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Saltmates II: The Reckoning

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Like most friendly agreements, the dibs system wasn't something Clarke and Nate ever sat down and ironed out, not really a formal thing. There is no list of rules and guidelines, no contract signed in blood.

All that happens is that a cute boy comes into auditions for the play in seventh grade, and Nate says, "Dibs."

Clarke frowns. "On him?"

"Yup. He's all mine."

The confidence is just a little bit absurd. Not only is Nate twelve years old, skinny, and awkward, but they don't even know if the guy likes guys. The idea that he's going to, without a doubt, get this guy is pretty much ridiculous.

All of which Clarke could point out, but she doesn't want to. Nate only just told her a few weeks ago that the thought he liked guys, and this part feels like a test, like Nate wants to see if Clarke believes him and accepts him.

"All yours," Clarke agrees, and when, five weeks later, the boy tries to kiss her, Clarke says, "Sorry, you're not my type."

She doesn't mention it to Nate for a long time, not until they're at a party sophomore year and she sees a cute boy and says, "Hey, dibs."

"What?"

"Dibs."

"Who calls dibs? Are you twelve?"

"You called dibs. When we were twelve," she has to admit. "You called dibs on Mark Talbot when we were doing the play and he kissed me and I didn't kiss him back."

"Huh," says Nate. "Really?"

"Yup."

"So really, you owe me. Mark Talbot's a dick."

This is true, but somewhat beside the point. "You still made dibs a thing, not me."

"So what, now I'm supposed to not hit on that guy? Because you didn't make out with a douchebag in seventh grade?"

"Well, not that douchebag."

Nate snorts. "I forgot your taste in guys sucks. Fine, I won't try to hit on him. He's not even that cute."

Up close, he's definitely not that cute, and he's not interested in Clarke, but the principle of the thing remains: Clarke called dibs, and Nate respected it, and now it's a thing they're both aware of.

It doesn't always mean that they're worried the other person will make a move; Clarke calls it on girls sometimes, and Nate calls it on guys he knows to be gay. It's a declaration of interest, a request for backup, a silly tradition that grows over the years into a ritual. It doesn't mean everything, but it means something, and something important.

And then, Nate calls dibs on Bellamy.

Which isn't a big deal, all things considered. There's definitely nothing wrong with it. Bellamy teaches Latin at the school where Clarke teaches art, and they're friendly, verging on actually being friends. He and his roommates were having a party and he invited Clarke, who invited Nate. Nate hasn't met Bellamy, so this is the first time calling dibs is an option, and now he has.

Clarke didn't, so there's no violation or anything. She's had plenty of chances to call dibs on Bellamy and it never even occurred to her. She's had two years of potential dibs and never took them.

"On Bellamy?"

"The one with the curly hair and the glasses, yeah." Nate looks at her askance. "You said he's bi, right?"

"He is, yeah." Her brain finally gets with the program, and she smiles. "Honestly, you guys would probably be pretty great together."

"You think?"

"You're an asshole, he's an asshole--"

"Wow, we already have so much in common."

"And I'm pretty sure he's single. Yeah, this one's actually a good call."

"Unlike my usual shitty taste?"

"Your exes have been a pretty mixed bag."

"Oh, you're one to talk."

She grins. "Here's hoping I develop good taste one day too."

"I can't wait."

"Are you going to go talk to him?"

Nate takes a deliberate sip of his drink. "That's not really in the spirit of dibs. It's a long game. If I was going to hook up with him tonight, I wouldn't need to call dibs. But I figure I'll see him again sometime."

"Oh good, I can't wait to watch the train wreck of you seducing my coworker in real time."

"You're trying for sarcastic, but I know you're actually looking forward to it. I can give you some tips."

"I don't need tips."

"You're just saying that because you haven't seen me work yet."

"I've seen you work enough to last me a lifetime."

"Not since high school. I've gotten a lot better."

That's the other thing about the Bellamy dib, the thing that makes it feel more important than maybe it should. Clarke and Nate went to different colleges, in different time zones. They stayed in touch, of course, through Facebook and text messages, but this is their first time living in the same place full time for seven years, and the first time ever as adults. This is part of their new status quo, and Clarke doesn't want to mess it up.

"Looking forward to it," she says, with a smile.

She thinks she sounds pretty convincing.

*

Clarke and Bellamy weren't instant friends when Clarke started teaching at Arcadia. The first time they met, Bellamy was disciplining some kids too harshly (in Clarke's new and only semi-professional opinion) and while she hadn't undermined him in front of the kids, she did take him aside after to gently point out that he was wrong.

Which he hadn't been. Clarke can admit she was the asshole there, and Bellamy maybe knew his business better than she did.

Still, it was a hurdle that proved difficult to overcome on both sides. Clarke has never been good at admitting she's wrong, and while Bellamy has since admitted that he got where she was coming from, he wasn't particularly inclined to be the first to try to make amends. Given how stubborn both of them are, it probably could have gone on forever, but at the start of Clarke's second year of teaching, they hired a new principal, who was and still is awful, and suddenly she and Bellamy had a common enemy. They found themselves on the same side of conversations in the staff room, working together to push back against shitty policies, and once that started, they realized how good they were at it and how much they actually did agree on a lot of things.

By the time Nate calls dibs on him, Bellamy is without doubt Clarke's favorite coworker, which means the whole thing should, in theory, be a slam dunk. Nate and Bellamy seem like a good match, two of her favorite people in the world, and if they want to date, Clarke should be all for it. Clarke wants to be all for it. On paper, it makes so much sense.

Something about it bugs her, though, and she can't figure out what. She's probably being territorial toward one or both of them, worried that they won't need her if they have each other, and that's beyond shitty.

But she can get past it.

"You're still single, right?"

It's a week after the party, and if Nate has done anything to try to actually make a move on Bellamy, Clarke missed it. And, of course, he doesn't have to do anything, there have been countless dibs that went nowhere, but it would really be a shame if nothing happened with him and Bellamy. A complete waste of dibs.

Bellamy looks up from the papers he's grading with a small frown. "What?"

"You. Your dating status. Still single?"

"Still single. Why?"

As sad as it is, Clarke hadn't really had a plan for this conversation past this point. She's not really much of a matchmaker, and telling Bellamy that Nate likes him goes against the entire spirit of dibs. Her job here is to support Nate in his crush, not go out and make things happen herself.

Bellamy is still watching her, eyebrows raised, waiting for an explanation. "I saw you talking to that brunette at the party, I thought she might be a new girlfriend."

"Oh, no. Ex-girlfriend, actually. But we broke up on good terms, so people make that mistake a lot."

"I don't understand how you're on such good terms with all your exes," she grumbles. "You broke up, it's supposed to be bad!"

"No, breaking up is good. Staying together when you should break up is bad. Maybe this is your problem," he teases.

"Shut up."

He considers her. "What about the guy you brought? New boyfriend?"

At least he's considerate enough to give her the perfect opening. "Him? No, that's Nate."

"He said his name was Miller."

"He started going by his last name in high school because our class had like five Nates. But we've been friends since--I can't even remember. Basically since birth."

Bellamy snorts. "You would have a friend like that."

"What does that even mean?"

"I picture your childhood as very idyllic, I guess. I moved around too much to keep any of the kids I knew growing up."

"That happened with our other friend, Wells. We were all in the same carpool to pre-school--shut up," she adds, before he can say anything, and he grins and holds his hands up. It is a cute story, he's not wrong. "We were pretty much inseparable through elementary school, but then in sixth grade Wells' dad got a job in Seattle and they moved, so it was just me and Nate. Not that we didn't still talk to Wells, but it wasn't the same." She shrugs. "We went to different colleges, but he got a new job here, so here we are."

"That's awesome. It must be nice to have him around again." He smirks. "You know, none of that is convincing me that he's not going to be your new boyfriend. That sounds like some rom-com shit."

"He's gay."

"Okay, never mind, yeah."

"I'm going to try to bring him to stuff, though," she says. "Maybe even organize stuff myself."

Bellamy snorts. "Wow, drastic measures."

"I could have parties, right? Or, like, game nights. Nate likes games, I have a pretty big apartment."

"Is this you asking me if I'll come to game nights at your apartment, the answer is yes. I'll even give you some tips on how to act like you're actually comfortable having people over."

"It just gets messy," she says, making a face. "I hate cleaning."

"But you're worried he won't make any friends without your semi-competent help, so you're willing to do it anyway?"

It's a much safer explanation than the truth. "I know he didn't just move here for me, but I was part of the reason. I don't want him to regret it."

Bellamy's expression softens, the smile warming his whole face. "I get that, yeah. It looked like he was having fun at my party, so that's a good start."

"Yeah, I think he had a good time." She tucks her hair back. "So, game nights?"

"Until you come up with something to do that doesn't mess up your apartment, sure. Whatever it is, I'm in."

Clarke smiles. "Cool, I'll keep you posted."

*

Despite the whole thing being for his benefit, Nate is less enthused about the game night idea.

"You need a good group dynamic for game night," he explains. "I don't know anyone well enough to be sure what kind of games would even be good. You're over-competitive, that's already a bad start."

"I am not!"

"You hate losing."

"Who likes losing?" she grumbles, and Nate smirks.

"This is what I'm saying."

"I'm trying to help, you know."

"Help with what, exactly?"

"Making friends? Hitting on my coworker? Settling into the city?"

Nate snorts. "Thanks, Mom. I can manage my own social life." But his expression softens. "We should have auditions."

"Auditions?"

"Don't call it a game night until we know who we want to come. You don't want to commit to a group. These are the kinds of things you'd know if you were a true gamer," he adds.

"This is the kind of thing I don't know because I got laid in college."

"I got laid in college and I played board games. Which one of us is winning here?"

"Honestly, neither."

He grins. "Yeah, that sounds right."

"So, any of your new coworkers you think would be good for a board game night?"

"I think we can figure something out."

Clarke invites Bellamy, Sinclair from the physics department, and Jasper from English. Bellamy brings (yet another) ex-girlfriend, Raven, who's apparently a shark, and Jasper brings his friend Monty. Nate invites his coworkers Harper and Monroe, and they have what, in Clarke's amateur opinion, is a pretty successful game night. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves, and no one gets too competitive, not even Clarke.

And, as a bonus, she manages to get Bellamy and Nate in the same pod for most of the games, and they seem to get along just as well as she thought they would.

Honestly, it's one of her more successful plans, thus far. She could maybe be good at this.

"That was a good crew, right?" she asks Nate, once everyone else has cleared out. "Good attitudes."

"Yeah, that actually worked out really well." He leans against the counter, watching her. "You know you don't have to do all this, right? Like, I'm an adult, I can make friends on my own. You're not even that good at making friends. Blind leading the blind."

"So I'm trying to help both of us. And it's working so far, right?"

"One good game night," he says. "Don't get cocky."

Clarke grins. "So, same time next week?"

"Yeah, can't wait."

*

The exact make-up of game night varies, depending on how busy everyone is. Clarke is the default host, but after a few weeks, it's evolved beyond her. She has too much going on with grading and helping out with the junior fundraiser one week, so Bellamy agrees to have it at his place so Clarke won't have as much on her place. Even Jasper's friend Monty, who barely knows them, hosts one week, just because he loves games so much and is excited to finally have a group to play them with.

It takes about two months for things to go wrong, and when they do, it's in the stupidest possible way. Nate's usually the one to help Clarke with cleanup, but he has an early morning, so Bellamy volunteers to stick around instead.

"You know," he observes, "I didn't think this was going to work."

"Which part?"

"The game night thing. I figured it would fall apart after a week or two, that's how this always works. But I should have known you're too stubborn to just give up. Is it working?"

"You just said it was working," Clarke says, frowning at him.

"No, not that. You were trying to make friends for Miller. How's that going?"

Clarke feels a flush race through her body, although she can't figure out why. "You like him, right?"

"Yeah, he's cool. Does he like sports?"

"Sports? Like, as a general concept?"

"I have some tickets to a baseball game," he says, not looking at Clarke. "My sister got them and she can't go, so she gave them to me. I thought maybe Miller might be interested. I assume you're not," he adds, an afterthought, and Clarke pastes on a smile.

"Yeah, definitely not. I don't know anything about baseball. But Nate might be interested, yeah. You should ask him."

"Cool, thanks. It seems like he's getting along with everybody pretty well, so--seriously, I'm impressed."

"I'm impressive."

She makes it through the rest of the cleaning up without incident, sends Bellamy home, and then drops back against the door with a shaky exhale of breath. This was what she wanted; this was the whole point. Helping Nate make friends generally and with Bellamy specifically, and now Bellamy is asking him out. This is going better than Clarke could have imagined.

She takes a few deep breaths and calls Wells. He's still on the west coast, so it's not as late there, and he picks up right away.

"Hey, Clarke, what's up?"

"I'm having a weird crisis."

"Oh good, that sounds fun." But she can hear the smile in his voice. "What's the weird crisis?"

She exhales. "It's complicated."

"Will you quit stalling and just tell me already? It's complicated and stupid and you're embarrassed, I get it. I won't judge you."

"I just realized I have a thing for my coworker."

"Bellamy?"

Her heart drops. "How did you know?"

"You talk about him a lot. I didn't think you knew, if it helps. You're kind of slow with this stuff."

"That's supposed to help?"

"So, you figured out you like him and now you're panicking? That's not that bad."

"Nate likes him and I've been trying to set them up. And I just figured out I like Bellamy because he's going to ask Nate out."

"Huh," says Wells, slow. "Okay, yeah, that's worse than I was expecting."

Clarke closes her eyes, sighing deeply. "I thought I was happy for him. I was happy for him. Nate said he had dibs and I thought--" She pauses, reconsiders. "I told myself I was good with it and I should make it happen, and now I did."

"How much does Nate like him?"

It's a good question to which Clarke doesn't have a good answer. Nate called dibs, obviously, but it doesn't feel as if he's put a ton of effort into hanging out with Bellamy, not more than anyone else. They seem friendly, but Clarke wouldn't know he had a crush if he hadn't told her. He hasn't mentioned it since that first night, and he hasn't seemed to put together that the game nights were entirely for his benefit, with Bellamy.

"I don't know. He just said--" She's never explained the whole dibs thing to Wells, and saying it now feels juvenile. She's twenty-five; she shouldn't be having a meltdown like this over something that ambiguous. "He just said he liked him. It's been a couple months now, he hasn't mentioned it again."

"So talk to him," Wells says, logical as ever. "Tell him what's going on. I'm not saying he's going to just tell you to go for it, but you know the two of you need to have a conversation. And you knew I was going to tell you this too, so you knew what you were getting into calling me. Get it together, Griffin, and ovary up."

"Thanks."

"Seriously, he's your best friend. Aside from yours truly. You can talk to him."

"Yeah," she says, with a sigh. "I can."

*

The next day, she frets off and on about when to talk to Nate, but doing it after the baseball date just feels shitty, if she's honest. If their positions were reversed, and she was going out with a guy Nate had realized he liked, she'd want to know about it as soon as possible, and definitely before the actual first date. Like Wells said, it wouldn't necessarily change her plans, but she'd at least want to weigh Nate's feelings against everything else. That's what friends do, and it's definitely what Nate is going to do.

So she asks if he wants to hang out the next night, and when he shows up, she just blurts it out: "I need to talk to you about Bellamy."

Nate frowns. "What about Bellamy?"

"You know--" She exhales. It's easy to talk to Wells about feelings stuff; Wells loves feelings. But she and Nate have never been good at that. "Okay, I know you like him. And I really wanted to support you, but--"

Nate holds up his hand. "Wait, what?"

"I was trying to help!"

For a second, his face is all confusion, but then his expression clears and he starts to laugh. "Jesus, you've been trying to set me up with Bellamy."

"Of course I have! You said you liked him."

"I did?"

"You called dibs! The first party, you saw him, and you said--"

"I wanted to hook up with him, I didn't want to marry him. It's not like I was real attached to the idea."

Clarke opens and closes her mouth a few times, finally says, "Did you hook up with him?"

"No. He's still hot, don't get me wrong, but Monty's more my type."

"Monty?"

He scowls. "What's wrong with Monty. He's hot, he's geeky, he's not as fucking intense as you and Bellamy--"

"I didn't mean it like--" She shakes her head. "Nothing against Monty, he's great. I've just spend the last two months stressing about you and Bellamy."

"You know I'm an adult, right? I can take care of myself. I don't need you managing my social life or my love life."

"I know." She rubs her face, gives him a sheepish smile. "Bellamy's going to ask you to go to a baseball game. He told me that and I had kind of a breakdown because I thought you guys were going to be--this whole happily ever after love story. And I might have just realized a thing for him."

"Jesus Christ, Griffin." He puts his arm around her and squeezes. "You never thought about just asking me?"

"I was telling myself I was happy for you!"

"Just saying, five minutes' conversation and this would have been all set. Even if I liked him, I wouldn't have--"

"You would have told me to go for it, just like I was telling you to go for it. I thought--you called dibs! It wasn't ambiguous."

"Yeah, but it's not a blood pact." He pauses, studying her for a long moment. "If you ever called dibs on a guy I really liked, I would have just told you."

"You're a lot more in touch with your feelings than I am. I was still in denial."

"Yeah, you're a disaster. So, he's going to ask me out?"

"To a baseball game. I don't even know if it's a date, he was being pretty casual about it. Fuck," she says. "If he's into you--"

"I'll let him down easy. But I haven't really gotten that vibe from him. Honestly, if you asked me? I'd say he's into you. He's always looking for an excuse to hang out with you more, and half the time when I'm talking to him, we're talking about you." He grins. "If he still wants to take me to the baseball game as friends, I can feel him out for you."

She sighs. "I don't know, I was thinking I could just talk to him."

"Really?"

"It really does clear things up fast." She smiles. "If you liked him, I'd step aside. Really. I wasn't going to ask you to give him up or anything. That's not why--"

"I know you've got my back. And I've got yours. Let me know if you need anything."

"And if you need help with Monty--"

He smirks. "You know, I think you've done enough. I've got it from here."

"Good. I'm rooting for you."

He presses a kiss to the top of her head. "Right back at you."

*

She waits until all the students have cleared out the next afternoon and then goes to find him in his room. He likes to grade until dinner time, a tradition Clarke finds baffling, but he claims it helps with work/life balance, and it does make him easy to find. She'd like to say she's only a little nervous, but that's a lie. She's had a very intense week of feelings, and she's looking forward to just having it done with, but she's also kind of dying.

So it's time to clear everything up.

"Hey," she says, knocking on his door jamb. "Got a second?"

"Yeah, what's up? You're here late."

She closes the door behind her as she enters the classroom, props herself up on the table across from his desk. It's her first time alone with him since she realized how she felt and she's hyper aware of everything about him. She can't believe it took her this long to realize how she felt. It feels so stupidly obvious.

"Yeah, I was waiting for everyone to clear out."

He frowns. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah. It's--honestly, it's kind of ridiculous. Are you asking Nate to go to that game?"

"One of my students might want to buy the tickets, I'm waiting to see if he actually comes up with the money. Why?"

"Was it going to be a date?"

The blood drains from his face. "What? Fuck, no, I--did he think that? I didn't think--"

She starts to laugh. "No, I'm pretty sure I had this whole weird narrative built up in my head and no one but me knew about it."

"The narrative where I want to date your best friend?"

"And he wants to date you."

"Does he want to date me?"

"No, he doesn't. No one thought that but me. And I've been kind of--" She shrugs. "It's been a weird couple months."

"I still feel like I'm missing something," he says, almost reluctantly. Like he's disappointed with himself for not getting it.

It's not his fault, of course. She exhales, makes herself look at him. "I was kind of freaking out about it. Because--I'm interested in you. Which doesn't have to be a thing, but after this week I feel like direct communication is my friend. So--do you want to get dinner sometime?"

He blinks a few times, processing the information. It's clearly nothing he was expecting, probably nothing that ever occurred to him, and now he's trying to figure out how to let her down easy, how to--

"Fuck, I didn't think I had a chance," he says, face breaking out into a huge grin. He crosses the room and cups her face, kissing her so she can taste the smile too. "No wonder I was getting such weird signals," he teases.

Clarke grins too. "I'm not very good with feelings."

"Not so much." He leans down for another kiss. "So, dinner?"

"It's a date."

*

Two weeks later, they end up on a double date with Nate, who's up to date on Clarke's incompetence, and Monty, who wants to hear the whole story.

"I don't know if we should really be talking about how I wanted to fuck Bellamy," Nate teases.

Monty waves his hand. "It's fine, Bellamy's hot, everyone wants to fuck him. We just accept that."

"Thanks," says Bellamy. "I think."

Clarke smiles. "It was really a simple misunderstanding. Nate and I didn't formalize the dibs system, so I thought he was saying I want that guy and you can never go for him--"

"And I was a little drunk and thought Bellamy was hot. I forgot about it by the next day."

"I probably would have too," Clarke protests. "Except that I was trying really hard to be supportive."

"Heavily in denial," Nate says, winking at her, and Clarke kicks him under the table. Just a little.

"Hey, I'm not complaining. I got a girlfriend and I found out everyone wants to fuck me. This worked out great for me."

"Yeah," Nate agrees. "Good job with the matchmaking, Clarke. You nailed it."

He waits until Bellamy and Monty have gone for another round of drinks to add, "I think we should retire the dibs thing."

"You think?"

"It was confusing. And I'm hoping we don't need it anymore."

Clarke smiles, raises the dregs of her drink for him to clink his glass. "Yeah," she agrees. "I think we're all set."