Clarke sat by baggage claim, keeping her eyes peeled for Raven coming down the escalator. It wasn’t a crowded day at the airport, thankfully. Clarke tended to get overwhelmed by large crowds of people.
“Okay, so I have someone to fill in for you at the bar tonight,” Octavia said over the phone. “That means you have no excuse not to come to the party tonight.”
“It’s Raven’s first night back. We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Clarke sighed. But she knew that wasn’t an excuse that would work on Octavia. She had been all over Clarke the whole summer, trying to get her to be more social. “She went to meet her soulmate, so I want to spend tonight getting all the details,” Clarke pleaded. This was her only shot at getting Octavia to let this go, since she was a sucker for soulmates and love stories. She wore her butterfly soulmark with pride, often wearing tanks to show off its place on her shoulder.
“So, get all the details before and then come. Come on, you promised you would come to one of these,” she whined. Clarke threw her head back with a groan. If Clarke was going to have to go to one of her parties, it might as well be this one. Her brother just got back in town, meaning Octavia would be all over him and not notice Clarke hiding in the corner. “And I’ve never met Raven, so this will be fun.”
“I will ask Raven,” Clarke conceded, flinching when she heard Octavia’s squeal on the other line. Then, right on cue, Raven appeared at the top of the escalator with a huge grin. “Gotta go.”
She hung up before running to meet Raven, who was ready for a hug by the time she got there. “Griffin,” Raven giggled. She tried to pick Clarke up, though she lost her balance.
“Reyes, are you trying to kill me?” Clarke teased, cocking her head to the side. Raven was sporting a small hickey below her jaw that she tried to cover with foundation.
“Not very successfully,” she shot back with a smirk. Clarke rolled her eyes as the two of them made their way to wait for her suitcase. “So, aren’t you going to ask me if I had a good time?”
“I’d assume so since I’m pretty sure that’s not your only hickey,” Clarke deadpanned, causing Raven’s face to go red. “I take it you like him in person, huh?” Raven and Zeke had known about each other for a few years now. There was a site that specialized in finding soulmates. All anyone had to do was upload images of their soulmark when they turned eighteen. When Raven’s birthday came around, she was still recovering from Finn. So, she waited an extra year before giving in and signing up. By then, Zeke had already joined the Air Force, which delayed their meeting for a while. But they had communicated via email and phone, slowly getting to know each other.
“I can’t even explain it, Clarke,” Raven said, a soft smile creeping on her lips. There was something so soft about how her face lit up… just thinking about him. Clarke wasn’t sure she had ever seen Raven so… well, she couldn’t find a word for it. But whatever it was, it was clear that this was what Raven was looking for. “It’s like I’ve known him forever.”
“That’s great,” Clarke replied, and Raven’s face shifted. She pressed her lips together and narrowed her eyes. Clarke’s stomach clenched, knowing where this was going.
“Have you given any more thought to finally signing up?” she asked, and Clarke let her eyes fall shut. “Right. I shouldn’t have asked.” Thankfully, Raven spotted her suitcase before she could say anything else, giving Clarke a chance to breathe.
It was a secret no one but Raven and her mother knew. Most people signed up as soon as they turned eighteen. Some people had reasons for not signing up until nineteen. But no one waited until they were twenty, let alone twenty-two. No one except Clarke, apparently.
Raven was nice enough about it. She hadn’t been there when Clarke’s mother turned in her soulmate, Clarke’s father. But Raven heard enough about it in the night they met where they both broke down crying about Finn. Raven had been there for Wells’ accident, though. She witnessed the breakdown Clarke had at the end of her senior year and was the only reason Clarke didn’t completely isolate herself.
Her mother was less nice, of course. Though when she asked how Clarke could do this to her poor soulmate, she didn’t have a leg to stand on. Clarke may be acting selfish by not finding her soulmate, but at least she didn’t send him to jail where he would later be killed.
Raven thought she was scared, and her mother thought she was selfish. They were both partially right. But Clarke knew the whole truth. She was too broken at eighteen, so why would her soulmate have even wanted her? At nineteen, she wasn’t much better. Her panic attacks hadn’t subsided, and she was getting worse around large groups of people. Meeting her soulmate was out of the question. By twenty, Clarke had moved to the small town of Arkadia to get distance from her old home that haunted her. She had only just started medication and feeling like a normal person again. She didn’t want to push her luck by opening a conversation with her soulmate.
For the last two years, Clarke debated signing up. She was better now, after all. Art school by day, bartender by night. She had a decent apartment with Raven, and she had started speaking with her mother again. Octavia was pushing her into being more comfortable around people. Despite all that, Clarke couldn’t bring herself to sign up. She felt better, but she still didn’t feel like she was enough. She still felt broken. And after making her soulmate wait four years, the least she could do was not be so broken when they met. So, she did her best to ignore the sinking feeling whenever she’d see her soulmark in the mirror. She pretended the inky black leaf above her hipbone didn’t exist. And sometimes it worked.
“Alright, let’s get home so you can tease me about Zeke,” Raven smirked as she came back with her suitcase in hand.
“Sounds good to me, but we need to stop by Octavia’s party tonight,” Clarke sighed, and Raven’s eyes widened.
“You want to go to a party?” she grinned.
“Want is not the word I would use,” Clarke groaned, and Raven burst out laughing.
Clarke could hear the music blasting from Octavia’s apartment all the way down the hallway. “Is it too late to call in sick?” Clarke grumbled. She loved Octavia, like she loved all the friends she had made at The Drop Ship. But the idea of going to this party was starting to make her feel sick.
“Yes. Look, it won’t be as bad once you get in there. It’s the anticipation that’s stressing you out, remember?” Raven pointed out. Clarke let out a breath. She knew Raven was right. She just wished she could tell her brain that.
After taking another deep breath, she barreled head first into an infamous Octavia Blake party. Jasper was the first one to notice her, making a strange smile as he ran up to hug her. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Octavia told me I had to come,” Clarke joked. Raven let out a loud snort, the only one who knew it wasn’t even a joke.
“Is that Clarke?” she heard Octavia shout. Clarke shot Raven a warning look as they stepped into the living room. “You actually came?” she beamed as she stumbled her way over to her, bumping into Monty and Harper on her way.
“Hey, Octavia. This is my best friend Raven,” Clarke said. Octavia was already leaning into Clarke as she popped her head up.
“You know,” Octavia slurred. Clarke glanced up at Lincoln, who made a drinking gesture with his hand. Of course, Octavia was already drunk. She was a notorious lightweight. “Since Clarke is your best friend and she is also my best friend, that makes you kind of my best friend too.”
“Okay, why don’t we get you some water?” Lincoln said as he approached them. Clarke shot him an appreciative look.
Octavia smacked a kiss to Clarke’s cheek before letting Lincoln tug her toward the kitchen. “So, that’s Octavia,” Raven deadpanned, and Clarke burst out laughing. The two of them made their way toward the coolers to grab drinks before Clarke started introducing her to everyone. Raven seemed to like everyone, except John Murphy… who she immediately got into an argument with.
They ended up in the corner sitting with Maya and Harper, who were the safest people to hang out with at a party. Clarke felt pretty relaxed. It wasn’t as bad as she had built it up to be, thank God. There were a few people she didn’t recognize, but she figured those were Octavia’s brother’s friends.
When Clarke ducked into the kitchen to make Raven a drink, she found Octavia with two other people. She was sitting up on a counter, holding her hand out for Clarke to grab. “How you doing?” Clarke teased as she swung their hands back and forth.
“Good,” Octavia giggled. “So, was it like love at first sight for Raven?”
Clarke glanced over her shoulder at Raven, who was still excitedly telling Harper and Maya all about the date they went on last night. “Yeah, I think so,” Clarke grinned. She had never seen Raven so happy, and it warmed Clarke’s heart to see. “They seem like a perfect fit.”
“So, you do believe in soulmates,” Octavia huffed, and Clarke’s chest tightened. “Then why haven’t we gossiped all about yours?” she whined.
Clarke was about to open her mouth to deflect when the guy behind her said, “O.” Octavia threw her head back in a groan. Clarke glanced over her shoulder to see a tall man with dark curls and broad shoulders, narrowing his eyes at Octavia. Oh, this must be the brother. She could see the resemblance. “Why are you always pestering people about their soulmates?”
“I am not,” she whined before hopping off the counter. “It’s just that I love Clarke,” Octavia slurred, her hand now resting on Clarke’s cheek. Clarke bit down on her lip, struggling not to burst out laughing. When she glanced up at Octavia’s brother, she could see he was fighting the same urge. “And I want to help her plan the Pinterest wedding of her dreams to the soulmate she’s never told me about. Stop being so nosy, Bell.”
Clarke took a deep breath, praying that Octavia got distracted and forgot all about this. There was too much to unpack when it came to Clarke’s soulmate status. A party wasn’t the place to tell Octavia the life story Clarke had been trying to move on from.
Her brother furrowed his eyebrows at Clarke before turning back to Octavia. “Oh, by the way, it’s really cool of you to let Jasper put his own playlist on,” he said, and Octavia’s eyes widened in horror.
“Jasper Jordan!” she shouted before storming out of the kitchen. Clarke leaned against the counter, closed her eyes, and sucked in a breath. She avoided it for now, thank God.
When she opened her eyes, Octavia’s brother was still standing across from her, watching her with a curious expression on his face. “Thank you,” she remembered to say.
“No problem. I’m Bellamy, by the way,” he said with a small grin. She took a better look at him now that the immediate threat of Octavia’s invasive questions was gone. Clarke had been expecting the older Blake to seem nerdier, given how Octavia described him.
“Clarke,” she replied. She blinked a few times, trying to remember why she came into this kitchen. When she glanced back into the living room to see Raven, she remembered the drink.
“You know, the balcony is the only quiet place you can go during one of these things,” Bellamy said. Clarke snapped her head back toward him, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion. “Just if you ever get overwhelmed.” Clarke’s eyes widened, realizing how easy she must have been to read. “Uh, not saying that you are,” he stuttered out. “But I am, so I’m stepping out there if you want to join me.”
It took Clarke a beat too long to respond, since she was so confused by the nervous invitation. “Or not,” he added in with a shrug.
When Bellamy turned to leave, she said, “Yeah, sure. Just have to make my friend a drink first.” He blinked a few times before a small smile formed on his lips.
Bellamy was right. The balcony was the only quiet place to escape to. “What I would give to have known about this at her Halloween party last year,” Clarke groaned, leaning onto the railing next to him.
“What happened on Halloween?” he chuckled. His smile was warm, the kind that made it impossible not to smile too.
“Karaoke,” Clarke sighed, and he erupted into laughter. “I wasn’t allowed to leave until your sister had pictures of us together in our costumes for her Instagram. So, I just had to suffer through her attempt at ‘I Will Survive.’”
“Jesus,” he said. He was pressing his lips together, suppressing an amused smile. “No wonder you never come to these things,” he teased. Clarke let her head fall between her arms that were braced on the railing, groaning loudly. Of course, Octavia had complained about this to even her brother. There were people who didn’t even know Clarke who knew she was a socially awkward mess.
“I just haven’t been to one this summer,” Clarke clarified.
“That’s five years in Octavia time. Don’t feel bad, though. I haven’t been to one of these in over a year, so you’re not the worst offender here,” he teased.
“Yeah? What’s your excuse?” Clarke asked, turning to put her back against the railing.
“Not living in Arkadia was a pretty damn good excuse,” he said, downing the rest of his drink. “But even if I lived here, I wouldn’t have come. I was a student teacher. These things run way past my bedtime.” Clarke let out an unexpected snort and covered her face with her hand. Her face grew red as Bellamy turned to look at her, his lips turning into a smirk. “You okay there?” he teased, a small laugh escaping from his throat.
“Yep,” Clarke laughed, ducking her head in embarrassment. “So, teaching, huh?” she asked, trying to change the subject even though Bellamy was still laughing at her.
“Yeah, seventh grade history,” he said. “And you’re a bartender with O?”
“Mhmm. Been there almost two years now,” she explained.
“Do you just have a passion for liquor and discourse with the inebriated?” he teased, and she threw her head back in a laugh. Clearly, she did not. After all, she was at a party now with the inebriated and was hiding outside with the host’s brother.
“More like I have a passion for earning enough money to make rent and pay for art school,” she shrugged. When she glanced into the window, she spotted Raven grinning as she typed away on her phone. Clarke bit down on her lip, feeling some lurch in her stomach at the sight. She was happy for her best friend. God knows Raven deserves someone like Zeke. Maybe it was just jealousy bubbling up inside Clarke, which was stupid. Clarke could just sign up for the soulmate finder site and find hers. The only thing stopping her was her. Maybe that was what she was really jealous of.
“You’re an artist?” he asked, snapping her focus back into this conversation.
She told him all about the messy journey to get to art school, leaving out the mental health parts of that journey. Eventually, the two of them sat down on the ground, since it was clear neither of them was going back inside. They talked for a while about art school before they came back around to his teaching. She got a few good Octavia stories that Clarke tucked away for a rainy day.
The party started to die down inside, and Clarke realized she had been outside with Bellamy far longer than she ever intended. She couldn’t remember the last time she relaxed this easily around someone she just met, but it was nice.
“Look, about O bothering you earlier…” he said, and Clarke’s stomach dropped.
“I don’t like talking about soulmates. That’s all,” Clarke cut him off, her eyes dropping down to her drink.
“No, I get it,” he replied, and she bit down on her lip. Just thinking about her soulmate out there somewhere made her feel sick. Not only were they stuck with her as a soulmate, but she didn’t even let them know who she was. “What I wanted to say was that she won’t bring it up again. She usually knows better than to ask point blank about it. Not everyone gets the easy situation she got with Lincoln, and she learned that from watching me.” Clarke furrowed her eyebrows, searching Bellamy’s face. He wasn’t looking at her, and his jaw was a bit tense from talking about it. “I guess what I’m saying is that she’s drunk and you should try not to worry too much about her bringing it up again.”
“You may not know me very well, but telling me not to worry is a waste of your breath,” Clarke chuckled, ducking her head.
“Fair enough.” She could hear his warm smile in his voice, and for some reason, she did feel herself start to relax again.
A few days passed before Clarke and Octavia worked the same shift, which meant she didn’t see Octavia for a while. It was kind of a relief, since Octavia couldn’t pester her about Clarke’s soulmate. But it was also a delay for the inevitable. She wanted to believe Bellamy’s reassurances, but she also knew Octavia Blake.
Clarke braced herself when she walked into the bar Wednesday night, preparing to tell her the whole saga. But Octavia didn’t make her. “Look, I’m sorry I was all in your business last Friday,” Octavia sighed as they cleaned off the glasses. “You know how I get when drunk.”
“Don’t worry about it. Not a big deal,” Clarke replied, praying that would be the end of this conversation so they could go back to normal.
“Yeah, it is. Bell talked to me the next morning about it. Look, it is a private thing. If you want to talk to me about it, great. If not, that’s okay too,” she said, very rehearsed. So, Bellamy had another talk with her about it for Clarke. Her lips quirked up into a small smile, touched by him trying to help Clarke even though they just met.
“You had to practice this little speech, didn’t you?” Clarke teased, and she threw her head back with a groan.
“Bellamy made me practice on him. Pain in the ass,” she muttered, and Clarke laughed.
“He’s not that bad,” Clarke said, causing her to roll her eyes. No, Bellamy wasn’t bad at all. He was sweet and caring. Someone Clarke sort of felt comfortable with, which said something considering how skittish Clarke was. “But we’re okay. I don’t want to talk about it now, but maybe one day, okay?” Octavia relaxed her shoulders, seeming satisfied with that. She was quiet for about a beat before she started ranting about the mess everyone left in her apartment.
Wednesday nights were usually pretty slow, with only a few regulars popping in. Octavia only stayed for a few hours before taking off. Clarke normally managed to get a few pages of her reading for the week done while at the bar. She almost had the chapter finished when she heard someone come in. She slammed the book shut and tucked it under the bar. When she glanced up, she saw Bellamy walking up to the bar.
“Isn’t it past your bedtime?” she teased as he took a seat at the bar. There were only two other customers here, who were sitting at a booth in the back.
“No,” he said in a mock annoyed huff. “Whiskey neat, please.” She pushed herself up and grabbed a glass. “I have grading to get done, but I can’t focus in my apartment.”
“So, you came to a bar?” she laughed, pouring his drink.
“The Drop Ship is always dead on Wednesdays, Clarke,” he replied. “I mean, you were reading a book when I came in.”
“Still, can’t imagine a bar is easier to focus in than your own apartment,” she pointed out, sliding the drink toward him before leaning her elbows on the counter.
“Well, my roommate isn’t banging his girlfriend loudly in this bar,” he sighed before taking a drink. Clarke covered her mouth to muffle her laughter.
“Fair enough. Grade away,” she replied, earning a weak smile from him. She went to check on the other two customers before settling back down with her reading. The bar fell back into its normal quiet. Clarke only heard the muffled conversation from the back and an occasional annoyed groan from Bellamy before he clicked his red pen.
He must have liked grading at the bar because he kept coming back after that night. It was always on the dead nights early in the week. He’d order the same drink. They would exchange a few words, and then he’d start grading and Clarke would work on her school work. She’d never admit it, but she looked forward to these nights the most. Him being there made her feel less alone, but his quietness prevented her from getting overwhelmed.
He usually didn’t come in while Octavia worked. Though when he did, he hardly got anything done because she’d get onto him about working too hard or his lack of a social life. The last time he came in during her shift, she asked him what friends other than Murphy and Monty he had. “Clarke,” he retorted, raising his eyebrows at Octavia defiantly.
Clarke didn’t know why this threw her so much. Of course, she and Bellamy were friends now. She just hadn’t noticed it happening. It was so easy, so natural. Clarke had friends other than Octavia and Raven, but they hadn’t been without their growing pains. It took time for people to get to know Clarke, to learn that her introversion was just how she was. But Bellamy… he got it within minutes of meeting her.
“Clarke doesn’t count. She was my friend first,” Octavia whined. Clarke ducked into the back before she was asked to mediate, knowing better than to get in the middle of a Blake argument. She couldn’t get over the warm feeling in her chest at Bellamy calling her his friend, though.
Clarke ended up having to work on her twenty-third birthday. It wasn’t a big deal. Clarke didn’t care much for her birthdays. But Raven did come hang out at the bar so that Clarke wasn’t alone the whole night. “We could do something fun this weekend,” she suggested, but Clarke waved it off.
“I really don’t want to do anything for my birthday,” she replied. She appreciated the effort, but she didn’t want to think about her birthday. After all, it was just another marker of how long Clarke had put off finding her soulmate. She had hovered on that website for more than an hour this morning, but she couldn’t bring herself to make an account. Every time she got close, she felt like she would throw up.
Raven’s face contorted in the way it always did when she tried to lie. “Raven,” Clarke said, narrowing her eyes at her.
“Well, you might have to do something for your birthday,” she winced. “See, Octavia wanted to throw you a surprise party…”
Clarke rested her forehead against the cool counter, cursing under her breath. Of course, she wanted to throw Clarke a surprise party. It was sweet, but it also made Clarke want to throw up. “I won’t tell her you told me,” she grumbled. “And I’ll act surprised.”
“Oh thank God,” Raven sighed.
“Did you break Clarke?” she heard Bellamy say, and Clarke snapped her head up. He was just strolling in, his brows furrowed in confusion.
“She found out about her surprise party,” Raven explained. Clarke pushed herself from the bar to prepare Bellamy’s drink.
“I tried to talk her out of it, by the way,” Bellamy told her. “My vote was for a small dinner somewhere.” God, that would have actually been a fun night. But now, Clarke was going to spend the rest of the week freaking out about a party where she couldn’t escape unnoticed.
“It’ll be fine,” Clarke said before handing him his drink. It would have to be fine. At the very least, she would convince everyone it was fine. It’s not their fault that she isn’t the kind of person who could get excited about these normal things everyone else could. She recognized the sweet gesture this was, that it meant she was loved. But it was still overwhelming for her. So, she’d have to put on one hell of a mask for Octavia.
“Is that your phone?” Raven asked, and Clarke finally heard the faint ringing from the back.
“It’s just my mom. I’ll call her back later,” Clarke replied. She had told her that she was working and not to call, but she apparently didn’t listen. When she glanced over at Raven, she was cocking an eyebrow at Clarke.
“There is no one but us here. Go answer your phone so she doesn’t worry about you,” she said sternly. Clarke opened her mouth to argue, but Raven just snapped her fingers and pointed toward the ringing. With a groan, Clarke made her way into the back toward her phone. She could hear Raven and Bellamy talking at the bar, though she couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“Hey, Mom,” Clarke answered, pressing her back to the wall.
“Happy birthday!” she said excitedly. “I know I wasn’t supposed to call, but I wanted to hear from you.”
“It’s okay. The only people here are Raven and Bellamy, and I’m pretty sure they’re only here to keep me company,” Clarke replied. She sunk to the floor, getting comfortable.
“Who is Bellamy?”
“Octavia’s older brother.”
“Oh,” she said in a strange voice.
“What?” Clarke asked.
“Nothing. For a second I thought… never mind.”
“Nope. No never mind. What did you think?” she asked. She couldn’t drop something like that into a conversation and move on without Clarke fixating on it. Anyone who met Clarke knew that.
“For a second, I thought you had finally signed up for the soulmate finder and that’s who you were talking about. Sorry,” she explained, and Clarke threw her head back. “It’s not like you make a lot of new friends, so I thought… sorry.”
“I’m not ready to sign up,” Clarke whispered. “You know that.”
“I know. I was hoping for your sake that had changed,” she explained, and Clarke bit down on her lip. “I mean, it’s not like you even have to talk to them. You are under no obligation, you know. You could walk away.”
Or they could, a voice deep in Clarke’s mind whispered. No, Clarke wasn’t worried that she would bolt. Her soulmate was probably perfect for her, just like everyone else’s seem to be. But they could bolt. Why wouldn’t they? Clarke was a walking disaster, who was terrified of the surprise party her friends were throwing her because they care about her.
It was easier to not open that door. No one could get in, but no one could leave either. It hurt being alone, but not as much as it hurt to lose someone. She wasn’t enough for Finn. She lost her father and Wells. Clarke wasn’t sure she would survive losing someone else. She didn’t want to fall apart like she did last time. It’s taken her five years to put herself back together again. No, she couldn’t go down that road again. Inviting someone new into her life felt like too much of a risk. She only now starting to feel secure in her life again.
“I’m not doing it yet, Mom. Look, I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll call you tomorrow,” she huffed, finding it hard to breathe. She didn’t even wait for the goodbye before hanging up. Clarke tucked her phone into her pocket before putting her hands above her head and closing her eyes. It was just another panic attack, she reminded herself. She’s survived hundreds of these. This one would be no different.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there trying to get her breathing leveled out. It was long enough for her brain to do that spiral where she convinced herself she was going to die alone… before she talked herself out of that one. She didn’t cry, thank God. Though, the tears threatened in her eyes.
“Clarke,” Bellamy whispered. She jerked her eyes open to see him looking at her with concern.
“I’m fine,” she lied, but he wasn’t buying it. He bit down on his lip as he sat down against the wall across from her. Her eyes dropped into her lap, trying to calm down before she broke down crying in front of Bellamy.
“Do you want to talk about it? You can always talk to me,” he said.
She did, but not with him. She’d talk about it with Raven tonight, though she knew that Raven would agree with her mom. Part of her wanted to tell Bellamy what was going on. Everything else was so easy with him, so this probably would be too. He’d say all the right things like he always does, and maybe Clarke would feel better. But Clarke wasn’t sure if she deserved to feel better, given that she has left her soulmate out in the cold with no way of knowing she was out there.
Plus, Bellamy had some kind of complication with his own soulmate, but she knew better than to ask. Clarke noticed that their friends didn’t talk about soulmates with him either. She wasn’t sure if she should burden him with her self-imposed soulmate problem when he had a real one of his own.
“No,” she lied. She forced herself to look up at him. His eyes were wide and panicked, and Clarke felt horrible for making him worry about her. “I just have panic attacks sometimes. Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you okay?” he asked, and she nodded. “Okay.”
The two of them sat like that for a few minutes while Clarke worked up the courage to stand up again. It was weird having Bellamy here with her. Clarke normally tried to be alone during these episodes. But she found that she didn’t mind Bellamy being here. It felt better to not be alone for once.
When she pushed herself up, she took a deep breath. She tugged her shirt down that had risen while she was sitting before turning toward Bellamy. He had a strange expression on his face. His eyes were wide and his lips parted, though he didn’t seem to sense Clarke was looking at him. She couldn’t figure out what he was even looking at. “Bellamy?” she asked, and his eyes jerked up toward hers. Though, he still looked off. He blinked a few times, and she couldn’t make sense of how he looked at her. “You okay?” He swallowed, but there was still a confused look in his eyes.
“Yeah,” he said before shaking his head. “I’m good.” His voice cracked as he spoke, and Clarke cocked her head in confusion. But she didn’t push the subject. Instead, she held her hand out toward him to help him up.
It took a beat too long before he took her hand. There was something very off about him, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. “You know you can talk to me too if anything is bothering you, right?” she said.
“Of course, but I’m fine,” he said. “I promise.” But he was still looking at her strangely, and Clarke got the creeping feeling that she screwed up somehow.
They made their way back to the bar, where Raven immediately asked what her mom’s call was about. “A happy birthday and then the usual lecture,” Clarke mumbled. When she glanced over at Bellamy, he was staring at her with narrowed eyes.
“Well, Abby Griffin certainly knows how to spread the birthday cheer,” Raven joked, though she seemed to sense something was off with Bellamy too.
Clarke was about to change the subject when Bellamy pushed himself up from the bar. “I have an early start tomorrow, so I’m gonna head home,” he mumbled, ducking his eyes when Clarke looked right at him. “Happy birthday.” Clarke exchanged a nervous look with Raven when he turned to leave. She watched him walk out the door, catching his eye when he checked over his shoulder before closing it behind him.
Her mind started reeling, wondering if seeing her have that panic attack was too much for him. “Stop that right now,” Raven said, snapping her fingers at her. Of course, she could read Clarke’s panicked mind well by now. “Don’t overthink it. He just had to go home.”
“Right,” Clarke shrugged.
The one positive of Bellamy withdrawing and not coming by the bar all week was that it gave something new for Clarke to fixate on instead of freaking out about her party. The idea of being trapped in Octavia’s loud, crowded apartment was barely a blimp on her radar in comparison to her worry about Bellamy.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” Raven repeated on the drive. “He’s a chill guy. He probably didn’t feel well. What happened when you texted him?”
“He said not to worry about it,” Clarke sighed, looking out the window.
“So, you’re worrying about it,” she snorted. Clarke turned to glare at her, and she raised her hand on the wheel defensively. “I know, I know. I’d worry if someone said that to me too. But that doesn’t mean you should.” Clarke rested her head against the window, taking a deep breath. “Slight change of subject. Does your overanalyzing of his behavior mean you are into him?”
“What?” Clarke said, snapping her head toward Raven quickly.
“Oh, come on. He comes into that bar multiple times a week to grade. He teaches seventh grade history. How could he have that much grading to do?”
“I don’t know. He says he has a hard time focusing in his apartment,” she shrugged. Though, this was something that had already passed through Clarke’s mind. She decided not to read too much into it since it was probably nothing. She and Bellamy were friends… and even that was in question given his disappearing act this week.
“And he comes in all the nights that you’re working, usually when his sister isn’t there. So, either you are just that charismatic of a bartender, or he’s into you,” she said with a grin. Clarke snapped her mouth shut, sitting up straighter. How did she miss this?
Clarke didn’t have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. The Finn nightmare happened when she was just seventeen. She had a brief thing with Lexa years ago, but that was about it for her romantic experience. “What do I do?” Clarke whispered as Raven pulled into the parking spot.
“What do you mean?” Raven laughed. She tugged off her seatbelt before making eye contact with Clarke. “Wait, you’re serious?” Clarke weakly shrugged, not sure what to say. “Okay, let’s start with the easy part. Are you into him?”
Clarke wasn’t blind. Bellamy was an attractive guy. He had these adorable freckles that Clarke wanted to trace with her finger. And she loved being around him. He always seemed to say the right thing when he needed to and not say anything when Clarke needed him to. He got her sense of humor, though his stubbornness could be a problem when up against hers. If Clarke was looking to date someone, Bellamy would be the only name on the list.
“Yes,” she admitted. “But it’s like a small crush at most. Besides, I really shouldn’t. He’s Octavia’s brother, plus I have a soulmate somewhere.”
“A soulmate you haven’t found on purpose,” Raven reminded. Clarke clenched her eyes shut and took a deep breath. “That’s not a judgement. You shouldn’t do something you aren’t comfortable with.”
“I know,” she sighed.
“Look, I’m not saying you do anything for now. But the idea of reaching out to your soulmate scares the hell out of you, meanwhile you feel safe around Bellamy, right?” she confirmed, and Clarke nodded. “An unknown rando out there seems scary but you know you’re safe with Bellamy. So, getting closer to him is probably the right move for you.”
With a sigh, Clarke stepped out of Raven’s car. “Did you really not know he had a thing for you?” Raven teased as she put her arm around her shoulder.
“I’m not known for my skills of observation,” Clarke joked, and they made their way inside.
Unlike the usual parties, there was no throbbing of music echoing in the hallways. “Remember to be surprised,” Raven whispered before opening the door. When Clarke stepped in, the lights flickered on and she heard everyone yell, “Surprise!”
Even though she knew it was coming, she still jumped. Clarke quickly fixed the smile on her face, covering up the sheer panic from having everyone jump out at her. Octavia was the first one to get to her, pulling her into a hug. “Happy birthday!” she yelled over the music Monty had just turned on.
Clarke made her way down her line of friends, hugging and thanking each of them. When she got to Bellamy, she was so rattled by all the people that she had forgotten all about the last few days of panicking about him. “Happy birthday,” he whispered into her ear, pulling her into a firm hug. God, whatever his cologne was made him smell so good. She found herself tucking her head into the crook of his neck without thinking.
Clarke let the hug linger a little bit too long, but she couldn’t help herself. It was a really nice, warm hug. “Thanks,” she remembered to say as she pulled away. Jasper pulled her in for the next hug before Clarke could get another word out. While he was talking to her, she caught glimpse of Bellamy crossing into the kitchen. As her eyes followed him throughout the night, it hit her just how gone she actually was.
It didn’t help that she could feel his eyes on her throughout the party, but it wasn’t like before. Something had changed, and she couldn’t figure it out.
Clarke liked to think she was good at moderation. She usually stuck to two drinks max. But tonight, she was an anxious mess and found the alcohol helped. She wasn’t quite drunk, but she was buzzed enough to stop overthinking her entire life. It made it easier to talk to everyone. She still found herself getting overwhelmed after a while, though. So, she switched to water and stepped out onto the balcony, where she found Bellamy.
He was sitting on the ground, his back pressed against the red brick. “Hey,” he said with a small smile, patting the spot next to him on the ground. “How are you doing?”
“Good,” she said, handing him her glass. He held it as she clumsily sat down next to him. “I don’t normally drink this much, though.”
He handed her the water again, and she took a big gulp. “Well, it is your birthday,” he pointed out.
“How long have you been out here?” she asked, peering up at him.
He didn’t look back at her, keeping his eyes fixed on his own drink. “Probably a half hour or so.”
“Should’ve told me you were coming out here. I would’ve come and sit with you,” she said. When he didn’t say anything in response and just stared at his drink, she asked, “Okay, did I do something the other day to make you upset?” The alcohol made the words just slip out of her mouth. Never would a sober Clarke let herself sound so insecure.
He shook his head no, but Clarke wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “Clarke, don’t worry about it. It’s just a personal thing,” he sighed. “I’m more worried about you, honestly.”
“That just happens when I talk to my mom,” she groaned. “That’s why I didn’t want to answer the phone when she called.”
“Do you get that way with your dad?” he asked, and now he was actually looking at her.
“My dad was killed when I was seventeen,” Clarke explained. “But no, I didn’t get like that with him. Never with him.”
Bellamy’s eyes were wide as he studied her face. “I’m… I’m so sorry, Clarke,” he said while blinking rapidly. “Uh, how did he—”
“Stabbed in prison,” Clarke sighed. “His company was being investigated for something my mom and another associate did. She turned my dad in to save herself.” Bellamy’s mouth slammed shut, and Clarke felt bad for dropping this dark subject on him at a party. Maybe if she hadn’t been drinking so much, she wouldn’t have blurted all this out.
“I’m sorry that happened,” he whispered. Clarke tucked her head into Bellamy’s shoulder, too buzzed to think better of it.
“Sorry I just threw all that at you,” she mumbled into his flannel shirt. “Sorry I’m such a mess.”
Bellamy grabbed her hand, lacing his fingers with hers. She turned her head to see it, her chest warming at the sight of her hand enveloped by his. His hand was so warm… softer than she expected. She was so transfixed by his thumb tracing a circle into her skin that she barely heard him whisper, “You aren’t a mess, Clarke.”
She kept her head firm on his shoulder, scared to look up at him. She didn’t want him to see the tears forming in her eyes. She wasn’t sure if they were the normal sad tears or if they were happy tears because she finally heard someone say she wasn’t a mess. Clarke slid closer to Bellamy, her eyes not leaving their joined hands. After a few seconds, Bellamy’s head rested on top of hers. Clarke let her eyes fall shut, savoring the soft sigh from Bellamy and this brief moment of peace.
“Thank you,” she finally murmured, though he had no way of knowing just how many things she was thanking him for.
“Can I ask you something?” he whispered, his voice sounding nervous.
“Yeah,” she replied, ignoring the way her entire chest tightened that that question.
“Is what happened to your dad why you don’t like talking about soulmates?”
Clarke tucked her head back into his shirt, inhaling his cologne as she tried to calm down. It was just a question. It was just Bellamy. She was okay, she reassured herself. But maybe she really was drunk, because she couldn’t quite talk herself down.
“It’s part of it,” Clarke mumbled, the tears prickling in her eyes again.
“And the other part?” he asked. Clarke couldn’t even begin explaining this to Bellamy. She had a hard enough time explaining it to herself. It was a childish version of Schrodinger’s cat, where Clarke was too scared to find out who her soulmate was. She was in a permanent state of both having and not having a soulmate, which she preferred to the sheer terror of actually opening that box. Any logical person would see that she was being ridiculous and causing someone else pain in the process. It ate away at her, but she’d keep on doing this to herself if it meant she never had to bring someone in that could break her again by leaving.
“I don’t know. I’m just broken, I guess,” she whispered into his shirt. His hand let go of hers, and she immediately started kicking herself. Then, she felt him snake his arm around her, and she let out a relieved sigh.
“You’re not,” he murmured back to her. She shook her head as she curled into his chest. She knows he meant that, but he didn’t understand. Clarke didn’t try to argue with him. Instead, she closed her eyes and listened to his even breaths.
Clarke was having one of those days where taking her bra off when she walked in the door was the only thing she looked forward to. She had work late last night and studio time first thing in the morning. She stumbled sleepily into her apartment, grabbed a bag of chips, and belly flopped into her bed with a soft thud. She laid there for a few minutes, trying to trick her body into thinking she was getting rest, before finally sitting up. She still had work to get done before she could pass out, which meant no nap today.
She sleepily scrolled through her phone, finding a voicemail from Octavia that she must have left while Clarke was in class. “Clarke, I need you to do me a huge favor,” it started, and Clarke cursed under her breath. “Long story short, Lincoln and I are eloping tonight.” She sat upright, her eyes widening. It wasn’t surprising that Octavia would marry Lincoln. He was all she ever talked about, and they loved each other. But Octavia also had been planning an elaborate wedding since she was a child, according to both her and Bellamy. “I know, I know. It’s crazy,” she squealed. “Look, I’ll talk to you more about it when I get back.” Clarke blinked a few times at that. Get back… Octavia had a shift tonight. Now, Clarke knew what this call was for. “But I need someone to cover my shift tonight.”
“No,” Clarke shouted at the voicemail.
“I know this is last minute, but I’ll make it up to you I promise.”
“No, no,” Clarke whined. She just took her bra off. She was done for the day. She was going to hide under her comforter from people until tomorrow morning.
“Thank you so much! Love you!” Clarke dropped her phone onto her bed, turning over to look at the clock. She had half an hour before she needed to cover her shift. Fuck.
She was dead on her feet at the bar, though luckily it wasn’t too crowded for a Thursday night. Murphy and Monty helped keep her awake, constantly asking her to weigh in on their petty dispute. About an hour before closing, it had nearly emptied out. Monty told her she could rest her eyes for a moment, that he would wake her if anyone came in.
She wasn’t sure how long she dozed off for, but it was long enough for Bellamy to come sit down with the guys. “All I said was she should wait until after she graduates. Just one more semester,” she heard him groan. She popped her head up, lightly patting her cheeks to wake up. “Oh hey, sleeping beauty,” he teased, and she narrowed her eyes at him. He had already come in a few times this week, and things seemed to be normal for them now. She had a fuzzy memory of her birthday party, but luckily, he never brought it up to her. She still felt him looking at her a little differently than before. It was softer and far more likely to make Clarke lose her train of thought.
“Don’t poke that bear. She’s pissed at your sister too,” Murphy muttered, and Bellamy cocked an eyebrow.
“This was supposed to be her shift. I was supposed to be making up for lost sleep tonight,” Clarke mumbled. “Speaking of, how attached are you to your sister? Just asking in case I murder her.”
“Pretty attached,” he smirked. “Please, don’t murder her.”
“Fine,” Clarke groaned. She sat upright, propping her head up in her hands. “So, what happened?”
“You aren’t even going to ask me what I want to drink? No offense, but you’re a terrible bartender,” he teased. She reached across the counter to playfully shove him, loving the way he smiled as he laughed. She made a big show of making his drink, giving a small bow after sliding it to him. He chuckled a bit before taking a large gulp.
“That bad, huh?” she asked. He just rolled his eyes.
“Basically, Lincoln proposed last night. Octavia told me this morning. I suggested they wait a while before getting married. I really didn’t think that was unreasonable since she’s only twenty-two,” he explained. Murphy let out an annoyed groan before tugging Monty toward the dart board. They must have already heard all this. “I like Lincoln, and they’re soulmates. Of course, I hope that they would get married. Just not today. I was trying to explain the financial reasons it makes sense to wait, but all she heard was her big brother trying to control her life. It’s not like I was telling her not to get married.”
“But that’s what she heard,” Clarke realized.
“Exactly,” he huffed before pushing his hair back with his hand. “I don’t know why she decided to run off and get married today. But I said my piece, and this is her decision. So, I’m trying to let it go.”
“Very mature of you,” Clarke said, and he sighed. “I, on the other hand, will be petty for the both of us. So, don’t you worry,” she joked, which earned a half-smile from him. “In all seriousness, I’m sorry.”
“And I’m sorry she stuck you with her shift when you clearly need sleep,” he smirked.
“You saying I look tired?” Clarke asked, cocking her head to the side.
“I have a little sister. I know that question is a trap,” he replied, and Clarke chuckled. “But no, you don’t. Just knew you had a late shift last night and classes all day.” She should be more thrown that Bellamy knows her schedule this well, but she knew his too. It came with the territory of spending the whole fall hanging out at the bar together.
They talked a little bit more, and eventually Monty and Murphy came back. Clarke dozed off again while the three guys chatted, only waking up when she felt Bellamy’s warm hand pushing strands of hair out of her face. “What?” she grumbled, not wanting to lift her head.
He chuckled quietly as she rubbed her eyes. “It’s almost closing time. I sent the guys home,” he explained. He waited for her as she closed everything down, even helped her stack up the chairs. She grabbed her things before locking up, and Bellamy walked her to her car. “You good to drive home?” he asked, and Clarke furrowed her eyebrows at him. She wasn’t the one who had been drinking at a bar. “Don’t want you falling asleep at the wheel,” he smirked, and she rolled her eyes.
“It’s a three minute drive. I’ll be okay,” she reminded, unlocking her car.
“Okay, but text me to let me know when you get home,” he said seriously. Clarke glanced up at him, his gaze a bit heavier than usual. Ever since Raven pointed out that he might be interested in her, Clarke couldn’t stop seeing it. He checked up on her constantly, was more affectionate with her than his other friends. And the way he looked at her… well, Clarke wasn’t sure anyone had ever looked at her like that. But it never went beyond that. Bellamy didn’t push for anything more than what they had right now, which she didn’t understand. She thought he wanted more, just like she did.
“Yeah, okay,” she replied, ducking her head before he spotted the blush that his gaze had put on her cheeks.
When Clarke was outside her door, she sent Bellamy a quick text saying she got back okay. She swung the door open, seeing Raven and Zeke, who she recognized from photos, sitting on the couch. “What the—”
“Clarke, where have you been?” Raven groaned. Clarke blinked a few times before remembering Raven telling her about this visit.
“Shit, I’m sorry. I forgot,” Clarke mumbled. “I had to cover Octavia’s shift last minute because she ran off to elope with Lincoln. Hi, I’m Clarke,” she stuttered out, stumbling over herself to extend her hand to Zeke.
“Are things normally this crazy around here?” he chuckled, but Raven’s jaw was dropped.
“Tell me everything,” Raven said with a mischievous grin. Clarke kicked off her shoes before falling on the chair across from them, bracing herself for a long evening.
Clarke knew that Raven wasn’t exaggerating when she described her connection to Zeke. But it was something else to see it. It reminded her of how she felt when she first saw Lincoln and Octavia together. They were soulmates after all. She should have seen it coming.
Clarke laid on her bed that Saturday morning, having spent most of her day before witnessing the two of them together, thinking about her own life. She took a few deep breaths as she came to terms with the fact that she wanted what her friends had. She wanted that connection Raven found. She wanted the certainty that let Octavia feel comfortable enough to run off and elope with Lincoln.
The only time Clarke had felt that comfortable or that connected to someone was with Bellamy. She wished she could be more confident and just tell him, but she held herself back. Clarke did still have a soulmate out there who was waiting on a notification that the site found their soulmate. By now, they’ve probably moved on with their life, given up her. She couldn’t blame them. But it didn’t seem fair to never give them an explanation. Whoever they were, they deserved closure.
She tugged her laptop onto her bed, pulling up the soulmate finder site. She would make the account and confront this fear once and for all. Clarke couldn’t move on as long as this hung over her. Maybe if she confronted this insecurity, she could get the courage to start taking back her life. Her hands shook as she put in her name and date of birth, almost in shock that she was actually doing this. She had never made it this far in the process before.
Then, it came time to upload the photos of her soulmark. She pushed herself out of bed and rolled her shirt up, staring directly at her dark soulmark in the mirror. “You can do this,” she whispered to herself. “One more step and this is all over.”
The photo took several tries because her hands kept shaking. But eventually, she got the entire dark leaf in the frame. Within minutes, she had it up on her laptop, ready to submit. She clenched her eyes shut as she slammed the submit button, as if bracing herself for everything to fall apart immediately. After a few seconds, she opened one eye to see the confirmation screen. She took a deep breath as she read over it. If her soulmate is on here, she’d be matched with them within forty-eight hours.
She threw herself back onto her pillows, sucking in a shallow breath. Two days. She hadn’t thought about the two days she’d have to wait. After all these years, Clarke thought it would be an instantaneous sort of deal.
Someone knocked on the front door, and Clarke froze. She waited a few seconds, praying she would hear Raven’s feet moving to the door so that Clarke didn’t have to answer. Then, she remembered Raven and Zeke were out of the apartment.
Clarke practiced taking deep breaths as she threw a sweatshirt on and made her way to the door. Answering a door was easy, something she did all the time, she reminded herself. It only seemed like such a difficult task because she was already anxious. She could see who it is, talk to them, and then crawl back in bed and resume her panic attack.
She looked through the peephole, seeing Bellamy holding a bag in one hand while the other ran through his curls. Why was he here? She pulled up her phone, looking to see if she missed any texts from him, but she didn’t. She rested her head against the door for a moment, reminding herself that it was just Bellamy. She was safe around Bellamy. There was no reason to have a full-on panic attack over him.
When she opened the door, a smile formed on his lips. “Sorry to show up unannounced,” he said, stepping in. She felt self-conscious in her leggings and sweats, especially compared to how easy it was for Bellamy to look good. “Are you okay?”
His eyes were on her hands that she was fidgeting to keep him from seeing that they were shaking. “Yeah,” she lied. “What’s in the bag?” she deflected, and he handed it to her.
“A bribe,” he grinned, and Clarke looked inside to see donuts from across the street. Any other day, Clarke would be thrilled. But she wasn’t sure she could stomach anything right now. “I need your help.”
She shut the door behind him, resting against it as she crossed her arms. “It must be pretty bad if you think you need to bribe me to help you,” she replied as he bit down on his lip. God, he needed to stop doing that. It made it hard for her to keep her words straight. But him being here was good. It was a distraction she desperately needed. She could feel herself starting to calm down already.
“So, Octavia is back,” he said, and Clarke nodded. She had seen as much from her Instagram story. “We had a nice long talk, and I think we’re all good now.”
“I wasn’t too worried about that. You’re her brother after all.”
“Yeah, but she somehow talked me into agreeing to throw a party for her and Lincoln tonight,” he winced. “Sort of a ‘congrats on getting married even though everyone told her to wait’ kind of thing.”
“Donuts are not a big enough bribe,” she pointed out. Though, she needed a distraction from her panic over the soulmate thing.
“I will owe you all the favors,” he smirked. He knew she was going to say yes, of course. Like she could say no to him, especially with how great he’s been toward her since they first met. And she wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to spend more time with him. “Please. Murphy is no help at all, and this is really not my strong suit.”
“It’s not mine either,” she sighed. God, Octavia was going to hate this party if it was being thrown by the two people who hid during every party. “But I could enlist Raven and Zeke to help.”
“Who is Zeke?” Bellamy asked, tucking his hands into his pockets.
“Her soulmate. He’s staying here for a few days,” Clarke explained as she walked back toward her room. “Let me get dressed and we can get to work.”
Her laptop was still open on her bed when she came in, and Clarke slammed it shut. She changed into jeans and a button down before ducking into the bathroom. God, she looked horrible. Her hair was a tangled mess and she hadn’t washed her face yet today. Of course, Bellamy showed up when she looked terrible.
She washed her face quickly and brushed her hair. After getting some makeup on, she grabbed her boots and made her way out of her room. “So, I think we should start with booze. If Octavia has enough to drink, even the suckiest party can be a success,” Clarke said, tugging a boot on.
“Yeah, good plan,” he mumbled, but he didn’t sound focused. She glanced up at him, seeing him staring off in the distance. “So umm, do you like Raven’s soulmate?”
“Uh, yeah,” Clarke said before pulling the other one on. “He’s a really great guy, actually. Easily the best person she’s dated. Though, she’s only had one other boyfriend and I’m not exactly unbiased on that one.” When she looked up, he was looking at her with a confused expression on his face. Right, Clarke hadn’t told him this story. She had kept her life before moving to Arkadia as vague as possible with everyone here. The only time she really confessed anything about it was when she got drunk at her birthday party. “Raven and I became friends because we found out we had the same boyfriend. Finn Collins, AKA the biggest douchebag who surprisingly has great taste in girlfriends, obviously,” she smirked.
“Obviously,” he replied with a wink.
“Okay, booze first,” she said, grabbing her keys. “It’s the only thing I can probably help with, given my passion for liquor,” she joked.
“Please, you’re a terrible bartender,” he teased as he followed after her. She let out a mock scoff, hitting his shoulder.
“Yet you come to The Drop Ship whenever I’m there,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“You really think I go there for your bartending skills?” he huffed, nudging her in the side with his elbow. When she looked up at him, she expected to see his normal teasing eyes looking at her. But it was that softer look she had been seeing a lot more of, the one that made it harder to breathe in the best possible way.
After a long afternoon of running errands, which mostly consisted of Bellamy and Clarke roasting each other, she finally returned home for a shower and a change of clothes. She was doing her makeup when Raven popped in. “Can I get on your Spotify to get the playlist for tonight started?” she asked.
“Yeah, just use my laptop,” Clarke replied before returning to her mascara. Her eye makeup was completely done when Raven stormed back in, holding her laptop open. Clarke glanced over, seeing the soulmate finder site still open from earlier.
“Clarke,” Raven said with wide eyes. “Did you—”
“Yes, this morning,” Clarke said, bracing her hands on the counter.
“So, you want to find your soulmate?” she asked, her lips forming in a grin.
“No,” Clarke sighed. “Or I don’t think I do. But I feel like I can’t really move on with my life until I deal with this. I think I owe it to whoever it is to be honest and tell them why they couldn’t find me. I’m just… ripping off that band aid.”
Raven shut the laptop and hopped up to sit on the counter. “By move on with your life, do you mean move on with Bellamy?” Clarke opened her mouth to protest, because it was so much bigger than that. This was years in the making, long before she met Bellamy. But Bellamy reminded her of how it should feel to find that person. He made her feel happy, safe, and not like the mess Clarke convinced herself she was. “I know you like him.”
“It’s more than that,” Clarke huffed. She was falling hard and fast for him, which was so unlike her. Clarke was cautious, keeping people at a distance. But she didn’t want to keep her distance from Bellamy. She found herself wanting to talk to him about the anxieties she was too scared to talk about. She had gotten close so many times already. His presence never felt like a stressor on Clarke. It was the first time in a long time that she felt safe enough to want to be open with someone.
“Oh my God,” Raven cheered. “I’m picking out your outfit for tonight.” And she was out of the bathroom before Clarke could stop her. This was how Clarke ended up in a short skirt and top, when she had planned on something a little more low key.
“I know what I’m talking about!” she heard Murphy shout from inside Bellamy’s apartment. She quietly opened the door, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion.
“That is too much salt,” Bellamy snapped. She followed the noise into the kitchen, dropping a case of beer on the counter. He whipped his head around, though the frustrated look on his face changed when he looked at her. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but no words came out.
“Clarke, come taste test and tell me what you think,” Murphy said, holding out a wooden spoon with sauce on it for her. She shot him a skeptical look before testing.
“Oh God, that’s good,” she replied. “You know how to cook?”
“Why is everyone so surprised?” he hissed. Clarke ducked away, moving to put some beer in the fridge. “What, no response to Clarke taking my side?” he asked Bellamy. She didn’t hear Bellamy say anything, but something nonverbal must have been exchanged because Murphy burst out laughing.
“I’m gonna grab the rest from my car,” Clarke said before stepping out of the kitchen.
“Here, let me help,” Bellamy said, falling in step beside her.
“Thank God. Stay out of my kitchen,” Murphy shouted, and Clarke chuckled. Bellamy held the front door open for her, and Clarke shot him a smile before stepping out into the hallway.
Bellamy tucked his hands into his jean pockets as he said, “So, you look nice tonight.” Clarke blinked a few times before looking up at him. He was ducking his head, not quite looking at her.
“Thanks,” she replied with a blush. They were quiet the rest of the way to the car, unloading the trunk in relative silence as well. “Are you okay?” she asked him when they were back on the elevator.
His eyes had been on her for most of the elevator ride already, though she couldn’t read what he was thinking. “Yeah, just a little nervous.”
“Hey, for two antisocial losers who sit outside during parties, I think we threw together a good one at last minute,” she teased, and he finally cracked a smile.
“We’ll have to be more creative about avoiding people at this one, though,” he replied. Clarke’s own smile grew at the notion that it was understood that they would do that together. That it was their thing.
“Just come get me when you want to disappear,” she giggled as the elevator door opened. When they got back inside his apartment, Raven and Zeke had arrived and were setting up the speakers. Bellamy went back to harassing Murphy in the kitchen, while Clarke got the rest of the party ready to go.
Octavia wasn’t her normal vibrant self, which unnerved Clarke. At any other party, she’d be slamming down drinks and get everyone dancing. And considering this party was to celebrate her wedding, Clarke expected the same if not more enthusiasm.
“Hey, do you want to get some air with me?” Clarke asked her when she found her in the kitchen. She let out a relieved sigh and tugged Clarke by the hand toward the front door. Clarke locked eyes with Bellamy before she stepped out, and he raised his eyebrows. She waved it off, assuring him that she was going to get to the bottom of whatever this was.
They walked down the hallway before Octavia pulled her into the stairwell. “Is everything okay?” Clarke asked as Octavia plopped down on the steps.
“With Lincoln, yeah. He’s literally perfect,” she replied. “I know we were being kind of rash, but it felt right and still does.”
“So, is it Bellamy?” Clarke asked, sitting down next to her.
“Yeah. I know he’s not happy about it,” Octavia muttered, shaking her head.
“He loves Lincoln. He is happy you’re together,” Clarke clarified.
“Just not that we’re married,” she sighed. “I love Bellamy, I do. But he doesn’t know what it’s like. He never got this kind of connection with his soulmate, so he can’t grasp how I’m feeling. Or how Lincoln is bringing out the best in me. If he got that, he’d see why I couldn’t wait to marry him.”
“Okay,” Clarke whispered, leaning toward her. “I’m not Bellamy, but as someone who never found the connection you’re talking about, can I just say that I do get it?” Octavia cocked her head to the side, furrowing her eyebrows just like Bellamy did when he was confused. “There are people who bring out the best in you, who inspire you to take the steps you need to. They don’t all have to be soulmates. They can be your friends who drag you to parties instead of letting you hide out at home.” A small chuckle escaped Octavia’s lips as she ducked her head. “They can be the girl your ex-boyfriend cheated on you with who, years later, still makes sure you get out of bed on the rough days.”
“They can be the guy you hide out at parties with,” Octavia added in with a smirk. It was Clarke’s turn to duck her head, hiding a blush. Of course, Octavia knew. She wasn’t blind. And she could read people far better than Clarke could.
“My point,” Clarke said, not acknowledging that interruption, “is that no, he doesn’t know what it’s like to have this specific connection you have with Lincoln. But anyone can understand that there are people in our lives that we love who push us to be better.” Octavia’s head snapped up, and she raised an eyebrow at Clarke. “So, Bellamy can recognize the connection and be happy for you. But you’re his little sister, and he wants the best possible life for you. He’s gonna be a bit stubborn about his vision for what that is, but he’ll come around.”
“Okay, what you said was pretty smart and insightful for such a cynical mess. Thank you,” she said, but there was a mischievous glint in her eyes. “But you do realize you just told me you love my brother, right?” Her lips quirked up into a smile as Clarke threw her head back.
“That was not the takeaway from my beautiful speech, and that’s not even what I said,” Clarke groaned.
Octavia stood up from the step, holding her hand out toward Clarke. “You listed me, Raven, and Bellamy in the list of people you love,” she teased. Clarke pulled herself up, shaking her head.
“You added Bellamy to the list,” Clarke huffed.
“And you didn’t correct me,” she smirked.
“You’re wasting your talents being a bartender. Ever considered law school?” Clarke muttered as they made their way out of the stairwell.
“Hmm, trying to distract me from your love confession by making jokes? Very defensive,” she kept teasing, causing Clarke to groan all the way back to Bellamy’s apartment.
The party picked up as soon as Octavia’s mood lifted. Of course, Octavia eventually took over the playlist, putting on the song list she just so happened to put together earlier today. Maybe this wasn’t the most conventional wedding reception, but Octavia had everyone dancing like it was. Bellamy and Murphy winced as their furniture was rearranged to make more room.
“You know,” Clarke said, leaning against the wall next to Bellamy. He was watching the crowd of people dancing in his living room. “This is usually when you and I ditch the party and hide somewhere.”
“Or we could join them this time,” he smirked, looking down at her. She blinked a few times, confirming that this was Bellamy who just suggested that.
“Are you drunk?” she had to ask, and he just burst out laughing.
“Completely sober,” he replied, holding out his hand for her.
She took a deep breath as she set her drink down on the table. “If you were anyone else, I’d say no,” she sighed as she put her hand in his.
“If you were anyone else, I wouldn’t ask,” he replied with a smile before tugging her by the hand toward their friends.
Clarke was pretty sure she hadn’t danced since her junior prom, since she skipped her senior prom. But it didn’t feel as awkward this time, not in a room with all her friends instead of the two hundred people in her class. She was surprised she actually enjoyed it.
As soon as the song shifted into a slower one, Clarke figured she’d step away again. But Bellamy pulled her toward him, insisting on just one more. When she gave in, the cutest little smile formed on his lips before he diverted his eyes. She relaxed into him, resting her head on his chest.
She couldn’t help but think about her conversation with Octavia earlier, where she accused Clarke of being in love with Bellamy. Her own reaction was strange. Sure, she deflected because it was Octavia, and she learned from experience that Octavia, once onto something, won’t let it go. But what confused Clarke was that Octavia’s words didn’t send her into a panic. She wasn’t scared of it. Clarke Griffin, the girl who has been scared of a website for five years, wasn’t scared of the fact that she loved Bellamy.
Loving Bellamy felt as natural as melting into him while they danced together. She glanced up at him, finding him already looking at her. He smiled when their eyes locked, and she found it hard not to mirror his expression.
Clarke didn’t realize she had leaned her head toward his until Bellamy met her halfway, gently pressing his lips to hers. He pulled her tighter against him as he tentatively kissed her. It wasn’t a nervous kiss, but a cautious, deliberate one. A question he was waiting for Clarke to answer. When she returned the kiss, the question on his lips disappeared and was replaced with pent up want.
She could hear her own heart pounding as he pulled away, her entire body warm. “About damn time,” she heard Murphy call out. She immediately buried her face into Bellamy’s chest, concealing her blush and laughter. She completely forgot everyone else was still in here.
“Really, Murphy?” Bellamy groaned, though she could feel his laughter vibrating in his chest.
Cleaning up was a nightmare, and it certainly didn’t help that Murphy had already passed out drunk. “How many half-eaten Oreos did Jasper leave around?” Bellamy groaned, throwing another one into a trash bag. “Who eats just half an Oreo?”
“Monsters,” Clarke muttered, and he chuckled. She picked up a few half empty cups and headed toward the kitchen. She poured out the liquor into the sink before tossing them out. “Where are the rest of your trash bags?” she asked.
Bellamy came in behind her, pressing a kiss to her cheek, causing her entire face to heat up. He hadn’t full on kissed her again, but that didn’t stop him from keeping a hand on her at all times or sneaking kisses to her forehead and cheek. “Well, Murphy would have put them away. So, who knows?” he muttered, breaking away to look through the lower cabinets. She leaned against the counter, watching him grow more and more frustrated as he searched. “Logically, they should be down here,” he groaned.
She giggled to herself as he let out a huff, slamming the cabinet under the sink shut. He opened the cabinet above the sink, cursing under his breath when he saw them. As he got up on his toes to reach the top shelf, Clarke spotted something she had only seen one other place. She blinked a few times, making sure she was seeing it correctly.
His shirt rose slightly as he reached, revealing a small, dark soulmark above his hipbone. Her soulmark, to be more specific. The black leaf wasn’t as sharp of a contrast on his skin, but it was her leaf alright. She’d know it anywhere.
“What kind of idiot would put it up there?” he huffed, dropping the box onto the counter. Clarke slammed her mouth shut as she stared at him.
Bellamy was her soulmate. She was Bellamy’s soulmate. Clarke had never asked Bellamy what happened with his. Everyone implied that something had happened to his soulmate… but she had never considered that his soulmate just never let him find her.
Bellamy continued muttering on about Murphy, and Clarke let her eyes fall shut. For five years, Clarke had left Bellamy all alone. Wait, it was more than five years because Bellamy has been waiting since he signed up at eighteen, almost eight years ago. God, no wonder he never talked about his soulmate. He was probably convinced she was dead after waiting that long for a match. He probably gave it two years and then assumed she was dead for the last six.
“Clarke?” she heard him say, and she forced her eyes open. He was just a foot away from her, running his hand up her arm as he looked at her with worried eyes. She could feel her tears gathering in her eyelashes as she blinked, but she couldn’t push them back… because she still had to tell him. She had to explain. Clarke had to tell Bellamy, who she loved, why she hid from him, why she left him all alone. “What’s going on?” His fingers pushed her tears from her cheeks, trying to take care of her, not knowing how much pain she had caused him.
She opened her mouth, trying to find the best words to explain what her fear and selfishness did to him for years. “I’m so sorry,” was all that fell off her lips as she broke into a sob.
“Breathe,” he whispered, holding her face between his hands. Her lips quivered as she tried to form the words. This was her fault. She made peace with having to tell a stranger what she did, but this was so much worse. She had to tell someone she loved that she was responsible for his heartbreak. “You can talk to me.”
She swallowed, forcing herself to meet his sweet, concerned eyes. “I, umm,” she blubbered out. Her eyes fell shut as she took another breath. She had to tell him. He needed to know. He deserved to know years ago. All these years, Clarke told herself that no one would want such a broken soulmate. And now, here she was just inches away from her soulmate, feeling more like a disaster than she ever had. “I know who your soulmate is, and I need to—”
“Clarke, I already know.”
“—tell you why…”
She trailed off as soon as his words registered. Her eyes went wide as she tried to form a coherent sentence. She searched his eyes frantically, looking for any anger or confusion. But his eyes were just as soft as ever, almost painfully so. “You knew,” was all she could manage to say.
“Spotted the soulmark on your birthday,” he said quietly.
He didn’t just know. He had known. “I don’t… what,” she stuttered out, trying to wrap her head around it. She was already thrown that he wasn’t acting furious with her. She really screwed him over just because she couldn’t get herself together. He should be livid. “Why didn’t you tell me?” was what she finally settled on, breaking eye contact with him because she couldn’t handle his soft gaze. She could feel herself shaking in his arms, her breathing uneven and shaky.
“Because you were scared,” he whispered, and her eyes fluttered up to meet his. “Right?” he asked earnestly, as if he were worried he didn’t read her correctly. Her mouth fell open, and all she could do was nod. His eyes softened as he pressed his lips together.
She dropped her head to his chest, heaving into his shirt. “I am so sorry, Bellamy,” she mumbled into the fabric. He pulled her tight against him, his hand cradling the back of her head.
“It’s okay,” he murmured into her hair, rocking her slightly.
“No, it’s not,” she sobbed. Nothing about what she did to him is okay. For years, she had known it. But when it was a faceless person she didn’t know, let alone love, it was easier to excuse her actions. It was easy to say that she was doing her soulmate a favor by not finding them. But Bellamy cared about her, maybe even loved her. And this whole time, he was who she was hiding from. “Why aren’t you upset with me?”
“Because I know you, Clarke. You weren’t trying to hurt me. You were protecting yourself from whatever it was you were scared of, right?” Clarke froze, stunned by how easily he read her. “I’m confused but not upset.” Clarke was cautious as she pushed away from his chest, but she trusted Bellamy when he said he wasn’t upset. His lips formed a weak smile when she looked up at him. “There you are,” he whispered, pushing her hair behind her ear. If there was any doubt that Clarke loved Bellamy, it just flew out the window. How could she not be madly in love with him when he was the kindest person she had ever known?
She took a deep breath. She could tell him. She would do this for Bellamy. “Umm, so you know about what happened to my dad,” she started. Her fingers fidgeted with the crease in his shirt, needing something to do while she told Bellamy the whole truth. “About six months later, my best friend died in a car accident. I wasn’t speaking to my mom, and I only really had Raven who didn’t get me yet.”
She glanced up at Bellamy, and his eyes were glued to her as he hung on every word. “I always had bad anxiety, but my mom just told me everyone had anxiety. So, I ignored it. But after all that, I got worse and couldn’t ignore it anymore.” There was nothing quite as terrifying as the first bad panic attack, the first moments where Clarke was convinced she was dying, and her mother said it was just in her head. Clarke hated how people would say that like it was a reassurance. It was the most terrifying statement someone could say to her. If it were anything else, there would be an easy fix. But it was in her head, meaning she had to find a way to live with it.
“I couldn’t fathom meeting my soulmate at that point in my life. I was so broken and confused, and…” she trailed off. She didn’t want to confess this, not out loud. She knew exactly how Bellamy would react.
“Clarke,” he whispered, urging her to keep going. She swallowed as his eyes bore into her, and all she wanted was to do this all over. She didn’t know she was getting a Bellamy as her soulmate. He would have understood. He would have been patient. He would have helped her like he was doing now.
She broke her eyes away from his, not sure she could see his reaction and not break into another sob. “And… I figured no one wanted a soulmate who was that broken,” she choked out, hearing her own voice break at the words. “If I met them back then, I would have lost them anyway, just like everyone else.”
She took a deep breath before looking at him again, her heart ripping in two as she saw his eyes tear up. His mouth fell open as she saw him struggle with what to say. “I know,” she said before he could try to reassure her. “It’s just how I think, okay?” His forehead creased as he still searched for his words. “Anyway, I told myself that I would get myself together first and then sign up. But I kept doing that every year, and now it’s been five years and I only just did it this morning.”
“Wait, what?” he asked, his eyes widened in confusion. “Why did you sign up this morning?”
Honestly, Clarke had kind of forgotten about that since so much had happened since Bellamy knocked on her door hours ago. A small laugh escaped her lips as she replayed the morning, the irony too perfect. “I was jealous of how easy it was for Raven and Octavia to be happy with their soulmates,” Clarke chuckled. “And I thought, ‘well, I don’t need to meet my soulmate to be that happy because I have Bellamy.’ So, I was going to face whoever my soulmate was and tell them the truth so that I could move on with you.”
The worried look in Bellamy’s face was replaced by his wide grin and roar of laughter. She couldn’t help but join in, burying her face into his shoulder to muffle her giggles. “So, you were going to blow off your soulmate, which is me, for me?” he chuckled, his smile big and warm like usual.
“I didn’t know it was you,” Clarke reminded him.
“As the soulmate whose heart you were going to break, I’m devastated,” he teased. “But as the man you were going to leave your soulmate for, I’m flattered.”
“I’m glad you think this is funny,” she snorted, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “I wouldn’t have come to that decision if someone had told me what he knew.”
“Yeah, I could have told you sooner,” he said, dropping the teasing tone in his voice at the end. “But I didn’t know why you were scared. I figured going slow and waiting for you to be comfortable before springing it on you was best,” he said. Clarke pressed her lips together as she fought the urge to crash her lips into his. “I don’t mind waiting when it comes to you, Clarke.”
She tugged him by the collar toward her, pressing her lips hard against his. He sighed into her mouth as he rested his hand firmly on her back. Her hands traveled up to cup his cheeks, anchoring him as close to her as possible.
She should have known it was him. Since she met Bellamy, he had been the answer to a question she had been too afraid to ask. It was like a quiet oh, there you are was whispered in her head when he put her at ease the first time. All this time, she had been scared her soulmate would run when they learned what a mess she was. And there was Bellamy, who never once believed she was a mess.
When he pulled his lips away, he closed his eyes and rested his forehead against hers. “I am sorry, Bellamy. It couldn’t have been easy,” she whispered. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to wait and wait like that. She would have given up hope, figured she’d just be alone forever.
“I mean, no,” he admitted. She took her lip between her teeth. “But I never romanticized soulmates like Octavia did. I assumed that something happened to you before you got the chance to sign up.” Her eyes fell downcast as he sighed. “I moved on, lived my life normally because nothing had really changed for me. Until I met you and wondered why I even bothered trying to find my soulmate.”
“Then you saw my soulmark,” she whispered.
“Then I saw your soulmark,” he repeated back with a small smile, and Clarke let out a breath. “And here we are.”
“What do we do now?” she asked with a chuckle.
“Don’t know,” he smirked, reaching up to wipe a remaining tear from under her eye. “Hide out on balconies at parties for the rest of eternity together? I mean, I’m already in love with you so we can cross that off the soulmate to-do list.”
She was about to laugh along when she realized that he just snuck a love confession into his bad joke. Clarke could feel her entire face light up before she pulled him down toward her for a kiss. It was too mess since she was grinning like an idiot, but he didn’t seem to mind. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips, not an ounce of fear or doubt in her as she spoke. She loved Bellamy Blake, her kind, brilliant, and loving soulmate.
He tried kissing her again, but it was even messier now that he was smiling like Clarke was. They ended up just laughing against each other’s lips, too happy to do much else.