As Clarke paced back and forth, nervously running her hands along the rough bark of the trees, she tried to picture herself approaching the giant concrete wall, her head held high. She had to look like an equal, not a victim. She’d imagine Wells was watching her from inside, and that she had to make him proud.

And maybe, just maybe, they’d listen to her and release the prisoners. She could already see the look on Bellamy’s face when he saw Clarke with Octavia. His stony expression would collapse, replaced by joy and relief. And after hugging his sister, he’d turn to Clarke with gratitude in his eyes.

A branch snapped, and Clarke whirled around to see Paul coming toward her. “I’m ready,” she said, squaring her shoulders. “I think I should head out now.”

“There’s been a change of plans,” he said cheerfully, as if they were discussing a trip to swim in the creek instead of a potentially fatal rescue mission. “Cooper is going to go instead, and Vale is going to go watch to make sure it goes okay. She’ll return when he’s safely inside. It makes more sense for an Earthborn to act as the negotiator. Cooper will have more in common with them, and then we don’t have to worry about all the hostility toward the people who dropped out of the sky.”

“What? A change of plans? When did you discuss this?” Clarke craned her head, looking for signs that a meeting had just broken up.

“It was my decision,” Paul said. He placed his hand on Clarke’s shoulder and looked her straight in the eye. “I don’t want you to think I don’t have faith in you, because I do. I hope you know how much we all appreciate you.”

Her confusion sizzling into anger, Clarke shoved his hand off and stepped to the side. “Your decision? Paul, no one put you in charge.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “Leadership isn’t something that’s assigned, Clarke. It’s earned. Given as a gift by those who willingly follow you. I think it’s pretty clear who everyone trusts here. Cooper, Vale, Felix, Jessa—they’re all counting on me to make this operation a success, so I’ve made some changes. Besides, we need you back here in case anyone gets hurt.”

Clarke stared at him for a moment, trying to glean information from his beaming smile. “Okay…” she said slowly, trying to stay calm as she assessed the situation. “I’ll wait here, then. I’m going to go wish Cooper and Vale good luck before they head off.”

“They’ve already left! Now all we can do is hope for the best.”



The next couple of hours were tense, and they all took turns guarding their makeshift campsite. While Felix was on duty, Clarke came up to bring him some berries she’d found in the woods.

“Thanks,” Felix said with a weak smile, “but there’s no way I can eat right now.”

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Clarke said. “Knowing how close we are to them right now? I wonder if they can sense us coming.”

“I hope so.” Felix turned away, biting his lip. “I can’t stand the thought of him scared, or in pain, or…” He trailed off.

“I’ve never seen Eric scared,” Clarke said firmly. “I’ll bet he’s being strong and brave, just like he always is.”

When Felix turned back, there were tears glistening in his eyes. “I’m sure he is.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I just hope he knows we haven’t given up on them.”

“I’m sure he knows that,” Clarke said, glancing over her shoulder toward their camp, where Bellamy was still shackled to the pile of rusty metal. “That’s not what we do.”

Clarke gave the edge of the camp a wide berth as she walked around it. She would just take a quick peek at Bellamy… long enough to know he was bearing up okay, short enough to avoid the feeling of her heart ripping out of her chest, that stabbing sensation that crept up on her pretty much every time she thought about him.

She’d expected to see him sleeping or staring dead-eyed into the treetops while Jessa guarded him from a distance, like an hour ago, the last time she’d peeked. But this time, Jessa was crouched beside Bellamy, near enough to touch him, their heads leaning close as they spoke in hushed murmurs.

Clarke started, stumbling a little where she stood. It was stupid. It was nothing. And yet, it was such a strangely intimate scene that Clarke felt her stomach churn with a mixture of hurt and betrayal. Not that she had any right to feel betrayed after what she’d done to him.

Jessa glanced over her shoulder and Clarke rearranged her face into something approaching neutral. But if it was for Bellamy’s benefit, she shouldn’t have bothered. He turned away without so much as a blink in her direction as Jessa rose, crossing over to Clarke in four long strides.

“Is Vale back yet?” the Earthborn girl asked brusquely.

Clarke had to swallow to find her voice again, recovering from the feeling of having had it punched out of her throat. “Not yet. Soon, we hope.”

“And if she doesn’t come back? If neither of them do, what then?” Jessa’s voice rose, and Bellamy’s head tilted casually toward them, clearly listening. So this must’ve been what they were talking about. “Do we go with Bellamy’s plan?”

“I… I’m not sure…” Clarke’s skin grew prickly hot as she shifted uneasily.

“Because I for one am getting pretty tired of sitting around here doing nothing.” Jessa pointed east. “My brother is in that building, maybe alive, maybe dead, I don’t know. All I know is, the longer we wait, the worse his odds are.”

“I realize that,” Clarke said quietly.

“Do you?” Jessa’s dark eyes locked with hers. “Then what’s our plan B? What do we do now, tonight, if negotiations fall apart?”

Bellamy turned and fixed Clarke with a stare—his expression totally empty, as though she was just one of the trees in the forest.

“She’s back!” Paul’s voice rang out way too loud, echoing through the forest, sending birds scattering from their perches, but for once, Clarke didn’t care.

Because Paul sounded happy.

Her pulse raced with hope as she ran toward the campsite, Jessa on her heels. But before they’d taken two steps, Vale and Paul intercepted them, Paul tugging the panting Earthborn behind him by the elbow.

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