22

A Hundred Lifetimes

"Alicia!" Elyza shouted, her voice cracking with panic and shock. She dropped to her knees beside Alicia as the first wave of pain swept over her. There was a fire in her stomach and the pain of it was like nothing Alicia had ever experienced before. It toppled over her in waves, wracking her body with each breath, until she felt herself convulsing. The pain was all-consuming.

And yet... As she looked up at Elyza's face kneeling over her, the pain seemed to fade. No... It didn't fade. It wasn't any less powerful, raw, or real. But Alicia was only semi-conscious of it. It was as if her body belonged to someone else. The pain belonged to someone else. And her mind knew her body was dying, but all of the sudden it didn't seem to matter much. Because Elyza was safe. And Elyza was with her.

"Help me get her in the car!" Elyza cried and suddenly Alicia felt the ground disappear from underneath her as arms lifted her. They gently laid her in Anya's backseat and Elyza climbed in beside her, perching awkwardly in the narrow space between the backseat and the front. Alicia was vaguely aware of Elyza's fingers pressing against her stomach, pushing against the fire eating her from the inside out. Alicia felt cold. More than anything, she wished she could feel those fingers wrapped around her own. She lifted a heavy arm and groped across her soaking wet belly in search of Elyza's hands.

"Stay with me, Alicia!" Elyza cried desperately.

"Always." Alicia wanted to reply. But the word caught in her throat. She choked and coughed, tasting blood. She knew she was dying. She supposed she should be terrified. But she wasn't afraid. She wasn't even sad. Because Elyza was safe. And Elyza was with her. And this was how Alicia had always imagined, always hoped, death would come for her. Because Elyza's face was more beautiful than green leaves fluttering against white clouds floating in a blue sky. And her tears fell more gently on Alicia's cheeks than the perfume of blossoms carried on a summer breeze. And now Elyza's fingers were wrapped around her own as tenderly as a lover's and her touch was as soft as a stolen kiss.

And Alicia knew this was her last chance to speak with Elyza. And she had so much to say. But her lips could only form one word. And she prayed that it would suffice. "Nodotaim." She choked and sputtered through her blood.

"No! Stay with me, Alicia." Elyza begged, the tears streaming from her eyes. "I need you. I want you. Don't leave me..." she cried. "Please, don't leave me."

Alicia stared into the brilliant blue of Elyza's eyes until Elyza's head dropped to Alicia's chest and all she could see was the golden yellow of her hair. And Alicia wondered if this was how Tom had felt as he died. If he had been as lucky as she was. If the last thing he had seen leaving this world wasn't the ugly snapping jaws of the infected, but rather the blue depths of Elyza's eyes, the glow of her golden hair. She wondered if he, like her, had welcomed his death, knowing that Elyza was someone worth dying for. She wondered if, given the chance to undo it, to go back and change his fate, if he still would've jumped in front of Elyza. Because Alicia would not change a thing. And, could she live a hundred lifetimes, she would give every single one for Elyza. Because Elyza was worth dying for.

The yellow was fading to black all around as Alicia heard Elyza's voice, like a prayer on the wind. "Mebi oso na hit choda op nodotaim." And Alicia thought she felt something soft brush her lips as the darkness took her.

...

Alicia's belly was on fire. It felt like she was being eaten alive from the inside. She had never felt pain like this before, she was sure of it. And yet, as she opened her eyes, she had the strange feeling that she had been here before. She was dying. She was sure of that too. And yet, this wasn't the first time. She was sure of that too.

She pressed her fingers against her throbbing stomach, its skin slick and warm with sticky blood. She lifted her hands before her and was only mildly surprised to see them covered in black. She should be shocked, or at least a little concerned that she seemed to be leaking black ink. Black blood was impossible, after all. It made no sense. And yet, somehow, she had half expected it. And it didn't seem to matter much right now because she was expecting something else too. Something far more important. She didn't know what she was expecting, but she was waiting for it. She was longing for it.

A face swam into focus before her and immediately she knew that this girl was what she had been awaiting. She had eyes the color of the ocean on a cloudless day, wild hair the color that sand ought to be when the sun bounces off of it and burns your pupils and leaves you momentarily blinded by its brilliance. She was crying and she was impossibly beautiful in her sorrow. Still, it pained Alicia to see this girl's tears. It made her ache with a pain far deeper and more intense than any burning in her stomach, any pain of her flesh. This ache came from somewhere deeper than her skin or her organs or her bones. It came from her very core and squeezed her heart and constricted her lungs until she felt like she could not breathe. And the ache was more than she could bear. And yet, Alicia would endure this pain a hundred times over if in doing so she could but ease the pain in this girl's blue eyes; if she could but wipe away the girl's tears and replace them with a smile.

Alicia lifted a heavy hand to the girl's cheek and the girl reached up and cradled Alicia's hand in her own. Alicia did not know this girl. She was sure of it. She did not know her name. She did not know where she came from or why she was here now. And yet, she knew this girl. She was sure of it. She knew the soft, endless blue of her eyes. She knew the curve of her lips, the feel of her cheek, the touch of her fingers against her skin. Somehow she knew this girl from somewhere deep inside her. It was as if her eyes did not recognize her, but her very soul did.

The girl leaned over Alicia, so close that her tears fell from her lashes and trickled down Alicia's own cheeks. Her voice washed over Alicia and Alicia forgot the pain of her flesh as she struggled to make sense of the words. "Journey on the ground. May we meet ag..."

...

Alicia opened her eyes and sucked in a raspy breath, her stomach throbbing with the effort. Her stomach was still on fire, but the flames were fading into smoldering embers. And above the flames something soft was tickling her neck and chin. Something soft and yellow was resting on her chest. Alicia tried to push herself into a sitting position to get a better view and the something stirred at the sound of Alicia's gasp of pain. A beautiful face appeared before her. The girl's eyes were red and puffy from sleep and recent tears, but the irises shone with the blue of the ocean on a cloudless day. Her wild and tangled hair was the color that sand ought to be when the sun bounces off of it and burns your pupils and leaves you momentarily blinded by its brilliance. Her soft lips were parted in surprise but they quickly spread into a smile, and then a full-on grin. Alicia felt her own lips pull into her own goofy grin, because she knew this girl. Yes, she knew this girl.

"Elyza!" She sputtered, trying to ignore the pain in her abdomen.

"Alicia!" The girl replied, still smiling like an idiot. "You're awake! How's your stomach?"

How's my stomach? Alicia thought. Feels like i got skewered by an effing spear. But she put on a brave face and tried her best to shrug. "Hurts."

Elyza laughed. "Hurts?" She mimicked Alicia. "You took a fucking bullet to the stomach, Lil' Coon! My mum says you should have died. She says its a miracle you are still here. I told her you're too damn stubborn to die." She laughed once more, and then her face grew serious.

"Truth is..." She continued. "You're too strong to die... Too brave... Too good."

Alicia felt herself blushing, but Elyza pressed on. "That bullet was meant for me." She said softly, her bright blue eyes fixed on Alicia's. "If you had stayed behind me like I'd asked..."

The air between them was heavy, thick with tension. Alicia was struggling to breathe. It was too much... She had to lighten the mood. "Is this an 'I told you so?'" She laughed.

"No." Elyza answered, her voice soft and as serious as Alicia had ever heard it. "It's a 'thank you.'"

She was staring down at Alicia with an intensity Alicia had never seen in her blazing eyes before. Alicia's cheeks burned under the gaze. The fire in her belly seemed to be spreading, consuming her. The heat filled her chest, the palms of her hands, the tips of her fingers. Alicia knew it wasn't possible, but it felt like if she held Elyza's gaze a moment longer her very skin might burst into flame. But when she tried to look away, Elyza did something she had never done before. She reached out and gently wrapped her palm around the back of Alicia's head, weaving her fingers into her hair as she leaned in to kiss her.

The kiss was tender, almost tentative. And now Alicia really could not breathe. She was sinking. She was drowning. And it was wonderful.

Then something strange happened. It was like a flash of lightning behind her eyelids, gone as suddenly as it had come. Alicia's eyes were closed. She could feel Elyza's fingers in her hair, her lips moving cautiously against her own. And yet, her eyes were open. She was sitting in a bright forest, surrounded by a thousand shades of green and brown. She could smell pine and rain and burning wood in the crisp air. A small fire smoldered beside her and on the opposite side of it Elyza lay asleep on the mossy earth. Alicia watched Elyza dream as she slept, admiring her beauty. Only... Alicia suddenly realized... This girl wasn't Elyza. She was someone else. And Alicia wasn't... Alicia. She, too, was someone else. Someone she knew more deeply than she knew herself. Someone she didn't know at all.

Suddenly Elyza's lips pulled away from Alicia's and the forest around her instantly dissolved. But the image lingered in her mind. It was clearer than a dream. It was like a memory. A memory long forgotten. Alicia's heart was racing. Her head was swimming. She opened her eyes to see Elyza blinking at her, her face a mixture of surprise, confusion, and a vulnerable insecurity Alicia had never seen in her before. She looked like she was waiting for Alicia's reaction, as if it only just crossed her mind that maybe she should have asked for Alicia's permission before kissing her. But the surprise and confusion in her eyes made Alicia wonder if Elyza had seen the forest too, or perhaps something else.

Alicia did not know what had just happened. But her blood was pounding in her ears and her lips were still tingling with the ghost of Elyza's touch. And she was hungry, so hungry, for more. Ignoring the pain in her stomach, she reached out an arm and pulled Elyza back towards her until their lips met again.

Immediately Elyza's previous hesitancy dissolved as she melted into Alicia. What had begun as a tender, tentative kiss became something deep, something desperate. Alicia breathed her in, unable to contain her own desire.

And suddenly she was in a massive tent standing so close to Elyza that she could feel the heat of her body in the air between them. No... It wasn't Elyza. It was. But it wasn't. And she wasn't Alicia. She was. But she wasn't. And she was staring at this girl's lips, the fear pulsing in her blood more powerful than anything she could ever remember feeling. And yet, the longing in her chest was even more powerful still. Heart pounding, she finally reached out and closed the tiny distance between them until their lips met ever so gently. And the world spun around her as, to her amazement, the girl kissed her back.

Then suddenly the tent dissolved into a dim room and there were people all around her but the only one she saw was the girl with paint around her eyes and braids in her golden hair, kneeling before her. And then she was in another room and she was the one kneeling on the stone floor and her fingers tingled as the girl took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.

And then she was sitting beside the girl watching the candlelight play in her wild, golden hair. And she was trying to hide the butterflies in her stomach as the girl pulled a black-smudged rag off her wounded hand and tenderly wrapped it in another. And the girl's loose, flowing, blue nightgown was so distracting that she struggled to keep her gaze on the equally blue eyes before her.

Image after image swam before Alicia's eyelids. Vaguely she was still aware of Elyza's hungry lips on her own. She could still feel the infirmary bed solid, and real beneath her. But it was like Elyza's fingers running through her hair, her breath in her lungs, the gentle nip of her teeth on Alicia's bottom lip... These were all a waking dream. Because Alicia was in the room with Elyza, but she wasn't. She was standing in another room, staring at a drawing of herself, or really of someone else who looked just like her but was not her. And the girl who was Elyza and wasn't Elyza was standing beside her, black charcoal on her fingertips and crimson in her cheeks.

And then she was in another room, standing so close to the girl who was not Elyza that once again she could not breathe. They were clasping forearms and Alicia wanted so badly to pull her closer, to close the distance between them. But she held her ground, waiting. Because she knew deep down that it was not up to her. She knew this girl was not hers to hold. And she might never be. And Alicia ached deep inside. But that was alright. Because Alicia was happy just to be near her. To watch the patterns of light playing on her cheeks and in her hair and lingering in her eyes. And Alicia would wait a hundred lifetimes and never close the gap between them because she knew it was somehow her fault the gap was there. And the gap was not hers to close.

And Alicia's throat was closing and she could feel the burning in her eyes and she knew that this was an indefinite goodbye. And Alicia ached because the gap was still there between them and she was powerless to close it. And Alicia's breathing stopped as the girl suddenly stepped into the gap between them and closed it for her. And the girl's tender kiss was forgiveness and acceptance and understanding. And Alicia pulled away because it was everything she wanted. And it was everything she knew she did not deserve.

And she studied the girl's eyes as the tears welled and fell from her own. Because she needed to be sure that this was real. Because this girl was everything she wanted. And everything she could never deserve.

And the girl stepped into the gap between them a second time and her lips smashed into Alicia's hungrily. And this kiss was longing and desperation and hunger and need. And Alicia pulled the girl into her and the girl pulled Alicia back into her. And the hunger was deep within Alicia. Deeper than her flesh and her organs and her bones. The longing was in her very core, her very soul. And it was consuming her. And she broke the kiss and dropped onto the edge of a bed and looked at the girl with pleading in her eyes. And she waited. And she would wait a hundred lifetimes. Because this was everything that Alicia wanted and everything she feared she did not deserve.

And then she was laying in a warm bed, enveloped in soft furs. And a shiver ran down her bare spine as the girl traced her fingertips along her back. And she smiled and closed her eyes and wished this moment could last a hundred lifetimes. Because this girl beside her was everything she had always wanted. And everything she would ever want. And it was everything she had always thought she could never deserve. And it was everything she finally let herself have.

Alicia felt Elyza's lips pull away and she opened her eyes feeling utterly dazed. She was in the infirmary bed again. And she felt weird. So weird. And she felt right. So right. And she was Alicia. And she was someone else. And there before her, blinking and smiling, and impossibly beautiful, was the girl who was Elyza and who was someone else. Someone Alicia had never met before. And someone Alicia had always known.

And her fingers trembled as she reached out to touch the girl's cheek. Because she needed to know that this was real. Because this girl was all she had ever wanted and all she would ever want.

And the name formed on her lips like a prayer forgotten, "Clarke."

And the girl who was Elyza and the girl who was Clarke stared back at her with eyes the color of the ocean and the color of the sky. And a tear rolled down her smiling face as she reached out with her own trembling fingertips to touch Alicia's cheek.

"Lexa." Was all she said. And the name fell on Alicia's ears like a prayer remembered.

And she suddenly realized that it didn't matter if she was Alicia or if she was Lexa. Because she was both. She had always been, and she would always be, both. And both were right. And it didn't matter if the girl standing before her was Elyza or if she was Clarke. Because Alicia loved them both. She always had. And she always would.

And she wanted to tell her so. But she knew those three words could never be enough. She could spend a hundred lifetimes reciting them and still never come close to explaining how intensely she loved her... how deeply she needed her... how desperately she wanted her... how she would spend a hundred lifetimes and then a hundred more searching for her.

And so she just gave the girl a small smirk. "I told you I would find you."

And the girl let out a laugh that was freedom and joy and comfort and safety and belonging and home.

"If I remember right..." She said with her own sassy smirk. "I found you, Lil' Coon."

"We found each other." She answered. "We always will."