Chapter 1: i.
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.
Chapter 2: ii.
thank you so much for the response to the first chapter, i'm honestly blown away by it!!! i hope this chapter makes up for it, even though it's a little unwieldy and rambly and i'm really nitpicking at it. it was going to be up sooner, but then when i went through it again i accidentally added 4k more I GUESS
I'm also slowly but surely replying to comments!!! sorry it's taking forever but i get so overwhelmed by how nice you guys are ;_;
if there are boundaries i will try to knock them down
Clarke finds herself hunched over her toilet in the morning, holding onto it like her life depends on it (and at the moment, she kind of feels like it does), hurling the contents of her stomach into it. As awful as it is, it offers her a respite from dredging up the memories of last night, particularly how much she'd humiliated herself and how much her best friend didn't care about her.
It's not much of a break, but it helps, at least until she's standing in her kitchen again, reliving, remembering every word, every action, every intake of breath. It might be worse than the night as a whole.
Might be, except nothing could be as bad as that.
She changes out of her clothes slowly, almost absently, only noting that she'd fallen asleep with that stupid fucking sash still on, and wonders how much she's ruined everything.
Needless to say, the last person she wants to see is Bellamy Blake, so luck would have it that he's the first person she sees. Camped out in front of her door, he scrambles up from the floor and holds out a cup of coffee and an Anya's bag.
"Clarke," he says, relieved. "How are you feeling? Are you okay?"
Instead of answering his questions, she closes the door — or she tries to, until he gets in her way. "Please, I just want to talk to you. I want to apologize—"
She puts more pressure on it, but he's an immovable object. "I don't want to talk to you," she says, her voice a little hoarse.
"It'll be quick—"
"No. I don't want to talk to you."
"You could've talked to me last night, but you didn't. You left," she reminds him. She isn't trying to push the door anymore, but she keeps her back pressed against it, squeezing her eyes shut. "Actually, you could've just shown up at Dropship like we'd planned."
"I don't care," she lies. "Whatever you think you could say to make this better, it won't." Bellamy reaches over, placing a hand on her arm, and Clarke jumps and flinches away from his touch. The door swings open, the bag of food drops to the floor. She can see the hurt written across his face. It isn't enough to change her mind.
"How can I fix this?"
"Maybe you can't." Bending down, she picks up the Anya's bag, handing it back to him. "Maybe I don't want this to be fixed."
He sounds hollow. "Do you mean that?"
She doesn't. She doesn't want any of this to be happening, except it is. "I don't know. But right now, I don't want to see you."
Bellamy gives up first, stepping back and nodding at her. "I'm so sorry," he says, all regret, all apology. She doesn't know how to deal with that, so she just closes the door.
Hours pass. She manages to eat some cereal, but without much of an appetite, the bowl goes into the sink. She's antsy, trapped, and bored. She can't stop thinking about the way he looked at her. She keeps wondering if he's still sitting outside her door.
With nothing else to do, she makes the split second decision to drive back home. Spending another second in her apartment hurts more than she wants to admit and although she has the house to herself, the fact that it's not in Arkadia makes it a much better place to waste away her spring break.
Bellamy isn't there when she opens the door. Clarke tells herself it doesn't matter.
Home is so much the same, it actually exacerbates her situation. Driving to the grocery store takes her past the high school, the park, the public library. It takes her past the old Blake house, now rented out to a different family. It takes her past every memory she has of growing up with Bellamy. This town is Bellamy and this realization stuns her so much that she abandons her trip to the store, drives back home, and collapses in her childhood bed.
She can just order in tonight.
After one day of wallowing, she's had enough. She's never been a good wallower, preferring the tried and true method of bottling everything up and then letting it out at an inconvenient time. When she found out Finn had been cheating with her, she'd pretended she was fine and then ended up crying on Bellamy. When Lexa broke her heart, she refused to talk about it and then got a(n ill-advised) haircut. She has no desire to cry on Bellamy because he'd broken her heart or to cut off her hair again, so the entire experience is a foreign one. Therefore, she improvises.
Most of her improvisational energy goes into cleaning and organizing. She vacuums the living room, cleans the bathroom (and tackles the bathtub), rearranges the kitchen (and then returns it back to its original state), and does all of the laundry she'd brought home from Arkadia. The productivity is the best kind of distraction; not only is everything cleaner and nicer, she's too exhausted by all of her work that she falls asleep by ten.
Without anything left to comb through, day three is spent drinking through her mom's wine, eating the last of her stale pizza, and making wildly extravagant purchases that she's going to return when they arrive. Maybe, she thinks, she's not done wallowing.
Her 21st birthday dawns with the ring of the doorbell. It actually rings a few times, patient as she drags herself out of sleep and routine as she half checks to see if she's presentable enough to answer the door. It's good enough.
The last person she expects to be on the other side is Bellamy Blake, but there he is, dressed in a green Arkadia hoodie, and carrying a plastic bag. He smiles cautiously at her, but her brain isn't working well at the moment, still stuck on the sight of Bellamy showing up at her house, two hours from Arkadia.
"Happy birthday, Clarke," he says.
"What are you doing here?" She squeaks out, her hand tightening on the door as if it protected her from him. It's still open wide enough that he could easily step inside if he wanted to, but he wouldn't, not if she doesn't want him to. She doesn't know if she wants him to.
He shifts a little on his feet. "It's your birthday."
"Yeah, but… you're supposed to be in Arkadia," she says, unsure of what's happening, what she's supposed to do with this. I don't want to see you, she thinks, remembers saying, except now that he's here, she knows it's not true. He's on her front steps. Her eyes sneak down to the bag. "What's that?"
Lifting it so it's eye-level with her, Bellamy peers around the bag and answers, "It's uh, well, there's 21 cupcakes in here. I tried to get as many flavors as possible and uh," he lowers it, "just, happy birthday."
She can't stop looking at the bag. "You said that already."
"You should hear it more than once. It's a big day." He hands the bag of cupcakes to her. "Here." Is she supposed to take them? Decline them? Was there protocol for this, a what to do when your best friend who you're in love with but also fighting with gets you cupcakes for your birthday? Conflicted, all she can do is take the bag, cradling it in her arms.
"Thank you," she says softly, eyes cast down. It would be a bad idea to invite him in. "And um, thanks for stopping by."
She misses the disappointment that flashes across his face, but she sees him taking a step back. Given that movement, Clarke begins to close the door, stopped only when he steps forward.
"I'm really sorry. About that night," Bellamy sighs.
He keeps going, quickly like he thinks she'll stop him any second. "—And how I acted towards you and also, you know… how I've been treating you this whole year." Her eyes find his in surprise. "I know you don't want to talk to me. I know you don't want to hear anything I have to say. But I went home and that was all I could think about…"
"Please. We don't have to talk about this," she says hastily, not wanting to rehash this now, so early in the morning, on her birthday. "At some point, I do want to talk about it, but not now—"
"I have to say it," he goes on, eyes pleading. "Because I don't want you to think that I don't care about you or that I'm okay with what I've done, all right?"
Nodding mutely, she hugs the bag to her chest.
He continues. "I'm just sorry. And I'll apologize every day if I have to." She hugs the bag closer, though careful to not crush the box of cupcakes inside.
She doesn't have anything to say. Her brain's going a mile a minute, spinning out scenarios, turning over words, assessing the sincerity of his words, weighing over all the options. Bellamy takes the silence as a discouragement, his face falling. "Right. Uh, I'll let you go back to… whatever you were doing. Happy birthday. Again."
Before he can get too far, Clarke can't stop herself from calling out, asking, "How did you know I was here?"
He turns around, shifts a little on his feet. "I kinda just gave it a shot. I stopped by your apartment and you weren't there and I tried to get a hold of you—"
"I lost my phone."
"Yeah, I remembered. I tried a few other places and then figured, hey, maybe she's here, and then I saw your car was here…"
"Good guess," she says. He'd driven two hours to see her.
Bellamy stares at her for a second and then jerks his head in a nod, turning back around to get to his car. Clarke thinks about stopping him, thinks about whether or not she wants to risk it, thinks about how much she misses him and how much it'd hurt when he chose Echo over her again.
She's still cradling the bag when he starts backing up and waves a goodbye at her.
Bellamy rings her doorbell a few hours later. She doesn't know it's Bellamy, but when she opens the door again, Bellamy's right there. This time, he doesn't wait outside, instead storming in and barrelling past her.
"Come on in," she says dryly, closing the door. "Make yourself at home."
"I don't want it to be like this between us," he says plainly, immediately.
"You just barged into my house."
"You know what I'm talking about."
"I've already told you how I feel about all of this. You've already said what you wanted to say."
"That's not all I wanted to say. That's not enough to make things better!"
"Don't do this now. I don't want to do this."
"You can't push me away forever."
"Why not?" She crosses her arms. "You did it just fine."
He purses his lips, biting back whatever he was about to say. "I deserved that."
"Oh, good, we agree." He shoots her a frustrated look, but she doesn't relent. "I'm allowed to be mad at you."
"I wish you were mad at me! I'd rather you be mad at me than… freeze me out!" She opens her mouth to protest this characterization of her actions, but he beats her to speaking. "I know you're right. You're my best friend and I lost sight of that and I took you for granted and—I did—" he shakes his head. "Please believe me."
"It's not that simple," she says, biting her lip.
"How can I make it simple?"
"It doesn't work like that!"
"Then tell me what it'll take to make you believe it!"
"I don't know!" It explodes out of her, taking both of them by surprise before she angrily bats away her hair from her face. "I want to just accept it, okay? Do you think I like feeling this way? Do you think I want to be mad at you? That I don't want to see you? I think the bigger problem is that I want to see you, all the time, and you're not there!"
"I'm here now. I'm right here, I'm going to fix this, and I'm going to make it right again."
"And what are you going to say when this happens again?" Because it will. Because it did.
"It isn't going to happen again."
"You don't know that!"
"I won't let it happen again. I got caught up with—with everything, but I hate that I hurt you and I would never hurt you like that again. I won't."
"You can't promise that," she says tiredly. "If you do this again, it's not you that gets hurt here. It's me and maybe I'm just being selfish, but I don't really want to go through that again."
"You're my best friend," he pleads. "I can't lose you."
Clarke breathes out in exasperation. It's not fair. It's not fair that he can just show up and say all these things and expect her to forgive him. It's not fair that she already knows she's going to. "You're not going to lose me. I'm mad at you and I don't believe you, but I'm not going to cut you out."
"Then give me a chance," he says, "to make it up to you."
Crossing her arms, she takes a long look at him. The fact of the matter is, she knows he means it. It's up to her whether or not she believes it. She doesn't know if she does, but she wants to. Maybe that's enough.
"Fine," she eventually yields. "But I'm still mad at you."
"You've been mad at me before."
"Yeah, but not like this."
He nods solemnly, silently, properly chastised. It makes her feel awful. "I don't want to be mad at you."
"I understand why." Running a hand through his hair, he adds, "Fuck, I'm mad at myself."
"Don't worry. You could always bribe yourself with cupcakes," she says with a raised eyebrow.
"I wasn't trying to bribe you," Bellamy says defensively. "It's your birthday and I already ruined our plans, so I think cupcakes was the least I could do."
Truthfully, she hadn't touched the box of cupcakes since she'd received them. She'd set them down on the coffee table and engaged in a one-sided staring contest with it. Tentatively, Clarke walks over and taps on the box. "Are there really 21 cupcakes in there?"
"I counted them three times."
"Oh." She opens the box a crack, spying one with perfect, pink frosting. "Where'd you get them?"
"That place we got Madi's cake that one time."
She perks up a little. "I love that place."
His mouth curves into a smile. "I know."
Clarke hesitates for a second but then opens the box fully. The cupcakes are beautiful, each of them different, and it makes her smile. Before she looks back up at him, she tries to school it back to a neutral expression. "You can sit down."
"Are you sure?" He shifts on his feet.
"Yes." She motions for him to sit on the couch, but she stays standing. "But only because you brought me cupcakes."
"The girl who worked there said it might do the trick."
"Well, she should probably get a raise." Unbidden, and against her best effort, a smile creeps onto her face.
"I'll go back and let the manager know," he says with a slight laugh, the sound of which physically breaks their standstill. After a moment of silence, he gestures towards the door, "Sorry about coming in here like that."
"It's all right. You didn't break the door, so you're in the clear."
"What if I had?"
"Then I wouldn't be sharing my cupcakes with you."
"You aren't sharing them now."
She walks over and plucks one out of the box. "Spoke too soon."
He takes the cupcake doubtfully, seemingly waiting for her to take it back. When she doesn't, he bites intoit. "This was your present."
"I can't eat them all by myself."
"You don't have to eat them all in a day."
"Just enjoy the cupcake, Bellamy." He chuckles, more to himself than anything. The air around them feels weird, stilted, but it also feels like the awkwardness is fading away, albeit slowly. She still feels a little adrift, but the deep fury resting in her bones is fading. Bellamy interrupts her thoughts. "Clarke?"
"I really, I really am sorry I left you like that." And then, because he must've thought she'd somehow forgotten, "At the restaurant. I ruined everything."
"Yeah, you did," Clarke agrees, taking in the shame that settles across his features. "I kept thinking that you were just late or you were stuck in traffic. I kept making all these excuses for you. You should've just told me you didn't want to hang out with me."
"It wasn't that." He picks at the cupcake wrapper. "I was really looking forward to it. And then last minute things—came up and I fucked up."
She's not going to ask. She's not going to listen to him talk about moving away with Echo. "I called you and you never answered."
"I must've been driving, I don't know. I didn't really see them until I got home. From your place later." He hastily adds, "Not that that makes up for it. I just genuinely didn't see them."
"Okay." She looks down at her hands, wishing an apology made it all better. "I only went to the party because I just wanted to do something. And it was fun."
His tone darkens a little. "You could've gotten hurt."
"But I didn't." He opens his mouth to object. "I'm not going to go to another one. The morning after was enough reason not to." She grimaces at the memory of puking into her toilet.
"If I hadn't abandoned you like that," his voice grows a little frustrated, "then you wouldn't have been put in that kind of situation. God, I'm sorry, I'm so—"
"I don't think that'll help anything," she says, not unkindly. "And honestly, I really want to put that whole… fiasco in the past." Thinking about it only dredged up something she'd much rather forget. "So since it's my birthday, let's make a deal. I accept your apology, but you've got to stop bringing it up."
Though begrudgingly, he agrees nonetheless. "All right."
"Shake on it?" She extends her hand and he grasps it, shaking it seriously. His hand engulfs hers. Clarke retracts it first, annoyed that just that brief touch has such an effect on her. Lapsing into silence, with only the sound of the ticking clock behind them, Bellamy's sudden laughter startles her. "What?"
"I was just thinking about time we went mini golfing and you got your ball stuck in the windmill—"
"And they wouldn't let me get it out?"
"So you had to use another one, but then it wouldn't stop rolling around enough for you to putt it."
"That ball was cursed!"
"Then why didn't it happen to me?"
"You cursed it!" He laughs louder at that and Clarke joins him, unable to contain it any longer. It's not even that funny of a story, but somehow it is. Through the waning of her laughter, she says, "That was really fun."
"It was. It was also the last time you thought seriously about becoming a golfer."
"I thought it'd be in my genetics. My dad was so good."
"Your dad was good at actual golf. It's gotta be different." She lets out an offended gasp.
"I'm good at actual golf!" Bellamy shoots her a look. "I was good that one day," she amends. "What even made you think about that?"
"I don't know," he says. "It just popped into my head."
"It'd be fun to go again," she admits. "We used to go all the time in high school."
"Why don't we?" He says suddenly, all excitement that he has to temper when she looks at him. "I mean, only if you want. You said it'd be fun and it's your birthday, so—"
"You'd want to go?"
"I really want to."
"Because," he says, with certainty in his voice, "it'd be fun. And you should have fun and I've got a lot to make up for."
"Well…" Clarke says, drawing out the word, even though her mind is already made up, "I'd have to change first."
"I can wait."
Her grin is wide by the time she makes it to her room, turning around so she's facing him again. It would be fun. "I'm definitely going to win this time."
"Ah, delusions. I wonder what that's like."
"How are you so bad at this?" Bellamy marvels, undeterred by the glare she turns on him. He's got his golf club perched on his shoulders and it's actually unfair and unbelievable how good he looks like this. She's not going to focus on it, but it bears mentioning.
Her anger has all but gone by now, washed away by shared jokes and gentle mocking. Their talk earlier, combined with the subsequent car ride to the mini golf course, did most of the work necessary to dull the anger. I's so easy to fall back into their friendship. She doesn't tell him that she keeps thinking about when it'll fall apart.
"I'm sorry I don't spend the wealth of free time I have practicing how to play mini golf," she grumbles, lining up her club and squinting ahead.
"Maybe you should," he says, coming closer until he's standing next to her.
"If you're trying to intimidate me, it's not going to work."
"What's with the suspicion? I'm already way ahead of you."
"For now—" Clark cuts herself off, nearly jumping as Bellamy crowds behind her, his hands going over hers on the club. Remarkably, her voice is even when she asks, "What are you doing?"
"Taking pity on your golf skills." His voice is close to her ear and she's all too aware of the way his body fits against hers. It was one thing before she told him about her feelings, it was another thing entirely after that.
She lets him guide her through a putt and as soon as the ball starts rolling, she extracts herself from his hold. From his face, he definitely knows why that happened. "I'm beating you fair and square, Bellamy," she says, tucking her hair behind her ear and hoping her cheeks aren't engulfed in heat.
"Right, uh, remember this when I set a record score." He busies himself with looking at the floor and after a moment, moves towards the flag instead, placing his club down. "We're going to hold up the line."
"What line? There's no one else here."
"Metaphorically, Clarke. Now take your shot." It goes in. "Maybe there's hope for you yet."
She tucks the earlier incident away. "Don't underestimate me."
"I never do."
Bellamy comes back the next day and they ransack her mom's liquor collection. He's been staying with the Greens; she knows because Monty's mom had forced him to bring over some food for her to share, so he's nearby the entire time. She doesn't ask him what Echo's doing, beyond an initial inquiry, and he'd said that she was working. She's clearly not here, which is a huge, and somewhat guilty, source of relief. The moment she keeps expecting, the instance she thinks will come, when he'll lose interest, doesn't come.
Clarke claims the hundred dollar scotch, while he sticks with wine, but by the end of the night, they've switched. They put on some terrible reality show and heckle the screen. She takes extra care to keep her hands to herself, just in case her brain has any funny ideas. When he crashes on the couch, she drags herself to her room.
On Saturday, they don't do much but complain about their hangovers. Netflix plays in the background, though they aren't paying much attention to it. Bellamy pretends to be working on a paper, but the last she saw, he was going through Spotify and humming to himself. Laying across the couch, she's sleepy enough that she's not minding her words.
He looks up from his place on the floor, turning his head slightly. "What's up?"
"I'm going to miss this."
"Hanging out like this." At this, Bellamy shifts his body entirely to face her.
"Are you planning on not hanging out with me anymore?" He asks, clearly trying to go for nonchalant but not succeeding at it. She smiles.
"No plans for that, but…"
"It's going to be different when we go back to campus," she says, moving so she's more comfortable on the couch. His eyes never leave hers and it's still disarming.
"Well, we won't be at your mom's house, that's true. Unless we take a day trip, but I think your mom might object."
"I mean," she says, rolling her eyes, "it won't be just the two of us anymore."
His face grows serious. "I told you I'm not going to fuck this up again and I meant it, Clarke."
"It's not…" Clarke begins, although it is partly that. She's been trying not to think about what it means for them when they go back to school, but when she has nothing to distract her, she sometimes slips into it. "Okay, I know. But you're graduating soon too. And you've got plans, like to move away and—"
"Hey, hey," Bellamy interjects, "I haven't made any plans."
She gives him a look. "So you missed my birthday plans for nothing?"
"No, I mean, yes, I saw some places, but it's not like I'm moving there."
"Have you, um, been thinking about moving lately?"
"Me? Not really."
"Then," her eyebrows furrow, "I don't know, why'd you go?"
"I thought…" he scratches at his beard, "I thought it might be something I wanted."
Clarke tenses up. "Was it?" A chorus of no no no no's invade her thoughts. "I mean, you still want to go to grad school, don't you?"
"That's the eventual plan."
"So DC would be a great place for it. They have all the museums and the best archives and I've heard a lot of great things about the programs—"
"I think you're getting ahead of yourself here," he says, laughing. "That's years off. I'm not ready to leave Arkadia yet."
"Okay." She bites the inside of her cheek in thought. "What are you going to do in the meantime?"
"I don't know," he says simply. "To finish the semester and not have to think about school for a few months. Then who knows?"
"That isn't like you," she says, because it isn't. Bellamy's always been someone who's had a firm map of his future. He'd wanted to teach ever since his senior year of high school.
A melancholy sets in. "I feel like there's so much I don't know about you now."
His responding look is an appraisal and consideration in one. "I could say the same about you."
"Nothing's different about me."
"I didn't see you for an entire year."
"That I spent studying and missing you—guys."
"That doesn't mean I don't want to know about it."
"It's all really boring," she tries.
"So was my year," he shoots back.
She snorts. "Right."
"You know what the best way to fix this is?" When she nods, he continues. "Ask me about it. I'm not that much different."
Clarke stays quiet for a long few seconds before she nods. There's a lot she wants to ask, a lot of questions that immediately pop into her mind, but they seem too heavy for this. Maybe for another day. Maybe for a day she'll be okay hearing the answers. The question she decides on is, "How long did it take to grow that beard?"
His resulting laugh is loud, surprised, and boisterous. It warms her to hear it. "You wanna guess?"
"You've got no faith in me, do you?"
"Of course I do. Just not in this."
There remains a part of her that expects Bellamy to go back to the new normal. It's not fair to him, obviously, because he'd spent so much time telling her it wouldn't happen, but as an irrational fear, she can't exactly control it. Especially with spring break ending, she's just waiting for the first sign that spring break was spring break and coming back to school means reverting back to what she's had to get used to.
It doesn't come. Bellamy brings her lunch when he can; he makes every study session; he stops by her place after classes; their Saturdays are back to normal. But more than that, it's their conversations that return to normal. She had never really known how much their conversations had suffered until she stops tensing at the possibility of him bringing up Echo or casually dropping in something new about him that she doesn't know.
(There's still a topic they avoid, but if she gets her best friend back at the expense of never talking about her confession and its implications, then it's not really a hard decision.)
March bleeds into April fast, bringing better weather but also heralding Clarke's annual spring sinus cold. No matter what she does to prevent it, and she's even tried the tips that are obviously a scam, it comes without fail. Everyone practically sets their calendar by it. Start of April, Clarke gets sick, moans about it for a week, ends up cleaning out the CVS sinus medicine aisle, and it goes away after about two weeks of misery.
This year, it hits right on schedule, so after a hellishly long class during which she spent most of the 75 minutes trying not to blow her nose in the back of the room, she drags herself to CVS. Focused on getting in and out as fast as she can, she's a little brusque when she rattles off an, "Excuse me," to the person blocking her way. "Oh," she says a second later, when Echo turns around and raises an eyebrow at her.
"Great," Echo says, crossing her arms. "Clarke." She pronounces her name with an unmistakable air of distaste.
"Echo," she returns, trying to scoot around her so that she can grab her medicine and go. Echo doesn't budge. "Can you move a little, I just need to—"
"Have you seen Bellamy lately?"
Taken aback by her question, Clarke edges away from her and gives her an odd look. "Yeah, I saw him last night at Grounders."
"Of course you did."
"All right, then, if you could just—"
Echo cuts her off. "Look. When you see Bellamy, tell him he can't avoid this forever."
Her eyes narrow in response. "Why don't you tell him yourself?"
"If he was talking to me, I wouldn't have to ask you," Echo retorts.
"I don't know what's going on here, but whatever it is, I don't want to be in the middle of it."
"You could've fooled me."
Clarke narrows her eyes. "Excuse me?"
"Never mind. I don't have time for this," Echo says, stepping to the side. She knocks her shoulder into Clarke's as she walks away. "Just let him know that he'll have to talk to me sooner or later."
"Like I said, tell him yourself," Clarke demands, her words losing any impact when she sees that Echo's already halfway across the store. Grumbling to herself, she tries not to puzzle over whatever that was. Instead, she grabs her medicine and goes.
"Something weird happened today," Clarke says later, curled up on her couch, while Bellamy's in her kitchen getting soup for her. His soup is as famous as it gets within their circle of friends and it's also the only thing that ever makes her feel better during her cold. It's probably just a placebo effect, but it tastes so good that she pretends otherwise. He'd shown up earlier with a thermos in hand and insisted on giving it to her. She hadn't complained.
"Yeah? How weird are we talking? People putting ketchup on eggs or Murphy getting a soul?"
"I think your scale's off because both of those are equally on the weirdest side of the scale."
"For the last time, ketchup on eggs is not as bad as you think it is."
"You can't see me right now, but I'm—" She sneezes in the middle of her sentence, once, twice, five times in a row, because Clarke's one of those people who can't just sneeze once and be done with it. "Never mind," she says, sinking into the couch and groaning as she pulls her blanket tighter over her.
Bellamy reappears a minute later, kneeling down next to the couch and placing a bowl on the coffee table. He reaches up and covers her forehead with the back of his palm, his face creased with worry. Her face heats up with the contact and shakes herself away from his touch. Every time she thinks she's getting better at this, she's cruelly reminded that she's not.
"Don't die," he says softly, retracting his hand.
"No promises," she mumbles back, and as if on cue, she sneezes a couple of times.
"Okay, sit up," Bellamy instructs as she blinks through her itchy eyes. He hands her the bowl of soup and a spoon. "Eat this."
The bowl is warm between her hands. Foregoing the spoon, she sips at the soup, almost sighing with relief when she tastes how good it is. Just another thing she'd missed while she was gone. "I hope you don't mind me using you for your soup."
"As long as you're honest about it," he says easily, moving to take the space next to her. "How did you survive this last year?"
"I tried a bunch of Korean home remedies and when that didn't work, suffered through it."
"You must've been cursed by a witch at some point."
"In my past life, probably."
"That's the only explanation that makes sense," he says, laughing. "Oh, right, what was the weird thing that happened today?"
After a gulp of soup, she answers, "I ran into Echo. She was… she said I had to tell you that you couldn't avoid her forever or something like that. I thought that was weird."
Bellamy pinches the bridge of his nose, instantly irritated. "She shouldn't have dragged you into this."
"Into what? What's going on?"
He heaves a sigh. "We've been… fighting. It's nothing."
"But you're avoiding her," she points out. He doesn't deny it, just shrugs. After a period of silence, Clarke speaks up again, hesitant. "I know it's… weird," which is the first time she's said anything about her confession, "but you can talk to me about it. I mean, if you want to."
Gratitude flashes across his face, though it takes him a little bit to actually start talking. "Echo wants to move when we're done with school. That's why I was in DC looking for places, because she wanted us to move there—" Clarke suppresses her instinctual protest, "—and I told her that I had no plans to move, which led to an argument and she thinks me not wanting to move somewhere where I have no job or any idea of what I'd do there is me not committing to her." Bellamy shakes his head. "Obviously, I said it wasn't true, but she said—she said some things that are hard to take back so yeah, I'm avoiding her. I'm sorry she got you involved in it."
"That's silly," she eventually says, her lips ghosting over the brim of the bowl before setting it down on the table. "Of course you're committed to her."
"I don't know," he says, more to himself. "It's been impossible to have a conversation with her since then."
"Well, you can't avoid her forever."
"You don't know that."
"I've tried that before and it doesn't ever pan out."
"I'll try harder then."
"You can't avoid her forever."
He sighs, loud and heavy and dramatic. "I know. I'll talk to her at some point. I will!" Bellamy adds when she gives him a skeptical look. "Sorry, though. For making you listen to that."
She shakes her head, denies his apology. "We're friends, Bellamy. We should be able to talk about that stuff, no matter—yeah." Her fingers twist around her blanket.
Bellamy turns to look at her, but he says nothing. His eyes stay on her face, searching, scanning, finding. He reaches over and brushes her hair away from her face, tucks it behind her ear. She's fairly sure she stops breathing. "Clarke—"
She sneezes and sneezes and sneezes, effectively cutting through the spell of that moment. Bellamy's frozen, except for the blinking of his eyes.
"Well," he says, backing away slightly. "If I catch this cold, I know who to blame."
"I'm so sorry," she says mournfully, grabbing a tissue and wiping her nose with it. "You should probably go before that actually happens."
He laughs and moves to the other end of the couch. "What if I just sit over here?"
She already misses his proximity, but it's a good idea for numerous reasons. "Then you can't blame me if you get sick."
Bellamy breaks up with Echo a week later.
Clarke absolutely does not let herself think about what it means.
"That was fun. It's nice when we do something you're terrible at," she giggles as she opens her apartment door. They've just come from bowling with their friends and while it had been no one's first idea of fun, it had turned out to be fun. Clarke's silently grateful to Harper for suggesting it, even if it had started out as a joke, because in the month since Bellamy's breakup, she's tried to think of things to do to distract him from moping about it. Her movie collection is dwindling fast. But he doesn't seem to be too distraught over it, or if he is, he isn't expressing it where she can see it. Still, it worries her, and as his friend, she wants to help him through it.
If it alleviates some of the guilt she feels about her happiness in this post-relationship world, then that's a bonus too.
"Did you plan this with Harper? You can tell me the truth." He has his hand on the small of her back, leading her inside her place. She wouldn't think twice about this gesture, except he's been like this all night, close and touchy. A hand on her knee, a squeeze of her waist, an arm draped around her shoulders, his face close to her neck. It's a lot for her to handle, especially in this post-relationship world.
"A mastermind never reveals her secrets."
"That's not suspicious at all."
"You're just paranoid."
"It's not paranoia when it's true."
She rolls her eyes and starts heading towards her room. Over her shoulder, she calls back, "How certain are you that I have this mythical book you won't accept you've lost?"
"I haven't lost it, Clarke."
"I don't remember you leaving it here at all."
"It was that time you thought pulling an all-nighter to finish your essay was a good idea and then you couldn't stay up so you made me come over to keep you company—"
"Easily convinced me to come over to keep you company. Better?"
"Yes. Start making the popcorn?"
"Second cabinet to the right?"
While Bellamy busies himself in her kitchen, Clarke heads into her room. By the time he's done, she's looking through her closet for his book.
From her doorway, she hears, "Why would it be in your closet?"
"I'm actually just using this as an opportunity to organize my closet."
"I should've suspected." She hears him sit down in her desk chair. "No book?"
Clarke pokes her head out and points to her bed. "You were right. Found it mixed with my books." She doesn't have to look at him to know he's got a smug look on his face.
"I had a feeling."
"You're insufferable," she says, hauling a box out of the closet.
"I've heard that before."
"We've actually formed a club where, among many other topics, we discuss how insufferable you are."
"Yeah? You do? What else do you say?"
"That you're a bit of a know-it-all."
"And that you're too much of a worrier."
"I worry just enough."
"That you shouldn't be trusted to make major facial hair decisions without a consensus vote."
"I told you I'm shaving it off soon," he complains.
"Soon like tomorrow? Soon like you'll let me do it right now?"
"Soon like if you keep this up, it'll be never."
"Fine, I'll stop bothering you," she huffs dramatically. Bellamy rolls his eyes at her, which means she has to stick her tongue out at him. They're very mature people. "I just think you look better without it."
He blinks at her. "You do?"
"Yeah, I mean, you can't deprive everyone of your jawline—"
"Have you been thinking about this a lot, Clarke?" He's got a smirk on his face now, half-smug, half-delighted.
"The people want to know."
"People named Clarke Griffin?"
"I believe she's one of them."
He laughs a little and she grins at him, quick and easy. Oh yeah, and flirting. That'd happened a lot more lately as well. And then, like always, guilt prods her to a curiosity and a concern. A pause, and then, "Hey, you're doing okay, aren't you?"
"I don't care that much about bowling, Clarke."
"About the other thing."
"You can say breakup. I'm not going to fall apart." She blushes.
"No one would blame you if you did."
"As nice as that is, I really am okay." She doesn't buy it, but he doesn't look like he's lying. She'd know if he was. "It was the right decision. And honestly, I should've made it earlier."
Her hands open up the box in front of her, mostly so she has something to do. Absently, she notes that it's the junk she forgot to unpack from Korea. "Why do you say that?"
Contemplative, he flips through a few pages of his book before answering. "I realized a few things and it didn't feel right anymore. But then I got scared."
There's too many questions that immediately pop up, the words racing each other to the tip of her tongue. She pulls them back at the very last second and asks none of them, because what purpose would What did you realize? and What are you scared of? serve? Instead, she nods like she understands. "Breakups are hard."
"At least yours was mild."
"I wouldn't say that."
"You didn't have to find a new place to live or find out that you were the other woman." Not that she's speaking from experience or anything. Bellamy rolls his eyes and drops his book back onto her desk.
"She dumped her coffee on me," he says, both of them cringing at the same time.
"Was it still hot?"
"See? Mild." They share a smile before Clarke returns to the box, busying herself with its contents, rifling through all the knicknacks she'd picked up from her year abroad. There's an alarming number of socks in here. Her eyes catch on something, a book. "Oh my god," she says, pulling it out of the box.
"I completely forgot about this."
"Forgot about what?"
Leaping up, she bounds over to Bellamy and presents the book to him. "Your souvenir."
"But you already got me something."
"I know, but those were things I got for everyone else too, and," Clarke begins to flush with embarrassment, "I saw this and I don't know, it just really reminded me of you. I mean, I kept seeing stuff and having it remind me of you so I got it and now it's probably stupid—"
"Clarke," he says, taking the book from her and opening it. It's a collection of paintings that, when she first found it, tucked in the back of this bookstore in Seoul, she'd idly flipped through, but then her eye had caught on a page. It had reminded her so much of Bellamy and from that point forward, each painting in the book only reinforced the association. He flips through it now, his eyes carefully scanning each page. He looks up. "You thought of me?"
"Like that's a surprise?" Then, softer, she adds, "I thought of you all the time."
He sets the book aside and stands up, his eyes intent and set on her. He's in her space now and Clarke doesn't back away. "You did?"
"You don't know how many times I wished I could just… fly home so I could see you."
"I," his voice catches, drops, "I wish you had."
Her throat is dry all of a sudden. "Did you," she falters, nervous, "did you think of me?"
His mouth is on hers practically the second she finishes speaking, his body crowding against hers, his hands holding her face. She squeaks her surprise, taking a second to fully comprehend what's happening while Bellamy keeps on kissing her. When her hands slide up to hold onto him, one clutching the hair at the nape of his neck and the other pressed tight on his back, urging him closer, she stops thinking about it and just kisses back, frenzied and frantic, deep and wanting. He deepens the kiss at the same time he pushes her back towards her bed, fisting her hair in his hand, and she nearly trips over her own feet to pull him back with her, falling onto the mattress with a giggle that's swallowed almost immediately by his mouth.
She whimpers when he breaks the kiss to ghost his lips against her jaw, down her neck, along her collarbone. "Bellamy," she breathes, rushing to pull his shirt up, to get her hands on his skin. Clarke scratches her nails against his stomach and he groans against her ear, a sound so low and deep it makes her buck her hips up against him.
"Bellamy," she says again, squirming under him while he's trying to take her shirt off. "I want—I want—"
"You've gotta stop moving like that," he says, pulling back, breathing hard. His eyes are dark, darker still when he sees how her chest is heaving, how a mark is blooming on her neck. The remnants of her lipstick is smudged onto his face but before she can laugh about it, he kisses her again, dirty and insistent. It really is everything she's dreamed of, so many times, from the way he kisses (alternating between hard and certain and soft and teasing) to the way he touches her (fingers skimming along her skin, light and airy, waiting for her to say yes), and she gets lost in just kissing him. Her fingers tangle in his hair and she lets him press her down into her sheets and she can't get enough of him; Bellamy so obviously knows this because he shifts his body, aligning them closer, pulling her hips against his so she can rock into him.
His right hand slides down her body, slips past the waistband of her jeans, and her eyes fly open. "Bellamy," she says for the third time that night. "Stop."
He stops, his eyes confused as he pulls his hand and his face away from her. "Did I hurt you?" He asks, voice husky.
Her head's so muddled it takes a few seconds to properly respond, but she shakes her head. "What are we doing?"
He frowns. "We're…"
"We can't do this," she says, panicky, trying to pull herself from under him. Bellamy moves off her, sitting at the end of her bed, and he stares at her. "I don't want it to—" she touches her lips, "I don't want it to happen like this."
"What are you talking about?" His words are slow and deliberate, like he's trying to understand them himself.
"I don't want to be your rebound!" Clarke cries out, frustrated that she has to explain it and upset with herself for letting it get this far. "I don't want you to do this because you feel like you're, like you're obligated to or something!"
Incredulous, Bellamy says, "Obligated by what?"
"By my feelings for you!"
"Are you serious?" He lets out an angry breath of air and stomps off her bed. His hair sticks up all over the place and it'd be an amusing sight if she found anything amusing about this. She's too busy wondering how badly she fucked up. Bellamy paces around and then stops, his voice even and carefully controlled. "Did it ever occur to you that I have feelings for you too? That I never stopped having feelings for you? That I've loved you practically since I've known you and since the days when all we did was argue with each other and when you were with Finn and Lexa and when you left?"
No, she thinks.
"No," she says, helpless and desperate and honest. "No, how could I? You moved on so fast, so easily and you were so caught up in your relationship that you forgot about me! No, of course I didn't think you did!"
"I apologized for that."
"It still happened," Clarke snaps. "And while all I thought about, all I could think about was you, there you were, always around her, always with her—you made plans for the summer together, you thought about moving in with her!" She's on her knees now, nearly eye level with him as she throws everything in his face. It suddenly occurs to her that this is the first time they've genuinely talked about this, about feelings and everything in between, and it's a trainwreck, a collision of everything she's bottled up and been too scared to say.
"Because you weren't here," he shouts. "You were gone, Clarke. I thought you didn't feel the same way about me so yes, I tried to move on, I tried to convince myself that I didn't need you, that I was over you—"
"I wasn't gone forever! I came back!"
He throws his hands up. "What was I supposed to do? Wait for you? On the off chance that you might like me back?"
"No!" The anger leaves her, falling away as she falls back onto her heels. "No. You didn't do anything wrong. I don't know what I'm thinking." She closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths. From the way her bed dips down next to her, she knows Bellamy's sitting down.
"I know I fucked things up and there's no way to change that now," he says, "but you wouldn't be a rebound. I've spent more time being in love with you than not."
"Bellamy," she says, "you just got out of a relationship that lasted over a year. That's what a rebound is."
He shakes his head, his voice growing more impassioned as he talks. He gets like that sometimes and it's always been one of her favorite things about him. "The way I feel about you is completely different and it always has been and I love you, I want to be with you, I want you—"
Tiredly, Clarke cuts him off, even as his words worm their way into her heart. "You don't know what you want. You literally broke up with your girlfriend thirty six days ago."
"It's not like I haven't thought about this, Clarke. I was in love with you before you left and I'm still in love with you now." There's a sharp intake of breath and it takes her a second to realize it's from her. Her eyes snap to his and she can't look away. Bellamy continues. "And when you were gone, I felt like, like I had to move on because there was nothing else I could do so I spent so much time trying to prove to myself and to, to everyone else, to you that I was over you, but I wasn't and all it did was just make things worse."
She runs these words over, and over, and over, lifted by the sound of them, rocked by the unbelievability of them. It doesn't make any sense. He's still talking, the words floating around distantly until she actually registers what they are. "I know what I want," Bellamy's saying, eyes on her, "and I just want you."
"No, you don't," she hears herself voicing. "You think you do. That's a big difference."
"I think I know what I'm feeling more than you would."
"Yeah, and I think that you're lonely and I'm here so you've decided that it's what you want." Jumping up from her bed, she turns a glare on him. "I wasn't what you wanted a year ago, or six months ago, or a month ago but now, I'm suddenly everything you want?"
"Now—okay. That's what you think this is?" From his place on her bed, he looks incredulous at her. A spark of regret lights in her.
"I'm just going by what I've seen."
"I thought," he clears his throat, "I thought we'd figured out a way to be on the same page again." So had she.
"I guess not," she says.
"I guess not."
Her comforter is rumpled behind him, her sheets in a similar state. Just fifteen minutes ago, they had been there, her body pressed against his, his mouth on hers, her hands in his hair, his leg between hers. Thinking about it brings a flush to her cheeks and Clarke has to scramble to distract him from noticing it. "Maybe you should go."
"Maybe I should go," he says at the same time.
Of course they'd be on the same page for this. Drawing her arms tighter, she can only nod, watching as he gets up and heads towards the door. She trails after him, running over the millions of words she wants or, or should, or could say to him.
They stop at her front door and stay there for a few seconds, shuffling between feet. Finally, Bellamy leans in and presses a kiss to her cheek. She almost pulls him back. "I'll see you later, okay?"
"Okay." Clarke runs a hand through her hair, combing it through. "Text me when you get home?"
The popcorn he made is cold by the time she remembers it's ready.
Raven's graduation party is a bonfire by the beach and she's been planning it for as long as Clarke's known her. She's pretty sure that Raven spent more time finalizing these details than studying for her finals. Whatever the case, the invites were sent out two weeks into fall semester and it's finally here.
Unfortunately, Clarke's own excitement for the event isn't at its normal level, mostly because it'll be the first time she's actually seeing Bellamy since That Night. To be fair, they've seen each other, crossing paths outside the library, running into each other at the student union, once in a parking lot, but it's been so brief it hardly counts. Finals week had arrived so quickly that all she could really handle was one disaster at a time and at the time, the future of her academic career outweighed her mess of a love life. And every time she's had free time, the thought of texting him to do something, to hang out keeps fizzling out into nothing. It's not that they haven't talked because they have; it's more like they haven't talked about what they should be talking about. They're the requisite amount of awkward around each other and they're still friends, if this kind of friendship took into account (1) makeout, (2) confessions of feelings, and (1) fight that wasn't really resolved. Believe it or not, it's hard to be friends with someone when all you can do is think about how nice his mouth is. But then again, she's had those thoughts for years and she's managed. It's just worse now because she knows what it's like to kiss him and she knows what it's like to hear him say that he loves her.
She really wants to believe it.
Understandably, she's nervous about seeing him again. Raven is absolutely unsympathetic.
"Just go talk to him," she says, rolling her eyes before she socks someone in the arm and engages him in a conversation.
"He's clearly busy," Clarke says back, pretending like she isn't looking in his general direction. Bellamy's surrounded by a group of people, engrossed in conversation. He's a graduating senior too, and someone that people just flock to, so everyone's been coming up to him and monopolizing his time. Not that she cares.
He catches her eye and waves. She waves back, shy. "Just do it," Raven interjects, finished with her previous conversation. Clarke turns her head back towards her.
"Look at all those people," she tries. "It'd be rude of me to cut in."
"Please, as soon as you walk up to him, he'll leave everyone else."
"That's not true."
"I miss the days when you guys weren't aware you were in love with each other."
"He isn't in love with me, Raven," she explains, like it's not the fifth time she's had to.
"That's not what he says," Raven singsongs.
"He just broke up with his girlfriend—"
"Two months ago is hardly a just situation."
"One and a half, you mean, and he just got out of a really serious relationship, so I don't really trust what he says," Clarke says, her gaze involuntarily drifting back to Bellamy. He looks even better than he did a few minutes ago.
"Clarke." Raven's voice is stern, in a way that she rarely is. "I'm going to say this because you're my friend and I want you to be happy and also it's my party and I want you to talk to him already, but sometimes," she shrugs, "you get in your head too much."
"I do not—" But Raven's right. Spontaneity isn't one of her best qualities.
"Yes you do. The guy loves you. Everyone's known this for years now and he's said the same thing. So just talk to him."
"Not everyone is as certain as you," she scowls, staring into her cup of Coke.
"That's because you think way too much." Raven taps her temple and gives her a knowing look. "He keeps looking over here, by the way."
Her head swivels around. "Really?" Raven cackles, nearly doubling over as Clarke smacks her arm.
"Go talk to him."
There really is no dissuading Raven Reyes once she's set her mind on something. "Fine," she relents.
"Thank you. The bedroom towards the back is all yours."
"We're not going to do anything," Clarke says tersely, gripping her cup as she finds him again.
Raven waves a hand in her face. "Just in case! Now if you'll excuse me," she pulls on a guy's arm and stops him in his tracks, "Zeke and I have unfinished business."
"Please feel free to take that bedroom."
"You're so generous, Clarke."
"Consider it my other graduation gift."
Raven laughs and pulls Zeke away, leaving Clarke to stand there alone. Taking a deep breath (or two), she finishes off her drink and grips the plastic cup. It's kind of an anchor as she makes her way towards Bellamy, who peels off from the group to meet her halfway.
Maybe Raven had a point.
"So... did I just see Raven with Zeke?"
"Yeah. They have unfinished business," Clarke confirms, adding air quotes where necessary. "For the record, we should probably avoid the house."
"Thanks for the heads up," he says, flashing her a grin that makes her heart flutter. He glances down at the cup in her hand. "Uh, what are you drinking? I'll get you some more."
"Coke, but it's fine."
"Yeah," she says, swirling the last bit of the drink around in the cup. "I need to be sober for this."
His forehead creases. "Sober for... what?"
Gesturing towards a more private area of the beach, farther from the bonfire, she asks, "Can we, I don't know, take a walk or something?" He nods and lets her take the lead. Once they're sufficiently far from any prying ears, not that she thinks anyone would be paying attention, given how drunk mostly everyone is, she takes a deep breath. "So, it turns out I think too much."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, Raven says so and you know how she always thinks she's right."
He chuckles slightly. "Yeah, she's annoying like that." It's clear that he's trying to figure out where this conversation is going to, and what kind of tone it'll take.
"Yeah, well, Raven might be onto something here. That night…" Clarke could cringe recollecting it, "I wasn't fair to you—"
Bellamy cuts in, rushing to speak. "No, Clarke, you were, it's fine. I was the one who wasn't fair, I pushed you and I didn't listen to you—"
"No, Bellamy, that's not true." She'd been the one who had completely dismissed his feelings.
"Yes, it is," he insists, apologetic. "I didn't know how much I hadn't given you a reason to believe what I was saying."
She traces the rim of the cup, struggles with the right words. "It's not that I don't want to believe you. If it was about that, I'd believe you immediately. But I don't know," she peeks up at him and loses her train of thought for a second, "um, I guess, I don't know, I just spent a lot of time telling myself that you didn't feel the same way, that you didn't like me like that, so it's hard to not default to that." And then because she can't keep the bitterness out of her voice, "Plus you were so happy with, you know, with her, it's like everything is telling me that it's not true. Which, of course, is so not fair to you. Hence, the whole thinking too much thing."
His eyes squeeze shut briefly, pained. "I made it worse." She doesn't want him to take that on, but she doesn't know if she can deny it either.
Instead, Clarke quietly says, "Do you really love me?"
"I really love you," he replies, the simplicity of his statement making its own case for believability. "I think I've loved you ever since you made me pull over and then proceeded to yell at me for derailing your student council meeting."
She smacks his arm. "You were not in love with me in high school. Don't rewrite history."
"It's been a while, though." Bellamy brushes her hair back. "It's always been you, Clarke. No matter how hard I try to deny it. I only want you."
"Me too," she chokes out, unable to run from it anymore. "I love you. Obviously, obviously, I do…" Her voice trails off, biting down on what she almost says.
He already knows. "You need time."
Guiltily, she nods. "I don't want us to rush into this, not just because you just got out of a relationship but," a pause, almost hysterical, "you're my best friend, Bellamy. I could be fine with you dating someone else as long as you were happy, but—I couldn't handle not being your best friend."
"Clarke, Clarke, Princess," His nickname rolls off his tongue easily, even though it's been years since he'd last used it. It calms her down instantly. "I get it and you're right. I'm sorry about everything, about all the shit we could've avoided if this hadn't happened, and if you want to wait, we can wait." His hands frame her face now, his palms calloused but warm. He draws closer, making sure to keep his eyes on her.
"You want to?"
"Yeah, it's probably a good idea," he acquiesces. "Besides, we clearly have some things to figure out before we can figure out what this is. I want you to be able to believe me when I say that I love you."
"I do believe you," Clarke protests.
"But only partly."
"That's a challenge. I like challenges."
She makes a noise of approval as he gets closer. His gaze is open and so easy to read and almost makes her knees buckle. "Don't look at me like that," she whispers, but she means keep doing it.
"Like what?" His thumb caresses her cheek; his nose is practically touching hers. She's not thinking when her gaze drops to his mouth; she's not thinking when surges forward to kiss him, her cup falling to the sandy ground, her fingers threading through his hair, his beard scratching against her jaw. It's a desperate kiss, fast and heated, and she can't get enough of him. She pulls on his bottom lip and he lets out a moan that makes her shudder against him.
A loud whoop breaks the kiss for them and groggily, Bellamy looks for the culprit while Clarke attempts to draw his attention back, her fingers on his jaw and directing him back towards her mouth.
"Clarke," he laughs, right before he sneaks in another kiss, too quick to be content. "I thought you wanted time."
Her brain is a little foggy at the moment. "I did, I—I do."
"Then we should probably stop doing this," he says, because he's logical and he's right, but it doesn't wash away the disappointment that she shouldn't be feeling. He pulls away and caresses her cheek again. "Even though I don't want to."
"That makes two of us," she says, sighing before letting go of Bellamy and smoothing her clothes down. "I don't really know what we do now."
He thinks for a second and then extends his hand out to her. "Wanna get out of here? Get something to eat?"
"What? Burnt marshmallows aren't your thing?"
"I was thinking we drop by Ark Station and get those burgers you love."
"And you'll let me steal your fries?"
"Clarke, I've always let you steal my fries. It's not like kissing you has suddenly convinced me to do it now."
She places her hand in his and he interlocks their fingers. "Then let's go."
It probably comes as no surprise that taking some time to figure out their potential relationship is a really hard ask. She's never done this before. Her previous relationships, as badly as they imploded by the end, were always clear on what they were. Finn was her boyfriend, even if he hadn't exactly told her that he was also Raven's boyfriend at the same time. Lexa was her girlfriend. She's never dated a friend, let alone a best friend, before. She's never had to navigate the weird limbo between friendship and relationship before.
Nothing really changes, except for the fact that they're both aware of each other's feelings. They still spend as much time together as they're used to; they still go out to dinner together; she sits by him at the bar; he slings his arm around her shoulder when they're close. All of this is done while she operates under the knowledge of knowing what it's like to make out with Bellamy Blake.
That's perhaps the major sticking point.
Two weeks into whatever this is, after a long night at a gala that her mom makes her attend, he hoists her up onto his kitchen counter, his jacket falling off her shoulders, her legs locking around his waist, and licks into her mouth with the familiar skill she's dreamt about more than once.
This is the fourth time that week that they've ended up like this (albeit in different places, once in the backseat of his car) and while they've been able to stop it before it gets too far, she can't quite remember any good reasons to right now. He'd looked so nice all night, first by showing up at her door clean-shaven, hair trimmed, second by making her laugh while she endured hours of small talk, and third by pulling up his sleeves to show off his forearms. It was probably the last one that made the difference.
Bellamy apparently has similar thoughts. "You looked so fucking good tonight, Clarke," he murmurs against her lips, one hand already working on the zipper to her dress. It gets stuck a second later, inducing a groan of frustration from him, but he moves onto her neck. She tilts her head back so he has better access.
"I wore this dress for you," she says, somehow, like she can think properly at this moment.
"I love it." He returns to her mouth, kissing her hard. "I love—"
A series of knocks breaks their rhythm, cutting off his sentence, making her jump slightly. "Are you expecting company?"
"No," he says, confused, growing even more so when the knocking does not stop, but actually grows more persistent. "Hold on." With great reluctance, he lets go of her, stepping away and towards the door. When he opens it, Monty's standing on the other side.
"Hey, Bellamy, I tried to call but you weren't answering." At the sound of his voice, Clarke gets down from the counter and smooths her dress down as inconspicuous as possible. She emerges a moment later, pasting on a smile that she hopes doesn't say I was just making out with Bellamy, how are you. "Clarke," he says, surprised.
"Hey, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, um, I was just—" she gestures vaguely to nowhere in particular, "I needed to get something before I went home."
"What's going on?" Bellamy says. "Something wrong?"
"Harper and I got into a fight and I was just, you know, hoping maybe I could stay here for the night. I really did try to call, but, maybe I should—"
"No, it's fine," he's quick to say, catching her eye. Bellamy sends her an apology, but she understands. "You know you can always have the couch. Just uh, I'm going to take Clarke home and then I'll be back."
Monty slumps with relief and makes his way towards the couch. "Thanks, Bellamy. I'll be out of here tomorrow morning."
"Yeah, no problem. You know where everything is. Just don't burn anything down."
Clarke isn't mad at Monty for interrupting them, but the mood's definitely been killed. They make their way downstairs operating under that knowledge. It's likely a good thing. They'd been able to stop themselves the previous three times, but she's not so sure it would've been possible this time.
She waits until they're outside her apartment building to bring it up. "This isn't working."
"What?" Alarmed, Bellamy drops his keys into his lap. "Yes, it is. Things are going great, I thought—"
Wincing at her word choice, she has to clarify, "No, I mean, sorry, not that this isn't working," referring to the two of them, "but you know, the staying away from each other and not kissing thing. The whole concept of taking it slow isn't really working out the way I thought it was going to."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," he says, a weariness behind his words, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have kissed you tonight—"
"I mean, I basically threw myself on you the other day, and that time were at the movies, so it's not like—"
"You wanted to take some time, though, and I haven't—"
"Bellamy," she laughs, placing a hand on his cheek, "I like that you want to kiss me. Obviously, I can't stop kissing you. I think us trying not to is only making us want to even more."
"You might be onto something with that."
"I just think maybe we should, um, maybe set some rules. So that things are more clear."
"What kind of rules?"
"Well, the first one should probably be something like," Clarke rushes through the next bit, "kissing is fine."
He arches an eyebrow, but doesn't object to it. "We can kiss."
"But just kissing," she adds. "No, no sex or anything. Because I want to know what we are before that happens."
"I get it."
Her hand picks at the skirt of her dress, bunching it and letting it go. "And you know, I don't plan on seeing anyone else." Hesitantly, she looks up.
Bellamy shakes his head. "I don't either. Only you."
"Okay," she confirms, lighter, "so kissing is allowed and we're not seeing other people. Anything else?"
He thinks for a second. "We tell each other if anything changes. If you want to do this," he swallows, "if you don't—"
"You too, though. I know I'm asking a lot from you."
"It's not going to change, but okay, that's our third rule."
Clarke nods her assent and then tilts her head. "Kiss on it?"
"The rules say it's okay," he says, already leaning in. The resulting kiss is short, but sweet, and she smiles into it. "I had a nice time tonight."
"Until Monty decided to have terrible timing."
"I meant the gala. It wasn't all that bad."
Skeptically, "Right, because you love galas."
"You made it fun."
"Yeah. You always do."
"That's why I asked you to go. I like them much better when you're there."
He kisses her again. "Me too. See you tomorrow?"
"So, run me through this again," Raven says, as they make their way through the park, "you're not dating, but you also aren't going to date anyone else." The loud roar of the crowd gearing up in anticipation of the next act buys Clarke some time in answering, but when they reach the area they picked out, the noise has died down.
Spreading the blanket out on the grass, she sighs and confirms, "Seems like you get it already."
"I thought you were just confused and really meant that you were dating."
"Sorry to burst your bubble, but we're not." Her sunglasses slip off the top of her head and she scrambles to rescue them before sitting down. "We're just taking some time."
"But you're still going on dates," Emori interjects, joining her on the ground.
"We're not going on dates," she has to clarify. "We really aren't doing anything different than what we were before."
"Right, that's true, except—"
"Hey," Bellamy swoops in, bending down to kiss her quickly. She smiles up at him. "I'm getting you a vodka lemonade, object if you hate this idea."
"A vodka lemonade sounds great."
"I figured," he teases. "Raven? Emori? What can I get you?"
Emori unveils a bottle of wine seemingly from out of nowhere. "We're good, but thanks."
Bellamy nods and kisses her again before he leaves. As soon as he's out of earshot, or maybe even before then, it's that quick of a response, Raven turns to her, "Except that. Taking some time?"
"We have an understanding," Clarke says defensively, pulling at the hem of her shorts. The skepticism she's met with makes her even more defensive about it. "We have rules." And their rules clearly state that kissing is allowed, so it's fine. The only things they're not allowed to do is have sex and label whatever it is between them before they figure it out.
So kissing is fine.
"Your rules for not being in a relationship include kissing?" Raven says, grabbing the bottle of wine from Emori's hands. "So this is a friends with benefits thing."
"No, we're not—we're not labeling things, all right? Not that it is a thing or—I'm not talking about this anymore." Clarke slips her sunglasses over her eyes, steadfastly staring at the stage in front of them, despite the fact that no one's there yet.
Emori's voice floats through. "Hey, for what's it's worth, when John and I were doing what we were doing, we didn't know what to call it either. And that worked out fine enough." You two can hardly be in the same room together, Clarke almost corrects. It's not exactly the most comforting of thoughts. "I mean, before we decided we were in a real relationship."
She doesn't know what to say to that without hurting her feelings. Thankfully, at that exact moment, Bellamy returns with the drinks, Monty and Zeke in tow.
"I got drinks, I got Monty, I got Zeke, I got the sunglasses you left in the car," Bellamy's loud voice booms out, tossing the sunglasses in question to Raven and sitting down next to Clarke. "Hi."
"Hi," she says back, taking her drink from his hand and automatically leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek, stopping short when she sees Raven's judgment and averting her head towards the stage with a high blush on her cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Bellamy turn his head towards her in confusion.
"Yeah." She pats his hand and focuses her attention on the band that's just entered the stage. "Don't worry." But she's stiff and too aware of her body, too in her head for the first set and Bellamy doesn't stop looking at her like he knows something's wrong.
In between sets, while everyone else has left to get more drinks or to stretch their legs, he asks her about it. "What's up?"
"You don't even know what it is."
"Well, it's upsetting you, so it isn't dumb." She lets out a weak laugh.
"I'm just thinking too much, as per."
"Thinking about what?"
"You don't like our rules?"
"No, I think they're good. They're what we need. But," Clarke makes a face, "Raven thinks they're weird."
"I said it was dumb—"
"Not that. Just… Raven doesn't really have a say in this, so I don't really care what she thinks about it."
He has a point.
"Exactly," he says, reading the look on her face. "As long as you're okay with it, I'm okay with it."
She shoves him playfully, a real smile pulling at her mouth. "Save it."
"Make me," he counters, drawing a giggle from her as he pulls her into his arms. The hug washes away all of her worries, as unwarranted as they are, and centers her.
When the others come back for the second half of the concert, Bellamy's head is in her lap, her fingers slowly combing through his hair. She doesn't think twice about pulling him up for a kiss, just a casual one, in the middle of a song. If anyone notices, she doesn't care.
Bellamy is surprisingly amenable to attending the school's study abroad celebration, even after she warns him about the two-drink limit. All he says is, "Yeah, if you're asking me, I'll go," during the worst commercial known to mankind, and Clarke has to sit back, pleased. She'd thought it would take more convincing. Maybe even have to kiss him into agreeing.
Frankly, it throws her entire night out of order, so obviously, she has to fix that.
"I already said I'm going," he says.
"I know, but it's extra incentive."
He doesn't object to that.
He does begin to regret it, though, when he goes through the buffet line and surveys the food.
"You didn't have to come," Clarke reminds him, wishing that they'd stopped somewhere to eat before they arrived. School-sponsored events always bring the worst catering options available. She'd kill for some Thai right now.
"Was it too much to hope that they'd spring for something better? I don't think they really care about celebrating you." Still, he scoops some of the pasta salad onto his plate.
"Let's leave early and stop by the Thai place on our way home," she suggests, elbowing him to get his attention.
"We just got here."
"Like twenty minutes ago."
"They're celebrating you."
"I'd feel more celebrated with spring rolls." They reach the end of the line and Clarke continues, intent on getting her way. "We don't have to leave now, but we're not staying the entire time."
"Oh, God, I was hoping we wouldn't stay the whole time."
"So you agree?"
"Let's leave after we've cashed in our drinks." Bellamy stops in his tracks and looks over. "Someone took our table."
"I guess that's a sign."
"C'mon, let's sit down over there," he says, pointing to a different table, one that's currently occupied by only one person.
"You're putting up too much of a fight to stay," she comments, although she does follow him towards the table. "I don't get it. You don't even like these things."
"I don't," he says, looking back at her briefly. "But you asked me to come and I like you." She has no witty response for that, just a smile that she hides behind his back. "Hey, are these seats taken?"
"No, go ahead," the girl at the table replies, right before she exclaims, "Wait. I know you."
Bellamy looks confused. "I'm sorry, I—"
"No, I mean, you," she clarifies, pointing at Clarke. There's something she does recognize about her, but she can't place it — "You were at Dax's party, weren't you? You had on that Homecoming Queen sash."
"Oh!" Clarke says, the memories flooding back. The sash is stashed somewhere in her closet. The girl is — "I'm sorry, I completely forget your name."
She laughs, waving a hand to say it's not a problem. "It's Niylah."
"Right!" She blushes as she takes the seat next to her. "Clarke. Sorry about that. It was a fuzzy night."
"You can say that again."
Bellamy's knee knocks into hers and she startles, shooting him a sheepish look. "And this is Bellamy, he's my, um, he's—"
"The guy she dragged here. It's nice to meet you. How do you…" he gestures between the two of them, "know each other?"
"We, um," Clarke starts, but Niylah cuts to the chase.
"We made out at Dax's party." Clarke feels her cheeks heat up, uncomfortable as she sits between Niylah and Bellamy. It's never a great situation to be around two people you've made out with, even if you only have feelings for one of them.
"Oh, Clarke never said anything about that," he says, a forced humor to his words that's only obvious to her.
"It was a very fuzzy night," she repeats, kicking his foot.
"I wouldn't have remembered if I didn't see you just now," Niylah says, but that's the end of it as she changes topics. "So where'd you go for study abroad?" That question initiates a long conversation about her time in South Korea, which leads to Niylah telling her about her winter semester in Germany, which has them comparing and sharing stories for at least half an hour. Bellamy adds his thoughts every so often, but it's mostly just the two of them. He gets up to get a drink and then to get another one, so by the time that Niylah says she sees someone she knows and leaves them alone at the table to talk to them, his glass is empty.
"She's nice," Bellamy says, once she's gone.
"She sounds pretty cool." She'd had a much easier time in Germany than Clarke had had in South Korea, but Niylah was definitely more outgoing. It made sense.
"And she seems to really like you," he adds pointedly.
"I hope so." Clarke frowns and then puts it together. "Wait. Are you jealous?"
"She was flirting with you," he says, which isn't a no. He won't meet her eyes either.
"She was not and you're jealous."
"She was and I'm not."
Clarke takes the glass he's glaring at out of his hands, forcing him to look up at her. "I had to watch you be in love with some other girl for months. You can't be jealous."
"It's a joke. We can joke about it now," she says quickly, although that's saying a lot. "I told you I don't want to see anyone else."
"I know," he looks frustrated with himself, "it's not a rational response."
"You don't have to laugh about it."
"I can't help it!" Bellamy groans and covers his face and she laughs again, tugging him up. "You're jealous."
"Yeah," he sighs, "I'm jealous. If you saw how she looked at you—"
"I did see it. I was talking to her."
"Then you would agree with me."
"I don't care how she looked at me," she says in exasperation.
"Fine, I'm being an idiot."
"That's about the gist of it." But it's still funny, and maybe a little flattering. Bellamy runs his hand over his face and grimaces out a smile. It's still funny and definitely flattering.
"Can I get you a drink and we just forget this happened?"
"I don't know," she says, pretending to think about it. "I was thinking about asking Niylah to get me a drink…"
"Very funny." He's less than amused. "I definitely like you for your humor."
Clarke holds back her laugh, but she reaches out to grab his wrist before he leaves. "I couldn't stop thinking about you. When I was kissing her."
The corners of his mouth twitches, but he remains mostly stoic. "That must've been terrible."
"I've had better."
"Yeah?" He inches closer, leaning down so that they're just a few breaths apart.
"Yeah." She closes the distance and kisses him, smiling into it when he deepens it. When he lets her go, she keeps her hold on his wrist. "That was a good one."
"It always is."
Clarke can't confirm it but she may be a little tipsy. It starts, as it often does at Murphy's annual summer BBQ, with her pride being challenged, and ends with three shots of Monty's terrible concoction and a victoriously smug grin on her face. It's a trap she falls into every time and one that she regrets ten seconds later, when she remembers just how terrible Monty's terrible concoction really is.
"Okay," she grimaces, pushing away from the table, "I'm getting some water to wash that down."
"That only makes it worse," Monty warns and she groans, remembering.
"How is it that you haven't fixed it yet?"
"That's part of the charm, Clarke. Just be glad you weren't here when I added algae to it."
Her stomach turns over at the thought. "The one benefit of being 7000 miles away. I'm getting some food." Food is manned by Murphy, courtesy of the grill he obtained three years ago through dubiously legal means. She hands him her plate when she reaches him.
"So where's the boyfriend? Thought you two were inseparable these days," he comments, loading a burger onto the plate.
"He's at a job interview, but he'll be here later," Clarke says automatically, only realizing what he'd said a minute later. She blames the drinks. "And he's not my boyfriend."
"That was very convincing."
"Good thing I'm not really looking to convince you."
"Come on, you've been angsting over Bellamy forever, and I've had to find myself in the crosshairs of it, so you can't blame me for getting invested," Murphy says, brandishing his tongs in the air.
"Shut up, Murphy," she shoots back, her ears warm, as she pivots on her heel and leaves him behind, cackling.
Her burger is pretty good, though.
Bellamy gets there a little while later, pulling up a chair to join their table. She's in the middle of a fierce debate with Zeke about something that happened on The Bachelorette last night and forgets what she's about to say when she sees him. He must've dropped by his apartment to shower and change because he's dressed much more casually than he was when he left for his interview.
"Bellamy," she says excitedly, pulling him in for a hug. His laugh blows across her ear as he hugs her back.
"Okay, who got her drunk?" Several hands shoot up from around the table. "If she throws up, it's going to be on you guys."
"I'm not going to throw up," Clarke objects, grabbing her bottle of water. "I've had a lot of water and I'm not drunk, I'm just happy to see you."
"Okay, who got her tipsy?" Bellamy jokes, kissing away the offended look on her face as soon as it appears. "I'm glad you're having fun."
"Well, I'm easy to please," she demurs, offering him some of her chips. He takes a few. "Tell me about your interview. How'd it go?"
"I'm going to meet with him tomorrow so I can get a sense of what I'll be doing in the fall," he informs her, clearly trying not to make a big deal out of it, which would work if Clarke didn't already know how much he wanted this job. It's a really great opportunity for him, researching with Dr. Pike in the history department, and she's been hoping that he'd get it, not just because he'd love it but also because it would keep him close.
"You should've called me the second you found that out," she exclaims, hugging him again. "I'm so proud of you!" That draws the attention of everyone else at the table, sounding in with their choruses of congratulations and questions of what he'll be doing. Clarke can't stop beaming at him the entire time.
Once it settles down, he turns to her. "I guess this means you'll have to see me around campus some more."
"I knew there was a catch."
"Sorry, I couldn't quite negotiate that part away."
"Well, I'll tell you a secret. I was kind of hoping I'd be able to see you around more."
His grin is infectious. "Good," he says, absently rubbing circles on her back. "You're stuck with me."
The afternoon dips into early evening. People come and go, Murphy drops by a few times, takes the opportunity to mock them for a bit, at least until Bellamy threatens to hit him, and they spend the hours in a bubble of contentment, the kind of contentment she'd been searching for all year. She feels warm and happy, her foot kicking at his, his arm loose around her chair, the sounds of laughter mingling in the air.
Eventually, though, Murphy starts kicking them out, prompting the others to suggest moving this to the bar.
"I'm game," Bellamy says, shrugging, looking to her for her answer.
"You just want me to buy you a drink," she accuses, which means it's a yes.
"How did you know?"
"I know you pretty well," she says, hopping to her feet. "Let me throw this stuff away and I'll meet you by the tree that Murphy hates."
Bellamy's talking to someone when she catches up with him, a girl who looks vaguely familiar. The closer she gets, she can hear more of their conversation, which seems to be wrapping up. Clarke doesn't recognize her at first. But her memory knows she's someone she knows, and it isn't until she says brightly, all smiles, "Clarke! It's so nice to see you!" that she remembers it's Gina Martin. She doesn't feel too badly about not recognizing her face, because the first and last time she'd seen her was two years ago, a chance run-in that had lasted maybe twenty minutes, and when Gina and Bellamy broke up, Clarke forgot about her, but Gina's the nicest person in the world, so it does make her feel a little badly.
"Hi!" she says back, hopefully covering for any lack of recognition that may have been revealed. Bellamy slips his arm around her shoulders, pulling her towards him. Clarke shoots him a quick glance, wondering what he's trying to do. "Gina, wow, I haven't seen you since, um, it's been a while!"
Gina laughs goodnaturedly. "Since Bellamy and I broke up? We don't have to skirt around it." Bellamy laughs just as easily, which puts Clarke at ease as well. "I wanted to say hi earlier, but there were a lot of people around and I got distracted, so I figured this was my best chance."
"Well, it's really nice to run into you," Clarke says, meaning it, because Gina is the nicest person in the world. Even when Bellamy had been dating her, Clarke had felt guilty being as jealous as she was.
A car horn beeps at them and Gina turns around, holding a finger up. Apologetically, she turns back to the two of them, "Sorry, I've gotta go."
"Don't let us keep you," Bellamy says, letting go of Clarke to give Gina a brief hug. Clarke does the same, feeling slightly weird just because she'd never had any sort of relationship with her.
She smiles at them, all sincerity in the action. "I'm really glad you guys figured things out, by the way. I'd kinda wondered after things ended with us if you ever would."
It's really hard to tell when Bellamy blushes, but she's pretty sure he's blushing. "Okay, Gina, time to go." The other girl laughs and waves a goodbye, getting into the car that's waiting for her. Clarke shifts towards him.
"What did she mean by that?"
"You'd have to ask her, but she just left, so…"
He sighs. "Remember why Gina and I broke up?"
Of course she does. She also remembers that she'd been happy about it, although it took her some time to understand exactly why she was. "She was transferring schools."
"That was part of it, but," he pauses for the longest time, enough for her to nudge him to continue, "I didn't tell you the other part."
"What was the other part?"
After another pause, Bellamy says, very bluntly, "She guessed I was in love with you and I didn't deny it."
No one takes her breath away like Bellamy can. "That was… that was two years ago."
"I told you I've been in love with you for a while." He doesn't shy away from it, just cocks his head and raises his eyebrow.
He had said that. "I know," she starts, "but I didn't—"
He's not wrong. "Two years?"
She has to close her eyes at the knowledge. It's not new information, but it hits her harder this time, and this time, she does believe it.
"That's why I broke with Echo too." It's not something he had to say.
A thrill of mean elation sparks inside her. "I don't feel bad about that one," she mutters, eliciting a loud laugh from Bellamy. Her hand drifts up to the collar of his shirt, playing with it for no reason but to focus on something to do. There's so much she could say, should say. She doesn't. "They're going to wonder where we are."
Even though she isn't looking at him, she can still hear the disappointment in his voice. "Yeah. We should get going."
Clarke nods, then pulls away from him, reaching for his hand before they start walking down the street. He tangles their fingers together immediately and she pushes away this entire conversation until she can process it later.
A lot of excuses pop up that conveniently allow Clarke to avoid really thinking about that conversation, and to avoid Bellamy — some aggravating meetings with her advisor (because, like she predicted, something goes wrong with her study abroad credits and they need her to confirm that she actually did attend her classes), some charity events with her mom, and once, a spa day that she only agreed to so that she didn't have to think about anything — but when Madi wants her and Bellamy to come to her soccer game, she can't say no. She loves Madi as if she was her own sister.
Madi had been a part of an afterschool program that Clarke volunteered at for a service learning project a few years ago. It had paired her with Madi as a sort of big sister/little sister thing. In and out of the foster care system, she hadn't particularly trusted Clarke. Eventually, Clarke won her over, and even after the class was over, she continued to go back because she had really enjoyed it, had really grown to like Madi. Somewhere along the way, she'd brought Bellamy along and Madi had loved him immediately.
She tries to see her every few weeks, more often now that it's the summer, and she's not going to not show up at her game just because she's wrestling with her own relationship, definition pending, with Bellamy.
If she had a cord to twirl around while she's on her phone, that's what she would be doing right now. Instead, she's pacing, waiting for him to answer her call.
He does after the fourth ring. "Are you in trouble?"
"You never call me except when you're in trouble."
"That's not true." She thinks back on all the times she's called him. "Well, it's not true for this case."
"Okay…" he says slowly. "I haven't talked to you in a while."
"Yeah, I know," she says guiltily, because she hasn't really put in much effort to make her excuses seem like they're not excuses. "I have a reason for that and you probably know it."
"You're thinking too much?"
"Am I doing something wrong here, Clarke?"
"No," she hastily denies, "it's just me and my issues. But I really miss you and I want to apologize and I want to see you."
"I miss you too," he says softly, loosening the nervous grip around her heart. "You called to say that? Not that I mind, obviously, but you didn't have to."
"Of course I did. But I had another reason too."
"What is it?"
"Are you busy later?"
"How much later?"
"In about an hour?"
"No, I'm all free. Why?"
"Well, Madi has a game and she really wants you to come, and maybe I really want to see you too."
He's smiling. "Madi invited me?"
"She misses you too."
"I can't say no to that."
"I was hoping you'd say that."
Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. It's not a conclusion she really needed tested, but it's one she arrives at nonetheless, when she sees him walking towards her. For once, she'd arrived somewhere way too early, too full of nervous energy to sit down.
"I'm sorry," she says immediately, wringing her hands together. "I'm working on it."
"Have, uh, have things changed?"
He's talking about their rules, the third one they'd made that night. "No," she answers, winding her arms around his neck and pulling him down for a long kiss, the kind that probably shouldn't be happening before a kids soccer match. "They haven't."
Someone clears their throat behind her and she forces herself to let go of Bellamy to look at them. It's a middle-aged mom, complete with a disapproving look on her face. "There are children present," she reprimands, before turning on her heel and stomping to the bleachers.
"Yeah, Clarke," Bellamy mocks, his chin against the top of her head as she buries her face in his chest. "There are children here. You can't just kiss someone like that."
"Like you hated it," she mumbles.
"You didn't let me finish. You can't just kiss someone like that and expect it to stop there," and she giggles, pulling away to press another kiss, a short one, barely a kiss, to his mouth.
"I'm sorry I'm a mess."
"I like your mess."
"You have to say that."
"It's not a particularly romantic saying."
"You're not a particularly romantic guy," she teases back, ignoring his protests as she pulls him towards the spot she'd scoped out in the stands. "When was the last time you took me on a romantic night out?" Clarke isn't serious about it, but it makes him flush with annoyance, and before they were ever friends, getting a rise out of him had always been the most satisfying thing. Sometimes, it still is.
"Say the word and I'll prove you wrong,"
"Let's watch the game first." But she doesn't let go of his hand when they sit down and she doesn't let go when she cheers for Madi. Overall, the game's not that thrilling. It's a bunch of 10-13 year olds of varying skill levels playing together, but Madi scores a goal and she and Bellamy lose their shit over it, so by the end, it's actually a great game.
Madi slams herself into her, throwing her arms around her and hugging her, as soon as she sees Clarke and even though she's sweaty and covered in grass stains, Clarke doesn't even care. "You were the best," she says, swaying with her. "I can't believe you're the best player in the world."
"I can," Bellamy interjects, a grin on his face and his arms held open for his own hug. Madi jumps into them a second later. He swings her around for a bit and Clarke has to hide a smile at the sight. "So remember to thank me first when you become famous."
"Remember who played soccer with you first," she argues.
"That's only because you met her first."
"Guys! I'll thank both of you at the same time!" Madi says decisively.
"You're so smart."
"Save it, Blake," Clarke says, smacking at his chest, making him exaggerate and double over. "She likes me more."
"I know when I've lost," he says, mock-defeated. Madi keeps staring at them, her eyes roving between the two, with wide eyes, laughing at their words. "How about I get us some ice cream though?"
"What do you say, Madi? Ice cream?"
"Can I get Rocky road?"
"One Rocky road, one cookies and cream, and one chocolate coming right up," Bellamy enthuses, giving her a quick kiss before he leaves. Madi's eyes grow wider and she practically pulls Clarke back to the bleachers so she can sit down.
"Is he your boyfriend?"
It's becoming rote at this point. "He's my friend."
"You kiss your friends?" Madi asks, duly unimpressed by her response.
"Yeah, you should try it," Clarke retorts before she scrambles to undo that. "No, don't do that. Don't tell your parents I said that."
"I won't if you stop lying to me."
"I'm not lying, Madi. We're technically still friends."
"What does technically mean?"
"It means—um—well," she closes her mouth, stumped. There used to be an easy answer, there is an easy answer, but explaining it to Madi is more difficult. "He just got out of a relationship."
"He isn't dating them now though."
"Yeah, but it still matters—"
"Why?" It's the kind of curiosity that's purely curiosity, but Clarke can't think of an answer that won't be followed by another why.
"It just… does, for me."
Madi's forehead furrows in concentration. "I don't get it," she finally proclaims.
"Good," Clarke laughs, tugging on her ponytail. "I love confusing you."
"I don't love it."
"I'm older than you. It only matters that I love it."
"Does Bellamy lo—"
"Does Bellamy what?"
They both turn towards the source of the voice, who hands them both of their ice cream cones. Clarke smiles up at him, but Madi interrupts them by walking off the bleachers to tug Bellamy away. "I have to talk to you," she declares, expectantly waiting for him to follow her.
"Madi—" Clarke warns, a little panicked. Bellamy shoots her a look.
"I'll bring him right back!"
"Madi, come back here—" but she's already taken off with Bellamy, guiding him around the field and engaging him in conversation. Helpless, Clarke just groans and focuses on her ice cream instead of the two people circling the field.
They both return laughing, which is highly suspicious. "This is highly suspicious," she says, getting up and taking Bellamy's offered hand to help her down. "I don't know what she said to you, but she's probably lying."
"I hope not," he says mildly. "I liked what she said."
"What did she say?"
He kisses the top of her head without an answer. "Madi's parents are waiting for her."
"That's convenient," she scowls, but her irritation drops when Madi hugs her again, tightly, as she says goodbye. She promises to visit her next weekend and once Madi's safely with her family, the two of them start walking away from the field.
When she can't bear it any longer, she pulls him to a stop. "Please tell me what you guys talked about."
"That'd be betraying her trust."
"Bellamy," she whines.
"My lips are sealed."
"Please? Please? I'll die if I don't know. You know how my curiosity works."
"That's not going to work on me."
"You know I won't let up either, do you want that?"
"I can't even hear you right now," he singsongs, grabbing her keys out of her hand to unlock her car and open her door. His is parked a few rows away.
"What'll convince you? Me constantly bothering you about this? Calling you every night to ask you? You know I'm stubborn enough to try."
"Oh, I know you are. You're welcome to do it as long as you don't mind getting sent to voicemail." She gets into the driver's seat with a pout, rolling down the window so she can stick her head out.
"I don't think I like you very much right now," she says, although the way she's pulling him down by the collar to kiss her completely makes that statement invalid.
"I'm okay with that," he whispers against her lips, pecking her once more before he pulls away.
Her mom calls her the next day while she's coming back from a run so her annoyance isn't just because she has to listen to her voice, but it definitely doesn't help.
"Hi mom," she says tiredly, balancing her phone between her ear and her shoulder as she tries to fix her ponytail. "I'm a little busy right now and I feel gross, so I don't have a lot of time to talk."
"That's fine," her mom says. "I just wanted to let you know that we're going to start the renovations for the lake house next month, so if you wanted to head up there with your friends, it'd have to be next week."
"Didn't you just redo the kitchen floor last year?"
"We're expanding the space this time."
"How much more room do you need? It's just you and me."
"And Marcus, sweetheart."
"Right." She always forgets about him.
"Clarke, I would like it if you put in some effort in being happy for me, you know I've always supported you in your decisions."
She's definitely way too tired to fall for that argument again. "Sure, mom, I'll try a little harder next time."
Her mom clearly doesn't expect that response, because the surprise is evident in her voice. "Oh, well, thank you, sweetheart. I'll let you go."
Clarke tears her shirt off and throws it into her laundry basket. "Okay! Love you, bye!" She tosses her phone onto her bed and groans when she stretches out her muscles, still unused to her newfound energy for running. Absentmindedly, while she goes through the motions of getting ready for a shower, her mind drifts to her mom's words — the first ones, not the latter ones — and thinks about a weekend at the lake house. It'd belonged to her dad and when he was alive, they used to spend most of their summers there.
It's one of her favorite places in the world. She hadn't had a real desire to get back there this summer, but it grows more appealing by the minute. The last time she was there was the day before she left for her study abroad trip. She remembers going out on her dad's boat, remembers swimming until she got tired, remembers sitting with Bellamy on the porch. She remembers thinking she couldn't love him anymore than she did that last night.
She picks up her phone again.
Do you want to go to the lake house?
The lake house, aside from the new kitchen floor (though there's not much of a difference from the old floor), is just as she last left it. It's drafty and big and everything is covered up from the winter, so she spends at least an hour uncovering everything, dropping the groceries she'd brought along in the kitchen, and opening the curtains to let in the late afternoon sunlight. Bellamy had said he'd arrive a little later, so she's not worried about getting everything ready for him.
His voice alerts her to his arrival an hour later. "Anyone could come in and murder you, Clarke! The door's unlocked!"
From the living room, where she's rearranging the furniture back to the way she likes it, she replies, "Good thing it's just you!"
"That doesn't really comfort me!"
"It comforts me!"
He walks into the living room and stands there, observing her as she lugs the ottoman into place. "You could've waited until I got here to help."
"If Abby Griffin found out that I made my guest help out around the house, she'd be so disappointed in me. I've still got my manners, you know."
"And you wonder why I called you a Princess."
"It wasn't the word, it was how you said it." She collapses back on the ottoman. "Hi. Was the drive okay?"
"It was good. I stopped and bought some food."
She laughs a little. "I did too."
Finally, Bellamy comes over and kneels down next to her, kissing her sweetly before brushing her hair back. His touch is gentle, his eyes soft. She wants to soak in this moment a little while longer. Her eyes track him as he looks around the room, a happiness alight in his movement.
"I missed this place," he breathes out. "Summers don't feel right if we don't come here."
Clarke hums an agreement, still following him. He looks different in this room, or maybe he's the same, but whichever it is, she feels a swelling of affection for him, a lightness that calms her, a warmth that encases her. In that instant, it's so easy to know what she might've already realized a week ago, a few weeks ago, a month ago. It's so simple, and clear, and right to look at Bellamy and know that, whatever else had happened this entire year, this was where she wanted to be and who she wanted to be with.
"Bellamy," she says, his name escaping from her mouth. His head turns towards her. "Do you remember the last time we were here?"
He nods. "Before you left."
"What about it?"
She smiles at the memory. "I was going to tell you that I loved you that night." Bellamy blinks a few times, like each action signals a word getting through to him. "But I was scared—"
"That I didn't feel the same way or—"
"It was so many things," she says, pulling herself up so she can sit properly and face him. "You not feeling the same way, it not being the right time, you forgetting about me… it was everything."
"I was," he's a little choked, "I was going to tell you that night too."
"I'd wondered. Later, I mean. I kept replaying that night and just regretting not saying it." Sometimes, when she couldn't sleep, she would do it and grow steadily more upset until exhaustion forced her into sleep.
Clarke doesn't want to dwell on what ifs. That isn't the point of this. She has a point to this. "No, don't do that. I brought that up because—well, because it's still the same for me. I still love you, I want to be with you, I want this all the time, so I guess what I'm saying is, well," she's losing control of this speech rapidly. She has to take a deep breath to center herself, but it's his grin that calms her. "Do you want to go on a date with me?"
Bellamy surges up and pulls her into a kiss, maneuvering both of them onto the floor, one hand cupping the back of her head, that takes her by surprise, just briefly, before she melts into it, kissing him back. Every thought but one flies away: more more more and he knows because he gives her everything, is everywhere all at once. He's been holding out on her. At some point, her shirt gets rucked up halfway and his pants get undone, pulled down to his ankles while she gets distracted by where and how his hands wander.
They seem to savor every part of her skin, the roughness of his hands overwhelmed by the softness of his touch, and she's content with letting him explore as she rocks down on his lap, chasing the zing of pleasure that she gets every time she brushes up against his cock. He's hard between them, groaning whenever she bucks her hips into his. It's not enough, though, and Clarke grows desperate, her keens of frustration making it evidently clear, and once again, he knows, because he changes the angle of how he holds her, pressing her much closer than before. There. She's graceless as she slides against him, breathless as she gives into the sensation building inside her, and he keeps whispering promises for later, and it's all too much and she comes with a low cry in the back of her throat, collapsing against his chest. Bellamy soothes her through it, his deep voice carrying her through her desire.
He's still hard against her stomach. "How close are you?" She mumbles, already snaking a hand between their bodies to brush against his erection.
"Close," he answers in a groan. It's exactly what she wants to hear before she releases him from his boxers, taking a moment to stare at him before she licks her palm and wraps her hand around him, tugging at him slowly. "Faster. Please," he adds, ever polite, and since he'd been so good with her, she obliges, picking up speed. She hasn't done this in a while and she doesn't know if what she's doing is good, or right, but he urges her on with words and pleased sounds, thrusting into her touch, so maybe she is. He hadn't been lying when he said he was close; he comes over her hand and her shirt a minute later. This time, Clarke kisses him through his orgasm and he has enough energy to do the same.
"You're lucky I don't like this shirt," she says after, tracing the mark she'd left along his collarbone.
"I like it," he says, a slow grin spreading across his face, sweet and sure. His lips are swollen red, probably mirroring hers, and she wants them back on her. "I love you." It's not the first time she's heard that from him, but she'd forgotten how they sounded from his mouth. She hadn't realized how they'd stayed away from those words. He says it again, and again, and again. "I love you because you're my best friend and you know me and love me anyways. You didn't have to give me another chance but I'm glad you did. I love the way you never let me get by on my shit, I love how you don't give up on anything, I love how you know what you want."
He doesn't stop. "I love your generosity. Your quick thinking. Your awful sense of humor." She pushes at him while she tries not to tear up and he just laughs, kissing her knuckles. "I love when you fight with me, especially when you know you've won an argument and you get that look on your face and it's the best and if I didn't know you'd know when I was letting you win, I'd do it just so I could see it. And it's pretty nice when you're trying not to smile, but you can't help it, or when you really laugh without holding back on it. I love that too."
"Stop it," she finally has to say, voice a little watery as she sniffles. "You're going to make me cry."
"Then this has really taken a turn for the worse."
"It's okay. I forgive you." She starts to push his hair back from his face, examining him as she does. "And I love you too, even though I haven't come up with some fancy speech off the top of my head, because of course you'd have to outdo me in that."
"I don't need a fancy speech."
"Good, because I can't think of one." But she knows all of her reasons and when she's not basking in this post-orgasm state, she'll list them all for him. "Besides, you never answered my question."
His thumbs trace circles on her waist. "You know it's a yes." He's trying to look stern, but failing to achieve that effect because he can't stop smiling at her. She knows the feeling. She keeps smiling too. If anyone were to walk in, they'd find it ridiculous, the two of them in various states of undress grinning madly at each other. It is ridiculous, but she doesn't care. She does, however, pick herself off him, while he tucks himself back in, and giggles at the sight.
"I'm going to… change," Clarke says, glad that she packed accordingly for the weekend, although she hadn't exactly thought that this would be a reason why. She's a little nervous as she rifles through the clothes she brought along, a little worried that she has to look nicer now, but he corners her for a kiss when she returns and she feels silly for even worrying about that.
"I've got an idea," he says. Bellamy's changed too and she takes the time to run her eyes over him because she can. "Eyes up here, Princess."
Her eyes snap back to his face. "What's your idea?"
"Let's go on a date."
The laugh bubbles up and escapes her. "Really? Now?"
"Why not now?"
"Well," she gestures to the spot they'd occupied just minutes earlier. "We've kinda distorted the traditional dating timeline already."
Bellamy rubs the back of his neck and shrugs. "Then let's do it right this time."
As far as ideas go, it's not the worst one in the world. She loops her arm through his. "What did you have in mind?"
The sunlight streams through the cracks between the curtains the next morning, illuminating the room. It stirs Clarke from sleep, first from the warmth and then from the steadily increasing brightness. It takes a moment for her to remember that she's in her bed at the lake house. It takes another to remember Bellamy's sleeping next to her, his arm curled around her waist, his breathing against her neck, the covers mostly tangled around them.
She smiles, sleep tinging it.
As carefully as she can, she maneuvers herself so that she's facing him, eyes roving over his face, his eyelashes dark against his skin, his freckles even nicer close up, the shadows of his stubble ready to peek out.
"Love you," she murmurs, and maybe he can hear her, because his hand flexes next to her, tickling her side. She smiles again. This is exactly where she wants to be.