She had borne witness to it countless times. On the field of battle, surrounded by bloody chaos; in the council tent, surrounded by stern onlookers and faced with a malcontent challenger to her rule, who had dared to take up arms against her; in her bedchamber, staring down a shadow-cloaked assassin, the moon's cold shine falling across the intruder's eyes, two beady gleams the only light in the darkened room.
She was no stranger to it, and its many manifestations. Those looks on a person's face when she took their life, striking them down before her, staring straight into their eyes. Fear. Loathing. Heaven-shaking defiance. Sorrowful regret. Peaceful acceptance. It was a gallery she could see whenever she wished, if she but closed her eyes. All different expressions, all connected by one common, underlying theme: a sudden dimming of the eyes, the light and life fleeing from the body at once, a whisper of the soul through the air, leaving behind the cold, empty husk—the pallid mould of flesh and bones, face frozen in that last, distinct, vivid expression. A memorial sculpture, all with their eyes fixed dead on her through the façade of brow, cheeks, mouth; falling to the ground with her blade embedded in their chest.
She had seen it so many times, all those expressions…
And it was nothing, next to the indescribable way Clarke had looked at her, when the blade was buried in her back.
What did you do?
What you would have done. Saved my people.
They'll all be killed. But you don't care about that, do you?
I do care, Clarke, but I made this choice with my head and not my heart. The duty to protect my people comes first.
Please don't do this.
I'm sorry, Clarke.
Their words echoed in her head as she trudged along the road back to Ton DC, flanked by her two bodyguards and leading the rest of her retreating forces, with the newly rescued prisoners in tow. Glancing at them—ragged, scarred, slumped with the burden months of torture had foisted upon their shoulders—she wondered if they yet realized they were free. She wondered anyone had told them what had happened, what she had done. Would they approve of her actions? Would they sneer and scorn her deal even as they recovered?
It didn't matter. Her people were alive, and they were safe, she told herself. She would take solace in that, if she could.
She paused, briefly, by the path that led up into the hills, waiting for those straggling behind, and she took a moment to turn and look back. There was Clarke, standing alone in the clearing at the edge of the dark eaves of the woods, a solitary figure before the massive bunker door of the Mountain realm. Hard to even imagine, in that perfect, desolate stillness, that a mighty army, an alliance of Grounders and Sky People, had just minutes ago stood on that ground, primed for battle, eager for bloodshed, the earth trampled beneath their feet and the Mountain Men trembling in their earthen fortress.
Trembling, but still dangerous. After all, theirs was a tower that dwarfed anything her people had ever known or could ever build. A sky piercing monument surrounded for miles around by their crude, pitifully erected huts and hungrily scavenged outposts. A tyrant amidst prostrate, groveling subjects.
…And she had made peace with them, even at the moment of likely victory, in order to save her prisoners. She clenched her teeth. Even from a position of weakness, could the accursed Mountain thus control her people's destiny.
Now, Clarke was all that remained. The woman who had captured her own attention, with her heart following shortly after. The woman who had reached her, with the way she put her people's safety above all else, leading with her compassion worn on her sleeve, going to absolutely any lengths necessary to guide them, to protect them: her ironic downfall, as Lexa had finally been inspired to do the same, even as it rent her already divided soul into several more pieces.
In that bleak, black night, under the mottle of swollen clouds that promised a nearing downpour, Clarke was only just visible. Dressed as she was, she blended in with the darkness, leaving only a pale outline of a face and sun-bright hair smothered to a dim, sickly color. She stood there, like a stray dog lurking outside its master's door. Bruised, but not beaten, not in spirit. Lexa knew that much. Her betrayal would sting Clarke, for certain, but already she could sense the girl's mind was working, trying to regroup, to beat back the pain—as she herself had tried to instruct her—to compartmentalize and come up with one last plan, even though she would soon realize the sad truth of its futility: there was nothing she could do. Her friends were lost.
She stood there. Alone. Desperate.
Still so strong.
Lexa's heart soared up into her throat with affection. She thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and those further rent pieces shattered at once into a million glassy fragments.
Her face did not move.
May we meet again, she had said, and she simultaneously longed for and dreaded that day. As much as she wished for it, she did not think she could bear the burning, seething, murderous hatred in Clarke's eyes that would be raging there when she looked at her, as she knew it must be.
And if, on that reunion, Clarke sought her life in vengeance, would she be able to resist?
Would she want to?
The army resumed its march, she tarrying behind among them to watch over the exodus. Two of her people passed her by. A man and a woman, presumably a couple, him supporting her, she clutching his shoulder, the pair limping along like some wounded, three legged creature. The man was one of her soldiers, his mask pulled down to his neck, while the woman was dressed in torn rags, and numerous scars lashed her half-exposed body. The script of the Mountain Men. Mercifully, it was warm and humid that night, so cold was not yet another torment to the poor woman, who already bore more than enough horrors for any one person.
As they walked, spotting their Commander, they both began thanking her. Sputtering out profuse heaps of gratitude, of praise, of blessings summoned down from the divine spirits on her and all her future incarnations.
She thought for a moment of offering them a comforting smile in return. It would be a clumsy, unpracticed gesture, coming from her, and might provide the couple with the biggest shock of their lives.
The moment passed, and she merely nodded, acknowledging their thanks and urging them on in one calm motion.
She watched their retreating backs, and soon resumed her own march.
She didn't look back again.
She didn't need to.
Those countless faces she saw, every time she closed her eyes, that stalked her dreams, all those various expressions, masks for the fleeing light and vacant stare of those whose lives she had taken…
Clarke's face, in that moment of realization and broken dismay—that inexpressible look had already taken their place.
The blade dug deep.