Days had turned into weeks since Clarke had walked away from Camp Jaha, the sounds of her people’s voices replaced with the calls of birds as they flitted from tree to tree, the steady crunch of leaves beneath her feet like waves on the shore -- or at least, how she imagined the ocean to sound, never having actually experienced it except from miles above in the infinite silence of space. She pictured the water slowly wearing rocks into pebbles into sand and silt. She could feel it in her mouth like she’d swallowed a handful of dirt and no matter how many times she tried to rinse it out, she could still feel the squeaky crunch of grit -- the blood and bones of countless enemies and innocents -- between her teeth, coating her fingers, dried and crusted beneath her nails.
Her people or theirs. The Sky People or The Grounders or The Mountain Men. How many times would she have to make the call that could and would change everything? And every time she thought of The Commander, a little shock of electricity, followed by a sickening wave of guilt travelled through her body.
When she had confronted The Commander in her tent, backing her into a table while calling her a liar for saying she didn’t feel for those she had lost, Clarke thought she had been right. She knew she had been right in that moment, as she watched The Commander’s facade crumble, eyes wide and watery as she confessed to Clarke that she cared about her, watching as Lexa emerged, vulnerable and torn. And later, when Clarke had felt the soft, tentative press of Lexa’s lips against hers, growing more bold as Clarke surprised herself by kissing Lexa back, she felt hopeful that even though she had meant it when she had said “not yet,” she didn’t want that to mean forever.
It didn’t matter now. None of it mattered now. Clarke wondered if those she left behind at Camp Jaha even understood her leaving. They probably thought she needed to be alone to come to some sort of peace with her actions at Mount Weather. At the dropship. At any number of other crossroads she had faced since stepping foot on this prison.
But peace was not what she sought in the wilderness. Peace was what she would have found in staying. Slowly, with the help of her people, the ache and sickness in her chest would have melted among their support, their laughter, and their love for her. She didn’t want the self-loathing to fade and be pushed aside as more pleasant memories were formed. She needed to feel all of her rage and hatred and shame as it washed over her, constant as the ebb and flow of the tide every waking moment and as it crashed her from fitful sleep.
Worse was when consciousness came slowly, the dreams instead of nightmares swirling like mist as she felt the pressing warmth of Lexa’s body evaporating into the cold hard earth beneath her. She hated herself in different ways on those mornings. But despite the betrayal at the mountain and sickness she felt every time she thought of The Commander, Clarke knew Lexa had been right: love is weakness and she must inoculate herself against her own feelings if she was ever going to survive and lead in this new world.
Who we are and who we must be aren’t always aligned and so she had to stop caring. She needed to hollow out her insides of all wants and desires so that she could fill herself with the needs of her people and not ever have to dwell on what it meant to be her ever again. This was the lesson The Commander had taught her. As much as Clarke had felt like the betrayal was personal, her heart ripping as she watched braids and blood and warpaint retreat into the forest that night, she knew deep down that The Commander had left because she wasn’t swayed anymore by feelings. She was strong. Clarke was weak and she hated Lexa for being the leader she wasn't yet capable of being.
As Clarke moved through the woods, her feet and hands becoming more callused by the constant wearing of her boots and branches and rocks and steel against her skin, she felt the same slow layers hardening from within. She forced herself to think of the blood, spilling like a breaking dam at the flip of a switch. If she was going to survive herself, she would have to be able to look back at the death and destruction she left in her wake without remorse or shock. The shell she was creating would be impenetrable. Eventually.
Even as she caught and killed game for sustenance, she made herself look openly at the last spasms of life and viscera within, swallowing down the bile and revulsion, determined to form more layers around her soul.
The dead are gone.
The living are hungry.
And Clarke was fucking starving.