It's hours before Clarice and John finally get a moment alone. They have to rally the troops, begin planning to rebuild HQ and find people to pick up the slack for those who left. They need someone intelligent and eagle-eyed to replace Sage's quick mind, someone who can help transport people and goods discreetly in place of Fade.
As for Lorna and Andy, Clarice isn't sure if there's anyone that can take their places.
She sits on a pallet away from the others, head falling into her hands, and sighs.
"Hey." John joins her, offering a granola bar. She realises she hasn't eaten since this morning, when they left for the summit. She gratefully takes it and notices for the first time the twinge of pain in her right arm. John notices it too. "Take off your jacket," he says.
She does, revealing a thin laceration from wrist to elbow. Blood smudges around it, half-clotted. It's not a pretty sight but it's not deep. It'll heal quickly. "Where did I get this?" she asks, almost to herself.
His eyes go unfocused for a second before meeting hers. "Lorna. Her barbed wire cut you when you tried to make a portal."
"Huh. Mustn't have noticed, what with all the shooting down planes and stuff."
"I'll go get Caitlin. She had the good sense to bring half the medical supplies when they got out."
"John, wait." Clarice tugs him back down to the pallet. "We need to talk. About. . . us."
"Yeah, we do. I- I'm not so sure there should be an us."
He sighs. "Clarice, we just lost everything. Our home, our plan, a third of our key people including Lorna. Don't get me wrong, I want this with you." Good lord, do I want it, John thinks. "But times were different when we kissed. Our lives changed in just a few hours. I- I just don't think it's the right time." He sighs, runs a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry."
She avoids his gaze. "No, I get it. Want doesn't factor into the equation. I'm sorry I kissed you and made it so much more complicated." She stands up. "Don't worry about Caitlin, I'll go see her myself."
So she leaves him sitting on the pallet, feeling empty and hurt and confused because he was the one who chose to end it - why does it feel so wrong?
It doesn't take long for things between them to get back to normal, or as normal as they can be. So what if she lingers a little longer when training with him than with everyone else? That's fine, right? So what if he's a little more protective of her when they're out in the field?
Marcos knows something's changed, but he doesn't say anything. He and John throw themselves into rebuilding the Underground. They find an abandoned gym to live in before they find someone to rebuild the old HQ. It's weaker, colder and there's pretty much zero privacy for the leaders to talk, but it'll do. Norah, with the help of Reed and a couple of other adults, turns out to be a great strategist. It helps that she can see flickers of the future when a choice is made. For example, if they are tossing up between stealing supplies and asking from the other cells, she determines that stealing is the better option after seeing Clarice use her portals to dash in and out without making a scene. Clarice herself increasingly gains strength in her portaling, even managing to go somewhere simply by looking at a picture of it, making her a more than reliable replacement for Fade.
If John wasn't too busy leading the Underground to pay attention, he'd think that she was pushing her limits to distract herself.
It's four weeks since everything went to hell, and the rebuilding is going slowly but surely. John almost regrets what he said to Clarice those weeks ago. He thinks sometimes that maybe he should've asked Norah what would've happened if he didn't. But then something happens and he rushes to put out another fire and thinks that it's for the best. On the day Andy Strucker and Sage return with their tails between their legs it's a literal fire he has to put out.
Until he realises none of it means anything.
"Come on, let's go!" Clarice shouts, ushering refugees onto the truck. She's about to make her biggest jump yet, across the state so the refugees, mostly families with children and people that can't help the Underground, can continue on their way to Mexico. Norah is sick today, unable to Search to see how safe it is, but Clarice has sworn she can do it. John watches her from a few metres away, unable to help the small smile on his face. She's a leader now, so much stronger than she was when he first met her.
Then again, she did throw a stapler at him, so she might've been that strong all along.
She turns around and catches his gaze, smiles. He knows the jig is up and walks towards her. "You ready to be amazed?" she asks cockily as she closes the door of the truck.
"Always." John puts his hand on her arm. "Be safe, all right?"
"I'll try not to get kidnapped again."
"I gotta go." Without another word, he watches as she creates a portal bigger than herself for the truck to drive into and disappears with it.
He waits for her to return for the rest of the day.
Logically, he knows that this will take a while. It's not safe to portal directly to the other cell, so they'll drive there from twenty miles out, where she'll likely spend a couple of hours regaining her strength. They'll drive back to the road and she'll portal them to HQ. If she got them back fast he'd worry she was on the enhancement serum.
But it's been almost eight hours. It shouldn't take this long.
John doesn't sleep.
When he wakes from a doze at dawn, he sees people running into the gym and a circle forming around them. He gets up and pushes his way through the crowd. It's the three volunteers who took the truck with Clarice yesterday.
"Where is she," he demands quietly.
"We were ambushed on our way back. She distracted them while we ran away. We heard them set a spider on her as we left." The man removes his cap in respect. "I'm sorry."
Clarice has not been taken by Sentinel Services again.
She can't have been.
John falls to the floor, not feeling it dent under the force of his knees or noticing Marcos come in front of him, saying unintelligible things.