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Undertow

Chapter Text

I wanted to stay home
But I went running from the troubles

 

 

There’s a fair in the centre of Polis. Vines and greenery have been trained to soften your city's edges, to celebrate life in the most beautiful way. Lanterns and fires cast flickering light against the circle of brick buildings, shadow and light flowing through natural and man-made to create magical scenes. People from all over the city and beyond stream through the cobbled streets to join in music and life in every corner. 

As Polis celebrates the anniversary of your people's return, and the fall of Mount Weather, all you can think of is her. Her eyes and her smile that was so rarely given. She's not been seen or heard of since she left the Ark and you think she's likely dead. Your people speak of her in hushed voices, rarely saying her name, using one of her many epithets instead; Skai Prisa, Brave One, Heda kom Skaigeda, Earth Star, Destroyer. Disappeared. The more time that passes the less human Clarke becomes.

In the midst of celebration you drink to forget. With alcohol in your veins and memories in your heart you dance with a girl whose hair is not quite fair enough, her eyes the wrong shade of blue. When you fall into bed with her you don't let her touch you but don't think she minds as you sink into giving her pleasure. You give all you have to her and to others just like her so you won't need to think about your self, your wants, heartbreaks. You revel in the physical of skin on skin but don't take your part of it.

When the girl gasps and collapses for the second time and she sleeps, you leave. You walk out of your home, past the brick buildings, past the shacks and tents on the city's fringes and continue into the wild. You scale cliff faces, trees and broken old buildings, anything to get high from the ground, to stare at the stars. 

//

One year and six days since the mountain you hear a whisper. A girl has been sighted wandering alone in wasteland fringes to the north-west. A few days after, a Trigeda family on their way to Polis is saved from bandits by a wild girl with a gun. Whether or not she fired her weapon is unclear. Consistent in each telling though is the cold hard gaze of the saviour. ’Her hair was sunshine,’ they say. 'But her eyes are cold and desolate as glaciers.’ 

You ignore the rumours. At least you do your best to appear to ignore them. You needn't care if she lives or dies. Your alliance with the sky people is a neutral one, sufficient for survival. At best Clarke may return as a leader of her people in peace. At worst, well. At worst Clarke has proven herself capable of genocide. But. The alliance holds. And Clarke has shown a preference for diplomacy over violence. And you aren’t a warrior right now. You work among your people in the fields and orchards, wherever the seasons crops need hands the most. Sometimes you’re exhausted enough to sleep without dreams, and without thinking of her until morning. 

One year and one month since Clarke disappeared you’re out in the fields for harvest. Living among your people you do what is expected of you and sometimes more since there's little enough for you to do in a time of peace. The sun is warm on your shoulders where the broad hat you wear doesn't shade. The soil is damp and rich under your hands. No one here looks at you like you're a hero or a monster. You dress as they do, no need for sword or armour. 

You stand up, stretch out your back and wipe sweat away from your brow. You enjoy the ache of hard labor as you shift your basket down the plant row. Your basket’s already half full of onions and you’re glad this year will be a substantial harvest; the people deserve some richness in their lives.

Your thought drift as you work imagining a life of permanent peace. Without constant war the people could have leaders with no skill for battle. The commander’s spirit mightn’t be needed ever again. It’s true you could make yourself useful in peacetime but there are others who equal your talent for words and diplomacy. You could spend your time in these fields, spend your days as you choose instead of as you are needed.

 

The sun stretches lower on the horizon and you tilt your hat back to protect your neck. A shadow is approaching your plant row. "Heda." Many of the workers stand up to watch Indra approach you, tipping back their hats to see her more clearly. "Heda, you are needed."

You allow yourself a sigh. "These onions won't harvest themselves."

Indra looks down into your basket. "Heda?"

You dust off your hands and feel the freedom of these last months fall away with the soil. "What is it?"

Indra hesitates. The first time you have seen her pause in over a year. 

Clarke. You remember those blue eyes and the shape of her lips. "She is alive?" You admit your hope aloud.  You remember when Clarke spoke to you of weakness and fear; you consider going back to your plant-row. A field of onions is not nearly so damaging to your self control as the Skai Prisa. 

"She is here." 

You think of a dark mountain side and repeating the words May we meet again. "Octavia?" She was so insistent that Clarke was alive. 

Your General doesn't need any clarification. "She is on the coast for water training."

"A days ride," you give yourself another moment to think.

"Should I send for her to return early?" Indra asks, turning to do so.

"No." You know that they care for one another, even if they last spoke in bitter terms. Besides, "Octavia will return by weeks end. If Clarke wishes to stay in Polis, then she will. Octavia’s presence will change nothing."

Indra turns back to you. "Then you will attend to Skai Prisa alone?"

"Will I?" you ask. You just want to finish the row and fill your basket. 

You know as well as Indra that anything she might say now would be subordinate. So Indra says nothing and you walk to the edge of the field with her, the basket resting on the curve of your hip. You empty your harvest into the larger baskets and empty yourself of any day-dream simplicity with it. Whatever had hidden your cage for this short time evaporates. You are not your own person today or any other day. 

//

You don't bother to change before returning to your home and entering the room kept for emissaries. Why Indra left her here isn't clear. The room holds a library of books from before the bombs and scrolls from more recent times. The chairs are plush, the bookshelves and tables finely finished. It is meant to be impressive.

Clarke stands dusty, stern and on edge in the midst of it all, and the room feels more out of place in your home than she does.

Clarke doesn't acknowledge your entrance but you can see her eyes find you in the reflection of the window. There’s a pack at her feet with a bed-roll and blackened pot hanging in from it. You close the door behind you and she remains still and staring out onto the street below.

You don’t mind, taking the chance to examine her; she’s covered neck to knee in layers of cloth with thick soled boots on her feet. The travel dust is so thick on her clothes you're not sure what colour anything is underneath. She’s shaved off her hair on one side to the scalp and what’s left on the other is long and matted, held back by strands from the front and fastened to the back. 

You think maybe she does belong in this room after all and wonder which clan she could represent if not her Sky People. The dust makes you think of desert nomads, the wastelands and all those searching for the City of Light. You wonder if maybe rather than the nomads Clarke joined a band of thieves – the ones who prey on lost souls searching for that glittering myth of a city. She has a way with manipulation after all, and you know she's not fool enough to be among those idiots stripped of their possessions and left for dead in the dust.

You clear your throat somewhat lost for words and she turns to look at you. No matter the distortions of her myth, the stories were true when they described her eyes. Cold and hard, the truth makes something tighten in your gut. 

"No one bothered to pat me down before they brought me in." Clarke’s voice is hoarse as though she hasn't used it in a long time.

"Should I be worried?" You ask.

She looks you over, reaching your mud-caked boots and returning to the wide straw hat still on your head. You blush at the look she gives you because the Destroyer is armed and you are a lone farm girl with nothing in her hands but dirt.

"Then I should disarm you." You stand up straighter. "And reprimand my guards."

She doesn't say anything but you think she might be afraid and you wonder who she’s more afraid for. Clarke raises her hands behind her head and turns to face the wall. You pull the ridiculous hat from your head and the shawl from around your shoulders unsure if appearing as a half-dressed farm girl with naked arms and waist is any better than fully dressed worker. You decide it doesn't matter and drop the clothes on the table beside you. Clarke knows as well as anyone what you're capable of.

You stand behind her and bring up your hands to her wrists. She still wears her father’s watch. Her arms and shoulders are clear but running you hands down her back you find the gun tucked into her belt. Around her hips you find two knives and you focus on being thorough, moving your fingers in under her shirt and up her sides. Her muscles twitch under your hands but you keep searching and find a small, well concealed blade at her ribs. 

She turns around, her face impassive as you unsheathe her knife to examine the blade. It is sharp and polished and you pocket the knife instead of dropping it with the others on the table. Without meeting her eyes you continue to search down the outside of her legs. The belt of throwing knives from her thigh and another two knives from her boots join the rest. 

Clarke hasn't flinched once but as you move to the inside of her legs her posture goes rigid. She’s uncomfortable with your hands moving higher but with so many weapons already on the table you have to check. You’re impersonal in your movements and you don’t linger but you still feel the tremor in her muscles and the intake of breath as your hands drag up her thighs and back over her hips.

"Happy now?" she asks as you step back. There’s no humour in her eyes as she laughs. 

"Why are you here, Clarke?" You wrap up the knives and her gun in your shawl focusing on your task so you won’t need to look at her. Looking at her is like staring into the heart of a bonfire.

"I don’t know." Her voice is small enough to draw your attention. Something like life flickers in her eyes for the first time. Something like pain.

"Where have you been?" You feel the plea in your voice but can’t take it back.

Clarke looks away and back toward the window where the city is busy with life.

You have to ask. "Did you come here to kill me?"

The knife on Clarke’s ribs could have been missed, would be enough to slit your throat. Clarke doesn’t say anything and that’s answer enough.

"Stay," you tell her anyway, just shy of begging.

Clarke sees through you as she always has. The life in her eyes flickers then dims. "Okay." You want to tell her that she doesn’t have to stay but you don’t want to give her any reason to go.

//

You let her choose from the many empty rooms in your house and she picks the one opposite yours. She gazes around the space and moves to sit on the bed, dropping her pack to the floor. Since she didn’t close the door behind her you follow inside and lean on the bedpost looking out past the balcony instead of at her. You can feel her eyes on your back.

"If you need something, please let me know." You think she won’t ask for anything but she does.

"Food will be good. And a bath." You resist the urge to turn around and instead point out the window.

"Follow down that street and you’ll run right into the markets. They use currency there which I can give you, or there is a cashier if you have something of value on you."

"I have coin."

Of course. You had mistaken her for your Clarke from a year ago.

"There is running water through that door" You nod toward the joining bathroom. "You know how a faucet works?"

It might be safe to assume she does know, but you turn to check anyway. She is looking right at you. You can see she hates you and that cuts more deeply than any blade.

//

There’s a tavern you visit on warm night when you know you won’t be sleeping. The barmen charges you too much and you don’t mind because you prefer a little disrespect sometimes. You like that he doesn’t fear you, the same way you like that there’s still dirt under your fingernails when you accept the drink and hand over your money. 

You drink to forget and don’t slow down until edges get blurry. There’s a girl leaning into your side, one you’ve smiled at before and she’s sharing your drinks. She calls you commander and you remind her that she’s not a warrior. She laughs and you pretend to care that she finds you funny. You find humour in language and tricky phrases, and regret that Clarke won’t understand that about you. Your english is not that good and her Trigeda is awful. You laugh aloud in remembering her and the girl you’re with thinks you’re laughing with her, that you’re thinking about her.

You stumble home with the girl on your arm and Clarke in your thoughts. You whisper filthy things that you have no words for in English. You’re not gentle and she doesn’t mind, she pulls you through shadows to your home and you don’t wonder how she knows where it is. 

You guide her into your room and press her against the doorframe. She tries to kiss you again but you’re done with her lips, your attention on her neck, hands on her back and in her hair.

Before you can close the door you see Clarke standing in her own doorway across the hall and looking at you both. You don’t stop nibbling at the girl’s neck, you don’t stop slipping your hands under her top and grasping at her breasts. You stare at Clarke who stares right back and you whisper the dirtiest things you know in any language into the girl’s ear. She moans and you squeeze her and press your thigh up. When the girl tries to touch you, her fingers at the top of your pants you grab her hand and lean back to meet her eyes. No you shake your head and she smiles.

When you look back over her shoulder Clarke is gone.

//

You leave the girl asleep and slip into the hall. Clarke’s door is still closed with no light slipping under it. You’re still drunk but not enough to make you knock on her door so you leave. You stumble through alleys and darkness until you’re surrounded by trees, you look up at the stars and long to get closer but know a climb right now could kill you.

 

"You’re an idiot."

You spin around at the voice and then promptly fall over, your hand scraping over a rock as you tumble. Clarke shakes her head as she sits on a boulder a few meters away from you. 

"And why oh Star Child, am I an idiot?" Your words are slurred but clear enough.

Clarke’s eyes narrow at your name for her. "You’re fucking random girls so you don’t have to feel anything real." She snaps her mouth shut like that wasn’t what she’d meant to say. "You run off into the woods with no weapons and no guard, too drunk to know if someone is following you."

Funny. Clarke is funny. She’s also not wearing very much.

"Fucking is such a wonderful word," you say. "It’s one we lost, you know until you all fell down and started throwing it around. And you use it in such." You struggle to find the word. "Versatile ways. Fuck!" Your voice gets louder. "Fuck the fuckers. That’s still correct, yes?"

Clarke nods.

"And this way that you said it now. Fucking random girls." You mimic her emphasis. "You mean to hurt me by using this word. It’s more guttural and holds more power than the correct term." Clarke still says nothing and you’re caught in your musings now, more prone to talking while drunk. "How do you know that I fucked her?"

Clarke startles at the direct question then laughs her humourless – soulless laugh. "Do you always pick screamers?"

"Screamers?" you repeat.

Liking the taste of the word you concede her point. Rising on unsteady legs, you dust the dirt off your backside and approach her. She’s wearing as little as you are and you can see the cold affecting her.

"No I don’t. But I do understand your meaning. Now, tell me. Are you a screamer, Clarke?"

She swings her fist into your face so quick you have no chance to even turn away. The force knocks you on your back again and by the time you recover your breath she's gone.