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Finding North

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that the hottest people have the worst personalities.

Her ex is proof of that. And the first time Clarke meets her neighbor is corroborating evidence. 

Perhaps the Universe made this rule to keep life in balance. Otherwise, all the beautiful people would be too powerful and the bisexuals like Clarke herself would be defenseless against them. It's a theory she's working on. 

"You've got to be kidding me," Clarke mutters upon exiting the elevator. 

There’s a guy passed out in the hallway.

Clarke has only been in Auburn for half an hour. She drove five hours across state lines to get here, then endured brutal traffic that crawled through the city.  All Clarke cares about is getting inside Wells’ apartment.

She wants to put down the heavy bags and crash. She does not want to deal with whatever this situation is. Either the guy is drunk or locked out of his place. Maybe both.

Clarke intends to step right over him and carry on her way. But of course, the number on the door behind him is 1807. Wells’ apartment.

She feels a hot surge of annoyance. Why is he out here? Couldn’t he have passed out in front of his place?

His dark, curly head is slumped against the door with his body stretched out, long legs obstructing the middle of the hallway. He looks haggard, but not like a person that’s squatting somewhere he shouldn’t be. 

Clarke lets her bags fall to the floor. With a sigh, she crouches down and jabs at his shoulder. “Excuse me. Hey. Wake up.”

He doesn’t stir, so she pokes harder and rattles his arm. The stench of alcohol burns her nostrils. He’s definitely hung-over.

“Hello?” Clarke raises her voice. “I need to get into this apartment.”

The guy doesn’t move, slumped like a dead log against the door. Clarke has a panicked thought and leans in to make sure he’s breathing.

His chest rises and falls. So he’s alive. Alive, unconscious and a huge pain in her ass.

Annoyance prickles under her skin. Clarke digs her phone out of her jean’s pocket to call Wells. He picks up after two short rings.

“Griffin? You okay?”

“I’m here. Finally. Made it to your place, but I can’t get in because some drunk guy is passed out on your front door.”

“Really? Are you sure you’re at the right place?”

Clarke checks the door again. “1807. The Sky Box, right?”

“Right,” he confirms. “Huh. Weird. Can you describe him?”

She glances at the guy again. “Dark hair. Beard. Brown skin.” Attractive, she doesn’t add. “Looks older. Maybe 30.”

“Oh, that’s Bellamy.”

Her brows fly upward. Wells doesn’t sound surprised or bothered by any of this. “You know him? How often does this happen?”

“Not that much. Look, Bellamy lives next door. He’s a teammate. Totally harmless. Well, off the ice.”

Clarke scoffs. “He’s in my way, that’s what he is.”

Wells laughs lowly in her ear. “You have the key I left you, right? Try to get the door open. Just let Bellamy crash on the couch. When he sobers up, he’ll leave and go back to his place.”

She shakes her head to herself. She has so many questions, but right now the priority is getting inside.

Clarke retrieves the key that Wells left for her at the front desk. She gets the door unlocked, but then there’s the problem of her new neighbor falling inside the apartment and blocking the entryway.

She tells Wells she has to hang up and her best friend responds, “Okay. Make yourself at home. Call me if you need anything. I’ll be back tonight.”

After putting her phone away, Clarke uses one hand to get the door open and the other to hold Bellamy up by the collar of his shirt, not letting him fall backward. He’s heavy. It’s a struggle and she quickly lays him down when she can.

Clarke carries her luggage into the apartment. She does a quick look-around, mindful of the unconscious man still sprawled in the doorway.

The place is nicer than she expected. An upgrade from the shoebox Wells used to live in off-campus. Now her best friend is raking in professional hockey money and lives in a high-rise apartment.

There’s a sleek flat screen in the living room and floor-to-ceiling windows that grant a killer view of the city. There are two bedrooms. Clarke transports her stuff into the spare.

She returns to the entryway where Bellamy has started snoring loudly, lying flat on his back. Her irritation simmers. Somehow, she has to carry his ass to the couch and her muscles already ache from carting her luggage up from her car.

“Time to move, buddy.” 

Bellamy is a big guy. Of course, if he’s on the hockey team with Wells, that accounts for his broadness. Clarke does her best to drag him off the floor, but it’s like lugging dead weight. He barely moves a foot.

Clarke tries shaking him awake, hard, to no success. When that fails, she huffs to herself and hunts for a solution. She can’t just leave him in the open doorway. As drunk as he is, she worries about him choking on his sickness in his sleep.

Combing over the apartment, Clarke’s eyes stop on the sink in the kitchen. She finds a cup in one of the cabinets and fills it up with water. The stream is icy cold and she only feels a little bit bad about that.

Clarke empties the cup onto Bellamy’s face. The water splashes him and his eyes shoot open, wide with shock. He splutters as the water drips into his mouth.

“What the fuck?” Bellamy hisses.

He finds her standing over him, arms crossed impatiently. His dark eyes meet hers and even though they’re bloodshot from the alcohol and he’s in bad shape, he is still the most attractive guy Clarke has ever met.

That annoys her even more. Her first introduction to the hot neighbor and he’s a hungover mess she has to put up with.

“You’re not Wells.”

Clarke rolls her eyes at the obvious. “Did the boobs give me away?”

“Wells is nice enough to let you crash on the couch,” she adds. “I was fine leaving you in the hallway.”

Bellamy squints at her, clearly still out of it. He doesn’t get up off the floor. The water has dripped onto his dark blue T-shirt; which Clarke now notices is for the Auburn Rovers. He has on dark wash jeans and he’s barefoot.

Clarke is curious what a professional athlete like him is doing passed out drunk in the afternoon. Maybe that’s how he copes with his job. She wants to ask, but she doubts Bellamy can carry a coherent conversation in his state.

“Come on,” she urges him. “Let’s move.”

Supporting his weight is easier than dragging him, but not by much. Bellamy’s heavy arm thrown over her shoulder almost brings her down with him. Slowly, they manage to shuffle over to the long, grey sofa in the living room.

Bellamy flops back onto the couch. She has to roll him onto his side to make sure he won’t choke. Clarke retrieves the small trash can from the kitchen and places it beside him. There. Her job is done.

Clarke steps back just as Bellamy’s eyes flutter open.

“Don’t go,” he slurs.

His expression breaks her heart. He looks unbearably sad and lost, his brown eyes swimming in pain. She’s not made of stone. Clarke can sympathize. She has spent a few nights herself drowning her sorrows in alcohol.

Just because this guy is a famous athlete doesn’t mean his life is perfect. She gets that too. Better than most people.

Still, Clarke doesn’t know what comes over her then. She reaches out to comb her fingers soothingly through his dark, slightly damp hair.

“Go to sleep, Bellamy.”

Pain creases his face. His eyes squeeze shut and she hears his stuttered breaths, coming in an uneasy rhythm. His distress calls out to her.

Clarke keeps brushing through his hair and she hums without realizing, an old tune her mother used to sing to her as a child.

Slowly, his expression smooths out. “That’s nice,” he mumbles, his cheek squished against the seat.

She keeps humming the melody softly. His breathing deepens.

Clarke withdraws her hand when she thinks he’s fallen asleep. She stands up, ready to crash into bed herself. Exhaustion tugs at her.

After changing into a sweatshirt to sleep in, Clarke lays down in the spare room. Her room now. She hopes to catch some sleep before Wells gets back.

When Clarke opens her eyes, the last thing she is expecting to see is an angry man standing over her.

She flinches, her heart racing in her chest. It takes a moment before memory clicks and she recognizes the man as Bellamy, the neighbor.

Though he looks nothing like he did hours earlier. Now he’s wearing a scowl and an intense, hard stare as he towers over her.

He glares like she is responsible for his bad night and not the alcohol he consumed.

His clothes are rumpled from sleeping in them and his dark hair is an unruly mess. Yet Clarke can’t help but notice how attractive he is. Hell, he’d probably look good in a potato sack. Even when glowering at her, Bellamy is gorgeous.

She has no idea what he’s still doing here though. If he can stand up, he can find his way back to his apartment.

Clarke closes her eyes to show she’s not intimidated by him. Wells wouldn’t have let him stay here if he was dangerous. Her best friend is too protective of her to let that happen.

“You’re welcome,” Clarke says, laying her head on the pillow. “Lock the door on your way out.”

“Should I thank you for dumping freezing water on me?” Bellamy demands. “Who the hell are you anyway?”

So he’s not leaving then. Clarke wants to pull the covers over her head, block out the sound of his rough voice. It’s all deep and growly. Unfairly hot from such an obnoxious person.

Her sleep is cut short. Outside the window, the sky has turned dark from the sunny afternoon. She doesn’t know what time Wells will be back or how many hours have passed, but she hopes it’s soon.

Reluctantly, Clarke sits up. “I’m Clarke Griffin. The girl you can thank for not letting you choke on your vomit.”

Bellamy’s nose wrinkles in disgust. He doesn’t show any gratitude for the fact she helped him off the hallway floor and inside the apartment. Nor does he apologize for inconveniencing her, a total stranger, with his drunkenness.

“Where’s my phone?”

Clarke lifts a brow in disbelief. What a jackass. She regrets showing him any compassion. Hopefully, he was too drunk to remember her petting his hair and humming to him.

“God only knows where you left it,” Clarke says with false sweetness, “Since you were too shit-faced to stand.”

Bellamy rolls his eyes. “Like you’ve never been wasted before.”

He runs his eyes over her, sneering at her Harvard sweatshirt like it offends him.

“On second thought – You wouldn’t know fun if it bit you in the ass. Would you, Miss Perfect?”

Clarke narrows her eyes, mirroring his scornful look. Where does this guy get off on judging her? The chip on his shoulder is the size of this building.

“When I have ‘fun’, I usually don’t make a complete ass out of myself,” she snaps.

Bellamy parts his lips, ready to make another rude comment. Their heated stare-off is broken by the sound of the front door opening, followed by footfalls.

“Hello? Clarke?” Wells calls.

Without another word, Bellamy turns and leaves the room. She scowls at the back of his head before climbing out of bed and following to where Wells is in the living room.

Her drama with the neighbor evaporates as soon as Clarke lays eyes on her best friend.

Wells’ face lights up with similar excitement. He’s grinning when Clarke runs and jumps into his arms, spinning her around in a circle.

“Oh, Griffin, it’s been too long,” Wells says, squeezing her tight.

It has. She hasn’t seen her childhood best friend since he moved from L.A. three years ago. They kept in touch through phone calls and Skype, but it wasn’t the same. Not after growing up inseparable.

They were forced apart when Wells moved to Auburn to join the Rovers’ team. Being drafted from college is a dream come true and Clarke is thrilled for him, even if she hates the distance. It feels so good to be reunited.

“Too long,” Clarke agrees, being set back on her feet.

She runs her eyes over him, noting the changes. Wells looks like more of a man now at twenty-five. He’s definitely filled out. “Jeez, look at those muscles, hot stuff!”

Wells laughs loudly. She grins at the sound.

He tugs at a blonde strand of her hair. “No more Goldilocks, huh? I like it short.”

Clarke runs her hand over the back of her hair. She’s gotten used to the length, now reaching her shoulders. “Thanks. I needed a change.”

Wells nods. His dark eyes are knowing, but he doesn’t ask. He’s mindful of the company they have still standing in the room. Clarke hasn’t forgotten either. She’s felt Bellamy’s hot stare on her throughout her interaction with Wells.

Wells keeps his hand on her back as they turn toward him. “Blake, this is my best friend, Clarke Griffin. I told you about her. She’s moving in with me. Clarke, this is our neighbor, Bellamy Blake.”

They glare at each other in tense silence. Both too stubborn to make the first gesture.

Bellamy doesn’t look pleased that she’ll be living here and she’s not too keen on being neighborly with him either after their unpleasant introduction.

Eventually, Bellamy nods his chin. “Yeah, we’ve met.” He turns his eyes to Wells, ignoring her completely. “Lost my keys. You got a spare?”

Wells nods. He crosses over to the kitchen, rooting around in a drawer and digs out a metal key. He tosses it to Bellamy, who catches the key in mid-air. Clarke wonders at how close of neighbors they are if Wells has a spare key to his apartment.

She’s never heard Wells mention Bellamy specifically before. He’s talked about the guys from the team and their coach, Charles Pike. But not the guy that lives across the hall. Clarke can’t help being curious about him, despite his bad attitude.

“I’m heading back,” Bellamy tells him. “Thanks for letting me crash.”

“No problem, cap,” Wells replies. “See you later.”

Clarke rolls her eyes when he leaves, the door swinging shut behind him. Bellamy can thank Wells for his generosity, but not her.

Wells leans against the kitchen counter on his elbows. “You get settled in okay? How was the drive?”

She takes a seat at the wooden bar stool. After her nap, Clarke is less cranky about the tedious journey to get here.

“Meh. Traffic sucked. But I’m here.”

Wells grins at her. “You’re here. I still can’t believe it.”

They settle in to catch up on each other’s lives. Seeing Wells in person is even better than their weekly phone calls.

She still has boxes in her car, but they’re both too tired to haul them up. Wells offers to get them in the morning. It’s nine o’clock by then, so he suggests they order pizza for dinner.

They feel like little kids at a slumber party, excited to stay up late and keep talking. Being around Wells brings out a young, childish side of her that no one else can. They spend most of their time laughing together.

After they clear out the pizza box, Clarke lets her curiosity win. “So what’s the deal with the neighbor?”

Wells smirks at her slyly. “You think he’s hot don’t you?”

“That’s not important,” Clarke retorts and nudges him with her foot when he laughs. “He’s an ass.”

“He’s not that bad. Yeah, Bellamy has a chip on his shoulder, but he’s a decent guy.”

“A decent guy that gets smashed in the middle of the afternoon?” She asks, skeptical. 

Wells sobers up. “He’s been through a lot. The press likes to prey on him. The ‘bad boy’ of the team. We all have to deal with it at some point.”

Clarke frowns hearing that. “That must suck. Do they bother you a lot?”

He shakes his head. “I stay out of the heat. Coach Pike has us on a tight leash to stay out of trouble, not draw the press’s attention. Sometimes it can’t be helped.”

There’s a dark note in his voice that’s unusual for him. It makes Clarke’s brows draw up in surprise.

Wells sighs, tossing his empty plate down on the glass coffee table. “The press showed up at Aurora Blake’s funeral. Bellamy lost it. He punched a pap in the face and they haven’t left him alone since.”

“Oh my god,” Clarke says, her jaw dropping open. “That’s awful.”

Some of her earlier compassion for Bellamy floods back in. She won’t make excuses for his rude behavior, but she can understand his defensiveness when being in the public eye like that. And she knows the pain of losing a parent.

Clarke reaches for another slice of pizza and decides to shift the subject away from their neighbor.

“So when do I get to meet the rest of the team?”

“This weekend. We’ll go out and you can meet everyone.”

She grins playfully. “A house full of hockey players. I’ll bring my A-game.”

Wells pulls a disgusted face. “Please don’t. I work with these guys. I really don’t want to hear locker room chat about you.”

She pats his knee in fake-consolation. “Get over it. You can’t expect me not to flirt, Wells. I’m a single, red-blooded bisexual woman.”

Her best friend’s stare turns knowing. “I’m sorry about Lexa, by the way. Do you want to talk about it?”

The grin slips off her face. Clarke brings her knees into her chest, wrapping her arms around them. The cold ache returns at her ex-girlfriend’s name, digging in painfully behind her ribs.

“Not really,” Clarke says softly. “It still hurts; you know? I want to stop thinking about it. Focus on my work.”

Wells nods in understanding. “Of course. If you ever want to talk, I’m here.”

He gives her leg a gentle squeeze before he stands up, taking their paper plates and the empty pizza box into the kitchen. Wells is tired after his workout and it’s nearing 1 a.m., so they bid each other goodnight.

Clarke uses her energy to take care of some unpacking. She brought everything she needed with her when she left L.A. The most important being her Nikon camera and portfolio filled with her photography.

The expensive designer clothes and jewelry got donated to charity, which her mother saw as an act of childish rebellion. Abby thought Clarke was protesting her marriage to Marcus Kane – which just proved that her mother didn’t know her at all.

Maybe it would have been smart to sell that stuff and keep the money, but she didn’t, for the same reason Clarke didn’t touch the trust fund in her name. That was her family’s fortune. She didn’t deserve a cent of it.

The Griffin money came with strings attached, high expectations and a gilded cage to trap her in. But on her own, she’s free.

In Auburn, she’s no one. Just Clarke, a girl with a camera.

Her heart pounds with excitement. The sleek elevator doors slide open and Clarke steps out into a short hallway. In front of her are the glass double doors to Eligius magazine office.

She couldn’t believe when she got the email from the Editor-in-Chief two weeks ago. Clarke had contacted several newspapers and magazine publications in Auburn looking for work. As a freelance photographer, she has gotten used to sending out inquiries and only receiving radio silence most of the time.

She never expected Eligius to reply. But the Editor-in-Chief liked her portfolio and opened communication with her. When they found out Clarke had an in with the Rovers hockey team, on top of experience with sports photography, the magazine had her schedule an appointment to meet in person.

Clarke stops at the receptionist’s desk, where she’s told by the perky receptionist to sit and wait. Only a few minutes pass, but her nerves are twisting her stomach into a knot. Eligius is one of her favorite publications. She’s a little intimidated to be here.

She’s given the go-head and follows the receptionist’s instructions through the office floor to the Editor-in-Chief’s room.

A woman is waiting for her at the door with sharp blue eyes and her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She gives Clarke a firm handshake.

“Charmaine Diyoza,” she greets. “Welcome, Clarke. Let’s talk in my office.”

Clarke takes a seat in the cushioned chair while Charmaine rounds the desk. The Editor-in-Chief is brusque and doesn’t waste time with pleasantries, which she appreciates. They’re here to work.

“So here’s the assignment,” Charmaine says, folding her hands on the desk. “The Rovers are a high-profile team. We’ll want photos of the players at the games, of course, but practices are good too. Anything behind-the-scenes is better.”

She quirks her slender brow at Clarke. “You can make that happen?”

Clarke nods. “My roommate is Wells Jaha. He’s a defensive player on the team. Access won’t be an issue.”

“Perfect. We can rendezvous after the home game next week. Bring me what you got. You’ll be responsible for your own equipment, of course.”

“That won’t be a problem.”

“I read on your resume you took photos for The Crimson,” Charmaine continues. “That’s impressive. Are you interested exclusively in sports photography?”

“Oh, no,” Clarke shakes her head. “I did the photography for my school’s music scene as well. My specialty is in capturing people on camera – athletes, musicians, models. I like to work with human emotion and movement.”

Charmaine listens to her explanation with interest in her keen blue eyes. “I suppose human beings are fascinating creatures to watch.”

They agree on a meeting time back at the office. The conversation moves on to pay for the photos she takes. The meeting is a brief whirlwind.

Clarke leaves the building feeling overwhelmed and excited and dizzy with several overlapping emotions. This isn’t her first assignment as a photographer, but it already feels like it might be the biggest.

At the team’s next practice, Clarke rides with Wells to the arena. She teases him about his sexy Cadillac car the whole drive. Wells admits it was the first reckless purchase for himself once he started getting the pro player checks.

In their old life, Wells grew up as privileged as she did. The Jaha’s were well-off. The only difference between them is Wells’ father raised his son to learn the value of money. Wells worked the summer jobs while Clarke was spending her vacations in the Hamptons. 

Her best friend has always been humble. He keeps Clarke grounded. Even becoming a famous hockey player hasn’t changed his down-to-earth nature.

The arena that is home to the Rovers team is huge. Clarke feels dwarfed when they walk inside, her cheeks hit by the crisp, cool air. They have time before practice starts, so Wells takes her on a tour, showing off the rows of red seats, the ice rink and the press gallery, which she snaps photos of.

They have to meet with Coach Pike for permission to photograph the players. Clarke is grateful for Wells being there because the man is gruff and kind of intense. Wells knows how to work his coach to get him to agree, despite his apprehension.

Clarke still gets the fear of god put into her when Coach Pike warns her against selling the photos of their practices to other teams. She has to swear that it’s legitimate and show the paperwork from Eligius.

They get her a pass to wear around her neck so their security doesn’t kick her out. She’s informed by Coach Pike she’ll need a pass for the game as well to get into the press gallery.

“Oh my god,” Clarke mutters. “He’s kind of terrifying.”

Wells laughs. “Tell me about it. I gotta head to the dressing room. Are you gonna be okay here?”

She nudges him. “Go. I’m gonna find a good seat.”

Clarke moves to a row by the ice and claims a seat. Players start trickling out of the dressing room in their practice gear, chatting and laughing to themselves. She does her best not to be starstruck, though they pay her no attention.

Clarke doesn’t recognize them anyway, other than a group of well-built athletes in padding and helmets. She raises her Nikon camera to capture them stepping onto the rink.

The sound of blades scraping on ice fills the air. The players zoom around as they warm-up, running laps, graceful despite their large sizes.

She’s focused on her lens when one of the players raises his hand and flips her off. The camera clicks before she can catch on.

“Did you get a good shot of that?” Bellamy calls out.

Clarke tightens her jaw. “Damn it. You’re wasting my memory!”

He bares his teeth at her in a mocking grin. “Tough shit. I didn’t give you permission to take photos of me.”

He really is an ass.

The shrill blast of a whistle pierces the air. It comes from Coach Pike. He’s standing on the middle of the ice in his own pair of skates and calls for his team’s attention.

“Blake!” Coach Pike bellows.  “Anything off this ice is not your problem. Gentlemen, let me see some sprints!”

Clarke resumes taking photos as the players conduct their practice. She gets shots of them moving across the rink during drills, sprints and slapping the puck around.

A small whoop escapes her when Wells slams the puck into the goal net.

They all move like lightning across the ice. Clarke enjoys being quick enough to capture the small black puck as it soars through the air before flying past the goalie’s glove into the net.

She snaps the players as they glide around each other in a choreographed dance, smoothly passing the puck from stick to stick.

They’re split into different teams during a portion of the practice. Clarke notices how aggressive Bellamy is—number 23—when trying to steal the puck away from his teammates and make goals.

They’re all violent and brutal to a certain extent. She imagines they have to be for this sport and a certain level of aggression is expected. But Bellamy takes it too far, acting like a bully with people that are supposed to be on the same side.

At one point another player gets the puck away from him, darting around Bellamy’s stick and sends it into the top corner of the net with a neat flick of his wrist.

Clarke smirks to herself as she lowers her camera. Serves him right.

Her amusement dries up when Bellamy goes after the other player in retaliation. He knocks his shoulder in number 11 with enough force to send the other man banging into the boards. The player shakes it off, but Clarke’s blood simmers.

Coach Pike sees it as a clean check. She has to remind herself that hitting your opponents is part of ice hockey, which is why she’s never been a fan of the sport.

Clarke almost loses it when Bellamy jams his elbow hard into Wells’ ribs, attempting to steal the puck away from him. Wells loses his balance and stumbles onto the ice. He falls onto his back, getting the wind knocked out of him while Bellamy skates off, cavalier.

Practice ends and she waits impatiently for Wells to emerge from the dressing room in his street clothes. She leaps up as soon as she spots him, rushing across the arena.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Wells says. “It looked worse than it was.”

He winces when Clarke presses her hand on his chest. “Let me see,” she demands.

Wells tries to brush her off, so she pushes his hoodie up to get a look at his ribs. The spot is tender to the touch. Anger pounds in her blood at the way her best friend grimaces in pain. He won’t make a show of it, but she will.

“It’s nothing,” Wells insists, reading her dark expression. “We get hit all the time. It’s way worse against opposing teams, trust me.”

Clarke sighs. “We’ll put ice on it when we get home.”

She might have been able to let it go as part of the game. Then Bellamy walks past them and has the nerve to smirk like bruising his teammate and neighbor’s ribs is funny. She can’t hold her tongue.

“He helps your drunk ass off the floor and this is how you repay him?” Clarke shouts.

“Clarke, don’t,” Wells hisses under his breath.

Bellamy whips around to face her. His brows lift in disbelief as if a piece of equipment just started yelling at him. He glances at Wells behind her dismissively.

“Good thing he has you to coddle him and kiss it better,” he mocks.

Clarke’s teeth clench. She can’t believe what a rude and ungrateful prick this guy is.

“You don’t deserve that C on your jersey. Leaders are supposed to be inspiring. You’re just a bully.”

Bellamy’s brown eyes flash with anger. She thinks she’s finally gotten under his skin before his expression evens out and he smirks at her again, back to being flippant.

“If you can’t handle how we play, you shouldn’t be here.”

Bellamy tries to turn away. She doesn’t want him to have the last word, so she calls after him, “Next time I find you passed out in the hallway, I’ll leave you there.”

“Good,” he retorts. “It’s better than waking up to you.”

Clarke’s jaw drops. Bellamy shoots her a smug smirk before turning away. She glares at the back of his curly head when he walks off.

Her hands are curled into fists at her sides. She’s caught up in a vindictive daydream about taking his hockey stick and whacking him with it.

“He’s right, you know.”

Her head snaps up, staring at Wells incredulously. “I’m sorry, what?”

Wells shrugs, tucking his hands into his hoodie’s pocket. “Hockey is a rough sport. I can handle myself, though. I’ve been doing it for three years.”

Clarke lets out a heavy sigh. “I know. Sorry. I just hate seeing you get hurt.”

“You don’t have to like it,” Wells says as they fall into step, leaving the arena. “But if you’re gonna stick around the game and my teammates, you’ll have to get used to it.”

The bar Wells takes her to reminds her of the place she met Lexa. Clarke has a flash of memory standing on the sidewalk outside—catlike green eyes peering at her over a cigarette and soft pink lips pursed, breathing out rings of smoke.

She still remembers the first words Lexa said to her, looking Clarke over with predatory interest. “Oh, you’re going to break my heart.”

She was wrong. Lexa broke hers.

Clarke shakes off the memory, following Wells inside. The first thing she sees is the red neon sign hanging above the bar that reads “Unhappy Hour”. It makes her chuckle and serves as a good distraction from the booth of famous athletes they’re headed toward.

She’s glad for the care she put into her appearance before Wells dragged her out of the apartment. Especially the leather skirt she has on. All of the guys at the table are ridiculously attractive.

“Hey guys,” Wells greets them with an easy smile.

The player with the shaved head and tattoos on his bicep nods at him. “Hey, man. We got you a beer.”

“Thanks.” Wells tucks his arm around her to make his introduction. “Guys, this is my best friend, Clarke. She just moved in with me.”

Clarke gives the guys a dorky wave, then immediately regrets it. She can usually keep her cool, but there’s something about the hockey players that’s intimidating. At first glance, they all have stoic expressions and come off as hard and unapproachable.

“Clarke,” Wells continues, pointing to each, “This is Lincoln, Miller and…Murphy.”

He says the last name with a deep frown and it makes Murphy grin sharply.

“Come on. Isn’t it time we kissed and made-up, Wells?” He taunts.

“Don’t talk to me,” Wells retorts and Clarke casts him a curious, side-long glance.

Murphy snickers.

Miller sets down his beer and focuses on her. “You were taking pictures of us at practice, right?”

Clarke nods. “Yeah. I’m a freelance photographer. I got hired by Eligius magazine to get photos of you guys.” She winks playfully. “The Rovers are a hot commodity right now.”

“And here I thought you were just another groupie,” Murphy says, leering at her.

Wells bristles beside her, but it’s Lincoln that shoves him. “Shut up, Murphy.” He slides out of the booth, gesturing for Clarke to take his spot. “What are you drinking, Clarke?”

She sits down, smiling at Lincoln gratefully. “I’ll take a Diet Coke. Thanks.”

Wells drops next to her, reaching for his glass of draft beer. The guys chat amongst themselves for a few minutes, shit-talking about what a hardass Coach Pike is and a video game that Miller just got.

Her nerves quickly dissolve. They’re just normal guys, even if they’re in the NHL and have interviews on ESPN sometimes. 

Clarke laughs at Miller’s quips and has to hide her amusement at Murphy’s sarcastic comments, for the sake of being on Wells’ side. Anyone at the table can detect the palpable tension between them, which Murphy has fun poking at.

When he ducks into the restroom, Clarke leans over to Wells. “Okay, what’s the story? Why do you hate Murphy so much?”

“The feeling is mutual,” Wells grumbles. “Believe me.”

“Why?” She presses.

“Why do you hate Bellamy?” He throws back.

Clarke huffs. “First, I don’t hate him. I barely know him. Second, stop avoiding the question. What’s the deal?”

Wells is sullen as he drinks his beer. She has to turn her eyes on Lincoln and Miller.

Lincoln raises his hands. “They’ve hated each other since training camp when Wells got drafted. That’s all I know.”

“He made my life a living hell,” Wells adds crossly.

Clarke still doesn’t get it until Miller explains. “Murphy thought the only reason you got on the team is because of your dad.” He shrugs at Wells’ affronted face. “We all know who Thelonious Jaha is, man.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Wells spits. “I worked my ass off to get here and after during my first year. No one pulled any strings for me.”

“We know,” Miller says, grinning. “You won Rookie of the Year. Murphy was pissed that you took his crown. He was threatened by you.”

“Please,” Murphy scoffs, suddenly reappearing beside the table. He has on a lazy smirk. “There was never any real competition. Your daddy’s donations bought you that trophy first year. Noticed how you haven’t won anything since?”

Wells tilts his chin up to glare at him. “I kicked your ass on the ice back then and I can do it now, Murphy.”

“Prove it.”

Somehow, their table relocates to the alley behind the bar. A pick-up game of hockey takes place between the dumpsters where a block of wood is used as a puck. Lincoln produces the spare sticks out of his car so Murphy and Wells can play each other.

They run around the alley instead of being on skates, hurtling dumb insults at each other.

“Idiots,” Clarke mutters, rolling her eyes.

Lincoln disappears during the informal game, returning with a pretty dark-haired girl. She has eyeliner ringed around her eyes and a small stud in her nose. The black tattoo design on her arm matches Lincoln’s.

“Clarke, this is my girlfriend, Octavia,” Lincoln introduces them.

“Hey,” Clarke says. “That’s a cool name. Your parents must be history buffs.”

Octavia smirks. “Actually, my brother picked it out. He’s a huge history nerd. He named me after the Emperor Augustus’s sister.”

Miller laughs to himself, looking away from the score he’s keeping on his phone. “Don’t mention Bellamy to Clarke.”

It takes her a moment before understanding clicks in. Clarke’s eyes widen. “Bellamy is your brother?”

“Yeah.” Octavia stares at her, amusement glinting in her green eyes. “Oh no. What did he do to you?”

Clarke presses her lips together. She doesn’t want to insult this girl’s brother minutes after meeting her.

“Clarke bitched him out at practice the other day,” Miller informs her gleefully. “It was hilarious. He got his ass handed to him by Malibu Barbie!”

Her nose wrinkles at that description. “Actually, I’m from Los Angeles.”

Octavia doesn’t look bothered hearing Clarke went off on her brother. She smiles at her, tucked against Lincoln’s side. “Knowing my brother, he probably deserved it.”

Now that she’s had time to cool off, Clarke thinks she might have overreacted. Bellamy is still a jackass in her mind, but his rough play on the ice wasn’t him being malicious. Wells had explained the hard, legal checks and hits to her as part of the game.

While Wells and Murphy are slapping the block of wood around, she and Octavia head inside for another drink. Octavia orders a cocktail and Clarke gets another diet soda.

They sit at the red cushioned bar stools while Clarke explains her photography assignment again.

“You’re getting paid to take pictures of hot hockey players?” Octavia asks, raising her brows. “Sign me up!”

Clarke laughs. “Yeah, I lucked out on this assignment. Some of them aren’t as fun.”

“Do you get to travel a lot?”

“I built my business in L.A.,” she explains. “But I do have some clients that send me to different cities for work.”

Octavia’s eyes light up as Clarke tells her about the places she’s traveled on gigs. She’s been to New York City a few times, Boston, Seattle and out of the country to Paris once.

“Ugh, I’m so jealous,” Octavia says, sipping at her Mai Tai. “I’ve always wanted to travel. Next time you get sent to NY or Europe you have to take me with you, babe.”

Clarke grins at her. “Deal.”

She likes talking to Octavia. Unlike her brother, she’s feisty in a playful way and open, making Clarke feel like they’ve been friends for ages instead of just meeting.

They get to discussing some of Octavia’s crazy adventures growing up in Treham—a sleepy town in Minnesota. Like the time she stole a motorcycle for a joyride just to get the thrill of it, doing something dangerous. And because Bellamy explicitly told her not to ride a motorcycle, so she did.

According to Octavia, she felt trapped and bored living in the same place all her life. She was thrilled when Bellamy got drafted for the Rovers and she moved with him to Auburn.

“I had a wild streak as a teenager,” Octavia tells her with more pride in her voice than shame. “Nearly gave Bell a heart attack about once a week.”

Clarke picks up on how often Octavia mentions her older brother. Despite acting annoyed by his protectiveness or making fun of his enthusiasm for history, it’s obvious that she loves him.

“You guys are close?”

Octavia nods, stirring her straw. “He raised me. Believe me, I know what an ass Bellamy can be. But honestly – he’s the only reason I didn’t end up dead or in jail at sixteen.”

She tells Clarke another crazy story of the fight she got into at a concert and the mosh pit she was apart of, eagerly showing off the photos on her phone that Lincoln took of her crowd surfing.

“Wow,” Clarke says, laughing. “This looks wild. You know, I’ve never been to a rock concert.”

Octavia’s eyes swell with horror. “You’re kidding! Okay, no, we have to fix that. Forget the Europe trip! We’re getting you to a rock concert first.”

Clarke admires the way Octavia soaks up life despite being stuck in the same town. But she doesn’t see it as being stuck. Secretly, Clarke has felt uprooted from her L.A. life after her dad died and Wells moved away.

Traveling to other cities only left Clarke with a sharp longing behind her ribs, alone in cold hotel rooms. She craved that home feeling, of knowing exactly where you belong and are loved. It’s why she’s come to Auburn to chase that feeling. 

“I’ve mellowed out in my old age,” Octavia says, lips curled up wickedly like she doesn’t believe it at all. “Lincoln helped chill me out. That, and my job.”

Clarke takes a sip of her soda. “What do you do?”

She smirks. “I’m in an all-girls punk band.”

“I never would have guessed,” Clarke says dryly.

Octavia laughs, a bright sound compared to her dark make-up and wardrobe. She gestures at the band T-shirt she’s wearing. “We’re The Grounders. I play drums.”

“I’ll have to come to see you guys play.”

She kicks playfully at Clarke’s ankle. “Next show, you’ll be there. And you’re going crowd-surfing, Clarke Griffin.”

The back door to the bar bangs open then, saving Clarke from agreeing to that. The guys spill inside. Wells’ face is glowing with his victory while Murphy is sulking, throwing himself down onto a barstool. Clarke shakes her head at them.

She says goodbye to Octavia then, who sweeps out the door with Lincoln. They exchange numbers and Clarke is excited about making her first new friend in the city.

Chapter Text

Clarke is walking out of the elevator on the first floor when she runs into Bellamy. He’s cutting across the lobby.

She can tell he’s going to pass by her without acknowledging her, just like she’s been ignoring him since she’s been living here for a week.

Today the cold shoulder routine feels childish. Before he can step onto the elevator, Clarke sighs. “Bellamy, wait.”

He turns to face her, eyes narrowed. Already has his guard up, not that she blames him after she bite his head off at practice last week.

“You’re playing nice now?”

“I can if you will,” Clarke fires back before she sighs. Swallowing her pride isn’t easy, but she does it. “Look, we got off on the wrong foot before. I’d like us to be friends.”

“Friends?” He repeats skeptically.

“Friendly,” Clarke amends. “We’re neighbors. You’re a part of Wells’ life. We should at least try to get along.”

He stares at her for a long, uncomfortable moment. She can’t read his expression.

At last, Bellamy shrugs like it doesn’t make a difference to him. “Fine. For Wells.”

Clarke realizes that’s the best response she can hope for. They’re putting their animosity behind them. After hearing both Wells and Octavia talk about him, Clarke has to admit she judged Bellamy rather quickly. She can give him a second chance.

Clarke offers a small, friendly smile. “Okay. See you around.”

He gets into the elevator, the silver doors sliding shut behind him and Clarke goes on her own way.  

It’s a crisp fall day outside, the sky a clear blue and the sun burning brightly. Clarke snaps her sunglasses over her eyes before she unlocks her VW Beetle and climbs in.

The pay from her last project in L.A. finally came through. Clarke split the check to take care of her share of the rent, despite Wells’ insistence she doesn’t have to. She owes him for getting the in into the Rovers and she wants to pay her own way, hold onto the independence she’s carved out for herself.

Clarke was born gagging on a silver spoon. The Griffin’s come from old money and her mother added to their family’s net worth with her groundbreaking medical research. Because of this, Clarke had never questioned their privilege or their lifestyle, taking it all for granted.

Until she didn’t. At some point, getting away with everything based on her family’s name and her seemingly endless trust fund left Clarke sick with guilt.

That epiphany was a harsh reality-check that found Clarke sitting in a dank jail cell.

She did nothing to earn what she had. Everything was handed to her. Some days, Clarke has the dark suspicion even her acceptance into Harvard medical school was purchased by her mother. It’s something Abby would do.

And the day Clarke dropped out of med school was probably the first time someone said no to Abby Griffin.

Clarke forged her own path. She built her photography business slowly and painfully from nothing. Nothing but sweat and faith in herself. It was a struggle for a long time, but it might have been the best thing for Clarke.

Every baby step felt like a victory. She became her own person. Not the heiress to Griffin dynasty or the shallow socialite she pretended to be. When those ties broke free, Clarke realized she could be anything. She could reinvent herself, so she did.

Once the rent and bills are taken care of, Clarke has some money leftover and can’t resist splurging on furniture shopping. Her room is looking bland. It could use an artistic touch.

Clarke drives to the closest shopping center and spends the next few hours looking through some furnishings for her room. She finds fairy lights to hang above her bed, new curtains and a bedspread, and a comfy grey swivel chair for reading.

Her greatest find is definitely the copy of the Starry Night painting, which is going on her bedroom wall.

When she gets home that afternoon, Clarke goes about draping the gauzy blue curtains around her window and changing the bedspread. With the bookshelf full and her favorite painting on the wall, the room actually feels like its hers.

“Nice,” Wells says when he comes in to see what she’s done with the spare room.

He nods in approval at Starry Night on the wall and the photos she has tacked up above her bed – pictures of her childhood with Wells mixed with some of her professional shots from The Crimson and her travels.

“It’s very you,” he adds, turning his head to smile at her.

Happiness glows in her chest at the sight. Clarke breathes a little easier, too.

It’s been a long time since she’s felt like she belonged anywhere. Inside her parents’ big, empty mansion on the beach and every other lavish property the Griffin’s owned, Clarke never fit like she was supposed to.

It was like playing dress-up. She wore what she was expected to wear, said what was she expected to say, played the role for over twenty years. But it always just a costume.

She likes it better here. There are no heavy expectations or disappointment that follows her. Clarke can just breathe.

At least, she did like it better. Until their annoying neighbor decides to make a nuisance of himself again.

It’s the middle of the night and Clarke is deep asleep, curled up in her bed. The last few hours were spent editing on her laptop, but Clarke caved after 3 a.m. when her eyes wouldn’t stop burning.

She’s having a nice dream about her dad instead of a nightmare this time. Then a loud thump wakes her.

Clarke’s eyes snap open, startled out of sleep. She looks around, disoriented until she hears the noise again.

A rhythmic banging comes from the other side of the wall. Clarke huffs to herself as she sits up.  Bellamy. Because of course it is.

She checks the time on her dad’s watch. 3:44 a.m.

Unbelievable. What the hell is he doing? Does this guy not sleep during normal resting hours?

The thumping continues and rattles the painting on her bedroom wall. Clarke watches with a sense of helpless dread as Starry Night is knocked off the wall. The glass from the frame shatters on impact.

Clarke stares at the remains on the floor, her blood simmering under her skin. She throws herself out of bed, all the while cursing her next door neighbor and the day he was born. Her vision has tinged red with blind rage.

Slipping on a pair of flip-flops, Clarke marches out of the apartment and stomps over to 1808. She curls her hand into a fist to rap against the door, making enough noise to wake the whole floor. But Clarke doesn’t care. She’s past the point of being polite.

Clarke waits, seething, for the door to open. As soon as Bellamy appears, she unleashes her anger on him.

“Do you have any idea what time it is? Do you even care? Some people are trying to sleep! You are the most inconsiderate, selfish jackass on the planet! What the hell are you even doing right now?”

She had sort of assumed he was hooking-up with someone. That would explain the noise from the bed slamming into the wall.

But when Clarke stops to draw breath, she gets a look at him.

Bellamy is fully clothed in a muscle shirt and a pair of black track pants. He has a thin layer of sweat glistening on his bronze skin. His heady scent attacks her.

The stupid, hormonal side of her brain focuses on how good he smells. That part of her wants to lick the sweat off his neck. Or his muscled biceps. Clarke tells her brain to shut the fuck up. She’s pissed at him.

The white gauze wrapped around Bellamy’s knuckles is her clue to what he was actually doing at this hour. Although it would make more sense if he was having sex.

Bellamy rolls his eyes at her tirade. “You done?”

Her forehead creases. “You were fighting?”

“Working out,” he corrects her. Cocking an eyebrow at her, he adds, “Didn’t mean to interrupt your beauty sleep, Harvard.”

“It’s 3 in the morning! Couldn’t you work out some other time?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” Bellamy’s eyes trail down her body and he smirks. “Nice jammies.”

Clarke glances down at herself. For the first time she realizes she’s only wearing a thin camisole and plaid pajama shorts. Her pebbled nipples are poking through the material and Bellamy has definitely noticed.

Her cheeks fill with heat. Clarke crosses her arms over her chest. She refuses to be flustered by him. “Is that all you have to say for yourself?”

“Look,” Bellamy says gruffly. “I’m not used to someone being on the other side of the wall. I’ll move the damn punching bag. Satisfied?”

He tries to close the door in her face, but they’re not done.

Clarke slaps her palm against the door to keep it from shutting. “What about my painting? You broke it!”

Bellamy stares at her blankly. “What are you talking about?”

“My painting,” she says through her teeth. “Your work-out knocked it off the wall. The glass shattered. I just got that painting today.”

If she’s expecting Bellamy to be apologetic, she’s wrong. He scoffs. “Like your daddy can’t buy you another one.”

“No, he can’t,” she snaps. “He’s dead.”

After a beat, regret shows in Bellamy’s eyes. It’s too late for that. She’s not interested in his sympathy.

Clarke turns on her heel and storms back to their apartment.

It feels good to slam the door behind her. She kind of wishes she had a punching bag to beat on right now. Anger and frustration throbs in her blood. And under that is the grief for her dad that never leaves her heart.

Clarke blinks tears out of her eyes. She doesn’t want to cry right now. She wants sleep.

She burrows back into her bed, but sleep is elusive. The hours tick by. Clarke is too restless to fall asleep, tossing and turning over in her bed.

The apartment next door is silent. No punching bag hitting the wall or any other sound. Spitefully, Clarke hopes Bellamy is as miserable as she is.

When daylight breaks, Clarke drags herself into the shower. The hot water helps wake her up. All she needs is a cup or two of coffee to keep her from falling onto her face. In total, she got about two hours of sleep last night.

Wells winces in sympathy when he strolls into the kitchen. “Rough night?”

Sullenly, Clarke sips at her coffee. She must look like hell. “Bellamy Blake sucks.”

Her best friend shoots her a confused glance as he goes about fixing his morning protein shake. “Wait. What did Bellamy do?”

Clarke rehashes the story of how their neighbor so rudely interrupted her sleep and how unapologetic he was about the whole thing when she confronted him.

Wells has the nerve to chuckle. “Yeah, waiting for Blake to apologize is like waiting for Hell to freeze over. He won’t do it again, though. I’m sure he just forgot someone was in the spare room.”

“He better not,” she seethes.

“Easy, killer.” Wells takes the stool next to her at the island, nudging her shoulder. “We need Bellamy for the playoffs. Don’t get any ideas.”

Her day doesn’t improve from there. Clarke goes to the nearby park, taking her Nikon with her to snap some photos and get fresh air.

Without warning it seems, the sky opens up and releases a flood of cold rain. Clarke gets soaked before she has a chance to duck into her car. At least her camera is safe inside its waterproof case.

Clarke is shivering when she makes it back to the apartment, dripping water onto the floor.

The sight of Bellamy seated on the sofa makes her scowl. He’s made himself comfortable with a bottle of beer, watching the television.

“Don’t you have someplace else to be,” she hisses, “like your own apartment?”

Bellamy’s head turns. He takes her in, completely drenched, and smirks. “I thought witches were supposed to melt.”

Her eyes narrow. She doesn’t laugh at his joke.

The bathroom door opens and Wells joins them in the living room. He glances uneasily between the two of them, noticing Clarke’s withering glare and Bellamy turned towards the TV, back to ignoring her existence.

“Why is he here?” Clarke demands, stomping over to her roommate.

Wells sighs. “We’re watching the game.” At her sharp look, he adds, “Bellamy doesn’t have cable at his place.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” she replies, rolling her eyes.

Clarke leaves them to go to her room, stripping out of her wet clothes. Her annoyance recedes when she’s able to have a hot shower and change into something dry. She stays in her room while the game is on, watching Netflix on her laptop with her headphones.

A couple of hours later, Wells knocks on her door and pokes his head in. “Are you still mad at me?”

Her lips tug into a smile. “How can I stay mad at that face?”

Wells exhales in relief and Clarke laughs as she closes her laptop, giving him her full attention. “What’s up?”

“Bellamy and Octavia had plans to go out for dinner,” he starts. She has a feeling she isn’t going to like what he has to say. “But the weather is still pretty nasty, so they decided against it.”

“Okay,” Clarke says slowly.

“So I suggested they have dinner here at our place. And maybe you could make that casserole that is so delicious…”

“Don’t try to butter me up, Wells!”

Wells raises his hands in surrender. “I just think this could be a chance to bury the hatchet. You and Bellamy can be friends. I know you can. You’ve had a rough start, that’s all.”

“Or maybe he’s just a douchenozzle and we don’t like each other,” she retorts.

For a moment, Wells’ mouth quirks in amusement. “Douchenozzle?”

Clarke shrugs. Her best friend grows serious again.

“Please,” Wells says softly. That one plaintive word chips at her resolve. “Give it another try. For me?” 

Clarke drops her head back against the headboard and sighs. “This is important to you?”

He nods. “It is. I’d like you guys to get along.”

“Fine.” Clarke jabs a finger at him. “But let the record show I tried to take the high road first. He’s the unreasonable one. Not me.”

Wells smiles. “The record shall reflect that Clarke Griffin is the Bigger Person.”

Clarke makes herself presentable now that they’re going to have company for dinner.

She takes the time to blow-dry her hair and then finds her crimson Harvard jumper to wear because she’s still feeling spiteful. She adds a black skirt and flats before she emerges to the kitchen.

Bellamy is leaning against the island. She ignores him at first in favor of saying hi to Octavia and catching up with her.

“So what are you making for us?” Octavia asks curiously.

Wells grins, throwing an arm around her shoulder before she can answer. “Clarke makes the best zucchini casserole in the world. You guys are going to love it!”

Wells and Octavia move to the couch to talk, giving Clarke free reign of the kitchen. She definitely abides by that old saying about too many cooks. Clarke needs the whole space to herself when she’s preparing a meal.

She gets out the supplies she’s going to need, lined up on the counter. Then Clarke retrieves the recipe book from a drawer before tying an apron around her waist.

“I thought this was your famous recipe,” Bellamy says, a note of mockery in his voice. “What do you need a book for?”

Clarke grits her teeth as she flips through the pages. “This is for the side-dish. I don’t have the recipe memorized.”

“You don’t need it,” he says. “I’ll be making that.”

She glances up at him in surprise, watching as Bellamy rounds the island and joins her in the kitchen. He closes the recipe book and returns it to the drawer.

She hates this dinner even more. “I don’t need your help. Thanks.”

Bellamy scoffs as he pulls out a skillet from the cabinet. “I’m not asking for your permission. Don’t worry, I’ll stay out of your way.”

He is absolutely in her way. Bellamy Blake has been in her way since she arrived in Auburn and he was blocking the apartment door. Trying to cook beside him in the kitchen is a trial to her patience and her sanity.

The kitchen isn’t that big to begin with. Bellamy’s tall, broad frame is everywhere and she has to constantly shuffle around him. They collide into each other several times.

On one occasion, Bellamy has the audacity to lift her up and move her aside so he can reach the drawer for a spatula.

Clarke whacks him on the shoulder with a tea towel. “Don’t do that!”

She has to ignore the way that made her stomach flip. The strength in his arms as he lifted her so effortlessly.

Bellamy ducks his head as he stirs at the stove. Clarke doesn’t miss the sly smile on his mouth. She hits him again with the towel just for that.

The kitchen is quiet for a few minutes as Clarke is cutting the zucchini slices. Bellamy stands at the stove behind her, pouring oil into the skillet. She isn’t expecting it when his low voice breaks the silence.

“I’m sorry.”

Clarke startles, almost dropping the knife. She looks over to where Bellamy is staring down into the pan, his jaw taut.

“What I said about your dad…that was shitty of me.”

She swallows thickly, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. “Yeah it was,” she agrees. “But you didn’t know. It’s okay.”

Bellamy turns to meet her gaze and she reads his surprise in his dark eyes that she accepted his apology. Clarke offers him a small smile in return. She may not be his biggest fan, but she appreciates that he did apologize.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” Clarke adds. “Wells told me.”

They look at each other and a silent moment of understanding passes between them. The shared pain of losing a parent.

In that fleeting moment, Clarke sees in Bellamy’s face that he blames himself too, for whatever happened to Aurora Blake.

Even if her death isn’t his fault, he feels responsible. He carries the guilt on his shoulders the same way she carries hers for her dad, for not being able to save him. 

“What happened to her?” She asks softly.

Bellamy looks away, his throat bobbing. His grief gathers around him like a dark cloud. Her heart clenches.

“Brain aneurysm.”

“Plane crash,” Clarke offers, about her dad.

He nods, his dark eyes grim. “Sucks.” 

“Yeah. It really does.”

Bellamy turns back to the stove and Clarke lays the zucchini slices in a casserole dish. She hums to herself as she works, trying to dispel some of the despair in the kitchen.

Octavia laughs from the next room. They resume their cooking duties in silence. The animosity between them is toned down, but the ceasefire doesn’t last long.

She sets her casserole in the oven to cook. Clarke is putting away the supplies she used when she notices that Bellamy isn’t measuring any of the ingredients. He is just throwing the garlic and the lemon with reckless abandon.

It makes Clarke’s eye twitch. “What are you doing?” She demands. “You have to measure the ingredients, Bellamy!”

He doesn’t look up. “Says who?”

“The recipe!” Clarke snaps. It unnerves her, watching Bellamy toss everything into a big bowl without bothering to separate the ingredients. “Oh my god.”

Bellamy’s lips twitch with amusement. “Relax. We’re cooking dinner. Not planning for war.”

She shakes her head. If his scallops come out horrible, well, that’s on him.

Clarke leaves him to his chaos as she finishes cleaning up her mess in the kitchen. When she’s done, she grabs a soda out of the fridge and ventures over to the sofa to talk with Octavia and Wells.

The four of them bring the food over to the dining table when the dishes are done and sit down to eat. Clarke has to admit that Bellamy’s seared scallops are delicious. Her zucchini casserole gets good feedback from the Blake siblings, of course.

During dinner, she and Bellamy manage to have a civil conversation. He only makes a snide comment about her attending Harvard, which Octavia kicks him under the table for. She apologizes on behalf of her brother’s prejudice toward ivy league schools.

“The schools aren't the biggest problem,” Bellamy argues, his brow furrowed. “It’s the trust fund brats that attend them and their parents, which buy their acceptance and take the spots away from the kids that work hard for their grades and can’t afford to make a donation for a new fucking library or whatever.”

Octavia groans loudly. “Bell, don’t start.”

His fiery rant has Clarke arching a brow in curiosity. “That sounds personal.”

It’s Octavia that answers her. “I got rejected from Yale and Princeton. My dear brother has never been able to let it go.”

That surprises Clarke. She didn’t peg Octavia as the type to want to attend those schools, but she still frowns in sympathy.

“He’s not wrong,” Clarke says. “That is how most of those institutions work. It’s based on family legacy and connections to wealth and power, most of which are formed during prep school and don’t give outsiders a fair shot into the elite circle.”

Bellamy seems just as shocked as she is that Clarke agrees with him. It amuses her, being able to turn the tables around and catch him off guard. He thinks he has her all figured out, but he’s wrong.

She smirks at him as she takes a sip of Diet Coke. “I dropped out of Harvard Med, by the way. Too many snobs.”

Octavia snorts at that. “Ugh. Let’s talk about something else.” She perks up as she turns excitedly towards Clarke. “Like The Grounders show we’re having next month!”

They move the conversation along to how Octavia got into playing the drums. The Blake siblings have a few hilarious stories from their childhood about annoying their neighbors when Octavia learned how to play and was practicing at all hours.

Bellamy proudly claims that his sister got all of the musical talent in the family and he’s tone-deaf. Clarke can’t help but feel both warm and envious as the siblings alternate between teasing and bragging about each other. It reminds her of how lonely it was growing up as an only child.

Overall, the dinner goes well. Clarke has a good time and she can tell Wells is pleased that the four of them get along.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, after the siblings have left and they’re alone.

Clarke shrugs. “I guess he’s not that bad. We probably won’t kill each other.”

“That’s all I can hope for,” Wells jokes.

The hockey team has a ritual before every home game. The night before, the team gets together at the Unhappy Hour bar down the street from the arena.

Coach Pike is invited but rarely attends. The invitation is extended to family, significant others and friends of the players as well.

Clarke rides to the bar with Wells. She looks forward to hanging out with the players. Most of the guys are friendly once you get to know them, shedding their tough skin off the ice.

Lincoln and Miller greet Clarke warmly when she walks in and make room for her at the long table.

There are two rectangular tables taken up by their party. The back of the bar is buzzing with loud voices and excited energy from the players, getting pumped up for the next game of the season.

Clarke gets introduced to Miller’s boyfriend, Eric Jackson. She finds out Jackson is a doctor at Auburn General Hospital and they get talking about Clarke’s brief time in medical school.

Miller likes to sweetly brag about what a “badass” surgeon his boyfriend is; which Clarke finds adorable.

As expected, Jackson asks the question that everyone eventually does—if Wells and Clarke are seeing each other.

“If only I was so lucky,” Wells says playfully.

“I’d be the lucky one,” Clarke replies and laughs when the other guys gag at them. She turns to Jackson and answers, “Nah. We’re just friends. Practically family.”

Wells nods. “We dated for a while when we were sixteen but decided we were better as friends." 

"You were too good for me," Clarke teases. 

During their conversation about the upcoming game tomorrow night, the guys find out that Clarke has never been to a professional hockey game. She’s only attended a few of Wells’ amateur games before he was drafted.

“What have you been doing with your life, Griffin?” Miller asks incredulously. “You’ve been missing out on real hockey, that’s what.”

Murphy leans in from Miller’s other side to give her a lewd smirk. “Looks like we’ll be breaking Clarke’s cherry tomorrow.”

His comment earns a disgusted look from Wells. Clarke just rolls her eyes.

“Seriously, Murphy? It’s hard to believe you’re single.”

The guys laugh and snicker at her response. That’s when Bellamy and Octavia arrive at the table. Octavia greets Lincoln with a kiss, sliding into the spot beside him.

Her brother stands at the end, his arms crossed. The sleeves of his black henley shirt are rolled up, revealing his forearms. Not that Clarke is paying them any special attention.

Bellamy glances at the amused faces of his teammates. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Clarke says, leveling the guys with a glare. She doesn’t want them repeating the comment to Bellamy.

Murphy ignores her warning. Or maybe he just wants payback for what she said about him being single.

“We’re popping Clarke’s cherry,” Murphy informs him, a wicked glint in his blue eyes.

Against her will, Clarke’s face flushes when Bellamy shoots her an alarmed look. She hopes nobody else notices her blushing.

“What the hell is he talking about?”

“Murphy’s being Murphy,” Lincoln answers.

Bellamy is still staring at her, so Clarke feels compelled to explain. “It’s my first pro hockey game tomorrow night.”

“First game,” Murphy chimes in unnecessarily. “Cherry. Virgin –”

Bellamy pulls a face and stops him. “Yeah. I got it.”

Octavia giggles and Clarke needs someone to change the subject. Immediately.

Being a great friend, Wells senses her discomfort and starts talking to Bellamy about hockey plays she doesn’t follow. That gets Lincoln in on their discussion and her moment of embarrassment is forgotten.

They order some appetizer plates to pick at while they talk. Then Bellamy stands up at the head of the table.

“Listen up,” he calls in a booming voice. The captain captures everyone’s attention.

“Time for Bellamy’s pre-game speech,” Murphy mocks under his breath. “Brace yourselves.”

Clarke thinks this should be good. She noticed how Bellamy seems to enjoy hearing himself talk at dinner the other night.

He’s strongly opinioned and assertive. And unlike Wells, who prefers to keep the peace, Bellamy never backs down from an argument. He relishes having them.

She had more fun than she cares to admit verbally sparring with him over dinner. It’s not all that often that Clarke meets someone who can go toe-to-toe with her in a debate.

A hush falls over the two tables now at his command. Everyone stops to listen.

Bellamy’s dark eyes prowl over his team. “Tomorrow night we face the Ravens. I don’t need to tell you they’re good. They got the best of us last season. But that’s not going to happen this year. Because I don’t just have a team of hockey pros on the ice with me – I have warriors.

The team roars and cheers in agreement with that statement. Bellamy nods his approval before he continues, his voice loud with conviction.

Ex favilla nos resurgemus,” he recites. “We are stronger than before. Warriors are made stronger by their failures and we have learned from our mistakes. This is our season! We are going to crush the Ravens tomorrow and show them who owns this arena.” 

The team bangs on the wooden tables at the end of Bellamy’s speech. Their frantic drumming drowns out the noise from the bar.

Octavia is shaking her head fondly. They are all amped-up now, the air crackling with excitement and anticipation, their smiles wide from the inspiring words by their fierce leader.

Clarke waits until the fervor has calmed down. She slips out of her chair and finds Bellamy standing alone at the bar, ordering another pitcher of beer for their table.

From the ashes, we will rise,” she says, an amused smile curving her lips. “That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

Bellamy turns toward her, his brows raising. “You speak Latin?”

Clarke smirks and nods. “I took classes in high school and a couple in college. First, it was about learning the medical terms. Then, I just liked the advantage of knowing a language most people don’t.”

He snorts. “You wanted to be better than everyone else? Shocking.”

She chooses to ignore that.  “What about you?”

“Self-taught,” Bellamy explains. “I preferred reading Metamorphoses and the Aeneid in the original language.”

Clarke can’t help but be impressed. Her neighbor has to be dedicated to teach himself Latin for his own reading pleasure.

She’s not happy having to adjust her perception of him, however. He’s not just an aggressive jock. He reads epic Latin poems for fun.

A smirk forms on Bellamy’s face when she falls silent. “You’re quiet. Thinking about me talking dirty to you in Latin, Clarke?”

She rolls her eyes on him, grabbing her refill off the bar counter. “Futue te ipsum.”

Bellamy laughs loudly behind her.

Chapter Text

Octavia picks her up at the Sky Box building. They agreed to ride to the hockey game together.

When she opens the door and slides onto the leather seat, Clarke gets a glimpse of the other girl’s outfit. Octavia is wearing a blue Rovers jersey with her tight black jeans. She also has the number 16 painted on her cheek.

“Lincoln’s number,” she explains. “Gotta support my man.”

On the drive to the arena, Octavia hands over her phone and challenges Clarke to pick something for them to listen to.

She has over 5,000 songs downloaded and a variety of genres to choose from. Some of the songs are separated in playlists, which Clarke laughs at the titles of.

“Oh my god,” Clarke cries. “Baby-making jams?

With a wicked smirk, Octavia says, “That’s not for you. Stop stalling and put on some music. Sorry, there’s no Taylor Swift on there.”

Clarke throws her a dirty look. “Hey. You got a problem with TSwizzle?”

Octavia snorts a laugh. “I fucking knew it! You’re like that bubblegum pop shit, don’t you?”

“There’s nothing wrong with pop music now and then,” Clarke says haughtily. “Sometimes – you just gotta Shake It Off.”

“I’m about to make you walk to the arena.”

Clarke stops singing and scrolls through the phone for something she likes. She doesn’t recognize a lot of the obscure artists’ names.

Finally, she settles on one of her favorites from high school. Down by blink-182 streams from the car’s speakers.

Octavia nods in approval. “Okay. Maybe your taste doesn’t totally suck.”

They jam out during the ride to My Chemical Romance and The Used. Octavia takes to performing impromptu drum solos on the steering wheel and Clarke has fun head-banging to a few heavy metal songs that she likes.

By the time they park the car, Clarke has to fix her tousled hair in the mirror. She doesn’t mind though. The adrenaline is pumping through the blood before the game has even started.

Together, they walk through the crowded parking lot, swarmed with rowdy hockey fans. Octavia’s arm hooked through hers keep them anchored together.

They’re surrounded by a sea of blue jerseys. The hardcore fans have their hair dyed blue while many others just have their faces painted.

Inside the arena, Clarke loses Octavia when she takes off running.

She tackles a skinny brunette guy and both of them nearly fall to the ground. Beside them, a pretty blonde girl keeps them steady before Clarke catches up.

The pair are giggling when he sets Octavia down. It makes Clarke smile, reminding her of her and Wells’ friendship.

The boy has on an Earth Day T-shirt and goggles on top of his head for no apparent reason. The blonde has a blue jersey like Octavia’s and sparkly blue eyeliner that Clarke immediately compliments.

“Guys, this is my new friend, Clarke,” Octavia says, waving her over. “She knows how to rock out to Iron Maiden. And her cooking is the bomb.”  

Goggles grins at her. “Heavy metal and good food? My kind of woman.”  

Clarke laughs while Octavia punches him playfully in the shoulder. “Hands off, Jas. I’m trying to make her my sister-in-law.”

Her laughter fades as Clarke scoffs. She and Bellamy have called some sort of truce, but they’re not exactly friends. Let alone close to liking each other.

“Yeah, like that’ll happen. I’d rather marry you than Bellamy.”

“We’ll see,” Octavia sings.

She gets introduced to Jasper Jordan and Harper McIntyre. Jasper was Octavia’s lab partner in high school biology and they’ve been inseparable ever since, along with Jasper’s best friend Monty Green.

According to Jasper, what really cemented their friendship was getting high in the boys’ bathroom during fifth period.

Jasper and Octavia babble excitedly about a new album that just came out, while Clarke gets to know Harper.

The other girl is the newest addition to their friend group, having moved here under a year ago from the Midwest.

Clarke explains that she’s from Los Angeles, California and they get into an interesting conversation comparing their very different childhoods. Harper grew up on a farm and her daily chores included caring for the animals and growing their own food on the property.

Clarke is amazed when Harper tells her about birthing the horses from the young age of six.

Monty joins them a few minutes later. He brings a pretzel from concession for his girlfriend and greets Clarke warmly.

He laughs at Clarke’s awe. “I grew up on a farm too, in Iowa. It’s pretty awesome.”

Harper lays her head on Monty’s shoulder, her smile proud. “Monty grows fresh fruit and veggies. He has a garden on his apartment’s roof.”

“Among growing other things,” Octavia jokes and Jasper snickers.

“Shh,” Monty shushes them. “Let’s go inside already.”

With the group complete, they’re ready to find their seats. Every row is filled up with fans and friends of the players. Compared to the quiet practice, the roar is deafening and the excitement for the game crackles in the air.

She has to part with the group reluctantly, but with the promise of finding Octavia after the game.

Clarke makes her way into the press gallery, flashing her badge at the security guards to get inside. There are others there to capture the game, though Clarke keeps to herself as she gets her equipment ready.

The arena thunders with cheers and applause when the Rovers burst onto the ice. Clarke views the game through her camera’s lens, snapping shots of the players and their aggressive dance for the small black puck.

She’s proud of the moment she captures of Murphy diving in mid-air, intercepting the puck as he defends the goalie net.

Clarke also gets a sharp photo of the hit that Lincoln makes into the Ravens’ net and a shot of Bellamy shouldering another player into the boards – this time in defense of his teammate.

The noise of the audience drowns out when she’s focused. Everything else becomes background noise.

Clarke sees camera angles and exposure, forgetting about the actual game being played. Still, she cheers with the rest of them when the Rovers win.

Octavia sends her a text to meet by her car in the parking lot. It takes about ten minutes of navigating through the thick crowd just to make it outside of the arena. The sudden quiet is a shock to her buzzing ears.

“Wow,” Clarke says when she reaches her, eyes wide.

Octavia nods. “Wild, right? You should see the playoffs. The people in this city go nuts.”

They climb into her car, slowing making it out of the packed lot. Clarke voices that she’s starved, so Octavia drives them through Burger King where they park, eating their greasy Whoppers and talking for an hour.

Octavia’s phone buzzes as Clarke is finishing off her chocolate shake. She smirks at the screen.

“J and M are having a dance party at their place tonight. We’re going.”

It’s a command, not a question. Clarke raises her brows, skeptical. “I don’t remember appointing you as the queen of my social calendar.”

Octavia’s smirk widens at her snark. “It’ll be fun. Their dance parties are legendary.”

Part of Clarke is tempted to say no. She wants to head back to the apartment and look over the photos she took tonight. She’s eager to see how they came out, start the editing for when she presents them to Diyoza this week.

But her work will still be there tomorrow. She likes Monty and Jasper and a night of dancing with her new friends does sound like a good time.

 “Okay,” Clarke agrees. “I’m in.”

They can hear the music thumping from the front yard. Clarke exchanges a curious look with Octavia, who smiles back in an “I told you so” kind of way. The other girl has filled her in on how rowdy Jasper and Monty’s parties can be.

The boys live in on a block of rowhouses. Theirs is an off-white with a red door that Octavia swings open to let them inside.

A strobe light is flashing neon colors from inside and speakers are blasting a techno dance beat throughout the house.

What Clarke isn’t expecting are the foam bubbles they have to wade through, covering almost every surface.

“Foam party, bitches!” Octavia shouts. Several people cheer back at her.

Tucked into the corner of what she thinks is the living room is a black machine that is dispensing the white foam. The substance is coating the floor and most of the furniture. Many of the party guests are playing in the bubbles.

Clarke laughs when someone pelts her cheek with foam. She looks around and realizes she’s already lost Octavia again. The girl tends to wander off without warning.

“Clarke!”

Wells finds her, his face beaming with happiness. He’s changed out of his uniform, wearing a grey V-neck shirt and jeans, and he’s carrying test tubes filled with bright blue liquid.

Clarke eyes them suspiciously. “What is that?”

“The mix master made them,” he tells her, laughing a little. “Kamikaze shots.”

Over his shoulder, Clarke catches a glimpse of Jasper at the bar station.

He looks like a mad scientist with his goggles perched on top of his messy hair. He’s even wearing a lab coat as he mixes the drinks and pours them into test tubes for the guests.

Clarke throws back the glass tube, more out of curiosity than an interest in drinking. She’s not getting drunk.

She follows Wells onto the makeshift dance floor. A few of the other hockey guys are there, most of them chatting and drinking.

She spots Murphy dancing up a storm. He’s shirtless and covered in foam. Clarke doesn’t see Bellamy yet, but she tells herself she isn’t looking for him.

Clarke dances with Wells first, then they’re joined by Harper and Monty, bouncing on his toes. They throw foam and blow bubbles at each other while dancing, acting like kids more than twenty-something adults. It’s more fun than she’s had in a long time.

Later, Octavia finds her, reappearing brimming with excitement. She announces that there’s a box of props and a Polaroid camera in one of the bedrooms, a station set up for taking photos.

“I did that,” Harper announces, her hazel eyes slightly glassy from drinking. She takes hold of Clarke’s arm. “Come on, we have to take some pictures!”

Clarke grabs Wells next and their group forms a messy, slightly stumbling line to the bedroom.

Monty opens the door for them since it’s his room. Inside, they find a cardboard box of mismatches hats and accessories sitting on the made bed.

They each grab for their own prop. Clarke sets the shiny tiara on her head and wraps the fluffy blue boa around her neck.

Wells puts on a huge cowboy hat. Octavia snatches the platinum wig to wear, along with a pair of star-shaped sunglasses. Monty finds a mustache that they can’t stop laughing at and Harper goes for the unicorn hat.

Harper set up a photo backdrop against the wall for them to pose in front of. They each take turns with the Polaroid camera, snapping photos of the group laughing and making ridiculous faces.

A warm feeling bubbles in Clarke’s chest all night. She already loves the sound of Octavia’s loud, free laugh and the expressions Monty makes at his friends. Surrounded by this crazy group that somehow fits together, she forgets what it felt like to be lonely.

Clarke emerges from the bedroom, swimming through the foam to reach the kitchen. She’s parched for a cup of water.

That’s where she finds Bellamy, leaning against the counter as he talks to Miller. He’s gesturing wildly with his hands.

Clarke checks with him her hip so she doesn’t get swat in the face as she reaches for a plastic cup.

Bellamy retaliates by tugging on a strand of her hair. She cuts him a warning look that he only smirks at. Then, Clarke uses his shoulder as leverage to seat herself on the counter, ignoring how sturdy he feels under her hand.

“Mind if I join you?”

Bellamy tilts his head, still smirking at her. “I could say no. Not that it’d matter.”

Clarke shrugs, swinging her legs. “You’re right. It wouldn’t.”

“Brat,” he mutters under his breath. She almost kicks him.

Miller looks between the two of them, eyebrows arched. “Wow. Should I give you guys the room?”

Bellamy says nothing as he sips at his beer.

Clarke gestures at them with her cup of water. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”

They pick up the conversation they were having. Bellamy and Miller are discussing a movie she hasn’t seen about gladiators in ancient Rome. Miller is a fan of the action scenes and the muscular guys, while Bellamy huffs his annoyance at the film’s historical inaccuracies.

Clarke is entertained listening to Bellamy rant. He’s so easy to rile up. She agrees with Miller about the sexy gladiators being more important than accuracy just to piss Bellamy off.

The conversation morphs into them talking about the most faithful book-to-screen adaptations. She’s surprised when Bellamy says that he liked the movie adaptation of Fight Club.

“And here I thought you didn’t like anything,” she teases.

“He doesn’t,” Miller chimes in. “Bellamy only loves hockey and Octavia.”

“And historically accurate portrayals of ancient Rome,” Clarke adds.

Bellamy rolls his eyes when they gang up on him. “Alright, what about you?” He challenges Clarke. “Favorite movie adaptation?”

Clarke thinks her answer over for a moment before she decides. “Pride and Prejudice. Joe Wright’s portrayal.”

“That’s the Keira Knightly version?” Bellamy asks.

“The superior adaptation, yes,” she answers. “The only one worth acknowledging.”

Miller laughs at her response while Bellamy nods thoughtfully, sipping at his beer. “I haven’t seen it.”

Clarke feels her eyes widen, staring at Bellamy incredulously. “You’ve never seen Pride and Prejudice?

“Nope,” he says. “Haven’t read the book either.”

Clarke turns her appalled stare on Miller and he raises his hands. “Don’t look at me like that, Griffin. I’ve seen it. Jacks loves that movie.”

“He’s not an uncultured swine, then.”

“Oh my god,” Bellamy huffs. “You’ve never seen Gladiator!”

Clarke lifts her hand to silence him. “That doesn’t even compare to the masterpiece that is the 2005 edition of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s love story. Please.”

Jackson joins them in the kitchen then, just getting off his shift at the hospital. He agrees on how amazing Pride and Prejudice is, which has Clarke giving Bellamy a smug look before he and Miller leave the party together.

“See?” Clarke points out.

Bellamy shakes his head at her. There’s a smile tugging at his lips that he fights back. “You’re insufferable.”

Clarke hides her smile in her cup. She watches as he tosses out his empty beer bottle into the recycle bin. “You’re heading out too?”

Her dad’s watch reads it’s past 2 a.m. She hadn’t realized how late it had gotten. The whole night from the hockey game to the party has felt like a long dream.

Bellamy stretches his arms above his head. His black shirt rides up and reveals a strip of golden-brown skin above his jeans.

She averts her gaze from the trail of dark hair disappearing into his waistband, her cheeks warm.

“Yep. Do you know where O is?”

“I’ll drive her home,” she offers. “I haven’t been drinking.”

Surprise flashes over Bellamy’s face, followed by a glint of gratitude in his dark eyes. “You sure?”

Lincoln went home after the game. He was icing his shoulder after one of the Ravens’ players knocked him down and didn’t feel like coming out, according to Octavia. Either way, Clarke doesn’t mind driving her friend back to her place.

“I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”

Bellamy still hesitates a moment. She thinks it’s sweet. He’s trusting her with his little sister’s safety and although Octavia is a grown woman, she can see he never stops worrying about her.

Clarke tries to give him a reassuring look. She won’t let anything happen to Octavia.

Finally, he nods. He gives her shoulder a grateful squeeze as he exits the kitchen.

She slides off the kitchen counter, throwing out her plastic cup before she goes searching for her friends.

Octavia and Harper doing more test tube shots by the bar. The other girl is having fun, so Clarke goes to dance with Wells, keeping on eye on her.

About an hour later, exhaustion catches up with her. Clarke is ready to leave, so she goes to fetch Octavia from where she’s making foam angels with Jasper.

Thankfully, she doesn’t put up a fight. Octavia says goodbye, kissing all of her friends’ noisily on the cheek, and lets Clarke herd her out the door and into Octavia’s car parked downstairs.

During the drive, she lowers the passenger side window to let the breeze in and chatters about how much fun the party was.

Getting up the stairs in Octavia’s building is more of a challenge – especially when she attempts to climb onto Clarke’s back for a piggy-back ride. Somehow, they make it to the sixth floor and inside the apartment.

The place that she lives in with Lincoln is cozy. It feels like a home to the couple, with a framed photo of Lincoln and Octavia right on the mantle. There’s also a wooden bar tucked against the wall and pool table. The scoreboard above the pool tables claims Monty as the last winner.

Clarke gets Octavia to drink a glass of water before she passes out, fully dressed, in the queen-sized bed. Lincoln is sound asleep on his side, snoring in low rumbles.

She pulls up Bellamy’s contact, which she stole from Wells’ phone. Clarke sends him the photo of Octavia asleep in her bed. His response comes quickly.

thank you, clarke.  

Her next meeting with Charmaine goes well. The pay she receives from the Rovers’ photos is enough to take care of a few months of rent and bills.

This gives Clarke some breathing room before she has to find another project. Having her photos printed in a magazine like Eligius is going to do wonders for her business, as well.

Charmaine says she’ll be in touch for more assignments in the future. Which might depend on whether the Rovers make it to the playoffs this year.

She also hinted at the possibility of photographing the athletes for brand photoshoots, which excites Clarke more than the hockey games. She prefers being able to see her subjects’ faces and working with them one-on-one.

In the meantime, Clarke has the availability to work on a personal project she started back in L.A.

Her website has a few orders waiting to be filled. She has put them to the side, focused on moving to Auburn and then the assignment from Eligius.

Now Clarke takes the time to look through them, writing down what the orders are asking for before she packs up her equipment.

Clarke makes the forty-five-minute drive to Shallow Valley Cove. Two of her orders are for the beach, so she decides to take care of them in a single trip.  

One of the first photos Clarke ever took and edited was a shot of her name written in the sand. The idea came to her while she was walking along the beach. Like a child, she dug the letters into the wet sand to spell CLARKE and snapped the photo before the tide washed her name away.

The first picture was nothing special. Not to her, anyway. She liked how the finished result came out, so she posted the picture on her Instagram. She was still an amateur then, still learning the ropes of editing software and playing around with her creativity.

Her friend Niylah messaged her, complimenting the photo and requested a shot of her name in the sand. It was just a favor for a friend, so Clarke did it without thinking it over too much.

But then a friend of Niylah’s wanted the same photo in her name. Before Clarke realized it, she had a list of orders from people on Instagram asking for her edited photos.

She did names in the sand, then names scrawled in seashells, and then it shifted in short messages written in rocks or flowers in a field. The requests became creative and complex.

Clarke set up her website just to have a place for the requests to be organized. The photos weren’t enough to make a living off of, but they kickstarted her photography business.

And most importantly – they make people happy. Clarke honestly loves doing them.

It’s a warm day in mid-September. The Cove isn’t too crowded that afternoon. Clarke walks along the shore until she finds a quiet spot by the cliffs. She sets down her equipment bag onto a beach towel and then gets to work, writing out the first message in the wet sand.

The process is time-consuming. Digging each letter in the sand takes work and then Clarke has to play with the framing and the angles until she gets the right shot.

The shifting sun behind the clouds is also a pain in her ass. The first request takes a full hour to finish.

The second order is a name – Joanna. She finds the seashells to write out the name and stands on one of the nearby rocks to capture the photo from above. This takes less time, but evening is falling when Clarke finally leaves the beach.

She drives around Auburn for a bit, just taking in the sights. The Pier looks beautiful at night with its vibrant colors and reminds Clarke of the Santa Monica Pier she used to visit with her dad during the summer.

Seeing the Ferris Wheel in the distance is enough to make her stomach ache, so Clarke keeps driving.

She’s looking forward to stowing away in her room for a quiet night of editing her photos. Disappointment hits when Clarke walks into the apartment and finds the place already occupied.

The television is on, broadcasting a football game. She sees the kitchen counter is overlaid with snacks and beer cans. And gathered in the living room are Bellamy, Miller and another pale, dark-haired man that Clarke doesn’t recognize.

Wells turns in the kitchen when he hears her come in. “Hey. Did you get any good photos?”

Clarke takes a moment to process the unexpected house guests. She’s literally surrounded by testosterone these days.

“Uh, yeah. I was just going to edit them in my room.”

Something happens with the game then that causes all of the guys to erupt into loud yells and swearing at the television screen.

Clarke must let her annoyance show on her face because Wells looks apologetic. “I’m sorry about the noise. We have game night here on Mondays, but we can –”

She waves off his apology. This is his apartment, after all. He’s allowed to have guests whenever he likes.

“Don’t worry about it. I can tune it out.”

She can’t, really. The game is loud and the guys are competing with the sound.

But Clarke doesn’t want to make her best friend feel bad about having his friends over. He did mention to her about game nights at their place. It just slipped her mind.

Clarke drops off her bag and camera in her room. She shouts a greeting at the guys on her way to the kitchen, receiving mostly distracted nods.

The pale guy she doesn’t know is the only one that looks at her and she doesn’t care for the way his beady eyes track her into the next room.

She prepares a BLT sandwich for herself in the kitchen. When Clarke turns around from putting the bread back into the cabinet, the stranger is suddenly there, leering at her from behind the island.

He gives her a sharp smile. There’s something about his dark eyes that reminds her of a shark. Flat, predatory. “Hi. I’m Cage.”

She gives him a curt nod. “Clarke. Wells’ roommate.”

“Cage Wallace,” he adds, emphasizing his name like it’s supposed to mean something to her.

Clarke raises her brow at him. “Nice to meet you, Cage Wallace.”

A frown starts to form on his lips. He’s disappointment she’s not impressed by his introduction. It only lasts a moment before that predatory smile reappears on his face.

“So, you moved here from California.”

“Yep,” she says in a clipped voice.

Clarke focuses on making her sandwich, trying to pay no mind to the way Cage’s eyes stick to her like a physical touch. She knows what he’s thinking, can sense the way he’s undressing her in his mind. His stare makes her skin crawl.

“Auburn is lucky,” he continues sultrily, “to have such a beautiful woman in our little city.”

The compliment might be flattering if Cage wasn’t directed at her chest when he said it.

Clarke is more concerned with the silver wedding band he’s wearing on his finger. She has no idea who would marry this sleazy guy, but that person doesn’t deserve to have their husband hitting on someone else.

She slams the knife she was using down on the counter. “Look, Cage. Let me be clear about something. I don’t think your spouse would appreciate you saying that.”

Clarke levels a pointed look at his ring. She makes sure to let her disgust show on her face.

Cage’s hand curls into a fist. His smile quickly fades. “I was just paying you a compliment, Clarke. You could say thank you.”

His tone makes her teeth grit. As if she should thank him for leering at her and making her uncomfortable.

A hand suddenly clamps down on Cage’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. “You need something?”

Bellamy walks around him, joining Clarke in the kitchen. His hard stare is pinned on Cage, a challenge veiled there as Bellamy opens the fridge. “Another beer?”

Irritation flashes over Cage’s face at being interrupted. He starts to say no, but Bellamy doesn’t give him a chance to respond. He pulls a beer can from the shelf and hurls it at Cage.

The can crashes against Cage’s chest. He struggles to not drop it.

Clarke bites her bottom lip, hiding a smile. Bellamy did that on purpose.

“Thank you,” Cage says through his teeth. His eyes read fuck you to Bellamy. He starts to retreat to the living room and addresses her, “You’re welcome to join us, Clarke.”

Pass,” she mutters to herself. When Cage is gone, she looks at Bellamy. “Thanks.”

He nods at her. “You can hang out at my place if you want. We get loud during the game.”

His offer is pleasantly surprising. Clarke doesn’t want to make a nuisance of herself, so she shakes her head.

“That’s okay. I’ll just be in my room.”

“Don’t be a martyr, Clarke. My place is empty and quiet. You can edit your photos there.”

“I’m not,” she protests.

What’s even more surprising than his offer is that Bellamy knows what her plans for the evening are. She wonders if Wells told him what she was doing today.

Bellamy retrieves his key and slides it into her front pocket. Clarke thinks she stops breathing.

“Go,” he says. It’s not a request. It’s a command.

Normally, Clarke would reply that he can’t tell her what to do. But she’s been frozen since his fingers grazed the front of her jeans. How could Bellamy make a simple act so sexy?

A smirk forms on his lips. “No rebuttal? Huh.”

After a moment, Clarke breaks out of her weird trance and finds her voice.

“What?” She demands.

“That was too easy. I’m used to you arguing with everything I say.”

Her eyes roll. “You had a good idea. Don’t get used to it.”

Bellamy turns away, entirely unaffected by what just happened. Clarke isn’t sure what just took place, either.

She doesn’t understand her reaction to it. But she knows the tingling feeling in her stomach is harder to shake off than she likes.

After eating her sandwich in her room, Clarke gathers up her camera and her laptop. She’s not going because Bellamy told her to. Clarke longs for the peace and quiet of an empty apartment.

And maybe a small part of her is curious about Bellamy’s place. About him.

Someone’s home can say a lot about them. Who they are and what’s important to them. What do they put up on their walls and what do they hide in the closet space, out of sight?

Clarke uses the key to let herself into his apartment. The layout is a replica of her and Wells’ place. But that is the only similarity.

Their apartment shows signs of life everywhere – the chess table, Clarke’s quilt on the sofa, and the artwork on the walls that Wells picked out when he moved in.

Bellamy’s place looks almost un-lived in. The walls are bare. There are no knickknacks or appliances on the kitchen counter, other than an old-fashioned coffee maker. The space is minimal and empty.

Lonely, comes to her mind.

Clarke’s curiosity gets the better of her. She should just sit down at the island and get to work, which is what she’s there for. Instead, she crosses the apartment and opens one of the doors.

This room is the same one she shares a wall with. Clarke spots the worn punching bag that woke her up that night.

This space is clearly used as a home gym. There are blue rubber mats on the floor, a rack to store weights, and various machines. The back wall is a full-sized mirror.

Clarke takes a peek at Bellamy’s bedroom next. She’s looking for some proof of life of the man that’s lived here for years. And it looks like Bellamy keeps his world private, behind the door.

Her eyes first land on the long wooden bookshelf dominating an entire wall. Unsurprisingly, this is where Clarke is drawn to, as an avid reader.

She steps closer to get a look at the books lining the shelves.

There’s The Metamorphoses, which he mentioned at the bar. The Iliad. The Odyssey. A few other historical classics like Paradise Lost. Several texts on the Roman Empire. Fight Club. All of the Harry Potter books, which makes her smile.

Her eyes take in the rest of the room – the desk in the corner, slightly messy, a signed hockey jersey on the wall, a large bed with dark sheets.

On the wooden nightstand next to the lamp is where Clarke finds the only framed photos.

One is of a dark-haired woman sitting in the grass. She looks beautiful but sad, unsmiling. Clarke guesses this is Aurora Blake.

The second photo is of a younger Bellamy and Octavia. Bellamy looks about sixteen while his sister is a child, her slender arms wrapped around his neck. Bellamy is giving her a piggy-back ride and Octavia is grinning, missing a few teeth.

Clarke feels a tide of sadness sweep over her, looking at the photos. It’s obvious how important his family is to Bellamy. But his mother is gone and his sister is living her own life with her boyfriend.

He’s in this bare apartment. Alone.

Guilt joins the sadness weighing her down. She shouldn’t be snooping through his things. Bellamy deserves his privacy.

Clarke leaves the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. She seats herself at the kitchen island with her laptop. In the quiet, she’s able to get a lot of work done, finishing the two beach orders.

With the photos done, Clarke is left searching for something to do while she waits for the football game to end.

Her attention settles on the pile of dishes in the sink. She might as well take care of those while she’s there.

Clarke hums to herself as she scrubs the dirty cup and stack of plates. She doesn’t notice the door opening or hears the footfalls with the faucet running water into the drain.

“You’re doing my dishes?”

Bellamy’s incredulous voice makes her jump.

Clarke spins around, almost dropping the glass cup she was rinsing. Her pulse races.

She manages to set the cup aside without breaking it and dries her soaked hands on a dishtowel.

Bellamy arches a brow at her.

“I finished editing,” she says in explanation. “They were just sitting there, so…”

His mouth twitches into an amused smile. “Right. Well, the game is over. The coast is clear.”

“Meaning Cage has gone home and won’t be harassing me,” Clarke finishes.

She suspects the real reason Bellamy sent her over here was to offer an escape from the creepy married guy and he doesn’t deny it.

Bellamy doesn’t seem to like the guy either, which brings up the question of why Cage is invited over to game night.

Clarke shakes her head in bafflement. “Why are you friends with that guy?”

Bellamy’s wrinkled lip makes his disgust obvious. “Cage isn’t my friend. Or Wells’ friend either. He’s a prick with no respect for his wife.”

“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir. I don’t understand why you hang out with him, then.”

“Dante Wallace was the owner of the Rovers team,” he explains. “Before he retired and his son, Cage, got handed the position. We’re civil to him because we have to be. Not by choice.”

“Well, that’s shitty,” Clarke surmises and Bellamy snorts in agreement.

He walks over to the island, peering down at her open laptop screen. “What have you been working on for the past hour?”

He sounds genuinely curious. Clarke moves to stand beside him, bringing up the final version of the message written in the Shallow Valley sand: To the moon and back. The letters are framed by a swath of the tide.

Bellamy shoots her an impressed glance. “You shot that here?”

She nods. His look fills her chest with warm pride. “Today at the Cove. It took about a dozen different angles, but this was the best shot.”

Clarke goes on to describe her small side-business, how it started with her friend Niylah. Most of her orders are for sand messages, but she has a few pieces from the clearing by her old house in L.A. written in petals from flowers.

She shows Bellamy examples of her work. Some clients asked for designs in the sand, not just words. That’s when she had to get creative. Those were especially time-consuming, but the finished product was worth it.

Bellamy hesitates before he asks her, “Do you…do you think you could do one for me?”

Clarke’s eyes widen. She hadn’t expected that. “Sure. What did you have in mind?”

He tells her to wait and ducks into his room. Clarke’s curiosity blooms. She watches, intrigued, as Bellamy returns with a sheet of paper and a pencil.

He takes a minute to sketch something on the paper before he slides it over to her.

Aurora’s name is written in Bellamy’s handwriting. Underneath that is an infinity sign.

Clarke swallows thickly. She tries to keep her emotions under control. He wants a photograph of his mother’s name, probably to hang in his bedroom or next to her picture on his bedside.

“Yeah, I can do that.” She tucks the slip of paper into her pocket. “Should only take a couple of days.”

“How much?”

Clarke shakes her head. “Don’t worry about it.”

Bellamy’s brows draw together above his eyes, preparing to argue. “Clarke –”

“I don’t charge friends. Or neighbors,” she adds cheekily.

She can tell that Bellamy still wants to insist that he pay for the photo. He isn’t the type of person that accepts hands-outs. Or acts of pity, which she doesn’t want him to think this is.

“I’ll think of a way you can repay me.”

Clarke packs up her belongings and says goodbye to him before heading back to her apartment.

Her day was productive and she gets to end the night on the couch with her best friend. They binge-watch Cupcake Wars until Wells falls asleep, his mouth hanging open.

The next day Clarke is coming home from running errands. She notices a rectangular object is leaning against the front door when the approaches from down the hall. Only when she gets closer does she realize what it is.

A copy of the Starry Night painting.

Attached to its frame is a small note. From Bellamy.

Chapter Text

When Clarke walks out of the bedroom and spots Bellamy seated at the kitchen island, she doesn’t feel a surge of annoyance at her neighbor’s prescence. Progress.

She’s been living with Wells for about a month. Clarke has gotten used to Bellamy hanging around in the mornings.

Sometimes he goes on the sunrise runs with Wells, but most of the time he’s just there to drink their Keurig coffee that he claims to hate and endure Clarke’s teasing about Bellamy thinking of himself as a maverick. 

“Snob,” Bellamy greets her, handing Clarke a mug filled and mixed how she likes it.

“Pleb,” Clarke retorts. This is part of their morning routine.

“You slumming it today?”

He nods at her oversized denim shirt and leggings. Clarke thinks the look is cute, despite his opinion that she didn’t ask for.

Clarke raises a cool eyebrow. “I’m here with you, aren’t I?”

That earns her a smirk from Bellamy, amused at her reply. He likes when she fights back.

Clarke has also commented on his urge to pick a fight with everything in sight, but Bellamy ignores her. Or he reminds that her undergrad Psych course at Harvard doesn’t qualify her to psychoanalyze them.

Wells is right to be amazed they haven’t killed each other yet.

She joins Bellamy at the island. He reads the newspaper spread out in front of him, his square-framed glasses perched on his nose.

Clarke sips at her coffee, slowly waking up and listens to the soft flipping of pages. Wells is in the shower, the running water serving as background noise to the quiet.

After a few weeks of this morning routine, Clarke and Bellamy have finally stopped coming up with lame excuses for sticking around the kitchen without him and let themselves be.

Clarke doesn’t understand it, but she likes these moments.

The playful sniping is fun, keeping her on her toes. But really, it’s about Bellamy’s prescence beside her that is unexpectedly comforting. He has another side of him outside of being the loud team captain or aggressive hockey player.

“Prefix meaning billion,” Bellamy suddenly asks, his pencil poised over the crossword.

Clarke thinks for a minute before the answer reveals itself. “Giga.”

The pencil scratches as he fills in the letters.

“Removal of a kidney?”

That one is easy. “Nephrectomy.”

“Amazing,” he mutters to himself. “We should get you on Jeopardy.

Clarke laughs quietly and catches the look that Bellamy gives her, surprised that he got a real laugh out of her. 

Usually, Bellamy is able to fill out the newspaper crossword on his own. There are a few occasions when the questions stump him – like medical terminology or pop culture – and Clarke finds that often she knows the answers.

Wells’ bedroom door opens then and he walks out, chipper. “Morning, guys.”

Her best friend gets his protein shake going and Clarke stands up to start breakfast. Nothing fancy just scrambled eggs and bacon for the three of them.

“A 1987 Robin Wright film,” Bellamy questions as Clarke is cracking open the eggs.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” Clarke quotes. “Come on, Bellamy. The Princess Bride.”

Wells gives both of them an amused glance as Bellamy writes in her answer, shaking his head. The crossword is finished and the three of them move to the dining table to eat.

“You know what today is, right?” Wells aims the question at Bellamy.

Their neighbor immediately scowls. “I already told you. I’m not going.”

Wells takes a sip of his shake, noting innocently, “Your sister seems to think you are.”

“I already told her,” he snaps, “I’m not going.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Clarke cuts in, feeling like she’s several steps behind.

“A few of us are going on a hike today,” Wells says. “We’ve had it planned for a while. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think you’d be into it.”

She’s not into hikes for the sake of hiking, per say. But Clarke does enjoy taking photos of the outdoors. She’ll deal with the sweat if that means they’ll be chances to photograph the mountains in person.

Plus, her friends are going so that’s incentive enough.

“I’m in,” she decides.

Wells breaks into an excited grin. “Awesome! See, Bellamy, even Clarke is going. It’s going to be fun.”

Bellamy’s expression remains unimpressed. His jaw is set with stubbornness.

He holds his stance that he is not attending the hiking trip with the group and wasting his Sunday off – all the way up to when Octavia and the others arrive at their building at noon.

Somehow, Bellamy ends up in the backseat of Lincoln’s truck with Clarke and Wells.

Clarke leans forward to whisper to Octavia in the passenger seat. “I don’t know what you threatened him with, but I’m impressed.”

“Please,” Octavia scoffs. “My big bro can’t say no to me. Right Bell?”

Bellamy glares at her, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. “I’m only doing this to make sure you don’t die, O.”

“So dramatic,” Octavia mouths at Clarke.

They spend the drive to Mount Weather chatting amongst themselves, with the exception of Bellamy, who remains quiet and grumpy with his sunglasses shading his eyes.

Clarke pokes at his cheek and a reluctant smile twitches on his lips. He swats her hand away, but she’s determined. Clarke pokes at his cheek until Bellamy stops sulking and joins the conversation.

Octavia gives her a look in the rearview mirror that is both grateful and smug. A combination Clarke didn’t realize was possible until she met the Blake siblings.

The group dismounts from Lincoln’s and Monty’s car. They have bags filled with water bottles, first aid kit and gear. Going on hiking trips is a thing they do throughout the year, so Clarke is fine following the others’ lead.

It’s a gorgeous fall day for a hike. The temperature is comfortable and cool, the skies clear.

Clarke takes a moment, inhaling the crisp autumn air. In the distance she can see the rocky peaks of the mountain ridge.

They’re surrounded by trees and the stillness of nature. It feels like they’re like the only people around for miles.

Their group convenes by the cars and listens to Lincoln give a safety overview about the hike. Jasper cracks jokes during most of it, but Clarke is listening diligently. Hiking can be dangerous.

They have a preferred trail they like to use, so that’s where they head off to. Harper promises this trail is light and easy to start with.

Since Bellamy and Clarke are the newbies, they’re given the hiking poles to help them along the steep areas.

Octavia and Jasper do a good job of hyping everyone up during the trek up.

It’s only Clarke that hears most of Bellamy’s bitching under his breath about his knees. She won’t admit it, but her muscles are killing her too, after a while.

“Come along, old man,” Clarke calls to Bellamy behind her. “No hiker left behind.”

Bellamy makes a face as he catches up to her. “Why the hell did we agree to this?”

“Because we’re masochists. Obviously.”

He grunts in agreement.

They spend most of the way falling behind, pausing for breaks and sitting on rocks together. Clarke discovers that sweat somehow smells better on Bellamy than it does on other people.

There isn’t much to see on the trail itself, but Clarke gets plenty of photos of her friends posing.

It takes two and a half hours to reach a ridge where they can stop, rest and enjoy an amazing view. From the ridge, they can see the sparkling lake and valley below, rolling green hills and a wide stretch of clear blue sky.

Their group spreads out blankets on the ground and unpacks their prepared lunch.

They spot a couple passing by and wave as they trek ahead of them. Other than that, they have the ridge to themselves as they eat and talk.

“Have you guys ever reached the top?” Clarke asks them.

Unsurprisingly, Octavia and Lincoln raise their hands.

“We went on my birthday last year,” Octavia says, a proud gleam in her eye. Lincoln smiles fondly at her. “It took us about a month of prepping for it, but it was so worth it. The view from the top is insane.”

After they finish lunch, Clarke brings out her camera again, excited to capture the view.

The others with enough stamina walk around to explore, moving further up the ridge. Jasper lays down on a blanket, arms tucked under his head for an afternoon nap.

Clarke turns in time to catch Bellamy ducking behind a cluster of large rocks. He’s wandering off alone, without a backpack, and she hurries to catch up to him.

Bellamy whips around when she comes up behind him, eyes wide. “Clarke, what the hell are you doing?”

“Buddy system, Bellamy,” she retorts. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Taking a leak. Is that allowed?”

Clarke rolls her eyes at his attitude. She turns and winds around the rock formation to give him some privacy.

The highest point on the rocks grants a spectacular view of the hills below them. Clarke climbs up onto the lip with her camera. She snaps as many different photos as she can.

There’s never been a sight quite as breathtaking as the valley surrounding Mount Weather. Lush and vivid and scenic, like something from a postcard.

Clarke tries to step down when she’s got enough shots. Her balance slips away from her in a split second.

She tips backward and the wind rushes in her ears. A gasp leaves her lips as she begins to fall.

Then a hand darts out, wrapping around her wrist. The grip is tight and strong, strong enough to halt her fall.

Clarke is yanked forward and she stumbles, weightless, against Bellamy’s chest.

His scent hits her in a dizzying wave. Clarke sucks in a sharp breath, her panic sliced apart by relief. She’s safe.

Her heart pounds hard in her chest like it’s trying to prove to her that she’s still there, still breathing. The adrenaline of falling makes her feel shaky and breathless, clutching onto the material of his shirt to hold herself upright.

Bellamy’s voice is an angry growl in her ear. “What the fuck were you thinking, Clarke?”

Her mind is blank, blurred by relief. Clarke is not thinking anything as she rests her forehead against his chest.

Her eyes close. She can feel his heart thudding hard just like hers is.

“Do you have any idea how dangerous and stupid that was?” Bellamy continues furiously. “Christ. I thought you were going to fall!”

“Me too,” she murmurs.

He lets out a deep breath that stirs her hair. “Fuck. You’re shaking.”

She didn’t realize until he points it out. Her body is trembling all over, her teeth chattering. Clarke means to apologize, to step away, but she can’t. She’s shaking too hard to speak.

Bellamy’s arms close around her. He holds her tight and snug against his chest.

If Clarke wasn’t maxed out on shock at the moment, she’d be stunned by Bellamy hugging her and rubbing soothingly on her back.

“You’re okay, Clarke,” he says softly. “I’ve got you. You’re okay.”

She doesn’t know how long they stand there, with her tucked against his body. Long enough for his warmth to seep into her and chase away the autumn chill.

At some point, her trembling stops and it’s just Bellamy swaying them gently. Clarke suspects that he’s unaware that he’s doing it.

“Clarke!” Someone yells behind them. Wells.

Bellamy lets her go and she steps back. There’s a moment when they just stare at each other. Her tongue is heavy with everything she wants to say to him.

His deep brown eyes are softer than she’s seen before. Concerned. Relieved.

Part of her wants to make a joke about him letting her fall for being a pain in the ass. Clarke feels vulnerable by what just happened and maybe embarrassed by the way she just clung to him. But she can’t speak still, not even to make a dumb joke at her own expense.

Wells reaches them, sweeping Clarke into a tight hug. Over his shoulder, Bellamy finally looks away, breaking their intense stare.

“Oh my god. What happened?” He demands. “Are you okay?”

Clarke nods weakly. “Yeah. I’m fine. I just slipped.”

She doesn’t want to make a big deal about it. Bellamy is right. Stepping out onto that rock was stupid of her. Clarke knew it and took the risk anyway to get the photo she wanted.

It’s uncomfortable and suffocating with everyone fussing over her. She just wants them to move on. Thankfully, this seems to be the end of the hike and their attention switches to packing up before evening descends.

The way back is quiet. During the drive, Clarke leans her head back against the seat and closes her eyes.

She can’t sleep that night. Every time her eyes close, Clarke sees the world rushing past in a blur of colors. She has the sensation of falling, waiting to hit the ground.

Finally, around 2 a.m., she gives in and climbs out of bed.

In the kitchen, Clarke makes herself a small pot of lavender tea. Her rattled nerves are calmed somewhat by the soothing tea, but she is still wide-awake and restless.

Clarke’s thoughts stray to the guy next door. She wonders if Bellamy is awake. She would bet good money that he is.

After finishing her tea, Clarke rinses the cup in the sink. She slips into her room quickly for a jacket and pair of shoes.

She never properly thanked Bellamy for saving her today and now is a good a time as any, since it looks like she won’t be sleeping tonight.

Bellamy opens the door almost immediately after she knocks. He looks tired, but not like she just pulled him out of bed.

Clarke wraps her arms around herself. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Mind if I come in?”

He steps back to let her inside. The apartment is quiet and dim like the last time she was here with the only light being the soft glow of the lamp in the living room. A book is lying facedown on the chocolate leather couch.

Clarke nods her chin towards it. “Reading anything good?”

Bellamy shrugs. “I’m rereading Paradise Lost.”

Instead of sleeping, she fills in for him. Not for the first time, Clarke is left to wonder what keeps Bellamy up at night. Is it the same something that caused him to get blackout drunk in the hallway? 

“I can’t sleep either,” Clarke offers, leaning back against the bare wall. “Not tonight anyway. I can’t stop thinking about what happened, on the hike…”

Bellamy doesn’t tell her she’s being ridiculous. It’s only an imitation of her mother’s voice that she hears. Stop being so dramatic, Clarke. Nothing happened to you. You’re fine.

 She was always fine. Until she wasn’t.

Bellamy nods like he understands. He looks soft in the dim light, which isn’t a word Clarke would use to describe him before.

Now, his hair falls in messy curls across his forehead and his brows are drawn over his eyes in concern.

Clarke catches a glimpse of the Bellamy from Octavia’s childhood stories. The caring older brother that gave her piggy back rides and read Ovid to her every night.

“I never thanked you,” Clarke says softly. “For saving my life.”

Bellamy turns his chin away, flustered. “It wasn’t…”

“No.” Clarke steps closer to him, firm and sincere. “You did, Bellamy. I would have fallen. I could have died. But I didn’t – because of you.”

Here she has to catch her breath. She’s never had such a close brush with death herself. It doesn’t feel quite real. But the fact is, if Bellamy hadn’t caught her in time, she could have fallen to her death off that ridge.

Bellamy’s eyes snap back to hers, concern bleeding through his gaze. He doesn’t like hearing about her death any more than she likes thinking about it. But Clarke holds his stare and lets him see how grateful she is.

“Thank you.”

He swallows hard and nods, not rejecting her gratitude this time.

The tense air between them is broken when they move to the couch. Bellamy sets his book on the coffee table before he sits facing her.

“Are you okay?” He asks, studying her, the way her arms hug herself.

Clarke smiles ruefully. “Not really. But I will be. Just freaked out, I guess.”

“Understandable,” he notes. His brown eyes stay on her, more curious than concerned now. “Can I ask what the hell possessed you to climb up on that big-ass rock today?”

She huffs. “It was for the view. I wanted a picture from the top of the ridge.”

He exhales sharply through his nose like that is completely ridiculous.

Clarke cuts him a sidelong glance. “Believe it or not, that’s actually not the most dangerous thing I’ve done for a photo.”

“You’re kidding.”

Clarke tells him the story of the time The Crimson was writing an article on a hazing scandal in one of the school’s most elite fraternities.

The school hadn’t given their permission to write on the sensitive topic, but one of the editors was determined to release the story to the public and Clarke agreed.

She broke into the fraternity’s house to get photographic proof of the hazing happening during pledge week.

“I had to hide in the air vent,” Clarke tells him, laughing at the memory, “And suspend myself above the fireplace to get the photos.”

Bellamy shakes his head in disbelief. “So what happened?”

“One of those douchey frat boys caught me,” she mutters. “They broke my camera. And I got taken in by campus police for trespassing.”

She likes the way Bellamy smirks at her then. “I had no idea you were such a badass, Clarke.”

Clarke mirrors his smirk. “Yeah, well, it was worth it when the frat house got disbanded for hazing and most of the guys were expelled.”

Her restlessness is forgotten when Clarke is talking to him, trading some of their outlandish stories. She asks Bellamy if he’s ever done anything that might be considered stupid or crazy for the sake of his passion.

Bellamy admits that he ignored his doctor’s orders when his wrist was shattered and tried to sneak onto the bus to go to his junior hockey league’s game.

He was supposed to stay home and heal, but it was an important game that Bellamy refused to miss. He didn't want to let his teammates down. 

“I got busted by my coach,” he tells her, smiling sheepishly. “He sent me home.”  

Clarke laughs at the thought of pissed-off, sixteen-year-old Bellamy being kicked off the bus. She can almost hear him ranting.

“How long have you been playing?”

Bellamy leans his head on the back of the couch, blinking slowly as he thinks it over.

“Since I was six or seven. I was in a junior league at 16, but I’ve been playing basically all my life.”

“You must love it,” she notes.

His lips turn up in a self-deprecating smile. “It’s the only thing I’m any good at.”

Clarke seriously doubts that. “I don’t know. Your scallops are pretty amazing.”

Bellamy lifts a brow at her. “Did you just pay me a compliment?”

“Don’t let it go to your head.”

"Too late." 

He nudges her knee with his. “What about you? What’s your story with photography? You said you dropped out of med school, right?”

Clarke nods. “I had a moment when I realized the only reason I was in med school was because my mother wanted me to be. Dr. Abby Griffin is a legacy and I was supposed to be her brilliant prodigy. The pressure was too much and I just…collapsed under it.”

Like a shooting star, she thinks grimly. Clarke burned herself out.

She stops to draw in a breath. Bellamy’s eyes linger on the side of her face, concerned as Clarke tries to keep herself together.

She doesn’t like to remember the hardest year of her life. Her breakdown. The insomnia. The six months spent in a treatment center and fighting viciously with her mother.

“I had to withdraw from classes,” she continues quietly, speaking to her lap. “I was in an outpatient facility for a while. Not exactly Miss Perfect, huh?”

Her lips twist into a bitter smile at him. Regret flashes across Bellamy’s face for the title he threw in her face.

She’s not trying to make him feel guilty though. Clarke got quite good at pretending to be perfect. She almost had herself fooled, too, until the cracks started to show.

“After I got released, I moved out of my parents’ place, officially and slowly started my photography business.”

“I’m sorry, Clarke,” he murmurs.

She shakes her head. “Don’t be. It was hard, but I got the help I needed. Leaving school just made it possible for me to do what I actually love.”

“But why do you do it? Why photography?” Bellamy presses. “Just to spite your mother? Show her she can’t control you?”

Clarke turns to look at him in surprise. She’s not sure that anyone has ever asked her that before. Because I love it, is a generic, copout answer and she digs deeper into herself for a real one.

“Because no one looks at a photo and has the same response to it. Everybody has a different perspective and we can learn so much by viewing other people’s experiences.”

Bellamy says nothing, his dark eyes intense as he listens to her. His stare makes her feel both vulnerable and seen

“That first photo I took, writing my name on the beach,” Clarke says, “That meant nothing to me. It was practice. But I’ve done hundreds of them now and everyone that’s reached out to me has a hundred reasons for a photo that I’ve never thought of.”

They sit in the quiet for a minute in the wake of her answer. Clarke feels a bit awed herself. She’s never taken the time to really think about a true reason she loves photography and now she’s just learned something new about herself.

Bellamy stands up suddenly from the couch. He disappears into his bedroom and returns holding the print she made of Aurora’s name in the sand. He had it framed in dark wood.

Clutching the photo, Bellamy sinks down on the couch and stares down at his mother’s name. She waits for him to gather his thoughts; the way he gave her time for her response.

“I know she’s dead,” he starts, his voice low and rough. “This isn’t going to bring her back. I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits. I don’t think she was watching when you made this and smiling at me from the afterlife. She’s gone.”

Bellamy’s knuckles tighten around the frame. Her heart aches for the pain laced in his voice.

“She lived in Treham her whole life. In the middle of nowhere, Minnesota. She never got to see the beaches here on the West coast. I wish she did, before she died. I wish I got to bring her with me and O when we moved here.”

There’s nothing Clarke can say then to make it better. Still, she leans over to lay her hand on Bellamy’s knee to offer her comfort, for whatever it’s worth.

“She’ll never get to see it,” he murmurs, “But at least a part of the beach remembers her.”

Clarke’s throat squeezes. “That’s beautiful, Bellamy.”

He glances up, giving her a small smile. “You don’t think it’s stupid?”

“No. I think your mother would love it. I really do.”

Bellamy’s gaze warms. Like she’s given him a gift with a just a few words. “I wish you could have met her. She saw beauty in the little things. Like you.”

Clarke’s head ducks, hiding a smile. “Yeah, I wish I had, too.”

Something shifts between her and Bellamy after the hiking trip.

Defenses are lowered. They’re no longer guarded around each other, not just neighbors tolerating the other for Wells’ sake. They become friends.

After the night in his apartment, Clarke finds that she likes talking to Bellamy. About pretty much any topic.  They don’t agree on a lot of things and still clash heads often, but it doesn’t end in screaming matches.

They listen to the others’ viewpoint, play devil’s advocate and end up in discussions that can go on for hours.

Bellamy is smart, well-read and funny. He can be counted on for an opinion, cares deeply compared to people that don’t give a shit at all. His passion is refreshing in a cruel world that tries to beat your heart out of you. 

She gets his dark sense of humor. And their banter still keeps her on her toes.

Clarke’s at her desk, editing on Photoshop, while Bellamy is looking at the pictures she has pinned up on her bedroom wall.

She’s seen his room and bookshelf, so it only seems fair that he gets to look at her photo wall.

“When was this?” He asks.

Clarke glances over her shoulder. She finds Bellamy leaning down to look closer, an amused smile curling his lips up. He taps his finger on the photo.

It’s a picture of her from college. She’s wearing a Panda onesie and her friend Roan is wearing a lion while pretending to eat her face.

“Third year at college. My friends and I did a bar crawl.”

Bellamy nods, moving onto other pictures.

Occasionally, he asks her questions about them, curious about each story behind the photos and the people from her past.

She tells him about Roan, who she grew up in the same elite social circles with and how she met Niylah while studying abroad.

“What’s the significance here?” Bellamy points to the Polaroid she has of the Skin Canvas’s glowing neon sign.

Clarke smirks. “A memory of my first tattoo.”

His head whips toward her, eyes widening. “You have a tattoo?”

“Like that’s so surprising?”

“Yeah, it is,” Bellamy retorts, waving his hand up and down in a way that’s supposed to encompass her. “With your whole doe-eyed Disney princess thing.”

She scoffs. “Okay, that sounds nothing like me.”

“Sure,” he mutters sarcastically. “Coming from the girl that wore a tiara all night at Jasper and Monty’s foam party.”

Clarke just glares at him. “Do you want to see the tattoo or not, Bellamy?”

His brow arches up in interest. “Where exactly is this tattoo?”

“Get your mind out of the gutter, perv,” she snaps and he laughs.

Clarke turns in her chair so her back is facing him. She lowers the strap of her tank top, displaying where her sunflower tattoo is inked on the back of her shoulder.

She hears the sound of Bellamy’s footsteps coming closer. His fingertips lightly brush across the tattoo and Clarke feels a shiver down to her toes.

It’s not the first time someone’s touched her tattoo or even traced it, but Bellamy’s soft touch effects her in strange ways.

Bellamy steps back and Clarke fixes her tank top before she turns around.

“That fits,” he says, smiling at her.

“Yeah?” Clarke asks, her eyebrows raising curiously. “Even better than a tiara?”

“Maybe,” he answers playfully. “You said it was a memory of your first tattoo. Do you have more?”

She shakes her head. “Not yet. I got this one after my dad died. Sunflowers are my favorite and I needed something good to hang onto, you know? When I do the next one, it’ll have to be special, too.”

Bellamy lowers himself on the edge of her bed. Then he rolls up his sweater and shows her the words written on his ribs in black ink: Take courage, my heart; you have been through worse than this.

 “It’s from The Odyssey,” he explains. “That quote has gotten me through when nothing else has. Basically, you’ve survived all the bad shit you’ve been through. So, keep going.”

Clarke’s mouth curves into a smile. Of course, Bellamy would put a quote from The Odyssey on his body.  It is inspiring though and she expects nothing less from him.

“I like that,” she tells him.

Clarke moves to her bed to sit with him, leaning back against the headboard. Bellamy makes himself comfortable too. He slips off his boots when she complains at him and stretches out on the end of the bed, propped up on his elbow.

He shows her his other tattoos – number 23 on his shoulder. He was drunk when he, Miller and Murphy went to get their jersey numbers done together. Naturally, that had been Murphy’s idea.

He makes Clarke laugh with that story and the way Murphy swore loudly while the needle was piercing his skin. That didn’t stop Murphy from going back and getting a few more tattoos, though.

Bellamy also has a blue butterfly inked on his chest for Octavia.

“They say it’s addicting,” Clarke notes. “Do you want to get more?”

Bellamy shrugs. “Maybe someday.” He turns his cheeky grin on her. “We’ll see what inspires me.”

They hang out in her room until it’s time for Bellamy to leave for hockey practice, talking on her bed. The minutes bleed by and Clarke is still amazed at how easy it is to talk to him when they let their guards down.

She almost dozes off, lulled by the comfort of her bed and Bellamy’s deep, rumbling voice.

He’s telling her the myth about Clytie from Greek mythology – a water nymph that was devastated by the loss of her true love, the god Apollo. She turned herself into a sunflower so she could always face the sun and be near him.

They’re interrupted by Bellamy’s phone buzzing.

He sighs at the screen. “Shit. I gotta go.”

Clarke watches as he sits up, pulling his boots back on. Reluctantly, she rolls off the bed to walk him to the front door.

Bellamy lingers in the doorway, his fingers jingling his keys. “We’ll probably grab dinner after practice. See you there?”

Clarke presses her lips together to suppress her smile. If she had to guess, Bellamy is just as reluctant to leave as she is to see him go.

She shrugs. “Sure. I can eat.”

He nods, pleased. “See you later, Sunflower.”

Her eyes widen when the nickname slips off his tongue. Clarke lets out a scoff as he leaves. “Oh, is that supposed to make you Apollo?”

Bellamy winks. “Obviously.”

She calls after his retreating form down the hallway, “You may have the ego of a greek god but you’re not one, Bellamy!”

“Says you!”

As soon as the door shuts, Clarke lets her smile free.

 

Chapter Text

Clarke finally gets the chance to see the Grounders performing live. The band has a show at the Nightingale club, which all of their friends turn out for.

She’s excited to watch the band, especially after hearing Jasper hype them up so much. Monty teases that Jasper is their biggest fan.

“I’m their first fan,” Jasper proudly boasts as they find their seats, right in the front row. “The Grounders used to rehearse in my parents’ garage before they started playing real shows.”

“You only let them practice there because of your crush on Octavia,” Monty points out.

“Lies!” Jasper protests, though the tips of his ears have turned pink. He turns to Clarke and says, “That’s ancient history. They’re a killer band. You’ll see.”

They’re joined by the others until they fill out the first row. Wells takes the seat beside her, followed by Lincoln and Bellamy, with Miller and Jackson at the end of the row.

The club is packed before the show begins, but their group definitely screams the loudest when the lights go out.

Jasper lets out a piercing whistle that is soon blocked out by the clang of an electric guitar. The pounding of drums follows.

Clarke feels the music pounding in her chest like a kick drum and shiver sweeps down at her spine at the first note sung by a raspy, feminine voice.

The opening song is a favorite of the crowd. There are voices all around them singing along to every lyric and banging their heads to the beat.

Luna, the lead singer, has a haunting voice. She draws the audience in like a siren from the first note.

She jumps around and screams into the mic for the rock performance, then switches effortlessly to soulful for the slower songs.

Their guitarist, Emori, also captures the punk spirit perfectly. She gives her all into the music, dropping to her knees for her solos and her fingers fly across the strings during the guitar riffs. The deformity in her hand doesn’t keep the girl from kicking ass at guitar.

Octavia is a beast on the drums. The passion that the Blakes carry in their blood shines through during her performance.

Her cheeks are flushed and she has sweat sticking to her skin by the end of it, but her grin is wide and ecstatic.

Clarke thinks The Grounders are brilliant. She’s definitely a fan.

Bellamy has made his grumbles about the “noise” of the punk band, but she sees his face during the show. He is a proud brother, mouthing along to every song.

The group chats excitedly once the Grounders wrap up their set. The rest of the crowd clears out while they linger, waiting for the band to emerge.

Octavia is the first one to burst from backstage. She’s swapped her black corset for one of Lincoln’s big shirts and her eyeliner is smudged around her eyes when she runs up to them.

Jasper lifts his palm for her to high-five.

“So?” Octavia looks at her expectantly. “What did ya think?”

Clarke grins at her. “That was fucking amazing! Seriously. You’re a rockstar!”

That comment earns her a kiss on the cheek from Octavia. They all gush at her about the performance. Octavia has heard some of it before but soaks up the compliments just the same.

“Okay, okay, I know we’re awesome,” Octavia stops them, still beaming. “But let’s take this party to the bar.” She points at Bellamy. “Big brother, it’s your turn to buy the first round!”

Jasper and Monty cheer while Bellamy sighs in resignation.

Their group moves to the dive bar across the street. After they clean-up and change out of their performance clothes, they’re joined by Luna and Emori. Clarke finally gets introduced to the bandmates.

Bellamy pays for their first round of drinks, as promised.

Clarke nurses her beer as she gets into a discussion with Luna about writing song lyrics. She doesn’t get to talk to Emori much, after complimenting the girl’s tattoo she has inked across her face.

Emori’s attention is taken by Murphy when he saunters into the bar later on. Their eyes lock. Murphy’s expression is as close to smitten as Clarke imagines he gets.

“They’ve been circling each other for a while,” Octavia tells her, smirking. “In some weird cat-and-mouse mating ritual that none of us understand.”

“It’s fascinating to watch,” Jasper adds in a stage-whisper.

Later on, Emori and Murphy start a wager for a game of pool and ask for any takers.

“No way,” Monty cries, glaring at the two of them. “I’m not getting hustled out of all of my money again! Fool me once.”

“Twice, actually,” Murphy corrects, wearing a smirk. His blue eyes land on Clarke. “What about you, Malibu Barbie? You know how to work a stick?”

Clarke’s eyes narrow at his innuendo. “You’ll never find out how good I am with my hands, Murphy.”

Her friends ooooh and wolf-whistle at her response.

Murphy’s brows raise as his smirk widens. “That sounds like a challenge if I’ve ever heard one.”

“You don’t wanna do that, Murphy,” Wells warns. “Clarke is a pool fiend. She’ll wreck you.”

Emori leans on Murphy’s shoulder and flashes her a wolfish grin. “I have a better idea. How about Clarke and I wipe the floor with whoever dares to play us?”

Bellamy leans forward, his brown eyes glinting. “I’m in.”

Clarke has no idea how she got roped into a bet playing pool against Murphy and Bellamy, but she’s not going to back down from a challenge.

As they’re grabbing their cues off the wall, Clarke feels Bellamy’s hand on her back.

He speaks into her ear, low so only she can hear. “I’m curious how good you are with your hands, Sunflower.”

She almost drops the cue.

Bellamy leaves her with a smug glance over his shoulder. His tone makes her stomach flip.

Clarke tells herself to get it together. He only said that to throw her off her game and she won’t let him win.

Clarke joins Emori at the head of the pool table with a new purpose in her stride.

“The wager is 100 bucks,” Emori informs her. “You better be a fiend, Griffin.”

“We’ve got this,” Clarke replies.

Wells wasn’t lying. He’s witnessed her defeating cocky frat bros and bar regulars back at college. Clarke has a strategy that she’s going to unleash on their opponents and they won’t know what hit them.

The boys aren’t bad. Murphy has a few flashy techniques that he’s mastered. But Clarke doesn’t give them a chance to play once she gets going. Not when she’s sinking ball after ball without missing.

“For fuck’s sake,” Bellamy mutters after the fourth solid ball drops into the pocket.

Emori laughs in delight and at the table, Wells is saying that he tried to warn them.

The losers of the pool match are also responsible for the winners’ drinks. Clarke is feeling a bit smug when Bellamy slams down the bottle of beer in front of her.

“Do you need some ice for that bruised ego, Bell?” Clarke asks.

Bellamy gives her a scathing look. “That was a dirty trick.” 

A smile curls her lips as she takes a pull of the beer. “I never said I played fair. It’s not my fault you didn’t listen to Wells.”

“You’re a menace.”

“You’re competitive,” she notes with amusement.

He scoffs. “I’m a pro hockey player, Clarke. Of course I’m competitive.”

His pouting is kind of adorable. Bellamy is as much of a sore loser as she can be.

“What about that dirty trick you pulled?” She throws back, thinking of his deep, gravelly voice in her ear.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bellamy says innocently.

His nonchalance isn’t fooling her. And there’s a smile hidden in the corner of his mouth.

“Right.”

They take their beers and move to join the rest of their friends at their table. Clarke is squished between Wells and Bellamy.

She tries not to be overly aware of Bellamy’s arm stretched along the back of the booth or the way his fingers drum absently on her back while he talks.

Bellamy is a touchy person. It doesn’t mean anything.

They talk more about The Grounders’ show. Octavia says that the band has a standing agreement to play at The Nightingale about once a month.

They play at different venues all over the city. Currently, they’re working on their first album.

By the end of the night, Clarke is pleasantly buzzed. They’ve all had a few drinks and got a bit rowdy, talking and laughing.

The crisp air is refreshing against her flushed cheeks when they step outside.

Jasper is the most wasted out of all of them. He won several drinking games, drinking them all under the table.

He is making his sorrow known to the whole street when saying goodbye to Monty, who is leaving with a sober but amused Harper in her car.

Bellamy is muttering under his breath about herding cats being easier, trying to steer Jasper in the direction of his Rover to drive him home.

Clarke watches as Bellamy succeeds in getting Jasper away from Monty and into the front seat. He buckles him in, despite Jasper being uncooperative and loudly belting Don’t You (Forget About Me).

Her first impression of him was dead wrong. He’s not a bully. Bellamy is a great captain and leader. It isn’t just about the inspirational speeches he gives before every game. It’s the little things too and the way he looks after his friends.

Bellamy checks on Octavia in Lincoln’s car before tracking down Murphy’s whereabouts from Miller and Jackson. They say Murphy is out back, behind the bar with Emori.

She doesn’t notice Wells coming up beside her until he teases, “You’re staring, Griffin.”

Clarke jumps. Her heart races like she’s been caught doing something illicit. She tears her eyes away from Bellamy climbing into his Rover to glare at her best friend.

“Shut up. No, I’m not.”

Wells gives her a knowing smile. Clarke hits him on the ribs to make him stop.

On Wednesday afternoon, Clarke tags along with the boys when they head to the arena. She likes watching hockey practice and it’s good practice for her too, capturing the players in motion with her camera.

She stays until practice ends and Coach Pike dismisses them.

Clarke is clicking through her photos when someone drops beside her on the bleachers. She smells his cologne before Bellamy tugs lightly on the end of her hair.

“Hey Sunflower. Got any good shots?”

Clarke glances over at him. He’s sitting close, his warmth seeping into her side.

She prefers the gray sweater he’s wearing to the bulky practice gear. His messy curls are free, not trapped under a helmet and up close she gets to admire the freckles dotting his nose and cheeks.

“Yeah, a few.”

She brings up the photo she’s proudest of from that afternoon. It’s of Miller about to hit the puck with his stick, swinging about a foot off the ice. In the position he’s in, it almost looks like he’s floating.

Bellamy stops her on another photo where the puck and the blade of someone’s stick are in focus. The player is blurred in the background.

“How did you do that?”

Clarke smiles as she explains using the shutter speed on her camera. She shows him the different features and techniques she’s learned how to use.

She loves playing with the angles and exposure, discovering new skills to become a better photographer. There’s always more to learn and something even more challenging to take on.

Bellamy has a cheeky glint in his eye as he looks at her. “I know how you are with your challenges.”

Clarke smirks back at him. “You’re not the only one that’s competitive, Bell.”

“I get it, though,” he says, leaning back against the row behind them. “I’ve been competing with myself to become a better hockey player since I strapped on a pair of skates. I was probably worse than O with her drumming.”

“Really?”

He nods. “Going pro was the only dream I had. Failing wasn’t an option. I couldn’t just be the best in my junior league or my state. I had to be the best of the best.”

Clarke tilts her head as she pictures it – Bellamy as a teenager, sneaking out in the middle of the night to the arena, running drills for hours on end.

Her curiosity blooms. She wants to know more. More about Bellamy’s past and his dedication, what shaped him into the man he is now.

They’re interrupted by Wells before she can ask the questions burning on her tongue. He emerges from the locker room with his gym bag thrown over his shoulder and his keys in hand.

“Hey,” he calls over to them. “You guys ready to go?”

“Actually, we’re staying,” Clarke answers, waving him off. “You go ahead.”

Wells shrugs, falling into step with Lincoln as they leave the arena. The other players are trickling out, their voices fading until it’s just the two of them on the bleachers.

Bellamy eyes her curiously.

Clarke just smiles enigmatically as she gets to her feet. “Come on. We’ve got the rink to ourselves. Maybe you could teach me something.”

They get her a pair of skates to wear. Luckily, Clarke did a few years of ice skating lessons as a kid, so she doesn’t embarrass herself when they step onto the ice. Like riding a bicycle, it only takes a minute for her to muscle memory to kick in.

Clarke wants Bellamy to show her the trick of how he hits the puck into the top corner of the net. She saw him during practice. Bellamy can stand on the icing line and make the shot time after time, without fail.

First, Bellamy demonstrates how to hold the hockey stick properly, which she’s never done before.

He stands behind her, positioning Clarke’s arms so she gets a good grip. Clarke feels that swoop in her stomach having him so close. He smells so good. She’s having a hard time focusing on lining up the shot.

“Don’t worry, Clarke,” he murmurs. “It’ll just be me laughing at you if you fuck up. No other witnesses.”

She elbows him hard. He chuckles behind her and just like that, the tension between them fizzles out.

Bellamy steps back, giving her room to slap the puck forward. It flies across the ice only to stop several feet away from the goal net.

Clarke huffs in frustration.

“Relax,” Bellamy says, an amused curve to his lips. “It was your first shot. Try again. Put more force behind it next time.”

She lines up the stick the way he showed her and hits harder. This time, the puck soars through the air and passes several inches off from the corner of the net.

“Damn it,” she mutters.

“You were closer,” Bellamy says, with surprising patience. “We just need to work on your aim.”

Bellamy skates behind the goal net, retrieving the puck she sent flying. He returns to the line, angling his shot. With a sharp flick of his wrist, the puck sails off the end of his blade and spins through the air, landing in the corner of the mesh.

Clarke does her best to mirror his stance, narrowing her eyes at the right pocket of the net where she wants the puck to go.

Bellamy nods his encouragement at her. “Good. Just concentrate on that corner.  Nothing else.”

Her first and second attempt isn’t much better. She hits the vertical post or misses the net entirely. It’s even harder than she realizes, angling the puck to reach a certain spot. Still, determination blazes through her to get it right.

The third try is the charm. The puck vaults off her blade and soars into the top right corner.

Clarke lets out a surprised laugh. “Oh my god!” She turns her wide eyes to Bellamy. “I did it!”

Bellamy grins at her, boyish and wide. His eyes crinkle in the corners. He’s never smiled at her like that before. It’s like being able to bask in the sun’s warmth.

“Not bad, Sunflower. Not bad at all.”

Bellamy’s record is being able to make fifteen shots in a row. Clarke manages to make about seven out of ten without missing.

They challenge each other to a game of one-on-one. Clarke suspects Bellamy is trying to save face after she kicked his ass at pool the other night. She agrees anyway, just for the fun of skating around the rink with Bellamy.

Unsurprisingly, he can skate circles around her. She stands no chance of blocking any of his shots from her goal net, while Bellamy intercepts almost all of hers.

At some point, Clarke is trying to steal the puck away from him. Bellamy is like a broad wall to get past and her attempts are pitiful, but she’s laughing through it.

She’s not above poking his stomach with the stick to try and gain the upper hand and Bellamy’s laugh joins hers as he calls her out for cheating.

Then her skate gets hooked on his and Clarke loses her balance. She scrambles for Bellamy’s arm to keep herself upright, only to drag him down with her and they both end up sprawled on the ice.

“Ow.” Clarke both winces and laughs when her back lands on the hard ice. The cold is quickly seeping through her clothes.

“You’re secretly a klutz, aren’t you?” Bellamy asks, turning his head to glare playfully at her. “First the rocks. Now, this. You’re going to be the death of me.”

“I tripped over your big feet,” she retorts, sticking her tongue out.

He smirks. “You know what they say about big feet.”

Clarke rolls her eyes. “I don’t know how they fit your ego inside this arena, Bell.”

He’s chuckling as he pushes himself up. Bellamy reaches out a hand and she takes it, letting him pull her to her feet.

There is some ice sticking to his beard that Clarke brushes off unthinkingly. She avoids Bellamy’s intense gaze as he thanks her, turning away to shake the ice out of her hair.  

Bellamy returns the hockey equipment and the skates that they borrowed while she zips up her boots. They bundle up in their coats and scarves before leaving the arena to face the cold now that the sun has gone down.

Bellamy notices her teeth chattering and steers them in the direction of the coffee shop down the street.

“We’ll call an Uber,” he says, “after we warm up.”

They order their hot drinks and settle at a table in the back. The coffee shop is crowded with other people looking to escape the low temperatures outside.

They’re sitting in comfortable silence, but Clarke’s curiosity gets the better of her.

“Earlier, you said failing wasn’t an option. That you had to make it into the pros. Was that just about being competitive…or something else?”

Bellamy frowns, staring down into his mug. “No. It was about limited opportunities. If I wanted to get my sister out of our town, that is.”

Clarke takes a sip of her coffee, tilting her head to let him know that she’s listening.

He twists his fingers through his curls and she senses his reluctance to talk about this, delve into the past. But he tells her anyway.

“You know O got rejected from Princeton and Yale,” he tells her bitterly. “And pretty much every top tier school that looked down on her. Because she came from an underfunded public school in a white trash neighborhood.”

Clarke winces. His prejudice towards her Harvard sweatshirt makes a little more sense then.

“Her record didn’t help. O acted out as a kid, got into fights at school. She hated it there. We couldn’t afford to send her away to college or move out, not without help from scholarships.”

“Or a professional hockey salary,” Clarke finishes.

Bellamy dips his chin. There’s still a hot flare of anger in his eyes. “She deserved better than being stuck in that place. Working with my mom at her tailor shop was killing her and I had to get her out.”

“And you did, Bell,” she says softly.

She heard it from Octavia how Bellamy moved them out of their home town when he got drafted. They lived together in his apartment and he enrolled her in the local high school.

That’s where Octavia met Jasper and Monty and got to be in the school’s band. Where she got to hone her drumming skills and had the opportunities to pursue her music career, thanks to her brother.

“I wish I could have done more,” Bellamy mutters. “I wish I could have got her out sooner.”

“You did what you could.”

She can tell by Bellamy’s expression that he doesn’t believe it was enough.

Clarke’s chest aches for him. The cocky act he puts on is just an act. Deep down, underneath his confident mask and defenses, he doesn’t feel good enough. He puts the weight of his family and his team on his shoulders, carries them all, yet he is blind to his own strength.

She reaches for his hand across the table, startling Bellamy to look up at her, his dark brows drawn together.

“You did good, Bellamy. You made it to the pros. Octavia is happy and safe, living out her dream, because of you.”

“My mom – ”

“Would have been proud of the man you are,” Clarke cuts in firmly. “Give yourself some credit, Bellamy. You and Octavia are doing pretty well.”

Bellamy swallows, his fingers gripping her hand. This time, she withstands the intensity of his deep brown eyes, not letting herself look away. 

“Thanks,” he murmurs. “You’re doing pretty well too, you know, for being on your own. Your mom should be proud of that.”

Clarke’s lips purse. “She’s not. I gave up med school to become a photographer. My mom made it clear what a disappointment I am. We haven’t spoken in a year.”

Bellamy’s hand squeezes hers. “That’s her loss.”

His gaze holds firmly on hers, not letting Clarke break it. “It is a loss, Clarke. Missing out on having you in her life is something she’ll regret. I know I would.”

The conviction in his voice makes her believe it.

Clarke shivers as she steps into the toasty warm lobby of her apartment building.

She had to brave the cold outside to meet with Diyoza at Eligius. They hired her for another photography gig, so facing the weather was worth it.

As both a reward and celebration, Clarke got herself a hot cocoa. The drink is delicious, though it does little to thaw out her frozen fingers.

She is still adjusting to Auburn’s fall weather, different from what she was used to in L.A.

The elevator doors start closing across the lobby and Clarke calls out, “Wait! Hold the door, please.”

She struggles not to spill her drink or drop the portfolio she’s carrying. Clarke rushes into the elevator and lets out a relieved sigh. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Clarke’s shoulders stiffen. The voice is familiar somehow.

Then she turns her head and finds Cage Wallace. He flashes that sharp smile, his nose red from the cold. “It’s good to see you again, Clarke.”

She says nothing as his dark eyes run over her, taking in her form like he can see underneath the thick coat and leather boots she has on.

Ignoring his lingering stare, she shifts the binder in her arms to press the button for her floor.

“I missed you at game night on Monday,” Cage continues, his voice a low purr.

Clarke shrugs, keeping her stare on the closed doors. “I had work to do.”

He steps closer, into her space and she tries not to flinch when their arms brush. “That’s too bad. I was hoping we would get to know each other better. We have a lot in common, Clarke.”

Against her better judgment to not engage, his last comment makes her eyes flick to his face. “We're nothing alike, Cage.”

Her harsh tone only makes him smile. His lips are curled in the corners like he has a secret.

“I disagree. We’re both family legacies. You’re the daughter of Dr. Abigail Griffin.”

Clarke scowls. She doesn’t want to discuss her mother and she doesn’t like that Cage has looked into her.

“Unlike you,” Clarke says coldly, “I don’t use my family name to get ahead in life. I’ve actually earned what I have now.”

Cage’s dark eyes flash. She’s struck a nerve. It only lasts a moment, but it’s long enough to glimpse the danger coiled behind the charming façade.

The elevator chimes, arriving on her floor. As soon as the doors slide open, Clarke rushes forward, eager to escape the unpleasant company.

Cage’s hand darts out, quick as lightning. He grabs her wrist tightly and halts her exit.

“I’ll be seeing you, Miss Griffin.”

Clarke narrows her eyes at him. “The hell you will.”

She tears her wrist out of his hold and strides forward, refusing to look back.

Her heart thumps painfully hard. There’s something about Cage Wallace that unnerves her. Her gut warns her that it would be a mistake to make an enemy out of him.

Wells is sitting at the chess table when she walks into the apartment. “Griffin! Perfect timing. I just set up the board.”

His easy smile slips when he catches her expression. “What’s wrong?”

Clarke shakes her head. She takes a minute to set her things down on the kitchen counter. Wells’ concerned frown waits for an explanation.

“Wells, can you do me a favor?”

He nods for her to go on. “Anything.”

“Can you stop inviting Cage to your game nights here?”

Her best friend’s eyes flare with questions. Silently, Clarke pleads with him not to ask. She doesn’t want to get into why Cage bothers her, in case it sounds ridiculous out loud.

“Consider it done,” Wells says.

 

Chapter Text

After midnight is Clarke’s favorite time to edit her photos. She feels most productive in the late hours, her mind focused when the world is quiet and still around her.

Her phone ringing on the nightstand snaps Clarke out of the zone she was in. She has no idea who would be calling her at 2 a.m. Clarke worries about some kind of emergency until she sees Bellamy’s name on her screen.

Curious, Clarke slides to answer the call. “Bell?”

“Hey. Sorry, I just…I heard your music playing. You weren’t asleep, right?”

His hesitant voice makes her smile softly. “No. I’m still up editing some stuff.”

“Okay, good.”

The line goes quiet. Clarke listens to the rhythm of his soft breathing. Her worry stirs again. Just because there isn’t a life-or-death emergency doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong.

“Is everything okay?” She asks.

It takes him a while to answer. Clarke sets her laptop aside, lays back against her headboard and waits.

Eventually, Bellamy exhales. “No. Not really.”

Clarke frowns. She can hear the crack in his voice, what it costs him just to admit that he’s not okay. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He lets out another sharp exhale. “Look, I shouldn’t have called you. It’s nothing. I didn’t mean to bother you—”

“You’re not,” Clarke cuts in firmly. “And it’s not nothing if it’s keeping you up at night. I’m here, Bell.”

“I can’t sleep sometimes,” Bellamy admits, gruff with frustration. “It’s like my mind is going 100 miles a minute and I can’t get it to stop, to just rest.”

“That sounds exhausting.”

“It is. I’m tired, Clarke. I’m so fucking tired.”

The ache in his voice twists her gut into a painful knot. She’s consumed with the urge to make it better for him.

“Can you talk about something? I just want to be able to forget about all the shit in my head and…”

He trails off suddenly, stopping whatever he was going to say.

She presses gently, hoping to not spook him away. But Clarke wants Bellamy to know that whatever he has to say is important to her, despite what he might think.

“And?”

Another long pause rests between them. Clarke waits, absently counting the stars she has plastered to her bedroom ceiling.

“And I like talking to you, Clarke.”

Her lips curl up as warmth flickers in her chest, a small burning flame that is alight by the sound of Bellamy’s voice on the other line. He has no idea how true that is for her as well.

“Strange,” she notes, “considering where we started.”

Bellamy lets out a faint chuckle like he’s remembering when they first met too. “Stranger things have happened.”

When the room is quiet again, Clarke tries to come up with something to talk about and distract him.

She thinks of her favorite childhood memory, digging up the warm glow of love and awe that sweeps over her and tingles in her fingers and toes when she remembers it. The magic of the Santa Monica Pier through a child’s eyes.

“When I was a kid, about six or seven,” Clarke starts, “my dad took me to the amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier for the first time. The boardwalk was all lit up at night with the neon lights and the air smelled like sea salt from the beach.”

Clarke’s lips part into a fond smile. “I remember I got a burger that was bigger than my head. There was no way I could finish it, but my dad got it for me anyway.”

“He spoiled you,” Bellamy murmurs, sounding amused.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “He never said no to me. It used to drive my mom crazy. But anyway, at the Pier, I was dying to ride the Ferris Wheel. The rollercoasters scared me then. I just wanted to sit at the top of the Ferris Wheel and see the whole Pier below me. I loved that feeling of being on top of the world.”

Bellamy chuckles low in her ear. “Like a true princess.”

Clarke rolls her eyes playfully. “Shut up. I was like six, okay?”

He chuckles again. She tells him how her dad took her back to the Pier every summer. It was their special tradition.

Clarke keeps talking, the words rolling off her tongue. She describes the games they played at the arcade and the taste of the greasy food they sold at the amusement park. 

Bellamy teases her a bit about her competitive nature playing arcade games, but for the most part he’s quiet, listening to her ramble on. Clarke feels sheepish when she realizes it’s after 3 a.m. and she’s been babbling for an hour.  

But Bellamy never tells her to shut up. He asks more questions about her dad, his work as an engineer, what her childhood was like growing up in Los Angeles.

He’s amused by her stories about what her and Wells got up to as kids and the cringe-worthy lectures from their parents when they find out she and Wells were dating.

The hours slip through her fingers like water. Clarke isn’t sure when her slow, tired blinks turn into her eyes shutting. The last thing she remembers is a trace of Bellamy’s deep voice saying, “Sweet dreams, Sunflower.”

It’s late the next morning when she stirs awake. Clarke is still clutching her phone in her hand. The battery is dead from talking all night and for some reason that makes Clarke press her giddy smile into her pillow, unable to smother it.

She has a shower, gets herself ready for a full day of assignments she has to work on. The scent of brewing coffee entices her to head to the kitchen.

Wells is slicing up fruit on the countertop, humming to himself. And Bellamy is seated at the island with that morning’s newspaper spread out in front of him. There are two steaming mugs of coffee by his elbow.

Bellamy’s dark eyes flick up when she emerges from the bedroom. Their gazes lock and Clarke feels a flutter in her belly, recalling his words. Sweet dreams, Sunflower.

Bellamy’s mouth curves into a small smile. In the light of day, it’s like they have a secret between them and Clarke likes the way it feels, the connection, a line of them separate from everything else.

"Morning,” he says warmly.

“Good morning,” Clarke greets. She takes the barstool beside him and happily accepts the mug that Bellamy hands to her.

Wells hums and sings as he prepares breakfast for them. Beside her, Bellamy is scratching away at his crossword. For the first time in years, Clarke experiences something she thought she lost: a feeling of home.

The aroma from the bakery is sweet and enticing, making her mouth water. Clarke has her eye on the freshly baked croissants in the display case.

When their turn arrives, she steps up to the register with Octavia and they place their order. Octavia finds a booth for them to sit at by one of the large windows while Clarke moves to the counter to wait for their drinks.

Her phone buzzes in her back pocket. Excitement flutters in her chest when she sees Bellamy’s name.

He’s sent her a silly picture of Wells being carried by Lincoln bridal-style. It makes Clarke smile. The guys are supposed to be conditioning at the gym.

She replies with a few heart emoji’s.

Her name is called by the barista. She collects the coffee that they ordered and carries it over to the booth. They have a view of the bustling street outside and the glistening lights strung up for the upcoming holidays.

She shakes her head as she hands Octavia her iced coffee. “I don’t know how you can drink that. It’s freezing outside, O.”

Octavia grins, flashing white teeth against her plum lipstick. “I don’t care. You can pry my iced coffee from my cold, dead hands.”

Clarke snaps a photo of Octavia with her iced coffee and texts Bellamy: your sister is coldblooded!

His reply buzzes in: tell me something I don’t know ;-)

They sip at their drinks as they catch up. The cozy café is where Bellamy brought her once after hockey practice. It’s never too crowded and the baked goods are to die for.

Clarke listens with amusement as Octavia rants about her bandmates. They butt heads and bicker often about the direction of their music. Octavia is stubborn about their punk-rock sound while Luna wants to try something more folk.

Her phone buzzes again. It’s a short video from the locker room. Murphy is performing some kind of strip tease while standing on a bench. Pony is playing in the background.

Clarke bites her lip so she won’t burst out laughing. Yikes. I wish I could unsee that.

If I have to look at it, so do you.

Octavia sighs heavily. “You’re not listening to a word I’m saying are you?”

The phone is snatched out of her hand.

“Hey!” Clarke protests. “What are you doing?”

“Telling my brother that this is my Clarke time and he needs to wait his turn.”

Octavia finishes typing and places the phone face-down on the table. After a few moments it goes off again, but Octavia’s sharp glare keeps Clarke from looking at the screen.

“Rude.”

Octavia smirks. “You’ll get over it.”

The barista arrives with their baked treats. Her phone being stolen is forgotten about when Clarke receives her Nutella croissant. Nothing else is as important as this croissant right now.

Octavia takes a long sip of her drink, her green eyes gleaming with curiosity. “Do you guys talk everyday now?” 

Clarke aims a mocking smirk at her. “I thought this was your time? You want to spend it talking about Bellamy?”

“I’m just curious. My brother’s not the texting type. You must be special.”

She flicks her balled-up napkin at Octavia’s face. “Don’t start picking out our china patterns. Friends text. It’s not a big deal.”

She and Bellamy have gotten into the habit of sending each other messages throughout the day. Frequently, it’s Clarke that sends photos of interesting things she sees and Bellamy texts her random commentary about his teammates.

Clarke doesn’t mention the deeper conversations they’ve had in the early hours of the day. When one of them is having trouble sleeping—usually Bellamy—they’ll call each other. There’s a good chance Clarke will be up editing, so she’s able to respond.

Clarke doesn’t tell Octavia for a few reasons. First, she doesn’t want the other girl getting the wrong idea. If she hears them talking at 2 in the morning, Octavia will jump to conclusions about sexting or late night booty calls.

Which they definitely aren’t.

They talk about real shit. Their families. Their favorite childhood memories. The things they regret and wish they could change.

Clarke has told Bellamy things she’s never said to anyone before. Not even Wells. She doesn’t know how it happened. This arrogant guy she couldn’t stand two months ago has become a safe place, someone she could open up to and be heard, effortlessly understood.

Second – and most importantly – Clarke doesn’t want to share what she and Bellamy have. As soon as the outside world peers in, it will no longer be theirs.

She gets a part of Bellamy that doesn’t see the light of day. So, sue her if she’s overprotective of it. His vulnerabilities and insights are like precious gold to Clarke. She’ll protect them no matter the cost.

“It kind of is,” Octavia points out, growing serious. “Bell doesn’t open up. To anyone. He sees his teammates and me, too, as his responsibility but he doesn’t let people in. I’ve been worried about him being alone forever.”

“I think he has a reason for it,” Clarke murmurs. “When you’ve been hurt before, making yourself vulnerable again takes time. And it seems impossible when you don’t feel safe.”

She doesn’t know the specifics of what Bellamy has been through. Not yet. It might be too painful for him to open up about, if he’s ever ready to. But you don’t built walls like Bellamy has without needing to protect yourself from something. Or someone.

Octavia’s eyes darken as she stares down at the wooden table, getting pulled away into the past. “Our childhood was…shitty, to put it mildly. Bellamy tried to shield me from most of it. I’d be even more screwed up if he hadn’t done that.”

“I’m sorry,” Clarke says softly.

She shakes her head. “It’s okay. It was a long time ago. I’ve put a lot of it behind me, but Bellamy has a hard time letting go.”

Octavia catches her gaze. “You’re a good friend for him. My brother needs more people in his life that he can trust. So, I guess I’m just saying…thanks, for giving him a chance.”

Her words bring a tickle to the back of Clarke’s throat. She can see how much Octavia cares about her older brother and wants for him to be happy.

Clarke lets herself smile. “Well, I don’t scare off easily.” 

“No, you don’t,” Octavia agrees, grinning. “I know Bellamy seems like a moody pain in the ass, but really, he’s a big softie. And not nearly as cool as he thinks he is.”

She laughs. His sister never misses an opportunity to rib on him.

“Now that we’ve got the mushy stuff out of the way,” Octavia says, waving her hands as if to clear the air. “I need to tell you how this bitch tried me yesterday.”

“The only way this friendship is going to survive is if we do this. Together.”

Bellamy’s mouth tilts up into an amused smirk. “Is that right?”

Clarke nods. She fights back a smile, holding onto to her mock-serious expression.

“Well, I don’t want to stand in the way of true friendship, so by all means…”

Bellamy sweeps his hand toward her laptop screen, indicating his acquiescence.

On her Netflix page, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film is queued for them to watch. This is what happened when Bellamy said she could pick the movie they watch.

Clarke hits the lights, descending the bedroom into darkness other than the dim glow of star stickers. A bowl of popcorn sits between them where they’re laying back against the headboard, cushioned by Clarke’s many pillows.

She watches the film at least once a year, if not more. Clarke has the lines memorized at this point. She’s seen just about every adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that has been made, but there’s something about this version that has a special place in her heart.

Clarke can’t help but swoon, just a little, when Elizabeth and Darcy’s hands touch for the first time. She mouths along to her favorites lines too and catches Bellamy watching her in amusement when she does.

Clarke nudges him when she catches him staring again. His expression makes her cheeks warm. “Stop it! You’re missing the movie.”

“Sorry,” Bellamy mutters. He’s smiling to himself, not sounding sorry at all. “You’re cute when you say all of Lizzie’s lines.”

“I’m always cute,” Clarke retorts. She sticks her tongue out at him when he laughs.

They watch the reunion of the two lovers, framed by the beautiful sunset, in silence. Clarke likes to think they’re both captivated by the romance of the ending scene.

She lets out a happy sigh when the credits roll. Then her attention turns expectantly towards Bellamy. “So? What did you think?”

“Not bad,” he says.

At her affronted expression, Bellamy snorts. “Okay, okay. Don’t put my head on a spike, Sunflower. It was pretty great. I liked it.”

“Yeah?” Clarke asks hopefully.

Bellamy nods, stretching his arms above his head. It makes his shirt ride up as usual and Clarke is treated to a flash of his stomach, all golden-brown skin and a dark trail of hair disappearing into his jeans.

She has to tear her eyes away when he speaks, momentarily distracted by the sight.

“I can see why you love it so much,” Bellamy admits.

Clarke nods, eager to jump into the post-movie discussion. "Right? The cinematography is breathtaking. And I think Elizabeth Bennet is one of my favorite literary characters. The way Keira Knightly brings her persona to life in just the most minuscule facial expressions is unparalleled. She gets her." 

Bellamy listens to her gushing, a fond smile pulling at his lips. 

They stay up talking as the minutes blend into hours, time turning invisible inside the four walls of her bedroom. The conversation moves on from discussing Pride and Prejudice to one of Bellamy’s favorite books as a kid.

He tells her about A Wrinkle In Time, which was the first novel he read on his own at six-years-old. After Octavia was born, Bellamy read the series to her as well and they both love the books.

The storyline sounds promising, but really it’s the cadence of Bellamy’s deep, rumbling voice that Clarke enjoys having wrapped around her. She listens to him talking for hours, her attention enthralled, and the warmth still curled up inside her.

Sleep rises up like the tide, pulling her under the surface. She isn’t sure how long it is before she’s broken out of her deep sleep.

A loud shout startles her awake.

Clarke blinks into the darkness, her heart thumping hard. It takes her a moment to realize the noise came from Bellamy.

When her eyes adjust, she’s able to make out his pained expression. His lips are twisted into a grimace, his breaths coming fast and uneven. He tosses fitfully beside her and a whimper escapes from his throat.

He’s having a nightmare, Clarke realizes. Her panic melts away into sympathy.

"No!” He roars, startling her. His hand claws at his arm, his nails piercing the skin hard enough to draw blood.

The sight breaks Clarke out of her helpless daze. “Bellamy! Stop, wake up.”

She grabs his wrist, pulling his hand away so he’ll stop hurting himself. Bellamy thrashes on the bed, trapped inside of his nightmare. He’s strong, breaking out of her hold easily and Clarke sits back when he turns over again.

She waits for him to still before she touches his sweat-damp back, jostling him.

Bellamy. Wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”

His expression screws up, tight, brows scrunching together. He keeps murmuring to himself, most of it nonsense, but she thinks she hears “Mom” and him repeating “no”.

Clarke shakes his body harder, tears stinging her eyes. They’re a result of frustration and helplessness. She just wants him to wake up and escape whatever hell is happening inside his mind. Clarke knows how cruel her subconscious can be.

“Bellamy,” Clarke cries, her voice echoing in the room. “Please. Wake up!”

Finally, his eyes snap open. They dart around in confusion before they land on her face. For a long moment, they just stare at each other. Clarke is kneeling on the bed, holding onto his shoulders. Bellamy’s harsh, rattling breaths fill the air between them.

Clarke lets go out of him, moving away to Bellamy has room to sit up.

He does, slowly, pushing his sweaty curls off his forehead. “Clarke,” he says hoarsely. “What…?”

“You were shouting in your sleep.”  

Bellamy looks away, his eyes dropping from hers as shame clouds his expression. “Sorry I woke you up.”

Clarke shakes her head. She doesn’t care about that. “Are you okay?”

She reaches for his hand to comfort him, but Bellamy moves his arm away. “I’m fine.”

Considering his vulnerability right now, she can understand why he’s pulling away. His expression is shut down, like a door slamming shut. He doesn’t want to open up to her about his nightmares and she tries to not be stung by that.

“You scratched yourself pretty badly,” Clarke says, nodding her chin at his arm.

Bellamy glances down, seeming to notice the marks for the first time. The angry red scratches are welling with drops of blood.

“It’s nothing.”

She rolls her eyes. Of course he’d say that.

Clarke slides off the bed. She ducks into the bathroom next door, turning on the light. Bellamy demands to know what she’s doing, but she pretends not hear, busy searching through the cabinet for bandages and antibiotic ointment.

She returns to the bed with the supplies.

“That’s not necessary,” Bellamy continues to grumble. “It’s just a scratch.”

“Hush. Give me a chance to put my limited medical skills to use.”

Clarke gently takes his arm, cleaning up the blood. The cuts are deep. She applies a thin layer of ointment to prevent infection and covers the area with a bandage.

Bellamy is silent as she puts away the ointment. He won’t meet her eyes, staring down at the twisted bed sheets, his hands curled into fists.

Clarke crosses her arms in the open doorway. She’ll give him some space, if he needs it, but she’s not leaving him alone after that.

“Does this happen a lot?”

Bellamy turns his head to glare angrily at her. “No,” he lies.

Clarke lifts her brow to convey her disbelief. “Really? So you don’t work out in the middle of the night or get black-out drunk because of the nightmares you have?”

His jaw clenches. He says nothing, knowing there is nothing he can say. She wouldn’t believe any excuses he feeds her and they both know it.

“Does Octavia know?”

“No.” His glare sharpens with a warning. “And she’s not going to.”

“Why not?” Clarke demands. “Bellamy, she cares about you. Just like you care about her. Maybe she could help.”

“I’m not burdening her with this,” he continues firmly. “They’re just bad dreams. I have it under control.”

No, he doesn’t.

Clarke bites her lip. She refrains from pointing out he was passed out in the hallway the day they met.

It would be cruel to throw that back in his face. What Bellamy needs right now is kindness – even if he has a hard time accepting it.

“O said you guys had a rough time when you were younger,” she says carefully. “As painful as it might be, it could also be cathartic to talk to someone about it.”

Bellamy looks at her sharply. “What did she tell you?”

“Nothing specific. Just that you protected her from the worst of it.”

The jagged edges of his defenses soften when Bellamy realizes she doesn’t know what happened. His shoulders drop and pain creases his face.

Clarke can’t stand the sight of it. She crosses the room, sitting down on the bed. Her knee presses into his, a silent reminder that she’s here for him.

“Whatever it is,” she says, holding his gaze, “you don’t have to carry it alone, Bellamy. It’s okay to need people. I’m here for you, if you want to talk about it.”

She wishes she had to power to chase away his nightmares. If only it was that simple. All she has to offer is herself.

His throat bobs as he swallows. The battle rages on his face. To unburden himself to her, let someone else know the weight of his demons. Or keep it to himself, selflessly, as he has done for the last twenty-nine years.

Clarke takes his hand on the bed, uncurling his fist and threading their fingers together. His palm is sweaty, but she doesn’t mind.

The temptation to unburden himself wins out. Bellamy’s shoulders drop further before he speaks, some of the tension leaving his body.

“I tried to protect her,” he murmurs. “She was so small. I didn’t want her to be afraid.”

Bellamy drags his eyes up to hers. Large and helpless in his face, it makes him look younger. Her heart breaks at the thought of the boy he once was, hiding his fear to put on a brave front for his little sister.

“Octavia used to hide under the floor boards in our room when she was scared. I tried to make it a game sometimes, so she wouldn’t cry. Hiding from the dragon, we called it. But it didn’t always work.”

Clarke is almost scared herself to ask. She thinks she already knows what the answer is and the confirmation will just add another crack to her heart for what her friends have been through.

“What was she afraid of?”

Bellamy’s expression darkens. “Our stepfather,” he says flatly. “The piece of shit that used to beat my mother. We would hear them through the walls.”

Clarke squeezes her eyes shut. “Oh, Bellamy. I’m so sorry.”

Her flimsy apology isn’t enough to make up for the horror the Blakes have lived through. She doesn’t know what other words can convey her pain for them.

“Don’t be,” he mutters, something hard and hateful in his voice. “He’s rotting in a prison cell. If that fucker isn’t dead already.”

Her hand squeezes his tightly. “I’m sorry you had to live through that. And I’m sorry you feel guilty for not protecting your mom enough.”

Bellamy’s eyes snap to hers. His lips part in silent surprise that she sees the guilt he carries like it's his cross to bear. She sees him. 

“You can’t hold onto that forever, Bell. It’s already tearing you up inside.”

“How am I not supposed to feel guilty?” He demands. “I stood by like a coward while he put his hands on my mother. I didn’t tell the fucking cops because I was too afraid he’d actually kill her if he found out. I failed her.”

“No!”

Clarke lets go of his hand to grip his face, forcing his eyes to meet hers. “No, you didn’t. You were a child, Bellamy. That man is the monster. He’s responsible for the horrible things he’s done. Not you.”

Tears pool in a sheen over Bellamy’s deep brown eyes. “You don’t know the things I’ve done, Clarke.”

“I don’t have to,” she retorts fiercely. “I know who you are. You’re a good man. And you deserve to have peace.”

Bellamy’s face crumples and he lets Clarke pull him into a hug. Her arms wrap around his neck to hold him close. She feels him press his face against her neck, his tears spilling out as he clutches onto her.

Her fingers slink up into his hair, combing through the thick curls. Gradually, Bellamy’s breathing loses its raggedness and his chest rises evenly against hers. Her eyes close, losing herself in the embrace.

Bellamy sniffles before he draws away from her. He swipes at the tear tracks on his cheeks. “Clarke.”

He says her name in a soft breath. She hears everything he puts into it – his gratitude and relief and a trace of affection. The sound of her name spoken like that, like a prayer, makes Clarke shiver.

She smiles, letting him know that she understands what he’s trying to say.

They lay down together in her twin bed, curled up on their sides and facing each other. His wide eyes shine in the darkness. She doesn’t know if he’ll able to sleep, if his nightmares will still reach out for him with their sharp claws.

But he won’t be alone.

Clarke isn’t sure why she does it. Some innate instinct that guides her or just being drawn to Bellamy like the moon pulled into the earth’s orbit.

She crosses the thin line of space left between them, tucking herself against his side. Her cheek lays on his solid chest. She can feel the racing of his heart and wonders if this is too much, if she’s crossing a line.

His reaction is immediate, much to her relief. Bellamy’s arm settles easily around her back, keeping her close. His exhale stirs her hair. Perhaps he can feel it too, how they melt against each other seamlessly like two puzzle pieces slotting together.

Clarke has never felt as comfortable as she does in Bellamy’s arms. It feels right. 

 

Chapter Text

The light patter of rain against the window stirs Clarke awake. She blinks slowly, being drawn out of a deep sleep. It’s the best sleep she’s had since moving to Auburn and the reason is still curled up beside her.

Bellamy is snoring softly. His breaths exhale against her shoulder. The space between them is non-existent, their legs tangled together under the blanket, Bellamy’s arm tucked around her waist and holding her tight to his body even in his sleep.

Something melts inside Clarke’s chest staring at his face. He looks so peaceful. His dark curls fall across his forehead, his mouth parted open as snores escape, lush and slackened.

In the watery morning light and quiet of her bedroom, she has all the time in the world to admire every freckle etched on his golden-brown skin like a tiny star.

He’s beautiful. There’s no question about that. But his vulnerability and the way he trusts her to lay asleep in her arms is what stops the air in Clarke’s lungs. She doesn’t know what she’s done to earn that trust, but Clarke will cherish it.

Clarke loses track of time. She gets lost in Bellamy as she would in a breathtaking photograph, unable to pull herself away.

His lips look so soft and full. Longing unfurls like a flower in her chest to trace his bottom lip with her finger, feel the smooth texture.

Her cheeks warm. Clarke is grateful that he’s asleep, unable to see what expression she has or how she gazes at him, entranced.

She isn’t sure how long it is before Bellamy’s breathing shifts and his brows scrunch together, waking up.

She waits as his eyes blink open.

“Hey,” Clarke whispers.

Bellamy smiles slightly, sleepily. “Hey.”

He doesn’t seem bothered by finding her so close. Bellamy seems just as comfortable with their intimacy, feeling as natural as breathing. 

They gaze at each other. His warm brown eyes roam over her face, her messy hair, the slope of her neck.

Clarke warms under his stare like standing in a patch of sunlight, a flush rising under her skin.

There’s nothing pretty about the sight of her first thing in the morning. She withstands the urge to fidget, smooth her hands over her hair. Bellamy looks at her like he’s fascinated, not disgusted.

His gaze returns to hers. They’re doing nothing but lying there, but Clarke’s heart pounds like she’s run a marathon. She feels both exhilarated and at peace, curled up in her bed with Bellamy. It’s a dizzying combination.

They stay there for a while without speaking, a comfortable silence falling over them. Bellamy’s fingers trail up and down her spine and despite the shivers his touch evokes, Clarke is content to lie there all day, cozy and happy.

Occasionally, his fingers trace over the ink of her sunflower tattoo. Her eyelashes flutter at the electric touch of his thumb sweeping over the petals. When her eyes open, she catches the edge of Bellamy’s smile curling his lips up.

“Thank you,” He says, his scratchy morning voice breaking the quiet, “for last night.”

“You can always come to me, Bell. I’m here for you.”

Bellamy dips his chin, his smile pleased and thankful. “I know.”

Clarke smiles too because it’s a certainty between them now. Not a question. They care about each other.

“Tell me more about Apollo,” she says, resting her cheek against her hand to get comfortable on the pillow.

Amusement hitches Bellamy’s brow upward. “The Greek god? What about him?”

“Anything. You’re a good storyteller,” Clarke explains, letting out a huff of laughter when Bellamy shrugs off the compliment as just practice from reading to his sister. She nudges his leg in encouragement. “Come on.”

Bellamy tucks his arm under his head, propping himself up as he thinks through the archive of Greek mythology stories in his head. Finally, he starts weaving the story of Apollo’s birth and several of his unsuccessful love affairs.

Clarke settles in to listen to the rhythm of his deep, raspy voice. Lets the sound wash over her. God, she is so gone. Her stomach flutters with trapped butterflies. Clarke recognizes the feeling.

She has a big, dumb crush on Bellamy Blake.

It’s ridiculous how endearing she finds his hands movements as he talks with a dramatic flourish. Everything about him is endearing to her.  The passion gleaming in his eyes and even the tiny scar above his top lip.

Clarke gets caught up in a brief daydream about kissing that scar until her phone chimes.

She reaches for the device on the nightstand and finds an e-mail waiting from one of her photography clients. A sigh blows past her lips.

“Reality check?” Bellamy guesses.

She nods, typing out her response. “The joys of Adulting. I have work to do.”

Bellamy climbs out of her bed. Despite the fact it’s the responsible thing to do, Clarke is reluctant to see him go. She misses his body’s warmth immediately.

“I’m supposed to be meeting O and Lincoln for breakfast anyway. I should head out.”

Bellamy rakes his fingers through his tousled hair and her eyes greedily latch onto the muscles flexing in his bicep.

Damn it. Her neighbor is unfairly attractive. Even his bedhead is sexy.

Clarke gets to her feet as well, walking with him to the front door. In the hallway, Bellamy pauses, lingering before he returns to his place next door.

“You busy tonight, Sunflower?” When she shakes her head that she isn’t, Bellamy smiles. “Come over then. Whenever your meeting ends.”

Her lips mirror his pleased grin. “You’re not going to make me watch Gladiator are you?”

He rolls his eyes at her familiar teasing. “That’s on our list. You’re not getting out of it.”

“Hmm.” Clarke pretends to think it over, tapping her finger against her chin. “I guess I’ll be there. If you cook me those scallops you made before.”

Bellamy gives her a long-suffering glare, although his eyes gleam with amusement, failing to hide how much he’s enjoying their banter too.

“Any other demands, Your Highness?”  

“I’ll let you know.”

The puck soars above the goalie’s head and crashes into the net. Clarke is on her feet with the rest of the roaring crowd, shouting in support for the Rovers’ team. Beside her, Octavia whoops in joy and on her other side, Jasper lets out a piercing whistle.

There are still a few minutes left in the game, but the team and the audience knows the Rovers have secured their win for the night. Energy crackles in the air as the clock runs out.

Clarke didn’t bring her camera along for this game, but she takes a mental picture of the Rovers team when it ends, their voices now familiar to her ears as they chant and holler over their victory.

Their group makes their way through the thick crowd exiting the arena. Octavia bravely leads them away from the swarm, toward the locker room where they wait for the rest of their friends to emerge and chat about their plans for the night.

Jasper and Harper are debating over dinner options. Clarke stops paying attention as soon as Bellamy steps out of the locker room, heading straight towards them.

A frisson of excitement prickles down her spine. She’s always happy to see Bellamy. But there’s a particular thrill she gets when he’s coming fresh from the shower, hair slightly damp and smells amazing. Like fresh body wash and Bellamy.

“Hey,” Clarke greets, sounding breathless. She can’t seem to help it.

“Hey,” Bellamy returns, giving her a soft, fond smile. He tugs on the end of her hair in greeting.

She wonders if Bellamy feels the same excitement when he sees her. If his heart beats faster when she walks into a room as hers does for him. If a simple touch of her hand makes his skin hum.

It’s been a while since Clarke has had a crush this intense. Bellamy has occupied most of her thoughts lately and his presence is all-consuming.

“Bellamy!” Jasper cries, stealing his attention. “You’re the tie-breaker. The fate of my stomach is in your hands, so choose wisely. Tacos or burgers?”

Bellamy is roped into the heated debate over dinner. Her excitement dims. She feels the loss of his full attention like someone has poked a hole in her chest, deflating her.

Clarke tells herself to get a grip. She’s not a lovestruck teenager and she can’t hog Bellamy, as much as she wants to.

A small part of her resents having to share his attention at all, preferring the time when they’re alone at his apartment or her room.

Wells bursting out of the locker room gives her something else to focus on. He was on fire tonight and his enthusiasm over their victory is practically flying off of him in sparks.

Wells sweeps her into a hug and Clarke sputters out a surprised laugh as she’s picked up off her feet.

“Someone’s feeling good!”

Her best friend grins at her, still gripping her shoulders when he steps back. “Hell yeah! Griffin, you’re officially my good luck charm. We haven’t lost a home game since you got here.”

Clarke scoffs. “That’s all you, hot stuff. You kicked ass tonight.”

Clearly drunk off the team’ win, Wells tugs her into another bear hug. Clarke laughs as she hugs him back.

Over his shoulder, she catches Bellamy watching them embrace. He stares for a moment, his expression unreadable, purposefully hidden, before he turns his head away.

Clarke’s grin has slipped when their hug ends. Her brow is puckered in confusion over Bellamy’s weird face. It was probably nothing. Just catching him lost in his thoughts. 

She focuses back on Wells and his joy is contagious, making it hard not to smile with him.

Wells points a finger at her painted cheek. “Good luck charm. Make sure you wear it when we face off against the Bulls. We’ll need it.”

More players spill out of the locker room, most headed for the exit. Their group is joined by Lincoln and Miller and the food discussion is put on hold as the guys bask in their triumph.

Wells compliments Miller’s shots of the puck, while Lincoln boasts about Wells’ defensive moves, their voices loud and crossing together. It’s pretty adorable to watch them gush over each other.

Bellamy returns to her side, his scent floating over to her in a delicious wave.

Clarke glances up from her phone and finds his dark eyes lingering on her left cheek. That’s where Octavia had painted her before the game with the number 7. Wells’ jersey number.

“O did it,” Clarke blurts, his stare pressing her to say something.

Bellamy nods. “She wears Lincoln’s number every game. She’s done it for Jackson too, to support Miller.”

“It’s supposed to be good luck. At least, according to Wells.”

When his frown only deepens, Clarke huffs at him. “What’s with you? You’re being weird.”

“How am I being weird?” Bellamy counters.

“You’re not acting like the guy that just won a hockey game,” she points out.

Bellamy shrugs noncommittally. Clarke studies him through narrowed eyes, a mix of confused and concerned. His teammates are rehashing every moment and high point on the ice just a few feet away, but Bellamy seems more annoyed than enthusiastic.

Before she can ask what’s gotten into him, Bellamy asks her, “You and Wells dated a few years ago, right?" 

Clarke’s eyes widen. She’s thrown by the abrupt subject change and takes a few seconds to catch up to his question. “Uh, yeah. Like forever ago."

"Why did you break-up?”

She shrugs. There are no hard feelings between her and Wells. Their break-up was the most civil she's ever had. "We just decided to go back to being friends.”

“But you’re still close,” he adds, not sounding like a question.

“Of course,” she answers. “Wells has been there my whole life. It’s like he’s a part of me, you know?”

For some reason, her response makes Bellamy press his lips tightly together and he says nothing else.

Her confusion over this conversation swells. She doesn’t like the disappointment in his eyes. Clarke itches to get rid of that look, but she’s at a loss how to. She doesn’t know why hearing about her friendship with Wells would disappoint him.

Beyond them, the group has concluded where they should go for dinner. Tacos have won the debate. They’re going to separate into their cars outside the arena and meet up at a food truck nearby that Jasper swears has the best tacos they will ever consume in their lifetime.

Clarke slips off to the restroom before they leave. The arena has emptied since the game ended about twenty minutes ago, the hallways quiet and almost eerie when her footsteps echo. Octavia sends her a text to meet them in the parking lot when she’s done.

She fixes some of her smudged makeup and runs her fingers through her hair. Bellamy has seen her first thing in the morning, but she can’t help but fuss over her appearance anyway, conscious that she’s doing this just for him.

Bellamy’s never made any comments on her appearance before. Other than his weird fixation about the face paint. She has no idea if he’s attracted to her at all.

Clarke doesn’t doubt that she’s pretty, at least. Her exes have told her as much. But Bellamy’s opinion is more important at the moment.

When Clarke steps out of the restroom, the arena feels more like a tomb. The silence is deafening. There are likely employees still around cleaning up and security somewhere in the building, but the area Clarke finds herself in is empty.

A fact that becomes unnerving when Cage Wallace is leaning against the wall. Waiting for her.

Clarke’s pulse stutters. She’s immediately on edge.

Cage hasn’t been around the apartment since Wells stopped inviting him to their nights spent watching sports games. Foolishly, Clarke hoped that their paths wouldn’t cross after that and she wouldn’t have to interact with Cage at all.

Cage’s lips part into a sharp smile. “Clarke. I’m glad I could catch you alone.”

Like he hadn’t followed her here. Clarke has no illusions that this is a coincidence. She hadn’t seen him during the hockey game.

Her heart pounds in her throat, thinking about him watching her, being nearby without her noticing.

Clarke keeps her voice hard and even. “What do you want?”

He pushes himself off the wall, his smile in place as he comes closer. She’s too aware that they’re alone in an enclosed hallway.

“I just want to talk,” he says, his tone deceptively soft. “You know, I quite enjoyed those game nights at Wells’ place. With my friends. I was disappointed when that ended.”

Clarke swallows down the urge to spit that they aren’t his friends. The other man reminds her of a predator and it wouldn’t be smart to provoke him. She needs to keep this conversation as brief and as pleasant as possible.

Cage inclines his head when she doesn’t respond. “That was because of you, wasn’t it? You spoke to Wells. Why is that, Clarke? Have I offended you in some way?”

Her arms cross over her chest. From what she can read of him, Cage Wallace is about power—his title, his influence over others. Her prickliness with him in the past won’t work. She has to appear meek like he does intimidate her. It’s not totally an act.

“No,” she says. “It wasn’t you. The game nights were too loud. I asked him to stop them.”

Cage tsks at her. He’s closer now, his dark, flat eyes close enough to make her defenses rise. “Don’t lie to me, sweetheart. I’d like us to be friends, remember? And friends don’t lie to each other.”

"Please," she says softly. "I just want to go." 

"Go?" He repeats, scoffing. "No, Clarke. I'm not done with you yet. You have a lot to make up for." 

He reaches out to touch her and she can’t stop the flinch that moves through her body. Cage reads her revulsion towards him and his eyes flash dangerously.

Clarke doesn’t care what he has to say. She stops caring about offending him when she feels backed into a corner, warning bells shrieking in her head that she should get away. Get back to her friends, other people, anyone.

Cage must sense her decision. Or see it in her eyes. He seems to know what move she will make before she does it. He’s ready when Clarke tries to slip away from him and take off running down the hall.

He intercepts her by grabbing a fistful of her hair. Clarke cries out in pain when she’s dragged backward.

Cage comes at her with surprising strength, pushing her against the opposite wall and using his weight to keep her pinned there. The blow knocks the air out of her lungs. 

“You think you’re too good for me?” Cage demands while Clarke struggles to buck him off, his fingers digging painfully into her shoulders. “Stuck up bitch.”

Fear floods her lungs with icy water. Stupid, she chastises herself. She should have run as soon as she saw him outside the restroom.

Clarke screams as loud as she can. Someone in the building will hear her.

Cage is strong despite his slim build. He slams her face against the wall to shut her up. Clarke’s teeth rattle as pain explodes against the side of her face. Still, she doesn’t let any of it stop her from fighting.

Clarke kicks her leg backward, aiming for between his legs.

Cage’s sharp hiss of pain indicates that she hit her target. On instinct, he releases his grip on her to cradle his injury and she uses the opportunity to tear away from him and the slim space he had her trapped against the wall.

Clarke runs. She hears Cage swearing loudly, his footsteps echoing as he comes after her.

The adrenaline thunders in her ears, drowning everything else out. Clarke’s only thought is escaping and she almost runs Bellamy down when he rounds the corner, suddenly appearing in front of her.

His hands catch her in time, keeping them from colliding. “Clarke?”

Bellamy,” she gasps his name. Relief is a sweet rush in her veins.

His eyes are wide with alarm as he takes in her breathless, frantic state. Then they zero in on her cheek and go still.

She can’t feel the sting in her face, thanks to the adrenaline, but the hit was hard. She imagines the damage can show for it. Probably on her arms too, where Cage’s nails pierced her skin and other places she’s bruised.

“What happened to you?” He demands.

The answer is right behind them, halting his pursuit. Clarke doesn’t have to look back to know. She sees the moment Bellamy registers Cage and the fury that ripples over his face like a raging storm.

Bellamy winds around her, faster than she can stop him. He’s after Cage like a bullet firing from a blazing gun, an unstoppable force.

His arm comes down in a powerful swing and sends Cage to the ground with a punch that she can hear and almost feel.

There’s a sickening crunch. Then blood spurts out and drips onto the shiny, waxed floor.

“No!” Clarke yells, unfrozen. “Bellamy, don’t!”

Her fear for herself rapidly becomes fear for Bellamy.

He’s bigger and stronger than Cage physically. He can take him down. But they don’t know how Cage might strike back with his own power. He won’t take Bellamy hurting him, not to mention damaging his ego, without retribution.

Bellamy doesn’t listen. Or maybe he doesn’t hear her calling after him. He’s on top of Cage where the other man is crumpled on the ground, his fists raining down in hit after hit. She has to stop him.

Clarke approaches them, cautious as she lays a hand on Bellamy’s shoulder. She can feel the tension taut in his muscles.

Cage is unconscious under him, his head rolled to the side. Blood gushes from his nose from where the bone has been broken. His face is battered and bruised.

A part of Clarke thinks he deserves it, but the louder part of her knows that this is enough.

Bellamy. Stop. He’s unconscious.” 

His eyes are wild when they look up at her, dark with anger, his pupils blown wide. It takes a moment before recognition sets in like he’s just remembering that Clarke is there. His chest heaves with harsh breaths.

“Bell, it’s me,” she murmurs. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Bellamy shakes his head. When the rage clears, he just looks lost. He shoves his fingers through his hair, forgetting about the blood staining his knuckles.

“Clarke, I—”

She cuts him off, gently but firmly. “We have to get out of here. Come on.”

He lets her help him to his feet. They both pause and glance down at Cage lying on the floor.

Clarke bites her lip. “We can’t just leave him. He needs help.”

Bellamy nods, not arguing when she pulls out her phone to call 911. She makes an anonymous call about an unconscious man found in the arena and hangs-up before they can ask her any further questions.

Silently, they leave the hallway. They don’t speak as they exit the arena.

She follows Bellamy to the parking lot where they climb into his car. The silence holds as he drives away from the building and Clarke is caught up in her thoughts, staring out the window.

Bellamy’s touch on her knee startles her. When she jumps, he removes his hand and grimaces apologetically. “Shit. I’m sorry, Clarke. I just…Are you okay?”

They’re stopped at a red light. Clarke feels like a haze of shock has folded over her, blocking out her emotions. Her worry for Bellamy has been handled, for the moment, and the adrenaline has faded. Now she feels numb.

“I don’t know,” she admits.

Bellamy studies her for a moment, a frown pulling at his lips. Then, he nods. “Fair enough.”

They don’t speak again for the rest of the drive to their apartment building. Clarke follows him numbly up the elevator and into his apartment, the sound of the door shutting behind them loud in the quiet space.

Her eyes land on Bellamy’s knuckles, caked in dried blood. It’s a small relief to have something else to focus on.

Clarke walks over to the kitchen. She retrieves a wet paper towel and brings it over to him. Bellamy lets her clean his hands, saying nothing, but she can feel the heavy weight of his stare on her face.

When she’s done, his hand catches hers, not letting her move away.

“Clarke,” he pleads. “What happened?”

She can’t look at him. The kindness and sympathy she knows will be in his eyes it’s too much. That will break her out of the protective shell the shock has formed around her.

“He was waiting for me,” she says, her voice flat. “Upset that I rejected him before. I don’t know. He wanted to hurt me.”

Bellamy’s fingers are gentle on the side of her face. Warm and comforting, despite the callouses he has. Clarke leans into his touch.

“You’re safe, Clarke,” he tells her fiercely. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Tears soak her eyes. Perhaps she’s not as numb as she hoped.

Her face crumples as the sobs escape. When the safe shell she built around herself cracks, there's a flood of fear and shame and anger that comes pouring out. Everything she didn't let herself feel before in fight-or-flight mode. Now, she can't escape the flood. 

Bellamy cradles her against his chest, his hand cupping the back of her head and Clarke cries hard into his shirt.

She hasn’t cried like this since her dad’s death. Her body shakes from the overload of emotions.

And Bellamy's arms are there to hold her together, keeping Clarke standing when her legs threaten to give out under her. 

She clings onto the warmth and safety his body promises, just as comforting as his low voice in her ear. 

"I've got you, Clarke," he soothes her. "I'm here, I've got you." 

Her throat is raw when she stops sobbing. Exhaustion comes crashing down on her, leaving her wrung out, all of her strength squeezed out of her.

Bellamy lifts her in his arms, carrying her from the kitchen into his bedroom. Clarke clings onto his neck, letting herself have a moment to inhale his familiar scent.

She feels small in his arms. Like it’s okay to let Bellamy carry her right now when she can’t stand on her own.

He lays her down on his bed, stepping away only to change out of his clothes and flick off the lights.

Clarke reaches for him as soon as he slips in beside her, tugging the sheets up to blanket them. 

They’ve cuddled before tonight. But Clarke has never felt like she needed Bellamy as much as she does now.

Yearning tingles in her fingertips and buzzes behind her ribs, only eased by the cradle of his arms around her body and the sound of his strong heartbeat in her ears.

"Thank you," Clarke whispers against his chest, barely audible thanks to the rawness of her throat. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Bell." 

"You're stronger than you think. You're gonna be okay." 

"Maybe I am," she admits. "But I'll still need you." 

Bellamy doesn't say a word in response. His sharp inhale is the only indication that he heard her.  

In the morning, Clarke finds an angry welt on her cheek, courtesy of the wall she was shoved against.

Shame and frustration simmer inside her. The wound is a reminder of how stupid she was, trying to reason with Cage instead of running. You can’t reason with a monster.

With a scowl at her reflection, Clarke turns away from the mirror and steps into the shower. The hot water helps wake her up fully, though it does nothing to scrub away the memory of Cage’s body trapping her in place. Her skin stings in all the places she is bruised.

After emerging from the bathroom, Clarke pulls on the clothes Bellamy left out for her. A sweatshirt that smells like him and a pair of cotton shorts that are probably Octavia’s, left behind at some point. She winds her wet hair up into a bun before leaving the room.

Bellamy is cooking breakfast on the stove. She doesn’t have much of an appetite, but she appreciates the effort.

Clarke takes a seat on the barstool, wrapping her hands around the warm coffee mug waiting for her. “You’re a pretty great host, Bell.”

Her voice is hoarse from crying last night. The lightness she tries to inject into her tone falls flat.

Bellamy’s head turns when he hears her. His eyes land on her cheek and emotions flit across his face, darkening his expression. His lips pull down into a pained grimace. “Christ.”

Clarke quickly shakes her head. “Don’t. Please.”

His brows draw together, looking ready to argue. At least, he exhales deeply through his nose. “Does it hurt?”

“Stings a bit. I’ll take care of it later.”

Bellamy turns away, his head dropping to glare at the stove. His hands grip the counter tightly, his knuckles turning white. Tension is threaded through the lines of his body, held stiffly in his shoulders and arms.

“Clarke, I’m so sorry.”

His regretful tone brings the tears back to her eyes. “This isn’t your fault. It’s mine. I never should have provoked him.”

“No,” Bellamy argues gruffly. “You didn’t do anything wrong. He’s the entitled prick that can’t take no for an answer. He never should have put his hands on you.”

Clarke can agree with that much. His conviction makes her want to agree completely, to unburden herself of the blame. She wishes she had made better choices last night, but Cage Wallace is still responsible for his behavior.

“I meant I’m sorry for losing control,” Bellamy says quietly. “I just…snapped.”

She raises her eyes to look at him, the way his head is still bowed. He’s ashamed of attacking Cage like that in front of her.

“You scared me,” Clarke admits and he flinches. She’s quick to add, “I wasn’t afraid of you, Bellamy. I was afraid for you. Cage isn’t going to let this go. He’ll come after you next.”

“Let him,” Bellamy growls. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to lay him out for years.”

Warmth floods her face. Clarke struggles to stay focused on the problem at hand, not get distracted by the rough growl of Bellamy’s voice saying lay him out.

She orders her hormones to get it together. It’s definitely not the time or place to be turned-on.

“Bellamy,” she implores. “You don’t know what he’ll do. He owns the team. He could make your life miserable. I don’t want that to happen to you.”

Bellamy meets her pleading stare. His eyes are blazing with a determined heat.

Despite her worry for him, Clarke still admires the passion and protectiveness that makes up Bellamy Blake. He’d let himself burn to keep the people he cares about out of the line of fire.  

“He can do whatever the hell he wants to me,” he retorts. “As long as he stays away from you.”

Clarke has never wanted to kiss someone so bad in her life. Or shake sense into someone.

Bellamy turns back to the stove before their breakfast can burn. Her chin is set stubbornly as he places the omelet and bacon onto a plate and slides it in front of her. He gets a plate for himself before he sits on the barstool beside her.

“Bellamy,” she starts.

“Eat your food before it gets cold.”

Clarke rolls her eyes. They’re not done with this conversation. She’s just as determined as he is. Over her dead body will she let Cage hurt Bellamy.

 

Chapter Text

In the week after the assault, Clarke feels like she’s sitting at the top of a rollercoaster, holding her breath. Just waiting for the drop with a mix of dread and anticipation twisting her stomach into a ball of nerves.

Cage doesn’t press charges against Bellamy. They don’t see or hear from him at all. But in the back of her mind, Clarke can’t forget what happened or stop worrying about retaliation. It becomes a matter of when, not if, Cage will do something.

Both Clarke and Bellamy wait for the other shoe to drop. But it never comes.

The days go on like normal. The bruises fade from her skin and Clarke dives back into her photography work, grateful for any distraction she can get her hands on.

She reassures Bellamy again and again that she’s fine when he asks, though she still senses him watching her worriedly when they’re hanging out with their friends. The concern is sweet, but she’s ready to put the attack behind her and move on.

Clarke’s focus soon shifts to a different problem. She starts noticing a pattern.

It first happens when their group is hanging out at Octavia and Lincoln’s apartment.

They play a few rounds of pool and Clarke knocks Monty’s name off the champion spot. No one wants to play against the pool shark.

Clarke forgets about her worries for a little while, surrounded by her favorite people.

After eating take-out and talking late into the night, the apartment clears out until it’s just Clarke and Bellamy in the cozy living room. The others have gone home.

Lincoln is talking to Bellamy about one of their rival hockey teams, their voices drifting over her head. Clarke leans back against the couch. Her cheeks are warm and a buzz thrums through her veins from the several glasses of wine.

Octavia calls Lincoln over from the kitchen and he goes to join her, tousling Clarke’s hair playfully as he passes.

She gives Lincoln a soft smile before her eyes return to Bellamy. He’s alone on the loveseat. Too far away for her tastes.

Clarke heaves herself off the couch and squeezes onto the corner of the loveseat, folding herself into his side. Greedily, she inhales Bellamy’s scent.

“You smell really good,” she murmurs. “How do you always smell so good, Bell?”

Bellamy stiffens when her nose nuzzles his neck. He gets to his feet before she has the chance to get comfortable.

Clarke struggles not to face-plant onto the cushions, her reflexes slower than normal. She frowns up at Bellamy standing over her, baffled at why he stood up like he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

“It’s late,” he says. “We should go.”

Octavia loudly complains from the kitchen. “No! I just opened another bottle of wine.”

Bellamy ignores his sister’s protests, digging out his keys from his pocket. Clarke doesn’t understand what’s gotten into him, but he doesn’t seem to be in the mood to mess around, so she pushes herself off the loveseat.

The room tilts. Okay, maybe she had more wine than she should have.

Bellamy heads to the front door and she struggles to keep up with his quick strides. Lincoln has to steady her when Clarke nearly stumbles over a chair.

“Whoa,” Lincoln says, sounding both amused and concerned as he holds her arm. “You okay, Clarke?”

Clarke wrinkles her nose. “Ugh. I’m fine. Just uncoordinated.”

“And drunk,” Octavia teases. “Why don’t you just crash on the couch? Lincoln can drive you home in the morning.”

“No,” Bellamy cuts in. “I’m taking her home.”

Octavia scowls at him. “Why are you acting like such an ass?”

“O, don’t start,” Bellamy snaps at her.

He sweeps Clarke into his arms and she yelps, clinging onto his neck for balance.

Bellamy carries her out of the apartment, apparently too impatient to deal with her tipsy stumbling. He’s silent as they trek down the stairs to the bottom floor and Clarke marvels at his strength, carrying her around like she weighs nothing.

It’s hot. Well, everything Bellamy does is hot to her. But Clarke admires his effortless strength, the way he could throw her over his shoulder if he wanted to.

Her clouded mind likes the image of Bellamy holding her up as he fucks her against a wall. She’d just cling onto his broad shoulders.

The wine also strips Clarke of her filter. So she shares her thoughts with Bellamy, whispering into his ear.

He almost misses a step on the stairwell and catches himself before they both hit the floor.

Clarke giggles to herself. Bellamy doesn’t respond to her dirty comment, but she can see the flush creeping up his neck.

Her amusement ends when Bellamy drops her into the passenger seat of his car. Gruffly, he buckles her in and shuts the door.

Clarke’s head lolls on the seat to glance at him when he starts the car. He’s had a grimace on his lips since Lincoln left them alone in the living room. She has no idea what’s brewing behind those dark, intense eyes.

Clarke pouts. “Are you mad at me?”

“No.”

“It sure seems like you’re mad.”

Bellamy says nothing. His knuckles are tight around the steering wheel. She stares at him, half of his face bathed in shadows. The light from the dashboard cuts across the sharp lines of his downturned mouth.

“Bell,” she pleads. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing you have to worry about.”

Clarke doesn’t like that answer at all. “I worry about you too, you know.”

He doesn’t open up to her that night, remaining closed-off and curt during the drive home. So different from the Bellamy she knows. It’s like having the sun eclipsed by clouds and she’s standing confused and cold under a gray sky.

When they arrive at their building, Clarke hopes that he’ll carry her again. But Bellamy only guides her into the elevator with a palm pressed to the small of her back. His touch still electrifies her.

Clarke fails to get her key into the apartment door to unlock it, giggling at her own clumsiness. Bellamy has to take the key away from her and open the door himself.

She turns back in the doorway when he doesn’t follow her. Her fingers latch onto his shirt to tug him over the threshold. “What are you doing? Come inside.”  

Bellamy shakes his head. “Not tonight.”

The pout returns to her lips. She likes it better when they fall asleep together. Then, Clarke gets the bright idea that she might be able to entice him to join her in bed.

Clarke leans into his body. She hears his breath stutter as her hands slide up his chest, cupping his jaw. The stubble scratches her palms and she wonders what his beard would feel like grazing the inside of her thighs.

His fingers wrap around her wrists, stopping her before she has the chance to get closer to his mouth.

“You’re drunk.” Bellamy sounds like he’s reminding both of them. “You should get some sleep, Clarke.”

“I don’t want to sleep. I want you to kiss me.”

He releases a pained exhale. “Clarke.”

“Kiss me goodnight, Bellamy.”

His lips brush the crown of her head. It’s not what she wants, but it’s all that she gets.

Bellamy leads her into her room and Clarke flops onto the edge of the bed. She struggles to untie her lace-up boots, so he has to help her take those off.

The room feels unbearably warm compared to the cold outside and she’s eager to whip off her sweater.

She laughs at the way Bellamy spins around. The room is too dark for him to see her in her bra, but he keeps his back to her anyway.

She shimmies out of her jeans and crawls under the sheets in her underwear.

“You can look now,” Clarke teases.

Bellamy barely glances at her as he says goodnight and the front door closes behind him.

The morning light brings clarity, a terrible headache in her skull, and mortification. Clarke can’t believe the way she threw herself at Bellamy. She dreads having to face him.

It turns out she doesn’t have to worry. Clarke sends him a text to apologize and other than a brief response, Bellamy never brings up what she said or how she tried to kiss him. To him, it’s as if the whole thing never happened.

Last night at Octavia and Lincoln’s place is just the start of a pattern. The beginning of Bellamy’s odd behavior and avoidance.

When they’re around their friends or even just Wells in their apartment, everything seems almost normal. Clarke can sense something is bothering Bellamy, but he puts on a good front in front of everyone else.

He just refuses to be alone with her. The night of Cage’s assault when she broke down crying is the last time they sleep in the same bed.

Bellamy doesn’t call her at night to talk or come over when he has trouble sleeping. He makes excuses when she invites him over if he answers her phone calls at all.

It’s like that part of their relationship has been cut off like suddenly severing a limb.

Clarke doesn’t understand what the hell is going on. Or what she’s done to make Bellamy that uncomfortable around her. He slips out of the room when they find themselves alone and ropes someone else into the conversation before she can talk to him about it.

It’s fine that he’s not interested in her that way. She got the message. But she thought Bellamy would at least have the decency to say it to her face. Then, they could put that awkwardness behind them and go back to being friends.

Her patience runs out. Clarke is fed up with being avoided and she’s determined to get to the root of whatever Bellamy’s problem is. 

Clarke waits for the opportunity to arise to confront him. She wants to catch him alone, away from their friends so they can’t interrupt or be used as a buffer. He could refuse to let her into his apartment, so she’s forced to get creative.

She shows up at the arena at the end of one of the team’s hockey practices.

The players trickle out of the locker room and Clarke earns a few looks from her friends that she ignores, focused on her task at hand. She waits until Bellamy is the only player left inside before she marches in.

The locker room is bigger than she realized. Clarke has to pass through a hallway of offices, the stalls where the players change into their uniforms and an open lounge area before she finds him by the showers.

Bellamy is alone, standing in front of an open locker. His hair is damp and curling around the back of his neck. He only has a towel slung around his waist.

Clarke halts, momentarily caught off-guard. Logically, she knows there is a chance he’d be undressed in here, but the reality is a lot to handle.

He’s naked under that towel, a fact that makes her mouth run dry.

Her eyes drink in the sight of his bare torso, the lines of warm brown skin and dark chest hair. The thick curves of his arms and shoulders, sprinkled with freckles. The wideness of his shoulders tapers down to his waist and the soft swell of his stomach.

Fuck. He is all bulk and solid muscle.

Bellamy turns and catches her standing there, his eyes widening.  “Clarke, you can’t be in here.”

Clarke snaps her mouth shut. It takes her a moment to remember why she’s there and her frustration comes roaring back.

“Well, you didn’t give me any other choice.”

Her arms cross over her chest, her eyes narrowing. “Why are you avoiding me?”

“Christ,” Bellamy swears. He drags his hand down his face. “Can we not do this now?”

Clarke doesn’t move, making it clear to him that she’s not going anywhere until they have this conversation. She’s let this go on for over a week and that’s long enough.

He lets out an angry huff. “Can you at least let me get dressed?”

She takes a seat on one of the wooden benches, facing the wall with her back to him. Her foot taps as she waits, the sound of clothes rustling loud in the empty room. Then, she hears the locker door slam shut.

Clarke twists around on the bench.

He’s dressed in a blue long-sleeve shirt, jeans, and his boots. Bellamy walks over to sit across from her. His expression is tight with annoyance at her ambush.

“You wanted to talk.”

“Why are you avoiding me?” Clarke asks again. She swallows back a twinge of embarrassment. “I’m sorry about that night at your sister’s—”

Bellamy shakes his head, cutting her off before she can bring it up. “I told you it was fine.”

“Did Cage do something?”

“No,” Bellamy says, turning his face away from her probing gaze. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Then what?”

Carefully, Clarke reaches out towards him. She lays her fingers gently on his jaw, bringing his eyes back to hers. His face may be cold, but his eyes can’t lie to her. They’re churning with shame and sadness.

“What is it? Talk to me, Bellamy. Please.”

His voice is low, pained, when he finally answers her. “You said you needed me.”

Her breath catches. That’s not what she expected him to say.

“I do.”

“You shouldn’t,” Bellamy argues.

Clarke’s brow furrows, struggling to understand where this is coming from. “Why not?”

“I’m not any better than he is, Clarke.”

“What are you talking about?” She demands. “You’re nothing like Cage!”

Bellamy moves away from her, dislodging her hand from his face. He stands up from the bench, too agitated to sit still. His hands curl into tight fists at his sides.

“Do you know how my stepfather ended up in prison?”

It’s a rhetorical question, but Clarke still shakes her head, stunned at this abrupt change in topic.

I put him there,” Bellamy says, his lips twisting into a dark, bitter smile. “I was fourteen. I was finally strong enough to fight back when he hurt my mom. I shattered his skull and broke his bones. I almost killed him. I lost control of myself. All I could think about was the times he laid his hands on my mom and I—I wanted him dead.”

“Bellamy—” Clarke rasps.

“The only thing that stopped me,” he continues, “was O. She was crying and I didn’t want her to be afraid of me. To see me as a monster. Just like him.”

Tears drip silently down her cheeks. The only sound between them is the heaviness of Bellamy’s breath. Her throat is too tight to speak and she doesn’t think he’s done telling her everything.

“He suffered a brain bleed,” Bellamy says quietly. “The doctors didn’t think he was going to live. I made my peace with being a murderer if it meant protecting my mom and little sister. I didn’t even regret it. By some miracle, he didn’t die and they locked him up.”

Clarke pulls in deep breaths, trying to get her tears under control so she can speak. Later, her heart can break for what Bellamy has been through. But she can’t stand the twisted way he views himself like he’s looking through a warped mirror. It’s not the truth.

“You’re not like him, Bellamy. You did something horrible to save the people you love. That matters. The reason matters.”

“That doesn’t make it okay! I wanted to hurt Cage for what he did to you. The only reason I stopped is because you were there. How am I any different than them? All I do is hurt people.”

Here his voice breaks and she feels it, a crack across her heart.

He looks at her, resigned, convinced of his depravity. “I knew I was fucked-up. I shouldn’t have let you rely on me just because I liked it. I’m sorry, Clarke.”

“No,” Clarke protests, jumping to her feet. “No, you don’t get to make that decision for me. I want you in my life, Bellamy. Even if you don’t think you deserve to be there.”

Bellamy’s expression tightens, his brows drawing together to deny her. “Clarke—”

“You’re a good man,” she insists.  “You’re good. You protected your mom and your sister. You’ve saved me. That’s who you are.”

Clarke steps away from him, moving towards the exit of the showers. She’s said what she needed to say. It’s going to be on Bellamy to choose to believe her or not. She’ll give him time—all the time he needs to come to terms with this.

“I wish you could see yourself like I see you. Just know that you’re important to me. Exactly as you are. And I miss you.”

Wells moves his piece forward to capture her rook.

Clarke purses her lips. As competitive as she is, beating her best friend at chess is an anomaly. She’s only defeated Wells a handful of times.

His deep brown eyes on her instead of the board when Clarke glances up. She finds a wrinkle puckering in between his brows.

“You okay, Griffin?”

His question surprises her. “Yeah, why?”

Wells shrugs. “You’re quiet. Usually, you would have cursed my firstborn for that move.”

Her lips twitch in amusement. The smile doesn’t hold though. He can see through her—the worry on her mind, the ache deep in her chest.

“I’m fine. Just tired.”

He doesn’t believe her. Not that she expected Wells to buy her pitiful excuse.

“Wow, that was weak. Try that again. With feeling this time.”

Clarke rolls her eyes. She appreciates his concern. Always. But right now, she doesn’t think she can handle revisiting her last conversation with Bellamy without crying. The chess game is a lifeline she needs to distract her.

“Let’s just play.”

Wells doesn’t push her on it. That’s one of the reasons she loves him. He shelves his worry so they can keep playing and doesn’t comment on how Clarke is far from the top of her game. He’s kicking her ass.

She isn’t strategizing how to win. Her thoughts are stuck on Bellamy.

They haven’t talked in over a week. Nine days. Clarke tells herself she is giving him space to process. But a part of her is hurt that Bellamy hasn’t reached out at all. She can’t stop agonizing that this distance between them might become permanent.

She came on too strong with her feelings for him. Clearly, he doesn’t feel the same way. Clarke burns with embarrassment over how she threw herself at him when she was drunk. So much for being subtle.

And then there’s the Cage issue. She dragged him in the middle of it and now Bellamy is wracked with self-loathing when he lost control of his temper.

She doesn’t blame him of course. Clarke can never adequately express her gratitude for the way Bellamy defended her and took care of her after. But she’s not sure if him coming to her rescue was worth the aftermath.

That night did nothing but unbury painful memories for Bellamy. Forced him to look back on old wounds and parts of himself that he’d rather forget. It’s her fault that he’s so ashamed he couldn’t even face her until she confronted him.

“Clarke.”

Wells’ touch on her hand draws her out of her dark thoughts. He’s frowning at her in open concern. “What’s wrong? You look like you’re about to cry.”

She can feel her lip trembling, the threat of tears crawling up her throat. “It’s all my fault, Wells.”

“What are you talking about?”

She has to swallow back the emotion flooding her so she’ll be able to explain. Wells waits patiently while she teeters on the edge of breaking down.

“At the last hockey game I went to,” she starts reluctantly, “something happened…”

“With Cage Wallace,” Wells finishes, a flash of anger crossing his face.

Her eyes widen. “You know? How…?”

He nods. The anger in his expression softens into sympathy and regret. “Bellamy told me. I think he wanted me to keep on eye on you. I didn’t want to push if you weren’t ready to talk about it.”

“What exactly did he tell you?”

Wells answers with a version of the events that start with Bellamy arriving on the scene and finding her running from Cage. He told Wells the truth. Bellamy admitted to beating him bloody and unconscious before they left the arena.

“I’m so sorry, Clarke,” her best friend says regretfully. “I’m sorry that happened. I should have dealt with Cage better after you brought him up.”

“No.” Clarke shakes her head. “That’s not on you, Wells. You’ve always been good to me. The best friend I could have asked for. Don’t you dare let Cage Wallace make you feel responsible.”

He reaches for her hand again, squeezing it firmly in his. “Don’t you either, Clarke. It’s not your fault he came after you. The guy is sick.”

Tears burn in her eyes. “No, but it’s my fault that Bellamy isn’t talking to me.”

“Something happened with you two?” Wells asks, his frown deepening. “He hasn't been around much. I thought something was up.”

“Fighting Cage…it brought back unpleasant memories for him. Stuff from his past. I don’t think he’s coping well with it and I can’t help him.”

Wells blows out a sigh. “Damn. I know he had it rough before the team. He’s never talked to anybody about it, far as I know. Is it bad?”

Clarke bites her lip before she nods. She won’t share the private things Bellamy has talked to her about, trusted her with. That stays between them.

“Is that why you showed up at practice the other night?” 

“I kind of cornered him in the locker room,” she admits.

Wells raises his brow in mild amusement. “I don’t see why he would have a problem with that.”

Clarke kicks at his ankle. She overlooks his weak attempt at a joke and recounts how that conversation went between them.

“He’s been avoiding me since then. I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m sure it’s frustrating,” he says. “But you just have to give him time. Bellamy cares about you. He’s not going to cut you out of his life because of this.”

“That’s not all,” she adds, wincing. “I’m scared I screwed up our friendship.”

Wells reads her shameful expression and curiosity gleams in his eyes. “What did you do?”

“I had too much wine when we hung out at Lincoln and O’s and…I came on to him. It was after you guys left. And trust me, he wasn’t into it.”

Clarke cringes at the memory. Then, her best friend surprises her by scoffing at the story.

“Clarke,” Wells chides her. “You were practically drunk. Of course, nothing happened. He wasn’t going to take advantage of you. Bellamy’s not like that.”

Wells makes it sound so matter of fact. She wants to believe him. Believe that there is still a chance Bellamy might feel the same way about her.

It’s not something she can think about now when her and Bellamy’s friendship is out of sorts and Bellamy is still dealing with remnants of his past trauma. But it’s enough to keep an ember of hope alive in her heart.

As she’s processing that, a smirk forms on Wells’ lips. “You like him. I knew it.”

Clarke ignores his knowing look and the heat in her cheeks. She makes a half-hearted attempt to focus on their abandoned chess game and get out of this conversation.

“He likes you too, you know.”

She shoots him a glare. “Did he pass you a note in class?”

Wells shakes his head, grinning at her like this all amuses him. “It’s so obvious. I’ve known since you cooked us dinner. You guys were flirting in the kitchen. Octavia noticed too.”

“Of course she did,” Clarke mutters. “We weren’t flirting. We weren’t even friends then!”

He raises his hands in mock-innocence. “Look, I’m just telling you what I see. Take it or leave it. Maybe he doesn’t have it all figured out yet. But Bellamy looks at you like he can’t believe you’re real. There’s something there.” 

Wells’ words turn her ember of hope into a spark. He could be wrong. Bellamy wants nothing to do with her right now. And there are more important things to be concerned about.

Her head understands all of that. But her heart just wants Bellamy.

She’s at the beach, filling orders for her website when he finds her.

Clarke stands on a rock, peering through her camera’s lens to capture the words written in the wet sand. She snaps several photos from different angles where she can edit them later.

She lowers her camera and suddenly Bellamy is there, walking up the beach. His hands are deep in his pockets. He has on a soft-looking cardigan to defend against the chill in the air and the wind blowing in ruffles his messy curls.

Clarke’s chest aches at the sight of him. He looks good. Soft. Perfect.

He comes to a stop several feet away and she steps down from the rock ledge. The waves crash noisily in the silence as she waits for him to speak.

“Hey,” Bellamy starts. “Wells said you’d be here.”

Clarke says nothing. It’s hard, resisting the urge to end the distance between them and hug him close. But she won’t. His absence still stings, worse than the bruises on her skin.

Bellamy’s shoulders drop, unable to meet her eyes as he speaks. “I’m sorry, Clarke. I didn’t want you to have to deal with all of this shit in my head. It isn’t fair to you. I don’t want to be around myself most of the time.”

“I get it,” she murmurs. “But you don’t have to spare me, Bellamy. I want to be there for you.”

“I won’t pretend I understand why,” he says, his lips quirking into a self-deprecating smile, “But I won’t make that decision for you again.”

Clarke lets herself smile and some of the tension bleeds out of his body.

“I miss you too, Sunflower.”

Her feet move forward on their own. Clarke throws her arms around his neck, pushing herself up on her toes to hug him. Bellamy’s arms enclose her waist and he clutches her snugly to him, breathing out an exhale of relief.

Peace folds over her in a soft haze. The world feels on balance again and Clarke can let go, knowing she and Bellamy are okay.

They pull apart slowly. Bellamy tilts his head toward the beach. “Want to take a walk?”

They walk together along the sand, the waves serving as background noise as they fill each other in on their days apart.

Clarke shows him more of the photos she’s taken on her camera and warmth fills up the crevices in her chest at Bellamy’s praise.

He’s been missing from their group hang-outs during the past week. Clarke catches him up on their friends’ antics and she delights in the sound of Bellamy’s low laughter.

It’s been so long since she’s heard it. He seems better, lighter than he's been since before the hockey game.

Bellamy clears his throat when there’s a lull in their conversation. “I, uh, went to see someone. A therapist.”

Clarke’s eyes widen. That’s huge for him. “Wow. How did that go?”

He shrugs, his eyes turning to the edge of the beach in the distance.

“Sucked, at first,” he says bluntly. “I hate talking about this stuff. Especially with a total stranger. I don’t see the point. I left feeling even shittier than when I went in.”

She starts to frown in sympathy. Talking to someone helped her a lot when she had her breakdown from school.

The grief counseling was cathartic too. It was nice just having someone to talk about her dad with when her mother completely checked out. But Clarke knows that therapy isn’t for everyone.

Bellamy sighs. “Then I went back. I was just sick of being in my own head, I guess. I figured it if I was going to unload on someone, it might as well be someone getting paid for it.”

“How did the second time go?”

“I spent most of it arguing with her,” he admits.

Clarke snorts. “Shocking.”

Bellamy pinches her lightly on her side, making her laugh.

“Then she gave me some tips for the nightmares,” he continues. “I was able to sleep better. Felt less cantankerous when I went back in and we were able to talk more. I don’t know if I’ll keep going, but she helped me figure out some things.”

“I’m proud of you, Bell.”

Bellamy turns his head to look at her and Clarke thinks she catches a glimpse of what Wells was talking about. The softness and shine of awe in his warm brown eyes.

“It was because of you,” he says, smiling slightly. “Showing up at the arena like that. It forced me to stop hiding from myself. I figured it was worth a shot, at least, if it meant I got to have you back in my life.”

“I was never going anywhere,” Clarke says softly.

Bellamy shakes his head, his gaze still warm. “No, I know. But I wanted to be better. I want to be who you see me as, Clarke. I don’t feel like that person, yet but…you make me believe that I can be.”

Clarke wants to kiss him then. Her whole body hums with desire.  

She bites her bottom lip hard, pinching her skin to ground herself. No, she can’t.

The last time she almost kissed him flashes in her mind and makes her face burn with shame. He didn’t want her to then. Maybe it was because she was drunk or maybe he only sees her as a friend.

Their friendship is important to both of them. The distance nearly killed her and Bellamy was clearly miserable too. She can’t screw that up again.

So Clarke pushes her feelings for him down. Instead, she focuses on how happy she is that Bellamy is doing better. She cares about that more than anything. 

Clarke smiles. "Let's go home."