Clarke understood that fierce, desperate longing to find those who had been lost. She’d felt that for her parents, even when there was no logic to it, and against all odds, they’d returned to her.

At the thought of her parents, Clarke gritted her teeth against a wave of shame.

She’d spent the hours before they left by her mother’s side. Dr. Lahiri’s treatment seemed to be working well for her infection, and the bullet hadn’t pierced any organs, but she would still have a difficult recovery ahead. Sitting with her, chatting in low voices while holding hands, Clarke had nearly reversed her decision to leave. But then her mother had murmured, “I’m proud of you. I’m proud of what you’ve become,” and Clarke had known she meant her courage in setting out with the others. Still, her heart felt torn in two directions with every step she took away from home.

Nothing will happen to me, she promised herself. I’ll come back to them safe and sound, just as I told them I would.

The woods broke apart as the ground grew steep under their feet. The sun was starting to set, bathing everything before her in gold.

“What the—” Ahead of her, Paul ducked as a thick vine unwound itself from a tree branch. It stretched into the air, bright yellow leaves unfurling. Clarke knew from previous investigations that the leaves were sticky, and by morning, they would be covered with insects for the vine to absorb.

“You okay?” Clarke called.

“Yeah,” he said, pausing to let her catch up with him, and he turned from side to side, slightly dazed. “What was that?”

“I’ve been calling them nocturnal carnivorous vines. But I have no idea what they’re really called. Or if they’ve ever had a name at all. I think it’s a recent mutation.”

“It’s pretty incredible,” Paul said, glancing over his shoulder for a better look. His earlier bravado seemed to have vanished, replaced by a surprising air of wonder. Not many people other than Clarke were intrigued by plants.


“What’s incredible?” she asked.

Paul shook his head. “Nothing on Earth looks or acts the way they told us it would. The flowers we read about are poisonous. The deer have two heads. The vines have turned carnivorous. And at first, it all seems kind of terrifying and monstrous, but there’s a logic to it, you know? All these species, doing what they have to do to survive. They’re all fighters. I like that.”

Clarke surprised herself by smiling. “You consider yourself a fighter? You seem a little too cheerful for that.”

Paul smiled back. It was wistful, almost sad. “Sometimes being cheerful is a way of fighting. When you’ve seen some of the stuff I’ve seen…” He shook his head. “Let’s just say I didn’t have the easiest time growing up.” Clarke stared at him, wondering if perhaps Paul and Bellamy had more in common than anyone imagined. They’d both had tough childhoods but had chosen different ways of coping: Bellamy turned distant and rebellious, believing there was no one he could trust but himself, while Paul had tried to be open and amiable, someone other people could trust.

Paul shrugged. “But hey, who did, right? I assume it wasn’t all rainbows for you, or else you wouldn’t have ended up in Confinement.”

Clarke blanched slightly, thinking of Lily and the other kids she’d been unable to save. “It’s… complicated.”

He smiled at her—a kind, sincere smile, a world away from his usual overly cheery grin. “I doubt that,” he said quietly. “I’m sure you were just trying to do the right thing.”

They walked until it got dark, and then continued well into the night. Bellamy was right. It made sense to cover as much ground as possible at night, when they’d be harder to spot, and then rest for brief periods when they got tired. He was clearly having no trouble tracking the enemy. Every so often, he’d return to the group to point out a wagon rut Clarke never would’ve noticed in broad daylight, let alone at night. The longer they walked, the more energy Bellamy seemed to gain. He was practically bouncing now, eager to keep going and find the men who’d taken his sister.

But everyone else was growing weary, and eventually Bellamy conceded that they should rest for a bit. He hurried ahead to scout a good spot, and about half an hour later, the others caught up to him in a valley at the bottom of a hill, next to a little creek.

Though the evening was chilly, they all agreed not to build a fire, lest the smoke attract unwanted attention. The people who’d brought blankets laid them out on the ground. Clarke watched in fascination as Cooper and Vale half buried themselves under mounds of dried leaves.

“Do you want to give that a shot?” a quiet voice asked. She turned to see Bellamy grinning at her.

Seeing him smile filled her chest with warmth, as the worry weighing her down drained away. “I don’t need to. I brought a blanket, unlike some very noble, very foolish people I know.”

Bellamy crossed his arms and gave an exaggerated shiver. “What do you think, Doc?” he asked, craning his head back to look at the sky. “Will I risk exposure? Frostbite?”

“Don’t worry. If you get frostbite, I’m sure I’ll be able to amputate without much trouble. That knife you brought is pretty sharp, right?”

“Of course, there is always preventative medicine.”

“Yeah,” Clarke said, elbowing him in the side. “Like bringing a blanket.”

“I did bring one.”

“What are you talking about? I saw you take it out of your pack.”

Bellamy smiled, and without another word, scooped Clarke off the ground, walked a little bit away from the others, and then toppled them both over into a massive pile of dried leaves.

“Let me go!” Clarke said with a laugh, scrambling to sit up.

“Man, this is one feisty blanket,” Bellamy said, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her back down toward him.

Her fatigue caught up with her, settling into her limbs. She relaxed and allowed herself to sink into him, resting her head on his chest. “Now this is what the doctor ordered,” Bellamy said quietly, running his hand through her hair.

“Leave the medicine to me, Blake,” she said sleepily. She took a deep breath, smiling as her senses flooded with her favorite scent in the world, a mix of campfire smoke, damp earth, pine needles, and salt: the smell of Bellamy.

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