"In a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me." –Madeline Miller in her novel "Circe"
Chapter One: Honesty
Setting: Inside the bunker, thirty days after Praimfaya
Jackson decided to take another look at the data. He didn't like what his initial calculations were telling him, so he decided to start again from the beginning. He took a deep breath and willed his heart rate to slow a bit. He re-read all the material on sick bay's ancient computer, he re-read every relevant section of the books that he and Abby had brought, and he again added up numbers and projections on paper. Jackson tried to chase away the feeling of anxiety in his stomach as he attempted to estimate again how long he himself had been knocked out, back when it happened. He now was an expert on the incapacitating agent, commonly referred to as stun gas.
His mouth dry, Jackson debated whether or not to ask Abby for her opinion again, and whether or not to ask Jaha and Kane for theirs. Jaha and Kane were the ones who did it, and Kane was a military man. He must have some idea how long the gas would keep a grown man knocked out. But he didn't want them to know what he was searching for. And as for Abby, well, Jackson could replay most of their conversation from memory. She had treated people impacted by gas before.
He put the pen down and rested his head on a hand, dreading the difficult conversation coming up. When he pulled his hand away, his fingers were slightly damp with sweat.
A few hours later, Jackson and Miller sat inside sick bay's private medical supply room. Jackson and Abby alone had access to it. The room was just big enough to fit a mattress on the floor, so Jackson and Abby had worked out an arrangement. Each was allowed three nights in a row to use the room, and then they would switch off. Jackson knew that things between Abby and Kane weren't good now, but regardless he had a private space to share with Miller on their designated nights.
"How was your day?" Jackson asked as he placed their sheets over the mattress, and changed the pillowcases.
"The usual," Miller said, pulling off his boots. "People are antsy and restless. Fighting over stupid things. Half my day is breaking up fights." He reached to turn off the light in the room, leaving just the small nightlights near the floor on.
"And half my day is treating people injured in those fights over stupid things," Jackson added with a sad smile. He followed Miller's lead and began to disrobe down to his shorts and a T-shirt.
"I wish we had room for a chair in here," Miller said, shaking his head. "I know, I know. We should just be grateful that we have privacy."
He lowered himself down to the mattress, resting his back against the wall. Jackson soon sat next to him.
"It's really nice getting to spend some time talking before bed," Miller said, reaching an arm around Jackson.
Jackson loved the warmth of Miller's strong arm. He closed his eyes. "Having time to decompress is good," he murmured. It was an understatement, he knew. He had had a couple friends on the Ark (neither of them had made it down to the ground), and a couple acquaintances in Arkadia (none had made the cut for the bunker). But the ability to have a quiet moment with the man he loved, to have someone give the gift of listening, was wondrous. It made life in the bunker tolerable, even joyous at times.
"People are still in shock over everything," Jackson continued. He wanted to rest his head on Miller's shoulder, but the position they were sitting in didn't allow it. He continued to just enjoy the feeling of Miller's arm around him. "Praimfaya. The end of their old life, of almost everything they'd known. Trying to adapt to life here."
"At least we have an advantage over the grounders. We lived on the Ark. But I keep saying, at least the Ark had windows!"
Jackson shook his head. It was almost cruel. He had spent 23 years living in the Ark, and then he got to enjoy fresh air and sunlight for a few months -before landing in the bunker. But he didn't voice those words now, and there was no point in bemoaning fate when everyone else suffered too. He and Miler had already expressed those thoughts to each other. And besides, now he had Miller who was worth more than lakes and gentle breezes.
The men were quiet for a few moments. Jackson then felt a subtle shift in Miller's posture. Miller turned his head towards his partner. "I know you spend 24/7 working, but I was wondering…did you have a chance to look into what I asked about?" Miller asked quietly.
Jackson looked straight ahead and closed his eyes for a moment. Never before had he wanted so badly to lie. Hadn't his grandmother said that a "white lie" could be a good thing sometimes? But his mother had disagreed with that assessment and told Eric to always tell the truth.
"I did," Jackson began softly. He touched a hand to Miller's knee. "I – I think there is at least a fifty-percent chance that he woke up before Praimfaya. I'm sorry." He paused, and said again, his voice nearly cracking, "I'm so sorry."
For a second, Jackson had considered going over all the data, explaining exactly how he came to that conclusion. But instead he let his words remain. Miller needed time to absorb their impact.
"There were angry grounders all around the bunker," Miller finally said. "My dad might have gotten hacked to pieces by them."
"It's possible." Both men were whispering despite the fact that they were alone. Jackson felt tears form in his eyes. "But maybe their better natures took over. Maybe they went to their families, to hold their loved ones close instead of attacking half-conscious members of Skaikru."
He regretted the words as soon as he said them.
Miller added, "And my dad had no one. No family to go to. He was all alone."
Jackson glanced at his lover now that his eyes had adjusted to the dim nightlights. Miller's facial expressions could be hard to read. When he wasn't being playful, Miller's visage tended to appear steady and calm. It was calm right now.
"It is…at least possible that he remained knocked out until the end," Jackson offered.
"But you said less than fifty percent," Miller said flatly. "We will never know." He said the words slowly, closed his eyes, and repeated them with finality. "We will never know."
Later, under the covers, they held each other tightly. Miller had always been a tender and gentle lover, belying his bulk and brute strength. He had been even more so tonight, despite – or because of – the mental agony. And Jackson focused on what he always did – being as giving as possible.
"You have tears in your eyes again," Miller whispered, reaching a hand to wipe them away.
"You could cry too," Jackson whispered back. "It might help."
"I can't. I can't cry."
Several days later, Jackson and Miller sat with Kane, Abby, and Jaha in a small corner of the hydrofarm. The plants rendered it the most scenic place in the bunker – of course that was a pretty low bar- and those with top-level clearance like the group assembled today tended to use it. They arranged their chairs into a circle.
"We are here today to honor the life of David Miller," Jaha began.
Miller had always liked Jaha's voice. It was weighty and soothing. Traces of it reminded him of his father's voice. He lost himself in just listening to it, without following the specific words Jaha was saying.
'Here I am,' Miller thought as Jaha continued talking, 'sitting with the two men who decided that my father's life wasn't worth saving. And now they claim to honor him.'
He and Jackson had had the debate many times before getting to this moment. No one else in the bunker had known David Miller better than the people assembled here today. They couldn't have the memorial service without Jaha and Kane. But how was he supposed to forgive them, let alone tolerate this?
He wanted to hit them or scream at them, but what would that do other than potentially getting Miller tossed into the brig? And besides, these were the two men who also had decided to save him, Nathan Miller, despite that Nathan was a simple grunt who didn't possess any special skills….
….Jaha and Kane didn't have much time, not with armed grounders standing over them insisting that they hurry as they made their selections, as the destruction of the world breathed down their necks. "Save the son, not the father," Kane had said, looking at the Millers lying on the ground. It made sense. They had several extra spots given that many people on the list – Clarke, Bellamy, Raven, and others who'd either gone with Jasper or just not made it to the bunker – were not there. There had been David's pleas to save his son. There had been the fact that Nathan was one of the 100, that he was 18 and strong and responsible, that he was a good fighter. There had also been the desire to keep one of the bunker's only doctors happy by saving his mate. The decision to give Nathan one of the spots was not hard…
…"We don't know whether or not he woke up before Praimfaya hit," Jaha was saying. "But I feel in my heart that your father went peacefully, Nathan. Had he been awake, I know he would have been glad that his son was spared. But I know in my soul that he was not awake, and that he went peacefully into the night."
Miller glanced at Jackson. His lover was a doctor, a man of facts and data. He didn't think that Jackson shared Jaha's faith in this matter. Miller would always treasure Jackson's honesty. He made a note to tell him that again, after the memorial.
Kane said a few words, and then Abby followed. Miller thought what they said was good, but he felt a bit light-headed and couldn't always listen. If his father had woken up, he wondered, maybe he hadn't been alone. Maybe the members of Skaikru had huddled together and supported each other before the fire hit. Maybe the grounders had changed their ways, with Praimfaya upon them.
Or had David's death been one of agony? Being burned by the fire, being mutilated by grounders. And how would Miller deal with not ever knowing the truth?
Jaha then asked Jackson if he wanted to say anything. Miller held his hand as Jackson said a few words. He hadn't known David well, but he related a few anecdotes from times he'd treated his wounds over the years. They always revolved around his love for his son. He blushed slightly as he spoke. "I also wanted to thank you, Kane and Jaha, for honoring David's wishes and saving Nathan," Jackson was saying. "I had found this kind of love for the first time in my entire life. We had five days together, and then we both knew that one or both of us might not make it. Thank you for allowing us to have this. I know David would have been happy."
As Jaha turned to ask Nathan if he wanted to say anything, Miller felt the tears begin. He swallowed. There was no denying it, the tears were forming and would get their way. It felt kind of embarrassing but also something of a relief. Jackson squeezed his hand a bit tighter.
"Take your time," Jaha said softly.
What to say? 'I forgive you', to Jaha and Kane? Even though they had spared his own life when they hadn't needed to. `I love my dad'? That was obvious.
"I-" Miller began. His voice choked. "I'll try to make him proud." He managed to get those words out as he felt a tear release itself down his cheek. "Thank you for being here today." He nodded, and closed his mouth again.
"Let's say the prayer now," Jaha said quietly. "Together." He took a breath and everyone joined in, "In peace, may you leave the shore. In love, may you find the next. Safe passage on your travels until our final journey to the ground. May we meet again."
Jackson continued to hold Miller's hand tightly.
END OF CHAPTER ONE