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Lightning Only Strikes Once

Chapter Text

It’s a mistake, a foolish one. She climbs the tower. It’s no one’s fault. It’s a mistake.

Oh, Clarke could blame a whole train of events. She could blame her horror at Wells’ death, her tears at Finn’s; she could blame her guilt at the deaths of everyone within Mount Weather. But the truth is that everyone has a breaking point. And for that breaking point, there’s always someone to blame.

And the person she blames is Lexa.

It’s easy to blame Lexa – her now-pointless love for Lexa is a fire in her heart, burning through her skin and charring her bones, cooking her from the inside out. It’s nothing like the childish warmth she felt towards Wells, her brother in all but name and his poorly hidden feelings. It’s nothing like the hormonal influx of kissing Finn, a boy she never got the chance to completely know and now thinks she wouldn’t have liked if she did. And nothing like sharp-eyed Niylah, who was comfort and a brief pause, but never would have been anything more than brief to her.

Lexa was hers. Lexa was like her. Lexa was the one who made the world pause. It takes as long as it takes, that’s what she would tell Clarke. Lexa would tell her to wait out her grief.

But then, Love is weakness, she would also tell Clarke. And Lexa is the person who sacrificed everything she had, everything she was, for love. Abby sent her husband – Clarke’s father – to his death. Bellamy betrayed her without a second thought and aided the death of hundreds. Finn slaughtered innocents for her, without ever asking if that was what she wanted. I did that for you is the anthem that haunts the past few years of Clarke’s life.

But what Lexa did for her? Lexa saved her people. Lexa saved her. Lexa wanted to make the world a better place.

Clarke no longer thinks it deserves that.

So she stands on the top of the tower. A couple of floors below, Lexa died. Clarke bowed to Lexa, Lexa bowed to Clarke. Clarke spat on her once. Why did she do that? Her anger at the time seemed all-encompassing. Could it have felt that way if she didn’t love Lexa so very much?

Clarke closes her eyes. It’s a long drop, inches away from her feet. The wind is fierce. Rain is starting as she stands there, splattering her face, running down her cheeks like the tears she seems to have run out of. All she needs to do is lean, and gravity will handle the rest.

She leans. She pulls back.

She will not do this, not now, not to Lexa’s memory. Not to Lexa’s dream. Clarke reaches her black-blood-stained hands to the sky, letting the rain start to wash them clean. She will survive. She will not die today. Ai gonplei nou ste odon.

The lightning takes the choice out of her hands. She’s lit up before she can scream.

******************

“Prisoner 319, face the wall.”

The voice is emotionless. The command is heartless. Clarke is in a grey world, with grey walls. There’s a picture of a tower in darker grey against the grey. It isn’t Lexa’s tower, but for a second she thinks it is.

She drew that. A long time ago. Didn’t she? Shit, what’s going on? Is she back in Arkadia? Did she faint? Did the lightning make her pass out? Did Pike put her back in her cell, now that it’s crashed to the ground again? Is this torture?

“What?” she says, faintly. Lost. Alone. Where’s Lexa, Octavia, her mother? The lightning? Where is she?

“Hold out your arm. Your watch. Take it off.”

The note in his voice is unfamiliar to her, after so long, but after a moment she can place it. Dismissiveness. As if she’s not Wanheda, Clarke kom Skaikru. No one has dismissed Clarke in a long time.

He strips her father’s watch off her wrist, and she doesn’t resist. Perhaps she should. But now the watch is associated with the death of Finn and the nameless Grounder. Her watch has added a terrible memory to the wonderful ones inside it. Plus, she has no idea what’s going on. Best not to establish herself as a threat until she’d in a position she can do something about it. He doesn’t seem to know her.

Clarke’s still reeling as she’s marched away. Her mother calls out to her from down the hall – “Clarke, it’s all right, you’re being sent to the ground! Clarke, I love you so much…” – but Clarke has no reply except a confused, vacant stare. What’s happening? What’s going on? Where is she?

And then she’s in the ship, and they’re all there. Finn’s across the room. Wells is next to her. She nearly reaches out to touch his face, his dear, worried face. “Welcome back,” he says, and he has no idea how far back. Suddenly, she does. Wells. The guard. Finn, over there. The drop ship. Twisting her head she can see Octavia, Harper, Monroe, Bellamy, Miller, all unscarred and clean and strangely unreal.

Clarke doesn’t reply to Wells. How can you reply to your nightmares? The world is swimming before her uselessly, her breath coming in terrified pants. Where is she? What is this?
She is back nearly a year ago, before she was herself, before anything mattered as much. The only real memory of this world is the pain of her father’s death. Everything else is grey plastic or iron, wrapping around her world. After the vibrancy of the ground, this world is as unreal as a black and white movie.

Wells’ face swirls in front of her. So does everyone else’s. Finn is suddenly in front of her, floating. Spacewalker, she thinks incongruously. The boy who walked in space but died tied down. “So, you’re the traitor who’s been in solitary for more than a year -” Finn starts saying, but then he frowns, “you don’t look so good -”

And there’s purple lights flashing into her eyes and everything’s a photo negative of what it should be. Clarke recognises the early signs of unconsciousness a second before they overtake her.

*************

Lexa sits bolt upright in her bed, gasping. “Clarke?” she croaks out. But Clarke is nowhere near her. Did she leave while Lexa was healing, headed back to Arkadia?

No one is around her. Her bed is hers alone, her room empty, the door closed. Surely someone should be watching over her sleep after her injury. She thought her fight was over, surely that level of worry merited several healers on full alert. Lexa frowned. She would have to speak to Titus about this lack of both care and security.

Or not, given he was responsible. Perhaps that was the problem – maybe he was being held. Without him, the army of people whose job it was to care for the Heda could be stumbling, uncertain.

She swings her legs out of the bed, straightens up. Looks down at her body. Then blinks. This nightdress was accidentally left behind months ago, when her people ceased attacking the Mountain. Did Titus somehow find it again and deliberately dress her in it to remind her of the event? Surely not. How strange.

There is no pain. Lexa pulls the nightdress upwards, seeking the scar there is sure to be. She hopes it is not ugly – a foolish, childish thought, but she doesn’t want Clarke to find her body unattractive when they next meet again.

There is no scar. Lexa blinks again, staring stupidly at her smooth skin. After a pause, she slowly moves around her room from area to area. Over there is the map of the Mountain she took to Tondc with her, now miraculously unmarked by their deliberations and plans. On the nearby desk her swords lie – swords she left behind when facing the pauna. One of her favourite outfits is in her closet, but she knows that it was sliced in battle with Roan.

Perhaps this is a hallucination to comfort her before her spirit moves on.

The position of the sun suggests it is not yet time to rise. She may have a couple of hours before someone is sent to rouse her from sleep. Lexa returns to her bed, crosses her legs, and inhales deeply. She will meditate and calm herself.

Lexa suspects the person sent to wake her will not be Titus or his replacement, but will instead be Gustus. Whether this is a dream, madness, hallucination or reality, she refuses to greet him with fear.

Lexa is Heda. If the world has become unwound, she will not appear foolish and weak by reacting to it with fear. She will breathe in, and out, and think of Clarke, and work with the knowledge she has.

She will open the door, and face the world as it is.

Chapter Text

When Clarke comes back to herself, the world is still strange and wrong, her head aching with confusion. Her limbs feel too weak – not just from having recently fainted, but because she’s lost the muscle she built up over those long months on the ground. Her skin’s smoother than it should be, her hair is shining and silky, and she feels so clean it’s like she’s raw.

She isn’t the woman they call Wanheda, the one who defeated the mountain, not shiny and clean and perfect. This is the girl they call Princess.

“Hey, Clarke,” Wells is next to her, brown eyes alive with concern. He’s sitting away from her – no doubt in deference to her hatred of him. “Are you okay? How do you feel?”

“Fine, I’m fine,” she says weakly. Concentrates on breathing in and out. She gets out the map so she has an excuse to sit down and stare at it blankly.

She was tough the first time she fell to the ground. Now she’s tougher. So, this is unexpected; impossible, even. But then so was the existence of Grounders and AIs and giant mutant gorillas. She dealt with them, time to deal with this.

Besides Wells sitting next to her, the only people around are Bellamy and Octavia, talking in fierce whispers just within the clearing, a couple making out against a tree, and judging by the sound of giggling a few people inside the drop ship. She can hear whoops coming from the forest. The 100 have had time to disperse, she must have been unconscious for quite some time. Thankfully, Murphy’s nowhere nearby.

“We got problems, Clarke,” Wells says softly after she’s been staring at the map for some time, pretending to study it as her mind races with thoughts and ideas. “The systems failed, I think that’s what knocked you out. And the communication system is dead. A dozen panels are missing.”

“Okay,” she says, and forces herself to her feet. A thought comes into her head: the living are hungry.

Clarke wonders if she should be trying to keep everything as close to the original timeline as possible, like in the cheesy old time travel movies she and her father used to watch together. But that option’s already gone – it’s later in the day than when they set off last time. Even if they’d set off at the exact same time as before, if they’d walked slower or faster than the first time… the spear could pierce Jasper’s throat, his heart, his stomach. It could hit another one of them. There could be more Grounders there. There could be Reapers. Worst of all, there could be people from Mount Weather to come out, capture them, find out about their blood and track down the rest.

Plus… she is Wanheda. She is the Commander of Death. And right now, she refuses to let it anywhere near her people. She refuses to try and follow a path that ends up littered with corpses.

The original timeline can go float itself.

“Alright, I think our first priority has to be food,” Clarke says to Wells, putting away the map. “We don’t seem to be anywhere near Mount Weather. So we need to try and find something closer, hunt or fish or forage.”

“We don’t even know if there are animals here,” Wells points out.

“Well, there has to be something around.” Clarke says. “We’ll see if we can find anyone else who wants to help -”

“I’ll help,” Jasper butts in excitedly from behind her, coming out of the drop ship. Clarke jerks in surprise, turning to face him. He gives her a big, dorky grin. “Anything for a pretty lady!” Monty, also there, rolls his eyes.

Wells steps forward threateningly. “You mind?” he challenges Jasper.

“Hey, what’s happening?” Bellamy strides towards them, hand already on his gun. Octavia trails behind him, looking annoyed about something.

“We’re going looking for some food,” Clarke says shortly. “You’re welcome to come join us, given you’re the only one with a defensive weapon.” She could have that gun off him in a second, she thinks. Clarke’s been in a lot of fights compared to the Bellamy of this time and if she doesn’t have the muscle she still has the memories. Plus, Bellamy – this Bellamy – was all posture. He wouldn’t shoot her, except by accident. But it’s not worth the fight it will cause or the enemy it will make him into.

“I think maybe we should find Mount Weather, Clarke,” Wells says. “You heard my father’s message.”

“Screw your father,” Octavia practically spits the words. “What, you think -”

“She’s right,” Clarke says, surprising both of them into shutting up. “The Councillor gave us a plan that doesn’t work anymore, not where we are right now. So screw his orders. We’re nowhere near Mount Weather, and we need a new plan. Starting with food.” She nods at Jasper and Monty. “You two come help me and Wells, we’ll see what we can find.” Clarke turns to look at Octavia, deliberately ignoring Bellamy. “If you feel like eating, maybe you should join us. Or just if you feel like having a real look around.”

Octavia looks uncertain. Then Bellamy decides for her by growling “No way. Octavia stays here.”

“I was asking her, not you -” Clarke starts to say.

“I’m going, Bell,” Octavia says, finality in her tone. “I’ve been locked up all my life, I’m not gonna let you lock me up too.” Bellamy grabs her arm and starts to talk to her in a harsh undertone about the dangers.

Clarke decides to start walking, leaving Octavia to deal with her brother and the others to catch up. In under a minute Wells catches up and walks beside her. A few seconds later Octavia has caught up too, walking besides an already smitten Jasper.

She can hear the others talking behind them, already sharing stories and bonding, when Wells says to her quietly, “I got sent down on purpose. To protect you. I want to make up for what I did, Clarke.”

Clarke catches his hand in her own and squeezes it for a second before letting go. “You didn’t do anything except try and take the blame,” she says just as quietly. “I know that now.”

His expression morphs quickly to surprise and then joy. A smile spreads across his face and she returns it gladly. Then a boy lands on top of him from the tree above.

“SURPRISE!”

“OW!” Wells rolls to the side, swearing, already trying to rise to his feet. He stumbles and nearly falls again but catches himself. “What the hell?”

Finn grins at him. “I’m sorry. You were directly below me. Couldn’t resist.”

Clarke looks at Finn, unable to resist scouring his face with her eyes for a second.

Looking at Wells makes her happy, to have this second chance. Looking at Finn makes her feel… well, confused. Grateful that he’s alive, guilty because she killed him, and deeply sad that she knows there isn’t a second chance for them. It’s not just Raven – it’s that, looking at him now, his cheeky grin and boyish charm are wasted on her.

Once upon a time she viewed everything he did with a faint sheen of perfection, after he’d gotten past her initial resistance. Clarke had taken the good she saw – good looks, charm, artistic ability, and loyalty to her – and she’d expanded it, creating an ideal person who didn’t exist. She’d been infatuated with that person, and extreme events had made her bond to him grow very quickly.

His death had made it impossible for Clarke to acknowledge what she could now admit: she hadn’t been in love with Finn, not like he’d loved (or thought he loved) her. And the murder of eighteen innocent people in her name had shocked her out of her infatuation brutally, leaving only the guilt of feeling responsibility for those deaths binding them together. The additional guilt of his death had compounded that. Her good memories of Finn are distant now. When she looks at him, she just sees a floppy-haired, immature boy, good-natured but filled with flaws, and not someone who could ever understand her now or ever challenge her like – well, like some other people could.

Clarke doesn’t want to think of Lexa, not now. In this new universe, if she plays things differently, there’s a risk they’ll never meet. An even bigger likelihood is that if they do, it won’t be under circumstances where she can both impress Lexa and bond with her like the last time, where they can spend weeks together and become something. If Clarke manages to keep everyone alive and avoid pissing off the Grounders, there’s a very real possibility she will be a stranger to Lexa forever.

“Hey, Princess,” Finn playfully gives her a flower, waking her from her thoughts. “See something you like?”

She realises she’s been staring at him for some time. Wells looks even more annoyed than when Finn landed on him, and Octavia looks jealous. Jasper is looking slightly put out by Octavia no longer staring at him. Monty looks annoyed at Jasper for ignoring him to make heart eyes at Octavia.

Teenagers, thinks Clarke. Fucking teenagers. I forgot how stupid and hormonal we all were back at the start. She drops the flower. “Actually, I was just wondering why it looks like you’ve been trying to remove your wrist monitor. Don’t you care about anyone in the Ark at all? No one else is gonna come down here if they think the air is poisonous.”

Finn’s smile drops off and he glances involuntarily at the sky. “Why would they come down here anyway?”

“They’re running out of air up there,” Clarke says shortly. “We’re a test. Either they come down, or they kill off some of the Ark’s population. So unless you don’t care about whatever family you’ve got up there suffocating, you should probably keep your wrist monitor on.”

Come to think of it, he’s the only one who does need to keep his working. He’s the reason Raven came down, and Clarke doesn’t know when she decided that and if her decision was at all based on seeing Finn’s vital signs still there before they all flatlined together. The odds are best if they keep his one online just as long as last time. If Raven assumes he’s dead and doesn’t come down, they have no radio, they have no munitions expert, and they have no chance.

It’s so difficult, thinking in terms of the past and future like this. Trying to decide what actions will keep them alive, now she knows all of the ways they could all too easily have died.

Clarke turns away, leaving Wells to answer the inevitable questions, and plunges into the forest, eyes already scanning for threats or potential food.

Chapter Text

Lexa manages to get through the day without giving herself away. Her greeting to Gustus is perhaps more enthusiastic than she would normally be, and she speaks to him more often as they go through the day’s appointments than she usually would, but otherwise it’s very easy to get back into the normal rhythm of her peace-time life.

Lexa judges disputes in the matter of several crimes, and meets with the ambassadors of two krus to equivocate about the correct price for different kinds of smoked meat – fish versus rabbit – in a trade deal that is causing mild friction. Another ambassador comes to give her an update on Luna’s health, which has been indifferent of late, and pass on a coded message from her. Two spies from the Azgeda (Lexa has people in every clan in the coalition – it is not wise to remain ignorant) have returned, and report that all is quiet, but that Nia has been ill-tempered recently. A warrior who fought beside Lexa a year before has died of illness and she briefly attends the burning, honouring the man’s past bravery as his houmon lowers the torch onto his lover’s pyre. Lexa trains the natblidas in throwing knives, and on a whim playfully challenges Gustus to a contest and defeats him, the children cheering her on and Gustus barely able to contain his smile and affection for her. And then it is time for a meal, bolted down quickly with Gustus beside her, awaiting any orders.

It is heartbreaking to her, to know that although she has Gustus back, he will never really be her Gustus again. She will never be able to trust him as she once did. Like Titus, she can trust him with her life. But she cannot trust him with Clarke’s.

She has discovered that someone who would do absolutely anything for you out of love is almost more dangerous than an outright enemy.

She’s managed to find out what time of year it is, and she has a vague memory of this day, although nothing particularly of note occurred on it. In roughly a week’s time, she calculates, she will receive a message from Anya, telling her of strangers that have arrived on her land. A week or so later, she will receive another message, a message about the destruction of a village at these invaders’ hands – not for food or land, but apparently just for spite. Soon after messages will begin to arrive more frequently, bearing no good news, and Lexa will send Tristan and his rangers to deal with this incursion, frustrated by Anya’s unprecedented difficulty in removing this problem.

It will be the last message she ever sends Anya, and it will all but tell Anya that she has disappointed Lexa.

Lexa has always been good at waiting. But there is, in this case, no reason for her to wait. She has no desire for Clarke to once again burn three hundred of her warriors alive, for Anya to die.

“How many gonas can you gather by sundown tomorrow from the surrounding areas?” she asks Gustus suddenly. “Apart from Tristan and the rangers he commands.”

Gustus looks surprised. “In that time, maybe four hundred, if I leave to begin now. Is this about the Azgeda?”

“Four hundred,” Lexa muses, ignoring his question. “When you include Tristan’s gonas who are already here, as well as Anya’s unit, if I stop at Tondc on the way to gather Indra’s forces as well… that will give me an army of nearly eight hundred.”

“Heda?” says Gustus, eyes now worried, though he tries to conceal it. “Why do you require eight hundred warriors?”

“I wish to visit my old Fos,” Lexa says.

“Why?” Gustus asks. “And why with an army?” He blinks. “Have you heard something? Has Indra or Anya committed a crime?”

“No,” Lexa says firmly. “Of course not. They are loyal and strong.”

“Then why?”

“I have spoken to the past commanders,” Lexa says. It is completely truthful as a statement by itself, if not as an answer to Gustus’s question.

The original Skaikru will either be arriving soon or have already arrived. Clarke kom Skaikru always insisted her people never intended to start a war with the Trikru, although Lexa knows Clarke to be wily and capable of lying to protect her people (one of many traits they share). If this is the case and they truly desired peace, then she will not need eight hundred warriors at this stage, but it is best to be prepared anyway. She will certainly need them in the area sooner or later.

There are several ways to deal with a force when you wish not to kill any of them. One is to take a small force and parley with them, trusting in honour and each other’s word to protect both parties. In Lexa’s experience, this engenders goodwill but has a chance of ending as a bloodbath, since honour can rarely work to protect one from a thrown spear. Perhaps she will try this strategy first, and send in Anya and some of her unit, arms raised to show they do not intend violence, to bring Clarke back to her in order to negotiate.

Another way is to bring so many warriors that the opposing force lays down arms immediately, recognising that to fight would be suicide. This tactic worked with the Skaikru before, and that was when the rest of their people had already fallen from the sky. If Lexa arrives with eight hundred warriors backing her up, this contingent of Skaikru may well prove willing to surrender and deal straight away. If they hurt Anya, she will default to this plan.

The Trikru do not like threats, and still less like strangers with guns, but if Clarke’s people give in immediately then Lexa may be able to contain the situation and prevent the previous bad blood.

Lexa nods to herself, course decided.

“Gustus, alert Tristan that we leave at sunrise the day after tomorrow. Then send riders to the nearest towns and villages to collect those four hundred gonas.”

“Yes, Heda.” Gustus is far too disciplined to question what she has heard from the past commanders, but she sees his face has paled slightly. The Heda demanding an army of eight hundred on the basis of commands from the spirits has frightened him.

She decides to reassure him. “It is only a small number of gonas I expect to be dealing with, Gustus, we will outnumber them greatly. Do not look so worried. I merely wish to demonstrate the might of the Trikru to them. It is a show of force.”

“Ah,” Gustus looks relieved now. “I see. We are to make an example of them.” He smiles, no doubt thinking they go to clear the area of bandits or a similar foe.

“Not we,” Lexa says, gentling her voice slightly but making it clear that it is a command. “You are to stay here, Gustus, and care for the Natblidas.”

He flinches. “I am your bodyguard, Heda, it is my duty to protect you.”

“It is your duty to obey me. I can protect myself, Gustus. You stay and protect our future.” She does something she has never done before, and briefly covers his hand with her own, an open gesture of affection that surprises them both. “Beja, Gustus. I will be fine.”

Lexa can’t take him, not when she fears having to end his life again. She has not planned past forcing Clarke’s small group to surrender, and she doesn’t know what she will end up doing with the Skaikru, so she also cannot know if he will approve of it. She does not wish to risk the situation with Pike again, but she also will not destroy Clarke’s people. Perhaps Clarke, even without her memories, will have a plan that Lexa has not thought of.

After all, she always has before.

Chapter Text

Clarke can understand why Octavia is annoyed at Bellamy for forcing her to stop seeing Atom, but over two hours of complaining has her dreaming of the days when Octavia’s complaints were about betrayals and kill orders. At least then it was easier to pretend to care – after everything, it’s hard to view the end of a three-day relationship as something that matters.

She’s fairly sure she became Octavia’s confidante today due to the lack of other people. What with Atom pointedly ignoring her, Bellamy being the cause of her anger, Jasper and Monty busy fiddling with her wristband, Wells and Finn huddled over the map trying to figure out where they are… well, Octavia’s kind of out of people. That Bellamy banned her from leaving the camp and Clarke just volunteered to go hunting was probably an additional incentive.

That doesn’t mean Clarke’s particularly happy about it. At her best guess they have maybe an hour until the first yellow fog happens, and they have to get back to camp before then – and hopefully make sure everyone else is there too. If she was out on her own, she would have already caught something. Octavia’s chattering has kept all the animals away from them until right now.

Apparently, this deer likes tales about overprotective brothers.

Clarke’s just lining up her throw when a noise surprises her. Her knife hits a tree only two feet away from her target, the deer startles and flees, and she curses.

Clarke’s wristband drops to the ground. She stares at it for a second, then strides to the tree and pulls her knife out.

“I guess they didn’t manage to make my wristband work as a radio,” Octavia says, eyeing Clarke and not looking particularly concerned. “I’m sorry.”

Clarke shrugs. “We knew it was a long shot. We’ll come up with something else.” It doesn’t really matter, after all. In a week Raven will be here, and Clarke can get to the radio before Bellamy this time.

What does matter is that she’s lost the deer.

No, scratch that. She’s being negative.

What matters is she still has her people. What matters is that Wells is still alive and spends all his time with her or Finn, so she thinks he’ll stay that way – surely Charlotte won’t kill him with people around. That Jasper doesn’t have a scar and PTSD. That yesterday when she brought back her kills, Bellamy gave her a smile and a compliment, giving her hope that someday they can find their partnership again. What does matter is that Octavia is here with her, wanting to talk to her and spend time with her, even if it’s annoying. That Raven will be here soon and there won’t be any Finn between them to taint their friendship. That’s what matters.

She’s getting them all back, all of her people (nearly all her people. All but one). In the original world, when’s the last time she had a good moment with one of them? With no arguing and hurt feelings? She can’t remember.

Clarke looks at her unbloodied knife and sighs. “Now we have to find something else to hunt.” She holds it out to Octavia. “You should take this.”

“What?” Octavia automatically takes the knife, then stares at it, frozen. “I don’t know what to do.”

Clarke almost laughs, it’s such a contrast to what she knows about Octavia. About who Octavia will be. “There’s no real trick to it. I have another knife. This way, next time we find something, we can both throw. Double the chance. I was going to give it to you for the deer, but I forgot.”

After a short pause, Octavia tightens her loose grip on knife. She passes it from one hand to the other. Her soft face hardens, eyes narrowing, growing intent and purposeful.

Now she looks like Clarke’s Octavia. Less butterflies, more blades.

“You should practice,” Clarke suggests.

Octavia throws it against the tree and it sticks. A grin splits her face and she retrieves it. A few more throws and she’s already hitting around the same area every try. Clarke marvels at it. Indra wasn’t wrong when she said Octavia is a natural.

Clarke can't help but think of Lexa, so carelessly deadly with her blades. In battle Lexa always moved like a dancer, a gracefulness in her movements that Octavia's untrained savagery barely mimics. Someday she might have the effortless poise and tension in her body that Lexa has, but that day is far off.

What if she never sees Lexa fight again? What if she never sees Lexa again?

No. Even if it works out, even if she saves everyone and the Ark's higher-ups are the ones to deal with Lexa once they come down, Clarke will bullshit her way into at least one meeting. She will stand there and she will let her gaze trace Lexa's face, tangle in her hair, become lost in her fierce eyes. She'll see Lexa alive and flushed and proud and perfect. Clarke promises herself this one indulgence, after all of the effort and sacrifice she's put in for her people and will put in again: she will see Lexa one more time. Breathing. Beautiful.

“I bet I can hit that high branch there,” Octavia says, eyes narrowing even further at the challenge, tilting her head up.

Before Clarke can suggest they go hunt actual food, Octavia throws the dagger hard.

It misses the branch. It flies through the air. And there is a deep groan of pain.

Clarke and Octavia glance at each other for a horrified moment, and then scramble in the direction she threw the knife. There’s a thud as a large body hits the ground, fallen from a tree.

It’s a man, tall and muscled but currently curled up into himself on the ground. He’s bleeding copiously from the knife in his thigh, his pants already soaked, the blood beginning to pool on the ground. As they reach him, he manages to raise his head and look at them.

Clarke only just manages to stop herself from saying his name.

Lincoln.

Octavia’s already reaching for him. “Clarke, oh shit, he’s not one of us,” she gasps. “There are people here. There are people here! On the ground! He’s a Grounder! And I stabbed him!” Her breath comes in shocked pants. She reaches for and pulls out the knife before either Lincoln or Clarke can stop her.

She’s trying to help. She doesn’t realise she just made this much worse.

Clarke yanks off her top outer layer and forces it into Octavia’s hands, snaps “Put pressure on the wound!” at her, and grabs for Lincoln’s bag. He’s already losing consciousness, she can see.

“Clarke, what are you doing?” Octavia nearly screams, pushing down hard on Lincoln’s leg. Her hands are bright red, the cloth soaking through. “This is not the time to be going through his stuff! Help me!”

The bleeding seems to be slowing a bit already, thankfully, so Clarke allows herself to hope that they haven’t hit an artery.

Clarke ignores her friend and finds what she was looking for, unscrewing the pot. She scoops out some of the greenish-grey mixture and pushes it into Lincoln’s mouth, then dribbles some of her water there as well so he swallows it. Then she continues pulling through his bag and finds the other vial she was looking for, giving it a sniff to make sure. She takes the cloth off a shocked Octavia and pours a hefty amount on the wound.

Clarke only knows basic Trikru medicine. It will have to be enough.

The needle is sharp, though she’s pretty sure the thread is made of some kind of animal intestines. “Hold the wound shut as best as you can,” she snaps at Octavia.

It looks like the knife hit at an angle, creating a slice nearly as much as a stab wound. They’re extremely lucky that’s the case – it could have been much deeper. If it had been a direct hit, Octavia removing the knife might well have been a death sentence.

Clarke sews neatly and methodically. Lincoln has passed out cold, between the blood loss and the painkiller she gave him. She hopes she didn’t use too much.

Clarke doesn’t know how long it takes to sew the wound and bandage it, but when she’s done both she and Octavia are covered in sweat, blood and grime. She thinks he’ll be fine, though. Octavia still looks stunned.

“What the hell… how did you know where those were?”

“I was looking for anything we could use to bandage it,” Clarke lies. “We were just lucky he turned out to have medicine.” Fingers crossed she hasn’t given him any of the poisons accidentally.

“He’s a Grounder. Shit, Clarke, he’s a Grounder!” Octavia is dazed. She peers at his face. “He looks just like us. I mean, except hotter.”

“Speak for yourself,” Clarke says, giving Octavia a sly grin. It’s probably the adrenaline, but at the same time they both start laughing.

Clarke’s laughter abruptly cuts off when she looks at the sky, checking the time. The sun’s further than she thought. They don’t have time to get back to the drop ship. She casts around for places near here.

The bunker is closest. The thought makes her shudder.

“We need to go,” she says sharply. “Help me carry him.” They both take one of his arms and put it around their shoulders, still staggering under the weight of all that muscle.

“Uh, Clarke, I’m pretty sure that the camp’s the other way,” Octavia says doubtfully.

Clarke grunts with the effort of pulling Lincoln along, praying that she has enough time. She can’t stand the thought of leaving Lincoln to die in the acid fog while they run for safety. “You haven’t been out here much. Trust me, this is the fastest path.”

It’s a bald-faced lie. She’s been saying a lot of those lately.

“Maybe we should go back and get some people. This guy is heavy, Clarke,” Octavia says after a while.

Clarke’s back and legs ache with all the unfamiliar activity. But they’re only steps away. “Hey, look,” she says, pretending to be surprised, raising one heavy arm to point at the top of the bunker. A few more steps towards it and she thankfully lets Lincoln go. Octavia, surprised by the sudden extra weight, lets him slide to the ground.

“Not really the time to check things out, Clarke,” Octavia huffs as Clarke opens the bunker. “I mean, it’s cool and all, but we can have a look later. Not now.” She glances meaningfully at Lincoln. Blood is starting to seep through his bandages again – they really should not be moving him. Even less should they do what Clarke’s about to do.

Agonised screams slice through the air. The deer from earlier races through in absolute terror, foaming at the mouth in fright. Acid fog begins to appear at the edge of the trees. Octavia gasps, eyes widening.

“Or now,” Clarke says frantically. She rolls Lincoln over, says “sorry” with feeling, and pushes him down the hole.

Recommended treatment for stab wounds rarely involves a sheer drop.

She pushes Octavia to start climbing down the ladder then follows, slamming the door shut as soon as she can. Several wisps of fog follow her and settle on her hand and she whimpers as blisters form. Octavia swears when Clarke steps on her hand but keeps climbing down.

And then it’s just them, the darkness, Octavia’s panting breaths, and Lincoln’s groans. He’s already split his stitches, unsurprisingly.

Clarke lets herself lean against the wall for a second, regaining her strength. Then she straightens and reaches for Lincoln’s bag again.

This is not where she thought this day would go.

Chapter Text

Lexa is not surprised to find Indra and several of her warriors already waiting when she enters TonDC. Since Lexa has an honour guard consisting of hundreds, Indra would have to be very incompetent or her scouts extremely stupid not to have seen them from miles away. And she knows that neither of these are true.

“Heda,” Indra greets her, respect in every inch of her posture and every intonation of her words. Unlike Titus, who contrasts his religious fervour for the Commander spirit with an arrogant certainty he is still wiser than her, Gustus, who sometimes has trouble seeing beyond his fatherly fondness for his charge, or even Anya, who remembers watching her Sekon grow from mischievous child into ruthless leader, Indra has never treated Lexa as anything but the Commander. To Indra, her words are gospel and her suggestions are orders.

Lexa doesn’t think it’s a result of belief in the Commander spirit nearly as much as it is a belief in this incarnation of it. Since their very first battle together, Indra has judged her entirely on her victories.

For this reason, Indra won’t challenge her about her reason for being here, let alone with so many warriors, but Lexa can see the concern in her eyes and voice nevertheless.

“You and Anya have both mentioned in recent missives that bandits are a problem in this area,” Lexa says, choosing to explain herself anyway out of respect for the older woman.

Indra stiffens. “One we are capable of dealing with, Heda.”

Lexa inclines her head. “I am well aware of that, Indra,” she says, and watches Indra relax slightly. “But I am also aware that bandits are difficult to rid an area of completely without a considerable force, so I have brought one. Many of these warriors have not fought recently enough outside of training to keep their skills sharp – some are even yongons with no battle experience to speak of – and experience fighting even so lowly a foe as bandits will be useful. I know of no general more able to aid me in honing their skills than you.”

She rarely praises Indra. In fact, as Commander, she almost never praises anyone. But she feels warm towards Indra at this moment, Indra whose loyalty she knows from the other world to be a constant. When she checks for knives at her back, there is at least one Trikru who she has no need to fear.

Indra does not flush at the words, but judging by her embarrassed scowl and glance away, if it weren’t for her dark skin she may well have.

Indra clears her throat. “I see. Will your gonas be staying in TonDC? I can send out my hunters to begin gathering meat.” Lexa dismounts and begins to walk beside Indra, heading for her tent. It is a more private place for discussion.

“I have commanded them to stay in the forest, spread out,” Lexa says. “They can find their own food. It will be useful practise for the next time we have to march.” And prevent them from being a target for any missiles, should the large force in the area provoke the Mountain.

“March north?” Indra asks quietly, so that her words reach only Lexa’s ears. They reach the tent and Indra allows her to enter first, following and then closing the flap.

So Indra too has heard the rumours, that Nia is unhappy and the Azgeda may desire a war. That battle is further off than Indra knows, due to the distraction of the Skaikru, but since Lexa now feels that it too may be inevitable she nods gravely.

It is a convenient excuse for taking hundreds of warriors on a simple training mission to hunt bandits, and also serves to explain why Lexa is taking them to this area specifically – the Trikru area closest to the Azgeda border. The time spent among similar trees and animals during Autumn would aid her warriors in a Winter battle against the Azgeda.

That this, while plausible, does not remotely resemble her actual reasons for being there bothers Lexa not at all. Her people are not required to understand every choice their Heda makes, provided they are all for their benefit.

“We believe the bandits bold enough to attack TonDC are camped to the North-East,” Indra says. “That should allow for some training.” She smiles grimly.

This falls entirely in line with Lexa’s stated plan, but not with her actual intentions. Clarke’s people are nearly due West of here.

Clarke is nearly due West of here, with her skai eyes and sunlit hair. Not that she alone is Lexa’s reason, but it has certainly been an incentive for her quick pace.

“Excellent,” Lexa says smoothly. “I can leave several hundred of my force to your command and continue heading towards Anya with the remainder.”

Indra frowns. “Of course, Heda. You do not wish to rest for a day or two before continuing?”

“Only the night, Indra. I will leave some of Tristan’s rangers with you – it will do them good to adjust to another’s command, and they can assist in training the rest of the warriors. You can easily manage the bandits with a force that size.” She thinks on how to phrase what she next must say.

“Sha, Heda,” Indra still looks confused, but she rarely questions her Commander.

“There is another thing I must ask of you, Indra,” Lexa continues after a pause. “It is a strange request, I fear.”

“Heda?”

“I require you to set some of your warriors to watch the Mountain,” Lexa says. She lets her voice become hard, so that Indra knows that this order especially cannot be challenged or queried. “As close as is safe. How many Maunon come in, go out, what they do, whether they are the same Maunon each time… anything that you see. You will know which of your warriors may be entrusted with the task.”

Indra blinks several times, absorbing this, not allowing traces of any emotion to cross her face. “As you wish.”

“Good. You are closest to the Mountain and know it best. I also wish you to take a hundred of the warriors I leave and begin training them to catch Ripas.”

Again Indra needs some time to adjust to the strange order. “…may I ask why, Heda?” Her tentative tone (well, tentative for Indra) makes it clear that Lexa can refuse to explain if she so wishes. Luckily, Lexa prefers to explain this particular choice.

“I have received information that it may be possible to cure a Ripa, if they are gotten to early enough.” Lexa feels pity for Indra as she watches the various emotions roil over the other woman’s face. Indra is so professional that sometimes Lexa forgets that her history with the Mountain is dark and soaked with the blood of loved ones. The idea of curing a Ripa is a knife to an unarmoured spot. “When I have more information, I will come back here. I may need you to procure a Ripa quickly when that occurs. Find none before then, but train the warriors in anything you think might help – attacking from the trees, knowing the caves, mixing sleep drugs that could work on a Ripa. Anything.”

Indra nods stiffly, forcing her face back to immobility.

Mentioning curing a Ripa has recalled another subject she wishes to enquire about. “How goes Linkon?”

“We have not seen him for a week.” Indra snorts derisively, though as always her contempt cannot quite hide the mingled affection and exasperation she feels for the young man.

Lexa does not know if Linkon is actually Indra’s son, or simply became a replacement in her heart for the son she lost, but she does know that Indra’s feelings for him exceed what she would ever admit. She also knows that on one visit Indra proudly introduced her to him, saying that Linkon was an excellent scout, gona, and even reasonably proficient as a fisa, and the next visit a query about him excited the most fury she has ever seen from the perpetually-simmering Indra.

She also knows that if anyone has already encountered the Skaikru, it will be Linkon. After all, that is as it happened before, and she has changed nothing here yet. None were dead at this point, she is fairly sure. Linkon may already be beginning his relationship with Octavia.

While admiring Octavia’s fierceness, Lexa cannot like anyone who resists all compromise as fervently and foolishly as the Skaikru girl does. She is also not sure what she thinks of the way the girl feels free to criticise both of her peoples and the leaders in charge of both of her peoples – Octavia skips between cultures and seems to believe this allows her to judge both. To Lexa, who is not only trapped by her culture, but confined to the position she has in it, this level of freedom is both unimaginable and frustrating. But she matters to Clarke, who matters to Lexa, so she intends to treat the girl well if at all possible. Perhaps contacting her through Linkon may even allow an exchange of communication with Clarke, ensuring Anya’s safety when Lexa sends her to the Sky People to deal.

“Do you have a way to speak with him?”

Again, Indra does not question her. “No, he comes and goes as he likes, that one. Last he disappeared to Luna’s people for a month.” She rolls her eyes. “Perhaps Nyko will know where he is. You want him because of his knowledge of the caves?”

Lexa was not aware that Linkon knew the caves better than any other of Indra’s people before his time as a Ripa, but she seizes this explanation anyway. “Sha. If you find him, keep him here. I wish to speak with him. Be clear that it is for his knowledge, not anything else, and certainly not for any kind of punishment.”

“Sha, Heda,” Indra says again. Then she clears her throat and continues, “And… mochof, Heda.”

Lexa raises an eyebrow. “For what, Indra?”

“For aiding with our bandits,” Indra says simply. “And caring for our people.” She glows with quiet pride, and Lexa realises it is because Indra believes that the Heda took her missives so seriously she gathered an army for a handful of bandits, and that the Heda cares for her enough to single out the man Indra once singled out long ago and introduced to her. For Indra, this is proof that Lexa listens to her, trusts her, and considers her concerns and people very important.

If Lexa allowed herself to feel guilt for that which could not be helped, she knows she would feel terrible now. She did not value Indra or TonDC nearly so highly before they became the centre of the war with the Skaikru and the war with the Mountain. She values them now because of additional knowledge, gained through something Lexa still cannot comprehend.

So it is a good thing she does not allow herself to feel guilt. Lexa martials all her ability to remain stoic and merely gives Indra a nod, allowing no shame to show on her traitorous face.

Chapter Text

Clarke waits as long as she waited the first time for the fog to subside, except without the distraction of alcohol. Instead she spends the time bandaging Lincoln and listening to Octavia’s various theories and thoughts as she goes through his bag, finds his sketchbook, and begins flipping through it. Lincoln stays unconscious but Clarke thinks he’ll be all right, given time. Knowing Lincoln’s stubbornness, he’ll be up and about once the sedative wears off.

Eventually she says, “The fog should be gone by now. I think one of us should head back to camp, let them know what happened.”

“Tell them that there’s Grounders?” Octavia continues studying Lincoln like he’s a Rubik’s cube she has to solve, not even looking up. She traces his face from cheek to chin with her finger.

Atom appears to have been forgotten.

“Yes, exactly,” Clarke says. “And about the fog, and why we’ve been gone so long… if you’re willing to wait here with him until he wakes up, I’ll head back.”

“Wait here with him? What if he’s dangerous?” It’s Octavia at her most contrary.

“Oh, okay,” Clarke says. “If you’re worried, I’ll stay here, and you can head back.”

“No, it’s fine!” Octavia says, a little too quickly, just as Clarke had known she would. The mysterious connection between Octavia and Lincoln had been as instant as it was in the original world.

Meeting someone in whose eyes you see the same weight, same frustration, same love, same hopes… perhaps the connection is not so mysterious after all. Perhaps when Octavia, forced to live her life quietly, invisibly and lonely, first met the eyes of Lincoln, forced to live his life coldly, ruthlessly and lonely, something of their shared desperation passed through the gaze.

Clarke can relate.

“You go tell them about all this, I’ll wait.” Octavia continues, then hesitates. “Just… maybe you shouldn’t tell them exactly where we are.”

Clarke allows herself a small, secret grin. “No?”

“Bell would overreact, you know he would,” Octavia says decisively. “This guy has a sketchbook of us and a lot of medicine. But he didn’t even reach for his weapons… he’s harmless, I can tell. He didn’t even look angry that I’d stabbed him. But you know all Bell would see is that he’s a Grounder and he’s armed. I don’t want to get this guy in trouble.” She leans to the side, so that her face is lined up with his in the semi-darkness. “You can see he’s a good person. His face is really…” she pauses. “…gentle. I’m sure of it. I know, you think I’m crazy, but -”

“No, I don’t.” Clarke makes her voice firm, unwavering. “I trust you, Octavia. If you think I shouldn’t tell Bellamy where you are exactly, I won’t. It will take a while for the drugs to wear off. When he wakes up, just head due south – so the morning sun is on your left – and you’ll get close to the drop ship. Or he might help you find the way if you ask, clearly he knows where it is.”

Octavia’s smile is so pure that it’s like a beacon in the darkness. Clarke knows that no one has ever trusted her before, not like that – even Bellamy, the big brother she adores, tries to place walls around her, tries to tell her what to do. No one’s ever done what Octavia says before instead of the other way around. She's not just agreeing to leave Octavia in an enclosed space with a potentially-dangerous stranger twice her size, she actually suggested it. Octavia's so used to being protected that to her this seems like freedom instead of risk.

She hopes she can live up to the adoration in Octavia’s face, this time.

It doesn’t take her long to get back to the camp. She doesn’t bother to stop on the way, to gather food or to check the environment closely. It’s too soon for the Grounders to attack directly and they haven’t done anything to anger them this time.

What she doesn’t expect is her greeting. She’s barely broken into the clearing before three angry people are shoving hand-made blades into her face, and then Murphy is in front of her. He pushes a gun into her face aggressively for a second, then relaxes slightly, but still doesn’t pull away the weapon. “Oh, it’s just you, Princess.”

“What the hell, Murphy,” Clarke snaps, shoving away the closest person who’s threatening her with a knife. They’re all retracting them now, embarrassed by their paranoia, but it takes Murphy a second longer to shove the gun back into his waistband and she bristles at the unnecessary delay.

“Don’t bitch at me,” he snarls back at her. “Where on Earth have you been? You and Bellamy’s slutty little sister? You left ages ago and then waltz back into camp the next day, without her, and expect us to roll out the red carpet?”

“We ran into someone,” she says, glaring at him. “A Grounder. There’s people down here, Murphy.” She forces the emphasis into her voice, trying to act like this is a big deal. Obviously, it’s old news for her, making fake surprise difficult.

Apparently it’s old news for them as well. “Tell me something I don’t know, Princess,” Murphy glowers at her. “They rocked up into our camp hours ago and snatched away our fearless leader.”

“They what?”

“These psychos appeared, all covered in furs and facepaint, looking for Bellamy. They spouted some Grounder gibberish at all of us, then snatched his gun, threw it to the side, tied his hands behind his back, and rode away with him,” Murphy spits to the side, showing his opinion. “Who knows how that moron pissed them off. Or maybe they’re just looking for a sacrifice or something. Pascal, Trina and Atom have all disappeared too.”

Clarke considers this, forcing herself not to overreact. She knows the Grounders aren’t likely to come up to the camp to just take a random person. Pascal, Trina and Atom may have died in the fog like last time, Bellamy isn’t so easily explained. Could Bellamy have done something to anger them?

Only one way to tell. “Give me his gun.”

Murphy takes a step back. “Hell I will.”

“I want to see if he’s fired it,” Clarke says impatiently. “In case he shot one of them.”

“They’re savages, Clarke, you really think he did anything to them?” Murphy rolls his eyes. “And the gun’s mine now. I’m in charge.”

Clarke grits her teeth, her patience officially evaporated. “The gun. I’ll fight you for it.”

He laughs loudly. “Oh, come on. Like you could fight me.”

“I’ll fight for her,” a voice comes from Clarke’s side, deep and sure. It’s Wells, glaring at Murphy in dislike.

“Me too,” Finn says.

“Oh, so you’ll send your boyfriends to come beat me up,” Murphy says snidely.

Clarke takes a deliberate step forward. “No, I’ll fight you myself. Unless of course you’re scared to fight without using a gun. Against me.”

Clarke stands in the early morning sunlight, her blonde hair gleaming. She must look innocent and harmless, she thinks, unless you look at her expression. One of Murphy’s acolytes stifles a snicker and apparently that decides it.

“Sure thing,” Murphy growls, stepping forwards. “If you want to get beat up, why not.”

She looks at Finn and Wells. “Stay out of this. Please.” Finn frowns, but one of Murphy’s people raises their blade in a threatening way, and so he takes Wells’ arm, preventing him from stepping between them. Wells turns to look at him, betrayed. Clarke wonders when they became so close they could talk with their eyes, but dismisses it.

Her muscles aren’t what they used to be. She’s going to have to find a way to fix that, as quickly as possible – preferably not by spending months in the forest, this time. She’ll see what happens, what opportunity comes. Maybe one of the Grounders will train her, Lincoln, even.

But, muscles or no muscles, she’s fierce and fast and can out-think Murphy, and she has reflexes he can’t possible understand. She moves forward, quicker than he was expecting, and has delivered two quick hits to his solar plexus before he can react.

Gasping, he attempts to grab her, wrapping one arm around her middle like a bad guy from a movie, the other one grasping at her hair. She slams the heel of her foot down on the middle of his, causing him to whimper, ignores the pulling pain at her scalp and the tears it causes to spring up in her eyes, and elbows him hard in the throat. He lets out a little gasping noise – echoed by the gasps from everyone surrounding them – and she twists in his suddenly loose grasp and punches him hard in the face. She hears a crunch.

His hands automatically go to his nose, where blood is already starting to stream. Clarke snatches the gun from his waistband and holds it up to eye height, studying it.

A part of her doesn’t know why she’s doing this. The original Bellamy caused the deaths of hundreds of people on the Ark, and she’d thought that made him want to redeem himself – in this world she hopes to prevent those deaths, which could leave him the same selfish jerk. Or was he the same selfish jerk anyway in the original timeline? He’d said yes, and he’d killed hundreds more to prove it, even after all they’d been through together. She doesn’t even know whether she’s putting in all this effort to save a good man, a mass murderer, her best friend, her enemy, or something in between.

She just knows she has to find out. She can’t abandon Bellamy to his fate, any more than she had it in her to deliberately abandon Charlotte, or Finn, or Jasper, or even Murphy. They are her people. It’s nationalistic and ridiculous, but their lives are her responsibility, and she will do whatever it takes to get them through this. She needs them. Her life has been filled with fields of corpses, and she needs something to cling to. The 100 are what she clings to. Their lives are her proof that she had a reason for everything she did, everything she still remembers doing.

The gun has no shots fired. A small, dry part of her notes Bellamy’s restraint. But this means there’s no reason for this at all. Is it Anya? Is it one of the groups of thieves around this area? People from TonDC?

“Why did they want Bellamy?” she asks suddenly, wheeling back to face the bleeding and prone Murphy. “Did they ask for him by name, description, what?”

Murphy is too busy moaning on the ground to reply, but a tall strong boy she vaguely remembers as Miller does.

“We think they were looking for our leader,” he says gruffly.

“What? Why?”

“They kept saying the word ‘header’,” Miller explains briefly. “We figured that means leader.”

“It sounds like it does,” says one of the others in an excusing kind of way. “You know, head person. Header. So Murphy pointed at Bellamy…” he trails off, looking shamefaced.

“And they took him,” Clarke whispers. Her mind races. Heda. They were saying Heda. Lexa. “Who was in charge? What did they look like?”

Miller shrugs. “A woman, dark paint around the eyes. Long hair, braids, dark at the top and blonde at the bottom.”

Anya, thought Clarke, her racing heart slowing once he mentioned the blonde. Before that, she'd thought... But of course. Anya would have been saying ‘Heda’ because she was looking for our Heda like they thought, or maybe even because she was doing it in Lexa’s name.

Which means she needs to get someone to take her to Anya. Fortunately, she’s already met someone who knows exactly where Anya is.

Unfortunately, Octavia just stabbed him.

Chapter Text

“Hei, Anya,” Lexa says, allowing her face to soften slightly.

Her old Fos reaches for her, clasping her in a quick embrace that Skaikru would probably consider brief and business-like. For a member of the Trikru, however, this is an affection shown only to the closest of family, and speaks volumes about Anya’s feelings for her. “Hei, Lexa.”

Anya refuses to use Lexa’s given name with others, believing that would be an abuse of her past with Lexa, but between the two of them Lexa allows Anya to name her as the person she was before the Commander’s spirit chose her. The girl she was when Anya cleaned her black-bleeding cuts and teased her about her youthful affection for Costia.

Anya moves several paces back. Her face is unmoving but her eyes are warm. “Why have you come, Heda?”

“A training mission,” Lexa replies lightly. “To remove the bandits from the area.”

Anya smirks. Since the quick hug, their companions have moved far away enough for them to talk without worry of being overheard, and she takes the opportunity to be informal. They both know Lexa has felt near-hero-worship for Anya since childhood and Anya can say what she wills, provided there are none to hear. “You lie, yongon. This is about the Skaikru, sha?”

Tris stares at Lexa from her position many metres away, drinking her in like wada. Lexa gives a slight, cold inclination of her head towards the girl, causing her to flush brightly. Anya’s new sekon has always admired her previous one.

“Sha,” Lexa admits, “Perhaps I should have waited, Anya, but the previous Commanders gave me no rest.” It’s another lie, but even if Anya can tell she will not comment on the Commander spirit, Lexa knows. She will wonder if Lexa has spies in this area, but that cannot be helped.

(Of course, she does have spies. You do what you must.)

“They have not attacked yet, or attempted to climb the Mountain.” Anya says flatly.

“Why should they?” Lexa quirks an eyebrow, interested in Anya’s opinion.

Anya shrugs. “They have at least one Maunon weapon, they speak gonasleng, they act as though the land is theirs and they are alone in it. They are not Trikru, nor any kru of which I know. They came from the skai in a blaze of light and now they do not care if they burn the land down.” Anya gives a knife-edge of a smile. “I believe we should burn them first.”

“Easy, Anya,” Lexa cautions.

“What?” Anya blinks. Lexa has managed, for once, to surprise her. “They are invaders, Lexa, trying to take our land as if we have not earned it with the blood of our nomons and nontus, and our nomons’ nomons and nontus’ nontus. We have braved the Maunon and the pauna and the lions and the Azgeda… surely you do not intend to give this land to those who flew carelessly in the skai while we faced the Earth.”

“I do not intend to give anything.” Lexa gives a half-smirk, hiding her knowledge and her heart to the best of her ability. “But I believe they may be useful. Tell me all you know of them.”

“They have no use,” Anya says severely, but answers her anyway. “There are maybe a hundred of them, Linkon says. All just over the border between goufa and gona. But they cannot hunt, fish, fight… they have managed to survive on plants and luck. Their battles are minor skirmishes between themselves, over metal bracelets and burnt meat. I would have removed them already, but…” Anya hesitates.

“But?” Lexa prompts her, after waiting a few long moments.

“They seem helpless, Lexa. Weak,” she meets Lexa’s eyes. “I do not want to take my unit to wipe out those whose deaths will be easy. It is not honourable. Their fight will be no fight.”

If you only knew, thinks Lexa. Their fight will be a vicious fight. But perhaps we can pre-empt it. “Have you heard from Linkon recently?” she asks instead.

Anya shakes her head. “He was supposed to return today, with an exact number and as much information about them as he could gather. He did not.” Anya’s eyes go cold. “If they have harmed him…”

“You did not tell Indra he worked for you now,” Lexa comments, not allowing judgement to colour her tone.

“I have not seen her recently,” Anya shrugs. “and he has only worked for me a short time. He knows the area best, but he does not have a gona’s heart. I use him for scouting sometimes and that is it.”

“I see,” Lexa says slowly. It appears any plans to contact through Linkon may not work. Perhaps he already sympathises too heavily with the Skaikru, perhaps he has been captured, perhaps he is spending time with his Skai girl and will not return. She never sought to learn much about these early days after the Skaikru fell, getting only a rough idea of what happened – who died, and when, and only the most relevant facts of these deaths. She had not wanted to hear more about Anya’s time before her death, which could not be fixed. Now, of course, it can, and she knows nothing. She has erred in this matter.

“I wish you to take a small party to their camp,” Lexa says suddenly, irritated with herself. A part of her does not wish to send Anya, to risk her this way, but it cannot be helped. Anya is one of the few she can trust absolutely to retain control of herself in the face of anything. Let them call Anya a savage, a Grounder, a bitch – Anya will not kill anyone when ordered not to, Lexa is sure of that. Of course she will have to hedge her in with orders, but that is simple. “Harm no one. If they attack, leave, but harm no one, understand?”

“Sha, Heda.” Anya sounds unhappy with the order, but does not question it.

“Retrieve their leader and bring them to me.”

It takes several hours for Anya to return. Lexa spends the time pacing in the tent they have set up for her. Foolishly, she locates the knife she had the first time she met Clarke, so she can play with it. She does her warpaint even though she does not need to, has her hair carefully rebraided. She has a chair constructed.

None of the warriors with her have travelled with her before in such close quarters as Gustus has, so they do not find her pickiness to be noteworthy. Gustus would have been confused by it, knowing that she only demands such signs of status during wartime. He would not understand that a small, shallow part of her needs everything to be the same as her first meeting with Clarke.

She wants Clarke to look at her the same way, with the wary respect of one leader greeting another. But she also wants to know that someday that look will turn to warmth. Lexa aches for what they were, what they nearly had. Having Gustus and Anya back fills holes she did not know she still felt, but the loss of her greatest weakness makes her feel weaker than her affection ever did.

Lexa sits in the chair and lets her knife catch the light, staring at it, playing with it, trying desperately to distract herself from uncharacteristic nerves. But then there is Anya’s voice filling the space again as the flap is opened and she enters, followed by two guards holding a tied person between them, a bag over the captive’s head.

Clarke. Clarke is here. My Clarke.

She has time to notice that the person is too tall and dark to be Clarke, her stomach sinking, before one of the guards rips away the bag and she finds herself face to face with Bellamy Blake.

It’s a long pause. His eyes are filled with anger and dislike, but overlaying all of that is paralysing, all-encompassing fear. She blinks, dealing with the fact that it is not Clarke, but instead him, a man – no, a boy, even if he is as old as she – a boy she does not know and has no reason to like. Nearly all of her interactions with him have been through Clarke, who both loves him and was betrayed by him.

She’s torn. She could treat him as the spy who helped bring down the mountain, who prevented Indra’s death. Or she could treat him as the man who gunned down a peace-keeping force and captured Clarke when she put her trust in him.

But he’s neither, not now: she sees that in his helpless fear. He is merely a boy who fell to the ground. A strong personality, but not a strong spirit – one who can maintain control by force of charisma, but cannot continue that control when a harsh choice is placed before him. Someone incapable of real decisions. He is just a boy, a boy who is overawed and managed by the strongest will around him, and thinking of him as that it is hard either to respect or dislike him.

Just a boy, to gain so much love from Clarke, to do so much damage to her people. It is hard to believe.

“So you are the leader of the Skaikru,” she says, voice heavy with disbelief. She wants to ask where Clarke is, but does not know how he is likely to react. After all, sometimes he is loyal to Clarke and sometimes he is not.

He’s pale. “I… I guess… we don’t have a real leader…” Despite his pallor, his eyes are still filled with rage as well as fear.

She sighs. “Remove his ties.” She snaps to the guard. When he hesitates and looks to Anya, her disappointment at not seeing Clarke rises as annoyance. “You think I am incapable of dealing with one Skaikru? Release him, and gon we!” The guard bows his head and obeys, his partner following him. Lexa looks to Anya. “You as well, Anya,” she says harshly. “I can deal with this.”

She could perhaps talk her people into allying with Clarke, who is strong and wise and far too sharp. Bellamy, however – she could not talk her people into allying with him any more than the Maunon.

Lexa looks at him anyway and sighs again. “Hei, Heda kom Skaikru,” the words are bitter on her tongue, even as she starts to ask for the answers she already knows. “What is your name?”

Chapter Text

Clarke opens the hatch again and calls down it. “Octavia?”

There’s a brief pause. “Clarke?”

“I’m here, and I’ve brought Wells and Finn.” They refused to let her go alone, even with her new gun tucked into her waistband. Strangely, this is a relief to her, the thought of having them there. She knows a series of different Anyas – regal, regretful, angry, even angrier, vicious, thoughtful, friendly. She doesn’t know which one she’ll see. Having her people with her eases the stress.

She had thought about going and getting all of the guns for them before she went. But the truth is, at this point her people are not mature enough or afraid enough not to misuse them. And with any luck, they’ll never need them. Perhaps she can deal with Anya – befriend Anya – get Bellamy back – make peace – well, maybe she can do it all without needing the guns this time. She closes her eyes and hopes.

Clarke reaches the bottom and finds Octavia and Lincoln standing there, Lincoln expressionless and Octavia filled with concern. “Don’t look so worried.” she tells Octavia.

“Yeah?” the younger girl says sharply. “So Bell didn’t send you all to drag him back to the drop ship?” She moves in front of Lincoln, already protective. “Listen, he doesn’t speak our language, but he’s still a good guy. And tough as hell – look, he’s already standing on his injured leg.”

He is, though Clarke can see both the sweat covering his face and how most of his weight is on the other one. She turns to him, ignoring Octavia. “Anya?” she asks him, pretending that’s the only word she thinks he’ll know.

Finn and Wells are down the ladder by now. Wells frowns. “Anya?” he copies her, but looking at her instead of Lincoln.

“I asked someone inside the drop ship, they said one of the others with her said that name,” Clarke lies, keeping her eyes fixed on Lincoln. In fact she’d gone into the drop ship to tell Monty and Jasper to keep an eye on the place and give them her knives, but it was the only time she’d been without Finn and Wells so it was the best idea she had. She takes a step closer, still staring into Lincoln’s eyes. “Anya. Please. I need to speak with her. We’re not dangerous, we don’t have weapons. Well, besides this one. I just need to speak with her.”

Lincoln stares at her, expression carefully blank.

“Anya,” Clarke says again, low and dangerous. There’s still no response. With an exasperated sigh, she gestures at the others. “You have the rope, Finn. You three get to the top and lower it down, I’ll help him from here. We should be able to get him up without him having to climb.”

“No, Clarke, what if he hurts you?” Wells protested, looking at her in concern.

Finn touched his shoulder. “Hey,” he said firmly. “We’ll be watching from up there. And she’s got the gun. Come on, man, she’ll be fine.” There’s a pause, then Wells sighs and nods, apparently deciding to trust Finn, even if he can’t trust Lincoln.

Octavia pauses too. “I could stay down here…”

“Please, Octavia,” Clarke says shortly. “Climb the ladder.”

Octavia stares at her for several seconds, then stalks to the ladder and begins to climb, muttering rude words under her breath. Clarke ignores her. They don’t have time. Finn and Wells will fill her in when they get Lincoln up – as of now, Bellamy’s life depends on her getting Lincoln to take them to Anya. A Lincoln who has no reason to like them, trust them or help them.

But still Lincoln. A good person. That, she knows.

She looks at him. “Please,” she says quietly. “Come on. They’ve taken Octavia’s brother. I need your help to stop everyone from dying.”

Lincoln just stares at her, impassive.

They have no time. So Clarke does something very stupid. “Beja, Lincoln,” she says, lowering her voice until it’s only a whisper. There’s no way anyone above can hear it, but Lincoln can. “Ai liek Heda kom Skaikru. Bellamy no liek Heda. Ai gaf chich op Anya in.”

There is a long space while he gapes at her. Eventually he finds his voice. “How... what…”

“I did my best to say I want to speak to Anya,” she interrupts him, still quietly. At least he’s ditched the pretence of not knowing English. “Will you help with that?”

His mouth is set in a hard line, she’s not sure she’s ever seen Lincoln wear an expression like that. Even when they had been torturing him, his eyes hadn’t had that sheen of fear she sees now. “How do you know Trigedasleng?”

“I heard it in another life.”

He lets out a scornful laugh, keeping well back from her. “Another life. I see.”

“I promise you, I’m telling the truth,” Clarke says, her voice still soft. The rope is beside her now and she passes it to him. “Tie that onto yourself as comfortably as you can. We have a long way to go. You’re taking me to Anya.”

“Or what?” Lincoln says, his voice harsh. He looks exhausted, black circles showing up under his red eyes, barely able to stand on the leg that they wounded.

Clarke shrugs. “Or nothing. You leave – I won’t stop you, I can’t without threatening you, which I won’t do. I leave too. I don’t see Anya. A lot of people die. Someday we both look back and wonder, could we have stopped it? Well, you could have stopped it. Right now.” She meets his eyes and he blinks at the force of her gaze.

He lets out a sudden, tired laugh, pulling the rope to himself and beginning to tie it. “What are you?”

Clarke smiles up at him, hoping her fear and nerves don’t show in her expression. “Clarke kom Skaikru. Pleased to meet you.”

Clarke’s the only one who’s silent on the way there. Octavia and Lincoln talk in undertones now that she knows he can speak English, with Octavia apologising multiples times and Lincoln bestowing absolutely no blame. It doesn’t take them long to start sharing details about their lives, becoming more animated.

Meanwhile, Finn and Wells fill up the journey with quiet conversation about chess (Wells is teaching Finn) and plants (Finn wonders whether any of them make you high) and where they are (guesses range between a hundred miles from Mount Weather and five miles). Finn rags on Wells for being a stick in the mud and Wells makes fun of Finn for being an idiot, but it’s all joking, and Clarke feels lost because somehow in less than a week they’ve created a dialogue that she’s not part of at all. Because she is a hundred years older than them mentally speaking, and they are children playing games. It’s harder to banter when she knows what’s coming. She isn’t the same as Wells anymore, and somehow he’s sensed this and moved on. She can’t bond with Finn anymore out of fear, and he doesn’t care at all. They are gaping wounds to her but they don’t recognise the loss.

Bellamy doesn’t know her anymore. Lincoln is suspicious of her, Octavia’s friendship is based on lies. Jasper and Monty – this Jasper and Monty – make her feel like she’s babysitting, they are so young and undamaged. Murphy is still a dick and hasn’t grown at all, Anya never fought with her in the mud and bonded with her, Raven is up in the sky joining wires together and knows her only as Abby’s daughter. Lexa is in Polis, telling people love is a weakness and missing Costia with all her heart. And Clarke is all alone, empty and lost, her friends gone, only memories of bonds she had a long time ago and can never exist again.

Perhaps they’re alive. But they aren’t hers, anymore, and she hates herself for caring. Surely being alive ought to be good enough.

Then they’re staggering into the camp, Lincoln directing them. Clarke’s pretty sure that’s the only reason they aren’t shish-kebabed on the spot.

Still, weapons point at them from all angles. Guards, murmuring lowly in Trigedasleng, surround them.

“You have injured Linkon,” Anya says darkly, coming into Clarke’s vision, holding a giant sword as casually as if it’s a butter knife.

“Not on purpose,” Clarke says, keeping her eyes as wide and innocent as possible. “He can tell you.”

Lincoln nods, looking at Anya. “An accident, Anya,” he says gruffly. “And they attempted to heal me. This one -” he inclines his head towards Clarke. “Is an accomplished fisa.” Octavia, propping him up, looks almost hurt that he hasn’t acknowledged her, and Lincoln smiles down at her briefly. “And this one has a rare skill with a blade.”

Octavia beams, looking up at Lincoln as if he has single-handedly brought the Ark to Earth. Anya looks at him like he’s a traitor.

“I’m the leader of the Skaikru,” Clarke tells Anya. “It is me you should deal with. Release the people you took.” She says peoplemostly for the benefit of her listeners, aware the Trikru probably only have Bellamy.

“We only took one,” Anya says coldly, as expected. Her voice somehow manages to be both uncaring and disapproving. “The one they said was the leader.”

Octavia makes a little noise and breaks off staring at Lincoln to look at Anya instead. Apparently flirting with Lincoln isn’t quite as acceptable to her now that they don’t know where Atom is.

“Well, like I said. I’m the leader. And I’m here to deal.”

Anya looks at the people with her. “I see. Linkon, you confirm this is the leader?”

Lincoln looks at Clarke. The suspicion and fear is still in his eyes, but nevertheless he says, “Yes, it is, Anya.”

Anya nods. “I see,” she says again, too-sharp eyes eviscerating them all. “Then come.”

Clarke follows, and so do the others, like a guard. Clarke hopes that works to their advantage instead of gets them killed.

Anya raises a tent flap and ushers them in, then follows to say, “Heda, this is the leader of the Skaikru, come to talk. I apologise for my mistake in bringing you that boy.”

Clarke stares at Lexa. Mind blown.

Lexa stares at Clarke. Then looks away with a deep breath.

Clarke is used to attempting to read Lexa’s emotions, and what she thinks she sees is: shock for her. Indifference for Octavia, Lincoln, Wells. A brief second of anger for Finn. Her returned glance to Bellamy contains the same anger.

The thought pulses through Clarke’s mind – what is happening? Why is Lexa here? Why did those emotions show in her face? What is happening?

Then Lexa clears her throat. “Remove all from the room but I and the Heda kom Skaikru,” she orders, voice strangely rough and uncertain. “Now, Anya.”

And then it is just Clarke and the lover she watched die, staring at each other for an eternal moment.

Chapter Text

Lexa swallows hard. Here is Clarke, the Clarke, her Clarke. Clarke blonde and sleek, Clarke as she was before the death of the Mountain.

Clarke seems shocked – did she look like this the first time they met? Did she pull back, horrified by Lexa's warpaint and knife? Lexa cannot be sure. Perhaps not, perhaps Clarke was tougher then after months on the ground. But this Clarke's face is every bit as strong as the Clarke she remembers.

She looks at the people Clarke has brought with her this time.

Octavia and Linkon are not worth noting. They gaze at each other with the starry-eyed affection they demonstrated before, already well on the way towards mooning about each other like lovesick branwadas. Perhaps this time they will be the bridge between their people they failed to be in the past.

There is a tall dark-skinned boy, who looks at Clarke with affection. Lexa does not know him. That suggests he is irrelevant and can be safely disregarded. For the moment, at least. She notes he is strong and stands well, that perhaps he will be a good gona someday, and then moves on.

But there is also… Finn.

Lexa wonders what is wrong with her, what foolish maggot bored through her brain to make her forget that Clarke did not come to her alone and happy. Clarke first came to her broken and bleeding and tear-stained, broken by a love that ended in violence. It never occurred to her that by deliberately removing the violence from their interactions she would allow Clarke to be happy with her formerly deceased lover.

Finn is alive, his face not yet creased with contemplation about the killing he will do. Clarke must be happy with him – Clarke must have loved him very much, to so instantly forgive the murder of so many.

Clarke is different, now. She still has her love. If Lexa still had Costia, would she love Clarke? Perhaps not. Costia was warmth and childish giggles and the burns of a sunny day and Lexa before she was Heda. Clarke was war rooms and harsh decisions and stark eyes and fleeting moments of beauty and closeness. One was the love of just Lexa, the other was loved by Lexa and Heda alike. Innocent loves are the hardest to discard.

She does not know Finn, his flaws, his virtues, his dreams. All she knows is that he killed eighteen people for no reason. All she knows is that he died in front of her, at Clarke’s hands. Lexa watches as he leaves the room, and then returns her attention to Clarke. Clarke who is not her Clarke, Clarke who is. Clarke who does not remember, who is different. Does it matter? However different she may be with Finn here, she is Clarke, and that is all Lexa needs her to be.

Clarke’s eyes are blazing. “You took Bellamy.”

“I requested to speak to the leader of your people,” Lexa corrects, her foolish heart constricted and useless. She allows coldness to overtake her instead.

“I’m Clarke,” Clarke says, as if her name is not carved into Lexa’s soul. “I’m the leader of my people.” She meets Lexa’s eyes steadily, but there is something in them that is strange. A desperation in the way she stares.

Lexa smirks and plays with her knife, trying to avoid that searching gaze. “Then it is good of you to meet with me. What do you do here, Clarke kom Skaikru, on my land?”

“I’m sure Bellamy already filled you in,” Clarke counters. Her eyes flick to the knife, but return to tracing Lexa's face in a way that is both hungry and awed. Exactly how Lexa is trying not to look at her, in fact.

“Perhaps,” Lexa leans back against her chair, glad to feel in charge. “And perhaps you should also answer the question.”

“We were dropped from our home, the Ark, in order to see if this world is habitable. We don’t want to hurt anyone. We just want to survive, Lexa.” She says the words like she's learned them by rote in her few days on the ground, barely caring. But her eyes are still fixed on Lexa, still with that strange desperation. The uncaring words and the emotion-filled gaze are at odds with each other, Lexa thinks.

Lexa feels more uncomfortable, now that the stare has gone for so long. Clarke is so intense, looking at her this way. As if every movement and blink and breath by Lexa is something miraculous. She is not acting like someone negotiating with an enemy, she is acting like someone seeing something magical. A Ripa returned to life, or a Heda chosen.

And she used Lexa’s name. Who would have told her Lexa’s name? The only Trikru she has met are Anya and Linkon, who would never use her name with a stranger. A foolish, useless suspicion enters her head.

Surely the only thing to do with such a suspicion is to find a way to discount it immediately.

“Ha yu get ai nom in, Clarke Griffin?” she asks. How do you know my name, Clarke Griffin? She tacks Clarke’s whole name to the end of the sentence deliberately, watching for her reaction.

Clarke notices it, stiffens, appears to stop breathing for a second. She swallows hard and manages to speak again. “Ai mema yu nom in.” She says quietly. “Ai mema yu in.” I remember your name. I remember you.

It hangs in the air between them, this sudden and impossible shared knowledge. Perhaps they don’t remember exactly the same things – Lexa has no way to know how much memory Clarke has – but that they remember each other at all is enough of a shock that Lexa can barely breathe.

There is a moment of pure stillness, then she and Clarke are moving towards each other. Lexa folds Clarke’s body into her own, sinking her face into Clarke’s shoulder, breathing her in like air. Here is what she thought to never have again. The softness of Clarke against her. Lexa is shaking uncontrollably. Or maybe Clarke is. Or maybe they both are. It is impossible in this perfect moment to know where Lexa ends and Clarke begins, their soul is the same soul, their heartbeat a shared rhythm, their bodies intertwined, their choked uneven breaths a sobbed duet. They are matched, pressed together, the heat of Clarke warming Lexa to the core, melting the ice inside of her.

“You remember,” Clarke half-sobs into her shirt, pressing her face into Lexa’s shoulder, inhaling the scent of her and crying at the same time. “You remember me. You remember me. You remember me.” She chants it like a prayer.

Lexa is still unable to breathe properly, and she knows her face shows nothing but weakness, she’s glad Clarke is buried in her shirt and cannot see. She cannot imagine letting her arms release, they are iron bars around Clarke, holding her there desperately. Clarke squeezes her as if she will never let go either.

“I would never be able to forget you, Clarke,” Lexa whispers, closing her eyes against the tears that burn in them. Her choked breathing sounds like sobs. It is embarrassing, but she cannot help it, her weakness, her love, her pain. Here is Clarke, her Clarke, Clarke remembering, Clarke that she loves. The smell of sunshine in her hair and hard-gained strength in the lines of her face.

She presses Clarke harder against her, revelling in the feel of her, the reality. She has not known how to express it, but she has felt alone in this world. She has ignored it, since as the Commander she frequently knows things that no others can, but this has been different – knowing who will die, what will happen, how badly this world is broken. Yet here is someone who knows as well, and she is not alone.

Or she is more alone now. Because Finn is alive, and she cannot kill him, not when Clarke loves him and she knows Clarke loves him. Her feelings are a confused mess, all she knows is that Clarke is here and against her and she loves her so much.

Eventually they break apart, retreating to opposite sides of the room. Lexa needs the time to bring up her emotional barriers again. Perhaps Clarke does too.

“You remember?” Clarke says again, amazed, her voice husky.

“I do, Clarke kom Skaikru,” Lexa confirms. Her voice is tainted with emotion as well. “What happened? The last I recall is Titus in front of me, you there, me dying…” she lets her voice trail off, unwilling to examine the memories more closely.

Clarke takes a half step towards her, as if desperate to touch her again, but then pulls back. “Afterwards… I went up to the roof… I couldn’t…” she gives up on the sentence. “There was lightning, lightning hit me. I thought it was that which sent me back, it was a weird colour, and with everything…” she shrugs. “I don’t know, I thought maybe it was radiation, or the lightning, or a mix, or something else impossible, or I’d gone mad, I didn’t know anything, but you’re here…”

“You can think of no reason why I might too have been sent back?” Lexa says bluntly, desperate to know why this strange world has unfolded before her.

“I… no… maybe it’s that we both died, you by being shot and me by lightning…” Clarke’s voice cracks on this prosaic description of Lexa’s death, and it warms Lexa’s heart. Then Clarke freezes, eyes widening. “Or not. I had your blood on my hands.” She raises her hands, palm up, as if to show Lexa something. The rust red of old blood has sunk into the lines of her palms, Lexa is not sure what from. Clarke stares at them as if they’re revelatory. “I had your blood on my hands, literally. That could be it. If the lightning brought me back with my memories, maybe it brought you back too because of your blood. Could it be…? Are there legends about Nightbloods being able to do anything like that?”

She looks so hopeful for an explanation that Lexa is sorry to disappoint her. “No. When did you wake up? What time?”

“Uh… right before we were dropped down to Earth.”

Lexa nods. “Then it is your miracle, not mine, Clarke. I believe I woke up as your people fell to Earth. But for me, it was just an ordinary day. Whatever happened, it was due to the importance of the day for you.”

Clarke blinks. “Or… geographical closeness, maybe… when we were all close enough to the Earth for the first time… but I woke up before then…” She looks shocked, pale.

Lexa takes several steps forward and takes Clarke’s cold hands in hers. “Calm down,” she orders gently, warming Clarke’s hands between her own. She nearly raises them to her lips but stops at the last moment.

Finn exists. That knowledge is cold and bitter in her heart.

She chaffs Clarke’s hands, forcing warmth into them, and meets Clarke’s eyes squarely. “Something occurred. Do your people have information, stories, anything about movements in time?”

“I… no. Nothing real.”

“Then we cannot know,” Lexa says bluntly. “We must work with what we have. If this is a gift of knowledge, I do not intend to waste it.” She lets go of Clarke’s hands, feeling bereft at losing the touch of her, but meets her eyes anyway. “Perhaps we can prevent the deaths that haunt us.” Some, anyway: Lexa has years of deaths haunting her.

Clarke takes a deep breath. “Perhaps. Perhaps we can.” She looks into Lexa’s eyes, her own troubled. “But will that stop them haunting us?”

Lexa winces at the question, and takes one of Clarke’s hands again. “You know the answer to that, Clarke.” Her voice is gentle but firm. No matter who lives now that died before, the two of them still have the memories of what they have seen and done.

Clarke looks at her, pain in her blue eyes, but also hope. She clears her throat and squeezes Lexa’s hand, leaning into her unintentionally as she has done so many times. “Right,” she says croakily. “Where do we start?”

Chapter Text

Clarke’s still in shock, but she pulls herself together as best as she can. Lexa is here, alive, in front of her; Lexa remembers her. This is the first moment when she’s felt like this new world is the real one – painfully real, but beautifully so as well. “Where do we start?” she asks, reaching forward and squeezing Lexa’s hand again. It trembles in her grasp. The urge to touch her, to never stop touching her, is nearly overpowering. When she pulls away Clarke lets her go unwillingly, confused by her distance.

“With your people, the hundred you brought down with you,” Lexa says bluntly, moving away from her, turning so that she doesn’t have to look into Clarke’s eyes. “After we have considered how to deal with them, we can make plans for the rest of the Skaikru, the Maunon, and the Azgeda.”

“And your people as well,” Clarke can be just as blunt. “It’s not like none of them are threats.”

The name ‘Titus’ hovers between them, unspoken.

Lexa frowns. “A few are, perhaps. For the most part, my people follow my orders. Provided I do not show weakness, they will continue to do so.”

“So we’re back to jus drein, jus daun?” she doesn’t allow herself to sound judgemental of this. Clarke’s mouth tastes sour at the thought of it, but she can also understand why Lexa might not want to go down this path again. Last time, Clarke and her people got all of the benefits of blood must not have blood, whereas Lexa – well, she paid the price for Clarke’s ideals. Blood must not have blood, but there was blood, Lexa’s blood. All over her hands. Her fault.

“No,” Lexa says. “But this time I wish to introduce this new idea with small acts of forgiveness, instead of telling my people they must accept those who slaughtered their friends and family. I also plan to increase guards at my tower, restrict the powers Titus has, and restrict the access for several others such as Gustus.” She looks fierce but also sure. “I believe in my people, I believe they will follow and obey me. But that does not mean I will not take precautions, this time.”

“Okay,” Clarke says with a firm nod. “That’s sorted then. I think we can handle my people quite easily too. If you send Lincoln and maybe ten or twenty other warriors who you can trust to treat us well to the drop ship for protection, and have people from TonDC bring food to us, none of them are likely to attack you. Especially without weapons. Then, when everyone else comes down, we can make it clear the land is a gift from the Trikru -”

Clarke stops. Lexa is already shaking her head.

“I am well aware of the value of Skaikru gratitude,” Lexa says, voice filled with sarcasm.

“Mockery is the product of a weak mind, Lexa,” Clarke snaps back.

Lexa inclines her head. “Yes, I should not have spoken so. But truly, Clarke, when has helping your people worked out well for mine?”

“That’s unfair,” Clarke bristles. “You didn’t give us a reason to be grateful in the… in the other world.”

“I gave your people land, a place in our alliance, my fealty, and repeated forgiveness for their crimes.”

“But you also left us at the Mountain.” It hurts Clarke’s heart to say the words, even quietly. It’s a bruise she’s not sure will ever heal, even though she understands the reason for it. It’s always going to be a sore spot, somehow.

Lexa sighs. “Yes. I did do that.” There’s a moment of silence before Lexa speaks again. “You think the best of your people, Clarke, I know that. But the scheme you describe will not work. Your people would fear the warriors sent to help you, see them as captors instead of carers. Your people falling from the sky would not be grateful for the land – they would view it as their right. They see the Earth as theirs and my people as savages.”

She isn’t wrong, not really, not entirely. “And your people view mine as invaders. You can’t see past our language and weapons. So what would you suggest, Lexa?”

“I suggest we take away your language and weapons,” Lexa says coolly.

“You… what?”

“I would like for your people – the hundred goufas you have with you – to be moved to Polis.”

“What for?” Clarke is confused, it is far from what she expected.

Lexa meets Clarke’s eyes squarely. “The youngest can be fostered to parents who had to leave out their yongons for the forest to claim, or have lost them in some other way. Some older ones can become Sekons, like Octavia, if they have the spirit to. Or they may have skills from their life in the skai – mending, growing, making – that would make them useful apprentices. There are also not enough teachers of gonasleng in Polis, many of your people could do that.”

“You want to completely immerse them into your people?” Clarke says.

“It will give them an understanding of our culture.”

“It will give you a hundred hostages, you mean!” Clarke sees Lexa flush very slightly, and wonders if she’s hit on Lexa’s plan exactly.

“That too,” Lexa admits. “I saw how much your people valued your friends when they were trapped in the Mountain. I suspect they will hesitate to attack my people if their own may be scattered amongst them.”

“Lexa, I don’t…” Clarke begins.

Lexa sees Clarke’s doubtful expression, and continues more passionately. “Clarke, in the previous world the only Skaikru who tried to understand my people are you, Octavia and Marcus Kane. The only ones of my people who spent real time with yours were Indra, Linkon and I. We did not all just lose position from this – we lost far more. Our people need to integrate. Not in a year, two years, five. Now.”

Clarke considers this. She agrees with Lexa in that their people need to learn to understand each other. It took her time with first Anya and then Lexa to finally realise the foolishness of her long-ago speech to the 100 insisting they weren’t Grounders. She had allowed herself to see them as vicious savages for a while because it was easier that way. And it was even easier for the rest of the Arc to see them that way, as beasts who didn’t deserve this beautiful world, as monsters who threatened children. Instead of just people, doing their best to survive with what they had.

“We’ll need to stay close until Raven comes down, or leave someone here for her. And if I agree to this idea, then when the rest of my people fall to the ground in a month, you transport anyone who wants to return to them back to Arkadia,” she says finally. “They won’t be hostages, they’ll be… well, ambassadors. Anyone who wants to leave Polis should have the choice.”

“And if they all return?” Lexa asks.

“Then there’ll be a hundred people in Arkadia who know that Grounders aren’t so different from us,” Clarke says firmly. “But I think some will choose to stay if their treatment there is good – they’re all considered criminals on the Ark and quite a few have no parents or status to go back to. And you saw how far my people went to get forty-seven of them back from the Mountain, so if even half stay, you’ve still won. We just need to make sure we match people up with things they’ll enjoy doing and with people who’ll treat them well. And make sure they’re safe.”

“We can do that, I think,” Lexa says softly. “I will make it clear I value them and that any harm to them will be harshly punished. But your people have also not harmed mine yet, and given you do not have guns…” She trails off in question.

“We don’t,” Clarke admits. “Not yet, anyway.”

“That is good. I believe my people will be much more willing to accept yours now than they were in the old world, Clarke. It will help if more than just Octavia learn to be gonas. My people respect warriors greatly.”

Clarke thinks of Bellamy, Murphy, Miller and the others, all eager to swagger up and throw axes and knives at the trees. Without fear of the Grounders or the raw, instant power of the guns, they might well be interested in learning how to fight properly. “Bellamy and some of the others might consider it.”

“Not Bellamy,” Lexa says flatly, voice dark. “Not Finn either. I will not have them as gonas or hunters, nothing with the use of a weapon.”

“They aren’t the people they were,” Clarke objects. “They can be trusted. I’m not going to go missing again, the Mountain isn’t going to be destroyed again… they’re not the same people.”

“Yes, they are. They are still people who under certain conditions can kill innocents in cold blood. You aim to prevent some of those conditions – the upsetting things that you believe caused their actions. Well, upsetting things happen to us all. I would prefer to prevent every condition just in case. So I do not want them near weapons.”

Clarke sucks in a breath, ready to continue protesting, then lets it out. Maybe they will be better this time, less dangerous. But she can’t know that. The truth is, her protests are more about her own guilt – not just at what Bellamy and Finn did in the past world, but what she did. She wants Lexa to be wrong, the deaths not to haunt her anymore. She wants her guilt to be magically wiped away.

But what can’t be wiped away is knowledge. She knows what she is capable of. She knows she can kill. She knows what they’re capable of, too. She can’t let them become those people again.

“You’re right,” she says. “I’ve got a few names to add to that list, too.” Charlotte, for example. Maybe Murphy, though she’s not sure what he could do instead.

“Yet you still look concerned,” Lexa says. “You still do not like this.”

“My reasons for not liking this plan are selfish,” she admits. “We haven’t had time to become a real group, the 100, like we used to be. Spread out across Polis, maybe we never will. Some of the people I was closest to, the ones I cared about the most, I might never get to really know in this world.”

She can’t tell what Lexa is thinking at all when the other girl looks at the ground and frowns. “If we succeed, you will have many years to become close to them again. And you can return to them, and to the boy you love, after we have dealt with all of this,” Lexa offers. “I know it may take time, but they should be safe in Polis.”

Clarke flushes. So that was why Lexa hadn’t kissed her earlier. Of course, she could have kissed Lexa, that was her choice too, but she had also worried that something between them had changed for some reason. Like her causing Lexa’s death. “In this world, Finn and I aren’t like that.” She uses her hand to lightly raise Lexa’s chin so that they are gazing into each other’s eyes and her face feels even warmer at the look in them. “I moved on from him a while ago.”

It sounds harsh to say that about someone she’s killed. But it’s honest.

“Oh,” Lexa says softly, but with so much quiet joy that a smile spreads across Clarke’s face and she suddenly has no more worries about them at all.

They lean in towards each other. Clarke’s breathing quickens and she raises one hand to cup the back of Lexa’s head, marvelling at the silkiness of her hair, as her other hand finds a natural spot to rest on the curve of Lexa’s hip. Lexa responds by placing a hand at the small of her back, and another at the back of her neck, lightly stroking the skin there until Clarke shivers. Lexa’s eyes flick down to her lips for a millisecond before they crash together, the warmth becoming wildfire.

Their bodies are pressed together so hard it almost feels like it could bruise, and Clarke wants it, she wants that bruise as proof that Lexa is alive, she’s alive. She wants Lexa against her, pushed together, perfect. She fists the hand in Lexa’s hair, pulling slightly, and Lexa lets out a tiny whimper and forces Clarke’s mouth open with her own, biting at her lower lip desperately. Lightning races between them. Clarke moans into the kiss, pure relief in her voice, heat burning down into her stomach.

“Heda? You have been some time. May I enter?”

It’s Anya’s voice, too loud, at the tent flap, and they’re jerking away from each other like guilty teenagers caught by their parents. The absurdity is compounded when Anya enters to find them flushed and at opposite ends of the tent, Clarke fiddling with her sleeve, Lexa’s attention deliberately on her knife as she toys with it instead of the girl across from her.

This is clearly karma for Clarke being so critical of the others’ teenage hormones. She sneaks a guilty glance at Lexa and Anya looks between the two of them, visibly confused.

“Has a decision been reached?” Anya says carefully. She’s already reaching for her weapon.

“Yes,” Lexa says. “One has.”

Chapter Text

Clarke’s not sure if she should find the quiet crowd of Trikru behind her ominous or comforting. They wait at the edge of the drop ship’s clearing as her, Bellamy, Octavia, Finn and Wells continue to stagger towards the others. Lexa at their head (looking dangerous even standing perfectly still) helps her relax, but Anya’s judgemental stare from beside her goes a long way towards negating that.

Several of the delinquents look on the verge of fleeing – either out into the forest or into the drop ship to try and fortify it. “It’s all right,” Clarke calls out, her exhaustion colouring her words. It’s her fault, really – it’s late at night now, and between the bunker and trekking all around the area she didn’t exactly get a good night’s sleep last night. “They’re not here to hurt us, I promise.”

Bellamy throws a derisive glance her way, but doesn’t disagree. Whether or not he thinks the Trikru are dangerous, he’s not so stupid as to incite their meagre population against the army of warriors behind them. “Yeah. Everyone out here, now.”

The people hidden in the drop ship come out in twos or threes, visibly hesitant, but eventually the clearing fills.

“What’s happening?” whimpers Charlotte, her voice grating on Clarke’s tired ears.

Bellamy smiles at her, however. “Hey, hey, it’s fine, didn’t I just say? Come on, kid, what happened to slaying those demons?” He pats her head like she’s a much younger child and she huddles into his side.

“Clarke, you’re back,” Monty gives her a genuine smile, nearly displacing the worry on his face for a split second. “With a lot of people.”

“Yeah,” Jasper says a little shakily. “A lot.” He stares at them worriedly but then forces his usual carefree grin. “Some of them are warrior women. Do you think they like nerds?”

Clarke’s just grateful he lowered his voice, because she has no idea how Lexa’s people would react to that one. But the joke does seem to lower the tension a bit as several of the other guys chuckle. “Listen up, everyone,” she says firmly. “These are the Trikru. The woman in the front is the Heda, which is their word for Commander. She’s in charge of – well, basically as far as we could go in nearly every direction.” The crowd begins to murmur to each other, quiet expressions of panic overlapping throughout the group.

“What’s she doing here?” Miller says.

“She wants to offer us a home,” Clarke says simply.

It’s the first time anyone but Clarke has heard exactly what’s going on, since she hadn’t filled the others in on the way and they hadn’t pressed her while they were surrounded by Grounders. She’d just said it would be fine, and Wells at least had believed her, she wasn’t sure about the others.

“We have a home,” Wells objects, looking at her like she’s gone insane.

“Some of us do,” Murphy says sourly.

“The Ark will come down eventually, we can’t just take off from here,” Wells continues, ignoring Murphy. “They won’t be able to find us.”

Now the hubbub of conversation rose as everyone started arguing – some saying the Ark wasn’t coming down, others wishing it wouldn’t, some panicking about where to go.

“Quiet,” Clarke says, raising her voice. “I have no intention of leaving the Ark not knowing where we are. The Heda says we can leave several people at a nearby town just in case Pascal, Trina and Atom turn up, and they can keep an eye out for any messages as well. This is just so we have beds to sleep in and food to eat so we survive long enough for that to matter. If – when – they do come down, she also says we’ll be free to either stay in the Grounder capital Polis or to come rejoin our people. Our choice.”

She can see some of them starting to smile, despite their nerves. The lure of food and proper sleep is undeniable. “We can even bathe,” she adds for additional bribery.

“Without any river monsters?” one of the younger ones calls out. “But how will we get properly clean?” Now there’s some more laughter. Gradually, the fear of the stern warriors behind them is ebbing away, probably helped by the fact that a gesture of Lexa’s has caused all weapons to be reluctantly dropped.

“Okay,” Clarke continues. “It will take two days to walk to Polis, and we can stay overnight at a place called TonDC. The plan is to leave tomorrow morning. Everyone should get their things together and get some sleep. Heda has promised that her warriors will stand guard so we don’t need to worry about mountain lions or anything.” She turns and nods to Lexa, the agreed upon signal.

Lexa nods back and strides forwards, Anya and ten warriors matching her pace. “Greetings, Sky People,” she says. Her voice is quiet, but it hardly matters since everyone had gone silent the second she moved. “I believe you will like Polis. We will try and find families for you to stay with or empty houses for you to share, and trades for you to learn if you wish. We have brought dried meat to give you strength for the trip tomorrow.” Two Grounders behind her heave off backpacks and open them. They’re filled with the Trikru version of jerky, which Clarke knows from experience is far tastier than any food the 100 have managed to produce since they got to the ground.

There’s a pause where no one wants to be the first to go near the group of Grounders, then before Bellamy can stop her Octavia strides forward and grabs some strips of meat. She throws one to Jasper and one to Monty and bites into her own. “Delicious,” she says through a mouthful, looking back at the others like she’s daring them to come join her. Then all of the 100 are coming forward, bickering over how many pieces they get each, some snatching them off their neighbours.

“Goufas,” Clarke hears Anya hiss to Lexa.

“Shof op, Anya,” Lexa replies, not looking away from Clarke.

Clarke flushes at the hidden warmth of her stare, then turns to her side when someone grabs her arm. It’s Bellamy. “We need to talk,” he says to her in an undertone, and drags her into the drop ship, nearly bruising her arm. She manages to turn her head and give Lexa a reassuring look before they’re inside, and Lexa lets her hand slide off the hilt of her sword.

“What the hell, Clarke,” he says once they’re in there, sounding so much like Octavia that for once she can really see their family resemblance.

Speaking of Octavia… “What’re you guys talking about?” She follows them into the drop ship, Monty and Jasper at her heels, all still tearing at the jerky cheerfully.

“Great, it’s a party,” Bellamy says sarcastically as Finn and Wells climb in too.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Wells says to Clarke quietly.

Clarke smiles at him. “I needed to talk to you too.” She takes a deep breath. “I need you to stay at TonDC. I want you to be one of the people we leave here to keep an eye out for the others.”

“Are you staying here?”

“No.”

“Then I’m not either.”

“Yes, you are,” Clarke says fiercely. “Please, Wells. I need someone I trust here, and I need you to be safe.” She swallows. “There’ll be less opportunity for me and Finn to keep an eye on you in Polis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the others – Murphy, for example – did something to hurt you. Stay here. I’ll come back soon.” She meets his reluctant eyes and says “Please” again.

Because he’s Wells, he backs down. “All right,” he says, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze.

“I’ll stay with him,” Finn volunteers.

Clarke really doesn’t think Lexa will like that. She’s not sure she does, either – there’s something creepy about the idea of Finn staying in TonDC, among the people he killed in the last world, spending time with the families he tore apart. But she hasn’t got a good reason to say no, and she’s fairly sure Wells can hold him in check. “Okay. Jasper, Monty, I was hoping you’d be the other people to stay.”

Jasper blinks. “What? Why?”

“If the Ark do try and communicate with us, you have the best skillset to help with it,” Clarke explains. “Anya’s unit will be taking you around the area to try and find Pascal, Trina and Atom, I was hoping at the same time you could look for any bits of technology that could help.” If for some reason Raven doesn’t come down, or comes down later, they need a back-up plan. While she doesn’t think she’s changed anything on the Ark yet, she can’t be sure.

Jasper gives a cocky grin. “My skills are at your disposal, milady.” It’s shocking to see him as this carefree guy again, every time she does.

“My skills, you mean,” Monty rolls his eyes.

“Our skills,” Jasper amends, and they grin at each other.

“I want to stay, too,” Octavia says suddenly. “I want to help find Atom.”

“If she’s staying, I’m staying,” Bellamy chimes in immediately, looking at his little sister.

Clarke looks at the others. “I need to speak with Bellamy and Octavia alone, if that’s okay.” From the sound of it the food is nearly eaten outside. She wonders if Lexa kept any for her…. But of course she did. Clarke is so tired that food seems a lower priority right now, anyway. “Could you keep the others out of here for the moment?”

Wells hesitates, then nods and starts herding the others out.

When they’re gone Clarke faces the siblings. “You have to go,” she tells Octavia.

“Why?” She challenges. “I want to find Atom, and I’ve already made a friend among the Grounders -”

Clarke doesn’t mince matters. “Because if you don’t go, he won’t go.”

Bellamy frowns. “Of course I won’t. But why would I go anyway? I don’t trust these guys, Clarke. You don’t know what they want.”

“I know what they don’t want,” Clarke snaps, “They don’t want us all dead, because if they did, we already would be.”

“That already makes them better than the Ark,” Octavia points out to her brother, already defending the Trikru. “Since the Ark did kinda want me dead.”

“And now they want him dead,” Clarke points at Bellamy.

There’s a second’s pause and then Bellamy makes a scoffing noise. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Princess.”

“No? Don’t I?” Clarke says. “You turned up on the drop ship with a gun. That tells me you did something very illegal and probably very stupid.” He looks surprised by her statement. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, Bellamy. What we need to figure out is how to keep you getting in trouble for it.”

“What do you care?”

“I care about Octavia,” Clarke says, and Octavia smiles for a brief second. “But I also care about the guy who helped keep us alive down here. You’re an ass, Bellamy, but you don’t deserve what they’ll do to you.” They can worry about making the same deal for him again later. For now, this is the best idea she has.

Bellamy looks uncertain, but pulls up his jerkish façade again. “So your suggestion is to run off and become a Grounder?”

“Yes,” Clarke says simply. “I asked, and Lexa – Heda -” she clarifies at their confused expressions, “Is prepared to protect you from the Ark if you become one of them. I told her that you’d make an excellent teacher, that you could teach the children of Polis better English. They need teachers.”

“You think I can teach?” Bellamy lets out a crack of mocking laughter, but now his insecurity was plainly visible on his face.

Clarke shrugs. “You taught Octavia, didn’t you?”

He has no reply to that. “A teacher, huh?” He says, after a long and thoughtful pause.

“You managed to lead us, you took care of Charlotte. Whatever else I think about you, I know you could make a fantastic teacher, Bellamy,” Clarke says softly. It's not a lie, not really. But the truth is there weren't many options - once you remove violence, weaponry, or anything to do with leadership, Bellamy doesn't have a lot of skills. Except for looking after children, courtesy of helping to raise Octavia. His affection for Charlotte was also one of the first positive things she noticed about him in the original world.

“You’re both ignoring what I want,” Octavia growls. “I’m not going to be a teacher. I want to stay here, with Jasper and Monty and Lincoln.” She doesn’t refer to Finn or Wells, who she hasn’t spent time with since their first day on the ground.

“How about you come with us for a while, help Bellamy settle in, see if you like Polis,” Clarke suggests. “Once we know it’s safe, then if you want you can come back with me in a week or so to check how the guys are going.”

She begs Octavia with her eyes not to make this difficult. She’s so tired, and she needs Bellamy not to be in the area when Raven comes down. The radio can't be thrown away again, the people above can't be culled for oxygen. Not this time. She needs him as far away as possible.

There’s a pause. “Okay,” Octavia says grudgingly. She flashes Bellamy a quick grin anyway. “I guess if I let him go off alone he’ll just get in trouble.”

“Hey!” Bellamy says, giving her a half-smile in return. “I’m right here, O!”

Clarke lets herself slide down the wall to the floor, suddenly too tired to stand now that everything’s been dealt with.

She feels a smile tugging at her face, even as she smothers a huge yawn. This moment feels so nice, so warm. She has Lexa – Wells – Bellamy – Octavia – Jasper – Finn – Monty – all alive, all alive and happy, it’s too much. If she could just stay awake – keep her eyes open – hear more –

But her eyes slide shut and the siblings’ happy banter gradually fades away as sleep takes over.

Chapter Text

“Here we are,” Lexa says unnecessarily as they enter TonDC. Really, she just says it because she wants to talk to Clarke, but their communication is made so difficult by all the ears around, and the need not to reveal all they know. There is so little she can say. So she says the obvious just to speak.

Clarke looks around and echoes “Here we are.” Her tone is surprised.

Lexa suddenly realises that TonDC must look nothing like what Clarke remembers. There’s no glaring Trikru, no pyre, no aftereffects of a missile, no gonakru gathered with spears. An army worth of warriors is here, yes, but there is a world of difference between the attitude of gonas going up against the Mountain and the attitude of those here for a handful of bandits. Though they straighten and quieten somewhat at Lexa’s arrival, the sounds of laughter and chatter can be heard and none bristle with the aggression Clarke must be used to.

All Clarke has seen in TonDC is violence: this is the first time she sees Indra’s village as it is. Just a village, a beautiful small village filled with Trikru going about their evening, teasing each other and swigging their drinks and training and flirting and enjoying themselves. Children run in the growing darkness, playing foolish games, sticks as swords. Their yells and giggles can be heard from far away.

It is wonderful, for Lexa to be able to see her world through Clarke’s eyes and for once find nothing to be ashamed of.

Lexa wonders if someday she will also get to see the best of Clarke’s world, the peaceful, friendly Ark that she sometimes suspects is a figment of Wanheda’s imagination.

Lexa dismounts. They do not have many horses, but her dignity meant she could not walk and give her mount to a struggling Skai child. She had, however, loaded as many of their packs onto the horse as she could, and ordered the other riding Trikru to carry as many of them as possible too. Few Skaikru carried a pack any more. Clarke, walking beside her, is one such, despite Lexa’s quiet entreaties. She claimed to be trying to build muscle.

“Indra,” Lexa says, allowing her expression to soften slightly at the other woman. Indra bows, glancing at her company with a frown. “We must speak alone. Clarke, wait here. You also, Anya.”

She walks forward, following Indra to the tent they always have these discussion in. “Heda,” Indra greets her quietly.

“Did you find what I asked you to look for?” Lexa says quietly. It was a last moment request before she left TonDC before, a final flash of inspiration. From that morning Indra has had less than three days to find them. A difficult task.

“Sha,” Indra says, troubled. She unhooks a pouch from her belt and passes it to Lexa. “Six of them.”

Lexa ties the pouch to her belt, making sure it is secure. “No one knows anything?”

“Nothing at all, Heda,” Indra says.

Which means that anyone Indra involved in this task is safe to trust with the secret, or that they are dead. Most likely the first – Indra is rarely cruel. Lexa nods. “Mochof, Indra.” Indra still looks troubled, so Lexa continues. “No doubt you wonder about my company.”

“I received your messenger,” Indra says. “People who fell from the sky.” She sniffs, disapproving.

“They may be our key to taking on the Mountain,” Lexa says. “I promise, you and Anya both will be involved in any agreements I make about the land around here.” She strides to the tent flap, pulls it open, and orders “Bring Clarke,” to the warrior waiting outside.

“I am unsure about trusting these… Skaikru. How can they help us against the Mountain? There are so few of them.”

“More will arrive soon, I think,” Lexa says quietly.

Clarke enters the room just as Indra makes a disgusted noise. “Hei,” she says, meeting Indra’s dark eyes squarely. “Ai laik Clarke kom Skaikru.”

Indra blinks. “They know our language in the sky?”

Clarke shakes her head. “I asked one of the gonas for some basic words and phrases. I wanted to greet you in your language, not the language of the Mountain.”

“Indra was just about to tell me how her efforts watching the Mountain go,” Lexa says idly. She gives the other woman a meaningful look when Indra pauses, concerned about continuing in front of Clarke.

“You said not to take risks with those I assign, Heda. We have watched as best we can from safety and made notes. I believe them to be more active than normal, a small group have already made a trip to the west, but we could not see where to or why. I will need more time to get anything that may be used.”

Lexa inclines her head. “Continue your work, then, Indra. Keep your scouts safe above all else, I do not wish them to know we are watching instead of just hiding. Also, have you decided which hundred gonas you will keep to hunt Ripas with?”

Indra nods stiffly. “I have, Heda.”

“My people will be able to cure them when they come down,” Clarke says. “I promise.”

“So should we start taking them now?” Indra asks, a slight edge of sarcasm in her voice. “Cage them up, so the rest of the Skaikru can work their magic the instant they fall from the stars?”

“Better to wait,” Clarke replies smoothly, ignoring the hostility in Indra’s tone. “They’ll just make more if you begin stealing them away. We want to be able to take as large a number as possible at once, so they can’t replenish their numbers quickly enough.”

Lexa admires her Skai girl. So quick, so diplomatic, so wise. No wonder she had been able to match wits with Lexa, a seasoned Commander, after only weeks on the ground.

“We will take down the Mountain this year, Indra,” Lexa says softly, and there is a promise in her words. “I believe this.”

Indra inhales sharply, then manages a grim smile. “Sha, Heda.”

“On more thing, Indra,” Lexa continues. “I will be leaving some of the Skaikru with you and Anya while I am in Polis. They are to stay in TonDC at night, protected, and Anya will take them out in the daytime to look for three of their group that have gone missing.”

“They’re probably dead,” Clarke says, and coughs to hide the quiver of emotion in her voice.

Lexa knows that Clarke hardly knew any of the dead. She also knows that the failure hurts her anyway. But Clarke is strong, and will manage.

“Speak to your people, Indra,” Lexa says. “Make them understand that the Skaikru remaining are not to be hurt in any way. They are to be treated as if they were members of Trikru, bound by the same laws but protected by them as well. However, if they go to disobey a law, make sure they know of it first, and do not punish them if they have broken a law in ignorance.”

Indra nods. “My people will not disobey you, Heda.”

“I know that, Indra.” Lexa says. “Also, I discovered why Linkon has not been here recently. He has been working as a scout for Anya, watching the Skaikru.”

“Hmm,” Indra says, not smiling, but Lexa can see the pride in her expression anyway.

“He has been injured by an accident with a knife, but will survive,” Lexa continues. “We brought him here on horseback. Clarke is a fisa and has done her best to heal him, but he could probably use Nyko’s attention as well.”

“It will be done, Heda,” Indra says, as if she wouldn’t have treated Linkon without the order. Her stubborn refusal to admit any affection for him amuses Lexa.

Lexa sighs. “It has been a long day dealing with the Skaikru. I could use a place to rest. I am aware that there are not many houses free and that many will have to sleep on the ground, but any covered places to rest you can find for the younger Skaikru would also be appreciated. Speak to the warriors, see how many we can fit in the tents.”

She hesitates. While she is tired, and has no doubt many of the others are as well, a part of her wants to truly show Clarke TonDC. Before she can reconsider, she says, “Also, tell your people to start a bonfire, and open two of the barrels of fayowada. I will bring replacements from Polis in a week.”

Indra bows her head and leaves the tent.

Clarke quirks an eyebrow. “A bonfire, Lexa?”

“Fire does not only mean death to my people, Clarke, but also celebration,” Lexa says. “And I for one would greatly like to celebrate your return to me.”

“Oh,” Clarke says softly. She pulls Lexa in closer to her, leans their foreheads against each other. “And fayowada? That means fire water, right?”

“Sha,” Lexa breathes.

“Why, Commander, are you trying to get me drunk?” Clarke smiles, her lips only an inch from Lexa’s.

Lexa flushes. “Of course not, Clarke. That would be wrong. I do not encourage any of your people to drink to excess, given our day of walking tomorrow. I merely wish to give my gonas and your Skaikru a good night, allowing them to enjoy this new alliance…” She’s babbling, Lexa realises. She’s the Commander. She does not babble.

“Lexa,” Clarke says, pressing a soft kiss on the very corner of Lexa’s mouth. “Shof op, please.”

Clarke presses her lips more fully to Lexa’s, in a long, sweet kiss that utterly removes Lexa’s ability to talk, or indeed to think. Her hand at the back of Lexa’s neck caresses it, and her eyes fill with tears.

“What’s wrong?” Lexa manages. Clarke’s thumb is rubbing slowly up and down exactly the spot where the Commander spirit resides within her.

“Thank you for being here with me,” Clarke whispers. A tear runs down her face. “I just… I keep thinking… I nearly lost you. To something so meaningless, so stupid. The wrong place at the wrong time and it was all my fault.”

“You did not lose me, Clarke,” Lexa takes Clarke’s other hand, and presses it to her heart. “None of it was your fault, and you did not lose me. I am right here.”

Clarke smiles, and kisses her again, then sighs and pulls away. “We shouldn’t stay here too long. It’s suspicious.”

“Yes,” Lexa pulls her in again and kisses her quickly, then steps back. “Come and see TonDC in peacetime, Clarke kom Skaikru. I think you will like it.”

Chapter Text

TonDC in peacetime turns out to be nearly as destructive as TonDC in wartime to the 100.

The fayowada proves to be almost dangerously strong, so Clarke’s memories are warm and blurred, a pleasant haze of intoxication over the events, but she can remember the feeling of it all. She remembers the heat of the fire burning her face, Lexa’s quiet, amused voice in her ear, the loud laughter bursting out of different groups, the contentment in the air, music and dancing and wrestling and drinking going on in every direction she looks.

At the start of the night Skaikru and Trikru were separate, but the powerful liquor and air of celebration had infected them all by the end. Some of the older Sekons joined in Monty and Jasper’s impromptu drinking game. A group of gonas started teaching some of the 100 the words for a dirty song in Trigedasleng. A Skaikru girl started flirting with one of the TonDC youths who was part of the wrestling competition going on and their groups of friends began talking. It was a look at how the world could be this time, hopefully. It was just… nice.

However, the niceness presented its bill in the morning. Clarke still has a slight headache now, and she partook very lightly compared to some of the others. The day has been filled with arguing and complaints from the hungover and tired Skaikru. Lexa simply orders her gonas to shof op when they complain: Clarke doesn’t have that option. So she’s spent the whole day helping to settle minor quarrels and mentally cursing everyone for speaking too loudly.

When they get to Polis, Clarke is exhausted. Lexa has promised to help train her up – a generous offer, because she normally only trains Natblidas – but for the moment she’s as weak as a kitten. Months in solitary confinement haven’t done her any favours, but even before that there wasn’t a whole lot of exercise on the Ark. No space, for one; for another, they couldn’t afford the extra protein and carbs required to build muscle. So they were all slender but soft.

She spares a moment to envy Wells, Finn, Jasper and Monty, staying comfortably at TonDC. Lexa had, after some discussion, allowed Finn to remain in TonDC (largely because Clarke was smart enough to wait until after two mugs of fayowada), but she’d left orders with Indra and Anya that none of the Skaikru there were to be trusted with weaponry. Wells, meanwhile, had accepted Clarke leaving much more evenly than she’d expected him to – it was like her forgiving him had somehow helped him reach closure. She wondered if he’d thought for the past year that if it weren’t for that, she would fall in love with him, but now he had the proof she wouldn’t. Or maybe it was just that she’d changed, and even if he was attributing it to her solitary confinement, he couldn’t help but notice it.

They’d hugged goodbye, like old friends, like best friends. Promised each other they’d stay safe. Then left each other without too much fuss.

Clarke can’t help comparing it to the boy who got arrested to stay with her.

Once they’re in Polis Lexa steers her into her old ambassador room, and tucks her into the bed in a way that’s not at all Commander-like. “Sleep, Clarke,” she murmurs in her soft voice. “Get some rest.”

She claws her way back to consciousness for a second to say “The others?”

“In the lower levels, for the moment,” Lexa replies. “We’ll find other places for them tomorrow.”

Clarke nods, or maybe just dreams she nods, and when she next opens her eyes the whole world is bright and there’s a knock on her door.

She tries to get out of bed but instead just manages to roll onto the floor (well done, Clarke) and calls out “Come in” anyway because she knows it’s Lexa and she doesn’t have to be too dignified with Lexa.

It’s not Lexa.

Gustus bows his head for a second, then raises it again and looks at her in a way that’s not at all as docile as the gesture of respect made him seem. “Good morning, Clarke kom Skaikru.”

“Just Clarke is fine,” Clarke yawns, forcing herself to her feet. “Where are my people? Are they awake yet?”

“Being awakened now, on Heda’s orders,” Gustus says, his voice stressing the last bit as if worried she’ll try and countermand Lexa.

She’s not that stupid. “Okay, take me to them,” she says instead, deciding she can worry about little things like changing clothes and bathing later. If they’re sorting out where her people are going she should be there.

In front of the building, a large space has been cleared, the food-sellers ordered back, so that the 100 can be there. Every single one of them looks more awake than Clarke – but then, they hadn’t had to stay up until near-dawn in TonDC trying to persuade Lexa that Finn wouldn’t (and, in fact, couldn’t) slaughter the town.

Lexa moves into view. She looks far more awake than Clarke as well.

Clarke wonders if it’s being a Nightblood, or being used to very little sleep after years of being the Commander, or if it’s just one of Lexa’s personality traits. Then, when Lexa gives her a slightly-too-amused look at her dishevelled appearance, she stops wondering and just focuses on glaring at Lexa.

Gustus clears his throat. “On Heda’s orders, sent by messenger, I have found places as a yongon, apprentice or Sekon for you all. Heda believes that through talk with Clarke kom Skaikru -” he casts a slightly disparaging glance at Clarke – “you can choose which will take each role. She is to have final say. They include tichas, gonas -”

The list is reasonably long. Even better, it includes nothing that Clarke thinks would make people actively try and leave Polis. She’s not sure who she could sell the idea of being a sanitation worker or something to (though the thought of forcing Murphy to do it is kind of enjoyable. And since his nose is still broken, the smell wouldn’t bother him).

The rest of the morning is long and filled with arguments. Bellamy becomes a teacher as promised, Miller becomes a gona, Charlotte is given to a couple who lost their child, Clarke flags a position as an apprentice metalworker for Finn when he gets there later on, and Murphy ends up as (of all things) an apprentice woodworker. (In Clarke’s defence, he doesn’t seem to really have any skills, at least none he’ll admit to besides bullying, and she doesn’t trust him as a gona). The biggest argument occurs when Octavia tries to sign up to be someone’s Sekon.

“Oh, hell no,” Bellamy says angrily. “That’s not safe at all, O. Look, you can make clothes or something.”

“Make clothes or something?” Octavia nearly shrieks. “I don’t want to make clothes. I want to learn to fight.”

“Not a chance,” Bellamy says flatly, and the siblings glare at each other.

Clarke decides it’s time to intervene. “Octavia, you’re coming back to TonDC with me in less than a week for a visit, remember? Maybe decide on something after that. Until then you can be my assistant.”

“You need an assistant?” Octavia says, sounding doubtful. She doesn’t look at all thrilled at the idea, but her brother’s anger is making her pause. She hasn’t quite gotten rid of the automatic response to his authority yet.

Clarke shrugs. “Or a bodyguard, or an advisor. Whatever you want to call it. I just need someone to come along with me and help out, I can’t handle all this stuff on my own.”

Octavia reluctantly agrees, and Bellamy flashes Clarke a grateful look. She decides not to tell him that as soon as they’re on the road to TonDC she (possibly with Lexa’s help) will start training Octavia to fight. And then, when they get there, she suspects Lincoln will take over the job.

Clarke’s asleep almost before she hits the bed that night as well.

The next day they sort out places for everyone to stay near where they’re working – the 100 are very spread out, which Clarke suspects is on purpose. Lexa accompanies them to each place they settle one of the delinquents, sparing five minutes to tell their new foster parent, master or Fos that they have pleased their Heda. Clarke suspects money or some other inducement has also changed hands, but Lexa simply calls it an investment.

With all her guards and the 100, they make an impressive procession through the city, and Clarke is struck by how the population stare at Lexa like she’s something more than mortal. She touches their hands sometimes as they pass, stops for a brief conversation. Clarke doesn’t understand the AI in Lexa’s brain, and she doesn’t totally understand all the mythology behind being the Commander, but she does know that this show of worship owes itself at least as much to Lexa’s acts as it does to her position. Her people adore her, in their tough, stoic way.

Clarke seriously regrets making Octavia her assistant later that night. But then, her and Lexa’s dinner would not be exactly private anyway, given all the guards.

“Where’s Gustus?” Clarke asks curiously, swallowing some chicken that may be the best thing she’s ever tasted. Grounder food is ridiculously good. Octavia is making little moaning noises from down the table as she eats hers – even more understandable, since she’s probably never had anything but scraps before.

Lexa shrugs. “I have reassigned him to guarding the Natblidas.”

“Natblidas?” Octavia says indistinctly.

“When I die, the Commander spirit will pass on,” Lexa answers her. “It will choose one of the Natblidas, as it once chose me. One will be the new Heda.”

“Which won’t be for a very long time,” Clarke says, a little too harshly, and makes herself calm down. She forces a smile. “I need your spirit right where it is.”

Lexa’s amusement shows in her eyes. “After all, I may be heartless, but at least I’m smart?” You can tell from her voice she’s quoting.

Octavia’s looking at them oddly. Clarke coughs and looks away from Lexa. “Something like that.”

Lexa finishes and stands. “I must go now to speak with the other – I mean, I must speak to the ambassadors. We have a meeting tonight to discuss the Skaikru.”

“Should we come?” Clarke asks.

“I can handle it, Clarke,” Lexa assures her. “Tomorrow, we will need to see how some of your people go on in their new places, in case there are problems we have not thought of yet.”

“Well that was weird,” Octavia says, as soon as Lexa’s gone.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, why’s she having dinner with us at all?” Octavia points out. “This place is huge, she’s in charge of tens of thousands of people at least, maybe hundreds of thousands. We have less than a hundred people. But she’s spending all her time on us.”

“We’re new,” Clarke says dismissively.

Octavia is undeterred. “And tomorrow, she’s going to wander around the city with us checking on how our people are going. One by one. After spending the last five days speaking to our leader, escorting us across the country, and helping find everyone somewhere nice to stay. Doesn’t that seem a little strange to you?”

“She has her reasons,” Clarke says.

“I just can’t help thinking she has plans that we don’t know,” Octavia continues.

Clarke shakes her head. “I know her plans, Octavia, I promise,” she says softly. “Please, just trust me, okay?”

There’s a long pause. “How can I do that when I’m pretty sure you’re lying?”

“What do you mean?” Clarke goes cold with fear.

There’s another long silence, then Octavia sighs. “Nothing,” she says finally. “Sorry, Clarke. I guess I’m just being paranoid.”

Clarke smiles at her, feeling like a huge fake. Her chicken tastes dry now. “That’s okay.” She stands up. “I’m going to go see if I can get a bath, it’s been way too long, I feel caked with dirt. Most of the others managed to grab one yesterday but I was too busy with all that stuff.”

Clarke walks away, but she can still feel Octavia’s thoughtful gaze on the back of her neck.

Chapter Text

There is something comforting about walking through Polis with Clarke by her side. Perhaps Lexa should instead be training the Natblidas or continuing to work on the trade agreements, but she cannot stop herself from claiming this time for her own happiness.

Lexa knows there will never be a day they owe nothing more to their people – this is a beautiful fiction. However, there will be minutes, hours, even days she can steal for herself. She would not have stolen so much time from her duties in the previous world, but when she lay dying there she did not think of her people. She thought of Clarke.

Perhaps when she dies in this world it will be the opposite – she will regret wasting so much time with Clarke, and wish she had worked harder for her people – but Lexa doubts it.

“We’re up to Bellamy, finally,” Clarke says, checking her list.

She’s been waiting for them to reach him, tense with worry. Octavia, trailing behind them with the guards, perks up a little.

Most of their stops so far have been quick but boring – Lexa has watched Skaikru learning how to plant seeds, Skaikru learning the correct stance for fighting, Skaikru learning how to hold a bow for hunting, and Skaikru learning basic chores such as cleaning cloth, among others. A few appear to already have skills in things such as planting, but the majority have a skill level far below their years. However, Gustus appears to have chosen people well (Lexa is glad his last duty directly serving her has been so successful). Those with Skaikru apprentices or Sekons seem more inclined to amusement than anger about their charges’ incompetency.

When the Skaikru were gun-wielding invaders who destroyed a village and might be allied with the Maunon, they were a threat. Coming from the stars, they seemed distant and enigmatic, their ways alien, closer to the Mountain than their own. But now the Trikru see them as children, barely capable, and this means the strangeness of their ways is seen as funny instead of something to be feared.

And the Skaikru seem to be dealing well too – Lexa has waited outside for most of the checks, but has still seen a boy named Miller scowling in concentration as he learns how to perform a basic punch. She has seen a girl named Monroe kneading bread like it personally offends her. She has seen a girl named Harper examining a basic hunting bow as if it is something rare, a boy named Jones sharpening a blade like it's something precious. They seem to desperately want to learn, to be useful, to contribute. This is not a view she has had of the Sky People before.

Lexa greets the hedticha respectfully, then asks “Where are Bellamy kom Skaikru and his class?” She knows her voice cools on Bellamy’s name; she cannot help it, but nevertheless almost feels guilt when this makes Clarke look concerned and Octavia confused.

Clarke does not like that Lexa distrusts some of her people. Perhaps she fears Lexa will take a more permanent approach to dealing with them, which is something Lexa has considered. Clarke insists that in this world, they will not be threats. Perhaps this is true, but Lexa cannot live as though the other world never existed. For her, it did. It is not about blame or anger, certainly not about revenge, but instead about the potential danger they bring to her people. That danger still exists.

Unthinkingly, she touches her hand to the pouch Indra gave her.

Not yet.

“Through there, Heda,” the man points, and Lexa nods and walks in the direction indicated. There, behind the building, Bellamy sits on the ground in a circle with nearly a dozen Trikru children, all so focused they don’t even look up as Lexa and the others reach them. They look perhaps seven, too young to know much gonasleng at all, and Lexa wonders how Bellamy has been teaching them without sharing more than a few words in each of their languages.

Then he answers her question. “My name is Bellamy. What is your name?” He points to a child across the circle. There is a practiced feel to this, as if they’ve been doing this for some time.

“My name is Hezan,” the child says proudly, speaking the words like he knows them by heart. “What is you name?” He points to a child opposite himself.

“What is your name,” Bellamy corrects.

“What is your name?” Hezan says, pointing to the same child again.

By unspoken agreement, Lexa, Clarke and Octavia move back a few steps into the shade, and listen spellbound to Bellamy’s lesson. After they’ve played the game for some time and everyone seems to know the correct question and answer, Bellamy starts to teach them how to say they are of the Woods clan - someone must have told him they needed to know that.

He doesn’t teach like a Trikru ticha would. Their method involves translating Trigedasleng into gonasleng word by word, and learning those by rote. Later on, the different way of placing your words in each language is taught to the student, but not always perfectly. Just listening to minutes of Bellamy’s teaching makes Lexa realise that this way is more effective.

“He is a good teacher,” she says quietly to Clarke, partly because it is true, and partly as apology for the caution and dislike she often shows towards some members of Clarke’s kru. She does not wish Clarke to fear what she may do to Bellamy. “Perhaps someday he will teach the Natblidas.” He will not. But it is a peace offering, of a kind.

“We shouldn’t interrupt the class,” Octavia says in an undertone. Her eyes are shining as she watches her brother, sitting in a circle of children in the sunshine like he belongs there. And Lexa thinks perhaps he does – none of the tension and anger in his frame show while he is like this, when he gently encourages a shy goufa to say the correct words, when he says “Good!” and claps the girl’s success, when he smiles at her proudly.

Lexa nearly jumps when she feels Clarke’s hand clasp hers. Octavia is watching Bellamy, and the guards look outward, but she still did not expect Clarke to show affection in public. As always, Clarke's touch burns her a little, makes her overly warm, makes her lighter. “Look at this,” Clarke whispers in her ear, sounding so happy that it nearly makes Lexa smile as well. “We did something good. Whatever else happens, this is something good.”

Unfortunately, that night is when the first problem occurs.

She has kept Titus at a distance even greater than Gustus, asking him to deal with her day to day duties while she handles the Skaikru. It is only a temporary plan, she knows, but she has been working on some ideas that will involve him leaving Polis altogether for some time. It has been working, as well. He has not so much as met a Skaikru yet.

It is a shame the first one he encounters happens to be Murphy.

It is even more regrettable that when Titus encounters Murphy, it is because a citizen of Polis has discovered Murphy inside her house stealing food, and dragged him to Titus for justice since Lexa could not be found.

As a result, when Lexa, Clarke and Octavia return for dinner, they find an angry Titus holding an even angrier Murphy by the back of his shirt. He shoves the boy forward at Clarke. “This Skaikru was caught stealing. We do not tolerate thieves here.” Murphy glares at him.

There is a momentary pause, then Clarke says “Stealing what?”

“Just some bread,” Murphy says furiously, his broken nose making his words slightly indistinct. Lexa wonders who broke it and hopes it was not Titus, then realises the injury is days old and relaxes slightly. “That psycho you’re making me work for wouldn’t give me anything for lunch.”

Clarke frowns. “Why not?”

Murphy shrugs, though Lexa can see that his face flushes slightly at the question. “Who knows. Just on a power trip, I bet. Or maybe he wanted to eat all my food.”

They’d visited Murphy in the morning – he had been one of the first Clarke wanted to check on. It had been a brief stop, Lexa waiting outside, but Clarke had reported that the man Murphy had been made apprentice to seemed perfectly nice, carefully teaching him how to cut and shape the wood.

“I see,” Lexa says, keeping her voice flat as she tries to remain objective. “I shall have to call him in and get his account of this.”

“Or you could just tell us the truth now,” Clarke suggests to Murphy.

Murphy glared at her. “Oh, shut up, little miss perfect, you don’t know if I’m lying.”

“Well, you’re talking, so I assume…” Clarke says, and then sighs, not finishing the barb. “Murphy, just tell me what actually happened.”

“Fine,” Murphy snaps, “I said working with wood was really fucking boring and his furniture was ugly, he bitched that it was his life’s work and how dare I and called me an ungrateful brain water or something like that, and I threw the saw at him. Then he said I couldn’t have lunch.”

Clarke puts her head in her hands. “So then the obvious next step was to break into someone’s house.”

“I don’t even know why we’re here, Princess,” he says furiously. “No one bothered to ask me. You attacked me like a crazy person, you took my gun, you forced us all to come stay with these savages and be slaves for them… what’s wrong with you? For that matter, what the hell was wrong with staying at the drop ship?”

“You only liked it because you were in charge, or at least high up enough that you didn’t have to do any real work,” Clarke says accusingly. “You went and threw the occasional knife at a pig – badly – and tortured anyone you could find an excuse to, and that was it. You didn’t do anything else.”

“It’s called a management role,” he snarked back. “Like what you’re doing now, right? I don’t see you getting splinters in your hands for your food.”

“Shut up, Murphy,” Octavia cuts in, apparently out of patience. “Clarke’s been doing nothing but work since we got here, I’ve been following her, trust me. You don’t know a damn thing.”

“This is all irrelevant to the point at hand,” Titus says, annoyed. “This branwada must be punished for his crime.”

“I am not normally required to deal with crimes as small as stealing bread,” Lexa observes.

“You have taken responsibility for these Skaikru, against advice,” Titus says stiffly. “The woman whose food was stolen did not know whether our laws applied, or whether he was to have no punishment as he is under your protection, or whether he was to be thrown out of Polis for his ingratitude.”

“He is to get the same punishment as would apply for any of my people,” Lexa says. “For minor theft, two nights and two days without food. Place him in a cell.” She does not look at Clarke. If they were by themselves and the crime wasn’t widely known, perhaps she could afford to be gentler towards him. But they are not alone, Titus is here, and the woman who was stolen from has no doubt already told many on the way to Titus. If nothing else, she would have to explain why she was dragging a struggling Skai boy.

Titus inclines his head. “Sha, Heda.” He grabs Murphy again and leads the twisting, angry boy away as he shouts expletives.

“Are you kidding?” Octavia says. “I mean, Murphy’s a dick, but -”

“That was a little harsh, Lexa,” Clarke agrees. Lexa is just grateful that for once Clarke has waited until there are not as many people around to argue with her. “I mean, he just took some bread. And he’s right, we didn’t exactly give him much of a choice about coming here. Can’t you let him off with just missing a meal or something? Two days in a cell with no food is just going to make him dislike your people even more.”

“And allowing a Skai person to commit crimes in Polis without proper punishment will make my people dislike yours even more, Clarke,” Lexa points out. “I cannot treat your people better than my own.”

“Blood must not have blood -”

“But there will not be blood,” Lexa interrupts. She dislikes fighting with Clarke, but she cannot back down on this one. “If punishments for crimes are to be lessened, it must be decided on for all people, and announced so that they know. I cannot just begin handing out lighter punishments to your friends.”

“Hardly her friend, she broke his nose the other day,” mutters Octavia, and Lexa feels a swell of pride in her fierce Clarke. “But Clarke’s right, this is harsh. If he’d known you were going to punish him like that, he probably wouldn’t have taken the bread.”

“So your people do not punish this harshly for theft?” Lexa asks, honestly curious.

There’s an awkward pause. Octavia coughs and looks to the side. It is all the answer Lexa needs. Clarke hesitates, looking faintly guilty, then opens her mouth, no doubt to begin explaining that whatever the Ark does, they should be striving to be better down here.

At this moment, Lexa is in no mood for it. She has been doing nothing but striving for better in the past week, and this has involved cutting out and sidelining her own people, people she cares for. In fact, it has also involved giving unearned trust to people she knows to be dangerous, simply because Clarke cares for them. “I see,” she says, voice arctic. “Like always, you expect more of my people than you do of your own.”

She turns and leaves. Before she closes the door behind her, she hears Octavia say, “What does she mean, like always?”

Chapter Text

“Thank you,” Clarke says from the doorway of the room.

Lexa opens her eyes. Clarke can see she was meditating, perhaps trying to relax after their argument before.

Clarke found it difficult to relax after that too. She takes several steps into Lexa’s room and repeats, “Thank you.” She holds up the sketch pad and pencils that only Lexa could have left in her room. “Thank you for remembering.”

She meets Lexa’s eyes and sees the other woman register the double meaning. “You’re welcome, Clarke.” Lexa clears her throat. “Is that why you have come, to say thank you?”

“No,” Clarke admits. Some art supplies are not why she’s here. That was just a reminder to her that Lexa is a good person, a great one, in fact. That she’s not trying to hurt Clarke, she’s not even trying to hurt Murphy. Like Clarke, she is just trying to do what’s best for both of their people. But unlike Clarke, she’s good at seeing them as a shared people, good at seeing exactly what needs to be done. “I came to say you’re right. I do expect more of your people than I do of my own. But you need to understand, that’s not because I think less of your people. It’s the opposite. It’s because I think more of you.”

“Mochof, Clarke,” Lexa says, but she still looks unhappy. Perhaps she too had been expecting more of an argument, a screaming match, even – some real outlet for the tension they keep producing between them. It fizzes between them even now, Clarke can feel it. It’s hard to be around someone you feel so much for and hold yourself back, and she wonders if that’s why she overreacted earlier. If it wasn’t about her people, about Murphy, but instead about the fact that Lexa was right there and she still couldn’t touch her.

“I should be the one saying thank you, after all you’ve done,” Clarke continues softly. “And I’m sorry. I should be saying that too. I’m really sorry. We do need to use the same punishments for my people and yours, otherwise things will go south quickly, I get that. It was a gut reaction and I was being a hypocrite. I hope someday we can make the punishments we use for our people less severe. Maybe peacetime – making a strong, lasting peace – will let us do that eventually. But right now, Murphy spending a couple of days in a pit isn’t the end of the world.” She smiles at Lexa. “If nothing else, at least it’ll be quieter.”

Now Lexa manages a slight smile, which warms Clarke’s heart. Lexa smiles so infrequently that each one she gets to see feels like a gift. “I too am sorry, Clarke. I should have consulted you before I gave the order. I simply did not wish to do that in front of Titus.”

“I understand that,” Clarke says. Lexa is still smiling, leaning forward, the many candles burning in the room warming the air and giving a glow to her face. “That was… totally understandable.” Great, now she sounds like a moron. But how can she think straight when Lexa is smiling at her like that?

“I’ve instructed the woodworker to not demand further labour from Murphy when he is let out of his cell, but to provide food for him anyway,” Lexa says. “We can make further plans once we return from TonDC, if it seems necessary. I do not wish your people to refuse to contribute and be viewed as a burden on mine, but I also do not wish to strain things between our people by forcing Murphy to do work he will only resent and avoid.”

“For the moment, that should work,” Clarke says. She tries to think of something to do with Murphy. Maybe after the trip to TonDC she can make him her assistant instead of Octavia, getting a gona (maybe even Indra) to take Octavia on as a Seken – that will also get the increasingly suspicious Octavia out of her immediate vicinity. However, the idea of spending all day every day with Murphy makes her cringe, and she’s sure he’ll be much less useful than Octavia has been.

Lexa raises her eyebrows as Clarke remains in the room. “Was that all?” There’s still constraint in her voice, despite the smile. Clarke feels like she’s created distance between them by overreacting about Murphy. That wasn’t what she wanted at all. Sometimes she has a blind spot for her people. Often, even. Maybe, in time, she’ll be like Lexa – able to move beyond that way of thinking, able to see things more clearly. Right now, her gut response is always that they’re her people, her responsibility, her job. That she should be shielding them. But that’s almost patronising, isn’t it? Her people need to face consequences. Trying to make it so they didn’t last time only ended with Lexa bleeding out in front of her, a casualty of compassion. Something Lexa has never blamed her for, and knowing her, never will.

“I was hoping,” Clarke says, and hesitates. She hasn’t thought this through totally, but she knows what she wants. “I was hoping you’d let me draw you. While you’re awake, this time.” She tries not to show how badly she wants this on her face, but probably fails. She’s always wanted to draw Lexa, to capture her, in a way she never felt the urge to with anyone else, but she was too busy and then too proud to ask. Even with her parents, Wells, Finn – well, even with all the other people she’s loved, she’s never so badly wanted the chance to spend hours staring at them, showing the warmth in their eyes, immortalising the quirk of their lips in a way she can keep.

Hopefully, in this world she’ll get to keep the real Lexa as well.

Lexa considers this. “That is fine,” she says. Her smile returns, sweet and hopeful, a smile that says Lexa far more than Heda.

She’s never drawn Lexa like this before. And while Lexa is beautiful in sleep there’s something undefinable in her poise and in her expressions that makes her beauty stronger, tougher, imbued with quiet power. She’s a challenge to draw, more so than anyone else Clarke has ever drawn, since she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able capture everything that’s there.

She does manage to get Lexa’s smile, though, which stays on her face as she studies Clarke.

“Can you do a picture of yourself for me?” Lexa asks eventually. “I would like a picture of you.” The request feels like a fist squeezing Clarke’s heart. It’s so… so Lexa. Her Lexa.

“I can’t draw myself well,” Clarke admits. “I’ve tried before, it never comes out looking quite like me. Maybe because I have to draw it from a reflection, so it’s back to front. Lincoln can draw, I suppose we could ask him.”

“Perhaps I shall,” Lexa says, smile broadening slightly. “His confusion would be very amusing. He is no doubt already wondering why I troubled to ask both Anya and Indra specifically about him. That confused them, as well.”

“It’s hard, knowing who could become important,” Clarke replies, trying to sketch the glow in Lexa’s green eyes. It’s impossible, of course. Some things can’t be put on paper. “I mean, they’re all important, but you know what I mean. We’re paying closer attention to people on the basis of what they might do. Who they might be. It’s difficult, knowing more.”

“Yes,” Lexa says. “Yes, exactly. It is difficult, knowing what might happen, knowing how much we have to lose.” She meets Clarke’s eyes.

There is such tangible emotion in them that Clarke nearly forgets that she’s drawing. She drops the pencil. “Lexa,” she says, and it’s a breath more than a word.

“Clarke,” Lexa says solemnly, her eyes still filled with so much love that it makes Clarke weak. But not simple, childish love – love tangled with loss and certainty and friendship and fear and sacrifice. Love that has weathered betrayal, grief, violence, divided loyalties. Love so strong that Clarke half-believes that it’s the reason they could rip through time itself. “You make it much less difficult. Thank you for being here with me.”

Clarke doesn’t know if she means being the only other person to remember, or if she means in Lexa’s room specifically. It doesn’t really matter. She takes several steps forward and pulls Lexa up so that their lips can meet.

The kiss starts out softly, emotionally, but then Clarke feels the fire between them flare when Lexa pulls very slightly at her hair and from then it’s pure passion. She pulls Lexa as close to her as she can, digging her fingers into her like that will prove the other girl is real, and is rewarded with a gasp that she feels through her whole body. Lexa’s skin is warm and impossibly smooth, she can’t stop touching it, but there’s not enough on display. Clarke mouths at Lexa’s neck, and her shivers of pleasure vibrate through Clarke and turn her on unbearably.

“Clarke,” Lexa moans, in a very different tone than she used before. She scratches the nails of her right hand against Clarke’s back through shirt and Clarke shudders uncontrollably.

They have hours, hell, they may have days, weeks, even months. They might have forever. They should take it slow, softly, nicely, they should spend the time that they couldn’t afford the first time they were together, but right now Clarke couldn’t care less. Sometime she will touch every inch of Lexa’s body, she will kiss every scar and tattoo, she will build her up so slowly that it’s like a rising symphony. Let them take it slow later or tomorrow or next week, right now she needs Lexa, she needs Lexa immediately, needs her naked and writhing, needs her flushed and sweaty, needs her smooth addictive skin pressed against Clarke’s. Needs her. Her own desperation for this nearly frightens Clarke.

She yanks at Lexa’s nightgown, finally managing to pull the straps to the side and kissing where they were, Lexa’s strong tanned shoulders. Lexa carries the weight of the world on these, and she carries Clarke, and she tastes like honey and salt and Lexa, and it’s all too much but she needs more, and she moves her mouth to Lexa’s to kiss her again hungrily.

Lexa seems to be on the same page, trying uselessly to tear off Clarke’s top without letting go of her, pressing her lips frantically to Clarke’s face and neck while she does it, licking her way up Clarke’s neck with a whimper. Clarke pulls back – her body protesting every inch – and yanks off her top before going back into the heat and the taste and Lexa, always Lexa, only Lexa. The whole world narrows to Lexa as her nightgown hits the floor, face flushed, and Clarke runs her trembling hands all over Lexa, pressing in, wanting her so badly, because her skin is like warm silk and her eyes are forest green in the candle-lit room and Clarke loves her.

“Clarke,” Lexa says hoarsely, “Please.” And Clarke licks at her nipples, hard rose-coloured darts against her light honey-tasting skin with its summer tan, and Lexa’s body flexes like a bow being pulled back, the tension in her winding up, begging for a release. Then Clarke falls to her knees.

Clarke can feel the wetness between her own legs, how desperately she wants Lexa’s hands or mouth or even leg against her, how she wants to writhe and ride her way to incoherency more than she’s ever wanted anything. But she licks into Lexa instead because the taste of her is just as good, especially because of what it means, because what it means is that Lexa wants her, and it’s Lexa, and she thinks she could almost come without being touched at all, just from the knowledge that her tongue is against Lexa, on Lexa, inside Lexa. Her Lexa. The second time, the second chance she never thought she’d get.

Lexa makes a little noise and drags Clarke up, taking her away from that taste, and kisses it off Clarke’s wet lips, tasting herself on them. “Not like that,” she says, voice so ragged that she’s barely comprehensible. “Together.” And she draws Clarke towards her bed, pulling her down on top of it, on top of Lexa, rubbing her finger against Clarke’s hard, desperate little clit, moving the wetness around with her fingers. Clarke whimpers but obeys, moving her face to nuzzle into Lexa’s neck because she can’t focus enough right now to do anything but deliver wet, open-mouthed kisses along the line of it, she’s so wet, so desperately wet. She rubs her fingers against Lexa as well, and half moves against Lexa’s fingers, half against the press of her firm, silky thigh. It builds so fast that she’s gasping and half-sobbing in seconds, twisting against the insistent press of Lexa’s strong fingers as they circle her and flick back and forth and stroke her away, circling the edge of oblivion, the edge of ecstasy. Every move is a moan but she presses harder against Lexa because there’s more and she knows it and she wants it.

When she comes it’s with a short, sharp scream, the pleasure slamming into her unavoidably and roughly, barrelling through her. And then every breath and movement is another, shorter hit of that, until she is squirming away from it, toomuchtoomuchtoomuch. And squirming towards at the same time because she wants more. This isn’t sex, this is heaven, and she’s almost scared by the feeling of it “ oh, oh, OH!” because it is so much and she’s not sure she’s designed for that much “OHHHH!” but Lexa is losing it too, whimpering as Clarke sends her to the same place, screwing her eyes up and chanting Clarke’s name, her spare hand digging into Clarke’s back as it hits her. Her other hand is slowing against Clarke’s wetness, and then the shock of it all is fading into twisting, panting aftershocks, pleasant little hills of pleasure after Lexa just sent her up to the goddamn stars.

“That was amazing,” Clarke manages to say breathlessly after a while. “Lexa.”

“Clarke,” Lexa mimics, and kisses her. The kiss is long, open-mouthed, filled with the taste of them and what they’ve just done, and Lexa is beautiful and smiling and relaxed below her, all that strength and control uncoiled into happiness, and Clarke wants her again.

So this time, they do it slow.

Clarke is the first to wake, hours later. It occurs to her that she probably shouldn’t be in Lexa’s bed. Even if neither Titus nor Gustus are in charge of waking Lexa at the moment, it’s probably a bad idea to be too blatant about this. She should have thought of that earlier.

She manages to get dressed and stagger out. She lets herself into her room in the half-darkness of before dawn, then freezes.

A person lying on her bed sits up.

Octavia looks at her blearily, blinking sleep out of her eyes. “You’ve been gone a while,” she accuses.

“I – don’t you have your own room?” Clarke says.

“Yeah,” Octavia says. “But I came to see you earlier and you weren’t here.”

Clarke forces a smile. “Just going over some things with Lexa.”

“Oh, I know,” Octavia says, and her glare nails Clarke to the wall. “Her room was one of the first places I checked. I didn’t knock, though, because I could hear from the corridor that you really didn’t want to be disturbed. So then I waited here to talk to you about that.”

“Oh.” Clarke closes her eyes, then opens them again, regroups. “Listen, Octavia, what’s between me and Lexa is our business -”

“No, it isn’t!” Octavia says, managing to keep her voice down but still convey her anger. “She’s their goddamn leader, Clarke! This is going to affect the rest of us!” She takes several steps towards Clarke. “Is this the ‘plans’ of hers you said you knew about? Did you trade yourself to Lexa to keep us safe?”

No. No, Lexa would never ask for that.”

“So you’re sleeping with her because, what? Because you like her?” Octavia sounds even more furious now. “You’re willing to endanger all of us because you want to get laid? Because you have a crush on someone you’ve known less than a week? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I’m not endangering us,” Clarke defends herself. “The relationship between me and Lexa has nothing to do with anyone else.”

“And what happens when you guys break up? When things go wrong, we’re the people she’ll take it out on, all of us,” Octavia says angrily. “Have you thought about that at all?”

“She won’t,” Clarke says strongly. “I promise, Octavia, we’re all fine. We’re all safe. And what’s between me and Lexa will not affect that.” She meets Octavia’s eyes directly, letting the sincerity in her words sink in.

After a long pause, Octavia exhales. “I hope you know what the hell you’re doing,” she says, no longer angry, just grim and tired.

It’s ironic that she’s getting this lecture from Octavia of all people. Clarke walks forward and touches her shoulder, trying to comfort her. “I promise you, Octavia, no one is going to be hurt by this. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Octavia stares at her, nods abruptly in a way that could be agreement but is more likely to just be acknowledgement, and leaves. Clarke’s hand drops back to her side.

She tries to tell herself that her last sentence was the truth.

Chapter Text

“Heda, I wish to speak with you.” It’s Titus.

Lexa looks up, trying to feign disinterest, but well aware of where this conversation will end up going – rapidly downhill, to be precise. “Of course, Titus. What issue do you wish to speak to me about?”

Titus frowns at her. “I have been informed that you are getting very… close, with the leader of the Sky People.”

“I was not aware my guards were such gossips,” Lexa says coolly. “Or that you would lower yourself to seek out such rumours.”

He flushes slightly, looking offended. “Your business is my business, Heda. I try only to help you.”

Lexa sighs. “I know that, Titus. Please, continue.” Inwardly, she thinks: you do not try and help me. You try and help the Commander. Right now, I have the Commander’s spirit, and as long as I behave as you wish, that means you will help me too. The second that changes… I must begin fearing bullets again.

These thoughts make her cold. She wants to view Titus as her teacher, her advisor, her guard, her fleimkepa. Like she did before. She hates that now when she sees him she checks his hands for a gun. But that cannot be helped. Like with Bellamy and Finn kom Skaikru, all she can do is try to limit the danger.

“I simply wish to make sure you are not allowing yourself to be influenced by her,” Titus says, unaware of her train of thought. “Hodnes laik kwelnes, Heda. The clans will see this relationship as weakness.”

“If you cannot influence me, do you really believe a Skai girl can?” Lexa says, remaining emotionless this time. She will not yell at him again – for all she knows, that’s what led him to think she had become weak in the other world. “Our relationship is… pleasant, but not in the way you are implying. It will not be a cause of weakness.” She begins walking, forcing Titus to keep pace with her.

He still frowns. “You have not sought such relationships before. You cannot blame me for being concerned.”

He means she hasn’t been with anyone since Costia, and he wants to know why now. The unspoken name angers her, as does the intrusion into her personal affairs. “Clarke is not Costia. Her company is enjoyable, and I intend to continue enjoying it, but I will not lose sight of my priorities. Our people come first.” By ‘our’, though, she doesn’t mean the Trikru or even the twelve clans. She means her and Clarke’s people – all of their people – together.

“That is good to know, Heda,” Titus says. “Now, as for the thief -”

“He will take his punishment, the same as any thief,” Lexa says coldly. “He is not to be wounded, exiled, killed, or disturbed in any way except for the standard two days in a cell given for his crime. I will hear no more about it.”

“As you wish, Heda.”

She wonders how he will take the news that she wants Clarke as her advisor. Poorly, no doubt. So it is best if by the time it reaches him – by the time Clarke’s people fall to the ground – he is far from here. “I wished to speak to you as well, Titus.”

“Heda?” His brow knits again.

“I have heard concerning news from the North,” she states.

Titus bows his head. “Indeed. The Azgeda grow restless.”

“Not that. Other news.” She waits until he looks up at her before continuing. “They may have a Natblida they are training alone. They hope the Commander spirit will move to this Natblida when I die, and she will favour them over the other clans.”

He blinks, taken aback. “Nia would rule in all but name!”

Lexa nods. “Exactly. If true, I believe this is an indication that the Azgeda could use more oversight from their Heda. I would like you to go North.”

“Me? Heda, I cannot leave Polis. If you were called away, who would manage things here?”

“You are the most able to spot a Natblida,” Lexa says firmly. “You know what to look for. Nia will hesitate to harm you – she cannot afford to offend you, it would be an act of war and if she attacks I doubt she intends to warn us so usefully beforehand. It will be for perhaps a month. I will send a messenger when I require you.”

He sucks in a breath. “As you wish,” he says, a little more constriction in his voice than before. “So you will remain in Polis until my return?”

“No,” she says. “I plan to leave the day after tomorrow, and head West.”

“The Skaikru or the Maunon?” he asks bluntly.

“Both,” she says honestly. “Whatever the cause is, there is unrest in the area, and it must be dealt with. It is time to see how the ambassadors manage with us both away. I will let them know tonight.”

“There will be chaos, Heda!”

“I will not leave them with the power to go to war or to execute each other, Titus,” Lexa says firmly. “For one thing, I do not plan to leave enough gonas here for them to do more but ensure the safety of Polis. They may scheme and jockey for position, but they will not tear down the alliance in a few weeks. They can easily handle minor crimes, settle disputes, and negotiate trade agreements as a group. Perhaps experience in this will allow them to work together better in future.”

Titus looks agonised by this. Lexa can understand his concern – it wasn’t very long from now that the ambassadors were giving her a vote of no confidence in the other world, so she has some concerns of her own. However, they would be fools to do a vote like that at the present, when Lexa’s people approve her actions. Even more, they would be fools to do it while she commands a large gonakru nearby. If she were them, she would wonder: if we depose Lexa, will she return and take back her position by force?

She wouldn’t. If she does not rule by the will of her people, she is no ruler. If she kills her people for her own status, then she is no peacekeeper. Her dark blood, her unquiet dreams, her unbranded back, they all tell the unchangeable truth – she is Heda. Whatever happens, she lives for her people. Lexa will not choose herself over the lives of those in Polis. But the ambassadors do not know this.

“You have never asked me to leave Polis before, Heda,” Titus observes.

Lexa shrugs. “The Natblidas needed training, but they are nearly grown now. The ambassadors needed watching, but the alliance has held for years now. I needed your advice, but I am Heda and I am the one who must make a path for our people. You are useful here, Titus. But you will be essential there. I need to know Nia’s plans. Beja, Titus. Do as I ask.”

There is a long pause, and then he gives a sharp jerk of his head to indicate unwilling agreement.

“Mochof,” Lexa says. “I doubt I will see you before you leave tomorrow. Go see the Natblidas and inform them you are leaving, and ready yourself for the journey.” She turns to leave, dismissing him, then hesitates. “Oh, and send Gustus to me now.”

She doesn’t check to see if she is obeyed, and sure enough, by the time she reaches her room Gustus is beside her.

“Heda,” he says cautiously. Gustus does not know what to make of her lately, Lexa knows. Her decisions seem random to him, especially the one to reassign him.

“You are to accompany Titus to the Azgeda,” Lexa says. “Pick ten gonas and take them with you – enough to protect the two of you, but not enough to offend Nia or give her cause to claim I am trying to threaten her.”

“Why me, Heda?” She can hear the hurt in his voice that he can only barely cover.

Perhaps she should be like Titus, and view this as weakness. Instead it warms her. Her Gustus and his open affection for her. “Because I trust you to defend me,” she says. It is the truth. “More than anyone else, I know you would never let harm come to me.” She hopes he hears what she cannot say. That unlike many others, she knows Gustus doesn’t fight and die for the coalition, or the Commander, or the Trikru. He holds Lexa herself in his heart. He would take poison for the chance of making her safer. What makes him a danger to Clarke and the Skaikru, makes him the ideal person to send North.

“Of course I wouldn’t,” he says, and the hurt in his voice has receded a little. But not completely.

“Beja, Gustus,” she says more quietly. “Nia will always hate me. Once she ruled, she was the first of all in her lands, able to order deaths with the snap of her fingers; now she has to obey the orders of another or be wiped out by the alliance. Now she must follow our laws. She has never accepted the loss of status, or the loss of the power she believed she got from her victims. I send Titus to find out if she has a Natblida she’s been hiding, and to see if he can learn any of her other plans.”

“And he needs my protection. Of course, Heda.”

“No. Any gona could protect him,” Lexa says flatly. “But you I trust to watch him as well as Nia.”

Gustus’ eyes widen, he’s surprised. “He’s loyal to you, Heda. I’m sure of that.”

“He’s loyal to the Heda,” Lexa touches her hand to the back of her neck very deliberately, so Gustus can see what she’s talking about. He was there when she got it, after all, and he has not left her side since except when specifically ordered to, and even then with reluctance. “Someday he could decide his loyalty belongs to the next Heda more than the current one.”

“I see,” Gustus says heavily. He probably does – Titus had tried to convince Lexa to retire him the previous year. He believed Lexa cared too much about Gustus for him to be an effective bodyguard. If Titus had his way, the only people who could talk to Lexa would be Titus himself and the former Commanders in her head.

But Lexa cannot live her life alone, not anymore.

“I will not fail you,” Gustus tells her, a promise in his voice.

Lexa swallows. I killed you, she wants to tell him. I failed you. But she cannot. Instead, she says, “You never have, and I know you will not this time. Be careful, Gustus. I do not trust Nia, and I do not trust Titus. But I trust you. So do not die. That is an order from your Heda.”

“I would never disobey an order from my Heda,” Gustus says, with a gruff smile, and they stand there, just looking at each other, for a long moment.

She will miss him.

Chapter Text

Octavia’s glare continues to burn into the back of Clarke’s neck as they ride – ineptly – towards TonDC. After a while of this, she gives the quiet Lexa a regretful look and drops back to ride next to Octavia instead. It’s time they talked, even if she’d rather continue admiring the way the light makes shadows out of Lexa’s ridiculously long and curly eyelashes.

“Okay, out with it,” Clarke says softly.

“Out with what?”

“Whatever you’re trying to send me by really angry telepathy,” Clarke gives Octavia an unimpressed look.

“I was just thinking that you don’t seem to care much about the Ark,” Octavia says. “Or Atom, Trina and Pascal, either. You’re all about Her Majesty there.”

Clarke glares back at her for that. They’ve been riding for hours, she’s sore (though admittedly she was a bit sore before they started riding, and for much more pleasant reasons). She has a headache, a backache, a severe case of déjà vu, and no patience for this right now. “I care enough to ride for nearly a whole day, Octavia. That’s how much I care. Unlike you, I’m not here just to rebel against my brother.”

“Hey, it took me an hour to talk Bellamy into letting me go. I had to promise I’d be really careful and stick with you and the others at all times. I want to know what happened to Atom,” Octavia says. “If he’s all right. This isn’t rebellion.”

At that, Clarke’s annoyance vanishes a little bit. She reaches out and pats Octavia’s hand, risking falling off her mount. “Hey. We’ll find out what happened to him, I promise.”

There’s a moment of silence. “You think he’s dead, don’t you.”

It’s a statement more than a question, but Clarke replies anyway. “Yes, I do. I’m sorry, Octavia.”

“No. I think you’re right.” She sounds sad, but not heartbroken, not really. Octavia’s always tougher than Clarke expects her to be. Perhaps growing up under floorboards makes everything after seem much better in comparison. “The fog probably got him.”

Lexa’s stopped ahead of them. Several of the horses are moving restlessly, unnerved, as a star falls from the sky, blazing down just like the drop ship must have. It’s almost beautiful.

“That looks like it is for you, Clarke,” Lexa comments. “I must go to TonDC and speak to Indra. You and Octavia should take half the group and go towards your message.”

Octavia’s still staring up at the sky, mouth wide open. “What the hell,” she manages finally. “Right when we got near here. What are the odds?”

It’s probably not a good idea to answer that.

Lexa gives Clarke a nod of farewell, then gestures to the others and rides off. Exactly half of the gonas they brought split off and follow her. Clarke notices they ride much faster without having to slow down for the cumbersome Sky People.

Clarke steers her horse towards Raven, and presses her heels against it uncertainly. She got more used to horses over time, but she doubts she’ll ever be as comfortable with them as Lexa and the other Trikru. She estimates it will take a few more hours at least to get to the fallen pod, even if she’s willing to learn how to canter. They should still get there earlier than the other world, but she hopes nothing happens to Raven anyway.

After a while she pulls back on the reins – possibly too harshly, judging by the frustrated noise the horse makes. There’s someone standing directly in front of them.

“Lincoln,” she and Octavia say at the same time, Clarke resigned, Octavia thrilled.

Lincoln’s probably the person she’s given the most away to, with her knowledge of Trigedasleng. Even if he hasn’t done anything about it yet, that doesn’t mean he won’t. So Clarke can’t help that her stomach knots slightly when she sees him, even though she likes him, even though she knows he’s a good person. He’s still a risk she took – and one Lexa knows nothing about. As far as Lexa’s aware, Lincoln brought Clarke to Anya’s camp just because she was very persuasive and claimed to be the leader.

“Hei,” Lincoln says, eyes wary. His thigh is still bandaged and he’s limping. Clarke wonders what he’s doing out alone – but then, it’s Lincoln. He never exactly fit in with the rest of the Trikru. “Are you going to find the fallen ship?”

“Sha,” Octavia says, pleased to show off one of the few words of Trigedasleng she’s learned. “Lexa thought it might be a message from our people.”

Lincoln nods. “I have seen one like that fall from the stars before. It had a person in it,” He spares a suspicious glance for Clarke when she inhales slightly too quickly, then returns his eyes to Octavia. “May I join you?”

“Of course,” Octavia says immediately, before Clarke can reply. “Do you want to share my horse?” Now Clarke remembers a detail from the hazy fayowada night – Octavia, getting the injured Lincoln drinks and food, telling Bellamy it was out of guilt at being the one who stabbed him. They’ve already started to develop the closeness that came so naturally to them before.

He nods and pulls himself up behind Octavia without a problem. They fall into quiet conversation straight away, and Clarke can’t hear quite what they’re saying as they ride on. At first she catches Bellamy’s name a few times, Indra’s name. Then she just hears her own and Lexa’s. She considers turning around and telling them to stop talking about her, but that would be even more suspicious, so she simply keeps riding and hopes Octavia’s talking about how they’ve spent the last few days instead of telling him about all her unformed, hazy suspicions. Much like Lincoln, Octavia suspects something, but unlike Lincoln she has no concrete reasons to be suspicious yet. Clarke really doesn’t want him to share his reasons with her, if he hasn’t already.

They arrive at the pod about when Clarke thought they would. She’s off the horse before she can think too much, rushing towards it, towards Raven. Clarke hadn’t realised how much she’d missed her up until now. She prays that it will be Raven there when she opens the escape pod, not someone else.

Unless it’s Abby. Or Abby and Raven – but that seems unlikely. Really, they need Raven more than anyone, right now.

When she pulls it open it’s Raven in there, thankfully. Clarke nearly sighs in relief. “Hey, hey,” she says quietly, reaching out to grip the unconscious girl’s shoulder comfortingly. “Hey there.” She pulls off Raven’s helmet and the girl makes a groaning noise. Clarke touches her face lightly, swept away by how much she’s missed Raven. Lincoln and Octavia have reached them by now.

Raven’s eyes open and focus on Clarke’s face. For a second, it looks like there’s recognition in her eyes, and Clarke’s heart leaps with a foolish hope. Maybe Raven remembers –

“I made it?” Raven says, voice dazed. It’s not a look of recognition. She’s just trying to see through her concussion.

“Yes, you’re here, you made it,” Clarke says. With Lincoln and Octavia’s help, she gets Raven out of the craft and lays her onto the grass. She doesn’t look nearly as awake as last time, probably because they’re much earlier. At this point last time, the only one here would have been Bellamy, and he wouldn’t have worried about the unconscious woman in the pod.

Reminded of the radio, Clarke looks back inside and locates it in moments.

“It smells just like I dreamed it,” Raven says finally, still lying on the ground.

“Hey, how do I work this?” Clarke says, plunking the radio next to her. “I’m really sorry to spoil the moment for you, but I don’t want anyone up there to die.”

“Right,” Raven says, forcing herself into a sitting position. She grins at Clarke. “Clarke, right? Your mom sent me. Bossy, aren’t you?”

“You have no idea,” Octavia says fervently.

Raven reaches over and starts twiddling with things. Clarke could probably remember how to work it by herself, but she doesn’t want to do anything more questionable in front of the two people she’s already given the most ammunition to.

Raven finally notices the gonas hiding in the shadows. Perhaps she’s becoming more lucid. “Wait, who the hell are they?” She looks back at Lincoln and registers his facial markings and looks even more confused. “And you. Who are you?”

“Grounders,” Clarke says.

“Trikru,” Octavia corrects.

“Lincoln kom Trikru,” Lincoln says. “What is your name?”

“Raven,” Raven says absently, still staring round her in shock. “Grounders, huh?”

“Ai gud hit yu op, Raven kom Skaikru,” Lincoln says, bowing his head slightly then meeting her eyes. He’s looking at her slightly too intensely, Clarke notes, searching for something – understanding. It’s a test, to see if other Sky People can speak Trigedasleng. She curses herself for showing her fluency with him.

Raven looks at him blankly. “He said it’s good to meet you,” Clarke says, shooting Lincoln a look telling him to stop now. “I think,” she adds, to try and make it less obvious that she’s once again showing too much knowledge for the time she’s been here.

“Oh,” Raven says weakly. She returns to the radio. “Good to meet you too, big guy. So, uh, you guys been making friends with the locals?”

“We kind of moved in with them,” Clarke says. “Into their capital, actually.”

“Except for Monty, Jasper, Finn and Wells,” Octavia says. “They’ve been here keeping an eye out for – well, you. And some of our friends who’ve gone missi -”

“Finn?” Raven says, her head jerking up, eyes widening. “He’s okay?”

“Totally fine,” Clarke says firmly, then adds, “Well, as far as I know. We haven’t seen him for a while because he’s been in TonDC, but Heda ordered Anya and her unit to protect him and the others at all costs so he’s probably one of the safest of us. It’s only a few hours away by horse, we can head off soon.”

“Horse? Heda?” Raven asks, then gets distracted as the radio crackles into life. “Aha!”

“Their leader,” Clarke says in response to the second question, then leans forward to talk into the radio. “Hello? Hello? Mom, you there?”

There’s a shocked pause, then “Clarke?

“Jackson? Can you get my mom?”

“You’re alive?”

Jackson was usually so clever, too, Clarke thought. But then sometimes he showed exactly why he was just her mother’s assistant. “Yes, I am. Nearly all of us are. We just accidentally fried our wristbands trying to contact you guys. Can you go get mom?”

“Uh, she’s kind of in jail right now,” Jackson says reluctantly.

“All right. Jaha or Kane, then,” Clarke says, unable to be too bothered about that. No matter how many illegal things her mother does, she’s pretty sure neither Kane nor Jaha will actually float her. Well, Kane, maybe – this version of Kane. Clarke closes her eyes and hopes he will be as changed by nearly killing hundreds of people as he was by actually killing them. She needs Kane, the logical, Kane, the empathetic, Kane, the Grounder-loving peacekeeper. She doesn’t want Kane, the scarily dogmatic pragmatist he used to be. Someone worthwhile needs to be in charge of Arkadia.

“It will take me a few minutes,” Jackson warns, and then the radio goes silent.

Raven clears her throat. “So. Grounders, huh?”

“Pretty much,” Octavia says. “They don’t call themselves that, obviously. There’s twelve clans and they all have different names.”

“And this Header guy rules them all?”

“Heda,” Clarke says, pronouncing it subtly differently. “It means Commander. And yes, she rules them all. She made the alliance between the twelve clans all by herself.”

She sounds slightly too proud, she realises a second later. Octavia shoots her a look. “Through killing anyone who disagreed,” she says, not quite under her breath.

“Octavia!”

“What? I hear people in Polis talk as well, you know.”

“She didn’t kill everyone who disagreed,” Lincoln says gravely. “But she is famed for her ruthlessness, even among our people.”

“But she’s been nothing but good to us,” Clarke insists, glaring at Octavia.

“That’s true,” Octavia acknowledges grudgingly.

The radio crackles again. “Clarke?” It’s Jaha, this time.

“Hey, Chancellor,” Clarke says. “The weather is just lovely down here. Are you guys planning to join us any time soon?”

“You’re alive?”

“Nearly all of us,” Clarke says. “Three are missing. Wells is alive, though. So how about you start planning your re-entry, and let my mother out of her cell.”

Chapter Text

Anya and Indra are both already waiting when Lexa enters TonDC. She feels a surge of uncharacteristic fondness and represses it. Clarke has been a bad influence on her, inspiring her to care about Indra, miss Anya, show affection to Gustus.

“Heda,” Indra says, bowing her head.

“Indra,” Lexa acknowledges. “Anya. It is good to see you.” That is enough emotion for her. Otherwise she will be like Clarke, hugging people indiscriminately, becoming attached to branwadas like Murphy. She is the Commander. She may have decided to allow herself some weakness, but there is a limit.

“And you as well, Heda,” Anya says. “We must speak with you. In private.”

“Me too,” Someone says from beside her. It’s the dark-skinned boy Lexa remembers standing beside Clarke. Wells, she had called him when Lexa asked eventually. Her oldest friend, who died in the first world, but who she is grateful to have back. For this reason, he has importance.

Anya hesitates, but Lexa says, “Of course. You can fill in Clarke kom Skaikru later.” It will give them a chance to talk. Clarke needs friends. She is not like Lexa. She is not weak, either, but she is not like Lexa. Clarke needs many people.

They’re back in the tent they use for these discussions, which was carried here by her gonas when she first came to fetch the Skaikru. Houses have better walls to block sound, but also have corners for people to hide. With a tent, all that is needed is to set it in the middle of a reasonably empty area and post trusted guards to watch for people, and it is secure. If it weren’t for the risk of archers, Lexa would probably have all classified discussions in the middle of an empty field. In a forest, there could always be someone up a tree, down a hole, hidden behind a bush. Only fools felt safer just from being surrounded by more things. The trick was emptiness, so the snakes had no way to sneak up on you.

“Report,” Lexa orders.

Indra frowns. “It is the Mountain.”

“Yes?” She glances at Anya, who she never discussed this with.

Anya looks faintly embarrassed. No one but Lexa would know her well enough to see. “I noticed Indra had sent gonas to spy on it. I needed to know why.”

Perhaps Lexa should give her a reprimand for prying into her Heda’s business. But Anya is trustworthy enough. She needs trustworthy people, and she cannot demand that Anya pretend to be blind and stupid. “I see.”

“I am sorry, Heda,” Indra says gruffly. “I did not know -”

Lexa waves a hand. “No doubt Anya tricked you into telling her,” she says. “And in any case, Anya is trustworthy. You may tell her as much as you like.” Anya looks faintly gratified by the praise. She is handing out too much of it, these days. She looks at the Skai boy, and makes a decision that is about Clarke instead of him. “Wells may also be trusted. His leader vouches for him, and I for her.”

Wells blinks, probably surprised she knows his name. “I… thank you.”

“I assume there is also a reason you wanted to be part of this discussion,” she comments.

He nods. “I know this has something to do with what happened to Atom, Trina and Pascal.”

“The three lost in the fog,” Lexa clarifies.

“Yes,” Wells says, but his voice is hesitant.

“Perhaps,” Anya says, equally hesitant, which is unusual for her.

Lexa frowns. Clarke had been sure that was what happened. “You have not found their bodies?”

“One of them,” Wells says. “We found Atom. We gave him a proper burial already, I thought about waiting for Octavia but I didn’t know when she’d be back.” He wrinkles his nose a little when he mentions Octavia and Lexa decides she likes this quiet, sensible boy.

“We did not find the other two,” Anya says. “And it is possible we are reading too much into that.”

“But?” Lexa asks.

“My gonas watching the Mountain reported that more men went West around that time,” Indra says. “In the direction Anya expected to find the bodies. And they returned with two things, covered in black plastic. I believe they were the Skaikru bodies.”

“They stole their bodies?” Wells says, sounding faintly horrified. “What for?”

Anya gives a negligent shrug. Lexa knows that it does not express callousness, but instead disguised annoyance and mortification at her lack of knowledge.

Lexa nods, trying not to look like this has not surprised her. So the Maunon have caught on faster this time – that’s understandable, given the number of gonas she brought here. Of course they thought there was something to find. But Clarke’s friends are safe, far away. They have a couple of corpses, that is all.

She makes a mental note to ask Clarke whether bone marrow can be taken from a corpse.

“Anything further?” she says coolly.

Indra nods. “We believe there are at most twenty Maunon who work as soldiers outside the Mountain at present. They have left the place several times since we began watching and swept the area to the West, but returned with nothing except the two bodies. Not even potential Ripas or… whatever else they use our people for. They seem uncertain, on edge.”

“Hmm,” Lexa says slowly, storing this information away to also discuss with Clarke. After Wells has filled her in, of course.

“I have also been working with the gonas you left to catch a Ripa when you wish for one,” Indra continues.

“Ripas?” Wells asks.

“I will explain to you later,” Lexa promises, voice short.

“They are learning, but they are scared,” Indra says. “I picked those who were from far away so there was no chance they would fight a friend or bro, but the Maunon’s reach is wide. All know to fear it.” She bares her teeth. “Perhaps I should have chosen my own people. They are warriors, not cowards.”

Lexa meets her eyes. “None of them are cowards, Indra. Just cautious. This is good. Continue the training. Try the methods on mountain lions, bandits, whatever can be found. They will not be on the same level, but small victories will give confidence, and practice cannot hurt.”

Anya makes a sceptical noise. “Can any practice help them deal with Ripas, though?”

Lexa shrugs. “You once asked me if an alliance seemed possible. At the time, it did not. Now it exists and has existed for years.” She meets Anya’s eyes. “If there is a chance… well, that is all we require. A chance.” She looks to Wells. “Now. We should talk. I can explain the Ripas to you, and answer any other questions. Do you have somewhere to speak?”

The other thing Clarke told her of Wells is that his father rules the Ark right now – though it is hard to connect him in her mind with the Jaha fool enough to hold a knife to her. The more she tells Wells about the Mountain and their crimes, the more he is likely to tell his nontu. She needs the Ark to fear the Mountain as her people do. The theft of the bodies will help, but she needs them to fall in with any battle plans or deals she and Clarke might make, so the more she can do here, the better.

“You can stay here,” Indra says.

“No,” Lexa replies. “You must speak with the leader of your Ripa force and plan this practice. And we discuss nothing that needs be secret. I can speak with the boy in the home you have given him, while you talk of necessary things in this tent.” She wants to have a long conversation, spelling out the crimes of the Mountain as clearly as possible.

“I… I have the place we’ve been given,” Wells says, with only a slight pause. “Finn shares with me, though. He’s there right now.”

Lexa shows her indifference on her face, and he gestures her to follow him. After a moment, Anya follows too, unwilling to leave her Heda alone. Lexa thinks of stopping her, but decides it cannot hurt to have the extra protection.

Two hours later she regrets bringing her former Fos to watch her fail.

“So this moves… straight?” Lexa says, trying not to sound confused, and touching her finger to the tiny bit of spiky metal.

“It’s a castle,” Wells says patiently. They’d discussed Ripas and the Mountain for some time, but then Lexa had noticed the strange scratched square of wood in the middle of the room with the twisted metal figures on it, and Wells had started to explain…. “It moves in straight lines, yeah.”

Finn is also here. It bothers Lexa less than she thought Perhaps because this feckless boy-man bears no resemblance to the one she saw die. Much like Bellamy, in him she sees a goufa. A threat, but still a child. Confusing. “If you move it to the left you can get his knight,” Finn says almost eagerly. He is not very good at this game, by Lexa’s estimation.

Anya frowns. “But then will not the other fortress destroy hers?”

“Oh. Right.” Finn studies it. “How about that bishop -”

“That would end in the death of my haiplana,” Lexa says. “He would move this… this bishop there, and then I would have to move my haiplana here…” she frowns at the board.

“So this is a war challenge?” Anya asks Finn.

“Uh. Yes. Sort of. It’s about strategy.” Finn answers.

“Hmm,” Anya looks at the board. “So the castles must represent fast moving groups of warriors, like Tristan’s rangers. Pawns could be usual gonas. The haiplana – the queen – is the Commander, obviously. What are the horses? They cannot be actual horses, horses cannot jump over the ground like that. Trees and broken terrain stop horses, more even than usual gonas.”

“I do not think it is that straightforward, Anya,” Lexa says, frowning at the board. “After all, the most valuable piece appears to be the king, but it is ineffective. It would die fast in battle. And why should castles move in straight lines and bishops not?” She reaches out and moves the one shaped like a horse in an L shape. This places her between the two that Wells said were most important.

Good move,” he says enthusiastically. “That’s called a check. Now I need to move my king, and you can take my queen.”

She does so, and waits for him to move.

She did not expect to like Clarke’s friend. She did not expect to like any of the Skaikru, truthfully, except for Clarke (and Kane, she had liked Kane somewhat). But this boy is interesting and respectful, and talks about Clarke like there is no one more important. He is overly loyal to his people, as Clarke once was, so certain of their rightness and goodness he cannot see them objectively, but besides this there is no harm in him she can see and at least he does not view her people as lesser. There is a toughness to him as well, she can sense it beneath the surface, and it shows in the ease with which he deals with the information she gives him – but of course, Clarke’s best friend would need to be tough.

Finn, weak Finn who she knows to be a danger, still seems interested in her people and in the peace she and Clarke want to create, and he is charming enough in a feckless way that she can understand why a foolish younger Clarke might like him (a little, anyway). Even in regards to the Mountain, he talks of potential deals, of peaceful solutions. He is far removed from the killer who slaughtered those in TonDC, and she can almost see why Clarke says he is not the same person at all.

She has even gotten used to Octavia’s alternate sour and sweet comments, her strange mix of cynicism towards the world and amazement at it. The girl is judgemental and brash and filled with rash assumptions, but she is also fierce and loyal and pure in her actions.

The twelve clans still come first to her, of course. They are her responsibility beyond this tenuous alliance with the Skaikru, and until they join the coalition that remains the truth. But she can for the first time see why Clarke cares so much for her people. Previously, she has always wondered – they have seemed so foolish, so violent, so prejudiced. The Skaikru have given her no reason besides Clarke to care for their welfare. But now she sees them and she knows that even those who have crossed the boundary into adulthood are as children to her people. They have had such regimented lives, such unbreakable rules, that they have never learned to mind themselves without them. They have told themselves tales of the world they deserved to have and chose to believe them.

She cannot care for them as Clarke does. But she can understand why Clarke cares. Perhaps that is enough.

And in this new world, they will be her people as well, if all goes as planned. So perhaps she is allowed to like them.

Lexa moves her knight again, and looks expectantly at Wells.

Chapter Text

It’s bittersweet and strange to see Raven and Finn’s reunion. Raven runs into his arms, beaming at him like he hung the stars, and they kiss. They whirl around in circles, locked together. Always moving in unison, like it’s a dance they’ve done a hundred times. Clarke feels like she should just be happy for them, but there’s an echo of the last time she saw this – she can remember the hurt, the anger, the heartbreak of realising just who Raven was. Realising she’d been lied to, and made an accomplice in hurting someone else.

And part of her thinks: doesn’t Raven deserve better than Finn, as well? Better than the cheater, the murderer?

She shakes off her weird mood. He hasn’t cheated, he’s killed no one, not here, anyway. She can’t preach to Lexa about how she shouldn’t judge people for what they might do and continue to judge based on that herself. This is a new world, a new day, new people.

Clarke’s just gotten down from her horse – cautiously, those things are huge – when Lexa, Wells, Monty, Jasper, Anya and Indra arrive. Indra casts a surprised glance at Lincoln, who’s still deep in quiet conversation with Octavia, and Wells pauses in confusion on seeing Raven and Finn’s embrace. Everyone else’s eyes immediately zero in on the radio, with its blinking lights.

“I see you found your message,” Lexa says carefully. “Perhaps you should place that in the tent over here. The guards will ensure your discussions are not overheard.”

“What is that?” Anya asks, scowling at it.

“A radio, a way to talk with people far away,” Clarke explains. Judging by Lexa’s brief chagrined expression, she’s realising she just gave away that she knows exactly what it is by her comment about ‘discussions’. Luckily, no one else seems to have noticed – perhaps they think she meant discussions about what to do with the radio, instead of discussions using it.

“And I’m here as the radio operator,” Raven says cheerfully, breaking away from Finn. She grins. “All the way from the Ark, baby. Free fall.”

Awesome,” Jasper says eagerly.

“We did that too,” Monty points out.

“Not by choice,” Jasper replies. “By choice would take serious – wait, it was by choice, right?”

“Not only by choice, but against all rules, regulations and common sense,” Raven says. “Clarke’s mom had me fix up an old escape pod and come down. She didn’t believe it when your vital signs all flatlined.”

“My fault,” Monty says regretfully. “I was trying to communicate with the Ark using one of them and it shorted out them all.”

“No harm done,” Clarke says. “Now we have this, which will be much easier than using Morse code on wrist monitors. I already told Jaha to get Mom, Kane, Sinclair, and any other advisors who’ll be helpful, and I’d talk to them as soon as we were somewhere secure. I didn’t want to risk being attacked or something and losing the radio, even with so many gonas there to protect us.”

“Damn straight,” Raven says, apparently unable to stop grinning at Finn. He grins back, but it doesn’t quite have the unrestrained happiness apparent on his girlfriend’s face.

The Trikru all leave as soon as the radio is in the tent, Lexa giving Clarke a respectful nod and the ghost of a smile as she goes. Clarke puts it down to politeness more than anything else – Lexa must know that she can hear anything that’s being discussed, and the guards at the tent flap will no doubt report everything to Indra anyway.

All of the Skaikru stay though. (Clarke realises, with slight surprise, that she now calls her people ‘Skaikru’ automatically). Even Octavia, though she looks after the departing Lincoln regretfully. Even Finn and Raven, still entwined with each other.

Wells smiles at Clarke, but it’s clearly forced, and she realises that he must be feeling very alone now that she’s gone off with Lexa and Finn has Raven back. To make up for her abandonment, she reaches out and squeezes his hand briefly. “Ready to talk to your dad?” she asks him jokingly.

“Sure,” he says, giving her a smile in return. “I wonder if he’ll yell at me again for getting myself arrested.”

“I never actually asked, man, but what did you do?” Finn asks, looking at Wells.

Wells coughs and looks awkward. “I stole… something.”

“Something?”

He caves at Clarke’s questioning look. “I… fine, okay. I stole all of my father’s clothing and gave it to the sanitation workers, and told them it was a bonus.” Clarke stifles a laugh. “He tried to claim he’d given me permission to do it, but he’d already spent a day asking anyone if they’d seen his clothes, so no one believed him. Your mother and Kane voted him down and sent me to Earth. I think your mom did it just because she wanted someone to be there to protect you.”

“How sweet,” says Finn, a bit sarcastically, and he and Wells exchange a glance. Clarke wonders if this means they talk about Wells’ feelings for her, and can’t help but be slightly embarrassed at the thought.

“You know, radios don’t actually have loading times,” Raven says. “Why are we hanging about?” She reaches forward and twiddles the radio on.

Clarke clears her throat and leans in. “Hello? Mom?”

“Clarke?” The word is half a sob. “Oh, baby. I’m so glad you’re okay. You gave me a scare -”

“Well, I’m fine,” Clarke cuts her mother off. Jasper is already snickering uncomfortably at the outpouring of emotion. “I have Wells, Raven, Finn, Jasper, Monty, and Octavia here with me.”

There’s a brief pause. Clarke realises that apart from the first two names, all of them must be meaningless to her mother, except maybe Finn as Raven’s boyfriend. The thought is disturbing. “Okay,” Abby says eventually. “I’m so glad you made it down okay, Raven. Here with me I have Thelonius, Muir, Kane, Cole, Kaplan, Sinclair, Fuji, Jackson, Diana and Commander Shumway.”

Every member of the Council, the medical officer, engineering officer, and the Commander of the Guard, in other words. And Diana Sydney, who had somehow managed to make it in – perhaps when Clarke told Jaha to get anyone useful, he decided involving the former Chancellor in matters would help to pacify the people he’d nearly killed. Or perhaps she just managed to talk her way in like she somehow always did.

“Thelonius is a stupid name,” Jasper says in an undertone to Monty.

“I know, right?” Octavia says, and they all grin at each other. “Always thought so.”

Clarke glares them into silence. “Right. Okay. The first thing I need you guys to do is arrest Diana and Shumway.”

There’s a long pause. Everyone in the tent looks at Clarke like she’s gone mad. She suspects that everyone up on the Ark is looking at the radio in the same way.

“Bellamy Blake has explained to me what happened,” Clarke says evenly. Someone – Diana, probably – starts to say something in protest and is hushed by the others. “Shumway gave him the gun to shoot Jaha, on orders from Diana.”

This produces an immediate furore up on the Ark, which ends when Abby yells for the guards. A shot goes off and everyone in the tent flinches at the noise, but a few seconds later Abby says into the radio, voice slightly constrained, “Clarke. Everyone’s fine. They’re being held. Are you sure about this?”

“Completely,” Clarke assures her. Octavia is looking at her, brow furrowed, mouth open. Probably wondering when Clarke found the time to talk to Bellamy alone and get this information. Wells, on the other hand, just looks shellshocked – regardless of his complex feelings towards his father, Clarke knows Wells would die before he let Jaha get hurt.

“Will the Blake boy testify to this?” Jaha asks.

“He will,” Clarke promises, wondering exactly how she’s going to persuade Bellamy to pretend he believes Diana was behind it when he doesn’t have a clue. Luckily, this is a problem for tomorrow. “He can’t right now, though. He’s at least a day’s ride away. And to be honest, I think we have bigger issues to deal with right now.”

“Bigger… issues?” Jaha says, sounding slightly bewildered. “Clarke, could you please clarify what you’re talking about.”

Raven rolls her eyes at his slowness. “I’m pretty sure she’s talking about your glorious return to Earth, Chancellor.”

Jasper, Monty and Octavia snicker in unison. Even Finn smiles. Clarke blinks. She’d forgotten how much reason all of them had to dislike Jaha – in the original world fear of the Grounders had caused the 100 to view the Ark coming down as protection from a greater threat. In this new world, the Grounders have already become their providers, their allies. If not their friends, than at least not a direct threat. Which means that, to them, Jaha is more of an enemy.

Clarke wishes she didn’t have the kind of mind that immediately began whirring with information like that, looking for a way to take advantage of it. But she does have exactly that type of brain. How can she use this dislike and distrust to more effectively achieve her aims? How can Lexa use it?

“We’re looking into it,” Kane says crisply. “The drop ships will only take a fraction of the Ark’s population. We need to work out who’s most essential. I think we should focus on food production, science and medicine.”

“Good thing we didn’t kill our skilled food workers off after all,” Abby says sarcastically.

There is a barely-audible but sharp inhale from Kane at that comment. “Yes,” he says, his voice shaking slightly. Clarke feels a flash of pity for him. “It is.”

“A fraction?” Monty says, his voice rising. “You’re not going to bring down everyone? What about my parents?”

“They’re coming down,” Clarke says grimly. “Actually, everyone’s coming down.”

Another pause. “What?” Abby says. “Clarke, we don’t -”

“Bring down everything,” Clarke orders, forgetting that in this world she has no high official leadership position. “The whole Ark.”

“The Ark would burn up in re-entry -” Sinclair starts.

Raven starts to grin. “But not all of it. Come on, Sinclair, surely you can figure out the best bits to hide out in?” She gives Clarke an approving look.

“I… suppose…” Sinclair says hesitantly. “We’ll look into it. But I wouldn’t -”

“Good,” Clarke says, cutting him off decisively. “Let us know when you have a tentative ETA, we’ll start figuring things out here.”

“What things?” Abby says, confused.

Clarke blinks, and realises she hasn’t filled them in on anything at all. “Oh, right. Well, we have to let the locals know when millions of tonnes of red-hot metal are going to slam into their land, and thousands of strangers are going to pour out.”

“The… the locals?” Jaha says. “What locals?”

“They’re called the Trikru, Chancellor,” Clarke replies. “And it’s a very long story.”

Chapter Text

“If we move the knight to take that pawn,” Clarke whispers.

Lexa gives a minute shake of her head. “In three turns that will cause us to lose our bishop, Clarke.”

According to Clarke, the Skaikru will not be able to come down for at least two weeks. Her choices were to return to Polis for this time, or find things to occupy them at TonDC – Lexa, without any hesitation at all, chose TonDC.

She could justify it to herself in any number of ways. She could say she wishes to be on hand to receive any new information immediately, or pretend she is giving the ambassadors a chance to experience more direct authority over the day-to-day affairs of Polis. She could talk about training the gonas here.

But, truth be told? Lexa is here because here is where Clarke is. Even if they took the radio to Polis, she would be so distracted by responsibilities she might have no time to spend with Clarke. Here, in TonDC, Indra and Anya are well able to manage things. So Lexa can lie with Clarke, and touch her, and speak to her, and right now with her help attempt to beat Wells in this confusing strategy game.

She has gotten extremely close twice already, and once has caused the end of the game by both sides having only two pieces and finding it impossible to complete the trap known as a ‘checkmate’. But now Clarke is here, no longer sequestered with the radio speaking to her mother or Kane, and Lexa does not wish to lose in front of her.

Also in the audience, Anya lounges in the corner, cleaning under her nails with a knife as Tris stands big-eyed beside her; Octavia is seated cross-legged on the floor frowning at Clarke like she is the one looking at a puzzle; Jasper and Monty are ignoring the game to mutter quiet commentary to each other and have twice had cause to slap their own palms in an odd yet self-congratulatory manner; Finn sits next to Wells with a deliberate space between them and tries to smile encouragingly at him, only to be ignored for some petty reason; and finally Raven is standing on the other side of Anya fiddling with several pieces of metal, oblivious to Anya’s annoyance about her closeness.

Lexa hesitates. She cautiously moves one her pawns forward a space, and looks at Wells from under her lashes nervously. “This game is most confusing,” she says innocuously, and watches as he falls for her assumed air of innocence.

“I know,” Wells assures her, moving his queen to take the pawn without looking closely, too focused on reassurance to double-check his play. “It took me years to -”

“Checkmate,” Lexa says serenely, moving her own queen. He is blocked from returning his to the defence of his king by an unfortunately placed bishop, and anywhere he can move his king is now covered by one of several pieces of hers. It has been the careful work of multiple turns to place these so without being noticed.

“Oh, no way,” Finn says, looking comically annoyed. “Not fair. I haven’t even gotten close to beating him yet, and you can checkmate on your third day playing?”

Raven chuckles and looks up from her work. “Babe, you’re good at a lot of things -” she wiggles her eyebrows flirtatiously, “-but strategy is not one of them.”

Wells looks away, and Lexa suspects that under the camouflage of his dark skin he’s flushed. She’s observed that he has strong bonds with both Clarke and Finn, and has noticed that suggestive comments regarding either of them – even joking ones, such as those Jasper occasionally lobbies towards Clarke – make him uncomfortable.

Then Wells returns his gaze to the chess board, evaluating possibilities. Eventually he raises his warm, thoughtful eyes to her and smiles. “Well done,” he says ruefully. “You should play my father – the Chancellor – when he comes down. Normally he’s the only one who can beat me.”

He is so steady and kind, that Lexa feels a pang of regret that he will undoubtedly return permanently to Arkadia once it is built. His ties to his people are the strongest of them all, but she feels he could do well among the Trikru. In an odd way, he reminds her of Gustus.

“I look forward to it,” Lexa says politely, inclining her head. “But for now, we waste daylight hours. We should go and train.”

She looks at Clarke, who is glowing with pleasure at watching Lexa interact with her friends. On the journey to Polis, Clarke had asked Lexa to train her, so she could regain some of her old skills, and this is the first opportunity they have really had. Most of Clarke’s battle reflexes are from attacking animals, and desperate struggles, neither of which Lexa considers to be true gona training. It is likely she will have to start from the very beginning, teaching Clarke stances and how to distribute her weight.

Lexa hopes this will require a lot of hands-on instruction.

“Lincoln’s started teaching me,” Octavia says, apropos of nothing. “I’m pretty good. I’ll come train with you. If that’s okay, Heda?” she adds as an addendum, brow raised, clear and pointless defiance in her tone.

“Sha, Octavia. Do any of the rest of you wish to come? The training will not be too advanced.”

Wells looks at Clarke, then shrugs and says, “Why not?” easily. Finn glances his way for a second, then looks at Raven and frowns, and they both shake their heads at the same moment, Raven immediately looking back down at her metal puzzle. Monty whispers something less than complimentary to Jasper about exercise and Jasper whacks him lightly, and they let out a chorus of negatives as well, laughing. Anya lets out a huff that could be a sigh or a disdainful laugh, but sheaths her knife and moves to follow her old Seken. Tris trails her eagerly as she leaves.

The Skaikru are… not impressive, to Lexa, in the beginning at least. She focuses on teaching them how to stand correctly, and on exercises to strengthen their weak muscles, refusing them weapons until they demonstrate some form of skill at these activities.

She enjoys showing Clarke the right way to stand, moving her limbs into place, enjoys the sparks she feels every time she places her hands on Clarke, the way Clarke’s face flushes and she licks her lips slightly too often. However, even with this distraction, Clarke grasps this quicker than the others and adds it to her already-developed fighting style easily. Soon she is good enough to drill properly, and Lexa steps back, deciding she cannot bring herself to exchange blows with Clarke right now, even in practice. She calls over a gona to practice with her instead, and sees the relief on Clarke’s face. She did not wish to fight Lexa either.

Clarke is well aware of how to defend herself, and proves this by nearly defeating the gona after only a few rounds. While he still wins most of the time and has a clear advantage, Clarke makes him work for every strike. With some added muscle, Clarke will be formidable indeed, and Lexa glows with pride at her accomplished lover. It is a shame the presence of others means she cannot express this pride as she would like to, but later in the tent set aside for Lexa she will come up with a reason to ‘confer’ extensively with the Skaikru leader.

This is a contentedness that Lexa has never experienced before. She pauses in her movements regularly to revel in it. There is Clarke, there, right there, in reaching distance – Clarke who knows her as no one else ever has, who knows all of her and understands all of her as even Costia could not. (Because Costia lived in the light, but her death brought darkness to Lexa, which makes her wonder if Costia could have loved this version of the Commander as much as she loved the first one). Clarke who sees this, who knows it, who has been wounded by Lexa’s duty before, but nevertheless looks at her with that impossible warmth in her Skai eyes. A Skai girl, fallen from the stars for her.

She just wishes they had more time with each other. That it was not stolen moments. That there weren’t dangers surrounding them from every angle – the Maunon. The Azgeda. Their own people.

Octavia has a fierceness which will serve her well, Lexa notes. Even sparring with – and being defeated by – Tris, a girl half her age, does not dim the fire in her eyes. She encourages Tris to be as vicious as she would be in a normal battle, and stands every time she is toppled. Octavia ignores her blood and bruises as if there was no pain at all. Lexa feels a reluctant admiration for the fool despite her position staunchly against Lexa, a dislike she knows from Octavia’s occasional glances to still exist.

“She is strong, that one,” Indra remarks from behind her, startling Lexa, who had not realised she was there. Her eyes follow Octavia.

“Indeed,” Lexa says in a non-committal way. “However, without a Fos, I suspect that promise will subside into nothing.” She eyes the older woman carefully.

Indra understands the implication immediately. “You wish me to train the girl?” She sounds greatly offended.

“There is no better trainer,” Lexa says evenly. She and Indra look at each other for a long moment, and Lexa adds, “Judging by their glances, she and Lincoln will someday be bonded.”

“Foolish fantasies,” Indra scoffs.

“Perhaps,” Lexa says. “Or perhaps not. Regardless, she has skill. She lacks discipline. You would be an excellent Fos for her.” She lets Indra think about it, deciding not to press further.

“I will consider it,” Indra says finally, which for her is as good as an acceptance.

Lexa nods. Indra will follow her suggestion, for Indra is loyal. For herself, she is not sure why she suggested this path – some lingering affection for the original world, the one that no longer exists? Perhaps. It was in that world, after all, that she first grew to care for the Skai girl with her burning eyes and sharp rejoinders.

Wells may also become reasonably skilled, though in his case that is less native talent and more about his obedience to instruction, and his sturdy thoughtfulness. He watches the stance and movements carefully, and follows them as precisely as he can. When corrected by his partner, Anya, he shows no frustrated ego, but calmly moves to amend his error. He also demonstrates more strength than the others – perhaps, as son of their ruler, he was allowed more food than the others. He is probably the only one who of the Sky People who could train with Anya with angering her somehow, and Lexa is glad she paired them together.

Lexa wonders how he died in the first world.

Then she stops wondering, and returns to watching Clarke train. Admiring the movement of her arms, her legs, the fierceness of her. The blaze of blue eyes, the cunning with which she fights. The silhouette of her body against the setting sun, the halo of light from it turning her hair to fiery gold. She is incredible.

“Lexa,” Clarke calls out finally after managing to knock the gona over for the third time, glowing with sweat. “I think I’m out of strength, here. I also needed to talk to you about the conversation I had with the Ark earlier, are you free?”

Clarke’s gaze is overly warm. Perhaps Lexa’s staring had been a little too admiring. Lexa clears her throat and attempts to sound normal (judging by Anya’s snort, she does not entirely succeed), and says, “Of course, Clarke. Come this way?”

She leads Clarke to where she’s been staying – and where she and Clarke have been holding ‘discussions’ as Clarke updates her about conversations with the Ark. These discussions rarely involve more than a minute of actual speech.

They are barely inside before Clarke presses against her and kisses her thoroughly. “Thank you for the training,” she says, moving so that her arms are around Lexa, so that they are entwined perfectly, so that they are one being.

Be Titus's standards, Lexa is weak. She knows this. But she is blessed, and knows this even more.

Chapter Text

“No, Dad, I don’t know their numbers,” Wells says into the radio, frustrated. “I keep telling you, I’m not hiding anything about the Grounders, I just -” he breaks off as Clarke enters and gives her a weary smile.

“Hi, Chancellor,” Clarke says pleasantly, so that Jaha will know she’s here as well. Inside, she’s annoyed. Jaha has asked both Wells and her about the number of Grounders, their positions, their technology, and so on, multiple times. He’s treating them as a threat already even though everything he knows about them is positive.

She could consider that he’s just trying to account for every possibility. But given past events, she’s not very good at giving the Chancellor the benefit of the doubt anymore.

“Hello, Clarke,” Jaha says, slight constraint in his voice. “I’ll talk to you later, son.”

Wells clicks the radio off and mutters “Can’t wait,” to it sarcastically, then turns to face Clarke.

She’d forgotten the awkwardness in their relationship, the distance they show sometimes. She thinks it’s caused by Jaha’s position as Chancellor, as judge, jury and executioner of everyone else. Maybe now the distance is also exacerbated by Clarke’s father’s death and by Wells’ arrest.

“Don’t tell him,” Clarke says suddenly.

“What?”

“Don’t tell him anything about the Grounders except what you already have,” Clarke clarifies. “Not a thing, okay?” She remembers how loyal he’s always been to his father, in spite of their differences. But she also remembers when he wasn’t loyal to his father. When he refused to throw Jake – to throw Clarke – under the bus for his father’s approval. His loyalty to his father is trumped by one thing, and that’s her, and right now she needs Jaha to focus on bringing the Ark down and not on an imaginary war with the Trikru.

Wells looks at her for a moment, then nods. “Of course,” he says firmly, and she relaxes. Wells doesn’t break his promises, she knows that now. “But I don’t think he’s planning anything, Clarke. He’s just being cautious.”

“I know,” Clarke says softly. “But caution led to my father’s pointless death, so I think maybe he should be a little less cautious from now on.”

“Clarke,” Wells looks sad, “I know you must hate my father, but -”

“I don’t,” Clarke says quickly, and sees his doubtful expression. “No, really, I don’t. Sometimes people have to make terrible decisions. Especially leaders. He did the wrong thing, but he believed he was protecting our people. I don’t hate him.” She injects her voice with sincerity. It’s true. She doesn’t hate Jaha. She doesn’t like him, and she doesn’t trust him, but she does understand his actions. After what she’s done, she can’t hate him for the death of her father, although she can’t forget it either.

A pause. “Do you feel that way about your mom, too? Now that you know what happened?”

“I haven’t told her I know,” Clarke admits, and Wells nods like she’s just confirming something he already suspected.

“Why not?”

Clarke shrugs. “She’d want to talk about it, talk it through, work out our feelings.” She’s already worked out her feelings. She has no desire to go through the painful process again. It’s easier just to leave it behind her.

“Maybe you should,” he suggests.

“No,” Clarke says with finality, and searches for a change of subject. “So what’s going on with you and Finn?”

Wells stiffens. “What do you mean?” he says.

“You moved into a different house,” Clarke points out.

“To give him and Raven space.”

“You ignore him whenever he talks to you.”

Wells hesitates, and she can almost see him weighing his loyalty to Finn against his loyalty to her. She wins, clearly. “I’m just… annoyed at him about something.” At her look he elaborates slightly. “He… he did something, and I think he should be honest about it. To Raven.”

The question pops out of her mouth immediately, with no intervention from her brain at all. “He cheated on her?”

“I…” Wells looks shocked at her guess, but admits, “Yes, he did. When he didn’t think the Ark was going to come down. And I told him he needs to tell Raven, that she doesn’t deserve to be the last to know.” Wells has always had very strong morality, although he does understand sacrifice and shades of grey – he plays chess, after all, and he was brought up by Jaha. When it comes to the people he loves, though, Wells considers their safety and happiness to be the most important things in the world. He could never understand or accept Finn cheating on Raven.

Of course, it’s ironic he’s against Finn lying for the sake of Raven’s feelings when that’s exactly what he did to Clarke. But there’s no point in bringing that up now, and Clarke does know that there’s a world of difference between the two scenarios in terms of severity and intent.

Clarke wonders if she should feel offended. Finn fell in love with her in the other world – it should hurt her feelings that he could so easily replace that with another girl in this world. Like he was just looking for someone to cheat on Raven with and she happened to be most convenient back then. But instead, all she feels is resigned. Finn the flirt, the charming one, the Spacewalker… it just feels inevitable somehow. Nevertheless, she pokes at the spot where her hurt should be, testing with the question, “Does he have feelings for the other person?”

“As far as I know, none,” Wells says flatly, looking away, disapproving. Wells has always been a romantic. “But he should still tell Raven.”

Clarke wonders who it was. A random girl from the 100 in the first few days, a TonDC local after they left? A gona the night of the party? Then she wonders if it will hurt Raven less that it was sex with no strings attached, or hurt her more. At least with Clarke and Finn’s relationship Raven had known she was betrayed for a real reason, real emotion, instead of just temporary lust.

She wishes she didn’t know. Now she’s betraying Raven again, by not telling her. Because she can’t tell her, it’s really not her business this time. Great.

“So about your mom -” Wells says, changing the subject back in an obvious attempt to stop talking about Finn and Raven, but he’s interrupted by Octavia and Lincoln entering the tent.

“Hei, Heda kom Skaikru,” Lincoln says, voice wary. Neither of them look pleased. Octavia looks like a hunter searching for prey in the trees. Lincoln looks like one searching for predators.

“Hello,” Clarke says, choosing not to respond in the same language. Despite her uncaring pose, inwardly, she’s tensed. Octavia has been looking at her a lot lately with that considering, almost angry look. Octavia’s already suspicious – very suspicious, in fact – and Clarke hasn’t decided whether she should come clean about what’s going on. Of course, if it comes up, she should probably discuss it with Lexa before she tells the truth about why they know so much about everything. But since she hasn’t yet told Lexa about how much she’s given away to both Octavia and Lincoln, she doesn’t know quite how she’ll broach the subject.

Plus, what are the chances either of them will believe her? She barely believes herself. Time travel is something from stories. They’ll think she’s nuts. And that’s not a bridge she wants to burn, not yet. Aimless suspicions are better than an iron-clad belief that she’s insane.

Unfortunately, it appears she’s about to have to make a decision.

“We need to talk,” Octavia says shortly. Lincoln nods, staring at Clarke with an unreadable expression.

Clarke forces a smile. “What’s the matter?”

Their combined gazes pin her down. “We finally figured it out,” Octavia says harshly. “We’re not stupid, you know.”

“Figured what out?” Wells says, honestly bewildered.

“Wells, maybe you could just -” Clarke says, wanting him to leave before the confrontation really begins, but Octavia stops her.

“Oh, please,” she spits at Wells, “You’re the son of the Chancellor. There’s no way you’re not in on this.”

“In on what?”

“We know you must have been communicating with my people before you fell from the stars,” Lincoln says quietly, his face unfriendly, his eyes fixed on Clarke still.

What?” Clarke says blankly. This is not a conclusion she expected them to reach.

“It’s obvious,” Octavia hisses. “It explains why you speak Trigedasleng. Lincoln told me about that, by the way.”

It’s the one thing Clarke has no real explanation for. She gropes for one, and comes up with, “I found an old book with some of it written. I didn’t even realise it was a real language until -”

“There is no written form of Trigedasleng,” Lincoln says flatly. “We use gonasleng for written communication, and that not often.”

“Plus, that excuse wouldn’t explain how you knew Raven would come down,” Octavia points out. “And you knew, I saw you. You knew the exact time. I bet you’ve been talking to your mom back on the Ark from the moment you ran into Lexa. I know she must have a radio, she knew straight away what Raven’s one was, there’s no way she should know that otherwise. How long has the Ark been talking to Lexa, planning this?”

“This is insane,” Wells objects. He’s ignored.

“Did you know we’d survive the drop and just let us be terrified anyway? Did you let Atom walk into the fog when you could have warned us?” Octavia says, her voice dropping to nearly a whisper, staring at Clarke. “Trina, Pascal? Were you so scared of revealing this secret that you let people die for it?”

Clarke feels a sudden burst of paralysing guilt. She could have told them. She hadn’t, because she thought she’d be back to the drop ship in time to get everyone inside, because she thought the 100 wouldn’t have believed her even if she had told them. But she could have tried. Would that have kept Atom, Trina and Pascal alive? She went to so much effort to keep Wells alive, but with them…

It must show on her face, because Octavia makes a little noise of disgust and paces to the other end of the tent.

“The Heda does not make deals, not with invaders,” Lincoln says grimly. “Yet she deals with you.”

“Oh, more than deals with you,” Octavia says cuttingly, still staring at Clarke like she’s seeing a monster. “You must have been talking to her for ages, forming a real close bond, for the two of you to get together so immediately. Lots of lovely little chats from up in the Ark. The Council’s little secret, huh? Just another one in a long line of -”

“Get together?” Wells looks at Octavia in shock, then looks at Clarke. “What do you mean? Clarke…?”

Octavia glances at him and utters a short, disdainful bark of laughter. “She didn’t mention she’s screwing the Commander?”

Hearing it put so rudely, so harshly, is like a punch to Clarke’s stomach. And to Wells – he seems to stop breathing for a second. He opens his mouth to say something, pauses, and searches Clarke’s face. Whatever he sees there must tell him the truth, because he gets up and walks slowly, almost blindly, out of the tent. She doesn’t need to see his face as he pushes open the flap and stumbles out to know his eyes are filled with tears.

“Wells,” Clarke says helplessly, but he keeps going, and she doesn’t follow him. Instead she looks at Octavia, suddenly angry. “Did you have to do that, Octavia? Really?”

Octavia looks slightly ashamed for a second, then recovers. “That was your fault, not mine,” she snaps. She looks away, though, after Wells, like she also wants to go after him.

This is how every argument with Octavia feels, Clarke reflects – she’s never completely wrong in her criticism, and the points where she is correct hit Clarke’s sore spots exactly, so Clarke can never retort as easily as she can in arguments with other people. But Octavia’s comments and attitude also ignore context and shades of grey.

“I was going to tell him,” Clarke says slowly. “I was just waiting for the right time.”

“This does not matter,” Lincoln says, though he looks uneasy at all the unexpected emotion. “What matters is that you have been talking with Heda, planning to come down, and my people do not know. They must be told.”

Clarke feels another unfair flare of anger. “If I had, and anyone needed to know, Lexa would already have told them,” she snaps. “But as it happens, no, I haven’t been dating the Grounder Commander by radio, from space, for years. Thanks for asking.” Her voice makes it clear just how ridiculous the accusation is. “Actually, I never even spoke to Lexa until I ended up on the ground. So if you two could stop being conspiracy theorists and actually do something, that would be great.”

This makes Octavia draw back, but only for a second. “Don’t try and play this off. I know that -”

“You know?” Clarke says harshly. “What do you know? You know I saved Lincoln’s life by caring for him when you threw a knife into him. You know I made deals with the Grounders to keep us alive. You know I helped Raven when she fell from the Ark. What you know, is that I have done nothing but good for our people. Have I saved everyone? No. Have I done my best with what I know? Yes. So you can either shof op, or go float yourself, Octavia.”

She stands up and walks out of the tent, beyond done with this conversation.

Chapter Text

Lexa moves left, feints to the right side and then delivers a blow from the left, before ducking a swing of the staff from Anya. There is no real point in tricks here, beyond the practice of them: Anya taught her nearly everything she knows. Pretending to be weaker than she is would be foolish, as Anya knows Lexa’s strength as well as her own. Pretending to be less skilled will just get her mocked. Instead, in fights with Anya, Lexa must rely on her greater speed, her quick thinking, her own knowledge of Anya’s techniques.

In a real fight, of course, she would bring down Anya almost immediately. Lexa can throw her knives with far greater accuracy – the fight would be over before Anya closed the distance between them. With a spear, it would be just as quick. Even with swords, she would probably have a more noticeable advantage due to her speed, since it takes no great strength to slice into someone. To Anya’s great credit, she considers Lexa her best accomplishment instead of her competition, so it pleases her to be defeated most times.

Fighting with staffs, however, lets Anya use her slightly greater strength and height to her benefit, and that evens them up. This allows Lexa to get just as good a workout, and them to make it a closer contest of skills.

Anya swings the staff overhand, bringing it down against Lexa’s with a sharp crack that echoes across the square – filled with eager watchers – and Lexa slides her pole against the forceful blow in a sneaky stab towards Anya’s middle. Anya moves out of the way, shifting her stance, and strikes her next blow towards Lexa’s side, forcing Lexa to twist out of the way as well. Anya’s going on the offensive.

Wells walks across the square. He pauses to stare at Lexa for a long moment, unhappiness etched into his face, then turns with a shake of his head to stalk away.

Lexa frowns, and barely avoids a blow to her head.

“Sloppy,” Anya says calmly, though she also has registered the Skai boy’s brief expression. Lexa can tell by her furrowed brow.

Lexa growls slightly, and swipes her foot unexpectedly behind Anya’s leg, causing her to stumble and nearly fall. As Anya recovers, Lexa swings her staff in a diagonal movement that her old Fos barely avoids. “Better,” Anya allows, breathless.

Clarke also hurries across the square now. She gives Lexa a meaningful look, then walks in the same direction as Wells.

Lexa decides it is time to finish this match. She catches hold of the staff and kicks out at Anya, then when Anya manages to evade this, grabs Anya’s neck and pulls her towards her, lowering her head so that their skulls crash together.

It hurts, but it hurts Anya more than her, and there is no doubt that in a real fight – with all her force behind it, aimed at the weakest point of Anya’s head instead of the boniest – Anya would now be dead or at least disabled.

“Well done,” Anya gasps, reaching a hand to her head and wincing. “We may make a warrior of you yet, yongon,” she says jokingly. Anya’s sense of humour has always been mocking quips, and Lexa is well accustomed to her deadpan delivery of these.

Lexa doesn’t reply. She is looking to see where Clarke has gone, but the Skai girl has already disappeared.

She hands the staff off to the nearest gona. “Drill with Anya,” she orders. “Maybe defeating you can restore her confidence.” Quiet laughter ripples through the crowd of onlookers. Anya gives a smirk to the luckless gona.

Lexa walks confidently in the direction Clarke and Wells walked. She checks the home Wells just requested the previous day, but it is empty. Clarke’s tent is similarly bereft of people. Her third try is Finn and Raven’s – formerly Finn and Wells’ – small house, where she finds several people, although not who she was looking for.

Finn leans against the wall, looking at the floor, a frown on his face. Wells is seated, looking upset, as Raven attempts to console him awkwardly. She is visibly uncomfortable in the role of comforter. All three look up as Lexa clears her throat.

“Where is Clarke?” she demands, no room for tact. Clarke looked like she needed Lexa. She must find her.

Wells’ eyes are a little red, but he meets her gaze squarely. If there were tears in his eyes, they are gone now. “So… you and Clarke, huh?” he says evenly.

She simply looks at him, unsure what to say. It is clear to her now that he has romantic feelings for Clarke. Clarke did not warn her of this – perhaps she did not know? “Yes,” she says eventually. “Me and Clarke.”

Wells nods slowly, like this short response is exactly what he expected. “I wish she’d told me herself,” he says unhappily, almost to himself, then focuses on her again. “Treat her well. Or you’ll have me to deal with.” His expression warms a little as he says this, and he manages a half-smile, despite the implied threat. Perhaps he considers her a friend, after all their chess games.

Lexa nods to Wells brusquely, then turns and leaves the room. As she exits, she hears Finn say, “You’re better off, man,” in what he no doubt thinks is a comforting manner.

Lexa cannot imagine how anyone could be distracted from the loss of Clarke. But Wells, whatever his feelings, is clearly already dealing with this new reality. If she judged his expression correctly, his hurt may even be more to do with his lack of knowledge about this development in Clarke’s life than about her position as Clarke’s lover – perhaps he never expected his romantic feelings towards Clarke to come to fruition. Or maybe he is simply so unselfish that he would rather Clarke be happy, even if it is with someone else. Whatever the case, he is not angry at Lexa.

She finds Clarke in her tent, where perhaps she should have looked first. Clarke is seated on the bed, looking thoughtful.

“We have a problem,” Clarke says.

Lexa sits on the bed beside her gingerly. She has comforted Clarke in the wake of executions, missiles, and genocide, but she has never helped to deal with something as simple as a friend’s feelings being hurt. It is strange. “Wells seems fine,” she offers.

Clarke twists on the bed to look at her. “You spoke to him?”

“Yes. He told me to treat you well.”

“Oh.” Clarke says. “Oh, good.”

“…Are you all right, Clarke?”

“I’m fine,” Clarke says. “I just… I guess I always knew part of our friendship was based on his feelings for me. But when Octavia said I was with you, it looked like he gave up on that. I mean, I thought he was getting over it before then, but I guess not… he looked really crushed. I never wanted to do that.”

“I know you didn’t,” Lexa says. “And so does he.”

“Right,” Clarke sighs. “That’s not why I’m here, though. I’m here because of Octavia. I was trying to figure out what to do about her, and I needed to talk to you.”

“What about Octavia?” Lexa says, confused.

“When I said I needed to talk to you, Wells wasn’t my primary concern,” Clarke says. She moves to lean against Lexa, resting her head on Lexa’s shoulder. Lexa smooths her hair back and kisses her head lightly, even this small affectionate touch making her heart speed up a little. “Octavia knows about us. More than the fact we’re together. Octavia – and Lincoln, for that matter – have been working on some theories about why we seem to care about each other so much, and know so much of what’s happening. They’re suspicious.”

Lexa blinks, absorbing this information. Clarke’s preoccupation and concerned expression make more sense when viewed through this knowledge. No doubt Clarke would suffer for Wells – she is very empathetic. But Clarke’s biggest worries are normally about her people’s survival, not one individual’s emotional health. “I see,” she says, considering this.

“I can’t decide if we should tell them everything,” Clarke says. “They’re coming up with wild ideas.”

“As wild as reality?” Lexa asks dryly.

Clarke manages a laugh. “That’s a good point,” she allows. “I want to tell them. I want more people to know. My friendship with Octavia is disintegrating over this. She’s lashing out, she doesn’t trust me anymore, and she didn’t have the warmest feelings toward authority to start with. Also, frankly, I’m going to find it hard to maintain my half of the friendship if she keeps attacking me like she just did. It would be nice to finally explain ourselves so she’ll back off. And I really don’t want her and Lincoln assuming we’ve got sinister reasons for everything we’re doing.”

“But…?”

“But I don’t think they’ll believe us,” Clarke says. “They’ll think we’re lying.”

“They already think we’re lying,” Lexa points out.

It goes against all of her instincts to share this information with anyone. Her years have Commander have taught her that information others do not have is an advantage that should not be given up.

But then, her years as Commander have also taught her not to trust anyone. They have taught her to remove threats immediately, any threats. They have taught her love is weakness. All her instincts scream at her not to be here, not to have the warmth of Clarke at her side, not to allow the squeeze of emotion she feels whenever she sees Clarke.

From the moment she met Clarke, her instincts have fought a losing battle against the – at first scarcely noticeable – promptings of her scarred heart.

Clarke studies her, frowns. “So you think we should talk to them?”

Lexa shrugs. “I cannot think what harm it could do. They are already suspicious, already distrust us.”

“We don’t have any proof at all, anymore,” Clarke says after a long, thoughtful moment. “We’ve changed everything too much. The last thing I was even slightly sure of was Raven coming down. Polis, TonDC, the Ark… we’ve altered the world so much. We haven’t even done anything directly to the Mountain and we’ve still completely changed everything there as well. I can’t begin to guess what’s going to happen next.” She looks at Lexa, eyes worried. “Do you think we should have tried to follow the same path? At least a bit? Then we would know what was going to happen.”

“And many more would be dead,” Lexa looks back at her steadily. “And…” she hesitates, then continues. “And even if I had decided following that path was best, I do not think I could have waited for so many weeks to see you again.”

Clarke smiles, the worry in her face easing. “What happened to ‘it takes as long as it takes’?”

“Sometimes it takes too long,” Lexa says solemnly, though a smile betrays her. “Truly, Clarke, I did not feel as if I could breathe properly in this new world until I saw you again. And even then, even then it hurt to see you, for Finn was next to you and I did not know if I had lost you.”

“I’m the one who nearly lost you,” Clarke says fiercely, taking her hand so that their fingers are intertwined, clasped together in Clarke’s lap. “I dream about it, you know. Nearly every night.”

“I would not have blamed you had you still loved him,” Lexa closes her eyes for a second, breathing in the scent of Clarke right next to her. They do not talk about the old world in terms of them often – only in terms of their people. The survival of their people. This is unusual. “You lost him too, after all.”

She can remember the fierce pain of seeing Finn, knowing what must be. But the memory is faded compared to the one from only minutes later – Clarke, her hand reaching out to raise Lexa’s chin, her eyes soft and warm, her voice a whisper. We’re not like that. And Lexa had been struck by it, speechless, too many impossible gifts set too quickly after each other, Clarke here, Clarke remembering, Clarke hers, three wondrous discoveries in a row.

Clarke leans moves her head and kisses her lightly, and Lexa gets lost in it, the feeling of Clarke’s hands as they tangle in her braids, the feeling of her lips as they move so gently against her.

“I’m glad you came for me so soon,” Clarke says softly, pulling away only an inch to say it. Lexa can feel Clarke’s breath against her. “Any longer would have been too long for me as well.”

“Ai hodnes, ai kwelnes,” Lexa whispers. “I could never stay away.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, have you seen Octavia?” Clarke asks.

“She and Lincoln went hunting,” Finn says through a mouth full of food. He’s seated on the grass, in the sun, next to Raven. It took Clarke ages to find them, even though they’re less than a couple of hundred feet from the village. She wonders if they’re avoiding all the training warriors, or just the Grounders in general.

Clarke sighs. “I know. But they left yesterday, they should be back by now. Lincoln told Indra they’d be back by midday.” The hunt is an obvious cover. Clarke just isn’t sure whether the two of them have taken off because Octavia wants time to cool down, or to think of more crazy theories. Maybe both. Either way, now that she and Lexa have agreed to tell them everything (well, nearly everything) Clarke just wants them here. They left while she was still with Lexa. She’s been fighting the desire to tell one of the others everything since she fell to the ground, and now she finally can it’s stressful to delay.

At least her free morning has done her some good, though. She spent it with Wells, being beaten at chess, talking about nothing in particular. He hadn’t said a single word about Lexa, and she’d been too scared to bring it up. But then when she’d stood up to leave, he took her hand and squeezed it for a second, and smiled at her.

Perhaps they’ll talk about it more at a later date. For the moment, for them, that’s enough. They’ve known each other long enough to not need many words.

“Try Anya, she’d know,” Raven suggests absently, not looking at either one of them. She’s still fiddling with some of the little pieces of metal she brings everywhere. Then there’s a little sliding noise, and she crows, “Aha! Done!”

“What are you done with?” Clarke says curiously. In her experience, everything Raven makes is useful, and nearly everything Raven makes is deadly. Lexa and Clarke had requested Raven work on some things – radios, specifically, followed by bombs – but this doesn’t look like either one of those. Too small.

“Found an old broken watch earlier in the scraps,” Raven says, holding it up. “Just wanted to see if I could fix it. Lots of little cogs.” Despite her triumph, her voice sounds flat, and Clarke realises that despite nominally sitting next to Finn on the ground, there’s a very deliberate and pointed space between them.

Her stomach sinks. So Wells persuaded Finn to come clean after all. Poor Raven.

Of course, Raven would hate her pity, so Clarke forces herself to pay attention to other things. “Nice,” she says, taking a step closer to look at the watch. It’s old and clunky, and whatever kind of band it used to be connected to has clearly rotted away or been ripped off, but she can see the hands tick-tick-ticking their way around the little circle. It makes her think of her father’s watch, accidentally abandoned back on the Ark in her first few minutes in this new world.

Finn reaches out tentatively and takes it. Raven lets him, though she doesn’t look pleased about it. “Pretty cool,” he says, giving Raven a cautious smile. She gives a wooden one back.

Clarke smiles uncomfortably, deciding that it’s time to get the hell out of this awkward situation. She’ll go talk to Anya, then maybe train with Lexa for a while. While her heart aches for Raven – and even Finn somewhat, it can’t be fun to have the person he’s closest to give him that cold look – she’s not going to be any use here.

“Can I have it?” Clarke says suddenly, gesturing at the watch. “It’s fine if you want to keep it,” she adds hurriedly. But the truth is, she suddenly really wants it. She wants that comforting ticking noise, reminding her of her father, his strength, his kindness. If she can’t have his actual watch, it would be good to have something.

“Sure,” Raven says with a negligent shrug. “Take it, it’s yours. I should really be working on making radios out of the scraps Anya’s been bringing me instead.”

Finn passes it over to Clarke with an effort at his usual charming grin. Then he glances at Raven nervously when his hand touches Clarke’s for a second as he gives her the watch, and the charm falls away.

“Thanks,” Clarke says, unable to stop herself from looking at Raven as well, probably with a sliver of guilt in her expression. She might not have screwed over Raven in this timeline, but she sure as hell did in the other one. Even if it was never on purpose.

Raven’s eyes narrow. “You’re welcome,” she says, and suddenly there’s suspicion in her voice. She looks between Finn and Clarke, searching for something.

Clarke can’t exactly say that it wasn’t her this time, not when she isn’t supposed to know about anything about Finn’s unfaithfulness. So instead she just slips the watch into her pocket, gives Raven an uncomfortable smile, and escapes over to where Anya is probably already running her gonas through drills.

She waits until the drill is over. It takes a while, which allows her to go get some food – Indra’s assigned some people purely to find and cook things for the Skaikru and the leaders. At first Clarke wondered if this would be viewed by the Trikru as freeloading, but apparently Lexa brought an additional barrel of fayowada to the village as thanks, and had Indra spread knowledge of that around. Between that and the party the first night they were there, the TonDC villagers probably think of the Skaikru as some sort of omen of drunkenness.

Which is far better than the omen of death they used to be considered to be. Causing some liver damage is considerably less fearsome than burning men alive. It’s a good trade-off, even if it means that so far her respect in this world is nearly entirely based off Lexa’s treatment of her. It was at least partially based on that in the other world, as well, and she can deal with it.

When Anya finally looks done, covered in sweat and mud from wrestling one of her warriors into the dirt, Clarke calls out her name. Anya looks over, frowns, says a couple of quick words to the others, and stalks over, imperious and intimidating as always. While she’s struck up an odd, barbed banter with Raven, and seems to have no problem helping to train Wells, Anya doesn’t like Clarke at all for some reason. It’s clear in the way her eyes narrow when she sees Clarke with Lexa, the snorts she makes in the background sometimes, the way she tenses like she’s preparing for battle when Clarke speaks to her.

“What is it, Skai girl?” Anya says, lip curling.

“I just wanted to know if any of your scouts had seen Octavia and Lincoln return,” Clarke says quietly.

Anya shrugs. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. I did not tell them to look out for a lost Skaikru, or a wandering scout.”

“Well, could you ask around,” Clarke says, annoyance starting to surface at Anya’s tone. She’s about had it with people attacking her, considering she’s done nothing wrong.

“Is that an order?” Anya asks, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

Clarke tries not to grind her teeth. “It was more like a request. If you want me to make it an order -”

“You don’t command me, Clarke,” Anya replies, voice dangerous.

“I don’t, no. But I speak with the authority of the Commander,” Clarke says with finality.

Then Anya gives a razor’s edge of a smile, and Clarke realises this is exactly what Anya wanted her to say, that in fact she was manipulating her towards it. “Yes, you do, don’t you? You use her authority as your weapon. Her affection as your shield. She is all that lies between your people and death – you should think twice before you waste the power she’s given you on such small requests.” Anya looks at Clarke with contempt. “Because I do not expect you to maintain that power for long.”

“Jealous, are you, Anya? Only you can use her affection to your advantage?” She remembers Anya saying in the first world that her old Seken will listen to her. Remembers her in this world, making sour comments to Lexa, giving unasked for advice. She isn’t the only person here who takes advantage of the fact Lexa cares about her.

Anya snorts. “So that is what you’re doing then. How cold, how practical. Especially for your people. The rest of them are branwadas, are goufas, but you aren’t, Clarke kom Skaikru. You are a snake. A threat. And you will get our Commander killed.”

Clarke’s heart pounds hard in her chest. Lexa – blood – blackness, all over her fingers, all over her – lightning – Lexa – her breath comes in little pants and she forces it back into a normal rhythm. She had the dream again last night. “I won’t let Lexa die,” Clarke says fiercely.

“You would kill her yourself if it would help your people,” Anya says coldly. “You are invaders, you are thieves, and you use whatever you find. I will not let you use her.”

Would she kill Lexa for her people? She honestly doesn’t know. Clarke hopes that’s never a choice she has to make. “Our people,” Clarke says, letting her voice grow chillier too.

“What?”

“Our people. Not just mine. We’re all the same people. Our ways are different from yours, but we’re on the same side. Are Trikru ways the same as Azgeda? Floudonkru ways the same as Sangedakru? But that doesn’t mean you can’t work with them.”

“Your ways are the ways of the Mountain,” Anya growls.

“No. They’re not,” Clarke grits her teeth. “You care about Lexa, I understand that. And I know that’s where this is coming from. But don’t you dare compare my people to theirs again. We will fight them with you, Anya. I promise. We will.”

“My people will fight,” Anya says flatly. “And we will die. While your people run around playing at being hunters, bakers, teachers. You have promised Heda that you will help to take down the Mountain, and it is a fool’s plan.”

“It’s Lexa’s plan too.”

“And you make Lexa a fool!” Anya says harshly, and turns her face away, apparently realising she’s gone too far. She looks visibly upset even as she tries to straighten her face out, and Clarke feels a pang of sympathy. Anya’s anger doesn’t come from hatred or condemnation but from fear and love. She’s known Lexa for years, and suddenly Lexa is behaving differently, making different choices than she expected, acting in ways their people might not accept. She’s scared for her.

“You’re not the only one who loves her, Anya,” Clarke says quietly.

“I have known her since she was a yongon,” Anya says, enraged at her emotions being so visible. “You have known her only weeks.”

“I’ve known her forever,” Clarke says, the words brutally honest as they hang in the air. Because part of her has known Lexa forever – Lexa feels almost like another part of her, now. Her soulmate, if such things existed. “I promise you. Lexa will not die. I won’t let her. We’re tougher than you think. I’m tougher than you think.”

Anya opens her mouth to reply, but instead another voice cuts through the air.

“Clarke.” It’s Octavia, skidding to a stop beside her, face hard. “Raven told me you were looking for me, and I know we probably have some stuff to talk about after earlier, but that might need to wait... We have a problem.”

“What?” Clarke says, turning to her.

“Lincoln and I stopped by the drop ship,” Octavia says. "I wanted to see it again, it seemed like a good place to think about... things. Just process stuff. And guess what, it’s not empty.”

What?” Clarke says again.

“Murphy, John and Drew are there,” Octavia tells her. “They must have left only a little while after we did to get there by now.” Probably following them at least part of the way, for that matter – the trail of a couple of dozen horses through the forest would be easy to track, if they couldn’t remember the exact route they’d walked to Polis.

Clarke blinks. She didn’t expect this, but it makes sense – at least for Murphy. She doesn’t really know the others. They died before the Ark even came down, so she only remembers them for the same reason as she knows of them in this world, being part of Bellamy’s ‘there are no rules’ gang. Nothing else. “Did you speak to them?” she wants to know. “Find out why they were there?”

“I considered it,” Octavia admits. “But no. They all had knives, and looked like they were gathering supplies. Also…” she hesitates, then plunges in. “Murphy has a gun.”

Clarke looks at her and then swears softly and fluently. “I left it in my room. God damn it. I just left it there. Because I didn’t want to carry it.” Then she remembers she wasn’t entirely stupid. “I did take the bullets out though. I didn’t want anyone else getting their hands on a loaded gun.”

Octavia gives a little sigh of relief. “Okay. We probably could’ve taken them, then. I wasn’t sure if we wanted to, though. I mean, you said everyone had a choice…” She leaves the sentence hanging.

“They do,” Clarke assures her. “But we should talk to them anyway, make sure they’re not going to go around stabbing Trikru and starting a war. I’ll go talk to Lexa, get some gonas to go with us just in case.”

“All right. I’m coming too.”

Clarke considers pointing out that she’s already been out all night. But the truth is, Octavia doesn’t look tired, she almost never looks tired – it’s like she saved up energy for sixteen years and now has enough stored to power through just about anything. Or has a secret caffeine stash. “Good. Thanks. And, Octavia…” she waits until Octavia looks at her. “Once we’re done with this, once we’re back here and have a chance to be alone, we'll talk. I promise.” She’s promising a lot, lately.

Octavia relaxes slightly. The omnipresent chip on her shoulder seems to slide off. “Thanks. That would be good. I thought you were... I thought you were angry at me. I went too far, before.” she swallows. Octavia doesn’t like to admit fault. “You were right. You’ve done nothing but good things for everyone. You haven’t been totally honest, I know that, but I do trust you to do what’s best for us, Clarke. I do. Really. And the way I spoke to you was just horrible, I treated you like crap and you didn’t deserve it. I’m sorry. If you can't tell me everything, then just... just tell me what you can. Alright?”

"Alright," Clarke says softly, giving her a smile. "I'll do that."

It’s a moment that feels like it should end in a hug or something, even with the silent Anya glowering at them both. Instead they just both give an awkward nod and head off in opposite directions.

Chapter Text

Lexa frowns as they approach the drop ship, her horse becoming restive in response to her unease. This will be only the third time she has ever been to this place, the place where dozens of Skaikru and hundreds of Trikru met their deaths in the other world. The first time she came here was back then, to see if Clarke was telling the truth about being able to cure Ripas (the answer: sort of). The second time was to persuade the Skaikru in this world to come to Polis.

Both of those times seemed needful. This time does not. She could have sent the dozen gonas by themselves to retrieve the three boys. They could have done it without difficulty. But Clarke wishes simply to talk to Murphy and the others without dragging them to TonDC, so that is what they are doing.

Of course, that is not a reason for Lexa to be here. That is an excuse. The reason is simply Clarke.

She wants to be beside Clarke. Always.

It is not a new thought, but there is more purpose behind it than ever before, more assurance. Because in this world, Clarke wants to be beside her as well, and she knows it. That awareness still seems bright and fresh.

She swings down off her horse easily, and moves to help Clarke down. Her hands briefly clasp Clarke’s waist and she enjoys the way her hands fit right there. As if she was designed to hold Clarke, and Clarke to hold her.

She is becoming weaker by the day, and it makes her feel stronger than it should.

She looks forward to the soft warmth and routine that a relationship becomes once the edges have worn off, now that they may have time to find that. The ease and comfort and contentment of shared love and hope replacing the jagged, extreme ups and downs of the beginning. It makes her happy to think that now she may have time enough that she will grow to think of Clarke as an inalterable part of her life, not ever taken for granted, but still a presence she can depend on and wake up beside and lean on in times of stress.

Octavia makes a frustrated noise, and Lexa helps her as she nearly falls off the horse, unused to them even after their trip from Polis to TonDC. Linkon could not come – the night out hunting and walking the distance to the drop ship and back has inflamed his injured leg, and he is with Nyko being treated. He would probably enjoy helping Octavia down much more than Lexa does.

At a sign from Lexa, the gonas all remain on their horses, in the clearing, as her, Clarke and Octavia walk towards the drop ship. She can hear the sounds of conversation inside. Lexa glances at Clarke quickly and raises her eyebrows, silently asking if she should enter or remain outside. Clarke nods determinedly, and so Lexa follows her inside.

Three boys are there. Lexa only knows one of them – Murphy. She has no fondness for Murphy, and she has never understood why any of the Skaikru do, especially Clarke. As far as she is aware, he has brought nothing but death, illness, and injury to Clarke’s people. But then, that is Clarke: she loves and defends her people anyway, regardless of their crimes. A true heart.

The other two boys are both tall, one dark-skinned and brunet, the other light-skinned and blonde, both with faces set into fierce expressions. It seems almost surprising that the shorter, sourer Murphy should be in charge, but from a single glance at them Lexa can tell he is.

Murphy looks up and sees them as Clarke closes the drop ship’s door, presumably so the warriors outside will not hear what they discuss. Lexa feels it would be better to leave it open so they can yell for her gonas if need be, but does not say anything – knowing Clarke that is why she chose to close it, so matters were less likely to turn violent. “What are you doing here?” he snaps.

“Just wanted to check what was going on,” Clarke says carefully. “You could have let someone know you were leaving.”

“I told Bellamy,” Murphy snarled. “I’m sure he would have let you know if you ever went back to that hellhole.”

Lexa bristles, offended on behalf of her city, but does not comment on this. She can see that the boys all have badly crafted bags, already half-filled with food. One has tipped and dried meat, fruit and jobi nuts have fallen out. “You took some of that from my people,” she says instead, inclining her head towards one of the bags.

Murphy bares his teeth at her. “Wages. For the woodwork I did.”

“So what’s the plan?” Clarke asks. “Stay here?”

“Hell no,” Murphy says, “We don’t want to be around when the Ark comes down. We’re gonna head off on our own.”

“See the ocean,” the paler one of his companions says, “All that pale, blue water, instead of woods or buildings blocking in the view.” He gives a smile, looking animated for the first time.

Lexa wonders whether she should inform him that the ocean is typically dark and filled with dangers, but there seems no point. There are few places in this world that are not somewhat dangerous.

“Drew…” Clarke starts to say, then sighs. “If that’s what you want,” she says instead. Then she points down at the bag. “You probably shouldn’t take those nuts, though. They’re hallucinogens.” She sees all of their confused glances at her. “They cause visions,” she elaborates. “Don’t eat them. You should give them to us, we can burn them.”

“You should not do that either,” Lexa advises. “When they first go bad, they only cause visions when eaten, but they can get far worse in time. After they have been left for a while, even burning as little as a handful of them can cause half a gonakru to see things which are not there. If you do not know what stage they are at it is best to dispose of them by burying.”

Murphy looks at the nuts, then crouches and picks up a handful thoughtfully. “Visions, huh? So they send you on a trip if you burn them or eat them?”

“Not a fun one, Murphy,” Clarke says sharply, divining his intentions.

“So you say, Princess,” Murphy replies, “But you seem to have forgotten you’re not in charge here.”

“Come on, man,” the darker one his friends says quietly. “We can just go. Save the trippy nuts for later if you want, but I’d like to get out of here.” He meets Lexa’s eyes and she sees that his are green, unusual for his dark skin. If the other one is Drew, this one must be the one they referred to as John.

Murphy looks at him and lets the nuts trickle back into the bag. “Right, sure.” He gives a nod. “Let’s get the fuck out of this dump.” He looks at Lexa as well. “Any suggestions for a direction, oh great and wise queen of the Grounders?”

“I suggest you not come anywhere near me,” Lexa says, showing her teeth in what is not at all a smile. She does not like his insolent tone. If he was one of her people, or in earshot of one of her people, he would lie dead on the ground now. She expects he would not talk so if he was aware that outside the closed door of the drop ship a dozen gonas wait for the slightest noise to give them a reason to come inside and protect her.

“MAUNON! MAU -”

The voice is cut off with a hoarse, choking noise. More yells follow.

Clarke is the first one to react. She unsheathes Lexa’s sword – Lexa has to suppress her instincts, which all scream at her not to allow another to take her weapon – and apparently stabs it into the floor of the drop ship. A second later she is prying up a part of the floor that is nearly identical to the others, revealing a cramped area below, filled with colourful wires and lights. Lexa winces at the damage to her sword, but she can easily get another one later. Surviving now is the priority. “Down,” Clarke snaps, eyes filled with panic but voice level.

Octavia obeys immediately, not even asking how Clarke knew how to open the floor that quickly. The sounds of pain and violence outside are dwindling, but are no less horrifying for that. What sounds like a bullet hits the drop ship, followed by another.

“What the fuck?” Murphy says, too loudly. Certainly audible outside. He moves several steps away from the door, foolishly also moving away from the hole Clarke has found.

Clarke grabs the closest boy – John – and yanks him towards the hole in the ground. “Come on, come on,” she says frantically. He allows himself to be pulled, brow furrowed.

There is a scraping noise at the door to the drop ship. Lexa decides they are done waiting and jerks both Clarke and John into the hole by their sleeves, dragging the piece of floor quickly over them so it settles into its original place. The last thing she sees as she closes it are the frightened eyes of the boy Drew as he starts towards the hold. But it is too late.

The metal above squeals and howls, Lexa believes it is the door being pulled off the ship by the Maunon. John begins to whimper and Lexa mashes her palm against his mouth, muffling him. Gagging him. He bites her hand – probably not on purpose – and she ignores it, using her other hand against his neck to crush him against the side and make it even harder for him to make noise. They cannot be found. These are the Maunon, fully armed. In direct combat with so many of them, they will all die. Lexa presses her ear against the top of their cramped hiding place.

There is a groan, followed by two thuds within moments of each other. Drew and Murphy hitting the floor above them.

“Looks like most ………….. sensor trigg-……….. were coming fr…. Outsiders, but …… -et some,” a very muffled voice says, whole parts of his sentences incomprehensible through the floor. A pause, probably to get a reply from his radio. “Two. Male. No, sir. She’s n-……… -re, sir.” Another pause. “Yes, sir.”

Footsteps from above echo around their refuge as the Mountain Men apparently search the drop ship. They climb the ladder, drop back down.

It’s tense, extremely so. Clarke moves one of her hands to the small of Lexa’s back, rubbing at it, and even in the gloom she can just barely make out her reaching the other one out to hold Octavia’s hand. Octavia starts, surprised at the unexpected touch, but then allows it. She’s shaking.

Lexa remembers hearing from Clarke once that Octavia grew up under a floor for nearly all her life. What must it be like, after that, to believe you will die under one as well?

Not that she’s unmoved, either. Lexa does not allow herself to shake but the gentle touch of Clarke’s hand on her back, the calming circles she’s moving it in, remind her exactly what she has to lose here. Lexa prepared herself for death a long time ago, but back then she expected death to be a rest, a reprieve, as the Commander spirit passed on to someone else. In the other world, although she stayed calm and pretended serenity for Clarke, all she could think about was what she was losing. The conversations she would never have with Clarke, when she wanted to say everything. The places she only got to touch once, when she wanted to memorise her skin. The peace they would not build together, when she wanted to stand beside Clarke in a better world and know it was their work.

She can hear the faint noise of the leader saying something else into the radio, but he’s too far away to make it out. They are probably also in those suits of theirs, muffling the noise further – for a second she feels wild fury and wishes nothing more than to pop out of the floor and slice through his suit, condemning him to die as the air itself removes his rot from the world, burning him to death. But she controls herself. The Maunon are many, they are few.

Wait. Not now. Kill them later.

“………-othing, sir. We’ll leave ………….-ors here, if…………………………-ack we’ll get th-…. Can interrog-………………………………………….-ey’ll know where ………. -onde girl…..”

Clarke’s hand stops moving. She pulls it away from Lexa’s back, pulls the other back from gripping Octavia’s. She’s already half bent over, but stumbles backwards anyway and slides to the floor. Even in the darkness Lexa can see she’s pale, her mouth opening and closing like she’s in shock. Lexa wonders why she has moved so abruptly from composed to panicking. What did she hear that Lexa missed?

The Maunon leave. Silence reigns, none willing to open their refuge and step out. John is nearly sobbing, Octavia has wrapped her arms around herself and is shaking even harder now. Lexa herself is trying to regulate her breathing, return to calmness instead of the rage and fear that gripped her momentarily.

Clarke finally speaks from her place lying on the floor, curled into herself. She looks numb, lost. “Emerson,” she croaks.

“What?” Lexa asks sharply.

“It’s not a coincidence. Taking those bodies. Going west. Leaving sensors here. Looking for me. Taking any of us they can find. It’s not a coincidence.” Clarke looks agonised. “It’s Emerson.”

“Clarke, I do not -”

“He remembers.”

Chapter Text

When they leave their hiding place, they find nothing but a few milling horses, and the bodies of Grounders with neat bullet holes in their heads. Distantly, Clarke notes that the horses they left are a godsend – whatever sensors the Mountain Men installed here will be being continually triggered by them, so the Maunon are unlikely to come back and investigate again for a while. They should probably go in a different direction to head back anyway, just in case it’s some kind of perimeter sensor, but they’ll probably survive.

“They threw this at the gonas, knocked them all out with it,” Clarke says tonelessly, picking up a used gas grenade and handing it to Lexa, who takes it with a visible look of disgust. “It’s amazing they managed to shout a warning at all. One of the gonas must have spotted them first and then they all tried to yell out to us, and fight, but then the Mountain Men threw these… after that, they would have been knocked out. So the Mountain Men walked around and shot every single one of them.”

“Clarke…” Lexa says softly.

Clarke swallows the bile in her throat. “Maybe they had silencers. I didn’t hear the shots, did you? I don’t understand why they’d bother with silencers, though. It would have been easy to shoot them, since they were unconscious. Maybe I just didn’t hear them, I was too worried about us. There was no reason to shoot them, either, since they were already unconscious.” She reaches down and closes one of the warrior’s eyes gently, hand shaking slightly. “They just shot them because… well, why not. Bullets are cheap, easy to make.” She closes the eyes of the woman next to him as well. This gona has a facial tattoo, and Clarke wonders what it means – do the three bars on her cheek represent her children? Her siblings? The number of wars she’s fought, the number of decades she’s been alive, the number of people she’s fallen in love with?

“What’s going on?” Octavia says, her voice trembling. “Why did they do this? Who’s Emerson?”

“I killed his children,” Clarke says, her voice still a monotone. Somehow she can’t force herself to wake up from this shock.

No,” Lexa says forcefully. “No, you didn’t. You did what you had to do. And that wasn’t here, Clarke, wasn’t now. It did not happen.”

“But he remembers it,” Clarke says dully. “So it did for him.”

“Why would he remember?” Lexa says reasonably.

“Remember what?” Octavia says shrilly. John is still sick, lying on the ground just inside the drop ship – one of them should probably be helping. He started throwing up when he saw all the corpses, the careless bullet shots to the middle of the head for each of them, not neat and clean like in movies but complete with brain matter and blood and the ugly realness of murder. Octavia seems to be holding together better, but only just. Neither of them have seen things like this before.

“Remember everything,” Clarke says to Octavia, abruptly sick of lying. It’s too much effort, in this moment. John can’t hear, and they agreed to tell Octavia anyway. “Everything about the first time around. The first time we fell from the Ark. Jasper was hit by a spear, Charlotte killed Wells, Bellamy threw away Raven’s radio and hundreds of people up there died because of him. You were kidnapped by Lincoln, we tortured him, you became a warrior. We burned three hundred people alive, Finn shot people in cold blood in TonDC and was executed, the Maunon wanted us all dead, so we killed them all, even the children, but then Pike started killing off all of the Grounders even though they were helping us…” her voice fades away. She doesn’t know what to say. There’s too much. It hurts too much.

Lexa takes over for her. “Clarke and I lived through the first year of your people coming to the ground already,” she says quietly to Octavia. “We fought each other, and the Mountain, and the Ice Nation, and each other again. Then I died. And Clarke went to the top of the tower in Polis, and lightning hit her, and we both woke up and remembered it all.”

“That’s insane,” Octavia snaps, but she looks even more shaken now.

“That’s how I knew Raven would come down,” Clarke says, still unable to care about much of anything. She’s staring at the hole through a man’s head and she feels nothing except a numb distance from everything real. She’s fucked up. She’s fucked up so badly. “How I knew Trigedasleng. How Lexa knew what the radio was. How I and Lexa knew each other. How I knew where that hiding place was – I helped Raven do some things there, in the last world. It sounds insane, but it’s true, and it explains everything.”

“But it does not explain why Emerson would remember,” Lexa says, sounding stressed, worried about Clarke. “Please, ai hodnes -”

“I’m so stupid,” Clarke says, closing another warrior’s staring dead eyes. They should be getting out of here straight away, but she can’t bring herself to care enough right now. Their guards are dead, Murphy and Drew have either been taken by the Mountain Men or are dead as well. She wanders back inside numbly and looks at the walls, seeing the truth immediately. “There, look, one of their knock-out darts missed and hit the wall. The others must not have – kind of amazing they missed with any at this range, maybe one guy pulled his shot up at the last second to avoid overdosing one of them on sedatives. They use those darts on small groups, with only two or three people, and save the gas grenades for larger clusters. So Murphy and Drew are probably alive. For the moment. They’ll have their bone marrow sucked out by tomorrow, I bet. Maybe a little later since they were talking about interrogation. And we can’t do anything about it.” She bends down and picks up the useless empty gun, discarded here by Murphy, and stares at it for a second before shoving it into her waistband.

Lexa plucks the dart out of the wall, curling her fist around it as if to hide it from Clarke’s view. Clarke hopes she doesn’t squeeze too hard and knock herself out. “Clarke,” she says, almost pleadingly. “This isn’t your fault -”

“Why would they take them?” Octavia says, clearly still trying to comprehend what’s going on. “I mean, take them alive? Why?”

“They can’t handle radiation,” Clarke says, moving her gaze to Lexa. “They burn up if they leave the Mountain. Using our bone marrow, they can. There’s nearly four hundred of them, they need one person per seven, so Murphy and Drew will only help fourteen…” and then she breaks, the force within her, the sadness, the horror, finally overcoming the walls of numbness. She screws up her eyes so much that they sting with the force of it, but the hot tears still well out of them, tracing lines down her face.

“Clarke,” Lexa says, “Clarke,” And Lexa’s arms are around her pulling her close, so that her tears soak Lexa’s shoulder, so she snuffles against her, so her wails are muffled against the woman she loves.

And that’s how she’s able to stand again, with Lexa against her, with Lexa’s strength flowing into her. She sobs against her and ignores everything for what seems like hours but is probably only minutes, and then she runs out of tears, and she leans on Lexa and pulls herself together. She doesn’t even know why she’s reacting this badly. She didn’t know Drew, didn’t know the gonas who died for her. She knew Murphy, but he was kind of a dick. Maybe again he would have become more – maybe not. He’s lost the chance to, now.

But maybe she’s crying because she thought that this time, no one had to die. She and Lexa, with their command of the future, could save the day! Sure, they’d lost a few. Atom, Trina and Pascal had died. More would when the Ark came to Earth, that was unavoidable if they landed wrongly. But there was no reason why it couldn’t work out for the rest of them. In the back of her mind she’d even been going over deals they could make with the Mountain, ways they could trade their bone marrow for the destruction of the fog machine and discontinuation of the Reaper program, for example. But now that’s useless. Emerson won’t let that happen. He hates her too much.

She thought this was about love. Her love for Lexa, powerful enough to rip through time. Her feelings for Lexa were so strong they seemed bigger than just her, so it almost made sense to Clarke that she could change the whole world just with grief and need. But when has anything on the ground been about love? “It’s all about blood,” Clarke says finally when she’s in control again.

It’s always about blood. Grounder blood, healing Maunon so their burns fade away like they’d never existed at all. Skaikru blood, giving them the addictive taste of sunshine which spurred them to murder. Lexa’s black blood soaking Clarke’s hands, Clarke’s blood boiling in her veins as the lightning struck, and just the tiniest touch of Emerson’s blood to ruin it all. Clarke thinks she’s been covered in blood more often than rain since she got here.

“What is?” Octavia says, looking unnerved. Even if she thinks they’re crazy, their devotion to this lie has her on edge, Clarke can see.

“This. How we were brought back. The lightning hit me, so I came back,” Clarke says. “My hands were covered in Lexa’s blood, so she came back. But I must have had some of Emerson’s on me as well. Just a little, the smallest amount, but I guess it was enough.”

“How would you -” Lexa begins, then stops. Her eyes widen. “Oh,” she says thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” Clarke says, almost rueful. “He tackled me, wrestled me to the ground, opened up my forehead. He was covered in blood, had a bloody nose, forehead, chest, hands… he must have gotten a smear on me. I was wearing the same clothes then as when you died,” she swallows hard. “I didn’t wash them. I don’t even remember if I bathed properly between then and the lightning. His blood could have been on my clothes or in my hair or under my fingernails... I’ve ruined everything.”

There’s a momentary pause, and then Octavia snickers.

“Octavia!”

“What?” Octavia tries to stifle it, but can’t stop laughing. “I’m sorry… but… you… you’ve doomed the world… through poor hygiene?” She really can’t stop. “That’s your epic-level mistake? Not washing?”

There’s a long pause. Then Lexa swallows hard and looks away from Clarke.

“Lexa!” Clarke says, in the same half-horrified, half-angry tone of voice.

“I… Clarke,” Lexa visibly tries to force her expression to remain stoic instead of smirking. “This is all very serious, of course. It’s just… that statement is hard to take seriously.” She and Octavia make eye contact only to look away from each other, Octavia struggling not to crack up again.

Clarke massages her forehead, grits her teeth to stop herself bursting out into hysterical giggling as well. She knows that’s what it is – neither Octavia nor Lexa are the kind of people to find something like that funny while in a clearing filled with corpses. In fact, Lexa almost never laughs at all. But the truth is, this situation is so morbid and bizarre it’s hard not to lose your composure.

“I apologise, Clarke,” Lexa says, managing to contain her inappropriate amusement. She clears her throat, schooling her face back into blankness. Octavia sobers as well. “So. You believe you had some of Emerson’s blood on you. But we cannot be sure.”

“We can’t,” Clarke admits. “But it explains this. Why they reacted so fast. Why they took dead bodies, even though they showed no interest in them the previous world – Cage was checking to see if Emerson was telling the truth. Emerson would have gone straight to him, he’s the follower type, he wouldn’t have wanted to act on his own. And the timeframe just means it took him a little while to convince him.” She thinks about it. “I bet the drop ship falling convinced him, especially if they checked it out. And then Emerson’s guesses stopped working, but they took Trina and Pascal’s bodies just in case he was on to something anyway.”

“And they found something in the blood or bone marrow that convinced them he was telling the truth,” Lexa says slowly. She nods. “So they put sensors here to catch more prey, hoping you would be one of them. It’s a possibility, certainly. If this is about blood, though, did anyone else bleed on you around that time? Is there another person we should worry about?”

Lexa opens a pouch at her belt and puts in the knock-out dart she was still holding in her hands, as if she’d only just remembered it. To show Indra later, Clarke assumes, though why Lexa would need to prove anything to Indra is beyond her. She closes and knots the pouch carefully again.

Octavia looks between them, clearly still at least half-convinced they’re either mad or making the worst-timed practical joke in history.

“Ontari,” Clarke says slowly, “But I washed that off incredibly thoroughly, trust me, having her blood on my face creeped me out. Roan? No, I definitely washed several times between being captured and… what happened. No one else I can think of.”

John staggers out of the drop ship. His dark skin still has a greenish tinge, but his face is furious. “Murphy,” he manages to choke out. “Where’s Murphy -”

“Out of our reach,” Lexa says bluntly. “You should come back to TonDC with us. Your friends will likely die before we can do anything about it, whatever we try. But if you wish to have even the chance of avenging them, you will come with us.” She looks at him. “Of course, if you still wish to leave for the ocean, I will not stop you.”

John blinks. “He was my friend,” he says hoarsely. His skin is returning to its normal colour, his face beginning to set with determination and anger.

He was your partner in crime, Clarke thinks disrespectfully, unable to stop herself. He provided the brains, you provided the brawn. Together you made one whole bully. Well done.

She doesn’t say it. Whatever they were, John is clearly upset by what’s happened. So is she. No one else will care about the probable death of Murphy, no one but them and maybe Bellamy. In the other world she remembers John trying to stop them lynching Murphy, but not going with him after Charlotte’s death – she doesn’t know if that’s because he was horrified by her death, or because he didn’t care enough about Murphy, or if his fear of the Grounders back then just outweighed any other considerations. She doesn’t know what kind of man he is at all.

John thinks for a long moment, then his face hardens. “Let’s go,” he says to Lexa. “I’m not going back to Polis, though. I don’t want to keep learning how to hunt, I want to find my friend. Save him.”

“Was learning to hunt so bad?” Clarke asks curiously before she can stop herself. She remembers that he seemed eager about hunting when he signed up for it.

“No, I liked it,” he says. “But Murphy asked me to come with him. And he’s my closest friend, and it didn't look like the Ark was gonna come down, not really. So I came with him. Come on, let’s go. And on the way, you tell me exactly what we’re up against.”

Lexa nods and makes a clicking noise with her tongue, summoning several of the horses to her easily. She helps them up onto the horses one by one, showing no concern about her dignity as Heda. Then she mounts her own and leads them off.

Clarke follows, digging her heels into the sides of the horse, praying that she’s wrong. That Emerson remembers nothing. That she and Lexa are safe.

Chapter Text

It’s late at night by now – nearly morning, in fact – but Lexa’s not sure she’s ever felt so awake.

She goes with Clarke to the radio tent as soon as they return, pausing only to give Anya curt orders to spread out and double the number of people on watch. Octavia, hard-faced but apparently now a believer, takes charge of John and bears him off to get sleep and food. He’s still processing what they told him – only about the Mountain Men, and only the basic facts that every Trikru knows. Nothing about Emerson, or bone marrow, or their memories.

Lexa hasn’t really been into this tent since the radio was carefully placed there. All of her communication with the Ark has happened through Clarke. But they need to talk before Clarke contacts the Ark, to decide what she should tell them.

“I think Octavia believes us,” Lexa comments.

“She’s getting there,” Clarke agrees. “And she’ll tell Lincoln, so that’s two people…” her voice trails off and she switches subjects. “Is there any way we could get inside Mount Weather before Murphy and Drew are dead? If they’re being interrogated… we might have time. I could be our person on the inside this time. I know the way in.”

Lexa can hear in Clarke’s voice that she knows it’s hopeless. “We don’t have a former Ripa on our side to fake a capture,” she says, stating things Clarke is already aware of but wants to hear confirmed by another. It seems easier for Clarke to face bad things in this way. “We don’t have any allies inside. We have no Skaikru warriors or scientists with us, Raven has yet to make any bombs or even radios, we have no tone generators. They still have missiles and the acid fog and Ripas. If Emerson’s told them everything then they’ll be expecting us to do the same things as last time, so we will not even have the element of surprise. We will need to leave TonDC as soon as possible if we want to remain safe, not stay here attempting to attack a fortress and making ourselves easy targets.”

“If I told the Ark to come down sooner,” Clarke says thoughtfully. Then she sighs. “It wouldn’t help at all, would it? We’d lose more of them because they’d have less time to prepare, and I don’t even know what we could have them do once they get here. All the plans I had for the Mountain required them to be willing to deal with us, or at least for us to be able to surprise them and get in that way. There’s no point telling the Ark to do anything, is there?”

“How about telling them to land elsewhere, so Emerson will not know to have Maunon there waiting?” Lexa suggests. “Perhaps far away.”

Clarke blinks, considers it. “And maybe keeping them that far away? With only a dozen or so people able to go outside without suits, if we get my people far enough away, we could make it very hard to get more of them. That could give us leverage if we get my Mom to start collecting bone marrow from volunteers – we could agree to trade those to them.”

“How could we guarantee they would keep whatever terms we ask them for?” Lexa says doubtfully.

Clarke starts to pace. “What if… um… maybe we could promise that anyone from Mount Weather who leaves and comes to TonDC with one of the Grounder prisoners to trade will be given bone marrow.”

“That will leave them with none of my people as prisoners eventually, but they will then have the ability to go outside as well as all of their weapons,” Lexa points out. “They will still have acid fog and Ripas and gas grenades and knock out darts and guns and missiles. They will also still believe their people are superior to mine.” It itches, as it always does, when she thinks of the tones in which the Maunon spoke to her as they made the deal at Mount Weather. The disrespect towards her and her people had been hard to stomach. She had only been able to because of the number of her people’s lives at stake. They could default to such a deal if they had to – in the other world she did, after all – but she would prefer a plan that does not leave the Maunon stronger.

“We also don’t know if their children will be born with the immunity to radiation as well,” Clarke says. “Just like my people, I think they’re going to have to integrate.”

“They consider us savages.”

“Not integrate with your people, with the Skaikru,” Clarke explains. “Eventually they’ll have to get used to Grounders too, of course. But in the short-term, if we have the Mountain Men come live with my people, we can keep any new children born supplied with bone marrow. And with four hundred of them among more than two thousand Skaikru, after a few generations of intermarriage nearly all of them should be immune – assuming we can pass immunity on like that. And in return for that, we could get them to destroy the Mountain, we know they have the ability to do it. Get out all the medical supplies and food then use the self-destruct.”

Lexa pauses, unsure what to say. Her thoughts must show on her face though.

“I know it’s a naïve and idealistic plan, Lexa,” Clarke says softly. “But it’s the only one I’ve got.” She swallows hard, fighting to keep her face smooth. “And regardless of if we manage to make any kind of deal, it’s a very good idea to keep my people far away from them. If things get desperate and we end up needing to come up with a plan to take them all out -” she shudders at the thought, no doubt plagued by her memories, and closes her eyes to block them out. “- then using radiation again would be the easiest way.” She moves towards Lexa and Lexa folds her into an embrace. For a long moment Clarke is tense, then she sighs and relaxes, leaning against Lexa and allowing herself to be comforted. Lexa places a gentle kiss on the top of her head.

After consideration – slightly extended as she is distracted by trying to stem Clarke’s sadness – Lexa nods. “It is our best option. We will have to see where else your people can land.”

“Can you stay?” Clarke says pleadingly, revealing for a second how much she likes having Lexa there to lean against. Then she clears her throat, and attempts to straighten, stepping out of Lexa’s hold. “I mean, you could tell us which clan we’d be invading in each area, so we could choose where best to go.”

“Of course, ai hodnes,” Lexa assures her. “Hmm. We will have to see where they are able to land. The Boat People to the east would doubtless be kindest to your people after the Woods Clan, but are surrounded by water. Can your people safely land in water?”

“No, probably not,” Clarke admits.

“The other clans close by are the Desert Clan and the Ice Nation. It would be best not to land in the middle of the desert, but if necessary we could manage that. Perhaps your people could land further south? It is Woods Clan territory quite far in that direction, and then the Glowing Forest People, who have always been closely allied with us. If I order that no Skaikru are to be harmed, they will obey.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Clarke says, “South if possible, with the desert as a back-up plan.” She flicks on the radio. “Hi? Anyone there?”

“Clarke?” a worried voice replies.

Lexa identifies it immediately. Abby.

“Hey, Mom,” Clarke says, though she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it. Perhaps, like Lexa, she would rather talk to Kane. “I’m here with the leader of the Grounders. Mom, this is Lexa, Commander of the twelve clans, creator of the alliance, Heda of these lands. Lexa, this is Abby Griffin, Council member – well, sort of – and my mother.”

Lexa notes that Clarke has added or repeated things somewhat in her description of Lexa, no doubt to impress upon her mother the need for deference. She inclines her head towards the radio, though she knows Abby can’t see it. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Abby Griffin. You have raised your daughter to be a wise leader.”

“Oh,” Abby sounds surprised. “It’s – it’s nice to meet you too, Commander. Your English is very good.”

“As is yours,” Lexa says, and there is a prolonged silence in response as if Abby is searching for something to say.

Clarke intervenes. “We need to speak to Sinclair, Mom, is he there?”

“He’s working on some calculations with his people,” Abby says. “I can go get him if you like. What did you want to talk to him about? What’s the Commander want to talk to him about?”

“His calculations, actually,” Clarke says.

“Why?” Abby asks. She lowers her voice. “And should the Commander really – I mean, Clarke, should we really be -”

Lexa decides to interrupt before Abby becomes offensive by saying that she shouldn’t be there. From that it is only a short step to Abby admitting she doesn’t trust the Grounders. ‘The Grounders’, as the people above call them, have given food and homes to the goufas the Skaikru chose to sacrifice, have taught them how to survive and worked to ensure they are safe, yet their leaders still insist on viewing Lexa’s people as a threat. It annoys her. “It is important. Fetch him for us now, please.”

“I’m not going to get him until you tell me what this is about,” Abby snaps. She sounds somewhat offended by her brusqueness, which Lexa thinks is something she’ll have to get over if she expects to deal with her people. But then, Abby in the old world had never entirely learnt how to deal with Lexa’s people, either.

“You may remain while we discuss it, if you wish. We simply do not want to go through the issue twice.” There’s still a pause, and Lexa adds a hint of steel to her voice. “If you do not trust me, you must at least trust your daughter. Find him for us now.” She makes sure her tone is deliberately commanding. From the information Clarke has given her, Abby is part of the Council, seven people who share command over two and a half thousand Sky People at most. Lexa is the Commander, leader of at least thirty times that, a large proportion of whom are warriors, and who are the rightful owners of the land the Skaikru plan to descend to. She will not behave as if they are equals, and set a precedent she has no desire to follow.

Abby in her capacity as Clarke’s nomon – that is different. That is something she will have to navigate when the Ark returns to Earth, if Abby survives the fall. Perhaps there is some set way Sky People deal with the parents of their lover, and Clarke can inform her how to follow it.

“I’m here with Abby now, hello, Clarke, and uh, hello Commander,” a man’s voice crackles through the radio, tense and breathless. “What’s the matter?”

“Hi, Sinclair,” Clarke says, “Mom, you remember when I mentioned that there were already people in Mount Weather? How I said they were unfriendly?”

Lexa quirks an eyebrow at Clarke. Unfriendly seems like perhaps an understatement.

“Yes,” Abby says.

“They’ve gotten more unfriendly. Specifically against us.”

“What did you do?” Abby says.

“Nothing,” Clarke says, “Maybe they just don’t like people falling from the sky.” She gives Lexa a little shrug, as if to say it’s easier than explaining the whole story. Lexa agrees – besides anything else, there’s no way they should know what the Mountain want the Skaikru for, and if Lexa’s people become aware she has information she should have no way to get it will produce suspicion. “We found out earlier that they’re specifically trying to get as many Skaikru – sorry, as many of our people – as possible. I need to know what areas we could safely land the Ark in.”

“The Ark’s in a geosynchronous orbit, Clarke,” Sinclair says. “We deliberately aimed when the stations joined together to have the Ark be above Mount Weather part of the time for when we came to Earth. That means we’re always around the same area – not the exact area, because we’re not along the equator, but reasonably close, moving like a distorted figure eight every day. So if you mean you want us to land in another country, we can’t do that.”

“We wouldn’t do that anyway,” Abby says immediately. “We need to come down where you are, Clarke. We can’t just leave you kids -”

“We’ll be fine, Mom,” Clarke says firmly. “And I wasn’t thinking another country. How far away from Mount Weather can you get?”

“We sent you kids down when we’d just passed the southwestern-most point of our orbit, close to the bottom of the eight,” Sinclair says. “So we could do slightly south, but not much. Reasonably far east because of the distortion, but we’d be over the ocean then. Best bet is to go further north if you’re looking for us to be any distance from Mount Weather.”

Clarke looks at Lexa, unhappy. “It will have to be north then. North, and the Azgeda.”

Lexa nods silently, and Clarke turns back to the radio to begin organising this. There is a Skaikru saying she heard Clarke use once – from the frying pan to the fire. Lexa hopes they have not just committed this.

Chapter Text

“How are the radios going?” Clarke asks.

“Not great,” Raven replies, squinting at what she’s fiddling with. It looks a bit like a radio, to Clarke’s untrained eyes. Beside her there is a massive pile of electronic parts, most of them beaten up, ripped apart, rusted or otherwise useless – it looks like Anya’s unit has eagerly obeyed the orders to bring back anything useful, but don’t have to clear an idea what ‘useful’ means in this context. As she watches, Raven reaches out without looking and snags a wire from a small pile of them she’s made. “How’s everything in the sky going?”

“Also not great,” Clarke says ruefully. “Shumway’s turned on Diana Sydney and some of the others to save his own skin, so she’s still being held, but she hasn’t admitted anything herself. They think there must be people helping her that Shumway doesn’t know about. Obviously, the arrests of Shumway and some of their conspirators have thrown the Guard into chaos. Meanwhile, the scientists are arguing about the exact right way to come down to earth, and about how people should be split between the stations so if only one makes it down our ‘species’ will still survive – ignoring the fact that we’re hardly the last of our species. Oxygen’s getting lower and four people so far have gone completely blind, with twenty-seven more experiencing other vision problems, and they’re considering coming down early but have no chance of sorting things out in time. The parents of kids in Polis and Monty’s parents are campaigning to come down as close to us as possible because they think we’re exaggerating about Mount Weather, and some of the others are joining in because they think that we’re delinquents who want to keep the nice land for ourselves and force them into the snow. So basically -” Clarke takes a breath, but Raven interrupts.

“So basically, you’re telling me not to bitch about these stupid radios,” Raven flashes Clarke a quick grin before returning her eyes to the quasi-radio.

“Is it the lack of supplies?” Clarke asks. “We can get more people searching.” Or maybe the underground aid depot will have something they can use – then she dismisses that thought. The place was wrecked. Sometime they will have to go there to get the guns though. When the others get down, maybe.

“Please don’t,” Raven replies emphatically. “I have more than enough junk here. I’ve trained some of Anya’s guys to recognise what a wire is, so I might get some good stuff from them eventually. But for the most part it’s a pile of crap. Digging through it to find decent things is the hardest part. Monty’s been helping out some. And Jasper’s got a recipe for bombs after I’ve finished the radios, that shouldn’t be too hard.”

Clarke hesitates, but she has to ask. “Will you have at least one radio done by tomorrow? That’s when Lexa wants to leave for Polis.” And even waiting that long is making her edgy. Lexa’s started spending significant time each day away from the village, just in case, and has ordered Clarke to be at the edge or outside of the village whenever possible, guarded by as many people as possible. Last night Lexa took some of the gonas on an impromptu hunt as far from the Mountain as possible and camped out, splitting the chief targets. With the number of scouts they have around it would be hard for Mount Weather to paint a target and send a missile towards them – but not impossible. It’s good logic, since if she and Lexa both die then Emerson will be the only person to remember (if he does remember). Besides, she has no doubt Murphy or Drew will have told the Maunon everything by now. Polis is probably safe, given the distance and sheer number of Grounders there, but if the Mountain Men decide to attack TonDC with guns and gas grenades they might have a chance. Clarke just hopes the sheer number of scouts and guards and traps they have spread out around the area, and the impossibility of confirming if she’s still there, will make the Mountain pause.

It’s not particularly helping Clarke’s mood to be apart from Lexa. They’ll be able to spend time together again once they’re on the move and a missile will be too slow to use effectively against them, thankfully, but for now it grates on her.

“I should,” Raven says absently. “And once I’ve got one, it should be child’s play to make more, the main difficulty is figuring it out from scratch ‘cause I don’t want to accidentally wreck the main one we’re using by opening it up. And parts, they’re always a problem. I’m looking forward to seeing Polis. Anya told me there’s piles of mechanical crap there in the old buildings so I should really like it. She also called me a metal-brained, scavenging branwada. I really think she’s warming up to me, by the way.”

“Not knocking you unconscious is pretty much as friendly as Anya gets,” Clarke says. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask. After Polis, will you come north with me and the Commander? We could probably use you. We’ll have to leave the stations there, but I want to salvage anything important from the crash sites and I have no clue what’s important.”

“I’ll think about it,” Raven hedges. Then there’s a moment where Raven looks up, and is clearly wondering if she should say something. She opens her mouth, stops, then says something else instead. “So, how are you coping? With what happened?”

“I’m fine,” Clarke says. It’s actually not a lie.

She mourns Murphy and the others. She mourns the gonas who died to call out a warning to them. But she can cope.

It had been a shock when Murphy and Drew were taken, and she’d nearly broken down over it. But then only hours later she’d been looking at Lexa struggle not to refer to the destruction of the Mountain – so Clarke had done it for her. Admitted the truth.

She’d thought they would change the world. And they have, somewhat. But not enough. They haven’t changed the people, the threats, the dangers. They haven’t changed the fact that people are going to die, that there is no chance everyone will survive, that this world is just that kind of place, however much she wants it to be something better. They haven’t changed that some of the deaths will be caused by Clarke, even ordered by Clarke – and that she will do that, she will bear the weight of those deaths, because the alternative is stepping back and avoiding responsibility and causing more deaths. In the past, trying to prevent anyone from dying has only lead to far more people dying.

Like Lexa, she’s born to carry this weight. It hurts and it should. She can’t be Clarke the idealist right now when there are people depending on her to be the tough one. They don’t understand this world. They shouldn’t have to.

If the Mountain needs to fall again, and it probably does, then she will do what’s necessary. She’ll agonise and she’ll fall apart again and she’ll hate herself, but she’ll do it. Because although Clarke never wanted to be the kind of person who could see other people’s deaths as collateral damage or necessary sacrifices… now she is.

She once let Finn die to save countless lives. Now she’ll let Murphy and Drew die to give them a chance against the Mountain. She can’t save everyone. All she can do is try to keep as many people alive as possible. She can’t blame Lexa for those choices any more, and she can’t allow her grief and self-hatred to get in the way of looking after their people.

Even if the Mountain don't get her people, she can't just leave them alone in return, not anymore, not with what she knows. Leave them to turn a thousand Lincolns into Ripas, to bleed dry a thousand Anyas, to burn a thousand Atoms to death with toxic fog? She can't do that. And she can't make Lexa face them alone. She won't. They're in this together.

Raven looks at her like she doesn’t quite believe her. “Okay,” she says finally. Then she hesitates again. It’s unlike Raven to hesitate at all, let alone this often.

“Whatever it is, just say it,” Clarke orders.

“Was it you?” Raven asks quietly.

“Was what – oh.” Clarke realises what she’s asking about. “Finn. No, I hardly know him.”

“But you knew about it?”

“Only because Wells told me,” Clarke assures her. “He hasn’t told anyone else, and neither have I.”

Raven visibly relaxes. “Okay,” she says. “Good. I – I wondered, that’s all. I mean, it didn’t seem likely that it was you, obviously you’ve got other stuff going on there, but you seemed kinda jumpy around me. Clearly I just scare you with my brilliance.”

“Sure,” Clarke says dryly, but she still can’t help her smile. She wonders what Raven means by ‘other stuff’ – is she talking about Lexa? Are they that obvious? Or does she mean Wells? “I don’t know who it was. You could ask Wells -”

“No!” Raven hurries to say. “I don’t want to know, or I’d talk to Finn about it. I just wanted to be absolutely sure it wasn’t you. You know, if we’re gonna go on this massive road trip north together.”

Clarke smiles again. “Glad you’re joining us. It will give me an excellent chance to get used to your, what was it, ‘brilliance’?”

“Clarke,” Raven says in an exaggeratedly patient way. “I don’t care how far we’re going, it’s not going to be a long enough trip for that.”

“Right. That much awesome takes a lot of time to get used to,” Clarke feels almost normal, taking to Raven like this.

“Mmhmm,” Raven says jokingly. She flips her hair like she’s in an old commercial. “Have you seen my face? Come on, look at this face. And what other mechanic could make radios out of scraps? Not that I have yet, but I will. I’m just that good.”

Has she ever seen Raven as relaxed as this before? Maybe for ten seconds when they first met. Then, people were dying up above, and Clarke was the boyfriend stealer, and then the boyfriend killer. She valued her hard-earned friendship with Raven in the other world more than nearly anything, but there was never a conversation where she could forget how hard-earned it was.

She hates to ruin it. But she has to know. “So, how are you coping?”

Raven looks away. “It’s not the same as people dying.”

“That doesn’t mean that how you’re feeling isn’t important.”

“Then how I’m feeling,” Raven says with a flare of anger, which doesn’t seem to be directed at her. “How I’m feeling – is like shit, Clarke. While I was risking my ass to come down here my boyfriend was off screwing someone else. After ten days. How the fuck are we supposed to work past that?”

She was angry at me last time, Clarke realises. She was angry at me, and so she didn’t get as angry at Finn. This time she only has one target. “Slowly, I guess? Look, he thought you were dead, Raven, or that you would have been soon. And according to Wells, Finn told him it meant nothing.”

Raven sighs. “What would you do if you were me?”

“I’m not the brilliant one,” Clarke evades, trying to sound joking.

“Oh, float that,” Raven snaps. “You’ve kept just about everyone alive and made an alliance and become the personal advisor of the most powerful person on the ground and order the Council around like you’re the one in charge of the Ark. You can’t give me relationship advice?”

“What would I know about your relationship?” She feels incredibly dishonest as she says it. Especially since she knows some of what she wants to say to Raven, even if it’s contradictory – her guilty conscience wants them to be happy together. But the rest of her wants Raven to be happy, period, and wonders if that can happen with Finn.

“You clearly know something about relationships, since it took you like a week on the ground to get a girlfriend,” Raven replies.

“Octavia told you.” Clarke makes a mental note to tell Octavia not to tell anyone else. She could have let something slip to anyone, and the last thing they need is gossip about them.

“Wells told me, actually,” Raven grabs another wire and starts to work it into the existing mix, so quickly and deftly it’s amazing to watch. “Not that I can blame you. The Commander’s been pretty awesome to us. Plus, swords. Come on, we all get a little warm when it comes to badasses with swords.”

Clarke raises her eyebrows. “Plenty of those around, if that’s what you’re looking for,” she teases. None quite like Lexa, she has to admit. But still plenty of them.

“But I’m not. That’s kind of the problem. Please, Clarke,” Raven is unexpectedly straightforward again. “I’m not asking for therapy. Just asking what you’d do, if you were me.”

What I did do, thinks Clarke. That’s what I’d do. “Move on.” Honest, but knowing Raven, it’s more likely to have the opposite effect. Raven can be pretty contrary.

Raven jerks her head up. “Move on? He’s all that I have!”

“Hey, you asked me,” Clarke defends herself.

“Yeah, I did,” grumbles Raven. “Doesn’t mean I have to like what you say.” There’s a pause. “You did say he thought I was dead, and that it didn’t mean anything…”

Clarke shrugs. “I didn’t exactly say that. It did mean something. You refused to believe he was dead even though you had every reason to, and so you spent all your time finding a way to get down here and prove he was alive. He didn’t do that.” She watches Raven carefully for a reaction, too focused on her to consider what she’s saying. “Raven, all I’m saying is that him saving your life when you’re children doesn’t absolve him of treating you badly when you’re adults.”

Raven freezes. “Saving my life?” she says carefully. “How’d you know about that?”

“Wells,” Clarke lies, calling herself ten kinds of idiot in her head. It’s so hard to remember what she should know and what she shouldn’t. “He said Finn gave you rations when you were kids, that you’re basically family.”

“We are,” Raven says. She sighs. “He loves me. I just don’t know if he loves me like I want to be loved, you know?” She clacks something into place in her hands.

“I -” Clarke says, but a hissing noise interrupts her. She blinks and looks down at the makeshift radio in Raven’s grip. “It’s working. You actually did it. You made a radio out of scraps.”

Raven gives her a smug grin, clearly trying to banish her moment of weakness. “What, like it’s hard?”

Chapter Text

“Indra’s offered to make me her Seken,” Octavia says.

Lexa looks up from the map she was staring at, busy plotting the best way from Polis to the expected drop zones for the Ark. She must take into account areas with many thieves, weather (and Mount Weather, for that matter), the border between Trikru and Azgeda, and what Azgeda towns are more likely to react well to their intrusion.

She’s sent two messengers to let Nia and the villages in the area know of her arrival. She does not entirely expect them to return. It twinged a little to send them to what might be their deaths in the icy north – but she knew that if she didn’t, then when Nia accused her of entering her lands without giving warning, no one would be able to vouch that messengers had indeed been sent. She did also send them with verbal messages for Titus and Gustus, so if they find one of her people first, Nia will not dare to kill them as there will be proof they arrived safely. That way, she will not be able to claim bandits killed them before they reached her. That is the best Lexa can do for them.

“Spechou, Octavia kom Skaikru,” Lexa congratulates her, wondering why the girl has interrupted her. She is out in the forest, avoiding TonDC in case of missiles, and cannot have been easy to reach. It’s surprising her scouts even let Octavia through. “That is a great honour.”

“She says that you recommended it,” Octavia says bluntly.

“You show promise,” Lexa keeps her voice cool. “If that is it -”

“I – no.” Octavia swallows. “I’m here because… I apologised to Clarke, for being so harsh to her. I should probably apologise to you too.”

Lexa quirks an eyebrow. The Octavia she remembers would never have apologised to her. Perhaps the girl’s dislike in this world is not so firmly entrenched as she had thought. Or perhaps Clarke has asked her to do this. “I see.” She looks at Octavia expectantly.

After a long pause, Octavia realises what Lexa’s waiting for. “I’m sorry, then,” she grits out.

“Mochof, Octavia,” Lexa says politely, wondering why Octavia looks annoyed. Perhaps it is the simple act of admitting her fault, or perhaps Lexa has stepped on the Sky Person’s feelings. It will not be the first time. She decides to throw the girl a bone. “I look forward to commanding you as a gona.”

Octavia looks mulish for a second, no doubt at the thought of being commanded, but then her face straightens out. Already showing more discipline. “I’ll try and be a good one, Heda.”

“I know you will,” Lexa says, still impassive. They stare at each other.

“I have trouble obeying orders sometimes,” Octavia admits eventually. “I didn’t have a great history with authority on the Ark.” Perhaps she’s trying to explain why she was so hard on Lexa and Clarke, so unwilling to believe they could have good reason for any of their actions. Lexa doesn't know if she's trying to explain herself or excuse herself, though. “I’m not very good at trusting people.”

“Then that is something we have in common, Octavia kom Skaikru en Trikru,” Lexa says softly.

Octavia lets out a crack of laughter. “Probably the only thing.”

Lexa notes that the girl isn’t intimidated by her, not as she was in the other world. A little, but not as much. Perhaps spending so much time around Lexa – eating with her, training with her, arguing with her – has robbed her of her fear. She’s unsure if this is a good thing. “Probably,” she agrees.

“I just don’t…” Octavia looks at her like she’s trying to figure something out. “I don’t get you. You’re always so cold, except with Clarke. Even with her if I hadn’t overheard it I might not have realised you were together. And with everyone else… you didn’t seem to care when those gonas died. When Murphy and Drew were taken.”

“My people are less expressive in our emotions than yours,” Lexa suggests. It is the truth, is some ways. She believes it is one reason why several of her people – Titus and Anya, for example – have easily noticed her affection for Clarke whereas Clarke’s people need to be told before they realise.

(She must try to stop thinking of them as her people and Clarke’s people. But it is hard, sometimes.)

“That’s not it,” Octavia says, “Lincoln’s not expressive, but he’s warm. I still get him. I don’t get you. You’re willing to leave Murphy and Drew to die -”

“Linkon has been a gona, a scout, even a fisa at times,” Lexa replies. “Gonas need hot blood to throw themselves at the enemy. Scouts need to trust their instincts to sense those around. Fisas need to understand their patients’ pain in order to heal them. I am a leader, Octavia. I must be cold and ruthless – not cruel, but pragmatic. Follow my head and not my heart.”

“So you’re saying leaders don’t care about the people they lead?”

“Oh, we care,” Lexa’s lips twist wryly at Octavia's foolish question, and she sighs. “We simply cannot decide based on that. My emotions tell me Clarke is more important than all the people the Mountain could kill, and must be kept safe. But my mind tells me that she is necessary to defeat them, and cannot be kept safe. If I used my heart to decide, my people would continue to die in the Mountain, burn to death in the fog, be turned into Ripas to kill their own families.” She looks directly at Octavia, burning the girl with her gaze, not cold anymore. “And if we decided that it was more important to rescue those two Skaikru than to protect the rest, all of you would die futilely attacking the Mountain.”

“I don’t believe in sacrificing people,” Octavia says quietly, but she's already looking more thoughtful.

“You mean you have never had to,” Lexa says simply. “Because you are just a gona, and that means you do not need to make those decisions. If you were me, would you send countless to their deaths to retrieve Murphy and Drew?”

“I… I don’t know,” Octavia says, doing her the credit of honestly considering it. She glances down, scowling at the ground, upset. “It feels like there should be a third option, somewhere.”

“Let me know if you think of one,” Lexa says dryly.

After a long pause, Octavia continues. “Either way… either way, whatever I decided, I think it would haunt me forever.”

“As it will Clarke and I,” Lexa replies, though in truth the deaths of the two Skaikru and the group of gonas will be lesser ghosts compared to the legions she deals with. The memories of the most ruthless things she’s done… the ache of the other Commander’s regrets in her dreams… Costia’s head, the signs of torture horrifically visible on it… yes, Lexa is haunted by so many things that it is surprising death can still hurt her. But it is two sides of a coin – death can pain her, but life can amaze her, and when she tried to stop caring she cut herself off from the beauty of living as well as the pain of it. And she will not do that again, not when Clarke is here now to make life that much more beautiful. “Even if I do not show that it hurts, because to show it would be to show weakness, weakness that might get me killed. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Octavia says quietly. There is more understanding in her eyes now then there has ever been before. “I understand.” There’s another pause, and Octavia swallows. “I’m learning to understand that, anyway.”

Perhaps it is not so bad, to trade fear for respect.

“Can you tell me who I was in your and Clarke’s weird dream world thing?” Octavia asks after a minute lost in thought.

“So you believe us?” Lexa asks in return, looking up from the maps again, not bothering to address the girl’s statement that the other world was a dream. She is not even sure it was real anymore, her last memories of it before the travel through time are so blurred and unreal (perhaps no one can remember their own death, or maybe the blood loss made her hazy), and it would be too much to expect Octavia to view the two worlds as equal when she has not experienced one of them.

“I’ve been watching,” Octavia says. “You do know things. Things you shouldn’t know. About me, about all of us. About what’s going to happen. So for the moment, yes, I believe you guys. A lie that insane would be pretty stupid to go with if it wasn’t the truth.”

Lexa nods. This seems reasonable to her, though of course not infallible. “Then I shall tell the truth again, Octavia. In the last world, you were Indra’s Seken. You loved Linkon. You were Skaikru and Trikru. You disliked me, you challenged Clarke, you fought for what you believed and you sometimes had beliefs that were too certain… much like this world.”

“Mochof,” Octavia says quietly, though she looks taken aback at the implied criticism in the last comment, “But you’re not telling me anything new. What was different about me there?”

Lexa considers her. “Your people did not like you or trust you,” she says simply. “Because of what you were to Linkon. They locked him up, they killed innocent Trikru, and they trapped the both of you between our two worlds until they crushed you with the force of it. Your brother,” she adds as an afterthought. “Was one such Sky Person, eager to condemn. You were not on the same side, he fought for Chancellor Pike as you fought for Indra. I do not know what things between you were like, you would do better to ask Clarke for that, but I cannot imagine they were warm.”

Octavia takes a step back. “Bell would never do anything to hurt me.”

“But he would do anything to protect you,” Lexa says. “And like you, Octavia, he has trouble seeing shades of grey.” She meets Octavia’s eyes. “I have found that someone who would do absolutely anything for you out of love can be more dangerous than an outright enemy. There is a reason why he teaches in Polis now, instead of learns to fight.”

Octavia shifts from one foot to the other, and doesn’t reply.

Lexa sighs, dismissing this conversation. “As your first order as a Seken, could you please fetch Anya to me. She took her unit south to find more metal things for Raven kom Skaikru. I must speak with her. And it is fitting that your first action as a member of the Woods Clan should be to navigate the forest on the request of your Heda.”

“Sha, Heda,” Octavia says, still clearly distracted by what Lexa said about the other world. Nevertheless, she disappears into the trees, and Lexa returns to her map.

She no longer knows what areas are safest to pass through along the border to the Azgeda, except in general terms. Looking after twelve clans has made Lexa less aware of the clan she came from. But Anya has been here, near the border, and will know precisely where the crossing will be safest.

It is some time later, as Lexa has just decided that the horses must remain in either Polis or TonDC because they are too valuable to risk in the snow up north, when Anya arrives. “You asked for my presence, Heda?” she says, slightly too formal.

“Sha,” Lexa says, deciding to ignore it. “I wished for your advice, in fact. We must cross the border north, and I thought you could tell me where.”

Anya glances around. The guards are outside of listening distance, partially a deliberate attempt by Lexa to get more privacy, but mostly because she wants significant warning of any approach by the Mountain Men. If Clarke is right and Emerson remembers, they are not safe anywhere. Seeing that she cannot be overheard, Anya is blunt. Even more so than usual. “Why must we?”

“What?”

“Why must we go north, Lexa?” Anya leans closer to her, making absolutely sure her words do not travel.

Lexa frowns at her. “The Sky People must land in Azgeda territory. Although the Azgeda have been restless of late, they will still obey my orders, and they are far less dangerous than the Maunon. You know this.” She worries about the decision herself, though she does not believe Nia will have her killed while on her territory. It would be too obviously her fault and might cause the rest of the alliance to band against them – without allies, the Azgeda would lose any war quickly.

Anya looks at her, eyes narrowed. “But why must we go north? What are the Skaikru to us but invaders? You spoke of them helping us take down the Maunon, but now they hide from them. Are they powerful or weak? If powerful, we should destroy them before they can take our lands. If weak, they are of no use to us.”

“You question my decision, Anya?” Lexa lets her voice become iron.

Anya does not flinch. She scowls. “I question whether you will get yourself killed, yongon. You defend them and help them when they do nothing for us. A couple of them are interesting, even likable, but that is no reason for this. Gonas have already died trying to protect them from the Maunon. The Azgeda will not like you entering their territory, and allowing strangers to come to it. Nia may well try to challenge you once you have returned to Polis, accuse you of weakness.”

“She will fail,” Lexa says, remaining calm.

“Will she?” Anya challenges. “I know why you risk so much for the Skaikru, Lexa, even if the others cannot see. The way you look at that Sky girl… I have not seen you like this since Costia. But Costia I know felt the same as you did.”

“Do not mention Costia to me,” Lexa growls.

“Do not mistake me,” Anya says quickly. “I will follow you, obey you, protect you, whatever you ask… as I always have. All I am saying is that you have not known Clarke kom Skaikru long. I am not Titus. I do not believe that what you felt for Costia made you weak, and I do not believe that caring again will make you weak. But making decisions based on those feelings…” she lets her voice trail off, but Lexa knows how the sentence ends.

“That would make me weak,” she completes it. Anya doesn’t know she is echoing what Lexa herself was just explaining – even after so many years, she still mirrors her mentor, her Fos. “Weaker than I have been before. Because I never made decisions based on what I feel for Costia, or Gustus, or you. And I feel much for you.” Anya looks shocked at this admission. “I will not be a liar, Anya, not anymore. I care for you, I care for Gustus. I loved Costia so much her death nearly destroyed me. That is the truth. But understand, Anya – what I am doing for the Skaikru is for our people. Not for Clarke. I will be glad if she is spared pain, but I believe the Skaikru can aid us. Have you seen nothing of worth in them?”

“Nothing,” Anya hisses, “All they do is talk, whine and argue,” Then she pauses, looking thoughtful for a split second.

“What?” Lexa asks.

“The… the girl, Raven, she took the nothings I gave her and she made sparks come from them,” Anya admits reluctantly. “Sparks that were not hot yet burned… but differently than fire. But what use are those against the Maunon?”

“According to Clarke, sparks like those are the start of what makes the radio speak to the stars, what makes the fog roll out over our lands,” Lexa says. “As strange as it sounds, I believe her. Perhaps if we too learn to control these things, we can use them. And the Skaikru can use guns, as we cannot.”

“Guns!” Anya looks horrified.

“Guns,” Lexa says firmly. “It is not our way, it is not our belief, and it is not an honourable tactic, but the Skaikru do not have the same ways or beliefs or honour as we do. I once told you that I believed the other clans had ways that could be of use to us, and now we eat fish we cannot catch and wear the furs of creatures we’ve never seen and own horses we never bred. The Boat People and the Ice Nation and Plains Riders gave us those. And they have wood to build homes and nuts and meat to eat that we gave them. The Trikru did not take their ways, but we benefit from them, as they benefit from ours. Our children learn to fight bandits and beasts instead of killing each other. They are all my people now, all twelve of the clans, because I willed it so, because I did not listen when you and others spoke of danger. I do not wish to allow a potential ally to be destroyed simply because it is easier than to help them live.”

There’s a long pause as Anya looks at her. Then her former Fos looks down, and stabs her knife into the map. “There,” Anya says gruffly, “That will be the safest space to cross the border.”

Chapter Text

It’s time to leave.

Raven’s made two new radios, neither powerful enough to call up to the Ark like the one she came down with, but powerful enough to reach each other and it. Clarke’s decided the one sent by the Ark should be left at Polis – that way the members of the 100 there will be able to talk to their families. She and Lexa will take one of the Raven-made ones with them north, so if anything happens up on the Ark her people in Polis can radio and let them know. The other radio made by Raven will be left at TonDC – she held a brief training session with Nyko and a couple of the others to teach them how to use it – so that way if anything happens at the Mountain they’ll know about it too.

In other words, they have everything prepared and set up, and everyone protected. So why the hell is Clarke so goddamn nervous?

She thinks it might be Lexa, rubbing off on her. Even now as they set up to start the walk to Polis, Lexa’s got scouts around in every direction and glances regularly at the sky, looking for missiles or other threats. Her nerves don’t show on her face of course – it’s Lexa – but Clarke’s seen her this way enough to recognise it. And she understands. Clarke and Lexa, stationary, surrounded by an army of gonas, would be a very tempting target for the Maunon. (If they know who Clarke and Lexa are. But at some point she’s just accepted it as fact that Emerson remembers.)

“Griffin? Griffin!”

Clarke jerks back to her surroundings, blinking. Judging by the scowl on his face, John’s been trying to get her attention for a while. She notices that while the rest of them have packs and are wearing as much clothing as possible to protect against whipping branches and the wind, he’s dressed normally and has no pack. “What is it?”

“I’m staying,” John says, looking very decided. “I’m not leaving this place. If we’re gonna have any chance of rescuing Murphy -”

We don’t, Clarke thinks. She doesn’t say it though. Let him have hope. Besides, what does she know? If Emerson doesn’t remember, Murphy could still be being treated as an honoured guest. If Emerson does remember, he might think Murphy and Drew could make good hostages – Murphy’s pretty good at talking his way out of trouble. It’s just her instincts that tell her the two boys are dead, killed to give fourteen Mountain Men the ability to go wherever they want to.

“- well, I should be here,” he finishes. “I’m the only one who gives a damn about him.”

“It won’t be safe here,” Clarke warns.

“It won’t be safe anywhere,” he points out. “This is the ground, it’s not a safe place anytime. I can stay here, help work the radio. Maybe I’ll notice something the Grounders miss.”

Clarke considers this. She doesn’t believe he will, but she doesn’t think the Maunon will storm TonDC for the chance of capturing one Skaikru either – well, unless the Skaikru is her. “You stay out of the forest and in TonDC as much as you can,” she starts, holding up a finger to silence him when he tries to speak. “Stay indoors whenever possible so you can’t be seen. Go ask Nyko for some Trikru clothing so that you blend in more. If you do anything stupid, like trying to get inside the Mountain on your own, the Mountain Men won’t have to shoot you because I’ll have done it first. Understood?” If they have any element of surprise at all she wants to keep it.

“Understood,” he says gruffly. But there’s something in his tone that makes her quirk her brow.

“Right, you understand. But will you do what I said?”

“Maybe,” he says. At her look, he adds, “I don’t plan to get killed by the Mountain, alright? So I’ll be careful. But if I see a chance to do something, don’t expect me not to take it.”

“Fair enough,” she says, resigned. She can’t drag him with her if he wants to stay.

“Move out,” Indra yells, and all the gonas raise their weapons and give a quick shout. Then they’re moving forwards. John gives her a little wave goodbye and weaves his way back through the crowds towards the village, out of her sight in seconds. She hopes he doesn’t get himself killed.

Lexa’s at the head of the group, with Indra and Anya beside her (Nyko’s been left in charge of the village). Part of Clarke aches to go to the front and walk beside Lexa, but she knows that if she does, she won’t be able to resist brushing against her, touching her. It’s been several days since they’ve done more than see each other in passing, and Clarke wouldn’t be able to stop herself from being too obvious about her affection. She promises herself that once they’re in Polis – and have some privacy – she won’t leave Lexa’s side.

Octavia’s immediately behind Indra, already throwing herself into being a Seken, and Lincoln is next to her. As she watches, he puts his hand on Octavia’s shoulder, and for a second Clarke thinks he’s showing affection – then she realises he’s steadying himself. He’s favouring his leg, still, and weeks of walking are probably the last thing it needs. But he’s been trained as a fisa, at least a little, and he must know that. Her repeating it to him won’t mean a thing.

Clarke’s somewhere in about the third row and falls into step beside Raven. Finn and Wells are behind them, chatting easily – apparently Finn coming clean to Raven has made everything between them return to normal. Clarke only wishes it hadn’t had the opposite effect on Raven, who still looks a combination of sad and pissed off.

“Watch still working?” Raven says after a few minutes.

“Yeah,” Clarke replies. “Don’t tell me you forgot you’re amazing?” She holds up her wrist for Raven to see – she got a friendly craftsman in TonDC to make a thong and wrist strap for it. It doesn’t look like one of the old mass-produced watches, there’s too many uneven bits and asymmetrical parts, but she really likes it anyway.

“I just wanted to make sure you remembered,” Raven says jokingly, and grins at her. “That reminds me, I was talking to your mom yesterday and she told me to tell you she was keeping your dad’s watch for you and would give it to you when she came down.”

“Great,” Clarke says, not sure if she means it. Once, she associated that watch with the person she loved most in the world. She’s not sure there’s any way to recapture that feeling, not anymore.

Raven studies her sidelong. “Any reason why she had to get me to pass that on? She said you keep saying you’re too busy to have a private talk with her.”

“I’ve had several,” Clarke says defensively. Alright, so they were about logistics and plans, not about personal things, but she hasn’t had too much time spare for personal things lately. She knows she’s going to have to deal with her mother sooner or later – even if Clarke’s managed to move on from her dad’s death to an extent, Abby still needs the absolution she hasn’t gotten in this world. But it’s not a conversation she wants to have over radio.

She and Raven concentrate on walking for a little longer. “Look,” Raven says finally. “Tell me if it’s none of my business, but is there a reason you’re avoiding her?”

“Sort of,” Clarke admits. She hesitates. “When my dad found out about the oxygen situation, he told her, and she turned him in to get floated.”

Shit,” Raven says. “No way. Okay, that’s a good reason. A really good reason. Though I gotta say, she did move heaven and earth to find out if you were alive.”

“Oh, I know she loves me,” Clarke says. “And I love her. But I also loved my dad. I just think maybe we should wait to be face to face to have that discussion.”

“Wow. You guys may be even more dysfunctional than my family,” Raven considers this. “Or not. Few things are more dysfunctional than my family.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh yeah. My mum drank all my rations, pretty sure she had a kid precisely for that,” Raven shrugs, like it happened to someone else, but there’s tension in her movements now. “Pretty sure whoever my dad is was a moonshine trade as well. It’s a miracle I didn’t get foetal alcohol syndrome or something.”

“It’s even more of a miracle you lived through all that to become the best mechanic in the world,” Clarke says, not sure what to do. She squeezes Raven’s shoulder for a brief moment, then keeps walking.

Raven relaxes slightly. “Well that’s me. The miracle worker. Though I’m not sure ‘best mechanic in the world’ is saying much, I’m the only mechanic in the world at the moment.”

“Hmm. We can organise competitions with the others when they come down,” Clarke suggests flippantly. “See who can make me a coffee-maker quickest.”

“Ooh. Or a hot tub, I’ve seen those in old movies.”

“A motorbike,” Clarke nods. “Much better than all those horses.”

“You’d hit a tree in three seconds,” Raven scoffs. “What about a toaster?”

“We have fires for that,” Clarke points out, “A computer.”

“Not exactly what mechanics do,” Monty says, joining them. He must have been half-listening for a while. “A jetpack.”

“We just came down from the sky and you want to go back?” Jasper says, beside him. “I vote for a camera.”

“You just want to take pictures of hot chicks,” Monty says. “No. A jetpack is much cooler.”

“I just said a motorbike is too dangerous, why would I say yes to a jetpack?” Raven asks.

“We’re planning to make bombs,” Monty replies. “Is safety really a concern at this point?”

“A hair drier,” Clarke says thoughtfully. “I’d like a hair drier.”

“Electric razor,” Jasper rubs his chin. “Much easier.”

“Like you need to shave,” Monty rolls his eyes.

“Hey! I shave! Regularly!”

“Regularly, yeah, sure, I believe you,” Raven says snarkily. “Your regular monthly shave.”

“A welding torch,” Finn suggests, joining them. Apparently Monty and Jasper weren’t the only people listening. “That would be incredibly useful.”

“But if you can do that, you may as well make a flamethrower,” Jasper says eagerly, then considers it. “I mean… not to use on people… obviously… but it would be useful for something, I’m sure.”

“Fans,” Wells says firmly, practical as always. “Fans for summer, heaters for winter. Unlike the Ark, the weather here will change.”

“There must be some way to make an electronic bong,” Monty says thoughtfully.

“Yes,” Jasper says emphatically. “Two votes for that. Did I tell you about these wonderful plants they have here? The Trikru never even thought of using them to get high.”

“Just goes to show, we might be next-to-useless at most practical stuff, but us Arkers are still way better at what’s important,” Monty grins. He and Jasper do their weird little self-five.

Someone clears their throat. All of them look up with similar guilty expressions at Anya’s impassive face. She must have dropped back to check on them.

Clarke smiles awkwardly. “Hei, Anya.”

Anya looks at her for a long second. For the first time, there is something more than contempt in her gaze, and Clarke wonders what’s happened to change that. “I saw a picture once of a thing called a chainsaw,” she says eventually. “I would not object if you produced one, Raven kom Skaikru.”

The others laugh, at the breaking of tension more than the actual comment, but Clarke just meets Anya’s gaze squarely. Anya jerks her head to the side slightly and Clarke veers so that she’s next to Anya as the others begin to debate what the most useless thing to create would be (Clarke thinks that ‘clothes iron’ will probably end up being the winner).

“I…” Anya says quietly, then pauses. She touches her hand to her sword, not in threat, but like she’s looking for reassurance. “I said some things to you the other day about Heda that I am grateful you did not pass on.”

“When you called her a fool, you mean,” Clarke says, also keeping her voice down so no one can hear.

Anya winces. “Sha.”

“You didn’t mean it. I know that,” Clarke says firmly. “You’re worried about her. You care about her.”

“Sha,” Anya says again.

“Well, so do I,” Clarke says. “We’re on the same side, Anya kom Trikru. We can help you. We will help you.”

Anya studies her. “That remains to be seen,” she says softly. “But if I could believe it of any of your people, Clarke kom Skaikru, I would believe it of you.”

Chapter Text

“I understand that, Heda,” Indra’s face is set and angry. “I do. I even accept your plan to ally with the Sky People.”

“Then I fail to see the problem,” Lexa says coolly. They’re in her room, as Indra came late at night to discuss this. They plan to stay a day in Polis gathering supplies and then continue north, and Lexa could really use some sleep.

Of more immediate concern, however, is that Clarke is probably not enjoying her current position hiding semi-naked in Lexa’s closet.

“I do not believe it is wise for you personally to enter Azgeda territory,” Indra states. “You can remain in Polis, safely -”

Lexa raises a hand. “I have never been safe, Indra,” she points out. “And if we are to make an alliance with these people, I wish to get their measure. I will need to meet their leaders at some point – it may as well be soon.” The truth is somewhat more complex, of course – she does not wish to send Clarke north without her, and she has no doubt Clarke will go north whatever. She has plans of her own to put in action, too.

“Anya and I can handle it for you,” Indra insists. “We are already going with you, can we not be trusted to manage this between us?”

“So that it is the Trikru invading the Azgeda, instead of the Commander visiting some of her lands?” Lexa asks. “Imagine what Nia could do with that. No, Indra. I will not remain in Polis while you go.”

“But the Azgeda -” Indra starts, concern knotting her forehead.

“Em pleni!” Lexa gives Indra a stern look. “It is not your place to question my orders, any more than it is Anya’s. I respect you and I value your advice, but my decision is final. I am Heda. Be my General, Indra, and obey.”

Indra gives a sharp nod, her face still twisted in worry and disapproval.

“Now leave me,” Lexa orders.

Clarke emerges from the closet as soon as the door closes behind Indra. “Well, that was demeaning,” she says sourly. Despite her expression, she moves to wrap her arms around Lexa, pressing her face into the curve of Lexa’s neck and inhaling. The days with no real time together have been difficult.

“I did not tell you to do that,” Lexa points out. She can’t help smiling, though. “I told you to remain.”

“Indra doesn’t know about us yet,” Clarke replies, her voice slightly muffled against Lexa. “I’d like to keep it that way.”

“With Octavia as her Seken, I doubt her ignorance will last long,” Lexa comments dryly.

“You don’t seem too concerned,” Clarke says, pulling back to study Lexa’s face.

“You’re the current acting leader of the Skaikru,” Lexa says. “Everyone knows that you have accompanied me for the past month and that I listen to your advice. Awareness of our relationship is unlikely to place you in more danger than you are currently in, especially since our greatest threat is the Maunon and they seek you.” Their relationship places Clarke in danger, Lexa knows – but Clarke always places herself in danger. Ending their relationship would only ensure that Lexa is not there to protect her. Or perhaps that is her selfishness speaking – but if it is, she will let it continue to speak.

“What about after we’ve dealt with them? If we manage to deal with them, anyway.” Clarke strokes Lexa’s hair lightly and drops a kiss on her head.

“People will find out,” Lexa says honestly. “We can excuse the time we spend together now as discussing how to deal with your people. But eventually we will run out of excuses. Even if you were to be the ambassador once again, as soon as I was no longer dealing with some crisis to do with your people it would become apparent that we were spending time together for no reason at all.”

Clarke frowns. “So what do you suggest?”

“While our current secrecy works, I think in the end we will have to be open about what we are,” Lexa says. Then she flushes slightly. “That is, if you wish for us to continue. I know that once your people have arrived -”

“Lexa. I’m with you. Here. Got it?” Clarke says fiercely. She wraps her arms around Lexa, holding her tightly, and kisses the top of her head again, then leaves her cheek pressed against Lexa’s hair.

“Oh,” Lexa smiles slightly. “Well, then, we will be open about the fact that you are with me. You will be under threat whatever happens, just from the rumours and the amount of time we spend alone together, so all that admitting it would do is to give you more status with my people. It would help prevent the belief that you are trying to influence me towards our people.” Lexa hesitates, then adds, “Of course, you could not be leader or ambassador for your people if we did this. At present you can lead your people without issue, but once things settle down more…”

“Why not?” Clarke asks.

“I am Heda,” Lexa states. “I must not express favouritism towards any clan. They have realised by now that I am not influenced by the clan I grew up in, but if I am to have you as a constant in my life they cannot believe you are influencing me towards your people. If you become my advisor, they will see you helping to mediate between the other clans, and know you are objective there in a way even I cannot be. You will have more power as my official advisor and partner – an extension of my power – than you would as an ambassador, as well. You would be in charge of Polis when I am away, and deal with negotiations or lead gonakrus when I am unable to. But if you are ambassador or leader for your people, you will deal directly with me on matters specifically about the Skaikru only, and they will know that our relationship must influence that.”

Clarke blinks. “But you made me an ambassador last time,” she says reasonably. She pulls slightly back from Lexa to kiss her forehead again. It’s very distracting.

“That was when I thought there was no chance you would ever return my regard,” Lexa says softly. “I believed we would never have the kind of relationship that could cause the others to question my impartiality. You despised me. It wasn’t until you drew me while I slept -”

Lexa. No,” Clarke says. She pulls Lexa close again, and kisses her. “No. I never despised you. Not for one second, okay? I just – I was angry at everyone, and you were a really convenient target. And I hated myself because even after everything happened, even after deciding it was your fault, I still felt drawn to you, and I took that self-hatred and aimed it at you. I didn’t hate you. I loved you. It just took me some time to realise it.”

There’s a long pause. “You… loved me?” Lexa says carefully. She is awed by it, by the feeling in Clarke’s voice, by the arms wrapped around her – holding her, protecting her, loving her.

Before Clarke, no one had held Lexa in a very long time.

“No,” Clarke says fiercely. “I love you. Not just past tense, present. And future. I loved you then, I love you now, and I’m pretty sure I’ll always love you.” She kisses Lexa with every ounce of emotion in her.

“I feel as you do,” Lexa manages to gasp out between kisses, and then she doesn’t manage to say anything else at all.

Clarke licks, kisses and nibbles her way down Lexa’s neck, moves to her collarbone, then moves further. It seems like hours of exploration but may be much less as Lexa bucks against her and moans incoherently – Clarke seems determined to kiss every inch of Lexa’s body, know every curve and scar and freckle that she possesses. Each touch feels like it leaves a burning point of light there.

Clarke presses her fingers inside Lexa and swallows her next moan with another kiss, then slides down to chase her fingers with her lips. It’s slow and purposeful and merciless, laving and sucking and kissing as her fingers push into her, making her crazy from the inside out. Even when Lexa tries to move against her, tries to hurry her, Clarke keeps the pace slow and perfect. Perfectly infuriating. She comes in a wave, steady and inexorable, but by the end it feels more like a tsunami and she gasps out her love into the beautiful, candlelit room where she once died.

There is a sense of wonder, every time she is able to touch Clarke. She has been starved of touch for years and never known it, and every brush of their skin is a sharp jolt of relief. Pressing herself against Clarke – pressing her tongue against Clarke, and tasting the core of her – is something more than relief, however. It’s not redemption, which may belong to anyone who chooses to lie to themselves, nor forgiveness, which is a matter of another individual’s decision. It’s something more like grace. An unexpected gift, an impossible mercy, to find exactly what she never knew she should seek. To find Clarke.

Afterwards, lying in the peaceful afterglow, she traces Clarke’s warm body. Everything glows in the soft candlelight, throwing the shadows into sharp relief. She runs her fingers down Clarke’s arms, with their burgeoning muscles, allows her hand to follow the dip of Clarke’s waistline and move up the hill of her hip, writes meaningless words against her skin. Mouths kisses against her shoulder, her neck.

“Is she right?” Clarke says suddenly.

“What?”

“Indra,” Clarke clarifies. “She thinks you should stay in Polis. Maybe she’s right. Nia would love to kill you, you know that.”

“Nia would love to defeat me,” Lexa says firmly. “Not kill me. If she had Roan kill me in a challenge, that would be one thing. It would show that I am weak, and she is powerful. If she assassinated me and none knew, she could remain in power. But if she brings a gonakru to kill me on her land, the other clans will know she killed me, and will attack. Even if she challenges me on her land they will assume she killed me by foul means, since the other ambassadors will not be there to act as witnesses as they did last time.”

“Maybe she doesn’t care if they know,” Clarke counters, “Maybe she just wants you dead.”

“The Azgeda desire power. They may even desire war. But fighting against all eleven of the clans – they cannot wish this. They would be wiped out.”

“What if they have allies?” Clarke says, rolling over to face Lexa. “Blue Cliff, or the Rock Line clan -” She names two of the clans which have a reasonable number of gonas and no long friendship with the Trikru.

“The Ice Nation had no allies before the coalition,” Lexa says flatly. “They believed they needed none, as they are protected by ice and snow, and the rest of us fought each other instead of facing that. They acted as bandits and thieves to the rest, and angered many. The only reason any of the clans would side with them is if they considered me weak. At present, I have their approval.”

“You’re sure?’ Clarke’s face starts to wrinkle in worry, and Lexa reaches out to caress her cheek.

“Very sure, ai niron,” she says. “I spoke with the ambassadors about my plans. None were concerned. Your people have killed none of ours yet, so there is no bad blood to speak of, and no reason why your possible entry into the alliance should concern them if you are not to take their land. Several of them have gone to see your people around the city, and have decided they are harmless. No doubt they will have more opinions when I tell them we plan to take on the Maunon, but I assure you, they will not believe I am weak for that. Quite the opposite.”

Clarke pauses, and then asks another question, dread in her eyes. “What if they ally with the Maunon?”

Lexa blinks, considers it, and then dismisses it. “No. The Maunon despise my people, and the Azgeda despise the Mountain.”

“But they’re powerful,” Clarke says flatly. “It might be worth it, just for that alliance.” She stops propping herself on her side with her arm and half-rolls to lie on her back, staring up at Lexa.

“No,” Lexa says again, her voice firm and sure. She moves so she is half over Clarke, her hands planted on either side of Clarke’s head to support her, and kisses Clarke’s forehead, then her lips. When Lexa pulls back Clarke pushes herself up for a second to follow for one more quick kiss, before falling back with a sigh. “The Azgeda hate the Maunon more than anything. They would turn against Nia if she tried to ally with the Mountain – they nearly turned against me for the crime of merely ceasing our failing assault on the Maunon. It was only the release of their own captives which prevented an immediate attack on me from them. Some to the far north even consider the Mountain Men not to be men at all, but demons, who wear their suits to cover this. They tell their children that the Maunon drink blood and create the Ripas by infecting them with madness. Even Nia has stated that the leader of the Maunon has more power than any other person in the world due to the number he has killed. There’s a reason why they feared and respected you so much for defeating the Maunon. They would never help the Mountain.”

“So you think there’s no risk to going north?” Clarke asks, making her doubt clear. She winds one of Lexa’s dangling braids around her finger, playing with it, then moves her hand to let it rest on the back of Lexa’s neck.

“Plenty of it,” Lexa says dryly. “Though I have ordered no death, there is no guarantee the Azgeda will treat your people well, and they could begin a war. Factions beside Nia may wish me dead, or believe that she wishes me dead and act on it. Someone may wish to frame Nia for my death – she certainly has enemies enough.”

“And the Mountain Men might be able to figure out where we’re going, as well,” Clarke says. She sighs. “If they have the equipment to detect the Ark, they’ll know exactly where the orbit takes it. So us all disappearing north will be a very obvious red flag.”

“So there are lots of risks,” Lexa summarises.

“As always,” Clarke agrees. She leans forward and kisses Lexa.

“Ai hod yu in, Clarke,” Lexa whispers, an inch from Clarke’s lips.

“Ai hod yu in, Lexa,” Clarke echoes with a smile.

Chapter Text

Bellamy listens through to the end without interrupting. “Right,” he says eventually. “So let me see if I’ve got this straight. There are a bunch of people who live inside Mount Weather.”

“Yes.”

“They hate us. For some reason,” Bellamy continues.

“Pretty much,” Octavia confirms, though she does shoot a glance at Clarke.

“They took Murphy and Drew,” Bellamy states. “And you reckon they want to take the rest of us. So you told the Ark to come down as far away as possible, which means that instead of landing among our friendly neighbourhood Grounders, they’ll be surrounded by savages. And you’re planning to go north with the Commander to stop said savages from killing our people.”

“I’m going too,” Raven says helpfully. She’s sitting next to Finn, although not leaning on him like she used to. “Apparently, making bombs is a really useful skill around here.”

“And I’m going because Clarke’s going,” Wells says firmly.

“And I’m going because Raven’s going,” Finn echoes.

“Great,” Bellamy says, not caring. “You’re very supportive boyfriends, good for you. And you want me to -”

“Fill everyone in on what’s going on,” Clarke says, still wincing at the ‘boyfriend’ comment. “And with Monty and Jasper’s help, keep in touch with the Ark. Contact us and let us know if anything changes. Make a list of which people are expected to come down in each station so we can try and keep track of everyone. That kind of thing.”

“What about O?” Bellamy frowns.

“I’m going north as well. Because Indra’s going,” Octavia says challengingly. “She’s my Fos.”

“She’s your… wait, what?” Bellamy wheels to face Clarke, glaring. “You let her become a warrior? I thought we agreed -”

“That she’d be my assistant,” Clarke says coldly. “Luckily I don’t need one anymore.” She relents a little at the look on Bellamy’s face. “Come on, Bellamy, this is Octavia. She’s going to do dangerous things and risk her life anyway, you should at least let her get the skills to defend herself.”

“Exactly,” Octavia says, apparently having no issues with this description of her. “And I’m an adult in Trikru terms, anyway. You can’t stop me doing what I want to do. And I want to learn to fight.”

“Fine,” Bellamy growls, “Then learn to fight here. Don’t go north.”

“I’m going, Bell,” Octavia says, her voice final.

He glares. “Then I’m going too.”

“No, you’re not,” Clarke says, just as hotly. “You’re the closest thing our people here have to a leader. Right now, you’re keeping everyone in enough control to stop any of them getting arrested. We need the Grounders here to like us.”

“If you think I’m going to let my sister run off into a warzone just so you can play politics -”

“That politics is the only thing giving us somewhere to run to!” Clarke says fiercely. “If things go badly up north, we’re going to need to fall back to Polis. We might even need to turn up at Polis with hundreds of our people in tow. The people of Polis need to be willing to let us do that, so I want absolutely nobody to screw anything up between now and then. Perfect guests, do you understand? That’s what I need you to do.”

“If I stay, Octavia stays,” Bellamy says flatly. “And if Octavia’s going, I’m going. That’s it.”

“I’m going,” Octavia says mulishly. “Whatever happens. I’m not leaving Indra.” Clarke’s glad she didn’t mention Lincoln, since Bellamy already looks furious. “I’ll run away if you try and force me to stay.”

“Then I’m going too,” Bellamy says again forcefully.

“No, you’re not,” Clarke says, wondering if she should either force Octavia to stay or allow Bellamy to go. She’s sure Octavia, Lincoln and Indra would all disapprove of the first choice, and equally sure that Lexa will be horrified by the second one. Lexa’s already grudgingly accepted Finn, it’s not fair to make her put up with Bellamy as well. “I need you to be a leader, Bellamy. I need you to take care of our people.”

“One of the others can do it,” Bellamy says impatiently, “Miller, maybe.”

“No,” Jasper says unexpectedly. They all turn to look at him in surprise. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed, dude, but only two people ever got the rest of us criminals to do anything. You, and Clarke.”

Monty chimes in after a moment. “And Clarke has to go north, I’ve heard the Commander and the others talk to her, she’s the only one they’re going to listen to. So she can’t stay here.”

“That leaves you,” Wells says to Bellamy, an edge of distaste in his voice. “I don’t like you, but they do. They’ll listen to you.”

“Clarke’s right. She knows what she’s doing. Come on, Bell,” Octavia says finally. “I’m an adult. I can take care of myself. Please, can’t you just trust me?”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Bellamy begins, and Clarke knows from his defeated tone of voice that they’ve already won. “Fine. All right. But,” he turns to look at Clarke again, “If anything happens to my sister, I’ll kill you. Understand?”

“I understand you’ll try,” Clarke replies, meeting him stare for stare until he blinks and looks away.

After a second, he gives a bitter huff of laughter. “Right. Sure.”

Clarke wonders if this is the moment to bring up Diana Sydney and Shumway, both of whom are still locked up on the Ark with everyone else Shumway flipped on. Clarke had recommended they be floated for their crimes, though not without a twinge, hoping that executing them would make getting Bellamy’s statement moot. Her mother had told her they needed to show mercy, and Diana Sydney and her people were being watched carefully and that would be enough. (Clarke does wonder what they’ll do with them now though – it’s not exactly like they have the facilities or spare resources to hold them forever, any more than they would have before they decided to come to the ground.)

However, Clarke suspects there’s more going on than some abstract attempt at ‘mercy’ that the Ark has never shown before. Diana Sydney and her people are popular, and right now Jaha isn’t. Floating people could always be excused before as necessary for the survival of the Ark. Now they know the ground is liveable. Bellamy accused Clarke of playing politics, but she’s got nothing on Jaha – she thinks he’s trying to paint himself as the saviour of the Skaikru, and executing a bunch of people would contrast sharply with that. So Jaha will wait until they get to the ground, and get Bellamy’s testimony, and probably even hold a proper trial, and all those things which the Council have never bothered to do before. All the things they never even bothered to do when they were sending children to the ground to die.

Octavia knows that Clarke based her accusations on knowledge she shouldn’t have, but all Bellamy knows is that Jaha survived since Clarke mentioned talking to him – he gave a slight sigh of relief at knowing he hadn’t killed Jaha, and that was all. He’s so settled in his new life here that he probably doesn’t think of the Ark’s ‘justice’ as being relevant to him anymore. It’s probably not the right time to bring up Sydney or Shumway.

He breaks the silence again. “I can’t believe Murphy might be dead.”

“I never met the guy,” Raven says with a shrug, and Clarke realises with a shock that that’s the truth. This Raven was never shot by Murphy, never tried to give him to the Trikru in place of Finn. “Or any of the other ones, for that matter. So it doesn’t really seem as real to me. I’m sorry for your loss, though.”

Bellamy gives her a half smile, clearly uncomfortable with her sympathy. “I’m fine. I wasn’t really close with Murphy or Drew, although we were sort of friends the first few days here. It’s just… shit, I kind of understood people being killed by that fog stuff. But killed on purpose, murdered…”

“Oh,” Clarke says, surprised. “Didn’t I mention – well, the fog is done by the Mountain Men as well. Along with these cannibal psychos called Reapers, who you really don’t want to meet.”

“I see,” Bellamy says, an unpleasant tone entering his voice. “And they’re after us. So how do we kill them?”

“Right now, we’re more concentrating on surviving them,” Wells says dryly. “When the Ark gets down -”

“When the Ark gets down, they’ll be exactly as useless as they’ve always been,” Bellamy says shortly. He rubs his eyes, clearly annoyed. “Listen, I have a class pretty soon, judging by the sun. Can we continue this later? How many days are you guys staying?”

There’s an awkward pause, which Jasper rushes to fill, “Well, me and Monty are staying for the foreseeable future. They’re letting me try and make bombs! And Monty’s gonna -”

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” Clarke cuts through his chatter ruthlessly. “Raven needs some time to go through the tower’s electronics – I’m actually not sure why she’s not doing that now -”

“Spent all last night going through them,” Raven says. Now that she mentions it, Clarke can see the circles under her eyes. She feels guilty. “Mostly a load of crap, but some useful things. Well, useful-ish. Stuff like an EMP isn’t exactly useful with no technology to knock out that isn’t buried under a mountain. But I can definitely make as many radios as we need, maybe some timers or even triggers for bombs if you like. Grenades, perhaps.”

“Right,” Clarke says, wrong-footed. “Uh… so Raven’s sorted. I’ll send some gonas to carry anything you need, if you tell them what to take,” she addresses Raven, then moves back to Bellamy. “We need to keep moving. The Mountain Men have missiles, and the last thing we want is for them to decide to shoot them at Polis, which they might do if Lexa or I stay here long. Besides which, I’d like to reach the area where the stations are most likely to come down with some time to prepare.” Of course, there’s almost no chance of the Maunon figuring out how to send a missile at Polis. They need a spotter. But she also can’t discount the possibility that they’ll figure out a way – Polis is a large, stationary target, after all.

“Lexa or you?” Bellamy says shrewdly. “You think they’re targeting the two of you?”

Octavia flicks a glance Clarke’s way, then says, “Yeah, from what we overheard the Mountain seem to have decided that Clarke and the Commander are our leaders. They think taking them out will cripple us.”

Bellamy snorts. “Of course they do.” He gives Clarke a half-grin. “Guess they don’t know how tough we are, huh, Griffin?”

“You know you’re lost without me, Bellamy,” Clarke lobbies back at him.

“Okay,” Bellamy looks out the window at the sky. “I really need to go now. O, you know where I live, right?” Octavia nods. “I stop teaching at sunset. Be there then. We’ll have a goodbye dinner, okay? And a nice long talk.” From Bellamy’s expression, Clarke suspects the talk will be more like a long lecture. He turns to the others. “Uh, Spacewalker, Jaha’s kid, mechanic chick, Princess, I guess I probably won’t see you before you go.”

Clarke can tell from his voice that he chose those names specifically to distance himself from them. “I guess you won’t,” she says. “Keep in touch via the radio.”

“Don’t get my sister killed,” he says back. Then, after a moment’s pause, adds, “Don’t get yourself killed either, Princess. I really don’t want to have to be the one mediating deals between the Commander and Jaha.”

“Trust me, I wouldn’t leave a job that important for you anyway,” Clarke says, with a smile to show she doesn’t really mean it.

He surprises her when he moves, hugging her awkwardly for half a second before stepping back, an embarrassed expression on his face. “Yeah. Better not.”

Then he’s out the door. After a second’s pause, Octavia follows him, presumably to catch him for some last-minute comment.

“Maybe we should come with you guys too,” Jasper says into the sudden silence. “I don’t know, but he seems kinda tense. You guys are much nicer.”

“You don’t want to stay here and make bombs?” Clarke quirks an eyebrow.

“You have no idea what my bomb recipe contains,” Jasper says, making a disgusted face. “It is nothing like baking a cake.”

“Plus there’s the offside chance he might accidentally blow up Polis,” Monty adds. “It’s a good thing I’m helping out with plants, instead of something which involves staying in the city.” Jasper sticks his tongue out at him.

“We’ll probably need the bombs,” Clarke says firmly. “And look on the bright side, staying here you’ll get beds and baths.”

“Wait, we won’t?” Raven says playfully. “What did I sign up for?”

“A week-long trek through icy wastelands filled with violent warriors,” Jasper says brightly. “And that reminds me, I’d like to formally retract my offer to go with you.”

“You would,” Finn grumbles.

“No one asked you to go,” Raven says to Finn, an edge of ice in her voice.

“No one had to,” he says quietly. “If you go somewhere, I go. That’s the deal, right?”

“I thought so,” Raven replies, and now her voice is just sad.

Wells jumps in, transparently trying to change the subject. “This city is really impressive, Clarke. Especially the tower we’re staying in. I can’t believe it survived the bombs.”

“Me neither,” Finn says, shooting Wells a grateful look. “It’s stupid to say it makes me feel like we’re higher up since we came from a space station, but it really does.”

“It’s the awareness you can fall,” Monty says, nodding. “Makes all the difference.”

Clarke looks at him. “I’m going to miss you,” she says honestly. “You and Jasper. Try not to blow yourselves up, okay?”

“Always do,” Jasper assures her, and gives her a quick hug. He flushes red immediately afterwards and Clarke hugs Monty as well.

“Yeah, please try and be here when we get back,” Wells says, and Clarke remembers they spent time together in TonDC while the rest of them were in Polis.

“How about a deal, if we are, then you try one of my concoctions,” Monty proposes.

“Yes! Good idea!” Jasper enthuses.

Wells steps forward and hooks an arm around each of them, as affectionate as Clarke has ever seen him be outside of her, Jaha or Finn. “Do you mean alcohol or drugs? You know what, never mind, I don’t care. I’ll consider it.”

“That means no,” Jasper grumbles, but then disentangles himself from Wells to hug Finn as well. “No way I’m getting up early tomorrow to see you guys off, so this definitely feels like goodbye time. Bye, Finn.”

“Yeah, bye,” Monty adds, giving an awkward pat to Finn’s shoulder instead of a hug. “We’ll see you soon. Right, Clarke?” he turns towards Clarke.

She has to clear something out of her throat and blink quickly several times before she’s composed enough to respond. “Yeah. We’ll see you soon.”

Chapter Text

In some places, the borders between the different clans are very clear. A river, a line of mountains, a visible change from forest to desert – they all obviously mark the transition. And some places don’t have that clear a sign but the occupants know to an inch which land is theirs and which is their neighbouring clan’s. However, other borders are less a line than they are a no man’s land, a strip of earth where neither side step in case the land belongs to the other – generally because in the past when they have stepped there, the other side hasn’t hesitated to attack. Animals graze in peace and nuts and berries grow wildly, in areas like that.

This part of the border between the Ice Nation and the Woods Clan is like that. Lexa finds it unnerving. It might be the safest place to cross the border, she trusts Anya’s judgment about that, but there’s something about the lack of any signs of people at all that makes it seem ominous. She’s used to seeing the marks of hunters, travellers, and gatherers. Subtle marks like crushed grass or a scraped tree instead of more obvious ones, but marks nonetheless.

Even the Skaikru, who wouldn’t consciously recognise those marks, seem concerned by this. The casual chatter in the group has all but ceased.

“How much further to the village?” Lexa says under her breath to Anya. Across this border is the village Anya considers to be the friendliest to the Trikru – perhaps because it has been years since any ventured into the hazy border between the two clans. Good fences, after all, make good neighbours. The only Trikru these Azgeda will have seen in the intervening time are merchants travelling over worn paths to sell them things, instead of hunters and trappers arguing over whose kill an animal is, or Trikru bandits looking to steal from the closest villages across the border.

“Perhaps half an hour’s walk at most,” Anya replies just as quietly.

“Hopefully Nia’s had time to let everyone know they’ll be getting a visit from their Heda,” Clarke comments. She’s no longer wearing Skaikru clothing, having borrowed some of Lexa’s clothes – much better defensively than hers, and much warmer. Lexa is biased, of course, but she also thinks Clarke looks more natural in them.

“If she’s bothered to,” Anya mutters.

Anya’s probably right, Lexa knows. While she doesn’t believe Nia will attempt to kill her, she’s also unlikely to try and ease their path north.

Lexa is wearing her Commander gear in full, as she has not recently. Warpaint is smeared around her eyes, creating the effect of a Natblida crying blood. Her thick hair is carefully braided in the style she uses when she wishes to be unapproachable and regal but also suspects she may be in a fight, small bits of barbed wire and other surprises carefully incorporated so that it cannot be grabbed without pain. Her clothes are black, all ripped fabric and leather and belts, creating an intimidating effect. The only colour is the red of her sash slashing through all of the monochrome.

She has noticed that the Skaikru – excluding Clarke – seem more reluctant to speak to her now that she is dressed as her rank requires. Wells and Finn have become more quiet and deferent, Raven compensates for her wariness by talking with forced cheer, and Octavia avoids speaking to her at all. It is as though her wearing this reminds them of who she is. Clarke, Anya, Indra and the gonakru following them treat her no differently, as none ever forgot who she was.

“There it is,” Anya says, sounding slightly relieved. No doubt she feared she had the location wrong. Lexa nods, seeing the village ahead as well. She starts to move quicker.

“HOD OP !” a yell comes.

Lexa blinks, but stills, her hand on her sword. In seconds they’re surrounded. A large gonakru, although not close to equalling their force by Lexa’s estimate. The gona who moves to stand directly in front of Lexa must be their leader, judging by his confident – bordering on arrogant – gait.

“Greetings,” Lexa says, making her voice iron. “Explain yourself.”

“You got quite far into our territory before we caught you,” he says, ignoring her question. He is very tall – topping Lexa by nearly a foot – and has a long beard, carefully braided. A thick ropy scar stretches across his right cheek and down his chin. Despite this, he could only be a year or two her elder, running on bravado and ego.

“Your territory?” Lexa’s voice becomes colder. “All of the twelve clans are my territory. Or have the Azgeda forgotten their duty to their Heda?”

He bows, though not with enough apology for Lexa’s approval. “Moba, Heda. I am sorry. The Azplana has ordered that all gonakrus entering must be stopped.”

“But not mine, surely,” Lexa says, using her most silky and dangerous tone.

The leader just quirks his eyebrow at her, an unimaginably dismissive gesture that fills Lexa with rage.

The man next to the leader, no doubt his second in command, swallows hard. Lexa realises he is sweating. He does not like his orders, this man. His leader may be confident but he is terrified. “Even yours, Heda. The knowledge of your visit is so widespread, our Azplana worries that someone may attempt to impersonate you to enter our lands.” His voice breaks a little at the end and he bows, much deeper than the leader. The look he gives Lexa is filled with unquestioning deference, nearly reverence. This man is smaller than the other but older.

Lexa looks at him. “And you believe I am an impersonator?”

“No, Heda,” he says immediately, bowing deeply again.

“What is your name?”

“He is my second in command, Zion,” the leader says, shooting a glare the unfortunate Zion’s way. “I am Rathan. I command here.” He sounds boastful of the fact, instead of powerful and weighted with responsibility as most leaders are.

“And I command everywhere,” Lexa says coldly. “Zion is wiser than you, General. He is aware I am no impersonator.”

“He believes that, he does not know,” Rathan says with a tone of smugness. “We must send a messenger to fetch someone who has met Heda before, and they can identify you.”

Lexa blinks. It is an absurd accusation for many reasons. An impersonator could not have an army of Trikru. Lexa meets every description of the Heda, including her sacred tattoos. Most importantly, no one would dare to impersonate the Commander. Nia has planned this purely to annoy Lexa, she realises, and she is using this fool Rathan to do it. He is the type who lets his muscles do his thinking for him, who believes his strength and height make him better. He must have leapt at the chance to show the slender, petite girl-Commander that he did not consider her superior to him. Also, this explains his relative youth – he has been given this command only now, and is drunk on the power. Nia has sent him to his death for her own petty spite and he is too foolish to know it. But before that, perhaps Lexa can use this.

“Then I, and my three advisors, shall come to the village and wait, with a guard of course,” Lexa says, voice pleasant. She knows from experience that people find her pleasant tones almost more fearsome than her threatening ones – they do not know what she will do next. She glances at Indra, Anya and Clarke, none of whom look happy, then looks forward again.

Zion meets her eyes for a second and then looks down. He is properly afraid, that one.

Rathan does not look down. “Search them all for weapons and remove them,” he barks at his gonas. “Her and her advisors first.”

There is a rumble of disapproval from the gonas behind them – and behind Rathan, for that matter, though they quiet when he turns and glares. Indra, despite being ordered by Lexa earlier not to speak, can clearly take it no more. “You offend our Heda,” she hisses. Her sword is out before Lexa can stop her. Octavia beats her by a second, though, Lexa can see from the corner of her eye. Perhaps Indra is a bad influence on her.

Lexa stares calmly into Rathan’s eyes. With one word, one movement, one blink even, she could turn this into a fight. And it is a fight the Azgeda gonakru would lose quickly. But this one is too stubborn and arrogant, she sees it in his eyes – he would order his people to fight. He would not surrender. Many would die.

“Peace, Indra, Octavia,” she says instead. She bares her teeth at the gonas in front of her and they step back as one, cringing from fear of their Heda. “Do any of you truly wish to search me? Then you may.”

After a long pause it becomes apparent that none of the gonas are willing to search her. Eventually Rathan steps forward and runs his hands roughly along her, removing two swords and six knives quickly. He doesn’t linger, and Lexa is fiercely pleased to note that despite his bravado he still has some sense left.

Anya makes a noise like an angry mountain lion.

“Now the rest of them,” Rathan says. When still none of the gonas move, he spits the word, “Cowards,” at them, and adds, “You will be punished for this later.”

When he steps forward to put his hands on Clarke, Lexa tilts her head slightly. “I would recommend you do not do that,” she cautions him, letting her voice be louder now so that gonas rows back may hear it. “Clarke kom Skaikru will give you her weapons, you will not search her.” She deliberately stresses the word Skaikru – it is important for what she is about to do that every gona here knows that Clarke is one of them.

Rathan bares his teeth and steps forward anyway.

It is the last mistake he ever makes. In one swift movement, Lexa reaches into the sheath carefully braided into her hair – perfectly disguised as always, it is so cleverly designed that no one has ever found it without prior knowledge of it – grabs the hilt of a tiny knife and flings it forward into his throat. “Yu gonplei ste odon, Rathan,” she says softly. Then she faces back towards Zion. “Return my weapons, General Zion.”

Clarke steps back as Rathan chokes, air bubbling the blood pouring out of his mouth. He slumps to the cold ground less than a foot from her, curling in on himself, hands becoming grasping claws reaching towards her as he dies. She looks down at him unemotionally, making no move to try and stem the bleeding. There is a brief moment when his gonas react with anger and surprise, reaching for their weapons, but not a single one dares to draw one. After a second most return to their previous stance.

Zion glances nervously towards his fallen superior, then bows to Lexa once again. “Sha, Heda.”

“And you will accompany us to where we wish to go, as an honour guard,” Lexa says, voice hard. “We will set up camp this night outside the village. Organise a room for my advisors and I to confer in by the time we reach there. Also, burn that branwada’s body.”

“Sha, Heda,” he says again. Rashan no longer makes any noise at all. As they leave, Anya stoops to yank the tiny knife out of the body. She cleans it against her sleeve and hands it silently back to Lexa. Otherwise, no one talks.

When they reach the village they are ushered into the village leader’s home. He leaves immediately, bowing as well, eyeing Lexa as if she is a snake who could strike at any moment.

“Why did you wait?” Anya asks bluntly as soon as there is only the four of them. “We should have killed that branwada the second he spoke to you with disrespect. We could have.”

“I wished to make a point,” Lexa says calmly. “Now every gona there knows that touching a member of the Skaikru will earn them their death. That message will spread. I do not trust Nia to tell her people to protect the Skaikru. But fear will ensure that they do.”

“I think you shocked Raven and the others,” Clarke says. “I should probably go talk with them.”

“Perhaps,” Lexa says. “You can also speak to the village leader – he will be waiting immediately outside, I expect – and organise them rooms in the village. Your people are not as accustomed to being outside in this weather as the gonas are, and I can see this pace has been exhausting them.”

“Except my Seken,” Indra says. “She will remain outside with the rest of us.”

“And so will I,” Clarke says firmly. After a moment, she takes Lexa’s hand and kisses the back of it. Lexa raises her eyebrows. Apparently Clarke listened when Lexa commented that there was no point in hiding this from Indra. “If you’re fine with that, Heda.”

“Always, Clarke,” Lexa says with a smile. She takes this to mean Clarke will be sharing her tent for the rest of the journey, instead of with the Skaikru as she has so far – greatly improving the trip. In fact, since most of the tents have multiple people in them and the numbers will only increase once the Skaikru come down, it may not even be seen as suspicious by the others. The gonas will think she is setting an example for them. “Before. I did not…?”

“I’m not that easily shocked, anymore,” Clarke says wryly, and leaves with one more look back.

After a second, Anya lets out a chuckle. “Sometimes, yongon, you sicken me,” she informs Lexa, just as she once did when she caught Lexa mooning over Costia. “But the Skai girl… she’s growing on me, I admit.”

Indra doesn’t look remotely surprised. Perhaps she already knew that Lexa and Clarke had a relationship – anyone in TonDC who realised would have told her immediately. Or Octavia could have told her, or Lincoln could have, or Raven… or she could even have known just from Lexa’s face, as Anya did. “She did not react at all to his death,” Indra comments. “Perhaps there is hope for them yet. Though the others did not handle it so well.”

“The other Skaikru will become tougher in time, as Clarke has,” Lexa says. Then she nearly smiles. “Well. Perhaps not as tough as Clarke.”

Chapter Text

She forgets, sometimes, how much she loves Lexa.

It’s the shock of the second when she sees her again after hours apart, when her green eyes blaze at the sight of Clarke. It’s the deep, even breaths she makes as she falls asleep beside Clarke after stolen, beautiful moments. It’s the urge to run her fingers through Lexa’s hair, to touch her skin, to make whatever contact she can just to remind herself that Lexa is real and there and alive. It’s the genuine little half-smile Lexa gives sometimes, too timid to belong on the face of such a powerful person, and the fact that Clarke may be the only one who ever gets to see that particular smile.

It’s the look that only Lexa can give her – total understanding, total acceptance. Even before they were the only two people who could remember a whole world, that look was nearly always in Lexa’s eyes. It’s how on the rare occasions she didn’t understand, she was surprised by Clarke, but always like it was an amazing surprise, an unexpected gift. Like Lexa got to see more of Clarke, and that was the only thing that she wanted. All those things… they remind her how much she loves Lexa.

But right now, perhaps the clearest indication of how much she loves Lexa is that she just watched a man bleed to death in front of her by Lexa’s hand and all she thought was, he shouldn’t have talked to her like that.

It bothers her that she can think like that. But the truth is, if Lexa hadn’t killed him, then every gona there would have thought she was weak. Clarke knows that. And she knows that they’re going to be introducing a lot of new things to the Grounders soon – Skaikru as part of the alliance, jus nou drein jus daun, open war with the Mountain. They can’t afford to have anyone questioning Lexa now or there’s no way they can even start working on those.

Of course, without that in context, and without much experience with death, it’s not a surprise the others are taking it poorly.

“What the hell was that?” Raven asks. She’s pale, but otherwise fine, eyes dark and fierce in her wan face.

“You’ve seen people be floated before,” Clarke points out.

“Exactly, floated,” Finn points out. “Not stabbed in the throat. And when they’re floated it’s for committing a crime. She just straight-up murdered him, Clarke! How can you be so fine with this?”

“An exaggeration,” Clarke says firmly. “I know you don’t understand this, but Lexa was doing what she had to do.” She turns to Wells for back-up. “Do you think someone would have lived through threatening your father with an army?”

“No,” Wells says after a moment, though he still looks concerned. “That’s true. Threatening the Chancellor is a crime.”

Not that Diana Sydney was punished for it, Clarke thinks cynically. Threatening the Chancellor is a floating crime when it’s done by someone young and stupid, but when it’s done by someone influential and popular the Ark will show ‘mercy’ and just keep them locked up. Sometimes she thinks Bellamy has a point with his talk about some people in the Ark being privileged – people like Jaha, Kane, Sydney and even Clarke’s own mother get a better level of treatment by the law than the others.

“We nearly ended up in an actual battle back there,” Clarke says, “There was no way the Trikru gonas would have gone along with it and given up their weapons. At least one would have fought back, the Azgeda gonakru would have attacked, and some of us would have died.”

“Right,” says Raven, calming down a bit. “Okay. So the Commander took that Rathan guy out to make sure that didn’t happen. Removing a stuck cog before the machine breaks.”

“Sacrificing a pawn,” Wells corrects with a sigh. Clarke can see from his face that despite recognising the logic of it, the death doesn’t stick well with him. “Makes sense.”

“Killing him doesn’t, though,” Finn argues . “We could have held him or knocked him out or… something.”

“She was sending a message to the Azgeda,” Clarke says. “Telling them that the Skaikru are protected.”

“You shouldn’t kill someone just to send a message,” Finn replies self-righteously.

If you only knew, Clarke thinks.

“No, Clarke’s right,” Raven speaks up before Clarke can. “That guy was just gonna make trouble later if she left him. We’re trying to survive, Finn . Not to get a shiny Best and Fairest award.” She moves towards the nearest sleep pallet in the tiny house found for them by the village’s leader. “Bags this one.” Her glare towards Finn indicates they’re not going to be sharing anytime soon.

Clarke clears her throat before Finn can say anything back. “I have a thought: how about we save arguing about the morality of executing someone until we’re in a position to do anything about it? The Grounders have their own laws, guys. And so far they’ve led to considerably fewer deaths than ours . We can focus on trying to change things later – after we’ve cleaned our own house. Right now, I, for one, am going to go get some sleep.”

“You’re not staying with us tonight?” Raven asks, and then cackles. “Oh, of course you’re not.”

“What?” Finn says, confused. Sometimes he’s a bit slow.

Clarke gives Raven a grin. “Night, guys.”

“Night, Clarke,” Wells says. He manages a smile. Clarke’s sure he’s still not too thrilled about her and Lexa, but he’s doing an amazing job of covering up his hurt and being happy for her. She kisses him on the cheek swiftly before leaving.

Clarke stops on the way to find Octavia. She’s sparring with Lincoln, already obviously improved. She’s helped by the fact he seems barely able to put any weight at all on his injured leg, though, and Clarke hopes it hasn’t become inflamed again, or even infected. Surely, Octavia would have told her if that was the case. When Octavia sees Clarke she breaks off.

“What’s up, Clarke?” she asks quietly. “You’ve got that look. The worried one.”

“I was hoping you could keep an eye on the Azgeda gonakru,” Clarke replies, equally as quiet. “Befriend some of them. The Azgeda and the Trikru are old enemies, but they might let you get close since you’re not exactly Trikru. I want to know who’s angry about their leader’s death, who hates the Trikru most, what they think about Zion… if they turn on us, I want us to have warning.”

Octavia nods. “I can do that,” she says, though she’s obviously not a fan of being a spy. Clarke nods in return and turns to go. “Oh, and Clarke? Tell the Commander…”

She hesitates, emotions battling in her expressive face.

“Yes?” Clarke asks.

“Tell the Commander, great throw.”

Heda’s tent is already set up, and the guards nearest allow Clarke through without bothering to stop her. At some point Clarke must have been added to the very short list of people who the guards have been ordered to never stop and never question. The only others who have that honour are Anya and Gustus – and presumably Costia, a long time ago.

Lexa is seated cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, but she’s not meditating. Instead her fingers are busy in her hair, carefully dismantling the coiled braids. A little pot of water with a cloth is beside her, presumably for her warpaint afterwards.

“Here,” Clarke says, crouching behind her. If her voice startles Lexa, the other girl shows no sign of it. “I’ll help.” Lexa lets her arms fall to her sides. Clarke starts to untangle one of the largest braids, unknotting the end so she can begin to separate the strands.

“Mochof, Clarke,” Lexa says quietly.

Clarke finds that she enjoys this, her hands in Lexa’s hair, doing something so trivial and yet so wonderfully domestic it makes her heart skip . “Barbed wire? In your hair?”

“In case someone grabbed it,” Lexa explains. “Normally I do not do my braids anew every day, but when I am in a particularly unsafe place I prefer to include spikes in my hair and that is difficult to sleep on.”

Clarke hits the centre of Lexa’s mass of braids after a while and frowns. There’s a large braid right at the centre, made from incredibly tiny strands. She starts to pull those away and blinks when realises that they surround a small sheath, hooks carefully inset in it so that hair can easily be braided as if to replace the rawhide some Grounders pattern scabbards with. “This is very clever,” she remarks as she finally manages to extract it, “I would never have noticed it. Is this where you got that knife from?”

“Sha,” Lexa says, and something about her tone is off. It’s a little too flat. When Clarke drops the sheath she picks it up immediately, as if she can’t bear for it to be on the floor. She slides the tiny knife back into it. “It was made by very clever hands.”

“Who made it?”

There’s a very long pause before Lexa says, voice still distant, “Costia. A long time ago. She designed it so that I would never be without a weapon.” She sighs, body relaxing slightly as Clarke presses a kiss to her shoulder. “Perhaps she should have made one for herself, instead.” She tucks the little sheath into her belt.

Clarke wraps her arms around Lexa from behind, and Lexa gives in completely and leans against her. “I’m sorry, Lexa.”

“I should use it more than I do,” Lexa admits. “But now when I see it, it is hard to think of good memories. All I think of is death.”

Clarke thinks of her father’s watch. “I understand that.”

Lexa twists to look at her. “Perhaps you should wear it instead. I could braid it into your hair, tomorrow.”

“No,” Clarke says firmly. “It’s a memory of Costia. I’m not going to take it from you.” She smiles, trying to lighten the mood. “Besides, my knife throwing is nowhere near as good at yours. It takes me multiple tries to even hit an animal, let alone a human. For me it would be more useful to use for carrying jerky in than a knife.”

“You underrate yourself, Clarke,” Lexa admonishes her. “But if you truly worry about your throwing skills, we can add that to our training regimen.”

“You mean the training regimen that already includes forcing me, Wells and Octavia to run ahead of the group and back a dozen times every day of the journey, in order to build muscle?” Clarke makes a face at Lexa and kisses her cheek, avoiding the warpaint. “Yeah, I think we’re all sorted for the moment. Maybe later.”

“I was surprised that Finn did not wish to learn to fight,” Lexa commented. “He… he is not what I imagined him to be, long ago when we executed him.”

“No. When he killed those people… That was out of character for him. Really, really out of character. It doesn’t excuse him at all, I know that now, but it wasn’t like him. He just… snapped.” Clarke moves around so that she’s in front of Lexa and picks up the wet cloth. The water’s not too cold – presumably Lexa got snow and melted it over a fire. She slowly, carefully presses the cloth against Lexa’s face, trying not to get any of the water in her eyes, moving in careful rhythmic strokes.

“My people call it gonplei-haken,” Lexa says idly. “Battle-sickness. Normally they flinch at small sounds and have times when they breathe too quickly. They can’t sleep, they have nightmares, they feel pain on their bodies when there is no cause. I have heard of a few who reacted as badly as Finn, broken by it and turning violent, but not many. Most are just injured in their soul as others are in their bodies.”

There’s something wonderful about watching the layers of Heda – warpaint, braids, armour, weapons – fall off and just leave Lexa behind. She makes each wipe of the cloth a gentle caress, working systematically and thoroughly as Lexa talks. She ensures that no smear of black or grey remains, so that Lexa’s face is clear and young. It would be easy to tell herself that this Lexa is not the one who killed a man only hours ago but Clarke doesn’t bother. Lexa can be fierce, ruthless, and violent, but Clarke loves every part of her and she won’t try to reduce and simplify Lexa by ignoring those parts of her that can be cold-blooded and merciless.

“What do you do with people when they have that? That battle-sickness?” Clarke asks curiously.

Lexa shrugs. “If it is very bad, we move them into a group of gonas who are assigned to gathering plants and nuts out in the forest. It is a relatively peaceful duty. They are encouraged to meditate and they often practice tree-climbing and running instead of battle. There is no set amount they must gather and the village or town makes sure the families are fed. Sometimes, in time, they feel better and return to a different gonakru to rejoin the fight, sometimes not.”

Clarke doesn’t say anything in return. For some reason she expected to hear that they ostracised them as weak, or even exiled them like they did Grounders with mutations. She keeps forgetting how little she knows about Lexa’s people, how much she has assumed. She knows they can be cruel. But she often forgets that they can be kind as well. Clarke’s heard of worse treatments for PTSD than that. Sometimes it seems like the Grounders have better systems to help the vulnerable people in their community than the Ark does – look at how the Ark failed Raven, for example.

“I wish Finn hadn’t come with us,” she says eventually. “He was fine when we didn’t go after Murphy and Drew, so I know he’s okay sacrificing people. But he’s definitely still very anti-violence in this world and it’s going to put him in conflict with the rest of us sooner or later. If we lived in a perfect world, he’d be right, but he needs to catch up and realise we don’t.”

Lexa runs her fingers through her loose hair and stands up, reaching down to help Clarke up as well. She leans in and kisses Clarke lightly. “He will, ai niron .” She kisses Clarke again, more passionately. Clarke melts a little, at the term of endearment as well as the kiss. “Perhaps we should stop speaking of past loves now, Clarke kom Skaikru.”

“Sounds good to me,” Clarke says fervently, and pulls Lexa even closer to her.

Chapter Text

Zion is a conscientious guide, warning the group well in advance of any natural hazards – or unnatural ones. Lexa is unsure if it’s loyalty or fear that causes him to send his gonas ahead to warn every town they go by that Heda is passing, but he does ensure there are no threats there before they arrive. For the first two days, he even organises places inside for the Skaikru to sleep.

“Stop it,” Raven tells Lexa flatly on the next day. “We don’t need to sleep inside.”

“You are finding the journey difficult,” Lexa observes.

“I’m pretty tough,” Raven says. “We are all. Sleeping on the ground will suck, sure. But all the others looking at us with a mixture of we-hate-your-guts and you-poor-weaklings in their eyes… that is sucking more.”

Lexa blinks. “Point taken.” She quietly takes Zion aside and gets him to stop organising places for the Skaikru to sleep. She wonders if due to her liking of them, she has been treating them better than her own – but then, if civilians of her own people travelled with the gonakru, she believes she would be doing the same for them. After all, citizens cannot be expected to be as tough as gonas.

The Ark is due to fall in the north-east part of the Azgeda territories. Bellamy reports Sinclair has been unable to narrow it down much, and that he can’t say which stations will fall in which directions. They are leaving something called the Government and Science Station up in orbit, along with a couple more that are deemed unsafe, while sending down the rest. Lexa recognises the name of Farm Station – where Pike will come down – and Alpha Station – where Abby will no doubt come down – but the rest make a confusing list of functions. Prison Station makes sense, but what of Factory Station, Mecha Station, Tesla Station? And Clarke assures her that Arrow Station has nothing to do with arrows at all. Most nonsensical.

They are leaving all prisoners alive, Clarke tells her, because they no longer need to sacrifice people to have enough supplies if they are to fall to the ground. Lexa considers this just as illogical – the people are every bit as criminal as they were before. Sky People are not consistent, and it is one of the things she has always found most concerning about them. It is one thing to change a rule, quite another to haphazardly grant forgiveness sometimes and condemn at others – the people of the twelve clans appreciate consistency.

Right now, they are passing as near to Nia’s capital as they will in the journey, and it is making Lexa tense. As a result, she is calming herself by surrounding herself with people. Normally only Clarke would calm her, but having her Skaikru friends around makes Clarke happy, and this makes Lexa happy in turn. So her tent is filled with Skaikru, lit and warmed by the candles Lexa brought. Octavia is not there, still apparently immersing herself in life as a Seken – Lexa saw her and Lincoln playing a dice game of some kind with the Azgeda Sekens. Octavia appeared to be losing badly.

As Finn is also doing at the moment.

“This game is the most boring thing ever,” Raven announces, splayed on her side, squinting at the chessboard.

“Too complicated for you?” Wells says teasingly. He’s seated next to her, sewing a tear in the front of his light brown shirt with surprisingly quick, clever fingers.

“Too simple, Chancellor of the Nerds,” she lobbies back. “Not enough moving parts. Once you’ve fixed a space station most games are a little too straightforward for ya. I keep expecting them to be able to move in three dimensions.”

“And yet you’re still better than me, Rae,” Finn says mournfully, staring at the board. “If I claim I’m just losing because I’m scared of the Commander, will anyone believe me?”

“I believe you,” Lexa assures him. Then she pauses. “Well, I believe you fear me, at least.”

Raven cackles and then ducks the knight Finn throws at her. “But seriously,” she says, “You couldn’t have brought Twister? Twister would be fun.” She picks up the knight and hands it to Lexa casually.

Lexa is still unsure what she thinks of these Skaikru’s lack of real fear for her. Raven, Wells, even Finn – they don’t have the dread of the Commander that people of the twelve clans are brought up to have, and they have not developed it. Perhaps it’s seeing her and Clarke together, knowing she and Clarke are in a relationship. Maybe it’s that in the beginning Lexa tried not to appear intimidating. Or it could be the large amount of time they’ve spent with her – normally only Gustus, Titus, the Natblidas and Anya (when she’s nearby) spend any time with her that could be considered social. This is… new. Strange. Not necessarily bad, though.

“Chess is a game of strategy,” Wells informs her loftily.

“Twister’s a game of flexibility,” Clarke counters. “Just as useful.” There’s a little pause where Clarke realises what she said, and everyone else realises what she said, and then Clarke goes bright red and says, “I mean, mental flexibility! Flexibility as a person!”

“I know what’ll make this interesting,” Raven says. She reaches into her pack and pulls out a waterskin. She shakes it triumphantly. “Monty gave me some moonshine. He’s been fermenting it for weeks.”

“Oh, that’s a bad idea,” Clarke says immediately. “We have to walk tomorrow, guys.”

“What is moon shine?” Lexa asks curiously.

“Like fayowada,” Clarke explains. “Except probably not nearly as nice.”

“We can bet on the games and drink when we win,” Raven says cheerfully.

“Isn’t it normally when you lose?” Finn says.

“I have a limited amount of moonshine, babe ,” Raven informs him. A second after she reflexively uses the term of endearment, her face puckers as if she has tasted something sour, but she forces it back into a cheerful expression. “So I’m going with winners drinking.” She gives Finn a grin that seems unnatural, like she’s playacting, and then looks at the moonshine with something that seems less like pleasure and more like desperation.

“Alcohol’s toxic, guys,” Wells says flatly. “And more importantly, no one’s going to side with Finn when he’s playing the Commander.”

“Okay, firstly, ouch, man. Secondly, you drank in TonDC that one time,” Finn points out. If he notices that his niron’s smile is unhappy and strained, he gives no sign of it, teasing Wells with his usual oblivious good humour.

“I didn’t know it was alcohol!”

“Oh come on. By the third cup, I’m pretty sure you’d figured it out.”

Wells flushes slightly and Clarke laughs. He looks over at her and smiles. “Okay, fine,” he caves. “But it can’t be Finn versus L – versus Heda.”

“You can call me Lexa,” Lexa says softly, looking at Wells. She doesn’t know why she extends this offer – the only ones who normally call her Lexa are Anya and Clarke. But actually, she does know why. She plays chess against this boy and he challenges her at it. She tells him to run and climb trees when he’s exhausted to train him, and he does it without complaint. He does not like violence, but he is willing to accept it, and he is never disrespectful. He is not a visionary as Clarke is, not as smart or as brave in her prejudiced eyes, but he has loyalty and heart. She likes him. She even trusts him. It is unexpected. But then, Clarke has brought many unexpected things to her life.

His flush becomes darker as he looks at her. “Lexa, then,” he says, and clears his throat. “We’re pretty evenly matched. Maybe if we play each other -”

“Takes too long when you guys play,” Raven counters.

Eventually, after Lexa elects to simply watch, they decide to form two teams, each member to take turns playing – without discussion with the teammate. As such, Finn (the worst) and Wells (the best), play Clarke and Raven (both reasonably skilled). It is amusing to watch Finn screw up manoeuvre after manoeuvre by Wells, until Wells lets out a deep sigh every time Finn moves a piece.

When the waterskin is handed around, Lexa takes a swig. Raven raises her eyebrows in question, wondering what she makes of it. Lexa considers. “It stings, slightly,” she says eventually, “But I have had far worse. A lot of the clans have drinks of their own. You should try the Desert Clan’s lizard wine. It is… unforgettable.”

“I bet,” Raven says, making a face.

Raven and Clarke win the first game, then the second. After that Wells starts using simpler techniques, making sure it is very obvious to Finn (if to the other team as well) what he has to move each turn to continue the gambit. Then they win the next two, though Lexa suspects this has more to do with Clarke’s subtle yet deliberate errors. Perhaps she does not wish to suffer through the moonshine herself, or maybe she just does not wish Raven to drink any more.

“Tiebreaker,” Raven says, voice slurring slightly. She’s drunk more of the moonshine than anyone else, though a small amount remains.

When it comes time for her next turn she appears to have fallen asleep. “I’ll carry her back,” Finn offers doubtfully, looking at her passed out form.

Clarke glances at Lexa for permission, then looks at Finn when Lexa gives her a nod. “She can stay here, Finn, it’s alright.”

This saves their lives.

Lexa wakes in the night when she hears a soft exhale of breath. She grabs the knife next to her and springs out of the bed, moving quickly already – the assassin, for it must be an assassin, is on his knees before her. Judging by his position, he was entering quietly and fell over Raven kom Skaikru. That is the noise she heard. Raven shifts in her sleep but doesn’t wake, undoubtedly still under the effect of the moonshine.

The assassin rises, fear in his face, but it is too late as she slashes her blade at his throat , causing blood to spray across the room. He doesn’t even have time to speak before he dies, clutching at his throat and gasping silently. Lexa watches the life flee his eyes with indifference.

There are two more behind him and the furthest one raises a bow, then drops it as Clarke’s knife hits him in the forearm. He lets out a quiet curse and drops to his knee. The closest man steps forward and raises his sword threateningly, but he is visibly sweating and the sword shakes in his hand.

Lexa could yell for help. Even if her guards are dead, the other gonas would come and kill these two before they could breathe. But she wants one alive. She wants to know who is fool enough to try and kill her here. Is it Nia, abandoning schemes for outright murder?

Lexa takes two steps to the side and grabs her own sword, raising it in response. Clarke is already up and beside her, face dazed with sleep but rapidly gaining awareness, raising Lexa’s other sword. “Looks like you were wrong about your knife throwing skills,” Lexa comments quietly to Clarke, who gives her a look as if to ask whether this is the right time to be talking.

The second man moves two paces back and tries to pick up his bow again, but his hands are wet with his own blood and it slips from his grasp. With his other hand he gropes at his belt and comes up with a knife which he throws at Lexa. Lexa deflects it with her sword and it glances off her shoulder, leaving a thin black line that is such a superficial injury she barely even feels it.

She surges forward to meet the sword-wielding one with her blade, ignoring the injured one – Clarke can take care of him, she is sure. If she is in danger then Lexa will interfere. She doesn’t bother with fancy techniques, slashing at his torso and forcing him to block, then block again. She slides past him when she blocks his own wild strike towards her, forcing him to turn, then goes on the offensive. He takes two steps backwards to avoid her slashing attacks and trips over Raven as the other one did, as she deliberately manoeuvred him to. She knocks the sword out of his hand easily as he lies there. He tries to twist and get up but she reverses the sword neatly and slams the hilt into the side of his head.

Clarke has used the unpredictability that comes with being largely untrained in sword fighting and managed to slash the injured man’s leg. With his leg and arm injured, he tries to turn and flee from the tent. Clarke grabs the spear leaning against the side of the tent and sweeps it below him, tripping him as well, and stabs him through the heart with it from behind. He dies within moments.

They both stand there for a few seconds, gasping. “I must find some water to bring the survivor round with,” Lexa says eventually. “I have a waterskin over there, I think. We will wake our gonas once we find out who he works for.”

“Good plan,” Clarke says, shaken but still steady. She crouches over Raven. “Raven? You okay?”

Raven yawns and turns over, “Not morning yet,” she mutters, and goes back to sleep.

Lexa blinks. She and Clarke look at each other, then laugh as one.

Chapter Text

“Are you okay?” Clarke says, reaching out to touch Lexa’s shoulder. The dark line the thrown dagger cut has started slowly oozing black blood.

“It was not poisoned,” Lexa assures her. “I sniffed the blade. I do not know any poisons with no scent at all.”

“All right,” Clarke says. “Good.”

She holds her hand in front of her. It’s smeared black now, because she touched Lexa. Covered in black. She blinks and for a split second she sees her hands drenched in Lexa’s blood, covered in it; she sees Lexa before her, dying; Lexa leaving her all alone, Lexa dead through Clarke’s actions and Clarke’s choices and a bullet from Clarke’s people’s guns…

“Hei,” Lexa says softly. “Hei, Clarke,” she forces Clarke to look at her. “I am here Clarke. Look at me. I am here.”

“But you weren’t,” Clarke says, and it comes out as nearly a sob. “You died, Lexa, you died in front of me.”

“And you brought me back,” Lexa says, certain and sure. “You went up to the top of the tower and you created a miracle, Clarke. You didn’t just give me the rest of my life, you gave us all another chance to get this right. In the last version of this year Anya and Gustus died, this time they thrive. In the other world I never met Wells, this time he is my friend.”

“That was the lightning.”

“That was you, Clarke,” Lexa says firmly. “I have climbed that tower many times and never been sent to the past. Something about you caused this. You turned back the clock, and now I am alive. Now nearly all of us are alive. You cannot blame yourself for the deaths you believe you caused yet fail to credit yourself for the lives you saved.”

Clarke’s breathing’s back to normal now. “I love you, you know that?”

“You have informed me of it, ai hodnes,” Lexa says, giving Clarke a brief smile. “Now. We must interrogate this branwada.”

Clarke grabs a waterskin from the ground and splashes some of the meagre contents into the man’s face. They’ve moved to the opposite end of the tent as Raven in deference to what Clarke suspects will be a severe hangover (of course, if Lexa ends up torturing the man Clarke doubts even Raven will be able to stay asleep), but haven’t fetched anyone yet. If the assassins were sent by Nia, Clarke and Lexa need to decide how to respond before alerting the others. Same if he was sent by the Mountain (as unlikely as it seems) or one of the other clans.

He wakes, spitting and cursing, blinking his eyes as if in pain. Clarke realises from the smell that she just threw moonshine into his face. Still, it worked.

“Shof op,” Lexa says in a fierce undertone. She raises the knife she cut the other’s throat with. It gleams blood-red and silver in the light of the one candle Lexa has lit. Splatters of his blood still dot her face.

He quietens immediately, staring at it.

“I will not lie to you,” Lexa says, almost casually. “You will die tonight. You tried to kill me and Clarke kom Skaikru.” She flashes her teeth in what is most definitely not a smile. “But there are many ways for a man to die.”

“Heda, ” Clarke admonishes, then turns to the man. “Or… we could let you go.”

“To return to his master with word of this?” Lexa looks unimpressed by the idea. “No.”

“Jus nou drein jus daun,” Clarke reminds her.

Lexa sighs. It is almost too regretful, making it obvious to Clarke at least that she’s playing a role, deliberately seeming bloodthirsty. “But he will not tell us anything, Clarke kom Skaikru, I am sure of it. It will be easier to simply kill him -” She stresses the word Skaikru almost imperceptibly, Clarke suspects to make the man realise that Clarke is from a clan that might have more merciful beliefs.

“You’ll let me live if I tell you?” the man says, looking at Clarke nervously, clearly hoping for some kind of support. She suspects in a normal interrogation he’d be holding up much better, but the Grounder’s beliefs about Heda are working to their advantage. He looks at Lexa like she’s more demon than person.

Clarke shrugs. “Perhaps,” she says, glancing at Lexa. “I’m not sure.”

“We could leave him at the nearest village, I suppose,” Lexa says, looking unimpressed with the idea. “Have them put him to work for his crimes. Perhaps at a smithy or something. They could chain him up. That way we could know he would not run back to his master.”

“So that’s a few years of your life gone, but you’d survive,” Clarke says to the assassin. “If you stay loyal to whoever sent you, though, we will have to kill you. But why would you stay loyal to someone who sent you here to die? When we’re offering you a chance at life.”

“Of course you could lie,” Lexa says casually. “We interrogated your friend before he died, the one with the bow.” Their first outright lie, but he was unconscious at the time and has no way of knowing that. “He insisted on telling us lies.”

“At the beginning,” Clarke corrects her, keeping her face even. “I think the last name he said was the truth.”

“By then it was too late, unfortunately,” Lexa flips the knife in her hand, catching the hilt over and over again as she twirls it in the air. The man watches like he’s hypnotised. “I do not like being lied to. I suppose if your first answer matches what we now believe to be the truth, I might be persuaded to let you live.” She stops playing with the knife and instead moves it so it is pressed lightly against his cheek. “Or you die. Slowly.”

The man tries to stare at the knife as it traces down his cheek, so that his eyes are rolled to show nearly completely white. “Roan,” he chokes out. “Prince Roan sent us.”

Lexa looks at Clarke, surprise in her eyes. Then she turns back to the man. “Interesting,” she says coolly. “And why would your former Prince do such a thing?”

“Heda – I – I don’t -” the man babbles. Lexa presses the knife in, slicing a shallow cut dangerously close to his left eye. “I think – I think he hoped that – that the Azplana would be blamed -”

Clarke raises her eyebrows. Even more interesting. Although she almost grew to like Roan in the previous world by the end, it doesn’t sound completely outside the realm of possibility. He had hated his mother, and he’d asked Clarke to assassinate Lexa. A mission which caused the deaths of both of them… it wouldn’t benefit him, though, as far as she could see. “His own mother?” she asks, just to get the man’s opinion.

“She – she has turned against him – put out a kill order -”

“A kill order,” Lexa echoes, brow furrowed. “And why did she do that?”

That didn’t happen in the other world, Clarke’s sure. Why would Nia want her son dead now? What possible gain was that for her? Or had Roan made some move against her?

The man’s eyes roll in his head again. He doesn’t seem to know what to say. “I don’t – I don’t -”

With a sigh, Lexa slams the hilt of the knife into his head, sending him to unconsciousness once again.

“Lexa,” Clarke scolds, “Head wounds can be dangerous.”

“So can assassination, Clarke,” Lexa says, showing no guilt at all, and Clarke drops the matter . She doesn’t care too much about the health of a man who just tried to kill them. “What do you make of what he said?”

“I think it was the truth,” Clarke admits. “It sounded like it, anyway. But why would Nia put out a kill order on Roan?”

Lexa frowns. “I do not know, Clarke. Perhaps she thinks I am here to depose her, and wishes there to be no possible replacements. Even exiled, Roan is the most obvious choice of successor – in fact, especially exiled, since due to that I would be more likely to place him in charge. If I killed Nia and placed Roan in charge, as I did in the other world, few would object.”

“That’s very sloppy of her, though,” Clarke comments.

“No one ever accused Nia of subtlety,” Lexa says dryly. “Of course, perhaps this did happen in the other world, and Roan simply failed to mention it. I believe my spies would have reported such a thing – but they may not have considered it important with everything else going on. Perhaps the death order was even what inspired Roan to volunteer to retrieve you for me. Or perhaps Nia ordered his death but then changed her mind – she can be capricious.”

“So basically what you’re saying is we just don’t know enough,” Clarke says, not thrilled with that thought. She hesitates. “Could Nia remember?”

“I do not think so.” Lexa says. “There is no way I know of for her blood to be on you as the lightning struck, if that is what caused us to keep our memories. And if she did know, why would she aim to kill Roan? When she died it was by my hand, with Roan her loyal son. She could not blame him for her death.”

“The assassin could be lying. Nia could remember, and have sent them to kill us. But I doubt it – I think he was telling the truth, I really do.” Clarke sighs. One step forward, two steps back. Yet another mystery. “Okay. So do we kill this guy?”

Lexa consider him. “No,” she says eventually. “We will keep our word. We can leave him at the nearest village. It will be a way to introduce jus nou drein jus daun to my people, and I do not think he is a threat to us anymore.”

“Also, we can tell them to watch him,” Clarke suggests. “If he tries to escape and go somewhere we might learn more about his motives. Or if Roan hears about him and sends someone to kill him for revenge or because he’s worried about what the guy might say, we can capture whoever he sends and squeeze more information about what’s going on.”

“A good idea. Roan must have scraped together everything he has to afford assassins,” Lexa muses. “Unless of course they did it for loyalty. The man did call him Prince Roan, and I know he has supporters. Not many who are willing to go against Nia, but some.”

“We should go check if the guards are alright,” Clarke says, concerned, deciding to leave the discussion of schemes for another time. “Some might be just wounded.”

Only three gonas are dead, they find. Lexa sends Clarke to wake the next shift, who gather their fallen friends and the two assassins, faces carved in stone. They also bring water for Lexa to clean the blood off herself, and two quietly and quickly clean the blood off the tent wall and floor.

“Will we execute the other, Heda, or is there more information to be had?” a female gona asks Lexa respectfully, inclining her head.

“Neither,” Lexa says shortly. “We will leave him at the next village. He can labour in the smithy there for a year.”

“A year?” the gona next to her says incredulously, then flushes and stammers when Lexa’s gaze moves to him. “I-I-I-I- moba, Heda. I should not have spoken so.”

“No, share your thoughts, Jora kom Trikru,” Lexa says. “I will listen.” He looks shocked she knows his name.

“He killed three, Heda,” the man says, emboldened but still making sure to adopt a submissive posture as he speaks. “Surely he should have the deaths of three.”

“Blood must no longer have blood, Jora.”

“With respect, Heda…” the woman speaks up. “That is not our way.”

“But a decade ago, being allied with the other clans was not our way either,” Lexa points out. “And it has brought peace to our lands. I value peace more than I value vengeance, gona.”

Clarke knows she values other things as well. This isn’t about some abstract idea of mercy or forgiveness, not for either of them. Lexa wants to never have to stab Gustus through the heart again, she wants her Natblidas not to be forced to kill one each other when her fight is over. And Clarke wants this world to stop seeming like a never-ending cycle of revenge.

“But a year, Commander…”

“How long do you think fair for three lives?” Lexa asks. “There is no time long enough. Even splitting the crime between him and his two fellows, he is responsible for one death. But if you had to name a length of time to imprison him, what would it be?”

The two glance at each other. “At least twenty years,” Jora says baldly. “Twenty years of hard labour for a home not his own, twenty years of being burnt by the forge and kicked by the smith and hated by the village… twenty years might give him time to recognise his guilt.”

“I see,” Lexa says, glancing sideways at Clarke. “I will consider this. Until tomorrow, hold him and do not harm him. Much.” She adds with the ghost of a vindictive smile.

“Somewhere between five and ten years,” Clarke suggests after they’ve gone. “If the town is willing to hold him for that long, anyway. That way it looks like you listened, but not like you caved.”

“Perhaps,” Lexa says. “The village would certainly be willing to hold him for as long as ordered to, that I know. Ten years of hard work seems like it would do him good. Now I would wish to get some sleep, Clarke, before the sun rises again.”

Clarke nods, stifling a yawn. They head back into the tent together. She glances down at Raven on the floor – still asleep – and then frowns. There’s something a bit too even about Raven’s breathing. Maybe the gonas cleaning off the blood woke her. “Raven?” she says doubtfully.

Raven stretches, yawning in an exaggerated way. She opens her eyes. For some reason, she doesn’t look quite bleary enough to have just woken up. “Is it morning already?” she asks.

“No,” Clarke answers, suddenly concerned. Was Raven faking sleep? What did she hear? What does she know? What should Clarke tell her? Or perhaps Clarke’s just being paranoid. She forces a smile at Raven. “Everything’s fine. You should go back to sleeping off your hangover.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Raven says, yawning again but in a more genuine way. “Good idea.” She turns over, so that she isn’t facing Clarke anymore.

Clarke studies her for a long second, then sighs and follows Lexa to their sleeping space.

Chapter Text

Three days after the failed assassination, Lexa and Clarke wait outside. All the gonas do, and all the Skaikru. All of them just staring at the sky. Some pretend to spar, but they glance upwards so often they are ineffective and the pretence of disinterest fails. The tents have been dismantled, packs lie near their owners, and the whole gonakru waits with bated breath.

None wish to miss the sight of the space station falling, as Bellamy, Monty and Jasper assured them over the radio will happen today. Within the hour, in fact. More citizens going blind from lack of oxygen has prompted the Ark to take this loop in their orbit to fall instead of the next, whatever that means.

Lexa blinks, and then there it is. The people surrounding her gasp. Lexa can’t count the falling stars, not as quickly as they plummet, but she can tell their direction. Most burn lines in the sky slightly to the north of their camp, but two split off in other directions , spiralling away from the bulk of it – one to the south and one to the east.

“We should go towards where most fell,” Clarke says reluctantly.

“The odds are good that one will be your station, Clarke,” Lexa reassures her. “Even if not, your mother is tough. We will reach the stations to the south and east before she allows any to be harmed.”

Clarke swallows. “I hope so,” she says.

Indra turns to the gonas around and yells, “We go north, this instant!” There is a flurry of movement as gonas sheath their weapons and find their packs, getting ready to go .

Lexa looks at Zion. “Send your fastest ahead as scouts immediately, they will move quicker over the snow than Trikru gonas can. Have them return the second they find any Skaikru. Unless the station is more than five hours’ walk away, in which case have them go to the surrounding villages and tell them that the Commander has ordered them to care for these people. Have them bring blankets, food and firewood. No Skaikru is to be harmed. Make that clear to them. Send scouts south and west as well. We must find them all.”

“Sha, Heda,” Zion says, obedient as always.

Then they march. Lexa can feel Clarke’s tension, her fear, rising off her like smoke. She wishes she could comfort her but does not know how to.

The first scout to return with news tells them of a burning wreck. They go to it anyway. At first sight Lexa knows it is useless – the station hit an incline and ploughed through the earth into a cliff face. Sharp little explosions are going off inside, and the fire is too fierce to go near. There are no noises, not even screams. No life could have survived inside that thing.

“Arrow Station,” Raven says faintly, her face colourless.

“You’re sure?” Clarke says, voice agonised.

“I’ve repaired the place from the outside, Clarke, I know all the stations by sight,” Raven snaps. “Yes, I’m sure. Arrow Station.” She lets out a noise that is half a scornful laugh and half a sob, and Finn reaches out to embrace her. This time, she lets him.

Lexa reaches out and brushes her hand lightly against Clarke’s arm, and Clarke lets out a little sigh like it helps. It’s all the comfort Lexa can offer right now, in front of everyone. Clarke meets her eyes gratefully and just stares at her like the sight is all the comfort she needs.

Lexa notices Raven looking at them from her position entwined with Finn, something strange in the girl’s eyes.

“Sorry,” Clarke tells Raven, “I didn’t mean to overreact. I’m just worried about Alpha. But we’ll find it. And we’ll find Mecha too, I’m sure of it.”

Raven frowns. “I hope so,” she says quietly. “It’s not much, but it’s home.”

Zion comes with news of another one located, two hours from their current location, and reports that it is much more intact. “Do you wish us to stay?” Lexa asks Clarke quietly.

“The dead are gone,” Clarke tells her, still looking at the downed station like she expects someone to cry out. “The living are hungry. Let’s go.”

Lexa nods and they set off again, leaving the bodies to burn inside their home. She whispers “Yu gonplei ste odon,” as they go.

“The stations are much closer to each other than they were in the original drop,” Clarke remarks to Lexa quietly. “It must be because it was a more controlled drop, and they brought down nearly all of the stations. Last time they didn’t have many options at all.”

Then she says nothing else, simply staring ahead, face filled with a mixture of determination and desperation.

Lexa prays the next one will have Clarke’s nomon inside it.

It does not. “Farm Station ,” Raven says as soon as they get near. Her face lights up at how whole it looks and she speeds up.

Wells puts an arm around Clarke. “It’s okay,” he tells her quietly, and Lexa remembers that his father is on another station, just like Clarke’s – unless he has dropped into the desert again, of course. “Your mom will be on the next one. I’m sure of it.”

Clarke, Wells, Raven and Finn go into the station, hands raised, and are greeted eagerly by the survivors, from the sound of it. Lexa waits out in the snow as the buzz of conversation hums from the crashed station. Octavia stays outside too, with the gonas, apparently not eager to meet the Skaikru. The gonas mill about and mutter until Indra glares them into silence. After some time, a decision seems to be have been reached inside.

Lexa, Anya and Indra enter as soon as Clarke calls out for them. The gonas wait outside – Lexa is sure Clarke will not endanger them, so she should need no guards but Anya and Indra.

For a second there are nothing but guns pointing at them, and Lexa wonders if she has misjudged. Then Clarke pushes the nearest one down. “I told you, these are friends,” she says sharply.

A short dark man with a beard is the last to lower his weapon. “Are you sure about that?” he says suspiciously, glaring straight at Indra, who looks back impassively . “They don’t look that friendly.”

“Well, they are,” Clarke replies firmly.

“Are you this station’s leader?” Lexa asks him bluntly.

“’Spose I am,” he says, a little rudely. “Charles Pike. Who the hell are you?”

Lexa blinks. She is not sure what she pictured Pike to look like, but this is not it. Perhaps, like Finn and Bellamy, he has depths to him she does not know. “I am Heda, Commander of the twelve clans,” she tells him.

“You? You can’t be more than twenty!”

Clarke winces. “Grounders don’t keep track of their ages like we do,” she explains quickly, “And Lexa is an excellent leader; she negotiated the alliance between the clans -”

“Your leaders must have told you to expect us when you fell,” Lexa says pleasantly.

“I know Mom and Jaha told everyone,” Clarke says.

“They said people,” Pike says offensively, “Not a bunch of sword-wielding savages ruled by a teenage girl!” Even the Skaikru around him flinch at the word ‘savages’, and Anya reaches out automatically to stop Indra drawing her weapon at the insult.

Lexa blinks at him, suppressing her immediate desire for violence. “Perhaps you wish to talk to your people without us,” she suggests to Clarke coolly, and moves back to the entrance. “Indra, Anya, check with Zion if we have any more news.” That will stop them committing any acts of violence against the man. They leave only reluctantly, though, not pleased to leave her in the lion’s den.

Unfortunately, she can still hear Pike’s voice as Clarke explains about the potential alliance between their peoples. “Clarke, you can’t be serious. You’re my favourite student, you know that, but this is not a good idea. Make an alliance with these barbarians? They’re dressed in animal skins and have swords, for Christ’s sake. That one looked like she wanted to cut me in two – and her face? She was covered in scars!”

“This land is theirs,” Clarke retorts, keeping her voice lower than his. “And they’ve come to offer some of it to us and help us learn how to live on it.”

“We know how to live on it,” Pike says, sounding offended. “I taught everyone that, remember? Earth Skills. We probably know more than they do, it doesn’t look like they have any technology at all. And they can’t have any large-scale fields of crops or we would have been able to detect some of them from orbit.”

“They live off the land,” Clarke says, “They don’t need crops. They have some small farms for medicinal plants -”

“Medicinal plants? Do they have shamans too? We have real medicine, Clarke. Real crops, as well. We can use this land better – they don’t own any of it, it’s ours as much as it is theirs -”

Lexa had assumed that Pike’s hatred of her people stemmed from the Azgeda’s actions, the death of the Farm Station at Mount Weather. Now she realises that it’s more than that. He is personally offended by their existence, by the fact he did not know of it. By the idea that people could exist on this earth with different ways and different customs than his. And because he rejects this idea, he does not consider them people. It is not a bloody massacre that made this man first despise them, though perhaps that is what motivated him to violence – it is, at its simplest, a hatred of them for flourishing here on the land he considers his. A desire to own that land, instead of negotiate for it. He doesn’t want to learn the earth, discovering what plants may be eaten and animals may be hunted. He wants to take his own learning and force the earth to fit it, make an earth of crops where verdant forest now thrives. His ‘Earth Skills’ are not about working with the earth, but against it.

He is not like Finn or Bellamy, then. He does not have hidden depths. She will not come to appreciate him or understand why he committed his crimes, or see him learn to become someone better. He is not a good person. He is simply a threat.

Lexa approaches again and pretends timidity, the servant girl act she once used on Jaha and Kane. “Commander Pike?” she says softly.

He looks up from his argument. “What?” he barks.

“We discovered the Arrow Station two hours from here,” she tells him, shrinking back a little. Clarke looks at her, confused by her odd demeanour. “Everyone on it died in the crash.”

He curses.

Anya enters and come up to Lexa. The eyes of everyone on Farm Station follow her fearfully. Raven is talking quickly to the people of the station, no doubt trying to get them to calm down a bit. Anya bares her teeth in a knife-edge of a smile, deliberately scaring them, and Raven glares at her for making the task more difficult.

“None of the others have returned yet, Heda,” Anya tells Lexa, her smile fading. “Since it is starting to get late, it’s likely his scouts wait for morning to return. The ones south and west may even take multiple days, since we’re moving around and will be hard to find.”

Lexa turns to Clarke. “Maybe Zion and the others will have more information for you by tomorrow. Perhaps we should remain here for the night and wait.” She still keeps her tone timid, loading her words with uncertainty and submissiveness, conscious of Pike’s eyes on her.

Clarke swallows, but nods. “Sha.”

Lexa touches Clarke’s shoulder lightly. “We will find her, Clarke,” she promises in something closer to her usual tone. “We will.” Then she turns to Pike and says meekly, “We can fetch blankets, food, and other supplies for you from the nearby villages, Commander Pike. Anything you require. In a bad winter three years ago the other clans provided the Azgeda with many of these things, so it is fair they provide them to the newest clan in turn.”

“We’re not a clan,” Pike says coldly, though Lexa notices he doesn’t refuse the offer of help. “And you should hurry, everyone’s freezing. Some of the kids went out in the snow without proper clothing.”

“Sha, Commander Pike,” Lexa says. She nods to Clarke and tells her to stay with a look. Anya glances sideways at Lexa as they walk out together. Lexa’s stance, her walk, and her attitude all change with each step, from assumed shyness and weakness to her normal air of effortless command.

“What are you planning, yongon?” Anya says to her in an undertone. “We cannot help that man.”

“We must help his people, though, Anya,” Lexa says calmly. “Whatever he believes, we are not savages.”

“With someone like that, you can never change their thoughts,” Anya comments.

“We shall see, Anya,” Lexa says thoughtfully, mind whirling. “We shall see.”

Chapter Text

Clarke spots them through the crowd of Farm Station people. They’re wrapped in blankets from the pile Lexa’s people brought, rich furs that she guesses are from bears but could be from almost any predator animal. They look lost and tired, but she can see the similarity immediately.

“Mr Green? Mrs Green ?” she waits until they turn to face her. “I’m Clarke, I’m a friend of Monty’s.”

Their faces collapse in relief. “We spoke to him yesterday morning,” the woman says, words rushing out over the top of each other. “But they wouldn’t let us talk to him before we came down earlier. Is he alright?”

“He’s fine,” Clarke says firmly, sure she would have heard from him otherwise. “We have a radio you can talk to him over if you’d like.”

“That would be amazing,” Monty’s father says, breaking into a relieved smile. “How far away is he? How far away is our son? Will we go there tomorrow?”

Clarke winces. “We have to stay here for a while to find the other stations,” she tells them frankly. “Then we’ll all travel south together. There’s an area of Trikru land – right on the southern border, as far away as we can get from the Mountain – that the Commander is willing to give to us. Many of the Trikru have met us and she thinks they’ll accept us there, if we’re careful. But because we have to go the long way round to avoid Mount Weather as much as possible, it might take us weeks to get there. Monty and anyone else who wants to leave Polis – the capital – should be able to meet us there, though. We’ll contact them on the radio and let them know when.”

Weeks?” Monty’s mother says, looking at Clarke in horror.

“You can talk to him on the radio tonight,” Clarke promises. “And it looks like we’re going to all travel to each station together to find our people , if we’ve got enough tents, so if that happens you can keep in contact with him every day if you like.”

“Tents?” she says blankly, like the idea of tents is inconceivable.

Clarke decides to pretend she’s asking about the number of tents, instead of tents as a general concept. “Each of the gonas – warriors – we brought has been carrying an extra tent, and the Ice Nation warriors also have some. We can manage the survivors here easily enough -” Only seven people died in Farm Station in the fall. “- but if some of the larger stations have landed safely we might have to start squashing more people into each tent.”

The Trikru gonas have been pushed to the limit carrying what they are, Clarke knows – all the tents, the dried food, extra clothing, extra blankets. Luckily, they were able to offload some to be carried by the Azgeda gonas, making it easier. Also, this seems to have stopped some of the resentment towards the Skaikru for the additional baggage, with Lexa confiding in her that the Trikru are enjoying forcing the Azgedakru to carry heavy loads and act as their guides. In fact, the dislike between the two clans seems to be distracting either from disliking the Skaikru, though Clarke’s not sure that’s a good thing.

“Whatever it takes,” Monty’s father says firmly, taking his wife’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “So long as we can see our son again.” He smiles at Clarke. “It is good to meet a friend of his. I am glad he is making more, for the longest time it was just him and Jasper.”

“Oh, it’s still him and Jasper,” Clarke says dryly, though she can’t help but smile at the thought. “Lively as always.”

Monty’s father laughs, and his wife manages a smile. “You are the chief of Medical’s daughter, yes?”

“I am,” Clarke says, swallowing hard. “She was on Alpha Station. The biggest one. We haven’t found it yet.”

“That one had most of the Council, didn’t it?” Monty’s father says reassuringly. Clarke can see where Monty got both his calmness and his kindness. “I’m sure they wouldn’t have been put there unless it was the safest.”

“Less than half the Council,” Clarke says, fears still worrying at her. “Only three. Muir, Kane and my mother.”

The Greens look at each other quickly, then Monty’s father tells her, “Just your mother and Muir, then. The release mechanism failed, so Councilman Kane released it manually.” He looks regretful. “He remained behind. It was a great act of heroism.”

Clarke inhales quickly. For some reason she’d thought with all the careful planning this time that they’d avoid that problem, or set up some kind of failsafe. She hadn’t mentioned it to them – how could she mention an unlikely system error without giving everything away?

And of course Jaha didn’t stay this time. Last time, filled with grief over Wells’ death and guilt over the culling, he volunteered. So it was only natural this time that Kane would do it instead. Talking with him over the radio, she’d noticed how nearly killing so many people had humbled him slightly, though he’d still been a long way from the nicest version of Kane she’d eventually known. Looks like he’d skipped to the end.

“Yes,” a voice chimes in from nearby, “My son was a hero.”

Clarke swings around and sees Kane’s mother leaning against the wall, the Eden Tree in her arms.

She smiles at Clarke, eyes full of tears. “Hello, child.”

Clarke had always liked Vera Kane, though the religion didn’t strike a chord within her. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she offers gently. She wonders if Kane will fall from the sky like Jaha did, finding another way. She hopes so. Kane’s always been smart. If Jaha figured it out, he will too. Surely. Hopefully.

She really wants him to be all right, more than she thought she did until this moment.

“Thank you,” Vera says softly, and returns her attention to her tree, touching one of the leaves lightly. “I shouldn’t plant this in the snow. But it made it down, just as we did. So I will plant it somewhere – in our new home, perhaps. And remember my son.”

“We’ll all remember him,” Clarke promises, her voice a little choked.

After she’s spent another hour talking to Vera and the Greens, mostly going over the same things again and again, Clarke decides it’s time to extricate herself and go find Lexa. She needs to know that Kane might no longer be a possibility for either leader of ambassador of the Sky People.

And besides, Clarke wants to get out of this press of people. It’s so long since she’s spent any real time with a large group of her people, apart from the 100, and that only briefly. They’re suddenly foreign to her. The way they talk is so strange compared to the accent of the Trikru. They’re so impossibly clean, it seems almost clinical, as if they’ve scrubbed for a surgery or something. Their clothes and hair are very neat but not practical for the cold or for a fight. They smell of the Ark’s air conditioning more than dirt or sweat, and it seems so unnatural to her now. When they went outside to receive the blankets (because God forbid their saviours should be allowed inside the station) they stepped around everything like they were scared to go near the landscape, as if a tree was a threat. They’re just – wrong , as out of place on the earth as a Trikru gona would be slashing their way through the Ark.

She wants to be with Lexa, breathe in her reassuring earthy scent of dirt and leather, bury her hands in her twisted braids, take in the way she fits into the landscape with as much unconscious assurance as a mountain lion. Lexa stands out against the scenery or blends in when she chooses to, but she always looks like she belongs there. She acts like the world is all her land, and the truth is, it is.

Octavia intercepts Clarke, though. “Clarke, we need to talk,” she says. She has her disapproving face on.

“What is it?” Clarke says, trying to cover up her annoyance. She’s not in the mood for a lecture right now.

Octavia looks around nervously, and that’s when Clarke realises this is something actually important, and the disapproval (for once) isn’t aimed in her direction. “One of the ‘scouts’ who came back with no news wasn’t a scout. I didn’t recognise him, and I know the Azgeda gonas now – their faces, anyway. I’ve been watching like you asked. He wasn’t one of them.”

Clarke inhales. “Oh,” she says. “Any idea who he was?”

Octavia nods. “A messenger. I listened in – they don’t know I can speak a little Trigedasleng, and I think they thought I was too far away anyway – and I heard the word ‘Azplana’ several times.”

“Nia,” Clarke says slowly. “A message from Nia. No idea what it was?”

“Too complicated and fast for me to understand,” Octavia confesses. “But the messenger gave Zion a satchel with something in it, maybe a longer message. Zion didn’t send the messenger back, but the guy definitely asked him a question and I heard the answer.”

“What was it?”

“Sha,” Octavia says. “It was ‘Sha’.” They stare at each other in silence. Clarke’s brain works busily. This is not good. Whatever it is, if it’s Nia, it’s not good.

Then a couple of the Azgeda gonas walk past and Octavia says brightly, “So Raven hasn’t found anyone yet, though she’s spent quite a while retuning the radio. She’s sure at least one must have survived the fall from the Ark and a station will try and reach out soon.”

“Good,” Clarke says, forcing a smile. “I should go let Lexa know.”

Lexa listens in silence about the messenger, though her brow creases. “I see,” she says thoughtfully.

“I’m wondering if we should send the Azgeda gonakru away for safety,” Clarke says. “Get them as far away as possible.”

“No,” Lexa disagrees. “That would just enable them to surprise us somewhere down the road. We get the word out to our gonas to be very careful and watch for treachery. I will send a messenger to Gustus, he will be able to let me know if we should expect them to attack us soon, or if they plan an attack of some other clan, or even Polis.”

“What if they attack us before then?”

“Attacking us right now would be foolish,” Lexa says flatly. “We have more gonas than them, and we also have your people, who would doubtless side with us in a fight. And they have guns. No. We are safe for now. Besides, as I told you, Nia does not want me to die on her lands. Whatever else she may be, she is not a fool.”

“Right. Good point,” Clarke says, though she still can’t quite banish her worry. “What if Nia doesn’t let Gustus send us a message?”

“She will not prevent him from sending me something, although she may listen in as he gives the message. We have an old code, however,” Lexa explains. “It is very simple, but it worked well back when the alliance was first formed and I sent him travelling to keep an eye on the clans. When he sends me messages he addresses them to Heda, and finishes saying they are from Gustus, and that means there are no immediate concerns. If a clan is threatening another clan, he changes it – for example, when the Azgeda were planning to attack the Trikru long ago he addressed his message to ‘the Commander of the Trikru’, and finished by saying ‘from your loyal guard, Gustus’ – the first part means the Azgeda, the second the Trikru. My name means the attacker, his means the clan that is attacked. He will send that message again if he believes it.”

“What if the Azgeda do have an ally?” Clarke says curiously. “If they managed to forge an alliance with, say, the Blue Cliff. I know you think it’s unlikely, but -”

“Then he would call me ‘the Commander of the Trikru and us all’,” Lexa says. “The codes for the two of them together. Do not be so worried, ai niron. I do not like that Nia sent a message we do not know the contents of, but at present I do not think we will be attacked. She sends a lot of messages. This one could have been anything from ‘try to delay them’ or ‘warn me if they near my location’. They did not send a return message, after all. We will have to keep watch to see if they do.”

Clarke sighs. “All right,” she says finally. “You’re assuming that whatever’s going on, Gustus will know about it, though.”

“Gustus has never failed me,” Lexa says quietly. “And if he errs, it will assuredly be on the side of caution, instead of generosity. He does not trust Nia at all. If the messenger does not return in six days, though, then we will have to consider alternatives.”

“Kane hasn’t come down,” Clarke says bluntly after a pause. “He stayed to manually operate the release.”

“So he is dead?” Lexa says calmly, though her eyes show shock and pain for a brief moment. “I… I am very sorry to hear that. He was a great man.”

“He might be dead,” Clarke says, “Or he might turn up again. I’m going to borrow the radio, ask the guys in Polis to try and contact him. But whether he’s finding a way down or waiting to die, I doubt he’ll be sitting next to the radio up there.”

Clarke feels suddenly exhausted. There’s so much to do, all the time, a never-ending list.

Lexa reaches forward and brushes a lock of hair back from her face. For a moment, it makes Clarke forget how hard this world is.

Chapter Text

It’s only just past dawn when Lexa extricates herself from the blankets and Clarke’s arms , careful not to wake her. She pulls on some of Clarke’s old Skaikru clothes , and avoids the toughest outer layers of her own armour except for a couple of pieces. She’s had an uneasy sleep, filled with her waking fears, and the nagging sensation that she should talk to Clarke about everything. She doesn’t like keeping things from Clarke, but she hates arguing with Clarke even more, and she can recognise when they will not agree on a subject and it is better to be avoided.

When Clarke had asked her what they should do about Pike the night before, Lexa had found herself shrugging, telling Clarke it could be decided later.

Well. Technically, this is later. And she has decided.

The guards outside start to follow her, but she quietly orders them to remain protecting Clarke. She picks only four to follow her. Then she walks to the station, them surrounding her.

The gonas she has picked are all over six foot, bristling with muscles and weaponry. It is not that she needs them to look fierce – it is that in comparison, she needs to appear harmless. Few people look to the unarmed, smallest, physically weakest person in a group to find the most dangerous.

“Good morning,” she says to Pike, who is at the door to the station. It can’t be closed – damaged in the fall – and her gonas have reported that he remained there all night with a gun, guarding his people from the ‘savages’. There’s another man next to him who looks more awake, and nudges Pike with the butt of his gun to wake him properly too.

He blinks, seeming to wake up from a daze, and raises his weapon immediately, pointing it at the gona on her left, who scowls at him. “What are you doing here?” He nods at the other Skaikru man, and the man disappears inside, presumably to get more people.

“I wished to speak to you about your people,” she says, letting some nerves show in her voice. She looks at him, young and naïve and foolish. “I… you said some things about crops. If our land is not good for that -”

“I’m not speaking to you,” he says, glaring at the gona next to her.

Lexa blinks. “Oh! Of course!” she turns to her guards. “Please, we will go for a walk so we cannot be overheard. You must stay here.” She looks at Pike again. “I have no weapons, and we may walk in whichever direction you would prefer. Unless you would like to go inside -” She moves slightly towards the open door.

She can see his brain working. Taking her inside will let her see exactly what they have in there. How many gonas, how many weapons. “No,” he says gruffly, “I’m not talking to you wherever.” He raises the gun again threateningly.

“I just,” Lexa lets her voice go a little higher-pitched, as if he is really scaring her, instead of mildly annoying her. “I wish to know what my people may do, to reach an agreement with you. A – what did Clarke call it – an accord, I think? You can bring more people if you wish. As many as you like.”

He looks at Lexa, visibly harmless and young. Wearing Skaikru clothing. Very short compared to her guards, eyes wide, nerves palpable. She sees him weigh the opportunity here – to bully the young girl into giving him the land and respect he wants – against his distaste for her people. Then he looks at her guards, a pace back, all intimidating. Clearly, he needs to leave people behind to stop them from entering. “Jay?” he calls back.

The other man appears again, this time accompanied by two more, all with weapons that they point half-heartedly at Lexa’s guards. “Yeah?”

“I’m going for a walk with this young lady,” he tells them. “She’s the Grounder princess or something.”

“I don’t know, perhaps one of them should come as well,” Lexa says anxiously. “There are many dangers on the ground – animals, bandits, Maunon -”

“I have a gun, not a sharpened table knife like your lot,” he says brusquely, offended by her implication that he can’t deal with anything the ground has to offer, as she suspected he would be. Perhaps the only difference the ground made to this man in the first world was that it humbled him slightly – surely he could not have been chosen as leader of the Skaikru with such prideful, reckless thinking? “We’ll be fine.” If he was going to get one or even a couple of them to accompany him before, he will not now she has dented his pride. He turns to his men. “You make sure these brutes don’t get in.”

Lexa should feel satisfaction, now, at how well she read the man, at how well she is playing him. Instead all she thinks is how angry Clarke will be at her for this. How she should have spoken to her about it first. But it cannot be undone now.

She lets him lead the way through the forest, walking in small steps behind him so that she has to take double as many. It makes her appear even more childish, she knows. “I just want our people to get along,” she tells him worriedly. “I know you are mad at us. Ai gonas -”

“Speak English,” he orders her, wheeling to give her a look of disdain. “Our people aren’t going to get along until you learn how to at least act civilised.”

Lexa wonders what language has to do with civility. Do the Skaikru truly believe gonasleng has some inherent value that other languages lack? Though now she compares how they reacted to her people in the first world to how they reacted to the Maunon originally, she could see how that might be a Skaikru belief. “I’m sorry,” Lexa says, looking as humble and apologetic as she knows how. It almost hurts her face. “We… we are trying. We know you command marvels. These things you call guns… I have known none but the Maunon to use them. And a home among the stars -”

“A space station. The Ark,” he corrects, still enjoying feeling superior to her. Or perhaps it is because he was once a ticha, and cannot help correcting people. She almost feels a pang of sympathy for him, for a second. How strange it must be to go from being a figure with all knowledge, looked to by others for the answers, to someone who knows nothing at all about his supposed area of expertise. It must have been a shock to learn his facts were lies. No wonder he lashes out, disguises his new fear with anger.

It only lasts a second, though. She remembers Clarke saying that flexibility is just as useful as strategy. It was said about a foolish game, but she was right. Clarke adapted to finding the earth occupied, to discovering the Maunon were dangerous, to coming back in time. Lexa modified her plans to create the first alliance when it became a possibility, then later to ally with the Skaikru. Flexibility is a core requirement to a leader.

This man has none. His strategies might be good , but he cannot change to reflect the world around him.

And like Rathan… like Rathan, he is a threat.

“Yes, Clarke calls it that as well,” she says sweetly. Pike has started curving his trail. If they keep moving in this direction, they will reach where the gonas are camped, which undoubtedly is not his intention. They are within hearing distance if she yells by now, she suspects. She thought to be in hearing distance of the station, but this will work as well. In fact, it will work far better – there was a slim chance she would be shot by angry Skaikru if they reached her before her gonas.

She stops, gasping a little. “I… I am sorry. You are walking very quickly. May we slow down?”

Pike snorts at her weakness. “I don’t know why -” he breaks off mid-sentence as Lexa flinches, looking beyond him. “What is it?” he says in alarm, turning around, raising his gun.

It wouldn’t have fooled one of the Sekens , she thinks, let alone a gona. The Natblidas would have been more likely to laugh at the distraction than fall for it. But then they are used to tricks and traps like this. She moves forward in a smooth step, yanking open and reaching inside the pouch Indra gave her as she goes. “This,” she whispers, and plunges two of them into his back at once.

He makes a small noise and then topples onto his front, breathing deeply and evenly, unconscious. His gun splays out before him.

Lexa opens the pouch fully and pulls out the remaining five sleep darts salvaged from Maunon attacks. The Maunon do not miss often, and her people rarely keep anything from the Mountain, out of fear that it will somehow draw the Maunon to them. Indra was lucky to find six – and Lexa lucky to find a seventh at the drop ship when Murphy and Drew were taken.

She did not know who she would end up using these on. It was a contingency plan more than anything. She had a list of threats in her mind, the chief ones being Finn, Bellamy and Pike. A swift strike to remove a threat and help cement the Skaikru’s fear of the Mountain. Of course, they now fear the Mountain without her help, but perhaps this will help those of Farm Station.

They will be suspicious. She does not doubt that. But Pike phrased the walk as his decision to his gonas, and these are Maunon weapons. With her people, the Azgeda, and the Skaikru who fell in the drop ship all confirming there is no way she could be guilty, they will be forced to assume she is innocent.

Coldly, she stabs three more darts into his back, so that it appears they all came from the same direction. After a few moments she places her palm on the front of his neck. There is no thrum of life, though she waits another minute to be sure. “Yu gonplei ste odon,” she whispers to his corpse.

Lexa stands, moving to position herself so that it appears she was standing facing him, although she moves back to be several steps away. He was struck in the back. She will be struck in the front, shot by the same Maunon.

She pushes the first one into the armour at her right shoulder, making sure it doesn’t go fully through to touch her skin. She takes several steps forward and pushes the dead man’s finger down over the gun to let off a loud rat-tat-tat of gunfire, telling herself that it is he firing the gun and not her, a technicality that is comforting but foolish.

The gunfire echoes through the frozen forest. She fills her lungs and yells “MAUNON! MAUNON!” and pushes the remaining dart into the skin of her upper right arm, near the other.

She barely feels hitting the ground, but unconsciousness takes a while to fully claim her. Perhaps it is her sheidjus – her dark blood – trying to fight off the effects. She has observed in the past that everything from alcohol to jobi nuts affects her less than many of the others, creating a sort of dizziness or lightness of spirit but no drunkenness or hallucinations.

She realises, in slow, dazed horror that she has not tied the pouch shut again, it is splayed open obviously, an oddity someone will notice. She tries to move a hand like lead to it and curses herself for a fool.

Lexa is not sure if she dreams the next part. Octavia is leaning over her with panic in her face. “Where?” she hisses frantically, “Where are they?” Then she glances down at the pouch, and looks at Pike, and something like understanding dawns in her face. Understanding and horror.

I must have used Pike’s name with Octavia once, Lexa thinks muzzily – she knows who he is, something of what he will do. Enough to suspect my actions, anyway, if not to be sure.

She tries to keep her eyes open, tries to say something to Octavia, and fails to move at all.

But Octavia is already yelling, “To the south! I saw him! He ran to the south!” and her hands are at Lexa’s belt, yanking the pouch shut and tying it in jerky moves. “Gonas, to the south!” Backing Lexa up, giving her lie credence, something the old Octavia would never have done. Perhaps she is changing after all.

Perhaps they all are.

Then Lexa finally gives in, her eyes fluttering shut as the darkness claims her.

Chapter Text

Clarke’s woken by the sound of shouting nearby. She jerks upright and turns to look at Lexa, a question already on her lips – to find Lexa absent. She stares at the empty spot for a second, heart pounding far too quickly. Lexa. Where is Lexa?

She doesn’t even bother to put on clothing, thankful it was cold enough last night that she yanked some pants and a top on before drifting off to sleep. She does go to grab her knives though, only to pause again for a second in shock when she sees that every single one of Lexa’s weapons are there. Even the clever sheath Costia made for her sits with her knives. Lexa never goes anywhere without weapons. Even in sleep they’re within reaching distance.

Clarke stumbles outside. Some guards are still outside the tent, staying stiffly in their positions, but everyone else is gone. “What’s happening?” she says sharply to the nearest gona.

“Heda yelled out,” the gona tells her. He’s trying to look stoic, but can’t quite prevent himself from looking around himself nervously, searching for threats. “The Maunon are here.”

Clarke gapes at him for a second. “Where’s Lexa?” she says, voice cracking. “Which way is Lexa?”

“The shout came from that way,” He gestures and she nearly sprints. She forces herself to keep to a swift jog instead so that she’ll still have energy when she reaches the enemy, her guards keeping pace with her easily.

Then there are more gonas in front of her and she’s never felt sicker. She can feel the colour drain out of her face. They carry Lexa between them, slumped, boneless, lifeless.

“No,” Clarke croaks, staggering back for a second, and then her medical training takes over and she races towards them. She won’t fail Lexa this time. She won’t. She reaches out, puts her fingers against Lexa’s pulse – steady, strong. Clarke takes a deep breath. She’s alive. “Where’s she injured?” she snaps at the two gonas holding her.

“Maunon sleep darts,” Octavia says, appearing from behind them. She looks angry, her eyes snapping with furious energy. “They hit her with two but one didn’t get through her armour. The other one hit her right arm. I got it out nearly immediately though.”

“What’s going on?” another voice intrudes. Clarke glances up briefly before returning her attention to Lexa, lightly slapping her cheeks, double-checking her breathing.

It’s a man dressed in Skaikru guard clothing, waving a gun around like he’s never held one before. She recognises him as Jay, a guard she’s met a few times, including yesterday. There are others behind him, all looking terrified. “Clarke? What’s going -” then he gasps. “Charles. Charles!”

“His fight is over,” A woman says, and Clarke glances up again from counting Lexa’s pulse to realise that more gonas have arrived, this time carrying Pike. Or, she’s guessing from the absolute stillness of him and what the gona just said, Pike’s body. She doesn’t have the attention to check right now.

“You savages!” Jay says furiously, pointing his gun at them. “What did you do to him?”

“They didn’t do anything,” Octavia snarls at him. “Those are sleep darts, they’re used by the Mountain Men. They’ve been gunning for the Commander for a long time. He must’ve gotten in their way. ”

“Do you really think -” he starts to say to her angrily, then pauses. “Wait. You’re the Blake kid. Bellamy’s little sister?”

“Yeah,” Octavia says, “What’s it to you?”

“You’re from the Ark,” he says obviously. “I’m sorry, dressed like that, I thought…”

“I’m from the Ark,” Octavia spits out the word like it’s dirty. “And this isn’t the time for you to be throwing accusations around. Take your friend’s body. Check the darts in him. They’re way above what the Trikru and Azgeda are capable of producing.”

Clarke’s not entirely sure that’s accurate, but it is true that they certainly wouldn’t produce such uniform machine-manufactured darts. She doesn’t have the brainpower to join in the argument though, tracking the time on her watch as she counts heartbeats. Less than forty beats per minute – Lexa’s normal resting heartbeat would be quite low, she’s very fit, but probably not that low. The unconsciousness would lower it further though, and it’s very steady. She’s not in any distress, not having any noticeably bad reaction to the sedation.

“To our tent,” she orders the gonas still holding Lexa up, and follows them blindly, leaving Octavia to her argument. When they get there she says, “Guard the outside. One of you, go get a fisa. Another one, go get Wells.”

Wells isn’t a trained medical professional by any stretch of the term, but when they were younger he’d sometimes accompanied her and her mother in the clinic, both of them feeling very important as they ordered grown-ups to say “ah”. More importantly, he’ll do whatever she says, with no hesitation.

Even more importantly, if she breaks down, he’ll hold her. That moment when she thought Lexa was dead again…

She moves Lexa to be on her side, so if she has any kind of reaction to the darts that causes her to throw up, she’ll still be able to breathe. Then she pats Lexa’s face again, calls her name, and squeezes her hand. There’s probably no way to wake her up before the sedatives get out of her system. She tries to remember how long it took Anya to wake up from this – it must have been hours. But if Octavia got the dart out almost immediately… there’s no way of knowing when she’ll wake.

After a time, Wells comes to sit beside her. “She’ll be okay, Clarke,” he says, and the words are meaningless, but the arm he puts around her shoulders is comforting.

“Yeah, the Commander’s way too tough to get put down by something like that,” That’s Raven, trying to help. Finn’s in the corner, just staring at them all.

After some time, Octavia returns and joins them. “We didn’t find the Maunon,” she says shortly, and it’s not like Octavia to give up so easily, but Clarke doesn’t question it. A fisa enters, examines Lexa, gives Clarke some bitter leaves for her when she wakes, then leaves.

Anya arrives, Tris following her. She crouches next to Raven, watching Lexa like a hawk. “Indra is still searching,” she tells everyone. “But I believe the attacker to be long gone.”

“She’s going to be fine, Clarke and the healer guy both think,” Raven murmurs to her. “She’s just unconscious, not hurt. They reckon she’ll wake up in a while. I should go back to listening to the radio, actually.”

Anya glances at Lexa. “I do not like seeing her like this,” she mutters. “I will accompany you. Tris, let me know when she wakes.”

Clarke nods goodbye, but doesn’t look up. She’s too busy watching Lexa. She counts heartbeats. She says Lexa’s name, over and over again. She kisses her cheek. She squeezes her hand, waiting for a response.

It could be minutes later, hours, days. Clarke doesn’t know. Eventually a response comes. Lexa squeezes back. And then her eyelids are fluttering open. “Clarke?” she says, sounding dazed.

“Oh, thank God,” Clarke says fervently. “You gave me a scare, ai hodnes .” She kisses Lexa on the cheek again instead of the mouth, not wanting to impede Lexa’s breathing for any reason.

“Moba,” Lexa says apologetically, and Clarke laughs, because only Lexa could apologise for nearly being killed. Lexa struggles to sit up, and gives Clarke a weak smile. “Have I been out long?” she asks.

“Only a few hours,” Wells reassures her.

“Oh,” Lexa flexes her hands, apparently trying to get full feeling back into them. “That is good. If we are to reach the next station, we will have to set off soon.”

“Are you insane?” Clarke demands. “You were unconscious for hours, now you want to go on a hike?”

Wells clears his throat. “Maybe we’ll leave you two alone,” he suggests tactfully. Tris has already darted out quietly while they talked, to go tell Anya. Finn follows Wells out without comment. Octavia makes as if to follow them out of the tent, but turns at the last minute and comes back in.

“I will be fine,” Lexa says firmly, looking at Clarke.

“About that,” Octavia says, looking at Lexa with a dark expression.

Lexa looks at Octavia. “I did not ask you to,” she comments, confusing Clarke utterly.

“I know,” Octavia replies. “But still…”

Clarke looks between them quickly and blinks. She’s been thinking about nothing except Lexa’s safety for hours, but now her mind starts working again, processing things outside that. Lexa getting up earlier than normal and not taking her weapons. Pike, dead. Lexa, alive. A convenient Maunon attack. Her watching Lexa, weeks ago at the drop ship, as the Commander carefully took a dart and placed it in a pouch. “You did it…” she whispers disbelievingly. Lexa glances at her, winces, and then returns her wary gaze to Octavia.

“You are right, Octavia,” Lexa admits to Octavia. “That was… above and beyond the duty of a gona. Tell me. What do you wish?”

“I’m not asking for any favours, or a reward, or anything,” Octavia says grimly. “I just want to know. What did he do? Did he deserve that?”

“He earned his death in the other world,” Lexa tells her. “He killed a peacekeeping force of three hundred while they slept. He imprisoned your Lincoln. He nearly killed Indra.” She shrugs. “But I did not kill him for what he did. I killed him for what he could do.”

“Punishment before the crime,” Octavia says, but her voice is uncertain.

“Dealing with a threat,” Lexa corrects. “I do not kill a snake because it is evil. I kill it so that it may not bite me. He was a risk. Now he is not.” Clarke stares at her, feelings welling up. Fury. Anger. Fear. Boundless hurt.

Octavia thinks about this. “He locked up Lincoln?” she says eventually. “Hurt Indra? That’s why he’s dead?” After a second, she manages a brittle smile. “Then I guess I can live with that, Heda. But I’d kinda like not to be in this position again, if possible.” Then, with an abrupt nod, she turns and leaves the tent.

Leaving Clarke just looking at Lexa.

Lexa returns her gaze anxiously. “Clarke, ai niron,” she says, “I would have told you -”

“But?” Clarke says, keeping her voice down. She can’t shout about this, although she wants to, there’s too much risk someone will hear. She can’t slap Lexa, is not physically capable of slapping the girl she loves, but part of her wants to do that as well . She wants to scream and cry and rage. “But what, Lexa?”

“I know you’re angry,” Lexa says. “I knew his death would anger you, that you do not approve of killing anyone based on their actions in the other world -”

“His death? I’m not angry about his fucking death, Lexa!” Clarke says, then forces herself to lower her voice to a hiss again. “I wanted to give him a chance, but I saw how he reacted to you guys, I saw that he would still be a problem -”

“Then why are you angry?” Lexa says, looking confused, and Clarke wonders if she’s in love with an absolute moron.

“You lied to me!” Clarke snarls. “We’re in this together, we do all of this together, don’t you understand that? You didn’t tell me the truth -”

“I did not believe you would agree with my plan -”

“And you still should have told me! Even if you weren’t asking, even if you just told me you were going to do it, warned me – do you have any idea how badly you scared me? I thought you were dead when I saw them carrying you, dead, and how dare you do that to me…” Clarke shuts her eyes, forcing back tears, and turns her face away from Lexa so she won’t see them.

“Clarke,” Lexa’s hand lands on her shoulder, and her voice is filled with pain now. “Clarke, moba, I am sorry, I am so sorry… I did not think of that. I forget -”

“Forget what? That I love you? That I already lost you once already?” Clarke’s voice is broken.

Then she hears a sob from behind her and swings around in amazement. Lexa, who she’s only ever seen cry in happiness, and that only once or twice, has a tear running down her face. The aftereffects of sedation, the doctor part of Clarke thinks: loss of emotional control.

“Yes,” Lexa admits, voice quavering. “Yes, ai hodnes, I forget both those things. I forget them all the time. I am not used to having your love. And my death… my death, to me, is a sort of dream. But I should have remembered that to you that is still a nightmare, not a dream – and I should have told you the truth – sometimes I spend so much time lying that I do not recall how the truth works – Clarke, I am so sorry, so sorry, please believe me – I should not have lied to you -”

And now her tears are flowing in earnest and Clarke can’t bear it, she can’t bear it. She wraps her arms around Lexa and pulls her close, feeling Lexa’s heartbeat thumping against her chest . “It’s okay,” she says softly, “Shh, it’s okay.” Her anger starts to fade a little in the face of Lexa’s distress.

After a long few minutes, Lexa’s sobs subside. “Are we,” she begins in a croaky voice, then clears her throat. “Are we – still?”

“Ai hod yu in,” Clarke says fiercely. “We’re still – us.” Lexa lets out a sigh of pure relief, nuzzling her face against Clarke’s shirt. “It will take more than you being an idiot one time to stop that. But I reserve the right to bring this up in our next few arguments.” She thinks she feels Lexa smile against her. “Oh, and give you the cold shoulder for a while. Or try to, anyway. Sleep on the couch. That kind of thing.”

“We’re in a tent,” Lexa points out, voice muffled by Clarke’s shirt but starting to sound better. “There is no couch.”

“Damn,” Clarke says, and kisses Lexa’s forehead. “I guess just the other stuff, then.” She closes her eyes and thinks how lucky she is Lexa’s alive, and how angry she is Lexa lied to her, and how terrified she is at the thought of losing Lexa, and just how very, very much she loves Lexa.

Chapter Text

They do not go anywhere that day. The Skaikru bury Pike and the others who died when the station fell. Lexa attends, and is glared at by most of the Farm Station as they commend the souls to the ground. Although both Clarke and Octavia have already told them it was Maunon weaponry, and although they have examined the darts and seen they are unlike weapons used by the twelve clans, they are still unsure. Octavia’s statement that she saw the Mountain Man running away has gone a long way to dispelling any outright suspicion , but they still do not like her attendance at this Sky People ceremony.

When they ask who will speak for Pike, one of the men with guns goes to stand, but Lexa goes instead, forcing him back into his seat with the power of her gaze. She knows a little of Skaikru funeral customs.

“Today, your leader, Charles Pike, died for my protection ,” she says, letting her voice carry. She does not bother with the pretence of timidity she showed with Pike – the sooner these people realise she is a leader, the better. She showed her mask of weakness and innocence only to Pike. For many of Farm Station, this is the first moment they have to get Lexa’s measure. Her only concession is that she does not wear warpaint. Everything else about her, from braided hair to leather armour to her expression, radiates command and control. “When he was hit, his first action was to move me so that his body blocked mine. He took shots for me. He sacrificed his life for me. He was a hero, who will not be forgotten. I will owe him – and his people – my gratitude in this and all my lives.” She lets sorrow show convincingly on her face, and places the dart pulled out of her body by Octavia on the grave.

The sorrow is for hurting Clarke. She feels no sorrow at all for killing Pike. Despite her speech, he will not be remembered, not for long, not by her. He doesn’t deserve to be.

There’s a pause, and then everyone choruses, “May we meet again.”

They believe me, Lexa thinks. Most of them believe me. The lie is better than the truth – they would prefer to think he died a hero, earning them the protection and fealty of a powerful leader , than think he died for no reason at all.

Lexa finds Indra at the edge of the clearing they are using for training. She and Linkon are arguing quietly. Lexa assumes it is about the death of Pike, and moves closer to hear what they are saying. She needs to know their thoughts.

“At least let me and my Seken carry some of your burdens,” Indra growls, “if you will not allow me to split them between the gonakru.”

“I can carry my share,” Linkon says stubbornly.

“Show sense, skat!” Indra glares at him. “You will lame yourself if you continue at this pace. I do not need to be a fisa to see that you are limping. You should have stayed in TonDC.”

Lexa has noticed Linkon still favours his injured leg, but had not thought much of it – he knows some healing and surely would know if he were able to travel. Now she reconsiders. It makes sense to her that he would come even if he believed he should not for his health – certainly it would take a lot more than a leg wound to prevent Lexa accompanying Clarke if she was going somewhere dangerous. She clears her throat. “Indra. Linkon.”

They both immediately straighten and face her, no sign of their previous argument on their faces. “Heda,” they chorus.

“No doubt Octavia has filled you in on this morning,” Lexa states, allowing no emotion to colour her words.

“I informed my Seken that if something was not meant for my ears, I had no desire to hear it,” Indra replies crisply. “You are my Commander. I do not question your actions.”

There is a slight pause, and then Linkon says in a low voice, “No more do I, Heda.”

Lexa looks at him. “That is a new development,” she comments, almost amused, though she hides it under her usual indifferent mask. “From what Indra tells me, normally you do nothing but question.”

“Our ways, our laws…” he says hesitantly. “Sometimes, they leave no space for kindness or mercy. I question that.” He meets her eyes. “But you are the Commander. You created the alliance, you saved Octavia’s people, you will take down the Mountain. I do not question you.”

“Mochof, Linkon,” Lexa says. He bows his head respectfully. She turns to look at Indra. “Whether or not Octavia told you, you know how I used the darts you gave me,” she says quietly. Indra does not respond. “You will never ask for an explanation, Indra, that I know. You are loyal beyond measure. But you are one of the people I trust most, and you deserve to know my reasons – Pike was a danger. Pike would have killed many of our people. He needed to be removed. I thank you for your part in this, Indra kom Trikru.”

“Sha, Heda,” Indra says. Her eyes are fierce with pleasure, at the death of Pike or at having her Heda confide in her, Lexa is not sure which. Perhaps both.

“What do the two of you make of the Azgeda gonakru?” Lexa says idly. “Zion has been nothing but helpful, but the messenger the other day….”

“Their leader is not bad, for a member of the Ice Nation,” Indra says grudgingly. “He seems loyal to the alliance and to you, Heda. His youngest bro found a houmon amongst the Plains Riders, and Zion believes that if not for the alliance they would both now be outcasts as a result.”

“His gonas are calm,” Linkon adds. “They play dice. Their training is light. They grumble, argue over who should share tents, talk of their families and villages. They show no signs of urgency, or fear. They do not seem to be planning an attack.”

“They do not study our training as if they wish to know our weakness,” Indra continues. “Zion lets his gonas speak with ours if they wish, but none seem to be trying to find out secrets. Zion never asks me for any troubling information – the only time I have wondered if he was trying to discover something is when he asked when we expected to return to Polis.”

“Knowing ahead of time when I’ll return could be useful to Nia,” Lexa says slowly. “For negotiations or ploys. Or if she wishes to challenge me, or to plan an assassination attempt then…” she breaks off with a sigh. “We know too little,” she says, half to herself.

Gustus should get back to her soon, though. She trusts his instincts nearly as strongly as she trusts her own. Her own tell her now that the Azgeda gonakru will not attack, but the unknown message nags at her. Perhaps it is harmless, but in her experience nothing to do with Nia is harmless.

Indra and Lincoln wait patiently as Lexa glances to the side, thinking. Her eyes meet sky blue ones – Clarke, perhaps a hundred feet away, looking up as she exits the Skaikru tent, Tris beside her. Their eyes hold for a second.

Lexa’s heart lurches. Even though Clarke has forgiven her, she has not yet forgiven herself for hurting the girl she loves. It is unlike Lexa to err in this way. Or rather, it is exactly like Lexa, but it is like Lexa before she had Clarke’s love and trust. She fell back into her old instincts.

She made a mistake. And then immediately, she made a second, forcing Clarke to take care of her and comfort her while she broke down. Clarke has so much to deal with already, and there was Lexa, hurting her by not thinking through her plan and the effects of it carefully, and then acting as if she was the one who deserved to be upset.

“Heda?” Linkon recalls her to herself apologetically.

Lexa blinks, looking back at Linkon and Indra. “Indra,” she says shortly. “Speak to Zion. Mention casually that we may return to Polis earlier than planned. When he tries to get more details, keep track of exactly what he wishes to know. Is it our timing, our route, whether we plan to leave any Skaikru there? We may learn what he is after. Linkon, befriend the messenger if you can. We brought a small store of alcohol to fight the cold, use as much of it as you need to get him genial and talkative. At some point while we travel I may also need an excuse for us to gather and plan without arousing suspicion from Zion – if you hear me cough twice , pretend your leg has given out. Clarke will come to tend to you, Octavia and Indra will come in concern, and I will accompany them. I will inform the others to react with concern and gather as well.”

“Sha, Heda,” Linkon promises. Indra nods and at a meaningful glance from Lexa turns to go and seek out Zion. Linkon does not leave, just meets Lexa’s eyes steadily. “May I ask you something, Heda?”

“Sha,” Lexa replies. She knows what’s coming.

“In the other world… in the other world you and Clarke kom Skaikru came from, did we defeat the Maunon?”

“We did,” Lexa says, though her heart feels heavy at the memory of it. “But you had a far greater part in that than I did, Linkon. You were the first in the world to become a Ripa and come back from it. You killed their leader. You helped to bring down the Mountain.”

Linkon looks surprised, but a near-smile appears on his serious face anyway. “That is good to know, Heda. I thank you.”

Lexa waits, but that seems to be it. “You do not wish to know what you were like in the other world?” she asks curiously. “If you lived? Who you loved, who you hated, whether we were on the same side?”

“I cared for Octavia,” he says, voice certain. “And I cared for Indra. I served the twelve clans and I helped the Skaikru. If I died, I died for my people. In any world, I believe that is true.”

Lexa smiles. Linkon takes a step back, apparently surprised by her amusement – Lexa doesn’t smile often, and never before in his presence. “You are a good man, Linkon,” she says honestly. “Not always a good gona, not always a good fisa, not even always a good Trikru. But always a very good man. We need more of those, I think.”

Linkon swallows. “It is good of you to say so, Heda,” he says, a little cautiously. “I owe you an apology, I know, for the past.”

He’s referring to his and Octavia’s accusations, she realises . It seems so long ago that she can’t bring herself to care about it. It was unlike Linkon to go along with such things. But of course, he’d just been seriously injured, taking fisa mixes for it, falling in love for the first time, and the world had been changing very quickly. From the sound of it, Clarke speaking Trigedasleng had unnerved him considerably, as well. If she could forgive Octavia for her offensiveness, she can certainly forgive Linkon for being swept up in it. Besides, she has no doubt that he’s one of the main reasons for Octavia’s improving attitude. “No apology is necessary,” she tells him. Then she adds, voice low and fierce, “What you said before… You are not wrong about our ways, not entirely. But our ways can change. And in time, they will. We have begun that work already.”

For a second Linkon’s face shows shock and something like admiration. Then he nods, expression returning to its customary stoicism. Lexa allows her expression to even out as well. They do not need more words. She gives a wave of her hand as a careless dismissal and watches him leave.

Chapter Text

Clarke tries to tell herself it’s a good thing they’re staying around for another day. It gives them time to bury Pike (she could almost believe Lexa’s speech, if she didn’t know better). It gives Lexa time to get better.

And it gives Raven a chance to tune the radio some more. “I’ve found two stations,” she reports proudly when Clarke stops by. “Uh, how are you doing, by the way? How’s Lexa?”

“Fine,” Clarke says shortly. She doesn’t want to talk about Lexa’s injury right now, not until it stops making her feel a lurch of icy fear and picture that still body. She’ll get herself under control soon. Lexa’s ploy has opened up a few fears she’d nearly managed to banish, but she will be fine in time. She always is.

“She figured out our funeral customs pretty quickly, from the sound of it,” Raven comments, looking a little impressed. “Farm Station loved that eulogy.”

“Which two stations?” Clarke decides to change the subject.

Raven throws her an apologetic look. “Not Abby’s, I’m afraid. These ones are the ones further north, from what they can tell, not the two that veered off. Mecha Station, with Cole. Factory Station, with Jaha. I got Wells to speak to him as well as me. So I guess at least we have our leadership back?” Raven’s voice is doubtful – she doesn’t necessarily seem to think that’s a good thing.

Clarke doesn’t think it’s a particularly good thing either. Good for Wells, and good for the nearly six hundred people on Factory Station (it’s one of the largest, along with Alpha), but probably not good for everyone else. She notes that the two stations who have working radios are the station where Raven worked, and the station where Raven lived – that doesn’t feel like a coincidence. She can definitely picture Raven fiddling around with everything in her vicinity, making sure it’s all strong and sturdy and functioning perfectly.

“How many stations does that account for?” Clarke wonders, working it out.

“Well, Octavia told me two of the scouts have returned, and they’ve both found stations, but one of them is apparently wiped out – it looks like the station split into five parts and everyone died of impact or exposure before the scout got there. The other one found Mecha Station, which I also spoke to earlier. Jaha’s one hasn’t seen a scout yet. It makes sense that the guys without blankets were more desperate to find people and spent more time fiddling with the radio. So that’s three more, in addition to the two we already found,” Raven summarises. “Two of which have survivors. We only sent people down in seven of the stations, the ones least likely to break up. So I think we’ve found all the ones in the north. Well, ‘found’ may be too strong a word, since we don’t know exactly where Factory is.”

“We’ll find Factory Station soon,” Clarke promises. “If Jaha has any information about where they landed, a description of the land, even, maybe we can get one of Zion’s gonas who comes from around here to guess a location.”

“That would be good,” Raven says distantly, already back to fiddling with the radio.

Clarke leaves the tent. She sees Lexa speaking to Indra and Lincoln and meets her eyes. As well as the normal rush of love when she sees Lexa, there’s a feeling of overpowering relief – Lexa’s alive. But there’s also a blast of hurt. She felt it along with the fear, earlier, when Raven referred to Lexa’s injury, and she feels it again now. It’s a deep, aching hurt, like pushing hard against a bad bruise. Lexa lied to her. Lexa hurt her. And no matter how much she loves her, that hurt, that confusion, that betrayal – it will take a little while to heal properly, to fade. But it will fade. Just like the nightmares. It has before, after all. Nevertheless, she can’t stop herself from glancing away from Lexa, from taking a deep breath to get her feelings under control. When she looks again, Lexa’s deep in conversation and doesn’t notice.

Clarke finds Tris and sends her off to locate Anya and tell her to find one of Zion’s people from around the area. It doesn’t take long before Anya shows up.

“This gona is from the north,” Anya says casually, shoving an Azgeda gona ahead of her like someone forcing a misbehaving child to apologise. “Perhaps he can help locate your missing station, sky girl.”

“Not missing,” Raven objects, crossing her arms. “I found it. Me and my radio. We’re just… narrowing it down.”

“Yes. Narrowing it down,” Anya scoffs. “Because you and your radios cannot find it without my gonas’ help. Once again your devices have proved pointless.”

“They are not pointless, they’re more useful than you are,” Raven says, offended. She turns to Clarke and rolls her eyes. Clarke gets the feeling this isn’t the first – or even the tenth – argument that these two have had, just judging by how swiftly they snark and the smirks they shoot towards each other. “Clarke, explain to this… this Luddite that some of us don’t just stab all our problems into submission.”

Anya doesn’t look remotely offended by any of this, leading Clarke to think that Raven is just allowed to say whatever she wants to Anya. “I am not a Luddite, I am Trikru. And when you say some of us don’t stab all their problems, you mean some of us can’t. If you learnt to wield a blade you could leave all this childish tinkering behind you.” She gives Raven a wicked grin. It sounds like they’ve had this conversation quite a few times, and that despite all of the edges and insults to it, it’s actually strangely friendly.

Raven glares back and starts twiddling the radio. “Chancellor? Chancellor? Are you there?”

“Miss Reyes?” Jaha’s voice crackles over the line.

“And me,” Clarke says. “We’ve gotten someone from this area to join us, we were hoping we could figure out where you’ve landed if you give us a description.”

“We’ve been thinking over here,” Jaha says. “I asked Sinclair, and he said if we have to he can definitely send up some flares or even fireworks, that would get rid of the problem. You could easily find us.”

“Fireworks?” Anya says in an undertone.

“A bad idea,” Clarke murmurs back. She raises her voice for Jaha’s benefit. “And Chancellor, what do you think the locals will make of a bunch of colourful explosions in the sky?” Assuming they stay in the sky. The last thing they need is to hit another village.

“You can explain that they’re harmless,” Jaha says impatiently.

Clarke closes her eyes for a second, seeking patience. “They’re not small children who need to be told that lightning isn’t scary, Jaha. What they are is a culture of warriors going back a hundred years. Like most sane people, they will associate explosions with danger. We’ve already asked them to accept us crashing an entire space station onto their lands. I would like all of our first encounters with them to be as non-violent as possible. So how about you try describing where you’ve landed.”

It’s unmistakeably an order, and Clarke can practically feel Jaha wondering if he should continue arguing. Instead, he says in a slightly patronising tone , “Alright, Clarke. We’ll try that first if you’re worried about scaring these tribes.”

“Clans, not tribes,” Anya corrects, still too quietly to be heard by Jaha, looking at the radio with disdain. “This man is really your leader?”

“Well, technically,” Raven says, also quietly. She and Anya both look at Clarke, then look at each other and grin.

With prompting, Clarke’s able to get Jaha to list some things about where they landed. A nearby hill. A frozen lake.

The Azgeda gona eventually guesses a location. He asks a couple of questions into the radio to confirm – Clarke’s impressed by how quickly he’s figured out how to work it . Eventually they’re able to narrow it down to a very small area. Clarke marks it on the map as the gona leaves. She’s already marked the others.

Luckily, while far from their current location, the stations aren’t quite as far from each other. She estimates that in five hours they can walk to the first one, in another two hours to the second one (the one without survivors, which they should check anyway), and only an hour and a half to the third. Provided the first station – which Raven has confirmed is Mecha Station, led by Cole who spoke to Raven on the radio – is able to pack their things and be ready to walk quickly, they should be able to reach the third one by tomorrow night.

“Anya,” Clarke says after a while. “With all these new people, we’re going to be short of tents, aren’t we?”

“No, we will have enough,” Anya says. “We will need four or five people in each tent, so it may not be comfortable, but at least it will be warm.”

“Four or five,” Clarke muses. “Should Lexa and I get more people in ours? Is it suspicious we don’t?” She wants to be alone with Lexa, but she really doesn’t want people to start getting the wrong idea about them. Or the right one, for that matter. So far they’ve been able to play it off as consolidating the need for guards for the two of them, and setting an example for everyone else who needs to share tents, but she worries anyway.

“I could come join you guys,” Raven suggests. “If you’re really looking for a third wheel. I mean, it was pretty exciting last time I slept there. You know. Assassins and all.”

“And you will no longer need to share a tent with the floppy-haired one,” Anya remarks, a little bit of satisfaction in her voice.

“You know his name, cheekbones ,” Raven rolls her eyes. “I know you know his name.” The nickname’s a surprise to Clarke.

“You don’t know that,” Anya says loftily. “There are many of you Skaikru now. It is easy to confuse you with each other. You are no longer rare or interesting.”

“I’m still the only mechanic,” Raven says. “So I’m a hundred percent unique. Whereas there are how many gonas , Anya? Come on, how many?”

“Few as good as me,” Anya grins smugly at Raven. “Someday we should fight, sky girl. See what damage you can do. Maybe then you will accept my offer and learn to use a blade.”

“Hey, I started making grenades the other day,” Raven says. “I can do plenty of damage.”

“Save those for Finn,” Anya advises. “You will run out of grenades quickly, but I can use my sword as many times as I wish.”

“Ha! I knew that you knew his name!”

Clarke decides to interrupt, since they show no sign of slowing down. She wonders if they’re always like this. This does seem like the kind of conversation Raven has for fun, and Anya is blatantly enjoying the argument, smirk widening with every comment. “If you’re sure, Raven, that would be great,” Clarke says. “I’d really appreciate it.”

“Sure,” Raven says, stopping her staring competition with Anya to gaze in surprise at Clarke, like she’d almost forgotten she was there. “I could also use some space.”

“You and Finn?” Clarke asks hesitantly.

“Over,” Raven says baldly.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Clarke says.

“You kind of inspired it,” Raven says, returning to fiddling with the radio, though it doesn’t seem to do anything. Maybe it’s just something to do with her hands. The raven necklace dangles down from her neck still and she tucks it under her shirt in a frustrated way, but doesn’t take it off. “Oh, not what you said, your advice or anything. It’s the other day, when we found Arrow Station. Finn hugged me and it was just – automatic, you know? There wasn’t half as much real feeling behind us practically on top of each other as there was from the Commander just touching your arm. I guess I just realised I want something more, you know?” Despite her apparent insouciance, Clarke can see from the way she hunches her shoulders that she’s fighting tears.

Anya gives her a smirk, but Clarke can see a slight edge of concern behind it. “I imagine any person would say they want ‘something more’ from him.” The tone of her voice makes it clear what she thinks Finn lacks.

Raven glares at her, locking eyes again. “As your people would say, shof op, Anya. Just because it’s been a while since you got the chance to -”

“Please stop,” Clarke says, horrified, before Raven says anything X-rated.

“Right,” Raven says, looking a little shamefaced, stopping herself in the middle of a highly suggestive hand gesture. “Sorry, Clarke.”

Nevertheless, Clarke can hear them resume bickering as she leaves.

It’s late, by now, so she goes into the tent she shares with Lexa. “Raven’s staying here as well,” Clarke says. “She’s having some trouble with Finn. So we should, we should probably sleep in separate areas.” She starts separating out her sleep mat and blankets from Lexa’s, moving it to the other side. Last time when Raven was there they still slept side by side. But it feels insensitive somehow, now that Raven and Finn have broken up, to show off the fact that Clarke’s still in a relationship. Maybe she wouldn’t feel that way if she’d never slept with Finn, but she did.

“Sha, Clarke. As you wish.” There’s a faint quaver in Lexa’s voice, but she has it under control. She reaches up to start undoing her braids. Clarke goes and hugs her from behind, pressing her face into the curve of Lexa’s shoulder, but it feels like she’s pushing on that bruise again.

Or maybe it’s not about Raven at all. Maybe that’s just an excuse. Maybe the couch comment wasn’t as much of a joke as she meant it to be. They’re still them, just like she said, but she can’t deny she’s hurt and confused. She can’t deny that even as she wraps her arms around Lexa she feels the pain from earlier bubbling up again. She loves Lexa, and she forgives her, but she can’t understand why Lexa hadn’t talked to her. Why the person she trusted most doesn’t seem to trust her in return . It’s hard to look at Lexa, to speak to her, and especially to touch her, with that ache inside her. It’s not that she can’t deal with it – it’s that she’s worried her hurt and anger will motivate her to say something that will cause Lexa pain in return, and she can’t do that. She doesn’t want to do that. She just needs to sort her head out and they’ll be okay again.

“Hey,” Clarke says softly anyway, trying to convince herself as much as Lexa. “This isn’t some kind of petty revenge. We’re okay. Raven’s just staying here to give her some space from Finn and to hopefully quell any potential rumours.”

“Oh,” Lexa relaxes slightly. “I see.” But she still doesn’t look entirely convinced, either.

Chapter Text

Lexa’s woken in the night by the sound of rough gasping and movement. It’s Clarke on her sleep mat on the other side of the tent, clearly having a nightmare.

“Ai hodnes,” Lexa says softly, crouching over and touching her arm, shaking her very lightly. Raven sleeps on, undisturbed – apparently even without moonshine she is hard to wake. “Clarke, please, you’re having a nightmare. Wake up.”

Clarke stiffens, then her eyes open. “Lexa?” she says, voice a little croaky. She hugs Lexa fiercely. “You’re alright. You’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Lexa promises, feeling sick at heart. “I’m fine.” She looks at Clarke in the darkness, barely able to make out her face. “I did this, didn’t I? This morning. You had stopped having these dreams and now they are back because of that.”

“Maybe,” Clarke admits wearily. “Or maybe it’s because I’m not sleeping next to you. That’s when they mostly stopped, after I started sharing this tent with you.” There’s a long pause. “I was going to leave it alone, I wasn’t going to bring it up again. But I think I need to – I don’t want to avoid talking about our problems, not if that means there’s a chance they become bigger. So I need to say… I’m trying, but I still don’t understand. Why did you do it, Lexa?” Clarke’s voice is unexpectedly young and vulnerable. “Really? Why couldn’t you trust me?”

“I made a mistake, Clarke, and I am truly sorry. I hurt you. I will not let that happen again.” Lexa hears how her voice quavers and clears her throat, trying to control herself. “I should not be so over-emotional. Forgive me.”

“You’re allowed to makes mistakes, and you’re definitely allowed to be emotional, but please still talk to me,” Clarke says, sounding frustrated. “I lean on you all the time, can’t you lean on me sometimes? And I ask you for help all the time too. You can ask me for help in return, you know. You could have asked for my help with Pike. I could have been a witness, at least.”

“I’m not used to having someone I can trust,” Lexa says softly. “I was alone. Especially once Gustus and Anya died, I was alone. I had you for only the briefest time. I am used to making decisions by myself, and sharing nothing with others – not my feelings and especially not my plans. I fell back into old habits. And… and I wished to protect you, I think. I have forced you to make terrible decisions before.” She remembers the ruins of TonDC. She remembers Clarke’s expression as she held a knife to Lexa’s throat. “I wished to take that away from you. He was your friend, your ticha, before all of this. I wish to help with your burdens, not add to them.”

“Oh,” Clarke exhales, understanding. “You can’t do that, Lexa. You can’t protect me from who I am, and I’m always… I’m always going to be the person who makes those decisions, for my people or otherwise. Whether I’m the leader of the Skaikru, or the ambassador, or your advisor like we’ve planned. It doesn’t matter where I end up, there’s no version of this world where I don’t have to make hard choices. So please, help me make them, but don’t make them for me next time. And let me help you when you have to make them. You don’t have to be the strong one in our relationship, this isn’t a one-way street, you don’t have to protect and comfort me and help me all the time while asking for nothing in return. Let me help you with your burdens too, and don’t try and take mine from me and call that protection. That’s not what I want. Next time, tell me what’s going on.”

“I will, Clarke,” Lexa promises, after a long moment. She hadn’t thought of it like that. Perhaps she’s so used to being needed by others, she has trouble allowing herself to need. But she needs Clarke. “It’s just… perhaps I have trouble believing that anyone could look at all I do and think and feel and still care for me.”

“I’m the same as you. You need to remember that. I’m not as used to harsh choices as you are, and I know I’ve lashed out at you in the past, but I’m getting there. Please treat me like an equal, not like someone who needs to be lied to or coddled. I know you’re a good person, Lexa. The best. You make impossible decisions and you do everything for everyone and you don’t ask for anything in return, and you never even get thanked for it.” Clarke kisses Lexa’s cheek. “You amaze me and you inspire me. And I want all of you, the sadness and the ruthlessness and the weariness and the fear. I love Heda as much as I love Lexa. I want the bad as well as the good, okay? It’s greedy, but I want it all. You’re not going to lose me, no matter what. I’m here.”

“I love you.” Lexa says, meaning it with her whole heart. A tear slips down her face.

“I love you too,” Clarke says. She hesitates, then smiles. Lexa can only just see the curve of her lips in the darkness. “Any chance you can drag your sleep mat over here? There’s still a few hours of sleep we can get in. Raven can deal with it, I’m pretty sure.”

Lexa kisses Clarke.

Her sleep feels much better and deeper curled around the girl she loves.

The next morning, Farm Station pack up readily. Lexa’s not sure if this is because they wish to reach more of their people, or because they fear there may be more Maunon about. She notices they have fewer guns than she assumed they did, only a handful, and can’t decide if this is good or bad. Clarke quietly orders them to pack all the guns away. The look on her face is not one Lexa would want to cross. Something seems to have settled between them after their conversation in the night – it’s like they can both breathe normally again.

They also have less goufas than she imagined – less than one tenth of their people. No couples seem to have more than one goufa, either. There are not even any twins. It is very strange.

She makes a point of talking with the acting leader, Jay, on the way to the first station, asking him about his people until he softens. Physically, he is similar to Pike, dark and short, but he is noticeably younger and his face is clean-shaven. He listens better, too, and seems more respectful – or at least more fearful.

She also walks beside Clarke for a time. Eventually Clarke clears her throat. “I notice you sent the Azgeda scouts off again,” she comments, a little awkwardly.

“I sent them to find the other two stations,” Lexa explains simply. “The ones we sent before must have been unable to find our trail again. One of the stations might be Alpha Station. Might have your mother.”

“I hope so,” Clarke says, looking anxious. Lexa tangles her fingers with Clarke’s for a moment, letting go before anyone can see, and Clarke smiles at the attempt to offer comfort.

“I love you,” Lexa says quietly.

“I love you too,” Clarke says in return, and there is nothing awkward about that. Perhaps their argument really is over, though Lexa’s guilt lingers.

Cole proves to be one of the more reasonable Skaikru leaders. Lexa wonders why she did not meet her in the other world. Raven – apparently from this station, though she worked in the next one they are to visit – has already told her that they will be expected to leave as soon as possible, so she has her people ready and waiting to go. She thanks Lexa for the blankets and food the local villagers provided. When Lexa tells her that the gona will help them find food the rest of the way to their people, that they have tents for everyone to sleep in, and that there is land for the Skaikru down south her gratitude becomes even more effusive. They also have a medic to aid Clarke and the fisas, as it turns out – a man named Jackson who Clarke is very happy to see.

Clarke tenses more and more the closer they get to the other station which crashed. Lexa can’t blame her – there’s a one in three chance that her mother was on board. And even if not, they haven’t heard from the other two, they don’t know if there are any survivors on either. Wells says something encouraging to her but only receives a lost look in response, perhaps because his father is safe while Clarke’s mother may well be dead.

“Clarke,” Lexa says to her softly, not sure what else to say. “Ste yuj. Your mother is tough, as you are. You must believe that.”

Clarke clings tightly to Lexa’s hand as they get close, and Lexa allows it, not caring if anyone sees. Raven peers ahead. “I think it’s Tesla station,” she reports. “Yeah, definitely Tesla. Not Alpha. Not Abby’s.”

Clarke relaxes, then looks guilty. She swallows. “Okay,” she says, voice strong. “We should check if there are any survivors.”

The ruins of the station are an icy husk. The pieces dot the landscape. It takes no time at all to ascertain that no one lived through the crash. There are bodies everywhere, though – some decorated with frozen blood, some with skin so blue it’s clear they died of the cold. There was no fire here, it was just that the station split apart, Raven believes. Perhaps the station was not as tough as Sinclair estimated. The Skaikru argue over whether they should stay and bury the bodies.

Clarke looks at Lexa. Lexa sighs. “I do not wish to dishonour the dead, Clarke,” she says quietly. “But the living are hungry.”

In the end, they compromise. They don’t dig graves for the two hundred dead, but instead the gona and Skaikru cut down all of the trees around, place them inside the different parts of the station with the bodies, and light the fire – hopefully with enough fuel to consign all the bodies inside to the flames. They wait for some time, watching it and saying the words that Skaikru use, and then they set off again.

It’s nearly night by the time they reach Jaha’s station. By now, they have so many people – Trikru and Azgeda and Skaikru, with the Skaikru nearly outnumbering the others – that just by walking they cut a path through the landscape. They tread down the snow. Animals foolish enough to remain are killed to replenish their dwindling food supplies. Slumbering plants are crushed. Trees are cut down for firewood. Lexa wonders if Nia will accuse her of causing the Azgeda to starve by bringing so many people to her lands to be fed and warmed by fire.

This time, Lexa approaches the station with Clarke, her guards following. She let Clarke enter first for Farm Station, and it gave the Skaikru there the incorrect idea that they had power. She does not wish to allow Jaha this misconception. She still recalls the fool threatening her with a knife, naïve and aggressive, a terrible combination. But she does not wear a grey scarf around her braids or a pale, fearful face now – her warpaint claws at her cheeks, her gold cog gleams on her forehead, and her red sash flows down behind her.

“Open the doors, Jaha,” Clarke says loudly and clearly, an order. The door opens almost immediately. “He saw us approaching,” Clarke mutters to Lexa. “Wanted to wait until we asked anyway.”

“That sounds like my father,” Wells says, a little grimly.

Jaha steps out, followed by several Skaikru dressed in their guard uniforms. He looks as Lexa remembered, maybe a little bit smugger . “Hello, son,” he says to Wells, genuine emotion on his face for a second before he forces it down. He turns to Lexa instead. Surprise flashes over his face as he registers her. “You must be the Commander,” he says. “Greetings. It is a pleasure to meet you. I didn’t expect you to be so… young.” He looks at Clarke in the middle, frowning, as if it’s somehow her fault.

He talks slowly as he speaks to her, and it annoys Lexa. It reeks of condescension. “And you must be leader of the kru that lives by my grace,” she says coldly. “I suggest you remember that. My age is irrelevant, as I am the Commander, and so have lived many lifetimes while you stumble through your first.”

Jaha looks stunned for a moment, then rallies. “I… I meant no offence.”

“Perhaps not. You can, after all, cause offence without meaning to,” Lexa says, voice silky and dangerous. She does not think he will mention her age again. “I suggest you consider your words carefully to avoid this.”

Clarke intervenes. “Is everyone okay?”

“Eighteen dead in the landing. Four broken bones, ten people haven’t entirely got their sight back yet, but everyone’s able to walk,” Jaha says distractedly, still looking at Lexa.

“Then we will leave in the morning,” Lexa orders, with the calm certainty of someone who is never disobeyed. “Be ready.”

Jaha bristles. “I’m not sure we should leave at all, Commander. I was thinking our people could use this station as a base, it’s stayed pretty complete. And we’ve got nearly everyone here already. I think -”

“Think again,” Lexa says bluntly, stating what is going to happen as a fact. “We leave at first light. See that your people are ready.”

“We can trade technology -” Jaha starts.

“And we will,” Clarke interrupts firmly. “But we won’t trade it for this land. The Commander has been kind enough to offer us land close to the Trikru clan’s southern border. They’ll help us set up. In return, we’ll help in the war against the Maunon , and we’ll owe the Trikru as much food, technology and medical aid as we can reasonably spare over the next few years. After that, we’ll negotiate a price to buy the land over the next few decades, or pay a reasonable ongoing rent in goods.”

“Rent?” Jaha looks scandalised. “Clarke, we’ve never -”

“Learn to,” Lexa replies coolly. “Or leave to find new lands for yourselves. Perhaps somewhere out there is land that no others want. I do not envy you trying to find it, however.” The Skaikru cannot expect to take land from a member of the alliance without paying for it somehow. This will make the Trikru considerably more positive towards their presence. Is he a fool, to believe he should be given land for nothing?

Of course, she is being unfair, as she would have given them the land for nothing, initially. It was Clarke who insisted they find a way to pay for it, noting that this would make her people understand the value of what they had been given.

“With respect, Commander -” Jaha is gritting his teeth now, angry.

With respect,” Wells becomes the third person to interrupt his father, voice firm as he talks over him. From Clarke’s brief expression of surprise, Wells does not typically do this. “With respect, Commander, my father would like to thank you for the kindness you have offered us. And that’s all he’d like to say right now. I’d like to talk to him in private, if you would allow us that. It’s been some time since I’ve seen him.”

Lexa nods graciously. Jaha isn’t stupid enough to interrupt, though he looks like he wants to. “Of course, Wells kom Skaikru,” she says. “My people will set up our tents outside.” Wells says something quietly but fiercely to his father and they begin a tense yet inaudible argument, Jaha gesticulating wildly.

“I’ll stay,” Clarke says, glancing at Jaha and then looking back to Lexa as if the Chancellor is not even important enough to pay attention to. “I can make sure Factory Station are ready for tomorrow.”

“If any of your people require aid of any kind, food or blankets perhaps, send someone to fetch me. I am sure you will have much to organise. I will leave you half these gona to assist with that.” Lexa tells her, allowing a slight bit of warmth to colour her tone.

“Sha, Heda,” Clarke says, giving her a smile. Half of Lexa’s guard – the half who by now are used to going with Clarke whenever Lexa says this – split off and go to stand by her, large and dangerous-looking in the cramped space. Jaha looks up at them, stopping his quiet rant at Wells briefly, unnerved by their size. They dwarf the three men with shock sticks and guns.

Lexa turns and leaves.

Chapter Text

It’s close to being a sleepless night for Clarke, but between teaching the people of Farm Station and Mecha Station how to put up tents, persuading Factory Station to start packing, and explaining multiple times to Jaha that they can’t remain in Azgeda territory, she does somehow manage to catch a couple of hours. The only reason she got any was because of Sinclair’s quiet support and Raven’s relationships with her former co-workers. It feels like she only spends minutes curled up against Lexa though before she’s being apologetically woken.

“The sky is light, ai niron,” Lexa tells her softly. “It is time to pack up and leave. However, if you would like -”

“No,” Clarke replies, stifling a yawn and sitting up. “I’m fine. I’m ready to go find Alpha Station and Prison Station.”

“Jaha is difficult,” Lexa observes. “Cole was not so.”

“Cole’s more of a follower,” Clarke says grumpily. “And Jaha’s more of an idiot. I think half the reason he’s being unreasonable is because he doesn’t like it that I’ve taken charge. So far he’s been managing to avoid outright argument by patronising me, and I’ve been mostly working around him while he’s distracted, but sooner or later Wells isn’t going to be there to mediate and there will be a fight.” She’s only really been avoiding putting Jaha in his place because of Wells, and suspects he’s thinking the exact same thing about her. This can only end well.

Lexa frowns. “I do not believe it would be honourable for Jaha to use a gun,” she says thoughtfully. “I suppose one of the gona could lend him a sword for your battle.” She doesn’t express any worry at all – making it crystal clear who she thinks the victor would be.

“It will probably be a verbal fight,” Clarke says, although she does dwell longingly on the idea for a few seconds first. “But I’ll keep that in mind just in case.”

Lexa nods briskly and helps Clarke up, starting to pack their things with brutal efficiency. Clarke tries to ignore the butterflies in her stomach – today she’ll find her mother, either alive or dead.

Clarke walks beside Lexa at the head of the column. Jaha finds himself politely pushed back by guards so that he’s not quite equal to them – the only people allowed to walk as an equal with the Commander are those she chooses to allow. Farm Station, Mecha Station and Factory Station are managing to keep up relatively well, especially impressive for Factory Station as they haven’t had much food in the days since they landed.

They walk mostly in silence. Everyone’s tense. The surviving stations are absorbing the fact that at least six hundred of their people are dead – and possibly more, depending on the safety of the remaining two stations. They’re nervous and twitchy around the Grounders. In turn, the Azgeda aren’t especially comfortable with the soft, slow Sky People, who are as unlike their people as it is possible to be. Previously, on Clarke’s orders, all of the Skaikru had hidden their guns, but it looks like Jaha has reversed that order, which isn’t helping matters. The Trikru, now outnumbered by strangers in their closest rival’s lands, half crouch as they move forward, automatically falling into a warrior’s cautious stance.

“So, Heda,” Clarke says after a while, her voice carrying. She forces herself to sound casual. “I’ve been meaning to tell you.” She needs to find something that is nearly identical between their people, a common ground. A relaxing common ground.

Lexa looks at Clarke, and realises what she’s trying to do – get everyone to calm down a bit. “Yes, Clarke kom Skaikru?”

“You shared your fayowada with us,” Clarke says. “We have some drinks I’d like to share with you. Vodka, for starters. You know, in celebration, when we get to our new home. Guaranteed no poison.” The Trikru immediately behind them mutter at that, but quieten straight away when Anya glances back. Raven raises an eyebrow at Clarke, though, looking intrigued by the random comment.

“I may perhaps accept this gift from your people,” Lexa says soberly, but Clarke can see her hidden smile. “However, my people do not become impaired so easily as your own. Are you sure it will be strong enough?”

Anya lets out a bark of laughter. “You’re right, Heda. Skaikru drinks are probably as weak and pale as their people.”

“Oh, no,” Raven says loudly, looking at Anya like she’s daring her, a smirk on her face. Apparently she’s realised what Clarke’s doing too. “No way. You really think you’re better drinkers than us, cheekbones? That’s what you’re going with?”

“Do you wish to challenge me, sky girl?” Anya says, returning the smirk.

“Oh, I think we both know that’s exactly what I -”

“She’ll have help,” Finn interrupts. He looks back at some people Clarke vaguely recognises from Mecha Station, and says in a persuasive way, “Right, Mark? Cara? Come on, you’re not going to leave us drinking alone here, are you?”

“I don’t drink,” a man says coldly.

The woman grins shakily. “I don’t know about a drinking contest,” she says, barely loudly enough to be heard. “I mean, we might not have enough vodka for that.”

“You can have my share,” Wells says, joining in. “Fayowada is better.”

“You’re not old enough to drink,” Jaha says, looking at Wells like he’s disappointed him.

Raven shoots Jaha a glare. “Old enough to be sent to die,” she mutters, then speaks up again stridently. “Monty’s been making some moonshine for anyone who’d like that once we run out of vodka!”

“Not again,” a dismayed voice comes from many rows back in the group. “That boy -” Looking back Clarke recognises that it’s Monty’s father. The people around him – from Farm Station, Clarke thinks – chuckle at that, apparently well aware of Monty’s habit of illegal brewing.

“You didn’t seem to be enjoying the moonshine the other day, Raven,” Octavia says. “I saw you, you could barely move, you were so hungover.”

This gets a laugh, the loudest from Anya, and Raven glares melodramatically at Octavia. “Betrayed!” she laments jokingly. “Seriously, O, if you’d drunk that much, you wouldn’t even be able to stand. My head felt like that time the alarms on the Ark broke and went off for ten hours straight.”

This produces some more laughter, and several people start sharing stories of their worst hangovers with the people next to them. Even the Trikru and Azgeda gona seem to have taken up the topic, which Clarke has no doubt is because Lexa made a joke first. She all but sent them a message she wanted them to talk and relax a bit.

“Good thinking,” Lexa says quietly to Clarke. “Our people will never integrate until they at least learn to speak.”

It doesn’t entirely calm everyone, or really lead to the groups talking directly to each other, but it’s a start, Clarke thinks. At least they’re relaxing around each other, the Trikru and Azgeda no longer eyeing guns, the Skaikru no longer starting at sudden movements.

Then Lexa pauses, frowning. She holds up a hand and everyone behind them stills, the gona glaring Skaikru into silence when they start to ask what’s happening. “You see it, Indra, Anya?” she says quietly.

“I see it,” Indra says in a low voice. She stares at the ground, which looks pretty much like regular snow to Clarke. Maybe a little bit less even, but otherwise the same. “Many people passed this way.”

“Hundreds,” Zion says, peering at a nearby tree. Clarke realises he must know this area better than nearly anyone. “At least.”

“Which way did they go?”

“That way,” Zion says after a long pause studying the ground, pointing east. “Perhaps four days ago. They have no skill at concealing their tracks.”

Clarke frowns and looks east, sees nothing, then turns to look west as well. She can’t see very far, but – “Zion?” she asks, “Can you see – is that -”

He looks that way and blinks. “Metal,” he breathes.

The sun comes out briefly, conveniently, and Clarke blinks as the reflection off the station catches her in the eye. It’s probably two miles away, half buried in snow, and if she hadn’t been looking closely over the icy plains below she never would have seen it. Now she’s looking, though, she can see that in the distance the snowy carpet is strange, hills and valleys too even. Only the occasional high piece of metal sticks out. After a glance at Lexa she starts towards it. Lexa frowns again and makes a beckoning gesture to the army of people behind her so that they all follow.

When Clarke reaches the station, she listens for a second. No sound coming from inside, and the protruding upper door is only half shut. She peers inside and sees nothing but darkness. “Open it,” she snaps at the closest gona. If she was paying more attention, she might have been pleased that he didn’t so much as glance at Lexa, Anya or Indra before automatically obeying, forcing the door completely open. As it is, she’s too worried about what this means. Did the Maunon take these people?

She recognises the station as soon as she climbs down inside. After all, she spent a year here. The Skybox. And it’s empty, apart from two corpses across the room from her. She approaches one. It’s Kaplan, a neat bullet hole in his head. For a second all of her instincts scream that it’s the Mountain, then she notices – a burn on his side. She’s seen burns like that, treated burns like that in fact. A shock stick used too enthusiastically. The guards aren’t always very careful with the power they’ve been given. Sometimes they seem downright eager to use their weapons.

“What in the world…?” Jaha starts to say, confused. He puts his hand on his gun, looking around like he expects the killer to leap out and yell ‘surprise!’

“Wells,” Clarke says sharply. Her voice echoes. “Before they came down, Bellamy and the others were making a list of the people in each station, like I asked. Go get Raven -” the other girl is still outside, Clarke’s not sure why. Clarke reaches into her pack for her valuable paper and pencils and hands them to Wells, not without a pang. “Contact Bellamy. Find out who was on the list for this one, and write them down.”

“Of course,” he says immediately, frowning.

Clarke investigates while they do that, ignoring everyone else who enters to mill around and stare. The prison doors are still working, which is one point in the Ark’s favour – sending down treasonous criminals in cells they expected to short out would have been ridiculously stupid. Of course, that means someone with access opened them and let all of the people inside out. Nearly all of them, anyway – Shumway lies in his cell, eyes wide open, a bullet in his head.

Diana Sydney would have been in Clarke’s cell. There’s no sign of a scuffle there to disturb Clarke’s pictures. There’s no sign of a scuffle anywhere. If supplies came down in this station, they’re all gone. Wires have been pulled out of different places, scavenged. Clarke lived here for a year in solitary and she still didn’t know where all the cameras and speakers were, but they’ve been methodically ripped out of the walls in well-hidden places. The only people who could have known exactly where they were are the prison guards.

“We stored a lot of supplies in the spare cells,” Jaha says, frowning. “Someone’s taken them.”

Clarke knows exactly what’s happened here, and grits her teeth to avoid screaming at him.

She goes back outside. Lexa is beside Raven and Wells as they listen to a radio Sinclair’s fiddling with, surrounded by gona and Skaikru alike. Everyone looks up as she approaches.

“We’ve got about a hundred people so far out of the three hundred in this part,” Wells begins.

“Let me guess,” Clarke says flatly. “Mostly working class. Quite a few guards, all armed. Any known supporters of Diana Sydney on there?”

Raven blinks, looks down at the partial list, then stabs her finger at a name. “Him,” she says, “He used to campaign for Sydney, I remember when she was trying to get elected again.”

Sinclair frowns, peering down as well. “Yes. That’s right, that was him.”

Wells stares at the list. He’s well-informed about the politics of the Ark, having been involved in them through his father since before he could walk. After a few moments he looks up, stricken. “I recognise some of them,” he admits.

Jaha has followed Clarke out. “You’re saying Diana escaped? Took these people and ran?” he sounds unbelieving. He looks down at the list, then up at Clarke again.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Clarke says harshly. “She managed to get some of the people organising the Ark coming down to stack the deck for her, so the station would be mostly filled with her people. You guys kept her alive because you were worried about being too rough on her – never mind that you sent a hundred minor criminals to die a few weeks ago – and now we have a serious problem.”

“She was popular with a lot of the Ark,” Jaha says, then flushes slightly as if even he realises that’s a stupid reason to leave a threat alive. A threat who literally tried to kill him, as well. There’s mercy, there’s game-playing, and then there’s blatantly stupid lobbying for popularity, and Clarke thinks Jaha’s fallen well into the stupid category this time. His desire to play the wise leader has led him to one of his dumbest actions yet.

Clarke remembers suggesting to the Council that they remove Diana Sydney and her followers from the situation, but they had reacted (somewhat hypocritically) like her suggestion was callous. That they hadn’t even bothered to check that the people assigned to the same station as Diana Sydney weren’t previous supporters of her – it boggles Clarke’s mind. They were so desperate to grab a non-existent moral high ground, to pretend the reason they executed people was necessity and nothing more, that they’ve risked hundreds of people and lost important supplies.

“They went to the east,” Lexa says, looking at Clarke. Clarke can read her eyes well enough to see that Lexa’s not only feeling annoyance at this development, but disgust at the stupidity of the Sky People. This time, she can’t blame her. She’s feeling some disgust herself. “Do you wish to follow them?”

“Of course,” Jaha says immediately, as if the question was directed at him. He looks at the many people gathered around them – a little back out of respect (or fear) of Lexa, but still dozens close enough to hear. “We’ll need to -”

“No,” Clarke says, speaking over him as if his views are unimportant, looking only at Lexa. It’s rude but right now she’s too annoyed to care. “We’ll go to the next station. They’re headed east, they’ve got nearly five days’ head start, and we don’t have the time or supplies to deal with them right now. Not to mention we’re lacking a plan and they have some guns.”

A round trip of ten days. Six, maybe, if they left the Skaikru behind and just took the gona. They still don’t have enough food or goodwill to make the trip. And who knows what kind of resistance they’d meet? It’s a terrible plan.

“Clarke,” Jaha says icily, “You’re not in charge here.”

“Yes, I am,” Clarke says, not loudly, but confidently. She stares Jaha down. Everyone else watches in shocked silence.

“I’m the leader of the Ark,” Jaha says, looking furious, but also still trying to talk to her like she’s a kid – like he’s telling off a child, in fact. Like she’s four again and he’s explaining that she and Wells can’t have a food fight just because it’s their food.

“And how’s that been going?” Clarke questions him, voice strong. “You lied to everyone about the oxygen situation, while I risked my life to try and tell them. You sent a hundred children to die, but I kept them alive. You nearly killed three hundred innocent people, you were going to come down with only a small percentage of the Ark, you let a dangerous political prisoner out into the world with three hundred supporters! I don’t think I want to see where you plan to lead us next.”

“Clarke, you’re a child.”

“If I wasn’t a child when you decided I was expendable, I don’t think I’m a child now, Chancellor. I made a deal with the Grounders, I kept us safe from the Mountain, and I ensured that our people got help as soon as they landed. I am the only reason any of us are alive. You should keep that in mind.”

She doesn’t wait to see if he listens. She turns and walks away, Lexa matching her pace. After a long moment, everyone else follows.

Chapter Text

They’ve been marching south for some time now and the argument between Clarke and Jaha has made everyone return to their previous uneasy silence. The Sky People are shocked and uncertain. The Azgeda aren’t sure what to make of a leadership contest which has not ended in a challenge, and consider the shamed Jaha weak for giving in. On the other side, the Trikru are used to considering Clarke the leader of her people, and are confused as to why she did not kill Jaha for his insolent words.

Wells looks especially uncomfortable, and Lexa feels for him, caught between people he cares for. She has no sympathy to spare for Jaha, who is wan under his dark skin, and who throws venomous glares at Clarke as they walk.

It takes Jaha a long time to work his way to the front of the train of people – her guards have been doing their best to subtly keep him back, blocking his way without hurting him. She wonders idly if she should give them some kind of honours for their efforts, which she greatly appreciates. Eventually he still manages to get there, of course, and Lexa knows what his aim is.

“Commander,” Jaha says to Lexa, face contorted with anger. “I need to speak to you.”

She looks at him, sighs as if she is doing him a massive favour, and holds her hand up for everyone to halt. Then walks to the side, far away enough that they won’t be heard. She gestures to Clarke to follow.

“I am the Chancellor,” Jaha growls to Lexa. She meets his eyes steadily, uncaring.

“And I’m in charge,” Clarke says, spelling it out for him. Lexa can barely suppress a smile, so proud of her strong, clever niron that she can barely contain it. Clarke is a far better leader than the Skaikru deserve. “This is my deal with the alliance. The land they’re letting us have? It’s for my people. Any goodwill from the twelve clans is towards me and the rest of the 100.”

“People will not accept you as the leader, not in the long-term,” Jaha says. “You’re too young, you don’t -”

“Then it’s good that it’s just for the moment. Later, when things have settled down, I’ll consider who should be put in charge of our new home.” Clarke says.

You’ll consider -” Jaha gapes at her, beyond fury now.

“She will,” Lexa says coolly, “I have offered her this land in our deal, after all – it is her deal, the one she came up with and negotiated. Clarke kom Skaikru is the only one who may decide who she trusts to run her land.”

It warms Lexa’s heart that Clarke thought so thoroughly about how the deal could benefit all their peoples, instead of just Skaikru. How she thought carefully about how to prevent leaders who would restart old conflicts and risk the Trikru.

They will probably have to allow the Skaikru to go back to their strange voting system at some point. But perhaps not for some time. If Clarke is going to live in Polis and help run the alliance, they need to trust whoever leads the Skaikru. Lexa thinks that at some point, Clarke realised that she cannot trust her people to choose well anymore, not after Pike.

So they will choose. Clarke and her have not settled on the exact system yet, but are considering having it so that Heda and the ambassador both must approve all potential leaders before any vote, and Clarke is also fond of perhaps having some kind of overseer who has the power to remove Chancellors, just in case one goes off the rails.

They will not risk another Pike.

“And you think our people will follow you in this?” Jaha hisses, starting to completely lose his composure.

“They don’t have to,” Clarke says with another shrug. “If they don’t want to live on the land the Trikru have agreed to give our people, they can walk to a new area. There’s the Dead Zone to the west, which is pretty much exactly like it sounds. South you could walk for six months and not find a new place, and east there’s the ocean, but there’s always north. If you walk north for a month or so you’ll get out of Azgeda territory, they don’t go that far north because it’s too cold.”

“Of course, the second you decide you’re not one of Clarke kom Skaikru’s people, none of the deals she has made apply,” Lexa adds idly, continuing to back up Clarke. “None of the clans will have any reason not to kill you.”

The Sky People don’t have many guns, yet. They haven’t stopped by the storage place that Clarke says they got guns from last time. Maybe a dozen or so small guns and shock sticks, instead of the hundreds of fast large guns they had in the other world. The Azgeda will easily kill anyone who leaves the group now.

“This conversation is over,” Lexa says indifferently after watching Jaha struggle to come up with something to say. “Do not attempt to speak with me again on what is already decided.” She rejoins the group and signals for the walk to begin again. Jaha is pushed back by the guards once more. Clarke watches this, some undefinable emotion on her face, then looks forward again and dismisses it.

“So what do you think we should do about Diana Sydney?” Clarke says in an undertone. They have not discussed this yet, probably because they both wanted time to consider the options.

Lexa look sideways at Clarke. “I can tell Nia to order her people to either avoid them or attack them, that is up to you, Clarke. If you wish to hold off, we can return when we are able and deal with them then.”

“Probably a good idea,” Clarke says. “We need to know whether we’re trying to kill or capture, for starters. And Raven and the other mechanics and engineers will have time to come up with more things if we wait.”

“I can have an EMP in a few days,” Raven says eagerly. She’s walking reasonably closely behind them, and has avoided commenting on the argument with Jaha. “I kept the pieces of the one I found in Polis with me just in case.”

“They don’t have enough technology for that to be useful,” Clarke points out.

Raven sighs. “I just really want to make an EMP,” she says mournfully. “Do you know how interesting that would be?”

“I’m sure it will come in use eventually,” Finn says to her coaxingly, but doesn’t get anything more than a sigh.

“Then that is more than I can say for most of your kind, Finn kom Skaikru,” Anya says sharply. Raven throws her a look that is half annoyance and half amusement.

Lexa blinks in surprise, glancing at her former Fos. Anya has always been able to cut people with her words, but the strong distaste in her voice seems unlike her. She has not seemed to care enough about any of the Skaikru to dislike them. She wonders if Finn has offended the other woman somehow. “Perhaps there are other strategies we can try,” Lexa says to Clarke, focusing again. “A virus, perhaps.”

“Won’t that kill them?” Raven says doubtfully.

“Some,” Lexa admits. “Only a few, though. The virus is designed only to weaken. Goufas are less likely to die, as well – many of our people are exposed to the virus when young on purpose, so that later they need not fear it.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Clarke says, considering it. “And there are more guns we can get, if we need. I think the Maunon have to be our first priority, though. Diana Sydney’s group have chosen to leave and it’s unlikely they’ll attack us in the near future. We can’t say that about the Mountain. Plus, if we take down the Mountain, we might be able to get some of their gas grenades and sleep darts. That should help us deal with any innocents along for the ride as well as Diana and her people.”

Lexa nods. “There is the possibility they will be able to use the time to strengthen their defences,” she says thoughtfully. “But also the possibility the cold and animals will weaken them in the meantime. We should see if we can discover exactly what supplies they have with them, and try and work out what they will do. But you are correct – for the moment, let’s focus on the Mountain.”

Clarke is doing a very good job not worrying about the last station, Lexa thinks. She knows how much Clarke loves Abby, how much Abby loves Clarke. Whatever her disagreements with the older woman, she has never doubted those two facts.

As if summoned by her, there is one of the Azgeda scouts she sent ahead – not the one she sent days ago, but the one she sent just this morning. “I found you, Heda,” she says breathlessly, sinking to one knee through either reverence or exhaustion.

“Speak,” Lexa commands.

“The station is that way, less than an hour,” she says, gesturing south-west and pronouncing the word station uncertainly. “But none survive.”

Clarke pales immediately, then nearly as quickly gains control over herself. “Did it split up?” she says, voice also carefully controlled. “Crash? Catch fire? What?”

The scout hesitates. “I am… not certain,” she says reluctantly. “Moba, Heda. It is hard to describe.”

“Try,” Lexa suggests pleasantly.

She bows her head quickly. “They seem to have bled to death, Heda, or died of head wounds, as far as I can tell. But many are too charred to tell. Several fires have burnt themselves out but – they seem strange fires compared to those in the first place we saw. There is ash in them, and trees nearby dragged in. Not all of the trees burned.”

“You think the fires were deliberately set?” Lexa frowns. “Is there anything further?”

“No, Heda.”

Lexa nods and quickens her pace. Her red sash billows behind her and she can’t help that her hand goes to her weapon. Even knowing she will find nothing living, it is unnerving that someone has already attempted to mourn these bodies. She wonders if it is the Sydney woman’s people – but they went east, entirely the wrong direction. Perhaps they lost their way? It seems unlikely.

Clarke walks quickly beside her and Lexa aches for her. She continues to try and distract herself with questions, possibilities, motives, but nothing is enough distraction from the too-pale, too-quiet girl who walks beside her. Only hours ago Clarke’s eyes shone fiercely as she forced Jaha to obey her – now they are dull and shocked.

After a while, Lexa can take it no more. She throws her sash over her shoulder so it hangs over her arm, hiding it from view, and she uses this invisible hand to clasp Clarke’s tightly. Clarke grips her in return, so tightly it is almost painful as her fingers dig in, but it allows Lexa to feel like she is at least doing something for Clarke. She wishes she could throw off all constraints and be public about how she feels for Clarke, but her more sensible side tells her that will make everyone question her motives. Once things are more settled, once the Skaikru have proved themselves by taking down the Mountain and Clarke has agreed to be Lexa’s chief advisor and second-in-command, then they can choose to be open about how they feel. For now this quiet comfort is all she can offer.

The walk goes too quickly and yet takes too long. If Lexa could prolong it – well, she does not know what she would do. She wants to keep Clarke from this but waiting is worse than almost anything. Lexa closes her eyes for a brief moment and hopes that Clarke’s mother is not burnt, has not died in pain, is the kind of body that looks at peace instead of one that looks tormented.

When they get there the Skaikru wander through the wreckage like they are lost. The station has split into three pieces and there are corpses everywhere, both inside and out.

Lexa stays close to Clarke and mentally notes each cause of death – snapped neck, blood loss, head trauma. She is not a fisa as Clarke is but she has seen many gona die. There is almost nothing Lexa does not know about the ways a person can die – except, of course, for the way to stop it. That is a mystery reserved for Lincoln, Nyko, Clarke, people like them. Those who know how to fix more than they know how to break.

Two fires have been set. Set badly, as well. As the scout reported, parts of the trees used to light it have not burnt. They were lit without enough small branches or leaves to get the fires going properly in the cold, leaving only green wood, scorch marks and a few partially burnt bodies nearby.

Clarke steps forward, letting go of Lexa. She frowns and moves close to one of the burnt bodies. A woman.

“Clarke,” Lexa says softly, heart aching for her. “Clarke, come away. We will bury your mother -” They will stay to bury this one instead of burn, she decides, though it is foolish when they have burnt the others. But Clarke’s nomon deserves – well, Clarke herself deserves whatever comfort Lexa can offer.

“It’s not my mother,” Clarke says flatly. She stares at the charred body and looks even closer. “And whoever she was, she died of a bullet.”

Lexa blinks, wrong-footed. “A bullet?” Perhaps this is the work of Diana Sydney after all. But it is not possible, not really – they would have seen the signs of that many people coming here.

“Shot in the head,” Clarke says, and smiles humourlessly. “I hear that’s going around. I can see that she broke her leg – I’m guessing that was from the crash. Then someone executed her. Then I think they set the fire to cover that up. She’s not the only one, either.”

“Clarke,” Octavia says, turning up beside them. Her face is grim. “You’d better come see the other fire.”

“What is the problem, Octavia?” Lexa asks, keeping an eye on Clarke.

“Come see,” Octavia says.

It takes Lexa several minutes of studying the third part of the wreckage before she looks beyond the scorch marks and the dead bodies. “There are less of them,” she says eventually. “Fewer bodies, for the space.”

“Exactly,” Octavia replies, face hard. “Indra’s had people counting in each area – it’s pretty morbid, but you know how it is. This station split up pretty evenly, and including the people on the ground, we’re missing about eighty. This piece of the station is much less damaged in itself than the other ones, too – the first bit hit a hill and skidded, the second ran into rocks and fell apart. This one seems to have landed much better than the others – I mean, it hit the ground hard, but the people are much less banged up. But everyone here is dead anyway.”

Clarke looks at the bodies around this fire as well. “No bullets on any of these ones,” she says thoughtfully. “The fire here wasn’t to cover that up. They haven’t managed to burn much, there’s a lot of wood completely untouched and the bodies are barely scorched, but I still can’t see anything but wounds from the crash.”

“Maybe they weren’t supposed to shoot anyone,” Octavia suggests, “So they burned those people to cover it up, and burned these ones so we didn’t look closely at just one fire?” She makes a face as if her idea doesn’t even make sense to her.

“Maybe,” Clarke replies absent-mindedly. “Or they hoped that burning this part would disguise that so many people are missing.”

“We do not know that for sure,” Lexa cautions. “We will need to count several times before we can be sure that we are missing bodies -”

Clarke suddenly darts forward. She pulls a pencil out of her pack and crouches. When she rises, a shining metal watch is hooked around the pencil. “Oh, we’re missing people,” she says darkly. “Including my mother.”

“Clarke?”

“This is my father’s watch,” Clarke says, holding it up. “She was going to bring it down for me. None of the bodies in here are completely burned, so I can say with certainty that none of them are hers. But the watch is here.”

“She could have gotten thrown out,” Octavia says doubtfully.

Clarke shrugs. “Then we’ll look. We’ll count everyone again, and we’ll keep an eye out, and we’ll cross everyone off our list until we figure out which people have been taken by the Mountain.” She presses the watch to her cheek and closes her eyes.

It’s then when Lexa realises Clarke is not holding onto an unrealistic hope. That actually, she almost dreads her mother being taken more than she dreads her mother’s death.

Chapter Text

“The Mountain?” Octavia looks uncertain. “How could they take that many people?”

“I don’t know,” Clarke says wearily. She knows she sounds older than her years. She passes the watch to Lexa – she doesn’t want to be touching it anymore. “But they’ve done it before. I never knew how they transported me and the others to the Mountain when they captured us in the first world, but they did.” It’s never actually occurred to her to question that until now.

Lexa swallows hard. “We must be sure,” she says strongly, though it’s clear from her expression a part of her already is. “Get the list from Bellamy. Mark off names as best you can. I will have the gona scour the area around, find any that have been flung far.”

It takes several hours, and is unpleasant work for everyone. Eventually they conclude there are probably seventy-four Skaikru missing, eight children and sixty-six adults, including Clarke’s mother and a council member named Muir.

“That’s enough for them to top up on bone marrow,” Clarke comments quietly to Lexa. They’re inside one of the parts of station, talking privately. The only time they can mention bone marrow. The others are dragging all the bodies into one of the other parts of the station, getting them together to light a proper fire.

“It might not be Maunon. It could be Diana Sydney,” Lexa replies doubtfully.

Clarke gives her a look. The trail in the snow’s been covered better, the supplies haven’t been carefully scavenged as they were from the other station, Diana Sydney took the injured with her instead of executing them, and there’d be no reason for her to light fires here to cover her actions when she didn’t bother at the other station. This is the Maunon and they both know it.

“No, it can’t,” she says, tired and sad. “Besides everything else, she would have executed Muir first thing, like she did with Kaplan. She probably would have executed my mother as well.”

“Whereas the Maunon won’t,” Lexa tells her fiercely. “They won’t kill her at all.”

Clarke turns to face Lexa properly, instead of staring off into the distance feeling miserable. “What?”

“Emerson knows you,” Lexa tells her. “He knows your mother. Why would he kill the greatest hostage he could have gotten? He may threaten her, he may harm her, he may even take some of her bone marrow. But he will not kill her.”

Clarke blinks. She feels slightly better, hearing that, and Lexa takes the watch and carefully closes Clarke’s hands around it.

“Thank you,” Clarke says automatically. Then, when Lexa lets go, she hands the watch back to her.

“Clarke?” Lexa asks, confused.

“That used to be a link to my father , the person I loved most in the world, before everything went wrong,” Clarke says quietly. “Now it’s a symbol of different things, and not all of them are good. I’d like you to have it. If you wear it, maybe someday I can look at it and associate it with the person I love most in the world again. Maybe I can look at it and feel happy again.”

Lexa swallows and blinks back sudden tears. “I… I thank you, Clarke kom Skaikru. Will you perform the same service for me?” She reaches into the pouch attached to her belt, no longer filled with sleep darts, and pulls out the hair sheath Costia made her.

“Yeah,” Clarke says softly, “Of course.” She wouldn’t have taken it before, but now it makes her heart overfull to think of what Lexa’s asking. What Lexa’s saying. She takes the sheath with shaking hands. It’s beautiful and clever, and it makes her ache to think of a fierce young woman spending hours fiddling with her gift to make it perfect. Praying all the time that it would help keep her lover safe to come home to her.

She wants to lean forward and kiss Lexa, but it seems more important right now to pause and fix this memory in her mind: Lexa’s green eyes, shiny with unshed tears; her delicate ears and nose red with the cold; her braided hair with little specks of snow in it; the nervous movement of her arm as she pushes her sash back over her shoulder. Lexa’s strange uncertainty as she tries to put the watch on her wrist without dropping it – it looks odd there, shiny silver against the black of her sleeves.

Clarke murmurs, “May I?” and at Lexa’s silent nod, reaches forward and helps do it up. It’s still working, strangely enough, and Clarke wonders if Lexa knows how to read an analogue clock. It doesn’t really matter though. Her fingers brush against Lexa as she does it up, and even though it’s through the sleeve, Lexa still flushes slightly.

“Turn, beja,” Lexa says back, also quietly. Even though there’s no one around to hear, being hushed seems right – this moment feels important. Feels like it matters. Clarke gives her the sheath again.

Clarke turns, and Lexa’s hands enter her hair. It’s braided, but not very well, she didn’t have time to get Lexa to redo it this morning, any more than Lexa had time to find Clarke or one of the gona to redo hers. Lexa swiftly undoes some of the messy braids. Clarke feels her carefully tugging and smoothing, interweaving the hair, and she feels it when Lexa places the knife and sheath in there, close to her scalp, and braids the little pieces around it.

“Done,” Lexa says finally, and Clarke turns around again. Her hair feels different like this – she feels different like this. More herself, and more Lexa’s at the same time. She doesn’t think you can really belong to people – but maybe you can belong with them. And she belongs with Lexa, every fibre of her knows it, every piece of her. She feels the thrum of it in her bones.

What they’re doing feels kind of like a wedding ceremony, the moment when the couple exchange rings, Clarke thinks dreamily.

She leans in and kisses Lexa lightly, as amazed by her as always, by the complexity and contradictions of her. The fierce warrior weighed down by weapons. The sweet girl wearing Clarke’s father’s watch. The strong leader bearing the pauldron of the Commander. The breath-taking woman holding Clarke’s heart in her hands.

She’s never felt more in love than she does in this moment.

Octavia comes in suddenly, interrupting the moment. “Guys?” she says. “A messenger from Gustus arrived. Apparently he’s been trailing us for a couple of days but only caught up now.”

They yank back from each other, breathing hard and flushed. Octavia ignores it except to give Clarke an eye-roll and Clarke silently curses her.

Lexa clears her throat. “Of course.”

They meet the messenger outside, standing in the snow. Zion stands next to him, his calm expression at odds with the messenger’s clear exhaustion. “Do you wish me to leave you?” he asks.

“That would be appreciated,” Lexa says. Zion nods and walks away. “Speak,” Lexa commands the messenger.

“Gustus sent the following message: ‘Great Commander of the Trikru, I and the Fleimkepa remain with the Azplana. We are well and wish you victory, and hope that your fight may not end before your time. Send if you require our return. From your loyal guard, Gustus.’” The messenger bows as he finishes, then stands waiting, presumably for a reply. Lexa inhales a little faster than she normally does.

Commander of the Trikru, Clarke remembers, is Azgeda in their code – so Gustus thinks the Azgeda will attack. “Great Commander?” she says idly to Lexa, making it sound like a joke, instead of a question about whether this means the Azgeda are working with someone. “Very poetic of Gustus.”

“He has always had a way with words,” Lexa says pleasantly, which almost makes Clarke snort. “He has always liked embellishment as well, in fact. In his younger days, he used to call the Maunon ‘the demonic ones’.”

“Dramatic,” Clarke says, fighting to keep her voice even. The Mountain. The Mountain? How can it be the Mountain? Lexa had assured her that there was no chance of the Azgeda ever allying with them. Also, she’s spent time with the Azgeda – so has Octavia, and Lincoln, even Indra. She’s spoken to Zion, he all but spits every time someone mentions the Mountain, and he seems to almost worship Lexa. Is he a very cunning actor? What could the Mountain offer to make the Azgeda agree to this?

It explains some things, though. Pieces slot into place for Clarke. Emerson demanded the kill order on Roan. The Mountain knew they’d come to Alpha Station last, that’s why they took the people from there – but how did they know? A radio, she realises. That’s what the Azgeda messenger’s satchel contained, a radio. It’s why Zion didn’t have to send a return message. He could just speak to the Maunon via that.

“I do not need you to take a message back to the Fleimkepa and his guard,” Lexa tells the messenger after a minute. “Gustus knows what he must do. You may rejoin us and journey to Polis.”

“Mochof, Heda,” the messenger bows.

“Now come,” Lexa says haughtily, as if she’s not nervous at all. Clarke envies her composure. “We must continue our journey. We have what we came here to find.”

Clarke wonders what Lexa’s doing. They can’t leave, they need to talk, to figure out what to do. But she doesn’t know how to protest so she follows Lexa numbly as they continue. She glances at the faces of the Azgeda around them – they don’t look any more threatening now that she knows they are. That just makes it even more unnerving.

She notices suddenly that despite all the composure she’s showing, Lexa’s breathing a little too quickly. In and out and in and out, much too fast. Clarke touches her arm for just a second as everyone else starts following them, and Lexa calms a little. It feels odd for Clarke to be more controlled than Lexa, but perhaps this is less of a shock for her – to Lexa, the thought of the Ice Nation allying with the Mountain Men is unthinkable, more than blasphemy, completely impossible. To Clarke, it’s just one more blow in what feels like a line of them.

Someone lights the fire behind them. “Yu gonplei ste odon,” Clarke says quietly, as her people chorus “May we meet again.”

The smoke rises, thick and black and acrid, choking the air. They start walking, leaving it behind them, heading south. Towards the Trikru. Towards the Mountain.

When Lexa coughs, Clarke thinks it’s from the smoke, even though they’ve walked quite far by then. Then she coughs again, and it almost sounds too loud. “Are you -” Clarke starts to say.

A yell of pain comes from behind her. Clarke jerks around. “Clarke,” Octavia yells, sounding panicked. “It’s Lincoln, get back here! His leg!”

Clarke moves towards her quickly. “Keep walking,” Lexa commands Zion. “We will catch up to you easily without having to keep to the Skaikru children’s pace.”

“But Heda, your safety -”

“I can ensure my own safety,” Lexa tells him, sounding offended. “Lincoln was injured doing our people a great service, and I must repay him for that. I cannot leave him while he is in pain.”

Clarke reaches Lincoln, who is ashen-faced and grasping his leg, wincing. It must be a lot of pain for him to cry out, Clarke thinks – Lincoln is one of the toughest people she knows. “Okay, can you stretch it out?” she says, keeping her voice calm and professional.

He tries and shakes his head, eyes wild. “No. No, it hurts.” Octavia lets out a little whimper, and that’s when Clarke realises that both of them are acting just a little bit off – a little too loud, a little too worried. Wells offers her a cloth with snow in it to put on Lincoln’s leg, the Chancellor standing behind him scowling and looking out of place.

“Linkon,” Indra says, crouching beside him, also looking uncharacteristically worried. “Why did you not say your injury still hurt? How long has it pained you?”

Anya appears beside Lexa. “Heda,” she says, “You should not remain without me to protect you.” The others are still passing beside them and Anya waves them on, telling the Trikru when they pause “I will guard the Commander. We will catch up shortly. Continue.”

Raven jogs to be next to Anya. “Hey, cheekbones, where’d you disappear to?” she looks down at Lincoln. “Dude, you have it the wrong way around. You’re supposed to be vertical to walk, not horizontal.”

In barely a minute, nearly everyone has disappeared.

Remaining, there is only Clarke, Lexa, Anya, Indra, Wells, Raven, Finn, Jaha, Octavia, and Lincoln. The pained expression fades from Lincoln’s face.

Lexa straightens. “We have a problem,” she says starkly.

Chapter Text

It worked quite well as a way to get them all there, Lexa thinks – though unfortunately with two additions. She did not particularly want Jaha to follow his son, or Finn to follow Raven, but that is the situation and she will have to work with it.

“What is the problem, Heda?” Indra says, face sharp.

“Gustus sent a message,” Lexa says bluntly. “The Azgeda are working with the Maunon.”

Anya blinks, taken aback. “That is not possible,” she says, apparently too shocked to consider her words. Then she flushes. “Moba, Heda. I know you wouldn’t -”

“Lexa knows it wasn’t an insult,” Raven says impatiently. Then she flushes just as Anya did a second ago. “I mean, the Commander knows.”

“It is fine,” Lexa says, giving a wave of her hand. “Call me what you wish.” This is hardly the time to stand on ceremony.

“Oh, you don’t want to give her that kind of choice,” Wells says, managing a wry smile despite the nervousness obvious in his expression. “Not a good idea.”

Anya succeeds in giving him a smile in return, and then looks at Lexa. “The Azgeda would not work with the Maunon. They could not. It goes against every belief they possess, to aid the Mountain Men.”

Lexa shrugs. “I am aware,” she says, a little coldly. Inside she is cursing herself. She thought the same. She was complacent. And by being complacent, she has risked them all. “But that is the message that Gustus sent. I trust him.”

Indra growls. “Filthy natrona,” she spits. “We should kill them all.”

“Well, we can’t,” Clarke says.

“Yes, we can,” Indra retorts. “We have enough people.”

“I do not wish them dead,” Lexa says flatly. “They have information we require – about Nia, about the Mountain.”

“We’ll have to surprise them, incapacitate as many as possible and take out the ones we can’t,” Clarke says. “They might have a radio, but we don’t know who has it, so we’ll need to take them out pretty fast as well.”

Raven curses suddenly. “Shit. Shit! I noticed that the radio was getting weird static on one frequency but I thought it was just one of the Ark’s radios malfunctioning. This is all my fault.”

“Don’t be a branwada, of course it’s not,” Anya snaps.

“Don’t call me an idiot,” Raven hisses.

“Then don’t be one!” Anya retorts. “You have been building impossible inventions, grenades and explosives and something called an EMP, while spending hours with the radio, in addition to stripping each station of things you believe your people might require. No one has slept less than you these past weeks. None of us expect you to find something that cannot be sensed on top of all these tasks.”

Lexa feels guilty for a second – she had not realised how much Raven had been working. Now she recalls Raven’s quick, almost desperate intoxication with the moonshine, and how late Raven came to sleep in the tent the previous night. Looking at her now, she can see Raven is tired, dark shadows under her eyes like the ones under Lexa’s own. Though hers at least are hidden by warpaint.

The night they all drank together, Wells told her of a commander who wore red, so that no one could see him bleed. Perhaps the original Heda began wearing warpaint like this so no one could ever see she was exhausted.

“Anya is correct,” Lexa says firmly. “The fault is not yours, Raven kom Skaikru, but mine. I believe we should -”

“Agzeda,” Jaha says, butting in. “They’re the ones with scars?”

“Azgeda,” Wells corrects him. “And yes.”

“Well, perhaps we could -” Jaha begins.

“Dad,” Wells looks at him. “No offence. But you don’t even know what their culture is called. Could you just… just let the Commander speak?” He meets Lexa’s eyes.

“I believe our first action needs to be removing the Skaikru from here,” Lexa says flatly. “We can much more easily restrain the Azgeda without them around.”

Clarke nods. “That also means we don’t have to explain what’s going on to them. It’s not going to help integration between our peoples if they see the twelve clans fighting amongst themselves.”

“We should begin catching up,” Linkon suggests, getting to his feet with a slight wince. “Stay a little behind, of course, but we do not want to get too far from them in case anything happens.”

“Good thinking,” Clarke says. “Okay, where do we send the Skaikru?”

“The original plan,” Lexa says decisively. “They go to the south, to the new land for them. We send the Skaikru that way and we go to TonDC – we have not gotten enough information from TonDC since we left due to the interference of the Mountain’s jammers, so we would have needed to go there eventually anyway.”

“We can’t just send the Skaikru off alone,” Clarke says. “They’ll get lost.” She shows no sign that she considers herself one of them, which would amuse Lexa if she wasn’t so worried.

“Indra and Linkon will go with them, along with fifty or so Trikru gonas,” Lexa replies.

Linkon frowns. “With respect, Heda -” he begins.

“With respect, Linkon, walking pains you,” Lexa says dryly. “I do not wish to see you attempt to run or fight. This is an order. You will help take the Skaikru to their new home.” She looks at the rest of them. “Any of you who wish may accompany them.”

“We’re good, I think,” Wells says, after looking from side to side at Raven and Finn . “We’ll stay with you and Clarke.”

“I’m coming too,” Jaha says firmly.

Lexa looks at him and decides it is unimportant. She does not like him, but by now he seems to be aware that Clarke leads the Skaikru. Perhaps it is even for the best – if he does not go with the Skaikru, he cannot try to win them back to his leadership.

“Fine,” she says shortly. “Anya, once Indra, Linkon and the Skaikru have gone, begin letting our people know to wait for my signal. They should mingle with the Azgeda. We outnumber them significantly. When I give the order, they are to take down every single Azgeda – disarm or disable, not kill, unless they must.”

“We should wait until we’re over the border,” Anya suggests. “That way Indra will be long gone, and we will know the forests better than they do. It will be useful to have TonDC to call on if we are in need, as well.”

“Sha,” Lexa says, though not without hesitation. Anya’s points are good, but Mount Weather is also across the border, and whatever the Azgeda have orders to do they have not done it on their side of the line – perhaps they are waiting for her to be officially outside their borders. But they are changing their entire direction, and if they keep watch on the Azgeda so none can use the radio, it should be difficult for the Azgeda to contact the Maunon and let them know of the change. “Indra, go in an unexpected direction to get to the south. Perhaps go east first and around. Tell the Skaikru it is to avoid a river, or a dangerous animal, or whatever you like. The pauna is not too far from here, you can use that as a reason perhaps.”

“If it comes to a fight, I’ve made five grenades,” Raven says grimly. “In my spare time, you know. I gave Anya one -”

“Normal people give flowers,” Octavia says snarkily, so quietly that if Lexa was not directly beside her she would not have heard.

Octavia sees Lexa’s glance and flushes. “Bad joke,” she says. She squeezes Lincoln’s hand, and Lexa feels a moment’s sympathy for them. Of course, Octavia could follow Lincoln if she wished – but she knows instinctively that Octavia will stay with them, even as her partner and Fos go. Octavia has the need in her blood and bones to be where the fight is. Even as she watches, Octavia looks towards Indra, and Indra gives the slightest of nods.

Raven is still talking and Lexa refocuses. “The bombs I’ve made have triggers I got from the tower, but are made from materials from the Ark. They’re much less likely to go off accidentally then the ones Jasper’s making, but we do have a limited amount. Anyway, with those and the grenades, if we need to take out the Azgeda, it should be easy.”

“Except that our current plan is to have a group of our people essentially merged with theirs, to surprise them and take most of them alive,” Clarke points out. “Meaning we’re as likely to hit Trikru as Azgeda.”

Lexa sighs. “If it comes to that, it comes to that,” she says. “But I do not believe it will. We outnumber them greatly.”

“I have some thoughts -” Jaha starts to say, but Indra begins speaking at the same time and continues over him.

“We should rejoin the group,” she says. “We have been missing some time. If we are to split off, I think it would also be good to do so soon. We are about to reach the border.”

Lexa nods. Then she looks at Jaha and asks flatly, “Did you have something you wished to add?”

He hesitates then shakes his head, frowning.

Lexa quickens her pace. Her hand has automatically gone to rest on her sword – in fact, it is difficult not to take out her knife and play with it. That always calms her when she is worried.

And she is very worried now. A constant in the world has shifted. Her temporary truce with the Maunon – give us our people and we will leave – had been unprecedented in the other world. Had it not been for the resentment caused by the perception they attacked then only to aid the Skaikru, the massive amount of gonas who had already died, the promise of the Maunon that they would never again need her people’s blood, and the release of the prisoners, she has no doubt at all that the alliance would have ended that minute. It was only because so many things hinged on that moment that she had survived it. She had looked at what was happening and weighed the deaths of so many of her people – certainly ending the alliance – between the risk inherent in agreeing to the deal – which would only probably end the alliance. She had taken the better option. Head over heart.

(Could she do it again? Perhaps. No. Maybe. She thinks she could not do it again without talking to Clarke first… and she also thinks that Clarke would not react this time as she did the last, if it should come to that.)

There is no way Nia has that many reasons. The Maunon cannot have given the Azgeda prisoners to her, not with the gonas in TonDC watching the Mountain closely. They cannot have threatened the Azgeda, when only a few of them have been able to go to see her. And Nia has no reason to trust that the Maunon will stop harming their people once they have the Skaikru, she does not have the knowledge about bone marrow that Lexa had.

So what is worth aiding them? And how has she aided them? Zion’s interest in when they would arrive and how long the trip would take could explain much, if the Maunon plan to ambush them. They will need to zigzag just in case, go in unexpected directions. They will cross the border at a different location.

Nia gave them the Skaikru from Alpha Station, that Lexa is sure of. The location, definitely, and the information that the gonakru would not arrive there for some time as well. Did the Maunon who went kill the extra? Some did have bullet wounds. Or perhaps they only killed the most injured – removing those who would have died anyway, but might have survived long enough to tell the arriving gonakru what had occurred. Perhaps it was just luck that there were enough Skaikru to provide enough bone marrow. Maybe they wished for Prison Station – not much further than Alpha – but Diana Sydney’s departure stymied them.

Clarke sees her stress and bumps her shoulder against Lexa’s, then pulls at her sash like she’s making it more even. Instead, she’s moving it so it covers Lexa’s hand, which she closes her own around and squeezes comfortingly, much like Lexa did when they found Alpha Station. “I’m here,” she says quietly, then flushes, clearly thinking it was a meaningless thing to say. But it’s not, not to Lexa – it means a lot.

They reach the group and Lexa detaches from Clarke. Everyone stops walking respectfully to allow Lexa and Clarke back to the front, even the Skaikru. They’re learning fast. “Indra is going to take the Skaikru and some Trikru gonas and split off,” she tells Zion. Indra beckons at some of her people and yells out a few orders. The Trikru obey immediately. Anya orders Tris to follow Indra sharply, hiding her regret at the child’s hurt behind her usual cold visage. The Skaikru hesitate, but at a few words from Clarke and Jaha, peel off and follow Indra.

Zion blinks. “Why, Heda?”

“They go to their new home,” Lexa says carefully. “We go to fight the Maunon.”

“The Maunon?” Zion pales slightly, but his eyes gleam. “We go to fight the Maunon,” he says, almost to himself. Then he raises his voice. “We go to fight the Maunon!” he yells to his people.

The Azgeda let out a cheer that is immediately echoed by the Trikru, as all lift their weapons into the air.

Anya begins to talk quietly to one of her unit as Indra and the Skaikru disappear out of sight. Then he moves to talk to another casually as she does the same, the word spreading quietly through seemingly unimportant conversations. Lexa tries not to tense up, watching as the word spreads slowly. They can’t alert the Azgeda.

They make it across the border without incident, and Lexa casually takes them further to the south than the direction which would take them to the Mountain or TonDC. That should throw off anyone waiting. None of the Azgeda comments. If they continue at this rate, they may be near enough to easily send a message to TonDC once they have subdued the Azgeda.

“So you’re the Commander of the Azgeda, have I got that right?” Jaha says conversationally to Zion.

Zion looks at him, confused. “There is only one Commander,” he says, bowing his head to Lexa. “I am the leader of this gonakru. I serve my Heda, and after that my haiplana and her advisors.”

“But you’re in charge of every Azgeda man here,” Jaha persists.

“Man and woman, sha.” When he sees Jaha does not understand, he translates, “Yes.”

“I see,” Jaha says thoughtfully.

Lexa sees it coming a second before it happens. Time enough to curse herself again, but not time enough to stop it. The knowledge comes in a flash of memory – Jaha holding a knife to her throat, confident that an entire clan would give in to him for the life of one servant girl. Unable to comprehend that having a blade did not give him the upper hand in any way, shape or form.

He probably thinks he is helping, he is proving himself. That he thought of a better option than the savages and children could come up with, and put it into action, all by himself.

Jaha pulls his gun out and grabs Zion in a headlock, holding the gun to his head. “AZGEDA!” he yells. “Drop your weapons! On your knees!”

And then all hell breaks loose.

Chapter Text

It takes Clarke completely by surprise. Wells, stock still beside her, looks just as shocked for a second. Then he’s pelting towards his father. He slams into him hard, tackling him to the ground as half a dozen arrows slice through the air where Jaha just was. One catches Wells in the arm and he cries out in pain.

“Guys, guys, stop!” Finn yells, completely ineffectually.

Raven starts rummaging through her pack, presumably looking for a grenade.

Octavia is suddenly in front of Wells, blocking as an Azgeda gona swings his sword down at Clarke’s best friend. Clarke draws her sword and goes to help but is immediately blocked in by two Azgeda who slash towards her. She blocks them both wildly, heart pounding too quickly. The clash of blades is deafening.

One closes in on her and tries a stab which she dodges. The other turns to Raven, who has just triumphantly produced a grenade, and swings his sword at her. Anya is there before the blade reaches her, letting out a furious war cry as she kicks the man backwards. She corrals Raven behind her, protecting the mechanic from the Azgeda.

Though good in the short-term (especially for Raven), Anya’s defence shows that it isn’t just the Skaikru turning on the Azgeda, but the Trikru as well. With a cry, nearly every Azgeda warrior converges on the Trikru, attacking with all their might.

Clarke hacks at the sword hand of the gona attacking her and he drops his sword with a scream. She’s already pushing by him, though – not to help any of her friends, but because she’s seen what’s happening at the back of the group, one gona retreating instead of attacking.

She manages to force her way through, mostly because no one seems to be expecting her to try and go further into a group of angry gonas. She slashes at one woman’s legs and the gona collapses with a scream, throws herself forward to avoid two arrows sent at her head, and manages to slice in half the bow of the person shooting at her. He drives the blunt edge of one half of the broken bow into her stomach, leaving her gasping and bruised, and then as she falls to her knees pulls out a dagger to finish her.

Clarke rolls to one side and uses the longer reach of her sword to hold him off, then crawls backwards. He throws the knife at her and it barely misses when she slams herself to the ground.

From here she can see what’s happening, and manages to take in most of it in the split second she has to look around. Raven is still backing away, Anya hacking at anyone who dares to come close. Raven’s holding up a grenade but she won’t throw it – too many people she cares about dotted around what’s suddenly become a battleground.

Wells is putting his never-before-used training to good effect, managing to (just barely) block the attacks coming his way. He’s aided by Jaha, who’s managed to get to his feet again and is holding the gun up threateningly. Gonas move swiftly to the side as he points it at them, making it hard for him to keep them all covered or successfully follow any of them with the barrel.

Octavia’s slashing away like her life depends on it – which, clearly, it does. She has one Azgeda lying bloodied on the ground next to her and no regret at all in her face as she stabs another in the thigh, the exact place she once accidentally stabbed Lincoln. She lets out a war cry of her own, holding up her bloodstained blade in challenge.

Finn has the worst of it. He has no training, no weapons. He wasn’t standing close to any of his friends when it broke out. Two of the Trikru are defending him – or rather, they’re fighting in the same area he’s in. Helping him is only a coincidence. As Clarke watches, he tries to hold up his hands to a man with a knife. The man slashes him in the face and Clarke looks away – she’s too far to help, there’s no point to this.

Lexa. Where’s Lexa?

Clarke would expect her to be in the thick of the fight, but she’s not.

She’s climbing a tree.

“GONA!” Lexa’s voice rings out across the clearing. She’s gotten halfway up the tree and she stands on a sturdy branch there, looking like some kind of forest goddess. The height makes her instantly visible and audible to everyone. “Trikru, Azgeda, Skaikru! HOD YU OP! NOW!” Everyone pauses for a second, looking at their Heda, an instinctive reaction to the icy command in her tone.

Clarke rolls so that she’s on her hands and knees and gets up quickly, nearly falling over again. She’s winded and badly bruised, but still able to move. She has to reach the man who was retreating.

He might be the messenger, he might not. She doesn’t recognise him. But he’s back from the rest of the fight and he’s holding the radio and speaking into it frantically.

“Sha, tell the Azplana, we are there exactly -”

Clarke stabs him in the throat. Perhaps she should pause and consider, aim for a hand or something, but this is not the moment. She needs whatever will shut him up fastest, so she goes for the throat. He lets out a gurgle and slumps. A voice comes out of the radio urgently, a man’s voice, and Clarke raises her foot to slam her heel into it, then hesitates. She grabs the radio instead and tears out the batteries frenziedly, tearing her nails and bloodying her hands as she rips off the backing roughly. Maybe Raven can get something out of it, she doesn’t know. If it undoes the Mountain’s encryptions…

Lexa’s been talking as Clarke does this. The momentary pause in fighting has extended out to several. Clarke registers it with half her mind, processing it only once the radio is down.

“You are a disgrace,” Lexa has been saying clearly – voice mildly disappointed instead of angry. “Brawling like Sekens in their first week? What kind of gona are you? What kind of gonakru ? Have you forgotten your training?”

There is a long, awkward pause following this. It’s clear that absolutely no one expected their Commander to scold them like they were misbehaving children. Clarke realises, darkly amused even in the face of what’s going on, that Lexa has picked exactly the right tactic to surprise everyone into listening.

“Drop your weapons. All of you, now. Drop them!” Lexa orders sternly, reminding Clarke forcibly of the voice Indra uses when she’s training Octavia. “Or I will have you eating nothing but rabbit for months.”

There’s another long moment where anything could happen. Then Wells very deliberately drops the sword he was just using for the first time. It hits the ground and clatters against a rock.

“The last person to drop theirs will receive the usual punishment for brawling,” Lexa says ominously, in a laughably parental way, and then every single person is dropping theirs. Except for Jaha – Wells reaches into his hand, takes the gun and sets it on the ground carefully, giving his father an annoyed look.

“They attacked us!” one Azgeda is foolish enough to say. “The Skaikru man held a gun to Zion’s head!”

“Then you wait for his order,” Lexa says coldly, stepping out of the tree and landing on her feet lightly. Definitely a forest goddess, Clarke decides. “Are you a goufa or a branwada? You wait for your leader’s order. You wait for your Commander’s order. Do you truly believe that I could not save Zion and stop the Sky Man?”

“I… uh…” the luckless gona looks around himself for support and finds none.

Lexa approaches Zion, casually reaches down and pulls him upright effortlessly. “Do you believe your leader couldn’t handle it on his own, for that matter?”

“He couldn’t -”

Zion bristles, not at Lexa but at the Azgeda gona who spoke. “It was one Skayon, Birg! I did not need a rain of arrows to stop him.”

“Zion,” Lexa says clearly. She smiles without humour. “I ask you a question now. What would you do if I ordered you to allow yourself and all your gonas to be bound? Tied up?”

There is a pause so brief it’s almost not there. Then Zion holds up his wrists together.

Lexa studies him. “Interesting,” she says idly. “You may put your arms down, Zion. Go around and gather all of your people’s weapons and make a pile of them at my feet.”

He looks like he wants to protest – argue that the Skaikru were the first to attack – but instead he swallows and walks around, picking up weapons like a child cleaning up the rubbish in his room.

Clarke walks back over to the Lexa, holding up the radio. “I got it,” she tells Lexa quietly. “But I don’t know if -”

Zion dumps another load of swords in front of Lexa. “You broke it,” he comments, looking at the radio. “The Azplana will be angry with us.”

“Compared to my anger, that seems less important,” Lexa says dryly.

“What anger?” Zion asks, looking exasperated. “We have done nothing, Heda, nothing! … Sha, we did not tell you of the device Clarke kom Skaikru has destroyed. But you already possess many of these, and we were ordered not to! I am sorry that -”

“Why?” Lexa asks, eyes steady on his face.

“The Azplana wishes to trade them in the spring and did not wish you to claim them before,” Zion says immediately. “I wished to tell you, but our land has had several bad winters, and a marvel such as this to trade to the other clans could -”

“Where did she get the device?” Lexa snaps. “Do you know that, Zion kom Azgeda?”

“From men, men to the far north, they found them and traded them to her,” he says promptly. The Azgeda gonas shift, uncomfortable and afraid.

“No,” Lexa says. “She got them from the Maunon.”

Zion takes a step back. “No! No, she did not. The Azplana would never -”

“They are from the Mountain Men,” Lexa says slowly and clearly. “Did you not use this device to tell the Azplana which Skaikru station we would go to last? Did you not tell her when we were to return, which route we would use? Why did you think she wished for this information?”

Zion gapes, shock and turmoil on his face. It’s answer enough.

“They aren’t with the Maunon,” Clarke says, understanding. Her mouth tastes sour. “They’re sacrifices too. The Mountain Men are supposed to ambush us and kill us all. She used them to know what time and where. Since most of the Maunon probably still can’t be outside too long, they couldn’t exactly set up a vigil.”

“A temporary deal,” Lexa says flatly, realising what Clarke means. “I die, both gonakrus die, the Skaikru all disappear. And because it was in Trikru territory, done by the Maunon, and because Nia loses one of her own gonakrus – no one would ever accuse her. She gains power. Maybe control of the alliance was her aim, or maybe they gave her weapons or technology, I do not know. She thought she could fight the Maunon later – not a permanent alliance between them, just a trade. If so, it does not change that she is natrona.”

“Lexa,” Clarke says. “We need to go. I don’t know how far that gona got into the message – the Maunon could show up here. We don’t know how far away they are or how soon they could get here.”

“Clarke,” it’s Raven’s voice, distraught. “Clarke, please -”

Clarke frowns and looks over. Raven is huddled over a body. Finn.

She moves swiftly to his side. “Is he alive, is he -” she says apprehensively.

“Yes, he’s alive, but his face -” Raven’s weeping openly. “Look at his face -”

Finn’s making a low moaning noise. Amongst the dozens of people injured, she hadn’t heard it, hadn’t been paying attention. His face is covered in blood and Clarke grabs a cloth out of her bag – there’s not quite enough snow on the ground so she takes her waterskin out and wets the cloth and manages to clear some away. She almost throws up when she sees the damage done – she’s not an expert, not like her mother is, she’s not a real doctor, but she knows the second she sees the slash that there’s no way he’ll ever see again, no way at all, his eyes -

“Clarke,” Lexa says, voice controlled, coming to stand beside her. “We must leave now. If what you said is true, the Maunon will be here any minute.”

“Come on,” Anya says brusquely. She grabs one of Finn’s arms and hooks it over her neck, pulling him up. He slumps, still not really conscious. Clarke notices that there’s a bump on the side of his head that might explain that – given his wounds, the unconsciousness may be a blessing. “Help me, yongon,” she orders Wells, and he obeys immediately, going to Finn’s other side and hooking an arm around his neck as well. They start walking and manage a rhythm almost immediately, going towards Lexa.

Some of the gonas start to do the same with fallen comrades – checking whether they are alive, helping them to stand up, that kind of thing.

“I can help, I can -” Raven says, but she’s still crying.

“You don’t have to,” Anya says, her voice going softer than Clarke’s ever heard it. “You don’t have to, sky girl. We’ve got him. We will carry him. It will be okay, Raven. Come on now. It is fine. It will be fine. We must leave -”

There’s a sudden noise. Jaha, standing several metres away from Clarke, collapses, a Mount Weather sleep dart in his neck.

“Too late,” Raven whispers, pale and shocked.

A gas grenade lands beside Clarke. In one swift, unthinking move, she snatches it up and throws it as far as she can. It explodes in mid-air and several people near it – two Azgeda gonas and one Trikru gona – go to their knees before collapsing. A Ripa bursts into their little clearing, growling like an animal.

“RUN!” Anya howls.

“THIS WAY!” Lexa yells. She steps towards Clarke and yanks her forward, and then they’re running into the forest, hand in hand, as sleep darts slice through the air around them.

Chapter Text

Lexa remembers being a child, a Seken, in these forests. She loved the forest at night – especially nights like this, clear and still with the crispness of autumn hanging in the air. She loved running through them after Anya or after whatever quarry they hunted. Dodging trees and vines and jumping easily over holes in the ground. In her childish fancies she had seen herself as a deer or a mountain lion, a creature of the forest.

By her estimation there are maybe thirty or forty Maunon firing at them – so they may have already started to use the people of Alpha Station for bone marrow, or may just have a lot of the suits they use. Perhaps if they were alone her people could take them out, using the forest to their advantage. But she can hear the sound of screams as someone left behind is torn into by a Ripa. Who knows how many of the monsters they have brought with them? The Maunon might be slowed by the forest, but any Ripa with them will not be.

Looking to her side she notices Raven pause, turn briefly, and throw the grenade she’s holding as hard as possible. Luckily, it does not hit a tree and rebound towards them. There is an explosion and scream of pain from someone behind them.

She lets go of Clarke’s hand, reasoning that yanking Clarke behind her will only make the other girl more likely to fall. Zion is on her other side, face pale, scrambling to keep up. Before, when he and the other Azgeda had showed no signs of wanting to attack Lexa – no signs of wanting to attack the Trikru, even, before Anya was involved – she had known she had to stop the fight, but she had not expected him to live through their discussion. Now, she is grimly satisfied that he survives as a witness to Nia’s treachery. If she can only keep him and a handful of the other Azgeda alive, it should not be hard to order Nia’s death when she returns to Polis with the other ambassadors’ full approval.

“My father,” Wells gasps, nearly tripping over an exposed root. Finn lolls between him and Anya, still unconscious.

“He is lost,” Anya snaps, driving him forward ruthlessly, not even straining under Finn’s weight. “Continue moving or your friend may be lost as well. Or all of us.”

Lexa darts through the gap between two trees and leaps a small gorge, helping Raven up when the girl falls. She wonders why Anya did not leave Finn – normally, she would not have hesitated to take the sensible action, leaving the injured boy behind so that their pace is not slowed.

A Ripa appears to Lexa’s left and she slashes it immediately, continuing without pausing. “This way!” she calls again, and the others follow her, though she does not know who is with them still and who is lost. Her legs feel strained and sore with the effort of continuous movement. Almost there. Almost there…

There is never just one Ripa. The group thrashes through the forest behind them, uncaring of the noise they make. They will catch up shortly. Outrunning Ripa is nearly impossible – whatever is done to them makes them strong as well as making them forget themselves. Once the Ripa are on them, they will need to fight them, and that will give the Maunon time to catch up. With their grenades and sleep darts the fight will be over soon. So there must be no fight.

“I recognise this place,” Clarke says breathlessly, sliding down a little hill after Lexa. “Good thinking.”

“Mochof,” Lexa manages, equally as breathless. She spots the movement up ahead, in an area which has no other movement – which is why she headed this way. When there is a feared predator around, all of the animals go still and silent except for it.

Nevertheless, she is lucky to have found the creature. If it can be considered lucky to succeed in your foolishness, anyway. She holds up her sword and stops running, judges the distance and prays that the movement in the dark forest is what she thinks it is. Then she throws her sword.

It is difficult to harm or kill with a thrown sword, since unlike knives they are rarely weighted to be effective when used like this. Luckily, she has no intention of harming or killing, she simply wants to attract the creature’s attention.

A bellow fills the air and suddenly the movement is not slow, the pauna is bounding towards Lexa, knocking trees aside in her blind rage. Several people scream. “To the side!” Lexa yells and takes a hard right, followed by nearly everyone. Clarke is keeping pace with her now, old forest instincts coming back. The patch of trees they’re heading towards are set closely, which should slow the pauna following them.

There’s another scream from behind and Lexa dares to glance back. The Ripa have reached where she was standing only seconds ago, and the pauna has reached the place only a moment after. She grabs a Ripa and tears off his arm in an almost petulant way. She has already disposed of two gona, one thrown against a tree so violently that he resembles a slab of meat more than a man. The pauna looks up suddenly, her eyes surveying the forest for her original tormentor, anger tempered with a sharp intelligence that seems almost unnervingly human in its spite. She is tensing up to bound in their direction when another Ripa attacks her viciously and suicidally. They all pile on, throwing themselves against the pauna like an ant nest disturbed by a mouse, tearing at her with hands and teeth and weapons while she throws them off easily and bellows again. Ripa are unable to ignore a battle when their bloodlust is up and the pauna is a mighty foe.

Then they are out of sight through the trees, Lexa’s heart pounding quickly and her face numb with primal fear. Roars echo through the forest as the animal rage of the pauna meets the bloodthirsty frenzy of the Ripa. Lexa hopes that the Maunon catch up in time to join the battle and be killed by the pauna. She hopes the pauna will stay in that fight instead of following her original attacker, for otherwise they are all dead.

The adrenaline from the pauna makes running easier, though Lexa can still hear the effects on her companions – Raven’s breaths are harsh sobs, Wells is nearly hyperventilating even as he keeps pace with Anya, and Octavia is muttering curse words under her breath. Zion is still beside Lexa but shaking so fiercely he finds it hard to run. Glancing back quickly she can see that the two dozen or so gona still with them are pale and terrified, one even whimpering without pause. Only Clarke, Anya and Lexa herself seem calm.

Eventually, Lexa slows. She can feel the subdued burn in her legs and knows she could continue at this speed for a while longer, but it is unlikely many of her companions can. The Skaikru are soft and unused to this and Anya and Wells are carrying another person. She might be safer from the pauna if she keeps her speed up, but she will be at risk from whatever the next threat is. As she once told the clans when she first began the alliance, strength lies in unity.

And also – her strength lies in them. Her love. Her former Fos. Her… friends, strange as it may seem to say, because somewhere along the way she has grown to consider Wells, Raven, even Octavia to be something to her.

Everyone catches up as Lexa goes to a brisk walk – still moving, because if they stop they will fall, but moving slowly enough to accommodate the others. She looks at the group following her and counts. It is lucky the moon is bright tonight, since they have not gone far enough south for the glowing plants to be plentiful – it makes her easily able to tell the survivors. The Skaikru all gathered around Finn when Clarke began looking at him, and Lexa moved to there as well before she yelled at everyone to follow her, so all of them managed to stay with her despite their slowness – except Jaha, who was the first to fall. Including Anya and Zion, there are twenty-eight gona with them, ten Azgeda and eighteen Trikru.

“Everyone else…” Octavia says wretchedly, looking around and clearly doing the maths as well.

“Many are no doubt alive,” Lexa says firmly, projecting certainty. “They will have scattered at Anya’s yell. The Maunon wanted Clarke and I, so I believe most of their forces followed our group. If the others went in different directions they had a good chance.”

“We should have gone back,” Wells says hoarsely. Now that she looks at him, she realises he’s crying, the moonlight turning the tears rolling silently down his cheeks to silver. “We shouldn’t have left. My Dad -”

“I’m sorry, Wells,” Clarke says, genuine sadness in her voice. “But you know we couldn’t have. You know that.”

“Yeah,” he says, sounding exhausted. “I guess I do.”

“Besides, he was only knocked out,” Clarke tells him. “He’s the Chancellor, he’d be a good hostage or source of information, just like my mother. He could still be alive.”

Lexa looks behind her. “You two,” she says sharply, looking at two gona. “Take over carrying the Skayon for Anya and Wells.”

“I should bandage Finn’s face as well, and I’ve got some sedatives I can give him,” Clarke says. “If we can scrape up some snow or ice from somewhere for the bump on his head, that could help. That’s about all I can do, though. I might be able to stitch up the scars on his face but I can’t… I don’t know how to do anything about his eyes. At least the sedative will keep him out of it, because him regaining consciousness is not going to be fun for any of us.”

“But your mother,” Raven says sharply, her eyes still red and raw with weeping. “Abby. She’ll be able to fix him up, right?”

“I don’t know, Raven, I don’t think so,” Clarke says gently, “I’m sorry. You can see the damage. I don’t think it’s fixable. But if we get the sedatives down his throat and douse his cuts with some of the tonic used to stop infections, he should probably live. He just won’t be able to see. Eyes are… pretty fragile.”

Raven lets out another angry sob. “Shit. Shit. Oh my God, Finn.”

“We will have a brief break for Clarke to help him,” Lexa decides. “Not long, though. Everyone, drink water. Stretch. Do not sit if you believe you might not be able to stand again.” These are obvious things to her gona, but not to all of the Skaikru, some of whom look longingly at the ground.

Lexa walks away from the rest of the group to stand alone, thinking. She wishes Clarke was not fixing Finn so they could speak.

“Yongon?” It’s Anya, covered in dirt and minor scratches from their run and looking somehow defeated. “Are we going to TonDC?”

“No,” Lexa says, “We will go south, to rejoin Indra and the Skaikru. I will send one of these gona as a messenger to Nyko in TonDC to gather any information they have found from watching the Maunon and send it to us, along with the gona who were training to catch Ripa. We may find a use for them.” This will leave TonDC largely undefended, which worries her given its closeness to the Mountain. But if there are no targets there, then surely there will be no reason to attack it.

Anya nods.

Lexa studies her old Fos closely. “Anya, are you all right?”

Anya stiffens. “Of course. I am unharmed, Heda.” But there is something wrong in her face. Lexa’s never seen such a stormy look in her eyes before, so much churning emotion.

“There is more than one way to be harmed,” Lexa says softly. “You know that better than most. You and Gustus have always helped me through pain that Titus called weakness. Even as a Seken, I came to you with my foolish problems and worries and hurts, and you helped me. Will you not let me aid you in the same way?”

“I…” Anya hesitates, then shakes her head indecisively. She glances over at Clarke, busy bandaging Finn as Raven holds his hand.

No, she’s not looking at Clarke. She’s looking at Raven. “Is this about Finn kom Skaikru’s injury?” Lexa asks.

Anya frowns. “She… Raven kom Skaikru… she just worked herself free of him. She is exceptional, that one, it can be seen in what she says and what she makes. But the boy is ordinary. She has fierceness that he quells with his disapproval and spirit that he crushes with his indifference.” She looks down, gritting her teeth.

Lexa blinks, realising what Anya is saying. That Lexa is not the only one who has come to care for a Skayon. It must pain Anya to reveal that she is not as heartless as she claims. “I see,” she says softly.

“And now she is tied to him by pain as well as love,” Anya continues, voice flat. “She loves him and he is injured. I know her, now, and I know what she will do. She will return to him, be with him, care for him. That slash blinded Finn kom Skaikru… but it caged Raven kom Skaikru, as well.”

“And yet you did not leave him behind,” Lexa observes, seeking absolute confirmation of Anya’s feelings with a questioning glance.

Anya gives her this confirmation. She sighs. “I could not. As I said… she loves him.”

“I am sorry, Anya,” Lexa says, meaning it absolutely. “Raven kom Skaikru is not the only one who is exceptional. I hope you know that.”

Anya manages a grim smile. “Only a truly exceptional person could have taught one such as you how to shoot a bow,” she tells Lexa.

“Perhaps so,” Lexa says, managing a half-smile of her own. Her skills with a bow have never been particularly good, but they both know that the joking taunt is just Anya’s way of trying to move the conversation into territory she is more comfortable with. Lexa looks back – Clarke appears to have finished bandaging Finn. “We should continue. I do not think they have tracked us, but again, we do not know.”

“Which ‘they’? The Maunon, Ripa or pauna?” Anya asks dryly, her face becoming stoic yet again though her eyes show she still aches with private pain. “I will say this for you, yongon – travelling with you is not dull.”

“Hey,” it’s Raven, face still tear-stained but wearing a fierce scowl. “What are we doing now? Finn needs help, proper help, as soon as possible. Which way are we going?”

“We will go to Arkadia,” Lexa says. Raven gives her a confused look and opens her mouth to say something, but then Clarke moves to join them and Raven pauses. “But the fastest way would be to go back the way we just came, and we cannot do that.”

“No, we can’t. I really don’t want to meet the pauna ever again,” Clarke says grimly. “And if we cross at the bridge the Maunon will probably be waiting.”

“Yes,” Lexa says. “We will go downriver, to where it is narrow enough to cross without a bridge.”

Anya and Raven glance at each other for a moment, then Anya looks away. “Sha, Heda,” she says.

Chapter Text

By the time they reach the new Arkadia – or whatever they’ll decide to call it – Clarke is messy, grouchy, hungry, thirsty, tired, has a hundred tiny scratches, desperately wants a bath, and is seriously wondering if she should stop dosing Finn and allow him to wake up.

Keeping someone unconscious for days at a time is not a highly recommended medical strategy, as far as she knows, and even though they’ve been taking turns, carrying him hasn’t exactly been doing great things for their pace. They couldn’t risk the agonised noises he started making every time it seemed like he was close to waking up, though, not with the Maunon around. It was just too loud. So she’s been dosing him – and devoutly hoping she hasn’t gotten him addicted to a wonder drug or given him some kind of overdose.

One of Indra’s scouts is the first person to see them, and he’s almost overawed by Lexa’s presence. Apparently three of the gona have made it there before them, and all of them reported that every Reaper had gone after Lexa and there was no way she could have survived. Turning up unharmed with more than thirty people in tow has probably added another story to the Commander mythology.

Indra’s expression when she sees Lexa and Octavia is so clear that Clarke wonders how she could have ever thought the Grounders were emotionless. They don’t express themselves like Skaikru, but that doesn’t mean they’re not expressive – they let their eyes and slight gestures and inflections say everything they need to.

“Heda,” Indra says, clearing her throat. “I see you have returned my Seken to me.”

“She acquitted herself well,” Lexa says idly. Octavia glows at the praise. “We have much to speak of.”

Indra looks at Zion. “I see that we do,” she says thoughtfully. Clarke remembers when Indra last saw them, the Azgeda were the enemy.

Arkadia is mostly made up of tents at the moment. It’s in the middle of a large clearing. They’ve arrived at lunchtime, thankfully, and the place is bustling with people – most of them muddy and tired-looking, but relatively cheerful. There’s multiple animals being cooked over a large central fire, as well as some plants being chopped up with knives nearby – she wonders if any of them were gotten by her people or if Indra’s gona are still providing for them. Hopefully the former.

Clarke has to search the crowd for quite a while to find the one she’s looking for, but eventually she does, even out of the thousand-odd people around. “Jackson!” she calls out. “Jackson!”

“Clarke?” Jackson manages to get through to Clarke’s relatively sheltered position. “What’s the matter?”

“Finn was injured,” Clarke says, swallowing hard. She’s washed and re-done the bandage four times out of fear of it sticking and being difficult to remove later, but every time it never fails to make her feel sick. There’s just something about eye wounds that she finds more disturbing than most injuries. “His eyes. I don’t know what to do. Can you come have a look?”

“You’re the one in charge,” he says, gently teasing her.

Clarke manages a grim smile. “Even more so now than I was before. Jaha might be dead.”

“Might?” Jackson asks.

“Yes,” Clarke says. “I can’t really give a more definite statement than that, unfortunately. I’ll fill everyone in later. I’ve ordered Cole, Fuji and Jay to make sure everyone’s gathered tonight so I can talk to all of our people at once.”

Jackson hisses when he takes off the bandages. He does the best he can with his medicine, but eventually says, “I can’t do much about this, Clarke, I’m sorry.”

“There must be something you can do,” Raven says insistently. “Come on. We have so much technology.”

“I’m sorry,” Jackson says again. “This is – the damage is much too severe. I can give him some injections to hopefully stop him getting an infection, a tetanus shot, and maybe some localised shots for the pain instead of the general sedation you’ve been putting him under, so that he can wake up without it being as bad.”

“Are you telling me -” Raven starts to say hotly.

“What I’m telling you is the truth,” Jackson says, gently but firmly. “You’re a mechanic, aren’t you? You must know that sometimes you can’t fix everything. Listen, the sooner he wakes up, the better. Six people have gone permanently blind from the lack of oxygen up on the Ark, four of them younger than your friend. Many more look like they’re going to stay partially blind as well. They’re already learning how to get around, being taught braille, even being counselled for it. He won’t be alone in this.”

There’s a long pause. “I know he won’t,” Raven says, in an odd, flat tone. “Thanks for your help.”

After Jackson’s gone, Clarke goes back to sit with Raven. “I’m sorry,” she says gently. “I know you were hoping for a miracle.”

“Yeah, I guess I was,” Raven says. She’s just sitting there staring at Finn. “Did you know he’s an artist? Not like you are, exactly, but he makes things out of metal. Like Wells’ chess pieces. He told me there was an apprenticeship waiting for him in Polis to learn more metalworking, swords and shields and shit like that. He was really looking forward to it.”

“Maybe he’ll still be able to make things like the chess pieces, like your bird, but by touch,” Clarke suggests. “People do.”

“I guess,” Raven says, but she doesn’t sound comforted. “We’re going to have to stay here, aren’t we? Me and Finn. In Arkadia – that’s what they’ve already named it, apparently. TonDC and Polis are great, but here he has Jackson and a bunch of other people with vision problems. He’ll get the best help here.”

“Probably,” Clarke admits.

“Then I guess you’ll be handling the Mountain without me,” Raven says grimly. “I can’t leave Finn here alone. We’re family.”

“Raven, we really need you,” Clarke begins.

“So does he,” Raven counters. “And he needs me more.”

“I was going to say, we really need you, but if you want to stay with Finn, of course you should,” Clarke finishes.

Raven sighs. “Right. Right. I just… I don’t know if I want to. But I have to. He needs me. ” She takes his hand.

Wells enters. “How is he?” he asks. “Any better?”

“He’s supposed to wake up soon,” Raven says. She kisses his hand, something oddly formal and awkward about the gesture, less affection than a sort of duty. “In the next hour or so.”

Wells blinks, then exchanges a worried look with Clarke. Clarke clears her throat. “Does this mean… you two… are back together?” she says, gesturing towards Finn.

“Yeah,” Raven says, voice almost defiant. A dozen conflicting emotions swim in her eyes. “I think we are. I’ll stay here, take care of him. And, you know, I do love him.”

“I thought you guys broke up,” Wells says carefully. “You know he wouldn’t want you to be with him just to take care of him, or out of pity, or from some misguided sense of guilt, right?”

“I know that,” Raven snaps.

Raven never does anything by halves, Clarke reflects – and she’s facing the fact that the person she loves more than anything is never going to be the same, is facing something difficult and horrible, so of course she wants to support him in every way she can. Including going back to being the supportive, close girlfriend she used to be. But it makes Clarke uncomfortable anyway. “Wells is just saying -” Clarke starts, voice conciliatory.

“I know what he’s saying,” Raven glares at Clarke. “I told you before, Clarke. Finn is all I have. If you think -”

“You did tell me that before. It was wrong then, and it’s just stupid now,” Clarke retorts. “Finn is your family, I get that. But he’s not all you have. You have me and Wells and Octavia and Jasper and Monty and Lexa and my mother if she’s alive and maybe even Anya, for Christ’s sake. You aren’t alone. Neither’s he. We’re all going to help as much as we can. You don’t get to decide you’re going to become some weird martyr and spend the rest of your life just focusing on supporting him, not when we’re here to help support you both.”

Raven looks shocked. “Clarke -”

“And Wells is absolutely right,” Clarke continues ruthlessly. “Do you think Finn wants you to be with him just because he’s hurt and you want to help however you can? That’s a bad idea. If you want to be in a relationship with Finn, be in one, but don’t bury yourself in it just because you love him and he’s dealing with something terrible. Don’t be in it just to make yourself feel less guilty.”

There’s a long pause. “I’m still staying here with him, whatever,” Raven says, but her voice is much softer. “I know you want me to come take on the Mountain, Clarke, but I can’t just leave him here.”

“You know, Mount Weather have my father and Clarke’s mother,” Wells tells Raven. “You’re the best mechanic we have, the absolute best. You’re going to be vital in taking them down. How about you go deal with that, and I stay here taking care of Finn. I know it’s not the same, but my grandfather eventually went blind and I helped out with him, so I know a bit.”

“I don’t want to leave him,” Raven states.

“And I don’t want to leave my father!” Wells says fiercely. “But you’ll be more useful there, and I’ll be more useful here. Besides which, this is going to be an adjustment for Finn, but it’s not going to be the end of the world. He’s tougher than you seem to think. He’s not going to need you around him every day, forever, just because he’s lost his sight. He’s not a child you have to take care of.”

Clarke coughs. “You know, there’s one person whose opinion is missing from this conversation,” she points out, voice firm. “If you’re going to talk about Finn not being a child, maybe you should stop acting like he’s one. We don’t get to argue amongst ourselves and decide his life. Wait until he wakes up and asks what he wants to happen, what he wants to do, what he wants you to do.”

“Right,” Raven flushes. “Good point. You’re right. It’s just, because he’s been unconscious for so long, I’ve kind of been forgetting he’ll still be Finn when he wakes up.”

“Clarke?” Fuji pokes his head inside. “There you are. We’ve gathered nearly all the adults to come listen. Some are staying with their children, we didn’t think you’d want kids to be present, but their partners will fill them in or we will.”

“Good,” Clarke says, aiming for confidence. She’s lead her people before, of course, but she’s almost never dealt with them as a large group. She’s also rarely dealt with them without any of Lexa’s people with her, or without the support of Kane or her mother at least.

After a moment, Wells follows her, presumably to provide moral support. She’s grateful for that – grateful to have him, always quietly supporting her, helping her with his calm good sense and unflinching loyalty. If his father doesn’t survive, Wells won’t have many ties to Arkadia anymore, and she wonders if she’ll be able to talk him into becoming Arkadia’s ambassador. It would be good to have him in Polis, and he’d be excellent at the job. Lexa would like that too.

But of course, she shouldn’t write Jaha off. He’s a survivor.

So is she, she reminds herself, as she stands in front of hundreds of her people, all eyes trained on her. She’s lit up by the bonfire next to her and the heat makes her feel dizzy for a second.

“By now you all will have heard about Mount Weather’s latest attack,” Clarke says as loudly and clearly as she can without actually yelling. The crowded space quiets instantly. She makes her voice carry. “I didn’t have time to explain everything when we found Alpha Station, so here are the facts everyone needs to know. Mount Weather wants our people. They kidnapped two boys, John Murphy and Drew Hogan. They killed Charles Pike. They took the survivors of Alpha Station. Now they have Chancellor Jaha, as well. None of these attacks are coincidence, and if it wasn’t for the protection of the Commander and her people, nearly all of us would be dead already.”

She takes a deep breath and continues. “We can’t give up on our people, some of whom may still be alive inside Mount Weather. We also can’t sit here and wait to see if they plan to kill the rest of us. We need to fight back. And with the help of our new allies, we can. However, Mount Weather is designed to be one of the most secure locations on earth, so we can’t depend on better numbers. We have to base our attack on better information, better plans, and better teamwork. In a few days, we’ll also have some better weapons – as we speak, a group of Trikru warriors are being sent covertly to retrieve a number of assault rifles from an old supply cache for us. We’re waiting for some messengers who should be arriving from TonDC soon with more up-to-date information about Mount Weather’s actions too. After we have all the information and weaponry available, I’ll be looking for volunteers to help in the fight.”

Clarke stops speaking and waits for someone to comment. No one does, though a nervous murmur runs through the watching crowd. She expected someone to challenge her leadership, but apparently her certainty contrasts so strongly with their fear that they’re unable to face her. Good.

“For now, we can focus on building our new home. The Trikru have promised help and supplies that we will pay back in time, just like we’ll pay them back for letting us live on their land. The first step in that is taking on the Mountain that’s victimised all of our people, but it isn’t the last. Remember everything they’ve done for us and everything they’ve given us. Be grateful for what we now have – this new and beautiful world – but remember we aren’t the owners of it. If there are any problems, come speak to me about them. If you want to find someone, we have lists of what station different people were on and we know what happened to nearly everyone. Any of the 100 who are still in Polis but wish to come here will be brought in the next few weeks, and in the meantime we have a radio if you need to speak to them. Right now, our people are divided between a few different places, but most of us are here. Most of us have survived. We will keep surviving. And we will build a home.”

“And one last thing,” she adds after a pause, and the brief hum of conversation dies down again. “I know I’m a few days late, but I just wanted to say – welcome to Arkadia!”

Chapter Text

“What do you plan to do with the guns once they have been retrieved?” Lexa asks Clarke. “The gona should return with the barrels tomorrow, as ordered. Do you plan to just give them out among the population?”

“No, just the opposite, actually,” Clarke says firmly. “I think we should remove the bullets from them. I mean, me, Octavia, Wells, and some Arkadia volunteers can do the actual removing – I’m not asking Trikru to touch the guns. We’ll take the bullets out and store them here, then put nearly all of the guns back in the grease barrels they were in and send them to Polis – we can use the trip to escort any of the 100 who want to live in Arkadia back here as well. But anyway, if we make sure they’re not loaded, no one in Polis will be able to use them since they won’t have ammo, and a limited number of people here will be able to have guns. Specifically, I think only the people who volunteer against the Mountain, and even then we only let them have the guns for practice sessions and for the actual assault.”

Lexa raises her eyebrows. “I see,” she says.

“I want to keep track of every single gun and know where it is at every moment,” Clarke continues fiercely. “Afterwards, we’ll send those to Polis too, and in future we’ll only receive extra guns by directly applying to you in times of warfare or if we need more protection. Once the Mountain falls, I don’t want Arkadia to be armed to the teeth, that’s just asking for trouble. Frankly, I’m debating whether I should get most of the guard’s guns and send them to Polis as well.”

“It would ease my mind to know your people are not so heavily armed,” Lexa admits. “It is certainly a good idea to keep track of them. Unlike swords, knives, even bows, guns can kill too many too quickly for my people to be safe while yours have them – I think that was proved by both Finn and Pike in the other world.” Of course, it was also proven by Titus that her people should not have guns either, so it is a good idea to keep the ammo separate. It’s not surprising Clarke no longer wants guns to be so prevalent given so many terrible events they have experienced were caused by them. “What will your people make of this plan?”

“I’m thinking of telling them that it’s to keep the guns from Mount Weather,” Clarke says. “That could work. Alternatively, I guess I could say we’re continuing on with the gun control we had on the Ark. Or if I have to, I’ll tell them that the alliance doesn’t allow guns, but I’d prefer not to make you the bad guy taking away their shiny new toys if I can help it.”

A trip to Polis is not a bad idea. She can send Zion and his Azgeda gona with orders to speak to the ambassadors. If Indra goes as well, she is respected enough that they will definitely listen to Lexa’s relayed commands not to attack the Azgeda yet. Taking out Nia will be a delicate operation – she would prefer something closer to assassination than outright war, as most of the Azgeda are blameless in this. Lexa is beginning to plan her attacks to better accommodate jus nou drein jus daun, she realises, surprised.

“How is Finn?” Lexa asks, after a moment’s contemplation.

Clarke sighs. “Dealing. Putting on a brave face for Raven and Wells, I think. He jokes that he must look like a seer with the bandage around his head, pretends the injections for the pain are making him high, says now that he’s a blind artist every girl in Arkadia will swoon when he walks by. So on the surface, he acts fine. But I know he’s in pain and having real trouble with it all.”

It is strange to Lexa to think that now she will never need to worry about Finn shooting her people. This is not how she wished for that risk to be removed. She does not consider Finn a friend as she does Wells or Raven, but because they and Clarke care about him she cares also.

She can see Arkadia growing, even in the few days they have been here. The clearing is increasing in size as trees are cut down and small hut-like homes are constructed, replacing the tents they dwell in now. The Skaikru have never really worked with wood before, but with aid from the gona gathered here, they are learning how to make functional (if unattractive) buildings. One of the first buildings created has been a sort of hospital – really just one large room presided over by Jackson – and Finn remains there for now.

“Heda,” Anya says loudly from outside the tent. She used to enter without announcing herself first, but there was an incident yesterday that has stopped her from continuing that practice. Lexa has decided the incident was entirely Clarke’s fault, as Anya never walked in on such things before Clarke entered her life.

“Come in, Anya,” Lexa says.

“The gona from TonDC are here,” Anya announces. “Including the Skaiskat who stayed with them. They have information about the Mountain. They believe they have found another way to enter.”

Lexa stands up and goes to see. Indra waits outside with a dozen or so representatives – most are strong gona, but there is also John from the drop ship attack and a young Seken who looks scared just to be near his Heda. “What news do you have?” she asks, trying not to sound too eager. This information they badly need.

“At first there was not much movement,” one of the gona says. “Then a day after you left, John kom Skaikru and Artigas saw something.” He pushes the young Seken forward casually.

Artigas swallows hard. “We went closer than the others,” he says in a rush. “John and I.”

Clarke gives John a look. “I thought I told you to stay away from Mount Weather,” she comments.

He gives her a rueful look, which looks strange on his thin and angry face. “Yeah. But I was a criminal, I’m not that great at following orders. And I did survive.”

“And we found a door,” Artigas says, his words still eager and quick. “The day after you left, Heda, they opened this small metal door at the top and pushed out a girl. We were as close as we could get without being taken and we could still barely see it. The door did not look very strong, or well-guarded.”

“We lost five gona watching the place, but none from that area,” another gona says. “Three from near the dam, and two from near the Ripa tunnels, both which seem to have many more Maunon and Ripa than is usual. We lost none from the front – they do not seem to guard the front door so heavily.”

“They don’t need to,” Clarke says dryly. “When you have an impenetrable door, guards aren’t really necessary.”

“Two days after you left, ten men came out of the Mountain,” the gona continues. “They went north. We attempted to use the radio to contact you, but could not make it work. We could not contact Polis either.”

“Mount Weather was in the way,” Clarke explains. “It wasn’t a problem with the radio, it’s just sometimes Mount Weather can block radio signals between places, and they must have boosted that to cover TonDC as well.”

“Were the Maunon wearing suits?” Lexa asks, already sure of the answer.

“No, Heda,” the gona says. “We attempted to send messengers to find you but none returned. Eventually the Maunon came back, then left again with many of their vehicles. We could not see what they contained. Moba, Heda, but we did not see them until they were already close enough to the Mountain that we could not have attacked in time.” So that is how they brought the Skaikru back with them.

They might not have attacked anyway, Lexa thinks. Her people have feared the Mountain for so long that they flinch at the thought of fighting back. The Maunon take advantage of this when they roam the countryside. “And after that?” she asks, voice crisp.

“Lots more people came in and out of Mount Weather, all armed,” John says. “They increased the number of guards around the place, too. I’m not sure why because it’s pretty obvious they’ve already got a bunch of technological crap around to detect people, but they seem pretty freaked.”

“Because we could knock out some of the ‘technological crap’ if we really wanted to, and they know it,” Clarke says flatly, “Having a bunch of guards just standing around is their way of making it clear they won’t hesitate to come out and kill us if we try that.”

“Or maybe they just wish to feel the sunlight,” Lexa says softly. It’s nightmarish, to her, the idea of being locked away as the Maunon are. As the Skaikru were, up in their station. As Clarke and the others were in their cells. She believes that she would do almost anything to escape such a fate, but that ‘almost anything’ does not include draining innocent people dry for it. She can pity the Maunon. She cannot absolve them. “Well, we know what we need to. We should see Raven kom Skaikru, get her opinion.” She glances at Anya and Indra, indicating with her eyes they should follow.

“John, come with us,” Clarke orders, “She may have questions about the door.”

“Of course she will,” John says, rolling his eyes. “I met her in TonDC, remember. That chick has nothing but questions.”

They are lucky to find Raven in the tent she has been using as a place to construct, instead of at the makeshift hospital with Finn. It must be Wells’ shift – Lexa has gathered from Clarke that Raven and Wells ensure that one of them is with Finn at all times. Personally, that would aggravate her, but perhaps Finn prefers to have his friends nearby constantly.

Sinclair runs into them as they enter, coming face to face with them at the tent flap, and visibly hesitates to leave. He has been working with Raven since they arrived here, though he seems to provide a sounding board and practical help more than the leadership role Lexa expected him to assume. He treats Raven like a doting parent or ticha, coaxing her towards answers instead of providing them, helping without taking over. Lexa thinks he is probably an intelligent and useful person, but one without Raven’s brilliance.

Clarke tells him quietly that it is Raven they wish to see, and that she knows he has a lot to do. Lexa’s not sure if that is because Clarke thinks Raven will have all the answers she needs, or if Clarke is simply unwilling to trust any Ark authority after all of the negative experiences she has had with them. Lexa herself feels more comfortable without him there – and judging by his slight exhale and quickened pace as he leaves, he feels the same about her, Indra and Anya. They are building familiarity between Skaikru and Trikru, but true trust and integration will take time.

Anya does not greet Raven as they enter or meet the girl’s eyes, preferring to look at the tent’s ceiling. Lexa knows that her former Fos is embarrassed by the emotion she showed for the girl before, and ashamed of her jealousy and hurt at the sky girl’s return to her boy, and is trying not to show any more of her feelings in Raven’s presence. Anya doesn’t say anything as Lexa and Clarke explain to Raven the situation at present. As they tell her that it seems most of the Mountain Men are no longer vulnerable to radiation, but they have a potential doorway in.

“There’ll be all kinds of electronic sensors, though,” Clarke says. “I was wondering, could you use the EMP you were working on to knock those out?”

“Some of them,” Raven says. “Not all, though – it would only knock out what’s in its radius, which is maybe fifty feet in every direction. So if there are cameras, it will kill them easily.”

“We should be able to clear the area and enter through the door then,” Lexa says. “That is more than enough space for forty or fifty of us to easily slip through. Then Raven could blow up the door and we could enter through there.”

“There would be no point in using the EMP for that,” Raven says flatly. “Like I said, it will take out the cameras. But the systems running those cameras and sensors will be below the ground, in some kind of central control station. Unless you could somehow take those out, the second any of the ones outside go offline, Mount Weather will know. And it will be pretty obvious to them that the place which has just gone dark is where their attackers are. At that point, you may as well run through setting off the sensors, it would have the same effect.”

“Could you make more of them?” Anya asks, finally looking at Raven. Lexa knows this is the first time she’s been in the same room as the girl since they all reached here. Even on the way to the new Arkadia, Anya managed to keep herself busy enough to avoid much conversation with Raven, to the girl’s evident confusion and annoyance. “If we removed the sensors all around the mountain, in ten locations, for example, then they would not know where we attacked from.”

Raven shakes her head. “I only found the parts of one. That’s why I was so excited by it, they’re not exactly common.”

“If you know how it works, though -” Anya starts, looking down her nose at Raven.

“Not unless you have another nine explosively pumped flux compression generators,” Raven says, annoyed. “I wouldn’t expect there to be many around, though, because they’re one use only. They generate a single pulse and then they’re dead.”

“Can’t you make anything that doesn’t explode?” Clarke says to Raven jokingly, blatantly trying to lighten the atmosphere. Raven and Anya are now glaring at each other.

Raven blinks and looks away from Anya. “Guess not. They don’t explode violently, though. Or at least this one won’t. It will just make a little noise. But it will burn up the bit at the centre.”

“You really can’t make any more? Or pump this one up so it covers a wider area?”

“I could make a few littler ones, maybe, if we found a lot more useful parts,” Raven says with a shrug. “But you’d be lucky if they covered a couple of feet in diameter. If you’re looking for a bigger area, the biggest ones are caused by nuclear explosives, lightning, or sometimes electricity shorting out if you get lucky. I might be able to do the last one but it would be very iffy and unless they’re very sensitive I don’t think it would take any of the stuff down for more than a few seconds, so there wouldn’t be much point unless one of you is the Flash and no one told me.” She looks around. “The Flash? It was this… you know, never mind. My point is, EMPs are probably not the answer here.”

Lexa looks at Clarke. “I suppose we cannot surprise them like this, then,” she remarks. “We will have to come up with something else. Or hope we can blow the door and enter before too many Maunon get to us.”

Clarke gives a bleak smile. They both know that plan is suicidal.

Chapter Text

“How the hell are you doing that so quickly?” Octavia wonders out loud.

Open gun. Remove bullet clips. It’s not that hard, when you have prior experience with the guns. Of course, Octavia doesn’t.

“Look on the bright side,” Finn says from where he’s slumped in the corner. “You’re getting through them faster than me.” He raises his cup mockingly and drinks from it. From the smell, Clarke suspects it contains vodka. She wonders where he got it, and if he should really be mixing it with whatever pain medication he’s on.

It’s a bad joke. But then, considering how much pain he’s in and that he can’t see, it’s pretty impressive he’s joking at all right now.

“Clarke has always had very clever hands,” Wells says calmly, working through the guns methodically and carefully.

Octavia snorts. “Oh, I bet she does.” She winks suggestively at Clarke. Lincoln, standing guard by the door, smiles slightly at his girlfriend.

“To draw so well, I meant!” Wells says hastily, face reddening slightly. “I meant to draw well. Not… whatever you were talking about.”

“I’m sure someday you’ll understand what I was talking about,” Octavia says in mock sympathy, still struggling to get the clip out of the gun she’s on.

“Maybe you should stop making fun of me and just concentrate on your own weapon,” Wells says, giving her an annoyed look.

“That’s what she said,” Finn says, taking another large gulp out of his cup of liquor, and letting out a sour laugh. It’s an even worse joke.

There are fifteen people working to get the bullets out of most of the guns right now. There were twenty earlier, but some had to go do other jobs. There’s no way anyone could take a gun – they’re not exactly small and Lincoln’s at the door – but occasionally when there’s a noise Clarke’s head snaps up anyway, and for just a second she thinks someone’s about to shoot up the room. She wonders if that reaction will ever stop happening.

“Maybe the reason I’m so bad at this is because I’m actually Trikru and shouldn’t be touching a gun,” Octavia says thoughtfully.

“Maybe you’d be better at it if you stopped squirming in your seat and deliberately annoying everyone else,” Clarke suggests dryly. Octavia’s not too thrilled she’s missing practice for something so boring, but Indra had told her it would be a good opportunity to practice her meditation – which Clarke thinks is code for ‘stop bothering me’.

Octavia sticks her tongue out at Clarke.

“So do you know who’s coming back to Arkadia and who’s staying in Polis?” Wells asks, diplomatically changing the subject. He picks up another gun and opens it to remove the bullets, adding the clip to his pile – the biggest pile out of all of theirs, even Clarke’s, because he’s been sitting here the longest. Then he puts the gun in an empty barrel – well, empty except of grease, anyway.

“We have thirty-one people returning permanently to Arkadia, including Monty and Jasper,” Clarke says. “According to Bellamy, anyway. Eleven more who would like to come back briefly to visit their families but want to continue living in Polis after that – we haven’t worked out yet what we’ll do if their families want to go with them, that’s something I’ll have to discuss with Lexa if it happens. Everyone else is apparently pretty settled by now.”

“No more thefts?” Wells asks.

“Two minor crimes,” Clarke says. “Bellamy ensured they got the necessary punishment, from the sound of it he’s actually doing pretty well at this. Monty told me his students and their families adore him.”

“All of the Skaikru Sekens are going to be so jealous when we get back,” Octavia says cheerfully. “While they’ve been stuck protecting Polis from nothing at all, I’ve been in actual battle -” She breaks off, apparently remembering what that battle was and what happened in it, and casts an apologetic look at Finn that he can’t see. “I mean, unless we stay in TonDC. That is Indra’s home I guess. But I overheard her the other day talking to Anya and we might end up going to Polis to manage some things after the Mountain’s dealt with, since that Titus guy might not be coming back. She and Anya are arguing over who should go do his job.”

“He’s the Fleimkepa,” Clarke says, quietly marvelling at how casually certain Octavia is about the Mountain being ‘dealt with’. “Indra could take over his job helping to protect Polis, punish criminals there, and train the Natblida in combat, but she can’t exactly do his religious duties. If Nia’s killed Titus we’re going to have a serious problem.” She sighs. “Lexa thinks she’ll probably try and trade him back for some kind of mercy, though. Or it’s possible Gustus got them out in time, since we know he was suspicious about Nia. We just don’t know enough.” ‘We just don’t know enough’ feels like it’s become Clarke’s motto, lately, which is ironic considering that out of her people she knows the most about what’s going on.

“For that matter, ‘after the Mountain’s dealt with’ is hardly going to be the end of our problems,” Wells points out. “There’s the Ice Queen. Diana Sydney. Setting up this place properly.” He sighs.

“Maybe we could attack the Mountain from all sides,” Octavia says, switching the subject again and looking at Clarke. “Just start taking out all the cameras and sensors from every direction, wipe them all out. Then they won’t know how to respond.”

Clarke shakes her head. “The only reason using a bunch of EMPs might have worked is because they’re fast, they go off in an instant, and they’d take out all the guards’ communicators as well. It would leave them blind and reeling, and we could use that window of time to get our people inside the Mountain before they could recall theirs and send out the acid fog. If we start attacking one camera at a time they’ll contact all their guards over their walkie-talkies and get them to come in, then just burn us all. If they wanted to be even more straightforward they could even just explode a missile directly above themselves – you don’t need a spotter at that distance.” She opens the gun she’s holding with a little too much force and nearly drops it. “Of course, even EMPs might not work if they just decided to let the guards die, and sent out the fog immediately.”

“Would they do that?” Wells asks, frowning. “Just kill their own people?”

“If they thought they had to, without a doubt,” Clarke says flatly. She puts down the gun she’s working on, suddenly tired. “You just reminded me, I need to go talk to Lexa about something.”

She stands up and stalks off, past Finn, who seems to have fallen asleep. His cup has tipped over.

Lexa is conversing with Anya when she enters the tent they use for strategizing. A map is open on the table, but neither are paying attention to it. “If you do not tell her, of course she will not know,” Lexa is saying bluntly. “Just as you do not know if she -”

Anya makes a hushing noise and Lexa breaks off, turning to see Clarke. “Hei, Clarke,” Lexa says softly.

“Hei, Lexa,” Clarke says, smiling at her. Since Anya’s the only other person in the tent, she leans in and kisses Lexa lightly.

“You two disgust me,” Anya informs them. “The other day was bad enough, but this? Please remember I am present.” She turns and leaves.

“Just wanted you to know we’re nearly finished with the guns,” Clarke tells Lexa.

“Good,” Lexa says, looking relieved. “Indra and the Azgeda are ready to go on your command. I will feel better when the guns are in Polis.”

“Except thirty of them,” Clarke says. “Actually, wait, make that twenty. We can get the other ten from the guards’ guns. I can’t see any situation in which having more than thirty people with guns gives us a noticeable advantage, not against Mount Weather.”

“No,” Lexa sighs. “I suppose not. Bullets cannot harm the outside, and that is the part we are having problems with. Once we figure out how to get inside a relatively small force could easily take the place, from what you have told me.”

“A small force with Raven to blow through some doors and Monty to hack through others, yeah,” Clarke says. They’ve gone over this so many times and they still don’t have anything. “Not many of the Maunon have any experience with fighting or have guns. The people will be the easiest part. It’s everything else that’s the problem.”

“Could we blow the river somewhere higher, change its course?” Lexa says doubtfully, turning her head to study the map. “Remove their water supply entirely? That would force them all out, at least.”

“And completely change the topography and ecosystem of the region,” Clarke says. “We don’t know a safe way to change the course of the biggest supply of clean water in the area. Whole villages might be washed away, plants and animals would die, hills would be eroded, and there’s a pretty decent chance if it goes through the wrong area we’ll end up poisoning the water supply.” She takes Lexa’s hand and kisses it anyway, grateful that they’re still able to come up with new ideas even if those ideas aren’t workable.

“We will figure this out, Clarke,” Lexa promises quietly. Then she sighs. “Perhaps we should not have waited for your people to join us. If we had gotten Raven working on bombs instead of radios, perhaps we could have killed the Maunon with radiation before they became immune.”

“That might have worked if Emerson hadn’t remembered,” Clarke allows. “But since he did, trying to do anything the same way as last time would have just gotten us all killed. From the sound of it the generators are being guarded pretty heavily.”

“Trying to come up with a strategy is making my head ache,” Lexa admits.

Clarke kisses her again, pressing enthusiastically against her until Lexa takes a step back from the onslaught and lets out a little noise of pleasure. “Is this helping?” she asks teasingly.

“I don’t know,” Lexa says, but her eyes brighten a little.

“Mm-hmm. How about now?” Clarke rests her hand on Lexa’s hips and pushes her back even more until Lexa’s half-sitting on the table. Clarke shoves the map out of the way. She kisses Lexa’s collarbone and works her way up the side of the other girl’s neck in short, sweet kisses.

“It is hard to tell,” Lexa says, sounding breathless. “You should keep trying, just in case.”

Clarke lifts her so that Lexa is sitting entirely on the table, and runs her hands to rest on Lexa’s knees, pushing them apart so she can stand between. “Good idea,” she says, and cups Lexa’s head to hold her in a deeper, more passionate kiss. Lexa moans into it, and when Clarke pulls back a little she follows Clarke’s mouth with her own, continuing the kiss. Clarke bites lightly at Lexa’s lower lip and runs her right hand up Lexa’s leg, and Lexa wraps them around her waist tightly.

“I’m not sure,” Lexa gasps after a while, letting out a little whimper and bucking herself towards Clarke’s questing fingers. “Not sure… that this… is helping me to think, ai niron.” She flashes Clarke a smile anyway, which fades as she lets out another moan, tossing her head.

“You think too much anyway,” Clarke says huskily, and then they say nothing at all.

Chapter Text

“Anya? What is it you wished to -” Lexa breaks off in mild surprise as she enters the tent. Instead of just containing Anya, her strategy tent has Wells and Raven in it as well. She hasn’t seen Raven and Anya share the same space for a while now, and Wells and Raven have been taking turns spending time with Finn, so to see them all in one place is unusual. “Tris said you needed to speak to me, Anya.”

“I do, Heda,” Anya says, unusually hesitant. “We all do.”

Clarke enters after Lexa, also looking confused. “What’s going on? One of the Sekens called me out of a meeting with Cole, Jay and Fuji, saying it was important. Is Indra back?”

“Not yet,” Anya says. “She should be soon, though.”

Clarke blinks, noticing Wells and Raven. “If you’re both here, who’s with Finn?”

“Finn’s busy learning braille. He asked us for some alone time,” Wells says diplomatically.

Raven snorts. “I think his exact words were ‘stop hovering, you’re driving me insane’,” she says, hiding her hurt with a mask of insouciance. “But anyway, that’s given us the perfect opportunity to talk to you without him around. I don’t wanna give him any more to worry about.”

“What’s the matter?” Clarke looks concerned.

“Is there news about the Maunon?” Lexa asks, keeping calm. “The radio Clarke broke?”

“That’s working, I’m pretty sure, but we’re too far away to pick up their signals,” Raven says. “No. This is about you two.”

There’s a pause, and Clarke says, “Is this an intervention?” She crosses her arms casually and raises her eyebrows, looking amused.

Wells clears his throat. “Something like that,” he allows. “All three of us have noticed that the two of you seem… different. Well, to be more accurate, I noticed you seemed different, Anya noticed Lexa seemed different, and Raven -”

“I just noticed something super-weird was going on,” Raven interrupts helpfully. “I overheard some stuff. I mean, it takes me a while to wake up, but even I can’t sleep through swordfights and interrogations. I was half-asleep, but what I heard … I wanted to figure out what was going on but I also didn’t want you to think I was accusing you of anything. So I just decided to wait and listen. After that I just kept noticing all the stuff it seemed kinda strange that you knew. Little things, but they added up.”

“I was there when Octavia started making those accusations,” Wells continues, eyes steady on Clarke, who has gone very still. “I saw how you reacted. You’re a good liar, but I’ve been there since the first time we broke a vase, Clarke, I know when something’s going on. Octavia wasn’t right, but she wasn’t entirely wrong either. Before then I just thought your time in solitary had changed you. But it’s not that, is it?”

“When I noticed the difference in you I also dismissed it as unimportant, yongon,” Anya says, still hesitant, but meeting Lexa’s gaze anyway. “But that does not mean I did not notice it. I wondered why the change in you began before you met Clarke kom Skaikru, yet seemed like you fitted with her exactly because of that change. When I saw you with her for the first time… I wondered if somehow you had met before. But it did not seem possible.”

“Listen, guys -” Clarke begins.

“I decided I needed to talk to you guys after I realised you knew the place the gorilla was at and Lexa knew what Arkadia would end up being called,” Raven continues, talking quickly, apparently unable to stop herself spilling everything. “That’s when I decided I had absolutely no clue what was going on, and I wanted to get Anya’s opinion before I spoke to you, since I knew she thought something was weird too. But she’s been avoiding me -” She shoots Anya a glare that Anya ignores, “- so I talked it through with Wells instead a few days back. Then cornered Anya today to say we were gonna have a talk with you. And here we are. Talking with you.”

Lexa looks at Clarke, trying to judge what she’s thinking.

“We want to make it clear,” Wells adds firmly, “This isn’t us pressuring you to tell us anything. I trust both of you, and if you think we shouldn’t know about whatever’s going on, then I trust your judgement.”

“We’re just saying that if you had something you wanted to tell us,” Raven says, still speaking at double her normal speed, not giving Lexa time to speak. “Even if it sounds completely batshit – well, we’re your friends. We’ll listen.”

“I will follow you as I have always done, Heda,” Anya says firmly, “Regardless of whether you -”

Lexa raises a hand slowly in silent command and Anya stops speaking. She’s heard enough, and can see in Clarke’s face that they have reached the same conclusion.

She thinks this is why she has come to care for them, come to consider them friends. They are not demanding an explanation or pressuring them into saying anything they might not be comfortable sharing. What Anya, Wells, and Raven are telling them is that they are here for them. They are here to support them. They are here if Clarke and Lexa wish to confide in them. She feels a surge of warmth and affection towards them, and she has to fight to keep her expression neutral.

“We moved in time,” Lexa says bluntly.

Raven is the first to respond. “You… what?”

“We call it ‘the first world’, or ‘the original world’, or ‘the other world’, when we speak of it,” Lexa continues, ignoring Raven’s shock. “In the first world, Anya attacked the 100. I stayed in Polis at that time. Events happened differently as a result.”

“I remember falling to the earth the first time,” Clarke says grimly, “Watching it come closer. Finn undid his seatbelt and floated over to me. Two boys copied him and they died.”

“A couple of people went to do that,” Wells says slowly. “But when you passed out it distracted everyone, and they didn’t.”

“A great many things happened in that world that did not happen in this one,” Lexa says. “It would take some time to explain them all. And many events no longer matter, now, with what we have changed. This world is so different from the other world.”

“That’s not possible,” Raven says, stress in her voice. She starts to pace back and forth, then stops and throws up her hand. “I mean, time travel? Maybe it was a shared hallucination. Or, I don’t know, some kind of… I don’t know. I’m a mechanic, this isn’t exactly my area!”

“So it was another life,” Anya says, relatively unmoved, but still not totally calm. “You have already lived many lives, as Heda. This is merely one more.”

“I died before Clarke’s actions moved us back to when she first fell,” Lexa tells her. “It is due to her we are back, not due to me.”

“Right,” Raven says, still looking stunned. “In the tent. You guys kept talking about how Lexa died once. I remember that. Most of what you said is a blur, but I do remember that. But this is insane, guys. I mean, how would this even happen?”

“You died?” Anya asks, looking stunned, then thoughtful. “I see. So your spirit refused to move to the next Heda and came back to you instead. That must explain it. What would time mean to a spirit? It could go where it wished.”

“You know that is not how the spirit works,” Lexa says gently, touching the back of her neck where the spirit sits.

“We do not know how the spirit works, not completely. You have done more than any other Commander,” Anya says, stubborn as always. “If the spirit would defy time for anyone, it would be for you.”

“Wait, you said ‘Clarke’s actions’,” Wells says, trying to keep up. He looks shocked, but is managing to stay calm anyway. “What did you do? What do you think caused this?”

“Lightning,” Clarke flushes slightly as she says it, as if realising it sounds ridiculous. “I went to the top of the tower in Polis and lightning hit me. Then I was back.”

“Lightning couldn’t do that,” Raven says, but her voice is fainter now and she sounds less sure. “That’s not how lightning works.”

“Well, it looked like lightning. That’s all I know,” Clarke says dryly. “If you work out a scientific theory for why I remember months on the ground that I’m now living again, let me know. And it wasn’t just memories, either – the drop ship was mostly destroyed, now it’s back. So is the Mountain. Everyone who was dead there is alive again -” she breaks off, looking away.

Wells has been studying her face. “Like me, you mean,” he supplies, voice too calm. “That’s why you were so protective of me at first. And also why you didn’t tell me about all of this. Because in your memories, I’m dead. I’m right, aren’t I?”

Clarke reaches forward, takes his hand and squeezes it for a second. “But not here,” she says fiercely, “You’re not dead here.”

“In your last life, was my fight also over?” Anya asks Lexa.

Lexa swallows. “Sha. Yu gonplei don ste odon. ” She bows her head slightly. “You died well, escaping the Maunon with Clarke, bringing a message to me. She brought me your braid to remember you by.”

“So is that my fate, then?” Anya’s face is hard. “Am I to die against the Mountain once more?”

“If that is your fate, then it is my fate to die as well,” Lexa points out reasonably. “I choose to believe we can change that. That we have already changed that.”

“Crap, were we all dead?” Raven asks. She starts pacing again. “Was I dead?”

“No, you were alive, as far as I know,” Clarke says.

“The Mountain. Did the Mountain fall?” Anya takes out her knife and starts playing with it in quick, agitated movements. She cuts herself accidentally – something Lexa’s sure she has not done in years – and hisses, shoving the knife away into its sheath again.

Lexa’s quite impressed they have all accepted this so quickly, despite their clear anxiety. “The Mountain fell.”

“Then it will fall again,” Anya says, letting out a sigh of relief, relaxing slightly at this sign of good news, “Now that you may be open with your knowledge -”

“We can’t do the same things again,” Clarke says uncomfortably.

“Why not?” Raven asks. “If we know how to get in already -”

“They have guards on the entry we used last time,” Clarke says wearily. “All of the entries we used, in fact. And they’re prepared for anything we could try. One of them remembers as well. His name’s Emerson.”

“Why does he remember too?” Raven asks. She rakes her fingers through her hair, clearly frustrated and overwhelmed. “Who else remembers?”

“He’s the only other one, as far as we know,” Clarke says cautiously. “We told Octavia about what’s going on, and she’s passed it on to Lincoln, but we think that only the three of us actually remember.”

“You trusted Octavia more than me?” Wells says, looking offended for the first time.

“She didn’t give us much choice!”

“Right, but why do you remember? That’s what I don’t get.” Raven asks, ignoring Clarke and Wells’ digression.

“We think it is about the blood Clarke had on her at the time,” Lexa states. “She may have had the blood of the last Maunon on her skin as well as my blood.”

“The last Maunon?” Wells looks surprised. “You took out everyone, the whole place?” He stares at Lexa, eyes wide. “Huh.”

“That was me, actually,” Clarke says, sounding tired.

“You blew up a whole mountain,” Raven says disbelievingly. She gives a nervous smile. “Did I help, at least? I’d like to think I helped. Blowing shit up is kind of my thing.” The lame joke falls flat, though Anya snorts.

“No, I didn’t blow anything up, I just killed them all. I irradiated the whole place,” Clarke winces at her own words, curling into herself a little. “Emerson was the only one left. He blew the place up months later in revenge, with Farm Station inside it. He hates our people and he especially hates me for what I did last time. For killing them all. The Grounders called me Wanheda after that – Commander of Death.”

There’s a long, shocked silence, and then Wells takes three steps forward and hugs Clarke firmly. “Hey, it’s okay,” he says. “I know you, Clarke. You’re a good person. I know whatever you did, you didn’t have a choice.”

“I did, though,” she says softly. “I had a choice. I chose my people. And I’d choose the same again.” She disentangles from him and comes to stand beside Lexa again, a united front . Lexa places a hand on her shoulder comfortingly. “That’s what we’re doing now, after all. I’m sure he thinks that’s what he’s doing as well. Killing us before we can kill his family again.”

“We have a family as well, a people,” Lexa says firmly. “And we did not build ours by bleeding others dry, by drugging them into becoming monstrosities, by blinding and burning people with deadly fog, by sucking out their bones as they scream. Clarke saved thousands of our people in the first world by acting as she did.”

Clarke manages to smile at Lexa, and kisses her cheek softly with cool lips. “Mochof,” she whispers. She takes Lexa’s hand in her own cold one, and Lexa lifts it up to chafe it with her other hand, trying to get some warmth back into it. Clarke’s memories of the Mountain are dark ones, but Lexa hopes someday she will learn to see her actions there as Lexa sees them – the act of a brave leader doing what is necessary.

“Heda,” a frantic voice comes from outside, “Clarke, Heda, you there?”

Lexa frowns. “Enter, Octavia.” So Indra and her Seken have returned, presumably with the members of the 100 who wish to live in Arkadia. She wonders how Zion and the nine other Azgeda are doing – the ambassadors will be shocked to hear that Nia has become a natrona and allied with the Maunon. The Azgeda ambassador in particular will have to be watched, in case he plans to report back to his queen.

Octavia bursts in. “You’re not going to believe who’s with us,” she says triumphantly. Despite her success at the physical aspects of being a Seken, she has yet to manage all of the reserve and sense of ceremony the other Sekens possess . “It’s Kane! He was in Polis!”

Clarke starts to smile properly.

Octavia takes a deep breath, grinning. “And he brought a nuke!”

Chapter Text

“So you fell from space in it,” Clarke says, “And bringing it with you seemed like the next logical step?” She can’t suppress a smile at the absurdity.

Kane shrugs. He’s leaner than she remembers, and a little more tanned, but otherwise about the same. Apparently he fell not far from the ocean and the Boat People were very helpful and kind. He’s already learnt some Trigedasleng and seems to have made friends with half the Trikru who escorted him here. She’s glad to see him like this, glad that he’s the good person she remembers him being underneath all that stiffness. “The other option was leaving a nuclear device in the middle of nowhere. I was a little concerned about bringing it back here as well, but I thought that we would be more likely to know how to disable it completely than the Floudonkru.” He sets down the cup he’s been drinking from and tilts his head slightly, studying her. “So the Chancellor and your mother…”

“Like I said. They might be alive.” Her smile dwindles though. ‘Might be’ isn’t ‘definitely’. Her mother has much better odds than Jaha, though – Emerson will want to kill her family in front of her, she thinks. Besides, Jaha won’t be nearly as useful to them. Except that he’s spent time with Clarke and Lexa recently, unlike Alpha Station. Maybe Emerson will assume Jaha knows their plans. It’s possible.

“And you’ve taken charge until they come back,” he says carefully.

“Yes, I have,” she meets his eyes, wondering if he will react like Jaha.

He rubs the slight beard he’s grown. “All right,” he says finally. “If you need any advice, I’m here.”

“You’re not going to say how young I am?” Clarke raises her brows at him in challenge.

“I assume you already know that. You were taking charge before we came down, I did notice that. And the truth is…” he hesitates, then forges on. “The truth is, lately us ‘adults’ have done a pretty poor job.” He gives her a wry smile. “Sending children down to die, nearly executing hundreds of people, and according to what you said letting Diana Sydney take off with weapons and supplies. I’m sorry that you’ve taken charge, but that’s because I know how hard it is, not because I don’t think you know what you’re doing.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Clarke admits quietly, compelled to honesty by his bizarre faith in her. He seems to have softened even more than he did last time. She remembers thinking in the old world that spending time with the Trikru – people he had no authority over and therefore no responsibility to enforce the law with – was good for him, making him calmer and more reasonable. It seems like in this world spending a while with the Floudonkru has been even better.

“Then you’re doing it very well,” Kane says. “Did you know the gona already have stories about you? They’re very poetic. Hair like the sun, eyes like the sky, all of that. They say you flew down from the stars and saved the Commander’s life. That you’ve met the Maunon and survived. When we were leaving, there was already a new one starting about how you and the Commander were attacked by a hundred Maunon and a thousand Ripa and escaped anyway.”

Clarke blinks. “Why would they – I haven’t done anything, really, it’s mostly been Lexa. Some of it together, but I assumed they would give the credit for everything to her.”

Kane shrugs. “From what they told me, the Commander is a legend, a visionary. They see her as more than human, supernatural, nearly. But she doesn’t trust many people. Despite that, she gave you authority over her people straight away and takes you everywhere with her, which already made you a mysterious figure to them. Since you also came from space and have apparently decided to declare war on the most powerful and vicious faction in this whole place, a certain degree of renown should probably be expected.”

Clarke wonders if she was talked about like that in the last world before the Mountain. She never had the chance to talk to many people apart from the gona she fought with – they certainly hadn’t travelled around as much as they have this time. Maybe it’s not surprising that running around the country collecting people from space stations is making her noticeable. Not as infamous as destroying Mount Weather made her, of course, but still noticeable.

“Clarke,” Kane says, “For what it’s worth, no one knows what they’re doing. If you need any help, I’m here. And if you decide you don’t want to have to deal with all of this, I think Cole could probably do a decent job as interim Chancellor.”

“So could you,” Clarke says honestly.

“I used to think so,” Kane says, voice soft. “I don’t anymore. I’m not the kind of leader our people need.” He gives a slightly bleaker smile. “I’m not exactly inspirational, Clarke. I’m the man who almost killed three hundred people, and I’ll have to see the looks they give me every day. When I was up in the Ark waiting to die I realised I was never very good when I tried to lead. But I can be a useful assistant – I know how to do everything by the book.”

“Thank you,” she says to him, not sure how to reply. Inwardly, she thinks that his attitude makes him exactly the leader their people need. She clears her throat. “Listen. I need to go check what’s happening with the missile you brought. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

He nods, and lifts his cup to take another sip out of it.

Raven swings around to glare the second Clarke enters the room. “So Octavia told me you wanted me to take apart the nuke,” she says flatly.

“Not completely,” Clarke says, well aware that it’s probably not a helpful response.

Raven sighs and rubs her forehead. “Clarke. You’re one of my closest friends and I love you, and your ideas are brilliant, but can I just say… I hate your plans. Not the whole plans, just the bit where they kinda inevitably turn into ‘oh we’ll need to enter a hostile nation.’ ‘Oh there’ll be assassins.’ ‘Oh we have to take out the Ice Nation army.’ ‘Oh let’s run towards the giant mutated gorilla’ -”

“To be fair, that one was Lexa’s idea,” Clarke objects.

“That’s nice, proof that you really are meant for each other,” Raven deadpans. “My point is… can your next plan not involve ‘oh let’s start peeling layers off a nuclear missile and see what happens’?”

“I promise my next plan won’t involve that,” Clarke says. “Just this one. So how’s it going?”

Raven rolls her eyes. “Fine. On a scale of one to ten, where one is ‘still alive’ and ten is ‘mushroom cloud’, I think it’s going very well.”

“It’s only the outer layer,” Clarke says persuasively. “Just the bits which, you know, tell people it’s a nuclear missile.”

“You mean the bits that according to the production stamping on the side contain uranium in them, right? I think that’s to help reflect neutrons to make a bigger boom, which sounds just fantastic. Have I done this successfully before?” Raven asks, staring nervously at the missile. “It would actually make me feel a lot better to know I’ve managed to peel a nuclear missile like an onion in another world without us all dying. Because, you know, generally the outer layers of a missile are pretty important.”

“This one crashed from space,” Clarke points out. “I think we can safely assume it’s tough. Which is one reason why we can use it.”

Raven sighs and works in silence for a while, apart from the occasional careful scraping of tools.

Clarke shifts a little nervously. “The outer layers... the uranium… we’re not going to get cancer or something from it, are we?”

“No,” Raven says, “That would be the middle bit that does that, as far as I know. Which I hope I won’t accidentally expose, because prior to giving us cancer it will explode in a fiery ball of death, making the cancer kinda irrelevant.” She flashes Clarke a quick smile. “But hey, no worries.”

“I thought you were just telling me to worry.”

“No, no,” Raven says. “I’ll worry. The truth is, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll explode this, you’re right, these things are designed to be tough, and there are a lot of protective layers. It just makes me nervous to know if I accidentally touch exactly the wrong wire everyone I know and love will die instantaneously.”

“Right,” Clarke says, deciding not to ask any more questions. “I’ll leave you to it then.”

“No!” Raven says. “Actually, wait. I had… a couple of questions. About your first time around.”

“Go for it,” Clarke says. “I’ll answer if I can.”

“So… I was alive.” Raven says, clearly trying to figure out exactly what she wants to know.

“Yes,” Clarke says. “You got shot in the spine, though. You found it hard to walk.”

Raven winces. “Was Finn blind there as well?”

“No,” Clarke says, a little awkwardly. “Actually he was dead. Sorry.”

“Oh,” Raven says with another flinch. “You know, this is turning out to not be very fun.” She sighs. “Was I… with Finn there? Before he died?”

“You weren’t in a relationship with him,” Clarke says, deciding to gloss over the details. “For pretty much the same reason you broke up here, although different circumstances.”

Raven frowns. “Great, so even in alternate universes he’s not any good at staying faithful. That’s depressing.”

“Are you two back together?” Clarke asks curiously.

“No, but I considered it,” Raven admits. “I just… when I saw what happened to him, it just reminded me how much I loved him. How crazy I was about him. How much we needed each other back on the Ark. He gave up everything for me. And it finally seemed like I could return the favour somehow.” She sighs. “But then I couldn’t do it. We broke up for a reason, and that reason hasn’t gone away. He didn’t love me the way I wanted him to, and he wasn’t gonna start loving me that way just through depending on me – that sounds like a shitty relationship anyway. Our break-up was for the best and he agrees. He even suggested we stay apart for a while… thinks I can’t treat him normally anymore because all I see is that he’s different, and we need time to figure out how to be normal exes anyway.” She levers irritably at something on the outside of the missile.

“Maybe he’s right.”

“Oh, I know he’s right. Doesn’t make it any better.” Raven angrily rubs her sleeve over her eyes to wipe away a tear. “And stupid Anya’s not making it any better, since I have two people I care about avoiding me. Though at least I know why Finn’s doing it. I kind of thought Anya and I were friends, but I guess she was just being ordered to guard me for the trip.”

“She wasn’t ordered to by me or Lexa,” Clarke tells her. “She just started doing it on her own.”

“Hmph,” Raven says, but she smiles a little. “Then I wonder what her deal is. Maybe I pissed her off somehow.”

“Give her some more grenades,” Clarke advises her. “I’m pretty sure she’ll forgive anything for those.”

Chapter Text

“We have found thirty-three of them,” Anya tells Lexa. “Thirty where the guns were. Three in the underground place you had Linkon take us to.”

Lexa considers it for a second. She had hoped for more, but expected less. Raven kom Skaikru had assured her gas masks should be easy to find in bomb shelters or any other supply intended to help people to survive an apocalypse, but Lexa had believed most of them had been torn apart years ago for her people to use as battle masks or spare bits. “That will be enough,” she decides.

“It is strange to think that these things will protect us from gas grenades,” Anya says sceptically. “But no stranger than a lot of recent events, I suppose. Thirty-three will cover less than half the group we plan to take, though. I can keep searching – we have time.”

“That is exactly what we do not have,” Lexa says grimly. “Every time we have waited, the Maunon have used the time better than we have. We do not know what they will do next. I am sick of reacting to what they do – running and hiding and creating defensive plans. It is time to strike back.”

“Sha, Heda,” Anya gives her a dark smile. “When do we leave?”

“Within the hour, if we can manage it,” Lexa orders. “The core hundred or so people, anyway. Our reserves can leave hours later if necessary – there is no harm in that.”

Anya nods, and Lexa goes to see Clarke, who is pacing inside the tent. Octavia is standing next to her. Clarke looks up as Lexa enters. “How’s it going?”

“We have thirty-three of the masks you wished for,” Lexa says calmly. “And we have nearly all the other supplies we require for your plan. Of course, we will have to stop by TonDC on the way, but otherwise I believe it is time to go.”

“Okay,” Clarke says with a sigh. “By the way, we’ve sorted something out. Octavia’s volunteered to be the Skaikru representative in the first group.” She frowns, and Lexa can see that Clarke does not like any of this. Her plan is risky, but although it is risky for herself most of all, Lexa knows that is not what worries Clarke.

“Mochof, Octavia,” Lexa inclines her head slightly towards Octavia.

“Are you sure?” Clarke asks Octavia. Judging by Octavia’s eye roll, this isn’t anywhere near the first time Clarke has asked that particular question. “Listen, I’m just saying, this is going to be very dangerous.”

“Compared to the position of perfect safety you’ll be in?” Octavia asks sarcastically.

“That’s not the point,” Clarke says. “There’s a very high chance you’ll die before we can do anything about it. Even if you survive -”

“I’m sure,” Octavia interrupts her, voice firm. “I told you, Clarke. I know what I’m getting into.”

Clarke stares at Octavia, then closes her eyes for a moment in surrender. “Okay. Okay. Fine. You realise Bellamy is going to kill me.”

“I realise he’ll try,” Octavia retorts with a grin. Lexa can see the edges of sharp fear under it, but recognises that with someone like Octavia the fear is only more of a goad. Indra is like that as well. She takes every ounce of fear in her system and turns it into anger and ferociousness, until it becomes hard to tell there is any fear underneath at all. “I think you can take him, Clarke. And Lincoln understands that it’s my decision, so I don’t think you’ll have any problem from him. He’s part of the group following a few hours behind us and asked me to save a couple for him.”

“You should pack,” Lexa tells Octavia. “We leave as soon as possible.” Personally, she approves Octavia as the first person. From what Clarke has told her, Octavia is ideal for this – in fact, she thinks Octavia may have been who Clarke pictured when she crafted this plan, and that part of Clarke’s resistance is due to guilt about this fact.

“Please let the Skaikru volunteers know they need to be ready in half an hour, too,” Clarke requests. “If you tell Jackson, he should sort the rest of them out.”

Lexa raises her eyebrows as Octavia leaves. “Jackson? Your mother’s assistant?”

“Sha,” Clarke says, “He was the first one to volunteer, I think he’s worried about my mom.”

Lexa studies Clarke. She has dark shadows under her eyes and her face is tense. This is her plan, after all, so she will blame herself for everyone who gets hurt. “Raven, Jasper and Monty kom Skaikru will all be with me,” she says softly. “I will do my best to bring them back alive, Clarke. Linkon will most likely be fine as well, since he is following as part of the largest group, the one only for distraction purposes – the Maunon are likely to watch them, but I do not think they will risk attacking. And Wells, Finn, and Kane will all be in Arkadia, safe. Try to relax, ai niron. Stressing will not change what we have to do.”

“I know that,” Clarke snaps, then looks apologetic. “Sorry. I just… knowing that stressing doesn’t help won’t make me stop doing it.”

“Nor me,” Lexa admits. “I spent two hours meditating earlier, and yet when I think of you at the Mountain I still cannot remain calm.”

Clarke moves forward and wraps her arms around Lexa, not kissing her, just pressing Lexa as closely to her as possible. Lexa can feel the thump of Clarke’s heartbeat against her body. “Does this help?” Clarke asks gently.

“More than you could imagine,” Lexa says honestly.

They just stay in the same place for a long time, not moving, just breathing. It feels almost like meditation does except that instead of being alone in the blankness of her trance she has Clarke with her, and that makes all the difference. After a while, she shakes herself out of it and looks down at the watch Clarke gave her. Clarke has explained how it shows the time passing, and she finds it very interesting, but at this moment she despises the hands for ticking forward. “We must go, Clarke,” she says, keeping her voice quiet to not break the spell of calm a second before she must.

“I know,” Clarke says back, just as quietly. She squeezes Lexa close once more, and then steps back. She looks better. Still worried and tired, but better.

The journey is silent. No one says a word apart from the occasional quiet orders given by Lexa or Indra. The smallest sound – the crack of a breaking stick, the cry of a bird, the buzz of an insect – causes the gona to jerk their heads around in watchfulness. The Skaikru keep hands on their new guns at all times. Lexa watched them practice with them yesterday. They are not very precise marksmen, but with the rate of fire these weapons have that is probably unimportant.

Monty and Jasper look the most scared, perhaps understandably. Everyone else here has travelled further than they have, been closer to danger. They have been comfortably in Polis fiddling with plants and simple bombs. Lexa can understand why Clarke worries for them. Lexa is also concerned about how they will deal under this unaccustomed pressure, but Clarke assures her they are the best ‘hackers’ out of the Skaikru (who apparently discourage this practice for some reason), which makes them necessary. When they stop for the first night, Monty quietly admits in Lexa’s hearing that his parents believe he is spending time with Finn to help out, and may not realise for a while that he has left with the gona.

They have left Jasper’s simpler bombs in Arkadia – Raven has probably produced enough sophisticated ones for their mission, and it may give Arkadia a chance if Clarke’s scheme fails and the Maunon come for them.

TonDC is also quiet. Nearly all of the gona from here left for Arkadia. They will come back soon, following Lexa’s group at a slower pace as a distraction for the watching Maunon, but for now TonDC has lost its busy, bustling atmosphere. It annoys Lexa for a reason she can’t quite pin down.

Perhaps it is this – tomorrow, they attack the Mountain. They may not all die, but at the very least some of them will. Lexa has spent far too many nights in grim, quiet contemplation of her mortality. She would like the liveliness of villagers talking and laughing and running around to dispel that feeling. Perhaps that is why Clarke is over talking with Monty and Jasper, who despite their nervousness still joke.

“You know, yongon, this is one more time when you have shocked me,” Anya says to her suddenly, passing her a strip of dried meat. They sit around a fire, but it smokes instead of blazes, and Lexa can’t help but feel like the very flames themselves dread the Mountain. It makes their circle dimly lit and cold.

“Have I?” Lexa asks, tilting her head slightly.

“Fighting the Maunon. Such a wild, foolish idea.” Anya smiles slightly.

“I suppose it is,” Lexa says coolly, trying not to show that the words sting.

“Just as uniting the clans was,” Anya says. There is something odd in her eyes, a depth of emotion Anya has never shown to her before. “Just as allying with the Skaikru was. I knew when the spirit chose you that you would lead us well, but I never suspected you would lead us so far. I never knew that someday I would look at you and see not my young Seken, but the greatest of all of us.” Her smile widens and she closes her eyes for a second, as if overcome. “If we are to die tomorrow, then there is no better fate I could imagine than to die by your side, yongon.”

“Nor I yours,” Lexa says, voice slightly choked. She reaches out and they clasp each other’s forearms in a warrior’s grip, holding for a few seconds.

Anya clears her throat and releases Lexa. “I simply… I felt I should say that, as we may not have another chance.”

The Trikru are all raised to believe that facing or defying the Mountain is a death sentence. Lexa can feel the weight of that lifelong belief even in her own mind, and she has seen the Mountain fall before. So she cannot blame the others for their gloom or their fear.

“If we are talking of leaving things undone, there is another you should consider,” Lexa says. When Anya looks confused, Lexa gestures to the other side of the fire. Raven looks up and sees her. A frown crosses her face.

Anya flushes almost imperceptibly. “I have told you, Lexa, leave this.”

“At least do not continue to act like she has wronged you,” Lexa says softly. “You know she has not. Raven does not know what she did, and it bothers her. If you will not tell her how you really feel at least tell her that you care about her and you are friends. You think tomorrow we will die. If that is the case, will you have her die thinking she has angered you?”

“I do not -” Anya begins.

“Hey,” Raven says, standing beside Lexa, still frowning. “You looked like you wanted to talk to me. What’s up?”

“I merely wished to ask about your niron,” Lexa says, feeling a spark of wickedness she hasn’t felt in a long time. This is something a much younger Lexa would have done – a Lexa who was not Heda, who was just a feckless Seken running through the woods. Anya looks murderous.

“My… what?”

“Oh,” Lexa says, feeling the twitch of an evil smile at her lips. “It means your partner. Finn.” That is slightly less suggestive than what the word actually means, but it is close enough.

Raven huffs an annoyed breath. “He’s not my partner,” she snaps. Apparently Lexa has hit a sore spot. “Clarke didn’t tell you?”

“I do not aim to get involved in your romantic affairs,” Lexa says with faux innocence. Now she cannot prevent her smile. Clarke had indicated that she thought Raven and Finn’s romantic relationship was finished, but it is good to have confirmation. Anya has suddenly stopped fuming next to her and is silent with shock. “I apologise, Raven kom Skaikru. I thought the two of you had reunited after what happened.”

“Well, we haven’t,” Raven says, looking slightly mollified by the apology. “And we’re not going to. We’re family. That’s it.” She stalks off, not even bothering to answer Lexa’s original question.

Lexa turns to look at Anya and raises an eyebrow. “There, see?”

Anya glares at her, but still can’t stop herself from returning Lexa’s smile. “If you were still my Seken, I’d have you whipped.” She informs Lexa.

Chapter Text

The air is cold this morning, but it’s still bright and sunny. The kind of day you want to spend outside, enjoying the brief sunlight before winter sets in fully. Not the kind of day you want to spend trying to break into a secure military base.

Of course, Clarke thinks, there probably aren’t many days with the perfect weather for that. ‘Perfect weather’ in this case being some more serendipitous lightning just blowing the place to hell without their interference. Except her mother’s inside. So maybe not.

She hadn’t been able to sleep properly at all last night, just a few uneasy dozes. Neither had Lexa. On the bright side, this gave them hours wrapped around each other, whispering about nothing all, kissing, touching each other, just being together. They’d alternated between periods when they couldn’t get close enough to each other, when they’d nearly bruised each other with desperation, and quieter soft moments where every touch was feather-light.

“Sit still,” Lexa commands quietly from behind her. They’re sitting at the entrance to the tent, with Clarke looking out over the village. “Your hair is a mess, it is difficult to even get this comb through.”

“You’re the one who messed it up,” Clarke points out.

She feels Lexa’s smile even though she can’t see it. “Is that a complaint, Clarke kom Skaikru? Because at the time someone was ordering me to. However, if you are concerned about your neatness, in future I will make sure to ignore your forceful words -”

“Mockery is not the product of a strong mind, Lexa,” Clarke quotes at her, grinning . Lexa’s hands are quick and deft in her hair, looping and tugging with swift skill. She almost wants to ask her to go slower. She gazes out at the quiet stillness of the village.

Octavia looks odd, standing in the middle of TonDC dressed in Skaikru clothes once more, next to a small Grounder child she’s trying to give a flower to. But Skaikru clothes are a protection now – the Maunon are far more likely to just outright kill a Grounder than a Sky Person. The Trikru have outlived their usefulness to the Mountain, literally.

As Clarke watches, Octavia lifts the small child up and bounces him in her arms several times. Clarke smiles as Octavia then holds the boy away in a panicked fashion as he throws up dark liquid, barely missing her clothing. Even from this far away she can see the disgusted face Octavia makes. Nevertheless, Octavia jogs to her pack nearby and pulls out a cloth, wiping the child’s face with it. He starts bawling, not appreciative at all.

“Have you ever thought about having children?” Clarke asks, without intending to. It just slips out.

Lexa pauses in her movements for a second. “I used to think about it sometimes with Costia,” she admits. “But I knew it could not be. Whether a child I gave birth to or just raised, it would always be a target. And I have the Natblida. Do you think of such things?”

“Back on the Ark, it was sort of assumed we’d all have one kid,” Clarke says idly. “When I was young, I figured I would get older, get married, have one kid, be a doctor. So basically I thought I’d be a carbon copy of my mother. But that was back when she used to be my hero so of course all I wanted was to be like her. The kid thing… I’m not sure about that, anymore.”

“Married,” Lexa says, tone thoughtful. “That is like being bonded, correct?”

“Exactly like, except with rings instead of tattoos, and a slightly different ceremony,” Clarke says. She swallows nervously. “Want to do it someday?” This has to be the worst marriage proposal of all time. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter. Here, on this clear, cool day, with Lexa fiddling with her hair, this is right. The words do have weight, but she already knows she’ll be with Lexa forever. The ceremony is just a formality – albeit one that she realises she wants. She wants to be open and free and honest, wants to shout to the skies that Lexa means everything to her and will for the rest of time.

Lexa presses a kiss to her head, and Clarke can hear a slight quiver in her voice as she answers. “Sha. I would love to be bonded to you, Clarke kom Skaikru. In heart and spirit, I already am. Body is all that remains. All it would take are the tattoos. Whenever you wish to do that, we can. Or did you mean the Skaikru ceremony?”

“I want to take parts of both our cultures for it,” Clarke says decisively. Despite her business-like tone, her heart soars and she can’t suppress the smile that takes over her face. “Tattoos and a Trikru ceremony are absolutely fine. But there’s one Skaikru custom I can’t compromise on.” Lexa gives a braid a slight tug to let her know she’s done, and Clarke turns to face her. Her wide smile is reflected in Lexa’s glowing eyes.

“The rings? We can easily find someone to -”

“The honeymoon,” Clarke says firmly.

“The honey moon?” Lexa asks, confusion showing on her face adorably . “I do not understand.”

“It means, after the ceremony, we go away somewhere together,” Clarke says. “If there are guards, then they’re far away enough not to bother us. There can be beaches or forests or even just desert, I don’t care where it is, but it’s just the two of us. Alone together. For at least a week.”

Lexa smiles more widely than Clarke’s ever seen her. The transparent happiness on her face makes her look younger than she should, with her dark warpaint and Commander’s pauldron and sash. It lights up her eyes and removes all worry from her forehead. “That is a good tradition. I will be happy to embrace it.”

Clarke suspects they’re both trying to forget that her plan involves them being split up, distracting themselves from being separated with the hope of being together forever. She wants Lexa with her, but she can’t do that, she can’t give Emerson another weapon to use against her. And Lexa has her own place to be. “How do I look?” she asks Lexa.

“Like a Grounder,” Lexa says, a world of meaning in her voice.

“Good,” Clarke smiles a sharp little smile. She does look like a Grounder right now – braids, leather, weaponry hung all around her. She looks fierce and uncompromising. There would be no point to her wearing Skaikru clothing to the Mountain – either Emerson has ordered them to keep her alive or to kill her on sight, and knowing him she thinks it will be the former to make her suffer. Tit for tat. “That’s good. Because that’s what I am. You know that, right? Skaikru is the clan I’m from, like how Trikru is where you’re from. But what I am right now…”

Lexa takes her hand and kisses the inside of her wrist so quickly and lightly that even if someone in the village was watching they wouldn’t see it. The feel of it lingers on Clarke’s arm. “What you are right now, ai niron, is the same as what I am. You are of all clans, and fight for all clans.”

“I fight for you, ai hodnes,” Clarke says softly.

“That as well,” Lexa replies. “And I for you.” They stare into each other’s eyes, caught in the moment.

A shout breaks the silence. Clarke frowns and looks around. It’s coming from a nearby tent – the one Raven, Jasper and Monty have been sharing. “That’s Raven,” she says, worriedly. “I better go check on her. If something we need is broken -”

“Go,” Lexa says, only a slight sigh showing her disappointment at the end of the moment.

“I’ll be back in a second,” Clarke promises. Inwardly, she thinks: there’s always something. But she’s just been promised a whole week where there’s nothing but each other, so she’ll cope, somehow.

She walks into Raven’s tent, ready to address whatever the problem is, and freezes in shock.

Anya is kissing Raven passionately, hands resting lightly on her waistline, as Raven gasps into the kiss, her own hands buried in Anya’s braids. They look like the cover of some cheesy romance novel, entwined with each other like that.

Clarke takes a step back, still stunned, and decides to get the hell out of here. Unfortunately her sword clunks against one of the tent’s supporting poles – not hard enough to endanger the tent, but hard enough to make a noise.

Raven and Anya yank apart, both breathing heavily, and swing their heads around in unison to stare at Clarke. Clarke raises her hand weakly to give a lame wave of greeting. She had no idea – she didn’t even think – Raven and Anya, how could anyone have seen that coming –

Anya’s face returns to its customary stoicism and she gives Clarke a nod as she stalks out of the tent. She looks back at Raven for a moment, waiting for her to say something, then when Raven just stands there gaping she whirls around and is gone.

Clarke clears her throat. “I – what – okay, wow, I’ll admit. That surprised me.”

“Me too,” Raven says faintly. “She was just… I mean…” She waves her hands, apparently out of words. For Raven that’s pretty much impossible. Eventually she finds her composure. “Kinda interrupted us a bit there, oh fearless leader.”

“Yeah?” Clarke replies. “Well you interrupted me and Lexa with your yelling, so I think we’re even.”

Raven frowns, chewing on her lip as she thinks. “I didn’t know she – I didn’t have a clue she thought that way about me. I mean, we flirt a bit, but I always thought it was just, like, edgy banter. And you know, it was less flirting and more continuous teasing.”

“I thought that was your flirting,” Clarke says, only half-joking. It might have surprised her but now that she thinks about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. She wonders if Lexa had any idea Anya felt that way.

“Ha. Not with Finn,” Raven says, “And I don’t have any experience with anyone except -” Her eyes widen and she turns to Clarke. “The alternate future. Was I with Anya?”

“No. She was a little bit busy being dead,” Clarke says dryly, though she can’t suppress a pang at the thought.

“But I was with someone else? Who?” Raven asks. She still seems reasonably shaken, and keeps glancing at the tent-flap like she’s expecting Anya to appear again, but otherwise she’s doing a reasonable job of pretending normality.

Clarke can’t see any reason not to share. “Wick. Kyle Wick, I think his full name was.”

Raven blinks, then makes a face. “Wick? He was an engineer. And I knew him since I was a kid.”

Clarke shrugs. “I’m just telling you what happened.” Then she notices the tense Raven used. “Was?”

There’s a pause, then Raven says, a little sadly. “He came down on Tesla Station, actually, because there wasn’t quite enough room for him on Mecha. I put some nuts and bolts on the fire we lit for them, in his memory.” She hesitates. “Was I in love with him?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” Clarke considers it for a moment, then to lighten the mood slightly, adds jokingly, “But you also slept with Bellamy in that world. So who knows?”

“Say that again and I’ll throw a wrench at you,” Raven says, her seriousness broken up by an incredulous smile. “But, Anya… I don’t know how I feel about her. And I mean, I just broke up with Finn. She was just here and she apologised for ignoring me and then I said something mean and we were arguing and I yelled at her and she said something about things left undone and then she kissed me. Like, really slowly, so I could see it coming. I should probably have moved away. But she was right there. And really hot. I mean, I call her ‘cheekbones’ for a reason. Oh, shit. What do I do when I see her again?”

“Since in like two hours you’re about to try and break into Mount Weather, I suggest you say ‘hey, Anya, can you carry some of these explosives for me?’” Clarke says wryly. “But otherwise you’re on your own.”

“Hey, guys,” it’s Octavia, standing at the door of the tent. Her face is set. She stands and moves like Trikru, even in her Skaikru clothing. “First group is about to take off. We should be at the generators pretty quickly, we’re taking some of the horses.”

Clarke moves towards her automatically, but Octavia holds up a hand while she’s still several feet away.

“Hey,” she says, and manages a shaky grin. “No hugs, remember? I’ll see you later.”

“May we meet again,” Clarke says softly, stopping. Raven echoes her.

“Ai gonplei nou ste odon,” Octavia replies, with false bravado. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

It takes as long as it takes. That is one of the Commander’s first lessons, and it is one she has needed to use so often that it has become ingrained in her. Heda has lived a hundred years and will live a thousand more, so an hour means nothing, is nothing. The Commander spirit knows this, and is calm – Lexa knows this as well, however her calmness takes far more effort, for she is a person and not a spirit and prey to the weaknesses that causes. But it is still possible for her to wait, to be still.

So once again she sits patiently as Clarke paces, as they wait for the return of Indra and the two dozen gona with her. Or whatever remains of them, at least. It is the first move in a game of chess, Lexa knows – you do not play your pawns carefully, fearful that one might be taken. You accept that some will die from the start and resolve that if they must, they will die for a purpose, a cause. They will die for a greater victory. This attack is to convince the Maunon they are weak and desperate, clutching at straws, going for the generators because that is the only idea they have.

They may lose a pawn, today. But she does not intend they should lose the game.

Her fingers itch to touch Clarke, but she shouldn’t. Indra could return at any moment. Lexa clears her throat. “Remind me how this ‘hacking’ works, Clarke kom Skaikru?” she asks casually.

Clarke pauses in her pacing. She must know Lexa’s trying to distract her, but it still works. “It’s… it’s hard to explain. Mostly because I’m not that great with technology either.”

“Maybe I can help,” Monty says, opening the tent flap. His face is a light shade of green. Jasper, following him, is the same. They look worse than any Seken Lexa has ever seen on the eve of battle. “If it’s okay. That we’re in here, I mean. We just kind of -”

“That would be appreciated, Monty Green,” Lexa says coolly, eyeing them. She can work out why they’re seeking the company of her and Clarke now – they are scared, whereas she and Clarke appear to know what they are doing. They wish for that comfort. She will act as confident as they wish her to be. “So. What is ‘hacking’?”

“It’s, uh, you kind of, you take over someone else’s computers,” Jasper says, taking over. He looks unnerved that Lexa knows his friend’s name. “They want it to do one thing – like in this case, keep us out – and then we type a bunch of stuff and their computer does what we want and lets us in. The doom-bot turns against his evil overlord and fights by our side.”

Lexa raises an eyebrow, making it clear just by her expression that this is not a useful explanation and that she is not amused. Clarke looks a little amused, though.

Monty coughs, and speaks up. “Have you ever seen a rock which is big and strong, but as soon as you hit it in exactly the right place, it breaks apart?” he says, sounding a little calmer than Jasper. “Or it happens with metal, sometimes, too. Just one weak spot, even though everything else is strong.”

“I have,” Lexa says. She has seen the former at the Rock Line clan, and the latter in other’s poorly made weapons.

“Right,” Monty says, looking a bit relieved that he got a positive response. “It’s like that, except with computers – the ones that control the doors, and the acid fog, and pretty much all things in a high-technology society. Sometimes they have one weak spot. The right numbers and letters are like hitting that spot. Except when you do, they don’t just break – they become yours.”

“I see,” Lexa says, interested in spite of herself. These Sky People do not understand how to make food or hunt or build or anything at all. They live off things made a hundred years ago. But when it comes to some things, they know worlds that her people never have. “Perhaps someday you will have to become a ticha, so that our goufa may learn of these things.”

“The Skaikru are planning to give the Trikru some technology in return for everything,” Clarke comments, “If they’re going to do that, it would be a good idea to teach them how to use it.”

“Skaikru?” Jasper says, tone teasing, though he does glance nervously at Lexa as he speaks. “You sound like you’re not one of us anymore. Where’s your loyalty, Clarke?”

“Right where it should be,” Clarke says firmly, sending Lexa a small, secret smile.

There’s a pause. “Why aren’t they back yet?” Jasper says plaintively. “I hope O’s okay. Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask, are she and Lincoln -”

“Completely and absolutely a couple,” Clarke says, leaving no room for interpretation. “I really wouldn’t try and hit on her, if I was you.”

“You think he’d beat me up?”

“I think she’d beat you up. Lincoln’s pretty easy-going,” Clarke says. “Octavia is… not.”

“Told you,” Monty mutters under his breath.

Jasper sighs. “I really thought there was a spark there.”

“Clarke? Heda?” Raven’s voice comes through the tent-flap.

“Enter,” Lexa says evenly.

Raven slumps to the ground as soon as she’s inside. She’s also a bit pale. “Waiting sucks. Can I blow something up? I’d feel so much better if I could throw a grenade someplace.”

“Later, Raven kom Skaikru,” Lexa promises. Her heart aches a little. She thinks that if they all survive this, it will be hard for her to return to Polis, even with Clarke there. If either Anya or Indra return with them, that will help, but the truth is she will still be lacking many of the people who she is able to be just Lexa around. She will never be able to be anything but Heda to the coalition, or to whichever adults the Skaikru send as ambassador and appoint as leader.

Her brief closeness with Raven, Octavia, even Wells, will fade and be forgotten.

“You guys never let me blow up anything,” Raven grumbles. “Despite all your promises. It’s like -”

Raven cuts herself off as Lexa raises a hand. There is noise outside. “They have returned.” She lets her gaze rest on Clarke’s face. “We will have to see if they succeeded.”

She leaves the tent, all of them waiting for her to go in front of them. Outside is Indra, bleeding copiously from her shoulder, although she makes no effort to staunch it. Instead she bows to her Heda. “Clarke,” Lexa says, not taking her eyes of Indra.

Clarke nods and moves to Indra’s side, yanking bandages out of her bag. “It’s a bullet,” she says grimly. “Not a through and through, but it’s safer just to leave it in. It’s nearly always safer just to leave it in.”

“Are you sure?” Jasper says doubtfully, looking queasy.

“Completely.”

“Report, Indra,” Lexa says, not letting her concern show on her face.

Indra grunts and straightens, ignoring Clarke as the girl bandages her wounds. “They got Octavia,” she says gruffly.

“I see,” Lexa says, keeping her face emotionless, though she can see Clarke inhale sharply. “We will have to hope they choose to keep her alive, then.”

“We’ll know soon enough, I guess,” Clarke says darkly. She finishes bandaging Indra and looks at Lexa. “Time to go, then?”

Lexa nods. “Time for you to go, certainly,” she says. “You know when we will be there.” Lexa touches her fingers lightly to the silver watch on her wrist. Then she looks across the clearing. The gona around straighten their stance and quickly check their weapons, ready to leave whenever she is. The Skaikru standing and sitting around notice this and follow suit, some putting on their gas masks already. Only a dozen of them will leave now with Clarke, but it is good they all prepare themselves to go anyway.

The child from earlier is still there, far away from the gona and Skaikru, sitting on his mother’s lap as she makes faces at him. When she notices Lexa’s gaze on her, she removes the child from her lap, stands up and bows as Indra just did. She pushes lightly at the child’s back, perhaps to make him bow as well.

The boy makes it several steps before falling over. Clarke glances at Lexa, then walks over to help him up again. He’s bleeding from his mouth. Clarke wipes it off, then picks him up to make a funny face to him as well. He coughs lightly, sickness showing in the rough notes of it. Clarke kisses his forehead and hands him back to his mother. For a second the sight of Clarke holding the child makes Lexa’s heart lurch uncomfortably. Now, Clarke holds a child. In only moments, she will go to war.

Clarke comes back over, face grim, and Raven, Monty and Jasper move back from her automatically.

“I guess I’m ready to go,” Clarke says.

Lexa swallows. “I must give you one more thing, Clarke kom Skaikru,” she says coolly, and turns to enter the tent again.

Clarke follows her and as soon as they’re inside grabs her arm and whirls her around, kissing her fiercely. She digs the tips of her fingers into Lexa’s back as if she’s desperate to feel her through the layers of protective gear, and Lexa nearly whimpers. She presses back just as hard, until they’re clinging to each other as they were the night before, hands too rough and kisses too needy.

“Stay alive,” Lexa begs when Clarke pulls away for a second, well aware that it is a stupid request to make.

“I will, I will,” Clarke says, her voice a sob, and she tightens around Lexa like she’s the only thing holding her to this world. Because the Mountain is a nightmare for Clarke and she is about to walk right into it. Lexa can only hope she comes back out. “You too. Please. Please don’t leave me again.”

Lexa could say a lot of things. She could talk of her spirit finding another, or of how it was always her destiny as Commander to die young, or say if it is her time then it is her time. But instead, she says, “I won’t.” Because the spirit might live forever but Lexa wants to live right now. She doesn’t want to die young again and leave Clarke to grieve. She is greedy and foolish but she wants those precious days and weeks and years with her beautiful sky girl: she wants to fall asleep and wake up beside her, wants to laugh with her and cry with her, wants to build a world together, wants everything she never thought she could have. She wants love and hope and forever.

Clarke presses her forehead against Lexa’s, breathing a bit more evenly now. “Ai hod yu in, ai niron. May we meet again.”

“Ai hod yu in, Clarke kom Skaikru,” Lexa whispers, feeling a lone tear slip down her face. “May we meet again.”

Chapter Text

It feels odd to Clarke to be carrying a pack that is so much lighter than her usual one. In the weeks of travelling around she’s almost forgotten what it feel like to only carry the basics. Right now ‘the basics’ is some medical supplies, her knives, and, oh yes, Raven’s device.

It makes her seriously nervous. At any moment she could be adjusting the weight of the pack on her shoulders or fiddling with her hair and accidentally set it off. Alternatively, it might not go off at all – for obvious reasons Raven hadn’t exactly been able to do a test run. Of course, she’s never lost a battle due to one of Raven’s contraptions before, so maybe she should stop worrying about that so much.

Then she can go back to worrying about whether her mother’s still alive or whether Emerson will just show Clarke the body to torture her instead of making her witness it personally. And worrying about whether the Reapers are in these tunnels right now or are out looking for the others. Worrying about whether the twelve gona with her will survive this. Worrying about every noise she hears.

Worrying about Lexa’s safety.

Lexa’s tough and she’s smart. But if Clarke screws this up, if she doesn’t understand Emerson or Cage as well as she thinks she does, or even if they’re just really unlucky, then there’s a pretty good chance Lexa will die today. Clarke can deal with her mother dying, if she has to – she survived her father’s death, after all, and she dealt with it when she thought her mother had died on the Exodus Ship in the original world. It will be agonising, the grief will be a weight around her, she will cry and suffer and lean on Lexa, but it won’t destroy her.

But she’s not sure she can live through Lexa’s death again. The first time she didn’t even really live through it. Maybe this time she won’t be able to convince herself that she needs to go on, needs to try and build the world they would have built together by herself. If the Mountain kill Lexa and Clarke survives, she thinks she’ll destroy them, whatever it takes. She will burn them to ash, every single one of them, spit on their graves, blow up the whole place, make it so there’s not a single thing to remember any one of them by – the strength of her hatred almost surprises her. If they kill Lexa, she won’t be Clarke anymore, she’ll be Wanheda, and she’ll bring death to all of them. And then when they’re all dead maybe she’ll go up to the top of the tower in Polis and wait. She’ll wait for the lightning for as long as she can, until one day, she won’t be able to wait for Lexa anymore. And then she’ll just step off.

“We should have seen Ripa by now,” the gona nearest to her says nervously, and Clarke shakes herself out of her morbid thoughts. The gona are spread out, moving quickly in the half-crouch they only do when expecting imminent battle, glancing at Clarke every few seconds as if waiting for further orders. Of course, a plan of ‘wander into the Ripa caves’ probably seems a little incomplete to them.

“That’s a good sign,” Clarke tells him. “It means things might be going as planned.” She understands his nerves, though – there’s something creepy about the bare, empty tunnels. It would almost be less worrying if there was a group of Reapers, at least then there would be something to fight. Their huddled, anxious advance through the dark and echoing corridors feels like something from a horror movie, the tension rising and rising until a monster would nearly be a relief.

One gona hits a rock with his foot as he moves forward, sending it skittering loudly into the darkness ahead. All of the others have their weapons pulled in a moment and he curses quietly. Clarke alone remains calm. “Steady,” she says quietly.

Then there’s a noise ahead, a yell. It’s not a fearful one or a Reaper’s howl, it’s the sharp yell of a command, and Clarke knows they’ve been found. “Now,” she orders.

They sprint ahead towards the threat, spacing themselves as best they can. The tunnel’s too narrow for effective evasion tactics though, and there’s three cross-tunnels ahead that make their odds even worse. A grenade flies from the left and clatters to a stop next to Clarke so she kicks it as far as she can towards the source. They’re using non-lethal methods – excellent. And it’s the Maunon, not the Reapers. This sharply increases the odds that Octavia’s still alive. From the thuds in the direction she kicked the grenade, they’re also not wearing suits – too eager to be out of their suits to remember that this leaves them vulnerable to their own gas grenades, the acid fog, and similar threats.

There’s roughly thirty of them ahead, she sees. One goes to throw another grenade but an order from his leader stops him. Instead a gona goes down with a sleep dart in his throat. They’ve realised no one can throw or kick those back towards the source. Still non-lethal though.

One sticks into the armour Clarke’s wearing as she slows, maybe ten feet from the Mountain Men. A glance around tells her that nearly all the others are down already. Only two have reached the Maunon, and as she watches one falls. Clarke reaches for the dart sticking into her armour, pretending to be trying to remove it, then pushes it in just a little bit further so that the sedative just barely enters her skin.

She falls immediately.

Clarke wakes up dizzy in her old room in the Mountain. A quick glance down shows that they’ve removed the armour and weapons but nothing else. They haven’t undone her braids or taken the watch Raven gave her, which is a relief. Glancing at it she sees that she’s been asleep fairly long compared to how long Lexa was under. She has less than half an hour left.

She manages to stumble off the bed and slams on the door with her fists. “Emerson,” she yells. “Take me to Emerson.”

The door opens almost immediately. Two guards stand there. “Hands,” one barks at her.

Clarke blinks at him, then holds her hands in front of her. They tie them swiftly and so tightly she winces. “Emerson,” she says again insistently.

“We have orders to take you to President Wallace,” one of the soldiers informs her coldly.

“Dante or Cage?” Clarke says, raising an eyebrow. “I hear you guys are pretty indecisive about presidents lately.” Of course, she hasn’t heard anything. She’s just assuming, based on how quickly they seem to be immunising their people to radiation, that Dante has already been ousted. She gives the soldier a bland smile.

The soldier takes a step back and pales, looking at her like she’s a wild animal that could strike at any moment. “Shut up, you Outsider bitch,” he says venomously.

“Just asking,” Clarke says, shrugging. It hurts her wrists to do so, but it’s worth it to see how much her casual attitude is terrifying them.

He grabs one of her arms and yanks her down the corridor, his friend following to push a gun against her spine. “Try anything and we’ll shoot,” he spits, though his threat doesn’t quite manage to hide his nerves.

They force her down to Level 3 – the medical labs, Clarke thinks. Also where the cages are. It’s the most logical place for them to be since they’ve been transferring bone marrow. It sounds like they haven’t even bothered to pretend to be allies to her people this time, either, so storing them in the cages is logical. The only reason to keep any of the Grounders would be to try and make the same deal with Lexa as last time, and Emerson must realise they’ve gone far beyond the point where that could happen.

She’s pushed inside the medical labs instead of the room with cages, and she can’t help feel a slight pulse of relief at that. Either some of her people are in the cages, or all of the remains of Alpha Station are dead, and she doesn’t want to face either of those situations. They lock the door after entering, which is also a relief – otherwise she was going to have to force one of them to do that.

There’s nearly a dozen soldiers inside, hands all on their weapons. In the middle stands Cage Wallace, and to his left is Emerson, smug smiles on both their faces. There are medical seats all around, two of them occupied. Clarke’s eyes are immediately drawn to them – one contains Octavia, badly beaten. Tsing’s standing next to her, caressing her injured face in a decidedly creepy manner as Octavia tries to move away. The other contains her mother, staring at her with a mixture of relief and horror. “What are you doing here?” Abby whispers. “Clarke…”

“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Griffin,” Cage looks her up and down and raises an eyebrow. “Or should I call you by one of those primitive Outsider names? You seem to have gone native. It makes you look quite savage.”

“No one who wears that much hair gel should criticise anyone else’s fashion sense,” Clarke retorts. It gives her a small amount of petty enjoyment when he frowns momentarily.

“You know, I expected something more,” Cage says, almost sounding disappointed. “Emerson talked about you like you were some kind of tactical genius, out to destroy us all. And now… you’re just a little blonde teenager, talking about hairstyles. Someone I would pass in the halls and roll my eyes at.”

“She’s everything I said she is,” Emerson says darkly.

Cage takes several steps towards Clarke and grips her chin in his fingers, raising it up so he can stare into her eyes. “I’ll take your word for it,” he remarks uncaringly to Emerson. “You can have her for – well, whatever it is you wanted her for. Torture, death, that kind of thing. But first I want to know how this works.” He gestures to the nearest table where Raven’s device sits, deceptively small and unthreatening, a dark metal box.

Clarke spits in Cage’s face. He yanks back, stunned and enraged, and backhands her hard across the face. She takes the excuse to look down, staring at her watch. Ten minutes now. She only has ten minutes. “You don’t even know what it does,” she tells Cage, voice a little twisted by her swelling cheek, giving him a smile.

He manages to contain his temper again, and gives a sharp laugh. “Actually, I know exactly what it is. Your little friend could barely wait to sell you out.” He gestures dismissively towards Octavia. “Told me that you had a ‘solution’ to my Cerberus project. Now I don’t believe you could really do anything to my specially-designed guards -”

“I told you, she’s cured one before,” Emerson interrupts. Though Cage casts him an annoyed glance, it’s clear that Emerson’s additional knowledge has made them closer to the same level in this world.

“Still, something meant to cure them all immediately?” Cage smiles sharply. “Fascinating. Tell me how to open the container and I might let your mother live.”

“Oh, I doubt it,” Clarke says. All of the guards are staring at her, tensed and ready to attack. She could act now but it would be risky. She needs a distraction. “And if you’re about to threaten Octavia to make me talk, don’t bother,” she looks at Octavia, meaning in her eyes. “Natrona,” she says venomously.

Octavia blinks. One of her eyes is black, her cheek has three deep parallel cuts which are bleeding steadily, and the hand closest to Clarke is missing several fingernails. Clarke can see she’s woozy with blood loss and pain. Nevertheless, she reacts. “You’re going to call me a traitor?” she yells at Clarke, starting to thrash against her bindings wildly and overdramatically. “You bitch! You bitch! This is all your fault, Clarke! You did this! I hate you! I hate you!” She bucks against her restraints and manages to bite onto the surprised Tsing’s hand like a wild dog, making the woman yelp in pain.

For just a moment all of the soldiers are concentrating more on that than Clarke, focused on detaching and pulling away the shocked Tsing from Octavia as one of them pistol whips her in the face. That’s all Clarke needs. She reaches her bound hands up to her braids and grabs the trigger out of the sheath Lexa braided in so carefully earlier, darting a few steps away from the distracted soldiers as she does so. She presses her thumbs down on the top button. Raven’s device makes a little humming noise. One of the nearest medical screens sprays sparks. The lights dim, some shattering, only two basic emergency lights surviving to cast a hazy glow over the entire proceedings. The soldiers start towards her in anger and she holds the trigger up high, backing away.

“Back!” Clarke orders. “Back, or I let go of this button, and the nuclear bomb I just activated detonates.” She grins coldly at Cage. He looks at Raven’s device on the table and blanches. Emerson just stares at Clarke, his smug smile evaporating as he gapes at her. “Trust me, you don’t want to shoot me, either. This is a dead man’s switch. Stay very, very still, and I might let you live.”

Chapter Text

“It is time,” Lexa says quietly, looking at the watch Clarke gave her. “Skaikru, stay back. We will go first and clear the way.”

“And if Clarke hasn’t managed to activate it yet?” Monty says, worried.

Anya bares her teeth at him. “Then our fight will be over, and you will leave.”

Jasper swallows. “Right. Right, we can do that.”

“Float that,” Raven says grimly. “I’m not going anywhere. If either of you die, then so do all of them. It’s about time I got to blow some stuff up.” She hands Lexa and Anya a grenade each.

“I already have one,” Anya points out.

“Then have another one,” Raven snaps. “Have as many as you like, just don’t die or I’ll kill you.” She puts her hand on the back on Anya’s head and kisses her hard before pulling back, glaring at Anya like her action was somehow Anya’s fault.

Anya blinks, surprised, opening and closing her mouth like she wants to ask what that kiss just meant. Everyone else looks fairly shocked by it too.

Lexa clears her throat, checking her watch again. She passes the grenade to the nearest gona. She prefers her sword, though she appreciates the sentiment from Raven. “Now.” she says forcefully, “Clarke should be awake and have activated it by now. Forward, gona!”

There are only three guards on the way to the door. John, along with them for his knowledge of the doorway but still worryingly enthusiastic about the gun he now holds, manages to direct them around any areas that are normally well guarded. The first one falls with Lexa’s knife through his left eye. Raven snags his communicator and fiddles with it, then nods. “It’s working, but there’s nothing there for it to contact,” she says, a sharp grin on her face. “Clarke managed to activate it. The central control station is down.”

“They could still have an army of Maunon with guns waiting,” Anya points out.

“Really?” Raven asks smugly. “I think they’ll be a little distracted by the active nuclear device. The apparent side-effect of gamma rays fucking up their equipment is probably a bit less important.”

Lexa rolls her eyes and continues forward. She makes a mental note not to bring Raven and Anya into battle together again, at least until they have had some time with each other to work out their tension. It is probably for the best they are about to be split up. Hopefully she and Clarke do not appear so easily distracted when they fight together. She has to admit, though, that her first thought when the communicator did not work was less about the mission and more about her relief that Clarke was still alive.

Raven’s glee when she blows the door is apparent. “Boom,” she whispers, pressing the trigger from a safe distance.

Dirt fountains and metal squeals, but it is less noticeable than the way the world shakes. “They will have heard that,” Anya comments.

“Oh, sorry, now you want quiet explosives?” Raven snarks softly. “Should have said.”

Lexa ignores them both. “Third Team, ready yourselves,” she snaps. “Down there they will have heard this but will find it difficult to tell where the noise is from. Up here they will not have that issue. Guard our exit at all costs.” First Team was Octavia’s, Second Team was Clarke’s, Third Team is Anya’s and Fourth is Lexa’s. Third remains around the door, stopping any Maunon from blocking it back up or ambushing the entering team from behind. Maunon are already appearing and Anya throws a grenade, her face lighting up as she sees the devastation it causes. John laughs, the first time Lexa has seen him look truly happy. A scrap of metal tears past Lexa’s head as she ducks into the passageway Raven has forced open.

Fourth Team, with Lexa in the lead, enter the Mountain. Raven has to blow another door almost straight away but it is less dramatic, the explosion barely more than a handful of sparks. The gona closest to Lexa move out of the range of the sparks, keeping their packs safe and unburnt. The next door is thick metal.

“You cannot blow it,” Lexa observes coolly, “We’re too far in, the ceiling might fall if you do.”

“Probably,” Raven admits, a little disappointed. She makes a face.

“Monty, Jasper,” Lexa commands, and the two of them are pushed forward by the gona in their group.

“Right,” Jasper says nervously. “Clarke mentioned that this is kind of a shot in the dark, right? Like, sometimes hacking works, sometimes it doesn’t. If their systems are really secure -”

“Begin,” Lexa says ominously. She gives the gona and the Skaikru behind her a meaningful look, and they all raise their weapons, ready for when the door opens. As a bonus it also makes Jasper stop trying to explain hacking to Lexa.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jasper squeaks, and he and Monty go to work, fiddling with the door control and arguing in whispers.

“If they can’t -” Raven says uncertainly. She pulls round her gas mask, which she should have already been wearing, and starts to fasten it.

“Then we will attempt to blow through it,” Lexa assures her nonchalantly. “And hope we are not buried in the rubble.” The gona look mostly unbothered by this information, though the Skaikru start speaking to each other in urgent undertones until Lexa turns to glance at them again.

Raven stares at her, then closes her eyes like she’s trying to summon patience. “You people and your goddamn suicidal plans…” Her words are muffled by the mask, but still comprehensible.

“Got it,” Monty says triumphantly, his voice similarly muffled by his mask, and the door creaks its way open.

Lexa pulls Raven down swiftly, out of the way of a dart, and the Skaikru begin shooting wildly at the enemy. They are not accurate, but it does not seem to matter. Jackson in particular holds his gun like he wishes he did not have to touch it. Only four armed Maunon have heard the noise and gathered, though Lexa can see another one behind desperately trying to get his radio to work to call for aid. They are easily overcome, taken down by the hail of bullets. She suspects the civilians have fled, to return with either weapons or whatever backup they can find.

“Forward,” Lexa orders, “We need to get down to the fourth level.” She yanks a security card off a dead Maunon and the others do the same, enabling them to easily use the stairs. They could take the elevator, but that would group them too closely together. Better to go down using the stairs. One of the Skaikru has fallen, hit by a bullet from a Maunon gun, but all of the others are still moving. One stoops to take the gas mask the dead man wore, muttering their death rite to his corpse before passing the mask to one of the few people not wearing one – they did not have quite enough gas masks for the entire team, leaving some vulnerable to gas grenades.

There’s noise from below and Lexa gestures at Raven, who nods grimly and throws one of her grenades down the stairs. There’s a scream and then an explosion. Then, silence, and Lexa races down the stairs, followed by the gona and Skaikru. She needs to hurry. They don’t know what kind of danger Clarke is in, how long she’ll be able to distract them with her ‘dead man’s switch’. If the bulk of Mount Weather’s occupants realise they are being invaded, they will strike back.

Lexa recognises the location from Clarke’s map. Here is the floor where it is – life support. It is the only room and unmistakeable. The security passes let them in, but the room is just a mysterious warren of technology to Lexa.

“Guard the door,” she snaps to the rest of her team. There is only one way in and out of this room and they need it to be clear – they can’t afford to be blocked in here. The five gona with packs drop them at her feet quickly before heading out the door. “Raven, Monty, Jasper, make these work.”

“Yes, Commander,” Raven says. “Dammit, I was hoping these would all be dead, not still active. Guys, get the air purification system open. Now.”

“Sure thing,” Monty says, using his access pass on the nearest computer. “It looks like this is a separate system and this room’s lined with protective stuff – guess they’re a bit paranoid about their life support systems. That’s why it didn’t get fried when central went down.” Then, when a screen flashes up asking for something called a password, he grimaces and starts typing quickly. Jasper groans at it then suggests something in an undertone. “It’s not pure oxygen, just regular air,” he reports in a relieved tone after a second.

Lexa is not sure what this means or why it matters, but Raven sighs and says “Thank fuck.” She suddenly remembers Clarke mentioning something about Mount Weather’s air supply in their early planning – how if their system used pure oxygen, it could somehow be used to blow up the whole place, but she eventually decided the Maunon would never take that risk. It looks like she was correct.

One of the Skaikru shoots at someone outside. “A couple of them are on the stairs,” a gona reports.

Lexa hears a gas grenade go off. The few gona and Skaikru not wearing gas masks pass out immediately, one staggering back into the room before his eyes roll up in his head. “Masks,” she snaps at Jasper and Monty as the smoke enters the room. She pulls hers down as well – so far she has been ignoring it since she needs to be able to give commands clearly, but now she cannot afford to faint. They follow suit quickly, then Monty continues typing away.

A clear chamber nearby slides open with a swish, air blowing out like a strong wind. “Good job, guys,” Raven says. It’s hard to tell through the mask but she sounds like she’s smiling. She grabs one of the packs and starts pouring the jobi nuts into the air purification system. Jasper and Monty help and soon they have all five packs’ worth piled there, some of the lighter nuts being blown away already. Raven pulls another one of her small devices out of her pack, detaches some kind of trigger system from it, and buries the device in the jobi nuts. “Close it now.”

“Easy,” Monty says, and with the press of a button it slides shut again. Raven presses the trigger she holds and Lexa braces herself, but the device only sizzles red. The rotten jobi nuts start to catch, burning and sending great puffs of smoke into the air purification system.

“This is some kind of irony,” Jasper says mournfully. “The two of us, sober, making everyone else high.”

“Call it a public service,” Monty suggests, voice muffled by his mask, and they both clap their hand in an odd, exaggerated way at the same time – some kind of celebration ritual, clearly. “They should be thanking us.”

“Gona,” Lexa orders, striding towards the door. “It is time for us to go. Kill any who get in your way, but ignore those who run or hide, as well as those who are rendered useless by the jobi nuts. Focus on threats, not revenge.”

“Sha, Heda,” the gona chorus. The Skaikru copy them after a second, though Lexa’s not sure if they know exactly what the words mean. They certainly know they’re agreeing with her orders, though.

It is time for the Mountain to fall.

Chapter Text

“She’s lying,” Emerson rages. “Kill her or I will.” He raises his gun but Cage forces his arm down before he can fire.

“Gamma rays destroy electronics, if you’re wondering why all your computers are freaking out,” Clarke says helpfully. “And you can easily check if it’s a bomb, if you have a close look at it. I don’t bluff.”

“Check it,” he snaps at Dr Tsing, jerking his head at Raven’s device. She hurries over, still nursing her wounded hand.

Clarke looks over at Octavia, whose entire face is now bloody and bruised. “O, are you okay?”

Octavia spits out some more blood and croaks, “Worth it. Though I will say she tasted awful.” She lets out a hoarse laugh as blood trickles down the side of her face.

“I said to tell them everything as soon as possible,” Clarke comments, still keeping a wary eye on the rest of the room. “Not get yourself tortured.”

“More believable,” Octavia says, looking like she’s trying to smile. “Plus, I wanted them to think I still had useful information they might be able to get out of me with some more effort. If they thought I told them everything I knew they might have killed me.” She has a point, Clarke admits. However, she’s not too thrilled with how injured Octavia is, and she suspects Bellamy may well actually try and kill her over this one.

“The laser stamp on the metal says it contains uranium,” Tsing says, face paling. “And it does look like the kind of metal they used for the outer layer of nuclear missiles.”

“That’s what we built it from,” Clarke says. “We had a missile up on the Ark, so we brought it down with us. I just knew it would come in use.”

Cage curses. He raises his own gun and points it at Clarke. “Disarm it, now,” he snaps.

“You won’t shoot me unless you want everyone here to die,” Clarke says calmly. “You aren’t protected down here. The entire Mountain will collapse in on itself. Your guards, your scientists, your children, you… if I let go of this trigger you’re all dead.”

“Clarke,” Abby whispers, looking shocked.

Clarke manages to give her mother a crooked smile. “Hi, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Abby replies, but she’s staring at Raven’s device in mingled fear and horror as she says it.

“You’ll kill your own people as well,” Emerson says fiercely. “Not just our families, but yours.”

“That’s a lie,” Abby says immediately, trying to sit up but stopped by her restraints. “They’re dead, they’re all dead, even Thelonious is dead …” she breaks off into a sob.

Emerson walks up to her and hits her with the butt of his gun. “Shut up,” he says viciously. Clarke can’t stop herself from flinching. Then he looks at Clarke. “She’s wrong,” he tells Clarke, trying to keep his voice level. “More than a dozen of your people are still alive.”

“You wouldn’t keep any of them alive,” Clarke says softly, looking at him. “Don’t forget, Carl, I know you too. I know exactly what you’re capable of, just like you know what I’m capable of. So tell your boss that I’m absolutely capable of blowing us all to hell if I have to, won’t you?”

“He’s telling the truth, actually,” Cage says, his mouth twisting. “Some of our people have… misguided sympathies. The younger ones of your people are being protected by them. You’ll kill your own people’s children too. There’s a dozen of them still alive.”

Clarke shrugs, careful to keep her thumb on the button. “That doesn’t matter. A dozen lives versus all the ones I could end if I just let go? Not a very good deal. Plus, you’ll kill them anyway.”

“Maybe not,” Tsing says, raising her hands as if to show she’s harmless, although Clarke knows she’s not harmless at all. She’s pleased to note that Octavia’s vicious bite is bleeding copiously. “We could keep some alive, let them live here, raise them. It would be useful in case the bone marrow transplants aren’t as permanent as they seem.”

“I’m not going to disarm this so you can keep children as cattle,” Clarke hisses. She glances at her watch. How much time will Lexa need? As long as possible, presumably.

“Then how about disarming it to keep your mother from agonising pain,” Cage says, a trace of his former smugness coming back. “I saw your reaction before when Emerson hit her.” Emerson moves out of the way as he walks to stand next to Abby and holds his gun against her knee. Clarke’s mother shrieks and thrashes, trying to get away, but Cage easily keeps the barrel of the gun on her kneecap even though his eyes are trained on Clarke. “Kneecapping hurts immensely, you know.”

Clarke just stares at him, working on keeping her face stone, her eyes cold. “Not as much as having your bone marrow forcibly removed. Like you did to dozens of Sky People.”

The soldiers around the room are having quiet conversations with each other, though their eyes remain fixated on Clarke and the trigger she holds. She suspects they’re coming up with strategies to grab her while keeping the button down. They must know how difficult that will be to do, though – and they’re used to obeying orders, so they’re waiting to see what Cage wants them to do. Clarke wonders what kind of idiots would willingly follow someone whose strategies were as psychotic and short-sighted as a typical Bond villain.

One of the soldiers touches a hand to his nose, which has started to bleed. He frowns at his bloody hand in confusion, then wipes his nose against his sleeve, apparently deciding the nosebleed is either random or fear-induced instead of something more serious.

“Sky People? What a charming name,” Cage says, his smug smile widening. He clicks the safety off. Abby looks at him, eyes wide and terrified. “Do ‘Sky People’ love their parents, or are you too much like the savages for things like that to matter to you?”

“Do Mountain Men love their parents?” Clarke retorts. “Where’s your loving father, Cage? Dead? Locked up? Or was Dante smart enough to realise that his son was going to stab him in the back and get out before that happened? He must have thought you were losing your mind, talking about time travel and space stations. Or did he finally open his eyes enough to notice that you’d lost your mind long before? Did he realise how empty, how worthless, how pathetic and sociopathic you’d always been?”

Cage’s smile fades momentarily. “You don’t know anything about my father,” he growls. The noise of the gun going off in the confined space is deafening, so much so that it takes a couple of seconds for Clarke to register Abby’s agonised scream.

The scream fades into a constant whimpering and breathless sobbing. Abby thrashes against her bonds for a moment and then lets out another wordless exclamation of pain as she jostles her leg.

“She has another knee,” Cage says pleasantly. He moves his gun slightly to the left.

“No, no, no!” Abby screams, her face white and taut with pain. “Please! No! You don’t have to -”

“You bastard!” Octavia yells hoarsely at Cage, teeth bared like a wild animal. She lets out a snarl of fury. “You’re going to die, you miserable, weak, pathetic little mokskwoma , you -”

“We have a volunteer,” Cage says, walking around the chair to point the gun at Octavia’s knee instead.

Abby lets out a broken little sob. A red tear slides down her face, unnoticed by the others. Blood is swelling up from her shattered knee. Meanwhile, Clarke notices that Emerson has been subtly edging towards the door. To go get more people, perhaps, though what they can do to help the situation she has no idea. It’s probably best not to find out.

“Stop moving,” she orders him, then turns back to Cage. “This is all pointless,” Clarke says clearly, not looking at her mother’s face again and definitely not looking at her blood-covered pants leg, though she feels like throwing up. “Because I can’t disarm it anyway.”

“You what?” Cage glares at her. “What kind of plan -”

“All of us walk out of the Mountain,” Clarke says clearly. “You, me, my mother, your people, Sky People, Tree People and Ice People if you’ve left any of those alive.”

“And what?” Emerson says snidely. “You’ll leave the bomb here and blow it up?”

“Exactly.” Clarke tightens her grip on the trigger. Her hands are starting to become slippery with sweat and the fact that they’re still tied isn’t helping at all. “We all live. Mount Weather doesn’t.”

Clarke blinks, and for a second she sees her father standing in front of her instead of Cage. She nearly sighs in relief. The standoff has been going for quite a while now. Lexa’s team made it inside, and without any kind of coordinated attack against them or any effective leadership, they must have made it through easily. The only remotely competent people are in this room, arguing over what to do about her.

She recognises the feeling of jobi nuts, the strange lightness and fear mixed together, the way everything’s starting to glow a little. It’s not good that they seem to be affecting her faster than the others, though. The last thing she needs right now is to start losing her grasp on reality.

“It’s a nuclear bomb,” Tsing says. For a second she looks distracted, taking a step back from something only she can see. She inhales sharply. “The trigger mechanism wouldn’t work from a distance, not through all our levels of protection. We… we wouldn’t be able to get far enough. We’d all die of radiation poisoning.”

“It seems fair that you would die of radiation poisoning,” Clarke says. “But I could leave someone here holding the trigger. That would solve the problem.”

“I…” Tsing puts her hand to her head. “What’s happening to me?”

A soldier next to her frowns and reaches out to stabilise her. “Doctor?”

“Gamma rays destroy people as well as electronics,” Clarke says, giving them a vindictive smile. “You might want to decide on what to do fast. Radiation poisoning is an awful way to die, I’ve heard.”

“This isn’t radiation poisoning,” Tsing snaps, “We burn in radiation, we don’t see things that aren’t there.”

“But now you have my people’s bone marrow in you,” Clarke says. She holds back a cough, the smoke from the jobi nuts curling into her. “So you don’t burn. You get to die the slow, painful way, like us.”

Cage takes several steps back from Raven’s device. “Is this possible?” he snaps at Tsing.

“I don’t – no!” Tsing says. She struggles against the soldier’s grip, looking at him like he’s a monster, before coming back to herself. “Sorry, I – no. No. Radiation wouldn’t affect our brain first, that’s not how it works.”

Clarke wonders what Tsing sees when she hallucinates. In her experience, the hallucinations seem to be about what you fear, what you want, what you haven’t been able to work through. What would someone like Cage or Tsing experience? Someone so lacking in empathy, that the darkest thing in their world has always been themselves. Maybe for the first time in her life, Tsing is seeing something scarier than herself. Or maybe what she’s seeing is herself.

“No, it’s not how it works. Firstly, it would make our organs shut down,” Clarke says helpfully. She finally allows herself to give in to the desire to cough, amazed it’s taken this long to affect her. Her coughing fit goes for nearly a minute before she straightens. No one’s taken the opportunity to try and move closer to her. They’re all staring, horrified, at the floor, now covered in the blood she just coughed up. She manages a blood-stained smile at them, doing her best to remain standing. “So it seems to have started for me. How are you all feeling?”

Chapter Text

Resistance is light – much lighter than Lexa was expecting, in truth. Some Maunon thrash against things only they can see, others whimper in corners. Some are passed out, bleeding from their nose, mouth, eyes, even ears. They are helpless. One threatens her with a gun but he clearly sees someone else in her place, someone far more terrifying. She slits his throat without effort and the two bullets he fires hit the ceiling.

They’ve cleared out the two lowest levels already. Anyone showing signs of violence is immediately executed. Raven found a stack of plastic bindings in one room they entered that they have begun to use on the more harmless members of the population, binding their wrists and ankles tightly while they moan and thrash and ask for their parents and other such things. They ignore the children hiding in corners or whimpering in closets.

The very lowest level was nothing but a fancy office. The access passes they found did not get them into it, but Jasper and Monty were able to make the door open eventually. There was nothing of use inside and no people, so Lexa simply closed it again and went to clear out the level above, Level 6. She has no use for the Maunon’s finery, their smooth perfect furniture and fancy technology, which may as well be built with the bones of her people.

Level 6 contained wide open spaces, what looked like many homes, and a strange place with odd machines that the Skaikru told her was a ‘gym’ for training. It also had hundreds of civilians and most of the guards. All were easily removed from the situation, killed or tied up without much effort. When Lexa thought of the inside of the Mountain in the past she always automatically thought it would be as fierce and well-guarded as the outside, but instead it is as luxurious and vulnerable as Clarke proclaimed. The hard outer shell is all the defences they seem to have.

Now they reach Level 5 – or try to. “I can’t get it open,” Monty says, frustrated.

“Or rather, we can get it open, but we can’t get it open,” Jasper says, apparently trying to clarify. He quails when Lexa looks at him. “Uh, we can hack it, that’s not a problem. The door says it can open. But there’s something stopping it, like the wires aren’t connected.”

“They have damaged it so it will not open,” Lexa realises. None of the Maunon they’ve encountered so far on the lower levels have had grenades, so she has removed her gas mask to gives orders more easily. The smoke from the jobi nuts gives her an unfamiliar sense of lightness, but none of the hallucinations the others fear. “Raven, use your bombs to remove the door.”

Raven grins a little nervously. “And if I blow us all up?” she asks.

“We will all wait on the stairs. They are relatively strong, structurally speaking,” Lexa says. “Do it. Now.”

There’s a pause where Lexa wonders if Raven might be about to argue, but instead she says, “Sure thing, Commander.” She starts setting up her bombs, her face becoming set as the smile on it fades. “We’re probably far enough down now that the explosion will make the whole place shake, though. Everyone in the Mountain will know they’re under attack.”

“If they are anything like the warriors we have faced already, I think we can withstand that,” Lexa says dryly, avoiding discussing what she knows Raven was actually talking about – Clarke. If Mount Weather’s leadership haven’t realised they’re under attack yet, that the nuclear bomb was simply a distraction, then they will definitely realise it now. The direct threat will no doubt stop any negotiation with Clarke, placing her at great risk. Lexa hopes that the Maunon with Clarke will be impaired enough that they are unable to harm her – and also hopes that Clarke will not be so impaired. But there is nothing she can do about it right now. Perhaps Clarke is on this level, perhaps not.

She prays that Clarke is on this level.

Raven said that whichever level she’s on must be close to the bottom to have knocked out the main lights as far as the very lowest level, so that the only thing left undamaged was life support with its extra-thick metal walls. So they work from the bottom up. They will find her. The map is in Lexa’s mind. And Clarke is strong. She has successfully distracted and manipulated the Maunon this long, a task no one else could ever have completed, and she will continue doing so.

As promised, the explosion shakes the place. “Forward,” Lexa orders her people. She steps through first, however, dust and smoke from the explosion swirling around her, blowing back her red sash. She spots a shape and leaps forward, knocking the gun out of the man’s hand before he can fire, then slicing at the next one while one of her gona dispatches the first. They are both wearing the green suits the others have discarded – so they will not have been affected as the others were, Lexa realises, annoyed. If all those on this floor wear suits they will have a problem.

“Wait!” One of them commands, voice clear and authoritative. “Wait, stop! Put your weapons down, everyone!” He raises his arms and Lexa pauses. The Mountain Men behind him lower their guns immediately. She raises her hand and those behind her halt. She steps forward to face the man.

“You’re not who I expected,” he comments lightly. She can see his face through the clear plastic front of his helmet, blocked slightly by the circle and tubes over his mouth. He’s an old man with sparse white hair and a thin face. His eyes are sharp and knowing. He talks to her as if speaking to an equal, and Lexa knows in a flash who he is.

“And who were you expecting, Dante Wallace?” Lexa smirks at him, holding up her sword so the tip rests at his throat. He looks surprised for a second at her knowledge of him but then dismisses it.

“My son,” he says, a little grimly. “He’s why we’re here, why the level’s locked. There’s nearly sixty of us, plus a dozen children from the Ark who are locked in the other room for their safety. We’re all in suits because my son threatened to let radiation into this level if we didn’t give him the children and agree to be injected with their bone marrow.”

“Are you saying we share a common enemy?” Lexa lets her smirk grow. “Make your offer, Dante kom Maunon. Tell me why I should not kill you all for the harm you have dealt my people.”

“Because we’re protecting some of the young people from the Ark,” Dante says, eyes fixed on her face like he is looking for any sign his words are having an effect. “Surely that’s enough to know we’re better than the others. Everyone here with me objected to killing children. Many of them have never harmed a single one of your people.”

“You mean they did not stain their own hands with my people’s blood,” Lexa points out. “But that does not mean it was not shed on their behalf. My people’s blood flows in their veins.”

“My mother never took a single drop of Outsider blood,” a young, female voice chimes in from behind Dante. “She died refusing to take another’s life. Please. A lot of the people here refused to let Outsiders die for them once they were old enough to say no. We knew it was wrong.”

Lexa looks at the girl, small and helpless-looking in her baggy green Maunon suit, her dark hair a halo around her wan face. “And did this knowledge inspire you to free my people? To fight against the system that bled them dry? Did this knowledge prevent my people from dying, burning in fog, being turned into Ripa?”

There are tears in the girls’ eyes, but she still replies, and Lexa thinks there is strength in this one despite her tears. “Please,” she whispers. “Please, don’t kill us. Show mercy. I don’t want to die.”

Lexa looks back at her people, who shift under her gaze but stand in place, weapons lowered. “We are not savages,” she says softly, “And blood must not have blood.” Lexa faces Dante again. “Place all of your weapons in a pile,” she commands him. “You have information I could use. If you give it to me, your supporters here will live.”

Dante closes his eyes for a moment. Lexa knows he has been ruling his people long enough to see what her assurance means. Those who make alliances based purely on their honour never promise what they cannot deliver, because they cannot afford to have their word ever questioned. He knows she has promised Dante’s supporters will survive, but not that he will. She waits to see if he accepts this.

He opens his eyes again, and says, a little hoarsely. “I will give you whatever information you want, Commander. Just ensure that some of my people survive this.”

“The code,” Lexa says baldly. “You know which one I mean. You will give me your security pass so that no doors may stop me, you will give me the code, and then you will all wait here for my word.”

“How can I trust -” Dante starts to say, then stops, realising he has no option but to trust her not to kill them when she has what she wants. Perhaps he also knows that the Commander keeps her word, and that she makes alliances in good faith. She does not know how closely the Maunon watch the world outside them. Not closely enough to see that the ‘Outsiders’ they speak of are people too, clearly, but perhaps close enough to know their actions and beliefs.

Dante nods, and looks around – perhaps to find a writing tool, there do not appear to be any close by. After a minute, Lexa passes him her knife, and holds out her arm. “Write it on me,” she orders softly. The gona behind her make quiet noises of displeasure but make no move to argue.

He looks at her, startled, but then presses the knife lightly against her arm and begins to carve out numbers. It bleeds a little, but does not hurt much. “I could cut your wrist to the bone,” he comments quietly, for no one’s ears but hers. It is not said like a threat, just a statement of fact.

“And your people would die, every single one of them,” she says, just as softly. “As they will if this code is incorrect. No, you will not do that. The first thing a good commander learns is how to read their enemies.”

“I thought I was good at that as well,” he says, with a twinge of sadness. “I suppose that belief has been disproven by recent events.”

“Even the best rulers sometimes have a blind spot for family,” Lexa says, thinking of Titus and Gustus. Thinking of Clarke’s father who died for trusting his wife, of Clarke who looked to her friend as a traitor instead of her mother. Dante finishes his writing and hands her back her knife.

Lexa looks behind her and does a quick count. Eighteen Skaikru remain. “Jackson,” she says authoritatively.

“Yes, Commander?” he says, looking surprised to be addressed.

“The next level is the medical one, I believe,” she says. “You will find the equipment necessary to give these people bone marrow. Apart from Raven, Jasper and Monty who may still be required, our team’s Skaikru will then remain here and volunteer their bone marrow. There are more than enough of you here to only take a safe amount.”

The Skaikru all start talking at once.

“You know, it’s not really volunteering if you order them to,” Raven points out in an undertone.

“They volunteered to follow my orders,” Lexa says reasonably. “This is my order.” Nevertheless, she speaks up again. “If you do not wish to do this, you do not have to,” she informs the Skaikru, and they quiet. “However, this will endanger us all further as the Mountain will have to be kept standing long enough for us to find bone marrow for those who protected your children.”

One of the Skaikru men clears his throat. “It’s not that, it’s… isn’t giving bone marrow painful? Really painful?”

Lexa blinks. This would not be a consideration for her people. She turns back to Dante again. “Do you have sleep darts?” He nods. “Then the Skaikru can be knocked out for a couple of hours, long enough for the marrow to be taken painlessly.” This seems generally acceptable, though some Skaikru still do not look particularly happy.

“Come,” Lexa orders. “It is time to deal with the next level.”

Chapter Text

The explosion below them shakes the whole room. For a moment everyone looks wildly at each other, wondering if it’s part of their hallucinations, before realising that they all reacted to the same noise.

“We’re under attack,” Emerson says, face paling. He raises his gun at Clarke and winces, seeing another hallucination. Blood starts to dribble down from his nose. “You did this, I know you did -”

“Father?” Cage says dazedly. “Father, I didn’t mean to – please, Father – forgive me -” Most of the room are like him now, locked in their own little worlds.

Emerson dives across the room towards Clarke, waving his gun like it’s a sword instead. A shot goes off and buries itself in the wall. The other soldiers react – some of them seem less affected than the others – starting towards her as well. Clarke’s father keeps appearing next to her mother, Wells chokes to death on the floor, and Raven screams at the ceiling. Meanwhile Lexa slumps next to Clarke, bleeding out, but when Clarke reaches for her frantically there’s nothing there.

Clarke decides that, on the whole, she doesn’t like jobi nuts. Jobi nuts are awful, especially in gaseous form. Why the hell did they bring jobi nuts into this plan? Even though she knows she’s hallucinating, she keeps forgetting. “Dad?” she says, then slumps to the floor.

Then a soldier reaches out for her and she kicks him, hard. He makes a pained noise but covers her hands with his anyway, squeezing them roughly and painfully, and she realises he’s trying to take the trigger from her but keep the button down. She kicks him again and again, wildly, and eventually he lets out a choked scream and coughs more blood onto her.

“Clarke!” her mother looks down at her – not the one on the bed, another one, a younger one, face disapproving. “You need learn to share.” Clarke glances at the soldier, but it’s not a soldier, of course it’s not, why would there be a soldier in her room? It’s Wells and he wants the toy she’s holding. She likes Wells, he’s nice, of course she should share with him. She lets go of it.

He falls back and it’s not Wells anymore but a soldier again – shit, this stuff is potent when you burn it. He has the trigger but almost immediately drops it. The four or five people in the room still coherent enough to know what’s going on flinch as the button pops up, but nothing happens. The trigger rolls across the floor harmlessly.

“What?” Emerson says hoarsely. Then he’s her teacher, she’s learning Earth Skills and it’s a test. “Why didn’t it go off?”

She wants to pass the test. “Oh, it’s because -”Then she blinks and realises what she’s doing, realises it’s Emerson, but decides to keep going anyway. She wants him to know. Clarke gives him a dark grin. “My mechanic isn’t very good at making nuclear bombs, it turns out. She’s pretty great at EMPs though. All your most important systems are within fifty feet of here, right? Vertically and horizontally.” That’s better, she can see what’s real now if she concentrates. “I didn’t really like the idea of carrying around a nuclear bomb anyway. Kinda dangerous.” She spits out blood on the floor.

He blinks, and she realises his eyes are starting to get more focused as well. Maybe the smoke from the burnt jobi nuts is dissipating. Either way, he’s looking straight at her without a problem. “It’s… that was an EMP? You pressed it and it knocked out… But what about…?” He touches a hand to his mouth, which has blood seeping out the side.

“Turns out the ‘savages’ are still a fair bit smarter than you,” Clarke says spitefully. She coughs up some more blood. “Fun, right? It’s a virus. Biological warfare. Octavia and I got it from a kid in TonDC who travelled there just for us. You guys got it from Octavia, she’s immune but she’s still a carrier. Maybe you shouldn’t torture people so up close and personal, it’s very catching. Don’t worry. Most people survive. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your family -”

She knows the second she says it that she’s gone too far. He leaps up with a cry of rage and throws himself at her, hands closing around her neck. His weight presses down her legs and her arms are still bound, leaving her nearly helpless. She thrashes against him, choking, trying desperately to breathe as he roars wordlessly. She tries to throw him off but can’t.

Clarke manages to get her bound hands up to his throat as well somehow and squeeze. “You’ll die long before you can choke me,” he gasps out, blood trickling from his mouth down over her hands.

I know, Clarke thinks. She lowers her head, and uses her grip on him to pull his head forward to meet hers quickly. Just like Lexa taught her. The strongest part of her head hits one of the weakest parts of his. He yanks back, yowling, clutching at his head – it looks like she’s caved in a part of it, but that could just be a hallucination. Suddenly there’s the noise of gunfire and Emerson staggers and collapses on her, blood blossoming from two wounds on his right shoulder. Then Jackson’s crouching there, rolling Emerson off her – why is she hallucinating Jackson? “He’ll live,” Jackson says.

“I don’t care,” Lexa snaps, appearing in Clarke’s vision. Clarke blinks and Lexa’s covered in blood, then she’s not, then she is again. Lexa leans down over and gently fixes something over her face. For a second Clarke is fighting against Roan trying to gag her, then she realises it’s Lexa and Lexa would never put something on her face that didn’t need to be there. “Clarke? Clarke, this is a gas mask. Jobi nuts work quickly like this but they wear off quickly as well. Just breathe, ai niron. Breathe.” She turns and looks at Jackson. “Find something for her,” she orders.

“What?” Jackson says, confused.

“They will have medicines for viruses, will they not?” Lexa snaps, “Find some. Now.”

Then there’s Jackson in front of her. No, it’s her mother, about to give her an injection. She always hated this as a little kid, her mother suddenly turning into someone she couldn’t trust, pushing a needle into her arm as she fought against it. But Clarke obeys Lexa when Lexa tells her to stay still, to breathe, that it’s all right, and slowly her mother fades back into being Jackson. The injection stays though, pushed into her arm.

“It should work pretty quickly,” Jackson says, “But it won’t cure it, it will just get her up and moving better for a while. It works by -”

“There are others who need help as well,” Lexa interrupts him, iron command in her voice. “Sedate Octavia and Abby kom Skaikru before they injure themselves more. And you are needed downstairs to begin injecting bone marrow.”

“I like it when you do the Commander voice,” Clarke says through the gas mask, starting to feel more normal. She notices Lexa’s team is all here, Skaikru and Trikru, efficiently moving around to tie the wrists and ankles of everyone. Jackson’s giving Octavia and Abby some injections.

“Mochof,” Lexa says, peering at Clarke. “Are you back with us?”

Clarke blinks. “For the moment, it seems like it.”

Raven appears there as well. “Hey, Clarke, good to see you’re still alive. And Octavia too. Even Abby. This is turning out to be a pretty good attack. Nine out of ten, would invade again. It loses a point for the colour scheme though.”

“Good to see you too,” Clarke says dryly. With Lexa’s help, she manages to stand up.

“I believe we have now successfully taken the place,” Lexa tells her. “We must clear out the two levels above, but I think we have encountered nearly all the Mountain’s forces.” She clears her throat. “May I leave you for the moment? I wish to continue upwards. I have sent a gona back to get Anya and her team to come help. We think it is time to begin removing all of our new captives from the Mountain. The mechanism that controls the fog from inside here seems to have been knocked out by Raven’s device, but I would still like to ensure there is no one here to try and remedy that.”

“Yes, you should go,” Clarke says, still feeling weak and dizzy. “I can treat the wounded here and start gathering any useful medical supplies to take with us.”

Lexa nods, and smiles at her brilliantly for a brief moment. “I am glad you kept your promise to remain alive, ai hodnes.” Then she is gone.

Clarke finds some water and rinses her mouth out, not bothering to clean the rest of the blood off herself even though she’s covered in it. The bloody tears she’s accidentally smudged around her face look like a red-brown version of Lexa’s warpaint, and even her dark Grounder clothing is covered so liberally that the red shows. The sour, coppery smell of it hangs in the air.

Clarke busies herself bandaging her mother and Octavia, who have both passed out from the sedative. Then she treats the unconscious and tied Emerson as well. He will remain alive to face a trial, and that gives her a surge of vindictive pleasure. They might have started trying out ‘blood must not have blood’, but Clarke knows that they will give the worst of the Mountain to the people to die in the traditional way, by a thousand cuts. Blood must not always have blood, but decades of blood does deserve some in return. Revenge and justice aren’t always polar opposites.

It’s taken her a long time to find that middle ground.

She goes down a level and helps Jackson transfer bone marrow to the remaining Maunon, then turns to find herself face to face with Maya. “Hello,” she manages to choke out, the air all gone from her lungs. She doesn’t know why it surprises her, still, to see the dead alive again . “I’m Clarke.”

“Maya,” the other girl says, giving her a shy smile, which is impressive given Clarke looks like she’s literally bathed in blood.

“Maya,” Clarke repeats. “It’s nice to meet you.” She injects her with the bone marrow.

After a while, Lexa’s back again. “We have the entire Mountain, and we’ve gotten nearly everyone out,” she tells Clarke. “All are dead or tied. This is the last group remaining inside.” Around them the room empties, people carried out by crowds of gona, who are all resistant to the virus and don’t need masks now that the smoke from the jobi nuts has finally dispersed.

Then it’s just Lexa and Clarke standing there. “We’ll be taking people back to TonDC as soon as possible,” Lexa says quietly. Her eyes search Clarke’s face now that the gas mask is gone, looking for signs of strain or sickness. Since the injection was just some adrenalin mixed with a generic antiviral, it’s unlikely the virus is actually gone from her system – she probably has a couple more hours before she crashes again. “I think we can hold the executions there. Your mother and the others are also outside, being treated with whatever we have. I have not allowed anyone to remove anything but medical supplies and food and a few of the vehicles, I hope that is acceptable to you. I do not wish for anyone to be able to build another acid fog machine. I -”

“Lexa,” Clarke interrupts. “Shof op.”

Lexa quiets, and Clarke leans in and kisses her, long and slow and perfect. They’re both covered in blood and sweat and dirt, both tired and on edge. But something about the moment is perfect.

Then she pulls back and smiles at Lexa. “We did it,” she says, grinning. “We did it, ai hodnes. We took down the Mountain.” Lexa holds out her arm and for a second Clarke’s not sure why. Then she sees the code scratched into Lexa’s skin.

“Remember it,” Lexa says softly, and kisses Clarke again. “Remember it and use it. I will wait for you outside, ai niron. As long as it takes.”

Clarke looks at Lexa’s arm, burning the code into her mind. Her lips move as she says it again and again. Then she looks up. “You could do it. You have it on your arm.”

Lexa’s lips twist into a wry smile. “I appreciate the thought, Clarke kom Skaikru. But only one of us is the Slayer of the Mountain, and it is not me. It was your plan, your risks, your nightmares that made this happen. This is not my part to play.”

“Oh,” Clarke says softly. She realises what Lexa’s trying to do, what she’s giving her – closure. The chance to become the destroyer of the Mountain again, but the right way. “Mochof.” She kisses Lexa again, and Lexa leaves.

Clarke wanders the Mountain for a while. It’s empty, just as ruthlessly empty and silent as it was the first time. It feels like children’s laughter still echoes in the halls. The common areas are still comfortable. The kitchens still smell of chocolate cake.

But it doesn’t feel like a tomb anymore. There are a few bodies around – men with guns, mostly – but otherwise it seems more like an old house someone’s moved out of. The lack of people isn’t horrifying. She knows they’re far above. Sick, tied up, injured, unhappy and homeless, but alive. And for most of them, she thinks that’s more than they deserve.

A part of her wishes Lexa was still here to wander the halls with her. But another part wants to destroy this place all on her own, as if doing so will allow her to conquer her nightmares of it. Like how waking up to see Lexa breathing beside her is slowly helping to reduce her nightmares of Lexa’s death. Maybe someday she’ll almost never have nightmares at all. Maybe someday she’ll heal.

Eventually, just as she’s starting to cough blood again, she finds the place to enter the code. All the computer systems and doors are unlocked – Monty and Jasper’s parting act.

She keys in the self-destruct code, and walks out of the Mountain, leaving her nightmares behind her. There is a crowd of people waiting outside, many of them on horses, already ready to go. Lexa’s in the front and Clarke keeps her eyes on her. She doesn’t look around when she hears the shuddering boom as the Mountain falls – doesn’t look to see if there are lights or fire or smoke or if it looks like nothing at all from the surface.

Clarke doesn’t look back. Not even once.

Chapter Text

Clarke’s exit from the Mountain will become a legend, Lexa knows. Some of her people had understood that the code she had was for a self-destruct, but even to the ones who know, Clarke’s calm, unflinching walk towards them is striking. They are already whispering in awe as it happens.

Clarke fixes her eyes on Lexa’s face, a small smirk on her lips. She is dramatically bloodstained, her hair in wild braids, her expression fierce and unyielding. She doesn’t react to the explosion behind her as the most feared place in the world falls. She strides forward as the night sky is lit up behind her, the blaze of furious light silhouetting her so that she seems more like a living shadow than a person, something inhuman and unfathomable. In that one moment, even Lexa could almost believe that Clarke blew up the Mountain just with the strength of her wrath.

There are no shortage of gona to see it, either. Nearly all have arrived from Arkadia by now. She originally ordered the rest of the gona to follow slowly in order to provide a distraction – a quick-moving group of a hundred people would not be noticeable compared to the far greater, slow-moving gonakru, distracting the Maunon’s gaze and making them expect an entirely different style of attack. But the gona have also come in use securing the Maunon and caring for the sick and injured, and it is good that so many are here to witness the end of the Mountain.

Clarke stops in front of Lexa. Blood drips from her eyes. “Let’s get out of here,” she says, for Lexa’s ears only. “We’ve dealt with my nightmare. Once we’ve finished sorting this out, we head north, find Nia and deal with yours. Sha?”

“Sha,” Lexa says softly, spellbound. She moves back in her seat and reaches out her hand. Clarke stares in confusion for a moment then takes it, and Lexa pulls Clarke up onto the horse in front of her. “Hold on tight, Mountain Slayer.” Then she raises her voice. “GONA! TO TONDC!” She wheels the horse around and takes off at a canter. She wants to get Clarke back before her illness makes it difficult for to stay on the horse. It will not do for her people to see Clarke fall now.

Only Anya and Tristan’s rangers are able to keep up with them. The night is filled with stars and the hazy smoke of the Mountain’s destruction, but Lexa’s world narrows to the girl in front of her and the horse beneath her. With her arms around Clarke, she keeps her upright and manages to get her to TonDC, though she can feel the difference in Clarke as they go, the way her energy fades, adrenalin (both natural and injected) starting to dwindle.

Once they arrive she helps Clarke down from the horse, holding her up when Clarke would fall. “Come on, ai hodnes,” she says quietly. “Our tent is just here. It is time to rest.”

Clarke coughs some blood onto the ground. “You’ll be here when I wake up?”

“I could not leave,” Lexa says honestly. She helps Clarke undress and get onto the sleep mats and she wraps every blanket around her, cocooning her in warmth. Clarke is starting to become feverish, and Lexa fetches a waterskin and persuades her to drink some of it. Finally she gets a cloth and begins to sponge off the blood on Clarke’s face and shoulders as Clarke slips into a restless sleep.

After a while she realises she is not alone in the tent.

“I was wondering when you would notice I was here,” Anya says, a little teasingly. “You show your heart in your eyes, yongon. You always have.”

“And is that a bad thing, Anya? To feel for her and show that feeling?” Lexa replies softly, still focusing on Clarke. Only a small percentage of people die of the virus, and Clarke has survived it before, but she still worries.

“I do not still object to her, Lexa, if that is what you mean,” Anya tells her. “She has more than proven herself to me – to all of us. But that does not mean I do not worry about you.” She hesitates. “She is the leader of her people. She cannot continue to accompany you everywhere and she cannot live with you in Polis. Also, you wish the Skaikru to join the alliance – you cannot be with the leader of one of the clans, the other clans will think you are influenced by her.”

“I cannot be with the leader of one of the clans,” Lexa acknowledges. She drags the damp cloth across Clarke’s forehead again – it seems to help her sleep. “But Clarke will not be leader for much longer. I plan to make her my chief advisor, my second in command, an extension of my power and authority.”

Anya sucks in a quick breath. “That… is a great deal of power to give, Heda.”

“You think the clans will object? The ambassadors?” Lexa glances back at her former Fos.

Anya considers it. “No,” she says eventually, sounding surprised. “Not if you announce it while this is still fresh. She has done the impossible and brought down the Mountain with only a handful of gona. With Titus taken by the Azgeda, it will also comfort the coalition to know that someone will take charge if you are killed until he can be retrieved or replaced and the Conclave can take place. I do not think they will object – they will grumble like they do at anything, but nothing serious.”

Lexa looks back at Clarke. Bruises from Emerson’s attack ring her throat, a necklace of blue and black splotches that make her skin look even paler in comparison. “Good. Because even if they object, I am the Commander, and this is my choice. As always, I will do what is best for my people. She is what is best for my people.”

“And she is what is best for you,” Anya says softly, giving Lexa a rare sweet smile. Normally Anya is all edges and sharpness, so softness from her always feels more meaningful than from anyone else.

It feels like something is trapped in Lexa’s throat, blocking her air. “Yes,” she chokes out, and is surprised to find tears in her eyes. “She is what is best for me.”

Anya places her hand on Lexa’s shoulder. “I am glad for you, yongon,” she says. She clears her throat, withdrawing her hand and clearly trying to move the conversation away from topics that make her uncomfortably emotional. “So. As you ordered, I have many of the gona treating the sick Maunon.”

“Sha?”

“They are… quite enthusiastic about it,” Anya says hesitantly. “They believe we are attempting to keep the Maunon alive and lucid so that they may suffer the pain fully as they die.”

“I see,” Lexa says noncommittally.

Anya eyes her. “May I tell them that is what they are doing?”

“No,” Lexa says simply. “I have not decided what the fate of the Maunon will be yet.”

“Some of them are not ill,” Anya says carefully, “These ones claim you promised them safety and sanctuary.”

“I did,” Lexa replies.

Anya closes her eyes for a second. “I see,” she says, keeping her voice level. “And what did they do to deserve this, if I can ask?”

“They gave me the code to destroy the Mountain,” Lexa says. “They have tried to avoid the deaths of our people, they saved Skaikru goufa from death. They are still guilty, but not as guilty as the others, weak and foolish instead of malevolent. I believe watching their home, their ways and their people destroyed is punishment enough for them.”

“They will become our enemies, Heda!” Anya growls, eyes flashing. “They will seek revenge -”

“Seek revenge how? They have no weapons, no allies,” Lexa points out calmly. “They have far less than a hundred people, and I believe those people will be absorbed into the Skaikru, who will watch them very closely. We can show mercy to the powerless this time, I think. Blood must not have blood.”

“Why do you seek to change our ways?” The question is almost plaintive.

“Because our ways need to change,” Lexa says flatly. She strokes Clarke’s hair lightly. “So do theirs. If I kill the defenceless, what is to stop others killing our defenceless? There is value in small acts, small changes, in unimportant lives spared.”

“Not a value I have ever seen,” Anya says darkly.

“But you will,” Lexa promises. She bends down and kisses Clarke’s hot forehead lightly. The other girl shifts in her sleep and moans. “I will not slaughter those who aided us. Not because I believe sparing them will make them our allies, but because otherwise why would anyone else seek to help us? People need to know that we do not decide guilt by association, that their individual actions still matter.”

Anya inhales sharply, and when Lexa turns to look at her in mild surprise, her face is filled with realisation. “The Azgeda…” she breathes, “You are doing this to send a message. That any who side with us against Nia will be forgiven. You are giving them a reason to come to our side instead of work with her out of fear.” She surveys Lexa and shakes her head slowly, a smile growing on her face. “Your mind terrifies me, yongon.”

“And that is as it should be,” Lexa says, managing a smile of her own. Then Clarke starts making little heaving noises in her sleep and Lexa barely manages to grab the bowl she uses for her warpaint in time for Clarke to vomit blood into it. Amazingly, she remains asleep through this, and Lexa touches a finger lightly to where her pulse beats in her neck – a little too fast, but strong and steady. Lexa focuses on her as the fit of vomiting continues, then looks up briefly after it seems to be over. “Go manage the gona, Anya, ensure they do not kill any Maunon through mistreatment. I also wish you to check on Octavia and Abby – Clarke’s nomon, the other Skayon with the virus – and let me know how they fare.”

“Sha, Heda,” Anya says, and disappears.

Only a few minutes later, though, Lexa hears the tent flap open again. She frowns and turns. “Anya, why – oh. Raven kom Skaikru. Moba, I expected Anya.”

“Right,” Raven flushes slightly, remaining standing by the tent flap. “I shoulda knocked. Or, I don’t know, yodelled or something. Yodelling was banned in the Ark, did you know? Something to do with the way the noise travelled. But I always thought -”

Lexa never expected to know Raven well enough to know when she is hedging, avoiding a subject. But sometimes life surprises you. “Raven. Why are you here?”

“I came to check on Clarke,” Raven huffs, “From a distance, obviously, so I don’t get what she has.”

Lexa raises an eyebrow. “Clarke is fine, feverish but resting. Did you really come for that?”

Raven glares at her. “She’s one of my best friends! Of course I want to check on her!”

“And…?”

Raven tries to keep up her glare, but it collapses into a reluctant smile. “Okay, maybe I didn’t come just to check on her. I wanted to talk to you about… stuff.”

“I see,” Lexa says politely, hiding an eye roll as she gives Clarke another soft kiss on the cheek. “And after that you would like to do ‘things’, I suspect. Or go ‘places’. You are going to have to be more specific, Raven.”

“Clarke’s one of my closest friends,” Raven says slowly. “So are you, really, or getting there at least.” She swallows and comes to her point. “So is Anya.”

“Oh.” Now Lexa understands why Raven entered as soon as Anya left. She was waiting for a chance to see Lexa without her there.

“I just need to know… what she wants,” Raven says, a little wretchedly. “What she’s looking for.”

“You would do better to speak to her about that,” Lexa points out.

“I get… distracted… when I talk to her,” Raven flushes and looks to the side. “We argue, and she smirks, and she makes me laugh, and then she gives me this look, all intense and evil. And it’s really hot. That’s why I kissed her before. But I can’t do this. I just broke up with Finn, I need time.” The words burst out of her like she needs to say them. “I need time, and I need space, and I can’t deal with something serious right now.” She swallows hard, looking on the verge of tears. “I don’t think Anya wants something casual, and even if she did, I don’t think I could do casual with her, not with how much I care about her. But I don’t know that I can manage a real relationship, not while I’m still healing from the last one. And I don’t want to lose her friendship, not after everything.”

Lexa wonders if the universe is punishing her for getting involved in Anya’s romantic life in the first place. “Talk to her,” she urges Raven, trying to stop herself from sounding as stiff and uncomfortable as she is. “Anya will be silent and listen and not argue if you ask her to do that. She may even wait for you if you ask her to.”

“You think?”

“I think there is not much Anya wouldn’t do, if you asked her to,” Lexa says softly. She looks down at Clarke again, at her flushed, feverish face, and moves the container to catch it as Clarke throws up blood in her sleep again. “Trust me. I understand what that is like.”

Chapter Text

When Clarke’s world swims back into focus again, she immediately tries to sit up. “Lexa -”

“Easy, Clarke,” Lexa says sharply, supporting her.

The world seems very bright, swirling dizzily around her as she fights her way back to consciousness, purple spots blinking in front of her vision. Everything seems to sway a little and she gags, but then manages to orient herself. “How… how long have I been asleep?”

“Around fifteen hours,” Lexa says. Now that Clarke looks at her, she can see that Lexa is very tired, the darkness under her eyes and the angles of her face more pronounced than normal.

“I asked you to stay with me,” Clarke remembers, and winces. “Sorry. You should have gotten some sleep, you must have been up for nearly forty-eight hours straight now.”

“I have stayed awake for longer,” Lexa says wryly. “I would have been too worried to sleep, anyway.”

Clarke snuggles into the warm, strong arms supporting her, selfishly glad that Lexa is still here. “Come nap with me, then,” she says sleepily, and yawns.

“That sounds good, ai niron,” Lexa says quietly, giving Clarke’s forehead a kiss.

Then Clarke’s eyes slam open. “My mother -”

“Well. Jackson cares for her,” Lexa says firmly. “For a time she was sedated so he could undertake some work on her knee, but she woke up several hours ago and appears to be getting better from the virus slowly.”

“The others?”

“Twenty-three of our people died in the assault on the Mountain, killed in the crossfire or executed by the Maunon before we could get them out. Octavia was up many hours ago – she is immune, as you said. Her torture will leave scars but she is already showing them with pride to the other Sekens and Linkon and none of her injuries will permanently incapacitate her.”

“That sounds like Octavia,” Clarke says, almost amused, even though she feels tears come to her eyes at the thought of the two dozen of their people who have died. She opens her mouth to ask more about her mother’s knee, then closes it again. She saw the shot. She knows it’s very likely her mother will need crutches or at least a cane the rest of her life. Instead, she asks, “How about the Maunon? How many died?”

“Anya has – most unwillingly – been keeping track of their numbers with Dante,” Lexa tells her. “Twelve have died from the virus, and around seventy died in our invasion of the place – though he suspects some died before at his son’s hands. Around three hundred remain alive.”

“Tsing, Cage, Emerson?”

“All alive,” Lexa says firmly. After a pause, she adds, “Though I do not believe we can leave them that way.”

Clarke considers it. No, she doesn’t think so, either. Partially because she thinks they would be a threat someday if they were left alive. And also because she got closure from destroying the Mountain, but she isn’t the only one who needs that – all of Lexa’s people, and now all of her people, have lost someone at the hands of the Maunon. They need to pay.

“And the rest of them,” Lexa says, watching her carefully, “Do you have any thoughts?”

Clarke swallows, and hopes what she’s about to say isn’t too bloodthirsty. “We leave alive everyone below the age of twenty or so and everyone who refused to take bone marrow until it was volunteered,” she proposes. If she’s worked it out correctly, that probably means executing somewhere between two hundred and ten to two hundred and thirty Mountain Men. It curdles her stomach a little, but if what they’re trying to do is gradually introduce ‘blood must not have blood’, then it’s an acceptable compromise. Most of the Maunon die. But some survive. And after decades, the Grounders finally get something approaching justice for the way they’ve been treated.

Lexa nods. “That is reasonable. That supports our aim to make our laws less harsh, but will lead to the execution of enough of the Maunon that my people will support it. What of Dante?” Clarke can see the tension in her face.

“That one’s up to you,” Clarke tells her. “His crimes were against your people, not Skaikru.” She doesn’t think the Grounders could accept the idea of leaving the man alive. It’s under his leadership that their people began to be taken. His kindness to the Sky People doesn’t absolve him of that – in some ways, Clarke thinks it makes it worse, since it means he knew what he was doing but found it acceptable since it was only to the ‘savages’. Now that she knows so many Grounders, it’s disturbing to her that someone could have that kind of hypocrisy, that kind of willing moral dissonance. Dante would have drained Lexa, Anya, Lincoln, Indra, and so many more amazing people without feeling a qualm.

Lexa bites her lip, then seems to reach a decision. “Then he will die. Tomorrow, with the rest of them.”

“Death of a thousand cuts?”

“Yes,” Lexa says baldly. “Out of respect for his actions protecting your people, he may be the first to die by a thousand cuts, though. So he does not have to have to witness the death of his son.”

It’s a strange, twisted mercy. Clarke’s stomach nearly revolts at the thought of all of it – hundreds of people, strung up like Finn was, a modern day Calvary. Gona with knives, waiting for the chance to cut at their enemies, lining up like the Maunon used to line up at the cafeteria. The slashes, the pleas, the moans of pain slicing through the air. It’s not even the thought of Dante, really – it’s the thought of an imaginary twenty-one year old who took the bone marrow because he wanted to see the sky for the first time. An imaginary mother who took it because she didn’t want her to children to go outside without her. Even an imaginary soldier, told that he needed to take the bone marrow because an army was coming to kill them and it was the only way to survive.

She forces herself to remember real people, though, from both worlds. Lincoln remembering his time as a Ripa, his face filled with torment. Anya biting a tracker implant out of her skin because anything was better than going back to be bled. Octavia, bruised and scarred for life, because the Mountain didn’t care if she was sixteen provided she had information they wanted. Atom, begging for death as his skin blistered and burned from the fog. That’s what’s real. That’s what happened.

“I love you,” she whispers to Lexa, because it’s true. She loves the girl who is sentencing hundreds of people to death. But then, she also loves the girl who is sparing some of the Maunon, against all her people’s beliefs, and the girl who did not leave Clarke’s side when she was sick, and the girl who would do anything that’s necessary for her people.

“I love you too,” Lexa says, and Clarke can see both sadness and understanding in her eyes.

“I didn’t expect us to manage to keep any of them alive,” Clarke says suddenly. She didn’t even know she was going to say it before she did.

“Neither did I,” Lexa admits. She presses a kiss to side of Clarke’s head. “And I still do not entirely know what to do with the survivors. Do you still stand by your plan to integrate them with your people?”

“I guess,” Clarke says uncertainly. She takes Lexa’s hand and pulls her so that they’re even closer, then unwraps herself from the blankets to put them around Lexa as well so they’re cocooned together. She was serious about her idea of a nap, though some of her sleepiness has dissipated. It’s nice to be pressed against Lexa in the warmth. “If we make it clear that they’re only alive because they helped some of our children escape death, my people might accept them. A lot depends on how they treat us, though. The last thing we need in Arkadia is a group who despise the rest of us.”

“My people will never accept them, regardless of how they feel,” Lexa says bluntly. She presses a kiss to Clarke’s shoulder. At the exact same moment they collapse onto the sleep mat together, lying down facing each other. Clarke feels a little gross and sweaty from her fever, but the idea of getting up and washing seems much harder than lying here beside the girl she loves.

“I understand that,” Clarke says. She nuzzles into Lexa, enjoying the warmth and softness of her. “I guess even if they hate us, we outnumber them, and it’s better than killing them. Will it make the other clans dislike us more?”

“I hope not,” Lexa replies, sighing and closing her eyes. “We are executing most of them, that should help. I may tell the ambassadors you are imprisoning them, or have them as workers, something like that – forced replacements for the people they took from you. They could accept that as a Skaikru custom, forcing murderers to complete all of the work their victims could have accomplished in their life.”

“Tell them whatever you like,” Clarke says, stifling a yawn. Her eyes are sliding shut too. “We’ll have to let the ambassador and the Chancellor know what you’re saying so they can go along with it, though.”

She can’t see Lexa, but she can feel the light kiss Lexa places on her forehead. Clarke presses more closely against her – nothing sexual in it, they’re both too tired for that, but just because it feels like every bit of her skin is cold and stinging apart from the parts where she’s touching Lexa. Much better than medication.

“Do you know who you wish for?” Lexa says. She yawns as well, and Clarke finds the sound ridiculously cute. “As ambassador and Chancellor, I mean.”

“I thought Wells might be a good ambassador,” Clarke says. She feels a twinge of pain suddenly. Soon, very soon, when they get back to Arkadia, she’s going to have to tell Wells that his father is dead. That she was wrong when she said they might keep Jaha alive as a hostage or for information. That she gave him false hope. There’s another hit of even worse guilt when she realises that part of her is selfishly glad that he has nothing tying him to Arkadia, so he can come with her to Polis.

As if sensing her pain, Lexa nuzzles her face against Clarke’s neck. “I would like that,” she admits, voice muffled. “He has become… something of a friend to me. Besides that, though, he is reasonable and thoughtful, he understands sacrifice but does not enjoy it, he is accepting of the differences between the other clans and his without losing loyalty due to this. He would be an ideal ambassador.”

“And that frees Kane up to be the Chancellor,” Clarke yawns, stretching a little. Her body aches from her sickness, but it’s already starting to get better, so it’s a good ache. “I think Cole, Fuji, Jay and my mother could make an acceptable council if he wants one, too. For the big decisions. Most of them are pretty reasonable people, and apart from my Mom they’ve spent enough time with Grounders that they understand some of their customs and beliefs.”

“Would they be able to overrule him?” Lexa says, her voice slow and drowsy. “That creates a… a risk…” she yawns again as well.

“Maybe just advisors at first,” Clarke says sleepily, “We can give them actual powers later if need be. And we need some kind of mechanism to remove the Chancellor … if necessary… maybe we can station someone here, someone reliable like Indra… we won’t need it with Kane, I don’t think, but… remind them that this is the Coalition’s land… keep them in line…” Clarke forgets what she was saying. She nuzzles into Lexa some more.

Lexa’s breathing is even and slow. She’s fast asleep. Clarke sighs happily and joins her.

Chapter Text

“Is everyone gathered?” Lexa asks quietly.

“Sha, Heda,” Anya says, face set. “We are ready whenever you wish to address us.”

Lexa nods. She grabs a nearby square of blue fabric, tucking it into her belt, and picks up the small mirror she left close by. Clarke takes it off her wordlessly and holds it up, allowing Lexa to use both hands to apply her warpaint, and then to apply similar warpaint to Clarke. When she finishes Lexa looks as much the Commander as she ever has, a spirit of war instead of a person, and as she washes the excess warpaint off her hands a strange sort of dread creeps up on her.

She notices suddenly that she is still wearing the watch Clarke gave her, and for some reason that makes her feel a cold weight in her stomach. It’s wrong to be wearing it today, when she will walk out of this tent and order the death of hundreds, when she will slice into flesh and hear agonised cries and pleas. They might be Maunon, murderers by default, but as she condemns them she knows for a flicker of a moment she will see something else – she will see a sibling, a parent, a lover, a child. It does not matter that she lost count of the deaths she ordered long ago, she always sees that, with every single execution, and she thinks she always will.

“Hey,” Clarke says softly, taking Lexa’s wrist gently as Lexa struggles to take the watch off. She removes it herself, hands deft. Lexa raises her eyes to meet Clarke’s, and her words of explanation die in her mouth. Clarke’s expression holds nothing but understanding. She remembers that though Clarke had Lexa braid her hair today she did not ask for Costia’s sheath to be put in.

Clarke looks at her steadily. “We’re doing the right thing,” she says, so quietly Lexa can barely hear her. There’s a faint tremor of uncertainty beneath her words, but she clears her throat and says it again more decisively.

“We’re doing what is necessary,” Lexa corrects, because they are. The right thing is irrelevant, in this case. When she thinks of watching them all die – that odd moment when suddenly the whole world changes a little, when a life extinguishes like a blown-out candle and the person’s eyes become eerily dull and unmoving – her heart clenches a little. There is something that seems so harmless about them, the Maunon civilians, pale and weak as they recover from their illness, as scared and defenceless as goufa now they are outside their little world. She reminds herself that inside that world, inside the Mountain, they ended her people’s lives as if it was a treatment akin to putting a bandage on a wound. They have developed their defencelessness by hiding away in luxury, never questioning the deaths of those who enabled that luxury. She inhales sharply, glancing at her reflection one last time. “Let’s go.”

People stretch as far as the eye can see. There’s the gona, the villagers of TonDC, and the Skaikru who came with them, but Lexa suspects that in the past few days all of her people within travelling distance have also come. Perhaps they came just to see what had caused the explosion, originally, but when they got closer and realised the Mountain had been destroyed – well. Of course they stayed.

The Maunon are in a group, on their knees with their hands tied, surrounded by gona with spears. Indra stands in front of them, expressionless. Abby is standing near her as well, surprising Lexa – she thought Abby was still unconscious. She leans hard on Jackson, but is still pale from the pain and stress on her knee.

Anya follows her gaze. “She just woke up ten minutes ago,” she murmurs to Clarke and Lexa. “And insisted on coming. Clearly stubbornness runs in the blood.”

“I’ll have to see her afterwards,” Clarke says, strong emotion showing until she breathes deeply and schools her face to blankness again. “I checked on her while she was still out, but we haven’t had a chance to actually talk.”

“Afterwards,” Lexa echoes, glad that Clarke hasn’t asked her to delay this for their reunion. She wants to get this over with.

Lexa steps forward and every single conversation quiets immediately. The only sounds are distant bird calls and a couple of quietly whimpering babes. The crowd of people stare at her. The silence seems to pull at her words, sucking them out into the world. “For years, the Maunon have terrorised us,” she says, her voice ringing out clearly. “They have burnt us, and they have bled us. But they have not broken us. The Mountain is gone, and we remain!” She pauses while the crowd cheers, waiting for silence again. “Today, we decide what happens to the survivors. It has always been our way to meet force with force, seek an eye for an eye, to say that blood must have blood.”

She takes a deep breath. “But that will no longer be our way.” The silence deepens even further, the very air seeming to grow colder.

“We are not like them,” she says into the growing tension, making her voice iron. “We will not slaughter children and call that honourable. We will not kill those who have helped us, those who have shown genuine remorse, those who have tried to do right. Their recent actions do not erase their crimes, but it shows a willingness to begin trying to make amends. The children of the Mountain, and fifty-seven of the adult Maunon who tried to help us, will be given the chance they never gave our people. They will be given their lives. Blood must not have blood.”

People are arguing amongst themselves now quietly, some of the Maunon are starting to cry or call out, and Abby takes a step forward as if she wants to say something and then half-collapses as she puts weight onto her injured leg, whimpering, Jackson pulling her upright again.

“Although blood must not have blood, murder without regret must still be punished. The Maunon who drained the blood from our people, and sucked the bones from the Skaikru, will die today,” Lexa continues, raising her voice over the talking. “They will die quickly and without pain, stabbed through the heart.” Now a gona yells an objection, storming forwards only for Anya to almost casually smack him down. Lexa ignores this. “But there are four who will experience the death of a thousand cuts.”

Now the crowd quiets again, apart from the sobbing and begging of the Maunon. Lexa wonders if her people think she chose scapegoats only because they cannot afford the time to kill every Maunon so slowly, but regardless, the news that she intends to punish some of them in the traditional way seems to have calmed them. “The first to die by the death of a thousand cuts will be Dante Wallace,” she says, voice ringing through the hush. “For he was the first to order our people’s deaths, many years ago, and it is by his order that so many of us have bled.”

Anya yanks Dante Wallace up out of the kneeling Maunon. His expression is almost calm, and he puts up no resistance at all as she ties him to a pole. Indra has had her people set up four of them at Lexa’s command, just as Anya has memorised which people she needs to pull out of the Maunon to be executed. Abby starts to say desperately, “But he helped us -”

“Be quiet, Mom,” Clarke says, voice firm and unyielding, cutting through her mother’s cry. “We’ll talk about it later. This isn’t the time.” Somewhat unexpectedly, Abby stops.

“The second will be Doctor Tsing, who bled our people with enjoyment, and laughed at their struggles.” Lexa’s voice is icy, matching the coldness inside of her. Tsing screams as she is tied to the pole, struggling wildly against the binding around both her wrist and her body, shouting insults and pleas by turn, calling Lexa a savage Outsider bitch one moment and begging her for mercy the next. Anya shoves a gag into her mouth to shut her up.

“The third to experience this death will be Cage Wallace, who created the Ripa and considers them his pets.” Lexa wonders how the Ripa retrieval is going – Clarke had said there did not seem to be any Ripa in the tunnels when she was captured, removed because Cage didn’t want them infected with the fictional ‘cure’, but they haven’t found where the Maunon sent the Ripa. It’s possible they were in the tunnels, only hiding from the tone generators, and they died when the Mountain blew up – or even that they returned after Clarke’s capture. But it is also possible that out there in the forest Ripa even now lie on the ground thrashing, the drugs working their way out of their systems, requiring only a Skaikru shock stick to return them to something more like the people they once were. She hopes the scouts find them.

Cage Wallace does not fight as he is moved to the pole, but he does not have his father’s dignity either. He looks to be in shock, face white and terrified, eyes blank and confused. He looks like a lost child, and Lexa feels no sympathy for him at all.

“Lastly, Carl Emerson will die, for his schemes against all our people,” Lexa says firmly. She does not add any further detail – originally she thought to mention his dealings with Nia, but she would prefer to keep her plans against the Azplana quiet until a real strategy can be decided. Certainly some of those here must be Azgeda, who will return home with news of all that has occurred – of the death of the Mountain, of the executions, of blood must not have blood, of the Skaikru with their new and powerful weapons. That gives Nia warning enough of what is coming for her, without confirming that they know of her treachery.

Emerson is already gagged, at Lexa’s insistence. She does not wish to know what he might say. Tales of time travel are best kept out of this. He tries to struggle as he is tied, but it is of no use. Bound, he looks at Clarke and Lexa with eyes that burn with hatred. Lexa gives him a thin, cold smile in return, one that promises him a long death.

“Remove those who are to survive from the rest of the Maunon,” Lexa says calmly. They have put those ones at the back of the group, and the gona easily yank them upright and force them away, pushing them into a series of guarded tents set further back. She waits for this to be accomplished, then clears her throat. “Now kill the others.”

She makes herself watch. Swords flash and screams pierce the air. The Maunon sob and whimper and cower and try to run, but they are surrounded by armed gona, and in under a minute it is all over. Their blood soaks the ground as they slump, dead piled on top of the dead. Dante Wallace looks down and away, closing his eyes against tears. Clarke watches as well, face iron but eyes agonised. Abby yells, “No! NO!” until Anya hisses something to a stunned Jackson and he covers her mouth with his hand. She bites it and he winces, then she breaks down into sobs.

Lexa lets everything calm down once more before speaking again. Everyone waits for the order to begin Dante’s death. Instead, she takes Clarke’s hands, steps back, and sinks to her knees, then reaches for the piece of blue material that she has tucked into her belt. A gasp echoes around the area, louder even than the one for the destruction of the Mountain. The Commander does not kneel, not now, not ever. They literally cannot believe their eyes.

“Clarke kom Skaikru,” Lexa says, allowing her voice to carry. “Destroyer of the Mountain. I thank you for what you have done for our people. I thank you for the end of the Maunon, the end of losing our friends and family to this horror.”

Suddenly everyone is talking to each other in an undertone, shocked and confused. This is unprecedented behaviour, for Heda to kneel to someone, for Heda to thank someone using such humility. And that is why it will work. They have gone beyond tradition, now, and into new territory. None would dare call Lexa weak when she entered the Mountain and survived to help bring it down, but it is also clear where she is placing the credit.

“In thanks for your actions, and due to the wisdom and strength you have shown, I ask that you become my official chief advisor, leader of the coalition in my absence, and second in power only to me,” Lexa says, raising her voice as the babble of shocked conversation grows. “The second in command of the coalition which Skaikru will soon join, the second in command of Polis and my armies, the second in command of all these lands. I ask that you act as an extension of my power and will and advise me on all matters, that you dedicate your life to our people and our lands. Do you accept this charge, surrendering all other allegiance but that to me and the alliance?”

There’s a long pause. The crowd’s frantic conversation is rising from a hum to roar. Abby’s face is a mask of horror and disbelief.

Clarke sinks to her knees so they are face to face, equals once more. “Sha,” she says loudly, “I accept!” And then her voice quietens, to a level only Lexa can hear, although the emotion in Clarke’s eyes already say everything. “I swear fealty to you, Lexa kom Trikru. I vow to treat your needs as my own, and your people as my people.” Lexa feels tears well in her eyes and blinks them away before anyone can see. She slowly and solemnly attaches the blue material to one of her shoulder-guards – the guards are not a pauldron like the Commander’s pauldron, but the sash is very like hers. It hangs to the ground, as bright as Clarke’s eyes, and flutters in the wind.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly, not after everything – Anya is the first one to sink to her knees. Then everyone is falling to their knees as Lexa stands upright again.

Lexa grips Clarke’s hand and pulls her up to stand again, then raises their joined hands in triumph. “Kos Kongeda!” she shouts. “For the Coalition!”

Everyone raises their weapons and cheers. The cheer lasts a long time.

“My mother is not taking this well,” Clarke says, wryly amused. Abby is one of the few who did not kneel, but thankfully with her visible injuries everyone most likely assumed she could not. Perhaps that is even the truth.

Lexa lets their arms fall, but does not let go of Clarke’s hand. “Let me know when your mother does react well to something. I would like to see that occasion.”

Clarke laughs. “You’re getting more sarcastic. I feel like I should blame Raven for that.”

“Or yourself. You could certainly blame yourself.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” Clarke wonders, and then looks at the four figures tied to their poles, her amusement and happiness fading. She squeezes Lexa’s hand tighter without meaning to.

“We will face it together, Clarke kom Kongeda,” Lexa says softly, knowing what Clarke is thinking

“Together,” Clarke agrees, and manages a shaky smile again.

Chapter Text

“Clarke, what was that?” Abby cries out, as soon as Clarke manages to drag her inside the tent. Jackson’s half-carrying her mother and she’s pale and sweating, but Abby still manages to look more vibrant than most people look uninjured.

“Are you talking about the executions or the position I’ve been given?” Clarke says. She doesn’t mean to sound cold, but she’s really tired of every adult from the Ark (well, apart from Kane and possibly Cole) questioning every decision she makes.

“Both,” Abby says flatly. They stand there for a moment, just staring at each other, and then Clarke steps forward and Abby grabs her in a fierce hug, abandoning the argument for the moment. “I’m so glad you’re okay, baby, you scared the hell out of me,” Abby says fervently into her hair. Jackson looks at Clarke and, when she gives him a meaningful look, he nods and leaves them with each other.

“You scared me too, Mom,” Clarke murmurs. “You scared me too.”

“I love you so much.”

“Love you too.”

They stand like that for a very long time until Abby pulls back, eyes wet. “Clarke, I don’t understand what’s going on. All those people, killing them like that, in cold blood…” She still leans on Clarke, unable to put weight on her injured leg.

“They killed Arkers for bone marrow ,” Clarke points out. “They killed Grounders for blood. They didn’t object, they didn’t try and stop it, they enjoyed using our people as medication. On the Ark we would have killed them without a second thought.”

“That’s different,” Abby objects. “Up there we had to be ruthless.”

“Well, down here they have to be ruthless as well,” Clarke says. The swords flash again and again in her mind’s eye, and she feels a powerful rush of nausea. Should she have prevented it? Could she have prevented it? Did she agree to their execution because it kept the most people possible alive? Did she choose the coldest, most pragmatic route, wanting to avoid the impossibility of arguing on their behalf? Or did she give in to her hatred of the Maunon? She doesn’t know. But she knows that their blood soaking the ground will be in her dreams tonight, and her mother isn’t helping.

Clarke takes a deep breath. She thinks of Lexa, who judges herself just as harshly for her actions, and how much she wishes Lexa could see herself the way Clarke sees her. That Lexa could give herself a break. She knows Lexa wants the same thing for her, as well, and because she loves Lexa she tries to see in herself what Lexa sees. She loves Lexa for being willing to do what was necessary to compromise and keep the most people alive, and she knows Lexa loves her for giving their people justice instead of granting the Maunon undeserved forgiveness to make herself feel better. They did their best. They are both still doing their best. That will have to be good enough.

“We would never have condemned a whole people when all they wanted to do was survive. We’re better than that, Clarke, we’re the good guys. When we killed people on the Ark we killed them for good reasons. And it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t violent and cruel,” Abby continues heedlessly.

“You taught me medicine,” Clarke snaps, breathing in sharply and trying not to throw up. She closes her eyes for a second, struggling for control. “I know what happens when people are floated. It takes them at least fifteen seconds to pass out, fifteen seconds of every exposed part of them swelling up agonisingly, fifteen seconds of all the liquid on their skin and in their eyes and mouth boiling off into space painfully. Don’t talk to me about cruelty. Being bloodless doesn’t make spacing people merciful. Today, the Maunon died quickly. That’s the best we could do. And they killed our people, Mom, they killed Alpha Station.”

“President Wallace helped us,” Abby says stubbornly, though she looks wrong-footed by Clarke’s description of decompression.

“And he hurt the Grounders,” Clarke says simply, forcing herself to remember that one truth. “You heard Lexa, he was responsible for lots of deaths.”

“But he saved children, our children, surely we owe him for that,” Abby persists. “He was so polite and kind, he was a good man. And the way of killing him… it was too awful. It was wrong. The way he screamed, how long it took, all that blood, the way all of those warriors cut into him like that… it was inexcusable, can’t you see that? He didn’t deserve that kind of death.”

“Hundreds, maybe thousands of Grounders died on his orders,” Clarke replies flatly. “So actually, he probably deserved worse. The Grounders are part of the Coalition that we’re joining, Mom, so you need to get used to the fact that every one of them is just as important as someone from the Ark. However ‘polite and kind’ Dante was, saving a dozen Skaikru doesn’t make up for the hundreds he killed.”

“We’re supposed to be the good guys,” Abby says again passionately. She tries to move back from Clarke, apparently not wanting to lean on her anymore, but can’t manage it and winces. “We need to be better than that.”

“Sometimes we need to sacrifice people,” Clarke says. “Even good people, even people who are just trying to survive.”

“Who told you that?” Abby says angrily. “The Commander?”

“You did,” Clarke says.

“I never -”

“You told me that when you had Dad executed for the crime of honesty,” Clarke says, not cruelly, just in a matter-of-fact way.

Abby’s entire face goes white. “Clarke, I didn’t know they’d kill him. I just asked Thelonious to talk to him -”

“Maybe you didn’t mean for it to happen,” Clarke says, sighing. “I don’t know. But I do know you were aware they’d probably float him, even if you hoped they wouldn’t. Dad didn’t die as quickly or painlessly as the Maunon did, and Dad died for crimes that were nothing compared to what they did, and Dad was a good guy. So don’t lecture me about what happened today, just don’t.”

There’s a long silence. “Clarke,” Abby says, and she’s never sounded so broken before. “Clarke, baby, I never wanted that to happen. You have to believe me.”

Clarke feels suddenly awful. She knows her mother was just trying to do her best, she does know that, and she loves her. But nevertheless, the words pour out of her. “I do believe you. But it happened anyway.” She swallows hard. “I love you, Mom, I do. But if you’re expecting me to keep looking up to you as a moral authority? I can’t do that. You’re not. I need to make my own decisions.”

“I see,” Abby says through bloodless lips, face set and almost angry. “And your decision is to become some kind of… of Grounder warrior leader?” She blinks, something occurring to her. “Is this – is she forcing you to do this?”

“This isn’t an obligation,” Clarke says coldly, “This is an honour. I know you haven’t been down here long enough to understand what the Commander is -”

“What she is, is a child, Clarke, just like you are,” Abby snaps. “You should be enjoying your childhood, not rushing into high-pressure, high-stakes decision-making. There are lives at risk here. You don’t have any experience -”

“I’ve been in charge of our people since we landed, I’ve brokered deals between nations, I organised an attack on the most secure place in the world… I can’t be a child anymore,” Clarke informs her. She hesitates, then adds. “But I can still be your child. I’m still your daughter. And as your daughter, what I need is support, not orders or judgement. I need you to help me. Can’t you do that?”

“I’ll always support you, honey,” Abby says quickly, but not like she’s really thought about it. “I’m just saying, maybe you should think it through. You don’t know what you’re getting into. Do you even know what this means, what responsibilities she’s giving you? Or is this an ornamental position? She made it sound like you’ll be in charge of thousands of people.”

“Technically,” Clarke points out, “I already am.” She manages a smile. “I know exactly what I’m getting into, Mom, I promise.”

“Really?” Abby says, clearly thinking she’s about to score a point. “So have you checked that you can do your new job from where our people are?” She raises an eyebrow at Clarke.

Clarke coughs. “Um… no. No, I can’t.”

“Well, then how are you going to -” Abby gets it and inhales sharply. “Baby, no, you can’t do that. You can’t go live with a bunch of strangers -”

“I’ve spent more time with those ‘strangers’ recently than I have with anyone from the Ark,” Clarke says. “They matter to me. I promise, I’ll be safe there. There’s already sixty of our people settled in Polis, and Wells might even come with me.”

Abby opens her mouth, obviously about to say she’s coming too, and then hesitates.

Clarke gives her a crooked smile. Her mother might have her faults, but one of her strengths is how much she cares about the Ark. She won’t leave their people, not until she knows they’re safe and stable. “It’s okay, Mom. I’ll be coming back to Arkadia for a couple of weeks to sort out who’s in charge before I leave for Polis. And if Wells doesn’t agree I’ll have to decide on another ambassador, too.”

“Thelonious is dead,” Abby says. “That leaves the next member of the Council in charge. Since Marcus is also gone, I’m pretty sure I’m at the highest level out of the survivors.”

“It’s a long story, but Kane is alive,” Clarke informs her. Apparently Jackson hasn’t filled her in on this, even though he’d told her about Arkadia and about Dante’s actions. “I’m planning to put him in charge of Arkadia, I just have to talk to him first and make sure he knows what needs to be done. I also want to speak to Wells, tell everyone about the fall of the Mountain, and gather up all of the remaining guns to take with me to Polis.” She feels a pang at the thought, though, because she knows Lexa is going to have to go to Polis right after this – to talk with the ambassadors about Nia and to tell everyone there about the Mountain. She’s gotten so used to Lexa being within reach that it makes her feel uncomfortable to be on her own for a couple of weeks.

“You’re planning to arm the Grounders?” Abby looks concerned.

“They’re already armed,” Clarke says. “They have spears, swords, bows, knives, everything they need for this world. We don’t need guns here either. If we have guns, we also have the temptation to use them, and we’re one accidental shot away from starting a war we can’t win.”

“But our protection…” Abby says thoughtfully, considering Clarke’s words.

“Our best defence is to make it so they don’t want to attack us,” Clarke retorts. “We’re keeping the bullets in Arkadia, and the guns in Polis, so nobody can use them. We can ask Lexa for guns if we need them for some reason, and even if they could find bullets the Grounders don’t use guns, they don’t believe in it.” Her mother still looks unsure, and Clarke sighs. “They’ve done nothing but help us, Mom,” she entreats quietly. “Why can’t you trust them?”

Because they’ve done nothing but help us,” Abby says, equally as quiet. “They want something, they must want something, and if it’s not our weapons than I don’t know what it is. You’re too young to realise this yet, Clarke, but people don’t give you things for free.”

“They’re not giving us things for free,” Clarke says, struggling to keep her temper. “We’re paying for it. It will take time, but we’ll repay their help.”

“You don’t understand,” Abby says. “They’re being very helpful, they trusted you immediately even though you didn’t offer them anything of substance, they’re giving us land and food and teaching us things. But their kind of culture, one based around violence and brutality? People like that aren’t nice without an ulterior motive. They don’t do things without a reason.”

“Sometimes they do,” Clarke says softly. “Sometimes they’re good people. Lexa’s a good person.”

Abby looks unconvinced.

“And they’re not violent and brutal, Mom, not really,” Clarke continues. “What you saw earlier was Trikru gona – warriors – responding to the worst enemy they have. You saw the most militaristic part of their culture. There is so much more to their people than just aggression. They have their own music, language, traditions, art, celebrations, beliefs and so many other amazing things.” She smiles to herself, thinking about it. “You know, Arkers were stuck up in a space station, so we needed science to survive, the same as the Maunon did inside their underground complex. But the Grounders were down here with all of their technology wiped out by the bombs and nothing but radiation and mutated wild animals and plants to keep them company. So of course physical and mental toughness was more important to them. The fact that they didn’t get to start with the same level of technology as us certainly doesn’t make them stupid. They’re incredibly smart. Much smarter than Skaikru, I think sometimes.”

Abby is staring at her. “Skaikru’s what they call us, isn’t it?” she says slowly. “You’re talking like you’re not one of us. Like you’re one of them.”

“I ‘surrendered all other allegiances’, remember?” Clarke says wryly. “My loyalty’s to Lexa, now.” She looks down at the flowing blue sash she’s wearing, the sash that denotes her as Lexa’s second-in-command, the colour showing she is not quite equal to the Commander – water instead of blood – but as close as anyone really can be.

Her mother stares at her as if she can’t believe her eyes. “Clarke…” she says, but her voice drifts off uncertainly. She shifts her weight accidentally and then leans harder on Clarke, paling and making a pained noise as she puts pressure on her knee. Clarke helps her sit on the sleeping mat. Abby opens her mouth like she wants to say something, her brow furrowed.

“I’ll go get Jackson,” Clarke says softly. She pauses, then adds, “I’m so happy you’re okay, Mom.”

And then she leaves.

Chapter Text

“I wish you weren’t going to Polis,” Clarke whispers to Lexa, as if it is a secret.

They’re lying against each other, Lexa’s front pressed snugly against Clarke’s back, both awake and dreading the morning. “You know I must, ai niron,” Lexa says softly into Clarke’s ear, though she runs through it again in her head to see if she can find a good reason to go with Clarke to Arkadia. She can’t. She’s required in Polis, to speak with the ambassadors, to discuss how to deal with Nia, to tell them of Clarke’s new position, to bring the news of the Mountain. She can’t put that off for Skaikru – everything she has done recently has been about Skaikru, in one way or the others. She owes the other clans her attention.

And – she loves Clarke, of course she does. She needs her. But she does not depend on her so much that they must always be beside each other. They can be strong apart as well. It makes her heart ache to think of sleeping in her large, empty bed in Polis without Clarke, and she does not wish to put off being honest to the world about what they are to each other, but – they will survive. They may not thrive, but they will manage. Lexa has people she cares about in Polis who she must check on, the same as how Clarke must make take care of her mother, Wells, Kane, even Raven, all of Skaikru. The Natblida will be missing Lexa, as she misses them, misses their eager young voices and optimism and fierce determination. To them she is a combination of hero and nomon, and they require her teaching, especially with Titus and Gustus absent. She has neglected them shamefully.

Perhaps she should teach them chess. She thinks they would like chess. And if Wells joined them, they could play against him.

“Anya’s going with you, right?” Clarke says quietly. “Or did Indra eventually lose that argument?”

“We decided that Indra should remain in TonDC for the moment,” Lexa says, amused at the thought of Indra losing an argument to anyone, even Anya. “Anya will come to take on some of Titus’s and Gustus’s duties in Polis. Her unit will replace Tristan’s rangers as protectors of Polis for a time. They could use some stability, however brief, before we must deal with the Azgeda.”

“Will we be dealing with them that soon, though?” Clarke asks curiously. “With winter so close…”

“That is true,” Lexa admits. “Only a fool attacks the Azgeda in force during winter, and I do not know where Nia may have retreated to now, so I would not be able to direct them. But a small group, with Azgeda such as Zion to guide them, might be able to do something, might be able to locate her without being noticed and causing her to flee. We will have to see. Before anything else, the border will have to be closed to Azgeda, and Polis would have to be protected. I believe Nia’s only chance of lasting through this would be to attack Polis.”

“Attacking Polis is suicide,” Clarke scoffs.

“Sha,” Lexa says. She presses a light kiss to Clarke’s shoulder. “But it may be her only option. None of the other clans will aid her, after she allied with the Maunon. Even her own people might turn against her unless she makes enough of a show of strength that they believe they have a chance.” She swallows hard. “I fear that one of those shows of strength may be Gustus’s head. If they do not know that she simply captured him because he was visiting already, torturing and killing the Commander’s trusted bodyguard would show her power.” And she sent Gustus there. She may have caused his death again.

“They must know he was visiting,” Clarke says strongly, as if by sounding certain she can make it so. “We travelled most of the southern half of Azgeda territory, we mentioned it a lot of times, and the messenger we sent must have stopped a lot of places on the way to her main palace.” She pauses, frowning. “You’re not worried about Titus?”

Lexa shakes her head. “He is the Fleimkepa,” Lexa says. “If she did manage to kill me and get the Commander spirit, Titus would be needed to give Ontari the Flame. He is much more useful alive than dead – though I do not discount the possibility of torture.”

“He’d help her?” Clarke sounds horrified.

“If he thought it was the only way for the Flame to continue, perhaps,” Lexa says, uncertain. “I do not know. Regardless, he is necessary for anyone to think Ontari has the Flame. People know the Commander’s spirit cannot be transferred without a Fleimkepa. If Nia had my body and the Fleimkepa, she could claim what she liked.”

Clarke sighs and twists in the circle of Lexa’s arms so that she’s facing her instead. “Then I wish I was coming with you, ai hodnes,” she says wistfully.

“You’ll be there in a couple of weeks,” Lexa promises, her heart doing the flip it always does when Clarke uses a Trigedasleng term of endearment.

“Yeah,” Clarke says, and kisses her lightly. “Hopefully Wells and Raven will be with me as well. Octavia’s going to TonDC with Indra and Lincoln, but I think there’s a pretty good chance Wells will come to be with us, and Raven will come because Finn wants space for a while and he’s staying in Arkadia.” She frowns again. “Though that might also depend on whether Raven’s trying to avoid Anya as well.”

“No doubt,” Lexa says dryly. She clears her throat a little awkwardly. “I have told Indra that you will need at least two hundred gona to escort you to Arkadia. I thought they could guard Arkadia and provide support to you while you settle things there, and also help transport the Maunon you are taking there. Do you really think Skaikru will accept the survivors?”

“I think they will,” Clarke says. The determination in her voice tells Lexa that if they don’t, Clarke will force them to. “The Maunon adults saved a dozen children, and I don’t think anyone’s going to harm the Maunon kids. The Mountain Men have similar values to Skaikru, a similar way of talking, similar customs, even similar tools and weapons – that should help a lot. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my people have a tendency to be a bit xenophobic – narrow-minded, scared of anyone different from them,” she clarifies, voice wry.

“I had not realised,” Lexa says teasingly, pantomiming surprise. “Skaikru? Narrow-minded?”

Clarke laughs and kisses her again, pulling her even closer. “Well, I promise I’m not narrow-minded,” she says impishly. The tone of her voice tells Lexa this is some kind of double-entendre.

“Is that so, Clarke?” Lexa asks, smirking. “I do not wish to question your honesty, but claims like this require proof -”

Clarke grabs her wrists firmly and rolls so that she is straddling Lexa, flipping the blanket off them and to the side. Lexa takes a moment to be thankful that Raven is in another tent now. Clarke kisses Lexa long and deep, her weight pinning Lexa down.

When the kiss ends, Lexa is gasping. “I could throw you off at any time,” she comments, face flushed. “If I wanted to.” She hopes Clarke does not take that as a request to move off her, though. The feeling of slender fingers bracketing her wrists and the warm, insistent weight of Clarke on her is making her dizzy with desire.

“If you wanted to,” Clarke says wickedly, and kisses her again passionately, fingers tightening as she presses against her.

The morning comes faster than it should. Lexa stands beside Anya, her face a mask of calm as she watches Clarke and her people leave. Only Clarke rides a horse, already with more assurance than she did just a couple of weeks ago. The Skaikru who are injured or who donated bone marrow ride slowly in the three Maunon vehicles they removed from the Mountain, though Clarke has told her that unless Raven and the other mechanics are somehow able to work miracles they will run out of the substance used to power them in only a few weeks, since the rest was destroyed in the Mountain with the other few working vehicles. They are to use them to help construct their new home then strip them for parts. The remaining Maunon are surrounded by the gonakru Lexa sent with them, and walk in odd little steps. Even with the gona blocking them in, they have never had so much space before.

“It is strange to watch them leave,” Linkon says quietly to Octavia, his eyes searching her face for any signs of unhappiness.

She doesn’t show any. “Yeah, it is,” she agrees readily. “So why are we watching? Wanna go train instead? Just standing here is boring.” Her still-raw injuries stretch in a painful-looking way when she grins up at Linkon, eyes sparkling.

Indra closes her eyes in a futile search for patience, then gives in and lightly slaps the back of Octavia’s head, prompting Octavia to give her a wounded look and Linkon to hide a smile. When Octavia glances at him and sees it, she promptly slaps the back of his head as well. “Do not speak so in front of Heda,” Indra says sternly.

Lexa looks at them, mouth twitching as she contains her smile. Octavia here seems much lighter and more easy-going than in the original world. Perhaps she carries less burdens than she did before, despite the red scars and still-black bruises on her face and her bandaged hand. “If all Skaikru Sekens are this enthusiastic, the gona remaining in Polis must be exhausted,” Lexa comments.

“No doubt,” Indra says dryly. “May I remind you that making Octavia kom Skaikru en Trikru my Seken was your idea?”

“Indra, are you reprimanding your Heda?” Lexa says, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Of course not, Heda,” Indra says, bowing deferentially. Her amusement shows in her eyes, however, despite her scowl. “I am merely stating a fact.”

“I can hear you, I’m right here,” Octavia grumbles, then subsides at a minatory glance from Indra.

“And I must be going,” Lexa says. “Spread my orders to all Trikru in the area, Indra. No Skaikru are to be harmed. The border is to be guarded, make sure no Azgeda gona pass through.”

“Sha, Heda,” Indra says.

Lexa mounts her horse. She hears Anya start to bark orders to her unit, organising them. The gona who are to come with them to Polis begin to ready themselves to leave, straightening and quieting as Anya glares at them.

Lexa looks down at Octavia, Indra and Linkon. “I have no doubt I shall see you soon,” she says to them quietly. “If we must declare war on the Azgeda, I suspect you will be an important part of that.”

Indra’s lips thin. “I remember you telling me war with Azgeda was coming,” she says softly. “We will be ready, Heda. We will not fail you.”

“You never do, Indra,” Lexa replies softly. “May we meet again.”

Octavia looks up, briefly surprised. Then she swallows and says, voice a little choked, “May we meet again.” She hesitates as Lexa starts to turn her horse, then says, “Commander, wait -”

“Do not waylay the Commander,” Indra hisses, looking annoyed, but Lexa twists her head to look at Octavia anyway.

Octavia takes a step forward. “I just – stay safe, alright? And thanks for everything.”

Lexa doesn’t know exactly what Octavia’s referring to, and she doesn’t wish to ask. It’s enough to know that she has somehow earned the approval of this impetuous, fierce girl, gained the respect of one of Clarke’s friends. Instead she gives a sharp nod, and nudges her horse into movement. He tosses his head, snorting and prancing, full of energy, and Anya gives the order to move out.

And they are on their way.

Chapter Text

“Awesome speech last night,” Raven says as Clarke enters the room, not looking up from what she’s fiddling with – another grenade, it looks like. Raven’s been churning out far more grenades than they’re ever likely to need. She claims it’s because they’re easy to make and can be stuffed with anything as shrapnel, but Clarke remembers they weren’t really something she focused on in the other world, which makes her suspect that the compulsive grenade-production has more to do with Raven’s unresolved romantic issues than with anything approaching practicality. Anya was outspoken about her enjoyment of grenades, after all.

“How did you know it was me?”

“The way you walk,” Raven says absently.

“We may be spending too much time together,” Clarke says dryly in response. She looks up at Wells, inviting him to share the joke.

Wells is sitting on the bench beside the grenade-in-progress. These days, when he’s not with Clarke, he’s with Abby, and when he’s not with Abby, he’s with Raven. It’s like he doesn’t want to leave any of them alone. Like he’s scared what could happen. There’s a suddenness in the way he reacts to unexpected noises or movements that reminds Clarke of herself, and she knows it’s a response to his father’s death.

He hadn’t blamed her. Not for a second, even though she blamed him for a year for her father’s death and he was far less culpable in that. Clarke almost wishes he would blame her – or at least get angry at her for raising his hopes, suggesting that his father might still be alive. She’d be angry if it was her. But he’s reacting – really well, actually. There’s a gauntness to his cheeks that wasn’t there before, and dark shadows under his eyes, but otherwise he seems fine. He’s even been friendly to the Maunon, more friendly than half their people.

“Hey, you’re the one who keeps coming to see me,” Raven points out, looking up now to give Clarke a smirk. “You could be in the mechanical construction hut with the others, if you wanted to watch people fiddling with metal. But you come here ‘cause I’m hot.”

You could be in the mechanical construction hut with the others too,” Wells says to Raven, smiling slightly. It doesn’t perfectly reach his eyes, which are still filled with exhaustion and grief, but he tries.

“They asked me to help hook up the surveillance system,” Raven says, looking disgusted. “Do you know how boring and simple that is after you’ve been making grenades and EMPs and radios pretty much from scratch? I told Sinclair to call me when he has something more worthy of my time.”

Clarke raises her eyebrows at Raven, well aware that Raven wouldn’t spend time apart from Sinclair – the closest thing she has to a parent – for such a flimsy reason. “Really? That’s really why you’re avoiding them?”

Raven flushes and bends her head over the device. “Okay, we’ve definitely been spending too much time together. You’re right.” She sighs and then says, “They’re trying to nag me into staying here instead of going to Polis. Appealing to my Ark loyalty like that’s an actual thing. Asking me how I can bear to leave Finn.”

Clarke grits her teeth. “You should tell Sinclair to get them to stop. That’s not okay.” Finn’s continued insistence that he doesn’t want Raven around while he’s adjusting has hurt her considerably, Clarke knows. It probably hurts her even more that Finn already seems to have entered a casual relationship with the woman who’s supposed to be counselling him.

Over the past week, the little room Raven’s co-opted into her workshop has become something of a haven for Clarke. It’s pretty much the only place where she isn’t organising people or explaining rules or quelling arguments. Even conversations with her mother seem to have become a battleground, and that’s probably her fault – she’s different now. But she can duck in here and it’s just Raven building something and snarking, and Wells watching her build things and being amused by her snark. Clarke would never have pegged them as having anything in common, but all the time spent together, and their shared concern for and rejection by Finn, seems to have bonded them.

“So you liked the speech, huh?” Clarke says, changing the subject.

“It seemed very popular,” Wells says politely, face expressionless. Her speech last night had been officially passing the role of leader – Chancellor – to the reluctant Kane. It probably just reminded Wells once again that the former Chancellor is dead, and now she feels bad for mentioning it. It was a poor choice of subject change.

“So am I getting a title of some kind?” Raven wonders, breaking the tension. “Chief Mechanic of the Alliance. I could go for that. Everyone else has official jobs.”

“Maybe I can make you my assistant,” Wells offers, a flash of mischief in his eyes. “Assistant to the ambassador for Arkadia. I could use someone to handle all the paperwork. Run errands. Wash my clothes. That sort of thing.”

Raven turns and sticks out her tongue at him. “But wash your clothes in what? That’s the question.”

Clarke can’t help the grin that comes to her face. That’s another reason why she comes here whenever she has a moment to herself – it reminds her that she gets to take two of her closest friends with her to Polis. Jasper, Monty and Finn are staying here, Octavia’s staying in TonDC, and it’s very unlikely she’ll ever reach the same level of closeness with Bellamy that she had before (especially after allowing Octavia to get herself tortured to take down the Mountain). But she’ll have Wells providing support and advice and Raven making snarky comments. Wells might be struggling with grief, and Raven might have a tumultuous love life where grenades are a legitimate Valentine’s Day gift, but the acceptance and friendship they give her is amazing.

“Hey,” John appears at the door. He gives Clarke a brief smile – as always, even smiling he looks like he’s just barely containing his anger at the world, so it’s more of a grimace. “Heard your speech last night, that you’re heading back to Polis. You didn’t mention Sydney at all. Are you gonna take her out?”

Clarke blinks at him. “How did you find me here?” She’s been doing her best not to be followed when she slips in here, aware that otherwise her many responsibilities will follow her. Even today, with Kane officially in charge, people keep asking her for things.

For the first couple of days she’d been very easy to find, due to the two dozen gona following her around. But her mother had politely informed her that they were making everyone nervous, and suggested that they join the rest of the gonakru in patrolling around the growing city. Now none of them are inside Arkadia. Clarke would feel unsafe, but she’s fairly certain that since they don’t have access to guns, she can easily defeat anyone who tries to attack her.

“Followed you,” he says, no apology at all in his voice. “Listen, I just need to know if you’re planning to hit Sydney’s people, that’s all.”

“I’m not sure,” Clarke says. It’s the truth – the Azgeda are the priority. If they continued heading east for long, Diana Sydney and her followers will have ended up at the ocean. If they cross it, the Floudonkru will probably imprison them and contact Lexa. If they can’t cross it, they’ll probably die of exposure before anything can be done. They’re not the main threat here.

“Well, if there’s any chance, I want to ask if I can come too,” John says. Clarke remembers being surprised when he chose to come back to Arkadia instead of stay in TonDC, since he seemed to have made friends there. She wonders if this is why. “I can get into their camp, if you need a Trojan Horse or something.”

“Hopefully this doesn’t take as long as the siege of Troy,” Wells comments, a little sarcastically.

John looks at him, confused. “I was talking about viruses, man. What are you talking about?” They stare at each other in mutual incomprehension until Clarke clears her throat.

“What makes you think you could help?” she enquires.

John hesitates. He has the same kind of simmering fury that she always associates with Murphy, but in his case it’s like it’s been hammered into resolve. That kind of purposefulness took Murphy a long time to find, hampered by both cynicism and sadism. Although he disobeyed her order to stay a reasonable distance from the Mountain, Clarke realises she doesn’t doubt that if she orders John to stay here, he’ll do it. He obeyed every one of Anya’s orders when they attacked the Mountain. She doesn’t know if he was like this in the other world – if maybe what she dismissed as blind obedience to Murphy and then Bellamy was actually just loyalty – or if that discipline is something he developed here. But he does have discipline.

“I can help because they’ll trust me,” he says eventually, and then when Raven starts to say something, he continues, “And they’ll trust me because my father is one of them, and he’ll want me to come join them.”

Clarke contains her surprise. She hasn’t looked closely at the list of all of Diana’s people yet. “I see,” she says thoughtfully. “Listen, I understand that you must want to protect him -”

“Protect him? No,” John says flatly. “I want to see the bastard die.”

There’s a long and awkward silence. Wells breaks it. “Really?” he says, looking at John like he’s mad. “Your own father?” His father’s death is probably too recent for him to understand someone being willing to do that. Honestly, Clarke’s father’s death is also too recent for her to entirely get it.

“Yeah, my own father,” John says, face twisting as if he’s sucking a lemon. He sees their disbelieving expressions. “Why do you think I took off my wrist monitor straight away, and why I wanted to get the hell out of here with Murphy? Murphy was the only real family I had. I never wanted to see my dad again. But if he’s going to run off and maybe get us all killed by starting a war or some shit like that, it’s my job to deal with him however I can.”

Clarke considers him. He’s tall and strong, he’s trained a little with the gona in TonDC but can also fire a gun, he’s reliable within certain limits, he’s personable enough to have befriended Artigas and a lot of the other TonDC villagers, and he looks like he’s telling the truth – both about hating his father, and about being able to get Diana Sydney’s people to trust him. He wouldn’t be the worst person to take along with them. “All right,” she says decisively. “We’re leaving for Polis in less than a week, I’ll warn you before it’s time to go. You can come with us and be a part of whatever we end up doing.”

He gives her a nod, but stops when she holds a hand up. “But,” she enunciates clearly. “You obey orders, whatever. You obey the Commander’s orders. You even obey Anya’s orders. All of them. You don’t run off again.”

John nods again. “I won’t,” he promises. Then he turns and leaves.

Raven sighs. “North again, really?” she says despondently. “You know, I only just got feeling back into all my toes.”

“I don’t know,” Clarke admits. “At this point we’re waiting on movement from Nia, or word from the Floudonkru that they’ve found Diana’s people. We might have to go north, we might not. If we do have to go north I think it might not be until spring, though. For the next few months we might just try and contain the Azgeda. Assassination’s always a possibility as well.”

“I don’t suppose you have any advice from The Future?” Raven says hopefully, pronouncing ‘the future’ as if it’s an actual location.

“Not really,” Clarke says. “Things happened a little differently last time.” She remembers the spear hitting Nia, remembers how watching Lexa’s victory in both political games and vicious fighting at the same time had thrilled her, and how she’d felt ashamed – not just to feel that way about something which resulted in someone’s death, but because she’d wanted to hate Lexa and couldn’t manage it however she tried. As many things as she’s failed at since she came to earth, that’s the one failure she’s happy about.

Chapter Text

Facing the ambassadors as a group is always draining. They debate every little thing. Even when not arguing against Lexa’s orders, they throw subtle insults at each other, always angling for a higher position, for a better deal. In this case, however, the news of the Mountain stuns them. They grumble when she announces the new position of the Mountain Slayer, second only to her and above them all, but they stop when she meets their eyes.

It occurs to Lexa she is more powerful now than she has ever been. From the ambassadors’ viewpoint, she controlled the stars falling from the sky, she helped take down the Mountain and recruited the one who destroyed it, she has traded little-used land for technological marvels and destructive weaponry, and her greatest opposition is now considered a traitor to be killed on sight. It is no wonder they quiet when she glances at them. She could kill them all and the people of Polis would raise no objection at all. Their clans would most likely not even object. They listen to her news in unfamiliar silence and at first she believes the meeting will be over quickly. Is it wrong of her to use their increased awareness of her advantage to hurry this?

Uzac is the one who extends it beyond that, as he did the day before. “We must attack now, surely. Surprise her,” he says. His narrow face becomes even more forbidding as he scowls.

“I am not sure we can surprise the Azplana anymore,” Lexa remarks. “We can block the border now but it may be too late to prevent anyone getting through. Even if we set up guards, they would be better suited to warning us of a gonakru than a single gona, and a single gona is all that is needed to work a radio. If Nia has any mind at all she will already have someone here to warn her of our actions.”

“Then we attack in force before she can martial her people,” Uzac says bluntly.

“My people will not side with one who helps the Maunon,” the Azgeda ambassador says hotly. Lexa tries to recall his name. Azgeda ambassadors do not tend to last long, being regularly recalled by Nia before they can develop what the Azplana considers to be “inappropriate sympathies” for the other clans. This one she remembers killing in the other world for his insolence towards her – but here, he seems more inflamed by Nia’s treachery than anyone else in the room. She supposes it makes sense. The only reason the Azgeda joined the Coalition to begin with was out of fear of the Maunon. Nia’s actions must seem even more of a betrayal to him.

“Of course they will,” Uzac growls. “Maybe not in malevolence, but in ignorance, they will. We must strike quickly before they have the chance.”

“Broadleaf clan is far from Azgeda,” Lexa remarks, eyeing Uzac coldly. “If we strike fast your people will not have enough time to come north.”

He flounders for a second, before regaining his footing. “That is beside the point, Heda. We cannot give her time to organise her gona and attack first.”

“So you advise that we head north at the beginning of winter?” Lexa says, raising an eyebrow. “So our gona die of the cold? That is not a battle plan, that is a suicide. The Azgeda know the terrain and how to survive the snow far better than our gona ever will.”

“And what if we wait, and she kills the Fleimkepa?” Uzac challenges. His pale cheeks are flushed with feeling. “We cannot risk it.”

“We can, if I say we can,” Lexa says flatly. “Remember your place, Uzac.” She stares him down. “Nia will not kill Titus, not while there is a chance she could use him. She is not a fool. And if she does kill him, the Commander spirit may still be able to pass without him. A Fleimkepa aids the spirit, but he does not control it. None control the spirit.”

She does not understand the spirit, herself. She experienced it being placed in her, she hears the voices in her dreams and when she meditates, and sometimes she knows a piece of the past she has never been told. But otherwise the spirit is something that dwells imperceptibly within her. She felt no surge of certainty or strength when the spirit entered her. Much like the ambassadors, the spirit gives her advice and arguments, but it does not make her decisions for her. Sometimes even when she asks for guidance it is like shouting into a void.

Clarke seems to think there is a way the spirit interacts with her science – perhaps if Lexa dies Clarke can find a way to give the spirit to Aden. Perhaps not. In any case, she cannot depend on Titus surviving. If Nia wishes him dead, he is probably dead already. If she wishes him to live he will be alive. Acting immediately or delaying for three months will not affect that decision. If Lexa begins receiving his body parts, perhaps there will be cause to discuss this. Otherwise it is irrelevant.

“I must return home,” the Azgeda ambassador says desperately. “I can tell my people that the Azplana is natrona, that she allied with the Maunon. We will handle it ourselves.”

“Ha!” Uzac spits. “We should lock you up, not let you go north to tell our plans to the natrona you serve.”

“I do not serve her!” the Azgeda yells back at him, pale skin flushing with rage as well. He rakes his long blonde hair back from his face with a frustrated hand, visibly trying to calm himself. “The Maunon are – were – our worst enemies. I would never aid them, nor serve those who aid them. If I can convince the rest of my people -”

“And how would you convince them?” Lexa asks reasonably.

He hesitates. “I, I would bring the Azgeda who told us…” he pauses and frowns. “I…” he looks up at her, and something in his gaze is that of a kicked pet, betrayed and disbelieving. His voice lowers and becomes dull. “They would not believe me. I would die long before I could convince any.” This realisation seems to break something within him, the strength in his blue eyes crumbling away to be replaced by horrified blankness.

Lexa almost wants to tell him that she is sorry. His belief is sincere, his desire to take down Nia unrelenting. But just like Uzac, he is blinded by those desires. She sighs. “We will continue this tomorrow,” she snaps. “Perhaps we will not be able to attack until spring. Or perhaps we can attack from Floudonkru land, or send assassins north to find Nia, or even just guard the borders so we choke the Azgeda lands until they bleed ice. But there is an answer, and we shall find it. There is a plan.” She wishes Clarke was here. Clarke’s plans are as unexpected as she is. No doubt when she arrives in a week she will have an angle Lexa has not considered, a ploy that Lexa would never come up with.

Lexa stalks out of the room and heads immediately for the only place she wishes to be. She is hardly through the door when they are upon her.

“Heda,” Aden is the first one to speak, a grin splitting his face in half, the leader of the pack as always. She knows all of them expect him to be the next Heda, except Aden himself, but she tries not to think of that because the thought of the Conclave saddens her. They are hers, all of them, the closest thing to children she will ever have – or would ever want. “Heda, it is good to see you.”

They are all well-behaved enough not to mob her like birds, but they still stare at her with something between the adoration given to deities and the affection given to family, crowding around as close as they can get without being too close. They brighten and straighten when she meets their eyes, glowing with pride. Clarke called them her ducklings, once, and some days she can see where Clarke got the expression from.

“Greetings, Natblida,” Lexa says formally.

“Greetings, Heda,” they chorus. Dazi the dreamer is, as always, a few seconds behind the group, and Saska elbows him to make him catch up. She often does such things, determined to make her closest friend and bro the best Natblida he can be.

Sometimes they break her heart. She reminds herself that at least she will not live to watch them die. That is the one mercy given to the Commander.

“Saska,” Lexa says, hiding her smile.

“Sha, Heda,” Saska says, trying to look innocent and only succeeding in looking guiltier. She expects Lexa to reprimand her as Titus so often does, telling her that these attachments will not serve her well at the Conclave, that she must sever them to survive.

“There are three pillars of being the Commander,” Lexa tells her. “Which were you just showing?”

There’s a long pause, then Saska’s smile returns, and she says, “Compassion?”

“Sha,” Lexa tells her. “But not just compassion. You show wisdom in securing an ally, and strength in risking a scolding to aid your bro.” She smiles down at Saska, and then includes the rest of the group in her pleasure. “I am lucky to have such a crop of Natblida that any one of you would make a worthy Heda.”

They all grin, some of them twisting on the spot with the exuberance of youth, before forcing their bodies into stillness and their faces into impassiveness.

“Aden,” Lexa says, snapping her gaze to him. He straightens further until he almost seems to be standing on his toes, trying to look strong. “How has training gone?”

“Os, Heda,” Aden says, inclining his head in a solemn way that seems bizarrely beyond his years. But then, like hers, his age does not matter. Those born to lead are also born old. “The gona you ordered to train us have focused on our skills with a bow.”

“Better them than I,” Lexa says ruefully, thinking of her poor bow skills. They look shocked at her words, and she remembers they have spent no time with her since the advent of Clarke kom Kongeda into her life and are therefore unused to her slightly less serious attitude. “I am sorry I have been unable to visit since I arrived. I needed to speak to the ambassadors, organise defences for Polis and the alliance, check on the integration of Skaikru, decide a number of punishments for crimes, settle three trade disputes, and ensure my former Fos Anya was able to begin her duties here. But that is no excuse for neglecting you. I was very tired, but I should have made time.”

“But you are Heda,” Aden objects, looking at her in surprise. For a second she thinks he’s confused by her apology, but then she realises what he means and is unable to suppress her smile.

“Even the Commander is tired sometimes, Aden,” she tells him. “We give our lives to our people as surely as we ask them to give theirs to us, but giving that does not make us more than human. A gona becomes exhausted fighting a battle, but we must fight a war. A fisa becomes exhausted keeping a few people healthy, but we must keep the whole alliance healthy. A ticha becomes exhausted teaching their class, but we must teach all of our people the way forward. We will always be wearier than any of our people. A Commander is given rights, power, knowledge, and dreams of the past, but we are not given the ability to survive without rest. Eventually, all must rest.” She thinks of Clarke, wishing she could be curled against her now. It is harder than she thought it would be to sleep without Clarke’s warmth beside her.

She smiles again, lightening the mood. “Now. Fetch your bows, and show me what you have learnt, Natblida.”

There’s a brief moment of uncertainty, and then they are all trying to bow at once, Dazi trips over himself and is hauled up by Saska, Aden pauses for a second to look at Lexa with blatant adulation in his eyes, Haran races off first to show off his greater running speed, Enja flips her hair back in the odd little gesture she always uses, and Lexa’s heart breaks a little again.

When she first met them, she accepted all but one of her Natblida would die. But since then she has done so many impossible things, everything from defeating the Mountain to travelling in time to beginning to implement ‘blood must not have blood’. Although falling in love has helped, Clarke has not taught Lexa compassion – she believes she knew that already, if not in quite the same context as the Skaikru define it. But Clarke has taught her that this world can be changed, the boundaries stretched and broken, the impossible achieved.

Lexa knows how she wishes to change the world. She will not let her Natblida die. Perhaps in the other world Aden survived and became a far greater Commander than she was, but she cannot accept that in this world if the price is the lives of the others, not when she has more power and support than ever before. In the other world her people were turning against her already and she could barely change anything. Here, perhaps this is something she can fix, so that even when she goes to her death she will not have to think of Saska’s eyes staring blankly or Haran’s blood seeping onto the floor.

She decides. Tomorrow she will not discuss the Azgeda with her ambassadors. Tomorrow she will discuss her children.

Chapter Text

“At this rate I think we’ll run out of fuel in ten days,” Raven says, consulting a clipboard. There’s a smudge of grease on her forehead. “Or we could get rid of a couple of the vehicles, break ‘em down for parts, and keep just one of them going for a month.”

Clarke frowns. She can’t be as enthusiastic about the three vehicles – two army Jeeps and an armoured truck – as Raven is. To Raven, they’re interesting machines that as a bonus let you go extremely fast. To Clarke, they’re what enabled the Maunon to carry the remains of Alpha Station to their deaths. And who knows how many Grounders have been transported to the Mountain using them in the last few decades? “I don’t know if we want to keep them going for a month.”

“I think we need to focus on building Arkadia,” Kane says decisively, squinting at the vehicles. “Right now, the Jeeps are mostly being used as a prop, a way to make exploration and hunting easier, but we need to learn to do those without vehicles. The truck is much more useful for dragging wood here to build with, transporting essential supplies for winter, and helping clear a direct road to Polis – lasting things.”

Raven frowns. “But the truck’s the slowest,” she says mournfully. “I was hoping we could keep one of the fast ones for a little longer.” Clarke looks at the truck. It does look slower, somehow, even when they’re all parked. It also looks odd. There’s a line of strange things across the end of it, like someone chopped the heads off a dozen brooms and got creative with them – an odd device that definitely wasn’t part of the truck’s original design.

Kane’s mouth lifts in a wry smile. “Sorry. But we can’t afford to remove all of the trees around here and kill the ecosystem of the area, and we need the truck to get trees from further away if we want to be finished building the basics before winter really hits.”

Most of the trees they’re getting are from the path they’re clearing from here to Polis, with the full approval of Lexa. According to her it will be more than welcome, especially for the Glowing Forest people just south of them, who have always had great difficulty in getting to the capital through the thick forests. A quick, direct trade route between Arkadia and Polis will also be incredibly useful, since if the Skaikru ever want to trade Polis will be the best place to do it, especially if they’re trading technology. Indra’s people also have a reasonably clear path to Polis, so they can use Polis as a stopover when sending the supplies that will make up their payment for the land each season. It will keep the relationship between the Skaikru and the alliance close, and help the Skaikru keep in regular contact with the members of the 100 who still live in Polis, and a number of other good things.

It was Kane’s first idea as Chancellor. Before ordering it, though, he asked for Clarke’s opinion, and got her to speak over the radio to Lexa and Indra, making sure there were no objections. To Clarke, it felt like proof that she’d chosen well, that she’d done the right thing. Proof that Kane will be an excellent ruler. Admitting that she could hand responsibility for the Skaikru over to him felt like letting a weight slide off – she might have to take care of the alliance as a whole, but she doesn’t need to carry her people’s mistakes and poor decisions anymore, she doesn’t need to defend them when they’re indefensible. Kane will take care of them and guide them now. Her responsibilities lie elsewhere.

“Sure thing,” Raven says, sighing. “The truck’s bigger, though, so it’ll burn through fuel faster. We might not get a whole month out of it.”

“Did you attach that thing to the back?” Clarke asks curiously, reaching out and touching the mass of bristles with her hand. They’re muddy and wet.

“No, they were already there,” Raven says, frowning at them. “We’ll probably remove them, actually. I think Mount Weather attached them to stop it making tire tracks in the snow, with those brushes redirecting snow back into the tracks. But I actually don’t know. It’s on my to-do list.”

“Oh, okay,” Clarke says, understanding. That would explain how the Maunon were able to get Alpha Station without leaving an obvious trail in the snow for them to follow. She dismisses it from her mind. “I’ll radio Lexa later, let her know we’ll be using vehicles for a little longer than expected.” The room with the main radio rarely has people in it, since it’s adjoined to the room with the nuclear missile, which seems to make people nervous. Clarke’s not sure if they should move one of them – the truth is, she’s not sure what they should do with the missile now at all. Drop it into the deepest part of the ocean with weights tied to it?

“You guys have the most boring phone sex ever,” Raven mutters into Clarke’s ear, just low enough that Kane can’t hear. Clarke flushes and glares at her, but Raven just smirks.

Raven’s been throwing a lot of slightly-too-pointed barbs at Clarke lately. At first she thought Raven must be angry at her for some reason, but then she realised Raven was trying to lure her into an argument because she didn’t have anyone to really argue with, and wanted to provoke Clarke into throwing back insults. Basically, Raven’s pissing off Clarke because she misses bantering with Anya. Since – even with their regular radio conversations – Clarke misses Lexa constantly, she can sympathise.

“Good idea,” Kane says to Clarke, wisely not asking Raven to repeat her comment. “Raven, could you see if any of the parts from the Jeeps could be adapted to help with the truck’s efficiency?”

“Sure thing, boss,” Raven says cheerfully and heads off to fiddle more with the vehicles.

“My mother thinks we should have gotten more fuel out before I destroyed Mount Weather,” Clarke comments.

“The vehicles were never going to be more than a temporary advantage, even if we’d gotten more fuel it would eventually run out,” Kane says. It’s a politician’s answer, not condemning Abby for her opinion or Clarke for her actions. “Mount Weather must have used them very sparingly for their fuel supplies to last a hundred years.”

“It was amazing of Lexa to let us take any of them,” Clarke says, a little challengingly. “Mom should be more grateful.”

“It was amazing,” Kane agrees. “The Commander has been very good to us. I’m looking forward to travelling to Polis and officially swearing loyalty to both her and the alliance.” He looks at Clarke and sighs, shoulders sagging. “Clarke, you shouldn’t be so hard on your mother. Abby hasn’t spent any real time with the Trikru, or with the Commander, and her first impression wasn’t a good one. Over time she’ll learn to appreciate them more. We fear what we don’t understand, but Abby is one of the most compassionate people I know.”

Clarke sighs as well. “I know. It’s just – all the gona I brought with me are camping outside because she thought they made people uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s giving them a very good impression of us, either.”

“You and I are both concerned about how the Trikru and the rest of the alliance view us,” Kane says softly. “Abby’s concerned about how our people view them. They’re different sides of the same worry. The warriors were making people uncomfortable.”

“I know,” Clarke admits. Still, she thinks her people need to become used to having gona around, having Grounders around. She doesn’t want them to be a closed society. Perhaps she’s rushing things, though, trying to make the Skaikru accept a foreign army quartered inside their city with full access to everywhere so soon after they’ve come to the ground. And having all the gona on guard outside does make Arkadia considerably safer from bandits and the Azgeda.

Her latest argument with her mother had been two days ago when Abby found out the gonakru were searching people who left and entered Arkadia, mostly returning hunters and the people clearing the path to Polis. Abby had been right in a sense – while it was undeniably better security, it was also giving the Arkers the impression that their new home was under military rule by the Trikru.

Clarke had managed to find a compromise – Arkadia would post a dozen Skaikru guards who would search people coming in or out, handling this aspect of their protection themselves – but already the Trikru gona were complaining that the searches weren’t thorough and someone could easily steal food or weapons if they really wanted to. Clarke had pointed out to them that all their weaponry was locked up or in Polis, and that stealing food and attempting to run would be foolish, since once the food ran out they’d starve. But she knows that a significant amount of the warriors’ paranoia is due to the surviving Maunon in their ramshackle buildings at the south of Arkadia. Even if they know intellectually that the Mountain was defeated and all their weapons destroyed, they still believe in their souls that a Maunon set loose could do untold damage. Remembering Emerson, Clarke’s not even sure they’re entirely wrong.

Kane’s been watching her carefully. “You know, it’s not entirely about whether she trusts them, Clarke,” he says softly. “It’s hard for a parent to watch their child grow up and, by doing so, grow away from them. She thought she was going to come down and find her little girl, not the second-in-command to the leader of a nation and the destroyer of the Mountain. At least a part of Abby’s mistrust is just resentment because she thinks they’re taking you away from her. However irrational that resentment may be, it’s still a factor.”

“Why do I feel like she spends a lot of time complaining about me to you?” Clarke asks rhetorically. Her mother’s already emerged as the most dedicated of Kane’s council, staying late with Kane to argue every single small decision to death, and Clarke’s pretty sure that at some point every discussion turns into Abby’s favourite rant about how Clarke should not go to Polis.

“Abby loves you, more than anything,” Kane says simply. “She wants to protect you, but she doesn’t know how to do that down here, and she thinks you don’t even want her protection. I think she worries you don’t even want her anymore. You should try and spend some time with her where you’re not talking about politics or integration, remind her that you’re still her daughter, wherever you choose to go and whatever you choose to do.”

Back in the old days, she would never have considered Kane of all people to be the most insightful person on the Ark. But something happened to him, maybe in his time up there alone waiting to die, maybe once he got to the ground. Something that made him so calm and understanding that a little bit of that feeling infects whoever he’s talking to.

Clarke smiles slightly. “You’re probably right. I think -”

“FIRE! FIRE! ATTACK!” someone yells hysterically, and suddenly the area is full of moving bodies, people shoving by each other, screams. Dark wisps of smoke are drifting through the air lazily. Clarke and Kane glance at each other and, as one, fight against the crowd towards the source.

The hospital building seems to be burning fiercely, but there’s smoke coming from several building nearby as well. Clarke frowns, trying to figure out how the fire could have spread so quickly. Kane grabs a guard standing nearby. “What’s going on?” he snaps.

The man tries to struggle away, terrified, the whites of his eyes showing. “I don’t – let me go -”

Kane nearly lifts him up by the front of his shirt, face furious. “Report.”

“The fire just – just started, sir,” the guard says quickly. “I don’t know how. Everyone inside is unconscious, we started trying to pull them out but then it got too hot, so we-”

Kane swears and looks around. “You, you, you and you,” he says, pointing at people. They stop milling frantically and listen. “Grab people and start four bucket chains from the nearest river to here. Two to the hospital, one to each of those buildings. Use every container we have, understand? And use every single person, if there’s anyone who doesn’t join the bucket chains, they better have a damn good excuse. Now!” He faces the guard again. “Get the other guards, grab every blanket you can find and soak them in the river, we can use them as protection against the heat. We’ll be going in.”

When the man disappears Kane looks towards Clarke. “This isn’t an accident,” she tells him, angry. “Three fires. Everyone being unconscious. This is a deliberate attack.”

“I know,” he says, face drawn. “They must have drugged the hospital food then started the fires. But we can’t focus on that right now.” Struck by a sudden thought, he looks at Clarke.

She nods before he can ask. “I’ll go tell Polis and TonDC we’re under attack.” The others need to know, in case it isn’t just an attack on them. If it’s the Azgeda, though, how did they get in to manage this? Not important, right now. What’s important is dealing with this. Part of her wants to stay and help, medically and otherwise, but it’s important she go and talk to Lexa and Indra. She’s been the main person to talk to them since she got here, contacting Lexa at least once a day even if nothing’s happened.

When she enters the room with the radio she knows something’s off immediately. There’s a guard inside, his face familiar, and it takes her a moment to place him, the way it often does when you see someone you recognise somewhere you never expected them to be. He’s a Prison Station guard, someone she saw often when she was there. He used to eat her food, or mess up some of it, just for the petty thrill, taunt her about being in solitary and ask if she wanted ‘company’. And he stayed in the Skybox, she’s sure of that, came down with Diana Sydney and ran off with her like the rest of them.

She attacks before he even realises she’s there, kicking him in the knee so hard she hears a cracking noise and backing him up against the wall. She holds a knife to his throat as he whimpers with pain. “What are you doing here?” she hisses, pressing it in deep enough that blood starts to drip down and soak the neck of his shirt. She should knock him out to question later and go to the radio, but when she glances at it she realises there’s no point. The radio has been ripped open, the insides torn out. There’s no way it will work. Maybe Raven has another one, but she’s been working on a lot of things lately so maybe not. Raven made it so the main radios could not be hacked, but that level of encryption also means the basic radios they have won’t work to contact Polis or TonDC.

Something stings her in the back of her neck. It takes her a second to recognise the sting and the wave of darkness that follows – someone behind her has shot her with a Maunon sleep dart. How do they have Maunon sleep darts?

Before the world disappears, she slashes the knife she’s holding against the guard’s neck savagely. The blood spraying into her face is the last thing she sees. She doesn’t even feel it when she hits the floor.

Chapter Text

“It’s against our ways,” one of the ambassadors says, a thread of fear in his voice. Fear of the idea of more change, perhaps, or just fear of disagreeing with the Commander.

“Ways can change,” Lexa says. “But I think, if anything, my idea is more in line with our ways. In the Conclave we pit all the Nightbloods against each other, and hope for one survivor. But if someone challenges me we do not let them attack me with a dozen people and then crown the survivor.” She snorts. “Surviving is not the sign of a strong warrior – any coward can survive if they run or hide. I want our next Commander to be brave.”

“The Conclave is how the spirit chooses,” another ambassador insists.

“I have the spirit,” Lexa points out. “So whoever I choose as my successor is chosen by the spirit.” She shakes her head. “As I said, however, I have no intention of my choice being final and inarguable. I think for the week after my fight ends, all Nightbloods should be allowed to challenge my chosen successor in battle if they wish to. If they do not wish to challenge, would you really want them as Commander anyway? They could be weak, or afraid, or unwilling to sacrifice.” She sends a mental apology to her Natblida, who she knows would never be any of those things. However, she does also believe none of them would challenge Aden – they would seek to support him. They are his siblings and friends, after all. “After that period, either my chosen successor or the Natblida who has defeated him will be Heda.”

“Let me see if I understand,” the Broadleaf ambassador says hesitantly. “You would choose a successor. When you die, the other Nightbloods would have a week to challenge him. If one kills him, then they have earned the position of Heda. If none defeat him, he has earned the position of Heda. But you intend to make these challenges optional. What if none challenge him?”

“Then it means every one of them believes either that he will be a better Heda than they, or they believe he could defeat them easily,” Lexa says. “A Natblida who believes either of those things could not be Heda. Certainty and strength is required to be the Commander.” She leans forward, face set and hand touching the hilt of her sword, threatening him with her own certainty and strength.

“It is… more elegant, then the current method,” the Rock Line ambassador says slowly. Rock Line, Lexa remembers from her visits there, have very few children. It is difficult for them to bear a healthy child and many are born deformed, disfigured or already dead. For that reason they consider the killing of able-bodied children more horrific than any other clan. “And it means if a Commander died within only a year or so of becoming Heda, the Flame would not need to pass to the next generation of Natblida, many of whom would be far too young – perhaps less than eight summers.”

Lexa sends him an approving glance. “Exactly.”

“What would become of the others if they do not die or become Heda, though?” the Azgeda ambassador asks. “What would their fate be?”

“Personal guard for the new Commander,” Lexa replies immediately. “They are loyal, excellent fighters, intelligent, will know the Commander well, and it ensures that if something unexpected happens there are candidates around who are able to take the Flame.”

The ambassador frowns. “What if the chosen heir died at the same time as you – as the Commander died,” he amends hurriedly. “Or if the Commander died before naming a successor. How would the heir be chosen then? Would we go back to the Conclave?”

“The ambassadors and the Fleimkepa would vote, of course,” Lexa says, smiling coolly. At once the ambassadors look more interested – there is nothing they like better than receiving more authority, even if it is for a contingency that is unlikely to occur. “With the Fleimkepa to have final say if the vote is not conclusive. Do any of you object?” She looks at each of them in turn and they flinch from her gaze like it is the sun. Not a single one objects.

It has taken some time to get them to this point, days of arguing and repetition, long hours of exhorting and promising and threatening. “Good,” she says softly. “Now that you know the general rules that will govern this, you must agree every tiny detail among yourselves, all of them, and in seven days’ time tell me what you recommend. If I consider your input acceptable we will then gather all of Polis and you will announce the rules, sealing in blood your agreement of these new ways and ongoing fealty to the spirit.”

She turns and leaves. Anya is waiting by the door, eyes worried, and Lexa gestures for her former Fos to walk beside her.

“Still no word?” Lexa asks her quietly, stomach churning.

“None,” Anya says grimly. “It’s been nearly three days now.”

“You do not need to remind me how long it has been,” Lexa tries not to let her shoulders slump. Why do the Skaikru not contact them? Why does Clarke not contact them? The radio has been silent except for when Indra contacted them yesterday, to let them know she also had not heard from Arkadia. “Even with the pathway between us only partially cleared, the messengers I sent to Arkadia yesterday should be returning soon.”

Anya’s face is set. Lexa knows she worries that there is no Arkadia to visit anymore, that somehow the Azgeda have snuck over the border and destroyed them, or that the Glowing Forest clan betrayed the alliance and killed the Skaikru, as impossible as that seems. But Lexa can’t believe that is the case.

“If the radio broke, they may not have been able to make another one that reaches us,” Lexa says, forcing herself to sound calm. “You know Raven did something complex with the main ones, something she called encrypting, to prevent the Arkadia hunters and guards carrying radios to be able to listen in on important discussions.”

“She said something of the kind,” Anya says. She frowns. “I do not like worrying about her safety. Or that of your Clarke. We should not have let them go back to Arkadia.”

Lexa raises an eyebrow. “As if we could stop either of them going somewhere they wished to be.” She feels no shame at admitting she does not command Clarke. In her experience, no one can.

“True,” Anya admits, though she still frowns. “Then perhaps I should have gone with them to Arkadia before coming here then.”

“I thought Raven kom Skaikru requested ‘space’,” Lexa says, not entirely sure what this term means besides the obvious. The Skaikru seem to have attached more meaning to it than Lexa knows of.

“She said she wished for space to think, but she also said she wanted us to continue developing our friendship and see where that led,” Anya replies, also looking confused, though willing to go along with whatever her strange sky girl wishes. Then she changes the subject, apparently unwilling to continue discussing her relationship with the mechanic. “Any news from the north?”

“My people in Azgeda territory report to me only rarely, it is the only way for them to remain safe,” Lexa says. “With the border blocked they are even less likely to travel south unless they have urgent news. They will wait and listen and spy until we enter Azgeda territory and will then attempt to meet me with whatever information they have. Perhaps one knows where Nia hides, but there is no way to know that until then.”

“I co