you enchant me even when you're not around
Clarke gets back from Seoul a week before the semester is about to start and is relieved to find that nothing's changed.
Her mom is still overbearing, her academic advisor is still useless, her classes are still hard, her friends still hang out at the bar that's two streets from her apartment, and Bellamy's still the guy she's in love with. Sure, some things are different: her mom's boyfriend has moved in (pass), her academic advisor somehow hasn't bungled up her study abroad credits (yet), she's taking one less class than usual (finally), the bar has a karaoke night on Tuesdays now (good), and Bellamy has grown some questionable facial hair (no thank you), but the basic outline is the same. Even Bellamy's hugs are the same, warm and inviting and wonderful. It's shorter than normal, but she doesn't care. Just being around him again is enough.
She spends her first night back at his place eating pizza, curling up on his couch, and catching up with him. He tells her about Raven's new project, about Monty and Harper moving in together, about Murphy and Emori breaking up. He brings her up to speed on the school's bureaucratic mismanagement issues, the town parade that she missed this year, and that time he ran into Lexa at the store.
A year is the longest she and Bellamy have ever been apart ever since they became friends her sophomore year of high school. Although they'd known of each other for years before then, they didn't get to really know each other until she was assigned to be Octavia Blake's biology tutor. They clashed a lot at first—he blamed her for Octavia's lack of progress in the class, even though it was clear that his sister just didn't like the subject and wasn't willing to put in the effort. It wasn't until her mom forgot to pick her up from school that she and Bellamy actually talked—he offered her a ride home, she accepted, and they ended up taking a detour to get food, where they found out that they had a lot in common. The next day, he met her after school and they did the same thing. Halfway through the year, she realized they were friends. By the summer, she called him her best friend.
Falling in love with him came much more recently. One day, she woke up and just knew.
Sometimes, she forgets that they've only been friends for a few years; sometimes, she can't remember her life without him in it. That was why it had been so hard the past year. Add to that clashing schedules, conflicting timezones, and crossed messages and it made for a particularly miserable year. Academically, it'd been great; she got to accomplish and learn a lot in the public health program, but personally, what she remembers the most is the loneliness, even though there were a lot of people around.
He doesn't say anything about the last time they were together, at her family's lake house just before she had to leave, the confession she was sure was coming or the rushed goodbye they'd had to say before she boarded her plane. It's not upsetting, but it's a little disappointing. Still, if that's the most she can take issue with, it's a pretty good deal in the end.
She still tries to steer the conversation back to him, though, a nudging, "And what about you?" but his answer remains the same. "Not much, really. I missed you a lot."
And when you hear something like that, it's really hard to care about anything else.
She's wrong, though. Everything has changed because a month later, she finds out that Bellamy has a girlfriend.
Despite the fact that everyone knows and has known for the entirety of the six-month relationship, no one takes the time to tell Clarke about it. She finds out by accident because she's an idiot who thought she needed to pee when clearly she should've held it instead. If she had, then she wouldn't have opened the door to the women's bathroom and had to witness Bellamy and his girlfriend making out like it's not a public bathroom that they didn't even bother to lock. She doesn't even realize who it is until she apologizes and hears Bellamy's, "Clarke, I—" and her heart plummets. In all the years she's known him, she's never hated the sound of her name coming from his mouth before.
"Oh," she says, unable to tear her eyes away from the two of them. She does a double take when she recognizes who the woman is. "I had to pee," she finishes, finally looking away, focusing on a spot beyond them.
"Oh. Right. Uh, yeah," he says, vacating the room immediately. There's an awkward moment as they both make towards the same direction, and then the other way, and she forces herself to laugh through the heat on her face. It's the worst two minutes of her life and she can't stop replaying it. It's not a first kiss by any means. It's too familiar, too passionate for it. He's probably made out with her in this very bathroom a million times already. It takes her at least ten minutes to stop thinking about it, too long for it to be a normal bathroom break, and definitely long enough that she doesn't expect Bellamy to be standing outside waiting for her.
He's sheepish when he greets her, like it's normal that he's just standing outside the restroom. "Hey. I wanted to apologize..." he waves a hand, "for that." He winces.
What she wants to say is something like, "You should've locked the door," but what she ends up saying is, "I didn't know you were dating Echo," blurting it out without any finesse at all. There's a part of her that's hoping for a denial, that maybe he'll say that it was a one time thing. She can handle that, she thinks. She just can't handle him dating her.
Of course, he dashes that brief hope with a weak smile. "I didn't want you to find out like that."
Would it have been better if he had sat her down and told her that he was involved with someone she hated? Did that really matter? He'd still be with her.
"Yeah," she agrees, her voice sounding hollow to her ears, "would it have killed you to send a memo or something?"
"I meant to tell you," he tries, like that makes up for it. "But you were away and I figured it should be in person and then I couldn't figure out a good time to tell you and it just... I'm sorry, really."
"I would've liked to have known," she says quietly, looking down at her shoes.
"And I should've told you." He agrees so easily that it takes the fight out of her, leaves her with just a dull ache inside her chest. Bellamy is contrite, apologetic with every word and it's not worth it to push it.
With that, she looks up, faking a smile. "See, it's not fun when you just agree with me."
"Sometimes, you're kind of right," he says, his voice breathing relief at the shift in tone.
"I think you mean always."
"I know I don't."
Eventually, this defuses the tension and brings out real laughter between the two of them. It's easy to smile with Bellamy around and easier to forget that it's not just him and her anymore. But then he walks her back to their table and she sees Echo sat at the end, laughing at something Raven and Monty's said, and she remembers. Bellamy goes to join Echo on one end and Emori moves over to make room for Clarke.
It's such a small thing, but sitting apart from Bellamy is so odd that it disorients her for the rest of the night.
There's a feeling that follows her that night, one that she can't identify until a little while later. It's not jealousy, because she knows she's jealous. It's not anger, because Bellamy looks too happy for her to be angry about it. She's angry about a lot of things, but it comes and goes. But then Raven says something, "Remember that time when—" and everyone starts laughing, and Clarke understands what that feeling is. It's the feeling of being left out.
Everyone is closer now, has their own inside jokes, seems to carry on conversations with each other that she isn't privy to. She doesn't know what Raven means by "that time," or what Monty is talking about when he brings up algae, and it's like they've forgotten she's there. Echo folds into the group like she always belonged there. More than the news that Bellamy is dating Echo, it's the fact that her friends have accepted her like it's nothing that rattles her. Just two years ago, Echo was persona non grata. Two years ago, she'd gotten into a fight with Octavia and broken a few of her ribs. It's hard to believe that bygones are suddenly bygones, but watching everyone together gives her the proof.
The entire night, Clarke feels like an intruder, an observer to a group of people that are supposedly her friends. It does afford her the chance to take a look at Bellamy without anyone drawing attention to it. Aside from his beard and his longer hair, he's still how she remembers him. His strong jaw, the dimple on his chin, the scar above his upper lip. He laughs more easily now, his entire air more relaxed and confident; she doesn't know what caused this change, but she's glad for it. It hits her then that it could be because of Echo. Maybe it was because Clarke wasn't around.
When she excuses herself for some fresh air, she's pretty sure no one notices.
It's one of those fall nights that she missed when she was in Seoul, the warmth of it mixed with the slight breeze that tousles her hair. It reminds her of sitting out on her porch with Bellamy back during high school, quizzing each other for school, of walking through campus after late night Student Government meetings, and of curling into his jacket despite putting up the requisite (false) protests otherwise. It makes her ache a little.
Murphy, thankfully, puts a stop to that before she gets lost in it, his voice piercing her thoughts. "You got a light?" He asks, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Clarke rolls her eyes.
"You know I stopped smoking, right?"
"Sure," he shrugs, "hoped you'd picked it back up or something while you were gone."
"I wasn't gone," she says, annoyed for some reason, "and sorry to disappoint."
He shakes his head and pats his pockets, coming up empty. "You weren't exactly here, were you?"
She scowls. "I wasn't dead or anything."
"Thanks for clarifying that. I was pretty sure you were, but now I can be rest assured."
"If I give you my lighter, will you shut up?" Murphy raises an eyebrow and she digs one out of her purse. "It's just a habit. I don't use it anymore."
"Probably for the best. Bellamy would lose his mind again."
"Whatever," she mutters, crossing her arms.
A sly grin appears slowly on Murphy's face. "Trouble in paradise?"
"Shut up, Murphy," she says, but makes no move to go back inside. She just stands there and glares at the cars parked in front of the bar. Miraculously, he acquiesces, falling silent. She doesn't know what makes her ask her following question, except maybe that she needs to know and there's no chance she'd ask Bellamy about it. "How long," she begins, hesitant, "um, how long have they been dating?"
To Murphy's credit, he doesn't feign ignorance or draw it out. He just shrugs, thinks about it, and, "A few months? Six maybe. Who keeps track?"
Bellamy had dated before. Gina had been sweet, albeit boring. Roma a fling that lasted too long. Bree lasted a few dates. None of them had ever been with Bellamy long enough for Clarke to really meet them. At best, they'd never lasted more than two months, but now she was finding out that Bellamy had been dating Echo for the past six months, which meant that it was serious, that he'd clearly wasted no time in getting over her (if he was ever actually into her like she'd thought he was) and that he'd kept it from her for that long.
These realizations hurt a lot more than she expected them to, like weights crashing down on her. "Oh," she says because there's nothing else to say, unless she wants to overshare to Murphy, a thing she's never wanted to do and isn't about to start wanting to now.
She doesn't know if he takes that as a request for more information or not, but he goes ahead anyways. "They met at some internship program, started hooking up, and then he was bringing her around a few months later."
The more he tells her about them, the worse she feels. "I didn't," she clears her throat, "know it was that serious." That was a lie. He wouldn't have brought her around everyone if it wasn't. They had only met Gina by accident, running into them on a date. And then there was the way Echo fit into the group. Of course Clarke had known it was serious. She just didn't want to believe it. Murphy shrugs again. Almost desperately, she adds, though she can't finish the sentence, "Do you think he—"
Scoffing, he stamps out the butt of his cigarette. "What, loves her? Should be asking him that."
She chokes on her words, seized with a panic all of a sudden. "I—I can't—"
"Then how the hell should I know?" Because I don't want to ask him about it, she thinks. Because he could say yes.
"I don't know," she mutters, quiet. "I was only gone a year." It's more to herself than anything, but Murphy hears her anyways.
"Take it up with him."
Her laugh is less amused and more bitter, but it's not like he's wrong. She isn't going to tell him that though. Instead, she reaches out an outstretched hand. "Give me back my lighter."
Murphy tosses it at her. "Nice to have you back, Griffin."
"I can tell you mean that," she retorts, sliding the lighter into her purse and brushing past him to get back inside. "You're killing your lungs." He flips her off. This time, her laugh is genuine, but it dies in her throat when she gets back to their booth and sees Echo tucked under Bellamy's arm. Her gaze lingers and then abruptly cuts away. She needs to stop doing that.
Slipping back into her seat, Bellamy turns his attention onto her. "Hey, where'd you go?"
"Just outside," she explains, although she'd already said it when she left earlier. "Caught up with Murphy."
"Was he bothering you?" Around her, he glares at the door.
"No, he just wanted a light. And no," she says, before he has the chance to ask, "I'm not smoking again." Bellamy does relax at that and it causes a surge of affection for him. Just as quickly, it fades away, replaced with a tug of jealousy when Echo whispers something to him and he presses his face against her ear, whispering something back. Clarke looks away again, focusing on the ring of condensation her drink left on the table. She needs to stop doing that too.
Conversation goes on around her, but she's mostly quiet the rest of the night, interjecting with a few thoughts every now and then, and when it's time to leave, she says a quick goodbye to everyone, almost as soon as they close the tab. Clarke drives home with the memory of Murphy's words and Bellamy's smile etched onto her brain.
A few days later, she runs into Bellamy at Anya's, one of Arkadia's mainstays. She'd intended to stop in and order something quick to go, but she's barely in the restaurant before she hears his deep voice calling out her name. Whirling around, Clarke finds him sitting in the booth that they liked to claim as theirs. The more things change, the more they stay the same, apparently.
Biting her lip, she debates with herself about whether or not to join him, but then he waves a hand and she decides to go with it.
"Hey," she greets, leaning against the booth. Maybe he'd only called her over to say hi. Maybe he didn't mean it as an invitation to join him. Maybe he was leaving.
"Sit down," he says immediately, dispelling her doubts. She slides into the seat and smiles at him.
"I was just going to get a sandwich to go."
"You in a rush?"
"No, I didn't really want to eat alone."
He gestures to himself. "What am I, chopped liver?"
"Well, I didn't know you'd be here, did I?"
"I guess you don't know everything."
"Shut up," she says with an eyeroll. The waitress comes by and places a menu in front of her, leaving and returning with an iced tea a few minutes later. It's just as good — maybe even better — as she remembers it. Bellamy raises an eyebrow.
"Should I leave you alone?"
"I've dreamt about this iced tea, Bellamy."
She tosses a napkin at him and he blocks it with his menu. Scanning hers quickly, mostly perfunctorily, because she already knows what she's going to get (what she always gets), she sets it aside and waits for him to finish.
"I don't know why you're bothering with the menu when we both know you're going to get the same thing as you always do," she says. His head peeks up from behind the menu.
"I've switched it up."
"Yeah, right. You're going to get the chicken ranch sandwich with a side of fries and then you're going to take out the lettuce, even though you could've just asked for them to hold the lettuce."
"I've evolved, Clarke." Bellamy sets the menu down and points to an item on it. "I'm a chicken club man now."
She rolls her eyes. "You're so contrary sometimes. At least that hasn't changed."
"I'm still the Bellamy you know." It's debatable, but she doesn't want to push on that now. Sitting here in their favorite lunch spot is the kind of normalcy she wants.
"Except for the," she gestures at his face, "beard."
He groans. "How long are you going to mock it? It's not even that bad."
"So you admit that on some level that it is bad?"
"You should've seen it when I was first growing it out."
She starts laughing at the image that's popped up in her brain. "Please tell me someone has pictures. Please tell me you have pictures."
"You're never going to see them if you keep mocking it," he says sternly, although it's obvious he isn't serious about it. His grin is a huge giveaway.
"I guess that means you're never getting the souvenir I bought for you."
Surprise flits across his face. "You got me something?"
"Bellamy," she says with slight exasperation, "of course I did." It was never a matter of not getting him something; her biggest problem was not getting him everything because everything she saw reminded her of him. Half of her souvenir bag was demarcated for Bellamy's things.
He tried to hide his pleased reaction by ducking his head, his eyes glued to the menu again and that allows Clarke to shake her head fondly. Luckily for Bellamy, their waitress comes back and saves him from a response. Clarke orders the french toast, Bellamy the chicken ranch sandwich, ignoring her triumphant smile. They settle into a nice conversation; she tells him about one of her professors in Seoul and he makes all the appropriate reactions. He takes a sip of her iced tea. She steals his fries and he pretends to care for the first three. It's all well and good until his phone screen lights up and his eyes flicker over.
"Hey, uh," he says, a little hesitant. The fry that's halfway to her mouth gets set down onto her plate. "Is it okay if Echo joins us? Her class just got out."
Oh, right. He has a girlfriend now. She doesn't know why she keeps forgetting that part. Suddenly, she's self conscious about the way she's been interacting with Bellamy — has she been obvious? Has she touched him too much? Has she been flirting with him? Slightly panicked, she nevertheless manages to nod her answer and he quickly shoots off a text.
The fry is a little unappetizing after that.
Bellamy clears his throat and sets his phone down. "I thought maybe you were still mad at me," he says.
"About—" her voice catches in her throat.
"Not telling you about Echo," he clarifies, a grimace on his face.
She breathes out. "I thought we already talked about this."
"You didn't say you weren't mad though."
"I'm..." she thinks about it, "not mad. I guess it does kind of suck that you just never told me about this seismic shift in your life."
"It's not seismic," is all he says, unbelievably disgruntled.
"It's a pretty big change," she argues.
"It's really not. It's probably surprising, yeah, but—"
"Bellamy," she interrupts, "just a year ago, you hated her." He has to remember that, right? It was only a year.
"So I didn't get along with her," he says, "but look, I didn't get along with you at first either and I still—"
"Don't," Clarke interrupts, offended to her very core, "do not compare me to her. I can't believe you'd—"
"I wasn't comparing you two, I was just saying that—"
"Because you remember all the times she hurt us, right? Like deliberately and physically? She sent Octavia to the hospital, Bellamy! She broke my leg and laughed about it. She was awful to you!"
"She's sorry for that and it's been a long time," he says forcefully, an annoyed tick in his cheek. "We talked about it. I've forgiven her and everyone else has forgiven her, so I don't know why you can't."
"I guess that makes you a better person than me." She meets his eyes straight on, her mouth set in a line that doesn't waver. This wasn't how she wanted to spend her day and it certainly wasn't how she expected this conversation to go.
Someone walks by their table and it reminds her of where they are — in a restaurant, full of people, where they've drawn strange, curious looks. She flushes under the attention and slumps down a little in her seat. Bellamy follows her lead and with that movement, it seems like his anger has abated.
"Clarke," he sighs, in a low voice. "I didn't mean it like that."
"You said it, Bellamy."
"It's just..." he shakes his head, "Clarke, I really like her, okay? I get that you don't and I understand why. But I do and you're my best friend and I don't want this to come between us."
"I don't see why this would come between us," she insists. "I've never made you get along with my exes and you hated them. So I don't get why this has to be any different than that."
"Well, you were barely around when you were dating Lexa, so I don't really want it to be that kind of situation." She flushes at the truth of it and to Bellamy's credit, he looks apologetic for bringing it up. Between that and the earnest appeal in his eyes, she makes up her mind. He really wants this. It's too selfish to say no, especially when she thinks about how happy he's looked and how carefree he's been. When she thinks about that, it becomes a little easier to stomach. He deserves to be happy. He's always deserved that. What kind of friend would she be if she didn't support that?
"It's not going to come between us," she reassures him. "If you... I'm not going to pretend I suddenly like her, okay? But I'll give her a chance."
Clarke forces herself to nod. He takes a long look at her before he relaxes, a bright smile on his face. If her reciprocal smile is less convincing, Bellamy either doesn't notice or ignores it. Slowly, both of them return to their meals, eating in silence until she speaks up again.
"Can you believe I still have jetlag?"
"How's that excuse working with your professors?"
"Shockingly, no one's bought it."
Echo arrives in the middle of a debate over something stupid their professor had said earlier in the week and she doesn't realize she's there until she says, "Hey, babe," loud and clear and it startles her back to reality. "Clarke. I didn't know you'd be here."
Great. She'd interrupted a lunch date.
"Yeah, Bellamy flagged me down," Clarke says, keeping her face as neutral as possible.
"Did he?" Echo asks, her eyes darting to Bellamy, who scoots over to make room for her. She doesn't press further and leaves it at that.
"How was your class?" Bellamy says, slinging his arm over her shoulders. Clarke's maple syrup becomes extremely interesting. God. She can't even handle seeing him make incidental contact with his girlfriend. It doesn't exactly bode well for her future.
Echo launches into a long-winded spiel about her class, capturing Bellamy's attention the entire time. Clarke tries to pay attention, but her inability to care coupled with her half-assed attempt means that she only gets about half of it. It's ten minutes of sitting there, pushing her food across her plate while they're engaged in conversation the entire time.
She snaps back to attention when she hears her name. "—Clarke, right?"
Her head lifts in confusion. "Sorry, um, what?"
Bellamy's eyes flicker with disappointment and she sighs inwardly, telling herself to do better. "You took a class with Professor Diyoza, right?"
"Yeah. She's, um, a character." And she had been, strict and demanding in her standards, exacting in what she expected from her students. It'd been a hard semester, but it was probably one of the best classes she's ever taken. Diyoza had even warmed up to her by the end.
"See, you'll be fine," Bellamy says sympathetically, squeezing Echo's shoulder. "Just give it time." Clarke makes a non-committal noise of agreement, although she doesn't really care.
"Oh, if you say so," Echo says to him and Clarke makes the mistake of not looking down at her plate again when she pulls him down for another kiss. It lasts for maybe three seconds, but it pulls at her chest nonetheless. Of course this would happen to her. Of course Bellamy would find someone he liked and was happy with and she would have to witness it for herself.
Clarke pushes her plate away and clears her throat, although it's not loud enough for either of them to hear. "I have class in twenty minutes," she says, thankful that it's not a lie. It's not a class that requires constant attendance, but for the chance to escape this, she'll happily go. Reaching for her bag, she smiles at both of them and stands up, lingering awkwardly at the table as she says her goodbyes. "Thanks for having lunch with me and uh—nice to see you, Echo. I hope your class gets better."
It makes her feel a little guilty to leave like that, and so obviously because of them, but she can't muster up any ability to care right now. She said she'd try but she never said anything about it succeeding.
She tries to adjust to the new normal.
It's not like she has any right to feel upset or jealous or betrayed. She knows this. Before she'd left, they were just friends. She had feelings for him, sure, but did Bellamy return any of those feelings? She'd been so sure back then that he did, but now she wonders. She could've been projecting. She could've been overthinking it. She could've just been wrong, period. Besides, what was he supposed to do, even if he did have feelings like that? Sit around and wait for her to come back? Put his life on hold? Neither of those options would've been fair (and yet—)
She would just have to deal.
Admittedly, it'd be a lot easier to deal if Echo wasn't around all the time. She shows up at the tail-end of their study sessions, dragging Bellamy away, she walks with him to his classes, she is a regular feature at brunch. Echo is everywhere all the time and Clarke has to see how much Bellamy liked her, how he can't stop smiling around her, how he just wants to be around her all the time.
Even when Echo's not around, she's still somehow around.
Bellamy drops her into conversation seemingly whenever he can, a veritable string of "Echo said this" and "Echo did that" that reminds her she can't just forget about it when it's not in front of her. He's so clearly settled into this relationship.
In another way, her presence is more inescapable, more apparently permanent. It tells her that she's missed a year of his life and that despite his protests otherwise, he's not the same person she remembers.
Clarke's balancing two drinks in one hand as she scans her ID to get into the library and heads to the second floor, where she knows Bellamy's commandeered a table. Sure enough, he has the table towards the back windows, so engrossed in his work that he doesn't see her approach. For a second, she thinks about scaring him, but then she remembers they're in the library and that the other students might not take to that. Instead, she sits down quietly and slides one drink over.
"I'm sorry I'm so late," she says, pulling a correspondingly apologetic face with it, "but the line was so long and then my mom called and, ugh. Whatever. There you go. One iced caramel macchiato."
"Oh," Bellamy says, holding up a cup of his own, "Echo got me a chai latte earlier. I didn't know you were getting drinks, I would've told you not to bother."
Clarke frowns, confused. "Since when are you a chai latte guy?" In the many years she'd known him, he's only ever ordered the same thing.
"Since Echo introduced me to them." Of course she did.
"Okay," she says slowly, even though Bellamy had never strayed from his iced caramel macchiato in all the years she'd known him. If she's being honest, it hurts a little and it annoys her that something this silly hurts her like that. "I'm recalling all the times you made fun of me for changing my order every time..."
He laughs, sliding the drink towards him. "I've changed it once. You on the other hand... I could never keep up with your Starbucks order. What did you get this time?"
She looks down at her cup. "Flat white."
"Point not proven at all," she says, trying not to glare at the chai latte he's holding. She's aware of how dumb she's being. "I'd never take a chai latte guy at his word."
"I'm sorry for betraying you."
"Don't exaggerate. I'm just trying to recalibrate my image of you from a macchiato guy to a chai latte guy."
He takes a sip of the chai latte in question and she knows she told him not to exaggerate, but it does feel a little like betrayal. "I think you're taking this way too seriously."
"Coffee," she says solemnly, hoping the truth of it doesn't seep through. Not only would it be ridiculous, it would be embarrassing. "Is a very serious matter."
Bellamy just drinks more of his chai latte and shakes his head.
The biggest adjustment is really just coming to terms with the fact that she isn't his first priority anymore. She's not even sure she's his best friend anymore. This change manifests itself in small ways at first — he sits next to Echo when they're all hanging out, he and Echo form teams during game nights, he makes comments that suggests that he goes to her for advice first — all of the things that she and Bellamy used to do together, he now does with Echo. Then, he starts to cancel on their plans, and it gets annoying fast. He's had to cancel their study sessions twice already because it's conflicted with something he has to do with Echo. Her response is the same each time, a bland it's fine because it technically is. He hasn't done anything wrong, and he's let her know beforehand.
He apologizes every time and she accepts it, forgives him because it's not worth picking a fight over jealous feelings. She would've let it go entirely except the next time he cancels their plans, it coincides with the worst mood she's ever been in, as well as the longest week of her life, and she's been looking forward to spending all day Saturday doing nothing but sitting on his couch and having one day where she doesn't have to worry about anything. It's practically a tradition at this point.
At least he has the decency to call before she leaves her apartment, if her hand on her doorknob counts.
"Don't hate me," is the first thing he says.
"What did you do?" she asks idly, digging through her purse for her keys.
"You can't come over today."
She freezes, her ear to the phone on her shoulder and her hand in her purse. "Why not?"
"Echo had a really bad day and I'm with her right now, so I'm not home—"
"Okay," Clarke says, sharp, already slipping into the bad mood she thought she'd worked through as she got ready. "It's not like I was looking forward to it or anything."
"I'm really sorry, okay? I wouldn't do this if I didn't have to, but she's really—"
"I said okay, Bellamy." She throws her bag onto the floor and switches her phone to her other hand. Why hadn't she expected this? Why did she think it was going to be any different? "She had a bad day so you should go be with her. Thanks for letting me know, I guess."
"Come on," his voice comes through, the offense clear. "Don't you think you're being a little ridiculous about this? Things came up, it's not like I planned on it."
"Maybe I wouldn't feel like it's a plan if you didn't do it all the time," she hisses, even though the rational part of her knows that she's not being fair. He's not wrong. She's just tired of giving up the limited time she has alone with him. It feels like ever since she got back, she's barely gotten to see him.
"I can't talk to you when you're being like this," he says, angry. "So let me know when you're done being mad at me for something I can't control."
"Not likely." She ends the call without waiting for a response.
If it were anyone else, Clarke's stubbornness would've won out. Since it's Bellamy, she lasts two days before she apologizes. Out of everyone she knows, he's the one she's always found it the hardest to stay mad at. Part of it is because they've always found a way back to each other, no matter how serious their fights have been (and there have been worse ones than this) and the other part is that she's in the wrong here. It sucks to admit it, but she knows the truth.
Chai latte in hand, she waits by the wall until he's done talking to one of his classmates. She knows that he's seen her, because his eyes keep flickering over to her while he prolongs his conversation. Finally, it draws to a close, or maybe he's decided to put her out of her misery. He walks slowly, almost warily, towards her. She sucks in a breath and stretches out her hand.
"Can we talk?" Clarke asks, intending the chai latte as a peace offering. He stares at the cup, a Clark scrawled on the side, and then looks up at her.
"I don't know," he says, "are you going to yell at me again?"
She hadn't yelled. "No. I was going to apologize."
"Yeah, but," she looks around at the people milling along the hallway, "can we go somewhere else?" Bellamy finally takes the chai latte and starts walking so she follows him towards the east quad. "I'm sorry about the other day. It was shitty of me because you were right."
"Echo called me really last minute, Clarke."
"I believe you," she says. "I know you couldn't control it. And I was in a bad mood and I was really looking forward to seeing—to it so I overreacted."
"I get it," he says, but he doesn't. "I know I haven't been good about how I've been spending my time lately." Or maybe he does.
"I just... miss you," she says quietly. "It really feels like I've barely seen you," and she wishes she didn't sound so upset about it, "and I spent a year not seeing you and now I'm back and—" Clarke plays with the strap on her bag.
Bellamy runs his free hand through his hair and sounds anguished when he says, "I'm really sorry, Clarke."
"I know you are."
"Why is this so hard?" He says suddenly, shaking his head.
It's hard to explain that she doesn't know how to approach their friendship anymore because he has a girlfriend now that he spends most of his time with. That it's hard, being jealous and being upset when he's so happy all the time. That she's not used to not being his partner and confidante. That she's not used to not knowing how to act around him. Most of all, that it's hard to say all of this without bringing up the underlying reason for it all.
So she doesn't say any of that. "I don't know. I don't want it to be."
His hand goes through his hair again and then his expression changes, like he's been hit with an idea. "You don't have class later, do you?"
"What? No, why—"
"Let's go back to my place and order food and just hang out and it can be a better Saturday. A redo," he suggests, his eyes bright with excitement. It makes her squeak out a laugh.
"No one's—" (she really only means one person), "—going to mind?"
"No. You're my best friend," he says, so earnestly that she'll be replaying the look on his face, the cadence of his voice later before she falls asleep.
"Do I get first pick on what we get to watch?"
"Absolutely," he promises.
"Even when it's three seasons of Masterchef?"
"A promise is a promise."
Despite all the reasons she should say no, she heeds none of them. "Then okay. Let's redo Saturday."
November passes by in a rush and Clarke's so busy that she at least doesn't have too much free time to dwell on Bellamy. Final projects, final essays, and final exams consume much of her time and it's a lonely month of missing calls and having to miss game nights, so when Monty invites her to a finals-are-over party that's really disguising Harper's surprise birthday party, she immediately says yes.
She gets there a little late due to a combination of bad traffic, poor time management, and a last minute assignment she needs to turn in, so Monty and Harper's apartment is already packed full of people. A little lost in the wave of strangers, Clarke looks around for a familiar face. She spots Raven nearby, chatting with a group of people.
"Hey," she says, making her way over to her.
"Oh, finally. Honestly, we were so close to taking bets on whether or not you'd show," Raven says loudly.
"I wasn't not going to show!" Clarke protests.
"You've been a recluse the past few weeks."
"If you took my classes, you'd understand why."
"If I took your classes, I'd want to drop out of school."
"Well, that'd be a waste of time. You only have one semester left."
"Thank God." Raven finishes the last of her drink and pushes the glass into Clarke's hands. "C'mon, I need a refill."
It's less making a choice and more following an order as Raven bulldozes her way, Clarke in tow, through the throng of people. A few people say hi to her on the way there and she tries to say hi back, but mostly, the number of people overwhelms her. She didn't even know they knew that many people. Maybe she is more of a recluse than she wants to admit.
They have to wait for a group to clear out before they can fit into the space, but when they do, Clarke's eyes catch on Bellamy in the back. Despite how busy she's been and he's been, it's obvious he's made a conscious effort to check up on her. It makes her feel guilty, knowing that this only happened because she couldn't deal with her jealousy and loneliness by herself, but she's also missed him so much that she can push away the guilt. It's not the same friendship as it was, but she knew that would happen.
He has on her favorite of his shirts tonight, one that draws attention to his arms, and his hair is long enough that it falls into his eyes and she hates herself for breaking all the progress she thought she had made during her month-long abstinence from him. It's unfair how good he looks, even though he's doing nothing but holding a beer bottle and laughing at something someone said to him. Their friendship has been better since their fight.
Her daze is broken when Echo turns around and slots herself right next to him and his body shifts to accommodate her without losing that ease that practically infuses him.
So much for progress.
Beside her, Raven's sharp voice demands more beer, drawing the attention of everyone else in the kitchen. Bellamy spots her then and raises his bottle at her, tipping it towards her in a hello. Clarke awkwardly raises her hand to wave at him and then blushes in embarrassment. She just wants to get something to drink and get out.
Raven has other plans, pulling on Clarke's arm as she leads them towards Bellamy and Echo. "What are we talking about?"
Echo speaks up. "Bryan said he's planning on taking a road trip during spring break so we were telling him about the one we did over the summer." No one had told Clarke about that either.
"You went to Delaware," Raven says distastefully, "that doesn't even count."
"We drove through a bunch of states, Raven," Bellamy says, eyebrow raised. "That's literally the definition of a road trip."
"To Delaware. No one willingly takes a road trip to Delaware, thus it's not a quote unquote road trip."
"I think a bunch of people would disagree," he argues, bemused, before turning to Clarke. "Clarke, who's right?"
To be honest, she's still thinking about Bellamy and Echo taking a trip together, staying at romantic B&Bs, holding hands as they made their way through the country. It kind of makes her ill. "Oh, um, I'm sorry, Raven, but I have to take Bellamy's side. That's definitely a road trip." He shoots her a grin that she really tries not to like.
"Doesn't count," Raven says with a dismissive eyeroll, "you're always taking his side." Clarke doesn't say anything to that and there's a long three seconds of awkward silence among their group.
Echo is the first to recover, her voice loudly casual. "Actually, Bellamy and I were thinking about going back this summer." She curls closer to him. "Kind of like an anniversary thing, you know?"
"You can't think of anywhere better than Delaware? Seriously?" Raven asks.
"What's your problem with Delaware?" Bellamy says. "It was a really nice state." That's all Raven needs to start naming reasons, none of which Clarke registers because she can't think about anything except the idea of Bellamy and Echo going on a trip during the summer. She hadn't prepared for the possibility — a very strong possibility, apparently — that this would last forever and ever. That they would be happy forever and that she would have to pretend to be happy for him forever. It was one thing to see them every day and know that they were together and another to really understand that Bellamy and Echo were planning for the future, months and months away, and Clarke had never factored that in.
She feels dizzy.
"Raven," she says, tugging at her friend's arm and interrupting her rant. "I'll meet you out there, okay? I forgot I—I didn't even say hi to Harper." It's a weak excuse, but it's at least rooted in the truth. She'll take what she can get.
"Oh, yeah." She grabs a beer from the counter. "Hey, you want one?"
Clarke shakes her head. "I think I'll wait a bit, get some food first."
Raven shrugs and she says a quick goodbye to them, dashing out of the kitchen.
Clarke finds him later when the party's winding down, a beer in his hand. She plucks it out of his grasp as Jasper begins singing. It sounds terrible and he's completely off-key, and as she takes it, she still can't help but sway along to it.
"Really? No fuss? What happened to 'you're not 21 yet'?"
"You're almost 21. Does that count?"
"I've been telling you that forever," she says, taking a drink as Jasper gets increasingly louder and incomprehensible. It's a sign that they should all really leave soon, but she stays rooted to her spot, thinking about their earlier conversation. She takes a long pull of the beer before she says, voice small, "So. Delaware, huh?"
He rubs the back of his neck and laughs. "I don't know. Maybe. We talked about it."
"It's like… so many months away." She hopes it doesn't sound ridden with despair.
"More time to plan, right?" She hums in response. What else can she really say?
After a moment, she opens her mouth again. "Do you remember… back during my senior year when we talked about how we'd do a road trip to the Grand Canyon?"
"I'd forgotten about that," he says, so easily that she only registers how much that hurts a second later. "We should still do it."
"Not this summer, though," she says, working at the label on the bottle that's peeling away from the condensation.
"No, probably not. I don't think I can recover from that much driving." He thinks about it some. "Summer after you graduate, maybe? It'd be fun."
She tears off the top of the label. "Yeah," she says softly. "Maybe."
The less that's said about winter break, the better.
But if she learned anything from her three weeks in California, it's this:
- Moving on from Bellamy is a lot harder than she hoped it would be. She canceled on one date, postponed another, and the actual date she ended up going on ended so badly that she wishes she had canceled. Helene left her at the table with a scoff and a flip of her hair. "I just wanted a fling," she'd said. "I don't want to deal with whatever baggage you have with your ex."
- The harder it is for Clarke to move on from him, the clearer it is that Bellamy only thought of her as a friend. After all, the ease of which Bellamy moved on from her tells her that there were never any feelings like that in the first place.
- She has two choices: either tell Bellamy how she feels and risk ruining everything or forget about her feelings and be his friend.
- It's an easy choice.
(She imagines all sorts of scenarios in which she tells him, though.
Heading home from the library, at the corner where they would ordinarily split off to head to their respective homes. I'm in love with you.
Pulling him aside one night out, amidst the booms of the music, the words rushed, spilling out, I have to tell you something. What? I love you, I love you, I love you.
Looking up at him, sitting across from her, unaware of what she wants to say, and being unable to keep it in any longer: I wish you weren't with her.
A rambling voicemail filled with nonsense, ending with a slurred I should've told you that I was in love with you.
A fight, because of course it'd only come out during a fight, her words meant to hurt: I thought you loved me too!
All useless, of course, because she couldn't tell him that.)
"I can't believe you spent three weeks in LA and came back as white as ever," Raven remarks, her voice carrying through the mostly silent library. Clarke wants to sink down in her chair when people's heads turn their way. She'd dragged Raven with her to study, but she's regretting that now. Her company is great, but she's not a fan of libraries and doesn't really respect its rules. Besides, Raven's the kind of person who doesn't have to study for her tests and still aces them. Clarke kind of hates her for it.
"I think it's a miracle that I didn't come back burnt, okay?" Clarke raises her arm slightly and pulls back her sleeve to show her. "To that, I say thank you, sunscreen."
Raven pulls her arm from her and holds it close to inspect the skin. "Are you paler than before? Is that possible?"
"Are you sniffing her arm?" A new voice comes in, distinctly familiar. Bellamy approaches their table with a bemused look on his face and he stops right next to her. Behind him, she sees Echo trailing, an almost scowl etched on her face
"Look," Raven demands, yanking her arm again so that she can brandish it towards Bellamy. "She spent three weeks in the sun and got paler."
"Ouch," she says, "my arm's still attached, you know. I do need it eventually."
Bellamy bends down to examine her arm, so close that her heart stutters for a second. Stop it, she thinks. You're just friends. "You're a modern medical marvel, Clarke," he declares, moving towards the seat opposite her. "Three weeks in California and whiter than ever."
"I can't help it," she grumbles, pulling her sleeve down and so glad that he's a fair distance from her again. Echo comes closer and she sighs inwardly. If she was really going to do the friends thing, she was going to have to make a real effort in supporting Bellamy's girlfriend. "Hey Echo. You can sit down, you know."
Muttering to herself, she does, spreading her things across the table.
Bellamy leans back in his chair and fixes his eyes on her. "How was your break? Was your aunt terrible?"
"She wasn't that bad this time. I think she's mellowing out."
"I think you've said that too many times for me to believe."
"It's true this time," she defends weakly, because he's right. Her aunt is the reason Clarke and her mom only visit her every five years.
"Besides your aunt, though, how was it?"
She shrugs. "Fine, I guess."
"All you have to say about California is fine and nice?"
Raven snorts. "She's just too embarrassed to admit that she had a bad time because she tried to hook up with someone and it failed spectacularly." Clarke's so thankful that all she had told Raven was that her date hadn't panned out the way she wanted; skimping on the details has never been a better strategy.
"That's not exactly what happened," Clarke protests at the same time as Bellamy asks, "You what?"
She shoots a quick glare at Raven. "I went on one date," she explains, hoping that no one will require more than that. She doesn't really want to go into detail about how she spent most of her time bringing topics back to Bellamy and how she couldn't stop comparing her date to him. It wasn't fair to Helene and it was pretty awful for her too.
Bellamy raises his eyebrow. "And… it didn't go well," he says, like he's testing the words out.
"No, um," she says, unwittingly meeting his eyes, "it wasn't what either of us were looking for."
"Are any of us going to study?" Echo says then, annoyance in her voice. It draws her out of her gaze and she starts fumbling with her notebook.
"Right, um, well, I'm going to," she says, smoothing down the paper. "I'm so behind already."
Through sheer chance, Clarke runs into Bellamy in the student union. She's in line waiting for coffee when her eyes catch on his figure at one of the tables. He's sitting across from Echo and judging from the tension in his shoulders and the agitation on his face, their conversation isn't a pleasant one. It's only when the girl behind her nudges her that she realizes she's been staring the whole time and embarrassed, she ducks her head and gets to the counter to put in her order. Whatever the conversation is, it's none of her business.
She would've just left after getting her coffee if he hadn't waved her over (or so she tells herself). Tentatively, she makes her way towards his table, which is now mercifully empty of an Echo. The closer she gets, she sees how tired Bellamy looks; even his smile looks weary.
"Hey," she says, slipping into the chair. "Fancy running into you here."
"Yeah, I'm never here," he says, rubbing his face. "What'd you get this time?"
"Plain coffee. Two sugars." She pauses for a second. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just…," he waves a hand. "Disappointing choice. I expected more from you."
"Sorry to let you down." Clarke takes a drink. "Do you want to talk about it?"
He chuckles without mirth. "No thanks."
"Then what do you want to do? Brood?"
"I don't brood."
"When have I ever brooded?"
"Would that I had the time…"
"Because I've never done it."
"Bellamy," she sighs. "You can't distract me."
"That's only because I haven't really tried." Despite her best effort to restrain herself, she laughs anyways, trying to hide it into her cup.
"Now can we talk about something else?" he asks, much more good-natured than before. He looks like he isn't thinking about whatever they had been fighting about, at least.
She thinks about it for a moment. "Spring break plans?" With just a week and a half left, it's coming up faster than she anticipated.
"Not much. Just staying here to get some work done." She won't ask about Echo's plans. They'd be the same.
"Me too, but without the work part," she says sheepishly. "Raven invited me to go parasailing with her, but somehow that seems less appealing than joining my mom and Kane on their holiday."
"And going with Monty and Harper on their trip wasn't in your cards?"
"Yeah, if I wanted to be a third wheel, I'd just—" She stops herself before she says hang out with you and Echo and recovers hopefully quickly, "—go with my mom and her boyfriend."
He doesn't notice. "Fair enough. So, wait, what are you going to do for your birthday then?"
"My what?" She remembers. "Oh."
"You forgot your own birthday?"
"I've been busy!" she says defensively, and she had been. The dates she looked forward to on her calendar were the deadlines for her papers and projects, not her birthday. "I guess I don't really have plans."
Bellamy clucks his tongue in disapproval. "You have to have plans."
"Everyone's going to be out of town! It's kind of the peril of having a birthday during spring break." But it was disappointing. It was going to be her 21st.
"I'm not going out of town," he corrects.
She waves off the suggestion. "You're going to be busy! You said so yourself."
"I'll be writing papers, Clarke," he says. "I won't be too busy to have dinner with you on your birthday."
"Yeah, but… it's so last minute. I don't want to impose on anything you've got planned."
"My schedule's all free," he points out. "We'll have dinner, then we'll go on a bar crawl, and then, if you've survived, we'll watch some shitty movie you pick out."
"Hey," she says, offended, "I wouldn't pick out something bad."
"Trust me. You would."
"It's my birthday, you can't be mean to me."
"Your birthday isn't for another two weeks."
"So, is that a yes?"
"Be ready to apologize for insulting my taste."
"In your dreams."
Her birthday is on the Thursday of break, so they decide to celebrate the Saturday before, and the more time passes, the more excited Clarke gets. She had been content on letting her birthday pass. If anything, they could celebrate it when everyone got back from break. Given the fact that she hadn't even remembered it was coming up, she wouldn't have blamed anyone for not doing anything. But Bellamy had been the one to suggest this and Bellamy was the one she really wanted to have plans with and it finally felt like they were in the kind of place she'd hoped to get back to, even if it didn't exactly pan out the way she dreamed of. Still, she'd made a resolution to be friends with him without any feelings getting in the way and it'd gone well. Sometimes, she would think that she was over him, but then he'd place his hand on her back or he'd lean in too close to say something and she would remember just how hard it was to forget about them. At least, she reasoned, it came with a resignation and an acceptance.
The Dropship, one of the newer Asian fusion restaurants in town, is pretty busy that Saturday, so she's glad that they had their reservations made a week before. Clarke gets there first, a product of her excitement-fueled nerves. She's not going to tell him how long she spent getting ready because it had been an embarrassingly long time.
"I'll have water for now," she tells the waitress, a polite smile on her face. "I'm waiting for my friend."
She does wait.
She waits for ten minutes, texts him, waits some more. She waits for twenty, then thirty, avoiding the waitress' looks as she comes by, texting Bellamy to figure out why he's so late. She waits for thirty five and then excuses herself so she can make a phone call. It's chilly outside, chillier with her jacket left inside and her light pink dress offering very little protection against the wind.
The phone rings and rings and rings and when it hits his voicemail, his deep voice delivering the traditional message, she ends the call so fast she almost drops her phone.
"What'd that phone ever do to you?"
She whirls around and her heart drops in disappointment when she only sees Murphy standing there.
"What do you want?" She asks, too tired to deal with him.
"Can't a guy ask a simple question around here?"
"Can't a guy leave a girl who doesn't want to see him alone?"
"Last I checked," he gestures to the ground, "I haven't been barred from this area."
"Sure." He jerks his head at her phone. "Did the phone kill your pet or something?"
It's easier to just indulge his chatter than to ignore him, so that's why she says stiffly, "Bellamy's not answering his phone."
"Yeah, well, didn't he have a busy day today?"
"No," she says, confused, because as far as she's aware, he's only had a trip to the bank in the morning. "We had plans."
"Last I heard, he and Echo were driving to DC to check out apartments and shit."
Murphy has a way of delivering the most mundane news in the most devastating fashion. Her grip tightens on her phone as she blinks at him.
"Apartments for what?" is the question she blurts out.
"For… living in," he answers, clearly regarding her as an idiot. He's not wrong. She is one. She's always been one. When her silence goes on longer than he expected, he continues. "You didn't know?"
Humiliatingly, tears spring to her eyes and she has to bite down on her lip to stave them off. All this time, she'd thought everything was fine. That whatever the state of his relationship, she could live with it. That being friends with him was enough, that she'd been doing well, that the way things were was enough for her. It takes broken plans, unanswered calls, and Murphy to make her realize how fucking stupid she's been. "No," she says, voice thick. "He never said."
Murphy lets out a low whistle. Clarke leans back against the wall of the building and closes her eyes. The words come spilling out, followed by a few tears that she angrily brushes away. "He was the one who said we should do something. He said since it was my birthday, I had to. He didn't even let me know he wouldn't make it."
"Are you going to cry?"
"No," she says, opening her eyes so she can glare at him. "What are you even doing here anyways?"
"I was heading over to Dax's party, but then you blocked the way."
Clarke steps back under the canopy of the restaurant's entrance, sweeping her arms to point to the path. "There. Happy?"
"Delighted," he drawls. "Happy birthday, though."
"Thanks," she mutters, "but it's on Thursday."
Murphy makes it nearly to the end of the street before she calls him to a stop. "Wait!" He turns around and she starts running to catch up to him. "I want to go to the party." It's an impulsive decision, one that really makes no sense since she knows what kind of parties Dax Shephard throws (ones she doesn't get invited to and ones that she avoids, if she ever was invited to one), but she's faced with a dauntingly endless night back at her apartment thinking about Bellamy. In light of that, going to a Dax Shephard party is the overwhelmingly okay choice.
"You want to go to Dax's party."
"That's what I said."
He starts laughing and not in a nice way. She has to elbow him for him to stop. "Look, Princess—" she flinches, the memory of Bellamy's old nickname for her an unwelcome reminder, "I'm not looking to babysit anyone there. I just want to get blackout drunk and forget where I am in the morning."
"Please, like I care what you do," she scoffs. "I can take care of myself. Now are we going or not?"
Murphy thinks it over for what seems like a long while, but when he's done, he shrugs. "Whatever. Don't yell at me when I'm right."
There's very few people she recognizes at Dax's.
Dax, of course, from an unfortunate semester together in an intro psych class. He'd barely attended, but somehow still passed the course. Murphy, obviously, although he leaves as soon as they get inside, though not before he informs everyone, obnoxiously as possible, that it's her birthday. Somehow she ends up with a plastic crown and a sash that says HOMECOMING QUEEN as a result of that. She finds a few others that she knows, through classes, through acquaintances, and despite the horror stories of Dax's parties, it's not that bad. She sticks to drinks that she opens herself and she avoids Dax for the entire night. She makes out with a girl named Niylah in the corner for ten minutes, although all she can feel is a dull heartache. She dances with everyone who asks and she drinks more than she should. She loses her phone and ends up crying on the porch, ruining her mascara. She's so drunk that she can't stand straight.
The only saving grace is that everyone else is either almost as or more drunk than she is, so there's no point in being embarrassed when no one will remember.
It's early morning when she realizes what she's done. Head pounding, hair messy, she can't find Murphy, she can't find her phone, and she's hit with a wave of panic about being stranded at Dax's place. "Shit," she says, repeats as she stumbles through the house. People are still partying, somehow, and it takes five tries for someone to let her use their phone.
Clarke dials the only number she remembers.
"Hello?" Bellamy replies, groggy with sleep.
"Can you come get me?"
"Can you walk?" Bellamy asks, once he finds her on the porch steps, her head between her knees to stave off the nausea. At the sound of his voice, she looks up and nods. "Are you okay? Did anything happen to you?"
She nods again for the first question, shakes her head for the second.
"Are you ready to go?"
She nods once more, not trusting herself to speak. When she stands up, she wobbles just enough that Bellamy has to steady her and, with a hand around her arm, he guides her to his car, helping her into the passenger seat. After a moment, he gets into the driver's side and looks over at her.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
This time, she speaks, a faint, "Yeah," that seems to satisfy him because he starts driving. Bellamy remains silent the entire time, not even turning the radio on — although it's 4 AM on a Sunday morning, so what could be on at this time — to fill the void. Clarke rests her head against the window and stares out at the darkness.
At a stoplight a few blocks from her apartment, he says, "Do you have your keys?"
She'd at least been able to find her purse. "Yes," she answers, the red light blaring at her. She shifts in the seat. "Why are you so calm?"
"Because I have to be. Believe me," he grits out, his hands tightening around the wheel, "I've got so much to say that you'll wish I hadn't started."
"Then say it," she says, her gaze fixed on him. His jaw is clenched so hard it has to hurt.
"I will," he says, his eyes cutting across at her briefly. "Later."
Later means as soon as the door to her apartment closes behind them. She just barely gets her shoes off before he has his arms crossed, demanding, "What the hell were you thinking? Dax Shephard's party? You went to Dax Shephard's party?"
"I think that's where you picked me from up, yeah," she says mildly, automatically going for her phone only to remember that she doesn't have it.
"You don't go to Dax Shephard's parties." Bellamy's working himself into a state and it's only then that she takes in his appearance: his jacket haphazardly tugged on, his messy hair, his sweatpants, his glasses that he only wears to bed. "Do you know what happens at Dax Shepard parties? Do you know how lucky you are that nothing happened to you?"
"Like you care," she mutters. He doesn't hear her.
"Do you know," he continues, unimpeded, one hand combing harshly through his hair in frustration, "what it's like to wake up to a voicemail from Murphy of all people and it's barely intelligible, that all I can hear is your name, Dax's name, and party, and then I get a call from you about the same thing? I had to jump out of bed and rush out the door and tell Echo that I don't know what's going on, that maybe you were—"
"Then why are you here?" Clarke screams suddenly, sick and tired of him talking, sick and tired of him caring only when it's convenient for him. She feels so sober, so aware of him, so sick of him. "Why don't you just go back to her and go to sleep and just leave me alone?"
"Because I'm worried about you, Clarke!" His eyes widen like he can't believe what she's saying.
"That's rich," she says.
"If I hadn't called you — and I shouldn't have," she tosses in his face, "you wouldn't have even cared about where I was."
He throws his hands up. "Probably because I would've assumed you'd be at home! How was I supposed to know that you'd think a fun Saturday night out would be at a party you'd ordinarily never be found at? Forgive me for thinking you knew better than that!"
"Because you knew where I was! You made the plans!" Clarke bites out, taking delight for a second in watching the color drain from his face before it hurts again, seeing firsthand how much he doesn't care about her.
"Shit," he says, rubbing his face. "Shit, Clarke, I completely spaced. I was just—it was the only day we could—" She isn't falling for that again.
"I waited for you at Dropship for over half an hour," she says bitterly. "I texted you and I called you and you never even gave me an explanation, you never ever answered my calls. And then I run into Murphy and do you know the funniest thing? The most hilarious thing? He says you've been out all day with Echo in DC looking at apartments. See, it's funny because I didn't know anything about it." Her voice cracks, breaking the impassivity she'd managed to inhabit. "Were you just going to move away and tell me then? Hey, I know we haven't talked but you're invited to our housewarming party, please bring some wine."
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'll make it up to you, I promise, I swear—" The words trip out after each other, frantic in the delivery, frenetic in the pace. "Pick any day, I'll be there."
"Sure," she says, "until there's a new movie you want to watch with Echo or she wants to have dinner or you're driving somewhere with her or you just really need to hang out with her. But any other time, you'll be there."
"That's not true," he protests, but it's weak.
"This isn't the first time you've done this to me." She can recall all the other times easily and it's like a vice grip on her heart. She has to start moving to get away from it and when she ends up in her kitchen, she's surprised that Bellamy follows. Her hands shake as she turns on the tap and fills her mug. "It's just the first time you haven't let me know beforehand. Which sucks, you know. I could've saved myself a lot of time if you'd just told me you'd rather be with her instead."
"That's not what it was—"
"Isn't it? Isn't that what this entire year has been?" Fingers tight around her mug, Clarke holds it in front of her like it's a shield, though she doesn't know what it's shielding her from. Bellamy in general? Maybe. "Everywhere you go, there she is. Everything you do, there she is. Every time," she sucks in a breath, "every time I thought I could do this, that I'd eventually be okay with you, that eventually, this would change, it doesn't. I just keep being reminded about how different everything is, how different we are, how stupid I am—" The dry sob escapes her before she can suppress it, threatening to snowball into the real thing. "I'm so tired of caring more about you than you care about me."
"Is that what you think of me?" Bellamy manages, voice hoarse. "You think I don't care about you?"
She shakes her head. "I think you do but—it's not the same—"
"Same as what? Some arbitrary standard you have because I've made mistakes? I'm sorry, you have to know that I am—"
"Same as before!"
"Before what?" He's nearly thunderous, his frustration coming to a head and she must feed off it because her voice rises in volume and tone.
"Before you fell in love with someone else!"
Her words don't ring in her ears, but they do seem to bounce off every wall in her apartment, sounding loud and inescapable. Bellamy opens and closes his mouth several times, unable to find the right words, or any words, to say. He almost stumbles forward as he comes closer. "Clarke…" he says, uncertain. Clarke stays glued to her spot, her lips pursed as she tries not to let the panic overwhelm her.
"I don't…" Bellamy folds his hand over hers and she can't help but flinch at his touch. Her mug slips out of her grasp and she at least has the sense to move out of the way as it shatters into pieces. There's a puddle of water on her kitchen floor and she looks at it blankly before she snaps out of it, grabbing a towel off the counter and bending down to clean up the mess.
"Clarke," he cautions, following suit, trying to help out. He's so insistent on it that she just gives up. Rocking back on her heels, she looks up, over at Bellamy, her gaze focused on the strand of hair that's fallen in front of his forehead.
She wonders how he'll react if she cries.
"The entire year I was away," she begins, quiet and defeated, "I just kept imagining all the ways I'd come back to you and tell you I was in love with you."
His hands still over the shards that he's gathered into a pile. The silence stretches on.
"You must've known. You had to have known," she says, almost desperately, the inflection on each word stinging her pride.
Bellamy brings the towel up to her sink and wrings the water out. She almost doesn't hear his, "I didn't."
And maybe that was where it all started. If she'd told him how she felt then, they wouldn't be here. It was a dangerous game, playing what ifs, almost paralyzing in its spiral. Clarke stands up, facing his back, which is taut with tension. She's glad she can't see his face. It's easier to admit these things when she doesn't have to look into his eyes. "I thought you felt the same way," she tells his back.
For a long, long, long moment, Bellamy says nothing. She doesn't know what she expects to hear. She doesn't know what she wants to hear.
"Does it matter?" Bellamy finally says, roughly as he slaps the towel into her sink and turns around to face her, his face set in a challenge.
She's wrong. She did know what she wanted to hear and it's definitely not that.
"I guess not," she replies, sounding distant and foreign to her own ears. "It doesn't change anything."
Bellamy breaks their eye contact first, blinking and looking away. Bracing his hands behind him on the counter, he exhales. "I should go."
"Yeah. I'm sure Echo's wondering where you are."
His head snaps back to her, shock written in his eyes, but she just jerks her head towards the door. "Thank you for taking me home. I appreciate it." Perfunctory, there's no warmth in her words. He searches her face for something, but whatever it is, she makes sure she doesn't show it. She doesn't show anything.
Finally, she hears, rather than sees, him move, carefully stepping around the mess on the floor, walking past her line of sight as he heads for the door. He stops with a hand on the doorknob.
"Have a good break," Clarke says, voiced pitched so it'll carry. He turns the doorknob and leaves without another word.
She cleans up her broken mug, deposits the pieces in the trash, and drags herself to her bed. She doesn't think about Bellamy when she curls around her covers, she doesn't think about Bellamy when she starts crying, and she doesn't think about Bellamy when she drifts off into an exhausted sleep. She doesn't do any of that, except that she does.