched everything and everyone else cease to exist, until it was only Clarke, and Lexa, and their shared grief left, pleading with a universe that simply didn’t care.

Chapter Text

Got a big plan, this mindset, maybe its right

At the right place and right time, maybe tonight

Obsessed about it, heavy for the next two days

It's just like all the others it'll go away

Or maybe this is danger and he just don't know

You pray it all away but it continues to grow

They took a step back, thought about it, what should they do

But their lips met, and reservations started to pass

Whether this was just an evening or a thing that would last

Either way he wanted her and this was bad

Wanted to do things to her, it was making him crazy

And now he wants to grab her by the hair and tell her:

I want to hold you close, skin pressed against me tight

Lie still, and close your eyes girl, so lovely, it feels so right

I want to hold you close; soft breasts, beating heart

As I whisper in your ear, I want to fucking tear you apart

- She Wants Revenge, “Tear You Apart”

 

 

 

Clarke didn’t entirely remember when or even how she and Lexa had wound up in the tent, sitting side by side on Lexa’s bedroll, staring silently into space. Her throat was raw and her eyes stung from the sheer amount of tears she’d shed. The sun had long since set, and every so often the strains of some vaguely intrusive sounds wafted their way from Octavia and Lincoln’s tent, suggesting they were reacquainting with one another and clinging to whatever was left of their appreciation for still being alive.

 

Clarke, however, felt no such appreciation and, judging from the darkening expression on Lexa’s face, she was feeling slightly less than grateful to be alive herself. Clarke wondered offhandedly if she could even feel anything except grief anymore, or if she would spend the rest of her breathing days filled with nothing but the weight of her losses. She found herself going strangely numb at the thought—as though she couldn’t bear to have anything at all inside her, including the unrelenting grief.

 

Her hands, seemingly with a mind of their own, reached in the near darkness for Lexa. She slid her hand around the back of Lexa’s neck slowly, her fingers brushing lightly over the fresh scar there; and when Lexa gazed back, her face was pleading in the flickering firelight, and her head tilted slightly as Clarke’s fingers wound tightly into her hair. 

 

“Please,” Lexa whispered, her tongue thick with grief, and need, and fear, and something else that ran even deeper within her; something even more primal that she couldn’t quite put a name to. She swallowed hard, her voice strained. “I can’t feel anything. Make me feel something, anything, Klark.”

 

Clarke understood; both the feeling, and what it was that Lexa, too, seemed to be craving in that moment—and so she pulled Lexa to her roughly, her fingers tightening in her unruly hair and giving it a hard tug as their lips met in a crushing, bruising kiss. Lexa kissed her back just as hard, their tongues dueling with one another as Lexa leaned further into Clarke, immediately shifting to straddle her lap. 

 

Clarke pulled her hair tighter between her fingers as Lexa moved to push her onto her back. Clarke acquiesced briefly, but quickly rolled them over, pressing Lexa into the dirt as she ground her hips against hers. They broke the kiss briefly for air, and Lexa gasped as Clarke’s hands tightened around her wrists, driving them further into the earth. 

 

Lexa growled into the kiss as Clarke tightened her hands until she was sure she would leave behind bruises, and Lexa arched beneath her. The instant Clarke’s grip on her reddened wrist slackened, Lexa used the brief moment to roll them again, ignoring the hard edge of a stone that dug into her knee painfully as she quite literally tore Clarke’s shirt open down the center. It was Clarke’s turn to gasp then, slightly surprised by Lexa’s unusual aggression, but quickly melting beneath her as she bit and sucked at the tender flesh of Clarke’s breasts, drawing both blood and moans from her raw throat. 

 

Clarke tried to roll them over again, wanting Lexa’s clothing off as well, but Lexa leaned forward, putting more weight on Clarke’s pinned arms and looking down at her with a challenge in her eyes. It was written in her blown out pupils, in her labored breath and heaving chest, in the snarl that came from deep in Lexa’s throat when Clarke wrenched her hands free and dug her nails into Lexa’s ass instead. She pulled Lexa down hard as she lifted her hips up against her, and Lexa let out a needy moan, her hips grinding against hers with more purpose.

 

With some difficulty, given her six year diet of alcohol and not much else, Clarke flipped them again, pulling one corner of the tent loose as they slammed into the burlap wall hard, tearing the edge of it a bit. She rose onto her knees, pulling her belt loose as she pressed her aching heat into Lexa’s abdomen, and they unashamedly ripped into each others’ clothing.

 

When they were both fully undressed and their clothes lay discarded around the tent, carelessly torn to shreds, they groaned in unison at the feel of the others’ exposed flesh. 

 

It had been six years, and two lost children, and the death of all hope, and the dissipation of all desire to continue surviving, and a strange, heavy cloud that seemed to settle around them as their efforts quickly grew more desperate and furious. 

 

Nails raked down Lexa’s back as she slammed Clarke to the ground again, and Lexa’s legs spread around Clarke when she regained the upper hand. It rapidly became somewhat difficult to distinguish whether they were fighting or fucking; a distinction that lost importance just as quickly as it had popped into her head in the first place, as Lexa wrapped around her once more. Clarke rested on top of her again now, one hand gripping both of her wrists tightly into the burlap and dirt, and her other hand cupping Lexa’s soaked, grasping folds before sliding two fingers easily inside her.

 

Lexa’s back arched and she moaned Clarke’s name, trying to pull her deeper inside herself. Her legs bowed as Clarke carefully added a third finger and thrust into her heat with everything she had. Clarke fucked her harder, and harder, until Lexa felt like she would bruise inside, and still she begged Clarke for more. She wanted to be fucked senseless, fucked black and blue and numb and stupid. She wanted to be fucked so hard she forgot all of her pain; fucked until nothing existed beyond the punishing pounding of Clarke between her spread thighs.

 

Clarke leaned into her further, releasing her wrists to instead grip her hair again, forcing Lexa’s chin up with a hard yank and drew a deep, gasped moan from her throat as Clarke curled her fingers into her front wall. 

 

Klark.. fuck, do—don’t stop—” Lexa babbled, her legs bowing to bracket either side of Clarke’s hips as Clarke fucked into her harder, forcing her back into the wrecked pile of bedding and sliding down her body. Clarke bit down unapologetically on the inside of her thigh, drawing the dark, bitter blood onto her tongue before doing the same to her other thigh. 

 

“Wasn’t gonna,” Clarke mumbled between hard bites to her thighs, her fingers finding a punishing pace in Lexa’s slick heat as her lips wrapped around Lexa’s throbbing, attention-starved clit. Lexa cried out loudly as Clarke roughly worked her tongue in small circles over the head of it, causing Lexa to shudder as she threw her head back into the dirt with a loud cry. 

 

Clarke backed off slightly, making her way back up Lexa’s body with her fingers still buried deeply between Lexa’s dripping folds. Lexa grunted in disapproval, trying to angle her hips so her clit brushed Clarke’s thrusting fingers, but Clarke anticipated the move and adjusted accordingly, keeping just out of reach. Clarke idly thought she might even try to edge Lexa into unconsciousness, just so she could wake her again to fuck her even harder.

 

Lexa let out a much more feral growl as she clamped her legs around Clarke and flipped them over once more. She didn’t care, she didn’t care anymore; not about anything. Not about how loud they were, or whether they tore the entire tent to shreds or the entire camp or even each other. Let it all burn; nothing mattered.

 

Lexa slammed Clarke roughly into the ground as they landed, her eyes growing darker when Clarke’s bright blues widened at the unexpected power shift. The last time Lexa had tried to be hard for Clarke, she’d been weak, pathetic even. She’d fallen apart and cried, and Clarke had reassured her that she didn’t need Lexa to be—as Lexa herself had put it—'more commanding'. That was, unless Lexa needed to be more commanding.

 

And, frankly, right now Lexa wanted to swallow the Earth whole and spit it out of herself as fire and ash. She wanted to command everything and everyone; command them all to go to hell and leave her alone to pour all of her pain into Clarke’s body and take Clarke’s pain into hers in return. God, Lexa just wanted to fuck Clarke until they both died; until every inch of her ached, and was covered in bruises and deep scratches that would take weeks to heal; until she lay bleeding and empty and unable to breathe in the dirt. She wanted to ruin Clarke, and she wanted Clarke to destroy her right back.

 

Clarke was briefly thrown by the shift, but seemed to understand what Lexa was searching for; despite it being something Lexa barely understood herself in the moment.

 

Clarke withdrew her fingers and quickly, before Lexa had even a moment to complain about the sudden loss, she squirmed beneath Lexa’s kneeling body until she was eye level with Lexa’s swollen, needy heat, and her tongue quickly lashed against her clit, drawing a long, low moan from Lexa that was so deep it seemed to Clarke that it nearly shook the ground. 

 

Clarke clamped her fingers to Lexa’s hips with a bruising force, her nails digging in hard enough to draw more blood as she gave a hard yank and forced Lexa's down to meet her mouth. Lexa gasped helplessly, her own hands grappling in the dirt for purchase as she was knocked off balance and all but fell onto Clarke's face. Her palms scraped the ground as she thrust her hips, riding Clarke’s tongue with a series of gasps as the small stones in the dirt ripped at her tender palms—softened by her time in space, and easily made raw and bloody.

 

Raw and bloody was truthfully just fine with her, and Lexa continued to thrust herself against Clarke’s skilled tongue, relishing the pain that burned deep in her knees, and in her hips and ass where Clarke’s nails still drew fresh streams of blood, and in her hands that were quickly becoming scraped and burned from the friction of the rough burlap mat floor against her space-softened skin.

 

She was incredibly close to coming, and Lexa quickly tore herself from Clarke’s mouth, not quite ready for release; not yet. She’d be tired, she knew. Bruised and bloody, her thighs coated in her own arousal. No, if she came now, she’d likely want to sleep after--not that she'd be able to, of course--but either way, she wanted to give Clarke as good as she’d been getting, first. She wanted to punish Clarke as delightfully as Clarke was punishing her.

 

Clarke looked mildly confused when Lexa rolled free of her, but didn’t have much time to question it before Lexa was back on top of her, lower than before. Lexa dipped forward, kissing Clarke roughly and tasting herself on her lips and tongue with a muffled grunt in the back of her throat. Clarke moaned back deeply as Lexa pressed her thigh to Clarke’s heat and then broke the kiss and lowered her head to swirl her tongue over Clarke’s firm nipples. 

 

Clarke cried out, her fingers tangling their way into Lexa’s hair once more as Lexa sucked and nipped at her breasts until they, too, were bruised, and Clarke was absolutely drenched. Blunt teeth scraped over the tender flesh along the underside of her breasts, and then down to Clarke’s soft belly and thighs; all of which Lexa unabashedly licked and sucked and bit into, driving Clarke very nearly insane. 

 

“F—fuck, Lexa, just—fuck me, just fuck me,” Clarke gasped, squirming beneath Lexa, unable to take the annoyingly slow pace she’d suddenly adopted.

 

She hadn’t quite expected the slow pace to be so suddenly abandoned, but that’s precisely what happened as Lexa slid down and immediately slid her tongue as deeply as she could inside Clarke. Her tongue circled her entrance, her teeth nipped at Clarke’s soft folds and then lightly scraped over her sensitive clit, drawing both an arch and a scream from Clarke that just spurred Lexa on even harder. 

 

Clarke felt herself teetering on the edge and quickly adjusted her position, shifting until her head was closer to Lexa’s hips and, with Lexa face-deep in her fluttering core, Clarke thrust her fingers back into Lexa’s slick heat, quickly working her to the edge as Lexa did the same. 

 

Clarke wasn’t entirely sure in her memory if they’d ever came together before, but she thought, if they hadn’t, this was as good a time as any for such a feat. Lexa sucked roughly at her clit at the same time she worked Lexa’s, and they cried out—just barely out of sync—as they came in rapid succession. 

 

Lexa collapsed against her immediately afterwards, fresh tears pouring from her eyes silently and without effort. Her body was too exhausted to cry—something she didn’t think she’d ever felt before and wasn’t all that keen to feel again, truth be told. 

 

They lay there, gasping for breath in the sweaty aftermath of their shared grief, their shared rage; and though they didn’t quite realize it yet, they were both quickly lost to similarly shared haunting thoughts as they lay panting and bleeding in the dark of the now semi-collapsed tent. Their skins a latticework of scratches and deep bruises and welts, coated with blood and sweat and arousal, their bodies limp and desperate for a sleep that would likely continue to elude them despite the energy they’d just expelled. 

 

Lexa thought perhaps she’d never sleep again; she was far too afraid of what lingering sick images might await her unconscious mind, and she didn’t think she could quite bear being lost in the uncontrolled dreamscape that likely held nothing but horror for her anyway. 

 

Clarke, on the other hand, wished she could do nothing but sleep for the rest of whatever time she was forced to continue shuffling across this shitty planet; but her body refused to cooperate, and instead she lay wide awake beside a wide awake Lexa until the sun had risen once again and a slightly uncomfortable Luna had called into the tent for them to come to breakfast.

 

To their credit, not a single person mentioned the injuries that covered both Clarke and Lexa as they arrived in torn clothes, sipping warm drinks as they sat in a vaguely uncomfortable silence. Clarke still bore the results of Gaia’s efforts as well, and the marks on her face were even darker in the new sunlight, but Lexa couldn’t find it within herself to care whether anyone thought it was the result of their mutual punishment the previous night.

 

Lexa couldn’t bring herself to care about anything, actually; though she found herself understanding even more fully why Clarke had hidden away so wholeheartedly and for so long. If Clarke had felt even half as bad as Lexa did now, Lexa honestly thought Clarke had been entitled to be in even worse shape than she’d been, because Lexa had never felt this bad in her entire life. Not ever. There was no loss, none, not even that of sweet, pure Costia—that had wrecked her as badly as the loss of Madi and Aden now had.

 

Truthfully, Lexa couldn't imagine she would ever be whole again, and with that thought in her mind, she ordered her troops to return to Arkadia. They would take the other bodies home to the people who loved them, and have a proper funeral. Today, Lexa needed to honor her children by bringing them home.

 

Her wrath could wait; war could wait.