This time, when Clarke wakes up, it’s abrupt and alarming. She jerks up, her nose twitching with the smell of something sour and sulfuric tingling in her nasal cavity. It slowly burns a path to her brain. Her head, already pounding, causes her vision to swim and her stomach revolts. She’s only barely able to throw her head to the side to release the runny, meager contents of her stomach onto the hard, white concrete of the floor, a small, chalk green tube coming up with it.
Once her stomach calms, maybe a minute or so later, she chokes down big gulps of air as her last memory catches up to her present awareness. It’s almost as if no time has passed since the last moment that Clarke was awake. Abby’s still standing in much the same place that she was when she stole Clarke’s consciousness the last time, looking exactly the same with her uncompromising posture and severe face.
Clarke wants to hate her, especially when Abby puts an arm out and offers a cup of what might be water. Her throat aches and she wants to gulp it down, but she knows better. Last time she took a cup from her mother she passed out, and all of it happened before she’d even had a chance to say a word. Bellamy must have clued Abby in.
“How long was I out this time,” she asks Abby with obvious anger, her throat scratchy.
“Two weeks,” Abby says.
Clarke closes her eyes and clenches her jaw, unsure if it’s to keep herself from snapping out and striking the woman that gave her life, or to stop the flood of tears that wish to dribble out of her eyes.
“You’ve robbed me of three weeks…”
“I did what I had to do to keep you safe.”
“Safe,” Clarke says sharply. “You drug me for three weeks, knowing that I can’t run even if I want to, all to keep me safe?”
“Yes,” Abby says matter-of-factly.
Clarke’s mouth falls open as she tries to comprehend the madness that has become humanity, if she can even call her people humans anymore, and Abby takes a seat on the edge of the bed, softening a little as her shoulders slump and she releases a sigh. There’s a gentleness in her eyes that belies her obvious anger, and Clarke grudgingly accepts the cup, inspecting it closely.
“Clarke, it’s just water.”
“This time,” Clarke replies bitterly, taking a hesitant sip.
Abby speaks while Clarke drinks. “Clarke, you have to understand, it’s treason to warn our enemies, to even just to talk about it. If the others on the council knew, they’d want you imprisoned, publicly whipped, and at this point, maybe even executed. I’ve had a hard enough time trying to convince them to spare Kane’s life. I can’t go through that with you, not again.”
Abby looks directly at Clarke, her eyes always capable of piercing her daughter to the core with their earnest conviction. And it’s this conviction that Clarke finds in them now, telling her that what Abby says in this moment is neither negotiable nor false.
“I don’t plan to, Clarke. You’re my daughter. I love you. I’d do anything for you, including drug you. And if you don’t stop all of this talk about leaving to warn the Grounders, I’ll drug you again, and again if I have to. I woke you up to see if you could get yourself under control. If you can’t, well, I’ll just wait until after… it’s all done… to wake you up again.”
“After you’ve murdered thousands of innocent peop-“
“As it stands,” Abby interrupts as if Clarke’s said nothing. “We’re roughly a week away from finishing the salvage of the Ark. I can keep you asleep until it’s over, and then it won’t matter either way.”
“No, by then you’ll have killed an entire race of people. The blood of thousands of people will be on your hands, and trust me, that’s not something you want to live with.”
“Clarke, you did what you had to do to protect your people, to protect me. I didn’t fully understand that before, but I do now. I judged you then, and it was wrong of me. I’m sorry for that. I should have seen it for what it was and thanked you…”
“What it was, was murder.”
“No, it was love.”
Clarke snorts. “You want thank me,” Clarke nearly shouts. “For killing people? With Love?”
“Yes, for killing people who were killing us.”
“Mom, that’s just… I was wrong. Don’t you get it? I can barely look at myself in the mirror anymore. Do you really want to follow my example?”
And as the words leave Clarke’s mouth, she realizes that they’re true, that her mother is doing no more or less than what she did. She is forced to ask herself if she would drug her mother to keep her safe from her own actions, and without a doubt, just a few months ago, it would be true. She would do whatever it took to keep her mother safe, just like it was with her father. That’s how this whole mess started. She was trying to protect her father. Abby was trying to protect Clarke by telling Jaha about what her father was planning, and all it did was get her father floated and Clarke imprisoned and exiled.
And then the Mountain Men… Clarke’s need to protect those that she loves drove her to unspeakable lengths. There was little recourse for this action because it was so extreme that it annihilated her enemy, an enemy trying to protect its own people. They were no worse for what they were doing, not really. When she cuts to the truth of the matter, everyone is just trying to protect the ones that they love. And the end result is always the same: some live, some die, but no one escapes.
All of these strategic moves never do any good. It’s always bloody and futile because all of that work to save someone who doesn’t wish to be saved is pointless. People have a will of their own. If, by some small chance, you do get lucky and you do manage to protect the one you love, there is always someone hurt by that salvation, hurt to the point of hurting you back in the extreme until no one’s left. It’s a cycle, and it never ends until someone is smart enough to stop seeking revenge. And sometimes, they even have to forego justice. Someone has to be willing to take the hit and do nothing, to turn the other cheek and let it sting, possibly forever.
Someone has to let what they love go, and do nothing to stop it.
Clarke wasn’t willing to do that before what happened on Mount Weather. But she’s learned a thing or two since then, about people and about herself. Now, she’s willing to do that, because she understands that there’s no other reasonable way to do what’s right. And what’s right never, under any circumstances, feels good.
But Abby can’t know that. She can’t understand her daughter any more than she can understand the cool indifference of Lexa’s command because she’s never been in the position of having to take one poison or another. She can’t know that saving Clarke and their people is poison. It seems like the best choice, the most logical, but both are just as destructive, just as hideous and choking. Clarke knows that both options are bitter, but only one can leave you crippled with guilt. It means a loss of conscience, a loss of innocence, and a loss of one’s own soul to do what Abby is planning to do, what Clarke has already done. And she doesn’t want her mother to know that grief.
This is what Clarke is trying to explain to her, what Clarke fully understands, and what Abby rejects in the face of her emotions for Clarke because without good reason, Clarke is just more important than anyone else in the eyes of her mother. And while that fills her with love and appreciation for her parent, she knows, unequivocally, that neither of them would be able to reconcile it after it was done. Nothing would be preserved but breath itself, and for humans, that’s just not enough. Breathing is not enough, when right and wrong are more than a breath apart.
“Mom, just stop! Don’t you see that if we keep ‘protecting’ ourselves the way the Grounders do, we’re just going in circles? They hurt us; we hurt them, and no one survives, not really. This can’t end until we stop playing these games with each other.”
“You know as well as I do, Clarke, that the Grounders, that Lexa, is not willing to do that. And if we do, they’ll kill us all. Is that really what you want?”
“She offered to make us the 13th tribe. What more of a guarantee do you want?”
“Right, she’ll put us under her thumb. Our values are different, Clarke, and there is no trust between us. We don’t want to live like them, and even if we did, they’ve made it clear that we’re expendable.”
“She was willing to let us govern ourselves.”
“Until she decides to turn us over to some gruesome fate, just like she’s already done.”
Clarke thinks about that for a moment and she recognizes the truth in her mother’s words. Lexa and her people are too proud to step down to even a minimum of insult, and they’d sacrifice their own, let alone the newcomers, if they deemed it necessary. She’s seen Lexa strike a man down for even speaking to her without permission, and Lexa drug her out of TonDC, knowingly leaving the whole of that tribe to die in fire. And yes, the reasons were sound. It’s better to kill some than it is to kill more, but in the grand scheme, no one had to die, not even the Mountain Men. They just wouldn’t stop… none of them. And it’s infuriating to be the only one willing to lift her eyes to see that the sky is falling.
Clarke is forced to wonder how they can turn a cheek and survive it with people so dedicated to this particularly vicious cycle.
“I don’t want anyone to die, mom.”
“Then give me a better option. Tell me that Lexa and the Grounders will leave us in peace, because unless I know that for certain, I don’t see another way. We strike, or they strike, and whoever does it first, survives.”
Clarke knows that her mother is right, but she can’t live with it. She can’t survive for the sake of it. She just can’t. Survival means nothing when it’s poised on a precarious cliff of self-loathing and doubt. What’s it worth to live if there’s no life in it? With options like that, there’s no point to anything. If nothing else, she has to try to stop it, to find a way that is better, to find a life worth living. And if she dies doing that, at least maybe she can die feeling like her life was worth something, like all of her wrong-doing had a purpose. To do anything less is vain and empty.
“Then give me rights as an emissary. Let me go to Lexa. Let me try to reason with her. At least try…”
Abby shakes her head and gets to her feet. “Absolutely not, Clarke. If I let you go to them, not only does that remove the element of surprise, but how could I possibly strike against them when it means your life too? How could I refuse them anything they ask when they threaten you? That’s insane, Clarke, and you know it.”
“Mom, this is my choice. If they try to use me against you, then you have to do what you have to do, and it would be my fault, my choice, not yours.”
Abby sits again, pinning her daughter to the bed with her eyes and taking Clarke’s hand in both of her own.
“Clarke, could you sacrifice me, especially when you don’t have to?”
Clarke has sacrificed herself on many occasions, but that’s easy. Self-sacrifice is a small price to pay when faced with the loss of someone you love. It is a gift gladly given. But the honest truth is that it’s a selfish gift, because at the end of the day, it’s easier to lose your life than it is to lose the people that you love. It’s easier to lose the nameless thousands of Grounders than it is to lose a mother or a friend, at least until you actually have to carry that burden.
And that’s what she’s asking of her mother. The chances of Clarke successfully backing the Grounders down is one in a million. If the situation was reversed, could she honor her mother’s wish to be a martyr?
The answer, immediately, is no, but Clarke also knows that she couldn’t look at her mother after that. Some part of her would blame her mother for the burden of her choices. Her love for her mother would be tainted. That love would then be no less intense, but it would be forever, irrevocably, changed, morphed into something almost repugnant. At least if she let her mother go and try, and she lost her mother because of it, the mother that she loves would still be a woman worth loving.
How can she possibly tell Abby that she would let her die to do the right thing without sounding cold and cruel and uncaring?
“I’d lose you one way or another, mom. Either I let you go and risk your life to your convictions and lose you, or I keep you safe and wipe out an entire race of people, and lose you anyway. No matter what I do, I’m going to lose you one way or another.”
“So that’s it, then,” Abby says. “Either I let you go and lose you or I keep you here and lose you anyway?”
It’s a slow answer, thick and sad, but full of conviction. “Yes.”
“Why,” Abby says pleadingly, drawing the word out as if it has three syllables.
“Because I can’t live with it, mom, especially when it’s just for me. My life isn’t worth all of that pain and suffering.”
“It is to me.”
“I know, and I feel the same way for you, but I’d still let you go, because I’d rather you die being who you are than know that you’re a coward and a murderer. I wouldn’t ask you to live with that. I wouldn’t want you to live with that. And I can’t, mom… I can’t live with anymore death on my conscience…”
It’s quiet in the room and Clarke can see the sheen of tears in her mother’s eyes as Abby realizes that she’s already lost her daughter. Clarke has taken the burden too much and too often to ever be that little girl that she raised again. She’s seen too much of a hard life, lost too much to be whole. She hates this whole situation. And after a few long, tense moments this awareness has a chance to settle into Abby’s shoulders and the thin lines of her face, making her appear infinitely older and desperate, before she finally speaks in a soft, defeated voice.
“I can’t, Clarke. It’s different when you have children. You can’t decide not to protect them.”
Abby can’t look at her daughter in this moment but it’s her own shame and shortcomings that hinder that connection. She loves her daughter more than anything in this world. She would do anything for her. But she can’t stop being her mother. She is trapped, but there is a swell of pride in her for having raised her daughter with compassion and bravery. If anything, while it scares her to no end, she loves Clarke all the more for being so stalwart, for taking a stand, for trying to do the right thing, even when she truly believes that it will cost her daughter her life.
“At least now, maybe, you can understand how I was able to let your father be who he was to the point that it cost him his life, even while I had to be who I was and do what I felt was right. But I can’t do that with you, Clarke. I just can’t…”
Clarke hadn’t pieced that one together until her mother had said it, but now, it hits her so hard in her chest that she loses her air for a moment. She does understand, and like the pain of getting her leg pieced back together without anesthetic, some of that hurt towards her mother knits together. She loses some of that anguish and hate for her mother. She understands her mother now, because she realizes that she’d have done the same thing, the only thing, and that would have been what she felt was right, even if someone she loved was on the other side of that equation. Everything that happens can be endured if it’s for the right reasons. She would sacrifice her mother, just like her mother sacrificed her father, if she felt it was the right thing to do. And somehow, the two of them have met in the middle.
But Abby isn’t willing to do that with Clarke.
“Then don’t let me, mom. Just don’t stand in my way either. Do what you think is right, but give me that same courtesy.”
“If I do that, I have to lock you up right now for treason and inform the council.”
Clarke nods and stares down at her lap. “Then I need to be gone before they come for me.”
“I can’t do that, Clarke.”
“I’m not asking you to. I am only asking you to release me from this room. I’ll leave a note when I go, and you can inform the council then. They won’t suspect that you knew prior, and I’ll assume the consequences of my actions.”
She squeezes her mother’s hands. “It’s not your fault, mom. It’s my choice. You can’t make it for me. You can’t stop me from making it. But more importantly, you shouldn’t.”
Abby squeezes Clarke’s hand in return and stands, walking to the end of the bed to retrieve a large boot. She fits it gently to Clarke’s leg with sure, practiced hands as she speaks.
“I had Raven put this together for you. The break to your leg was bad. I wasn’t sure if you would ever be able to walk right again, but the medical facilities here were fully stocked when we arrived. While you were down, I took the liberty of reinforcing the break with plates. It was a small, relatively easy surgery. I just didn’t have the facilities on what was left of the Ark. That’s what this scar is…”
She fingers along the thick, pink line gingerly, the love in her voice making Clarke’s eyes water.
“You can’t run, Clarke, not yet, but with this…,” she tightens the boot into place with the thick straps, thick reinforcements running along the sides and back, all the way over her heel. “It can bare weight now. You should regain full use without the boot in about four weeks.”
Once Abby’s finished putting the boot on, Clarke stands up slowly and carefully, putting her weight on the leg. It’s stiff and sore, her first tentative step wobbly and awkward, but the boot is designed to keep her bones firmly in place, so with a straight-legged limp, she is able to walk rather comfortably.
Abby stands and takes Clarke in a tight embrace. “You’re not allowed to die, do you understand me,” she whispers in her daughter’s ear.
“Yes,” Clarke whispers back just fiercely.
Abby stands back and wipes at her eyes. “Go get something to eat,” she says. “The stuff in those tubes,” she gestures to the area where Clarke was sick, “is designed to keep you alive, but you need a good meal.”
And with that, Abby leaves the room, leaving the door open in a purposeful way as she exits, and Clarke feels a sense of hopeful dread at the tasks to come.