A/N: My first attempt at Clexa. It begins after the mountain and while I've done my best to stick to canon, I've taken some minor liberties. This is another of my long ones and is rated M for later chapters.
"Clarke, what are we going to do?"
"The mountain men have our people. What do we do?"
"Clarke, the grounders betrayed us. What now?"
"Tell us what to do."
Solitude. That's what she needed. The words rang in her ears even days after leaving Camp Jaha. Her name had been turned into something other than a just a way to identify her. It became a plea for help; for guidance and for certainty that the path they were on was the right one. She closed her eyes and looked to the sky. The stars and moon lit it brightly illuminating the woods surrounding her. She longed to fall into a restful sleep, but knew it would not come. She'd had only a few hours of sleep since she'd watch the bodies fall to the ground inside the mountain. She'd watched them scar and burn and wither away on the screens and saw their battered bodies as she walked back outside. She breathed fresh air in that moment. She'd heaved herself into a tree because she could no longer stand. The stench from the people so recently alive and hopeful of their impending escape to the ground had taken her aback and made her wobbly and unbalanced. She knew though that her people were counting on her. She had to hold it together. The vomit she could feel emerging got stuffed back down and the sweat appearing in rapid fashion against her forehead got wiped away while she forced herself to stand up straight and issue orders as if she had any right to do so.
They'd obeyed her orders though. They always had. Ever since she was ushered from her cell and onto the shuttle and thrown down to the earth with the other 99 criminals, Clarke had been obeyed and respected as leader by one group or another until she finally became de-facto leader to them all. Even though her mother and Jaha and others had all arrived and attempted to take over with their old ark government, the people still followed her command.
Command. That word entered her brain as she stared at the sky and begged it to solve her problems just as her people had begged her to solve their problems. She never asked to be in charge. She never wanted the burden. It had been hoisted on her and she was still left wondering why.
She closed her eyes and rested against a sturdy tree trunk. Her jacket kept her warm these past few nights, but it was getting colder and she'd been too stubborn or too confused to go into camp and at least gather her belongings and rations before leaving. She clutched at it in an attempt to warm herself up, but the shivering started and she knew she'd need to do something if she was going to go on. The nights would get colder. Her food options would run out. She'd been living off of plants and drinking from the river she started following on day two. She could hear it still as she tried to think of good things.
Life on the ark with her parents. Her friends. Watching old sporting events and wishing she could feel the grass through her fingers and beneath her feet. Talking about what it would be like if she lived on the ground before the bombs. The feel of her father's arms around her whenever they embraced. The sounds of laughter from her mother when her father told a joke.
She smiled and drifted off into what would be sleep, but not a restful one. Those images from the mountain wouldn't leave her just because she needed to sleep. The last images that entered her brain were of her mother on a table being tortured into giving up her valued bone marrow and of Lexa, the Commander she'd trusted turning her back and walking away.
The sun rose slowly and an exhausted Clarke watched a squirrel climb up a tree while she waited for the warmth the rising would bring. Her hands felt almost numb as she rubbed them quickly together to produce what heat she could. She regretted her stubbornness, but she was too far from the camp to turn back and make it in time for it to make a difference. Her only choice was to continue on along the river. Maybe she'd find an abandoned car or home like the one Finn had found buried beneath rubble. Maybe she'd find more survivors of the bombs like the grounders who would welcome her into their village. Maybe she'd die out here.
She stood and wiped her jeans with her hands. She felt dirty and not just because it had been days since she'd really bathed, but because of the guilt that constantly washed over her. Her feet were blistered and her muscles were sore, but she had no choice but to continue. She found the river once again with her ears and walked toward it. She knelt on the edge and cupped her hands, drawing cold water at first to her face to wash away any dirt and wake up her body. She cupped them again and took a long drink. She took off her jacket and rubbed the water up and down her arms, daring not to get in because of what happened the last time Octavia tried to go for a swim. The water was shallow and she could see to the bottom, but she could also see fish following the current and had no idea if they were radiation fueled meat eaters. Her eyes looked ahead and saw the rock-lined shore as her best path. It would be harder for people to track her if anyone was trying.
She had no idea if anyone from the camp would try to follow and convince her to return. Part of her hoped Bellamy would follow or bring a team to find her. Maybe her mother would insist. The other part just wanted to be left alone. She knew the grounders were gone. They'd packed up their camp and returned to the capital. That much she knew when she passed by what used to be their camp, but a day after they'd betrayed the Sky People had turned into a burned trash heap of leftover and discarded items. She knew none of the grounders she knew would be following her, but there were others who never liked her or her people to begin with. They might try or other groups all together she knew nothing about. They might see a lone girl and attack. She still had her gun. It was safely tucked under her shirt. She felt it against her back as she walked. Her skin was almost rubbed raw in the spot. She sometimes just held it in her hand or shifted it to the front for some relief. She still had most of her bullets. The president of the mountain held the rest in his dead body on the floor of the mountain's control center.
She trudged along not knowing where she was going other than just away from everything she knew. She found berries to eat for a small lunch, but her stomach was growling demanding more food. She knew she'd have to find something of more substance soon or she wouldn't last much longer. She took another long drink from the river and then set off away from it to see what she could find.
It took several hours, but she felt a weak spot in the ground and heard a crack like glass. She backed up and knelt down next to the spot and dug her hands into the soft soil moving the leaves and dirt away to reveal what she first thought was another car window, but what was actually a sky light. She couldn't see much through the darkness below, but it looked like a house was beneath her feet. Not wanting to use her gun because that would attract unwanted attention, she found a rock large enough to break the glass, but light enough for her to carry and dropped it through watching the glass and the rock hit the floor a level below.
She jumped in not thinking about the risk and landed on her ankle. She winced in pain and clutched it only momentarily before looking around to figure out if she was safe. She stood and tried to put weight on the ankle and could tell it wasn't broken, but it was at least bruised or sprained. She thought of her mother and her ability to heal almost anything.
She looked around and limped in what appeared to be a living room long forgotten by the previous occupants. Sofas and a table and a television she'd only seen in pictures. Dust covered everything. There were magazines on the table that had withered and wilted with time. She walked toward what appeared to be the kitchen and began opening cabinets hoping for a miracle. She found none. The food that was once in this kitchen was gone. Others had come before her probably right after the bombs and taken all that was around. Though the place had no food, it was at least a shelter from the elements and a place she could find other supplies.
She found an old first aid kit that had long ago expired medicine. She took it anyway thinking expired medication was better than none. It did have a wrap she could use on her ankle until it healed and after wrapping it, she found a backpack that would work for carrying what she took. She walked into a bedroom and rifled through drawers and closets to find a few articles that could almost fit her and would keep her warm. They smelled of dust, but she could wash them in the river. She grabbed an old sleeping bag and another blanket and found a rope she used to wrap the two together and tied them to the backpack for easier carrying. She also found another gun. It was in a case along with a box of bullets. She took those too. Her stomach was aching now for something more than berries, but it was almost nightfall so it would have to wait.
She read old magazines about a time she'd only heard about from others and noticed books on a bookshelf. She took a few of them and sat them next to her backpack. Books were a luxury on the ark. She'd noticed many of them in the mountain, but she'd only been there a short time and never got a chance to read one. They would help her pass the time on her walks until she found somewhere to settle.
Yes, that was the idea. She would find her own little place. There would be no more war or blood. No more death. Just her and her solitude. She could do that. She could be alone. She'd spent a year in solitary confinement on the ark. She'd gotten used to her own thoughts. She could do that. It would be better than her other life.
She slept in the bed with a musty pillow and sheets, but despite the images that continued to haunt her, she was able to sleep better than before. When the sun rose in the sky, the light shone through the skylight as she imagined it once did when people lived here. She took a moment to walk around once more to see if there was anything else worth taking that she could carry. Feeling satisfied that she'd scavenged all she could; she took a ladder she'd found in what used to be the garage and placed it under the skylight. She put the backpack on and made sure the sleeping bag was firmly attached. She climbed up and out into the sunlight to begin the walk back toward the river to clean her new clothes and drink some water before continuing on.
She found more berries and devoured every one on the bush before taking the two empty bottles she found at the house and filling them with water. Her backpack was even heavier with them now, but she'd be able to cover more ground with water she could take with her.
Another day of walking, another day of exhaustion and near starvation. She knew it was time. She waited until she was desperate and worried about her survival before she pulled out her gun and looked for something she could shoot to eat. It was risky not just because of the noise, but because she had no idea if these animals were okay to eat or if one bite could kill her. She'd seen what the radiation had done to some of them, but she had no choice. She saw another squirrel and it had no visible damage. It took a bullet to the tail, which wasn't enough to kill it, but it fell from the tree and Clarke took care of the rest. She had a knife from the house and used it to clean it up as best she could and then set about starting a small enough fire. She knew she would never be able to eat raw squirrel so she'd have to take another risk and let the smoke from her fire rise above the tree line. Maybe someone would see it. Maybe they wouldn't, but as she finished eating the squirrel and laid down by the warm fire, she decided not to care about what might happen as a result.
Sleep came and went and she again woke with the sun, packed her gear and walked on. She shot another squirrel mid-day and ate half and carried the rest with her for later. She stopped by the river as needed to refill her water and she had to admit that as much as this was a struggle, she was actually starting to get used to it. Her ankle was still hurting and she had to stop and rest more than usual and with all the walking it wasn't getting any better, but it wasn't getting any worse. She probably should have stayed in that house, but there was no food. The skylight was her only entry and exit point, which made it unsafe and she still felt the need to be further and further away from Camp Jaha.
It was then that she heard the sounds of a branch cracking. She stopped immediately and turned around. Her skull was met with a hard object and everything went dark. Her head was pounding in pain. She opened her eyes slowly at first as she came to and noticed she was moving. Her hands were tied behind her back. She was lying in a cart of some kind being pulled by a large man dressed like a grounder, but not. He wasn't dressed like a warrior. He carried no weapon. He must have hit her with a tree limb or a rock. She couldn't tell if she was bleeding, but she didn't think she was. She just knew her head hurt and now that she wasn't pushing herself to walk through the pain, she could feel stabbing in her ankle. It was definitely swollen and she'd done herself no favors by not resting it properly. The grounder pulling the cart was dressed in a fur and had no visible tattoos she could see. He had short, dark hair and pulled her quickly through the woods.
Just as she was about to ask who he was or where she was going, he dropped the two handles of the cart and it abruptly stopped. Pain shot through her head and her foot, but she lifted herself up anyway and looked ahead. In front of her was the last place she wanted to be. It was worse than Camp Jaha. She'd never been here, but it had been described to her well enough to know that she was in the capital.
"Lexa." She said to herself.