if i loved you, i could be happy;
i would make you the light of my world.
i wouldn't wait, love; i'd marry you tomorrow
and we'd make love, and i'd be your girl.
You meet at the end of a war, this time, instead of the beginning.
This time neither of you are beholden to anyone. Neither of you commands armies or clans or death; neither of you radiates mountains. In fact, neither of you remembers that you used to do all of these things.
Until, one day, you do.
You never thought you’d be spending your days playing nice with the government, but then again you thought you’d be a writer when you grew up. But you have to be exceptional to make a career out of writing—like, truly exceptional; it might have been different five hundred years ago—and when you were nineteen you found plants instead. So you work in agriculture and you try to save the planet, and you write when you can (not always about plants).
You don’t have any time for writing these days because the world is still broken and you’re working overtime to fix it. Your current fight is with the bioengineers who want to use some kind of advanced terra-bomb to deal with the craters left in the wake of the civil war. A wake the whole country is feeling barely six months later, and you’ve tried to tell these scientists that you can’t move too quickly when it comes to nature, that very soon science will reach a threshold it can’t overcome.
But no one is listening to you and you’re running out of time, and so you’re here in the Department of Culture building, waiting for one last hail Mary meeting to start. You’ve come prepared with months of notes and studies and statistics and you will not be leaving until you’ve convinced whatever representative you’re meeting with that slow and steady is the only way to prevail.
“You’re from Agro, aren’t you?”
You look at the woman standing in the doorway—her hair is a little too hastily pulled back; she’s missed a button on her shirt; her fingernails are short and ragged, probably from too many hours spent chipping them against motherboards. Still, she oozes intelligence and authority, and you stifle a frustrated groan.
“Biotech?” you say in lieu of an answer. She nods. “I thought this was going to be a one-on-one meeting,” you grumble.
“Yeah, well, get in line,” she replies as she falls into the chair next to you.
You tap your fingers against the armrest, valiantly willing yourself not to talk until the representative shows up.
“Look, you can’t just science your way out of this fallout,” you blurt.
“Well, waiting on plants to grow isn’t exactly a great plan either.”
“Because after the terra-bombs hit, you just plan on coaxing crops into bloom?”
“No, science is going to coax them. Because that’s what science does; it fixes problems.”
“Science is what made this problem in the first place—”
“I see we’re going to have a wonderful meeting today.” A door shuts behind you and your representative walks in. You’ve been told she reports directly to the Council, which means she must be reasonable and trustworthy, and so you’re confident that she’ll see things from your point of view.
“Nice to meet you both,” she says as she sits down. “I’m Clarke Griffin.”
You immediately reach out your hand. “Lexa Woods.”
“You’re Woods?” the woman from biotech blurts.
Clarke shakes your hand and you watch her eyebrow quirk upwards. She mostly hides a smile, though. “You guys are arguing like you’re bitter rivals and you don’t even know each other’s names?”
The other woman doesn’t even notice. “Shit, they sent in their closer.”
Clarke gestures to her. “Which means you must be Raven Reyes,” and neither of them miss the way your eyebrows shoot up for a fleeting second.
“Oh yeah,” Raven smirks, “we sent our closer, too.”
Clarke touches the skin behind her ear, activating her com-plant, and pulls out her linked data pad to send off either a lengthy text or a short email.
“My assistant orders pizza when I have a stressful meeting,” she explains. “Sometimes I can even let her know in advance.”
“You’re not really what I was expecting,” you say, narrowing your eyes.
“Well, neither are the two of you, so let’s get down to it and see if we can’t make some progress.” She sits down, scooting closer to her desk and shuffling some papers. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do again. I’m hoping this time we can do it with a little more finesse than in the past.”
“You know what has a lot of finesse—”
“If you say science, I swear…”
You expel a breath through your nose as calmly as you can. If you had a rubberband on your wrist, you’d snap it. Repeatedly.
“The world will rebuild itself whether we’re here or not,” you offer.
Raven rolls her eyes. “Right, and we’d like to actually be here to see it.”
You shake your head. “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying science fixed what it could fix and should fix after the first apocalypse—we got rid of radiation; we extended the human lifespan; we got technology going again—and now maybe it’s time to sit back a little and let the world rebuild us, instead of the other way around.”
“You know, you’re awfully poetic for someone who looks so serious.”
“And you’re awfully—”
“Okay, okay; hold on.” Clarke leans forward and steeples her fingers; you don’t miss the sigh she tries to cover up. “Putting philosophy aside for a second—a second,” she stresses when you roll your eyes; next to you, Raven mutters botanists like she’s scooping the word from a sewage pile, and you have to resist the urge to roll your eyes again. “Give me the numbers.”
Raven starts first, yammering a mile a minute while you’re still taking a breath. It’s alright with you; you’ve always been better at defense. You reorganize your papers, placing them in the order that will best counter whichever arguments you think Raven will start with. You flip around some of the pages even further as you half-listen to what she’s actually saying.
She finally sits back in her chair, smirking only a little more smugly than she should. (If you were in biotech, the two of you would get along famously. But you’re not, so you’re more than content to poke giant holes in her science.)
“I have the same reports Ms. Reyes does,” you begin, “and her numbers aren’t incorrect.” Raven smirks a little more. You wait. “What I’m concerned with is what happens after the terra-bombs. The science that biotech wants to use to fix the world would actually irreversibly change the composition of the soil and effectually render it inhospitable to most organic life. What will we be left with? Mushrooms?”
“And tarragon,” Raven reluctantly admits.
“Russian tarragon,” you correct. “Not even the good stuff.” You hand Clarke a packet detailing what your team believes will be the aftermath of Raven’s terra-bombs; it’s twenty-five pages and her shoulders slump a little as she takes it from you. “Biotech will tell you that they’re close to finding a solution for the soil problem. But, despite our best efforts, we don’t have enough in the food stores to feed the country while we wait for that to come to fruition.”
Clarke looks over the packet. You can’t read her face, but you remain hopeful. “Okay,” she says slowly. “So what does your team suggest?”
“We’ve come up with a controlled-release fertilizer compound that deposits necessary nutrients into the soil, including a generous helping of bioavailable phosphorus.”
“Uh huh. And then what?”
“And then…we wait,” you answer, trying not to squirm.
“Hmm.” The more Clarke looks at you, the less hopeful you remain. “How long until our dwindling crop situation becomes truly dire?”
“Three months,” both you and Raven answer.
“At the most,” Raven clarifies.
“And how long will your fertilizer take to work?”
“It starts working immediately; there isn’t a magic switch that releases everything at once after a certain period of time.” Clarke and Raven wait, Raven with a little more superiority. “It does take about ten weeks for all the nutrients to be released, though.”
“Not a lot of wiggle room,” Clarke says.
“That’s why we have the terra-bombs,” Raven adds.
“If my choice is between death or mushrooms…” Clarke huffs out a breath and taps her fingers on her desk. “God, I hate mushrooms.”
You smile in spite of yourself.
“I’ll be honest,” Clarke says. “The Council would approve the terra-bombs today if I brought them the data. They prefer immediate results. But I am the one bringing them a solution and I’m worried about the lack of thought biotech has put into the long-term effects of their bombs. Life should be about more than just surviving, right?”
Someone knocks on the door; you can smell pizza. Clarke grabs the two boxes from her assistant and puts one on an extra chair behind her. The other she passes to you.
“I want to see both of you back here in a month. I’m confident you can use that time to work together and bring me a nice compromise of a solution. This first pizza’s on me, since I’m sure you’ll need a lot of it to get through what will undoubtedly be some very interesting brainstorming sessions.”
The shock you feel is mirrored in Raven’s face, and you both sit there until it becomes clear that Clarke has nothing more to say. Raven scoffs as she picks up her coat and bag, grabbing the pizza out of your hands as she leaves.
“There better not be mushrooms on that thing,” you grumble as you follow her.
Something nags at you for the rest of the day—a memory you can’t quite place, a person you can’t quite remember. It distracts you from your work and infuriates Raven, though you won’t admit to being off your game in front of her. So far, you’re both putting up a good fight and no substantial progress has been made.
So you grab some beers and your third pizza of the day and take a break, settling down in a dingy chair on the balcony.
You wish the railing were closer so you could prop your feet up. “I have a question for you, but I don’t want to ask it unless we establish some ground rules.”
“Raven, I’m serious.”
She takes a swig of her beer and burps into her hand. “What kind of ground rules?”
“When we need breaks, we order pizza.”
“No talking shop when we eat said pizza.”
“Science and cheese don’t mix; got it.”
“No more than two pizzas in a twelve-hour time span.”
“Aw, do some of us need to watch out for their figure?”
“Yes, you do.” You can’t help grinning at Raven’s scowl. “Can I ask my question now?”
“Do you believe in reincarnation?”
Raven scoffs. “You’re asking a scientist? Oh, wait; that breaks a rule. You’re asking an ientist-scay?”
“Well, do you?”
You sip your beer until there’s not much left. “I don’t know,” you finally answer. “I’d like to believe in something spiritual, and I know memory is more complex than we can understand. It’s comforting to think that there’s something more, that maybe we’re something more. But that kind of hope and faith is, it’s—”
“Terrifying,” Raven nods.
“It’s incomprehensible to me.”
“What, waiting to be reinvented?”
“No.” You shake your head. “The selflessness. If you keep living different lives forever, who are you?”
“Yeah, but how do you know who you are in just one lifetime anyway?”
Raven’s lab overlooks an alley where the engineers perform experiments. It’s charred black from explosions and pockmarked with paint and residue that no amount of rain will ever wash away. (Alley is a generous description, really. Pit is more apt.)
You sigh and finish off your beer, throwing the bottle into the pit. Raven laughs at the distant crash.
“Why don’t we just put your special fertilizer inside my bomb?”
“Listen, I know how that sounded too but that’s not what’s important right now.”
“No, I—we’ve already talked about this. Your bomb has explosive material and you know what’s a really good explosive material? Lead. So what’s your bomb filled with? Lead. You know what can really fuck up organic life?”
“Boy, I bet I can guess.”
“Lead. Also, fuck you.”
“You’ve got phosphorous in there, right? Won’t that counteract the lead?”
“Short-term? Probably. Long-term? No.”
“You and your long-term.”
“Excuse me if I’d like to be living five or ten years from now.”
“Hypothetically, if we could find an explosive alternative to lead, could we make fertilizer bombs?”
“You look like you want some pepperoni.”
“I want to break my two-pizza rule, is what I want.”
The nagging feeling continues, a throb at the top of your head. You scratch your scalp so much that Raven cobbles together a massage hat, and you smile inside. Outwardly, you glare until she stops cackling.
Halfway through your designated month, on a night where your ability to sleep is lost somewhere in the darkening clouds, that nagging feeling pushes its way to the front of your mind and you send Clarke a late-night email, ignoring most diplomatic channels.
Raven and I are making progress but I fear it might be too slow for the Council. Would it be too much to ask for more time—or at the very least, more free pizza?
You lock your data pad and open your window, leaning your cheeks into the breeze. It promises rain but right now you bask in its slight sting. Hopefully Clarke will respond to you in the morning—later in the morning, you should say. You curl into your favorite armchair and wonder how the world got this way, if history is forever going to be written in how often it has escaped destruction. You wonder how you would have fared in a world that doesn’t feel like it’s balancing on the edge of time.
You feel a warmth behind your ear and a moment later, your data pad lights up. Message from Clarke Griffin, it reads, and you try to stop your heart from hammering. Instead, it only gets worse when her reply is barely more than a sentence: I can’t sleep either; here’s my com-plant code.
You take a few deep breaths and key in her code, waiting with your mug of tea.
“Up late worrying about dirt and flowers?” she says.
“I would have been fine just talking over the data pad,” you answer. “I wasn’t expecting to bother you on your personal TCI.”
“It’s a com-plant. You actually spell out the acronym?”
“Com-plant is not a word, Ms. Griffin, and it’s an acronym for a reason. Telepathic—“
“—Communication Implant,” she finishes. “Yeah, I know. How many years did it take before you stopped calling it by its full name?”
“You can call me Clarke, by the way,” she laughs. “Formalities kind of don’t matter at two in the morning.”
“Then it’s only fair that you call me Lexa.”
“Okay, Lexa.” The throbbing in your head gets stronger. “I can do that. I don’t know if I can give you more time, though. The council’s already got four heads up my ass about this.”
“Well, that still leaves another nine.” You sip your tea and try not to get distracted. “We have a promising avenue of inquiry but what we don’t have is enough time to do all the tests it requires. A month is an admirable goal but…it takes as long as it takes, Clarke.”
Clarke is silent for more than a few moments and you’re afraid you’ve finally overstepped. “Well, you might have to shorten that,” she finally says, quiet and gentle and timid. Your heart is back to pounding again.
You bid her goodnight, hoping you don’t sound too frustrated and weary, and sink back into your chair.
The rain begins to fall.
You dream in fragments, images that feel like your life but can’t possibly be real. Bonfires and tent villages; the clattering of swords; the smell of leather and hay; swathes of blond hair and tired eyes.
You wake up crying, and even though she wants to, Raven doesn’t ask.
“I have another question for you.”
“One of these days, I’m going to ask you the existential questions.”
“Nothing’s stopping you now. And this one isn’t existential.”
“No philosophy this time?”
“Why can’t you ask me anything a biologist—”
“I know, I know. You and your stupid rules.”
“Did you ever learn about the early clans?”
“What, right after the first nukes?” Raven picks up another slice of pizza as you nod. “Took an elective on it in college. Why?”
“Tell me about them,” you say instead.
“Dude, that’s, like, 97 years of history to cover. And because I’m a brilliant genius, I know about them all. If you’ve got a week, I can dazzle you with my knowledge.”
“You don’t need to say brilliant genius; it’s redundant. Just tell me the last bits.”
“Arkfall,” Raven nods. “That would have been…somewhere around the 2150s. Ark Station finally fell to the earth, twelve clans became thirteen. Historically, it was an exciting time. Bloody, though.”
“Because…people died? In great numbers and with great violence?”
“No, not the bloody part. How did the thirteenth clan happen?”
“Okay, are you being serious or are you pulling my one good leg? Because I thought I was being really nice not saying anything, since I figured people had probably given you shit for it your whole life. Our favorite representative too, actually.”
“Raven, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Well, fuck.” Raven cracks open two beers and hands one to you. You still haven’t finished the first, but you take it anyway. “You’re a namesake. Or you have one? I don’t know which way the namesake process goes, but the last Grounder commander was named Lexa. She’s the one who had to deal with the people from the Ark.”
Something flips a switch in your memory, an old light flickering on in a dusty room that no one’s used in years. You convince yourself it’s just a recollection of a long-forgotten lecture. Somewhere in your many years of school, you must have learned this.
“She was the commander who helped take down the first Mountain, and after that she tried to make peace with the Arkers. The chancellor of the Ark took the brand of the coalition but he was deposed and his successor started another war. Anyway, Lexa had some kind of relationship with one of the people from the Ark. It’s all very mysterious; no one wrote anything down so we mostly have to guess. Legit though, her name was Clarke Griffin. You know, you’d think 400 years is a long enough time for people to stop naming their kids after famous people, but I guess not.”
“She died, didn’t she?”
“They all died, Woods; it was four hundred years ago.”
“No, I mean Lexa.”
“Yeah, she got shot by one of the Arkers.”
“Hm.” Something tugs in your chest. That’s wrong, it says. It wasn’t Skaikru.
“Why all the interest?”
“Everything is stardust, right?” You lean forward against the railing on the now-familiar balcony, stretching as far as your fear will let you. “Everything that exists now has always existed in some form or another. Is it so strange to think that people might get recycled, too?”
“I thought you said this wasn’t about philos—would you quit throwing your beer? It was only funny the first time.”
“And yet I’m still laughing.”
“I had to clean that shit up, you know.”
You wonder what Skaikru means.
“Okay, hear me out: nitrotetrazole.”
“It’s not lead.”
“It reacts best, and so far solely, with perchlorate-based chemicals.”
“Raven. You know they’re toxic.”
“Okay, so bounce this shit out with me.”
“You really don’t think about what you say at all, do you?”
“Alright. So we’re throwing out metals and halogens and looking to create explosives using mostly nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.”
“This is so the opposite of what I try to do every day, you know.”
“I know. Keep going.”
“We’d get combustion products of water and methane gas, which are fine if controlled.”
“Yeah but not with—”
“Stop thinking about your nitro-whatever. Start thinking about how you would duplicate it and make it better.”
“Raven, I don’t care. Just go do it.”
“Okay, hear me out: I fixed it so it doesn’t have to react with perchlorates.”
“It…doesn’t have to react with perchlorates; I just said—”
“Well, the synthesis process makes it attract water and it kind of…stops working with water.”
“Why are all of our brainstorming sessions like pulling teeth?”
“Okay, but! It doesn’t degrade when it’s wet. So that’s only, like, half a con.”
“Well, what kind of ideas are you coming up with, smartass?”
“What if we could find a way to store it wet and then dry it out really fast?”
“Sure, I’m not a bioengineer but I know some things about how to time chemical reactions. Slow-release fertilizer, remember? We’ll just…do the reverse. If we can dry it out will it become explosive again?”
“You know, that’s oddly encouraging.”
“Okay, hear me out—”
“Raven, no. We have this whole plan mapped out and we’re talking to Clarke tomorrow. Don’t make me change it.”
“Okay, hear me out: you go talk to her by yourself tomorrow. If I say the word explosive one more time I am literally going to become one.”
“Yeah, you should let me finish a thought sometime.”
“You should let yourself finish one.”
Skaikru, as it turns out, is the Grounder word for ‘sky people.’ It’s what they became when they joined Lexa’s coalition. And it’s not the Grounder word, you have to remind yourself; it’s how you say sky people in Trigedasleng. Their language had a name before the Arkers bestowed their own upon it.
You learn as much as you can about Lexa and the last days of Trigedakru. You don’t learn a lot, because all the information you can find has been reduced to three paragraphs in an outdated textbook that they don’t even use in schools anymore.
You feel cheated. You are cheated.
Raven calls you Commander every chance she gets after you ask about the early clans. She means it as a joke but each time she says it the throbbing gets weaker. Parts of you are coming home.
Your dreams are bilingual now. You dream of war some nights, but mostly you dream of memories. You relive your favorite days with your parents; you toss and turn when Titus tells you you’re a Nightblood. Costia creeps in one night and she stays, even for dreams she doesn’t belong to. Once or twice, when you concentrate very hard, you can manipulate your memories. (That’s when Anya shows up and you finally tell her goodbye.)
But as you and Raven get closer to a workable solution and the day of your meeting looms, your dreams narrow to a single subject.
You dream of Clarke.
You leave Raven in the lab, still asleep at her favorite table. You debate for a moment if you should grab the prototype from her grip to show Clarke; eventually you decide against it. There isn’t anything Clarke could learn by looking at it that she won’t find in any of your meticulous reports, and also you might wake Raven up. You’ve learned the hard way to just let her do that herself; there are only promises of injury if you try to preempt her.
So you grab your massive packets of data and head back to the Department of Culture building. It isn’t a far walk from Raven’s lab; all government buildings are within the same campus. (Raven loves to rail against the rigidity of the Council and you love to remind her that she still works for them.) The morning is still waking up and you can feel a chill on your face. With every step, as the wind nips at your cheeks and the sun tries to come out, you feel calmer.
You hope Clarke remembers you. You hope very much that she does. But even if she doesn’t, you have done for this Clarke what you couldn’t do for your Clarke (or yourself)—you have given her time. You have talked with her in the quiet night, not about war or death or loss, but about the future. About pizza and mushrooms and other things that aren’t sagging from the weight of your shared burdens.
Once again, you’re in Clarke’s office before she is. You sit down and wait, smiling at the messy stacks of folders on her desk, the half-eaten bag of peanuts peeking out from a coat pocket. You have no point of reference for any of this, but it feels like Clarke. You close your eyes for a moment, imagining; wondering what it would have been like to feel this way the first time, if perhaps you could have rested together after the wars. You wish you could have known peace during a time when you sorely needed it, when it meant something more than just quiet.
“Napping on the job?”
Clarke is louder than you remember her. You can’t help staring as you stand, waiting for her to take her place behind her desk before you sit back down. Clarke is brighter; Clarke is fuller; Clarke is closer and bigger and more.
“Ms. Griffin,” you finally say. “Pardon me.”
“Please, I’ve told you it’s Clarke.”
“It’s not two in the morning anymore.”
“Okay,” she smiles. It doesn’t fully reach her eyes, and her lips pull at the corners before she can rein them in again. “What have you got for me?”
You hand over your first stack of reports, easing her into the data you’ve come to know like breathing. You explain every relevant test and chemical; justify any less-than-ideal modification. You go into great detail about how exactly the bomb will work and what benefits you would expect to see. Clarke’s eyes skim each page, and around the sixth one you realize she isn’t absorbing any of it.
You stop right in the middle of a sentence, which finally gets her attention. “I know this might be a little tactless of me, but are you listening at all to what I’m saying?”
Clarke sighs. “No, I’m sorry; I’m not. I…haven’t been sleeping very well,” she admits, blushing, and you (selfishly) hope it’s the kind of not-sleeping that has also plagued your nights.
“I can give you the abridged version,” you offer.
You smile at the relief on her face. “We have a working prototype, and actual bombs should be ready in three weeks. My team will take over from here and devise a plan for distribution.”
“You could have led with that, you know.”
“Unless you have anything else, I think that’s really all we need to go over, then.”
You have many things else. You want to tell her everything you couldn’t before, everything you didn’t have time or courage to say. You want to tell her how beautiful she is, how beautiful she was. You want to tell her how much she deserved and how sorry you were that you couldn’t give it to her.
But she doesn’t know you yet and you can’t be sure she ever will, so you smile and shake your head. “That’s everything I’ve got, Ms. Griffin.” You shake her hand one more time and get up.
Your fingers close around the doorknob when she calls your name.
“Do you ever get sad?” she asks. “Really, unbearably, irreparably sad?”
“Sure,” you nod.
“Have you figured out a way to stop it?”
“I either fix it or forget it,” you answer. “Neither one is very easy.”
“Well, that’s encouraging.”
She offers you another sad smile and a wave and you leave, hoping she chooses fix.
Your com-plant is well into its buzzing stage when it wakes you from another memory-dream. You rub the sleep out of your eyes as you try to determine whether this one actually happened with Clarke or whether you just wanted it to. It was pleasant either way.
You touch your ear and cough the grogginess out of your voice. “It is very late.” Only now do you realize that you’re not sure who called you.
“I know,” Clarke murmurs. “But I think I figured out a way to fix it.”
“I think you’re what’s making me sad. Can you turn on your camera?”
You hesitate only for a moment before obliging. You’ll always oblige Clarke, it seems.
She looks exhausted, the kind that goes deeper than just her eyes.
“I hope it’s not anything I’m doing intentionally.”
She shakes her head and avoids your eyes, speaking instead to the floor. “I’ve been having dreams,” she says, “about you, and also me. But mostly about you. When they started I couldn’t really tell what they were—they were so real, so vivid, but everything was wrong. Everything was dirty and sad and hopeless. They felt honest enough to be real but I didn’t want them to be. I didn’t want to have lived through those things. And then you showed up, and I—it isn’t possible for these feelings, these memories, to be something that I’ve just created in a dream. This is going to sound crazy, but I think I know you. I think I have known you, a long time ago. And I’m incredibly sad because when I think of how I’ve known you, I remember that everything isn’t hopeless. Nothing is hopeless when you’re there.”
She takes a breath and runs a hand through her hair. You don’t know what she wants you to say, and you want to say so many things.
But, as she has since you’ve known her, Clarke pushes all but one thing from your mind.
Your voice, when you finally find it, is soft and pleading.
She stops breathing, just for a second.
“Don’t say my name like that.”
“I’ve never known any other way to say it.”
“Lexa, you don’t—”
“Clarke,” you try again, “I’m here. I’m here, Clarke; I promise you.”
She shakes her head. “No; no, I can’t—”
“I could tell you the first words you ever said to me, Clarke. I could tell you the last.”
“Don’t. Don’t ever.”
“I remember all of them. I remember you.”
Clarke buries her face in her hands and cries.
You keep your video connected well after Clarke falls asleep. She either forgot to turn hers off or she just didn’t want to; either way, you’re more than happy to sit and wait. She curls against a spacious couch. Her screen doesn’t afford you much of a view but you drink in as much of her as you can. This night is close to becoming the most amount of time you two have spent together at once in either of your lifetimes. You aren’t going to miss any second of it.
Clarke stirs near five o’clock, kicking her blanket from her feet and sitting up quickly, as if in reaction to a sudden noise. You wonder if she heard you dying, and you’re overcome with a need to be next to her.
You clear your throat so she knows you’re still there; she only jumps a little.
“Hi,” she rasps.
You smile. “Hello, Clarke.”
“You know, you didn’t have to stay up; I probably would have called you again.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, and I’m sorry that I never said it before. I should have told you a thousand times, Clarke. I should have done many things, but my biggest regret is that I never told you how sincerely I loved you.”
“Lexa, I…” Clarke inhales and you see the weight of the world on her mouth, and you wish you could carry it for her. “I really, really hope you live somewhere close because this whole com-plant thing is not working for me anymore.”
(Luckily, you do.)
“Come in, Clarke.”
She sits on your couch and smiles as you hand her a cup of coffee. Your fingers touch entirely too much for such a quick gesture and you feel as though you might explode of satisfaction.
“I have so many questions for you,” she begins.
“And I for you.”
“I can’t remember any of them, not when you’re right here and you look so—god, I mean I thought you were beautiful when you were—and now you’re—I mean really, Lexa—how old were you?”
You can’t remember ever grinning so much. “I’m older now than any Commander before me.”
Clarke laughs a little. “And after.” You aren’t surprised. “Aden was—”
Your heart clenches, for the first time, out of fear. “We don’t have to trudge through old history right away, Clarke. We have time.”
“I don’t know what to do with it.”
Clarke scoots closer to you on the couch, resting her head on your shoulder, and you wonder how you’ve lived without this, without even the memory of this feeling.
“Can you believe we’re not historical figures?” you grumble.
“Well, not for lack of trying,” Clarke laughs. “I could never let go of you, Lexa.”
Your breath catches in your throat and, despite what you just said, you can’t help asking Clarke about the world you once belonged to. She tells you about Aden and the rest of the Nightbloods and only reacts a little when you say you don’t need a moment to take it in. (You need several moments, but there will be time for that later.) She tells you about Ontari and Pike and Lincoln and the City of Light.
Twenty minutes pass and she sounds like she wants to stop talking but you don’t give her an out. You’re waiting for something more, for her to share the one part of the story that you really care about. You wait and you wait some more, but you should have known—she’s Clarke Griffin. She isn’t going to bring it up unless you ask.
She’s mostly near the end of her story when you stop her, taking her hands in yours after you smooth the tears from her cheeks.
“What about you, Clarke?” She furrows her brows, so you continue. “You’ve told me what happened to everyone except you. You had a life beyond the wars.”
“I had—sure. Okay. I left Arkadia. I tried to live in Polis for a while but…” She clears her throat; tears fall that you don’t wipe away this time. “Anyway, I walked as far as I could until I got to a clan that hadn’t heard of Wanheda. I lasted a few years; ten, maybe. And then I died. I don’t remember how, I just remember feeling relieved.”
“I thought I might see you again. You, my dad, Wells, Lincoln. Anyone.”
Clarke smiles at you, teary and resigned. “We would have remembered that, don’t you think?”
The more you think about it, the more you wonder if you would have remembered. Reincarnation is clearly more than you thought, but it’s less than it, too. Anya isn’t here, or Octavia or Indra or Costia. But Raven is, specifically with you and Clarke. You wonder if the people who keep coming back are the ones who still have scores to settle, whose stories aren’t finished yet.
Clarke lifts off your shoulder and stretches, twisting as she cracks her back with a satisfied groan.
“It’s getting late,” she says, her voice raspy and delicious.
“Do you want to go?”
She looks at you like she does in your dreams, open and peaceful and soothed. “Of course not. But maybe we could relocate from this couch.”
You smile and stand, extending your hand for Clarke to grasp. “My bedroom is at the end of the hall.”
Clarke lets you pull her up with a grin of her own. “Your room isn’t upstairs?”
“I haven’t figured out what to do with the second floor yet,” you admit.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll show you later,” you promise as you swing open your bedroom door. “For now, I think we should rest.”
Clarke nods and you relieve her of the jacket she still hasn’t taken off yet. She freezes underneath your fingers; you hear her breath stall; you feel her shoulders tense. Clarke stops your movements as you throw her jacket on a chair, and for a second she is clasping your arm the way she did so many years ago. You could collapse under the weight of your memories.
“I’m not very tired,” she whispers.
“Can I—is it weird if I watch you sleep?”
“No, Clarke. That isn’t weird at all.”
Clarke keeps her word; she’s still watching you when you wake later that night.
“Still not tired?”
“Actually, I’m exhausted,” she says. “But the last time we shared a bed, you—”
Clarke is too close; her breath puffs against your neck and her legs brush against yours under the sheets. You couldn’t fall back asleep right now if you tried.
“Come on,” you murmur. “Let me show you upstairs.”
Clarke follows you curiously, scrunching her brows in that way that used to drive you insane. She was always so ready to fight, so ready to react and defend. It charmed you as much as it frustrated you.
The light flickers as you turn it on; you haven’t been up here in weeks, distracted by Raven and science and Clarke. You’d almost forgotten how much comfort it brings you, looking at the cutouts pasted to the wall, peeling after years of sunlight and dust.
“Lexa,” Clarke breathes. “I didn’t know you were so…”
“Gentle,” she corrects. “I mean, you know, I had a feeling but I never got the chance to know just how much.” She walks over to the orchid section, fingers brushing over ladies tresses and fairy slippers. You wonder if, when she smiles, she’s thinking about drawing them. “Where did you get all of these pictures?”
“One of my friends in college worked in the library. Truly, the ability to copy old nature books is our greatest invention.”
“Have you always been a nerd, too?”
You smile, clasping your hands behind your back as you walk along with her. “Not enough of one to bring my greenhouse to life, unfortunately.”
“You know who you should ask…”
“I know. But it doesn’t feel right.”
“Maybe this is your chance to start things over.”
You shake your head. “It would be different if she—I can’t ask Raven for something so generous without knowing that she remembers everything that happened. I don’t want to forget who we were but I couldn’t ask for her help if she remembered what I did.”
“What we did,” Clarke reminds you softly.
“You had time to reconcile with her. Did you?”
You nod. “Good.”
Clarke turns away from your flowers, pressing herself against you and sliding her arms around your waist. “I’m sorry,” she whispers.
Her head lays heavy on your chest. She is hugging you, her hands a comforting pressure on your back, and you have never missed her more.
“I should never have listened to you,” you confess. “After Hakeldama.”
You imagine Clarke’s cheek must be pulsing to the nervous beat of your heart. “Really?”
“Yes. I want this life with you now, Clarke, but I wanted a life with you then, too.”
“And you think I—”
“No,” you quickly placate. “I think my love for you was occasionally stronger than my ability to say no. Titus was right,” you scoff.
“He wasn’t,” Clarke quickly—aggressively—replies. “He wasn’t right about anything, Lexa. He didn’t—”
“Okay; it’s okay.”
“You should talk to Raven.”
“She calls me Commander, you know. She doesn’t know what it means, but…”
“But you do.”
“Talk to her anyway.”
You stand for a few moments more, feeling Clarke and breathing Clarke and loving Clarke. You never knew this feeling in your old life. You’re glad that you don’t have layers of armor between the two of you. You have never needed protection from Clarke. Clarke is your protection.
“You want a life with me?” Clarke whispers.
“Clarke,” you say, looking down at her, “I want it so badly my bones are aching.”
She tips up to kiss you and you sigh into her mouth.
The throbbing in your head is gone. You belong again.
The first time you involuntarily speak in Trigedasleng, you both cry.
Months have passed and both of you have settled into this in-between life, reliving memories as much as you make new ones. The terra-bombs were a wild success, and Raven only brags about them after a few too many beers. More and more often, Clarke is the one supplying her with said beer.
Raven still doesn’t remember anything, and your greenhouse is coming along nicely.
You find Lincoln the next year, when you’re finally shopping for flowers and plants to fill your second floor. He’s got his own flower shop. Clarke teases him immediately and mercilessly about it. You want to join in, but you don’t remember where you left things with him.
He convinces you to meet him for drinks one night, without Clarke. Clarke asks you if you’re nervous and you lie. Pride still gets the better of you sometimes, it seems.
He waves at you the moment you enter the bar. You’re still getting used to the sight of him in modern clothes; he’ll always be Trikru to you, though you won’t deny that leather jackets suit him.
“Commander,” he says with an easy grin and open arms, and all of your worries float away.
You knew Lincoln when you were Heda, but never like this; never enough to feel comfortable embracing him. This is what time does, you suppose. Past relationships mean little when there are few enough of you left to remember them. It’s a lonely feeling, walking the earth when almost everyone you’ve loved is dead, and so you find comfort where you can.
“You know,” he says as he signals to the bartender, “I actually kind of miss the war paint.”
“You wouldn’t if you’d had to put it on.”
“Well, maybe you’ll have to teach me sometime. Beer?”
You look at him as he waits for your drinks. He has hair now, kept in very short curls just on the top of his head. You remember being intimidated by him, though you were a Nightblood and he wasn’t. But he was so serious, so unyielding. You always thought he would have made a good commander. Now, as he turns to face you, you think that what you mistook for the gravity in his eyes was actually wisdom.
“So, it took you long enough to find me,” he begins.
“I wasn’t aware I was supposed to be searching.”
“You know, you never are, and yet I still hold out hope that maybe next time you will.”
“And just how many times have you hoped by now?”
Lincoln smiles and pulls a small journal from inside his jacket.
“Wanna read about them?”
Lincoln tells you the basics as you drink your beer and try to make a decision about his journal.
- This is not the first life you’ve relived with Clarke.
- You don’t usually remember any of the others except for the first one.
- Not everyone comes back every time.
(He says that and his eyes droop just for a second as he scans the bar, looking for someone you surmise isn’t there and isn’t going to be.)
4. Not everyone remembers every time, even if they come back.
5. Clarke always remembers.
“Always?” you ask, your heart pounding.
“Always,” Lincoln nods. “She isn’t there for every cycle and sometimes the memories are little more than blurry flashes, but they’re there.”
“Don’t you remember too? You’re the one with the book.”
Lincoln shakes his head. “I just write down what I can when we meet up. From all of you, really, but mostly from her.”
“How could you possibly do that across lifetimes?”
Lincoln smiles. You wonder how a man this soft could have ever intimidated you. “There’s magic in the world science still hasn’t figured out. I don’t need to question it; I just work with it.”
“Well, don’t tell that to Raven; she’ll take it as a challenge.”
“Raven’s here, too?”
“Lincoln, do you pay attention to the news at all?” you sigh. “Who do you think fixed this country after Groom Lake broke it?”
“You know, after the first Mountain ruined one life, I’ve tried to stay away from politics in every life since.”
“Fair enough.” You rest your beer on a napkin, watching as condensation drips and bleeds into the cloth at the base. “Raven doesn’t remember.”
“Are you gonna tell her?”
“No. For…selfish reasons.”
“Well, there’s always next time.”
You shove his shoulder and he shoves you back and you could keep this up for a very long time. You’d never thought about smiling with him. It’s nice.
You pick at the label on your beer bottle, resting your head on your other hand. “She always remembers, huh?”
You’re struck with a sudden need to go home. “Maybe someday she won’t have to carry so much.” You slide off your barstool and tap his book. “Thanks for helping, though.”
He calls out to you just before you leave. “Hey, Lexa?”
Lincoln smiles and slips the journal back inside his coat. “You never read it. That’s not something I keep hoping will change.”
“Okay, my turn.”
“Your turn for what?”
“Raven, I’m not telling you anything more about my sex life.”
“Definitely not that kind of question, but thanks for reminding me how gullible you are.”
“Damn, I should have asked you a sex question.”
“Keep talking and I won’t answer any that you pose to me, sexy or not.”
“I know; I heard it, too. I’ve got to stop hanging out with you.”
“If reincarnation was a thing, would you want to remember?”
You stick your trowel into the half-potted pile of dirt. Raven doesn’t look at you.
“What’s the point, if not to remember?”
“Forgetting,” Raven shrugs. “The deal is you get a second chance at a better life. So why relive the shitty first one?”
“How do you know what’s better if you don’t remember the bad?”
“Oh, bullcrap,” Raven sneers. “Better isn’t relative. You don’t have to have eaten a piece of shit to know that you want chocolate cake.”
Raven finally looks at you. She is dirty and sweaty—hair sticks to her forehead in soggy coils; there are smudges of soil near her ears. She is as familiar now as she’s ever been, and for a moment you’re certain that she sees you as the girl who killed her first love.
You blink and the moment passes.
“Okay,” you mumble.
Raven doesn’t ever tell you if she remembers. Most of the time, you don’t think she does. She certainly doesn’t react to any old habits that you sometimes slip into. But every now and again, she feels different. You feel different around her.
And so on those nights, you retreat to the comfort of what has been the same for four hundred years. You curl on your couch and halfheartedly read botany periodicals as Clarke wades through more reports and proposals than any one person should be burdened with. She wears glasses in this life, and you wonder if she would have worn them then, too.
You could lose hours watching her, imagining the ways she is different now from who she was before. There are parts to Clarke that you haven’t fallen in love with yet simply because you haven’t experienced them; the parts of her that she is allowed to be now that war isn’t looming, now that life isn’t defined by the absence of death.
So you retreat to her, to your home, and you cook together every Thursday. You take out the butter before you head into the shower because Clarke never has anything but toast for breakfast. She keeps replenishing your favorite soap even though it’s hard to find and you won’t tell her why it’s your favorite (it smells like your mother, from before.) When the night is dark enough that you can’t see your fingers, you still see Clarke’s hair, and you call her natshana and pull her closer to you.
She is, of course, your moon, and you will always swell with her.