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A Rose By Any Other Name

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“When you told me you didn’t want to be alone, I didn’t expect you would then spend most of your time on your own.”

The Judge spoke in Lexa’s voice, wearing Lexa’s armour, standing in the forest where the abandoned zoo had been covered by soil and foliage. The Pauna cage was entirely overgrown and Clarke gave up her useless struggle of attempting to get inside.

She wasn’t exactly sure why she needed to be in there that badly.

It had been months since their return to Earth. Since she had needed to fight anyone; needed to hold a gun. Yet there remained a pervasive restlessness inside of her; itching with a need to do something.

“Humans need a little time on their own sometimes,” she muttered, unsure why the Judge was there, but it probably wasn’t anything good. Maybe she had been anticipating the other shoe dropping and this was it.

“You’re in pain.”

“I miss my daughter. I know my friends have lost people too, and will understand and offer comfort, but I prefer grieving in private.”

“Why do you grieve if you know that she’s at peace?”

Clarke stared at her. The way she was Lexa, but still so obviously not. She craved holding her again… To feel her warmth. Her heartbeat. Her breath ghosting across her ear while their cheeks pressed together.

“I grieve for myself, because I’m a selfish and bitter person.”

“So much sorrow.”

“You need to stop invading my feelings. It’s rude.”

“I can hardly help it, Clarke. I perceive all of you at once. Your emotions are clearer and far more honest than the words leaving your mouth.”

“Why are you here?”

“I’m curious.”

“About Earth?”

“About you.”

“Me? Do you mean humans?”

“No.”

Clarke laughed, her lips quivering. “You sounded just like her then. She liked to tell me no.”

“You never listened.”

“What?”

“Has your hearing failed you?”

“Why do you know—can you see my past? How do you know I never listened to her?” Clarke rolled her eyes. “I forgot you can read my mind.”

“I saw it through her eyes and your own.”

The world tilted, and there was nothing nearby to lean on, so Clarke shakily lowered onto the ground. Seated flat on her ass on the damp forest bed, she blinked up at the Judge. “Lexa’s there?”

“In a way…”

“What does that mean?”

“Her consciousness is split.”

“What?”

“When Madi transcended, most of Lexa’s consciousness did as well. But somehow, a part of her has remained here, with you. It’s preventing her from assimilating.”

“How? I don’t have the flame anymore…I thought when you died, you die…And Lexa”—Clarke’s breath caught—“Lexa died a very long time ago.”

“Her body expired, but her consciousness remained alive. As eternal as the data carried in the flame. Through sacrifice; through working toward a legacy of peace, she proved herself worthy of transcendence, both before and after her physical death.”

Clarke thought back to the City of Light, of Lexa saving her even then, and touched the scar at the back of her neck, her fingers brushing across the smooth vertical bump. They hadn’t physically been together then either, but hugging and kissing her on those steps had been as real as anything Clarke had ever felt.

“Lexa was special,” she croaked.

The Judge didn’t say anything and Clarke’s chest hurt, a thick lump forming in her throat.

“She’s with Madi?” she whispered, sniffing when her nose and eyes burned, and her vision blurred with tears.

“She’s with us and yet she’s not...”

Clarke pulled her knees to her chest, tightly hugging her legs.

She was selfish, and ungrateful, because she had been given a chance to start over, despite everything she had done. But she wanted to be with them. She wanted to transcend.

Her friends—her family—were there on Earth. Happy. Building a life. And every night Clarke laid down alone and thought of her daughter, and was haunted by Lexa as though she had lost her all over again. The Judge wearing Lexa’s face had scratched open every unhealed wound, leaving them raw and bleeding and coated in salt.

She had failed the test and had been granted this beautiful second chance… And yet—

“What does it mean to love someone, Clarke?”

“What?” she hoarsely asked, blinking free the fat tears gathering in her eyes so she could look at that face.

“Does it mean to kill for them? To die for them?”

“It depends on context, I guess. Would I kill to save someone I loved? Yes. Would I seek vengeance in their name? We both know the answer to that.”

“How far would you go—”

She stopped and Clarke heard the rustling in the bushes too. Niylah appeared through the shrubbery, smiling hesitantly when she noted Clarke’s tears. Hardly the first time someone had accidentally caught her in a moment of weakness. They had been nice enough to give her space, though.

When she looked back to the Judge, she was gone.

“Were you talking to someone?” Niylah asked.

They hadn’t seen the Judge. Raven said she’d seen her in the form of Abby. Clarke had always been jealous of their easy relationship and yet hearing that, it felt right that the Judge would take on that form for Raven. Someone she loved as a teacher and mentor. The way Lexa had been her teacher and mentor. Her love and salvation. Her biggest failure…

“I would’ve stayed,” Clarke said, needing to say it out loud to someone.

“Clarke?” Niylah uncertainly asked.

“I felt safe there for the first time since the dropship crashed. There, I was heard and my opinion respected. The Coalition would’ve—the Commander would’ve protected my people…I was going to stay with Lexa in Polis. And everything would’ve been different.”

♾♾♾

It was three weeks later when Clarke saw her again. They had been exploring and camping, not having decided where they wanted to settle, or if they wanted to. Seated on a rock, her fishing line in the water and the sun pleasantly heating her skin, she felt the presence even before the Judge walked up to stand beside her.

“Are you even real?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I failed my test. By the sound of it, Raven and Octavia were the ones who saved us. Why do you keep appearing to only me?”

“You shaped each of their lives. They wouldn’t be the people they are without your influence.”

“Did Lexa tell you that?”

“I saw it through them when they transcended.”

“What do you want from me?”

The Judge was dressed in black pants and a top of the likes Lexa used to wear when relaxing in the tower. Back on Earth, with so many memories that she could’ve been plagued by, most consistently her mind centred on her stay in Polis with Lexa.

“I’m attempting to understand something.”

“A secret something?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Do you all have a hive mind? Are you aware of each other’s thoughts? When you were talking to me, were you only with me, or were you with Raven too? Or was someone else with Raven?”

“We are all one.”

Clarke snorted out a laugh. “How would that even work? You all have the same goals, purpose, behaviour?”

“There’s peace in knowing.”

“Also no privacy.”

“What would we need privacy for?”

It was easy to call up the memory of her and Lexa rolling around in a bed of furs. Her gaze defiantly fixed on the Judge’s face. Thoughts of Lexa’s fingers inside of her had her stomach tighten and Clarke gasped at the needy ache that shot to her core. A flush spread up her neck and into her cheeks. With the apparition of Lexa so close and seemingly real, the memory had completely runaway with her.

The Judge placed her hands behind her back and slightly tilted her head. Entirely unaffected.

“We have grown beyond the need for physical pleasure. We know peace and contentment in sharing a collective caring for one another.”

“Like an orgy?”

“No.”

Clarke sighed. “So no privacy. No orgies. What do you do for fun?”

“Why would we need to have…fun?”

“I don’t know. To stimulate the brain? To laugh? To spend time together? Boost those serotonin levels?”

“Why do you laugh and need serotonin levels?”

“For happiness.”

“And what is happiness?”

“Oh, go float yourself,” Clarke weakly mumbled. “Are you only here to mess with me?”

“I only asked you questions.”

“To what end?”

“Until you understand that we aren’t human. We have no need for sex and play and laughter. We are content in the knowledge that we are eternal and together. We are powerful and safe. We are a sanctuary for the worthy to come and free themselves of the burdens that had once shackled them…The concept of happiness cannot possibly compare to the fulfilment those who transcend feel at being connected. At being a part of us.”

“Sounds bland,” Clarke said. “I prefer the unpredictability of individualism.”

“Because that’s all you’ve ever known.”

“Fine. I get it. I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it and since I’m never gonna transcend, I’m never going to know, so why are we having this conversation? And why are you here?”

“I’m attempting to understand something.”

“So you said.”

“I did.”

“Okay.” Clarke sighed and slowly reeled in her lure in hopes of tempting a bite.

The judge was quiet beside her, as still as Lexa had sometimes been. Deep in thought and Clarke couldn’t stop glancing her way. Studying her side profile. Needing to get her hands on a pencil and paper...

“You’re older.”

“I suppose that is true when considering a linear passage of time.”

“Why do you look older when my and Madi’s memories would have Lexa younger? Why would Lexa have aged since—since then?”

You are older.”

“I know. Sometimes I feel ancient.”

“We are ancient.”

Clarke rolled her eyes but smiled at her, softly and tenderly because that face still made her heart ache with affection.

“Why did you make her older because I’m older?”

“She wanted it so.”

“Lexa?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“She thought it would be less jarring if you saw her a little differently.”

Clarke laughed dryly. “Nothing could’ve prepared me for the sight of her and the immediate understanding that she wasn’t real. In that split second it felt like losing her all over again. You wearing her face is nothing but a cruel blessing.”

“Do you want me to change my form?”

“No,” Clarke said, far too quickly and maybe if she was talking to a human, she would have felt embarrassed. Maybe.

“That wasn’t the only reason,” the Judge said.

“What?”

“She wanted to see the two of you, older and together.”

Clarke wiped her nose with her sleeve, eyes shooting full of tears. Sharp and burning. A fist clutched over her heart at the sudden despair that filled her.

“Why are you here?” she desperately asked.

“We’re trying to understand something,” the Judge said and disappeared.

♾♾♾

She attempted to meditate before bed. It was foolish, using the logic that Lexa meditated to ascend and speak to the previous commanders, when Clarke herself had no flame to assist her in doing so. An utterly stupid idea, then, and still she needed to try and connect to this apparent part of Lexa that had remained with her.

Unsure how long she was at it, she fell asleep on her bed to thoughts of Lexa in that bedroom in Polis…Of her in that bedroom in Polis with Lexa. Of hot, damp, flesh grinding against her own. Blunt nails digging into her back, a toned thigh pressed tightly between her legs; insistent and wet.

Laid on her stomach, Clarke’s hips bucked into the furs, half waking up at the intensity of her arousal.

Her hand instantly went between her legs, dressed in only her underwear and a shirt. She bit her pillow when her fingers slipped through hot slick folds.

“Are you close?” Lexa’s voice asked from somewhere behind her and Clarke entered herself, releasing a sharp cry, instantly coming against her own palm. She violently shook with the force of her orgasm, keeping her palm tight and still as her hips jolted and ground down into it for a few long blissful moments after.

She should have felt self-conscious, but the last time she’d come that hard, had been with Lexa. Clarke had needed the release, especially since she was beginning to believe she was going legitimately insane. No higher power would continue to haunt her for no apparent reason. They would move on to help some other species transcend. Or watch them die trying.

The Judge wasn’t real, but a manifestation of Clarke’s mind. Her way of holding on to Lexa’s face, because she couldn’t think of Earth without thinking of Lexa. Every single tree and shrub, reminded her of the colour of Lexa’s eyes.

She removed her hand from between her legs. Wrist sore as she had nearly broken it in the recklessness of her release. Licking her lips, she groaned and lazily turned onto her side and then lewdly moaned at the sight of the Judge dressed in the long black slip Lexa had worn after her fight with Roan.

Clarke remembered every single detail of it, how badly she had wanted to slip those thin straps down Lexa’s arms to expose her breasts and take her nipples into her mouth. They had been hard and tight while Clarke had bandaged Lexa’s hand… She had touched herself the instant the door had closed on Lexa’s beautifully tattooed posterior.

Rolling onto her back, she covered her eyes with her arm, wet fingers gripping her bare stomach where her shirt had ridden up.

“You ache so much for her…” Lexa’s voice said from above and Clarke made the mistake of removing her arm and looking up. Her stomach swooped and painfully clenched.

“Why are you doing this to me?” she shakily husked.

“Do you want to kiss her mouth?” the Judge asked, face ducked close, breath fluttering across Clarke’s wet and parted lips.

She fisted her hands into the blankets, stunned at Lexa’s beauty, eyes shifting from her lips to her eyes and it helped and hurt, because she could see in them that it wasn’t really Lexa.

Lexa had a way of looking at her, that was beyond replication. It made it easier to not give in to the extreme temptation.

“No…” the Judge murmured, nearly brushing their noses together. “You want her to hold you while you sleep and wake up in her arms…”

Clarke let out a sob and turned her face away, feeling exposed and vulnerable. “Is this my punishment for failing the test? Are you here to keep torturing me?”

“How am I torturing you?”

“Since that moment on the beach, when I said I didn’t want to be alone and you said that I wasn’t…for a second—” Clarke’s breath caught, tears spilling down her temples. “I thought you were Lexa…I thought she was alive and staying with me. It was cruel what you did. How is this not torture when you keep showing up like this to remind me of my loss and what I can’t ever have?”

“Do you want her?”

“Of course I do. Are the others even here? Or is this place just somewhere I’m stuck in on some infinite loop of torment?”

“Earth is very real.”

“And Lexa?”

“She is too.”

“And what do you want with me?”

“What would you do to have her back?”

“What?” Clarke blinked and sat up, the Judge moving away slightly but remained sat on her bed, a long, tanned leg exposed, shoulders strong and skin smooth.

“What would you do to have Lexa back?”

“Only Lexa? Not Madi?”

“Madi has made her choice.”

“Lexa hasn’t?”

“What would you do to have her back?”

“Anything.”

“Everyone has the choice to transcend or not, and as Lexa kom Trikru has reminded us, she was not granted a choice.”

“She wants to come back?”

“Yes.”

Clarke’s heart slammed against her ribs, her stomach knotting in anticipation. “Why can’t she come back if it’s her choice?”

“Her body is gone.”

“But you’re solid now in her body. I can feel you. I hugged you.”

“We need an exchange. Lexa’s conscious is fragmented, we need to gather her somewhere.”

“And you want me to do what exactly?” Clarke asked, nausea building with the painful twisting in her gut.

“Make a sacrifice. For Lexa to return, one of your friends need to go.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“This is the only course of action that will reunite her with you.”

“Does she know you asked me to do this?”

“No.”

“I thought you shared thoughts.”

“The Higher Power shares a collective conscious on a different tier than the consciousness we share with those who transcend. Lexa fights us every second of the day to return to you. She aches for you so strongly that we all feel it…Her lament disrupts our way of being.”

Clarke thought she would laugh at the fearless Heda being a pain in the ass to a higher power, but instead another wet sob escaped her.

“We don’t understand why she would leave behind eternal peace for this…” the Judge trailed off and touched her own chest. “For this agony with you.”

It would stop. The agony would stop if Clarke could only have her back.

“You have until sunset tomorrow, Clarke.”

What?

“After that, we move on. And the Commander will continue to yearn in isolation for all eternity. You will lose her forever. To save her; to keep her, all you need to do, is take one more life.”

♾♾♾

She didn’t sleep that night. The Judge had disappeared and Clarke was left wondering if she had imagined it. Wondered if she was alive at all, and not in some form of hell that would leave her with this choice. Had Lexa been happy and at peace… Had Lexa known that the offer would be made for her, she wouldn’t have let them proposition Clarke. But Lexa didn’t know. She was suffering. Transcendence was supposed to mean no more pain and yet of course Lexa would stubbornly rage against that.

Clarke stalked through the forest. She had set out early that morning, before everyone woke. Before she needed to look any of them in the eye. How was she supposed to take one of their lives? Some of them she had known longer than others, some she was closer to... None of them would ever forgive her for murdering someone to save Lexa.

Maybe if she made it look like an accident and lived with the secret… With the guilt? Would Lexa know what she did to get her back? Could Clarke ask them not to tell her? Maybe the two of them could leave… They could go explore the world.

Clarke couldn’t do that. The Judge must have known that she wouldn’t be able to murder an ally and friend in cold blood. And what would Lexa think if she didn’t do it? Would they tell Lexa what they had asked of Clarke? If they didn’t, would Lexa spend eternity thinking that Clarke hadn’t loved her enough?

She had killed so many people for so many reasons... Was this the lesson? That there had always been a choice? That she had consistently made the wrong one? Why was Lexa paying the price then, for Clarke’s mistakes? Lexa wanted to come back, it shouldn’t be up to Clarke for that to happen.

“It isn’t fair,” she gritted out.

“What isn’t?”

Clarke froze and stared at Levitt, bow mounted on his back, grin wide.

“What are you doing out here?” Clarke angrily asked, watching him walk up to her, his head tilted confusedly.

“Octavia likes meat. I thought I would attempt to impress her with my non-existent hunter-gatherer skills.”

A bashful smile and Clarke gripped the dagger’s handle in her hand, staring at the tattoos on his face. Thinking of white rooms and Madi’s torture. Levitt had stopped though, had helped them actually. But he wasn’t free of guilt. None of them were and yet they all got to transcend and come back. Everyone got another chance and what did Lexa get for standing up against the decades of violent tradition of her people? For being a pillar of strength in a world attempting to beat her down for growing against the grain?

Lexa deserved a choice more than any of them.

“Are you okay?” Levitt asked, searching Clarke’s face, unaware of the dagger in her hand. It would be quick, one slice across the throat. One more death and she would be done. She would be happy. Lexa could finally live her life free of duty to her people.

“If you could save someone you loved, someone who never should’ve died, someone whose death you were responsible for because you were stubborn and selfish. If you could make that right, but you needed to take another life to do so, would you?”

He tilted his head, looking uncertain. “Is this an existential crisis? Echo went through hers last week when she kissed Niylah.” He let out a little laugh. “I wonder who it’s going to be after you, probably me. It’s far too quiet out here.”

“What would you do if you were forced to make that choice?”

His smiled dropped at her intensity. “I don’t know, Clarke. Haven’t we learnt that violence isn’t the answer?”

“Even when someone else is in pain? When they don’t deserve the stupid fate given to them?”

“Who are we to mess with fate? Stupid or not?”

“You all came back. You all got to do that.”

“We made a choice, afforded to everyone.”

“Not everyone!”

He took a step back, noticing the knife glinting in her hand and the tears Clarke felt cooling on her cheeks.

“Clarke?”

Had their destiny always been to take the test? What if there hadn’t been a test? Would Octavia have talked down the armies? Would they have lived together had she shot Cadogan before the test? Would Madi have been saved?

No, she would still have lost Madi. Madi was alive because Levitt had helped them get to her. Had stopped them from euthanizing her…

“Do you need me to go get Raven or Octavia?” he caringly asked.

Clarke turned and started walking, unsure of a direction, the dagger falling from her grip, her chest tight like that day in Polis, stood beside Lexa’s pyre, with Aden earnestly promising to protect her. Always. Lexa was always securing her safety, even in death. And with a body count so high, Clarke couldn’t take one single life for her.

It made her feel sick.

Would the judge tell Lexa? That Clarke couldn’t save her given the choice?

She exited the forest onto the sand beside a large lake and stood on the shore, watching the sunset and trying not to throw up.

“Can I give my own life for hers?” she tightly rasped, before the Judge stepped up beside her.

“She wanted to come here for you.”

Clarke nodded. She’d known that. “Would you let me say goodbye to her? Please?” she turned to the Judge wanting to grab her shoulders, but unable to touch her looking like that. “I know I don’t deserve it, but please give me a few minutes with her. Just one last time. I need to explain.”

The Judge studied her face.

“Would you kill for someone you love, Clarke?”

And Clarke let out a hysterical laugh, running her hand through her hair, giving up on wiping her tears. “I would kill everyone for her.”

“But you couldn’t kill one.”

“She wouldn’t have wanted to come back like that. She wouldn’t have looked at me the same because of it. I killed to survive and to protect my people. Just like she had been forced to do. Doing this? Taking away someone’s happiness for my own? Taking them away from people who might love them here…Lexa wouldn’t ever forgive me for that and I wouldn’t have forgiven myself.”

“She fought for you.”

“What?”

“She said that we were unfair to judge you solely on your actions within the test. Without taking into consideration what you’ve needed to sacrifice of yourself since the moment your father was executed.”

More tears spilt over her cheeks, warm and plenty and Clarke wondered if she would ever stop crying.

“She told us that violence spread like wildfire across the Earth, consuming those who didn’t take up arms and forever shaped those who raged against it.”

“So this was another test?”

“She told us you would pass. That you wouldn’t hurt anyone if they weren’t a direct threat to those who counted on you to protect them.”

“What does this mean?”

“Absolution.”

“Just because you say it, doesn’t mean I feel it. I may have passed your test, but I failed Lexa.”

“You didn’t. She placed her faith in you and you showed us your humanity, or rather, that your actions weren’t entirely driven by selfishness.”

“And now what?”

“Now we leave.”

Clarke’s heart cracked wide open. “Please, can I say goodbye to her? Please?”

The Judge smiled. “Madi asks that you be happy,” she said, before disappearing from existence.

Clarke fell to her knees, body wracking with sobs. Cries tore from her chest and left her throat feeling raw. She cried as though her hands were covered in black blood and an entire future had been snatched away before she could have more than a taste of it.

“Klark?”

Clarke stilled. She didn’t dare move. Remaining so frozen she could hear the sand shift behind her and shakily got to her feet. Her heart slammed against her ribs but she couldn’t turn around and not see her there. She could feel her, though. Somehow.

“Are you really here?” she checked regardless, uncertain whether she would believe any answer she received.

“We passed our test.”

Clarke spun around, her breath hitched, taking Lexa in. She was dressed in the outfit she had worn the day she had died. Her hair fell over her left shoulder, her face young and uncertain.

Clarke took a shaky step toward her. “Our test?”

The corner of Lexa’s mouth tilted upward. “For higher beings they have a very narrow view of existence. Of what makes us human…”

“Are you connected with them still?”

Lexa shook her head.

“Do they know that if it was a stranger, my choice would have been different?”

“Do you believe that?”

“How will I know, now?”

“I know.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

Clarke wasn’t so sure, but that familiar long-lost feeling of faith and validation washed over her. Lexa’s trust had always made her feel as though she could tear the stars down from the sky and lay them down at Lexa’s feet to watch them glitter in her eyes.

“I don’t think you realise how much I love you, Lexa.”

Lexa drew in a sharp breath, her cheeks turning pink and she ducked her head, but couldn’t hide her smile.

Clarke grinned, and even when she somehow knew that the answer would be yes, she still had to ask, “Madi is okay with them?”

“They offer eternal peace. It was beautiful, Klark…Everyone there had been extremely content in their existence.”

“Not you.”

Lexa’s smile grew wider. “How could I be, when such a big part of me was here on Earth?”

Clarke thought of her restlessness over the last few months, the feeling of loss and longing she’d ascribed solely to missing her daughter. Of how it might have also been an awareness of Lexa’s transcended consciousness.

“Are you here to stay?” she asked, moving closer and bravely placed her hands on Lexa’s hips, afraid she would disappear the second she did so.

But Lexa remained solid and warm and her arms wrapped around Clarke’s shoulders.

“For as long as you’ll have me,” Lexa said, softly smiling while she stared at Clarke’s hair, running the tips between her fingers.

Clarke grinned, wanting to say something, but instead she was kissing Lexa before it had become a conscious thought. She cupped the back of Lexa’s neck, keeping her close, trembling against her, while she prayed it wasn’t all a dream.

Filled with disbelief and wonder, she inhaled her scent, so familiar and comforting yet if anyone asked Clarke, she wouldn’t be able to describe it. She could only say that the Judge hadn’t smelled like anything.

No transcendent peace could possibly compare to the feeling of contentment at being held by Lexa again.

Clarke reluctantly broke the kiss with a lingering peck placed to Lexa’s bottom lip. Their foreheads rested together while they gently swayed in an embrace.

“Klark…” Lexa said, seemingly only to say her name again, a soft dreamy smile on her lips and her eyes closed. “We finally owe nothing more to our people.”

♾♾♾