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In the Shallows

Chapter Text

 

‘Dry your smoke-stung eyes

So you can see the light.

You're staring at the sky

Watching stars collide’

 


 

Lexa will be the first to admit that this is not, in fact, how she expected her day to go.

Her cheek smashes into the metallic wall of the Mecha Station corridor and she grunts in pain. She tastes copper and knows her lip has split. Before she can even regain breath, her assailant is off of her, running away quickly.

To where? she thinks, pushing off the wall and giving chase through the space station. Her heavy guard boots pound against the metal, the sound echoing back to her and reverberating off the hard surfaces.

At the sound of running feet, people begin poking heads out of doorways to observe the commotion. Their eyes are wide with a mixture of first shock, then curiosity, and finally excitement as the two race past.

Lexa can’t say she blames them. The Ark does its best to remain excitement and drama-free most days. It’s a luxury they can’t afford and the penalties for disrupting the stable balance are harsh enough to keep most from rocking the boat. If a foot chase occurred right outside her door she’d probably be gaping too.

When they begin filtering out of their rooms at the commotion, necks craning to watch the criminal round a corner, however, she has to intervene.

“Make room!” she shouts, startling them into action. They listen, thankfully, pressing themselves to the walls hastily at her tone. If her voice alone hadn’t worked she’s sure the triangular emblem on her jacket would have. Some people might have a bad opinion of the guards, but they’re not foolish enough not to listen to one giving a direct order.

Sectors A, B, and C fly by under their feet. They blur together as the two of them skid around corners and through gateways, drawing more and more of an audience as they approach the center of the station where Mecha connects to the main junction. Her heart pounds adrenaline through her with each step and her eyes never lift off the back of his form.

He’s fast, she’ll give him that.

But she’s faster.

She skids around the corner, hand pushing off the wall to redirect her momentum. He glances over his shoulder and there’s fear in his eyes at her sudden proximity.

“Under the authority of the Guard and Ark Council I order you to cease and desist!” she shouts, the words breathless leaving her mouth.

Of course he doesn’t listen. They never do.

She releases a quick breath of frustration as they fly through Sectors D, E, and F. They’ll be at the main junction next and if he gets inside it’s going to be a mess and a half following him through the crowd.

She redoubles her efforts, pulling that extra needed boost of energy from somewhere.

Her fingers stretch out, first just trailing over the back of his jacket, but then, after two more steps, she manages to grasp a fistful of it. She pulls and they both go tumbling.

Her training kicks through her in a flow of movements. The hand grasping him holds tight as they collide harshly with the ground, fingers unrelenting where they grip the fabric. He quickly tries to scramble up but she’s already pulling again, twisting him beneath her, a knee pressing in his back as she wrenches his arms behind him.

He struggles at first, trying to toss her, but the sound of the handcuffs sliding home seems to sap any remaining hope of struggling free. His forehead drops to the floor in surrender.

“Michael Gladwell, under the authority of the Guard and the Ark Council you are under arrest for theft.” She hauls him up and is quickly joined by a few other guards that skid to a stop nearby, radio dispatch having alerted them to her location, she waves them off when they come forward to help.

They’re both breathing heavily as she leads him away. The onlookers stare on as they pass by, eyes grave. There are a few whispers here and there, but mostly they’re silent. They know he will find no leniency from those who decide his fate.

When she brings him to Prison Station she swallows hard as the charges are read over again. The law is clear. Regardless of severity, crimes committed by those over the age of eighteen are punishable by death.

Her fingers unconsciously clench tighter in their grip around his upper arm when they come forward to take him. Whatever her opinion on the law is, however, she has no power in that moment to challenge it. Those who dare to do so are not met with kindness.

After a moment of hesitation, her fingers release their hold and they lead him away. The Prison Station doors slide shut with a bang of finality. The image of fear and panic on his face before the doors cut him off from view stay with her for some time.

That night, when Lexa lays back on her small cot she rolls to face the small portal of a window cut into the wall. The earthlight shines up at her - bright and blue and glowing. Her eyes trail slowly over the curves and crevices of land she can spot through the cloud-cover.

After a while she closes her eyes and wills sleep to come.

 


 

“The Desert Clan ambassador?”

“Still remains in Polis, Commander.”

“Good.”

Steam curls and twists as it escapes the surface of the water, thin tendrils grasping towards the ceiling above her reclined body. Closing her eyes, Clarke slides down until her head slips beneath the surface. Water rushes into her ears as bubbles scatter up from the tangles in her hair to tickle her scalp.

She stays a moment longer than necessary, enjoying what she knows will be a rare moment of uninterrupted peace in her day. When her lungs eventually begin to protest, she resurfaces. Practiced hands quickly descend upon her again to begin rubbing oils and soaps that smell of lavender and honeysuckle into the tangles of her hair.

Leaning her head back, she wipes dripping water from her face, keeping her eyes closed. “And what of the Ice Nation ambassador?”

She can feel the hesitation that spreads across the room at the question. It’s a nearly tangible unease. The older women do a better job at smoothing over it, only a fraction of hesitation in their movements. The newer ones stop altogether, hands frozen holding onto the ornate pitchers of fresh water.

Clarke doesn’t open her eyes to address the silence, just waits for the answer she has already guessed. The most tenure of her maidens continues working, rinsing the suds clean from her hair. It is she who speaks.

“Gone, Commander. Before light even broke this morning.”

Clarke doesn’t respond, just sighs and opens her eyes. She traces the crevices between the tiles of her private bath, the grit smooth and even against the pads of her fingers. The bath is large, larger than she needs - a relic from people no longer around to enjoy its splendor.

She looks at her hands below the surface. Jagged scars mark her arms, gifts of both war and years preparing for it. She flexes her fingers and watches the thin fork of lightning across her knuckles stretch.

“Perhaps...they will return--”

“No,” she cuts off the words before they can continue, fingers stilling. “Their queen has made her decision.”

Without preamble, she grips the sides of the bath and stands. Each of her maidens scramble at her movement - one reaching for a robe that she holds out and open for Clarke, who slips her arms through.

Water dripping onto the floor, the Commander walks out of the room to prepare for her day.

‘If it is more battle she wants, then who am I to deny her.’

 


 

“Hey. Hey, Ark to guard dog.”

Lexa startles and looks up from her book to find Raven at her table. Without invitation, the girl sits down to straddle the bench on the opposite side.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t if you responded to me calling your name the first thousand times. Christ, what are you reading that’s got you so lost in space?”

Lexa lifts her book and Raven makes a face as soon as she reads the title. Tucking one of her knees up, she takes a large bite from the apple in her hand and says with a full mouth, “Why are you reading about ancient geography?”

Lexa shrugs and sets the book aside. “I like it. It can tell you a lot about history on the ground.”

Raven still makes a face, but then seems to not feel up to teasing. “Whatever, your free time.” Rubbing an unbitten spot of apple against the breast of her coveralls, she continues to munch in silence for a moment.

Lexa continues eating her soup and contemplates the girl sitting across from her. She’s not an idiot, she knows it’s not “cool” to sit with the guards, even if they’re off duty and practically your own age. There are a dozen other tables Raven could have chosen to sit at, but she chose Lexa’s. Raven picks at the stem of her apple and doesn’t look at her. Lexa just waits.

“So, funny story, you know that project I’m working on?” Raven starts abruptly, the timer on her patience and subtlety seemingly having expired. The mechanic is trying to hide three-too-many cups of coffee jitters and is drumming her fingers on the table as her eyes seek Lexa’s out. She’s excited, something has her riled up.

Lexa takes her times chewing the bite of potato in her spoonful of potato and cheese soup.

She swallows her bite. “Mhmmm.”

“Well, turns out - funny story really, that I don’t have access to the components locker that has the processor I need. Would you believe that?” She scoffs and flicks the apple stem she finally managed to work off somewhere.

“That is funny,” Lexa deadpans and spins her spoon through the remainders in her bowl.

“So I got to thinking, and I realized, you know who does have access? My good friend and local Ark guard, Lexa!”

“You don’t say.” Lexa finds a bit of what she thinks is leek in her soup and fishes it out.

“Yep. So, I was thinking, you know, if you’re not busy later, maybe we could take a stroll through Sector-H? In and out. Two minutes tops.”

“You know there are forms for that, right? Just see the department head and they can authorize access.”

Raven makes a motion with her head and hands that tells Lexa she’s already heard this today. “Yes, but. They won’t authorize it until Monday. And I’m already a week behind schedule. Whereas you, my badge-wearing, master-key-holding friend, could stroll in there at any time.”

Lexa chews some more. “Remind me again about this project of yours?”

Raven jumps on the fact that Lexa hasn’t outright said ‘no’ yet and turns from straddling the bench to sit fully at the table.

“It’s a rover. Well sort of. It’s not really going to go anywhere. It’s just a bot that’s going to collect samples from the ground and relay data back up here. Soil samples, air samples. And if I miss and hit the ocean instead, I guess water samples.”

From what Lexa remembers, Raven failed to mention most of this the last time she’d rambled about her project. Lexa distinctly just remembers something about launching an old non-operational satellite shuttle into the earth “to see if she could do it”. What she’s talking about now actually sounds...interesting. And practical. Which isn’t necessarily a characteristic she would attribute to the eccentric mechanic.

Lexa pushes her book farther aside and leans forward. “How far along are you in the project?”

“Pretty far. Hoping to be operational in a few weeks.” She rubs at the back of her neck. “It’s a bit of an off-books gig, so it’s been slow going and on my own time, and I’ve hit a few snags with the bot.” There’s a twist to her mouth that disappears as she perks up again suddenly. “The shuttle is good to go though! Set and ready as soon as I configure the non-rover to it. They won’t give me authority to launch it until there’s a legitimate reason to.” She then continues on with a string of technical sounding sentences that leave Lexa far behind as she describes some of the finer details.

There’s a wildness to Raven’s eyes that Lexa knows won’t be tempered by authority or rules. She’ll get her hands on that part tonight - with Lexa’s help or not. She thinks about where Raven’s next stop is likely to be, who the next person is that she’d approach and it’s unlikely to be someone with legal access and more likely to be someone that will just make their own.

She checks her watch and realizes she doesn’t have anything better to do. “Sector-H, you said?”

 


 

The paint is thick and black as charcoal as she rubs it between her fingers. With slow, practiced movements, Clarke traces it across the curves of her face, fingers dipping into the crevices beneath her brows before slipping under the swell of her eyes. From there they crawl over her cheekbones tracing out a pattern she’s followed countless times. Over and over she returns to the small clay pot until the pads of her fingers scrape the bottom.

When she’s finished, the markings lay stark against her skin, crying shadows cast over pale cheeks. The blue from her eyes is sharp in contrast - staring back from the cracked mirror that reflects her image at odd angles.

The top and crown of her head are left unbraided today. Instead pulled back in one piece in order to remain out of her eyes, leaving the rest to cascade around her shoulders. The few braids she does have originate from just below her left ear. They are tight and neat - meant to remain in tact for the duration of her journey.

Taking a moment to check her work once more, she releases a breath and turns away.

Her guards stand at attention when she thrusts open the doors to her quarters. Hands steady on their upright spears, they follow silently in her wake.

Her hall is abandoned - or rather, seems to empty before her as she makes her way through it. She passes by tapestries, emblazoned with the signs of the commander and the Capital, their intricacy and brightness drawing her eye every time. Between them, the windows cut into the stone reveal the city spilled out far below them.

Stone meets the pliant sole of her boots as she turns down hall after hall until she reaches the center of the tower. She opts for the stairs instead of the lift today and her guards follow dutifully without comment.

The farther she descends, the more people appear. The morning is already rife with activity.

There are many of them. Servants, guards, advisors, healers, and others, all clamoring and rushing places. So many people. Her people. People she is responsible for.

“Commander,” she is greeted over and over again. They bow their heads and rush out of her way, pressing themselves to the walls to make room. She nods at them but they don’t see with their eyes trained on the ground. Floor after floor of steps she spirals down, straps of her boots jangling.

She’s anxious this morning. Anxious to be moving. She can feel the energy trickling through her bones like water seeking cracks in a dam: demanding release. She steps faster but makes sure to school her face of any trace of it before she reaches the bottom.

The courtyard is full of busy movement when she strides out, people flowing every this way and that. A few of the nightbloods race by - off to lessons, she assumes, judging by the unhappy set of their mouths. They skitter to a stop upon seeing her, uttering a quick greeting and hasty bow before racing on again. She has no time for them today. Likely won’t for some time.

Her armoury is her destination, and her guards diligently post outside the door when she comes upon it. Her eyes lock on the person in the corner that has obviously been waiting for her for some time and she pauses in the doorway. The servants weave in and out of the space between. They’re forced to flow around her awkwardly until she makes the commitment to fully enter.

The room is large, bursting with row upon row of battle axes, swords, and other things meant for warfare, but still he manages to take up the entire corner he glowers in. Large and imposing, Gustus pushes off the wall and strides towards her, an angry pull to his face as he approaches. Besides her initial pause at seeing him, she doesn’t pay him any mind. She knows why he’s here.

She grabs for her shoulder guard from amongst the pile of armour assembled for her, clips it on with the assistance of one of her servants. The red-orange sash of her title flows over her front in a cascade of fabric.

Gustus’ arms are crossed and, though she doesn’t face him, she imagines his mouth is pulling down at the corners in the same way he used to look at her when she was a child.

“You should remain in Polis.”

The words are presented with as much respect as possible. There are only a few that could even speak them without fear of reprimand. To give an order to the Commander (even hidden under the guise of a suggestion), has not typically been well met.

She tightens the buckle across her shoulder. Turning to the servant at her elbow she says, “Bring my horse and ensure my group is ready to leave. Two of my archers should be among them.”

“Yes, Commander.” The servant bows and quickly slips away to do as she bids.

She pulls on her gloves next, fingers naked to the air, and accepts the sword that’s held out to her. It slides into its space at her waist with familiarity. She turns to Gustus. “The Ice Nation has made its decision. The time for attempts at negotiation has passed and my people can no longer sit and wait for diplomacy while their villages are burned to the ground. I cannot always command from behind the walls of Polis.”

His jaw clenches and he seems to chew on the next words out of his mouth before they’re spoken. “The ice queen wants your head on a pike,” he reminds her bluntly. “And she is willing to pay a high price to get it.”

She shrugs as she adjusts the set of her armour, settling it more firmly into place. He’s telling her nothing she doesn’t already know. “My presence is needed out there. If I lose the bordering clans to her, there will be war. My hold on them is weak at best and Nia can be...convincing.” Her mouth twists in distaste.

Another servant approaches with her quiver which she accepts and strings across her back with practiced ease. Her eyes take count of the blue and white feathered arrows resting in it as she does so. She accepts her bow next, fingers wrapping securely around the smooth and worn wood. Her thumb smooths over the carved mark of the commander stamped into its center as she tests the resistance of the string with one of her fingers. At her nod, the servant disappears once more.

“So what is your plan? To ride out with a handful of warriors and-- and do what exactly? This is hardly an army you’re leaving with!”

She turns to look at him, leveling her gaze. The tattoos across his cheeks seem to pull tight in his displeasure of the unfolding of circumstances. “Enough. I cannot sit here and wait. I need to remind those with tenuous alliances that they have a Commander already, and it is not the ice queen!”

There is a momentary lull in the noise in the room at the raising of her voice - that same sense of plunging a space into tension. It takes a breath before it passes movement resumes fully once again.

Gustus purses his lips as her words roll over him. He’s been fighting her more often than not lately. He’s worried about the bandits and the Ice Nation spies, and the warriors that don’t respect the borders. All of which seem to appear more and more often with each passing day. He’s also known her most of her life, helped train her as well, so after a moment of searching her eyes for chink in her resolve, he capitulates with an unhappy nod.

They exit the armory into the daylight. He has to crouch below the door to follow but doesn’t let her slip away.

“Ten warriors isn’t many,” he stubbornly observes with an unsatisfied grunt. His eyes trail dubiously over her company of grounders who are in the process of strapping on armour and loading bags onto the saddles of their horses.

A servant, no older than twelve years she would guess, stumbles up to her with her horse. Its black coat shines in the light of late morning as it tosses its head - as eager to be moving as she is it would seem. She settles it with a hand on its side.

She can feel the gaze of the boy holding him and redirects her attention to meet it. His brown eyes widen under her stare, more white than iris. Thin wrist wobbling, he offers the reins in a fist that’s clenched tight around the leather.

She attempts a smile to put him at ease, but when she reaches forward he drops the reins and backs away hastily. A short bow is all she receives before he’s slipped away again. She purses her lips, mulling over the moment before putting it aside and turning to address Gustus once more.

“No. Taking a battalion would spread rumours that I intend to march on the Ice Nation. A handful of warriors in my forest will hardly alarm anyone. Besides, I will be meeting Anya’s camp, and I can add to my party then if I choose.”

He ignores this later fact. “Will they not just think you foolish, traveling with so few to guard you?”

“Of course they will,” she scoffs, checking over her horse again and ensuring her packs are in place, already tired of the conversation. “Let them. If they choose not to remember the last time they underestimated me, it will be their undoing, not mine.”

He lingers as she tightens the strings on one of the packs and places her bow into its carefully constructed hold on the side. She can feel his unpleased and worried energy pressing in on her and it does nothing to stem the flow of anxiousness she already harbours. “Thank you, Gustus. You may leave.”

She hears him sigh, resigned but not surprised. “Yes, Commander. May your journey be safe. Travel well.” His footsteps retreat and she turns away from her horse to face her group.

Most are ready to move out, some already sitting in the saddles of their horses, awaiting her command. The rest stand in a group - quickly pulling on spare bits of leather armour and weapons. Her eyes immediately narrow in on one warrior in particular who is taking a moment to place a few more blue-feathered arrows into her quiver.

“Avery.”

The girl in question looks up, fingers stalling on their task. Her hair is loose at points, dirty blonde locks sticking up from where they’ve obviously been hastily braided back. When she sees who it is that addresses her, she abandons what she was doing and stands at attention.

“Yes, Commander?”

Under Clarke’s attention, she tucks a lock of hair behind one ear, a hint of a smile tugging at one corner of her lips. It doesn’t take long to shift to a different expression. The same coy look she’d brandished when the door to Clarke’s private quarters had been opened to her late the prior evening.

Clarke blinks back, impassive. “You will remain here and continue instructing the new group of archers.”

The smile falls from her face. Disbelief replaces it and her response comes forth in undignified sputters. “But -- I-- I simply assumed --” A raised eyebrow on behalf of Clarke is enough to stop the flow of words. Avery’s mouth snaps shut and, though her eyes show a litany of unspoken words, she nods once stiffly. “Yes. Of course, Commander.” She undoes the buckle of her quiver and begins removing her packs from her horse, lips stiff and pulled down in displeasure.

Turning away, Clarke’s eyes trail over the rest of her group, satisfied that most of them are set to head out. Nodding to herself, she places her foot in the stirrup and heaves herself up into the saddle in one fluid movement. Her horse stamps his feet restlessly as she settles, feeling her mood.

Out of the corner of her eye she sees Avery all but shove her pack off to another archer standing by. The replacement scrambles to attach his own belongings to the free horse, not wanting to keep the group and, more importantly, the commander, waiting.

When he’s heaved himself up, with far less grace than those around him, Clarke clicks her tongue. Her horse springs into motion underneath her at the command, pressing forward out of the courtyard gates. A thunder of hoofbeats follow behind her through the streets of Polis as her party sets out.

The people in the road part for her, flowing to the sides like a breaking wave.

Reverence, fear, awe. They all reflect back at her from their faces. She blocks it out.

The whispers however. Those manage to puncture through to her no matter how hard she tries not to hear them. They follow her through the streets and out of the gates of Polis. A single word, over and over:

“Wanheda.”

 


 

“B-13, B-14, B-15, a-ha! B-16! Got it!” Raven snags the chunk of metal off the shelf and holds it up to the ceiling like a prize-winning trophy.

Lexa yawns from where she leans against the doorway of the room and checks her watch. She wonders, not for the first time, why she agreed to do this. But Raven’s excitement is contagious, and Lexa finds herself oddly excited as well, even if she has no idea what the part does or how it works. No, she doesn’t really know why she agreed to help, but she shifts on her feet and wonders if it’s so bad if maybe she did it just for the company.

The room is one of the larger ones in the sector, probably the largest storage Lexa has seen yet. It’s row upon row of metal cabinets and shelves holding all sorts of contraptions and thingamabobs that glint in the overhead lights. Lexa probably couldn’t name more than a handful of them. Raven, on the other hand, seems very knowledgable about what lines the shelves and her eyes roam over the compartments hungrily.

“Nuh-uh, don’t even think about it,” Lexa warns, reading her mind. “You got your component, now let’s go.”

Raven smartly decides not to push her luck and nods, pocketing the mysterious device she came for and passing Lexa out of the room. Lexa initiates the locking mechanism with her keycard and the door slides shuts behind them.

“If I find out you blew something up with that thing, Reyes…”

“Okay, it’s not my fault if things blow up when I’m involved, that could happen to anyone.” Her hands are tossed up in the air with the words, a gesture of someone who has the finger of blame pointed in their direction more often than not.

Lexa sends her a brief look of disbelief as they walk, hands tucked into her off-duty jacket.

They walk in silence for a few beats, Raven’s mind likely already whirring away thinking about her part and her bot. Lexa thinking about nothing in particular.

The sector is busy for this hour. The two of them are forced to meander around those heading home, shoulders brushing passerbys in the narrow halls. Curfew isn’t far off and it seems to put a bit of speed in everyone’s step as they head home.

When they pass through Gateway 4 they encounter a familiar head of red hair. Christine, a cadet that was in initial training with Lexa, stops with a smile.

“Hey, Lexa! Are you off tonight?”

Lexa smiles back politely. “Yeah, I had my shift this afternoon.”

She expects Raven to say her goodbyes and keep walking, especially with curfew hovering, but she lingers instead.

“Cool cool,” Christine comments, nodding and rocking back on her heels with her hands digging into the pockets of her guard jacket. “Late shift is such a drag sometimes.”

Raven is looking between them now, eyes flicking back and forth and there’s an amused smile growing on her face. There are a few beats of silence which quickly swell with awkward tension that Raven does nothing to try and help her out of.

When it’s clear Lexa isn’t going to say anything else, Christine clears her throat and says, “Well, I guess I better get going.” She gestures over her shoulder with her thumb and gives a light laugh.

Lexa nods and Christine sends one last glance and a smile, slightly less bright now, between the two of them before heading on her way. When she rounds the corner, Raven pushes off from the wall she’d been leaning on with lips that twist in amusement.

“Redheads not your thing?”

Lexa purses her lips and continues walking, saying nothing.

“Ooooh, gotcha,” Raven says in understanding, skipping slightly to keep up with Lexa’s longer strides. “You’ve already been there, done that, and now you’ve got a stage five clinger, huh?”

“I’m not talking about this with you.”

Raven just grins.

Before long they get to the fork in the road where the Mecha Station residents go right and Lexa’s own accommodation, with the other guards, is to the left.

“Well thanks again for lending a hand, I owe you one.” Raven says. She’s rubbing at the back of her neck as if she is unaccustomed to having to ask for favours and even less accustomed to having to thank someone for them.

“I’ll come to collect someday,” Lexa tells her, but it’s with a smile. It wasn’t anything exciting, but she’s had more boring evenings than in Raven’s company.

Raven turns to head down the North wing but turns around only a few steps away, walking backwards. “You should swing by my workstation sometime, check out the non-rover. He’s not too pretty right now, but I’m sure you’d like him regardless.”

Lexa nods, surprised by the offer. “Yeah, okay, sure.”

Raven salutes her with two fingers and turns around again. “See you around, guard dog.”

Lexa watches her walk away and feels a sting of sadness for the mechanic suddenly. She wonders, not for the first time, if Raven submerges herself so deeply into her projects just to escape thinking about Finn.

He was caught in an unauthorized spacewalk and locked up in Prison Station - it was all anyone seemed to want to talk about for some time last year. He’d been younger, sparing him from being floated, but you don’t waste three months worth of oxygen supply and then just get to walk away.

Raven should hate Lexa, just for wearing the uniform. But she doesn’t. She wonders if it’s because she believes that Lexa can somehow find a way to help him. Believes she can change the system, make it something different. Something better.

It’s a staggering thought.

It’s late now, her watch telling her curfew is only a few minutes away, so she only passes the stragglers who don’t waste time on pleasantries as they quickly make their way home. The fluorescent lights, bright and intrusive, guide her as she passes by metal door after metal door with airbrush-stenciled lettering once she gets to the residence wing.

It’s times like this when she wonders what it must have been like to walk home in the old days. Before there were floatings and the Ark. Before the war and the bombs. When people just...lived.

She’s seen pictures of streetlamps and their soft light. Can imagine fallen leaves rustling in gutters. Raindrops pricking your face as the sun chases the horizon home. It all seems impossibly unreal to her.

Sighing, she finds her door in the hall and walks into her room. It’s not big: a bed, a small kitchen, a bathroom with a shower that she can’t move around much in. But it’s home and it’s hers.

Tossing her bag onto the small table she hangs up her jacket and lays down on the bed. Tired eyes meander over the scattering of maps pinned over each other so tightly they’re practically wallpaper. Her eyes walk down ancient roads and looking over the names of places that now belong to history.

When she sleeps she dreams of a better world.

 


 

Clarke does not set an easy pace. It is long, hard riding and by the time the sun has begun to lay itself tangent to the mountains in the distance, they have put a good amount of space between themselves and Polis.

Clarke pulls her horse up and feels the other riders do the same around her.

“We’ll stop here for tonight,” she tells them, nodding at the good tree cover and fairly even ground. “We’ll reach the camp by tomorrow afternoon.”

They immediately begin sliding off their mounts and building camp at her words. Their movements are efficient, smooth in the way that only repetition brings. Clarke slides off of her own horse and runs a hand down his neck, patting it gently. He huffs and blows air out of his nostrils at her until she rummages an apple out of her pack for him.

She hears footsteps behind her and knows it’s Lincoln before he speaks. She strings the reins loosely over her horse before turning to face him.

From the pack hanging from his shoulder he removes a roll of bound parchment. “The maps you requested.”

She takes them from him with a nod, fingers releasing the string to unfurl them. The parchment is soft between her fingers - years of use making it pliant. There’s just enough light left in the day that if she holds it up she can make out its faded markings.

Her eyes flit over the detailed markings of the forests, the solid, carefully plotted lines of the roads, and the large river that runs through it all. It cuts swathes through the details, bending and flowing down from the mountains in the northwest, splitting and branching before spilling out into a delta.

There has to be something. Something she’s missing.

Lincoln doesn’t ask what she’s looking for and she doesn’t tell him.

She’s not looking for long, however, before she hears cursing somewhere over her shoulder. It’s a particularly colorful string of words and she sees Lincoln’s eyes widen briefly where they look past her. She follows and turns to see one of her warriors, the boy that had replaced Avery, struggling to detach his quiver from where it has caught on the edge of his saddle.

Without turning away she slowly rolls up the parchment again, tucking it into her own bag. “Thank you, Lincoln. You may go.”

Folding her hands behind her back she walks over, pausing just a few steps away. The boy is one of her archers, the three dots of black paint at the edge of his eye marking him as such. He doesn’t look older than sixteen, and though that is not much younger than many of her warriors, there is still a feeling of youth that so obviously clings to him.

It takes him a moment to notice her there. When he does, he straightens abruptly and half the arrows fall from his fumbling grasp. Her eyes track them as they hit the ground, bouncing off at odd angles. He curses again, but it’s quieter and decidedly less creative than the first time.

“You are Avery’s replacement.” It isn’t a question, but she pauses to allow him to confirm anyways.

He can’t seem to decide whether to collect the fallen arrows or address her question first. He intelligently decides on the latter.

“Yes, Commander.”

“And your name?”

“Tahvo. From Broadleaf.”

She nods and sees his eyes nervously search hers, trying to decipher what her attention means.

“And how long have you been with the archers?”

“Four years.”

She nods but doesn’t reveal anything.

“Do you believe you are prepared to be here?”

“Yes, of course.” His words come readily, determined, eager, even. He stands a bit straighter without realizing.

Her eyes trail down to the pile of fallen arrows, his own follow sheepishly.

“Then I suggest you start proving it.”

 


 

Lexa’s breaths puff out as she pulls herself up, arm muscles quivering as she touches her chin to the bar over and over again.

It is just teetering on 6am and only a few other guards have chosen to join her in the equipment room. She sees Christine start up one of the ancient looking treadmills in the corner but doesn’t meet her eye. She releases a breath when the girl doesn’t come over to talk to her, telling herself that she’s not avoiding her, she’s just busy.

Her arms strain and tremble as she works to keep going, counting reps under her breath.

The guard requires a strict training regime. Fluctuations in the artificial gravitational pull on the Ark can do a number on muscle mass and Lexa is not about to let herself slack off. Twice more she touches the skin below her lips to the bar before releasing her grip and dropping to her feet, shaking the muscles out in her arms.

“Guardswoman, Woods.”

Wiping sweat from her brow she turns at the address. “Sergeant, Miller,” she greets her superior, getting control of her breathing.

He is fully uniformed already, one hand resting comfortably on the heavy belt around his waist. It’s early in the day yet, too early for the morning shift, and it takes her a moment to puzzle it out. Then she remembers: Remembrance Day. The holiday on the Ark meant to commemorate those that have fallen or made sacrifices for the good of the Ark. In the end, at least for those in charge of keeping order and discipline on the satellite station, it mostly means extra guard duty and an earlier start to the day for those in charge. For a moment she feels a thrill at the prospect that he might be here to tell her she is part of the group assigned to monitor the festivities.

He hold a clipboard in one hand and brings it up from where it had previously been resting against his hip. He scans the paperwork until he finds her name. “Sergeant Scott wants your assistance for one of the training measures with the newer recruits. And then you’ll be covering route 4 in Mecha Station this afternoon again.”

Disappointment floods through her. Some of it must show on her face because he sets the clipboard aside again. “You’re doing good work there. Yesterday’s arrest aside, I know it’s not the most exciting, but everyone has to start somewhere. Keep it up and I’ll personally put in word for you to be placed somewhere else. Maybe in Go-Sci. We could use a level head like yours there.”

She flounders for words for a moment, the compliments throwing her off guard. After a moment she manages a “Yes, sir.”

He nods and moves on, taking his clipboard to inform the others in the vicinity of their duties for the day.

A new skip in her step (she even manages a smile at Christine when she passes by), she heads to the locker room.

-~-~-

Lexa looks herself over in the full length mirror on the wall.

She straightens her jacket, fingers running over the triangular insignia and the single bar above it marking her rank. There are a few errant hairs escaping from her braid and she smooths them down.

Returning to her locker, she clips on her belt and follows it up with her baton, flashlight, radio, and everything else she is required to carry while on duty. The gun she always clips on last - a privilege given only to those who surpass Cadet level. Her fingers slide over it, ensuring the safety is on.

She wonders when the weight of it will feel familiar as the rest of her gear. Wonders if that’s something she actually wants.

Her day progresses quickly after that. She swings by the training facilities to assist Sergeant Scott. There she has the misfortune of being used as a test dummy for proper takedown and restraint to an audience of wide-eyed recruits. Her good mood is quickly doused as her back hits the training mat over and over. By the time she escapes, her wrists are chafing from being put in and taken out of handcuffs so many times.

The day when other cadets get promoted and relieve her of her position as the newest guard cannot come soon enough. She dreams about when the senior guards will finally find another person to pawn their unwanted tasks on.

Her break arrives swiftly after. (She supposes one advantage of being used as a training dummy means she isn’t constantly looking at her watch.)

Usually her break consists of wedging herself into a deserted corner or an unoccupied hall somewhere to get lost in her book. She knows there’s one stuffed into the bottom of the bag hanging over her shoulder. It’s old and dog eared, the pages yellowed and soft - a relic of a time when novels were still printed. Just as she’s starts digging through the contents of her bag for it, a different idea crosses her mind. Letting it fall to her side again, Lexa turns her feet in the direction of Mecha Station. Her watch tells her she’s got about twenty minutes before she needs to begin her rounds. Plenty of time.

“Knock, knock,” she says, knuckles rapping on the frame of the door to the mechanic’s workroom.

Raven pushes the mask up from her face, shutting off the flame she’d been using to solder two pieces of something together. Grime and grease appears in patches on her arms and all over the overalls that are rolled up around her waist. She pushes back from the worktable with a surprised smile.

“Hey, you came by! Not gonna lie, I didn’t think you would.”

Lexa nods but hesitates in the doorway, “Are you busy? Should I come back another time?”

“No, no, you’re good!” She says, setting the torch aside fully and working her gloves off of each hand.

Lexa steps farther into the room; there’s a lot of things going on but the large hunk of metal resting on the worktable does the best job at drawing her eye. There’s wires of all colours and widths pouring out of it in waves. Circuit boards and panels cover its sides in a manner that gives the impression that the person who put them there was more concerned with speed rather than aesthetics. If she’s being truthful, she wouldn’t be surprised if it spontaneously burst into flames.

She gestures at it. “Is this the…,” she trails off and Raven fills in the blank.

“Yep, this is my rover,” she says, smiling and placing a hand on it like a proud parent. “He’s looking a bit like a bunch of junk metal pieced together with duct tape, but by the time I get him running he’ll be the prettiest bot on the Ark.”

Lexa leans closer, eyes trailing over her work, impressed despite the chaos. Raven continues then by going over in detail what she’s already completed on it, pointing to everything in turn. She’s clearly excited at having someone to ramble to and Lexa does her best to be a captive audience.

“I’m working on his alpha particle spectrometer right now,” she says and Lexa nods like she knows what that means. “I’ve already finished the solar arrays and attached them to the equipment deck. Now it’s really a matter of making it all work together. That’s the tricky part.” She pauses. Worries her lip. “If it gets down there and falls apart, it’s done.”

Her fingers smooth over some of the wires hanging out. This project clearly means a lot to her. It’s been something for her to focus on. To get her mind off of things. Without it...

“It’ll get down there in one piece,” Lexa assures her with a nod.

Raven eyes her for a moment, trying to see if she’s just telling her what she wants to hear. Whatever she sees on her face must read as sincere though because Raven smiles. That worry is still there, pinching between her eyebrows, but Lexa can tell she appreciates the gesture of confidence. 

She stands up from her stool and rounds the table to place a few tools back on the hooks hanging from the wall across and to grab another. She doesn’t even read the labels stamped above them, her fingers just automatically finding what she needs.

“I’d be moving faster if Tesla Station wasn’t fucking with the power grid today and I didn’t have to keep rebooting my entire system,” she rolls her eyes as she crosses over to the computer on the wall, punching a button to engage the keyboard which slides out to meet her. She clicks away at it and things begin flowing over the screen. It looks like a mess of code that Lexa doesn’t spend much time trying to decipher over her shoulder.

Raven quickly seems to forget that she’s there, her eyes flicking over the flowing lines, obviously seeing something Lexa can’t. By the time she shakes herself out of it and turns, she finds Lexa fiddling curiously but cautiously with something that had looked like a radio when she’d picked it up from the table. As she holds it at closer inspection now, she’s not so sure.

“You wanna see the shuttle? Or is your punctuality meter already blaring at you to start heading back to work?” Raven teases.

Lexa glares at her and sets the piece back carefully. She’s itching to check her watch, but she ignores the impulse and says, “I’m sure I’ve got time.”

Raven grins and beckons her to follow as she steps away from the computer. They exit the workroom and Raven leads her around a few corners.

The wing is deserted - a combination of it being both the weekend and a holiday. Only those who have to be and those obsessed with their work are out and about, everyone else likely off enjoying the festivities.

They’re taught conservation from cradle to grave (in a manner of speaking. The idea of graves - spaces specifically made for the dead - was left behind on the earth), so holidays are the few opportunities a year when those on the Ark are allowed to consume more than their carefully rationed portion. Most take part for that reason as well as the more lenient curfew policies that occur.

“You didn’t want to go join the party?” Lexa asks out of curiosity as she follows.

Raven shrugs. “I might drop by later. But, to be honest, listening to Go-Sci give us a history lesson about how we persevered through a famine over fifty years ago doesn’t really get my motor running.” Raven slides her card in the reader outside one of the doors which slide open for her.

“You?”

Lexa shrugs as well. “I don’t get off work for a while, so i’d probably miss most of the speeches anyways.”

“Figures that that’s the part your nerd brain would be excited about.”

They step into a small room. The walls are white and metal, large numbers carefully stenciled onto one side informing her which bay she’s in. Besides the computer system - a twin of the one in the mechanic’s workroom - there is a double airlock at the end. The two layers seal off what she assumes is the shuttle beyond it, the inner door clearly meant to be closed when the shuttle releases to preserve the oxygen supply.

Raven heads straight for the computer, typing away and flipping switches in the wall that intermittently light up and flicker as she moves. She works in silence, but there is a finality to her movements as she hits three more keys before twisting and engaging a red lever on her right.

The first airlocked door makes a few clanking sounds in response - a locking mechanism disengaging, before a green light blinks and it releases fully. Through it, Lexa can see the second door doing the same. As they slowly press open, gears clinking as they swing on their large hinges, Raven throws an arm out with a “ta-da!”

Lexa adjusts the bag hanging across her torso and steps farther into the room curiously, peeking around the edge of the first door and into what lays beyond the second.

“It was originally a harvest shuttle. Short term trips out from the Ark to out-of-use satellites.” Raven leans against the open door as she talks, hands moving with her words.

Lexa’s eyes are wide with curiosity as she looks into the docked shuttle, eyes taking in everything from the controls to the large window in the front. The cosmos spin on through it and the Earth peeks out of one corner. Lexa has looked through her fair share of windows on the Ark, but she has to admit that this is probably the best view she’s had yet.

“See that section there?” Raven points to a large side that looks like it could slide open. “It’s a micro loading bay. They were supposed to take this thing out and collect materials from all the shit that’s just floating out there. In the end the trips just got too costly, so they shut the program down.”

“And now you get to play with the scraps,” Lexa observes. The interior of the shuttle has obviously been modified. Picked apart and put back together in a new way that only an engineer could imagine. Looking in front of the control deck shows that there likely used to be some sort of command chair that has been removed to make space for Raven’s bot.

“You can go in, you know,” Raven tells her, noticing how Lexa was hovering on the edge of the doors. Still, Lexa hesitates.

“This thing is fully automated now. Self-guiding,” Raven continues, looking on proudly.

“Impressive,” Lexa tells her, because it’s true.

Raven shrugs, but the slight upturning at the corner of her mouth tells Lexa that she is pleased with the compliment.

“It’s the configuration of the bot that’s gonna be the real tricky part. First I have to--,”

Whatever she planned on continuing that sentence with is cut off when the power abruptly shuts down. They’re plunged into darkness for a moment as the fluorescents are snuffed out. It takes a moment, but then the backup generator kicks in and the emergency lights blink on one by one, glowing a gentle blue.

“Son of a bitch! Again?!” Raven yells at the ceiling, pushing off from the wall. “If those idiots in Tesla don’t get the power back up in five I’m heading over there and dealing with it myself.”

Lexa’s not religious, but she sends a silent prayer for Tesla Station to any cosmic deity that might be listening.

“Actually, you know what? Float this. I’m going to divert our power. I can siphon off of medical’s solar generators until Tesla gets its shit together.” Her brow is creased in concentration as she begins clicking away at the computer on the wall again.

Lexa doesn't get worried until Raven slams the keyboard in frustration and pulls a wrench from the pocket of her pants. “I’m going to have to open up the wall.” Without a backwards glance she strides out of the room, the doors sliding shut just behind her.

Lexa is left among the blinking controls and the haze of the emergency lights.

 


 

The trees loom above them, casting cool shadows from the afternoon sun, a brief respite from its glare.

Summer is almost over and Clarke knows the colder seasons aren’t long in coming. Already she can feel cool winds chasing in at night to whisk away any heat the day may have brought. The leaves know it too and are beginning to glint gold as they twirl to the base of the forest floor.

Clarke and her group plod along, their mounts kicking up dirt along the path that brings them closer and closer to where her camp of warriors is located. It takes them hours to reach it, and by the time they encounter the first set of outlying scouts, Clarke has been itching to be out of the saddle for some time.

A horn announces her approach, a singular long note. This is followed by a flurry of movement from the grounders within the camp, who gaze on with deference and part to allow her horse through to the center. Clarke nods at those who address her and slips down from her horse when she reaches her destination. Her reins are handed off to a warrior that comes forward.

She makes a note to personally check on her horse later. It is one aspect of being Commander she dislikes to delegate, firmly believing a warrior should be in charge of their own mount.

The flap on the largest tent opens and a face she’d recognize anywhere steps out.

“I was starting to get worried that you’d lost your way. I was about to ride out and make sure you hadn’t accidentally walked over the side of a cliff.” Anya stands a few steps away, arms crossed as she considers Clarke.

“Can’t say you’d be the first one I’d ask to save me if I had,” Clarke retorts, eyebrow raised.

Anya scratches as the back of her head and gives a short laugh. “Can’t fault you there, I’d just leave you to climb your way back up.”

And then they’re grinning and Clarke realizes how much she’s missed her old instructor, prickly temperament and all.

Anya steps aside and gestures for Clarke to follow. “I’m assuming by your hasty departure from the capital that we have much to discuss.”

Clarke nods reluctantly and follows her into the tent, thoughts on the map in her bag and the ice nation warriors that trickle closer and closer to her borders.


 

 

Lexa spends a few minutes just awkwardly standing in the dark room waiting for Raven to come back.

The computer screen set into the wall faded dark a minute ago, along with the blinking switches set next to it, and Lexa took that to mean that Raven was successful in opening the wall. She figures, as a guard, it’s better that she doesn’t see whatever Raven is up to, so she patiently waits where she is, shifting from foot to foot.

When the lights still haven’t come on after a few minutes, she pulls her flashlight from her waist and clicks it on. There’s nothing more exciting within the room so she settles for just training it on the ground. It’s sharp, focused light doesn’t help much for overall illumination and she considers switching it off again.

The doors to the shuttle gape open where Raven left them. The interior beyond is dark - out of reach of the emergency lights. The only illumination comes from the stars and earthlight shining through the window.

Lexa fiddles with the button on the bottom of her flashlight. Her eyes glance back at the main door, checking to see if Raven is about to make an appearance again. No sign of her.

Her watch tells her that she’s still got a few minutes before she should head out. She wastes one of them debating the pros and cons.

She gazes into the shuttle again. Raven did tell her she could go in...

And when’s the next time she’ll get a view like that? Her fingers click the flashlight off and on again - a nervous habit. She steps forwards towards the dark.

Bringing her flashlight up, she carefully navigates through the raised doorway, taking care to step up and over the bottom. She does the same with the next until she’s in the shuttle.

She’s amazed at how small it is. Surprising, given that it was meant to bring resources back from satellites. Still, she can’t say she’s been in many shuttles to have much to compare it to.

She shines the beam of her flashlight over the interior briefly. There’s a seat folded into the wall, its straps and belts hanging listlessly over it, the metal clasps reflecting under her light. Next to it is an arrangement of containers. Lexa reads the stenciled words: Oxygen, Masks, Launch Entry Suits. She doubts these will remain once Raven gets her bot in here. No reason to add the extra weight.

Besides that, the walls are filled with buttons and screens - so many there’s hardly a lick of space that isn’t covered. They all sit dark and still as she shines her light on them.

Pointing her flashlight to the floor, Lexa steps forward towards what she came in for.

The front window of the shuttle bends outward, its curved frame allowing her a wide view of the Earth and the macrocosm that encases it. She’s quickly enthralled with the vastness that gapes back at her, her mouth dropping open without realization. There are storms swirling on the surface of the planet; she can see their curved shape spiraling over the oceans and along the coasts. Hurricanes - her mind provides the word from her earth studies classes. For a moment she’s glad there’s no one down there. Those storms would be something vicious to hunker down through.

She’s not sure how long she spends staring. The orbit of the Ark is geostationary, always giving her the same view of the world, but the sight looks almost new to her now.

In reluctance, Lexa checks her watch. She has about two minutes to be on the other side of the station. She’s never been late in her life and she’s not about to start now.

Just as she’s pulling away from the front control deck (she hadn’t even noticed that she’d been leaning on it) the lights shudder on. Three panels on the ceiling of the shuttle click on to fully illuminate the small space. Buttons and switches follow, fluttering and blinking to life with polychromatic activity.

She mentally congratulates Raven while also reminding herself not to ask exactly what she had done to successfully siphon energy off of another station - for both legal reasons and doubts that she’d be able to follow the explanation anyway. She clicks off her flashlight and returns it to the loop on her belt.

It’s the sound of the airlock closing behind her that gets her attention.

But it’s the shudder of the lock engaging that makes her stomach plummet into freefall.

With two strides she’s at the door, tugging uselessly at the large lever that doesn’t budge at her insistence. “Oh come on,” she grits out, muscles straining as she levels all her weight on it.

She peers through the tiny hole of a window on the door, hands cupped around her eyes as she seeks any movement on the other side. If this is Raven playing a trick on her, she’s never helping the mechanic again.

There’s no one there.

“Pressure disengagement in 10...9...8…,” a pleasant computerized voice informs her from a speaker in the ceiling.

What? She turns towards the main screen set into the control deck. Code, lots of it, scrolls and scrolls down. It’s flowing so fast her eyes can barely catch on a glimpse of a word before it’s gone.

The computer successfully completes its countdown and the sound of air being mechanically released reaches her ears at a high volume. She doesn’t know what it means but she assumes it’s probably not good.

She turns back to the door. Tries the lever again. Grunts with the effort. She might as well be trying to pull the whole Ark apart with all the headway she’s making.

She’s sweating now, her guard jacket feeling tight around the collar. She searches for an off button. A cancel button. Any sort of big, glaring button that will make the voice in the ceiling stop talking and will let her out.

The voice from the speaker comes again:

Fuel at sufficient levels. Engaging main propulsion engine.” A beat. A sound like a heavy weight dropping into a hollow space. “Engaging orbital system engine.” Again, the same sound.

Then there’s a roar. It starts low but grows louder and louder as the seconds pass. It sounds like the torch Raven had been using to solder her bot together only bigger. Much bigger.

She begins pounding on the door, fist quickly smarting against the unrelenting metal. Any noise she makes is lost beneath the rumble.

Lexa can strangely only think one thing as the computer so kindly informs her that she is sixty seconds to launch:

‘I’m going to be late for work.’

 


 

With her face scrubbed clean of dirt and paint, Clarke exits her tent, letting the flaps close behind her.

She waves a hand at the guard that stands at attention outside. She doesn’t need him to follow her here - not within her own camp.

She heads for the small lake beside the encampment, needing some distance from all the maps and reports and orders she had just spent hours rifling through with Anya and other advisors. By the time five minutes had passed she had wanted to rub the heels of her hands into her eyes. She feels the exhaustion of her journey pulling at each one of her joints.

Approaching the shore she goes only to the point where her boots begin pressing into the soft sand. Part of her aches to just keep going, to just let the water cascade over her head until she can block it all out. But she doesn’t, she stops and stands at its edge and just breathes.

‘In. Out,’ she thinks, pulling air into her lungs with slow, practiced movements.

The information gained from her meeting swirls in her mind. Anya’s finger, pointing to the locations where her scouts have informed her of ice nation troops. So many. Gathering on the fringes. Closer and closer.

There’s so much potential for war it makes her breathless.

Knowing that she is out of sight of her warriors, she sinks to the ground, sitting down at the lip of the water. Her fingers absentmindedly dig into the sand beside her.

She has seen a lot of war. Even more than is to be expected since her ascension to the throne as Commander. Seen it up close in all its rage and glory. Has made blood-soaked decisions in the midst of it that will carry with her like battle scars until the end of her days - permanent and unchangeable. She has no desire to put her people through it unnecessarily.

Her fingers search beneath the collar of her shirt and pull out the the small piece of metal that sits on a string around her neck. Her thumb smooths over the curve of it and she feels herself calm.

She doesn’t know how long she sits there, watching the surface of the water ripple and shine as the sunlight bounces off it, but eventually she hears footsteps approaching from behind.

“Thought I’d find you out here. You always go straight for some sort of water source when you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

“Helps me think,” she responds without turning around.

Anya comes and takes a seat beside her, plopping down to the ground with little decorum.

They’re quiet for some time. Clarke is staring into the space above the water as her mind rifles through information. Anya doesn’t disturb her.

The water laps at the edge of her boots but she doesn’t pull them back, too lost in thought.

Anya doesn’t stay long, just lingers long enough to let Clarke know that she doesn’t necessarily have to be alone in her decisions.

But she does.

She is Atlas and her people are the weight she holds between the crux of her shoulders. It is by her will and hers alone that they will descend into war.

Anya turns back once more before she leaves.

“We’ll all fight for you, you know.”

Clarke doesn’t look at her, brings the necklace to trace against her bottom lip.

“I know.”

 


 

It is at this point that Lexa begins hitting any and all buttons she can reach. Figures there really isn’t much to lose. The word “automated” rises unhelpfully to mind as the countdown begins and she looks helplessly at the code flowing across the main screen.

"59...58…57”

She snaps her baton out from her belt and connects it to the computer without hesitation.

“56...55...54…”

Whatever it’s made of is meant to handle rough treatment. With all her might she swings and swings again - she barely manages a scratch. Her fingers jump to the gun on her belt but the thought of puncturing a hole in the shuttle has her leaving it where it is.

She resumes her efforts of searching for a terminal button. Pressing anything and everything again. Her blood is pounding in her ears and nothing changes.

“53...52...51…”

“Come on!” she shouts at it. Panic grips her throat tightly, making the words come out strangled.

She returns to the door, tries the lever again and again. If she pulls any harder she’s sure the skin on her hand will split.

“50...49...48…”

Gasping, she pounds on the door. She’s yelling, can feel the words ripping from her throat. The engine noise swallows them whole.

“47...46...45…”

She continues to bang on the door, grasping onto the thinnest shred of hope with her eyes pressed to the window.

She sees the familiar figure of the mechanic strolling into the room, pocketing a wrench into her pants.

“Raven!” she yells frantically, over and over.

Bang. Bang. Bang , the bottom of her fist meets the door desperately.

“44...43...42…”

The mechanic has keyed onto the fact that something is wrong now, her gaze snapping this way and that.

She doesn’t notice Lexa for another moment and Lexa doesn’t think she’s ever seen blood drain from someone’s face so quickly when she does.

She can’t imagine her own face looks much different.

“41...40...39…”

She can’t hear what she says but she can see her name in the way Raven’s lips move.

Back to the computer, the mechanic races. Lexa waits with a mouth that’s gone bone-dry, her face pressed against the small window.

“38...37...36…”

Her heart is beating hard against her ribcage and she’s half afraid she’s going to have a heart attack before the countdown even finishes.

“35...34...33…”

The seconds tick tick tick away.

“32...31...30…”

Lexa doesn’t breathe through any of them.

“29...28...27…”

Raven races back into view and Lexa’s eyes latch onto her. It doesn’t take much to read the expression on her face and what it means.

“26...25...24…”

She stumbles back a step from the door.

Disbelief first. She’s shaking her head. Because no, this is not happening.

“23...22...21…”

Panic descends swiftly on the back of realization that this is, in fact, very much happening.

Raven has returned to the computer. But the expression on her face had been enough to communicate everything. It is a last ditch effort now.

When she returns again her expression is one of horror and helplessness. She’s failed. There’s not enough time.

“20...19...18…”

Lexa swallows. Her breathing is shallow now, her sight going blurry at the edges as she grinds her hands into her temples. For a moment she thinks she’s going to pass out.

She comes back to herself to see Raven clearly mouthing something desperately to her over and over again.

“17...16...15…”

Her eyes frantically watch again and again until she gets it: Suit! She has to get into the suit!

She’s moving without thinking now, disaster training snapping her into action. Though she has no training for this particular disaster. She pulls out the space suit, practically jumping into it. Her fingers are shaking as she slides her arms in quickly. Even shakier as she tries to pull the helmet over her head.

“14...13...12…”

She hears it click into place and races back to the window. Raven’s head is bowed, but snaps up when she returns.

“11...10...09…”

She’s making a motion of buckling in and Lexa nods quickly in understanding. Raven puts her hand on the window and her expression is broken. She doesn’t need to repeat the words she says now. Lexa understands them easily:

“I’m sorry.”

Lexa gives her a shaky smile in response, but there’s probably too much panic in her eyes to be convincing.

“08..07…06...”

She can’t wait any longer.

Pulling the seat out she sits and snaps the buckles across her chest, tugging on them to make sure they’re fastened. They’re her best hope.

Her breath is coming in shuddering gasps, she can hear it within the hollow space of her helmet. She tries to pull air into her lungs in a steadier manner and can’t.

“05...04…03...”

She’s shaking.

As a guard, Lexa has been put through all sorts of situational training. It was meant to expose her fears so that they could be addressed and dealt with. She did well. She held no fear of heights or confined spaces. She jumped into confrontations without hesitation.

That seemingly lack of fear is what had propelled her career among the guard. In the wake of a perfect takedown, she felt like nothing could touch her. That she held no fears.

“02…01...”

She was wrong.

Fear like she has never felt before grips her now.

“...00…

...

Initiating launch.”

 

She closes her eyes.

 


 

It’s that time of day when sun has passed its zenith and begins its descent towards the horizon. Clarke has to get back to her tent soon. There are more reports to read and messengers to confer with. Still, she takes another moment.

The sky is a miraculous blue. Deep and yawning with no cloud cover to obstruct or alter its shade.

Or maybe not...

She squints as something catches her eye.

It’s a streak of movement - a pinprick of white that her eyes pass over before snapping back to. It grows larger and her eyes widen.

She stands.

It starts small but quickly grows larger as she watches. A white swathe of cloud that cuts down to the horizon. And now she can hear it. A rumbling, roaring sound.

She’s thrown back into memories of the mountain. Of their weapons that reigned fire from the sky. The force of their explosions upon impact.

But that’s impossible. The mountain is gone.

She had ensured it.

The roaring gets louder and louder and she watches gobsmacked as the object descends. Closer and closer until…

The ground shakes beneath the soles of her feet when it collides. The water before her ripples violently.

She can see the plume of dust and smoke that thunders upward from the site of impact. Hears a resounding boom that she can feel in her sternum.

She holds her breath, waiting for an explosion, a familiar wave of fire that she’d come to expect when such things appear. Her hand automatically comes to rest on the hilt of her sword - a natural reaction in the face of threat. She tenses, waiting.

It doesn’t come.

Hurried footsteps behind her - Anya returning. She can hear shouts from her camp.

“What was that?” Anya’s breathless. Likely thinking the same thing - the mountain has somehow returned.

Clarke doesn’t tear her eyes away from the tower of smoke that unfurls into the sky, shaking her head. Because she has no idea.

Her fingers grip the handle of her weapon tightly. “Let’s go find out.”