Catching the rabbit was easy. Tying it to that stake in the ground, even easier. Rabbits didn't buy anything, but bigger kills- larger pelts, more meat- they ensured another few days of survival. And for Clarke, every day was about survival. There was an order to that… a sense of peace, knowing what each new day would bring. Knowing that each night she could fall into the exhausted sleep of a bone-tired body.
The dreams came anyway.
Every night, awful dark frightening tableaus of Mount Weather, of the ring of fire at the dropship, of the culling on the Ark, of her knife sliding into Finn's chest, of her father's execution… all the horrific things that she had witnessed or caused came to life in her dreams like the torturous visions they were.
The days were so much easier. She could focus during the day- hunt, kill, trade, eat. Through necessity and immersion she had learned the language, or at least enough to get by, but she hadn't had a meaningful conversation in three months.
Not since she'd stood outside the gates of Camp Jaha with Bellamy, and he had promised her forgiveness like a gift. Not since she'd refused that gift, turned her back on everything she knew and everyone she loved.
Since then, it had been nothing but running.
She knew she was being hunted. She knew it was dangerous to stand out. So she learned the language. Got new clothes. Dyed her hair every couple of nights with crushed red berries. Kept her head down. It was a very different life from the one she'd been living, but it got the job done. Beyond keeping herself alive, she hadn't given anything much thought.
She hadn't even chosen a new name. Why bother? Who would she give it to? So she was faceless, anonymous. No one. Alone, always. She told herself that she liked it that way.
Now, here, perched in a tree and silent- always silent- being no one was easy. You didn't need an identity to surprise a predator and plunge a knife into its chest. You didn't have to be someone to carry an animal to a trading post and exchange it for another few days of life.
And so she waited- above that bunny on the stake, downwind so she wouldn't be scented until it was far too late. She knew something would come, and finally it did- black and sleek and beautiful. A jaguar. She knew how much the pelt alone could get her, let alone the meat.
She waited until it came upon the rabbit, until it suspected an easy meal, and then she was the one to pounce. She felt her knife slide into flesh and glance off bone, heard the angry roar of the cat in pain, and then it was all teeth and claws, shoving her off. She was rolling, but she quickly found purchase on the solid earth and scrambled backward, knife outstretched.
For a moment, they stared at each other. She knew it would charge. When you're no one, you have more patience to wait. All the time in the world. She held the knife firmly pointed out and waited for the cat to launch itself at her. Quickly and deftly, she stabbed its heart, feeling the body go limp as the blood coursed out hot and thick. The pain that erupted in her shoulder was like fire, but she had accomplished her goal.
Rolling the cat off her, she checked the blood on her shoulder- a good amount, but nothing she couldn't recover from. And well worth this prize.
She looked down at it, saw the smallness of it, the way its legs curled up just slightly, tail limp. This had been a live thing- a wild thing- and she had killed it. She knew that the grounders believed that when you killed something, you took its power… it was why she was in so much trouble now. But when Clarke looked down at the dead cat, all she saw was a beautiful creature whose life she'd ended. It didn't make her feel powerful. It made her feel alone and sad.
Respectfully, quietly, rubbing a hand over its fur, she said, "Yu gonplei ste odon." Then she got to work tying it to the planks she'd fashioned together- the better to drag it back to the trading post. She knew Niylah would pay well for it, and besides, by now she would have preserved the meat from Clarke's last kill. Another few days of food taken care of.
The journey would take the rest of the day, so she set out right away. Niylah's father was a suspicious man and so she always waited until he was gone before she made contact. So she didn't mind the walk- it was just more waiting, and at least by putting one foot in front of the other she could keep her mind busy.
She'd been walking for almost two hours, dragging the thing behind her, when she heard a crashing in the woods up ahead. It sounded like someone running- not caring whether they left footprints, not minding that they were making noise. It was so startling that she didn't know what to do for a moment. Everyone walked quietly in the woods- even Clarke had learned some of that skill. The few times she had run into other people, they had always startled her by appearing suddenly, like ghosts. She could only conclude that whoever was running was probably being chased, and she did not want to get involved in that.
Pulling her kill off to the side, she quickly hid it in some bushes and then crouched low, waiting for the stranger to pass her by.
Only it wasn't a stranger at all. Bursting from the foliage a few moments after she'd concealed herself was something out of a dream- familiar and yet so foreign at the same time, completely out of place here. It was so unexpected that she was sure the level of disbelief was the same as it would be to see her father alive again.
Bellamy came to a stop not far from her, breathing hard, slightly bent over, hands on his knees. He kept looking back in the direction he came from, craning his neck, trying to see if he'd lost whatever or whoever was chasing him.
Clarke didn't reveal herself. She couldn't move. All she could do was stare at the shocking familiarity of him- those dark eyes, the tangle of soft disheveled curls, the freckles that adorned his face like constellations, the firm chest and strong arms that had been her last real human contact.
He finally relaxed a little, putting one hand on a tree and using the other one to rub the space between his eyes for a moment. She knew that gesture- he was worried about something, stressed. He looked tired but healthy. She tried to tell herself that it was because he'd been doing just fine without her- they all had.
It was a lie she told herself daily, but it was much less easy to believe with him standing right in front of her, the stress in his posture, the worry in his eyes. Was she imagining that slight slope to his shoulders, as if he carried the world?
Bellamy pulled out a radio and brought it to his lips. "Monty! Dammit, do you read me?"
Clarke closed her eyes, listening to the deep, gravelly pitch of his voice, and it was that more than anything that made a lump rise in her throat. Silent, he could be dismissed as a strange mirage, here by some accident of time and circumstance, easily passed over and forgotten. But something about hearing him- that familiar voice that had yelled at her and then advised her and then comforted her and finally promised her forgiveness… dismissing that was a much harder thing to do.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was standing up. Bellamy was still speaking into his radio, "I got turned around in these damn woods- what's your position? Come in!"
She took a step towards him. She really must have learned to step quietly, because he didn't even react. Purposely she stepped on a stick, making it snap.
He whirled, arm ratcheting up, and belatedly she saw the gun in his hand. It had been so long since she'd seen a firearm, she'd forgotten how shiny they were. It glinted in the sunlight like a deadly diamond.
The shock seemed to hit him all at once and his eyes were wider than she'd ever seen them. Just that simple thing- him looking at her and seeing her- was almost too much. He was real. There was no disputing that now. And when he looked at her, without even trying he peeled back the shell of no one and revealed Clarke, soft and vulnerable and so, so lonely.
"Clarke?" he whispered, belatedly putting his gun away. He said her name like he hardly believed it, like uttering it aloud might make her disappear and he needed to make sure that didn't happen. When she stayed there, still real, he hurried to close the distance between them in three big steps.
She shuffled backward, her heart seizing with nerves. Bellamy stopped walking, but he was close enough to touch- all she'd have to do was raise her hand. She didn't, though, and he didn't either. They just stood there, staring at each other.
Again he said, "Clarke?"
Her name sounded foreign and strange, unexpected, like a blast of cold air on a summer day. She had to struggle for a moment to find the words for her native tongue, even though she knew that what she was struggling for was finding a connection to that name. Finally she just said, "What?"
He let out a breath that hitched at the end, almost like a laugh, and shook his head. "That's it? What?"
She shrugged, then cringed, having forgotten about the sizable claw marks in her left shoulder. Bellamy saw the flash of pain on her face and his forehead creased with concern as he stepped forward, reaching for her. "What is it?"
Clarke stepped back again, his hand closing around thin air. "Nothing," she assured him. "I just killed a jaguar earlier and it got me a little. I'm fine."
"Let me see."
"I'm fine," she said firmly.
But he was just as insistent as he said, "Let me see."
She didn't know what to do. She wanted to refuse, but she didn't see how she could. She wanted him to go away and leave her alone, to let her be no one again. But she also wanted him to stay, wanted to just exist beside him for a little while.
He had already circled around her and now he was sliding his hand along the back of her neck, moving her thick red hair away from the wound area. Even the brief touch of his fingertips against her skin made her eyes flutter closed, and the longing that filled her chest- for companionship, for basic human contact- almost knocked her over.
She glanced at him and could see that he wasn't going to take no for an answer. So she took off her overshirt, her armour, letting it fall to the soft forest floor. She couldn't see his face anymore, but she could feel the warmth and roughness of his skin when he hooked a finger under the strap of her undershirt and tugged it down over her shoulder. Again, that light brush of his skin against hers made her eyes close, and she leaned into it just the tiniest bit. It had been so long since she'd been touched that even something as simple as his fingers pressing gently against her shoulder, testing her injury, was like a soothing balm to her lonely heart.
"They're deep," he said, his breath warm on the back of her neck. "But not too deep. I need to clean it."
She showed him the crude first aid kit she carried with her and he sat her down on a log, going through it to find what he needed. She felt like a sapling in a hurricane- just a breath could knock her over now. But she just sat there, with a riot raging inside her, even though outwardly she knew she appeared calm.
Bellamy sat behind her on the log and started dabbing at the claw marks. They were tender, but even the pain he was causing was good- it was something. Touch. A real thing caused by a real human whose hand was pressed against her skin like some kind of promise. Even the droplets of water that slid down her shoulder from where he was cleaning the wound felt like small miracles.
Then his voice came, and it ruined everything. "I think it's time you come home."
She gritted her teeth. "I don't want to talk about that."
"Clarke-" He'd pulled his hand back. Why did he have to stop?
"No," she said firmly. "There's nothing to say."
There was a charged silence, and then she heard the edge of anger in his voice when he said, "I think there's a lot to say, actually."
She turned her head, fixing him with a glare, and he was glaring right back. She'd forgotten what an even match they could be, when it came down to it. Tensely she said, "Please stop talking."
The breath he let out was angry but underneath she could hear something else- loss. Sadness. Fear, maybe? Worry, for her?
He put the cloth down and rocked forward, and she knew she was going to stand up. Before she even realised she was doing it, she'd grabbed his hand and a single, desperate word tumbled from her lips, "No."
His brow furrowed in momentary confusion, but he didn't pull away from her. He didn't stand up. She brought his hand to her shoulder, willing him to keep going, to keep cleaning her wound, if only so she could feel that human contact. It didn't have to be him. It could have been anyone. But he was there, and even after all these weeks she still trusted him, and so she craved that simplicity- of his touch on her shoulder, of reminding her she was still human.
His fingers brushed against her skin, curling over her shoulder again, but he still had that confused expression on his face, and worry, like she was crazy. Maybe she was, because when his hand slid along her shoulder that second time, she felt a jolt of something she hadn't expected- and a deep ache, a longing for more.
Maybe they'd gone too far. He'd made her too human.
He stared at her, opened his mouth to speak, but she squeezed her eyes shut with such force that it seemed to silence him. When she opened them again his mouth was closed, but his eyes said everything- What are you doing? What are you thinking? What led you to this place, the here and now, and what happened before that?
What he was really asking was, Who are you?
Clarke watched his lips part and she knew she didn't want to hear whatever he was going to say- she didn't want to hear anything. So she leaned into him instead, grabbing the back of his head and pulling him into her lips, not giving him a choice in the matter, just needing him to be silent and needing him to touch her. This satisfied both those needs.
Bellamy seemed to tense against her for a moment, his lips not immediately responding to her, and she knew he was uncertain, that he was thinking too much. She needed him to stop doing that too, so she kissed him harder, anchoring her fingers in his curls to keep him close.
Finally he started to kiss her back, tentatively at first and then with more conviction. She stroked her tongue against his lips, demanding access, and after a final moment of hesitation he gave in completely, letting her swirl her tongue against his as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.
She nudged him backward towards the edge of the log and he grabbed her leg, pulling her onto his lap so he could stand up and keep hold of her. He turned them around and laid her on her back in the dirt, covering her body with his. This time it was him who initiated the kiss, and though she liked the feeling of his weight on her she needed more control, so she wrapped her legs around his hips and rolled them over, straddling him as she bowed her head, attacking his lips with hers once more. She pulled back from him long enough to sit upright on his hips, grasping the hem of her shirt.
Bellamy reached out and grabbed her wrists in his hands. "Wait."
With that single word, he broke the moment. She felt herself deflate, felt all the fear and uncertainty and aloneness come crashing back, and she shoved herself upright, stalking away from him. She didn't want to wait. She didn't want to think- not about him, not about her… not about anything.
Moving back over to her jaguar, she dragged the planks out of the bushes and checked the rope, making sure it was secure.
Bellamy was on his feet now, and he was watching her- she didn't look at him, but she could feel it… his eyes on her. She wanted him to go away. She wanted him to stay. She didn't know what she wanted.
She heard him stepping closer, and she whirled on him, gritting her teeth as she prepared to yell at him, get him to leave her alone.
The look on his face stopped her. He was holding her overshirt in his hands, and when she turned on him he held it out like a peace offering. She released her breath, but she didn't move closer to him and she didn't take the shirt.
"I don't need you to come here and tell me it's time to go home," she said, knowing her voice was harsh. "I don't need you to come here and… and…"
"And what?" he asked, softly.
Clarke shook her head. She didn't even know what she'd been going to say. So she just told him, softly, her voice almost pleading, "You can't talk."
Bellamy shook his head, and she saw his jaw tighten. "So what, then?"
She shook her head, her gaze on his shoulder so she wouldn't have to look into those eyes that were too real and too difficult to bear. "I don't know."
The silence that passed between them was long, tense, and incredibly loaded. Finally she walked forward, grabbing for the shirt, but the second her hand closed around the fabric, his hand closed around her arm. She looked down at it, his fingers around her forearm, and then back to his face. She expected him to say something, but he didn't. Instead he tugged her closer, sliding his hand from her arm and then around her waist, anchoring it in the small of her back.
She closed her eyes and let him lean in, let his lips cover hers, let him wrap her up in his arms and pull her closer. This time when she grabbed her shirt and pulled it up, he didn't stop her, but shrugged out of his jacket and yanked off his own shirt in turn, letting all that fabric tumble to the ground and then closing the distance between them once more, pressing their chests together.
His skin against hers- the warmth, the strength, the softness of him- was like an anchor, keeping her tied to reality, keeping her in this world and not in another, at least for now. The rest of their clothes went quickly, falling to the dirt in a heap, and then she was pushing him down on his back on the ground, straddling him, engulfing him.
He let out a groan as she joined their bodies in two fluid thrusts of her hips, and then she bent over him so her nipples slid against his chest, hardening into peaks so quickly it made her hiss. He grasped her hips in his hands as she started rocking her body against his, his own hips meeting her every movement.
Neither of them spoke- moans and gasps, heavy breaths and sighs, but no words. It was perfect. She let her eyes flutter close, let her body go soft and pliable, her lips drinking in his lips, relishing in the intensity of human contact after so long.
Clarke felt herself building, felt that slow warmth starting low in her belly and spreading outward, just a little bit more with every thrust of their hips together. Her breath hitched as she sat upright to increase the pressure, the pleasure, to make sure he was hitting the best spot. She grabbed at his hands, ripping them from her hips and planting them firmly on her breasts. He took instruction well, immediately rolling her nipples between his thumbs and forefingers, increasing the pace of his movements until her toes curled.
That warmth in her belly had turned to trembling, her body shaking against his as they kept moving together, the moans tumbling from both their lips and mingling between them as they climbed higher and higher together. Clarke felt herself reaching that peak, sucking in a breath as she started to clench down on him, ripping a gasp from his lips.
And then they were both exploding together, his arms squeezing her tightly as she leaned down to scream into his mouth, the two of them shuddering together, and then she collapsed, slumping forward onto his chest. She felt his fingertips stroking her back, her sides, then curling around her and holding her against him. She shifted her hips, separating them, provoking soft hisses from each of their lips.
Bellamy rolled them over, tucking his leg around hers, cradling her cheek against his chest and letting her sink into the crook of his arm. She could hear his heartbeat, smell the familiar scent of him that she thought she'd forgotten, taste his lips on her tongue. His body was warm against hers, his limbs like a fortress around her.
He didn't speak, and so it was perfect.
Some hours later she woke with a jolt- it was dark out, the stars and moon the only source of light. This time she couldn't remember the dream she'd been having, but that didn't make it any better. Her heart was still pounding, skipping in fear, her breaths coming in little gasps. Her body remembered, even if her mind conspired to hide the images from her.
Despite the fact that she felt like she'd woken loudly, screaming and shooting straight up, that couldn't have been true because Bellamy was still sleeping beside her- his eyes closed, his breaths soft.
She watched him. Asleep, she didn't have to worry about him talking now, ruining this moment by reminding her of all the things she didn't want to dwell on, looking at her with that gaze that cut right to her heart. Right now, she could just look at his face, how he seemed so much younger in sleep, so much softer, more relaxed, like he'd forgotten all his burdens.
Three months ago, Bellamy had offered her forgiveness. But would he still give that to her, even now? She couldn't bring herself to find out.
Clarke would lose the kill, but she needed to get out of here and she knew he wouldn't let her go. If she started dragging those planks, scraping that wood in the earth, he would wake up and he would stop her. She couldn't let that happen- couldn't stay with him. Being with Bellamy made her human, made her Clarke again… made her someone real.
Quietly she gathered her clothes up in her hands and dressed quickly. She stole a final look at his face, memorising every detail one more time, in case it was the last time, before she turned and slipped into the darkness on silent feet.
Then the forest engulfed her, and she was no one again.
A/N: For the record, I loved the Clarke/Niylah love scene. But I also wanted to try a different spin on it.
To all my wonderful loyal readers, I am working on an update for Anything Bad, and working on the sequel to Shadows & Ice, and I promise you'll see both soon.
For those who don't know me, if you liked this then please check out those two stories! :D