Charles was drunk when they found him.
He was never not drunk, in those first few weeks after the City of Light, but he was more than usually drunk today. Kane had quietly demoted him, then finally relieved him from guard duty – it wasn’t safe to combine that much liquor with a regulation firearm – but he’d hardly seemed to care. Had seemed, in fact, barely to notice.
He liked to wander off, without ever telling anyone where he was going, disappearing from Polis for long stretches at a time – hours, sometimes even days. After the end of the third week, a frustrated Kane gave up sending out guards to look for him. They didn’t have enough spare hands. He and Clarke were busy with Roan and the ambassadors most days, leaving Bellamy and the Millers to lead the guards, and Abby had established a tentative truce with a group of Grounder healers to run a makeshift hospital out of the low-slung, ramshackle building Skaikru had been hastily assigned as their embassy. So after the fifth walkabout, Kane gave up.
“He’ll come back when he wants to,” he snapped, a little more forcefully than he meant, to a concerned Bellamy. “Or he won’t. Either way, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Truce only holds inside the city limits,” Bellamy pointed out, arms folded, jaw set. “Ice Nation knows Pike. He’s not safe out there alone. Roan can’t protect him.”
“I know that, Bellamy.”
“We have to do something.”
“I don’t know, but something ,” the boy retorted hotly, and Kane rubbed his temples with a weary sigh.
“I’m doing the best I can,” he said heavily, looking up from his desk and meeting Bellamy’s eyes for the first time. “Any better ideas you come up with, I would gladly consider.”
“He needs a job.”
“I’m not putting him back on the guards, Bellamy. Not until he’s himself again.”
“Scouting, then,” he suggested. “He taught Earth Skills. He kept Farm Station alive on the run. They hunted Ice Nation through those woods for three months. We could take him with us.”
“It’s a five-day trip, Bellamy,” said Kane. “Five days’ worth of travel rations.”
“Worth it, if we get the real Charles Pike back.”
“He’s a safety hazard. He could get drunk and wander off at night and walk off a cliff.”
“Bellamy – “
“How can you stand it?” the boy demanded, something hot and sharp like panic threaded through his voice, and Kane looked up at him, startled. “Seeing him like this. He’s a wreck. Hasn’t been himself since the battle ended.”
“A lot's happened,” Bellamy pressed on, “I’m not saying forgive him – I’m not sure if I could, if I were you – but you used to be friends. Back on the Ark. Weren’t you?”
Kane was silent for a long time.
“You used to be close,” Bellamy repeated. “You used to care about him.”
“Yes,” Kane finally said, his voice soft and sad and heavy, and he suddenly could not look at Bellamy anymore. “Yes, I did. Very much.”
“Then help me fix this,” Bellamy pleaded. “We gotta give him something to do.”
Kane stood up and came around the desk, leaning back against it and looking Bellamy directly in the eyes. “This is a diplomatic mission,” he said to Bellamy sternly. “You’re coming with me as the head of the Chancellor’s guard. This is serious, Bellamy. I can’t carry Charles Pike on my back if he gets too drunk to walk. I can’t slow down for him. I can’t slap a gag over his mouth if he decides to start slurring insults at King Roan’s council.”
“Take the liquor off him before we leave,” Bellamy suggested. “Five-day walk to the rendezvous site. Let him dry out. It’ll be good for him.”
“Have you ever actually seen a drunk dry out?” Kane asked him, eyebrow raised. “It’s not a pleasant thing. He’ll be sick. Miserable.”
“Then bring Abby.”
“Bellamy – “
“Bring Abby,” he said again, a little too quickly, words tumbling out before he could stop himself, “because you want to anyway.”
Kane paused, looking up at him. Bellamy looked back.
It wasn’t a secret, exactly, that he and Abby had been assigned two bedrooms but only used one of them, or that they were quietly negotiating the terms of what they now might be to each other and what that meant about the ring on Abby’s hand. They hadn’t spoken of it to anyone else, but they weren’t hiding it either. It was not a surprise, not really, that Bellamy had figured it out.
What was a surprise, to Kane, was how suddenly uncomfortable he felt discussing Abby with Bellamy . . . and how uncomfortable Bellamy appeared discussing her with Kane.
But still he pressed on, rather desperately, as though it was important to him for reasons he couldn’t explain. “Bring Abby,” he said. “If she’ll come. If we get to the border and Pike’s in no shape to be seen by the king, Abby can tie him to a damn tree and keep watch while we go meet with Roan.”
“None of this is your fault, Bellamy,” Kane said to him in a quiet voice, and he saw the boy’s shoulders slump a little with weary dejection. “I don’t know why he snapped like this, but you didn’t do it.”
“She’s my sister,” Bellamy muttered. “She’s my sister and she almost killed him because I wasn’t in time to save – “
“Stop it,” said Kane, something like panic surging through him, and his tone shut Bellamy down with no argument. They had not spoken of that terrible few days, not once. Kane spent a great deal of time trying not to think about it, and suspected Bellamy did too (though neither were successful). The rebellion, Kane’s imprisonment, how close Kane had come to execution, the death of Lincoln (and, later, Sinclair - saved from Arkadia only to die in Arkadia, adding Raven to the list of people Bellamy felt he'd failed to protect), Octavia’s unspeakable fury and the way Kane, hating himself for it, had stood back and let her channel her grief through her fists, watching with nausea in his stomach as she beat Bellamy bloody on the floor of the cave.
Marcus Kane had lived a complicated life, and the man he used to be had done many things he was not proud of; but even so, despite the stiff competition, he believed it was possible that that moment, there in the cave – standing back to let Bellamy be hurt – might be the worst thing he had ever done.
The Marcus Kane of the Ark would have permitted it without blinking. It would have looked, to that man, like justice.
But the Marcus Kane who fell to earth and learned a new language and lived among green things and built a family had promised himself he would be a new man here, in this place, a man who could be just without cruelty, a man who could be fair but kind. That man should have stepped in, immediate and decisive, sparing Bellamy the pain of receiving those wounds, Octavia the pain of inflicting them, and the others the pain of witnessing it. He should have stopped it, but he didn’t, and he still did not know why. Perhaps he never would. But because it was an act for which he could not possibly expect forgiveness, from either Bellamy or himself, it made it easier for the two of them to get through the day if they spoke about those times as little as possible.
(Other things about which they did not speak: Kane’s hands around Bellamy’s throat on the floor of the Polis throne room, and the plum-colored bruises they left there. The way Bellamy’s hand had reached out across the cold tiled floor, fumbling desperately for the gun he had dropped, less afraid of his own death than that he might actually have to pull that trigger.)
In the end, if Kane were to be entirely honest with himself, that was the reason he finally relented. Not to appease Bellamy, not to give Charles Pike something productive to do and force him to sober up under medical supervision; but because if Abby and Pike were there, then he would not be spending five days alone in the woods with Bellamy Blake, hiding from all the words that hung unspoken between them.
“We leave at dawn,” he said finally. “Go pack him a satchel. And if this goes wrong, it’s on you.”
Pike was sitting alone on a rock outcropping, a leather-covered bottle of fayawoda in his hand, when the three of them came upon him.
“We havin’ a party?” he slurred up at them happily, and Kane was suddenly, irrationally furious with him.
“Get up, Charles,” he said shortly. “You’re coming with us.”
“The hell for?”
“King Roan has gone back to Azgeda to meet with his council. I’m due there in five days to meet with them, explain the praimfaya threat and the relocation plan. You’re coming with us.”
“Nah, man, I’m good here,” he said, taking a long swig and looking out over the low rolling hill toward the horizon. “Gonna take a walk later. Then gonna drink the rest of this bottle. Busy day. Packed schedule. Maybe another time.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” snapped an irritable Abby, snatching the bottle out of his hands and hurling it, with all her strength, over the ridge of the hill. “There. I’ve cleared your schedule. Now get up, Charles, or so help me God I will push you over next.”
Pike looked at Abby. Abby looked back at him.
“All right,” he conceded agreeably. “Lead the way, Doc.” And he swayed unsteadily to his feet, grabbed the satchel at his feet and the one Bellamy handed him, and lurched off down the hill.
“Other way,” called Bellamy, avoiding Kane’s exceedingly dubious gaze and trying to ignore the faint sigh he heard behind him.
“Tell me again where we’re going?”
“Ice Nation,” Abby reminded him dryly. “I believe you’re familiar with it.”
“Little bit, yeah.”
“Good,” she told him, shooting a repressive, silencing glance at both the others. “Then you’re in charge.”
“You ain’t got a map?”
“Why would we need one?” Abby replied calmly. “We have an Earth Skills teacher who lived in Ice Nation territory for three months.”
“’S a big damn territory, Abby.”
“We’re looking for a cave that belongs to King Roan,” Kane said. “He uses it as a kind of hunting lodge in the winters. It’s our halfway point, a little over two days’ walk from here. Half a day’s walk past the Sector Eight border, just on the other side of the snow line. Three waterfalls side by side. The cave entrance is on the west side of the rock face.”
“Yeah,” said Pike, brow furrowed. “Think I know the place.”
“Good,” said Kane. “Then take us there.”
“Gonna be kind of a thirsty walk.”
“You’re an asshole when I’m drunk, Marcus Kane.”
“We’re wasting daylight,” Bellamy interjected quickly, before Kane could say any of the things he was clearly thinking. “Pike, can you get us there?”
“Yeah, son. I can get us there.”
“Then let’s go,” said Bellamy. “And just like . . . try not to kill each other.”
“I’m not the one with the problem,” said Pike a little defensively, making his way down the hill (the correct direction this time) as the other three followed.
“You don’t think drinking a bottle of fayawoda a day counts as a problem?”
“Well, I have to,” Pike pointed out reasonably. “Ran outta Jasper’s moonshine after the first week. What’s a man supposed to do?”
“What the rest of us have been doing,” Kane shot back at him tightly. “Trying our damndest to keep our people alive.”
Pike shrugged casually. “I was a shitty-ass Chancellor, you can say it,” he tossed over his shoulder. “Don’t think I don’t know that’s what you’re thinking. So you win, man. I ain’t gonna fight you on it. Pin’s yours. I’m just staying outta your way.”
“Pike, that’s not what he meant,” said Bellamy a little helplessly, but Abby silenced him with a quiet shake of her head.
“New rule,” she said firmly. “None of the three of you are allowed to speak until we break for lunch, except in case of emergency. I’m tagging along in the hopes of returning with one fewer patients, instead of three more, and I will not be held responsible if you all start swinging fists at each other.”
Pike stopped in his tracks. “’One fewer patients?’” he repeated, something sharp and keen in his voice, and for a split-second Kane and Bellamy felt a surge of relief in their chests because he sounded alive, momentarily himself again.
Abby realized what she’d done, but it was too late to backtrack, so she didn’t bother. “If you’re asking, am I only along for the ride as your minder,” she told him frankly, “yes, I am. You’re drinking yourself into an early grave and we can’t spare our only Earth Skills teacher. So this is an intervention.”
“I don’t need a minder.”
“Prove it,” she retorted. “I know you’ve got a second bottle in that satchel you think we don’t know about. Make it to the end of the first day without taking a drink, I’ll turn back on my own. Lord knows Jackson would be happier not to have to run the hospital himself for five days. Prove you can handle this trip on your own, and I’ll leave you to it.”
He considered for a moment, then nodded his agreement, reaching into his satchel for the bottle. She shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “This is a test of willpower. You keep it. Within your reach at any moment, or the challenge is pointless.”
“Fine,” said Pike.
“Fine,” said Abby. “Now, walk.”
The first day was awful.
Unsure of their ability to keep their tempers, Kane and Pike largely resorted to silence for hours on end. Abby could sometimes get a few words out of them, Bellamy more rarely. The two of them spoke mostly to each other. They weren’t much accustomed to being alone together – which it felt, despite the presence of the two other men, that they were; but they were both desperate enough to push through the awkwardness that they made a greater effort than usual to keep up an intermittent thread of small talk. Nothing heavy, mostly; stories about the Ark, sometimes, about Clarke and Octavia as children. Eventually they stumbled upon the fact that Abby was almost entirely ignorant of Greek or Roman history and mythology, outside of what she’d learned in medical school. So she told Bellamy about Hippocrates and Galen, and he told her about Artemis and Persephone, and that got them from lunch to dinner, and after that everyone more or less mutually agreed to pull out their thin little bedrolls and go immediately to sleep.
Pike had managed to go all of one day without pulling the bottle back out of his pack again, something the others had not failed to note, but which nobody felt comfortable remarking upon out loud. He was sweating a little, and short-tempered, but he soldiered on without complaining, and his sense of direction was as keen as they’d hoped. Bellamy did, of course, have a map with him, and consulted it discreetly at every stop, ready to correct Pike if he had to. But he never did.
They made good time, passing the Sector Eight border and hiking up the hills to cross the snow line midway into the second day. They were an hour or two away from the waterfalls when Pike stopped abruptly in the middle of the trail, sniffing into the air.
“What on earth are you doing?” Kane sighed, exasperated.
“Snow,” said Pike, without looking at him, pacing up and down with his eyes trained upward, squinting, examining the clouds.
“Yes,” said Kane. “It’s everywhere. We can see it.”
Pike shook his head. “Nuh-uh,” he said decisively, kicking the soft little roadside snowdrift with the toe of his boot. “This is nothing. I’m talking big snow.”
“What do you mean?”
“Wind’s picking up,” said Pike. “Been getting colder all day. We’re up high enough that the ground’s frozen. Means any new snow will stick. And there’s a hell of a lot of snow comin’ for us in those clouds,” he told them, pointing upwards towards the wall of white they could see making its slow, leisurely way towards them. “North wind, high humidity, freezing temperatures on the ground,” he said, ticking them off on his fingers. “Blizzard conditions. Plus, I can smell it.” Kane raised his eyebrows, grudgingly impressed, and Pike grinned at him. “Earth Skills, motherfucker,” he said cheerfully. “You always did suck at it. Any of you got emergency winter gear in those packs of yours?”
“No,” Bellamy admitted.
“Got a way to make contact with Roan?”
“We don’t have a way to contact Azgeda directly,” said Abby, “but Polis does. I can radio Jackson, and he can get a message to Clarke. She insisted Roan take a radio back with him.”
“Then let’s get to cover, and call it in,” Pike advised. “No way in hell we’ll make it up to Azcapa on foot in the middle of a snowstorm. And we’ve got maybe ninety minutes before those clouds open up and we’re solidly fucked.”
“Is that one of your special Earth Skills technical terms?” Abby quipped, and Pike looked back at her with something like a real smile.
“Technical term’s ‘fucked sideways in the ass,’ Doc,” he said, a hint of mischief in his voice, testing to see if she was shocked by his language, and seeming pleased when she visibly wasn’t. “Let’s get walking.”
They found the waterfalls with no trouble, and just in time, as the white wall of clouds cleared the peaks of the mountains just north of them, close enough that they could see the curtain of white begin to pour down on the tree-lined slopes above. And they found the entrance, a covered overhang of solid stone that led to a cramped tunnel chiseled into the rock, arranged in clever twists and turns that kept the cold wind from whistling into the central chamber.
All four of them stopped short as the tunnel abruptly gave way to a cavernous open space, and they stared around them, eyes wide.
Whatever they might have anticipated from the description Roan had given (“a cave with a stash of supplies”, had been his words), this was certainly not it. Abby had reflected that she would feel lucky to find a spare jacket in some corner to use as a makeshift pillow, and maybe – if her luck held – a warmer blanket.
She had not expected . . . well, this.
“Good God,” Kane murmured. “It’s like a whole house inside here.”
And indeed it was.
A massive, beaten-copper fire pit ringed with flat, comfortable stones sat in the center of the room, heavy dry logs already heaped inside it at the ready. (Ever practical, Kane made his way here first to light it and take the chill off the room.) On the far wall stood a haphazard assortment of cupboards, trunks and chests, which later examination proved to be full of linens, clothes, furs, bottles of water, and provisions. This was a favored hunting lodge of Roan’s, so there was also a cache of weapons, though they left those where they were; but they benefited from the spoils of them, opening a stash of sealed barrels to find everything from savory cured meats to dry fruits to a jug of spiced mead Abby refused to let Pike anywhere near. On one side of the firepit was a kind of living room, with a low wooden table and heaps of cushions; on the other side was an absolutely massive bed, wide enough for ten people, its headboard upholstered in animal hides and a truly kingly heap of furs and pillows.
“You three can go on to Azgeda without me,” Pike announced, grinning, words muffled by the strip of dried beef he was absently chomping on. “I think I’ll just move in here.”
Abby, already immersed in the process of raiding the storeroom for supplies for the night, looked up to see Bellamy still hesitating in the doorway, shivering – though not, she thought, from cold.
She set down the blankets in her hand and made her way over to him. “You okay?” she murmured under her breath.
He swallowed hard and shook it off. “Bad memories,” he said tightly, staring down at the rocky floor of as though looking around took too much effort. “I don’t like caves much.”
Pike overheard and cast a glance over his shoulder. “That where it was?” he asked Bellamy. “A cave? Never did come close to finding it.”
“Where what was?” asked Abby.
“Where they went,” said Pike tightly. “After.” His voice trailed off.
“After you tried to kill me,” said Kane, ratcheting up the tension by saying out loud the thing they were all so palpably stumbling around. He did not look up from the fire. “After Lincoln died.”
Pike looked around him suddenly with new eyes, as though he were seeing that other cave too, the way Bellamy was. He looked back over at the boy. “You were knocked around pretty good next time I saw you after that.”
“Octavia,” said Bellamy quietly, as though the word was being dragged out of him.
Pike looked away. “Nothing I can say to make any of it right, now,” he muttered, looking around him with a distant expression as though he was seeing that other cave too. “Can’t argue that I didn’t deserve that sword through the belly.”
“Is that all the thanks I get for my hard work?” Abby asked, arching an eyebrow. “Jackson and I were up to our elbows in blood trying to stitch that barrel of a chest of yours back together.”
“Not sure you should’ve wasted your time,” Pike said bitterly, and even Kane looked up at that. “Everything that happened was my fault. Not just Lincoln. All of it. If Octavia had gotten her way and killed me? Can’t say it wouldn’t’ve been justice.”
“I don’t think it does any of us any good to dwell on that,” Abby said gently, but he didn’t listen. She watched helplessly as he made his way over to the pack he’d dropped by the entrance, pulled out the bottle he’d successfully resisted for two days, and downed nearly a quarter of it in one long swig.
No one said anything.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and shot Abby an apologetic look.
“Sorry Doc,” he shrugged. “You tried.”
Then he kicked off his boots, settled himself on the massive bed, leaning against the headboard, and took to the serious business of drinking, ignoring everyone else in the room.
They let him sit there, not quite sure what else to do with him, and each of the three busied themselves with whatever tasks they could find that would take them as far away from each other as possible. Kane tended to the fire with a great deal more thoroughness than it technically appeared to require, blazing merrily into life within minutes. Some peculiar arrangement of the cave’s ceiling, funneling air back and forth, pulled the smoke up high into a kind of natural chimney, leaving them with only crackling embers and warmth and light and the calming, hypnotic scent of good wood burning.
Bellamy tasked himself with stocking up their travel packs – even though, as he informed them after making his way back out the tunnel to the entrance, Pike had been right about the blizzard and they certainly wouldn’t be able to depart at dawn as planned; the whole world was a solid cloud of windy white. But it gave him something to do that took him away from Kane, something that had begun, from the first mention of that other cave, to feel like a necessity.
Abby, despite being by far the most grudging cook of the four, took the task of preparing dinner. She would much have preferred relegating the task to Pike, but he was halfway through his bottle, eyes unfocused, staring up at the ceiling, too drunk to be useful even if she’d wanted to ask him. Which, at the moment, she didn’t. So she did the best she could, filling a dented iron pot with water and what looked like a kind of spiced porridge, setting it to cook over the fire, then filling a bowl with chunks of the savory preserved meat – dark and gamey and rich; boar, she thought, or maybe deer – and another with dried fruits, nuts, and big herb-flecked shards of a large, crisp flatbread. There was pure, clean water, so sweet it might once have been snow, and the Ice Nation’s rich honey mead, which she though those of them who were not Charles Pike ought to feel free to help themselves to.
The porridge and the fire smelled good, and both Bellamy and Kane were grateful when she pressed small cups of the heavy sweet mead into their hands. After an hour or two, it was as pleasantly warm inside the cave as though it were summer outside. The snow felt miles away. The three of them shed boots and jackets and settled down around the fire, the silence among them still impenetrable but at least a bit more companionable now.
Pike did not join them to eat. Abby called to him over and over, but he waved her off, barely paying attention. Finally, she sighed, scooped a heap of porridge into a bowl, poured some of the fruit and nuts into it, and took a handful of strips of meat and marched over to the bed. “Dammit, Charles,” she said, exasperated. “Eat this or I’ll dump it on that bald head of yours.”
“She will, too,” Bellamy added, with something in his voice that might have been amusement, and just for a moment Kane’s eyes caught his and they shared the flicker of a smile.
Pike looked down at the bowl. “Smells good,” he said grudgingly, and she thrust it into his hand.
“It really is good,” said Kane, trying to help. “Our Azgeda hosts have good taste.”
“I’ll have to remember to thank them,” said Pike, his tone perfectly friendly but with something dark hovering at the edges of it. “Didn’t get invited to dinner parties much, you know, back when I lived here before.”
“Charles – “
“Passed by this waterfall twice, as a matter of fact. Never knew there was a fancy-ass royal hunting lodge inside it. But then, I didn’t have time to stop and do much sightseeing, since I was carrying the bodies of dead Farm Station soldiers back to the ship.”
“Charles – “
“Killed by our generous Azgeda hosts. Subjects of your new friend Roan. Remind me to thank him when I meet him.”
“That’s enough, Charles,” said Kane firmly, as Pike lapsed into silence and devoured the rest of his food.
“We’ve all lost people,” Bellamy muttered gruffly, without looking up from his bowl. Kane looked over at him. “We’ve all seen terrible things. Done terrible things. You’re not the only one.”
“Yeah?” said Pike casually, something defiant in his voice. “Tell me, Bellamy, which of those terrible things could have been prevented if I'd never come to Arkadia?”
This was new, and startling, and the three of them stared at him blankly, unsure how to respond.
“All of them,” he went on, not waiting for an answer. “Every damn one. You lost your girl because the Grounders bombed Mount Weather, Bellamy, but they only did that because Farm Station people were living there. You have blood on your hands from the death of that army – because I ordered you to do it, even though you tried your damndest to talk me out of it. I shot Lincoln. I sentenced Kane. And Thelonious . . .” He shuddered, took a long pull from the bottle, and closed his eyes. “That’s on me, too,” he said in a low gruff voice. “All of it. Every last damn thing that happened to you was because of me.”
“Charles, that’s absurd,” said Abby, but he didn’t seem to hear her.
“I saw Clarke’s chest,” he said, and she froze. All the air went out of the room as Bellamy and Kane’s heads snapped up to stare from Pike to Abby. “I saw those cuts. Surgical precision.” Abby couldn’t speak. “And your neck, too,” he added, taking another heavy swig, his voice getting a little unsteady. “Rope burns. Clarke told me everything. Torturing your own daughter, then almost hanging yourself in front of her.”
“Charles, that’s enough,” Kane thundered, rising from his seat, volcanic fury erupting in his words, but Pike barely heard him.
“And you,” he said, turning to Kane. “Don’t think I didn’t see it back at Arkadia. Known you a long damn time, Marcus, and I never seen you look at a woman like that. And she looked at you that way right back. Risked her neck trying to spring you from prison, as a matter of fact. Then the next time you see her she’s hammering nails through your wrists.”
“Stop it,” said Bellamy, horrified, as he watched Abby turn away, clenching her fists tightly to press back tears.
“Saw what’s on your neck too,” Pike said to Bellamy. “I was right there, remember? Caught the whole show. Marcus Kane wrapping his hands around his second-in-command’s throat. I woulda tried to get to you in time but I kinda had my hands full trying not to get murdered by Thelonious. So I just got to watch instead. That was a lot of fun.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Bellamy snapped at him, unable to look at the stricken expression on Kane’s face.
“And she made you believe you did it yourselves,” he said, shaking his head, “which is the nastiest part. You’re all blaming yourselves for those wounds, like you actually gave them to each other. Couple bruises on your neck ain’t nothing compared to that. I’ve known Abby Griffin all my damn life, and she’d have burned Arkadia to the ground without blinking before letting anyone harm a hair on Clarke’s head. Whatever kinda hell there is for computers, I hope that bitch rots in it.” He took another long swig. “I did it,” he said again. “All those scars – Clarke’s chest, Abby’s neck, Bellamy’s neck, Kane’s wrists – and the others too, Indra and the Ice King and all those people we found outside the tower – all of that. It was me. You wanna blame someone, you’re wasting time blaming yourselves, or each other. Not even worth it to blame the bitch in the red dress for doing what she was programmed to. Nah, you wanna blame someone, blame the goddamned Chancellor who got so distracted by one threat that he missed the real one right under his nose.” He took another swig, closing his eyes. “Not a damn person in Arkadia would have taken those chips if I’d listened to Abby,” he muttered furiously. “If I hadn’t run against Marcus. If I’d paid more attention to Thelonious. If I’d seen the danger in front of me.” He shook his head, with a bitter laugh, and looked over at Bellamy. “It was right in front of my face,” he explained. “The Iliad. You had it at the funeral. Our esteemed former chancellor returns from the dead and we open the gates to let him in, without even blinking an eye. Trojan goddamned horse.”
“Charles,” said Abby, first to recover from this extraordinary speech and reaching out hesitantly towards him, but he waved her away.
“No,” he said, “don’t come any closer. Unless you’re gonna hit me. You wanna hit me?”
“I’m not going to hit you.”
“You could,” he said. “I’d let you. I deserve it. I let Octavia.”
They all froze at this.
“What do you mean, you let her?” said Bellamy, cold suspicion dawning in his voice.
Pike gave a harsh, bitter laugh. “Come on, kid,” he said, polishing off the bottle and tossing it with a dull clink onto the stone floor. “Don't play dumb. It was written all over her face.”
“Charles what are you talking about?”
“Coulda fought a little, I guess,” he said thoughtfully, “to make it look real. Thought about it, for a second. But I didn’t want to get in her head, you know? Didn’t want to distract her. Kid’s got good aim but no focus. And I knew none of you would let her get in more than one shot. So I just held still.”
“Charles, what the hell – “
“You wanted her to,” Bellamy murmured, shocked. “You knew she was going to try to kill you. And you wanted to die.”
“Wanted’s the wrong word, but I sure as hell deserved it,” he shrugged. “What’s that thing the Grounders say? ‘Blood must have blood.’ Or ‘An eye for an eye,’ as my people used to say. Your mom was religious, Marcus, you oughta know that one.”
“The Grounders don’t say that anymore,” said Marcus evenly, “and my mother would never have said that. And none of us wanted you to die.”
“Really?” said Pike. “Not even when you shocklashed me and threw me in the back of your Rover?”
Kane had no response to this.
Pike shrugged. “S’okay,” he slurred. “Like I said. I deserved it. Hell, maybe it woulda been easier if it had been over that way. Never woulda met Indra, that’s a damn shame. Got kind of a soft spot for that crazy motherfucker. Can’t say I regret missing out on the death by a thousand cuts, either. Still, at least it would be over.” He looked at Kane with something dark and strange in his eyes. “’Cept you were never gonna make it outta that gate,” he said softly. “Because you were never going to run Bellamy down in that Rover. And he was never gonna shoot.”
He looked from one man to the other, reading them both intently. Kane had been drawn, almost as if against his will, from his place by the fire towards the bed, and Bellamy eventually followed. Abby, fascinated, drew closer, watching the tense cord tying the three men together draw in tighter and tighter. It was not pleasant or comfortable, but she needed to hear what happened next.
“If either of you had been anyone else it woulda been over in five minutes,” he said. “If it had been Sinclair at the wheel, Bellamy would’ve shot. If it had been Hannah at the gate, Kane woulda kept right on driving. But you two . . . “ He shook his head. “I was so pissed at you,” he said to Kane. “So fucking pissed. Like it wasn’t hard enough already, to do what I had to do. Like it wasn’t killing me to know I had to sentence you if I couldn’t get your stubborn ass to confess. But then you had to go and do that.”
“Do what?” Bellamy murmured, swallowing hard. “What do you mean? What did he do?”
“Sacrifice himself,” said Pike, not taking his eyes off Kane. “The moment you stepped in front of the Rover with that gun, it was over. He knew he’d be caught. He knew he was going to die. But even to save his own life, he could never hurt you. That’s the man he is. That’s the Marcus Kane I remember. A man who’d swallow that mindfuck plastic chip and get hammered to a cross, or abort a coup halfway to the finish line and hand himself over to be executed, rather than let someone he loves get hurt.” Kane’s eyes were locked on his, heavy and dark and full of some deep emotion, moving closer and closer. “I saw the way he looked at you in that interrogation room,” Pike told him softly. “Saw the way you looked at him too. Then not two weeks later you’ve got your hands around his throat, choking the life out of him, and both of you will have that memory forever. That you tried to kill someone you love. I did that to you, Marcus. To all of you. I was the Chancellor. I had one fucking job, to keep my people safe, and I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do it at Farm Station, couldn’t do it at Arkadia, couldn’t do it in Polis. Blood on my hands wherever I go. People that matter to me. People I care about. All three of you could have died. You could have killed each other. Because of me.” He looked at Bellamy then, eyes shining with unshed tears. “He had his hands around your throat and he was smiling,” he said, the horror of memory still pulsing in his voice. “Damn right I was ready to let your sister take me out, Bellamy. I’d have painted a damn target on my chest for her if I could have. I deserved it.”
There was no possible answer to this.
Both Abby and Bellamy found themselves unable to let go of the thing pulsing and humming inside Pike’s bitter, self-loathing speech that pulled their gaze irreversibly towards Kane, who was staring down at the floor with such a naked expression of anguish on his face that it was instantly clear Pike was telling the truth.
Bellamy, though, could not quite let himself believe it. “You’ve got it all wrong,” he said roughly, but there was no certainty in his voice.
“Hell if I do,” said Pike. “He’s never had much of a poker face. I’ll admit at least a little of it was jealousy, but that didn’t stop me from seeing what I saw. I saw it, but I couldn’t stop myself from coming between the two of you anyway.”
“Jealousy?” said Kane, baffled, looking up and meeting Pike’s eyes for the first time.
Pike shrugged. “Not proud of it, but there it is,” he admitted. “I know we’re not eighteen anymore, and it’s been a long, long time. Didn’t realize how much I missed it.”
“Being the one you looked at that way.”
Kane’s eyes widened, and he looked away again, suddenly shy, as a stunned Abby and Bellamy looked from one man to the other, feeling the pieces click into place.
“You and Marcus,” said Abby softly, and Pike nodded. “On the Ark.”
“And that’s how you knew,” she said thoughtfully. “That day. When it all happened. That’s why only you could see what you saw. That Marcus would never hurt Bellamy, even to save all of Arkadia.”
“No,” said Pike softly. “Marcus would never hurt Bellamy, even to save the whole world.”
Bellamy couldn’t look at any of them, arms wrapped around his chest as though to keep out the cold, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, confused and unhappy and with no idea what to do.
“He doesn’t,” he finally said haltingly, but trailed off, unsure how to finish. “I’m not – it isn’t like that. Like what you said. He’s with Abby now.”
“Bellamy, stop,” whispered Kane, but he couldn’t look at him.
“No, Kane, it’s okay, I know you don’t – you and me, it’s not – “
“Yes, it is,” said Abby unexpectedly, startling them all, regarding Kane with a searching, thoughtful expression on her face. “I didn’t see it before. But Charles is right. I see it now.”
“No,” murmured Bellamy helplessly. “No, it isn’t like that. He doesn’t. He can’t possibly. Not after – “
“That ain’t how it works, son,” said Pike sadly. “He knows all of it. Every damn thing. And look at him. He doesn’t fucking care.”
Slowly, hesitantly, Bellamy lifted his head and turned towards Kane, taking a step almost unwillingly to bring them closer together. “Kane,” he said, then stopped. Kane didn’t move, eyes locked on the ground, whole body paralyzed in something like panic.
“Marcus, it’s all right,” Abby murmured, stroking his arm and laying her forehead just for a moment and against his shoulder. “We’re all right. Everything’s all right. But you have to tell him, honey, you have to say it.”
Kane didn’t move.
“Ask him,” slurred Pike, whose drinking was beginning to catch up with him, leaving his voice blurred and hazy around the edges. “Ask him again if it’s true.”
“Is it true?” Bellamy whispered, and finally, finally, Kane looked up.
His warm brown eyes were glassy with tears, catching the golden reflection of the firelight where they had streaked down his cheeks.
“God help me,” he finally said in a low, aching voice. “Yes, Bellamy. It’s true. All of it’s true.”
And then suddenly, abruptly, before he could lose his courage or change his mind, he cupped Bellamy’s jaw in his big, callused hands – cradling it as gently as if it were a baby bird – and kissed him.
Pike watched with something in his eyes that was some kind of potent hybrid of sadness, longing, jealousy, desire, and profound, tremendous affection. Abby stroked Kane’s back encouragingly with strong, soothing hands as his mouth moved hungrily against Bellamy’s over and over, the soft sweetness of the first kiss deepening into something more urgent, something warm and heavy and potent that made all of them feel as drunk as Pike.
No one had ever kissed Bellamy Blake like this before. No one had ever cradled him in powerful hands like he was a cherished thing. No one had ever admitted he would let the whole world crumble before harming a hair on his head. This had been there all along, he thought to himself in wonder as Kane’s warm tongue licked across the seam of his lips and tumbled them open to slide hungrily inside, stroking Bellamy’s own tongue in a shockingly intimate caress. All along, and he never knew it.
Except, of course, that the longer Marcus Kane kissed him, angling his body to slot his thighs between Bellamy’s and press up against him harder and harder, the more Bellamy wondered if maybe he had known . . . if the thing that had been there all along inside Marcus had been inside him, too.
They kissed for what felt like a century before pulling apart to catch their breath. Marcus let go of his lips but not his body, sliding his hands down to clutch the boy by the shoulders, breathing wildly.
“This,” Pike said quietly to Abby, and she nodded. “This is what I saw. But they were never gonna do anything about it. Because he feels this way about you too.”
When Bellamy opened his eyes and stepped back, he saw Abby beside them, holding a bottle of Azgeda honey wine. “It sounds like we have some things to discuss that might be safer away from the bed,” she said dryly, making her way over to the fire and waving the others to join her. “Shall we sit?”