She hesitates putting her wedding ring back on. Jake feels distant now, like he belongs in a clearly-demarcated section in her life. There is now a before Jake died, and an after, and she knows now that who she has become is in Jake’s after. Abby knows that the hundred paces between her and the past may be a crafted ruse made by ALIE, may be the aftershocks of the uptake inhibitors and the rewiring of her synapses but – she still cannot bring herself to place the gold band back on her finger.
The ring he wore still hangs on the chain around her neck.
But now, that seems wrong too. She forgot the man she was married to for almost twenty years. It’s not a question of deserving (she understands on a rational level that she was coerced into taking the chip, that everything after the moment ALIE sliced Raven’s wrists open and left her to die was not her own action until she woke up in her sobbing daughter’s arms) but a question of self-preservation.
If she doesn’t let go now, will she ever?
Life on the Ark is behind them. They cannot afford to look back – they’re not going that way anymore.
On impulse, she unclasps the chain, and lays Jake’s ring atop her desk next to hers.
Three days later, Clarke asks for them.
The next time Abby sees the rings, Raven is welding them together into an infinity sign. Clarke wears the new pendant on a slim strip of black leather, tucked under the leather breastplate she wears over her tunic.
Then Clarke leaves for Polis; the Flamekeeper cannot be gone from the city for very long.
The chain sits on her desk for weeks. With nothing to put on it, it’s simply a hazard to wear should she catch it against something in medical. Within days she becomes accustomed to the absence of the light weight around her neck.
Marcus sleeps in her quarters more and more.
Hers have windows, his don’t. They’ve moved into what must be a rainy season, and they both like to be able to hear the patter of raindrops as they lay in bed. They’ve made space for each other in their lives, did so months ago. But now their relationship is somehow more formal. They ask permission. He does, more than her, asking with eyes or a hesitant hand before his lips or fingers land on her skin. Everything he does is with her express consent. It stabilizes her.
He doesn’t name his fear, but she can tell it exists from the space left lingering between them during waking hours, the way his body curls around hers entirely when he’s asleep, the breaths he takes when measuring out his thoughts before he speaks them.
They leave Arkadia more and more. Refugees from Ontari’s brief turbulent reign as Commander come to them in trickles and downpours, seeking medical care and respite. In Polis, those who accepted the key are viewed as weak. In Arkadia, they are simply one more of ALIE’s victims. It facilitates relationships for them with surrounding villages, to have Grounders available to vouch for them.
Marcus leaves with a delegation to arrange a trade agreement with Indra and other local chiefs, arriving back within the camp’s walls in the small hours of the morning.
When she wakes up for her shift she sees a small amber pendant, cut and smoothed into a heart and wrapped in silver wire, sitting on her desk next to her chain. The implication that it is a gift is clear, regardless they have been leaving each other things for weeks – meals, flowers, jackets, coffee. Replacements for words that have never come easy between the two of them.
“It made me think of you. It’s a nice color, with your – your everything,” he grumbles sleepily, rolling into the space she’s vacated. “You don’t have to wear it. I just saw it.”
But this is the place where Marcus fits in her life, now.
Heart fluttering in a way that is not disagreeable, Abby threads the necklace through the small loop at the top of the pendant and clasps it around her neck. The amber is warm against her skin, the silver is cold.
In minutes, she’s accustomed to wearing jewelry again.
Then, months pass. The camp’s population swells to three hundred, and then four once the weather starts to turn and bright summer sky becomes grey autumnal mist and sleet. Somehow, they manage to construct a complex of log and corrugated steel cabins outside the walls. None are very large, one large room with a divider in the middle bearing a fireplace. Some, constructed for groups or couples expecting children, have lofts. The bathrooms are small, made from scavenged plumbing and appliances, running off water heaters connected to the Ark generator.
But the idea of living outside the station is alluring to many, almost like a relic of fiction. It’s decided that, once the wall is extended to surround the complex, they will be distributed by a lottery system run by Sinclair.
“Do you want to apply?” Abby asks, looking over the form handed out at dinner. “Or do you think the Chancellor should live in the station?”
They haven’t actually discussed their co-habitation. It’s just a matter of fact. His former quarters now house a refugee family.
“I think it would show that I have faith in Engineering,” he says, scrubbing a hand over his face as he attempts to read a report for the third or fourth time that evening. “Or it would be seen as making a grab for more comfortable accommodations.”
“Well, they’re not weather-tested,” Abby answers. “We might freeze during the winter.”
“We nearly froze last winter.”
Her hand raises absently to her neck, tracing the chain around her neck down to the pendant hanging between her breasts. She considers making a retort, but when she lifts her head to look at him his brows are pinched together, his eyes glazed with exhaustion. Sighing softly, she sets the form down on the nightstand.
“Come to bed, Marcus,” she murmurs. “There’s nothing in that energy report that can’t wait until morning.”
“Its implications are troubling.”
She remembers her brief tenure as Chancellor. “And they will be next week, and the week after. I won’t be able to sleep with you thinking so loudly.”
Puzzled, he looks at her, letting the report drop back into the folder.
“You grind your teeth, honey.”
Pouting, he gets up from behind the desk. Laughing – it still feels unnatural, what ALIE took from her was more than the memory of pain but also the ability to interface with humanity until she was nothing but a placidly blinking drone – she rolls onto her back when he pulls back the blankets and climbs on top of her.
An hour later, a guard is pounding on their door.
As usual, they’re needed somewhere.
Abby fills out the lottery form the next day and hands it to Raven, who is running Engineering as Sinclair oversees the last of the electrical wiring work to be done on the cabins. Raven arches her eyebrow as she looks over the paper just like she did when she first saw her pendant.
Two weeks later, they are the eleventh lot selected to live in what becomes known as Beta.
Their furnishings are an eclectic mix of furniture looted from a warehouse store a scouting party found nearly hermetically-sealed in the mountainside, and rugs and textiles and kitchen implements they traded for from local villagers. The buildings prove to be sturdy and warm, even if the floorboards are uneven and the fireplace leaks when it rains too hard.
Clarke comes back home, bearing a warm woven blanket for their bed.
She still wears hers and Jake’s rings around her neck, though Abby is sure that their meaning holds something entirely different to her daughter. The story of her daughter’s love for the dead Commander Lexa has come to her in scraps and whispers and Clarke’s own sobbed confessions of grief, and the significance of the infinity sign does not reach her until she sees the mark tattooed on the new Commander’s neck where the flame lives.
For Clarke, it is a time to keep.
Abby doesn’t know where she is in her own life, but she sits and watches Marcus and Clarke across the dining hall, playing chess with a growing audience to their blatant cheating and taunting. They’re smiling, both having drunk a little too much after dinner. She knows Marcus cares for Clarke like he cares for all of the remaining teens of the hundred, and that Clarke cares for him.
Raven sits down next to her, and hands her a cup of moonshine and then lifts her own, a toast.
“We just might make it,” she says.
Abby smiles, and drinks her cup of moonshine. It burns her throat and heats her stomach. In seconds, her head feels light and floaty.
After the New Year, she asks Marcus for a census. They need to know who is living in Arkadia, she argues one morning as he showers. She needs demographics so she can finally create the blood bank that they need and prepare for future births and childhood diseases because there are children living here now, Marcus and we haven’t seen chickenpox in a hundred years and she needs to be finally be able to anticipate how many painkillers they’ll need on a monthly basis, and contraception, and—
“I agree with you,” he says, ducking his head out from behind the shower curtain. “I’ve been telling you yes for the past five minutes.”
He grabs his razor off the sink.
“Oh.” Abby blinks. “Sorry.” Then, “I’m just gonna get in there with you, if I don’t shower now I’m going to be late for my shift.”
Marcus laughs. “If you get in here, we’re both going to be late.”
The task of making sure every head is accounted for and every demographic box is ticked falls to an assortment of teenagers who have volunteered for the task. Monty builds her a database and stays late in medical one night to show her the entry of the census data will work – name, birth date, clan of origin, blood type, marital status, names of children – and leaves her with her tablet.
“Try entering yourself,” he offers. “And whoever. It’ll be good to have a few sample statistics in there to make sure the programming is correct.”
Abby intends to take Monty’s advice, until a broken leg is carried through her door.
When she’s finished, Marcus is sitting behind her work station with two cups of coffee. “I heard someone fell off a roof?”
Smiling wanly, she rotates the chair until he and it are facing her, and then sits down in his lap. “He claims he was pushed. But that’s a matter for David to handle. I just set the leg.”
“I was told the census program is done?”
Reaching forward – a difficult task with his arm around her waist – she grabs her tablet and turns it back on. She enters Clarke, as her first sample; she may be a citizen in a foreign city, but Clarke will always be a member of her clan. Clarke Griffin. Age 19. Sky Clan. She fills out of the boxes, selects blood type and the box for single, leaves the boxes for children blank, and hits enter.
Then she pulls up another box, for herself.
“I’m seeing Sinclair tomorrow. He can be our married population sample,” she muses, checking lines and boxes.
Marcus hums. “Just try it now.”
“We can ask Monty to change it tomorrow,” she says, declaring herself married with a swipe of her finger.
Neither of them ask Monty the next day. Or the day after. Or the day after that. And one would think that with the endless reports and analyses generated from the data collected from the four hundred and twenty-eight people living in Arkadia that someone would have noticed that their Chancellor and Chief Medical Officer had gotten married.
Marcus refers to Abby as his houmon in conversation with Grounder delegates. Octavia picks up on the detail of speech, but says nothing. Indra, however, picks up on the change in status quo and offers her hearty congratulations.
Grounders do not wear rings – their unions are sealed in ink.
He returns to Arkadia with an omega on his neck, under his right ear. Tsking and fussing, Abby runs her gloved finger over the poke-and-stick tattoo. “What if it gets infected?”
“They’ve been doing this for years,” he rasps, staring at her openly as she cleans the mark with antibacterial soap. It’s red and raised, like Indra told him it would be as she jeered when he flinched at the initial contact of needle to skin. “I think they know what they’re doing.”
Throwing away the cotton gauze, Abby plants her hands on her hips.
“Do you want me to wear a ring?” she asks, craning her head to get a better look at his neck. “Because you’re not going to convince me to get one of those.”
His gaze falls to the heart of golden amber resting at the low neckline of her shirt. She’s worn it for six months now, taking it off only to shower. On the Ark, intermarriage among the elite was expected. On the Council he represented the minority faction of working class Councilors, his childhood on Mecha Station forever marking him as a poseur of privilege and posture displayed by the Griffins, the Jahas, even the Millers. But the Ark is gone. Many of the Councilors he served with are dead. Thelonious is in prison, awaiting a trial that will inevitably acquit him, once the people are ready to face him and listen to reason.
The idea of a jury is foreign to them, but Clarke brought with her old governing texts from the American government from before. Marcus recalls Pike’s smug pronouncement – the Exodus Charter was meant to be a flexible document.
Now he will rewrite it.
Call upon the people to rewrite it, so that no one may have so much power. Blood must not have blood, Clarke said. That’s what Lexa died for. I hope that you can get on board with my mission, she continued, setting up her chess pieces.
They live in a land full of kings and queens and commanders, come from a people who expected collusion and bleakness in their lives, who buried hope in having more rations than their neighbor or trading sex for favors with the educated elite. Jake Griffin died anyway. The Ark fell from the sky. Almost all of them are dead. Abby almost died, because of him – Marcus Kane is done with the life he lived in the before. He wants the after, and he is going to grab it with both hands.
“I bought you a necklace. That’s close enough.”
But it’s almost like she doesn’t hear him, snapping the gloves on her hands so she can examine the tattoo again. Leaning over him at the examination table, the pendant swings out from her shirt, hanging between them, the chain twining together and then unraveling.
The color of the pendant made him think of her eyes – cliché, but true.
Then he looks down her shirt, and she notices him looking. With a final sigh, she removes her gloves. “The next time someone wants to stick you with a needle, please let it be me.”
The sex that night is magnificent. And in their cabin, with insulated walls and a ten foot berth between them and their neighbors, they can be as loud as they want. When they’re finished, they curl up together, skin against skin. His breath is warm on her neck, and when his heart calms from climax he kisses the healed incision, tongue darting out to taste the salt drying on her skin.
It turns out everyone already assumed they were married.
A heart-shaped necklace isn’t particularly subtle.