Clarke was five and it was coloring day. They didn't have coloring day very often, because markers were rationed just like everything else on the Ark, but it was always Clarke's favorite. She loved to see the different colors on the page, imagining them in real life. Bright pinks and yellows instead of the steel gray and mostly muted colors of their everyday life. Clarke drew pictures of flowers and green, green grass and the bright blue sky, things she'd only ever seen in pictures. Coloring day was the best day.
This coloring day, though, the girl across the table from her was not drawing on her paper.
"What are you doing?" Clarke asked, part curious and part scandalized. They didn't get to use markers very often and it would just wash off of the wrist she was making lines on. Why wouldn't she want it to stay permanent somehow?
The girl in front of her looked up at Clarke's whisper-shout, then looked around to see if anyone else had heard. It was loud in the classroom, most of the kids talking and laughing while they worked. Clarke and her tablemate seemed to be the only ones who were actually being serious about their work, although Clarke had serious doubts about the other girl. Since no one else looked over at them, the other girl looked back at her wrist and continued drawing. Now that she was paying close attention, Clarke could see letters.
"I'm writing my name so my soulmate can see," the girl said, as if the answer should have been obvious. Clarke blinked then, her mouth forming a soft "o" as she watched the other girl in fascination.
Her parents had told her about it. It wasn't like it was forbidden to know about, but they'd been sort of quiet and cautious about it. Talking about how sometimes people would see markings that their soulmates had made, how ink would bloom on skin that hadn't been touched, faded but distinct. How people used to ink tattoos that their soulmates would be sure to recognize, but that ink had been one of those things that had been too precious to spare, eventually. They even whispered softly, carefully, about how even those that did mark themselves didn't always find their soulmates, but how that didn't mean she couldn't find love.
Her parents' skin didn't show any mirror images-- they'd checked-- but they were in love and happy and had Clarke and it didn't matter.
Still, watching the girl-- Trina, Clarke could read now-- press the long lines of purple carefully against her skin, Clarke found herself holding her breath. Maybe it didn't matter if she had a soulmate, but wouldn't that be so cool? To have someone just for her, who would always be with her? Clarke looked around the room, trying to see if anyone had purple blooming against their left arm.
No one looked up, though. No one shouted in surprise, or confusion, and Clarke couldn't see anything but bare arms. When she looked back at Trina, the other girl was looking out around them as well. Until finally her shoulders fell, just the smallest bit, and she looked back down at her wrist. She looked small, suddenly, after all her bravado, and Clarke felt something in her reach out.
"Maybe they're in another class," Clarke offered, voice just barely more than a whisper. Just enough for the other girl to hear it. Trina looked up, and Clarke saw the barest hint of sadness before she could see the seed of hope grow in the other girl's gaze. She returned the small smile that the other girl gave her.
"Maybe. I'll leave it on. Maybe they just haven't seen it yet." Trina nodded to herself, confident, and Clarke nodded as well. That was totally possible.
Trina went back to her coloring, on actual paper this time, and Clarke looked at the green marker in her hand. She licked her lips, imagining the pretty color against her own skin. She carefully looked around them again, seeing that still no one was paying attention. Not even Trina. Carefully, Clarke managed an only slightly shaky C, seeing the color settle brightly against her pale skin, before the teacher was calling for the class to put away the coloring supplies and Clarke quickly hid her wrist and looked up guiltily. No one said anything, though, and Clarke shoved the markers in the bin before holding her wrist gently against her stomach.
She tried not to look at everyone else's wrists for the rest of the day. Tried not to see that no one had any green there. Not even the next day, or two days later, until finally she forgot to keep her wrist out of the water when she was washing and it faded away, just like the idea that her soulmate could be here somewhere.
It didn't matter, though. Not really. Not everyone had a soulmate, but they could still be happy. Clarke made sure to give her parents extra hugs and watched them extra carefully when they smiled at each other. Just because she didn't have a soulmate didn't mean anything at all.
In the year Clarke turned 10, things became a little strange. No one really talked about it, at least not outside of whispers, but people were getting markings that couldn’t be explained. She and Wells had talked about it, even though neither of them had gotten any markings (Clarke had almost asked once, if Wells had ever seen any green on his arm. But then even though Clarke liked Wells a lot, she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to be his soulmate. She’d never asked; he’d never said anything.).
Wells had met a boy from Agro station with markings around his eyes. They were pale, faded white, and almost invisible on the boy’s pale skin. It would almost seem like a birthmark except sometimes it was there, and sometimes it wasn’t. Apparently Wells had also seen darker marks under the collar of the boy’s shirt, but he seemed to be hiding those and Wells hadn’t asked.
For Clarke’s part, she knew a girl with a full arm of swirling, intricate designs. The budding artist in her had begged to see more of them before she could think better of it, but luckily the girl had been more than happy to show them off. They were a dark but faded grey, and Clarke could imagine that they were coal black on the arm they were originally etched into, but it was impossible to know. As far as anyone was aware, misuse of resources like this would mean death to anyone on the Ark, so it wasn’t like they could find the original owner without potentially sentencing them to death. The swirls were so pretty, though. Clarke had sketched them herself the first time she’d gotten an opportunity to.
What did it mean? No one was really sure. Wells had a theory about people starting to mutiny on some other station. Quietly, but in their own way. Clarke wasn’t so sure. Someone would have found out by now, wouldn’t they? She hadn’t heard of anyone getting floated for anything like that. Then again, she didn’t have any better ideas.
When she first felt the intense warmth, bordering on pain on her arm, Clarke really, really hoped that Wells wasn’t right. Because when she ran to the bathroom and watched in fascination as the dark gray spread where the warmth had been, intricate and detailed lines forming on her skin, Clarke couldn’t imagine having to one day hear about her soulmate being sentenced to death for this work of art.
Someone took their time with it. Outlines almost like triangles, but not quite. Swirls on the inside. Intricate work that made Clarke want to both hold on tightly to her arm because it burned, but was also too pretty for her to miss a moment of by hiding the process. She tried to imagine what it must be like on the other side of this connection. Someone was sitting as someone pressed pricks of ink under the skin (and Clarke knew it was pricks, she could feel it, like a phantom pain, a heat like she’d never known). Were they crying? Screaming out? Or were they clenching their jaw and trying not to show pain, trying to pretend like they were tough and it didn’t bother them? What kind of person was her soulmate, that they could last this long, could remain still enough to keep straight, beautiful lines?
No matter what, Clarke knew now. She had a soulmate. And her soulmate appreciated beauty as much as she did. Who could get a tattoo like this and not have a soft soul? It was soft, flowing lines, not hard and jagged edges. There was a melody to it, swirls and loops. This wasn’t the sort of thing someone with no love would accept on their body. This was someone who felt things.
Clarke sighed dreamily, pressing her fingers lightly over the lines, as if she could reach through and touch the original design, could connect directly with her other half. Whoever they were, she was sure that she would like her soulmate. They at least had a love of art in common, and what else could she ask for?
She lost track of time as the ink continued down to create six almost symmetrical triangular designs. So much so, that eventually her mother was knocking on the door to the bathroom, asking if she was okay. Was she sick? Clarke blinked, for a moment as ashamed of this new development as she had when she’d tried to draw her name on her wrist. But eventually her excitement won out and she rushed to the door, opening it.
“Look!” Clarke pulled her sleeve even farther up her arm, even if she’d already tucked it underneath her shoulder. “Isn’t it pretty?” She beamed up at her mother.
Her mother, who immediately turned pale and grabbed at her arm. Not hard enough to bruise, but hard enough to be uncomfortable. Clarke frowned, her mouth a pout as she whined softly. “Mo-om, let go! I want to see.” Abby Griffin did not let go, though. Instead, her thumb trailed over the ink, pressing hard to test to see if it would smudge, and then letting go as if she was the one whose skin was burning when the ink continued to trail down Clarke’s arm.
Clarke wanted to go back to looking at it in the mirror, but the look on Abby’s face made her insides crawl a little. Almost enough to distract her from the heat of the phantom needle on her skin. “When did this start?” Her mom demanded, eyes less controlled than Clarke had ever seen them. She was starting to make Clarke feel scared, and she didn’t even know why. “Clarke?” Abby demanded, when she didn’t immediately respond. “Are there others?”
“Wha-- I don’t know. A while ago. I was watching it.” Clarke’s gaze trailed back to the mirror, angling her shoulder so she could see it again. The outlines were all done and the bottom few triangles just needed to finish getting filled in. Almost done, she could sense it. “I have a soulmate, Mom. I have a soulmate.” She didn’t answer the other question, but it didn’t seem to matter. Abby stared at her and Clarke tried not to let that sick feeling claw at her. She just wanted to be happy and proud of her mark. Why wasn’t this a good thing?
Before Abby left, as if she couldn’t bear to get away from Clarke fast enough, she left her with the almost angry, “You can’t show anyone. You’ll wear long sleeves and no one will know,” and Clarke felt tears in her eyes and she didn’t know why. Why couldn’t she show anyone? The other girl didn’t care. She was proud. Why couldn’t Clarke be proud of her soulmate? Of the beautiful work of art that would always be with her? Why?
Later, once the burning had stopped and Clarke was left with only the mark and the memories of Abby’s panic, she felt cold. She wanted her soulmate to come back. She wanted them to draw more, to leave her not feeling so alone. Instead, she heard the loud almost-whispers from her parents. The sound of her father trying to calm her mother and her mother eventually leaving their rooms.
“Can I see it?” Clarke had immediately reached up to cover her mark when she’d heard the intrusion, her mother’s words having already left an impact even if she didn’t understand the motives. She wanted to protect it. Protect herself. Protect her soulmate. But it was just her dad in the doorway, giving her a small smile and not seeming panicked at all. Clarke bit her lip before allowing a small smile twist her own lips, her earlier excitement making an effort to shine through. She nodded carefully, then let her hand pull up her sleeve again, turning so that her dad could see it in all its beauty.
Jake Griffin took a few steps into the room, kneeling down to get to Clarke’s level where she sat on the bed. He took her arm into his hands gently, a stark contrast to Abby’s earlier behavior, and Clarke could feel the sick feeling quietly ebbing away for the happiness to return. A few moments went by while Jake studied the design carefully, his finger gently tracing a swirl, before he looked up and smiled more fully. “It’s beautiful, kiddo. It’s almost like it was made for you.”
Clarke almost beamed, bouncing gently on the bed. “Isn’t it the best? But…” Clarke’s eyes glanced to the open doorway, feeling the coolness of Abby’s reaction and quieting her own excitement. “Why… why do I have to hide it? I don’t want to hide it.” She looked back at Jake, blue eyes begging to understand why her mother hadn’t accepted what she was so proud of. To understand why she was feeling guilty about this instead of pleased.
“Clarke…” Jake tried to keep his expression supportive, but he could feel the weight that his wife had intentionally or unintentionally placed upon their daughter’s shoulders. He could see where his wife was coming from, understood that this didn’t bode well for their daughter’s future happiness if her soulmate was taking such huge risks like this. She just was worried, but that wasn’t Clarke’s fault, and their daughter shouldn’t have to bear that burden. “She just wants you to be happy, I promise.” He hesitated, not sure if he should say more, but Clarke had always been an intelligent kid. It would do more harm than good to try to shield her from the truth. “You know that using ink for this sort of thing isn’t allowed, right? We’ve all got to do our part to preserve what we have.”
It settled in her like a lead ball in her stomach, because of course Clarke knew. Everyone knew. And Wells had been talking about that, too, but this… this was supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it? She was supposed to be able to find them. Her person. They were supposed to be together. Clarke looked down, feeling emotion settle in her chest and just behind her eyes. She nodded slowly, and Jake didn’t hesitate to pull her into his arms.
“Hey, kiddo. It’ll be okay. I think maybe your mom’s right, though. If you keep it covered, it’ll be okay. Nobody’s gotta know, right? And someday you’ll find them.” Jake pressed a soft kiss into his daughter’s hair, and Clarke just held tight. She could only nod, a tiny jerk of her head. Quietly, she despaired over having to hide this, but she’d do anything to protect this precious part of her. She hoped somewhere, on another part of the station, her soulmate was doing the same. Because what use was finding out she had one if she never got to meet them?
If there's anything Clarke's good at, it's doing what she knows is important (and soulmates are very important), no matter what people tell her she shouldn' t do.
It helps to have best friends in high places.
I was inspired by the response to this story and managed to write more than I expected to in a short amount of time.
Thank you to everyone for your comments, kudos, and subscriptions! You're awesome! If there's anything you're hoping to see, let me know. I can't promise to include everything, but I'm loving exploring this world and seeing how these soulmates affect our favorite post-apocalyptic survivors.
A shout out to my awesome beta, Mon, and to the original fangirl, Ash.
A week and a half after her tattoo showed up, Clarke’s parents finally started thawing towards each other. Dinners had been awkward, evenings had been quiet, and there was barely an hour that passed that Abby Griffin didn’t send an anxious look towards Clarke’s arm.
Not that Abby could see anything there, except maybe her own phantom terror of the mark. All Clarke wore now were long-sleeved shirts, and that was all Clarke was ever going to wear again as far as she knew. Long sleeves were the only thing in her dresser anymore; her mom had literally gone through and taken away anything and everything that might show her upper arms. She already missed her favorite tank top with the purple stripes, but with how serious her mom looked all the time now, Clarke barely even fought it.
Maybe this tattoo meant something bad and Clarke should be worried, but she really, really wasn’t. Not at all. Instead, Clarke spent as much time as she could looking at it.
And, well, now that she knew that her soulmate was out there somewhere, she spent as much time as she could trying to find a way to write back.
They didn’t have coloring day in school any longer. Those had stopped when she was eight. Clarke had asked about getting some markers one day during school, trying to be sly about it, but all she’d gotten for her trouble were confused looks and a suspicious eye anytime she was even near the cabinets where they were kept. It kinda sucked that there were only a few teachers to go around, because she never could pretend that she had to do work for some other project. They all knew what the students were up to.
As for other sources, she could get her hands on some pencils since no one used those anymore anyway, but they weren’t very good for writing on skin. All they did was leave angry red lines that faded away. On the bright side, Clarke found out that she really liked drawing in pencil-- on paper-- and her dad had spoiled her with a notebook full of paper to draw on. She knew he felt bad for her mom’s reaction. Clarke couldn’t find it in herself to feel bad for taking advantage of his guilt.
If only people didn’t spend so much time on computers and still wrote with pens.
Clarke rested her chin on her palm, elbow propped up on the table as she watched Wells contemplate the board in front of him. Normally, Clarke was all about their chess games. It was fun to figure out strategy and try to one up Wells, figuring out new ways to surprise him and watch him shake his head while smiling with begrudging respect. She was glad that he was her best friend, because she didn’t know who else would be able to sit still and actually pay attention to their games for as long as they did.
Today, however, Clarke was the one who couldn’t concentrate.
Her fingers danced carefully along the tops of her back row of remaining pieces. Castle, knight, king, queen. She paused, absently twirling along the edge of the queen’s crown, and sighed without even realizing she was doing it. Wells gave her a confused look, but didn’t rush his move, still trying to focus on the layout. He reached out for a pawn, nudged it forward a centimeter, then changed his mind, putting it back. Clarke looked at the wall, imagining someone on another part of the station with a tattoo like her own.
“Okay, what’s wrong?”
Clarke blinked, finger accidentally pushing her queen forward and toppling it over. Instinct had her scrambling to put it back upright, nearly knocking over her king as well, and by the time that was done Wells was staring at her and not even pretending to study the table. Clarke flushed lightly, realizing that if she’d had any hope of pretending like nothing was wrong it was now gone. Still, she opened her mouth and then closed it again before she finally groaned softly and looked around them.
“Is your dad around?” Clarke hadn’t seen him all day, and he was usually busy with council stuff, but she didn’t want to take the chance. She was pretty sure that since she wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about her tattoo, that included Mr. Jaha. If word got out that she told Wells, though, that would probably be okay. Probably. She trusted him.
Wells looked even more curious, but he just shook his head slowly. “No, he’s not gonna be home until way later. Seriously, what’s up?”
Clarke should probably think through this more, but once Wells gave the all clear it took less than a second before she was pulling up her sleeve as well as she could, hands fumbling in her enthusiasm as it bunched up in unexpected ways. She couldn’t help it. As much as she hated how upset her parents-- her mom-- had gotten, she was still way too excited about her mark. Wells, as her best friend in the whole world, was definitely someone she could share that excitement with.
The sleeve finally pulled up enough to reveal the bottom of her tattoo, and Wells’ “What are you doin--” turned into a “Holy crap, is that what I think it is?” Clarke beamed, still pulling up her sleeve the last few inches as Wells slipped out of his chair and came closer to see the tattoo for himself.
“I got it last week,” Clarke said, voice excited but still almost a whisper. Just in case. Wells looked up at her face, and there was something in his eyes that she couldn’t place, something that made her pause, before he was reaching out and gently touching it. Was he upset like her parents? Was this a mistake? But the look passed, and then he was grinning in that infectious way that he had and Clarke was happy to let the moment go and grin back.
“Last week? And you’re telling me now? Look at this thing! That’s epic.” Clarke didn’t mind at all as Wells traced the design with his fingers before finally letting go. She felt so much better now that she had someone to gush about it with.
“I know! But I’m not supposed to tell anyone. It’s so pretty, but I can’t even show it off.”
“What? Why?” Even as he said it, Clarke could tell that Wells knew exactly why. She just shrugged, trying to keep her grin on her face instead of going down that path. He didn’t make her respond to it anyway, just shook his head. “That’s way cooler than anyone else has, I bet. Not just straight lines. I doubt you get tired looking at it.”
That was all Clarke needed before she couldn’t hold any of it in any longer. She talked about the way it felt, about the pain that wasn’t really pain, how it felt so warm , and what it was like to watch it appear in slow motion, like she was really there while they were getting it done. Wells looked genuinely interested, like he had that time he’d told her all about the boy on Agro station, and before she could even think better of something that could possibly cause her friend to get in trouble she was blurting out, “And I just want to be able to write back. Somehow. I mean, I know I can’t get my own tattoo, but I can’t get any markers from school and all we have at home are pencils and those don’t work at all. What’s so important about ink, anyway? I don’t get why we can’t use it.”
Clarke huffed, leaning back in her chair and letting her shoulders droop, all of the excitement leaving her with the reminder that all she wanted to do was let her soulmate know that she’d seen it. That she liked it a lot.
Wells looked at her, clearly considering something. Clarke eventually went back to staring at the wall. She wasn’t hopeless , because she knew that there had to be some way to get a message back to her soulmate, but she had run out of obvious options and maybe it would be better to just stop trying. Clarke bit her lip and tried not to snort at that thought. Stop trying? Yeah, right.
“My dad probably has something.” Wells didn’t even sound hesitant when he said it, and that probably threw Clarke most of all. Her gaze snapped back up at him and her jaw managed to drop in the process. Wells was still giving her that grin, but there was something soft in his eyes. He shrugged. “He’s got a lot of stuff he never uses, you know? I bet he’s got something that would stick.” He must have seen the flare of excitement in her eyes even as she tried to shake her head, not wanting him to get in trouble for her, because he laughed a little and finally reached down to move his piece on the chessboard. “Hey, I’m not making any promises, but I’ll make sure I don’t get in trouble, okay? I’ll let you know what I find.”
Clarke’s chest felt tight as she looked at her friend, but she couldn’t help the way her smile grew from ear to ear. “That would be so floating amazing!” Clarke felt a little naughty swearing, but Wells was being a little naughty so maybe this was exactly the time to do it. “But really, don’t get in trouble. Promise me that, at least.”
“I promise,” Wells said, his tone solemn even though he was still grinning. “This is worth it, though. I mean, it is your soulmate we’re talking about.”
The reminder made Clarke sigh softly in agreement, reaching up on instinct to rub against her arm tattoo. It also sparked another thought, and Clarke tilted her head, giving her friend a curious look. “Hey, what about you, though? Have you seen any marks?” She’d never asked before, both because she was sure he would have told her, and because she wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but things were different now. Technically, she hadn’t told him right away either. If he did, though, now Clarke could share that happiness with him and not feel bad at all.
Wells gave a shrug, trying way too hard to look like he didn’t care, and looked away. “Nah,” he said, his voice doing a better job at being convincing now that he wasn’t looking at her. “But that’s cool. I don’t need a soulmate or anything.” He was doing that grin of his when he looked back, and Clarke wasn’t sure what to think of it, but he clearly didn’t want her to question him. “My dad doesn’t have one and he’s good. And I’ve already got the best best friend anyone could ask for.” The way his eyes twinkled at that made Clarke blush lightly, but like usual, she couldn’t help but return the smile.
“You’ve got a point. What could a soulmate have that’s better than that?” Clarke looked back down at the chess board again, feeling better about everything now. Wells was the best friend she could imagine, and he was gonna help her. Having him and her soulmate sounded like the best idea ever.
It took some time, but Wells came through. Not that Clarke had ever doubted him. Even though Wells usually followed the rules to the letter and was what Abby called “a good influence” on Clarke, he was a better friend than anything. Which meant that eventually Clarke had a few small pieces of charcoal.
“My dad has a whole box of these. He won’t miss them,” Wells told her, pressing a small cloth-wrapped bundle in her hands before they started up a new game of chess. She’d peeked in-- how could she not?-- and marveled at the dark slivers leaving a mess on the inside of the cloth. Did this count as ink? What kinds of things could soulmates actually see? She wished she knew more about it, but since things were rationed so tightly people tended not to talk about it except in private. She didn’t even know a soulmate pair on the Ark. Not two who had found each other, anyway. Before all these weird markings started showing up, people were starting to think they were extinct.
Still, Clarke looked at the charcoal pieces, a wild hope in her eyes, for a long minute. Then she’d carefully wrapped them back up and slipped them into her pocket, making sure they didn’t really make much of a bulge. Wells had given her an amused but understanding look, and they’d played two matches. If Clarke was less than on top of her game, they both ignored it, and when Clarke left that day, Wells whispered that she’d better let him know what happened.
She made it through dinner, leg bouncing underneath the table. She made it through a round of cards that her dad insisted they play, talking about how they really hadn’t had any family time lately. The cards were a good idea, she would later admit, no matter how desperate she was to have some time to herself and unsupervised access to the bathroom mirror. Her mom didn’t laugh that often anymore, and they’d all been cracking up as they’d tried to beat each other. This was what she missed, what she wanted to come back. Her dad slapping a card down on the table and her mom playfully slapping at his shoulder in retaliation. That sparkle in their eyes and the sight of her dad winking at her to make her feel like she was part of the joke.
This was her family. They were perfect. And maybe they could stay this way. If Clarke just never talked to her her mom about her soulmate anymore. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about it and Clarke could be happy about it, and everything would be okay.
After cards, Clarke was in such a good mood as she stood in the bathroom, holding the charcoal piece between her rapidly darkening fingers, that the first thing she thought to draw was a smiley face. It was on her wrist, staring up at her, and she was sure that her soulmate would have to see it. There was no immediate response, not that Clarke had expected them to have something readily available to write back with, but it was still a disappointment. She stared at the face on her wrist, then up at her face in the mirror, and tried to be as patient as she could be.
That didn’t last long. She was only almost 11, after all. So she drew a little bit more, writing a slightly shaky “Hi” and careful not to smudge the dark black too much. She’d never used charcoal before, though, and the sooty black wasn’t hard to accidentally get everywhere.
Clarke focused on the mess instead of the fact that there wasn’t any response back. This would not work out if she got black all over her sleeves. She didn’t need her mom asking her what that was from. That would defeat the purpose of her decision not to talk to her mom about this. So Clarke put the charcoal piece carefully away and washed her hands. She made sure the sink wasn’t covered in black, tried to wash carefully enough that she didn’t need to stain a washcloth.
Clarke cleaned everything but her wrist. Waiting. Ready for the warmth that came with new designs on her body. Ready to see swirls appear. Ready for everything. She waited. Until she grew tired and sad and then she washed her wrist as well, watching the dark water swirl down the drain and determined to try again tomorrow.
All Clarke wanted for a long time was to hear something back from her soulmate, to have some sort of assurance that they were still alive, even.
Unfortunately, she discovers that the old adage is true: be careful what you wish for.
Thank you for your continued support! I hope the wait hasn't been too terrible and that this is worth it. This should answer a couple of questions I keep getting about what sort of marks/ink are actually visible through the soulmate connection. It's also where things start getting a bit interesting.
I've also gotten a lot of requests for Lexa's POV. Lucky for you, I love me some Lexa POV. Next chapter will be an interlude to see what's been happening on the ground with our favorite warrior. I'm excited, what about you?
There was nothing for so long. No response from her soulmate. No more tattoos. It got to the point where Clarke would stay up late into the night once a week and look at her tattoo and the newest design she’d etched against her wrist, all the while wondering what happened when someone’s other half died.
Did the tattoos fade? Would she even know? Maybe all she’d have left of them were the markings on her skin, phantom memories of what could have been.
Those nights were hard, and Clarke would often wake up with dried tear tracks on her cheeks, eyes red. Her father said nothing, although she didn’t resist when his hugs would last a little longer than usual. Her mother said nothing, and Clarke received no hugs from her.
She’d thought that not talking about it would mean that her mother didn’t think about it. She’d been wrong.
Finally, after more than a year of this, Clarke forced herself to stop. She stopped looking at the tattoo at all, stopped writing on her arms. The remaining charcoal was stashed deep in her drawers and she didn’t ask Wells for more. It was better this way. Even if she found her soulmate, they’d probably end up floated for what they’d done. Or maybe they were dead already. Either way, there was no use in trying any longer.
Clarke overheard the girl on the other side of the curtain, not much older than she herself was, but already twice as sassy. The doctor and patient probably didn’t even know Clarke was there as she worked on inventory, writing down how many bandages, tongue depressors, and other medical items that weren’t locked up they had. Boring work, but about all Clarke could expect at thirteen and only just being accepted into the medical program. Clarke found herself smiling despite herself at the unknown girl’s tone, unsure how someone could make those two words sound so sarcastic and just done.
“I know that the head injury and the whole passing out thing is a little new, but it’s not like I’ve never been electrocuted before.” Clarke blinked. What? Her head turned to look at the curtain, unsure if she was hearing correctly. Who just casually shrugged off getting electrocuted? “A little bit of burn cream and I’m good. No need to keep me here just to get in your way.”
If Clarke had been bored before, now she found herself completely unable to focus on carefully counting the things she was supposed to and noting the numbers down on her screen. Not when there was someone actually interesting so close nearby. Sure, she wasn’t supposed to interfere in doctor/patient confidentiality, which meant she wasn’t supposed to eavesdrop on patient conversations, but someday she was going to be a doctor, right? It sounded interesting and she liked helping people, and besides, it had been really nice to bond with her mom again after they’d had that rough patch. Lately, it’d been almost like the tattoo had never existed, and as far as everyone was concerned, that was for the best. So, if she was going to be a doctor, it made perfect sense that she should be allowed to see and hear what really went on in the office. That sort of experience was definitely as important as doing inventory.
Clarke carefully set what she was working on down and tried to be nonchalant as she made her way over to the curtain. She slowly leaned out from the edge and peeked her way around it.
The doctor’s back was to her, so Clarke wasn’t risking getting yelled at by him. Yet. The girl was mid-eye-roll as well, so Clarke managed to get a really good, unabashed look at her before anyone even noticed she existed.
Long brunette hair pulled back into a ponytail, a dark grey tank top, dark jeans, and a ridiculously pretty face. Clarke was right before, she didn’t seem to be much older than her. Maybe a year, at most. The way she held herself, however, her entire presence, just screamed “I’m awesome and I know it.” Clarke immediately liked her.
That didn’t mean she was going to get herself in trouble and reveal herself, though. At least it didn’t until she saw the dark splatters across the girl’s upper arm. Was that ink? Clarke leaned out a little bit more from her place behind the curtain, trying to get a better view.
Brown eyes met her own, a lazy smirk growing on the other girl’s face, and Clarke snapped back behind the curtain, caught.
She was flustered as she shuffled quickly back to the drawer she was supposed to be looking at, trying to pretend like she’d been there all along. Her hands fumbled with the screen and in her haste to look busy she missed whatever was being said between the doctor and the girl. Clarke was sure that he’d be looking around the curtain any time now, giving her a disappointed look and either lecturing her right then or letting her know that he’d be telling her mother about this. And she’d been doing so well lately. Clarke sighed.
Clarke rubbed at her upper arm absently. Stupid, probably-dead soulmates. Immediately after the thought, she felt bad about it. I didn’t mean that. Please come back. She frowned at that thought even further, upset that she still couldn’t just forget that her soulmate even existed. Even if they obviously didn’t care as much as she did.
Great, now she was grumpy. But, Clarke realized once she’d spent two whole minutes just staring at a jar of cotton balls and not being interrupted, apparently she wasn’t in trouble. She licked her lips, eyes fluttering as she came back to herself and looked back up at the curtain.
Amused brown eyes were staring back at her.
“Holy cra--” Clarke jumped, hand still clutched against her arm. The other girl laughed, actually laughed at her, and Clarke frowned even more. She was cute but there was no reason to be mean.
“Easy there,” the stranger said, coming closer to lean up against the wall near her. She crossed her arms over her chest and Clarke’s eyes found themselves drawn to the dark splashes of color on her upper arm again. It was clear the attention wasn’t overlooked. “You see something you like?”
Clarke’s gaze jumped back to meet the other girl’s, curiosity overwhelming her frustration and embarrassment. Closer up, it didn’t look like whatever she had on her was there on purpose, but still, it didn’t hurt to ask. “That’s not ink, is it?” Her mouth went a little dry once the question was out, realizing how much that could sound like an accusation. “I mean, I was just wondering. Not that I would say anything.”
The other girl looked startled, her arms loosening a little from her chest as she stared at Clarke. Her amusement quickly returned, though, and she gave Clarke a once over. “Ink? No. This is grease. They let me work on one of the older machines today. It was great until it tried to kill me.” She grinned, clearly not worried about her near-death experience.
“Oh.” Clarke wasn’t sure how to react to this girl. She seemed mostly harmless, but she was also working on the machines here, which Clarke was pretty sure wasn’t normal. Despite herself, Clarke was impressed. “That’s why you were electrocuted?”
“That’s why I’m here. Why are you? You look a little young to be a doctor.”
“You look a little young to be a mechanic,” Clarke shot back. She flushed slightly at the approving look that the girl sent her, then straightened her shoulders. Clarke didn’t have any reason to feel inferior. She was smart and was going to go places too. “I just started the medical program a couple months ago. My mom is the Chief Medical Officer.”
The other girl whistled lightly. “Following in your mom’s footsteps? Good to know I’ll be taken care of next time I get electrocuted.” She chuckled at her own joke, then stared at Clarke with that intelligent gaze. “What about you? Have any ink?”
The trap was that she hadn’t been expecting it. By the time Clarke realized what she was doing, her hand was already clutching at her arm where she knew the tattoo was underneath her shirt. Clarke clenched her jaw, realizing what she’d done, and tried to play it off by reaching for her other arm and rubbing up and down like she was cold. The other girl snorted softly, but her gaze was kinder than Clarke had been expecting.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell either.” Somehow, Clarke found herself believing that. She let out a soft sigh of relief. “Maybe someday you’ll let me see. I’ll have to get hurt again to get the excuse, but unlucky for me, that probably won’t take too long.”
How was Clarke supposed to respond to that? She didn’t even know this girl. A girl who was now looking around them before pushing up off the wall and walking past her nonchalantly. Clarke looked around too, remembering that she’d been with a doctor before. He was over on the other side of the room, apparently busy with another patient. “I’d better go before they miss me too much,” the other girl said. Clarke looked back at her before she got too far away. “It was nice to meet you, Chief Jr. I’ll see you around.”
And then the strange girl was gone and Clarke was left staring wide-eyed at the door. She looked back down at what she was supposed to be doing, then found herself walking around the curtain instead. She looked around for anything that could identify the girl, but the doctor had already locked out the terminal. Nothing. And she couldn’t ask the doctor without getting weird looks.
What exactly had just happened? Her hand rubbed at her arm again and she shook her head before forcing herself to go back to her work.
Clarke never did ask anyone about the girl. It was just too dangerous since she knew about her tattoo, and if there was one truth that her mother had drilled into her head, it was that she shouldn’t tell anyone about that little detail. If she pretended the girl didn’t exist (and honestly, maybe she didn’t. Maybe Clarke had just hallucinated her, or dreamed her, or had suffered a head injury of her own. Stranger things had happened), then she couldn’t get in trouble for it.
Just like her maybe-probably-dead soulmate. If she pretended they didn’t exist, maybe they really didn’t.
Pretending for long enough, Clarke almost began to believe it.
Earth Survival was arguably one of Clarke’s favorite classes. She loved the idea of one day being able to see their ancestral home for herself. Of course, it wouldn’t be the way that they’d captured it in the photos and videos that they had on file. The views of green grass and trees, the wide expanse of the ocean, the sight of the sun over the horizon. Would all of those be different? Would the pictures she’d recreated in her drawing notebook even relate to anything on the ground? The thought could have been depressing, but Clarke found it exciting.
Nothing would compare to the experience of actually being on the ground, of experiencing things that might still be the same, and of discovering things that no one ever had before. The things they were learning about may or may not still be useful, but the possibilities were what made it worthwhile.
That being said, Clarke also hated Earth Survival class. For a class that was supposed to prepare them for the possibility of a future life on the ground, it was almost entirely theoretical and rarely ever practical. They could learn the idea behind how to build and start a fire, but there was no way they could actually try it. They didn’t have wood to spare and fire would eat at their oxygen reserves. Same for the idea of recognizing helpful and harmful plants in the wild. Assuming that the plants from before even still existed, there was a major difference between seeing pictures of them and actually locating and properly identifying them.
It was frustrating. Made even more so because they couldn’t take any sort of practical tests on whether or not they’d learned the material. Which meant that Clarke was currently in the middle of writing an essay on plant identification strategies. Five pages on things that she might not ever be able to try for herself. Not that that was going to stop Clarke from doing her absolute best to make a kickass essay, however. She had never been one to do things halfway. Not even completely useless writing assignments.
Which is probably why it took her a full minute and a half before she realized that the skin around her eyes was getting warm.
One hand reached up to push some hair out of her face, and suddenly Clarke was freezing at the realization that she might be feeling warm but the skin underneath her fingers didn’t match the sensation at all. Clarke dropped her things and followed a sudden compulsion that had her scrambling out of her chair, almost kicking the door jamb as she rushed into the bathroom. Once the light was on and she was looking in the mirror, Clarke swallowed down the immediate and intense urge to scream.
“No,” she muttered. “No, no, no, no.” Her fingers reached up to touch the dark circles forming around her eyes. Not the kind that came from exhaustion, no. The kind of heat-prickling, slow and deliberate appearance of dark grey surrounding her eyes that meant Clarke’s soulmate had finally decided to reveal that they were still alive. Clarke would have been ecstatic about that news if not for the terrifying possibility that this new development might be as permanent as the tattoo on her arm.
“What are you doing?”
If only her soulmate could hear her. Surely her soulmate would have at least paused at the sound of her distress. Instead, Clarke was left to rub frantically at one eyelid, as if she could remove even a fraction of the color if she pressed hard enough. As if that had worked for her mother when she’d tried to smudge the tattoo away.
Clarke imagined going to breakfast the next day, her parents shocked into silence. She could picture her mom looking sick to her stomach, her dad trying to pretend it didn’t matter. Then school, looking permanently like she had two black eyes. Who would do this to themselves on purpose? Her soulmate, apparently, although Clarke couldn’t imagine why.
Her breathing sped up, panic building at the thought of this being her new reality. The shadows on her face continued to get darker, stronger.
Clarke bolted out of the room.
The charcoal, she remembered. It’d been so long since the last time she’d tried to get her soulmate’s attention, but she knew it was still buried in her drawer. She jerked hard on the drawer handle, pulling it out with far more force than necessary, and tossed the clothes inside onto the floor. Clarke was far past caring about the mess in her panic. She could still feel the heat on her face, not stopping, when her fingers curled around the small, dark bundle, and then Clarke was rushing back into the bathroom.
Hands trembling, Clarke clutched at the sliver of charcoal that remained and tried to breathe as she held it to her wrist.
“NO,” she wrote, in big, bold strokes, the lines shaking only slightly. “STOP.”
It took up her entire forearm, stark and impossible to ignore. If there was any possibility that this charcoal image passed through to grace the skin of her other half, they would have to see it. They would have to know. Maybe she could salvage this still. Maybe she could make this better somehow. Maybe.
Clarke could feel the tears in her eyes as she stared up into the mirror at her own face. The heat had stopped. No new lines were being added, although the dark circles already fully surrounded her eyes. If she weren’t so frantic about what this might mean, she would probably be intrigued by the way the dark grey made her blue eyes all the more electric. She might have even admired the way she looked fierce and wild.
There was something about the look that felt… impressive.
But Clarke was 14 and terrified, and instead of all that, she felt the tears escape the dam of her eyelids and trail down her cheeks.
The dark grey followed their paths.
Clarke froze, wide-eyed, and realized that it wasn’t exact, that the dark grey flowed like tears but did not match her own. They trickled down, slowly, and Clark felt herself lean closer to the mirror, watched them approach her cheek bones, and found herself holding her breath.
Then suddenly there were new burning streaks, something hot like anger and shame, and Clarke cried out as the grey tear tracks stopped and swept down in clawing, jagged spikes on either side of her face. The world stilled once more, raw in the glare of the fluorescent lights of the bathroom. Clarke could feel the burning in her cheeks, sharp and angry, long after the movement stopped. It lingered, her tears evaporating as if they could feel it too, boiling everything away. Until finally the burning was fading, the colors were still, and Clarke was left staring at herself in the mirror.
The night was quiet, only the steady, distant humming of the Ark and the soft, almost panting breaths from Clarke herself. And yet for as alone and scared as she felt, Clarke suddenly had the sense that she was so very not alone. That somewhere, someone else was looking at their own face, was wearing this same mask, and had… cried these same tears?
Fierce, intimidating, and yet still as fragile as she herself felt. Who are you?
She didn’t even recognize herself through the mask. It took over her face, even in faded dark gray, and Clarke wondered what her soulmate saw.
A warrior. Clarke blinked, not knowing where the thought came from, but knowing that it fit. A warrior, on the Ark? A warrior? It was like someone playing dress up in clothes 500 years old. She giggled, three soft sounds, but the sound wasn’t cute, it was panicked and hysterical She rubbed frantically at her face again, nothing smudging, just as always. It wasn’t funny. This might be some strange joke, some game her soulmate was playing, but Clarke didn’t think so. Games didn’t make people cry.
“Who are you?” she whimpered, out loud this time. Her gaze was drawn to her arm, her own stark black message staring back at her, and Clarke couldn’t even understand all of the raging, competing emotions that were swirling around in her head right now.
Clarke swallowed, closed her eyes, and tried to reach out and feel her soulmate somewhere on the other side of their connection. She remained like that for a few long minutes, before finally her heartbeat had calmed, her thoughts had slowed, and she felt a chill creep across her face. When her eyes opened again, the grey was smearing angrily, but fading. It was being wiped away. Her soulmate was disappearing once more.
How was it possible to be so relieved and so devastated all at the same time?
Chapter 4: Interlude: Lexa
Meanwhile, on the ground...
This is a bit smaller than my normal chapters, but I don't think you'll be disappointed. This should answer some questions about what's been going on as far as Lexa is concerned, and why Clarke hasn't heard more from her soulmate.
As always, if you have any questions, ideas, or comments, let me know! I love hearing from you.
For the first time in a very long time, Lexa was alone.
The barracks where the natblidas stayed were empty except for Lexa. They’d offered to let her spend the night in her new quarters, since even though the ceremony wasn’t due to be completed until tomorrow, she had earned her rightful place.
Lexa had refused.
This was where she had grown up. Even with the ghosts of her friends haunting her at every turn, the whispers of giggles that weren’t real and the touches across her shoulders that she’d never feel again, Lexa wanted to spend her last night as a natblida here.
And maybe a little part of herself, deep inside, believed that she didn’t deserve the comforts that came with her new position as Heda.
Heda. Lexa squeezed her eyes shut tight, forcing her breathing at a soft, even pace. She’d learned long ago how to repress these emotions, how to keep the pain from showing on her face. How to stop from crying.
Warriors didn’t cry. Hedas didn’t cry. In order to serve her people, she wished that she could remove her eyes and wring out every last drop of moisture within them, only to return them to her skull once she was sure that she would never feel these emotions again. If only that were possible. If only she didn’t feel so much.
The rest of the natblidas were dead. Many by her own hand. Except for Luna. Luna, who had killed her brother for her people but who could not bear to let her soulmate die by her hand. Or worse, let her soulmate stain his hands with her blood in return. Luna, who had run in the dark of night and who should be hunted and made to suffer for her cowardice.
Luna, who she had ordered left alone, forgotten.
The other girl had been like a sister to her, as much as any of the natblidas were. She knew that she had been standoffish, had tried hard to guard her heart since Anya had warned her of the weakness of feelings. But they’d all been her siblings, and Luna had given her pretty blue flowers for her last birthday…
Lexa sucked in a deep breath. Let it out. Took another.
The rhythm soothed her, until finally her thoughts stilled once more and she could tell the ghosts in the corner to stay quiet. To let her be.
There was a container of kohl on the table in front of her, and Lexa was determined to do at least one thing before she tried to sleep. The sleep would not come easy, she knew, but it was needed so she would be ready for her future come the morning.
As Heda, Lexa was no longer a seken. She was a warrior in her own right, and thus was allowed to paint her face for war. As Heda, Lexa knew that this would be the mask she would wear more than her own face. As Heda, there was always war. This was Lexa’s chance to practice for herself before she faced her people and showed her mask to the world.
Dipping her fingers in the black kohl, Lexa stared at herself in the sliver of mirror she had available to her, then gently brought the darkness to her eyes and carefully began to paint around them.
It was strange, watching her sunkissed skin disappear under the blackness, watching her eyes get swallowed up and yet enhanced by the effect. She’d seen this on all of the warriors, of course, each with their own designs, but she had always wondered what it would look like on her own face. Lexa finally looked like she knew she should feel. Like a warrior.
Her eyes were ringed with dark kohl now, and Lexa thought that it was good to honor her mentor. Anya had always gone with a simpler design than most. She believed that a warrior proved themselves in battle more than they proved themselves in paint. Lexa could see the wisdom in that idea, and as Heda, perhaps she could use that as a guide.
The effect was striking, green eyes flickering in the candle light, but Lexa wasn’t sure. She should make it her own, somehow. Lexa reached up to further darken a patch of skin when she felt the heat building on her wrist, the sensation causing her to freeze as she stared at her bracer. Her bracer, which protected her from more than just glancing blows from a sword. More than just physical injury, but also emotional injury.
Lexa’s breath hitched. She shouldn’t look. She shouldn’t.
Did they have to return now? Now, on the eve of her ascension, on the night that she’d finished her bloody duty for her people, when she’d proven herself worthy for the spirit. When she was alone and hurting.
She’d thought that she’d made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with them, thought that by not giving in to the urge to respond, she could remove the curse of her traitorous other half from her soul. Lexa blinked, feeling the emotion sweep over her, then looked at herself in the mirror again, seeing the beginnings of the mask that she had made for herself, and understood. She’d been the one to call them this time. This was one last trial she had to face before she was worthy of her position as Heda. If she could weather this pain, she could do anything.
Lexa carefully unlaced her bracer and pulled it away from her wrist. She didn’t look, not until she had set the leather down on her table, not until she was sure that she was as ready as she could ever be, and then finally, finally, she looked down.
It was worse than she had imagined. Scrawled in dark, angry lines, covering the whole of her forearm and taunting her with the demand. As if their connection meant anything to her, as if this coward could command the Heda.
“ NO STOP. ”
Gonasleng. English. The language of the Maunon, who terrorized her people, took them and either didn’t return them or corrupted their bodies and minds. Sent them back as monsters that could only be released from their bodies and never saved. The Maunon who thought that they were gods in their concrete fortress, with their guns and their gas and lack of souls.
How could she have a soulmate who didn’t possess a soul of their own?
What had she done to deserve this fate?
They’d taught the natblidas early on that as Heda, their soulmate would be vulnerable. There was no way to hide their connection to the commander and other leaders would use that weakness against them. They could not afford to be soft. They could not afford to be weak. But despite that, no one would demand that a Heda keep their soulmate separate. They were two halves of a soul. They were one.
Their soulmate would be at risk, but they could be together. With the whole clan searching for the soul of the Heda, it was never hard to find them. Their union was sacred. Revered. Lexa had always thought that if she were to be Heda some day and serve her people, at least she would have the chance to know her other half.
But Lexa had been cursed with the soul of the mountain. Cursed to know that her other half would be used against her one day, would maybe even take her life for their own. And, Lexa knew, she’d never be able to do the same. Perhaps one day she could be the one to bring down the mountain, to set her people free. Perhaps. But she’d never be able to kill her other half. That was more than Lexa could bear, even for her people.
She’d never told anyone, not even Anya. This shame was her own burden to bear and she would rather have the other natblidas (and now, she knew, the rest of her people) whispering about how Lexa did not have a soulmate. How Lexa was going to be the first Heda in a long, strong line, who was born without another half.
It was better than the truth. Better than the knowledge that she could be her people’s downfall. That love was weakness and her one chance at being whole was truly the chink in her people’s armor.
Her emotion swelled again, pressing against the dams that she had built up. She was tired, so tired. The others were gone. Lexa was alone and her people were counting on her now. Heda had to live for her people but Lexa still wished that she could just climb into her mother’s bed and curl up against her to let her fight off the bad dreams.
The lines against her wrist glared at her again in their arrogant demand. She should never have been allowed to win the Conclave. She should never...
Lexa could feel the tears, hot and angry, and before she could stop them they were escaping and threatening to streak down her cheeks. She gasped, almost a sob, although she tried to keep it quiet. No one could know. No one could hear. Instead, she clawed angrily at the tears, pulled them down across her cheekbones to make sure they couldn't travel any further. And when she looked at herself in the shard of mirror she called her own, the redness of her eyes was offset by the ragged fierceness of the dark lines spidering away from them. For a moment she couldn't recognize herself, the haunted warrior staring back at her leaving her breathless.
This warrior could break and break and would still fight. No matter how many ghosts hid behind that mask, no matter how many enemies lurked in that soul, this warrior would stand. The eyes behind the mask cried once more for the child they would never be again, then firmed, knowing their duty, knowing their place.
Lexa looked into the eyes of the warrior and let the mask become her own.
And then it was enough. This was how she could fight this, could serve her people the way they needed her to be. Could rise above her human limitations and accept the mantle of command. Above all, this was how she could keep away her traitorous other half.
The kohl mask stared back at her through the mirror, fierce green eyes blazing through the darkness.
This was Heda.
Clarke's new look means the situation can no longer be ignored, but it turns out that the Griffins aren't the only ones that have been keeping secrets.
This chapter is a little late for my own personal schedule, but it's also a bit longer. Hopefully that makes up for it. I managed to get a job, which is great! But also means writing time is rapidly decreasing. I'm still going to make a goal of a chapter a week, though, don't worry. I love this story too.
Speaking of love: I love all your comments! Some of them have sparked ideas that I'm planning on using later on. Thanks for sticking with me, and enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Clarke had cried herself to sleep the night before for the first time in a long time. She’d thought she had been over crying about her soulmate. It had been easier to pretend when she could also pretend that her soulmate was dead, but that was obviously not the case.
Her soulmate was alive, but her soulmate was unlike anyone that Clarke had met on the Ark yet.
Maybe there was a place on the Ark, some distant station, where people were starting to grow restless. Maybe there was a mutiny in the works and Clarke was gaining early warning because she happened to share a connection with one of the mutineers. Maybe. Maybe her soulmate had survived until now only to go out in a blaze of glory.
Clarke couldn’t bring herself to care.
She got up, pulled out the clothes that she was going to wear for the day, and trudged into the bathroom. Her parents were eating breakfast in the other room and Clarke could hear them as she flicked on the bathroom light and closed the door behind her.
A few seconds later, they came running when Clarke screamed.
If there was one word for the mood in the small bathroom in that moment, it would be ‘shock’.
Clarke stared at her face in the mirror, hands trembling as she cupped her cheeks. Her mom looked devastated and furious all at once, and her father simply stared at her, wide-eyed. A few ticks of a second of silence and then her mom was yelling about telling the council and rushing out of the bathroom, her father following behind her on instinct and reaching for her arms, pulling her against his body and gently trying to dissuade her.
For her part, Clarke leaned heavily against the wash basin and tried not to hyperventilate.
The markings were back, just as they had been last night, but now the pattern was darker, more absolute. It filled in around her eyes, spidered down her cheeks in more carefully crafted claws, and to make matters worse, it now pushed back into her hairline. This was truly a mask of someone out to intimidate, to conquer. To destroy.
Clarke was fourteen and having the first panic attack of her young life in the bathroom. She had school today. That’s what her mind chose to focus on while she stared at the face that was not her own in the mirror. She had school today.
“This isn’t about that, Jake!” Abby was yelling, loudly, when Clarke became aware of them again. The neighbors could probably hear her. Jake was trying to quiet her down but only barely succeeding. “The council needs to know about this. This could mean an attack!”
“At least call Thelonious first,” Jake pleaded. “He’ll know what to do and you know that he cares about Clarke.” Their voices faded into the hum of background noise again as Clarke fought harder and harder just to breathe.
It was too much, too much. How could they do this to her, to them? How could her soulmate risk everyone’s lives for whatever crazy thing they were planning on doing? How could they do this when they knew that their other half was out there somewhere, looking for them? Clarke didn’t understand.
Her voice was so small against her mother’s frantic arguments, barely even making a dent in the chaos that her soulmate had caused. Somehow though, miraculously, her father appeared, hand gently stroking her hair out of her eyes and pulling her into his arms. She felt like she was five again as she curled up against his strong chest and let her tears soak into his shirt. “I’m here, kiddo. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. Just breathe for me. Breathe. In and out. You can do it.” And Clarke realized that she was sobbing, breaths turning painful and short as she struggled to get air amidst the panic. “In and out.”
His voice was so calming, so sure. Clarke managed to tune out the sound of her mother contacting Jaha as she listened to her father instruct her carefully. In. Out. In. Out. “That’s it, kiddo. You’re doing so well. It’s all gonna be okay.”
Ultimately, Jake had succeeded in getting Abby to listen to reason. At least a little bit. It wasn’t the whole council that showed up at their door, but Jaha. Clarke was sent to her room, but although she might be a little bit numb from the shock of the continued existence of this mask, and weary from the aftereffects of a full blown panic attack, that didn’t make her any less stubborn. Or curious.
She’d actually gone to bed when she’d gotten exiled to her room and waited all of a minute to make sure that her parents weren’t going to open the door to check on her. After the waiting period, her ear was pressed to the door as quickly as her legs could carry her.
“-- didn’t want to tell you this. We’re trying to keep the situation… under wraps.” Jaha’s voice sounded, soft but urgent. He’d looked shocked and concerned at the door, but now Clarke could think maybe he hadn’t looked as surprised as he maybe should have been.
“-- you’re not telling me? What do we even have a council for if you’re not telling us things?” Clarke had missed some. Her mother was on the verge of yelling. She almost didn’t even need to listen at the wall.
“Abby, you need to calm down.”
“Like hell I do! This isn’t a dictatorship, Thelonious.”
“Abby, let him talk,” Jake’s voice was much quieter, and Clarke pressed herself tighter against the cool metal of the door.
There was a long pause. “We all know about the tattoos. Luckily, they haven’t been widespread and we’ve been able to keep a lid on things.” Jaha sounded almost tired. “But for the past three months we’ve been dealing with more visible incidents.”
“... Like Clarke?” Was that fear in Abby’s voice? Relief? Clarke couldn’t tell. All she could feel was the pounding of her heart as she thought about not being alone. About others like her on the station. About maybe her soulmate being among them.
“Yes. But not quite. And always just shadows.”
Another long pause. Clarke’s mind raced. Shadows? That meant… they really hadn’t found any of the people responsible for this?
“No actual ink?” Jake sounded about as surprised as Clarke felt.
“Where are they hiding? How many are we talking about? Why have you kept this from the council, Thelonious?”
Jaha’s sigh was audible even through the door, and Clarke fidgeted with the urge to go out there and hear more for herself. If he hadn’t told the council, though, there was no way they’d let her hear for real. “Abby, you of all people should know what this means for keeping panic to a minimum. We can’t afford this to go public. I thought… well, at first it was just the one and I was sure we could get the situation under control, but we have three kids in solitary lockup now and Clarke makes the fourth I know of.”
“ Three kids in solitary?” Abby’s voice rose again and Clarke actually backed away briefly from the door. When she pressed her ear against it again, it sounded like Jake was trying to keep her from doing something rash, but Abby wasn’t listening.. “--can’t just lock them up for something they didn’t do! Oh my god, Clarke! You can’t!” A spike of alarm shot through Clarke’s chest and she pressed her hand tightly against her now frantically beating heart. This was why Abby had reacted the way that she had all those years ago. The sky box? Solitary? Because of someone she hadn’t even met?
“Abby, breathe, honey…”
“This is why I haven’t let the council know!” Jaha’s voice cut over Abby’s cries, commanding but low. Clarke could feel tears in her eyes and could hear the same in Abby’s voice, but she forced herself to remain quiet against the door, listening. “Your reaction is exactly what we’re trying to avoid, on a large scale. Just imagine if the people knew what was going on? That there was a growing mutiny on our hands that we couldn’t stop after four months. We can’t afford everything we’ve worked for to be undone because of this.”
Abby was trying to control herself, but the protective fury was still audible in her voice. “You cannot take Clarke away from us for something she has no control over. She’s never even met this person. She’s done nothing to deserve punishment.”
“How long are you planning on holding them without telling anyone?” Jake’s voice was almost inaudible, and Clarke was more focused on actually hearing the words rather than feeling the emotional impact of her father considering this. Abby’s cry of “Jake! No!” proved she was paying closer attention. “Hold on, Abby, listen,” he continued. “How long? Because there’s no way they’re doing this without anyone else knowing. This is just going to grow if it keeps going like this. How long are you going to wait before getting the people involved?”
Clarke held her breath. She didn’t understand all of the politics. She had no idea what Jake was trying to get at, but she knew that this was important. Was she going to get locked up for this? The pause that lasted between the three adults in the other room was longer than Clarke could wait to breathe, not with as anxious as she was about this. In fact, she almost thought they’d left in the time it took her to gasp out a breath. But no, finally Jaha seemed to have collected himself enough.
“My most trustworthy guards are following up on a recent lead. I need to at least wait to give them a chance to take care of this quietly.”
“And then?” Abby asked.
“And then I’ll bring it up with the council, I promise, Abby. We’ll have to discuss a more proper course of action. You both are right on that count, of course you are. I was just hoping…” Jaha trailed off.
“I… I understand,” Abby said finally. “But you can’t send Clarke to lockup. Even for just a short time. Please, don’t do that to us. To her.”
“I don’t know of another course of action that wouldn’t cause--”
“What if she stays here?” It was Jake who suggested it, interrupting Jaha. Clarke found herself clutching tightly against her upper arm, over her tattoo, a habit she’d developed in response to stressful situations. It was ironic, really, that she gained some sort of relief from the action when the person who had marked her that way was the cause of all of her current problems. “She won’t have to see anyone, or be seen, until you’re ready.”
“House arrest?” Jaha seemed to be considering it.
Abby jumped on the idea. “We could say she’s sick. Quarantine. Nothing airborne, but enough to explain needing to bring her rations to her.”
“And enough to explain the need for a guard.” Clarke could almost picture Jaha nodding in response.
“I don’t think that’s necessary--”
“Abby, it’s okay. It’s just one guard, right? They’ll stay outside and at least we’ll have Clarke here with us.” Jake’s calm tone seemed to deflate Abby’s argument, because Clarke didn’t hear her response to that. She closed her eyes, finally feeling the ache in her chest ease slightly. She didn’t want to be stuck at home and she’d have to seem like she didn’t like it when they told her, but honestly, she wasn’t sure if she was ready to face the world like this anyway.
Clarke rubbed absently at her arm again, finally moving away from the door and sliding into bed. It wasn’t late at all, but she suddenly felt tired. At least she wasn’t going to the sky box. Her parents would make sure of that.
What she tried very hard not to think about even a little, was what would happen to her soulmate when they were inevitably caught.
She was in the middle of a forest, laying on her back. The first thing that she was aware of was the smell: full and fresh and nothing that Clarke had ever experienced before. It surrounded her and enveloped her but despite the fact that she’d never known it before, it brought her a sense of familiarity rather than fear or bewilderment. This smell meant peace.
Then Clarke could feel. Touch. The ground at her back was soft but ticklish, pressing against her bare arms and the small of her back. Her fingers dug into the soft soil, the earth sifting easily around them.
She could hear… something. But the strangest thing wasn’t what she could hear, it’s what she couldn’t. There was no steady hum of the Ark. No distant conversation heard through walls. No clanking of old machinery. Instead, there was the wind gently rustling through the trees and what Clarke could only guess were insects.
Around her, she could see the trees stretched up to the dark sky, towering away from her and protecting her from the night. Straight ahead there were stars, millions and millions of them, just like she saw out their windows at home, and the sight filled her with wonder and curiosity.
One of the stars flashed brighter than the others, appearing from the treeline and steadily streaking across the night sky. Her eyes followed its path for a long moment before her eyes shut and everything faded away.
When Clarke awoke, it took her a moment to remember where she was. She could still feel the earth against her back, still felt the peace that came with a moment of solitude in the forest of her dreams. But now she was in her bed, the sheets slightly scratchy against her skin. What a weird dream. She rolled over and sat up, hand rubbing lightly against an ache in the back of her neck.
House arrest was even less interesting than Clarke had expected. With all the time in the world and no contact with the outside world, Clarke quickly blew through any coursework her parents passed on to her. That left a lot of solo chess, solitaire, and staring out the window at Earth.
Ever since she’d had that dream, she’d been unable to stop thinking about it. Sights and sounds could be explained away by books or vids she’d seen in class. The smell, though, and the feeling of the soft earth beneath her. Where had they come from? Was that what it felt like to be on the planet? Was that they were missing by being stuck up here in space, waiting for Earth to be survivable again? For all they knew, forests like she’d dreamed about might not even exist anymore. No solid green trees, no insects chirping, no pungent smells.
Just desert and death.
House arrest apparently made her morbid, too.
Her other favorite pastime was sitting in front of the mirror, looking at the face paint that was applied day after day without fail. Where were they even getting the materials to do that? Clarke had thought about writing to her soulmate again, to get some sort of reaction, but something always stopped her. Probably the knowledge that they might be dead soon. Man, she really was getting morbid.
Still, with all this time, Clarke had finally let herself sit down to think about what kind of person her soulmate might be. Was it a boy? A girl? It’d never really been a big thing for her to realize that either would be okay. Some people knew for sure what they wanted, like Wells was into girls, even if he rarely ever actually talked to any, but Clarke could see positives either way. Boys were cute and it was funny when they tried to flirt, and girls were pretty and kind of mesmerizing, to be honest. She’d wondered before which one her soulmate might be, but usually she’d settled on thinking of them as some androgynous middle ground, which would be okay too, honestly, but wasn’t very easy to picture.
So Clarke had taken to drawing. Generic boys and girls with her distinctive face paint. For a boy, she started with Wells. His strong jaw paired with broad shoulders and… well, honestly probably more muscles. She couldn’t picture Wells wearing a mask like this, he was too much of a peacemaker, too much of his dad in him, the politician. But someone a little bit stockier, with a face more unforgiving, maybe.
The results were mixed. She could see it, definitely, but the boy that would wear this mask and the delicate tattoo on her arm just didn’t seem to match. The mask was too fierce, too demanding, and the tattoo too emotional. And Clarke remembered the tears streaming down her face. It didn’t seem completely right.
So she drew a girl, instead. For some reason, the girl she’d met in the infirmary came to mind. She’d been slight, but clearly confident in herself. Clarke could see her with a mask like this. So she drew her, lean and scrappy, but with a straighter back and a sharper expression. The cheekbones became more defined under her pencil, and Clarke hesitated at the eyes. She couldn’t picture them, couldn’t imagine what depth of emotion would stare out at her from the girl who wore this paint. Who was clearly willing to go to great lengths for what she believed in, but who had a soul sensitive enough to sit for hours as the swirling designs were etched into her upper arm.
Even without the eyes, though, Clarke found herself staring at the face long enough to be surprised when her mother came in for lunch.
Later, after Clarke had stared at the drawing some more (and made some more variations just to be sure about her findings) she would reflect that it might actually be a little disappointing now if her soulmate turned out to be a man. That was probably unfair, wasn’t it?
It didn’t matter. She never thought of her soulmate as ‘they’ again.
Abby cleared off the table of their meal, putting things away before turning back to Clarke. Clarke could feel her from where she sat, studying her. Even though she was staring at the table, she knew what her mom must see right now. Clarke had left her hair down today, so that it fell forward into her face. It served to hide the paint a little, but there was no way her mom wasn’t looking at that instead of at her. How could anyone see anything but the mask?
Hopefully her soulmate was enjoying the effect. At least someone should.
Clarke heard Abby let out a soft sigh, before she sat down next to her. “I know I’ve been talking about work this whole time, but you know you can talk to me, right?” Abby reached out to gently place her hand on Clarke’s arm, and Clarke tried her hardest not to flinch. It must not have been completely successful, because Abby only lingered another moment, patting it gently before pulling away. “This isn’t your fault. You know that. And it won’t be forever.”
“Just until they float all the rebels, right?” Clarke didn’t mean to sound so rude, she really didn’t. It was just hard when ‘It won’t last much longer’ sounded so much like ‘everything will be better once your soulmate is out of the picture.’ As tough as things had been for her since her soulmate had made herself known, that didn’t mean that she wanted her dead.
“Honey, no,” Abby responded automatically, the hand reaching back out to cover hers. Clarke made a face but this time she held on. “You can’t… think like that.”
“Think like what? That’s exactly what’s going to happen and you know it!” She didn’t want to argue about this, it just made her upset, but she didn’t want her mom to blatantly lie to her face either.
Abby was quiet for a moment before nodding slowly. She rubbed her thumb along Clarke’s wrist. “No, you’re right,” she said, voice soft but determined. “I keep trying to protect you from things but you’re not a little girl anymore.” Clarke looked up at Abby slowly, meeting her eyes for the first time since she’d come to lunch. It surprised her to see her mom looking right back at her. Truly. Not just at her mask. Clarke could feel her eyes watering with unexpected emotion. “Oh, Clarke,” Abby said, getting out of her chair to round the table and take Clarke into her arms. There was a beep of an incoming communication from somewhere in the room but they both ignored it as Abby held Clarke tightly, resting her cheek against Clarke’s hair.
“I don’t want her to die, mom,” Clarke mumbled softly, trying to keep the emotions at bay.
“I know you don’t,” Abby said, then hesitated. “Her?” Clarke just shook her head, not really wanting to go into it. “You don’t know… her, do you?” Clarke moved to pulled away, but Abby quickly held on tighter. “No, wait, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know them,” Clarke mumbled, eventually surrendering to the hold again. “I just…” She frowned and shrugged, closing her eyes. How did she explain wanting someone to picture on the other side of the connection? Even though she knew that she’d probably never meet her. She just wanted her soulmate to be more than just a criminal. More than just a future body burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.
“It’s okay, I’m sorry. I know it’s hard.” Abby rubbed her back gently and Clarke shrugged again. “What I meant to say is that I don’t want… her to die either, but she’s made her choice. She knew what she was doing when she got involved in this and that’s no one’s fault but her own.” Clarke closed her eyes tighter. They both knew her mom was right. They both knew it didn’t make anything any better.
Clarke pulled away slowly, not wanting Abby to say anything else. She reached up to rub at her eyes. “Can we just… not talk about this anymore? Please?”
“Of course,” Abby said, nodding fast. She looked so nervously sincere that it was making Clarke uncomfortable. She gave her a look and Abby stopped, looking sheepish, before a sudden thought helped her collect herself again. “Oh! I did have a thought that you might like. I know it must be driving you crazy to be stuck in here, but I could bring home some materials so we can continue your medical training even though you can’t come in to the infirmary. What do you think?”
Clarke paused, then found herself nodding at the idea. She had to admit, that did sound good. She was tired of only doing homework and basically talking to herself. They wouldn’t even allow her to contact Wells because she might use an outside connection to talk to someone that she shouldn’t. Having something else to work on sounded like paradise. “I, yeah, that would be--”
The door chimed. They both turned towards it before Abby gave Clarke an apologetic look and headed to it, pressing the intercom button. “Yes? Who is it?”
“Dr. Griffin,” the guard on shift sounded through the door. “There’s a Jackson here to see you. Says it’s urgent.” When Abby looked back at Clarke, she just waved her off. Their conversation was done anyway. Abby told the guard that she’d be right there before coming back to Clarke for another hug.
“I’ll bring things to practice with, I promise.” Clarke nodded, squeezing her mom a little harder before letting her go. Abby held her face gently and kissed her on the forehead before gathering her things. “I love you, Clarke. I know sometimes I haven’t done my best to show you, but I just worry. It’ll be okay.”
“I know, mom. I love you too.” Clarke pushed Abby lightly toward the door, then stepped back. “Say hi to Jackson for me.”
Abby gave Clarke one more soft look before opening the door. For her part, Clarke looked away, moving back to the table. “Jackson!” Abby said. “I’m sorry, I see you tried to call.”
Clarke shouldn’t look. She shouldn’t even be here at the table with the door open, honestly. Someone could pass by and see her. But it had been so long since she’d seen anyone other than her parents and at least Jackson was a friendly face.
Jackson was already turned away when she turned her head to look, but there was another face there instead. A tall, older boy in a guard’s uniform. Clarke had never seen him before. She could hear Jackson and her mom talking about the surgery they were going to perform as they walked away from the Griffin’s quarters. The boy continued to stare at her. No, not at her, at her face. Clarke’s cheeks burned as she realized that he was gawking at her mask, and quickly put as much energy as she could into a glare. The effect must have been striking with the dark paint around her eyes, because he actually flinched away.
“Cadet Blake!” Another guard member stepped up to the cadet and stared at him. “Stand to attention. You’re only here because we’ve both been exposed to this contagion before and know how to deal with it. I don’t have to explain to you what would happen if you ended up becoming ill , do I?” The guard briefly glanced in Clarke’s direction, his expression not exactly friendly, before dismissing her and pressing the button to close the door.
“No, sir. Apologies, sir,” was the last thing Clarke heard before she was left alone once more.
So, you probably noticed that time is slowing down a little. Hopefully the pacing won't become too slow, but I've got a lot I want to explore and the more I write, the more things pop up. You might have also noticed that while, yes, this is at its heart a romance and that's a huge part of it, it's more of a character study and world building experiment than anything. I think it'll be worth it, and I'm super excited about what's going to come, but I thought I'd be upfront about the fact that it's still going to be a while before our two favorite ladies are going to meet.
I don't know if you signed up for a novel (I didn't know I was signing up for one), but what I initially estimated at 20k words is looking more like 60-75k.
That being said, there's still plenty of great stuff to come. We'll see more of Raven, Bellamy, and Wells in the coming chapters, and more familiar faces will be showing up soon. Again, thanks for reading! You're all amazing.
Clarke deals with her house arrest and the aftermath, and makes what could turn out to be either a great ally or a terrible mistake.
I would apologize for the fact that it has definitely been longer than I estimated, but then I might just fill this whole chapter with apologies. Instead, I'll just say that I have no intention of abandoning this fic and I hope to get back to a normal update schedule (which will probably not be once a week. I've learned my lesson).
Also, adulting sucks.
Also, thank you to all of you who keep sending me messages and kudos. You're the real MVPs.
It wasn’t until day 10 of her house arrest that Clarke discovered the other tattoos.
Her dad was attempting to cheer her up in his own way, watching an old game up on the screen. Her mom was going over treatment plans across the room, so it was almost like they were out for a father-daughter bonding evening, even if she couldn’t leave their quarters. Sports still weren’t Clarke’s thing, but anything that made her dad this excited was worth sitting through. So Clarke was actually fairly focused on what was happening on the screen when there was suddenly an intense warmth on the back of her neck.
She jumped, hand coming up to cup at it on instinct, and felt the way the warmth traveled in a controlled manner. The feeling made a shiver travel up and down her spine briefly as she tried not to react any further. Her new habit of leaving her hair down around her face meant that the back of her neck was already completely covered, but it took her a few long seconds before she let go.
Her dad was staring at her, the video already paused. “You okay there?” Clarke could tell that he was carefully looking from her neck to her eyes and trying to pretend like he couldn’t see the darkened skin across her cheeks. If only he wasn’t trying so hard. Still, she gave him a small smile, trying not to wince as the heat intensified. It pinched, almost. It was different from the soft heating sensation across her cheeks every morning now, but Clarke knew immediately what it meant.
Well, that solved the question of whether her soulmate had been caught. Or was even worried about being caught.
“Yeah, fine,” Clarke said, turning to the screen again with a forced casualness as the heat continued on its path looping up her neck. “Just had a kink in my neck. I haven’t been getting out or stretching much lately.” That was enough to make her dad nod and look away, obviously a little bit guilty. Clarke didn’t even feel bad about it. That was probably due to the fact that she was being locked up here so that they could hunt her soulmate without causing some sort of widespread panic. Or something.
There was an awkward silence in the room. From behind them as well, meaning her mom was paying attention to them even if she was pretending not to. Clarke closed her eyes briefly, then let out a soft sigh and refocused. Her dad had unpaused the game and Clarke pointed towards the screen as a foul was called. “What was that for?” she asked. She had no idea what was going on, so it wasn’t completely changing the subject, or lying. Not really. Her dad hesitated only a half-second too long to be natural, but eventually chuckled and shook his head, explaining for her benefit.
Surprisingly, the heat only prickled for another minute or two and then was gone.
Clarke forced herself to stay in her seat and ignore the urge to go check it out in the mirror for another hour.
Later, once her parents had gone to sleep and Clarke was left alone, she made her way into the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. The face paint was gone for the day, allowing her to see herself without the afterimage of her soulmate’s markings overlaid.
Her own face looked… tired.
Without the distraction of the fierce dark claws against her cheeks, Clarke could see the way she hadn’t been sleeping well in the slight bags under her eyes. There was worry in her face. Worry for her soulmate. Worry for herself. Worry for her parents who she could sometimes hear whispering late at night when they thought she was asleep.
She missed being younger, when she’d just been excited about the tattoo on her arm. When she had simply appreciated the beauty and the knowledge that her soulmate existed.
Clarke pulled her hair to the side and turned her body, trying to angle herself in a way to see the back of her neck in the mirror. Predictably, this didn’t turn out well, although she could see one round loop on this side. More than that, however, she found herself holding her breath at the sight of more ink peeking out of the loose collar of her sleep shirt.
That wasn’t where the heat had been.
She stared at it for a few long seconds before letting go of her hair and pulling her shirt completely off, instead. The cool air was a shock to the system, but the goose bumps that pimpled across her body were due to the revelation of the tattoo that stretched down the length of her spine. Clarke’s neck craned to the side, trying to see as much of it as she could. Her jaw hung open in shock as she took it in.
When had that happened? Had she slept through it? How could she have slept through it?
She didn’t really know what she was seeing, but it held a strange beauty all the same. It travelled all the way down her back, mostly centered along her spine. Interconnected circles and lines; her first thought was that maybe it represented the solar system. Planets and asteroids. But honestly, Clarke had no idea what it meant.
If only she could ask. If only…
Clarke wished that she could trail her fingers along it like she had with the arm tattoo, but this was something that she’d have to go to the source to really appreciate. She could barely see the whole thing with her neck craned as it was, and soon even that ached too much to continue.
Maybe if she took a picture. Clarke longed for the chance to talk to Wells about this and get his help with documenting and deciphering this. The only way that might happen would be to tell someone else about this development, though, and the last thing she wanted was to add more fuel to their witch-hunting fire.
Clarke looked at the design again, ignoring the increasingly painful ache at the action. Was it normal to feel so protective of a soulmate she’d never met? And was it just that she was her soulmate, or were the designs themselves and the gentle soul who would etch them onto her skin forever what made Clarke suddenly desperate to keep her safe?
How was she supposed to be okay with her getting floated now? How had she ever convinced herself that it wouldn’t matter in the first place?
It took 20 days for them to decide that Clarke could be let out of house arrest. 20 days. And then, was it because they’d found the rebels and floated them or locked them up? No.
No, they gave Clarke concealer.
A stack of little round containers with flesh-colored cream inside. Not all of them the same shade. Clarke had gaped at them when they’d been thrust into her hands. What was this? What was it for? Why was it even on the Ark?
Apparently, it was make-up. Of course Clarke had heard of it, knew that people used to use it freely before they’d come up to space, but it wasn’t something that she’d really seen in person. It hadn’t exactly been on the approved list of items to bring onto most of the space stations that now made up the Ark, but some people had deemed it necessary anyway. There was a lot to be said for vanity. Especially with those people who didn’t have (or didn’t know they had) soulmates to frustrate with someone else’s makeup showing up on their face.
Clarke could only imagine the weirdness that was living before the Ark.
And yet now Clarke was experiencing that frustration for herself. Somehow, she wasn’t sure that vanity was what this mask on her face was really about, but it still had the same unfortunate effect. So, in their infinite wisdom, the Council had decided to allot her some of their contraband supplies of concealer while they continued their (increasingly futile) search for the rebels.
It was a good thing that Clarke was supposed to be recovering from some sort of terrible sickness, because her first efforts with the concealer were… honestly, pretty terrible.
“I think you need to smooth out that side a little, honey,” Abby said the first day she was supposed to go back to school. “It looks like your skin is… cracking.”
Clarke had groaned and spent another twenty minutes in the bathroom.
No one said anything. Not about her face, anyway. Clarke still kept her hair down to hide the tattoo on her neck, and people commented on that and the fact that they were glad she was feeling better, but nothing about her face. It was all a bit surreal. They couldn’t possibly miss it, right? But Clarke went through the motions of everyday life like she had before her soulmate had decided to change the game, and no one seemed to notice that everything was different. Even Wells just gave her a hug and stared at her for a long few seconds before everything seemed to be back to normal there. Apparently Thelonious Jaha was an amazing actor and liar to be able to keep what he’d done to his son’s best friend quiet from him. Clarke wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to look at him the same way again.
Everything went back to normal, except with the new routine of painting her face, and Clarke fought the urge to scream about it every day. Her mom tried to distract her from the situation by making an extra effort to be supportive and interested in her life-- including introducing her to ever more advanced techniques when they were working together at the clinic-- but she changed the subject anytime anything to do with the quarantine and why Clarke was there was brought up.
Clarke, after all her anger was burned out again, decided that maybe that wasn’t the worst idea.
She didn’t tell Wells about the face paint or the tattoos. What it all meant began to hurt too much, and Clarke found herself wanting to keep it to herself.
Instead, Clarke put on a smile and forced herself to just be satisfied that her soulmate was still there, on the other end of that ridiculous mask. Getting through every day by reminding herself it was another day that she was still with her, somewhere. Life continued on for both of them, one way or another.
This time, she was short, shorter than she’d been in a long time, but that didn’t stop her. Clarke grabbed ahold of a large tree branch and hoisted herself up, shifting her weight as if she’d done this many times before. There wasn’t enough time to appreciate the feeling of the bark under her fingertips before she wriggled her legs and swung around to stand on the branch she’d just climbed on to.
Looking out over the village, Clarke grinned, feeling pride well up inside her unbidden. All the people. People of all shapes and colors, walking around in clothing like Clarke had never seen. Buckles and straps and plates and masks. And ink. Ink everywhere. Ink on people’s bared arms, on their faces, on the skin peeking out from collars and cuffs. Dark, tribal designs liberally applied. It was amazing.
The artist in Clarke itched to memorize the lines, to remember them and recreate them.
She still wasn’t high enough, though. There was a hut next to this tree and she still could only barely see over the top of the fence that had been erected around it. Clarke found herself grabbing on to another branch, testing the weight before she scrambled up that one too. Now she was almost taller than the huts of the village. Clarke felt vertigo, but her body seemed secure up here in the trees. At home.
It should have been strange, but Clarke felt more at ease than she had in a long, long time. She closed her eyes and felt the wind in her hair, then opened them to watch the dark brown strands whip around her face freely. Brown. The thought registered in her brain, but she didn’t have time to really focus on it. There was movement in the yard that she’d specifically climbed this tree to see.
A girl stepped out of the hut, cheeks flushed pink in excitement. She was followed by two others— her mother and the tattooist , somehow she knew this—but her gaze was fixed on the dark lines on the girl’s left arm. They’d been freshly applied, a solid black design befitting her personality. The edges were pink, and she knew that this would be wrapped to heal, but for now she was showing off her new tattoo.
Clarke’s eyes flickered, looking down at the girl’s other arm, where there were dark gray lines prominently on display. She immediately recognized the faded look of a soulmate’s tattoo and something swelled up within her. Something joyous and jealous and wistful all at once.
Looking down, past the brown strands of hair still whipping around her, she reached for her own right arm and rubbed her thumb gently against her forearm in a crescent pattern. There was nothing there, no visible mark, but the path was familiar, the motion a fond habit. Something about it sparked a memory in Clarke, a vague sense of bright green flashing just at the edge of her recognition, but that was all.
She sighed, softly, the sound unfamiliar to her own ears. It wasn’t her sigh, but the sigh of a young girl. Clarke grew confused, her awareness beginning to fade. She was still standing in a tree, leaning against the rough bark of the trunk, but she could also feel the sheets against her legs in bed. She scrambled to hold on, to understand, but both of her bodies remained motionless. As the world slowly faded to dark, the last thing she heard was a soft voice, young and wistful but sure.
“Ai na hon yu op.”
It wasn’t a language she’d ever heard before, but still, somehow she understood. Could feel the promise in her veins.
I’ll find you.
Brown . The thought stuck with Clarke as she woke up, bleary-eyed. Brown…
She blinked a few times, nose scrunching up in thought, then shook her head. Brown. Right. Whatever that meant. Sounded like a boring dream.
Later, when she found herself murmuring “ai na hon yu op” absently while searching for a patient’s files, she got a weird look from her mom nearby, but otherwise barely even noticed that anything was strange at all.
Somewhere around month three of being back in the general population, Clarke ran into someone she hadn’t been expecting to see at the mess hall. Well, more like she felt her skin crawling as if she was being stared at, only to look up and realize that she was.
Dark eyes, dark, carefully combed hair. It took a moment, but the uniform was what made it click in her mind. That guard. The one who’d been staring at her during her house arrest. Cadet Bates? Blaine? She narrowed her eyes at him, and he blinked as if only just realizing he was staring. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then he was carrying his full tray in her direction.
It was only then that Clarke realized that she was alone today. She felt vaguely uneasy. Very few people knew about her secret, and this one knew more than most. He was a guard candidate, right? He wouldn’t do anything rash, probably. But still, having someone else know things that she didn’t want getting out made her nervous, especially when she knew absolutely nothing about him.
“Uh, hey,” he said, setting his tray tentatively down on the table across from her. “Can I sit here?”
Clarke twirled her fork against her tray absently, staring at him for a few long moments. “I guess so. Doesn’t that uniform mean you can pretty much sit wherever you want?”
He paused, trying to gauge her tone. When Clarke just shrugged one shoulder and nodded towards the seat, he nodded as well and then sat down slowly. Clarke couldn’t really get a read on him as he opened his tray, preparing to eat his meal. He was obviously here for a reason and Clarke was nervous about whatever that could mean, but he seemed unsure of himself as well. It couldn’t hurt to find out what he wanted, right?
She tried to be the stoic one, letting him be the first to talk, but it turned out that Clarke wasn’t very good at being patient. They managed just over a minute of uneasy silence before Clarke couldn’t handle it anymore. “So, Cadet,” Clarke started, voice low to keep from being overheard. “Is there a reason you were staring at me? Again?”
The guard candidate looked up at her, and Clarke had the distinct impression that he was studying her concealer job. “Bellamy. My name’s Bellamy.”
Clarke raised a brow and gave him an unimpressed look. What, did he think that staring at girls was cute? Was she supposed to be swooning? Honestly, he was attractive enough that Clarke didn’t doubt that girls would flock to him anyway, but if you had the uniform and the looks, shouldn’t you be a bit more charming? “So, Bellamy, ” she tried again, exasperated. “Is there a reason you were staring at me?”
At least he had the grace to look apologetic. And thankfully, to get straight to the point. “It didn’t just disappear, did it?” He sent a lingering glance to her cheeks and Clarke fought to urge to blush. When he looked down at his plate to pretend that they were just being casual, she huffed softly.
“And what exactly does it matter to you?” Clarke asked. Her voice rose towards the end and she had to close her mouth quickly to remind herself to be quiet. She stabbed her fork in the remains of her food. “I’m sure you know more than I do, anyway.”
Did she sound bitter? She sounded bitter.
Bellamy gave her a careful look. “I think you and I both know that they’re not exactly telling anyone anything.” Clarke found her mouth shutting slowly, staring at Bellamy with a decidedly less hostile look. She blinked and then took a quick glance to either side of them, trying to see if anyone was paying attention. “Stop that,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “If we were doing something wrong that’s exactly what it would look like.” Clarke made a face, but tensed, looking straight ahead instead.
“What are you even playing at? For all I know, you’re trying to get information on my…” Clarke paused, licking her lips nervously and having to force herself not to look away. “On them. And I’m not going to do that. I don’t even know them.”
“No,” he said quickly, lowly. “No, I believe you. I wouldn’t.” He blinked and looked down at his food, his shoulders slumping the slightest bit. Clarke just watched him, not knowing what to think about this guy and his agenda. “Look, the only reason I know anything is because I was shadowing the first responder to a call about an… incident.” Bellamy looked back up again, and there was something in his face that made Clarke wonder if he was telling the whole truth or not. Something about the emphasis on his words. She kept her mouth shut about it, though. This was the only person outside of the conversation she’d eavesdropped on with her parents and Jaha that was willing to talk about what they did know, and she found herself reluctant to let the opportunity go.
“But you do know something,” Clarke said after a moment.
Bellamy took his time but he eventually nodded. “I know you’re the only one who’s still out walking in the halls. I know you’re lucky. ” And the way he said the word lucky let Clarke knew that she wasn’t the only one who was bitter about the current situation on the Ark. She felt uneasy again. Would he reveal things just out of spite? But he gave a small snort and shook his head, looking down blankly at his tray of food. “I just want to know what it all means. Don’t you?”
That was all Clarke wanted anymore. Could she trust him, though? He was part of the guard. He could be a test from Jaha and whoever he’d assigned to take care of things quietly. Clarke frowned, but eventually sighed. “Of course I do. But if you think you’re going to get your answers from me, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Nobody tells me anything.”
Bellamy looked up at her, studying her face again with those dark eyes. Clarke couldn’t tell if she felt comforted or terrified. His eyes eventually slid passed her and up, and suddenly he was sitting up straight in his seat, collecting his tray. “I have to go,” he said, and Clarke resisted the urge to turn around and find out what he was looking at. Her question was answered when she heard a voice call, “Let’s go, Blake,” from behind her, and she swallowed.
“Wait, are you going to tell me if you find anything out?” Clarke couldn’t just leave it at that. She looked up at Bellamy with pleading eyes. He hesitated, then gave a short, barely there nod as he stood from the table.
“I’ll be in touch.”
Clarke stared ahead of her at the place where he’d been for several moments after he left, mind whirring. More waiting. More not knowing. But for once, she had a little bit of hope that maybe she wouldn’t be in the dark forever.
“Mom, have you… heard anything?”
Clarke bit the inside of her cheek, hesitant to ask this question but needing to know. It’d been almost eight months since she’d been put under house arrest. More than four months since she’d heard anything from that cadet. More time than she could really handle living day to day and trying to accept that she would just never know anything. But now, she had something that she couldn’t push to the back of her mind and ignore.
Slipping into the chair next to her mom at the table, Clarke met her gaze as she looked up from her plans for the day. Abby gave Clarke a quizzical look, waiting a moment before responding. Clarke tried not to fidget.
Even after so many months of using it almost daily, she could still feel the weight of the concealer on her face. The way it clogged up her pores, the way it felt like a whole different kind of mask from her soulmate. She didn’t know how people couldn’t be aware of it, or how they could just choose to ignore it, but the weight of it never went away.
Today, however, it was all the more heavy because there was nothing to cover up. There hadn’t been for four days. Four days without her soulmate carefully applying her war paint before Clarke even woke up in the morning. Four days of it not being there when she painstakingly took her own mask off at night. Four days of increasing worry for a girl she’d never met.
Sure, there had been days off in the past. One time, over two full days went by without the dark paint. But four?
Clarke could feel something sinking in the pit of her stomach, and she waited anxiously for her mom to respond.
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that, Clarke. Have I heard anything about what?” Either her mom was almost as good of a liar as Chancellor Jaha, or she really didn’t have a clue about what Clarke was trying to ask. Somehow, though, that didn’t really do much to ease Clarke’s worry. Jaha had kept things from her mom and the Council about this before.
Clarke bit down harder on her cheek and looked down at the table. “Anything about… the rebels. My soulmate?” It was hard to get the words out. Like asking about it made it even more likely that the answer would be what Clarke was dreading. She looked up when there was silence from her mom, pushing her hair out of her face and behind one ear. Abby’s expression had turned even more confused and a bit concerned. Clarke hadn’t brought this up in months.
“Should I have?” Abby asked, instead of answering. Clarke sighed.
“No. It’s just she hasn’t…” Clarke trailed off a little, only to make a motion towards her face, moving her hand in a circle. “… done any of this in four days and I thought maybe it meant…” Clarke winced and trailed off again, but kept Abby’s gaze. If she knew anything, it would have to show on her face somehow, right? But her mom’s frown of concern only deepened. There were no signs of secret recognition.
“Oh.” Abby took a long breath, studying Clarke’s face for a long moment as if she could see passed the concealer to the missing mark underneath. Eventually, she shook her head and looked back down at the tablet she’d been reading. “Isn’t that a good thing? Maybe she’s finally giving up on it.”
Clarke stared at her, gaze turning slightly vacant. She wished she could believe that. There was just a churning in her gut at no sign at all. Something was wrong. Something had to be wrong, right? “Yeah… maybe.”
Chapter 7: Interlude: Lexa 2
Meanwhile, on the ground...
Obligatory apologies for the wait. Obligatory hoping you're all still well.
Gotta start this up by warning that there is a character death in this chapter. It's not explicit. It's obviously not Lexa. You can probably imagine who it is, but I just wanted to warn you up front.
I posted this in a reply to comments last chapter, but if you want to look me up, get updates on what's going on, and watch me just generally flail about Clexa, Eliza, and Alycia, my tumblr is nerdrps. I won't promise to be interesting, but I'm also open to any and all question you might have, or even prompts or ideas.
And... that's about it for now. I'm working on getting my chapter writing time down ( I'm two weeks earlier than last time!) and I hope you enjoy.
Lexa stood at the war table, looking over the map that was laid out with landmarks and troop movements. She glanced between that and the report on supplies that she'd ordered made, lost in strategy as she had been for the last few hours..
The symbol for the Floukru sat next to a fish and a number that was big enough for 100 warriors for a week, which was far more generous than she'd expected. Luna seemed to be flourishing where she'd found shelter, or maybe she felt a sense of responsibility, Lexa didn't know. Either way, it should allow her to put significant pressure on the Boudalan, who were already showing signs of fatigue in their resistance to Lexa’s efforts to form the coalition. She nodded to herself, moving a few figures across the map.
The door to her war chamber opened. The corner of Lexa’s mouth quirked up at the sound of swishing fabrics and a particular step, but otherwise she made no movement to show that she'd noticed. She had a few more moments to focus on her task before she knew her attention would be distracted, so she took the opportunity to slide one more marker over, this one bright so she could know where she left off.
Lexa turned her head as Costia stepped up next to her, quietly looking over the map as if she actually had some interest in it. They both knew she did not, but it amused her when Costia would attempt to listen and understand, and Costia seemed to enjoy trying to draw out any amusement she could.
“I would say something about how much progress you've made, but you and I both know I can’t even tell if anything has changed.” Costia’s nose scrunched up in concentration as she leaned over the map, and Lexa turned to face her more fully in order to indulge her.
“Does that mean you want me to tell you?” Lexa asked, fiddling with a marker on the edge of the map that hadn't been placed yet. “Or is that your way of saying I've spent too long hidden away?” Lexa’s smile was small but there, and she cocked her head to the side as Costia gave up all pretense of interest in the map and stepped up into her personal space.
Costia took her time, brushing her hand against Lexa’s and humming softly as if she were thinking about it. “I think it just means that I already miss you and I was hoping to tempt you into at least sharing a meal with me. I leave tomorrow.”
The reminder of Costia’s impending departure immediately dampened Lexa’s expression, and she turned a bit stiffly towards the map. “Are you sure that it's necessary to go now?” She looked over the landmarks where Costia would be travelling, noting not for the first time how close some of the recently reported hostile sightings were to her intended route. Two markers showed some rogue forces of Boudalan. Two more indicated a few scouts from Azgeda. Neither clan was particularly pleased with her or Trikru right now.
“My parents are struggling, and Arlin has fallen ill.” Costia’s voice became quieter. She looked at the map as well before shaking her head and reaching again for Lexa’s bracer-covered forearm, trying to draw her attention. “Once I get things in order I'll bring wares back to Polis to sell. I doubt you'll even have time to miss me.”
Lexa softened, her fatigue finally showing as she allowed Costia to turn her. It had been a long day, and Costia’s presence reminded her that she’d been at this since before the sun rose in the morning, and the light was now beginning to fade. Bringing her hand up, she carefully avoided the war paint as she rubbed at her upper nose and then at her temples. Costia gave her a small smile, reaching up and replacing Lexa’s fingers with her own thumb, massaging softly.
“Nothing has drawn you away from Polis in weeks,” Costia said, changing the subject and causing Lexa to blink open eyes that had begun to droop. “You have an actual council meeting maybe once every few days, and there are no official functions right now.” Her thumb gently traced the area right around the distinctive war paint that Lexa wore, studying the way it seemed to be highlighted, making it all the more fierce. “Why do you continue to wear the paint?”
The question was simple. Lexa knew that Costia meant nothing more than to wonder why she insisted on taking the time to paint her face every day, even when there was no imminent threat of conflict. She knew it was unusual. The last commander had spent many days ready for war, but there were plenty of moments of relaxation when he was home in the tower and with his people. The commander was a symbol of the might of their people, but they were also the symbol of their hope. To be constantly ready for conflict was not entirely reassuring, especially when she was attempting to claim that she wanted peace among the clans, but Lexa had not yet figured out another option.
Not when her soulmate insisted on her own adornments. The injustice of it was that it didn't even have a pattern. It was simply a blanket covering of the upper half of her face. Lexa wasn't naive enough to not understand that it was an attempt to limit their own exposure to Lexa’s war paint, but now they were stuck in this endless loop of both requiring a mask just to get through the day.
Lexa couldn't admit to having a soulmate from the mountain. Her soulmate didn't seem to want to advertise their association with the commander. That last part was what kept Lexa up at night, when she felt the sudden coolness that meant her face was finally free. Were they really ashamed? Were they receiving bad attention for their connection? Or were they, somehow, attempting to protect her in their own way?
No. It was only late at night that Lexa allowed herself to even consider that. It simply wasn't logical.
Costia apparently thought that Lexa had been quiet for too long, because she was taking her hands away from Lexa’s face and sighing softly. Lexa reached out to catch her hand in her own before she could completely withdraw. She held it softly, trying to keep the guilty expression off her face. Not even Costia knew about her soulmate. Not even Costia.
“I was just curious,” Costia continued, her expression soft again at Lexa’s actions. She knew what it meant for Lexa to be free with her affection like this, even in private. “You rarely get a chance to just be Lexa anymore. You're always Heda. It must be exhausting.” Costia paused for a moment before continuing with a gentle smile. “And I might miss seeing your face without it sometimes.”
Lexa met Costia’s gaze, owing her that much, even as she continued to deceive her. Costia herself did not have a soulmate, and she had been the one to assure Lexa that not having one did not make you any less. It just meant you were free to find your own love. That it meant more, in the end, because it meant you chose each other.
Truly, Lexa didn't deserve her affections. Especially when what she said was true. Lexa could never just be herself anymore, she could never give herself fully to Costia, soulmate or not, because she belonged so fully to her people, and to her vision.
“You are too good to me,” Lexa said, instead of answering the question asked. She reached up and cupped Costia’s cheek, tracing the dark tribal design that trailed down the edge of her face. The ink that belonged solely to Costia and no one else. She leaned in, pressing a soft kiss to the other girl's lips and taking comfort in the way Costia’s lips immediately smiled in response. When she pulled back, Costia’s dark eyes were twinkling.
“Whatever I did, remind me to do it again when I get back. The trip will go much faster when I know what I have to look forward to back in Polis.”
Lexa laughed softly, finding Costia’s mood contagious despite her exhaustion, and she dipped her head in a nod. “I’ll let you know once you’ve returned to me safely.”
Costia gently caressed Lexa’s hand before taking a step back and tugging her with her. Lexa didn’t fight her direction, allowing herself to be drawn away from the war map. “That’s a fair deal, Heda. I only have one additional request.”
“And that would be?”
“No more work tonight.”
Lexa couldn’t help but fight against the concept. “There’s still a lot to go over, and the ambassador of the Sankru arrives late…”
“Then I won’t be sharing the berries I traded with Berta for today.” More than the promise of her favorite berries, Lexa could see Costia’s smirk. She remembered what their kisses tasted like after indulging in them, what Costia’s lips looked like lightly stained with the juices.
Perhaps the ambassador could wait until the morning.
“... I should learn not to haggle with a merchant.”
“No more work?”
“No. Not tonight.”
Lexa was sure that there was nothing better than the soft sound of Costia’s victorious laugh.“You’ve made the right choice, Heda.”
The door to the war room closed behind them.
There was a commotion in front of the doors to her room. The guards were attempting to bar entrance like she’d requested, but by the sound of the irate voice trying to get in, Lexa knew it wouldn’t be long before her peace would be shattered.
If peace was really the right word for it.
The doors opened, the noise suddenly louder, and Lexa reached up a hand to wave off the guard’s “Apologies, Heda, but the Fleimkepa insisted…” and Titus’s “Heda, this has gone on long enough. You cannot simply close yourself in your quarters and refuse to acknowledge your duties…”
The gesture worked on the guard, and Lexa could hear the doors closing behind Titus, but Titus refused to be silenced. “This is exactly what I warned you about when you insisted on bringing that girl into the tower. More than weakness, you were spitting in the face of tradition-- of fate itself. How you ever imagined a different outcome, I cannot understand…”
Lexa remained motionless, her back to the door as she stared out the open doors of her balcony. Up here so far above the city streets, she could see her people, the bustling of life in the streets, without worry that they could do more than see that she was there. They couldn’t see her face. They couldn’t see her weakness.
Titus came closer. Lexa waited until she could hear his agitated breathing as well as his continued low murmurs of disapproval before she drew her shoulders up straighter. Without turning, she could hear her advisor come to a slow halt. “What duties have I been ignoring, Titus?” Lexa’s voice was low, only a hint of the emotional restraint showing through. “I’ve reviewed all the trade dealings, I’ve issued orders on troop movements, I’ve made sure that everything is still running smoothly.” Titus’s feet shuffled behind her, and Lexa let her gaze wander from the streets of the city to the trees and hills surrounding it, and then up to the slowly coloring sky as the sun began its journey to slumber below the horizon. She took a long breath and then let it out. “I have attended to all that needs attending to. Everything urgent.” Another beat and then Lexa asked again. “What have I ignored?”
“You have done all of this, yes.” Lexa watched the pinks and oranges blooming across the sky and knew exactly what Titus would continue with. “But all from this room. You have seen no one but your handmaidens and guards. This… unfortunate incident with this girl does not mean your people do not need to see you.”
Lexa’s jaw clenched and she fought to contain a small growl. “Unfortunate incident?” Lexa almost twirled around on Titus, almost made to strike out at him. She remembered herself at the last moment, containing her angry energy in her tense muscles, in the clench of her fists behind her back, no doubt visible to Titus. Her back remained to her advisor even as her words struck out at him. “Unfortunate would be an accident on the road, delaying their travel. Unfortunate would be the wares spoiling in the carts as they make their way back to Polis. Unfortunate does not mean being ambushed by Azgeda forces and captured just because she--” Lexa closed her eyes against the emotion bringing tears to them, threatening to send them over the dams of her eyelids. She’d tried so hard to push this all away, to be what she needed to be. Honestly, she hadn’t felt this conflicted since the Conclave.
“Because your weakness has a name.” Titus stepped closer, his voice growing softer, but no less insistent. Lexa cursed herself for the fact that she couldn’t contain her emotions, that her own body was proving Titus right. Love is weakness. Even soulmates were a risk, but this, this had been just for her.
Nothing could be just for her.
“Heda, we still haven’t heard anything from the search parties we’ve sent out. Even aside from…my misgivings about the nature of your relationship, you cannot shut yourself up in the tower when you don’t even know there’s a reason for it.” Titus sounded sincere, and Lexa found her fists unclenching as she remembered how long Titus had been her advisor now. How he truly did care and had her interests at heart. They might be at odds about this subject, but Lexa couldn't completely ignore the wisdom of his council.
Eventually she nodded and turned around. Titus was close, but still out of touching distance, and Lexa tried to steel herself into a more collected frame of mind. “You know I've still been taking care of the important issues, but I could… attempt a more public showing. Are there any minor disputes in Polis that need tending to-- what?” Lexa cut off at the expression on Titus’s face. He was staring at her eyes, scanning back and forth with a searching, calculated look.
Lexa froze when she realized the main reason that she'd been holed up in her room this long, and cursed herself for forgetting. It had been an attempt at optimism. Maybe Costia would come back if she knew. Maybe finally opening up completely would bring Costia back safely. She knew it was not logical, but maybe...
“This is not paint.” Titus’s words were clipped, although not angry, and Lexa resisted the urge to turn around again and hide her face. It was free of her war paint for the first time in a very long time, which of course meant that the decorations of her soulmate showed through without difficulty. Lexa was preparing herself for the backlash of the reveal of her soulmate but she wasn't prepared for the smile that overtook Titus’s face. “Your soulmate has revealed their self. Perhaps unorthodox, but still a blessing.”
Lexa’s brow furrowed. Titus sounded almost jubilant about this development. Of course, she knew better than anyone that it hadn't been easy to overcome the stigma of a Commander without a soulmate, but that didn't mean that this would somehow make things better. He didn't understand. He wasn't even questioning why she hadn't revealed this until now. Lexa felt even more ashamed of her connection to the enemy, her true weakness.
“We must make an announcement at once.” Titus stood straighter, face bright in his newfound excitement. “This will put aside the doubts about your rightful place and will counteract the rumors surrounding the girl.”
“The girl?” Suddenly the guilt Lexa was feeling morphed into anger.
Titus didn't seem to realize this. “Yes. It's not uncommon for people to have dalliances before they meet their mate. It won't be so hard to overshadow it, to make the people forget.”
Lexa’s fists clenched hard against her sides and she took two steps into Titus’s personal space. “ Costia has not suddenly stopped existing and I have no plans to overshadow her. This changes nothing.”
Titus gaped at her, complete incomprehension clear on his face. His eyes roamed over the light patch over her upper face again. “Heda, with all due respect, this changes everything. You cannot simply ignore that you have--”
“Can't I?” Lexa stared at Titus, eyes bright with anger and the desperation she'd been feeling for years. Nothing had happened so far. Even with her ascension her soulmate had continued to bide their time and do nothing more than cover up the proof of their connection. Why could she not do the same?
Titus still looked bewildered, but his voice when he found it again was firm. “No. You cannot and you should not. To be frank, I do not even know why you would want to.”
Lexa couldn't bear to look at him anymore. She turned, taking a few steps towards the balcony in an effort to keep from lashing out violently at her advisor. He didn't know. He had no idea.
He was still talking.
“Now that they have revealed themselves I am sure that the spirit is working to guide them to you. The girl is unfortunate but should she return I'm sure we could work something out…” Lexa froze at the mention of the spirit. Even the anger at the next sentence was overshadowed by the immediate panic that the words evoked, the implication. She turned around once again, eyes bright with emotion that she rarely allowed people to see.
“Guide them to me?” Titus stopped his mumbling and planning at Lexa's urgent words, looking at her curiously. “What does that mean? What does the spirit have to do with this?” Titus blinked at her for a second too long and Lexa took a step towards him. “What does that mean , Titus?”
“I… it’s that…” Titus floundered for another moment, looking genuinely offended, before he shook his head and drew himself back together. “It’s not something that usually needs to be discussed, because the other half of Heda is generally found almost immediately.” Lexa ground her teeth when he didn’t get to the point and he quickly continued. “But the spirit works through the connection to make sure that the two of you shall meet and that they’ll understand the burdens placed upon you. The spirit makes sure they know enough to bring them to you.”
Lexa felt sick. She grabbed onto the back of a chair and tried to calm herself, but she knew it was too late. She’d already revealed too much.
The spirit was speaking to her soulmate. The words were so vague that they could mean almost anything, but the way that Titus talked, how assured he was of their truth... Lexa could only imagine what it could actually entail. Her soulmate was learning her secrets, was probably feeding them to the mountain. Everything she’d thought about her soulmate biding their time was just that-- waiting, hoping to draw more out of her.
Lexa’s gaze snapped back to Titus at the sound of his voice. The emotions swirled around in her gut, overwhelming her until at the sight of his face they coalesced into a burning anger. She drew herself up, baring her teeth. “The spirit is spilling my secrets and you didn’t think this was important to tell me?” Her voice was dark, darker than it had ever been outside of a battlefield. She advanced on Titus with the slow, deliberate steps of a predator, ignoring his wide eyes and attempt to draw himself up.
“Heda, we didn’t even know you had a soulmate. Perhaps they are still young, we can--” Titus stumbled slightly, as he inadvertently took a few steps back in the face of Lexa’s approach.
“How do we stop it?” Lexa cut him off, taking another step closer and letting her hand rest upon the hilt of her dagger. She could see the way that Titus’s eyes dropped to the motion. He planted his feet, suddenly aware of the way he was acting like a scared rabbit instead of the revered Fleimkepa that he was and seemingly determined to reassert his position.
“Heda, the spirit knows what it is doing. You cannot simply--”
“ How do we stop it? ” Lexa’s voice raised to a shout, her fingers gripping the hilt of the dagger so hard they began to turn white at the edges. Titus flinched and Lexa trembled with the effort of restraining herself from drawing it. “What is it telling them? I refuse... “ Lexa shut her eyes, her breathing growing labored. She struggled with the emotions inside of her for a long moment, body drawn tight with the effort, and Titus stared at her as if he had never seen her before. When she finally opened her eyes again her gaze had filled with more anguish than anger, and Lexa let go of her dagger, lashing out at the nearest object and toppling an elaborate candle holder with a crash. “I refuse to be responsible for handing my people to the enemy. Make the spirit understand!”
Lexa clutched at her head, rubbing at her forehead as if she could will the mark there and her soulmate out of existence. She paid no attention as Titus stepped with wide eyes to a candle that had landed a bit too close to a fur on the floor. She even let him tell the guards to remain at their posts when they opened the door to investigate the noise, carefully shutting it again once it was clear that she was still standing. It was only when he spoke again, with the tone of a man who had finally realized the gravity of the situation, that she was drawn out of the whirlwind raging inside of her. “The enemy? Tell me.” Lexa clenched her jaw, stilling in the face of finally revealing her greatest shame. She drew herself slowly back up to her full height, willing herself to be as strong in the face of this burden as she had been in the face of all she had weathered so far.
Still, she couldn’t keep the slightest hint of a tremble out of her voice. “Gonasleng.” Lexa refused to look to see Titus’s reaction. “My soulmate speaks Gonasleng.”
“I don’t under--” At the sound of Titus sucking in a quick breath, Lexa closed her eyes again. “Maunon.” The word was short, quiet, and yet it resonated through the room, through Lexa’s mind, pushing out everything but the awful truth of it. It was followed by a long, drawn out pause, during which Lexa waited for the condemnation, waited for Titus to yell at her, denounce her as Heda. It was what she deserved after all. She had allowed herself to believe that what she could do for her people, what she could be for her people, somehow meant that this truth could be pushed aside. That if she never acknowledged her soulmate-- pretended that she didn’t ache for the feeling of completion that was described to babes by their mated elders, that was whispered about even amongst the natblidas in wistful tones once the candles had been put out and all was still-- then perhaps she could be worthy of her place on the throne.
But then, she hadn’t known that just by accepting the Flame she had proven herself a traitor to her people. She should have known. She should never have been allowed to win the Conclave.
Perhaps she deserved her soulmate after all.
Titus’s long, slow breath finally broke the silence. “The spirit of the Commander is wise.” Lexa allowed her eyes to open, the words not what she had expected. She turned her head to Titus with a face devoid of hope, wondering if he was saying this for her benefit or for his. “Those who came before would not allow anything important to fall into the hands of the Maunon.”
Lexa stared at her advisor, feeling her chest ache in both relief and continued shame. She swallowed, thinking carefully before she spoke. “Can you be sure?” Her throat closed on the rest of her words. My life is not worth that of my people. She knew that Titus was aware of the thought, though it wasn’t vocalized. She knew that they shared a concern for the future of their people above all else.
There was a pause, but Titus met her gaze and did not look away. “The spirit chose you for a reason, Heda.” Lexa felt her chest release its vice on her heart, felt it resume beating and was overwhelmed with the sensation. Her eyes must have given away more than she meant to reveal, because he took another deep breath before continuing. “If the time comes to face the Maunon…”
“My people will always come first.” Lexa replied to the unspoken question without hesitation. She had decided that long before she had even known of her soulmate’s true nature, but the revelation had only hardened her resolve. And now this, this unexpected validation that was filling a hole in her chest that she hadn’t even realized existed. Her purpose had never been clearer. “Above all else. Including this.”
They held each other’s gaze for a long moment, Titus searching for weakness and Lexa determined not to give him any cause to find it, before the Fleimkepa finally nodded. “Of this I have no doubt. Still, you are right. This is something that perhaps the people do not need to know. It would only--”
There were a few resounding, urgent knocks at the door, and Lexa’s gaze snapped in that direction. The snare of anxiety that had just begun to loosen suddenly coiled in her gut again, and she waited a second too long to respond. She could feel Titus’s gaze on her, searching once more, and it finally spurred her into action. “What is it?”
The door opened, the guard at her door unusually hesitant in the motion. She urged him on with a simple tilt of the head. “Heda, a rider has arrived. He bears a message from the queen of Azgeda. He says it’s urgent.”
Lexa stilled. Beside her, she could sense Titus tensing as well.
Lexa rested her hand against the hilt of her dagger, its presence reassuring even as her hand trembled the slightest bit.
“Have him shown to the throne room.”
The guard nodded hesitantly, then pulled back through the door and closed it behind him, leaving Lexa staring at the wood with unease settling in her gut. Titus shuffled beside her, and Lexa shook her head once, decisively, before he could speak. She swallowed, trying to push back her misgivings, and finally turned to her advisor. “We’ll continue this discussion later.”
Titus looked at her, clearly wanting to say something more, but eventually he nodded and took a step back. “Perhaps you should… prepare yourself. Before you meet with the messenger.” His eyes trailed meaningfully over the mark on her face.
Lexa took a moment, clutching her dagger at her side, before she nodded as well. However much she wanted Costia to return to find her open for her, she could not afford to reveal her soulmate to the Azgeda. If Costia returned--
Lexa’s jaw trembled as she realized what she had just considered. She turned from Titus and walked to where she kept her kohl. “I will meet you there. Do not enter the throne room without me.”
The advisor left her alone in her room, staring at her own face in the mirror. When Costia returned, she would explain. Costia would understand. The arrival of the Azgeda needed to be dealt with, though, and the Heda could never truly rest.
Lexa painted her face, slowly, deliberately. She ignored the feeling in her gut that continued to whisper if. If.
The Azgeda had brought a gift.
In a burlap sack.
After that, Lexa had every reason to wear her war paint, and no more reasons not to.
They've spent so long not talking about it. Ignoring what it all means.
Once you stop ignoring it, you can't go back. For better or worse.
I didn't quite make Christmas, but I did get this done before the new year. I'm going to count that as a win.
Over 10,000 hits, guys. I am completely floored. Just, thank you so much to everyone who is reading this. Even with my busy life and stress. I can't even tell you how amazed and grateful I am.
As for this chapter, I was hoping to get through the Ark stuff and get us down on the ground next chapter, but I had to split this one up into two parts (both because it's already my biggest chapter word-count wise, and because I wanted to get this out to you). That means that the Ark... arc will come to a head soon, and then you know what that means.
I hope you enjoy! And again, thank you so much.
Clarke rubbed her fingers along the piece of paper she'd tucked into her pocket. Paper was scarce and hardly ever used anymore. Clarke had been lucky enough that her dad had splurged on the notebook he had all those years ago, and the space in that was almost gone. She drew in every available corner, even going back to the same pages three or four times to fit more doodles in the negative space she'd left. The scrap of paper she had in her pocket seemed like an expensive waste.
Except that paper was harder to track than electronic communication.
Clarke's heart thumped inside her chest, and she turned a corner only to lean back against a cool metal wall and close her eyes. Bellamy Blake had passed her the note, and now she really didn't know what she was getting into. It was like a spy movie come to life, or one of those old-timey noir films. Shadows in the alley, people potentially around every corner, some shady villain in the background. Except in this case, the villain was… who? The Council? Clarke shook her head, not wanting to believe that.
Even if Chancellor Jaha was involved in some dubious behavior, that didn’t mean that her mom would do anything bad. She wouldn’t let anything awful happen. But would she take care of her soulmate if they finally found her? All Clarke could think about was her mother, hand on her back as she tried to be gentle. “She’s made her choice.”
After a moment, she opened her eyes and continued on, determined to make it back to her room before succumbing to the urge to read the note. If Cadet Blake had taken the precautions to get her a physical note, the least she could do was make sure there weren't any cameras around to catch her reading it.
She looked both ways, trying to be subtle about it (and inevitably failing miserably), before opening the door to her family’s quarters. Two steps in the entrance, however, she jumped about a foot in the air.
Jake Griffin sat on the couch, home early for the first time in… months, probably. He had paused whatever game he was watching on screen and was looking at her with a tired but expectant smile. Had he been waiting for her? The strangeness of it derailed her eagerness to find out what Bellamy was sharing with her.
“Dad?” Clarke asked, voice both confused and pleasantly surprised. “What are you doing home?” She walked to the couch and leaned up against the armrest, unsure if she should sit down or not. On the one hand, she'd seen very little of her dad in the last couple weeks, and it was a treat to have him all to herself. On the other, the piece of paper was burning a hole in her pocket and she was dying to find out what was on it.
Jake made the decision for her when he gave her a thoughtful look and a smile, patting the seat next to him. “I know I haven’t been around much lately, but I thought we could spend some time together, catch up a little. If you’re not swamped with homework or have other plans.”
Clarke blinked but eventually smiled back at him, hesitating another few seconds before pulling her hand free of her pocket and the paper inside and taking the offered seat. “Sure,” she said, sensing that there was something specific he had on his mind but not sure if she should ask or just wait for him to bring it up. “Is whatever was going on at work fixed now?”
The question made Jake's smile fade the tiniest tick. “My work is never done. Still, there’s no point in doing it if I never get to see my kid, right? I'm sorry I've been so busy.”
“It's okay,” Clarke replied softly, just happy to have him here now. “Do you think you're going to miss dinners much longer, though? Mom keeps finding ways to quiz me on diagnostic techniques and I miss not having to pass a test for my meal.”
Jake chuckled softly. “As if you’d be in danger of failing those tests. Not my kid.” He reached out to ruffle her hair quickly, only for his focus to readjust, his gaze tracing her face. Clarke stiffened, aware of what that attention probably meant. “Actually, I had something specific I wanted to talk to you about. Your mom said that you were… worried about your soulmate? Is everything okay?”
Clarke's lips parted in surprise. This was the first time in almost a year that they'd actively talked about it, and her dad had just… asked. Jake continued to look at her, obviously aware that she would need some time. She slowly relaxed at the curiosity and concern that was clear in his gaze. Like he’d wanted to ask before but hadn’t felt like he could. Clarke swallowed. “You and mom talk about that?” Clarke watched him nod slowly, a touch of guilt flickering across his face before she looked down at her lap. She didn't actually want to make him feel bad about asking. “I didn’t... “ She cleared her throat. “Yeah, I was worried. She was gone for a few days, but she came back yesterday. I guess she was just taking a break.”
“Gone?” Jake asked after a moment.
“She wasn’t…” Clarke sighed, looking up again as she motioned towards her face, not wanting to put it into words. It was nice that they were talking about this, but she didn’t want to dwell on the rebellious things her soulmate continued to do in an effort to apparently cheat death and the establishment. The last thing she needed was to remind her dad that her soulmate was a criminal when he’d just talked to her about it like it was a normal thing again. “You know. But she’s back now. Crisis averted.”
Jake smiled a little at her deflecting humor, eyes intent on her makeup again. There were gears whirring in his mind, Clarke could practically see the thoughts trying to put themselves together. She still wasn’t really prepared when he asked to see it, though. Clarke’s eyes widened, and he chuckled again before repeating himself. “Can you take off the makeup? Unless you have someplace to be soon.”
And that was how Clarke found herself at the mirror where she’d watched her soulmate appear in various ways over the years, unveiling her again while her dad watched on from his place at the door. She carefully removed the concealer, hand steady despite the confusion still swirling around within her. Jake’s expression remained calm until she was almost done, and then he finally spoke into the quiet of the small space.
“If I ask you something, do you think you could keep it between us and not talk to your mom about it?”
Clarke’s hand paused, staring at her own face in the mirror. Even her neutral expression looked fierce with her soulmate’s signature warpaint, and as she shifted her gaze to her dad she could see his throat bob as he swallowed in what seemed to be an unconscious response to her look. There wasn’t any part of Clarke that wanted her dad to be afraid of her, but there was a part of her that took in his response and felt… empowered. She nodded. She could do anything. “Yeah. I can keep a secret.” Clarke’s lips quirked up and she looked back at her own reflection in the mirror again as if to prove her point.
“Fair enough.” Jake shifted, bringing his arms up to cross them over his chest. “If I asked you whether you think your soulmate is really here on the station, what would you say?”
Clarke immediately looked back over to her dad. “What?” There was a flash of barely remembered dreams. Of the smell of the earth beneath her, the feel of the wind against her skin. The feeling of vertigo as she climbed a tree. But those were dreams.
Jake stared back at her, waiting for her to process his question as if he could sense those thoughts behind the mask she was wearing.
“Where else…” Clarke closed her eyes and could almost see the forest stretched out around her. When she opened them again, she felt as if her world was suddenly in color after having been in black in white for years. She stared at her dad, hope warring with confusion in her eyes. “Earth.” Clarke stated, answering her own question. “You think there are people on Earth?”
There was still some tension in his shoulders, but Jake seemed to relax when Clarke actually said the words he’d been thinking about. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it more and more lately. But with all these people showing ink, and nobody finding them on the station after months…” Jake’s words trailed off along with his gaze, his eyes losing focus as he stared at the paint on her face. “How could they keep getting those resources? Unless they were abundant, unless they didn’t have to worry about rationing…”
Clarke’s heart began to pound a little at the implication.
“But we would know, wouldn’t we?” Clarke turned from the mirror to look at her dad properly, arms over her chest and hand over her tattoo. She blinked at him, wide-eyed. “Wouldn’t we?” They had sensors and communications equipment and telescopes. Didn’t they?
Her dad hesitated and Clarke suddenly wondered if she knew anything about how the Ark worked at all.
“We should know,” he finally conceded, and Clarke felt the strange flare of hope in her chest sputter and struggle to stay aflame. “If there were people, we should have spotted them, or heard from them, or something. It doesn’t make much sense that we wouldn’t have, but I can’t stop thinking about it.” Clarke watched as he shook his head, looking down at the floor and running a hand through his hair in a way that she knew she’d inherited from him.
If you were down there, Clarke thought, hand tightening around her bicep as if it could trigger a direct line of communication with her soulmate. If you were on Earth, you would tell me, right?
Of course there was no answer, but she shivered suddenly, the hair on the back of her neck prickling up and a wave of goosebumps rising on her arms.
“The systems are old,” Jake continued, and Clarke watched him quietly as he worked through the puzzle he’d obviously been thinking about for weeks, if not months. “There are malfunctions almost daily. Our equipment needs constant recalibration. I’m worried there’s something more systemic going on, but I can’t focus on anything when the best I can manage is patch up the current leak. There aren’t enough people who know what they’re doing, not enough hours in a day, and if I could get someone higher up to just listen to me for two seconds…” Jake clenched his jaw, and Clarke held her breath.
She’d never seen her dad upset like this. Even when he got frustrated, he might curse a little, but his voice never sounded like this, like he was on the verge of either giving up or going to yell at someone. Suddenly the long hours at work made sense, and Clarke felt like she was getting a glimpse into the adult world for once. A world where things were barely hanging on by the hinges and no one was talking about it.
Just like no one talked about the markings. Put some concealer on it, patch it up, it doesn’t exist.
Clarke swallowed and shifted, drawing Jake’s attention again and causing him to immediately soften. “I… sorry, kid. It’s not something you have to worry about.” But Clarke knew it wasn’t something that she was going to be able to unsee. If her dad, her rock, could get this worked up about it, then how was Clarke supposed to pretend it wasn’t a big deal? She didn’t resist as he drew her into a hug, though. She tucked her head under his chin as he squeezed her gently, and held on a little longer once he tried to pull back.
They stayed that way for a long moment, and Clarke could feel the concern as her dad’s hold softened. He cupped the back of her head and placed a kiss against her hair. “Hey, it’s fine. I’ve just been working too much, but you know I’ve got everything taken care of.” Clarke wanted to smile, wanted to believe that her dad was a superhero who could do anything, and that the good guys would always win, but she wasn’t sure anymore. All she could think about were malfunctioning systems, kids in solitary, and a quiet Council.
A soft chime sounded from the main room, and Clarke could hear her mom calling out to let her know that she was home. Clarke sucked in a deep breath and they pulled back from each other. Jake ducked his head to study her face, and Clarke tried not to meet his eyes. For a moment, he hesitated. “I’ll go stall her,” he finally said, and Clarke felt his hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently as he moved towards the door. “But you might want to put your face back on. Just… for your mom.” When Clarke looked up finally, he paused in the door and gave her an apologetic smile. “I love you, kiddo.”
Clarke bit her lip, then managed a small smile back at him. There wasn’t anything she could do about what her dad was worried about, and nothing she could really do about what she was worried about. The only thing she could do was appreciate what she had right now. “I love you, too. I’m glad you’re home. Hopefully you can keep her from quizzing me tonight.”
Jake’s face flashed with a more relaxed smile, and he chuckled softly. “I’ll try, but you know your mom. When she’s got something in her head, there’s not much you can do but go along with it.” His easy joking made her relax despite herself, letting her respond with a laugh that was soft but genuine. He left the room to greet her mom, reassured that he’d managed to make her feel better.
Clarke turned back to the mirror, her soulmate’s mask staring back at her. She’d never understood her need to look like she was ready for war, but… well, maybe it wasn’t so bad to have that reassurance. To feel ready for whatever bad stuff was coming her way.
War paint was still really melodramatic though. As she reached for her dwindling supply of concealer, Clarke shook her head. She never wanted her soulmate to leave her for that many days again, but she could really use some chill.
Clarke didn’t remember the slip of paper until it was late and she was getting ready for bed, hearing it crinkle in her pocket as she pulled off her jeans. Her pants were still around her knees as she fumbled around in the folds of the material to find the paper, and then she was smoothing it out, holding it up against the light next to her bed. There were only three words scribbled on it.
Unity Day Masquerade
She stared at the words as if they were a code that she could solve to get more answers. Turning it over, there was nothing on the other side. It must be him setting up a meeting then. Clarke sighed. The masquerade was in three days. She could wait that long.
There was a lot to think about it in the meantime anyway.
The masquerade mask had been her mother’s. It was a flimsy thing, but there were intricate swirls of silver along the edges and Clarke felt like a princess when she wore it. Her mother smiled at her as they both got ready for the day, reaching forward to cup Clarke's cheeks lightly and tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Look at you,” she said, and Clarke couldn't help the smile that came to her face or the way her head ducked down gently. So maybe this masquerade was more than her mother knew, maybe she was going for a clandestine meeting that might get her in trouble, but she was still a fifteen year old girl. This chance to dress up still made her feel like something more than herself. “My little girl, all grown up.”
Clarke pulled away bashfully, shaking her head. “It's just the masquerade, Mom. It's not like it's prom or anything.”
Abby chuckled, looking into the mirror and reaching for a brush to put her own hair in order. “Maybe, but that doesn't make it any less true.”
Clarke ran her fingers through her hair nervously, trying to go over the game plan in her head again. She still had hours before the actual dance, and that meant way too much time to fret. Abby must have sensed a bit of unease, because the brush was set down on the counter in front of Clarke and as Abby gathered her hair into her hands to braid it, she began to speak.
“You're going to be okay if I leave early, right? Jaha wants the council to go over a few last minute things before the ceremony.” Clarke blinked out of her head and turned towards her mom, nodding. “You know, your father is probably going a little stir crazy at work. You could visit him before you head out.”
There had been some sort of anomaly this morning in the environmental systems. “Just a blip,” Jake had assured them both as he pulled on his jacket. “But don't let that stop you from enjoying the holiday.” Even a blip was important when the lives of everyone on the station depended on the systems Jake was in charge of. Clarke chewed on her lip as she hoped that whatever was happening today wasn't related to what they'd talked about earlier.
“Yeah, I probably will go see him,” Clarke finally replied, giving her mom a small smile.
“Good.” Abby twisted the end of her braid and secured it, letting it fall back against her neck. “And try not to stay out too late, okay? People can get a little rowdy during the holidays.”
Clarke continued to smile and decided not to make a joke about the 18 and under crowd getting into trouble. Considering what she was planning on doing tonight, it might not be much of a joke at all.
It was weird to be in the Engineering Wing and see it so empty. Normally there was all sorts of movement going on, and visiting her dad felt like she was constantly in someone’s way. Now it felt almost spacious. As spacious as a tin can in space could be.
Even in all this quiet emptiness, though, Clarke couldn’t find her dad. She ducked into what was normally considered his ‘office’ but which doubled as a sort of control center for the Environmental systems, only to find an unfamiliar girl in his chair.
Then the girl looked up, boredom giving way to confusion giving way to a cocky smirk that was suddenly very familiar, and Clarke’s face was warm.
“Chief Jr!” She remembered her? Clarke’s fingers tightened around the mask in her hands and she resisted the urge to shuffle her feet. “Are you making house calls now? The station hasn’t tried to kill me lately, but I’m sure I can figure out something for you to check up on.”
Clarke’s face suddenly flared much hotter. The girl swiveled in her chair, that grin never leaving her face.
“No, I… is my dad around? Jake Griffin?”
“Oh float me.” Clarke’s eyes grew even wider at the expletive. “Of course. Shoulda figured that one out. How many hot Griffins could there be on one station?”
Okay, now this was embarrassing levels of flustered. Clarke was better than this. And was she hitting on her parents? “Who are you?”
The girl laughed softly and swiveled again before standing up. “Raven Reyes, mechanical genius.” She offered a hand out and Clarke stared at it, still too confused to really react. Raven didn't seem to take offense, just cocked her head to the side and pulled her hand back. “Yeah, that was probably weird. I'm used to all the old guys around here. They're all about the handshakes and formal introductions.”
Somehow, that made Clarke relax a little, and she offered a small smile to Raven. “I… sorry. I'm Clarke.” She looked around them, remembering what she'd come for again. “But have you seen my dad? He was called in today.”
Raven nodded slowly. “Yeah, he popped in earlier before going off to Agro Station. That's where the issue was.” She must have noticed Clarke's disappointed look because she quickly continued. “But you can hang with me. It's been boring. You wouldn't know it, but these old machines are crap at conversation.”
There was still over an hour to kill before she could even start heading over to the masquerade. Clarke looked at the door before finding an empty chair. Maybe her dad would show up soon. In the meantime… Clarke glanced to Raven, only to flush a little as she noticed that her attention was still on her. “Um… why are you here? You're not that much older than me, are you?”
“Nah.” Raven turned away to indicate the monitoring equipment. “Someone has to man the stations. Might as well be me since I've got nothing better to do.” Clarke noticed that she didn't look up as she said it, but something told her not to ask. She knew a bit about not wanting to discuss things. “What about you, though?” Clarke blinked at the question, and watched as Raven motioned to the mask she'd almost forgotten she was holding. “You got a date to the dance?”
Clarke thought of Bellamy, with his carefully coiffed hair and the shadows in his eyes. She made a small face and finally shook her head. “It's… no. It's not a date. I am meeting someone, though.”
“So you're still waiting for your soulmate, then?”
It was slipped in there so casually, but it still made Clarke take in a shocked breath, her eyes wide as she looked at Raven. There was something so open about the curiosity in her gaze. Clarke recognized it from her father when he tinkered with new gadgets, or her mother when faced with a condition she'd never seen before. The familiarity calmed Clarke.
“You remember that?” Clarke looked back at the door, making sure no one was going to suddenly appear. But they were alone.
“You're hard to forget.”
Clarke smiled despite herself, and looked back to Raven. “I thought I'd imagined you. You were in and out of there so fast, but then I never got in trouble for it.”
Raven scoffed. “I told you, I'm not a tattler. I wasn't kidding about wanting to see, though.” They stared at each other for a long moment.
There was something about Raven that flew in the face of everything Clarke had been taught. She was open and curious and completely unapologetic about it. Clarke doubted that Raven would be wearing long sleeves and concealer if she were in her position.
But then, Clarke hadn't seen anyone else with tattoos in a very long time, and she remembered Jaha’s words about the kids in solitary.
“It's not safe,” Clarke finally said, feeling the words like ash on her tongue. She looked down, ashamed at her own cowardice. She wanted to share. She wanted to show her soulmate off and finally, finally have someone to discuss it with that wasn't so invested in keeping it quiet. But she'd spent too long hiding, too long being taught to feel it like shame and danger. Even Wells had never asked about it again, and Bellamy Blake was acting as if this could get him floated.
When she looked up again, Raven was still watching her, expression calculating. Eventually, she smiled. “What's life without a little danger?”
Clarke's returning smile was more of a wince. She liked this girl, but she didn't know how to explain and she was, after all, still a stranger.
“Hey,” Raven’s voice was softer now. “I'm not going to force you, Jr. I just want you to know that your secret is safe with me.”
Maybe it was the tone. Maybe Clarke was just tired of hiding. She'd been emboldened by talking to her dad about it and now she was more and more ready to stop being ashamed. Whatever it was, when Clarke looked up, Raven’s face lit up with delight.
Clarke watched as Raven jumped up from her chair and headed for the door. She tapped in a code on the keypad and a chime sounded before she turned back around. “No one's coming in unless I let them.”
“Are there cameras?”
Raven considered it for a moment, then moved back to the console and tapped something. Her brow furrowed, then cleared almost immediately. “We've got some time. Everyone's focused on the Unity Day celebrations, so they won't notice a break in the feed.”
Clarke nodded, setting her mask down on a table. She suddenly found a well of reckless courage inside of her and actually smiled as she reached for the hem of her shirt. Raven, for all her flirting earlier, went wide-eyed.
“Woah, woah, I thought this was on your arm. You don't have to strip for me.”
Clarke laughed, giddy with rebellion. “It was. You'll see.”
She turned, pulling her shirt up and hearing Raven’s intake of breath, then a string of curse words. “That is… you're a walking work of art.” Clarke carefully pulled it all the way up and over her head, doing her best not to mess up her hair or makeup. Then she took a deep breath and turned her head to try to see Raven’s reaction.
Just like her words had hinted, she looked absolutely awestruck and on the verge of stepping forward and touching. Clarke shivered a little, the attention making her feel warm.
“It's not just my arm anymore.”
“How are they even doing this? That's… where are they getting all the ink?”
There were gears turning in Raven’s head, and somehow Clarke thought that maybe she would come to the same conclusion her dad had, but much, much sooner. She hesitated to say anything about it, but here she was shirtless with a practical stranger. How much more harm could she do?
“That's something I've been thinking about a lot,” Clarke said, turning her head to face forward again. There was no need to implicate her dad in anything, just in case. “The guards have been searching for her, you know? For months.”
“The guards know about this?” There was an undercurrent in Raven’s voice now, a stillness.
“Yes. And they can't find her.”
There was a touch to her arm, a gentle thing, and Clarke jolted as she turned to face Raven. Raven whose eyes were searching hers. Raven whose hand finally dropped when she realized what she was doing. They stood in silence.
Clarke shivered again.
Raven opened her mouth to say something, and Clarke found herself glancing down at her lips, when there was a chime at the door.
Clarke panicked and rushed to put her shirt on.
There was another chime at the door, and then a voice could be heard muffled through the metal. “Raven? You okay in there?”
Raven finally shook herself out of her thoughts, looking away from Clarke and moving hesitantly towards the door. “It's okay,” she assured Clarke softly. “It's just Finn. He's cool and I won't tell him anything. I promised.”
Clarke was clumsy getting the shirt back on, but she was still very aware of her face. She smoothed the shirt down against her torso, eyes wild at the thought of being caught. Raven paused before she opened the door. “I can tell him to leave,” she offered, although Clarke could tell it was reluctantly. Whoever Finn was, he meant something to Raven.
Maybe enough time had passed that she wouldn't be too early to the party. Clarke grabbed her mask and clutched it to her like a lifeline.
“No. It's okay. I should go anyway.” Clarke was suddenly aware that she had just been standing shirtless in front of this girl. She had just revealed the secret she'd been keeping even from Wells, her best friend. Was she really that stupid?
Even as she thought that, though, Raven continued to watch her, expression thoughtful and sympathetic. “Okay. Hey, if you ever want to hang out, you should call me.” Clarke had enough time to startle at the offer and blink before Raven was tapping on the keypad again, allowing the doors to open.
A dark-haired boy with an easy smile stood on the other side, strolling in once the doors were open like he owned the place. “Hey, why were the doors lock--” His eyes fixed on Clarke, giving her a long, curious and intrigued look, before glancing between them in confusion. “You didn't tell me there was another girl in the program.”
Raven snorted. “Jr is following in her mom's footsteps, not her dad's. Finn, this is Clarke. She was looking for her dad, the head of Environmental.” Finn’s expression cleared into something resembling understanding, but Clarke still felt jittery and out of place. She was reminded again that she knew almost nothing about this girl. Why had she thought she was trustworthy?
Clarke gave Finn her best effort at a friendly smile, but it probably wasn't very convincing. “Hey. Sorry, it's nice to meet you, but I'm headed out to the masquerade.” She turned to Raven, but didn't meet her gaze. “If my dad gets back could you let him know I'm sorry I missed him?”
“Of course. Have fun.”
The room was too crowded not to brush into Finn on her way out, and Clarke was a little too flustered to take notice of how he didn't exactly try to get out of the way to make more space.
“Does she come around often?”
Finn’s voice faded as she walked away from the room. She tried not to think about what she'd done, tried not to panic over the fact that this girl had something to hold over her head.
But what damage could she do, really? Make the Council even more wound up about misuse of resources and more determined to find her soulmate? Like that was doing them any good now.
Clarke breathed a little easier at the thought. She deliberately did not think about being put in solitary to keep her from telling anyone else about the situation. For some reason she was pretty sure that this meeting with Bellamy was far more likely to get her in trouble than Raven was, anyway.
She hoped her soulmate was proud of her. Revolution, right? Clarke checked her sleeves and then reached up to her hair to make sure it was still covering her neck. Well, rebellion had to start somewhere.
Clarke goes to meet Cadet Blake at the Unity Day Masquerade, desperate for some answers.
Things never go as planned.
Clarke was early, and there were already people who were clearly intoxicated. She didn’t need to be in the medical program to see it, but she found herself studying the more obvious drunks with an almost clinical eye. Either they came from rich families – which, judging by the clothes, she didn’t think was the case—or this was the product of a very illegal still.
One scrawny boy, who didn’t look more than 13, stumbled into her, laughing at a joke only he could hear. He put his hand on her shoulder to steady himself, and Clarke fought the urge to push him off.
“Hey, hey, welcome! I don’t think I’ve seen you this way before.” The boy smiled widely, and Clarke wondered where his aviator goggles had come from, and why he thought they would make a good mask for a masquerade.
“No, I’m… from another station.” The boy nodded mindlessly, his body moving with the force of his bobbing head. Clarke discretely tried to take a step away but stopped when he leaned with her and looked like he was going to topple over. “Are you okay?”
“What? Yeah, I’m great!” He nodded again. Clarke looked around them, searching for some sort of escape. An even shorter boy caught sight of them from across the room and widened his eyes. Clarke sighed softly in relief as he started towards them. “So hey, how would you like some of the best refresher-mints you’ve ever had in your life?”
Clarke winced as he leaned in further, the strength of whatever he’d been drinking hitting her in the face. “I’m good, thanks.”
“Mmm, you sure?” Clarke nodded. “That’s cool, that’s cool. I’m Jasper, by the way.” He puffed out his chest, then jumped a little as a hand hit his shoulder. Clarke smiled gratefully at the newcomer, taking the opportunity to duck out from under Jasper’s hold.
“Jas, hey, maybe we should sit down?” Jasper turned to the other boy, his grin widening as he threw his arms out in gleeful welcome.
“Monty! My man, my bro, my buddy old pal.” Monty laughed a little at the welcome, then shook his head, trying to guide his friend a few steps from Clarke.
“Yeah, right,” Monty muttered softly. “I hope we didn’t make a bad batch.” He bit his lip, then gave an apologetic smile to Clarke. “Um… you’re okay, right? Could you maybe pretend you didn’t see this?”
Clarke hesitated. This was a little much even for her to look the other way, but it wasn’t like she didn’t have her own secrets. She nodded slowly, feeling better about it with the obvious relief on Monty’s face. Jasper threw his arm over his friend’s shoulder, leaning heavily into him. “Hey, don’t be so rude to the pretty girl. We were just getting to know each other.”
Clarke shared a look with Monty, and they both smiled at their similar expressions. “It’s nice to meet you,” Monty said, helping Jasper to take a step back. “Maybe we’ll run into each other some other time?”
That was… probably not going to happen. Especially if this sort of thing was normal for these two. She had enough to worry about. Clarke hesitated, then saw Bellamy Blake appear cautiously from around the corner and immediately her entire focus shifted. “Yeah… maybe.” She said, distractedly. “Nice to meet you too.”
It didn’t take much for Clarke to completely forget about those boys. Not when Bellamy was looking around, head down, and Clarke could see him motioning behind him carefully. For someone who was so interested in not looking suspicious, he wasn’t exactly doing a good job.
She wound her way through the now bigger crowd of teens who had taken the chance to let go and dance, never losing sight of the older teen. From behind him stepped a younger girl, arms covered in sleeves frayed at the cuffs and a mask on her face. Clarke stopped walking as she saw the hint of grey peek out from her collarbone, but neither of them seemed to notice. The girl was too in awe of everything, wide-eyes clear even from this distance and with the mask. And Bellamy… he was looking at her like he was experiencing the world anew through her eyes.
Clarke was frozen in the middle of the dance floor, watching the two. It felt like she was intruding on a private moment, even just witnessing this. After a moment, though, Bellamy’s eyes lifted and caught hers, expression immediately changing into something more serious. He reached out for the younger girl’s arm, holding her back a little. When the girl turned, he leaned in to whisper something to her and nodded towards Clarke.
That was all that Clarke needed to shake out of her stupor. This was what she’d come for, after all, but as she took her first step, a hand grabbed her arm from behind.
Clarke whirled, mind racing between fight and flight, only to find Wells standing there. His hands reached up in apologetic surrender at the fury on her face.
“Whoa, hey, it’s just me,” he said. Clarke rested a hand over her chest, calming herself, and chanced a glance back towards the people she’d actually come to meet. Bellamy had pulled the girl even closer to him and was watching Clarke carefully. He tilted his head and gave her a look, clearly questioning. When her eyes widened in helpless apology, he made a motion for her to get rid of this new obstacle, and Clarke swallowed as she turned back to Wells. “You didn’t show and your mom told me you’d come here instead.”
Biting her lip, Clarke fought the urge to fidget. “Yeah, I was getting sick of the usual play and thought I’d see what other kids usually do instead.” Wells stared at her as if he knew she was up to something, but couldn’t figure it out yet. Clarke loved Wells, she really did, but he would not approve of what she was actually here for. “Hey,” she said, seizing upon something to distract him, “you didn’t wear a mask.”
Wells blinked, reaching up to his face. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t really think about it.”
“Well, you’ve got to get one,” Clarke insisted. She waggled her finger at him. “Can’t be at a masquerade without a mask.” She reached for his shoulder and gently turned him around, urging him to go back to his quarters. Wells looked over his shoulder at her and gaped. “Then it would just be an… err… raid.”
Even Clarke winced at that one.
Wells let himself be pushed a couple steps forward out of sheer confusion before he managed to plant his feet. Clarke pushed up against his immobile back and sighed quietly, then put on as innocent a smile as she could muster when he turned around. “Now wait a minute. Why are you trying to get rid of me? First you didn’t invite me and now you don’t want me here.”
Clarke’s face fell. “No, Wells, it’s not that I don’t…”
“You’re meeting someone, aren’t you?” Clarke felt her heart seize in her chest, her face freezing as she tried desperately not to look guilty. Wells brow furrowed. “Is it your…” His voice lowered, and he leaned in close to talk to Clarke quietly over the music. “Are they here? Your soul mate?”
Clarke froze again, this time for another reason. Wells looked excited now, and he looked around them as if he could spot this mysterious soul mate somewhere among the dancers. “Isn’t that dangerous? Out here in the open?” Wells didn’t seem to notice that Clarke wasn’t responding at all. “But everyone has masks. This would be the perfect time.”
A glance to the other side of the room and Bellamy Blake was scowling at the back of Well’s head like he would burn a hole through it if he could. He saw Clarke looking and gave her an impatient glare of her own. Clarke sighed softly, trying to calm her racing heart. The girl Bellamy had come with didn’t seem bothered, at least. She had pulled away from the older teen in order to join in on the dancing.
“Clarke,” Wells called her name and Clarke shook her head, trying to refocus.
“Wells, it’s not… no,” she tried to come up with some sort of explanation but fell short. “It’s not like that.”
The way Wells’ face fell made her chest hurt again. “So you really just didn’t want me here.”
“No!” Clarke reached forward for his arm, but he pulled away and took a half step back. He shrugged, clearly dejected.
“You could have just told me, Clarke.”
“Wells, I swear, it’s not like that.”
“Looks like that to me,” he said. He turned to go, and Clarke struggled with herself. On the one hand, she didn’t want to hurt her oldest friend like this, but on the other, with him gone she would be able to actually go meet Bellamy and that girl like she’d been planning to.
Clarke opened her mouth, still uncertain of her response, but was saved from making a decision by the sudden clang of warning sirens.
“Solar event. Please head to designated safety zones.”
The teens around them murmured in disappointed tones, although no one was particularly worried. This sort of thing did happen. Apparently no one was moving fast enough, though, because Clarke watched as the guards assigned to this little party suddenly moved in through the crowd.
“Everyone present your chips for scanning and get to the nearest safety zone!”
Someone cut the music.
Wells had stopped moving and had turned back to Clarke again. There was still that look of hurt bordering on anger, but even that would never match how much Wells cared about her. Clarke felt even worse.
“Come on. If we hurry we can probably get back to Alpha station.”
“Please present your chip for—hey, what’s this?” A guard’s voice rose above the din of the crowd, followed quickly by the voice of Bellamy Blake, sounding on the verge of frantic. Clarke whirled to face them, standing on tiptoes when she couldn’t see the boy over the crowds.
“Sir, I’ll take care of this and find out what’s going on.”
Some people shifted and now Clarke could see an older guard with one hand on the wrist of the younger girl that Bellamy had brought with him. The other hand roughly pushed at the neckline of her shirt, even as she struggled, wide-eyed and clearly terrified, to get away.
With the motion, though, Clarke was able to see as even more of that telltale gray was exposed, continuing towards the girl’s shoulder.
“Clarke! We’ve gotta go!” Wells reached for her again, although he stopped short of actually grabbing her this time.
“You,” the guard said gruffly, sparing a brief glance to Bellamy before focusing on the girl again. “Go get the guard captain.” Clarke watched as Bellamy’s hand tightened on the shock baton at his waist, his entire body taut. “Well, what are you waiting for, cadet?”
“Sir, please. She’s clearly been working in mechanical or agro. I don’t think this is a case that needs to be brought to the Captain’s attention.”
“What’s going…” Clarke jumped as Wells appeared right next to her. She hadn’t realized that she’d taken steps forward until he was suddenly right next to her. “Oh wow. Oh man, she’s got one too.”
“Cadet, that isn’t your call to make. Go get the Captain. Or do I have to write you up for insubordination?” The girl in the guard’s hold had lost her fight and now just stared at Bellamy, terror in her face as she pleaded silently for him to help her. Bellamy looked like he was contemplating doing something incredibly stupid, like threatening a member of the guard.
Clarke took another step forward, but was stopped as Wells put an arm in front of her. “Clarke, what are you doing?” He whispered into her ear.
“Wells, we have to do something.”
“Do something?” Wells urged Clarke back a step. “Clarke, what do you think they’re going to do to her?”
Clarke took her wide eyes off of the scene in front of her in order to turn her face towards Wells. “Wells, do you know what they do to other people like me?”
Wells blinked, then slowly shook his head. “What? But you’re…”
Clarke grimaced. Wells trailed off.
“Michaels,” the guard’s voice called above the crowd. A guard who had been scanning chips to account for the teens who hadn’t yet left the area turned and moved towards the scene, sensing the urgency. Clarke realized how few other people were still here, and was again aware of the sirens still going off around them, warning of the imminent solar flare. Wells didn’t take his arm away from her, but he watched in confusion as well. “Please restrain Cadet Blake.” There was more movement, and Clarke and Wells could see the beginnings of true fear on Bellamy’s face.
“No, please,” he begged. It was clear he couldn’t decide whether to advance or run away at this point, but the decision was made for him as the other guard pulled his hand back and away from the baton he’d still been clutching at his hip. “She didn’t do anything.”
“Bellamy…” The girl finally spoke, her voice a terrified whisper.
“Please!” Bellamy pulled against the other guard’s hold. Clarke watched it all and felt a heart-wrenching dread settle in her chest. Another guard stepped into the room, drawn by the commotion, and Clarke suddenly realized how few people were left out here in the open.
Wells tugged at her again. “Clarke, we have to go.”
The girl in the mask looked up and met Clarke’s gaze. Clarke sucked in a breath at the emotion there and felt the full weight of just how helpless they all really were. Wells pulled her back a few steps and Clarke stumbled with him, not tearing her gaze away. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, just loud enough for her own ears to hear. The girl seemed to understand, though, her eyes filling with tears. Then their connection was cut as the new guard stepped between them.
Clarke felt her chest heave with the emotion, but she had no time to process as Wells pulled her away. “We have to go now.”
She didn’t fight him this time. One more glance, and Clarke watched as the third guard took out his shock baton in the face of a now almost wild Bellamy Blake. She turned away. She didn’t let herself think about it as Wells guided her away. Didn’t let herself think about anything at all.
“Did you know her?”
“What are they going to do with her?”
“What they do with all of us. Make the problem go away.”
Pain. She’d never felt pain in a dream before, but there was no other word for it. She clutched her side, knowing that the ribs were bruised. A split lip stung when she licked at it. When she stood up straight, an effort when it felt like it would be so much easier to just buckle to the ground, her knees and shins ached.
But she did stand, proud and tall. Defiant.
The tall blonde girl in front of her laughed at her from across the ring where she leaned against her staff, eyeing her up and down as if she expected her to fall face first into the dirt at any time. So much dirt. Dirt and grass and trees in all directions. Clarke took a deep breath, the smell of pine, earth, and the coppery smell of blood strong.
“You still haven’t landed a hit on me,” the blonde said, speaking in that strange but familiar language. Trigedasleng, her brain supplied. “Maybe you should just stay down next time. It’s not like you’d ever win the Conclave anyway, not with those sticks you call arms.”
Clarke bared her gritted teeth, lips pulling back into a grimace that stung even more. She clutched tightly to her own staff, feeling the worn wood in her palms. Without saying a word, she pulled it in front of her to get back into a ready stance. The blonde raised a brow, lazily straightening herself and twirling her staff in a slow circle.
“I see. You just like the pain.” The blonde set herself into her own ready stance and then lifted her chin, inviting her to begin.
Her body moved on instinct, and Clarke could feel an awareness of her surroundings that she’d never experienced in her waking hours. She stepped lightly to the side, beginning a slow circle that the other girl matched. The breeze blew through her hair, throwing wisps of brown hair into her face that had escaped from her braid, but she paid them no mind. Nothing would distract her from her goal.
She lashed out with her staff in a testing first move, hearing the satisfying crack of wood on wood and feeling the way the shockwave reverberated through her hands and arms. The other girl hit hard, even on the defense, but it was a familiar sensation. She barely even paused before she was testing lower, a feint towards her leg. The blonde stepped out of the way, clearly anticipating the move, but Clarke switched direction without hesitation. She swept up with the staff, wincing at the pain in her shoulder from a previous hit, and managed to smack the tail end of her opponent’s braid as she twirled out of the way.
Quickly, she twirled herself, knowing the attack was coming from the other side. She struggled not to panic, trusting her own reflexes to get control of the staff again and bring it exactly where she needed it to hear that crack of the wood as the other girl went for a punishing attempt at her side. Grunting as her feet struggled to maintain their purchase in the dirt, she pushed back against the staff and then retreated just out of the other girl’s reach.
The blonde didn’t even look winded, but Clarke struggled not to limp with the pain in one of her legs. It hurt enough that Clarke was sure she would be curled up on the floor under any other circumstances, but in this dream she just grit her teeth, showing the other girl only a hint of her agony.
There was the barest hint of approval in the taller girl’s face, but it filled her chest with warmth nonetheless. Until suddenly she was the one on the defense, just barely avoiding a flurry of attacks and scrambling to get her guard up. A swipe to her head nearly knocked her out, but the way the sound echoed in her ear and the resulting deafness didn’t leave her unscathed. She ducked under the staff, desperately trying to get her staff up in time to get her opponent from behind, only to feel the sharp pain of a literal boot to her ass. Then she was sprawled out in the dirt again, clenching her teeth against the pain in her nose as she felt it now gushing into the dirt.
She couldn’t tell if it was broken or not. All she knew was that everything hurt.
Yet somehow, incredibly, she reached out with trembling arms and pushed herself up yet again, ignoring the pool of black growing beneath her. She straightened up slower this time, and did her best to keep from wobbling as she turned to meet her opponent face to face once more.
The blonde was leaning against her staff again, but there was a hint of a smile. Clarke’s grip tightened on her staff and she set herself back into position.
“Soulon, you’re about to fall over.” Clarke’s spine stiffened, the grimace settling onto her face again. Lonely one. The title caused a chill to run through her, and she found herself struggling against nausea on top of everything else. “Even if you somehow managed not to die, you know the people would never accept you anyway. Give up.”
“Never,” she found herself responding, the conviction in her voice evident despite the unfortunate way her nose injury warped her voice. “I’m strong. I deserve this chance just as much as any of them. Even if I have to do it alone.” She lifted her jaw. “Again.”
The blonde stood still, thumb rubbing at the wood of her staff as she continued to study Clarke.
“Anya, again!” Clarke took a deep breath, then shook her staff once in emphasis, expression determined. She still ached, but by sheer force of will, she remained steady.
Anya smiled. The sight of it completely changed her usually severe face. “Yes. There it is. Hold onto this. Remember it.” She stood, fingers flexing their grip on her staff and readying herself again. “When there are those who would call you broken, remember that you are the one who is whole.”
Clarke’s eyes widened, stance faltering the slightest bit before training took over and she was steel once again. Whole.
Clarke startled awake. She groaned, her whole body aching for one long moment. Then she reached up, rubbing at her face as her muscles relaxed one by one.
“What are you doing out here on the couch, kiddo?”
The stillness of the forest was replaced with the hum of machinery, and when Clarke opened her eyes, she squinted uncomfortably in the harsh fluorescent lighting. The face of her father slowly swam into view.
“Dad?” Clarke looked around, then at her hand. She was initially struck by how different it looked. No callouses, no black, just soft, pale skin. Black? Then she blinked again at the grit that covered her fingers. Dirt?
“You smudged your make-up there.” Jake laughed softly, then stood up from where he’d crouched down to wake her up. “Let me find a rag.”
Clarke stared at the hand, dumbfounded for a second, before her awareness returned. She’d fallen asleep on the couch after talking to Wells about the Masquerade. He’d been upset, and Clarke had been pale and exhausted.
Symptoms of shock, her medical training whispered. She probably shouldn’t have been left alone.
Once he’d left, she’d dropped down onto the couch, too emotionally drained to do much more than stare at the wall. Apparently, she’d fallen asleep.
Her dad came back into the room and handed her one of the rags he used when he tinkered with his electronics. “Is your bed getting lumpy again? This old couch can’t be much better.”
“No, I…” Clarke wiped at her hand, blinking. Her body was sore now, but only the kind of sore that came with sleeping in strange positions. She couldn’t shake the strange feeling of being in two different places at once, though. “I was tired after the dance. I guess I didn’t make it to bed.”
“Did you hear? They discovered a second.”
Clarke slowly lowered her fork to her tray, her chewing slowing as she caught the snippet of conversation from the table next to her.
“I did. Aurora Blake. Did you know her? I always thought there was something off about her.”
“I didn’t, although my husband used her for his mending. We’ll have to find someone else now.”
It’d only been two days since the masquerade, but sitting here and listening to this, knowing what she did, Clarke felt like she’d aged ten years. They were talking about a woman’s death like this sort of thing was normal, to be expected. Like a family hadn’t been torn apart.
Clarke could still see the pleading look on that girl’s face. Her grip on her fork tightened.
“That isn’t even the worst of it, though. Julie’s son was at the party where they found her. He said…” Clarke turned to watch the woman lean in closer to her friend, voice lowering dramatically. “You’ve heard about the rebels, right?”
Clarke’s knee almost hit the underside of the table. She quickly turned back to her food, putting a forkful of tasteless… something in her mouth and chewing mechanically.
The other made a soft sound of noncommittal agreement. It wasn’t something usually discussed in public. That didn’t deter the gossiper, though.
“This girl was one of them.” She sounded almost delighted at the news, the particular kind of cruelty that was enjoying other peoples’ misfortune and scandal. Clarke felt sick. “Covered in tattoos, he said.”
The room had gotten quieter. Or maybe that was just Clarke’s imagination, but she could clearly hear the sharp intake of breath from the other woman. Clarke chewed more, swallowed painfully. Something cold and sharp clutched her chest.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Aurora was the ringleader.” The woman continued, oblivious to the tension in the room. “She already proved she didn’t care about the laws, hiding a second. And for so long? What was she going to do when she was full grown?”
“Stage a coup, maybe?” The woman didn’t even pause at her friend’s quiet cautious warning. “She already got her first in with the guard cadets.”
Clarke inhaled slowly through her nose. The pressure in her chest was getting more painful. The woman’s words were reminding her of all those days spent in her quarters, confined. Of looking at those jars of beige, knowing that this was her future. Or all the children that were in solitary, of however many adults might have been floated, just for this.
Of a girl on the ground, hiding in the trees as she watched someone glowing with pride at her tattoos. Of the way she stood her ground, got back up, demanded the right to exist and thrive. Clarke let go of her fork to rub at the back of her neck, feeling it burn with that same cold fury.
“I’m sure the council is considering every angle. If these rebels really do exist…”
“There aren’t any rebels.”
If the cafeteria hadn’t been silent before, it was now. Clarke didn’t even realize that that low, almost growl had been her, until she looked up and saw the scandalized faces of two middle-aged woman focused on her.
Maybe Clarke would have backed down in any other circumstances, but she was just so angry. Sometimes she still thought that maybe these dreams were just wishful thinking and there really were rebels. Maybe her soulmate was planning on a coup, on changing life on the station forever. But right now, in this moment, she was suddenly completely sure.
“There aren’t any rebels,” she repeated. “The council is just… scared.”
There was shuffling on the edge of Clarke’s vision, but she was focused on these women. These representations of everything that Clarke was fed up with.
The loud one, Bianca, scoffed at Clarke’s words. “And who exactly are you?”
The other woman narrowed her eyes. “You’re Dr. Griffin’s daughter. Does she know you’re talking like this?”
“You’re lucky you are her daughter,” Bianca said, lips pursed in disapproval. “Talk like that could get you in trouble.”
“Like your conspiracy theories?” Clarke clenched her jaw. “Talking about rebels and a coup. If there are any rebels, why haven’t they been found?” Bianca looked completely taken aback. Clarke stood up, her chair scraping against the floor loudly. She leaned over the table towards her, hands splayed against the worn metal and nostrils flaring. “Where are they?”
“Sit down, dear,” the other woman said, tone soft. She looked between Clarke and the open door nervously, but all Clarke could hear was patronizing.
“That girl wasn’t a rebel. I doubt she was even 14. She was just scared, like all of them are. She didn’t ask for the markings.” Clarke could feel herself getting louder, but at this point she didn’t care. “None of them did. And now they’re criminals? Isn’t having a soulmate supposed to be a good thing?”
“What they are doing is illegal,” Bianca said. “Whether it’s them or their… soulmate. It’s illegal, and they know it. Just the fact that they have them is proof of that.” Clarke shook her head, then picked up a napkin from the table in a sudden fit of inspiration.
“They haven’t found any rebels because there aren’t any rebels,” Clarke said, and held up the napkin. She took a deep breath and wiped at her face, smearing off some of her concealer. It wasn’t until the second swipe that there were gasps from around the room, and Clarke took that as an indication to step up onto her seat and continue.
Bianca and the other woman, apparently terrified of this small girl on a chair, scrambled back out of their seats and put some distance between them. “The Chief’s daughter…”
Clarke continued to furiously wipe at her face, folding the napkin to find more clean fabric to work with. “We didn’t ask for this, but this isn’t a bad thing. Think about it! We can’t find any rebels, but here are the markings. Look at it!” She opened her arms, the streaks of dark gray standing out starkly on her face, even if she hadn’t done a perfect job of cleaning it. They must have been in full splendor today, because Clarke could see the way people recoiled. She swallowed, but continued. “If we can’t find them, out here where literally no one can escape, then they’re not here. So where are they?”
There were low voices from the doorway, and Clarke turned to watch as a trio of guards pushed their way through the frozen bystanders. For the first time, a frisson of fear swept down her spine, but Clarke didn’t stand down. There was no going back from this.
“They’re on Earth,” she said, finally saying out loud what she felt in her heart of hearts. The guards came closer, and Clarke could hear the crackle of a shock baton as one cautiously readied it. “They’re on Earth,” she continued, feeling the tears welling up in her eyes and trickling down her cheeks as she desperately tried to make someone hear her. She met the eyes in the crowd, watching one by one as they either looked at her in shock or turned away. “They’re waiting for us. And we can go home.”
“Get down from the chair, Clarke,” a low voice said from the doorway. Clarke looked up to see Thelonius Jaha, face like stone and every bit of the Chancellor he was. There was no trace of her best friend’s father in his expression. “You’ve had your say. Get down.”
Clarke trembled, suddenly feeling young and helpless again. A guard approached her, and for now, reached out as if to help her down. She slowly shook her head, standing up straight. A whisper in her mind. ”Give up.” “Never.”
“Why don’t you look to the ground? Are you afraid? We could go home.”
The guard looked to Jaha, whose face had grown even colder. He nodded, and now the guard was not so gentle. He grabbed for Clarke’s hand, pulling her down and ignoring her sharp cry as she toppled forward. She tried to fight, tried not to give in, but she wasn’t built for this. She thrashed in their hold as they dragged her away, but quickly tired herself out despite her fury and desperation.
“We’re not rebels! Let me go.” Clarke tried to bite at a hand over her mouth. “Let me go!” But she was muffled. Just like all the others. She cried, making half-hearted efforts to escape, but knowing that she had lost.
“Go back about your business.” The cool voice of Jaha addressed the crowd.
Clarke closed her eyes.
They put her in a cell. Solitary.
Clarke hadn’t been expecting anything else. Jaha had said as much that day in their quarters, hadn’t he? This is what they did to make the problem go away. They hid them in holes where no one could find them and didn’t let them out.
For a prisoner in solitary, though, she had more than her fair share of visitors.
“What were you thinking, Clarke? I can’t… they’re calling you a rebel. As a member of the council, I can’t be seen as playing favorites.”
“Clarke? Baby. I can’t get you out. Why did you do it?”
“Are they thinking about Earth at all?”
“What? Clarke, you know it’s not safe.”
“Go home, Mom.”
“Clarke! We can’t afford that sort of false hope to get out. You know what could happe—“
“Is it true? That there are people down there?”
“Who are you?”
“No one important. Have you talked to them? Do you know them?”
“I know they’re there, and I think I… maybe. I could talk to them.”
“I know someone in engineering. Maybe we could—“
“Hey, kid! What are you doing here?”
“Clarke, I… I got my dad to let me come see you.”
“Oh Wells. I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you, but…”
“Yeah. Yeah, that kind of sucks.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But I was… I was scared.”
“… I get it. Look, um. I know you’re probably bored. My dad won’t tell me how long you’re going to be here.”
“Probably forever, until I’m old enough, to… you know.”
“Hey, woah. My dad wouldn’t let that happen. You’d get your trial.”
“Yeah. Sorry, I’m just…”
“I got you some more charcoal. I figured you could use it now more than ever.”
“… Thank you, Wells. I… thank you so much.”
“You’re still my best friend, Clarke. Even if you’re a convict now.”
“Making me cry and laugh? God, what am I gonna do without you?”
“Hey, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
“Dad! Oh dad, I’m so sorry.”
“No, no. Don’t be sorry, Clarke. Hey, no crying. You were doing what you felt was right. I know you were. That’s how your mom and I raised you.”
“But I didn’t… Nothing’s going to happen, Dad. Mom said they’re not even thinking about Earth. But I know they’re down there. I know it!”
“I believe you, kiddo.”
“You… you do?”
“I do. And don’t ever think that what you did didn’t matter. You did what you thought was right, and now it’s time that the rest of us start doing the same.”
“Don’t worry, kiddo. Just know that you are the bravest person I know. I love you, Clarke.”
“I love you, too. Dad?”
“Please don’t leave me.”
“I’ll be here for a little while longer. As long as I can.”
Wow. Most of you know how long it has been, but I won't get into that. Instead, I want to thank everyone who has continued to tell me how much they love this story and has been patiently (mostly, but I don't blame you) waiting for me to continue.
Rest assured, this is going to continue.
For anyone who is screaming at me "They haven't even met yet!", this chapter ends Act 1. Next chapter begins where the Pilot begins. And we're going down to Earth. Hell yeah!
Again, thank you so much to everyone who has commented and sent me your messages. You have no idea how much I love each and every one. And special thanks goes out to Invented, without whom this either would have been written faster or not at all, but who without a doubt made it a better chapter. <3
Chapter 10: Act 1.5 Interlude
War is on the horizon and things are about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Lexa stared impassively at the ambassadors assembled below her throne. They were all speaking at once, in three or four different conversations, and Lexa let it flow over her as she took in each one in turn. All were agitated. Some were furious, others nervous.
Some were simply not present.
Lexa let her eyes rest for a few short moments on the chair for the Ice Nation’s ambassador, who had not been with them for some seasons now. It was only out of tradition (and insistence from Titus that setting the chair aflame and tossing it from her tower would simply cause unrest) that they even kept a seat at the table. What was on her mind now, what was on all of their minds, was that of the other empty seat. The chair of the Rock Clan’s ambassador also sat empty, its occupant having left in the cover of darkness only a week past.
Her face remained stoic, but by the increase of volume in the room, she knew that her attention had not gone unnoticed.
Her palm began to itch with anger, and she clenched her fist around the sensation.
Behind her, she could feel the tightly coiled energy of her General, obviously as unhappy with the situation as she was. Of course, Anya was always unhappy, but this need to wait , to not take action in the face of obvious treachery, was especially hard on her. For all that she had preached patience to Lexa as her Fos, the one true lesson that she had learned was that Anya had very little of it herself.
The thought almost caused her to smile.
“They are obviously in league with the Ice Nation,” boomed Tomas, of the Plains. “Even now, they could be amassing their forces, ready for a—“
“We cannot know that,” interjected a quieter voice. Lexa allowed her gaze to focus on this conversation, only to find the speaker already looking back at her. Siena was the representative of the Desert clan, and the first child of its Chief. She’d also made no secret of the fact that she would be open to more than a political alliance. Lexa held the gaze, but her expression remained the same save for one questioning eyebrow. “The Rock Clan shares a border with the Ice Nation,” the woman said, finally looking away when she could find no favor in Lexa’s gaze. “And Cort spoke many times of the raiding parties testing their outer villages. That doesn’t speak of a willing participant in…” Siena struggled for a moment with a word. “In treason.”
Treason. Lexa leaned back, lacing her fingers loosely together in front of her. Treason implied that she might finally be succeeding in her goal. That those within her coalition were beginning to see it as fixed, rather than temporary. That maybe her legacy could be peace after all.
Her eyes flicked once more to the empty chair at the far end of the table, her gaze turning dark. And still there were those that would threaten it.
Maybe the time for waiting was over.
Tomas shook his head, obviously planning on a rebuttal. Other voices tried to join in, the conversation once more unified. Lexa sat with purpose, releasing her hands and swiftly bringing one up to silence the group.
“Enough!” she said. It took only a few seconds, but the room went silent. And then, before she could say more, there were murmurs. Lexa scowled at the disrespect, ready to stand and truly throw her power behind her words, when she realized where the gazes were focused.
She clenched her fist on instinct, lowering it and turning it towards her. When she spread her fingers again, she saw that what she had been dismissing as a physical reaction of her anger was actually… her.
She was still alive.
The relief that she felt shocked her so much that for once, it must have actually shown on her face, because the murmurs in the room got louder. Anya, sensing that something was amiss, stepped forward, presumably reminding them of their place.
Lexa could only stare for long moments, stunned at the vivid red lines on her palm. A five-pointed star stared clearly back at her, even if the edges were smudged and beginning to bleed. To bleed. Lexa felt her heart clench in her chest. What was this? What was it trying to say?
After all this time, more than a full cycle of the seasons, and her soulmate had come back with blood.
“Heda?” Anya’s soft question pierced the veil of both relief and alarm, and Lexa quickly closed her fist again. Now that she wasn’t ignoring it, the mark burned fiercely, and Lexa struggled to compose her expression.
“It’s nothing. I…” But as Lexa went to brush it aside, she realized that she hadn’t covered up the mark quickly enough, and Anya’s sharp eyes were unrelenting. She swallowed, then spoke with more confidence and just enough volume that the ambassadors listening intently were sure to hear. “I cut myself with my knife earlier.” Something that she hadn’t done in years. Something that Anya was not about to believe. There was a promise in Anya’s eyes, even as she gave a small nod for show and turned again to retake her place: they would be talking about this later.
Lexa tried to gather her thoughts, readjusting in her throne and calmly assessing each ambassador in turn. At least to all outward appearance. Inwardly, her palm ached and she felt an almost physical need to respond to the call, but her people came first. They always did.
She opened her mouth once more to speak.
The doors burst open, Aden uncharacteristically stumbling into the room, the shouts of Titus audible far down the hall. He stood quickly, recomposing himself in a manner not unlike Lexa. “Heda! The sky!”
Titus’s heavy footsteps sounded closer, along with the pitter patter of half a dozen other little feet right behind him, but Lexa didn’t even stop to consider doing anything but immediately moving to the balcony and throwing open the curtain. The gasps behind her were nowhere near as loud as her own thundering heartbeat.
A star, brighter than any she’d ever seen, falling from the sky in broad daylight.
She watched, transfixed and oblivious to anything happening behind her, as it streaked across the sky. Her hand burned brightly, and she could not resist the urge to hold it up against the sky, watching as the image bled further, distorting, even as the physical incarnation of that star burned ever closer.
When it finally, impossibly, hit the ground in the distance, Lexa felt a jolt of pain on her hand and watched the red smudge further with the impact. Long seconds passed. The noise behind her sounded far away as she stood frozen, watching for any sign.
The red was still there. It was smudged, but still there. Whatever had happened… her soulmate lived still. For now.
Time flowed again as Lexa felt a presence at her back. Anya, an unreadable look on her face, peered off in the distance as well. Lexa took a long, steadying breath, then let it out and allowed her thoughts to rush ahead.
There was much to consider. So many possibilities. Most of them incredibly dangerous.
The star had fallen somewhere between TonDC and the Maunon’s territory. Indra’s backyard, but far too close for comfort.
Lexa closed her fist.
“Gather your fastest riders. At least a dozen. Coordinate with Indra, then find the star.” Lexa spoke low, so only Anya could hear. Without looking, she could feel Anya’s wordless nod. Her General didn’t leave right away though, and Lexa closed her eyes, knowing what she was waiting for. Lexa shook her head slowly, and finally Anya turned to leave.
At the last minute, Lexa reached out, pulling herself close to Anya.
“Anya,” she whispered. Her eyes met those of her oldest true companion. “Be safe. Whoever you find…” And she tried not to react to the slight widening of Anya’s eyes at the word ‘who’ . “… the Maunon may have found a way to bring the very stars to the ground.”
There were many questions in Anya’s eyes, but Lexa let go and nodded sharply to the door. Anya’s nostrils flared, but she obeyed, and the crowd of ambassadors who were clamoring for some sort of explanation parted for her as if they knew instinctively that she would rather run them through than slow her mission.
The moment she was out the door, the noise level rose again.
“Heda, the mark—“
“Is this a sign?”
“Is this an attack ?”
Lexa took in the crowd, unseeing, until her eyes landed on the gaggle of small children who were gathered around Titus, Aden out in front. Most of them were hopping around excitedly at the happenings, but Aden, ever the perceptive one, was quiet as he stared at her. When Lexa nodded at the door, he was already gathering the little ones before she even had the chance to speak.
“Titus, take the natblida back to their studies.” Titus looked ready to question, but she threw him a look that allowed no disobedience. He was still slower than she liked, and she turned her attention to the ambassadors while they made their way out.
“Quiet,” she demanded. There were more protests. This time, she practically roared. “Silence!”
There was a squeak from someone, and Lexa couldn’t tell if it was one of the nightbloods happy to escape her wrath, or one of the ambassadors who weren’t so lucky. Regardless, soon they were all waiting on her for an explanation. Lexa’s mind was moving too fast for her to possibly process, but she knew one thing.
No one could be allowed to jeopardize Anya’s mission.
“Lock the doors,” she said. “The ambassadors will be staying in the tower until further notice.”
As her warriors at the door immediately moved to do her bidding, the clamoring began again.
I'm more than halfway through the next chapter, but I wanted to post this before my one year anniversary of not posting came around. Let me know what you think! Or even just hate mail for going so long without posting. It's okay, I can take it.
All Clarke has wanted for years is to go down to Earth. It's time.
“Where are you taking me? I’m not 18 yet! It’s not time!”
“Clarke! Clarke, calm down.”
“Mom? What’s going on?”
“They’re sending you down, Clarke. They’re sending the prisoners to Earth.”
“They… they’re finally listening to me? Wait. The prisoners? Mom. What did you do? Why aren’t we all going?”
“Mom, where’s dad? Why isn’t he… WHERE’S DAD?”
When she woke up, groggy and immediately aware that there was no going back, Clarke felt her stomach heave and had to struggle not to throw up. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go to Earth. She did. She was ready to meet her future head on.
It was that just before they’d stuck the needle in her to sedate her, the look on her mother's face had been one of guilt. Of shame.
Clarke swallowed back the emotion, trying to center herself with meditation the way she’d been practicing for the last year, but the roiling in her gut wouldn’t go away.
The voice was enough to distract her. Next to her was Wells Jaha himself, strapped into his seat on the prison dropship like he’d paid good money to be there.
“You didn’t think I’d let you go alone, did you?” He continued, overly excited in an obvious attempt to cheer her up. “You probably wanted all the glory for yourself, but someone’s gotta vet this soulmate of yours. Make sure they’re good enough for you. Best friend duties don’t stop just because you’re being sent hurtling through space to a possibly radioactive world.”
Clarke found herself smiling, despite herself. “You’re terrified, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Not that I don’t believe you, just… nuclear apocalypse.”
“How are you even here?”
“Would you believe by asking nicely?”
“If your dad wasn’t your dad, then absolutely.”
A hard jerk caused a round of cries to go up among the assembled teens.
“What was that?” Someone asked.
Clarke’s attention was caught by a familiar face across the aisle. Octavia Blake was beaming at her, warpaint in full splendor today. “Clarke! We’re going! We’re really going to see them!”
“We’re going…” Clarke smiled back. They were going to Earth. She paused, brow furrowing. A TV screen flickered to life, Chancellor Jaha’s face staring out at them, but Clarke ignored it for the moment.
“Prisoners of the Ark, hear me now…”
Clarke had weathered the last year on the hope that her dreams were real. She hadn’t had many visitors in her time in lockup, but Octavia she’d seen more than most. The guards on the Ark could be downright cruel sometimes, but most of them were just people trying to survive. Her own regular guard had a daughter, and knowing that, she’d eventually managed to convince him that a young girl who’d just lost her mother and the only other person she had in world needed to have at least one friend.
Octavia was absolutely convinced that her dreams were real. She’d even talked Clarke into trying to pay attention to the “cool fighting stuff”, and they’d been practicing. As much as anyone could spar in a cell. Octavia didn’t have the dreams herself, but believing in them had done her just as much or more good as Clarke even being there did.
Clarke swallowed. It made sense, logically. They’d never found any evidence of rebels on the Ark. Clarke had dreams of life on Earth, with a culture that explained the markings they were getting. There was more reason to think people did actually exist on Earth than didn’t.
But still… there were times that Clarke doubted.
“We have no idea what is waiting for you down there,” Chancellor Jaha said. “If the odds of survival were better, we would’ve sent others.”
Her dad had believed her. He’d been trying to find a way to help. But the Council still refused to, and here they were. Not because they believed, but because the Ark was still dying, and these kids were expendable.
Clarke clenched her fist, looking around. They were either going to die, or they were going to finally have a chance to live. Whichever one it was, Clarke knew she had to try one more time to reach out to her soulmate.
There was no charcoal here. Nothing to make a mark with. Not that that had made a difference before. Her soulmate never responded, no matter what she did. Even in her darkest hour, the person on the other end of her tattoos hadn’t so much as left an ‘x’, or even something as stupid as a check mark, to let her know that she was being seen.
She was really starting to wonder what sort of person she’d gotten saddled with, and if it weren’t for the dreams letting her know that her soulmate was a real, feeling person, she wouldn’t even bother going to look for her. Probably.
Well, maybe. Clarke at least wanted to see her once. Just to finally put a face to her markings.
Which meant that she was going to try one more time to contact her. There might not be any charcoal, but there was the jagged edge of a poorly welded piece of metal near her. She reached out to test it. It was sharp, but not enough to just prick a finger with.
“What are you doing?” Wells asked.
She swallowed back her misgivings, thinking of all the dreams she’d had of wounds and pain far greater than this. This was nothing. She could do this.
Clarke placed her wrist against the edge. One breath, two, and then she pressed down sharply, drawing her arm back and holding back a whimper as the metal sliced a gash into her skin.
“What the hell, Clarke!”
It felt like fire at her wrist, but as she pulled her arm back to look at it, the gash wasn’t actually all that big. It bled bright red, though, and that was what she needed. She reached out with her other hand, dipping her fingers in the blood and drawing lines on her palm.
The image wasn’t perfect. The blood smeared, finding the thin crevices in her skin. It didn’t help that her nerves and pain were making her palms a little clammy as well. For now, though, she held her hand, palm open, and looked at the star she’d left for her soulmate.
There was a moment, just after they landed, that everything was quiet. It was a rough landing, there were two people flat on the floor, and it wasn’t clear whether things were really alright or the entire place was about to explode. Clarke swallowed, looking down at the red smear on her hand and the wound still trickling blood from her wrist.
It was hardly recognizable as a star anymore.
The restraints in the dropship released all at once, and like a coiled spring, the kids on the ship sprung up and swarmed the ladder down.
Clarke watched them go, taking deep, calming breaths. They were on the ground. This was all that she’d been hoping for for years. They were on the ground. They were…
Wells bent down in front of her, hands halfway out to touch her. He grinned as she focused on him and stood up straight. “You okay?”
Clarke nodded. “Yeah. You?”
“I think I’ve got a little whiplash, but that’s better than those guys over there.”
Wells looked to the teens who’d taken off their restraints mid flight, only to literally crash down to Earth. At the reminder, Clarke couldn’t help but stand up, shaky at first in the heavier gravity, and go over to rest her fingers at their pulse point. He was gone. By the angle of the other one’s neck, so was he.
“I’m getting really tired of people not listening to me.” Clarke closed her eyes. Despite her words, death wasn’t something she thought she’d ever get used to.
“He’s got a gun!”
Clarke and Wells both snapped their attention to the ladder, and the audible growing panic below. Clarke was first to move, past Wells and halfway down the ladder before he had even made the decision to move. When she finally pushed her way through the crowds, she was greeted by the sight of Bellamy Blake with one hand on the lever to open the door and one hand holding a gun in the air.
Not a shock baton. An actual gun.
“What are you doing?” Clarke’s words cut over the noise of the milling teens and immediately drew the former cadet’s attention. His eyes widened as he saw her, face noticeably paling as he took in her face and expression/
“Stay back, Griffin,” he said, sweeping the gun down towards her in a way that made the rest of the teens step back. Clarke folded her hands across her chest and stared him down. “I’m getting out of here and you can’t stop me.”
“I mean it, I… what?” The hand with the gun dropped about a foot.
“I mean that I want to get out of here too. Why are you here and why do you have a gun, though?”
“Bell!” Octavia Blake finally pushed her way through the crowd, ignoring any danger from Bellamy and wrapping her arms around his waist.
“O, you’re okay. Look at you.” He dropped the hand off the lever to return the hug fiercely, closing his eyes in the moment.
Wells, having finally made it down himself, stepped up and slightly in front of Clarke, obviously trying to shield her with his body.
“Wells, what are you doing?” Clarke’s whisper was ignored.
“Get away from the lever. We don’t know what’s waiting for us out there.” Wells said, putting all of his future diplomat training to use in keeping his voice steady. Bellamy finally noticed the audience again, and he pushed Octavia behind him as well.
By the look in her eyes, Octavia was just as pleased about that as Clarke was.
“Stay back, Jaha. Your dad’s the reason we’re all in this mess as it is.” The gun was back up again, pointed in Wells’ direction now. “I’m done taking orders from anyone. If I die, at least I’ll get to see the ground before I go.”
Wells curled his hand into a fist, clearly thinking about stepping forward. Of all people, though, Clarke knew that Wells had almost zero fighting experience. She put a hand on his shoulder and stepped in front of him again, putting herself within a few feet of Bellamy and his gun.
“Put the gun down, Bellamy. Jaha sent him down, same as the rest of us. We’re all in this together.” Clarke could hear the teens murmuring behind them, obviously getting antsy again, despite the danger. She made eye contact with Octavia, who grinned and reached up for the lever herself. Before Bellamy was even aware of what was happening, the door made a loud clunk and started to release the seal. The hand with the gun dropped as he whirled to face Octavia, and everyone skittered back away from the door in nervous anticipation.
“You were taking too long,” Octavia said, and put her arms around his as they watched light begin to stream in through the crack in the door as it lowered.
Clarke tensed, watching the door go down. She had no idea what was on the other side. Were her dreams just dreams? Was everything she’d been waiting and hoping for a lie?
The light from outside got blindingly bright, bringing tears to her eyes, but she still refused to close them. She didn’t want to miss this. Not a second of it.
When her eyes finally adjusted and the ramp hit the ground, Clarke found real tears streaming down her face. Everything was green and fresh and golden. Trees all around, wind playing in the branches. Blue sky above them, obscuring the black of space they’d lived with all their lives. The sun shone down through the branches, dappling the verdant forest floor.
There was noise and jubilation around her, kids streaming out of the dropship and into the forest. Clarke walked down the ramp in a daze and reached down to touch the earth, digging her fingers into the rich soil. She let it sift through her fingers, inhaling the mineral scent and recalling dreams of resting on this ground, growing things in this ground, falling to and getting up from this ground. She looked out at the forest and felt like if she could get high enough in one of these trees, she’d know exactly where she was.
It was exactly like her dreams.
She was home.
“Clarke. Claaarke. Future Mrs. Amazon!”
Clarke shook her head, but couldn’t help but smile as Octavia waved her hands in front of her face. She’d been studying the map that the Council had given them, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t make sense of how it matched up with things she knew of from her dreams.
It was there, somewhere. Over the year or so she’d been in lockup, her dreams had gotten far more frequent. She’d been getting better at remembering them in her waking hours through sheer force of will and some meditation, but there were still so many things that were cloudy. As it turned out, information recall through dreams was not one of her better talents.
“Are you bored, O?” Clarke set the map down and reached up to rub at the kink in her neck. “It’s been less than... “ She looked up at the sky. “Maybe four hours. On Earth. There’s nothing to do?”
Octavia made a face and sat down on a log next to her, nodding her head towards her brother. “He’s being overprotective.”
Clarke followed the gaze to see Bellamy watching them intently, hand on the gun at his hip as if someone were going to steal it at any moment. There was a crowd of boys around him, and it looked like he was holding some kind of court. Clarke glared, then pointedly turned to ignore him.
“Do you know what he’s doing?”
“Doing?” Octavia frowned. “I have no idea. Sometimes he’s the Bell I know, and sometimes... “ She trailed off, looking over at him again.
“Sometimes he’s smashing radios to contact the Ark and starting an actual rebellion?” Clarke looked back down at the map, trying to keep herself from taking it out on Octavia.
Octavia chewed on her lower lip and stayed silent. They both turned at the sound of approaching footsteps.
“I think that’s it, Clarke,” Wells said, plopping down near them. “I can’t find any other supplies. Why wouldn’t they send more than one radio?” He shook his head, looking up at the sky for answers.
“Because they hate us,” Octavia said. Wells blinked and looked over at the younger girl, still not used to her presence. He’d heard about the other girl from Clarke in their rare visits, but he couldn’t seem to adjust to her facial markings in the way he just accepted Clarke’s now.
“They don’t hate us,” Clarke said. “They just don’t believe us and think we’re going to die anyway.” The thought stung, even after all this time.
“Why waste the supplies?” Octavia rolled her eyes. “Or give us an actual chance, like, I don’t know, sending an adult? Some weapons?”
Wells looked visibly uncomfortable. “They sent food and some survival gear. They’re not…”
“Food?” Octavia laughed. “There are almost a hundred of us. And they sent two crates of rations. That’s not even going to last a week. Your dad sent you to die with the rest of us, Jaha.”
Clarke tuned them out as best she could and focused on the map. She didn’t want to make Wells upset, but she mostly agreed with Octavia. The Council should know better. The fact that they still gave them practically nothing meant that they were deliberately ignoring evidence and not even looking for more.
“There’s not a lot to go around as it is. Maybe this is all they could spare.”
“When we’re literally proving that everyone can come back down here and no one has to go without anymore?”
Clarke placed her finger on Mt. Weather on the map. Jaha had mentioned it as their best bet for supplies, but there was something niggling in the back of her head about the place. Octavia wasn’t wrong, though. They didn’t have enough supplies to last the week, especially with the way the teens were celebrating like they didn’t have a care in the world. It was as good an idea as any.
Getting all one hundred of them to hike about 20 miles to get there, though…
Clarke didn’t think that was going to happen.
She traced the path down to where she was pretty sure their drop-point was located. It looked straight-forward. But it was mid-afternoon now and she didn’t want to camp in the woods tonight. She’d start out in the morning.
Clarke looked up to see Octavia frowning at her. “What? Wasn’t Wells helping with your boredom?”
The younger girl scoffed. “If he wants to be wrong, then he can be wrong.”
“You’re not giving the Council enough credit…”
“Done now!” Octavia interrupted Wells, then stood up and put her hands on the table. “I want to go exploring. Say you’ll come with me, Clarke.”
“You can’t just end an argument like that!”
“Did someone say exploring?” Finn asked, a carefree smile on his face and his hands in his pockets as he strolled up to them. “And no one thought to invite me?”
Octavia took a step towards Finn, immediately giving him most of her attention. “I was just trying to convince Clarke to come out on an adventure. You’re welcome to join.” Clarke watched as Octavia batted her eyelashes and struggled not to laugh.
Finn didn’t even notice. His smile was was all for Clarke. “I definitely will. You know I was top of my class in tracking?”
“Theoretical tracking,” Wells muttered.
“I can tell this is going to be a fun outing,” Clarke said. She took another look at the map and tried to orient herself before packing it up and putting it safely away in her jacket. Wells made a face as she stood up, but followed her lead.
Octavia jumped a little in excitement. “That means you’re in! Yes!”
“In for what?” Like a dark rain cloud, Bellamy’s presence dampened the mood. Clarke took great pleasure in watching the way he faltered as she glared at him, his eyes roving over the fierce mask on her face. He had a couple of his lackeys beside him, though, and he drew himself up quickly to give them his best macho performance. “Have you realized that the Council is full of crap yet? Or are you still trying to find more non-existent supplies in the dropship?”
“What is it that you’re trying to do, exactly?” Clarke asked. She waved her arm at the boys to either side of him. “Start your own empire with a child army?” The boy on the left with a wiry frame and a heavy brow bristled and took a step forward, only to be stopped by Bellamy’s arm in front of him.
“It’s fine, Murphy.” Bellamy stared at her for a long second. “You’re smart, Griffin. You know as well as I do that they’re never going to get their heads out of their asses. All I’m saying is that we have a chance to make our own way. Find out what’s really going on.”
“We can do that without literally destroying our only method of communication with them,” Wells said, voice cold.
Bellamy gave him an insincere smirk. “And risk their idiocy infecting our freedom even more?” He looked back to Clarke, offering a small shrug. “Look, I’m sorry that I destroyed it, but it needed to be done. I’ll bet you’re already thinking about running off to do their bidding, even after everything they did to you. Am I right?”
Clarke hesitated. Yeah, she wanted to go to Mt. Weather, but only because they needed supplies in the short term before they could figure out what they were going to do long term. She wasn’t about to let all of these kids die like the Council seemed to think they were destined to. “We need supplies. It makes the most sense.”
“What we need is to secure our perimeter.” Bellamy nodded out towards the scattered teens running around without purpose. Clarke followed his gaze. None of these kids knew even a little bit about what it would take to survive out here. She could try her hardest to try to provide for them, but they might still get themselves killed anyway. “Plus,” Bellamy continued, “unlike the Council, we know there are other people down here.” Clarke’s gaze snapped to his. “And they might not be happy to see us.”
“Not everyone is out to get you, Bell!” Octavia walked between them and pushed at her brother’s chest. “You’d probably shoot my soulmate on sight, wouldn’t you?”
“He’s got a point, though.” Octavia looked at Finn as he spoke, wounded at the betrayal. “If there are people, and evidence is pointing towards yes, then I’m not saying they’d be bad people. But they don’t know us, just like we don’t know them. And we’re kinda dropping in on them unannounced. They might not be happy with us.”
“You can’t judge people you don’t even know,” Octavia insisted. “They’re not gonna do anything like that.” She looked at Clarke. “Right?”
Clarke took a deep breath. She wanted to assure Octavia that no, the people down here weren’t going to attack them. But what did she really know about who was down here? She had dreams, but she didn’t remember all of them vividly. And Earth was a really big place. Who was to say they were anywhere near that group of people?
“They…” Clarke watched Octavia’s face fall. “It might be a good idea to be careful. There’s more than one clan out there, and they’re not all friendly.”
All eyes were on Clarke now.
“More than one clan?” Finn asked.
“You’re in contact with them.” Bellamy had tensed up considerably.
Clarke sighed. “Not exactly.”
“Are you selling us out?” Murphy asked, taking a threatening step forward. “I saw you doing something before the launch.” He pointed at her wrist, which she’d bandaged after they found the medkit her mom had left for them. “Did you tell them where we are? Are they coming to get us?”
Clarke scoffed. “Because I knew where they were going to drop us?” They were drawing a crowd now, some of the wandering teens scooting closer to hear what was happening. “I was dragged out of my cell same as you this morning. They even stuck a needle in me because I…” Clarke swallowed. She’d made a scene when they pulled her out.
“Because you what?” Murphy pushed. “It sounds like you’re in league with the Council and these…. Grounders. They’re probably on their way already, gonna finish what the Council started.”
Clarke opened her mouth, speechless for a moment. “Do you even hear the words coming out of your mouth?”
“You need to explain yourself, Griffin.” Bellamy pulled the gun from his waist, but kept it pointed at the ground for now. “I swear, if there’s an army waiting in the woods for us, I won’t hesitate to use this.”
There were panicked murmurs from the crowd of onlookers, necks craning to peer out into the trees.
“She never said there was a floating army, Bell! Put the gun away.”
“I don’t think violence is the answer here,” Finn said.
“I’m not going back in a cell!” Someone yelled. Others joined in, and soon there was shouting all around them. Clarke felt her heart race in panic for a moment, but she shook it off and stepped up onto the log she’d been using as a table earlier.
“SHUT UP!” she yelled, her voice carrying over the crowd of teens. Something in her tone of voice or expression must have resonated, because the volume quickly lowered. “I’m not in league with anyone, and nothing’s going to get done if we’re all fighting with each other.”
She scanned the faces in the crowd. Most of these kids and teens she had never seen before, but she felt like they were her responsibility now. None of them had asked for this. Some weren’t even old enough to start their apprenticeships. Regardless of what any of them had done to get here, they were still kids, and they were her people. She had to see them through this.
“I’ll tell you what I know, but it’s not a lot. It might sound crazy but… I firmly believe that we’re not alone down here.”
There were more murmurs. “Yeah, right! Like anyone could survive down here.”
Clarke waved her hand around her face. “You’ve all heard the rumors by now. Rebels. People trying to go against the Ark and all it stands for. Some of you are here for no other reason than that you have one of these marks, and we sure didn’t do it to ourselves.” A taller boy with a full sleeve on his right arm and a swirling design on one side of his face nodded at her. “Where are those rebels?”
“Under the floorboards!” Someone shouted.
Bellamy took an immediate step forward. “Come say that to my face!”
There were jeers as someone jostled the heckler to go give Bellamy the fight he was looking for. Clarke held a hand high, projecting her voice over the crowd. “They’re here!” Clarke paused, making eye contact with people. “The reason they could never find the rebels is because they never existed. Those people are here, on Earth, living their lives.”
The teens hesitated, looking around at each other.
“There’s a reason we went up to space, right?” Clarke looked out into the crowd to find the voice that spoke, recognizing the lanky brown-haired boy from somewhere, but not quite sure where. “Nuclear radiation. Murder death kill. Sure, we’re down here now and things are okay, but how do you know there have been people down here for that long?”
Clarke nodded. “Just think about the…”
“And how do you know they’re normal people?” He interrupted her, eyes wide. “Radiation is supposed to be some pretty high level badness, right? Maybe there are cat people or…” His voice got louder. “Oh god, maybe we’re like that guy from Planet of the Apes and we think we’re on another planet but really it’s Earth and they’ve all turned into monkey people.”
“This is Earth, Jasper,” the teen to his left said.
“You know what I mean.”
Despite the conspiracy theory tone of the question, the crowd began to mutter, considering what could actually be down on the planet.
“That deer… did you see it? It had two faces.”
“Are we going to look like that?”
“What if there are people and they all have four arms?”
“... Actually, that’d be kind of badass. I want four arms. Think of all the juggling possibilities.”
“Four arms and juggling is your first thought?”
“I don’t know exactly what’s out there,” Clarke said. “I do know that there are some people who are like us, though. They’ve just… had to learn to live differently.” She wasn’t sure how to explain what she knew. From her talks with Octavia, she knew that not everyone had this weird connection she did with her soulmate. She’d sound like a liar at best, and insane at worst. The best way to avoid the whole situation was to change the focus of the conversation. “But Bellamy is right, we need to be prepared.”
Looking down from her perch, Bellamy looked surprised to be recognized. He took her opening as an opportunity, though, and stepped onto a lower log beside her.
“Whoever,” he said, then paused. “ Whatever is out there, we’re an easy target right now.”
Clarke nodded reluctantly. “Jaha made it clear that the Council wasn’t exactly convinced we were going to make it down here.” The crowd grumbled angrily. “I didn’t come back to Earth to prove them right. What about you?”
“Bring ‘em on, we’ll kick their butts!” A scrawny kid in the back shouted from where he was standing on a log to see over people's head. There was some laughter, but some agreement as well.
“Yeah! Let’s do this!” The crowd broke into energized discussion, ready for some direction.
Clarke turned to Bellamy. “You’re in charge of securing the perimeter. We’re probably going to need some of the older kids to help with construction.”
Bellamy blinked, then scowled at the sound of an order. “And what exactly are you going to do? Is this where you go report back to your superiors ?”
“What exactly is your problem, Bellamy? You want the people up there to die?” Clarke snapped, clenching her fist. “Because that’s what’s going to happen if they think we didn’t make it.”
“Die? They can stay up there forever for all I care.” Bellamy folded his arms across his chest defensively. “As long as they leave us the hell alone.”
Clarke took a step toward him. “The Ark is dying. It’s been dying for years. My dad was working on it, but he wasn’t sure that it could be fixed.” She paused to let that sink in, enjoying the look of guilt on his face before he tried to hide it. “And this is their solution. Send us down to find out if it’s safe. The Council may be idiots, but this isn’t them reaching a new height of cruelty. If we’d stayed up there we’d have died anyway. They are going to die.”
Bellamy’s mouth opened and closed a few times. Next to him, the teen he’d called Murphy shifted a little guiltily, then lifted his chin in defiance.
Clarke held a hand up to stop him. “Whatever you’re about to say, I do not want to hear it.” She looked around at the people close to her, getting a nod from Wells, and relaxing slightly at the sight of Octavia tense, brow furrowed, and obviously ready to fight the boys in front of her. Even if that included her brother. Finn was looking at her curiously, but immediately cracked a smirk when he noticed her looking. Clarke ignored him for now.
She stepped closer to Bellamy, lowering her voice but not softening her tone. “The people up there aren’t the enemies, Blake.” Bellamy looked down, his jaw shifting as he chewed on the inside of his cheek. Clarke stared at him for a long moment, then shook her head and turned away. He would either figure it out or…
Well, he’d be a problem. And while Clarke wasn’t sure how she’d deal with that problem right now, she knew she wasn’t going to allow him to jeopardize this opportunity for a new life. For all of them.
“Work on that perimeter!” Clarke called over her shoulder. “Octavia, Wells, you’re with me.”
“Hey!” Bellamy’s voice interrupted her again. She rolled her eyes but turned around, only to see that he wasn’t looking at her. “Octavia, you’re not going out there.”
Octavia shook her head and reached out for Clarke’s arm to keep her moving. “You’re not stopping me, Bell.” He reached out for her arm but she ducked out of the way with an agility that made Clarke proud. She started walking backwards away, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet. “I’m not a little girl anymore, and I’m done with hiding. Don’t worry, I can take care of myself now.”
“You have no idea what’s out there!” Bellamy said, reaching up and running a hand through his hair. “At least take a weapon!”
Clarke gave him a sympathetic look. She could understand this, at least. “I’ll take care of your sister,” she promised. He glared. “You take care of the rest of them.”
“I’m not a damn babysitter,” he growled, but when they looked back, Octavia had turned away from them and was already headed into the trees. He cursed softly. “If anything happens to her, Griffin…”
Clarke shook her head and started walking again. “I’ve got this. Trust me.”
She barely heard him as she walked away. “Not floating likely.”
“And me, Chief?” When Clarke turned to look, Finn’s face was a picture of mock hurt at forgetting him. He quickly brightened again, though, taking a few steps towards her and pointing to the jacket where she’d tucked the map earlier. “If you’re going exploring, I was serious about the tracking. Let me help.”
Maybe it was the nickname, reminding her of Raven in her greasy overalls giving her a roguish smirk. Or maybe it was the twinkling in his eyes, a hint of well-meant mischief that made her almost smile. Whatever it was, Clarke found herself nodding. Finn gave her a wider smile.
“Alright, Chief. Lead the way.”
The back of Clarke’s neck prickled at the feeling of being watched, and she took one last look back. She scanned the clearing, brow furrowed. The teens were starting to disperse, grouping up and gathering supplies, and everyone seemed to be more focused on their own tasks than on her.
Clarke extended her gaze to the forest on the other side of camp, staring out intently into the shadows. She slowed her breathing as she focused, feeling as though there was something there. The shadows shifted, and for a moment, she imagined two eyes looking back at her.
She blinked, turning to look at Finn, who had stopped at the edge of the clearing with Wells.
“Are we going to let her go off by herself? Because she’s definitely not waiting for us.”
Clarke bit her lip, glancing back at the shadows she’d been staring at. The trees waved gently in the breeze, light filtering through to a seemingly empty space. The feeling was gone. She blinked again, then shook her head with a smile. “Let’s go catch up before she gets herself into trouble.” She resisted the urge to look again, nodding at the boys as she passed them and stepped out into the forest.
Thank you to everyone for your continued support. I am overwhelmed by how many people still remember this story and sent me kind words. And hello to all the new readers! I'll do my best not to leave you hanging.
Special thanks to my love, my biggest fan, who comes up with the best ideas.
Edit: Oh gosh, also! I meant to add here that one of my readers, Nin, made a short video for this fic! Watch it here! Isn't it awesome?
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
A short trek through the woods turns dangerous when Clarke and her small band of misfits forget that the world is wild, but luckily they're not the only people down here and at least one of them has a reason to want to rescue them.
The forest was quiet. Not quiet in the horror movie sense, although Clarke had never liked those. Quiet in the sense that there was no hum of machinery, no sound of rushing air from the recirculators, no soft chattering of neighbors that were always far too close for comfort.
Other than Octavia and Wells, that is. She really hadn't expected them to get along so well. They were quite a few paces ahead of her, though, and she was happy that they seemed to be genuinely excited to be here too. Their chatter didn't bother her in the slightest.
Otherwise, this quiet was something that she could really learn to appreciate.
Finn walked near her, paying more attention to her than she really wanted right now. He was silent for the moment, though, which was all that she could ask for. She didn't know why he seemed to care so much. From what she remembered, he and Raven were close, and if she could convince Bellamy to not be such an idiot, it probably wouldn't be long until they were reunited.
"Do you think we're far from them?" Octavia asked up ahead. She paused, reaching out towards an orange blossom on a nearby tree.
Wells touched her shoulder before she could reach it. "Careful," he said. She bit her lip, then nodded, pushing her hands into her pockets instead. They didn't know what the plants around here would do, and it was better to be safe than sorry. "And I don't know. You and Clarke are the resident experts. Do you feel anything?"
Clarke closed her eyes briefly, asking herself the same question. Did she feel anything?
The soft play of the wind in her hair. The crunch of pine needles beneath her boots. The rasp of bark against her jacket as she walked just too close to a tree.
Everything was familiar, and yet there were no sparks of true recognition. She didn't know which direction to go to find her soulmate any more than anyone else did.
"No," Octavia eventually responded. "But I'm not worried. We're here, aren't we? I don't think we'd come so far to find them only to crash down on the wrong continent entirely." She gave Wells a grin, her step still full of freedom and energy. "We'll meet them soon."
Wells laughed softly, then looked back to give Clarke a fond grin as well. "You know what, you're probably right. What's another thousand miles, anyway? We came this far."
Finn nodded a little in Clarke's peripheral vision, and she turned to look at him. He noticed her glance and shrugged. "Bet you're excited, huh?"
Clarke thought back to her soulmate, how she'd refused to respond. How she knew nothing at all about her, really, except for her appreciation for art. "I... I don't know."
"You don't have to lie to me, Chief. It's supposed to be some big thing, right? The person you're meant to be with. What wouldn't be exciting about that?"
Clarke looked ahead of them at Octavia's beaming face. She moved closer to Finn and tried to lower her voice without making it too obvious. "Have you ever been excited and terrified at the same time?"
Finn smirked. "I think I know a little bit about that. They don't call me Spacewalker for nothing."
"Not really the same," Clarke said slowly, "but I hope that trip was worth it."
"Worth it?" Finn asked. “Worth the lock-down or getting to go on this vacation?” She turned to see him looking at her with a curious expression, the corner of his lip curled up. After a moment of silence, he shrugged and focused up ahead of them again, carefully sidestepping a patch of brightly colored mushrooms. "I don't regret it. I'd do it again."
Clarke frowned. "Even knowing what you do now and how much it jeopardized peoples' lives?" Were there people who just didn't care? She hadn't expected that from Finn. Although, who was she kidding? She barely knew him. "That's pretty low."
Finn took a deep breath, not looking at her. The path ahead of them got brighter as the trees started thinning out, and Octavia looked back at them excitedly. Clarke gave her a weak smile and tried not to feel bad when her friend's face dimmed in response.
Finn reached out and touched her arm gently. Clarke stiffened, immediately remembering the quick motions she'd have to go through to throw him off and onto the ground. A grab here, a twist there, shifting her weight, and boom, it'd be over in barely a second. The part of her mind actually in charge of decisions maintained the self-control not to do that, though, and she simply stopped her movement and stared at him.
"Some things are worth it," he said. "Some things are crazy and dangerous, and you don't really know what's going to happen after, but they're worth it." There was an intensity in his eyes that Clarke was wholly unprepared for after knowing him for just a few hours, and as he took a step closer-- for what purpose, she didn't know-- she immediately took a step back and shrugged off his hand. He let his arm drop to his side. "Haven't you ever felt that way?"
Clarke remembered a scrap of paper in her pocket with a meeting place. She remembered two ignorant women whispering things they didn't know about. She remembered standing on a table and scrubbing her make-up off her face.
Finn had done what he had because he'd wanted a few moments of pleasure in his life. When Clarke was feeling bored, she would convince people to watch dumb movies with her or go sock skating in the hallways. Not… that.
What they’d done had nothing in common.
She stared him in the eye. "No," she said, expression cold. "I haven't."
Octavia called out from up ahead. Clarke turned in that direction, no longer able to see the others through the light pouring through the trees. When she turned back, Finn looked like she'd slapped him across the face.
"We can't let them get too far ahead," she said. He frowned and looked like he wanted to say something, then shook his head and motioned for her to go first. Clarke didn't wait to smooth over the hurt feelings she'd caused.
It was a quite a few steps before she heard him start following her.
Stepping out of the tree-line, it took a few blinks for her eyes to adjust to the bright afternoon sun, but when she did, Clarke found herself speechless. It was a river.
Water. So much water.
Octavia bounced around on the riverbank, whooping and cheering. Wells had taken off his jacket and now held it in one hand. His face was tilted to the sun, and as Clarke neared she could see his closed eyes and the serene smile on his face as he soaked in the warmth.
All the cold and ugly feelings she'd had just a moment before melted away. She turned back with a smile for Finn, to see him looking back at her just as brightly. He stepped close and brushed his shoulder against hers playfully.
"That's a sight for sore eyes," he said.
"I know. I never thought I'd see so much water in one place." Finn chuckled at her words and Clarke gave him a curious look. "What?"
"Nothing, Chief." He paused, then tilted his head curiously in her direction. “Your face…” he said.
Clarke reached up on instinct, feeling around to see if she’d gotten something on it. Her fingers felt nothing, but as she focused she could feel the telltale prickling on her face, a chill that didn’t match up with the heat of the sun. “What’s happening?”
“The… mask is disappearing, that’s all,” he said. “No big deal.”
Clarke’s hand stilled. Her first thought was that this was not a normal time for her soulmate to be bathing (which was what Clarke had begun to assume her brief moments with a clear face were). Her second thought was that it was ridiculous for her to assume to know her soulmate’s schedule, and she let her hand drop with a sigh.
“Oh,” she said lamely. “Yeah, probably just taking a break.”
Finn chuckled softly. “Well I’m grateful for it,” he said. “You look… beautiful.”
Clarke swallowed, not sure how to respond to that. The way he was looking at her did make her feel… something. But…
Finn turned away to look back out at the others and Clarke was saved from having to respond. “Look,” He grinned and pointed. “It feels like things might actually be alright."
Clarke nodded after a moment and took a slow breath. Consciously deciding to let the moment go, she followed his finger with her gaze. She blinked. Octavia was tugging at her shirt, pulling it up and over her head. "Oh no."
Finn laughed. Clarke sighed and gave him a stern look. "What? I'm totally feeling it. Give me two seconds and I'll join her." He shrugged off one of his jacket shoulders and Clarke took that as her chance to leave.
"Octavia!" she called. Octavia only paused to look back at her, pulling her shirt off and dropping it on a nearby rock. She grinned and raised her brows at Clarke mischievously. Her eyes briefly glanced at Clarke’s now clear face, but she didn’t seem fazed by it. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" Octavia spread her arms wide, reveling in the sun soaking into her skin, only her bra left on her upper half. "Live a little, Clarke! We're here! We're free!" Her hands went to the waistband of her pants, and Clarke realized she intended to shed those as well. Octavia looked at Clarke again, offering up a friendly challenge in the curve of her brow and the smirk on her lips. "I know you haven't relaxed in ages. If you were waiting for a sign... this is it."
Clarke could only watch, slightly slack-jawed at the audacity, as Octavia shimmied the pants down her hips and thighs, then kicked them off.
Wells moved up behind Clarke and clapped her shoulder. "Yeah." She blinked, looking at him, only to see an amused look on her best friend's face as he reached over to nudge her jaw. "Being free never looked so good." Clarke felt her cheeks flare up before she rolled her eyes and scoffed.
"Wells Jaha. What bad influences were you spending time with while I was away?" She folded her arms over her chest sternly, but she couldn't help the way her lips curled up. It's not like she could really argue. "Keep your eyes up."
"Yes ma'am." He gave her a mock salute, eyes twinkling. "And where should I look at that?"
Turning, Clarke blinked and then looked up at the sky in exasperation. Finn was walking proudly towards the water's edge in just his underwear. "I feel like he wants to be seen."
"He definitely does, but maybe not by me."
Clarke made a face and pointedly looked away. She was not going to encourage that. Instead, she scanned the trees around them, still not completely over the feeling of being watched earlier. Wells sat down on a boulder nearby, stretching out in the sun. He was quiet for a moment, and they both could hear a splash as one of the others jumped in. When she looked back, Finn was in the water, grinning wildly.
“Come on in, the water’s fine!” He called out. Thankfully, for once, Octavia was the less reckless one, and she had gone in wading instead of jumping right in.
It was getting hot, so Clarke slipped off her jacket and pulled the map out from where she’d tucked it. She sat down on a rock near Wells and unrolled it, trying to place where they were now. They hadn’t gotten that far from camp, and as Clarke trailed her finger along the map she frowned a little. “There’s not supposed to be a river here,” she said.
Wells tilted his head in her direction, shielding his eyes with his hand. “What?”
Clarke held out the map for him to take. “There’s no river anywhere near here.” She looked out at the others as Wells studied the map, watching Octavia and Finn splashing at each other. Octavia shrieked, running away from the wave that Finn created, only to side-step and run right back and tackle him in the middle of his victory cheer. They both tumbled into the water, Finn’s arms pinwheeling helplessly. A laugh escaped Clarke unbidden, and Wells looked up at the others’ antics and then her with a pleased grin.
“It’s been a while since I’ve heard that,” he said, handing the map back. Clarke felt her face heat up unexpectedly, then pushed her hair back out of her face and looked at the map to busy herself. “And seeing your face like this is a blast from the past. Should I be ready for you to start some trouble?” Clarke could feel the weight of his gaze leave her as he looked out at the others again, and she breathed out in relief.
“Not me,” she said, following his gaze. “You could be a troublemaker though.”
“Like I would have even thought of half the things we got up to on my own.”
Clarke smirked. “That’s what you wanted everyone to think. I knew better, though.” Wells shook his head beside her, and Clarke could see the smile out of the corner of her eye. “Remember that time we—?” Clarke was distracted by something in the water. She held a hand over her eyes to shade out the sun, then stood up suddenly. Wells was only just looking over towards her to see what had made her stop when she started moving, dropping the map in her haste. “Octavia!’ She shouted.
“Clarke?” Wells’ voice faded from her mind. All that mattered at the moment was Octavia’s safety.
The water fight had stopped, and Octavia was on her back further out in the water, face turned towards the sun. She startled at the sound of Clarke’s voice, head dropping below the surface momentarily. When she came back up, sputtering, Clarke shouted again. “Octavia, get out of the water!”
Finn was on the shore, checking out the rocks, but at the sound of the commotion, he looked out at Octavia and immediately sprang into action as well. “Holy shit,” he exclaimed. Not far from Octavia, a long dark shape was becoming more visible in the water, quickly approaching. Clarke was still too far out, but Finn splashed into the water, heedless of his own safety, and reached for the younger girl who still wasn’t aware of what danger she was in.
By the time Octavia turned, her scream of terror became a scream of pain as the creature’s wide rows of sharp teeth bit into her thigh. Finn grabbed onto Octavia, trying to get her out of the water despite her thrashing. The creature held on tightly, ignoring Octavia’s hands flailing against its head. She kicked out and screamed again as the teeth dug in deeper.
“Come on,” Finn grunted, letting go with one hand only to immediately latch back on when the creature almost jerked Octavia out of his hold entirely. “Anyone? Help!”
Clarke splashed into the water finally, almost toppling over headfirst as she grabbed rocks with both hands. She hesitated to throw one, not wanting to accidentally hit either Finn or Octavia, and instead took the few extra steps to them. The time seemed to stretch for forever, and she focused all her effort on the predicting just where the creature would shift. The weight of the rock in her hand was satisfying as she let out a loud cry and bashed it against the creature’s head. It startled it enough that it let go of its death grip on Octavia’s leg, and the sudden lack of resistance had Finn pulling Octavia almost entirely out of the water as he spun her away.
The creature was only stunned for a moment then tried to lunge again, but Clarke anticipated that and came down on it again with the rock in her other hand. She only grazed it, feeling the slice of a sharp tooth against her hand as it dodged. She turned, trying to make her escape, but the trunk of its large body slammed against her legs and Clarke lost her footing. She went down, tumbling bodily into the more than waist-high water, and felt all the breath knocked out of her as she was submerged for the first time in her life. Disoriented, she struggled to open her eyes and see where the creature had gone, but soon all she could think about was the panic of not being able to breathe. She dropped her rocks and flailed about, hands finally making purchase on the soft river bed and pushing up.
When she resurfaced, it was not graceful. She heaved in a desperate breath despite being under for mere seconds, and her eyes blinked at the pain of the dirty water. She saw the dark shape in a split second, somehow very aware of how wide the creature’s mouth was, and how many teeth it had. Her brain froze completely, but her body moved on instinct, throwing herself out of the path enough that the creature just clipped her side, tearing her shirt and leaving a gash, but only a shallow one. She went under the surface again.
There was a muffled thump, and the screech of pain from the creature that reverberated through the water. She scrambled again, desperately trying to get away from whatever was happening. Someone splashed passed her, and Clarke pushed up out of the water again, her hair falling heavily in front of her eyes and obscuring her vision. There was another screech of pain from behind her, and a low grunt of effort, and Clarke thanked who she could only guess was Wells for thinking quickly.
Someone else splashed in front of her and reached for her, his hand wrapping around her bicep and pulling surprisingly hard to get her up and out of the water. There was a thrashing sound behind them. “Clarke,” Finn’s voice held an edge of panic as he guided her up and out of the water. She’d expected him to stop once they were out, but he kept tugging, and Clarke pushed her hair out of her face with her free hand.
“I’m okay,” she said. “Stop, hold on.”
Finn ignored her. “Clarke,” his voice was low, as if trying to keep someone else from hearing. “We need to…”
The thrashing behind her stopped, and Clarke blinked the water out of her eyes enough to make out the figure of Finn in front of her. She looked behind him to see Octavia sprawled out on the ground, Wells supporting her and holding his shirt against her leg. Octavia’s eyes were glued to whatever was happening behind Clarke, and Clarke’s foggy brain suddenly realized that if they were all in front of her, that meant that Wells couldn’t be the one who’d saved her from the creature. She sucked in a breath and turned, jerking her arm out of Finn’s grasp.
Behind her, a man stood with his back to them, thigh deep in the water. His muscles flexed as he twisted the spear he’d lodged into the eel-like creature’s head with a decisive jerk, making sure the thing was dead. Clarke found herself standing taller, taking in the odd assortment of clothing that covered his form. A worn leather jacket and pants, belts and buckles holding pouches and small weapons. A thick fur shawl across his shoulders. Everything screamed readiness for a fight, whether that was against man or animal.
It was terrifying.
It was familiar.
Clarke tensed as the man slowly began to turn, obviously aware that he was being observed. When his eyes finally met hers, Clarke could hear the gasp let out behind her, and only barely managed to keep one in herself. Across his carefully blank face were the exact markings that she knew Octavia bore herself. She’d seen it enough times to know the pattern better than she knew her own.
His eyes flickered briefly towards Octavia, a flash of something yearning in them before he looked back to Clarke and closed his expression again. They stood that way for a moment.
Finally, he spoke gruffly. “Yu. Chon yu bilaik?
Clarke felt something uncoil within her at the sound of the gruff language. This was the first time she’d heard it with her own ears, and yet she knew exactly what he said. The dreams were real.
Who was she? He had asked. How could she even explain?
“Ai…” She paused, licking her lips. “Ai laik Clarke Griffin. Osir don slip daun kom skai.” She spoke carefully, having never actually spoken this language out loud to anyone before. It wasn’t the smoothest attempt, but she was sure that at least she’d gotten her point across. There wasn’t a lot she could say other than that they’d come from the sky. Not without going into the whole story.
The man’s eyes widened. Behind her, Clarke could hear Finn’s voice muttering, “What the hell?” Clarke ignored him. The man studied her carefully for a moment longer, his eyes trailing across her face. He looked confused, as if he’d expected something else. She continued on regardless.
“Mochof,” Clarke said, almost having forgotten to thank him. She struggled to find the words to express herself while he watched her warily. “Yu don frag em op.” You killed it. She frowned, hating that she barely had a child’s vocabulary.
The man finally shifted, looking around at the trees surrounding them warily. They were out in the open here, Clarke realized. Easily seen and watched. She kept her eye on the man in front of her, suddenly a little suspicious despite him having saved them. Where had he come from? Had he been following them? When he pulled the spear out of the creature with a decisive yank, she couldn’t help but take a small step back.
He paused, jaw clenching. “Pro.” You’re welcome. He stepped closer carefully, and this time Clarke did not retreat. Finn and Wells both made noises of protest, but Clarke held up a hand without turning to face them, fully expecting them to stop. The man with the spear was the one who stopped in his tracks, though, eyes widening as he looked between the gesture and something in her expression. The attention caused Clarke’s hand to drop to her side self-consciously. “Yu…” he whispered, a question in his tone even as he didn’t finish his sentence. “Heda?” Clarke didn’t know that word. It must have meant something to him though, because he immediately looked away again to eye the trees, this time nervously. He slung his spear into a holder at his back and held out his open hands non-threateningly.
Clarke furrowed her brow, not really understanding at all. She wasn’t even sure she trusted this man, but he seemed to know something that Clarke desperately wanted to know as well. “What does that mean?” she asked, slipping back into English in frustration and not really expecting an answer.
“Beja,” the man said softly. “Please.” The repeated word, this time in English, made Clarke’s jaw drop. She didn’t remember any dreams with any hint of English. It had always been the other language, Trigedasleng. She would’ve remembered English, wouldn’t she? How much did she know about her soulmate’s people after all? She was frozen as he came almost within lunging range, if he’d wanted to. “Not here. Come with me.”
Finn stepped right next to her, his stance tense. His throat bobbed as he swallowed nervously, but otherwise tried to keep his composure. “Clarke,” he said lowly, keeping his attention on the threat in front of him. “What is going on?”
“We need to go,” the man urged again.
Behind them, Clarke could hear Octavia whimper a little as she struggled to stand, Wells protesting. The man’s eyes moved to watch the other girl, his expression surprisingly open with concern.
“There’s no way in hell I’m not going and you know it,” Octavia said, voice shaky but determined. Clarke wrapped her arms around herself loosely, unsure how this had all happened so fast.
“I will carry you.” It took a moment for Clarke to realize the man wasn’t speaking to her this time. She turned from the stranger to look at her friend just a few steps behind her. Wells’ shirt was bloody where she held it against her leg, and she limped another step forward stubbornly.
“I can walk,” Octavia said.
“I will carry you.”
When Finn moved to put himself in between the man and Octavia, Clarke put a hand on his arm, stopping him. “Finn,” she said, jaw working as she tried to figure out what to say. Finally, she sighed. “You don’t need to come. You and Wells can go back to camp, tell the others to be careful, but that we’re okay.”
Wells spoke before Finn could. “No way. I’m not leaving you.”
“Neither am I,” Finn said. “But are we really sure we should do this?” He looked warily as Octavia was finally convinced to allow herself to be picked up and cradled, the man’s actions deliberately gentle.
“Come,” the man said. He began to walk towards the tree line. Clarke could tell that despite his quick pace, he was taking extra care not to jostle the girl in his arms.
Clarke closed her eyes for a moment, then steeled herself despite her worry. If nothing else, she wasn’t about to let Octavia get kidnapped. “We’re going.” She pushed her still-wet hair out of her eyes again and followed, wincing as the wound on her side stung. Along the way, she picked up the map and handed her jacket to Wells. “You two might want to get more clothes on. I don’t know what we’re going to run into.”
The stranger paused at the trees, clearly impatient.
“Whatever it is, I’m not sure we’re ready,” Wells said softly. Clarke gave him a small smile. She was nervous too, but there was the electric current of something else surging through her, making everything else almost disappear.
“We’re not,” she said. “But maybe I can finally get some answers.”
Thanks, as always, to my love, who is usually right. This chapter exists largely due to her support and despite my tendency to stare mournfully at blank pages that refuse to write themselves.
Thank you for reading!
Lincoln answers some questions for Clarke and her friends, sparking hope that more answers are in reach.
Bellamy proves to be an obstacle in her path to finding out more and keeping the 100 alive, but he's not the only one.
Walks in the forest keep turning out way worse than they were meant to. Good thing Clarke has people watching her back.
The cave was clearly not meant to house more than one or two people. The grounder, whose name Octavia had discovered was Lincoln, carefully concealed the entrance once they were in. Three of them found places to rest in uncomfortable corners and on uncomfortable rocks. Octavia was given the pile of furs that was obviously used as a bed, and Lincoln immediately dug around in a pouch and pulled out some dried red plant matter and a pouch of herbs. Clarke was surprised that she recognized it as a medicinal plant from Earth Studies class, and that Lincoln, who seemed to be obviously more warrior than healer, seemed to know at least a little bit about herbal remedies and first aid.
“Could we talk about why we’re here now?” Finn stood, semi-stooped in one corner, his face illuminated by the light shining through a hole in the ceiling. Clarke shifted on the semi-flat rock she’d chosen to sit on, then looked over at Lincoln, hoping for some answers herself.
He glanced at them from where he was making a paste in a small bowl, then looked away without his facial expression so much as twitching. “Pull the shirt away,” Lincoln said quietly to Octavia instead. She winced but did as he asked, revealing a still sluggishly bleeding wound on her thigh. Lincoln carefully pressed the mixture in his bowl onto the wound, making Octavia bite her lip and look up at the ceiling to keep a whimper from escaping.
When the wound was fully covered, he set down his bowl and gently took the bloody shirt from her grip. He found the cleanest portion he could, folded it, and placed it back onto her thigh.
They shared a long look, and Octavia placed her hand carefully on top of his.
Finn sighed in the corner but didn’t say anything. There was a silent agreement that as anxious as they all were, Octavia’s health was the priority.
Finally, Lincoln stood up and turned to the group as a whole. “Normally, you would have never known I was here. I should not be speaking to you at all.” He gave a hard stare at the two boys, then hesitated as he looked at Clarke. After a heavy moment, he looked back down to Octavia and his whole demeanor softened again. “But I will be allowed this exception.” He gazed at Octavia, and Clarke thought that maybe they would lapse into silence again, simply staring at each other in longing.
Clarke wanted to ask Octavia what she felt at this moment. Was there a spark when she first saw him? Was there a connection between them now that the others couldn’t see?
Would she feel anything when she met her own soulmate?
Lincoln pulled himself away from Octavia’s gaze reluctantly. “We can talk now, but we should be quiet.” His eyes scanned the various openings into the cave, however small they were.
“Quiet?” Wells asked. He looked out at the blocked entrance skeptically. “Who are you expecting out here?”
“Azgeda,” Lincoln answered simply. The word sparked something in Clarke’s memory, and she frowned. “There were sightings of scouts in the area recently. Not far from here.”
Something like fear curled around Clarke’s chest at the thought. She knew, without being completely aware of who the Azgeda were, that this was not good for the kids that had come down on the dropship.
“What is Azgeda?” Wells asked.
“The Azgeda are… a clan that lives far in the north. They should not be here.” Lincoln scowled. “They are playing with fire, coming into Heda’s territory uninvited.”
That word again. “What does that mean?” Clarke asked. “Heda.”
Lincoln gazed at her steadily, weighing his words. “Heda is our leader,” he said. “The commander of our people.”
Clarke frowned at that explanation. Maybe there was an alternate translation?
Finn looked between them. “And who are your people?”
“Trikru,” Clarke breathed out. She blinked, then realized that she’d been the one to speak. “Right?”
Lincoln tilted his head curiously. “She is Trikru, but she brought all the clans together under her guidance. How do you know these things?” He looked around the room, wary again. “You are not from here. You speak Gonasleng like the Maunon, but you…” His eyes pierced Clarke again. “You speak Trigedasleng. You know things you should not know. And I saw you… before.”
Clarke pressed up against the wall of the cave as Lincoln leaned forward. “You saw me?”
“From afar. I saw your face. It looked like…” Lincoln shook his head. “Who are you really?”
It looked like what? “We came from the sky,” Clarke said, pointing towards the roof of the cave. “You saw us, right? Like a… shooting star? We’re not... spies.”
Finn crossed his arms in the corner. “They didn’t even think there were people down here before we got here. They pretty much expected us to die immediately.”
“They didn’t…” Wells sighed. He shrugged and leaned back against the wall wearily. “No one has been here in generations because of the radiation.”
“Radiation?” Lincoln spoke the word slowly, clearly not familiar with the term. His brow furrowed, and then he was staring at Clarke again. “You say all of that, and yet you do know of us. So which is the lie?”
“Lincoln.” Octavia’s voice saying his name caused the grounder to jolt visibly and he turned to look at her. Octavia smiled, one hand reaching up as if to touch him before she adjusted the makeshift bandage on her leg instead. “Neither of them are lies.” She looked over at Clarke. “Clarke is… different.”
Clarke shook her head. Octavia said that as if she were special or something. Just because Octavia never had dreams like that didn’t mean Clarke was the only one. Part of Clarke still didn’t even believe the dreams were really real. Nevermind that the evidence that at least some of it was real was literally staring her down right now.
Lincoln’s face was once again impossible to read.
“How do you know how to speak that… Tree-guh-duh stuff, Chief?” Finn asked. Wells reached out and smacked Finn in the shin. “What? Like you’re not dying to know.”
Clarke hadn’t looked away from Lincoln. For some reason, she didn’t want to tell him or the boys about the dreams. She felt protective of them, of what she had learned of her soulmate through them. She didn’t want to share that with anyone.
There wasn’t any other way to explain though, and it was clear that Octavia was not going to be shy about it even if Clarke was. They might have to have a talk about being careful about what they shared with Lincoln later. Clarke was sure that wasn’t going to go over well.
“I have dreams,” Clarke said finally. She broke her gaze with Lincoln and looked up at a beam of sunlight instead. “I’ve had them for a few years now. That’s how I know things.”
The cave was quiet for a moment.
“ Dreams?” Wells hit Finn again, this time in the stomach. Clarke winced a little at Finn’s tone. Of course they thought she was crazy. She probably would too.
“They felt like memories.”
Lincoln was silent, and Clarke was too nervous to look at him. She had no idea if this sort of thing was known in their culture. It definitely wasn’t something she’d ever learned about on the Ark. And if it wasn’t known, then what reason would he have for believing her?
“These dreams— memories— you were Trikru?” Clarke finally looked at Lincoln’s still impassive face. She nodded. “Do you remember any people?”
Clarke’s expression turned inward as she searched her mind. Most specifics were a little fuzzy, but one face stuck out to her clearly. There were many memories of training, and almost always with the same woman. “I remember… Anya.” She didn’t see the way Lincoln tensed at the name, too focused on her thoughts. “She’s… tall, blonde. Harsh, but I know that she cares about me—” Clarke blinked, then shook her head, embarrassed. “—about her. My soulmate.” She looked up at Lincoln, to see him looking at her with that same almost reverent look he’d given her on the bank of the river. “I—” Clarke had to swallow, concerned. “Do you know her?”
“Sha,” he said. He took a deep breath, then seemed to come to a decision. “Yes, I know her. And I think I know who your keryon is.”
Clarke’s eyes widened. “Who? Can you take me to her?”
“I must,” Lincoln said. “We must go to TonDC. They will be able to know for sure. There will be better protection there.” He started gathering things, fully expecting there to be no arguments.
“Wait, hold on,” Wells said. Clarke’s heart was beating fast at this sudden turn, unsure what to even think. She looked to Wells, who had stood and held both hands up in a placating motion. “What do you mean we have to go now? We can’t just leave. We don’t even know you.”
Lincoln scowled at Wells. “I cannot let her just stay out here, exposed. If I do not bring her and she is who I think she is... If something were to happen to her, they would kill me, and…” Lincoln’s jaw clenched again. “I would deserve it.”
“What?” Octavia asked. She looked between Lincoln and Clarke. “Look, nothing will happen to Clarke, but why would you deserve to die if it did?”
Lincoln closed his eyes and paused in his efforts to pack up. He stood up and put his hand on the low ceiling of the cave, looking around at the others warily. “I believe that…” Lincoln paused, clearly debating with himself about how much to say. He sighed. “Your keryon is most likely our Heda. As I said, the commander of our people.”
Clarke leaned back against the wall of the cave, feeling a heaviness settle within her. She expected this to sound ridiculous, but it didn’t.
“The leader of your people?” Finn asked. “Do you usually choose important people via dream?”
Lincoln bared his teeth at Finn. “You will show respect.”
Finn scowled in response but managed to keep himself from speaking again. Wells opened his mouth, then shut it as Lincoln’s sharp gaze turned on him.
When Lincoln seemed sure that they were properly cowed, he continued. “I haven’t heard of such a thing before, but the spirit of Heda works in mysterious ways. It would want them to be united. If it showed you our people…” Lincoln looked at Clarke. “Then the spirit is strong within her, to bring you to her from so far.”
Clarke didn’t even know what to say to that. Spirit? It would almost seem laughable if she didn’t have literal dreams about her soulmate that she couldn’t explain.
“And your life is less important than your Heda’s soulmate?” Wells asked carefully.
“I would die for Heda and all she’s done,” Lincoln said. He looked up at Wells fiercely. “If I could have united her and her other half and failed? I couldn’t live with myself, even if they’d let me.”
Clarke shook her head in disbelief.
“We don’t even know if it’s really her,” Wells said quietly. “There’s no need to talk like that.”
Lincoln began packing things once more. “That’s not a chance I’m willing to take. Not with Azgeda scouts in the area. They might have already seen her. There’s no time.”
Octavia laid back and looked at the ceiling, a pained expression on her face. “Can we wait for a day?”
Lincoln slowed, then stopped, looking over at Octavia. Eventually, he dropped to his knees beside her bed. “My keryon,” he said, and reached for her hand.
“I want to go,” Octavia whispered. “I want to meet your people. Can we wait? My leg…”
Clarke couldn’t see Lincoln’s face, but he could see the way he struggled in the tensing of his back and shoulders. She reached up and rubbed at her face. “I can’t just go,” Clarke said, finally speaking up for herself. “What about the others? We can’t leave them if they’re in danger.”
“They don’t even know what we’ve found,” Finn said.
Wells nodded pensively. “We should check on Bellamy.”
Octavia rubbed her thumb against the back of Lincoln’s hand, her expression concerned. Lincoln remained silent.
Clarke groaned. “Bellamy. We need to make sure he hasn’t done anything stupid.” She looked at the back of Lincoln’s head. “If you are sure that I need to go, then I’ll go with you willingly. Tomorrow.”
“It’s not safe,” Lincoln said, though he sounded like he’d already given in. After another moment, he spoke again, sounding like he was forcing the words out of his mouth. “I will go with you. At least to the tree line. I will not fail Heda. She’s been alone for too long.”
The last sentence hit Clarke like a physical blow. She turned away from Lincoln and looked at Wells and Finn for support.
“So has Clarke,” Wells said. He spoke to her, not to Lincoln, as he continued. “But if this Heda really is the leader you say she is, she’ll understand.”
Their group was quiet as they made their way back to camp, trusting Lincoln to guide them. He knew the area better than they did, and he was more than aware of where their group had crashed.
Clarke was pensive as she walked, not nearly as excited about the surroundings as she had been before. There was too much to think about. A soulmate who may or may not be the leader of a coalition of clans down on an Earth that the Ark had insisted was unpopulated. A whole dropship full of teenagers who had no idea what they were getting into, and definitely weren’t prepared to survive on a quiet planet, much less one filled with politics of its own. A rival for the leader of their ragtag group who seemed to think the best thing to do was to let everyone back on the Ark suffocate to death for their poor leadership, and who had enough charisma to potentially convince all the children that came down with him that he knew best.
She looked at Octavia, cradled comfortably in Lincoln’s arms as he walked, her head resting against his shoulder. At least she seemed happy. Clarke knew that no matter what Lincoln’s feelings were about the rest of them, he would make sure that Octavia was safe.
Finn walked along, kicking at every rock and pine cone that fell in front of him. He didn’t look angry, but he definitely wasn’t pleased.
Wells looked as pensive as Clarke did, but when she looked his way, he met her gaze and gave her a half-smile and a nod. She managed the same. Neither of them spoke.
All of the information they’d gained felt like way too much responsibility, and she’d already been feeling the strain before. She needed to sleep.
She might need to cry too.
In the distance, they could hear the sounds of laughter. It was beginning to get dark, and it seemed like most of the kids had gathered in the dropship clearing, but they definitely weren’t in any mood to stop celebrating. A fire flickered in view, large enough that when Clarke looked up at the sky, she could see the wisps of smoke above the treetops.
She wasn’t prepared for this level of responsibility. These kids had no idea what was coming.
Lincoln stopped walking, his eyes on the same trail of smoke. After a moment, he turned to face them. “I’ll leave you here. Your people are…”
“Not ready,” Clarke said, at the same time as Octavia said, “Idiots.”
Clarke made a face but eventually nodded. “We need to get them to understand.”
“Do you really think we’re in danger right now?” Finn asked. He didn’t sound like he believed the answer would be ‘no’, but that he hoped it would be. “We just got here.”
“Even if the Azgeda have not found you, the animals still might,” Lincoln said. Finn winced and rubbed at the back of his head. “I will check the perimeter. Listen for my call. I will let you know if there is trouble.”
Lincoln nodded at Wells, then gently set Octavia down. He put a hand to his mouth and let out a loud bird call.
“Oh, right,” Wells said. “Got it.”
“Try to keep the fire smaller,” Lincoln said. “And the noise quieter.” He pulled his spear out of the holder on his back. “I will be here after daybreak.” The intense look he shot her was purely for Clarke, and she took a breath and nodded.
“I’ll be here.”
“Me too,” Octavia said, hobbling over to sling an arm over Clarke’s shoulders and giving her most of her weight. “Hopefully with a stick I can use as a cane or something.”
“I’ll find one for you.”
Finn rolled his eyes at Lincoln’s declaration and started walking back towards camp. Clarke watched him go, unsure whether to talk to him about everything or just let him do whatever sulking he seemed to need to do. Whatever the answer, it could at least wait. Wells came to Octavia’s other side and let her use him for balance as well.
“Let’s go find out what Bellamy’s been up to,” Octavia said. “Forward march, my throne bearers.”
The sentiment got a small chuckle from Clarke. She gave Lincoln one last look. “Thank you,” she said. “Good luck.”
“You as well.”
He took off with a fast loping gait and was soon lost in the darkness of the trees.
The three of them walked slowly towards camp, Octavia doing her best not to wince with each step.
“Just to be clear,” Wells said. “That’s your soulmate right?”
Octavia laughed. “Yeah. Yeah, he is.”
They all laughed this time and finally made their way into the clearing.
“What the hell are you doing?” They heard Finn yell before they saw him.
Bellamy and his flunkies had set up their court just away from the fire. Their seats were elevated above the rest of the camp, and they lounged around them as if they were royalty.
They had done some of what Clarke had asked for. The perimeter was starting to come together, logs placed as barricades around the dropship, making use of the boulders as natural defenses where they could. Several kids were in positions near the barricades, keeping an eye out with sharpened sticks.
As they neared, however, it was clear that at least some of what she’d said had been completely ignored.
Someone had managed to kill an animal, and there was the tantalizing smell of freshly cooked meat coming from the fire. A line had formed for those who were hungry, and for the most part, people were waiting patiently.
Clarke looked around at the kids who already had food. They were all digging in, many of them laughing and in good cheer.
None of them had the wristbands that sent bio-metrics back to the Ark. That let the Ark know that they were still alive.
As far as the Ark knew, every one of them without a wristband was dead.
Clarke’s heart clenched painfully, and she almost dropped Octavia with the realization.
“Are you trying to get everyone killed up there?” Finn yelled again. Now they could see him, being held back by two of the older boys as he tried to get up into Bellamy’s face. For his part, Bellamy’s expression was smug, and he barely reacted to the way Finn was going red in the face. “There are good people there! If they think we’re dead… you heard what Clarke said!”
“Yeah, I heard,” Bellamy said, making sure that his voice rose enough to reach most of the camp. “It’s the good people part that I disagree with.” The group of boys around Bellamy jeered, supporting his words. “Or do you really think good people would lock up all the kids who weren’t perfect, and then send them down here to die?” This time there were more supporting cheers from those who were already eating and waiting in line. “Or shove anyone who wanted a better life out of an airlock, just to keep the status quo?”
Finn pushed forward, but one of the boys got tired of him and punched him in the gut, sending him down to his knees in front of them.
Bellamy smirked, holding his hands out to address his cheering populace. “Those aren’t the kind of people I want here. Do you?” He waited for the chorus of expected ‘no!’s to die down. “So let them rot up there. They think we’ll die anyway. We’re just giving them what they expected.”
“Who are you?” Octavia’s voice rang out over the din, and dozens of pairs of eyes turned to the three of them. Bellamy’s head whipped around, and he stepped forward towards his sister, paling when he noticed she was being supported by Clarke and Wells.
“Octavia…” He said, moving past the boys that surrounded him and trying to get to her.
“Who are you?” she repeated. She pulled away from Clarke and Wells, despite their protests, and hobbled forward on her own, fire in her gaze. “Because the Bell I know would never say something like that.”
Bellamy halted in his steps. “O…” He looked around at all the people looking at them. “Why shouldn’t I? After what they did to Mom? After what they did to you ?”
“That doesn’t mean they deserve to die, ” Octavia screamed. “Why does anyone have to die?” She took another step and winced, the pain causing her to bend over. Clarke caught her before she could fall, focusing on her friend instead of the hatred she was currently feeling for Bellamy. Octavia shook her head. “You sound just like them right now.”
Bellamy didn’t look like he knew what to say to that.
Clarke looked back at Wells and motioned to Octavia. He nodded, taking Octavia’s weight onto his own shoulders so that Clarke could step forward.
“I thought you were going to take care of them,” she said.
“I did,” Bellamy said tersely. “You’re the one who didn’t take care of my sister.”
“Remember when I told you that the people up there weren’t the enemy, Blake?” Clarke stepped closer, her voice low and tight with anger. “Take a look at what the wildlife can do.” She motioned towards Octavia’s wound, then her own side. “Then really think about this: there are people down here. We met one.”
There were murmurs from those around them who were close enough to hear. Clarke took some pleasure in being able to shock them out of sticking their heads in the ground and pretending like they were the only ones in the world. Or the only ones in the world that mattered.
“You met one,” he repeated dumbly. “Where are they?”
“Out there,” Clarke waved her hand. “Trying to protect us from ourselves.” Bellamy looked about ready to protest, and Clarke could already guess what he would say. Some more fear-mongering about how that grounder was the real threat, about how they shouldn’t just let him wander around, about how they needed to question him for information. Clarke clenched her teeth and fists until they ached. “Because you sure as hell don’t seem to care about what’s at stake here,” she almost growled. “I told you that we needed to be prepared, and you’re over here planning the genocide of our own people instead of taking that seriously. You trying to kill them all is going to get literally everyone killed: us included.”
“She’s right, Bell,” Octavia said, glaring at him. “And guess what? That person we found? My soulmate. Mine.”
“What?” Bellamy’s eyes went wild. “You don’t know that for sure.” He looked to Clarke accusingly. “You let some random guy convince her that they were soulmates?”
Octavia laughed loudly. “Oh float you, Bell. You’re just upset because this is something that you can’t control.”
The group of boys behind Bellamy looked uneasy at the way Bellamy was unraveling in front of them. He hadn’t had any real challengers while their little group had been away, so it’d been easy to think he was the undisputed leader of this expedition.
Clarke was tired. This had been a very long day and it was getting dark now. She didn’t want to fight them all in order to keep them alive, but she also couldn’t just leave them to their own devices. Her mother had once teased her about wanting to help everyone, before they’d fallen out and while she’d been determined to learn every useful skill at once, and Clarke really wished she hadn’t been so right. She wished she didn’t care so much.
“We’re done with this,” Clarke said, turning away from Bellamy and addressing the rest of them. “Someone reduce that fire. We’re sending up a smoke signal to anyone who might want to hurt us.” She didn’t wait for anyone to comply, trusting that someone would have the brains to listen. “Anyone who hasn’t eaten yet will get food, whether that’s this meat or the rations we were sent down with. No one else loses a wristband.”
Two young girls near her looked ashamed, but Clarke knew they weren’t really to blame. They didn’t know any better, not really.
“And since the perimeter is not secure yet, no one sleeps outside of the dropship. Everyone older than 15 is going to be on watch at some point tonight. Decide now whether you’re tired or can stay up for another four hours.”
A few people moved to the fire, and Clarke noted with some relief that Monty and his friend were among them. They still had their wristbands, which meant that there were some people who were willing to listen to reason. The rest of the camp seemed frozen, waiting for some other impetus.
Clarke stared at them all, then clenched her jaw and looked at Bellamy. His eyes were stormy, and his hand rested lightly at his waist, near the gun he had in its holster.
Maybe normally she’d be scared, but right now she was just too exhausted to indulge his ego.
“If you care even one bit about your sister, you will take your hand away from that thing and you will tell them all exactly what I just did.”
“Why should I listen to you?” Bellamy asked, although there was some hesitation in his voice now. “You’re not in charge here. The Ark isn’t in charge here. And clearly, you couldn’t even keep Octavia safe for a few hours.” His hand rested more heavily on the hilt of his gun. “You don’t know any better than any of us.”
“Will you shut up, Bell?” Octavia said, leaning heavily on Wells now. She clearly needed to lay down and rest. “Just admit that you were wrong. You’re not God here. There are bigger problems.”
Bellamy looked stricken to hear his baby sister so clearly against him. It seemed to be enough to get through to him, though. For now. His hand dropped off his gun and he took a step back. “You heard her,” he said, voice tired. “Get it done.”
He turned away from them without another word, walking to the boys he’d gathered to his cause. There were plenty of glares for Clarke in that group. She caught the eye of Murphy, who stared at her with a mostly blank face. When Clarke refused to look away, he eventually sneered too before turning his back on her.
She rubbed at her face, wishing that things weren’t so complicated. The sight of Octavia sagging where she stood was enough to get her focused again, though, and she took her place on Octavia’s free side and started guiding them into the dropship. “You look like you’re about to pass out,” Clarke said softly. “You okay?”
“Never better,” Octavia said. “How badly did my brother screw up, Clarke?”
Clarke swallowed. She made sure no one else was around but the three of them, then let out a sigh. “I don’t know, O. I’m scared.”
Octavia closed her eyes. “Yeah. Is it bad that I think he’d deserve the consequences?”
Wells snorted next to her.
“No,” Clarke said, “but we’ll try to keep everything from blowing up anyway.”
Her dreams were filled with the sound of hoofbeats on the forest floor. The wind whipped across her face. Her thighs burned with exertion.
They crested a hill, and far in the distance she could see a wisp of smoke.
Her hands tightened on the reins and she urged her horse onward.
Clarke had signed up for the last watch of the night, so she was awake long before daybreak. Wells sat with her in the chilly night air.
“I need you to stay here,” Clarke said, breaking the silence between them.
Wells didn’t turn to look at her. She had a feeling he’d been expecting her to say something like this. “I’m not going to let you go off with him on your own.”
“I need you to keep an eye on Bellamy,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “I don’t trust anyone else with it. Most of these kids can’t even think beyond the fun they can have in a few hours, but you know there are more important things.”
“There’s no one else, Wells. I’d stay, but I…” Clarke trailed off, hating the yearning inside of her that had grown larger than almost everything else overnight. She needed to go. She needed to know. And now she was so close and there was someone who could take her right to her soulmate.
“Are you sure we can trust him?”
Clarke was quiet for a long moment. Wells sighed and turned to look at her this time, dark eyes glinting in the light of the much smaller fire. Clarke gave a small shrug of one shoulder. “I need to go. What good would kidnapping me do, really?”
“Well, if you really are who he says you are, then kind of a lot.”
They looked at each other for a moment, then snickered.
“Yeah, sure, but why would he tell me, then? He could have easily done something yesterday. And there’s Octavia to think about.” Clarke shook her head. “I don’t know, Wells. I think it’s worth the risk.”
Wells’ shoulders slumped a little, and Clarke knew she’d won. It was bittersweet. She didn’t want to leave her oldest friend in the lion’s den, but someone had to be the responsible one.
“I’ll ask for… protection,” Clarke said. “For all of us. Maybe this is a good thing.”
“As long as they’re the kind of people you think they are,” Wells said softly.
Clarke didn’t respond.
Wells let it go. “Are you going to tell Octavia? And Finn?”
“Why do you think I’m telling you now?” she asked. Wells groaned beside her. “Please don’t let O do anything stupid.”
“Clarke, I’m not sure I can stop her. You’re running away with her soulmate.”
“You owe me so many favors.”
“So many. You can start cashing them in when we’re not in danger of dying.”
Wells shook his head again, but leaned over and nudged his shoulder against hers. “Please be safe, okay?”
“You’re the one that needs to keep your eyes open. I need you to be okay too.” Clarke leaned her head against his shoulder, and they sat like that for a while, watching the fire and the shadows in the night.
Clarke left for the designated spot before daybreak. She’d only brought a ration pack, having nothing else really of use for this trip. The map she’d left with Wells— just in case the worst happened — and Wells had glared at her until she’d stopped saying things like that.
When she arrived, Lincoln was there, but so was Octavia. Octavia sat with her back against a tree, holding the walking stick that Lincoln had promised, and they were talking quietly together.
Clarke cleared her throat. Despite having obviously heard her coming, Lincoln kept a protective stance in front of Octavia, only relaxing when her face was close enough to be visible.
“You are wounded, Octavia,” Clarke said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Octavia peeked around Lincoln’s body and gave Clarke a look. “And that’s an excuse to leave me behind while Bell throws a tantrum? I’m coming.”
“You’re okay with this?” Clarke asked Lincoln.
He shrugged. “She is determined, and I… am glad to have her with me.”
Clarke gave a shrug of her own, knowing that she was outvoted on this one. Despite her worry for her friend, she was also kind of glad to have her along. This whole situation made her nervous enough without being in an unfamiliar environment with no one she knew she could trust.
“Well… we should go then,” Clarke said. “Before someone else comes looking for us.”
Octavia stood up, leaning on her walking stick. “What about Wells? Or Finn?”
“Someone needs to deal with your brother’s tantrums.”
Octavia snorted. “Good luck with that. How far is this TonDC?”
“About half a day,” Lincoln said. “If we make good time. Do you need me to carry you?”
Octavia stubbornly shook her head. “Not yet. I’m ready to go.”
Lincoln turned and started off at a much slower pace than he had the night before. He didn’t hesitate in choosing a direction, and Clarke wondered how he could tell one tree from another. Maybe that was something that would come with time.
She shared a look with Octavia and they followed.
About three hours in and Octavia was in Lincoln’s arms, having desperately needed a break half an hour ago. Clarke was making use of the walking stick herself, using it to keep her balance in this unfamiliar terrain. She had her head down most of the time, watching for rocks and debris and Lincoln’s back in her peripheral vision.
It was the silence that clued Clarke in.
She still wasn’t used to the quiet of the forest compared to the rumbling of machinery on the Ark, but nature had its own rhythm that Clarke was slowly getting used to. There were birds chattering in the trees and rodents scurrying in the underbrush. Insects chirped and frogs croaked.
Until Clarke realized that there weren’t anymore.
She looked up at Lincoln, only to find his eyes sharp on their surroundings as he walked with more care. He caught her gaze and nodded.
Clarke tightened her grip on the walking stick and tried to pretend like she wasn’t suddenly terrified.
No wildlife meant that something had scared them away. Some predator or another hazard. The only question was whether this danger cared about them.
Lincoln stopped and gently set Octavia down, putting a finger to her lips when she started to speak. She looked around for Clarke with wide eyes and Clarke shook her head decisively. Lincoln quietly pulled his spear from his back.
A twig snapped ahead of them.
Clarke’s heart seized painfully in her chest.
Lincoln suddenly pulled Octavia to the side just as an arrow embedded itself into the tree she’d been leaning on. She screamed, looking in horror at a shot that would have meant instant death.
“Ron we!” Lincoln shouted. Clarke dashed for cover, barely keeping in her own scream as another arrow came, this time near her. Two men appeared, gruesome face masks contrasting with the white face paint around their eyes. They both brandished swords, which meant that at least one archer was still unaccounted for. “Ai na hon yu op!” Lincoln called again. “Ron yu we!”
Run , he said, I’ll find you.
Clarke hesitated, watching as Lincoln jumped into battle with the men. It was clear that he was the better warrior, but they had the numbers. And Lincoln had Octavia to worry about.
Another arrow flew past, close enough that she could hear it whistle through the air next to her ear then thunk decisively into the ground behind her, and her survival instincts kicked in.
She scrambled, remaining low to the ground, her hands tight around her makeshift staff. A third assailant appeared to the side, this one clearly a woman, and Clarke almost froze as she charged at her, daggers in both hands.
A vague memory filtered through her consciousness.
Her entire stance shifted, and Clarke pulled the staff up into a ready position. The woman didn’t hesitate, either underestimating Clarke or truly confident in her own abilities. Clarke feinted towards the woman’s side and she swerved to avoid it. Clarke immediately shifted her swing, slamming her staff into the woman’s now unbalanced legs and sweeping her off her feet.
The cry she let out was satisfying, as was the thud her body made as it hit the ground. Another arrow whizzed by her, however, and Clarke wasn’t sure she could afford the luxury of making sure she stayed down.
She could hear the shouts of the men battling behind her, and the woman yelling as she clambered back to her feet. Clarke tried to run in something other than a straight line, knowing that the archer probably still had her in their sights.
Her heart thundered in her chest as she ran, her overriding thought just to flee. Her legs burned as she stumbled on unfamiliar ground, and she could hear at least one pair of feet behind her. She ran until she could hear the sounds of metal clashing fading away, but still she could hear the feet behind her.
Ahead, she spotted a large boulder, and she focused on it. She could use it for cover. She could try to take on the woman again if it was just her. She just had to get there.
Clarke’s foot landed on a loose rock and she cried out as her ankle rolled, sending her sprawling to the ground. She went down hard, landing injured-side first into a bush.
Feet pounded behind her, and Clarke tried to get back up. Anything to face her enemy head-on instead of just giving in. The bush refused to let her go, clinging to her clothes and dragging her back down with every attempt to get free.
The woman yelled out what sounded like a triumphant war cry. Close, too close. Clarke felt tears of panic gather in her eyes and she pushed at the bush, pushed at her clothes, tried to get away .
Instead of being attacked, however, Clarke heard her cry out in pain. Then there was a thunk and a gurgle, and the sound of a body hitting the forest floor.
She finally managed to pull away from the bush, and immediately saw the body of the woman who’d attacked her less than ten feet away. Two arrows jutted out of her. One in her thigh, the other in her neck.
Clarke looked around wildly, her hands scrambling to find the staff she’d dropped. There, perched atop the boulder she’d been looking at, was a woman, bow at the ready and another arrow already notched. A blue bandana wrapped around the lower half of her face, but the upper half was bare, doing nothing to distract from the clear green eyes staring in her direction.
As Clarke’s hand grasped onto the staff and she got her feet back under her, the bow turned, this time pointed at Clarke.
Thank you to my girlfriend, who read this and immediately told me that I had to write the next chapter. NOW.
But seriously, she's the best support there is, and she's read this over and over as it turned into the draft it's in now and always had amazing things to say about it.
And as always, thank you to you, awesome readers! You've been so supportive even though I've taken foreverrrrrrr. And all of your comments mean the world to me. Can't wait to hear what you think about this one.
Clarke and her mysterious savior have a conversation.
The only thing I can say for myself is that it hasn't been a year. Technically.
Please be aware that I am not a doctor or even certified in first aid so if wounds and things don't make sense just... uh... suspend your disbelief?
I love you all.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Clarke’s savior stared at her, the bow remaining trained on what she was sure was a vital area of her body. Clarke held up one hand in a placating gesture, refusing to let go of her staff with the other one.
Even from this distance, Clarke was unexpectedly drawn in to the vivid green of the other woman’s eyes, the only part of her face she could see clearly. It was enough to distract her, and when she finally blinked she shivered as if coming out of a fog.
That shade of green felt burned into her.
The spell seemingly broken, the woman released the tension on her bow and slowly lowered it until it no longer pointed at Clarke. Her arm remained tense, however, and her fingers remained on the bow string. Clarke was absolutely sure that this woman could still turn her into a pincushion before she even took a step.
Clarke let her staff drop towards her waist as well. “You… you saved me.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed and then she dropped down off the boulder and walked towards Clarke. Clarke’s hands tightened their grip on her staff, but the woman stopped just outside of lunging distance.
The green of her eyes was even more vivid from up close.
“The Azgeda attacked you,” the woman said, in perfect English. “Why?”
Even knowing that Lincoln spoke English, hearing it from this woman as well caught Clarke off guard. “I don’t know. They just came out of nowhere.” It was possibly the truth. Maybe they did just happen to be unlucky victims. “Why did you save me?”
The woman’s frown was visible in the furrowing of her brows. She looked down at the warrior behind Clarke. “They know better than to venture this far south.” After a moment of contemplation, she looked back to Clarke. “And you were not fighting back. Should I have let you die?”
Clarke shook her head. “No, I didn’t mean that, just…” Something about this woman left her completely off-balance. She studied what she could see of her face: the eyes, obviously, but also the elegant arch of her brows, the wisp of wavy brown hair escaping from the hood of her cloak. She wasn’t familiar from her dreams, but Clarke had the strangest sense that she should be. “Who are you?”
A glint of something wary passed through that gaze. “You still haven’t explained who you are,” she said instead of answering. “You’re trespassing in Trikru territory just as they were. You bear no clan markings. And yet, if you are Maunon, how do you stand here with no protection?”
Clarke looked down at herself in her jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and jacket. The woman was wearing a cloak, but underneath she could see some armor. Maybe she did need more protection. “I’m not Maunon,” Clarke said, her brain finally catching on to that part of the question. She recognized the term, although she wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. “I came from the sky.”
A sharp inhale was just barely audible, and Clarke found herself under even more scrutiny. “The sky,” she echoed. Her eyes trailed up and down Clarke’s body, and Clarke resisted the urge to clutch at her arm when her gaze lingered there. She was wearing a jacket; it wasn’t like she had x-ray vision and could see the tattoo there.
Finally, her gaze shifted to look out in the distance, in the direction that Clarke and the others had come from.
Had she seen the dropship? Clarke opened her mouth to ask when she suddenly remembered the situation.
“Oh no,” she said. “Octavia and Lincoln. He was fighting off three more when I left. Please, we need to go help them.”
Clarke hesitated. “My friends are still in danger. You saved me. You can help save them too.”
Those green eyes bored into her own but gave no indication that she was swayed by Clarke’s words.
There was no time. She wasn’t going to wait and try to convince this woman. Clarke turned.
“Stop!” The woman said, barely raising her voice. It was the tone that caused Clarke to pause: obviously used to being obeyed implicitly. She looked over her shoulder to see the woman’s bow up and ready again. “Don’t move.”
Clarke shook her head. “You can shoot me if you want, but I’m not going to just leave my friends to die.”
She turned again and ran, ignoring the way her side protested. The adrenaline was still pumping through her veins, allowing her to ignore it, but she could tell that she’d done something more than just agitate her previous wound. Of more pressing importance, however, was the fact that she wasn’t immediately shot once she’d turned her back again. Clarke figured that meant that the woman wasn’t going to kill her. At least not yet.
There were no footsteps that she could hear behind her, though, which meant that the woman also was not going to help. Clarke ignored the misplaced feeling of disappointment at the thought.
Hopefully she wasn’t too late.
Clarke followed the path she thought she’d taken. Broken branches littered the forest floor where her desperate flight had been less than graceful. She paused at a large tree, wondering if it was a familiar large tree or not. Looking desperately left and right, she couldn’t tell which way to go from here.
She wasn’t a tracker. All paths looked the same. Her breathing increased in panic, only to hitch suddenly when she heard something new.
She listened intently. It was a sound she’d heard in videos before. Not something easily mistaken.
Hoofbeats… going away.
There were no sounds of battle. No yelling. No clash of swords or spears.
No Octavia or Lincoln.
Clarke’s brow furrowed and she shook her head slowly. “They just… they scared them off. They scared them off.” She swallowed down the urge to call out, knowing that if there were still enemies around, alerting them to her location was not worth the peace of mind of hearing Octavia’s voice calling back to her.
Her eyes caught the flash of a bright feather out of place in the forest. There. The shaft of an arrow down the path. She gripped the staff in her hands tightly and darted out from the tree, keeping low to the ground in case any archers remained. Lincoln was already going to be upset with her for running back into potential danger when he’d explicitly told her to run away. She could at least try to be careful.
Rounding another curve, Clarke saw more arrows littering the ground. And a body. Clarke stumbled in her steps at the sight, looking around frantically. There was nothing else. No other bodies. No other people. One dead Azgeda warrior and no sign of Lincoln or Octavia. She hadn’t been gone that long. There wouldn’t have been time for… she didn’t even know. What had happened here?
She’d been standing in the open too long. Without warning, something hit her from behind. A solid body knocked her off her feet and behind the cover of a large tree, just in time to hear another whistle and thwack as an arrow embedded itself in the ground near where she’d been. She groaned, the impact not gentle at all, and found her mouth covered almost immediately with a firm hand to stifle the noise. When she craned her head back to look at her attacker, she was greeted with the sight of those green eyes again.
Something about them. Something…
Clarke’s body relaxed without conscious thought, surrendering to the weight and the pain.
“Why did I save you,” the woman grunted, releasing Clarke once it was clear she wouldn’t fight her, “if you were just going to run into someone else’s arrow?” She stood, crouching low against the tree they’d found cover behind. Clarke watched as the woman picked up her bow and quickly checked it before nocking an arrow. She studied the body near them.
“Don’t worry,” Clarke said shakily, drawing her attention once again. “You can still finish the job.” She smiled, hoping she didn’t look as nervous as she felt right now.
The woman blinked in honest surprise for one breathless moment and then glared at her. This made Clarke smile wider, more genuinely, until she shifted and found herself whimpering. The tackle had been effective in saving her life, but her injured side flared from even more pain than before, and Clarke almost didn’t want to look down and see whatever damage she’d done.
“Stay,” the woman said, then disappeared.
Clarke blinked at the spot where she’d been standing. How had she done that? She looked around but could see nothing other than the dead body she was sharing a forest with. Staring at that for too long made her nauseous, though, and Clarke closed her eyes. She forced herself closer to the tree that was providing her with cover, making herself as small as possible even as her side burned with pain. Leaning her head back against the bark of the tree, she tried to calm her ragged breathing and just listen.
It was surprisingly easy to remain still, despite the obvious danger. Despite all the anxiety over the warriors and the fact that Octavia and Lincoln were currently missing.
She… trusted this mysterious woman. Clarke blinked wearily at that realization. She still couldn’t place her, had no idea who she was, but somehow it remained true. If nothing else, she trusted that this woman would keep her safe from these Azgeda. Whatever happened after that would happen.
Clarke waited. She could barely hear the hoofbeats now. Whatever, whoever that was, they were getting away. Something twisted in Clarke’s stomach at the thought.
A scream suddenly sounded from somewhere behind her, followed by a thud. Clarke’s eyes opened wide and she jerked on instinct, causing herself to immediately hiss in pain again. She breathed through the feeling, forcing herself to listen for more sounds.
Nothing, again. Had that been her mysterious savior? She clutched her staff to her chest. It had sounded masculine. So not her, not yet. But that meant that there had been at least one other attacker still here. Were there more?
A twig snapped behind her. Clarke stopped breathing, bracing herself to be ready to stand, ready to defend. Another sound, behind and to the left. She lifted her staff.
At the first sight of a leg, Clarke swung, only for her makeshift staff to be caught easily by the heel of a boot and pressed into the ground. Clarke jerked at it on instinct and the boot pulled away enough for the staff to be rescued. Before she could make another attempt, a calm voice caused her to pause.
“Try not to hurt yourself any further.”
Clarke let her arms drop, slumping back into the solid trunk of the tree as she stared up at her mysterious savior once again. The hood of her cloak had come down, revealing wavy brown hair pulled back in an intricate pattern of braids. Those green eyes studied her for a long moment before looking back out at the forest around them, her bow down at her side.
“What happened?” Clarke asked.
“They left a lone scout. I don’t think they expected much resistance from you.” The woman walked a few paces away, studying the body once again, then the ground around it. “They did not expect my presence.”
“And Octavia? Lincoln?”
The woman looked back at her for a moment, not saying anything. Clarke frowned.
“Are they…?” She couldn’t finish the question.
“There’s no sign of anyone else.” Clarke didn’t even have time to relax before the woman continued, however, brow furrowed and obviously frustrated. “The marks on the ground make me believe they were captured. Knocked out and dragged, most likely.”
“We need to save them,” Clarke said immediately. That green gaze returned to study her. More specifically, the blood stain on her side that was slowly expanding. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not,” the woman said.
Clarke wanted to argue, but she clenched her jaw instead. “Okay, so I’m not. You could save them, though.”
The other woman looked out in the direction Clarke was assuming the Azgeda trail led. “There’s no way of knowing how many there are. And that’s not why I’m here.”
“Why are you here?” Clarke asked, pain and helplessness causing her voice to come out more accusatory than she’d meant it to. The woman’s shoulders immediately tensed. She turned slowly, eyes sharp and once more suspicious.
“Why are you here?” She took a step in Clarke’s direction, hand tightening on the grip of her bow. Clarke opened her mouth to repeat that she had fallen from the sky, but something in the gaze hardened again and Clarke waited. “Why are you here? In this part of the forest? You weren’t here by accident.” She paused, then looked in the direction that Clarke had come from, seeming to do some mental calculations. When she looked back at Clarke, her brows were furrowed again. “You are headed towards TonDC.”
There was no point in denying that much, at least. “Yes. Lincoln was taking us there.”
The woman’s jaw tensed as she continued to stare at Clarke. Clarke stared back, feeling stubborn. She had no control over her pain, no control over the fact that her best friend was missing, no control over the fact that this woman could just leave her here to die. Or kill her immediately. What she did have control over, however petty it was, was waiting for the question rather than volunteering information. After a long moment, she got her wish. “Why?”
“To meet with your Heda,” Clarke said. She watched as those green eyes immediately narrowed.
“Heda is not in TonDC.”
Clarke shifted a little against the tree, wincing. “Well, someone there was supposed to be able to…” She hesitated. How much could she really say? How much could this woman be trusted? Lincoln had said that the Heda had done a lot for his people, and that he would do almost anything for her. Did everyone feel that way? She looked out again at the dead man on the forest floor. “I have information that I need to share with someone in charge,” she said finally. “Someone who can verify it and hopefully get me an audience with your Heda.” Clarke paused, a thought occurring to her. She turned back to meet the woman’s eyes again, determined. “If you won’t save my friends, could you get me to TonDC? Hopefully I can… Maybe they’ll be willing to send people once I…”
Maybe the soulmate of their Heda would be important enough that she could get someone there to save her friends.
The expression on the woman’s face turned even more calculating and suspicious. Clarke waited, practically holding her breath, as the woman’s eyes swept over her once more. Studying her face. Her still-bleeding side. A glance to her right shoulder, still hidden by her jacket. Did she suspect? Was that a good or a bad thing?
“This… information. You expect a reward for it?”
Clarke frowned. “A reward? No.” Well… she was hoping that she could convince someone to help. Was that a reward? “I am hoping that it could help save my friends,” she admitted. “But I don’t want money or anything. I…” She licked her lips. “I can’t explain. Does it help you to know that Lincoln thought it was very important? He barely even wanted to wait out the night before we left.”
There was a long pause. Long enough that Clarke closed her eyes and tried to think about what she would do if this woman did not choose to take her. Could she get to TonDC on her own? Things still weren’t familiar to her. The forest was an endless expanse of trees and bushes that all looked alike. There were no landmarks, no trails. She still did not know how either Lincoln or this woman could navigate, could so easily understand which direction was which.
If she had no help, did she have any hope at all?
“Please,” Clarke said, her eyes still closed. She realized all at once that she couldn’t afford stubbornness or pride. Not when Octavia and Lincoln were out there, captured. Not when all of those kids still didn’t understand what they were getting into, when Bellamy was blind, when the Ark was still dying. She had to make this work. She finally opened her eyes again, blinking away the beginnings of tears. “Please, help me get there. I know you have no reason to trust me, but it is incredibly important that I get there.” What else could convince her? She could promise her a reward for the successful delivery of the Heda’s soulmate, but what did she actually know of her soulmate? She couldn’t speak for her or her people.
She still was wary of giving out that information, as well. Unless she couldn’t convince her any other way…
The woman remained still and silent for another long moment. Eventually, however, she looked out into the distance once more and then nodded. “I will take you to TonDC,” she said.
Clarke felt a few tears escape at the announcement, trailing down her cheeks in relief. “Thank you,” she all but whispered. “Thank you.”
Soon, the woman had stowed her bow and was crouching down next to her. Her expression had softened, and even with the bandana still over her face, Clarke appreciated how without the harsh edges she looked younger. How old was this woman, anyway? To be so skilled? To seem so in control? “I’ll need to look at your wound. Are you well enough to move?”
“I think so.” Clarke shifted, using both hands against the forest floor to try to push herself up. The sharp pain in her side immediately made her gasp, but she pushed through it anyway, rocking forward onto her knees. “Fuck,” she gasped. The adrenaline was definitely wearing off. “It… Just give me a second.”
“May I?” Hands hovered, waiting for permission. The pain caused a delay in processing, but eventually Clarke blinked and nodded.
“Oh, yeah.” She tried to straighten a little, giving more room to see her wound. “You don’t happen to be a doctor, do you?”
Gentle fingers pulled Clarke’s jacket away from her wound, then pulled up the shirt that had seen better days. Clarke hissed as the shirt stuck to the wound and closed her eyes, trying to hold back the instinct to curl up in pain. “I’ve had to learn a great number of skills,” the woman said, voice soft. Clarke felt her fingers probing at her side, then cried out at a particularly painful touch. “I’m not a healer, but I think you’ve at least sprained a rib. And…” The woman grasped at something, then tugged, and Clarke’s vision whited out for a moment. When she could see again, she was panting, and there was a bloody… thing being held out in front of her face. “You took a piece of the bush you fell in with you. There might still be more.”
Clarke stared, then laughed until tears were leaking out of her eyes again. “Of course.” Her side still hurt, but the sharpest pain seemed to have disappeared with the removal of the deceptively small thorny branch. “Explains why I’m bleeding so bad. I hope I…” She gasped softly as the hands explored again, trying to ignore that those fingers were literally digging inside her abdomen. “I hope I didn’t puncture anything.”
“I’m not sure you’d still be conscious if you had.” Seemingly satisfied, the woman pulled back again. “I have an extra cloak we can use to wrap your injuries. I think you’ll survive.” She stood and looked around again. They were both quiet, Clarke understanding that she was once again checking the safety of their surroundings. The woman nodded. “I’ll be right back. Do not move.”
“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Clarke muttered. She was tempted to close her eyes and rest but knew better. Steeling her reserves, she picked her staff back up and waited, doing her best to keep her attention on her surroundings instead of herself.
She came back with a horse.
Clarke stared up at the animal from her spot still on the ground. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it. It was just so tall. “Is this a normal size for a horse?” she asked. Her heart was racing at the thought of having to somehow get astride that thing.
The woman looked at her, and although she still couldn’t see her mouth, the corners of her eyes crinkled indulgently in what must be a small smile.
“Buka is one of my smaller horses,” she said, reaching out to pet the horse’s neck affectionately. “I chose her for her speed.”
“Small…” Clarke couldn’t help but mutter disbelievingly. She clutched her staff and planted it firmly on the ground, using it to help leverage herself up. Once she was standing, she found that the pain wasn’t actually as bad as she’d feared, especially not with the borrowed cloak wrapped firmly around her midsection. She wasn’t expecting this ride to be painless, but she hoped that the extra support and padding would be enough to keep everything as it should be. “Can I ask why you were in such a hurry?”
“You can ask,” the woman said mildly. She tugged gently on the horse’s straps, checking that everything was still as it was supposed to be. Clarke took it as a good sign that she didn’t even tense at the question this time. Hopefully that meant she was over the idea of her being a spy, or at least willing to ignore her less tactful inquiries. “But I will not answer. Will you tell me what you wish to share with Heda?”
Clarke pursed her lips. Fair enough. They could both be mysteries to each other. “Okay. I get it. How far are we from TonDC? Lincoln said that it was only a half-day’s walk when we left.”
“We are not far,” she replied. “Even accounting for your injury, we should be there before the sun hits its peak.”
How long was that in normal time measurements? Clarke looked up at the trees surrounding them and the light filtering through. It was still mid-morning, probably. So… a few hours? Please be safe, Clarke sent a thought to Octavia, wherever she was. Octavia was a survivor. She would find a way until Clarke could get a rescue team sent her way.
“Are you ready?”
Clarke nodded, taking a deep breath and moving closer to the woman. “The sooner we get there, the better,” she said, looking up at the horse which did not look any smaller now that she was standing up. She frowned. “I, um… We’re going to be kind of close, right? Do you think I could get your name? Mine is Clarke.”
The woman stilled briefly. There was suspicion in that gaze, but also a fair amount of uncertainty in general. Then she seemed to come to a decision, those previously semi-warm eyes having hardened again.
Something about her expression caused Clarke to immediately amend her request. “Wait. Don’t lie to me.”
She blinked. The hard lines in her face softened once more into confusion. “What?”
“You obviously have a thing about privacy and you don’t trust me, and that’s… fine.” It wasn’t fine, but it wasn’t any of Clarke’s business. She’d already saved her life and was going to get her to TonDC. She could allow this woman her mysteries. “My name really is Clarke, but if you don’t want me to know your name then just give me something to call you.”
There was something even more intense about the way the woman stared at her this time, sizing her up. Trying to figure out what her game was, probably. Clarke stared back. “You do not want me to lie to you. Not even about my name.” Her voice was calm, and the way she spoke was not a question. “How do you know I haven’t already lied to you?”
“I don’t,” Clarke said. She shrugged and shook her head. “But I really don’t think you have, even if you don’t want to tell me things. I’d rather not start with the lies now. Let’s just be honest about…” Clarke scrunched her nose as she tried to figure out how to word it. “The things we don’t say.”
They were quiet for a moment more, then the woman let out a soft huff that was suspiciously like a laugh. “You are a strange one, Clarke who fell from the sky.” Clarke allowed herself a slow smile, strangely enjoying the way the woman’s voice made her name sound more like ‘Klark’ with its hard ‘k’s. She also enjoyed the hint of approval in the statement. “Very well. Then for now you may call me… Costia.”
“Costia.” Clarke repeated the name slowly, softly. Her mind was unexpectedly filled with unrestrained laughs, soft curls, dark eyes. Affection. Warmth. Guilt. Emptiness. The scent of burlap and old blood. She blinked, disoriented. Was this a memory or had she lost too much blood herself? Had she hit her head? She didn’t think so. Costia. What was it about that name?
A hand steadied her, stopping her from swaying. The vision of dark eyes cleared to make way for those searching green ones again. Clarke watched her lips move but couldn’t hear the words.
“I… I’m fine…” She swallowed. There were words that wanted to come out. Are you sure that’s what you want me to call you? Clarke held them back, unsure where they came from, feeling vaguely sick in a way that she was pretty sure had nothing to do with her wounds. “Maybe I should sit down, though.”
“We should get you to a healer.” These words were audible, finally. Clarke nodded. “I will mount Buka first, then pull you up. You can rest on the way.” Clarke nodded again, the sick feeling slowly receding. The woman— Costia, for now— gently released her, watching her to make sure she wouldn’t suddenly fall. Then she smoothly mounted the horse, making it look easy despite the height. She held out a hand for Clarke.
Clarke didn’t allow herself to hesitate, taking the hand and doing her best to replicate the same actions. She was not graceful. She would not have made it up onto the horse if it weren’t for the sheer unexpected strength in that grip, in that arm, that pulled her up and settled her behind her. Clarke found herself clutching tightly at Costia’s waist, both from her continued lack of balance and the distance now between where she sat and the ground. Costia looked back at her, her gaze curious and concerned, but otherwise did not comment.
“Do not worry. I will get us there safely.”
Clarke closed her eyes against the unexpected vertigo of watching the ground start to move beneath her. Her side hurt, but not too badly. Her head still swam from the unexpected vision, or hallucination, whatever it was. Costia did not make her loosen her grip and Clarke rested her cheek against the softness of her savior’s cloak.
Although this chapter is about 4.5k words, my total word count over the 6 different drafts I wrote was 18.5k. There have been a lot of different versions, a lot of different events and choices. I could practically write a choose your own adventure novel of just this chapter at this point. It's no excuse, but know that I definitely still care about this baby of a fic and I feel like I finally found a version I was satisfied with.
Thank you so much for your patience and for still reading! You make it worthwhile.
And thank you to my love, who was there for all 6 drafts of this chapter and said that she thought this was my best chapter yet. (If you don't agree, blame her. Hah.)