If I told you a secret, you won't tell a soul,
Will you hold it and keep it alive?
‘Cause it's burning a hole,
And I can't get to sleep, and I can't live alone in this life.
He burst into the medbay, bringing in the cold with him. Jackson frowned, but Clarke spared a glance from her patient to smile briefly at him. “What’s up?” she asked.
“The people from the Ship made their demands."
She nodded. Wells wasn’t on the council yet, but he would be eventually, and he’d been invited to join them in their meeting that morning with the leaders from the Ship. “I figured they wouldn’t beat around the bush,” she said. “So. What is it they want?”
He didn't reply.
She glanced at him. "What?" The look on his face wasn’t right. “What is it?” she asked. “What did they ask for?”
“You, Clarke." He swallowed visibly. "They want you.”
It didn’t take her long to realize what he meant, and she didn’t wait to hear him say it.
Clarke stalked from the medbay, breaking into a sprint after a moment; she stormed into the Ark, into their apartment, and was face to face with her mother. “Tell me that Wells doesn’t know what’s he talking about,” she demanded. “Tell me that you didn’t agree to marry me off as soon as they asked you to.”
The look on her mother’s face was her answer. “Clarke.”
“No. Mom, no.” Her heart thudded in her chest, making her blood run too hot, too fast.
“It wasn’t something that we agreed to lightly, sweetheart; you have to know that.” Her mother was desperate, reaching for Clarke when Clarke started to shake her head. “I promise you that we didn’t expect this, and we tried to fight them on it. But they said this was it. Either we sealed the alliance with a marriage, or—”
“It doesn’t have to be me!” Clarke exclaimed.
“It does eventually,” she replied. “Clarke, you know that. The grounders use marriages to solidify their alliances, and you know that you—that eventually you were going to be asked to marry for an alliance. It’s the cost that comes with leadership. It’s what everyone expects from you with a mother on the council, and—”
“You made the decision to be on the council, Mom.”
“You can’t put that on me like it was never anybody’s choice,” Clarke said. “It was your choice, and now I have to pay for it? I’m not a leader, Mom. I didn’t sign up for this.”
Her mother stared at her with soft, wet eyes. “I know. I’m sorry. I hate this, too.” She paused. “But—but this way you at least get to stay with our people, Clarke.”
“What are you—? They aren’t our people!” Clarke exploded. “They might be from the Sky, too, but—” She shook her head. She couldn’t believe this. She knew that alliances on the ground were sealed with marriages, and she’d always assumed that Wells was going to end up in an arranged marriage. But she’d never thought her parents were going to ask it from her.
Her mother touched her arm. “Clarke.”
She jerked away, crossing her arms tightly over her chest. “I won’t, Mom. I won’t.”
It was quiet.
“We need this, Clarke. The grounders tolerate our existence. But they refuse to trade with us, and they are ready for a war with us at the slightest provocation, and the people from the Ship have a relationship with them. They’re in a position to convince the grounders to trade with us. To trust us. We need that. We need an alliance with the Ship, and this is what they want.”
Clarke stared at her. “Why does it have to be me?” she asked.
“They asked for you specifically. They insisted that we give them a show of good faith, and give them our—our princess.” It came out a whisper, and she went on hastily, reaching for Clarke. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she said. “I am. I don’t want this, but—”
She wasn’t going to listen to this. She couldn’t.
She turned on her heel, ignoring the pleas from her mother.
Her father wasn’t easy to find, but she heard his voice at last, drifting from the tent that was set up in the center of the camp, the tent for the people from the Ship. Sudden, overwhelming hope rose up in Clarke. Her father was trying to save her.
She reached the flap of the tent, and the voices grew clear, distinct.
“—never agree to it,” said a woman. Clarke didn’t recognize the voice. “I know you believe that everything could be peace, love, and harmony if only we tried, but she’s never going to try. Her mind’s made up. I can’t change it for you.”
“You don't know that.” That was her father. “Just tell her—”
“Aurora, please,” he begged.
There was a broken, desperate note in his voice, and it scared Clarke. She’d never heard her father beg. If the woman replied, Clarke didn’t hear; she was startled when the flap was torn up suddenly, and a woman stalked from the tent. Her eyes caught on Clarke, and she paused.
She was younger than her voice made it seem, tall, thin, and pretty, wearing her long dark hair in a ponytail, and she looked at Clarke with a sharp, expressionless face.
“Excuse me,” she said, passing Clarke.
Clarke stared after her for a moment, only for her father to emerge from the tent.
He sighed when he saw Clarke.
“Tell me this doesn’t have to happen,” she said. “Tell me that you’d never agree to it, or that you convinced that woman not to ask for it. Tell me this isn’t going to happen.”
His face seemed to grow impossibly old, impossibly sad.
“Dad, no. Dad—!”
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said. “I’m not on the council. They won’t listen to me.”
Clarke stared at him. Tears built in her throat, and he reached for her. She stumbled away from him. That was it. Her parents were going to let it happen. That left Wells. She needed to find Wells, see if he might be able to sway his father. That was her last chance.
She didn’t sleep that night. She couldn’t, trying desperately to find a way to stop this.
The plan was for her to meet with those from the Ship in the morning.
If she got her way, that meeting wasn’t going to end in a marriage. She argued with her parents, listened to Wells argue with his father. But they were brushed off, told that it wasn’t a discussion. “What happens if I refuse?” she asked, and Jaha sighed at her, saying that wasn’t an option. Clarke tore into him, insisting that it was.
It ended when Kane broke in, snapping at Clarke to think about what this was for.
“We know you don’t want this, but this isn’t about you. This is about our people. They can’t survive another winter without help, Clarke. From the Ship, and from the grounders. This is how we get help. It’s asking a lot from you, but you can’t be so selfish that you’d doom everyone to save yourself.”
She looked at Wells, and he dropped his gaze. It was a blow to her chest.
If he were in her position, he’d agree to it.
She looked at her father, who opened his mouth, and she looked away quickly. “Fine.”
In the morning, she filed into the tent after her parents without a protest.
There was a table set up, and Clarke stood between her parents with Chancellor Jaha on the left, and the people from the Ship across from them. Clarke knew that the older, blonde woman was the leader; they called her Commander Sydney, stealing the title from the grounders. There were guards behind her, and a woman to her right.
Clarke recognized her. Aurora.
The Commander swept her eyes over Clarke, offering up a slow, warm smile. “I assume this is the lovely Clarke,” she said, holding out a hand. “Diana Sydney. I’m Commander of the Ship. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Clarke.”
Clarke nodded, shook her hand.
That was sufficient for Sydney. She turned her attention to Jaha, and they confirmed that everything was agreed on. To begin their alliance, those from the Ark were going to provide the people of the Ship with medicine, radios, and guns. In exchange, those from the Ship were going to provide the people of the Ark with food, and an introduction to the commander of the grounders.
“It’s settled,” Jaha said.
“Yes. Now that leaves us to seal the alliance.” Sydney turned to Abby. “Aurora tells me that you want to give your daughter a choice in husbands. I don’t see a problem with that.” She looked at Clarke, and smiled kindly. “Obviously, we can’t let you have your pick from our camp. But we can give you a choice: my son, or my second’s son.”
It was silent. Was she supposed to choose right then, right there?
“Can I meet them?” she asked.
Sydney's smile widened. “Of course, dear. Both accompanied us to the negotiations. If we’re finished, I don’t see why you can’t meet them right now.”
She was given a minute to return to her apartment to freshen up. She grit her teeth rather than glare at Sydney, but she went to her apartment, and she changed into a sweater and jeans; it wasn’t much, but it was better than the scrubs she’d had on for the last two days.
She re-braided her hair, too. There. She’d made an effort.
Honestly, she didn’t know what to expect from these boys.
She was a toddler when everyone came to the ground. Some made the trip in the Ship, and others came when the Ark was brought down. The split didn’t happen until everyone was on the ground: half the people chose to stay with the Ark, living under the council, and half the people chose to create a settlement at the Ship.
Clarke didn’t know what the circumstances that surrounded the split were.
But she knew that the groups weren’t friendly; communication between them was sparse.
She approached the tent to see that a boy stood near the entrance. She swallowed thickly, refusing to wipe her palms on her jeans when he saw her. He was attractive from a distance, and really, really attractive up close: thick yellow hair, dimples in his cheeks, and broad, stocky shoulders.
“Clarke,” he greeted.
“Hey,” she said. She didn’t know his name. But this could be her husband.
“Graham Sydney,” he told her, reaching out to shake her hand. If he cared that her hand was clammy, he hid it well. In fact, he held onto her hand for a moment, and his thumb brushed the back of her hand. “I know this is a little awkward, but it’s great to meet you.”
“Here.” He released her hand to pull something from his pocket: a small, square bottle of peach nail polish that he held out to her. She took it gingerly. “It’s for you,” he said, nodding. His lips twitched with a smile. “I thought this whole thing might throw you for a loop, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get you a present.”
“Thank—thank you.” She managed a smile.
“You’re welcome,” he said, smiling widely in return. “Do you want to go for a walk?”
She agreed, and they started to circle the camp. He started up a conversation about the Ark, asking her how things worked, and explaining what things were different at the Ship. He asked about her, too: what she liked to do, what she remembered about space.
They were nearly at the tent when she brought it up.
“Do you have a problem with this?” she asked. “I mean, having to be married off.”
He shrugged. “Not really,” he said, and he smiled. “Not now that I’ve met you. You’re gorgeous, you know.” He reached up, brushing the hair from her face.
She froze, startled.
But his smile didn’t waver. “It was nice to meet you, Clarke. We’ll talk later?” He raised his brows hopefully, and she nodded, smiling tightly. He disappeared into the tent.
Suddenly, her mother was at her side. “How was he?” she asked, anxious.
Clarke blinked at her. “I don’t know,” she said. He hadn’t been as awful as he could have been, as she’d feared he would be. “Nice, I guess.” She fingered the nail polish in her pocket, and the heavy, anxious knot in her gut clenched, twisted, and grew. “Charming.”
Her mother nodded, murmuring that she’d see Clarke later, and Clarke didn’t realize why she seemed to leave as quickly as she came until she realized that another boy stood nearby, waiting for her attention. He was taller, and she guessed he was a little older, too.
“Hey,” she said. “I’m Clarke.”
He nodded. “Bellamy.”
He was attractive, too: tall, sporting a mop of dark, messy hair, freckles on his face, and a five o’clock shadow. But it was hard to look past the scowl that sat on his face, or how clearly uncomfortable he was right now, standing with tight shoulders, and crossed arms.
She didn’t really know what to say. “It’s nice to meet you,” she offered.
It was quiet.
“Well, um.” She cleared her throat. “Did you bring me a present?” she tried.
His brows drew up together. “Do you need a present?” he asked.
She flushed. “No, I wasn’t—” She shook her head. “Never mind. Do you want to go for a walk?”
He gave a curt, jerky nod, and she fell into step next to him. She wanted to look at him, to study his face, his posture, but she didn’t have a reason to look at him, and things were awkward enough already. She chewed on her lip, staring at her boots, and they walked in silence.
This could be her life for the next fifty years: scowling, and silence.
“Can I ask why you agreed to this?” she said at last. Clearly, he wasn’t happy about it.
“Who said I agreed to this?”
She huffed. “Right. Okay, then. Never mind.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
He sighed. “My mother told me to,” he said, and she looked at him. But his gaze wasn’t on her. She nodded. It wasn’t hard to recognize that his mother was Aurora. It made sense, and he looked like her, too, in the way that he seemed to carry his shoulders, in the tight, blank look on his face.
They didn’t talk for the rest of the walk.
But when the tent was in sight, he paused. She paused, too, looking at him in time to see him scrub at the back of his neck. “Look,” he started. “You wanted a choice, and now you’ve got one. If you don’t want to marry Graham, you can marry me, and I’ll—and I'll do right by you. I mean, I’ll—you’ll be my wife, and I’ll respect that.” He swallowed visibly, and that was it. He was done.
She blinked at him. “Okay,” she said. She nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”
He went into the tent, and Clarke went over everything in her head, knowing which she was going to pick before her mother appeared at her side to ask.
She was tempted for a moment to refuse completely. She stood at the table, looking at Commander Sydney, looking at that pleasant, expectant smile on her face, and anger squeezed at her chest. She wanted to wipe that smile off, wanted to say I choose neither. It’s off. I changed my mind. You can’t have me.
But her mother’s arm brushed her shoulder, and she wasn’t allowed to refuse.
“Bellamy,” she told them. “I’d like to marry Bellamy.”
Her choice was greeted with silence. Sydney stared at Clarke. Her warm, friendly smile was frozen on her face, and Clarke knew she hadn’t made the choice she was supposed to. But she’d made it, and Sydney nodded after a moment, remembering her smile, and breaking the silence. “Okay.”
Clarke was dismissed.
Her gaze flickered to her father, only to see that his gaze was on Aurora, and she heard his plea in her head. “Aurora, please.”
It wasn’t until she left the tent that she allowed her throat to close with panic, and tears to burn her eyes. But she wasn’t going to cry. Not yet. She curled her hands into fists. She didn’t need everyone to see her burst into tears, especially not Bellamy or Graham, who stood nearby, who stared at her when she passed, and watched her beat a hasty, stumbling retreat into the Ark.
She hid in her room through the afternoon, and into the evening. Her father knocked on her door, coming in hesitantly, but the lights were off, and she was in bed. He left.
It didn’t seem real. How could this be real? How could it have happened this quickly?
In the end, she got less than a week.
Four days, and that was it. Her time was up. There wasn’t a reason to wait.
Her mother owned three cotton dresses, and she offered to give Clarke her favorite, but Clarke refused. She didn’t need a dress to marry; this wasn’t exactly a wedding she’d dreamed up. But she took a bath, and allowed her mother to put her hair in some fancy, braided twist.
The ceremony was beside the large, communal garden.
Bellamy was cleaned up, too, and Clarke looked away quickly when she saw him reach up to rustle his hair, only for his mother to slap at his hand. He approached Clarke a moment later, and thrust a bouquet at her. She blinked in surprise, accepting it slowly.
She didn’t know where he’d gotten flowers in September. “What are these for?” she asked. Her breath rose to the sky in soft white puffs.
“I thought you wanted a present.”
She bit in a scoff. “I didn’t mean it to sound like I expected a present,” she started.
But her explanation was cut off when, suddenly, everyone was ready to go, and it was time for the ceremony. Mrs. Kane officiated, reading from her book, rambling about unity, the need to nurture the Earth that nurtures us, and love that brings life into being.
Clarke stared at her bouquet. She liked the little purple flowers. Sunflowers, right?
The vows were short, perfunctory; Clarke was asked to say I do, and she did.
There were rings, too: Bellamy’s fingers were warm against her hand when he slipped a ring on her finger, and she put a ring on his. They were instructed to kiss. His lips were dry, pressing against her mouth for a moment, and that was it. They were done.
She was a wife, and her husband was a stranger.
Thankfully, there wasn’t a celebration after the ceremony. There didn’t need to be. But it meant that when the ceremony was over, so, too, was her reason to stay in the camp. It was too much, too fast, but it didn’t matter. She was a sacrifice, and it was time for her to be sacrificed.
Nobody cared about the weight in her stomach, or the terror in her chest.
Her father pulled her into a hug, and she wanted to believe that he cared. But he allowed her to step from his arms, and she couldn’t look him in the eye. He wasn’t going to stop this. Nobody was. Her mother tried to give her a hug, but Clarke was stiff in the embrace.
She knew this wasn’t on her mother, but she couldn’t help it.
She hugged Wells. “Don’t hate her,” he murmured. “I was there when they dropped the bomb, and she argued with them for hours, saying you were only a teenager, and they couldn’t demand this. She loves you.” He paused, tightening his hold on her. “I do, too.”
She closed her eyes, clinging to him. “Don’t forget about me,” she whispered.
“Never,” he said. “Never.”
She pulled away from him, and it was time to go.
Bellamy told her it was going to take the afternoon to get to their camp, surprising her; she’d thought it was further. But it didn’t matter what the distance was, did it? They started off at a good, focused clip; the guards led the way with Graham, Commander Sydney went in step with Aurora in the middle, and Bellamy was at the back, walking with Clarke.
The trees grew thick around them, and the sounds from the Ark faded within minutes.
Bellamy nudged her shoulder, nodding his head to point, and she followed his gaze to see the top of the Ship where it rose above the trees. If he hadn’t shown it to her, she would’ve missed it entirely, and it surprised her when suddenly they were at the settlement; it seemed to emerge from nowhere.
From the start, the differences between the camps were glaring.
The walls that surrounded the Ark were more a fence than walls; they were stakes of wood, circled in barbed wire, and came up only to your waist. But the walls that bordered the Ship seemed to make the place into a fortress: they looked to be hobbled together from scraps, creating a thick impenetrable barrier that rose up to the sky, hiding the grounds of the camp from view. Guards stood on the wall, shouting at people within the camp to open the doors.
Her heart jumped into her throat, and she tried to school her features.
They weren’t greeted with the clearing in the woods that she expected.
Instead, the settlement was built around the trees.
She was surprised, too, at the size of the actual black, crashed ship: it was much, much smaller than the Ark was. She knew immediately that everyone in the settlement wasn’t able to live in it, which explained the small, brown cabins that spread through the trees like spokes on a wheel from the center of the camp.
The people were different, too.
They seemed younger, and louder, and darker with the sun, looking at Clarke with wide, curious eyes. She heard a laugh from above, and glanced up to spot a girl with long brown hair down her back, perching in a tree. Clarke smiled, earning a giggle from the girl.
“I thought you wouldn’t be back for another week!”
Clarke snapped her gaze from the trees in time to see a thin, pretty girl pull Bellamy into a hug. “I missed you, too,” he said, smiling. “Hey, um—” He stepped away from her, turning to Clarke, and the girl raked her eyes over Clarke. “This is my sister, Octavia,” he introduced. “O, this is Clarke. My . . . wife.”
Octavia nodded. “Wait, what?” She gaped at him, at Clarke.
“Surprise,” Bellamy said.
Aurora cut off his chance to explain, appearing at their side. She hugged Octavia, pressing a kiss to the top of her head, and looked at Bellamy. “We need to get a cabin ready for you,” she told him. “You can’t live with us when you’ve got a wife. How about the one behind the clinic?” She glanced at Clarke. “I assume you want to work in the clinic,” she said, and Clarke nodded.
She hadn’t thought about it, but. Yes.
Her mind was stuck on the words you’ve got a wife. She was a wife.
She was going to share a cabin with her husband.
Aurora asked Octavia to show Clarke around the camp in the meantime. She agreed, starting in on Clarke as soon as they were alone. “Okay, Princess. That’s the clinic, that’s the butcher’s. Follow that path, and you’re at the garden. Now what’s the deal? I thought the plan was for you to marry Graham.”
The way she said it annoyed Clarke.
“It was,” Clarke said. “But I wasn’t in on the plan. Neither were my parents. They agreed to marry me off, but they wanted me to have a choice, and the Commander agreed to it.”
Octavia stared at her. “Why’d you choose my brother?”
“It was him or Graham,” Clarke said.
“Right. So. Why’d you choose my brother?”
She didn’t know what to say. She knew her choice didn’t make sense. That usually she went for the sweet, charming boy, and that was Graham. But there was a color to his charm that she didn’t like, and there was the look on Bellamy’s face when he gave that speech, and “I liked him,” she said.
It took a moment, but Octavia nodded. “Okay. Come on. I’ll show you the kitchen.”
The sky grew dark within an hour.
Dinner was stew, and people grouped off with their food, sitting at the fires that burned in bins around the camp, or going into the cabins. Clarke sat around a fire with Bellamy, Octavia, and Aurora, slurping up the stew eagerly, and trying not to moan at the taste. She'd had venison before, but it'd never tasted that good.
She followed Bellamy to their cabin as soon as they finished with dinner.
“It’s not the Ark,” he said, and his voice was low, defensive.
It was smaller than the apartment on the Ark where she lived with parents, but there was a fireplace, and the cabin grew warm quickly after Bellamy started a fire. There was a table with chairs, a trunk, and a wardrobe, furs in a pile that she realized was meant to be a bed, and, under the window, a bookcase that was lined with books.
She was stunned. The library on the Ark didn’t make it the ground.
“Where did you find these?” she asked, brushing a finger carefully against the spines.
He shrugged. “I found a few in a bunker, traded with the grounders for a few.”
“Can I?” she asked, glancing at him.
“Um, sure, yeah. Yeah, of course.”
She pulled a book off the shelf. The cover was leather, and the book was bound with neat, looping stitches. “Did you do this?” she asked, opening the book. The pages were yellowed with age, and she turned them gently. The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.
“My mom used to be a seamstress,” he told her. “She taught me how.”
She looked at him and saw that he was focused on the fire, poking at it with a stick.
Her eyes drifted to the bed.
She looked away quickly. She took the book to the table, sitting with her back to the bed, to Bellamy. She heard when he climbed into the bed, but she didn’t move a muscle until the fire started to die, taking the light she needed to read, and allowing the cold to seep in.
She closed the book, and turned to look at the bed.
Bellamy was curled under a fur, facing the wall.
She toed off her boots quietly, and placed them next to where her bag sat on the trunk. She’d brought her pajamas with her, but she didn’t want to change into them now. She climbed onto the fur with her jeans, sweater, and jacket on, and confirmed to her relief that Bellamy was asleep, breathing slow, deep, and even.
She wanted to slip under a fur, but she didn’t want to wake him.
Instead, she curled up on the blankets with her back to him.
Suddenly, it was dark, and quiet, and everything was perfectly, frighteningly still.
Once when Clarke was a child, Kane visited the Ship. She listened to him on the night of his return, talking with her mother in the kitchen while Clarke was in bed. She didn’t remember a lot, but she remembered how he’d called the people of the Ship uncivilized.
Now that she’d seen their settlement for herself, she understood what he meant.
She curled her hands into fists. It wasn’t that she loved the Ark, but she missed it terribly in that moment, realizing that it wasn’t her home now. That this camp and this cabin were supposed to be her home, that this was her life now, and it was permanent. She felt the sob rise up in her chest. How did this happen? How did she end up in this bed?
She pressed her lips together, swallowing to keep her tears at bay. It didn’t work.
Her body shook with tears, and she began to cry, but she kept her mouth shut, staying as quiet as possible, and curling into a ball to try to keep the sobs in close. She told herself to stop, to take a deep breath. There isn’t a point in crying about it. But she couldn’t stop.
She must’ve fallen asleep eventually, but it wasn’t a heavy sleep.
The moment his weight on the bed shifted, she woke. Hands brushed her back, and she panicked, trying to even her breath in hopes that he’d think she was asleep. The fur moved, sliding out from under her, and she understood when he pulled it up and over her.
His hands brushed her side, tucking her in.
Then his back was to her, and the room was quiet, still.
The fur was soft, tickling her neck. She burrowed into it, and sank to sleep at last.
Breakfast an the Ark was always wide, flat pancakes with eggs. But there was bacon at the Ship, and Clarke tried not to shovel it in, wiping at the grease on her cheek.
He pushed his bacon onto her plate with his fork, and moved to his feet. “Do you know the way to the clinic?” he asked. She nodded, and he took off, leaving her to herself. Suddenly, it felt like every single eye in the camp was on her. She ate quickly, dropped off her plate at the kitchen, and started for the clinic.
The doctor was nice, showing Clarke around.
They started to sort through the supplies from the ark, and Dr. Adams explained that he wasn’t, in fact, a doctor. “But I used to work in the clinic on the Ark when it was in space, meaning I was the closest thing we had to a doctor when we started up at the Ship. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but it’s good to have you to help. Do you know a lot?”
“Not a lot. I was only an intern at the Ark.”
“That’s better than where I started from,” he replied. “I was the janitor.” He smiled.
He explained a lot to her that morning. That children were in school until fifteen, and that was when they took up a trade: cook, guard, smith, or the like. He talked about the livestock that they kept, and explained that the dogs she’d seen belonged to the guards. He made easy, light conversation, and a patient came in before long.
It was a boy around her age, complaining to his girlfriend that it wasn’t that bad.
“Shut up,” she replied. She turned to Clarke. “He twisted his ankle.”
Clarke nodded. “Let’s have a look at it.”
He sat, rolling up the leg of his jeans for her, and she frowned at his red, swollen ankle.
“I’m Finn,” he said. “You’re the princess from the Ark, right?”
“Nice to meet you, Clarke. I’m Raven, and it’s sprained, isn’t it? It’s sprained.”
Clarke turned his foot, making him wince, and she nodded. “It’s sprained.”
Finn sighed, and “you’re an idiot,” Raven said, turning to Clarke to explain how, exactly, that idiot sprained his ankle: "he scaled a tree to pick a flower, and lost his footing."
“It was for you!” he exclaimed.
“Did you fall on your ass for me, too?” she replied.
Clarke smiled. She wrapped his ankle for him, and found crutches for him to use, telling him he needed to stay off his foot as much as possible for at least a week. He started to protest, but Raven cut him off. “You work in the forge,” she said. “We’ll get you a stool. Thank you for this,” she added, looking at Clarke.
They were at the door when Finn called over his shoulder. “Nice to meet you, Princess!”
He flashed a grin at her, turning away before he caught her glare.
She liked the pair, but doubt crept up on her when they were gone. That was what people at the Ship knew about her, wasn’t it? That she was the princess from the Ark, and she was there because her people were desperate, and they used her to buy a friendship with the people of the Ship.
It made her want to stay in the clinic, hiding from everyone.
But her stomach growled when it was time for lunch, and she wasn’t going to hide.
She made her way across the camp to where the food was set up, steeling herself for the looks from everyone. She got her food, and turned to find a place to sit when she heard their shouts. “Clarke! Hey, Clarke!” Her gaze landed on two gangly boys, waving her to where they sat with big, matching grins on their faces.
She headed for them. “Hi,” she said, hesitant.
“Hey! I’m Jasper, and this is Monty. It’s Clarke, right?”
She nodded, and sat on the log across from them. They asked her about her day, and “you work in the clinic, right?” Monty asked. She nodded, asking where they worked. Monty worked in engineering, and Jasper in the greenhouse. They joked about their jobs, about their lives on the Ship, and they were fun.
She returned to the clinic after lunch, and Bellamy showed up when it was time for dinner.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“Good,” she said. He nodded. That was it. That was their conversation for the night.
They got their food in silence, and started to eat in silence.
But their silent, awkward dinner was interrupted suddenly when a high-pitched, giggling shout rang out, and children ran up to them, chanting for Bellamy, saying it was Friday, Friday, Friday, time for a story, Bellamy, time for a story! There were at least a dozen eager, buzzing children, vying for Bellamy’s attention; a girl with frizzy red hair in braids hugged his back while a chubby, toddling boy scooted under his arm to cling to his waist.
“Who wants to hear a story about Cleopatra?” Bellamy asked.
They cheered, jumping in circles for a moment before they settled at his feet.
It was like a flip was switched, and they were quiet, looking up at him.
He started to tell a story about Cleopatra, and Clarke smiled at the faces that he made to accompany the voices he gave the characters, the way that he gestured with his hands.
The story was good, and he was good at telling it.
It entranced the children; they stared at him with little, gaping mouths.
Their parents emerged from the dark to haul them off when the story was done, but a few escaped their parents to hug Bellamy, kissing at his cheek, and saying thank you when their parents told them to. The sky was black above them when they headed to their cabin at last.
“I liked your story,” she told him.
He nodded. “Cleopatra was a badass.”
He started a fire while she was at the pump behind the cabin, washing her hands, her face. But she was in the clothes that she’d come to the Ship in, and she wanted to change. She waited until he was at the pump, and she was alone in the cabin for a minute, hurrying to change into fleece pajama bottoms, a sweater that her mother knit, and fresh, clean socks.
She was at the table with her book when he came in.
Her back was to him while he changed, and she heard him collapse onto the bed.
Again, she waited until the fire started to die before she joined him under the furs. But it was easier to drift off that night, listening to Bellamy breathe steadily in sleep. Heat radiated off his back, and she thought sleepily that she’d done it. She’d survived a day.
It was easy to fall into a routine. She learned her way around the camp, started a schedule with Dr. Adams, making is possible for him to have afternoons off, and her to have evenings off. She started to learn, too, the ways that the Ship was different from the Ark.
There wasn’t a curfew. The guards were allowed to joke on duty, to talk to you.
Laundry wasn’t a detail at the Ship like it was at the Ark; instead, people did their own laundry, and Bellamy showed Clarke what to do, how to scrub your clothes, to rinse them, to ring them, and to line them up along twine that was strung up behind the cabin.
But his mood was sour for days after that.
It started when she told him that she didn’t know how to do laundry; he turned mean, and he became short with her, treating her like she was stupid, like she was useless. It made her angry, and it made her want to cry, and it made her angry that she wanted to cry.
She didn’t get it, didn’t get him.
They didn’t talk for a week. If he was going to be mean to her, she was going to be mean to him.
“Okay, you’ve been at the Ship for a month,” Jasper said. “How do you like it so far?”
“It’s nice,” Clarke said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone’s been really nice.”
Jasper nodded. “Bellamy told us to be.”
“Not that we wouldn’t have been otherwise!” Monty added.
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Jasper said eagerly. “You’re cool.” He grinned.
She blinked at him.
In the month she’d been at the Ship, she’d gotten to know Bellamy’s friends.
There was Miller, Atom, Colin, and John, who were on the guard with Bellamy. Harper, who was quiet, and nice, and didn’t ask Clarke about the Ark constantly. Raven, who Bellamy liked, and Finn, who he didn’t. There was Octavia, too, and Jasper, and Monty.
Since the moment she’d met them, every single one had been truly, genuinely nice to her.
She asked Bellamy about his day at dinner that night.
He paused. “Good,” he said. He chewed his jerky. “How was, um, how was your day?”
Only a week later, she couldn’t find the plant that she needed for a poultice. She described it to him, and they left the camp that morning, traveling an hour to where a creek cut through the trees. She saw it immediately, growing in the mud along the bank, and slid down eagerly to get it.
They could’ve returned to camp at that point, but they didn’t.
They walked along the creek, stopped to have the lunch that they’d brought.
She told him about when she was little, and she used to sneak under the fence that circled the Ark, searching for treasure in the woods, and she kept a collection: feathers, and buttons, and stones, a spoon, a ring, a mirror with a handle and a pretty pink, pearly back.
“How old were you?” he asked.
She shrugged. “It started when it was eight. I went nearly every day that summer. After it got cold, I stopped. But I’d go every once in a while after that until I was, I don’t know, eleven? I couldn’t fit under the fence after that.” She smiled. “I didn’t learn until later that my father was in on it, and he’d follow me to keep me safe."
She didn’t want to think about her father, though.
“I used to do the same for Octavia,” Bellamy said. “Except that she didn’t bother to sneak out. She’d mosey on out, and I’d have to follow, and tell her not to touch the two-headed dear, or the weird glowing plants, or the giant hornet nest, ‘cause, you know, apparently, it wasn’t obvious that it was a bad idea to touch the giant hornet nest.”
“Did she listen to you?” Clarke asked, amused.
“Let’s not talk about the places I got stung.”
Clarke laughed. “She’s lucky to have you.”
“Tell her that,” he grumbled.
It didn’t occur to her to ask until later, returning to the ship. “How old is Octavia?” She looked at him curiously. She’d assumed that Octavia was around her age, but she couldn’t be. Octavia had to have been born on Earth, which meant that she had to be, what, fourteen? But that was crazy. She couldn’t be fourteen.
“Seventeen,” Bellamy said.
Clarke frowned. “How does that work?” she asked. Did Aurora adopt her?
He looked at her, and it took him a moment, but he realized what she meant. He sighed. “She was born in space. My mother didn’t have the heart to abort her like she was supposed to. She had her in our apartment, and we hid her under the floor for two years.”
It was quiet. She tried to imagine it for a moment, hiding a baby under the floor.
She looked at him. “Do you remember it? Space?”
“Not a lot,” he said. “I remember Octavia’s birth, and the trip to the ground.”
“Do you remember when the camps split?”
He glanced at her.
“I don’t,” she told him. “Nobody talks about it at the Ark.”
He nodded. “I remember,” he said. He paused. “The Ark wasn’t supposed to come to the ground. They didn’t know it could. But the Ship wasn’t going to be able to transport everyone to the ground, and they were forced to have a lottery to see who’d get to go, and who’d be left in space.”
She looked at him. Why didn’t she know this?
“People knew that was the way it had to be, but it, um, it got complicated. There were people who wanted to give every single child a ticket on, and people who didn’t, and there were people who thought the lottery was rigged to favor certain people. Doctors. Engineers.” He glanced at her. “The people with power, privilege.”
She stared at him. “Was it?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling humorlessly. “I was seven.”
She nodded. “What happened?”
“It got nasty, and a group said fuck it, and took the Ship. They detached from the Ark before they were supposed to, dooming the Ark, and those on it. That was when the people on the council figured out that they might be able to bring the Ark down, and they did. They had to. It was that, or die.”
“I came on the Ark,” she said.
He nodded. “You were supposed to come on the Ship. I wasn’t.”
“But you did.”
“I did.” He looked away from her. “The split didn’t happen on the ground. It happened in space. It happened when we got told to die, and, instead, we doomed you to die.”
“We didn’t, though. In the end, everybody made it to the ground.”
“Right. But that doesn’t change the fact that your mother is always going to look at the Commander, and see a villain, and that my mother is always going to look at the Chancellor, and see a villain.” He glanced at her, but she couldn’t read his expression.
She knew, though. She knew who was the villain to him.
She’d started to learn her husband in pieces.
She’d picked up facts about him, collecting them like feathers, stones, and buttons.
She knew that he loved history, and Octavia. That he was proud to be a guard, and toted a gun with him everywhere. That he loved apples, and he’d eat them dried, cut up, in a stew, or straight off the tree. That his freckles were darker in the sun, and that she liked the way the skin at his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
She knew that he despised the Ark, and the privilege he’d assigned to it.
But she thought he might like her.
It wasn’t a week after their trip to the creek that he came to see her in the clinic after lunch, which was a first. His cheeks were pink from the cold, but his temples were damp with sweat. She finished with a patient, and started for him. “What’s up?” He didn’t look sick, or injured.
“Got you a present,” he said.
“What? Why?” She blinked at him curiously, smiling a little.
“I thought you required presents.”
He grinned, presenting her with a small, metal key. “I found it in the woods.”
“I’ve never actually seen a key like that in real life,” she said, taking it from him. It was warm to touch; he must’ve had it in his pocket. “Thanks,” she added, and he nodded, clearing his throat a little, and left as quickly as he’d come, saying he’d see her at dinner.
December arrived, and Clarke woke up to find that the ground was dusted in snow, and it continued to fall in fat, fluffy flakes. It melted easily this time, but this was the start.
Three days later, the ground was frozen when it snowed, and it stuck.
Children were gleeful, running amok in the snow that piled up.
But the cold began to seep into everything, and everyone. There was a line at the clinic every single morning, and Clarke was faced with red noses, nasty coughs, and tired, pleading eyes. People were grumpy, and food was short, and everything was so, so cold.
Clarke piled on clothes, trying to keep the cold at bay.
It got to the point that she thought she’d never be warm again.
Bellamy tended to the fire throughout the nights, getting up periodically to prod it to life when it started to die. It was the coldest at night, yet that was when Clarke was the warmest, hiding under warm, heavy furs. Or that was the case at first. December faded into January, and it got colder out, and the cold snuck into the cabin.
It wasn’t her fault that she began to inch into Bellamy’s warmth at night.
For months, she’d kept to her side of the bed, and he’d kept to his.
But she was desperate to be warm, and Bellamy was a furnace, radiating heat.
It wouldn’t hurt to get just a little closer, to soak in just a little more. He might notice, but he wouldn’t say anything if he did. He was good at that, at not saying anything. She moved in little by little, scooting into his warmth inch by inch, and sighed at the feeling.
It woke her when he got up, and it took her a moment to realize he was at the fireplace, tending to the fire. Good. It’d gotten especially cold since she’d gone to sleep.
She curled up, closing her eyes.
He returned to the bed, crawled under the blankets, and pulled Clarke into his chest.
She tensed at his sudden, overwhelming closeness. “Go to sleep, Clarke,” he grumbled, but his arm loosened slightly, giving her the chance to slip away. She didn’t. He was warm, and he smiled like smoke, and soap, and that warm, familiar Bellamy smell, and she closed her eyes.
Bellamy hadn’t got his in, but she was a master at this. She rolled her shoulders, digging her heels into the ground, and swayed a little on her feet. Bellamy touched her hip to steady her, and held out the little plastic ball. She took it, narrowed her eyes at the cups.
“You got this,” he told her, and his breath fanned hotly against her cheek.
She nodded. Took aim, and tossed the ball.
It sailed in an arch, landing with a plunk in the cup in the middle.
The group around them roared their approval, cheering, and Clarke pumped a fist in the air in victory, tilting her head up to grin at Bellamy. He grinned, too, wrapping an arm around her shoulders from behind to pull her into his chest, and she leaned against him.
Raven thumped Jasper on the back, telling him to “drink up!”
Clarke raised her eyebrows at him.
“I see how it is,” Jasper said, downing the drink. “It’s on.” He pointed at her. “It’s on!” He tossed a ball, getting it in a cup, and slapped his hand in time with Monty. Clarke drank up. It was sweeter than alcohol at the Ark, and it settled warmly in her stomach.
It made it easy to forget that it was February, and freezing out.
Monty didn’t get his shot in, and Clarke whooped.
Bellamy kept her tucked into his chest when he took aim, and it bounced off a cup in the corner, and into the next. “Oh! Oh!” Clarke shouted. “Did that hurt? Did it hurt?”
Harper laughed while Jasper sighed loudly at Clarke.
Clarke sank her shot into a cup, making the crowd shout at Jasper to “send it back!”
There were parties at the Ark, but they weren’t like this: in the dark, in the snow, around a bonfire that leapt impossibly high, reaching for the white pinprick stars, loud, and drunk, and happy, dancing to music beat out on drums, and playing silly, stupid games.
Bellamy missed, but Clarke got her ball in, leaving the boys with two measly cups.
Jasper grabbed at his hair. “This is impossible,” he said. “It’s impossible to beat her.”
“We’ve got this, man!” Monty exclaimed.
“She’s a ninja!” Jasper hissed, turning wide, glassy eyes on Monty.
Monty grabbed his shoulders, and shook him. “Get it together, man!” he shouted. “We’ve got this! Don’t let her get in your head!” He stabbed at his head with his finger. “Her reign as the beer pong champ is coming to an end, man. We’re ending it! We’ve got this!”
“We’ve got this,” Jasper said, nodding. “We’ve got this. Let’s do it. LET’S DO IT!”
He turned to the table, bit his tongue between his teeth, and tossed a ball. It missed.
Clarke laughed, and Monty coached Jasper to “walk it off, walk it off!” before he missed his shot, too. Bellamy got his, and Clarke licked her lips, narrowed her eyes, and aimed. Jasper screamed to throw her off, but it didn’t work. The ball sank into the last, lone cup.
She threw her arms up at the cheers, stumbling into Bellamy’s chest.
He laughed, and she looked up at him. “I’m super good at this game,” she told him.
“I noticed.” He smirked.
Octavia grabbed Harper, pulling her up to play against them next. Octavia was better than her brother, but Harper was terrible. Still, it was close; once Clarke started to see in double, things got dicey. It came down to one cup versus one cup, but they took it home.
Bellamy got the shot that won, and Clarke smacked a kiss to his cheek.
“I think it’s time to call it a night,” Bellamy said.
She blinked at him, and sighed, nodded. “Fine.” She didn’t know when, but she seemed to have lost feeling in her fingers, and she was dizzy with the pull to sleep when she closed her eyes for a second. “But you might have to carry me. My legs seem to be off.”
She screamed a moment later when he scooped her up.
“Sleep tight, Princess!” Finn yelled.
She waved at him, and Raven laughed, making Clarke laugh, and her head lolled against Bellamy’s shoulder. Her gaze caught on Graham, sitting with a girl in his lap. He saw her, and he winked. She dropped his gaze quickly, unsettled. “I don’t like him."
“Who?” Bellamy asked.
“That clears it up,” Bellamy said.
The noise from the party seemed to fade abruptly, taking the warmth of the bonfire with it, and Clarke curled into Bellamy. It was funny, being carried like this. She liked it. “This is nice,” she told him. She closed her eyes, and she didn’t remember going to bed.
It figured that she was going to be hung over when Commander Sydney came to the clinic. Clarke hadn’t seen her in months, only to turn and find herself face to face with her.
“Commander,” she said, startled.
Sydney smiled. “Hello, Clarke. How are you?”
“I’m well,” Clarke said. “How are you? Is something the matter?”
“No, dear,” Sydney replied. “I didn’t come for your care, although I’m told it’s excellent. Actually, I came to check on you. I realized that we haven’t spoken since you came to stay with us, and I wanted to know how you’ve settled in. I hope things have been good.”
“Um, yeah. Yes. I’ve settled in, and things are good.”
“Good. Good.” Sydney smiled, and this time there was a bright, conspiratorial gleam in her eye. “I heard you enjoyed yourself last night,” she said.
“Oh, um.” Clarke flushed. “Yes. I did.”
Sydney laughed. “It’s good to be a teenager once in a while, isn’t it?” She brushed a hand over Clarke’s arm, and her face seemed to soften. “I know I told you this when you arrived at the Ship, but it can’t hurt to repeat it. If you need anything, I want you to come to me. I mean it. I want to the Ship to be home to you.”
Clarke nodded. “Thanks.” She paused, and Sydney saw. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Please,” Sydney said.
“Why did you want me? Why did you want to seal the alliance with a marriage?”
It was something that she thought about a lot. They demanded that the Ark give Clarke to the Ship in marriage, yet they hadn’t asked Clarke to do a thing for them since she’d arrived at the Ship, and it bugged her. What was the point? What did they want from her?
Sydney seemed to assess Clarke. “That’s how it’s done on the ground,” she said at last.
“Right,” Clarke said. “But we aren’t grounders.”
“I like to think we might be,” Sydney replied. “Just a little bit.” She smiled. “But I know it was a lot to ask you to leave your family, and your friends, and you deserve to know why. Marriage brokers peace between families, Clarke, and it’s my hope that it’ll broker peace between camps.”
“That’s what you want from me,” Clarke said. “To broker peace for you. That’s my job.”
Sydney smiled. “Your job is to make a life with us,” she said. “Make us your family, and the family you were born into might start to consider us family, too. That’s it, Clarke.”
Clarke nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Sydney echoed. “Have a good day, Clarke. Let me know if you need anything.”
The last, dreary days in winter brought their worst. Atom was the first to come to Clarke, complaining that his back was sore, and he thought he might have a fever, and she recognized the symptoms immediately. He was the first, but influenza was contagious.
In days, the flu seemed to swallow up the camp.
Clarke was ready, though.
She used a kerchief to cover her face, wearing it like a bandit.
She coached people to wash their hands thoroughly, put the sick to bed in the clinic, giving them fluids, and blankets, and cold, damp towels to ease their fever, and she stayed up through the night with the children, checking on them constantly, singing to them, having them sip at tea to help with their pain.
Aurora caught it early. Bellamy was a terror about it.
He adored his mother, and it made him that person.
“If she’s got a fever, isn’t the blanket going to make it worse?” he asked. She told him the blanket was for the chills, but he wanted to know what to do about the fever, and her cough seemed worse than it was supposed to be, which meant she might’ve gotten pneumonia, right?
Clarke sighed. “I’d know if it turned into pneumonia,” she said, “and it hasn’t.”
Didn’t he have a place to be, a job to do? Didn’t he need to be a guard, or something?
“What should we do for her pain?”
“Help make her comfortable, which I’ve done,” Clarke said.
He frowned. “What about moonshine? Murphy said—”
“Murphy isn’t a doctor,” Clarke replied.
“It couldn’t hurt to—”
She lost it.
“Out!” she yelled. “It doesn’t help your mother for you to hover, and harass me. Out!”
She began to push him to the door, and he scoffed, and grumbled, and reminded her that it was his mother, and she told him that it was her mother-in-law, and she yanked the door shut as soon as he crossed the threshold, cutting off his response. She sighed. There.
It surprised her when Aurora gave a soft, low chuckle.
Clarke smiled, and it was quiet.
She checked on the tea that she’d left to steep, and returned to Aurora, who sighed when Clarke pressed a cool, damp cloth to her neck, her cheek. She opened her eyes, looking feverishly at Clarke. “Has he been good to you?” she asked.
Clarke stared at her. “Yes,” she said softly. “Yes.” She smiled.
“Good.” Aurora coughed, and closed her eyes. “My boy,” she murmured.
The disease continued to spread wildly across the camp. Clarke was dead on her feet, but she hadn’t lost a patient yet, and she wasn’t about to. Aurora recovered, and Raven brought Finn in; he was surprisingly pliant, doing what Clarke told him to, and giving her big, feverish smiles.
“How’s the pain?” she asked, checking on him.
“I’ll live,” he replied.
She made him sit up to drink the tea, and he stared at her intently with red, tired eyes, and this flushed, dopey look on his face. “What?” she said, amused. She checked his fever.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Try to sleep,” she told him.
Two days later, Clarke lost a patient. He was older, and he died in his sleep. It set off a chain: a woman suffered a miscarriage at five months along, a two-year-old boy was next, dying in Clarke’s arms, and a man with two young kids died from complications with his heart.
She knew it could be worse.
Her mother told her once about that first, awful winter on the ground, how they weren’t prepared for the cold, and there wasn’t enough to eat, and the flu picked them off like flies. If it was bad at the Ark that winter, Clarke couldn’t imagine how terrible it was at the Ship.
Still. The fact that it could be worse didn’t make their deaths easier.
The exhaustion began to weigh on her, and Bellamy noticed. She knew she looked like a wreck, had circles under her drooping, bloodshot eyes, and it didn’t help that she hadn’t slept in their cabin in weeks. He started to bring her meals to her, and insist that she sleep for at least an hour in the afternoon, and longer at night.
But he was next to catch it.
He was healthy, and strong, and she knew he was going to be fine, but it made her panic slightly, seeing him on a cot in the clinic with a flushed, sweaty face. She checked on him more than she needed to, pressing her ear to his chest to hear him breathe in, breathe out. She sat with him, and ran her nails along his arms lightly; her mother used do that for her.
To her relief, he made it through the worst of the fever.
That was when she learned that if Bellamy didn’t have a fever to put him out, he was awful when he was sick. He complained about everything, turning into a bratty, petulant five-year-old with a cough.
Honestly, it was worse than when his mother was sick.
But it figured that a mama’s boy like Bellamy was a menace when he was sick.
She always thought the way people acted when they got sick said a lot about them. Did they suffer in silence, or act like death was near? Did they want to be cared for, or did they refuse to admit that they were sick? Did they take it in stride, or turn into whiny little kids? She used to roll her eyes at those patients.
But she found it amused her when it was Bellamy.
She didn’t know why; it might’ve been the relief that he really, truly was going to be fine.
He shifted restlessly in his cot, grumbling until she came to check on him, but, naturally, he was impossible to please once she was there, trying to make him feel better. "Do you want some tea?" she offered.
He glared at the suggestion. "Do you have some secret, special tea that'll make my back not hurt?"
She gave him a look. "No, unfortunately."
"Then I'm fine," he said, rolling over to face away from her.
She sighed. "How about water?"
"What about Miller? To keep you company?"
She crossed her arms over her chest. "Then what is it, exactly, that you'd like me to do for you?"
"Nothing," he said, sulky. She leaned over the cot, grazing her nails up his arm, and he ignored her. She straightened. He'd be fine, and he'd get over his whiny, woe-is-me shtick soon. Hopefully. But when she started to leave, he made a noise in his throat. "Where are you going?"
She raised an eyebrow at his back. "To tend to the sick."
"Is that so? Well, you've handled it so stoically that I've hardly noticed."
He muttered under his breath, hunching up his shoulders a little.
She heaved a sigh, and sat on the edge of the cot, rubbing his arm. He turned it slightly, and she bit in her smirk. Ah. There it was. He wouldn't say it, but that was what he wanted. She scratched his arm, trailing her fingers to his back after a minute, and pushed her hand up under his shirt to graze her nails across his bare, clammy skin.
"How's that?" she asked.
"'S good, I guess," he mumbled, and she rolled her eyes, but she stayed with him until his breathing slowed with sleep.
In a week, he was on his feet.
February started to wind to a close, and it seemed to take the flu with it. Bellamy returned to work, Jasper hadn’t caught pneumonia like Clarke worried he might’ve, and she allowed herself to sleep for nearly six hours that night. She felt like a new woman when she woke up.
Bellamy brought her breakfast in the morning, which he hadn’t done since before he got sick. The clinic was empty other than Clarke, sitting on a cot with a book, and Fox, who slept with her head in Clarke’s lap.
“How are you feeling?” she asked. It wouldn’t hurt to monitor his health for a while.
“Good,” he said, nodding.
Clarke smiled. “Good. I think the worst is over now,” she told him. She glanced at Fox, drooling a little in her sleep, and back at Bellamy. “We’ll be okay,” she said.
“We’ve never survived like this before,” he said. He paused. “That’s on you.”
Her neck warmed a little at his gaze. “I’m glad I could help,” she replied.
He nodded, moving to his feet. “I should get back to work.” He seemed to hesitate, then leaned forward suddenly, and pressed a kiss to the line where her kerchief cut across her cheek. He left, and she let out the breath that had caught in her chest, smiling at nothing.
Gifts began to show up at the cabin for Clarke that afternoon.
There was sweet purple honey, a scarf, moonshine, a notebook, salt that Bellamy told her somebody must have traded with the grounders for, gloves, a little music box, a brown teddy bear. Clarke hugged the bear to her chest, and Bellamy said it belonged to Micah.
She remembered Micah. “He didn’t need to give me his teddy,” she said.
“He wanted to,” Bellamy replied.
She crossed the camp to thank the boy, and realized the change with a start; it was in the way people looked at her, the way they talked to her: suddenly, she wasn’t a stranger from the Ark. “Clarke!” Micah cried, eager to show her that he’d lost a tooth, and his mother smiled at Clarke.
Clarke smiled, too, exclaiming over the gap in his teeth until he was pink with pleasure.
The ground started to thaw at long, long last in March. The days were longer, the trees were greener, and the camp seemed to breathe out in relief, knowing they’d survived the winter, and spring was on the way at last.
It wasn’t long before people began to leave the camp for a day at a time in droves.
They wanted to be out, to enjoy the weather.
“Is that a bicycle?” Clarke asked.
It was an old, mangled contraption, leaning pathetically against the cabin; the frame was rusted, bent slightly in the middle, it looked like a handle might have been chewed on, and the cushion was torn off the seat. But there were two wide, rubber tires, and it was a bicycle.
Bellamy nodded. “Octavia wants me to put air in the tires.”
“Can she ride it?”
He glanced at her, and a smile stretched slowly across his face. “Do you want to?”
They left the camp that afternoon with Octavia, and Raven, too. They heaped advice on Clarke while they made the hike to the clearing, telling her it was a mistake to try to pedal slowly, and you’ll fall if you try, and you have to be careful not to jerk the handles, or you’ll crash, and if you panic, stick your legs out, dragging them on the ground to stop.
Honestly, they made it worse. She was a mess, straddling the bike at last.
Bellamy gripped the handles over her hands. “Start to pedal, and I’ll go with you.”
She put her feet on the pedals, tightening her grip on the handles.
“Go on,” Octavia said, amused.
It took her a minute to get a feel for how to do it, but she began to pedal, and Bellamy kept the bike up, walking alongside her. “If you want me to let go, you’ll have to go faster.”
“I don’t want you to let go,” she replied.
He grinned, leaning forward slightly, and started to run; it forced her to pedal harder, and it made her blood pump faster, and she laughed a little. He let go, and she made it a foot before the bike started to careen dangerously to the side, and she threw her legs out, dragging her feet along the ground, and jolted to a stop with a hopping, graceless motion.
Raven burst into laughter.
Clarke pressed a hand to her heart. “I think I might’ve had a heart attack.”
She refused to allow Bellamy to steer after his betrayal, and she gave the job to Octavia. It was a mistake. Octavia took off at a run, and Clarke pedaled madly before, abruptly, Octavia was gone, and the bike reared up like it was about to flip, making Clarke scream.
The crash was spectacular.
“Oops,” Octavia said, and Raven clapped.
Bellamy jogged to her, hauling her up along with the bike. Her elbow was scraped up, and her calf, too, but she’d gotten a rush in those seconds before the crash, and she grinned breathlessly at him. “I’ll take that to mean you aren’t ready to give up,” he said.
“Nope,” she replied, settling on the seat.
In the end, she returned to camp with achy, overworked calves, scrapes up her arms and down her legs, a bruise on her shoulder, her knee, and her hip, and a twinge in her back, and she hadn’t really managed to bike on her own for longer than ten or fifteen seconds.
She didn’t care. She was on a high. She’d ridden a bicycle, and it’d felt like flying.
It took her a while to fall to sleep that night.
She grinned in the dark, and when Bellamy started to snore like he did when he slept on his stomach, she didn’t wake him to make him roll over. She was filled with sudden, giddy affection for him and his snoring, and she kissed his shoulder, cuddling into his side and resting her cheek on his back.
She woke in the morning to feel his erection against her thigh.
It wasn’t the first time, and it didn’t startle her like it used to. Instead, it made a warm, nervous feeling tug in her stomach, and she pressed in closer to him, falling back asleep.
They traded with the grounders regularly, but this was different. This was a festival.
“It’s like a three day party,” Octavia said.
It happened once in the spring, and once in the fall: the grounders from every single tribe met in a meadow nearly a week’s trek from the Ship, and for three long days they traded in the day, celebrating at night with competitions, drinking, and dancing, and games for the children.
Clarke was ready to go as soon as Bellamy described it to her.
The group that went from the Ship was large, bringing a cart with items to trade, and they arrived to find the clearing was packed with grounders.
Clarke didn’t know where to look first.
The grounders knew Bellamy, shaking his arm, and pounding him on the back, and they spoke to him in a language Clarke didn’t know. He’d gesture at Clarke while he replied, introducing her, and they’d grin, and nod, and clap him on the shoulder. It wasn’t hard for her to figure out what the word for “wife” was, or “congratulations.”
They traded for cloth, and for livestock.
Bellamy found a book, too, and traded for several glass bottles that Clarke wanted.
In the evening, Octavia got drunk on bitter heather beer, and she decided to haul Clarke with her everywhere. She pulled Clarke away from Bellamy to introduce her to Nyko, who turned out to be a healer, too, but she didn’t give Clarke a chance to talk to him; she dragged Clarke into a dance with the women only, and to meet Indra after that.
She pushed a cup with beer into Clarke’s hand, pointing to a man.
“That’s Lincoln,” she whispered.
Clarke looked at her, and there was a bright, mischievous gleam in Octavia’s eye. Clarke grinned, and Octavia pressed her nose into Clarke's cheek for a second in happy, drunk camaraderie before she dragged Clarke over to introduce her to Lincoln. She seemed to introduce Clarke to everyone that night. She spoke the language of the grounders better than Bellamy, who was slower when he spoke, halting; Clarke couldn’t pick it up when Octavia spoke.
In the morning, she repeated to Bellamy what it was that Octavia called her repeatedly when she introduced her. “What does it mean?” she asked.
The line of his lips curled up slightly. “Sister,” he said.
She bit her lip, pleased. “Oh.”
Bellamy grinned, reaching out to tug on a braid that Octavia had put into Clarke’s hair.
Miller was allergic to pollen, and it put him out for the count for a week in May, forcing the guards to cover his shifts in the evenings. Bellamy took a shift on Wednesday, and Clarke realized with a start that it left her with the cabin to herself for an evening. She knew immediately what to do.
Take a bath.
Now was her chance. Bellamy was gone on excursions away from camp for a day at a time, but he was always, always back in the evenings.
It took her a while to start a fire, but she got it going at last.
She brought in the tub from where it lived at the pump behind the house. It was cold, and muddy, but she let it warm next to the fire, and wiped it down, and she began to pump water into the bucket that Bellamy used when he shaved, slowly filling up the tub with it.
She was shaky with excitement when she finally stripped off her clothes, climbing in.
The water was chilly, but the fire warmed the cabin, and it was perfect.
Monty gave her soap a while ago to use on her face, and she used up the bar that night, washing the grime off her skin; she ran her cold, soapy hands through her hair, too, tugging out knots until she was numb with the cold, and she was forced to leave the tub.
She’d forgotten what bliss it was to be clean.
She put on clean, dry pajamas, and stole a fur from the bed to wear on her shoulders.
Bellamy wouldn’t like it, but she’d dump the water in the morning. He’d live.
She curled up on the bed with a book, and that was where she was she heard them. The door started to open, and Clarke glanced up, only for the door to still before their voices drifted in from the cold. Clarke frowned a little; she didn’t recognize the voice of the girl.
“—haven’t gotten to hang out with you in a while,” she said. “I miss you.”
“Roma,” Bellamy said.
Her response was soft, muffled.
Clarke found her spot on the page. The libertarian ideas that took root in Virginia were very far removed from those that went to Massachusetts. Roma laughed. Clarke tried to focus. The Virginians thought of liberty as a hegemonic condition of dominion over others.
“—my cabin,” Roma said. “Trina won’t care. I know you want to, Blake.”
“I have a wife,” Bellamy said.
Clarke stared at her book, but the words seemed to swim on the page.
“In name,” Roma replied.
It was quiet, and Clarke wanted desperately to see Bellamy’s face.
“Come on, Bellamy,” Roma pushed, and her voice was clear, smug. “When was the last time you had a good, long fuck? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I don’t mean the last time you got the princess under you, and she lay there and took it. I mean—”
“If you want to get fucked,” Bellamy growled, “find somebody who isn’t taken.”
The door started to open completely, and Clarke panicked.
She played at sleep, dropping the book, rolling over, and closing her eyes.
Her heart continued to hammer loudly against her chest, but she forced herself to breathe in deeply, evenly, and opened her mouth a little. She didn’t have to bother. Bellamy ignored her, stomping around the cabin. “Dammit, Clarke,” he muttered, and she listened to him drag the tub out the door.
The conversation played on a loop in her head.
He returned, and his footsteps crossed the cabin. Stopped, and it was quiet.
She didn’t know for certain, but she knew for certain: he stood over her, staring at her. She allowed herself to move sleepily when she felt him at her side suddenly, when he took the book, and tucked her into the furs. He tended to the fire, prodding it back to life, and undressed.
He crawled into the bed next to her.
She remembered that speech he’d given her, how he’d told her you’ll be my wife, and I’ll respect that, and there was a knot in her stomach when he curled an arm over her side. She didn’t know why it made her want to cry suddenly, having Bellamy hold her like he always did.
She wasn’t going to think about it. There wasn’t a reason for her to think about it.
But she thought about it.
It was pride that she'd felt when Bellamy told the grounders that she was his wife. She was proud to be his wife, proud that he was her husband. Only he was her husband because his mother told him to be. He was tied to her through obligation, and that was it.
Then there was Roma, and bitterness rose up in Clarke.
She slept with my husband.
Not while he was her husband, but. She was tempted to ask Raven about her.
She didn’t know how it started, but Raven came to keep Clarke company in the clinic a lot, bringing her devices to fiddle with while Clarke sterilized tools. On particularly long, lazy days, they’d take a break from work, snacking on honey or strawberries or granola.
Spring was busy for most at the Ship, but it wasn’t for them, and they basked in it.
It was on one of those days that Raven asked. Clarke finished her explanation of how the plumbing on the Ark worked, and it was quiet before—
“Do you miss it?”
Clarke blinked. “The Ark?” she said, and Raven nodded. “I used to. I used to miss it a lot, my parents, my friends. But I had to—" She sighed. "It was like the only way I could deal with it was not to think about it. Only now I’ve not thought it about for so long that I don’t . . . I don’t know.”
“If I were you, I think I’d hate them," Raven said. "My parents.”
“I’ll admit, I wasn’t nice to my mom when I left,” Clarke said, and she reached for the jar of honey; Raven passed it to her, and Clarke dipped her finger in for a taste.
“Did they try to fight it?” Raven asked. She paused. “Did you? I mean, not to pry—”
Clarke shook her head. “It’s fine. Yeah, I fought it, and I think they tried to fight it, too, or they did at first. It happened really quickly, though, and it—” She tried to think about how to explain it. “Things are different at the Ark. I don’t mean, like, the technology, or the way the council works. We’re raised to believe in different things.”
“Duty and sacrifice,” Clarke said. “It’s everything at the Ark. You don’t come first. Your people come first. You don’t make choices for you; you make them for everyone. The rules, doing what’s right, and doing your part, that's what we’re taught. It’s everything we know, and I guess it works.” She shrugged. “It keeps us alive.”
“I don’t think I could do it,” Raven said. She took the honey, spooning out some with her pinky.
“Well, you were raised at the Ship.”
“Right, and what do we believe in?” she asked. She looked at Clarke, amused. “Since it sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.”
Clarke smiled. "Freedom. I don’t know if you guys see it, but. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything you do.”
"That sounds about right.”
It was quiet, and Clarke thought about it. “I do,” she said at last. “I do miss it. I miss my friends, my one friend especially, and I think I miss—I miss what it felt like to know without a doubt that you belonged.” She didn’t know where she belonged now. It wasn’t at the Ark, but it wasn’t at the Ship.
Raven nodded, and they continued to dip their fingers into the honey. “Hey.” Raven looked at Clarke. “You know we’re friends, right?”
Clarke smiled, glancing at the jar. “I know,” she said. “Um. Do you know Roma?”
“Do you like her?”
Raven shrugged. “She’s okay. Why?”
“No reason,” Clarke said. “I, ah, I heard Jasper say her name, and I realized there was somebody at the Ship I didn’t know yet.” She smiled, and Raven nodded.
She wasn’t going to think about it. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to think about it.
Graham came into the clinic on Friday, sporting a torn, bloody arm. “You should see the boar,” he said, grinning. She gestured for him to sit, cutting his shirt away from the wound. The gash was narrow and deep, circled by a swollen, purpling bruise.
“You’ll need stitches,” she told him.
He nodded. “You look nice,” he said. “I’m used to seeing you in scrubs.”
Clarke smiled tightly. “Aurora made it for me.” It was a pretty shirt: soft, light cotton that was dyed green, and embroidered with white thread, and little white beads. She’d been stunned when Aurora gave it to her, having never owned new clothes before, and knowing Aurora had traded with the grounders for the cloth, the thread, and the beads.
“How have you been?” he asked. “We never really hang out.”
Were they supposed to?
She wiped away the last of the blood that stained his skin. “Fine,” she replied after a beat. “Busy.” She threaded a needle. “This is going to hurt,” she warned, and she pinched at the wound, starting to sew it shut.
His jaw locked, but he didn’t complain.
It wasn’t until the wound was wrapped, and he was on his way to the door that he turned, and told her they could hang out. “I’d like to,” he added. “Just because we aren’t married, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” He smiled, and she nodded.
“I’ll need to keep an eye on those stitches, and make sure they aren’t infected,” she said.
“Then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told her.
She was late to leave the clinic that day, meaning the kids beat her to Bellamy, and they were engrossed in a story about a woman named Silvia when she joined them with her plate; Clarke didn’t know the story, but she settled in to listen, lifting up her plate when a girl wanted to sit in her lap.
Bellamy came to sit beside her after he was finished, and the children were gone.
“Hey. How was the clinic?”
“Good,” she said. “It got busy right at the end of the afternoon.” She paused. “Graham came in with a gash on his arm.”
Bellamy nodded. “Atom said he got into it with a boar.” He reached over to pluck a small potato wedge off her plate.
She bit her lip. “Do you like him? Graham.”
He glanced at her, and it took him a moment to reply. “I used to,” he said.
“He seems skeevy to me,” she admitted.
“Octavia says that, too.” He stole another potato wedge. “Guy’s an ass.”
“It’s weird to think I could’ve married him.”
He frowned slightly. “Yeah. Let’s not think about that. I probably would’ve had to beat the shit out of him. Repeatedly.”
It was stupid, but she smiled. He reached for another potato wedge, grinning at her when he popped it into his mouth. Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, swiping the last of the jerky off his plate, and she smiled smugly at him when she sat back, biting a piece off.
It bothered her for weeks before she mentioned it to him. “You need a hair cut,” she said.
He glanced at her, surprised.
But there wasn’t room for him to argue. His hair was curling down his forehead, around his ears, and at his neck. She didn’t think he’d had it cut since she’d met him.
“Okay,” he said. “I can get my mother to do it.”
She nodded. “Or I can,” she said. “I mean if you want, I can cut it. We can do it right now.” It was the morning, and they were at breakfast. But he wasn’t due to lead a small hunting party for close to an hour, and she was allowed to take a morning to herself; Dr. Adams could run the clinic for a bit.
He agreed, and went to pick up scissors from his mother.
But once he’d given her the scissors, sat in a chair, and was ready for her, she paused.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
She bit her lip. “I’ve never cut hair before,” she admitted. He laughed. She pushed at his shoulder, and told him to face forward. “How hard can it be?”
She fingered his hair, measuring a piece with her fingers, and nodded. She could do this.
In the end, she wasn’t certain she’d done a terrific job. But he was a boy, and it’d grow out, and at least now he didn’t look like a shaggy, unkempt puppy. She was nervous to show it to him, though. She ran her fingers through his hair, trying to fluff it up slightly.
“Okay.” She came to stand in front of him, handing him the square, wood-backed mirror that he used to shave.
He looked at his reflection, turning his head a little. He glanced up at her, and she met his gaze hopefully. But his gaze flickered to the mirror, and back to her, and back to the mirror. She started to get anxious, opening her mouth to assure him that she could fix it, and his lip twitched. “How nervous are you right now?”
She huffed, and he grinned.
“It looks good,” he said, lowering the mirror. “I like it.”
“Good.” She couldn’t help but smile in relief, and she reached out to brush at his hair, smoothing it down a little. Her fingers grazed the side of his face. He stared at her, making her neck start to warm, and she meant to drop her hand, and drop her eyes, too.
But he wouldn’t let her. He stared at her, and she couldn’t look away from him.
She stroked his cheek with her thumb.
He rose up to his feet suddenly, seeming to tower over her, and he’d stood this close to her before, but it’d never been like this. She tilted her head up to look at him; his gaze was heavy, drifting from her eyes to her mouth. Her lips parted inadvertently.
She surged up, and he leaned down.
The kiss was slow at first. Slow, and soft.
It ended, but she didn’t pull away from him, and her nose brushed against his when she lifted her gaze up to his. His pupils were wide, black, and heated.
They crashed into this kiss; she opened her mouth under his, and his lips moved roughly, making her desperate for more.
She’d never been kissed like this before. She grabbed for his arms to steady herself when she swayed on her feet, digging her fingers into the sleeves of his shirt, and his hands came up to cup her face, to slide into her hair, and he stepped closer, closing the distance between them.
He kissed and kissed her, and she was in a daze when he drew away at last.
He pressed wet, warm lips to her cheek, leaning his forehead against hers, and they caught their breath together.
His hands grazed down her back. “I’ve waited a really long time to do that,” he told her, straightening.
She nodded. “You shouldn’t have waited,” she said.
He smiled, and reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. She bit her lip, making him start to shake his head at her. She burst into laughter, and he smothered the sound immediately, covering her mouth with his. “Now that you’ve let me start, I’m not going to be able to stop,” he mumbled.
He sucked her lip into his mouth, and she couldn’t answer.
His hands skimmed down her sides, settling on her waist; she nodded into his kiss.
“What?” he asked.
She pulled her hands from his hair, breaking their kiss to reach for the bottom of her shirt, and his hands hovered at her waist when she yanked it up over her head, leaving her in her bra. He stared at her face for a moment, dropping his gaze slowly to her breasts. “Your turn,” she breathed.
He pulled his shirt off hastily, tossing it, and she surged into him for a kiss.
She ran her hands up his back, and his hands were on her hips, her sides, sliding around her back to undo the clasp on her bra. She yanked the straps down her arms, and he pulled her to him roughly, making her gasp into his mouth at the feeling of his chest against the tips of her breasts.
He stumbled towards their bed with her in his arms.
They dropped onto it, fumbling to get their clothes off, and she pushed him onto his back a moment later, straddling his hips. His erection pressed against her ass, making excitement shoot up her spine, making warmth pool between her legs; his hands traced up her back to tangle in her hair while she bent over him and littered kisses up his stomach, his chest.
It happened quickly.
His hands moved to her breasts, rubbing his thumbs against her nipples. She rocked against his stomach, trying to get the friction she wanted, and he cursed; his hands dropped to palm her ass, drawing a whimper from her before he rolled them over.
She wrapped her thighs around his hips, and he thrust into her.
She gasped at the pain, freezing under him.
“Fuck, Clarke,” he said, looking at her with wide, panicked eyes. “You—”
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she panted.
He paused, watching her face when he pulled out and started to push back in gently. But it hurt, and she winced, blinking at the tears that burned her eyes. “Shit,” he breathed. “Shit, Clarke, I’m sorry.” He pulled out, grimacing, and rose up to sit back on his heels.
“I—” But she didn’t know what to say, and she stared at him. Oh, God.
“You’ve never had sex before,” he said.
“Who would I have had sex with?” she exclaimed, embarrassed. “But I thought—” She couldn't finish.
She'd thought it wouldn’t hurt that badly. She’d heard it hurt the first time, but she hadn’t thought it would with Bellamy. Not after the way he’d kissed her, and the way he’d touched her, and how it’d made her feel; she’d never felt like that, including that time with Wells in the dark when they were drunk and sixteen and stupid.
Bellamy reached out to cup her face in his hands.
The slightest, smallest smile pulled on his mouth, and it took her breath, looking up at him, and seeing the way he looked at her with such sweet, sudden fondness.
“Okay,” he murmured. “Okay.” He leaned down to kiss her. “Tell me what you like, and what you don’t. Got it?” He caught her gaze.
He kissed her throat, trailing his mouth to the top of her breast, and he started to cover her in warm, sucking kisses, dropping them across her breasts, her stomach, her hips, brushing his hands up her thighs. It made her breath come hard, and she curled her fingers into his hair possessively. She loved his hair.
“Tell me where you want my hands,” he said. “Where do you want me to touch you?”
She swallowed thickly. “My—”
He bit her stomach, lavishing his tongue over the spot, and she couldn’t think.
“What?” he breathed. “Your breasts? Your ass? Your thighs?”
“—ass,” she said.
She felt him smirk into her skin, and his hands slid around her thighs to squeeze her ass, pressing the pads of his fingers in until she whimpered, only to arch off the furs with a gasp when his breath fanned between her legs, and he pressed his mouth to her clit. Her thighs clamped around his face, but he smoothed his hands up, and spread them, holding them open while he swiped his tongue between her folds.
“Does this feel okay?" he asked. “Tell me if it doesn’t.”
“It does,” she said, panting. “It does, Bellamy. Don’t stop—”
She bucked against his face when he pressed his tongue flat against her, and he kept at it.
He pushed his tongue into her, thumbing at her clit, and she tried to tell him what she liked, and what was off, or uncomfortable, but it was impossible to focus, and she thought she liked everything until he licked her that way, and “that,” she breathed, that was what she liked.
The sharp, tantalizing pleasure built slowly at first, only to spiral from her control in a sudden, pointed burst, and her back arched off the bed completely while the feeling washed over her. She was breathless after, blinking dazedly at the ceiling of the cabin.
Bellamy rose, kissing her only to draw away to look at her with dark, hooded eyes.
He snaked a hand to her breast, and raised a palm to her mouth. “I need you to get some spit on your tongue, and lick this for me,” he said. She nodded, holding his gaze while she licked his palm, and his eyes stayed on her when he took his dick in his hand, jerking off against her stomach.
She touched his thigh, grazing her fingers up to his ass.
But she wanted to kiss him, and she shifted, reaching a hand up to cup his neck, to bring him into kiss. He started to come, spurting across her stomach.
It took him a moment to catch his breath, and a pleased, lazy grin crept onto his face.
“How was that?” he asked. “Was that good?”
She rolled her eyes. “You know it was,” she said, and he opened his mouth to reply, but she didn’t give him the chance; she tugged at his shoulders, pulling him into a hug. She was sticky, and sweaty, and beginning to remember that it was eight in the morning on a Tuesday, but she didn’t care.
“We have to go to work now,” he murmured.
She blinked. Yes. They did, and it seemed like the funniest thing in the world at that moment. It was eight in the morning right now. She broke into laughter, falling back onto the furs, and Bellamy grinned down at her.
The day was wasted for Clarke after that. She wasn’t able to concentrate on her work. It got to the point that she saw Monroe’s wrist was sprained, started to think about about Bellamy while she fetched a wrap, and tried to wrap up the other, perfectly normal wrist.
It didn’t help that Bellamy found excuses to stop in to see her throughout the afternoon.
They ate their dinner in a rush, and were in their cabin in minutes.
He kissed and bit and sucked at her breasts, leaving purple, possessive marks, and he fingered her until she came apart on his hand with her face in his neck. She started to learn his body that night, too, mapping the planes of his back, the muscles in his arms, the scars that were hidden in his soft, dark skin, and he showed her how to jerk him off.
In the days that followed, he became affectionate with her in a way he never was before.
He came to stand beside her while she talked to Monty, and he stood closer than he ought to, making her heart beat faster than it was supposed to, and she had to cross her arms over her chest to try to keep it quiet. He rested a hand on her knee while they ate; he touched a hand to her shoulder after they finished a conversation, and parted ways.
He’d touched her like this on occasion in the past.
But it had been rare, and it had usually served a purpose: she was cold, or drunk.
He was at the clinic with the excuse that, well, actually, she didn’t know what his excuse was, and it didn’t matter. Miller came to fetch him, and Bellamy nodded, turning to go, only to give Clarke a quick, dry kiss before he went. There was an ease to it, a familiarity, and it made her heart expand until it pushed on her lungs, stealing her breath.
She skated her fingers lazily over his stomach that night, and she wanted him to know.
“I like it when you kiss me,” she told him.
His chest rumbled slightly with a chuckle. “That’s a relief.”
“I don’t mean when we make out,” she said. “I mean, I like that, too, but I meant I like it when you kiss me casually.” She bit her lip, resting her chin on his stomach when she turned her head to look at him. “Like it’s a habit,” she added. She hoped that made sense.
He smiled. “Noted.”
She kissed his stomach, scooting up to kiss his mouth.
She started to rock against his thigh when he deepened the kiss. “Bellamy,” she breathed, feeling his erection press into her stomach. But his response was to palm her ass, and slide a hand between them to play with her clit. He fingered her, rutting against her leg while she came with his finger curled inside her.
In the morning, they ate oatmeal for breakfast, and he kissed her casually before he headed off to go hunting.
Summer came with a thick, muggy wave of heat at the end of June, and Clarke basked in it.
She'd always loved summer.
She loved how long the days were, and how plenty the food was, and it turned out that summer at the Ship was better than summer at the Ark. People relaxed in the heat, and they were allowed to. They were allowed to stay up late into the night, smoking, drinking, and playing poker with peaches.
Clarke drank cold strawberry beer with Raven in the clinic at three in the afternoon, and nobody cared.
Her skin burned, peeled, and browned, and her hair was bleached to white.
Octavia, Raven, and Harper took Clarke to the lake in July, terrifying Clarke when they broke into a run suddenly to jump into the water from a narrow, rocky ledge. But they surfaced a moment later; Octavia yelled at Clarke to get her little white butt in the water.
Raven floated on her back, grinning up at Clarke while the water lapped at her face.
They learned to swim at the Ark, but it was in a small green lake by their camp, and it wasn’t like this. This was different; this was a dark, seemingly bottomless pit in the middle of the forest, and Clarke knew now why they’d called it the blue hole on the way there.
Clarke jumped, and Octavia, Harper, and Raven cheered, whistled, and whooped.
That night, she straddled Bellamy, and pulled her shirt up over her head.
She ran her hands up his chest; he hadn’t bothered to wear a t-shirt in days, which she’d learned was something the boys at the Ship liked to do in summer. His skin was warm and dark and sweaty under her palms, and she leaned down to lick her way up to his throat.
“You smell like the lake,” he said, dipping his fingers under her shorts to palm her ass.
“I hope that turns you on,” she replied, and she sat up to stare at him sternly, “because I’m not going to jerk you off tonight, or watch you jerk yourself off. No more of this whole you get me off in ten different ways, and I’m not allowed to do a thing for you.”
He smirked. “Nobody said you weren’t allowed.”
“Good,” she said, nodding. “Then you aren’t going to make this difficult. Now. Either we’re going to have sex, and I mean good, old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex, or I’m going to use my mouth on you.” She glared, daring him to try to argue with her about it.
He grinned. “Do I get to pick?”
“Do you have a preference?”
“Dammit, Bellamy!” she said, exasperated. “This is about you! Pick!”
He reached a hand up to pluck at her nipple, flipping them without warning a moment later. “Okay,” he said, moving his hands to her shorts. “I’m up for some good, old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex.” He kissed her. “Literally,” he breathed, bucking against her.
She shoved at his chest when she realized the joke, and he smothered his laughter into her cheek.
It was better that time, having him inside her.
He dipped his head between her legs, sucking at her clit until she started to thrash against the bed. He crawled up her to kiss her on the mouth before pushed into her, and he went slowly, giving her time to adjust, grinding against her once he was in her completely. She rocked against him, and her discomfort gave way to need, to pleasure.
She held onto his arms, staring up at him, and she couldn’t look away.
His gaze stayed with her when she arched her neck, pushed her head into the furs.
She came when he thumbed at her clit, and she hugged him to her chest after, burying her face in his neck while he thrust into her, and came inside her.
Afterward, she lay on her back, and he was on his side next to her, propping himself up on his elbow to look at her.
“Do you want me to get you tea in the morning?” he asked softly.
She blinked. “What for?”
“To prevent, you know,” he said, nodding.
It took her a moment, but she understood. “Oh, um.” She flushed. “Is that—is that allowed?”
He frowned. “What? Yes. Why wouldn’t—?” His mouth seemed to thin. “I take that to mean it isn’t allowed at the Ark,” he said, grim.
“It’s important to rebuild our population,” she replied. “That’s what we’re told.”
“Well, the Ship doesn’t regulate that stuff.”
It made sense. She hadn’t thought about it, but it made sense. “Then yes.” She gave him a tight smile. “Could you get me some tea? Tansy tea, right?”
He nodded. “But you, um. You want to have kids eventually, right?” he asked, brushing a hand up her stomach to cup her breast.
She stared at him. It hadn’t occurred to her to think about it like that before. She’d always assumed that she was going to have children eventually because, well, it was important to rebuild the population. But she’d never thought about whether she wanted to.
He waited, and his face was unreadable.
She thought about the children at story time on Friday, circling Bellamy with such excitement, such adoration, and how much she secretly loved it when one of the children climbed into her lap to listen to the story, and she'd have this warm, trusting weight in her arms.
“Yes,” she said. She smiled. “Eventually, I want to. Yes.”
He grinned, leaning in to kiss her. “Okay.”
She woke up later to feel his erection pressed into her back. Sleepily, she rubbed against him, and it made her laugh when he growled into her neck. He rose up, and his hands were on her hips, tugging her up, too, until she was on her hands and knees with her ass in the air, and he slid into her from behind.
It didn't take her long to realize that she liked it like this, oh, God, she liked it like this. She pushed into his thrusts, found herself spiraling when his teeth flashed against her neck, and he grunted her name into her skin when he started to come, too.
She woke in the morning when a kettle started to whistle, and the cabin was flushed with warmth from the fire that Bellamy had started to boil the water for her tea. She smiled.
He came into the clinic that afternoon with a peach. “I brought you a present.”
She sighed. “Can we never forget that?”
She gave him a look. “Well, I don’t want your present.”
He smirked. “Your loss.” He started to eat the peach, licking the juice off his lip.
She snatched it away from him. “Go away,” she said, and she bit into the peach. “I’m working.” Her mouth was full when she said it, which wasn’t helpful.
“You’re welcome." He grinned, tugging on her ponytail before he left.
Raven smiled at her. “Shut up,” Clarke said.
The heat started to grow insufferable soon after that, but there was ice in the cellar beneath the kitchen, and Monty used salt from the grounders to make peach ice cream. It was the most amazing, delicious thing she’d ever had in her life; she ate it until she thought she might be sick.
Eventually it got to the point that she couldn’t bear to be in the hot, stuffy cabin.
They stayed under the stars for hours at night, waiting for the world to cool.
She used a lantern from Aurora to read the last of the books like that, sitting in a plastic lawn chaise that stuck to her skin with her sweat while Bellamy smoked with Murphy, and crickets made a ruckus around them. “Annie, I love you. But it's after eleven and we must be up before six. Let's get some sleep, sweetheart.”
Bellamy laughed, and Clarke smiled into her book at the sound.
If she could stop time, she thought she’d stop it at that moment, and stay in it forever.
In the end, Atom slipped up. Miller was in the clinic to have Clarke look at cut on his leg that he thought might’ve gotten infected, and Atom came in to deliver a message about Miller’s shift. He was on his way out the door when he asked. “Hey, are you going to the Ark?”
“Ah, no,” Miller said, glancing at Clarke, and Atom nodded.
He left, but the damage was done. “People are going to the Ark?” Clarke asked. “When?”
Uncomfortable, Miller scratched at his neck. “Tomorrow."
She blinked. “Was anyone going to tell me?” she asked. "Was my husband?"
Miller stared at her, and she could see the wheels in his head turning, knew he was trying to come up with something to say. She stormed from the clinic before he could. Bellamy was at the edge of the cabins, helping to repair a roof, and she tore into him immediately.
“Miller told me that a group is going to the Ark tomorrow."
He stared at her, and it was clear this wasn't news to him.
“Were you going to tell me?” she exclaimed. The look on his face was the answer. Disbelief sprouted into her chest, making her heart pick up. “Why not?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “It’s to trade.”
“It’s to trade,” she repeated, and she knew. “This isn’t the first time.”
He sighed. “No.”
“How many times have people gone?” she said. “How many times have you gone?”
“How many times?”
“We go once a month.”
She gaped at him. “Once a month. Once a month?” He left the camp to hunt at least twice a week, and he was gone for the day. The trip to the Ark could be made in a day; a group could make it to the Ark and back in a day, in fact. “You go the Ark once a month when I think you’re hunting, and you didn’t see the need to tell me,” she said.
He pursed his lips, and it infuriated her.
“How long? When did this start?”
But she knew the answer. He didn’t have to say it. He did, though. “Since last September." Since the start. Since she came to the Ship, sealing the alliance.
“Why was it a secret?” She stared at him, and he didn't offer up an explanation, didn't even look like he wanted to. “Why couldn’t I be told?" she demanded. "Why didn’t you tell me?” She needed to get that look off his face. “What if I wanted to come?”
“You aren’t allowed to come,” he said at last.
“I’m not allowed to come. Right. Okay.” She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to mask her confusion with anger. “I wasn’t aware that I was a prisoner. That’s good to know."
"Who decided that?” she went on, glaring at him.
“I see. Does she have a reason?" She curled her hands into fists. "Does she have a reason, Bellamy?”
His jaw twitched. “You aren’t allowed to come until you’ve had a child.”
For a moment, she thought she hadn’t understood. “What? Why?”
“Once you have a kid, they'll know you're tied to us. For good. They'll know that you belong to us.”
She blinked. “Right.” Her lip trembled, and she clenched her jaw, trying to keep it together. But the truth was starting to sink in, and it made her sick to her stomach. “I guess that makes sense," she said. "Everybody knew, right? Your sister, and Raven, and. You.” It wasn’t a question. She knew the answer.
But he seemed to crack at last. “Clarke—” He reached out to touch her arm.
She jerked away from him grasp.
She’d made a home with them for nearly a year, yet she remained the princess from the Ark to them, their prize, owned. Suddenly, it hurt to look at Bellamy. Her husband, the keeper of the princess. She turned away from him. She needed to get back to the clinic. There was work to do.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I get it. I do, I get it.”
He didn’t try to stop her.
Raven showed up at the clinic in the afternoon. “Hey. I didn’t see you at lunch. Did you skip it?”
“The clinic was busy,” Clarke replied.
“I figured.” She smiled. "It’s why I brought you a snack.” She pulled a kerchief from her pocket. It was cornbread, and what looked like rabbit.
Clarke nodded. “Thanks. You can put in on the table.” She kept her gaze on the tools that she’d begun to sterilize before Raven arrived.
“Are you okay?" Raven asked. “You’re being weird.”
“Okay, well—” She stopped. “Clarke, are you—are you crying? What the hell’s going on?”
“No, you aren’t. What’s going on?”
Clarke spun to face her. “Did you know that a group goes to the Ark once a month?”
Raven stared at her. “You didn’t,” she said. Clarke smiled humorlessly. “I thought you knew.”
“Right.” Clarke turned away from her.
“I did,” Raven insisted. “Why wouldn’t you know? Hey. Clarke, I didn’t—”
“Can you just leave?” Clarke snapped. She closed her eyes, breathed in. “Can you please, please just leave?” she asked. “I can’t do this right now. Please.”
It was quiet for a moment. Clarke stared at a scalpel.
“Okay,” Raven agreed. “But I thought you knew.”
Clarke stayed in the clinic through dinner. She wasn’t hungry. There wasn’t a reason for her to return to the cabin to sleep either; there were perfectly good, empty cots in the clinic. She told Dr. Adams that she’d cover the clinic for the night, leaving her with the place to herself.
She woke in the morning to find a plate of food under a kerchief on the table next to her cot. It was cold, and she knew he must’ve left it hours ago. It didn’t matter; she ate it anyway, and went to greet a patient. They streamed in throughout the day, keeping her busy.
She picked up dinner for later at lunch, and slept in the clinic that night, too.
She did the same the day after that, only he showed up in the evening.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She didn’t look at him.
“I should’ve told you. I know I should’ve told you, and I’m sorry.” Bellamy paused. “Can you—can you come home now?”
She bit her lip. She didn’t want to sleep on a cot in the clinic. She wanted to go home. She wanted to have a home. “Okay,” she said. “I need to finish up with this first, though.”
He waited at the door for her while she finished her task, which really wasn’t that important, but she’d started sorting bandages by length, and she’d finish sorting bandages by length. She did, and they walked side by side in silence to their cabin.
They were back at the beginning. They didn’t talk, they didn't touch. She avoided his eye, and he slept with his back to her. For a week, there was silence between them.
It startled her when he cleared his throat abruptly on a Wednesday.
She’d come in from washing her face at the pump, was patting her face dry with a towel, and she glanced at him, uncertain.
“I’m leaving for a week,” he told her. “Octavia is going to stay with the grounders. To train with them, be a second. I'm taking her.”
“Oh. Oh, wow.” She knew it was something that Octavia had wanted to do for a long, long time, but she hadn’t realized it was about to become a reality. She'd thought that Aurora was refusing to allow it. Apparently, Aurora had changed her mind. “Okay. When are you going?”
“In the morning.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Also. I talked to the Commander. She said that she planned to go to the Ark with us in October, and that you could come, too, if you want to. In October.”
She stared at him. He'd talked to Sydney for her.
“It was the best I could do," he muttered, and he turned, starting for the door, no doubt to use the pump himself.
But she surged after him. In three quick strides, she caught up to him, and she wrapped her arms around him from behind.
He swayed on his feet slightly, stopping, and she closed her eyes, rested her cheek on his back.
Slowly, his hands came up to touch her hands where they were hooked across his stomach.
"I'm sorry," he murmured.
"Me, too." She stepped away after a beat, allowing him to turn to face her.
“I don’t want you to resent me,” he said. It was hard to see his face clearly when the only light in the room was the lantern, casting shadows, but his voice was rough, low. “Or our marriage. I know it was arranged, and you didn't get a choice, and—” He stopped. “I need you to know that if we’d grown up in the same camp, and we’d gotten a choice, I’d have chosen you.”
She swallowed thickly. “I’d have chosen you, too,” she whispered.
She hadn’t thought about it before, but she knew without a doubt that she meant it.
“Yeah?” he said, smiling slightly.
She nodded. “Yeah. Yes.” She smiled, too, and it made his smile widen. He reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear.
She took his face in her hands, leaning up on her tiptoes to kiss him, and he stepped in closer, wrapped her up in his arms, making her want to cry for no reason when he turned his face, and pressed a kiss to her cheek. She laughed a little, squeezing his shoulders.
His lips slid across her cheek, and he kissed her.
It was a slow, consuming kiss, taking her breath; it was a kiss that made her melt into his arms, and made her want to get closer still, want to melt into him completely.
She started to back up, taking him with her, and they sank onto the bed.
He undressed her, dropping kisses along the skin that he uncovered: to her ankle, her calf, and the side of her knee, to her hip, to her stomach, to where her heart beat wildly, trying to escape, trying to reach him. It left her shaky in his arms, fumbling to undress him in return.
He sat with her in his lap, and he kissed her while she sank onto him.
She hugged his neck, thinking I’d have chosen you.
She thought it over and over, hoping he could taste it in her kisses. If she could do it all over again, she’d choose him all over again.
He left with Octavia, Atom, and Colin in the morning, and she watched him go, crossing her arms against a chill. It was cooler today than it’d been in a while. Breezy. Summer was on the way out.
She found Raven at lunch, and sat beside her hesitantly.
Raven eyed her. “You better now?” she asked.
Clarke nodded. “I’m sorry I took it out on you.” Raven shrugged, and that was that.
Things were busy at the clinic that afternoon, and into the evening. Dr. Adams arrived for his shift, but Clarke didn’t leave yet; he needed the help, and it wasn’t like there was anywhere she needed to be. The place cleared out around eleven, and Clarke started to clean up.
“That seems like a chore that’ll keep until morning.”
Clarke jumped, and her gaze landed on Graham, leaning against the entrance to the clinic. “You startled me,” she said.
He smiled. “My bad.”
“Do you need something?” she asked.
“Nope. But I saw you from a distance, thought you might want me to walk you to your cabin. It’s late. That’s when the monsters come out.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “I think I’ll be okay,” she said, turning away from him to dry off the tray that she’d sterilized.
“Just in case, I’m happy to do it,” he replied. “It’s on my way.”
“It’s not. My cabin is about three feet away.”
“I like to take a more interesting, roundabout route to my cabin.”
“I’m not going to be done for another twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.”
He moved to sit. “I’ll wait.”
She pursed her lips with her back to him, slowing her movements in hopes that it’d piss him off. But he stayed in the chair until she was finished at last, and rose to his feet with a grin when she started for the door. He tried to start a conversation while they walked. She wasn’t impressed.
“I heard you were in a fight with your husband,” he said.
Her gaze snapped to his.
He shrugged. “People talk.”
“Well, people don’t know what they’re talking about,” she replied.
They started to pass between the cabins that separated her cabin from the clinic. The trees were thicker, and her cabin was in sight, and Graham moved suddenly, cutting her off, and stepping in way, way too close.
She reared back. “What are you—?”
“Come on, Clarke. I’d have gotten you drunk, but Blake is always all over you when you’re drunk. Though we don’t have that problem tonight, do we?”
She gaped at him. “Get the hell away from me,” she said, starting around him.
But he grabbed her arm, and when she tried to yank it away, he grabbed the other, spun her, and had her back to his chest, her arms twisted in his grasp, and his breath on her neck a moment before he slammed her into the wall of a cabin, trapping her against it.
Did anybody live in that cabin? Somebody must.
She tried to jerk away from him, but she couldn’t, tried to kick his leg out from under him, but she was pinned to the wall.
Panic rose up in her until she was blind with it.
“Get off me!” she yelled, struggling to push him off with everything in her. “GET OFF ME!”
“Shut the fuck up,” he hissed, and his hand sank into her hair to grip a fistful, and slam her face into the wall. She gasped at the pain, tasting copper in her mouth.
“Do you really think you can do this?” she panted, trying to buy time, to think.
“You were supposed to be mine,” he snarled. “My mother agreed to a choice when your daddy insisted, but that was because we didn’t think you’d choose Blake.” He kept her against the wall with his body, and a hand on the back of her neck, but his hold was slightly, slightly looser when he snaked a hand over her leg, and she dug her toes into the dirt, getting ready.
“Why would I choose you?” she spat.
He laughed into her cheek, smearing his spit on her face when his lips brushed her skin. “I’m the king, Princess. That’s why. Do you know what Blake is? He’s a guard. He’s a dog meant to serve. He’s—”
She wrenched her arm up, elbowing him in the throat.
It threw him off for only an instant, but it was enough for her to be able to turn, to ram her knee into his stomach, to get away from him. She didn’t make it a foot, though.
His fingers clamped around her wrist, and he yanked so hard, so suddenly that it knocked her off feet, and his foot came up to slam into her ribs, swiping the breath from her.
She gasped a scream, and he hauled her up, into the wall, and—
“Get off her!”
Clarke cried out in relief. Miller. Miller.
But Graham didn’t release his hold on her. “Nate,” he greeted. “Where’s Dax? I thought he was on patrol tonight.”
“He is,” Miller said, and the horror on his face was beginning to fade, to solidify into something else. "So am I." Into anger, and grim, hard determination. “Get off her," he repeated.
“Get lost,” Graham replied. “This isn’t your business.”
Miller raised his gun.
“That was an order,” Graham snapped.
“I don’t answer to you,” Miller said. “I answer to Bellamy. Even if that wasn’t his wife, Bellamy doesn’t stand for rape, and neither do I." His voice was tight with anger, slow and purposeful and unrelenting. "Get. Off. Her.”
“It isn’t rape if she wants it,” Graham said, leering.
“She doesn’t want it."
Graham sneered. “What the fuck would you know about it, queer?”
Miller stared at him, and his face grew harder, meaner; his nostrils flared, and he shot the ground by Graham’s foot.
Graham jerked away from Clarke in surprise, and she stumbled away from him, towards Miller. “The fuck is the matter with you?” Graham yelled.
Miller glared at him.
Graham shook his head. “You should’ve minded your own business, Miller,” he spat, but he’d started to back away from them. From Clarke. “You’re going to regret this.” His face was contorted with hatred, but Miller didn’t reply, and Graham left, disappeared into the dark.
Clarke hugged herself, looking at Miller. Breathe in, breathe out.
He met her gaze, and the fight seemed to leave him.
He took a step towards her and reached out a hand, only to let it drop. “Come on,” he murmured. His eyes had gone soft now, anxious. “Let’s—let’s go to your mom.”
He took her to Aurora. It was late, and it took a minute for Aurora to open the door.
She blinked at them in confusion.
But her mouth thinned when she took in Clarke’s appearance.
“Come in,” she breathed, stepping back. Her cabin was lit up with candles; a book lay open on the table. “What happened?” Aurora asked, looking from Clarke to Miller.
Miller opened his mouth, but Clarke didn’t need him to answer for her. “Graham attacked me,” she said. Her heart beat a little fast, a little panicky; she swallowed thickly, willing away the tightness in her chest. “I was at the clinic later than usual, and Graham came in, insisted that he walk me to my cabin, and—and he cornered me. I got a punch in, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Do I need to make you tea?” Aurora asked. Her expression was soft, calm.
Clarke shook her head. “Miller found us. He stopped him.”
“Good.” She paused, looked at Miller. “Could you wait outside for little while, Nathan?”
He nodded. “Yeah, sure. Of course.” He glanced at Clarke on his way out, and she managed a small, tight smile for him before the door shut quietly behind him.
Tears burned in her eyes.
She tried to wipe at them subtly, turning her face from Aurora.
It didn’t work. Aurora crossed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around Clarke. Clarke was stiff for a moment, starting to say that she was fine. But she wasn't, and she couldn't help it: she started to cry, sinking into to Aurora's arms, and Aurora rocked on her feet, rocking Clarke.
“Baby,” she murmured. “Oh, baby.”
Clarke didn't know how long they stood there, how long it took her to get it together.
She did eventually, though. She breathed in deeply, and breathed out.
She pulled away from Aurora to wipe at her eyes. But she remained in the circle of Aurora’s arms, and met her gaze head on. “I’m fine,” she said. “I don’t want to cry.” She sniffed. “I’m not going to cry.”
“Okay,” Aurora said. “How about a bath?”
Clarke nodded, and Aurora gestured at her to sit. She brought in a tub, and Miller was recruited to bring in water by the bucket to fill it; Aurora took several large, round stones from a pail over the fire, dumping them into the water. To warm the water, Clarke realized.
Once the tub was full, Miller left, but Aurora didn’t.
She nodded at Clarke.
Clarke began to undress, and Aurora helped her to pull her shirt up over her head. It made her neck warm, having Aurora see her naked. But she thought about Octavia, stripping off her clothes at the lake to dive in naked, and the way that Harper pulled up her shirt to show Clarke a scrape on her back only a week ago, uncovering her breasts shamelessly.
The modesty that was encouraged at the Ark wasn’t taught at the Ship.
Clarke pulled off her clothes, revealing the bruises that swelled along her ribs, and she felt clumsy and exposed, climbing into the tub. But she sank into the water, and when Bellamy’s mother started to card strong, soapy fingers through her hair, she let out a breath, closed her eyes, and forgot to be modest.
She started to cry again, and Aurora let her, stroking her hair.
It was quiet for a while. The water started to cool, and Clarke stepped out, into a towel. Aurora gave her warm, clean clothes, and had her sit on Octavia’s bed; she began to brush Clarke’s hair, combing the knots out softly, expertly, and Clarke found her voice.
“What's going to happen to him?”
Aurora took a moment to reply. “There are two crimes that we punish with death,” she said. "Murder, and rape.” She paused, twisting her fingers in Clarke’s hair, starting to braid it. “That's why Diana is going to deny that he touched you, or if you insist he did, she’ll insist you wanted him to.”
Clarke swallowed at the sick, heavy feeling in her stomach. “This has happened before,” she said.
“Yes. Usually the girls are afraid to say a word against him. I convinced one to, promising I was behind her, but it didn't matter. Diana wouldn't hear it.”
“Does that mean I'm not supposed to say anything?” Clarke asked, and anger, frustration, and tears seemed to swirl in her chest, pressing up. That couldn't be what Aurora was asking her to do. "I'm supposed to pretend it didn't happen,” she said, “and live with the fact that it’s going to happen to somebody else?"
“No,” Aurora said sharply. She stared at Clarke. "What do you know about the trip to the ground?" she asked. "Do you remember it?"
Clarke blinked in surprise. “No, um. Bellamy told me about it.”
Aurora waited, pushing after a moment. “Did he tell you about the lottery?”
She nodded. “He told me that people thought it was rigged.”
“It was.” Aurora paused. “Once everyone got their tickets, Diana started a campaign to allow every single child onto the Ship. That's how I met her; I was desperate to get my kids on. The council folded under the pressure. That was when we got to look at the list, and saw what every single child who was about to become an orphan had in common.”
Clarke thought about Bellamy, about what he’d told her that day, and how he’d softened it.
If this was the truth, the villain wasn’t a matter of perspective.
Had her parents known the lottery was rigged? No. No. They couldn't have.
“We got to the ground,” Aurora said, “and I—I and everyone like me was ready to follow Diana. How could we not? She'd fought for our kids, saved our lives.” She finished with Clarke's hair, tying off the braid. “It wasn't long before I started to wonder why she'd done it, whether she'd truly cared about our kids, or she'd done it because she wanted the sway it'd give her when we made it to Earth.” She sighed, and Clarke turned to look at her. “For a long time, I told myself it could be both. But it wasn't.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Clarke asked.
Aurora reached out, touching Clarke's arm. “I'm telling you this because we've been hiding from the truth for a very, very long time, and it's going to hurt to stop.”
Clarke stared at her.
But that was it; she didn’t go on. Instead, she rose to her feet, crossing the cabin. Clarke watched her, saw her take out a bottle, pouring the drink into mugs. She returned to the bed, and gave a mug to Clarke. She took a sip hesitantly, and it burned down her throat, into her chest, leaving a heavy, shadowy warmth.
She knew it was alcohol, but she’d never had anything like it before. “What is this?"
“It’s something that your friend Monty isn’t able to make,” Aurora said, smiling wryly.
It was quiet, and Clarke took another slow, hesitant slip. She looked at Aurora, staring off into space. “That day at the Ark when my parents agreed to marry me off,” Clarke said. Aurora glanced at her. “I heard my father talking to you. I heard him beg you for something.”
“What was it?” Clarke asked. “What did he want you to do?”
“He wanted me to convince Diana to give you a choice,” she said, "and to offer up my son, so that you could choose him.”
Clarke frowned. “Why?”
“I think he hoped that Bellamy would be good to you. It wasn't that he knew Graham wouldn't be, but I guess . . . ” She paused. “Did your father ever tell you about a man who was floated on the Ark, Thomas?”
“Um. Actually, yeah. They grew up together, and they were friends, but Thomas was floated right after they turned eighteen, and he assaulted a guard. It was the story my father used to explain to me how things were different when the Ark was in space. How good people got floated because it was the way it had to be."
“He assaulted a guard, yes,” Aurora said, “because that guard assaulted me. He would’ve raped me, but Thomas stopped him. Thomas killed him."
Her father hadn't told her that.
“I don’t think he meant to kill him, but Thomas always had a temper, and he lost it when he came into the apartment, and I was crying, and that guard was—” She cut off, shaking her head. “He killed him.”
“Okay,” Clarke said. It was sad, but. “What does—?”
“Thomas wasn't in love with me,” Aurora said. “I know what love feels like. I had it with Octavia’s father. I liked Thomas, and he cared about me, but it wasn’t love. He was willing to marry me, though. It didn't matter that he didn't love me, or that he was a world above me in class. He’d gotten me pregnant, and it was the right thing to do.”
Aurora smiled a little; she must’ve seen the understanding dawn on Clarke.
“Thomas was a good man. I guess your father hoped that Thomas’s son was a good man, too. The kind who’d take care of a girl even if he didn’t love her.”
“He is,” Clarke whispered. “Bellamy is a good man.”
Aurora smiled. “I know.” She drank what was left in her mug, setting it aside, and reached for Clarke’s hand to take it in both of hers.
“What?” Clarke asked.
“I’m sorry that you were taken from your family, and everything you knew. I’m sorry you were traded like cattle, and forced into a marriage you didn’t ask for. Truly, I am. Even if my son were the best man in the world, it wouldn’t make it right.”
Clarke frowned. “Aurora—”
“It’s too late to change the past, but it’s not too late to change what happens next, and I need your help for that. We need your help. Bellamy, Nathan. Our people.”
“I don’t—” Clarke shook her head. “What do you mean?”
“Diana. Her son, the guards who follow him. This isn't only about how depraved Graham is,” Aurora said. “They are going to destroy everything that we’ve built for years. We survived the trip to the ground, and war with the grounders, and war with Mt. Weather, and it’s going to be Diana who kills us.”
“How?” Clarke asked.
“Her plan for us,” Aurora said. “For the grounders, for the Ark. If you don’t want to do it for us, do it for your people. It won’t be much longer before Diana makes her move to take over the Ark. She’s been waiting for years for the chance. It’s why she wanted you.”
“I thought she wanted me to broker peace.”
“No, sweetheart. No. She wanted you to marry her son, and become her daughter. She wanted you on her side, so that she’d be able to use you to control them.”
“That’s insane,” Clarke said.
“It’s still her plan, Clarke. She’s waiting for you to fall in love with the Ship, then she’ll make you fall in love with her. It’s what she does. It’s why people follow her; it’s why we’ve followed her for seventeen years. You think she won’t be able to get to you, but she will. It’s only just begun.”
Clarke stared at her.
“She wants the Ark, and there are people on her side. There are people my age who want the technology that comes with the Ark. Bellamy and your friends, they couldn’t care less about technology, or the Ark. Why would they? This life is everything they know, and they’re happy. But there are people who were raised on the Ark, who want the amenities it has, and they’ll follow Diana. Diana, who wants to own the Ark because she wants to own the Ark, and would kill to get it.”
It was quiet, and Clarke knew that Aurora had said her piece.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” Clarke said. “But I’ll do it."
"Not for the people at the Ark, though. For my people.”
She was overwhelmed with everything that Aurora had poured into her lap, but she meant it.
She didn't know what to believe anymore, but she believed that.
Aurora smiled, and Clarke nodded. If she could’ve chosen her people, she’d have chosen them. The Ship. Her friends. Bellamy. She did get a choice, and she chose them.
Aurora offered to have Clarke stay the night with her, but Clarke shook her head. She wanted to go to her own cabin, to sleep in her own bed. In their bed. Bellamy wasn’t there, but she’d be able to sleep in furs that smelled like him.
It was close as she could get.
Besides, she needed time to herself, time to think.
Aurora hugged her before she left, pressing a gun into her hand. It was small, fitting easily into Clarke’s waistband.
Miller walked her to her cabin. She paused at the door, and realized her mistake. Her assumption. She wanted to be alone, but she didn’t want to be alone. She should’ve stayed with Aurora rather than ask Miller to—
“I’m going to wait right out here,” Miller said. “The whole night. I’ll be right out here.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I want to,” he replied.
She leaned up, kissing his cheek, and he nodded at her before she went into the cabin.
It was dark, but the window was open, allowing enough pale moonlight to stream in for Clarke to find her way to the table, and light the lantern. She stood for a moment. Her mind churned with everything that had happened, with everything that Aurora had told her, and she closed her eyes.
The bruise on her cheek throbbed dully, and his face loomed at her in the dark.
Bellamy would tear him to pieces when he found out.
I’m going to tear him to pieces.
She went to the trunk, finding a t-shirt that belonged to Bellamy. It was stiff from being dried out in the sun, and smelled like soap. But it was Bellamy’s. She pulled off the clothes from Aurora, shrugging into the shirt, and took the lantern with her to the bed. She curled up under a fur, staring into the shadows that played on the ceiling.
She thought about the Commander, and her warm, easy smile.
She thought about Graham, leering at her.
She thought about Bellamy, and the dimple in his chin, the way his mouth stretched when he grinned. The way he’d jogged along beside that bicycle, and the relief on his face when she’d told him she wanted kids eventually. How he’d sounded like a little boy when he’d asked if she could come home now.
She thought about her father, begging. “Aurora, please.”
Thank you, Daddy, she thought.
She remembered the look on Sydney’s face when Clarke said Bellamy’s name.
She rolled over, and her knee pressed into something. She frowned, reaching into the fur; her hand clamped on it, and she pulled it out: a book, one she hadn’t seen before.
But she recognizing the stitching that held it together.
She opened it carefully, finding the note on the first page of the first chapter. His writing was small and slanted, and it was the stupidest, most pointless note in the world. To Clarke, This is for you. It’s a present. You’re welcome. From Bellamy. She brought the book up to her face, pressing her nose to the script.
She read it over again, smiling.
Her eyes dropped to the text of the book. Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. It was going to be good. She knew it was going to be good.
But she couldn’t focus now, and she closed it, holding it to her chest.
Her mind wandered to Thomas. To the girls who hadn’t gotten away from Graham. To Aurora’s steely, steady gaze, and how she’d told Clarke it wasn’t too late to change what happens next, to stop the plan that the Commander had for the Ship, for the grounders, for the Ark.
She tightened her hold on the book. Come home, Bellamy, she thought. The curtains over the window fluttered with a breeze, bringing in the cold. We’ve got a lot to figure out.
So take me, don't leave me,
Take me, don't leave me.
Baby, love will come through,
It's just waiting for you.
This took forever, and has changed a lot over the course of writing it, and I now pretty much despise it. But it's DONE! It's not as good as part one, but, then, I hope nobody expected it to be! This chapter is a bit darker than the previous one (which you might've guessed from how the first one ended), so WARNING: in this chapter, there is discussion of rape, and a lot of violence. It's going to be hard to avoid either, so it might be better to avoid this chapter entirely if that's something you don't want to read.
And you stand at the crossroads of highroads and low roads,
And I've got a feeling it's right.
If it's real what I'm feeling, there's no make believing
The sound of the wings of the flight of a dove.
She made the decision in the middle of the night, letting it solidify until sunlight began to make the edges of the curtains glow, and she knew for certain that she wanted to do it.
She dressed quickly, and headed out, starting for Sydney’s cabin.
It was larger than most, sporting a porch, and Clarke was nervous suddenly, standing on that porch, and staring at the door in the early morning light. But if Aurora was right about Sydney, about what she wanted from Clarke, there wasn’t a reason for Clarke to be nervous, and she needed to do this. She knocked.
There was a shout from within, and the door opened after a beat.
The curious, expectant look on Sydney’s face dropped immediately at the sight of Clarke, and her eyes went wide in alarm. “Clarke,” she said. “Sweetheart. What happened?”
“Can I come in?” Clarke asked.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Sydney said, ushering Clarke into the cabin. “Are you okay? Have a seat. Here, here. Sit.” She touched Clarke on the shoulder, leading her to sit on a sofa, and sitting next to her, taking her hands. “Tell me somebody didn’t hurt you,” she started.
Clarke looked at their hands for a moment, breathing in, and forced her gaze up to meet Sydney’s. “I can’t,” she said. “On my way from the clinic last night, I was attacked.”
“Oh, my dear,” Sydney breathed.
“He was going to rape me.”
“Clarke. But you escaped?” she asked. Clarke nodded. “Good. Oh, you know a pretty girl like you shouldn’t walk in the dark alone. You should’ve asked a guard to walk you.”
“I, um. Yeah, I guess I wasn’t thinking. Miller was on patrol, and he stopped it from—from getting worse, and I went to Aurora, and she took care of me, and—and I’m going to be okay, but I . . .” She stopped, and Sydney nodded, squeezing her hands in encouragement. “I’m afraid that nothing’s going to happen to him. On the Ark, boys got away with stuff like this.”
That was a lie. Nobody got away with anything on the Ark. But if she was doing this, she was doing it right.
“This isn’t the Ark,” Sydney said, and her voice was clear, certain. “Who was it?”
Clarke stared. “That’s the thing. It was . . .”
“If you’re afraid, you don’t have to be,” Sydney assured. “I’m on your side.”
“I don’t know that you’ll stay on my side,” Clarke said.
“It was Graham. He—he came in the clinic while I was closing up, and offered to walk me to my cabin. Right before we got to my cabin, he attacked me. He pushed me up against a cabin, saying that I was supposed to be his, and when I tried to get away, he—”
“I see,” Sydney said, looking away from Clarke. “Were you drunk?”
“Was I—?” Clarke gaped. “
“Were you drunk?” Sydney repeated.
“No, I wasn’t drunk; I wasn’t even close to drunk. I was leaving the clinic.”
Sydney nodded. “But you know my son’s always liked you,” she said, staring at Clarke. “If you made him think that you liked him, or—and I want you to be honest with me, Clarke, if you two started something, only for you to change your mind, and now you—”
Clarke pulled her hands from Sydney’s. “I’m married,” Clarke said.
“I know what it’s like to be young.”
“Do you know what it’s like to have some guy twist your arm, and shove you into a cabin, and feel you up?” Clarke asked, rising to her feet. “I didn’t do anything to encourage Graham. I’m with Bellamy, and even I weren’t, that wouldn’t—I can’t believe I even have to defend myself!”
She’d known there was a possibility it was going to happen like this, but.
She hadn’t expected to feel the way it felt now that it really was happening, how it made her want to cry despite the fury it inspired, how it made her want somebody, want Aurora, or Raven, or Bellamy, oh, God, but she wanted Bellamy with her in that moment.
“I shouldn’t have come to you,” she said. “I shouldn’t have believed that you would—”
Clarke shook her head, and gathered up the words that she’d thought up while she lay in bed, that she’d rehearsed when she’d been unable to sleep. “I should’ve known you wouldn’t listen to me,” she said, crossing her arms, “that you don’t really care about me.”
“Clarke,” Sydney said, standing. “I care about you. I do.”
“Right,” Clarke said.
“I do. If my son really assaulted you, then you were right to come to me, and he needs to be punished.” She held Clarke’s gaze. “I told you I’m on your side, and I meant it.”
It was quiet.
Clarke swallowed thickly. “Do you need to see the bruises on my ribs?”
“No. No, I believe you.”
“You can talk to Miller, too, and he’ll—”
Sydney touched Clarke’s arm. “I believe you.” She softened, rubbing Clarke’s arm softly, hesitantly. “I’m sorry that I reacted the way I did, but I—as a mother, it horrifies me to hear that my own little boy would hurt you, and I reacted badly. I’m sorry. I believe you.”
“Yes.” Sydney stepped in closer, and, slowly, gathered Clarke into a hug. Clarke tried to relax, to return the embrace. Sydney smelled good, clean. Not like smoke from a fire, grass, or sweat. She drew away from Clarke, and offered her a small, encouraging smile.
“Okay,” Sydney said. “If we want to do this, we need to go to the head of the guards, Lt. Shumway, and you’ll have to tell him everything. Do you think you’re up for that?”
They went to the large, sprawling cabin that belonged to the guards, to the office in the back, and Clarke was asked to explain Graham’s attack to the head of the guards. He wanted Miller to corroborate, and Aurora was asked to confirm that she saw Clarke after.
Miller was brought in, and sent out, glancing at Clarke when he passed her.
Aurora arrived, and stayed.
Guards brought Graham in, and he claimed that he didn’t lay a finger on Clarke.
He looked at Clarke. “I don’t know why you’re trying to pin this on me,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry that you were hurt. If you’re afraid to say who it really was, you don’t have to be. Even if it was Bellamy, we’ll believe you, help you. We’ll protect you.”
“You’re psychotic,” she told him.
He sighed, and turned to his mother. “I was with Murphy,” he said. “Ask him.”
Clarke looked at her, too.
Sydney sighed. “I don’t think it’s necessary to speak with Murphy.”
The head of the guards was an older, graying man, and he ran a hand over the crown of sweat on his head at that, and nodded, seeming to communicate silently with Sydney. “Very well,” he said. “The punishment for assault is to be strung up for three full days.”
“Mother,” Graham said, alarmed.
Sydney ignored him.
It was done, decided. Guards escorted Graham from the room.
There weren’t trials at the Ship like there were at the Ark, but there were strict, specific punishments, and Clarke learned that they were carried out as soon as the commander, her second, and the head of the guards agreed that a man was guilty, and sentenced him.
Graham was strung up.
It was in a tree in the clearing behind the cabin, and people gathered at Graham’s shouts, watching, murmuring, and glancing curiously at Clarke, at the cut on the corner of her mouth, and the bruises that swelled under her eye, along her cheek, and purpled her jaw.
Raven came up to her. “What the hell?” she said, but her voice was soft.
“He assaulted me,” Clarke murmured.
“Asshole,” Raven breathed.
Sydney passed them, and looked at Clarke. She nodded, and Clarke nodded, too.
“I’m surprised she believed you when you told her,” Raven said.
She felt Aurora’s gaze on her face, but she waited until they were alone to explain. “I figured if she wanted me to trust her, and be on her side for whatever it is that she’s planning, she’d have to listen to me, and do something to him. Otherwise I’d hate her.”
Aurora nodded. “Smart.”
News traveled quickly around the camp.
Clarke was tempted to spend the rest of the day with Aurora, hiding from everyone, and reading her book. But she wasn’t going to hide. She went to the clinic, and when her friends stopped by, being especially nice, especially soft, she managed to smile for them.
Her mind was constantly on Graham, though. Strung up, and left to hang, to suffer.
She asked Raven at dinner. “Do you get fed when you’re strung up?”
“Nope,” she said. “But they bring you down in the evenings to give you water.”
It wasn’t enough. Three days without food, hanging from a tree. It was bad, but it wasn’t comparable to what he’d done. Not to Clarke, but to the girls who weren’t as lucky as Clarke. For them, he deserved worse. For now, though, this was the best Clarke could do.
She was in the clinic, sorting through herbs that Finn brought in, when hands touched her hips. She froze, and his chest pressed against her back, his arms came around her completely, and he kissed the back of her head. She relaxed, and he smiled into her hair.
“You’re back,” she said.
“I’m back,” Bellamy said, squeezing her.
He started to release her, and she moved quickly, turning in his arms, and hugging his neck before he got a look at her face. He hugged her, and Clarke closed her eyes, breathing in. “I missed you,” she murmured. “I thought you’d be back two days ago.”
“I know,” he said. “Me, too. But it turned out that the clans were meeting in Tondc, and I got held up, talking with people, and trading.” He smiled. “I got you a present.” He started to pull away from her, but she clung to him, and he chuckled. “I missed you, too.”
“I—” She hesitated. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“But I need you to know that I’m okay. You don’t have to freak out.”
“Well, I’m starting to freak out right now,” he replied. “What’s going on?” He shifted in her hold, but she wasn’t ready to let go yet, and a frown crept into his voice. “Clarke?”
She took a breath, and drew away from him.
Her face wasn’t as swollen as it was before, but the bruises hadn’t faded. They were smeared purple starbursts now, and edged in red. “I know it looks bad,” she said.
“What happened?” he asked, and his gaze flickered over her, catching on her arm, on the bruise from Graham’s hand; his jaw clenched at the sight, and his fingers brushed her wrist. She gave him her arm, letting him turn it, and look at the mark. “Somebody did this to you.” His voice was low, tense.
She nodded. “It was the day you left. That night.”
He lifted his gaze to meet her eye, and his face was a mask of tight, controlled anger.
“Let’s go the cabin,” she said. “We’ll talk about it there. Come on.”
He didn’t waste a minute, shutting the door of their cabin. “Who was it?”
“Sit.” She gestured at the table.
He pursed his lips, but he crossed the cabin to sit in a chair, and she sat across from him.
“He offered to walk me from the clinic,” she said, “and I told him I didn’t need him to, but he was insistent. He attacked me on the way. He was going on about how he would’ve waited until I was drunk, but you were always there when I was drunk, and—”
Bellamy sat back in anger, looking away from her.
She put her hands on his knees, and it brought his gaze back to her. “I tried to fight him off, and that’s how I got the bruises. But I’m okay. I promise. I know it looks like I’m not, but I am. Miller was on patrol, and he stopped it. He—I went to your mom after, and she was nice to me. She took care of me.”
“Who was it?”
“I went to the Commander in the morning,” she said, “and she was forced to believe me.”
“Who was it?”
“He was strung up for assault.”
He shook his head, dropping her gaze, and she reached for his hands.
“He was punished, and it was public,” she said. “People know.” She ran her thumb over his ring. It was steel, roughly made, and thicker than her ring; her ring was gold, and delicate, and must’ve been passed down. Clarke took it off a lot, putting it in her pocket while she worked. But she hadn’t ever seen Bellamy take off his.
His fingers curled around her hand. He turned her arm slightly, and his gaze traced the bruise on her arm. “Is this—” He stopped, and looked at her. “Is that all there is?”
She tugged her hands gently from his, and lifted up her shirt.
His face went dark when he saw the fading, molten bruise that spanned her side.
“That’s it,” she said, lowering her shirt.
Slowly, he raised his gaze to look her in the eye. “Do I get to know who it was?”
She bit her lip.
She didn’t want him to lose it over this, and get in trouble. She wouldn’t allow it. But it wasn’t like she was going to be able to keep it a secret. “Clarke,” he said, entreating.
She sighed. “Graham. It was Graham.”
There was a tic in his cheek. He began to nod, and shoved his chair back, standing.
“No. Hey, no.” She grabbed his hand, and pushed in front of him before he reached the door. “The Commander was forced to believe me when I told her. He was strung up.”
His breath was short, heavy, and his face was tight with anger. “That’s not enough.”
“You’re right. It’s not. But things are complicated.”
“He tried to—”
“I know what he tried to do,” she said, sharp. “I was there.”
He blinked, and his anger seemed to deflate, looking at her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—”
“I know,” she said, softer. “It’s okay. But I’ve been waiting for you to get back, and not so that you could beat him up for me. I meant it when I said I missed you.” She stared imploringly at him. “Your mother’s been here for me, and Raven, and—and I love them, I do, but it’s you I wanted.”
His face went soft, and he reached for her. She went easily into his arms, hugging him, and closing her eyes when he ran a hand over her hair. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.
“It’s fine.” She rested her chin on his shoulder. “I heard something about a present.”
He let out a breath, laughing. “Right. I got you one.”
“I liked my book,” she told him. “I haven’t finished it yet. I’m trying to make it last.”
“I’ll get you more when you do.”
She smiled, squeezing him before she released him.
“It’s in my bag,” he said. “Your present.” He nodded his head to where his bag sat by the bed; he must’ve dropped off in the cabin before he went to the clinic. He crossed the cabin to it now, squatting to dig through it, and she followed him over, sitting on the bed.
“You’re going to spoil me, you know,” she said.
“Going to?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to suggest,” she replied. He smirked at her, and pulled out a roll of thick, dark cloth at last, starting to unfold it. “That’s pretty,” she said.
“It’s for my mother. This is for you.”
She took the paintbrushes from him gently; they were beautiful: polished wood handles, thick, dark bristles that were soft to touch, and in three different sizes; Clarke fingered them, awed. “I know you like to draw,” he explained. “I thought you might like to paint.”
“I’ve never tried,” she said.
“Harper makes paint,” he replied. “We’ll get some from her.”
She looked up from the paintbrushes to see that he was watching her. She cupped his jaw, tilting his head up for a kiss. It was slow, soft, and she smiled when it ended, and she opened her eyes. But his graze traced over her face, and turned anxious, and she tucked his hair behind his ear. “I’m okay,” she told him. “I promise.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Now you are.” She smiled, and he did, too. But there was more to talk about, much, much more to deal with, and it must’ve shown on her face.
“What?” he asked.
She bit her lip. “There’s a lot we have to figure out.”
He moved to sit beside her on the bed.
“That night, when I went to your mother, we talked for a while about—about my father, and your father, and about the split, and she asked for my help. She told me that the Commander has this plan to use me to take over the Ark, and she didn’t really go into the details, but I think your mother wants to overthrow the Commander.”
Bellamy frowned. “I know she doesn’t like Sydney. She used to.”
“Has she hinted at something like this before?”
“Not really. I mean, I don’t think she has. But I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way before. I know she’s started to disagree with Sydney a lot, but she keeps it to herself, or to us. Me, and Octavia. She wasn’t okay with the plan to ask for you. Thought it was wrong to force you into a marriage.”
“She told me.”
It was quiet. “We’ll talk to her,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.” He paused.
He was hesitant, clenching his jaw. “Graham.”
She shook her head. “He’s done a lot worse than attack me. But his mother makes him untouchable. I got him strung up, and everybody knows he attacked me, and that’s something at least. It’s not enough, but there isn’t much more we can do. Not right now. We’ll get him, though. I mean it. He’s untouchable now, but that’s going to change.”
“It better,” Bellamy said. His face was set, grim.
She nodded, and leaned in to kiss his cheek before she rose to her feet. “Come on.” She smiled. “Let’s get dinner before it gets dark out. I want to hear about the trip.”
They ran into Miller at the kitchen, and ended up eating with Bellamy’s friends.
He was tense while they ate, wary, and Atom broke off in the middle of a sentence when he spotted Graham in the distance, emerging from the kitchen with Dax at his side. Bellamy saw, and his hand clenched around his fork, but Clarke put a hand on his knee, asking Atom a question, and Graham passed them.
He disappeared from view, and, hesitantly, the boys resumed their conversation.
Aurora came up to them soon after that, and Bellamy stood to give her a hug, and told her that Octavia was fine, making her smile. He relaxed a little after that, talking to her. It wasn’t the place to talk seriously, though. That would have to wait until they were alone.
They returned to their cabin when it started to grow dark out.
He asked after they washed up, changed, and climbed into bed, and she was curled into his side, resting her cheek on his chest. “Have you been staying with my mother?”
“She offered, but I wanted to sleep in my own bed, in my own cabin,” she said. “Miller’s stood on guard outside every single night since it happened, though. Even the nights when Graham was strung up. This is the first night he hasn’t. I guess he figures you’re on guard now.”
“He’s right,” Bellamy said.
“But you aren’t going to be able to follow me wherever I go.” She propped herself up on her elbow to look at him, and raised her eyebrows at his frown. “That’s why I want you to teach me how to fight,” she said. “Your mother gave me a gun, but I need you to show me how to use it. Show me how to—how to fight. I want to be my guard.”
He nodded. “Tomorrow.”
She kissed him, and shifted, returning to her spot at his side.
She must’ve fallen asleep quickly after that. She didn’t really remember it. The fire grew dim, and she listened to Bellamy’s heartbeat, relishing in his warmth, in his closeness, and she felt Graham pant hotly into his ear, felt him pressing her against the side of the cabin, and his arm was like a vice around her, and—
She gasped, and didn’t know where she was for a moment, didn’t know what was going on. But a fur was tangled around her legs, and she was in her bed, was safe. It was a nightmare. Her gaze found Bellamy in the dark; he was propped up on his elbow, and his arm hovered over her, hesitant.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s fine. It was a nightmare.”
He nodded, and lay on his back. It was still for a moment, quiet. She rolled onto her side, meaning to reach for him. But he chose that moment to roll onto his side, too, facing away from her. She scooted across the bed, and wrapped her arm around his middle. He stiffened, didn’t move a muscle.
She pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “It was a nightmare.”
“I know.” He shifted. “Go to sleep.”
She sighed, and lay against him, resting her cheek on the soft, warm skin of his back.
She blinked when she heard the footsteps, and rolled over in the bed. She sniffed, rubbing her eyes, and reached out for Bellamy. But he wasn’t there. She opened her eyes, frowning, and starting to sit up. “Bell?” She spotted him, lacing up his boots at the table.
“Hey. It’s early.” He stood. “You’ve got an hour yet to sleep.”
“Where are you going?”
He finished with his boots, and came to the bed, keeling, and pulled the fur up over her. “I have to deal with something. I’ll be back.” He kissed her forehead. “Go to sleep.”
She nodded, closing her eyes, and burrowing into the furs.
He left, and the cabin was quiet.
She pulled the fur up over her head, blocking out the light that was beginning to creep in. He was going for a hunt. He liked to go as soon as the sun rose in the summer, liking to hunt when it was cool out. It wasn’t summer, but what else would he be off to deal with?
Her eyes flew open.
She scrambled off the bed, tripping over a fur, and turned in a circle. She wore Bellamy’s t-shirt for a nightgown, and that wasn’t going to fly. Clothes. She needed to put on clothes. She yanked on trousers, and pulled her cardigan off the chair, tugging it on while she went out the door. She was barefoot, but it didn’t matter.
She ran for the cabins at the front.
It wasn’t completely light out yet, but the camp was starting to stir, and people glanced at Clarke from where they stood at the pumps behind their cabins. She ignored them.
There was a shout, and she was there in time to see Monty emerge from his cabin with a frown, and there was Jasper, opening the door to his cabin with his mother at his back. But her eyes stuck on Graham’s cabin, and she stumbled to a stop at the sight of the boys.
They tumbled from the cabin, and it was clear this wasn’t the start of their fight.
Graham made to shove Bellamy against the side of the cabin, ramming his shoulder into Bellamy’s middle, but Bellamy swung Graham around, shoving him into the cabin, punching him in the face, in the stomach, and when Graham tried to curl away, Bellamy grabbed the back of his neck, and shoved him forward, punching him again when Graham rose up, and the force of the blow knocked Graham to his knees, to the ground.
She meant to stop it.
But now that it was happening, she couldn’t. She didn’t want to.
Bellamy hauled Graham up, curling a fist into his t-shirt to keep him up, and started to pummel him. “I can’t hold my wife,” Bellamy snarled, and he swung a punch that knocked Graham onto his back. “The fuck is the matter with you? How many girls have you done this to?” He began to kick Graham.
There was a crowd around them, but nobody made to step in. They stood, watched.
“Do it again,” Bellamy panted, “and I’ll kill you.”
Dax strode up, looking ready to intervene, but Atom raised a hand. “This isn’t your fight,” he said. Dax stared at him, but he stopped, and Bellamy hadn’t, kicking Graham so hard that blood sprayed from his face; Graham was motionless now.
“Bellamy, that’s enough,” Clarke said, taking a step. “Bellamy.”
She touched his arm, tugging him away from Graham, and he looked at her. His knuckles were bloody, and his lip was split; she touched his cheek, turning his face to see the bruise that was beginning to swell along his jaw. “Come on,” she murmured. “It’s over.”
He nodded, but his gaze moved past her.
She turned to see the Commander, striding towards them with Aurora at her heels, and there was Shumway, too, bringing three older guards with him. “What is going on?” Sydney demanded, only for her face to slacken slightly when she saw Graham. She was at his side instantly, kneeling. He groaned when she touched his cheek.
“The sentence for assault,” Shumway said, “is to be strung up for three full days.”
He was looking at Bellamy.
“No,” Clarke said. “No.”
Sydney looked up, and looked at Bellamy, at Clarke. “I believe you’re familiar with this law, Clarke,” she said, and she nodded; the guards with Shumway stepped forward.
“It’s fine,” Bellamy murmured.
“It’s not.” Clarke shook her head.
But there wasn’t a way for her to stop it. The guards took Bellamy’s arms, marching him off, and Clarke was left to follow, to watch helplessly when they tied his hands, pulled his arms over his head. She jerked at a touch to her back, but it was only Jasper’s mother. “It’s okay, chicken,” she said.
Mrs. Jordan pulled Clarke gently into her side, and Bellamy was strung up.
The rest of the day was lost to Clarke. She wasn’t about to go to the clinic, knowing that Graham was brought in. She wasn’t about to look after him. Instead, she left the camp.
She went to the lake, dipping her feet in, and picked apples after.
She was back at dinner, was ready when they lowered Bellamy for water.
His feet touched the ground, and the rope went slack; he dropped to his knees. Instantly, she was there, yanking the canteen from a guard, and the guard didn’t fight her. He turned away, leaving Clarke to it. She knelt, held the canteen to Bellamy’s lips. He drank eagerly, choking in his haste, and she wiped his chin with her sleeve.
“I know you didn’t want me to go after him,” he started.
She shook her head. “Here.”
She pressed the small apple slice to his lips. He stared at her in surprise, but he ate it, and she covered his mouth with her palm while he chewed, trying to hide it. She couldn’t. The guard with the short black hair saw; her gaze moved slowly from Bellamy to Clarke.
Clarke wrapped an arm around Bellamy’s middle, waiting for a reprimand.
It never came. The guard turned away from them, and walked off.
Clarke was able to give him three more slices before the time was up, before the guards were there, pulling him to his feet, pulling him away from Clarke. But she surged forward, and grabbed his face, kissing him, stumbling when they tore him away from her.
She was back at dusk on Monday, and was able to slip him jerky along with his water. Shumway was there on Tuesday, watching, and it was impossible for her to give him something to eat. He didn’t seem to care; he folded into Clarke, and she took his weight, cradling him until they pulled him to his feet, and strung him up.
She was in the clearing at dawn on Wednesday.
“You’re to report for your shift on time tomorrow,” Shumway said.
Bellamy nodded. He staggered to his feet with help from Miller, and Clarke stepped into his side, tugging his arm over her shoulder. He was able to walk, but he was slow, exhausted, leaning heavily on Clarke while they crossed through the camp to their cabin.
He collapsed on the bed as soon as they walked in.
She tugged off his boots, and touched a hand to his back, kissing the back of his head.
Monty, Jasper, and Harper brought him breakfast, and after he ate, Clarke tugged off his shirt, and made him roll onto his back. “I have ointment for your shoulders that’ll help with the soreness,” she told him. He groaned when she began to rub it into his shoulders.
It was quiet for a while, and she thought he might’ve fallen asleep. He hadn’t.
“You mad at me?” His voice was rough.
She massaged a knot from his back. “You shouldn’t have gone after him,” she said.
He was silent.
“But I’m glad you did.” She pressed a kiss to his spine. “Try to sleep.”
He did, and once he was out, he was out for a while.
She brought in the tub while he slept, cleaning it. She expected him to sleep through the day, and into the night, and she wanted him to. But as soon as he woke up, she was giving him a bath, and washing the sweat, blood, and grime of three awful days off him.
They ate dinner with their friends that night, keeping the conversation easy, light. Jasper brought tobacco to smoke, and moonshine, too, and it was nice, sitting in the slowly growing darkness with her friends, leaning into Bellamy, and passing around moonshine.
Aurora came to the cabin after, surprising Clarke. It was late.
“How are you?” Aurora asked.
“Better,” Bellamy said. He paused. “Mom—”
“It seems like you know what I’m about to tell you,” she said, sharp.
“He attacked her,” Bellamy said.
“That doesn’t mean that you attack him,” Aurora snapped. “You’re smarter than that.”
“I’m not finished talking.” She glared, and he was silent. “I’m sure you expected to be strung up, and decided it was worth it. But what if it hadn’t happened the way you planned? What if you were demoted from the guard? What if you were banished? What happens to Clarke after that?”
“I had to,” Bellamy said.
“You wanted to.”
He clenched his jaw. “Fine. Yes. I wanted to. I wanted to cave his face in. I wanted to do something, and I did, and I’m not sorry I did. I’d do it again. I’m not going to sit back, and let him get away with doing whatever the fuck he wants ‘cause I’m scared of Diana.”
“You should be scared of Diana,” Aurora said.
“Why?” Clarke asked.
They looked at her.
“You told me that the Commander has a plan,” she said, looking at Aurora. “What is it?”
Aurora sighed, and sat at the table; they followed suit. “The grounders are in an alliance," Aurora said, "but it’s tenuous. It’s lasted for as long as it has because of the commander of the alliance. She united the grounders against Mt. Weather, and she’s the reason they were able to defeat Mt. Weather. They know that, and it’s kept her in power for years.”
“Okay,” Clarke said.
“But we’ve heard rumors that she’s sick. Dying. If she dies, the alliance dies with her.”
“What’s that mean for us?” Bellamy asked.
“It puts us in danger, but it makes them vulnerable, too.”
“That’s her plan,” Aurora said. “She wants to wait until the alliance is gone, and once the Trigedakru are vulnerable, provoke a war with them, and in a way that convinces the leaders of the Ark to unite with us, and fight with us. Together, she thinks we have a shot. She wants to take over their territory, and join the camps after.”
“Why?” Clarke was stunned.
“It proves to the grounders that we are grounders, too. That we know how to fight, and we aren’t people you mess with. It’s bothered her since the start that the grounders consider us a little like children. It gives us land, too, and, of course, it gives her the Ark.”
“How’s she going to do it?” Bellamy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“She hasn’t told you?”
“The things I’ve told you are what I’ve pieced together. She’s told me that she thinks war with the grounders is the only real way that we’ll be able to unite with the Ark, and we’ve talked about how the Trigedakru are bound to be vulnerable after the alliance is dissolved, and that’s our chance to get a little of their land for ourselves. That’s it. I’m not certain that she’s figured out the rest herself yet.”
“But it involves me,” Clarke said.
“Yes. She’s going to depend on you to get the Ark on our side.”
It was quiet.
“What do we do?” Clarke asked.
“I’m going to keep Diana’s trust,” Aurora said, “and you’re going to earn it. Make her think that you like her. We want her plan to hinge on you. If it does, we’ll be able to change the outcome. Make her think she’s right to rely on you to get the Ark on her side. Then when she does, we have the advantage.”
“For now, that’s it. We’re safe until the alliance is broken. Just stay sharp. Stay smart.”
She was at the door when Clarke asked. “If we’re really going to stop Diana from starting a war, we’re going to have to convince people not to listen when she tries to take us to war,” she said. “Right? Eventually, things are going to come to a head, and when they do, we’re going to want everyone to listen to us, and not to her.”
“Right,” Aurora said.
“People were angry after Bellamy beat up Graham,” Clarke said. “They were angry that he was punished for it. They thought it wasn’t right, considering why he’d done it.”
“They sided with Bellamy.” She paused. “That can only help, right?”
Aurora seemed to consider her for a moment.
“Just a thought,” Clarke said.
Aurora nodded. “Have a good night, Clarke.” She glanced at Bellamy. “Get some rest.”
Bellamy was exhausted by the end of his first day back at work, nodding off while they ate, and stumbling while he walked. She was impressed that he bothered to wash off, undress, and place his boots by the door before he collapsed onto the bed with a groan.
She was glad that he didn’t have to work again until Sunday.
But she woke in the morning to find he wasn’t at her back, and she frowned, turning, and saw that he was in the bed. He was curled up at the edge, holding a small, balled up fur.
Gently, she tugged it from his arms, and touched a hand to his cheek.
He sighed a little in sleep, and curled his arm around her, pulling her into his chest. His hand slipped under her shirt, sliding up her back. He opened his eyes. “Hey,” he murmured. She smiled, but he seemed to come to, and his arm went loose around her.
She kissed him.
“Clarke,” he breathed, but she pressed in closer to him, deepening the kiss.
She broke away from him to pull her shirt off, and he followed when she rolled onto her back, lowering his head to her breasts. She knitted her fingers into his hair, closing her eyes when he nipped at the swell of her breast, sucking at the skin; he took her nipple into his mouth, and his tongue swirled against the bud.
He continued to tease at her breasts until she was panting, and desperate for friction.
She tugged on his hair, and he lifted his head to look at her.
His lips were red, swollen, and the sight made her throb with need.
She kissed him, and he began to pull off her underwear. She shifted, forcing him onto his back, and finished his work, getting off her underwear, and tugging his boxers while he watched, dropping a kiss to the birthmark on his calf, and to the thin flat scar on his thigh.
Light was filtering in from behind the curtains, casting everything in an early, hazy light.
She sank onto him.
He stared at her, stroking her back, and she held his gaze when she began to move.
It was slow, lazy sex. He dragged his gaze over her, watching himself disappear into her, staring at the sway of the breasts; she loved the way he looked at her when she fucked him, loved the heavy, wanting in his eyes. Her orgasm began to build, and she leaned in, kissing him, taking him deeper, and when he brushed against that spot inside her, she rested her forehead against his, closing her eyes, and tilting her hips to hit that spot until it was too much, until she came.
She opened her eyes to look at him when it happened.
He took her hips, moving her against him until she recovered, and took over.
She came again before he came, and she slumped against him when they were done; he was soft inside her, and he breathed raggedly against her neck while she caught her breath, feeling his heartbeat calm against her breast before she heaved a sigh, and moved off him, falling onto her back by his side.
He turned his head to look at her. “Morning,” he said.
She bit her lip, and when he started to grin, she laughed, and couldn’t help but kiss him.
In the afternoon, they ventured into the woods, and Bellamy started to teach her how to shoot the gun from Aurora. He was at her back, covering her hand with his on the gun, showing her how to aim, when John, Trina, and Roma walked by, returning from a hunt.
Roma stared, and Clarke pulled the trigger.
She picked it up easily, and was able to hit Bellamy’s target before the day was up.
It wasn’t long after that Roma came into the clinic.
“Can I help you?” Clarke asked.
Roma wasn’t hurt, and didn’t seem to be sick. “I saw you in the woods with Bellamy,” she said. “It’s smart, learning to shoot. But you won’t always have a gun on you.”
“I guess not,” Clarke said, hesitant. What was this about?
“If you want, I’m pretty good at kicking ass, and I could show you some stuff. How to get out of a chokehold, what to do when your arms are behind you. Things like that.”
“Um, yes. Yes. If you wouldn’t mind, that would be great.”
They started that afternoon in the clearing in front of the clinic. Bellamy was recruited at dinner for Roma to demonstrate on, and for Clarke to practice on. Roma was strict, critical, correcting every little move that Clarke made. It helped. Clarke learned how to twist, and where to jab. Roma taught her the way to throw a punch, and gave her exercises to practice that trained her reflexes so that she wouldn’t have to think in a fight.
She made Bellamy practice them with her night after night until they were a reflex.
“Now you can call off your henchmen,” Clarke said.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice that wherever I go, a guard happens to be headed in that direction, too? You have them on a rotation.”
“Is there a problem with that?” he asked.
“The problem is that you can’t assign a guard to follow me around all the time.”
“I can,” he said. “I’m in charge of the cadets.”
“You can’t.” She glared. “I mean it, Bell. It’s wrong to force the cadets to be my own, personal bodyguards, and I don’t need you to. I don’t want you to. Call them off.”
He sighed. “Fine.”
She kissed him. He pushed a hand into her head, pulling her closer, and tilting her face up; when the kiss ended, he gave her another sweet, chaste kiss, and his nose brushed gently against her bruised, healing cheek before he drew away. Her heart skipped a beat.
Miller was behind her in line at breakfast in the morning.
She smiled. “Hey.”
He nodded, and loaded eggs onto his plate with a pinched, sour look on his face. Clarke tapered her amusement. Miller wasn’t necessarily at his best until about two in the afternoon, and it wasn’t a secret; it was why he was assigned to work in the evenings.
It startled her when he cleared his throat, and she glanced at him.
“You okay?” he asked.
She blinked, and affection for him surged up inside her. “I’m okay,” she said.
“Good.” He started to shovel his breakfast in, turning away from her.
She smiled at her eggs, and headed for Raven sat with Finn, Harper, and Monroe. She didn’t need to be tailed around the camp, but. Still. It was nice to know she was cared for.
Finn came into the clinic on with a pale, sweaty face, holding his arm to his chest. He smiled ruefully at her, and it took her about five seconds to realize his shoulder was dislocated. “I won the bet, though,” he told her. She gave him a look, and he grinned.
She popped his shoulder into place. “I’m going to tattle to Raven about this,” she said.
“I figured.” He sighed dramatically at her.
She started to adjust a wrap around his shoulder, telling him that he needed to ice it; she was in the middle of her lecture when she heard somebody come into the clinic, and glanced over her shoulder to see the Commander. She looked at Finn, and he understood.
“You’re the best, Princess,” he said, moving to his feet.
Diana nodded at him when he passed her, and looked at Clarke. “How are you, dear?”
“Better,” Clarke said.
Diana smiled. “I’ve been worried about you. I wanted to check in.”
“I’m doing pretty well.”
“Good.” She sat at the small examination table, and, hesitantly, Clarke sat, too.
There was a pause. “How are you?” Clarke asked.
“I’m well,” Diana said. She hesitated. “To be honest,” she went on. “I came to talk to you about, well. To start, I wanted to apologize to you. I don’t think I made it clear to you how sorry I was about what my son did to you. Truthfully, I don’t blame Bellamy for his reaction. How could he not react like that? He loves you.”
Clarke stared. “I, um.”
“He does,” Diana assured. “I’ve been in love before, dear. I know what it looks like.” She was amused, and Clarke flushed. “Anyway.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. For everything.”
“It’s okay,” Clarke said. “I know that you didn’t . . .”
“Didn’t raise him better?” Diana asked.
“No! No, that wasn’t—”
“It’s the truth,” Diana said. She smiled sadly at Clarke. “There are things that aren’t up to a mother, and there are things that are. I think I worry about the Ship so much, about politics, and alliances, and I—” Her eyes were wet. “I think I’ve worked so hard, so relentlessly, to earn respect from the grounders, and from the Ark, to be a leader, and now my son’s begun to think that he’s entitled to respect, and to—”
“His choices are his own,” Clarke said.
“He’s my son,” Diana replied, “and I’ve failed him, and you.” She sighed. “But I want to do better.” She reached for Clarke’s hand on the table. “I’m going to do better.”
“Now, I—” She cleared her throat. “I wanted to talk to you about going to the Ark.”
“Okay,” Clarke said. “There’s a group going on Thursday, right?” She was supposed to go with them. Diana agreed to allow her to come in October. It was October.
Diana nodded. “Yes. I’m going this month, and I wanted you to come, too. Bellamy was, ah, we’ll call it persistent, about the fact that you ought to be able to visit.” She smiled.
“He told me that he talked to you,” Clarke said. She knew where this was going.
“He was right. I’m glad he came to me, but I’m afraid . . .” She looked sadly at Clarke. “I know you miss your family, sweetheart, and I want you to be able to come, but I don’t think this is the month.” Her gaze was soft, apologetic.
“Can I ask why not?”
Diana sighed. “Our relationship with them isn’t what I would hope. It’s rocky, and—and this is terrible, but the truth is I’m afraid it’ll make things worse for you to come with us when . . .” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t ask you to lie to your family, but if you come, and they see your face—”
“They’ll think that we’ve mistreated you,” Diana continued, “and, in a way, we have. I have, and I’m ashamed of that. Of this.” Her eyes were bright with tears. “I’m sorry, Clarke. I know you miss you family, and your friends, and I hate that I’m punishing you for the fact that you were attacked, that my son—”
“It’s okay,” Clarke said.
“It’s not,” Diana said.
“It is.” She touched Diana’s arm. “I don’t have to go this time. I’ll go when it’s a better. I miss my family, but—I have a family at the Ship, too.” It was the truth, and if Diana happened to believe that she was a part of that family, Clarke wasn’t going to correct her.
Diana covered Clarke’s hand with her own. “Yes.” She smiled. “You do.”
Clarke wasn’t able to focus on her work for the rest of the afternoon.
She found Bellamy at dinner. “Let’s eat in the cabin.”
He nodded, and when they were alone, she relayed her conversation with Diana to him. “I know that she was manipulating me. It seemed like she was sincere, and she really, honestly cared about me, but. She was manipulating me, right? That’s what she does.”
“There’s a reason that she gets what she wants,” Bellamy said.
“Well, I’m good at getting what I want, too.”
“Why do you think she doesn’t want me to go to the Ark?”
“It might not be a lie that she doesn’t want them to see your face.” His eyes traced over her face. The bruises were fading after weeks, and colored a muddled yellow brown. She should've tried to scrounge up ice after the attack.
“Does that mean she’ll allow me to go in November?”
He sighed, and she knew.
“She wants a baby,” she said. “Why?”
“I don’t think it’s about the Ark,” he admitted. “If you confronted her, she’d say it was.”
“I’m getting the sense that she isn’t the kind of person that you confront.”
He nodded. “I think it’s about you.”
“To be certain that you’re tied to us. Not for their sake. She wants you to feel it.”
“I’ve been living at the Ship for over a year,” she said.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He seemed to consider her, and took a sip of his moonshine before he went on. “She told me it would make you fall in love with me.”
She bit her lip. “I guess it does really connect you to a person.”
“But she doesn’t get a say in that. We’ll have a baby when we want a baby. Probably.”
“Probably?” He raised his eyebrows at her.
“It’s tea,” she said. “It isn’t foolproof.”
He stared at her, and she blushed despite herself. “Well, I can always start to pull out,” he offered, and his lips twitched a little.
“Right. That’s foolproof.”
“Still. I think it’s going to be a while until I get to go to the Ark,” she said, softer, and he nodded, giving her a small, sad smile. “Do you talk to anyone while you’re there?”
“Not really. Your mother likes to glare at me from a distance a lot.”
“She’s good at that,” Clarke said.
“Your father comes up to me, though, and asks how you are. I tell him you’re fine.”
“Could you tell him more?”
His eyes were soft. “Sure.” He nodded. “What do you want me to tell him?”
“Tell him that I’m happy. That I’m working in the clinic, and I have friends, and . . .” She smiled. “That I got to ride a bicycle. And, um. Tell him thank you for talking to Aurora.”
His brow drew together slightly. “For talking to my mom?”
She nodded. “Just—can you?”
She smiled, and leaned in quickly, kissing him. “So.” She sat back. “How was your day?”
The cold began to creep up on them in November, chasing everyone into the cabins. But there were a few bright, warm days left, and Clarke intended to make the most of them.
To start, she wanted to try out her brushes.
Harper kept her paint in big clay jars, and she brought them to the cabin, explaining to Clarke how she made the paint, and her efforts to come up with new, different colors using this flower, or that plant, using bark, and clay, and roots that she ground into paste.
“This is incredible,” Clarke said, swirling her brush in the thick orange paint.
Harper smiled. “What are you going to paint on?”
Clarke tapped the table. “I thought I might try to paint this. But I don’t know what it is I actually want to paint on it.” Her gaze flickered over the paints. “The forest?”
“Knock, knock,” Raven said. The door to the cabin was open, and she came in, shaving the skin off a cucumber bit-by-bit with a small paring knife, and eating while she went. Her gaze swept over the paint. “What are we painting?” she asked, talking with cucumber in her mouth.
“The table,” Clarke said.
“I’m in,” Raven said.
“Just as long as you pick up your skinned cucumber droppings,” Clarke replied.
“I’m aware that your husband’s got a stick up his butt, yes.”
“Should we worry about the paint?” Harper asked. “It’ll stain the floor.”
Clarke frowned. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“You’re a really stellar wife, aren’t you?” Raven smirked.
“I guess we ought to take the table into the yard before we start to paint. Also, yes. I am.”
They took out the paint first, and hauled the table out after, and they sprawled in the grass to debate how they were going to draw the forest. How realistic, and how abstract? Did they want to draw in the sky? Did they want to map it out before the started, or go for it?
“I think it ought to be completely trees,” Clarke said.
That got them started on a discussion about different ways to paint different trees.
“What about swirling the brush?” Harper said.
“How?” Clarke asked.
Harper dipped a brush into the brown, and swirled it against Clarke’s leg. She did it more than once, creating puffs of leaves that formed a tree together. “Or something,” she said.
“I like it.”
They started to paint the table at last, testing ideas on their calves, and their arms, and Harper lifted her shirt for Clarke to use her stomach to practice drawing the branches with the tip of the brush rather than the bristles. It wasn’t long before they were covered.
Raven swiped her brush against Clarke’s cheek.
Clarke jerked, laughing a little, and glancing at her in disbelief.
“My paint was globby,” Raven said.
Harper grinned, and curled a hand around the back of Clarke’s neck to hold her in place while she began to paint on Clarke’s cheek. Her strokes were slow, careful, tickling Clarke’s skin, and when she was finished, Clarke hopped up to fetch Bellamy’s mirror.
It was a pretty, curling vine with bluebells on it.
She hadn’t known before now that Harper was an artist, or that she was amazing at it.
“Paint it on the table,” Clarke said.
Harper beamed, and Raven flopped onto her back, declaring that she was painted out.
“Good,” Clarke said. “Now I can fix your trees.”
“I’m going to remember that the next time you require my awesome mechanic genius.”
They managed to finish the table before the afternoon was up. The sky was a cooler blue, and it was cooler out, but it was nice, hanging out like they used to in the summer, and they continued to lounge next to the table, lying on their backs with their heads together.
Clarke thought about it for a minute. “Hey. Do you guys like the Commander?”
“I don’t have a problem with her,” Raven said. She turned her face to Clarke. “Why?”
“I’ve talked to her a lot lately with everything that’s happened, and it’s made me think. I don’t know. I guess it’s like there are times when it feels like she’s manipulating me.”
Harper sighed. “I’ve always thought she seemed nicer than she was. Like when we were little, and we used to do something bad, or get hurt? You would’ve thought that the Commander would be sweet to you, and make you feel better, and Aurora was going to yell at you because she was scary, and everything, but . . .”
“It was the opposite,” Clarke said.
“Basically. But it could be that Aurora’s good with kids, and the Commander’s not.”
“True.” Clarke stared at the sky, feeling Raven’s gaze on her. But if Raven wanted to know more about Clarke’s curiosity, she didn’t ask, and they dropped the subject.
Bellamy was amused when they met up at dinner. “Did you paint the table, or yourself?”
There was a tug on Clarke’s shirt, and she turned to see a girl, gazing up shyly at Clarke. Her hair was in cornrows, and she was nervous, rocking slightly on the balls of her feet.
It took Clarke a moment to remember her name. “Hi, Jenna.”
“Hi. I like your face.”
Clarke smiled. “Thank you.”
“Can you paint my face like that?” Jenna asked.
They found Harper in line for dinner, and she fetched her paint; Jenna sat in Clarke’s lap while Harper painted a rose on Jenna’s cheek. Jenna was buzzing with excitement.
Inevitably, a line started up after Jenna, and Clarke began to paint their cheeks alongside Harper, shaking hear head at Bellamy when he convinced a girl to ask for Cerberus on her cheek. It wasn’t long before every single child wanted Bellamy’s opinion on what to ask for. He loved it.
She did, too, but she wasn’t going to tell him that.
They were scraping the bottom of the jars by the time it was dark, and they were done.
“I’m sorry,” Clarke said.
Harper shrugged. “I can always make more.”
Bellamy touched Clarke’s hip, coming up beside her, and she grinned when she saw that there was a big orange sun on his cheek. “Did you paint that yourself?” she asked.
“Raleigh,” he said. She was a loud, bossy six-year-old.
“It suits you,” Clarke said. “Bright, cheerful. Cute.”
He squeezed her hip, and pressed a kiss to the side of her nose. “I know. I’m the cutest.”
The flu came sooner this winter, sweeping across the camp only a week after it started to snow. But the strain wasn’t as bad as it was before; people seemed to burn through the fever within days. Bellamy caught it early, and was back on his feet only three days after.
Things took a turn for the worse when Murphy came into the clinic with a fever.
It was really, really high, and he was loopy, off-kilter.
She put him to bed, and started to press cold, damp clothes to his face. She was worried at the heat that radiated off his pale, clammy skin. It didn’t break in the days that followed, and he was coughing, too, and glaring at her through red, watery eyes when he wasn’t asleep. Still, she didn’t put it together until the rash.
It crept around his face, and down his neck.
“Fuck,” she whispered, seeing it.
She established a quarantine in the clinic, remembering when the measles struck the Ark. But it was starting to spread already, and she wasn’t sure there was a purpose to her quarantine. “It helps more than you think,” Dr. Adams said. He was prepared to deal with measles, having dealt with them before, and she was glad.
She needed him to look after everyone when she caught it.
She thought it was a dream from the fever when she blinked, and the person beside her cot in quarantine was Bellamy. She hadn’t seen him in nearly three weeks, having sequestered herself in the quarantine to look after the sick, and refusing to allow him in.
“You’ll get sick,” she said. Her eyes were heavy, but she wanted to look at him.
He took her hand, clasping it in his. “I got it when I was little.”
“I miss you,” she told him.
He brushed the hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear, and stroking her hair a little. It was nice. “Don’t,” he murmured. “I’m here. I’m with you.”
She closed her eyes. “Bell?”
“Can you cuddle with me?”
“Turn on your side,” he told her, and she did, reaching to clutch his arm possessively to her chest when he climbed onto the bed next to her. “Sleep. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Bell,” she mumbled.
She sighed, forgetting what it was she wanted to ask.
He was there when she woke up, and he braided her hair when she complained about the way it stuck to her neck. He brought her dinner, and made her sit up to eat, and to drink.
She got better, and returned to work.
But it seemed to be petering off, and she was surprised. Dr. Adams wasn’t. “It’s because it came as early as it did,” he explained. “We weren’t underfed from the winter, and it was easier for us to fight it off. But when it comes in January? That’s when it’ll be bad.”
It infected a few little kids, but they recovered.
“I feel like I’m waiting for a really horrible thing to happen,” Clarke said.
“Don’t worry,” Bellamy replied. “The flu is going to be back in another few months, and it’ll knock us out like it always does.” He kissed her temple. “Give it time.”
“There’s Diana to worry about, too.”
His face went grim. “Not as long as the alliance of the grounders is in tact.”
Still. It was hard not to worry about it.
She ran into Murphy in the woods. She was collecting what useful, medicinal plants she could before everything was covered in snow for months when he appeared, carrying a gun. He raised an eyebrow at the sight of her, digging through the snow to uproot a plant.
“What?” she asked, irritated.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m uprooting a plant. What’s it look like I’m doing? What are you doing?”
“I’m on a hunt.”
“I like to work by myself.”
She nodded. That didn’t surprise her in the least. She knew that Bellamy liked Murphy, but she didn’t, and she couldn’t bring herself to trust him. There was something about him. He was smarmy, and malicious. He was in it for himself, and he didn’t try to hide it.
“I guess you’re better,” Murphy said.
“Seems like it.”
He was silent, but he didn’t look ready to leave.
She considered, wiping the sweat off her forehead. “I have a question for you,” she said, and she looked at him. “Graham told his mother that he was with you the night he attacked me. He said to ask you, and you’d confirm it. He was certain you’d lie for him.”
“What’s your question?” Murphy asked.
“Would you have?”
He smiled humorlessly at her. “Would you believe me if I said I wouldn’t have?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted.
“Well, I wouldn’t have. I know how to pick a dog in a fight, Princess.”
She understood. “You wouldn’t go up against Bellamy,” she said.
His lip quirked up slightly. “Right,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to go up against Bellamy.” He smirked, and shook his head a little. “Have fun uprooting your plant.”
She thought winter was harsh the year before, but that was nothing to winter this year. Clarke opened the door to the cabin on the first of the month to find the snow on the ground was up to her waist, and continuing to fall; the world was cold, white, and silent.
“This year’s going to be bad,” Bellamy said, staring over her shoulder at the snow.
He was right. It snowed and snowed, piling up higher and higher.
They put up ropes across the camp, connecting the buildings.
There were bad, stormy winters like this every few years on the ground, but, at the Ark, everyone was able to retreat into the Ark, and it was miserable, but it was manageable. People at the Ship retreated into their cabins, and it was manageable, too, but. It was different. They were isolated, and the cabins weren’t as warm as the Ark. Bellamy chopped wood with the rest of the guards, delivering it to cabins throughout the camp.
It wasn’t going to last for long, though.
“We can always chop more,” he said. “It’s food that’s going to be scarce.”
Clarke tried to go to the clinic for at least three hours a day, and it was good to get out.
But it was cold, and about three patients came in a week. Mostly, people knew that they were welcome to come to Clarke’s cabin, and that was where they came when they needed her; Bellamy tied a rope from the clinic to their cabin to make it easier for them.
She was able to sequester herself into their cabin, but Bellamy wasn’t.
The guards needed to patrol, and to hunt.
She knew that he was able to handle himself, but it made her worry to imagine him in the snow, struggling through the snow on the ground, and blinking to see through the snow that stung at his face, hunting for hours only to come away empty-handed, or patrolling in the dark because the guards divided the shifts at night among them.
He came into the cabin in the morning, allowing a swirl of cold in after him.
She didn’t really wake up until he stripped off his damp, cold clothes, and climbed into the bed next to her, pulling her into his arms. His hand was freezing against her arm.
“You’re cold,” she muttered, frowning.
“You’re warm,” he replied, and he pressed his nose into her neck. It was cold, too.
She shifted, drawing away from him to sit up slightly in the bed. She shrugged from her sweater, and pulled off her shirt. “Roll over,” she instructed, pulling a fur up over them.
He did, and she cuddled against his back, hugging him to her chest.
She kissed the back of his head.
She was going to have to get up soon, and try to go into the clinic. Or at least get up and get dressed so that she was ready for patients to come to her. But it wouldn’t take Bellamy long to warm up; she could put off getting up until her husband wasn’t an icicle.
It surprised her when only three hours later, he was up, and planned to go out.
“We need to hunt,” he said.
“You need to sleep,” she replied.
He swiped a kiss to her cheek, and left, ignoring her concern.
Her day passed slowly after that. Sterling came to the cabin to fetch Clarke, and she went to his cabin to look over his sister, who was eight, had a bad fever, and a worse cough.
Clarke stayed for a while, keeping an eye on her breathing, and giving her tea, and when she left, she left instructions for Sterling’s mother to use cold, damp clothe to keep her cool, and to continue listen to her breathing, and come for Clarke if it seemed to change.
It was dark when Clarke stumbled her way home, clinging to the rope.
Bellamy was bent over the fire when she came in. “There you are.” He grinned.
That was when the smell washed into her. “It took us an hour to corner him, but that’s fresh boar meat you’re smelling,” he said, and Clarke was on her knees beside him instantly, making him laugh. They ate with their fingers in front of the fire, tearing strips of juicy dark meat off the bone that Bellamy claimed for them.
He began to snore as soon as they climbed into bed.
But the light from the fire was enough for her to read, and she wasn’t ready for sleep yet.
She was working her way through the books again, and was on one of her favorites. Don’t be over wise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid—the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again. Bellamy shifted beside her on the bed, pulling her closer, and she stroked his hair.
“You full?” he mumbled.
“What?” she asked, glancing at him.
He opened his eyes. “The boar,” he said. His voice was rough with sleep, and his hand snuck under her shirt to graze over her side, her stomach. “Do you feel full?”
“More than I have in weeks,” she said.
He nodded, and she understood when she felt his fingers on her ribs.
She marked her page, and put her book to the side, shifting onto her side, kissing him. It was meant to be soft, sweet. But his arm came around her, and he deepened the kiss.
They didn’t really undress, but they managed to shuck her pants, and his, and she was impatient, pulling her underwear to the side, guiding him into her. She gripped his shoulders while he fucked her slowly, grinding against her.
But she wanted more, wanted him faster, deeper, and she whispered it into his ear.
He growled, and pulled out, rising up on his knees.
He yanked her underwear down, and she rolled onto her stomach, lifting her ass up for him to grab, digging her fingers into the furs when he thrust into her from behind.
He touched her when she was close, rubbing her clit until she came.
She gasped when he pulled out, and flipped her, hooking his arms under her legs before pushing into her, and she sank her fingers into his hair, tugged him in close for a kiss; when he started to come, she breathed his name, clenching around him, and drawing it out, hugging his neck, and holding him to her.
She always liked the after.
How the world seemed to soften around the edges, so that it was impossible to imagine a world other than them, than Bellamy, close and warm and everywhere, surrounding her, stoking her hair, touching kisses to her shoulder, to her cheek, to her palm when she lifted her fingers to trace his smile.
You’re mine, she thought, and you will be in two years, and in ten. Always.
“I love you,” he breathed.
She opened her eyes, but his breath fanned hotly against her neck, and he was asleep.
She smiled. I love you, too, she thought.
In the morning, Sterling came to fetch Clarke to see his sister before Bellamy was awake.
She spent the day with the girl, keeping an eye on her cough. Sterling’s mother was ready to dissolve into tears with worry, but it turned out only to be a cold, and she recovered.
She was lucky. People were starving. Two men died, and a tiny little girl with a fever.
But winter wasn’t forever.
Gradually, the snow began to slow, the air began to warm, and the ground began to thaw; winter started to melt away at last, and people started to venture from their cabins again.
Somebody pounded on the door, and Bellamy grunted against Clarke’s shoulder. It was early; the light around the curtain was dull, only beginning to brighten and creep in.
“Who is that?” Clarke asked.
“The person I’m going to murder,” Bellamy grumbled.
But the knocking was starting to grow louder, impatient, and Clarke was concerned. She pushed up from the bed, ignoring Bellamy when he grumbled into the pillow, and wrapped a fur around her shoulders, covering up a little before she opened the door.
It was Jasper, and the look on his face made her heart leap into her throat.
“It’s Monty,” he said.
They needed her to come to the clinic immediately. The explanation poured from Jasper in a jumbled, desperate rush. Monty didn’t come home after dinner, but his parents assumed that he was at Jasper’s. He wasn’t. He was unconscious on the floor of the Ship.
“He was attacked.”
Bellamy came to the clinic with them. Monty was there with his parents, and with Miller.
He was hunched against his mother, and his clothes were bloody, and streaked with dirt. His face was the worst: battered, bloody, and swollen; his nose was broken, his cheek sported a long red gash, and his eye was swollen so badly that he wasn’t able to open it.
Mr. Green spoke in a low, strained voice while Clarke started to assess Monty.
He was jumped. He didn’t see it coming, didn’t know who it was. His attackers knocked him out suddenly from behind, and beat him when he was unconscious. It was planned.
Clarke pushed her fingers into Monty’s hair, finding the bump at the back of his head.
“Do you feel sick?” she asked. “Dizzy?”
“Not really,” he said. His voice was a whisper.
Mrs. Green helped Clarke to take off his shirt, and she checked his breathing, his heart.
His torso was covered in bruises, and a few nasty cuts. She counted six broken ribs.
She began to clean his face as gently as possible.
He was going to be sore, bruised, and cut up for weeks, but he wasn’t concussed, and he didn’t seem to be bleeding internally. She was going to keep an eye on him, though.
Shumway talked to Monty about the attack, promising to investigate.
But it was clear that nothing was going to happen, and there was nothing for them to do.
“Bullshit,” Miller said. “We know who it was.”
“There isn’t a way to prove it,” Clarke said. “Even if Monty had seen him, it wouldn’t be enough. Diana would never believe it. But if you go after him, she’ll know it was you.”
He shook his head. “This was about me.”
“He went after Monty to fuck with me. He knows that I— ” He pressed his lips together.
“He knows that you care about Monty,” Clarke said gently, “and he wanted to punish you. I know. But if you retaliate, you don’t know what he’ll do in response. Or the Commander. The truth is that he’s untouchable as long as his mother is in charge. But she isn’t going to be in charge for long.”
“What are you talking about?”
She hesitated. “The Commander wants to start a war with the grounders.”
He stared at her.
“We’re going to stop her,” she said.
Miller looked from Clarke to Bellamy, and back. “You’re serious.”
“It’s the truth,” Bellamy said.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything,” Clarke said. “I’m saying we shouldn’t do anything now. Let him think he got away it. Let him think he’s won. He hasn’t.”
“I know you want to beat his ass,” Bellamy started.
“I want to rip his balls off, and shove them down his throat.”
“I’ll help,” Clarke said. She met Miller’s glare. “I know you hate what we’re asking you to do. I hate it, too. But you have to trust us. Graham isn’t going to get away with this. His mother isn’t going to be able to protect him forever, and we will get him. I promise.”
Things were tense around camp after the attack on Monty. Some brushed it off, saying that boys got into fights, and it wasn’t anything to worry about. Others were angry, concerned, demanding to know who was responsible for the attack on a nice young boy.
But nobody was found to be responsible.
Clarke ate lunch with Monty, Jasper, and Harper, and she wanted to ask Monty. Do you know that it was Graham who attacked you? Do you know that it was because Miller saved me, so Graham went after you? But she didn’t. She smiled, and Monty smiled, too.
Bellamy was right about the flu. It returned in March, and it was much, much worse.
It was a miracle when spring crept up on them.
On the first truly warm, sunny day of the year, a group headed for the Ark.
They hadn’t been in months, agreeing with the council on the Ark that it was unnecessary if not impossible for them to try to make the trek through the worst of the winter.
Nobody asked if Clarke wanted to go.
Bellamy offered to talk to Diana, but Clarke told him not to bother. Diana would come up with an excuse why Clarke couldn’t, and she was needed in the clinic anyway. Now that the weather was nice, people were eager to venture from their cabins after being cooped up for months, and it meant a rash of bee stings, sprained ankles, poison ivy, and the like.
Clarke was busy throughout the morning, seeing patient after patient.
She got a reprieve at the start of that afternoon, only for Charlotte to come into the clinic.
Clarke smiled. “Hi, Charlotte.”
“Hey, Clarke.” She was looking at the ground, and twisting a hand in her shirt. Charlotte was an orphan, and she was shy, and tended to keep to herself, but she was sweet, and smart, and she took a shine to Clarke when she was in the clinic for a week with the flu.
“Is something the matter?” Clarke asked.
Charlotte looked up, and her eyes were bright with tears. “I didn’t mean to,” she gasped.
“I was there to watch the baby, and I just wanted to look at it, and—and put it on for just a second, but then I heard her coming, and I panicked, and I—” She was crying now.
Clarke knelt to her height, taking her hands. “It’s okay,” she said.
“I didn’t mean to.” Charlotte sniffed.
“I know. But you need to tell me what is it you did.”
Slowly, she pulled the necklace from her pocket. It was pretty, and older. “I didn’t mean to,” Charlotte said. “I swear, I didn’t mean to, and I—I was going to sneak in and put it back, but now she knows it’s missing, and I’m scared, and—” Her face began to crumple.
“It’s okay,” Clarke said. “Charlotte, it’s okay.”
“I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“I know. But you know what we have to do, don’t you?”
She nodded. “Give it back,” she whispered.
The necklace belonged to Mrs. Mendoza, and her face went sour when Charlotte tugged it from her pocket to give to her. But she accepted it wordlessly, and listened to the apology that Charlotte stuttered at the ground, and she sighed, seeming to soften a little.
“Charlotte hoped there was a way she might be able to make it up to you,” Clarke said.
“I think we’ll be able to come up with something.”
Clarke smiled, touching a hand to Charlotte’s shoulder, and Charlotte nodded.
Mrs. Mendoza ushered Charlotte into the cabin, telling her to dry her tears now, and that Charlotte was going to help with the laundry. She nodded at Clarke, and shut the door.
Clarke returned to a line of patients at the clinic.
She was exhausted when the group from the Ark returned at dinner, and Bellamy found her with Monty, Jasper, Raven, and Finn. He sat, dropping a kiss on her cheek. “Hey.”
She leaned into his shoulder. “How was the Ark?”
“Good. I have something for you.”
He pulled it from the bag at his side, and she nosed at his cheek in amusement when she saw it was a book, taking it from him. But the binding was different than usual; she opened it to find that the script on the very first page was handwritten rather than typed.
“It’s not from me,” Bellamy said.
The writing was neat, boxy cursive, and her breath caught in her chest when she began to read. It was from her father, telling her that he missed her, and that he thought of her every single day, and he hoped that she thought of him whenever she drew in this journal.
The rest of the pages were blank, and they were rough, homemade.
She hugged the journal to her chest, feeling tears start to burn her eyes.
“You’ll see him soon,” Bellamy murmured.
That night, she drew her friends on the first blank page.
It was a rough, quick sketch.
She drew them like they were in a photograph, sitting in a row: there was Jasper with an arm around Monty, and Miller beside Monty; then Harper, then Raven, and Finn on the ground at Raven’s knees, and Bellamy was last in the line, smirking at the photographer.
Three days later, there was a shout from the wall at dinner, and the doors were opened.
For a moment, Clarke was stunned.
It was Octavia. She looked different, grown up. Her hair was twisted into a dozen little braids, and she was dressed like a grounder, but it was Octavia. Bellamy grinned, sprinting to her; Octavia laughed when he pulled her into a hug, lifting her off her feet.
Clarke reached them, and when Bellamy stepped away, Octavia pulled Clarke into a hug.
“We missed you,” Clarke said.
Octavia smiled. “I missed you, too.”
“I thought we weren’t going to see you until the festival,” Bellamy said.
“You weren’t,” Octavia said, and the smile that she greeted her brother with was gone now. Her eyes flickered to Clarke. “There isn’t going to be a festival this year.”
He frowned. “What?”
“That’s why I’m back.” She hesitated. “Two weeks ago, the commander of the grounders died. Her successor was chosen, but she’s young. She isn’t ready to lead, and everyone knows she isn’t ready to lead, and—and five days ago, the Ice Queen pulled her clan from the alliance.”
“It’s broken. The alliance is broken. Bell, the grounders are talking about going to war.”
It was late when Aurora came to their cabin, but they were awake, and ready for her.
“What’s going on?” Bellamy asked.
“The alliance is broken, and the Trigedakru is exposed,” Aurora said. “Octavia told us that they plan to ask us for an alliance in the case of a war. Diana wants to accept.”
Clarke frowned. “Is her plan to betray them?”
“Possibly,” Aurora said. “But if she wants the Ark to side with her, she needs a reason to betray the Trigedakru, and I don’t know what that reason is. I don’t know what she’s planning. Not yet. But I’ll figure it out, and as soon as I do, you’ll know. We’ll stop it.”
Aurora smiled, and it was small, and tired, but it was a smile; she touched a hand to his shoulder, and leaned in to press a kiss to the crown of his head. “Go to bed,” she said.
In the morning, the camp was buzzing.
The news that Octavia was back seemed to have spread across the Ship overnight, and everyone wanted to know why she was back, and what was going on, about the grounders, and their alliance, and the possibility that the grounders were going to war.
Clarke got in line for breakfast, and was bombarded with questions.
She was glad to be able to escape to the clinic.
It figured that the questions were going to follow her to clinic, though.
“Hey, Clarke,” Jasper said.
She eyed him. “Jasper.” It hadn’t been ten minutes yet since she finished with a chatty, older patient who peppered her with questions, and she was trying to take a break, to enjoy a couple of the strawberries that Raven brought. “Is your stomach feeling better?”
“I’m looking for Octavia. Have you seen her since she got back?”
Clarke sighed. “Not really.”
“But you talked to her when she came in yesterday,” he said.
“She’s back to let the Commander know that the Trigedakru are going to send an envoy to speak with her about the possibility of an alliance specifically between us.”
“What do you think the Commander is going to do?”
“I think you’ll have to ask her.”
“Sterling says that the Ice Queen—”
“I don’t know.”
“People are saying that the grounders are going to war.”
“Is that so?” She smiled.
He sighed, and turned to leave, only to glance over his shoulder. “Do you know if—?”
“You’re killing me, Mom!” he exclaimed, and he left the clinic in a huff.
Clarke blinked. “What did he call me?”
Raven continued to tinker with some dingy contraption. “If it makes you feel better, they call Bellamy dad,” she said. She started to smirk, and Clarke threw a strawberry at her.
She complained to Bellamy that night.
She finished washing up for the night, and collapsed onto the bed with a sigh, closing her eyes. “I’m exhausted,” she muttered. “I swear, everything about me is tired right now. My back. My neck. My boobs.” Bellamy snorted, and she opened an eye to glare at him.
He was at the table, darning a sock, and his lip twitched a little at her scowl.
“I think every single person I know asked me about Octavia today,” she told him.
He nodded. “She was hiding at my mother’s,” he replied.
“Smart. Hide, and leave us to the wolves.”
“I think that was the plan.” He frowned at the sock, and leaned in closer to it.
She rolled onto her side, propping herself up on elbow to look at him. “Jasper came by the clinic to harass me in the afternoon,” she went on. “I told him that I didn’t know anything, and before he gave up and left, he said, and I quote, you’re killing me, Mom!”
Bellamy glanced at her. “He called you mom?”
“Raven says that they call you dad.”
“What? Who are they?”
“I don’t know. The children we don’t have, and aren’t responsible for?”
He shook his head, and rose to his feet. “Jasper is an idiot.”
“Don’t talk about our son like that.”
He gave her a look, and she grinned, flopping onto her back.
She reached for her book. It took her a minute to find where she left off two nights ago. She scanned the page. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into. She stared at the words, and closed the book.
She looked at Bellamy, watching him clear the table.
“What do you think her plan is?” she asked.
He sighed. “I don’t know.”
“I hate this. This waiting, and worrying, and. I need to do something.”
“I know. Me, too.” He climbed onto the bed. “I know that my mother wants to wait, and figure out what Diana’s planning, but what if she can’t? What if before she’s able to figure it out, Diana does something that we can’t fix? What if her plan is to kill a person, and pin it on the grounders, and use that to get us angry, to get the Ark angry?”
“Your mother’s been her second for years, right?”
“Then chances are your mother’s known about things that Diana’s done that weren’t right. Chances are Diana trusts your mom, and will tell her what the plan is.”
He nodded. “I guess.”
“We’ll figure it out in time to stop it,” she said, scooting, and he shifted, lifting his arm to allow her to curl into his side, and rest her head on his chest. “We have to.”
She was trying to make a salve with the aloe from Monty when Finn came into the clinic, and it took her a moment to draw her gaze away from the task. “What’s up?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “You forgot,” he said, amused.
She stared. “Oh. Oh! Right.” He was supposed to show her where the plants that were good for hemostasis were. “I’m sorry, Finn. I’m the worst. Give me just a minute?”
It took less than an hour to reach the pond where the spongy green plants grew.
She began to pluck as much as possible, and Finn picked up a rock, skipping it on the water. She watched him skip another, and he noticed. “Want to try it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “We should get back,” she said, standing.
“I’ll show you how,” he replied.
She passed him, climbing up the bank. “Come on. I want to be back by lunch.”
He sighed. “It wouldn’t kill you to have fun, you know.”
“I have fun,” she said.
“Name something fun you’ve done recently,” he challenged.
“I . . . I have fun.”
She huffed. “Just because I take my responsibilities seriously, doesn’t mean I’m not fun.”
“I didn’t say you weren’t fun,” he said. “Just that you didn’t have fun. I think you’re fun, Princess. Don’t worry.” He was looking at her rather than at where he walked, but he circled a tree that she thought he was going to ram into, ducking a branch, and grinning.
She considered him. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Is it how I got to be as fun as I am?”
“Why do you work in the forge? It doesn’t really seem like the place for you.”
“Not really,” she said. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the forge, but it isn’t exactly an exciting, adventurous job, and you seem to like being in the woods, the freedom, and exploring, and everything, and you know the woods as well as the guards.”
“But I don’t want to be a guard,” he said. “I never have.”
“Still. The forge?”
He shrugged. “What can I say? I guess I’m good with my hands.”
She looked dryly at him, and he grinned.
But it faltered, and Clarke turned.
“My bad,” Murphy drawled. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your date.”
“Do you need something?” Finn asked.
Murphy smirked. “Does your husband know that you’re out with this jerk off?”
“I thought the group that was going for a hunt today was reassigned,” Clarke said. In fact, she was positive. Atom told Bellamy at breakfast, complaining about it, and how they didn’t need every last guard on duty that day to repair the leaks in the roof of the kitchen.
“I told you,” Murphy said. “I like to work by myself. I don’t need a group.”
Finn opened his mouth to retort, and was torn up into the air.
His head smashed against the ground when he was flipped, when he was lifted up by his ankle, and left to dangle, unconscious. Clarke was stunned, but Murphy reacted, and shoved her to the ground an instant before a spear flew through the air over their heads.
Murphy swore. “Come on.”
“Finn—” she breathed.
“—is dead,” Murphy snapped. He pushed to his feet, shooting a grounder. “Come on!”
But she wasn’t going to leave Finn. She made for him, and Murphy grabbed her arm, and the grounders began to pour from the trees. “We can’t leave him!” Clarke exclaimed.
“It’s leave him, or die with him!”
He turned, and stopped; there was a grounder, holding a sword to Murphy’s throat.
“On your knees,” she growled.
Slowly, he began to sink to his knees, raising his arms in surrender, and Clarke did, too.
But as soon as his knee touched the ground, he sprang up, surging forward, and taking the grounder by surprise, stabbing her. Clarke scrambled up, but it was too little, too late; grounders were everything, and Murphy turned, and was clubbed in the back of the head.
He crumpled to the ground, and she lurched for him. But a grounder was at her back, and a knife at her neck, and the grounder forced Clarke’s arms behind her back.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
She recognized the dress of these warriors. Trigedakru. Why would they attack them?
“We’re from the Ship,” Clarke said. “We—” Her eyes caught on a grounder with Finn thrown over his shoulder, only for a snarling, painted face to loom in front of her suddenly, blocking him from her sight. “Listen to me,” she begged, and pain exploded in the back of her head.
Her back seemed to throb, and she tried to roll over, blinking at the pain that tore into her shoulders, and the feel of the ropes on her wrist, chaffing her skin. She was tied up.
She breathed in sharply, remembering.
There was a dull, thudding pain in her head, but she twisted, staining against the bindings that held her, and realized that she was tied to a post with her arms yanked painfully behind her. Her mouth was dry, and she licked her lips, swallowing the taste of blood.
She gasped when she saw Finn was tied to the post to her left.
He was unconscious, slumping against the post with his chin his chest, and the side of his face was bloody from a cut along his hairline. But he was tied up like she was. They wouldn’t have bothered to tie him up unless he was alive.
“Finn,” she breathed.
“It looks like it was only a knock to the head,” Murphy said, and she whipped her head to the right.
He was tied up, too, and his face was stained with a crescent of black dried blood from his forehead to his chin, curving over his cheek. He met her gaze tiredly, resigned.
“What—?” she started.
He shook his head.
She looked around them, searching for a clue as to where they were, or what was going on. They were tied to posts in an otherwise empty, grassy rise, but Clarke was able to make out a village below them. It wasn’t a village, though. It was the ruins of a village.
It was empty, dark, and crumbling; smoke rose up from it in gray, fading wisps.
What the hell was going on?
She didn’t know how long it was before she heard the voices, growing louder, closer. She tensed, and glanced at Murphy to see that his face was hard, and his jaw was locked.
The group that came into view was small, and Clarke didn’t know the woman at the front.
But she knew the woman to her right.
“Indra,” she breathed. “Indra! I’m Octavia’s sister, Clarke. We met at the festival.”
“We know who you are, Clarke.” It was the woman at the front. She was young, but her gaze was cold, and steady, appraising them, and Clarke knew that she was in charge.
“Do you know what the fuck is going on?” Murphy growled.
“The village that you see below you,” said the woman. “Over a hundred men, women, and children were killed in the fire that ravaged it. The fire that your people started.”
Clarke gaped. “What?”
“Do you deny it?” Indra snarled. “We caught one of your people in the midst of the fire.”
“Our leaders planned to make an alliance with your people,” Clarke said. “Octavia told them that Anya was going to send an envoy, and we were going to make an alliance!”
“Anya is dead,” said the woman. “She was in the village. She burned.”
“I’m sorry,” Clarke whispered. “I—but why would we do that? Why would we kill her?”
But she knew.
The realization was beginning to creep up on her, hollowing out her stomach, and making her heart beat faster. Oh, God. But she clenched her fists, trying to school her features.
“What about the man from the Ship that was caught during the fire?” Indra challenged.
“Fire loosened his tongue, and he confessed. The fire was meant to start a war.”
“He might be from the Ship, but he doesn’t represent it,” Clarke said.
It was silent. The woman in charge stared at Clarke, seeming to consider her. “I want to believe you, Clarke,” she said at last. “I do not wish for a war with your people. Truly. But blood must have blood.” She lifted her hand, and beckoned with two of her fingers.
Two larger, burly grounders came into view, dragging a man with them.
“Dax,” Murphy said.
He was unrecognizable. His face was a bloody, burned mask, his clothes were brown with blood, torn, and muddy, and he was cradling bloody, burned hands to his chest.
“Do you know them?” Indra asked, glaring at Dax.
He lifted his gaze, looking through the slits of his eyes at Murphy, at Clarke. He nodded.
“Gustus,” said the woman.
The largest of the grounders strode forward at the name, pulling a knife from his belt, and starting for Murphy. “Hey, wait, wait,” Murphy said, struggling against his bindings. “I didn’t have a thing to do with the fire! I—” Gustus ignored him, moving behind the post.
He knelt, and Clarke strained to turn her face, seeing him saw off Murphy’s watch.
His blade cut into Murphy’s wrist, and Murphy choked on a yell.
Her heart began to pound when Gustus came to her, kneeling behind the post.
His fingers were wet with Murphy’s blood when he touched her neck. She looked at the grounders, at the leader, and Gustus pushed on her head, forcing her chin to her chest, and curled her braid around his hand before his knife sliced at her neck, making her gasp.
It stung, but that was it; he rose to his feet, holding her braid. He cut off her braid.
Clarke slumped against the post in shock.
Finn was motionless when Gustus bent, and tore off the necklace he wore.
Clarke looked at the leader.
But the woman turned to look at Dax; a grounder forced his head up to meet her gaze.
“Your people have a choice to make,” she said. “Tell your commander that if I’m given the guilty among your people, I’ll return the innocent. But if your people choose to protect their guilty, it will be an act of war, and these prisoners will be the first to die.”
She nodded at the grounders that stood at Dax’s back.
They made to drag him off.
“What the fuck?” Murphy snarled. He glared at the leader. “You caught him at the fire, and you’re sending him back, and leaving us to rot? How is that blood for blood?”
Indra pulled a sword from her back.
But the leader held up her hand, stopping Indra before she took a step.
“If you believe he is long in this life, you are mistaken,” she said. “We have assured that he is ripe for death, and that the disease in him will kill him. But if you prefer that I placed the disease in you, and sent the choice to your people through you, I am willing.”
Murphy was silent.
“There are guards on watch,” said the leader. “Try to escape, and it’ll cost your life.”
She turned, and the rest of the grounders went after her until the rise was empty, silent.
The sun was bleeding into the sky above them, sinking.
This was the part of the plan that Aurora was never able to piece together.
Diana wasn’t going to rescue them, wasn’t going to trade the guilty for the innocent. She was among the guilty, though she was going to deny it. She was going to deny that anyone from the Ship was responsible for the fire, and refuse to give in, leaving Murphy, Finn, and Clarke to die. After all, she needed Clarke to die.
She wanted the Ark to unite with the Ship against the grounders, and this was her chance.
This was her way to convince them, her reason to declare a war.
She was going to say that the Ship was blamed wrongly for a fire, and unite the Ark with the Ship in a war to avenge the three innocent people who were killed in retaliation.
“You know Bellamy’s going to lose his shit when he sees your braid,” Murphy said.
She looked at him. “Did you know about the fire?”
He scoffed. “Do you think I attacked Monty, too? I told you. I picked my side.”
Did everyone know that there were sides?
Did Diana? Is that why Aurora hadn’t been able to warn them about this? Had Diana kept it from her on purpose, suspecting that Aurora was against her now, or was it simply because she believed that Aurora was attached to Clarke, and wouldn’t want Clarke hurt?
“Well, you might not have picked right,” Clarke said at last, looking away from him.
The back of her neck stung a little, but the cut was superficial. Survivable.
Murphy tilted his head into the post, and his face was pinched, bitter. “I guess we’ll see.”
The sky was gray when grounders appeared on the rise in the morning, bringing water for them, and food. They were untied in order to eat, and Clarke hunched over, stretching, and rolling her shoulders. Breakfast was porridge, and stale, hot water that tasted like tin.
It wasn’t enough, but she wasn’t about to complain.
Finn woke suddenly when they splashed water in his face.
He sputtered, and groaned, falling onto his side. But the grounders allowed her to kneel at his side, and help him to drink, and to eat. She looked on the cut at his head, too.
“What’s going on?” he murmured.
“We’re hostages,” she told him. “Once they’re gone, I’ll explain.”
She thought they were going to be tied up again, and left at the posts for the rest of the day. They weren’t. The grounders forced them to their feet, and with spears at their backs, marched them down the hill, and towards the smoking gray remains of the village.
Finn stumbled repeatedly, but they forced him up, and on.
“What are we doing?” Murphy asked.
“We need to clear the rubble,” said a grounder. “You’re going to help.”
Murphy scoffed. “I’ll pass.”
“You’re going to clear the rubble, and you’re going to rebuild this village.”
“The village that I didn’t burn,” Murphy spat.
“Refuse, and I’ll cut open your belly myself. Go on.” His gaze was dark, hateful, and his lips twisted up in a sneer before he leaned in menacingly. “Give me the excuse.”
Murphy looked ready to retort, taking a step towards the grounder.
“Murphy,” Clarke snapped.
It took a moment, but he listened, raising his hands in surrender, and turning away.
She didn’t need him to make a scene.
Truthfully, she was harboring a secret, stupid hope that they might be able to make a run for it during the time they were cut loose, and put to work, but it was squashed quickly after that. Grounders were everywhere, and over a dozen were simply there to be guards.
Clarke saw Murphy eye them, and eye the gaps between them.
But he wasn’t going to be able to make a run for it, and he seemed to realize it.
The sun began to beat on their backs within an hour.
Clarke was thirsty, sore, and ready to collapse in the rubble in less than that; she cut her palm on something early on, and it bled profusely, stinging so badly that she teared up. Finn helped her tear a strip off her shirt, and wrap it, which stopped the bleeding at least.
She continued to work, gritting her teeth at the pain.
There were grounders at work, too, but it remained slow, tedious labor for everyone.
Her stomach churned at the bodies that were hidden in the ruins. The grounders began to carry them to a pyre to be burned in the evening, and Clarke helped, ignoring the sick in her stomach, and in her throat, and carrying body after body until her back began to seize.
They were given a food at midday, and forced to work through the afternoon.
She was faint with exhaustion when they were returned to the top of the hill at last.
It was silent while they ate.
They were tied to their posts again after, and the grounders began to leave.
Murphy swore under his breath, shifting against the post. “We better get traded for before we have to rebuild that whole fucking place for them.” He spat it at the back of a grounder, and the grounder paused, turning slowly to look at Murphy, and meet his glare.
“You better hope that you are traded for before the village is rebuilt,” he said, “because if your people haven’t given up the murderers by then, that’s it. That’s when we kill you.”
He left, and he was the last of the grounders to go.
“Good to know there’s a date for our execution,” Finn said. His voice was flat, cheerless, and he looked at Clarke. “What do you think?” he asked. “Two months, or three?”
She worried constantly about the Ship at the start, going over everything in her head.
Diana was smart, and she wouldn’t give up without a fight.
What was going on? Had the virus that Dax returned to the Ship with ravaged the camp? What did everyone know about the fire? Did they believe Diana when she claimed to know nothing, or was Bellamy able to convince them otherwise, and oust Diana at last?
She worried about Bellamy, and her friends.
Had they taken over, and were about to make the trade, or were they strung up in trees?
But the days began to run together, and it took a toll on Clarke, clearing the rubble.
Her back seemed to ache perpetually, and she was exhausted from staying on her feet throughout the day, from lifting, and dragging, and shoveling, from the sun, the heat.
It made her mindless.
Things improved slightly after Murphy snarled at a grounder that it was impossible for them to work throughout the day when their arms were twisted painfully behind them throughout the night, and the grounders loosened the ropes that bound them to the posts.
They were able to stretch, and to sleep on their sides, and Clarke slept better.
Still. She didn’t have to energy to think, to worry.
It rained through the night only a week after they were taken. They were soaked within an hour, and damp for days after, and Finn caught a cold, and was sneezing for days.
Clarke tried to look after their cuts, and keep them as clean as possible, but.
She peed her pants at night on accident, and wasn’t able to care.
“You smell like piss,” Murphy said, walking beside her on the way down the hill.
“You smell like daises,” she replied.
He wasn’t supposed to be a prisoner alongside her. He wasn’t supposed to have been in the woods that day. But he was, and she was glad. She was glad that he was truculent, and always disobeyed orders. She was glad that he was with her now, that Finn was, too.
She was glad that she wasn’t alone.
In the beginning, they talked about ways to escape. They kept it at a whisper, drawing their ideas in the dirt. Together, they might have a chance at subduing the guards that watched them at night, and making a run for it. It was worth it at least to try, wasn’t it?
Each of them tried to get out of the bindings that held them to the posts.
None of them was able.
Murphy tried to sneak a sharp, jagged piece of stone from the rubble, slipping it into the pocket of his trousers. But a grounder saw him do it, and he was beaten for his efforts. The guards began to check them for rubble after that, trying them up more securely, too.
The more time passed, the less they talked about escape, giving up on the impossible.
“What did the fish say when it hit the wall?” Murphy asked.
She leaned her head against the post. “What?”
“I think your jokes are getting worse,” Finn said.
Clarke lay on her side, curling up. Her back was sore, and she tried to shift, to relieve the pressure. It was useless. The boys were bickering now, and their voices washed over her.
Where are you? she thought. Why haven’t you come for us yet?
She closed her eyes.
The sun was rising in the sky when a grounder woke her, shouting at her in Trigedasleng.
Her knees caught the fall, biting into the ground, and her hands; the cut in her hand was healing, but it stung at the sudden hard contact with the ground, making her eyes burn with tears. She closed her eyes for a moment, breathing in, and resting on her haunches.
“Get up,” growled a grounder. He was in front of her, blocking the sun.
She nodded, and started to push to her feet.
But the world swayed beneath her in dizzy, sickening tilt, and she paused.
It infuriated the grounder. He surged for her, and fisted a hand in her hair, yanking her to her feet. But it happened too quickly for Clarke to find her footing when he shoved her forward, and her ankle twisted under her; she fell on her back, blacking out for an instant.
The grounder swore at her in Trigedasleng, and kicked her in the stomach.
“Hey!” Finn yelled.
She curled up, trying to turn away from the grounder, and he kicked her in the face.
Pain blinded her, pulsing in her nose, and reverberating in her skull.
She blinked, and saw Murphy shove the grounder, forcing him to stumble away from her. He ducked when the grounder swung a punch, and sank a fist into the grounder’s face.
That was when the rest of the grounders began to swoop in.
The pulled Murphy off the grounder, and started to beat him, sending him to his knees, holding his arms behind his back, and pummeling him. But when a short, scarred grounder stormed up to the circle of grounders, yelling in Trigedasleng, everything went still at his command, silent. He turned his glare from person to person.
It lingered on Murphy, and went to Clarke, and to Finn, kneeling at Clarke’s side.
“She’s dehydrated,” Finn said.
Clarke was leaning heavily into him, but she met the glare of the leader.
“Give her water,” he snarled. His voice was low, and his teeth were clenched, and he spat at Murphy when he turned away from them, but a canteen was brought to Clarke.
She drank, and, after Finn gave her a hand up, went to Murphy, and made him drink, too.
It was over as quickly as it began. The grounders around them went back to work slowly, quietly, ignoring them, and they went back to work, too, after a minute. Murphy was unsteady on his feet, but he managed. Clarke, too, and they made it to the end of the day.
It figured that the grounders were going to have them work separately after that debacle.
They finished with the rubble, and started to rebuild.
Finn was put to work under the eye of the blacksmith, forging nails from scrap, Murphy was assigned to a group that spent the day in the woods, gathering the lumber that was needed, and Clarke was kept in the heart of the village, laying the foundations for cabins.
The work was easier in more ways than one, but she missed the boys.
She went for hours without saying a word.
Once they were done for the day in the village, they were marched to their posts, ate in a tired, silent daze, and nodded off pretty soon after, talking for minutes at most.
“Where did Sally go after the explosion?” Murphy asked.
She turned her head to look at him. “Where?”
It took her a moment. “That’s terrible.” She laughed a little. “You’re terrible.”
He grinned, and, after she shook her head at him, shifted onto his back. Clarke was left to look at his red, scabby knees, sticking up in the dark, and his dirty, scratched up calves.
“How was your day?” Finn asked.
She leaned her head against the post. “The same,” she said. “You?”
“The same,” he said.
It was quiet, and she expected that to be it, but there was something in his expression.
She raised her brow at him. “What?”
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you. Something I need to tell you.” He paused. “I—” He released a breath, shaking his head. “I think I’m in love with you.”
“I’m in love with you,” he said, earnest, staring at her, and his gaze was bright, hopeful.
“You’re—” She gaped at him. “What about Raven?”
“I love her, too,” he said, and dropped his gaze for a moment, apologetic, guilty. “But—”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, you can’t—it doesn’t work that way. Being in love isn’t like loving your friends, or your children. If you fall in love with a second person, you didn’t love the first as much as you thought, and—and you don’t get to do that to Raven.”
“You don’t.” She couldn’t believe this, couldn’t believe him.
For a beat, it was silent.
“I can’t help the way I feel,” he said at last, soft. “I’m in love with you.”
“I’m in love with Bellamy.”
He swallowed visibly, and dropped her gaze for a moment, nodding. “I thought you might be. But I guess I—” He looked at her. “I wanted you to know,” he said. “I should’ve told you sooner, but I was afraid of what it meant, and I knew it would hurt—”
“Raven,” she said, angry. “Smart, beautiful Raven, who adores you.”
“I know. I know, and I mean it when I say I love her. I do. But I can’t live my life—”
She exploded. “Your life is over, Finn!”
He stared at her.
She shook her head, closing her eyes for a moment, trying to will away the tears that stung her eyes. “It’s over,” she said. She looked at him. “Nobody’s coming for us.”
“You can’t think like that.”
“It’s the truth.”
“No,” he said. “No, I refuse to believe that. I know it’s been over a month, but you can’t give up hope. I bet you the Ship doesn’t know how bad the fire really was; they don’t realize how many lives it took, and that’s why they’re stalling on making the trade. They don’t want to give up their own. But once they realize, the Commander is going to—”
“The Commander is responsible for the fire,” Clarke said.
She looked away from him. “It doesn’t matter,” she muttered. “She won. I don’t know what’s going on at the Ship, but—but she won, and nobody’s coming for us.”
It was quiet.
“I guess there are things you know that I don’t,” Finn said at last. “But I can’t believe that everyone we know has abandoned us. I can’t, I’m sorry. I don’t know how you can.”
She pressed her head into the post.
“What about Bellamy?” he went on. “You think he’s going to leave you to die?”
“If he could’ve rescued us, he would have by now.”
That was the thing, wasn’t it? That was the thought that tortured Clarke the most, that her exhaustion couldn’t seem to stave off. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that Bellamy wouldn’t ever, ever abandon her. Then why hadn’t he come yet? What happened to him?
Was he banished, or worse? What about Aurora, or Octavia?
It scared her, thinking about how it played out.
Her gut clenched at the thought of the worst, and I never even told him I loved him.
She wanted to believe that he was banished. Her friends, too. That they went up against Diana, and they lost, but it wasn’t over yet, because they were going to attempt some daring rescue, or convince the grounders to free them because they weren’t the enemy.
But she knew that was far-fetched, impossible.
She pressed her lips together, and closed her eyes. It was over. “Nobody’s coming, Finn.”
The heat seemed to grow suddenly, completely unbearable in only a few short days, and the humidity was worse. They were drenched in sweat an hour after the sun came up, sweating throughout the day, and squinting in the sunlight, baking in the wet, bright heat.
Clarke liked summer, but she didn’t know how she was going to survive this.
Her lips were so dry that they cracked, and began to bleed.
It rained, and she paused in her work that day to tilt her face up to the sky, catching the rain in her mouth, and letting it sink into her hair, and wash the sweat off her skin.
The day after that, Murphy took a still hot coal from the fire where Finn worked.
He used it to start a fire.
But the grounders saw it early on, and were able to put it out, and they saw that his palm was burned, realizing that he was the culprit, that he tried to burn the village. Again.
They made him kneel in coals while they beat the skin off his back.
It took days for his back to begin to heal.
“What the hell were you thinking?” she asked. “You’re lucky they didn’t kill you.”
“I was trying to buy time,” he said.
“You’re joking, right? You thought you were going to buy time? If they hadn’t caught you when they did, Murphy, they would have caught you after,” she said, “and they would have killed you for it. It doesn’t matter how much time you buy if you’re dead.”
He glared at her. “It was supposed to look like an accident.”
“They aren’t stupid, John.”
“I was trying to save our lives,” he snapped. “To do something.”
“There isn’t anything for us to do,” Finn said. “Unless you want to die sooner. If nobody is coming for us, the most we can hope for is for the grounders to be merciful, and—”
“Right,” Murphy growled. “Let’s bank on their mercy to save us.”
“You’re right,” Clarke said.
“No. No. You.” She looked at him. “We have to do something, and if they’re going to kill us, why not . . .” She paused, and bent, writing it in the dirt for both of the boys to see. Escape. They catch us and we’re dead, but we’re dead anyway. There’s nothing to lose.
“Clarke,” Finn said, doubtful.
She knew his doubt wasn’t unfounded, but she looked at Murphy, and he nodded.
Finn was going to have to suck it up.
They decided to use the ruse they came up with in those early days after they were taken.
It was simple in theory, and, honestly, predicable. But it was their best real shot at escape. The boys would secretly undo their bindings, Clarke would pretend to be in pain, shouting, and getting the grounder on guard to climb up, and the boys would jump him.
There were about a hundred different things that relied solely on luck, but.
But, first, they needed to find a way to get out of the ropes that bound them to their posts.
Clarke was working with a group to make a fence to pen in animals when Murphy came into the village, helping to carry in lumber. His gaze was on her, and she nodded.
She was ready when he was.
The plan was for him to make a scene, and she was going to sneak a knife into her boot.
But he startled her when he came up behind her. “Clarke.” His voice was low, urgent, leaning into her. “People from the Ark are here. They came in through the woods.”
She stared. “Who?”
“I don’t know. But I know I’ve seen them at the Ark before, and they wore those—those uniforms that your guards wear. Clarke, they were with the grounders.” He stared at her.
“Do you think they’ve come for us?” she asked. “Was anyone from the Ship with them?”
“Not that I saw,” he said.
Clarke was stunned. Had the Ark teamed up with the Ship like Diana wanted, and come for them? But that wasn’t her plan. Diana wanted a war. She wasn’t about to team up with the Ship for a trade. She wasn’t about to give up the guilty when she was the guilty.
Hope swelled in Clarke’s chest. Bellamy, she thought.
It wasn’t happening the way that Diana wanted because Diana wasn’t in charge.
“Let’s go, boy,” shouted a grounder.
Murphy looked at Clarke.
“Let’s wait, and figure out what’s going on,” Clarke murmured. Murphy nodded.
She kept her eyes peeled for the rest of the morning, waiting for something to happen, to see people from the Ark, or people from the Ship. Murphy hadn’t seen them, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. By lunch, she was shaky with adrenaline, and desperate.
He was there. She knew he was there, meeting with the leader of the grounders.
It happened as soon as she began to eat the beans that a grounder dished onto a plate for her. Grounders appeared at the edge of the village, beckoning to a few in the village.
One glanced at Clarke, and his gaze lingered on her.
Unthinking, she rose to her feet.
Two of the guards she knew started for her suddenly, and she didn’t wait for them to get to her; she met them in the middle, only to be forced to her knees, and have her hands tied behind her back. They lifted her up by her elbows, and marched her from the village.
Her eyes went wide at the sight that greeted her when they left the village.
Tents were sprawled in a large, endless meadow.
It should’ve have surprised her; there needed to be a place for the grounders to live.
The guards walked her though the maze of small brown tents, leading her to the largest of the tents. Grounders stood at the entrance, and held open the flaps of the tent for them.
Clarke stumbled on the way in, but the guards bruised her arms, hauling her forward.
Her heart was pounding so furiously that it was hard to breathe.
She was pushed to her knees in front of a throne where the leader of the grounders sat.
But her gaze was stuck on the guards from the Ark, and Kane. His eyes went soft when he saw her, and he seemed to look her over, meeting her stare. “You okay?” he asked.
“Fine,” she breathed.
“Do we have a deal?” asked the leader, drawing Kane to look at her.
“Then it’s done,” she said, and she glanced at the guards behind Clarke. They pulled Clarke to her feet, and sliced through the ropes that bound her wrists, freeing her.
Clarke stared. “What about the boys?” she asked, starting to understand.
There wasn’t anyone from the Ship in the tent.
“You are free to leave now with your people, Clarke,” said the leader.
“What about my friends?” Clarke demanded, and she jerked her arm from Kane’s grasp when he tried to touch her, turning to him. “Tell me you aren’t going to leave them.”
He ignored her. “Thank you, heda,” he said, inclining his head at the leader.
“What’s going to happen to them?” Clarke asked.
She looked at the leader, but Kane took her elbow, and his grip was like a vice, bruising her arm, and steering her from the tent with the guards from the Ark at their heels.
Clarke pulled away from him as soon as the left the tent. “We can’t leave them.”
“I don’t think you understand the position we’re in,” he replied, terse.
“If we leave them, we leave them to die,” she said. “What’s going on at the Ship? Do you know? Have you spoken to anyone?” She searched his face, but it was pinched, blank.
“Now isn’t the time,” he said.
She stared at him. “I’m not leaving without them. I’m not.”
“You don’t have a choice,” he replied, and Cameron was at Clarke’s back, touching her arms. Clarke tried to swat the guard away, only for handcuffs to circle her wrists, clicking, and Clarke gaped at Kane. “We’re leaving. I’ll explain the rest after we’re safe.”
He made to continue, but she refused to budge, stumbling when they tried to force her.
“We have done a lot to secure your freedom,” he said.
“But if you plan to leave without the boys, you’ll have to leave without me, too.”
He stared at her. “Do you know why you were taken?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does. The Ship is responsible for the fire, Clarke. It was meant to—”
“To start a war,” she said. “I know. But that was Diana, and her people. Not my friends. Not Finn, or Murphy, and you can’t leave them to die for a crime they didn’t commit.”
“I don’t have the power to save them. I have the power to save you.”
She shook her head. “No. No.”
“I sorry,” he said. “I am. Those boys don’t deserve to die, and if I could save them, I would. But they belong to the Ship, and the Trigedakru are at war with the Ship. I understand that you care about them, but there’s nothing you can do for them, Clarke.”
“I belong to the Ship.”
He clenched his jaw. “If you stay, you’ll die with them. What good does that do them, or anyone?” He sighed. “I promised your parents that I was going to do everything in my power to bring you home. If I have to, I’ll drag you from this camp to keep that promise.”
She looked away from him. “Can we lose the handcuffs?”
“If you’re going to come willingly, yes.”
Clarke was silent, but Kane took that for what it was, and nodded at Cameron. She took off the handcuffs, and Clarke leveled a glare at Kane, rubbing her wrists. He sighed in reply, and turned, and she was left with nothing to do but follow him from the meadow.
They crossed through the village, and she looked for Finn, but she couldn’t find him.
The woods were cooler, quieter.
“Clarke!” Murphy said. He spotted them from a distance, starting for them. One of the grounders with him tried to stop him, but he was quicker. “What’s happening?”
“I’m sorry,” she started, shaking her head, and his gaze shifted to Kane, and back.
He seemed to realize; she watched it dawn on his face.
“People from the Ark came to make a deal for my life,” she went on, “but—”
He glared at Kane. “But not for us.”
Kane sighed. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. That’s up to your people.”
“My people?” Murphy said, and a grounder was at his back, telling him to get back to work, but Murphy ignored him. “You say that like you think Clarke is your people.”
Kane turned away from him. “If we’re going to make it to the Ark before dark, we—”
But the grounder at his back grabbed his shoulders, dragging him back.
“It was a mistake to trust the Ship with Clarke,” Kane said.
He was done, turning away, and the grounder shoved Murphy towards the trees where the rest of the grounders were. But when Camera reached for her, Clarke surged toward Murphy, and she hugged his neck, ignoring the grounder. “I’m going to make the trade,” she told him, whispering the words. “I swear.”
“Clarke,” Kane said, and the grounder jerked Murphy away from her.
He glanced over his shoulder at her.
“I swear,” she repeated, and she held on to his gaze until it was torn from her.
Cameron touched Clarke on the shoulder. She flinched away from the touch, and turned, refusing to look at Kane when she passed him, and ignoring the feel of his gaze.
They walked in silence at first, crossing through woods that were unfamiliar to Clarke. Once she began to recognize where they were, she was veering off from the group.
She wasn’t going to the Ark. Not yet.
But she needed to know what she was getting into when she returned to the Ship.
“Who’s in charge at the Ship?” she asked. She kept her gaze on trees in front of her.
Kane looked at her, taking a moment to respond. “Diana Sydney,” he said. He cleared his throat. “You spoke earlier about Diana, and her people. I assume that means you were hoping that others were in charge at the Ship.” It was a question. “Your people,” he said.
“There are people who disagree with Diana’s leadership,” Clarke said.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he replied.
It was quiet.
The sun was beginning to sink in the sky when they came up on the creek. Clarke knew that creek, having been to it with Bellamy more than once. She knew where to go from here. The Ship was less than an hour’s walk directly east. She could make it before dark.
She glanced at Kane, and started for the bank of the creek, slipping a little in the mud.
“Where you are going?” he asked.
“Home,” she said.
He surged after her, grabbing her arm, and stopping her. “Clarke.”
She looked at him. “I know it took a lot to get the grounders to release me,” she said, “and I’m grateful, but I can’t go back to the Ark, and do nothing for my friends.”
“You don’t have a choice,” he said.
“What’s it matter to you? I’m not asking for your help.”
“It matters because I promised your parents—”
“That you were going to bring me home, I know. But the Ark isn’t my home.”
“It’s what you’ve got left.”
She stared at him. “What’s the supposed to mean?”
“It means that Diana Sydney wanted a war, and that’s what she’s got, and I’m sorry about your friends, and the people who disagreed with her, but—but there’s nothing we can do for them now. I’m sorry, Clarke.
She tried to pull her arm from his hold, but he tightened his grip. “Let go of me.”
“You can’t? Why not? What’s going on?”
He shook his head.
“What’s going on?” she repeated.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and he started to pull her arms behind her back, planning to cuff her. But she twisted, ducking, and jabbing him in the throat, and was able to throw him off.
She didn’t know what the hell was going on, but she needed to get to the Ship.
Kane brought three Ark guards with him, and they tried to stop Clarke.
Arthur grabbed her, but she broke away from him easily, only for a hand to catch her arm. She turned, swinging, and Cameron slammed the butt of her gun into Clarke’s head.
She came to slowly. She was warm, and comfortable; the bed was soft under her, and fingers combed trough her hair, tucking it behind her ear. “Bell,” she mumbled.
“Hey, sweetheart. Hey. How are you feeling?”
She opened her eyes. Her mother sat by the bed, and it was a bed; there was a mattress under her, and a blanket over her, and she was lying in bed in her room on the Ark.
She sat up. “They knocked me out,” she said, gaping at her mother.
The knocked her out, and took her to the Ark. She didn’t know how long she was out for.
She tried to scramble from the bed, but her mother touched her arm, slowing her. “You need to rest,” she said. “You’ve been thought a lot, and you’re malnourished, and—”
“What’s happening at the Ship?” Clarke asked. “Kane—”
“Clarke, please.” Her mother stared pleadingly at her, touching a hand to Clarke’s face. “I haven’t seen you in nearly two years. Just—just slow down for a minute.”
“I’m sorry,” Clarke murmured. She smiled. “It’s good to see you.”
Her mother leaned in for a hug, and Clarke leaned in, too, hugging her, and breathing in; her mother smelled like the medbay, and like the lotion that she made herself, like her mother, like a hundred different memories. “I missed you, baby. I missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too,” Clarke said, pulling away from her. “But, Mom, what is going on?”
Her mother seemed to hesitate. “It’s complicated.”
“How is it complicated?” She stared at her mother. “Something is happening at the Ship. Kane as much as told me, then knocked me out to stop me from going there.”
“How about you come have something to eat, and we’ll talk?”
Her eyes snapped to her father, smiling at her from where he stood in the doorframe.
He met her in the middle when she rose to her feet, and started for him. He pulled her into his arms, and she closed her eyes, burrowing into his chest. “I missed you,” she whispered and he pressed a kiss to the top of her head, echoing the words into her hair.
“How’s your head?” he asked.
She drew away from him. “It’s fine. I’m fine. But my friends aren’t.”
He sighed. “Come on. Let’s sit, and we’ll talk.”
She followed him into their main room, feeling like she was walking into the past. The table was set for dinner, and she sat. “What do you want to eat?” asked her mother. “There’s chicken.” She smiled, and Clarke stared at her until her mother sighed, and sank into a seat beside Clarke at the table. “Sweetheart,” she began.
“I need to go the Ship,” Clarke said.
Her mother glanced at her father, and seemed to come to a decision. “You were taken in retaliation for a fire that burned a village to the ground, killing hundreds, Clarke, and Commander Sydney was responsible for that fire. She took those lives, and we think that she might’ve orchestrated your capture after, too.”
“She wanted to use your life to manipulate us,” said her father.
“I know.” Clarke sighed. “We knew that Diana was planning to do something to incite a war, and that it was going to be something that convinced the Ark to team up with the Ship so that she could take it over. But we didn’t know what it was. We—we didn’t figure it out in time.”
“Aurora,” Clarke said, “and me, and Bellamy. Diana wants to take over the Ark, and—”
“She failed. We realized her role in the fire, and in your capture, and we cut our ties with the Ship, allowing us to ensure that our people we weren’t caught up in this war.”
“Do you?” Her mother reached for Clarke’s hand, covering it with her own. “I’m sorry about those boys you were with. If we could’ve gotten them, too, we would’ve.”
“It’s fine,” Clarke said. “You had to do what was best for your people.”
“Those boys don’t deserve to die for Diana Sydney.”
“I know. That’s why I’m going to get them.”
“You had to do what was best for your people; now I have to do what is best for mine.”
Her mother began to shake her head. “Clarke, you can’t.”
“I have to. The grounders offered to make a trade. If they get the people who started the fire, they’ll give up the prisoners, and this’ll be over. I need to go to the Ship, and—”
“You can’t!” her mother exclaimed, and closed her eyes for a moment after the outburst.
Clarke stared at her. “What don’t I know?”
“The deal was we get you back, and we don’t interfere in the war further.”
“What’s about to happen, Mom?”
“It’s happened already,” her mother said. “It happened last night.” She paused. “They offered the Ship a deal, you’re right, but the Ship refused, and—and last night, the Trigedakru attacked the Ship.” She held Clarke’s glare. “You can’t go back to the Ship, Clarke, because there isn’t a Ship to go back to.”
“It’s—no,” Clarke said, stunned. “Just because they attacked the Ship, doesn’t mean . . .”
“They burned it. They burned the Ship, Clarke.”
“How do you know? Could you see the smoke, or something?”
Her parents were silent.
“I have to go.” Clarke pushed away from the table, standing. “I have to go the Ship.”
“If they were attacked, they’re going to need a doctor, and Dr. Adams is great, but—”
“You knew,” she said. “You knew they were going to attack the Ship. Kane knew.”
“I’m sorry,” her mother said, shaking her head sadly. “I know this is hard—”
“You know this is hard?” Clarke repeated, incredulous.
“Clarke,” her father started.
“You left everyone at the Ship to die!” she yelled. “Diana was responsible for the attack on that village, and the people it killed. But what about the children at the Ship? What about my friends? My husband? Or how about the woman who’s been a mother to me for the past two years? Did they deserve to die, too?”
She was panicking now, thinking about it. Imagining it. She should’ve been there.
She should’ve been with them.
Her mother touched a hand to her mouth. “No, sweetie. No, of course not.”
“But you left them to die,” she said. “To get attacked. You didn’t warn them, or—”
“This isn’t our fight.”
“It’s my fight!” Clarke exclaimed.
“It’s not. Clarke, I know that you think—”
“Think what?" Clarke stared at her. "Think that those are my people? That that’s my home? Because it is, Mom. It is. You sold me in marriage for the good of your people; you gave me to the Ship, and now, what, you want to take it back, pretend the last two years didn’t happen?”
Her mother shook her head. “There is nothing that we could do for them.”
“There was a lot you could’ve done for them. Did you even—you sent Kane to save me, but did you even think about the fact that you were saving me, and leaving my husband to die? To burn, or be taken prisoner, or—my husband, the person I love most in the whole world. How did you think I was going to be okay with that?”
“Oh, Clarke. Sweetheart.” Her mother started to stand, reaching for Clarke.
But Clarke backed away from her. “You don’t get to take it back,” she said. “If you wanted to leave everyone at the Ship to die, you should’ve left me to die, too.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I have to go,” Clarke said, starting for the door. She needed to get to the Ship.
She didn’t know what was going on with the grounders, and the deal, and Diana, but her parents were certain that it was attacked, and even if it hadn’t been destroyed entirely, people were going to be injured, and who knew what power an attack had given Diana.
Please, let him be okay. Let everyone be okay. Please.
She broke into a run in the corridor, startling a woman, and busting into the sunlight.
It was morning.
She must’ve slept through the night after she was knocked out.
“Clarke.” Her father caught up to her. “Stop.”
She spun to face him. “I can be at the Ship by the middle of the afternoon.”
“We can’t let you leave, Clarke. You have to know that.”
“You can’t let me leave?”
He stepped in closer, reaching out to cup her face. “I love you, baby, and I don’t want to make your hurt. I hate that this is happening, that you’re caught up in it, and I can’t protect you from that pain. But I—” He shook his head. “But I can stop you from going to the Ship, and getting caught up in this war.”
She took his wrists, pulling his hands from her face. “It’s not your choice to make.”
“You’re my daughter,” he said. “It’s my job to protect you.”
“Right. Okay. So. What? I’m a prisoner now? If I try to leave, the guards are going to stop me, and escort me back to our apartment, and I’m under surveillance now?”
He was silent, and she knew that was her answer.
“How am I supposed to be okay with that? The people that I’ve spent the last two years of my life with are fighting for their lives, and I’m supposed to—to what? Play chess with Wells, and wait for it to be over? I’m supposed to sit around, waiting for my friends to die?”
“We don’t know how this is going to end. I hope it doesn’t end like that.”
“You hope?” she repeated.
“I do. I hope. I like Bellamy,” he said, “and I hope I’m going to see him again. But—”
“Why didn’t you warn the people from the Ship about the attack?”
He sighed. “I didn’t know about it. Kane found out when he negotiated your release.”
“If you had known about it, would you have warned them?”
“I would’ve wanted to.”
She shook her head. She couldn’t do this, couldn’t deal with him. “Can you leave me alone please? Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. I get that I’m a prisoner.”
“You aren’t a prisoner.”
She stared at him.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he murmured. “I’m sorry about everything.”
“That’s—that’s not enough.” She crossed her arms. “Being sorry, and saying it again and again? It’s not enough. It doesn’t make anything it better. It just makes me hate you.”
He was silent, and when she turned away from him, he didn’t try to stop her.
She circled the fence, confirming that a guard manned every single exit.
It shouldn’t have surprised her. This was how she grew up. Locked up, and protected.
The guards eyed her curiously, suspiciously, and she gave up, knowing she was trapped. But she waited until she was hidden from sight to cry, sinking to the ground behind the garden, and hugging her knees to her chest, crying until she was breathless and dried up.
She waited until her stomach hurt with hunger to return to the Ark, and their apartment.
Her mother rose up from her seat as soon as Clarke walked in.
But when she started to speak, Clarke’s father murmured her name, shaking his head, and she was silent while Clarke forked chicken, beans, and peas onto her plate, and disappeared into her room, ignoring her mother’s stare, and closing the door pointedly.
She felt like a child, hiding in her bedroom on the Ark.
It was exactly the way she left it.
She was surprised that her mattress hadn’t been reassigned. Her parents couldn’t have expected her to return. But it didn’t matter; she didn’t care. She sat on the bed, eating quickly, and curling up under the blankets after. She needed to think. She needed to come up with a plan. She wasn’t going to be a prisoner again.
She didn’t know when she drifted to sleep, but the apartment was quiet when she woke.
She left her bedroom to go to the bathroom, realizing that she was going to be able to use a toilet that flushed, and to take a shower. It didn’t feel real in a way, didn’t feel right.
She froze when she saw him in the kitchen, sitting at the table.
“Hey,” he said. There was the start of a small, nervous smile on his face.
She began to smile, too. “Wells.”
He stood, and hesitated, and it made her laugh a little, surging for him. She pulled him into her arms. “I missed you,” he murmured, and she nodded, clinging to him.
“I missed you, too,” she said.
She drew away from him, and it was quiet for a moment, standing, and staring.
“How are you?” she asked.
He nodded. “Good. I’m good.” He paused. She took that to mean he knew better than to ask her how she was. “Just working on arrows while I waited for you to wake up.” He gestured at the table, and his knife, wood shavings, and arrows; he liked to carve his own.
It made her smile to see.
He moved to retake his seat at the table, and she took the chair next to him.
“So. What are you up to today?” he asked.
“Um. I was about to take a shower. It’s been, well, a couple of years.”
He blinked. "Wow, yeah, I guess they don’t have showers at the Ship.”
He laughed a little. “That’s crazy to think about.”
“Or mattresses,” she said.
He smiled. “Must be nice to be home."
She bit her lip. “This isn’t my home, Wells. It’s got showers, and mattresses, and you, but. It’s not my home. It’s not where I’m supposed to be. I’m not allowed to leave, though.”
“Do you want to leave?” he asked.
“I . . .” She shook her head.” Wells, this isn’t how I was—I wanted to visit, I missed you so much, and my parents, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I have no idea what’s happening to my friends, to the place I’ve called home for almost two years. They’re at war, Wells, and I’m stuck—” She stopped. “I’m sorry, I—”
“It’s okay,” he murmured.
She nodded. “I should take that shower.” She smiled tightly at him. “Do you mind?”
He blinked. “No, um. No, of course not.” He began to gather up his things.
“We’ll catch up more later,” she said.
“Definitely,” he said. He was at the door when he paused, glancing at her. “I know you’re not, but I’m glad you’re back, Clarke. It’s really, really good to see you.” He smiled.
“It’s good to see you, too.”
He nodded, and she sat in the empty, quiet apartment after he left, staring at the table.
Her parents invited people over for dinner that night. Clarke was in her bedroom, pouring over maps of the camp that she took from her father’s desk, but their voices drifted in from the kitchen, and she heard Jaha laugh. Eventually, her father knocked on the door to her room, murmuring through the door that dinner was on the table.
But she didn’t reply, and he didn’t try to come in.
It was a while before there was another soft knock on the door. “It’s me,” Wells said. She glanced up in surprise, but she gathered up the maps, hiding them under a pillow.
“Come in,” she said.
He closed the door quietly behind him. “I grabbed you a plate,” he told her, holding it up.
She smiled. “You’re the best.”
He crossed the room to hand her the plate, and sat in the chair at her desk while she began to eat the cornbread with her fingers. It was dry, and flaky, and different than the cornbread at the Ship, sticking in her throat. But food was food, and she was hungry.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Long,” he said. “My father is having me shadow him, and it’s an experience.”
She nodded. “I’ll bet.”
“But, um. I was thinking. Do you remember when we were little, and we used to go up on the roof of the Ark, and look at the stars? We pretended that we knew about the constellations, and we would pick out shapes, and make up stories, and pretend they were true, and we knew what we were talking about.”
“I remember,” she said. “You were always really bad at coming up with stories.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, well. How about we go up there tonight?”
“Oh, um. I don’t know, Wells.” She shook her head. “Honestly, I’m not sure I’m really in the mood to make up stories about the stars tonight. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and . . .”
“McGregor’s on duty tonight,” he said.
She frowned. “What?”
“She always shows up a late for her shift,” he went on. “Peterson loves to complain about it. He always leaves his post before she shows up, saying it’s her problem if nobody’s there when she’s supposed to be. That means there’s about ten minutes around midnight when there’s gap in the guards at the fence.”
She stared at him. “Why are you telling me this?”
“If your mother thinks you’re on the roof with me,” he said, “that gives you the night to get to the Ship. You can make it before anyone thinks to look for you in the morning.”
He shifted, leaning with his elbows on his knees. “I can’t come with you,” he went on. “I want to. I want to help you, and help the Ship, but I—I can’t.” He shook his head. “I don’t like it. I hate that it’s playing out this way. But we aren’t allies with the Ship. I have to respect that.”
“I get it,” she said. “It’s okay.”
“I can help break you out, though.” He smiled. “Get you home.”
She thought she might cry.
“Just as long as you promise you’ll come back the right way when you have the chance.”
She pushed up onto her knees, reaching for him. “I promise.” She hugged him.
They come up with a plan to sell it. To start, they made Wells able to coax Clarke from her bedroom, joining him, her parents, and Jaha for dessert. Casually, he brought up going to the roof of the Ark to stargaze, and Clarke was hesitant, prompting her mother to encourage her to go, and that was that.
Her mother smiled when Clarke followed Wells from the apartment, heading for the roof.
“They trust you,” Clarke said.
“They should,” he replied. “I’m trustworthy.” He smirked at her, and she shook her head.
On the roof, there was a stash that Wells collected in the afternoon: pliers “for the fence,” he explained, a canteen, a knife, and a flashlight. “I cranked the light this afternoon. It should last you about three hours. You’ll have to crank it as you go after that.” He glanced at her, apologetic.
She smiled. “This is more than enough. I’ll figure it out.”
There was time to kill until midnight.
Clarke told him about the Ship. She meant to describe what it looked like, and the way things worked differently, starting with the story of what a disaster she was at doing laundry for herself. But it turned into describing her friends, telling stories about them. She told him about Bellamy, too.
“I’m glad you like him,” Wells said. “I’ve always been a little worried about you.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder.
He glanced at his watch continuously, looking at her when it was time.
They were quiet on the stairs, taking the emergency service hallway through the Ark, and trying to be invisible when they crossed the dark, open clearing of the camp, keeping to the shadows, passing behind the greenhouse, and emerging at a stretch of fence that was unguarded. She cut through the wires, and Wells pushed at the stakes, forcing an opening.
He straightened. “Somebody might have noticed us on our way here,” he whispered. “I’ll keep an eye out, and try to run interference, but you’ll want to be quick and stay quiet in case anybody comes after you.”
She nodded. “I’ll come back soon.”
“You better.” He reached for her, and she hugged him, closing her eyes. “Go on,” he said, drawing away after a beat, and nodding at their makeshift, mangled opening in the fence.
She climbed awkwardly through it, and turned to him.
“Don’t forget about me,” he said.
She smiled. “Never.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets, watching her go. It was dark, but she wasn’t about to turn her flashlight on, and draw the eyes of the guards that weren’t late for their shifts. She reached the line of the woods without a problem, and glanced back. In the dark, there was nothing for her to see. She headed into the woods, turning on her flashlight.
She should have known that she was getting to get lost. It was dark, and this was a trek she made once two years ago. But she hadn’t brought a map, a compass, anything.
Her plan was to head to the east, and she tried to do that.
Her flashlight started to die after a while, forcing her to crank it while she walked.
The sun began to rise at last, and, to her relief, it wasn’t long before she thought she was beginning to recognize where she was; she had an eye for irregularities in her surroundings that made it easier for her to memorize a place. She was close to the Ship.
Still, she wasn’t certain exactly where she was when she heard the loud, distinct snap of a branch.
She spun at the sound, lifting her knife on instinct.
“It is you,” Octavia said, breathless.
Her face was cut up, and coated in dirt. But it was Octavia.
She recovered from her shock in time for Octavia to crash into her, hugging her neck.
“We thought you were dead,” Octavia whispered.
“No,” Clarke said, hugging her. “No, the Ark negotiated my freedom.” She drew away from Octavia. “I tried to come to the Ship immediately, but the Ark was keeping me prisoner after that, saying it was for my protection. They knew that the Ship was going to be attacked, and they—”
“They knew?” Octavia said, incredulous.
“They agreed to turn their backs on the Ship in exchange for my life,” Clarke said. “My parents expected me to—just to forget about the Ship, but. I came as soon as I could. What’s going on? Is everyone okay? Is . . . ?” The look on Octavia’s face made her falter.
“It’s bad,” Octavia said.
“Okay, um. Let’s go. Let’s—I’m guessing people need to be patched up, right?”
Octavia hesitated. “Not really.”
“Come on,” Octavia replied. “I think it’ll be easier just to show you.” She turned.
Clarke followed, refusing to give into the fear that rattled in her chest. “How’s Bellamy?”
“He made it,” Octavia said. She smiled. “He’s—well, I guess he needs to be patched up. But he’s okay.” Her gaze went soft. “He’s going to be really, really happy to see you.”
Clarke looked at the ground, closing her eyes for a moment, and allowing herself to be relieved. She hadn’t wanted to imagine the possibility that he wasn’t okay, that something terrible happened to him during the attack, or before, but it had started to eat away at her, and now she knew. He was okay. He needed to be patched up, but.
But he was okay, and she was going to see him soon.
They started to walk. “How have things been since I was taken?” Clarke asked.
“Bad,” Octavia said.
Clarke nodded. “I figured.”
“You disappeared, and—” Octavia sighed. “Bellamy freaked. It turned out that Murphy was missing, too, and Dax, and we had no idea where you were. We spent the whole fucking night in the woods, trying to find you. It wasn’t until morning that we stumbled onto Dax.” She paused. “He was messed up.”
“They infected him with a virus,” Clarke said.
Octavia nodded. “It killed twelve people, including him. But he managed to tell us where you were, and Bellamy—he was ready to attack the grounders as soon as . . . I’ve never seen him like that, Clarke. It was like he lost it. But Sydney told him that we couldn’t just attack them, that we needed to figure out what was actually going on first.”
“She started the fire,” Clarke said. “Diana—”
“I know,” Octavia said. She shook her head. “Bellamy went after you. Sydney told him not to, but he wasn’t about to listen, and he took his boys with him. They all love you; they all wanted to go. For Finn and Murphy, too. They left a day after we found Dax. Obviously, they never made it to you. There was an ambush, and . . .”
She looked at Clarke. “Colin was killed.”
Clarke stared. She didn’t really know Colin, but he had always been nice to her, and had snorted when he laughed, and Bellamy had liked him, had trusted him, and he had died in an effort to save her.
“We tried to talk to the Ark,” Octavia continued. “But they were blaming us for your capture, and, well, they were right to. It wasn’t working. Bellamy was planning his second rescue attempt when we captured a grounder, and we tortured him for information. He insisted that we were to blame for the fire. Right up until the moment that Shumway killed him, he insisted.” Her voice was tight with anger.
“You realized he was telling the truth,” Clarke said.
“It’s not like we didn’t already know. My mom, and Bellamy, and our people. We knew. This was confirmation. Proof. Or we thought it was. I thought it was, and I went after Sydney. I told her that I knew that she was responsible for the fire, and I did it in front of everyone. I screamed it in her face in the middle of the camp.” She stopped.
“What happened?” Clarke asked.
It took Octavia moment to reply. The ground began to slope under them, and Clarke realized that she knew exactly where they were; it was minutes from camp.
“Sydney is better at speeches than I am,” Octavia said. “She started in on me, saying that I cared more for grounders than I do for my own people, and . . . I could see people believe her. I could see it in their faces, and she was able to banish me. Nobody fought her on it.”
“What about Bellamy?” Clarke said. “Or your mother?”
Octavia nodded. “They were banished with me. The few who spoke up to side with us were, too. Not a lot, but. Raven. She was convinced from the beginning that Sydney ordered the fire, and that we needed to trade Sydney to get you, Finn, and Murphy back.”
“That sounds like Raven.” Clarke smiled. “How is she?”
“I don’t know.”
Clarke frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t know,” Octavia said, slowing. “Clarke.”
“How can you not know?”
Clarke glanced at where Octavia was looking, and froze. They were at the Ship.
“Oh, God,” Clarke whispered.
It was gone. Destroyed. The buildings were gray, crumbling remains, and the trees were husks, rising to the sky like haunted, tortured statues; smoke was a shroud over the ground, disappearing into the sky in wisps, and the air was thick with the smell of the ash, with the black rising smoke of the small, crackling fires that continued to burn in pockets.
It was like she was back on that hill, looking at the remains of the village.
“Lincoln warned me,” Octavia said. “He found me before it happened, and we tried to get to the Ship in time. To warn them, but we . . .” She didn’t finish. She didn’t have to.
“Bellamy is okay,” Clarke said. She knew he was, but—
“What about—?” But she was afraid to ask. What about Harper? Jasper? Monty? What about their families? What about Miller, and Atom? What about the children that worshipped Bellamy, and his stories? What about Dr. Adams? What about everyone?
“There are survivors,” Octavia said. “Sydney got a group to the cave.”
“It isn’t really a cave, but that’s what the grounders call it. It’s a place to camp out. Easy to defend, and it helps that the grounds think it’s haunted. But we don’t have food, or medicine, and everyone’s terrified, and freaking out. I couldn’t take it. I left to hunt. Sydney told me it wasn’t safe, but she banished me two weeks ago, so she doesn’t really get to dictate what I do now.”
“How many people made it?”
“Not a lot.” She paused. “Close to a hundred.”
Clarke’s face snapped to Octavia’s. “That’s it?”
Octavia nodded. “People were taken, too. It was—the Trigedakru were attacking, and the guards were trying to fight, but it was chaos with the fire, and we tried to get the kids out, and the injured. I left with Monty’s youngest little brother. He was hurt, but Monty wanted to find their mother. By the time I got him to safety, and went back, it was over. The fire was raging, but the grounders were gone, and our people were gone, too. Taken. The people who were fighting, and trying to rescue their friends.”
“Raven was taken,” Clarke whispered.
“Yeah. Her, and . . . and everyone. They left one little girl on purpose. To tell us.”
“Tell you what?”
“That they were going to kill the people they took,” Octavia said. “One at a time, one a day until the rest of the Ship surrenders unconditionally to the Trigedakru.”
“Diana is—she is never going to surrender.”
Clarke stared at the rubble.
“Come on,” Octavia said. “I’ll take you to the cave. I wasn’t lying about Bellamy. He’s okay. Do you know those twins? The little girls? He was taking them to safety.”
“I think he’s planning a coup,” she added, and that got Clarke to look at her. “It didn’t work before, but we have to do something. Come on. It isn’t far.”
The wall of the cave was made of thick, gray stone, and Clarke knew immediately that it was a remnant of the world before the apocalypse. The top was crumbling, but it remained solid, formidable, rising above the trees to reach into the sky, and block the sun.
There was an entrance on the very far left, and guards were posted at the opening.
She recognized them.
“Clarke,” Monroe said, gaping. Her eyes raked over Clarke. “You’re back.”
Monroe nodded, and reached out suddenly, clapping a hand to Clarke’s arm. “I’m glad.”
“Me, too.” Clarke smiled. The rest of the guards wanted to greet her, too, asking about Finn, and Murphy. “They were alive when I was released,” she said. “We’ll get them back.”
She made a promise, and she was going to keep it.
Monroe took them past the wall. Inside, stretches of remaining wall connected to stretches of remaining ceilings. The floor was gone, and the ground sported grass as tall as Clarke’s knees; they passed a pond, and walked through a dark, damp corridor that was walled in completely.
Her stomach went tight at the hum of soft, buzzing voices.
The voices grew louder, clearer, and they were there: Monroe walked through a doorway into a large, sprawling space without a ceiling; Octavia went in after her, and Clarke followed, slowing to a stop at the sight of everyone, huddling in the shadows of the walls.
This was it. These were the survivors, numbering only a hundred if that.
People seemed to notice Clarke one by one, glancing over, and gasping. One little girl saw her, and exclaimed her name brightly, but Clarke skated her gaze over the girl.
He saw her first.
He was sitting at a wall, but his stare burned into her, and when she started for him, he scrambled up. She broke into a run, flying at Bellamy, and throwing her arms around him.
He caught her, and turned his face into her hair.
She sobbed a little, holding him tighter.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you. I tried. I—”
She shook her head, and drew away enough to look at him.
His face was battered, sporting more than a few nasty cuts, and a dark, patchy beard, and she drank in the sight; she brushed the hair off his forehead, and cupped his cheeks, tracing a finger over his eyebrow, grazing her thumb against his lip, staring and staring.
“I love you,” she told him.
He kissed her. It was a sweet, close-mouthed kiss, and she closed her eyes, curled her fingers into his t-shirt, drawing him in closer, and pressing her forehead to his.
His breath was warm against her lips. “I love you.”
She nodded, and laughed a little, so that she was smiling when he kissed her again.
“I’m trying to kiss you,” he said.
“I noticed,” she said, nuzzling her nose against his.
He reached a hand up to cup the back of her head, carding his fingers into her hair, and dark little arms circled her waist suddenly from behind, squeezing her. Clarke pulled away from Bellamy in surprise, smiling when she saw that it was Micah, clinging to her.
His chin pressed into her hip, and he looked at her eagerly. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.”
Micah was the first to come up to her, but he wasn’t the last. People seemed to surge in; they grasped her hand, and kissed her cheek, telling her they were glad she was okay.
Mrs. Jordan pulled Clarke into a hug.
She was a slight, bony woman, but she seemed to envelope Clarke in that moment. “I prayed for you,” she whispered, squeezing Clarke before she pulled away to look tearfully at Clarke, gripping Clarke’s shoulders. Her lips trembled with a smile, only for it to fade as quickly as it came. “Now I’m praying for my boy.”
Clarke covered Mrs. Jordan’s hands with her own. “We’re going to get him back.”
“Clarke.” Bellamy touched a hand to Clarke’s hip.
She understood when her eyes moved past Mrs. Jordan to see Aurora, and Diana.
They were paused at the door, staring at Clarke in surprise. Then to Clarke’s surprise, Diana’s lips turned up in a smile, and she started for Clarke. She was smiling, and looking ready to pull Clarke into a hug. Mrs. Jordan drew away from Clarke, and Diana lifted her hands to take Clarke’s.
“Don’t,” Clarke said, taking a step back from her.
Diana stared, and her brows drew together. “Clarke—”
“How could you have done this?” Clarke demanded. “Hundreds of people are dead, and for what? For you to own the Ark? For you to be a legend on the ground?”
Diana was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know what you think—”
“I think you are a heinous, abhorrent excuse for a person,” Clarke spat. “Here’s what I know: you burned that village. You wanted a war, and that was how you got one.”
It was silent.
“My dear, you are mistaken,” Diana said. Her voice was even, calm.
“How can you keep lying?” Clarke said, staring at her. “You might not have wanted the Ship to burn, but you’re the reason it did. How can you stand there, and continue to pretend you aren’t? The least you can do is confess, and start to make up for everything.”
“Make up for everything?” Diana repeated. “What is it that you want me to do, Clarke? Now that you’ve accused me of slaughtering a village, and inciting a war?”
“The grounders offered to make a trade,” Clarke said.
Diana shook her head.
“Give them our guilty, and they’ll free our innocent.” Clarke tore her gaze from Diana to look around the room, raising her voice for everyone to hear. “If we give them those responsible for the fire that killed hundreds of their people, they’ll free our people, and this was will be over. They didn’t start this. She did.” Clarke looked at Diana. “It’s up to us to finish it. To make a trade.”
“They offered a deal when they took you,” Diana said, “but they aren’t going to honor it now. They wouldn’t have honored it then. They are savages, and they want a war.”
“They want justice,” Clarke said. “Blood for blood. That’s it. That’ll end this.”
“You’re deluded, you know?” Graham asked, starting for them.
She glanced at him in surprise; she hadn’t seen him before.
“You’re a rapist, you know?” Octavia said, “and a murderer, too. Congrats.”
Graham looked ready to retort, but Diana raised a hand to quiet him, keeping her gaze on Clarke. “I don’t know what you’ve suffered, dear, and I’m sorry for what you’ve suffered, but I know you can’t believe the word of the monsters who attacked us.” She sighed. “Clearly, you’re exhausted, and unwell.” She glanced at Shumway. “Why don’t you escort our Mrs. Blake to a place where she’ll be able to rest, and recover?”
“Touch her, and I’ll break your face,” Bellamy growled.
But when Shumway stepped towards Clarke, it wasn’t Bellamy that raised a gun to point at Shumway, and stop him. Diana was stunned. “David.” She gaped at Miller’s father.
He moved his gaze slowly from Shumway to Diana.
“I know that you’re upset about Nathan,” Diana started, “but—”
“I came to you once,” he said, cutting her off. “I begged you to help me because my son didn’t have a ticket to the ground, and you told me that we were going to get him to the ground. Him, and every other child, and if you had to die for it to happen, you would. You said you would die for them. Now those children you swore to save? They’re about to be killed. What are you going to do about it?”
She stared at him. “Now that Clarke is back, the Ark is more likely to listen to us.”
“They aren’t going to help us,” Clarke said. “They made an alliance with the Trigedakru. I want to hate them for it, but you can’t blame them for trying to protect their people. What are you doing to protect your people, Diana? Hiding in a cave, and lying to them?”
“Give yourself up,” Bellamy said.
Diana looked at Bellamy. “Give myself up?”
“If you’re really the leader you say you are, prove it. You say you aren’t responsible for the fire. Fine. Okay. Even if you aren’t responsible, take the fall. Save your people.”
“The trade is a sham,” Diana snapped.
“Bellamy was willing to do it,” Monroe said.
Clarke glanced at Bellamy.
“He wanted to go to the grounders, and say that he started the fire,” Monroe continued. “He wanted to take the fall. But you wouldn’t let him, and I never understood why.”
“It’s because she wanted me to die,” Clarke said. “She needed me to die.”
“Why would I want you to die?”
“To get the Ark to join your fight. That’s why I was captured that day. Shumway assigned the guards to repair a roof to ensure that when the grounders came for retaliation, I was the person they found. Murphy, Finn, and I were your three sacrificial lambs. You left us to die on purpose, didn’t you?”
“You’re angry at me,” Diana said. “You want to blame me. But—”
“Then why is it that every single guard was reassigned to repair one leaky roof?”
“You’re an expert on roofs now?” Graham said.
Diana shook her head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You are lying,” Clarke snarled. “Still.”
There was a shout, and Mrs. Collins pushed her way to them.
“Abrilla,” Diana started.
“I cried to you after they took him,” Mrs. Collins said, breathless, “and it was your fault.”
“It wasn’t. I never—”
“Who started the fire?” Mrs. Green asked, appearing at Mrs. Jordan’s side. Clarke didn’t recognize her for a moment; her face was poorly bandaged, and her arm rested in a shoddy, makeshift sling. But her stare was unrelenting. “If it wasn’t you, who was it?”
Diana sighed. “The grounders—”
“The grounders are the reason we’ve survived as long as we have!” Octavia exclaimed. “They’ve always been kind to us, helping us through the winter, teaching us about the ground, trading with us. They were planning to ask us for an alliance before you burned their village, and you killed their people, and you started a war.”
“That was a ruse,” Diana said.
“Do you hear yourself?” Bellamy asked, incredulous. “You told everyone that my sister was blind with adoration for the grounders, and that she hated our people, and you banished us for it. But the truth is that you banished us because we weren’t blind with adoration for you, ‘cause we hated you, and saw through your bullshit.”
“You started the fire,” Clarke said.
Diana stared at her.
“You know what?” Graham said. “Yes.”
It sent a murmur through everyone.
“Graham,” Diana said, sharp.
“You want the truth?” he spat. “I lit those little fucking huts on fire, and I’d do it again.”
Octavia lunged, but Aurora was able to catch her arm, stopping her.
Graham sneered, and looked ready to retort.
Miller’s father turned his gun on Graham. “I think that’s enough.”
Clarke turned to Diana. “It was on your orders, wasn’t it? You sent him, and Dax.”
“Shumway, too,” Aurora said. “Who else?”
Diana was silent.
“Me,” Sterling said. Clarke gaped at him, but Sterling ignored the stares, and whispers, meeting Clarke's gaze. “There were others, too,” he went on. “Some were killed in the attack, but I’ll give you their names.” He swallowed visibly. “I’m sorry.” His gaze flickered to Bellamy, and away again quickly. “Make the trade,” he said. “Let them have me. I didn’t know what she was planning, but I shouldn’t have—” He stopped. "Make the trade."
Clarke looked at Diana. “It was on your orders,” she repeated. “Wasn’t it?”
Diana pursed her lips. “Yes.”
Mrs. Jordan clapped a hand to her mouth.
“I ordered that fire. But I was trying to do what my people needed. I knew that the end of the alliance among the grounders meant a long, bloody war, and we were going to be swept up in it. We need an alliance with the Ark to survive, and the only possible way to get that was to have an enemy in common. I did what I had to.”
“We had an alliance with the Ark,” Bellamy said.
“You didn’t want an alliance,” Clarke said. “You wanted to take over the Ark.”
“Make the trade!” shouted a man.
“Listen to me,” Diana started, raising her voice. “We—”
“We are done listening to you,” Clarke said.
Diana was unfazed. She tilted her head, staring at Clarke. “You expect them to listen to you? You’re a child, and from the Ark. You don’t belong with us. You never did.”
Clarke held Diana’s gaze. “Bellamy,” she said.
“Nobody is going to tell us what to do,” Bellamy said. His voice was loud, clear. “We’re gong to decide for ourselves.” He turned slowly on his heel, and swept his gaze from person to person, and they nodded in agreement. “Let’s put it to a vote. Refuse to give up our guilty, and go to war? Or make a trade, and end this now?”
They were stopped in the woods, stripped of their weapons, and escorted into the village, into the camp. Clarke was allowed into the tent where the leader waited, and Octavia.
“It’s Lexa, isn’t it?” Clarke said. Octavia had told her about Lexa on the walk.
From her throne, Lexa tilted her head at Clarke. “I’m surprised at your return, Clarke.”
“I came to make a trade for my people.”
Lexa twirled a knife lazily between her fingers. “I was under the impression that your people were of the Ark,” she drawled. “Our fight isn’t with the people of the Ark.”
“I am from the Ark,” Clarke replied. “But the people I have chosen are of the Ship, and I have come for my people. I was telling you the truth the day we met. Those responsible for burning your village were from the Ship, but they are traitors, and I’m willing to give them to you now. Blood for blood, and end this war. Were you telling the truth when you told me that you didn’t wish for war?”
Lexa stared at her. “I am told that your commander was responsible for the fire.”
“She was, which is why she is no longer our commander.”
“You want to trade her life for those of your people,” Lexa said.
“Her life, and the lives of the people who followed her command to murder senselessly, and burn a village of our allies. We want justice, too. We’ll give the guilty to you for your people to punish, and, in exchange, you return out innocent to us. It’s the trade you suggested at the start.”
“Thing have changed since the start.”
“I disagree,” Clarke said.
It was quiet.
Lexa’s gaze trailed to Octavia. “Your second?”
“My sister,” Clarke said, “and my second.”
Octavia spoke to her in Trigedasleng, and Lexa nodded.
“To come to me like this.” Lexa looked at her. “Should I consider you brave, Clarke? Or foolish? I have the power to end your life right here, right now. You, and your companions, and those in the woods, waiting with the criminals responsible for the fire.”
“I know,” Clarke said. “But I don’t have anything to lose.”
“You have your life,” Lexa said.
“I want my people.”
Lexa seemed to consider her.
“You have the power to kill me,” Clarke said. “But what do you stand to gain from it?”
“That’s what I’m offering you. That, and the alliance you wanted at the start.”
“Go on,” Lexa said.
“Call me foolish. It doesn’t matter to me. I have been passed from group to group, from person to person whenever it served somebody’s purpose, sold, and used, and imprisoned, and I’m done. I want to go home with my people. I’m going to go home with my people. If I have to make a trade with you for that to happen, fine. I’ll give you the people responsible for the fire, and you’ll give me the innocent, and when the Ice Queen is at your door, I’ll have your back. Do we have a deal, or not?”
Lexa sank her knife into the arm of her chair. “We have a deal.”
Clarke took her into the woods to where Bellamy waited with Miller’s father, and with those responsible for burning the village. There were eight in total, including Diana.
Graham tried to put up a fight, swearing at the grounders, but it was useless.
Diana was silent when they took her.
For a moment, Clarke wanted to stop them from taking Sterling. She wanted to say that there was a mistake, that he wasn’t guilty. But he was, and he wanted to be taken. His family was killed in the attack, and he thought that he was to blame. She watched the grounders gag him, and cart him off, and she hated Diana.
“Now you have the guilty,” Clarke said, looking at Lexa.
Fox was supposed to die that day at sunset, and she was tied to Clarke’s post on the rise. She began to sob when the grounders appeared on the rise, only to spot Bellamy, and she gasped his name. Indra cut the ropes that bound Fox, and she fell to her knees; Bellamy helped her to feet, and she hugged him, shaking with tears. “You’re okay,” he murmured.
The rest of the prisoners were in a pit.
The grounders opened the covering, and threw a ladder in, shouting in Trigedasleng.
Murphy was the first to emerge. It looked like he was beaten in the few short days since Clarke saw him, but he started to smile at her despite his swollen eye, and bloody face.
“I told you,” Clarke said. “Our people are in the woods.”
He nodded, and headed off.
Harper was next. She hugged Clarke, starting to cry a little, and laughing at her tears.
People continued to climb from the pit one by one. There was Roma, and Trina. Miller was okay, and Jasper, too, and they paused at the edge of the pit, reaching in to pull Monty out. He was hurt, but he smiled at Clarke, and he was going to be okay. Atom climbed from the pit, and Octavia planted a kiss on him in greeting. There was Finn, and Raven.
She was hurt, too. Her leg was twisted, broken.
But she was able to push away from Finn, and started for Clarke; Clarke reached her first, catching her arms to steady her, and Raven laughed, and hugged Clarke.
In total, there were nearly fifty people in the pit.
They were injured, were shaken, starving, and exhausted, but they were alive, and they staggered for the woods.
Clarke was the last to leave.
“We’ll talk again soon, Clarke,” Lexa said.
She turned to go, and saw that she wasn’t, in fact, the last to leave. Bellamy remained, standing at the edge of the camp. She headed for him.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
She glanced at the camp for a moment, and lifted her gaze to posts, standing up against the sky in the distance. She nodded, and looked at Bellamy. She smiled. “Let’s go.”
The people in the cave were ready for them when they returned. Deer was roasting over a pit in the middle of the cave, and they learned that Mrs. Jordan took a group to the remains of the Ship to see what there was to salvage, and found more than they expected.
There were blankets, and pots to boil the water in, and hold the berries.
Mrs. Jordan shouted when she saw the boys, and she got Monty into her arms first; she hugged him, and peppered him in kisses, and that left Mrs. Green to hug Jasper, whispering into his ear with her eyes squeezed tightly closed, and rocking him a little.
It made Clarke smile, seeing the reunions, and she leaned into Bellamy’s side.
Aurora came up behind them, wrapping an arm around Clarke's shoulders, and pressing a kiss to Bellamy's temple.
For an hour, Clarke was a doctor.
She tried her best to bandage the burns, cuts, and bruises that littered her friends, wishing desperately for clean, proper bandages, for ointment, and tea to give them for the pain.
But she made the best of it, and she was able to clean, set, and wrap Raven’s leg.
It was dark by the time she took a plate of food that Bellamy made up for her, and joined her friends around a fire. She was bleary with exhaustion, and she was allowed to give into it now. Bellamy pulled her into his lap, and she leaned into his chest, eating the deer with her fingers.
They were taking about what they were going to do next, how they were going to be able to rebuild the Ship when they didn’t have more than the clothes on their backs.
“What about the city?” Miller asked. “Pilfer it, and we’re set.”
“The city?” Clarke said.
“Back when we were kids, some of the adults found the remains of a city,” Bellamy said. “To the south. It’s a hike. Two, three weeks to get there, depending on the weather.”
“It’s creepy,” Atom said. “I went four years ago with my dad.”
“The grounders think it’s haunted,” Bellamy said. “They stay away from it. That works for us, though. Bunkers are littered across the place, and we have our pick from them when we go. They’re stocked with everything. Clothes, and tools, and things. Weapons. Oil. Medicine. Name it.”
“I’m sold,” Clarke said, closing her eyes.
It didn’t seem real that they were there, that they were talking about rebuilding.
But it was real, and it was over.
Bellamy pressed a kiss to her temple, and she turned slightly in his lap to lean her head more fully against him. His arm was loose around her waist, but she tugged on it, and hugged it to her stomach, covering her hand with his, and knitting their fingers together.
Harper laughed, and Jasper began to explain something in a loud, exaggerated voice.
That was the last clear thing that she remembered before she blinked, and the darkness around her was completes. She was lying on her side, and Bellamy’s breath was hot against the back of her neck. She closed her eyes again, cuddling into his back, and slept.
They decided to keep the children at the cave with a few of the adults until they were able to bury the bodies at the Ship, and clear the worst of the rubble.
Clarke wasn’t eager for the work, but it needed to be done.
She gravitated to Murphy while they worked, and to Finn, too, a little. It hadn’t been long since they cleared the rubble at the village, and they knew what to do, how to work together, how to step and lift and breathe carefully in the rubble, clearing it foot by foot.
Their experience made the work mindless, although she kind of wished it weren't.
She thought about Sterling, and the rest of the guilty.Chances were they weren’t dead yet, that the grounders were making them suffer. It was a fate that Clarke had sentenced them to, and it was her legacy. Nobody was about to forget. She'd made the trade. She'd chosen to her friends, and sacrifice others.
She glanced at him in surprise, and watched him walk away from Monty. She bit her lip, and saw Monty smile at the ground, and turn slightly to the left, then to the right before shaking his head, and turning around completely, thrown off, and mixed up. She grinned.
The rest of the day passed in a slow, grueling pace.
Clarke found Raven before dinner, wanting to check on her leg.
“It looks like it’s healing,” she said.
“But I’m going to walk with a limp,” Raven said. Clarke was ready to protest, but Raven smiled. “It’s fine. I know I’m lucky. I survived, and most of the people I care about survived, too. You survived.” She paused. “It’s strange. I’ve known Finn since I was a kid, and I love him. But when you guys were gone, I missed you more. I guess that means I can’t blame Finn for falling in love with you, right?”
Clarke opened her mouth, closed it. “Raven—”
“Murphy told me in the pit about Finn’s confession to you,” Raven said.
Clarke nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Raven shrugged. “Murphy’s an ass, and he told me in front of Finn to piss off Finn. But I’m glad he told me. He told me, too, that you tore into Finn about it. So. I think I’m going to take a break from Finn, but for the record? Me and you? We’re good.”
“That’s good to know,” Clarke said. “I mean, you’re kind of my best friend.”
“Okay, you are.”
“Yeah, I am.” Raven leaned her head against the brick of the cave. “I love you, too.”
Dinner was rabbit, blackberries, and small, wild tomatoes.
She went to the creek with Bellamy to wash up after they ate, and they were alone; her lips were stained from the blackberries when he kissed her, and he tasted like tomato.
His fingers twisted in the tangles of her shorter, unkempt hair, and his beard tickled her neck when he kissed the column of her throat, making her smile. They went to their knees, to the ground, and he pulled his shirt off, lying on his back at the press of her hand. She straddled his thighs, and lowered her head, dropped soft, feathery kisses to the bruises that spanned his stomach, and trailed up his chest.
She kissed him on the mouth, and sat up to pull of her shirt.
He rose up, too, wrapping her legs around his waist, and turning them.
He lowered her to her back. “I want you to know,” he said, fiddling with the clasp on her trousers, and leaning up to kiss her when it caught, and she lifted her hips for him; he tugged off her underwear with her trousers. “I’m never letting you out of my sight again.”
“That sounds possible,” she murmured. “Healthy, too.”
He kissed her breast, and her stomach, and the crease of her thigh.
But she curled a hand in his hair, and tugged.
He gave her a long, slow kiss on the mouth when he shifted up, and settled in the cradle of her thighs. She gripped his arms, and he pushed into her slowly, staring at her.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” she breathed.
“Never again,” he said.
She nodded, and drew her hands up to his neck, his face. “Never,” she promised.
They were dressed when Octavia found them. She paused when she saw that Clarke was using a pocketknife to shave Bellamy’s beard, and “it’s about time,” she said, passing them to kneel beside the creek, washing her hands, and splashing water on her face, too.
“I don’t know,” Clarke said, tilting her head. “Now that it’s gone, I miss it a little.”
Bellamy grinned. “I can grow it back.”
She brushed a thumb against his smooth, clean cheek. “I’ll think about it.”
He kissed the tip of her thumb.
She was happy that night, going to sleep with Bellamy at her back, and her friends close by, snoring and sighting and shifting in their sleep. But she woke, and was faced with bodies that needed to be buried, and rubble that needed to be carried off, and swept away, and she was grimy, tired, and sore before the morning was through.
She looked for Bellamy at noon, and found him in the remains of a cabin.
It took her a moment to realize it was their cabin.
He was holding a book, and her heart squeezed a little. “Your books,” she said.
“It looks like one was able to hide, and take the heat.” He gave it to her.
The cover was coated in soot, and unrecognizable, but the pages were in tact, untouched, and she opened it to the prologue. Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. She closed it carefully, looking at him. “This is one of my favorites.” She smiled.
“We’ll have to look for more in the city,” she said. “Come on.”
He turned to follow her to where Harper’s mother was at work over a fire, cooking a lunch for everyone, but he caught Clarke’s arm suddenly, and pulled her to him.
She hugged him.
It was going to be okay. They were going to recover, and rebuild.
Four days later, they buried the last of the bodies in a field behind the Ship. They talked about burning them; it would’ve been easier, and was a send off that was beloved, traditional, and honorable among the grounders. But it didn’t seem right for their people.
Most of them were born in the Sky, and the ground was special to them. They deserved to be buried.
It was around noon that day when a group emerged from the woods. Murphy went sour at the sight of them, and he wasn’t alone in that: the rest of the Ship seemed to go completely still, completely silent, staring at the people from the Ark, wary, and on edge.
Clarke was stunned.
Her parents were among the group, and over a dozen other people.
“We thought you might need a hand,” Wells said.
She nodded. “Yes.” He smiled, and she began to smile, too. “Yes,” she repeated.
“Tell us where you need us.”
She told him they were trying to clear the area where they planned to rebuild the clinic, and he nodded, and headed for it. The people from the Ark followed his lead, striding into the clearing, and Clarke’s people followed her lead, directing the newcomers.
Her parents were hesitant when they approached.
“Thank you for coming,” Clarke said.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere else," her mother replied. "I know it doesn't make up for everything, but we hope it's a start."
It was quiet.
Her father’s gaze moved over her shoulder.
“Sir,” Bellamy said.
He nodded. “Son.”
Clarke laughed, and surged towards her parents, hugging them together.
She was crying a little when she pulled away from them, and she laughed, wiping at her cheeks. Her mother tucked a wisp of hair behind Clarke’s cheek, and her father clapped his hands, rubbing them together. “Okay. Give me a job to do, boss,” he said.
Her parents went to work.
From across the clearing, Clarke saw Murphy supervising Wells.
“That’s a disaster in the making,” Bellamy said.
Clarke nodded. “Come on.” She leaned up to kiss him quickly, and started for the boys, knowing Bellamy was behind her. “I think this is the part where we intervene, and save them both.”
So take me, don't leave me,
Take me, don't leave me.
Baby, love will come through,
It's just waiting for you.