When Clarke left Camp Jaha, she knew exactly where she was going. She asked Monty to collect some of her things from the camp – she couldn’t even bear to go inside – and then she started walking. She left her gun behind and even her knife.
She was already exhausted when she started walking but she didn’t stop, wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop, until she was stumbling over her feet, her eyes barely open, her limbs like lead. She needed to get as far away as she could. Far from the people she had saved and the empty places unfilled by those she had not. She thought she’d made a few miles. It didn’t help.
When she dropped – literally dropped – she had just enough energy to pull a blanket out of her pack and roll herself in it as she lay down, so tired she thought sleep would come easily, and for a while it seemed like it would. She drowsed, her body growing heavier, her muscles relaxing. But before sleep could come, her mind was invaded by everything she was trying to escape.
She could see children, their flesh burning on their bones. The agony in Jasper’s eyes. Her mother’s screams and the whine of the machines as her bones were drilled in retaliation for Clarke’s own actions. Lexa’s eyes as she walked away.
She could feel sobs forming in her chest, but she refused to allow them, refused to allow herself the indulgence of that grief, so they built up until they choked her, turning to stone in her throat.
She lay trembling, cradling that precious pain, until at last she slept, but her dreams did not free her, and when she awoke, long before dawn, she did not feel rested.
Still, in the dark, she forced herself to eat some breakfast, but it felt dry and dead and burned and she could gulp down no more than a few mouthfuls, so she set out again, wanting to cover the rest of the distance that day.
She walked without stopping, but as each step took her further from Camp Jaha and its reminders of the price she had exacted from the mountain men for her people’s freedom, it also took her closer to her destination, with its own reminders, of the price she had exacted from the Trikru for theirs.
Her steps slowed, and when she reached a creek she stopped with a whimper and collapsed into it. The water was icy but she welcomed it as she scrubbed her face, her arms, her clothes. Stripping off each item in turn, she pounded them, scoured them with sand, wrung them and then started again, continuing long after they were clean. When she was bare and her clothes were piled in the shallows, she applied the same treatment to herself, rasping the sand over her skin until the water ran first red, then clear, then red again.
Eventually she stopped, sitting motionless in the water, body numbed by the cold but with no such respite for her mind, and slowly her abraded skin stopped bleeding. After an age, she picked herself up, dressed herself again in her dripping clothes, and resumed her walk.
It was late in the evening, and her clothes had dried, by the time she reached Tondc. The guards nodded to her impassively and barred her way.
“Skai Heda. What do you seek?”
“I wish to speak with Indra,” Clarke replied, surprising herself with the sound of her voice after two days in silence.
“I will escort you. Leave your weapons here.”
“I have no weapons.” Clarke held her arms out, showing her hip bare of holster, her vambraces free of knives.
The grounders looked at her in confusion. “You must leave all weapons here. Outsiders may not bring even a table knife past this point.”
“I have no weapons.” Clarke repeated calmly. “You may search me and my pack.”
The two guards looked at each other uncertainly. “We may not disrespect the Skai Heda in this way,” stated one. “We will fetch Indra,” decided the other.
Clarke nodded her acceptance and waited with one guard while the other left to fetch his General. She studied the grounder, trying to gauge what the Trikru thought of her, but his face gave nothing away.
When she arrived, Indra’s face was likewise impassive. Certainly it contained none of her original ire, but it did not show any welcome either.
“Heda com Skaikru,” she said simply.
“Indra,” Clarke gulped, suddenly nervous, but determined not to let it show. “I have no weapons. You may search me if you wish.”
“You walked alone from your camp unarmed?” Indra queried, giving no indication whether she thought that was brave or stupid.
“Yes. I will no longer carry an instrument of death,” she stated, forcing herself to appear emotionless.
“Your empty hands may prove to be an instrument of your own death,” the other woman warned, “but I will not need to search you.”
“Thank you, General,” Clarke responded. “May we speak in private?”
Indra nodded, and led her past the guards and into the village. They walked to a large tent standing near the missile crater. “We will not be disturbed here.”
“General, I’ve come to offer my help to rebuild Tondc.”
Clarke was gratified to see the slightest chink in Indra’s impassive façade as she allowed her surprise to show. The warrior paused. “Why?”
“I’ve spoken to Octavia. I know that you know… why I need to do this,” Indra accepted this with a nod.
“However you need. I know you have many injured, so I can work as a healer. But if you want me to, I will haul rubble, I will build walls, I will dig ditches or empty latrines. I just need… I need to help.”
This was met by a long silence as Indra regarded her thoughtfully. Clarke fought the urge to plead or add other suggestions, bearing the scrutiny silently.
At last the silence was broken: “We would welcome your assistance as a healer. I will take you to Nyko. He will tell you what you may do. Whenever you are not needed, you will come to me and I will find another way you may help.”
Clarke wanted to slump in relief, but forced her body to remain standing tall. “Mochof, Indra,” she thanked, trying the Trigedasleng word for the first time.
Indra led her out of the tent and towards a much larger one on the other side of the crater. Inside, the Trikru healer was moving between his patients. “Nyko. You have an assistant,” the general called, leaving him no chance to argue. But his small smile of relief indicated there would have been no such argument. He was only one healer for so many injured, and he had seen Clarke’s skills when she had brought Lincoln back to life.
“Fisa Clarke, you are welcome. Most patients here were prisoners of the Maunon. Of those that were able, many have left for their homes. Only the weakest remain. Most will recover with only food and water and rest. There are fifteen, however, who will not wake and I do not know how to help. Will you see if there is anything you may do?”
Clarke nodded and looked around the tent. She was dismayed at how many beds there were, filled with the wounded, some sleeping, some awake and talking tiredly, some tossing in their dreams. There were close to fifty, and Nyko was telling here that there had been many times more Trikru liberated from the mountain. The thought came to her unbidden that Lexa had done that. She had freed them.
As Indra left, Nyko led her over to a corner where the patients lay still and silent. Their faces were all frighteningly white and covered with a sheen of sweat. Their lips and fingernails were blue. Nyko turned a worried face to her. Clarke decided that she liked this man, who allowed his feelings to show.
“There is something I can do,” she said hesitantly, “but I don’t know if your culture allows it, or how you would feel about it, particularly now. I don’t want to cause insult if even the suggestion is forbidden…”
“Please, tell me. Even if it is forbidden, I will take no insult in the hearing.”
“They are dangerously low on blood and fluids, and they are not awake to eat or drink. I have equipment that can allow me to give them blood from a healthy person, which will help them heal. I can also give them fluid in their veins until they can drink by themselves.” She awaited Nyko’s response.
He stood looking between her and his patients for a long moment. “Is the equipment the same that the Maunon used to take their blood?” he asked at last.
“It is similar,” Clarke gulped, “but I would never use blood that was not willingly given.”
Nyko nodded once then continued to look at the still bodies in the beds. Clarke waited nervously.
“In battle, it is considered an honour to shed blood to protect another,” he paused. “This is the same. If it will save my people, you will do this thing.”
This time, Clarke allowed her relief to show and she let her breath out in a sigh. “Thank you.”
“I will give my blood,” Nyko declared.
“It’s not quite that simple: not everybody has the same type of blood. If we give them the wrong type, it will not help and may kill them. I will test them. Would you… would you ask people if they will come so I can test them to see if their blood will help?”
“I will, but test me first. There are some I know who may be open to this idea. I will ask.”
So Clarke opened her pack and brought out her med kit, which took up most of her pack, and after testing Nyko and leaving him to talk to his friends, began to test her patients, pausing at each bed to check pulse and blood pressure, pupil response and breathing. She had known that Tondc would be full of those who had been freed from the mountain, and when she had had Monty collect her things, she had asked him for the medical equipment she knew would help.
The tests showed that Nyko was a match for three of the patients, and Clarke knew herself to be a match for another two. She hoped that he found more people who would donate, because, big as he was, she would not be able to take enough from him to save three without putting him in a bed of his own, and her own small body could not save two.
When Nyko returned, she was surprised to see him followed by a large crowd of Trikru. She looked at him and his expression reflected that surprise.
The warrior behind him nodded deeply to Clarke “Maun-Ripa, Nyko told me you can help me save my sister.”
Maun-Ripa. Mountain Killer. Clarke felt sick. She wanted to throw up. She wanted to curl up in a ball with her head between her knees until she could breathe again. She wanted to scream and tear her flesh and cry and beat her head and die.
But she did none of those things. “Please,” she managed, “not that. Don’t call me that.”
The warrior looked surprised. “The Trikru owe you their freedom. It is a term of honour.”
“Please, I don’t seek that honour. I don’t seek any honour. Yes, I believe I can save your sister. But just don’t… don’t call me that.”
“I don’t understand, but I obey, Skai Heda.”
“Thank you,” she breathed. “Nyko, you did not say you could find so many.”
Nyko was about to reply but the same warrior broke in. “Klark com Skaikru, you may not seek honour, but we pay it to you. If you say our blood is needed, we will gladly give it. We know that the Skai Heda does what is best.”
There were murmurs of agreement as all the other Trikru standing round the tent flap nodded.
Clarke looked stunned. “Thank you. Mochof…?” she trailed off in query.
“Jonas. My name is Jonas.”
“Mochof, Jonas,” she shook her head and became focussed. “I will test to see if your blood will save your sister. It may not,” she cautioned, “but it may save another.”
“It is in your hands, Skai Heda.”
The rest of the evening she spent testing those that had volunteered and setting up transfusions. Testing Jonas first, he had been very happy that his blood had matched his sister’s. Clarke was able to find a match for all fifteen of the patients, but since so many had come with Nyko, there were many who were not needed. Many left, but several stayed behind to watch.
There had been only one other person who shared Clarke’s blood type, so she when fourteen transfusions had been completed or were underway, Clarke sat next to the last woman and began prepping her own arm. Jonas stopped her. “Skai Heda, no! We will find other volunteers!”
“Jonas, I want to,” she started.
“No, you are a healer and the Skai Heda. We cannot take that from you. I will find another,” and with that he walked quickly out of the tent, leaving Clarke looking nonplussed at Nyko.
“You must let him try, Klark com Skaikru. If he does not find a match, you will convince him to let you do it, but you must let him try.”
Clarke shrugged helplessly. “Please, just Clarke,” she said.
“Clarke,” he agreed.
While she waited for Jonas to return, she fetched water and set up some equipment to filter it. At her request, Nyko showed her where to start a fire so she could boil it. She asked for salt and sugar and began to measure it out to prepare drips for the patients, explaining each step to Nyko as she did so. He watched in fascination.
The preparations were nearly complete when Jonas returned. There were dozens of people behind him. Clarke looked at Nyko astonished, but the other healer only smiled. It was the middle of the night and she realised that most of them had probably gotten out of bed for this.
“Test me, Skai Heda, I will give my blood,” said one, stepping to Jonas’ side. Clarke wordlessly went to fetch her testing kit and set to work. She started with the woman who had spoken, but she was not a match. The warrior let out a sigh that was equal parts disappointment and sorrow, and stepped towards the back of the crowd.
Clarke had to test close to twenty people before she found a match. The crowd let out a huge cheer and the man who matched grinned proudly. People started to slap him on the back and clasp his forearm as Clarke looked on in bemusement.
Without another word, the crowd dispersed as the man stepped forward and sat next to the woman’s bed with his arm out. She was about to ask Nyko if he would like to do this one, but, catching her eye, he shook his head and nodded to the man, who was gazing at Clarke, still with the same proud look on his face. So Clarke prepped the transfusion as Nyko continued to prepare the water for fluid drips.
When it was finished, she clasped the man’s arm firmly. “Mochof.”
He looked a little puzzled. “No, Skai Heda. It is I who thank you. I am proud to save you your blood.” He inclined his head in a nod and then left the tent.
Clarke looked after him for a moment, then joined Nyko to finish setting up the drips. By the time they were finished, the sky was starting to lighten and Clarke was ready to drop. They left the tent and Clarke walked towards a little clearing, rummaging in her pack for her blanket and light tent. A warrior stopped her.
“Heda com Skaikru, Indra has arranged a tent for you.” Clarke just looked at her blearily, confusedly continuing to dig into her bag.
“Beja. Please. Follow.” The woman led Clarke to a small tent and opened the flaps for her. Inside, the floor was laid with a thick rug, and there was chair and a little table to one side, which was set up with some fruit and cold meat and a flask of water. But Clarke had eyes only for the bed, which was gloriously covered with blankets and furs. She managed only to pull off her boots and her jacket before she fell into the bed and rolled herself into the thick covers. This time she was asleep almost the instant her eyes closed.
Though sleep came easily, it brought with it memories. She tossed fitfully for a few hours, the whimpers and cries that she could suppress in the daytime escaping while her conscious control was gone. When she woke, it was with a scream choking off on her lips. She was drenched in sweat.
She lay gasping, regaining her breath, pulse returning to normal. She couldn’t remember exactly what she had been dreaming about, but she didn’t need to: the fear and shame and guilt told their own story.
Realising it was late morning, she managed to compose herself enough to get out of bed, and she pulled on her boots and sat at the table. She started to pick at the cold meat and fruit left from the day before, but as the food hit her tongue she realised she was ravenous. She wasn’t sure when she had last eaten the day before. Had she had anything since the few forced mouthfuls of breakfast? She finished the entire plate before she realised it.
When she left the tent, she was curious to find herself in the middle of an invisible circle of emptiness, grounders skirting round it almost unconsciously. Its borders seemed to be defined by three warriors standing with their backs to the tent a few metres away from it. She recognised all three as people who had given blood the day before. When they noticed Clarke emerging, they nodded at her and left without a word, and the circle seemed to collapse as people began walking within its borders as if by prior arrangement.
Clarke was baffled. After a long moment she put her confusion aside and returned to the infirmary tent, finding Nyko not there. She walked quickly to check on her patients. All of them had better colour and when she went to check each person’s blood pressure, she found it much improved. They all seemed to be sleeping peacefully until she came to a woman who she remembered as Jonas’ sister, Arcas. She was moving slightly, restless, and suddenly her eyes flicked open.
“Who are you?” she choked weakly, fear in her eyes.
“Hello, my name is Clarke. I’m a healer. I’ve been working with Nyko and Jonas to help you.”
At the mention of Jonas’ name, the fear waned but did not disappear. “You are not Trikru.”
“No, I’m not,” she replied softly. “I am Skaikru.” At the woman’s look of confusion, Clarke realised that she might have been in the mountain for months, since before the dropship ever fell from the sky. “It is a long story,” she sighed. “I will tell you, but first, do you think you are able to eat or drink?”
Arcas continued to look wary, and Clarke couldn’t blame her. “I can fetch Jonas,” she offered gently. The other woman only nodded.
Clarke stepped outside the tent and stopped a passing Trikru. “Excuse me? Do you know where I might find Jonas? His sister is awake and is asking for him.”
The man’s impassive look gave way to a smile. “Sha, Skai Heda! I will find him!” he said, giving Clarke a hearty thump on the shoulder that sent her reeling. “I will bring him!” he rushed off, leaving Clarke to go back into the tent.
She walked quickly back to Arcas and told her that Jonas was coming. She stoked the fire up again and began to prepare a broth.
“Arcas!” the tent flaps were thrown aside as Jonas rushed into the room, eyes only for his sister. He rushed to her side and gathered her in a hug, a rapid torrent of Trigedasleng tumbling from his lips. Clarke could understand none of it, though she thought she caught her name a new times, and Skai Heda, and once the hated word Maunon. She shuddered.
Interrupting only long enough to make sure Jonas knew where the broth was, she left Arcas to the care she knew her brother would give. She had been standing outside the tent for a few moments, taking in the sea of purposeful activity around her, when she was approached by Indra.
“Klark com Skaikru. Heda wishes to see you in her tent.”
Clarke’s blood froze. “I didn’t… I thought… I didn’t know she would be here,” she managed. “I thought she left for Polis.”
“She did. When you arrived yesterday, I sent a message to her. Now she is here,” Indra gave no indication what she thought of that, and Clarke didn’t know what to think.
“Oh,” she managed, a little helplessly.
Indra gestured impatiently and Clarke followed behind, stomach in knots. They reached the tent that was kept for the Commander when she was in the village, and the General announced her.
“Leave us, Indra,” Lexa’s voice betrayed nothing, but she was standing with her back to the door, and Clarke could see tension in every line of her body.
Clarke stood, emotions roiling, waiting for… she didn’t know what. She wished Indra hadn’t closed the tent flaps. She wished she’d had more time to prepare for this. She wished… she wished that things were not as they were.
“Clarke,” Lexa still hadn’t turned around, and Clarke thought it was almost as if Lexa was afraid to face her. “The choices we must make as leaders, and the choices we would make for ourselves, can often not be reconciled,” she started, appearing to choose each word carefully.
“Lexa, I don’t want to hear another one of your lectures about leadership!” Clarke exploded before she’d even thought about what she was saying. “Look at me! Just look at me!”
Lexa’s shoulders grew even more tense, if that was possible, and she slowly began to turn. Her eyes met Clarke’s. They were free of warpaint, and held more emotion than Clarke had ever seen in them. “You’re right. It’s just… as Heda to Heda, I cannot apologise. But as Lexa to Clarke…”
To her astonishment, Lexa dropped to her knees. “As Lexa to Clarke… I beg your forgiveness.”
Lexa was begging. Lexa.
Clarke just stared.
After a long moment, something inside her broke.
“How can you ask forgiveness of me? What is sacrificing forty seven to save hundreds, compared to sacrificing hundreds to save forty seven?” She couldn’t keep the agony from her voice. “You don’t need my forgiveness.” She couldn’t keep the tears from pouring down her face, but she refused to cry aloud. She refused.
“Clarke…” Lexa stood up and stepped towards her.
“I can’t do this right now,” she gasped, walking blindly out of the tent. She made herself walk, when all she felt like doing was running, running, running, until she could leave everything behind. She didn’t look back. If she had, she would have seen Lexa follow her out of the tent and down the path, only to be stopped by Indra. She would have seen Lexa follow her with her eyes until she was out of sight.
She walked out of the village into the woods. When she could no longer see anybody, she fell against a tree, slumping until she was sitting against it, then lying on her side at its feet. The sobs that she had been holding in now escaped, ugly and harsh, burning her throat as they fought to come up.
She sobbed until she had no voice, no tears, no breath, and then she lay there shivering.
She didn’t know how long it had been before she came back to herself enough get up off the ground and brush herself off. She stood, head bowed, hair falling across her face for a moment, before she washed her face with water from the flask at her hip, straightened her shoulders, and walked back into the village.
As she came back into the settlement she was surprised to see a warrior, again a woman who had been to the infirmary yesterday, standing with her back to the woods just out of earshot of where Clarke had lain sobbing, and then another two warriors slipped from the trees either side of her path. They nodded to her respectfully and then departed without a sound, leaving Clarke more confused than ever.
Determined to solve the mystery, she went straight to the infirmary tent and found Nyko. She explained what had happened, in the woods, and that morning round her tent, and asked him what it meant.
“Clarke, they honour you. You destroyed the threat they have been living with all their lives. They are protecting you.”
“Protecting me from what?”
“Protecting you from the sight and hearing of others. A Heda must bear the heaviest burdens, but it is not fitting that all should see her bend under them.”
“Nyko, I’m not bending; I’m breaking.”
“No, Skai Heda. I have seen your strength. I know you will not break.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. Now, come. Let us see to our patients.”
Clarke started doing the rounds of the beds. She found, however, that since the people who had been rescued from the mountain mainly needed only food and rest, and the people who had been injured in the missile blast had already been tended to by Nyko, that aside from changing a few dressings and helping some of the weaker patients eat some broth, that there wasn’t all that much for her to do.
She remembered Indra’s instructions to see her for more work, so she took her leave of Nyko and went to find the General.
Indra looked at her appraisingly for a moment, and then directed her to the work crews hauling rubble from the crater.
When she got there and found the woman in charge, her offer to help was met with a look of incomprehension until she said that Indra had told her to come. She was put to work gathering stones and sorting them into size for use in rebuilding and told to take them all to where new buildings were being erected.
The look on the crew leader’s face made Clarke think that maybe Indra didn’t really need her to do this, that maybe she was testing Clarke, testing her offer to do anything asked of her. That was fine. Clarke just wanted to do whatever she could to balance out the crushing debt she felt. And, selfishly, she welcomed the work, wanting to be so exhausted that sleep would come easily.
Hours of back-breaking work achieved that. She knew she wasn’t as physically strong as most of the grounders, but she worked every bit as hard. When darkness fell and the call came to stop, she followed the rest of the workers to the food tent that had been set up for them and dropped wearily to a bench.
She ate tiredly, managing to keep up a little conversion with the person next to her. She was told that usually people ate by themselves, or in families or small groups, but with so many working long hours to clear and rebuild the wreckage, the mess tent they were in had been set up for them. She welcomed that, for the food was delicious, hot and plentiful, and she would not have had the energy to provide her own.
When she had finished, she returned to the infirmary to check with Nyko what he needed her to do. She spent a few hours going round the patients, checking their vital signs and their wounds, talking with them and answering their questions. She would answer anything they asked, except the question they were most interested in, which was what had happened at the mountain. But she was relieved to find that they understood her reticence and did not press for answers.
Everyone was sleeping peacefully when Clarke finally left. When she reached her tent she had just enough energy to take off more than her boots, unlike the night before, stripping off her clothes and rolling into the furs in just her underwear.
The dreams came again as she had known they would.
When she woke the next morning, gasping and sweaty as she had been the day before, she realised that there was no food left on her table, and also that she was absolutely filthy.
She put on her equally filthy clothes and stepped out of her tent to find remedies for both problems, finding that her guards were again keeping passers-by from the sounds of her nightmares. One guard was a woman she recognised but did not know. One was Jonas. And one… one was Lexa.
She stood stunned. The unknown guard slipped away with a nod. Jonas looked like he wanted to come and talk to her, but Clarke thought she saw a look from the Commander warn him off, and he just followed the first guard.
Lexa turned towards Clarke and waited.
Clarke didn’t know what Lexa expected. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what she wanted to do.
Eventually she forced herself to approach the other woman. “Heda.”
“Clarke, please. Lexa. I would like to be… just Lexa… with you.” It was said so, so softly, and Clarke was thrown even more off balance.
“Can you, though?” she challenged quietly. “Can you be just Lexa?” Blue eyes searched green.
“I don’t know,” Lexa admitted sadly. “I would like to be. I have fought so hard for peace, and now the mountain has fallen there is a chance… Please… work with me for peace so I can be… just Lexa, and you can be… just Clarke.”
She studied Lexa for a long moment, and realised that she couldn’t think of anything better than the chance to be just Clarke. Lexa being just Lexa was more than she could think about though; the idea was overwhelming. But she held out her hand to clasp Lexa’s forearm, and said “You know I will.”
Unable to stand the intensity, she broke eye contact and looked down at herself. “But right now, I need a bath,” she said, with something that was almost a chuckle. “And I could eat a horse.”
At Lexa’s expression she added: “Not an actual horse. That’s just a saying. It just means I’m very hungry.”
Lexa nodded. “I can help you with both of those. Which would you like first?”
Clarke sniffed herself and was about to answer bath when her stomach gave a rumble and made its objections known. “Breakfast, please.”
Lexa walked her to the mess tent and they entered together. As they were greeted by the Trikru in there, “Heda, Skai Heda,” Clarke was surprised to see that there was very little difference in the tone of the voices or the depths of the nods given to each leader. Lexa seemed to notice it too, and dipped her head in approval.
Lexa just sat with her while she ate, having eaten already. The silence was awkward, neither woman appearing willing to speak, or perhaps just not knowing what to say.
When she had finished, Lexa rose and said “I can have a bath prepared for you in my tent.”
Clarke choked. She had no idea what to say to that.
Lexa tried to interpret her silence. “I will leave you alone and ensure you are not disturbed.”
That soothed one of Clarke’s anxieties, but not all of them. “Will your people think…?” she wasn’t sure how to articulate what she was asking.
Lexa dropped her eyes. “What they will think is that which I wish to be true,” she admitted.
“Lexa, I’m not… I can’t…”
“I know,” she sighed. “I will show you to the communal baths, and leave you soap and towels and clothes.”
“Thank you,” Clarke fought the urge to apologise, the urge to explain, the urge to change her mind. They walked to the baths in silence.
Scrubbing herself clean in a small curtained-off area in the communal baths, head whirling with questions. Could she forgive Lexa? Could she trust her? Perhaps more importantly, could she forgive herself? Did she deserve to?
She had been through those questions many times over before she realised that the one thing that had never been in doubt was the fact that she wanted to.
Her heart raced.
She forced herself to finish washing, and dressed in the clothes Lexa had left for her, trying not to think about whose they were. Were they Lexa’s? Had they been on her skin? Had Lexa chosen them for Clarke, imagining her in them?
Unable to deal with the thoughts running through her head, she went to the infirmary and threw herself into work.
All the patients were doing better. The villagers with wounds from the missile were healing, and those rescued from the mountain were getting stronger. Nyko told her that all of those who had had transfusions had awoken and managed to eat a little. She went over to that corner of the tent, to find them all sleeping peacefully except Arcas, who was sitting up a little, awake and alert.
“Fisa Clarke,” she started, “Jonas has told me what your people did for ours, and what you did for me. Mochof.”
Clarke wanted to disclaim it, but Arcas looked so serious that she could only say “You’re welcome.”
She started to busy herself with her equipment preparing to examine the other woman when Arcas stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Wait. I owe you my life. I would like to give you something.”
She rummaged weakly in a pile of things on the stool by her bed, emerging holding a padlock. She held it out to Clarke. “This is the lock from my cage in the mountain. It is a symbol of the fate you saved me from, and the debt I owe to you. Please take it.”
Clarke held out her hand and accepted it mutely.
“You saved my life.”
Fist clenched around the lock, Clarke suddenly had a vision of how she could - not heal her conscience for it would never be whole again - but perhaps patch it. A life for a life.
Overcome, she clasped Arcas’ hand in her own. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
She excused herself, searching Nyko’s tables until she found a scrap of hide, which she wrapped carefully round the padlock. Checking quickly that all the patients were okay, she hurried back to her tent and placed the wrapped bundle in the bottom of her pack.
Then she went to find Lexa.
Reaching Lexa’s tent, she heard voices inside, so she stepped away to wait. It was only a few minutes later that the tent flaps opened and a number of Trikru exited, nodding to Clarke as they passed. She steeled herself to approach, making sure the Commander was alone.
“Lexa?” the other woman turned on hearing her voice, and if it was perhaps a little fast, a little eager, Clarke did not let herself notice. But whatever Lexa was expecting or hoping Clarke to say, it certainly what wasn’t what she heard next.
“How many people died in the dropship fire? How many exactly?”
“What?” Lexa barked, furious.
“Lexa, the deaths on my head… I need to know them. How can I go on as if the number doesn’t matter? As if each life doesn’t matter?”
Lexa’s rage softened a little. “Though we hated you for those deaths, we know that the deaths of warriors who have come to wipe you out should not weigh on your conscience.”
“But they do, Lexa,” she tried to explain. “I set that fire. I wielded the knife. I held my silence. I pulled the lever. You tell me I was justified. Well, I need to know that. I need to count and weigh and balance each life. This is what I need. This is what I need to go on living, leading, bearing the weight of my people’s survival. I want to bury my ghosts, and I think I can, but this is what I need.”
Lexa’s anger had completely disappeared, replaced by something that looked oddly like hope.
“Two hundred and ninety one,” she said quietly, motionless.
Clarke heard her like two hundred and ninety one spears to her chest, hammering her down, but also like two hundred and ninety one reasons to stand back up.
“I’m sorry,” she could only whisper. She stepped forward and reached briefly out to touch Lexa’s hand, hanging still by her side. “Thank you.”
She walked out of the tent, leaving Lexa still standing, staring after her.
She stood at the edge of the village, staring out into the woods, counting up the weights on her shoulders. The dropship, Finn, the missile, the mountain. The number was too large, too large, almost more than she could bear, and its burden weighed her down, dropping her to her knees.
But, she thought as she forced herself to stand back up, that burden was now fifteen souls lighter.
She spent the rest of the day as she had the day before: the afternoon hauling rubble and bricks before a quick dinner in the mess tent, the evening in the infirmary checking on her patients, the night succumbing to the waiting dreams.
In the morning when she woke, her tent was again guarded by Lexa and two other warriors. This time Lexa didn’t speak to her but waited until the other two guards had gone before smiling at Clarke, a rare and precious sight, and then departing herself.
Walking into the infirmary, Clarke was greeted again by Arcas, who was talking to two other warriors lying in the beds next to her. “Fisa Clarke, we have spoken with Arcas. Everyone here knows what you did for us. We would also like to give you a symbol of our debt,” one said, picking up her knife and cutting a braid, holding it out to her. “For my life.”
The other reached to the stool by his bed and picked something up, offering it to Clarke. It was an earring. “This was left to me by the woman who gave me life. I give it now to a woman who saved it.”
Clarke stood clutching the gifts, overwhelmed. As an Arker, she would have brushed it off as just doing her job, but the three warriors were looking at her so earnestly that she said only “I accept your gifts gladly, and I thank you for them.”
The moment turned uncomfortable and lingered, before Clarke turned away to grab her medical equipment, tucking the tokens in her pocket. She checked their recovery, conversation awkward, and then hurried to another part of the tent to check on another patient.
Throughout the day the scene repeated itself as other patients woke up. When she left the infirmary, she had in her pockets fourteen items: braids, shaped metal, polished stones, each worthless as itself but priceless as a symbol.
She searched for something to wrap each item in, but could only find a few small scraps of leather. She decided she needed to learn to get her own leather, and with it her own food, so before heading to the missile site to haul rocks, she stopped to find Indra to ask a favour.
“I would like to learn how to hunt properly. Is there a hunter who can be spared from their work and willing to teach me?”
Indra regarded her silently. Clarke could never tell what the older woman was thinking. It was an improvement over the outright hostility she had displayed in the past, but it left Clarke off balance.
“I will ask.”
That seemed like it was all Clarke was getting for an answer. She thanked the other woman and then turned to leave.
“Nyko tells me I owe you for the lives of my warriors.”
“Yes, I saved their lives, but no, there is no debt owing.”
“Anyway, I thank you.” Indra looked as if it pained her to say it, but Clarke accepted the thanks graciously and left for her afternoon tasks.
The next morning her nightmares were interrupted before she could wake screaming. It was still dark when she was startled out of sleep by the sound of someone standing at her tent flaps calling her name.
“Lexa? What are you doing?” she asked groggily, not moving from her covers.
“I am teaching you to hunt.”
Clarke sat up suddenly at that. “You? I thought…”
“I am a hunter. I can be spared. I will teach you.”
“Oh.” Clarke didn’t have a response to that.
It wasn’t until Lexa backed hastily out of the tent that Clarke realised that her covers had fallen away when she sat up. Fighting down a blush, she got out of bed and dressed quickly, glad that it was dark when she joined Lexa outside.
At such an early hour the village was deserted. She saw that there were no guards around her tent – Lexa must have dismissed them. She had to ask. She had to know. “Lexa, why do you stand guard outside my tent at night? Why do you shield my nightmares from your people? Why do you stand guard?”
“Because it is needed. And because…” she paused, looking as if she was fighting with herself over the answer. “Because there are times when my guards must perform the same service for me.”
Clarke was stunned, at both the content of that admission and the telling of it. “Lexa…” she sighed, reaching out an uncertain hand.
“Come, let us hunt.” Lexa appeared desperately uncomfortable, and Clarke allowed her the change of subject.
Lexa led her to the edge of the woods and gave her a short bow and a quiver of arrows. She showed her how to string it, how to hold it, how to pull an arrow from the quiver at her back, how to draw, how to aim and how to loose.
Clarke tried not to shiver when Lexa touched her leg or her arm to adjust her stance, and when she failed, she told herself it was the cold.
Lexa explained as she taught. “This bow is a lighter draw as you are beginning. It will bring down a small deer but nothing larger. When your muscles develop from practice, I will give you a heavier one.”
Clarke actually found this reassuring: picking up a bow felt a little too much like picking up a weapon, so it pleased her to know the bow in her hands would be little use as one.
Lexa had set up some bags of straw at various distances around the woods. “We will practise your aim before we go for game.”
Clarke didn’t find it as difficult as she had feared: her aim was already good with a handgun from many hours of practice, so once she learned how to draw and fire correctly and make allowances for the slower velocity, she was able to hit her target on most shots. Her main problem was seeing them in the dark, but she knew that most hunting would be done in low light so she had to get used to it.
When she had been practising for a few hours and the sky was starting to lighten, Lexa called a halt. Clarke knew she hadn’t managed to impress Lexa, but the look on her face told her she hadn’t disappointed her either, and that was enough.
As they walked back to camp, Clarke started to hand the bow back, but Lexa stopped her. “It is yours. It is… a gift.”
Clarke looked at her, unsure how to feel, but settled for saying “Mochof. I will practise.” Lexa avoided her gaze.
They parted awkwardly and Clarke went to get breakfast before heading to the healers’ tent.
She had been there for only an hour before she realised she would not be needed for a while: the patients were all recovering well, and some had even left the infirmary. She was about to leave to see what other tasks she could do when a voice at the door stopped her.
“Fisa Clarke? There are some of your people to see you.” Clarke froze.
“Give me a moment,” she managed to croak at last. She forced her feet to take her to the tent’s entrance.
Standing behind a Trikru warrior were Lincoln, Octavia and her mother.
“Clarke!” Abby burst out on seeing her daughter, rushing forward to embrace her. Clarke allowed the contact but didn’t return it, suffocating under the weight of her mother’s concern.
Abby stepped back and looked at her “We’ve been so worried!” she said, stroking Clarke’s face.
“I’m fine,” Clarke insisted. “Please, can we go somewhere a little more private?”
The others nodded and followed her as she led them a little way into the woods. She noticed that the warrior who had brought them to her followed along and took up a station in the woods just out of earshot.
“Clarke, come back home. Please?” Abby entreated.
“Mom, I can’t. I can’t leave until Tondc is rebuilt.”
“But Clarke, we need you.”
“They need me here. You know…” she tailed off, looking at Lincoln uncertainly.
“Clarke, he knows,” Octavia answered her unasked question.
“Then you all know why I need to be here to help.”
The others looked at her in silence.
“Mom, you don’t need me as a medic. You’re there and you have Jackson. You don’t need me as a war leader; we’re not at war anymore. And that seems to be all I’m good for,” she said bitterly.
“No, Clarke!” Abby rushed to reassure her. “That’s not who you are!”
“It is, Mom. Maybe it’s not all I am, but it is who I am. How can you say otherwise?”
Abby didn’t have an answer to that.
“You don’t need me, Mom. I need to stay here.”
“Clarke, I need you! I need my daughter! I can’t lose you again.”
Clarke broke a little then. “I know,” she sighed. “I know. And I need you too, Mom. But I need my sanity first. And this is what it will take to rebuild it.”
“Oh Clarke,” Abby just pulled her into another hug, and this time Clarke wrapped her arms around her, burying her head in her mother’s shoulder.
She was barely aware of Octavia and Lincoln leaving quietly before she started to sob.
Clarke and Abby held each other for long moments, crying in each other’s arms.
At last Abby pulled away. “I understand. I wish you didn’t have to do this, but I understand.”
“Thanks Mom.” She took the flask of water off her hip and offered it to Abby. “To wash your face.”
When Abby had returned the flask and she had washed her own face, she offered to show Abby round Tondc.
Abby accepted gladly, grateful for any chance to spend time with her daughter before she had to return to Camp Jaha.
Clarke took her to see how much progress had been made at the missile crater. When she showed her the big piles of rocks that she had moved to the new building sites, Abby looked scandalised: “Clarke! They’re making you haul rubble?”
“No, Mom. I offered to. When I said I wanted to help rebuild Tondc, I meant it literally.” Abby smiled at that.
She led Abby to the infirmary and showed her around. When the doctor laid eyes on her purloined equipment, Clarke dropped her eyes guiltily.
“Sorry Mom. I knew they would need it; they’d lost so much blood, and I couldn’t face you to ask for it.”
Abby stared at her for a moment. “It’s okay. Wait… did you perform transfusions? I didn’t know you knew how to do that.” She sounded surprised, and proud, and Clarke couldn’t help the feeling of warmth that infused her.
“Yeah.” It wasn’t quite a smile, but it was the nearest thing that Clarke had managed since… since forever.
After Clarke showed her round the rest of the infirmary and introduced her to some of the patients, they went to the mess tent for lunch. Lincoln and Octavia met them there.
“Lincoln, I’m glad Indra let you come back to Tondc.”
“I am glad too, but it was Heda, not Indra, who made that decision.”
“Then… I am doubly glad.”
She looked then at Octavia. “Can we… can we talk?”
“Yeah,” the other girl huffed out, looking uncomfortable. They left Lincoln and Abby at the table and walked to Clarke’s tent.
“Can I start?” At Clarke’s nod, Octavia continued. “I hated you. You know I hated you. But I listened to Indra and Lincoln, and I had my brother home safe because of what you did. And I realised what it must have been like for you. So… I don’t hate you. I understand. I don’t think I can thank you for what you had to do to keep Bellamy safe, but I understand, and I want our friendship back.”
Clarke just stepped forward and pulled her into a hug.
“I also talked to Ryder. He told me what you stopped him from doing. So I do thank you for that. He gave me the arrowhead he was going to shoot me with. I think you should have it.” She took Clarke’s hand and closed her fingers around it, and with that, Clarke realised that her burden was another soul lighter.
They returned to the mess tent in a better mood. Too soon, though, Abby announced that they had to leave if they wanted to get back to Camp Jaha by nightfall.
Before they left, Lincoln pulled Clarke to one side. “I spoke to Heda. She told me of your need to… balance each life. I don’t understand – what’s done is done – but one of the lives you have saved was mine. Please, take this: a reminder of the life you saved me from.” He held out an empty vial of the Red.
Clarke took it carefully, not being able to imagine the agony he must have felt of knowing what he had been made to become. Though she didn’t know him that well, she pulled him into an embrace. “Thank you,” she whispered.
The next morning Clarke wasn’t surprised to be woken again by Lexa in the early hours. She got dressed and grabbed her bow silently and followed her out to the woods.
Lexa had decided that Clarke was ready to try for game. She told her how to look for game trails and identify tracks, how to walk without noise. Clarke found walking silently too difficult, so, after an admonition to practise, Lexa had her stand at the edge of a clearing downwind from a stream, bow ready but not drawn, waiting.
When she first saw a hare coming to the stream, she was too eager, drawing her bow jerkily and loosing before she was ready. She knew the instant the arrow left the bow that she had missed, and the hare startled and sprang away.
“I know, Lexa. I know what I did wrong,” she pre-empted.
“Then you are learning.” Lexa nodded in what looked almost like approval. Clarke warmed to it.
“Lexa,” she started. “I forgot to thank you yesterday, for offering to teach me. Thank you. Mochof.”
“No thanks are needed. You… know why I do it,” Lexa said, raising her eyes to Clarke’s.
Blood rushed in Clarke’s ears. “Lexa…”
“I’m sorry, Clarke. I should not push. I know. Not yet.”
“Not yet,” Clarke agreed softly, “but perhaps… perhaps not long.”
The hope in Lexa’s usually stoic eyes was almost more than Clarke could bear, and she almost found herself closing the distance between them, but she pulled up short, memories burning behind her eyes: of Lexa’s face when she left her at the mountain, and of her own hand pulling the lever.
She gasped. “I’m sorry.”
Lexa drew her close and held her, and Clarke felt no expectation from her, only comfort, and all at once something cleared within her and she realised: “Lexa, I know I told you that you don’t need my forgiveness, but… you have it.”
The arms around her didn’t move but she felt them stiffen, and when she looked up she realised that the other woman had tears running down her face. She reached up and wiped them from Lexa’s cheek, sighing at the softness.
The intensity of the moment too much for both of them, Clarke quirked her lips a little, and, fingers still lingering on Lexa’s tears, said: “I promise not to tell anybody.”
“Nobody would believe you anyway,” Lexa grinned, taking the escape route. “Come, let us continue the hunt.”
Clarke let go, surprised at how reluctant she was to do so, and took her bow up again, resuming her position in the cover of some trees. Her eyes turned to find Lexa, but she had already melted to invisibility in the shadows.
Clarke waited motionless, trying hard to heed Lexa’s instructions and suppress her impatience, for what seemed like hours. At last, a fox approached the stream. She made herself draw in a slow silent breath then sighted her bow, drawing it as she raised it. With a steady exhale, she loosed the arrow, aiming for its chest. She was a little off: the arrow hit its hind leg instead and it yelped, trying to run. Clarke rushed forward to catch it and managed to grab its tail. It whipped round, snarling, and she narrowly escaped a bite.
“Lexa! I don’t have a knife!” she called, cursing herself for being unprepared. Lexa was by her side in an instant, pressing a dagger into her hand, and she took it and struck for the fox’s neck. It took two strokes, but at last it was still.
“Your first catch, Clarke.” Lexa seemed proud. “But you need to carry a knife. Indra told me why you do not. But she is right. Now it would have only cost you your food. At another time, it might cost you your life.”
She sighed, conceding. “You’re right. I don’t like it, but you’re right.”
“Clarke, a knife is only an object. A tool. It is the hand which wields it that turns it into a weapon.” With that, Lexa unbuckled a knife belt from around her own waist and drew it round Clarke’s. “This is yours now.” Clarke flushed at the contact of the arms around her body.
“Lexa, you don’t have to, I can get my own…”
“I want to. Do not worry. I have plenty of knives,” she added drily, and Clarke could only nod in agreement.
Clarke picked up her prize and they returned to the village. Near the edge, Lexa sat her down and showed her how to clean and gut it. Clarke’s knowledge of anatomy meant that she did not need as much help as she thought she would, and after many of the things she had done as a healer, she was not squeamish. She thought she acquitted herself relatively well.
After parting from Lexa, she took the carcass to the mess tent for the cooks and asked them if there was a village tanner. They pointed her in a direction away from the village. “Keep going that way. Trust me, you will know when you are close!” one added with a grin.
As predicted, Clarke smelled it long before she saw it, and she appreciated the fact that it was located well away from the village centre. She traded her fox skin for some cured leather.
She took it back to her tent and cut it into pieces, carefully wrapping each of the tokens she had been given and placing them in her pack. She had a few bits of leather left over and she stared at them for a moment.
An idea formed in her head, a way to count the costs, to keep score. She knew it was morbid, but she couldn’t shake it.
The next several days were spent in the same way: waking early to hunt with Lexa, taking her meat to the cooks and her skins to the tanner to exchange for leather. Spending her mornings and evenings in the healers’ tent, and her afternoons helping with the rebuilding. Her nights falling drained into her bed. Some nights she was too tired to dream, and she chased that, forcing herself to work harder each day in pursuit of exhaustion.
The day she had collected enough strips of hide she laid them all out on the table in her tent. One piece for each life she had taken. One piece for each token of a life that she needed to save in repayment.
She stared at them. There were so many – almost a thousand. So many it seemed impossible that she would ever fill them all up, but she knew the only way she would have peace was if she tried. They took up the whole area of the table, and the sight burned bitterly into her brain, but strangely she felt lighter, as if the burden was now no longer wholly on her shoulders but weighed on the table before her.
She was still staring when Lexa found her.
“Clarke? What is this?”
Wordlessly, Clarke opened her pack, taking out the seventeen tokens that she had wrapped there. She opened each one and showed them to Lexa, explaining haltingly.
“Each represents a life saved. I feel like… I feel like if I can save enough… I can be free of the weight that’s crushing me. Those wrappings represent how much I’m still carrying.” She managed to keep her voice steady, but couldn’t stop the tears streaming from her eyes.
Lexa moved to wrap her in an embrace. “Let me help. Let me share the weight.”
“I can’t, Lexa, I can’t. How can I? How can I make you share my burdens when you have so many of your own?”
Lexa stilled. “That… is true. But I would gladly take yours if it meant you could heal.”
“I know,” Clarke sighed, looking into Lexa’s eyes. “I know. But this is my pain, and I will not let you suffer any more of it than you have to.” She paused, not sure if she should continue but unable to stop herself. “It makes me… not whole. And I can’t… offer you less than all of me.” She forced herself to hold Lexa’s gaze.
Lexa looked thunderstruck, and hopeful, and scared, and determined, all at once.
“I understand,” she said, pressing a gentle kiss to Clarke’s forehead and then slowly letting go and leaving Clarke alone in her tent.
Clarke sat heavily on her bed, wondering what she had done and if she was ready for it.
The next day she was roused from her work in the infirmary by a disturbance outside and someone calling her name. She looked up at Nyko who just nodded for her to go.
She left the tent to see dozens of her people standing near the entrance to the village. She rushed over. “Is everything okay? What’s wrong? Why are you here?”
“Relax, Clarke,” Raven said, pulling her into a rough hug. “We just missed you. Your mom told us you were here, and we just wanted to see you.”
Octavia joined the hug, then Monty slapped Clarke on the back, and then Bellamy wrapped them all in a bear hug. Suddenly she was surrounded by her friends. The friends she had left Camp Jaha to avoid. She didn’t know what to feel. She’d sold her soul to save them and was reminded of that every time she looked at their faces, but at that moment, she was just so glad to see them.
She sought out Indra who had been standing nearby with her guards, and asked if it was okay to show her friends round the village. At her nod she took them round the tents, showing them the infirmary, from the outside so as not to disturb her patients, and taking them past the missile site. Most of them hadn’t seen it, had only heard the story.
They stood, staring at the devastation. “Woah,” Monty broke the silence.
“Yeah,” Clarke said, full of regret. “I’ve been helping. That pile of rocks there is mine,” she added proudly.
“You’re digging rocks?” Raven asked, tilting her head.
“Someone needs to do it.”
“Clarke,” Bellamy started. “Can we help? We didn’t realise how bad it was. We can help.”
She stared at him. The others behind him were nodding.
“Uh, sure, I guess.”
She took them all down to see the crew leader, who looked at her with her army of volunteers in silence before assigning them tasks.
They worked for hours, the extra labour meaning that more progress was made in that time than in the three days previous.
When they stopped for a quick break, Raven drew her a little away from the others and pressed something into her hand. “This is the drill point that I had to pull out of my leg. I want you to have it. You saved my life. I’d have been drained and dead if not for what you did. Thank you.”
Clarke looked at her oddly. “Thank you, but why did you decide to…?” she wondered how the other girl knew what she’d been doing.
“No reason,” Raven said, looking down shiftily.
Clarke let it go.
A little while later, Bellamy too pulled her aside. “Here. Have this. Thanks for… saving us from the mountain.” He pressed a mountain guard badge from the uniform he had stolen into her hand and then walked off awkwardly before she could say anything.
Over the next hour as they worked, one by one, each of her friends found an excuse to talk to her alone, giving her a token and saying thank you. A broken piece of radio from Monty, a spent cartridge case from Miller, various buttons, pieces of tools, knobs or dials, a bit of transfusion tubing, little swatches of cloth. Each a useless piece of junk and each proffered with only thanks but no explanation.
Clarke felt incredibly warmed, but also completely baffled: how did they know she had been collecting symbols, and why did they decide to give them to her now?
Looking around at her friends for answers, she found everyone facing away or avoiding her gaze awkwardly. Except Octavia. She seemed to be looking at everyone with approval. Clarke walked over to her.
“O, what’s going on?”
Octavia grinned. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but yesterday evening, the Commander arrived at Camp Jaha, called everyone together that she could find, and harangued us within an inch of our lives. She told everyone where you were, reminded us of what you did for us, raged at us for letting you walk away alone, told us we’d better prove ourselves worthy of you, so that you would believe that you were worthy of us.”
Clarke sat stunned. “Oh.”
Octavia’s grin only grew wider. “You’ve made quite an impression, there.”
Clarke couldn’t stop the hot blush from flooding her body.
“Something you want to tell me, Clarke?”
“There isn’t… we’re not…”
“It’s okay, Clarke. Not my business. Anyway, what did she get you?”
“She hasn’t gotten me anything,” Clarke answered, for the first time wondering why. “I mean, she gave me some clothes, and a bow, and a knife, but nothing for my… collection.”
“What? You sure saved her life enough times. What’s she playing at?” Octavia looked angry.
“I don’t know…” Clarke said slowly.
“I’m going to say something to her,” Octavia declared.
Octavia only looked stubborn.
“Please. She only just learnt about it yesterday. Maybe she’s going to… Please don’t.”
Octavia changed the subject. “Anyway, this is just all who could get away today. I think you’re going to have a lot more people visiting you with gifts over the next little while,” she grinned.
Clarke didn’t notice that she hadn’t promised not to say anything.
Octavia’s prediction turned out to be true: over the next few weeks, Arkers arrived in twos and threes, or small groups, each pressing a small object into her hand. Sometimes they had a pretext for why they were in Tondc, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they brought with them tokens from others who couldn’t travel or couldn’t be spared the time to leave.
She wrapped each one in a piece of leather from her table and tucked it carefully into her bag. As the pieces disappeared from the table she could feel herself getting lighter, her sleep getting easier.
But there was one piece that she had laid to one side that remained tauntingly empty.
One day her mother arrived again. She brought some medical equipment and spent a little time with Nyko sharing knowledge, and she persuaded Clarke to take the afternoon off and show her round the woods outside the village.
Before she left, she gave Clarke a little data disk.
“This was the message your father recorded for the Ark. I played it to them in the end. There’s nothing still working that will play it, so it’s worthless, but… it’s a reminder of the hard decisions we’ve both had to make for our people. I wish… I wish that role had never been placed on you… but I’m so proud of the way you have played it.”
Clarke cried. So did Abby.
Clarke wrapped the disk up and placed it with the rest.
Even more surprising than the gifts from her people were the tokens she began receiving from the Trikru.
“Skai Heda. I was in the mountain. Were it not for the alliance you formed to force the Maunon’s hand, I would never have been freed. You saved my life,” one man explained.
People even travelled from other clans, usually in small groups, bringing her the gifts from all of their people who had been rescued. Clarke accepted them gratefully, but wondered how they had known. Surely only Lexa would have told them?
Yet that scrap of leather remained bare.
Lexa still woke her up every morning and took her hunting. She was still hesitant and wondering whenever they brushed hands, or rubbed shoulders, or embraced. She still presented Clarke with gifts, practical items like a new pair of boots, a jacket, a game bag, a wrist guard.
But nothing to fill that little piece of leather on her table. No acknowledgement of the life Clarke had saved, from the Pauna, and from the missile. Though she knew what it meant to Clarke, there was nothing.
The rebuilding work was going well. Everyone from the infirmary was recovering and leaving, so Clarke was needed less and less, only occasionally required for injuries sustained while hunting or in over-eager sparring. So she spent more of her time on the work sites. The rubble had been cleared and the ground prepared for new buildings.
Clarke learned to dig foundations, to plane boards, to lash timbers and thatch roofs. She was fitting boards together for a floor when Lexa joined her, silently picking up a plane and going to work smoothing the joints. This didn’t surprise Clarke: Lexa took her turn often enough on the work crews, showing her people she would do any task that was needed. But it warmed her as the other woman knelt close to her, occasionally praising Clarke’s work, the rest of the time working in companionable silence.
After a long while Lexa broke that silence.
She was staring deliberately at her work when she said: “This hut… this hut that we are building… could be yours. Permanently.”
“Lexa…” Clarke breathed wonderingly. “Lexa look at me.”
When Lexa obeyed, her eyes were full of such sad hope that Clarke couldn’t help but raise her hand to Lexa’s cheek.
“Lexa, I can’t stay here permanently,” she started, then hurried to heal the wounded look that had entered Lexa’s eyes, “but I would be honoured to stay in this house whenever I am in Tondc.” The wounded look didn’t disappear. “Lexa, please. You know my people at Camp Jaha need me. But these are also my people here now, and I will always come back here.”
Lexa still looked unsure, so Clarke didn’t even think before saying: “I will always come back to you.”
The look in Lexa’s eyes seemed to Clarke to be the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She raised her other hand to Lexa’s face, brushing gently over the planes of her cheek. Lexa returned the gesture, both hands exploring Clarke’s face in turn. They knelt that way for an age, staring at each other, before Clarke realised with a blush that there was a whole village out there and the walls hadn’t been built yet.
Seeing her blush, Lexa queried “Clarke?”
“Lexa, people are watching.”
“Let them watch. I am proud to show my people what you mean to me.”
Clarke blushed impossibly hotter.
“If you are?” Lexa suddenly seemed desperately uncertain.
“I am,” Clarke reassured her. “But… what will they think?”
“My people could be nothing but proud that their Heda has Clarke of the Skaikru by her side.”
Clarke had no response to that, so she just stared, wide-eyed and smiling.
“Come. Let us build your house.”
As the days passed, the village neared completion, and Clarke’s collection of tokens slowly grew, until:
“Jasper,” she whispered, as the boy was ushered into the infirmary where she was working.
“Clarke,” he replied, pain in his eyes.
“Go, Clarke,” Nyko urged without prompting.
Clarke led Jasper out of the tent and to her own. She offered him her only stool and sat herself on the bed. They stared at each other, the silence aching and awful.
Clarke broke first. She dropped to her knees in front of him. “Jasper, I’m so, so sorry.”
He dropped down to meet her.
“Clarke, listen. I know why you did it. I know. I know that I probably wouldn’t have been able to kill Cage, and even if I had, they never would have stopped. They never would have stopped until they had killed us all, and then they would have come for everyone else. I know.” He was crying.
“I hated you for so long, and I never thought about how you felt. I tried to convince myself that you had a choice, but I realise that you didn’t. You had no choice. You had no choice and you’ve had to live with that. I think… I still hate what you did. But I don’t hate you, and I understand. I don’t know if that’s forgiveness, but… I trust you and I want my friend back.”
By the time he had finished, Clarke was crying too. She grabbed him in a hug and held him tight, and he held her back with equal strength. They cried until their shared grief was spent.
When they pulled apart he said “Everyone has told me about your collection. So I wanted to give you this.” He pulled out a ribbon. “It was Maya’s,” he said softly. “I know that what you did saved my life and everyone else’s. And even before that, I owed you my life several times over. None of the hundred would have survived if not for you. I know you blame yourself for the actions you’ve had to take, but each time you had no choice. You did have a choice every time you saved one of us, every time you worked for us, and kept us safe. You didn’t have to do that. But you did, and we’re alive because of that.
“So take this as a symbol of the choices you’ve made that saved my life. And I hope it brings you one step closer to feeling like you can come back to us.”
She took the ribbon reverently and took a piece of leather from her table to wrap it. It was the second-last one. There was only one left. That one. Clarke bit her lip sadly as she looked at it.
“Thank you Jasper. It does. I am nearly ready to come home.”
She took him to the mess tent and introduced him to people. They sat and talked for hours, only occasionally stalling into awkwardness, almost, but not quite, back to the friendship they had once shared.
When it was time for him to go back to camp, she clasped his arm, Trikru-style, and then pulled him into a tight hug.
“Thank you Jasper. Be safe.”
“You too, Clarke. Be safe.”
When she slept that night, it was the lightest she had felt since… almost since her dad had told her about the engineering failure.
She woke the next morning at the usual time to Lexa’s voice at her door. She dressed quickly, then, as had become habit, invited Lexa to step inside to wait for her while she laced her boots and wrist braces.
She was focussed on the complex ties and didn’t notice that Lexa had gone abnormally still, staring at the table.
“Okay, I’m done,” she said, pulling the tent flaps aside.
“Clarke, wait,” Lexa croaked.
Clarke turned back quickly. “Lexa, what is it?”
“You said… that you needed to balance each life lost with one saved… in order to be whole again,” Lexa began haltingly. “And I have wanted nothing more than to give you that.”
“I know, Lexa, I know. You have allowed me to repay my debt to Tondc, and I know you were the one who told my people what I needed. And your people. There are no words for how much you have lightened the load I’ve been carrying.”
“But I also wanted… to be the one to give you back the last piece of yourself.”
Clarke watched as Lexa reached into her jacket and brought something out, clenching it tightly in her fist.
“You know you’ve saved my life. You saved me from the pauna, though I called you weak for it. You saved me from the missile, though it cost you so much. But more than that, you’ve saved a part of me I thought was dead.
“I know you care for me. But I also know you cannot let yourself be completely mine, because you know I must be Heda before I am Lexa. I must think of my people before I think of myself. And I would not have you think you were second in anything.”
“Lexa, you don’t have to…”
“Please. I do.”
Clarke allowed her to continue. “Octavia came to see me. She asked me why I had not yet thanked you for my life with a token to heal you. She was very angry.”
“I asked her not to say anything!”
“I am glad she did. From the moment I saw what you needed to heal, I wanted to give it to you, but I did not know what would let you be whole. Until I talked to Octavia. I asked her about you, about the customs of the Sky people. I asked if there was a way to make your people my people, to make you mine, if you wish it, so that I might never again have to pit your happiness against that of my people, because they will be one and the same. So that you may feel completely safe if you choose to trust yourself to me.
“So this is my token for you. The stones were taken from the hilt of the sword that you broke in saving my life.”
She dropped to one knee and held out her hand. Lying on her palm Clarke saw two rings. They were identical, each a simple silver band with a clear stone set in it.
“Clarke, you are crying. Was this wrong? I swear, if Octavia has told me false, she will feel the pain of a thousand deaths.” She started to get to her feet.
“Lexa, stop,” Clarke said, laughing through her tears. “It’s perfect. It’s only wrong if it doesn’t mean… if it doesn’t mean what a ring means among the Skaikru. Does it mean that?” Clarke dropped to her knees too, so they were eye to eye, suddenly desperately afraid she’d misinterpreted everything.
“Does it mean that I will be Trikru and you will be Skaikru? That I will be yours and you will be mine?”
“Then it’s perfect.”
The lines of Lexa’s body seemed suddenly to soften, as all the tension she had been holding melted away.
“But why are there two?”
“One is for your ritual. To complete your healing. To make you whole,” she said, taking the last piece of leather from the table and wrapping a ring lovingly. “And one is for the Skaikru ritual. To bind me in promise to you.” She held it out for Clarke’s hand. As she slipped it onto Clarke’s finger, she hesitated. “To make me whole.”
Without conscious thought, Clarke moved forward, bringing her lips to Lexa’s, as she realised she had wanted to do since… since Lexa had first kissed her before her world fell apart. As she had wanted to do but been too afraid to, afraid that that the soft touch of lips would be a promise neither of them could keep.
But now, in this moment, there was no fear. There was only Lexa, the sigh of skin against skin and mouth against mouth, and when their lips touched, she knew that the silent oaths they were making were unbreakable.